Interference

One of the hardest parts about grief is being alone in it. Grief can make you shut off the world. It can make you want to close up your heart and never let anyone else in to protect yourself.

I did that. Until I didn’t.

One of my widow friends told me a few weeks before Matt died that people would disappear after the funeral. I was shocked by this, because we were so surrounded by people and love and support. Then the funeral happened. For a lot of people invested in our story, that was the end of it. They slipped back into their normal lives and their presence in our lives faded. I shouldn’t have been surprised by this because I was warned. But I continue to be.

Then there are the people who are left. The problem with going from virtual obscurity to a small town spectacle because of a terminal illness is that people feel like they have a seat at your table. They feel like they can comment and discuss what you’re doing, with who, and why. They feel comfortable enough approaching you and asking deeply personal questions and interfere in your personal relationships. This has happened. This has put an enormous amount of stress and anxiety on my shoulders at a time when I didn’t need any more stress and anxiety.

Interference. From day one. Every move I make, every person I talk to, every friend I have is under a microscope. The inner workings of their lives are then scrutinized and picked apart when they did not ask to be involved in small town gossip. Their previously private lives become public because of simply associating with the grieving widow.

That’s not fair.

I share my grief so that it may help someone going through the same thing. I share our lives and stories about Matt because we had a wonderful life and it’s a life worth sharing.

But my personal friendships and the people I care about are off limits. Any relationship I choose to have or not have is not up for debate or discussion. Anything I do or don’t do isn’t anyone’s business. Yet people have dug in deep and used me as a way to pass the time with one another.

The problem with interfering with someone else’s personal life is that you destroy friendships. You hurt people. You cause stress and anxiety for people who already have stress and anxiety. You scare people away. You shut people down.

It hurts deeply. And I’ve had enough hurt to last an entire lifetime. Twice.

I have never had a friendship end basically because of other people, but I have now. Before you sit around and gossip about people, think about how much it hurts them. Think about that new feeling of meeting someone you click with and forming a friendship and having fun and feeling good, and then think about feeling awful and panicky and pressure because people have opinions that they not only won’t keep to themselves, but that they spread all around to other people. Half truths. Whole lies, even.

I didn’t deserve that.

He sure didn’t deserve that.

But here we are. More loss.

Losing people after you’ve lost your whole world is a new kind of pain I wasn’t prepared for. I don’t blame anyone for not wanting to deal with what we have to deal with on a daily basis. It’s a lot.

Your words matter. So careful who you tell what, because the pain you cause from your interference into my life is insurmountable. It leaves people wishing things were different and wishing the peanut gallery would’ve just shut up and let it be what it was going to be. It could’ve been great, but when associating with me means pain for the other person, everyone needs to take a giant step back and evaluate what their words have done to two people who deserved more than what they got.

I deserve privacy. Any man in my life does, too.

I will not play small town gossip games. I will shut you down.

Onward. A little more broken, forcing a smile when I want to cry forever, a little more banged up and a whole lot more hurt. But onward.

Zig Instead of Zag

I had a conversation a while back with a friend going through crisis. I asked what could’ve been done differently, or if there was one thing that maybe was the start of trouble. The answer was “I guess there were a lot of times I should’ve zigged instead of zagged”.

I get that. I wholeheartedly get that.

Oftentimes I lead with my heart and not my head. It gets me in trouble way more times than I care to admit, but it comes from a good place.

Through Matt’s diagnosis and treatment, I was full of so much hope. I refused to believe he was going to die, despite the statistics and specifics about his case right there in front of me. One of my biggest regrets is that I made him think he could beat it, too. I was his constant cheerleader, always building him up for the next step. And he just kept trying and trying, because I wanted him to.

And that was when I zigged when I should’ve zagged.

I unknowingly put pressure on him because I believed that there was nothing he couldn’t do. I believed that with a good attitude and a smile, he could push through. And push through he did.

In the last few weeks of his life, when the decision to die on hospice was made, we had a lot of sacred conversations. A lot of what we talked about I will never share. It’s just for us. But I asked him if we did all we could’ve done. He looked at me with the bluest eyes ever and told me he wished he never would’ve even done chemo. He believed that his time on earth was the same whether he received treatment or not, and treatment broke him. It hurt my heart to hear him say those words because I knew the only reason he fought as hard as he did was for us.

That’s love, sacrificing your comfort to be there for someone else. But it’s a horrible way to die.

Since Matt died in August, I have tried to make decisions I wouldn’t regret.

I have failed miserably. I’m so full of emotions and love that I have nowhere to put and fear and doubt and energy and sadness that it clouds my judgement. I’m leading with my heart and not my head, because my heart is much stronger right now. I feel alone in a room full of people. For a year and a half my life was one big cancer fighting adrenaline rush. I find myself chasing that adrenaline rush and coming up short.

I’m sad. That’s hard to type, but I am.

When I’m completely overwhelmed I think about our easy life in Atlanta. We were so happy. We spent weekends in parks at festivals and loved every minute of it. I don’t know why we ever thought it was a good idea to leave our urban paradise.

We zigged when we should’ve zagged.

Right now I’m focused on surviving this season of life. Right now it’s cold, dark, rainy, and depressing. but spring is coming. And I’m ready for sunshine and peace.

Love is All You Need

Six months ago my whole world came crashing down around me. I could focus on that.

Or I could focus on what happened after the fall.

Watching my husband suffer from a terminal illness and die in front of me was a defining moment in my life, but it is not the moment that defines the rest of my life. I could use it as a crutch and limp through the rest of my life as the wounded bird people expect me to be, or I could use it to elevate my thinking beyond societal norms.

I choose the latter.

Losing my husband at a young age broke my heart, but it didn’t break my spirit. It broke my family, but it didn’t break me as a person. If anything, it taught me what’s important and what’s not important.

It’s important to love people. It’s easy to love people when life is wonderful, but when life gets really tough and you feel unlovable, that’s when you really learn what love is all about.

Living this life has taught me to love harder than I ever have before, and how to understand the pain and suffering people all around us endure on a daily basis. I find myself loving the people who need it the most extra hard, and to people who haven’t experienced life changing loss, this looks like weakness on my part.

But it’s not. It’s real love.

Loving broken hearts is hard, but the broken ones are the ones who need it the most. Love equals understanding, and the people who life has beat down need more understanding than anyone. They are the people who push you away over and over again, but you have to keep showing up for them. I’m so thankful that the people I pushed away didn’t give up on me. I hope that I can be that light for someone else, and I hope I’m receptive to those who choose to keep shining their light for me.

Love is patient. Love is kind. Love transcends all understanding. Love will break your heart and hurt your soul, but I have never once regretted loving someone. Loving someone makes you lovable, and if there is anything I can take away from the loss of Matt, it’s that love is really all any of us need.

Normal

Some days I don’t remember what normal even was.

I know I used to enjoy life. It takes an enormous amount of energy to enjoy life now.

One of the most difficult things about losing a spouse is trying to figure out what days are supposed to look like as a single parent. I have never been afraid to be alone, but alone with a small child, a house, 2 dogs, a cat, and everything that comes along with all of that is stressful. I remind myself constantly that there is no rule book or schedule for any of this. I try to keep to our routines so that Quinn can have as much normal as I can give her right now.

Some days I fall short. Today I felt like I did, but maybe I didn’t? She said this was the best day ever and all we really did was watch movies, read books, and make dinner together.

Depression and anxiety compounded with grief is hard. It makes everything seem so much harder than it has to be, from socializing to doing simple things like housework. Everything feels overwhelming. Everything feels like it’s too much. I want to be surrounded by people because I’m scared of what I’ll feel if I’m not, but I also want to be left alone because life can get too peopley for me really quickly and I shut down.

I find myself constantly wanting to run away from every bad feeling and unfortunately that’s not how any of this works. I have to allow myself to feel the grief completely or it just sneaks up on me and comes out when I least expect it anyway. There is no way around it. Only through it.

Normal for us used to be comfortable. Normal was a happy home. Normal was a house full of laughter and people and love. Normal was stability and comfort.

I think the loss of stability and comfort scares me the most. I miss that feeling.

I wish I knew what was next. I wish I could just see the other side, because I think if I could I would feel better about everything instead of walking around with a heavy sense of dread all the time. Anxiety takes over and I don’t sleep.

I’m terrified to lose people close to me. I’m scared of losing any more friends than the ones who have already faded into the background of our lives now that Matt is gone. I’m scared to lose the people I confide in. I’m scared to lose family members, even though I know that is inevitable. I need everything to just hold steady for a while.

I’m trying to remember who I was before the world got its hands on me. I’m trying to get back to normal, whatever that is going to be from now on.

Before I Die

Years ago, we came across this Before I Die board in Georgia. Matt thought about what he wanted to write and we walked around on a beautiful, warm Georgia day. When we came back to the board he quietly walked over, picked up the chalk, and started writing.

“Before I die I want to see my Quinn grow up”

We never thought for a second that he wouldn’t live to see that.

Six months ago today, he took his last breath here on earth. Every hope and dream we had for our future together died with him that day. For the rest of her life, she will live without her biggest fan- her dad.

Dads have a hard job. They are the providers, the ones who are supposed to always be strong, the ones who carry the family through the good times and bad. Watching Matt unable to do that for us killed me. He was always the one who made sure we were ok. Dads don’t get a break from the weight of the responsibility of taking care of a family because they are sick. It’s still there, it just crushes them more when they are unable to function.

I have learned a lot about life since cancer came into our lives. I used to think financial stability, a nice house, nice cars, and money in the bank meant something. I know now that my priorities were skewed.

Matt lived life to the absolute fullest. He was always the first one to book a trip, take a day off to do something fun, and calm my nerves when I thought things we were doing cost too much. He understood the value of a moment. Maybe somehow he knew his moments were limited, but I have adopted his way of thinking.

Life is short. Your kids are only kids for a little while. Our daughter will be 7 next month and, as much as I wish it wasn’t true, the years are flying by. I will forever cherish the memories he worked so hard to make with her. I will never regret one trip, one expensive event, one special thing with her and for her. She was his whole world and they were both mine.

20 years from now, your kids won’t care whether you were the most successful person at work. They won’t care whether or not you always made them most responsible choices, they will know you made choices with love.

Your kids will remember that time dad came through with something amazing for them.

When I look back over my own childhood, I see my parents working hard to give us the world. I see them showing up for baseball games and dance recitals and pageants and every other event we had. I know they struggled at times, but the love was there to drown out the troubles.

Matt showed up. From day one, he never let her down. If you can take anything at all from our tragedy and apply it to your life, let it be this: The days are long but the years are short. Make them count.

He won’t see her grow up. But we will continue to live every day of this life we have like he would’ve wanted us to, soaking up every opportunity we’ve got.

Take the trip.

Do all the things.

Family > work. Always.

Love each other. Because in the end, that’s all we really have anyway. Everything else is just noise.

Getting Over the Rainbow

Sunday I got up and went to church. This weekend was emotionally draining for a lot of reasons. The weight of everything felt crushing and nothing I tried gave any kind of relief. I wish I could just sleep away the pain, sadness, and anxiety of everything. I can’t. Sleep has never come easy to me and it definitely doesn’t now. I do my best thinking and overthinking overnight.

Sunday morning during the church service the worship team started singing Matt’s favorite song, the one from his funeral. I felt my knees buckle underneath me and I immediately sat down. I had been holding back tears all morning and they just fell out. A sweet friend was right behind me in seconds when she saw me go down and she comforted me while I fell apart.

And then, it happened. What always happens when I let anyone see any emotion other than “ok”.

I got mad.

I get irrationally mad at myself for crying in public. It doesn’t happen often at all. I know that part of grief involves tears, but I prefer not to fall apart in front of people. Ever. My inner dialogue was saying “Great! This is exactly what everyone wants, a front row seat to the grief show”.

Grief sneaks up on you. The silly things that have triggered meltdowns since Matt died make no sense. Songs, commercials, seeing something he loved, getting mail addressed to him.. all things that have made me sob.

I have always felt as though I can mentally push myself through any trauma in my life. Falling apart, especially in public, has always felt like a failure of strength. This was no exception. Instead of feeling relieved that I could let it out, I felt embarrassed that I allowed myself to.

Grief is complicated.

As adults we are expected to be strong. We have to hold it together at work, home, kid’s functions, church, and out with the general public. What we don’t understand is that everyone around us is falling apart at one time or another throughout the day.

Maybe I was incredibly naive before Matt’s illness, but I lived such a charmed life that I was blind to the struggles of others. It never occurred to me that anyone around me was hurting this bad until I was hurting this bad. Now I see it. And I feel the pain of others because I understand it more.

It’s easier to be emotionally numb than it is to pull the bandaid off and deal with what is happening. Numbing the pain with different things helps and I dare someone to judge me for it. My drug of choice is red wine. My second drug of choice is Starbucks.

Carrying around the weight of grief is all-consuming. I have struggled with anxiety for as long as I can remember and losing my husband and becoming the soul provider for our daughter has sent me deeper into the panic feeling I fought so hard for years to overcome.

Talking about mental health is a conversation we need to have.

It’s ok to feel alone in a crowded room.

It’s ok to talk to your friends about the meds you’re on.

It’s ok to admit to people that you haven’t slept in days.

It’s ok to call in after being awake all night.

What’s not ok is facing depression alone. Everyone needs someone to remind them that everything is temporary.

Life.

Illness.

Love.

Jobs.

Stress.

Anxiety.

Depression.

Fear.

Panic.

A song that took you out at the knees.

Everything.

I think the true tragedy here is that mental health has such a stigma attached to it that oftentimes people would rather just die than see anyone watch them fall apart.

The Wizard of Oz has been my favorite movie since childhood. I have a deep love for Judy Garland.

In her own words:

“I tried my damnedest to believe in the rainbow that I tried to get over, and I couldn’t. So what. Lots of people can’t.”

I feel this so deeply right now. Getting through the day is hard. Getting through the night is harder, which is why I’ve been up since 2:30am.

What can you do to help the person on the verge of falling apart at any given second?

Love them. Be the person who sees them at the end of their rope and offer them yours.

Understand that people struggling can function on very high levels and still fall apart.

Understand that we will laugh. Smile. Make jokes. It’s a way to cope.

Teaching myself that overcoming something that feels so insurmountable will require me to, at times, show my grief in public. I’m trying to be gentle with myself. I’m trying hard to talk it out with the people I trust the most.

I’ll get over that rainbow. I hear the skies are blue and the dreams you dare to dream really do come true.

Love Sucks

Once upon a time I was a bitter divorcee. My marriage failed. I’ll split the blame with my ex. I may be the most difficult person on the planet to live with. My daddy’s favorite thing to tell men I date is “Godspeed”.

I wasn’t open to falling in love again. I had no intention of ever getting married again. I didn’t want to let myself love anyone else because I was terrified of getting hurt. But our friendship turned into an almost obsession with each other. He lived in England and I lived in Atlanta and we texted almost all day every day and video chatted multiple times a day. Absence definitely made the heart grow fonder.

When he came to America to visit, it was like a dream come true. I was in love. Real, terrifying, scary love. I jumped in with my whole heart and trusted when I thought I never would again.

The funny thing about love is you can rarely control who you fall in love with. I’ve loved some real jerks. I’ve halfway loved some really nice guys. But Matt was the first person to make me feel completely comfortable and content. I didn’t have that restless feeling with him. I was at home in his presence and in his arms.

One night, while we were laying in bed after our screaming baby finally fell asleep, he asked me a question I couldn’t answer honestly. He asked me if I would ever leave him. I think everyone has a list of things in the back of their minds that would cause them to abandon the Love Boat. I wanted to tell him “no, nothing would ever make me leave you”. But I couldn’t say those words. I did used to threaten to move out and live with his parents if he ever divorced me so he would be forced to visit me when he visited them. He didn’t think that was near as funny as I did.

I wish I would’ve told him the truth. Nothing in the world would’ve ever made me leave him. I felt such a bond and a connection with him that only strengthened with his stage 4 cancer diagnosis. We fought. We went to bed mad sometimes. I googled divorce attorneys a couple of times. But we kept trying and kept loving each other through the ups and downs of marriage.

Our marriage was not perfect. We could ride each other’s nerves and annoy each other, but he was my person.

I feel so lost without him most days. Sometimes I sit in the garage, his favorite room in the house, where the bullet box is that holds some of his ashes and just talk to him. Sometimes I cry. Sometimes I yell into the air at him when his dogs do something really stupid. I used to think all of this made me a little insane, but now it feels like just a normal way to handle grief.

Love sucks.

Sometimes it sucks the life right out of you.

Sometimes it sucks away your free time and any semblance you had of a normal life.

Sometimes it sucks away your identity to the point that you don’t even know who you are anymore or what you liked before love.

Sometimes it sucks so bad it hurts.

Loving Matt sucked.

It sucked away all my fears and replaced them with hopes for the future.

It sucked away my anxiety and replaced it with stability and comfort.

It sucked away everything I didn’t think I deserved and replaced it with a little blonde hair, blue eyed miracle that keeps me equally insane and sane at the same time. I can’t figure out how she does that. Motherhood is weird.

Losing Matt sucked. It has sucked the life out of me and left me a shell of a person. I would do it all over again just to spend the time I had with him a second time.

Feeling empty sucks.

Depression sucks.

Anxiety sucks.

Sleeping alone sucks.

Being scared for the future sucks.

But for a brief moment in time, life did not suck. And I hold on to the possibility that one day, some how- I’ll feel that way again.

What I Know for Sure

I don’t understand a lot about life and why things happen. In the wake of the death of Kobe Bryant and everyone aboard his helicopter, including his 13 year old daughter, I find myself asking, once again, why bad things happen.

When I get to heaven I have a lot of questions for God.

What I do know is that I was loved by Matt. From day one, he loved me differently than anyone else had.

I know that he loved our daughter more than anything in the world, even me. I know that he would’ve done anything to be here with her to watch her grow up. It just was not to be.

I know for sure that we were loved with everything he had. We called ourselves the three musketeers. We enjoyed spending time together more than anything else and found fun in the ordinary and mundane parts of life. Life with Matt was a constant adventure.

I know for absolute certain that we were his dream. He wanted nothing more than to be married, have a child, dogs, house, and a safe full of guns. He had everything he wanted in America. The day we found out Quinn was a girl was also the day we got married. He was so happy that he sobbed tears of joy. He wanted a little girl so bad. She will never have to wonder if she was wanted because I will make sure she knows what a dream come true she was for him. When she walked into the room his whole face would light up, even towards the bitter end.

I had never had a relationship like I had with Matt. In the seven years that we were together, I experienced a love that is so rare, but he made it feel so normal. Falling asleep in his arms every night while he played with my hair, laughing until we cried most nights because both of us have the heart and sense of humor of a child- just normal life for us.

And even when he was sick, he faced every day with a smile and a witty sense of humor. He was the first person to laugh at himself and he disarmed anyone who tried to feel sorry for him. He wouldn’t allow it. His positive attitude kept us going, when it should’ve been the other way around.

I know for sure that life is fleeting. It’s short, sometimes brutal, but always beautiful. The days are long but the years are short. I love on a different level now because of Matt. I try to never let people wonder how I feel about them, because what if I don’t get the chance to tell them again? What if we all lived and loved this way without having tragedy catapult you into feelings? Imagine what a wonderful place this world would be if we all were just born understanding how precious life is. It would be really easy to be bitter and shut the world away, but because of Matt’s love for us, I keep reaching out and keep making connections. Relationships with the people you care about is the only thing that matters.

Life is too short to be angry.

Life is too short to have hate in your heart.

Life is too short to sweat the small stuff. Or even the big stuff.

Love is all that matters.

I remember feeling so lost when Matt lost the ability to talk. My person, the one I laughed and cried with, the person who could calm me when nobody else could, couldn’t calm me when my world was falling apart because he was slowly losing his life. The dread of knowing he was slipping away was almost enough to kill me. Holding his hand and listening to him struggle to breathe was the most difficult thing I’ve ever done. Still, I feel like being in the room when he crossed over to what’s next after this life was an honor and a privilege. We were in a sacred space that day.

When we got married, we held hands as we said our vows. I remember feeling like I had won the lottery. I held those same hands through the ups and downs of life with Matt, through diagnosis and chemo, through celebrating and sobbing. If I close my eyes I can remember every freckle on his hands and exactly how they looked. I don’t want to forget any part of him. I pray that time doesn’t take that away from me.

Love doesn’t end when a loved one dies. It is just saved in a space in your heart to be poured out when you meet again. I know I will see Matt again in heaven. That’s a promise that I believe wholeheartedly.

I know for sure that, once upon a time, I was loved. I know that will happen again. It may be different. It may not be as intense. It may make me feel guilty because how could I ever open myself up to that again after Matt?

But I’m open to all possibilities for happiness, because that’s the way he wanted it to be. I hope for a future so wonderful that it softens the immense pain we have endured. And hope floats.

Heart Forward, Heart Open

One day, long ago but feels like just yesterday, when I was in the throes of being the wife of a cancer patient, I reached what is commonly referred to as my wits end. In other, not so pretty words- I was thisclose to losing my shit. Being the caretaker for someone you love pushes you to the brink of sanity, pulls you back in to ok-ness, and back to the brink again.

Over and over and over again.

It is draining.

So one day after I dropped my daughter off at school I had a panic attack. I didn’t know what to do or where to go or how to make myself feel better. I wanted to run far away. Then it hit me- yoga.

Yoga has been a mainstay in my life for 15+ years. When I can’t seem to get my life together, it’s always there, waiting on me with welcome arms.

This fateful day was no exception. I googled “yoga classes birmingham alabama” and the first hit was the one I called. A class was starting in 30 minutes. I drove straight there.

The instructor was kind and gentle and exactly what I needed at the moment. I found my home there. No matter what cancer threw at me, I could show up and breathe in and breathe out and focus on my movement and work through it. I’m a chronic over-thinker and yoga doesn’t allow space to overthink. Yoga allows you to focus on yourself when you are at the bottom of your own priority list.

Yoga is better than therapy. Yoga saved my life when I was ready to take a slow walk into rush hour traffic.

My yoga family is irreplaceable to me. They have wiped away my tears when I couldn’t hold them in anymore, they have hugged me when I needed someone to just grab me and hug me and couldn’t ask for that, they have made me laugh, and offered a loving and accepting space when I didn’t have a safe space to just be. The week after Matt died at my first class back I cried my exhausted self to sleep. I was so exhausted and so embarrassed, but every emotion I had been holding in just came out and sleep was greatly needed. They just carried on with class around me without judgement.

And when I strayed and didn’t show up for class for 2 months, they didn’t forget about me. When I spent more time in a botabox than I did on my mat, no one chastised me when I finally came back. I was welcomed with open arms. I need to remember that I can love yoga and love my wine at the same time. The two are not mutually exclusive.

Tonight I was back at home on my mat. I breathed in, breathed out, and moved. Tonight’s class was with one of my favorite instructors, the one who taught the first class I attended there, the one who taught the class I fell asleep in after Matt died, and the one who has seen me come in with puffy eyes from crying and has celebrated little victories through cancer treatment and grieved with me when the end of Matt’s life crushed me completely.

I have been filling my head with too much lately. Financially, I’m screwed. Cancer does a number on you. Socially, I’m an outcast. Widows carry a heavy burden that most people just don’t have time for. Being alone now means I’m really alone, and I feel the weight of that the minute the last friend leaves and it’s just me and Quinn trying to figure out life. Every time the house empties out it feels like a kick in the teeth. Most people have moved on to the next tragedy. It happens. Trying to move on and be happy in my life has brought uninvited criticism into my life in the form of a bitter ex-wife with so much time on her hands to talk down about others. I’m just out here trying to live life and be happy. Some people don’t want to see others happy, and that’s ok. There is no timeline, no rule book, and no set schedule for how to grieve. I’m winging it.

Tonight during class our instructor told us to have our heart forward, heart open for warrior one. This hit me hard. I have been slowly closing myself off. I’ve let the opinions of others affect the way I carry myself and the way I live my life and most importantly, my happiness. When I’m upset about something my dad always tells me to remember who I am. Solid advice. What other people think of me doesn’t matter. Never has, never will. Somehow I forgot that when I was busy carrying the weight of other’s expectations on my already tired shoulders. Grief is the loneliest road to walk, but it’s making me stronger every day.

Heart forward, heart open. Warrior mode.

At the end of our class this poem was read. Perfect timing.

Everything is Waiting for You

David Whyte

Your great mistake is to act the drama
as if you were alone. As if life
were a progressive and cunning crime
with no witness to the tiny hidden
transgressions. To feel abandoned is to deny
the intimacy of your surroundings. Surely,
even you, at times, have felt the grand array;
the swelling presence, and the chorus, crowding
out your solo voice You must note
the way the soap dish enables you,
or the window latch grants you freedom.
Alertness is the hidden discipline of familiarity.
The stairs are your mentor of things
to come, the doors have always been there
to frighten you and invite you,
and the tiny speaker in the phone
is your dream-ladder to divinity.

Put down the weight of your aloneness and ease into
the conversation. The kettle is singing
even as it pours you a drink, the cooking pots
have left their arrogant aloofness and
seen the good in you at last. All the birds
and creatures of the world are unutterably
themselves. Everything is waiting for you.

Nobody Dies from a Broken Heart

Sure, my heart is broken. We have suffered a great loss. I wouldn’t be human if I didn’t feel like there’s no good reason to get out of bed every once in a while. But the biggest source of my misery right now is stress. This stress comes in the form of all the life changes you never chose for yourself but are forced to walk through anyway. Here are some things I’ve learned along the way and some ramblings from coming home from our trip abroad.

Matt was the breadwinner of our family. We lived a comfortable life and lived well within our means. Cancer took our financial security and ruined it. Our retirement plan was solid. He was young, strong, and healthy- until he wasn’t.

The biggest source of stress and pain is that people disappear. No, really. They do. What I have learned about cancer and death and being a fresh new widow is that socializing as a newly single person with a small child is very difficult. I went from being “Matt’s wife” to public enemy number one with some of my couple friends. Gone are the invites to do things. Gone is the “being included” feeling. I spend a lot of time feeling like an animal on exhibit at the zoo. No one wants the one single person hanging around all the married people. It’s similar to what I felt like after my divorce, but worse. Because I didn’t choose this.

I can tell the people who have a genuine interest in being here for our little family of 2, because they show up. They don’t show up when everything is nice and pretty and organized, they show up and meet me in my mess and help me get what’s left of my life together. I cannot tell you how many times my friend and her kids have shown up just to eat dinner with us and help me fold clothes so I don’t feel like I’m drowning in the mundane. My friends with big families bring all their kids over and we let them run though the house and act crazy so our house won’t be quiet and lonely. The night before we flew out I couldn’t find a very important document I needed to transport the ashes. My friend called and could tell I was losing it. Instead of saying “Bye! See you when you get back!”, he came over and dug through piles of paperwork until we found it. The people that see me at my absolute worst and show up anyway are my people. They know this stress won’t last forever. They know I don’t have a lot to offer them right now except tales of what continues to be our crazy life, but they don’t let that stop them. People that spent months inserting themselves into our lives and asking us to repeat every single detail of trauma and tragedy every time we saw them have now moved on to the next tragic situation. This is probably a good thing, but it doesn’t hurt any less.

When we were out of the country for Christmas, friends helped take care of our house and our animals. I was so grateful not to have to board them and that they were surrounded by people for the holidays. When our big, lovable, fluffy dogs had a big accident on a stormy day because one of them has a really nervous stomach, they tag teamed and cleaned it up. Another friend cleaned my entire house while we were gone. Coming home to a clean house after a long day of travel was a gift I didn’t know I needed.

Feelings and emotions are hard to navigate, especially when you’re carrying the pain of losing someone to something so horrible. It’s easy to feel like you’ll never be loved again. It’s also easy to feel the urgency to tell people how much they mean to you because you know too well that tomorrow is promised to no one. Love doesn’t come in the form of manufactured for profit holidays like Valentine’s Day. It comes in the form of someone who loves you and loves your child scrubbing your floors and your kitchen, and someone else who loves you sending you a picture of the mess your dog made and then relaying how she cleaned it up complete with gagging noises while you both laugh maniacally. People who love us checked on us on what they knew would be hard days while we were abroad. When we got home and Quinn was horribly jetlagged, one of our favorite people met us at Waffle House at 3am. Giggles of delirium ensued. That’s love. My circle is small, but it’s solid.

So, stress. Stress over no longer having health insurance, stress over bills, stress over whether I’m making the right decisions for our daughter or not, stress from knowing that everything falls on me from here on out- stress. Stress will kill me long before a broken heart ever will.

Quinn and I fell in love with England while we were there. For 2 weeks, most of my stress was gone. I could just eat, drink, and be merry. Being with Matt’s parents was a great source of comfort for us. It was like we were with him. I felt the heavy weight of everything come back the minute I pulled back into the driveway of our home.

The night before we left England, our British family and friends gathered to send us off in style at a local pub.

If you have friends going through life changing trauma and stress, love them. Celebrate them. Meet them in their mess. Be the person who eats scatter browns with them at 3am. Understand that emotional outbursts by their 6 year old child are directly related to the trauma her little heart has been through and not indicative of how she behaves regularly. Talk to them. Tell them about your life. Love them anyway. Even when they are at their most unlovable.

I have big plans for 2020. If people want to continue to gawk at us like a zoo exhibit, now is a wonderful time to do so. You may just enjoy the show.

Xoxo,

Blonde Black Widow