Grief and Loss Support

Category: Uncategorized (Page 1 of 2)

My boy

Yesterday we entered the Olivander’s Wand Shop in Universal California. With a group of about 25 people we were all positioned against the wall by the assistant. Your father and I hoped one of you boys would be chosen as the special guest to have a wand fitted to you. The wand chose you, my first born son. Watching you go through this amazing experience, your eyes lit up.

You are now 12 years old. What the keeper of the shop did not know is:

You are the boy that saved me first.

You were the boy that saw me ugly cry the whole first year.

You were the boy that wiped my tears and told me “I don’t like that face, please stop crying Mommy” at age three.

You were the boy that turned to jokes to make me laugh so I wouldn’t cry.

You were the life in my soul.

You were the only boy that went through the horrible tragedy of losing your father with me.

When the witch helped you find the perfect fit, I saw your eyes begin to blink, my sensitive boy, I know you were fighting back tears. Mine came rolling down my face. Tears of pride and happiness that she chose you!

You read all of the Harry Potter books and enjoyed seeing each movie after finishing the book.

That experience was so special and meaningful for you. I am blessed to have been there to watch the magic my boy.

The woman who picked you for that experience has no idea what an amazing young man you truly are. However the words she spoke were so accurate and meant just for y-o-u.

With horse hair, this wand is meant for a person who is so loyal to his friends and family. Son, you are incredibly loyal to your friends and peers. Whether it is sitting with the child who sits alone at lunch, to being best friends with the boy who couldn’t find his voice and purposefully not associating with the mean kids. The wand chose you.

My boy I love you with my whole heart, and am thankful our tragic loss shaped you for the better and you came out a more powerful person.

Love,

Mom

August 18, 2019

Father’s Day for Widow’s Children

The next time you think you have it bad, think about a child who has lost their Dad. That’s right, as Father’s Day approaches there are people all around the country not happy to celebrate this day. I have talked to many adults over the last 8 years who lost their fathers young. I am intrigued by their sharing. Why? Because they help me know what my own children could be feeling. I lost my partner Jon when I was 34 years old. I know my own feelings. I have watched how my children process things as they get older. I can infer how they feel, but my Dad is still alive so I don’t truly know what it is like for them to not have their father.

I do however get to deal with their range of emotions on any given day, by any possible trigger. Recently, my seven year old son nonchalantly told his Dad after school “Today I could write about a special person, and I chose you. You’ll get to see it soon.” Hours later after his (2nd) Dad left for a meeting, I got the anger and confusion from this school assignment. I got the “you know I could pick my favorite person to write about today and I didn’t choose you. And of course I didn’t choose Dad Jon. (Biological father) I chose Dad Tom. Now anger coming out, he continues “Fathers are supposed to raise their children and be there for them, Dad Jon didn’t raise me and he is not here for me!” Yelling, tears, and anger came next. He tried shutting the door on me as he went in the house. He headed for the living room, hid under a blanket and continued yelling and crying. I think to myself, this sucks, but good baby boy let it out. He was so angry with me. Angry and saying I caused the car accident.  Angry at me for “getting another husband and you were probably happy Dad Jon died”. That stung, because in these 8 years of raising my boys without their bio dad a lot has happened. But I always put them first. I didn’t cause that accident, I was home sleeping with my 3 year old son.  I wasn’t even in the car. But my youngest son didn‘t know this detail maybe or he didn’t remember it……after all he wasn’t born yet. My second son was born six months after his father died in the accident.

His older brother was only three years old when Daddy died. I do know that a child’s sense of security is taken when their father dies. Anxiety can be a result of this loss. Other challenges for children who lost a father can be: feeling alone, depressed, wishing they could go to heaven to visit their Dad, being angry with their Mom because she isn’t a Dad no matter how hard she tries. But most of all kids just want to be like other kids and have a complete family, both of their parents.

I also know that although I raise two sons who lost their father, their circumstance are very different and therefore their grief and loss is unique to them. One son wishes his biological father never died and he still had his best friend. He wishes he could remember him but his memories have faded. My younger son seems to long for the father he never met, the one he is not in any pictures with. He wishes he had any memories with him at all. At his tender age of seven he is processing his loss in a different way, trying to make sense of it. Both, circumstances are so difficult, but I have faith they will be okay. Their loss is woven into who they are. It’s a part of them.

For the now adults that lost their father much too soon, I send love to you. I hope you got a wonderful male role model in your life. If you didn’t I hope you become a wonderful role model to a child that could really use one. My sons are blessed they did get a man that came along and needed a family. He needed us just as much as we needed him. I do believe God and Johnny sent Tom directly to us. For that I will be eternally grateful. To all the Moms out there being both parents, keep your chin up, smile…. you are beautiful and keep proving to your children what a true Warrior is, a fighter who never gives up. To all the Dads out there being both parents Happy Father’s Day, hug your kids and be assured your wife is smiling down on you and your family.

 

Written by Julie Brennan

Mother’s Day Story

http://enterprisenews.com/news/20180513/for-brockton-widow-motherhood-became-whole-new-world

Recently Heather Bartlett a We Do Care Support group participant was interviewed by a local newspaper The Brockton Enterprise. She made the front page on Mother’s Day! Just look at her beautiful children. This article gives you a glimpse into the journey of Heather raising 4 children who lost their father, Larry. She shares the importance of finding a place to go during her grieving. We hope you enjoy reading about how our programming is working and helping young widows and children who have lost a parent.

Vulnerable

One cold February day I hurriedly took out the trash. A bag in one hand, the recyclables in the other hand, I took a fast slide on the slippery sheet of ice on my driveway. I ended up lying there with my left ankle twisted under my other leg, feeling the sharp and sudden pain of the fall. I had screamed quickly and loud as I fell, the scared feeling and surprise in my yell.

My son just leaving for school with his Dad ran out. Then my paramedic husband came next. “Alright what hurts,” he says as I lay there. My pride was probably wounded the most. I fell. I hurt myself. I could barely get any words out. I think I finally muttered “I twisted my ankle” grumpily, then got up abruptly put most of the pressure on my other foot, quickly got into the house, grabbed an ice pack, sat and iced that ankle. I had left them standing there. (I think I heard “whoa Hun take it easy, slow down.” As I made my way to the safety of my home.) I did want help but I just wanted a do over. I wanted to not have fallen and been laid out on my back, hoping someone heard me yell.

As I sat on the couch, icing my ankle I cried. Yes it hurt, I’d be okay but it hurt. And my morning now had to be figured out. This was not the day I had planned. I remembered this is vulnerable.

Vulnerable, when you feel weak and helpless. When someone offers you help and you can’t respond. You don’t know what you need you just know you are hurting. You need something but it’s either too hard to ask for help or you really have no idea what you need. The word vulnerable stems from the Latin roots vulnus meaning “wound”.

Have you ever been there? Feeling wounded sucks. Being a strong independent woman I can count on one hand the amount of times in my life I truly felt completely vulnerable. For those of us warriors where life gave us obstacles to overcome, we know how to fight back. We know how to stand strong on our own with little help. However there comes a few times in life when even the strongest warrior needs an army.

Grief is something many in our American society steer away from discussing. Death and dying is a topic we don’t casually bring up in conversation either. Most of us are not fortunate to have taken a class on the hardest stage in life death and dying. When each of us gets to that moment in life when we lose our closest person, can we ever be prepared for that? Will each of us know how to help our people when they experience close loss and are feeling vulnerable.

To be that person trying to outstretch your hand when your friend is falling deep into the darkness of grief, what can you do when they won’t accept your offer? You’ve called and they are not taking your call. You’ve said, “call me if you need anything”, and meant it. It’s got to be tough being that friend and feeling pushed aside when you truly want to do something to help and just want to be there for your friend.

What you can do is simple: Just keep trying! Be right by them when you can. When they let you in and you have time to be with them be there without judgment. Everyone responds in his or her own way to loss and death. We all have our own unique journey. Let your friend travel their journey. Tell them you can listen or just sit quietly with them in their sadness. Go cook a meal at their home. Really, food brings people together, and a good home cooked meal can nourish their soul. Help them find resources that may help them. But allow them to feel in control. Vulnerability is tough because you have a sense that you have lost control of your life. Not being in control is hard to feel.

If you are that friend reaching out be compassionate and kind. Look around and see what needs to be done, and just get it done. When a person feels in despair even the simplest of tasks can seem like climbing a mountain. Help your friend be ready to climb back up to the top, at their pace. At times they might need a piggyback. Other days it might just be a snack break they need to just keep climbing. Other days they might surprise you and themselves and be capable of so much. Offer your friend hope that this vulnerability won’t stay forever but you will.

The terrible twos of grief.

At first I heard that the first year is the hardest.  My therapist told me that getting through the “year of firsts” would be the hardest part.  The first set of holidays, first wedding anniversary without him, first everything would be the hardest.   That made sense.   And then I met other widows.  In support group and talking online.  And they said year two would be harder.  And that didn’t make sense.  I didn’t understand how anything could be harder than when I first lost Chris.

I saw getting through year one as an accomplishment.  And it was.  I don’t want to take away from the fact that it was.  I made it through that year of firsts.  I existed.  I’ve said before my only goals for that year were to not get fired, not get arrested, and shower on a somewhat regular basis.  I somehow made it through with some happy memories to boot which in my eyes was a huge win.  I had done it.  Surely from there things would get so much easier.

I didn’t see how it could get harder than the hardest year of my life.  I couldn’t wrap my brain around the pain being worse than the deepest pain I had ever felt or could ever imagine feeling.  But the other widows were right.  Year two was harder.  I’m approaching my husband’s two year anniversary next month, and can look back and compare.

The first year I numbly existed through pain.  Looking back I was still in shock.  I was still numb to so much of it.  I didn’t even see memories clearly in my brain yet.  The images of his funeral, the images of his brother approaching me as I sat on the front stairs of my house about to tell him that his big brother was dead, the images of me shaking the love of my life and screaming at him to wake up…. it took until after a year to even see those memories through my own eyes.  When I thought about them during year one it was like I was a third party watching a movie.  I saw myself in the memories, but I wasn’t myself in them.

But the first year I also just existed.  That was my only goal.  I’ve used the analogy before that losing a loved one is like losing a limb.  A leg.  Not that I can begin to know the pain and perseverance it takes when you lose an actual limb – but the analogy helps me.   To remind me that similarly, losing a loved one is not something you will ever get over.  You don’t wake up one day and forget your leg is gone.  It is a loss that you will never recover from, but you can learn to function without it.  You can be happy again and learn to dance again and run again somehow.  But it will never be the same.  But first, you just have to physically heal.  You can’t move.  You just have to lie there and let your body heal.  And that’s all I did year one.  Went through the motions.  Survived it.

Year two is about learning how to walk again.  Those gut wrenchingly painful first steps back into the land of life.   Numbly existing without him was so hard.   But feeling every painful part of trying to LIVE without him, well that’s even harder.

When you first kiss someone else…. its harder.  When you first fall asleep next to someone else, it’s harder.  When you finally cancel the gym membership you’ve been paying for in his name for almost two years, because it was something that was his, it’s harder.   When you first develop feelings for someone other than your husband, it’s harder.  When you meet someone that you’d actually consider dating for the first time, it’s harder.  When you find out you can’t have kids easily, and he’s not there to hold your hand, it’s harder.  When you go through your second set of holidays and you see your mom reading a book to a group of kids and you think that if he had lived maybe you’d have one by now, it’s harder.  When people stop checking in to ask how you’re holding up, it’s harder.  When you lose a best friend because of the way you behaved in the depths of grief, it’s harder.  When your almost five year old niece tells you she doesn’t remember him, it is harder.  When you stop feeling him around you, and stop hearing his voice in your head every day, it is harder.  When you look at apartments and realize you can’t afford any place close to your family on your own, it is harder.

This weekend I cleaned out my car.  It took almost 2 years.  I moved out of our apartment the week after his services.  I was in shock and running on pure adrenaline.  It was his car before it was mine.  And up until this weekend it was the only place left that had things where he had left them.  For some reason keeping it the same, keeping those things where he had placed them, was paramount to me for so long.  To the point where my car got so cluttered and messy I literally couldn’t fit another human being in the car with me.  Things in my car since I moved out of my apartment because I couldn’t face looking at it.  I couldn’t go through it, I couldn’t move it.  And then I did.  And it was harder than cleaning out my entire apartment.  I am not numb anymore.  So it was harder.

Emotionally I feel like that terrible twos toddler throwing tantrums because they are frustrated and can’t express themselves and their feelings and disappointments in a clear way.   There are days I wish it were acceptable to throw myself on the ground and kick and pound my fists and yell and cry and just throw a fit.  Because when the waves of grief hit, it is so frustrating.  No matter how many times people remind you that there’s no timeline for grief, there’s still frustration with yourself when you feel like it is still kicking your ass after “all this time”.   You start to doubt yourself and your emotions.  It is hard to tell if your reaction to a situation is how you truly feel about it, or if it is an exaggerated overreaction based on the fact that you are overly emotional and grief stricken.   Sometimes you let a few weeks pass and realize you feel the same way you did in the middle of the meltdown.   Sometimes the very next day you regret the behavior and know that you wouldn’t have been so dramatic or demanding or “crazy” if you weren’t also trying to battle the grief monster in your head.  It is extremely frustrating to not trust your own emotions.  To second guess yourself and always wonder if you overreacted to situations.   And when you realize you did, it is really hard to apologize in a way that anyone who hasn’t lived through this could ever understand.  Like a toddler.  Throwing a tantrum.

I felt a shift after year one.  Like I hit a milestone.  I am hoping I feel that same shift a month from now, as we mark another anniversary of the day we lost Chris.  I don’t know what the next stage looks like, but now I know not to just assume it will be easier than this.  It could be harder before it gets easier.  I do trust, however, that it will get easier someday.  That as I learn to walk again and learn to take each painful step after step back into living without him, I will find my stride again.  It will get easier with time.  The lesson I learned this year is that we can’t predict each year when exactly that will be.  And that is okay.  As long as I know I’m working towards a day where it will be easier.  The day will never come where I don’t miss him.   Or that I will fully be over it.  But maybe year 3 is the year the terrible days continue to be fewer and father between.

Parenting Solo with BRCA1 by Mel Tibbetts

My mother died from breast cancer at the age of 37; I was 18 years old when she died.  She fought for 2 years.  My maternal grandmother was in her 60’s when she was diagnosed with breast cancer.  She was one of the lucky ones.  She lived a full life until the age of 82.  Me, well, I always had a feeling that breast cancer would find me too, and then it did, but not in the way you may think.  

My husband and I got married when I was 31 years old.  We had 2 children within 4 years of marriage.  In August 2013, my husband was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer; the cancer had spread to his liver.  He was 41 years old.  I knew right at that moment that he did not have long to live and that he was dying.  I had lived through cancer before as a teenager and I had seen how it destroyed my mother.  I knew that it would ravage my husband too.  

My husband wanted to have genetic testing done because of his diagnosis of advanced cancer at such an early age.  He wanted to ensure that our children would have all of the medical information that they needed to prevent cancer from “getting” them after he died. He met with a Dana Farber genetic counselor on November 13, 2013.  His results came back on December 13, 2013. They told me, “He has no genetic mutations. We do not know why or how he has cancer.”  My first thoughts were, “Phew.  What a relief.”  I shared this information with him and he was elated that he would not be leaving a genetic scar on our children when he died.  He then turned to me and said, “What about you?  Will you do the genetic testing for the kids?”  He was right.  I needed to do this for them just as much as he did.  

While my husband was hospitalized for the umpteenth time, I met with a Dana Farber genetic counselor on February 12, 2014.  My husband never heard the results of my testing and I am so thankful for that.  I wanted him to leave this world with peace.  He died on February 23, 2014.  My children were 5 years old and 7 years old at this time.  

On March 10, 2014 I met with the Dana Farber genetic counselor to discuss my genetic results.  At that time I was informed that I have an altered BRCA1 gene.  This mutation is associated with high cancer risk for hereditary breast cancer and ovarian cancer and should be clinically regarded.  A woman with an altered BRCA1 gene has 50-85% lifetime chance of developing breast cancer and a 20-40% chance of developing ovarian cancer.  My world crumbled even more in the midst of my grief.  I felt defeated.  My first thought was my children, “Why them?”  We had just lived through cancer taking someone that we could not live without.  I wondered how I was going to fight this.  How was I going to parent my two children solo while the only thing I could think at this time is, “I am going to die next.  Cancer is finding me too and it will kill me.  My kids will have no one left.”  I do not pray often, but I prayed hard that night.  I prayed that my angels would look over me and my children and guide me through this new journey of solo parenting with cancer still looming over me.  I prayed for guidance and  I prayed for strength.  

At that moment, I decided that cancer could not win in my life anymore.  I made some medical decisions to reduce my risk of getting breast and ovarian cancer and I have followed through on these decisions.  I get screened for breast cancer every 6 months with mammograms and MRIs.  I have a wonderful breast cancer specialist that I meet twice a year who has helped guide me in this journey.  I can honestly say that I feel empowered over this BRCA1 mutation now.  I have control over it, it does not have control over me.  I will win because my children need me to win. My children cannot lose another parent to cancer.  I will do all that is humanly possible to ensure that.  

Down the road, I will need to share this information with my children as they, too, will need to make decisions about genetic testing.  I dread this day.  It will almost be like telling them all over again, “Daddy died.  I am so sorry.”  I continue to pray that neither of my children have been passed this genetic mutation.  I pray that if this is the case, there will be bigger medical advances in the world of breast cancer and all cancers so that cancer will not feel like the monster it has become for them.

Raising Grieving Children

Raising children who grieve might be the hardest thing ever.

I thought telling my 3 year old son back in February of 2010 that his Daddy died was the worst thing I ever had to do. That his “heart stopped beating. that although the doctors tried very hard to save him and usually doctors DO save people, his father had died. His Dad’s heart stopped beating.”

Yes, those words, while sitting on my lap a cold February day. The boy just turned three years old. His Daddy was his best friend.

Six months later, when his beautiful baby brother was born, and that precious little three and half year old baby boy came into the hospital room so eager to meet his new baby brother, he walked right over to him. Bent down, and whispered in his ear: “My Daddy died.”

That’s right, only hours in this world, and Anthony heard it first from his “Big brother”. My response was “Jayce it was his Daddy too.” Jayce then said, “Our Daddy died”.

My Dad had to leave the hospital room. That was hard. Hearing my tiny little boy say that was hard. But it was empowering for 3 year old Jayce. He let out a secret. He told his new little baby brother, they had lost their Daddy. “Their Daddy had died.” They had a bond. A “shared experience of loss”.

I was 35 years old that day.

I understood death.

I loved my children.

For seven and a half years, I have raised these children the best that I knew how.
I did the best that I could in that time.

Today I was told a lot of things by an expert. An expert who did not raise grieving children.

With tears rolling down my face, I type, raising children who grieve their father, is very hard stuff.

——————————————————————————————————————————-

Instead of judging, do something.

Just do something.

Instead of labeling, a kid with anxiety. Or whatever you think that kid needs to be branded.

Meet that child where he is today.
HUG his parent.

‘Cause lord knows she has tried with every ounce of her being…..to be there.

She has tried to be his superhero.

Maybe she succeeded and kept it all together most days.

Maybe she screwed up as we all do some days.

But give a care.

Go visit that mom.

Go play with her kids.

Feed her kids. Clothe her kids.

Hearing your child say: “I wish I got to meet Dad Jon.” or “Where is my picture with my father holding me?” “I wish I could die, so I don’t have to watch my parents die, because it’s too much to handle” while getting in his pajamas. Or “I wish I could go to Heaven see Dad and then come back”. Those big ideas that come out of my son’s mouths at any given moment take my healed heart and rip it out of my chest and twist the hell out of it. How can it not?

Yes, death is a part of life.

Young loss is a horrible part of life.

Children knowing this young loss is tragic.

Raising babies who grieve is like running a marathon when you have not trained. Running that marathon when a quarter of the way in, you break your ankle. But you can’t stop running, because there’s an attack dog behind you. If you stop for water, you might get bit. If you tie your laces, you might not get back up. You have to run. You have to get to the finish line.

Healing your yourself in your own time, is like crossing that finish line. Helping your children grow and learn and grieve is crossing that finish line.

Thanks for listening.

Now go care. Judge less, spread light, give hope. You may just pull up the shades on a day that seemed pretty dark.

~Jules

… Like there’s no such thing as a broken heart…

I met my husband five years ago yesterday.

Okay that is kind of false for a couple reasons.  First, we actually met in kindergarten and grew up in the same neighborhood, I just didn’t remember him.   Secondly, it is 11:15pm and we all know how long winded I can be, so it may be tomorrow by the time this is published.

I re-met my husband five years ago on Sept 19, 2012.  And it seems like yesterday.  I went into the local pub to visit my best friend as she was working behind the bar.  Sat at the bar and ordered some lunch.  In walked Chris and his brother Andrew.  He sat down next to me, and for a while we all just chatted.  I didn’t realize that he was trying to flirt with me when a maxi-pad commercial came on the TV and he turned and asked “Is that what all girls sit around talking about?”.   Yeah – he was that smooth.

The part that I usually leave out of our love story, is that at the time I met him I was completely head over heels for someone else.  There was a very special man in my life.  We weren’t together.  But I loved him anyway.  I’m pretty sure he loved me too in his own way, but he didn’t want to be with me.  We shared a wild and crazy month or so as lovers and then settled into a dynamic of best friends.   I tried to be more, and there was always that “What If”.   What if life got easier or the timing got right or he woke up and realized we should be together for real.  Always that “Someday” in the back of my mind.

And then there was Chris.  Smiling and goofy and sweet and funny and completely interrupting the plans I had in my head as to how what I wanted was supposed to play out.  And I had to make the decision to choose to be happy with him rather than wait to hopefully maybe someday be happy with someone else.   But I still remember that it hurt to make that choice.  To give up on the love I thought was right for me, and take a chance on the unknown.  I can still recall the conversation with my friend, telling him “I met someone.”

Life put in front of me the best thing to ever happen to me and I wasn’t even looking for it.  And we went on our first date and the rest, as they say, was history.  No games, no drama, no questions about it.  Just “So, what are you doing tomorrow?”  And every day after that.  It was easy and simple and pure from the very start.  Like we had always known each other, like he was home.

So it makes thinking about how to “move on” with life after losing such a special love extremely complicated.  How can you possibly love again after losing your soul mate?  How do you justify simultaneously having feelings of excitement over someone new while at the same time grieving the person you miss the most?  I can tell you from conversations and group chats and hours of discussions with other widows and widowers, these are some of the toughest questions to grapple with.

There’s the guilt.  The guilt that comes with the idea that moving on somehow means you don’t love them enough to just shrivel up into a ball and die of heartbreak.  Robert Baratheon started the entire plot of Game of Thrones because he lost the love of his life, and I’m considering Tinder?   The guilt that comes not only from within and the feeling like you’re somehow cheating on someone who isn’t even here anymore, but also about what other people will think.  Is it too soon?  Will people look at me like I didn’t give it the appropriate amount of time?    In reality – those who love you won’t judge you one bit.   They will be happy for you, over the moon even, to see you trying to be happy again.  But the inside of your own head is a place that tends to forget all logic and reason when you’ve lost something so special.

There is also the fear.  The fear is huge.  Of being crushed again.  Of opening up your heart and having it broken into even smaller pieces than the ones you are still actively trying to fit back together as it is.   Of rejection.  Of loss.   Though to be honest, that is nothing compared to the fear I have of something working out, and the pain I am going to cause someone new when I can’t love them the way I loved Chris.   Of how unfair that seems to ask another human being to willingly accept a heart that will never fully be whole again.  And be okay with that.   My biggest fear is the day someone calls me their soul mate, or tells me I am the best thing to ever happen to them, and the only response I can give is “Thank you” instead of saying it back.

That doesn’t meant I think I wouldn’t be able to love again.  I do think I could.  I know my heart is big enough to let someone else in.  To care again.  To feel excited about someone.  To find someone I want to share my life with.

I have this theory, that there’s a sliding scale of compatibility.   Say your soul mate is your 100% match.  Man that is rare.  Most people go their entire lives without ever finding it.   Or coming close to finding it.  The odds of those two hearts connecting…. I truly believe its nothing short of divine intervention for it to happen.  You can’t look for that kind of love or search for it.  You can’t swipe left or right and hope to find it.  It is not a checklist or the prince at the end of some fairy tale.  It only happens when the universe just puts that person in front of you and you instantly know it is right.  I had that.  Chris was my 100%.   Most people don’t even believe that exists, and I wouldn’t either if I hadn’t experienced it.

But people are in love at way less than 100%.   Those cute old couples you see in the grocery store that have been married 65 years and have 4 generations of offspring and are ridiculously happy?   Some of those aren’t even 100%.  They could be like 95%, 90% – who knows I mean this isn’t a mathematical science it is simply the ramblings of my brain when I really should be sleeping.

My point being – you can be happy – REALLY happy – with less than your soul mate.  I truly believe that.   Now – that doesn’t mean you go and settle for some 75% bullshit and blame me.  No.  I didn’t say that.  I said the 90%, the 95% –  those are going to make it the distance.  The long haul.  And those aren’t as rare.  Those come along every so often.  They aren’t once in a lifetime.  They aren’t every Tom, Dick, and Harry you meet on the street – but they are out there and you can find them.  And you can be happy again with less than perfection.

There is no “one” person and one person only.  Watch one season of The Bachelor or Bachelorette and that is apparently clear.   One of my good friends from the We Do Care family asked the group of us once “How do you reconcile liking someone, while still feeling so sad about losing your soulmate?”.

All I could offer was – “there’s enough room in your heart for both?  Humans are incredible beings capable of feeling extremely complex combinations of emotions often times simultaneously?  We can laugh and cry literally at the same time.  We can look at a truly happy moment and feel so much joy and gratitude and still feel the deepest sadness that the person we love isn’t there to experience it with us.  We can be hopeful and heartbroken at the very same time.  The depth of the layers of everything we have to feel, all at once, after going through what we have all gone through is insane.  So yeah, we can feel attracted to and excited about and find like or love for someone while still loving someone we have lost.  It’s mind blowing really.  But it is possible.  You don’t have to chose one or the other.  You can do both.”

Okay – so it is possible.  Fine.  But how do you know when you are ready?   You don’t.  I think it just happens.  There is no set timetable.  It is different for every person.  Some quicker, some later.   Some are ready to go right straight to dating.  Others start off more casually.

(Mom and Dad and the rest of my family can stop reading now…. seriously…. as awkward as this is to think of my in laws or my parents reading – it is a huge part of what life after losing a spouse or love looks like and it needs to be talked about so…. here goes….)   It took me over a year to let myself think of being with anyone else.  And when I did, I wasn’t ready for emotions and romance and feelings and thoughts of a relationship or a future or even a date.   I didn’t want to date.   But I needed physical intimacy.   So for the past six months or so, I have gotten back out there and I have had my share of fun – safely of course – and I don’t feel guilty about it and I don’t feel ashamed of it.  If anything I feel like Chris would be shocked it took me so long.   And some people are capable of separating emotions from sex and some people are not, so it may not be an option for everyone, but it was what I needed.

But eventually you do want more.  And you miss having someone to go to dinner and a movie with.   You miss the kiss on the forehead.  You miss the cuddles and the snuggles and the emotional connection that you had.   You miss the idea of sharing your life with someone.

And sometimes you’re ready and you don’t even know it.  Or you’re waiting for something to happen to force your hand.  Or you have this idea in your head of how you’d like things to go…. much like I had in the beginning of this blog post… and your current “what ifs” and “maybe somedays” don’t work out the way you fantasized and you’re left having to face the terrifying realization that it has to happen.  Dating.  Oh dear god no.  Please no.  But you have no choice.  It is either dating or cat lady.  Plenty of people choose cat lady by the way.  And this is not a dig at any lovely cat ladies out there.

But I didn’t walk through the fire and hell of the last year and a half of my life to give up now and be an old lonely cat lady.

So I went on a date.  Last night.  Okay – it is past midnight now.  So whatever, two nights ago.  Sept 19, 2017.  I went on the first date since the death of my husband.  5 years to the day that I met him.   And it was great.  He was sweet.  We had dinner, he was outgoing, he told some funny and some not so funny jokes.  We talked about life, shared a meal.  Laughed.  He chatted up the old couple that they sat next to us at the Cheesecake Factory, because well they are in your lap anyway.  That old couple – so cute and so happy.  Adorable.  Retired.  Probably only a 93% I’d say.

We went to the movies.  We saw IT.  I am a huge baby at scary movies.  I gripped his arm and he held my hand and okay okay my knee (sorry again mom).  And I felt comfortable with him.  He opened all doors, including my car door and he paid for everything and he asked when he could see me again and said he wanted to take me bowling and apple picking and to see one of the previews.  And there was flirting and chemistry and a really decent kiss goodnight.

And then today he dumped me.  Because…. well dating sucks.  Lol.  But that’s not the point.  I didn’t expect another first date turns into a love story.  I’m not gonna lie – I didn’t expect it to end THIS quick after how great of a time we had.  The point is – I did it.  I went.  I got over the “I’m not ready” bullshit.   I was terrified, and sad, and felt guilty, and scared, and nervous, and every other emotion under the sun.   But I did it.  I let my guard down, and I took a chance.   It didn’t pan out… because as I have mentioned… dating sucks.   And yeah, today I was hurt.  And it probably hurt more now than it would have hurt before I met Chris.  I took it harder today.  It has been a tough few days.   But I’ve been through so much worse.  So much worse.  That all I can do is laugh, let it roll off my shoulders, and try again.

I know Chris is proud of me.  I know he thinks that dude is a moron.  But I know he is proud of me.  Life is way too short to let fear keep you from trying.   There is a song out now by Old Dominion…. and I know it is how he wants me to go forward…..

You know you can’t keep the ground from shaking,
No matter how hard you try
You can’t keep the sunsets from fading,
You gotta treat your life like
You’re jumping off a rope swing,
Baby cuz the whole thing’s really just a shot in the dark.
You gotta love, like there’s no such thing as a broken heart.
You gotta love, like there’s no such thing as a broken heart. 

Dealing with Fear after Loss By Mel Tibbetts

Almost four years ago I was about to learn that my happy world was about to be ravaged by fear.  In August 2013 as I went to pick up my husband from his colonoscopy appointment with my 4 year old and 7 year old in tow, the secretary told me that she would watch my children for me in the lobby. She told me that the doctor wanted to talk to me along with my husband and that my children should not go into the room with me.   At that exact moment I knew.  I knew that our world was going to change.  I felt fear enter my body, my mind, and my soul in that room as the doctor was talking, as my husband looked at me with a tinge of confusion, as I saw the doctor’s mouth move, and as I wondered what my children were doing at that moment.  

 

I would lose my husband, my co-parent, my best friend, and my soul mate in 6 months.  I would watch him waste away from cancer.  I watched my children’s confusion grow.  I watched my husband pull away from his role as a caretaker and father because he did not feel able anymore.  I was about to see my children go through one of the worst experiences of their young lives.  I would see my children lose their male role model; a love of their lives.  I was about to see my husband’s life end and my children’s hearts tear into two.  I was about to lose him and me.    

 

While my husband was being ravished by cancer, he continued to teach me about love and bravery.  I wanted him to stay to teach me more.  I was not done being his student.  He showed very little fear in the process of dying.  I envied him.  I knew that once he left this world, fear would ravish me.  I was scared as hell, but I could not express this openly.  I had to be the strong wife, the strong caregiver, the strong mother, and the strong survivor. He died on February 23, 2014. Three days later I turned 40 years old.  

 

Fear has been my closest companion for the past 4 years.  Fear has had a strong hold over my hopes, dreams, future, and heart.  Fear turned me into an overthinking, double guessing, not good enough person.  Fear has made me believe that what I want, what I dream for in the future, and what I deserve are not attainable goals.  Fear told me that I was not worthy of more.  Fear made me believe that I do not deserve to be loved again.  Fear has hidden itself as practicality in most of my decisions since that moment almost 4 years ago.  It is practical to take care of your family first. It is practical to take what you can get.  It is practical to stay risk free. It is practical to use your brain more than your heart.  It is practical to believe that your wants and needs do not come first.  Or worse yet, that you are not important.  It is practical to want what is best for your children over what is best for yourself.

 

I am finally at a place that I am ready to decide how much fear will dictate my life.  I have armed myself with the necessary tools to control fear’s role in my world.  I have filled my heart with love once again.  Love for the future.  Love for my life.  Love for myself.  I have connected with a great group of young widows and my children have seen that they are not alone in losing a father.  With these tools in hand, I am about to take fear by the horns and take fear out of my decisions.  I am about to put myself first. I am about to discover who I am again and what I want for my future.  I am about to live a life that I know that my husband would want for me and for our children.  I am ready for love and happiness to dictate my life and my decisions once again.  I am opening my book of life to a new unknown chapter in which fear is not allowed.  I am about to let life come to me with open arms and to let the universe give me what I want.  I am ready to accept love and peace into my heart. I am ready to take a leap of faith for the first time in a long time.  And I know that with this new acceptance of love, peace, and happiness is my husband right by my side.  Holding my hand and enjoying our new life.   

 

The infertile widow…

I held back tears last week as I waited to check out at the Dr’s office.  Not just any doctor, I should explain.  Obstetrics and Gynecology.   I stood behind a young couple.  The woman was at the desk.  The father was rocking an infant carrier.  The baby was giggling.  The rock on her hand seemed to sparkle despite the gross office lighting.  And at first the image made me smile a little.  Happy family.  New baby.  And then I heard the woman behind the desk say “And when the new baby comes your insurance coverage will…..”.

New baby?  They already have one.  It’s right there.  And they get ANOTHER one?  So soon?  And I’m here, all alone, wearing a Dr. issued pad that was invented in 1954 the size of a diaper after the procedure I just had.  And life just seemed so unfair.

Chris and I tried for over a year to have a baby once we got married.  With no luck.  We had always said we would give it some time on it’s own, and we would see how we felt if it didn’t happen.  Having never had regular periods, part of me suspected it wouldn’t be a quick process.  But neither of us were sure we had it in us to go through the process of medical assistance in getting pregnant.  I’ve watched friends and family go through the very difficult, emotional, stressful, expensive process of hormone shots and injections and IVF or IUI and all the different ways to make it happen.  And some of my favorite human beings are on this planet today because of those procedures and I thank God for those options.  But we weren’t sure if we wanted to do it – so we waited to try on our own.

Funny thing about time, you always think you have more of it.  We were starting to discuss more frequently the idea of going to see a Dr. about the fact that we weren’t getting pregnant.  I was getting more and more disappointed with each period I would get.  Not having regular periods, I can’t tell you how many pregnancy tests I took.  Two minutes of hope every now and then.   And then one morning he was gone, and so was hope of being a mom.

I need to preface what comes next as MY perspective.  My story, my feelings, my preferences for my own life and my own body.   I can’t imagine how difficult it must be to parent alone after losing a spouse or partner.  To watch your kids grieve and struggle.  I can’t speak to that and I’m not comparing my situation to anyone else’s as easier or harder or more or less painful.  We all carry the pain in different ways.  It is just different.    And I am not knocking anyone out there who decided to have a baby at an older age.  Good for you, girl.  Honestly.  You rock.  I completely understand that women are having children older and older lately.  Almost everyone has some story of “someone I know is 45 and pregnant for the first time”.  Good for them.  I wish them the best, I honestly do.  But I know what I feel comfortable with for myself and my life and the life of a child I bring into this world.  So please, if you are reading this, don’t be offended by what comes next – it is just my world vision right now.

When Chris died it left me very much ALONE.  I moved out of our apartment and back into my parents’ house to not have to be so alone and they have been amazing at taking care of me.   But I don’t have a part of him to live on.  I don’t get to see a smile that is exactly like his was as a reminder of a mark he left on this world when he went.   And that kills me.  I never got to see the man I love hold our child in his arms.  He was taken from us before he ever got to know the love in his heart of being a dad.  He would have been an unbelievable dad.   The only person that I have to be strong for is myself.  And that is not much motivation some days.  I don’t have anyone to get up and put one foot in front of the other for, so there are weekends I stay in my pajamas and don’t shower and days I don’t get out of bed until 4pm.  Still.  A year and a half later.   It is just a different type of alone.

Fast forward a year or so and an irregular pap smear has me at the obgyn.  And in the midst of cervical and uterine biopsies and other medical concerns (all of which came back fine, thankfully), I am officially diagnosed with PCOS.  Poly Cystic Ovarian Syndrome.  Fairly common syndrome actually, not exactly rare, but a condition that can lead to making it very difficult to conceive naturally.  I was basically told that the odds are I would need hormone shots and IUI or IVF or some sort of assistance if I ever wanted to have a baby.

Now – I can imagine this information is difficult to hear for any woman.  Even those that already have kids and are struggling with secondary infertility.   Even those not necessarily wanting a baby right then.  Just being told that you can’t have one on your own, is tough.  I don’t claim to limit the feelings of loss this can cause just to someone who has lost their spouse.  Many couples struggle with the emotional havoc infertility can cause.

But had I gotten this news at 34, with a doting husband sitting next to me when it was delivered, we would have had options. They may not have worked.  Nothing is certain.  But we could have tried.  At 36, alone and not getting any younger, the diagnosis was a confirmation of something I had known deep down for the past year and a half.  That in all probability, my chances of being a mom died with him.  Another ridiculously unfair layer to an already heartbreaking loss.

Most people I talk to about this are quick to say “You never know”.  And they’re right.  I lack the ability to foresee the future.  I am not psychic.  On occasion, psycho… but not psychic.  Life has taught me that the unexpected and unlikely can happen at any moment.   But just because something is scientifically and medically POSSIBLE doesn’t mean it is PROBABLE.

I could technically do a lot of things that aren’t probable.  I could technically win the Olympic Gold in any given sport.  Highly unlikely though.  I could hit the lottery, I could win a Nobel peace prize, I could grace the cover of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition.  But the odds are not likely for any of those things to happen, and I need to face the fact that the odds are not likely that I will bear a child.   And deferring that acceptance, putting it off with “you never know” or “don’t think like that” does nothing to help me process the grief and the emotions that come along with it.   I need to mourn this.  The way I’m mourning my husband and the way I’ve mourned the loss of the life we wanted to lead together.  I don’t know what the future holds, but glossing over the blow is almost making the pain I feel inside seem less legitimate.

It is okay to be upset over this.  To feel it.  To cry about it.  To get angry at the universe.  Because that is how you work through it.  So often we go through life trying to hide our pain over things and trying to seem strong or let things roll off our shoulders.  Put on a brave face.   What good does that do other than just cause a lot of people to suffer alone when they could be healing together by talking about it?

The truth is I’m not even close to a place where I could consider wanting to make a family with anyone else.  I haven’t even been on a date yet.  And I’m not saying I may not open my heart again to someone in the future, but the rate I’m moving doesn’t lend itself to it being any time soon.  And biology, unlike love, has a clock.  And there is only a little bit of sand left in that hourglass.   My personal choice is that there is an age at which I would no longer feel comfortable becoming a mother.  For many reasons, and I’m not going to pretend some aren’t selfish.  But it is my life, I’m allowed to be selfish.  For my own comfort level, for what I want for myself and for a child I bring into this world.  I am not knocking anyone who doesn’t have such an age in mind, but for me… it is there and it is looming.  Could I hit it and change my mind?  I suppose.  Could I push it off the way I push off the date I’m going to start eating healthier or finish cleaning my room?  I am known to procrastinate so it is possible.  But again, not probable.  I feel strongly in my heart about this.

And yes, I could do it alone.  I could adopt.  My parent’s won’t let me get a kitten, I’m not sure how they would feel about another human being living here with us.   Plus I am still recovering, I’m not ready to do it on my own either.  The time it would take to feel ready to explore either option in a legitimate manner would put me right up against the same time restraints.  I am grateful that there are those options out there for me should I change my mind in the future though, because as they say, “you never know”.

So where does that leave me?  The old maid.  The cat lady (because I will move out at some point and damn straight the minute I do I am getting a kitten).  The spinster.  Maybe someday.  Who knows.  But for now, it leaves me really needing to dig deep to take a look at all I do have in this world to keep me from feeling sorry for myself, from feeling cheated.

I have no offspring, but I am far from childless in my life.  I have snuggled the hell out of so many babies that my friends or cousins have had.  I’ve had the honor and privilege of watching them grow.  I have nieces and a nephew on Chris’ side of my extended in law family that I adore.  I took over his role of god parent for one of them.  She will be two and when she says “auntie” when she sees me my heart swells.   I was blessed to know instant unconditional love like I didn’t even know existed the day my brother and sister in law had my niece, Keira.  She is four and she is my favorite human.  Some day when she is old enough to understand, I will explain to her how she alone pulled me out of some of the darkest days of the past year and a half.

I don’t know what the future holds.  None of us do.  But I know that if this is my fate, I am still going to be ok.  I will be surrounded by love.  And I will enjoy every minute of being Auntie Katie.

 

 

 

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