When I thought about this day early on in my grief journey I couldn’t possibly fathom it. But in quiet moments, when I was forced to argue with thoughts refusing to suppress themselves, my mind would wander. There existed glimmers of what my life might be like five years down the line. I assure you any thought that visited my head during those days is not a painted picture of what my life looks like currently.
In five years time much has changed, as life tends to do. I’ve watched people meet, date, marry, and start a family of their own. I’ve watched other people grieve painful losses. I’ve severed friendships with people I once told my deepest thoughts to regularly and gained friendships that are so immensely pure it feels as if they’ve been with me all along. I’ve found peace through travel and healing through words, written or otherwise. I’ve dated. Mostly regrettably, but a few of them were amiable. I’ve realized, to my surprise, that much like the title “widow,” grief is always going to be a part of who I am now. It presents itself differently than perhaps it once did but it still lives within my being, catching me off guard in unexpected moments.
That’s the thing about monumental loss. It doesn’t just change your life, it gives you a new one. In some ways it gives you a new one while tying the old one around your ankles, forcing you to live with one while dragging the weight of the other. I shockingly still have breakdowns from time to time. Looking at what I’ve been through from a personal point of view it makes sense. However before this, before loss, there’s a probable chance that, as an outsider looking in, I would not have expected grief to display itself this way in someone else’s life.
The truth is grasping five years is unimaginable. And yet here it is surrounding the air that I breathe, weighing itself upon my chest, and laced throughout my mind. My life has moved forward in endless ways. Though somehow it still feels as if I’ve gone nowhere at all, like I’m floating, suspended in the evolving world around me. I look at other grievers, other widows, who have accomplished countless achievements in the same amount of time in which I’ve been grieving. They’ve written books, started nonprofits, found a second love, birthed a child, raised a child, given speeches, developed podcasts, built businesses, and generally speaking are nothing short of remarkable. Try as I might to not compare myself there are times when it’s difficult to remain biased.
So how am I doing five years after the greatest loss I’ve known? I’m okay. Not all of my weeks are good, but less of them are bad. Most days are enjoyable, laughs are genuine, and smiling comes naturally. I deal with day to day issues as they come. And I do my best to remind myself that just as people can’t always see how grief affects my life or how I react to different situations, I do not always know what’s happening behind the curtains of another life either. As I continue to move forward, my main goal is to spread more love than I receive. If empathy could be taught I’d teach it everyday. Mostly I aim to create a space for people to feel accepted and to instill compassion in the souls who enter my life. If I am able to do those things, anything is possible.
I remember growing up with my closest friends. I remember us talking about our futures. Our dreams of the perfect lives we would one day have. Our perfect weddings with our perfect husbands and the number of kids that would complete our perfect families. I remember when I got to live out those dreams. The day I had my perfect engagement. The day I got to walk down the perfect aisle on the perfect day to wed my perfect husband. I remember the happiness and disbelief as I got to experience those dreams first hand. From every argument to belly aching joke, each moment was special.
And then I blinked.
And all the perfect moments I had dreamt of gradually reversed back into the dreams they originally were. I could no longer reach them despite how hard I tried. He was gone.
Sometimes it’s difficult to see just how much your life revolves around another until they are no longer with you. Leaving you with just your own life to contend with. So I had to take this life of mine and learn what it meant to live. I began taking steps to move my life forward. Building new dreams. Accomplishing new goals.
And then I blinked again.
Before I knew it I was living. I inherited a sense of independence that I never knew existed. I gained perspective of what brought me happiness and ridded the things that did not. I pushed myself when I could and rested when needed. I embraced positivity, surrounding myself with every ounce of it I could find.
I began to feel invincible. I had a shield of widowhood to protect me. A sort of numbness grew within my depths giving me strength towards life’s most mundane occurrences. I had lived through my worst imaginable tragedy and there was nothing that could hurt me now.
But then, I blinked another time.
Suddenly those small occurrences in life started to hurt again. A roommate leaving me, a friend moving away, a boy rejecting me. Things that are so small on a scale of life or death yet somehow they slowly snuck back in. They had an affect on me deeper than should have been allowed. How is it something so small could hurt so much? Where was my strength? Where was my shield?
The truth is the blindness of loss took over long enough for me to mistake it as invincibility. Life continues. Feelings and emotions prevail. And life occurrences anywhere from small to grand are going to take an affect on both my mind and soul. But I’ve noticed that each hit I take helps to expand my perspective. While it may hurt a little, or sometimes a lot, it makes me more knowledgeable than the time before. It’s life’s way of providing me with the necessary tools to create balance within myself.
I may not always embrace these challenges but I am learning to respect them. For each challenge is only helping to prepare me for the next time I blink.
Last week I overcame a big life hurdle. It was one I had not been looking forward to for quite some time. This was because last week I “celebrated” my 29th birthday.
Once upon a time I looked forward to my birthday wholeheartedly. Not only did I look forward to the day, I completely embraced it. I’d remind everyone I knew for weeks in advance. I planned things. I selfishly welcomed a day dedicated to me living yet another year. However, when I lost my husband that all changed. My outlook on life took on a completely different role. Years of life suddenly became more fragile, more valuable. A day of birth no longer was about the people I loved honoring me, but about me honoring yet another year I had the opportunity to spend with the people I love. How tragic that it took a death for me to realize something so special.
While I am grateful for my new found outlooks on life, turning 29 was still a difficult concept for me to grasp. No, it was not for reasons of the average 29 year old. I was/am not worried or anxious about the last year of my twenties; or that I am now counting down days until I reach thirty. I am actually looking forward to putting my twenties behind me and starting a new decade of life. My difficulty lies with the fact that my sweet husband never had the chance to see the age of 29 for himself. Technically speaking I’ve been older than Brady since ten days after my 28th birthday, but there’s something about seeing the age change visually that makes it a harder pill to swallow.
In my typical fashion when hard times approach my goal is to run away or do something big. Usually it ends up being a combination of both. Celebrating my 29th year of life was no different. I made the semi sporadic decision to run away with my best friend to Tampa, Florida where he’ll soon be moving. While there I was able to begin working on a list to help push me through this next year; 30 things to do before turning 30 years old. Some of the items on the list are big, some are small, but they each have their place. They are there to help me create beautiful moments for myself. Moments that will hopefully replace the continual heartache of not having my husband by my side with peace and happiness.
I often wonder how different my life would be if he were still by my side. I wonder about the types of things I would have experienced with him. I think about the things I have experienced without him. The choices I would make if he were here versus the choices I make because he’s not. I could contemplate forever. It wouldn’t matter though. My life’s path was changed. I was given an unexpected and unwelcomed new chapter.
We all are given those at some point or another. They take different forms for each of us. They challenge our minds, our bodies, and our souls. They wear us down, they wear us down again, and then they wear us down some more. But somehow we survive. The sun rises and we wake up. We experience things. We have human interactions. We live.
It’s a strange, complex cycle to live these lives. That’s why it’s so important seek out the beautiful moments. Search for them. Create them. Love them. Being able to embrace the beautiful moments makes you that much stronger when it’s your turn to endure the ugly ones.
Dating is a curious and complicated ordeal. I’m fairly certain almost everyone would agree with that. It doesn’t get easier with age, it is not blissful with youth, and just because you’ve dated in the past does not necessarily make you more prepared for any future prospects down the road.
Now, take all of those difficulties that are associated with the dating game (yes, it’s a game whether we all like it or not) and add the complexities of being a widow. You know, those poor unfortunate souls who already found their soulmate -- their one true love they expected to spend the rest of their lives with. The ones who already felt the intensity of dedicating themselves to another human being. The ones who looked at love without fear and embraced it in every possible way.
How are those beautifully, tragic, fragile little souls supposed to play along in this vicious dating game?
Whether it be a handful of years to a decade or more, for us, the game ended some time ago. Not only do we no longer know how to keep up with it, we have no desire to do so in the first place. We have learned how delicate life is and how valuable time can be. We treasure the moments we get to spend with the people we want to spend them with.
Our heightened awareness of these moments makes them that much more precious. We soak up every ounce of joy in hopes that it will get us through the days to follow. There is no room in our lives to sit staring at blank phones, filled with curiosities of why he has not sent us a message. There is no time to decode the messages that are actually sent. Truly, there is no time for any of the dating hassles or confusions.
So how do these women do it? All women really, but specifically widows. How does any widow manage to find love again?
Clearly, it’s possible. For years, widows have managed to shatter the term “soulmate” in its traditional form, and against all odds were able to once again find the magic that is love with another man. And that, to me, is absolutely incredible for a multitude of reasons. However as a person who has not only watched the struggles widows are forced to bear in the world of dating, but also experienced it first hand, I have come up with a set of guidelines for any man looking to pursue one of these rare and beautiful souls.
As previously published by Thought Catalog, please click the link to read "10 Things To Know Before Dating A Widow".
"You do not get to choose the events that come your way nor the sorrows that interrupt your life. They will likely be a surprise to you, catching you off guard and unprepared. You may hold your head in your hands and lament your weak condition and wonder what you ought to do. To suffer, that is common to all. To suffer and still keep your composure, your faith, and your smile, that is remarkable. Pain will change you more profoundly than success or good fortune. Suffering shapes your perception of life, your values and priorities, and your goals and dreams. Your pain is changing you."
- Pastor David Crosby
My pain has easily changed me in a profound way. I didn't know it was possible for me to find a more genuine happiness in myself and in others, to be more compassionate, to love deeper. I have always viewed myself as a loving human being on this earth, but looking back on my past my love has grown immensely since the loss of my husband. I experience all aspects of life with an enhanced view of reality. I treasure my time by constantly surrounding myself with those whom make my heart happy. These moments are what keep me moving. They are my motivation, my stress relievers, and what keeps me centered. I am more thankful and appreciative than I ever had been before. Simple moments in time now mean everything, whereas something that may have previously mattered so much suddenly doesn't seem as important. When life gets flipped upside down it is almost imperative to flip with it, for if you stay, you become stuck in the life that once was. I never wanted to be a person who was stuck. I wanted to live. I still want to live. I did not have the choice to keep my husband by side, but I do have the choice to continue on with his love.
Today would have marked our 12th year together. That's right, twelve. It's more of an anniversary to me than our own wedding day. Probably because we never spent a wedding anniversary with one another, whereas we spent several years together celebrating this particular day. Pain continues to find its way into my heart. There are still days I question. There are still days I cry. But I can honestly say I am at a point now where I can look at his life and celebrate the beauty of it all. The beauty that was him.
My husband gave me the most precious gift I have ever received in this life. He taught me what it meant to love another soul more than yourself. He showed me the magic that comes along with loving another. Most importantly, he took that love he had in his heart and gave it to me. How could I not look back at that with anything but warmth and compassion?
It is because of him I know my love is powerful. It is because of him I know my love is important. It is because of him I know my endless love will continue on with every breath I'm given in this life.
Today officially marks what I’ll refer to as the Dark Month. I’ve mentioned before in a separate post about how I have Reese’s days. The days that aren’t filled with happiness and joy. The days I want to stay in bed all day. The days I want to hide away to cry, or, the days I DO hide away to cry. Well, this is like those days, except it lasts almost a month.
So why is today the first day of the Dark Month? Today, on October 28th, just 2 years ago was the day we found out Brady was ill.
Like most memories I have during that month of time, the memory of this date is painfully vivid. Brady had come home early from work the day before. He hadn’t felt well and knew something was off. He thought he had a gallbladder infection. His doctor advised him to visit the emergency room. So the next day I got up to go to work and shortly after he got up to go to the emergency room with his mom. I don’t remember being too worried about his health. He was Superman. I knew he’d be fine. What I was worried about was our insurance situation. He didn’t have any. I didn’t have any. And I didn’t know what that meant for us.
He texted me that morning after he got to the hospital to update me on what was going on since I couldn’t be there with him. The conversation went like this:
As you can see, I was being paranoid about the insurance issue, which was causing Brady to be annoyed with me. All he could focus on was how horrible he felt.
The last text he sent me was at 11:32 am. By this time I had gone onto my lunch break at work. I remember talking to my coworker about the entire thing. I remember telling her about Brady’s health history. It began to make me anxious that I hadn’t heard about the results yet. Staying positive, I kept clinging on to one of Brady’s most used sayings in situations such as this; “No news is good news.” After lunch, I returned to my classroom to prepare for my 1st grade students, checking my phone constantly along the way. I was just getting the class settled in and about to hand out papers when my good friend, and assistant principal walked into the room. He told me to grab my things and go down to the office where my mom was waiting for me. He would be taking over my classes for the rest of the day.
Completely in the dark about anything that was going on I did as he said. My mind was racing through the possibilities as to why my mom would be at my school. When I walked into the office I found my mom standing there, crying. She looked at me and said, “It isn’t good.”
The room grew hazy. Everything was in a fog, like a dream. Except it wasn’t a dream. I was living this nightmare. I believe my mom continued to speak, but the only thing I heard was the word “cancer” fall from her mouth.
I think I collapsed onto the nearest wall or door at that point. There wasn’t a thing I could do to stop all the tears from running down my face. Amongst the many thoughts going through my head I remember thinking I don’t want any of my students or coworkers to see me like this on the way out the door. That thought was short lived. The second I turned the corner I ran right into my boss, the principal. She quickly threw her arms around me and asked me what was wrong. I believe I gave her a short answer before pushing myself through anyone else who was standing in the office. As I reached my mom’s car I sucked up the tears. I spent most of the car ride thinking as I stared out the window.
I just wanted to be with Brady. That’s all. I wanted to be with him at that very moment. I didn’t want to drive across town. I didn’t want to search for a parking space. I didn’t want to walk through the halls. I just wanted him to be in my arms and I in his.
No one else in the entire world mattered to me in those moments.
October 28th, 2014 marked the beginning of my forever changed life. And today hit me much harder than I had anticipated. As someone who usually has a lot of control over her emotional state, being caught of guard with an unexpected downpour of emotions is rare. It’s wild how something as simple as a date in time, even 2 years after the fact, can continue to have such a strong effect on one’s emotional state, but it does. However, as always, I will continue to push through… because I have no choice.
One day down, three weeks and two days to go until I can shut the door on this year’s Dark Month.
I can do it.
It amazes me how after nearly a year and a half I still continue to have moments when I reach for my phone to tell Brady something. Something good that happened, something bad that happened, something about the job he never knew me to have, or about the people he never got to meet. It’s all things he never had knowledge of yet I still yearn for him to know. I want him to celebrate with me when things are good. I want him to encourage me when days are bad. I want to hear how proud he is of me and to introduce him to all of the incredible people who have joined my life’s path. I crave his attention, his laughter, his intellect, and his love. I long for his input on every aspect of my life. He was my go-to person and his absence has me feeling perpetually lost. Brady gave me purpose in life. Without him I find myself constantly questioning what my purpose is exactly.
A few months ago I received news about a 7th grade student of mine whose mom had just been diagnosed with a terminal cancer. Instantly my heart sank for her. It felt familiar in the worst way. All of the feelings, emotions, and memories came crashing back in like a dam breaking on a river. Later that day I walked out of my classroom door to see my principal and this student walking in my direction. As she approached I quickly pulled her in for hug and held her as she began to break down in my arms. I understood her pain. I knew her sadness.
It’s odd how things turn out. I remember people constantly telling me how I was too young to be going through such a tragic life event. Yet right in front of me sat a courageous, beautiful young girl, with water filled eyes, being forced to experience things well beyond her age. Naturally, I had no knowledge of the days, weeks, and months to come but I didn’t need to. I was more than determined to help her survive it all.
We sat and talked that day. My mind raced as I attempted to think of every “life lesson” that could possibly make things easier. As we talked she told me more about her family (who I had never met), her relationship with her mom, and what she knew about her mother’s diagnosis. They were told her mom had less than a year to live. Fighting my own personal experiences, I quickly reminded her that the future is never certain and to take advantage of each day she would continue to spend with her mom. It was rough. I’ve only ever known how to keep my own head above water in a scenario such as this, not how to keep someone else from drowning.
Whatever I said must have done something good because over the next number of months we often found each other in one another’s company. She and I began to develop a relationship out of the sorrow in our lives that neither of us ever hoped to experience. No one understood her pain in quite the way I did and I was set in preparing her for every step she may encounter along the way. I watched as she began to dedicate herself to her mom; spending extra time with her, making her things, anything she could do to be close with her. I saw the makings of one tough young lady. Her deep understanding of the entire situation was devastatingly beautiful. She began to handle every obstacle thrown her way with a rare maturity like I’ve never seen. I watched as she balanced being a student, an athlete, having a social life, being a daughter, and becoming a caretaker all at the same time. She managed to do all of these things on a regular basis while not even having a license. Unbelievable doesn’t even begin to describe it.
Just over two weeks ago I woke up to my phone ringing early on a Saturday morning. Sure enough, my sweet student fought through the tears just enough to inform me of her mother’s passing. I felt helpless. I spent so much time foolishly trying to prepare her for this moment as if somehow it could be avoided. My heart ached for her. I wanted so badly to bear the pain so that she would not have to. As I hung up the phone I became consumed by the overwhelming feeling of loss once again. I wanted to talk to someone, to hold someone, to feel comfort in any way possible. But I was alone. No one I could have called would have been able to talk me through what I was feeling that morning. I laid there in my bed weeping for a woman I had never met and a young girl I had known for less than a year.
We continued to text throughout that day. Not knowing completely what to do, I offered to come visit her if she wanted me there and if it was okay with her family. I stood outside my house waiting to leave while I contemplated what I would say to this brave young soul when I got there. I wondered if it was even right for me to go. But as I stood there I looked up into the trees to see a cardinal looking right back at me. It was my sign from Brady that I needed to go and that everything would work itself out.
The day of the viewing came to follow soon enough. As I got myself ready it hit me that this would be the first viewing to attend since losing Brady. It made me anxious but I continued to push through. Remembering how difficult that day was in my life I wanted to bring something to help this student of mine survive the next 24 hours she would be forced to endure. It reminded of a gift my aunt gave me while Brady was ill.
My aunt had been on a trip at some point, possibly earlier that year, and took a walk along the beach. As she walked she came across a small stone with a natural engraving. The engraving appeared to look like an angel. I remember her telling me she knew it was special. She decided to hold onto it until she found someone else who needed it more than she did. That someone was me and that little angel gave me hope at a time when hope was hard to come by. Now it was time to pass this little angel along to someone who needed it more than me. So I said my goodbyes, put on my brave face, walked into the funeral home, and handed it off.
Aside from being invited to the viewing, I was also invited to both the funeral and burial services. Both being things I had last experienced due to my husband’s passing. I didn’t feel completely comfortable going to either one, but I was definitely more on edge about the burial service. I had found out earlier in the week that my student’s mom would be buried at the same cemetery as Brady, and I was fairly certain from how it sounded that it wouldn’t be extremely far from him either. In most situations I would think there wouldn’t be much of an issue. However, in my personal circumstance it was. I won’t get into my list of reasons as to why, but the day we buried Brady was the last day I saw his physical resting place. I never went back.
The morning of the funeral came and I was forced to put on my brave face once again. I attended the service then headed to the burial with a coworker and his wife. My nerves grew as we pulled into the cemetery. It had been nearly a year and a half but everything looked as though I had seen it yesterday. The cars ahead of us began to stop and park when I looked out my window.
Then, there it was.
Brady’s big, bold, shiny headstone staring back at me as we drove by. Had we been a couple cars back we would have ended up parking directly in front of it. Anxiously, I got out of the car to head in the opposite direction where the burial I was attending would be taking place. Immediately after the service my sweet student came and found me. I held her tightly as she broke down in my arms once again. I found myself not saying the stereotypical things such as, “I’m sorry” or “You’re being so strong” but instead proceeded to say things like, “Look.. you made it through the worst part of the day. Now you get to go home and rest.” I then went on to tell her about how she made me pass Brady’s grave site along the way.
She looked at me and asked, “Are you going to go see your husband?”
“Well, I guess I’m going to have to now that I’m already here,” I responded.
She quickly grinned and replied, “I think you should” as if that had been her plan all along.
I gave her some more words of wisdom and another hug before I went to visit Brady’s resting place for the first time ever.
By not visiting I had unintentionally turned the entire thing into a metaphorical mountain climbing event. I had to talk myself into staying sane the entire short walk over. “Walk, breath, deep breath, walk, keep going, breath, walk, you’re fine, breath…” repeated in my head with each step. I didn’t know how I was going to feel or what I was going to do. My feet finally came to reach his head stone. I crouched down into a ball and then proceeded cry uncontrollably. There was just enough of my will power left to keep me from laying there in the fetal position. “Why would I do this to myself?” I kept wondering as I thought about how I got there that day. There were several reasons I could think of in my head, but in all honestly it just wasn’t meant to happen on any other day. I was meant to be led there by a young girl who I began to learn was helping me more than I was her.
The chain of events that had to happen for her and I to be placed into each other’s lives is oddly incredible. Through our misery and sorrow has grown a bond of understanding. Somehow she has managed to push me farther than I was able to push myself. She has and continues to be an inspiration not only to me, but in the lives of those surrounding her as well. I truly believe one day she will be able to use the trials and tribulations she has been forced to face to help ease the misfortunes in those around her. She has given me a clearer vision as to why it is important to take my hardships and turn them into something greater, something beyond myself.
For that sweet, courageous little soul, may she come across this… know that I love you, for you have given me purpose.
The amount of time it has been since I got to hold my sweet husband tightly in my arms.
By this time one year ago I had already starting planning funeral arrangements. Did you know it happens that quickly? I woke up in the early morning to my husband dying next to me and only hours later was forced to visit a funeral home to talk about how we would be remembering his life.
Remember his life?
I barely had a chance to remember that his life was no longer with me, then ever so quickly had to think about how others would be remembering it. You don’t receive a week to first allow yourself to grieve over your world being taken from you. You don’t even receive so much as a day, or even part of a day for that matter. You just get to swallow your emotions up, take a deep breath (or 10), and get on with the planning.
As I’ve mentioned previously, for some reason that “fog” that typically takes over a person’s being in dreadful life events never came to me. The amount of details I have ingrained in my head from those three weeks leading up to this day, this day itself, and the days to follow are terribly scarring. I can barely remember conversations I had yesterday, but all of sudden when the worst thing I could ever imagine decides to take place I just so happen to have to sharpest memory in the land. I have shared a lot throughout my writings, but I noticed in all of them I failed to share much about this day itself just one year ago.
After the doctors told us Brady’s days were now being counted I couldn’t stop my thoughts from asking dark questions. When would it happen? How would it happen? Would he be at home or in the hospital? Would I be there? Would I want to be there? Would he be in pain?
Mind you, these thoughts definitely came from the darkest of places in my head. I wanted so badly for them to become thoughts I would never actually have to deal with because Brady would somehow find a way to overcome it all.
I awoke that morning to Brady breathing rapidly while ripping off his oxygen. As I continually asked him to put it back on I turned on the lights. I wanted him to see my face. I wanted him to look into my eyes. I wanted him to know that my request was not coming from me as a nagging wife, but from the deepest depths of love in my heart. His body was restless as his breathing began to move faster. All I could do was beg. I went to grab his oxygen myself in attempts to forcibly put it back on. He looked at me with his heavy eyes and quickly grabbed my arms, stopping me from doing so. He didn’t speak, but I felt his pain. We held each other close as his rapid breathing suddenly disappeared.
In that small moment of time, from one second to another, all of the pain, suffering, and heartache my sweet husband was feeling left his body..
only to crash like a freight train into mine.
My panicking self ran out to the living room to get Brady’s mom who had stayed the night with us, but she was no longer there. She had already left to take her youngest child to school. I immediately called her to return home. All in row I had to make three of the worst phone calls of my life that consisted of me saying, “Get to my house now.” I screamed, I sobbed, and I talked to to my husband as I lied there in bed holding him. Little did I know how precious those moments were. They were the only ones I would get to have. I don’t show many of my emotions (the sad ones that is) off to people. So when Brady’s mom arrived back to the house my demeanor instantly changed. There were still tears, but the sobbing time was over for me. It was time for me to find my inner Brady strength, so that’s what I did.
I sat next to my husband in bed as loved ones began to arrive. His parents, my parents, and our siblings came in slowly. Then it never stopped. I watched as my tiny, one bedroom duplex began to fill up with people. I refused to leave Brady’s side as I sat there in a haze watching my house turn everyone else’s own personal showing. I couldn’t stop it. I couldn’t do anything besides sit and stare blankly. I had to watch the reactions of, I’m guessing, well over 100 people as they came into my house, into my bedroom, and reacted to what they were seeing one by one. I sat there next to my husband in a fishbowl as people came in to “greet” us. While I’m guessing all of their intentions were meant to be good, it was miserable. I hated every second of it. Brady would have hated every second of it. The little strength I had needed to be spent focusing on holding myself together and protecting my husband’s body while my house turned into a circus. I sat there with him enduring this for around 4 hours straight I’m told, but I wouldn’t have had it any other way. There was no way I would have left his side.
Nothing went the way I would have wished for it to that day. I only left after being told his body would be being picked up shortly. Watching his physical self leave was something I had no interest in seeing. Truly, it’s something I had no interest in anyone seeing, but what could I do? I asked for my last moments with him to be alone. Thankfully, I was able to have that but how alone can you really feel with a house full of guests. After saying my goodbyes I left my room to walk out and face the sea of people. I hadn’t even actually realized how many were there until that moment. There were people standing shoulder to shoulder in every crease of my house as I attempted to make my way to the basement. I was stared at like some sorrowful celebrity as I passed by all of the faces. The only person I wanted near me was Brady’s youngest sister. I fought through the crowd to find her. I don’t even remember speaking when I picked her up and took her with me to my unfinished basement. I spent most of that day in a blank stare without saying much at all. When I finally went back upstairs I had to ask people to leave my own bedroom just to change my clothes.
From there I had to start planning the funeral with my entourage. It went relatively smoothly considering we were trying to please the ideas and choices of 8 different people throughout the process. The day of the showing I stood for almost 6 hours straight to greet over 1,000 guests, only taking one 10 minute break to snack. I’d say it was tough, but I really had no concept of time. I was basically a robot on repeat as I continually thanked each person for coming and for their kinds words. It was shocking to see just how many people came, however it brought me joy knowing just how loved my husband was.
The day of the funeral finally came a small amount of fog. I don’t remember it in quite as much detail. I do remember feeling lots of anxiety that day. I was particularly anxious about going to the funeral Mass itself. We planned the service to be at the same church where Brady and I had our wedding only 6 months prior. It would be the first time I entered that church since our wedding day. So if that were not as awful as could be anyway, that little fact was the icing on the cake. Walking in was a blur. I kept my headed down the entire way to my seat. I didn’t want to see the crowd full of sorrowful faces looking back at me. It would have just made the sting worse.
So what does it mean to be #BradyStrong? It means that everyday life is a constant battle. It means some days the emotions aren’t so easy to hide. It means finding the nearest bathroom, corner, or any place at all to duck into just to let yourself cry for 60 seconds. It means pulling yourself back together to face the people at your family party or the little faces in your classroom. It means doing a whole lot of things you have no interest in doing in honor of your husband. It means finding the right words to say each time some put their hand on your shoulder to ask “So how are YOU doing?” And it means that every time someone tells you how strong you are, you take a deep breath, say thank you, and pretend that it’s true because you know on the inside you’re actually crumbling to pieces.
I believe Brady instilled this strength in me.
I work hard to show that I am #BradyStrong for him and him alone.
Sometimes I feel as if I have already lived through my own reincarnation. When my husband left this world, the world that I knew went with him. I am now and will forever be a different version of me. I constantly miss my old life. I find myself craving it in the worst way. There are even times I hit certain milestones when I think to myself “maybe.. if I just reach this ONE day... things will go back.” But the days come only to pass with the painful memories still adhered in my being. Much of the past year has felt like a test. A test on how I react, what I’m capable of overcoming, how I handle challenges, and what limits I can be pushed to reach. I continually wait to pass each test. I made it through another day, can I go back yet? Another week? Another month?
I used to believe my old life was what would be considered “normal”. Living through tragedy has caused me to feel differently. I sit and watch as the lives around me continuously get hit with devastating news. I have yet to meet a person who hasn’t had some type of hardship in his or her life. If you have not, you truly will never understand or appreciate the blessing you have been given in this world. As unfortunate as it may be, tragedy is a part of “normal” life whether we all like it or not. I knew it would find me one day, I just never expected it to leave this Brady-sized hole in my heart.
My goal is not to find a way for my heart to heal or a way to get over the experiences I am working to outshine. My goal is only to push forward. In the same way I will never “get over” my past, my heart can never simply be healed. I am only forced to take a different path in life, not to pave over the old one. On this path I strive to make all things positive. I crave positivity almost as much as I crave my old life. If I’m going to be forced to live a life without the love of mine, it’s going to have to be the most transcendental life you have ever seen. As I once read, “The happiest of people do not have the best of everything, they just make the best of everything.”
With this new life I’ve been handed has also come an unbelievable amount of beautiful new experiences. I have seen things I otherwise would not have seen, met people I otherwise would never have known, and found joy hiding in places that I never knew existed. While it has been a painful road getting to know this new version of myself, it is the hidden joy that pushes me onward. The last handful of months leading up to this day have been quite life changing in and of themselves. It all began with a phone call I received over the summer. I was working at my summer job when one of my former co-workers and dear friend of mine called me out of the blue. I’m not supposed to answer my phone at work, but that day I decided to anyway. She gave me a quick, “Hey, I’m in Las Vegas and have big news that will affect you. Call me when you get off work!” As a million different scenarios raced through my mind I finished out the work day. I called her back not knowing what to expect. She went on to tell me how she was going to be moving to Las Vegas to teach. That being said her full time job as an art teacher was going to be available and she would love nothing more than for someone she loved to take her position at a school she held so close to her heart. With summer break ending in only a number of weeks I had little time to consider my options. I began to think about the pro’s and con’s of both jobs; mine as a part time art teacher at a school I loved and hers as a full time art teacher at a school she loved. Going out a limb I decided to call in for an interview at this new school. During my interview I retreated back to my own personal life foundation; honesty. I feel as though I sat there and continually gave every reason as to why I should not be hired. There may be a chance I included some reasons as to why I should be hired as well. [;
One week later I still had not heard a thing and was 98% sure I was not going to be offered the position due to my overbearing honesty. On one afternoon I pulled up to drop off some items to my classroom at the school I had been working at. I put the car into park when my phone began to ring. It turned out to be the principal offering me the full time position as the new art teacher at her school. So many emotions ran through my body as reality began to sink in. Here’s the thing, I get attached easily to everything and to everyone. The very thought of leaving my coworkers and my students behind ate at my soul. They had been the ones who supported me during the most difficult year I hope to ever experience. How could I just leave them behind? In the end I had to put my emotional attachments aside for a moment in order to truly consider the factors that would be beneficial to my own well being. With that in mind I accepted the full time position. In my life’s typically busy fashion I just so happened to accept the job about a week and a half before the first day of school, and I was leaving for a week long vacation the during that timeframe. I’m often reminded that my life would not be mine if it weren’t continually running at 100mph. Thankfully, my family ended up leaving our vacation early to give me a couple extra days of prep time.
I found myself a bit restless the evening before school began. I would imagine most people are before a new job? Maybe? Anyway after finally falling asleep I started to wake up in the middle of the night, which I normally do not do. I remember my brain actually waking up before my eyes opened and thinking, “It seems kind of bright in here.” I opened my eyes to see one of Brady’s emergency flashlights, which was plugged into the wall, turned on. The flashlight was located behind a lamp and a night stand, plus a button had to be pushed for it to come on. I shot up in my bed. It scared the life out of me! I still have no idea how it turned on that night, but I find it a bit odd that there was a bazaar electrical occurrence in my household on such a big night considering Brady was an electrician. That evening when I returned home from work, my porch light had magically gone out as well. Believe what you will but my mind can’t help but to think Brady was finding a way to remind me that he is still right by my side, the same as he always was, supporting me along the way.
When starting a new job there are always so many things to learn. Attempting to learn the names of an entire new staff is one thing. Attempting to get to the know the names and faces of about 300 students is another. I thought back to my previous and first year of teaching. I remembered the innocent curiosity that so many children expressed. I knew, being the honest person I am, I wanted to tell this unfamiliar group of students about who I was. The trouble was deciding how much to tell them. In the end I found it best to go back to my honest roots. On the first day with each group of students for five days straight I told them about my life. I explained to each group where I went to school growing up, how I came to love art, how I became a teacher, and what some of my absolute favorite things are. About ⅔ of the way through the presentation I spoke with them about Brady. If you have ever worked with children you may have experienced this curiosity I spoke of earlier. With that curiosity often comes a lack of filter. In other words, children do not always think before they speak. Deep down I knew that if I did not explain the significance of Brady in my life 18 times with 18 different classes in one week, I would end up explaining it 300 different times over the course of one year. I decided 300 times was not an option because even I have my breaking points.
When I finished my story I told the kids they were welcome to ask me questions about what they had just heard. I told them that it was the only day I was going to let them ask whatever they wanted about Brady and I, and how after that day we would be moving on from the subject. I also informed them I would do my best to answer each question they had to offer. The types of questions some of the kids came up with were breathtaking. Their minds thought in such foreign ways as opposed to the thoughts of an adult. Some were very detailed by asking tear jerking questions such as, “Were you with him when he died?” and others asked very heartfelt questions like, “Did he go to heaven?”. No matter what questions came my way I kept my word and did my very best to answer each one for them. Their responses to my story were fairly incredible. I remember one child raising their hand to tell me “I hope when you die, you get to go be with your husband in heaven.” It was painfully sweet.
Along with telling all of my new students about my husband I also told them about some of my favorite things. I told them about my love for Superman because Brady loved Superman and how it became a symbol of strength for our families. I explained my ongoing art project about lucky pennies and how I even though I started it before losing my husband, I always seem to find them at times when I need them the most. I went on to tell them about my obsession with dreamcatchers, or dreams in general really. And I told them about the importance of cardinals in my life after hearing they represent loved ones who have passed on. Every time I see one there is peace in my heart. Little did I know that my students would key into that information and spoil the hell out of me with it! Attempting to make multiple long stories short, these kids are unrealistically amazing. I’ve had a number of students bring me pictures of the Superman symbols they have drawn, had a child handmake me a dreamcatcher (her first one she’s ever made), had a student convince her parents to buy me a Superman magnet while on fall break, and, more than once, have had students “hide” pennies for me to find. Have you ever given someone you have known for less than four months that much unconditional love? Amazing is an understatement to describe these awe-inspiring kiddos. Remember me saying how I get emotionally attached quickly? Well, these kids had me wrapped from day one.
But it’s not just the students at this new school. It’s everyone. Again, the amount of love I have received from my new coworkers in under four months has been astounding. After only 2 short weeks of getting to know the people I would soon be surrounded by daily, I already felt like I’d known them for years. As they slowly began to get to know more about me and my story they quickly picked up on the fact that I may have some rough days every now and again. So some of these thoughtful little coworkers of mine decided to buy a bag of Reese's Cups and sneak me a couple whenever my days are not filled with so much sunshine and positivity. I didn’t even know who was leaving me Reese’s Cups until one day when I had a full on meltdown at school (which almost never happens). I tried keeping my emotions in check as a frantically went searching through the halls of my building in order find someone, anyone, who might be available to talk. It was somewhat out of character in multiple ways because not only do my full on meltdowns happen few and far between, they almost never happen at school, and if a meltdown does occur my first reaction is to hide away from others, not to seek them out. My search ended at the first grade classroom where I broke down the second I opened my mouth to speak. My coworker quickly went to grab me some Reese’s which were stashed away in attempts to ease my aching heart. It is thoughtful moments like that where I cannot express how appreciative I am to have ended up in such a warm, loving place. It helps to remind me that maybe I am supposed to take different life paths sometimes. That was not the first or only time I’ve had a Reese’s day at school, but that day was definitely up there on the list as one of my worst ones. I’m not even one to have a “control freak” type of personality however I must say I feel completely frustrated on days where I am unable to control my emotions. The control over them helps me to feel grounded.
This fact is something that worries me as tomorrow, November 10th, Brady’s birthday, approaches quickly as the minutes pass by. It’s going to be a Reese’s day. I feel it in my gut. I want him to come back and hold my hand to get me through it. I want to lay in bed snuggled up with him all day and pretend that this new life isn’t mine. I want him to protect me from the pain I feel and tell me I’m going to be okay because he’s right by my side. Most of all, if you couldn’t tell, I just want him. I always did, I always have, and I always will.
It seems as though I have taken somewhat of a writing hiatus over the past few months, not intentionally but I’ve been quite a busy person. I’ve been to around 18 states in the past 7 months, attended 6 weddings, been to several social events such as holidays and bachelorette parties, spent who knows how many hours in cars traveling over who knows how many miles, and all while still working in between. It has been an interesting, exciting, and exhausting 7 months, but keeping so incredibly busy is what has been keeping me alive.
One of the trips I went on was to Washington D.C. with my 8th graders for their class trip. I had been looking forward to going since the day I found out I was able to chaperone. When I received the dates for the trip I had mixed emotions. Within that timeframe held not one, but two dates that would be dear to my heart. May 17th, what would have been my one year anniversary and May 20th, the six month mark of my husband’s passing. I find it cruel that the dates align in that way. For the rest of my life I have to live with the fact that when there is a one year mark of a significant day in my life, there will also be a half year mark of another significant day right in the same week. Neither being dates that will ever bring me joy. That being said the trip to Washington D.C. turned out to be the best possible medicine for me that week. The distractions of traveling, sightseeing, and keeping 13-14 year olds out of trouble were just what I needed. Had I not gone those days would have been spent sulking in bed all day, which may have been understandable, maybe even acceptable, but instead I went out into the world and experienced life.
I am truly fortunate to be able to keep so busy and go do so many things, but my availability and lack of responsibilities comes at a high cost. With Father’s Day over the past weekend I found myself not thinking about how grateful I am to have my dad with me or even about how awful it must be to have been father who lost a son. The only thing on my mind was how Brady was robbed of the gift of having a child to call his own. The day I lost Brady I lost so much more than a husband.
While Brady and I were dating we would talk about our futures together, as many couples do. And as many girls do I would ask him about how many kids he wanted, what he would name them, all those sorts of things. I have always been more adamant about adopting rather than baring my own children, but Brady insisted that if we were to do one we should do the other as well. We were always so interested to see if we would end up having twins. Both Brady’s mom and my dad are identical twins. We also each have a set of cousins who are boy/girl twins. The odds appeared to be in our favor. For my entire life I remember thinking about how I would want to begin having kids as soon as I got married. I’ve said before Brady and I both came from large families. It’s something I’ve always wanted to continue to have by creating a large family of my own. However, creating a large family takes time, which puts me back at starting right away after marriage. When the day finally came I had changed my mind. I didn’t feel the need to start having kids right away. Instead I chose to be selfish and keep Brady all to myself for a while longer. I still wanted to have a lot of kids, but I just didn’t need them yet. What I needed was Brady.
A short five months later we received the news of Brady’s diagnosis. I quickly took on my role as the caregiver. A large part of being a caregiver, by default, is also being a host. I was there to host all visitors including doctors, nurses, specialists of all kinds, acquaintances, coworkers, friends, and of course relatives. It did not take long to feel the weight of a question on everyone’s mind and the elephant in the room; kids. It was almost taboo to talk about. People didn’t want to bring up the topic at the risk of breaking our spirits further or maybe they just thought it was rude or inappropriate. I didn’t completely mind though. If I truly wanted to discuss it with everyone I would have. It was something I had to talk about with Brady alone. Any time I brought it up was difficult for both of us.
As we began to get more and more information about just how serious Brady’s diagnosis was, we decided we needed to talk to the doctor about our options as far as fertility goes. Honestly, we were clueless on the subject. We weren’t sure who we needed to talk to or where we needed to go. After speaking with Brady’s oncologist she told us that we needed to contact a doctor at a local fertility practice. The people there informed us an appointment was needed to move forward. The objective of the appointment was to be able to store Brady’s goods (sperm) there for a couple of years until the time came when we would need it (I’m sure Brady is thrilled I’m putting this out there for all of you right now). All of this was much easier said than done.
Our first issue was that in order to begin the process Brady had to physically be at the fertility practice (for obvious reasons). Even though the reasons were obvious I remember feeling frustrated about the whole situation. I thought it was bullshit that there wasn’t any type of specialist that could just come straight to Brady at the hospital to help us get what we needed done, done. At the time we hadn’t been released from the hospital yet. We were still stuck at St. Francis Hospital making it impossible to even schedule an appointment. Our next issue were the hours of operation at the practice. They were open Monday-Friday and I believe only until 3:00pm or 4:00pm. When we finally got released from our first hospital trip it was during the weekend. This meant we had to wait a couple more days to even attempt anything. I managed to make an appointment for the following week, but it was a tricky task. It had to be scheduled around many other appointments, visitors, and most importantly was dependant on how Brady felt. I remember fighting my emotions when I called to reschedule that first appointment. Brady woke up feeling too ill to travel and it was nearly impossible for me to force him into doing anything he didn’t want to do. So reschedule I did. He didn’t feel perfect for the second attempt either, but managed agreeing to the trip anyway. I probably begged him to go not knowing when we would get another chance. Even simple trips were a hassle. Brady was in pain and on many medications causing him to be in and out of full consciousness. Simple tasks like walking from here to there tired him out quickly, and he had to have a giant oxygen tank attached to his side. I can’t say I was excited to get him into the car for the appointment because of the circumstances in which we had to go, but I was definitely pleased to finally get to a point that would make us both more comfortable in the end.
Tensions were high as we drove from the Eastside of town to the North. Our little trip felt like an hour long. I remember trying to talk about other things to keep his mind occupied in between asking him how he felt. Every time I broke too hard, turned too fast, or even hit a pebble in the road he was sure to let me know. I apologized each time as my anxiety grew about my driving. I really wasn’t driving erratically, Brady just noticed every little thing because he wasn’t feeling his best. Finally he had to tell me to just stop talking and drive normal (the brat). As we pulled into the parking lot Brady quickly informed me he didn’t feel well at all. I drove to the very back of the lot and pulled over next to some bushes. I helplessly watched as he opened the door and began to get sick out the side of my car. I’m sure he was humiliated on top of feeling awful. When all was done I asked if he could still attend the appointment. He responded by asking me what all would be required of him once we got inside. Since I wasn’t exactly sure I told him I would go in and ask for the details. We drove back up to the front of the building to park. While Brady sat in the car to gather himself I went inside to get the information we needed. I’m not normally an anxious person but I felt the anxiety begin to rush through my body as I walked down the hallway alone. After walking into the office I explained who I was and our situation. They went on to inform me, as I knew they would, about what would be required. Sparing you from nitty gritty details, Brady had to be physically present. I held my head in sorrow as I told them I would go out to the car to speak with my husband about the predicament.
I opened the door and climbed into the seat as I began to explain the details to Brady. He looked right at me with his exhausted wide eyes and said, “There’s no way I can do that right now.”
I assumed that would be his response, but it didn’t make it any easier to hear. I began to cry as I told him I didn’t think we would have another shot at this. Crying isn’t something that came from me often during his illness, but when it came to this particular topic, with just Brady and myself alone together… it occurred almost every time. Brady, trying to cheer me up as he always did, assured me that we would be able to try again one day, just not that day. I attempted to pull my broken-hearted self back together as I walked into the practice for a second time to update them on the newest information. They were waiting for me as I walked in. They, too, expected that Brady would not be able to come in that day. In their attempts to make things easier for us, I was given a second option. The workers handed me an “at home kit” as I’ll call it. A small plastic jar with simple instructions, get his goods in the jar and return it to the practice within an hour after doing so. It was enough to restore at least a tiny bit of my hope, for a moment anyway.
The task was virtually impossible for several factors. We’ll pretend that getting Brady’s goods into a jar was simple in and of itself. It wasn’t, but we’ll pretend for a second that the fact he felt like hell, had a breathing tube in, wasn’t eating, was barely drinking, and was on multiple medications wasn’t even a factor. Putting all of that aside the next combination of obstacles are what made it truly impossible. The practice was only open during select hours during weekdays and Brady and I were never left to be alone, ever. Brady and myself had someone else in our tiny little duplex at all hours of every day and night. People wanted to see him, to visit him, to be near him, to just love him and how could deny anyone of that? If there were a chance we were alone for a moment, which was mostly non-existent, it was during an hour or a day when the practice wasn’t even open. In all reality we only had 3 or maybe 4 available weekdays after the missed appointment before we were back in the hospital anyway. Once we were in for the second time there wasn’t really a way to make progress in the whole fertility thing. Besides that, if you’ve read my previous blog entries you would know that by this point we were quite literally being beat down with bad news after worse. Still, the topic continued to be in the back of my mind.
We were at a new hospital this time around, with new doctors, new nurses, and new surroundings. I brought up my concerns on the issue to our nurse practitioner and hospitalist. Again the answer I was really looking for is that they could have some specialist of some kind physically come to Brady to do their magic so that he wouldn’t have to do a thing at all. Apparently this doesn’t exist. The hope I had been holding on to still remained, but was fading as time went on. The day Brady’s team of doctors came in to tell us there was absolutely no medical options they could give him was by far the worst. It truly felt like the kind of nightmare you’re unable to awake from, because you’re forced to live it. After the doctors left, our parents left Brady and I to have some moments to ourselves. I couldn’t possibly be more thankful for the few moments we had to ourselves throughout that month. They are more cherished than most memories in my life. During the entire awful journey, Brady and I had asked all the doctors not to give us any sort of time frame on his life. Those were only guesses as far as we were concerned and we didn’t want to spend our moments counting down days on a calendar. We wanted to live them in bliss. However with the new information from the doctors I knew we were working with a limited timespan. In the midst of holding one another in the hospital bed I looked up at Brady and asked with water filled eyes, “Do you still want me to have your children?”
“Yes,” he responded.
I paused for a moment before the next question fell from my mouth, “Do you still want me to have your children even if you will never be able to see them?”
He looked at me with so much emotion filled in his beautiful eyes and said while nodding, “Yes.”
I immediately took both my hands to hold his face, pressed my forehead against his, and kissed his lips.
My brave, brave boy always filled my soul with more love than the entire world could have ever offered me. He had me so wrapped I even loved it when we argued (it made things more exciting). When I treated him like trash, he’d quickly step in to make me laugh away my reason for being angry to begin with. When I was sassy he would put me right back in my place. When I was sad he would always respond with something perfect to make me grin. He balanced every one of my emotions and every part of my being effortlessly. I often told him we were meant for each other because no one else would know how to handle me. I was more than spoiled to have had him in my life as long as I did. I knew what we had was too good to be true and I should have taken it less for granted when I had the chance.
After the bad news, we were still stuck in the hospital. All Brady wanted was to return home, but we were trapped until released. Keeping with Brady’s wishes I located the hospitalist to talk to her some more about our fertility options as I had done before. She was supposed to be getting some information for me that I had asked her about a few days prior. Not wanting to talk to her about the topic in front of others we stepped outside the hospital room where Brady’s mom, step dad Joe, and youngest sister were visiting. I re-explained to her my interest in freezing Brady’s goods for me to use at a later date. I can perfectly remember the puzzled look on her face as she said, “Oh… well I didn’t think that was something you would still be interested in considering he only has months to weeks left to live.”
There it was.
The only information I asked not to hear throughout the entire process.
It stung and it stung hard.
I could feel myself wanting to strangle her where we stood all while wanting to collapse onto the ground. I wanted Brady more than anything but couldn’t bare to face him. My body was fighting a full blown panic attack with every part of its being. I fought it with everything I had to walk back into Brady’s room and asked Joe to go on a walk with me. Everyone in the room knew something was wrong, but I continued to say I was fine and just needed to go on a walk. I tried to walk as far away as I could before the break down set in. And then I lost it. Right in the middle of some hospital hallway as people passed by, all because of some idiot doctor, I lost it. I had been holding all of the information, emotions, thoughts, and hopes together for 3 weeks and my body just couldn’t hold on any longer. I don’t even remember a thing I said as I stood there crying. I never knew what it felt like to have a broken heart break until that moment. I was frustrated, I was angry, I was sad. When I finally pulled myself back together I knew I had to obey Brady’s wishes and keep this information away from him and the people closest to him. He was going to live in bliss. To this day it is the biggest secret I have ever kept from him, hell it may have been the only secret I ever kept from him. I’m a sucker for honesty.
The next evening we were able to return home, for good this time. Six days later I had to say goodbye to my husband. Six. I didn’t get months, or weeks, or even a single week. I got six days. With my husband’s passing went my life as I knew it. Not only did I lose him, I lost our future. Our future celebrations, arguments, memories, laughs, struggles, successes, and experiences. I lost the ability to have his children. And in just one simple moment to another, I lost him.
As the weeks went by after his passing I remember wishing, hoping, even praying so deeply that there was some way, some how that Brady had mistakenly gotten me pregnant before we found out he was sick. I wanted it more than anything. I layed in bed sobbing the day I realized it was not going to happen. A child isn’t really the thing I wanted more than anything, it was Brady. It was always Brady. I thought that if I had least had his child to keep pushing me forward, I would still have a part of him with me. I still think that really. But such is life and instead I have been graced with infinite availability and an extreme lack of real responsibilities against my will. With that I will continue to live my life in a frivolous manner filled with travels and adventures until an alternative path presents itself.
I wish this could have been one of the stories you might read about in your books or see in the theaters. One that contained a disheartening tale with a silver lining. I can’t say that I have found my silver lining yet, but I’ll be sure to let you know when I do. Until then, I will remain as I am now… a childless widow in her twenties.