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.