September 26th of 2017. This is the last picture I ever took with my husband when he was alive. It was during our last night in Las Vegas…He took me with him for a work conference, and we had the most amazing four days… Just the two of us. Two days after this picture was taken, I saw him alive for the last time. And then at 12:09 in the morning on September 29th of 2017, my husband got his wings.
Words usually come so easy to me…Thoughts are constantly racing through my mind throughout the day, demanding to be written down. Leading up to the one year anniversary of my husband’s passing, I thought I would have words just pouring out onto the computer screen…However its been the exact opposite. Writing this blog reinforces that all of this is real, and that I really have lived an entire year without the man I barely ever went one day without hugging, kissing, or talking to. It has officially been 365 days since I last felt his arms around me or heard his calming voice of reason. I’ve been through four seasons, multiple holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, and other occasions, without the man who I was supposed to grow old with. This past year has changed me in more ways than I could possibly say, and I am proud of what I have accomplished…But as I wake up tomorrow morning, sadness overwhelms me in that my memories of a year ago will no longer involve Nate…
Naively, in October of last year, I think I had hoped that time would magically cure the sadness, and that by the time a year had passed, I would be fist pumping the air, all out cheering that I had made it a whole fucking year without Nate…Almost like it was some sort of finish line. Just get to a few months down the road. Things will be different in a year. After his death, I just wanted to time travel to the future, so I wouldn’t have to hurt so much everyday. I think deep down inside, I knew better…But reality yet again has slapped me in the face, and even though this weekend will officially mark the end of my first year as a widow? I will still be a widow on Monday…And everyday after. I’ve come to face the brutal reality that there is no finish line.
I remember vividly at Nate’s celebration of life turning to one of my in laws saying, “tomorrow is the first day of the rest of my life without him”. As we approach the dreaded anniversary of the day I walked into that emergency room and witnessed what most will only ever refer to as their worst nightmare or the unthinkable…the unimaginable…As we approach that anniversary, that hurt I wanted so desperately to escape from? It’s still there. The pain, the sadness, the anger…It’s all still there. But a year into this journey, I can say that I have learned how to live with all of it. Oh, how I’ve learned…
I’ve learned how strong I am. Standing next to my 36 year old husband’s coffin, watching his shell lowered into the ground…Seeing his handsome face in that emergency room, looking as though he was simply sleeping, then laying my head on his chest realizing his heart truly no longer beat…It takes you to a whole different world. You reach a depth of sadness, anger, shock and disbelief you never knew existed. The pain is all encompassing…And finding a way to live with it? It’s fucking hard. Somedays, I am strong because I get ahead of my schoolwork, workout, play with my son and just have a productive day…Others, I am strong because I simply get out of bed. I have learned that to choose to live with this pain, whether it be running three miles on a day I feel like shit or simply plastering on a smile that hides so much pain…all of it is strength. Even in my weakest moments when the tears seem to have no end, I try to remember the lowest of lows I have survived…and it’s in those moments I feel strongest.
I’ve learned how good people genuinely are. From the moment Nate passed, the outpour of love and support Ian and I have received from so many people has truly been such a blessing. My parents, my family, my amazing in laws, my friends…they all have kept us afloat, and I am reminded on a daily basis, that in the darkest moments, people will show their true character…And Ian and I are beyond blessed to be surrounded by so many good people.
I’ve learned that each day, we live in a world surrounded by individuals silently fighting their own battles. Before I lost Nate, I lived in a bit of a bubble…You hear about bad things happening in the news, but you never fully believe they will happen to you. I remember the first time I went to the grocery store after losing Nate. I looked around at all the strangers walking by me wondering who else may be suffocating like me. Who else was walking around like a zombie trying to buy milk like a functioning human being all the while carrying the weight of the world on their shoulders? Who else spent the night crying? Who else was forced into a new beginning they never saw coming? Being a widow gives you new eyesight…It helps you see what most truly just aren’t able to…The fragility of life…You develop a whole different level of empathy.
I’ve learned that grief comes in all shapes and forms, and that to heal is a very personal, intimate process. I’ve learned that the process has no finish line, it’s a matter of learning how to move forward knowing that for the rest of my life, I will live with the loss of Nate. It’s a matter of discovering how to live with it…How to wake up each day…How to try to have something to look forward to….How to still hope and dream about the future when it has been irrevocably altered…How to find reasons to smile…How to allow myself to grieve the loss of my husband, while trying to move forward without him. I don’t have nearly all of the answers, but I have learned the importance of just trying to take life day by day, and have confidence that I’m doing everything in my power to try and do so.
I’ve learned that as bad as things are? They could always be worse. Which was extremely difficult to see in the beginning. But this past year, I have met so many survivors. I’ve met men and women who have literally been dealt some of the worst hands of cards life has to offer, and have not only picked themselves up, but have found a way to thrive. I’m still in awe. And I have learned to count my blessings, no matter how dark life gets…there’s always something to be grateful for. My husband’s favorite motto of “don’t sweat the small stuff?” It echoes in my mind on a daily basis.
I’ve learned that vulnerability and honesty are beautiful, and most definitely not a weakness. Not everyone will appreciate you speaking your truth. Some won’t want to hear about the dark. Some may even say you talk about death and sadness too much (most likely the ones who have barely been touched by one or the other). But the ones who care? The ones who matter? They will listen. They will absorb. Nothing is more freeing then speaking your truth…whether or not the rest of your world wants to listen.
I’ve learned that taking myself out of my comfort zone is perhaps one of the most rewarding risks I have ever taken. Whether it be sharing with whoever, my story of love, loss, and survival or training for something completely out of my realm of experience, such as the Spartan Race, taking a step out of my little bubble of security has helped me grow in more ways than I ever could have anticipated. And I credit it to my husband.
I’ve learned that despite desperately missing my yesterday’s and life as I once knew it, tomorrow is worth fighting for. Because as long as there is tomorrow, there is hope that there will be a chance for things to be better.
Somedays, I find myself just staring at a picture of Nate…trying to remember what his stubble felt like under my fingertips, or how his strong arms felt when I was wrapped in his embrace…Longing for the vividness of what he smelled like in the morning as he sought me out to kiss me goodbye. My hands ache to run my fingers through his hair or to lay my head on his strong chest…I can hardly believe it has been a full year since I have been able to do any of that. I’ve learned so much the past year…Perhaps the most important being that love truly knows no boundaries. I miss Nate’s physical presence every minute of every day. But in his absence, his love…the love we shared…It gets stronger everyday. I cry because I can’t hold him. I’m angry because i wanted to live so much more life alongside him. But I’m so thankful for his love…The kind of love that takes your breath away and look forward to tomorrow. The kind that makes your heart beat a bit more strongly and pieces together a part of you, you never knew was missing. The kind that survives mortal boundaries, and even in death, makes me a stronger, better woman. The kind of love he gave me was mine, and mine alone and I will take it with me for all of my tomorrows.