When I was a little kid I loved to drive through tunnels. Maybe because it’s rare but mostly because I loved the sound and feeling of going through one. The loud wishing and whirring only to come out the other side to a big grand view. It felt magical. When Steve and I would drive through a tunnel, he would honk the horn right before we exited the tunnel like a crazy person and say, “We gotta wake the bears.” When the kids were little they would laugh and giggle at him. As they got older they would give him a slight smile and keep looking out the window. They were too cool for his shenanigans. It did always make me smile. He was just a big kid, he loved to be silly. Our son and I took a road trip this summer and we continued the tradition; blaring the horn and laughing and shouting, “Time to wake the bears.” It was super obnoxious, my apologies to anyone who had the unfortunate luck to be next to us in the tunnel.
This week was National Grief Awareness Day. I had started to write several passages this week and was frustrated with my results, so much so I tabled them to be edited at a future date and kept restarting only to continue to feel blocked. Sometimes writing comes easily and flows like a little stream. Words trickle out of my fingers and hopefully reach someone who needs to read them, offering them encouragement. Or maybe, someone who is trying to understand a little bit about a close friend who has just suffered the loss of their spouse comes across it and learns a little about the deep swells of grief their friend has suddenly and without their permission, found themselves drowning in. Other times I feel like upstream at some undisclosed location, a damn has been built and is hindering my ability to put into words the feelings I am going through.
These past few days it’s like my mind has been plugged. My fingers fumbling to type the words I really wanted. I always write best when it comes from my heart, not when I am trying to give advice. Which, as I have stated, makes me feel slightly uncomfortable to give. But then I realized today, this is exactly what I need to talk about. Sometimes it is so easy to know what feelings I am dealing with and other times it is buried and I have to dig and sift through things as they present themselves only to discover some underlying moment that stirred something deep inside. It doesn’t matter that it has been 16 months, or 2, or 25 – grief doesn’t go away, take a vacation, or subside. You just learn to live with the ebb and flow and learn to manage it. It’s almost like a new sense, you just learn to navigate your day with it.
Back to tunnels. One of my favorite memories of Steve is watching him on the football field. Mostly because he looked so comfortable out there, he was in his element. He was, for lack of a better word, super sexy out there. I remember watching he and the rest of the staff and the boys running out of the tunnel. I remember asking him if he enjoyed himself and wondering what was running through his head that first time. I was sure he was going to give me some deep answer about feeling like a young man again. What he did say though was, “I was just glad to be able to breath. The boys can be a little ripe coming out of that locker room.” Once again, it was often about making me laugh.
These past few days I have been so frustrated with my inability to focus and write. I had so much I wanted to say, but none of it came out in a way that felt relatable or readable. When I find myself stuck, in anything not just writing, I have been trying to learn to take some time for reflection. I have tried hot yoga (super hard – I am determined to get better), reading, meditating, prayer, walking, playing with my dog, listening to music or podcasts. Nothing was working. And then, as it often happens, in the shower I had a clarity of thought. When my mind is calm, that’s when it all comes together.
Our son is about to start 8thgrade, football season has begun (he is not playing, but social media is full of football and one could never escape its presence on tv), our daughter is busy, and I am about to begin my 2ndyear of school activities without the person who knew how to keep me centered.
I remember trying to get through the first year, all the firsts everyone kept talking about. They were horrible. You all know that. Painful. I don’t need to rehash that. I kept trying to get through to May 2, to the start of my 2ndyear. I believed that once I got through the first year everything would be easier. Like at year two I would suddenly have the answers and know what I was supposed to do for the next 50+ years without the guy I chose to start my family with, the guy I trusted to be father to my children, my best friend, my love. Yep, somehow magically 12 months was all I would need and I would know everything about how to tackle the rest of my life.
I have spent the entire summer stifled actually, if I am being honest. I realized sometime this summer that the fog had lifted and clarity was starting to set in; yet stifled I was. I am a single mom to two kids and I have to start over. Over meaning I need to find a career that will enable me to provide for our kids in the same capacity as they had enjoyed with two parents, I am suddenly the only adult responsible for everything, the likelihood that I will live more years on this Earth without him than he got to live in total is incredibly high, and that really effects my last reality, which is a ginormous chunk of time to live a life trying to honor him and the legacy he left me. That is a pretty tall order. “Go big or go home, Ang” now has an entirely new and terrifying meaning. I began to look over what I had accomplished over the last year and became incredibly disappointed in myself. Admittedly, I would have hardly called myself capable of functioning at a high enough level to have created some national campaign of awesomeness that propelled me to the heights I would like to see myself achieve.
What I realized was my block was a truckload full of hesitation mixed with a tinge of fear, a heap of anticipation (not necessarily the feel-good kind), a barrel full of anxiety, and just enough confidence to come out slightly ahead of all those other emotions. I had this image of me, walking through my past year, like walking through a tunnel. It came upon me sudden, the entrance to that tunnel and I quietly and painfully walked through it. And what I realized was, I have been standing at the end of it. Hesitant to walk out onto my own field, to start the rest of my life without him, to play my game; the game I am not really ready to play.
Coming out of that first year tunnel isn’t like a grand view or a breath of fresh air, it’s scary, it’s overwhelming, it’s not a “game” I am excited to play. I want to stay in my tunnel, protected by the walls around me. But that also doesn’t sound like me. So why was I so hesitant?
He was one of the best motivators on the planet. He could make you see things about yourself no one else had ever shown you. Everyone who worked with him or for him, usually loved him and wanted to be the best because of his charm. That played out on the field as well, no matter the sport. Most of the kids he interacted with really connected with him and often learned something positive about their individual abilities.
We moved really far away from our families, we wanted to give our kids a new legacy. We wanted them to feel free to become who they wanted instead of stuck in some tired, old-fashioned, and outdated model or being chained to the mistakes of either of our families.
One of the most amazing things Steve brought into my life was the ability to cheer me on and champion my gifts. After he passed away, countless people would tell me how he always talked about me and the kids, how brilliant he told everyone I was. Not even that he thought I was brilliant, he just stated it like it was a fact. We once had an argument where in the middle of it he called me “his brilliant and fierce wife”. In the middle of an argument, when most everyone else would choose to pull you down, he was still building me up. I remember it stopping me in my tracks. He knew how to make me think, how to move me back into a logical state of mind. But most importantly, he sowed into people he met, that his wife was capable. He didn’t speak of my faults, he spoke of my gifts. My own family never did that. They were happy to speak of my misgivings and made sure to share with others my failures before speaking of my successes or abilities. Feigning some need to have “worry” for me, as though I was always on some precipice of failure. In him, I had the one thing I never had, someone who had an unwavering belief that I was amazing and capable – and I could accomplish my dreams.
For him, I was also the yin to his yang. I gave him true loyalty. Unsurpassed and unfettered loyalty. I believed he would find the answers and I made sure he knew he could count on me, we were a team and I would be there to help him. The ironic thing is although I know he loved that about me, he still kept things from me, he still tried to protect me from worry and handled so much stress without letting it sit on my shoulders as well. He passed away on a Monday, the Thursday before I had something weighing on me about when we first got married. It had been nagging at me for weeks. I told him I was sorry I had been such a “princess” in the beginning and did not see that my husband needed to talk to me about something. I told him I was sorry I didn’t know enough then to know he needed me, and I was sorry I allowed him to shoulder so much at the beginning. It is one of the singular most treasured things I feel like I got to say to him, unaware that our time together was quickly slipping away. I am glad I got to own that I missed his signals at the beginning and hopefully relay to him that I didn’t want him to ever feel alone.
So in my little epiphany moment, I realized I am hesitant to walk out of my tunnel because I have lost my motivation. What is my purpose now without him? Obviously, to be a mother to our children. But further than that, why am I here? I knew I was here to be his wife. It wasn’t long into our marriage before I realized no one else could have been a better match for either of us. So now that his purpose on Earth has finished, where does that leave me? How do I evolve and where do I even begin? My whole life was about leading me to him. Now, I don’t know what my trajectory is. What am I really made to do, where will I make a difference?
I have always been able to plan my steps. At least to see where my current abilities will benefit me most and how I can make the best living with my skill set. Now I find myself exposed, unsure, and raw. I have no idea if my ideas are viable, I am nervous to trust my gut without my biggest fan. But life isn’t about absolutes is it? Up until now, maybe I have been able to get away with thinking it was. Believing I always knew my steps 5 steps before I should make them. Now I have the worry that I am letting down his legacy if I fail. Before failure was just part of the process of life, nothing I was worried about. In fact, my kids have always “loved” (abhorred) my life lessons. Nothing wasted, there is always something you can learn.
But a widow learns that life isn’t an absolute. My friends will all, most likely, get to greet their grandkids on a Christmas morning with their husband, the father of their children. Will get to enjoy retirement with him, grow old with him. I didn’t get what I thought I was promised and nothing I can do will put that back on track. My absolute, my formula for a happy life is no longer valid. Couple that with the fact that his stream of motivational compliments are gone, and it’s no wonder I am stifled.
So now, I find myself back at that tunnel. All I can say is, I haven’t taken any backward steps and I am still standing at the mouth about to go on the field, and soon I think it will be time to wake the bear…
What song to leave you with this time? Sometimes they have gone with the theme of the writing, sometimes they are just songs I love. But this one feels like it needs to go with my theme, imagine a boat coming out of a tunnel I guess. Enjoy and don’t forget you are amazing!
Kenny Chesney – “Better Boat” (feat. Mindy Smith)”