The Ache that Lasts a Lifetime

As I sit here in my very quiet home I ache inside, physically ache. I’m missing Erik in everything that I do. I look around and the sight of couples and families is everywhere. As I grocery shop, walk around a store, do anything…I feel as though I have a big “W” burned into my forehead. The sign of “the widow”. But I’m sure most people don’t notice me at all, they can’t see the heartache in my eyes or sense the loss in my voice. Life as they knew it didn’t stop the day my husband passed away like it did for me. They have their own lives, their own worries. The weight of the “W” is mine to carry alone. I don’t mind not being noticed though, I think I prefer it actually. 

I see all the happy faces on social media, smiling couples and families. There’s announcements of anniversaries, engagements, pregnancies, pictures of trips taken together, mentions of Mother’s Day and simple posts about something that happened that day that includes their significant other. I’m happy for everyone, truly I am, but I can’t help but be jealous sometimes and think “Why didn’t I get that with my husband?” Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want others to not have these things, I just wish I had them with my husband as well. I miss him and grieve all the things we will never get to do together. 

I’m having a hard time accepting that this is real. That he truly won’t be coming home to me or his children. I long for my partner back, my best friend. When something happens during my day, good or bad, the first person I want to tell or talk to about it is him. It’s such a horrible feeling not to be able to. 

I don’t usually share things my stepchildren say about their dad passing away because I like to keep their grief as their own and keep it between family and close friends, but I will share this one thing. I think it’s important and that many will be able to relate and also that others might get a glimpse into what this is like. 

One of my stepchildren said one night as I tucked them into bed, “I know I’ll see daddy again in Heaven, but it’s just going to take so long before I get to.” This struck me hard. I feel the same way. I didn’t want to say any clichés to try and put some positive spin on it because you know what? It does suck and here on earth it is going to feel like so very long without him. I simply nodded and said, “I’m so sorry. I know it’s going to feel that way for all of us that love daddy and honestly, it sucks.” Of course we continued to talk it out with one another and I realized that sometimes simply being honest and open with each other (even kids) through grief is the best way. It bonds us. You aren’t having to pretend it’s all ok all the time with one another, you can just be you. There’s comfort in someone simply saying “I’m sorry. This does suck and I hate it for you.” No one trying to “fix” what can’t be fixed, just showing empathy and love. When you can acknowledge someone’s pain and not try to fix it just let them feel it, that’s something really special. 

And while I absolutely believe we will have eternity with him in Heaven(and that does bring me great comfort), that doesn’t stop the ache we have here on earth. I know one day I’ll come face to face with our Lord and I’ll also be reunited with my husband and all the loved ones that have gone before me. That day will be a glorious day, there’s no doubt about that! But man…I wish it wasn’t going to feel so very far away…

It’s Ok to Cry 

I’ve realized just when you think you are “done” with something that that’s usually the very moment it comes back. For many months after Erik passed away I cried every single time I was driving home from work, and most times even once I arrived. At some point I skipped a night, maybe even two. I even thought to myself “Am I over that part of my grief? Maybe I’ve reached some milestone where I don’t cry everyday as I drive home from work?” Wrong.

The last couple of weeks it’s been back. Sometimes it’s just silent tears streaming down my face as I drive back to our home without him in it…but some nights, like tonight, are more fierce. Tears started to stream down my cheeks and there was no controlling it, eventually I reached the point where I was sobbing so hard that I was gasping for breath. I couldn’t hold it in any longer. My grief demanded to be felt and acknowledged.

My drive home from work is the sadness and most lonely drive in the world. No one to text and say I’m heading home, no one to greet me at the door, no one to have dinner cooked or cook for, no one to have the dog walked so I don’t have to after a long day of standing at work, no watching our shows together, no kisses, no laughter…it’s just me. Me. And silence. A home and a broken heart just waiting for him to return. 

I didn’t have a bad day today. Not at all. I worked all day but it was still a good day and then there it is…the reality check- “oh yeah, your husband died and you can’t go home and snuggle up on the couch with him. You can’t tell him about your day or kiss him goodnight.” It’s a harsh realization that many probably think I should be getting used to since I recently hit the one year mark. Yeah, that doesn’t seem to matter with grief. That guy will show up and pound you with every emotion under the sun and leave you feeling beaten. Grief doesn’t care how long it’s been, never will. 

I’ve spoken to other young widows and I know these “grief attacks” can happen years and years afterwards. You can’t worry if you have reached some milestone with your grief, you can’t worry you are doing it wrong or too fast or too slow…there are no rules except one- just be gentle with yourself, you are doing the best you can. It’s ok to have a good day and it’s also ok to breakdown.

So yes, I’ve been back to crying everyday as I drive home from work and usually even continuing once I’ve arrived, but I also wipe them away at some point and try to keep on going. I cried so very hard tonight, but then I fixed myself a very late dinner and watched a mindless show. Maybe I’ll cry again tonight, maybe I won’t, but I know that no matter what I do, it’ll be exactly what I need to do. Let the tears flow. No shame. 

Some Things Never Leave You

I haven’t posted in a while. I just haven’t been able to put my thoughts and feelings to paper recently, it’s hard to explain. But today I’m going to talk about some of the issues or PTSD symptoms someone can have after going through something like this, specifically what I go through. 

First, let me give the definition of PTSD in it’s simplest form for those who do not know what it is. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that’s triggered by a terrifying event, either experiencing it or witnessing it. 

Now of course there are different levels and extremes to this. It is not the same for everyone, definitely not black and white. For some if may be so bad that they can not function normally in life anymore, for others it’s still very real but not as extreme.

I’m not going to get into specific details about that day, the day I lost my husband, but I am going to explain a little of what happened. That day I was the one that found my husband, I was the one that called 911, I was the one that was trying so desperately to save him while waiting for the ambulance to get there…it was a dark day. I’ve never in my life felt fear like that. I pray I never feel fear like that again. It was something I can never explain to anyone. I think back to that day and those moments and all I remember was the fear…such soul crushing fear. Some details I’m not sure I even remember, my mind blocks them out, but I remember enough. 

Since that day I have certain things that bring on anxiety, bring that fear back and take me back to that day. The first one I’ll discuss is people sleeping. I don’t like seeing people sleeping at all now. I’m always nervous they won’t wake up. If they are very still, I start to feel “the fear” again as I go to check them. If my stepchildren sleep in longer than normal I always have anxiety when I walk in their rooms to get them up. I’m terrified I will relive the events of that day with someone else I love. I can’t fully explain it but trust me, it’s not fun. I hate it. 

Another thing is that I haven’t been able to go into a Walmart since. I didn’t shop at Walmart much anyway but that day, after I picked up my stepdaughter from preschool, we stopped at Walmart before going home. For me, Walmart will always be the place I was while my husband was dying and needed me. I can’t seem to walk through those doors again. One day there was something I needed and a friend of mine told me they sell them at Walmart. I planned to go and just face my fear of it but I couldn’t. I simply couldn’t talk myself into going to Walmart. I’ve always hated Walmart anyway, the lines, the waiting…you know what I’m talking about. But now, I hate it for a whole different reason. Logically I know Walmart has nothing to do with it but it doesn’t seem to matter. I picture myself, with my stepdaughter, walking around Walmart and getting food to cook for dinner and getting little odds and ends, and all the while having no idea what was happening at home. I’m not sure when I’ll be able to walk through those doors again. Maybe never. 

While in Walmart that day I had tried to call my husband twice. He didn’t answer. I remember thinking to myself “Oh good. Maybe he fell asleep and is getting some rest.” He hadn’t sleep well the night before and worked the 2nd shift so I wanted him to get some rest before going into work later that day. Well, the other day I was meeting my mom somewhere and I called her, no answer. I waited a little bit and then called again, still nothing. I became so panicked. I called my dad and asked if he had heard from her since she left the house and he said he hadn’t and I was then in full panic mode. If there is someone who I know usually answers my calls and who I’ve tried to call multiple times and they still don’t answer, I truly start to believe the absolute worst has happened. I was almost in tears and my anxiety was building with every passing minute that she wasn’t returning my call. I realize this was irrational, I had no reason to believe something had happened to her, the only thing that had happened was that she hasn’t answered her phone. She finally called me back and my anxieties were lifted but I realized that day I had some real fears living inside me now. 

The last thing I’ll discuss is my nightmares. They just started in the last few months. The first year after I lost my husband I barely even remember dreaming, but lately the nightmares have been occurring. They aren’t every night but they are at least once a week. In the dreams my husband is usually already gone and I know he has passed away. Mostly my dreams are about losing one or both of my stepchildren. They are very realistic dreams and I wake up panicked. A lot of the time I am desperately looking for them because they have gone missing. I also dream I’m trying to save them because something has happened to them. These dreams are horrible. Once I wake up, it takes awhile to shake the feeling inside of me, the fear. I know I have a fear of losing them as I lost my husband, I have a fear of trying to save them (or anyone) and being unable to do so. 

That day and the events surrounding it changed me, it brought up fears inside me. No one should ever have to go through what I did that day. I know many people have gone through it, and many more will, please just be understanding to those who have experienced such an event. There are battles going on inside them that you may not even know they are fighting. 

Now what?

I’m not sure what I expected the 1 year anniversary to “feel” like but I don’t think it’s what I expected. The day started out ok, I woke up and got ready and went to hangout with my stepkids. This kept my mind busy and we had a fun time. They always bring me joy and fill my heart with love. After I came back home and it was quiet and I was alone, it hit me…now what? 

It’s almost like you trick yourself into thinking that making it through the first year means you’ve done it, life can get back to normal. Ok God, where is he? It’s time for him to come back. I suffered long enough right? It’s over now, right? Please tell me it’s over. 

The first year is strange because for most of it you are in shock, in denial and numb. I’m still navigating through those emotions! You also just focus on all the “firsts”…all the birthdays and holidays. Each time you experience one it becomes a count down until the next “hurdle”, the next “first”. But now those specific “firsts” are done. I believe there will be plenty more “firsts” for me in this journey but most people don’t even realize all the ones you have to go through. The first year doesn’t cover them all. Ok, so I’ve experienced my firsts holidays without him, I’ve lived an entire year without him, so again I ask, now what? 

The scary part is the answer, you continue to do it. There is no end, not really, not on this earth. I’ve already experienced people saying things that make me realize they think once I hit the one year mark I must be healed, I must be “over it” now. One year is enough time to grieve your best friend, your husband, and your entire future full of memories that was taken from you, right? No, not even close. As if there is some magic wand you wave at Day 365 that makes you realize, “Yep! I’m healed! No more grieving for me!” Believe me, I wish there was, but unfortunately grief just isn’t that simple. 

I’m not going to lie, I’m scared. Scared for what my future holds and scared of my grief. Grief is unrelenting. The first year you are just trying to survive, get through a lot of “firsts” and somehow cope day to day. Now, it’s time to face the reality of your life. This is my life. He isn’t coming back and I’m left to figure out how to navigate through my grief and live my life knowing that I will always miss him, always wonder “what if” and always be in love with him. 

Slowly people forget your grief, they have their own lives, their own worries. I read a post another young widow made about busting into tears and hysterically crying in the carpool lane at her child’s school because a song came on and it all came rushing back. But this part might surprise people who haven’t experienced this journey, it has been 8 years since her husband passed away. She is remarried and has children now. People looking at her think “Oh she’s good now. She’s married again and happy.” And while she is remarried and happy with her life and her children, her pain and grief is still there just below the surface. It’s always just one song away from being exposed again, one memory that could pop up and bring you to your knees. 

So after 365 days of grief I realize that while life keeps moving forward, there is no true end to this. I don’t mean that to sound negative, it’s not, it’s just reality. You learn to cope as best you can, you keep putting one foot in front of the other and you pray to God for strength. Please God give me strength and guidance! But when that song comes on the radio, when something happens and brings a memory back, you need to remember that it’s ok to cry hysterically and scream out that you miss your husband and that none of this is fair…I don’t care if it’s been 1 year, 5 years or 20! 

No one said this journey was going to be easy, and while I’m scared for it sometimes, I can’t give up the fight. When I ask myself “now what?”, I’m going to say this…”You live. You love. You fight. You cry. You scream. You laugh. You pray. You do whatever you need to do to rise up from this. Not to move on or forget but to create something beautiful out of your tragic loss. You can do this! Erik would want you to! God is telling you to use this! Giving up isn’t an option! Keep fighting!” 

365 Days

Tomorrow is the 1 year anniversary of my husband passing away. I sat down to write about that day and then I thought maybe I should do something different. I could write about that horrific day, the emotions I dealt with and the PTSD I have from the events of that day…or I could talk about my husband and his life instead of focusing on his death. I could also talk about the grace God has shown me through this last year. So that’s what I’m going to do.

I’ll start with telling you some things about Erik. He had a great sense of humor, such dry humor. He could always make me laugh. He also was awesome at doing impersonations of people and accents. I was always a little jealous of that, I have zero skill in that department. 

Erik was more guarded with his emotions so many people didn’t see his truly soft side. I’m lucky that I did. He was kind, giving and such a romantic husband. Because of his tough exterior many do not realize he was still a bit of a kid at heart. He loved Disney, the muppets and Star Wars, among other things. I remember about a week or two before he passed away, we were watching a muppets movie with the kids and someone starting talking and being loud and he said “shh, I’m trying to hear the movie!” It still makes me laugh. Side note- to watch that movie he pushed our two couches together and made a “pirate ship”, as he would call it to the kids, and we all climbed in the middle and snuggled and watched the movie. We did that from time to time. 
Erik had many talents and hobbies. He loved putting together circuit boards. He put one together one night and made the light on it flash a message in Morse code. He loved to read, he was very intelligent. If he had a book he really liked he would read it over and over. I have many worn out books of his. Erik loved music. He played guitar and some harmonica. We would listen to vinyl records and he would say “do you hear that?”, and then go into a long explanation about how the person created that sound and what equipment they used. It made me laugh. I would just listen not knowing half of the things he was discussing but loving him telling me anyway. 

Erik was actually a pretty soft spoken man unless he got onto a topic that he was passionate about, then you might be there a while. Ha! He loved gardening and cooking. I would come home and he would have amazing meals cooked. He would figure out if he liked the new recipe he tried out or not, and then decide whether he should tweak it somehow next time. He would destroy the kitchen while cooking most of the time but he made some truly amazing meals so I didn’t worry about it. If I had worried every time Erik made a mess or left stuff out, I would have worried constantly! Let’s just say he wasn’t the tidiest person in the world. Haha. We all have our things, right? 

He absolutely loved Duke. Not just Duke basketball (although that was his favorite) but also Duke football. His love for Duke and Coach K was borderline obsessive. I remember the first time he told me he was a Duke fan it was through text, I responded with “I think I just threw up in my mouth a little.” I was raised a Carolina fan. After a while of being with him though I caught myself cheering for Duke. How could I not? If they lost, I had a grumpy man on my hands the rest of the night. If they won, he was happy as can be! So I guess I jumped ship and joined his. Although he said I wasn’t a true Duke fan until I also cheered for Carolina to lose no matter who they were playing. I would get the death stare if I openly cheered for Carolina against other teams. It made me laugh and I wasn’t going to hold back. If going for Duke wasn’t enough for him then he would just have to deal. 😉

Erik loved his family. His mom, two sisters, all his extended family, and of course his son and daughter. I can’t go into this too much or I’ll end up down the rabbit hole of emotion trying to crawl my way back up. I’ll just keep it simple. He loved his kids with everything he had. They were quite simply the loves of his life.

I have so much more I could talk about with Erik but I better wrap it up before I’m writing a book not a blog. 

So as I said , tomorrow is the 1 year mark. 365 days without him. They have been tough, harder than most people can imagine, but they have also taught me a lot. People say “God doesn’t give you more than you can handle.” Well I hate to tell them, but that’s wrong. He absolutely gives us more than we can handle because we aren’t supposed to handle it alone. We are supposed to lean on Him, give Him our burdens to carry and pray for guidance and strength. He has given me those things this last year. Have I been perfect in my journey? Absolutely not. I have had days or even weeks that I tried to carry it all on my own, I was drowning from the weight of it all, I thought I couldn’t survive even another hour but then He would remind me “I’m here, I can help.” Believing in God and His grace doesn’t make you perfect, you can still struggle, but it does make the struggle more bearable. I’ve had nights were I drank too many glasses of wine and cried the entire night. I don’t believe He blames me for that, He understands this is an extremely hard journey. Grief is ugly and unfortunately there is no rule book. I’m thankful for the grace that the Lord extends to me on a daily basis. He knows how badly I’m hurting, how badly we are all hurting, and He can help if we allow Him to. 

So tomorrow I will wake up and face the day. I’m sure it will have some rough moments, I’m sure there will be tears, but I also want there to be laughter and love. It was a horrific day for me and I do not believe Erik would have chosen to leave us when he did but I also think about what that day was for him…that day Erik gazed upon our Lord. Can you imagine how that must have been for him? The pure awe of it, the peace and love he must have been filled with, and is still filled with…I tear up thinking about it! I’m not crying for me and what I lost that day, I’m crying tears of joy for Erik and all that he gained. 365 days without him, it’s been the hardest thing I’ve ever had to endure. Thankfully because of our Lord, it’s 365 days closer to seeing him again. I will see him again, one bright day. 

The Countdown Has Begun

I’m sitting here and my emotions are taking over me, I can feel my anxiety building. The “countdown” has begun. There are 11 days until THAT day, the dreaded day, the one year anniversary of my husband’s passing, the day that changed everything for me and all our family and friends. 

Today is one of my nephew’s birthdays. I can’t help but think back on his birthday last year. Erik and I took the kids to see my nephew get baptized, great birthday gift for him! Then we went out to dinner with my family and afterwards we went to my parents house for cake and presents. It was a great day full of celebrating. It is also now the last day any of my family saw Erik alive. 

I think in situations like this you can’t help but think back, think about his last days here on earth. I think about how we were just living life with no idea what was about to happen. How in just 11 short days life would drastically change, how my world would be turned upside down and shaken to the point where I didn’t recognize anything…not even myself.

I think to myself, Did I hug him enough? Kiss him enough? Tell him I love him enough? Did I let him know just how very much he means to me and how I love him unconditionally? It never feels like enough and had I known I’m sure I would have done it a million more times. I can’t question that too much though because I know that I did. I was always an affection person with him and constantly letting him know that I loved him and that no matter what we were partners. As I always said to him “You are mine and I am yours. Always.” And I meant it, still do.

I’m dreading March 3rd, I dread the days leading up to it as well. That day will always be the day I lost my best friend, my husband. It’ll always be the day my mother-in-law lost her only son, his sisters lost their only brother and my stepchildren lost their father. Life is broken up into two worlds now- Before and After. 

You’re My Significant Otter

I’ve never been a huge Valentine’s Day person. I don’t dislike the holiday, I just have never really cared much about getting flowers or gifts for it. I think it’s a million times more special when you get flowers or a card/gift on a completely random day and then you know that your spouse/significant other thought of you all on their own. 

Tomorrow, Valentine’s Day will flood my life via social media. Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat…I’ll see people celebrating their love, going out to eat, etc. I pray these people truly celebrate their love not just for Valentine’s Day but everyday, that they realize how truly luckily they are to wake up next to their loved one each day. 

I can’t help but think back on our Valentine’s Day last year. Erik never gave me flowers on Valentine’s Day. As I said before, I wasn’t into that and specifically would tell him not to waste the money on marked up flowers. He would surprise me with flowers on random days, no holiday needed. Well last Valentine’s Day, our last one spent together, he bought me flowers. He didn’t get the expensive ones from the florist, he put a bouquet together himself. Just the kind of thing I like! I still have those flowers. They are dried and kept safe. I can’t help but think that that wasn’t a coincidence that on our last one spent together he got me flowers. I now have flowers to keep for a lifetime from our last Valentine’s Day together. 

The picture above is the front of the card I gave him last year. I ordered it specially online because sea otters were his favorite animal. This year my stepdaughter said to me while we were in Target that we needed to get daddy a Valentine’s Day card. We headed over to the cards and there it was, a Sea Otter Valentine’s Day card!! It was not the same one from the year previous. What are the odds? So of course we got it! 

Tomorrow it will be my first Valentine’s Day without my love and in 18 days it will have been a year without him. Tomorrow I will still celebrate our love. I will take him cards, sit with him and be thankful for every moment spent together. We have a love that most people dream about. We loved each other through the good, the bad and the ugly and everything in between! I will forever be thankful that I experienced true love. Our time together was cut short but our love lives on and it will forever. So Happy Valentine’s Day everyone. Don’t forget to show your love and appreciation all the other days of the year as well!