Monday, February 17, 2020

49 Things I Learned After I Was Widowed

Today is my 49th birthday. And believe it or not, I am alright with that. Honestly. I am so alright with that. I consider myself very lucky to be 49.

So many people don’t even make it to 49, their lives tragically cut short far too soon. And so many people never truly live while they have the chance. They rush from day to day, so busy making a living they don’t even notice as life passes them by. I was one of those people until tragedy completely changed my life and me.

After my husband died, I had to rebuild my life and myself. It took a lot of grief and a lot of hard work for me to get to where I am today. I’m far from perfect, and I’ve certainly made my share of mistakes. I have more wrinkles and my hair colour is now (a well-disguised) natural grey. I’ve been skinnier in my life, but I’ve never been fitter. In fact, I am emotionally, mentally, and physically healthier than I ever was when Dan was alive. And I can honestly say, I’m the happiest I’ve been in years. Ironically, the best version of me was born from my husband’s death. It took a long time for me to reconcile that with myself.

Death truly is life’s greatest teacher. Death challenged me in every way possible. It took away everything I believed in and forced me to confront my worst fears. And yet, it also made me appreciate each and every moment. It has shown me the power of vulnerability and the importance of gratitude. And it has made me love more fiercely than I ever thought possible. Death has made me more resilient, and stronger than I ever thought I could be. And it has made me wiser.

I have learned so many valuable life lessons in the six years since Dan died. You may say they are clichés, but there’s a reason why clichés are written.

I learned the truth of these 49 life lessons the hardest way possible.

1. Life isn’t fair, but it’s still good.

2. Growing old beats the alternative – dying young.

3. You have to let go of the life you thought you’d have and make happiness in the life you do have.

4. No one else can make you happy. Only you can do that.

5. Happiness is a choice and you have to work at it every day.

6. Be kind, you don’t know what someone else is going through. But remember: going through a hard time does not give you a license to treat people poorly.

7. You can’t change the past. Learn from it, then let it go. Before it destroys your present.

8. Nobody can rescue you but you. Get up and be your own damn hero.

9. You have to keep laughing, it really is the best medicine.

10. You are more than enough. When you realize your worth, it will change everything.

11. You don’t know what you don’t know. Nobody has all the answers.

12. You can’t numb the pain, and it just makes it worse when you try. Sadly, gin is not always your friend.

13. Grief demands to be heard, so don’t even try to bury it. Until you lean into it, acknowledge it, and process it, you will never heal.

14. Your grief is your grief, only you truly know what you are feeling. And you are not obligated to share it with anyone.

15. Stop caring what other people think. Seriously. There will always be people who judge you. Their opinion doesn’t matter.

16. Don’t compare your life to others’. You have no idea what their journey is all about.

17. Not everyone will be there to support you. Let them go. They aren’t your people.

18. Sometimes people show up in your life just when you need them the most. Serendipity is a beautiful thing.

19. Everyone needs a tribe to support them, in good times and in bad.

20. It’s okay to ask for help, it doesn’t make you weak, it makes you strong.

21. Self-care is not indulgent, it’s necessary.

22. Material objects are just that – objects. What you own is not who you are.

23. Less really is more, except when it comes to coffee, of course.

24. Coffee won’t fix it. But it will help. Be kind to the baristas of the world.

25. Exercise is just as important for your emotional health as it is for your physical health.

26. Just 15 minutes of exercise will have a positive impact on your attitude. Put down your phone and go for a walk.

27. Vulnerability is a strength, not a weakness.

28. Sometimes you need to go somewhere to discover where you don’t want to be.

29. You can never truly go home because home is not the same and neither are you.

30. Sometimes you accidentally find your purpose, but your purpose is never an accident.

31. You get what you give. Be there for others when they need you.

32. Gratitude completely changes your outlook and your heart.

33. There is always something to be grateful for. Even on the worst of days. You’re still here, aren’t you?

34. Sometimes you have to say no.

35. And sometimes you have to say yes.

36. Some things and some people are totally worth the risk.

37. You’ll never know if you never ask. If you don’t ask, you don’t get.

38. It’s okay to be scared. Do it anyway. That’s courage.

39. Stop waiting for the perfect time. There is no perfect time, there is only now.

40. Regret is the price you pay for fear. Fear isn’t worth the price.

41. Grief is the price you pay for love. Love is so worth the price.

42. Shattered hearts do heal. You will love again if you are brave enough to let love find you.

43. Time spent with people you love is never wasted time.

44. You never know when it will be the last time you say I Love You, so say it to your people as often as you can.

45. Loss teaches you the true value of time. It really is much shorter than you think.

46. Eat the chocolate. Burn the candles. Wear the perfume. Life is too damn short.

47. The little things that annoy you so much often become the things you miss the most about someone when they are gone.

48. All that truly matters, in the end, is that you loved.

49. Get busy living or get busy dying. The choice is yours.

The choice has always been yours. Just like it was always mine.

Don’t make the same mistake I did. Don’t wait until something catastrophic happens to choose to live the best life you possibly can.

Live it now.


Friday, February 7, 2020

Bittersweet Birthdays

I came across this picture a few days ago. And I can honestly say it brought me to my knees. Grief is sneaky that way. It hits you suddenly and unexpectedly. A scent. An old, familiar tune. A faded photograph.

Grief never really goes away. It just lurks under the surface. Waiting for the next song, the next photograph, the next special occasion to resurface

When Dan died, so many people told me I would be angry. But I’m not. And I never have been. Anger, bitterness, and resentment are such toxic emotions. I’d already, we’d already, sacrificed so much. I refused to give my emotional energy to those toxic emotions. And also I saw no point in being angry at a LAV and a hole in the ground. So I chose gratitude over resentment. Some days that was easier than others, but I chose gratitude anyway. Because the hardest days were the days I needed it the most.

So today I’m not angry Dan isn’t here to celebrate our firstborn and only son’s 24th birthday. I’m not thinking about all the birthdays he’s missed. I’m grateful for all the ones he was here for. But that doesn’t mean I’m not a little bit sad. I’m actually god damn sad. And that’s the thing they don’t tell you about grief.

The rest of your life will be bittersweet. All of those happy joyous occasions will always be tainted by a tinge of sadness. That is the duality of life after loss.

Today is one of those bittersweet days. Dan was over the moon ecstatic when this little guy was born, twenty-four years ago today. Twenty-fours years. How can that be? I was twenty-four when we had him. I remember the first time Dan held him. He stood there and looked at him in awe. 

“Hello Old Man. I’m your Dad.”

He was an incredible Dad. The kind of Dad I wish I’d had. The kind of Dad our son will be because he learned from the best. I’d say Dan was even better at being a Dad than he was at being a soldier. Which is saying a lot, because he was one hell of a soldier.

Since he’s been gone, I’ve been the only parent. Both Mom and Dad. I’ve tried to fill his shoes and be as good of a parent as he was. Sometimes I do okay at it. Sometimes I fail epically.

The last six years haven’t been easy. Far from it. Especially for this little guy that followed in his Dad’s footsteps. That’s hard enough to do when your Dad is alive, even harder when you put a uniform on less than three months after your father is tragically killed.

He has literally worn his father’s name tag for the last five years. He, more than any of us, has had to carry the weight of that name. The pressure and expectation that come with it have been overwhelming at times. There have been missteps and setbacks. But every time he’s picked himself back up and he’s persevered. He’s grown into an incredibly compassionate, empathetic, resilient young man.

Sometimes when I see him in uniform, it’s like déjà vu. A blonde version of a boy I knew a long time ago. So much like him in so many ways, a little bit like me in others. But mostly himself.

When he was in preschool his teacher asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up. He looked at her very seriously for a minute before answering. “I want to be Connor Robert Bobbitt.”

Finally, at twenty-four he’s becoming his own man, making his own way. No longer lingering in his Dad’s shadow. His Dad would be so incredibly proud of him. I know I am.

Happy Birthday, Old Man. Thank God you have better taste in glasses than your Dad did.
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