Life…where I am

what-is-critical-thinkingAs I sit here, finally writing again after a hiatus, I begin to think about life and all the events that have led me to today.

A little over three years ago my late husband was killed in the line of duty by a drunk driver.  The drunk driver has since been charged and is incarcerated.  She will be let out next year and will go to a rehabilitation center.

Mike siteMy children have grown three years older…they have begun to be removed from the immediate tragedy of their father’s death.  I hold their not so little hands now and feel such gratitude to have these two in my life. They are moving forward with the memories their father left them and of what I remind them.  Each year we visit the site where their father took his last breath.  Every year it is different with new emotions and new perspectives.

My own life went from safe to chaotic and back to feeling safe again with a change of perspective.  Knowing that life can be cut short and being present (in the now) is far more important than I thought it would be.

I was an emotional basket case, although some may think that I have a little bit of that emotional roller coaster hanging in the balance.

I am at a point, wondering what next?  Where do I go from here?  There have been many paths that I have carved out in the road that I have walked these last three years.  Going forward, I am at a crossroads.

I have volunteered with a couple of organizations that support fallen officers, done many speeches about my book and being a surviving spouse. Maybe the most challenging of those speeches comes when I am speaking about the effects of drunk driving.  Trying to educate others on what it is like to lose someone to a drunk driver and the impact it has on one’s life and to children. This is hard to put into words.  I wish that at times I could have a video of all that I went through to show people.  The raw emotion is unforgettable.

weddingThis summer I got remarried to a federal agent.  This has created a family unit again.  My children were glowing, as I was at the wedding.  They think very highly of their step dad, as do I. We are a unique family, as I believe all families are.  As my youngest son puts it…he has a dad here and one in the sky.

My question still remains…where do I go from here?  I feel a great sense of accomplishment in my life now, but I am searching for where my place should be in this world.  When I ask this question, I mean with a career.

How can I continue to impact lives and continue to create a sense of accomplishment with what I do?

Which path do I take and should I continue to follow what Ralph Waldo Emerson said…Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.

I am in search of answers and know I will find them, until then…I remain searching.

 

Crazy Courage

Crazy courage banquetLast week I was asked to speak at a banquet for survivors.  They asked me to be the honoree guest and the banquet was called Crazy Courage.  The program said inspired by Samantha Light-Gallagher (my book is called Crazy Courage).  I cannot express how much it means to have been asked to do this.  To see this on the programs was pretty amazing.

I wanted to share with all of you what I read.  It is what I think Crazy Courage was about that night.

Hello… I want to first thank the 100 club for honoring the fallen heroes tonight and for honoring myself and my late husband. 

On the morning of September 2nd, 2010 I receive a fatal knock on my door. The Border patrol was standing on my door step. They said I am sorry ma’am but your husband died. That day with those eight words, thought my life ended.

My late husband and children’s father was Border Patrol Agent, Michael Gallagher.

Mike was a man of honor, integrity, vigilance and optimism.  As we sit here tonight we remember our fallen heroes.  We remember their laugh, their touch or the last words we spoke to them. We also feel the pain, anger and many other emotions that came with and after we were told of their death.  Over the days, weeks, months or even years after the death of our loved one we have likely experienced a diffused focus, diverted attention and perception or a wondering mind.

But tonight is not only about remembering our fallen heroes… it’s also about honoring those of us that stood behind the fallen heroes. Underneath their badge there was a man or woman that had children, a wife, a husband, sister, brother and parents…they had a life. Many of us in this room stand behind our heroes every day in their choice to serve our streets, cities and country.  We watch them leave in their uniforms, ready for another shift of work…telling them goodbye, not knowing that it might be the last time.  We continue to push on to honor our fallen heroes and we push on with crazy courage.

Tonight is about Our Crazy Courage. 

It’s the strength that each one of us has deep inside.  It’s the courage to push past your pride, ask for help and accept the support people want to give you.

Crazy courage is doing what is right for you, doing what you have to when you are in an emotional state that can become self-defeating, when you have lost the passion for life itself. Courage is when you stand up and brush the dirt off and face all the difficulty, uncertainty, and pain by overcoming the fear that has overtaken your rational mind.  When you add the crazy to the courage you are adding an intense enthusiasm which will show others that you have a mission to complete, even if that mission is to get out of bed.  It is when you ignore the voice that is telling you, you can’t do this.  It is not letting those fears and the pain control you anymore.  It will give you the strength to surpass all of the weaknesses you may be feeling at that moment.  The state of vulnerability you may feel is scary, but if you can learn how to eliminate that and replace it with courage you may have control again. It is what it takes to become yourself again and  allows change to happen. Crazy courage allows you to tell yourself the truth.  We may lie to ourselves so often that we begin to believe those lies. We cannot close our eyes in hopes that this will all go away.  We need to listen to that crazy courage voice inside of us, the one that is telling us we can do it and ignore the voice that may be telling us we can’t.  We can take some deep breaths, count to ten, close our eyes and listen to what our body and mind are saying. 

So many things can scare you once you feel you have lost control of your life.  Out of all the things I had to do, the scariest thing by far was to face my children. To look in their innocent eyes and tell them their Daddy was dead.

I believe you need to face what scares you.    You have a lot to face with the loss of your loved one. You may be scared, because you have lost what you once knew as your life.  It left when your loved one died.  You may be standing there with the new unfamiliar life staring back at you. Trust me when I say you do not have to take a step without support. There are many organizations that are built by survivors like the AZ 100 club, AZ COPS and BP Foundation that will not let you begin your journey alone, unless you want to.

I say give it 30 seconds of crazy courage and you will be surprised by what you are able to accomplish. It takes a lot of crazy courage to face those things you don’t want to do, but you have to do them anyway. It’s the courage you use to get out of bed and face the world again.  It’s the strength that you find inside yourself to do what is necessary to survive.   

It may mean to sit with a friend in silence in a moment of despair or confusion, to stay with them in an hour of grief and bereavement, to tolerate not knowing…not healing, not curing…being a friend who cares.

Crazy courage is supporting people in our lives, to do more than just exist, to help others achieve inwardly what they can show on the outside with a smile or a laugh. To allow others to achieve their own happiness and acceptance.  Now I ask you how will you touch others…

There have been several times when I have used my crazy courage to face my reality.  One of those times was visiting the crash site. I needed to see the place where Mike had taken his last few breaths, the place where he last saw the world.  It gave me back a little bit of the control I was missing in my life.

Crazy Courage is about awareness. When I became a widow I was no longer part of the society I had been before.  The one that has a husband, wife and children.  My reality was a dysfunctional part of society.  At times the only place where I could feel like I could be myself was when I was alone in the dark in the corner of my bedroom crying in the fetal position.  It was who I was at that moment, lost, not knowing what to do next and losing my sense of identity.  My late husband was as much of my identity as my own self.  Now I had to find out who I was now. I began to understand what self awareness really meant. Being okay with the fact that I may not fit into otherness. Otherness is a term I heard in a speech once. It’s the self we create because of others’ perceptions on how we should be.

I took in my crazy courage with each breath, became aware of my reality and became a survivor. It may not be the group I wanted to be a part of in society.  But it is a group that I am proud to be a part of.

There are many ways to look at life… to understand why a tragedy happened to you. To experience more than just breathing, to look at your lifeless eyes in the mirror that are stained red from tears.  To hear the roll call during your loved one’s funeral, to watch their ashes being lowered into the earth and your child’s little hands scraping the dirt to place on top of their daddy’s urn that is now interred.   

One way of looking at it is like this quote I recently heard, it states…”People will ask you the questions ‘how is life treating you?’ But my question is ‘how are you treating life?’ On that your happiness rests”Thank you for your time this evening and may all of you use your crazy courage!

 

Guestpost on Terri Lynn’s Happy Talk

Terri Lynn asked me to write a guest post on her blog.  Terri is an expert at choosing happiness and using the Divine navigation system. As a sales manager she motivated and inspired others and became known as Fortune Cookie. She lives in Newtown Square, Pa. with her son Dan. Her intention is to show the benefits of putting happiness first.

Thank you, Terri for sharing my words.

Guests Bloggers

Choice to Be Happy
by Samantha Light-Gallagher, author of Crazy Courage: A Young Widow’s Survival Guide

Choices are made every day.  We make choices about what we are going to eat for breakfast, if we are going to exercise or what route we are going to take to work.  These are just the small choices in our lives.  What about the choice to be happy?

A big question might be: do we choose to be happy or do our life events make those choices for us?  I believe we make the conscious or maybe at the time unconscious choice to choose happiness.  If you look at two people with the same  events, many times the person’s attitude impacts the turnout. Read more…

My Crazy Courage…

Red background with Black letters spelling courageCrazy courage is doing what is right for me, doing what I have to when I was in an emotional state that can become self-defeating, when I lost the passion for life itself. Courage is when I stand up and brush the dirt off and face all the difficulty, uncertainty, and pain by overcoming the fear that has overtaken my rational mind.  When I add the crazy to the courage I am adding an intense enthusiasm that will show others that I have a mission to complete, even if that mission is to get out of bed.

It is when I ignore the voice that is telling me, you are not able to do it.  It is not letting those fears and the pain control me anymore.  It gives me the strength to surpass all of the weaknesses I may be feel.  The state of vulnerability I may feel scares me, but when I learned how to eliminate that and replace it with courage I have control again.

Crazy courage is what it took to become myself again or some form of myself. It allows change to happen. It’s the courage to push past your pride, ask for help and accept the support people want to give you. Crazy courage allows me to tell myself the truth.  I would lie to myself about my own reality and at times I would believe those lies. I cannot close my eyes in hopes that my truths will go away.

I listen to that crazy courage voice inside of me, the one that is telling me you can do it and ignore the voice that sometimes tells me I can’t.  I take some deep breaths, count to ten, close my eyes and listen to what my body and mind are saying.  At times, the crazy courage inside of me was soft whispers that hard for me to hear, but if I sit long enough and I will hear them.

When I hear and feel the crazy courage, I pull it out and bring it to the surface.  I might wear it like a mask if I need to so I can get passed the first 30 seconds.  I got to a point when I no longer have to listen to the whispers and it is on the surface so I can face what scares me.

I say give it 30 seconds of crazy courage and you will be surprised by what you are able to accomplish. It takes a lot of crazy courage to face those things you don’t want to do, but you have to do them anyway.

This level of courage is obtainable by anyone and I used it.  It’s the courage that I used to get out of bed and face the world again.  It was the strength that I found inside of myself to do what was necessary to survive and to continue to be a mother to my children after my husband was killed.

There are still times when I feel something inside of me saying, I do not believe you are strong enough. But I am strong.  I just have to continue to believe in love…for life and for myself.  And use my own crazy courage.

Fast Forward

pond in autumn.  woman wearing red coat siting on a benchAfter I heard the words your husband is dead I sobbed for a brief moment.  Then my thoughts went to my children.  How was I going to tell them that their father was dead?  It brought instant pain to my heart.  For the first time in life, I knew how someone could die from a broken heart.  The emotional pain consumed my body.  The anticipation of what I might feel next was overwhelming. 

You might think that during those first few weeks you experience the worst emotional struggle in your life.  Sad to say you haven’t even started…

I know that is not very uplifting, but honesty might get you through the next few moments of your journey.  

You begin to feel numb.  Your tears subside a little and you wonder why.  Is it normal not to cry now every time you hear his or her name?  Yes, it can be.  

Then there is a time when you want to hit the fast forward button to spare yourself from feeling any more.  I would meet other widows who were much farther in their journey than mine, and I would be jealous.  I could not even wrap my mind around how they were capable of functioning.  

I wanted to push fast forward and be in their shoes.  I wanted to laugh without guilt, to look at my children without tears and to face the world without fear.  What I discovered was that they too had walked this journey and that is why they were capable now.  

What made me realize this was meeting others who had lost their loved ones many years ago and hit the fast forward button.  They were still walking in my shoes. They did not let grief take over.  It frightened them so much that they couldn’t.  It depleted them, and they did not let go.  When I was in the room with them I could feel the heartache that was there. The grief absorbed into me.  I got up from my chair, ran out of the room and kept running.  I found a peaceful place near a pond and sat on a bench.  I sobbed.  It felt like I was sobbing for all of them.  I was releasing all of the pain and anger that had devoured them. 

Sitting alone listening to my own sobs provided me with an understanding.  I needed to choose which path I would take.  Would I hit fast forward or face what scared me?  I chose to face what scared me, and in those moments by the pond I began to hear the whispers of my crazy courage.  

Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear.” – Ambrose Redmoon

My First Date continued…

front car window.  A man and woman holding hands resting on a center consoleAs we drove away from my house, we settled into the ease of our friendship, talking about what we did that day.  I looked over at him with disbelief, how can a person’s heart feel so much pain for months, feel like it was broken beyond repair — then in a given moment transcend.  The two feelings collided, creating a hurricane of thoughts and emotions ready to explode like a shaken soda bottle.  

We arrived at an ice skating rink, which was a surprise to me.  I had only been skating once in my life, unless you count the times growing up where I had put on old skates and tried to skate down the gravel road next to my house after an ice storm.  He had played hockey growing up, so skating probably came second nature to him like riding a bike.  

people on ice skating rinkWe snapped our skates on tightly and walked to the ice.  I went on hesitantly, but soon was skating with some comfort.  I watched as he gliding around the ice, lapping me a few times.  Then he came up behind me, grabbed my sides and pushed me along.  His touch on my hips sent tingles up my back and this assured me that the feeling I thought I was having was most definitely true.  I had feelings for him beyond our friendship.  We skated around, laughing and enjoying ourselves.  In those moments, I was able to wipe away all the anguish that had consumed me and there was even more hope in my journey and in my life story.  

Hunger called and we left the rink to eat.  During dinner, I decided to start the conversation that I had been waiting to have for some time now.  I told him how I felt and that I never imagined feeling this way about someone after Mike died.  

I thought that those possibilities of love left the day Mike took his last breath – that my heart would not mend and be capable of love again.  

He looked back at me over his salad and we discussed a line that would get crossed.  A line that he was not sure if he wanted to or would be able to cross.  It was about brotherhood, about respecting Mike and about what was right no matter how he might feel about me. 

This invisible line was hard for me to understand and took me time to really “get” what he was saying.  I knew though, that I needed to be patient because committing to me would be a decision that needed to be weighed in his mind.  He was a man of respect and integrity.  He needed to be all in and make that leap with confidence.  I had adoration for that.  This is one of the reasons I was drawn to him. 

Leaving dinner that night, I was a bit confused.  I was not sure how this would turn out in the end.  I knew that I wanted him in my life.  He had helped my children and me through some of the hardest moments.  I just preferred it be more than a friendship, but I was willing to compromise if I needed. 

It was a quiet drive home.  The sun had set and darkness had fallen.  I began to fall asleep. I think the emotional struggle I had built up drained the energy out of me.  I reached over and grabbed his hand into mine.  I was hoping for a sign, either he would embrace it or shy away.  With delight he held my hand back.  This was a turning point and I knew that our life would begin together in the near future. 

“Love isn’t love until we share it, but the real fulfillment in life is finding love and sharing it with someone who can freely and without any conflict love us faithfully in return.” – Joe D. Mango

My First Date…

Woman looking out a window through the shade.  With one hand near her mouth biting her nails. I can remember the day when I looked up from my fish and realized I started to develop feelings for my friend.  I was not sure what to do with them.  I tried to rationalize them, then I thought can this even be possible?  I waited a few weeks before I let him know.  Then of all things I text him.  Which makes me laugh.  I should have probably told him face to face. 

After our short text exchange we decided to go on a date to discuss this change of events.  Moving from friendship to romantic definitely needed to be discussed.  At this point I had no idea how he felt about me.  I knew he was a supportive friend, but could or did his feeling change as mine did.  That was the question I ran through my head over and over. Then I would analyze the times we hung out to see if he was giving me any sort of inclination that his feelings had. 

By the time our date happened the pressure in my head was about to explode.  Not to mention wondering what my children thought.  I did not want to mention anything to them until the “adults”  had their conversation.

I changed my clothes several times, probably putting too much thought into what I was going to wear.  I walked out of my bedroom leaving my clothes strung all over the place and feeling very confident that I looked good. 

I waited, peering out the window for his arrival.  I wondered then how people would judge me, let alone judge him.  This was a big deal to me.  The first person I had feelings for after Mike…I never thought it would be possible.

As he pulled into my driveway, my fears changes to excitement.  I thought tonight all of my questions will be answered.  Some wishful thinking that all of the answers would come in one night…

Come back next week to find out what happened next…

A widow dating

A man and woman holding handsThere is a stigma on widows dating.  People pass their judgments:  It’s been so long since you lost your spouse…when are you going to get back out there?  Your spouse has not been dead long enough, how can you be dating already?  It seems there is no right time.

As widows, we can believe that we are not even “dating material”.  Relationships can be hard enough without carrying all that “baggage” with you.  It’s not like we expected our spouses to die so soon.  In the beginning it can be difficult to imagine, and we might feel completely awkward being single again.  It is far from something we planned.

Not to mention the comfort of being married.  That it is okay to wear the granny panties that week of the month.  The sexy lingerie that is stuffed in the back of the drawer for special occasions like birthdays and anniversaries.  All the work that goes into being sexy enough is not always necessary when you have had a long night with your child sleeping between you and your spouse.  When you wake up and you look like a lioness, makeup smudged all over your face and your husband still thinks you’re sexy.  This comfort is gone, and you have to bring the “sexy back” as Justin Timberlake sang about.

Your life is now a big roller coaster that is nearly falling off the tracks.  A grieving widow, with or without children, angry that you were shorted the time with your spouse.  Probably borderline dysfunctional at times. Now that sounds like someone everyone is lining up to get a date with!

Then we start wondering if we are honoring our late spouse.  Would this be acceptable to them?  This can be a feeling of betrayal, so work hard on getting passed that feeling. I believe if it is acceptable to you, then it would be acceptable to your late spouse.  Who knew your spouse better than you did?

You have a love for your spouse that will never leave your heart.  It can be hard for others to understand and accept.  They might even feel like they have to compete with it, but it’s nothing to compete with.  We are capable of loving our late spouses and another person.  It was not our choice that our spouses died.  We still deserve to have love in our life.

We might be waiting to get through our grief before starting a new relationship, but frankly I do not know anyone that does not continue to experience grief for the rest of their life after they lose their spouse.

Love happens in your life. Our spouse died; that does not mean we turn the love button off in our lives.  In the beginning you might say I will never even imagine dating another.  Then one day you might be sitting across the booth from a friend,  look up from your fish, turn red-faced and realize that you are starting to fall for him.  Then get frightened the minute he asks you what’s wrong and decide to wait for a better opportunity to tell him how you feel.  Don’t wait too long, because there might not be a “perfect” opportunity. 

P.S. I told my friend.

7 Tips on Handling Grief

Red and green rollercoaster in the shape of a heart

Grief is an emotional rollercoaster

Grief can be caused by many things.  For me, grief came to visit when I lost my husband.  Grief is a natural response when we experience loss.  If I could only share a few things with someone on grief, this is what I would share:

1. Grieve with your children.  Don’t tell them how they should feel and don’t let anyone tell you how to feel.  We can also get lost in telling ourselves how we should feel.  We are our hardest critics.  Don’t let your children’s perception be ruined by allowing others to tell them how to feel.  Make sure that they know it is okay to cry, to yell and scream.  You might want to let them know that the library is an unacceptable place to do that though.

2. Pay attention to your health.  Get physical.  Run, walk, skip, whatever you can do, but keep moving.  Exercise has a way of clearing your mind and allowing you to focus. 

3. There is no timeline.  Cry when you need to, laugh when you want to and smile because you can. Do not let anyone tell you that you get a year to grieve or you should be over that by now.  Everyone has their own grieving period.  Grieve as fast or as slow as you need to.

4. Feel sorry for yourself.  It sucks your spouse is gone. But at some point you need to stop.  We cannot wallow in self pity forever, but it’s normal to do it for awhile.  So many people ask themselves…why me?  You will not find that answer, but if you need to search for it…do it.   Find a way to not dwell on the idea for too long or you will spend the rest of your life looking for the answer.

5. Don’t ignore the pain.  It will be hard to want to face your life, but do it with your arms open as wide as you can handle. This is how you can work through your feelings.  There might be times when you can only handle so much, so back up, cross your arms and don’t let any more pain in at that moment.  When you feel it subsiding, open up a little more and face it.  Trust me, it is scary, you feel vulnerable and it will not be fun.  One day, it will be worth it.

6. Find support…from friends or talk to a counselor.  Facing your loss is hard, and you do not need to do it alone.  Talk to friends when you need to.  Find the people you trust and share your fears and vulnerability.  You should be able to lean on your friends. Talking to a counselor helps.    An unbiased opinion will listen and guide you to a rational mind.

7. Plan ahead when you can for triggers.  Prepare yourself for the emotional rollercoaster.  There are anniversaries, holidays, birthdays and so many firsts.  The anxiety that happens before the event is almost worse than going through the event.  There will be some triggers that will catch you off guard.  It happens.  It was hard for me to remove my husband’s name from accounts we had.  I did not prepare myself for it and it triggered my emotional rollercoaster.

I hope these few tips will help you get through another moment when you feel like hiding under the covers or look in the mirror and see the stranger looking back at you.  Take the time to grieve every day if you can.  If you can put aside an hour or even a few minutes it will help.  Let your mind wander, validate your feelings and use your crazy courage.

How many stages of grief?

A woman sitting in bed with head on knee.  White backgroundIf you Google the term grief, you will find that there are anywhere from 5 to 8 stages of grief.  I can only talk about the stages that I went through.  I do not believe that I went through them in any sort of order, but I can confirm that I revisited several of the stages more than once.  When I thought I got through something like the anger, it came back in another form and I was forced to go through it again.  We never know what might spark the feelings that are associated with a stage.  This is why I believe we need to educate ourselves on grief and what we might expect.  It allows us to recognize what we are feeling and why.  This will help us get through and feel more control over our behaviors.

The very first thing, I believe everyone feels is shock.  I think back to the moment that those words came out of the agent’s mouth…you’re husband is dead.  A feeling shot through my body that is hard to describe, but it started in my heart and spread like wild fire to the bottoms of my feet to the top of my head.   I only cried for a few moments.  I believe my body was not ready to handle all the pain that was coming with my husband’s death.   I adapted into a project manager to make sure I had taken care of all that came with his death until his funeral.  I still cried a lot…every time I spoke with someone of his death, when I laid in bed, spoke with my children, discussed the funeral and many other moments.

I saw my children go through shock.  Moments after I told my son, his father was dead, he stopped himself from crying and wanted to watch Sponge Bob Square Pants.   It was his way to save himself from the life changing news I shared with him.

In the mornings, I would sit on my patio saying to myself, I cannot believe he is dead.  I wanted to deny any knowledge of his death.  Not one ounce of me wanted to believe that he died.  There was no way my husband would have died.  He was too strong to die. For so long, I believed I would hear the garage door swing open, hear the deep clump of his boots and see him walk into the kitchen.  He would give me a hug, telling me to smell his stinky arm pits and laugh (it sounded like crusty the clown’s laugh), take his duty belt off and I would watch him in his green uniform walk up the stairs to put his gun in the safe.   I NEVER wanted to believe that this would not happen again.

I wanted to see him after he was killed, but no one would let me.  They thought I could not handle it; that I did not want to see him like that.  It was easy to deny his death, because I did not see his dead body until I went to the funeral home.   There I did not see his injuries; I saw his lifeless body with a lot of makeup covering his face.  It reminded me of the picture I saw of him when he was sleeping on the floor and a few people thought it was funny to put makeup on his face.  I reached to grab his hand and it was hard and cold. Those were not the hands that I held so many times before.

It was not until I asked the investigator to show me all the pictures of the crash, which included the pictures of Mike.  Reading the autopsy report and EMT report did not provide the proof to me that he sustained the extent of injuries that would have taken his life.  Those were only words on a piece of paper.  I needed to see if for myself.

Recently a friend asked me why I would want to look at those pictures.  I told her that I needed to see if I would have been able to go to him and hold his hand.  That I would have seen him no matter what, embraced him and kissed his forehead.  I was able to validate that I would have gone, that it did not matter what he looked like.  I needed to tell Mike goodbye when there was some resemblance of life, not after he was embalmed.  I thought that was the only reason until I began to write this blog.  Now I know that I also needed to understand and see his injuries with my eyes.

My husband’s sister lived with us for a while after Mike’s death.  My two year old would ask his aunt to bring his daddy home to him every time she left for work.  He would see her uniform and he knew where she was going.  I know you may believe that a two year old may not understand what happened completely, but denial happens to all of us.  He turns five soon and he still asks me where his dad is.  I tell him heaven.  Other times he asks, “Daddy, is dead, right?”  I tell him yes, every time.  I wish I could say no just once to see him smile, but it is not our reality.

I bargained with my own life, just to have my husband back.  I was willing to replace his death with my own.  If I could have turned back time and needed him to stay home, then it would not have happened.  Talking to the life insurance company made me sick.  I thought that if I did not accept the money, there may be a chance he would come back to his children, back to me.  But I would look at my children and it would bring the reality that I alone was now financially responsible for them.  I bargained for days, weeks, months, except there was no one that could bring Mike back.

The pain that came with his death was unbearable.  There were moments I could not breathe.  The pain gnaws away at you.  It over powers your body, your brain and even your heart. It takes away all the control you had. I thought that the pain may take my own life way. My children’s whimpers, in the middle of the night, were even more painful to hear then my own.   There was a decision that I had to make.  I had to decide that I wanted to push through the pain and live.

The guilt that I felt when Mike died was for anything that I might have done in my life that could have been deemed as “bad”.  I thought that maybe if I hadn’t done this or that, then I would not have been punished.  Fortunately, I did not carry too much guilt or ponder it for very long.  What I felt were the many regrets.  The heartache that came with we could, should or would have done this sooner if we knew what was going to happen.  The hardest regret to overcome is the little baby girl that we planned.  We had two amazing sons and all we needed was a little girl.  She would have had Mike wrapped around her little finger (just as his two sons did), I often told him.  He would laugh and I would say your little princess.

The anger that I felt towards anything and everything was the most negative stage that I experienced.  I was mad at Mike for dying.  I was angry at the lady that killed him.  I was angry at my children for not grieving properly (so I thought until I educated myself on the ways a child grieves).  I was angry at the cashier, at anyone that would smile and laugh, that was living their life when I was lost.

A story I shared in Crazy Courage, was about this cashier that I did not treat so well.  I refer to it as an episode.  I was in the grocery line, paying for groceries and I was using several gift cards I had received.  As I was taking them out and swiping each one, the cashier started to giggle.  When she did this I literally wanted to slap the giggle out of her.  I could not understand what was so funny.  She said “wow did you just get married?”  I looked up and gave her the ugliest glare I could give and said with a snarl, “No, my husband just died!”  The look on that woman’s face turned from smile to a look of humility and she was horrified and unsure what to say.  I actually felt better for making her feel bad for saying that to me.

Anger is so hard to control and has a way of consuming you.  I punched my pillow many nights.  It’s a good thing my pillow’s bruises did not show.  My son would beat our red punching bag, sometimes with a plastic bat.  When he left the exercise room, he usually left the anger there.  With rips on the bag to mark where he had released it.

Depression and loneliness hovered over me like a plague.  It was hard to recognize but my behavior was a tell-all sign of it.  I did things that I would not normally do and just wanted to have someone with me.  I did not want to be alone, because it would remind me that Mike was gone.  I wanted to interact with people and feel the loneliness drift away.  Only at night I would find, lying in my bed, the loneliness would appear seeping into my pores and filling my body.  I would look over and see the empty space.  It would force me out of my bed to the corner of my room to cry.  To curl up in the fetal position, just wanting this all to end.  For all of it to be over!

There were moments when I could see the light at the end of the tunnel.  I was having an upward turn.   I thought that I was getting passed all the pain, denial, guilt, regret, bargaining, anger, depression and loneliness.  I would feel “good”.  But I would continue to experience the feelings over and over again.   I thought they would never go away.  Although the period of time that I would have “good” days would increase compared to the other days.  I believe we can all expect to relive the feelings more than once.

Accepting Mike’s death was hard.  So many times, I believed I had accepted it, but I had not.  I spent time not wanting to accept it.  I refused to accept it.  I did not want to lose any part of Mike.  I thought all the memories, the way he smelled and the look on his face when he found out I was pregnant would fade away.  I was scared.  I had no hope, I thought that I would just have to “deal” with it all of my life.  When I say deal with it, I do not mean in a positive way.

 Accepting his death was a slow process. It happened over time, almost like pieces of a puzzle.  I started by putting it together, building the outside first, then working towards finishing, searching for the right place for the inner pieces.   It was hard to figure out where they all belonged, but I did it.  I began accepting my life without him, accepting that I cannot control everything. Writing helped me with this.  I accepted my path and walked with one foot in front of the other.   There were many days that I took far more steps backwards than I did forward. Finally, I accepted my life story was not over, but Mike’s was.