Back from the Dark

Grief is a beast. And it is something that, if you're not careful, can takeover everything without you even realizing it. I know because that is how I have been living for the past few months. Grief can turn its ugly head at any time and take your breath away. It can also hide, lurking beneath the surface so that you think you're ok, that you're all better. And then, suddenly, everything has been turned upside down again.

The past few months have been torturous. And I couldn't put my finger on what was happening until everything spiraled out of control. I've had health issues and emotional issues. But I finally feel as though I'm back from the dark.

I'm reading again. This is huge. Reading an entire book seemed to be such an arduous task in the not so distant past. But recently, I've read three books. God, did that feel good.

I'm laughing again. And smiling. In fact, I can't seem to stop smiling these days.

I'm enjoying life again. The big things, the little things... it's all wonderful.

I'm writing again. I've actually been able to put pen to paper and journal. And each time I do it, the pain subsides a little more.

I'm dancing again. The other day in the car, a song came on and I couldn't help it. I danced.

I'm living again. And it feels miraculous. It feels wonderful. I don't want to let it go.

There will still be hard times. Times that allow me to continue my journey through healing. But the time for grieving in passing.

It's time to move forward.

It's time to be me again.

It's time to come back from the dark.

Holding on to the Good

I'll be really honest with you. I have been dreading today for weeks. Every time I thought of February 15th, I would shove the idea away to avoid the pain. I have contemplated on whether to even acknowledge the day at all. But, now that I sit here at my laptop, I realize that not acknowledging it would be more painful. Today would have been my ninth wedding anniversary to Eric.

I knew for months that today would be one of the harder ones to go through in this dreaded "first year" of being without him. You see, we have never been apart before on February 15th. Even when he was deployed to Iraq, he scheduled his two week leave to coincide with our anniversary. I cannot tell you how hollow I feel today, how much I ache, how much I want him here with me.

But in spite of the grief, there is an element of goodness in it all. There is always good, isn't there? Nine years ago we started a journey that resulted in three beautiful children that are worth celebrating the moment. There were so many good memories made over the years and I find myself clinging to them in order to get through the tough days like this.

I've blogged before about our wedding and I think it's appropriate to re-post a lot of it here today. It's a long one, but it's our story.

[Written in 2010] Seven years ago, my husband and I started our journey of being husband and wife. But it definitely wasn’t your typical “wedding.” So, maybe you should hear the whole story.

My husband and I met through mutual friends in August of 2002 and began a whirlwind courtship in October. By New Year’s Eve, we were engaged and we were planning on a fall wedding in 2003. But my husband was in the United States Army Reserves at the time and with everything brewing in Iraq, we both knew that a deployment could happen at anytime.

So, on February 9th of 2003, I was visiting Eric at his dad’s house (we lived 2 1/2 hours apart at the time) when a phone call came in for my husband: Get ready to go to Minnesota. You’re getting activated for deployment.

Thus began a rather hectic week for us. I drove my husband to the airport the next morning (Monday) and tearfully kissed him goodbye. On the way to the airport, we made a huge decision: Let’s get married this week. (My note: My husband says we decided all of this while he was in Minnesota, but I remember it differently.)

I drove back home where my amazing parents helped me plan a wedding. We decided to keep it small and invite our closest friends and a few members of our family. We planned to get married in my parents’ living room and have a small reception dinner at Burgundy’s, a restaurant I used to work at in college in my hometown. The date (through some discussions with family) was set for February 15.

My husband was in Minnesota from Monday until Wednesday and he told me later that they kept changing the dates of his deployment (at one point, he was supposed to leave February 13) but he never told me of all the changes so I wouldn’t panic (good move).

On Tuesday, I bought my wedding dress: a white prom dress and sheer white jacket that cost a total of $35. We invited our friends and family to attend if they could. Also on Tuesday, I made the second phone call to my best friend from high school and left her another message asking her to call me back and let me know if she could be my maid of honor.

On Wednesday, I picked up my husband from the airport in Cleveland and on Thursday, we headed back to Lima to get our marriage license (which had to be expedited due to the unusual circumstances). We had a talk with a Justice of the Peace (who was actually one of my neighbors growing up) and he agreed to come to my parents’ house on Saturday. Thursday night, my husband headed back to the Cleveland area and my mom and I finished arranging things for the wedding (we got a tiered cake, bought a guest book and I picked up my husband’s wedding ring). After making a third call to my best friend from high school, I called my best friend from college and asked her if she would be willing to be my maid of honor. She said yes.

“What should I wear” she asked.

“Whatever you want,” I replied.

“So a blue flower print dress and combat boots is fine?”

“Sure, why not,” I said.

“And it doesn’t matter that I have pink hair?”

“Nope, no problem.”

So, that was taken care of, or so I thought.

Friday came and everything was still getting finalized. My husband had a bachelor party of sorts at Dave & Buster’s (if you’ve never heard of it, it’s kind of like a high-class Chuck E Cheese for adults) and I spent time with family at home. Yet another thing had taken my attention: a blizzard of sorts was brewing over the Buckeye state. And about half of our guests were from the Cleveland area. So now I had to have a backup for a maid of honor. I chose a mutual friend to both me and my husband, AJ, just in case Lindsay couldn’t make it.

Saturday morning and it’s time to get ready. My wonderful friend Adrian did my hair and my veil was the veil I wore in second grade for my First Communion, handmade by my dear Aunt Bea. The storm was still brewing and Lindsay had called to say she was on the road, but that things were going slow. Did we have our back up ready?

Yes, we have a backup.

Except, about 25 minutes later, I got a call saying AJ wouldn’t be able to attend. Her daughter was ill and they were hesitant to get on the road.

So, now I needed a backup to my backup. I chose my soon-to-be-sister-in-law Amy to stand in if necessary.

But, Lindsay showed up at my house about an hour later. And she wasn’t joking when she said she had pink hair. She still looked beautiful and I was grateful that she had made the trip. I finished getting ready and soon after, my husband arrived with his best man. (Yes, I peeked out the window. I don’t believe in superstitions.)

The ceremony was beautiful. My mom did an amazing job turning a living room into a wedding chapel of sorts. The ceremony was short and soon it was official: I was a wife.

Fast forward a couple of days and my husband dropped me off at my parents’ house and headed home (we didn’t live together nor did we have enough to get a place together). We lived apart from each other for nearly six months until Eric went active in the army and we moved to Upstate New York (but that’s for a whole other post).

For a while afterward, I kept thinking that we would have another wedding. A big, traditional wedding with lots of friends and family and dancing and all the fanfare that comes with it. But later I thought “Why?”

Our wedding was simple and yes, a little rushed.

Our wedding was non-traditional and intimate.

Our wedding wasn’t full of pomp and circumstance or fanfare.

But our wedding was perfect for us. And a wedding should be about the bride and groom. So it suited us perfectly.

So I cling to memories like this to get me through the next 24 hours and the other tough 24 hours that will no doubt come down the road. I think of going to Ireland with him, of seeing the Packers play the Bears at Lambeau Field, of the births of our two older children and the look on his face when he met them. I think of watching him walking through a field of daylilies and the look on his face when he was listening to music that he loved. I think of these things and I feel him near me. And I need to feel that. I miss so much about him that I can barely express it all. But today is not the day to try. Today is a day to remember that I got to share so much with him and that I'm grateful for it all, the good and the bad, the ordinary and the life changing. It made us who we were.

So Happy Anniversary baby. I'll hug the kids for you today.

All the Firsts I Didn't Think About Until Now

2011 hasn't lived up to my hopeful expectations yet. 2010 was rough and so at the New Year, I began hoping and banking on the fact that 2011 had to be better. It's had some serious highs, but the lows are the worst I've ever experienced. For those of you who hadn't heard, my husband passed away on June 11. And with that comes a whole list of complicated emotions and experiences swirling around me on an every-minute basis. Writing has always been something that has pushed me forward and gotten me through tough times. Whether it be public or private journaling, it has always been a constant source of comfort for me. But writing has not been easy. This is the first time I have written anything about the situation. Sure, I've written to-do lists, filled out forms, sent thank you cards, but I haven't written from that place inside of me (and those of you who are writers know exactly what I'm talking about. At least, I'm hoping you do) that fuels and inspires you.

Lately, I've been noticing a lot of firsts and I'm taking comfort in them. Not just for me, but for others as well, because it once again proves to me that life goes on even when I want to demand that time stand still. Things like when my brother was able to run for the first time. The firsts that allow me to actually SEE and FEEL progress in my life beyond the never ending forms, phone calls and action items that are associated with all of this. They have been mundane (at least in the grand scheme of things, although each has been a small victory in their own right) and they have been basic. But they remain, at their core, immensely important. Each first has been a step forward. Each first has been a glimpse of momentum. Each first has given way to something else and they are all building a foundation for me so that I can continue to put one foot in front of the other.

When I first started thinking about them, I was a bit surprised by the list that ran through my head. Because when you hear about tragedy in other people's lives, I don't think we stop and ponder the firsts they're going to have to experience outside of the "big ones." Things like holidays, family gatherings, anniversaries, etc. The firsts that make up everyday life but take on whole new meanings after an event has changed... well... everything.

The first time I was able to do my own laundry and not feel completely overwhelmed with life.

The first genuine laugh I heard from myself.

The first time I could read a chapter and remember what I read. The first book I finished.

The first time I picked up a craft.

The first time I drove down a familiar street without breaking down.

The first time I could be alone for more than an hour.

The first day back at work.

The first blog post (albeit a work one, but a post nonetheless).

The first time I slept in a bed and not on the couch.

There have also been a lot of firsts that I haven't wanted to deal with. Like the first holiday. But those will come too and I know that. I've been fully warned that no matter how much progress I make, there will be setbacks. And I'm prepared that they will come, but not always prepared for how they feel.

So, here is another first. The first post about it all. Maybe the only one, but who knows? All I'm thinking about is today. And today I am ok. The kids are ok. The baby that will come in October is ok. Today, ok is good enough.