3 Years and Counting…

It’s been a year since I last (really) reflected on grief. 

Today, is 3 years. 

To sum up 3 years would be impossible, a lot has happened this year. Time is moving at warp speed this year and I had two vacations (one week each), both of which were much needed to sit with my grief and try to process what has happened. 

This year was a bust (to sarcastically sum it up); worst luck ever, some big let downs; sort of feels like I’m tumbling down a hill, hitting every rock, branch, mud patch and trying to reach out and grab something to brace my fall. I had what little self-confidence I inhabited stripped away from me in a series 5 minute or less phone calls.  Two years ago, I was approached with interest in a book deal; I was asked to write an introduction, one chapter….then two, then jump the middle and end it. When it was reviewed, the feedback was, “I’m sorry, it’s so tragic, so sad, you’re story is great and we believe in it, but it’s just too hard for readers to bear through it…” The second call came after I was asked to write an article for a non-profit organization that prevents suicide (a global non-profit organization….huge!). When I submitted my piece for review, the editor came back with, “I can’t imagine what you have been through, you and your kids have suffered a tremendous loss but I’m sorry, maybe take a break? Come back to this piece in a few years….see where you are in your grieving process….and let us know if it’s less painful at that time….”.  Basically, “You’re such a sad person with a sad story, maybe when your less sad we’ll reconsider. Oh, even better, maybe when you finally get a happy ending”…because that’s what readers really want….a happy fucking ending to your life. 

I’m actually still sitting with an opportunity to be broadcast live on a podcast….except, “there’s a lot of controversy and politics around your husband’s death that we need to discuss first” – of course there is! You think there’s a support group for officer involved shootings?……Close your eyes for this spoiler alert! Nope, there isn’t!  In fact, it’s an out-right isolating type of loss, shame type of grief, a type of grief that is invalidated. Not fair! But it’s also too sad, too touchy, too political, too scary, too wrong, too, too, too…but guess what I’m not the only widow in the world and my children aren’t the only fatherless children in the world. But OUR story is too hard and it doesn’t fit in ANY grief box and if one more person offers me a suicide survivor’s grief support group, I might punch them in the face. There’s nothing like trying to move through the grieving process with having no answers and feeling like you are forever “stuck” in the shock and denial phase.  The details are coming to light, the scene is retraumatizing, but almost (and I might regretfully say this): enlightening. 

I think it was February of this year when I said out loud: “I don’t even think I’d meet criteria for PTSD anymore” (my hope that there might be a magic cure to trauma). No. Just insightfulness, ongoing reflecting and understanding of new and old triggers. Is it less intense? Yes. Is PTSD gone? No! And, as a matter of fact it was so apparent when fall came around again and muscle memory clenched my guts and twisted them up my spine, to my throat, and out of my mouth with a loud “WHAT. THE. ACTUAL. FUCK? Is that an orange leaf in AUGUST?!” No, no, no, no, no…I could easily feel the wave coming over me. I woke up one early autumn morning to a scratched and bruised hand. A badly bruised leg and hip. I still don’t know what happened. That was the first sign that PTSD is not ever fully gone (I don’t care what research is trying to say); my anxiety had creeped up on me without even letting me know first and lead me crashing into something (my kitchen counter I’m assuming).  It left me rushing day to day with no end in sight, not really knowing what I was trying to accomplish, but maybe just survive. It was all too familiar: the fog – of trauma reminders, the delayed reaction to stimuli, the decreased sensitivity in my body (which leads me to bruise easily and not notice when I bump into things). I knew I was in deep survival mode when my therapist asked how I was doing one week away from Josh’s anniversary, to which I replied, “Better than last year and a hell of a lot of better than the year before.”  She said, “Any anxiety?” No. “Any nightmares?” No. “Any depression?” No.  Then less than 24 hours later I woke up in pain, nauseated, with hot flashes. It has then been followed by nightmares every night since then. Nightmares about losing Josh (like, literally – he disappears into thin creepy air……yes, like the avengers). Nightmares about my kids dying. Nightmares about me dying. Nightmares about everyone I love dying and being the last standing person on earth. Nightmares about murder. Nightmares about mythical creatures. Waking up in rages and fits of crying. After three years everything from January – November is “OK”; fine, even. Everything from late winter – to early fall feels like I’m slowly taking my life back, that I’m find new normal in my children’s lives and living a life their dad would have wanted. That we are actually happy. Then the first day of winter comes….the first Christmas carols start to play…the first crisp breeze hits my face and it all falls apart. 

But……as I look back at the last 3 years I have noticed that I am more sad but also more grateful.  I am more cynical and realist but also funnier in these senses. I am more fearful but also more free. I am less confident but also more hopeful. I look around and I am grateful to be alive. I enjoy every sunset and sunrise. I do not take life for granted. I do not save my good perfume for a special occasion – I’ll wear it every day for every day is a special occasion. I do not keep left overs long and I change often to have new experiences. I travel more. Take more opportunities to spend time with family. I actually take long weekends away. I don’t place value on materials. I tell my children I love them as often as possible. I take pride in good work and have built a strong value on integrity in myself and the relationships I keep myself surrounded with. I have become stronger and more upfront. I challenge more and stand up for myself more. I encourage my children to be silly. I challenge them to think of various perspectives. I make most decisions based off of what Josh would do and want. I fell more in love with him, I felt his loss in greater detail. I look for signs of him everywhere and when I see them and feel them, I thank him. 

I guess after 3 years and now at 33 and a widow, a single mom, and struggling to finish picking up the pieces. I have found more love, peace, and gratitude. I have taken people out of my life who have taken more from me than I should have allowed. I have let people walk out of my life, instead of begging them to stick around. I have opened my life wide open to people who bring me unconditional love and support and are willing to let me help them too, for helping makes me feel fulfilled. 

Josh, I love you, I miss you every. Single. Second. Of. Every. Single. Day. I write that in single word sentences because I know that pissed you off; But, I drink Jameson because I know you loved it. Please keep sending your beautiful signs. I keep them all. Just please, please NO MORE FIRE ALARMS! That was really messed up.  But swinging the back doors open and letting a bird in every now and then is ok. 

Above all this, I just want you home. 

Your song for this year is another X Ambassador’s.  I still remember that conversation in the car, wishing to one day be renegades with our two kids. Let’s just run away, you, me, two kids…

P.S. I just saw the music video to this song tonight, for the first time…I wish you had seen it.

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