Monday, July 6, 2015

The happy ending and the to-be-continued

Two years ago, minus a couple of weeks, I was in shambles. I stood shaking over the body of the love of my life in a cold, sterile hospital room. I choked back tears and immediately began the long and arduous journey of figuring out how to go on with my life.

The weeks and months that followed were among some of the hardest I’ve ever endured. They were more painful than childbirth, lonelier than divorce and more confusing than astrophysics.

I swore during that time that I would never love again. I couldn’t imagine living a happy life ever again. I couldn’t imagine tarnishing Jon’s beautiful memory, the amazing life we shared, the wonderful and promising future we had, by replacing him. Ever. Had you tried to tell me otherwise and I would have painted you a fool.

But as the weeks turned into months I began to wonder if it was possible. I slowly started missing the companionship of being a part of a whole. I began to feel like I was missing something. More importantly I began to realize that in cherishing Jon’s memory I was directly rejecting one of his final pleas – find happiness again.

I slowly became open to the idea that my love life was not over.

I ventured out into the world of dating with a perplexing cocktail of optimism and reluctance, fear and excitement. It was one disappointment after another. There were good men out there. Handsome men. Smart men. Accomplished men. But none were what I wanted.

Jon’s memory haunted me. Nothing would ever be that perfect again.

Just as the loneliness gave way to acceptance and plans for an untold future, the frustration turned the time back right back to where I was before. There was not life after Jon; at least not with another man.

Just as I was ready to throw in the towel and live forever alone, but monumentally surrounded by love – by the love that had left, but endured beyond the grave, by the endless love of my children, family and closest friends – I stumbled upon Josh.

We met online. That’s something I used to hate to admit. It was embarrassing. It looked like I was trying too hard. It was pathetic, almost. What was wrong with me that I couldn’t just meet someone the good ole fashioned way?

I don’t care anymore because it worked.

Josh was the last person I saw before I clicked on the “deactivate” button. I saw his profile and paused. Maybe just one more.

It wasn’t his picture that captured me. He was handsome, but so young looking. It was his job – a history professor – that captured me. Two of the most amazing people I know are history professors. They are not only exceedingly intelligent – a quality I hold above all others – but also fun, relaxed, down to earth and open-minded. They were the coolest, most admirable people I knew. If he shared even any of their qualities, he was worth a second look.

So, I set about the annoying process of talking to him. There were the round of three multiple-choice questions. I don’t remember his answers or even the questions, but I must have approved of his answers. Then there were the “must-haves” and “can’t stands,” which always went completely ignored. Then the open-ended questions. Again, I don’t remember what the questions were or how he answered, but I must have been amused. So I went on to the messaging phase.

We quickly exchanged phone numbers and began texting. Then came the first phone call. We spent more than four hours on the phone that night. I will never forget them. Hours felt like minutes and before we knew it, it was the middle of the night and we both reluctantly hung up the phone. We both could have stayed on the phone all night, but life doesn’t allow for all-nighters on the phone. Nor do phone batteries.

We did that again two more times. By the third night we were chomping at the bit to see each other. We’d have probably both driven to one another in the middle of the night that last phone call, but he was in Kentucky at a history conference and I was home in Florida.

Josh hopped an earlier flight to get home sooner to meet me.

I already had plans. Ironically, it was a pre-arranged date with someone else I felt too loyal to cancel. I spent the whole day gnashing my teeth wanting to cancel and take him instead. I stuck to my guns and went on that date thinking of nothing but him the whole time.

The next day we met, finally. We had only been speaking a few days, but I felt like I had known him for years.

I pulled up to his house that afternoon. We planned to watch one of the World Cup games together. It meant next to nothing to him, but he watched me get riled up and excited. Angry when our team was losing, thrilled when they bounded back.

At one point I had come to the point where it was either, stop drinking so I could go home or crash on his couch. He nervously offered to let me stay making sure to be clear he wasn’t expecting anything. Normally I would have put down the beer and called it a day, but something told me it was OK to stay. So I did.

I practically never left after that night.

We stayed up until the wee hours of the morning talking. We shared entire lifetimes of experiences. At the end of the night we had shared intimate secrets, but still had not kissed. I was disappointed. Finally as we headed back inside to call it a night I looked at him.

Suave as he could probably muster he just looked at me and smiled and said, “oh, you want a kiss?” And like a lost schoolgirl I giddily said, “yeah.” And that was that. We spent only a few nights apart after that.

That was a little over a year ago. Since then he’s met my children, my dad, my mom and all of my friends. He’s seen me go to the bathroom and examined boo-boos. We’ve moved in together, picked out paint colors, shared household duties, adopted a puppy and mastered the art of cohabitating.

Then, just three nights ago, he proposed. I said yes.

Ours is truly a story of what can happen if you’re patient. He wasn’t just the right guy. He wasn’t just a nice guy. He was THE guy.

I told him about Jon and, unlike the other guys I had dated, he didn’t cringe or squirm. He thought it was a beautiful story and he asked questions and wanted to know about Jon. On the anniversary of Jon’s death, just one month after we had started dating, he took me out for the day to take my mind off of what was the biggest of all anniversaries.

We found a $20 bill just laying on the ground at Malibu Grand Prix. We had literally just walked by the area and nothing was there. No one else had come or gone, but there it was. Josh picked it up and said, “hey, thanks Jon.”

To this day Jon is a part of our lives. There are photos of him. The kids talk about him. And it never gives Josh even a moment of hesitation. He doesn’t want me to stop loving Jon because he knows I can still love him too. He wants me to remember and cherish those days because he recognizes something Jon too recognized – the bad things that happen in our lives can shape us into better people if we let them. Josh helped me turn a senseless tragedy into the ultimate learning experience and, ultimately, the best homage I could ever pay to the love I lost.

Josh helped me through the anxiety I still suffered following Jon’s death. He bought me a book on panic attacks. He encouraged me to get counseling. He practiced all the meditations and new behaviors I was told to learn. When I cried, he held me. When I needed to talk, he listened. When I needed to be alone, he took the kids for a walk.

He has been my savior.

But yet when he proposed I couldn’t help but feel a pang of regret, guilt even. Ironically the day he proposed was the same day Jon and I started dating. He didn’t know that at the time.  But I told him and didn’t think for a second I shouldn’t. He understood the symbolism behind that.

I worry about Jon’s friends and family thinking this is too soon. I worry it is some how an insult to those people. But in my heart I know this is right. Part of my even thinks Jon had a hand in the whole thing.

The bottom line is, there are happy endings. Even when happy endings seem so unlikely. The world threw me the ultimate hard ball, but my repayment for healing and learning and remembering was a love just as good as the love Jon and I shared.

I hesitate to say, but it may even be stronger for it. Jon and I could have and would have spent the rest of our lives together. Ours would have been a happy marriage. I’m still sad I was robbed of that and even sadder Jon had to leave this world to miss the amazing experiences that have come since his death and all those that will follow.

I watch Josh and I’s new puppy play with Jon and I’s no longer puppy and I think, “gosh, Jon would have loved this.” It makes me sad.

But I’m so much stronger now. I’ve accomplished so much in his memory. And Josh has been at the wheel for the past year. I dreamt of my happy ending and now I’m living it.

Out of the depths of darkness rises light. I can’t wait to marry Josh. I dream of all that will come of our lives. We daydream about being a power couple, but what we miss in the excitement is, we already are.

Thank you to all who have endured this journey with me. To all of my friends who have held my hands through grief, loneliness, sadness, panic attacks and even drama, I couldn’t have done this without you.

My journey is not over, it’s only just begun. I can’t wait to write more of the happy ending and continue to prove that it is possible to love two people all at the same time.

One does not diminish the other.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Hiding made it worse

I haven’t done this in a long time. At least not publicly. I’ve written several times in the past several months, but I’ve kept my various musings to myself. Often I’ve been private with my thoughts out of respect for the new players in my story – most notably my now live-in boyfriend.

I’ve kept my thoughts hush-hush because they were often so personal it seemed foolish to post them for all to see. I’ve even sometimes kept them quiet because I thought maybe no one cared.

But most importantly, I kept my thoughts on the DL because I no longer thought they were helpful to anyone but me. When I started the blog, I did so because I wanted to write my thoughts, in painful, agonizing honesty. I could have done that privately and the effect would have been all the same for me, but I felt obligated to do more than that.

I put my deepest, darkest, sometimes most embarrassing thoughts out in the world of the internet because I thought maybe someone, somewhere was experiencing something similar to me. Maybe knowing that I felt bat shit crazy at times might make them feel a little less bat shit crazy. That seemed a wonderful solace to an otherwise unimaginable situation.

Give back, my brain kept willing me. So I continued to tell the world that my still grieving mind became obsessed with literally replacing Jon. It’s something I cringed to admit, but I bet I wasn’t the only one in these shoes to feel that way.

I talked about missing sex. Yeah, try putting that out there for potentially millions of people, including people like, say, your grandparents or parents, to read. It’s not an easy thing to swallow, but I did it because maybe someone else wondered why they would think about sex when they should be grieving.

Throughout the past nearly 20-months I have thought just about anything you can imagine to avoid feeling the pain that came with Jon’s loss. Sex. Companionship. Work. New careers. Going back to school. Lavish vacations. Random hobbies. Anything but facing that lingering lump in the back of my throat. Anything to take away the image of blue lips and fading life.

Anything but that terrifying night.

So, why am I writing again? Because I now realize the cost of that avoidance. It took falling in love again and hundreds of dollars in therapy (that tab will climb into the thousands no doubt) to figure out just what my fleeing mind was buying me.

Let’s start with anxiety. I had my first panic attack a couple of months after Jon’s death. I couldn’t tell you what triggered it in that moment, but what I know is I thought I was going to join him in the afterlife. It took two very good and loyal friends and a couple of cups of hot tea to finally feel like my chest wasn’t going to collapse.

More followed. Over and over. Each time I thought I was going to collapse never to wake up again. Just like Jon. The feeling sent me to a strange emergency room in Orlando. It sent me to a walk-in clinic for a round of un-necessary tests confirming that, no, I was not dying. It took me to the pharmacy to fill a prescription of Xanax to push the anxiety out of the way.

More avoidance.

By the time a new love came into my life I had become so good at avoiding I thought I was better. I savored every single second of falling again. Falling in love with him was the most incredible feeling I think I’ve ever experienced, save maybe for childbirth. Not that I love him anymore than I love Jon (I’m intentionally not using the past tense), it’s just that it was so much more savory the second time around. I never thought I would feel that again, yet there I was, enamored, speechless. My heart fluttered and it wasn’t because of panic. My stomach did flip-flops when I saw him and it wasn’t anxiety.

I got to enjoy that feeling for far too short a time before the panic and anxiety overcame me again.

We had made the decision, probably far more prematurely than conventional wisdom holds, to move in together. One day when we were shopping for paint colors for the home we were planning to move into it hit me again. Like a violent punch to the head the dizziness came rushing back. The world spinned and I was on the verge of losing consciousness. Probably not really, but that’s how it felt. My chest tightened, my breath grew shallow and my heart raced while simultaneously feeling like it had stopped altogether. And it all circled and overcame me in unison. I was powerless to stop it.

It happened like that for months. It would come on in the most unexpected of places and scenarios. There didn’t seem to be triggers. Over time I learned to push the anxiety down. I learned how to not let it turn into a full-blown panic attack, but it became, more and more with each passing day, a constant struggle to keep it at bay.

I was never at peace, always waiting for the next panic attack. Sleep was my only solace. But then that got taken away.

The panic and anxiety started creeping its way into bedtime. My pillow became a prison where the second I lay my head down, no matter how good I felt, no matter how tired I was, dizziness and fear overcame my every thought. Each time I got close to drifting to sleep, my mind jerked me back to the dark room.

It was worse at that hour. There was no one to talk to. Nothing to distract me from the panic. The house was quiet and I couldn’t snap to my typical therapies to trick my mind. Doing the dishes at 3 in the morning would surely wake and worry someone in the house. Laundry was out of the question. I was too tired to work. So I just laid there most nights, staring at the ceiling, trying to learn how to live with the panic.

The nights when I did sleep, there were nightmares. Sleep evaded me nearly every single night. It made me irritable to my kids and to my new partner in this world. It made me distracted during work. It made my quality of work suffer. Everything around me was falling victim to my unrelenting anxiety.

One morning I couldn’t take it anymore. The exhaustion of going months without a decent night’s sleep had made it literally painful to function. I was so tired all I could think of was sleep. But I couldn’t sleep because my brain wouldn’t let me.

That’s when I decided to swallow my pride, admit that this isn’t normal, or OK and get help. Enter the expensive therapy.

I’m about a month and a half in at this point. The weekly sessions were giving me a decent amount of relief. I fell asleep just a little sooner and woke up in the middle of the night just a little less often, but sleep was still a place I feared. I still wasn’t getting the rest I needed.

We spent time talking about stress I could control. We talked about getting into healthier sleep habits. The bed is for sleep and sex, I was told. No more laptop in bed. No more episodes of House of Cards late at night to entertain my insomnia. If you can’t sleep, get out of bed and do something supremely boring until you can think of nothing better than sleep.

No more caffeine. No alcohol past dinner. Chamomile, OK, but the honey in it no. Establish a bedtime. Get up at the same time every day. It was a long list. But it helped even though I cheated from time to time.

And then there was this realization: I’m afraid to sleep.

Falling asleep is something people don’t really notice happening. Kind of like you don’t notice your brain telling you to breath or your heart to pump. These are basic functions of life that just happen. We know our brain is at the control panel, but we don’t actually feel it happening.

But I could when it came time for bed. I could feel every beat of my heart and every compression of my lungs and when I started to drift off, I felt it happening. The second I felt it, I would become – still become – filled with fear. That’s when I’d jerk myself back into the land of the living. Sleep, I had apparently decided, is where people go to die.

This all came out today. I won’t get into too many more specifics, but the revelation led me into a two-hour session instead of a one-hour session and hosted in a series of exercises aimed at redirecting my thoughts. Replacing the bad with the good. Keeping good memories and learning to cope with the bad.

To do that I was hoisted into that terrifying night over and over. I was told to remember it in pain staking detail. The parts that most terrified and upset me, remember those the most. Feel them. Let them consume me. That’s what I had to do.

I was in tears, inconsolable. It hurt like a thousand knives tearing into the flesh around my heart. My throat ached with dread. My brain reeled painful memory after painful memory and for the first time since Jon died I truly confronted what I had avoided for nearly two years.

I wasn’t able to stop it. I wasn’t able to slow it. I couldn’t get up and wash a dish or go for a bike ride. I had to sit there and let it consume me. When it was all done I sat on a couch in my therapist’s office with a lap full of soaked tissues. My eyes burned from crying, but I still wanted to cry more.

I was consumed with heartache. But the one thing that wasn’t there for the first time in as long as I can remember was anxiety.

I imagine it will come back at some point. But for now it’s gone. I’m still sad. I took myself on an emotional rollercoaster confronting demons I had spent months and months warding off. The panic was a result of that.

I don’t know how long it will take me to really beat this, but I do know one thing. I’ve never been so happy to cry. The liberation of living, for the first time in months, without constant panic and anxiety, is worth a good cry. I don’t like remembering what happened that night. It hurts like hell to think about and fills me with sorrow, but sorrow, I’ve learned, is better than panic. And the best part is, if I just keep letting the sadness come out, eventually it won’t be so painful.

I thought being sad was some sort of loss. I thought I had somehow been defeated if I didn’t carry on like the good little trooper everyone thought I was. But I was fooling you all and, worse, I was fooling myself. I’m not being defeated by being sad, I’m healing.

I just wish I had discovered this much, much earlier.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Feeling normal also feels like shit

The Florida temperatures have been venturing into the 90s announcing that summer is on our doorstep. With that comes the knowledge that in about a month my kids will be leaving me for the summer to spend time with their father.  That realization brings with it a flurry of memories.

I’m dreading being without my girls. Since last summer they have been my driving force to waking up everyday with a smile on my face even if there’s a hole in my heart. Not having them here scares the hell out of me. But I’m also very much looking forward to the alone time.

Last summer Jon and I spent that time living life to the fullest. We ate out often. We went to the beach or camping or various other adventures almost every weekend. We took walks to get ice cream. We spent down time planning our wedding. We enjoyed countless memories with our best friends. It was the time of our lives. I missed my girls. He missed our girls. But we soaked in the rare opportunity to not have to worry about them and focus on just us. I am eternally grateful for that time.

Now that time is fastly approaching and I’m without him but left with all the memories of what I had and lost. The changing from one season to another hasn’t been much of an issue for me through this process, but this one is. Suddenly I see him everywhere. I hear him at night. I don’t cry over the memories anymore, I smile, but they still give me pause. What a cruel world to take something so special away from both of us.

With those memories comes the self loathing. Look at what I’m left with. 10 months ago I was the happiest I’ve ever been. I had a kind, intelligent, genuine person who excitedly shared in the stress of parenting. If I had an early morning at work, he took the reigns with the kids. If I had a stressful day, he urged me to hit the gym before coming home. If I was running late, he cooked dinner. If I was tired, he got the kids to bed. If I needed a drink, he poured it. Now I have not only an empty void where his love once was, but a burden I forgot how to endure. I did the single parent thing before Jon, but it seems an eternity ago. Now I don’t know how to do it. It’s causing problems at work. It makes me lose sleep. I don’t enjoy my time with my kids like I did before.

But with all that, I feel normal. I remember him. I get sad. I miss him. But this is my life now and I’ve learned to appreciate it. I’ve learned to like it. I’ve even learned to branch out and meet new people. I’ve done exactly what he asked me to do and figured out a way to still be happy, but that makes me feel like an asshole. The happier I get, the more I miss him.

I’m spending a weekend on the beach this weekend. It’s Mother’s Day weekend. It’s a belated birthday gift to myself. One purchased because he would have insisted. I’m immensely looking forward to some much needed time away from the massive stress of life that has become my life. But I can’t help but to feel guilty that not only am I doing it without him, I’m doing it with someone else. I know he’d give me a thumbs up so I don’t feel bad because of him, but rather because I’m struggling to balance the old memories with the new. I’m trying to figure out how to move on without letting go. How do you do both? I want to cherish our memories while embracing those in the making. I want to have fun without feeling guilty. I want to love him without feeling like I can’t admit it; talk about him without feeling like I somehow shouldn’t be. For just over three years of my life I made a life with an incredible and amazing man. He’s gone, but that part of my life is still very much real. It shaped me, changed me, grew me. It made me who I am today. I credit so much of what makes me great to him. I haven’t left that behind and I don’t intend to. I suppose there is no answer. Decades may pass, but that time will always be a part of who I am. It will always be a defining period of my life that taught me so much. But the balance is so hard to strike and it’s a quest I’m struggling to navigate.

This week has been filled with excessive memories. Today I drove past a cemetery and I was catapulted back to that night. Suddenly I was awash with what ifs. I should have said this or I should have said that. I should have stayed with his body longer. I should have forced him to take his medication. I should have focused more on CPR and less on being naked. I shouldn’t have taken my hands from his chest to verify that the noise I heard was in fact his bodily functions letting go of themselves. I should have kissed him as he took that last breath. Worse, I should have not woken him. Had I not woken him when I heard him gasping for breath he would have passed away peacefully in his sleep never knowing what was happening. He’d have gone to sleep to never wake up and he loved sleep. Instead he awoke to a jolt when I shook him and was terrified. He looked at me with pained, knowing eyes. He knew he was dying. He knew that was the last time he’d see me. And perhaps most painfully for him, he knew what was coming for me. He knew the pain I was about to feel and he would have endured anything in the world to avoid bestowing that on me. I should have just let him sleep.

And where am I now? I’m in this awkward limbo between letting go and holding on. How can I explain that just because I refuse to be 31 and miserable doesn’t mean I’ve forgotten what I had. And by that, mostly, I mean how do I convince myself? I know what I want. I know there is nothing wrong with moving on.  Whether that is by being alone and happy or paired off and happy, there’s nothing wrong with it. But I can’t shake the perception that comes with moving on before the firsts have been completed. My ex-mother in-law hasn’t moved on. My friend’s mom lost her husband a decade ago. She hasn’t moved on. But I am? Does that make it look like I loved less? I know it doesn’t, but I unfortunately care that it may seem that way to some. It’s a mess.

So, for my leave people with something positive spin, I don’t have a lot. But I do have something. In ten months I have grown more than in my entire life. I’ve learned to embrace every rainbow life offers. I’ve learned to give one more hug. I’ve learned to tell those closest to you how much they mean to you. I’ve learned to live every single day to the fullest. But most of all, I’ve learned to take all of those conflicting emotions and set them aside. Because when push comes to shove, only I know what is best for me. And Jon knows what he meant to me. What anyone else thinks is irrelevant. Even though I seem to weight it. Life is precious. Live it, even in the face of adversity. It’s not always easy, but I’m doing my best. I hope you, whoever you are, whatever your story is, do the same.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Inspiration from other widows, hope it helps

I haven't written in this blog in a while because I haven't felt like I needed to. I don't feel like I need to tonight. But after spending a decent amount of time today reading other people's blogs who are going through similar situations, I felt like I was neglecting something that was important to me.

This blog started out as my therapy - a way to get my thoughts out of my heart and onto something else entirely. In the back of my mind I took solace in knowing that somehow I may be making someone else feel less alone. Over the months the necessity of externalizing my feelings became less and less important and I lost sight of one of my main goals - to share my story to help other people. After reading those blogs today I realized several things.

The first thing I realized was that all of the things I've felt are not weird even though I thought they were. Two blogs stuck out to me. The first was a woman who found out her husband had been having an affair. The day after she learned this terrible news he committed suicide. She wrote that instead of getting divorced, she planned a funeral. And yet three years later she is still grieving his loss - adultery or not. The second was gut wrenching. I read every word of this woman's blog through tears. She and her husband had been trying for six months to get pregnant. They finally did. And then ten days after they learned the happy news, he passed away in his sleep from a heart complication. The death was eerily similar to Jon's and the way she handled it, as described in her blog, was too. But her path was so different. She spent the hardest part of her journey being pregnant with a child who would never know her father. She went to birthing classes with her sister instead of her husband. She had to battle with the fatigue of grief on top of the fatigue of pregnancy and then, one day, she had to have that little girl without him by her side and raise that child as a single parent.

Her story brought me to where I am tonight. The frustration. Not too long ago I had a partner to share all of life's burdens with me. My oldest daughter has been preparing for a play for months. The play finally went off this weekend and it was wonderful. But getting to this weekend has been a flurry of rushed evenings with peanut butter and jelly sandwich dinners. My youngest plays hockey and has practices and games constantly. My middle has been battling grief the hardest and has been regularly seeing a therapist. And I work full time in a career that doesn't lend well to bending. What does all this equal? One very stretched thin mom, that's what. And it wasn't until reading these two blogs that I remembered I was pissed. I had forgotten that ten months ago Jon would have shared in the responsibility. He would have coordinated with me on a daily basis. Who's picking up who? Who is going to the theater and who is going to hockey? Who will go to the honors ceremony at the end of the grading period at school? Who will stay home when one of them is sick? These questions used to be questions. Now they have a very simple and maddening answer. Me. Me. Me. Me. 

But I forgot that made me mad and I forgot because I've gotten used to it. That's a wonderful thing. It's a wonderful feeling. But it's also wretched. I know I haven't forgotten him and all he did for our family. My friends know I haven't forgotten. My family knows I haven't forgotten. But I did, to an extent. I became OK with his absence. I'm not remorseful that I have. I'm glad I have and I know he would be too. But it's another of the reasons I've been reluctant to blog. What does it look like to strangers that in less than a year I have found a way to live my life without constant misery? Sure there are moments. Tonight at my oldest daughter's play, I missed him. I missed him because I know he would have been proud. I missed him more because I know we would have made countless inappropriate comments before, during and after the show. Because the ride home would have been a flurry of jokes we all would have laughed at. Because I sat there without his hand to hold when my eyes teared up with pride. Because he wasn't there to slap me out of my mom overreaction that my little girl isn't a little girl. But I only thought about those things for a second before I found a seat next to parents I knew and enjoyed some of those things with them instead. I didn't just get through it, I enjoyed it. How do you explain that to people who think you should still be in shambles?

I want to talk about the shambles I'm still in, because that's still there. But I also want to talk about why I'm not in shambles. I'll lede with the good.

One more reason I haven't blogged is because I've been dating. My friends and family know this and are happy I am. HIS friends and family don't know and I didn't want them to. I'm alright with them knowing now. Dating again was never a question of if for me. It has always been a question of when. It lingered in the back of my mind within just days of Jon's death. I was 30. Of course I'd date again. But on top of that, he told me to. He literally, on more than one occasion, told me that if this ever happened (and he morbidly assured me it would) that I find a way to find happiness again. I think I started dating sooner than I would have had he not told me because I'm trying to fulfill a promise to him in some way. He wants me to be happy. So I ventured into that world with blind ambition that it would be all sunshine and rainbows. Oh, how wrong I was. I met guys who were out for only one thing. Jerks. I met guys who were out and out crazy. I met guys who were alright, but just not for me. I met guys who were great, but who freaked out when they found out I had three kids. Another freaked out when I told him about Jon. Yet another thought the world of me but didn't want the things I wanted. Dinners, drinks, cups of coffee. These are the things that have comprised my dating experience thus far and it hasn't been pretty. And, admittedly, these categories each contain one guy, not guys. I'm not that busy! But somewhere around a month and half ago I stopped caring. I stopped analyzing things over said cups of coffee. I decided, and I couldn't tell you at what point I decided it, that it didn't matter what happened after the cup of joe. Instead I figured, hey, just have fun. I don't know where that attitude will get me, but I can say, I have found myself again. Not through companionship like I had been searching for, but by just letting go of expectations and having fun. So far, that seems to be serving me well. I have more motivation. I smile more. I laugh more. I spend more quality time with my kids. And, I think, it's making this dating fiasco quite a bit more enjoyable.   I have never been happier or felt fuller than I have for the past few weeks. And that came not because I had someone on my arm, but because I could have someone on my arm if I wanted to, but I don't need them there.

And now for the lingering bad. Fucking panic attacks. I can be having the best day in the world. I can start off happy and laughing. I can feel like a million bucks. But regardless, I can still find myself in the throws of anxiety, trying to breathe, trying to push the panic from my thoughts, pacing, crying. And the shit kicker of it all is, I have no earthly idea what triggers it. People close to me have their theories. Memories they say. One person explained to me that something could trigger a memory without me even knowing it and that's what gets me going. I don't think so. I think it's much simpler than that. When I was still in the worst part of my grief I had several panic attacks. I would flash back to the night Jon died and I would remember every agonizing detail of that night. I would find myself short of breath, clutching my chest because it felt like it was collapsing. It felt like I was having a heart attack. It felt like I was going to die. Those attacks were the most terrifying things I had ever experienced. So my theory is, every time I get a weird tinge of pain - it can be the start of a headache, the jitters from too much coffee or even a sore chest from working out - I think it's happening again. That's when I think my mind takes over and things get out of control from there. My therapist told me once that people who have had panic attacks will probably have them for the rest of their lives. That's because they fear going through them so when something happens that seem like it could be the start of one, it turns into one. I'm trying to teach myself to talk myself off that ledge. 

There have been days when an ambulance soars past me and suddenly I'm right back to that horrible night. In those moments, I can't stop the flood of painful memories. The noises Jon made while he was gasping for breath. The jolt that washed over me as I rushed out of bed, phone in hand, after him. The shaking of my hands as I dialed 911. The sound of the voice on the other end of the phone walking me through what to do. The call to his parents. The call to my friends. The ambulance ride to the hospital. The words I dreaded hearing. All of it comes crashing down on me. That doesn't give me a panic attack, but one cup of coffee too many does. A hangover. A sore stomach. A headache. Those give me panic attacks. I am convinced that I have moved passed emotional triggers and am now just battling physical ones. 

So that brings me back to why I'm writing this in the first place. There are people I don't want to read this. Jon's family, first and foremost. I miss them so much it hurts. I watch his nephew grow through Facebook photos and see them all interacting with each other the way they once interacted with me and now don't and it hurts. I don't want them to think I've moved on because then I may really lose them. There's the person I'm seeing at the moment. I don't know if that will go anywhere or not, but I worry reading this would be, bad pun aside, a nail in the coffin for whatever chance there is. But I don't care. I'm not doing this for myself. I'm doing it because there has to be some sense out of what horrible thing our family endured. Somewhere someone will read this and take at least some comfort. I can't give anyone the answers to grief. I can't tell them what to do or when to do it. We all move at different speeds and in different ways. But I can serve as a reminder that shit happens and people move on. I'll never stop loving Jon. I will love him until the day I die. I will remember him forever and my kids will remember him forever. But we will still lead wonderful lives. My life with Jon is over. I didn't want it to be over, but it is. I can't change that and looking back wishing for it to be different will only keep me from happiness. All I can do is move forward and I have become very good at doing that. I embrace the new life I have. I look forward to the future and the possibilities it has. And I will keep doing that until the day comes when I have someone to share that with. And when that does happen, I'll start yet another chapter in my life. No one should have to go through what I and so many others in this situation have gone through, but it's not the end of the world. And I promise you, whoever may read this trying to navigate this unfamiliar world, people like us will be better and stronger for it. We were chosen for a reason. That may seem really shitty, it sure does to me, but the world doesn't give you more than you can handle. We are special people charged with showing the rest of the world how important it is to live. We have a finite time on this earth. We'd better damn well make the best of it.

My promise to myself and anyone reading this tonight is to not lag on writing anymore. I have a purpose, and I intend to fill it.

To you Jon, I'm still working on that promise. To some extent I've fulfilled it. You wanted me to be happy. I am happy. I miss you, but I'm happy. Perhaps happier than I knew I could be. Not because you're gone, but because you were here.

Here's to the next chapter and all the chapters to come.