Bah Humbug

I’ve had a bit of writers block lately, and by that I mean I have been avoiding writing for weeks, because emotions. It’s easier to isolate myself emotionally and wall up those pesky feelings than it is to share them. And anything that I write that is not 100% authentic ends up being utter bullshit. So, for the sake of authenticity, let me just start by saying that Christmas can suck it. And by “Christmas” I mean the Hallmark holiday, not the celebration of Christ’s birth… I’m not a monster. But seriously, the first Christmas tree of the season that I saw I wanted to set on fire. I was on my way to a morning class and as I turned a corner, there it was- all sparkly and festive and plastic. A caricature of the Christmas spirit. It was hideous. But after seeing it 17 times per week until finals were over, it became less menacing. And after hearing the first Christmas song, singing Christmas hymns in church didn’t bother me. And walking through the doors of the first Christmas party so that my kids could see Santa was like pulling teeth, but then Santa wasn’t so bad the next time we saw him. And after buying the first of the few gifts that I did buy, the spirit of giving overtook me and I stopped being so Grinch-y. Still, Hallmark Christmas and I are not friends, and if I could go hide in some area of the Earth that didn’t celebrate Christmas and stay there from early November through late January, I would. And I feel sort of guilty about that. During a time where I should be feeling thankful for the things I have, I’m feeling bitter. When I should be wanting to spend time with the people I love, I want to isolate myself. When I should be wanting to put up a Christmas tree with Thomas and Luke, I want to torch all the Christmas decorations I see. Like straight up mow them down with fire. And it just sucks. Last year for Christmas, Gregg, Thomas, and newborn Luke and I decorated a gingerbread house. That was a tradition that Gregg and I started the first Christmas we spent together. Our houses always turned out terribly ugly, and what’s worse, they don’t even taste particularly good when you get them out of a box. But it was our thing and it was fun. I had bought four presents each for Thomas and Luke, because I hate “stuff”. I don’t even remember what I got Gregg. How is that possible? He got me a diaper bag, which sounds lame, but it’s totally not. A couple of weeks before Christmas, I had complained about my neck and shoulder hurting after trying to carry Luke in the ergo while balancing a diaper bag on my shoulder. He got me Petunia Pickle Bottom backpack style bag. He called it the “Rolls Royce” of diaper bags, which it is. He even called his sister to help him pick it out. He was a really great gift giver. I’ll be sad when I no longer have to lug it around with me. Anyway, then the four of us went up to Snowflake. I packed the stockings that I had sewn for us and loaded up the (unwrapped) presents. And then we wrapped, and laughed, and cried, and decorated the tree, and opened presents, and cooked, and then Gregg was gone. So yeah, Christmas sucks now. And maybe it won’t always be that way, but this year it’s that way. And it’s ok that things suck. I really believe that experiencing the crappy parts of mortality is important. It’s how we grow. And while I’m usually all for highlighting the positive, sometimes that’s worse. Sometimes looking on the bright side feels like looking into the sun, painful and stupid. Best to just look at the ground until you can see more than two feet in front of you. And that’s ok, eventually you can look up again.

Lions and Tigers and Bears

Something happens when you experience trauma. There’s a shift in your reality and you see everything differently. You’re not able to make meaning of anything because you’re too busy fighting imaginary tigers. Or fleeing from them. Or trying to pretend they’re not there when you can feel their breath on the back of your neck. Tigers, tigers everywhere. Driving through an intersection: tiger. Seeing a green prescription bottle: tiger. Putting my kids to bed at night: big effing tiger.
And everyone’s tigers are different. Everyone’s trauma is different. My trauma made me afraid. Afraid of losing the people I love. And of them losing me. It made me obsess while at the same time not caring. It made me cranky and exhausted. Sometimes I couldn’t connect to the things I was doing or saying. I felt like a robot. A really dumb, tired robot.
Anyway, there are much less tigers around these days. Well, maybe not less, but the tigers themselves are pretty wimpy. Like, I could fight one, no big deal (usually). But now there’s this other thing: grief. Full-blown, front and center grief. It’s becoming more and more apparent that I can’t always just put it in a box and come back to it later. I still do that whenever I can, but like, it’s getting smarter and weaseling its way out. Like one of Skinner’s pigeons, it’s learning how to flip the latch. And having pigeons flying around my head at inconvenient times, while not as threatening as tigers, is really frigging annoying.

Which brings me to my next point: crying in public. Crying in public has got to be one of my least favorite things, probably in the top 5. If I’m going to cry, I want it to be in my own space where I can go full-blown ugly duckling, not somewhere with an audience where I have to try to hide it. And really, there is no hiding it. The slightest change in emotion sends my face into a splotchy fit of rage, the effects of which linger for at least an hour. Gregg used to tell me that I was so pretty when I cried, that it made my eyes look so clear and bright. Yeah, pretty sure that was just him buttering me up after he made me cry. Also pretty sure it worked the first time. After that, it just made me want to punch him the face. 

He could complement his way out of a lot of things, but not usually with me. I became immune to his sweet talk. Little old ladies at the doctor’s office didn’t stand a chance. One second they’re rolling their eyes, saying you’ll have to make an appointment for next month, the next they’re blushing and giggling like school girls and saying that they can fit you into the schedule this afternoon. Once when we were dating and I was visiting him in NC, he talked his way around Delta’s reservation policy and got me on a later flight home with no extra charges so we could spend a few more hours together. I bet that lady hung up the phone and was just like, “what the eff just happened and why am I fanning myself right now?” He was a sweet talker, the best.
But back to the crying. I’m thinking that that’s going to be more of a regular thing, just crying and feeling gross emotions in general. I don’t like it, but it’s probably a good thing. It feels like I’m on the precipice of something else, something more authentic. Like I can feel what my brain has not wanted to feel, what it really couldn’t feel. Does that make sense? I’ve been running and dodging and also needing to deal with more pressing things than grief. Now it feels like all of a sudden my mind’s just like, “oh look, free space, let’s fill ‘er up before she can fill the space with like, I don’t know, Kegan’s theory of human development or the difference between a one-way ANOVA and a factorial ANOVA and crap like that.” Great timing, mind, I have lots of time and space to deal with all of these uncomfortable things in stronger doses. Awesome.
But I don’t want to just complain, I want to end this on a high note. Today I was asked to look for the miracles. At first I scoffed; my cynical side wasn’t having it. But I can’t deny that they’re there. It’s a miracle Gregg was here for 27 years. It’s a miracle there wasn’t more damage when he left. The biggest miracle? My children. Out of all of this, it is a miracle they are here with me. There are lots of other miracle that keep happening. And even with the trauma and the grief, it’s a miracle that there is a way through it. 

Emotional Regurgitation

I took off my wedding ring several weeks ago. I had been thinking about it for a while. When it first occurred to me that I could take it off, I thought I never would. Then later on I thought, “well, I guess some day if I decide to start dating I should probably take it off… Yeah, probably.” But I couldn’t even imagine what it would be like to not wear it. It would feel so naked. And uncomfortable. And like betrayal.

And then my thoughts about it changed. Wearing it no longer became just a symbol of my marital status, but a symbol of my identity. It stopped being a sign of whether I wanted to date or not. It became more of a symbol of how I had no control over becoming a widow. Couldn’t stop it, can’t change it. And now this wedding ring was a symbol of all that I lost. A constant reminder. 

I know. It’s just a ring. Made by an ordinary jeweler. Not by Sauron or elves or whatever. It doesn’t have mystical powers. It’s just a ring. But symbolism is powerful and it had stopped symbolizing love and marriage and commitment. Now it symbolized loss and grief and pain.
One night it became unbearable. I took it off in a fluster, as if it was somehow constructing my airway. I felt an immediate sense of panic, but also a sense of peace. That’s the best way I can describe it. I felt opposing emotions that were ripping me in half. I was conflicted and afraid and relieved and calm.

But taking it off felt like taking control of my life. It also felt like letting Gregg down. But, it’s just an effing ring. And the next morning, guess what? It felt normal. I felt normal. Like I had taken ownership of my place in the world, but it wasn’t as just a poor little widow. I didn’t have the weight of it anymore.

I spent the next few weeks avoiding thinking about Gregg for too long. I’ve realized that sometimes, I need a break. I need to go numb to it. I even pretended that I saw him. I was on a plane, exhausted and foggy from jet lag, and I saw a man out of the corner of my eye. He was tall, with broad shoulders and feet twice the size of mine. He wore a black shirt with long sleeves, black gym shorts, and black running shoes. I could see him. The areas that weren’t clear were filled in by my brain. Blonde hair. Eyes that squinted when he laughed. A cow lick on the back of his head, the same one Thomas has. Muscles on top of muscles. Headphones playing music that would drown out all the noise.

It was him. Standing right there. I couldn’t bring myself to actually look at him because I knew he’d disappear. It would just be some guy who looked nothing like him. He walked away and Gregg was gone.

Now, I think my brain is ready to feel the loss again. This week was my first week of my graduate program. As I was frantically searching for a piece of jewelry- because adult professionals wear that, right? And it will divert attention from my mom accessories (food, snot, spit up, etc.)- I saw my wedding band sitting in my jewelry box. Without even thinking, I reached in and slipped it on my finger. It was almost instinctive. Wearing it felt like home. Comfortable and sad at the same time. This is where I need to be now. And I’m still wearing it.

My brain is not protecting me anymore. Tonight when I was putting Thomas down for bed, I told him a story about Gregg. Which is nothing new, I’ve told him and Luke a story about daddy every night since the day after Christmas. But it had become a rushed version of watered down memories. Sincere, but generic. Tonight I told Thomas a story about what Gregg looked like and told him all the features he had that came from daddy, which is like, all of them. When I got to his nose, I told him about Gregg’s scar. I hadn’t thought about in a long time. It wasn’t noticeable unless you knew to look for it, and tonight I could see it clear as day in my memory. A little crooked line from the middle of his top lip to his nose, and around to the left. It divided that part of his face in half. He had busted it open as a kid when he ran into a volleyball pole. When it was almost healed, a game of Squishy Face, Stretchy Face opened it back up. Somehow, a family practitioner managed to sew him up perfectly, twice. And it didn’t ruin his beautiful face (Gregg’s words, and mine). 

Seeing that scar so clearly broke me. I don’t know why it was that and not something else, but if I’ve learned anything in the past 8 1/2 months, it’s that grief is a roller coaster and that emotions ride along the ups and downs and the spirals with no regard for the rational thoughts you might be trying to have on the ground. Round and round and round it goes, and where it stops, nobody knows. And they’re gonna just puke everywhere sometimes, and it’s not pretty. Sometimes it’s after they’ve eaten three churros and a chili dog and you just have to roll with it. Sometimes you can’t dodge it and you have to just live with it until you can get it cleaned off, which you don’t know how long will take, sometimes minutes, sometimes weeks. You don’t know this theme park well and you can’t always take control of what is happening to you.

So I’m gearing up for gross feelings, I guess. And when it gets to the point when I can’t handle the smell anymore, which it will, I’ll just hide in the photo booth. The one where you get to dress up as someone completely different from yourself, like a pirate wench, and pretend that none of this ever happened. And then I’ll realize that figurative pirate wenchness does not suite me and I want my own life back. And after a nice break of smiling and wearing an eye patch, I’ll be more prepared to deal with what’s outside.

Stolen

Do you ever feel like you’re just sitting in a stagnant bowl of bland soup? Like life’s everyday responsibilities are just wearing you down and you need a break? I do. Except when I’m in my “get crap done” mode, which can last for days or weeks or longer. When I’m in that mode, I thrive off of boring, routine tasks and checking them off my list. It’s usually easy, even preferable, for me to pass up the fun and focus on the work. Except when it’s not. Except the times where I feel like I’m drowning in the soup while it’s bubbling over and I’m scorching the bottom of the pot.

So I’ve been trying to say “yes” to fun more. Like that movie “Yes Man,” except with no romantic plot line and less Red Bull.. but I definitely should have more Red Bull in my life.

So when the opportunity came to go to a concert where two of my favorite bands were playing, I bought tickets before I could talk myself out of it. I didn’t think about how hard it would be to find a babysitter, or how my kids were going to handle being away from me, or how I would make up for the studying I would miss. I said “yes” and that was that. Then the day came around and I wanted nothing more but to back out. Part of me was hoping there would be some sort of accident or natural disaster. Not huge, not enough where anyone was seriously hurt. Just enough to shut down all the roads or take out the electricity at the venue or something like that. Just enough to warrant me staying home, having dinner on the table between 5 and 5:30, baths at 6, bedtime at 7, hopefully shenanigans over and kids asleep by 8, and then just me and my laptop and grad school until I burst a blood vessel in my eye. Ahh, perfect.

But alas, no disasters. So I sort of slowly and methodically made my way to the car on time, because if I’m going to go I’m going to give myself enough time to find decent parking. I didn’t even get “ready”, I wore my mom jeans and chucks. My hair probably had baby snot in it. And it was actually sort of freeing to not care, not even a little bit. I’m so glad I went. It was actually awesome and just what I needed to get me out of the funk that I didn’t realize I was in.

Music has a way of just making you feel all the feels. I was preparing myself for when the band played mine and Gregg’s wedding song, which I knew they would. When we got married, we didn’t choose a song to dance to, nor did we do a whole “everyone watch awkwardly while these two newlyweds dance” dance. We just decided beforehand that whatever song was playing when we stole a moment away to be alone and dance that that would be “our song”. And so it was.

So there I am, getting ready to have an emotional breakdown surrounded by 2,000+ people. I had my sunglasses on (which, luckily, was natural, because at 8:30 in Utah the sun is still out, which also made it hotter than the surface of the sun) and was just going to nonchalantly wipes tears away like I was wiping the sweat off my face (seriously, the actual surface). And then they played it, and.. nothing. Well, not nothing, but not what I expected. I’m not exactly sure what I expected, really… ugly crying? Full on body heaving sobs? The apocalypse? But yeah, none of those happened. I just sort of felt sad and then numb. It was actually during a completely different song that I almost lost it, a song that Gregg and I never even listened to. And it was a song by the other band who were trying super hard to be “hard”, not the sensitive, emo band that should make me want to think about my sad, sad life. So yeah, I was the girl in mom jeans and back sweat that had the persistent itch on her cheek at the most inappropriate time. All the feels, in a weird way.

A few weeks after that, I also said yes to my 10 year high school reunion, which, as far as reunions go, was pretty fantastic. But a million reasons why I wanted to talk myself out of it. Even right before, I got suuupeeer wound up about things that were actually inconsequential, but served as a great scapegoat for my out control emotions. I was really feeling out of control because here I was, going to an event that Gregg and I had actually talked about going to quite a few times over the years. We were from the same graduating class at our high school, and I feel like we were sort of the couple that no one saw coming. When we would talk about where we would be an what we would be doing when our ten year reunion came around, Gregg usually said he’d be in Hollywood by then. Sometimes he’d say that he’d be pew pewing terrorists and saving the world and wouldn’t be able to go to it. Other times he’d say, “screw that, I’m not going,” regardless of where he thought he’d be. So for me to be going without him was… crushing. But once I was there, I got comfortable with one of my BFF’s and some old friends and had a good time.

Since Gregg died, I’ve tried to honor his memory by doing things that scare me. I need to be taken out of my comfort zone, for my own sake and for those around me. That’s part of what Gregg helped me with. He was constantly trying to get me to just live a little. Just spend the money on the shoes. Just apply for that job if you want it. Just leave the dishes in the sink. I realize these are really mundane, stupid things, but sometimes I’m a full-blown crazy person and have to be pulled out of my world where all the spinning plates must be spun or certain doom will befall. So I’m trying to get better at pulling myself out and living in the real world, where I can see things clearly and recognize what is really important. Because routines and checklists are great, but just breathing and connecting and living are just as important.

Pudding and Mail

It’s 11:30 at night and I’m mopping dried pudding off the floor. Thomas begged for it today at the store. “Oh, daddy’s pudding!” It was one of Gregg’s cheat foods that they would indulge in, chocolate Snack Packs. Thomas ate 3 when we got home. Well, 2 and 3/4. The last 1/4 was smeared on the floor with his hands and feet. Paper towels can only do so much and there’s been a thin, sticky layer there since noon. Honestly, I don’t blame him for smearing it, though. I would rather paint with the gelatinous paste of a Snack Pack than eat it. And it probably has the same nutritional value as paint, so there ya go.

I’m stalling. Clearly, there is something that I need to get off my chest that has nothing to do with pudding. I wish I knew what.

This happens sometimes, this uneasy feeling that something is boiling up inside me. All the distractions are losing their power and becoming meaningless and unimportant. They’ll soon be bulldozed by what’s really bothering me. Because the dried pudding could have waited until tomorrow, but it was a great excuse for some mind-numbing housework. Mopping and dishes should take the edge off. If the kids weren’t sleeping, I’d bust out the vacuum and really get this avoidance party started. 

I tend to try to tire myself out until I don’t have the energy to feel anything. Not that I have to try hard, really. Have you ever spent a day just trying to keep a child alive? That shit’s exhausting. But at the same time, easy. It’s easy to focus on diapers, and teething, and dinner, and choking hazards, and baths. And also easy, now I have school, and homework, and research, and schedules. I’ve got plenty, and I like it that way. I could probably go hours without thinking about Gregg. Not without thinking about him, just without thinking about the fact that he’s dead. Or all the other stuff that goes along with that. That’s the hard stuff.

I wonder if he thinks about those hard things. Like if him dying is as traumatic for him as it is for me. I know he’s got other things to do and that he probably sees things differently now, but wouldn’t that be scary? To die? To be separated from the people you love? Sure, you get to be with different people that you love, but still.

Anyway, for now I’ll just stick to cleaning. I’ll probably start ugly crying over something really dumb before the end of the night, like why there’s so much mail piled up in the designated mail basket thingy-ma-jig. There’s no room for any more mail in there, HOW CAN LIFE GO ON?! An epic tragedy. 

"Happy Anniversary, Sorry Your Husband’s Dead"

Before we had kids, Gregg and I used to go on trips for our anniversaries. The Virgin Islands, some small weekend getaways to the mountains. Once we went to Woodstock. We had ridden the train from the city, and so we had to walk everywhere. We hiked to a monastery and ate organic food and considered moving there and becoming hippies. We considered moving everywhere we visited, really, because we never wanted the break from reality to end. After our kids were born, we only had two anniversaries together, and the trips stopped because, well, priorities.

One of the ways that I cope with anniversaries and birthdays now is by doing something adventurous. Gregg was really adventurous and I think my cautious nature was stifling to him at times. He had such a vitality about him, a palpable energy you could just feel. And it helps me to do something to honor him while also reminding myself that I’m alive, I’m here. I have fears, but I have courage. I have a past, but I can have a future.

For Gregg’s birthday a few months back I went rock climbing. It was only a 30-foot wall inside of a nice, climate-controlled building, but I may as well have been climbing Everest. I was terrified. I hate heights, and the thought of falling from them. But I could hear his words in my head from the times he would push me and cheer me on. “You got this, you’re doing awesome, just a little bit further, you’re almost there.”

Anyway, for our anniversary today I planned a paragliding excursion. I booked it weeks ago because I knew that the closer it got, the more likely I was to talk myself out of it. The thought of hovering high in sky with a mere piece of fabric between me and certain death is beyond terrifying. Last night I was literally going through scenarios of what would happen if I died. Like, “good thing I got that will in order… wait I haven’t gotten it notarized yet, oh my gosh my kids are going to be left in the hands of some stranger who probably will tell them their mother didn’t love them enough and that’s why she left!” Yeah, it got pretty messy. This morning I threw up. But then I pulled myself together and was determined to not let myself freak out. I think that doing something that provokes my anxiety is also a way to distract myself from the emotions. It’s a heck of a lot easier to worry about floating through the air with basically an umbrella holding you up than it is to think about all the crap that goes along with not having your husband here for your 8th anniversary and what you would be doing if he were here, and what he’s doing now, and what you’re going to do next, and how damn lonely it is sometimes, and how you might be lonely forever, or *cringe* how you might not be lonely forever… Yes, please, something, anything, distract from all of that. So I was all in for this paragliding thing.

And then the pilot called to say there was supposed to be high winds and they weren’t doing any flights today. Really? The company said that I could reschedule for another day, but I promptly told them I’d like to just get a refund, if possible. No way am I just going to just test my fate for “fun.”

So I scoured the internet for things that I could do that involved adrenaline. Most things were booked or closed or too far to drive to by this point, but I found a kayaking excursion just up the canyon. Rushing river full of rocks and river monsters, small boat that could capsize at any moment; perfect.

In all seriousness though, it was actually great. It was a challenge and the rapids rocked me, but I only had to lay down to avoid hitting a low-hanging tree once. And I didn’t end up in the water, though it seemed as if all of it ended up in my kayak.

It was the perfect mix of rush and lull. I quickly learned that some stretches called for strong, determined strokes, while others went smoother if you just drifted with the current. To passively row in an area where you needed to be vigilant would get you pushed to somewhere you didn’t want to go, and fighting a current that was working in your favor caused unnecessary exhaustion and still ran you into a rock. The guide had been down this river countless times before and handled these different stretches with ease, but I was clumsy and inexperienced. Occasionally, he would call out that we needed to stay to the left or to the right and at one point we even had to get out and walk our kayaks around a bridge that created too strong and unpredictable of a current to try to go under. The rapids got progressively bigger and stronger, so when I got to the last one, I was glad that I had been prepared for it by the smaller ones. I was thankful at the end that I had chosen to go with a guide instead of trying to navigate the water on my own. I still almost got taken out by a tree and was thoroughly doused by each rapid, but I made it. And I knew that if I did get caught on the shore or go the wrong way that the guide would be able to help me back to where I was supposed to be. It was reassuring.

So I would say that kayaking was a success and that Gregg would have loved it, too. But I’m already having a hard time replaying his voice in my head, and that is scarier than any adventure I can think of. But I’m fairly certain he would have been whooping and laughing and, when it got difficult, telling me that we were almost there.

One of These is Not Like the Others

A few weeks ago, I had my first experience as the third wheel. Fifth wheel, really. The extra and unnecessary one. The odd man out. I sat with two couples, who were delightful and easy to talk to, but the conversation was a strong reminder that I am not a part of couple anymore. I am a single. But not truly a single really. Just… a separate? Separated from my husband by space, but still connected by love. It’s a strange place to be. And just so we’re clear, my feelings of being the third wheel are completely my own doing. I don’t expect, nor do I want, people to bend over backwards to accommodate my feelings. I own my feelings, I’m just still getting comfortable with where I fit in socially, I guess. In a room full of people, I wouldn’t know where I fit in. And I’m ok with that, but settling in its taking time.

Anyway, so there we were, me and these two couples, all getting more acquainted, talking about our backgrounds. Asking each other questions about where we were from, how we ended up together, how long we’ve been married. Except that now those types of questions aren’t directed at me. It’s like now that Gregg is gone, our relationship is in the past. It happened, but it’s not happening anymore, even though it’s still sort of happening for me, in a way that’s hard to explain. So while the couples were getting to know more about each other’s stories, I was reminded of mine and Gregg’s.

“Where did you grow up?”
This is where Gregg or I would have said we grew up in the same small town.

“How did you two meet?”
This is where I would have said we met in elementary school, but no, we weren’t high school sweethearts. Then Gregg would have given everyone the same old schpeel about how I was just waayy too cool to date him in high school and it wasn’t until he had all those Army muscles that I wanted to date him. (Which is false. It was the growing from a 14-year-old boy into a more mature version of a pretty much 14-year-old boy that got me hooked. The muscles were just a bonus.) I always hated this schpeel because it made me seem shallow. Gregg loved telling it because he knew I hated it.  But it also showed the romantic part of our relationship. Friends for years, love, dating to engaged to married in three months. It’s a beautiful love story, really.

“How long have you been married?” We both would have glanced absent-mindedly at the ceiling while we calculated the years and months since June 27, 2009.

“How long have you guys lived here?”
Our answer would have always been a time frame that was less than 2 years, no matter when we were asked. In our 7 1/2 years of marriage, we made 4(ish) out of state moves. We would have explained Gregg’s Army career, his deployment, our adventure living in New York, eventually settling back in Arizona.

“Wow, you were deployed, how was that?”
I would have said that our first year of marriage sucked in a different way than most people’s. We had to learn to be away from each other instead of learning to be with each other.

But no one asks these questions anymore. And I’m definitely not faulting them for it, I know it comes from trying to be respectful. But it also just never comes up because I’m a widow, not a wife. Sometimes I don’t think people really have to try hard to avoid it. That chapter has ended and it’s more important to know what I’m going to do next than to know the details of my relationship that ended. Only I’m still stuck on that chapter of my life that ended prematurely. And I may be stuck there for a long time, and even after that I’ll turn back to it regularly to remember what it was like to be actually in my marriage, not just clinging to it like a moment you wish you could freeze time for.

When people do ask about us, they want to know more about the end of it. How he died, how old our kids were. How on Earth I did it. That sort of thing. Which is not bad. I can’t really think of anyone who has been truly off-putting in asking those questions. But the beginning stuff only matters to me now, ya know? Sometimes I just want to tell people that I took my first plane ride ever by myself to go see Gregg before we were even dating. Sometimes I want to tell them how on the last night of my first visit, instead of taking me to a fancy dinner, he asked if I wanted to eat apples and protein bars for dinner, which was the best idea I had ever heard. I want to tell them how he got down on one knee in the middle of a crowded airport and how everyone started clapping. I had never been so happy and embarrassed in my life.

My goal is to write it all down so that our kids, and their kids, will have it. And so I’ll have it when I start to forget the details. Gregg was good with details, I’m more of a big picture person. A lot of my memories are condensed down into snip its that highlight major details and emotions, with all the small stuff smushed together in between, all stuck into one big glob that’s hard to pull apart. Gregg had a ridiculously good memory, and would sometimes tease me that he was hurt when I couldn’t remember the exact day of our first kiss or the color my shirt was when I flew to see him. He remembered things like that. Once when I was ridiculously pregnant and feeling particularly out of my mind, I even forgot what day we were married. He was appalled, and probably truly hurt by that.

It’s a strange feeling when your place in the world changes. The club I’ve joined still feels foreign. But I think I am getting settled into it, though ever so slowly.

Father’s Day

Out of all the anniversaries and “firsts” and sucky days that remind me how much has changed now that Gregg’s gone, I’m dreading this one the most. Thomas has this new adorable thing where he scrunches his brow and says, “no fair” in his deep toddler voice. And this is something that is so not fair. They should be able to tell their daddy “happy Father’s Day” and give him all the finger paintings and mugs and crumpled paper ties that they will make throughout their childhood. They shouldn’t have to be reminded that they are missing out on what could have been an amazing relationship, one that could have helped to teach them, comfort them, and strengthen them. And, if nothing else, one that would have helped them feel loved and cherished. This is not fair.

I had friends growing up who had lost their dad. My young lack of social-emotional competence never led me to be sad with them, but I was always sad for them. I recognized that it must have been an earth-shattering tragedy for them. And it is when you lose a parent. Earth shattering and tragic. I’ve realized that it doesn’t matter if you’re 30 or 75 or still in the womb when your parent dies. The loss will always be felt.

I recently had the chance to spend time with a very special lady who I have known since childhood. She’s in her 80’s and has lived a full and happy life, and continues to still. But you can still see the pain resonating on her face and in her voice when she talks about her parents, whom she lost decades ago. It’s still right there, right on the cusp of spilling over at any moment. It struck me how amazing it is that one person can experience so much loss and so much pain, yet not break and still somehow be able to feel joy so profoundly. And I wonder if that’s a strength that we’re all born with or if it only sprouts when it’s cultivated by tragedy.

Anyway, I have a half a mind to just opt out of Father’s Day altogether this year. But I won’t. Even though I know my boys wouldn’t know the difference if I did, I want them to be able to know that it’s ok, even though it doesn’t feel ok. But I sure as heck won’t be singing the Father’s Day song in church alongside all the other mothers and wives. There’s only so much I can take, and singing a beautiful song about how important and loved fathers are in front of the whole church would put me right over the edge. I might throw up or punch someone. Or worse, cry. So I’ll just pretend like I’m too busy herding my children. Works every time for getting me out of uncomfortable situations.

I do recognize that Thomas and Luke have a lot of amazing father figures, which I’m very grateful for. And I hope that the hole that they feel as they get older is not quite as empty because of it.

Sleep

Today is Memorial Day. I started writing a really heavy post about Gregg’s service and how it changed his life. But, I decided “screw it, I’m not ready to go there.” I’m not canning it, just saving it for later, and instead I’m going to talk about what is happening with us here, right now, because that’s the reality I still have to live.

Sleep. I used to be a really heavy sleeper, then I became a mom. Actually, I started sleeping like crap before that, when Gregg got home from deployment. His nightmares and sleep paralysis were so bad at times, I’d wake him several times a night. First he would get goosebumps all over his body. Then his muscles would tense up. Then he’d start doing this mumble/moan thing that was the saddest, most helpless thing I’ve ever heard. Sometimes he would start thrashing or he would open his eyes ever so slightly, but you could only see the whites because his eyes would be rolled into the back of his head. He’d be terrified when I woke him up, which could take anywhere from a few seconds to up to 10 seconds. So I became a light sleeper.

There I go, getting heavy again.. Nope, can’t do it.

These days it’s Thomas and Luke who I wake up for.

Why is it that I have a king size bed, yet Thomas always ends up right up against my body with at least one arm or leg thrown over me? Seriously, I love him so much I would die for him, but man it’d be nice to not wake up 17 times a night to try to put a little space between me and his warewolf-esque body temperature. “Why don’t you just put him in his own bed?” Because then I couldn’t as easily watch him while he slept and think about what a beautiful, sweet, smart child he is and how lucky I am that Heavenly Father sent him to me, that’s why.

And don’t even get me started on Luke. I would literally give anything for him, including my sanity apparently because the time I spend trying to get him to sleep is turning me into a crazy person. I laid down next to his crib last night, trying to soothe him while he learns these “sleep skills” everyone keeps saying babies need to learn, and within 30 seconds I was asleep and I had the most vivid dream I’ve had in months. It was about Carrot King, who had a crown made of carrots. Carrot spirals, actually. Big, cascading, orange ringlets. Yeah. That’s as far as I got, the next wail of protest 4 seconds later woke me. I just read a post on a breastfeeding group I’m a part of about a mom who was trying to fix her oversupply of milk in the mornings because her 7.5-month-old baby slept for 12 hours at night. I almost cried. I want to sleep for 12 hours.

And I know all parents struggle with getting their kids to sleep. And that I’m not the first single mom to have to do it alone. And that I could ask my awesome family members upstairs for help, but that shows weakness, and also I might as well get used to doing things solo. Also, my kids are 100% mama’s boys, they would be ticked if someone else tried to put them to sleep.

But like, could mother nature give me a break? Like maybe don’t mess up the sleep stuff? Things were going great for about 4 days where I would have the children asleep by 8 and then I had at least 1.5 glorious hours to get stuff done before Luke woke up. Then BAM, sleep regression. THWOP, growth spurt. BOOM, teeth. And now we’re all screwed.

And I’m sorry, but what in the actual heck does “drowsy but awake” mean? My kids have two degrees of consciousness: awake or asleep. Awake and going full force, or passed out, wouldn’t be woken by a fog horn asleep. I’m kidding really, I know how to look for signs of their “sleep windows”, it’s just that those widows only open 2″. They have approximately 7 minutes of drowsiness before they need to asleep.

And I can’t help but think, “Gregg, you suck.” I’m down here spending half of my waking hours getting children to go to sleep and half of my sleeping hours being kicked in the head by a stronger than average toddler and he’s just up there watching. If I could tell him this, he would know I was mostly joking. And he’d make some joke about how he planned it this way so that he could skip the hard stuff and just watch the amazing stuff that makes it all worth it. Before we had kids, he used to tell me to not be surprised if he came up on orders for an 18 year deployment if I got pregnant. And then I’d threaten to put antifreeze in his dinner. We had such a playful way of showing our love.

Anyway, I keep telling myself that my children will sleep better as they get older. And that when they move out of my bedroom when they turn 18 and go on their missions, I’ll miss snuggling them all night.

Thankful

I’m not good at expressing gratitude. Or I try to be too good at expressing it. I don’t know, but when someone gives me something or does something for me, I’m so grateful but I immediately also feel tons of guilt. They just did something for me and I feel like I have to thank them over and over and over again until I can think of a way to actually repay them. Like if someone opens the door for me, the best thing that could happen is if there’s another door up ahead that I can open for them. Otherwise I either come off as ungrateful, or I get stuck in this “thank you” cycle that gets weird.

I’m trying to think of a movie character or somebody who has this form of gratitude syndrome to show how bad it is… I can’t think of any, but if there’s not one, there should be (Tina Fey, if you’re reading this, you’re welcome). Like a woman who drops a huge stack of papers and keeps mumbling “thank you, I really appreciate it, that’s so thoughtful of you” like a blubbering idiot while someone helps her pick them up. Said idiot would then offer to carry their briefcase, buy them lunch, make them copies, and so on while continuing to drop all of the papers that are being placed on the building stack in her arms. This would frustrate and annoy, probably even creep out, the other person until they slowly backed away into an elevator and pushed the “door close” button as fast as they could, cutting off the woman abruptly as she tried to follow, offering her first born child as a token of her gratitude. In the next scene, a fellow pedestrian would push her out of the way of an oncoming bus and she’d be so floored that she’d whisper “thanks” before sprinting in the other direction because there’s no way she can adequately thank the person. You get the picture. One extreme or the other, there is no in-between.

I think what it is is that one, deep down I don’t feel worthy of people’s charity, two, it makes me uncomfortable to be indebted to people, and three, my social awkwardness knows no limits. I’m very grateful to people who help me, but man I just don’t know what to do with my hands when they do something for me. It’s something I’m working on, and I’ve had lots of opportunity in the last four months to do just that. I have been the recipient of so many acts of service since Gregg died that I’m basically an anxious Thank You card flailing around in a wind tunnel.

I’m going to tell you about everything that everyone has done for me since December 26. This is going to be hard, because my gratitude feels inadequate and also hasn’t been fully expressed to a lot of people, because I haven’t been able to find the energy to start writing thank you’s to people who should have them. This is also going to get really wordy, which is also hard for me because I thrive on getting to the damn point. I’m not going to use any names, because I don’t want this to be a name dropping party and some of the people who served me I didn’t even know. And I won’t even tell you how awkward I was when they did things for me, I’ll just let you use your imagination.

Where do I even start. The night Gregg died, one of my best friends dropped everything and came to sit with me in the middle of the night. My Bushman family bent over backwards to give me everything I needed, because I didn’t even know what that was. My parents took care of Thomas for days, but still brought him to see me often so we wouldn’t miss each other too much. The day after Gregg died, someone brought me a handbook on survivor’s benefits from the VA. Another best friend and her mom drove hours to see me. People brought us food, so much delicious food, which eventually brought back my appetite. So many people called or sent messages of love and support, all of which I read, most of which I couldn’t reply to.

People gave me money and gift cards, lots. People that I didn’t even know just handed it to me. Friends, old and new, sent it with sweet messages. Family, lots of family who I know have their own things to worry about. Family members of friends. Friends of family members. A good man and friend of Gregg’s started a fundraiser for us, where tons more people donated, and then his own organization pitched into the fund. I don’t know what I would have done. Becoming a widowed mother of two at 27 years old wasn’t something I had prepared for financially. It should have been.

My brother-in-law looked up all the logistical things I needed to do, which was something that helped my need to “do” in the short-term and also helped secure mine and the boy’s stability in the long-term. One of my best friends drove me to one meeting and sat with me. My sister drove me to another.

My sister-in-law literally did most of the funeral planning that I couldn’t handle. Gregg’s sweet grandma let us use the last family plot left so Gregg could be close to his mom. My sweet father-in-law put his own grief and needs after mine, and everyone else’s. My sister-in-laws traveled across the country with their families to be with us, and saying that they were a huge comfort and help is an understatement. My brother-in-law picked out Gregg’s burial clothes, which I know was difficult. Everyone helped to take care of Luke during the nights he was doing the crying newborn thing.

Friends and family came from all over. People dropped their plans, their lives, and came to honor Gregg and say goodbye. My sister and brother-in-law flew from across the world. A close friend spoke at Gregg’s funeral at the last minute and gave a wonderful tribute. Gregg’s siblings gave him the sweetest goodbye I could imagine. One of my best friends made a collage, and all of Gregg’s family worked on the display. Old friends sent a beret and a medal that I couldn’t get. My sister- and brother-in-law broke into my apartment to find things I needed. My sister held Thomas during the funeral while I held Luke. My auntie played with Thomas at the cemetery.

When I got home, my sister-in-law went with me, for almost two weeks. My church family brought me dinners. My neighbor down the hall, who had been charmed by Gregg in the months after we moved in, brought me and Thomas breakfast and dinner every day until we moved out three weeks later. An old friend from high school that I hadn’t talked to in years brought me a baby carrier for Luke. Another classmate brought me a plaque she had custom made, commemorating Gregg. A woman whom I had only met once brought me enough diapers and baby wipes to last for months (and with two kids in diapers, that’s a lot). When I was so desperately reaching for something I could control and was about to pull a Britney 2007, one of my best friends colored my hair, another friend from school cut it, and neither wanted payment.

My church family helped me pack, clean, and load up my apartment. Friends helped me go through Gregg’s Army stuff, and made countless trips to goodwill. My cousin and auntie drove it all my crap up north. My sister and brother-in-law let us live with them. They helped us immensely, and we were so well-fed. Seriously.

When I surrendered my car to the bank after filing for bankruptcy, my parents let me borrow theirs. My cousin’s husband went to an auction for me to try to get me a new car on the cheap. An old classmate from high school put me in touch with a kind man who said he could get me a car at an auction. He made two 8+ hour round trips and was able to get me a reliable car for the cash I had, at a much cheaper price than I would have paid anywhere else.

My sister- and brother-in-law helped me move up to Utah, and let me be their roommate. Every day they help with the boys, give me a break, and do all the adult stuff that gets harder when you’re the only one.

Even months later, people serve us. A business owner in Snowflake held a raffle for us. A man whom Gregg and I met on his mission is making a video of Gregg’s life. My family and Gregg’s family call and ask what they can do, or they just do without even being asked.

Gah, I can’t believe I almost forgot about the people who helped me find some pretty, comfortable dresses to wear to the services! I had a suitcase full of only leggings and needed something that felt like pajamas, but looked classy. One friend let me shop her home boutique, one helped me find one online, which someone anonymously paid for. My sister and her sweet mother-in-law gave me another. I felt like the funeral was my last date with Gregg, so I wanted to feel good about myself and not like a frumpy mess. And then there was the viewing, and Luke’s baby blessing… Those dresses helped immensely with feeling my level of comfort.

I hope I didn’t miss anyone. I realize that a lot of these things were more done for Gregg, but me and Thomas and Luke are the ones that are benefiting from it. There was a lot. I was literally carried through a time when I could not walk. People kept telling me they were amazed at how well I was coping. It wasn’t me, it was you. You and your service to me, as well as my Heavenly Father, carried me, and continue to carry me, through this dark time. Thank you.