Monday, February 16, 2015

36 Months, yet Still as Vivid

The worse day of my life happened on February 15, 2012 - 36 months ago I lost my best friend, my partner in life, the person I had chosen to spend every day with. I think of it in months in hopes that it will feel like a lot more time has passed, and it won't feel so raw. It doesn't really work. I know in my heart that 3 years is nothing because emotionally it has passed dreadfully slow, while in real life, the months have flown by.

On June 12, 2004 I made a promise that was to last until death did us part, and we lived up to that. Of course, I had no idea that death would part us so soon. I had imagined we would grow old together, arguing over what country to explore first at retirement, and teasing each other about bladder control issues. Instead, after only seven years of marriage I found myself planning a funeral for the person I felt closest to in the world.

Once the shock of the event began to lift, I was left with more pain, fear and doubt than I had ever experienced. The pain was (still is) indescribable. I have tried to put it into words but haven't found the right ones that can express the intensity of losing Warren. All I can come up with is that it was like a huge part of me was ripped away, leaving me open and deeply wounded, bleeding all over the place. I felt incomplete, broken and foreign to myself in my own skin. The pain was also relentless. It woke me up at night, and choked me throughout the day. 

Fear came a little later when I realized that I was left to fulfill all the commitments we had made as a couple. The biggest one was raising our daughter. I wanted to give her as much normalcy as possible since her world had just been turned upside down as well. I didn't want to lose the home we had built for her, or create any other circumstance that would make her feel any more insecure about her future. I wanted to maintain the kind of life her father and I had established, the life she was used to, the kind of life her father wanted so much for her to live.

Having dedicated my most recent years to working for local non-profits, my income was nowhere near what Warren earned as a CEO. It was probably about a third of what he earned, and not as secure since it was grant-based. As if life hadn't already sucker-punched me, I lost that income six months after I lost my husband. The only thing I can say about how I got over losing my job is that I was already dealing with so much pain, fear and uncertainty that it got absorbed into that. I was numb. I went into survival mode, moving savings around and trying my best to figure out how to keep my house and my sanity. But it shook my confidence. 

Leading non-profits felt like a natural fit for me, more than my corporate career ever had. Now I had to ask myself if it made sense to stay in that line of work. Was it fair to my daughter and family who counted on me to stick to something that felt natural vs. going back to a corporate career that was far more lucrative? Could I continue to give my daughter the life she was used to and still work for agencies that served populations I was passionate about? How was I supposed to pay for graduate school on a non-existent income?

Looking back, losing that job was a blessing in disguise. For starters, graduate school required that I go to Vermont for ten days every six months. The agency I had worked for did not offer that much flexibility for time off. Secondly, it forced me to look for scholarships that I would otherwise not have had the time to research. It also gave me time to feel what I needed to feel so I could process it.

Those first months post-Warren were like something out of a nightmare. Everything in my world was out of sorts. Yet, life continued all around me. I had to return to work even though leaving my house was so difficult that I would often tremble and feel like puking the moment I walked out the door. It made me feel sick to my stomach to be outside the safety of my home, yet I was expected to perform the duties of my job with the same dedication as I had before that awful day. I tried to do that, but my concentration was shot. I worked in fear that I was going to forget something vitally important that was going to lead to something awful because I couldn't remember details like I once did with ease.

When I tried to concentrate so I could remember some work or life-related detail (like my various passwords that I'd been using for years) my head would fill with the last sights I had of Warren, and I was done. Tears would stream down my face and the air would get too thick to breathe. Thank God I had a tiny office in the corner of a basement that barely anyone visited, or I would probably have lost my job a lot sooner than the budget cuts that took it. In short, I was a wreck and pretending that I wasn't for forty-plus hours a week wasn't helping me heal.

I needed to take time to cry; to sleep during the day if I needed to; to stay locked away in my house if I wanted to; to hug Warren's pillow for hours to breathe in his scent. I needed to find ways to cope with the images that haunted me, and the final words that played on repeat in my mind. I needed to meet other widows and learn that I was not alone. None of those things could happen while I was going to my 9-5 and pretending I was done grieving. 

Several things happened once I accepted that I was unemployed and decided not to rush into another job. A major turning point of that time was that I was diagnosed with PTSD. I would never have imagined that I would be afflicted with such a complex condition from an episode that took only 61 minutes from start to finish. Putting a name to what was happening to me was by no means a cure, but it meant I was not going insane. Knowing it was treatable alleviated some of the fear I had about what my future held. It gave me hope that I could get past it as I dealt with this new version of myself. The diagnosis helped lessen the burden of doubt that I had as to whether or not I would ever be strong enough to provide for myself and my daughter.

Since the diagnosis I have learned various coping techniques that keep my PTSD symptoms in check. As part of that I adopted healthier eating habits and began working out regularly, which not only allay the symptoms, but vastly improves my overall outlook on life. I made writing a regular part of my life and that has been a tremendous help. I also developed and strengthened relationships that have sustained me and pushed me to move forward.

I am beyond lucky that those I love have allowed me to remember Warren, to talk about him, and to honor him. They let me know regularly that they miss him, too. Grieving is a lonely process. Knowing that others share the void Warren left makes it easier to bear. I often cling to the words and stories about Warren that others share with me. I may not always let those people know, but it soothes me to hear them speak of Mi Amor, even if briefly. Even those who never met Warren but who took the time to learn about him, or ask about my life with him have helped me. By creating a safe place to remember him, they have also created a healing space for me.

It has been a tough road. I still have moments where the aftermath of that day hit me like a ton of bricks. Those moments can be brought on by a song, a phrase, or a photo. Other times nothing at all, just the heaviness of loss takes me back. Sometimes I am filled with gratitude and wonder at how abundant our time together was, even though it was so short. There are times when I still pick up my cell phone with the intention of calling him and telling him something mundane, and then I remember that he won't be on the other end of my call. Those incidents still rock me and bring on tears and pain. But they aren't as frequent and I soothe myself back to reality more calmly than I did twelve, or even six months ago.

There are still milestones like my graduation, finishing my novel, getting an agent, the addition of family members who will never know him, birthdays, etc., where the wound feels fresh and the event is tainted by sadness. Those will probably linger for years to come. I still cry randomly at photos, or while writing this blog, but the tears don't turn to sobs as often. I still can't sleep on his side of the bed, but at least I can sleep more than two hours a night. I still have his photos up all over my house, but now I can pass by them without falling apart. I still think about him, miss him and love him, but the feelings aren't diluted with so much anger. No matter how many months go by I will love him, miss him, honor his memory, and try to live every day by the examples he set.

The lessons I've learned over these last three years are some of the toughest and most intense of my life. Acceptance and resilience have been the hardest earned. Something I know will continue to live in me is my love for Warren, what we had, what we made, and who I became because of our union. It brought my life richness, joy, perspective and gratitude. Thirty-six months later my confidence is restored because I am still surviving and I have no doubt that I can handle anything that comes my way. As awful as that has been to learn, I am eternally thankful for that lesson.

Something that has not waned these last three years is how proud I am to have been his wife. I am still amazed that he chose me to spend his life with. How did I get so lucky to be partners with such an incredible person who by actions alone made me aspire to be better every day? I'll never know the answer. When I asked him, he told me that he was the lucky one. I will never agree, nor will I ever stop being grateful that we found each other, even if it was brief. He gave me something that many people never know. He gave me the kind of love that made me feel like the most important woman in the universe. That kind of love moves you. It opens a side of you that can never be the same. It made me realize that I am deserving of a whole love, and that I can give it in return. Knowing that side of myself shows me the good he planted in my heart. And while that heart is currently broken, it doesn't bleed the same. It is wrapped in bandages and rubber bands, held in place by what he left and the love that has come from those who loved him as well. I know that it continues to heal and that one day I will offer it to someone special, in honor of how Warren taught me to love. It is not a lesson I chose to learn so early in life, but it is one that is as eternal as our bond.

Te amo Mi Amor. Hoy y siempre.

1 comment:

  1. That was a beautiful post, Christina. I'm so sorry for your loss. You're such a strong person to have continued doing so much after his tragic passing.


Contact Me


Email *

Message *