I can’t believe I turned 25 today. I sort of feel like I’ve been 25 since I was 19. It’s been a beautiful birthday so far. I’ve gotten time with some of my most favorite people. There’s been cake. It’s been a delight. I also feel deeply reflective about the past year of my life. I lost my fiance and daughter’s father last year before his 25th birthday in February. It’s weird to think that now I’m older than him. It’s weird to think that now I’ve had two birthdays with him and two without him. It’s left me with this full heart, empty stomach feeling today. I’d like to think that he would have been proud of how I lived my life in the last year. I grieved openly,honestly, and I mothered fiercely. There were days where full tears fell from my face and days where grief was dirty and I was mean. Will lived like that, moment to moment, knee deep in all of his best qualities and in his shortcomings, and he showed them to all of us. I decided after he died that I refused to live behind a veil ever again. If I did that, I would be doing a disservice to myself in pretending “I” or “It” was perfect. It was hard. I made tough choices, choices that panned out and choices that hurt me more because sometimes I just felt like I didn’t even want to try and live again.
I made brave choices though too. I fell in love with someone really wonderful. I could feel the glares of “too soon” and “Oh he has a beard too? Interesting”. It’s funny because when you date people who look similar, people joke that you have a type, but when the previous person passed away, people assume things they shouldn’t and it hurts. I used to think about what Will would’ve thought about me dating and falling in love with someone new, and then I realized that Will didn’t live like that. He loved strangers quickly, he fell in love with me the moment he saw me. We had one of those random conversations you have as a couple about death that starts to feel really weird and mysterious after the person dies, before Will died, and he told me that he wouldn’t want me to wait some arbitrary amount of time to love again, he would want me to be happy. I’ve tried to be selective about how much I talk about Greg, or how many posts I make about him, but that’s really not me. Greg and I had met before Will and ran into each other at a friends yearly Fourth of July party, but never really got to know one and other. When we decided to go on our first date in July of last year, it was one of the few days where I felt like the sunshine didn’t hurt my skin or wasn’t mocking my pain. We got coffee, talked for a long time, and Greg gave me a friend zone hug at the end. It was just what I needed. We took it super slow and he didn’t meet my sweet Jo for awhile. When he did, he never pressured his presence on either of us, it was like it was just her and I, and Greg was there smiling patiently and presently unless I asked for help or for him to engage. We became such good friends and fell in love too. I had spent the past 4 months lugging weeks worth of groceries up two flight of stairs with Jo on my back, and all Greg wanted to do was carry them. He would show up after I had worked and had taken care of Jo and just do my dishes and sit next to me, holding my hand while I vented, cried, or sat silently in exhaustion. Many times I spent hours talking about Will and grief and not once did he complain or judge the way I grieved. His biggest concern was that I didn’t like taking my leftovers home after a meal out because it was wasteful.
At the beginning of October I began having these sudden and debilitating anxiety attacks while I was driving and at home. I start to feel extraordinarily out of it and began having thoughts about wanting to end my life. I felt so guilty and ashamed. I felt like I couldn’t beat the grief and I was a bad mother. Greg assured me that I was doing a wonderful job but that he fully supported me getting help. With the support of Greg, one of my best friends Sarah, and Will’s and my family ,I checked myself into the emergency room at a local hospital. There is nothing like feeling like you can’t even trust yourself.
My parents gladly took Jo and I decided to begin treatment in a partial hospitalization program.I had been diagnosed with bi-polar II disorder in college. I spent 5 weeks in that program and it got far worse before it got better. The cocktail of meds I was put on after Will’s death combined with a lack of grief counseling had landed me in the hospital and now the changing of my meds made me feel like I was dying a little more each day. I didn’t want to bathe, speak, or engage normally with anyone. I felt like I was living in a dream. I felt like someone had taken my heart out of my body and put it just out of my reach. I could feel my daughter’s arms wrapped around my neck and tears in my eyes because I couldn’t feel her energy or warmth touching mine. Greg visited me on his birthday and we went to the park near my house, we held hands, but my hands felt like someone else’s. At one point I found arbitrary reasons to break up with Greg for a short time because I was scared to be loved by someone so wholly when I couldn’t even stand the feeling of being awake. It was shitty but he loved me still. Now, I’ve learned that it’s easy to push good people away but if you can see past your own pain to let them just be there, they won’t leave. Through those weeks no one left, no matter how I pushed. One of my best friend’s Sarah had held my heart in her hands so tenderly before I left and continued to when I didn’t have the energy to reach out to her. Will’s parents checked on me regularly, with worry and hope in their voices, even though they had been grieving their own son so deeply. They are a third set of parents to me, and a testament to the goodness of grandparents and the strength of a beautiful marriage. When I finally came to, on successful medications, and started to feel again, all of these people were waiting with their arms out-stretched thrilled that I was feeling better.
Greg had never left and I loved him more for seeing me through such a unbelievably difficult time with nothing but support. It’s rare that someone can be there for you without making you feel indebted to them…when you find that in your friends, family, relationships….that’s the stuff. It’s a new kind of love for me. It’s intentional without being suffocating. It’s patient even when I’m not. Now unfortunately I know that yes, even if you love someone, you can survive without them…but I certainly don’t want to. There’s peace and calm that I think I’ve always needed. This love is my love with Greg but I’ve also found new love with my daughter Josephine.
When Jo was first born, I thought I’d carry her on my back until I died. Now, I see her run and laugh and realize that we’re not meant to carry our children that way forever. Our success is in preparing them to run consciously in the direction of their hopes and dreams. In the last year of my life I’ve gone from a new mom to a toddler’s mom and with that my patience (on most days) has developed and so, my patience across the board has developed too. In light of her growth, I see more than ever how she will be affected and bombarded with the worlds good and bad influences and ideas. I can only hope I empower her to love herself, champion justice, and trust in herself to not only succeed but also to fall, knowing that there is a wide net of love to catch her.
It’s one of the reasons I’ll be starting graduate school soon to pursue my Master’s of Marriage and Family Therapy. I want her to know that we are gifted skills and experiences, good and bad, and we are entrusted to use them to better a broken world. I look forward to the next year of my life. A year of growing love,contentment, and of facing new challenges with the past years knowledge under my belt. I look forward to another year of carrying what I learned from Will about life and the beauty of what we both saw in living with bipolar disorder into this next season. I look forward to another year of navigating my complicated but rewarding journey of finding my faith. I endlessly thank every single person who has supported our little family in the past year,from go-fund me donations to words of kindness and babysitting, I wouldn’t be the mother I am, and Jo wouldn’t live joyfully as she does without your love far and wide. With the un-natural February sunshine streaming in while I write this, I am excited to continue to share my journey in the upcoming year. Namaste.