Moving Past Guilt

Phil and I had a good marriage—more than good, but it was not perfect. As soon as Phil knew he was going to deploy and for the length of the deployment, he checked out.  He did the distracted sort of there, sort of not there communicating.  He would forget key days such as my birthday and even Christmas once.  It wounded my heart because I was the girl at home waiting and trying to be both mom and dad to our five children.  Because I hate conflict, I did what I always do; I shut down.  He withdrew because it was the only way he could get through the time away from the family.  In either case, those behaviors came back to crush my spirit when he was killed.

 

When Phil deployed for a year in 2011, I voiced my concern.  All of our children were out of the house and our dog had to be put down a few months before the day Phil left.  I was shy and unconnected to anyone outside of family.  Phil promised that this time would be different.  While he still refused to Skype, he did send me an e-mail every day and he called me three times a week.  It did feel like he was making an effort until Easter Sunday.

 

He called me on Easter Sunday and was surprised that I was at one of my student’s house.  He told me that he would call me on Monday or Tuesday.  Monday came and no call or e-mail.  Tuesday passed the same way.  Normally I would have reached out and tried to engage him, but this time, this ONE time, I decided to wait him out.  Yes, I was cranky and yes, I was playing a game.  Phil was killed 27 April 2011—Thursday in Afghanistan.  I was cranky and waiting for the white flag.  I chose to play a game and I lost.

 

When his planner came home in those black footlockers, it bore a testimony to what had happened.  Monday was meeting; Tuesday was convoy day.  Wednesday would have been meeting preparation for the big meeting—the meeting on Thursday.  Thursday’s planner had two things:  the meeting and call Linda.  The call Linda was circled over and over again.  In his planner were a bunch of unsent cards about missing his wife and a unmailed Mother’s Day card.  I CHOSE to play a game without knowing or realizing that there might be a cost.  Had Phil lived, we would have laughed about the days of quiet.  In death, there is no rectifying my feelings or behaviors.  I have written often about only wanting one minute to look at him eye to eye so he could see my heart, but in death there are no do-overs.  I simply cannot change that time and I know that had he lived, we would chuckle about this.

 

It is that simple.  Do I wish I had done things differently?  More than life itself, but I have learned.  I am no longer the girl I once was.  I wear my heart on my sleeve and I tell people what they mean to me.  I make time for those people who need me and who care about me.  Sometimes I am a little too transparent, but I have learned that I may never get the chance to tell another about their importance in my life.  Perhaps that is the key.  I let people in and I live my values.  I live the lessons I have learned through the shattering of my heart.  I have learned that there are no do-overs and that right or wrong, I write or speak my thoughts and feelings.  Never again (or as much as I am able to) am I going to play stupid games at the risk of standing at another grave wondering if the deceased loved one knew how sorry I was.  Never again.

Time to Face My Fears

Source: Time to Face My Fears

Time to Face My Fears

I still get afraid and I still want to run away. Five years later, it is self-doubt and fear of losing another person that I care about that keeps me rooted to one spot. What is it about traumatic loss that leaves a person questioning one’s self and the fear of death or the loss of yet another? I hate that while I have learned to stand strong alone, that I stand shaking and hiding when it comes to trusting my thoughts and trusting that other people are not going to be assassinated or killed in such a sudden manner?

It isn’t logical and while I know my thoughts are warped and slightly crazy, there is a part of me that thinks that a normal person doesn’t know words like assassination, betrayal, or maimed bodies. I never thought I would be that girl. Phil and I were quiet unassuming people. I hadn’t considered that it would ever happen. When it did, I was numb and I shut totally down.

I have learned to live again, but there is a cage around my heart. While I recognize that I do have an xenophobia I never had before, I hadn’t realized that I still had the capacity to fear in any other manner. I do. I have awakened twice this week with nightmares about losing another person that matters to me to death. I have dreamed only once since Phil was killed and to have two nightmares on two consecutive nights leads me shaking and afraid. That fear leads to me shutting down and running.  For the first time, I am fighting back.  I am trying to, any way.

As I train the military members, however, I do recognize that the only person who can change this character deficit is me. If I do not like the person looking back in the mirror, I have to take a deep breath and just keep getting up every time I fall down. I fell down a lot this weekend and I suspect I will fall down a lot more in the days to come, but I need to–want to–keep getting up. My fear is real, but I cannot let it define me or stop me.  It is in the facing of my fears and in the talking myself off of the ledge of worrying about something that I have no control over that I can keep moving forward.  It is in the recognition that getting back up, taking a deep breath, and learning to trust myself as I continue on this journey, I can become an even better version of the girl who stands here now.

Be Gentle With Me

Source: Be Gentle With Me

Be Gentle With Me

Be Gentle With Me

I thought I knew how my life was going to play out. Sure, both Phil and I were going to grow old and die one day—one day far, far away. A day after a brief illness and a time to get one’s affairs in order and to say goodbye to loved ones. Before that one day, some day in the far off future, there was so much more that was supposed to happen. We married when we were both very young and had more children than anyone else. Phil was a SSgt. select when our youngest was born and we chose for me not to work outside of the home for many years. We did not believe in handouts, thus all we had was one another and the dreams of the one day, some day time together living our dreams. The time for dreams was over before it even started and with the implosion of what I thought was going to happen, I was thrown into a world I knew nothing about. I was lost and I was very, very afraid.

Time has given me a voice and a fire to speak and to work with other military members and families because my story demands attention. My story is more than a story, it is my life, and in the showing up and speaking up, I have found my footing. The voice has led to a life that is full, meaningful, and thriving. Yet, and this is a big yet, time has not erased my need to be loved and to love. Grief is sneaky, though.

While many know the last face to face conversation I had with Phil, that conversation will always be the barometer as to how much that man loved me. We had been married 23 years and never once in those 23 years had we had the what if conversation. This time? He wanted to have it. I wanted none of it. I made jokes about Raul the Pool Boy. I do not know any Rauls and I do not have a pool. He stopped me in my tracks when he asked me, “If you died first, would you want me to be happy?” Oh, yes, yes, I would.

For the first few years, I was encapsulated in wanting what I could not have. My heart was barren and shattered. I wrapped the shroud of grief around me so tightly that as time lapsed I could no longer see how I could ever let anyone else in. I found myself shutting down and closing doors with males because it was easier and it seemed almost expected. Military widows are young widows and the people around us seem to have ideas of how we should grieve, how long we should grieve for, and how much of a badge of honor it is to stay committed to the memory of a love that once was. That memory does not provide companionship, joy, or life.

The problem is trying to navigate letting someone in while there are still memories and still days that will poke the heart. The problem is compounded by the thoughts that something bad might happen to this one too. Fear is very real and at times it seems easier to shut off and shut down, but almost five years later, I am at the point where I know there must be something more in my life. I want to love and to be loved again. I want to have someone who knows me well and that I run to. I want to be the steady force behind someone. I want to be better with someone than stand alone cold.

It is very difficult to think about taking a chance because I already have myself convinced that surely my grieving widow status makes me somehow off-putting. I don’t know how to explain the melancholy on certain days or weeks. I don’t even see it coming sometimes, but I do recognize that there is room to love again. I recognized it long before I was ready to do something about it. When I was married to Phil, I had needs that were not met. I didn’t know it. I was happy. When he died and I started to come out of my fog, I recognized that I was pursuing and doing things that Phil would not have enjoyed. I started telling my story and living in a pretty public manner–something that Phil would have detested. In the growth and in that moment, I realized that I could love differently and well in a different way. With Phil, I did not know there were holes, but the difference now is that while someone else may feel the spaces between the holes, there will always be gaps that Phil left.

Learning to love again does not negate or cheapen the love I had for Phil. In fact, I wouldn’t be able to love if he had not loved me well. The scary part is the vulnerability of widows. It really doesn’t matter how much time has passed. I think that widows that had good marriages tend to put too much validity into relationships too quick. We want what we once had. I also think that military widows are in a unique position where if we remarry, we lose our benefits to include medical. Knowing these components was the largest reason that I shut people off the past two years. It was just simply easier to wrap the shroud of grief tighter, but it is cold.

Recently, I have started to let someone in. I do not know where the relationship is going. Each and every day, I have to talk myself off of the ledge of sabotaging the friendship we have. Relationships are a risk, a big risk, but it comes down to this: I know Phil would want me to be happy again and I know that while I do not know the outcome of this relationship, I do want to see where it will go. There is still so much to navigate and it all scares me. I do not need to know the answers today or even a year from now. Maybe the relationship will end, but if it does, I have been through much, much worse. There are still conversations we need to have, but I am not looking to replace Phil, I am looking to give my heart. I am not looking for the human touch–and though I want that aspect of a relationship, it isn’t the reason to be in a relationship. If and when I give myself to someone, I am giving them my heart. In the giving of my heart, I am baring my soul. Be gentle with me.

Afraid Of Being Happy?

Source: Afraid Of Being Happy?

Afraid Of Being Happy?

When Phil was killed, I cried a lot. I couldn’t keep it together. I hadn’t cried in 42 years, thus to be crying on airplanes, while running, and to wake up weeping was a discombobulating feeling. I had no control of my life and only by morphing into a numb waking state was I able to survive the implosion of my life. As time lapsed, I have found myself doing things I never thought I could do, but it wasn’t until recently that I recognized that while I was busy, crazy busy, I had lost the joy of day to day life. I no longer looked forward to anything and I approached life as a series of challenges to do or to overcome. I drew walls around my heart and figured that my days would be spent working, running, going to school, and, well…just surviving.

It wasn’t that I didn’t have friends; I did.  Many people supported me and still support me, but there was that layer that divided us.  I simply couldn’t allow myself to let loose, look ahead, and to be excited about life.  I felt like a spectator of my life at times because I simply couldn’t get off of the bench to join the game.  I wanted to jump in, but I was afraid at losing something–anything–more.

Somewhere this fall I realized that life was passing me by.  I don’t want to have eight degrees, hide in my house, or to live lonely.  I have avoided Christmas because Phil was due home on Christmas Eve, but by choosing to avoid the pain, I also avoided the new precious memories and fun my family might have.  I chose to celebrate Christmas this year.  My favorite memory was coming back into the house and hearing my children exchanging deployment stories, ribbing one another, and telling stories about their dad.  Nobody was feeling bad.  Nobody was making their dad a saint.  My children were just enjoying being a family again.  I nearly missed it because I was afraid to believe I could be happy and enjoy my life again.

With the steps forward have come some mighty big falls.  It was a terrible moment after Christmas.  I came home to a cold and empty house.  No laughter, no loud Jody’s being sung, no baby slobbers, and no hugs.  In that terrible moment, though, I realized exactly what my life would look like if I didn’t keep trying to take steps forward.  A step forward is still a step forward even if it is hard fought for.  Just as much as I love my job, travel, and running, I want a full life filled with laughter and love.  I may take some mighty hard falls, but I will get up and dust off my skinned knees and move forward one small step at a time into a life that is fully lived.