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.

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.

 

Taking Back My Finish Line

Taking Back My Finish Line.

Light a Candle

Light a Candle.

Haunted Memories

Haunted Memories.

Tearing Off the Bandaids To Become What I Need to Be

What does it say when my Fitbit says “Hug me, Runner Girl?” I sure could use a hug. One of my classes really made my heart hurt today. While I could avoid this pain, I won’t. I know that I have a voice brought from the agony of my loss which included the loss of Phil and the dreams, hopes, and expectations I had of growing old with him. I missed being a “witness to his life” at the end, but I know our love has transformed me into a better version of me and that the pain from the bandaid coming loose today will surely shore up and bring me to an understanding heart for those who struggle. I may not have any answers, but I can be an active participant in someone else’s journey.

One of the hardest aspects of a person who is in the throes of dying is that the illness is what gets all of the attention. People assume that if they are spending time tending to the ill person’s illness, they are there for the dying person. I watched it with my father. I watched him go from being a respected man to a man who was largely invisible in a care center. The care center was a good one, but his illness became all that mattered.

No matter when death of a loved one occurs, there is absolutely no preparation for the flood of feelings that come next. I still cannot, cannot think of the shock of the notification, standing with my children as everyone honed in on my family, or those awful autopsy photos. My breath catches. It is more than what it looks like on the surface.

Imagine for a second a family of military children (four out of five) standing waiting to see their father’s body hit American soil. They were grieving as those grieve with no preparation for the death. There they stood with runny noses, tears that continuously leaked from their eyes, yet they had to render proper military respects and courtesies. It shattered my already broken heart. That singular memory brought me to where I am now. I wanted someone who understood and someone who had been though it to walk with me during those first moments when I was all alone. I didn’t want platitudes or people telling me to trust God or telling me that Phil was in a better place. I just wanted someone to sit with me (okay, walk with me).

My life has changed and I have surely become a better version of the woman I once was, but this class is bringing me back to my father’s illness, what I lost when I didn’t get to say goodbye to Phil, and how much my life has changed since then. Sometimes choosing to embrace the pain can make us just a little bit stronger and a little readier to walk with others. Kind of like a marathon where a runner runs one step at a time, one mile at a time, one race at a time to the finish line, I must stay the course and remember to breathe though the pain to take back my finish line.