Disclaimer: The stories on this blog touch on difficult issues and experiences.
CW: This week's story involves situations pertaining to marriage, single parenthood,and grief.
Life is not easy, by any means. You know?
I met my husband in high school. I refused to date him for the longest time, and as soon as he gave up and didn't want to try any longer, I was like "Whoa whoa wait a minute!" So we went out on a date to a movie and then that kind of went from there. We were dating early on in my junior year of high school, broke up for a little while, he graduated and we got back together. Then I went off in the Navy. We dated from afar through boot camp and through school, living in Virginia. We got engaged during that time. I guess it was about two and a half years in to our relationship. We had a long engagement and then I came home and we planned to get married. We moved in together after I had lived with my parents for about six months. Then he messed up, and I called it off. We worked to fix things, and we got married a couple years after that. We started dating in 1993 and didn't get married until September 15th, 2001. We would have been married for 17 years this year. That hurts.
I lost him after our fifth wedding anniversary, on September 22nd, 2006. He was in an auto accident the day after our anniversary that year. He hadn't seen his kids in three days because of work, he kept pushing and pushing and pushing forward and hadn't been home. So we've been living with that change in our lifestyle. I became a single parent to two little four year olds from that point on, I've been raising them all by my lonesome ever since, with the help of fabulous people and support. It comes and goes, and time doesn't heal every wound. And it truly doesn't make it go away just because it's been 17 years. And saying 17 years makes me want to almost throw up. Because I'm like, how have we been living? I've been married to him for 17 years and I'm about to celebrate the 12 year anniversary of him dying. Some days are easier, some are hard. Some days are "Let me just get through..." And some days are okay. We go through these phases where the kids are alright and I'm alright. And then I'm not okay, and the kids are not okay. And then the next year it's a holiday that's bad.
But this year has been probably one of the worst because they turned sixteen and with them turning sixteen...when he died, in the back of my mind, it was like, "How the hell am I going to get these kids to sixteen and then graduate?" And we're right on that cusp right now where I think I've pushed it away for so long and now it's here and I'm like...I don't know how we've done it besides tucking it and burying it and moving forward and just one smile at a time and one birthday at a time and one year at a time.
And I try to honor our relationship and our marriage together and the things we planned on doing. I try my best to do that. But at the same time, I forgot for the longest time, to take care of myself. And it wasn't until I turned 40 and I was diagnosed with breast cancer that it made me realize that i needed to take care of myself.
Sitting on my front porch and telling my kids I had breast cancer and they could possibly be orphans was the worst conversation I've ever had in my life, other than telling them their dad wasn't coming home. But in light of it all, I have learned to take care of myself a little better. And that there is hope and there is recovery. And that it's okay, and I'm okay, and it's going to be okay, and they're going to be okay.
And he loved them and he loved me. And there's nothing we could do to change that, even though we blamed ourselves for the longest time. What could we have done differently? What happened to make it different?
But I'm good now. The cancer was my awakening. That changed a lot. I feel much better now, and I feel like I can give more to others now because I'm finally starting to feel better myself. I think it's changed my calling in life. I never intended to be a teacher. It was not my path, it was not where I was going in life. It was not what I wanted or hoped for, it wasn't who I saw myself being. And yet, that's all I want to do. Solve problems and help others. Which is weird that I wanted to do that when I was younger and in high school but I didn't pursue that path, but I find myself cycling back to that now. I needed to walk the path that I've been on in order to feel the way I feel and understand how people feel. And be able to then lend an ear and help others. And love them and understand them.
Things are changing again, but I find myself teaching with a purpose of not just curriculum and not just what's in the classroom. And friends. I feel like I have a lot of friends that are in need of someone to listen to them and help them and it fulfills me. But I've been hiding things of my own that I seriously needed to get out myself. September sucks. It's the worst time of the year. It always seems to be even though I try for it not to be. So that's always like, "Let me get over this hump so I can get to the next thing." But it's not ever going to go away because he was my love. And I knew he was my love. And you can't close that off. You can't make that go away. You can honor it, and respect it, but now is my time to find the other part that keeps me going, healthy, and happy. And that's what I'm working on, my own health and happy.
That looks like changing every day things, how I take care of myself. Taking care of my body. New adventures in natural healing - that was a huge change in my life. Going in to meditation, yoga, getting rid of the chemicals in my body, and using more natural oils and things on myself that make me feel better. And dealing with the root of why I've been overweight for so long which is dealing with the stresses of life and all the crap that keeps going in my direction. From my husband dying, to raising children on my own, to putting myself through school, to changing careers to become a teacher, dealing with my dad's illnesses, and then losing my dad, and my own health issues...I just needed to awaken to this life that I had been kind of going through. I needed to find my own self.
I think a lot of it is just stopping and listening and realizing and being okay with it and finding who I am and realizing that when you're younger, you don't have all the answers. And you're not going to have all the answers. And you have to go through the absolute deep bottom of a shit pile in order to find who you are sometimes. And you can't pick and choose what experiences you have. You have to literally do whatever is in front of you because that's the path you're given. And some people's paths are a whole lot easier but I've had to learn to accept that this is my path, and those are the experiences I've had to have. I mean, at some point, we're going to be okay. At some point. We're going to be okay.
The twins are good...and sometimes they're not good. The same growing pains that...I don't walk around my house crying all the time and being sad, but I also find myself being a lot harder on them because I almost have to be harder. I'm carrying the weight of two people and I have high expectations for them in the respect that I want them to be great people and I want them to be giving people and I want them to be okay with whoever they are. So sometimes I'm a little too hard on them, and I know that I am. And sometimes I'm a little too lax, but they are overall good. They know that they are loved, but they struggle.
For my boy especially, we lean very heavily on family and friends that are good role models for them and us and love us and support us and want the best for us. And so a lot of the people that are surrounding us are great people for him to have as role models, even though it's still hard for him, but they're great role models to give him the sense of being a man. Because I can't be that, I try, but I can't be that. And the funniest thing ever is that we're now shopping for razors and I'm like, "I don't know how to tell you to do this, man! I really don't know! I potty trained you, I've taught you all of these other things, but I can't tell you how to shave! I just don't know!" Luckily we have people that he can go to for help with things like that, and sometimes you have to admit when you can't do something and I just can't do that, I don't know how.
My mom told me shortly after my husband died that she didn't see me remarrying. She said, "I just don't see you remarrying. I think that's where your heart lies." And I agree with her in a lot of ways. But the reality is that I can't introduce someone else into our life when they are my priority. They are the ones I wanted. They are the ones that he and I wanted. So they are my priority. And they always will be. And I want them to know that and I want them to feel that and I don't want anything else to make them feel like they're not my priority. So my happiness comes from seeing them as great adults in the making, and seeing them take all their life lessons and turn them into a productive life for themselves. They're always going to have trauma because they lost their dad at four years old. They won't be able to get away from that, it's always going to be there. But we can have conversations about it, and we can talk about him, and he still lives within them. And I honor that in him and for them because that is significant. There's a void and there always will be that empty space, but I want them to always know which is why I've never needed someone else. I needed to walk and stand on my own in raising them the way that we wanted and the way that I wanted. Not how someone else wanted. And I didn't ever want them to feel like they weren't number one in my book because they always have been. I think that makes a difference, even if he doesn't have a dad in the house hold. They always come first.
They fulfill me. They've kept me from laying on the couch losing my mind. They've kept me from being the alcoholic that I could never be. They make me strive to be a better person as much as I invest in them to do the same. They are my purpose. They drive me. And I forget to tell them that, but they do. And if I didn't have them, God help me. I needed them. Although I didn't understand why I was having twins at the time and I didn't understand why they were brought to me as they were and they're like little mini "us," I know they were brought to me to help me get through. He loved and adored them. The sun and moon set on those two. It crushed him when he couldn't be there with them to do things with them, to the point that the accident I referred to, he made sure he was there that day to watch them play soccer. He had to be there. He wanted more of them. And that's what I make sure that they know. And that's what their grandmother also made sure they knew. His mom invested a lot of time in making sure she loved them as much as she could. Unfortunately we lost her two months after my dad as well, and ironically in the same room at hospice within two months of each other, with me sitting by both of their sides.
Life is an unpredictable journey. We can't say what's going to happen or where we're going to end up, we don't even know where we're going to start. If you would have asked me 16 years ago if I'd be here talking to you about the death of several people in my life, and my own face with reality that I at some point am going to walk down that road, when is it going to be? Am I going to fight and not allow that to happen right now? Or is it going to just kind of take me? I think that the amazing part of life is finding your strength and your courage and your wisdom to get through. And to be able to love even through all of that. And to be able to guide children through that. Because honestly what I tell them now is that they both have been through so much in the little bit of time that they've been here that in retrospect it's more than a lot of adults deal with. But they've had someone to guide them and love them through that, and they're coming out in the other side with a better grip on reality than most. They're ready. And that's why people think they're more mature than their age. Life has made them deal with things that children should not have to deal with. But the difference is that they have been given tools to help get them through, and they can help get others through. And they have empathy and they have understanding and they have a different perspective than the false cover up that most people give you. And there's so much purpose in that. I don't know that they fully see that yet, but I think they're starting to see it and that they understand it a little bit more. But they are already experiencing it.
It's our story. We can't change it. You have to succumb to it, and you have to steer it. That's what I'm doing. I'm steering my path now. I was steering my path the whole time and I didn't know it. But I'm intentionally steering my path now, and I know what path it's going in. It may have taken me to my 40s to figure that out but nobody knows the answers when they're in their 20s and they think life is just full of great stuff. And in your 30s it's like, I'm going to settle in a little bit. You know, age does bring you wisdom, and so do experiences. You can't get buried in it. You have to find the positive.
I have a shirt I really love that I almost wore today. I wear "Life is Good" stuff all the time, because for a while I was telling myself, "Okay. Life is good. Life can be good, life will be good. Life is good." And it just kind of turned into, "Yes, life is good, and I'm going to spread life is good to everybody." And that's why I smile, and I love, and I just try to give everybody everything I can to other people. The shirt I was going to wear says Believe There Is Good. And in that, it says "Be the good." And that's what I tell myself, I have to be the good. Because there's good stuff in the world, we just have to bring it out of ourselves and other people.
Sometimes people still don't know that I'm widowed. They assume that I'm divorced. But I'm not, you know? And sometimes they just assume I have a husband and they'll ask me what he does. The kids are my favorite, because they're like, "What does Mr. G do? Where is Mr. G?" And that’s a situation that I shied from for so long and I didn't want to talk about because I couldn’t say anything without breaking down. But then I realized that yes it happened to me, but it's who I am. I can't hide that. So when kids ask me now, I'll tell them he's in heaven because that's where he is in my heart and to me. And that's more of a connection for them and they start to understand and it will open up a conversation because their grandmother is already in heaven or their cat is in heaven, or their neighbor or somebody, and it makes a connection.