Originally Published on 6/4/19
June 4. A year. The magical point after a loved one dies when suddenly everything is okay and back to normal again.
Ha, okay. Sure.
As I type this (on June 3), I’m remembering what we were doing at this time a year ago and how much I’ve changed in the last 365 days.
9:27am we were leaving our hotel in Kentucky to go to the airport.
12:14pm we were in the air and took our last selfie ever together.
2:35pm we were in the car headed home from the Dallas airport.
3:17pm we stopped to pick up some beanbag foam so Jason could refill his daughter’s beanbag chair.
6:12pm we had a lazy “everyone fend for themselves” dinner because we were tired from the trip.
9:02pm the kids were up in their rooms, the little one asleep, for the night and we sat down to watch some tv.
11:42pm Jason was drifting in and out of sleep on the couch while we watch Arrested Development and I work on a grad school assignment.
12:02pm Jason gets up to go to sleep. “Good night, love you.” “Love you.”
We had a fun weekend out of town at my friend’s wedding. There was a White Castle near our hotel and Jason was so excited to introduce me to their tiny burgers. We explored Louisville, KY and really felt great about everything. Our relationship was in a great place. The kids were great. Jason was so happy that the older boys were getting along and hanging out together in the house alone while we were gone for a couple of days. We talked about being grateful for each other and the fact that we didn’t have to be in the dating world again. We marveled at how we never really should have met, but we did and we were perfect for each other. It sounds like I’m curating a glossed over, manufactured fictional conversation, but this honestly happened. He even brought it up. It’s almost as if these conversations were foreshadowing – something we needed to say to each other right then because we didn’t know the terrible thing that was coming in just a few hours. We flew home and had a lazy Sunday afternoon before the kids’ last week of school, where I was scrambling to finish some grad school work before my midnight deadline – a venture I’ve since put on hold. Late in the evening, at about midnight, Jason got up from the couch to go to bed while I stayed to finish my assignment that was now past due. A few minutes later, I heard a noise in the bedroom and from that point forward mine and the kids’ lives were forever changed.
The last week of school for the kids was a blur. I went to 2 kindergarten graduations, a fifth grade graduation and a high school graduation, numb. I wore sunglasses inside and I sat in the back because I couldn’t bear the thought that Jason was missing all of this, but I also wanted to be there for the kids to show them that they didn’t lose both of us. Jason freaking loved his kids, and mine. He loved being a dad and teaching them dad stuff. He was there to help them with school projects and teach them how to be tough and when to have a healthy fear of something. We were always taking them to do stuff when they were with us and he loved when everybody was around. He loved the chaos of it, so much that he didn’t consider it chaotic. Being at home with all the kids there was his favorite place to be. It was his bliss.
I barely left my house at all for the whole summer after he died – I hated not being at home. I started to take care of all the plants he had because I didn’t want his hard work to go to waste. A year ago I had a black thumb, but with a lot of research, practice and patience, and a few plant casualties, I’ve kept most of his plants alive and added some more. He would definitely be proud.
Over the past year I’ve changed a lot as a person. I’m more patient. More grateful. More introspective. I’m happier. I don’t sweat the small stuff. I do more of what I want to do and less of what I don’t want to do.
After he died, it was 2 solid weeks before I was eating and sleeping with any regularity. I’m so grateful for every single person who donated a meal or money to us. It kept the kids fed and made it so I didn’t have to worry about preparing food. It was seriously the greatest blessing during that time, in addition to the friends and family who just showed up and did things without me asking or even knowing what I needed – I had people sort and label the food coming in, mow my yard, clean my gutters and plan the Celebration of Life party. I literally could not be where I am now without these people.
I received lots of phone calls and messages during that time – people reaching out to send condolences or offer to help. I hated when people would tell me that it would get easier with time or that I was strong and would get through this. I didn’t want it to get easier and I didn’t want to be strong. I couldn’t wrap my brain around how I could possibly get through it. It was the lowest low I’ve ever experienced, as if my rock bottom continued to give way and I was freefalling deeper and deeper with no end in sight.
One of the phone calls I received was from an old work colleague who had retired a few years back. He was a friendly older man who called to send condolences, but also to point out that I was one of the happiest, brightest people he had ever met and he hoped that I didn’t lose that. At the time, I couldn’t see how I could ever be truly happy again. In the span of just a few hours, I completely lost touch with that girl that I was before. People say night time is the hardest when you lose your spouse, but for me it was the morning. It was waking up to face the day without him that was the hardest.
It was about 3 months before I voluntarily left my house and didn’t hate every second of not being at home. During those first 3 months when I did have to go places, I grocery shopped with headphones in or I ordered groceries for pick up, I sat alone at my son’s karate practice and didn’t talk to other parents because I would break down. I wore sunglasses a lot. When I went to meetings with clients, I focused hard and tried to get lost in the distraction so that I didn’t have to face my own life. Distraction was my comfort at that time – I binge watched so many series on Netflix, but only comedies like The Office, The Mindy Project, I’m Sorry and others like that. During the first few months of my new normal, I learned that it’s okay to take care of yourself. Necessary, in fact. It’s okay if every minute of every day isn’t measurably productive. Sometimes zoning out in a comedy series is exactly what you need, even though it doesn’t bring in money or result in work being done. Taking care of ourselves mentally and physically is vital to being successful in our jobs, families and life.
With time and as months passed by, I was getting better and better – just like people said I would. I had good days and bad days, but the good started to last longer than the bad. I focused on my son and volunteered for every school event – that was initially my main goal in quitting my corporate job and working for myself instead. I wanted to be the PTA mom for him, so I did. The holidays rolled by – meaning Halloween through New Years – and I was able to spend all of my time and energy with him, and his excitement carried over to me. Some things I just didn’t have the energy for, like throwing parties like we used to do for all the kids and all of the holidays and decorating the house. I couldn’t do it alone, I didn’t want to. Overall though, my son and I started to make new memories and create new traditions, and it was a fun time.
January and February brought new lows for me. The distraction of the holiday season had passed and I was left in the cold of winter with nothing to distract me except work and my son’s school events. I started to hate my house. I hated people who were happily married and doing fun things with their families. That was supposed to be Jason and me. He was supposed to be my happy ending. We were supposed to grow old together and watch the kids have kids of their own. He wasn’t supposed to die – he wasn’t old enough or unhealthy enough for his heart to stop. I was pissed at everyone and everything. This, as it turns out, was the anger phase.
Eventually I emerged from the anger. I realized that I had the power to change my surroundings. I started with my living room. I hated going in there because I just absolutely loathed the monstrous sectional I bought and the drab tan walls. Yes, I bought the couch even though I didn’t love it. I bought it to fit our whole crew – all 7 of us. Well, I didn’t need it for that purpose anymore, so why was I letting it affect me? I got rid of it, bought 2 cans of paint and painted the room navy blue because I felt like it. Then I redecorated – the post with pictures is here – and fell in love with the space again. I realized that I could make this house my own. I could do this on my own.
I made new flower beds, pulled out ugly bushes and planted things I like to look at. Now, every time I drive up to my house I see the work I put in for myself – the flowers blooming and the plants thriving. I did that for me and no one else. Every time I look out my back window and see the roses blooming – I did that. Every time we go outside to pick blueberries – I did that. I kept them alive, I took care of them. I did it. I realized that I’m capable. I AM strong. I CAN do this. I WILL move forward positively.
My relationship with Jason will always be a bright spot and a happy memory in my life, but I still have life to live. Any of us could die at any moment, just like Jason did. His heart stopped beating, seemingly randomly. Car accidents and plane crashes happen every day. We could have a brain aneurism or be diagnosed with stage 4 cancer. We could choke on an onion ring or get struck by lightning. Any moment could be our last moment, and that’s the real lesson I’ve learned over the past 12 months.
So let’s live the life we want to live. Why waste time doing things we hate or weren’t created to do? I put a lot of emphasis on spending a lot of time with my son playing or being silly, because I want him to have those happy memories of his childhood. Last summer sucked, hard. We barely left the house and it was all I could do to just take care of us at the bare minimum level. This summer, I have a new outlook. We’re going to go have fun. We’re going to create memories together and have fun experiences. I don’t want to be the person who has all the things, I want to be the person who has all the memories. I splurged on season passes to Six Flags. We have a trip planned later this summer, we plan to go to the nickel arcade at least 49 more times and we’re going to pick blueberries at a real blueberry farm this weekend. When we go places, I’m not going to be mom on the sidelines watching. I’m mom who jumps at the trampoline park too. I’m mom who rides the roller coasters too. I’m mom who plays at the arcade, does the obstacle course, paints a ceramic thing and goes down the water slides. I’m mom who canon balls into the pool (when I’m not sunbathing). I’m mom who plays video games and enjoys dessert.
We’re going to enjoy the sweetness of the Georgia peaches we got from The Peach Truck last weekend. We’re going to remember Jason and talk about him candidly. We’re going to strategize together in playing Super Mario Odyssey and we’re going to laugh so hard when we purposely belt out the wrong lyrics to songs. We sing a lot. And I mean, a lot.
But it’s not just about being mom.
I’m Meghan. I’m an artist, graphic designer and writer. I don’t work at a corporate job, I make my own hours and I love what I do and am excited to gain new clients, do new projects and launch some cool new stuff here on this site. I think about Jason every day, multiple times, but now it’s with happiness and fond memories. I talk about him with ease, and remembering him makes me smile. I love laying on a pool float and soaking up the sun. Diet cherry Dr. Pepper is my favorite, I love doing face masks every weekend, watching nerd movies over and over and seeing my flowers bloom. I workout *almost* every day, because I like how it makes me feel. I also enjoy dessert *almost* every day. I’m less worried about what my body looks like and more focused on what my soul feels like. I like decorating and plan to redecorate every single room in my house. I draw on my iPad daily. My goal this year is to write a book and illustrate a children’s book. I draw, paint and teach art classes. I’m making a living by being an artist – both visual and with writing, and that’s what I was meant to do. Is it scary, working for myself and not knowing when my next big project/paycheck will hit, while supporting a kid and paying mortgage and all the bills that come with it? Sure. But after going through this past year, I know that this is what I’m meant to do, so I’m sticking with it and confidently blazing forward. I don’t know where this path will lead. I might be singing a different tune next year, or I might be wildly successful and carrying on the same path. Either way, right now I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be – a completely different person than I was a year ago, grateful for everything I’ve been through, every experience I’ve had and everything I’ve been given.
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