Thursday, June 1, 2017

A Widows Pursuit of Happiness

I have not written in a while.

I have been incredibly happy lately. 

After mentioning to someone that I have nothing to write about, it was suggested that I have the "Adele effect." Usually my writing is prompted by my anxiety or recent struggles. Lately I have had little anxiety. Like Adele, who writes sad songs, if there is nothing to be sad about there is nothing to write about. 

I have been thinking about that "Adele effect" comment and it dawned on me what a travesty that is. It is true, I often find myself writing about my internal conflicts and personal challenges. I do so because it is therapeutic for me to scream it out loud at the top of my lungs, so to speak. I also hope that I might be helping another young (or old) widow(er) when I put into words what I think so many of us are experiencing but are too afraid to say. But then it dawned on me, what about those widows that are doing well?

When Seth first died, and for a few months thereafter, I would read posts on widows pages through social media from women who were "living" again. This would evoke two emotional experiences for me. First, I would wonder if I would ever be happy or ready enough to "live" after losing my husband. Second, I would have hatred and anger towards these woman for disrespecting their husbands and loved ones like so. I conjured up deluded opinions in my mind that to live, to love, and to pursue happiness following the death of a spouse equated to disrespecting the love you had for the departed. The irony of my convoluted thought process was that not one, single person in my life ever suggested to me anything other than the desire for me to find happiness again following the passing of my husband. My opinions were self inflicted and at times they still haunt me today. 

I went to, Cape Cod, MA, my home away from home this past weekend. This is my favorite place in the entire world. When I think of Cape Cod I think of family, relaxing, joy, peace, energy, and love. When I brought Seth there after we met he immediately fell in love with it. It quickly became a place that he also considered home and something we fondly shared. Since Seth died, prior to this weekend, I have only been back twice. The first time I went I was alone and in my 32 years I felt the most sadness I have ever experienced in my life being there without Seth. Imagine someone taking your favorite memory in the world and erasing it from your mind for good. All you know now is that at one point in time that place in your mind held your most cherished moments and you can never get those back no matter how hard your beg and plead. It is heart wrenching. That is how I felt last year when I visited my family in Cape Cod. Physically I was present, but emotionally I was far from there. In my mind, I could not imagine ever being happy in a place that now held a hole in my heart.

This past weekend was 10 months since I last went to Cape Cod. 10 months since I had those horribly tragic emotional responses. This past weekend, I had so much fun. I was elated and could not wait to tell my family how well I was doing. I got to play with my nieces and nephews, eat dinners with family, and catch up with old friends. I laughed so hard and drank so much that I even I made drunk phone calls and I would do it again to feel that kind of emotional freedom I was experiencing. I was relaxed. I felt at home again in my favorite place on this earth. There is no greater sense of freedom than beating your mind and being able to enjoy the beautiful things in life, as simple as they may be. 

For those of you that have followed my story, you know that nothing can come so easily for my mind. What a wonderful ending this would be if I was simply just happy and content with that. But my mind does not work like that. My mind is constantly going 100 miles per hour. Naturally, when leaving Cape Cod I reflected on my time there and how I finally felt like "me" again. Without fail, I started to wonder what people would think. Would they think that I did not love Seth? Is it okay for me to be happy? Or, am I no better than those other women who I berated early on?

The truth is I am happy and my conclusion is that, that is okay. Actually, my opinion is that it is wonderful. I am not sure why am so hard on myself. I expect nothing short of perfection from myself. Be the perfect daughter, perfect physical therapist, perfect sister, perfect widow. Maybe sometimes it is a good thing. Maybe that is where I get my drive to succeed in life, because I am always pushing for more from myself. But maybe I am my own worst enemy too. Imagine a world where we don't judge ourselves so harshly. Imagine a world where we forgive ourselves and are patient with ourselves.  That sounds like an amazing and peaceful world. Now imagine if we have it in our own control to achieve that. To do so we have to stop judging ourselves. We have to stop caring what other people think. And for widows, we have to start believing that our passed loved ones are nothing short of proud of us. 

I am happy and I know that Seth would want that for me. I have a therapy appointment next week and I am going to ask my therapist to help me re-frame my mindset. I want to believe in my heart that "living" is to honor Seth, but never to forget. I want to carry him with me and allow his legacy to live on through the lessons he taught me. I want to fight for my chance at life like he fought for his. 

"When we struggle to change ourselves we, in fact, only continue the patterns of self-judgement and aggression. We keep the war against ourselves alive." - Jack Kornfield.

I will work on change. I will live, learn to love, and pursue happiness for the both of us. And with time and help, I will end this war against myself. With time and help, I will be happy, and I know that will be exactly what we both want. I am a new widow in the pursuit of happiness. 

Love,
Meredith

"Don't give up. Don't ever give up." ~ Jimmy V.


Seth Jacob Budai Caring Bridge Page

Friday, March 10, 2017

Who Would Marry a Widow?

Thirteen and a half months ago if someone would have told me that I would think about dating again I would have stopped talking to them. The day my husband died I swore off ever being with a man again. What did those people know about me? What did they know about Seth and my love for each other? If they knew anything they would know that what Seth and I had was very special. What Seth and I had could not be replaced. Ever. 

I remember I was talking to my friend and I was complaining about all of the "bad" widows that exist. The kind of widow that posted on social media groups about sleeping with their husbands best friend or being in love with their husbands brother. I called them sluts. I certainly did not understand them. I believed that those woman did not love their husbands like I loved Seth. I thought that those brothers and friends of the deceased husband were bad people. I judged them harshly. 

Fast forward many months later and I actually admitted to myself that I no longer judged those women. In fact I went so far to believe that I could relate to those women. For a period of time the men in Seth's life were the only people, outside of my therapist, that I could talk to about my feelings. Sometimes I could not even articulate to them what my feelings were, but I felt comfortable crying to them when I didn't feel comfortable crying to anyone else. I wanted to be around them. I wanted to talk with them all the time. Although these feelings were platonic, they were also very perplexing to me. I no longer have those confusing thoughts today. I now know that I gravitated to them because they reminded me of Seth. We had connections with Seth that no one else understood. We could relate to each other in a time in my life when I felt very few could relate to me. But they are my friends. Just friends. I am satisfied with that and relieved too. 

As I worked through those feelings though, and as more time has passed, I started to experience other confusing emotions. All of a sudden I didn't want to be alone for the rest of my life. I was barely in my 30's when my husband died and I have so much life ahead of me.  I have worked incredibly hard for the past 13 months to believe that I can still have a bright future in spite of my past. On a good day, I have genuinely accepted that I am not a bad wife for having this urge. Seth would want me to be happy after all, he told me so. This has not been easy. I have experienced the most incredibly intense guilt that a person can feel without having anything to actually be guilty of. You can imagine the internal conflict I experience when I think about dating again. How can I be in love with Seth and have the desire to find a connection like we had, with a different man? It does not make any sense. Just the thought of dating again makes me feel like I am being deceitful. I believe that am not fulfilling my wedding vows to Seth. I must be minimizing the love that we had for each other. I should be content with what we had, which was beautiful, and yet the thought of not sharing that with someone for the rest of my life is heart wrenching. 

I loved being in a marriage with Seth. I would describe our relationship as happy, emotional, spontaneous, fun, frustrating, exciting, funny, relaxing, and exhausting. I feel grateful for our time together and I cannot adequately explain with words the best part of being with him. I was lucky to have someone who I trusted. I was lucky to have someone who I couldn't wait to go to with exciting news and whom I could confide in without judgement. I loved being that person for Seth too. We argued fiercely sometimes. We were not perfect. But we loved even more fiercely and we fought for each other with everything that we had. What we shared cannot be replaced. Ever. 

If our love cannot ever be replaced, can I even have a connection with a man again? Am I selfish for wanting to find love again? Shouldn't I be grateful for what we had and leave well enough alone? And if I did fall in love again, would this mean that I didn't love Seth after all? Or, since our love was so precious could another man ever compare? Could another man even be with me without being compared? 

I recently had a conversation with a friend who stated that he believed other men would be insecure dating me because they would fear that I am always comparing them to Seth. This got me thinking. Is it possible that he is right? Or, could there be a man who is open to my past? Couldn't another man admire my love for Seth? Doesn't my commitment to Seth show that I am a devoted spouse? Is it possible that I could have two loves in my life? Each love a little different and special in their own unique way? Or is it true, that no man could marry a widow?

For my sake, and for the sake of all of the young and old widow(ers) out there, I hope this is not true. I hope that we can have multiple loves in our life without diminishing our feelings for those who came before. I hope that we can have different love stories with different people so that one does not replace another. I hope that someone will love me fully because of my past. I could not be the person that I am today if not for my past. Seth influenced me. Our marriage shaped me. His death impacted me. A person, a marriage, and a death have all converged to influence my person. Except for Seth living, I would not want to change anything. Why would a man want me any other way? 

Last night, I had a very difficult night. Actually, the last few weeks I have been holding on to a lot of stressful thoughts and I couldn't figure out the best way to express myself to relieve me of this anxiety. I kept it to myself. That is what I typically do when I am afraid of how the world will respond to me. On the train yesterday, on my way home from work, I started crying. It was a crowded train cart and yet I felt so alone and isolated. Finally, I reached out and texted my friend. Seth's friend. I did not even express my "secrets." I simply said I was crying and panicking. He did not have much to say, but it felt amazing to say "out loud" that I was not holding it together in that moment. In my last blog I acknowledged that I am trying to be strong. But sometimes even the strongest people fall apart. After finally falling asleep last night I got the best rest that I have had in a few weeks. 

Today I sent a text to one of Seth's family members. It read, "I work real hard to move forward and I know I need to create a new life for myself. I don't want to be alone for 60 years and I know one day I will date again. I am beginning to accept it without feeling like a bad person or wife." I know today is a better day because I could finally admit these thoughts to someone that I care very much about. I could finally admit to those feelings to someone who cared very much about Seth. For those widows and widowers out there, only you can know the true angst of acknowledging this out loud to those who you love and who loved your spouse. It is with such trepidation that I even post this today. I chose to because I know that I am not alone. 

To the fellow widows and widowers that I am writing for, I believe we will get through this. For me, there have been a lot of changes lately as I make efforts to create a new life for myself. Reality is slapping me in the face. It finally hit me that things will truly never be the same as what I had visioned. Seth and I cannot share with each other the future we planned together. We will not have a family together. But this does not mean that my future is not bright. Our love stories with the deceased will never end. They will never be replaced. Ever. If I am to move forward though, I need to start thinking about a future. A new future. A different life. Maybe even a good life. Maybe even a great life. 

I have been thinking more about what my friend said to me. He suggested that other men will experience insecurities when dating me, for fear that I will always be comparing them to Seth. Maybe he is right that I will do that, at least initially, how couldn't I? But isn't that true of anyone dating someone new, even following a breakup? Our past experiences shape us into the people we are today, hopefully for the better. I am proud of my past. I am proud of my relationship with Seth. What an amazing man he was. It must have taken so much courage for him to sit across from me a few days before he passed, look directly into my eyes, and make me promise that I will move forward. He told me to find love again. He told me that he wanted me to have a bright future. My response was that I did not want to talk about it. Then we hugged and kissed. Then I promised him that I would fulfill his wishes, and I genuinely hope that I do. I want to love again. I want to be loved again. I want to give everything that I have to another relationship, because that is what makes love so beautiful. That is what made my love story with Seth so special. My next story will be different. But that love story will be stronger because of my past. It will be our love story. A new love story. And my love for Seth will still never be replaced. Ever. 

Love,
Meredith

"Don't give up. Don't ever give up." ~ Jimmy V.


Seth Jacob Budai Caring Bridge Page







Saturday, February 4, 2017

My Husband Died But My Journey Goes On

One year ago today my husband Seth passed away.

Life has a very strange way of teaching people lessons. When Seth got sick at age 30, I thought that we were being taught some of the most important life lessons one could learn. I learned that life is precious. I learned that no one is immune to adversity. I learned to slow down and I learned to appreciate everything, especially the small things. But on that summer day in 2014, when Seth and I were told that there was a tumor on his sacrum and that he would need to be rushed to Boston for further work-up, I could not have imagined that the lessons had only just begun. I would never truly understand how important these lessons were for another 19 months. 

One year ago to the day, my favorite person passed away in a cold, sterile, hospital room. The week prior he and I had sat down with his doctor to go over his advanced directives. It was his wish not to be put on life support and to die peacefully in our own home. He never did make it home like he had hoped to. Selfishly, I am so glad that he did not because one year later I am finally beginning to feel at peace inside our four walls. As I sat alone with Seth in the hospital room, and the doctor looked at me with those "I'm sorry..." eyes to tell me Seth had passed, I was in such despair that I never thought I would feel at peace again. A month later I moved back into our house and it felt so cold. It felt painfully quiet, eerie, and especially lonely. Today, as I write this I feel a sense of calmness come over me that I thought I may never experience again. One year later I feel the most at peace when I am home. Inside those four walls I can picture Seth sitting at the bottom of the stairs trying unsuccessfully to put his shoes on while the dog is jumping all over him. I shut my eyes and I can see him sleeping peacefully in bed while I was getting ready to leave for work. I would go over to kiss him on the forehead on my way out. In the basement, I can picture us where we lay sprawled out on the floor, bursting with excitement the very night we closed on our house. We were so proud that we had bought on our very first home together and that it was finally ours! When I am inside my house I feel closest to Seth because I am reminded of a beautiful family that loved each other dearly. It was only Seth, the dog, the cat and I. We never did have children together. But we were happy with our little unit that we called family. Selfishly, I am glad that Seth never made it home. Had he been here when he passed, I am not sure that I could find this sense of peace from being home that I now so desperately try to hold on to. 

Over the last year I have have been told over and over again how strong of a woman that I am. It is hard for me to believe that because it has been a long, very exhausting, journey. For days after Seth died I only ate pizza and drank coffee. I slept a lot and quite honestly I don't even remember planning the funeral or the memorial services. Somehow I managed to go back to work, to move back home, and I took care of all of the business needs that are required after someone dies. Looking back, I have no idea how I was capable of doing all of that. The process after someone dies is exhausting, and there is not much help that anyone can give you. When I reflect on all that I accomplished I understand why people consider me strong. But when you are going through this you feel nothing short of a failure. There is a constant feeling that something has been forgotten. Every piece of paperwork that needs to be completed and the accounts that need to be closed take multiple phone calls and multiple attempts to near completion. You begin to wonder why you are so stupid. You cannot understand why things are so difficult and why you don't do them right the first time. For the first year, every action that I took made me feel a tremendous amount of guilt. You wonder, am I honoring Seth right? Does Seth know that I loved him? If I do this, or go there, will other people think that I have moved on? Will people think that I have forgotten my husband? If I feel lonely and think about a day when I might find new love, does this mean I am cheating on my husband? What will our friends and family think of me just for thinking that I am saddened by the loss of sharing my life with someone? Why do I care so much what other people think? Do I really care what other people think or am I just judging myself for my thoughts because I don't want to have them? And so on. The first year has been a very long year filled with worries that I desperately wanted to get out of my head all the while trying to honor my husband while living my own life.

When I started this blog I called it Journeys with Seth. Over time my entries stopped being letters to Seth and opportunities for me to work through my own personal journey. Twelve months ago I thought my journey with Seth had just started, but in reality our journey had just ended and a new path began for me. Despite the anxiety that my inner monologue created, I am so proud of myself for working hard to push forward despite it. And although this is my own life I am paving for myself, I am without a doubt that Seth has been by my side throughout it all.  In 2014 when Seth got Sick he handled the circumstances he was given gracefully. He was grateful for our family, friends, and jobs. He found purpose through the students that he worked with daily. He laughed, he cried, he was stubborn, he got angry, and he fought hard for his life. He fought hard for the people that he loved. He fought hard for me. When I look back on the last 12 months, I realize that I have been strong. I have made mistakes. I have been blindsided by grief. I thought that I figured my feelings out only to find out I don't understand my feelings at all. But I have lived. I have laughed. I have honored Seth. I have loved. And, I have been strong (or so they tell me). Seth taught me what it is to fight for your life, and I have fought. 

On this one year anniversary I am deeply saddened by the loss of my best friend. I cannot believe one year of my life has passed without him by my side. He is still my best friend, how can it be possible that he is gone? After one year, how can this still be so shocking? And yet I am also so amazed by myself. I made it one year and people tell me that I did well. Maybe I did? Maybe these lessons that I have learned have been invaluable. I know that I am lucky for every day that I have been given. I know there are real problems in this world that are worth spending time on and others which are not really problems at all. Seth showed me that we are not always dealt the best hand, but we should fight through it anyway. We should do our best to enjoy the ride because we are only given one life. We are only given one chance to leave an imprint on this world. I hope one day that I can leave half the imprint that my husband left on this world. 

I have read that year two is harder than year one for widows and widowers. I expect that this year will bring me new challenges. But I am done identifying myself as a widow. My husband died one year ago and as we rode in the ambulance to the hospital I promised him that I would be alright. I promised him that I would live my life fully. I promised him that I would be happy again. The term widow is sad. It is a name indicating that I have been hurt. I don't want this challenge to label me. I want it to empower me just as my husband used his challenges to empower him. I want to live my life fully because of my husband. I want to enjoy life for my husband. In this way, I will honor my husband. I imagine that the next year will still be difficult. I am certain I will have my set-backs. But I am also certain that I will get up every single day, put my feet on the ground, and take steps forward to find out who the new Meredith is and what my life has in store for me. In 2014 I learned that life is precious and one year ago my husband reminded me of this tough lesson.

I am so lucky to have had the marriage that I did with Seth. He was kind, sweet, goofy, stubborn as hell, always right (or so he said), smart, loving, and generous. Seth cared about others more than he did of himself. He devoted his life to helping others and to being a wonderful son, brother, husband, etc. He will never go forgotten by me no matter where I go on this journey we call life. Because of my husband I will remain strong. Because of my husband, I know that it is okay to not be okay. But because of my husband, I know that I will be okay. I love you Seth.

Love,
Meredith

"Don't give up. Don't ever give up." ~ Jimmy V.

Seth Jacob Budai Caring Bridge Page




Thursday, December 29, 2016

Journeys With Seth: Can Widows Be Happy?

Journeys With Seth: Can Widows Be Happy?: I started reading a book recently, it is called The Happiness Project. The book, written by Gretchen Rubin, "chronicles her adventures ...

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Can Widows Be Happy?

I started reading a book recently, it is called The Happiness Project. The book, written by Gretchen Rubin, "chronicles her adventures during the twelve months she spent test-driving the wisdom of the ages, current scientific research, and lessons from popular culture about how to be happier." I was at a friends house when I saw the book on her desk and it intrigued me. Only days prior I was in a work meeting and it was asked of me what my personal resolutions were for the upcoming year. The answer that I gave was that I wanted to be content with the unknown, content with the here and now, and to stop looking for who I am but to trust that with time I would figure it out. Or to put it more simply, I just want to be happy. Can a widow be happy? It seems like an oxymoron to use the words happy and widow in the same sentence. 

I have read a lot of self-help and grief books recently. I regularly attend therapy and I just completed a 13 week grief support group series (www.griefshare.org). My personal endeavors have taught me that everyone can be happy, even a widow. The question is how to find happiness. For me that is the most challenging part. I want all of the answers now. I want to know what my happiness looks like. I want to know what my happiness will bring me in the future. And, as silly as this sounds, I want to know that my husband will be happy for me. My entire life I have always looked ten steps ahead. My husband would plead with me to slow down and to just enjoy the moment. I would argue that it was impossible. I was wrong.

In the new year my goal is to calm down, relax, de-clutter, and to enjoy the moment(s) that each day has to offer. In the new year I want to embrace the life I have been given, whatever that may be for me. I want to stop looking ten steps ahead. I want to stop identifying myself as a widow so that I can start to explore my new identity and to be content with not knowing what that may be. But most importantly, in the new year I just want to be happy. 

It is a huge step for me to suggest that I want to be happy. For a long while I experienced a lot of guilt for wanting to move forward with my life when Seth was denied his own. I have spent countless hours speaking with my therapist about the need to find happiness, the need to give love and to be loved again, and to find meaning out my circumstances so that I could use it to push me forward and to shape who I will become. We have also spent countless hours questioning why I judge myself so harshly for wanting these things for myself. She commends me for having the courage to want to find a new meaning for myself. She reminds me that the life I chose to accept moving forward is because of the life I shared with my husband. She encourages me to believe that a bright future can be possible without forgetting my husband. These concepts are very difficult for me. For me it is very black and white. If I move forward, my husband will be forgotten. If I find happiness my husband will assume, as he looks down on me, that I don't love him anymore. 

I realize those thoughts are irrational, but C.S. Lewis wrote it best when he said, "Sorrow...turns out to be not a state but a process...There is something new to be chronicled every day. Grief is like a long valley, a winding valley where any bend may reveal a totally new landscape. As I've already noted, not every bend does. Sometimes the surprise is the opposite one; you are presented with exactly the same sort of country you thought you had left behind miles ago. That is when you wonder whether the valley isn't a circular trench. But it isn't. There are partial recurrences, but the sequence doesn't repeat. Here, for instance, is a new phase, a new loss. I do all the walking I can, for I'd be a fool to go to bed no tired. Today I have been revisiting old haunts, taking one of the long rambles that made me so happy in my bachelor days. And this time the face of nature was not emptied of its beauty and the world didn't look like a mean street. On the contrary, every horizon, every stile or clump of trees, summoned me into a past kind of happiness, my pre-widower happiness. But the invitation seemed to me horrible. The happiness into which it invited me was insipid. I find that I don't want to go back again and be happy in that way. It frightens me to think that a mere going back should even be possible. For this fate would seem to me the worst of all, to reach a state in which my years of love and marriage should appear in retrospect a charming episode - like a holiday - that had briefly interrupted my interminable life and returned me to normal, unchanged...Thus my wife would die to me a second time; a worse bereavement than the first. Anything but that."

When I read this passage I felt relieved. That being happy would mean my husband is forgotten or has "died a second time," is incredibly wrong. But to be validated that I was not alone in thinking this gives me comfort. However, in the new year I do not want to think that anymore. In the new year I want to embrace happiness as something positive. I truly believe, despite the circumstances, that everyone deserves happiness. I deserve to be happy even if this means I have to do so without my husband by my side. I should find happiness because of my past husband. And above all, in order to find happiness, I need to rid myself of irrational thoughts. When my time comes I don't want to look back on my life and have regrets. In her book Gretchen Rubin quoted the writer Colette who said, "What a wonderful life I've had! I only wish I realized it sooner." My husband fought too hard to live through his struggle for me not to embrace such a sentiment. 

So how do you find happiness? That I am not quite yet sure. However, for me it is a step in the right direction just to know that I deserve to be happy. This year, I will spend time on me. Some may call it selfish, but I disagree. In order for me to offer the best version of myself to the world I need to allow myself to find the best version of me. I will probably make mistakes along the way, but I cannot grow without failures. And in 2017 I aspire to grow. I will learn to be happy because of my past. I read a quote recently that I really liked. It said, "The happiest people don't necessarily have the best of everything; they just make the best of everything they have." This year I chose to make the best of everything that I have. Happy new year.

Love,
Meredith

"Don't give up. Don't ever give up."


Seth Jacob Budai Caring Bridge Page



Dear Seth,

I love you and miss you dearly. This morning I woke up crying and really missing you. I could have used a hug and one more "I love you Mere." Only you were not here to give this to me. When I finished crying I thought about what you would tell me to do and I realized I just needed to calm down. I got up, went for coffee and brought a book, and then decided to come home and write. Right now I am relaxed. And even if I am not always okay, I know that I will be. That is the first lesson of my happiness project. It is okay to not be okay, because one day soon I will be. Thank you for teaching me that. Thank you for being there for me this morning, even if only in my mind. I love you.

Love,
Meredith


#SethStrong in California
(Photo courtesy of Shannon Corbey)

#SethStrong in California
(Photo courtesy of Shannon Corbey)

#SethStrong in Maui
(Photo courtesy of Shannon Corbey)




Sunday, November 6, 2016

My 31 Year Old Husband Died: This is Me

To Whomever Wants to Listen,

My husband died nine months ago this past week. Typically I write to him, but today I am writing for me and for other young widows. In the last nine months I have had many periods of clarity and moments of uncertainty. I have written that there is no greater truth than grief is a roller coaster and I genuinely believe that. And yet, every time I am living intense grief it is as though I am genuinely perplexed that this would happen to me again. It is true that these moments are further apart. For that reason I think I am taken by even greater surprise when I just cannot seem to pull myself together.

When my husband first died, I was living with his brother and my sister in-law. After the funeral I bounced around to his parents house, my parents, my siblings, and back to his brothers for another week while I returned to work. After a week of working I went back home to the house that I shared with my husband. I have wonderful people in my life who stayed with me until I was ready to be alone. I knew when I was ready because I was sick of "hosting." Not a single person made me feel as though I needed to host them, in fact they were all there to please me and not the other way around. But after some time it becomes exhausting sharing your home with other people. Shortly after becoming a widow everything seems exhausting. So I thanked them and sent them on their way. I was ready to be alone in the house where I once lived with my husband, or so I thought.

Since becoming a widow I have learned that I have no idea what I am ready for or what I want out of  my life. The only thing I am sure of is that I miss my husband. The uncertainty is the infuriating part of this journey. When my friends stopped staying with me and I thought I was ready to figure out my life, I went crazy planning out the next six months. I signed up for every athletic event that I could, much of which was for charities raising money for cancer or my husbands scholarship fund, and I traveled all over the US to visit family and friends. During the week I would stay at work late to avoid going home or I would train for the athletic events with my friends, spending as little time home alone as possible. It was about two months ago that I learned that I was avoiding life rather than trying to figure life out. I was doing what I needed to do for myself to get through the first year without my husband. But for the last two months I have been exhausted and counting down the day until I would be done traveling out of state for a prolonged period of time. That day is today and I could not be more relieved. 

There is a sense of peace in knowing that I am not going anywhere for a while. I am satisfied that I can stay in my own home and start figuring out my life as it is now without my husband. The last nine months are not a true reflection of my new life as a widow. They were sad and fun and filled with many good and challenging times, but it was not a realistic long term plan. I am really looking forward to finally being alone in my house to figure out my life. I am aware that the phrase "looking forward to" is odd to use. But the fact is, no matter how much I miss my husband, he is not coming back to life on earth and things will never be as they once were. I am no longer the same person. I started changing the day he was diagnosed with cancer and even more so since the day that the doctor looked me in the eyes and confirmed my worst fears without even saying anything at all. I am ready to find out who the new me is and where this journey will take me. I think?

Two months ago when I realized the end of my planned chaos was in sight, I began to feel hopeful again about my life. I started believing that I could have a bright future and all the while still remember and honor my husband and what we shared together. I was looking forward to the opportunity to be lonely in my house, to miss my husband, and to grow from these experiences. I believed that I have to experience my feelings and stop avoiding them if I am to move forward from them. I was excited for this opportunity because it seemed to me that there would be a light at the end of the tunnel. I was fearless and ready to work on my own personal growth as a single, widowed, adult. That is, I was ready, until two weeks ago. 

All of a sudden two weeks ago it hit me that the end of the chaos was quickly approaching. I was so excited and yet this incredible fear also took over. Suddenly I could not sleep at night, just like when my husband first died. Lack of sleep resulted in exhaustion and I started forgetting to take my anxiety medication. I was having trouble concentrating at work and relying on others to keep me sane.  This caused me intense grief. I had been so proud of myself for "doing so well," and yet I was starting to crumble right before my own eyes. A good friend assured me that this was "normal." He asked me why I put too much pressure on myself to "do a good job," and he reminded me that I could successfully move forward all the while still missing my husband. But I was still scared and disappointed in myself. I wondered if I would ever really be ready to move forward. Six days ago, when I saw the headstone for my husband was put up at the cemetery, I felt hopeless. All of my hard work to "move forward" seemed for nothing. In a moment of panic I truly wondered if I would ever be happy again. 

For the last six days, I have been taking my anxiety medication religiously. My friends, including one who is a psychologist, told me I should consider taking it for a full year following my husbands death. I expect I will need it for longer, but I have no shame in that. I feel so much better than I did six days ago. I feel happy again and I feel ready to take on this challenge we call life. I anticipate that I will have times of grief, some days more than others, and I know that this does not mean I am "crazy," or "regressing." At a support group I go to the leader told us we have grief because we had love. Maybe grief is not such a bad thing. Maybe I am lucky to grieve because this means that I was lucky to love and to be loved. Maybe this is a tumultuous process that I will continue to go through. But maybe in the end I will truly believe that it was better to have loved than to not have loved at all. I think that I will. Tomorrow is a new day and I am ready for it. I am feeling so much better than I was a week ago and I am proud of myself for making it through these rough times. I know they will happen again, but I hope that as I move forward I learn that this too shall pass. I believe that the new me will find peace in knowing that one day. Until then I will simply do the best that I can at being me, whomever that is.

Love,
Meredith












Thursday, August 25, 2016

Grief is a Bitch

Let's just get to the point. Grieving is a real bitch. I think it is safe to say that everyone can agree about this. I think we also know that grief is very different depending on who has passed away and their relationship with you in life. Two years and three months ago, to the day, I went to Seth's grandmothers funeral. She died from congestive heart failure and wounds. Eleven months before Seth died I went to Father Dennis' funeral. He was the priest that married Seth and I. He died of ALS. Four months later I went to my 93 year old grandmothers funeral. She died because she was old. And of course, I went to Seth's funeral almost seven months ago. In two years and three months I have been to four funerals. Each of these four people had their own special place in my heart. Each of these people influenced me and each of their deaths had their own unique impact on me as well. 

Four people in my life died and I have grieved in four different ways. In all of these instances I have grown and loved in new ways. In all of these instances I have recovered in a remarkably different manner. Our grandmothers were old. And although we both felt a tremendous loss when they died, we also appreciated that they both lived long, fulfilling lives, and there was peace in knowing that. We understood from the day we were young children and grasped the concept of death and dying that this would happen in our life. We prepared ourselves for this and we appreciated every moment we got with our grandparents because we knew they were precious. I did not see Father Dennis very often when I dated Seth, as I never lived in Pittsburgh during that time. However; in the time I did spend with Father Dennis he taught me a lot about life. Seth and Father Dennis are responsible for the faith that I have developed as an adult. No matter what was going on in your life, Father Dennis' Sunday sermons resonated with you. He had a magical way of bringing you back down to earth and teaching you what matters in life. He had a remarkable way of reminding you to be grateful for what you had. When he died I was grateful for the lessons that he taught me. I was grateful for what I had. 

The death of a spouse is something unimaginable. I assume that the death of spouse that you only had the privilege of being married to for 2.5 years is very different than that of losing a spouse that you were married to for 50 years. I cannot imagine the loss of someone I was married to for 50 years. I am sure it is devastating and I do not think it would be right for me to say otherwise. I feel sad for anyone that experiences this loss, regardless of the circumstances. But, much like the other deaths I witnessed in the last few years, I imagine the experiences are different. However different they may be, I still think we can all agree that grief is a bitch.

Since Seth has died I have done remarkably well and I have also been a disaster. In the grieving world this is referred to as the "roller coaster," of grief. It seems so cliche to say that, but the fact of the matter is, there is no better description for the grieving process. When I was a child I loved roller coasters. The higher the roller coaster and the more loops the better it was. As an adult, when approaching a roller coaster I become nervous. As the cart creeps to the top of the first peak I feel a sense of impending doom. I imagine all of the things that could go wrong and start to freak out that I made a mistake getting on that roller coaster in the first place. Almost seconds later the roller coaster passes over the hill and starts rushing through the sky and I am in heaven. I love the speed and the surprise waiting around the next corner. I am reminded that it will be okay and part of the fun in life is the rush of not knowing. As soon as I get off I want to get on again because roller coasters are actually incredibly fun. 

The grief roller coaster is not exactly the same. Sometimes the highs are incredible and you feel over the moon. Other times the lows are so low and you never know if you will make it back up the hill top to see what is around the corner. With grief, the roller coaster is no longer a ride. The roller coaster is now real life and you need to figure out strategies to get over the next peak and around the next bend. At the theme park, once you realize how great the ride is, you get on over and over because you cannot get enough of it. Eventually you know what is coming and you don't have to be afraid anymore. In life you don't get that right. In life you have to be content with the unknown.With grief, you have no other choice. Grief is the scariest roller coaster that I have ever faced in life.

Since Seth has died I have been amazed by myself. Hell, since Seth got sick I have amazed myself and when he got sick he amazed me too. Quite frankly when shit got real, we gave shit hell. We rocked at living life together despite some of the toughest circumstances that life can throw at you. Sometimes I really need to remind myself of this as I plummet to the bottom of the roller coaster and feel like there is no way I can make it back to the top. Sometimes I need people to remind me of this when I cannot remind myself. Those are my lowest lows and those are the times I am afraid to ask for that reminder the most. 

When I was a kid I used to get sick from stress. Every single school year, without fail, I would get stressed and become sick as the fall approached. I had shingles two times before I even graduated from high school. That is an older person disease, not a teenager disease! That is also something people get from stress. I see this all the time at work with my patients. We get kids that are so overwhelmed with the pressures of life and they have no ability or skills to express themselves emotionally so their issues manifest in physical ways. When I was a freshman in college I imagine my parents wondered how I would handle the change. Hell, I moved 500 miles away from home with not one single friend and decided of all things to do, that I should enter a doctorate program. Without a doubt they wouldn't have been concerned about my work ethic, that was never in question. But I imagine they wondered how I would handle myself when I became overwhelmed as that was something that I was never very good at. 

Freshman year, first semester, I did not do very well. In fact my grades were so bad I lost my academic scholarship that I received before going to college. I worked my ass off, but the biology classes crushed me. I would have preferred to major in chemistry anyway. After losing my scholarship the school gave me only one semester to bring my grades up in order to receive it for the remaining three years of undergrad. My parents also only gave me one semester because after that they would not be sending me to an overpriced private university without a scholarship. I should also mention that if I did not get my GPA to the required average to get into physical therapy school I would be kicked out of my doctoral program. I had until the end of the second semester junior year to do that. It sounds like I had a lot of time to earn my way back into the program, but those first semester grades were bad, really bad. From that point forward I learned that I had two choices in life, "to do" or "not to do." I chose "to do," and I learned that I was the only one that was responsible for making sure that I could. I have never worked harder in my life than to get my grades up and I did. I got my scholarship back, I earned my keep in the PT program that had accepted me in high school and I kicked ass in PT school. "Doing" became my personality and gave me drive. 

Thus far in life, I have done very well "doing." I work my ass off to achieve my goals. So in hindsight, when Seth got sick, it is no wonder that I "did!" The only difference was that I had a new goal in life, get Seth better! The problem was, I actually had no control over that. Nobody did, not even the doctors. Seth worked his ass off and he fought hard. He changed his diet, he exercised, he worked, he socialized with family and friends (mental health checks), he took 41 rounds of radiation and 19 (I think, it is actually all mixed up in my head now) rounds of chemotherapy like a champ! Seth "did" and I was right there beside him encouraging him and loving him all the way. But he died anyway, and it was not fair. I am so angry that this happened to him. I am so angry that this happened to me. Loss is a bitch and the grief that ensues is the ugly step-sister. 

Imagine how much sadness one feels when they are not good at "doing" anymore. Imagine how much guilt one feels when they remember their husbands unwavering strength and they cannot even get up the hill from the bottom of the roller coaster. Imagine how alone you feel when you cannot even "talk" to your own husband anymore because you feel you are not handling yourself well or honoring him in the way that he deserves. Imagine how stressful it is when all of this makes you feel weak and you hate that because when you were at the top of the hill you were so proud of yourself for being so strong and "doing." Imagine that...

I put a lot of pressure on myself as I deal with grief. I assume there are ways that I should feel or that people want me to feel. I spend too much time caring about what other people might think. But mostly, it comes down to the fact that I am constantly second guessing myself. I am constantly worried that I am not honoring Seth. I am constantly worried that my fears and anxieties are proof that I did not actually love Seth. I go so far as to convince myself that I am a bad wife. Sometimes I believe, that I did not deserve him. This is not very easy for me to say out loud. This is why I have taken to writing. Writing is non-judgmental. People are judgmental. Mostly - I am judgmental of myself. Recently I have opened up to a few people but only after experiencing such intense anxiety that I finally have to spit it out in the most awkward and strange ways. I am not good at verbalizing my emotions because I am ashamed to have them. I say I am afraid of what people will think. But the truth is, I am afraid of what I will think when I hear the thoughts that escape from my mouth.

I recently went on vacation. Before I went on vacation I started struggling with a few feelings that I was having. All of a sudden I had overwhelming guilt. I know this is not rationale, but I cannot turn off feelings of guilt. I have read that other widows feel guilt too. I am not sure if that makes me feel better or makes me feel like this hell will never end. Either way, I guess it is good to know that I am not alone. I wish I could say there was just one thing I feel guilty about, but the list is longer than that. As soon as I feel better about one topic something else consumes my mind and voids me of my energy. The roller coaster keeps going and I just cannot stop it. Previously I was afraid to post this publicly. But after being encouraged by my friends I know now that I should not be feeling guilt. I was also recently encouraged to stop making excuses and get my feelings off of my chest. These are very personal but I have decided to open up because I know I cannot be alone. Maybe I can encourage another widow by allowing her to feel these thoughts and letting her know that she is not alone. And maybe if I opened up, people would actually tell me I am strong. And maybe I just need another reminder that I am not crazy, that I am strong, and that I am "doing." Maybe I need a reminder that even while I am kicking ass, I will have my down moments too and this is okay. Sometimes I only need one person to reassure me. Other times I need a million strangers that read my blog to reassure me because that is not as scary as saying it out loud to myself or to the people that I love.

Before I went on vacation this is what I was feeling...

     1. Guilt about the last three days of Seth's life. 
     2. Guilt that I am doing well "living." This is what I will talk about today.

2. When I am not worrying about those last days with Seth, I am doing very well. And thus, there is guilt that I am doing well "living."

I promised Seth that I would be okay after he died. We talked about what I would do once he passed away. I told him that I would be sad, but that I would also be okay. I have written about all of the things I have done since he passed away. I have traveled on vacation. I have gone swimming in Cape Cod. I started a scholarship fund. His brother and I gave away $5,000 to graduating seniors from WMHS in his honor. I got a promotion at work. I signed up for a half marathon. I am swimming a mile in his honor for the Johns Hopkins Cancer Center. I am riding my bike 100 miles along side my incredible patients. I am traveled across the country. I created a team in his honor at the annual Pittsburgh Sarcoma Run. I am working on three quilts with his clothing. One for me, one for his parents, and one for his brother. I have truly been living. 

Sometimes I am incredibly proud of myself for living life to the fullest. When I am being rationale I know that is what he wanted me to do. Hell, this is what he did when he was facing cancer! He was not afraid to die, but Seth was worried about me after he died. I made him a promise that I would be okay and I have been doing my best to keep it. I have been working hard to be patient and genuine with myself and it has been helping. I smile, I laugh, and I enjoy my time with family and friends. I am doing what he asked of me, and yet I feel worried of what he will think. I feel guilty that I am not hating my life. I feel guilty that I am doing too well. 

Sometimes all I want to do is hate life. I want to sit at home and cry without an end in sight and just feel the emotion of missing Seth. Sometimes I feel like if I do that than I will be remembering him better. If I do that I will be honoring Seth better. If I could only be non-functional then he would look down on me and know that I truly care about him. He would know that I love him.  But I cannot do that. I don't hate life. Sometimes I think life is a real bitch. Sometimes I think that life is not fair. Sometimes I am angry, but I don't hate life. And I cannot sit at home and cry all day, it is just not like me to do so. Even though I write a lot of emotion on paper, I am not a very outwardly emotional person. It is not in me to stay at home and cry all day. Some might call it denial, but my coping mechanism is to keep pushing forward. My coping mechanism is to keep myself so busy that before I know it I am doing "okay." Sometimes I feel really guilty about my coping mechanism. Sometimes my coping mechanism fails because I become tired and com-bust anyway. Sometimes I can't sleep because I am consumed with praying to Seth. I am consumed with telling him that I do still love him, even though I am doing "too" well.

That is what I was feeling guilty about before I went on vacation. Then I went on vacation and I had so much fun. I felt such a sense of relief. I spoke with my friends and they assured me that I was not crazy, well not for the reasons that I thought anyway.  Although neither one could personally understand my feelings they recognized that they were mine to have. But they both agreed that I was nuts to care what other people think. We also agreed that the true problem was not what people think of me, but rather what I think of me. We agreed that I was being ridiculous. I mean rationally, I totally get it. Of course I love Seth. Living my life has nothing to do with that. Thinking about my future has nothing to do with that. I am actually living because of him! My sister in-law told me that Seth wanted me to live. Hell, only a few paragraphs ago I wrote that! She reminded me that only one week before he passed away, when he was feeling ill and relying on a wheelchair, he still got dressed and forced me out of the house to go to work to be filmed for a documentary on a patient that I had worked very hard to help - and he came with me! Duh, all of a sudden I was reminded that I was being absolutely crazy. 

Although vacation was good and I got some sense knocked into me, the first two days since I have been back to the grind have been challenging - the roller coaster effect. In a matter of days I was back at the bottom of the hill, albeit only a small one this time. Maybe I am not doing "too good," afterall. Maybe I am just riding the roller coaster just like I am supposed to be. This is the part of the roller coaster that I don't like. This is the part of grief that is a bitch. This is the unknown part. This is very difficult for me to grasp because I am a planner. I like to know what is coming. I make plans and I "do!" But the fact is I cannot know what is coming. All I can do is work hard to take care of me and supply myself with the tools that I need in order to face the next hill, the next valley, and the next curve in the roller coaster. All I can do is remember that I am strong and that I have people to go to when I feel I cannot be. All I can do is keep on keeping on. Eventually the roller coaster will not be so hard because I will have practice. I will know what to expect and I will be confident in myself to handle the things that I cannot.  

~ Meredith



#SethStrong in Oregon ~ Courtesy of Vacation with the Betts


#SethStrong in Portland, Oregon ~ Courtesy of Vacation with the Betts

That time my friend convinced me to go sky diving while in vacation in Seattle, WA. - but I would do it again! If nothing else it taught me that I can conquer my fears. It was also super fun. Seth would have loved it!

I just love this picture of Seth and I. :)


Dear Seth,

I love you Seth. I hope you know that I will always love you. I hope you know that you made the world a better place. I hope you know that you taught me courage and strength and faith. You taught everyone so much and you made a difference in this world. People carry you with them everywhere they go. You were the one that knew me the best. I hope that you still do know me best. I hope that you know above all else that I think at night when the rest of the world sleeps, is that I love you. I love you so very much.

You've been traveling a lot this summer, I included some pictures to show you. Enjoy. :) 

Love,
Meredith


American Cancer Society Relay for Life ~ Courtesy of the Seeman Family
Luminaires - American Cancer Society Relay for Life


The Seeman family honored you along side their grandfather, "Fuzzy."
Saratoga, NY ~ Photo courtesy of Erin Michael
Hatteras, NC OBX ~ Photo Courtesy of Erin Michael
Corrola, NC OBX ~ Photo courtesy of cousin Jeff
Corrola, NC OBX ~ Photo courtesy of cousin Jeff
Ocean City, MD ~ Photo courtesy of Aunt Kathy
Florida ~ Photo courtesy of cousin Lynn
View photo in message
Mount Hale, NH ~ Picture Courtesy of Amy and Jeff
"Don't give up. Don't ever give up." ~ Jimmy V.

"You beat cancer by how you live, why you live, and the manner in which you live." ~ Stuart Scott

Seth Jacob Budai Caring Bridge Page