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

 





Thursday, July 21, 2016

Cancer Changes Everything

This  blog post, like "Married Without a Spouse," is a different type of entry. This blog post was prompted by me breaking down so hard on Sunday that it brought me to my knees in tears. This post is prompted by my hatred of cancer. To put it mildly, cancer sucks. Cancer is one of the most awful, dreadful, confusing, heart wrenching diseases and on July 1, 2014 cancer changed our lives forever.

I have been doing well. In fact I was doing really well. I still miss Seth, that goes without saying, but I have been living my life fully and honoring him all the while. I started exercising semi-regularly and it is such a stress relief for me. I went on a vacation, although I did not take one single picture. This was the first time taking a vacation without Seth. This year I didn't think my time spent at the Cape was worth chronicling. Without Seth, it simply was not the same. I've been to Pittsburgh again and I created a team and designed shirts (with help from family) for a sarcoma run/walk. Team #SethStrong had at least 40 participants! I was doing really well.

My parents came to visit me this past weekend. It was great having them here to visit, but deep down inside of me I felt a void. Seth should have been here. My parents came for a specific reason, they planned to go with me to purchase furniture in PA. Seth and I picked out this furniture shortly after we got married. We went to buy it last October until Seth received bad news and then we canceled the order. Seth thought we shouldn't spend the money. He would say to me, "you will need this." It was heartbreaking that he needed to worry about that. He was always so selfless too, worrying more about me than himself, even in the face of cancer.

The last three nights that Seth and I were in our house together, before he was admitted to the hospital for the very last time, we slept in the basement. Seth slept on the couch and I slept on the chair. He was too tired to walk up the stairs and in too much pain. One afternoon he hallucinated that there were people in the basement with us. He asked, "what are those men doing over there?" He immediately came to, but it worried me none the less. When I addressed this he vehemently refused for me to call the doctor. He did not want to go to the hospital. Imagine the conflict this created for us. We got into our very last fight that day. I was so angry at Seth. He didn't understand that I was scared to be alone with him. I was afraid if something happened that I would no longer have the emotional capacity to hold it together. It had been a long 19 months and I was terrified. But how could I argue with him? He had so little control over what was happening to his body. We both struggled with this conflict. On one hand we both knew he should go to the hospital. On the other hand it was a one time incident and he had a doctor appointment two days later and would talk with the doctor on the phone the very next day. Reluctantly I did not argue anymore. I knew Seth needed to have some control and Seth knew I was not really angry with him. He knew that I was scared. We were both scared. 

Since I have returned home I hate going into my basement. Seth was such a creature of routine. We spent every single Friday we possibly could catching up on DVR, watching movies, and eating pizza downstairs in our basement. We rarely went out on a Friday night and we preferred staying in together over making plans with our friends. We loved relaxing with each other on Friday nights, it was our thing. Since returning home I rarely get to relax. I make plans constantly because it is a coping mechanism of mine to stay busy, but it is exhausting. I want to stop being so busy, but at the same time I thrive on it to keep me distracted from being in the house without Seth. 

A home is supposed to be a retreat. I am incredibly lucky to own a house and to be able to keep it even with the loss of one income. And although I am grateful for this, I also hate it at the same time. As I have said before our house no longer feels like a home. When I go into my basement I can picture Seth laying down on the couch in pain and discomfort. I can hear his voice and the fear when we were arguing about what to do when there were "men in our basement." When I go into the basement it brings me to tears that the very last memory of that space is of Seth suffering and not of us doing our regular Friday night routine. It breaks my heart that we argued down there during those last few days in our home together. I absolutely hate the basement. What was once a retreat for us to relax with each other and catch up on our favorite TV shows, is now a space that I find incredibly lonely and sad.

I bought a new couch for the basement. I thought it would help me if I made a change. I got the house painted. The painter completed all of the remaining rooms that Seth and I never got to because he became sick. When my parents came we went to PA and I purchased the hutch and the matching buffet cabinet that Seth and I picked out to go with our dining table. Seth and I picked out all of the furniture and the paint colors too. We were slowly getting to the painting room by room and we had finally saved enough to buy the basement couch when he got sick and he did not want to spend the money. Last Halloween, even after Seth got sick the second time, he was doing incredibly well. He defied the odds when he responded to chemotherapy like he did. We felt like we could be positive. We felt that it was very possible that he would have a future and that he would beat the cancer. We went to Lancaster, PA together to purchase that furniture for our dining space. We started doing all of the things that we had planned to do in our house when we first bought it but had put off because of saving for our wedding and then because of cancer. Cancer changed everything but we thought we were finally taking back control. We were wrong.

The complicated thing about losing your spouse is that in one instance you believe what you are doing to cope is good for you and yet immediately thereafter you feel you have made a huge mistake. I was so excited about the new couch when I bought it, but this was a great source of anxiety for me leading up to the delivery. All of a sudden it broke my heart to get rid the old furniture and to replace it with something new. The bad memories of Seth and I in the basement were still memories of Seth none the less. In my mind I was erasing all of the good by making these changes. I originally bought the basement furniture for my first apartment. Seth helped me to pick it out and I can picture him in the store sitting on the over-sized chair with his legs on the ottoman. He said to me, "this will be my chair." I always gave him a hard time about this because as it turned out he always wanted to be the one to get the couch and I had to sit on the chair. He didn't care though, he just smiled when I brought it up. All of a sudden getting rid of the furniture meant getting rid of all of those memories. 

It has been some time since the new couch arrived and I have moved on. I am no longer feeling guilty for replacing the furniture and I realize that these changes I am making do not replace Seth or erase my memories of our time together. Naturally I have not yet found a person that wants to buy my old furniture so now I have enough seating in my basement for 20 people and it is just me, the dog, and the cat. Seth would just go nuts if he saw the basement in its current state, it actually makes me laugh. As for the dining furniture, I am excited for that! I wish that Seth was here to see it in our house, because I know he would love it. The furniture that Seth and I picked out together is absolutely beautiful. But it is the memory of that October day that Seth and I originally went to purchase the furniture that makes me look forward to getting it. It was the very last time we took that drive to PA together. We got iced coffee and took off on the road for a ride. I loved our car rides together. It was like our life just slowed down and all we had on our minds was enjoying our time with each other. That day, after we confirmed all of the furniture purchases, we spent the afternoon in Lancaster going into shops. On the way home we stopped at Primanti's for dinner. For those that do not know, it is a Pittsburgh favorite and finally they had built a restaurant somewhat near us. Seth was so excited to go to a hometown favorite, we both were. That memory brings smiles to my face.  I loved that day. I wish Seth could have been with my parents and I last weekend too. He would have had fun. 

After my parents pulled out of my neighborhood last weekend, I broke down. I was taken aback because I have not cried uncontrollably in a long time. I miss Seth terribly, but I have been living on auto-pilot and there is no time for crying. When your spouse dies, whether you are 31 or 91, life still goes on. People constantly tell me that they are amazed by my strength and how I carry on. But the reality is, life does not care. The bills need to be paid and the dog needs to be fed because the world does not stop for a grieving widow. In fact much of the world forgets that I am a grieving widow. Not to mention, there is no other healthy option for me. Cancer changed everything. Life without Seth is not what I had dreamed of for myself. But a life spent grieving is not what Seth wants for me either. I remind myself of that every single day when I make a choice to get up and live life fully. By making this choice I know I am honoring Seth, although it frequently makes me feel guilty for enjoying moments without him. Is the theme starting to become clear? This roller coaster of emotions is exhausting.  

Although I am incredibly strong, what people don't see is that I do have my moments. The poor saps who do receive my rambling text messages in those moments must think I am going crazy.  But the truth is these "moments" have been infrequent. I work my ass off every single day to make Seth proud and I know I have been doing a good job. It takes so much energy to do well. It would be easier to sleep all day, gorge on ice cream, and to feel pity for myself. I even think I would have less guilt if I lived like that. Then Seth would really know how much I miss him, right? When I broke down after my parents left it was both dreadful and surprisingly good. Every now and then you need a good cry to remind you that doing well does not mean you have forgotten those who have passed. On the flip side, after having a few days of struggling you start to feel like a failure and you begin to wonder if you will ever rally again. The grief from this past Sunday spread into Monday and then into Tuesday. This grief got me thinking...Cancer changed my life. 

A few weeks ago I turned 32. This was also the 2nd anniversary of the day that Seth was diagnosed with cancer while we were on vacation. What most people do not know is that Seth and I had planned to stop taking measures to prevent from having a child when we returned from our vacation that year. We had planned to start trying for a family. It was only days after Seth was diagnosed that we learned we would not have biological children of our own. We grieved this loss, but we grew from it too. Our goals changed from having our own biological children to Seth surviving cancer. We became grateful for what we did have because cancer taught us that life is precious. Shortly after Seth went into remission we started actively exploring adoption. We quickly learned that no agency would work with us unless we had a doctors note saying that Seth would have an "average" life expectancy. His doctor could not write that note. Yet again, cancer changed everything and we stopped looking into adoption. We were reminded that we should be lucky for what we already had and that having each other was enough. When Seth died, cancer changed that too.  

When I broke down after my parents visited it was because this time they were not leaving Seth and I. This time, they were leaving me here all by myself. This was the first time my parents came and left and I was all alone. I realized, this is my life now. Cancer changed my dreams. Cancer took Seth's life. And although I remain grateful for all that I have learned of myself and of life, I was heartbroken. I am exhausted from these constant changes in my mood and from working so hard to live this new life. I am angry that the plans I thought I had for my life, which included Seth, are no more. I know my life will move forward and I know that is what Seth would want. I know that the possibilities are limitless and I cannot predict what will come for me. I assume my life will end up well but I cannot imagine this without Seth in it. I had plans for my life. Seth had plans for his life. Cancer changed our plans. Cancer changed everything. I hate cancer. For a few days I could only stop crying to go to work.

On Tuesday night I went to yoga. I needed that. Not only were the preceding days emotionally draining, I was also experiencing significant pain from arthritis. Yoga provided physical and emotional relief. Yesterday I went to a financial planner. This is the greatest relief I have felt in almost six months since Seth passed away. I have been worried about money and I have been living like I still have two incomes. I knew at some point this needed to stop, but emotionally I was not ready. If I wanted to book a million flights this summer to go to Atlanta, Nashville, or Boston, or Portland, or Seattle, then I was going to without regard for reality. Emotionally, I knew I needed these vacations. I do not regret this and I still plan to go to California next summer. However, I have also been feeling incredible angst knowing full well that at some point I needed to be responsible. When I left the meeting with the financial planner I felt as though a weight was lifted off my shoulders. Finally, I was taking a step in the right direction. I was making a plan and even if it meant hard work and picking up extra shifts I knew I would be okay. 

Cancer took away Seth's life, cancer is still fighting with too many other people that I cannot even count, and cancer changed my life. I hate cancer. But as the financial planner and I discussed my goals I realized I could still have a future. There is still a life for me and I am so incredibly lucky for that. My life will not be measured by my furniture choices, it will not be measured by the changes I have made in my house or the number of times I cry or do not cry over Seth. My life will be better because of Seth. My life will not be what I had envisioned when I married Seth. Cancer took our life from each other. I will always remember Seth, but cancer changed everything and my life will go on. Yesterday I felt really good about this, what a relief.

On the contrary, today was difficult. This was so disheartening because I really felt I turned a corner yesterday. When I was driving to work and as I felt defeated this morning I was reminded of a meditation session I went to at a Buddhist Center following Seths death. There was something in the lesson that day which really resonated with me. We learned to be patient with ourselves. We learned we are hardest on ourselves but we need not to judge ourselves. Tonight I decided to write. I decided I will be patient with myself. I will not pass judgment on how I am doing coping. I know that I will have my bad days for months, maybe even years to come. But I know I am capable of good days too. Cancer changed my life but I have the opportunity to change it as well. I will be patient with myself and only God knows what the future holds. Cancer changed everything and it took Seth, but it cannot shatter my hope. Tonight I will go to bed peacefully remembering Seth and tomorrow I will wake up with hope for a better day.

Love,
Meredith

"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


"SethStrong" in Vietnam ~ Photo courtesy of Sarah Greenemeier
"SethStrong" in Vietnam ~ Photo courtesy of Sarah Greenemeier
I did take one picture Cape Cod after all. This is a picture of our wedding day in the ice cream shop where we took photos. Our photographer Neal Ernstrom sent this to the ice cream shop and I found it up there this summer!
Team "SethStrong" at Pittsburgh Cure Sarcoma 5k
 


Team "SethStrong" goes to the Pittsburgh Pirates Game!

"SethStrong" in Pittsburgh at a Pirates game.
"BudaiStrong" in Spain at the foot of a cross ~ Photo courtesy of Paige Bourne
"BudaiStrong" in Spain at the foot of a cross ~ Photo courtesy of Paige Bourne
"SethStrong in Toronto, Canada at a Bluejays game ~ Photo courtesy of Kaitlin and Barrett
"SethStrong" in Toronto, Canada at a Bluejays game ~ Photo courtesy of Kaitlin and Barrett




Thursday, June 16, 2016

Are There Birthdays In Heaven?

Dear Seth,

I have not written to you in a while. Honestly, I had a very difficult time coping for five weeks after I last wrote. It rained here a lot. I was tired and I could not bring myself to blog until this week. I have a lot of excuses. I need to stop making excuses. I have a lot of questions. I need to stop thinking questions in my head that cannot be answered. It is a waste of energy, I know that. But I do want to know, are there birthdays in heaven?

I went to Atlanta to visit Matt, Mandy and the kids eight weeks ago. Did you know they had their little boy? They named him Latham Seth, after you. He is adorable and you would just love him! It was so much fun to see them and to play with the kids. They offered to bring me to the places that you and I visited in 2008. I declined the offer though, it made me too sad.

I remember when you visited me in Atlanta when I was there for a clinical rotation in PT school. It was so much fun! That weekend was when I fell in love with you. That was the weekend that I knew I wanted to be married to you for the rest of my life. We did get married. I just never imagined that it would only be for the rest of your life, cut way too short.

Stone Mountain ~ 2008
 Atlanta Aquarium ~ 2008

Atlanta ~ 2016
(#SethStrong bracelet that Matt made when you got sick)

I had a lot of fun that weekend in Atlanta, and then I went home. This marked the beginning of three very difficult weeks for me. When I walked into our empty, quiet, house I burst into tears. I cried as hard as I did just before your funeral when they closed your coffin and I saw you in the flesh for the very last time. It was awful. The house was so silent. Did you know that silence is excruciatingly loud? It screams in your face that your life is forever different. Silence reminds you that the place you once felt so at home will never be the same. I miss the sound of your breathing. I miss the sound of you walking around in our house, letting me know that you were here. I miss the sound of your laugh or your voice when we talked every night while we ate dinner together. I miss the sound of us laying next to each other in bed even when we weren't saying anything at all. The silence is painfully loud.

Being a widow is one of the most draining hands that I have been dealt in my short life. People describe grief as a roller coaster. There are highs and there are lows. I do everything I can to remain distracted, to convince myself that I am happy. I invest my all into work, I make plans with friends for dinner, I exercise when I have time. And the truth is, I do have fun. Sometimes I have a lot of fun. But never the less, there is always a sense of sadness and pain lingering in my mind because I miss you so terribly much.

I've been to Pittsburgh again. There was a bowling fundraiser hosted by the Seemans. It was a lot of fun. Some of the proceeds went to the Susan G. Komen Foundation, in honor of their beloved grandfather. The rest of the funds went to your scholarship. It was very generous of them.  

Raffle Item Josh Won at the Bowling Fundraiser ~ 2016
I visited you every day that I was in Pittsburgh. When I was a kid I was afraid of cemeteries. Now I find peace at cemeteries. That is not normal for a 31 year old. Nothing is normal though. Nothing is what I had planned for myself at this juncture in my life. But that is the big lesson right? You cannot plan life, you just need to live it as though every day is your last. That much I know is true.

Jackson visiting his dad ~ 2016
Recently I went to a fundraiser hosted by one of my patients. The event raised money for a piece of equipment that has the potential to help a lot of people with spinal cord injury. At this event they showed a video about what this equipment means to the patients. In the video the patients shared stories of who they were before they sustained a spinal cord injury and how that all changed the instant that their independence was stripped from them. With the blink of an eye, life as they knew it would never be the same. My patient said something that really resonated with me. When speaking to the audience about his experience he said, "I've really had a good time." He followed this by laughing. Obviously he did not mean that he enjoyed sustaining a spinal cord injury. However, despite the terrible tragedy that he experienced, he managed to find good out of it. He has met people that he otherwise would not have met if not for his spinal cord injury. He has seen the goodness of people through their kindness as they reach out to his family to offer assistance. He has learned when life hands you lemons, you make lemonade. These patients are grateful for their experiences, despite how horrific and life changing they were. Their experiences shaped them into the persons they are today. Without these life lessons they may not be the strong, confident, courageous men and women that they all truly are.

I have been thinking a lot about what my patient said. I will never find good from your death. I would rather give up all of the lessons that I have learned in order to have you back. But that will never happen and I just need to accept that. With that understanding I am left with two options. I can completely shut down (and I certainly do not judge other widows and widowers who go this route, I am not even sure it is a choice we have control over). Or I can wake up every morning and push forward trying to make the most of my day and life as it is. With the help of therapy, medication (on and off as you know I was never the most compliant patient), family, friends, co-workers, and my patients, I am working hard to make the most of my life. I am working hard to fulfill my promise to you that I would take care of myself. It is not easy, but I am working hard to accept the hand that I have been dealt whether I like it or not. Although we can agree that what happened to you is not fair for you or the people you left behind. I understand what my patient meant when he gave his speech. I cannot change my circumstances. Everyone has circumstances. But I can be grateful for all that I have gained as a result of my circumstances. If not for cancer we would be living happily with the children we had hoped to have together. If not for cancer I would still have my best friend by my side as I sleep at night. If not for cancer I would not be writing this blog. On the other hand, if not for cancer I would have never learned of courage as you exemplified every single day. If not for cancer you and I may not have had the strength in love and devotion to each other that so few people have in such a profound way as you and I did. If not for cancer I may have never learned to relax and appreciate life as much as you always did. If not for cancer...I understand what my patient meant. I may not like it, but there is no escaping it. I should be grateful for all that I have learned and the support system that I have. If not for cancer I may have never known how truly lucky I am. 

Your birthday has passed. Leading up to your birthday I was very anxious. The day before you passed you told me you would not live to see your 32nd birthday. I told you that was ridiculous. Of course you would live. You weren't that sick after all, right? To be honest, I was terrified that you were right, but I did not want you to know that. To be honest, even though we shared that fear, I did not expect your life to be taken the very next day. Although it had been 20 months, it still seemed too quick. It still seemed too unreal. That couldn't happen to my husband. I couldn't really become a widow, could I? You wouldn't really die before your 32nd birthday, would you? To be honest, I feared that you would.

For your birthday my friends decided that I should get away. With family and friends by my side we went to Nashville, TN. The main point of the weekend was to distract me from real life by spending time with those closest to me in a city that I love. The other point of the weekend was to celebrate you. Ten of my family and friends traveled from far and wide to honor you and celebrate our life together. We are so lucky for the people in our lives. I had so much fun in Nashville, especially when remembering the time you and I went there with Ginnie and Paul. I love you for loving our time together in Nashville. 

Jack's BBQ ~ 2011
Opryland Hotel ~ 2011
Girls "Birthday" Trip ~ 2016


#SethStrong Bracelet Nashville ~ 2016
On your actual Birthday I kept myself very busy. It was the only way I knew to get through one of the "firsts" that I had to experience without you. To be honest, I hate birthdays. My grandmother passed away on my birthday. Your grandmother's funeral was on your birthday. You were diagnosed with cancer on my birthday. Birthdays are overrated. None the less I made a decision that I would celebrate you as best as I could. The day started when I brought breakfast to your school and reviewed scholarship applications with the designated board. Following that I went to work and for lunch I ordered pizza for the department. That day, I wanted to show my appreciation to our co-workers for their love and care while you were sick and since you passed away. For dinner, your parents and I met Josh, Gina and Giuliana at Liberatores. Being at liberatores was strange and emotional for me. The very last time you and I went to dinner together was the Saturday night before you died. That night, we also went to Liberatores and sat at the table right behind where we were seated for your birthday dinner. I could "see" you sitting in your wheelchair at the table while we caught up with Matt and Mandy. I cannot believe that only five nights before you died we were out at dinner with friends. How could things change so fast? Did I do something wrong? We sang happy birthday to you and had ice cream cake for dessert, the very same cake that you had growing up. 


The most special part of your birthday celebration happened after dinner that night and again while I was in Cape Cod over memorial day weekend. On both occasions, with both sides of the family, we had a balloon release. It was Josh's idea to send balloons into the sky in order to honor you and celebrate your life. I loved the idea! I couldn't believe how emotional it was for me. I suppose it was the first moment I realized how real this was. I realized that you would never be 32. I will turn 32 in July. I will keep getting older and you will always stay 31. It doesn't seem fair. For the first time I realized that our nieces and nephews would keep getting older until eventually they are "older" than their Uncle Seth. I realized my responsibility in making sure that the kids remember and honor their Uncle Seth every year on your birthday. Realizing this was heartbreaking, but releasing the balloons was heartwarming. On your birthday, in Maryland and in Cape Cod, we had the first annual balloon release to celebrate you. We will do this every single May 24th. If nothing else the kids will remember hearing stories about their courageous and strong Uncle Seth. I hope this ceremony will become something they look forward to. They will celebrate Uncle Seth's balloon release and therefore they will always remember their uncle Seth. Therefore we will always celebrate your birthday. I hope that you celebrate too and watch the amazing view as the balloons soar into the sky. I hope that there are birthdays in heaven. 







I am tired now, so I will stop writing. But I want you to know that I love you so much. I want you to know that I hope you had a wonderful birthday in heaven. I want you to know that I will never stop celebrating you. I want you to know, I had a rough few weeks after I last wrote. But tonight, well tonight I am doing better. I am still heartbroken, but I am also in love. I am in love with your memory and right now I will use that to keep pushing forward. Right now I will go to bed and dream of you and your birthday in heaven. Right now I love you. Happy birthday.

Love,
Meredith
XOXOXOXO 

"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

#SethSrong In Florida ~ 2016
(Photo from Matt and Mandy on your Birthday)