#CharlieMike, grief, Grief Milestones, guilt, Life After Loss, Rebuilding, survivors guilt, Uncategorized

Five Things I Learned In My First 6 Months as a Widow

6 Months…

  • 15,724,800 seconds
  • 262,080 minutes
  • 4368 hours
  • 182 days
  • 26 weeks
  • 49.86% of 2018

It feels like its been so long, and yet, I remember that day like it just happened. It rips my heart out over and over again. Its been the most painstaking 6 months of my life, but everyday I get a little stronger. I wish there was a manual for all this, like when I walked down the long cold hall of the hospital that night without my husband that they would have handed me a magical guide that told me what the next 6 months would look like. Of course, that is not how this works, that’s not how any of this works. There have been several times in my life when I wished this, and looking back I made it through every single one, and I’m stronger for it. As I write this, I am sitting in the airport, on the second leg of my impromptu vacation because I thought if I ran away I could skip July, its not working. I didn’t have a manual, so I thought I’d share a couple things that I have learned in the last 6 months. Hopefully it can help someone else.

 

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  1. Grief can make you do some really crazy things, things you never imagined yourself doing, things that other people probably think you are out of your mind for.  Let me give you a full picture of my current situation; I am sitting in an airport, on the second leg of an impromptu vacation, wrapped in a blanket that is very generously sprayed in the cologne of my husband. I remember the night this became a thing, I was on the phone with a friend and my daughter had gone into my bedroom and pulled a t-shirt out of Daddy’s drawer like she always did, but this time she sprayed his cologne. I walked out of the room I was in and the whole house smelled like him. It caught me off guard. I couldn’t breathe, it consumed me. I got upset with her, I didn’t mean to but it was my reaction, she didn’t know it would upset me. I didn’t expect to smell him like that. It made me cry, and then it made me feel close to him. And then I got mad because that was all the cologne we had and she just sprayed a ton of it. I panicked, and I ordered a lifetime supply, thanks Amazon. The next day I felt a little buyers remorse because that was weird. The list goes on for days, but just know that if it brings you some comfort in that moment, do it. 

 

2. You absolutely CANNOT do it all on your own. Surprise. I have had to ask for help. My super human abilities only go so far apparently. I am about as stubborn as they come, I like to do things on my own, I like the sense of accomplishment, and you could probably say I like to learn things the hard way, this is one of those things. In order for me to function, I have had to ask for help. I had to ask people to cut down trees, and figure out my child locks, and help me remember things. I have had to have help with simple things, and complicated things. Grief has a way of making the smallest task seem huge, and the biggest things seem not important, sometimes you need outside perspective. Accept help, ask for help, its crucial.

3. You are Not the same person you were, and you never will be. This was a hard lesson to learn for me, I hold myself to an incredibly high standard, and I am not meeting it. The person I have become is a little bit unreliable, a little bit angry, she’s unsure of herself, and then moments later she is as sure as they come. The person I have become doesn’t quite know where she fits. I am no longer part of a couple, and yet, I don’t consider myself single either. Single but not available? No, thats not it either. I am Nate’s wife, but what does that mean now?  Somedays I want to talk, and others I don’t. That old person, that old life, it’s not coming back, and in order to begin to find some happiness, we have to let go of the idea that we could ever possibly be the same after going through something so devastating.

4. You will break down and ugly cry at the most inconvenient times, let it happen. In an airplane, at church, in Target, at the beach, driving in traffic. No one tells you that you will spend entire days crying. No one tells you that you will cry over things you didn’t even know you remembered about them, and no one tells you that its also okay to not cry over something you feel like you should. Give yourself some grace.

5. You HAVE to LIVE. Its hard, I don’t want to do anything without him, I didn’t want to eat, sleep or breathe, let alone have fun. I’ve let guilt consume me at times, for having fun, for living my life. Nate wouldn’t want me to be miserable, he would want me to live the life he can’t, to live the life I want, just like I would do if he were here. Its not easy, but forcing myself to do things anyways, to make new memories, to have fun and find peace have been whats pulled me through.

We are doing this, friends. One day at a time, and if we can’t do that, one minute. Forward motion, no matter what it looks like is still forward motion.

#CharlieMike, Faith, grief, Loss, Vulnerability, Words to Live By

Grief is like an Onion

Grief is like an onion, sounds cliche right? It is, but it truly is like one. I strongly dislike onions, and I strongly dislike grief too. There is an exception, I’ll eat a blooming onion from Outback, no idea why, but that is the only way I will eat an onion. I am finding that everyday more and more layers are peeled back, some make you cry harder than others, much like onions. You don’t know what each layer is going to uncover either, so you could be just getting comfortable with the last layer and BAM! It smacks you right in the face again. For me, its the simple things, I can finally say, “he died,” and not skirt around it by saying things like “when all that happened,”

I am still having a hard time saying i’m not married, I still very much feel married to him, present or not. Saying i’m a single parent, can’t do it, even though I very much am. The word single in and of itself terrifies me, I haven’t been a single person since high school. That is terrifying.

This past weekend we went to Colorado and I got to meet my newest niece, and I had to come to terms with the fact that I will never have Nate’s baby, ever again. We spent years trying, we really thought this would be our year, we finally had a doctor who was figuring it out, long story short,  it had to do with brain stuff, and hormones, and the production of male hormones, something that no one really wanted to treat, or talk about, and at first we were just going to allow whatever happens to happen, but we finally decided to address it, and things were looking positive, and then he died. I carry a lot of guilt with that, it took me longer to decide we needed to work on this than it did him, and I can’t help but think if maybe I agreed sooner? Who knows, its a rabbit hole.

So that opens up another layer of onion, one I didn’t want to think about but my brain went there. Will I EVER have another baby? The thought makes me want to throw up, but I have time, and I don’t know what my future holds, what will that look like, how will I ever explain to another man that he will never be Nate, and Nate is my true love, and yeah, too much, I can’t right now,  it just opens layers and layers of onion that I just can’t even think about. I told Nate once if he died before me, that I couldn’t go on, I would have to die first because I literally wouldn’t be able to stand, and if he died first I couldn’t guarantee I would want to live. He told me that would be a complete waste, that if he died first I better just live my life, and do it well.  I couldn’t imagine my life without him, and yet, here I am, standing, on my own two feet, I’m okay, most days. Some days I crumble, but I pick myself up, and move forward. I feel a little stronger every day.

With Memorial Day coming up, I think i’m carrying a lot more this week, I’ll be out of town, but I’ll be able to go to Arlington and pay my respects to some friends that I haven’t been out there to see yet. I have worked through not being here to be part of that with Nate, I think he would be okay with this, we have amazing friends who are going to make sure he is taken care of here, so that helps too. The kids and I are attending the TAPS National Seminar, so it will be a good time to heal, and grow. I am going to meet up with a friend that I awkwardly avoided the last time I was in DC too, (loooong story, but a very onionesque one that I may blog about in time, )  so I am looking forward to that. I can’t help but  wonder though, is there ever a time you peel back all the layers of the onion? What happens then? Does the onion just go away?

#CharlieMike, grief, guilt, Loss, survivors guilt, Uncategorized

Guilt is Destructive

The guilt is consuming me today. It’s overwhelming. I feel like I could have, and should have done more, I feel like I should have known this was coming. He didn’t feel good, and I left anyways. I feel like I did this. Did I cause too much stress? I am a difficult person, I am needy, and I put a lot of pressure on myself and others to be more, and do more, to push the limits. I’ve always put that on him, I’ve always pushed him. Was there more I could have done? I don’t know, I’ll never know, I mean, I do know, I know my own brain is playing with my mind and heart, and there was nothing I could have done, he was surrounded by the most capable people, and they couldn’t even do anything. They tried, so hard. I don’t know that I could have been here anyways, I don’t know where I would be if I were there and couldn’t save him. Ultimately, I couldn’t save him, but physically being here and being unable to save him, I feel like would have crushed me more. I am trying to draw on my own strength. I know it’s there because I’ve been able to find perspective in hard times my whole life, granted, things have never ever been THIS hard, but nonetheless, at the time, what I thought I was dealing with was the hardest thing I’ve ever dealt with, and yet, hear I am. I feel like looking back, so many things foreshadowed this, that sounds absolutely nuts, but my whole married life, has been documented, in many ways, my own thoughts and words, written for me to see, our story, captured by so many. We always seemed to grab the attention of someone, we’ve always had so much favor. It’s overwhelming and powerful at the same time. I have all this to look back on, all of this to revisit, my own strength and his to draw upon. My blogs, our documentary, news stories, random pictures that people took, random stories shared about him, all of it. There is a bigger purpose, there always has been, but it’s really hard to see right now, it was then too, but now I know what that purpose was, so it kind of smacks me in the face when I’m down. Flipping through old blogs this morning, I found this, it was referencing a scene (notice I said scene, like I live in a movie or something, must be a lifetime movie, honestly, I want my 2 hours back,) at our kitchen table where Nate was having trouble with a school assignment, it was not the work that was challenging, it was simply copying something from the screen to the paper, as I sat there with a kid in my lap, eating, with my phone, and doing my homework; I was multitasking and he couldn’t, something I took for granted.

“I learned two very important lessons just  sitting there last night. 1.) Determination.  He kept trying no matter how frustrated he got, no matter how many times he didn’t get it right, he was going to sit there until he got it right. If he needed to take a break for a few minutes and come back to it, he did, but he never gave up. 2.) Appreciate a little more. In this life we tend to say don’t take things for granted, but most times we mean family, friends, life in general, we never really take the time to think about the small things. Appreciate EVERYTHING, even if it is a simple thing like the ability to do math, or copy from a notepad to a computer. Appreciate that you can hear, that you can see, that you can hold a pencil. Appreciate that you can run, and jump, and swim. Everyone has an amazing skill set, use it, perfect it, and never take it for granted. Things could change in an instant, and you will wish you had.” 

Things did change, again, and in an instant, again, and here I am. Trying to find the strength, trying to find the perspective in all THIS, that I did in all THAT. 

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#CharlieMike, grief, Loss, Single Parent, Vulnerability, Words to Live By

It’s not Okay!

May will be month 5 without him. I feel like I’m finally starting to slow down.  Things are finally starting to settle, and yet, i’m drowning. Seemingly worse than before. I had tasks daily for months, phone calls that had to be made, paperwork to be  sorted, appointments to go to, and now, now that its mostly all settled, I don’t know what to do. Honestly it hurts worse.

Everyone is ready for me to rise up, and become the person I was before, to stop letting it consume me, and just live my life.  Honestly, I don’t know that it will ever happen like that. I don’t know that there will ever be days that I don’t think of him and cry. I don’t know if there will be  days where I don’t want to leave home, or days where I can’t be home. This is a marathon for me.  This isn’t “over.”

Adjusting to being an only parent has been the hardest transition for me. I was so blessed in the person that my husband was as a husband and a father. I took a lot for granted, just little things that you don’t always think about like holding my hand while driving, or bringing me water in the morning. Things that you don’t always realize are happening until they are gone.

I have really really good days, but sometimes, it’s almost like those days make the bad days worse. I have a lot to work through still. The kids and I are rebuilding our whole life. Our life and our hearts literally shattered that day, and we will probably search for the pieces forever. So, if you see us out, and we are having fun, don’t assume that the next day will look the same because it doesn’t. Don’t assume that 15 minutes later I’ll still be ok, because sometimes, I’m just NOT okay, and thats ok. I wrote a piece years ago dealing with my life after Nate was injured, and I’m finding a lot of similarities. I said,

“Sometimes, I think I just need to talk. There are days I bring up my husband being injured in conversations about Tupperware. I think I do that because I want someone to ask, I want to tell someone. To cry, to laugh, just to get it all out. I want people to ask if I am okay so I can say…… NO, I am NOT okay.”

I have a lot of guilt because I really struggled during that time, I was lost, I was alone, I was angry.  Granted, I feel like we came out on the other side, but even in that article I questioned whether it was all worth it.

“Was it all worth the price so many of us have paid? As selfish as it sounds, sometimes I think it might have been easier if he didn’t come home at all.”

Looking back, I see it now.  It was worth it.  He was supposed to die on January 13, 2007. He didn’t. I got 10 more beautiful years with him.

This is NOT okay, it never will be. I’m NOT okay either, and thats Okay. it’s okay to not be okay. IMG_0229-1bw

 

 

#CharlieMike, Faith, grief, Loss, Shaken, Vulnerability

Trigger Warning: Suicide

I guess, now that things have settled some, I should take some time to address the elephant in the room. I’ve been asked, friends have been asked, it’s been said in front of a large crowd, there is this quiet buzz kind of going around. The topic no one wants to talk about, but everyone wants to talk about. Cryptic messages, slight side eye looks that come with phrases like, “Did he….was it….was he one of the 22? ” No one ever wants to outright ask, Did he what? Was it what? Did he kill himself? Was it suicide? No, the answer is NO, my husband did NOT take his own life. Does this mean that I won’t continue doing the work I do in the space of Veteran Suicide Awareness and Prevention, absolutely not. This is a cause that has been important to me for a very long time, and will continue to be, let me take you down a rabbit hole really quick…

I wrote this in 2011,

I wanted to write you a letter, but I don’t even know your name, I didn’t take the time to get to know you, to know your story, to feel your pain. There is no way I could have known. The closest thing to Military I ever knew was the ex Army guy who drank with my Dad, oh and there was a Marine I messed around with the summer before my senior year. In my naive teenage brain, they certainly were not hurting, or maybe they were. Looking back they certainly were. They were trying to burry they hurt.Is that what you were trying to do? Soldiers are supposed to be strong, I thought I was strong,I was doing my job, but you, I thought you weren’t. I didn’t know. I thought you were so stupid, so ignorant, what could ever be so bad that you had to take your own life. If it sounds like i’m making excuses for myself, I am. I think about you all the time. I can’t get you out of my head. Your half smile, your eyes and the way they closed so peacefully,your smell, that god awful stench that is forever imbedded in my nose. The way your barracks room was left in perfect order, nothing out of place. Did you do that on purpose, or is that just how you were, I want to know, I want to know you. Its cold here today, when it gets too cold and my feet start to change color I think of you, you looked cold the way the blood pooled in your feet. Where were your friends that night did they care? Maybe they didn’t know, or maybe they ran at the first sign of shit hitting the fan. That’s what people do I guess, we run, run from our problems, from our fears, we run as far and as fast as we can never looking back. Now, now… I get it. I get that you tried to run and no matter where you went or what you did these images, these thoughts, the guilt, it haunted you, it chased you down until you couldn’t run no more; until the light at the end of the tunnel, the sacrifice of the very breath you breathe was the ONLY way out. This is me… running, from you, trying to escape the image, the guilt I feel for not even knowing your name, for not taking one minute out of my life to TRY and understand what several combat tours did to you, for jumping to conclusions about your selfish motives.The images, the the thoughts, the smells, they never left did they? I saw a picture today of a young cowboy, reminded me of you, he was rounding the corner of an old brick building, light behind him and darkness up ahead, I can’t stop looking at it, not for a second.His clothes, the way he wrapped his bandana around his neck just like you did, like it was comfortable, you probably did it all the time too, but this time would be different, THIS time it was a tool to cover the weapon that ultimately took your life. Anytime I see those cords I choke a little bit, I don’t keep them in my house, I can’t. Life…and Death for that matter are crazy, every moment preparing you a little more for the next, this moment being the start of a journey I never in my wildest dreams could have imagined. I think you may have saved my marriage, that moment of self realization that occurred within me, that moment I realized that it could be me, it could be anyone, that moment was my saving grace. I owe that moment to you.

This cause, will always be important to me, but this is NOT Nate’s story. Nate fought hard, were there moments where he questioned his purpose, I won’t lie to you and say no, we had our moments, there were times I thought he was going to be come THAT statistic, but he didn’t. He became another one.

I’ll dive deeper into this brain stuff in another post, but for now, this needs to be said.

My husband  did NOT commit suicide, he died of heart failure. His heart failed due to hypertensive heart failure, directly linked to his brain injury. He lacked the ability to regulate his blood pressure even on extensive medication, he was hospitalized several times in the last year for low blood pressure, for insanely high blood pressure, and for uncontrolled fluctuations. No matter what medication they put him on, they couldn’t fix the damage to the brain that controlled this. It was only a matter of time. We knew this, sort of, we didn’t have a number of days, but we always knew it was a possibility. He chose to love deeply, live like it mattered, and live every day in a meaningful way. Now all that is left to do is for me to fight at least as hard as he did. Helmuth(5of227)

#CharlieMike, Community Service, Faith, grief, Loss, Shaken, Vulnerability

What’s best for three.

About a thousand times, I have heard, “Just do what is best for you and the kids,” Or “you have to do what feels right.” Does that mean what I think is best,  or what you think is best, which definition and whose opinion are we basing this off of? Is it what feels right to me, or to you, and when? Because we all know, I am currently a minute by minute kind of person, I have to be. Sometimes, things are really good, and other times I crumble, and there truly is no rhyme or reason to it.

You begin to second guess yourself when you have a thousand opinions in your ears, a thousand people who think they know what is best. I am grateful for those who truly know me, and who truly knew my husband beyond small glimpses of things. You see, there was a lot people didn’t know about us, about our life, and about my husband. He struggled way more than most of you know, but we kept it within the confines of our 4 walls, and those closest to us, because he truly wanted what was best for us, and that for him was to be a provider, and to be strong, to lead us to Jesus, and to put aside his own struggles for the three of us. He never wanted the attention to be on him, not for a second.

I often wonder what many would have said to him, if they knew how much he struggled on a daily basis, if they knew how much pain he was in daily, if they knew he fought to do basic human things, and yet he was the first to work, and the last to leave every single day. He worked alongside me in the community despite his pain and struggles, he supported the kids whole heartedly at all of their activities, even beauty pageants, he was an amazing pageant Dad! He painted an image, he paved a path, he made his life what he wanted it to be despite struggles. More importantly, despite the opinions of others, Nate did what Nate wanted to do. We were told in 2008, he would never hold a job, that he would never have the mental capacity to complete school, that we needed to accept that he served honorably, and now it was time for him to rest. That wasn’t what was best for him, or us, so we fought it.

Almost 10 years later, Nate had the life he fought for, he graduated from UF and fulfilled his dream of becoming a Gator, he had one of the highest GPA’s in his class, and was excelling in his career. He still was in the same position health wise that he was 10 years earlier, and in retrospect, even worse. If we listened to everyone’s opinions then, where do you think we would be? The move to Florida for Nate to go to school was the best decision we ever made, and the judgement was laid on thick for that one. We literally sold everything we owned to take a chance, for him to make his life what he wanted it to be. In his eyes, this is what he fought in Iraq for, for the freedom to choose, for the freedom to make life what he wanted it to be,  for the freedom to do what is best for three. MM_0175-1.jpg

 

#CharlieMike, Community Service, Faith, grief, Loss, The Mission Continues

Charlie Mike

No one tells you how to plan a funeral, thankfully for me I have a really great friend who happened to have spent some time in that space during their time in the military. That is truly the only reason I had a clue, and truthfully, I was so out of it, even if I did know what to do, I don’t think I could have done alone. I never imagined being 31 and having to make decisions about the burial of my husband. It still feels unreal to me. I guess you never really expect for your husband to randomly collapse in your home and never come back, so I need to just give up on expectations.

Throughout my husbands life, there has been a consistent theme, and it didn’t get pieced all the way together until his service. Again, another thing I didn’t know how to do, but the pieces came together beautifully, and not by mistake, God was all over this. The theme throughout his life was that he was a fighter, he pushed through challenges in such a beautiful way, at least from the outside looking in. He never made his struggles overshadow anything or anyone else. He lived in constant pain, but it never once took away from me and the kids, it never once took away from his coworkers, or his extended family. Nate was so selfless it was unbelievable. He always found a way to rise up from his falls, and continue on.

Nate always found a way to ” Charlie Mike” which for those of you who don’t know, means Continue Mission in military terms. The plan for Nates life really began to show itself throughout this whole process, and that was a constant as well. Since 2014 I have been volunteering with an organization called The Mission Continues, the whole premise behind the organization is to empower veterans to continue serving after military service. Now, in true Nate fashion this sounds like something he would be all over right? Well, yes, and no, he stood behind me 100% and helped with whatever I needed, every single time, but he didn’t want the spotlight, even though this lined up directly with what he believed to be the right way, he selflessly let me have it. The thing we always at The Mission Continues, is Charlie Mike.

I asked Sgt Sosebee, a leader that Nate served with if he would speak about his time in the Army with Nate, I really wanted to give his family, and the community a broader look at who my husband was, I didn’t tell him what to say, I wanted it to be from the heart. Two things really stood out to me about what he said.

  1. He said that after mission Nate did 3 things, he would write his wife, work out with Hammerstone, and read his Bible.
  2. He said that he always remembered Nate coming over the radio and saying                   ” Charlie Mike.”  (I cried so hard when I heard him say that, it was remarkable that in all of this without every saying a word to him about anything, that was something he remembered.

Yesterday, his headstone was placed, and as paralyzing as that was for me it was breathtakingly beautiful. As a friend said to me, ” Now you can share part of his story with the world.” He was right, this is his legacy.  I felt some relief that the VA didn’t screw it up being as they called me like 8 times to clarify that he DID NOT serve in the Persian Gulf, and that I did NOT want his headstone to read Charlie & Mike. I felt like saying, “You know what, go ahead and add Whiskey Tango Foxtrot while you’re at it, because 9/10 people who called me wouldn’t have known what that meant either.

It wasn’t the relief I had expected, but it was relief nonetheless.

It became very obvious very quickly that my husband had established a theme for his life, for our life, and standing there yesterday solidified it further for me.

I will love you until the end of time, Nate. Until death do us part is a stupid phrase because you are always with me. My vows continue beyond the grave, and I vow to always fight, to always be a blessing to others, and to live my life, and teach our children to live their lives in a  way that will bring honor to you.

#CharlieMike

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