My life coach tells me you don’t know what to say to me. When I heard this, my first thought was “f*ck you!” Wasn’t I the one who went through tragedy? My best friend was taken from me. Now, I’m the one who’s all alone. I have my kids, but they won’t care about the deadline at work or the adult joke I heard in the elevator today.
But then I remember that I have been in your shoes. When a friend’s parent passed away, I didn’t know what to say, either. I know you don’t want to say the wrong thing. I know you feel it’s better to say nothing…
So, I will tell you what’s going on with me: I’m on a journey of self-discovery. I know you won’t understand, but my life doesn’t feel like it belongs to me. I’m on the outside looking in. I was with my husband for fourteen years, married for ten. We had two beautiful children, a house, a dog and jobs that paid the bills. Life was so predictable…
In an instant, everything changed.
Death brings a new perspective on life. I’m not sure I’ll always be this insightful, so I’ll share with you how my life has changed:
Things I once took for granted are now more important. I used to come home every night, fix dinner and collapse in front of the TV. We were stuck in a routine, one that a lot of couples fall into. The deeper you fall into the hole of comfortability, the harder it is to get out. We argued about the dumbest things. We complained about our house. We whined about being tired after work. There was no time to work out. We cherished date nights because they were rare. We split our weekends between the kids’ activities and housework. We never took a moment for ourselves, unless it was a special occasion. We traveled as part of a yearly ritual, but it wasn’t often enough.
I also made excuses about why I was overweight and didn’t feel like cleaning the house. We lived in an endless cycle of blame and regret.
Don’t get me wrong, we had many beautiful moments, too. We gave birth to the most beautiful children who brought smiles to our faces every day. When we traveled, we did it big. My list of adventures includes a trip to Alaska, where we kayaked next to glaciers and bald eagles. I’ve been to Florida more times than I can count and have enough pictures of my feet in the sand to make a coffee table book out of them. We’ve met some crazy people, too, like the guy in Key West we paid $30 to take pictures on our own phones, so we could have a parrot perched on our shoulders. And then there’s the homeless guy who slapped a box of crackers out of my hands in Seattle, and the adventure guide who shared his wild adventures as we canoed through the mangroves. I’ve paddle boarded with stingrays, snorkeled with starfish in The Dry Tortugas and climbed the Canadian Rockies with the bears.
I will cherish these memories forever. The evidence is displayed on the wall, along with the many photographs of my children enjoying life with their father.
Now I find myself in this situation where the bubble has burst. It took a while to sift through the grief and the bullsh*t that’s dealt when someone dies. It’s not fun planning someone’s estate or walking into the garage to see the belongings left behind. It’s sad to see the plans that will go unfinished or to think about the dreams that will go unrealized.
Our world imploded six months ago, and now I possess an unfamiliar clarity. I’ve awakened from a ten-year dream. Time is only a figment of my imagination. I realize that we had time all along, but we told ourselves otherwise. For the first time ever, I don’t know what comes next. The excuses I listed earlier no longer exist. I was standing in my own way, and this new me has decided that I’m no longer that person.
After the funeral, everyone made plans for me. They assumed I wouldn’t be able to raise my children on my own. Single parenting is daunting, but it’s do-able. Close acquaintances said, “You’re moving back home, aren’t you?” When I announced that we’d get a fresh start in a new house, I heard things like, “You’d love a townhouse, with no yard maintenance!” These statements infuriated me and helped fuel the fire that got us where we are today.
I refused to give up. While I agreed yard work was tough, I didn’t understand why I couldn’t do it in a nice house. Why did we have to give up the community that our family had grown to love because I became a single mom? Did we have to sacrifice our space and privacy for a house that wouldn’t feel like a home? I spent a dozen years living in a shoebox-sized house. I felt ashamed to invite people in because it was so tiny—you couldn’t fit more than one butt in the kitchen. I spent a decade living next to people who never felt like neighbors.
Despite the challenges, I forged onto a path that I felt was right for my family. I respectfully and proudly defied your presumptions and found a home that I’m proud to call my own. I aligned myself with a new job that afforded said house. It’s none of your business—but I’ve been the breadwinner for years, the result of hard work in a tough career.
So, here we are in our brand-new house, in our brand-new life. We’re fumbling through every day, trying to find happiness in a strange time. Our house is quiet and we want to fill it with laughter, but we have a minuscule circle of friends. It’s taxing to meet people when I’m nervous as hell to make small talk with strangers, and they’re just as nervous with me.
I invite you to get to know me. Don’t be frightened to ask about my life, because I can tell you there’s a lot to discover. I’m just getting to know my new self. I may fumble a little at first, but I promise there’s a friendship to be made, a relationship to cherish. I’m a nicer person than people realize. I may have seemed standoffish in the past, but I’m trying to pull myself out of my shell. This journey is bumpy, uncomfortable, and I’ve never faced this before.
Last spring, my children and I were desperate for some time away. The beach was calling, but the old me was afraid to travel alone. Traveling with family was impossible, so the new me decided we’d go anyway.
With my newfound bravery, I booked a trip. I spent most of a Thursday morning scouring the web and chose Florida. We left the next night and it was incredible! We maximized our time and enjoyed every second. My kids now have memories of the time we randomly got on a plane and flew to the beach, and they finally experienced the ocean.
I’m proud of that trip. It was a test of my own strength and I passed. We traveled that weekend, like jet-setter pros who were used to such things. I proved to myself that we can still enjoy life, even after our tragedy.
Remember earlier when I said that time was trivial? It’s true. I used to relish in a night of TV; it was the best part of my day. I complained that I didn’t have time for anything else. I laugh at that old me now. Each day brings nothing but time.
Each day now brings new opportunities. I’m not saying I feel this way every day, but it’s the start of a new life I’m unfolding. I now realize that I have plenty of time to exercise, clean and spend time with my kids.
I know this must be difficult to understand because you don’t have the gift of perspective as I do, but let me explain…
When I used to work out, I’d count the minutes until the end of the grueling trial. My thoughts were full of nothing but self-hate. When I was tired, I made excuses. Now, that’s all changed. A thirty-minute jog seems trivial when you compare it to planning a funeral. One hour of weight lifting is a remedial task when you compare it to three months of living out of boxes and sleeping on a couch, waiting for your house to be sold.
And house cleaning? As my kids like to say, “easy peasy, lemon squeezy.” I used to wait weeks to do the laundry, telling myself that was more than I could handle. Why bother? I used to avoid mopping, making excuses like, “the kids will just mess it up again anyway.” Now, I love my new house and I only want it to look nice. I know I might not always feel this way. To be honest, I hope that someday I’ll be too busy to clean the floors every Friday night. For now, this is all I have. I keep it clean because it seems like a waste to do otherwise. Why spend your time hating the space you live in when you can spend it enjoying your family and friends? It’s my unique point of view that allows me to think this way.
I hope I never lose it. I still feel like I’m on the outside, looking in. I don’t feel like I fully belong yet. Maybe that takes time, or maybe that’s the old me still hanging around.
For now, I’m trying to enjoy this new me. I’m trying new things, and putting myself out there. I’m trying on a life where my soul leads, instead of my brain. I’ve discovered that the soulful version of me loves things like paddle boarding, travel and dressing in heels.
You may hear about more spontaneous trips in the future. We now have a wicked case of wanderlust. You may hear that I’m throwing wild parties and jumping out of airplanes (just kidding, I’m not that crazy). But I have been trying to form new relationships. In the past few months, I’ve stepped outside of my comfort zone and talked to every neighbor, fellow parent or co-worker. I’ve opened my home to new friends and people in the neighborhood, despite the old me who still lurks, screaming inside with nervousness.
I’m trying to fill our lives with joy. While I figure out exactly what that means, your silence doesn’t help. On the outside, I may seem aloof. On the inside, I’m ferociously trying to think of every detail of our last conversation, so we can discuss a topic of interest. If you’re someone new, I’m analyzing you for a common thread we may share. Please be patient, we could be great friends.
I leave you now with what I hope is a better sense of who I am and where I’m going. I know I can be a difficult person to read, but I promise you I am worth it.
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