How do I reconcile the fact that the man that I’m grieving for murdered the man that I’m grieving for?
This won’t be a popular thing to say but it’s my story and I won’t edit it to be popular. You’ll only get the raw, unedited truth here.
I don’t spend a lot of time wishing for what might have been. Ever since I read his suicide note, I’ve been angry. He didn’t even say goodbye. He knew he was going to die. He knew he was going to shatter me. He couldn’t even say “I love you”. He just left. He didn’t care what it would do to me. After all the love and support and trust and laughter and plans and joy and hope…he just told me to call 911.
If he walked through the door today I would be thrilled he was alive. I would also beat the living shit out of him. I wouldn’t take him back. He shattered me. I’m no longer the woman he was married to. He hurt me a million times more than he ever could have if he had abused me. He literally nearly killed me. He stole everything from me. I would be so glad he’s here for his kids. I would be so happy he could have a life. But it wouldn’t be with me.
Bob abandoned me. I know he felt like it was his only choice but that doesn’t mean that makes it feel any better for me. He still left me. He still didn’t care that he was going to absolutely devastate those of us who love him.
This is a new version of me that he doesn’t know. Ive had to start to rebuild in a reality where he only exists as a memory. I’ve had to fight and suffer and scrape and bleed to try to accept that he’s really gone. Now that I have, I need to look forward.
Don’t get me wrong. I love the absolute hell out of him. I didn’t want this. I wanted forever with him. I would have been his wife as long as he chose me. But he didn’t. He didn’t choose me. He didn’t choose life. I will never stop grieving the loss of what was. But I absolutely have to focus on what is and will be.
I finally feel hope. I feel joy sometimes. I feel love and attraction and happiness sometimes. I want to love and be loved again. I want to share my life with wonderful people who believe in love and laughter and living our best lives.
I wish Bob was still here. He’s not. He decided that life was too hard. I don’t fault him. I feel like making that choice more than I care to admit. I just don’t make that choice for a myriad of reasons. So, I’m choosing to focus on hope and building the future. I can’t live in the past.
I love Bob. I will forever love him. I will honor his memory and be a good steward of his legacy. But I’m moving forward with my life. I’m still here and I have to live for me.
At night when I’m alone and the world is asleep, the fear creeps in. It starts as a slow tightening in my chest. Sometimes, it feels like butterflies of anticipation but not the good kind. It creeps up my spine and into my brain. My thoughts swirl and my stomach churns. My heart races and my hands tremble.
I don’t know what I’m afraid of, exactly. I’m not really afraid of anything anymore when I really think about it. The worst has already happened. I logically understand that my brain is wired to be afraid, on alert, for any potential dangers. One of the many fun symptoms of severe PTSD. The dangers may not exist but the fear is real. The fear of nothing and of everything. Stupid brain.
When I’m alone with myself and my memories and my PTSD brain, the nights can be nearly unbearable. The loneliness and anxiety are huge gaping holes that, if I’m not careful, swallow me whole. When that happens, I usually don’t manage to crawl my way out until the sun comes up. Why is that? Why does the sun make any difference? It doesn’t change anything, really.
If I do manage to sleep, it’s the dreams that torture me. Oh, the dreams. The dreams where there’s anger and fear and crushing sadness and I wake up sweating and crying. Or the dreams where Bob is alive and it’s almost like he’s really here. I can hear him and touch him and see him and then I wake up and realize, all over again, that he’s dead.
The loneliness is the worst at night. The huge, empty king sized bed. The kisses I don’t get. The comfort of having someone to hold me when the nightmares get bad or the fear makes me shake. The security of knowing there’s someone there to protect me from any harm, even from myself. The needing someone to speak sense and logic to my out of control brain. Needing someone to help soothe my nerves and make me laugh. And nothing but silence echoing instead.
PTSD is a shitty companion. It lies and steals your peace and keeps you awake with a hurricane of bullshit thoughts and fear. I recognize when it’s happening. I even know why. I’d love to be able to stop it because I understand what’s going on but it doesn’t work that way.
Last night I was awake until after 4am. I finally fell asleep from sheer exhaustion and slept for 3 hours. I woke up sweating and shaking and crying. I don’t remember what I dreamed about but I could probably guess and be pretty close to the truth. They are all similar. I have so much to do today but I can hardly find the energy to wash my hair. Some days are like that. I am going to try to get things done. I may and I may not.
I’ve learned to give myself some grace. I do what I can. I have a brain injury, a soul injury, a life injury. A catastrophic one, at that. I’m healing and I know some parts never will. My brain doesn’t work like a normal brain. My body and nervous system are on constant overload. Science has proven how much energy it requires to live with profound grief. I do the best I can every day. Some days I conquer the world. Other days I don’t get out of my pajamas. Some days, I do a little of both.
I don’t know what to do with my hands…
When the memories flood in. Since the day Bob died, I’ve been wringing them. For the first few months, I was wringing them so hard that they hurt too much to even hold a coffee cup.
When the coffee starts brewing in the morning and I think of all the mornings I woke up with him, long before the sun rose, just to have a few minutes with him and a kiss before he left…I don’t know what to do with my hands.
When I catch a faint hint of his cologne when I’m out in public and it makes me weak in the knees. I have to fight the urge to look for him or scream…I don’t know what to do with my hands.
To be honest, I don’t need a smell to trigger the memories that stop me in my tracks…
I don’t even want to admit how often I don’t know what to do with my hands.
Life is crazy.
No, really. It’s nothing like you think it will be when you’re a kid. If I’ve learned anything on this wild adventure it’s that I have no clue what I’m doing. Just when I think I have things figured out and I know what’s going on, life makes sure I don’t.
So, I’ve given up on trying to make sense of life. I’ve given up on wanting to control everything. I’ve given up on expectations. I’ve given up on resistance. I’m focusing solely on being the best version of me I can be. It’s all I have control of anyway. Counseling, EMDR, exercise, a healthy diet and lots of self work. That’s what my life looks like these days.
Becoming a widow was the worst thing that could happen to me. Bob was the center of my life. Losing him to suicide was a real life horror movie. It shattered everything I thought I knew about everything. It changed my perceptions and my reality. It nearly cost me my life, too.
I’ve got all sorts of deep emotional wounds that started way back as a toddler. I’m wounded and bleeding and writhing in pain but I’m fighting like hell. Every choice I make is with survival in mind. I’m fiercely protective of my peace and safety because my life depends on it. My grasp on surviving is still pretty tenuous. But I’ve made it through 229 days so far. 229 days that were much harder than anything I could have imagined and I’m still here.
I’ve come to realize how strong I am. I’m also undeniably and astoundingly brave. I surprise myself sometimes. I didn’t know I was capable of the things I’ve done since Bob died. Hell, just being alive to type this is a goddamned miracle. The abyss is deep and dark and it’s hard as hell to find your way out once you’ve fallen in.
I struggle a lot with loneliness. I ache for real connection. I not only lost Bob but I also lost a majority of my friends and my family. They couldn’t handle the reality of my life. I miss having someone to love and have them love me back. I miss having someone choose me. I miss having someone to care for. I miss having that deep and intimate connection that I had with Bob. He really, truly loved me and I adored him. He really was my favorite everything.
I have a lot to work through. I struggle with severe PTSD and the issues associated with it. I have brain damage that I’m working to overcome. I am needy and clingy right now. I’m scared and injured and really need someone to care enough to hold my hand while I heal.
I’m still worthy of love. I’m still worthy of being desired. I’m flawed and dented and scarred and healing from massive trauma but I’m still a human with needs and desires. I’m also kind and loving and brave and intelligent and compassionate and generous and silly and honest and motivated to heal.
Life doesn’t look like I expected it would. I don’t feel like I expected I would. I am not the person I thought I would be. But that doesn’t mean it’s all bad. Some of it is horrific but some of it is still amazing. There are extremely ugly parts to this life but there are some breathtakingly beautiful parts, too.
Life has been hard. I’ve made some bad choices and had terrible things happen that I didn’t choose. But I’m still here. I have hope. I still feel the good and the bad. I have dreams and goals and so much more to give. I have so much more to do. I miss Bob and I always will. I wish he was still here. I wish he was alive. But, he isn’t. I don’t live in a world where he exists anymore. I can’t live in the past. I can remember him. I can honor his life and our love. I can carry him with me. I also have to look ahead.
I’m ready to figure out how to build my future. I’m ready to heal my wounds and live a happy life. I’m ready to hope to find love again someday. I’m ready to believe in Magic again. I’m ready to love life again. I don’t want to be miserable forever. Life is fleeting and fragile…
There’s no time to waste.
I know where I live…
I live in a world inexplicably different from the one I lived in before November 7th, 2018. It was as if a bomb was dropped, stripping everything to the ground. The landscape was, at first, apocalyptic. Ashes and flames and screaming and the sky was black.
I was wandering in the darkness. I didn’t exist anymore. The world I knew was gone…I was somehow dead and not dead all at once. My husband was dead. He was the one who detonated the bomb. I could not understand why he would do this. We had lived in a beautiful world filled with lush forests of love. Rivers of laughter. Mountains of hope. Lakes of joy. The present and future were everything I had hoped for. Now, it was all ashes in my mouth.
For some time I felt no hope, no joy. There was no light in the world. I was desperate for one spark of hope. I needed so much to know that this wasn’t the world I was going to exist in for the rest of my life. I was in agony from being burned alive. I was terrified. I wanted to just die more than I’ve ever wanted anything before or since. I didn’t understand why I was still alive. Every day that I woke up, I was shocked I had survived to see another day.
When the dust settled, it was still dark but I started to realize that I could hear voices. They were voices of the people who loved me. They were telling me that I wasn’t alone. They were so very sad and scared for me but they were in a place where there was light. They could still see hope. They still had strength. They were calling to me. They were saying how much they loved me. The where whispering words of hope. While they didn’t heal my wounds, the sound of their love soothed the searing pain for tiny, fleeting moments.
I crawled in the darkness through the ashes of my life towards their voices. Every movement was absolute agony. I nearly drowned in the lakes of tears I had cried. I cut myself on the sharp shards of memories. I was bleeding rivers of grief. This new landscape that was forming was something out of a horror movie. It was not a place I wanted to be. Why couldn’t it just end?
I kept hearing the people I love calling to me, telling me not to give up. No matter how hard it was to move, I did it. Then, one day, I saw the tiniest glimmer of light in the distance. It gave me the strength to stand and stumble instead of crawl. In that tiniest glimmer of light I saw hands reaching for me, offering to help rebuild my world. I felt the most minuscule crumb of hope.
As the days and weeks went on, the light slowly got brighter. Then it started to rain. It was raining hope and love and compassion. It was washing away some of the ashes of my life and soothing my aching, burning soul. I was still staggering from the agony of it and I often fell but I wasn’t staying on my knees anymore. I still couldn’t feel hope but I could see it and I was ever stumbling towards it. I had become desperate to reach it.
My life and world started to rebuild. There was so much love left. I was surrounded by the compassion and love of some beautiful people. Most of the people I had loved before had disappeared in the apocalypse. But there were new people appearing in the distance. They were strangers but had so much love for me. They wrapped me in their compassion and love and tenderness. They bound my wounds and wiped away my tears and told me they would help me rebuild a world where there were mountains of hope, forests of love, rivers of laughter and lakes of joy. It wouldn’t look the same as before, but I would learn to love it.
I made the choice to believe them, even though I couldn’t feel the hope yet. The people around me helped me to start to heal. They helped me to see hope. They helped me to start to rebuild my life. Slowly, the plants started to grow. The sky lightened. Rain turned to trickles, creeks and then rivers. The landscape started to turn from ashes and darkness to something that gave me hope.
I wasn’t sure how it was possible but I was going to survive. I was seared with scars and bleeding wounds. I was weak and weary. But there was beauty here. There was love. There was hope. There was still agony and loneliness and sadness and rage. I knew those would always be part of my new reality. But it wasn’t all negative anymore.
I am still rebuilding my world. I am still rebuilding myself. I am still meeting and building my new tribe. I am still healing from the destruction and death. These days though, I can sit next to a river of laughter and let the sound soothe the aching in my bones. I can wander through the forests of love and revel in the beauty for a moment, letting it soothe the broken pieces of my heart.
No, where I live is not the same world as before. Where I live is a world build on the ashes of the one I once knew. This is a world where Bob only exists in my heart and my memory. This is a world I never wanted to see but I’m learning to love. It’s been one hell of a journey to get here. It will take a long time to make it look the way I want. But I’m not in the darkness all the time. Some of my wounds have healed. There are beautiful, wonderful people here.
My hope is that someday it will feel like home.
No one tells you that grief comes with a gigantic helping of rage…
Rage that no one can handle. Rage that I have to keep suppressed, much like swallowing fire. The burning inside me is white hot. Rage at losing him. Rage at other people going on with their lives while mine is ashes. Rage that he did this. Rage that people don’t know how to keep loving me. Rage at how absolutely unfair all of this is. Rage that he we hurt so badly that he felt he had to die. Rage that there is nowhere to put my pain. Rage that I never have a moment where the weight of this isn’t threatening to crush me. Rage that this is my life now.
Rage that other people don’t understand. They think grief looks like wearing sweats and crying in the middle of a mountain of tissues. It doesn’t. It often looks like my whole body shaking with rage. It looks like pushing my body to its limits to quench the flames a bit. It looks like smiling through clenched teeth so I don’t scream. It looks like saying “I’m fine” when I really just want to break shit. It looks like I have my shit together when I really just want to scream “SOMEONE FUCKING HELP ME!! I DONT KNOW HOW TO CARRY THIS ALONE!!”
What you don’t know about my life with grief…
You don’t know that everything about life is harder since Bob died. That sometimes I can’t even find the energy or desire to shower. You don’t know that everything feels so much more difficult, to the point that I cry nearly every day out of sheer frustration. You don’t know that some days it takes every ounce of courage and energy I have just to choose to live.
You don’t know that my mind is full of chaos. How I replay the moment I knew he was dead over and over in my mind. You don’t know that I wake up in the middle of the night, covered in sweat and wanting to scream because I can hear them playing Taps, shooting the guns and saying “on behalf of a grateful nation” before handing me a folded flag. You don’t know that I spend all day replaying every word and moment from the weeks before his death, trying desperately to make sense of how this happened. How I think of every word I ever said to him, hoping nothing I said pushed him over the edge…hoping he knew how much I loved him.
You don’t know that I had to clean his pee off the garage floor below where he died. You don’t know that everywhere I turn in this house, his ghost haunts me. You don’t know that when I packed his clothes away I couldn’t stop screaming the entire time. I even puked a few times from crying so hard. You don’t know that every moment of every day is a struggle to not let the guilt and pain and anger completely consume me.
You don’t know that I feel so angry and lonely. You don’t know that I hate myself and him and the whole world or that I also am utterly humbled by the love I’ve been shown. You don’t know that I feel like he was the only person who ever really loved me and that his love saved my life. You don’t know that, now that it’s gone, I don’t know how to live life without it.
You don’t know that I made a plan to die. You don’t know that I had my will drawn up and made sure my affairs were in order. Or that I sat in my house, everything near me to end my life and spent hours trying to decide to live. You don’t know that a text message saved my life. You don’t know how close I came to ending my own life, too.
You don’t know how I fight my own mind all day, every day. How hard it is to be afraid and angry and sad and tired and lonely and anxious and tired and heavy and happy and grateful and hopeful all at the same time. You don’t know that I have brain damage from my trauma and that I can hardly think most days. Or that I lose track of hours, sometimes days, because I have dissociation and short term memory loss from the trauma. You don’t know that I didn’t have much gray hair before Bob died but the trauma was so great that the doctor says it will probably all be white within the year.
You don’t know that I’m afraid to love anyone again. You don’t know that I struggle with feeling like I failed him and I don’t want to fail anyone else. You don’t know how desperately I need a hug. You don’t know that my heart is screaming for someone to hold me until the pieces of me start to go back together. You don’t know how hard it is to remember him and love him while also trying to look towards the future.
You don’t know how your “thoughts and prayers” and “sending love” makes me want to rip you apart. You don’t know how much self control it takes to not beat the hell out of you when you say you understand because you lost your grandma. You don’t know how much I hate hearing how strong I am. You say it like I had any other choice. I don’t want to be strong. I want my husband.
You don’t know that I stay at home alone so much because seeing happy people breaks my heart. The yearning it causes inside of me makes me nearly moan out loud. I see happy families, old couples holding hands, parents with their kids and it’s like being set on fire. I don’t have any of that. You don’t know how much it hurts to know that no one in the world chooses you. No one puts you first.
You don’t know how much he loved me. You don’t know how much I love him. You don’t know that I fall, every day, into the huge hole shaped like him that is now where my life used to be. You don’t know how afraid I am that I won’t survive this.
You don’t know that I don’t say most of this out loud because people have shown me that they either can’t understand or don’t care. So, I put on a smile and say “I’m fine”. You don’t know that I’m almost always lying.
“I don’t have a name. I don’t know what to do.
The only thing I know for certain is that I must begin to heal.
Just like every time my life was re-created, I had to begin restoring the foundered part of my being: the lost relationships, the familiarity of a neighborhood, the sense of the person I might have been. There is an algebraic term for the technique for distributing two binomials, called the FOIL method. It stands for first, outer; inner, last. And that is exactly how I have learned to repair myself time after time: from the outside in.”
p.233 “The Girl She Used to Be,” by David Cristofano
I don’t know who I am anymore. The moment they told me that he died I felt myself die, too. Every part of my reality shattered. It’s hard to explain to people the feeling of dying but continuing to breathe. I no longer see the world the same. I no longer feel the same. I don’t even look the same anymore.
He was my whole world, my best friend, my future…my favorite everything. How do I recover from this? He didn’t get sick or die in an accident. He took his own life. He killed my husband. He destroyed our future. He took away the father of his children. He also suffered so much that he felt he had to do it. The turmoil of conflicting emotions rips me apart every day.
When they told me he was dead, hanging inside my home, my life became a horror movie. It became a nightmare that I couldn’t wake up from. As time has gone on, more has been revealed and my heart has been shattered over and over and over again.
But my Bob was kind, gentle, funny, compassionate, emotional, intelligent and sensitive. He loved other people. He made other people feel like they were important. He was generous with his attention and his time. He was proud to be a soldier and served his country honorably. He was everything to me. He loved me more than anyone ever had. I had to find a way to focus on that instead of how he died.
One of the last notes he ever wrote me said “Love yourself like I love you”. So, that’s what I’m trying to do. He encouraged me to eat well because he knew that I often got busy and forgot. So, I try to eat well and make sure I make it a priority. He encouraged me to do things that I didn’t think I could do. Since he has died I have done quite a few things I didn’t think I could like running a half marathon, taking a trip alone, living when I wanted to die.
I have thrown myself in to activism. I am working to prevent veteran suicide, take care of survivors and educate people about PTSD and other mental health issues. I exercise every day because the physical exertions help my mind. This is how I’m beginning to heal.
I know my heart will always be broken. I know I will never be “okay”. But I want to make him proud. I want to live for both of us. I want to honor him in every way I can. I want to be as happy as I can be. I feel like every day I’m here is a gift because I expected his death to kill me. I’m actually surprised every morning that I wake up and I survived the night.
Despite the agony, the loneliness, the heartbreak, the tragedy, the insomnia, the PTSD and the struggle…I made a promise that I would give life one more chance. I promised that I will give it everything I have. I promised I would honor him and do everything I can to use our story to help and save others. So, that’s what I’m going to do.