Risks and Vulnerability

You are constantly torn between knowing that you have to move on with your life, and actually being ready to do it.

This journey is a wild one. Am I right? You are constantly torn between knowing you have to move on with your life, and actually being ready or able to do so. Embarking on a new journey can be terrifying. Personally, I have always been a risk-taker, (Just ask my parents — they would love to tell you about it!) but as I’ve matured, risks seem less than ideal.

In my rebellious teenaged years, I knew everything. Because of this, I skipped school too much, got myself into arguments with teachers, and dabbled in the occasional fisticuffs with older girls. To be fair, many of the girls I went to school with were freaking crazy, but we also all grew up in a town where going to the local Roast Beef place for shoestring fries on Friday nights was the cool thing to do. That said, there were always rowdy and cute boys there and I loved boys.

For most of my young life, I couldn’t wait to fall in love and get married. I think I had my first crush in 4th grade. Do you remember those Grade/Classroom photos you received with your school pictures? Mine was hidden in the jacket pocket of Where the Sidewalk Ends, where I was sure my father would never find it, since realizing I liked a boy at nine-years-old probably would have given him a heart attack.

The desire to find love like my parents shared was real. They have been married for more than 45 years and together even longer. The love between them is fierce and something to be admired. My dad worked his ass off providing for my mother, my sisters and I and he is the standard to which I have always held men I dated accountable. Only Mark has ever exceeded that standard. (So far, anyway — there’s a lot of life left to live.)

I took my first risk on love at age 18, when I moved 1,000 miles away to play house with a young Gunner’s Mate (US Navy) I was absolutely sure I would be with for the rest of my life. That didn’t happen, but if I’m really honest with myself, I’ve always loved the idea of being in love. And who doesn’t? Love is wonderful. But as life with Mark taught me, actual love — and the idea of being in it — are two very different things.

To be fair, my love rebellion occurred in the early 90s, when the Internet was in its infancy, and after I lost my grandmother, a prominent female role model in my life. We had a special bond and her death was my first real experience with loss. She was sassy, brave and loved her family deeply. I’m often told I resemble her, and I do have a lot of her traits (minus her love for Gin.) She was widowed too, losing her husband young. Somehow she found the courage to raise her four children alone and God blessed her with another deep love. Her “Chapter Two,” as us widows call it, whom she also lost in 1975.

Fierce right? She took chances, and she was a gambler on more than just love. I guess I got that trait too because I love the casino AND I’ve never been afraid to risk my heart. But once you’ve lost everything that matters to you, taking any risk becomes terrifying. A new job, a new house, changing your preferred coffee brand…you get the idea. Instead of taking risks on new experiences, you suddenly want to remain attached to what you know, because it’s familiar and safe.

I finally understand why grief counselors and experienced widows/widowers are adamant about NOT making major life decisions in the first year after loss. You’re in a grief-fog and barely existing. Your brain is only there to keep your body alive. Critical thinking isn’t really an option, because your brain turns off any features deemed optional (like rational thought) to ensure physical survival. Because of that, your ability to make decisions is hindered.

Life Lessons

Less than three months after Mark died, I took a job at a private high school. Having suddenly become the only income again, I had to find something. This job was close to home, in the marketing and communications field, and the mission resonated with me. Unfortunately, I had never worked in an independent school so I had to learn a completely new market, and I had to do it fast.

I thought I was up for that challenge, but I was wrong. I remember feeling overwhelmed because I felt like I had no idea what I was doing. Not within my role, but in my life. I cried in my office more than once, devastated I wasn’t as productive as I could have been because my mind was incredibly broken and focused on other priorities. It was so unfair to both my colleagues and myself. If I’m really honest, I became a little resentful. It had nothing to do with the role itself, just my own internal turmoil.

Because of this, I struggled to adapt. It wasn’t because the people around me weren’t phenomenal and understanding, (not to mention patient) but rather, I had just begun to process my loss and truly feel my grief. I also developed a nasty infection that nearly killed me, so that made me question all my recent decisions and what I really wanted for my second act of life. It’s just what happens when your world crashes, regardless of why — you reevaluate everything and consider new, more meaningful directions. I still struggle with how I can effectively put this concept into words, but I give it a go below.

Do What Sets Your Heart on Fire

Mark had a short life. He was 44 when he died and barely in the prime of his life. He walked this planet for 44 years. We think we’ll always have time to accomplish the things our souls need to feel fulfilled in this life, but the truth is we really don’t. I’ve learned I cannot effectively (and happily) live my life by planning it all out and to this day believe that’s why the universe brought Mark and I together. So he could teach me how precious life is, remind me that this is my only shot, and make sure all my future moments count.

This summer, after COVID turned everyone’s life upside down, I knew I needed a different path. I started caring less about planning for how I’d spend the years ahead and instead thought about the following things: What will people remember about me? How can I make a positive impact on the world every day? Am I living a life that’s worthy of remembrance? Mark certainly did. He was a wonderful person with a forgiving spirit and the kindest heart. He showed me how to overcome adversity through resilience and positivity, which I often lost sight of before I met him. I owe him everything for this experience. Mark reminded me to live with purpose, and by doing so, he saved the rest of my life.

Through this tutelage, Mark helped me evolve into a more forgiving and loving person. I want nothing more than to continue the fire he ignited within me and show as much kindness to others as possible, and maybe help them realize their own goals and aspirations in the process. Whether that’s through a helping hand, financial support, advocacy, friendship, whatever, and I’ve practiced this for the last two years. But this mentality has also got me into trouble, because I’ve also struggled to distinguish if those I have helped really needed it, or if they just capitalized on my kind nature and vulnerability. Enter grief-brain.

When Your Brain Fails, Listen to your Body

In the past, I have heavily relied on gut feelings or intuition to help me make decisions. When you’re grieving it’s harder to do this, because your body isn’t well-aligned with your broken brain. Everything is wonky. Plus, I made the very naive mistake of thinking because I had already endured the worst pain imaginable, the Universe couldn’t possibly dish me more romantic life lessons.

To my fellow wids: you’re on this journey with me too, so you know this struggle. The loneliness feels like it will never end. Sure, we manage life’s daily tasks okay, but the desire and basic human need for human connection, physical affection and sex are very real things. These feelings don’t just apply to situations where a partner has passed either. They apply to any romantic relationship that has ever ended, for any reason, ever. We grieve the loss of love, no matter how it occurred.

BUT, as I’ve already said, when you’re grieving the death of a significant person in your life, your brain isn’t working optimally. Because of that, you start to question yourself, your gut feelings and your own intuition. Please don’t do that. Those “feelings” are physical reactions to negative energies your body is sensing. They’re still functioning, because your body is in survivability mode. It’s basic fight or flight, but because a grieving brain is a mess, you will question those responses.

I am so guilty of this. I completely dismissed so many warning signs about a man I had begun spending time with last year. I use this example, because I repeatedly ignored the “WTF are you doing, Laurie!?!?” warning signs but my brain responded: “Oh this feels familiar and safe. I hope Mark isn’t angry at me. Did I pre-make my coffee? I need to write that press release. I miss Mark. Why can’t I sleep?” and a host of other thoughts.

And now, for the warning signs:
– Man wasn’t divorced or emotionally available.
– Told me everything and anything I wanted to hear and meant absolutely none of it.
– Ditched me/blew me off way too many times, despite making plans.
– Ignored my requests for help, despite my helping him (more than once!)
– Joked about my living room mantle being a “shrine,” where Mark’s ashes rest.
– Became argumentative and defensive when I expressed my feelings about the above.

And I ignored these things for months.

Why? Because my brain turned off my ability to think and act like a rational human being the second Mark died, and this guy made out like a bandit because of it. He got my time, my attention, my affection, and my hard-earned money and he wasn’t worthy of any of it. Hindsight is a funny thing but if I had just listened to my body from the very beginning I would have suffered far less self-inflicted anxiety and embarrassment. I felt — and ignored — the signs. It pains me to admit what I allowed in the name of vulnerability, but my lesson is your gain.

I am not suggesting situations like the above will apply to you, because we are all different. But I will argue your vulnerability is more present than you may realize. Consider this fact as you make decisions moving forward. I now recognize I needed to learn these lessons to understand where I was in the grief cycle, but also to realize and accept my rational brain’s total vulnerability.

Take extra time to consider what you’re getting into or the decision you need to make. Sit with it for a while. I know you’ve lost your person and you feel like you need to make decisions quickly to get “back to normal,” or feel like you have more control of your life, but don’t rush any decisions right now. Gather every thought and consider every probable outcome. Take the time to listen to your body on these matters. Your mind will thank you.

Be brave and be bold. But most importantly, be honest with yourself.

In support,
Lau

Leaping into Myself

New life mindset: do only what sets your heart on fire.

Loss changes you. It just does. The person you were before your spouse or lover has died is gone. You give them a piece of your heart when they go; and you spend the next part of your life trying to mend your heart back together. As time goes by, and the loss begins to sting less each day, your heart somehow keeps beating while it struggles to mend the cracks and holes in it. It’s pretty amazing.

You also discover a whole bunch of shit about yourself.

This healing happens as you begin to take control of your life again, making decisions as a person instead of a team: redoing the kitchen, starting a new job, making new friends, finding new hobbies, watching Tiger King (all-the-while wondering, what the…?) Each decision you make molds you into the new you, because you’re finally filling the gaping hole that formed the second they died. On your own. The old you is gonzo, and it’s time for “You 2.0!”

Some time ago, I wrote a post about my experiences during my “first year of loss.” This is what happens, by-the-way: the “Year of Firsts,” another well-known caveat in the widow world. In all grief, really. Your first birthday without them. Their first birthday after their death. The first holidays. It’s a year of “This is the first…[insert moment here.]”

Your whole first year of managing loss is centered around each first time you do things without them. It’s a grief right-of-passage and (bonus!) personal triumph if you do these things without jumping off a bridge. Which I’ve thought about, as has every widow/widower I know. It’s agonizing, repetitive, ridiculous and unavoidable, no matter how much you try to brush the events from your mind. For some reason, we measure the first year in this way. What can I say…

My first year felt like a self-reflection disaster. (It wasn’t.) It took me a long time to figure out I was only surface-level grieving those first few months. I cried a lot. I snapped at people. I was angry. I unintentionally hurt others. I blamed most of that behavior on grief, which was mostly true, but I was wrestling more with the internal turmoil I felt watching — and feeling responsible for— his death.

Death is traumatic, and since I’m being honest, I quietly suffered because I was desperately trying to come to grips with the endless guilt I felt because I was the person that gave Mark the “comfort medications” that ended his life. I felt like I killed him, even though I didn’t. I blamed myself for us choosing Hospice. I blamed myself for needing a break and help which is WHY we chose Hospice. And I blamed myself for not being a better caregiver, which all his nurses (and my family) will tell you is bullshit, because I went above and beyond for Mark. Wayyyyy above and beyond.

I just needed to make myself feel better about my guilt and the shame I was feeling.

I tried to help anyone I could. I gave money to people I shouldn’t have. I tried to love people who didn’t want me. I hurt my friends and people that I genuinely care about. I dated people I knew weren’t right for me. I said nasty things to my family and parents. I ignored Christmas… despite how much my kids needed me to celebrate it. So much so, they took it into their own hands and decorated, and I’m glad they did. I also tolerated a lot of nonsense and bullshit that I didn’t need to, still showing kindness to whoever I could.

I was desperate to not feel as guilty as I did…and just feel better.

For months I blamed myself, and it wasn’t until I realized his death was not my fault that I was able to finally let that horrible pain go. In so doing, I fell inside my true grief and began to truly process his loss. That meant I had to confront a lot of people I had hurt in the months prior and make a lot of apologies for my behavior. Some accepted and some didn’t, but those are results I have to live with.

Then COVID-19 came along and fucked up life for everyone, and pushed me even deeper into grief. Yippee!

Trapped in my house, I was forced to think about Mark’s absence. All. The. Time.

To think about what his loss really meant for me and our family. The gifts he gave us. What we wanted to do to honor him. What life was going to look like without him. How grateful we were that he wasn’t here while the virus wreaks its havoc across the planet, because it surely would have killed him.

Grief forces you to reflect. During this time, I realized I was working in a job I didn’t love. Not because it wasn’t a great job or I didn’t have the tools I needed to do the job well, I just wasn’t in love with it. If there’s one thing Mark’s death taught me about life, it’s that I need to let go of things that don’t set my heart on fire. Life is way too short to waste even a moment on things you are not passionate about.

I used to think the universe brought that role and I together because I needed it. No. I needed that role to meet several strong, amazing people who helped me rediscover myself. They may not know it, but they helped me find the courage and bravery I needed to acknowledge I needed a change. And here I am: tackling my mid-life reset, or as I refer to it on social media, a mid-life fuck-it.

A new mindset fueled by happiness and doing only what sets my heart on fire.

Through this long, confusing, grueling and necessary grieving process, I’ve realized so much about myself. The next stage of my life is truly all mine. I can do what I want…whenever I want. I can move where I want, work where I want, plant new roots and dream….wherever I want. I can finally do what sets my heart on fire. Traveling. Writing. Dancing. Singing. Entertaining. Laughing. Being in Love. (I am so ready to fall in love again!) Eating everything (except clams, yuck.) Does that make me crazy?

No! We have one life and it’s so much shorter than we ever realize. I am so ready to live mine and enjoy whatever comes next.

Find your bliss.

With love,
Laurie

The Widow Cooties

Being around grieving people is uncomfortable, but being uncomfortable isn’t contagious, and neither is grief.

As many know, I am part of a private widow/widower support group founded by a fellow widow who’s now remarried and changing the world’s outlook on spousal grief. Well, all kinds of grief really. She’s been around the “grief block,” too.

The group is loaded with young widows and widowers, and since we’re usually pitied by society, or deemed pathetic, (or both, though the latter is highly inaccurate) we flock together like a bunch of flightless birds talking about our losses, experiences and lives in general. We all “get” each other, because we’re going though this shitty life lesson together. And it’s shitty. It’s ultra shitty. No sugar coating here.

That’s not to say people are not sympathetic. LOTS of people are sympathetic…overly sympathetic. They’ll make dinner, even though we sometimes feel we’d rather join our lost person by choking on our dinner; or they’ll hug us, even though we can’t find energy to shower and the same individuals point it out as if we don’t know; or we have to endure the endless “I can’t imagine what you’re going through” mindless chatter.

Trust me, they can imagine…they just don’t want to, because the emotions they feel when they do so makes them super uncomfortable and super sad. That is empathy, not sympathy…and that’s where most non-grievers (and well-intentioned supporters) stop dead in their tracks and hop the first metaphorical bus to “I’m Outta Here.” And hey, I get it. This is some uncomfortable shit we’re going through. Why would anyone want to imagine losing someone they care about? It’s horrifying.

But that mindset needs to change. If non-grievers would take off their metaphorical shoes, and put on those of the person going through the worst hell imaginable, understanding a grieving person becomes SO. MUCH. EASIER. Empathy is instant transportation to “This is unbearable” land, first-class fare included. When a non-griever examines how they may feel if their person was suddenly gone, their perspective changes.

Being around grieving people IS uncomfortable, but being uncomfortable isn’t contagious, and neither is grief.

Laurie Moon-Schmorrow

Almost instantly, they understand the complete and total mind-fuck it is to realize they’re the only parent and breadwinner; or why the old, ratty stuffed animal their spouse loved so much now has new meaning; or why they may no longer have a desire to go to their favorite restaurant; or why bathing and eating was suddenly optional.

Being around grieving people IS uncomfortable, but being uncomfortable isn’t contagious, and neither is grief. Don’t avoid us, try to become okay with being uncomfortable, because you can’t catch sadness. One of the wids in the group labeled this avoidance phenomenon best, calling it “The Widow Cooties.” I couldn’t have coined a better term if my life depended on it, and I am a marketer by trade.

While non-grievers understandably get the heebie-jeebies being around us and unpredictable crying, try just sitting with us, and just listen. Cry with us, that’s okay too. It’s important to remember you cannot fix our pain, so don’t try to. Just sit and be with us in those moments. We cannot control them though, so don’t question why we have them, or say really dumb things like “You’re still sad?” or “They’d want you to move on.”

Be present with us as tears roll down, hold our hand even tighter on the hard days, and help us consider a new future when we finally accept the one we envisioned is gone.

Laurie Moon-Schmorrow

We KNOW. Telling us silly shit like above isn’t going to help us to move forward. What does helps us continue moving forward is when you sit down and allow us to share our pain with you so it’s not so damn heavy for us. Help us carry it, even for a few moments. You may also find you have a new respect for your own mortality and have become a more emotionally available, awesome human being too.

Be present with us as tears roll down, hold our hand even tighter on the hard days, and help us consider a new future when we finally accept the one we envisioned is gone.Support our new goals, new ambitions, new dreams. And please remember time has ZERO relevance in grief — whether it’s been six months or six years. Grief isn’t linear. We can have concurrent great weeks, months or even years. And a smell, song, sound, or memory can trigger us and bring us right back to that dark and lonely place, even when we’re secure in our new lives, or in a new relationship.

Remembering that grief never “stops” does help make those awkward silences easier, and should help you better prepare for the uncomfortable sadness that generally follows. We are not okay, and that is okay. You can’t (and don’t have to) fix us, or fix our pain, even though we sense you desperately want too. While we are so grateful for that, we actually do like to remember our person, and talk about them. Doing so helps keep their memory, their legacy, their impact on us…which remains very much alive.

And that’s really a win-win for all. Reflection matters. Perspective matters. Empathy matters.

In support,
Laurie

Pictures…of a life lived

Hearts are resilient muscles: they beat fast and slow; they stop and can be restarted; and they heal. There is room for both the lost and the living within them.

It was 7:15 p.m. when I decided to go through the laundry room cabinets.

Things I don’t use tend to get stored there because I don’t have enough cabinets in my kitchen and feel guilty when I throw stuff away. Plus, if I store items here, I probably won’t see or think of them ever again. And I’m short, so I can’t reach anything in there anyway…which makes it the perfect location for useless crap.

While I was there, I decided to tidy up the cabinets, and found old picture hanging kits. I don’t use these things. Most of the time I use Command Strips so I don’t wreck my rented walls, but also because I should never have a hammer in my hand because frankly….smashing shit feels great!

I wasn’t built to build things. I’m good at destroying things, but building and crafting furniture was Mark’s thing, and he did so with much precision and care. I don’t know how many tools he had in his shed, now the property of his nephew. Once Mark’s disease got really bad he couldn’t work with his hands anymore. When I say “really bad,” I am referencing a naive time in my life when I had no idea how “really bad” things would actually become.

When Mark moved in, he brought a bunch of hand tools with him, but all his “big” tools and woodworking stuff stayed in his shed, where it has likely gone untouched since 2017. I hope not though. Mark’s nephew owns that house now — and I hope he’s using those tools to make his house everything he wants it to be. Plus, it continues Mark’s legacy of building things to be better.

That realization filled me with sadness, because newly discovered momentos, forgotten memories, or unseen pictures are the miraculous reminders that Mark was alive.

Laurie Moon-Schmorrow

I drive by that house every now and again, and I’m reminded of the parts of Mark’s life he left behind when he moved in. The fire bowl we’d enjoy on cool fall nights. The saws, sanders, and “man tools” because his hands and body had already begun to fail him. The many pictures in his attic he would have used those picture hanging kits for to mount pictures to walls “the right way.”

While holding these kits in my hand, I thought about the memories Mark never had the chance to share. All the memories I’ll never know because the attic pictures never made it to our house and my relationship with his family is so deeply severed it cannot be repaired. Those memoirs are gone forever — a realization that fills me with sadness because newly discovered momentos, forgotten memories, or unseen pictures are important reminders that Mark was alive.

I take pictures. (Okay, I take a lot of pictures.) Partly because I like to see myself on film and because pictures are tangible trinkets that transport me to another lifetime; a lifetime where Mark was alive and things were “normal.” A time when I was blissfully unaware of the emotional and physical chaos that would eventually infiltrate my life. My heart swells with those memories and I feel deep gratitude for them. I reminisce his time here and wish I had just one more moment with him.

But while the human brain is amazing, it can’t consciously remember everything, so it’s my crazy belief that photos help to unlock metaphorical doors our brains have created to catalog the wealth of memories and experiences we have over our lifetimes. So take the damn picture, okay? You’ll thank me later.

But then I think of conversations I’ve had with others, including men I’m interested in, and feedback from friends about just how present Mark is on our home’s walls. And they’re right…he is. We definitely made a lot of memories together. The large portrait of our family at our wedding, his Schmorrow Strides banners, the framed photo collage I made from photos I found in his safe after he died. You know, the little miracles I mentioned earlier.

He is very visible in our home, but...he was my husband. He is also present alongside the photos of my dead grandfather, grandmother, pets, friends, and many others I have lost along the way. These people influenced myself and my children in so many positive and beautiful ways. They helped shape me into the spectacular gal I am, which helped me raise my children as the awesome beings they are. They are more than deserving of such prominent wall space.

Hearts are resilient muscles: they beat both fast and slow, they stop and can be restarted, and they heal after they’ve been damaged. There is room to love both the lost and the living within them.

Laurie Moon-Schmorrow

But allow me to say this to anyone considering dating, committing to or marrying a widowed person: you should not ever feel or believe that you are competing with their lost person, or with their memory. You are not, and you will never be. You are the wonderful person you are and that we truly believe you to be.

We will get lost in our thoughts and mourn the person we lost, but I promise those moments pass, and we come back to this lifetime with you, as present as we ever were. Our hearts are fantastic and resilient muscles: they beat both fast and slow, they stop and can be restarted, and they heal after they’ve been damaged. They is room for loving both the lost and living within them.

Still, the picture hanging kits haunt me, because not only will I never use them, I will never make a new memory with Mark again. Because of that, I treasure those that hang on my walls as they are both the proof that he lived and the reminder he is gone. Yes, those we’ve lost have leave their marks on our hearts, but it’s okay if they leave their mark on our walls too.

In Support,
Laurie

A One-Year Road Trip with no Map

Your grief journey is your own. There are no exit ramps and there are no short cuts, so navigate it however you see fit, because the journey is unique to all of us.

There is no map for this journey, and no way out of it either. Your grief journey is yours, and you’ll do much of it alone. It’s the hardest trip you’re ever going to take. There are no exit ramps and there are no short cuts, so navigate it however you see fit, because the grief journey is unique to all of us.

The grief journey sucks — I won’t sugarcoat it. You’re frustrated, depressed, angry, bitter, sad, overwhelmed, indecisive and yes, happy, too. Usually all in the same day. Sounds like an emotional roller coaster, right? That’s because it is. The grief journey is full of uncontrollable twists and turns. It’s a sad, wild, scary, heart-pumping and sobering joyride. I’m only slightly kidding.

I wish I had the foresight to know what I was truly in for when Mark died. He was in hospice care, so I was prepared for his death in knowing his burial wishes, who he wanted present at his memorial, the songs he wanted in his video tribute, what he wanted to wear, etc. But I wish I had known just how much of my life would be impacted by my coming grief. The true grief that no one warns you about.

Even weird, unexpected things, like knowing I’d break down crying in the grocery store realizing I didn’t have to buy Cracked Pepper Turkey Breast at the deli anymore; or how I’d lose my marbles realizing the only reason I could have area rugs in my kitchen and bathroom again was because he was dead; or just how lonely I’d be drinking my morning coffee alone at the table. You aren’t prepared for those moments, because those are the “little things” that allow your grief to quietly dig its claws deepest into your heart.

A few weeks ago, I noticed an unsealed Vanilla Chai Tea K-Cup I opened for Mark the morning before he died. I never used it, as he was sick and sleeping that day. I don’t remember putting the cup back into the swivel holder, or why I didn’t throw it away, but there it was. I stared at it…and my heart sank. He died nearly a year ago, but that moment tugged at my breath with such force I couldn’t contain the emotions. I cried in the kitchen for a few minutes, let the feeling pass, and went on to make my own coffee.

There are fewer of those moments now, but when they come, I let them unearth the sadness. I do not put them away, I feel them wholly and go on about my day. For me, that’s the best way to manage it, because bottling up the little things adds up and usually results in a tear-fest of epic proportions.

As I’ve said, the real grief doesn’t come in those first few weeks, when friends and family are at your beck and call and the most supportive. It comes when the cards stops, dinners have slowed, and life returns to normal for everyone else. It comes in the months and years later. Time has absolutely no relevance in grief and has no limits on the love we carry for those we have lost.

Grief can be compared to a roller coaster ride. Grief tosses you upside down and spins you in circles. And while you can’t escape the ride once you’re on it, you do learn to balance yourself as it throws you all over the place.

Did I mention how much your brain fails you too? It’s referred to as “widow brain,” and it’s a real thing. You forget to do the most important things, like turning off the stove when you’re done cooking. But you remember ridiculous details, like the shoes your Aunt wore at the funeral.

So write everything down, and then double check. Your brain is working to keep you alive and breathing, not to help you remember dentist appointments or to put gas in your car. Studies prove this, although I won’t refer you to them. Just know your brain shuts off and you’ll become more inept than you ever thought you could be. Go with it, you get a pass.

Take a life break, buy tissues and be gentle with yourself. Grieving is emotional and physical trauma. It weighs heavy and sometimes feels unbearable. I remember thinking my sadness would never end and I would have to fake smiles forever. You don’t. You will smile again and one day you’ll laugh like crazy and it will feel amazing.

I had one of these moments three months after Mark died. My oldest son (he’s 26 and quite witty!) and I were reminiscing about Mark one night, and I was complaining I hadn’t heard from his family. No one. Someone’s ears must have been ringing, because his sweet cousin reached out to me to check in. The first (and only one) I ever heard from. My son said I should tease her as she’s a good egg with a sense of humor. Anyway, in response to her inquiry, my son said, “Tell her you and Mark have been fighting a lot, so you flushed him down the toilet!”

Never lose HOPE. Your life is NOT over. If you ever feel this way, call someone…anyone. You are very much here, and your person wants you to live your life.

Laurie Moon-Schmorrow

I laughed so unbelievably hard. So hard, I lost control of my bladder a little. (We’ve all been there!) What he said was SO. VERY. FUNNY. I could have sworn I heard Mark’s deep belly laugh too. It felt amazing to release so much physical energy in the form of a laugh instead of snot and tears! My shoulders relaxed and my stomach ached with joy. His cousin must have thought I lost my mind (and I have, because…you know, grief) but she responded with a laugh herself.

It’s okay to completely reset your life, because you are living a new one now. A reimagined future where you person no longer walks at your side, but within your heart. Take that new job. Kiss your crush. Donate their clothes. Go out. Laugh with your friends. LIVE.

Never lose HOPE. Your life is NOT over. If you ever feel this way, call someone…anyone. You are very much here, and your person wants you to live your life. You can let go of their physical self and things too, but only when you’re ready.

Nora McInerny, a fellow widow and founder of Still Kickin‘ said in one of her novels, Your attachment is to the person, not the thing. Paraphrased, but she’s right. I had a breakdown about this issue earlier this year, and I know (now) you can only do this when you are actually ready, not because you want to be ready. This man knows who he is, and if he’s reading, I hope he knows that debacle had everything to do with me and nothing to do with him.

In any event, it’s okay to let go of things. You’ll figure it out as you go. It’s okay to completely reset your life, because you are living a new one. A reimagined future where your person no longer walks at your side, but within your heart. Take that new job. Kiss your crush. Donate their clothes. Go out with your friends. LIVE.

You will still love them with all that you are, I promise. Time won’t matter. You will still talk about them as if they are still here, because they are. The parts of them you loved so much, you now carry within yourself. You will try to emulate them, and that’s okay. Grief changes you. You’ll do crazy things like quit your job and decide your credit rating doesn’t really matter as much as it used to. You start to appreciate what truly matters in this life. You will still feel that tug of loss and love when you think of them, but your heart will allow you to long for and love someone else too. And you won’t see it coming.

I unexpectedly developed feelings for someone late last year, and while it didn’t work out, I was so grateful that I did. There is a lesson to be learned with every experience you have. I still think of this man often, and how alive he made me feel. It mattered. He mattered. He saw me, and not as a widow, but as a living, breathing, exciting woman.

It felt amazing. The timing was wrong, because grief had not hit me fully yet, but I will carry gratitude and fondness for him forever. I was so relieved my love for Mark — and the pain I buried from his loss — did not inhibit my ability to develop those feelings. While it was a little weird to miss Mark and desire someone else, it’s not wrong to feel either of those things, even at the same time. For what it’s worth, I’m still figuring it out the process, but I know I can still desire, and so will you, when you’re ready.

Have gratitude that your journey isn’t over, because it isn’t. Stay hopeful. Know you will learn to walk with your grief, because I promise you that while you may not be able to see it yet, you and your grief will walk together one day. You will find hope buried under/in all of that sadness. You will cry…but you will laugh. You will still forget important things, but you will adjust. You will smile again, you will love again, and you will move forward.

And please know, there is no such thing as the “right way to grieve.” No matter what anyone tells you. Their thoughts and opinions on what you should or shouldn’t do…don’t listen. There is no map for this journey, and no way out of it either. Your grief journey is yours, and you’ll do much of it alone. It’s the hardest trip you’re ever going to take. There are no exit ramps and there are no short cuts, so navigate it however you see fit, because the grief journey is unique to all of us.

How are you navigating your grief? Share your experience below in the comments, and help support your fellow grievers!

In support,
– L

The Predictability of the Unpredictable

The only predictable factor in life is that life is unpredictable.

The thing about grief, and perhaps its blessing — if there ever was one — is how predictably unpredictable grief can be. The waves can happen at the most inopportune times, under the weirdest circumstances, (terrified on the operating table as I went in for emergency surgery) and in the strangest places (in the restroom at the bank.)

A lot has happened since the last time I posted. (Sorry, I’m sure I was missed, but life happens, right?) Following my last post, I was actively interviewing for communications roles at several companies, and took a position managing communications at a private high school.

The irony of finding and being offered this position is that it’s always been my personal mission in life to do things and act in ways that help me become a better version of myself. Mark knew this too, and sometimes I feel like I was meant to find this role and Mark helped me do so. Not only do I continue to evolve as a person, doing what I love, but I get to help others evolve into their best selves too. The irony, right…dare I say life is good?

For me, the deep grief hit later and continues to stalk me, in each moment I want to share with him, and in the moments I need him — both good times and bad.

I draw the line at saying that…because the guilt I feel because I’m still here is very real. I know moving forward and living my life is what I am supposed to do, but there are times I can’t help but feel I’m dishonoring my husband because I feel happiness. All normal. I know that, too.

Because I’m starting to feel happiness doesn’t mean I don’t have grief waves, though — I do. But now when I have them, they tend to be longer, deeper, and involve more introspection. You’d think they would be less intense over time, but it’s the opposite. When I think about the good that is happening in my life, I can’t share it with the one person I want to share it with, and that saddens me.

And that’s the “real” grief, in my opinion…all those experiences and moments you’re robbed of having. You’re not going to feel it in that first few days, weeks, or even months. For me, it’s not physically losing Mark, because that part of my mind adjusted to his loss pretty quickly, probably because his mind failed him long before he passed, and in many ways, I felt he was already gone. For me, the deep grief hit later and continues to stalk me, in each moment I want to share with him, and in the moments I need him — both good times and bad.

Not long after I landed my position, I got ill…really ill. In early October (another reason I’ve been “grief MIA”) my oldest son and I took the cruise to the Bahamas that Mark and I were supposed to take for what would have been his 45th birthday. I had been having some cramping, which was irritating and interfered with walking more than 3 miles a day (you walk a lot on cruises.) Despite not sleeping well, and receiving a multi-thousand dollar casino surprise win on Mark’s birthday (no joke!) I wasn’t myself. When we got home, it escalated very quickly and needed an ambulance ride to the ER.

I hate the ER…and hospitals in general. After spending weeks-long visits with Mark in ERs, Cardiac Floors, Care Floors, Rehab Centers, I have grown to fucking hate hospitals and it’s the last place on Earth I want to be. And before you say “Everyone hates hospitals,” just know, not everyone does. I know a few people who would move in if they could. Whatever. I was diagnosed with a severely inflamed Appendix and Tubo-Ovarian Abscess that had been infected for some time. After being rushed to another hospital, I needed an emergency Appendectomy and possible Hysterectomy, and after being told it was a risky surgery, I lost my mind on the way into the OR.

When Mark passed, I remember saying I didn’t care what happened to me. And I didn’t. I wasn’t suicidal, but, when you’re grieving, your mind is empty. You’re not processing anything the way you should be. I was so distraught that I had NO control over Mark’s death (no matter what I did to take the best care of him I could) that I finally had to admit to myself I don’t have control over anything. Relinquishing control has never been easy for me, and realizing I only have perceived control over anything has actually been a crucial life lesson.

It took being on that table at midnight worrying if my kids might become motherless for reality to finally hit me. I still wanted to live. I recall telling the kindest nurse ever (a man, by the way) that my husband had died just three months before and I used to say I didn’t care what happened to me, but now I do. I remember him rubbing my cheek sweetly before the sedative kicked in and telling me I’d wake up soon because I was in good hands.

It was an eye-opening experience. In the days after my surgery, I realized my worth again and the very delicate nature of my life.

The next morning I woke up in a private room. The nurse wasn’t there, but he came by my room that evening to tell me “I told ya so!” I also learned how lucky I was for them to have operated when they did. Had my appendix ruptured, because it was so close to my infected tube and ovary, it all would have done some sort of collective inner BOOM and likely would have resulted in Septic Shock, the same thing that killed Mark. Irony, right?

Because my reproductive system was feeling murderous, I was hospitalized for a week and out of work for three. I wasn’t about to let it try to kill me again, so I’ve made a lot of changes to improve my health. I’ve still got 60 pounds to lose and need to have a partial hysterectomy as soon as I can. That way, my womanly parts can’t exercise their rage again.

It was an eye-opening experience. In the days after my surgery, I realized my worth again and the very delicate nature of my life. My husband would not want me to “just exist,” which is what I was doing for the first several months after he died. In fact, he told me he wanted me to live hard and to love even harder: myself, my family, and one day another man. We had many blessings together before he died, including him having the mental capacity to tell me he wanted me to move forward after he was gone.

It’s still hard telling people I’ve been widowed. I still receive shocked glances and “but you’re so young!” responses. For some reason, young widowhood is an interesting phenomenon, which is odd because so many young people are dying from debilitating diseases. I’ve also started very casually dating again, and am learning to appreciate the crazy things and learning opportunities that come with it. I’ve been cat-fished, stood-up and lied to. Gotta laugh, right?

This time around in the romance department, I better understand the lack of control I have over the outcomes. They are either going to like me or they aren’t. They can either accept I’m a widow, or they can’t. I refuse to invest my time in men who cannot recognize my worth and that Mark’s death does not define me. I am a caring, attractive and independent gal with boatloads of awesome to offer. After the hell I’ve been through though, I plan to enjoy my dates and learn all the lessons I’m supposed to.

Life is unpredictable — as is every moment in it. Every choice we make has an outcome. So let it happen. Experience the pain. Dance in your kitchen. Take the help. Get angry. Walk in the rain. Smoke the joint (it’s legal in MA!) Learn lessons. Fall in love. Choose kindness. Forgive often. Sleep on the beach. Lose the weight. Laugh until your stomach hurts. Take the leap. Be brave. Enjoy the sex. Sing loudly. Appreciate new perspectives. Travel the world. Read that novel. Better yet, write your own novel. Don’t look back. Kiss your crush. Eat the ice cream. Believe in and challenge yourself. Climb the mountain. Take risks.

Just do it all… because we’re always a heartbeat away from having no heartbeat at all.

With love,
L

The Things They Leave Behind

“The things” are tangible proof our person was here with us, they left us, and they will always be present for us.

Because we love deeply, we grieve deeply.

There is very little warning for what I have lovingly coined my “grief episodes.” These episodes are the memories that flood my brain when I’m reminded of something quirky, funny, or just plain silly Mark may have said or done.

They happen at the Dunkin’ coffee shop, at family get-togethers, reading a Facebook memory, at the dentist office, in the shower, you name it. They happen anywhere, everywhere, and usually are completely unavoidable. When Mark first passed, this typically resulted in a display of emotions which may or may not have really freaked out those Dunks’ customers. Sorry, all.

You should take some time to sort through the memoirs of your loved one’s life.

But then, there are the things our loved ones leave behind: the unlaundered clothes, a dried-out toothbrush, medications you *should* bring to the police station for disposal, photos, even a (slightly) dusty nightstand that holds way-too-many bottle openers and boasts 45 keys that open something, somewhere. Memoirs of Mark’s life are all over my house. It took me four weeks to erase the whiteboard (the featured photo in this post) that used to house all his appointments, nurse visits and medication instructions. Now it’s become a “notes to Mark” board.

There’s no timeline or rulebook for when you are “supposed” to go through these items, but there is also an unwritten “Keep, Donate, Throw Away” day us widows somehow have to get to. I proudly avoid this “I’ve overcome my grief!” day as I believe you should take some time to sort through the memoirs of your loved one’s life. While I have been addressing his things as I come across them, packing up, donating or throwing pieces of his life away cannot happen in one day. It’s just too much and too final.

For example, I cancelled his credit cards and managed his estate matters like a boss, but I can’t even think about opening his sock drawer, much less giving his socks away. I know how ridiculous this sounds, believe me. But if I acknowledge his feet aren’t here to fill them, the tears come, and that’s no fun.

While tears are healing, cleansing, and blah-blah-blah, no-one tells you how painful they’ll become.

Laurie Moon-Schmorrow

If you’ve grieved someone very close to you, you know what I’m talking about. That overwhelming pit in your stomach that causes you to gasp for breath in a desperate attempt to regain composure and not break down…again.

While tears are healing, cleansing, and blah-blah-blah, no-one tells you how painful they’ll become. It physically hurts to cry now, and no…I have not been stung by bees on *just* my eyelids, thank you! The first few weeks after Mark died, I was in a daze, so I didn’t cry much. It’s not that I wasn’t aware of Mark’s death because I watched him take his last breath, it just didn’t feel real then. It still doesn’t feel real sometimes, because my memories keep him alive.

Even as I write this post, I can see him sitting in his Captain’s Chair, grabbing both sides of the kitchen table and fiddling with the tablecloth, (which drives me crazy) smirking at me while he does it. I’m half-tempted to swat at his hands, but then I remember his death, and it burns inside. And each time I encounter some of his things, it becomes even more real. I think this means the shock has lifted and grief has settled in for its duration. How toasty. That means I’ll have to feel all “the things” now, too.

For a moment, something familiar both caused and eased my sorrow, simultaneously.

The other day I was prepping for a nice long shower when I noted his body wash. Now, I’m a lavender and sunshine kinda gal by nature, but I opened his body wash for the first time in 10 weeks and was flooded with his “man smells.” The warm scents of cedar, menthol and cool water…whatever that is.

My senses filled with the aroma of Mark, and it felt so comforting. I lathered myself in an obscene amount of his body wash, and while I did feel emotional, I did not ugly cry. Instead, I wept little tears and remembered how his skin felt, the look of his tattoos, the large amount of hair on his strong shoulders. For a moment, something familiar both caused and eased my sorrow, simultaneously. I was relieved I wasn’t sobbing uncontrollably and rather was enjoying the moment and this memory of him.

After I finished showering, I felt in control of my feelings. I finally threw out Mark’s used razorblade and replaced it with a new one. Mark is dead, but my leg hair still grows, so I might as well use the ProGlide razors. But I wasn’t done there, because I tossed a hand-mirror, his tweezers, an old comb, and his nose-hair trimmer in the trash. It’s not like that thing worked anyway because Mark always had these really long nose hairs. I miss pulling them out, although he’s probably grateful I can’t do it anymore. HAH! Okay, I need a moment…

Their things are the tangible proof our person was here with us, they left us, and they will always be present for us.

Laurie Moon-Schmorrow

Grief is HARD. It’s chronic, especially when the person you lost is so close to you. It never goes away because you carry love and memories of your lost person in your heart. Those memories return us to our most beloved moments with our person, and they become present for us again. Grief is the pain we feel when we realize these moments won’t happen again and acknowledge all the future moments that were stolen from us.

A stolen future is why I grieve so deeply. And his things remind me of that future. His unstamped passport, the gun holster I found under the bed, his sneakers, a container of Rocky Road Ice Cream, the swash of tools in the basement, the floppy discs and AOL CD-ROM I recently found in the time-warp that was his file cabinet.

It’s all the things Mark and I wanted to do: buy a house, travel to Hawaii, Alaska and California, have more doggos than we probably should, grow older together…now they won’t happen. It’s a lot to accept and I’ve realized encountering “the things” are unavoidable after-effects of death. But I’ve also learned it’s okay to find comfort and solace in the socks, razors and last millenia computer supplies they leave behind. Relish them. The things they leave behind are the tangible proof our person was here with us, they left us, and they will always be present for us.

The “Keep, Donate, Throw Away” day can wait.

For now,
Lau

Adrenomyeloneuropathy (AMN) – A Grim Reaper of “Rare Diseases”

Knowing your time is limited can be both a curse and a blessing.

Rare Diseases: it seems as though everyone has one. In recent years, there has been a surge in discovery of rare diseases. So many in fact, it’s a “rare” day that we don’t read a heartwarming story about a brave soul battling a mutant gene terrorizing their body. There’s always something out there waiting to get us, which makes me wonder how “rare” these diseases actually are. Something to contemplate.

A rare disease called Adrenomyeloneuropathy (AMN) took my husband. AMN is the adult onset of Adrenoleukodystrophy (ALD) and it affects about 14,000 people in the United States, (mostly males) because it is linked to the X-gene, making women carriers. Unfortunately, Mark’s mother carried the gene and passed it to him. Thankfully, it did not manifest itself in Mark’s youth, or he wouldn’t have made it to 44…he would have died long before that. Had ALD developed, Mark would have missed his first school dance, his first Atari game and his first kiss. While he hated the hand his chromosomes dealt him, he was very grateful for his “normal” childhood, and by normal, I mean mischievous.

Mark, around age 13.

Mark struggled to do many things: walk, shave and go more than two hours without a bathroom break (haha!) But he had the gift of life, and with a rare disease, you take all the gifts you get. He was grateful for strong arms that helped him avoid his big brother’s attempts to throw him into the pool; he was grateful he snagged a dirtbike that wasn’t his; he was grateful he stupidly drove a brand new motorcycle into a wall; he was grateful he lost his “innocence” in his less-than-safe Camaro; he was grateful for his lifelong friends; and he was grateful for the deep love we had together and for the family we made.

ALD is generally a death sentence but AMN seems a bit more forgiving, unless you get the “cerebral” version, which Mark developed. Once the lesions began forming in 2017, it was quick…really quick. In fact, it took barely 18 months to turn my husband from the determined, strong man he was to the extra quiet, sometimes expressionless man he became.

Knowing your time is limited can be a curse, not a blessing.

Many people have cautiously reminded me that I “knew” Mark was going to experience an early death. I interpreted this to mean I should be better prepared for my grief or less emotional because it was expected. We ALL die. Just because I knew Mark would (likely) die sooner than me doesn’t lesson the blow or make it easier to accept.

We “know” we lose loved ones, but does that make it easier to accept when it occurs? Of course not! When you touch your loved one’s cold hands, or kiss their lifeless lips, is it easier to handle because you had foresight? No. Knowing – or suspecting – isn’t a blessing…believe me. So many people said to me: “You’re so lucky. You know time is limited, so you can maximize the time you have together.”

Wrong.

You try managing the mountain of anticipatory grief and guilt that befalls you, “knowing” death is approaching: you “know” you won’t be able to visit all the places they’d like to see; you “know” you can’t afford that expensive restaurant they want to try; you “know” your hugs are limited, so you flood them with more “I Love Yous” than you ever thought possible. Knowing your time is limited can be a curse, not a blessing.

I will never see Mark again. I will never kiss Mark again. I will never talk with Mark again. I will never hear Mark laugh again. Mark will never say “It will be okay, honey” again. I will never feel Mark’s arms around me again. Writing this makes it nearly impossible to breathe, never mind process. I have videos and pictures to flood my memory, but those are also constant reminders he’s gone. Just because “I knew,” doesn’t make it easier.

Mark, Sept. 2017 on our Honeymoon.

That said, when Mark and I first got together, I did my “disease homework.” I also talked to Mark’s neurologist who assured me he didn’t have brain complications. Granted, he’s a physician, and while physicians can’t predict the future, he seemed confident we were looking at physical decline, not mental.

And mental decline is way worse, people. Way, way, way worse.

Physically, Mark went from one cane to two, and used his wheelchair more often as time went on, but his disease was way harder on his nerves and brain. Unfortunately, Mark also had a host of urinary issues. The signal receptors were either blocked or just dead, so he often did not feel “the urge” to go (later in his disease) and he developed many UTIs, which did irreparable damage to his Bladder and Kidneys. He had UroSepsis at least seven times in his final 16 months of life and who knows what kind of damage that did to his other internal organs.

We really do take advantage of all the wonderful things our brains do for us.

Sepsis accelerated AMN progression significantly – which lead to all the lesions in his brain. Once they huddled into the “Occupy Mark” game play, it was very rapid. Within weeks of his first Sepsis incident, he had vision neglect in both eyes. I remember once that he didn’t see me in the room, his neglect was so bad. We decided to relinquish his new truck (this one hurt him deeply as he worked so hard to get it!) and he withdrew from classes at the university he enrolled in, because he could no longer read. I also had to help him put on his clothes and shoes, because too many times they’d be on wrong…especially his underwear. But he always smiled through it. (DISCLAIMER: I love the below picture and remember this moment with so much fondness.)

Mark, Feb. 2018

Cognition went next: he forgot how to use his phone so he wasn’t able to text or call people without help. Siri was helpful sometimes, but once he started texting my parents that he loved them, we chose a simple phone. That became problematic quickly because he struggled to open the phone and see the bigger buttons. He also found it difficult to follow basic directions. I tried to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with him once. Let’s just say it took more than ten minutes, the poor guy. We really do take advantage of all the wonderful things our brains do for us.

Mark, Oct. 2018.

With all this, the speech and swallowing also declined. The words were often jumbled and he couldn’t come up with sentences, so he eventually just stopped engaging. He always got flustered when he couldn’t find words, and I did my best to help him fill the gaps. We also cut his food smaller because he wasn’t chewing effectively and his throat muscles were failing. He eventually lost the ability to find the food on the plate, so we’d feed him. Admittedly, we had a little fun with this one…LOL. But we had to have some fun, because this disease is a monster.

My husband was disappearing and there was nothing I could do about it.

Memory was the last to go…and this was the worst. I remember asking him during one of his hospitalizations: “Where’s your wife, baby?” and he replied: “She’s around here somewhere!” I said, “I’m not your wife?” and he replied, “No way…she’s cleaning my room, I think.” Let that sink in: you’re holding your 44-year-old husband’s face in your hands and he not only has no idea who you are, but he thinks you clean hospital rooms (I have…LOL) I cried for hours after this visit. My husband was disappearing on me by the day, and there was nothing I could do about it.

Eventually, Mark lost the ability to walk, and was wheelchair, couch, or bed-bound. We did our very best to get him out into the world: Alex or myself would take him for walks daily and I’d cook him anything he wanted, because “Anything my wife cooks,” was always his favorite meal (according to any nurse I ever spoke to.) We had movie nights with the kids (he hated Disney movies, LOL) and we’d occasionally have a “date night” that our sons would accompany us to because Mark needed two people to move him in and out of the SUV.

Mark at Rehabilitation Following Illness, March 2019

The last four months were so hard on all of us, but especially Mark. He was in the hospital for something like 40 days between Feb. 3-April 10. That’s A LOT of time to be away from home. I visited him every day of course, usually most of the day, because he didn’t get many visitors other than us (I always checked the visitor logs.) Mark didn’t see his family much, and not because they lived a distance away, (they don’t) but because they chose to be absent in the last year of his life.

This is my opinion, anyway. I learned early on that not only would I manage his illness alone, I would also be expected to reach out to make plans with them, too…despite Mark’s limitations. It was just too much for me, so I let it go. If they wanted to be around Mark, they could reach out, but they didn’t. I don’t know if his illness was truly too difficult to grasp, but I know I heard that excuse at least once. Everyone seemed to be able to attend our wedding though, because that was a happy time.

Hospital admissions generated the obligatory visits, but I think we had a total (including hospitalizations) of eight visits from June 2018 until Mark’s death. No birthday visits, no holiday visits, no phone calls either. Zippo. He deserved better that that and I won’t apologize for saying so. I didn’t care for that treatment, and made it known. Mark didn’t notice very many things, but he noticed their absence, and that bothered me. I hope one day they can come to terms with it.

Anyway, that’s what our last year looked like. AMN truly was the grim reaper for our family. It took everything from Mark: his ability to work with his hands, his memory, his ability to walk, his ability to be intimate, (no fun for a newlywed couple!) his ability to converse, to eat, to think, to live. It took everything from him, and subsequently me, too.

It’s almost as though they lay dormant, lurking in our DNA, just waiting for the right moment to strike.

But he was still grateful, and so am I. I asked him if he thought he lived a full life (because at age 44 I definitely am not fulfilled!) and he said: “I do! I was able to be young and do stupid st—, had good friends, and I got to marry you.” He told me so many times that was the greatest day of his life. While we only were able to spend a little less than four years together, that in no way diminishes the love we created. It flows so very deep within me, and that’s because we found love despite the monster that lived within him.

Following News of Cerebral Involvement, Dec. 2017

There are loads of rare diseases out there, just waiting to emerge in the bodies of their targets. It’s almost as though they lay dormant, lurking in our DNA, just waiting for the right moment to strike and bring pain to the body of their host, plus wreak havoc on the lives of everyone around them.

Did I know his disease would kill him one day….yes. Does it make it easier to handle his absence…no. I will love and grieve him for the rest of my life, no matter how few years we had together, or the foresight of knowing how few they might be.

Have an experience you’d like to share? Please send a comment below!

For now,
Lau

The Reality of Death

Even “expected” death is not the peaceful, quiet situation we often envision.

I get it, universe. Really. My person is gone.

I know “life goes on,” and I must continue on to accomplish the daily tasks I have come to know as “structure.” And to those who like to remind me that life goes on…I GET IT. And my response to you is: reminders aren’t helpful. Motivation is, but motivation goes out the window when you’re grieving. So does structure in the beginning, but that’s a blog post for another day.

When Mark first left me, I was completely distraught from watching him die. It wasn’t the peaceful, quiet situation we had envisioned after becoming hospice patients. In fact, it was the complete opposite. I’ve mentioned a few times to my family that I might also be experiencing feelings of trauma in addition to my grief, but I’m not a therapist. It’s not like we’re always present to witness deaths of our loved ones, so there’s bound to be confusion.

It took me some time to realize that I was trying to control an outcome I was powerless to control: Mark’s death.

But it was my first experience watching someone I loved so very deeply die. I mean, have you watched someone die? Do you know the internal terror and guilt it causes when it’s not peaceful, or when you can’t stop pain? If not, I’m glad. Feeling powerless in a situation you can’t control will drive anyone bonkers, but when you add in a 104 fever, seizures and the dreaded “death rattle,” you’re bound to have some serious emotional baggage.

I have too often wondered if I “did enough” for Mark during his last couple days. I applied the cold compresses, gave comfort medications and said no to sleep so I could hear every sound he made, determined not to miss his passing. When we got this shitty news, I promised I would be there until the very end, and I absolutely meant it.

I climbed into the hospital bed with him on his last night on Earth and carefully listened to his heart beat. I read to him and talked about our first date. I reflected on our first tiff — which was on our second date. I spoke of the first time he professed his love to me, and the night he proposed. That night was hilarious: he took me to view Christmas lights, and naturally decided to pop the question in front of the darkest house on the street.

I recall quietly weeping around 3 a.m. as I wiped his very hot skin with cool-watered cloths. I listened to his fast breathing and tried to soothe him, like I would have if I was soothing an infant. I played music he liked and thought quietly about our first dance as husband and wife, less than two years ago.

I thought of all the trips we would not take together now. I did my best to wipe the tears and ignore his hiccups and the repeated jerking motions he made while I tried to stimulate a suck of water through water sponges. I did way too many vitals checks which accomplished absolutely nothing other than make me totally bananas. I covered and uncovered his body. I wiped his forehead. I Googled “How to make a dying person comfortable.”

Mark, 10 p.m., June 17

Finally, around 4:30 a.m., when he started breathing very deeply, I noticed dark brown urine in his bag, It was then I stopped trying to help. At that moment, I realized the measures I was taking weren’t doing anything other than keeping me focused on time left, rather than acknowledging and accepting my husband was dying.

I called the Hospice nurse to talk to her about his 103 temperature, knowing I couldn’t stop what was coming. It took me some time to realize I was trying to control an outcome I was powerless to control: Mark’s death. After that, I found myself administering Morphine, Haldol gel and Ativan, which would quickly limit the rest of his life. In that moment, I felt horrible, as I was the one that had to give the life-ending medicines to the man who captured and loved my heart so beautifully.

If Mark knew his time was short, he never told me. He left me blissfully unaware.

When our nurse confirmed Mark was dying, I didn’t want to believe her. I acknowledged it, and knew she’d seen a lot of death in her day, but I also knew Mark was a fighter. Denial is an ugly thing. When his heart rate finally reached 175 BPM, (above exercise rates) and a “Nut-uh” followed every exhale, I realized he was somewhere else, talking to someone else, and I knew he was nearly done fighting.

It was around that time Chaplain Chris from Hospice arrived to talk to me. We said the Lord’s Prayer, spoke of the sudden turn of events, and he quickly arranged for Father Tom to come give Mark his last rights. His last rights. He was 44.

While Mark never actively practiced religion, I recently found a necklace with a gold cross that I had never seen him wear. I also noted it in his senior pictures, and have been wearing it non-stop since his death. That said, he never attended church and did not live an overly religious life. But he expressed interest in returning to church in his last couple months, so we were relieved we could have some religion-based services provided to us at home through the hospice agency. If Mark knew his time was short, he never told me. He left me blissfully unaware. While I knew he probably wasn’t going to be around in his 50s, I didn’t expect him to leave us so soon.

I remember my mind filled with hope of a divine miracle, but that was not to be the case. His miracle was reserved for another soul.

Laurie Moon-Schmorrow

After Father Tom anointed Mark, there was a fast change in his status. He had been doing this weird hiccup thing that caused his body to jerk, but otherwise he looked unbothered by it. That stopped almost immediately after anointment, and Mark widely opened his eyes, looking quickly at all of us but not having a clue where he was. I thought he was awake and maybe the anointment helped. I remember my mind filled with hope of a divine miracle.

But this was not to be the case. His miracle was reserved for another soul. Shortly after he opened his eyes, his head began to writhe back and forth uncontrollably, and he began to groan deeply, looking at us (or so we thought) with glassed-over, wide-open, blue eyes. He looked possessed, if I’m totally honest. I was horrified, and that’s when that awful death rattle sound began, and my hopes quickly turned to dread.

I knew what that sound meant, and so did Hershey. He found his way onto the couch and immediately lunged towards Mark, licking and smelling his face, trying to get onto the bed. My daughter helped him on and he laid there on Mark’s lap until he passed. Alex and Josh were off to Mark’s right holding his hand, and I was on his left, wetting his forehead. Poor Kassidy was making all kinds of phone calls, the poor kid. She is his niece by marriage, but he loved her as blood. He loved them all as his.

Mark turned his head toward me a few moments later with half-opened, glassed-over eyes…and I told him to go.

The priest stepped back as we sprung into action, mouthing to me “It won’t be long now.” Kassidy contacted the hospice agency as I thought Mark was having seizures. They provided me with medicinal advice and I was able to administer two medications, after which Mark suddenly said, “Nuh-Uh” and turned his face away from me. I don’t know who he was talking to, whether me or someone else, (somewhere else) but it was clear as day. I looked at the priest, and he returned my glance, slowly shaking his head “no” to me.

I told Mark “Okay honey…I hear you,” and I said I wouldn’t give him anymore meds, but he should not suffer like this. Mark turned his head back to me a few moments later with half-opened, glassed-over eyes, and I told him to go. I told him I knew he doesn’t want to leave us, but we’ll be okay and he doesn’t have to fight anymore. We continued to express our love for him and I told him if he was waiting for the boys (his nephews) to visit, and he was in too much pain to wait, that he could go, and I would look after them.

Just after I told him this, his face and body began to relax. His eyes closed slightly and I leaned over and kissed his lips one last time while I knew there was still life in them. “I’ll love you forever,” I said. It was only a moment or so later his breathing slowed, and I noticed his chest fill high with air. He held it there for a moment and then he was gone.

Alex and Mark, just after Mark passed.

I have been hesitant to share these pictures because some may find them offensive, but I don’t care. This is our reality every day. We were there for the tough parts, and the photos of Mark taken before and after his death are equally as important to us.

We lived and witnessed his struggles in life and were there when he moved from this life to whatever came next. These memoirs were our reality and are reflective of life’s most mysterious transition. I like to think he’s running around on both of his too-skinny legs with Pablo at his heels in Heaven, surrounded by never-ending buckets of ice cream and an always-stocked bar with Rum and Coke.

In this life, he was my husband, my best friend, a terrific father to my children and a wonderful person worthy of the deep love that he gave to everyone else. I will always be grateful for the time we had with him and for the love we shared. Even in death, this is what love looks like.

June 19, 2019 at Mark’s private viewing.

For now,
Lau

One Month Down…A lifetime to go

This is what the reality of losing your person feels like: navigating the entire world…limbless.

Like love, grief comes in waves. One minute they’re lapping at your feet so very gently, and the next, they topple you over and you find yourself immersed under water, unable to reach the surface…until you do.

— Laurie Moon-Schmorrow

People don’t know how to act around grieving people because grief is a very uncomfortable emotion to witness. You want to help, but aren’t sure what help is appropriate or how to offer it. We walk on this seemingly gigantic pile of eggshells around grieving people, always worried we’ll make them more sad.

But why is that? Grief is uncomfortable for everyone and is supposed to be sad. It’s a natural human emotion that we all experience so why do tears and sadness make us so damn unsettled that we choose to avoid it? After all, we can’t really escape grief, can we, because everyone has lost someone they care about. This is another blog post in itself, why our culture is so damn focused on “positivity.” Sometimes there is no positive in a situation.

Sometimes, the situation just sucks. Like Grief. GRIEF SUCKS, because we can’t fix it. We can’t make it go away. So we don’t know what to do with it. Traditionally, interacting with a grieving person goes as follows:

  1. We contact the person and apologize for their loss.
  2. We send a card or flowers to show support.
  3. We attend the funeral/service.
  4. We wait a ridiculous amount of time to contact the grieving person again.

Why is this acceptable? As a new widow grieving the loss of my late husband, my grief will never go away. It will always be present, because having spent so many years with him, Mark is part of me now, because of the wonderful love he showed me and the person I became. And because of that love, I will always have grief.

I will always feel the love I had with Mark through memories. I will always tear up when I look at his photos, which are around the house. I will always wish for his presence during big family moments, vacations, or when we’re sitting around the table eating dinner. The love I have for Mark will never go away, but if I’m honest, I do hope the continual longing for his presence will subside.

This is the reality of losing your person. A huge part of you is gone and you’re left there to navigate everything around you…limbless.

Yet, the sympathy cards are slowing down, the text messages from folks checking in are fewer, and impromptu visits from friends just don’t occur anymore, and I think to myself: The world is moving on …without Mark. But here I am, sitting in the insanely comfortable leather recliner he had to have, with the same raw, gut-wrenching feelings I’ve had for the last 31 days knowing it’s not time to move on.

Grief is a different experience for everyone, and the closer you are to the loss, the more emotional you are, but it pains me to see the world move forward. “How can you move forward and forget Mark?” I think to myself. I know this is not the case, but it feels that way.

One month ago, life came along and metaphorically ripped my arms and legs off. Can a person survive without arms and legs? YES. Would life be harder to live without arms or legs? YES. This is the reality of losing your person: A huge part of you is gone and you’re left to navigate everything around you…limbless.

Remember, your grieving friends need support long after the funeral, because the true grief hasn’t settled in yet. They won’t need hugs all the time…but they’ll need someone to sit with them and listen. Venting makes it less heavy, and BTW, venting doesn’t always include crying. Sometimes destroying things is better, because the physical pain from grief is overwhelming. Let’s go ax-throwing, eh?

People not “showing up” for you are actually precious gifts from your lost person, although it doesn’t feel like that right now.

People are going to make promises and say all the right things, because that’s grief-standard. Ignore the words. Pay attention to actions. You will learn who your real friends and family are when you’re grieving. I got a lot of offers of help and many of those offers came from fellow “front-row” family members. They were just that — offers. I’ve learned people not “showing up” for you are actually precious gifts from your lost person, although it doesn’t feel like that right now. But believe me, they’re showing you who needs to be shown the door.

Everyone experiences and deals with grief in different ways. Some act out in anger. Some will retreat and give you space. Some will just move on. It’s all okay.

People inherently mean well, but most offers of support come from people soothing their conscience. For me those were the people that he wanted — and should have been — present when he was alive. No thanks, take that guilt elsewhere. I have always acted in Mark’s best interests, and every action taken in the years we spent together reflects this.

That being said, I have to remind myself everyone experiences and deals with grief in different ways. Some act out in anger. Some will retreat and give you space. Some will just move on. It’s all okay. We live in this really weird grief-avoidance culture anyway, right?

I somehow survived the first month of Mark’s loss, thanks to support from my family and a few good friends. I also joined an online Young Widows support group to connect with other people who also lost their spouse/partner/person. It’s been a blessing and I’ve already made some great new friends. Yesterday was the one-month anniversary of Mark’s death, and for the first time, I was able to take his ashes out of his Urn. I have seen them before obviously, but yesterday I held them close to me and wept, wishing so deeply that he was there in some ethereal sense, sending me strength.

“Let them go. Let it all go, honey.” I imagine Mark says, as I look out the window and listen to the trees rustle and birds sing.

Once I finished my moment, I placed the bag back into the Urn and a few residual ashes escaped, floating down to rest on my face. I imagine he’s there with me… “Let them go. Let it all go, honey.” I imagine Mark say, as I look out the window, listening to the trees rustle and the birds sing. Okay, honey…you win again. I love you, wherever you are.

For now,
Lau