I’ve said before that I write a lot. I write many things that don’t make it anywhere but onto my computer. I write many things that are just for me. Not for anyone else. I rarely write about my late husband, Jon, on this blog. Mostly because it is difficult, but also because the things I write about him are just for me. For the first year following his death I wrote almost every day. It was so helpful as a means to healing and figuring out my emotions. Jon was the first one to encourage me to start a blog, and was the one who came up with the name. He was my first taste-tester and cheerleader. He helped me write college papers when I was sitting in frustrated tears because I hated writing. Now writing is a part of who I am. I love to write. He helped me appreciate writing and come to love it and need it, in life and in death. (There have also been several still-living loved ones that have encouraged my writing for the past two years.) I started writing this earlier in the week because I needed to write about that day again. I wrote it for myself, but now I need to tell our story one last time. Our beginning and our end. I have decided to share it here in the hopes that someone will benefit. I hope that hearing my story will let someone else know that they aren’t alone. Finding a community of young widows felt nearly impossible two years ago. For more widow resources and community there are some fabulous blogs out there written by amazing women and men who have the strength and willingness to share their stories and lives daily. Find them and be comforted by them.
Two years ago today I was exploring Seattle with my realtor looking for the perfect home. A home with a large kitchen to cook and an even larger area to entertain. A home with enough room for an office and a nursery. A home to call “ours” and in which to have a baby or two. This was the third house-shopping day, and the first that I was alone with the realtor. It was a Friday and he had to work. I went in to work with him that morning, like I did most Fridays, to work on the bookkeeping for our small machine shop in Ballard, Washington. I was only there for a couple of hours before I left for the house-hunting appointment with Diane, our realtor and Kal’s wife, one of the other shop guys. I went into the shop to say goodbye to him. He eyed my smoothie breakfast so I gave him the rest. He told me I was the best wife ever and kissed me goodbye. As he was walking away he turned back with a big smile and wave and said, “I love you so much. I’ll see you in a few hours.”
As we walked out of the first home of the day, Diane took a phone call and walked away from me. I could tell something was wrong but kept my distance to avoid eavesdropping. She came back and grabbed both my arms with her hands, looked straight into my eyes with tears welling in her own and said, “We need to go to the shop. Follow me.” It was only a few minutes away. I called him three times on the way there and didn’t understand why he wasn’t answering his phone. My phone rang. “Madre”. I ignored the call. There were two police cars in front of the shop.
No ambulances. No fire trucks. It must not be that bad.
The street was over-crowded with parked cars. I had to park half a block away. I ran the half-block to the shop, not sure my stiletto boots would carry me. I stopped short just inside the doorway. My realtor was standing there staring at me. Next to her were two policemen. All the shop guys were sitting, standing, or leaning, all eyes on me. I looked towards his office chair where I saw his blue coveralls and worn black work boots from the corner of my eye.
Who is in his chair? Where’s Jon? What’s going on?
The officer started, “There’s been an accident…”
“Don’t sugar coat it”, I snapped.
He’s gone? Where is he? Is he on his lunch break? At the hospital? What does that mean “he’s gone”?
“What?!” I croaked with what felt like the last breath I had in me.
My knees stopped working. My realtor caught me as she wailed loudly. I started towards the door to the machine shop. The officer stepped in front of me and told me I didn’t want to go in there. Then I was sitting in his office chair. How did I get here? I’m pretty sure someone was sitting in this chair just a moment ago. The officer told me he’d give me a few minutes and then we would need to talk. He looked like a baby. I’m only 26. Jon is only 27. This police officer must be 15. Does he even know what he is dealing with? What I’m dealing with? Why isn’t he more upset?
Suddenly the room was empty, although I don’t think it actually was. I was sitting in Jon’s office chair. The chair and desk where I sat once or twice a week to do the bookkeeping. It seemed so foreign and uncomfortable now. I was wearing the coat he wore in to work that morning. His phone was in my lap and I was looking through his wallet as if I’d find him there.
I think I used his phone, but I can’t be sure. I called David, Jon’s best friend. I explained that there had been an accident and that Jon had died instantly. I don’t think I explained things eloquently; in fact, I think I blurted it out. We sat in stunned silence on the phone for what felt like an eternity. It was the most comforting silence. He stammered something and we hung up. The police officer was back and telling me to call somebody that could drive me home. I could feel my gaze cut through him as I said I wouldn’t be leaving. He said I’d need a ride later and for now someone to just sit with me. So I called the person I knew could get there the quickest. “Madre” was calling again. This time I answered. “I’m so sorry sweetie” her voice cracked through the phone. Something about a plane and seeing me in a few hours.
Now the tiny office was filled with people. The two police officers, a medical examiner, the Medical Police Chief, a Labor and Industries representative, two Hazmat employees. Everyone handing me business cards, explaining who they were, what they needed from me, and what I’d need to take care of in the coming days. Everyone was walking in and out of the door connecting the office to the shop. The one I was blocked from entering. I stared longingly and achingly at that damn door. A few different people told me that I didn’t want to go in there, that I didn’t want to see him. I agreed. All the “business” took several hours. I sat and watched as they rolled a purple cloth-covered stretcher from the shop and into an ambulance. I felt an incredible urge to run towards him and an even stronger force holding me back. I was mere feet away from him, but I couldn’t go to him. All I could do was sit and watch and listen to everyone’s instructions.
I was numb. The whole day whizzed by while moving in slow motion with my numb self at the center of it all. My head spinning but focused on the things that needed to be done. I was comforted by friends and family, but was unable to feel comfort. The day didn’t make sense. Was it even real? It didn’t feel real, but it felt too real.
It wasn’t until the following morning that it hit me like a ton of bricks. January 30th, 2010 was the first time in my 26 years that I completely understood that term. I sobbed and sobbed and felt like I’d never be able to breathe again.
We met when we were twelve. I thought he was cute but he didn’t like me. I got over it. We became friends when we were fifteen. Good friends. We went to Disneyland together every Sunday after church. First with all our siblings and eventually just the two of us. We would give each other relationship advice and opinions about significant others. One cold and rainy Sunday night we cuddled up to watch the fireworks while sitting outside Village Haus Restaurant (except we always called it the Pinocchio place). It was a friendly cuddle, a necessity because we were so cold! A short while later, on Christmas Eve, 2000, Jon asked me to be his girlfriend. We were seventeen. We spent the next five years figuring out how to be adults, how to be in an adult relationship, and be responsible for ourselves. On the evening of November 25, 2005 at the top of the Space Needle overlooking the Seattle skyline, Jon got down on one knee and asked me to be his wife. We got married in Orange County, California on September 15th, 2006. We danced to our song Fly Me To The Moon by Frank Sinatra. We moved to Seattle, Washington a few months later. I got to be his wife for three-and-a-half years.
Two years has flown by and dragged on. Death is a funny and terrible thing. It mixes up emotions. Causes them to all happen at once. It doesn’t make sense, but it is one of the only absolutes. Everyone dies. Everyone knows someone that has died.
Friday, January 29th, 2010 was the worst day of my life. It was the start of a whole new life for me. A whole new me. The death of my husband has changed me. I’m not the same person I was two years ago. Some parts are better, some parts are worse, but nothing is the same. Sometimes I don’t feel like me. Sometimes I don’t recognize myself in the mirror.
I dreamt about him every night for about the first six months following his death. I still dream about him sometimes. Sometimes they’re normal good or weird dreams. Sometimes they’re terrible.
I still sleep on one side of my queen-sized bed. Having a pile of laundry, books, magazines, or homework on the other side is sometimes necessary.
I was a good housewife. I kept the house tidy, packed Jon’s lunch most days, and cooked us dinner every night except “date night”. I never brought home take-out for dinner. Now I eat fast food or order from a restaurant way more than I should, and way more than I want to. I struggle to keep my home clean now. I just don’t have the energy. Cooking is so therapeutic for me, and I do it often enough for blog posts, for school, and for work, but cooking normal things like dinner every night feels like it requires too much energy.
I used to exercise 5-7 days a week. I was fit and sexy. I loved my body. I gained 35 pounds in the months following Jon’s death and I haven’t lost them. I (luckily) have never struggled with self esteem or body image issues, but I don’t love my body like I once did. I feel fat and gross sometimes. I sigh when I see my stomach rolls in the mirror.
Taking showers and brushing my teeth are a chore. I have to remind myself that they are necessary activities if I want to keep people in my life. Wearing makeup makes me feel better but I often don’t because I just don’t feel like making the effort.
I have reminders set in my calendar to pay my bills. I once had an amazing memory (something Jon and I shared). Now I have an alert to remind me to pay rent. Even with that alert I have been late on my rent payment several times.
I hate the phrases: “Time heals”, “God has a plan”, “Journey”, “Widow”
Last year, on the first anniversary of his death, I buried Jon’s ashes. Along with his ashes I buried a journal we kept that was “our story”. It started with the story of how we met and became a couple. A story I loved to tell to anyone who would listen. A story that is too hard to tell now. A story that now has an end. Along with our journal I buried our wedding rings. It felt right at the time, and it still does. This year, this morning, I’ll go light a candle on his grave and then go to church where I’ll cry in sorrow and anger and mixed emotions.
I have spent the last two years learning to grieve. Learning to accept what has happened and learning to move forward with my life. Jon will forever occupy a piece of my heart. I feel stronger now than I did two years ago. Stronger than I did a year ago. I am not the same woman who woke up married and ready to start a normal day that morning two years ago. I have been changed. Deeply affected by a terrible tragedy. The last two years have felt like a chore to wake up and get out of bed every day. It feels like it takes all my strength just to live. I know it won’t always feel this way, and it isn’t nearly as bad as it was a year ago. Time doesn’t heal. Things are different. Not necessarily better or worse, just different.
My life isn’t all depressing. My parents and siblings have been great. Sunday family dinners are the highlight of my week and we usually spend that time laughing. I have an amazing small group of friends that have walked with me for the past two years and kept me alive. I have many wonderful things and people in my life whom I love and who love me back.
Bachelor Food – Jon’s Final Culinary Endeavor
Jon woke up that morning in an amazing mood. He made breakfast out of leftovers. He had recently made his “bachelor meal”, one of the few things he cooked: polska kielbasa, red bell peppers, onions, and potatoes sauteed with a splash of beer altogether in a cast-iron skillet. He called it his “bachelor meal” because polska kielbasa makes me sick to my stomach so he only got to make it when I didn’t feel like cooking or didn’t have an appetite for some reason. He cooked that into an omelette that he then wrapped in a tortilla; a bachelor breakfast if ever I saw one.