“I so appreciate the kind texts, phone calls, flowers and other super sweet gifts from my colleagues, friends and family. I am so grateful for everyone who took a little time out of their busy schedules to make me feel incredibly special on my birthday. I definitely feel loved and believe 39 is going to be an amazing year.” 🙂
This is the Facebook response I wrote in the “What’s on your mind, Jessica” Facebook box almost three weeks ago. However, I just couldn’t bring myself to press POST. You see, that is only half of the story, and I am not really a fan of partial truths, even on Facebook. I have a lot on my mind regarding my birthday. Since Facebook “asked,” why not share?!?
So yes, I am so very grateful for everyone in my world. I have some awesome people around me and the words of encouragement, on my birthday and beyond, mean so very much. So very true.
What is also equally true is that I have been dreading my birthday since about…well, my last birthday.
My birthday used to mark the beginning of my MOST favorite time of year. Since Tylor’s death, now my birthday marks the beginning of what feels like a war, made up of emotional, mental and physical battle, after, battle, after battle.
The battles consist of: my birthday, our wedding anniversary, Thanksgiving, Tylor’s birthday and Christmas. These used to make up the list of festive event, after event, after event; all of which made me LOVE this entire season so much. And now, it is different.
The super strange thing I didn’t catch in the “how to handle your husband’s unexpected death” playbook is that, the longer Tylor is gone, the harder these days are for me. This is probably because the shock has MOSTLY worn off, the fog has lifted, and the cold hard reality of the rest of my life (without Tylor physically by my side) has taken shape.
Battle #1 My Birthday: My birthday was always so fun because it marked the beginning of my most favorite season, which is Fall. I am obsessed with EVERYTHING fall. The crisp air, the smell of the leaves, the blue skies, comfy sweaters, the beginning of “boot season,” the breathtaking view of the first snow on the Rocky Mountains (so divinely majestic), and an infinite supply of pumpkin flavored goodness are just a few of my fall faves. Of course, the icing on the birthday cake was always a love letter from Tylor with a spa gift certificate. Looking forward to a hot stone massage never hurt.
Battle #2 Wedding Anniversary: Then, hello… our wedding anniversary. This was such a precious time where Tylor and I would reflect on our relationship, our accomplishments, our dreams…usually over a fabulous dinner. We would both say how thankful we were to have found each other. Furthermore, how thankful we were that we would NEVER be alone…I mean, we couldn’t imagine what that would be like without each other. Ironic, huh?
Battle #3 Thanksgiving: Thanksgiving was my most favorite holiday. Granted, I always thought my inner Martha Stewart would magically surface. Tylor and I often hosted Thanksgiving…let’s just say we would cook for an army (or for 10 people…same difference). In all honesty, there was no “we” in the cooking. I TRIED to cook and Tylor would see the mayhem I was creating and he would put on his version of a cape…his “Real Men Don’t Use Recipes” apron and save the day (along with my mom, of course). I would somehow end up with a mimosa, watching the Macy’s Day Parade and the dog show…cheering them both on from afar.
Battle #4 Tylor’s Birthday: Just about when we were finally not full anymore from the Thanksgiving feast, Tylor’s birthday came around on 12/11. He never wanted presents, or to make a big deal about the fact he was an amazing person that was a gift to me and so many others. His version of a celebration was something quiet, with very little attention. In fact, he protested gifts COMPLETELY. When he finally realized that my family and I straight up ignored him (yep, it is true) and his requests not to get him gifts, he finally agreed to let us get him SOMETHING. He had one condition: that those gifts be for others. Compassion International or Kiva.org were his donations of choice.
Battle #5 Christmas: Then Christmas! We would start by going to church and listening to a woman sing “O Holy Night” in a manner that would make anyone weep and taking time to sit in awe of the many blessings that surrounded us. Church, of course, was followed by more celebrating….Tylor would be sipping on a scotch, wrapped up in all sorts of activities with his niece and nephew (that is partially how he became known as, and is still called, “silly Uncle Tylor”). He would have me and my family cracking up as we played games, all while A Christmas Vacation or Elf entertained us in the background. In the midst of really spending time listening to close friends/family (their fears, struggles, what they were excited about) Tylor also managed to be the life of the party. Granted, he sometimes pushed the envelope on appropriateness with his smart sense of humor, making me blush in front of my parents. But there was something so pure, loving and kind about him…and if anyone could get away with it, it was Tylor.
The Daily Battle: The reality is for me, who has experienced the death of a husband, every day is a bit of a battle…even subconsciously. I think this is somewhat true for anyone who has experienced ANY type of loss (divorce, life change, death of a family member, widowhood, sickness…quite frankly, loss can be simply stated: things aren’t like they were before). Sometimes that battle is greater. Sometimes the fight requires more preparation and work. Sometimes you feel like you are losing the battle. And, of course there are those moments when you are actually winning…you have an amazing experience, discover something new about yourself, enjoy unexpected company, develop new traditions and make it through the conversation, the event, the date.
Going into my third “birthday-wedding anniversary-holiday-what-used-to-be-an-amazing-time” season, I have learned a few things. I have identified some tools to help conquer my battles, and ultimately win the stinking war. Every person is different. You may have experienced loss and find that NONE of what I am sharing resonates with you and your experience. It. Is. All. Good. Really, as with all of my rants about widowhood, if someone takes something away…and it helps that person heal, feel not alone in this craziness and/or provides encouragement, it is a joy for me to share. The thing is, life is so very messy, the world is harsh and at the end of the day, we are all just people…trying to make it through the sticky situations that life throws our way.
So how are we going to fight, win and…dare I say, find joy, even in the midst of battles?
Bottom line, we need to ARMOR UP!
In other words, when there are times you KNOW are going to be tough to navigate, ARMOR UP. Take an inventory of HOW you will intentionally protect your body, mind, emotions, spirit. These are things I have been doing. I am definitely not perfect at all of this, but it is a starting place! Feel free to steal, share and use.
Tips for ARMORING UP
Minimize Physical Weakness (You Need to be Strong When Going into Battle): Yes, I have goals and aspirations of going to the gym five times per week. That would just be super. However, it isn’t happening right now…but I am still trying to do SOMETHING physical every day. Walk with friends, stream a workout, yoga, archery. The reality is I have found emotional stress has a physical impact. I don’t know that crying burns calories (if that was the case, I would be ROCKING AND ROLLING). I do know the more emotional I am, the more I need sleep…rather fight the need for sleep (we got other battles going on here), I embrace it.
Even Warriors Need Sleep: Just get enough sleep, whatever that looks like for you. I am not a “sleep expert.” From experience, when I am sleepy, EVERYTHING looks dismal and I definitely don’t have the energy to fight. The worst thing you can do is fight yourself and what your body, emotions, heart and spirit needs to keep going.
Consider your Source of Fuel (Food and Bevs): Pad Thai. Yes, the tougher the season, the more I want to put my face into Pad Thai…with a little Prosecco on the side (actually, that sounds gross). That comfort food thing is very, very real. Be mindful of what you are eating and drinking. I believe we need to fuel our bodies correctly so they have the energy to navigate the emotions associated with each battle. Also, as we enter into the holiday season, alcohol is EVERYWHERE. I try to be mindful of the drinking, as it can numb the pain associated with loss, and the upcoming hard times/battles. Let’s be real, sometimes I want to numb the pain; and that can be a slippery slope.
Map Out the “Battles” You KNOW Will Happen: I recognize that some of the battles/sloppiest crying moments are COMPLETELY unexpected. However, there may be certain days that are harder than others…even beyond the obvious birthdays, holidays, anniversaries, etc. Really stop and think about WHEN those are (to the best of your ability) and make note of them in a way that prevents them from sneaking up on you.
Strategically Navigate your Calendar: Many of us calendar in our other meetings/appointments, make sure you add these other “ARMOR UP” appointments to your calendaring, including (but not limited to): sleep, exercise, YOU time, time with your troops (see below), daily devotions/meditation, upcoming battles. These ARMOR UP appointments may help make or break the way you approach those battles. These are actually in my calendar, and are a priority. They help me to stay on course AND not be surprised.
Determine Your Plan of Attack: When you identify those days you know will be emotional landmines, make a plan. It is hard to plan and predict what you will be in the mood for…so minimally, ask a close friend/family member to be your “go to guy/gal” for that day. You will check in with each other…and depending on your mood and what you feel up to, maybe you just have a chat, maybe you get together for night out on the town or maybe your curl up on the couch and eat some pizza (or salads, per my last tip). Flexibility and support are both key. If you are more structured (and have the energy), once you acknowledge those upcoming battles, identify:
- WHAT you want to do
- WITH WHOM you want to spend that time (even one person, it is better not to be alone)
- HOW you are going to make that happen (don’t be afraid to ask for help)
Also, be willing to embrace the words “tentative” or “maybe” when plans/opportunities surface. It is my tendency to say YES to everything (I am a tad bit social). However, sometimes, when the day actually surfaces…I just can’t make it happen, especially in this season. I am finding that being upfront about that with my friends has been awesome for two reasons. First, I am managing expectations. Second, I am outing the reality that all is NOT okay
Mobilize the Troops: In my case, the “troops” in my life are my girlfriends/family. The “troops” should represent some people (even just a few) who can be, and want to be part of your, “we are going to win this battle army.” They may be part of your plan of attack and/or they just may be part of your inner circle. These people know you are entering hard times and you are feeling vulnerable. Most importantly, they are willing to walk through the journey, the minefields, and the traps WITH you, in whatever way that makes sense for you.
Embrace the Victories: After each battle, embrace the victories and what went well! Think about the people who surrounded you, the experiences you had and the events in which you participated. What about that victory made you feel like you could conquer the world? What did you learn that may better equip you for the next battle?
Lastly, Tylor used to leave me notes and text me that simple message, “Armor Up,” from a spiritual perspective (Eph. 6 10-20). I love that his advice, wisdom and simple reminders are still being used today, by me and maybe a few others. Whatever you do, keep fighting! Remember, YOU WILL get through this and you are NOT alone.