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It has been one year. It has been one hell of a year.

Upon reaching any milestone in life, people love to tell you about how things are going to change for you. I remember my high school teachers being borderline giddy when telling all of us that we were in for a rude awakening when we got to college. There was almost a sadistic pleasure in knowing the reality check we were going to get. Of course, when you graduate college, then comes the speech about “the real world” and how there are no summer or spring breaks anymore, and how you’re going to have to pay your own bills and be a responsible adult. Then you get married and there is a whole other talk that for some reason seems designed to fill you with dread about your upcoming nuptials. It’s all about giving up your freedom and saying goodbye to football and videogames and whatever other childish thing someone valued more than their spouse. I’ve heard similar things when people have children. Other parents come out of the woodwork to tell you all about how your life is going to change now, and it’s all diapers and vomit and sleepless nights.

The same thing happens at certain ages. You turn thirty and here they come: “Oh man, your thirties are going to be…” I’m assuming this happens at every decade until your seventies. Past that, most people realize they don’t know much of anything and wisdom shows itself in silence.

There are some milestones where this doesn’t happen, though. When you are 37 years old and your wife dies because of cancer, no one tells you what to expect after that. At least not in my experience.

Most of you don’t know anything about being a 37-year-old widow. And you shouldn’t. And I hope you never do. Being a 37-year-old widow is as ridiculous as saying someone is a 7-year-old parent or an 80-year-old kindergartener. It doesn’t make sense because it is completely unnatural. Consequently, there is no road map for navigating the hell scape that follows the death of your young, beautiful, smart, gracious, generous, talented, out-of-your-league wife. I have spent the last year stumbling in the dark and trying to find my way. Ironically, I’m only able to make it through life without Emily because of Emily.

Who she was defines who I am in so many ways and has helped me continue without her.

  • Emily was a hard worker and dedicated herself to doing all she could for the students at Avondale House, which serves children and young adults on the autism spectrum. Because she worked hard, even in circumstances when others would have quit, I continue to work and do my best to remain ambitious.
  • Emily loved spending time with her friends and family, and would rarely turn down an invitation to be with the people she loved. Because she lived her life with others, I have been more social this year than any other time in my life, accepting nearly every invitation sent my way. And embracing the people around me, which is not in my nature, has made all the difference.
  • Emily was creative, forever working on some kind of craft or home improvement project. This year, I have tried to embrace my own creativity, writing as much as possible.
  • Emily took care of herself. Even after major and minor surgeries, chemotherapy, clinical trials and countless tests, Emily forced herself to exercise as much as possible. And so I go to the gym almost every day.
  • Emily loved to celebrate. Whether big or small, everything was worth celebrating and deserved a cup of queso, and so I have sought reasons to celebrate because it’s what Emily would do. (I probably have a few more beers than her, though.)

Emily did all of this even as she was fighting for her life. When things were at their most difficult, she kept going; there was no quit in Emily. To say that this has been a difficult year would be a tremendous understatement, but Emily faced far worse and never gave up, so I have continued on, doing my best to live as she lived. Because she faced impossible circumstances, I am able to face mine. There are certainly days when I have to focus on one minute at a time. But those minutes add up, and I make it through each next one because of her.

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