Fourth Christmas

img_6221The Florida sky is black with tiny little white flickering stars smiling down. It’s hard being away for Christmas, especially when it’s not the frozen snow draped New England I know and love. My grandmother passed away on the very early morning of Christmas Eve. My family is all down here to spend one last Christmas with her because her health was quickly deteriorating. But before their planes landed she was gone. And we all are here together dumbfounded on what to do next. My mom is grieving, I see what she is doing and it’s all too familiar. Misplacing every day items, like where she parked her car (yes this happened), and manically picking up tons of items to store or throw away. The process of occupying the mind is here. It’s stirring a lot of emotions in all of us. We all lost a loved one, but it’s making all of us look around at each other and remember all the others we have lost too. Like my grandparents on my dad’s side, and of course George.

I sat next to my grandmother holding her hand as she wiggled and twisted from the pain. Bodie was balancing on my lap, and my brain just went somewhere else. My dad reminded me how I must be a pro at this now. I smirked and said there’s this little spot in my brain I know is there and it takes care of me.

oh it’s there all right. I went on a 6 mile run at high noon after she passed away. Even the devil wouldn’t have gone on a run with how the sun was beating down and the humidity was creeping up. I grieve by finding strength to push forward. To search for something to heal me.

This Christmas we all hung out at my grandmothers apartment. Helping my mom clean up, making lists of what needs to be done, and of course being with one another. When I was in the car with my brother, niece and sister-in-law I thought of something I did for George while he was slowing dying. I totally forgot about it but something rang it in. I remember putting his headphones in when he was in the coma and playing his favorite bands. I remember him reacting to it and being so excited. I remember how I wondered if he could still react if there was a chance he would get better. The evening my dad and I left my grandmother to go back to the hotel, she was talking and cracking jokes. We both thought she had some time before the inevitable. Then 3 hours later just before 1a she was gone.

Merry Christmas, squeeze your loved ones extra tight.

 

Ask for a sign

I ask George for a sign and a sign I shall receive! I’m over the three year mark of being widowed, and I remember when I would meet other widows who are at the 3 year or beyond and wonder if they still think about their spouse every day.  The answer is YES!

Not a day goes by I don’t think about George. My mind still wanders to the times we had together. It drifts wondering what life would be like if he were alive. I wonder if he magically appeared if he would like this new, revamped version of his wife. I wonder if he would like the people I spend my time with. What his advice would be to me if I were to vent about my problems. I just wonder. And sometimes all that wondering manifests and the longing for him comes back and then in those moments where I feel weak, I walk outside in the cool air, gaze up at the shimmering stars and the crescent moon and ask George to give me a sign. Please let me know I’m not screwing up my life and you’re still with me.

I ask for a sign, and he delivers. Every. Single. Time. It’s uncanny, seriously.

Over the past month a few of my friends have asked me to go to the Camellia Bowl. It’s a college football game in Montgomery where two teams head to the city to compete. I’ve turned down the offer a few times, because I have little to no interest in going. Plus I’m moving on the day of the game. So the Camellia Bowl has not been on my mind whatsoever and has little impact on my daily activities. Then a work colleague mentions to me about a week ago one of the teams to play in the bowl game is practicing at Huntingdon. I asked him what team it was and he said it’ll be University of Toledo.

If my heart had a tail, it would be wagging nonstop. I’m grinning, even as I write this I’m smiling. It’s almost to the point of appearing manic, but I can’t help it, this is so bizarre! I couldn’t believe UT was going to be coming to Huntingdon. What are the odds! George’s sister went to UT and his family lives in Toledo! If it were Bowling Green I would’ve fainted. George went to Bowling Green, but you know what UT is just as good! Plus the UT mascot is the Rockets and George’s high school mascot at Bay Village was a Rocket too. I just cannot help but see this as a sign. He’s here, he’s with me, he’s watching over me to make sure I don’t crash and burn.

One thing I’ve mentioned and I tend to talk and look for George when I feel defeated. And I should look for him when greatness happens too. I need to get better at that. But for now, I can’t wait to see UT practicing out there on the stadium field, and know George has given me a little Holiday message this year.

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Thanksgiving shopping

The day after Thanksgiving will mark 3 years since George passed. This will be my 4th Thanksgiving without him. As I was shopping for groceries for the holiday,  I looked around me at all the people rushing around inspecting turkeys and sweet potatoes, staring at which brand of cranberry sauce to buy, and barking orders at children to put things back. I gazed down at my cart barely half filled and a single bag of salad laying on top of everything and then it hit me, this holiday doesn’t have the same meaning for me anymore.

I’m not going home this year. I decided to stay in Montgomery due to fiscal and convenience. I feel bad that I’m not going home, but I also know that sometimes going home is like an opiate and just covers the pain of being alone. I need to feel the loneliness.

I am thankful for 364 days of the year. Losing him and dealing with the grief forced me to make huge life decisions. The thing about emotional pain is it can either tear you apart, or create an opportunity for change. And I’m so thankful for the love I shared with him and the relationships I’ve created and strengthened with those since he’s passed. But this holiday is a reminder of what I lost rather than what I’ve gained. And shopping alone for a holiday I used to love had me feeling hopeless, depressed and longing for a life that feels so foreign to me now.

I miss him a lot.

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Memorial Day today

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”

I got back from New Orleans this evening and this Memorial Day weekend has been nothing short of fantastic. I feel relieved, relaxed and most importantly happy. I had a great time with my friends. And of course when I reconnect I tend to think about those people who have come into my life. All the laughs, experiences shared and how people grow together and separately.

I also think about all the men and women where this holiday weekend is very somber and painful. This post doesn’t really have a lot of point to it, I kind of have been contemplating the reoccurrences of emotional hurt. I went to the WW2 museum in New Orleans and they have telegrams posted to family and spouses saying their sons are missing and cannot be located. It made me feel for those who ventured off to defend their country never to return again. I also ached for the loved ones who received those telegrams. To love someone so much where you feel invisible can also break you down to nothingness. Makes you appreciate the people who impact your life momentarily or those who are in it for the long haul.

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Third Christmas

I’ve been widowed for 25 months. This is the third Christmas without George however he wasn’t far off in my mind. My niece opened her gifts so excited to see what Santa had brought for her and I remembered all those Christmases before in Ohio with George dressed up as Santa handing out gifts to his niece and nephew. I didn’t enjoy those Christmases as much. The excitement of it all bothered me. I remember how badly I wanted to fly back to Connecticut to by with my family. I would sit off to the side sipping on wine while watching the kids crawl all over him screaming for gifts and passively thanking Santa once it was all over. Only now if I could turn back time, I would’ve enjoyed every damn second of it. A piece of holiday guilt that lingers on.

I’ll never make that mistake again.

The days prior to today, Mike visited my family in Connecticut to meet my parents, and I traveled with him to meet his. It’s a different dynamic this go around but very familiar too. I’m grateful his family opened their home to me and showed me their hometown. I wanted to see and learn more about him and where he came from. I wanted them to like me, and I think they did. My family enjoyed meeting Mike, but much of the attention of my family was on our niece. Very much like when I would go to Ohio with George. His family paid most of their attention to his niece and nephew which made the meeting of the family not as eventful as anticipated. I empathized with Mike because of that, but I also now see how that’s beneficial because it means more time to explore and do what we want.

I loved Christmas this year. It’s the most relaxed I had felt in weeks. I’m getting to a point where I feel like myself again. And the waves of sadness are becoming still. It takes time, and now as I head into the third year without George I’m beginning to understand what triggers my grief, how to avoid the hopelessness, and what needs to be there in order to survive. I do miss him, but he gave me strength to get my life back on track.

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Entering Christmas Season

All week during my spin classes I’ve been playing mixes that deal with love and heartbreak. I purposely did it because holidays bring out the worst in people. I know it’s supposed to be family filled with lots of love. But there’s unrealistic expectations, and I grit my teeth heading into holidays. I remember 3 years ago, the first Christmas without George I was looking out from my hotel window in Los Angeles wanting to just hurl myself out of it. Let all this misery end.

Last year heading into holidays I worked out excessively wishing at some point, that calming fog would engulf me and all this angst would just dissipate like a plume of smoke. I ran 10 miles on Christmas Day last year and just cried in the shower afterwards until l just had no more tears left. I also remember going out with my high school friends and feeling inconsolably alone. But I’ve always been good at putting on a good face. I’ve always gotten through the tough times, and marched along until something good comes along.

I’m worried for this year. Work has been hectic, I won’t have my loving companion Bodie by my side, and emotionally I’m beginning to fracture. I’m looking forward to spending time with my family, I love seeing my niece. She makes me so happy, because she doesn’t know what kind of baggage I carry around. She just enjoys life and being with everyone. And that’s how it should be. I need to have a smile big, and get through another holiday season and not dwell on everything I’ve lost, but actually feel blessed for what I’ve gained. Yet they’re  intertwined.

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A Sudden Realization

Happy New Year all! I rang in 2015 with some of my closest friends in NYC and at only one point did I get emotional. I kind of knew I would because the days leading up to New Years Eve I was having a lot of moments of reflection which triggered a bit of grief. As the count down for the New Year began, I vanished from the party I was at. I wanted to be alone at that time. I figured that I went into 2014 alone, I wanted to do this one alone too. It sounds so petulant, I know, but in my head it’s what I wanted to have happen.

I did have a date on New Years, it was with the guy I’ve been seeing for a little over a month now. It was the first time he met my friends, and kind of a step in a more serious direction. Being around my friends, we do get into recollections of stories and what not, and at one point I realized I was telling quite a few about George. Even when my friends weren’t there. I didn’t really ask my date at the time if it bothered him, but with some thought on the train back to CT, I did reach out to him about it.

As I’ve mentioned, I have been actively dating, but this was the first time I felt like I was starting to tell stories about my previous life. Usually it’s brought up and acknowledged that I had a significant loss in my life, but nothing much beyond that. Once in awhile something might be pointed out like a piece of jewelry, and the guy will note “oh that’s a unique” and I’d be like, yeah George got it for me. But that’s about it. This time I was yammering about how mad George got at me when I got lost in Brooklyn, or how much he loved a restaurant, etc. I asked my date if it bothered him, and he said not at all, it’s just a bit odd because he didn’t know him, but it didn’t bother him. That was a relief for me.

I’m still kind of sifting through this, because this is a step forward that I wasn’t really anticipating. I’ve read about it on the widow boards but hadn’t really taken any of my relationships all that seriously. Dating was fun, and I wasn’t really getting invested enough in someone to start talking so candidly about my experience/life with George. The tendency and discussions usually hover around the loss and grieving process. Never about the memories.

For me it was a realization that I am ready.

I’m ready for companionship again.

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Transformation of the Year

Warning: The hubris is real in this post. There is no competition, no election, no votes, because without rival I have won the Transformation of the Year Award. Challenge me for it, I dare you. I destroyed 2014.

Facebook had the audacity to try and compute the “best moments” of my 2014 year, but from where I began January 1 to now cannot be collected in a montage of pictures and post that received the most “likes.” WordPress tried to sway me by showing me my “Year end review” as today’s post, but I wanted to take control of deciding the highlights of this year rather than social media telling me what’s up.

This was my first full year without George. The thought of it on December 31, 2013 shook me so deep that I felt it in my bone marrow. And I’ll be completely honest, with 2015 just 26 hours away, heading into another full year without him sucks too. But this suckage is going to continue for a lifetime. And that’s just the way it goes. Life without George sucks, but I’m making the most of it.

Get ready for a plethora of pictures, because as I said, the hubris is real.

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I’m not sure where to really even begin. I honestly gave up on life November 25th, 2013. I thought with George gone, I would certainly wither away into oblivion. It was wishful thinking to vanish in those early weeks and months. I returned to work just a week after he died, but when winter break hit, I went back home to grieve with my family around. When it was time to return from winter break back to the office, I was only wearing George’s sweaters. It was the way I wanted to deal with the loss of my husband, and it also was a way for me to be hidden. Tucked away within oversized sweatshirts.

IMG_9078God I hated myself at that time. When looking for pictures for this post, I honestly have very few from November-February. I just veered away from cameras. Once Drew was back in session and lacrosse season commenced my life had purpose again. In a Jay-Z kind of way, every single day I had 99 excuses why I never wanted to leave my apartment, but there was 1 reason why I did: Drew women’s lacrosse team.

IMG_8043When I was splintered and cracking this team helped me stay together so I wouldn’t shatter. No matter how badly I wanted to just say to hell with all of this and just not show up, I would mosey into the field house at 6am with tear streaked cheeks from sobbing and massive bags under my eyes from lack of sleep, and these girls would be ready to go. Most the time. They would buy me a coffee in the morning, and my assistant would tell me something completely out there from what happened to her the night before. It was the best life support I could have asked for. Throughout the season we had amazing experiences which will forever warm my heart.

Like going to the Super Bowl Halftime show at the Meadowlands!1660297_10100343770538369_746299047_nIMG_5690

We participated in Cycle for Survival, where all the money raised goes directly to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center to help perpetuate cancer research and treatments. As a team we raised over $11,000 for rare cancer research, something that meant the WORLD to me because George believed so much in everything they were doing for him at MSKCC, and I wanted to continue his fight against cancer even though he was no longer with us.

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February 8, 2014 changed my life completely. Having the team surround me and support me on this cause, and seeing how much they believed in it, it set in motion my gradual physical transformation. I felt so damn good sitting on that bike and riding for George. I felt him in all my muscle fibers just telling me to be a little stronger and fight a little harder. If you wanna to learn more or donate to our team at http://mskcc.convio.net/goto/TeamKraynak

IMG_8522Right before our first game on February 27th, I made the move from the apartment George and I shared to where I am now. The stress of losing George and then moving was far from easy. It was a fast reality that life unfortunately goes on, and I needed to start figuring out how to live by myself. Cooking for 1 was something that took some getting used to, but finding ways to occupy my time and mind became a necessity for survival. And that’s where SoulCycle came in.

IMG_6120The energy, community, friendships and strength I gained during the classes at SoulCycle changed my personal outlook. During the time from when I found out George was dying to February 8th, I stopped caring for myself. I had put on a tremendous amount of weight because I just was so depressed, and so empty inside. The moment I sat in on my first SoulCycle class I knew it was going to impact my year. I loved the sensation of my legs screaming at me as I tried to keep pace with the instructor. Dropping my elbows on the downbeat of the music, and closing my eyes just so I could feel the love swell inside me. I hung on to those feelings from the classes for days. I returned weekly to SoulCycle until I was making daily visits and sometimes twice a day visits. I felt safe within the community, and they encouraged me to better myself. They wanted me to be the best person I could be that day. And even when there were days when all I wanted to do is curl up into a ball and cry my eyes out, I would throw on the yoga pants and a t-shirt and head to Short Hill to ride.

IMG_7139Eventually, there started to be some noticeable changes. I was happier and had more energy. The tireless nights and the tears started to subside, and my life was starting to come together a little bit. But unfortunately I still was very unstable. But through the instability, I made sure to keep my off days consistent, and I made sure to go to Coney Island to go swimming with the Polar Bear Club. Again, many of George’s friends do polar bear swims and it was another way for me to feel him. But running into ice cold water was another way for me to control my grief. I wanted to feel the discomfort of the water, and I also loved the support the community offered me. Encouraging me to go a little deeper, stay in a second longer, to embrace the excitement of rushing down the gritty beach, and kicking the sand up as you step into the lapping ocean water. The shock of the water awakens every neuron and cell in your body.

1498782_10152560235034377_1267205832_oOnce the lacrosse season ended, my daily routines were shook up and I ran off to Europe. Throughout the first 6 months of 2014, I felt a lot of my time was spent to holding it together and to working, and I needed to take the time for myself to fall apart. So I packed my bags, and headed to Germany and Switzerland, where I got to visit the Alps and touch the sky and see the beauty of everything that surrounds us. And once again, as I looked out at the snow caps, and the green plains below I realized that this life is so massive, that these moments we have together are suspended in time. Just dangling there like a puppet in our memories, just waiting to be revisited and played with. Regardless of how painful. Our time together is unique to only us and we define them any which way we want. And as much as I would get angry that George was gone, I wouldn’t trade our moments and memories at all. So much so, that if I had to go back in time and do it all over again, I would because it led me to him.

imageUpon returning from Europe, I returned to NJ and made a vow to take care of myself over the summer. It was time for me to figure out how to maneuver through this journey and life. The weapon I chose was exercise. I became spin certified. I started lifting with my good friend and neighbor, who also work at Drew. Finally a work colleague/friend asked if I wanted to do a triathlon and that’s when my brain lit up like a halogen lamp. I loved biking, I had been doing SoulCycle and had just been hired at a gym to teach spin. I had started running again a bit more in late June, so it made sense to incorporate swimming into the regiment. Training for the triathlon gave me direction and purpose which I had been lacking since lacrosse season ended. Plus it forced me to be more militant and disciplined with my exercising. My body transformed quickly and as my body was transforming my mood and grief became more manageable.IMG_7170IMG_6463IMG_6956In the middle of my workouts I traveled back to Connecticut where I became an aunt and met my niece for the first time. During this time in my home state turned out I had mono… Anyway, when I saw her beautiful face and the cutest smile, she melted my heart. I felt that unconditional love again, and I started to feel alive as I was heading into August. I cannot even describe to you how callous I was prior to meeting her. It was instantaneous, I saw her face and my heart just filled up. She’s my best little buddy.

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Then in August I got the most amazing opportunity. To ride in the Cycle for Survival Times Square Takeover and tell my story on why Cycle for Survival is so important to me. Never in this lifetime did I think I would speak in the middle of Time Square! And as Fall approached, many of the first anniversaries were going to hit hard. But with the Time Square Takeover, I got to spend my wedding anniversary on a bike while raising funds and awareness for rare cancer research. The one thing that first gave my life purpose back in February. It was the most poetic way I could imagine spending George and my wedding anniversary.

10690080_685294978228734_1519184977747720339_nIMG_7729IMG_7751A week later I competed in my first triathlon with my good friend and work colleague. I finished second in my age group. But most importantly, I set a goal to finish under 3 hours, and I did. As I crossed the finish line, never did I think I would do a triathlon in less than a year after George passed, and I most certainly never thought I would actually enjoy every second of it!

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After the completion of the triathlon, my buddy and I decided to start training for a half marathon. I talked about wanting to do a half marathon when George was alive but never had the discipline or drive to train for one. But during the triathlon training, I realized the long runs, the biking helped me sort through my woes, grief, and strengthened me more than physically. I was becoming an entirely different person. Something I hoped for during my darkest days. I remember thinking I would love to be someone other than me in those first few weeks of widowhood. But now I had become someone that wasn’t me. I was a better version of myself. I was a person I know George would be so proud of, and when he catches glimpses of my accomplishments he knows that I’m a survivor. That I am strong and that I will flourish and thrive.

I did my first half marathon 2 days before George’s death anniversary, and then I did my second half marathon the day before George’s funeral anniversary. I’m still in disbelief that all this has been accomplished in just a year!

I talked about running a half marathon when he was alive, but never did. So doing the Philly Half Marathon was one of the most satisfying and euphoric days.

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You want to know what the greatest transformation is out of all of this? Yes, the physical transformation is apparent, but the emotional and mental one is what I reflect on the most. I remember so vividly how miserable I was a year ago at this time. I remember the hurt and the unforgiving jaws of grief. And today, I look back and holy shit, I cannot believe how far I’ve come. I have changed my ENTIRE life in a year. I did not allow his death to define who I am, instead I allowed his death to reshape me and push me forward to be better. To be the best person I can be. And I wish he was here to see this, but I’m also aware that if he were here, these changes would not exist. 2014, you started off as the most miserable year of my life, but ended as one of the most fulfilling. I’m going to obliterate 2015.

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Thanksgiving 2012

December 2013

December 2013

December 2014

December 2014

Widow crossroads on dating

I feel like my life contains very little excitement so I have to put my input on what’s going on in the widow boards I visit day-to-day. Holidays are synonymous with family and having lost a spouse you can’t help but reflect on what is missing. With that, many widows progress through the holidays in a variety of ways. I decided escape to my parents house and spend the holidays surrounded by my family, and continue my exercise track. Helps with my mood. I’ve read a number of different posts on the widow board where others are really struggling and are quick to point out they simply cannot comprehend how other “move on” from the loss. I’m not particularly active on the boards but like to read them and then come on here and bitch about it.

I never like to use the phrase “move on,” because I don’t think I will “move on.” But I will move forward and continue to grow and develop as a person. My loss strengthens me, it doesn’t cripple me. Anyway, the big topic on the board is dating. If you love your spouse how can you even entertain the idea of dating? There’s a range of wids who have decided they’ll never seek the companionship of another ever again, and then there’s others who are weeks out and have begun dating again. I started dating again at about 6 months out. However upon reflection, I do not think I was ready to date again when I started dating. I was in a weird state of purgatory in my grief where I was just finding my stride.

Several  wids on the board are quick to condemn those who are beginning to date, and in my opinion, I cannot fathom why someone would want to perpetuate their bitterness on to someone else. There’s a few who’ve stated they’ve tried dating and it’s not for them, and that’s fine, but I do find it a bit precarious when those who have never even tried are so quick to guilt the others that do. I am dating. It doesn’t lessen my relationship I had with George. I actually I have quite the opposite happen. I’m VERY picky now, and I think in a large part because I know what I want with a person and what will work for me in a relationship. I have been dating a couple guys this Fall and have iris-in on one right now. I don’t call him my boyfriend because I do not feel comfortable doing so, but he is pretty understanding with that. Nor does he really seem to care. I have gone out on dates though (without updating the dating section, sorry) where the guys were so befuddled with my widowhood that it was the only thing we talked about on the date. Or they’ll question whether or not if I’m really ready to date. Usually when the conversation heads in that direction there isn’t a second.

There is no other George and no one will replace George. And I feel that those who are judgmental about dating tend to believe that’s what others are doing: Looking for a replacement. Do I think George reigns supreme to any man, yeah of course. He’s my first love and I still love him. But he’s not coming back. And I need to press forward and do what feels right to me. And again, it’s been my latest theme of this blog, I love the woman who I’m becoming, and I like sharing my time with someone. I don’t think it’s something to be ridiculed for. It took me a long time to get here.IMG_8722

Second Christmas

imageThere are no firsts anymore. Each day is a repeat. Last year on Christmas I was in California sitting outside in the sun watching Netflix on my iPad as everyone opened gifts and spent family time together. I wanted to disappear. I didn’t want to exist a year ago. Christmas last year was the one month mark since George died. Today it’s the 13 month mark since he was in my life.

In a year so much has changed. I remember demanding to be taken back to the hotel last year because the hate, dread and sadness that swallowed my soul was too much to bear. I was suffocating with each breath. My life meant nothing without him.

Today I reflect back on that time and though the struggle was horrendous, it has made me who I am now. I dont think I can convey how dark those early months were. I just didn’t wish to be present. I was stuck between the devastation of reality and the yearning for the past. But today I look forward for the wonders of tomorrow. I love each day, regardless of how difficult they can be.

I have transformed my life simply because I couldn’t continue to loath. I would feel guilty about being so sad because I know All George would want me to be is happy, and when I felt those blips of contentment I would feel guilty about not grieving enough. I sound like a broken record but I had to relearn how to live and embrace the opportunities that present themselves.

imageThis year has been a whirlwind, but when I look in the mirror, when I think about where I was at this time a year ago, I just can’t help but be completely proud of how far I’ve come. It’s imperative during the grieving process to find one thing that provides you the feeling of control. Something that will help steer as everything you know begins to fall and reform. It will never feel normal, nothing will ever be the same, but change shouldn’t be feared. As much as you may want everything to remain, that life and reality cannot exist without that one person. So it’s every individuals job to carve out a new path, a new route in this journey that provides stimulation and meaning. Today I am proud of myself for surviving this first year without George. But as time comes between us, his love and our time together will always be the paving on my journey. I think about him and tell him I miss him everyday.

I felt him on my 9.5 mile run today. I heard his voice as my legs began to cramp up, because nothing in this world can motivate me the way he does. He’s my guy. He’s my fuel. A love so powerful that it goes beyond this world.

My second Christmas as a widow. The pain does lessen but the love is still strong.