Five years ago, I went through a life-altering tragedy when my husband was murdered in front of me, our 3-day-old son, and three other family members.
For a long time, the trauma left me paralyzed with depression, anxiety, and fear. For an entire year, I could barely function within society and I avoided life as much as possible. After two years, I'd fallen even deeper into a bottomless pit of despair. I battled against my grief, but somehow it still managed to control me. The second my husband died, my life became a collection of instances he was missing. He missed his son's first steps, first Christmas, and first birthday. He missed his pre-K graduation and his fifth birthday. He will miss every moment of his son's life. There's no way to sugar-coat this — it's tragic and it sucks.
Absorbing his pain meant I was keeping him close. But I soon realized that I wasn't doing this for him — I was doing it for myself.
Throughout my widowed journey, I subconsciously started doing something that wasn't very healthy. I started viewing life through two different scopes — his and mine. My way of keeping his memory alive was to suffer through everything Justin was missing. He couldn't feel the pain, so I would feel it for him. I created an alternate universe in my head that included my dead husband's feelings. The pain I felt for him was real; it resonated throughout my entire body. I started thinking of it as my sixth sense. You've seen that Bruce Willis movie, right? "I see dead people." That was me, only the dead person was in my mind.
In the beginning, I thought I was using my sixth sense for Justin. Absorbing his pain meant I was keeping him close. But I soon realized that I wasn't doing this for him — I was doing it for myself. My sixth sense wasn't benefiting me, him, or our child. It was only lowering the bar of where our happiness meter could be.
One day, while grieving him missing our son's T-ball game, I had an unexpected moment of clarity that shifted my scope on life. While watching my son run from base to base (only to get tagged out), a swift breeze caught me by surprise. The crisp Spring air washed over me and I was very suddenly overwhelmed with joy. My dad was standing next to me, my mom was sitting next to Justin's mother, and my fiancé (now my husband) was in the field assisting the coach. We were all together, we all loved my son, and we all missed Justin. Instead of being sad, I was thankful. I felt honored to have a front-row seat to my son's life. It was the first time I claimed joy over pain, and I knew that living my life through the eyes of a dead person was no way to live.
After that day, things changed for me. I found a deeper sense of love that I'd never had before. And today, that passion is fierce. It finds me in the most unusual situations. I went on a field trip with my son a few weeks ago, and while sitting next to him on the charter bus, I cried tears of joy. His innocent little face beamed as we began our journey to the Gulf Breeze Zoo. He was thrilled to have Mommy and Daddy (he calls my new husband "Dad") along for the ride. The two-and-a-half-hour bus ride with 50 kindergartners was chaos, but it was glorious in its own unique way. I wondered what the other parents were thinking as we made our way down Highway 98. I was thanking my lucky stars to be alive and to be sitting next to my son.
This unique perspective comes from a place of pain. It's not a feeling we can tap into at any moment. I'm sure most people experience it on those extraspecial days, like birthdays, Christmases, graduations, and Disney World trips. I, on the other hand, feel it in the silly, stressful, and mundane moments that often get overlooked. I'm proud of this accomplishment, of my ability to shift myself to a deeper state of love. Some days, the pain is still too strong, but in those moments, I tell myself to embrace it as if it were joy. For me and for my husband who is no longer alive, I vow to always love a little deeper.