May 7, 2021

Rediscovering “Home” after the Death of the Love of my Life.

I always thought I knew where home was.

I always felt home was my childhood home—the place I grew up with my parents and three siblings.

But—is home where my heart lives?

After I grew up and moved away from my childhood house, I met the love of my life.

And the meaning of home changed for me.

My heart became one with my husband, Andy, and he became home to me. We could have been anywhere, and that would have been home.

But after his death four years ago, I’ve struggled to feel at home anywhere. Even in the place that I would call home, the actual structure I live in.

I met my husband in 2001, and immediately we were drawn together. Our attraction was undeniable. The way he would look at me, that glint in his eye, that big smile showing the gap in his front teeth—it made me melt.

We married in 2003, and everything seemed perfect: newlyweds, ready to take on life together. I just knew it would be forever. Doesn’t everyone think that when they get married? Doesn’t every little girl dream of some version of that fairy tale, that picture-perfect love you see in the movies, the happily ever after?

Let’s rewind some, though, to get a better picture of why I struggle to feel at home.

My whole life, I have always wanted three things. One: to live in New York City. Two: to be married. Three: to be a mother.

Wanting to live in New York City started when I was a wide-eyed seven-year-old little girl thinking anything was possible. My dad took our family on a vacation to New York City when I was that little girl, and since that trip, my dream was to live in the city that never sleeps. The city with all the lights, the tallest buildings I had ever seen, the taxis flying by me.

The city, to me, was magical.

There were so many people bustling around to god knows where. I looked around in awe. I remember being in my gray sundress with hammers and wrenches all over it and looking up at all those tall buildings thinking to myself, I will live here one day.

Andy made that dream come true.

Andy married me—dream two down, too.

And finally, three: being a mom. We struggled as a couple to have children and were finally blessed with a son. We moved to New York City over 13 years ago as a young family ready to take on the Big Apple. I was a new mom to a six-month-old when we moved, and I felt like that little girl walking around with my son in his stroller, looking up in awe, and seeing the city exactly the same way I did when I was seven.

Fast-forward 13 years and everything has changed. I am sitting here amongst moving boxes and all our furniture wrapped in blankets and bubble wrap, thinking of this chapter in my life.

A life packed up in 97 boxes.

Four years ago, we found out Andy had stage four kidney cancer, and within five weeks, he was gone.

Just Gone.

It’s so hard for our brains to process something that sudden. I remember walking around in the days that followed in a fog, no longer looking at this city as a place of magic—where the people bustling around were electric. All those people to me were a reminder of a life that I knew I would no longer live.

I felt for years like this fish that got swept up on the beach and was still alive, but gasping for air, hoping the tide would come and wash over me and take me back out to sea, so I could breathe again. Andy was my breath. Andy was the water that gave me oxygen. 

Now I sit in our apartment looking at the life I boxed up about to move forward. It’s hard turning the page to a new chapter knowing your person is no longer in the story.

But my story has to continue for me and my son, and it will be different, and the story will change, and the characters will change, but in these last four years, one thing I know for sure is life moves on whether we want it to or not. Moving forward is hard; change can be hard and scary in the best of circumstances. But moving forward with grief is hard and terrifying.

There is so much duality in grief. I’m heartbroken this chapter is over. Andy and I had so many dreams when we got married. So many. Walking out of New York City without him with me is hard. It’s opened up all of the scabs that formed over my grief these last few years.

My logical brain says it’s only an apartment. But I know it’s not really the apartment—it’s the life we led here. We created a beautiful life, met amazing friends, saw and did amazing things, and it’s mournful that it’s over. Yes, I still have those amazing friends, and yes, I can still go back and see and do amazing things. But he won’t be with me. I miss him.

The duality comes in because I’m creating a new life and new chapter at the lake house he built for us. This house was his end game where he wanted to hang it all up and retire. It’s nestled in the mountains, with windows all around to watch the sunrise in the morning and the sunsets at night.

We loved watching those sunsets together.

Seeing the sky change from blue to pink to orange as the sun falls behind the mountain is so tranquil. His gift to me and his son is this wonderful place. Where I feel his presence all around me, and I finally feel some peace. Where I’m finally allowing my healing to continue. Where I wake up, and out my window I see the trees blowing in the breeze, I hear the birds singing and the bullfrogs talking to each other, and I feel gratitude.

Again, duality. It’s so weird having conflicting feelings at the same time—grateful and sad, peace and angst, grief and love.

No one will truly understand what New York City means to me. It was our place together and I’ll cherish these memories my whole life. I know the city will always be here when I need my fix, but the meaning will be different. I have to shut the door behind me and get in my car and go to our house—to this new chapter, to continue my path forward, back to my son in Andy’s happy place. But, in this moment, I’m grieving it’s over and Andy’s not coming with me.

I had to let go of NYC to move forward. I know I’m where I’m supposed to be because I feel more calmness than stress. Sometimes slowing down is all you need. Is this resilience? I don’t know, but it is true that grief is a journey, and there is no timeline.

Moment by moment is how I get through. Some days, I’m really present and the grip of grief isn’t as strong, and some days are not like this. I do know moving out of the city was an obstacle holding me back, a step I needed to take to move forward.

It’s like the monkey bars we all have played on as kids. You can’t move forward if you don’t let go first.

So what does home mean to me now? I don’t know yet.

Andy made every childhood dream of mine come true, and, living in the place he built for us feeling more serenity, I wonder when I will be able to say I am home.

I have hope I will.

~

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