On January 16, 2021, my life as I knew it died.
There was nothing left of it. If I was to keep my memories intact, I would need to work extremely hard to face the reality that it was gone. It wasn’t coming back. He wasn’t coming back.
I journaled every day for a year so that I would document what I was feeling, digest my emotions, read them back to myself, hear them, and archive them in the rare case that I would need or want to go back to them ever again. By doing this, I would face the second most frightening thing I would deal with in my lifetime: what was going on inside my own head.
For weeks after his death, I was useless. For months, I had no focus. I didn’t know which way was up. It was all too much, and I quickly recognized that if I was going to survive this, I had to cut off any and all energy that was going to anything but keeping myself alive.
As the year went on, I finished all of the things that needed to be handled. The arrangements were done, the one-year celebration was over, and every bit of the responsibility I had for his death was checked off. Anyone who has been through this knows this bittersweet feeling. We don’t want to be done because this is the last connection we have to the person whom we love so hard. I feel like moving forward is wrong. I know that standing still is wrong, and somehow I still feel like being sad can bring him back. The reality is that he is dead and that life as I knew it was dead too.
I consider myself to be a realist, often mistaken for an optimist. Maybe I am an optimist. If being sad will bring him back, I will do that forever, but I recognize the reality of this terrible situation. The only thing I can do now is live this life for both of us.
I cleared out the tasks, faced the grief head-on, and continued to simplify my mind and my life of clutter in the most deliberate ways I knew possible. As I did this, I found that memories came flooding to me. Things I hadn’t thought of in years are now making me laugh and making me cry too, often all at once.
So this brings me to the direct connection to my deliberate lifestyle and my survival.
Every experience we have holds provenance that we incorporate into the way we live. Minimalism isn’t something new to me. In the past decade, I have paid close attention to simplifying, focusing on the things that make me whole. I practice #project333. I hold Marie Kondo’s values close to my heart and think about emptying my purse and thanking it at night, even though I don’t do it. I align closely with the Minimalists‘ values.
Buying a camper taught us how to pare down and live light, and I’m shamelessly ruthless when it comes to knickknacks and Christmas Cards. I even sold the design agency that I built for almost 20 years to start a company that is dedicated to “Living Deliberately,” maximizing time and minimizing waste. All of this is nothing compared to what losing him has taught me about simplifying.
This experience has made me cut even deeper.
If I hadn’t simplified, I would not have survived.
Time is precious, and we can’t make more of it. I will not waste it under any circumstance. I give priority to the important things in my space, both physically and emotionally. I am extremely protective of my peace and the people I allow into my circle. I refuse to expel energy on anyone or anything that doesn’t deserve my time. Practically speaking, I am now single-income and had spent a good part of 2021 defining and budgeting for those things that make me whole to ensure that these needs are met as efficiently and effectively as possible.
In October of 2021, I moved back to New York permanently. It is the only place where I found peace. My apartment is familiar. It is a 500-square-foot flat on the sixth floor of a classic tenement on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. It’s in the back of the building, so I enjoy the eastern light of the morning sunrise in my bedroom, and I don’t have to hear the native sounds of Hells Square. Everything in this space serves me. The quiet, the sunlight, my king bed, my perfect sofa, and my electric tea kettle. I carefully curate and fiercely protect this space to ensure that there is nothing inside my sacred apartment that might give me stress. This goes for guests as well.
I became cutthroat with my people. If you didn’t contribute to saving my life in 2021, then I quickly let you go. This isn’t personal or spiteful. We only have so much time, and we have to carefully choose who we spend it on. This is a bigger circle than you might think.
Without naming names (except for my sister, Charlie, who deserves some serious recognition for what she did for me immediately following his death and continually since), the list includes my family, of course. Some are blood-related, some of which aren’t even related to me anymore, and some never were. There are IGers I have yet to meet who have given the right advice, hope, strength, or love in a surprisingly real way at exactly the right time. There are the solid forever friends who I knew would be right by my side. And lastly, the people I met after the chaos and the trauma had settled. Those who didn’t know him (or me for that matter) are meeting me now, as is, and have accepted me, and we are moving forward together.
With dumpsters and donation bins full of my former life, with people who cloud my brains with static gone, with a life that contains only what I need to move forward, I have the space to enjoy the memories of my previous, beautiful life while giving myself a place to breathe and a blank canvas to create my new one.
Ever grateful to be without the clutter and noise.
Moving forward with deliberate force.