That’s the amount of time society gives someone to grieve.
Hospice offers one year of free counseling and then you’re cut off. Counselors told me I have one year to be crazy. Friends have said, “well you’re still in the first year.”
It’s as if on day 366 you’ll wake up and say, ‘Yes I’m all better, I no longer miss this person, I’ve figured it all out!’
Every single day for 365 straight has been a fight. A fight to get out of bed, a fight to smile, a fight to live.
Joe knew he was going to die. I don’t know if that’s made this easier or harder.
“I don’t want to look down from heaven and see you not taking care of yourself,” Joe said one day while standing in the bathroom, “Don’t get fat and just let yourself go because you’re sad.” I can still see his sneaky smile as he peered out to me on the bed and I rolled my eyes.
I’ve debated how to handle this date. I know I can’t ignore it. But I just can’t let it own me.
I know I’ll never forget the song I sang to him as my tears soaked his shirt, watching as he’d take his last breath just hours later. The day it happened doesn’t make that memory any different.
I want to celebrate Joe’s life but I can feel the pain wrapping around my heart.
So instead, I want this to be my survival anniversary. I want to say I survived the hardest year of my entire life. I want to never forget the physical fight I’ve put up just to keep breathing.
It started the moment I walked out of the hospice house, leaving his body behind.
I woke up the next morning and put lipstick on and headed to the bank to handle our accounts.
“My husband died yesterday and I need to know how to set up my daughter’s college fund for the obituary, ” I said with a straight forward attitude of a warrior who would not be defeated.
I’ve had to live every day with that same determination.
I fought through leaving the house we brought our daughter home to and the last place I’d share a bed with my husband. I threw out clothes and took on change as fast as it was thrown in my face.
I sat up in the middle of the night and desperately searched online to find a support group as I feared my life would be better if I just didn’t live it.
I stumbled into a church on a Thursday night and followed a woman who waved me into a small room. I signed in and sat down. The banner on the wall read, “Divorce and recovery”. Hmmm… I thought… maybe widows are the recovery? I could feel the anger bouncing off the women around me when I stood up and said, “I think I’m in the wrong place.”
“Are you a widow or an alcoholic?” one of the women asked.
“A widow,” I replied.
“Down the hall past the alcoholics.”
I grabbed my things and headed that way splitting with laughter.
I found the right room and sat with eyes wide. I sobbed as a widow stood up to tell the group about how she was newly engaged after losing her husband to cancer. I remember her saying, “My first husband was my soulmate but maybe we have two souls because this person loves a whole different side of me.”
It was the first time I’d ever even imagined the future.
I fought to say ‘yes’ to invitations even when I knew they’d be hard. I did dinner parties with all couples and even figured out how to order myself a drink. I also have become painfully aware of how spoiled I was as I used the vacuum and realized I had never unloaded the dishwasher in the six years I was with Joe.
I went on a date.
That’s right. I got online and went on one of those weird sites. I filled out a profile and stood puzzled as I had to answer questions about myself. Things I didn’t even know anymore. What do I like to do for fun? What kind of music do I like? I had absolutely no idea. I wanted to write that I’m Mira’s mom and Joe’s wife because that’s all I’ve known for the last two years.
I have no idea who I even am.
The date was awful. I listened to a guy complain about his divorce and order an expensive meal. As the bill came he realized he’d ‘forgot’ his wallet. I picked up the tab and thanked him for the evening and was on my way.
Material for my book: PRICELESS.
It was one of many things I’ve fought to rip the band-aid off and make myself do in an effort to find myself. I wanted so desperately to feel pretty, to feel like a woman, to remember that girl I was when Joe and I first fell in love. When I believed in happy endings, when I thought love could conquer anything.
There are harsh truths to death that aren’t in the pamphlet.
Relationships change after someone dies. You have to completely re-define where you stand in every friendship and family connection. Condolences will stop and the judgement will set in. Family members you think will be there for you–won’t. Complete strangers will find a way to fill voids in your life you didn’t even know were there. You’re damned if you stay in bed all day and damned if you go out all the time. I survived the inappropriate comments made by people with the best of intentions.
“You’ll have to clean out Joe’s closet at some point”, a friend said not even a month after he had died.
“Dating? You aren’t ready,” another acquaintance said at lunch.
“Will you always be the cancer girl now? Are you okay with that being your identity?” Another person asked.
Hearts in the right place but minds truly clueless as to how any of this feels.
I was told the first year would be a fog and that’s absolutely right. So many days I already forget, human nature’s survival technique I suppose.
But when I stop and really think about all we’ve done this year I can almost feel Joe smiling down on me.
I did a 5K, (okay, I walked but I finished!)
I put in the carseat myself, I had to watch a YouTube video and I sobbed, but I did it.
I started a foundation in Joe’s honor, one of my greatest achievements.
I traded in Joe’s car and wept as I handed over the keys.
I pay the bills and have set almost everything up on automatic payment because I’ve realized remembering things is not my strong suit.
I started a freelance job writing for a magazine and I love it.
I’ve met new friends.
I go to counseling.
I figured out the Apple TV, though I still have to call my brother every time I do it.
I fix Mira’s toys and I change all the batteries. I taught her to say, “good job, mommy!” as my reward.
I can carry three bags of trash all at once to the dumpster.
I drive her to school and pick her up every afternoon.
I let myself cry.
I fight. I fight. I fight.
365 days was not enough time to heal. I do not have it all together. I feel homeless without the person who was suppose to be my life partner. I fight and I’ll never stop because it’s the life he wanted for us. It’s the life our daughter deserves.
I was suppose to spend my whole life with you and then I stop to think how lucky I am, you spent your whole life with me.
Joe Clark died at the age of 31 years old on November 16, 2014. It was two days before he and his wife Amanda would have celebrated their 4th wedding anniversary. Joe taught the world what it means to live loud and love hard. A foundation inspired by Joe and Amanda’s blog, The Cocktails & Chemo Foundation serves to honor Joe’s life and create a support network for the caregivers of cancer patients.
The couple have a daughter, Mira Joey, who will turn two in December. Amanda and Joe never wanted cancer to define their lives but instead let their lives be defined by love.