November 1, 2014
I just returned from a quick 3 day trip to NYC. My friend David, who is the CEO of Mylio (a startup working on an exciting photo-related product), was launching his product at PhotoPlus Expo and invited me to come for the big launch event.
As I’ve mentioned, I’ve been taking a lot of trips so that I can step away from my burdens and (hopefully) come back to them fresh and ready for the next push. Sometimes these trips are rejuvenating, sometimes they are very hard, sometimes both. This particular trip involved some fun moments but overall was draining and excruciatingly painful at times. You see, when I step away from my burdens, when I move to a place where I am not in charge of so much around me and I can surrender, then there is nothing to face but my grief. It is necessary for me to face my grief, even if it knocks me on my ass. The way out is through, meaning – I must move through my grief.
On the first evening of the trip, David invited me to a birthday celebration for his 35yr old son Theo. We went to the Manhattan home of some relatives. There were many older (in their 60’s) couples, and I immediately got triggered. Somehow couples my age don’t trigger me as much as older couples. I always thought John and I would grow old together. We often discussed fun trips we might take together and adventures we might have once the kids were in college. I see older couples, and I see my dashed dreams. I also sometimes find birthday celebrations to be hard, as I’m not excited about celebrating my own birthdays (and getting older) without John. I blinked back tears and tried to act normal for a while. Eventually Theo rescued me and took me to a bar in Brooklyn where there weren’t any older couples and it wasn’t anyone’s birthday.
The next evening was the launch event. The presentation kicking off the event involved speeches from various well established photographers. Over and over, the photographers talked about their huge photo archives, and how painful it is when you can’t find or permanently lose important photos. They all said that, when they have a paid photo-shoot, they get the photos to the client right away, but their own family photos were never well organized (until Mylio). Each of them went on and on about how there is nothing more important than family and then showed handfuls of happy photos of their family at various milestones in life.
Let me tell you, those presentations were horrifically painful. I stood there, tears silently streaming down my face, sometimes wiping them away, sometimes not bothering. It was literally almost more than I could bear and it took all of my strenth to not just leave and ditch the entire event. The presentations reminded of how hard it has been to look at photos of John and our family since he died. I force myself to do it, but it breaks my heart when I look at all of those happy moments with him and realize that no such happy memories will ever be created with him again. I looked at all the happy photos of the other families and was slapped in the face with the reminder that my family is broken. Yes, I need to find a path towards the girls and I becoming whole again, but we aren’t there yet and won’t be for a long time. It has been 5 months since John died but to be clear – that is but a brief moment in time. The wounds are still oozing and raw, and the pain is still increasing as I continue to wake up every day without him and become more and more aware of the reality in front of me – I am alone.
When I returned home, people asked me if it was a good trip. I told them that it wasn’t a good trip, but it was a productive trip. I must feel these feelings that are inside of me. I must swim around in my ocean of grief, as that’s all part of the journey. A common quote I come back to is – “Widows don’t move on, they move forward.”. I move forward through the pain instead of trying to embrace the numbness that continues to wear off.
Alongside the pain, I still have a surprising amount of gratitude. I feel such pain because I loved so deeply. I adored John and I told him so all the time. John was the most wonderful husband, lover, friend, and partner that I could have asked for. It didn’t take his death for me to realize that. I told him over and over, through the years, that I was so thrilled to be married to such a wonderful man and felt nothing but joy at the idea of being by his side as we grew old. I don’t have to sit here and regret that I didn’t cherish him when he was alive, because I did cherish him. I did support him in following his dreams. The Liberty Ridge climb that took his life was something he spent a year training for. He would light up when he would talk about details of the route, special gear he would need, and his increased workout regimen. He would thank me, over and over, for supporting him in this path, because the training involved many evenings away from home, and because we both knew that the route had non trivial risks. Still, I have no regrets. John died loved, he died following his dreams, and he died honored by his life partner in being who he truly was – a mountain man.
John – I love you forever.