June 19 was our wedding anniversary. This year, it fell on a Saturday. Thank goodness I didn't have any friends or family members getting married that day (a rare thing for us to not have a wedding on a Saturday in June), as I would not have been able to take that.
I had a hard time deciding what I wanted to do for our anniversary. I wanted to be in Muscatine, with Brian, but logistically, it didn't make sense. I had just done the Bonnaroo trip, and unless I spent a solid 2 weeks away from Austin in one stretch, I couldn't do it. I thought about it a lot, but opted against extending my stay in Iowa for that day. I know myself, and I would have also tried to squeeze in family time, my friends' JuneFest party on Friday night, etc. and would have ended up physically and emotionally exhausted. Still, it was a difficult decision that pulled on different corners of my psyche.
In the end, Brian's parents, brother, and nieces visited Austin and I spent Saturday the 19th surrounded by Boka family members. Steve, Diane, Jeremy, Lily & Lauren arrived in Austin early on the morning of the 18th (Friday). We met up with family (including Grandma Ginny from Florida) for lunch, the in-laws saw my apartment, and the young 'ens (well, not the youngest ones) went out on 6th Street that night. Friday night, on 6th, it kind of hit me -- the impact of losing Brian, how hard the next day would be without him, how hard the rest of my life will be without him, the painful emptiness that resonates within as I come to terms of the permanency of the world's loss -- and I lost it and the tears started flowing. We were on a rooftop bar, so I took a few minutes to myself at the edge, looking down on the scene below. Tears streamed down my face nonstop, one after another. I texted a few of my best friends a note to the effect of this: "Tomorrow is our anniversary. It is going to be so hard. I miss him so much." I had some nice messages back, which helped a little....at least enough that I didn't make too much of a scene. I escaped to the bathroom, shut the stall door, and started sobbing. A kind girl in the bathroom held me and hugged me. I knew it was time for me to leave -- I couldn't be out like that.
I wasn't ready to go home, to sleep in a bed without Brian. The group I was with sort of broke apart and eventually, I just didn't know where to go or what to do. That is the hardest thing when the emotions and pain are so severe -- there is NOTHING I can do to stem them -- no place I go and no thing I do can make it better. A close family friend, Shane (who happens to live a few blocks from me) walked me home and was incredibly supportive with his words and the act of being there with me. I don't think I properly thanked him, but I am so appreciative of his support. When I got to my front door (knowing he'd watch to make sure I was home safe), I went in the front door....and out the back. I got into my car, just to have a place I could be alone and not worry about anyone seeing me or hearing me. In my car, I screamed, yelled, cried, wailed, and carried on. I have no idea how long I did this, but it was a long time. I suddenly thought I was doing the wrong thing to be in Texas on our anniversary. I looked up flights to Iowa for the next morning and seriously considered a 24-hour trip to Muscatine, just to spend the day alone with Brian. God, I miss being alone with him, just hanging out and talking!
Somehow I came to my senses and realized it would be pretty awful to abandon the family that had driven 15 hours to be with me on our anniversary (the timing was intentional), not to mention that things like that would cause others to question my sanity and stability. But, boy, I was tempted to fly away!
My "fight-or-flight" instinct in high gear, I started driving. I drove around Austin for about an hour, I think. By now, it was somewhere between 3 and 4 in the morning. I had no destination in mind -- I just had to focus on something else and to satisfy the urge to escape reality by doing a bit of a physical escape from my location. So I drove, and drove, and drove. And cried and screamed some more. I thought about getting a hotel room so I could lock myself in, turn off my phone, and scream and cry into the pillows of a large, soft bed. Eventually, I realized the $150 I'd probably spend on a downtown hotel room was a waste of money, given that it was 4:00 am and we had family plans in the morning.
I finally opted to head back home, but I wasn't ready to go into the apartment yet. For one, I wasn't ready to face my roommate. I needed more alone time, and at this point, I was a little embarrassed at having to explain why I was rolling in at dawn. So I parked in my spot, crawled into the backseat, and slept there for about an hour. I woke up in the backseat a little after 5:00 a.m., and it was only then, with my pain and shame numbed by slumber, that I could face reality. I went upstairs and quietly crawled into bed with Erin for my last few hours of sleep.
The next day, while Erin was at the gym in the morning, I blogged about Bonnaroo and I posted a message on Facebook about it being our 6 year wedding anniversary. I wrote about how lucky I was -- as was the world -- to have known Brian, how happy I was that he loved me, how much he taught me, and how much I missed him, especially that day. I was physically not the same -- I felt the pain in my heart and my gut so strongly, and just had no life or energy. I got a lot of encouraging messages in response to that post, and it was a major help to me that day and beyond.
Around 11:30 (still on Saturday, June 19), Erin & I picked up Jeremy from Shane's apartment and headed to Burnet, TX, which is about an hour northwest of Austin. This is where Brian's paternal uncle & aunt have recently built a home on a few acres of land. The whole family was there -- Bruce & Kay (the aunt & uncle); their 3 daughters, 2 sons-in-law, 2 granddaughters, grandkitty, and dog; Steve & Diane; Brian's & my nieces (Jeremy's daughters); Grandma Ginny; Brian's cousin Brent and his wife and 2 daughters; and then some friends joined the group later in the day. I was surrounded by friends and family, but felt disconnected and alone too. Brian's mom asked how I was doing, and we both cried.
All day, people commented about how tired I looked, or how hungover. I might have been tired, and yes, I had been out the night before. But that wasn't it. I was just plain sad, and it showed. A mouth with corners facing down is not a good look. In addition, I hadn't done my hair or makeup -- I just didn't care. Of course I looked like shit -- thanks for noticing! I told Brent's wife, Heather, what was going on after she commented that I looked tired. Then I went and put my contacts in and put on makeup. I guess I have a hard time letting my outside reflect how I feel inside.
I tried to put on a happier persona, too, but don't know how successful that was. I didn't know if all the extended family was aware of the anniversary or not. No one really said anything. All day, I thought, "No one is saying anything. They don't know. They think I'm just being standoffish and rude, probably because I was out too late last night. If only they knew." I know now that everyone knew what June 19 meant to me, and just didn't know what to say. I wish I'd been brave enough to bring it up -- I wanted some acknowledgment of the date, and to explain my appearance and behavior, but at the same time, I don't like to make other people uncomfortable.
I guess by texting some of my close friends, and by posting a message on Facebook, I was soliciting love and support. I needed it, and wasn't afraid to let people know...at least in those ways. What I really need to work on is verbalizing my need for support to the people who are right in front of me. I have been doing a good job getting my feelings out in written form, but don't always 'fess up to my feelings in face-to-face conversation. I need to remember that it's okay to cry in front of other people or to ask for a hug, or to say, "I want to talk about Brian."
At the end of the night, I went into the room where Erin & I were staying at Bruce & Kay's house, got out my laptop, and put in the DVD slideshow of pictures and songs we had put together for Brian's visitation and service. Brian's mom came in, then Erin, and we watched it together and all cried together. Pretty soon, Brian's aunt and cousins came in to give us hugs and to cry with us. That's when I found out they all knew it was our anniversary all day. I wish I'd just been brave enough to find out, or to watch the slideshow, earlier. I wanted to bring it up, to watch it, all day, but tried to spare everyone awkward feelings.
I can't imagine how people must feel around me -- is everyone walking on eggshells? I know so many people have said, "I didn't know what to say, so I didn't say anything." This is true for milestone events, day-to-day conversations about my well-being, and even acknowledging Brian's death. The hardest part of this is that I'm sure what each widow or each grieving person needs is different -- I can't speak for all who are mourning; I can only speak to what I need.
I need important dates to be acknowledged. I need people to say Brian's name. I need people to ask how I am doing, and to keep asking. I won't always want to talk about it, but when I do, I'm not likely to bring it up at dinner unprompted. I need people to understand that I might not call you back or e-mail you back, but I want the calls and e-mails to keep coming! I know this all sounds incredibly selfish.....I read it and I'm ashamed of what I'm asking of my friends and family members. Frankly, though, I'm in too much pain to be proud. At least when I'm in front of a keyboard.