I remember the first blog post I wrote. I was sitting in jury duty, hating life, and thinking: God, I should text Shawn about the ineptitude of the jury system. And then I remembered that I couldn’t text him, because he had died the month prior.
I wrote down what was in my head, trying to describe what it felt like to not be able to text the one person who had always had my back for the previous fifteen years. I found it really difficult to do, but somehow, 800 words emerged.
At the end of that post, I wrote this:
When we said those words, “for better or worse” I knew it meant we’d be with each other if someone was really sick, or unemployed, or truly sad. I didn’t think about how the “worse” part might also include those smaller setbacks at places like Chuck E. Cheese and jury duty, when I feel annoyed or tired or overwhelmed. But in many ways, those small hurdles were a big part of our marriage, knowing that we could always call each other with some frustration and the other person would say, “I’m on your side. You are awesome. You got this.”
It was the beginning. I wrote five more posts, launched the blog, and never looked back.
Over the next year and a half, the blog changed me. Maybe not in any sort of fundamental way – I still feel like my core personality remains – but each post allowed me to share a little bit more about myself. One of the most surprising things was that many of my posts opened up totally new lines of conversation with friends I’d had for years.
“Your blog today,” someone would say to me, “it got me thinking….” and then we’d start talking about life and loss and love.
Before Shawn died, I think I’d describe myself as a fairly pragmatic mother, teacher and person. Bad things happened – I knew they did, as I’d lost my mom as a teenager – but everyone, including me, needed to keep moving. Life was unfair, but complaining about it didn’t make anything any better.
Somehow, through Shawn’s illness and death, I remained of the mindset that I needed to “do my best, even though things were difficult” and so I still came home most nights to do the bedtime routine and I didn’t let myself sleep in the hospital on the nights when Shawn was feeling bad. I tried to entertain people when they came to see us. I still sang to my children in the evening.
And then my world blew up.
After Shawn’s death, I couldn’t just “carry on,” unless I was out in public, feeling the watchful eyes of so many. I was barely standing upright, but I still tried to maintain a positive outside veneer so people didn’t worry about me too much. “You’re doing so well!” friends and acquaintances would comment when they saw me.
But I wasn’t. Starting the blog helped me to show everyone a new side of myself – one that wasn’t always pragmatic and fully in control. It was a side of myself I didn’t know well. In my blog posts, I could be super raw, open and vulnerable. I was surviving, but it wasn’t pretty.
What happened next was a bit of a surprise to me. I had so many people reach out to me and share their own stories. I heard from dozens of readers – including people who were my dear friends – who told me about their sadness and heartache. Who shared stories of loss, defeat, and crushing disappointment.
I’m not the first person to talk about the power of vulnerability. Brene Brown does it much better. But once I started practicing it, I was amazed to find out that opening up about my life brought me so much closer to the people around me.
For the past year and a half, all I’ve wanted was to have Shawn again. All I wanted was to be able to send him a text about the terrible day I was having, and get one back from him that said, “you got this.”
But he’s not here. He’s never going to be here again. I accept that. Or at least I accept that most days.
Instead, I have this community that’s surrounding me in my neighborhood and online. I have people who have reached out to me because I let my raw and real emotions out.
Instead of “you got this,” I’m now hearing something else, something I shared in my graduation speech, which I’ll quote here:
Graduates, this is your community. This is your web of support. And everyone here is saying the same thing: “we got you.” Because what we have in this life is each other.
“We got you” is a powerful phrase, and I’ve heard it from so many different corners of my world since Shawn died. I like it because it reminds me that I am not alone. It reminds me that we are not alone. In that way, it’s fundamentally different from “you got this.”
It’s an important shift in thinking, really. “You got this” was always comforting to me, and I continue to find that phrase to be empowering.
But here’s what I realize now: “we got you” is just as important.
Back in the early days, right after Shawn died, people actually used to say things to me like, “I don’t know how you are doing it,” or “I can’t even imagine.”
I never knew how to respond. But I do now. I say this: “It’s really, really hard. Some days can feel unbearable. But I’ll tell you this: the community that surrounds me is providing me life-giving support. We are connected to each other now in a deeper way than ever before. That’s how I’m surviving.”
It’s how I’m here. The grief still remains, so don’t think this post is trying to convey a rosy view of everything in my life. There are still some really terrible times.
But my life now – it isn’t all bad. I’m much more raw and vulnerable than I used to be, but that means that I am more connected to the people around me. Sometimes I interact with people virtually, and sometimes I find my support at a party when we’re all taking Jell-O shots. It doesn’t matter how. It’s made me stronger, knowing you. It’s key to my survival and to the way I see the world.
Because, as I’ve said before, what we have in this life is each other.