Lessons of turning tragedy into triumph 

from a military widow

EXPLORE

CONNECT

  • Facebook
  • Instagram
  • LinkedIn
Search

Brown Paper Boxes

People keep asking me if I'm excited to be buying this house. If I'm excited to be moving and being back in Vancouver. While I do my best to put a smile on my face to get through the conversation without breaking down in tears, the real answer is no. Nothing about this is exciting or happy or good news. The real answer is deep and dark and depressing. The real answer is that in a matter of 6 minutes I went from sharing my life with my best friend to being a pregnant widow forced to make terrible decision after terrible decision. The real answer is that I don't want to do this.. I want to be in our home in Hawaii, watching the kids play in the kiddie pool in our front yard. I want to be complaining that it's too hot while scratching mosquito bites and posting photos of giant cockroaches on instragram. I want to get off our patio furniture at the sound of Brian's truck coming down the street and watch the kids run to the end of the driveway to hug him and watch him laugh - equally excited to see them after a long day at work.


I know that's not the answer people expect to hear when they ask that question, but that's the truth. This isn't exciting. This is necessary. This is putting one foot in front of the other - even if those feet are only walking to my closet to cry while the kids are playing downstairs and my 3 month old sleeps.


Unpacking our belongings while trying to get moved into this house has been a particularly excruciating experience. I'm eternally grateful to all of the people in my life who have come over to help me build furniture and unpack boxes, to keep the kids laughing so they don't notice the tears streaming down my face as I unpack wedding photos and memories of the happiest times of our lives. The kids and I moved off the island the day the movers arrived to pack up our home in Hawaii. We had some dear friends supervise the 3 day move-out process while we were busy getting settled into Idaho and while they knew the circumstances of our departure, the movers certainly wouldn't have known. They wouldn't know they were packing up the uniforms of a Naval Officer who had worn those same clothes to work days earlier but would never get to wear them again. The uniforms he worked so hard to earn as he made his way up through the enlisted ranks before being recognized among the very few men and women who earn the title of Ensign. They wouldn't have known they were packing up the razors and combs of a man who let his son watch him shave every morning -followed by them both putting pomade in their hair; Hudson watching Brian doing it and then attempting to mimic his exact technique. They wouldn't have known the stories behind each of his tshirts; where he got them from and why he loved them.. the memories that were made with his wife and family while wearing those tshirts in locations all around the world. They wouldn't have known the meaning behind his coffee mugs, the trinkets in his nightstand, the hours he spent reading his books on the bookshelf or the meticulous lists he made in his notebooks of ideas, projects, Amazon orders and surprises he wanted to do for me. They wouldn't have known the train set they were packing was something Brian had purchased for Hudson the night before he passed away, the boogie boards that Brian and Izzy had pretend surfed on in the swimming pool down the street from our house, the sailing gear still littering our garage from his accomplished trip across the Pacific last Summer.. they wouldn't have known any of these things as they were each wrapped in brown paper and put in boxes to be shipped off the island.


But I know.


Every single item in each of those little brown packages that the movers wrapped up has a unique memory to it and each of those memories are flooding back to me as I unwrap box after box. Every single item has now become a time capsule.. a moment locked into place that I hope to never forget - but that I will store away and look at to remember these specific moments in our lives. I've started putting Brian's belongings into boxes for the kids; clothes, Navy uniforms and accolades, sailing gear, newspaper clippings, combs, etc. I don't want to part with any of it - doing so would be parting with these memories we made and that's all I have left now.


One of the hardest things is knowing what to do with it all.. I started hanging his clothes up in my closet but walking in there and seeing them those first few days was excruciating so they are now in a box - still in my closet - but hidden from view. As I'm unpacking photos I'm having to ask myself; do I hang this family photo up - even though Adeline isn't in it? Do I put up my wedding photos? How many photos are too many? Which ones make me happy and which ones make me sad? These questions and answers all change on a daily basis so there's a good chance my house will be decorated again and again and again as I try to figure out what I'm comfortable with. What makes the kids remember and think about, talk about their dad without making me cry every time they ask when he's coming home, or when we can Facetime him.


Week 1 in our new home has been rough. Not anything to do with the house itself or home ownership - just facing the reality of what's ahead as a single mom of three very young children. Isabel interviewed at two preschools this week and putting in her application and having to write 'Deceased' on the Father Information line was a new low. Having to figure out who my emergency contact is - also something I haven't had to think about for quite some time. Setting up a new alarm system, new speakers, baby monitors, new gadgets... all the stuff I hate but that Brian loved and I counted on him taking care of for us. Asking friends to take time out of their days to come help me with all of these things and not knowing how to properly show my appreciation is something I'm also struggling with.


All I can say is this is a process. A terribly shitty process. In the past 6 months I've lost my husband, moved out of my home and across an ocean with very little notice, was diagnosed with pre-eclampsia and was hospitalized for a high risk pregnancy, had a baby, bought a house and moved again. Each of those on their own are big enough life events to cause emotional stress but I'm working through each of those all at once and some days it's just simply overwhelming. This being said, I'm so grateful for the love and support of each of you. You all keep asking how you can help and what you can do and all I can say is that you're doing it. You're reaching out to lend support, you're coming over to play with my kids, organizing my garage, having dinner delivered, building beds and bookshelves, etc.. I'm truly so humbled and thankful to have you all in our lives. There is nothing anyone can say or do that is going to change what we're going through, but the friendship we're receiving is changing our experience of this process and we're eternally grateful.


208 views