I would like to thank the people who emailed me and to my cousin Cindy for commenting on my questions a couple posts ago. Because of the responses I actually understand now what people are saying to me, and I understand why I could not make sense of it.
To me, those words "courageous", "inspirational", etc siginified someone who's life was going right. Someone who was living in a fulfilling manner. Someone who "has it together". The disconnect came from the fact that I do not feel those things most moments of each day. I felt like, "do people think I am something that I am not? Do they think that I am okay, moving on, living happily? Am I misleading people by the way I am acting?"
But what I have learned from you is that YOU KNOW I am not completely okay, that I am doing my best, and that's okay. It's enough. And the common thread through what people said to me is that I did not "give up" and that's why you find my behavior courageous, though each person defined what giving up means a little differently.
The idea of giving up was never a real option for me. Trust me, there were/are many times when I've just had it, like I am DONE with everything but never have I ever seriously entertained the thought of staying in bed all day or just not caring about anything anymore. Some people have said to me/say to me that it is because of my kids that I am able to go on. I have never thought that to be true. Obviously yes, I love my kids more than anything but the idea that they in some way make this whole thing EASIER is just insane to me. That is a concept that I cannot relate to, and one I've never heard from any of the other young widows that I know. There are times, yes, that my kids make me laugh or moments of joy,etc, but for every one of those times there are 10 other times where my heart breaks for them; times when I am grieving myself and feel like I don't have the energy to be who I want to be for them; times when I struggle just to get the logistics together of what needs to be done as a single mother of 2. I would not say that my kids make it easier, though I would not have it any other way. I do not believe that giving up has anything to do with the presence of, or lack of, children.
I know that the reason that I did not "give up" is because of something that is very simple and basic. It is because I know and feel that I was a whole person before I ever met Joe. Trust me, I had to reach deep for who that was early on after Joe died, but I knew that "I" was in there under the layers of "mother", "wife", "partner", "dish-washer", "laundry-doer", "errand-runner", "chauffeur", etc. I know and feel that I was given a gift --of life-- by my parents and by God and I feel that "giving up" would be squandering something precious, something I am not willing to squander. Losing my friend Jennifer 11 years ago was my lesson at how precious and unpredictable life can be. Losing Joe was a devastating confirmation of that lesson. It makes me know that we are lucky to be living; lucky to have another day; lucky to have hope for a better future, whatever that may be. It is a privilege that others would give anything for. I don't want to waste that privilege, even if it seems like some days everything is awful and the world is a rotten place. I think of my husband and others that would give anything to see the faces one more time of the people they love. And then I step back and look at the love that I have from my family and friends that care about me. Then I make the choice to focus on and be grateful for the gifts that I have been given and what I still have. If I didn't do that, I would be consumed by the sadness of what has been taken away. It does not come naturally. It's a conscious choice. Sometimes it feels like work. But for me, it is the only way.