The last few nights have been nothing short of exhausting. I can’t pin- point what it is, or why my nights have been sleepless, and oh so painful, but it’s all part of this new chapter in my story, which I wasn’t ready to start. The reality is, I am no longer lying there next to my soon to be husband, I am lying next to what I have left of my dead fiancé and it is so incredibly surreal.
Sometimes your mind does things that you can’t control and goes places you don’t want it to go, but it does. Last night I was lying in bed asking Nick, “where are you?” I haven’t done this for a while, but lately, I have felt him missing so much more than usual. I started thinking about whether or not I should have kissed his casket at the funeral after the Eulogy, and whether or not I should have given the funeral home a spare shirt to have him cremated in because I wanted to keep the one he was wearing at the viewing. WHY THE FUCK am I thinking about that. How could I leave Nick shirtless in his casket? He had to have been cold? Why didn’t I think to give him an extra shirt? Why didn’t I say goodbye one last time before he was placed in the hearse? Then my nights just go from bad to worse until I eventually cry myself to sleep. On the bright side, I haven’t been resorting to alcohol quite as bad as I did before and my Ativan prescription is empty so this is all me. I have managed to get through it, wake up, get up, and do it all over again.
Welcome to the life of unimaginable loss and sleepless nights.
The weather is changing, and the Facebook feeds are filled with countdowns and memes about snowmobiling rapidly approaching. This would be the time of year that I would start preparing myself to become a single girl for the winter weekends, but instead, I am preparing myself to be a single girl for the rest of my life.
Sometimes I feel like I am having a complete out-of-body experience. For example, going through some of Nick’s winter coats and boots this morning with my Dad. My Dad was trying some of these things on, and everything fit so perfectly. I have moments like that where I think to myself, “is this for real?” I am so glad my Dad can wear Nick’s coats.
I pulled into the garage yesterday and realized Nick’s sled was getting awfully dusty. Do I clean it? Nick always kept that thing polished and clean all year round. Is that my job now? It has become nothing more than a hiding spot for Kota when it’s storming. She has made it her favorite place to curl up when she is in there. I realized that I wasn’t going to hear the sound of that sled this year, and I wasn’t going to see Nick run out into the garage during the first snowfall and contemplate ripping it up and down the alley. Who is going to show me updates of Gnorm the snow gnome?
By this time Nick and I would have been planning a day trip to Banff, or a few. We loved spontaneously hitting the road and traveling out to the mountains for the day to enjoy the fresh air and smells of this season that we both loved so much. We had some of our best conversations on our road trips. Of course, I would have to interrupt some of them when a good song came on the Highway Station, and I felt the need to serenade Nick. My God I miss that so much.
Every season comes new memories and new realizations of this new reality, this new normal, but the one thing that remains constant is how much I miss that man. That man who was supposed to marry me in just over a month.
I have been doing my very best not to think about what I “would” be doing right now if things had never changed. Finalizing wedding plans and working on my vows. I would have likely been trying on my dress weekly to make sure it fits, and just trying to contain my excitement because in just over a month I would have been saying “I do” to my best friend. I would have been saying “I do” to my soul mate, the man I entered this earthly world with on the exact same day and the man who left this earth without me far too soon. I wasn’t ready, and I don’t think I ever would have been. I miss him so much more today than yesterday, and I don’t think that will ever change.
When I think about my wedding day, I think about all the people who are just as sad as I am that this day will not be what we thought it would be. For example, my sweet flower girl Izzy. On October 30, 2015, I gave Izzy a ring pop candy and a card that she opened up to read. It said, “will you be my flower girl.” Her eyes lit up with so much joy, and she smiled and clapped her hands. It was the sweetest thing I had ever seen. She ran to her room and said: “I have the perfect dress.” Melissa and I said, “Oh no Izzy, you get to buy a new dress a very very beautiful dress.” She was ecstatic, and I was so excited to have her be such an important part of my wedding day. I love that little girl to pieces.
On September 3, 2016, our Izzy sat down beside me on the couch and our conversation was much much different. Izzy was staring at my tattoo as she does every time I am with her. The first time Izzy saw my tattoo she asked me why I got it. I went on for a few minutes giving her this long modified version of why a person would get a memorial tattoo for someone they love. When I was done, she said, “So because cousin Nick died, you got a tattoo?” Simple as that. No need for a long drawn out sensitive explanation for this switched on six years old.
This time, Izzy sat next to me, stared at my tattoo again and said, “Why did cousin Nick have to die like that?”. My heart sank, and something told me this conversation wasn’t going to be easy. I said to her, “I don’t know Izzy.” She asked, “Is an Avalanche like a boulder?” I said, “An Avalanche is very heavy snow, so maybe like a boulder.” Izzy looked at me and asked, “It was snowing where Nick was?”. I said, “It was at one point yes but not while he was there.”
You could tell she had so many questions and was trying to understand. She then asked, “Could a dog have dug Nick out faster, maybe you should have dug him out like a dog.” I didn’t realize Izzy thought I was with Nick, so I said, “I wasn’t there Izzy.” She said, “You weren’t there? Where were you? Were you at home? I said, “Yes I was at home, Nick was with his friends.”
Remember, Izzy is six.
Izzy then said, “So when Nick’s friends dug him out he was dead?” This was one of the hardest questions I have ever had to answer. How do you tell a six-year-old that you don’t believe he was dead. I don’t know for sure if Nick was dead, but I also know that this is a conversation for when Izzy is older, so I responded, “yes he was dead” and the flood gates opened.
This didn’t stop Izzy. Me crying was okay. She wasn’t uncomfortable; she didn’t stop sitting beside me, and she looked at me in the eyes the entire time we were talking.
Izzy asked, “Are you still going to get married?” I said, “No”. She said, “Will you ever get married?” I said, “I don’t know.” More and more tears.
Izzy wanted to know what my tattoo represented and was asking about the angel on my arm and whether or not the angel died. I told her it was based on the song “Go Rest High on That Mountain”, and that some day I would explain it to her. She said, “Do you want to wait until I am older so I can understand better?”, and I said, “yes.” Izzy looked at me and said, “I think I could understand now.”
I think Izzy was right. As painful as that entire conversation was with that sweet little girl, there was also some beauty to it. That was a conversation I never thought in a million years I would ever have to have, but I learned so much from Izzy at that moment.
She was so strong, so intuitive, so comfortable, so innocent. Izzy sat there with me and did something that so many adults aren’t even capable of doing. She sat and had a real conversation about Nick’s death. She didn’t hold back, and she didn’t stop when I started to cry. I cannot wait until she is older so I can tell her how proud I was of her that day. Thank you, Melissa and Keith, for sitting by and just allowing it to happen, it’s a bittersweet memory that will stick with me forever.
Just when I thought Izzy was done, she asked me when I had to go home. I told her I had to leave the following day. She said, “Do you have to go back tomorrow because cousin Nick is waiting for you?”. At this point, Melissa interjected and said, “Izzy, Nick is gone.” Izzy replied by saying, “But Mom, he is always with her.” I said, “yes Izzy he is.”
It gave me chills when she said that, and I wonder if somehow she truly knows that.
Oh, Izzy, I love you and someday when you read this I hope you know how proud I am of you and your kind soul. There is a reason I wanted you to be my flower girl, and you did a damn good job fluffing my dresses the day we went shopping and I am so happy you were there to share that memory with me, even though it didn’t end up how we planned.
I wanted to share this today because this isn’t the first conversation I have had with young kids who knew Nick. My friend Karyn’s kids also had some difficult questions for me a while back too, and the one thing I believe whole heartedly is that kids deserve to ask questions, and they deserve real answers.
One of Karyn’s kids asked me how we knew Nick died. It became very apparent during the conversation that she thought we had just found his cell phone. She thought Nick was alone, and I don’t think she realized that Nick’s body was taken off the mountain and brought back to Calgary. When I told her Nick’s friends were with him you could see a sence of relief on her face that Nick didn’t die alone.
All of these kids I have to talk to knew Nick, spent time with Nick, and for many of them, this is the first “young” death they have experienced.
I think about the unanswered questions I have, the nightmares, the unknowns, and it has been made very clear to me that these sweet kids have the same questions, and I am so glad they have been strong enough to ask me. I answer what I can, and we share the unknown together.
People always ask me if I have found any silver linings in all of this and some of the most beautiful moments I have had since Nick’s death has been with the littles in my life. Their pureness, courage, and ability to just “be”, is remarkable to me. I encourage everyone to always open up those conversations with your children, even if it’s scary. They are brilliant little beings, and while it might help them heal, YOU might also learn something.
“There are no quick fixes to grief. No easy answers. Every expression of grief that wants to be felt and honored and given it’s space, must be allowed…in order to heal.” – Tom Zuba