Friday, June 12, 2015

The Year of Firsts

Today marks the one year anniversary of The Picky Eater’s death, and with it the end of my “Year of Firsts.” I’ve made it through the first holidays, birthdays, and anniversaries without the love of my life. And I have been forever changed.

The first three months after Mike died, I was in a fog. I don’t remember much about what went on. I know friends took me to lunch, and the Ditch family took me to dinner and invited me to all of the family gatherings. I binge-watched Downton Abbey and read many books for the temporary escape they offered, but mostly I spent each day trying to get to the next, because I knew the sadness and pain would ease with each passing moment. I just had to hang on.  

I spent a lot of time sitting in a rocking chair at my bedroom window looking out over downtown Topeka at all hours of the day and night. That was my comfort place. I cried gallons of tears there, raged at Mike for leaving me so soon, worked through the guilt over things I should have done differently (only to realize everything happened the way it was meant to), and, mostly, remembered all of the wonderful moments we shared. I talked to Mike a lot. I still do. If my neighbors can hear me, they must all think I’ve lost my mind. J

What has helped me get through this year the most is being with people who shared their Mike stories with me, and who let me talk freely about my memories, too. Some of the tales were funny and sweet, while others were touching or even a bit sad. All of them made Mike feel close. I needed the comfort those stories brought to my heart from those who also loved and cared for him.

About six months into the first year, I started to feel more like myself. The sadness was there (still is), but it wasn’t as overwhelming as in the beginning.     

Now I start year two without my love, my biggest fan, my knight in shining armor. I’ve entered uncharted water, where I can no longer think back to what “we” were doing this time last year because there was no “we” from June 12, 2014 on.

I’m living “our” life by writing full time and teaching writing workshops, which Mike and I had planned on my doing all along. Unfortunately, the happiness I feel with each success is tempered by the thought he isn’t here to share it with me.
While I can think and dream about what the future holds when it comes to my career, everything else I take one day at a time. Yes, I still have days when the sadness overwhelms me. When I just have to give in and wait for a better day tomorrow. Then sometimes I feel guilty when, because my day has been busy and full, I forget to think about him for a time. At other moments, he fills my heart so much I know his spirit is walking along side me.

The meaning of “bad times” has changed for me. Negative things happen to all of us, but now I understand what “it could have been so much worse” truly means. Because that “so much worse” happened one year ago.

When something bad happens now, I point to the sky and say to Mike, “You promised you were my guardian angel, so you had better help me through this.”

And he always does, with God’s help.

To mark the end of this year, I have moved my wedding band to join Mike’s on the chain I wear around my neck. It fits perfectly inside his, protected much the same way as he protected me. My beautiful blue topaz engagement ring now resides on my right hand.  

I still miss him more than words can express, and some days more than I can stand. As hard and traumatic as it was to let him go one year ago, I would go through it all again as long as it meant I wouldn’t miss a single moment of our time together. No matter what the future brings, Mike will always have a place in my heart. I will love him forever.

Finally, but most important, let me thank all of those who were key in helping me through this year. I want to start with the entire Ditch family, for rallying around me in support on that terrible day one year ago (the funeral home had never seen that many people show up to plan a service!) and on every holiday and family gathering since. Thank you Steve, Greg, Lisa, Scott, Rocky, Quintin, and Kim, plus your spouses and kids, for continuing to make me feel a part of the family. I would have never made it through this year without you. And to Greg, Lisa, and Steve, for taking charge of arranging all of the funeral details and finances, so all I had to do was approve or adjust some of the finer points. Also, thank you for supporting my choices and making the whole process go smoothly.

I also want to thank my friends, both those here in the Midwest and in New England, plus my blogging, writing and foodie friends whom I only know via the World Wide Web. Whenever I felt sadness and despair, I knew all I had to do was say something on Facebook and the encouragement would roll in. And thank you for the phone calls, emails, and lunch dates throughout the year. I hope you understand how much that meant to me, and I hope you know if I didn’t return a phone call, answer an email, or make a lunch date, it wasn’t because I didn’t want to. It was because I couldn’t.       

Now to thank some specific people:

First, my mom. Think about it…my dad died three months before Mike. So, she not only had to deal with her own grief, but then that of her oldest daughter. Her support, both emotional and financial, was key to my survival. Sometimes I think I would still be curled up in a ball of tears on the floor without her. I love you, Mom.

My sister-in-law, Lisa, who is not only family but also my best friend. Mike knew we would be great friends—he said so before I even met you! Since the day he introduced us, you have never hesitated to come running when I needed you, even if it was just to meet and talk over a cup of coffee. Your friendship means the world to me…more than I can express.

Also, to my brother-in-law, Don, for your friendship and support, plus for letting me join the family fantasy football league. Not only was it fun, but it made me feel even more connected to the family…and Mike. (Who knew I’d win all those games!)

Next, my brother-in-law, Greg, because you answered the phone. Soon after Mike died, while the police and paramedics were still swarming around the apartment waiting for the coroner to arrive, I realized it was time to start telling people he was gone. I didn’t want to do it. I kept thinking about how my phone call was going to change everyone’s normal day into one of the saddest they would face. How could I inflict that kind of pain on others? Especially before 5 a.m. I made one phone call after another…and no one answered their phone. They either didn’t hear it or slept through it. One after another, no answer, no answer, no answer, until finally you answered the phone…and instantly became my hero. Not only were you there on the other end of the line, but through your own sadness you took on the burden of spreading the news to the rest of the family. Hearing the grief in your voice made me feel less alone, and you saved me from going through that horrible task over and over while the fog of grief settled on my heart, for which I will always be grateful.

My stepson, Mike Jr., has been a rock through it all. He took on the responsibility of telling his sister and mom the sad news, which couldn’t have been easy. Now he answers all of my emails about my writing business and life in general. Plus, he lets me in on his fantasy golf fun for the major tournaments, which helps me feel connected both to him and his dad. Thanks Picky Eater, Jr. J

Plus Jennifer, Anthony, and Brad, thank you for asking me to lunch, hanging out with me on the Carnival Magic, and taking the time to talk to me and ask questions about my life. You guys are amazing.

Thank you to my fellow residents in Kansan Towers, our own little community within the larger downtown neighborhood. Many of you stopped to wish me well even though our only contact was occasionally riding together in the elevator. A special thank you goes to the manager, Teena, who stayed with me that terrible morning a year ago as I processed the worst event of my life. A big thanks also goes to my neighbor Jan, who is always there to share a drink when I need her, and to the unstoppable Marge Heeney, whose spirit is an inspiration.

And a final thanks to the leadership and congregation at Grace Cathedral, for your warm welcome, acceptance, and positive message. When I was searching for a church home to find comfort after Mike’s death, God led me to your door.

Everyone, thank you for your patience, understanding and support. Please don’t go anywhere! I may need you even more in the year to come.

The journey continues…  


  1. God Bless you Linda!!We will ALWAYS have your back cuz thats what family does for one another!!Love You Always!!You will always be family to us ALWAYS!!

  2. You are an inspiration to us Linda,the way you have honored Mikes memory shows the great person you are.We are always here for you.Love,Rocky,Tracy,Nicole and Jacob Ditch

  3. Linda,
    I so admire your honesty about the grieving process or maybe more accurately, the grieving journey. The destination is unknown and there are many detours but we hope we land at a place of peace and acceptance of what we can not change and an ability to remember the really great moments without an equal measure of sadness.

    My thirty four year old daughter-in-law passed away this morning after a heroic five and a half year battle with breast cancer. We had the chance to say good bye which you were denied but we also watched the cancer destroy her body and the medications affect her mind....there is no "good death"

    I will hold on to your honesty about this journey as an inspiration and hopefully we will handle our "firsts" with as much grace as you.
    The reason people people respond to you the way they do is your open heart.
    Take care Sandy

    June 12, 2015 at 7:51 PM Delete