My name is Valerie. I live in California, in the same small town that I was born in. I'm 33, which, if you buy into the Hollywood/Cosmo version of life means that I should have just settled down with the man of my dreams, thousands of dollars in student loan debt, with a solid block of single gal career woman status behind me and the prospect of starting a family in front of me.
That is not my life. I've way more in common with a family friendly mid 90's sitcom than Sex in The City. (Though admittedly, my role would more likely be the eccentric aunt than the frazzled mom behind the wheel of a minivan.) I am the mother of two kids: O is twelve and walking that balancing beam in between full fledged adolescent & little boy and I is nine, still content to play with littlest pet shops and steadfastly obsessed with all things kitten or puppy. Not pink though, she's way over that.
Up until 81 days ago, I was married to the love of my life, Jason. He was, though I have often scorned the concept as lofty and irrational, my soulmate. The yin to my yang, the bread to my butter. He was my first love, my best friend and my rock... the one person who knew everything about me, saw my ugly parts and terrible character flaws and silly bad habits and loved me wholly despite it all. We were married just shy of 13 years, an anniversary we had planned to celebrate by skydiving in a characteristically twisted poke at the whole unlucky # 13 superstition. The weekend we had planned to go and jump out of a plane together was instead spent in a hospital, reeling from a diagnosis of stage 4 pancreatic, stomach and esophageal cancer. It was the beginning of a surreal, nightmarish three weeks that ended with my strong, capable and quietly magnetic husbands untimely death.
And so, I am now a widow and a single mother... two things I had never, even in my most wildly neurotic , anxiety ridden moments of white middle class existential musing, imagined would apply to me. My children are fatherless and our future is uncertain. I am fractured, heartbroken and in the thrall of a sadness so deep and dark and all encompassing that I am not entirely certain I will survive it. My grief is a burning sun that I cannot look at directly... to do so would scorch me until I am nothing more than a pile of ashes.
And so I take my grief in doses. I peek at it from half lidded eyes and let it wash over me while I gasp and struggle and lay on the shore exhausted and terrified and bruised. And I pick myself up and gulp down my sadness and push it out of my way while I hug my children and walk my dog and try to pretend that I am ok with this new normal. Because I have to be.
I'm still here.