1096 Days

For several days now I’ve had this stomach ache. You know the kind that sits in the center of your belly like a tight knot of worry and dread? After Phil, my big brother, died, I had that stomach ache nearly every weekend for a year. Our family saw him for the last time on a Sunday morning and he died that afternoon. So each weekend afterwards I would relive that day over and over. I would take walks alone so I wouldn’t cry in front of my husband and son. I would stand a quarter of a mile away from my house and sob on the side of the road. It happened so many times that I still tear up occasionally when I walk that hill because my body expects to cry.

And now it’s that day once again. July 23rd. I hate this day. A good friend has a birthday today and I don’t think I’ll ever be able to celebrate with her on this date. My life and my family’s lives were so torn apart that day. And no matter how much I work through the grief and keep putting one foot in front of the other, my life will never, ever be the same. As much love and kindness as I get from my friends and family, there will always be this gap in my life and this bit of unreachable joy because Phil isn’t here to make us laugh or to tell stories or to just be here. To just be.

There’s also this little bit of guilt that I’ve been hanging on to and I don’t know what to do with it. While my brother was in the hospital, his partner and I went to talk to him to basically convince him that it was ok to die. It was ok to say he had enough. Once he made that decision, the bravest thing I’ve ever seen by the way, he couldn’t look me in the face. I held his hand and cried on his bed, then I left. We went back to the room where my sister, mother and doctors were sitting and told him that he was ready to “go.” Then everyone went back to Phil’s bed to say goodbye.

But I didn’t. I told my sister I had said goodbye and had already told him I loved him and it was their turn to have time with him. But why didn’t I go back? Why didn’t I take one more look at him and touch him and say “I love you” one more time?

I remember telling my sister to tell Phil that Dad loved him because our dad didn’t come. He just couldn’t. And I didn’t want to be too selfish and take more time with Phil than the others….but I also think I was afraid he wouldn’t be able to look at me again. I *was* being selfish. I should have gone back into that room one more time, no matter if he could look at me or not. I should have spent every imaginable second I could with him.

But I didn’t.

And I deeply, deeply regret that.

So now I go on. I try to remember the great times we had, the laughs, the stories, the hugs and the so many “I love you”s. I will talk out loud to Phil when I need him and imagine him talking back. Tonight my sister and I will toast our favorite brother and tell those stories and laugh and hug and say “I love you”.

And we will keep putting one foot in front of the other.

Sucker-Punched

Out for a morning run,

one foot in front of the other.

Stop to chat with Gene.


“Lost one of our neighbors this morning.

Kidneys shut down. He was only 61.”

Moment of silence.


State our good wishes for the day,

keep on running.

One foot in front of the other.


Making my way up a hill,

leaves cascading down from the trees

tickling my face.


Close my eyes, smiling, enjoying the moment,

a flash of memory of my brother laughing,

recognition of joy.


My breath is gone.

I double over, clutching my body,

pain flowing through my limbs.


Yet I trudge on.

Determined to finish.


My body straightens,

even as the pain in my shoulder grows.

That damn raven digging in.


My legs are heavy now.

No more thinking.

Just one foot in front of the other.

Grief Sucks

I’ve had the great fortune to have some really happy days lately. My last post was about a particularly good run I had. This past week I had a wonderful 47th birthday with my family (physically distancing) and yesterday I had just an incredible day with my son, exploring Fort Knox (this is in Maine, not the one filled with gold in Kentucky) and eating good food and having thought-provoking conversations.

But when I got up today, I could feel grief weighing me down immediately, like it was sitting on my shoulders. Today is my brother’s birthday. Phil should be turning 52 today, not remaining 49.

As I trudged to the kitchen and made my coffee, I glanced at my phone sitting on the counter. “Do I really even want to look at this today?” But I did. The first thing I saw was a Facebook post I created the year before my brother died, wishing him a happy birthday and telling the world how amazing I thought he was and how proud I was to have him as my brother. Then I saw a post my sister wrote today on Phil’s FB wall, telling him how much she misses him and although she’s glad he’s not having to experience the pandemic, wishes he was here for everything else.

That was enough.

I drank my coffee, swallowed any tears that were trying to form, talked with my husband and got dressed to go for a short run. As I laced up my sneakers, I couldn’t hold it in any longer. I could feel the sobs all the way in my belly and working their way up. My husband came out to see why the hell was I going to run outside in the heat, but when he saw my face he just came to me and held me and I let it out. But it seemed that once I started, I just couldn’t stop. I finally let my husband go and I was able to say or rather hiccup, that I just had to get outside. It was just a 2 mile run and although it would be bad, I just needed to leave the house. I couldn’t breathe and felt trapped and needed to be someplace with no walls.

It was really 85 degrees when I left with 49% humidity. So not quite this bad.

So for 2.12 miles, I stopped thinking or feeling. I listened to my music and just focused on my task. It was certainly brutal (so much respect for you southeastern U.S. runners!), but it took me out of my brain for a little bit.

Once I showered and stretched, I watched a virtual Drag Queen Story Hour that made me happy for a bit, but then I just sat at my desk, put my head down, and cried some more.

Grief is not just sadness. It’s heavier than that. It affects my physical body, my mind, my heart, my appetite, my world. After almost 3 years since my brother has died, I can say that I do have good days now. With Mom and Dad both dying last year, the number of really good days in the past year I can count on one hand. But the fact I can count any is an incredible thing and gives me hope that I will have many more. But when days like these hit, when you just want to curl into yourself and cry and shut everyone else out, they still hit really hard. I still don’t know whether to embrace them or fend them off, so I do a little of both.

I’m letting the tears come today but also hiding a little bit from my son. We’re still spending some time together and working on a Father’s Day ice cream cake for my husband, but I’m going into my office more or on our porch and just sitting and remembering. We’ll toast Phil this evening like we always do, and we’ll remember him together. But right now I just want to be by myself and re-watch the video of Phil reading to little Briar and hearing Phil laugh and joke. I just want to wallow in my grief and in how much I miss him today.

And every day.

And then….

It’s 2020. The roaring twenties? A new year, a new decade, maybe even a new you? I used to love the beginning of the new year–a fresh start, a clean slate. Time to start eating better, exercising more, doing new things, achieving those goals I couldn’t get to last year, and becoming a new person.

Starting over used to really appeal to me. I used to love the thought that I could become a new person, someone I would like more and others would like me more, too. I really thought that losing weight would do that for me. So I did it. I lost over 85 pounds and kept it off for nearly a decade. As a matter of fact, 10 years ago yesterday I began running. I had already lost the weight I had intended, but now I wanted to challenge myself. And so I did. I became a runner. I became that crazy lady you saw at 5:30 on a winter morning with the head lamp running in the dark. I ran some road races but really just ran for me. Did I like this new person I had become? Sometimes. But not completely like I thought I would.

And then 2017 came along. I started to struggle with running because of injuries and motivation. And then my brother died and I didn’t want to live anymore. I didn’t know how to and I honestly didn’t really care to. But I did. I even tried to run some but often I’d start to sob in the middle of the runs or stop a half mile before home and drop to my knees because the darkness just overcame me and I couldn’t put one step in front of the other.

So I stopped. I started to care for both of my parents off and on and tried to parent my son the best I could and still be a wife that was semi-present at least and still work 40 hours a week. I stopped caring for myself or about myself. I was no longer moving forward but backward and if I was lucky, sideways.

Then my husband was laid off. Backwards I went. Then I got a new job directing the library I had loved for over 13 years. A few steps sideways and one forward.

Then my beautiful, hilarious, sweet dad died. Back and back and back…

Then my husband got a new job. A hop forward. Then I broke my arm so badly I needed a metal plate and 9 screws and 6 months later I still can’t completely move it. A step to the back.

And then my mom died. My loving, badass mom. Backwards I fell. Literally. (I passed out the evening of my mother’s service.)

And now we’re here. January 1st, 2020. Am I a new person? Well…yes. I’ve become a new person over and over and over in the past two and half years. Every time an “and then” occurred, I became a new person. Every one of these life-altering events made me into a new person. A different person. I don’t always like the new person I’ve become or am becoming, but that’s something I have to figure out. I don’t even know who I am most of the time, but that’s something else for me to discover and manage.

I do know that losing the 20 pounds I gained these past 2 1/2 years will not make me a new person or happier. Will I try and lose it? Of course! I need to be a healthy me and I need to fit in my clothes better because restrictive clothing makes me a very grumpy Holly and no one needs that. But will I try and lose it by going on a diet? No. I can’t be that person anymore. I’ll eat as best I can, but I’m hoping that running will help me lose some of it.

I hope I do not become that person I used to be that constantly posted my stats or photos of running because honestly? I hated those assholes for the past 2 1/2 years when I didn’t have it in me to run. Look, I know we all need to do it sometimes. We need that encouragement or pat on the back. I get it, I do! I’ve done it many times, too! But I’ve also been on the other side where I couldn’t run due to injury or grief and I felt like my friends were rubbing my nose in it. “Look what I can do and you can’t or won’t, you lazy bitch!” (Hey, I know you didn’t say it and probably didn’t even think it, but my mind just went there.)

So let’s make a deal. I’ll post this photo of the end of my run on Christmas Day.

Me in my dooryard at the end of my first 5K run in eons. This was a happy moment. Just before this run, I had been sitting in my living room sobbing and rocking myself while I thought about my family. There is so much photos don’t say.

This will be it for at least a week. Of course, I’ll probably be on the treadmill or in front of my tv for the next 2 months due to Maine weather, but whatever. Feel free to keep doing whatever you’re doing and posting what you’re posting. If I start being annoying with running posts, tell me to pipe down and give it a rest. I will probably oblige because I’ve been there.

Or I’ll tell you to fuck off because my pants are still too tight and I’m cranky. But I’ll still love you. That much I can promise.

Caring

As a parent, you raise your child or children and although you never stop loving or caring or worrying about them, you get to a point where you start taking caring of yourself or try taking time for yourself. That’s what running was for me when I started 10 years ago. But all of that came to a standstill over two years ago when I started to care for my mother. Even before my dear brother died in July of 2017, I was at my mother’s home more and more, trying to get her medication under control and taking her to appointments. I moved her in with my family later that year and the care increased dramatically.

Once Mom entered a residential care facility, I remember my sister saying to me that now maybe I could properly grieve for our brother and start taking care of myself.

That didn’t happen.

I continue to grieve for my brother, but I know that will be for the rest of my life. There are some things you just can’t fix. And as far as taking care of myself? I visited my mother each weekend, cared for my father every few Sundays, and still tried to be the best parent and wife and librarian that I could. I’ve stopped running and I don’t think I’ve been a great friend over the past few years, but something had to go.

And then Dad died. I found myself unable to sit still on Sundays because I felt like I should be somewhere else than at home. Then I broke my arm horribly in June. I had a great excuse to no longer run but the pain was so debilitating at the beginning that I truly understood why people want to die when they have so much pain. I just wanted it to end.

Then the pain finally got better but I was very down and frustrated and angry. I ate my feelings once again and put another 5 pounds–that’s 15 extra now since Phil died. Yet, I haven’t really cared that much. Not like before.

And now Mom is gone. The woman who gave me life, taught me how to bake, and tried so hard to instill all her confidence and love into me so I would be proud of and love myself, is no longer on this planet.

Three of the most important people in my life are gone–all their love for me is gone and all the love I have for them is bursting from my body and soul and it doesn’t know where to go. I didn’t think I could feel more lost after my brother died, but after each parent left this world I felt more bewildered and sad and shocked than ever before.

Last weekend we held a celebration of my mother’s life. It was sad and exhausting yet also exhilarating to hear new stories about my mother that I had never heard before. Once my son and I arrived home, we unpacked the car, got into our pjs, ate dinner and just watched tv. I napped a bit on the couch on and off, but I felt ok. At bedtime, we talked to my husband on the phone, but I told him I had to go because as I stood at the sink I started to feel woozy and knew I needed to sit down. Yet as soon as I hung up the phone, I fainted. I don’t remember falling, I just remember being on my kitchen floor and blood was dripping from my nose. My poor son was freaked out and helped stop the bleeding of my nose and cleaned up the mess. I twisted my right knee and foot pretty badly and apparently knocked my face on the counter because not only did my nose hurt but the area under one of my eyes is still sensitive to the touch. I got myself to bed and my boy called his father to explain what happened and to express how scared he felt.

I wish I could tell you I knew what happened, but I don’t. I think I fell from exhaustion. I ate plenty that day and had my usual 8 cups of water. But I was so tired and had a week of planning for my mother’s celebration, ordering an urn, picking up her ashes, getting paperwork for probate court and on and on. Plus I worked a few days.

And my mom was no longer here.

I think that was reason enough for my body to give out on me and say, “Fuck you. I’m done. Let me rest.”

So now…to take care of myself? My son is only 12 and I will still put him first and I’m trying to figure out how to care for him. He has also lost three people that he loved and idolized. His mental and physical health is my priority. But maybe with time, I’ll not only re-learn how to care for and about myself again, but I’ll have the desire to do it.

And maybe this blog will once again be about running instead of grief.

Dream Envy

Last night as we got ready for bed, my son came into my room to snuggle with me for a bit. My husband is still away for business, so we’ve had some wonderful conversations and laughs this week about a variety of things. But last night, as my boy tried to snuggle without touching my right arm, he told me about the dream he had the other night about his uncle.

“So, Mom, I was in this bathroom (our main bathroom for everyone) and I burst out of the door and into the living room, asking where Uncle was. But you said he was in your bathroom (the master bath). I heard the toilet flush, then I woke up. I never got to see him!!”

He told me how disappointed he was when he woke up, but a little happy, too. That at least my brother was there somewhere, even if he couldn’t see him. So I told my boy about the dream I had of my brother two months ago.

It was the first week after my husband left for a month of training in New Jersey. I think I was a little nervous with him gone, worrying about things going wrong in the house or with the car (or breaking my arm which I did while he was away!). In my dream I was in my kitchen, attempting to fix my kitchen table leg, or maybe a chair. That part is fuzzy. But as I’m working on the thing, my brother calls out from my living room, “Hey, you need some help?” And out he walks with a smile and an outstretched hand. I said, “Yes, please!” Then I woke up.

Phil’s partner just gave this to me. It was in my brother’s things. It’s the two of us in 1974.

I was so happy when I awoke. I got to see my brother and he was smiling and offering to lend me a helping hand as always. After I described the dream my son said, “Oh man, I’m so envious! I really wish I had just seen him, you know?”

I do, son. I do.

I told him he’ll see Uncle in his dreams again. I know it. I’ve only dreamt of my brother a couple of times since his death, and that last dream was most certainly the best. I know my brain and heart needed to see him. I understand that many of you believe in a spiritual after life that I don’t. And I envy you. I know that some of you believe dreams are a way for folks in that after life to speak to us, and I envy you, too. I will never put your beliefs down or ridicule you for them, and I hope you’ll give me the same courtesy. But there are certainly times that wish I had your faith just for my peace of mind.

But since I don’t have that faith, I’m just going to go to sleep tonight and hope I’ll get another visit from my favorite brother. ❤ Good night, friends.

Two years

So much has happened since you’ve been gone, dear brother. Mom is in a nursing home now. She kind of lives in a nice world where most people are still alive, including you. At least most days. And Dad’s gone now, too. Maybe you know that? Or if what you and I believed is true, then I’m just talking to folks that read this, not you? You no longer exist. And yet I can’t stop talking to you and wondering what you would think about this and that. The human brain is weird, no?

Your nephew has grown a half a foot since you had to leave. He’s just 3 inches shorter than me, and should be your height by his 14th birthday. He’s liking horror movies more now and has such a morbid sense of humor–just like you. Your niece is pretty busy with her kiddos and she’s finally getting married to her girlfriend. Our sister has to have a new knee soon but still no bionics. Doesn’t that suck? And yeah, I broke my arm. That week after I did it, I imagined you here, helping me along with Larry, but also shaking your head and calling me a “klutz.” Then shuddering when I showed you the photo of the plate and screws in my arm.

So do I still miss you every damned day? Yup. And I’m trying so hard to live the best I can without you, to try new things, to live a life like you did for your first 40 years. (Well, maybe not quite as risky as a few of those years, Phil!) I know those last 9 were pretty shitty, but you lived as best as you could and you helped raise your nephew during that time so I’d say you did pretty well.

Last year on this day, the boy and I were in Boston to see the city and meet dear friends. We decided that we would try new things and live large on this day for you. This year, having one wing, I didn’t really want to go too far. So we went to Belfast and ate different foods, bought a new card game and walked the Harbor Walk. It wasn’t as exciting as last year, but it didn’t need to be. We just needed to do something new and different and talk about you. Like we do every day. It’s impossible not to talk about you since still nearly everything reminds me of you. I imagine everything always will.

I love you. I miss you. I wish you’d visit me in my dreams more often. I’ve only had two that I can remember since you left. It nearly wakes me up when you’re in my dreams because I’m so fucking happy to see you. When I’m fully awake, I’m both devastated and ecstatic if that’s at all possible.

Good night, dear brother.

I wish you were here.

Phil with my boy back in 2009

And then today…

Sometimes I really hate Facebook. Or maybe I just hate some of the people that use it.

Today is my brother’s birthday. He should be 51 today, yet he will forevermore be 49. An age that many like to say they’re at when they’re really older. But no one, including my dear brother, wants to stay at 49 for an eternity.

Last year on this day, I did ok. Until my sister called me then I cried…a lot. But I was ok. Today? I just wasn’t. I felt uneasy as soon as I woke up, although I thought it was from the argument my son and I had the day before. My parenting skills were not at their best yesterday and I said things I shouldn’t have. I did apologize to my boy, though, and we made up before bed last night. But I thought this morning’s uneasiness was due to a guilt hangover. But then, like a lightbulb exploding, I remembered. It’s June 20th. Six days after my birthday. Phil’s birthday.

I knew it was coming. Of course I did! It’s just after my own birthday, typically just after Father’s Day. But for a few minutes it was not part of my conscious thoughts. And then it was. And the grief started to settle into the back of my eyes, my downturned mouth, even into my bones. Once I got to work, I sat at my desk in my empty building and sobbed. I tossed my glasses, covered my face with my hands and let it go.

And yet I couldn’t let it go. I could feel that sadness and grief cling to me all day. I thought I would go home early in the afternoon, but I stuck it out for most of the day. But foolishly, oh so so foolishly, I looked at Phil’s Facebook wall. I knew some of my family might post something, and I get that. I do. I sometimes write on his wall, too, or talk to him in my car or in my head. But today I just couldn’t write anything. I just read the few comments. And I started to get so damn angry.

One person just wrote “happy birthday.” So, does this guy know that my brother is gone? Maybe he doesn’t. So shouldn’t I tell him? Shouldn’t the entire world know that this amazing, hilarious, sweet man is no longer on this godforsaken planet and it will never again be as good as a place as it was? But what about the woman, who I KNOW knows about my brother’s death, and her fucking cheery message? “Happy birthday, Phil!” with stupid ass balloons in the background. WTF? Seriously! What is this?!? He’s not here! He can’t celebrate ever again! Why did you write this?!? WHY?!?

I know I need to ask myself, “why do you care, Holly, and why are you so friggin’ mad?” These are the exact questions Phil would ask me. I know he would. Especially the part about caring. He was pretty good about trying to distance himself from things and people that really didn’t matter. No sense getting worked up over people that don’t care about you nor do you care about them. Just let it go.

But sometimes….sometimes it feels good to be angry and hate someone for something as silly as a FB post, because there isn’t anyone to be angry at about losing my brother. There’s no one I can yell at for taking away the person whom I looked forward to talking to, the person my son confided in and needs so much right now, the person that made me laugh like no other. So instead, I rage to myself (and to you) about a stupid meaningless post, until my anger burns out and I cry once more.

If I had some wine (I cannot believe I don’t have any right now), I would toast my lovely, hilarious, snarky yet kind big brother.

I miss you, jackass. I can’t quite move forward (there will never be moving on). I’m mostly standing still, occasionally going backwards, but I’m trying to put one foot in front of the other. I’m trying. ❤

The Men are Gone

When people you love die, how does one fill in those holes that they left? Not only the physical space that they left–at the dinner table, on the couch, at family parties–but the empty spaces that are now in your brain, your heart, or even your senses. The smells you miss, the sounds, the sight of them. You’re reminded of them when you get a whiff of their cologne or the soap they used or the cookies they made. But is that why you can sometimes hear their voice? Or see them in the grocery store parking lot? All because your brain is trying to fill in those gaps?

When my brother died, I ate everything I could to fill in those holes his absence created. I needed to feel good for just a few seconds, and sometimes that cookie or whipped cream did just that. Dad has been gone for four weeks, and although I think I’m doing ok, I find myself drinking more. And when I’m not drinking, I’m eating. And when I eat I often think, “Dad would have liked this.” I’m justifying all the eating with the thought that I need to eat for him now that he’s gone. Is it ridiculous? Of course it is. Yet I haven’t been able to stop myself.

I went to the doctor just 10 days after Dad died. It was just my annual exam, but with a new medical provider. When she got to the question about stress, I started to sob. Here I am naked, in a paper gown, sitting on a damn table, and telling her about my life for the past 20 months starting with Dad’s death and going backwards, ending with Phil’s death. I told her I need grief counseling but I just can’t seem to do it. It’s like how I treat my brother’s ashes. Many of my family members have necklaces with his ashes in them, but I have a pill bottle that sits in my vitamin cupboard. I don’t want anything permanent because then he’s really gone. Forever.

At Dad’s funeral, I stayed near his casket until it was time for them to take him away. When they tucked part of the lining around Dad and closed the casket forever, my knees started to buckle and I had to sit down. There may have been the sound of keening coming from my mouth, but I don’t remember hearing anything. I know I had my niece on one side of me and my mother on the other and we were all crying, but that memory holds no sound.

My medical provider has lists of counselors “for when I’m ready” she said, but also offered an anti-depressant or anti-anxiety medication which I refused. I know I have to take some control of my life and stop filling in those empty spaces with food or alcohol, and I figure it’s not the right time to introduce any kind of drug I might enjoy too much. I’m not a complete mess, I promise. I’m ok much of the time, but I have to learn once again, to find my new normal.

Last night was the first night I’ve dreamt of my father. It was kind of a funny dream, where he had on a holey t-shirt and I had to encourage him to get a new one on, but he smiled and laughed and was wearing suspenders. Parts of it felt like a memory, but it wasn’t. It was just so good to see him and hear him again. I miss the Williams men so, so much. As long as I can hold onto memories and stories about both Phil and Dad, then I should be ok, right?

This was taken at my house a while ago. I like how neither one has a big smile but a tiny one.

It’s Just a Car

For a year now, my brother’s car has been sitting in the driveway of the home he shared with his partner of 24 years. Their house is 3 miles from mine. I used to think how weird it was that Phil’s car was sitting there, but Phil wouldn’t be sitting in his house. Why did we have the car but not him?

But now, the car is gone. It was time. I understand that. I know it was hard for my brother-in-law to keep the car as long as he did, and also how hard it was for him to have the car removed. Yet as odd as it was to have Phil’s car sitting there, reminding us all of what was missing, not seeing his car today broke me.

I knew the car wouldn’t be there, my brother-in-law told me. I drove to his house to drop off some veggies and to pick up a possible replacement hammock for our stand and I parked beside the empty spot where the car used to be. I couldn’t park in the same spot, that would be wrong. Larry and I chatted for a few minutes, then he put the rolled up hammock, my brother’s hammock, in the back seat of my car. As I drove home, I started to cry. I was sobbing by the time I reached my house, so I sat in my car in my driveway and let it all out. I think I missed my brother more in that moment than I have in over a year.

It’s silly, I know. It’s just a damn car. A car that didn’t even run anymore. But it was Phil’s car and he sat in it and drove it and drove me around and drove my son around. We laughed in that car and he forced me to listen to whatever music he liked at the time in that car. And although I didn’t want the car and am glad that it gave my brother-in-law some peace, it made me feel like I lost Phil all over again. And as I sobbed in my car, I just wanted to feel close to my brother again.

You hear people say that they would do just about anything to talk to their loved one again. I thought I understood what people meant.

But I really didn’t. Until now.

So through my sobs and sniffling, I talked to my brother out loud and told him that I missed him and that I loved him and how I wished he was still here. Then I scrounged through my glove box and found a napkin to blow my nose on (always classy, right Phil?).

When I was finally ready to go inside, I dragged the hammock from my back seat. I placed it on my porch, where it still is, waiting for a little clean up. I am hoping it will fit our stand so I can lay in it and read and enjoy a few good moments.

Just like my big brother once did.

hammock