I'm sure in the next couple days or weeks, if you search hard enough, you will find a picture captioned, "Two Sisters Hugging at the Finish Line" by a random reporter who unexpectedly creeped up on us at the finish line and mid-hug asked us for a picture. That's the last memory I have of the Bataan Memorial Death March - and if you don't know what that is, before reading further GOOGLE-IT and come back with a new appreciation for this blog. The fact that I'm even sitting up right long enough to type this out is an accomplishment, because when I'm done and I close my laptop for the night I'm going to be struggling to stand again (for about the 100th time today), I will feel my hips scream, my calves will fire, my thighs will shake, my back will ache, and my shoulders will feel tense, I'll take my first step towards my bed and feel a sharp burning pain on the bottom of my foot where a blister developed, my pinky toe will swell again and turn purple, and I'll finally let my body relax and collapse into bed and hopefully get better rest than I have in the last week to return to work and "normal" life tomorrow.
It began a little less than a year ago - right after I had good advice to NOT make any major decisions within the first year of mourning, I remember her saying, "Don't make big decisions, don't make big purchases, just let yourself grieve". I made big decisions, I made big purchases, and I pushed off grieving until it blew up in my face several times throughout the year.....I like to think that I just like a good challenge, I learned my lesson yesterday - She. Was. Right. A year ago we had our second board meeting - brainstorming what direction we would take The Josh Dunne Organization, what events we would plan, fundraise for, and community outreach. As we searched for community events I saw a big one coming up in a couple weeks - one I was all too familiar with: The Bataan Memorial Death March. Josh volunteered two years in a row and was adamant about having a civilian team march with him. He wanted to do this, he was planning on training weeks, who he would invite. He never got to live out that dream. When I saw the date last year, it was too late to register (it would have been crazy to do it so soon anyway). I called out the idea and not one single member of this organization stood down, in fact I had two outside friends stand up too! I was excited and everyone was committed to take the next year to train for the following year's marathon. We agreed to begin with the honorary march, not time ourselves, that we are in it to honor Josh and what he wished he could do. Throughout the year we had changes within our board (life happens), but at the end we had 9 strong participants, sort of. The problem is, we all work, have families, and probably not as much dedication to training - we did it anyway. I trained for maybe two months with my sister and brother-in-law in our back yard (which is a much tougher terrain of desert), it was hard but we weren't planning on going into the marathon completely blindsided (but stay tuned for that experience!)
Yesterday was the day, the day that all this anticipation, anxiety, and worry had built up to. I was surprised by how fast we made it to the 5 mile mark and I was feeling great! Mile 6 came up and I felt sand in my shoe, I knew I had a blister forming so we stopped so I could do a quick sock change and check on the blister and treat it as needed. Mile 7 came and I thought ok, this is how far we've trained and I know I'm good till mile 10, then its all odds against me for JUST 4 miles to finish, I thought, "I've got this". I forgot about the sand pit (make sure you google that too!) The blister at that point was unbearable, it was like a knife slicing at my foot and three more blister friends joined the party. We stopped as we got to the top of the sand pit and I told the volunteer at the water point, "They weren't fucking lying when they said the sand pit is brutal", he laughed and said, "It's only .6 miles of it". I wanted to punch him, but my sister also needed his water to refill her canteen. By mile 10 doubt started creeping in. I could feel panic in my body, our stops had to brief or soreness took over and it would be that much harder to gain momentum again. Every water point felt like a desert oasis I had been searching days for. I took deep breaths to make it through the pain and my muscles started to cramp. I kept telling myself, whatever, ignore the pain, there are people out here with prosthetic legs, some double amputees, you're doing it for them, you're doing it for all those who can't (especially Josh). It got to the point where I resorted to my defense of all defenses - laughter....All I could do was laugh at how bad I hurt, how bad this was, how windy it was, how much sand did I just swallow? I could see the end of the marathon by mile 11 or 12? somewhere in between there and it was taking us longer to finish each mile at this point. By the last water point, someone said, "It's not over, but it almost is." That's all I needed to hear, soon I could hear people cheering for those who were crossing the finish line just ahead of us, the people around us trying to finish were encouraging us - we were encouraging each other - the end is near and we got this, keep pushing. I saw mile marker 13 and yelled, "I quit! I changed my mind I'm going back!" Everyone around me laughed and I wanted to cry in pain because laughing hurt too. We turned the final corner and the spectator's were lined up with flags, veterans, marchers who had just finished, and were cheering us and everyone around us on....I felt proud, I felt accomplished, I felt grateful that I had a group of bad ass fearless people who took this challenge on with me. When we crossed the finish line I saw the first veteran survivor of the actual Bataan Death March, I grabbed his hand and bowed down to him and felt tears coming out, I cried to him "thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you". I saw the next survivor to his right and did the same, he smiled and said, "no, thank you for doing this." There was no hiding my tears at this point, I turned to my sister and saw she was crying too, we laughed and hugged it out so happy we made it to the end. That's when I saw the flash and the reporter said, "That's great! let me get another one!" She congratulated us and we limped off.
I have to tell you about my team of bad asses. First of all, Josh's brother get's some major recognition, what do you expect from the brother of a marine though?! But you might be surprised by his training regimen which consisted of weeks of "maybe? Maybe not?" and down to the last minutes of registration of "well, ok". Josh's brother didn't train at all, or had ever done a marathon, and he did it. That's what grief does - it drags you down, suffocates you, makes you KNOW that if you can survive that hell, you can probably do a marathon without training...THAT is motivation, and that is what gets you through the end. I have a good friend (who isn't a part of this organization), but did it with me. I asked her and she immediately said, "no" or maybe she said, "I'll think about it" but I knew it was a no. I had to recruit her, I needed someone who could just tell her she was going to do it. I recruited Oscar, my friend, no - my bad ass friend and board member who I recruited to this organization a year ago, an Army Vet. with a "I won't take no as an answer" kind of guy. It took one text from Oscar for her to immediately reply to me with a "WTF, ok I'll do it!" Job done. I needed at least one outside friend, who knew this kind of grief was only a plus (I know that's a morbid thing to say, but she gets it!), to jump in with me. She is my spirit animal, I love her tenacity, her courage, and to know that this was intimidating to HER, made me feel like a bad ass already. At 4 AM Sunday (the day of the march) she looked me dead in the eye and said, "I'm doing this once and I'm never coming back" - understood! Fair enough! I get it. There is no nice way of putting this, so I just want to say she had the attitude of, "I just want to get this the fuck over with and never look back". She ran the Bataan Death March and finished around 5 hours later! Amen, sister, amen! But I think I created a marathoner, she's hooked, and I'm proud! Thank you for being a bad ass! You have gotten me through many tough times this year and never once judged me for the horrendous thoughts that came out of my mouth, including this. Oscar, Thank you for getting her there! Even though she left us all behind, I needed her at the beginning and at the end and she definitely was there. And thank you for wearing Josh's name on your pack, thank you for getting your wife in this, her jokes made the pain lighter, and the start easier...I'm forever grateful for your dedication to this organization, you both have given so much of your time and you guys are sooo bad ass!!!
A couple months ago I had a cousin reach out when he saw I was doing the march, he said he was training too. But being that he's pretty much a professional "marathoner"- I knew he was set out for the full 26.2 and probably running it. He was, and he did, faster than I marched 14.2. I saw him breeze past us in full on "zone mode", making it look easy, I was about to call out his name but didn't want to mess up his flow. I know you said you marched for Josh, for our grandfather, for your brother. Thank you for being a bad ass cousin, you are an inspiration for sure! I will keep going because who knew that doing a marathon would be addicting and life changing, I get it now.
My sister will literally fall a 40 story drop for me....and she has, she will also impulsively agree to do a marathon, in a sandy desert with little preparation, and she did and so did her husband. Through every single step of grief, pain, bad ideas....some good (the 40 story drop was a good one!) they both have been there. I cannot have imagined doing this without them by my side. I have literally been attached to my sister's side since I was born. When anything bad would happen I would cling onto her and this time in my life has been no different, and she has graciously opened up her arms to welcome me back in, every single time. I honestly don't believe that I would have finished this without her, I needed that comfort, that feeling of home, the next best thing to Josh to push me through the end, even to the point of mile 13 when I said I can't, my body hurts, I need a change, we have to start running it! It might have been only a few yards....but you even ran it with me. Thank you! I love you and your husband so much for all you have done. We will start training for next year now! This is only the beginning of making the best out of what is the worst we could imagine.
For Josh, when I saw that Bataan Memorial March headline a year ago I couldn't imagine a year would come by so quick. I did it to honor you, to honor the survivors and casualties. I did mostly because I am searching for you everywhere and somewhere deep within I thought that if it was just me and a few hours surrounded by amazing people with great views I might find you again out there. I talked to you a lot and many memories came to mind of us. I mostly thought about how badly you wanted to do this march, how you wanted to go beyond volunteering. I cried when I thought of all the things you wanted to do and will never get to do them. I cried about the people who did this with me how fearless they are and how grateful I am to have them. I had a great thought around mile 8; I started making a list of all the things we talked about doing, what you wanted to do, and I have set out to do them. I know we all won't be able to do them together; but I will. You are my bucket list and because you can't do them I will. You weren't done living your life, so I'm going to live it for you!
I love you, I miss you.
We made it through Bella’s 2nd birthday without you. It’s hard to imagine that you never got to celebrate or will get to celebrate one of her birthdays with us. I keep struggling with the fact that I can’t remember her first birthday. It’s such an important milestone birthday (even though she won’t remember) I want to. I remember Johnathan’s first. We had a pool party, with a sand castle cake, it was a beach theme and so many friends and family came to celebrate. For Bella we talked about themes, decorations, cake designs….and we never got to do any of it. What I remember of her first birthday was a lot of crying, I’m not sure I even showered; everything else is blank but I do remember watching the video that would be played for your services, we had to send it back with our notes to the funeral home director the next day. So, on Bella’s first birthday we all gathered around the T.V. as I played your funeral’s video collage – that’s what I remember from her first birthday. I have distinctive memory of the day before – ordering her food because I couldn’t bare cook for her birthday dinner. This year I planned to order from the same restaurant because of how kind and patient they were with me and I finally got to thank them on Friday. I had a list of things to do this past Friday in preparation for Bella’s second birthday, but first I had to get the car tuned up before we leave for California for the third time this year (any excuse to get out of here/out of our home for another holiday I can’t bear without you). I had happened to run into the sweet owner of this restaurant at the dealership. By chance he was talking to the family next to me, their daughter is studying hotel and restaurant management and he mentioned being the owner of this restaurant. I stopped working and closed my laptop as I let him finish his conversation with the family. When they got up to leave I stopped him to let him know how much I love his restaurant and that I was planning on ordering from them again for my daughter’s 2nd birthday. I told him how I had ordered for her first birthday last year, I went on and on before I finally let him know that I wanted to thank his employee for being so patient and kind to me last year – I told him how you died and when I called the restaurant I could barely get my order out, I couldn’t remember the menu options and was trying to stop fumbling over my words, I told him I finally got it together and told his employee that my husband just died and I was trying to plan our daughter’s first birthday, but I couldn’t even think straight and I apologized over and over. She said it was “okay”, she told me to describe the ingredients and she would help me with the menu options that I was describing to order. I told him that when I was done placing the order she told me to call when I got to the restaurant; she didn’t let me get out of the car, she loaded everything up for me so I wouldn’t have to step foot inside (assuming that I was too overwhelmed with grief to face people in a small place). Holding back tears I told him I never got the chance to thank her but that I would forever be loyal to his company. He gave me a hug as he went to get his car and gave me the number to his residence to place Bella’s 2nd birthday dinner directly with his wife and daughter and get the family discount. I was not looking for a discount, I just wanted to say thank you for the kindness.
Bella’s second birthday was still hard, I fear that her birthday will forever be tainted by your anniversary. Even though it may forever be solemn, it means that we love and will continue to love deeper and more intimately and that is the vision I had for this birthday – filled with love, peace, family, and enjoyment. She had a blast with all her cousins playing games, opening presents, digging into cake, and running around. It was as good as it could get I suppose. The day started out cloudy, just as it was last year, it was cold too, it was eerily familiar – but I am more confident that I will remember this birthday. That night I dreamt of you. I had a dream that you left us, moved away to some school because it would be cheaper than paying out of state tuition. I wasn’t happy. I was very angry with you. I woke up from this dream and without even thinking I grabbed my phone – saw the time (8:40ish AM), I opened the lock screen and told Johnathan, “Hey, let’s call your dad, maybe he’ll answer us today!” (still angry). Before I even turned to Johnathan I realized what I had just said, “Oh my GOD! I’m so sorry Johnathan, I don’t know what I’m thinking of course we can’t call your dad, he can’t answer, of course, I’m sorry”….I turned to look at him but he was still sleeping and I was so so so grateful! I couldn’t believe how angry I was at you, that I woke up and demanded to call you and let you know how I angry I was that you left – even if in my dream, it was only temporary. The sadness sunk in that I would never get to even call you to tell you how angry I am that you left! How I wish I could just call you and tell you that I want you home and wish you never got in your truck and left. I put my phone down and tried grounding myself back to reality. I laid back down and turned my phone off. I looked up at the ceiling, reminded myself what day it is (Sunday), Bella’s birthday party was yesterday (Saturday) – family was here, tomorrow is Monday and I go back to work, Johnathan goes back to school….oh and it’s the 11th, her actual 2nd birthday. I thought that maybe after Karate we could go get ice cream and bring it back to have with Bella and their cousin. Once reality set in, I got out of bed and faced another day without you (385 to be exact).
This morning I went back to our usual morning routine. Johnathan and I went to wake up Bella together, we sang “Happy Birthday” to her – she was not amused at first, but by the second round she was ecstatic (like learning today was special). I asked her how old she was and she said, “twoooo!” Yes Bella you are two!!!! We sang Happy Birthday all the way to school and she sang along with us.
I don’t think that I will ever get used to you not being here and the selfish part of me will always believe that you should be here….no matter how much “at peace” you are now, your place was and will always be here with us. I am hopeful, as my dad said this weekend, “You made it one whole year and survived, if you can survive the hardest part you can survive the rest of your life now”. It’s true, I can’t believe I breathed over 365 days without you now, so maybe I can get through the rest. I know it won’t be easy, grief will flood me like a tidal wave and I will have to succumb to it some days, but I have learned that I will live through it. I’ve learned that I can face my grief – that my belief of sitting with my grief, facing it, and letting it flood me will not destroy me that it will not take over my life, that it will pass and I will wake up from the haze again and keep going. I have learned that living one year without you has been unimaginable pain and then worse, that it was rock bottom heart break that I never knew was possible, but someway and somehow you are dragged up to stand on your feet again, but some days all you can do is crawl – and that’s ok. I’ve learned that some friends will (with all the best intentions in the world) not do the best thing for you, that they will unknowingly be unkind, rude, and discredit your grief as their own. I’ve learned that grief shows who is there for you, who will love you unconditionally without prejudice when you hate the world. I’ve learned that sometimes you support those around you who are grieving for your loss and that it will humble you to know how much your spouse was loved. I’ve learned in one year that there is a secret society of young windows who sit around and drink wine and talk trash on the phone – I am forever grateful to my TAPS family. I have learned that grief cannot be pushed aside and dealt with later, that when it comes you must honor it, welcome it, hold it in your heart, let it awaken you –even at the most inconvenient times, like in the middle of a grocery store, when your pumping gas, checking the mail, during a conversation on the phone, laundry, or at work. I will continue to honor and tend to my grief; I will also forever love you and want you home.
I chose this song for you and Johnathan tonight, you’ve seen his struggles this past two weeks (I hope). I’ve wondered if others wondered why I chose a country song for the intro of your video. I was hesitant because I know you didn’t like country. But I chose this song for Johnathan. When we found it, we cried. I actually haven’t watched this video since before your services. I hope this makes sense why we chose it.
There is so much I need/have/will/find to do about all this now. Though I might never accept that I will never see you again, I will fight for the rest of my life so no other family has to go through this.
I can't believe I survived one year without you. Neither can Johnathan. It seems like a century ago, but today, it feels like it just happened all over again. I have chosen to charge this epidemic with a fight, maybe I'm resentful, maybe I'm doing this for all the right reasons. So much has been happening under the radar through your organization and privately for myself.
What will soon be a disconnect of social media for me soon, will enlighten a new beginning, a new fight, a new empowerment for many I hope...all because of you. For now, I can only share a snippet of one of the many projects happening this year. It has been submitted, it is being reviewed, it is being considered, it has been called hopeful, truthful, glorious, and I truly believe in this agent to fight to get this published as she believes in your story as much as I do. Because above all your story will be an inspiration and I will make sure of that.
There are no words to put into all the grief that is flooding me this week. So I will only share what I can for now, and a message to others, perhaps a promise to others that I have not and will not give up on this and that your organization will succeed among other things. I've talked to you all night, every night this week....you know how I feel.
I love you, I miss you, I want you home.
Exactly one year ago we had only 31 days left with you.
I charged your phone up the other day to look at your text messages from this time of year. There were Halloween pictures, pictures from your hunting trip, videos….you made so any silly videos. It was overwhelming to see where we were a year ago; Where you were. I looked up our text messages to one another…there was a message that never got delivered, you said, “I love you”. It hit me like a ton of bricks and sent me straight back to second guessing everything I thought about those last days. Did I miss something? Were there signs? Was there something I could have done better? I can keep myself up for hours going around all these questions. If I had known one year ago that I only had one month left with you in my life…what would I do differently? Probably be kinder, more gentle with my words. I would take more pictures and videos. I would stop our lives to focus on our family and fill it with togetherness, peacefulness, and love. All these “what ifs” will forever be a void in my life that won’t be filled, it can’t be fixed.
I keep a journal of every dream of you I can remember. I look back at them and often don’t remember much of them, so I’m glad to have written them down. I try to look for signs that you’re trying to communicate with me in some way. Some dreams are nightmares of you, those are the worst. Those are the ones that keep me up at night afraid of death. I share the good dreams with Johnathan and ask if he ever dreams of you, he says he does, that he has special conversations with you, but he rarely tells me details; I think they are his special moments with you too.
So much has happened in this year, it has gone by so quickly - yet not so quickly all at the same time – much like nothing else in our lives that makes sense anymore. Some moments are hard to get through and it feels like time has stood still, yet I look back and realize that I’ve almost lived an entire year without you and it breaks me. I’ve experienced almost every holiday, birthday, anniversary….without you. I don’t know how I survived this year. There were a lot of break downs and inconsolable crying, yelling, anger, emptiness….a lot of staring off and daydreaming about how unreal this still feels.
I don’t know how I’m going to get through your one year anniversary, I try to think about something to do…some way to honor your memory…but I can’t focus too long or I feel like I’ll lose my mind. After Halloween it feels like a major countdown is beginning….like a giant clock is ticking in my head counting down to December 2nd ready to relive that day all over again, the shock afterwards, the planning of your services, the phone calls that were made, the trauma of the questioning and trying to piece it all together. I know I have to check out. Every time I log on Facebook I see a celebration of the Holidays, and I’m honestly resentful of everyone who is looking forward to Thanksgiving and Christmas. I used to be one of those people; I’m not anymore. In fact, a lot of who I was before you died has changed. I hate the cold, I hate the smell of apple spice and pine, I hate the sound of Christmas carols. I remember the day we planned your services - that evening I walked into Walgreens for something and a Christmas song was playing. I grabbed what I needed, paid as quickly as I could and ran out of the store before I got sick. The tears were running down my face (angry tears) and I got in the car and told my mom what happened, she just sighed and said, "you'll never be the same again....and It's okay". Christmas lights too - I hate those twinkling dots…it feels superficial to me now. I know that in order to keep my sanity…and probably keep some friends, I’ll need to get off social media for a while – it won’t do any good; for me or anyone who comes in my path with Christmas bullshit. I know I have to put a brave face on for the kids and continue to make memories during these holidays for them, I just don’t know how to manage it all. I think that my plan is to hibernate this winter, stay low key, keep to ourselves, protect our children from painful memories (especially Johnathan) and wake up again in the Spring.
I think a lot about our past conversations about death. Somehow I feel like you were preparing me, like the entire universe was preparing me – I just didn’t see all the signs or pay attention to my intuition. I felt it deep within my being that something awful was going to happen. I even remember telling you one night that I felt like I was going to die soon – I was going to get in a car accident. I told you to up my life insurance. Cremate me – I don’t want to take up space. You hugged me and told me everything was going to be ok. I got angry and told you I was serious, something bad was going to happen to me, I knew it! I needed you to believe it too and take me seriously. I made you promise me to keep it together for the kids….We had that conversation before you left for the hunting trip. I was suddenly anxious all the time about driving. When you returned I felt the anxiety getting worse, but I ignored it…I trusted you that everything was going to be ok; forever. It wasn’t until about February or March that I remembered that conversation and I got so angry at the universe….it wasn’t me; it was you. The impending anxiety of death wasn’t about me and I was angry, why wasn’t it me?! I was prepared, I had already prepared myself for whatever would happen to me, would be. I could never imagine it would be you. I think every couple thinks about what life would be like if their spouse died….I know I did. Just the thought of you dying would bring tears to my eyes and I would quickly shake the thought from my mind. The reality is that the pain we imagine is actually a hundred times worse. It is excruciating, can’t breathe, can’t think, can’t see, can’t hear, lose all perception of reality, a depression so dark and deep that I fear I will never come out the same, kind of pain. Somehow these waves pass and I return to some kind of messed up version of “okay” again. Sometimes a reminder will come…like a phone call, a letter in the mail in your name, or event that will send me back to day one. A good example is, “This is Us”. We started watching the show together, and I know I’ve mentioned this in past posts. But the telling of this story continues to touch so close to our story that it captivates and terrifies me. From the death of Jack, to seeing his struggle with addiction, to knowing that fear as his wife but trying so hard to be his strength. This season really validated how therapeutic the show has been for us. This season touches on adoption; and just like that - I experienced another level of loss that I haven’t talked about…. that I haven’t been putting myself to face until I saw these last episodes. Only our immediately family new of our plans to adopt. A few weeks before you died we had our first visit with the sweetest little blonde haired girl from Colorado come to our home. We fell in love, Johnathan was on board too – he was up for the task of two little sisters. We moved forward. We were planning our second visit right before the Holidays…we were ready to book our flights to visit her, take her a gift, ask if she would like to forever be a part of our family; then you died. Just like that, another dream of the future of our family was shattered too. Making the phone call to say what happened was one of the hardest phone calls to make. I remember talking to the foster mom as she whispered from another room in her home saying, “I don’t think it’s a good idea to tell her, she can’t handle another loss, let me get with the caseworker”. A few days later I got the phone call that our case was closed, due to the circumstances of your traumatic death they didn’t think adoption was possible for me alone. I was heartbroken….not a single day goes by that I don’t think about that sweet girl, what she’s doing, who she’s with, if she’s safe…if she could’ve saved us.
I love you, I miss you, I want you home
You would have been 37 this Friday. I can remember a year ago so clearly; a year ago we had exactly 80 days left with you. Last year for your birthday I took you shopping, got you a hunting knife, a new Oakley jacket, backpack...we started getting you ready to go hunting. I remember looking at every hunting knife in the store, being sure that you picked a good one....that knife that my dad now owns. I wasn't sure what I wanted to do with it, but now it will be in good hands.....this was the last of the few all boy trips you would have. We were debating whether or not to you would take Sawyer, you were adamant he would be ok, I was so worried he would be afraid of the shot guns; we decided to leave him home with me and the kids. There was so much stress in your life at this time, you were just getting comfortable in your first semester of grad school; despite such a big accomplishment for you, there was so much stress that went into it all; the signs were all around us at this time last year - you were struggling more than usual - more than all the previous fall seasons. I still struggle with the frustration of not paying closer attention, not being more attentive, maybe naive, not wanting to believe what I was seeing. You had always been so strong, I tried to give you support, words of advice....something to just make you feel better right away....I don't think that's what you needed, now that I look back.
A few weeks ago someone mentioned to me what the plan was for your birthday....honestly, I've been thinking about it for months. I never came up with a plan though. I asked Johnathan what he would like to do and he said he wanted to have his family together for a dinner of his dad's favorite foods he said, "maybe take my dad some flowers and a card?...oh and send some balloons to the sky for dad". It's hard to hear him talk about you this way, but it's all I can muster up to do. You loved when I made pot roast, your favorite cake was a German chocolate cake. I wonder what you would have wanted this year - you would probably be gearing up for another hunting trip.
Last weekend I took the kids on a trip to visit you. Johnathan had been asking for a few weeks and I finally got the courage to go again. I told Bella we were going to visit her daddy - not thinking that she could connect anything to you anymore other than the pictures I show her. When we arrived she bolted from the car as soon as I got her out of her car seat, she walked right up to your head stone and gave you a huge hug and said "dada", she kissed your stone. Johnathan and I just sort of watched quietly and amazed at what she was doing. Johnathan gave her a hug too and told me, "mom she's never going to remember what daddy's hugs really felt like....I'll have to tell her so she doesn't think he always felt like that". It broke my heart that she won't have some similar memories that Johnathan does, a part of me knows that this will ease her pain and longing...but I also know that those are memories Johnathan will cherish forever despite his pain.
I have been paying very close attention to the changing of the seasons. A few weeks ago I saw a tree's leaves start to change color and I wanted to vomit. I can feel the days becoming shorter, the mornings are a little colder....no matter how much I protest the first anniversary of your death is coming. I feel like the weather signifies that in such a deep way. I am angry, more angry than I have been all year long. I hate scrolling through Facebook and seeing all of our friends get excited about Christmas, decorating, baking, all the decor and family "togetherness". I hate it. I would be just fine if Christmas never came again and no one ever spoke of it! I hate being the grinch and know that eventually I will have to check out of social media to keep my sanity the closer we get to the holidays. I felt this need since July. In August I booked plane tickets to California for Thanksgiving, I don't think I've even told anyone other than my brother? My parents knew I needed to get out of here for more so they got us another trip to California for Christmas. It's an adventure to Johnathan, but secretly this is all an escape from something I can no longer handle....I dread Halloween, veteran's day, thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years.....I want nothing to do with any of it.
I dream of you regularly now, there aren't many nightmares; but they aren't good still. Most of my dreams of you consist of you running away and leaving us - abandoning the kids and I - never hearing from you again....me searching for you desperately, calling everyone I can to see if they have heard from you.....and nothing. I still look for signs of you wherever and whenever I can...sometimes their big, sometimes their little. Sometimes I still hear your voice in the early mornings before my alarm goes off and it's hard for me to fall back asleep. I still have the urge to text you every day, during my day, when I feel stressed or that I'm just missing you. I miss looking at my phone after a session and seeing your name there with a message just saying "hi". I struggle accepting that I will never be able to sit across a table from you and talk about our day, the good and the bad. A couple weeks ago I went out to dinner for the first time with just the kids and I. It was hard, there was a lot of emptiness in that dinner and for Johnathan too. He talked a lot about you that night and would say things like "dad would've sat right there between you and Bella" or "dad liked to order the nachos, right mom?" He even told our waitress that this was the first time his mom took him out to eat...she looked confused and he noticed; so he said..."oh, it's because my dad died". She really didn't know what to say then! I'm getting better at handling those situations, before I would just awkwardly laugh and walk the other direction holding back the tears until at least the parking lot. Now, I can smile and say something like "we're still adjusting"; death is awkward for a lot of people...usually they'll say sorry, sometimes they'll just laugh awkwardly, mostly they aren't sure they heard him right. I have many many moments where I am forced to explain our situation and I feel sorry for the awkward feeling the other person has....other times people are downright senseless and rude. I got a phone call for you a few days ago from a company who refused to identify themselves until they had confirmation from you that I was indeed your wife and had 'access' to your account. She asked to speak to Josh Dunne, I told her "no, but this is his wife" she asked if she could leave a message? I said, "no, I'm sorry he's deceased", she then again asked if she could leave you a message, I repeated my answer and asked what account this pertained to and said she couldn't give me that information....I grew impatient and said, "I just told you he's dead so you're going to have to change the type of communication you use to get in contact with him, or you can just go through me....his wife the executor of his estate". Still, many moments of that. I've spent three months trying to close an account that was insured. I still get daily phone calls from them after I've faxed everything other that they would need (yes, the death certificate) still they don't know what to do with the account and each time I try to be patient through the same question that kills me, which is, "and the matter of his death that's stated on his death certificate"....I somehow mutter "homicide".....there's silence and a statement of something like "oh...I'm so sorry". I hate that question no matter how it comes. Whenever someone learns that my husband died, they ask how; was he sick? Was he in an accident? No, homicide. I've never had anyone ask more after that, even though I often feel that it shouldn't end there...
I can barely handle much more, I've been writing this for days. I've been tired and stressed. There's a lot going with your organization and our lives, but I needed to reach out in the best way I know how. I felt like I was going to burst by the time I got to your birthday without this little outlet, maybe I still will. I had a break down Monday morning when I was watching the news of all the remembrance of 9.11. I sat and cried, more than I have on that day in the past; I thought that if that day had never happened you would have never died....I was angry, sad, confused. I will get through your 37th birthday as bravely as I can.
I love you, I miss you, I want you home.
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I hope everyone takes a little time to look around our website and see some new changes. The blog page will be updated again with my previous posts.
I wanted to take some time to thank everyone who has come to be near my family and support us in finding a new "not so normal life". I am feeling more clear every day. The grief can still consume and I have to give in, in order to keep moving forward. I find myself feeling very nostalgic and grateful most days that I had the time I did with Josh. I'm still filled with confusion, pain, anger, and all around grief. Every happy moment is forever almost perfect, there is a great void in our life that will never be filled and we are still working on accepting that.
Tomorrow I will be sharing some very exciting updates about the scholarship at NMSU! It has been a few weeks delayed, but our organization has been very busy planning some exciting stuff in the near future! I will be sharing updates about our little organizations big upcoming adventures that I hope you will share and maybe even want to participate in ;)
Until then, Johnathan and I made a very special video he wanted to share with all of his daddy's friends. He worked on this all week as a surprise! These are some very special videos of our Josh in the last days we spent with him. We carefully chose the ones we thought everyone would enjoy - get a laugh out of - to remember Josh as we knew him. I hope that you will remember our Josh and keep his memory alive. We shared videos from September of last year all the up to the last day we spent with Josh...where Bella has figured out how to free her doggie. We miss you so much, Josh, not a day or moment goes by that you aren't on our minds and I'm so grateful to have had you in my life.
It's been 200 days that I've been living without you. Tomorrow 201 and it's Johnathan's 7th birthday...first birthday without you. I opened my calendar and saw the date. I remember writing down 100 days. 200 days..."keep going", our anniversary (I made a plan), your birthday (I made a plan), then one year. I remember writing 200 days and pausing, it looked so far away and I didn't think I would make it that far, there was no way I could breathe without you that long; and here it is. I can't believe I've lived without you for 200 days, it seems unreal, it seems like it couldn't possibly be that long already. We never spent more than two weeks apart. That was the longest we spent apart....two weeks and we talked everyday. When I wrote 200 days down on today's date I was afraid that I would have forgotten your voice in my head, that I wouldn't be able to remember your touch, but I haven't....I can remember every detail of your being, your smell still lingers and sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night to your haunting scent. A few weeks ago I took off my wedding band, I needed something closer to me but not a constant reminder of what was. I looped it on a silver chain with your wedding band and it felt much closer to you, I cling on to it constantly to remind myself that your near. It felt so empty on my ring finger so I placed the Tiffany ring you got me last year for Valentine's Day there...it's light and not so painful to see down on my finger every moment.
When I talk about you I sometimes get so mixed up.....I'm starting to talk about you in the past tense and I hate it. "That was Josh's favorite" or "he would have loved this"...."Josh wore that all the time". Other days I speak of you in the present like you'll be home any minute.
I didn't think I would survive this weekend and now this week. I keep thinking of all the things you would have planned for Johnathan's birthday. You usually made him whatever he wanted for breakfast and dinner. Probably would have taken him swimming....maybe we would have taken him to his favorite restaurant...Red Lobster! you both loved to the calamari. You probably would have wanted to wake him up and wished him a Happy Birthday first. You would have gotten him anything he wanted. This year he couldn't think of a single toy he wanted for his birthday....I know that his secret wish was to have you back; it's mine too. You would have told him how proud of him you are. I don't even have the energy to be angry anymore, just deep sorrow that fills me knowing that we can't hug you and tell you how much we need you, how much I need you.
Today feels like we just lost you yesterday. I get a burst of energy and then suddenly it feels like I can't breathe, I can feel my heart racing, I get dizzy, nauseated, and can't remember simple details. Those moments feel blurry and surreal.
200 days feels more overwhelming than 100 days....165 more days and it's one year.....one year. I don't want to imagine what that will feel like, but I can't help obsessing over it. This weekend I walked through your side of the closet and the real thought of going through your clothes finally came over me. I took a deep breath and looked through each shirt, pair of pants, jackets, jeans....I came up with a quick plan and discussed it with Johnathan. He was pretty resistant and looked at me with tears in his eyes and said "ok...we can make labels for everyone and give everyone a choice of what they want....but I go first". I agreed and said ok....we can pick what we want first and then let our family chose some pieces. We held each other in the closet and looked around quietly, not sure if we are ready...but knowing that we can't continue living like you're going to come home any time soon. I can't keep pretending that maybe some miracle will bring you walking back through the front door. The more time passes the more I'll get stuck in this place and it's not what our children deserve....they deserve perseverance.
For Johnathan's birthday I'll get him a memory chest to keep all the items he doesn't want to alter...a box to keep all your memories. He had a great idea for Isabella....."get her a glass frame mom and put a jersey in it....with some of daddy's pictures with Bella....we can hang it in her room". So thoughtful and it really is a great idea. Every now and then she still turns to your photo in the living room and says "daddy"...she'll stare intently for a long time, studying every detail of you....you look familiar to her, she knows you're called daddy, but it's almost like she's letting go of hope that she'll see you again soon, too. It breaks my heart that she'll only hear great stories of her dad and who he was...and not see hime for who he is. We tell her stories of you all the time, show her pictures, play your videos to hear your voice...she seems so eager to hear more and see more.
I still can't believe I will be living the rest of my life without you here...I don't think I will ever stop looking for you around every corner. Every morning I wake up hoping to see you waiting up for me....Every afternoon I still wait for you to come home....Every night I still look for you before I go to sleep....that will never go away. Your presence is still so evident, thank you for that. Thank you for giving me memories to last a life time. I love you, I miss you, I want you home.
For us, this song. Last week I dreamt of you so much, we had so many in depth conversations...the dreams were so vivid. I was almost scared and talked to a friend who said to "believe" that you really are visiting me in my sleep and that truth is obviously true by what we talk about...I started to keep a journal of all these dreams that I can never forget our words now.
I’m settling back into home now…I haven’t unpacked a thing and still don’t plan to for a while…little by little, taking the time to piece apart the amazing memories we made on this vacation. Looking back I didn’t realize just how much I really needed to get away for a while, to escape the haunting memories of us in this house. Walking in today was overwhelming, I could still smell you home, could still feel you home…but instead of a haunting dwell come over me I embraced it…slowly brought in our suitcases and just listened quietly to being back home. I made a quick list of some things I want to get done during the summer. The most difficult part of this whole experience is about to begin and I feel re-charged and ready…I can feel my strength rebuilt and know that whatever the future holds…I can face it now.
The second we arrived to our brother’s house our family picture fell off its hook….we all knew it was you there with us. It was breath taking and emotional, but I felt better knowing that leaving was the best decision I made. Throughout the entire trip there were other little signs that you were near…like finding a 4 leaf clover or a baby lady bug landing on Johnathan…and if we didn’t find you we sought you out and looked for you…like by free falling 40 stories high at Magic Mountain…because that’s what Josh would do…so we have to do it too!
First, U2 The Joshua Tree Tour was like a gospel, it was moving, it was magical and I’m pretty sure I cried during the entire concert…the concert of a lifetime and it couldn’t have been more perfectly timed. It was just what we needed to feel you again. I can’t believe we took Isabella, I was nervously looking around praying I would see another baby in the crowd…thinking to myself, “Am I crazy bringing my 1 year old to a rock concert”…duh! Yes I am. But my brother reminded me that it doesn’t matter what anything thinks, they don’t know our story or why we’re here…true, I felt better. Luckily…two seats behind me a young couple sat down with their son who looked to be the same age as Isabella. We joked that we had to buy these kids a concert ticket when they most likely would just sit in our lap. Both us moms were relieved we weren’t the only ones with our littles….security even handed us ear plugs. Isabella slept throughout the concert; Johnathan screamed when the giant Joshua Tree lit up and the song, “Where the Streets Have No Name” started playing. He screamed, “MOM IT’S THE JOSHUA TREE, THE ALBUM IS STARTING!!!!” He knew the words to every song, he sang along, danced, and we held hand’s, hugged and cried when “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for” came on…reminding us of your funeral. I will never forget that night for as long as I live.
Memorial Day came and I was glad I was away from home and somewhere I felt safe and hidden. I was afraid that by the end of the day I would be a sobbing ball of mess…but then we found out your scholarship hit it’s goal! On Memorial Day! What a great day to commemorate. It could have easily been an emotional day, but that made it much better and tolerable! I feel so relieved still and can’t wait to begin brainstorm the next goals of our organization.
I even took Johnathan to Camp Pendleton…to walk in the water at Oceanside. He was very inquisitive about your time in this area; “what did dad do here in the Marines?” “did he come to this beach?” “did he eat at this restaurant too?” “did he drive on this road too?”…..I’m forever grateful that we got to meet your friend, someone that you spoke of often, someone that supported you too…you bought him a gift back in October-November..I remember you calling me to work and telling me you needed to get him a gift and you needed my card because you lost yours. I remember you ordered yourself one too! You had a plan. You never got to mail it to him for Christmas like you wanted to…So I hand delivered it. Johnathan walked away happy knowing he got to meet a friend from your past….a daddy he had only heard stories of was now in the present standing next to him. We spent the rest of our trip relaxing, eating out, reading books, telling stories….
When the time came to leave…I drove all the way back to New Mexico listening to Ariana Grande’s One Love convert for Manchester on Sirius. I think I cried all the way from Phoenix to NM. I learned a lot from that concert, a lot about perseverance and hope. I heard the sentiments of strength and it made me hopeful for our future as well. My biggest fear is that I will fall a victim to this tragedy; because this isn’t my tragedy it was yours and I want to make your story better than that, you deserve better than that kind of an ending, you deserve an ending of hope and motivation for other’s regardless of how your life ended. This isn’t my story I’m trying to teach from…it’s yours. As much as I wish…and sometimes want…I can’t and won’t let this tragedy take over me. I’m often told “I don’t know how you’re doing this?” I don’t know either, but I do know I don’t have a choice…..because #1. I have our children who need me. #2. This was horrific, it was awful, I was there, I heard it, I saw it, it was traumatizing – your death; but it was your death, your tragedy and that’s what aches me, that I couldn’t save you from it. #3. I have your story to finish.
I can barely keep up…
I love you, I miss you, I want you home
I barely made it through last week, but I did…because everything will always be “ok” right? I wasn’t sure what more could happen in one week, but here we are in a new week that seems to be dragging. Friday, I woke up from the worse nightmare I’ve had in a very long while since this disaster happened. I dreamt that we were having an argument, you left the house just as you did that morning…instead, you took your cell phone and called me as you were driving down the highway, but you wouldn’t tell me what direction. Suddenly, I heard a crash, I heard you scream….then silence, I knew you wrecked and immediately hung up the phone and called 911. You died instantly in the accident and as I was driving to the scene I saw your body on the far side of the road….as I was trying to run to you through weeds, dirt and gravel I woke up practically running out of bed. I was running to look for you in the theatre room to tell you I had just had a dream you died and it was awful! I made to the bedroom door before I collapsed on the floor and realized you really were dead and this horrible fucking nightmare was true.. I crawled back in bed and cried for a good two hours before Bella woke up.
Today seemed like an entire week in one day, time has suddenly slowed down and I woke up today feeling like I’m floating around not sure which direction I’m going in. I’ve been thinking a lot about your future lately, [that hit me on Friday], watching our friends graduate…it hit me hard that I will never get to see you get “hooded” and walk for your master’s degree; no matter how much you protested I know you would’ve ended up walking for us! I found myself stuck in thoughts about all the amazing things you would have done as a social worker, how you would have fulfilled your dreams of helping other veterans. It sent me into a whirlwind that stopped me……. I cried a lot during that ceremony and was grateful we were seated in the front row so that no one could really see me. I spoke with some professor’s, friends, and colleagues who wished us well and offered condolences for this tremendous loss.
Saturday came and it was my birthday and I wanted nothing to do with it. This time last year we graduated, celebrated my birthday and celebrated a memorable Mother’s Day. I could have never imagined one year later I’d be here, alone and trying to understand how this all happened? Some days it feels like you died a year ago, but it hasn’t even been six months. This is all so fresh still, this wound that I keep trying to stick a band-aid on keeps bleeding through and finding its way to make a mess all over the place when I least expect it….like driving to work, waiting for Johnathan on the playground after school, feeding the dogs…I’ve become an expert at crying and knowing when to control it and when to set it free.
Johnathan has started a countdown to California and the U2 concert, he keeps singing all your favorite songs and requests them every morning on the drive to school. He knows pretty much knows every word to every song now. Speaking of songs, Harry Styles has hit me hard….I heard his new single weeks ago! Loved it, felt the Paul McCartney influence and thought I was pretty cool being a Harry Styles fan…then I read that this song was about death. I went back and listened to the lyrics and fell apart……pretty sure that happened in the liquor aisle at the grocery store, go figure! Then I saw the video and felt a deep connection with you. No matter how much everyone has told me that you would want more happy in my life than sad, I still get so angry with you and resentful…I can’t help it…but dammit Harry Styles really hit me into an emotional mess and realization that what I think you would want for me is “stop my crying”. As angry as I am with this whole situation I do my best to pick myself up off the floor and work hard to make you proud! “I just want to get away from here” I trust that we will meet again somewhere….far away from here, together in another time and place, just not yet…I have too much work to finish first, too much work in your honor, to finish your work in this life is my mission. I am so deeply honored by the people who have stuck by my side….especially during my angry, ugly crying, can’t see through the pain kind-of-moments..
Josh, please, please, please, please watch over our son, protect him, let him know everything is going to be ok!!! I love you, I miss you, I want you Home.
For you, Harry Styles tonight….
I was 20 years old…you were 26 and then suddenly, I was 30 and you were 36; and that would be the end of our story. 10 years.
I haven’t slowed down one bit since you died. I continue to struggle to sit still for too long because we all know where my mind will wander and what that will mean. I can’t face it yet, not yet. Soon though. I had to book myself some time off to face it all and be surrounded by the people I love the most. I can hardly hold it all on until I make my escape and I’m constantly walking around telling myself not to cry…...just, not yet.
I kept putting this down and walking away, it’s even getting more difficult to write it out because as time goes on it just gets more and more confusing. Last night I heard your final words that night and I was more angry than I have been throughout this whole ordeal, I was angry at you, angry at myself, angry with everyone who was there that night and I screamed, cried, and cursed you on the way home…then I sat in my car apologizing to you. You were broken, you were injured, and I have to accept that in that moment that’s all you could see, that’s all you could feel. Thirty minutes before that sob fest in my car I was looking down at a long table and could feel the intensity building up in me and I looked over to a familiar face..…eyes red, welled up, and clenching tight. I knew I had to be strong, someone needed me to be strong….so many people need me to be strong – at least that’s the way it feels. Seeing that familiar clench and pain was too much to handle and I couldn’t hold it back anymore….the tears just fell and I couldn’t stop no matter how much I tried to hold it in. I can cry with most people I feel safe with and be ok…but then there’s your brother, Josh I can’t stand to see that pain it kills me, it fires me, it sends me into a chaotic firestorm of wanting to protect him the way you did. I know there isn’t much I can do, so I just sit there and watch it happen. What I don’t think many can understand is that before Johnathan your little brother was your pride and joy and continued to be so right along with Johnathan. When you spoke of Jonah your face lit up and you were the proudest big brother!
Again….I have to put this away, take a step away and not face this. But beyond me and the kids needing you, your brother wasn’t done needing you either. Only days older than me, I feel like Jonah is my little brother too, the way you would talk about him, want to protect him, get fired up with him, made me see him in a different way. I loved watching you guys play soccer together. Some of my best memories are sitting on that field with Johnathan and cheering you both on. You both were ruthless on the field, no one could break your wall and it was like you could read each other’s mind in those plays. Johnathan even remembers some of those nights sitting under the stars watching you guys play while he ran around the field yelling and screaming too. I know you wanted nothing more than the chance to finally play with your brother and I’m so happy you got that wish. I’ll never forget the final Gus Macker tournament either, I couldn’t even bare to watch you guys play. I remember that final year you guys played together; I even skipped out on your games because it was the most crazy, fun, energetic, and wild experience seeing you two on that team and it made me sick to my stomach watching the fearlessness you guys had! Always up for adventure together, it just doesn’t feel right not having your presence around us when Jonah and I are together….there is a huge piece missing here. There have been many times where we just sit in silence….like this is the part where Josh would chime into our conversation…..and it’s just empty.
Every now and then I scrimmage through a picture, or walk by him and there’s a facial expression, a smile, a laugh, an angry face…..or those red eyes and clenched jaw that reminds me of you and my heart just stops. I know you told your brother to take care of me and the kids, but I just want you to know Josh I will do the same for him, just as you did. All this hard work that I am pouring into this organization, scholarship, and other things isn’t just for me and the kids, our family…but your brother, that’s one of my main inspirations, my motivator that I CANNOT fail, I cannot let him down, I can’t let any one of us down….one of the BEST people I know (and that’s not an exaggeration)…and he did not deserve to lose you!
Dreams of you are suddenly becoming more common, they are starting to become good memories. But last night I dreamt something awful….of sitting at that long table, looking over, seeing Jonah’s face and I tried to say something to him but words wouldn’t come out of my mouth. I tried screaming at him “what’s wrong with you!? Stop making that face! What is happening!? Jonah stop!” His expression just became more stunned and fearful…I was afraid to turn around and see what he was looking at….I finally got the courage and slowly turned around to see what he was seeing ……and there you were……laying on a cold metal table, face up and I clearly saw a bullet hole in your chest. I felt the shock come over my body and I looked up as the medical examiner began to explain to us what killed you….I woke up in a panic and couldn’t catch my breath. It was the worst nightmare I have ever had. I struggled to fall back asleep and when I did it was the same scene over and over again....but a different wound each time…the entire night my dreams analyzed your entire body. I finally woke up at 4 a.m. from my final dream of being taken into a mental hospital; I’m surprised this hasn’t actually happened yet.
Above all I continue to look for you everywhere, I look for signs of you, sometimes I see a hawk and think of you (your favorite bird), other times, when it’s almost unbearable you send rain and clouds to comfort me….that’s my favorite.
Our song for the night, is for Jonah....and all our siblings.
I love you, I miss you, I want you home.