20 Days

Mitchell’s accident happened on Wednesday June 25, 2014. His body was recovered on July 7, 2014; what would have been his 26th birthday. Because his body was in West Virginia where the autopsy had to take place and we were having services in Ohio where we lived, we couldn’t have services until July 11, 2014. We weren’t able to lay him to rest until July 15, 2014. 20 Days in total.

I try not to freak out about this time of year every year. I try to not relive every day on that day. Sometimes I’m more successful than others. This year I wasn’t terribly successful, but this time in my life is about healing, not “success” so that’s a-okay. In an unusual turn of events, I was driving from the Outer Banks of North Carolina to Columbus, Ohio for my Little’s bridal shower and bachelorette party and saw a sign saying Summersville, WV 26 miles. I hadn’t been to Summersville Lake in 3 years. The lake I grew up on and called home with as much truth as Louisville, Ohio. Every summer for 20 years I lived on that lake. My rare and precious memories of tenderness, togetherness and love with my mom and step-dad. Where I discovered one of my life’s most fun and challenging hobbies, solemn skiing. Where my sweet late husband and I camped, hiked and laughed- where we were truly the highest version of ourselves.

Just another exit off the highway. Insane.

I drove the 26 miles. I actually stopped the car, which I wasn’t sure I would do. I meditated. I cried. I sobbed. I heaved. I said my goodbyes to The Lake, to the most loving, caring and fun people you could ever meet and all my plans of raising my family on the same lake I was raised. It felt like I was in a dream looking into a life-sized snow globe of my most favorite place with some of my favorite people. Unable to be there like everyone else, looking in as an outsider at a world I once was very much a part of.

This year I consciously spent part of those 20 days with the man who has been the most constant male influence in my life to date. Anthony Michael Sylvester and I have been best friends since we met when we were 5 years old as Bears in Mrs. Brownsburger’s kindergarten class. As the story goes we were walking in to school on our first day and I said, not to anyone in particular, “I’m scared” and Tony grabbed my hand and said “Me too.” We walked through College Gate onto College Green to begin our magical time as Ohio University Bobcats in exactly the same manner. He is sincere and hilarious and 1/4 of a very special group of friends. This time we were on our own and spent an awesome 5 days in Providence with him proudly showing off his new city, campus (Go Rams!) and life!

How did I not know that the full name of Rhode Island is Rhode Island and the Providence Plantations? I said it once, I’ll say it again: public school geography failed me! I texted Tony when I crossed into RI saying, “I made it! First time in RI!”…. False. Again. Refer to the above statement about geography- Mitch and I went to Newport for the second half of our honeymoon. Now if you asked me if I had been to Newport I would have positively told you had and all the things I love about it. Now if the same person at the same time asked me if I had ever been to RI I would have sadly responded, “No, but I’m hoping to some day!” Ummm You dingbat! Newport, RHODE ISLAND. Tony showed me around downtown Providence. We went to Narraganset Beach and over-stuffed ourselves with cold lobster roll, white clam chowder, crab cakes and clam cakes at Monahan’s Clam Shack. Tony is a sun worshipper! He loves beaches and can lay out for hours on end; so on the 4th of July we drove over some beautiful bridges to make our way to Second Beach in Newport. With the families playing in the water, American flags flying high and hordes of people enjoying the holiday weekend, it was picturesque “4th of July in America”. Tony took me to Federal Hill aka Little Italy in Providence for our last meal together and it was adorable! Tons of people enjoying the perfect weather, Frank Sinatra impersonator and full big band in our ears and homemade mozzarella, meatballs, gnocchi and anti-pasta filling up our Italian bellies. Bravo Providence! Before I hit the road again Tony and I walked through his neighborhood taking in the close park and pond near the Providence Zoo and the beautiful, old manor homes. He actually lives in the former carriage house of an elegant home on the next street. I love the history, architecture and charm of New England. We talked and laughed and discussed and debated like we always do. Talked about old times and planned fun friend trips in the future. Mitchell and I shared a best friend in Tony, which adds an extra specialness to our relationship. It was wonderful being with him and nurturing a relationship so dear to me during such a crazy time. In a fun turn of events I got to grab lunch and hug from my Gran Little Brittany as she was also in RI visiting family! How perfect! I love getting to meet friends’ family, it deepens the relationship so much!

I left Rhode Island and the Providence Plantations for the Berkshires of Massachusetts where Mitch and I spent our honeymoon. If I’m doing it, I’m doing it, right. I knew that it was time to get rid of a bunch of cards from our engagement, my shower, our wedding, sympathy cards, etc and I thought it would be cathartic to burn them camping in a space that was already special to me in relation to Mitch. I knew I wanted only one rubbermaid tote of all my wedding/Mitch stuff and needed to really go through things and pare down. Other than looking like a crazy lady who might have just killed her husband and was then going through his things and burning a shit ton of stuff…. it was cleansing and amazing. I reread thoughtful notes and sweet sentiments and I got to heal while the fire took them back to where they became and belong, Mother Nature. It wasn’t as terrible as I thought. A lot of it I was ready to not have anymore and had just been procrastinating and other stuff I knew it was time to love and let go. It’s time to move on.
On the 3rd anniversary of the day we buried him I went out to the Wilmont Wilderness Center where we were able to do a green burial for Mitch. It’s a pristinely stunning south facing slope with native plants, birds chirping, bugs flying everywhere and blackberries growing wild in bushes along the path. It’s hard to find without a headstone, but as fate has it, my in-laws were there earlier that day and as they have done many times already in life, they did the hard work and paved the path for me to follow. I sat ugly crying like you do when sitting on your husband’s grave thinking what a beautiful place we found for him. Thinking how beautiful the flowers were around me. Remembering that the green burial aids the body in it’s return to Mother Earth (much like those cards) and these very flowers are the not-exactly-but-close-enough-daisies Mitchell is pushing up. That might sound morbid, but I don’t really care. Until someone has experienced loss as I have they will never understand how humor can be so beneficial. Just thinking about all this made me laugh and Mitchell was so excellent at always being able to make me laugh so then I cried and then I looked at the beautiful flowers my sweet boy sent to me literally from the grave as something to make me smile, remember the beauty of life, to smell the roses (the not-exactly-but-close-enough-roses smelled sweet and subtle), and to sometimes just chill the fuck out and listen to the purposefully calming sounds of the birds, trees, bugs, river, nothing, everything. He’s there, in that place.

So my two favorite boys as I used to refer to Mitchell and Tony not only helped me get through this year’s 20 days, but helped me heal in a way that allows me to be less anxious about all the 20 days of the future. Feeling really purged and healed, I headed out with my mom for The Badlands, Yellowstone and The Grand Tetons National Parks!

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