These days, I often find myself sitting on the floor of my closet smelling old T-shirts. It's a ritual that calms me when I feel like I'm about to break down, and it gives me something to do with the enormous weight of loss that I now carry with me everywhere.
They say that smell is the sense most closely tied to memories, and for me, that's true. I lost my husband, Michael Marion, last December at the age of 42, and I've been quietly smelling his old T-shirts since then. The idea that one day, possibly even soon, his smell will fade from the fabric absolutely terrifies me. But I know I'm not alone with this grief or this fear, however odd it may sound.
Grief is a riddle. It has a beginning but no end, and it can hit you out of nowhere and cause you to react in mystifying ways. Sometimes it feels like hunger, other times like exhaustion. It's impossible to contain or to explain.
One thing I've noticed about grief, pain and loss is that everyone instinctively wants to make it go away. No one wants to see someone they love suffer. But over the past six months, I've realized that I'm not interested in getting rid of this pain. It's my connection to Michael. It's awful and uncomfortable and all-consuming, but it's also precious.
In the weeks and months after Michael died, I would often find myself working to make other people feel more comfortable talking about him, talking about the things we all miss about him or what he would do or say in any given situation. None of us knows how to snap into some kind of new normal when we lose someone we love, and the not knowing is brutal. There is no road map, so we're all left a little like deer in headlights, wondering what to do, what to say and how to act. It took me a number of months, but I finally had an epiphany when I realized I don't have to push my pain down, fight it or try to make it go away. I'm allowing myself to carry it with me, as a new sense I've developed through loving and losing Micheal. I'm still connected to him when I feel his absence, and I'm OK with that. I'm OK with not being OK.
Michael and I had a real love story. We met through friends 13 years ago when I wasn't sure I ever wanted to get married. Luckily, he did and was relentless. I remember talking to friends about how he was so unlike anyone I had ever dated. He was so sure I was his and had this quiet confidence that made me feel beautiful and safe despite him being four years younger.
We had a dream wedding at Kathie Lee Gifford's house in 2013 and shortly after, we had our first real test when we had trouble conceiving alongside some of his chronic health issues. I wanted to share our struggle and experience with IVF with as many people as I could in order to hopefully help others going through it, but Micheal was always a little more private. It was his unwavering love and support for me that ended with him sitting right next to me on TODAY sharing his perspective on IVF. That's just the kind of man he was.
We had plenty of silly fights, but I'll never forget how he would often stop — randomly, sometimes on a good day or a challenging one — in the middle of whatever we were doing, look me in the eyes and say "Hey, we got a good thing, right?" I knew exactly what he meant. Looking back, that is what I'm proudest of. We had a good thing, and we said it out loud. We felt the love and stopped to soak in those small moments of gratitude for our bond, our son, Miles, our home and more.
I didn't know when we met that we would only get 13 years. No one ever knows that kind of thing. I will continue living this life without him for as long as I'm given and cherish the 13 years he gave to me. I know that time is worth celebrating, but it's hard to celebrate while you're hurting.
The truth is that I feel deeply alone, even when so many wonderful people have reached out with messages of hope, love and support. Pain is such a universal emotion, yet we still haven't figured out how to be OK with it. To carry profound pain and feel alone can be almost unbearable. We struggle with how to offer or ask for help, and that is why I feel it's important to give my pain a purpose.
I know there are many people out there who feel alone in their pain, for whatever reason. I want to find them and let them know that there are many of us. We're here and we understand. I'm lucky to have a platform where I not only get to speak to and share my experiences, but even more importantly, I get to hear from other people. I get to absorb all of the wisdom from those who have been through loss, and it helps me understand how to better carry this new piece of me.
I feel it is my responsibility to pass all of this forward to others who can benefit from it as I have. It's always been my mission to help women feel good, whether it's with beauty and fashion or through sharing stories of love and loss. So I'll continue to share the tools that I have — including the books I'm reading ("It's OK that you're not OK" by Megan Devine), the resources I'm using (The Wendt Center and The Grief Coach) and the countless pieces of good advice I've been given — as my way of honoring Michael.
I'm not an expert at loss, but I'm learning and growing in this new state I'm in, and I'm eager to connect with people again and be of service. I'm just not going to give up smelling the T-shirts just yet.