Life After Death: When Looks Are Deceiving

03/27/2015 02:25 pm ET | Updated May 27, 2015

My husband has been gone for one year, four months and 10 days. What would be our 18- year wedding anniversary is less than a month away and our daughter is turning 15 in a few weeks. Somehow, I embraced the word "widow" early on, I've gotten into a rhythm as a single parent, and I even made room in my heart for a new love. But still, I grieve.

I spent the better part of yesterday crying. I woke up sad, managed the usual morning duties -- made my daughter breakfast and lunch, fed the dog, rushed out the door to catch the school bus on time. I came home, did some work and convinced myself to go out for a hike -- I thought I should move my body, get some air. Instead, I got in bed and cried... for at least an hour.

Later, I picked up my daughter from school, and after a bit of a kerfuffle about dinner, I cried some more. I cried while chopping up veggies, I cried as I stirred the rice, and I continued to cry while my daughter ate. When my tears turned to sobs, I curled up on the couch. I don't like my daughter to see me like this, but it's the other side of seeing me "together" which is what she sees the majority of the time. It's healthy, for her to see this gamut of emotions. "Feel your feelings!" I say to her frequently. The good, the bad, the sad, the in-between. Feel! Curled up on the couch, that's exactly what I was doing.

My husband died. He died at 50 years old. He looked younger than that -- thick dark hair, sparkling green eyes. On the outside, he was the picture of health. Trim and fit, a healthy eater, a lover of outdoor activities. Like so many diseases, you wouldn't know to look at Joel, that he had Multiple Sclerosis. That was also the reason it was so difficult to diagnose in the beginning. When symptoms first appeared, Joel's doctors thought he just needed physical therapy. It didn't occur to them to send him for an MRI -- he was young and active, and otherwise, healthy.

Eventually, he went from living with MS, to managing it. When it prevented him from playing the sports he loved -- softball, basketball, bike riding -- he took up yoga. Yoga saved him, it was the one exercise that made him feel viable. He did yoga for years... until the MS got so bad, he couldn't do that anymore either. An avid music lover, he also couldn't go to concerts anymore, unless he had a seat to sit in... and when you're interested in seeing up and coming bands and musicians who typically play in small clubs, seats aren't usually an option. The MS was robbing him of the things that made him feel alive.

People were shocked when Joel died. It was shocking on so many levels, but at the core, he didn't "look" sick. Even in the ICU, in a coma, he looked good! Peaceful and handsome, even with tubes coming out of every part of him. He looked like he was having the best sleep of his life. I had his favorite music playing, his friends were stopping by. He didn't look like the other patients who were older by decades, whose ailments were visible, and seemed way more serious. But as we learn in life, looks can be deceiving.

Which is something I deal with often. When people see me, I know what they're thinking: She's doing great! She's social! She's active! She throws parties! She's writing again! She has a boyfriend!... yes, I am doing all of these things; I am living my life. But still, I grieve.

Thankfullly, Antonio gets it. He hugs me when I cry. He asks if he can do anything to help. He loves me, and understands that while I love him, I miss my husband.

A friend told me that I was grieving over Joel long before he died. What she meant is that the MS robbed us both of the life we thought we would have together. When you get married, and think of the life you want to live with your partner, and you even say the words, "in sickness and in health," it's usually an abstract concept. But when your health and wellbeing becomes compromised, and it's the only thing you think about, you hunker down, you hope... but it's not the life you were expecting.

Soon after Joel died, I was at a family event. Being there without my husband hit me the minute I walked in. Out of nowhere, tears started streaming down my face, the thought of having a conversation with anyone was beyond my capability I went into a quiet room and tried to regain composure. A close family friend, a therapist, came in to check on me. Through my tears, I said to her, "I can't stop crying. I wonder if this is depression?" She looked at me, and smiled kindly. "Melissa," she said. "This is grief."

I know in time, things will feel better. It really does help heal. I still have some really sad days. I have some incredibly happy days, too. On a lot of days, I feel both. But still I grieve... which for now, is exactly what I need to do.