Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Total Mass Confusion~

Quite frequently these days, as I begin my 3rd year without him, I find this particular quote sent to me, or posted on my timeline. Grief is a stage through which we pass and not a place to linger.  Okay, I get that. I even agree with it.  But it doesn't help me a damn bit to read it.   

We are told that grief is an individual process with no timeline.  But...it's a stage. Don't linger.  How do we know when we're lingering, is my question.  And even more so, when we're dealing with it in as many healthy ways as we can conceive, and the devastation remains present, how do we get from here to there? And anyways, aren't those two statements contradictory to each other?

I read a post today written by a woman offering life coaching, dealing specifically with widow support (the author is herself a widow), and she offered support in letting go of negative emotions such as sadness, loneliness, etc. Which sounds great on the surface but why are those necessarily negative emotions? Why are we as a culture so reluctant to give space to the darker emotions and recognize them as normal? Why must we march herd-like through life feeling only positive? Why are we pressured to move quickly through so-called negative emotions into the land of happy, happy, happy? Why must we always be tip-toeing through the fucking tulips? What about giving space to the darkness so that we can reach the fucking light?

You know what would be helpful in the midst of this confusion for me? If you're going to send me something about moving through grief, include step-by-step instructions as to how to do it. Don't just do a hit and run, along with a handy little tidbit about growing from grief or allowing it to destroy you.  Give me some solid shit I can hardwire into my brain and do. Because I will. I'll do whatever I need to do because I hate being this person I don't even recognize. Haven't recognized since the night my husband took his last breath.

This widowhood is the most confusing thing I've ever gone through. Ever.  I don't recommend it to anyone.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Tailor Made


Today, as I sit down to write with tired eyes, I must admit that although I miss Megan as much now as before, it has shifted over these past few months from an intense grief at the thought of her death to more of a longing for her to be present to witness where life has taken me since that time.

I have just returned from an extended weekend in Kentucky with an amazing woman named Sarah, who also happens to be the same Sarah the writes here on Widow's Voice every Sunday.  We met at Camp Widow East in February, completely by chance and/or fate, depending on your beliefs.  Neither of us had any intention of finding someone new at that time, but here we are. Three months after meeting, Sarah and I are a couple.  Not a day has passed since February 5th that we have not talked, and this past weekend, we were finally able to close the 1400 miles of distance, and bring our lives into the same physical space for a few days.  It was wonderful.  

 It's an odd thing, not only being a widower, but being with a widow.  Both Megan and Drew are eternally present in our lives and hearts, but now, after endless hours on the phone or Skype, I can almost feel Drew as a friend of mine.  It's as if I know him personally, and there are even moments where I mourn his loss.  There is no jealousy when Sarah speaks of him. In fact, I love that she gets that wide eyed, contented joy when describing an event or memory with him.  

Of course, there is always the thought that had Drew or Megan not died, neither of us would have met the other, but there is also the thought that had they not existed, it would have also prevented us from meeting.  The two of them made Sarah and I who we are.  I am thankful for Drew's love towards Sarah, and her love for him, because she would not be the same person without him.  I took Sarah to a restaurant on the Ohio river immediately after picking her up at the airport called "Drew's", simply because of the name.

Just as I feel a connection with Drew, I can feel the same connection between Sarah and Megan.  There is no competition between them.  They are not the same person, and although there is a multitude of similarities, there are just as many differences.  Megan would love her and her attitude (primarily because they both make fun of me).  That's how I knew that Sarah was not a "band-aid" or a "rebound".  I have not once looked at her and thought "well, Megan did it this way, and that means Sarah's way is wrong"

Although I am filled with happiness about Sarah, I am struggling to find a poignant, teachable moment.  I can't suggest that any widow or widower who is ready to date go out and find another widow, because not only are there good people outside of our "club" that could be just as compassionate and understanding, but there also remains the fact that I wasn't ready to date.  Fate happened.  She sat down at that table at Camp Widow, and we clicked.  I had no choice in the matter, and now we've fallen for each other.  We may have been tailor made for each other, but it's not because we're widowed.

I guess that the smartest thing I did was keep my eyes, and my heart open.  Just as I knew that I wasn't ready to go looking for someone else, I also knew that I shouldn't prevent a good thing from happening.

I hope that Sarah and I's relationship can give some hope to other widows and widowers, and inspire people to realize that although we may have lost the loves of our lives, that when they were lost, we were given a new life, and a chance to have a new love.  


  

Monday, May 25, 2015

This, Too, Shall Pass

Near the Retreat Centre, Adhisthana, in Herefordshire

When my husband and I were 'new', and so full of love for each other, he would caution me that this aspect of our relationship, the euphoria and the intensity, would change. "It won't always feel like this," he would say.  Extremist that I am, my heart opened and softened by his attentiveness, I did not believe it for a moment. I had found, finally, the love of my life, I thought, and the boundless love I felt for him would remain, and express itself, always, in exactly this way.

But, as with so many things, Stan was right. Our relationship shifted. We became more comfortable with each other, and able to focus on other parts of our lives. We grew to understand each other's rhythms and ways. We learned each other's triggers and soft spots. We shared past and present joys and sorrows. We learned how to live life, not gazing, constantly, into each other's eyes, but hand in hand, and facing the world. Together. Our relationship changed. It deepened. It grew, and developed, and got better, with the passage of time.

We didn't have enough time together. Only three and a half years. I so wanted to grow old with him by my side, to enrich our relationship as we aged. As the first anniversary of his death nears, I grieve, not only for him, but for us, and for all that we could have been.

This, too, shall pass. He would say that to me, often, in many different ways. He had a wisdom and a knowing that came from somewhere beyond this mundane existence. His wisdom came, not only from years of practise and formal study, although he did that, too. It came from his life experience, his willingness to be open to what that experience had to teach him, his ability to dig deep, and reflect. I appreciated all those aspects of him, when he was alive. But I see them more clearly, now, as I come to know him in a different light. 

Our relationships with our loved ones continue to shift and to grow, even after their deaths.

As my relationship with him changes, and I integrate him into the new life I am taking on, my relationship with the house that we shared has also begun to shift. When he first died, I was adamant that I would remain here, where he was, where we were, together, forever. I made all the arrangements to assume the mortgage, as a widow, as the house was only in his name, when he died. I couldn't imagine living anywhere else. I wanted to be surrounded by his things, in the midst of his community, comforted by his spirit. 

But recently, I have begun to notice a shift in my feelings. It is difficult for me, sometimes, to live where he was, where we were, together. It is so painful. I see him walking down the steps, one at a time, in the evenings, after his bath. When I come in from work, I still want to call for him, and tell him I'm home. I remember sitting with him, on this sofa, the last night of his life. I am immersed in him, every moment, when I am in this house. Sometimes I use the noise of the television and the distraction of internet to escape the constant onslaught of memories. Sometimes it is just too much.  And all that distraction is not healthy for me, either. Sometimes I feel imprisoned by this place. 

Yet the thought of letting go of it is also excruciatingly painful. What if I move somewhere else, and I lose him? What if I can't find him anymore? I tear up just thinking about it. 

This weekend, I gathered with my sangha at a retreat centre south of here. It was a beautiful setting, and the sun warmed my face as I walked amongst the fields of buttercups and dandelions. Away from the home we shared, freed, for a moment, from the visions and memories, I felt a sense of peace. 

He was present, too, at the retreat, with all of our sangha friends. We remembered him, and collected money for the fund set up in his name. People gave generously in tribute to him, and to carry on the work that he had begun to implement, at our centre. I felt his presence among us, and I knew that, had he been alive, we would have attended this retreat, together. But the memories were not so overwhelming, and constant. I was able to breathe, and relax, and reflect on how I am to carry on, in this life, on my own. And I began to consider the possibility of selling this house.

Yet, when I arrived home, I felt, too, a sense of comfort and peace. I was happy to be back. I made myself a warm drink and thought of him. I tidied up, and talked to him, as I often do, at night. Then I went to bed. Our bed.

I don't know, yet, what the future holds. I know that, if I am to stay here, I need to make some changes, and make it my own. It has been left virtually untouched since the morning we left here, together, for Gavin's funeral. I haven't had the heart to alter it. 

I am not going to make any rash decisions. There is so much to consider. But it feels good to be open to the possibility of change, to not hold hard and fast to my earlier, rigid stance. I am changing. My relationship with him, and with our house, is changing. 

All things change. And this, too, shall pass. 


Our living room

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Into A New Darkness


Well, here I am in the caves region of Kentucky. Last week I shared about the trip I would be on with my new guy - seeing each other in person for the first time since we met several months ago. As I write this, we're a few days into our trip. He is lying next to me now, munching away on donuts while I write. I'm finally ready to share a bit more about this person with you all... particularly because you may know him more than you think - or at least his writing. He is our very own Tuesday featured writer on Widow's Voice - Mike. 

We met at Camp Widow East back in February. I sat down beside this guy at the meet & greet on Thursday night, and for the entire rest of the weekend we were inseparable. We shared our whole stories with one another and laughed more than either of us had in ages. Something certainly clicked... although I had no clue then that it would end up meaning I would fall for someone new and be sitting here states away on some whole other adventure. 

I've been saying for three years now that Drew would give me a really obvious sign about someone new coming into my life. And Mike and I have had many, many obvious signs. One of my favorites was just a few days ago, within hours of arriving in Cincinnati for our trip. He surprised me with a short ferry ride across the Ohio river, and on the other side was a little restaurant he took me to... called Drew's. Imagine the delight on my face, and the love in my heart. Those are the moments I know that Drew will always be a part of us - just as his wife Megan will be. And speaking of Megan...

We walk inside and sit down by the window. It's dead in there, no one but us, as it's around 2pm in the afternoon. I said jokingly "Just watch... our waitress's name will be Megan". And sure enough, this very friendly waitress walks up and introduces herself as... you guess it... MEGAN. We both look right at each other in total disbelief. At the end of our lunch, we told her the whole story of us, including their names, and she was as amazed as we were. We chatted a while and there even ended up being other unreal similarities... so we had to get a picture with her for that first crazy memory of this new adventure.


Yesterday we made our way to Mammoth Cave National Park – the main reason for our trip here. We picked this place because it is something we could not have done with our loves that died. Drew was claustrophobic in small spaces, and Megan was unable to due to her medical condition and the bacteria in the air in caves. It's a hard pill to swallow... but the truth is there. We WILL do things with someone new... Things we never could have experienced had our loves not died. Maybe that's one of the gifts they leave us... the chance to discover new adventures in a way we couldn't have done with them. With new eyes and new hearts. I like to think it is.

We did a few tours yesterday of Mammoth Cave, the first cave either of us have explored in years. As we gazed out into the darkness of the tunnels underground, that feeling of wonder and childlike excitement about the unknown filled us both. As we hiked around some 300 feet below the surface of the earth, I couldn't help but think of the expansive metaphor before us.
Two people who have gone through unspeakable darknesses on our own in life, now walking willfully and quite literally into the darkness together – with a sense of wonder, not dread. How amazing it is that each of us is still able to see wonder in the darkness even after all we have been through.

I thought about enduring the journey through my own darkness for the past three years. I thought about all the pain and fear I have encountered in the dark, and also all the amazement and wonder I have found there. Treasures that cannot be found above ground, but only in the most hidden depths of ourselves. And in the depths of each other. Perhaps that is what the darkness of grief can bring us... a different appreciation for the dark and the light.

One thing is for sure, today I am very grateful. After traversing the dark alone, it is beautiful to have someone to journey into the darkness with me. Someone with their own darkness who is not afraid of mine. I suppose that is the best kind of person to find – one with a galaxy much like our own inside their heart. One who looks into the dark with wonder. 

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Oh Happy Day


Something really awesome happened this week.  A very dear friend found out she was pregnant and rather than feel that expected pang of grief that had become standard when I hear of someone else’s ‘happy life announcement’, my first thought was how wonderfully excited I was for her.  This is huge you guys!  For 22 months now, I’ve had a horrible default reaction to the good news of others.  I hear of someone getting engaged; see one of those gushy ‘happy wedding anniversary my darling’ Facebook statuses; or God-forbid, catch wind of a baby announcement – then back comes that wave of grief.  

‘It could have been me’.  ‘Dan and I could have been pregnant by now’.  ‘We didn’t even get one wedding anniversary’ … all of the horrible, self-pitying thoughts that make you feel like a bad person and a really shitty friend. When this close friend told me, about a year ago, that they were going to start trying for a baby, I kept an encouraging smile on my face until I made it home and then let the tears flow.  My poor, broken heart just wasn’t able to feel joy at the thought of others taking those steps forward in life that were no longer available to me.  I wouldn’t wish my own situation on anyone and could never expect my friends to put their lives on hold, just because mine was – but I couldn’t help the emotions that came to the surface. I started to dread the day that my friend would eventually come to me with her happy news.  Would I be able to contain my own selfish reaction so that it wouldn’t take the shine off her announcement?  I was so nervous that this wonderful person, who has been such a support to me and shared my pain, would see through my smile and know that I wasn’t able to fully share in her happiness.  As the months passed, and no announcement came, instead I saw her disappointment and the early stages of worry that they weren’t getting their special miracle. My relief at not having to force my happiness for her started mixing with my sadness at her disappointment.  My friend was experiencing her own kind of loss and my heart hurt for hers.

So, this week, when she received her good news, I was so caught up in my joy for her that, at first, I didn't even realise that any feelings of my own envy were absent!  I was excited, so happy that a new life was coming in to our world.  I can't wait to see my friend go through this special experience and become a mother.  I'm ready to be by her side, every step of the way. And at the end of the nine months, a new 'niece' or 'nephew' will come in to my world and in to my growing circle of love.  

I am so grateful that this is a happy day.  It's funny, how things work out.  I actually wonder if the universe had a plan up it's sleeve when it decided to wait awhile before sending my friend her miracle.  Just long enough for her best friend (me) to get to a good place where my heart had healed enough to share in her happiness.  

Friday, May 22, 2015

Bellissimo

This Monday at grief-counseling:
Caitlin: "Any changes lately on how you're feeling about the concept of "someone else?" Do you still feel like you have no interest in dating? Does the thought of someone else still make you feel sick to your stomach?"
Me: "Still no interest. I have zero desire to actively go out searching for love. I spent years dating before I met my husband, and it sucked and nothing came of any of it except heartbreak. I'm not going on any dating sites or going to bars or any of that. It's just NOT me. That's not what I feel comfortable doing. If I'm going to find love again, it will be through friends, or through just living my life and doing things I love and finding someone with similar interests, or the same way I met Don - through chance / fate. I'm open to that happening. I'm just not willing to go out and look for it. "

After my appointment, I was supposed to meet a friend for a light dinner in the city before heading home. Got to the restaurant and she texted that she had to cancel last minute due to an emergency. I was already seated there with an iced tea, so I figured I'd stay and get a light dinner and wait out the rush hour subway traffic going home. The waiter, a very cute Italian guy, said: "Who stood you up?" and winked at me. "My friend couldn't make it so I'm just gonna kill some time and get dinner anyway." He kept lightly flirting with me throughout my meal and we kept having a fun exchange, but I couldn't tell if it was actual flirting or just "server flirting" where he was being extra-nice in order to get a better tip. So I asked him.
"Are you flirting with me, or do you just want a nice tip?" I was shocked that I asked him that. I am never that open or at ease with men. But for some unknown reason, I just thought to myself "what the hell", and asked him. He laughed and said: "It's a little bit of both, to be honest. I'm definitely flirting, but I'd also love a nice tip!" When my bill arrived, he put a little mini-cupcake on top of it and brought it out to me. "Whats this? Does everyone get a cupcake or just me?" "Just you", he said. "Sometimes you just need a little cupcake in your life. Have a great night. " 
I opened my bill, and he wrote in pen at the bottom: "Dine with us again, Bellissima! " (which means 'lovely' or 'very pretty girl' in Italian, for anyone who doesn't know).
I left my pay, along with a nice tip, and my business card, which has my phone number and email address and all that, but also comes across as being "professional". Plus, this way he will know what he is dealing with if he did decide to contact me - as soon as he goes to my website, he will see that I'm a widow, grief coach, comedian, actor, writer, speaker, and did I mention widow??? That's a lot to take in. If he reads all that and STILL contacts me, then he deserves me meeting him for coffee at the very least. I'm quite sure nothing will happen with any of this, and to be honest, I actually don't really care. I mean that. Truly. This little story has absolutely nothing at all to do with me being ready to "date" again, or wondering if he will call me, or anything like that. It has to do with my reaction to having a total stranger flirt with me and be nice to me in "that way." 

I'm telling you all this story because for the first time since my husband died, a guy flirting with me didn't make me feel physically sick to my stomach or send me into hysterical fits of sobbing. It felt "okay", and that is a HUGE leap from how it felt, even just a few short months ago. 

When you are smack in the middle of grief and loss, it always feels as if the emotions that you have will last forever - that you will feel this way FOREVER. But it's not true. It's just not true. The feelings shift and change as you process through the loss. It takes a lot of time and a lot of work, but they do change. YOU change. I've changed.

 I never thought I would be "okay" with someone harmlessly flirting with me, ever again. It felt soooo awful, even just a few short months ago. It felt like I was cheating on my husband, because I still felt married. Sometimes I still do feel married, but I'm finally learning how to shift my relationship with my husband into something very different than what it was before. It is something that my grief counselor has been talking about for a long time - something called "continuing bonds". At first, I didn't know what the hell she meant by that term, but now I'm starting to get it. Now, I am starting to understand that the relationship I have with my dead husband is still a relationship, but it's a very different relationship than the one I had when he was alive. Here. On earth. 

 And now, suddenly, but also very gradually, a male person flirting with me no longer feels awful. It feels "okay". And that, my dear friends, is what they call healing. 

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Turning Corners

My friend Margaret just had her second angelversary the other day, on the 17th. I never knew her fit, beautiful husband Dave, who died unexpectedly of a stroke way to early, at age 50; I wish I had, but I am incredibly blessed now to know Margaret. It so happens that Mike also died on a 17th, so through the past two years we have made note of this date together many times, though as our lives have gotten busier again we’ve started to miss connecting on a few. But two years is a big one - we can’t help but remember what was happening on that date and that will probably never change. No matter what else is going on in our “after-lives”, those days still bring the grief roaring up.

I’m three months ahead of her so for me this past 17th was 27 months - or two years and three months. I’m not really sure how to count it now; do we measure time as if we’re telling the age of a toddler, in months? At what point do we start saying it in years? Years makes it sound long…but 27 months is 819 days. In days it doesn’t seem very long at all. After Mike died I figured out that we had been together for 5040 days. That didn’t seem very long at all either for an entire marriage, though I’m grateful for every single day we had, good or bad.

This past 17th at the shop where I work I was chatting with some customers who were from Mike’s home town. I found myself relating some of his memories of the place, and then of course the question came, what he’s doing now…well he passed away over two years ago now, I heard myself saying. After they left I pondered how I felt joy in passing on a few memories of his, as well as a bright description of my playful, special husband. And how I glazed over the timing of his death. In that moment, with those people, it didn’t seem necessary to be more specific but it was indeed exactly 27 months to the day.

After you lose someone close to you and people say things like, well, time will heal, you want to shoot them in the head. For me, time itself has not healed. It does change things - there is no way around that. But my grief now feels more like of like a see-saw of emotions…some days it seems easier, others are very much harder, even regardless of the day of the month or how long it’s been. I was talking to my stepdaughter the other day and we agreed that our discussions and mentions of Mike have changed as time has gone on. Sometimes we feel as if we’ve turned a corner in some sense in terms of coming to grips with the fact that he’s no longer with us. Then something else will happen that will drag us backwards again for awhile.

We are perhaps now forever embedded with certain triggers that can set off at any moment, without warning. I can work towards creating my “new normal” we all talk so much about, and then find myself sitting and staring into space, caught up in a memory or feeling I didn’t expect to land on me in that moment. Sometimes I’m surprised the tears don’t come; other times they arrive suddenly.

I can keep turning corners, so to speak, but after a few turns I often find myself standing somewhere that seems suspiciously familiar to the place where I started this journey. The changes I’ve gone through since Mike died have made it so I have other things in my head to think about; other tasks, thoughts, relationships, faces, plans…the grief is not alone in there anymore like it was those first dreadful months, so it does have to fight to be on top now. But it doesn’t go away. I feel as if it will always be lurking around that next corner, though I will try and keep turning them anyway.