.... ummmm, what? Doesn't that sound a bit rude? I'm SORRY to meet you?
Tuesday, March 31, 2009
.... ummmm, what? Doesn't that sound a bit rude? I'm SORRY to meet you?
One hour later, I dropped off my chatty little morning child safely at school. Hot coffee in hand, I headed for the toll road and the 30 minute commute to the office. Usually I chat with a friend on the way in (yes, recklessly talking on the phone while potentially endangering the lives of innocent people in their cars along side me. I know, I know, I shouldn't, but it’s still legal in Texas. :) This Monday morning, I just wasn’t in the mood. I listened to some music and tried to lift my spirits.
A song I’d never heard before came on, something about loving an old coffee shop and meeting someone there. For some reason, the song brought back a memory of Daniel, Grayson, and me walking to the Coffee Nut coffee shop in Buda, just a block from our house. Daniel and I are holding hands and Grayson is riding his little bike with the training wheels still on it. For just a flash I was there in that moment, feeling Daniel’s hand over mine, watching Grayson, so proud of himself on his big boy bike. It was a beautiful agonizing moment and it left me weak, crying, struggling to see the road as I drove myself into work.
So much for lifting my spirits! I needed some backup: I called my mom, cried on her shoulder, and we shared a laugh when I told her I was missing my husband and the PMS wasn’t helping the situation either. Sometimes the ability to laugh when it hurts can make all the difference. Thanks for laughing with me Mom! And the good news is: I survived. It is now Tuesday.
Happy Tuesday, I think it’s going to be a great day. - Michelle (dippel)
Monday, March 30, 2009
Part of the shirt idea lives on in the name Team Dippel. I adopted the name for our American Cancer Society Relay for Life (RFL) Team, which I formed in the spring of 2006. I had ball caps made for all of Team Dippel, and we wear them each year at RFL. Relay is coming up again in April, and we are fundraising like crazy. Our team is currently in 5th place, and I’m hoping we can maintain it. I can’t really speak for the other team members (sisters-in-law, cousins-in-law, brothers, parents, friends, nieces and nephews), but the RFL is an emotionally charged and bitter sweet event for me.
The first year, I was completely unprepared for the intensity of my emotions. As I watched the survivors take their honorary lap, I was struck by the unfairness of it all and wanted to cry out: “Why? Why these people and not him? Why isn’t he here holding my son’s hand and wearing his purple survivors t-shirt? Why?” I felt such raw and conflicting emotions at that moment: bitterness at our loss, happiness and awe for the survival of these other amazing people, guilt for feeling bitter, and also a terrible, terrible sadness.
We have done the relay event for three years now and are coming up on our fourth. I am still somewhat plagued by the same range of feelings although the bitterness has mellowed a bit. Why isn’t he here wearing his shirt? I think the why of it will follow me for the rest of my life, and that question will only be answered when I am no longer around to ask it. The RFL provides an outlet for me though. I feel less powerless in the face of a ruthless disease and feel like I am “Living to Fight” as Daniel had hoped to be. I am empowered by the possibility that I am making a small contribution that might change the path for someone else.
Saturday, March 28, 2009
Michael had been killed by multiple roadside bombs while serving in Baghdad, Iraq.
My soul mate, biggest fan and partner in crime had been taken from me by the most simplest of actions...the push of a detonator button.
I was lost, I was confused, I was broken hearted, I was torn, but for some reason I was still breathing. At first this was something I despised, the inhale, the exhale. As time passed I realized that there was still his love throbbing through my veins, and for that simple reason I could not give up.
I've embraced life, and even though my grip is not always the tightest, I will never let go.
I am a wife.
I am Michael's Widow.....
And that is who I am.
Thursday, March 26, 2009
Hello Wonderful Widows.
I often do things a little backwards…now is no exception.
Last week I wrote an article for this blog on widows and teens. I was a stranger in your midst. This week I will let you who I am.
I was widowed in 2000 when I was 47 and Mike was 52. Our daughter was 7 years-old, and his daughter, my step-daughter, was 25. Now they are a beautiful 15 and 33. Mike had breast cancer for the whole of our 10-year marriage, and very suddenly, 2 weeks before Christmas, he lost the battle.
I am a life coach. I began coaching in the corporate realm, as an executive coach 7 years ago. The money was great, but I hated wearing panty hose and pumps and I got tired of dry cleaning suits and I was so bored on the train to NYC that I actually got reprimanded for talking in the quiet car. Over the loud speaker!!! Truly. At the age of 49, I got in trouble for talking. It reminded me of 3rd grade when I had to stand out in the corridor. Humiliating.
We all know that we attract what we put our attention on, and I was no different. As I explored widowhood, the good, the bad, and the ugly, (and there WAS some good) I began to attract widows as clients. The the rest is history. I quit pantyhose, pumps, suits and the train, and I now work with intelligent, creative, brave women who are eager to explore “What’s next?”, and eager to break down the barriers of what is keeping them stuck as they sort out widowhood. I am a life coach for widows.
Widowhood has been quite a ride. It has included some of the very worst moments of my life, and surprisingly, some of the best. The process of self-discovery has led me down roads that I would not have dared explore when I was married and leaning on my husband. He was the brave one in our marriage. Now, I am now the brave one.
Of course, my story is not unique. There are many like me, ordinary women in less than ordinary circumstances, all becoming extraordinary, you and I.
I am grateful to Michelle and the co-creators of SSLF for bringing widows together. What began as one-widow-supporting-another is now becoming an astonishingly powerful assembly of creative, courageous women. I am grateful to be a part of it. I hope you will enjoy what I have to say, or at least think about it. And always, feel free to disagree with me and challenge me!
Warmly, Mie Elmhirst
I woke up the morning of January 8th, 2008 elated to be alive! I guess you can say David and I grew up together. We met when we were 12 years old. My soulmate. I've held only his strong hands, kissed only his beautiful lips, and sleep next to only his gorgeous body. My husband always said I was a "happy" morning person and that morning was no different. Still dark outside when my alarm went off,I gave my body a nice long stretch and as I released my breath the words, "I love you" effortlessly made their way off my lips. I was giddy! I couldn't wait to talk to him again! I checked my phone... No missed call... Ringer volume... on high. I turned my computer on, signed into my instant messenger and turned its volume also on high.
Throughout the day I'd casually checked my phone... no missed call. I wasn't worried. I never had to convince myself he was busy because I knew he was and he'd call as soon as he could... he always did. My phone rang!! ...My mother... I ignored it only to have to ignore it two more times. Finally, I called her back... on the other side of the phone was a quivering voice. I could tell she was trying to stay calm but something was wrong. She convinced me she "wasn't feeling good."
"My heart hurts. Please come home."
"You want me to tell them I'm not coming into work today?"
"Yes, please. Nicole, be careful driving. Drive slow."
I began my drive to my parent's home, my mother's words replaying again and again in my head. Her "heart hurts"?! Confused, I rushed home. Got out of the car. Walk into the house. Dropped my bags. "What's going on guys? Is something wrong with Dad?" My brother was on the couch making no eye contact and my mother was shaking when she began to say, "Nicole, it could be nothing, but the Army is here." And they were. I turned around to find two uniformed soldiers walking up to the front door.
“…On behalf of the Secretary of Defense… On January 8th of 2008... SGT David Joseph Hart... died... in Balad, Iraq from wounds sustained while on a combat mission.” I couldn't believe those words just came out of a soldier’s mouth. I couldn’t believe they knew my husband’s name! Twenty minutes and a couple signatures later, they were gone. My husband, my best friend, and love of my life, died the morning of the 8th. He was killed while I was sleeping and I had no idea.
Papers! Papers! Papers! No one bothered me with the details of the paperwork, which I appreciated, they just told me to “sign here.” The following morning, I was sitting at the kitchen table when more papers were brought to me, I was signing where told... when I saw "it"... A box to be checked next to the word “WIDOW.” I lost it! Literally, I began to scream. My husband had only been dead for a day and at 22 years old I was having to check a “widow” box?!
I've come a long way since my first encounter with the word "widow." It no longer makes my skin crawl or my heart drop. Instead, I can say it as proudly and as easily and I can say, "I am David's wife." There are days when I'm left shaking my head in complete disbelief... Days when I slip into my "dark place." But I am not alone. It's been over a year for me and I know my journey through widowhood has only just begun but -hands down- my greatest gift given to me while on this new journey with David has been having another widow by my side.
David always believed in something bigger/greater then himself. Having the honor of serving the American Widow Project as made that real to me. Love. Love is the life of my soul... Love is unstoppable. Love is bigger then me. I know with out a doubt my journey with David does not end with death. I am proud to be his wife and widow... to represent him, to hold his legacy and keep it alive. I would live this life the same again and again because I know he's mine for eternity. My love for him increases often! My husband, my soulmate, my warrior liked to say, "Our love is stronger than death..."
So much reminds me of David and of Hope... all things strong, beautiful, young, and pure. Today... my heart is confident. I am loved.
Wednesday, March 25, 2009
The less humorous blanks on a form, even three years later, are the blanks that read: Father’s name, Father’s address, etc. For a while I would fill those in with Daniel’s name and information, out of sheer stubbornness. Unfortunately the end result of my mini-rebellion would be confusion and embarrassment as the person reading the form would then ask more questions, or ask if my husband wanted to volunteer, assistant coach, attend career day, etc. Finally, reality set in and I began to leave those blanks as they were: blank.
Just a few weeks ago, I was registering my 8 year old son for spring football. The registration was on-line and I entered all of my information and hit the “submit” button. An error message popped up informing me that my registration could not be completed without my husband’s information. Annoyed, I entered all of my information into the father’s section, erased the mother’s information and tried to submit it that way. Much to my relief, it couldn’t be submitted that way either. At least they were equal opportunity. I would have gone through the roof if the father’s information was required and the mother’s was optional!
So, back to my dilemma: I had to have some information in both the mother’s and father’s blanks in order to submit, but I didn’t want to put Daniel’s information in the blanks. In a week they’d be calling my number asking for him and hoping he’d be a coach. I definitely didn’t want to field that call, but I couldn’t leave it blank and submit, so what should I do? In a fit of self-righteous anger, I entered the words: “father deceased” in the blank and hit submit. Bingo, my submission was successful! “Jackasses” I thought to myself, “that will teach them to make that a required field.” I was really ticked off by the whole process and shared the ridiculous story with several friends.
Last week I received a team email from our new football coach. He was excited to be our coach, and much to my delight our team was going to be the Longhorns. Being a University of Texas alum, I was thrilled to be able to cheer for the longhorns this season. The coach had attached the team roster to the email and asked each parent to review their contact information and notify him of any necessary edits. Dutifully, I reviewed the roster to find this listing:
Player: Grayson Dippel
Mother: Michelle Dippel
Father: Father Deceased
My first thought was: “you have got to be kidding me.” My second thought was: “that poor coach, he’s going to hate getting my email.” I really did feel bad for him. The poor guy’s only fault in the situation was not reviewing the auto-generated list the league sent him before he sent it out. Obviously the online form fed a spreadsheet, and automatically recorded the mother’s and father’s names as they were submitted. I had to send him a very nice email asking him to please remove that entry from the form, to which he sent a very anxious and apologetic reply: “of course, Ms. Dippel, I am so sorry, we’ll have that removed right away!” Poor man, he was probably disturbed by that for more than a few moments.
I just can’t wait to get to our first practice! What fun! Coach Patrick will likely be terribly embarrassed and awkward, and I’ll have to try to put him at ease. Oh well, I’ve become a professional at that. At least because of this snafu I won’t have to answer the question: “And what about your husband, will he want to volunteer? I think they must have left his information off of the list…..” Not this time. That’s the upside: this time they know the score before the game even begins!
Tuesday, March 24, 2009
There have been many days since Phil's death that I was sure the sun could not possibly be shining...how dare that orb glow as if the world were right?! And then there have been other days when, unbelievably, that sun shone right on my head in the form of a blessing that was all the sweeter due to my familiarity with loss.
Meet my nephew, Miles. He was born March 22, 2009 weighing in at 5lbs 13oz and a lengthy 18.5 inches to fill in. When I see this picture my heart is warm, my eyes fill with tears, and I do feel the sun shining on his life and the life of his little family. Birth and death, the two things in this life that we are guaranteed. Funny how often we take for granted one, and are shocked and amazed by the other. But life goes on, and we are left, after the loss of someone we love, with not only a huge whole in our heart but also a larger capacity to love. We have to make the choice of course, but if we take the lessons of grief and apply them to life we often find some amazing wisdom....the little things don't matter, really. Family moments are invaluable, make time for the kids. Celebrate things like riding without training wheels, a great grade on a test, and the first day of Spring. Forgive, and then truly forget. Kiss babies and listen to senior citizens. Bring flowers. Drink good wine. Listen to music that inspires you. And most of all, live in the moment we only get to do this once.
Welcome to the world Miles. May your life be full of love, laughter, and sunshine.
Aunt Michele (hernandez)
Monday, March 23, 2009
One of his favorite sayings he used to kick off the crawfish boil was: “If you’re not having a good time, it’s your own damn fault”. I’ve sort of taken that saying, which brings a smile to my face whenever I think of it, and made it my own motto about this life I still have to live. I could let it all get me down; heaven knows there are plenty of reasons to be angry, bitter, sad, etc. I admit that sometimes I am just that: angry, bitter, and sad. But, these days it doesn’t last too long, before I hear his voice in my head and I think about it. He would love to be here, loving our life and raising our beautiful son. He’s not and I am. It’s tough duty without him, but I’m doing the best that I can.
As he would say “if you’re not having a good time, it’s your own damn fault!” Some days repeating those words to myself over and over is the only way I can make it through. Each day is another day; today I’m going to have a good time.
- Michelle (dippel)
Saturday, March 21, 2009
Time, however, has provided some perspective. As the days, weeks, months, and years since I began this journey of loss and recovery have passed I have learned how to truly celebrate the life of remarkable men who have touched more people in their too brief lives than they themselves would ever have imagined.
Today, we celebrate a man named Daniel Dippel. Fun loving, direct, irreverently hilarious, and the fortunate owner of great legs...Daniel loved a good party. And so a Mardi Graw themed craw fish boil on a lovely lawn, filled with friends old and new, is the perfect way to honor the impact this man has made on the people who will gather to raise a beer in his memory.
As I type these words, I can see him out on the lawn orchestrating the cooking (lobster earring dangling), yelling out a greeting to an incoming guest, and asking someone to change the music. Funny thing is, I never met him. And from his absence in Michelle Dippel's life a gift was born...a friendship that has graced my life and hers, and the opportunity to know him as a longtime friend.
So Mr. Dippel...I'll raise a glass to you today, eat craw fish for the third time in my life, listen to the countless stories your friends and family lovingly recall, and truly celebrate the fact that you brought your many unique gifts to this world...though we all know that the time you were able to share them was much too short. The brevity of his life does not lessen his impact though, in fact, I'd venture to guess that the opposite is true; your spirit lives on in each and every heart that gathers here today and inspires us to live in the moment.
Today we celebrate the life of Daniel Dippel, and thank him for the excuse to throw one heck of a party.
Friday, March 20, 2009
My 15 year-old daughter Anneke landed the role of Polly in Neil Simon’s play The Gingerbread Lady. In this play, Polly’s (Anneke) mother seems intent on self-destruction, and at one point in the play, Polly (Anneke) is moved to desperate tears, wanting her mother to be OK.
Anneke was unable to perform the scene. She could not cry on stage and she was unable to access that place of sadness. Thankfully, the very thoughtful and caring director changed the scene to accommodate Anneke.
At first I was surprised at Anneke’s difficulty. After all, her father/my husband, died when she was seven, and she has shed many tears through out the years. I have done my best to let her know that it is OK to have feelings and to cry. I have encouraged her to talk about her father and we speak about him often still. Anneke is very open and courageous.
So why did she have a hard time?
The loss of a parent is very different than the loss of a spouse. My grief was most intense the first few years after Mike died, and now, eight years later, life is good.
Anneke’s real grief work has yet to happen. Yes, her life is also moving along nicely, but there is an under current of incompleteness. At age 7 her relationship with her father was aborted, replaced by a space. The part of her that should have been fed by him and their relationship stopped developing.
This space should have been filled with the growth that comes from baseball games, challenging authority, hugs, fighting and making up, and camping. It should have been filled with words like "you are the most gorgeous girl in the universe and I will do bodily harm to any young man who might transgress". This space should have been filled with the many experiences with a father that support the healthy development of a young woman.
So, yes, she misses him. But that is too easy an explanation. It is much more than that. For a child the space left by a deceased parent does not get filled in.
Instead there are question marks. Would he have liked me? Been proud of me? Approved of me? Would he think that I am pretty? No matter what I tell her about her father, and what I am sure he would think of her now, the question marks remain.
When Anneke cries, regardless of what brings it on, it ends up about the space. It might start out as an upset over a test she hasn’t studied for, or an audition that scares her. But it ends up being about the missing reflection back to her from her father’s eyes that was supposed to help her know who she is.
So, Anneke cannot cry on command. Fine. There are worse things. She hates to cry and I don’t blame her. It is too much damn work for a 15 year- old. Someday, she will have to do the work. But not now, and not on stage.
Wednesday, March 18, 2009
In these past three years, my life has taken twists and turns I could never have anticipated. I woke up one morning to the horrible realization that the never-ending day before was not a nightmare, but a reality. I blazed my way through my task list –
Call funeral home, check.
Bury husband, check.
Fall apart on the inside while appearing to maintain on the outside, check.
The one thing that became a constant was the sad, scared looks on the faces of friends and family. The visible tension when I entered a room and everyone wondered if I would be able to hold it together. The inevitable question: “How ARE you?” Occasionally I fantasized about telling them the truth. How would that sound?
“How ARE you, Michelle?”
“Well”, I’d calmly answer, “I’m terrible. Thanks for asking. This hell I am in, it sucks. I am so angry, sad, and so terribly lonely. I hate it. I want to scream, cry, and throw up all at the same time. (loud sobs, uncomfortable pause….) So anyway, thanks for asking. How are YOU?”
Of course, outside of my bitter fantasy, I answered in a variation on two words: fine, or okay. I was neither, but the blackness of my heart didn’t really need to be bared to the sweet, well-intentioned people who cared enough to ask that scary question. What a relief it was when I met Michele (my fabulous widow-match!) and we could laugh at the absurdity of the question together, and also answer it honestly. Knowing that my friend understood the blackness of my mood and wouldn’t be terrified of it was an incredible gift. What a relief to have a friend who understood me: a friend, who was another unwilling member in this club; a friend who had to pay the same awful initiation fee to gain membership.
The crazy thing is that whether I wanted it to happen or not, one day I did notice the sunshine, I did hear my child's laughter and not feel like my heart was going to break, and for a brief second I am sure I may have had a relaxed, possibly even happy smile on my face. Those moments gradually became more and more frequent, and much to my surprise I felt…hmmm, not good, not peaceful, still bitter at times, but OKAY. I felt okay. I would never have thought the day would come when the truthful answer to the horrible question “How ARE you?” would actually be: okay. I’m okay.
Step forward a bit more in time, and I can now say I am good. I am changed, and my definition of good is not the same as it was in a previous life, but I am still good. Sometimes, on days like today, when I anticipate the arrival of a wonderful friend for a visit and am filled with hope and an overall sense of well-being, I look back on the past three years with a sense of awe and a feeling of having lived more than just the three years. I’ve aged many more years in some sense, and grown younger in some ways too. Life is sweeter for having had to learn to adjust to a terrible bitter taste in my mouth. I laugh harder and appreciate the small things so much more. I’m still here and I still have terrible days, but I’m determined to make the best of it.
Happy Wednesday, how ARE you? ;-)
Tuesday, March 17, 2009
Monday, March 16, 2009
Friday, March 13, 2009
Meet Sassy and Spicy.
Also known as Michele and Michelle, and to some of you as the original "Widow Match." We are pictured here at Michelle's home in Texas celebrating the life of her husband, Daniel, who died in November of 2005 of laryngeal cancer. Our husbands died two months apart, we are the same age, we share a wicked sense of humor, and we are both single moms to wonderful kids. A perfect match, thank you God.
Michelle finishes my sentences, laughs at my jokes, wipes my tears, calls me on my stuff, is the voice on the end of the line that calms me, supports me, or cheers me on...depending on the day.
And I get to share her with you! Michelle will be a contributing author to this blog starting very soon. You are going to love her, and the blog will be enhanced by her witty, real-life, fun-loving view of the world. Welcome aboard, tacalla...I will let her explain that title.
Thursday, March 12, 2009
I have met so many amazing people on the road of healing. It seems that every day brings another story, another tragic loss, another compadre on the journey towards becoming whole again. And with every person there is the story of the death, and then we enter the next chapter...what do we do know?
How does any of this relate to peace in the far reaches of our world today? Do you know of anything more equalizing than death? Death speaks every language. Crosses all borders. Tears out hearts and levels pride in the same way tsunamis clear away all traces of a previously bustling coastal town. The grim reaper does not discriminate. Brown, white, black, thin, heavy, rich or poor, religious or atheist...we all know the power of death.
And so in that moment when each of us stands powerless in the face of death, we are all the same. And peace must come from a place of understanding, of humanity, of equality~we must be no better and no worse than our enemy. Death gets that.
My personal goal remains to make something positive from the ashes of the loss of a man I love with my whole being, and I believe that widows can be agents for peace every single day. When we apply the lessons grief has taught us to our daily lives, we can't help but change the world. Your corner, my corner, the corner in Iraqi, another in Nepal, one over in South Africa, a piece in Canada, the very corner of France, and a nice section of Australia...you get the picture.