Tuesday, June 30, 2009
Professionally this move is a good one for me, although I'm leaving behind my current job with some regret. It was a great job, great people, and I really enjoyed it. The next one will likely prove to be great as well. Great people, great job, ever increasing opportunity, etc.
Personally this move is a good one for me and for Grayson. We will be once again living in Austin, surrounded by lots of loving friends and family. We had a network in Houston that we will miss, but the Austin network is GINORMOUS :) and I think it's the best place for my little guy to grow up.
Knowing it is the right thing to do and doing it seems like a simple process, but in practice it is challenging. I think it was Michele who talked about once again learning to hear your inner voice and being able to act upon it. I'm hearing mine and acting upon it, but I still want to call Daniel and ask him his opinion on the decision. I wish there was a giant cell tower in heaven that would connect us even if only for a moment. Making decisions completely on your own after years of collaboration is an adjustment. I do it, but I'd rather have my partner to vet the whole thing with. I just have to go with my gut, he'd support me on this one I'm sure.
So, onward we go. Back to Austin. Back home. After the angst of making the choice to fly that direction, I'm now just looking forward to the landing. Hey Austin, we're almost there!
Happy Tuesday - Michelle D.
Monday, June 29, 2009
The day I lost my husband was the same day that theory became reality, and faith became more than just a concept to which I paid lip service. Grief is the ultimate test of faith. Faith requires trust. Death robbed me of a sense of security, making the idea of trust incomprehensible. And the whole vicious circle renewed itself daily as I attempted in vain to determine why I was living a sorrow filled nightmare. My inability to escape the reality of widowhood forced me to evaluate my beliefs and determine whether or not they could withstand the blinding glare of grief.
I imagine the following personal truths as tall pillars that I view through a cloud of dust and rubble created by a major earthquake. Though everything around these support beams has fallen, they miraculously remain. I rub my eyes to look again, because for any structure to survive an earth shattering experience of this magnitude seems impossible...and yet these columns stand tall amongst the debris of loss and grief.
I believe in everlasting love. I believe that God is not a being who resides in a structure, but a spirit who lives in the hearts, and hands, of loving people. I believe that the length of your life is not an indication of your impact on the world. I believe that time is indeed a gift. I believe that human beings have the power to heal each other. I believe that shared experience can bond individuals in a unique and life changing way. I believe that our lives are a tapestry and each experience, wonderful or terrible, adds richness to the final fabric. I believe that tomorrow is only a dream. I believe that life is too short to hold grudges. I believe that people are inherently good. I believe that buying lemonade from my daughter at her new job is more important than spending an extra hour at my own work. I believe that the people who come into my life do so for a reason. I believe that kindness changes lives. I believe that this too shall pass. I believe that life is a gift, but like all gifts must be opened to be appreciated.
These are a few of the pillars that have survived my personal earth quake. I lean on them when I feel unable to stand. When grief occaisonally stirs the dust of sorrow, I look for them to steady my course. My widowhood experience has taught me that when faith requires me to walk forward blindly, those pillars will guide the way.
Sunday, June 28, 2009
I did not want to be a widow. In fact, it is safe to say that I would have liked to be just about anything BUT a widow. It took awhile for the reality to set in...I was a WIDOW. Ugh. That word, the dreaded title, the image of a shriveled up person with a love that died, the imagined black veil, the wedding ring that no longer meant married...I hated every single thing about the concept of widowhood.
And then I met you. The survivors; the lovers; the compassionate, warm, hilarious, life affirming people that also wear the label~widow.
What I have learned over the past four years is that I was completely wrong about widows (surprised?). I thought only women who have lived the best parts of their lives already could be widows-wrong. I thought that widowed women cry all day long every day and never laugh at life's ironies-wrong. I thought that young widows were a minority-wrong. I thought that older widows and younger widows had nothing in common-wrong. I thought that no one would understand the depth of my pain-wrong. I thought that being a widow meant that life would never again hold any promise for me- really, really wrong.
And you, yes you, taught me that. None of us join this crazy club purposely. I have yet to meet a woman who hasn't spent a good amount of time hating her widowhood. But I have also met a lot of women who have learned to embrace this unwanted life transition. Somehow from the ashes of tragic loss amazing flowers have bloomed. We didn't choose this, but we won't let death rob us of both our husbands and ourselves. Flourishing in the face of death is the most incredible way of honoring the love we hold in our hearts for those we have lost. I am inspired by you, each and every day. Thank you for sharing your journey with me.
This photo is of Michelle Dippel (Ms. Tuesday) and I at the Embrace Life Awards in Bloomington, Illinois. State Farm Insurance selected me as one of the 2009 Embrace Life Award Honorees. My fellow widows taught me how to rise like a phoenix from the ashes of sorrow, and I am proud to be one of you.
Saturday, June 27, 2009
Now as I personally know, true love is hands down numero uno in my joy book but the second greatest joy is being around others who have been touched by its graces. This past week, as Nicole mentioned in her blog, we've been at another AWP event. Sydiving with the Golden Knights and doing a "Celebration of our hero's lives" golf tournament was amazing, but seeing the smiles on the faces of my fellow widows and hearing their stories of true love is what makes these outings so amazing.
The true love Michael and I share definitely still is my driving force through the tangled web I call life, and it still brings me more happiness then any physical thing here. But hearing and feeling as if I am a part of my fellow widow's continuation of their own love is an experience I am honored to even have a glimpse of.
"True love is the joy of life"-John Clarke..........But I have got to add this as its successor.......
"It is in hearing and seeing the true love of my loved ones that my own is further solidified." - Taryn Davis
Friday, June 26, 2009
It is Anneke’s ‘Sweet Sixteen’ today.
On the one hand, I can’t really believe this day has arrived and her father is still gone. Like somehow, at some point he should have walked in the front door and with little fanfare saying “I’m back.” It has been 8 plus years. She has been without him longer than she had him. I should know better by now.
On the other hand, her best friend threw her a surprise birthday last night and it is clear my daughter knows she is loved. Truly loved. Her friends came through in an enormous way and all the way home Anneke smiled and shook her head in disbelief. “Awesome,” she kept saying, “Awesome, just awesome.” Her memory of Sweet Sixteen will be joyous. I am grateful.
As usual, each holiday and special occasion is a mixed bag. We celebrate the moment, and understand who is still missing. But we really do celebrate. Last night was a festive occasion for Anneke and she was all about love and appreciation and happiness. No doubt today she will think about who is missing but it will not dominate.
My gift to her was a car key. Tomorrow she gets her drivers permit. We have done some parking lot practicing to prepare her for the road. I miss her father when I am in the passenger seat. I was not cut out to teach driving. I pray the whole time my right foot is jammed into the floor…“Dear God. Hear my prayer…”
And yet, I must admit, there is a little part of me that is quite happy to teach her driving. We have had some laughs, a few anxious words and I have told Anneke she must stop saying “I know Mom” when I repeat an instruction for the zillionth time. We have had memorable moments that I would not have had if Mike had been here. Like when she mistook the gas for the brake…. (We were in a very big parking lot and I promise you it will not happen again…)
Life goes on. I appreciate every moment and every contribution from friends and family. I appreciated what our children do for each other and how they understand each other. They fill in the blanks, doing what their parents cannot, just because parents are parents.
Our children are in good hands.
Mie Elmhirst, Widows Breathe Coaching
Thursday, June 25, 2009
This week is a big week for the widows in my life- the military widows of The American Widow Project. Wednesday, we had our first annual charity golf tournament for the organization. Each golf hole was dedicated to the soul mate of an AWP member.
I spent the entire day on a golf course in North Carolina with about 120 supporters and 15 military widows. It was most definitely one of those days when you have to take a step back and shake your head in disbelief. So many supporter. So many survivors. And I am both.
I watched these 15 widows play golf, interact with strangers, hand out prizes, and laugh out loud. They were living life. Something I, at one point, thought I'd never be able to do again. Time and time again "life" surprises me. Shocks me, even. And pushes me. All 15 of us have very different stories in comparison. We're at different points in our journeys. But there we were in one place celebrating one thing... Life. The lives of our soul mates and our lives as survivors.
At hole 8 I found myself smiling from ear to ear... because if I must walk this journey... that was exactly where I wanted to be on that day at that moment with those women. I was celebrating this journey... as were they.
Wednesday, June 24, 2009
Monday, June 22, 2009
A comment made by a special friend about yesterday's post got me thinking about the fact that people who have lost someone instrumental in their lives tend to view the world from a new, and unwanted, vantage point. After Phil's death I remember thinking that death swooped in and stole my rose colored glasses...leaving me with a pair of dark shades instead. I was quite certain that rose was no longer my color.
This darker world view made every life celebration bittersweet...or sometimes just plain bitter. Movies became minefields, attending weddings became tortuous, walking down the street beside hand holding couples made me feel nauseous, and stopping for lunch alone during my workday often reduced me to tears. While grey was the dominant color in my life I generally felt either sad or numb, with not much in between. Sometimes when a bit of color would filter through the haze (a flash of genuine happiness for example), I felt almost burned. My instinct became turning away from the sun and pulling my new shades down over my eyes to keep the world in a comfortable state of darkness.
I can't tell you exactly when my shades started allowing the penetration of light...but they did. One day I genuinely smiled. Another day I laughed so hard that my sides hurt. Every now and then I could walk down the street without counting the couples I passed. And I even went to a wedding and found myself caught up in the love of the moment instead of listening to the voice in my head detailing the ways that death may these two part. When I realized that I had made it through a wedding without the bitter taste of disappointment in my mouth, I knew that the gloom was finally lifting.
Death has changed the way I look at every single thing in my life. Lately I have been thinking of life as a camera. We don't always get to select the lens, but we can adjust the focus. I can't change the fact that Phil died, but I can choose to focus on how lucky I was to love him. I will never sit through a film that includes losing a loved one without a pang of sorrow, but I can choose to employ that compassion in my everyday life. When I see very old couples assisting each other out of a car I still wonder why not us...but I can choose to think good for you. Sometimes getting the focus right is still not easy. When a wave of grief comes from somewhere unexpected I am often temporarily unable to adjust my focus, but I am learning that finding the right focus takes practice. And each day gives me a new opportunity to pick up my camera.
Sunday, June 21, 2009
~Russell, Adventure Scout from the animated film Up
My daughter and I went to see the film Up last weekend. The buzz about the film was all good, but the widow buzz held a warning...good film, heart wrenching theme, message that may speak straight to your heart. Once again, the widow buzz did not disappoint.
Without giving away the whole plot, I will just say that this film sent my mind back to the everyday moments that made up my life with Phil. When I look back on our life together I am reminded that our most precious moments were the ones that happened over the heads of the kids, riding side-by-side in the car, chatting in bed at the end of the day, or making breakfast together on Sunday morning. The trips that were planned, but never taken, don't matter much. The time I managed to get him in a tuxedo isn't as important as the huge family breakfast we enjoyed the next day. I can see him laughing with friends clearly, but don't recall what we last fought about. Time has sifted through the pebbles of our daily lives, and I have discovered that the seemingly insignificant things have become diamonds when viewed through the microscope of reminiscence.
Brown around the edges pancakes were Phil's specialty. He could be counted on for a dollar any time the ice cream man came around the corner. Once a month or so Phil would stop at Arby's (a favorite of the kids), buy a bag full of whatever they sell there, and call out "Arby's night!" when he came through the door. Our family joined the Livestrong community with gusto, none of us more so than Phil. He bought one hundred Livestrong bands and kept them hidden in a secret place. We didn't find the stash until three years after he died! Phil would stop at up to three different fast food places in order to satisfy individual whims...the kids still miss that crazy behavior. Going to the grocery store with Phil meant running the risk of spending an extra thirty minutes chatting with a friend...or a stranger that looked friendly. All of these moments seemed silly at the time, and now they make up the fabric of our memories of life with this gentle, humble, hysterical man.
Up reminded me that every day moments count. And that we are creating our own tapestry with our children, family, and friends right now. I hope that at the end of my days my own woven masterpiece is as colorful, playful, and joyful as Phil's.
Happy Father's Day, honey. Thanks for the adventures.
Saturday, June 20, 2009
For me, I'll be honest with you all....Starting at the age of 16 the park became a place where Michael and I could could get away from our parents, sit on a picnic table and have lunch , and do what teenagers do (I'll let your imagination go wild). As we grew older it was a place for us to soak up the sun and read from our favorite authors.
Like any special location shared with your soul mate, once your spouse is taken out of the Earthly equation, the places almost become unbearable to even think about. I'd drive by it nearly everyday, thinking fondly of the memories we shared there, but fearful of the fact that I may be unable to enjoy that park again.
Being the hard headed and unrelenting widow I am, I could not let that grassy knoll take victory. So I headed out one sunny afternoon with all my weapons of choice in hand; Blanket, water bottle, notebook, and iPod. I layed the quilt down in one of our favorite spots, put on of my favorite tunes, and opened my heart and water bottle to all that this situation may bring.
Like all things I have opened myself up too, I know that the outcome can come out two ways, in my favor or not. But no matter which side of the coin it lands on, I have to to see the underlying truth and gift it's brought into my being.
So no matter where you forge out to, to test your emotional limits, or face a fear, or maybe even just reflect who you have become, know that it is not the outcome of the action, but more so your reaction to it.
Friday, June 19, 2009
Grieving is a self-centered act. It must be. It requires paying attention to ones own broken heart, taking the time needed to adjust to a very different existence, and learning to live in a changed world. Grieving requires self-care.
This is especially true for widows with children. We eventually find that the only way our children will be OK is if we are OK.
And the only way we will be OK is if we are willing to tend to ourselves.
I had it reversed. I was desperate for Anneke to be OK. In my mind, if she was OK, I was OK.
For those of us who are natural caregivers and who spent years caring for our husbands and our kids first, the transition to caring for ourselves can be rocky and unfamiliar.
Early on, thinking of myself was difficult. When I paid attention to my own heart, I saw how really broken it was. It seemed easier and more natural to focus on my daughter.
I came to see that unless I cared for myself, my efforts at caring for others went bad. I became resentful. I was not used to being resentful and I didn’t like it. I felt bad about it and tried to be different. “Please God make me good,” I asked.
But the harder I tried to be generous and kind and sweet, the more pissed off I became.
I had a friend who needed help when her dog became very sick and subsequently died. I thought I was happy to help. And at first, I really was. But my giving quickly deteriorated into “It’s a DOG for crying out loud…what about me?”
Because I wasn't caring for myself, I couldn’t be there for her. I just couldn’t. My resentment grew, my shame at my resentment grew, and I soon had nothing left to give, nothing at all.
I learned (and occasionally I still have to re-learn this…) that resentment is ALWAYS a sign that I have unmet needs. My need might be a relationship need, a quiet-time need, a downtime need, a social need, a financial need, sometimes even a need for nourishment. When I try to be there for Anneke, (transporting, conversation, shopping etc) and have not taken care of my most basic need of good solid nutrition, I become crabby. It is that simple.
So, at the ripe old age of 55, I am still learning about self-care. But there is an unexpected pay off. As I demonstrate self-care, my daughter learns to care for her needs. And as she is beginning the process of leaving home, I feel comforted in knowing she will have the tools needed to make it out there in the world.
Are you taking good care of yourself?
Mie Elmhirst. Widow Still Training in Self-Care. Widows Breathe Coaching
Thursday, June 18, 2009
I've moved twice since David passed. Both moves necessary, emotional, and exhausting. I moved into this house 3 months ago. I had unopened boxes from both moves and at some point I just stopped unpacking. Those that remained were shoved into the guest bedroom with the door shut. From time to time I would consider opening the door and organizing the crap I piled on the bed and in the closet... Until this week, it was only a thought. I had completely forgotten what was even in the boxes I kept hidden away.
As I opened the boxes of items that sparked memories of what now seems like my "previous life," a nauseous feeling swept over me. I took deep breaths and forged on. One box contained books... financial books I was reading and saving for David to read when he got home from Iraq, and a journal. My teenage journal. My journal of "I got to see David today," "I think I love David," and "I told my mom I'm going to marry David" days. Seems like such a long time ago. Again, the nauseous feeling came... more deep breaths. I read the journal from start to finish before I continued through the room.
Office supplies, photos, Cd's, and a really old computer. I had several flat rate envelopes in the box and I couldn't remember why I had kept them... I was about to throw them away when I realized an envelope had papers in it. I held the envelope upside down and out came the pre-addressed labels and customs forms... To David... From Me. I sent David a package and an envelope filled with letters every week while he was deployed. He looked forward to them every week. How could I forget what the envelopes had been for? I froze for what felt like minutes but had probably only been a few moments. Again, I took a deep breath and just starred at David's name printed on 20 pieces of paper. In that moment I felt like I shrunk a whole foot because the sadness was just... so heavy. I stuffed the papers back into the envelope and put the envelope aside.
In the midst of binders and papers to reorganize and file, I came across a thin red folder. I didn't recognize the red folder and without hesitation I opened it, quickly thumbing through what looked like school notes. How old are these? The date on the last page: January 8, 2008... my handwriting. I went to take in a deep breath...and... nothing... my lungs forgot how to work. My eyes we blinking back tears and my mind fought, fought hard to hold on to something... anything. It was only minutes after writing those notes I got the phone call that changed my life... the day David died... the day I never went back.
These boxes revealed traces of my previous life... a life I loved. A life filled with joy and promise. It was like searching through the clues of a cold case file... evidence after evidence... all leading to nothing. A dead end. To January 8Th. Everything I was familiar with stopped that day. Every plan for our future... gone. Cruel evidence.
Our life together now isn't what we ever imagined it would be. But I'm trying my best to make it one that I'd be proud to one day recount. I had put these items into boxes knowing that one day I'd open them... So again, I did the same. I put the items that drew so much emotion out of me into new boxes... Maybe one day I'll feel differently about them. Maybe one day they wont hurt me so much.
Wednesday, June 17, 2009
Do you ever have one of those days when you think that nothing, NOTHING could top the last stupid thing that happened to you?
Tuesday, June 16, 2009
About three years ago I started joking with Michele that I wanted to wear a black t-shirt with word "bitter" printed on it to identify myself as a bitter widow. She refused to let me, more out of fear of the reaction of my poor grieving family members than anything else, but her point was well taken. Wearing the bitter t-shirt would only be funny if all who saw me wear it could be truly comfortable in the knowledge that I was not actually bitter.
Three years later, on a birthday celebration trip to NYC, we had the t-shirts made and wore them gleefully through Greenwhich Village. I think most people who saw us assumed we were advertising for a beer, which I thought was hilarious! We, however, were giddy with the knowledge that we were not in fact bitter, but we were better. You can't be bitter and hopeful at the same time, and we were hopeful. Life can still be good for us. Different for sure, but good nonetheless. I am thankful for that knowledge every day. If life gives you limes, make margaritas; you can salt the rim with your tears. It will only make the concoction taste sweeter. Michele, thanks for helping me mix the margaritas and salt the rim. They wouldn't taste the same without you.
Happy Tuesday! - Michelle D.
Monday, June 15, 2009
I married Phillip Hernandez on June 16, 2000. Our first date was January 16, 2000~and there were more than a few people who openly questioned our sanity when we announced our intention to marry. Divorce rates for blended families were quoted to us, some wondered aloud how we could be certain this was the right choice after such a short courtship, and other people shook their heads in wonder at our rash behavior.
But we knew. We knew that in each other we found a lifelong love. We knew that together we could build a real partnership. We knew that the respect we held for each other would be a solid foundation for our lives together. We knew, even then, that life was short and that we wanted to spend every minute together. We knew that marriage wasn't easy, but we believed our relationship was a work in progress. We knew that the good times would be sweeter if we shared them, and that the hard times would be easier if we split the load. Knowing all this, we both wanted forever to start as soon as possible.
What we couldn't predict was how long forever would last. I didn't realize when I made the out-of-character decision to marry this man so quickly how deeply grateful I would be that I did. What if I didn't choose to follow my heart despite the many misgivings of friends and family alike? What if we waited for a year or two to be sure our initial certainty about our relationship would last? What if I allowed my fear of failure to stop me from taking a leap of faith? Thankfully, I have no such regrets.
My life as Phillip Hernandez's wife was full, and oddly complete. Together we raised a unique, and loving, family; shared adventures that included climbing mountains, scaling rocks, and flying downhill on bicycles and over canyons in a helicopter; discovered remote and beautiful vacation spots; worked as a team to remodel our little house; built relationships with others that continue today, and fulfilled our marriage vows...right to the very end. There is not one moment I regret, nor a thing I wished either of us would have said. We lived our marriage vows the same way we lived our lives, with enthusiasm and joy.
Thank you Mr. Hernandez for being willing to leap on June 16, 2000. Loving you has changed my life, and I know that you will be waiting for me under an oak tree.
Sunday, June 14, 2009
Over the past four years grief and I have reluctantly become friends. Grief is not the kind of friend I can call in the middle of the night when I am sad, but rather the kind of friend who sits quietly at the end of my bed while I cry myself to sleep. Grief may be away for weeks or even months at a time, but the knock of this friend is now as familiar to me as my own voice. There is no need to explain my sorrow to grief; she understands my process better than I do. Grief knows I will get up again no matter how hard I have been hit by her power, and patiently stands as a witness to my ability to regain my balance time and time again. When grief calls, I stop what I am doing because I have learned that she must be answered. When I quit trying to escape her, I found an unexpected comfort by her side. She calls me and repels me; guides me and confuses me; moves me forward and throws me back.
Some days I hate grief, and other days I miss her. I have discovered a safe place in her arms, though her twisting, turning path won't allow me to be still for long. Her presence has added a soft cadence to my day-to-day life that I have come to rely on as confirmation that I am, indeed, alive. The irony of this does not escape me. I have realized that in my mind grief has replaced Phil, and that my fear of letting him go has created a relationship with grief I could never have anticipated.
I am beginning to believe that this is why grief comes in waves. If grief was linear and we could walk from one stage into the next, there would likely be large numbers of grieving people with severe stage fright. I would be terrified if someone were able to provide me with a grief graduation date. Instead, grief throws us from one phase to the next, with no predictable pattern or discernible course. Like a boxer who learns to fight on their feet, our tortured, grieving selves wheel from one moment to the next watching for the inevitable gut punch. And slowly, painfully we become stronger, faster, and more confident each time we are forced into the ring. That doesn't mean we won't hit the matt, or that we won't be tempted to stay down for the count...but somehow our spirits find the will to fight one more time.
Grief holds the towel as we come out of the ring. Grief bandages our wounds and then sends us to face the opponent called death, again and again. Grief stands behind the stool in our corner and insists we go another round. There is a saying that speaks to the concept that some friends come into our lives for a purpose, but do not stay long. I am beginning to think of grief as a friend who will come and go from my life. She will show me how to survive in the ring of sorrow, and then leave me with these hard earned knocks hoping they teach me something about living courageously. Grief will also point out that she is not Phil and that he is not her. He exists in a separate, and timeless, place that she does not inhabit. Grief is wise. And eventually I must let her go, knowing that when she resurfaces, sometime down the road, I will greet her as a friend.
Saturday, June 13, 2009
I never went to the movies solo. For as long as I can remember I had someone to my left or right to share my popcorn and Sour Patch Kids with. Michael, on the other hand. loved catching the latest flick on his own. It was as if he had some freedom I hadn't quite mastered.
I remember the first time I ventured out to explore this alien land. As I waited in line I felt as if everyone was looking at me as I said, "Ticket for one". As the film concluded I rushed to the exit. I tried it out, did my time, and could enjoy the rest of my movie experiences with Michael by my side.
Well, fast forward to late 2007. Plans didn't go as planned and I found myself wanting to try once more to do the movie thing with myself as my date. The anxiety tried creeping in but as the lights went down and I turned and looked at the empty seat next to me I felt a calm rush all over. I walked out of the theatre with a smile on my face and spoke out loud my thoughts and opinions on the film, like Michael and I always did. In the midst of the single sided debate I realized how much fun I had.
These movie outings, or as I call them : Davis Date Nights, have become a time I look forward too. I make sure and leave a seat empty next to me and smile as I say "Ticket for one, please".
As much as I wish Michael was there, I feel him with me and I finally, finally, feel the freedom I know he must have felt when he went on his own. It was in the simple things he did when he was alive that I find happiness, for what it meant to him and what it means to me now.
Thank you baby!
Friday, June 12, 2009
I want you to know that I am thrilled by the way this blog has evolved. We have some amazing women, sharing their real life journey through loss with honestly, and courage. Thank you for your many comments, and for sharing your widow journey with us. I just discovered that YOU can nominate your favorite blogger or post or blog to our advertising network! So, follow this link to share your thoughts. And thanks for walking this journey with us.
Sometime after Mike's funeral, someone put a book into my hand. The book was Ruthless Trust by Brennan Manning.
Although I did not get past chapter one, (I was unable to concentrate long enough to read much at all and I am pretty sure I have a different spiritual leaning than the author), the title spoke to me. It still speaks to me, almost nine years later when life happens differently than I think it should.
I carried this book with me for a good six months way back then because I needed the reminder of the title.
I needed to be reminded to trust. To trust ruthlessly.
Webster defines ruthless as 'without compassion.'
Trust without compassion. Trust without thought. Trust on autopilot. Trust, no matter what. Trust, no matter how you feel. Trust, whether you are crying or not. Trust absolutely.
What is it that I had to trust? I had to trust that I would eventually feel better. I had to trust that I would be OK financially. I had to trust that I would learn how to be a good single parent. I had to trust that I would heal, that Anneke would heal and that one day, far into the future perhaps, I would wake up again, happy to be alive.
Ruthless Trust meant that I had to trust, even though I felt worse than I had ever felt before. It was not easy to trust but the reward was hope. And I sure needed hope.
A few weeks ago, when I was flat on my back with a disc injury I was very, very scared. I was afraid that I would be there forever, on my back, and really afraid that I would be unable to be the kind of parent who shops for groceries, transports to voice lessons, cooks meals, or vacuums. Ruthless trust again became meaningful.
Trusting absolutely is helping me get back on my feet, literally. Trusting absolutely allows me to breathe deeply and experiment, slowly and gingerly with physical therapy and walking. This morning I walked a mile. I was amazed and very happy.
I swear that making a clear decision to trust ruthlessly changes my body chemistry. When I decide to trust I seem to quiet down enough so that healing can happen. I become less afraid. And that is a good thing.
In Gratitude, Mie Elmhirst Widows Breathe Coaching
Thursday, June 11, 2009
David's front journal entry, November 24, 2005:
"Baby, not everything in this book is going to be easy to read. These are my thoughts and feelings. My fears and Love notes. I am going to spill my guts, try to write songs and pour out my heart. When I'm done... this is for you.
I love you with all my heart, Nicole.
Lately, I've felt like life has been asking more of me. Not in an overwhelming way... but that soft, almost silent knock on at my conscience. I've been surpressing that gentle push, thinking what more can I possible do?! What more can life want... expect... of me? Somehow, I can get myself to sleep every night knowing very well that I'll wake up in the morning. And then somehow... I get myself up everyday. I've become comfortable with my routine... Warmed the seat I'm sitting on. But even though my seat is warm... it's become quit lumpy.
Raw. Honest. Real. Were emotions that jumped out to me from this entry. That was David. That was us. His opening page was all I had to read to set my perspective straight. His words, "when I'm done... this is for you," sparked a thought: Am I living a life worthy of such devotion? Am I being honest with myself? Do I recognize who I've become? If I was being as honest with myself as David always was with himself... I'd say, No. I'd say, life as been asking more of me, and I've chosen to ignore it. This request... may only be an inch... but an inch in which direction?? At the moment, I can't be sure. But I can no longer ignore it. David wouldn't want me to. He'd be the first to enourage me to find myself... to listen to the silent knock... to take the inch and find out where it leads me. But even though the journey might only be a simple inch farther... from experience, it might not be scenic getting there. Maybe that's where my hesitation stems from. The expecting of the ugly. The bad to get to the good. Either way, I have to try.
"Baby, this journey I take may not always be easy for you to watch... because pain will get the better of me at times. I will always still be learning, but I promise to be as honest with myself as you would be with me. You already know my thoughts, feelings, fears and love notes. I will try to dance for you, My Love, and enjoy this life. When I'm done... You'll know... that it was all for you.
I love you with all my heart, David.
Tuesday, June 9, 2009
You gotta Swim
Swim for your life
Swim for the music
That saves you
When you're not so sure you'll survive
You gotta swim
Swim when it hurts
The whole world is watching
You haven't come this far
To fall off the earth
The currents will pull you
Away from your love
Just keep your head above
I found a tidal wave
Begging to tear down the door
Memories like bullets
They fired at me from a gun
Cracking me open yeah
I swim to brighter days
Despite the absense of sun
Choking on salt water
I'm not giving in
You gotta swim
For nights that wont end
Swim for your families
Your lovers your sisters
And brothers your friends
Yeah you gotta swim
For wars without cause
Swim for the lost politicians
Who don't see their greed is a flaw
The currents will pull us
Away from our love
Just keep your head above
I found a tidal wave
Begging to tear down the door
Memories like bullets
They fired at me from a gun
Cracking me open now
I swim to brighter days
Despite of the absense of sun
Choking on salt water
I'm not giving in
I'm not giving in
You gotta swim
Swim in the dark
There's an ocean to drift in
Feel the tide shifting away from the spark
Yeah you gotta swim
Don't let yourself sink
Just follow the horizon
I promise you it's not as far as you think
The currents will drag us away from our love
Just keep your head above
Just keep your head above
Just keep your head above
Just keep your head above
The thoughts of my happy place have continued to cross my mind. Not so much getting there, as I know what it looks like in my mind, I know the geographic location, and I'm extremely capable of booking the trip. I've been thinking of what made it so happy for me in the first place. It's a beautiful place, Carribean waters, white sands, sunny days. However, I've been other places that were just as gorgeous and I've not labled them in such an important way. Happy Place, now that is a title loaded with meaning. Poor Belize. How can it possibly live up to that expectation? :) I didn't know it would be that place when I went there, it just happened.
How and why it happened have been the real issue. The trip and the place were happy because I was so very happy when I was there. The place wasn't happy. I was. I still believed in happily ever after and I had every hope that my life would turn out just as I had planned. Me, my wonderful husband, our as yet unborn children, a life of joy and contentment. I was blissfully unaware of life's true challenges and what lay ahead for us. It has been ten years since we took that trip. It's hard to believe how much I've changed in the span of ten years. Gone is the girl who so optimistically believed everything would work out for the best. Gone is that naive woman who thought death happened to the elderly.
What remains in her place is the question of the day. The old me isn't really gone, but I have been tempered. I have been blended, the bitter with the sweet. What I don't know is if I will ever feel the same degree of happiness I felt before the wisdom of grief was unwillingly bestowed upon me. I wonder if I may feel happiness more intensely, knowing how brief it can be. I also wonder if I will always be waiting for the worst to happen and never again be truly capable of living in the moment.
The answer to that question and many others is likely what is waiting around the corner in the picture above. I guess I'll find out when I get there. I think I've been sort of beating around the bush to get to my point, which is this: my happy place has to be something I carry with me. I've not been able to go back to my happy place because the truth is this: if I'm not happy my happy place will be just another place. I'll ruin it. For now, I need to preserve it, and work on the happy place I carry with me. Parts of me are content, and others are battered and bruised. Time heals all wounds they say. I'm still waiting.
Happy Tuesday - Michelle D.
Monday, June 8, 2009
(Nicole), and our amazing Saturday girl (Taryn)
we met for sushi in Texas last January, and spent some time together talking widow. Yes, I do think there is a widow language!
When you speak widow you avoid the phrase, "How are you?" Conversing in widow never requires full sentences. If tears spring up while using the widow language, no one runs for the door. Being fluent in widow means you answer calls from a fellow widow at two in the morning, or at two in the afternoon. Many times widow speak requires no words...a look or a hug is enough. When in a room full of people speaking this language, laughter is common. We all realize that if we can't laugh we will go crazy. Repeating yourself is not considered odd in the world of widows...the phrase "I still can't believe this is my life," can be repeated as many times as necessary with no objection from the listener. While speaking widow we share our past, our present, and our uncertain future.
The need to speak widow with others who understand the unique cadence of this language is the purpose for the National Conference on Widowhood. I write about it today because I don't want one single widowed person to miss this chance to be understood. Use as many words as you like, or don't speak at all, but do join us in San Diego this July if you are at all able. This will be a gathering like none you have ever experienced. We are already bonded by virtue of the path we walk. The way we communicate with each other is already unique and instinctual. Grief has taught us lessons that have changed our lives forever. Coming together is a balm for the heart, and a spring board for the future.
Come speak widow, you already know the language. http://www.sslf.org/conference.html
Sunday, June 7, 2009
There was a time, not really that long ago, when I did not want to choose hope. Possibility was a
To take that thought a step farther, hope seemed to be a betrayal. What could I hope for? Healing, ugh. Happiness, not likely. Joy, love, purpose...without Phil? Where would I find happiness if not in his arms? How would life have meaning if not shared with the man I loved? If I could "get better," where would my memories go? Would recovery mean forgetting the life I loved so much? I did laugh, I did celebrate milestones with the kids, I did get back to work, I did fix the sink myself, I did bury the dog after he died (long story), and I did wake up and face each and every day knowing I would face it alone. But I did not hope.
I still remember the day I felt my first stirring of hope, it was the day that I spoke to another widow for the first time. I looked into the eyes of a woman who had walked the same path I was unwilingly traveling and found compassion, empathy, and yes, hope. She told me things would get better. She told me I would never forget. She told me to be gentle with myself as I found my way in this new world. Her name is Connie, and I won't share her exact age ;) but she was married to her husband for 52 years. She welcomed me into her home, and into her heart.
When I set up the meeting with Connie, four months after Phil's death, I wasn't expecting to have anything in common with her. She was married to her husband for a long time, she lost him after a lengthy illness, and she came from a different generation; yet when we sat down together in her cozy kitchen I discovered that she knew how much I was hurting, and she also understood that there was more hurt ahead. I was amazed at the number of times we finished each other's sentences, and by the instant connection I felt with this warm, wonderful woman. But most of all, I was lifted up by meeting a survivor face-to-face. This woman had suffered the loss of a man with whom she shared her whole life, and was still finding joy in her daily life. Meeting Connie proved to me that choosing hope was indeed possible.
Seven years after the loss of her husband (and after telling me she was sure she would never have another man in her life), Connie has found new love. When you choose hope, you never know where the possibilities will take you.
Saturday, June 6, 2009
So the 2 year mark has come and passed. In one 24 hour period I am starting on another year in this new world I live in.
As the angelversary arrives people always seem to ask how I'm doing (Go figure), then the day arrives and it seems as if it was the build up to the day which was the worse. Then the day comes, and it seems like any other day in a way, but I have realized it proved me wrong this year. It's subtle changes show themselves at random moments or in quiet moments of reflection.
This year, as I seem to not measure it by 2009 but by days of survival, will be another chance for me to learn from my circumstances. Sometimes the hardest thing is reflecting on the days and years before in which pain was ever present, but I seem to flourish in it now. Those days are the writings of my climb up widow mountain. Had I not and continue to stumble or fall, would it be that interesting? Would it be the story you'd have pride in sharing with others?
My answer: Heck no! It's the scars I carry, the bruises on my heart, that have strengthened me and continue to strengthen me. For I have learned that so much is out of my control, so very much, but not love, and not perseverance, and not my life.
So bring it on year 3......because I'm coming at you full throttle baby!!!
Friday, June 5, 2009
Sophie came to us shortly after Mike died. In a moment of weakness, I said ‘yes’ to Anneke’s pleas for a kitten, forgetting that she was only seven years old and that the cat duties were certain to fall to me, a new widow who already had a list of responsibilities seemingly beyond her capabilities. (Truthfully, everything was too big to handle back then and I know you know what I mean.)
Sophie turned out to be a cat who loathed being picked up or petted on anyone’s schedule other than her own. She seemed to resist all my attempts to love her and instead sought out only Anneke for refuge. I know it was silly but I took her self-care as a personal rejection and suffered hurt feelings. Didn’t she know I needed comfort? That I was grief stricken? Eventually I acknowledged that Anneke needed her more, (after all Anneke was the one who wanted her in the first place) and when I needed pet-attention I went to our dog Deboney. I decided that maybe I didn't like Sophie all that much anyway.
Deboney died this past winter. She was a good and loving dog. I miss her.
But just as all of my relationships changed when Mike died, (friends, priest, in-laws, neighbors, sister, brothers, father, step-daughter, daughter…) my relationship with Sophie changed after Debs died. It is always this way, a complete rearrangement of relationships after loss.
Sophie has now decided, only since Debs died, that I may pet her. Or, more truthfully, she has decided that I must pet her. Her petting requirements coincide with my morning coffee. As I ascend the stairs to snuggle back into bed each morning, Sophie runs ahead of me in anticipation. She does not just lie down next to me making herself available for petting. Oh no, no. Sophie insists on my full attention, plopping herself onto my belly. Yesterday she was so pushy that she bumped my coffee spilling it on the sheets and me. I had to wash a full load of laundry before 6 AM just because of her Highness.
Mike did not like cats, and that is putting it mildly. I don’t know why he felt this way, (maybe a traumatic encounter at an early age!) but he did not hide his antipathy one little bit. Young Anneke intuitively knew better than to even suggest a feline friend.
So it is rather ironic that our cat Sophie now assumes the spot Mike had, snuggling up to me at 5 AM. Maybe she knows something that I don’t know. Maybe Sophie knows that I need to give and receive lots of love. These days I like Sophie a lot, spilled coffee and all.
Mie Elmhirst, Reluctant Cat Lover. Widows Breathe Coaching
Thursday, June 4, 2009
What does it really mean, anyway, to survive? Surviving could seem more like a curse than an attribute at times. When the words "You are strong" were said to me, I'd almost gag. I was disgusted. Strong? Did I ever really choose to be strong? Merely existing was a betrayal in itself. So, to tell me that on top of existing I was "strong" and a "survivor" ...I was appalled.
But... I guess I am a survivor. Out of all things to survive from, I survive through this?! Did I know that I was capable of surviving such a reality? Hell no. But what shocks me, even now as I lay in my bed with a bleary view of my day, is that I am more... more than a survivor. I'm exhausted because I am living... breathing... prevailing. In those first few months, existing was more than I thought possible... More than what should have been asked of me. Still, there are days, sometimes weeks, when existing and "being" is all I can muster. Then there are mornings like now, when I can recognize the weeks that have past me by so quickly and why...
I'm grateful this morning. Grateful, for the chance to meet so many vigorous women who, in the face of their worst reality, do more than survive... unknowingly, they've inspired me to do the same.
Wednesday, June 3, 2009
Hi everyone! It's good to be back and I'm thankful to Colleen for taking over for me while I was gone. Interestingly enough, she and I share the same anniversary. It was my second without Jim and I'm not gonna lie .... it was tough.
Tuesday, June 2, 2009
Grayson and I watched the movie "Evan Almighty" this weekend. I've seen it once before, but a certain scene really struck me this time. Morgan Freeman, as God, is explaining to a woman how prayers work. "If you pray for patience, God does not GIVE you patience, but gives you the OPPORTUNITY to be patient." I went to bed with thoughts of my own prayers in my head.
Grayson usually picks one night a week to sleep with me. This tradition is a holdover from when he was three and sleeping in his own bed had become something too difficult to bear. We compromised. If he could sleep six nights in his bed, on the seventh he could sleep with mommy and daddy. Almost six years later, he still looks forward to his one night a week with me. Saturday night he chose to sleep with me, and we tucked ourselves in for the night. My little boy held my hand, tucked it against his heart, and placed his other hand over our entwined hands. He fell asleep that way, and I lay awake for a few moments just enjoying the sweetness.
As I began to relax and settle in, a sudden prayer erupted in my brain. Thank you for this happiness, and the ability to recognize it. Thank you for answering my many hard sobbed prayers to make it okay for my little guy. Thank you for his sweetness and his ability to recover from such a horrible loss.
Only those who know me well will recognize that this is quite an incredible prayer. I haven't been on good speaking terms with God for a few years, and if I do talk to him it is on another's behalf, not my own. I had decided that God didn't give a rat's you know what about what I wanted or really needed, so why bother carrying on a conversation with him, much less send up a prayer of thanks! And yet, here I was suddenly feeling very grateful and wanting to express it.
I had said countless prayers that my little guy be "okay", and God has given me the opportunity to make sure he is. So far, so good. I know the days of snuggling up with my little man are numbered. Soon he'll be too old to be holding hands with his mom. Until then, I'll just soak it up, and be grateful.
Happy Tuesday! - Michelle D.
Monday, June 1, 2009
On May 29Th my little girl graduated from High School. The ceremony took place in a beautiful garden with an audience full of proud family and friends and an air of hope for the future all around. My mind drifted back to a time in my own life when naivety and optimism were companions I knew well.
As with most milestones post 8/31/05 there was a bittersweet quality to our celebration. Phil is a regular topic of conversation in our home, and we welcome him to our family gatherings now by commenting on what he would do if he were here, things we remember about past celebrations, and the ways we still miss him today. We tend to do this instinctively, and often separately. Our remembrances create a space for Phil to join us on our continuing life path.
As I listened to the speakers at the commencement ceremony I thought back to my own high school graduation and the ways that my view of the impact one person makes on the world has changed since that day many years ago. I remember being encouraged to work hard, discover and follow a dream, set ever higher standards, and live a responsible life. All good advice; yet I can't help but feel that collectively we often fail to remind our graduates (and ourselves too) of a few essential components of determining a life well lived. But graduates who have lost someone they love have achieved a distinction that others their age have not, and have learned lessons that they will carry with them throughout their lives. My daughter knows some things that I did not when I entered the adult world.
Caitlin knows that life is short, and that now is the best time to live your dreams. She has discovered that the things you remember about a person you love have nothing to do with how much money they made over their lifetime. The word priceless doesn't really apply to material things for my little girl, but it does apply to memories of bike rides, rock climbing, watching a TV show as a family, and running after the ice cream man with a dollar in hand. Death has taught my graduate that grief is a part of the cycle of life, and that like it or not we have to find a way to keep going on the path laid out before us. I would bet though that she is more convinced than ever that she won't sit idle while the landscape of life passes by her unnoticed. Kate knows that value isn't measured in dollars and cents, but in compassion and integrity. She has no expectation that life will be easy, but is determined to make the ride worthwhile. She has faith in her family, counts many people as friends, and knows that her life was changed for the better by just one person.
I have to believe that the bitter, which is inexorably linked with the sweet, that has now become an expected part of our life milestones has taught our family some significant life lessons. And also that the bitterness of loss makes the sweetness of life more meaningful. I send my daughter into the world a richer person because she has loved and lost a man whose life impacted others not by measure of his paycheck, but because he cared for his fellow human beings. Thanks honey.