Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Time Flies



Last week was the first week of school. Grayson started the 5th grade and is currently enjoying his "senior" status on the elementary school campus. As usual we had our first day ritual, a leisurely breakfast followed by a whirlwind final check of the backpack and self-conscious wardrobe review to check for "coolness". Last year we walked to school with Grayson's cousin. This year, his cousin is on the Safety Patrol, and Grayson was too cool to walk to school with me. I wasn't allowed to walk him in either. A quick drop-off at the curb was what he wanted, and I obliged his 10-year old sensibilities.

The first day of school is always hard for me. The first day of a new school year marks the speedy passage of time, and reminds me each year that Grayson is growing up so fast, and only experienced that day once with his Dad. We took Grayson to kindergarten together, and Daniel amazed and awed the kindergarten class with his new electorlarynx (electronic voicebox, his had been removed surgically in cancer treatment). Fortunately they were all still young enough to think it was uber-cool, and Grayson had instant kindergarten cachet. :)

Five years have passed since the only "first day" of school we celebrated as a family. Five years later for me, the emotions haven't changed. As I watched him move up the walk towards the school doors, I was so proud of him. Yet, so sad for him and for us. These are the days that I am most aware of what the two of them are missing in each other. These are the days that kick me in the gut. I drove away from the school with tears in my eyes. I'm so sad that Daniel isn't here to experience the joy of being a part of Grayson's life. I don't care how great heaven is, I know he'd rather be here - dropping him off at school, talking to him about girls, playing one-on-one in the driveway.

Unfortunately, he's not with him. For whatever reason or twist of fate, I am. I'm so very grateful to be in Grayson's life and so thankful for all the people in our lives who love us. It doesn't make it "all better", but it does make it easier.


Happy Tuesday - Michelle D.











Monday, August 30, 2010

Five Years


Hi honey,

As I type this letter to you I am wrestling with the fact that you have been dead for five years. Even though I have lived without you for 1,825 days...every once in awhile I still feel I could turn over my shoulder and you would be there with a big grin wondering what I will think of your latest joke.

You would be amazed by the growth in our families this year. Your brother George is a Grandpa twice over, and my brothers and sisters have given us three new babies to love. I can imagine you running away from anyone trying to get you to hold a baby for fear of "breaking the little thing." Despite your fear of all things baby, your love of family and friends was a constant in your life. Many times I still miss the generous way you would lend a hand to anyone you loved who was in need. I even sometimes miss how long it took to go grocery shopping with you since we inevitably ran into someone you knew from somewhere...and then a half hour converstion would follow figuring out how, when, and where.

The kids have become adults in so many ways. They are changed by loving and losing you. Sometimes this makes me terribly sad, and other times the changes in them make me terribly proud. Each one has developed a level of compassion uncommon in people their age. Your death was felt in so many communities; I still meet people who have stories to share about ways that you made a difference in their lives. When I walk away from these conversations I hope you are somewhere near by blushing at the praise lavished upon you.

I am getting married this year. Michael is amazing, very different than you but like you as well. The thing I admire most about him is his ability to be himself. He doesn't try to be you, nor is he threatened by my love for you. He is uniquely Michael, and grateful that I have the capacity to love someone as much as I love you. This is a gift I can't adequately describe, and I feel very blessed to have him in my life.

This five year anniversary has been hard for me. I miss you in so many ways, and carry with me the fact that you loved me, and that you chose me. As my life moves into a future that I am excited to embrace, I need to say out loud that you come with me wherever I go. My heart has expanded to include so many new people, and at the same time the place that has always been yours remains.

I love you,

Michele

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Acts Of Faith



Friday, August 27th
I put Langston and Pallas on a bus today to attend Camp Erin, a weekend camp for grieving kids.
I drive away before the bus does.
And on the 10 heading west, in traffic (thankfully) I cry.
Putting them on a bus is..

an Act of Faith.

Faith that they will come back to me. Faith that I will not have to go and identify their crushed bodies at some retched morgue. Faith that they will come back to me as whole as they left me and hopefully full of an experience that will leave them more emotionally capable.

Every time I put them in a car with the sitter, a friend or drop them at camp, it’s...

an Act of Faith.

I know death. I watched it come and take Art. I know death needs no reason, it just comes when it wants.

My husband’s no longer life if proof of that or I can just turn on the news.
---
Saturday, August 28th
I wake up and death is in the house.
I feel it and it creates a vacuum. I’m afraid to either exhale or inhale for fear of the realization of what? That the day is not what it seems to be in my morning haze. Like the days upon days after Art died.

I fear my lack of control. I fear that two of my kids are not here, under my pretend “protection.” The protection I believe is mine to offer and dole out as need.

I suck in air hoping I will look back on today, even tomorrow and smile at my silly fears. At my need for faith in order to let them go.

And my friends brush it off, “Of course you have to let them go!” they say. Having no experience with the closeness of death, they don’t see it, sitting there, resting and watching.

Yes I know I have to let them go, but every time I do it, the urge to place my hands on their arms and bribe them to stay with a video game, their favorite dinner or ice cream rises. Sometimes strongly, most of the time represented only by a tiny yelp.

Ezra stirs next to me and I know if it were not for him, I could not bare being in this house that is as quiet and shaky as the days after Art died. The house feels airless, the sunny day false. I feel as if I am inside this bubble, unable to hear or touch and see things as they really are, just like after Art died.

I sneak out of bed, trot off to the bathroom and look at myself in the mirror

“Happy Birthday,” I smile at myself. I’m 46 today. It’s an...

Act of Faith

that I believe I will get to my 47 birthday.

I crawl back into bed and lift the covers to see Ezra’s chest rise and fall, reassuring me that it will continue to do so. His breathing grounds me, pushes the hysteria away.

---
Wednesday, August 25
As the driver is transporting the kids and I to the airport, an 18 wheeler gets cut off by a little black Mazda, the truck weaves into our lane, our driver weaves onto the shoulder next to the concrete divider. We are all moving, us wedged and I see the truck begin to jack knife and then

it corrects itself.

Other than a few “Oh God’s” I am steady and calm. After the moment passes, I remember it’s...

an Act of Faith

to expect we will all get home to LA in one piece. An act of trust and an act of ignorance.
--
Art and I once had a discussion how parents practice acts of faith every time they drop their kids off at school. His job was to make sure, to the best of his ability, that the faith is renewed every afternoon when those parents come back to get their children. He reminds me how ballistic parents get when that faith is shattered.

Since he has died, I know what death really is: random, disjointed, the essence of unpredictable. I feel how unprotected I am from those random, disjointed, unpredictable accidents. The kind that leaves those who hear about them shaking their heads.

And some days I rub it off of me like a few specks of white fluff on my black sweater and other days I wear it like a lead jacket.

I keep committing Acts of Faith. It’s easier to do when I am engaged, and busy. But on those days where I allow myself to be idle, where I allow a moment to see through all the doing, the

Acts of Faith

scare the bejeezus out of me.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

He Smiled


“He smiled understandingly-much more than understandingly. It was one of those rare smiles with a quality of eternal reassurance in it, that you may come across four or five times in life. It faced—or seemed to face—the whole external world for an instant, and then concentrated on you with an irresistible prejudice in your favor. It understood you just as far as you wanted to be understood, believed in you as you would like to believe in yourself, and assured you that it had precisely the impression of you that, at your best, you hoped to convey.”

-The Great Gatsby


The other night I had a dream with Michael in it.


A festival of some sort was taking place and I stood some distance away...eyes glued to my love. Something passed by, that before Michael could even look at it, I knew would be something he'd find amusing.


I knew it would happen. One of the things that melted my heart and still brings butterflies to my belly to think about.


He would smile.


Not a courtesy smile. Not a half smile...but his real smile. The smile only showed in the most authentic of happy moments.


I stared.


Like a marionette, the corners of his sweet mouth slowly lifted. More and more until it appeared. A full grin showing his pearly gap-toothed smile.


I watched from afar...a tad proud that I knew that this would be something that I foresaw making him smile and warm in my heart seeing him happy.


Before I could observe him anymore, he turned his head and looked at me...full grin still intact...silently acknowledging that our souls, our thoughts...are still connected.


He knew that I would know, and that is a simple fact that I need to remember as I venture on this life sans him by my side.


He will know what I know inside of me...and though I won't be able to see it as I did in that dream, I know he will be looking at me with that grin...that unfaltering expression, that "eternal reassurance", letting me know he'll be there in my reality, invisibly there for me to turn to and show my true smile to.

Friday, August 27, 2010


First written Wednesday, September 30th, 2009:


Tonight, I took Liv to a meeting. It just so happened to be at a place that I haven't been to in 19 months and 12 days. The place Liv was baptised. The place we were married. The place Jeff's funeral was held.
I didn't think it would affect me much. I thought I had grown stronger and more resilent. I knew it would sting a bit, but I hadn't anticipated this.
I had to fill out forms. Forms that had Jeff's name on them. I had to cross out his name. Cross it out. Like I was crossing him out. It felt wrong. I didn't want to swipe him away as if he didn't exist. He did. He was and always will be her father. I wrote 'deceased' beside his name and the traitorous strike in his name. I had to cross out his cell phone number. I had to write a new emergency contact.
It all feels....horribly, sickeningly wrong.
When outside, I stood in the spot where photos had been taken of us in our wedding garb. Now so seemingly frivolous and silly. It is also the same spot that I watched his coffin be driven away. The spot where Liv had waved and yelled, "Bye Daddy!" as the gravel crunched under the tires of the hearse.
I remember standing there. In a sedated state that made time go slower, the thoughts in my head unable to be voiced for others so I may feel some iota of comfort, and worrying, as I did for months after, that I was going to teeter and fall off this shaky precipice I was standing on. That I may just slip and fall.....fall apart. Lose myself. Lose.........more than the everything I already had.
Most nights, I tuck myself into bed and attempt to turn off my head. Tell myself that I am doing okay. That I can do it. I can do it for the kids. Comfort myself with the thought that one day, it will all make sense....where he went. If he is still with me.
But tonight, I go to bed that same scared woman. Alone. Terrified. Lost. Solitary in my own head. Missing my anchor, my love, my best friend with all my heart.
Standing on a ledge. Am I going to slip? Am I going to fall off? Can I convince myself to just stare straight ahead?
Don't look down. Don't look side to side. Just stare at the horizon and keep standing....Please, just keep standing.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

another anniversary.

on august 11th

the goodmans arrived

for our third

annual trip to celebrate

my wedding anniversary.

while we waited

for them to arrive

i watched maddy

try to drive

my car,

trying to drive my car.

play with some

bamboo sticks,

maddy with an apple on a stick.

and pick the flowers

in our yard.

picking flowers.

maddy with flower.

as she played

i thought about

liz

and the fact

that i had two

wedding anniversaries with

her, and now

three without her.

it just didn't

seem possible.

there was our child

playing in the yard,

just as

liz

pictured it.

fuck.

***

the next day

we were all on

our way to central california.

heading north.

maddy entertained

us the entire way



her new favorite thing?

to hear stories

with her as the

main character.

we all laughed

our asses off

as she would yell,

"talk about the maddy"

at the end of

each story.

grandma candee and

grandpa tom tell me

that this is

in the genes...

liz

used to sit on

a swing, yelling,

"somebody push me!"

let me translate both

phrases for you.

"pay attention to me!"

i love to see

those personality traits

coming through, even

though the only

time they had

time together was

while maddy was in

the womb.

along the way,

we made an

unplanned stop.

as soon as we

turned into the

lookout point,

i recognized the place...

mountains.

we had been

here a few years earlier.

almost exactly four

years ago.

i had just returned

from india,

just in time for

our first wedding anniversary.

and we headed up

to the santa ynez valley

to visit the wineries.

along the way,

we had stopped here.

in this very place.

instantly recalled from

the depths of

my mind,

the photo of

liz.

liz.

double fuck.

we were parked

and we took some photos.

in the trees.

with brookie.

with daddy.

with my girl.

i was here before.

soon we were

back in the car

and on our way,

but i couldn't

help but think of

that time

four years earlier.

i just wish i could

remember more of it.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Love is Not ....


.... a cure-all.
For grief.
Or for anything that goes along with grief .... like an aching heart, feeling lonely, wanting your spouse back, or feeling misunderstood.

Finding love again is wonderful in so many ways.  Ultimately it makes you feel like a woman again, rather than a widow (or, I imagine, like a man, rather than a widower).
But it doesn't cure grief.
Sometimes, in spite of the wonderfulness of love, it makes the grief worse.

Jim and I were together for over 27 years.
We understood each other.
We knew each other .... inside and out.
We grew up with each other .... we had a history.
We knew what the other was thinking about certain topics.
We knew what made each other happy .... and what made each other mad.

When you fall in love again ..... you start from scratch.
Sometimes it's easy.
Other times it's hard.
Very, very hard.

I can't read his mind .... I don't know his thoughts.
And once in a while ..... we mis-communicate.
And then feelings get hurt .... and sometimes things escalate.

It's those times when I get angry and think, "Damnit Jim!  YOU should be here.  I shouldn't have to be starting over with someone who doesn't know everything about me!  This should not be where I am."

It would seem that after grieving so long and so hard, and overcoming so much over the past 2 and a half years, SOMETHING should be easy.
Love should be easy.
Should be.
Right?

Don't get me wrong .... it is mostly wonderful, in a very different way than falling in love with Jim was.
But there are times when I wonder if I have the energy ..... or if I'm honest .... the desire, to make this work.
Sometimes I feel like I can't measure up.
To what or to whom .... I'm not sure.

There are children and their feelings to be considered.
There are expectations and desires that long to be filled .... but sometimes cannot.
There are two different households and several different schedules to be considered.
There are thoughts and feelings that cannot be communicated effectively.

And so there is work.
A lot of work.
I don't remember having to work at falling in love with Jim.
We just ...... well, we just fell.

Now, if I fall, there are many things in my path that I tend to hit on the way down.
Falling in love this time is not what it was the first time.
But the benefits are so good that the work has to be worth it .... right?

I wish I could give an unequivocal "yes" to that question.
But the jury's still out.
I guess time will tell.

Love is wonderful.
It has the power to heal.
Many things.
But .... unfortunately .... not grief.
Time doesn't heal all things, either.
But it does make us stronger.
And our strength helps us deal with our grief.
And maybe .... our love.

We'll see ....

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Fear


Fear is the voice in your head that tells you things are impossible, the doubts that creep into your mind when you're up late and the kids are asleep, the voice that tells you that hope is for patsies. Fear is not an emotion that I experience very often. It's not in my make-up. Call it ignorance, call it bravado, there isn't much that makes me afraid. Until recently.

Recently, I've begun to see possibilities. Recently, I've begun to feel hope and contentment. In an ordinary life, this would be positive, great even....in my life, this is cause for alarm. Fear, the voice in my head, is whispering not-so-sweet nothings to me. Fear tells me that when things are good, bad things happen. Fear tells me to get ready for disappointment, be prepared for the shit to hit the fan. I am not a pessimist, and so Fear's message doesn't fully penetrate. I believe that things can be good, and I believe that my life IS good now.

Fear is powerful though and at times, late at night when I'm alone, Fear gets a foot-hold. I hear the voice and for a moment or two I doubt. It's painful. I hate it. Fear takes me back five years to a place where darkness like I've never experienced entered my life, and I am terrified to invite that possibility back into my life. If I am alone forever, I'll never experience that kind of loss again. Alone, in a way, is safe. Alone, I am insulated from that kind of hurt. I will not be left alone. If I am alone now, I am alone by choice. Even to me it 's clear that I have control issues ;)

I've already said that there isn't much that makes me afraid. I've recently realized that there is an exception or two to this. Although I like to think of myself as relatively light in the baggage department, I am beginning to find a few pieces of luggage here and there. This is one of them.

Will I let it drive my choices? No.
Will I have to overcome the doubts created by Fear? Yes.
How will I do it? Hell if I know. But I will.

I can have happiness without fear of it going away, I know I can. I just have to be brave enough to reach out and grab it with both hands.

Happy Tuesday - Michelle D.

Monday, August 23, 2010

When the Heartache Ends

I have been wondering lately if being happy limits the freedom I feel to still mourn Phil's death. I have the feeling that "others" expect that my current happiness will cancel out the residual sadness that still exists in my heart over the loss of a man I loved so much. Yes, I realize this is MY issue.

The thing is, I am happy. And yet, I am also still sometimes sad. I have come to a place in my life where I would no longer trade in every person, experience, friend, family member, or new found love for the opportunity to have just one more minute with Phil. You know what I mean. There was a time when I would have swapped every single moment of my life for the chance to be held in Phil's arms just one more time. Today, I have moved past that point. But not so far past that secret desire to be who I used to be for just one minute that my heart has stopped aching all together.

When I see someone at the gym who looks like Phil, I still take in my breath too quickly. When there is a job to be done that he would do effortlessly, I still curse the fates that he is not available to complete the task. As time marches on and our families grow, the world changes, and life moves forward I still wonder what he would think of it all. Every once in awhile I still feel him somewhere very near by, and my heart aches.

I have often wondered what would happen if my heart stopped aching. In my current state of happiness the poor beaten down organ has taken a much needed break from sadness. My life is filled with amazing people. I am loved by a generous and understanding man. My kids are happy and healthy. I am blessed to be surrounded by an exceptional circle of family and friends. Given all of these facts, I wonder when the reality of Phil's death will stop knocking me over, if only every so often, with the proverbial waves of grief. Will there be a time when his absence will lose the power to stop me in my tracks? And what will I feel if that day comes.

I don't have the answers to these rhetorical questions, but deep in my soul I believe that Phillip Hernandez will still be with me when the heartache ends.


Saturday, August 21, 2010

Other People's Grief


I’m back east with my family; one of my sister’s, her husband and kids, my mom and her husband (both widows) and my aunt and uncle. Cousins, another aunt, a step sister and her husband will arrive tomorrow.

Tonight I saw it on them.

In their eyes. In the way they looked at me.

I saw their grief.

Other people dealing with the loss of…. my husband.

Other people…. missing him.

Other people… tearing up over him.

Other people’s grief.

Before today, I had not noticed.

My grief was a full time job, that seems to have, a few months ago, turned into a part time position with some harrowing, surprising “breaks.”

I see that they are not used to seeing me without him.

I hear about how they catch themselves.

“We’re going to see Kim and…..” sigh.

I hear “For a while, I lost faith in God. I stopped praying after he died.”

Other people’s grief.

They miss him too. They think about him too. They shake their heads in disbelief. They wish it happened … not me.

And their grief pains me. I want to make it go way. Those sighs, those eyes, that moment of silence. I want to make their hearts happy and fill them with light.

And I think I’m looking into a mirror.

I think about those people and so many others who miss Art…still. Who cry that he is no longer here, who stopped believing in God for a little while when he died, who can’t understand how this could happen.

And I think about those people and all the others who have watched me: hollowed eyed, confused, overwhelmed, frightened and came to witness my grief even though all they wanted to do was to suck it from me with a giant titanium straw.

I cry. Not for myself. Not for Art.

But for those people and all the others who still miss him. For those people and all the others who still talk about him, who go to call him and then remember…

I cry because I see their grief and

it

pains

me

almost wild with helplessness.

Just as my grief must have (does) pain them.

I am humbled by those people and all the others who are still here, after witnessing such pain, they are still here.

My family and

all those other people

are my family.

I love you.

You are the reason I know there is a God.

Losing Me


And remember, no matter where you go, there you are.

~Confucius

I remember the day. It was two months after Michael was killed and I found myself sitting on our big red chair, laptop in hand. Tears welled up in my eyes as I scrolled through the hundreds of photos I had of Michael. It would take a moment till I finally realized what I was doing. As I passed through each picture I would only look at Michael. When I finally looked over at myself, the real pain settled in my heart. A pain that recognized that I had not only lost my soul mate, but along with him, myself.


The twinkle in my eyes, the smile on my face, the glow of having my love near-by...all those things were gone, and I felt like an empty shell staring at what it once was when a soul inhabited it.


I must say, three years later, I know that those expressions I shared in the moments where I looked up at him, kissed his lips, held his hand...those moments will never be recreated, as they were exclusive to the man that unearthed them from the person I was before his love came into my life. Yet on another note, as I've healed, as I've grasped back onto the core or who Taryn is, I've learned to once again love the life that still is before me. New expressions are exposed...expressions of love, laughter, happiness, and contentment.


I no longer mourn the loss of the person I was when Michael was alive. I can look at those same photos that once brought me tears and smile reminiscing over the feelings I felt at that very moment, feelings that manifested out of the rubble in a new form, shaped to the life I never thought I'd have, the life I will look back on in photographs with happiness...happiness over the person I once was, the person I became, and the person I continue to court on this strange, alien yet beautiful, life I call my own.



Friday, August 20, 2010

are you there grief? it's me, jackie


Now and then, I sit down before the computer on the night before my post is due for Widow's Voice and stare blankly at the screen. Mentally, I examine my current thoughts, my day's mullings, recent happenings. I gleen for any unprobed areas of the loss of Jeff.....and find none.

It's not often that this happens. But occasionally, there is quiet. An acceptance. A compliance with what is.

Jeff has yet to return from his voyage to "Heaven". The kids and I still miss him. His clothes still inhabit his drawers.

But at times, the ache is subdued and the crying is quieted.

It is these times that I fluctuate between joy at the thought of recovery, pleasure from the lightness acceptance brings, sadness that this may mean that I am moving away from 'him' and guilt that the pain is not so pungent and painful.

But I know I'll fret for awhile, worry about what to write, go to sleep and wake up thinking of something I wish he could have heard Briar say, remembering how he loved to eat hot dogs wrapped in pilsbury croissant dough and cheese (SO greasy and revolting the thought actually still turns my stomach) and wondering if it's true that daughters are more likely to be promiscuous without their father in attendance.....And the next week, there will be no loss for words.....

Thursday, August 19, 2010

found



a few days

ago she found them.

they’d been sitting

in plain view

since before her

mom died.

well, not exactly

in plain view…

they were covered by

a couple of books,

but i could see

them from where i

sat every day,

working on our taj.

it helped

that i knew they

were there,

otherwise i probably

would have looked

past them as well.

but at two years

three months and

six days,

she found them.

i didn’t hesitate

when she said,

“oh! daddy!” in

that voice she

only uses when

she’s excited about something

(and she uses it a lot).

i lifted the books,

and pulled

out the box.

with a little help,

they were soon

liberated from the

plastic and held

tightly in her hands.

no longer did

they look like

choking hazards.

now,

they were gifts her

mom had intended

for her future daughter.

the daughter she

dreamed of

is here,

but she is not.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Would I Be a Better Spouse ....

.... the second time around?

After pondering this a bit .... I have to be honest.
And say yes.

Don't get me wrong .... I don't think I was a bad wife. Not at all.
Jim and I had a fantastic relationship. We loved each other more with each year that passed.
I knew that we had a better marriage .... or at least seemed happier .... than many people I knew.
We were each other's first love and I constantly felt blessed to have him in my life.
Of course we had our moments, and our struggles, but we were a team.

But even the best teams can sometimes take things for granted.
And even the best team mates can get irritated over the "little things".
But when things are going well, the best teams don't consider the possibility that the team could one day be torn apart.

If I were to marry again, though it hurts a bit to admit it, I'd be a better wife.

Because now I know .....

.... how to let the "little things" go.
.... how to not get irritated by things that used to irritate me.
.... that a wonderful relationship is nothing to be taken for granted.
.... that we can be enjoying life one day .... and grieving the next.
.... that no matter what we think, we really aren't in charge.
.... who my true friends are.
.... that a broken heart .... will not kill you (no matter how much you wish it would).
.... what it is to miss human touch.
.... what it is to miss sex.
.... what it is like to go without sex for a very long time.
.... that life is way too short to spend more than 30 minutes mad at someone.
.... that when someone, or something, crosses my path .... I'm going to pay attention.

And I know that I have to live each day as it comes, as fully as possible, one day at a time .... because there is no guarantee of a next year, or next week .... or tomorrow.

These are just a few of the things that I now know .... things that widowhood has taught me.
These are just a few of the things that will make me a better wife, if I were to marry again.

But I also know this .... if I never marry again .... I'll be OK.
Because I now know that I can do anything.
Pretty much.

What are some of the things you now know?

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Self-Care


In one of the last emails Daniel sent to me before he died, he asked me to please make sure that while I was trying to take care of him and take care of Grayson too, that I also take care of myself. He made the statement that I was the last line of defense for our family and that for all of our sakes I needed to be well-cared for and strong. At the time I assured him that I was in fact taking care of myself, and I believe at the time I thought I was telling the truth. Years later, I can see that I wasn't taking care of myself as well as I should have, and this trend continued from that point until not too long ago.

I am still the "last line of defense" for our family, but our family is smaller now and in some ways my responsibilities are greater. I am the head of household and the final decision-maker in all matters. Sometimes the responsibility is overwhelming. Sometimes when I have worked and worked and worked both personally and professionally, and when I feel like I've reached the end of my rope....I take a long look around and realize that while I'm still breathing in and out, my breaths aren't near as deep and fortifying as they should be. Its at those times that I shut it all down and focus on me. Maybe it's only for an hour (or even only 15 minutes). Maybe I'm not even truly alone in that moment, but I just shut out the world. I breathe, I notice my own heartbeat, I take stock.

As a single parent, my moments alone without a pressing task to complete are few and far between. When I get them I relish them and I am protective of them. I need those few moments to reconnect with myself - get a pedicure, read a book (or a blog!), sit quietly on my back patio drinking coffee and listening to the birds. Anything can work, but I need to take the time. Just a few precious moments will help, and suddenly I'm okay with being the last line of defense. It doesn't take much to get me back on track, and for that I'm eternally grateful.

I am doing a better job of keeping this promise I made to Daniel. I am taking better care of myself, and I am making my own happiness a priority. Happy parents have happier kids, and I keep reminding myself that Grayson will only benefit from any future happiness I can create. Its tough to do some days. But I'm practicing. Practice makes perfect, I don't think I'm perfect, but practicing is a good place to start.

Happy Tuesday - Michelle D.

Monday, August 16, 2010

One Size Fits All?


The relationships that I have formed with other widowed people are by far the quickest bonding experiences of my life. Somehow the kinship of loss has regularly transcended the other differences that are often obvious between me and a new widowed friend. Before Phil died there were a variety of things that might influence how long I spent getting to know someone...do we share a passion for the same music, are our children the same ages, is there a recreational activity that we have in common? But once I was widowed, I really just wanted to meet other people who were also living with the daily reality that their spouse wasn't coming home.

I never imagined that people would look to me to provide a road map for surviving the death of a spouse, in fact, I don't believe one exists...and if you know differently please don't be greedy!! My experience so far convinces me that every single person has to navigate their own personal grief journey. No one can tell you how, no one knows EXACTLY how you feel (though so many times other widowed authors seemed to have pulled words right out of my head!), no one but you can read the signals your gut sends when decisions need to be made, tasks need to be accomplished, and moving forward needs to somehow be done. This is why widowhood is so lonely. The buck stops with me. Every single time.

But meeting other widowed people, even though they didn't have all the answers to the hundreds of questions I asked, changed my life. These fellow widowed people seemed to hear me in a way others could not. I so often felt that they listened with their hearts instead of their ears. Just being heard was enough to get me through the next tough day. Feeling free to rage or cry or laugh or to say out loud that I was giving up was a purging that I valued in the early stages of my widowhood, and that I still value today. Issues change, triggers change, but my need for a widowed heart to heart still comes up now and again.

Having been heard, I now seek to hear others. But not just to listen to the words they say, but also to notice the ones that stick in their throat. Though I am sure that I can't tell you or anyone else HOW to survive, I can tell you that people do. Though I can't give you a prescription for grief recovery, I can assure you that recovery is possible. Though I can't walk in your shoes, I can definitely walk beside you for as long as our paths head in the same direction. And when we part, if nothing else, we will both know that we are not alone.

To all of the widowed people who visit this blog; who participate in the programs of SSLF; who I was able to wrap my arms around in person last weekend; those I never had to chance to greet; those who feel misunderstood or judged, those who feel lifted by the spirits of their fellow widowed peers...I don't claim to have the perfect grieving recipe, but I do believe that we are stronger together.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Before or After?



Did Art die before or after Pallas hit five feet?

Did he die before I bought the new underwear or after?

Was he alive when Google offered that new earth maps feature?

Was I friends with her before or after Art died?

Was he alive when Langton said __________ or Ezra did ______?


Before or after?

This is the new question I’ve been asking lately.

And most of the time I can’t remember. And it surprises me.

Not so much in the asking of it but in my inability to answer it and in the fact that not being clear is so much a part of moving on. The little details of our life together is losing its color.Not being clear is also disheartening.

And with my inability to answer the questions, he fades into the background just a little bit more. I lose him every time I can’t remember if it was before or after he died.

He gets fuzzy like I’ve had too much to drink.

In that fuzziness, I grow anxious and scared and sad and disappointed that my life is this one. A life that is trying to wrap itself around the fact that he is never, ever coming back.

In that fuzziness I become exhilarated and joyful and find strength as I claim this new life that is opening up before me and is filled with a more dynamic, wiser, YAHOOY me.

My life:
…clear and fuzzy.
…with Art, without him.

April 16, 2009 was the last day he made an impression and its’ starting to fade.

There is ease in that knowledge.

There is sadness in that knowledge.

And I again re-learn, remember and prove to myself that opposite emotions can exist in the same thought.

Did I learn that before or after he died?

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Rules



Being a widow is no easy thing.


From picking up the pieces , staring at them like they're some foreign thing, and trying to create something semi-comprehensible....to the "outliers" (those are the people outside my situation), that try and put their two cents in...or in most cases...89 cents in, to what my life should be. There's a lot going on. But if there is anything that I have learned, it's to FIGHT THE POWER.


Create your own rules, take the path less traveled (Mr. Frost was on to something)! If someone asks you how you're doing on a bad day, reply with "Really freakin' horrible." If someone tells you they're sorry for you loss, tell them they shouldn't be, because what you have had/do have is more then most will experience in a lifetime. Wear your wedding ring till you die. Take your wedding ring off after a month. Chop off your hair while eating a gallon of Ben and Jerry's. Run a marathon. Remarry. Never Date. Jump out a plane. Stay in your house watching soaps. Get a tattoo. Travel the world. Make a daily bucket list. Redefine what others have tried to define for you. Scream to the high heavens that you are a widow and SO proud of it. Surround yourself by people of all walks of life; They'll either guide you where you need to be or help reinforce what you already knew in your heart. MAKE YOUR OWN RULES!


The truth is, I have never read a whole book on grieving or widowhood...I knew for me, I had to do the one thing that has no manual, guide or rules...and that's to follow my heart. Has that put me in situations that may have been awkward for others, if not only myself? Yes. Has it brought me joy? Yes. Has it brought me struggle? Double yes. But the thing is, every night when I go to sleep, every step forward or step backward I have taken has been decided on by me. Not "outliers", not "How To's", not by family and friends....just me. It's because of that fact that I never have regrets...because no matter what the outcome, I know that I was the one who decided, chose, picked, and did it. And no matter what....that willingness to have faith in myself is something I'll never have remorse over.


Fight the power...grasp your chaos...savor your solitude...celebrate your company...live your life...embrace YOUR rules.



“All your life people are going to try to tell you who you are. And sometimes it’s going to be tempting to believe them. But you must remember that you are who you feel in your heart and your head and down to your toes. You are who you feel deep down in your soul and radiating out your skin, and no one’s opinion (except maybe your own) can change that.”- La Joie Dd “All your life people are going to try to tell you who you are. And sometimes it’s going to be tempting to believe them. But you must remember that you are who you feel in your heart and your head and down to your toes. You are who you feel deep down in your soul and radiating out your skin, and no one’s opinion (except maybe your own) can change that.”


- La Joi de Vivre

Friday, August 13, 2010

Photo from Reader's Digest - laugh yourself to good health


Being a widow is a lot of things. Scary. Sad. Lonely. Guilt-ridden. But an unexpected side effect of the loss of my spouse is the humour and hilarity.
Maybe I was funny person before. Maybe it has been in me all along. But after spending time again this year at Camp Widow, my cheeks hurt from laughing....and I didn't spend the time giggling at myself. Either death finds funny people or funny people just curse those around us.....or maybe, when life has you scraping the barrel, you begin to not take it as seriously. You realize that you can't jinx yourself with a belly laugh and no one has ever ceased breathing for joking about the ceasing of breathing.
I now find it more comfortable to be able to face the sadness and fear down and speak it out loud....and then laugh in its' face. Unfortunately, lay people sometimes seem to be either very uncomfortable with this M.O. or they seem to think that I am flippant or nonchalant about losing my beloved Jeff. I can assure you I'm not.
But a sign-in sheet at work for the staff party where it inquires whether each staff member will be bringing their spouse fills me with a desire to answer in the allotted box, "No. The seat belt won't properly hold the urn."
A man who approaches me at the bar surrounded with other widows who have attended the widowhood conference states to me that it is such a coincidence that he has the same tattoo on his forearm as I do. "Oh?!", I say, "So your husband died too and you got an anchor to signify both his job as a fisherman and his role as an 'anchor' in your life????? Wow!!!!! That IS a coincidence!" Shocked, he tells me that I am mean and rude. I just thought it was plain funny.
A woman at Camp Widow sported a shirt that said, "My husband died and all I got was this lousy t-shirt." This shirt has brought me many moments of mirth for the last week as I recalled it.
I love that we can find humour at such a deathly grave situation. We are not (as) afraid anymore. We now know that you will not be struck dead for a good chuckle.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

camp widow 2010

it started off

much the same way

it did the year before

(in a bar),

but i have to say

that the 2010 version

was even better

than 2009.

why?

several reasons.

first, i got to

catch up with

the folks i met

last year.


so much had changed

for all of us, and

i got the sense

that even the reason

we were there

had changed.

it's not that we

didn't need the

support as much as we

did the first year,

but we were

better off than

the year before because

of our attendance

in 2009.

we had created

a close knit

support group for ourselves

and this was not only

an opportunity

to see each other

again, but it was

also a chance

for us to give

back and help get

others to the place

we find ourselves in.

and it's not that we've

"gotten over" the

death of our partners

(because that will never happen),

it just that we

made a connection

with folks

like us.

and that's invaluable

when the world

is at it's darkest.

so to that end,

i was thrilled to

see my friends

reaching out

beyond the social group

we created

last year,

and embracing new members

of this awful club.

and when my new

friend emily told me

that the event

was "a life changer"

well, it confirmed that

camp widow is succeeding.

and the credit

goes to everyone in

attendance, but especially

to michele for

actually putting some

actions behind her words.

another reason this

year was so much better?

holy shit!

there were 10 times

the number of men

as last year.

don't be too surprised...

there was 1 man

last year (me).

which (of course) means there

were 10 this year.

and to see another 10x

increase next year,

would be amazing,

but i'll temper my

expectations for now.

let's just call the

2010 event

a small step forward

for widowed men...

meeting folks like

david and tom and mitch and chris

and others

made me positive that

someday camp widow

will be a huge

means of support

for more men

in the future.

but we may have

to change the name

to be more inclusive.

i know what

you're thinking...

"camp widowed people"

just doesn't have

the same ring as

"camp widow."

well, i'm sure

michele can come up

with something better.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Feeling Safe ....

.... is exactly how I felt this past weekend.

(Yes, this is another post about Camp Widow .... but I don't think we can help it.)
:)

I felt wonderfully safe and secure there. Among people that I already knew .... and among people that I had just met (which means that I have more Facebook friends!!).
There are no strangers among widowed people.
Only people who recognize what you are going through and what a hellish path this is. Mostly.
People who will hold your hand to help you up .... or down .... the mountain of grief.

I think that Camp Widow is the one place in the world where I can truly be myself and say exactly what I want to say without feeling that I need to "filter" my thoughts.
Everyone "gets it".
Everyone can laugh at some of those "dead spouse" comments that we sometimes make. If you make one of those comments on the "outside" .... people tend to look down at their feet awkwardly .... and very, very silently.

It was really special to meet so many of the bloggers whose posts I follow.
All of us who blog about our journeys understand the pros and cons that come with baring our souls to the world.
All of us hunger to connect with other widowed people.
All of us hope to give at least one person a little bit of hope ... and to know that he/she is not alone.
All of us hope that we can let you know that you are NOT crazy.
Just widowed.
And most of us seem to have a wicked sense of humor .... that each of us cherish.

For those of you who couldn't attend, I strongly encourage you to seek out other younger widows/widowers.
You'd be surprised how easy it is .... and how instantly you become friends.

I formed a group just through word of mouth.
I let all of my friends know that I needed, desperately, to be with other young widows.
And they told their friends, who told their friends .... and so on and so on.
Before long I started getting names, and phone calls ..... and e-mails.

Please find someone .... even if it's just one person.
Even if it's only on Facebook or a blog.
And hopefully you'll be able to know what "feeling safe" is like.

And .... then all of you can plan to come to Camp Widow next year.
I'd love to meet you.
:)


Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Together at Last!

I hadn't really thought about it until Friday night, but at the Camp Widow welcome reception, it was decided we needed to get a photo of all of the widow's voice bloggers. It occurred to me then that we'd never all been in the same place physically. Emotionally we are here on the blog daily. Physically? We're spread across the country. The actual photo you see here wasn't taken until Saturday night, when we were all together and looking quite fabulous!

I know several of us dedicated our blogs last week to anticipation of Camp Widow, and I had intended to have a different topic for this week...but I have Camp Widow on the brain!! It was such a wonderful and rewarding weekend, my head is still spinning and I keep playing different conversations over in my mind: the stories I heard, the memories shared, the jokes over ridiculous shared experiences, the tears over horrific shared experiences. I've had flashbacks to small groups talking for hours, new-found friends sharing a laugh or a shedding a tear as they realized their similarities. It was an intense and emotional experience.

I'm so grateful to each and every one of you that came for it, and looking forward to next year so I can meet those of you that couldn't.

Happy Tuesday! - Michelle D.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Foot Holds


One day I was walking along, minding my own business when I was knocked over the edge of a cliff, down into a deep ravine. When I finally came to after the fall I discovered myself in a dark pit facing a rock wall. The only way out of the ravine, was to somehow climb the wall.

The fall to the bottom knocked the wind out of me, and getting up the energy to even consider stepping up to the wall took some time. When I was finally ready to reach my hand up and try to find a crevice I could use to hold onto as I placed my foot on a small outcropping on the rock I looked up and realized that the wall I faced had been climbed before.

Way up in the distance I saw another climber. Relief washed over me as proof that climbing out of the pit was possible materialized right before my eyes. Seeing the other person in the distance gave me a boost of confidence as I stepped up to begin my own climb. Working my way up the wall required every ounce of effort I possessed. Each placement of hand or foot required forethought and concentration. The experience of movement being difficult was forgien because walking is so natural whereas climbing was all new. I could no longer move forward in a straight line mindlessly, instead every inch of progress was measured and each hand hold or foot hold sought out. Traveling up was exhausting. The one thing that kept me going was knowing that someone else had gone before me, getting out of the pit via this wall could be done.

As I climbed I realized that each and every one of the places where I put my hands or feet had been touched before. No stone was new, no crevice newly discovered...they all felt traveled to me and there was a sense of comfort in knowing that I was one of many climbers on this ascent. This knowledge gave me the courage to keep climbing, even when I felt I could not go on. Those climbers above me made all the difference as I made my way up the wall and out of the darkness.

Many times I have been asked why I work with the widowed community. Often I am asked whether I think holding onto the experience of grief limits my ability to move forward in my own life. There is an overriding perception in our society that you can't get over your loss until you have removed the effects of that experience from you life.

What I believe is that climbing out of the pit of despair, fear, confusion, and paralysis caused by grief is a team effort. If those of us who have climbed out don't reach out to those who are at the bottom of the pit, who will lead the climb? Every effort to support another widowed person creates a hand hold or a foot hold on that rocky wall of widowhood. It is up to US, those who are climbing the wall or have reached the top, to leave a trail of hope for those who will follow us. We can create a network of support so large, that no one need grieve alone. We can provide the visual, physical proof that climbing out of the darkness is possible.

Together we can blaze a trail, together we can make a difference, together we can prove that life after loss is a beautiful opportunity to make the most of what lies ahead. Volunteer, donate, make a call to a widowed friend, join the community of facebook, leave a comment when a blog makes a difference in your life...each action in support of this community makes the climb a little easier for the next person down the wall. Every single effort counts.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Grief-in-Action

video

I'm here at Camp Widow in San Diego.
I videotaped the room full of us widows clapping.
And now that I am trying to post it, I'm not sure it's working.
Frustration is on my shoulders, my wrinkled brow and scrunched up eyes.
After an hour of searching and trying solutions, I don't know if any of them will work and I feel
defeated and completely

unable to cope.

Unable to cope. Words that came out of my mouth daily in the beginning. I couldn't cope with getting dressed or making a decision, like what time should Lori come get Ezra? Deciding what time I needed to start dinner to have it on the table by 6:30 not only alluded me, but I didn't even understand how other people went about making such decisions so quickly and easily. I felt crazy. I was crazy. Crazy with grief.

Then as the hysteria lowers (like month 9 or 10 after his death) and as a new normal creeps in (1 year and 1 month) I feel like coping is in the bag, checked off the list, mastered!

Normal feels normal.

And Oh MY! What was that? I feel like the new Kim has not only risen but has no intention to burst into flames again any time soon

until

things outside of the new normal happen. New things like posting a video to a blog.

As I search for solutions to the video issue, I can't sort out what the websites are telling me.
I reread the same sentences over and over and over again thinking that on the next read, I will get it, knowing that I should be able to understand it.

Confusion rises. (What are they telling me to do) then frustration (Why aren't these directions clearer?) then anger, first at the directions but really now it's at myself. My unable to think is grief-in-action.

Six months after Art died, I decided to bake a cake. I read the directions, line by line, gathering the ingredients on the counter. I would read "2 eggs," get to refrigerator, open it and then forgot what I was supposed to be getting. So I would go back to the recipe, read "2 eggs," reach for the refrigerator and forget again. My brow furrowed, my lips scrunched up and my shoulders tightened, I had to admit this was grief at it's worse. This was the grief that no one sees. This was grief-in-action!

And it is in that memory, right now, that has my confounded and a bit put off. Grief? It's been a year and 3 months, for goodness sake and

now I am laughing!

1 year is nothing in the grief land. One year is enough time to come down from the hysteria, maybe establish some kind of normal. It's NOT enough time to establish a new coping ability to handle the rest of the stuff like missed flights and uploading videos to a blog.

And I'm here, 21 floors above 150+ widows who totally 100% get that. So I'm leaving the video. I hope it works. If not, I'll work on it:

when I'm not under a time pressure,
when I have the space to think
when I have soaked up all
the goodness
and okayness
and support
and REAL widow normalcy
that comes from hanging out with a bunch of people who
unequivocal
get this mess
called
grief.

That is when I will figure the darn video out (if I need to!)

I am grateful I have them!

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Step Outside




I'm here at the 2010 Camp Widow in San Diego and having an amazing time thus far.

In the amazing connections I've made in such a short time (it's how we widows work...warp speed), I've been recalling something I've learned in the 3 years since my baby's death, but is brought even more to the forefront in an environment such as this, where growth is 'aplenty.

I read a quote that stated, " It is only once we've stepped outside our comfort zone that we truly start living."

As widows, or for myself in the least, grief was a comfort zone. I chilled out with it, cried with it, drowned myself in it, and leaned on it. Grief was my torn heart's friend. A companion that didn't give back, but fed off the woe like fish to algae.

It was only once I realized that grief was something I could not only survive without, but thrive without, that I did it....I took my first step...outside of the pain, anger, what if's, why me's...and found myself in a place I had almost forgot...a place of happiness.

So as I sit here in my hotel room at 1 in the morning, I challenge you. I challenge you to feel life for the good...smile because it feels right...laugh because it rolls out of your lungs...and live because it is what we are made for.

Step outside your comfort zone....I have a money back guarantee it'll be worth it. I'm living it right now as proof. I'm living it because of my fellow widows, my friends and family, and most of all...because Michael. All those things combined are worth more than any grief.

Friday, August 6, 2010

those in the know


Today I begin my journey to the Soaring Spirit's Loss Foundation's Camp Widow. I feel as if I am running to the arms of dear friends.....although some of these people I have never met.

I will spend my time with a couple of hundred people who know what widowhood is. Really know. Not an abstract idea that is hard to fully wrap your mind around until the day it settles its' weight around your shoulders. But those who have felt the fear of knowing that when our lives are lost, our children become orphans. Known the loneliness of suddenly losing all the support and comfort of our partner. Become familiar with the uncertainty of not knowing who you are without your 'other half'. Discovered the joy of finding out that you are still whole - even missing half your heart. And, hopefully, the excitement that can one day happen when experiencing the rebirth after your past life has ended.

I am ecstatic to be with this communtiy once again. To know I am not the only one. To know I don't have to explain. To know, that at least here, I am not alone.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

something I didn't expect

on march 25th, 2008

i had more

friends than

i'd ever thought

i'd have,

and more family members

than i remembered having.

everyone i'd known

throughout my life

rallied around me

in numbers i never

could have expected,

all of them ready to

ready to help me

clean my house,

(as if i needed a clean house)

to feed me

(as if i could eat without puking)

to hold me

up as i collapsed

under the weight of

liz's

death

(this is exactly what i needed).

but few of them

knew what to say.

because who really knows

how to speak

to a man

whose 30 year

old wife died the

day after she gave

birth to their child?

no one.

i went about my

days, mothering/fathering

my daughter,

trying to figure

out what the fuck

i was going to do,

and writing it all down

so i wouldn't forget.

all while crying over

liz.

i wasn't writing

as a way to

reach out to

anyone in particular.

i wasn't writing

hoping that i'd

find a wider group

of support.

i didn't want

anything from anyone,

because i told myself

that i could handle things

on my own

and i felt like

seeking help would

make me weak

(typical man, right?)

but something interesting

happened along the way...

i started getting

emails and

comments on my blog

from women all

around the world

who were just like me.

they had dead husbands, boyfriends,

fiancee's, and partners,

and better than

anyone else in my

life, they knew

exactly what to say.

so when i got

a comment from

candace or melody or janine,

or an email from kim,

or andrea, or sarah, or nikki,

i read them

like they

were my college textbooks,

and when i talked

to jackie

on the phone

i laughed and cried

and yelled and swore

and listened and shared

and smiled and cried

some more.

jackie was funny,

brash, and she swore

more than i did.

she could look

past the obvious awfulness

of our lives

to find some hope.

i really felt like

i had met my

long lost canadian sister.

she was one of

the major inspirations

behind my desire to

give back to

this community of widowed

people i started finding

myself becoming closer to.

...

last year,

michele asked me

to speak at

a conference for widows.

if that didn't sound

depressing and terrible,

i don't know what did.

i agreed, simply because

i like michele.

then i started to

hear from the widows i'd

gotten to know

over email and the phone...

they were also planning

to attend this awful conference.

suddenly i was excited

to meet all of

them, to sit down

and say the things

you can't say in front

of someone who hasn't had

(what i consider to be)

the worst imaginable

thing happen to them,

and share a few

drinks in the bar.

when i arrived in

san diego and finally met

them in person,

along with abby

and a few others,

i knew for sure that

we would be forever

bonded as friends.

it was a lovely sisterhood

that developed

that first afternoon

in the hotel bar

(i was the only widower in attendance).

there was no pretense.

there was

friendship and understanding

and fun.

yeah.

fun.

at a conference created

specifically for "sad" people.

i got to know

a lot of widows

that weekend in san diego.

like jennifer, and erin, and jerilynn

and so many others.

and i can't begin

to articulate how

thankful i am that i

was able to meet them.

...

as i look forward

to camp widow 2010,

i realize i'm

not just going

because michele

asked me to speak.

no.

this year i'm going to

join my sisters

for some laughs.

and drinks.

and to add more friends

to a list i never

thought could be

so long and wonderful.

...

oh. and it sounds like

i may actually meet some

widowers this year.

i guess i'm

not the only man

who has realized how

important this sisterhood

can be.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Love After Love ...

.... is different.
Very, very different.

I wish I had known that.
I wish I had known a widow who could have told me that.
Someone who could have warned me.

You see, I had only loved one person in my whole life (OK, other than my family members and friends).
I had only fallen in love once.
And he had only fallen in love once.
We both had that love for over 27 years.

So I only had one experience of "falling in love".
When C came along and we started dating .... it was different.
I knew things would be different because he is not Jim.
But I didn't know that love would feel different.

And so as we became more serious and had deeper feelings for one another, I started to worry.
A lot.
I questioned myself and my feelings.
Because ..... this did not feel the same.
I wasn't experiencing the feelings that I had 27 years ago.
I wasn't feeling that "if I don't see him today I think I'll die" emotion.
I wasn't feeling that I was falling more in love each day.
I wasn't feeling that my heart would burst from how much love I had for him.
I didn't wake up each morning almost counting the hours until we'd be together again.
So I wondered if I truly loved him.

I stressed a lot over this, not wanting to give up on the relationship, but wondering if I was being fair to him if this truly wasn't love.
It's hard to express how much pain I was in.
And I had no one to really talk to about it.
Who else would know how I felt and wouldn't think that this was just silly .... or crazy?

By this time I had my "Circle" of widow friends.
We try to meet once a week.
But I couldn't even mention it to them.
Most of them weren't dating yet and I really saw this as my "fault".
He loved me .... a lot, but here I was .... not sure that it was love for me but not willing to stop seeing him. I thought I was being selfish. Or worse .... maybe I was settling.

Then one night, at a Circle dinner, the one other woman who was dating joined us.
Her husband died the month after Jim died.
And, strangely enough (because it's rare) .... he died of the same thing.
She began dating a man around the same time that C and I started dating.

She began to talk about her relationship.
And her doubts.
And suddenly, I felt great.
Not because of her doubts .... but because I knew at that moment that I was not alone .... and I was not silly, or crazy, or selfish.

We both compared notes and we both finished each others sentences (as widows often do).
And as we spoke the other woman in our Circle began to understand and then were able to encourage us and give their opinions.
And I began to realize that the way I was loving this second time .... was "normal".
And that I had to let go of my expectations.

How could this love feel the same as my first love?
I was younger then.
So. Much. Younger.
And I was in college.
Where the only worries I had was making sure I was prepared for the next exam.

We were both worry-free.
We had no children.
We really didn't have many bills.
We had no jobs.

We had time.
We had freedom.
We had youth.
We had only each other.
And we had a long future ahead of us .... a blank slate to plan and dream about.

It's 27 years later.
I have 6 children.
I have bills.
Lots of bills.
I have a dead husband.
I have no partner to help make the small daily decisions or the big, fat difficult ones.
I have a scarred heart.
I am in a different place.
To put it mildly.

It makes sense now, but before talking to my friend, I'd never thought of all of this.
I didn't know.
It never occurred to me to look at the different circumstances.
Maybe I should have known to do that.
But I was clueless.
I'd never been on this path before.
And I'd never loved another man before.

I wish I had known.
I wish I'd known someone who could have prepared me.
That's why I'm writing this post.
To tell you.
To make you aware .... in case you're as clueless as I was.

Love ... after love ..... will not feel the same.
But that doesn't mean that it's not love.
If that person comes along .... and you don't want to let go, but don't feel the same "love", look back.
Look back at where you were.

And after you look back ..... see how far you've come.









Tuesday, August 3, 2010

The Value of a Friend



When Michele and I first met, we were each about 4ish months into the process of widowhood. We connected instantly via email, and eventually became phone friends, only to move onto being a daily touchstone in each other's lives. We are separated by thousands of miles, but manage to connect in person at least 3 or 4 times a year. We were 36 went we met and are getting ready to celebrate 41...who knew we'd become such fabulous life-long friends?

I cannot imagine having travelled this path without her, and I'm positive that I would not be in such good emotional shape without our friendship. When others would have become exhausted by the depth of my grief, Michele understood and could share her own grief with me. We simultaneously leaned on and supported each other. It was this friendship that sparked the idea for Widow Match, and I'm still amazed by the number of widowed people in that program. It's a daily inspiration.


This weekend is Camp Widow. I get to see my Widow Match, as well as some other fantastic familiar faces, and meet a lot of new friends too. I can't wait! Hope to see some of you there.


Happy Tuesday! - Michelle D.

Monday, August 2, 2010

The Power of Two


Since I have been widowed the single most helpful, comforting, hopeful, motivating experience for me has been meeting other widowed people. I can still recall the moment of relief that I felt when I first sat down for a long conversation with another widowed person. Words tumbled out of my mouth in a way they hadn't before. Suddenly my pain, insecurities, questions, and fears sprang from my lips as if someone opened them with a key. That key was shared experience.

I have been among groups that share a common interest many times. When my son was born prematurely, I bonded with other preemie parents. As my kids began participating in sports, I spent some time with our fellow team families. As a personal trainer I enjoyed networking with other fitness professionals and we often traded stories about workouts, nutrition, and motivation. Yet, somehow being with people with whom I share the common experience of loss is different.

My grief initially robbed me of the ability to pretend. I just didn't have the energy for pretense. So when I met another widowed person, I wasn't concerned about appearing to have it all together, and I wasn't afraid to wonder aloud about all the things that plagued me as I lay awake at night...unable to stop my brain from swirling and my heart from bleeding. Because I was desperate for someone to understand. I was seeking confirmation that I wasn't completely crazy. I needed someone to tell me that I could survive...someone who had made it through themselves.

Other widowed people have been my life line. They know me in a way other people in my life don't. When I am in their presence there isn't a tiny voice in the back of my head that wonders if the person I am speaking to will get that black humor joke I just threw out there. My guard is down, and I feel free. Still. No matter where I find myself along the path of life, my widowed friends brighten my day.

The widowed people I have met allow me to be who I am without question. We may grieve differently, but we understand the unique process that leads to healing. I love that we can accept the differences that make us each who we are, even as we recover from a similar loss. Some will date, others will not. Some will visit the cemetery, others will never step foot in that place again. Some will speak of their loved one often, others will still cringe in pain at the sound of their name. Some will remember aloud, some will remember within. Some will become advocates seeking a cure for the disease that took the life of their spouse, some will avoid all mention of the dreaded illness. Our differences don't matter because we each have our own unique path to walk, but we can still travel the road side by side.

Thank you all for walking beside me, and thank you for holding out a hand to the person beside you. For those that will be attending Camp Widow in four short days...YOU are the reason that this weekend is so powerful. I can't wait to hug you in person!

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Contentment




On vacation with the kids in Ixtapa, Mexico. My financial struggle having just ended. Not sure what to write about it. After all the months, (years really) After ALL these months of anger, sadness, resentment, hopelessness, joy, surprise, discovery, light, regret and hope, I find myself at odds with ……dare I call it, contentment.

I’m not sure. I don’t feel overjoyed to be here. I don’t feel sadness either. I’m not worried (other than Langston is not feeling to hot and we’d need a translator if we were to see a doctor). I don’t need anything. I don’t need alcohol or drugs or a distraction. I don’t feel like I need a man. (Club Med does a most excellent job, though, at hiring these 21-30 year old pieces scrumptious eye candy!)

I feel nothing. I don’t feel dead inside. I just feel at peace and it’s startling. And I wonder is this what normal feels like?

Before his illness and before his death I spent much of my time in my head, scared, worried, putting a negative spin on the future. I spent much of the time trying to prove myself, trying to live up to the person I thought all these people expected me to be. My expectation being way beyond what anyone wanted. My expectation for perfection was impossible. It was murderous and it almost killed me several times.

Here in this place, sitting in an outdoor patio in Ixtapa, listening to the waves, the wind whipping my hair around and bringing in the nightly rain storm, I find myself calm. It’s unfamiliar and it’s uncomfortable. Like a new hair cut and every time I walk by a mirror I am surprised because I expect to see the old me.

I have spent the week doing nothing, a 100% complete impossibility before Art died. I tried to work. I tried to get the kids to eat vegetables. Andthen I didn’t know why I was making myself or them do it. I had no words of judgment wagging in my head so I let them eat ice cream, a lot of it and put my computer away.

Instead, I entered an archery competition and end up DFL (dead fucking last) and still talked trash to the others in the competition. I told the kids I lost and saw their puzzlement at my not caring. I butchered the Spanish language multiple times a day! I kayaked, I rock climbed, I did yogalates and swam in the ocean. I napped, I read and I napped again. I ruined and brand new bathing suit with the fine gritty sand of Ixtapa and some sunscreen. I discovered the joy in having a glass of wine, late at night in the reception area where I can listen to the soothing music and the ocean waves and just think about … nothing.

And it’s the thinking of nothing that has me so puzzled. After these years, the pain, the willing, the missing, the pushing, the discomfort, the disliking of myself, the ‘nothing’ is just weird and wonderful. I feel settled. Not complete, not whole, not done, just settled, like a huge ass oak tree.

I will not always feel this kind of contentment. It may be that I am seeing my circle of concern and circle of influence are closer together. I no longer seek to control all that I cannot.

I am a widow, I am a mom, I am a business person, I am an athlete (re-inspired by the trapeze and the archery to begin working on that again). And I am dying. We all are. And all this makes sense to me and brings me hope and courage and the knowledge that no matter what I feel, it will pass. It will pass. There is contentment in that.

Art’s life passed. And damn it all, just damn, damn, damn, damn it all. This powerful gift of my growing into myself, of the discovery and comfort of who I am and who I am not, of understanding the power of loss, is because of his death. It’s all because his last great gift to me was his death.
The gift that truly keeps on affecting me, like a pebble in a pond.