Thursday, March 31, 2011
to carry on a
tradition that i started
to take my
maddy on a trip
far away from everything,
to ensure that
the focus be on
her and her
birthday, rather than
the day that follows.
i'm happy to say,
(i'm one lucky dad).
Wednesday, March 30, 2011
.... another wave comes and smacks you from behind .....
I love the ocean. Always have.
Jim did, too. We were a "beach family". Loved taking vacations to a beach .... any beach. Even the one in Galveston ..... where the word "beach" has a whole different definition. But hey, when it's the only beach you have within an hour's drive or so, you take what you can get. Even if the water is brown.
So I find it a bit ironic that I've always seen my widowhood as being in an ocean. Always.
Anyway ...... just when I thought it was safe .... just when I thought I had things under control ....
And I didn't.
I was surprised by how much I didn't.
Other people were, too.
I was having lunch yesterday with 8 other friends. We are all on a tennis team together. We were celebrating all of the summer birthdays to come, before our season is over in 2 weeks. We were having a great time. Just 9 women having lunch and celebrating each other and how well we've done this season.
Then the captain of the team announced that our "year end party" would be a barbeque at her house, in May. Sounds like fun, right?
Spouses are to be included, too.
Still sound like fun?
I am on a team with 9 other women.
Nine of us are married.
One of us is ..... not.
Guess which one is ..... not.
And .... for some reason, this came at me like a wave .... smacking me from behind. I didn't see it coming, so the force of it came in much stronger than it would've, had I been able to brace myself for it.
Once the excited chatter about the event died down, I looked up at our captain .... who is a dear friend that I've known for years. She was sitting directly across from me. She knew, from the look in my eyes, which must have been on the "wild" side, that all was not well.
I have to add .... that out of these 9 women, I've known a few of them for years. And years. And years.
Jim and I knew them. We did things with them .... and their husbands.
I know their husbands and care very much for them.
My friend looked at me .... studied me for a moment or so .... and asked, "You'll come, right?"
I paused ..... tried to gather my thoughts and figure out where this wave came from ..... and then answered, "I'm not sure. But really .... I don't think so."
She looked a bit surprised.
I felt a bit surprised.
Our conversation was heard and passed on down the table. There was much murmuring going on while she and I looked at each other.
Then I heard, from the other end of the table, someone exclaim .... in a rather loud voice, "Are you kidding me?!". Those four words were translated to my brain into these words .... "That's the stupidest thing I've ever heard of!!!" ..... by a friend who knows me well.
Or so I thought.
I wanted to scream at her ..... at all of them .... "You DON'T get it!!! You CAN'T get it!!! And you should be VERY thankful that you don't .... that you can't!!!"
But I sat in silence, staring at my good friend from across the table.
She quietly asked, "You won't come? Even though you know M, and J, and D (the husbands that I know well)?"
I told her no. She looked puzzled. I felt puzzled. I thought I was past this.
I was wrong.
I tried to explain to her what I was feeling. I told her that it was one thing to hang out with one couple or two. Couples whom I love and who love me and who loved Jim. That was a small group and I felt safe there ..... for some reason. But .......
.... the thought of being in a group of 9 couples ..... 18 people who belong together, who love each other, who are bound together through the years ..... and being the last number .... number 19, was overwhelming me.
She asked me again, as if trying to break out of the fog of incomprehension ..... "Even with our husbands? Those you love and feel safe with?"
I looked into her eyes for a moment, struggling to find the words to explain the panic that was forming in my stomach .... and in my heart. But instead of words .... tears started to form .... and I had to look away.
I said, "I just can't. It hurts. It hurts very much."
She saw the oncoming tears ..... and she stopped. She knows me well enough to stop. And she said, "OK."
And that was exactly what I needed to hear. I needed to hear that she "kind of" understood, even if she didn't really.
I needed to hear, "OK". I did not need to hear, "Are you kidding me?!!"
She asked me to not make a firm decision just yet, but to play it by ear.
I told her that I would.
And I will.
Though I doubt that my mind will change over the next month or so.
I am not a "couple".
I was. For a very long time.
I was supposed to be ..... for an even longer time.
And then, one day ..... I wasn't.
After over 2 1/2 decades ..... I had to learn how to live differently.
And I slowly became used to it.
After a couple of years .... I met someone. And I became a couple again.
I didn't realize how much I had missed that ..... until it was gone .... again.
I'm back to being single.
To being the "third wheel".
Even though the other people in the room don't feel that way, don't think of me in that way .... it doesn't matter.
It's what I feel that matters.
It's the fact that my heart hurts that matters.
And it's the fact that I know my limits now ..... I know a wave when I see one.
And I know a wave when I feel one. Even when I didn't see it coming.
So I probably won't go to a function where, out of 19 people, I am the odd number.
I will not go and stand in an ocean full of waves.
I may feel differently on that day. And if I do, I will go.
Anything is possible.
I am strong enough now .... to know myself.
And know my heart.
And know when I can ..... or cannot, withstand the waves.
Yes, I am almost 3 years "out".
One would think that I'd be "over" this, wouldn't one?
One would be wrong.
I .... was wrong.
I am stronger.
I am happier.
I am living .... and living well.
I am content.
I am ..... blessed.
But I am also living in a world that still has a few waves in it.
Not a lot. And not very often.
In fact, the waves are almost a rare occurrence now.
And I'm still here.
I have survived.
And I know myself better than ever.
I am strong.
Strong enough to say "no" when I need to.
No matter what anyone thinks.
Or what anyone feels.
It's my heart.
And I'm the one in charge.
I think I'll go for a wade in the water .....
Tuesday, March 29, 2011
Home is where I want to be
Pick me up and turn me round
I feel numb - BORN with a weak heart
(So I) guess I must be having fun
The less we say about it the better
ake it up as we go along
Feet on the ground
Head in the sky
It's ok I know nothing's wrong . . nothing
Hi yo I got plenty of time
Hi yo you got light in your eyes
And you're standing here beside me
I love the passing of time
Never for money
Always for love
Cover up say goodnight . . . say goodnight
Home - is where I want to be
But I guess I'm already there
I come home she lifted up her wings
Guess that this must be the place
I can't tell one from another
Did I find you, or you find me?
There was a time
Before we were born
If someone asks,
this where I'll be . . . where I'll be
Hi yo We drift in and out
Hi yo sing into my mouth O
ut of all those kinds of people
You got a face with a view
I'm just an animal looking for a home
Share the same space for a minute or two
And you love me till my heart stops
Love me till I'm dead
Eyes that light up, eyes look through you
Cover up the blank spots
Hit me on the head Ah ooh
Really love this version by Arcade Fire: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7J-900xpiI0
Monday, March 28, 2011
Talk about having some big shoes to fill. Or in my case, some tall stilettos. I am very gracious, and honored, that Michele has given me this opportunity to share with you on a weekly basis. I know that many of you looked forward to reading her words, or taking inspiration, from her journey. Yet, I do understand her decision to modify her course just a bit, as we must always take time to reflect on where we have arrived, and where we want to go next.
This journey of mine has been an interesting one. Never in my past did I think that I would soon become a widower, or that I would grieve so publicly. I was single most of my adult life, and had chosen to have children as a single parent. It wasn't an easy life, as my children all have some special needs, but it was a full life. In those years, I knew that I wanted a loving partner in my life, but had come to accept that it may not be part of my journey. When I met Michael, it was like kismet, as our lives both had some circumstances that seemed like a perfect fit. I felt that God had brought us together, and that by our union, each of our lives, and those close to us, would truly be enhanced. The night we met was filled with fun, laughter and passion. We ended the night with him driving me to my car, and me having to explain why I drove a mini-van. As I shared about my three children, he explained about his significant role in the life of his nephew and two nieces. All of our children were born into a family with parental substance abuse and chaos. Each of us were committed to make our children's lives better.
Four years later, I sat bewildered in our bedroom, holding his ashes in my hands.
Around the time of Michael's death, I was surrounded by our loved ones. Some stayed around for a few weeks more. Then the time of seclusion began. I became cloistered in my grief. I looked around me, but I couldn't find my reflection in any one's face. I took to the Internet, casting out a net that was much too small. My Google search for 'gay widower' came back with only one book, whose editor had died just a couple of years prior. I realized that if I wanted support, I was going to have to make it happen. I was going to have to put myself out there for the world to see. I was going to have to cast a larger net.
When you take to the Internet in this way, you don't go finding people, they find you. By identifying so publicly as a widower, others began to appear. There were a couple of guys, and many, many women. I began to realize that men, in general, don't often seek out this type of connection as part of their grief journey. If I think back in stories, or images, there is a strong archetype for the widow, but not for the widower. Still to this day, it is rare for me to meet another man who identifies as a widower, yet I have met many women along the way that do.
At times there has been some hesitation on my part to join in on some conversations, or gatherings, as I felt like I was intruding. I know how important it is to have some safe space, where you can talk among those you most closely identify with. I know that not all women will feel as comfortable expressing themselves so vulnerably if a man is present, as I have at times felt that way in groups of all women as well. In time I have learned to make my presence known, but allow for those around me to invite me in. At the same time I have created a safe space for lesbian and gay widow(er)s with my own blog, and with my online support group. All this to say, that I have found, and also created, safe spaces for me to grieve, and to share in other peoples journey.
I truly appreciate the opportunity to have this space on Widow's Voice, to write on a weekly basis. I recognize that 95% of those who leave comments are women, yet two days of the week are filled by men, Matt and I. This speaks volumes to Michele's generosity, and her understanding that in spite of our numbers being low, there is a need for our presence. We are here to speak of our experience in the event that a new widower throws out his own narrow net. We are here to speak of our experience because our female peers value our voice, and we speak here because in the end, we are all in this together.
If you are a new widower, gay or straight, looking at this blog for the first time, know that yes, it may feel a bit awkward standing out in a crowd comprised mostly of women. It may feel like an awkward fit, trying to balance yourself in shoes you never expected to wear. Yet, I promise you this, the more you open up, the more you will find others gravitating toward you. The circle of strong arms there to hold you up may come from somewhere you never expected, but they will be there.
If you are a new widow, reading here for the first time, know that you have an enormous, and loving community here for you. You should have no trouble seeing your reflection in the face, and experience, of the multitudes of women here, waiting to extend a hand. At the same time, know that you have the opportunity to expand your search, to hear the stories, and points of view, of some that may not otherwise have crossed your path.
Life is often a balancing act, and my healing process has definitely been about creating balance. Not so easy to do when you are made to wear shoes, or stilettos, that you never tried on before. Yet with time, as with any new pair of shoes, you will find that they bend and shape closely around you. Eventually, you stop thinking about the awkward fit, and you just keep moving forward.
Saturday, March 26, 2011
14 hours in the car
in two days .
Less actually, because we left at 1:00 pm on Friday and got back tonight (Saturday) at 7:00 pm.
It started with a casual comment. "Hey, you guys wanna go to Sacramento to the State Championship Basketball games for the boys and the girls varsity teams?" I asked my kids on Tuesday.
"Sure." came their reply, unaware of the weight their casualness carried.
Drive to San Francisco, (387 miles) stay over night with Art's cousin.
Get up early the next morning and drive to Sacramento (91 miles).
Watch two basketball games, then drive home (384 miles).
The motivation is simple and clear.
It would be fun and
I think I can do it.
862 miles in 30 hours.
Only this time, I notice, I'm on a new road.
It makes me grin.
The road is called SPONTANEITY! And I’m diggin' its slickness, its sense of adventure, its well-what-the-heckness, its I-can-handle-an-unplanned-event confidence.
Two years ago, I could not have done this.
Last year I could not have done this.
4 months ago, I could not have done this.
Today, I smirk.
I did it.
Spontaneity powers my grin.
Forgiveness powers my spontaneity.
Death powers the forgiveness.
Because after his death,
after the grief lifts for longer and longer periods of time,
I see that …
(although I was sure it would).
I notice that...
(although I tried).
I realize that...
the next day
(although I doubted it would come again).
I grasp that ...
life went on,
I have faced loss,
I’m still hear.
Did you hear me???????
Nothing will be as hard as those moments.
In the realization comes freedom.
Spontaneity is my new road and I’m driving it, baby, on cruise control because
On Thursday, a friend texted me and asked
“Do you want to go see Lady Gaga on Monday? VIP seats!”
As if I need VIP seats as an incentive.
I remember the moment like the sound of his heart.
We sat facing the glass window panes in between gate 15 and 17. The looming knowledge that in a few passing moments a stranger would come over the intercom to separate us once again led us to focus on anything, but the reality awaiting him and I. The distraction was SkyChef loading food onto a gated plane.
I promised him I wouldn't cry and knew that if I even turned to face him as the anticipation built up, he would see the flood of tears awaiting their release as soon as I was out of eye sight. I just told him to come home to me, and he promised he would. As the tears lost control I embraced him to wipe them away without him seeing...he knew. He held me longer and tighter.
"Group 1"..."We are now boarding group 1."
I held on a bit longer, tried to hide any evidence of the feelings that had leaked through my eyes. He stood and I stood with him, arms around his waist, as they were so perfectly made for.
"I have to go baby."
"I know." I responded.
The groups and bustle of people around us went from blaring to silent as he leaned down to kiss me.
His lips pressed against mine in their familiar place. He pulled his face up and before our "Love you's" and "So in Love with you's" were exchanged I stopped him and said, "Now give me a real kiss."
Now I should have prefaced that with the fact that all kisses we had were real, but I'm talking the type of kiss we gave each other as soon as they pronounced us man and wife. The kind of kiss that we know could be our first or last.
We had our real kiss there by the glass windows of gate 15.
It would be our last kiss here on Earth and oh, how happy I am that I had it...one last real kiss with my love, my soul mate.
It brings me back to our wedding song and the fact that we had that "Kiss to Build a Dream On"....
Give me a kiss to build a dream on
And my imagination will thrive upon that kiss
Sweetheart, I ask no more than this
A kiss to build a dream on
Give me a kiss before you leave me
And my imagination will feed my hungry heart
Leave me one thing before we part
A kiss to build a dream on
And when I'm alone with my fancies, I'll be with you
Weaving romances, making believe they're true
Oh, give me your lips for just a moment
And my imagination will make that moment live
Give me what you alone can give
A kiss to build a dream on
When I'm alone with my fancies, I'll be with you
Weaving romances, making believe they're true
Oh, give me lips for just a moment
And my imagination will make that moment live
Oh, give me what you alone can give
A kiss to build a dream on
Friday, March 25, 2011
Thursday, March 24, 2011
Pictures of me in my current state of happiness make me nervous. I look at this photo with a sense of wonder at the fact that my smile looks genuine. The empty look that has shadowed my features for years appears to have faded. I am tempted to compare this photo to one of my "before" photos to see if I can tell the difference between these versions of my happy self. Will the scars of loss be somehow visible? Is the shadow of death really gone, or is it just lying in wait?
See that is what makes me uneasy. I have been this happy before. In my other life I loved and was loved; I looked into my future with optimism; I expected a full and happy life. Deep contentment is no longer something I take for granted, and to be honest, I have a hard time trusting that the future is full of good things. I find it much easier to brace myself for whatever pain lies ahead. Natural disasters will happen. Money will come and go. My children will face pain that I cannot take from them. People I love will die. All of these things I can see clearly in my minds eye, and I can feel my heart gates slamming shut. Batten down the hatches and close up shop. Somehow I see expected pain as more manageable then the unexpected kind, even though I know better. I am constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop.
When good news lights up my day I am sometimes unsure of how to respond to it. Embrace it? Revel in it? Celebrate it? Count all the chickens before they hatch? But what of the inevitable bad news that is sure to follow? If I don't overindulge in the wonder of life does that mean I can also diminish the intensity of the painful parts? Lately I have become aware of a new coping strategy...limiting my happiness intentionally because I am afraid of what might come next. Essentially I hold all things positive at arms length so that if the situation should suddenly turn ugly I won't be close enough to be wounded.
Yet happiness has a way of sneaking up on you; joy encourages you to let your guard down; and contentment seeps into your bones like a warm bath. Peace comes into your life unannounced and before you know it has managed to set up house. As time passes somewhat uneventfully, contentment has begun to feel a little familiar. Recognizing that this familiarity scares me has opened my eyes to the fact that I will only be as happy as I allow myself to be. I can choose to hold love and joy at arms distance, or I can choose to wrap my arms around them and breathe them in for as long as they are able to stay. Mitigating my happiness allowance won't save me from future pain, but my reticence to allow anyone to get too close will rob me of the moments of joy that make life worth living.
"Happiness is like a butterfly: the more you chase it, the more it will elude you, but if you turn your attention to other things, it will come and sit softly on your shoulder." ~Thoreau
Wednesday, March 23, 2011
Tuesday, March 22, 2011
I always get lots of questions when I wear this t-shirt, and it has become a favorite of mine for that reason as well as another. I'm surprised by the number of people who get it instantly, but there are always a few who require an explanation. I always explain where the quote comes from and recommend the movie. I do wonder though what people think it might mean. In the absence of the quote from the movie, what would they think I was trying to say?
For years, I wore a LiveStrong bracelet, and have only in the recent past stopped wearing it all the time. I still wear it sometimes, but I don't "need" it anymore. For a year or so it was a solidarity with Daniel symbol - the whole family wore the yellow bracelets to support Daniel's battle with cancer. After he died, I wore it in memory of him. I passed out hundreds of them at his funeral, and many people wore them for quite a while after. Eventually, I wore the bracelet as a reminder to myself to live strong. Now, I don't need the reminder, but my little black t-shirt sort of yells out my motto "I'm not dead yet..." I'm still here, and I intend to make the best of it.
Monday, March 21, 2011
|The sun will shine again.|
In the spirit of embracing change as a positive step towards growth, I will be retiring from my regular writing spot here on Widow's Voice. Knowing that I will still be involved behind the scenes, and that I will be leaving you in the very talented hands of a dedicated group of writers, makes stepping down easier, but I will miss being a part of your daily life. Before I go I'd like to give you a bit of WV history, and a peek at where Soaring Spirits is headed in the coming years. I've included some links to previous posts to offer you a road map of my own Widow's Voice journey, it has been an honor to enter your homes and travel a bit of the widowed road with you.
The Widow's Voice blog was created on November 6, 2008 in answer to a request from the community that was slowing building around a website I created for a book I haven't yet written. My concept for the book developed very early in my own grief journey. Having no access to widows my age, I went in search of them armed with 50 questions about the practical side of loss: how long to wear your wedding ring, what to do with your loved one's shoes, what side of the bed to sleep on, did you dream about them, did you wear black, what kind of support did you get from your family....you get the idea. My plan was to compile their answers, add my own story of finding and meeting them, and then put my book baby out into the world. Sounded fairly easy at the time, though I've since learned that the road to publishing isn't as straight and narrow as I imagined. After one year of interviewing (here are some photos from that time) I accidentally created a small community. Then I began to get requests for my answers to the fifty questions I asked during my cross-country travels, and so the idea for this blog was born. I'd answer a question a week, and have 50 weeks worth of content! I didn't plan what I would do next...who plans when you are grieving? ;)
My small personal blog grew into a movement I would never have imagined. The transformative change was the addition of other writers. Confession time...I did this because my advertising agency required daily updates and there was no way I could keep up. How to solve this problem? Why not make this space a collaborative effort? The idea to have seven writers on the seven days of the week turned on like a light bulb, and so I began to hunt for writers willing to share their stories of widowed life with this blog audience. Our early authors included Mie Elmhirst, and Nicole Hart who have since retired, but the rest of the team keeps working week to week to inspire, comfort, and sometimes just commiserate with all of you. I am humbled and grateful for the dedication shown by our team of writers (click their name to read their introductory post on WV); Janine, Taryn, Michelle D.,Kim (who took over for me when I used to write on two days), Jackie (who took over for Mie), and Matt (who took over for Nicole), and was the first man to join the ladies club.
Until Matt joined us, Widow's Voice only presented the female view of the widowed journey. But the longer we published this blog, the more clear the need to provide a larger variety of perspectives became. To that end, a fellow blogger introduced me to Dan's blog and an opportunity to reach even further by including a gay widower was created. Dan and I have been sharing Mondays for a few months, and I am grateful to leave my writing "day" with this generous, and movingly honest, man. This talented team of writers will continue to be here for you day after day with me in the background cheering them, and you, on from my editorial post.
My blog family has been witness to many of my personal milestones...the challenges of watching my children grieve their stepfather, facing the reality of family life without my partner, the painful realizations around my growth through widowhood, the fourth, and fifth anniversaries of Phil's death, the idea of "comparing" my late husband with my then boyfriend, the incredible joy of camp widow number one, and number two, the journey from dating to being engaged, and the previously unimaginable wonder of marrying again. Thank you for the gift of walking beside me through these moments, you've changed my life by embracing my words, by adding your own, by sharing your insights with other readers, by encouraging me through the ups and downs shared in these links...and by coming back to Widow's Voice day after day to honor the love you have known as you figure out how to embrace what lies ahead. We began this effort with about 100 views a month, and today we average 32,000. The numbers grow daily, and I continue to be astounded by the power of shared experience.
What lies ahead for me personally? First of all I will still be the Editor of WV...and I am certain to write the occasional guest post. Next, Soaring Spirits has set some very large goals that include touching two million people annually using electronic means by the end of 2016, hosting a Camp Widow event on both coasts in that same time frame, identifying and securing funding sources that will enable us to meet these and many other goals, and maintaining a laser focus on our mission...creating communities for grieving people that allow them the space to grieve while providing them with tools for recreating their lives. All these dreams began here on November 6, 2008. I leave this regular writing gig to focus my attention on these goals. I want to make this happen for us, and for those who will have no choice about joining us in the future. We speak hope, and so many widowed people need to hear our voices.
Wish me luck, or better yet....join me in the effort!
Sunday, March 20, 2011
I read one of his journals today.
I read it because
in three hours.
I had to empty out his bedside table (they went too) before the guy came to pick it up.
Later, as I try to decide where
on a floor would look best,
in MY room,
I get side tracked
and sift through
the box of stuff from the bedside tables. I sit down, pick up a journal and read.
It starts in June 1995, 6 months after we had been married.
I recognize his early fear of not being strong enough for us. I recognize my young self, but from his eyes. It is a refreshing and slightly embarrassing view. I am soften. I want to reach in and back and hug him and tell him it will all be ok.
The journal gives me a memory of things I had forgotten. He records our bike trips, the time he got fired from his job as a basketball coach. He records his fear and excitement about my pregnancy…and his amazement at how I just want to eat all the time. He records our trip to Paris and every single place we visit. He records his disappointment at work and his deep disappointment for his parent’s reactions. He records his love for me.
He records the good advice I gave him, calling it “another good thing Kim said..”
When I open his journal
I did not expect to see him,
Rising, like a ghost.
But he is no longer clear.
He is like mist.
I can see him if I stand still or far enough away from this life.
But up close, he looses his definition.
Reading that journal brought him back to me but not in a full form.
My life is past him, and here in this life 702 days away from loss,
I can only see traces of him.
It’s strange because I see
the idea of him, of Art,
doesn’t fit in this new place,
in this bedroom with no bed.
I could not be who I have become if he were here.
It’s almost like another death. A quieter
More gentle death
As I move forward, I leave him behind
In the mist
As a ghost.
I will lie on the mattress,
on the floor and cry,
for him, for me
for how I am leaving him,
and for all the good things I have
become since he has gone.
That is what needs to happen
So I can find a new bed.
Saturday, March 19, 2011
You know what.....The poster above has it all right!
Loves not wack, even life isn't (though it has its glimpses). But death, death I'm pretty certain is wack.
Death didn't take Michael out of pain or take him to a better place...he had all of that here, and at 22 ,I'm pretty sure he wanted to live down here with me a tad longer.
I don't think I'll ever know why death came knocking when it did, but I just try to remember the un-wack things that have been brought/been a part of my life than and now, and the wack is out-weighed. Hell, I'm even really thankful for the people and things the wack has brought my way due to its repercussions.
Death...your wack, and in embracing and accepting that fact I'm able to embrace and accept all that's come after your visit.
Friday, March 18, 2011
I was asked yesterday how Jeff died. I am often able to tell the awful tale involving the screams, the CPR in the parking lot and the confusion of two little ones without flinching or crying. It is now just regurgitated information that I have been required to tell so many times that I think I could tell it in my sleep.
But there is one part of the story that always makes me cry...if I tell it. It's a strange part. It's not the part where I watch the nurse lead my little daughter away by the hand with my tiny son on her hip.It's not the part where I am begging the doctor to help me do CPR. It's not the part where I realize that Jeff is gone because his eyes have gone cloudy. It's not the part where I am begging the doctor to help me do CPR.
The portion of events that make me sob happened during all the crazy and terrifying moments. As I attempted to breathe live back into my husband, I would take a breath and look up. Each time I lifted my head I'd scream out with fear and anguish. Each time, my eyes would meet a man in the parking lot.
He was holding his cloth grocery bags. Watching. Being entertained by the last moments that I ever spent with my husband. He was most likely not enjoying what he saw, but he wasn't, couldn't, help in any way...And still he watched.
Each breath, he was still there. Over the shoulder of one of the doctors I'd see him staring. Witnessing the most intimate moment I have ever shared with my husband - the moment he left this world.
And for that, I illogically and possibly unkindly hate this man with all my might. I can still imagine all the things I would love to say to him. How I would tell him to get better cable service.
I realize that I may be pouring all my anger surrounding this terrible event into one unexpecting being....But I still can't quell my fury.
To appease myself, I ensure that I NEVER stare at car accidents when I am unable to provide any assistance. I beg others to do the same.
But still, when I tell the story, this is the part that makes me cry. That one person was entertained by the loss of my husband. And that still hurts so very badly.
Thursday, March 17, 2011
a couple of maddy's
toys went missing.
a zebra stuffed animal and
her baby doll.
for a few days
she asked me where
i had no idea.
her stuff goes
missing all the time,
and i usually find
it pretty quickly.
i've searched everywhere
in any of the
(i'm convinced they disappeared at daycare and have been buried under a mountain of toys, to be discovered accidentally sometime in the future).
but i told her
that i'd do my
best to find them.
a few days went by
during which she
didn't mention her
then on monday,
on the way to daycare
she suddenly said,
"daddy? where are my zebra and baby?"
i gave her the
same answer i've
been giving all along:
"i don't know. but i'm going to keep searching."
then maddy said,
"my zebra and baby are dead, just like my mommy."
it's not the first
time she's talked
about her mommy
(and it hurts everytime)
the first time she's
demonstrated to me
that she has at least
a tacit understanding
of what death means.
i keep looking for
those missing toys, but
now i'm worried that
if i find them
and give them to her,
i'll be fucking up
her understanding of death.
if i do
i'll put my worries
aside, give her
and do my best
to once again,
to a child under 3.
(and i know for sure that this never gets easier).
Wednesday, March 16, 2011
One teeny tiny moment .... to change your world.
To destroy your world as you know it.
To make you feel as if you will drop dead.
Just one moment.
I have been trying and trying to upload a picture for the top of this entry, but I'm in a hotel and the computer won't let me upload pics. So I will do my best to leave the web site so that you can click on it and then see it.
If that doesn't work ..... here's the description of said picture:
November 22, 1963
Crisp, fall day.
Clear blue sky.
Lots and lots and lots of people in the background.
But the focus of the picture is the face of Jacqueline Kennedy.
The sun is shining, she's in a black convertible, sitting next to her husband .... and she's smiling.
It only takes a moment.
I saw a huge mural of a picture just like it in the museum here in Dallas inside the Book Depository building.
FYI .... not an uplifting tour at all. But very interesting, and very moving.
I couldn't stop staring at that picture. I even took a couple of pictures of it.
I stared into her eyes.
I looked at her smile.
She looked, at least on the outside, very happy.
I find that I am so deeply moved by pictures like that ..... pictures taken before "the moment".
Pictures of people who had no idea that their life, as they knew it, was over.
These pictures break my heart.
As did that one.
I have not been able to go back in my blog and read the "before" posts.
The thought of reading the words of the before-Janine is so painful that I can't even think about it for more than a second or two.
So yes, this post is difficult to write.
I'm afraid that if I went back and read those posts .... I would read them the way I read a novel, hoping against all hope that the end will come out happily.
That the words written on Tuesday, December 18, 2007 will not include anything about my best friend dying.
That maybe, instead .... I will find a post about what a great time we had at the lake that weekend with the boys. How Jim played football with them and we just hung out and enjoyed our time together. How, for the first time ever, he didn't make the boys do any chores while we were there. We just had fun.
And then I'd write about the fun Christmas party we went to Sunday night with our "Bunco" friends. We, as a group of couples who've known each other for a long time, used to play Bunco once a month. We stopped that long ago, but still met for dinner, or games and always for the annual Christmas party with the annoying "Chinese Gift Exchange".
We had a great time that night.
The last thing we did together .... other than drive to and then sit in a hospital.
I don't remember if anyone took any pictures that night.
I don't think so .... and for that, I think I'm glad.
I'm not sure I could stand the pain of looking into my "before" eyes .... knowing they'd look that happy for only a few more hours.
I'd love looking at Jim, of course. I can look at pictures of him all day long.
But I cannot bear the pain of looking at pictures of me .... and looking into those eyes.
The way I looked into Jackie Kennedy's eyes.
It only takes a moment.
Most people don't realize that.
Most of us don't know when our last breath will come.
Most of us don't know when our world will end when our spouse takes his/her last breath.
Most of have no idea that the moment is lurking out there, waiting to scar our hearts forever.
It seems like something to huge, so monumental, so devastatingly horrifying .... should take more than a moment.
A moment doesn't seem to give the event that forever defines our lives as "before" and "after" enough respect.
Or .... something.
It only takes .... a moment.
It only took .... a moment.
I was able to upload the picture once I got home. Here it is .... the before moment ....
Tuesday, March 15, 2011
I recently attended the Soaring Spirits annual board retreat. Each year the board members get together in the same place to brainstorm ideas for the foundation, establish our annual goals, reestablish our focus for the year and just “be together”. Our board meets regularly, once a month, but our meetings are held via Skype because four of us live in Cali and two in Texas. I look forward each year to the “retreat” because we actually get to occupy physical space together instead of just virtual space.
Saturday is our big work day for the retreat, and we spent 8 hours talking, drawing our thoughts on charts, discussing new opportunities and also talking about the year in review. Our topics are not always the same, but we do have a few topics that are – fundraising is one of them. Soaring Spirits is not a self-funded foundation; we rely on the financial support of others. The challenge of finding funding is an ongoing one. I have struggled since we started the foundation to figure out a way to make our cause understandable to the non-widowed community. I have found it to be very difficult. Unless you have walked this path, it is hard to understand what the need for support might be.
I can hear the question in people’s minds: Why do widowed people need extra support, don’t you have any friends to support you? Why would you need support from strangers? I think if I hadn’t met my own widow-match (our friendship created the concept) I wouldn’t have understood it myself. How could I have known how life changing it would be to find a widow friend who completely understood my situation? I could talk about that for days. I believe our friendship saved me and continues to help me find my way in my new life. I’m sure I would have survived, but I’m not sure I’d be near as healthy as I am today. Thank God for you Tacalla.
Because it is difficult to understand the value of that relationship if you haven’t experienced it, I think it is difficult to sell the concept of “peer based support” to potential financial supporters. I’ve watched the highly successful efforts of groups that support children who’ve lost a parent and wondered why we can’t get that kind of support. I think it boils down to this – people don’t get it and they think we should just get over it already. Children have an understandable need, they’re children. People automatically feel sympathy for kids, they lost their mommy or daddy, and they are in need of support and guidance. But what about a spouse losing a spouse? What about the half of a whole that is left behind? Maybe they would get it if we talked about it from the perspective the health of a surviving parent. What about the “only parent” left to provide for their children? What if that only parent is slowly drowning in a pit of despair and has no one to turn to for understanding? I think if more people thought about the health of the remaining parent and what an impact it has on those children, maybe, just maybe they might find the value in programs that offer support to widowed people?
I find it shocking that the idea of losing a spouse (whether you have children or not) doesn’t generate much interest. People find it sad, but don’t understand the need that might be associated with such a loss. I guess I’m trying to find a way to make the cause of surviving widowhood something that digs into people’s hearts and pocketbooks. How can we make it a cause that people understand and see the value in supporting?
I wish we could bring everyone to Camp Widow. Experiencing the magic of Camp Widow can warm even the iciest heart. That weekend is life altering for the attendees and I’ve been told by non-widowed volunteers that the emotion of the weekend changed their perspective and had a personal impact on them. I wish we could bottle the magic of Camp and let people have a taste. I wish we could show the world the power of a single friendship with someone who "gets it". A video or photos of Camp Widow doesn’t fully capture it. The feeling is something you have to be there for. I’ll continue to try to find a way to capture it and translate it. We need to figure it out in order to continue to find funding for our programs.
Got any ideas? I’m definitely open to them.
Monday, March 14, 2011
Well, it's Sunday night, and I just realized I needed to get to writing my Monday post. I have kept very busy today with home improvement projects. And, because of Spring being at my door, I have been miserable with allergies. I seem to be popping Benadryl all day long, as if they were breath mints, which is likely why I have been so drowsy all day as well. Not the kind of day where I would be focused on what date it is.
So I sat down, opened this window to write, and realized it was March 13th. Now I'm not usually one to keep track of dates, which is why I only now realize it, but I have been a widower for exactly 18 months today. I suppose the other way of looking at it, is that Michael has been gone for exactly 18 months.
You know, some days it feels like I have lived without him for such a long time now. The days seem to last so long without him. Yet when I look at the number, I recognize that 18 months is not very long at all. What's 18 months when you expected to be together forever, or at least until you grew old together.
If I think of myself as a baby, or a toddler, I see that I am still in the infancy of grieving. It hasn't been so long since I found the use of my legs, and began walking on my own. I'm still unsure of what lies ahead, partly because at this age, I still don't have a real since of others. I see myself as the center of the universe, and everything, or everyone, else is clouded by my grief.
Sometimes I get a little ahead of myself, thinking I am further along than I actually am, and quickly find myself falling flat on my face. I may cry and cry, but for this toddler, there is no one there to pick me up. There is no one there to hold me close, and reassure me that everything is going to be alright. And because no one is there, I have learned to talk to myself, telling myself to get back up, and start walking forward all over again.
Some falls are little, and I am easier to accept that I will be alright. Other times the fall is harder, and may cause a cut or bruise, which are not so quick to heal, or to repair themselves. These are the times when I feel like I am walking around with an open wound for all to see. The sad thing is, not many people see past the band aid that I clumsily put on my skinned heart. They may notice that somewhere under that bandage is a hurt, but they must tell themselves that I am obviously being taken care of, otherwise I would be walking around bleeding. I always appreciate the rare person who stops me, and asks how I am doing, or inquires how my hurt feels today. I may not have sought the help, but when another person is willing to sit with me, and offers to lift the bandage, so as to clearly see my wound, that is when I know I will be alright again.
And as is the case with an 18 months old, bedtime is not the easiest process to get through either. First of all, I don't like having to sleep alone. I still want, and crave, that warm body next to mine. I still want the feel his heart pumping, or to have his arm pull me close if I need some added assurance. Then as I lay there, hoping that sleep will come soon, it hits me just like every other night, that that which is needed to pacify my agitated soul has been taken away.
I know that I'm supposed to be a big boy now when it comes to living with my grief. Yet, like a baby who is sung a lullaby each night before sleep, I was given a goodnight kiss, along with the words "I love you," before I closed my eyes each night. Now I must soothe myself. I still whisper gently to him each night, "I love you Michael," but now there is no response.
It's not so easy having to grow up and stand on my own two feet. Yet that is what I must do. If I do want something more out of this life, then I will have to walk the best way I can. I will have to assure myself, that if I keep walking, I might just come across something shiny and new.
One step at a time. Getting better and better with each step I take.
Saturday, March 12, 2011
I got a traffic ticket a few months ago.
Should have hopped out of the car immediately waving my
husband's death certificate. (There is a copy in my computer case, not sure why I leave it there or how it even got there)
Instead, I sat in the car, feeling guilty about even thinking about using
the widow card...
to get out of something that was rightfully my fault.
So I took the hit ($250),
opted for traffic school ($60 fee through town hall),
and registered for an on-line class ($20).
I had two months to do an 8 hour on line class.
I did it in 2 days...The last two days in between the morning routine,
work, car pool, dinner, homework and sleep.
On Februarly 16 at 11:00pm, I hit send.
Feeling all proud of my self.
I did it.
I, the raising-three-kids-money-making-holding-down-the-often-wobbly-unsteady-and-rightfully-insane-fort widow, will not get a point taken from her license
and will not see her insurance rate go up!
The next day I read the form more closely.
The company was supposed to report to the court BY February 16th! I should have had it done at least two days earlier!
I panicked. I cannot afford to have my insurance go up. I got on the phone.
"Please help me." I said "My husband died. I'm raising three kids on my own. I know I should have paid more attention, but it's hard to do right now. Is there anyway you can help me?" Desperation dripped from my mouth.
She was kind. She extended the date. She told me not to worry. She suggested I call back in week to make sure that the ticket was no longer on my record.
I hung up the phone, feeling a bit guilty. Can I still use the widow card? Do I have a right to slap it down? Was I really so busy I couldn't do the course? Is my life really that hectic.
Cause from where I sit, it is SOOOO much better than it was. Can I still be a card carrying member? I am functioning, I'm having fun, I'm learning how to handle all manner of crisis's without him.
When do I stop whipping it out?
I turned and said to my assistant,
"How long do you think I can use the widow card?"
"How long will you grieve?"
Every once in awhile I am able to see myself through another person's eyes; sort of like looking up and seeing an image in a mirror, and then realizing the face that is reflected there is yours. The observations from these unguarded moments usually provide some serious food for thought.
Recently I went to see the movie Brothers. I will leave out the movie review, but will tell you that I would probably not have watched this show had I not been with a friend who really wanted to see the film. Brief synopsis: An excellent family man who is in the military goes back for a second tour of duty and ends up being captured. His family thinks he is dead, and grieves his loss. He is then restored to them (this part really hurt...how many times have you wished your spouse's death was all a terrible mistake??) but has been altered due to the horrific experience of being held captive. Not a feel good movie by any stretch of the imagination.
There was a scene, however, that provided a glimpse into my life. At one point the bad boy character is trying to help his brother's widow "feel better." He plans a birthday party for her, complete with a cake baked by her two adorable girls. There are guests, decorations, gifts, candles, and of course everyone yells surprise as she walks in the door. Then the camera pans around the room and you see the exact same look on every face. Expectancy. Did it work? Is she happy? Will she stop wearing the look of death on her face? Have we communicated to her how much we love her? ARE WE ENOUGH? And that last one hit me right in the stomach. Because as widowed people we constantly carry around the weight of other's concerns, fears, sadness, and yes, their wishes for our ultimate happiness...as we are observed, discussed, fretted over, and advised by good meaning folks of all types.
The heroine in this scene looks a little dazed. She obviously understands the reaction that is expected from all the people surrounding her with loving birthday wishes, and yet grief is clearly present in the room. Her need to acknowledge her painful loss clashes with the needs of her loved ones to know that she will one day recover. These same people want to be reassured that they are enough to make her happy, that she will choose to live again because she wants to share her life with them too. As I watched this scene I felt the weight of the wishes that the people in my own life hold close to their hearts for me, and for my children. My shoulders felt heavy, and my heart ached, viscerally I experienced the feeling of being loaded down. The most difficult part was that the load was full of good things...wishes for happiness, wishes for wholeness, wishes for the ability to laugh freely, wishes for the unspoken lines of grief that mark my face to fade away, wishes for good things in our future, wishes for life to be a little kinder to our family, and wishes for the past to not always overshadow the future.
As I watched this actress play my part, I suddenly realized that I have carried the weight of all of the good wishes of my friends and family for over four years. I dragged them around with me even when I couldn't believe that any of them would ever come true. Each wish has been piled on top of the next, and I have been walking around like an overloaded juggler trying not to drop any one of the wonderful things that the amazing people in my life hope for me. The idea of putting them down and letting someone else carry the load for me never crossed my mind.
Seeing myself through the mirror of film, struggling to honor my loss and also to acknowledge the possibility of my future, made the weight of wishing shockingly clear. I wish I had known that my loving friends and family are free to wish as many good things for me as they can dream up, and I am free to be grateful for their kindness and allow them to carry the weight.
Friday, March 11, 2011
As a widow, when does our license to actively grieve expire? Is there a time limit to our sadness? An event that signals the end of our foray into melancholy remembering? An experience that renders the act of longing for our spouse void?
As I drag myself along this road of the widowed person, I know that I am not done. Almost three years and I am not finished. Not completed my grief. I don't know if I will ever be.
Is this longing sadness a luxury? Is it just there because I allow it to be? If I were someone else, or had someone else, would it be over?
I don't know. I do know that I miss him and grieve him everyday still. Even though I have physically moved, changed our lives monumentally and healed enormously....I am not done.
I don't know if this means that I am not ready for another love to enter my life. I don't know if this means that I am broken. I don't know if this means I am honest about my mourning.
I wonder if other people feel that I should be 'finished' by now. That the expiry date on my feelings of loss have long since passed.
I hope not....because I am still feeling them. Even if the expiry date has passed.
Thursday, March 10, 2011
my first march in
overwhelmed by circumstances,
unaware of what
i was in for.
in her bed at
the hospital, madeline
grapefruit, lemon and
the yellow flowers
on the vine.
the jasmine bush and that
tree in the back
i thought was
dead, suddenly covered
in small, white flowers.
like waking up in the
gardens at the
you could smell it
a block away.
it could cover up
the constant shit smell
of a leaking septic tank
(in my neighbor's yard, not mine, thankfully).
it reminds me
that she never
got to take it all in,
and that i'll never
be who i was
Tuesday, March 8, 2011
And yet…we don’t talk about it. Death is the elephant in the room. So sad it happened to Daniel, Michelle and Grayson (in head thought – OMG, so unlucky, thank God it didn’t happen to us)….and to that I say: “YET”. It hasn’t happened to you yet, but it will. We all die. When is the only unanswered question. I’m not trying to be dark and foreboding here. None of us make it out alive. I’ve had to face reality. Clearly I cannot pretend it won’t happen to me. Selfishly I hope that if I ever remarry I get to die first. Seriously. I don’t want to do this ever again. Fortunately for G and any future husband, the women in my family live forever, so it is likely that I’ll outlive any man I choose. Perhaps I should become a cougar to increase my chances of dying first? ;-) Just kidding!!
Sorry to get off topic – We represent the reality that no one wants to face – this could happen to them at anytime. We are living evidence of the shortness and unpredictability of life. This doesn’t have to be a bad thing though. I like to put a positive spin on this. I hope I am evidence in a positive way. I hope that people see us and are reminded that they should be living life to the fullest each day. I hope they hug each other tighter, say I love you more often and don’t put things off until tomorrow. I hope I scare them into not taking things for granted.
BOO! Now get out there and live your life. Who knows how much time you have?