Thursday, December 29, 2011

Aging Gratefully

I am filling in for Jackie today because her computer is in the shop...but she will be back next week!

 Today is my birthday. I am 42 years old, three years older than Phil was when he died six years ago (crazy to think he would be 46 right now!). My first birthday without him I remember wishing time could just stand still. I didn't want to age without him;I didn't want to celebrate being alive with birthday songs and presents; and I didn't want to continue on a forward path that moved away from the life I loved with Phil. Overall, December 29, 2005 was not my best birthday.

Truthfully, finding a way to appreciate the opportunity to live another year took some time. I moved from being down right pissed off about my repeating birthdays to being a bit ambivalent about the passing of time to finally accepting the fact that until my number is called my job is to seize the day.

Seizing the day is a broad concept that, for me, includes both taking as many opportunities for adventures as possible, and also taking time to cuddle a baby without looking at the clock. When I am living my best life I say what I mean, and I follow those words with actions. Making the most of the time I am given is a goal that is never far from my mind, and is firmly planted in my heart, because I know that one person can make a difference. Phil taught me that. But I didn't know how huge his influence on me was, until it was too late to tell him. I try to remember that the words I use may become an enduring memory for someone I care about, and I try very hard to speak words of both praise and gratitude. I may have only one chance to utter them. Time is something I no longer take for granted.

In fact, time is now something I relish in ways large and small...I love giggling with my kids, and running with good friends. I've discovered that Alaska has rain forests, and that Texas is actually huge. I've both cried, and laughed uproariously, with widowed people from all walks of life. I've witnessed both births and deaths and found them both to be an amazing honor. Over the past six years I walked on beaches on the opposite side of the earth from my home, hiked in majestic mountains, and looked over my shoulder for bears while trekking through the above mentioned rain forests. I spent New Year's Eve in New York City, and have driven alone on country roads from Ohio to Indiana. I've walked with friends through cancer, divorce, the loss of a home, and the pain of losing a baby. I have not been just an observer of life, I have rolled my sleeves up and jumped in with two feet time and time again. Because life is short. You and I know that better than most. So now I choose not to waste a single day that I could be making a difference.

President Abraham Lincoln suffered through the deaths of three of his four children, and was well known to be prone to depression. Having come through one particularly dark period, a good friend told Mr. Lincoln that he had been afraid his despair would swallow him whole. President Lincoln responded:

"I have an irrepressible desire to live until I can be assured that the world is a little better for my having lived in it."

Cheers to another year full of opportunities to improve the world, one small bit at a time.

**If you believe that Widow's Voice, and the programs of Soaring Spirits Loss Foundation, have made a difference for you, we'd be honored if you would consider us for a tax-deductible, year-end donation of any amount. SSLF is a non-profit organization that creates and maintains communities for widowed people around the world. We believe in the power of shared experience to heal, to inspire, and to lead the way to a hope filled future for widowed people everywhere. Thank you for sharing your widowed journey with us all year long. Donate now in support of SSLF. We are so grateful for the many ways in which you all support our mission.


  1. At first, I too could not celebrate time passing, each birthday, holiday or special occasion. Now I realize my job, as a widow, right now is to appreciate the things I have now, bceause the things I miss like the sound/ smell/ feel of a man- my husband is something I once took for granted. As I look back, I realize that there really is no going back, but only moving towards the future, but ejoyinging the now is the only thing that truly counts. For those of you new to this journey, I promise you- you will get here. One day you will look around you and notice the beauty in the day and be amazed that you did after all you have experienced!

  2. The beauty on the other side of hell is the changes it can create in us if we want to let it. I too feel this sense of wonder that I'm lucky enough to get to live some more and want to eat life up while I get my chance.
    Happy Birthday, Michele. You are kick-ass!

  3. Happy Birthday Michele! You have absolutely made a difference in this world! Thank you!!!!

    21 months ago I basically was ignorant to the "w" world. Now, a member (obviously not by choice) I consider myself privledged to be among so many exceptionally brave, talented, giving and generous people who contribute to making the world a better place each and every day!

  4. Happy, happy, happy Day! I'll admit I was confused when I started reading your post. Seizing the day is a great motto! :-)

  5. Happy Birthday Michele!

    Thank you so much for all you've done and do for us.

    I too find it odd that I am now older than my Dave.

    I'm finding it harder to maintain that longing to live life to the fullest every day. (The longer I continue trodding into work each day, the farther away that goal seems to get! I need to find a middle ground.)

    Oh. And I stumbled across a hilarious birthday card last week. I'm sure this is entirely inappropriate but it made me laugh out loud. The front of the card read: 'I used to live each day as if it were my last, but people got tired of me screaming, "I'm Going to Die!! I'm Going to Die!!"'
    (I'm sorry if I've offended some. I did find it funny though.)

    Thank you again Michele. I know that your desire to make a difference has benefited us all!

  6. Happy Birthday, Michele! You GO, Girl!

  7. Be in the moment, seize the day, for that is really all there is. We can't change the past, the future is just that, so no other choice but to live for and in today. I am learning, if but slowly, to proceed as you have, no sense on wasting time anymore, it is precious and can change in an instant, as we all know.

    Happy Birthday, Michele, you do make such a difference in our world, it is definitely a better place for you having lived in it. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on life and living and widowhood. We are listening.

  8. Happy Birthday! I celebrate my 3rd one since Walter died on Saturday. Celebrate - something I wondered if I could ever do again the first year. But as I stated recently, I am living my life, albeit different than planned. Operative word LIVING!

  9. Cathy and Lyn are nicer than me. How can you write a column and say "cease" the day? I think we already lived through that. And it is much easier to live life to the fullest when you have found a new husband, and have the money to to to NYC, the other side of the world, Alaska, and go on retreats and trips to new states when it is paid for by your foundation. Not all of us have those resources available to us. And yeah, the barrage of comments to follow unfortunately force me to put anonymous on my comment.

  10. Dear Anonymous above,

    I posted your comment because I tend to not edit comments written to our about me. I also wanted to clarify that I can write a blog about ceasing the day, because that is what death taught me, that I only get to live this life once and so I will do what I can while I can.

    Also, I want to be very clear. SSLF did not pay for one of the trips that I mentioned here. I worked a ton of hours as a personal trainer, juggled schedules, and counted on friends and family to cover for me while I was away. I do travel for work too, but pleasure trips are %100 my responsibility.

    I am a very fortunate woman. I know that, and I am extremely grateful for the many blessings in my life including my new husband. I keep showing up for life day in and day out, and hoping that using the gifts I have been given to help others will somehow make their road a little easier as well.

    Wishing you much peace, and many blessings.

  11. And thank you for the spelling correction. Ridiculous oversight...and a great way to prove that I make mistakes regularly.

  12. Thank you Caty and Lyn...this will teach me to write when I am tired :)

  13. Having watched someone struggle and seize the day for 25 years I have learnt to do just that. My husband struggled to live as near normal a life as possible within the boundaries of his health. I know how very important it is to find joy and laughter in each day and how important it is to also feel the sorrows along the way. We went through births, deaths and near deaths during that time, but there was never a day when he was not happy to have woken and to have been part of this world.
    When he first died it was like a light switched off but I was reminded by his closest friend that he would not have wanted me to hide away. I started to look in each and every day to find the things that brought him joy and made our life together special. Within three months I had found some joy in my life again. Little touches amongst the fog, dim, but there. Now after almost 13 months and a whole bunch of firsts I am finding the joys outweigh the sorrows. He lead by example and I still follow that example.
    His motto was "Life is too damn short to not find pleasure in the day and I am going to be a long time dead no matter how long I live."
    There is joy out there, find the smaller ones and the larger ones will come along.
    I have not remarried, taken trips away, done all those wonderful things that others have done, but this year I am going to celebrate my days in the way that he did and do the things that are right for me.
    Thank you Michele for your wonderful support of all of us.
    Shadow and Cloud

  14. Happy birthday, Michele!!! You are grace, hope, and commitment personified. Thank you so much for ALL you do. Raising my glass to you today! XO, Maria

  15. Happy Birthday Michelle! You are such an inspiration. I look at the life you lead and know that there is HOPE for me. You ARE helping others and improving this world. Because HOPE MATTERS!!!!

  16. Oh Michele - thank you yet again for writing what's in my head, then adding on your extra years of experience and wisdom. Greg died 30 days before my 40th birthday and for the past 2 birthdays, I Did Not Want time to move on without him.... a sign I was getting older when he was not.
    I now find myself seizing the day more often than not. I have dark days, but more days of joy.
    Thankyou for all of the work you do - so much of it as a volunteer. I am so glad you are "in" my life even in such a virtual way as through this blog.

  17. Michele,
    Thank you for your message of hope. It's all about our choice of attitude and how we deal with what life has given us? After 17 months, I still wake and go to sleep thinking of my husband..but he's gone and I'm blessed to have life left for me. My 60th is coming up, I've been dreading being alone for it but your post has helped me look at it in new light. grateful for the daily sunrise and sunset, the winter crispness, the promise of hope and happiness in my future. I choose to grab at what life a tribute to my love that gave me so much. Happy birthday, you're beautiful and I thank you for your wisdom.

  18. Dear Michele- Happy Birthday!
    Your understanding that many of us and including myself still struggle with birthday's and holidays, but you have been in our shoes and that understanding is the bond we all have and share though we are at different stages of this unfortunate journey we were given. I thank you from the bottom of my heart for you desire to take your grief and turn it into something positive that not only keeps your husband Phil's legacy but continues on and touches and helps so many lives. You and your foundation has saved me from many dark places I've gone into during my grief and is now the only thing I feel passionate about is trying to find a way to honor my husbands legacy as you did. You are inspiring and I wish you only the best.

  19. Happy Birthday Michele! You made a difference in my life today as I read your post. Thank you for reminding me that it is ok to try to live life fully and give with a full heart.