Wednesday, May 30, 2012
Me and my new husband, Steve :)
Ever since Jeremy's death, I've noticed how much more careful I am with my words.
The months after he died, I couldn't muster up the energy to write anything with feeling (unless it was deep and utter sadness). Even my texts were void of expression. I remember posting something about not wanting to misguide people into believing I was better than I was. No exclamation marks. No smiley faces. When good things happened, and a lot did, I expressed my gratitude but never joy. Never happiness.
All my widowed friends understand what I mean. Everyone giving you the head tilt and asking how you are....I could no longer give a general "good" - I was far from good. I shrugged my shoulders and said 'ok' or more commonly 'I'm still here.' To me, that was the worst I could possibly be.
I have since continually felt like I couldn't really breathe in pure joy ever again. Sure, good things happen and I smile easier and I can say I'm good again most of the time....but every good thing in my life stems from one horrible worst-moment-of-my-life event.
Yesterday, I came home from a 9 day honeymoon in Jamaica. It was fabulous. Beautiful weather, beautiful scenery, beautiful company. It was a trip I will remember for the rest of my life. In fact, because of grief, I take moments in so much deeper than I used to, writing things down, taking more pictures...I just know how priceless life is now. And even though the trip was wonderful, I still grieved. One night, I grieved heavily and it came at me without warning. The truth is, I can only enjoy this amazing trip with Steve because Jeremy isn't here anymore. I can't think about the depths of that for too long or it'll drive me insane, but every once in awhile, the heaviness of it sits on my chest and threatens to suffocate me. You can only imagine the type of man it takes to sit beside his wife who's shaking and sobbing uncontrollably while grieving her dead husband.
Steve and I talked in depth about the trip and our favorite pieces and how much we enjoyed it, but I expressed how awkward it is to feel like grief has stripped away innocence from me. I will never again use the phrase "best day of my life" or "the happiest I've ever been" or "worst day of my life" without feeling like I would betray my life and love with Jeremy. Even though these phrases can be over dramatized or loose within context, I'm very careful to use other language.
The smilies and exclamation marks have long been back in my texts and writing. When people ask me how I'm doing or how my trip was, I can say without lying, "great." I don't know if the day will ever come, though, where I won't use a different language than everyone else when I carefully compare and contrast life. I call it the language of grief.
I guess that makes me bilingual.
.... but was not.
Monday, that is.
It should have been our 29th anniversary .... but it was not.
Not technically, anyway.
Ironically enough, it fell on a holiday .... Memorial Day.
No, he wasn't a vet, but I dare say that we remember a lot of people on Memorial Day.
Especially those of us on this site.
Two of my children remembered ..... and told me they were thinking of me.
Someone asked if I liked to be reminded that it was known .... or if it was best to say nothing.
Never say nothing.
It's always nice to know that someone remembers.
That someone is thinking of you and of .... "what should have been".
This was my 5th anniversary without him.
That number cannot be right.
That number surprises me.
And brings tears to my eyes.
It doesn't seem possible.
I re-count, just to make sure (I never did like math).
Yep, 2008 to 2012 = 5 years.
Well, 4 1/2 if we are precise.
But five May 28ths.
I never pictured myself living without him for one second .... let alone almost 5 years.
It seems, in so many ways, that it was just yesterday.
At other times, it feels like it's been a century.
I have lived many lifetimes in these 4 plus years.
I am stunned that this is our 5th year without him.
And yet .... I am thankful, too.
Not that he's gone ..... but that I am past the horrible cold, dark days of my grief.
I never pictured myself surviving one day without him .... let alone almost 5 years.
But here I am.
Writing about how I felt on ..... well, on "what should have been".
And just writing.
Not writing and crying.
(For a couple of years it seemed as if I would always cry as I wrote.)
We all have these moments.
We all have these days.
We all probably have a list ..... of "what should have been".
After almost 5 years I can tell you that the pain has lessened.
And I don't have many of these days.
In fact, I've misplaced my list.
Or maybe I just tucked it away one day.... when I found it was too difficult to write that list as I moved forward.
But just in case someone should ask ..... I like to know that others are thinking .....
of what should have been.
Posted by Janine at 12:06 AM
Tuesday, May 29, 2012
Things aren't awful.
We have everything we need.
Despite weeks of illness of one kind or another, we are basically healthy.
But the longing for my soulmate is as strong as ever.
I think part of my problem is that I never got to say goodbye.
In fact, we'd had a tiff the Friday before as he went to the farm to work for yet another weekend and I was starting a new job on Monday morning and would have really appreciated the moral support / family time / him taking the kids so I could prepare lessons etc.
I was so upset that went as far as not getting out of bed to welcome him home at 11:30pm Sunday night when I finally heard his car pull into the driveway.
I was so upset that went as far as not getting out of bed to welcome him home at 11:30pm Sunday night when I finally heard his car pull into the driveway.
I am thankful that our tiffs were never big or long-lasting...... I could have remained pissed off at him on the Monday morning, but his tired little face melted me and we held each other for for a few minutes before we went on with the rush of the day.
Then we were making breakfasts and lunches and having our ritual morning family cuddle before Greg drove off to work.
I didn't realise that would be the last time I ever saw him.
Unsurvivable head injuries meant that I took the advice of police, chaplains, morticians, relatives and friends that I shouldn't see him. At the time, I took their advice.
But one thing I wish I had been able to do was to spend time alone with him (even if he was inside the sealed coffin) before the funeral.
Nobody watching me in my grief.
Nobody watching me in my grief.
I was so self-conscious of the 300+ eyes on me during the service that instead of kissing his coffin like I wanted to, I laid my head briefly on it. I could feel 300 pairs of eyes boring into the back of my head. ....and being an introvert, I couldn't breathe with all those eyes watching me, leave alone watching me at my worst.
I wish I could have spoken to him without those eyes watching me .
If I had a re-run, I would have insisted upon it.
But then again, if I got a re-run, I wouldn't have let him go to work that day.....
So yeah, right now, I've surely seen better days..... but I have also seen much, much worse ones.
...and so I keep plodding on in the hope that the days are better.
Monday, May 28, 2012
My dear friend introduced me to a friend of hers today. At dinner, I learned that his brother was widowed in March. As in this March. As in less than 3 months ago. He's 43, without kids, and now without his wife.
I listened to the horrible story of how she died suddenly and how he found out. I tried to picture that man in those first few moments and days and the images were so closely bound up with my own sensory memories that for a few minutes I couldn't separate myself from the situation.
The intense pain of those first few months flooded through me and I juggled urges to detach just enough to avoid falling apart at the seams and to connect enough to empathize.
And then, something kicked in. Something so gratifying that it filled me up and shot out of me like light. I realized that I was the one who might actually be able to bring resources to this man who has just lost his best friend.
I took a piece of paper and a pen out of my purse and began to make a list for this man. I wrote SSLF, Camp Widow, Widow's Voice, my own blog, my own email, and my widowed friends' blog addresses. I tried to express what made it harder for me in the beginning and what made it easier.
It's difficult now to explain how this felt. I suppose, like Chris Weaver says, it's like throwing a rope to someone who's drowning. There's such relief in knowing that as long as he takes a hold of the life ring at the end of that rope, he can make it. There was a visceral sense of satisfaction that felt like energy filling my chest and heart.
There was an urgency, too. I wanted to gather the troops and find this man a few states away and get started. I wanted to physically put him on a plane to Camp Widow in San Diego in August and just say "TRUST ME" as the plane takes off. I wanted to surround him with my widowed friends and say "Look. This is the face of widowhood. We survive. We thrive. We come out of this stronger. It's possible. Don't give up."
I will not tell anyone to do anything they're not ready to do and I know from hard-won experience how difficult it is to hear "you shoulds" from anyone else during this process. Everyone is so different and grieving is just as varied. I have no right to tell this man what to do, but oh how I want to tell him to reach out. I want him to want to reach out. But most of all, I want to make him see that he's not as alone as he probably thinks he is.
I also felt some relief knowing that this man now had a concrete way to help his brother with this information I'd given him. It is so hard to know how to help someone who has suffered such a loss. I saw the strain of that in my loved one's faces after Dave died. I know that they all wanted to do what they could to help me and that they were unprepared.
None of us had ever gone through anything remotely like it before and yet they taught me how to do the most incredible job at helping a newly widowed person. And now, in a small way, I could pay that forward by sharing how they helped me most -- making arrangements, taking calls, bringing meals, sitting with me while I cried, taking my lead, the list goes on for days.
As my one year mark grows near, I think more and more about how my loved ones and I have formed this incredible web of love to survive this event. It holds me up and sustains me.
I don't believe in the stereotypical image of a winged angel from heaven. I believe in something better - angels right here on earth. Human, fallible, beautiful, mortal, loving human angels. Any of us can be an angel at any time. It just takes reaching out in case someone might be drowning. It takes gently but firmly tugging on them until they can swim out of the currents on their own.
I hope I can help someone even a fraction as much as my friends have helped (and continue to help) me.
Sunday, May 27, 2012
It was August 2007 and my wife and I were eating dinner in the kitchen when her mother came out of her bedroom – we moved in with Lisa’s mother four years prior to help her battle cancer. She let me know that I mailed the check for her credit card late and there is now a $15 late fee. It ended up being a pretty big deal in the house. Even Lisa let me know she wasn’t happy.
I put myself back in that memory and I struggle to make sense of the tension that night. I find myself reliving the moment, but altering the conversation, “Deena, Lisa, don’t worry about $15, even though neither of you feel sick, in less than 9 months you’ll both be taken away from this family. Let’s focus on each other and enjoy our time together.” Lisa’s mother lost her battle with colon cancer April 2008, my wife passed from breast cancer in July of that same year.
With all the apps out there that will even tell us what to wear. Isn’t there one that shows upcoming bills and says “A reminder to remit this month’s credit card payment. Please note, this is your 12 month warning your life is ending, adjust your priorities accordingly.”
Because that is the only way I am not going to put over importance to the world of $15 late fees. I would love to think that I can go through life enjoying it more, knowing our time here is short. Looking back on how mad everyone was over $15, and now two of the three people in that conversation are dead, burns me up. But I know I never would've said that night, “Come on, this tension is silly. I'll miss both of you, if for some strange reason, you both were to die next year. Let’s play cards.”
It frustrates me to walk around trying to be idealistic in a non idealistic world. I see things that are trivial all the time. While I understand there are bigger issues to worry about, I also understand that trivial issues will always be legitimate. I find myself having a debate with myself when I see one of them come up:
“This is like the tenth car commercial I’ve seen today. Do we really put that much of our identity into the car we drive? We focus too much on stupid crap and miss out on thoughts for deeper meaning.”
“Matt, you know better, new cars are important. Buying one doesn’t mean you do not understand the true meaning of life. Stop this nonsense.”
“No, I don’t care. I want to see commercials that focus less on external importance and more for internal growth.”
“You know that’s not going to happen, so quit causing trouble. You start acting like this and you’ll lose friends.”
So, it goes on and on and I continue my life. Finding the right balance of understanding the small issues people choose to make high priority and not understanding getting upset over stupid topics like a $15 late fee. But I have to be careful, as I see ridiculous issues every day, and if I let it get to me, will eat me up. It’s a free world and people have a right to put the focus anywhere they want. Heck, sports are a place for many of the non important issues I see. Yet, I like sports as much as the next person, nothing wrong with following games for enjoyment.
As a matter of fact, I can’t believe that football has already their started summer camps. I saw Jay Cutler from the Chicago Bears excited about his new receivers – I share that excitement. I remember how happy I was when Cutler was traded from Denver. That was crazy how that all blew up. The owner of the Broncos wrote a letter to his season ticket holders trying to quell the storm over getting rid of a Pro Bowl quarterback.
I remember reading about how angry the fans were in Denver. One fan wrote to the paper, “What do I tell my kids? We don't have a quarterback; we don't have a defense. His letter to us season ticket holders does nothing to ease my mind."
Wait, did he just say, what do I tell my kids? I can totally relate to what this guy is going through. As a matter of fact, I had to have almost the same conversation of, "what do I tell my kids" a few years ago. The only small difference was, mine was telling them that their mother had…. (deep breath) “I will not let this eat me up, I will not let this eat me up, I will not…..”
Saturday, May 26, 2012
This week is like one in December. One I've quite nicely entitled....Hell Week. It basically consists of days that seem to consolidate lots of loss or the reminder of what once was, into a small period of time. On May 21st, 2007, Michael was killed when a man in a field detonated 2,000 pounds of explosives directly underneath him. On May 26th, 2011, our baby, Charlie, died after his battle with cancer. On May 28th, I'll be existing during Memorial Day...a day I live every day. On June 1st, 2007, We had Michael's memorial service. On June 2nd, 2007, I spread his ashes. On June 3rd, 2011, I thought of how much I despised living on earth without two things I loved more than myself. Okay...that's hell week and a half...I always sucked at math...but besides that... These dates signify the most pivotal moments in my life. They were the last day that they had that their last inhale....their last exhale... These were the days were the last days I'd hear their voice or feel their wet tongue on my cheek... These were the days that bred many 'what ifs'...many 'could I have done things differently'...and for each...5 years and 1 year later...I still struggle with both... Some more than with others. But with each I was given the gift I never will regret. The gift to say the only things human vocabulary ever created for such beings as Charlie and Michael. "I love you"..."I'm so in love with you."..."I love you more than life itself." The pain is always there. Not to burst any bubbles. It's a dormant ache that re-surfaces in the moments we reflect on that which we have lost. But the ache is soothed by the love that withstands all things...even death. Someone once said that where we invest our love is where we invest our life. I've been given the greatest investment...to keep living for them..for myself. I miss them more than I can even try to pretend to want to know. I ache for them at random moments to the point of unstoppable tears. And yes...5 years later it is still a bit of a "Hell Week"...but I stop and I absorb, and I feel, and I release, and I feel their love. And the investment always has the greatest return.
Friday, May 25, 2012
Grayson‘s phone died last week – it could no longer be charged, so a new phone was a requirement. He doesn’t talk on it much, but uses it to text friends and primarily to keep in touch with me while I’m at work. I need to be able to contact him – some of the lovely widow-worry baggage that I carry.
Anyway, his new phone came in the mail on Tuesday, and it is WAY cooler than his previous phone – so he was psyched. He transferred all of his contacts into his new phone and got busy assigning ring tones, photos, etc. For an 11 year old, he has an amazingly large contact list – but he has a huge family, so they take up a good chunk of space. He spent quite a bit of time getting the phone set up, and then sent me a txt telling me how much he loves his new phone and thanking me for getting it for him. Cutie pie.
A little while later, he came upstairs and sat at the kitchen counter. He had a cute little smile on his face and was holding his new phone. I was busy patting myself on the back for picking such a cool phone when he said “I feel really happy Mom”. I’m not sure exactly what I said but I’m sure it was something unremarkable back – like “good, I’m glad you like your new phone”. His face lit up, and he said he really liked the phone, but that wasn’t why he was so happy. I didn’t say anything, but looked at him like “so….?” And he said – I saved Carl’s phone number into my phone. I called it “Dad”. The smile on his face was so darn cute. I was speechless for a moment and just hugged him. So happy for him, and so happy for me that he’s so happy. Happy sigh!
Thursday, May 24, 2012
This post was written last week, as I am blissfully unaware of the real world this week enjoying a Jamaican honeymoon with my wonderful new husband!
Ever since the moment I knew I would marry Steve, I have felt so much peace about where God was taking us. Even in the way He brought us together; all the things I thought would worry me about getting married after losing someone I love so much turned out to be bearable issues that we worked out so seamlessly. Even the peace I felt against other's insecurities...it just all came together in the way only God can pull it off.
The only thing I ever felt unsettled about has been my name. Veronica King. It's who I am, who I have become, and who I want to be. When Jeremy and I got married, I couldn't wait to change my last name. I was proud to belong to Jeremy and take his name, I was proud to be a King and had waited my whole life to become a "Mrs." And I feel the same way about Steve: I am proud to be his and be a part of his family and take his name. The difference this time though, is that my name is also my connection to Jeremy. It's what keeps us connected, it's how people find him through me and visa versa. I am part of his legacy and he is a part of mine. It birthed my blog, Everyday Kings. I jokingly used to tell Jeremy that the only way I'd ever change my last name from King was if it were to become Queen instead.
When this issue arose, I felt so unsettled about it, like I had to choose who I loved more, and tried to find other people who had remarried after being widowed to see what they did with their last name and why. I didn't really have any luck figuring out what to do. I didn't know how to bring it up to Steve, even though I knew he would be understanding, because I didn't want in any way to make it seem like I didn't want to take his last name or that he is less important.
We finally talked it through and Steve, being the incredible guy that he is, was very understanding and let me take my time deciding what I wanted to do. The only solution that gave me any sort of settlement was to have my cake and eat it too.
Ladies and gentlemen, I'd like to introduce myself: I am now Mrs. Veronica King-Cunningham! :) It's a mouth-full and a lot to write down, but it incorporates the two things I love most and puts a smile on my face and peace in my heart.
For any of those reading who have been remarried, what did you do with your last name and why did you make that decision?
Wednesday, May 23, 2012
picture from here
.... than being single.
Remember when I wrote this post about what happened at Camp Widow East? I remember. It ended up being a very important night for me.
It was about saying goodbye to Jim and turning to face my future .... and the person who I thought was in my future.
Well, color me stupid.
I should have known that something wasn't quite right when he was the ONLY person who didn't comment on that post.
I wrote it on my personal blog that same day and many, many people contacted me. Especially friends who had known Jim and me for a long time. They were all very happy for me. I heard/read a lot of comments about that post.
Except from one person.
One very important person.
At the time.
I guess the two of us have different definitions of love.
And I'm ok with that.
Because there are much worse things than being single.
Being with someone with a different definition is worse.
Being with someone who can't truly love is worse.
Being widowed has never been a walk in the park.
In fact, it sucks.
But I am grateful for what I had .... with Jim .... for as long as I had it .... and him.
I know what love is.
I know what love looks like.
I know what love sounds like.
And I know how love responds.
Thank God I haven't forgotten.
Because there are worse things than being single.
Being with the wrong person would be worse.
"Settling" and hoping things will work out would be worse.
Being with someone who keeps a record of wrongs (imaginary wrongs at that!), rather than a record of his love for me would be far worse.
I have been loved too well to settle for less.
And I have too much love to give to deserve less.
So I will not settle.
And I will remember what love truly is .... and that I deserve it.
Because there are worse things .... than being single.
Posted by Janine at 12:08 AM
Tuesday, May 22, 2012
A bloggy friend of mine has just suffered an awful loss - she has miscarried IVF twins at about 6 weeks. She and her husband have been trying to fall pregnant for over 5 years - this was her first pregnancy.
To say I am gutted for her is an understatement ... but she has a wicked sense of humour and I know that this is something that will get her through the grief.
Another friend has faced many, many difficulties in her life. She has experienced a different kind of loss to those of us who have had our spouse die. But she knows the darkness well. .....and she chooses to laugh in the face (
We have all been tarred with the same dark brush in many ways ..... we seem to live by the motto: when all else fails and the world about you has turned to ashes, laugh. Preferably at something dark or obscure.
Dark humour is something that only those who have truly known darkness can pull off. All other attempts are feeble and not laugh-worthy.
So despite the amount of extra misery dumped in my lap this week (
I choose to see the funny side.
Maybe it is only a distraction from grief, but its working for me today.
Monday, May 21, 2012
I didn't see this one coming at all, so I couldn't prepare myself (which is a sensation I'm getting familiar with now).
I was nothing but excited to look at potential houses to buy. I didn't think of the trigger it would be to go house shopping without Dave for the first time. I'm glad I didn't know ahead of time what it would do to me, or I'd never have gone. Blind, naive enthusiasm - thanks for getting me out of the house in the first place!
While a dear friend, the realtor and I drove around, I began to feel a little unease. I couldn't put a finger on it. There was just something "off". My enthusiasm and optimism drained out of me a drop at a time. It wasn't a black hole, or a sob session (yet). It was just a little discomfort and the sensation of detaching from the moment and hovering above. Not quite present in my body.
Each house was nice, but not the "one". Each neighborhood was okay, but not the "one". I didn't feel true enthusiasm for much at all and just couldn't access a feeling of excitement.
I began to worry about being a homeowner again. Each house I looked at was a potential money pit and neon sign screaming "Lady - YOU NEED A JOB!". Each house was situated in neighborhoods full of families and couples and smugly whispered "You're alone again at 36! These are houses for couples and families!".
By the time I got home, I still hadn't realized what was headed my way, grief-wise. I was a little mopey when I set down my purse and keys. I picked up my gigantic cat, Rosco, to snuggle him for comfort and turned to my right. Staring back at me were two pictures of Dave and me on our travels. My tribute tiles from camp.
In a rush, an ocean wave of gigantic proportions, I fell down the black hole. I held Rosco and cried into his fur for a while. I could hear echoes of my old life all around me. Our sunny, beautiful home-of-our-dreams, now inhabited by strangers, materialized around me, my current life falling away. I was transported back to that life of married security, sharing our love for those silly cats of ours, making plans and splitting life up equally so that neither one of us had to take it all on alone. I felt the loss of it all wash over me, amplified by the stark contrast of the experience that day - searching for a house for a single woman. Attempting to take on my next big life event without my best friend and partner in everything.
I felt my insides shredding apart. I felt the black hole in my gut open up. I cried until my head pounded and I could no longer breath through my nose.
So I filled the bath with extra hot water and slipped into that comforting place where I somehow feel secure enough to do my most gut-wrenching crying. I begged for comfort. I asked Dave to help me. I talked to him for a long time and felt nothing but the black hole within. I curled my body up around the terrible emptiness that I feel there. I writhed in that bathtub with a pain too large to contain in one body.
I cried until the headache reached a new height, and got out of the bath like an elderly person, popped 3 Advil and curled up in bed to watch 30 Rock until I could numb myself enough to fall asleep.
No house I look at could ever measure up and it's not because of the physical house I had to give up (although my old house is so unique, that might just be the case!), it's because it was our house.
My bathtub conversation with Dave ended with me telling him that I now have him integrated into my being and that there's no way anyone could be any closer to me than that. I told him that whatever house I live in will be home because I will take him with me into that new dwelling. I told him that I'd continue to work hard to take good care of myself since he is no longer here to do so. I told him that I'd survive to make sure I honor his life. I told him that I'd do it all for him until I could do it for myself, too. I told him I loved him and always would.
Only part of me felt the courage to say those hopeful things and the other part went along with it just in case the power of positive thinking would pull me along with it.
I have definitely lost some of my enthusiasm around house shopping. Some of my courage has evaporated when I think of taking it all on without him. The whole process has forced me to think even more of how damn vulnerable I am. I am sole caretaker of me. If I don't find a way to support myself, no one will. There is no back-up like there was in my former life.
What that means though, is that I will emerge stronger because of it. I already have and I need to remember that.
I have to remember that losing him has given me a terrible but beautiful gift.
The chance to be truly self-sufficient for the first time in my life, the ability to help others who are walking this path, and the opportunity to choose life.
Just because you're breathing, it doesn't necessarily mean you're living. And I want to be living. Which means that I can't give up.
So, tomorrow I will be looking at houses again. I can do this.
Sunday, May 20, 2012
This is a piece I read aloud at Camp Widow during the Blog Slam. I thought I would share it everyone.
I like myself – I like being me.
What’s not to like:
Nice Guy – live a clean life – adoring father – good at fantasy baseball.
What’s the point of change, this system works for me. People would just have to put up with my bad to get my good. I must be doing well; I have people who love me for just being me.
Then cancer takes one I love most.
Lisa’s death rattles my confidence. Months go by and I struggle with being a parent by myself. With no one to bounce ideas off of, I start to question decision I am making. My indecisions show and I find I have too short of a fuse with my girls. I can hear them yelling at me, “But Dad!” as I say, “No, this is how we do things.” Followed by, “You don’t understand me.” I walk out of rooms thinking, am I that unapproachable, that unbending?
For the first time in my life a deep reflection of who I really am sets in. Sleepless nights let me ponder what I’ve taken for granted. I have not put in the effort to grow my personality; I have relied only on the basic skills I’ve been born with.
I start to ask myself questions. Questions that are painful to face. Are my three daughters dealing with a man whois not listening to them? Even though I may see these issues as crazy, silly, over-dramatic; to them it’s important, and am I pushing them away where they grow up lying to their dad and then in the future to their husbands. Why not, isn’t that what strong male figures do, not listen?
I see my flaws and in an unexpected way, enjoy this new awaking of how I missed the boat and what I did wrong. I emotionally start to punch myself in ordert o change my ways, the soft blows feels nice, the pain causes me to alter my current path.
I can feel myself start to change; our bedtime routines are becoming more pleasant, I notice I no longer cut off the girls when they are arguing their point of view. I walk in the door from work and even though my coat is still on, I stop and listen as three girls all talk at once telling me their “news” of the day.
However, there are still days of blown opportunities, laziness where the girls are being punished for no real reason at all, in the back of my mind I know the battles I am fighting are not battles at all, just areason for me to be upset, and more real, I am taking out on the girls the tollof my long, lonely, tired days. They have done nothing wrong, but end up getting blamed for all of my outside frustrations.
I have not changed enough. I continue my personal inquisition. The deeper I dig, the more punishing I become on myself. After a night of making the kids cry at bedtime, I go downstairs and emotionally tear myself apart, going over every minute detail, every single word I’ve said and convincing myself I have ruined these girls forever. The punches getharder and my body starts to bruise. I’m too busy hitting myself that I can’t see the marks.
Soon the punches are at full strength and don’t stop. The list of how worthless I am gets longer. Now, not just on the bad nights, but every night when I go to bed, I lie awake replaying the mistakes I made that day. I wake up exhausted and disliking myself that much more. Night after night, week after week of focusing on my weaknesses, I am getting lost in my own disgust.
I hate myself. What’s not to hate, bad father, crappy human being, took my wife for granted, don’t listen to others, try to win too many arguments. I hate being me.
Lying awake one night, I can finally feels the bruises on my body. I’m covered in them. Why did I do this to myself? I call off the dogs, and tell myself to stop hitting.
For the time being I stop the interrogation. I let the bruises heal first.
I then call a meeting of the guy who liked himself and the guy who hated himself. I tell them thereis only room for one Matthew. I ask them to please leave the most useful parts of each of them on the table and I’ll create a new normal based off those.
I like myself. But the difference is, this time, I do know what’s not to like. And I will try my best to make those corrections, I may fail, but at least I now understand a healthy way to progress my personality.
Friday, May 18, 2012
5 years since I last heard his voice..saw his face...heard "I love you...and I'm so in love with you, baby."
And in these 5 years I've learned just what it takes to be the "perfect" widow, and I'd like to share it with all of y'all:
- You must be imperfect.
- You must make mistakes.
- You must persevere.
- You must follow your heart.
- You must do so knowing that many will tell you you shouldn't.
- You must ignore them.
- You must find a reason to smile...
- Not everyday...as that is not feasible...but more times then times you frown in a year will suffice.
- Being a widow is a title you should be proud of..
- Never forget that.
- You are amazing.
- Your spouses love will get you through the moments that you will feel are unbearable...
- Keep you heart open to feeling it.
- Life is short.
- Love is eternal.
- Repeat that to yourself each day.
And there you have it....ingredients to being the perfect widow.
It took me 5 years to realize and I'm sure I'll become more "perfect" along the way...but this is all I have for now.
“Oh, hey! Did I tell you that our interior decorator finally died of lung cancer?”
The off-hand declarative struck my heart ice cold.
“Was she married?” I asked.
“Yes, I think so” came the reply - innocent because he was oblivious.
The enormity of the moment was sweetly coated with blessed ignorance. “Of course she died – she had cancer. It couldn’t have been a surprise. And sure she had a husband.” (None of these things were actually said, but these are the things that the innocent say. Heck, these are the things I said before I was less… innocent.)
“Can you connect me with her husband?”
Right now, somewhere in Austin, there’s a man sitting by himself who has no idea how he’s going to live another day without the sweet touch of his wife. All-too-fresh and tender last-moments coat the inside of his eyelids. Somewhere in Austin, he’s wandering around a suddenly quiet house, picking up the shoes she last wore, smelling them and then putting them down; picking up the glass she last drank from; looking at her toothbrush, hat and socks she was wearing just days ago and wondering what the hell just happened. Somewhere in Austin, there’s a man drowning and Austin is oblivious.
Saturday I’m attending (yet another) wedding but this one is very special. One of Maggie’s closest girlfriends (and for the last three years, one of mine) is getting married. He’s a nice guy and they are going to have a wonderful, long life together. Maggie never met him but I’m positive she would approve. Walking down that isle, she’ll wear not only a fancy white dress and big grin but also the ring that Maggie wore every day after our wedding day as her “something borrowed.” It’s the closest thing she’ll have to Maggie’s blessing. I’m truly happy for her. That night, the whole world will celebrate the joining of these two lives.
So there it is – Saturday night, one couple is committing to walk forever together while one man can’t grasp why his wife is never, ever coming home.
We, the ones who read with this blog, are truly gifted because of our shared experience and loss. We know all too well what the bookends of a relationship look like. In contrast, most people only know what it looks like when the books fall chaotically off the shelf. Our experience is our gift and our curse. Experience has made us rich but at an unbelievable price.
Riches are worth nothing if they are stuck in a mattress (or in my case, on top of a mattress - unshaved, unshowered and crying.) We’ve all had this gift shoved down our throat. But it takes another kindred soul to point us the way and explain that it’s going to be ok; that this is a gift; and that we will survive. Camp Widow 2011 did that for me. Now I feel like it’s my job to make sure that other people see the gift they’ve been given underneath all the rubble, starting with a big ol’ dose of you-aren’t-alone.
Mr. Sleepless In Austin, I’m coming for you. I never wanted to meet you and I wish you and I had nothing in common, but that’s not where we are right now. Regardless, we have a lot to talk about, you and me. See you soon.
Thursday, May 17, 2012
This will be my last blog post as a single woman....Saturday, I will be becoming Mrs. Steve Cunningham! The reality is sinking in, and I am getting SO excited! It's really been a crazy ride, and a quick one, so I haven't had much time to really let it process that this is MY wedding I'm planning, not someone else's - that and I haven't really let myself get too giddy about it.
It's weird that in the midst of all the craziness and planning my wedding with Steve how much it has made me miss Jeremy. Not because I'm not excited or because I'm not in a good place, but because he has always been the person I share everything with and I have been desperately aching to just share the ins and outs of life with him, the way I always used to. But, I recognize the irony in that and know that both of those things - my life circumstance and sharing it with Jer - could never happen at the same time.
While I'm experiencing the very weird mix of excitement and grief, I realize what a unique and frustrating place it has put me in. I find myself holding back happiness so I don't appear too excited about my wedding, because people then think it means I'm over Jeremy, that I'm done grieving, or I'm being disrespectful in some way. On the flip side, I worry that if I show my grief too strongly or talk about it too much, people accuse me of not being ready to get married or not being in a good place or that I'm moving too fast. It's my catch 22.
When I get down about this predicament, it helps to know that these assumptions generally come from those who don't know me well, have not talked to me about where I am at with things, or people who don't understand grief. I don't know a lot, but there are a few things I am certain of:
1. I miss Jeremy every single day.
2. I will miss Jeremy every single day for the rest of my life.
3. I am head-over-heels in love with Steve.
4. I am excited about my future with Steve and our beautiful family.
5. My happiness and my sadness run side by side. And neither negates the other.
So this week I have tried to intentionally not worry about what everyone else thinks and allow myself both time to grieve what I will no longer have with Jeremy and celebrate what I am going to have with Steve. I am trying to soak up every good moment of the beautiful chaos in my life right now, because Lord willing, I won't ever have to do it again.
Wednesday, May 16, 2012
.... and I find myself at a loss for words.
A friend's husband died Sunday.
Another young woman joins the club.
Three lovely young woman have lost their father.
And I find myself too sad for words.
My mind keeps transporting itself back to that first week after Jim died.
And I cry.
I cry for what she now faces.
I cry for all that she lost.
I cry because sometimes .... there are no words.
Tuesday, May 15, 2012
When Michele asked me to write here, there is only one thing I clearly remember her saying in the brief - write as honestly as I can from where I am NOW.
So that's what I try to do each week.... write my now.
As honestly as I can.
My soul stripped bare.
Some weeks, I am OK. Good even. But other weeks, I am not so good.
This is one of those weeks.
I am sick. My chest rattles as I suck air in and out. My head pounds. My eyes leak. My energy has evaporated and I am light headed whenever I try to do anything.
I am tired.
I am sick of the petty squabbles over who farted on who's pillow.
I am tired of cooking and cleaning when I am not working or preparing for work.
I am sick of being in charge of everything. All the big things and all the small things.
I feel like I'm sinking under the weight of a life that was meant to have two parents involved in bringing up the children.
I am angry at a God I no longer believe in (
If anyone had told me I'd still be feeling this aching pain 26 months later, I think I would have given up right then and there when I first heard the news that he was dead.
I feel like I am going backwards into my grief when I have been trying so long to move forwards through it.
This is not like me at all.
I am a do-er.
A great believer in the almighty I CAN do it.
And I always achieve what I set my mind to.
Except when I don't.
Early this morning, I sat on
....and then my kids came in with their
The small things they had painstakingly made out of bits and bobs they had collected.
....and they hugged me, and told me I was the best mother in the world (
...and I realised....
I am loved.
Life still sucks beyond the telling of it, but I am loved.
These two little souls are here, in front of me, looking at me like I am the most precious jewel they have ever seen.
Holding me in their arms.
Telling me that they love me so much.
....and I say a silent prayer of thanks to the God I no longer believe in.
The God of small things....
Monday, May 14, 2012
I have suddenly gotten it in my head that I want to settle here in Portland and buy a house. It feels right in my body like no other decision has since Dave died.
The other decisions - sell the house, take a leave of absence, resign, rent an apartment in Portland - have felt right, but incredibly sad and wrenching.
They were moving forward, which was good, but they were letting go of aspects of my old life, which felt like, well, loss.
This decision isn't tinged with the sadness of loosening my grip on something. It feels like moving forward and gaining. Gaining a foothold in this new life. Gaining a safe harbor all my own. Gaining a new beginning to build on (literally and figuratively).
I have a picture in my mind of a bungalow in a beautiful, quiet neighborhood. I can see my small garden glowing in the sunlight, hummingbirds buzzing at the throats of the flowers. I can see people walking and biking past, waving hello. I can see my friends visiting, filling the house with joy and laughter. I can see pictures of new memories lining my walls next to pictures of "the life before". I can see a studio space filled with my art supplies and a place to write. I can see myself walking and biking to the grocery, yoga, the library, the coffee shop.
There is something comforting about knowing that I can make this new, beautiful city my home if I choose to. I feel lucky to say that I can. I know I'm biased and that I haven't seen ALL the other cities in the world, but I really think Portland is prettiest and most wonderful of them all.
I meet with a realtor soon to go over my needs and desires for a new home and start the search.
I can feel Dave smiling because I'm smiling.
Sunday, May 13, 2012
One of the ways I like to torture myself is to do useless comparisons about the different aspects of being a widower. One of my favorites, and I’ve even brought it up while hanging out with my widow friends, is which is worse: sudden death or a long drawn out passing?
There never seems to be a definitive answer, nor do I think one exists. For some reason it’s just a topic I like to delve into to when I want to go to that dark place. Not sure why I like these topics, I’ve never been much of a masochist. The closest I come to abusing myself is to eat a half box of Cap'n Crunch until the roof of my mouth is bleeding – I’ve never done a full box yet, but I’m only in my early 40s.
Another topic I like to go over and over and over in my mind as I lie awake at night, thinking of ways to make myself feel like crap, is which is worse for the girls growing up, no mother, or no father.
Of course I’ll always convince myself it’s no mother. The bond of a mother and her children are priceless, growing up without the loving touch, the nurturing hand, the sympathetic voice of reason, are tangibles no child can live without. I lie there looking at a dark ceiling I can’t see and convince myself that no matter what I do or no matter how hard I try, my kids are screwed.
I’ve tried to make up for no Lisa around the house. I thought if I could make mom still very much part of us, the kids won’t really notice she died. Last Mother’s Day, we all made cards and I bought helium filled balloons to tie the cards to and release them to the sky. I made a big production about it and oversold the benefits of this to my girls, “See, by making cards and tying them to balloons, we still do have a mom to do things for, she’s not totally gone,” the thoughts race in my mind.
We get outside and the wind is blowing so we move to the front of the house to avoid power lines. I make a much longer than needed speech and we release the balloons and watch them, as the top of the tree acts like a magnet and all three balloons fly right into the branches. Kelly breaks the silence by stating the obvious, “I don’t think Mom is going to get those.” I say something overly nice about how mom can still see what are in the trees – or something stupid along those lines. The kids walk back in the house pleased of the launch while I’m obsessing about how better their life would be if Lisa were here.
Although embarrassing on how I sometimes arrive at validations of my parenting, I will still share with you my latest train of thought on the topic. I was watching TV, flipping through channels, when I came across Monty Python’s The Holy Grail - one of my all time favorite movies, and yet a movie I haven’t sat through in almost 20 years. As I sat and watched, I was amazed at one aspect of this film; it's a slow movie with no ending – they totally punted on the ending. But it doesn’t matter because there are so many great bits and catch phrases that it more than makes up for any of its poor scene transitions or lazy ending.
My kids won’t remember every moment of every day we live. Heck, I clearly didn’t remember how slow the entire move of The Holy Grail is and I’ve seen it like 100 times when I was younger. We remember highlights and good moments, and I do give my kids those. I can honestly say that I don’t need to revisit the topic of which is worse, not having a mother or not having a father, because the answer is, not having someone at all who can give you those good moments to help you forgot the slow and difficult parts of life.
We’re going to do the balloons again today, but I will skip the speeches and overselling of the meaning of the day. The fun part is watching balloons go up towards the sky. I don’t need to fill an entire day of importance; I just need one good moment. I’m going to make Mother’s Day just like Monty Python’s The Holy Grail, except I will leave out the fluff and get right to the good stuff; after all, it’s all they’ll remember anyway.
Woman: Well I didn't vote for you.
King Arthur: You don't vote for kings.
Woman: Well how'd you become king then?
King Arthur: The Lady of the Lake, her arm clad in the purest shimmering samite held aloft Excalibur from the bosom of the water, signifying by divine providence that I, Arthur, was to carry Excalibur. THAT is why I am your king.
Dennis: [interrupting] Listen, strange women lyin' in ponds distributin' swords is no basis for a system of government. Supreme executive power derives from a mandate from the masses, not from some farcical aquatic ceremony.
Saturday, May 12, 2012
I could sit here and write about my daily widow happenings...but this week I want to share that of a dear friend.
A fellow military widow who in her early twenties, who not only had to survive her husband's life...but also is battling cancer.
I'd like to use this amazing platform SSLF has created as a way for others to know of someone stronger than I...someone that could use the family that Michele has created for us all.
Take a minute and help her know she is not alone by going HERE.
A fellow military widow who in her early twenties, who not only had to survive her husband's life...but also is battling cancer.
I'd like to use this amazing platform SSLF has created as a way for others to know of someone stronger than I...someone that could use the family that Michele has created for us all.
Take a minute and help her know she is not alone by going HERE.
Friday, May 11, 2012
Last Saturday was the 18th Annual Dippel Mardi-Craw. It's a crawfish boil that Daniel and I started having every year...in 1994. The last one he participated in was in 2004 - he was just too sick to have one in 2005, and then in 2006 - he was watching us from Heaven instead of hosting his favorite event. Three years ago I started having the party on the same day as the Kentucky Derby and I love it. A great excuse to get a totally silly hat! The party is always attended by various family and friends, many of whom have come every year since it started. It's always a good time, and is something I look forward to every year. I can't do it alone (especially cooking all those mud bugs!!), and since Daniel died, family and friends have helped every year to put on this fiesta. This year was Carl's second Mardi-Craw, last year he attended and helped cook (and met most of Daniel's family), and this year he was my fabulous co-host.
He's pretty freakin amazing. I was so happy to see him not just tolerate my crazy tradition, but completely embrace it! He even thanked me for letting him be a part of it.... are you kidding me? 100 people at our house, several days of preparation, not to mention the cost....and he thanks me? He rocks. Thanks Carl Dahlberg for being so awesome and accepting of me and my crazy life. You're the best!
Thursday, May 10, 2012
I am in the midst of reading a wonderful book called "The Color of Rain" by Micheal & Gina Spehn, which tells the story of how each lost their spouse and found hope and healing in each other. I am excited to read something that seems to parallel a lot of my own story, but it's also really neat to read because both of them are from the same town I live in, so it makes it even more personal and close to my heart. I even ran into Gina at Panera a few weeks ago in a weird twist of God's timing through a mutual friend. Very cool.
There is a quote from the book that I read yesterday about 5 times. Then, I underlined it. And re-read it. And made notes in the margins. Then I thought about it all day. Finally, I had to write it down. Gina was talking about the final days of her husband's terminal illness and the love that was developed through it:
"It was not physical or material. This love lacked inhibition and boundary. It was limitless and free of expectation or regret. It was effortless, all-encompassing love; given, received, and understood. I think it's rare in life to experience this kind of love. In any relationship it ebbs and flows, but once you've had it, you crave it like no lustful urge you've ever had. I was filled with it on my wedding day, and when I held my babies in my arms, and again when my husband was diagnosed with terminal cancer. If only we had the ability to live life as thought it were so new or so close to the end that all we could do is give and show and become love. It seems that beginnings and endings teach us about this kind of love. It is in between that we tend to forget."
Okay, now go back and read it once more. Let it soak into your pours. Breathe it in deeply. Make it truth. Anyone who has had an experience like this knows the power in these words. It is what I have been trying to formulate words for and translate from my heart that I've been unable to do in the same way. But it could not be truer. When you lose something so precious, you crave to fill the space. You crave to feel something genuine, something authentic. Everything seems arbitrary up against something so important that you become frustrated with other people's pettiness. You lap up the moments that matter.
I am about to face another beginning - the beginning of my life with Steve. Facing this new adventure in my life brings me closer to that nostalgia of remembering what life is all about: love. So I'm more sentimental, I try to be more careful with my last words to people, I steal extra moments with people I love. And grief tends to keep you running along with the same theme and keeps it closer to you for longer. But that doesn't mean I don't fall into the 'in between' category every now and again. I catch myself doing it now and at the end of the day, I can recognize it in a way I couldn't before. And I start over every day. It's a pledge I made to myself and to Jeremy that this was the way that I would love from now on. My life is forever changed, so there's no way I can act like it isn't.
I needed to share this thought with the world today: Love fiercely.
Don't get stuck in the in between.
Wednesday, May 9, 2012
(NOTE: It took me well over two weeks to begin to write this post. I knew that I had to write about the experience, but I dreaded doing it because I knew the tears would flow, and I wanted to put that off as long as possible. The tears came but I worried more about the response that many would have over the word "goodbye". Would my children think I was now forgetting their dad by saying "goodbye"? Would my non-widowed friends think it was high time that I said it? Would newly widowed people be repulsed by the idea of saying "goodbye" and then seeming to blythely move forward with the rest of my life? I hope that no one experiences anything remotely like the above responses. In saying "goodbye", I'm not closing a door on the first half of my life ... and definitely not on Jim. But I am choosing to look forward to what may, or may not, lie ahead. I could no more forget Jim than I can kill myself by holding my breath. It's physically impossible. But I can choose to look towards the future without wishing that I had the past. We all wish we had who we had. But I think that if we hold on too tightly to that wish, it blurs our ability to see the future. The timing of this, like every single other aspect of grief, is unique to every individual. I could not have done this 3 years ago. I could not have done it 3 months ago. My time was that weekend. That night. I will never forget Jim, but will carry him with me wherever I go and with whomever I'm with. He's a part of my heart, you see. And as long as my heart beats, he's here .... moving forward with me, not causing me to stop and stare only at what I can't have ..... my past with him.)
.... wasn't what I had planned.
In fact, I hadn't planned to participate in the event that led to this post .... at all.
It was at Camp Widow.
I'd been at the hotel for almost an entire week and, being on the board, I knew the timeline of all of the events. But the event that was planned for Saturday night was one in which I had no interest.
Or so I thought.
I knew that we'd be having our dressy banquet. I had a great dress.
I knew we'd be dancing like crazy .... and I did dance.
I knew that each widowed person would receive a glass (recycled) heart, with some paper on which to write a note to our loved one, and some ribbon with which to tie said note on the heart.
Then the hearts would be thrown into the ocean around midnight.
I wasn't interested.
I didn't even take a heart.
I didn't give this event more than a nano second's thought.
Actually, I thought I'd be in bed sound asleep when this jaunt out to the ocean happened.
But .... since I am a board member .... I was needed to help corral everyone out to the beach.
Yes, all of us in our finery, minus our high heels .... with a gentle mist coming down and glow necklaces on to light the way.
Again, not something in which I wanted to participate.
I danced with various widows and I danced with Vern.
He danced with various widows.
We had fun in the picture booth.
And I worked the table where we took matching donations that night .... and raised quite a bit of money.
It was at that table that I saw a pile of glass hearts.
For those who had not received theirs.
Those hearts kept attracting my attention .... for some reason.
I tried to ignore them.
I was not interested.
But .... at the last minute, I grabbed a heart. I took it back into the banquet room with me and sat it down at my spot at the table. And then I went off to dance some more.
Then, before we all knew it, a five minute warning was given before the march to the beach would begin.
So I went back to the table.
And I stared at that heart.
The heart I had no intention of using.
I had nothing to say, after all.
It's been almost 4 1/2 years .... I've said all I can think of.
Besides, I don't really think that Jim can hear me.
So I sat down and stared at the heart.
And then I slowly unwrapped it, wondering why I was even giving it that much attention.
Before I knew it, I had reached into my bag and brought out a pen.
Still wondering what the heck I was doing, I began to write.
I didn't write a lot .... I didn't have to.
All I wrote was this:
I will love you forever.
See? Nothing poetic. Nothing worthy of the prose that 27 years should bring.
Just a simple note.
And still, I had no intention of doing anything with it.
But I wrapped the note onto the heart anyway.
And then I got up and started helping glow necklace-wearing women out the door.
Vern I and were bringing up the rear.
And then suddenly, Vern had to rush upstairs to get the check for the DJ.
So I hustled the back of our group out of the doors and across the patios and onto the bridge that led to the beach.
I still had no intention of doing anything with the wrapped up heart that I held in my hand.
We were a sight to see ..... over 100 women and men, dressed to the nines, barefoot and formal, picking our way through the sand to head up to the pounding surf.
I looked behind me to see if Vern had returned yet.
He had not.
I hung back for a few more minutes, watching many of the women march right into the surf and hurl their hearts out into the Atlantic.
And then, before I realized what I was doing, I was walking into the surf. I'm not sure how I got there ... I don't remember making the decision to go .... I just found myself there.
The water was cold as it surged up over my ankles and up my calves. But I only seemed to notice it for a moment.
And then I stopped .... and I talked.
It didn't occur to me at that moment that I didn't believe he could hear me.
I just pictured him, standing there, facing me in the surf.
I didn't plan on seeing him. I didn't plan on talking to him. None of this was planned.
But then I told him what I'd been learning to say for four plus years.
I told him that I love him, and that I will always love him, but that it was time to say "Goodbye".
I thanked him for everything he was to me, and to our children. I told him that I still look forward to seeing him in Heaven, when it's my time to get there.
But for now, he's part of the "before Janine". And I needed to say "Goodbye" so that I could turn around and face the future.
Not the future I had planned .... ever.
And not the goodbye I had thought about .... ever.
But I've had over four years to get used to the idea that he is not coming back.
No matter how much I love him.
And with that "goodbye" I tossed my heart into the Atlantic.
My glass heart.
My real heart stayed in my chest ... against all odds. I half expected to bury it in that ocean along with the glass heart.
But my heart, my very real, very alive, beating heart , stayed inside of my body.
Where it should be.
And I turned around and started walking out of the surf.
I had tears in my eyes, and my head was bowed, but I was not sobbing.
I felt more surprised than anything. Surprised that I was able to actually say "goodbye" to what was past. without having a huge meltdown.
Surprised that I felt so at peace.
After I walked out of the water and up on the beach for a bit, I finally looked up. And I saw Vern coming out to meet me.
And I thought of the irony .... and of the meaning of this night .... to me, anyway.
I had just said "Goodbye" to the most important person in my life .... to my very first and very, very true love, and turned away from where I left that heart, only to see the man in front of me. The man who is in my present .... and who hopes to be in my future.
I couldn't help but smile at that thought. And I knew, without a doubt, that that was what Jim would want for me.
That that was/is how it should be.
His death is my reality, no matter how much I hate it, or how much I want to wake up and find it didn't happen.
It did happen .... and that is my reality.
And there's a man who stands before me.
He loves me. He's crazy about me.
As I am for him.
He is my now, and hopefully my future.
And he doesn't deserve me constantly looking over my shoulder for what was.
For what can never be again.
Yes, that hurts.
In a way.
But it also feels like I've been given my freedom to live .... to move forward.
And Jim is the one who gave that to me.
As I tossed my heart into that ocean.
Something I never thought I'd do. Something I didn't plan to do.
Something I had no interest in doing.
And yet .... I did.
Jim will always be a part of my heart.
That's a fact of my life.
But I needed to say "Goodbye".
It took me almost four and a half years.
Which seems like a very long goodbye.