Saturday, June 30, 2012

Evolve

 
The 4 Fires we created the last night for the 108 aka the 108 times we walked across them for graduation.



Evolve.

We all hopefully do it.

Peel the layer off the onion to reveal the next.

It was hard and unthinkable to have any other "layers" after Michael's death...but surely, 5 years later, I've evolved.

Grown.

Learned.

But the growth has been like watching a snail crossing a road:

It's surely moving, but when you watch at it continuously it looks as slow as molasses...when you turn your glance and look back a time later, it seems as if it's gone leaps and bounds.

This past week though...I saw the growth happen before my eyes...without taking my eyes off the whole time.

I went to become a Certified Firewalk Instructor for new things I have planned in the future for my passion and cause...but left having learned more about myself than I could have ever imagined.

It was a crash-course in the obstacles, faults, fears, and goals we all have in life.

It was like taking a sip of what I thought was water, to have my system shocked when I realized it was sprite.

I pushed myself (along with the help of a god-sent group of individuals all trying to attain the same goal or facilitating), mentally, physically, and emotionally.

Together we cried, cheered, were inspired by each others faith in the other, by each person's perseverance when things got bad, by the ability to find a place in our mind that was pure, unscathed, and there to show us the truths within each of us.

There were moments of doubt and apprehension...but always a hand to reach out (Thank you Kathy). There were moments of realizations that we are not alone in are connections (Thank you, Del) and there were realizations that some people will test you to make sure your spirit and soul are reinforced in your being (Thank you, Robert). There were moments that I saw the utter goodness of strangers who want to do nothing more than help others achieve the goals set forth (Thank you, FIRE team).

Only one other moment since Michael's death have I been so utterly sure that the things I learned would change my life forever.

I am now a certified Firewalk Instructor.

But more than that, I am a better person. A person that has much growing to do, but can finally see life with clear eyes and an open heart.

I didn't want our time at F.I.R.E. to end and had a bit of hesitation in the outside world being able to fully comprehend all that took place...all that will run through my veins from this point on...and they may not...but I knew that for 4 days I learned amazing and extreme tools of enlightenment and empowerment, I met people who are more than people, but now family, and I have no doubt that I was where I was supposed to be...with Michael's amazing spirit alongside me the whole time.

“Courageous risks are life-giving, they help you grow, make you brave, and better than you think you are.”

Friday, June 29, 2012

Yes, Her Clothes Are Still In Our, uh... MY Closet


(James, Maggie, and Mark Ludwig at one of our wine parties, Dec 2003.)

My friend Mark Ludwig died on June 27, 2004, just a few months after Maggie and I got married.  He was killed unexpectedly in an auto accident that wasn’t his fault.  He was the nicest, most engaging, friendliest guy you’d ever meet.  I was proud to call him one of my closest friends.  Lots of people were.  Just like Maggie, he had a LOT of close friends.  Just like Maggie, he was the glue that kept many different groups of people together.  He was the social center.  His death marked the end of an era.  It was truly a tragedy.

When Mark died, I got to witness first hand how vicious, greedy, callous, and shallow people could be, people whom I thought I knew well – very well.  Mark, like most of us back in those glory days, had lots of toys: big TVs, a pool table, extra refrigerators, a big fancy gas grill – all these things were now declared homeless.  But people weren’t shy about laying claim to them.  In fact, they came out of the woodworks with greed in their eyes while not being afraid of using shifty measures to acquire things they suddenly deemed theirs.  Since Mark didn’t have a significant other, there was no one who really could have spoken for Mark.  It was a disgusting free-for-all.  It was nasty.

There was name-calling, accusations, theft, and flat out warfare tactics.  At one point, two girls locked themselves into Mark’s house (that he owned) and decided it was their job to go through all of Mark’s personal possessions and divide things up as they saw fit.

Months prior, Mark had borrowed from me a pressure washer that Maggie had given me for Christmas.  While it wasn’t fancy or new or expensive, I loved that power washer.  But Mark needed it to clean off something to prep for one of his parties (one of many that I attended) so I was happy to lend it to him.

I had heard about the two girls who had taken over sorting through his stuff so I went over to his house to retrieve my power washer.  After I rang the doorbell, one of the aforementioned girls answered the door, but just barely cracked it open so she could poke her head out.  Seeing the look on her face and feeling her attitude when I asked about the power washer, I turned around and never looked back again.  I never saw that power washer again.

Later I heard that things were way worse than what I saw.  Some people even laid claim to the money Mark had in his bank account.  I said, “Laid claim.”  I meant, “Demanded.”  It was ugly, nasty and I vowed to never be a part of any of that, even if it meant that I’d have to sacrifice something that I really cared about to avoid being a part of a nasty experience at the end of someone’s wonderful life.  As difficult as it may be, I’ll never willingly let stink trump beauty.  Call it ideology.

I’ve never forgotten the terrible lack of humanity and the overabundance of selfishness that I saw during those difficult days.  I was scarred.  It was hard enough living through the shock of the sudden loss of a best friend but to watch vicious vultures gnaw at the remains of what was once a huge life being lived by a wonderful man - it crushed my soul.

Five years later, Maggie died.

Maybe I’m oversensitive.  Because of what I saw, I have an enormous minefield built up around her clothes, her shoes, and her jewelry.  It’s bigger and more explosive than you can even imagine.  The mental picture of people treating her treasures like a rummage sale boils my blood beyond reasonableness. But I can't keep her stuff around here forever.  Maybe I just don’t know how to merge appropriate homage with practicality.

These aren’t nice shoes that you might like to wear one day with that little slinky outfit you bought.  These are the shoes Maggie wore on our third date.  This is the dress that she wore to San Angelo to meet my family.  These are the jeans she paraded around the house wearing, beaming because she knew that I knew that she knew she looked fantastic.  These “wardrobe additions” or “estate sale bargains” are some of my life’s fondest moments.  There’s no haggling on the price, if they were even for sale!

These are also anchors to my past, a past I’m hesitant to let go of, a glorious past that I’m still mourning the loss of.  Despite my absolute, genuine, totally committed, and even enthusiastic anticipation of moving forward and living a grand life after Maggie, it's not any easier to drop off my favorite miniskirt of hers at Goodwill.  Or her favorite pair of flip-flops.  Or her fancy heals that she loved to wear that made her about an inch and a half taller than me.

So it all sits.  The shoes sit in boxes in the foyer.  The clothes still hang on her side of the closet.  And I struggle with what to do.  I’m definitely ready to do something but I cannot allow a feeding frenzy to take place.  Such a display would sicken me beyond any recoverable point and bitter me to anyone who participated.  At the same time, that closet is filled with thousands of dollars worth of clothes, maybe tens of thousands.  I'd feel a fool to just give it all away.  I don't know what to do.  So it all sits.  And I feel like a fool.

But I’m not a fool who gives up.  It may take another month, or maybe another year, but one day I’ll do what needs to be done.  I’ll keep pushing myself to move forward.  Maybe that sacrificed power washer served more purpose than I realized.  Maybe it set a standard for what is truly important – the stuff, or the life around the stuff.

Hmm….  maybe Maggie’s clothes really aren’t that important any more.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

A bottle of shampoo



The minute I found out Jeremy was dead, time has never again made any sense to me or straightened itself out.

It's amazing how I can feel like seconds have gone by since I've last seen him, while at the same time feeling like it's been an eternity since I've heard his voice. Days get confused, milestones and memories start to overlap and get confusing, and worst of all - when time stops for you, it continues on for the rest of the world.

Lately, I've been feeling so far away from the day Jeremy died. Not him, but that day - so much life has happened in between since then that it feels light years away. I keep having flashbacks of that day while feeling so far removed from it. Like I've gotten used to this day to day without him that sometimes I hardly remember where I was before. It's a horrifying feeling.

But then I step in the shower and see a giant bottle of shampoo - one still remaining from the few that were bought mysteriously and stocked in my house after Jeremy died, and I realize that it wasn't that long ago he was still here. Or I walk past his binoculars on my dresser that still carry the scent of him and remember that he was just here. Or I see Faith wearing the shirt that Jer picked out for her that still fits here and know that not that much time has passed. Or I hear Caleb recall stories of his daddy because it wasn't that long ago.

It's a hard truth to face to know that time will continue to move forward with Jeremy. That each day we all get a little further from him, less people will think about him, and we will continue to grow and change without him. My only solace in that is knowing that one day further from him also means one more day closer to him. And no matter how far away he feels, and no matter how much time doesn't seem to make sense...he was just here.

Teamwork


Filling in for Janine today...she will be back next week! I wrote this post about the way my kids and I became a real team after Phil died. We still have each other's backs :)

Our family received an amazing, unexpected Christmas gift of a very cool new TV. This weekend we went about shifting, rebuilding, figuring out cable connections, and placing the new gadget in the place of our old big screen. Somehow amidst the chaos, the daunting task of moving the old machine out to the garage ended up happening when the kids and I were home alone. 

As I stood looking at the old television, I remembered the day Phil and I brought it home. He we so excited. We bought the new big screen as a part of the house remodel that we did the year before he died. After months of scraping ceilings, removing wall paper, redoing floors, and repainting walls the house was finally ready for new electronics. Phil and I made a deal; I could do whatever I wanted with the home decor as long as he got to choose the new TV. Boy did he take advantage of that deal....his set of choice was huge. So moving it out of the house was no small feat.

I called the kids into the room and said, "We need to move this TV out to the garage." They looked at me, then looked at the monster set, and then we started discussing how to make the move. As we stood in our living room together brainstorming what to do I realized how many times over the past five years the four of us have needed to work as a team. Because we've been here before, the four of us, facing a task that usually is done by two adults collaborating, deciding, and then acting. But when Phil died I needed my kids to step up when one set of arms was not enough. I needed help when the plumbing overflowed, or the fence fell down, or the shingles were flying off of the roof in the rain. When I couldn't call out, "Honey!!" I instead called "Kids!" One or more of them would come to my aid, and somehow between us we solved all kinds of everyday problems. This seemed especially true during the holiday season when decorating, buying presents, purchasing and transporting a tree, hanging lights, and just making it through the hustle and bustle was so much harder in our single parent home. Whenever I reached the end of my rope, I counted on the only other hands in the house to tie a knot for me.

Grief has definitely stolen a portion of my children's innocence. They make statements now and then that cut me to the quick with their honest observations of life in the aftermath of loss. More than once I have wished I didn't have to count on them to be older, wiser, and sometimes braver than their years might suggest. The scars that grief has left on my kids are visible, and life changing, but as we took that huge television over the last step of our porch and smoothly delivered it into our garage I realized what a good team we have become since death walked into our lives. We are resourceful. We can count on each other. We know our team's strengths and weaknesses. We believe that we can solve problems together. Everyone has a voice. I would like to say that all of this was true before Phil died, and maybe it was, but we didn't know for sure until we were tested.

So this weekend, as we walked out of the garage high-fiving and celebrating another challenging task completed, we spontaneously started singing....we will, we will ROCK you! Five minutes later my daughter walked through the kitchen still humming the tune and I thought to myself...yes, yes we will.


Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The set-up


A work colleague tried to set me up with a date last week.

I went along on the outing to find that she seemed to think that because I am a widow over 40 that I'd settle for going out with just anyone.

Rather than go into the details of just how painstaking this date was, I will just say that I survived it with both my sanity and dignity intact.
In my head, I like to remember it as "character building".  In my stomach I tend to remember it more as a queasy, you've-got-to-be-kidding-me feeling.
 
I am not averse to dating, but I have always known  that I do not want to date just for the sake of not being alone.
 But I have come to realise that some other people don't like the idea of me being alone.

I can understand this to some extent: of course I was much happier as a married woman and would choose that happy married life over this one in a heart beat.
 But this workmate failed to realise that there is no way I could learn to live on tripe after dining on caviar.... (possibly not the right metaphor to use here, but this post is due soon and I can't think of a better one).

What has annoyed me more than anything, is the assumption that I am so sad and desperate that I will date anyone with a pulse.

So I want to know something from you guys now .... as a widow/widower, have you been set up with someone you had absolutely nothing in common with just because a friend hated seeing you alone?


Please share.  I may laugh but I promise it will be WITH you and not AT you......

Monday, June 25, 2012

True Me

source


I am extremely good at one thing. I can do it awake, asleep, while doing ANYTHING else. I can do it when things are going well and when things are crashing down around me. I can do it better than just about anyone I know, not to brag.

It's something I've been doing since childhood, and in some ways, it's helped me survive that difficult childhood. Though it's not quite as helpful now, it remains anyway, having burned deep ruts in my brain all these years.

I am a champion worrier.

The skill that served to protect me as a child has stuck with me long after it stopped being helpful. It's so hardwired into my brain that it takes no conscious effort. In the same moment I have a hopeful or positive thought, the worry pops up to check in on the situation.

It's an ancient, primal, body sensation as well as a way of thinking. I feel it in my chest. A quickening and a tightening. It spreads to my shoulders and neck, where it turns those muscles into knots a sailor would be proud of. Sometimes, it washes through my bloodstream in the form of adrenaline and I have the cold sweats to enjoy on top of all the other delightful symptoms.

When Dave died, the worrying was stripped away by the shock. I'd had the rug pulled out from beneath me and nothing was the same, so Worrier took the bench to let this new player onto the field.

She was a bit reckless and driven by intuition. She knew that after the worst happened to her, what could be so bad? She knew that life had already handed her the shittiest deal of all, so what was there to fear now?

Once the first few weeks (maybe months) of shock began to fade away, that fearless player who had nothing left to lose, began to take the bench again to let Worrier have the field. And once again, I found myself haunted by that old habit.

At a year out, now, Worrier is back full-force. Despite abundant evidence that I'm taking good care of myself and doing just fine, Worrier doubts that and wants to protect me from any more possible  pain.

She has to worry even more now that Dave is dead because his calming force is gone. If there's no one here physically to help me support myself, if it's all on me to take care of me, she has even more worrying to do.

Sometimes Worrier is so loud and convincing that I forget that she is not me.

She is a habit. A long-standing, well-worn habit. But she is not me. The true me is in there somewhere. I saw her clearly right after Dave died. She knew what to do. She knew to google "young widows", find out about Camp Widow, register, put her grief-ravaged butt on that plane and go to where her people were. She didn't worry or hesitate.

I got a glimpse of her again, when she decided to sell the house Dave and I adored. The Worrier campaigned for the safety of staying put, but True Me acted anyway.

The Worrier is truly out to help and protect me, she just has a skewed view of life. She's actually about 5, has just lost her mommy and has a sad, drunk, complex, and scary man for a Daddy. She wants to be safe and sound above all.

The True Me knows that nothing can protect me from the pain of this life. The True Me knows that if we let the Worrier have her way, we'll live a narrow, sad little life.

So, the Worrier and the True Me fight it out day and night. But the more I can separate the two and label The Worrier as a habit and not me, the better. The more I choose to do scary things and see that the world doesn't end and I land on my feet, the better.

True Me just has to show Worrier lots and lots of evidence that we'll be okay, no matter what.

True Me has to wrap Worrier up in her arms and say to that terrified little girl that it'll all be okay in the end so she can take a little break from worrying and rest for once.




Sunday, June 24, 2012

Can I get an "Amen"



I’m driving to work last week and I’m going to be late. I’m running late, because it seems the chaos fairy came during breakfast and sprinkled dust all over my children. I only have a small window to get things ready for my mom to take care of what has to be done all day with the kids.  Once I walk out that door I won't see them again until after dinner time.  So on this morning, Shoes are hidden better than the Easter Eggs, Molly decides to change back into her pajamas, and the address to the party one of them is going to, is now missing.

As I sit at an extra long traffic light – extra long because all lights seem long when running late – I’m on the verge of a pity party bemoaning my life as an only parent, a lonely parent, an overwhelmed parent.

I stop myself from throwing that pity party. I remind myself that everyone has challenges in life. I’m not going to tell my boss I’m late because my life is difficult. I’m simply late. “Keep it to yourself,” I say, out loud.

But as the light turns green and I wait for the cars ahead of me to go – why won’t you go, you slow cars ahead of me – I think of my fellow widow and widower friends who also may be having a rough start to the day. They get it. They understand. As my car finally moves into traffic, I do decide to throw myself that pity party. In my mind, I have invited all of you who are feeling the same pain and logistical problems those who are married don’t have to deal with on a daily basis.

So for whatever it’s worth, I hear you. I feel your pain. And if you ever want to tell yourself that you do have more challenges than others and you too want your very own pity party, please invite me. Tell yourself, “My day sucks and Matt gets it. He hears me.”

Because every day I try to do my best to live by everyone else’s rules. I try and blend in with all the married couples and avoid discussions of the challenges of raising kids by myself. But some days I want to feel put out and I think of all of you. Screw it! We’re allowed to party every now and again. Wasn’t it the Beastie Boys who famously sang, “You have to fight, for your right, to pity paarrrty?”

Saturday, June 23, 2012

International Widow's Day: You Are Not Alone

Today is International Widow's Day. Yes, you read that right. On June 23, 2010 the United Nations recognized the first ever International Widow's Day. There was discussion, and proclamations, and a lot of talk about making the world a better place for widows on this day in 2011. Here we are on the second annual day honoring, remembering, recognizing the world's widows. (p.s. I always use the word "widow" to mean widowed person...maybe the UN doesn't, but I do!)

This day was set aside, because in many countries in our world being widowed leads to being victimized nine times out of ten. Widows in some countries lose their homes (immediately after the death of their husbands); they can be considered bad luck (not invited to weddings, even of their own children, for fear of the luck negatively impacting the new couple); their young children have to go to work instead of going to school...at six or seven years old. In the United States, and other countries were widows (and women in general) have rights that are upheld, we are lucky. Even as widows.

And though this day was not really intended for the luckier of the worlds widows (those who live in countries where our rights are secure, we can inherit property, and we don't have to wonder if one of our late spouse's family is going to turn up to take our kids from us)...I got to thinking about the fact that when I became widowed I felt less than. Not only did I not feel whole because Phil was dead (it was like someone removed the right side of my body leaving me only the left side with which I was hopelessly uncoordinated), but when I looked around me I didn't see anyone who LOOKED like me. You know, widowed. I seriously wished that other widowed people would wear a "W" on their heads so I could find them! Eventually, find them I did. And THEY made all the difference. Because I wasn't alone in my crazy, can't remember where the keys are (in my hand) or where my sunglasses are (on my head) or if I ate breakfast (I didn't care) world. There were others, and they couldn't find their sunglasses either.

As International Widow's Day approached for 2012, I wondered what Soaring Spirits (the parent organization for this blog www.sslf.org) could DO for widowed people today. In what meaningful way could we mark June 23rd as a day of recognizing our struggles, our successes, our down days and our up days? Then it came to me...the best way to change lives on June 23rd is by telling the widowed people who don't know that there are others where to find them. And so, the You Are Not Alone campaign was conceived, and is being launched today.

The You Are Not Alone campaign consists of a few elements. First are these easy-to-carry, packed with information, one stop shop folded business cards. These cards can be handed to a widowed person (or someone who knows and/or loves them) to share everything they need to know to find a community of peer support...others. These cards are available now, and you can get them for free HERE.

Next, we have dedicated a page on the Soaring Spirits website to the You Are Not Alone campaign, you will find that HERE. The point of this page is to help a newly widowed person (or someone who has been struggling along with no others) find peer support, right now. Again, a one stop shop.

Then, we have buttons which you can request for your blog or website that will direct widowed people to others, like them. If you'd like a button for your site or blog, send a request to contact at sslf dot org and we will get you one. This You Are Not Alone button can be found on every Soaring Spirits program page. We are serious about spreading the word. Widowed people don't have to make it through every day feeling alone. There is help. There is hope. Not only do we know where to find the help...but we will direct them to a variety of places where they can meet the others.

You can help, too. Widowed or not widowed, all you need to do is care and share. It really is that easy. Because life without the person you love so much is hard, but it doesn't have to be faced alone. Please help us make a difference. Everyone needs others.




And the last way we at Soaring Spirits are marking this International Day for Widows (we are pretty sure there are no cards for this one!) is by telling the love stories of 25 different widowed people from all over the world on our facebook page. If you'd like to be inspired, take a look HERE. Long live love.

And special thanks to Taryn for letting me write in her place today, and for inspiring the telling of widowed love stories. As you all already know, Taryn rocks!

Friday, June 22, 2012

The Faces of Hope

The picture above was taken a little over 5 years ago.  Michelle and I were each at about 18 months from Daniel and Phil's deaths, and we were together for my annual crawfish boil.   Michele had these shirts made for us, and I had joked that I wanted black t-shirts that said "Bitter" on them instead.  Funny to feel so bitter sometimes and yet so hopeful at others.  I know most of you know what I mean. 

Clearly we didn't wear the bitter t-shirts, our families wouldn't have thought it was funny then (they do now, and we have matching Bitter t-shirts too ;-) - but back then, we were so fresh, that the bitter t-shirts wouldn't have been funny to anyone but us. 

Sometimes I look at this picture and others like it, and I'm amazed at how far we've come since then. I remember the daily emails as we first got to know each other, and then the daily calls.  Sometimes we laughed until we were sick, and other times we cried and promised revenge on the Universe.  Well, as you know, the Universe isn't very responsive to threats...but it made us feel better anyway.  I remember out hideously inappropriate widow jokes, our frequent champagne skype dates, and the efforts we made to see each other as often as possible.  We were a life line to each other, and living proof that together we could survive.

Now, so many years later (time flies when you're having fun, right), we still share the bumps in the road and the wicked humor as well as our champagne skype dates.  Thank God for your widow friends, I know I do.  No one gets it as well as they do, and I'm grateful everyday for Michele and all of you.  With each other, we can do this. 

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

What would you like to know?



Yesterday, I opened up my personal blog to questions from readers about my grief journey, my new relationship with Steve, and anything in between that maybe I hadn't addressed yet or before. I was overwhelmed with the response and questions that came from it, and am excited to get the opportunity to share our story and open our hearts in a world of grief that so few people at our age really understand.

I had never intended to do the same here, but I realize that this group of readers is different. We approach life with a different lens. I could tell the questions on my personal blog that came from other widows or those who had experienced grief before and were curious about how to handle different situations or aspects of grief. So, we wanted to extend the same opportunity here: for people to ask questions to Steve and me (we will both answer from our different perspectives) in maybe areas that aren't always touched on.

Obviously, I don't have the answers. Or any right ones. We all know that grief looks different for everyone, and I can't even say that I've got one single thing figured out. What I do know is that being a pregnant widow at 28, and getting remarried 18 months later is rare and raises a lot of questions for people - I get it. I would have some too. Steve and I both feel passionately about our calling to walk this journey of grief and help others along the way - him as a grief counselor, me as a young widow - to hopefully shed some light with our unique perspectives in areas that need it. And to bring hope. We're willing to be honest and transparent with our story and our grief if it means helping someone else on their own journey. That's what this blog is all about right? Helping each other? I'm thankful for the opportunity to do that in any way.

So, if you have any questions for Steve and I, ask away. We'll address them next Thursday here and try to answer. The only questions we won't answer are ones that are disrespectful, demeaning, or judgmental. But as I've already learned, those kinds of things only come from people who don't "get it" - and here, we're in good company.

What would you like to know?

The One Thing .....

                                                                                                                   
                                                                                                                     
.... yep, the only one.  The one thing that makes Jim's death bearable is that (see above).

If you've never seen that picture ..... then you need to know that it's a room FULL of widowed people.  Widowed people of all ages, stages in life ..... pregnant, brand-spanking-newly widowed, widowed with small children, widowed with teenagers (thus a very good reason to get out of the house), widowed with adult children, widowed with no children, widowed and re-married, widowed and then widowed again, older widowed, younger widowed.

That picture was taken at Camp Widow.  This year, in less than 2 months (oh my goodness I'm trying to not hyperventilate at that thought!) we will be hosting our Fourth annual Camp Widow in San Diego.  It will actually be our FIFTH Camp Widow, because we had our first one on the east coast back in April.

If you've never been to Camp Widow you can't know what an amazingly fun time we have.  If you've never been you probably don't know what it feels like to be in a room full of 200+ people who "get you" and they do indeed get "it".

When you come to Camp Widow it's like you can take that huge, heavy load of "being widowed" off of your back and feel lighter for the first time in probably a long time.
Ironically enough, we don't see each other with the labels that others put on us.  We see each other as people.  Beautiful people who are survivors.  We see into each other's heart and we find the personality that's sometimes buried beneath the widowed load.

If you've never been to Camp Widow then you may not know what it feels like to be understood .... without having to say a word.  You will meet another widowed person and instantly know that you will probably be friends for life.  You will learn that you are very, very normal.
You will learn that the things you have done in your own timing have been done at the perfect time.

You will learn new things about this path we all walk on.  You might pick up some new ideas about making choices on this path.  And you might meet someone who's a bit behind you on this path .... thus giving them the encouragement they need to keep walking.
Just because you came.

Yes, you will definitely learn that you are not crazy.  And that you are probably a lot more normal than you'd like to be.  :)

But the most important thing that you will learn .... that each and every one of us has learned these past 4+ years ......  is that
                                                      You.
                                                      Are.
                                                      Not.
                                                     Alone.

And that, my friends, is one of the very best things a widowed person can feel.  And know.

This, all of this and more, is what helps make Jim's death bearable for me.  The smile that I see on someone's face when they know I "get it", when they feel encouraged by my words, or my hugs (I give great hugs) ..... or just by my very existence, lets me know that Jim's death was not just a waste of another human being.  His death has made a difference.  Yes, in me ..... there's no way around that, but his death has made a difference in someone else's life.  His death gave me the ability and the passion to encourage you.  To let you know that you can .... and will .... survive.  No, you won't always want to.  And that is perfectly normal.  I promise.  
You will survive.  One day at a time.  Maybe one Camp Widow at a time.  :)

You will encourage another person on this path.  I can promise you that, too.  And sometimes ..... sometimes all it takes is your presence, your very existence.
Because if you've made it this far ..... then the people behind you on this path know that they can, too.
And that is huge.
HUGE!

So if you've never been to Camp Widow I hope you'll consider going in August.  Just click here,  on Camp Widow ..... and you'll learn a little more about it.

For those of you who are planning on attending, will you please consider being a volunteer?  There's no job you can't do .... I promise.  And by helping out you'll most likely meet more people .... and encourage more people.
Our volunteers help make this wonderful weekend happen.  And they can tell you that we're quite easy on them.  :)
Oh!  And you'll get a free shirt!  
A shirt and a chance to encourage other people in this "club no one wanted to join".
Who could ask for more?

But the best thing?  The best thing is that you'll be going home .... knowing that the death of your loved one ..... wasn't wasted.  And maybe that will make this "club" more bearable for you, too.

Join us at Camp Widow ..... and see that you are not alone.
And you'll probably have more fun than you can imagine.
:)



P.S.  If you'd like to volunteer or have any questions email me at janinee@sslf.org


P.P.S.  You all can help us spread the word about Soaring Spirits by going to our Facebook page and "liking" us.  There are way too many widowed people out there who have no idea that support is available to them.  The more "likes" we get, the more visible we'll be to those people who think they're all alone.
Thanks for helping spread encouragement!
:)

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Into the light

Art canvas continued on 365 Project
 *

I have not been very happy lately.

It's been no secret.

There's no real reason (aside from the obvious dead-husband / life is awful thing).
...and as I've done before in times of stress, I turned to Pinterest.
...and I pin things that I think are funny or creative or yummy or fun or sarcastic or just plain awesome.

....and I while away an hour or so just looking at beauty and dreaming.

...and I think I have managed to pull myself out of the funk I have been in since death-week at the start of March. 
I've written about the Uncommon Therapy I get from photography before, and this burst of creativity has  helped my mood. 

Inspiration came in many ways:
  1. My Year 1s and I created the most amazing canvas for the school art show.  Ours is by far the best.  The inspiration came from a Pinterest board on kid's art.
  2.  I brushed up my photography skills and took some amazing portraits of a friend's children during the week.  ...and for once I was able to get that tricky back-lit light RIGHT due to a few tips I found a link to from a Pinterest pin - Huzzah!
  3. I made brownies from a recipe I found on Pinterest.  (Kinda sabotaged my weight loss for the week though so will have to look into that).
  4. ...and my garden is looking great due to pure inspiration I gleaned from looking at photos of garden pron on Pinterest.
I'm touching wood as I type, but barring having the Universe rain crap on me for a while ..... I think I am emerging from my apathy towards life.

No promises, but I hope it continues to work.....

(* Apologies for the crappy photo - school camera with approximately .5 of a second to get the shot and on auto setting ... will try to get a decent one on my camera later).
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Monday, June 18, 2012

Worth

None of them are me. This isn't even Portland. GOTCHA!!! :)Source


Dave's death has opened up a vein of long-buried hurts for me that I've been gently and not-so-gently forced to deal with in the past year.

The biggest is my negative self-image. I always go big with my neuroses, so this is the kind of low self-esteem that covers every aspect of me. My mind, my body, my heart, all of it has never been good enough for my biggest critic. Myself.

Something switched in my brain, when Dave died, though. Something about seeing myself as if from a distance, accomplishing each task before me that  previously I would have believed impossible. Watching Dave die in front of me and not being able to help. Surviving his memorial and actually taking and receiving love and affection during it. Getting up each day after he died and finding things and people to live for. Going to Camp Widow and writing on this blog.

If someone told me a year ago that I'd be able to survive those events and accomplish those tasks, I'd have said, unequivocally, no possible way.

But there I was, surviving and accomplishing. It couldn't be denied anymore that I had strength and courage.

Add that to the outpouring of love that I received from my community and I had to face facts. There must be some reason for it all. There must be something redeemable about me.

I've spent 36 years convinced there wasn't. Those neural pathways are carved deeply.

So, as life went on and the grieving wasn't always the glaring focus of every waking moment anymore, this self image issue of mine began to rear it's frustrating, energy-wasting head again. For some reason, the brunt of the negative messages I tell myself involve body image.

One night, though, while watching a burlesque show (really up close to the performers), I had a little epiphany that felt a little like a zap to my brain. Those women were confidently shaking their stuff for an audience of strangers.

Whether they were tall and skinny, short and chubby, round, jiggly, muscular, dimply, smooth, pale, tan, big busted, tiny busted, flat, bumpy, junk in the trunk, or no trunk to speak of...it didn't matter.

They each displayed such confidence that the specifics of their bodies and how well they fit in with our society's  definition of beauty just faded away in my mind's eye. What was left to witness was the beauty of bodies themselves, and what they can accomplish. And humor. The brash humor of women too confident to give a shit what anyone thinks.

I left that night thinking that the next chance I had to shed my inhibitions, I would do it. I knew that accepting my body was only part of the process of accepting myself as a whole,  but I felt like it was a big barrier.

So...along comes Portland's Naked Bike Ride.

Each summer, around 10,000 Portlanders get naked (variations of naked, but lots of 100% naked too) and ride their bikes through the city together.

A friend and I decided to do it and last night (I'm writing this on Sunday)...we did! My version of naked was bikini bottoms and pasties, but it felt pretty naked!

After the ride was over (this post would become very long very fast if I described the incredible hour or so of naked cycling that I experienced), and I was dressed again, and at a bar amongst strangers, I felt very different.

 A weight was lifted off of me somehow. The terrible weight of shyness and insecurity.

Sadly, I don't think that it lasted into today.

I'm looking at pictures of me riding with almost nothing on and already starting to pick apart my flaws again, but for last night, I felt like I was more than good enough, and not just physically. I felt brave and confident, and brash. I felt like my burlesque heroines must feel when they get up on stage and say "F*ck feeling shy about my body and my true, naked self! This is me. Take it or leave it. I'm taking it."

It felt good, and it's one little step on the way to feeling that way more often. Okay, maybe it was a big step. A big, naked step.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

"Happy" Father's Day



For me, it’s a reminder that I'm a parent raising children without my wife.

 For others, it’s a symbol that their children’s father is gone.

 For those without kids, it’s a reflection on what isn’t or what will now never be.

 For all of us, it’s a trigger that reminds us of our situation, another day that is awkward as it puts us out of place for a 24 hour period, another day where we don’t want to face questions from our kids or conversations with our relatives and friends, another day where people will tell me all day long to have a “Happy Father’s Day”.  A wish where I would love to respond, “It’s really not that happy for me as it’s not the same since my wife died.”  But knowing that response would draw a, “Look, dude, I’m just reading off the cue cards here.  The calendar is telling me today is a happy day for the fathers.  I really don’t have any interest in your true happiness, so just say ‘Thanks’, collect your change and leave my store.”

 The past few years I’ve been able to let the day fly under the radar without acknowledging too much my “special” day.  But now my kids are getting older and they too are able to read calendars and the calendar today is telling them today is my day to be happy – whether I want to be or not.

Mother’s Day is easier for me.  I can be sad and reflective as I release balloons into the air with my children, remembering my wife and their mother.  I can talk fondly of her throughout the day and tell the kids with a tear in my eye that she was a good mom and we will do our best to follow her love.

But today is about me.  Crap, I’m still alive which means the spotlight stays on me and my girls will be looking for me to show them how great of a day this is.  Switching that around and showing them this day sucks would only confuse them.  This year they have picked up on the Hallmark Holiday and my eldest has told me something is planned today.

 Okay.  Maybe I’m not ready to be happy today, but I am grateful.  I have beautiful daughters who are excited for me and want something good for me.  In their world, it’s as simple as, “Today is your day dad, so you must have been waiting for this for awhile.”

I think I will take this day and use it as an opportunity to let my children know how proud I am to be their father.  I’m going to go out and buy them each a Father’s Day card and hand it to them as they look at me like I read the calendar wrong.  But on the inside I will write a short note telling them that as a father, I couldn’t ask for better children, and how proud I am on this day with how they have dealt with the loss of their mom.  A day to check in to see how they are coping and give some positive reinforcements – have I done that lately?

 Happy Father’s Day?  Don’t think I’m there yet.  Proud Father’s Day?  I’m all in.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Challenged

Image
“If you are facing a new challenge or being asked to do something that you have never done before don’t be afraid to step out. You have more capability than you think you do but you will never see it unless you place a demand on yourself for more.” -Joyce Meyer

He challenged me.

I'm stubborn.
Hard Headed.

Yet he provoked me to think, to reflect, to never embrace the me I was...but the me I could be.
He showed me someone I loved. The me that is me.

Then he died.

Who would challenge me?

Who could see the me under the dirt and muck that I could only imagine being?

Who would never doubt me, but always make me question if and how I could handle/do things better?

Who would be there for me to have no other goal but to have them love me, and ultimately, make them proud of the person they had dedicated their life to?

Life was paused.
Over, in my eyes.

But under the thick blankets of pain and grief, one normal widow day, I challenged myself out of bed.
Then to breathe.

Then to see.

Then to live.

Now, 5 years later, I realize that it was never Michael that challenged me...but Michael that challenged me to see the me I am and always was.

So I venture out and challenge myself.

The coming weeks and months, more than ever.

To live, to succeed, to challenge others to see the them that was there all along.

He pulled back the curtain to a world I wasn't ready to see until he was by my side...

A world that years later I'd have to refresh myself to..

A world that is challenging, but that I'm inspired to be challenged by.

He placed a demand on me to evolve.

I was scared to do it without him there.

Now I evolve and demand nothing less than to be afraid, scared, hesitant towards...

All things that I've learned equate to the life we deserve.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Puppy Love


I have two dogs……

Hold on a second.  If you’ll allow me a slight aside, please note what I just typed: “I have…..”  It’s been slightly more than three years now since Maggie’s Angel Day.  Yet that’s still difficult to say.  It’s much easier albeit incorrect to say “We have two dogs.”  The past tense phrase “We had two dogs” doesn’t work because the loving puppies are still alive and licking.  But “I have two dogs” just doesn’t fit.  They used to be “our dogs" - hers and mine - and even though she’s not here to share in poo duty anymore, they still seem like our dogs to me.  If it’s ok with you, can I start again?  (I promise it’s relevant to my post.)

We have two dogs, Niko and Kali.  Niko was the dog I never thought I’d have because I was blessed with allergies to everything: dirt, grass, mold, and especially hair: dog hair, cat hair, horse hair, rabbit hair, people hair... if it grows, I'm allergic to it.  So when Maggie declared about nine years ago that we should get a dog, I told her she was nuts, in of course the most loving, supportive way.  But she was a smart one, that girl, and rarely listened to me and what I called “logic.”  She went to researchin’ and found a rare breed of dogs that don’t have any hair called American Hairless Terriers.  While I was intrigued, I was skeptical so we set up a test.  We went to visit a home that had one of these freak dogs to verify whether or not I could comfortably snuggle.  And just days after the successful meet-and-greet, she had arranged to pick up our new puppy, Niko.  Just like that, we had a dog.

Kali
Kali came along much later at the request of my sweetheart who was having a tough time and, frankly, didn’t have much time left.  I argued against the additional responsibility.  I lost.  Maggie loved having Kali around.  Puppies are (mostly) fun.  But given the timing and the enormous challenges we were facing at that point, I don’t think either of us bonded with Kali like we did with Niko. (But she's still here and she's one of my babies.)

Niko was is our baby.  She went everywhere with us and we spared no spoiling.  It was quite the adjustment for Maggie and my three-year-young relationship and, as we both knew but didn’t discuss, this was a practice run for other things coming later.  It was fun.

But let me be very clear.  Despite my spoiling, Niko was Maggie’s baby.  They were connected in ways I couldn’t explain.  When Maggie would return home, Niko would go nuts with joy, running around the house, whining, bouncing, elated.  It was a sight to see.  She loved Maggie WAY more than me.  And yes, that hurt my little heart a little bit but I got used to it.  Heck, I loved Maggie, too, so I could see Niko’s perspective (but I still snuck secret treats to Niko all the time, just to ply my case.)

Flash forward to today.  These days, it seems like every couple of weeks there’s a video posted on CNN of a returning soldier greeting his or her dog.  Just yesterday was a lady soldier who walked in to greet a sleeping beagle who, after sniffing the unfamiliar girl in camo, comes absolutely unglued with joy.  The dog whines and runs around like a maniac, alternating between licking, whining, body-checking and other just plain nutso behavior.  It’s clear that the dog knew her mom was finally home.  It’s also clear that the dog dearly missed her mom.  It’s the sweetest thing you’ve ever seen.

Every damn time I watch that video and those like it, I breakdown into a sobbing mess.  It makes me so happy for that dog but seeing how happy that dog is breaks my heart, too.  I remember how happy Niko was when Maggie returned back from a lengthy absence.  She just went absolutely nuts.  It's clear that she obviously missed her.

I often wonder if Niko still thinks about Maggie and wonders "Hey, where'd Mom go? And when is she getting back?"  Does she even remember her?  From the videos of the returning soldiers, I can comfortably say that yes, dogs absolutely remember, without a doubt.  Do they ever forget?  And do they get sad when they remember, just like us?

It’s been a while since I’ve seen Niko light up from a smell that I suspected was from Maggie.  But, of course, the things that might still hold those smells haven’t been touched in a while.  One day when I push forward again, it’ll be interesting to see how she responds.  But until then, she’ll just be a pretty average happy dog, with no visible signs of the explosive joy that she might show if Maggie one day walked through the door.

I’ll tell you this, though.  If Maggie ever walks through that door, Niko is going to have to fight me for Maggie kisses.  I'm first.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Would you?





Between the business of getting our house in order and having 5 children, it hasn't left a whole lot of in-between time for Steve and me. We steal moments throughout the day but our one-on-one time is really just before bed or in the car. Luckily, we drive a lot, so we get the chance to connect. Some of my favorite memories of Jeremy are from our long car rides: dreaming together, laughing, learning about each other....those moments are so special to me. I try to soak them up with Steve too. Sometimes we read together, sometimes we dream together about what our future will look like, what our hopes are for our children, where we want to be, etc.

We love to play 'what if' or 'would you rather' or make up random questions like 'what would you do if you won the lottery?' just to pass the time and for fun. So, it was no surprise at first when Steve randomly and innocently asked me "If you could know how and when you were going to die, would you?"

Without hesitation, I answered with a hearty YES.

But maybe I answered too quickly.

This is a loaded question for me. As a widow, my perspective of life and death has drastically changed. I no longer fear death, and I still long for Jeremy and ache for the day when I'll get to see him again. Not only that, but I long for a place void of hurt and pain, loss and death.

The months after Jeremy died, I remember wishing I could know when I would die, so I could know how long I had to bear through life and to give me something to look forward to. But, as every widow will come to hate and embrace at the same time, life goes on. You're still standing and breathing, and you're not mad about it anymore. Still, I wouldn't mind knowing when I will die: to prepare myself and the people I love, and to give a goodbye that I was robbed of with Jeremy.

I told Steve that the only thing that would make me regret finding out was if I learned my death would be slow and painful. But then again, how many people get to do this when they find out they have a terminal disease that they know will take them slowly? Would it change my every day life? Would I live differently? I'd like to think I try to live every day to the fullest, but even I would have to admit that it might change things. And maybe the point is to live life in a way that you wouldn't have to give a goodbye if you didn't have the chance to; that the people you love already know what you would say.

All week, this question has been stuck with me. Would I find out? I am one of those people that does not like to be left out of things...I don't like not knowing, no matter how hard the truth is. There was NO WAY I was going to wait to find out the sex of my children when they were born if I could find out and prepare sooner. That's just how I am. And even though sometimes I regret this piece of my personality, I don't have the ability to not want to know.

What I determined is that I'm glad that I can't know, and that it's not my decision to find out or not. Even though I answered quickly with seemingly convicted assurance, the more I think about this question, the less sure I am about my answer.

What about you? I anxious to know, especially in this arena of widows/widowers - if you could know how and when you were going to die, would you?

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Odds ....

                                                          picture from here

.... and Ends.
Or rather ..... some ends make you feel very odd.

Or .... some odd things seem to never end.

Before I explain myself I want to thank Michele for always being ready to stand in for blog duty .... even when it comes only 24 hours before publish time because a certain writer lost track of time, and of duties, while she planned and then left on a vacation to Mexico with her 6 kids.
I'm not naming names here.
Other than Michele's.  Because she rocks.

I also happened to take my children (who number 6) to Cabo last week.  Which just happens to be in Mexico.  Not that I'm admitting to anything here .... it could be just an odd coincidence.

We had a great time and I loved being with all 6 of them for 7 days.  And I miss 5 of them very, very much.  I'd miss all six of them but the youngest happens to reside in my home, so I don't miss him so much.  HOWEVER, let it be known that if he did not live here .... he would indeed be missed. (you have to really be careful to cover all of your bases when you have 6 kids .... a job that's getting harder and harder to do.)

Anyway, the day we came home I was back in my bedroom with a couple of my kids and we were all talking about various aspects of the trip as I unzipped my suitcase and removed some souvenir items.  And then the oddest thing happened.
Not odd in that it happened, because it used to happen all of the time 4 years ago.
All.
Of.
The.
Time.

But odd in that it happened now.  Four and a half years later.
Very odd.

As I was holding some of the souvenirs in my hand and listening to the kids chat about the trip, I thought,
"I need to tell Jim all about our trip!"
That thought flew into my head .... and then flew out as fast as it came.
But it left me leaning over my suitcase, fighting as hard as I could to not react as strongly as I felt .... which was stone cold and almost breathless.  And then I think my next thought was, "What the hell?!"
I had no idea where that thought had come from .... or why it had come, when it hasn't come in a very long time.
So long, in fact, that I can't remember when it last happened.
Or I couldn't before Saturday.
Odd.
Very odd.

A very odd thing brought about by the end of someone.
At first, as I wrote above, it happened all of the time.  At least a few times a week.
If I turned the TV on and saw that Oklahoma State was playing a basketball game, I'd find myself starting to call out Jim's name to tell him that the Cowboys were on TV.  But I stopped myself.  And cried.
The first time I went out of town with a couple of friends (my first trip to Cabo) I arrived at the Cabo airport and thought, "I need to call Jim and tell him I made it ok."  Then I remembered that he wasn't at home and so he was not worried about my trip .... and if I made it .... or not.
And I cried.
One of the last times it happened, was well over a year ago .... maybe even two.  I ran into a friend who had been a friend of ours before we moved to Texas.  We knew them from Tulsa.  They were transferred down here several years after we were.  When I ran into her that day she told me they were being transferred to Chicago, where we had also once lived.  After we chatted for a while and then said goodbye I thought, "I need to tell Jim about that".  And then I realized that not only was Jim not here to listen to my story, but no one else in the world would understand that we had known them "before" Texas.
None of my friends here knew them.  So I had no one to tell about running into her .... and that they were moving again.
No one.
And that felt very, very lonely.
And odd.
And it made me cry.

But this time .... this time I didn't cry.
It was odd.
It was VERY odd.
And the knowledge that follows right after that thought flies through your head is ...... well, it felt "unsettling".  And it made me feel a little shaky.
But I did the best job I could to brush that thought, and it's after effects from my mind like they were sticky cobwebs.  It took a little bit of effort, but I did it and managed to keep up with the kids' conversation and continue my unpacking.
But the unsettled feeling?  It never left.
I still feel it.
And I still wonder, "What the hell?!"
Where did that come from and why now?

Odds and ends.
We always have odds and ends around ..... in some form or another.
Ends leave you feeling odd.

And the odds are ..... we'll all experience an end.
Of someone.

Odds and ends.
Ends and odds.

In the end .... it's all odd.
And very .... unsettling.

Four and a half years out.
What are the odds?

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The Luckiest


I have music on a loop that I listen to in the car.  There is one song that never fails to reduce me to tears: Ben Folds, The Luckiest.

I don't often feel lucky.
(I mean, who here really feels that luck has been shining on them?) 
Sudden death really doesn't count in the "lucky" stakes.

In fact, in the three years leading up to the accident, we lost both Greg's parents to the most hideous of cancers.  This left he and is siblings at odds over the will with Greg the person in the middle trying to make everyone happy, whilst making himself miserable in the process.

...and he'd just managed to get everyone to a shaky agreement, but was dead within months.


Suddenly
Brutally.
Dead.

"Lucky" was not a description I would have used to describe our lives.


Until I started to think about it.

Because Greg and I, we were The Luckiest.

Not many people get to marry the love of their lives. 

Many never even get to meet them.

But we did both.

Inseparable from the moment we met and fell in love.



We had a love that was real and solid.
Never wavering.
Never faltering.

We finished each other's sentences and could tell what the other person was thinking with a look.

We laughed at the same things and we cried at the same things.

We were are soulmates who balanced each other perfectly.

We loved.

Deeply.

Completely.

Soul-shaping love.

...and what we had (still have) was so rare and beautiful, that we really were among  The Luckiest people on the planet.






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Monday, June 11, 2012

Shell



I started reading Jai Pausch's book last night.

Remember The Last Lecture?

I remember Dave getting word of Randy's talk. He was so moved by it and showed it to me on YouTube. Randy Pausch was battling pancreatic cancer while he wrote and performed his speech for the Last Lecture series at Carnegie Mellon where he taught.

The idea behind the talks was a theoretical "if this were your last lecture" format. For Randy, though, who'd been given 3 to 6 months, this actually was his last lecture.

Dream New Dreams is Randy's wife's book about their journey through Randy's illness and her journey after his death.

Jai and Randy had 3 young kids when he was diagnosed. The first few chapters had me hooked, but last night as I wolfed it down in bed, I felt anxiety growing like a yawning hole in my belly.

The obstacles this family faced as Randy got sick and then died terrified me.

I tried to put myself in her place, and my mind balked. It was too hard to imagine.

She was still nursing her youngest when she had to leave all the kids with family to move to Houston with Randy to be his caregiver. She was there all week with him, and then flew back to be with the kids on the weekends. She'd have to pump breast milk and dump it down the sink during the week. She couldn't nurse the youngest, Chloe, when she was home for the weekends, because then the baby wouldn't take formula during the week.

For some reason, this particular aspect of the phase of their lives when Randy began treatment, rattled me so much that I couldn't sleep. I had to stop reading last night just to calm down enough to drift off.

Today, I'm trying to analyze my reaction a little because it seems curious that I'm so rattled by her situation. So, why would Jai's situation have me so distraught?

Of course, it's partly empathy. I ached for that woman and the pain they all went through, but there was something more to it. Something that made it all feel too personal to detach enough to sleep.

A part of me wondered if there might be a chance for a family in my future. I admit it. I didn't ponder motherhood that much when Dave was alive. Once he died, though, I mourned a lost marriage, but also the loss of a family we'd never had the chance to have.

We CHOSE not to have a family, and yet I still mourned that chance being taken away from me. I mourned not having a small genetic piece of Dave to love. I never once wished I had even one child to raise while grieving, I just simply grieved the fact that there was no mini-Dave in my life and never could be.

I'm probably past child rearing years, especially considering that if I did want to try to have kids the old fashioned way, I'd have to start meeting the right man, marrying him and trying to get pregnant VERY VERY SOON. These are not things you can rush through, I hear. It doesn't work to put out a Craigslist ad or canvas for baby daddies on the streets. Not to mention the slightly important fact that I've never really had a strong maternal instinct.

Somehow though, this really got to me. There's societal pressure to be a part of a nuclear family. Hearing people talk about their husband and kids makes me feel like an alien visiting another planet. What point is there to this life if not to form families? says society.

I mentally run through a litany of well-known people who never formed a family and still seem vibrant and successful. George Clooney. Helen Mirren. Condoleeza. Jon Hamm. Kristen Wigg. Cameron Diaz.
Whatever. It makes me feel better.

There are other things to do with my life that don't necessarily involve having a family and anyway "family" can be interpreted in many ways. I'm forming the most amazing "friend-family", for example.

I can have adventures of another kind. Travel, for example. Or joining a circus, writing a book, sailing around the world. I can do whatever I want now. I don't have to wait until the kids are out of the house and the husband agrees to my crazy plans.

But, there's a part of me that will grieve that other life I can only faintly imagine. A life with a full house. A life with ballet recitals, soccer games, first dates, homework, and read aloud time every night after baths.

Okay, after I typed that I kind of shuttered a little. I guess maybe I don't have a maternal instinct. Good to know!

I only partly kid. It's not true that you can't miss what you never had. You can. I do. I work each day at not feeling left out. It's a choice. I can get wrapped up in missing what I never had or I can get busy living this life.

As Randy said in his Last Lecture, "We cannot change the cards we were dealt, just how how we play the hand".


All of my fear is also probably wrapped up in the idea that if I did ever find deep, lasting love again, I could lose it all, just like I did this time around. I could possibly watch my new love deteriorate well before old age. I could usher him out of this world and be faced with widowhood once more. Or, sometimes I think an even worse proposition is being the one who leaves the other behind. Having experienced it, I don't want my partner to ever go through that.

But none of that matters. Whatever will happen will happen. If I'm married and then widowed again, then that's the hand I'm dealt. Doesn't matter. All that matters is how I play the hand.

At a year out, though, my heart is still encased in a protective shell. Almost daily I ask the universe for just a couple of years of death-free peace and quiet. Just long enough to really get my feet underneath me.

No pets, friends or family dying on me please, just for a while. Please. I just can't imagine watching someone I love so deeply so sick and being so helpless in the face of it again.

Thinking about Jai seeing Randy so sick and trying to help. Imagining her desperately trying to find a way to get him to eat and keep weight on. Cleaning his port. Never knowing for sure how much time they had left on the cancer timeline. It all just makes me want to keep my heart safe and sheltered.

Gotta pull out CS Lewis' quote about love and vulnerability again.

Closing myself off to love to avoid pain is not an option, I tell myself.

A part of me is listening.

Another part of me is carefully holding my heart in a fragile, breakable shell, trying desperately to protect it from shattering again.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Good Little Widow




Half a dozen of us widow and widowers went to see a play called Be a Good Little Widow at Collaboraction Theatre. Written by Bekah Brunstetter and directed by Anthony Mosley, the play takes place entirely in a small apartment where a newlywed couple is trying to find where they fit into one another’s lives. The cast of characters includes an overbearing mother-in-law who doesn’t think the girl is good enough for her son.

The husband leaves for a business trip, - “don’t worry, I’ll be back before you know it” he says, as if there is a law that any story featuring an upcoming death must say this line (see the movie Castaway for another reference) - and his plane crashes leaving the young girl to find her new place in life and redefine her new relationship with her mother-in-law.

For me, the most intriguing character was the mother-in-law. Her back-story involves losing her husband years ago and becoming a” good widow.” She now tries to teach her young daughter-in-law to do the same. These rules are mostly comprised of being polite and knowing your place by not making a scene in public. The nice character level is she is now dealing with the loss of her son. The best line of the play was when she finally opens up about her pain to her daughter-in-law and breaks her stiffness by telling her, “I lost both my husband and my son. There is no word for me.”

In reading the authors bio, it mentions she was never a widow but was interested in the topic. I thought this line was by far the closest the playwright was able to figure out the world of grief. I love the fact the mother-in-law needed a word to figure out her place in this world. I almost felt fortunate for having the luxury of knowing I was a widower. It’s a crappy place to be, but at least I have a word for society to fit me in a box. Here was this woman, who has lost two loves and she doesn’t even get the luxury of telling people on the street, “Hi, I’m a doubler.” “Oh my, both husband and son. I am so sorry for your losses.”

I feel much of my grief journey has been trying to own my “new normal” life. Be a Good Little Widow touches on the “new normal” aspect as the girl is lost and trying to get out of the fog. It doesn’t surprise me that someone who hasn’t experienced the loss of a spouse chose to write about the “in the fog” stage. An outsider can make guesses about that stage: you get angry, you drink to forget your problems, you fight with the in-laws, and you keep picturing your dead spouse in the house with you. All of it made for some interesting theatre.

But where the playwright missed the boat was the deeper introspection that is needed to move on. The understanding that it is not getting sober after a night of binge drinking that shapes your new life or yelling at someone and realizing you’ve gone too far that allows you to cross the line into healing. It’s an inner struggle of what you thought you were and what you are about to become. What you thought was life and what life is now. What you thought you were owed in the world and what you find the world is really going to give you.

Maybe this journey isn’t as exciting to turn into a play. Fair enough. The play did leave our group talking for hours afterwards, debating what the playwright was correct on and what the playwright missed. For my money, I would like to have seen a show that went deeper into the process of grief. But maybe this play wasn’t written for us. Maybe it was written for those on the outside who can only guess what “a good widow” should be.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Proud

Image I was asked I question recently and figured I'd respond in a blog:
Hi Taryn, Thank you for publishing this, it makes me feel that others are like me. One thing I want to ask you: why should I be proud of being a widow? I hate it when I am referred to as a widow! I just hate it! I don't see why I should be proud. I would love it if I could say "I'm so-and-so's wife". Give me a reason to be proud of being a widow. Thanks again.
When Michael was first killed I remember sitting there thinking, 'Does this mean I have to be a widow?!'. Our society had put such a stigma on the word, that any chance in me feeling the need to embrace it was pretty slim. I even had people telling me not to call myself that. "Widow" was a title that had everything going against it in the sense of embracing it. But I remember, one evening, in the first few months after his death, thinking of the pride I had when standing next to him and hearing him introduce me as his wife. I felt unstoppable. I felt that the world was mine to conquer. I felt that with him by my side and the title of his wife...that all in the world was right. It was in thinking of that feeling that I knew I had all reason in the world to feel the same as his widow. That title represents his sacrifice. That title represents my sacrifice. And that title, due to the fact that I am still here to say I am the widow of Michael...represents my survival. I know it is easier sad than done to embrace a word that for centuries has been shunned and put in a negative light, but when I think of that glowing feeling in my heart when I stood next to him as his wife, I quickly let the notions of others fall to the wayside as the same feeling sweeps over me as I introduce myself as his widow. You earned this title with every ounce of love you share with them. You earned this title with every day you decided to get up and inhale and exhale after their passing. You earned this title for being an example for all those that will come after you and will be asking the same question on why they should embrace a word...and then they see how you have lived...and suddenly know why. So be proud. Being a widow is a title worth sharing.