Monday, February 4, 2013

Another Anniversary

Last year on February 4, on a cool gray morning, I was moving from my big, beloved house in the country into a small apartment in the middle of Portland. I had left my house and almost all it contained, packed up my cats, clothes and a few belongings and let go.

I let go of a life I thought I wouldn't survive without.
When I think of those days just before leaving, I remember things in flashes. Everything felt raw and harsh, yet hazy with shock and grief. That strange detached sense of being submerged in the depths. I can see these flashes of memory, but they seem like they happened to someone else.

The last few heart breaking minutes I spent in my old house. My sweet friend tearfully and gently  telling me that it was time to leave as I sobbed and fought with reality. Closing the door behind me and feeling completely numb and empty. The cats yowling for the entire 90 minute drive as I shifted between crying and feeling numb again, wondering if yowling like them would release a little of the pain that was choking me.

But I wasn't alone and that saved me.

There were many people who loved me so much that they managed to make these days less terrible and lonely. They helped me take care of details I simply couldn't bring myself to. They unpacked for me, stayed with me that first night in the new apartment, they brought me food and took good care of me. They even went through some of Dave's things for me because I had reached a point where the pain was overwhelming and all I could manage were the basics. Eat, try to sleep, and cry.

I took notes about the entire process, I tried to stay present. I made the requisite phone calls, but I was barely hanging on. Since then, though, I have felt stronger and stronger even though it didn't seem like it most days. I've made a life for myself here and found ways to settle in. I've fallen in love with this city and gradually grown to love myself and even appreciate the potential of my new path too.

But on this anniversary, I can't stop thinking about the love of those friends. They each took away some of the darkness and fear and pain in their own wonderful way. Next to the days right after Dave died, it was the hardest days of my life. The most draining and scary. But there they were, offering their love and kindness. I grabbed onto their support like a drowning person and felt the gratitude flood through me.

I sit here in the living room of my cozy new home in the new city I already miss the second I leave it and I realize how far I've come. I had to let go to know what I was capable of. I had to loosen my grip on what I thought was my life's plan and find out what the actual plan was. I had to participate in that plan by being open and following the paths that presented themselves to me. I had to go out and FIND some of those paths. I had to enlist the help of so many. I had to learn to lean on others and accept help. I had to trust myself. None of it was easy, but that's what makes it so precious to me now. It was hard-won.

All that hard work came from the fuel of those first few days I thought I wouldn't survive. Once I saw that I did survive, I could move forward. Before I was able to see the possibility of a better time ahead of me, I had those incredible people who cared about me, holding me up when I could barely stand on my own.

Dave's parents have told me a few times that some of his last words to them were "Make sure Cassie's OK". I don't think he had to worry. I made it on my own but I made it surrounded the entire time by the energy of those who love me, including him.

I am so grateful to have found this feeling of peace and joy again. There was a long period of time when I thought I'd never feel it again. I'm able to see now, how strong I really was, even when I felt completely broken. I was so low and scared in those days that I couldn't rely on my own hope. I had to borrow it from those who had faith in me.

I know that the universe doesn't deal me a better hand now just because I've been through hell, but there's just as much chance that the future holds amazing things, too. I know sad times will come again and little things will set me back. I know big bad things can and will happen. I know I have an incredibly long way to go, but now that I've crested the hill of the one year mark since that pivotal move,  I can look behind me, at the distance I've come and marvel. I guess I really am strong. There is no denying that now. And so is the love that helped me get here.


  1. Bless you Cassie, and your wonderful friends. I am in the aftermath of an enormous grief wave, and hearing your good feelings really helps today. I, too, have wonderful support and I have learned a lot about leaning in them.

  2. This is your new Friday girl checkin in. Wonderful post, and I went through something VERY similar in September. Just 5 months ago, I too, left our apartment that hubby and I shared for 7 years, and found a new place. Moved out of NJ and into NY, and it was SOOOOO HARD. The endless packing, the emotions, all of it. But when I got here, I felt instantly lighter, and all my fears about not feeling as close to my late husband disappeared, because I realized immediately that wherever I go , that is where he is. I can FEEL that now, and I think its because Im no longer being suffocated by all of our STUFF in piles all over the apartment. The anniversaries will always be hard , they always bring it back. Heres hoping to days where we feel lighter......

    1. Exactly, Kelley. I think that's what it took to really see that he actually can't be left behind. That was the fear I didn't quite have words for when I was in the process of moving. I didn't have to worry about that after all. He's still here, but like you said, I feel lighter not surrounded by all our things, by that life I was hoping would magically return to me.

  3. "We must be willing to let go of the life we have planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us". Joseph Campbell

    I am slow to learn this, but it is sinking in. It is time to move on from where "we" were at, and find out where "I " need to be. Hearing you ladies who have already done this feel freer, gives me hope. I lack the support system you have, but am learning I can be my own support. And my biggest supporter is always by my side. Time to keep purging and moving on.

  4. Hugs. So many hugs. You are my inspiration, Cassie.

  5. Wonderfully written from the heart. Thank you, Cassie.
    Our paths are similar but very different.I have been ripping off the band aid slowly, and now, almost five years since my husband passed away, I think I can let the house go.

    1. It's so different for everyone. I'm betting that the isolation and 12 acres to maintain "forced" me to let go sooner than I would've otherwise. I had to almost be dragged out, but I knew I'd do better around more people and with more opportunities.
      Staying in the marital home works for some and not for others. It's good to hear you're listening to yourself and going at your own pace.

  6. Letting go is so hard to do...
    I spent most of this past weekend in bed with the flu. I seem to have an immune system that is very low just now – probably because I am so tired, struggling to get some rest, probably not eating right and somewhat depressed of late. I had a person indicate to me on the weekend that I need to move on, put away some pics and mementos and concentrate on the present and future. So I tried it...put away some pics I have of Ron in the LR, office and bedroom. I took off the ring Ron always wore that he gave me in the hospital on his death bed... As I was doing this, I told Ron (yes, I talk to him daily, sometimes several times...does that make me weird or crazy? I don’t think so, it is normal. Abnormal would be suppressing anything or reference to him)...anyway, I told him that I wasn’t taking him out of my life...that he would always be in my heart and my life in some way, but that I had to not appear to be “enshrining” him to the point that people were maybe feeling uncomfortable in being around me, or with me, or in the apartment... Perhaps I was just trying to justify to myself and Ron what I was doing for someone else’s benefit...not mine...
    Anyway, it didn’t work – perhaps I should have given “it” more time...but everything was out of balance. Perhaps I needed to figure out what the “it” was...but I tossed and turned for two nights...shed many tears...woke up each morning very upset, frustrated, angry and just plain “out of sorts”. I don’t know it it’s too soon, if I didn’t give it enough time or what...but I put the pics back up and his ring back on this morning. Maybe I just need to put these reminders away when this other person is around...maybe I need to explain more fully to this person that it should not be interpreted as my not moving on...maybe I need to explore or examine my relationship with this person a little deeper... all these maybe’ is complicated and unfortunately doesn’t come with a manual (other than the Bible, and that’s a whole other discussion).
    My counselor has reminded me that there is no defined timeline for a person’s grief...and that he thinks I should be comfortable to give myself permission to grieve longer than the so called one year of first anniversaries (“sadiversaries”), etc. Perhaps (actually, I know that) it’s going to take me more than a year...but how much more? I can’t bear to be in this place I find myself in for too much longer – my health (mental and physical) can’t take it. Probably due to the flu, I ended up this weekend in a bout of depression feeling like I was so alone in my grief and I was not in a good place or state of mind. It is a process, I know that, but it is so unbelievably hard...and I just can’t seem to get out of my linear mindset where everything was planned in a certain sequence and while there are always those unanticipated bumps in the road, the outcome will be achieved. I have great difficulty with this serious “re-write” to my planned “our” planned life together. I always say that change is good...but, apparently I am having difficulty in “walking the talk”...
    Some have said that I need to move my location, perhaps move out of the city we spent our entire time together in...and get rid of all “possessions” that are reminders of Ron and our time together. Where would I start...where would I stop? Everything in my life has a connection to Ron...even my own clothes are reminders of what I wore when we went somewhere and/or did something together. Even my office holds memories as I took Ron to my office so he would know and understand my work environment, etc. What do I purge from there?
    I guess it is all perception. Letting go is so hard...and it perhaps is not achieved by getting rid of all reminders...maybe it’s not “letting go”...perhaps it is just relaxing the tight fisted grip Ron still has on my least relaxing the grip a bit so that it isn’t quite so immobilizing.

    1. Anon,
      Here's all you NEED to do: do what you want when YOU want. And do NOT feel that you have to put stuff away because of someone else, no matter what they say or what they think. YOU are the one on this road, not your friends or your family. You. No one else has any business telling you that you should "move on" (I'd love to slap the person who told you that), put away pictures, take off rings .... even get out of bed!!! This is your journey and no one else has a clue. Especially those who offer advice and have never lost their spouse. How dare she/he! You keep his ring on for as long as you want. And keep every single picture out where you want it. Put out more if you want. I've never taken pictures down and I don't expect to. That doesn't mean I'm stuck. I'm not. I now love my life, even if it's not the one I would've chosen. You will know when something feels right. Don't push yourself. At all. And you're right, it's normal for you to talk to him.
      There's nothing wrong with you. You're grieving. As you should. Please, please PLEASE don't let anyone make you feel that you're doing it wrong. Ever. Grieve the way you grieve. For as long as it takes you. You will move forward and continue to live. In your time.
      Keep breathing.

    2. I think every last thing you're thinking and feeling is normal. And I think the idea from someone who (presumably) hasn't been through it to put some things away is preposterous if you don't truly want to. The amazing thing is that (I believe) there WILL be a right time for all of it. You might feel like wearing his ring for a few more weeks, months, years, or forever. It's all "right" because it's what you need. I agree with anon above. The only thing you "have" to do is exactly what's right for you. No one else is living your life or feeling your pain.
      For some reason, a new city and all new "stuff" really helped me, but there's nothing saying it would help anyone else. We're all so incredibly different.
      And I talk to Dave every single day, by the way. XOXO

    3. I mean I agree with Janine, not anon. YOU'RE anon. Silly me.

  7. Once again, a post here fits my life perfectly. I moved two states away in October, and I've been trying to hang on to my old house while making a new life here. I'm finally ok with letting that house, and that part of my life, recede into my past. I won't let go of the memories. I can't and don't want to. But I am ready to move forward from the part of my life that no longer fits. I'm a different person now, and I'm ok with that. Every time I let another part of my old life go, I get a pang, but I remember my Steve telling me he wanted me to move on, to not grieve too long, to not get stuck grieving for him. He was and still is my best advisor - and I'm following his advice.

  8. To anon(akaRon'swife): This blog gives it's readership the loving support to carry on. We are veterans of a club we did not wish to join. We are a loving community that binds up each other's wounds. My favorite pic of my husband was a 1995 driver's license. Ihad it photoshopped and greatly enlarged. This pic was taken before Tom was diagnosed with CHF in 1999. Displaying a happy,healthy and hot husband warms my heart and gives me confidence. He passed 6months and two weeks ago. Things do get better!

  9. The love that helped me get here - so love this.
    It is true. So true. We can't make it alone. We need each other - hence this blog

    "I had to trust myself. None of it was easy, but that's what makes it so precious to me now. It was hard-won" I loved this too.
    If I had to give advice to any new widows it would be that - trust yourself.
    You alone will know what is right for you.

    I had a wonderful widow (sister in law) tell me right after my husbands death.
    Two years out. I have gone back to school (distance ed) to get a creative writing degree. Everyday, I have something that inspires me and brings me peace and even joy!
    I had to trust that even thought I am over 50 - it is not too late to start again.
    Thanks Cassie. Love your posts!

    1. I love your attitude and I LOVE that you're working on a creative writing degree. Sounds amazing!

  10. This is the year I plan to sell our house and move. I'm determined and have told enough people that I'll feel compelled to follow through.
    And although in my head I know that I'll be better off emotionally once I'm forced to sort through our 17 1/2 years of baggage left in this house and am in a new place, I can't help but despair at the thought of those last few weeks and that final day of walking out the door of our home for the last time.
    The fact that Dave & I had been talking about downsizing in the years prior to his death, should make it easier, but in my heart I know it's going to be brutal.

    I try to envision myself elsewhere, and I can't picture where. I've also resigned myself to the fact that I might not find a home I love right away, and may end up renting for a while.

    To anonymous #1 above, I do love this quote.
    "We must be willing to let go of the life we have planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us". Joseph Campbell

    Thanks for the post Cassie. Helping us to see that change can be good.

    1. I rented for 6 months and shopped around for a place to buy once I felt as though I could live in the city I chose. Renting was a good decision even though I resisted going "back" to apartment living. It was actually a HUGE reduction in stress. I didn't have to do maintenance or fix anything. Much less cleaning. Costs were pretty much fixed and very reasonable and I was able to decide what I wanted to do next without a big commitment.
      Also, because I had a big house, a giant shop, huge garage and a shed FULL of stuff and several vehicles and boats to deal with, I hired an auction house. I packed up what I'd take with me and left everything else as is and moved away. They took care of EVERYTHING. Hauled it all out and sold it and I made most of the profit. It was the best thing I ever did. I just decided that I couldn't deal with it all myself and delegated. I know that process isn't for everyone, but I just wanted to throw this out there as a possibility.
      There was something about simplifying and starting over entirely that helped me tremendously. It was very hard to say goodbye to our things and our house, but I needed to do it and the auction house made it possible to do it in a fraction of the time and without me stressing out about it all anymore than I already was (which was more than I can express in words).
      I think that if I'd had to sort through every item and hold garage sales and/or rent storage space I'd have never done it. I had to rip the bandaid off REALLY REALLY fast and it worked for me.