Saturday, November 30, 2013

Push It

The answer is to push-in rather than hold back, to get into the thick mess of it, and to put your whole weight into it. … [This realization] has given me the freedom to fully engage all aspects of my life, to stop being a spectator, and to throw my whole weight into it.
Because, no, my motives aren’t perfect. They do make a mess of things.
But they are also the driving force behind the clean-up process; as long as I keep my heart and spirit open, as long as I admit that I don’t have it all figured out, they are constantly being shaped and formed and made into something new.

-Allison Vesterfelt

We're officially one day away from the last month of 2013.

For some, it will mark a year we never thought we'd get through. For others it will mark new beginnings. For many, it will be a year in which we found more smiles than tears, and for others, it goes the other way around.

But if there is any advice i could give with the last month of the year, it would be to "push-in" to life. Whether that be by means of allowing yourself to laugh, love, indulge, it!

Use this month to shift into 6th gear and go blazing into 2014.

Don't hold back.

Your ego and self-doubt will tell you otherwise, but as I've learned, they're just the "Grinches" of not allowing our souls to flourish.

Challenge yourself! Don't wait till January 1st to set a resolution to living a better life after the most tragic of losses, get your head start now and never look back!

Make a mess. Clean it up and keep's really all we can do.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Turning the Corner

So, it's the day after Thanksgiving, and I write here on this blog each and every Friday. Except that I don't. In actuality, in order for the blog to go live on Friday, midnight Pacific time, that means my writing deadline is 3 am on the East Coast, the night before Friday morning. Last night. Now you know all the ins- and -outs of the widowed publishing blog world. Riveting, isn't it?

Believe it or not, there is a reason I'm telling you all of this, and it's not to bore you into a deep, deep sleep. I'm telling you this fascinating tale, because it's now 9:30am east coast time on Friday morning, and here I sit, post-Thanksgiving day, furiously typing this piece and hoping that Soaring Spirits and Michele don't finally realize how unorganized and forgetful I really am, and kick me out of this exclusive widowed writing club that I came into kicking and screaming in the first place. Bad Widow! 

Here's the thing. This is not the first time I have simply forgotten to be a responsible, good widow and write my weekly assigned Widow's Voice blog piece. The first time that I forgot, it was because I was so stressed out with my new "after" life, and I had just been informed, literally, that night, by my roommate that I just moved in with only 6 months earlier after making the heartwrenching decision to leave the apartment my husband and I shared for 7 years, that he was in fact, kicking me out. So there I was, back to that shaky and frightening place in my life where I didn't know where to go or what to do next, and so I forgot to write the blog. And much like today, I found myself furiously typing out words that I hoped made some sort of sense to someone, the very next morning.

But here is where my little story gets good. (Finally!) When I forgot the first time to write in here, it was because my life was so awful and I was in such a bad place filled with anxiety, dread, and fear - that a writing deadline completely slipped my mind.

When I forgot the second time to write in here, last night, it was because my life took a slight turn into a new corner of my healing, and the anxiety, dread, and fear that have preceded each of the 2 years of holidays without my husband, that was always there - wasn't. It wasn't there this time. Instead, I felt mellow and calm and "okay." Sad, yes. Hell yes. But I can handle sad. Sad is a cakewalk compared to the terror and the panic and the dark, black hole of nothingness that I experienced the first 2 years of this "new" life. Honestly, Im ecstatic that I have finally come to a point, where it's just about being sad. Yes, I still have the 947 other emotions that we all go through during grief, but they no longer overwhelm me from the very second that I wake up. Now, I'm just generally sad, but within that sadness, I also have moments of joy - and life. 

So, yes, I almost forgot to write this completely. But the reason I forgot is so much better than the reason I forgot, just 8 short months ago.

I forgot , for a few hours last night, at least on the surface, that I was a widowed person with a sad story I needed to go and write about. I was too busy basking in the very nice, peaceful day I had just had, with very good, dear friends I've known since college, and their family. Sometimes , for me at least, spending holidays with my own family, while I love them so much, can be so much more painful than being with another's family. In my family, that empty chair where my husband would be sitting , is glaringly obvious every single second that Im there. And it hurts. A lot. Especially when the people I'm with don't usually mention how obvious it is, so then I feel like I'm the only one who misses him, and nobody else cares. But if Im with someone else's family, I can almost pretend that Don is just working and couldn't come with me, or I can at least have his absense get a bit lost amongst all the many other people at the gathering. And that is what I did yesterday. I ate turkey and drank cider and wine and listened to my friend Dave play piano with his 7 yeaar old son - and I never for one second forgot that my husband wasn't with me. That isn't possible. But I was able to feel the missing of him, and also feel the joy of being with really good friends.

And that is the first time I have felt that, on a holiday, since my life-changing loss happened, just 2 years and five months ago.

And that is pretty epic.

(Pictured: me and my husband, at my cousin's house on Thanksgiving Day, 2007. me with some amazing New York friends, yesterday, celebrating Thanksgiving.)

Thursday, November 28, 2013


Last week I called Veronica and offered to write her post this week...seeing as it is Thanksgiving and she was going to have just given birth...I thought she *may* be a bit busy! (She, and her big loving family, welcomed a baby boy on Monday. Bayor Matthias weighed in at 9lb 15oz, he measured 20 inches long...and he  is absolutely gorgeous!)

Initially I thought I'd share some Thanksgiving words of comfort for those of you who are missing your love desperately today. I just wanted to tell you that it is okay to feel bitter today, and that feeling awash in bitterness today won't mean that you will feel bitter forever.

I also thought I'd reach out to those of you who are feeling good about this holiday season for the first time since the loss that changed your life forever. I wanted to remind you to allow that goodness into your heart. Swim in it. Wrap it around yourself in every way possible, because having known great despair, experiencing real joy again is a priceless gift.

All of these thoughts were sort of swirling in my head. The week got away from me, and I ended up sitting at my desk this morning composing this blog. The thing is, I have something totally different to say.

Last night I received a message from a colleague in the grief recovery field. She and I don't know each other extremely well, but we've worked together a few times. We've used each other as resources in our work, and have enjoyed the sort of rapport you have with someone who does the same thing you do in the same spirit. There is one major difference between us. She works with widowed people helping them to find the best support program to meet their individual  need, but is not widowed herself.

Well, she wasn't until Monday. So, on the same day Veronica was welcoming her beautiful baby (a gift post loss that she could never have imagined on the day her Jeremy died) this woman I admire took her first step onto this widowed road.

You'd imagine that I would be less shocked by death, since I lead an International organization whose main purpose is to help widowed people recreate their lives. You might think I am even sort of "used to" the stories that come to me through every available communication channel each and every day. You may also have wondered how I can stand to witness the pain of so many endless stream of those who mourn the loss of an irreplaceable person and whose loss I can't fix, and pain I can't heal.

The truth is I am convinced that I will never, ever be used to death. Every time I am introduced to a newly widowed person my heart twists in my chest. Partly because of what they have lost, and partly because of what I know that they don't yet know. I know how long the road ahead can be. I know that today is not the worst or hardest day. I know that there is NO fixing this problem. I know that there is no way out of this gut-wrenching pain, but through. I know that her body will literally ache for his touch. I know that every fiber of her being will long to be with him, wherever she believes he is now, at some point in the future. I know that she will never be the same woman she was the day she married her husband.

What makes living with all that I know about grieving the loss of a spouse or partner possible, the way I wake up every day and do what I do, is by reminding myself of the others things I know. I know that I can connect her to a huge community of widowed people within seconds of her asking. I know that widowed people are by far the most generous people I have ever known. I know that at some point she will be shown a kindness by a stranger that leaves her speechless. I know that the love she shared with her husband will never die. I know that someday she will be able to see a photo of him without wanting to throw up. I know that she doesn't have to walk through this loss alone. I know that the bridge between despair and joy is hope. I know that bridge is built daily by widowed people who take care of each other day after day after day with compassion and understanding. But, the most important bit of knowledge I possess that allows me to stand in this loss with her, is knowing without a doubt that she has us.

On this Thanksgiving Day, as I am personally surrounded by my own unbelievable gifts, I will think of her, and of you, and of this community. I will acknowledge the power of the hope we keep alive for so many widowed people around the world, and I will allow myself to be wrapped in gratitude. We hold out a lifeline of hope for each other, sometimes even when we can't quite hold that hope for ourselves.

What an amazing gift.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Thankful ......

...... is not something I have felt a lot these past almost-6 years.
I mean, I've felt it for a few things, like my children, my family and friends who were there for me when I really needed them.

But it was beyond difficult to feel thankful, while at the same time not believing that Jim was dead.

But this year ...... this year is different.
These are the things I'm thankful for, even in the midst of missing him every single day:

1.  The first thought I have when I wake up every day isn't, "Jim is dead".
2.  The last thought I have before I fall asleep every night isn't "Jim is dead".
3.  I rarely think, "I can NOT believe that this is my life!"
4.  I smile more times than I cry when I think of him.
5.  The future isn't inky black for me anymore.
6.  I learned who my true friends are.
7.  Jim was such a good husband that he prepared for something neither of us thought
    would happen ...... at least not for another 50 or so years.
8.  My sons look very, very much like their father.
9.  Pictures of him don't stop me cold and send in tsunami-like waves of grief.
10.  I no longer constantly feel like I'm going to drown in those waves.
11.  I no longer wish I were dead.
12.  I no longer hope that I'll be hit by a bus, struck by lightening, or be in a plane crash.
13.  I no longer believe that I'll never be happy again.
14.  I don't fear for my children's lives every time they drive away now.
15.  I don't see those looks of pity on a regular basis.
16.  I don't get pissed off when I see cyclists on the road (Jim was one and I used to want
       to run every one of them down after he died.  Insane?  A bit.)
17.  I now have enough concentration to read books and watch movies without
       falling asleep.
18.  I don't resent old couples walking hand in hand anymore.
19.  I know that Jim would be proud of me, and of his children.
20.  I didn't have him long enough, but I did have him and I know I was loved better
       than most people I know.

I could probably go on with this list, but I won't.
You're welcome.

If you are not at the point where you're able to feel gratefulness ...... please don't worry. Don't knock yourself for that.  It doesn't mean you're ungrateful or stuck or whatever.
It only means that you're normal.
You'll get here.
One breath at a time.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

My Battle Axe

(Picture is a selfie from last night and totally real. 
This is my "I'm a deep thinker" look.)
(Picture actually from here.)

(I'm filling in for Amanda because the storms in Australia have knocked out Internet access.  She'll be back again next week.)

I’ve got a battle-axe that I carry with me everywhere I go.  I’ve had it since Jan 5, 2007 when it was given to me by a doctor who said the words “cancer” and “urgent.” Its blade is sharp and still bloody from previous use.

Back after Maggie was first diagnosed, I didn’t even realize that I wielded such a weapon.  Quite innocently, I’d share Maggie and my recent experiences but I was oblivious to the carnage I was leaving in my wake.  In an innocent daze, I’d rambled on like a berserker, leaving broken and beaten hearts with every story I’d tell.

Often, the end of my stories would be punctuated by thick silence.  Damage would be everywhere.  People would be crying.  Some would be running for safety, with hearts bleeding.  Seeing the suffering I caused while entranced in my own recounting of the awesomeness of what was happening to us caused even more pain. I felt reckless and selfish.  My sharing had made things worse.  I felt like a clumsy yet huggy Edward Scissorhands.

Eventually, I learned to be gentler with my battle-axe.  I learned that the best way to share the latest news was not all at once, but instead, in very small pieces and with many pauses.  I also learned that often more detail is worse than less, even when asked.  And that people can’t handle raw, honest grief and fear. I even decided that often it makes sense to say nothing at all, even when the voice inside my head was screaming and my heart was aching.  There was a time and place and I got to choose.

Last Thursday, my colleague’s father died.  Several of us sat in my office, distraught and discussed how difficult death is.  They talked about what it was like in the last days and moments.  They talked about how hard it was with the morphine and shallow breathing. They talked about how hard it was to accept that their fathers were gone.  Then, they turned to me and asked:  Chris, have you had to deal with your father dying yet?

The me from not too long ago would have carelessly unsheathed my battle-axe and begun to swing it around.  It would have been messy.

The new, wiser me last Thursday did something different.  Instead of pulling out my axe, I calmly said “no” and then nothing more.  Carnage avoided.  It wasn't the right time or place.  And, truthfully, I have no idea what it’s like to lose a parent.

I don't know if staying silent at that moment was a good idea but I think it was.  On one hand, no one at my new job and in my new life knows about Maggie which makes me sad.  On the other hand, no one runs from me or feels sorry for me.  I'm accepted for simply who I am right now and that's a very good thing.  Eventually, they'll find out.

But hey, if things ever do get rowdy, I've got this here battle-axe I can whip out.  I'm not afraid to break stuff.  >:-)

Monday, November 25, 2013

The Tree

My tree

It had been nearly six months since Dave died and Christmas was coming, whether I cared about it or not. I got home and the driveway was full of familiar cars, the house lit up like Vegas.

Waiting inside were many of my closest girlfriends and a house decorated for Christmas; music, candles, food and a perfect Christmas tree ready to decorate. Each woman (and many who couldn't physically be there), presented me with an ornament to put on my tree. Each ornament had some personal meaning.

It's this tree that I pulled out and slowly reassembled the other day, picking up each ornament and finding just the right spot for it on my tree.

This is the third time I've done this. The love that this tree represents hasn't faded. The magic of that moment 3 years ago is still present in each ornament and each little limb of that tree, each twinkling light.

I am still stunned that my friends did that for me. I am still as shocked and grateful as I was that moment I first saw my house filled with their presence.

What makes that night and that tree and those precious ornaments even more precious, is what Christmas was like for me growing up.

With the exception of one or two years (when he half-heartedly attempted it), my father never acknowledged a single holiday. We didn't  have a Christmas tree, Easter egg hunts, Thanksgiving dinner, birthdays, Halloween decorations... nothing.

Sometimes he'd give money to a female coworker who'd take me out to buy myself what I wanted for Christmas or a birthday. Sometimes we'd go to our neighbor's house for Thanksgiving. He'd turn off the porch lights every Halloween so we wouldn't have trick or treaters.

Each holiday would pass without acknowledgement and I grew up not having the experience of having a holiday at home. I felt fundamentally different from every other kid I knew. I felt like a tag-along to every friend's house for the holidays. I felt orphaned and alone.

I longed for a holiday that included family and friends gathering and eating.

But that kind of longing is too painful to carry for an entire childhood, so I shut it down. Until I met Dave at 20, I didn't acknowledge the holidays at all. Once we were together, we would cook for Thanksgiving and we'd have Christmas at his parents'.

When Dave died, the holidays were gone again for me. I didn't have it in me to create them for myself.

But my friends created it for me that Christmas. And now, I can carry on that tradition.

I think one day I might have it in me to really go big for the holidays, even if it's just me appreciating it.

Or maybe, I'll be the one who surprises another orphan with a decorated living room. Or maybe I'll start inviting the other orphans I meet to my lavishly decorated home.

For right now, what I can handle for the holidays is this little tree, almost tipping over from the weight of all those ornaments.

And when I sit here in my living room and look over at that softly lit tree, every drop of love that created it fills me up all over again.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Happy Birthday

From our honeymoon, proudly showing off my "new" initials.
Eight years later I am still proud of my last name.

Today is my husband’s birthday. He would have been 35 years old.

This day has been creeping up on me since Halloween.

I found myself having to count backwards to remember just how old my husband would have been.

When I realized he would have been 35 I laughed. I laughed because he would have been “old”.

I was thinking about what my husband would look like when he was 60 years old.. 80 years old.. and as hard as I try to envision what he would look like.. my brain cannot come up with an aged Seth vision.

My brain will always see him as 31 years old.

I was thinking about when we were married and planning on growing old together.. I never was able to see us old and gray.

It’s almost like I knew he would never live to be old.

With yesterday being International Survivors of Suicide day and today being my husband’s birthday.. I find it ironic and painful.

Ironic that my husband’s birthday falls the day after Suicide Survivors day.

Years ago I didn't even know a suicide survivor was a real thing, I would have thought a suicide survivor was someone that attempted and lived through it.. nor did I know there was a day dedicated to suicide survivors.

Years ago I never knew my husband would be dead by 31 years old.. and would be dead by suicide.

Years later here I am.. fully aware what a suicide survivor is. And fully aware there is a day to recognize the suicide survivors among us.

Now I find myself having to do math to figure out how old my husband would be.

Now I have to count backwards to figure out how long it’s been since he died.

Now I find myself dwelling in self care. Trying to get through his birthday. Then Thanksgiving. Then Christmas. Then New Years.

I’m officially half way through my six month slump that paralyzes me every year.

This time last year.. I was a very different person.

I was crippled by my husband’s birthday. I was crippled by the fear of the holidays coming up.

I was crippled by grief and fear.

Fear that I would not live through another year without my husband.

A year later here I am.. looking forward to the holidays. Looking forward to spending time with my family. And not planning on hiding in bed until the day passes.

It’s amazing what passing the three year anniversary has done for me, my life and my grief.

Somewhere along this journey.. Something clicked.

Something clicked to help me recognize my husband’s birthday.. something clicked to stop the paralyzing grief that his birthday brings.

Something clicked that allowed me to say “Happy birthday honey, I love you.”

Saturday, November 23, 2013


It's a funny thing.

The breaking of the shell that once encased a broken heart.

A shell that unveils a stronger, more resilient

No longer protected by the bitterness and loathing of what occurred, you find yourself open and vulnerable to the elements of a life you're ready to live.

With that comes some of life's irritants; insecurity, doubt and apprehension.

Today, while sharing in these struggles of living fully, a dear friend stated something so poignant, moving and true.

She mentioned how someone told her how ill-equipped she was to be doing what she was, yet she was beyond successful and living a life by her terms. She didn't meet the "per-requisites" of what usually must be done to reach that state of life, yet she was doing so at a level beyond most.

She told me that to ensure me that what I was doing and how I was living was more than enough.

She made me realize that I am ill-equipped for the norm. For the anticipated. For the path taken by most.

But it made me realize that I was equipped for the extraordinary. The unexpected. The path least taken.

With that comment and my realization, I smile.

Smile as I stand bright-eyed and bushy-tailed towards all the elements that are bound to cross a soul wide-open to life's experiences. A life that was never equipped for the anticipated. A life that proudly takes in the unknown.

And hell, I look forward to every second of it!

Friday, November 22, 2013

I Forgot You Died

My husband's sudden and unexpected death happened on a Wednesday.
July 13, 2011.
We had gone to sleep the night before, and I still don't recall saying goodnight.
Or saying anything.
We simply fell asleep, in the exhaustion of having two jobs and being busy and life.

A few hours later, he had left for his volenteer job at the local Petsmart,
helping out with cat adoptions, and then stocking pet food.
But he never got around to any of that.
His manager found him collapsed on the cold, hard floor instead,
about 90 minutes after arriving to work.
(Just a side note; I don't actually know for a fact that the floor was cold, but for some reason, whenever I describe it to anyone or write about it, I always describe it as a cold floor. I just picture it and see it as being cold. These are the kinds of things, big and small, that trauma puts into our heads.)

My very healthy and active husband,
who was a paramedic and saved other people's lives daily,
suffered from a massive heart attack at only age 46.
No symptoms. No warnings. No goodbyes.
Here one second,
Gone the next.
On that morning, I literally woke up to my new reality and the new life I didn't want, as my husband was gone from our apartment, and gone from Earth.

And since that catastrophic day,
I have been counting,
both consciously and subconsciously,
every month, week, hour, minute, and second,
since he died.
On the 13th of every month,
Every month,
my heart would automatically know it was the 13th.
On the rare occasion that I didn't know within minutes of waking up,
my body would remind me.
I would feel "off",
or sick,
or really, really awful.
If it was the 13th of the month, AND a Wednesday,
that was even worse.
I would re-live "that day",
again and again
and Again.
Every 13th.
For over 2 years.

Until this week.
This week, someone innocently asked me,
"How long has it been since your husband died?"
And instead of blurting out, like a robot,
my completely normal response of:
"It has been 2 years, 4 months, 5 days, 17 hours, and 3 minutes since my love died" -
something bizarre happened.
I forgot.
For a few seconds in time,
I could not recall the exact time that had gone by since his death.
I had to think about it.
It required math.
I had to use my fingers, and carry the one.
That had never happened before.
Not ever.

And then I remembered something else,
that I had forgotten. 
The 13th.
For the first time ever, since his death, 
the 13th of a month, that happened to fall on a Wednesday,
creeped by,
without me even noticing. 
The only reason I even thought about it, 
was because this person had asked me, 
"How long since he died?" 
So I counted. Did the math. Remembered. 

But here is the best part:
I didn't feel any guilt. 
No guilt.
I didn't feel bad or guilty,
for momentarily forgetting the exact date in time
that my world exploded.
Because why should I?
It is insane to think,
that I could ever really forget.
That's not possible.
His death is in the rhythms,
of everything I am.

I felt something else. 
A new way of breathing. 
I was happy to forget,
even for a few moments,
because in my world,
this is progress. 
I was excited. 
I almost felt like singing. 

And after that day, this week, where I had forgotten what I had always remembered, I noticed other things happening too. Small things, but still things.

I noticed a couple walking down the street, holding hands and kissing, clearly in love - and for the first time in a long, long time - I didn't want to simultaneously trip them and watch them fall into a manhole, never to be seen again. I didn't want to throw them a goddamn party or anything, but I didn't feel massive rage either. It's a start.

I noticed that this year, on the upcoming Thanksgiving, which will be my 3rd one without my love - that Im not filled with anxiety and fear and dread, as the day approaches. I wouldn't say I'm "excited", because, well, let's not get crazy - but it's not looking like the black, dark hole it used to be. 

The other day, I was in the car, driving to meet my best friend Sarah for dinner somewhere, and I had the car radio on. Now, that in itself, is something that is very recent for me, in my new "after" life. Music is still very hard. Music was my husband, and my husband was music - so it's very, very hard. Only recently have I been able to even listen to music of any kind in the car, and still, lots of times, many songs will send me into random bursts of sobbing, and I become an emotional dishrag. But on this particular day, for whatever reason, it was different. Not only did they play music, they played Christmas music. "Let It Snow".

I sat there. Driving. There was a slight pause in my tiny, ginormous world. Nothing happened. And then, something did happen. I turned it up. Loud. And for the first time, in a long, long time - I sang. It has hurt to much to sing since he died, because I'm not singing with him. I'm not singing while he strums his guitar. I'm not singing to chords that he learned, just for me, that would sound blended with my voice. Music was my husband, and my husband was music. And we were music. When he died, the music stopped. There just didn't seem to be a point anymore. 

And then there was. In the car. When I sang "Let It Snow", all alone, and with him. 
For about 25 seconds in a row, I decided to let Christmas in again. 
It hurt. 
It hurt a lot. 
I'm still not ready for all of Christmas. 
But maybe just a verse. 
So I sang. 
And then I cried. 
But first, 
I sang. 

(Pictured: my husband Don and I celebrating Christmas in NYC, 2010. The Who's down in Who-ville. Singing. )

Thursday, November 21, 2013

(not so) Ordinary Life

My favorite picture of Jeremy with our precious first born

And so the countdown begins...

In 56 hours or less (not that I'm counting or anything), I will be holding a new little life in my arms. One small person I helped create. One tiny little reminder of what life is really all about.

My sweet little baby boy has no idea what his life represents already in this world. In a place that can be so cold, sometimes stabbing, unfair, and down right little miracle is a reminder that life can and will go on, and that it can and will be beautiful again.

This afternoon, I was watching my 7 year old concentrate so hard on her homework, trying to write sentences. As I watched her expressions, the curves of her face, the movements of her body, I was in awe of the fact that she used to be this 6 pound little miracle that introduced me to motherhood. I felt her daddy beam with pride at her inside me and I just couldn't stop taking her in. Memorizing all the pieces that are just her - how did she all of a sudden evolve into this beautiful young lady?! I had several of these moments today with all of my children. Maybe it's hormones, or maybe it's the clock ticking away reminding me that once again I will hold a new baby and blink an eye and he'll be 7 years old....but whatever it is, I'm trying to hold on to as many moments as I can.

I continue to be reminded of what bittersweet really means. The life of a widow seems to be plagued with this word. But maybe it's the bitter that makes us appreciate the sweet. And maybe we can only experience real bitterness because we've tasted sweet.

One of my favorite quotes is "time stands still best in moments that look suspiciously like ordinary life." This epitomizes my journey. The moments that I remember and hold most dear in life really aren't the grand ones (although those are great too) but they're the ones where life stands still for just a moment and I'm able to observe and appreciate what life still brings.

I honestly cannot wait to start memorizing all the details of my son's features, hold his tiny hand, and soak in every moment I can before they slip away.  I'm excited to watch my used-to-be-broken family put one more piece back together.

I'm ready to live out the rest of this not so ordinary life.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Running Away ......

                                               The holiday ice skating rink in Bryant Park, NYC

...... or moving forward?

I could use the trite saying, "You be the judge",  but I don't really care to hear any judgements.
Go figure.

I'm back in NY.  The place where, at this point in my life, I love to be.
The place where, at this point in my life, I feel happy.
The place where, at this point in my life, I feel at home.

This will be the first Thanksgiving and Christmas that my family (most of us) has spent here.
This will be the first Thanksgiving and Christmas that we haven't been in our previous home (for one or the other, or both, holidays) ...... since Jim died.
Almost 6 years ago.
Six years ago ...... the week before Christmas.
But who's counting?

(As an aside, I've always found it interesting, and pretty damn amazing, that my body seems to keep count ...... even when my brain doesn't.
I would bet that most non-widowed people would scoff at this thought.  Or think I (we?) was crazy.
But I don't think it's just a thought.  I think it's a fact.
How many times have I (you?) felt "unsettled", or very emotional (more than usual, anyway) and not really known why?  Until it suddenly occurred to me (you?) what date it was.
And then my (your?) brain caught up with my (your?) body.
Or is it just me?
I know.
That was a very long aside.)

I know there are those of you who don't want to hear/read this, but I think there are more of you who need to:
For the first time in almost 6 years ...... I am not dreading Thanksgiving.
Or its aftermath ...... which has been Christmas.
Or New Years.

I don't think for one moment that these holidays won't end up smacking the air out of me ...... again.
All I know is what I feel right now...... at this point in my life.

I know this has to do with being here, somewhere new.
Somewhere where "we" were not.
At least for the holidays.

And I know, as sure as I know that Jim loved me, that I am not, as some have said, "running away".
I'm not running away from our home.
I'm not running away from the memories.
Like that's even possible?!

I am moving forward.
As I know he would want.
I'm choosing to start the next chapter of my life.
And it doesn't happen to start where the last chapter ended.
For some people ...... it does.
But not for me.
And I'm ok with that.

This is not how I saw my life going.
Seven years ago.
Or even four years ago.
But then ...... life often throws curves, doesn't it?
Curves that no one saw coming.

I'm not running away from this curve.
I'm choosing to follow it ...... in my own way ...... and see where it goes.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Missing out

Last week one of the parents of a child I teach had a bit of a tantrum after school one day*.  It seems her daughter missed out on having an iceblock with the rest of the class because she had been away the previous day.

In her seething mother-rage, she shouted at me "It's not FAIR that Cathy misses out on an iceblock.  The rest of the class had one and she DESERVES one too".

I was a bit gobsmacked.

I stood there wanting to say to this deranged woman that it was an ICEBLOCK that cost (me) 50cents.  She missed out because she was away that particular day and she'd just have to build a bridge and get over it: sometimes you miss out on things in life.

Instead I apologised and organised another iceblock for that child.  The mother then said "you can't imagine what its like!  She has a food intolerance and misses out on so many things already".

...and that was when I wanted to shout at her.

I wanted to shout that my kids miss out on things every day!  That she (happily married mother of two) could not imagine her kids doing without a father.  Doing without any male influence in their lives.  Doing without two incomes and family holidays.  Doing without a second parent who could take some of the slack and give them some of that much-needed one-on-one time that I am always falling behind with.  

Doing without ..... yeah - we know what it feels like.  (Clarifier - In a very First-World Problem way .... in the wider scheme of things, we do OK on quality of life front with all the fresh food, clean running water and all).


I have never ONCE pulled the "not fair" card when it comes to my own children (one of them ironically, has mild food intolerances) .  I have never done the ranty-mama-bear thing about them missing out on something because their father is dead. 
I might have thought it, but I have never said it.
Because I know that they also have so much love.

So next time I am faced with a parent trying to make every part of their child's life perfect, I will stick to my guns and point out that NOBODY has a 'perfect life'. Somewhere along the line, everybody has to learn to do without something.

... even if it is only an iceblock.

It might just  build their resilience in case they ever have to cope with a REAL life challenge (like losing a parent).

* details changed slightly as I can't share the actual incident.  You get the idea though.....

Monday, November 18, 2013

I Have Me


I was taking a bath when I had a thought that finally crystallized. It was a thought that had buzzed around in my brain for years, maybe decades, but that never landed. It just never felt true before. But, somehow, I could finally see it.

I realized that even in my darkest moments, I've always loved myself and at times, it was the only love I had.

I've lived with so much self doubt and even self hate that the love I've had for myself all along was hard to identify.

But as I lay there in the water, thinking about the fact that it was a Saturday evening and I was alone at home, I realized with jolt that I was not unhappy to be alone and home on a Saturday night. I was taking good care of myself and liking it.

If every person in my life suddenly disappeared, I'd be devastated and lonely and heartbroken, but the one person who would remain no matter what, was me. I would still be there to take good care of me and to love me enough to never give up on me. I would still be there to pick up the pieces.

Dave died and with him my life as I knew it disappeared, but I continued to be there, believing in myself, taking care of myself, loving myself. Sure, there's a lot of self-doubt still and I am hard on myself but almost like having two parents in my brain, one part of me just unconditionally loves me while the other is a little too demanding and a little too critical and doubting.

That loving part of me is what I believe sent me to Camp Widow in the early days of my new life without Dave and it pushed me to pursue a new life in a new city, go back to school, try out my hidden talents again, meet tons of new people, travel alone, find an amazing therapist, cook, clean and fix things for myself, and make my new life as beautiful as it could be out of the rubble of tragedy. Sometimes that loving and accepting parent in my brain won the argument with the critical parent and got to say "We believe in you. You can do this."

It's always been there. I've mistaken it for stubbornness or selfishness but what else but love could it have been? What else but love would never give up? What else but love would continue to believe in me no matter what terrible thoughts I had? What else but love would accept me, ugly parts and all?

This is definitely not to say that I suddenly believe that I don't need anyone or that self love is all I need. I need other people. I'm human. I'm biologically made to want to connect and form bonds with other humans, and I want to. If anything, that's the biggest lesson that's come of Dave's death. My priorities shuffled around so that connecting to others and loving others rose to the top and outweighed just about everything else I've ever cared about before. And I know from experience that life is easier and better when you can navigate it with your soul mate.

But, my experiences have been heavy on the loss side. The people who were supposed to care for me most, couldn't or wouldn't. There's no way I can blithely expect people in my life now to always be there for me. They could leave, die, disappear, give up on me, they even might hurt me. This is just the way the world works.

The only person I can guarantee will always be there is me. Until my last breath, I will have someone. I wish I had Dave there with me until my dying day, but I don't. I do, however have me and there's some comfort in that.

Notice I said some. I've gotta find comfort wherever I can.

Sunday, November 17, 2013


Seth is in row 6, #13 from the left. Source

This week I had an eye opening conversation.

I was talking with a co-worker and Seth’s death came up.

She asked me how I am doing with it all and I could only come up with “It sucks. It hurts really bad. It really really sucks.”

She then said “Melinda, I just don’t get it. You are such an amazing person. Seth’s suicide makes no sense to me. Why would he leave such an amazing person??”

I was speechless.

I just wanted to scream at her “He was mentally ill!! What does that have to do with me being an amazing person?? He was sick! That’s like saying someone with cancer won’t die because they have an amazing wife at home!”

I felt like I failed. I felt like I needed to defend myself and my marriage. And I decided not to.. because what I had to say to her wasn't friendly or professional.

And clearly she doesn't have the first clue about mental illness.

Stigma slapped me in the face.. again.

People have this illusion that if you have an amazing life and marriage, that life is worth living. That all the amazing things in life override mental illness.

Frankly I am sick of the stigma that revolves around mental illness.

I’m sick of suicide being shameful.

I’m sick of mental illness not being talked about.

I’m sick of the stigma.

I’m sick of how mental illness is whispered about behind closed doors.

I kept my husband’s mental illness private. Very few people knew what was going on with him. I whispered about it to my closest friends and family. Why? Because Seth was ashamed of it and I respected his privacy.

And when he killed himself, it left people completely dumbfounded because Seth “never seemed depressed” and I had hid his secret for far too long.

But what did that do? It kept him isolated. It pushed him further into a hole because he had no one to talk to. Because he was too ashamed to talk about it.

One of my favorite quotes – “We’re only as sick as the secrets we keep” – Maria Nemeth

Mental illness needs to be talked about. Not whispered about behind closed doors.

Suicide is at an all time high, yet it’s whispered about. WHY?

Do I really need to point out the elephant in the room?

“Every 40 seconds somewhere around the world someone dies by suicide, that’s 99 people every 66 minutes. Every day, that’s almost 100 people in the United States alone, and over 2160 worldwide."

Why are we whispering about this??

Saturday, November 16, 2013


I wish I could spend a the monring writing someting truly poetic, but I've been swamped holding our first gala for the military widows the AWP serves and I feel that only one excerpt fully embodies what the night, these amazing women, and what we all are capable of doing when we see the light.

"to love life, to love it even
when you have no stomach for it
and everything you've held dear
crumbles like burnt paper in your hands,
your throat filled with the silt of it.
When grief sits with you, its tropical heat
thickening the air, heavy as water
more fit for gills than lungs;
when grief weights you like your own flesh
only more of it, an obesity of grief,
you think, How can a body withstand this?
Then you hold life like a face
between your palms, a plain face,
no charming smile, no violet eyes,
and you say, yes, I will take you
I will love you, again."
-Ellen Bass

Friday, November 15, 2013


Since it has been a crazy, busy week for me, and since I have been missing my husband in a way that is so intense lately I almost cannot handle it, I thought I would go back through my personal blog and find one of the few "visit" type dreams I have had about Don since he died, and share it with you here. I haven't had a dream like this one in awhile now, and so whenever I start missing him like mad, like right now, I go back and read this. I had this dream maybe 2 months after he died, in the fall of 2011. Here it is:

I was inside of a Best Buy, and I was in the movie section and picked up “This is Spinal Tap” and slowly started sobbing; because that is one of Don’s absolute favorite movies. I kept thinking of him always quoting from that, and Caddyshack, and Blazing Saddles. As I was sobbing, a large hand touched me on my shoulder and I turned around. It was Don. He was in one of his favorite shirts; a t-shirt we had bought the very first time I took him to the US Open tennis tournament. It said: “You call that a serve? Take that back to New Jersey!” I didn’t think it was that funny, but he found it hilarious and wore it all the time while playing tennis. Anyway, in the dream, I turned around and looked into his beautiful blue eyes and sobbed even harder.“I miss you so much” I cried into his chest.
“I know Boo.” he said, as he lightly ran his fingers through the back of my hair, sort of scratching it the way he used to.
“Why are you here? Are you back? You didn’t really die right?”
“Yes, I did. I’m sorry honey. I didn’t want to. It just happened.”
“But its not fair. You were always outside exercising, trying to stay in shape. You played tennis two days before.”
“I know, and I left this in my tennis bag by mistake. If only I would have moved it into my wallet, they would have been able to call you a lot sooner, while I was still alive. You couldn’t have done anything to save me, but maybe we could have said goodbye.”
He pulled out his drivers license and Emergency Hospital Card. The one where they ask your blood type, and to name someone to call in case of an emergency. It said “Kelley Niemi – Wife” and my phone number.
I looked at the card and kept crying: “When the hospital called me and woke me up, you were already dead.”
“I know Boo. It wasn’t supposed to happen there. I kept those things in my tennis bag whenever I played tennis, just in case. People usually have heart attacks while running, or playing tennis, or doing something strenuous. It just made more sense to put the information in my tennis bag. I just forgot to take it out before work that morning. I feel so badly that the paramedics or Petsmart staff didn’t know your number or how to call you. You know, my dad had his heart attack on the golf course.”
“Yeah – in his 80s!”
“I guess I didn’t get that lucky. I had to die in a freakin’ Petsmart in New Jersey!” he laughed and kissed my forehead.
“You made me so happy. I’m not happy anymore. All I do is cry, and try not to cry.”
“Its going to take a very long time Boo. I was pretty awesome.”
We both laugh.

Are we really standing here holding each other in the middle of a Best Buy?” I ask him.
“Its just a dream.” he says matter-of-factly, lightly smiling at me. “Its not real. Your heart wants so badly to talk to me again, to hold me again, so your mind is letting you in your dreams.”
“But I have nightmares. And even these dreams that seem nice now, are awful because when I wake up, I realize none of it was real and you’re still gone, and then I feel like shit.”
“I know Boo. Its all part of the grieving process. You’re going to feel like shit for a long time, and I hate that. That’s the crappy thing about dying. Its the people you leave behind that suffer.”
“But you got screwed, just like Ginger. Why didn’t you get more time? You deserved so much more time …” I sob intensely now.
“I wish there was an answer to that question that would comfort you. But there isn’t. It makes no sense.” It feels like his hug isn’t as tight anymore.
“Please please don’t go. You just got here.” I pause, then ask: “Will I see you again?”
“Yeah. Probably for awhile. But eventually, you wont need to.” He wipes my tears away.
“I cant imagine a day where I wont need or want to see you. I love you.”
I love you too Boo.” He starts to walk away, then turns back. “Oh, I noticed last night that you did some laundry. I never thought Id see the day … Boo doing laundry.” He laughs his awesome laugh.
“They just put in brand new washers and dryers downstairs. They aren’t like the old ones. I had no idea what I was doing. The settings were all different. Too many numbers.”
“Stop being so over dramatic”, he said as he laughed at me. “You’ll figure it out. Here’s a hint. The liquidy stuff … that’s called detergent. It goes inside the machine.” He always loved mocking me.
“I’ll try and remember that.” I said, still sobbing.
He turned around one last time. “Oh, and one last thing” I reached out to take his hand while he talked, but he was too far away now to reach him. “The old washers had settings that went to 10. These new ones go higher. These go to eleven.” He gave me a wink and a smile, knowing that I would catch the Spinal Tap reference. And then he was gone.
I woke up with a massive headache, and my pillow soaking wet from my tears. I looked over to his side of the bed, as I do every morning, and it was still empty. I sobbed and sobbed for what seemed like a half hour but probably wasn’t. Sammy ran up onto the bed and purred; rubbing his face against mine. “Its okay Mommy”, he seemed to be saying. Then he threw up on my arm.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Ready. For now.


After hitting the 3 year mark on Saturday, I feel like a heavy weight has been lifted off my shoulders. Grief never really leaves, but I think the experience alone in a new place, along with the fear that I might have the baby before I got to properly grieve and get through the week left me scared and hurting in new and different ways. But, like always - and sometimes without my consent - I survived.

I watched most of my friends and family grieve from afar, over facebook. I watched some people forget. I watched my kids write sweet notes and hand prints on lanterns and their faces lit up when we let them off in the sky. I watched the clock, remembering every moment of the day 3 years before. I watched my phone, looking for the names of people I care about to pop up. Some did, some didn't. And I watched for signs that somehow, somewhere, someone made a mistake and after three years, this wasn't still real.

Now, I feel ready to go back to facing the life that Jeremy wanted for me. I know I'll have plenty more days like last week, when the weight of everything seems too much, but for now, I have some clarity. I have contentment. I have the desire to make him proud and love the way he taught me how. I feel this urgency to not waste the short life I had with him and to continue to love and appreciate what I have now. I was gifted with another reminder of how short life is....and to see that as a 'gift' is no small feat. I can feel a piece of Jeremy's heart beating through mine and through the hearts of the 3 little miracles we created together. And I see more pieces in his sweet family that means the world to me. I will hold on to those pieces and take them with me along the way.

I'm ready. For now. Ready to face another day, ready to live, laugh, and love. And most importantly, right now....I'm ready to have this baby!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

I've Met The Most Amazing People ......

This is a post I wrote on my blog ten months after Jim died.  I thought that I'd share it with you today.  I don't go back and read most of my posts.  I don't like re-visiting that "cave".  Especially those days where that cold, inky blackness totally engulfed me, filled every pore of my body and threatened to completely suffocate me.
But once in a while I'll remember a "lighter" post, which trust me, were few and far between back then.  I thought this one was interesting.  I hope you do, too.

October 10, 2008 
   Well, it's another late night so I have no idea where this will go.  I don't have the energy to find a picture of Jim to put here so I'm just going to "emote".

Note:  any time you see the word "emote" on my blog you should immediately run away.  If you have a Mac you should go to the top left corner and click on the X.  If you own a PC you should exit from this page (is it the top right side?  I can't remember).  
Anyway, you have been warned.  "Emote" = run away.  Proceed at your own risk.

     OK, here are some of the thoughts I've been thinking.  
First, I can NOT believe that it's been almost a year now in my "after".  A year.  Twelve months. Three hundred and sixty five (six with Leap Year) days.  A milestone.  A marker.  An anniversary.  An incredibly horrible amount of time to commemorate an incredibly horrible day. 
Incredible.  Horrible.
     I know it's only been almost 10 months, but 10 months is incredibly, horribly close to 12 months.
     It seems that it's been only a moment in time.  I blinked and now it's October.  Ten months later.  I need to stop blinking.

     The next thought is about my "new normal".  I know, in my head, that I have a new "normal".  But my heart has been waiting for the old normal to show up.  My heart has been waiting for things to get better.  My heart has been wanting life to carry on in the "before" way.
And now my mind is telling my heart, "Face the facts.  Life will never, ever again be "normal".  This will never, ever get better.  Your life will never, ever be the same and you won't feel the same.  You now have to adjust to the new "after".  And one day, the "after" will become "normal".  
No matter how much I don't want that.  

     Here's the next thought (if you haven't run away by now I'm giving you one last warning.  It only gets worse):
     I really, REALLY hate it when people say, "So-and-so was healed because your prayers worked."  Or "God answers prayer".  Or "If you have enough faith God will answer your prayer" or "So many people prayed for him/her that God healed him/her."
     To all of those trite and incredibly naive statements I want to answer, "Really?!?!?!!  Are you freakin' kidding me?!!".  Why is it that some peoples' prayers "work" and some don't?   Don't tell me it's the number of prayers because that has NOTHING to do with it.  I know this from personal experience.  And do NOT tell me that I did not have enough faith and so Jim died .... because that's EXACTLY what you say when you say that thing about having enough.  I had nothing but faith.  Nothing.  I had no doubt .... none, zero, zilch .... that Jim would come through that surgery with flying colors.  Not for one second.  
I.  Never.  Doubted.
And look what happened.

     If I learned anything through all of this it is this:  God is not Santa Claus.  Not even close.
We cannot give him a list of what we want or do not want and expect that He will grant our wants.  Even if that want is for physical healing of someone.  No matter how hard you pray.  No matter how many people pray.  No matter how much faith you have.
No matter.
Prayer is for you and you alone.  Prayer is for you to get closer to God.  Prayer is for you to learn to rely on God.  Prayer is for you to turn to God.  Prayer is for your relationship with God.  
Prayer is not to get your wish list.
God knows what's going to happen and what's not going to happen.  Who are we to think that we're so vital to His plan that we can change His mind?   Don't get me wrong .... I know that He loves me.  I know that He wants only good for me.  But I also know that if I weren't here He would use someone else.  

Cynical?  Maybe.  But then, all I have to go on is experience.
I love Him no less that I loved Him on December 17th, 2007.  In fact, I love Him more.  In spite.
He has been here.  Even when I don't feel Him, He's here.  He's carried me, he's wiped my tears, He's cried with me.  He is here.  
But he didn't allow Jim to live.  In spite of the prayers.  
In spite of .....

I'll never understand why and I'll never see the "good" in allowing him to die.
I can see Him using my "after" to help others.  I can see Him using my "after" for good.  But I can't see him letting Jim die so that I can see good.  I cannot believe in that kind of god.
And I can't/don't believe in a god who says, "OK, you prayed hard enough for this person....I will let him live."   Or "Hmmmm, it's too bad that you didn't pray hard enough, or get more people to pray.  Now I'm not going to let him live."
The God I believe is is not an egocentric, punitive God.  He is a God who loves me so much that He uses the horrible to do something good.  He loves me so much that He continues to bless me.  I may not see the blessings every day, but that doesn't mean they're not there. They are.  Always.

So enough of what I believe and don't believe.
Here's what I know:  I have met the most amazing people in my "after".  The women who are on this path next to me are incredible.  It's difficult to explain to the people who are not on this path.  And I pray that you never have to get on it.  But if you do, I hope that I can walk beside you.  I hope that I can be just a fraction of the support that these women have been for me.
These are both women I've met and women I have yet to meet in person.  
My Circle of friends is such a healing group of women.  They get me.  They support me.  They listen to me without thinking I need serious psychological help.  I can say anything I feel ... and they get it.  I love being with them and miss them when we're don't get together.
And that goes for certain friends that I've "met", but haven't met.  The women who share their walk with me by encouraging me with their comments.  We've never met but we've connected.
They share their lives and their experiences on their blogs and with their comments.  They are a blessing to me.
Neo, thank you so much for calling me tonight to just check on me.  For being a concerned friend.  For giving me your time.  For caring.  
I appreciate you.  And can't wait to spend some time with you!!
And now it is after 11:30 at night and I can't keep my eyes open.
Have a good Thursday and thank you to those amazing women on this path who have commented.  

Good night.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Too busy

I have report cards due in the next few weeks. 
Work is hectic as we finish up assessing where the kids are at. 
Home is stressful as my own kids finish off assessments that their teacher need to assess (but DON'T get me started on teachers who allow assessments to be done at home in primary school and just how many parent's are earning their kids' grades).

I am busy pretty much all of the time right now.

....and while I am not stressed (at this stage), I am also so busy that I have not had any time to just sit and miss him.

I feel distant from him, when I had been feeling like he was so connected to us that I could almost feel him next to me.  I had been just starting conversations with him when I was alone, feeling like it was not a one-sided thing.

....and I need to get that feeling back before I crash and burn later....

I need to remind myself that I was (am) loved by the most remarkable man. 
A man who I trusted with my heart and soul. 
A man whose love for me was bigger than anything I can imagine.

So on the weekend, I will make a time between marking report cards and cleaning the house where I can go outside, sit in the sunshine and just be with my memories of Greg.
Where I can feel his hand on my shoulder and his whisper in my ear and remind myself that I am still loved.

Monday, November 11, 2013



In my experience front loading washing machines are pieces of shit. The one I inherited from the previous homeowners was leaking water from the door the other day (obviously). When are these things not being problems? 

Maybe it was my recent return to single-land or maybe it was my stubborn streak, but I decided I would NOT hire someone (most likely a man) to fix that machine. I would do it MYSELF, dammit.

So, I used the internet to find out what was wrong, order the new part and replace the old one. It took several trips to Home Depot for the right clamps to get one component of the new part installed and tons of cursing, smashing fingers, a few tears of utter frustration and maybe $150. I probably wouldn't have paid much more if I'd hired someone and I'd have had it done faster and with no struggle on my part, but I did it myself and no amount of money can buy me that kind of power.

Losing Dave has threatened my sense of power in so many ways. It felt powerless to watch him die. It felt powerless to start a life without him. It felt powerless to call out for him when I most needed him, only to realize, a thousand times a day, that he was never coming back.

To feel power again is so important. To feel in control of something when so much is completely out of my control is a big deal. It's worth it and I don't feel it that often. I miss it.

But when I closed that washer door, turned on a cycle and sat back to watch my handiwork do its thing, I felt it. I felt the power of fixing something broken and making it right again. It's a washing machine, but I'll take what I can get.

I think this power thing is at the root of a lot of my struggles right now. Instead of righteous anger or a feeling of powerful strength within, I feel helpless and frustrated. And what do I do when I feel that way? I cry.

While I get that crying is not a sign of weakness, it does sometimes get old. Being flooded with emotions that force buckets of tears from my eyes makes me feel powerless and beyond rational thought. I'm all raw emotion and can't think straight.

Taking back some power might be nice. I don't quite know the path to this yet, but I imagine it's small triumphs like this one that will slowly slowly get me there.