Monday, January 13, 2014

My Home


I live in a wonderful city now. I've become more and more comfortable here. I like the weirdness, the outdoorsy-ness, the coffee shops, the rampant recycling and composting and organic gardening. I like the dogs and the green of the woods and the mist hanging in the west hills. I like the bridges and the dragon boats on the river. I like the people. Most of all I like the people.

This is a city where I often see people on their way to dinner or work, sit down on the sidewalk to talk to a person who is panhandling. Where they willingly sign up to help the environment or support gay marriage on their way to the office in the morning. This is a city where people will go out of their way for you. Once I was talking to a girlfriend at a bar and I was crying (can you guess what I was talking about?) and our waitress left the restaurant, went next door to get me chocolate and kleenex, and put them both on our table without a word and went back to her tables.

This is the city that brought me a dog walking job, a chance to get a degree in art, a choir to sing with, beautiful new friends who've changed my life, opportunities to meet and talk to people I'd never have been lucky enough to meet in my old life. It's welcomed me and gently pushed me into this new life. There's so much to see and do here that it isn't enough to stay at home.
I've stretched myself so much to find out what this city has to offer and I'm so glad I did. I've grown emotionally more than I thought possible in the past 2.5 years and so much growth was possible because of my move here.

And that's when things get weird. I wouldn't have moved here if Dave hadn't died. And I am so grateful I am here now. It is very difficult to fit both these thoughts in my brain at once. It seems wrong to see both as true. But they are.

It is simply a different life, I've finally realized. It's not better, it's not worse, it's just drastically different. The day he died, my life ended and a new one began. To make it really count, to make something redeemable out of such a terrible ending, I had to aggressively choose to LIVE. No living small anymore. No protecting my heart. With a heart that had already been shot through with the worst pain imaginable, I had very little left to fear.

It's because of that temporary breakdown and rebuilding of my heart and mind that I could find the way to a completely new life, one that is missing Dave, yes, but one that would make him so proud. And just as, if not more importantly, makes me proud and fulfilled. I haven't shrunken in fear. I have taken on that which terrifies me. I have been broken open. My heart is simultaneously stronger and more open and vulnerable.

The rewards have been more satisfying relationships, more learning and more emotional growth than any other time in my life. It's not fair that it had to happen after losing Dave. But it's proportional to the vastness of that loss.

Everything was torn out from under me. The foundation was dust. Unrecognizable. To build a life from the ground up could have either crushed me or turned me into a new human being. Actually, I suppose it did both.

There's nothing about losing him that I'm grateful for (goes without saying), but I am grateful that his death was not the end of me and my story. I'm grateful I have a chance to live on and make it worth it. He'd want me to. I'm going to make it as beautiful as I can and Portland has been my gateway. I am so grateful for the opportunities and people this city and has brought me.


  1. I'm so happy for you! Portland, and the life you have made there, sounds wonderful. You followed your heart, which apparently is quite sound in its judgment. Best wishes for continuing discoveries!

    I'm starting to see the upside to my loss, too. I've had mini changes, more than sticking my toe in the water but less than the seismic shift I anticipated when I threw myself into building from the ground up. Somewhere I read that "Grief does not change you; it reveals you". Before marriage, I often kept to myself, even in the big city. As an artist, I likely needed quiet to hear the whisper of my soul. Now, post widowhood, post grief, 60 years old, I need quiet for the same reason. In the empty space of widowhood I discovered even more about myself. I revel in movement. I dance, I swim, I bicycle, I run. Yes, self development is an upside of widowhood.

    Best wishes for continued happiness.

  2. It is! And it's interesting how even after all the pain I've experienced, it's hard to admit that there have been any upsides. You'd think I'd be leaping at the chance to talk about any silver linings, but I feel conflicted about them. Like they shouldn't BE. I'm going to keep working on letting myself enjoy them, knowing that they don't mean the loss didn't mean everything or that I don't miss him or love him.

    1. amen. I love it here. And we wouldn't have likely chosen Portland together. Both things have to live side by side in my mind and this life.

  3. I love what you write here! And in the comment above! Hard for me to ever find an upside - I don't think I have yet (3 years), but that is because the cost is SO great! Many folks tell me how good I've done and all the new things I've tried and all the challenges I've faced and sometimes I want to shout - "but yes, the price was tall - the life of my husband!!!" Who would ever want that? Your writing gives me hope that walks along the tension of the loss. Choosing to live. Choosing to live fully. Choosing to thrive, not just survive. Refusing to sink! Thank you.

  4. Cassie, Thank you for your wonder writing posted today. I saw recently on "Widowed Village" a widower refereed to his life after the death of his spouse as his "re-arranged life". I think I like that term. I am a 12 + Cancer Survivor so I already have my "New Normal". Now my two daughters (ages 21 & 16) have our "re-arranged" life.

    It's a like we didn't choose, but we're doing the best we can.

  5. Oh thank you so much for this post… I could relate exactly to what you said. Although I'm not quite as far out in my journey, I too made drastic decisions to change my life early on… and I also had the same feelings that fear just wasn't a good enough reason NOT to live the life I wanted to live anymore. I can really relate to trying to hold those two thoughts at once… while I'm still very much in transition from my old life to my new life, there are more and more times now that I am holding both the happiness for my new life and the thought that I wouldn't have it if he had not died (before I was stuck in a cubicle. I'm an artist now, growing more confident in my work and even selling a little bit here and there! Its everything he wanted for me!).

    It IS strange! But what a gift they have given us in this new life. Thank you so much Cassie, it really helped to read a similar story to my own from someone a bit further out.

  6. I love this quote from your post, Cassie: "I had to aggressively choose to LIVE." That's it! That's it exactly! I get weary of the many sweet and thoughtful comments about how strong and amazing I am. Doesn't that sound ungrateful? Of course everyone means well and the alternative (you're not strong, you need lots of help) is not what I want either. But this "being strong", this "being amazing", this "choosing to live" is sloppy and choppy and zigzaggy.....and I have to be AGGRESSIVE! It doesn't come easy at all. I am aggressively karate-chopping my way through the muck. I guess sometimes I just want someone to say: "You're so strong and amazing.....and I know how incredibly HARD you have to work each and every day to be that way. I know that you are being AGGRESSIVE." Thanks for your powerful gift of words today Cassie.

    1. Carolyn - I agree! I almost resent being told I'm strong or amazing anymore. I am NONE of those things, or so I feel! Perhaps I am strong, but moreso, I just feel angry and that is where my strength comes from, I don't know. But compared to "you look like dung and shouldn't you be past that by now", I guess I'll take "you're so strong and amazing!" I also like your words choppy, sloppy and zigzaggy - all so true!