Monday, June 30, 2014

Mysterious Waters


I spent a day unearthing minute details of Dave's death the other day. Not because I wanted to, but because I had to.

The manner in which his death was hastened has a lot to do with the care he had and that has led to an investigation of sorts. It came to a head last week and I felt the physical blow which accompanies the rehashing of the day he died.

I felt my brain try to reject the awful visuals this information brought up. His last moments were not with his loved ones.

They were spent in an ambulance, with two young men. One, an EMT and one a nurse. I don't know how they treated Dave. I can't guarantee that they treated him as they'd want their own loved one treated. Imagining this makes me physically ill. It makes me want to tear things down and smash things and scream and curse loudly. Instead, I feel a sort of internal collapsing and tearing. It's exhausting. All I want to do is rock back and forth and keen.

Things didn't go well in that ambulance. I spent the day imagining and trying not to imagine what it must have been like for him, in that ambulance, in his last moments. I thought I'd made it through the day relatively okay.

I knew I'd be tired and that I'd need some time to recover. I knew I'd be off. But the following day, I simply melted down. It was as though the pain was too much to actually address, so instead, I just attributed the pain to everything. I couldn't find the way to say that this incident was horrific and it tore me apart and continues to.

The signals got tangled and the anxiety ramped up. Along with the anxiety, came the depressive symptoms. I dragged myself to class all day, but felt as though I'd been hit by a truck. I cried pretty steadily, leaking tears as though I had an endless supply. I stumbled through the day, having moments of clarity, but mostly just sleep-walking through, and felt the need to climb into bed and sob for a good 12 hours.

Talking about it with loved ones and processing it a little more (will I ever run out of the need to process?) helped but I've needed a lot more sleep since then and have felt emotionally fragile, too.

On the other hand, I've felt a renewal of the fierce and healthy fire in me to honor Dave's memory by making my life the best I can make of it, and remembering the positive impact he had on all who knew him, his students, and their families, especially.

The best I can do right now is to steer my mind away from the "It shouldn't have happened" deep end and back to the more peaceful but mysterious waters of "It happened, and we all go on from here". And sleep. A lot. It's so hard to grieve.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Fitting Two Worlds Together

"It's a new dawn
It's a new day
It's a new life
For me
And I'm feeling good"

Don't we ALL wish it was that simple??
Since coming home from my trip to Hawaii a few weeks ago, things have been rough. I wrote a post here trying to glean some of the positives from everything as of late - but really what I think I need to talk about is how freaking scary even the good new things can be. I went on that trip just to go visit a friend and see a new place… I never imagined that the girl I was when I left would not be the same girl I was when I returned. But that is what has happened. Since coming home, it is as if I landed back in my reality and realized in a very real way that I am a different person. And part of me is SO NOT okay with that.

Logically yes, I am a different person than I was when my fiancĂ© was alive. The day he died I became a different person… and every day since. But I'm not talking about that. I'm talking about the moment you look back and realize that you are REALLY a new person. When you actually see that you have new hobbies and new friends and a new career and life direction and BAM - it hits you suddenly. And the scary and heart wrenching part of that realization is the feeling that maybe, just maybe, if he and I were to meet now, or in a few more years from now, that we might not actually be the best match for each other. I don't even know how to entertain that thought in my brain… the same brain that knows this man to be the only one I ever wanted to spend my life with.

And I cannot even express to you HOW difficult it is to even TYPE those words publicly. My throat is tensing up with anxiety just to acknowledge this outwardly. Because he was and is my best friend… and I cannot tell you what a betrayal it feels like to say that. But there it is. This feeling that has been eating at me without my really being able to understand what was going on until today. His death has changed me. And in that, I have become this new person with new interests and new needs. I'm making new friends who never knew him - and for the first time in two years this doesn't feel so horrible. I'm going on trips for myself, and putting my all into my photography and building a business of my own as an artist and writer. I'm at the gym five days a week now (which is unheard of for me) and in the best shape of my life. My entire life is different from what it was when he was alive… and just after hitting the two-year mark it's as if I am realizing it somehow for the first time. And it almost comes as a shock, as if it snuck up on me. I really liked who I was when I was with him… but the person that he has helped create me to be since he died is someone I love SO much more deeply and fiercely. Because I've had to fight so hard for her.

It's all just so confusing. Because he is the reason for it all - he changed the entire course of my life in big ways. And so he is still so completely involved and a part of everything in that way. Yet that also means that his role in my life is different now. When we set out on this part of our journey, we began different paths, side by side, but not together as we were. Still I love him. Still I am in love with him. Still he is my best friend. And I still cry all the time because of how much I miss him. But somehow, in a way I cannot quite put into words, his role is different. New. Just as I am new and my role for him I suppose is different now too. And I don't really know how to fit all of this together. I've spent the past two years in hibernation, growing, changing, but not really making a lot of forward movement. But as that changes, as I do begin to lean into a new life, how does it all fit together? My answer right now is that I don't really know. I don't know what to do with all of it. I mean really, what DO you do with that? Other than share it with others - so you feel less crazy - so you feel more safe and okay with the fact that it's scary for you. That's all I know to do with it, so that's what I'm doing here. Thanks for listening.

It's Just Not Fair

I was driving home from work recently, singing along to the radio in my own little world, when I passed a car the exact same model and colour as my husband's. Next thing I knew I was instantly transported back to That Day.

The last time I saw my husband, 11 months ago, was around 8am as he kissed me goodbye and left for work. But he didn't go to work that morning, he drove an hour away from our home, parked his car in a hotel car park, checked in and took his life.

Seeing that car triggered my grief and my brain went careering down that slippery slope: ‘What did he think would happen to his car?  Did he realize that I’d have to arrange to collect it?  Did he realize I’d have to find a new purpose for ALL of his possessions?  Did he know his parents would fly in and help me with that?  How did he think we’d be capable of sorting this out?  Why would he do that?  Why didn’t he TALK to me? What the hell happened to us?’

And I’m back.  Right there in that very moment where my husband’s suicide defines our existence – all there was and all there ever will be. 

So. Many. Questions.  He left a note for me, written on the hotel stationery (which indicated that he hadn’t planned or prepared for his death) but what about his parents?  His sister?  His friends?  They all wanted answers too.  Didn’t he realise they’d be just as devastated?

He left so many things unfinished – dirty laundry, paperwork, our weekend plans to visit friends at the beach.  He received and made work calls on his drive that morning, set up meetings even.  Did he know then that he wouldn’t be able to attend? 

I had planned to plant a garden in our backyard that day and sent him a photo of my handiwork via text message only 15 minutes before he died… didn’t he want to come home and see it? See me?  Hug me?  Crawl in to bed with me and tell me he was scared and let me help him and hold him?

These questions are such torture and I will never get the answers.  Why did this happen to him?  How did he get to that point?  When did he decide that this was his only option? If only I'd seen it, if only I'd stopped him from leaving the house that morning.

I’ve had intensive suicide bereavement counseling and I understand and accept that it wasn’t Dan that day, it was a disease in his brain, but in that moment I forget all the rationale and the questions build and build and build until I feel like I’m drowning in them. 

I finished my drive home with tears flowing freely and fell in to bed, muffling my howls with my pillow.  Until, almost like she I knew I was struggling, a message popped up on my phone from an old university friend I haven’t seen for more then 10 years.  We drifted apart but are Facebook friends now and even though she didn’t know Dan, she felt compelled to reach out when she heard the news and still checks in with me now and then. 

I replied to her message, confessing how distraught I was, telling her I couldn’t understand why and how this happened. 

In her reply, she said she understood more than I realized.  She opened up to me about her own depression.  Unbeknownst to me until that day, her battle was a fierce one, and ongoing one.  One that she had come close to losing. 

My beautiful friend told me that almost five years earlier she had been in a dark place, struggling with an abusive relationship and a stressful job.  Her depression was deep and she had thought abstractly about suicide but knew she would never, could never do that to her family.  It was not an option she would ever consider.  Until one day she had a sudden ‘brain snap’ and decided in an instant it was the only answer.  Within moments she had made a serious attempt on her life that failed purely because she had been in such a rush.  It was incredibly close though and only by pure luck and chance that she survived.  She eventually reached out to her family, admitting how serious her state of mind was and got the help she needed. 

Today, she still struggles with her disease, but she is strong and determined.  She wanted me to know that she came very close to a similar fate as my husband’s.   Under different circumstances he might have survived his 'brain snap' too, and gone on to get the help he needed.  We might be telling his story to other people who are suffering and giving them hope. 

It made me realise (again) that my husband wasn’t a man who took his own life.  He was a man who had a disease that took control of his body, and caused an incident that claimed his life.  I stopped thinking of his death as a suicide even, because in my mind that implies a conscious act or choice. 

This conversation with my friend calmed my raging questions but made me very sad.  Sad that she had been through such a terrible experience, one that lasted years and still affects her deeply.  Sad for so many others who are battling with mental illness and not getting the support and treatment that they need.  And it made my sad for my sweet, gentle husband.  My beautiful Daniel. My darling didn’t deserve to leave our world in such a tragic way.  If life was fair, he wouldn’t have died so young.  There wouldn’t be disease in the world taking such beautiful souls from us, there wouldn’t be accidents or murders or cruel twists of fate, there wouldn’t be so much pain.

It sucks.  Death sucks.  It’s just not fair. 

Friday, June 27, 2014


I am just a couple short weeks away from the 3 year mark of my husband Don's sudden death. I feel like I can't even type that sentence without breathing differently. 3 years. Three. Years. I have no idea how it is even possible. I have no idea how those words could apply to me. I have no idea ....

July 13th will be the 3-year mark. On the first year death anniversary, I created "Pay it Forward for Don Shepherd Day", in which I asked everyone on planet earth to do something kind for someone else, tell me about it in writing, and take pictures if possible. Last year, I did it again, and there was even more of a response. Over 130 stories each year, all of which helped me immensely in getting through that day. This year, and every year, I will continue that same tradition, but Im also in the middle of writing my book, which will hopefully come out later this year. In the book, I will take my favorites of all of the stories from the past 3 years, and create a Top 10 List out of them to publish as a chapter.

Year one and year two, on July 13th, I went home to be with my family and spend it with them. Both years, we made Don's favorite foods, and we hung out and honored him and talked about him and made toasts to him. Both years, I woke up that morning sobbing, and both years, my mom hugged me as I cried - re-living those first few moments and hours of that day - where I woke up to that ringing phone that would tell me my husband would never return home from work.

This year, I will be in San Diego, at Camp Widow, giving my comedy presentation for the 4th time, and seeing lots of amazing friends in the widowed community. I will be surrounded by hundreds of people who "get it", and who will totally understand and know how to deal with any weird or all over the place emotions I might have. I will be in a place of healing.

So why the hell do I feel so awful? Why am I so terrified right now? Why is it that I can barely breathe when even talking about "that day" that is coming up, or thinking about it? Why am I so scared to wake up in that hotel room on that morning, and break into sobs or panic or PTSD-crap, and not have the comfortable presence of mom and dad there? Why do I feel like nothing that I am planning to do in San Diego to "honor him" or recognize the day, is ever enough? Why am I picturing and worrying about having that awful reality, while there, of being in the middle of a crowd, and never feeling so alone? My widowed friends keep telling me and assuring me that the "leading up to the day" anxiety is always worse than the actual day, but this feels different somehow. This year feels different. I have actual nerves in my stomach about this, and I feel almost nausea just working it out inside my head. I am so terrified.

3 Years. Three. Years. How can this be? How can I no longer be "one of the newer widows" that we all have to keep an eye on and make sure she is okay? How is it that I have been writing about this and processing this for 3 YEARS, and I still have so much to say and process? How is it possible that I have been seeing my grief-counselor for all this time, and yet I still very much need the routine of it and the help that it seems to bring me? How is it that I have been missing him for 3 years, and how the hell am I supposed to keep on missing him and aching for him forever and ever and ever until always??? 

For some reason, this 3-year mark is really driving home the whole "he will be dead forever" thing in my heart. And it is also driving home all the "Where would we be now?" type questions. In 3 years time, life changes. If he were alive, where would we be now? Would we be out of our crappy Jersey apartment and into something nicer? Would he have a new job or a promotion? Would  I have landed something as an actress or writer or comedian? Would we have our first child? Our second? Would we have adopted? Or maybe Id be pregnant. Maybe our little girl would be playing with and picking strawberries with my brother's little girl and little boy. That is how it was supposed to be. Would we be in a new home or condo? Would we be in New York? These are the things I think about now - all the time. Everytime I see my own family or friends or other couples, doing what they do. Living life. In three years time, a lot of changes happen. My mind and heart goes to those changes, and constantly asks: What if? 

This is not the same kind of grief I felt or had in year one or two. Im not quite sure what to do with these feelings. They hurt and they suck and they pound at my chest and make me feel terrified of my own future, and jealous and envious of everyone else's. I am making a life for myself - a new life - because I have no other choice. But I haven't figured out how to stop picturing or wanting or longing for the life I had, and would have had, with my beautiful, wonderful husband.

Three years, and I don't know how to do that. How? 

Thursday, June 26, 2014

So, what do you do?

I hate that question. But it's always going to be there, isn't it? When you meet people, it's one of the standard getting-to-know-you questions and you just can't avoid it.

I guess if I had a "normal" career it would be easy to sidestep the "I'm widowed" answer, which I'll admit, I used a lot in the beginning after Mike died. I didn't really know what else to say, and it had the doubly-useful ingredient that it stopped people from nosing around much more. Then for awhile I tried to say I was a writer, but people would ask what I was writing...well I'm writing about my late husband, and there it was. I couldn't avoid it.

After years of hopping around various jobs and careers from Washington, DC to Hollywood to Hawaii, I've done so many things it's hard to say, what it is I really do. I do a lot of things. I've done a lot of things.

I live.

I survive.

I am.

But the question in a "normal" social setting begs a "normal" answer - the kind people expect. I think it's kind of like when someone asks, how are you doing? And they expect to hear, fine! or, good! and sucks I'm miserable I miss my husband I'm so sad I want to die and I just sit on my couch crying and stop asking me questions and mind your own business.

I'm grateful for what I have, because I have really needed this time to be at home and grieve, and write - writing has been an important therapy for me. I know a lot of widowed people don't have that chance...I know a lot of us are forced back into the workforce right away, a lot of us have to get second jobs, a lot of us have to move and make big changes way too soon because of the financial repercussions of an unexpected death. 

I have had time. But I know I'm going to have to pick myself up here pretty darn soon and figure out what the heck I'm going to do with the rest of my life. There's going to have to be more money coming in. There's going to have to be a plan. There just isn't one yet.

That part sucks, being 46. I thought I had things figured out, when Mike was alive. We had his pension and were going to live out our years quietly, and together. His death brought that expectation to an abrupt and shocking end.

I briefly attended a group therapy for widows and one of them, a feisty 80-something-year-old, once shared with the group her worry that she didn't know what she was going to do with the rest of her life. At the time, it made a lot of us laugh - a welcomed, relief-studded reaction to this aged but lively member of our group. I'll never forget that, and it did put things in perspective, in that moment.

But, a couple of weeks ago a new friend asked the dreaded question once again. So, what do you do? And before I knew it, my reality poured out. But instead of being put off, instead of treating me like a victim, or moving away from me slowly and carefully like so many do, she said cheerfully, well, do you want a job?

Hm. Well, kind of, yes, I do. I'd been half-heartedly looking around but it's a very, very small town and opportunity is limited and I wasn't sure if I was ready to be out there, perky, unafflicted; able to concentrate..."normal".  But I asked her more, and she asked me more, and before I knew it, I was hired. Kind of on the spot.

So the past couple weeks has seen a sort of big change for me. I don't have a powerful new career or anything. It's just a part-time job at a small clothing store. But for me right now, it's perfect. It's not even all about the money just yet, though it will pay a few utilities, and some groceries. It's about having a reason to get up and out. Having somewhere to go a few days a week. Feeling needed, and responsible for something again. Creating something new.

I'm surprised at myself a little. I wasn't sure if I was ready for it, but I am finding I actually am. That must be a good thing. Maybe it will give me the courage to look a little deeper too, and figure out a bigger plan for my future. I'm not sure what that is yet, which is hard, but maybe it will come to me. Maybe I'm creating a space for it now. 

There's also the added benefit that when I'm asked, so, what do you do? I don't have to give them the whole rigmarole about being widowed, about how I got where I am, about what I've done and what I'm not doing...that I was married to an amazing man but now he's gone...I can just say, I work at a dress shop. If I want to volunteer more, I can. But I don't have to. 

For such a small job, it feels like a huge shift.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

What I Learned from a Visionary~

I'll be very blunt here.  Christina Rasmussen, the visionary of Second Firsts, continues to help save my sanity by holding out hope.  Her story helps me know that I just might get through this devastating grief brought into my soul by my beloved husband's death.  I personally don't feel hope but I see the life she's built after her husband's death and I recognize intellectually that it's possible because she has shown that to me.

Her story inspired me to take the life insurance my husband left for me and use it as a springboard to createa new life without him.  I don't want to create a new life without him.  I must create a new life without him.  I read some of her story just a few weeks after Chuck died, where she wrote of using her husband's life insurance to start a new life for herself and that was the first time I started thinking about how I could live a life without him, logistically.

I used the life insurance money to buy a car that I painted a customized color called "Chuck's Watchin' Over Me" pink, and then I bought a small trailer and painted the trim pink.  It isn't pink just because I like pink.  This is no wussy pink-its the pink of mourning for me.  He told me before he died black isn't your color.  Mourn for me in pink.  Most of my clothes are pink too.  It is my armor.  It's a color of strength and joy.  I need the one and hope to find the other again someday.

I live on the road full-time.  I'm living on a wing and a prayer because I know that the money is going to run out sooner rather than later.  It's kind of strange but I don't worry about it really because I know that I'm building a foundation here.  For what I'm not for sure certain.  I just know that something beautiful is being built.

Christina has helped me own my gifts.  Why is it, do you suppose, that most of us are good at putting ourselves down, or taking criticism from others, or worse, beating ourselves up before others can, but we can't/don't own up to our talents and gifts?  I've watched and read as Christina has come into her own and owned up to her gifts of being a visionary for grief and change.  That has helped me immeasurably and for the first time a few days ago I spoke my gifts aloud to a group of people.  I'm a storyteller, I told them.  I have a story.  For whatever reason, this story inspires people.  I can inspire people.  None of it is said with arrogance.  I say it with utmost wonder really.  Kind of in a wow, I can do this way.

I don't fool around with my grief.  It's serious business.  Creating a life for myself without the man I so passionately loved is serious business.  Grief has changed my language and how I hear the words other's speak.  I'm more careful in the language I use now.  I really hear people.  I listen for what they are actually saying and I don't try to fix their stuff.  I stand with them and offer my empathy.  I tell people what I need as I struggle through this and I don't expect them to either read my mind or always be the ones to reach out to me.  I reach out to them.

I'm grieving deeply.  I love my husband and I miss him in an excruciating way.  And I am grateful beyond measure that words I read written by a woman I'd never met, opened my eyes to possibilities that I more than likely wouldn't have seen had it not been for her.

This Odyssey of Love I'm traveling?  It was inspired by the words Christina Rasmussen wrote.  I'm driving headlong into my grief on a daily, minute-by-minute basis, on roads all around this country and I'm re-wiring my brain by plugging in and I'm keeping my heart open and I'll continue to do this until I'm done.  Every second of it carries pain and grief with it.  And every second carries love with it.

Too often in life, we don't recognize and thank the people who make a difference in our lives.  I'm writing this loud and clear (and I hope she doesn't mind) because I feel it deeply.

Thank you, Christina.  These miles I'm traveling are for you and every other widow/widower out there who is lost.  You give me hope.  And my husband Chuck thanks you because he would never want me to feel alone and without hope and because of you, I don't.

Just...thank you.  And I'm so glad I finally met you~

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Homeward Run

I'll keep on the theme Soaring Spirits Loss Foundation has run on their facebook page for International Widows Day - what I've achieved since Ian died. 

Well, working on achieving.

One of the big changes I made was to go back to school.  I knew my job would end about 12 months after Ian died, and I opted to work towards a change in direction.    But one semester into my 2-year accounting course, I was a bit unsure if it was the right direction, even though I'm getting decent marks and enjoy the studies. 

I stumbled across Financial Counselling, which here in Australia is offered as a free service by social services organisations to help those struggling with low income and/or significant debt  - a combination I've heard so many are facing in the widow community.  The financial counsellor works with the client to come up with strategies and plans to stretch what they have as far as possible, or get on a path of paying off the debt.  So I added a 6 month, on-line course for that this time last year.  Insanity - two qualifications at the same time! 

This week, I got over a hump that had me quite negative about the financial counselling - I passed the counselling skills face to face practical module.  I tried last year, but John was sick on the assessment day, barred from child care and I didn't have alternate care for him.  Then I personally found the alternate assessment they set up for me a negative experience that had me struggling to even fire up the course page. So I opted to repeat the face to face element.   It looked like this round was going to be a "John is sick, I can't do it" repeat, but thankfully I had another care option this year.

I've learnt a bit about myself doing both qualifications - I enjoy the numbers and strategy/technique side of both. I am soooo not a counsellor who could do one on one counselling, but I have a passion for financial literacy and improving that generally in the community. 

So I'm now on the homeward run to wrap up the financial counselling course since I've only got 7 weeks to go.  And this is the community education module, and my face to face widows group have agreed to sit through a session so I can complete the requirement!  You never know how your widow friends will help you, or need your help.

It will be interesting when I finish; something I've thought about as I've progressed through this short qualification.  This will be one of the first big, significant taking the bull by the horns life directions change things I've done, start to finish, since Ian died.  That he never knew about, since I had no idea I'd go down this path and probably never would have if he hadn't left us. 

And I'm not sure how I'll react when it's complete and I have that parchment in my hand.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Live Large


I have so much now in my second chance. I'm forever scarred and forever missing someone I expected to be with until I died, but I get to live on for some reason and I'm doing it well. I've been lucky in some instances but in most, I've worked hard to be where I am now. I have a lot.

I'm in a healthy, loving relationship. I have a beautiful home, healthy pets, a new career field to explore while going back to school for art. I live in the best city EVER. Seriously, Portland seems like a fairytale more often than not. I'm healthy, my guy is healthy, I'm financially okay and I have the love and support of wonderful friends and family.

I'm finding that even still it's hard for me to accept the good things. My mind is rigged to search vigilantly for the disaster right around the corner. When will the next bad thing happen, not will the next bad thing happen is the question I ask the universe over and over. I wake up early in the morning with my mind on automatic pilot - listing things to worry about that haven't happened yet. To stop the thoughts and focus on the positive is uncomfortable because it means I will no longer be vigilant. It means that bad things could be coming and I'd have my back to them. Face them head on, says my subconscious. Be ready for them! Worrying is more uncomfortable, but my brain has its patterns and it likes those patterns, regardless of how awful they make me feel.

Of course worrying about them will reduce the enjoyment I can have now. Of course worrying about the things that might happen won't really prepare me for them if they do. And knowing all this doesn't end the worrying. If only it were that easy. So far, the worries that have actually crossed my mind lately are as follows...

1. My current relationship will end in any number of horrific ways. And I'm talking horrific. I will not list them here, because he might read them and I don't want him to know I've actually had these thoughts by reading them here. They're THAT off-base and paranoid. Let's just say that they'd all leave me destitute and heart-broken, never to trust another human being again.
2. He gets very, very sick and I am forced to watch the person I love most in the world suffer and then die (again).
3. I get very, very sick and am forced to experience what it is like to watch the person I love most in the world watch ME suffer and die.
4. My sweet, pampered indoor-only cats escape in their new neighborhood (I've just moved) and get hit by a car or disappear. This is a common bad dream of mine, actually.
5. I will not be able to find a good job once I finish school. I will end up destitute.
6. The new house burns to the ground.
7. I get brave enough to attempt motherhood and I lose the baby. Or the baby isn't healthy. Or the baby is healthy, only to succumb to some terrible disease later and I have to watch this person I love more than life itself suffer and die.
8. If any of these don't come to pass, there's a chance the world will end first and we'll all die at once. Have you heard about what we're doing to the environment? It's seriously not good.

So, while I can be very positive and upbeat, the truth is, it takes my brain .01 seconds to come up with the most elaborate of horrible scenarios and it takes much more effort to come up with the positive ones. I often wonder what my brain would be capable of it its software wasn't almost completely taken up by Possible Awful Events app.

What's the answer to this? I'm not sure. But I think the key to it is learning to live with it. Not fight it or make it stop, because that's a losing battle. Feel the fear and do stuff anyway. Watch as the world doesn't end just because I feel a split second of contentment. Notice as allowing myself to be happy doesn't bring misfortune my way. Act as though good stuff will happen. Learn to lovingly laugh at the miserable fantasies my brain concocts. Talk about them. They grow in power when they lurk in the dark of my mind. Shared with a loving friend, they cower in the light of exposure. Spend a few concentrated moments a day actively thinking up a great possible scenario (this is SO INCREDIBLY hard for me to do that I can so far only accomplish it for a few minutes a day).

We all have to do this. We all have to learn to go around each day, acting as though we don't know the truth. That none of us are immune to terrible things. They attack randomly, they don't play fair, and we can never really anticipate them, even when we worry incessantly.

Life is to be lived, though, and it's not about facing the fear by anticipating it, but by living large even though I continue to be afraid.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

The Battle

Do not be fooled 
by the lightness you see in me -
The cool easy smile 
across my face.

I would like to kill this silence to death.
This silence in me 
where once stood the man of my soul.
A silence louder than all the rest.

Do not be fooled 
for a moment -
For where you see 
my eyes shine with being
You see a moment in time 
that I am fighting for.

A silence
I have agonized to accept in me
A painful release 
I have fought to give myself.
No longer does joy exist 
without the battle.

I miss you

Love notes from my husband - 'I missed you so much today, I love you too much!'
Sometimes the English language feels so inadequate.  I can’t count the number of times I’ve said ‘I miss him’ in the past 11 months since my husband passed away.  But each time I say it, I find myself thinking that these three words just aren’t enough to fully capture the ache that is tearing at my body, mind and soul.

‘I miss you’ was a common phrase in our relationship.  A term of endearment almost, up there with ‘I love you’.  As our courtship blossomed we quickly grew from two private, independent people, content in our own company, to love-struck sweethearts who felt incomplete when we were apart. 

I recall a couple of months in, when we’d planned on having a night apart to catch up on laundry and sleep.  We text on and off throughout the evening until around 9pm when he finally called and said ‘would it be ok if I came over… I miss you.’ My heart sung – he missed me and I missed him too.  We would say it to each other during the day while at work or when one of us ducked out to get groceries or were off spending time with our friends.  He wrote it on love notes that he left on my bathroom mirror (pictured) and I wrote it back in the notes that I hid in his lunchbox that I lovingly packed him each morning. 

We both had jobs that required occasional overnight travel and the evenings apart were difficult for both of us.  I hated falling asleep without the comfort and security of his steady breathing in bed next to me and often stayed up way too late texting or video-calling him.

One of the few things I remember about the day Dan died was laying in our bed that night, staring at the ceiling with my heart racing and my head spinning.  I was thinking: I miss him when we’re apart for more than 30 minutes – how am I physically going to survive never, ever seeing him again for the entire rest of my life? 

I actually didn’t think it would be possible.  Surely, I would die of a broken heart.  I couldn’t imagine anything more painful than a life without him in it.  And I couldn’t understand how his depression took him from me, when he loved me SO much.  He knew I was hopeless without him, yet the power of his disease was enough to cloud that from his mind.

Now, here I sit, 332 days since I hugged and kissed him goodbye that morning, when he left for work and never came back.  The sadness in my heavy heart hasn’t been enough to make it stop beating, but some days I wish it had.  The physical ache for him is almost magnetic – I feel like I’m being pulled out of my own body with the urge to reach out and touch his face or fall into his arms, almost as if my heart senses that he’s standing two metres in front of me but I just can’t see him.

When I’m having a bad day and try to explain to people what I’m feeling, the words ‘I miss him’ just don’t seem enough.  They sound simplistic, light and easy whereas the grief is suffocating and weighing me down like a dozen wet wooly blankets.

I hate that these three words that captured my love for my husband in such a sweet and affectionate way, now feel like a sentence that I will carry with me until the day I die.  What were romantic lyrics between sweethearts are now forever laced with the pain of his death.

I still, subconsciously, say it to Dan daily. I whisper 'I miss you' to his empty pillow every morning; it’s on my breath as I walk through the busy city streets; I close my eyes and hear it run through my head when I'm sitting with friends, feeling totally alone; I cry it out loud to our empty bedroom as the tears fall each night.

I know from speaking to other widows and reading grief books that the pain will eventually soften as I heal.  But I also know I will never stop missing him.  Part of me doesn’t want to – I want to cling to the pain, because it assures me that our love is still real and he’s not slipping away.  I don’t understand this grief and have to continuously remind myself that I can’t plan for it.  I can only wait.  Wait for the day where the pain of losing him is less than the happiness from knowing him. While this seems impossible to me now, I have to cling to the hope that this day will come for me eventually. 

Friday, June 20, 2014

What Was My Point?

I am the Friday writer here at Widow's Voice. That means, that every single Friday, a blog post written by me goes up. Technically, I write the post late Thursday night, so as to have it finished by the deadline of midnight West Coast time, which is 3 a.m. my time. So, you would think that because I have been writing in here for quite awhile now, and because it is the same part of my weekly routine in life, and because I have it in my head that every Thursday night before bed, I write here - AND I have a giant desk calendar that reads in big letters "Write Widow's Voice" in the little Thursday boxes - that I wouldn't regularly forget to write in here. Well, you would be all kinds of wrong.

I would say that a good 87% of the time, I somehow still forget, and end up going to bed on Thursday night without writing my piece. Then, somewhere around 4 a.m. in the morning, at some completely random time, something in my mind goes off like an alarm, and I sit up in my bed with a quickness and panic, and I yell: "SHIT!!!" And now, here I sit, at 11 a.m. on the Friday, piecing together something last minute, and late.

Is it that thing we all call "Widow Brain", that turns our minds into oatmeal? Yeah. Maybe. I dunno. At this point, I think this is just my new brain now. I think that on July 13, 2011, when my husband died, I got a new brain forcibly implanted into my skull, and so now, this is what I have to work with. This new brain doesn't work at all like my old one. I'm still a very creative person and still have the same sense of humor, except maybe even darker than before, but my ideas take so much longer in this brain to formulate and come to fruition. Getting even the tiniest thing done always seems extremely difficult for me now. And it's not just with Widow's Voice blogs. No. It is with everything. I sit down to grade my students Acting projects, and I might get through 3 of them before my mind suddenly and randomly takes me elsewhere. I try to write a chapter in my book, and then, wait a minute ... how did I end up on Facebook or Twitter? Why am I in my kitchen eating cookies over the sink and staring blankly at the wall? At what point did I open up an old photo album and sit on my couch looking through pictures of me and my husband and our old life? Who moved me from my desk into my bedroom and put on yet another mindless episode of Restaurant Impossible for me to watch? What the hell happened here???

Yeah. That is my how my new brain works, and so you can see how it makes it almost impossible to accomplish anything. I never used to be this way. Focusing was never an issue for me. Now? My mind wanders, then wanders again, then wanders from the things it wandered toward. This is a problem. I cannot work this way. And yet, I have to. I have to adjust to this new brain and this new life, and somehow figure out how to stop fighting against it's existence and conquer it. And I need to figure this out fast, because this summer, as in right this very minute, I am finishing the writing of my book. My goal is to have it written and ready for editing and all that, hopefully by the end of the summer or so. But I have several pieces still left to write of the story, and every time I sit down and start a piece, I get distracted. My own new mind distracts me. This new panic and anxiety that comes with sudden death and my new life - it attacks me most when Im trying to work. The other day I was sitting here at my desk in my home office, like I am now, and attempting to write up a piece for the book, when the following thought process went through my brain:

Wow it is so hot today. That ceiling fan above me feels really good right now. Is that on the highest speed? It looks like it's going a bit fast. Too fast. Is that safe? What if the fan fell off the ceiling and smashed into me and I died while writing this piece about my husband dying for a book about my husband's death? That would be truly ironic. Alanis Morrisette might enjoy that one for her silly song "Ironic", in which nothing she talks about is actually ironic. Maybe learn the definition of the word ironic before you write an entire song about it. Rain on your wedding day is not ironic. Just sayin'. Shit. I gotta get this done. I'm thirsty. But do I want ice water or iced tea? What kind of beverage mood am I in? Oh man, this carpet is dirty. I really need to clean. Screw that. I hate cleaning. What was that noise my heart just made? It sounded like it skipped a beat or something. What if I have a heart-attack like he did, and I just die? What if I die the same way he did? I dont want to be all alone and collapse somewhere. I need to get healthy. But he was healthy and he died anyway. This sucks. Okay, focus. Back to the chapter ... 

And it goes on and on like that, for quite some time. It is no wonder I am so damn tired all the time. Thinking that much is extremely exhausting. All of this is to say that I am sorry if my Friday pieces are sometimes not completely on time. Sometimes I suck at this "after-Don" life thing. I don't know what the hell I'm doing, but I keep trying. I guess that counts for something. And I had a really great topic idea in mind to write about today in here - if I could only remember what the hell it was.

What was my point again?