Saturday, January 31, 2015

A Powerful Destruction

Before I get into my post for this week, I just wanted to mention how EXCITED I am to be attending Camp Widow in Tampa this coming week! I mention it because last year, I attended but did not mention here - and it turned out there were a few readers who had no idea I was coming. For anyone out there who is, I am so looking forward to meeting you at camp!

I know many of you read my first post of the year - about the first man I've been romantic with since my fiancé died… and how, after a night of fooling around he took off and never called or texted me again. Days, then weeks go by, and I hear nothing. I don't need to explain how traumatic that was - you can read all of that here. Instead I wanted to share an update on the whole thing… one I am very glad for. And very proud of myself for.

After a few weeks of having no contact, I decided I had some things to say. So I wrote him a brief but to-the-point letter and sent it off this past week. Was it risky? Absolutely. Was I terrified? Beyond imagine. But sometimes you just have do the damn thing, even if it scares you.

There was no guarantee at all that this would end well. That I would even get any response at all from this person. But that no longer mattered. It was now about standing up for myself, respecting myself, an saying what needs saying without giving a shit what the outcome was. After all, if my fiancé is no longer here to defend my honor, then it is up to me to do it. No one treats me that way. Furthermore, I needed to leave the situation in a way that respects myself and the other person. Not because they deserve it, but because I deserve to walk away knowing I did the right thing.

I cannot express the anxiety of hitting send on that letter. But I did it. And I felt a huge weight off my shoulders as soon as I did. Amazing how quickly it can shift things inside of you when you speak your truth. That in itself was good. And then to my surprise, a few hours later, he actually responded...

It took me probably an hour to even open up his response. I was so nervous of what was on the other side. But finally, with the support of one of my girlfriends who was visiting for the weekend, I opened it. It was the best possible response I could have gotten. He was kind and respectful. Full of remorse and regret. Deeply apologetic. It showed me how broken he is - with his own set of problems that made him panic and run. In the end, he wasn't using me. It wasn't just a game. He just freaked out and handled it badly. We both agreed it went farther than we meant for it to at the time, and he was incredibly stupid, but we wish the very best for each other. Look at that. Resolve. Which never would have happened had I not risked approaching him and saying my piece. God damn, I am proud of myself.

Although this situation made me feel incredibly weak and hurt initially, it has come to bring much the opposite now because of how I chose to handle it. It has reminded me of a few really important lessons too. The old me likely never would have stood up to defend myself. And she certainly would not have done it with such incredible tact and grace. My words were not angry or overly emotional, but instead were bold, confident, firmly grounded in myself and unafraid. It quite surprised me at how powerful I could be. And that part of it had nothing to do with the other person at all. Even if I had gotten no response, I will would have been able to feel powerful for standing up for myself.

It seems, as widowed folks, that we feel pain and weakness so much for so long that we do not realize all along, we are becoming more POWERFUL. It's something I lose sight of ALL the time. But all of the fighting we have to do to survive creates an incredible force inside us - even if it's hard for us to see. It is oftentimes a new painful event that had the ability to allow us to choose our power and thus see it more clearly.

It's a force that can only come from the ashes of devastation… for it is precisely because we have to fight so hard to survive that we become so powerful. You don't spend every day of your life for years crawling through the broken shards of yourself without becoming more battle-hardened and more firmly grounded in who you are. You don't endure years of being broken open by a thousand smaller losses and come out with a heart that is weaker. Even if you feel weak, your power is there... in the choices you make. Hopefully, eventually, when those new experiences come, we are able to make the choices that reinforce how powerful we are… even if it scares the shit out of us to do it.

Travelling My New Path


Travel selfies at LAX
As I write this, I'm sitting in a plane, flying from Los Angeles to New York.  I'm back in the USA for Camp Widow East next weekend and decided to make a holiday off it, fulfilling a life-long dream of visiting the Big Apple. 

This is my second trip to the states and again I find it very emotional to be here without Dan, as it reminds me of all the plans we made to travel together but never got the chance to see through.

New York has not only always been on my bucket list, but it was one of my husband's favourite places.  He'd visited a number of times and had even spent a Christmas here with a mate, many years before we met.  

Before he died, we'd planned a wonderful holiday to experience a New York Christmas together, which we had scheduled for 2013. He was so excited as he spoke about all the places he wanted to show me.  Central Park, the Rockefeller Christmas Tree, all the beautiful boroughs and neighbourhoods.  This was one of the many dreams we didn't get to see through, because of his death.

Making this journey now without him is so very bittersweet.  I miss him so much, I miss the excited glow he would get, I miss the twinkle in his eye, I miss being able to sit here and hold his hand and share such a special moment with him.

I can't help but feel like he's with me though.  For example... I am not what you'd call a sports enthusiast.  I don't hate sport, but I wouldn't exactly seek it out.  However when the friend who I'm travelling with asked if I wanted to join her at the basketball or ice hockey during our visit, I thought it sounded like a fun thing to do.  She ended up organising tickets to both, and then we realised we'd also be in the USA for Superbowl Sunday!  So, that's three 'sporting events' that I will be viewing (the Superbowl we will only be watching from a bar somewhere, but still). Dan, the sports nut, MUST surely have pulled some strings to make that happen. 

I like that I'm able to feel connected with him through places.  I find myself wondering, did he walk down this street?  Maybe he even sat in this taxi.  I know for sure that he loved this country and if the spirits of our dearly departed really do get to stay with us and share in our happiness, he would be loving that I'm here, experiencing a city that is so dear to his heart.  

Even though I'd chose my life with Dan over any alternative, I'm also very aware that I will have opportunities and experiences on this holiday that would not have been possible if he were still here with me. 

I'm grateful that I will get to spend time with my friend (and fellow Widow's Voice writer) Kelley Lynn while I'm here.  I didn't know any 'real new yorkers' before Dan died, but my world has been broadened significantly because I'm now part of the widowed community.  I will then get to travel to Florida and see another dear friend Michele and make more new friends at Camp Widow.  

It is so easy to dwell on what I am missing.  I can't escape the fact that he should be here.  But that loss is softened slightly on the days that I'm able to take a moment and think about what blessings have come in to my life, only because of the path that it has taken.  A path I would never have chosen or wanted, a path I find myself on reluctantly.  But, nevertheless, a path that still presents adventures and experiences that are waiting to be explored.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Go

I wrote this piece on Tuesday evening, after a very profound phone session with my grief-therapist, in which we talked about a horrible dream I had awhile back , where Don was still alive - and told me he wanted a divorce, and that he didn't love me, and that he had never loved me. I honestly had no idea what that dream meant, or why I would dream that he was being so cruel to me, when I know 100% that he would NEVER be that way with me in real life. Never, never, never. My therapist is so smart, and she cleared this up for me pretty quickly. She said, among many other things:

"This is actually a really good dream. I know it didnt feel that way, but I believe this was a dream about all the massive changes in your life right now, and it's about what we have talked about before - the continuing bonds that you have with Don. You are in a place right now in your life where you are finally starting to take the reigns again. You are in control, and Don is with you and beside you, as he always will be, but you are no longer letting his memory or spirit dictate how you live or do things - you are stepping out on your own and it's incredibly scary. But those continuing bonds never die. This is where you get to have that special, new, profound relationship with your husband, because I think you're ready. It's never been about letting him go. It's about figuring out where he fits in your life - now - and experiencing your love in a different way. Its very profound, and not everyone gets here. I think the dream is one about changes and leaving something behind. It's not a divorce from marriage. It's a seperation from the relationship you used to have with one another, and learning to figure out what this new one will be. Your relationship with him in death, is very different. And I think you are coming to terms with this, right this very minute. "

When I got off the phone, I ran to my computer, and started furiously typing up this piece/poem. The words just sort of fell out of me, as if my husband was talking to me. That is what this piece is - it's Don, and also my own inner-voice, telling me the things that I need to hear right now in order to keep healing and go forward. All I can tell you is that everything about writing this piece felt so profound to me. I cried and cried the entire time I was typing it. It wasn't a painful cry, but the kind where you feel that something has shifted and changed in that very second. Those of you who follow me and my writing either here or on my personal blog (ripthelifeiknew.com) might know that I've been writing a book about our story and my grief story for the past couple years. This piece feels like the perfect full-circle ending to my book. Things are shifting. This will never be easy, but the only way I can explain it is to say that I feel different. I feel like I have just made a discovery that will help me learn to live with this loss. I hope this piece resonates with you, and brings you hope ....


Go
Step into your life
the one that waits for you
the one that knows
of the promises you made long ago,
to dream
to risk
to dare …
Step into the moment,
to become that thing
the thing that you were meant to become
the thing that you always were,
somewhere deep within,
but lost along the way.
Be that thing now …
Right now.
Go
Walk beside your vision
crawl there if you must
breathe through the fire that burns you,
the swords that stab you,
the fears that stop you,
time and time again.
Each time you fall, or each time that needle
travels through your heart
and into your open wounds,
stare it down.
push it into the cold bricks.
Look it in the eyes and tell it,
“You are nothing,
for I have been through worse.”
Go.
Run into that spotlight
stand upon your mark
claim the very universe,
that is yours in which to play.
Seize the absolute second,
In which the world receives your talents,
that I have always seen.
Go.
Are you afraid?
I know you are afraid.
Please, my Sweet Angel,
Don’t be afraid.
For you have loved me better,
And with more wholeness,
to last ten thousand billion moons.
And even though I can no longer
sit beside you,
I am still beside you.
In heart.
In spirit.
In soul.
And every time you take your life,
and you create it,
and you build it,
and you fill it up with wonder,
you embody
the very thing
that is Love.
You loved me better,
Than I have ever been loved or felt love,
before.
You filled my life with everything,
In the short time I was here.
And now that I am living
On a star,
Or in a sunrise ...
I want you to know,
that when you go,
when you go off to collect your dreams,
when you leap forward to grab that Bliss,
when you dance wildly across the finish line,
Do not be afraid.
Because in that moment when you have reached
The brightest star
and called it your new home,
you will not have traveled away from me.
You will not be leaving me behind.
No.
When you reach that star,
And you sit along it’s corner,
Listen.
Just listen.
There will be a breath of air,
and a hint of music,
a melody
hidden just for you,
Within the measures of the silence.
Listen.
That is me,
 us,
 Love,
Our Love,
Living and laughing and singing
Deep within
The night sky.
And you will always feel that love
and be aware of that love
every single time
you decide
to live.
So go,
Sweet Angel.
Go and step into your life,
And I will meet you,
Inside
our special place
I will meet you,
In the rhythms of the music.
Hurry up, my love.
It's your time now.
Step into your life.
I love you.
Now go ...

Thursday, January 29, 2015

I shall wear purple...

Many years ago Mike and I were having lunch at a local restaurant here in Kona when a bevy of ladies filed in all dressed up in purple dresses and big red hats. I stared, mouth agape, in utter astonishment and fascination. What were they doing coming out dressed like that? It was the first time I’d seen the Red Hatters and I was instantly enamored of this group of adorable, vivacious, giggling ladies. I became determined to join them some day, when I was old enough, but haven’t thought about it much since.

One evening this past December I was working at the little dress shop where I spend a couple of days a week now, when a tall, striking woman strode in wearing a sparkling purple evening dress and a bright red hat fancy enough for the Kentucky Derby. I mean wow it was huge!! And so was her personality. She wore it all with a feisty, bright attitude of I do what I want and seemed like she was having the time of her life. She was on her way to dinner nearby and needed a place to change into a big red M&M costume she would put on for members’ birthday celebrations. Of course, she could use our shop to get ready until it was time to go surprise them.

I immediately knew she was a Red Hatter (I mean, duh) and remarked how I’d always looked forward to joining such a group when I passed the required age. Of course she readily invited me to join as a Pink Hatter until then. So this past Saturday I attended my first Red Hat Society luncheon with about 25 ladies from all over the island. Funny thing, a friend had just randomly gifted me an adorable pink hat she had crocheted last year, with no thought of this group whatsoever entering either of our minds.

I mentioned that I had done this to a few friends who stifled giggles that I would do such a thing. But there is some part of me, I guess, that was drawn to it…and I couldn’t ignore the random series of events that led me there. This group was filled with so many different, wonderful characters, many drinking wine and cocktails, laughing and sharing stories. Some groups do fundraising too I know, but the primary focus is socializing and having fun. 

The Queen, the woman who I met initially in the shop, sat next to me and during the course of the meal said something I won’t forget. She said the one thing she knows is that one day she is going to die, and that there are so many things we must deal with while we are here that aren’t fun…so she is determined to make room for fun and frivolity whenever she can. I wrote last week about how Mike’s death had brought the notion of my own mortality into clearer view. So I could relate to this very much, and I sat there with my glass of wine, delighting in the personalities and stories around me.

I was actually surprised that none of the ladies at my table were widows (I seem to meet so many of them these days) though I didn’t get a chance to talk to everyone, of course. I did flash on a little jealousy that some of them had been with their husbands 20-30 years or more. But - I did enjoy myself, and there was some sense of comfort, or relief perhaps, by feeling included and befriended by these confident and joyful ladies who so clearly treasured this group, and each other. Being widowed in middle age has made me hyper-sensitive to the idea of getting older but maybe it wasn’t going to be all that bad. I couldn’t help but think how tickled Mike would have been that I’d done this. I could almost sense him smiling at me. I am already looking forward to the next gathering in February for Mardi Gras.

Afterwards as I was walking to my car in my own colorful costume bordering on the ridiculous I wished so much to have been able to tell Mike about it and laugh with him. And I couldn’t help but wonder at the strangeness of my life. How unpredictable it all is. And the idea that our human condition is so filled with the commonality of pain, grief, and tragedy…but that we also share the amazing and beautiful capacity for love, friendship, and laughter.


Thank goodness. When I am an old woman I shall wear purple…

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

And Then There was Love~

I'm almost in Tampa for Camp Widow, arriving early from Arizona.  This has been a long road trip for me, and taxing in a different way from my previous travels, emotionally.  Perhaps it's the knowing that this really will be for me, as so many have assured me, a life-changing weekend.  This grief is exhausting and I want it to shift for me but at the same time, being honest, I suppose deep in there somewhere is fear also.  Fear that it will be so life-changing for me that I won't recognize myself afterwards.  Not that I recognize myself now.  All I know is that I'm not the woman I was with Chuck.  Everything else is up for grabs.

What has made this trip more bearable for me, winding my way along the southern route in my PinkMagic rig, are the people who have reached out to me.  Prior to leaving, I'd mapped out my route and marked the military bases where I would find a site to set up for quick overnights.  That isn't what has happened, however.

One of the groups to which I belong is called Sisters on the Fly;  it's made up of women around the country who own vintage trailers and meet up for camping and other fun activities.  So before I left I posted about my trip and the reason for it on our page.  And I hadn't even reached Texas when Sisters began contacting me, inviting me to come overnight with them, to either curb with them (which means to have hook-up for my trailer in their yards), or to stay in their guest rooms.  And once that got going, more and more sisters joined in from the states along the way:  Texas, Louisiana, Florida...single women, married, divorced, widowed;  they have all reached out to cheer me on my way.  They have loved me through these miles and so even in the midst of all this grief, there is a strong sense of being blessed.  We've shared stories of cancer and love and grief and family and strength and joy and connected through tears and laughter and hugs.

I'm not the same woman I was with Chuck and I worry sometimes that he might now know me were he able to come back to me.  But then I think, oh, yes, he'd know me in a way that he knew me for 24 years.  He knew me better than I know myself and that's why he set me on this Odyssey of Love in the first place.  There was no way for him to tell how it would play out, but he damn well knew (because he loved me so), that this is exactly how I'd create a new life without him.

I have no idea when this Odyssey will be done and I don't even think about it.  All I know is that I'm on my way to Tampa and Camp Widow and that I have been embraced and supported along the way and...period.

Grief and Love and, oh yes, PinkMagic as my chariot~

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The Long Cycle

What Ian probably wanted to do to the hospital TV...  source
 
I've been aware for a few days or so that the anniversary march is starting up for me again.  John's birthday, Surgery day, Illness day, Death day.  A long 5 months.

This year, although actually a whole lot better at this point than the last two, there have been some bells ringing that I just couldn't put my finger on.

Until a bout of insomnia last night. 

I've mentioned before Ian was very much interested in politics.   One state here is in the middle of their state-level election campaign, which occurs every three years.  I've been watching the campaign from a distance on our national news channel and I've mostly been pricking up my ears as one candidate's name is very similar to someone I worked with a number of years back, and I've been doing a double-take every time I hear it.  But something else was simmering underneath.

It's a bit earlier in the calendar year this year (there's a degree of flexibility in when Australian elections are called), but this same state was going through their last election when Ian was unconscious in the ICU.  Election day from memory was a week or two into our first stay of 6 weeks.

That election, the opposing party to Ian's views won the election.  I can remember a discussion with nursing staff about having the TV on for Ian with familiar programs and so forth as although he was unconscious, you never know what might be getting through.

My response was a joking, but definite no in terms of election coverage - the result would have been enough for him to give up fighting entirely, he detested the winner that much!  His mother was with me at the time visiting and whole-heartily agreed.  Not sure how the ICU staff took that one, although we did get a few chuckles at it.

The result was still being analysed a week or so later when Ian was awake and beginning to gain an awareness around him and the degree of disability he faced from his stroke.  But fairly quickly he understood enough to know what he was looking at on the TV screen with the frequency that the winning leader's face kept appearing.  It was one of the more expressive facial reactions we had in the early days.  If he had the ability to throw something at the TV, he probably would have.

................

As time progresses, we learn where our cyclical trigger points are, both the obvious and not so obvious.   We're conscious of the passing of each 12 month period.  But one thing I never considered was trigger cycles being longer than 12 months, in this case three years.   It's a bit of a shock to the system.

I'm glad I have a councillors appointment tomorrow to debrief this one.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Rushing Toward the Light



These past few weeks, I have been in a rush toward healing. I have tried to dwell in the blessed memory of my husband, and to rejoice in his character. I have tried to begin to rebuild my life in a way that would honour his spirit. I have tried to reach, to grow, and to soften, as I know he would have wanted. 
I am doing all the right things. I am eating fairly healthy foods, and I am writing, reading, and reaching out to others. I begin most mornings with yoga and meditation. I walk outside, sometimes miles, on the weekends. I am immersed in my Buddhist sangha. I even started a Zumba class on Fridays.
I have set aside the depths of my grief to put one foot in front of the other. 
Meanwhile, sorrow lurks in the shadows. 
It waits for me to meet it with my presence.
It's going nowhere until I do this. 
All these healthy habits will not make this pain disappear. 

This week,  I returned to counselling after avoiding it over the holidays. "I don't need these sessions," I told myself, on my way to the appointment. "I am fine. I am coping. I have returned to work."

Then the counsellor made the mistake of asking me how things had been, for me, and the floodgates opened. I haven't shared the depths of my sadness with someone, at length, for a long time. For the first time in months, I was able to look another human in the eye, and have her be a witness to my pain, to help me hold it. I am so tired of holding it all, on my own. 

I share my sadness, but only in snippets, with friends. I tell them that some days are better than others, that this is still a difficult, exhausting, heartbreaking, roller coaster ride and that I don't know when it will ever settle. 

But it has been over seven months, now, and I worry that most people don't want to sit in the nitty gritty of this darkness, with me. I have had my share of attention, I think, and I don't want them to grow weary of my presence.

Instead, I let my writing speak for me. I write my weekly post on Widow's Voice. Perhaps that is why I am so anxious to find that people are responding to what I post, on this blog. Because I crave a human witness to this pain of mine. Because I want to share it and be heard.

But I am too afraid to do it in person. I'm afraid my friends will avert their eyes when they see me, if I share too much, that they will feel burdened by the depth of my grief, and turn away.

So I smile and say I'm well, considering the circumstances--and walk on, before they do.
This fear has nothing to do with the people around me. I am certain there are those who would be happy to sit with me awhile, and let me speak, if only I would ask. But I don't. I try to contain it, myself. And it is too big for one person to hold. 

It is customary, in our Western culture, to rush toward wholeness. We want to show the world that we are strong. We want to be an inspiration to others. We want to rise above, dwell in possibility, climb over obstacles in our paths, get well, move on, be happy, thrive. 

But grief does not work that way. There is no linear path for us to follow. The steps in grief do not uniformly lead upward to a sunny, radiant realm. Grief has us laughing one moment and crying the next. It sends us from the heights of hope to the depths of despair in an instant. There is no rhyme or reason to it. It is baffling and powerful. And there is no way to know when we will come up for air. 

We can pretend that we are better. We can smile and stretch and say all the right things. But our sorrow still lurks in the shadows. 

This week, I decided to sit inside my grief, instead of brushing past it with a backward glance. It felt important to allow it to arise, in me, and to speak to the voice that tells me I should feel better, look to the future, be grateful for what I have, move up, move on, get over it, already. 

I wrote this piece below in answer to that voice. 
*****     *****     *****     *****     *****     *****     *****     *****     *****     *****     *****

It is easy to sit on the sidelines of loss and to assume things--that there is dignity in this grief; that one can bear the scars of one's sorrow with elegance and grace, and thereby become an inspiration and an amusing companion for others. That one can rise beyond her pain, embracing the inevitable fact of death.

But today I find no dignity in grief--no elegance, no grace. There are no twinkling angel spirits around me, no chiming bells, no aromatic swirls of misty promise to accompany this loss. There are no rhythmic chants that can soften this sorrow.

There is only me, sitting here, streaming words onto a page. There is only me, eyes darkened with the shadow of his death, forehead twisted into furrows, arm muscles taut and aching for his body to embrace.

There is no light in this grey room, on this grey day, only the soft flame of fire, curling around a piece of wood, in the stove, as it slowly cools into white, dead ash--like his body, that rests inside its cardboard tube upon my dresser. Gone too soon. Finished. Snuffed out.

There is only me, back curved with the weight of this sadness, legs buckled at the knees, crawling up the stairs to step into that dark night, to our bed, without him.

There is no dignity in this death. I will not stand tall, this night, to shape a life as beautiful as the one I had with him. I will surrender to the ugliness of my sorrow.  I will sit with the darkness, and honour it. 

I will not rush ahead toward the light. 

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Living with "After" Shock


Something I feel many people don't understand about losing your partner is that there are many, many subsequent losses. It's something all of you understand, or will come to. Like aftershock from an earthquake, they continue to shake our foundation for YEARS after the initial tragedy. It can be the smallest things, like the first time you have to take out the trash or eat alone. Or the really big things like first holidays without them or moving from the place you called home together. But it's also the joyful things, like landing a new job or winning an award, making new friends or dating someone new. Every single event or change in your life from the moment they die is another loss - another layer of having to come to terms with the fact that they aren't here and aren't coming back. Another small step of letting go in order to move forward. Not letting go of them, but letting go of what would have been to make room for what is and will be.

I've had several such tremors recently. One of which was attending a professional development workshop for artists. This workshop was kind of a big deal. I had to submit a portfolio of my artwork along with an artist statement to even be considered. They only chose 22 people to be part of the workshop. And I was chosen. So last weekend, I hauled myself the hour and a half to Austin - not knowing what to expect. I was nervous, but excited. The workshop was great. It was lead by two very well established business women from NYC - one who works with artists and creative companies of all sizes on strategic and business planning, and the other a successful artist who now helps other artists all over the country through this workshop series. As I sat there, I felt full of excitement. And promise. And possibility. It was just the opportunity for helping me take the next steps of building this new career and life in my "after" life.

As the day unfolded, I began to see more clearly for the first time that this path will require me to grow into a person I am not yet. To learn how to approach galleries, curators, museums, magazines, etc. To learn how to speak professionally about my work and how that must differ depending on the setting and person. And if I ever hope to do speaking engagements about art and grief - I will need to develop my almost non-existent public speaking skills too. 



What I didn't expect though, is the aftershock.

So there before me, in this class, lay the outline of just how much change and growth will potentially happen if I step fully into this path ahead. Suddenly, I began feeling this backward pull - this resistance. Of course resistance to anything new is natural, but this was more than just the typical fears of being out of my comfort zone. It was the fear of stepping more fully OUT OF the life he and I shared together and the person I was when I was with him. It means stepping into becoming a woman he did not yet know me to be. 

I felt backed up against a wall… not wanting to make those steps, not feeling ready to walk away yet from the remnants of our life together. And at the same time, wanting what that future could be with a deep burn inside me… knowing that this path will be the best way I can honor myself and him.

Such a mix of emotions. Wanting to go full speed ahead, but not wanting to let go. Even though I still feel just as connected to him as I have, I still fear that letting go more will somehow mean I will lose him more. Nothing has proven this logic - yet still, it's quite a real fear. Will I always have this fear? Every step forward - will it test my ability to trust that he will remain with me just as strongly no matter where I go and what I do? Perhaps. Or maybe it will get easier to trust over time. For now, I'm just taking it all in, paying attention, trying to learn what I can from it… and trying to be as brave as I am able to be. And also, as gentle as possible with myself. I don't have to rush, or push too far ahead too fast. I can take things on as I feel strong enough, bit by bit. Or as my fiancé used to say… "how do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time". It always made me smile. Remembering today to be okay with where I am at, and to trust that he will be with me fully as I move more fully into a new life.

Wanting to Live Again

Source
When you're a widow, the passing of time often feels like the only constant.  When your world has fallen apart and you've been made acutely aware of just how little control you have over your life; the counting of the days, months and years can give us a point of focus and something to hold on to.

I remember when Dan first died, I held on to the hope that if I could just survive the coming months, the pain would surely have to ease. I learned to accept that it would never go away, but the widowed people I met who were further along the path gave me hope that I'd adapt to live with the grief and life wouldn't always be agonising.

Today marks 18 months since I lost my husband to depression.  The pain, while easier to carry, is still so very deep. On the 24th of every month I find myself wondering at how surreal it is that he's been gone so long, yet this life without him can still feel so new.

I mean, 18 months is not a particularly long period of time.  As far as jail sentences go, it's considered a bit of a slap on the wrist (though I'm the sure the inmate would feel every single day of it). An 18-month old child is really still in infant, so very brand new in the world.  However, in so may ways, 18 months can feel like a lifetime.  I know this because 18 months, give or take, is really only how long I had with Dan.  And in this time he changed my entire world.

We met in November 2011 after he contacted me through an online dating website.  We'd both been single for awhile and, between us, had a LOT of interesting and pretty average online dating experiences.  So we had both nearly given up hope... until our paths crossed.

We spent the next four weeks getting to know each other, before he had to head away on a pre-planned, month-long Christmas holiday.  By the time he got back in early January 2012, we were both pretty sure that this was going to be something special.  Things stated to get more serious and I introduced him to my friends a few weeks later, with absolutely no idea that in 18 months time he would be dead and I'd be a widow at 33.

Those 18 months with Dan were magical.  We were fairly conservative people and not inclined to jump into things or give up our independence easily, however we quickly became inseparable and felt like we'd finally found a love that had been worth waiting for.  A kind, generous, patient and eternal love that taught us more about ourselves and the world that we could ever have imagined.

He bought an engagement ring six months later, in July, proposed in September and we set a date to be married the following June, in 2013. Almost 18-months after we met.   In 18 months I went from being very single to a blissfully happy newlywed.  And then six weeks later, a young widow.

So because of this, I know exactly how much can happen in 18 months.  Which makes this past 18 months of my life so very bleak in comparison.  While I can list the things I've done since Dan died: travelled overseas, enjoyed time with friends and family, met some wonderful new people and been present at special occasions and holidays, I really just feel like I've been treading water.  It pales in comparison to how alive Dan made me feel.

My career has taken a significant step back, I haven't been as present and giving in the lives of the people around me and every day has been tinged with the weight and the sadness of living in a world without him in it.

I guess it's the difference between surviving and living.  My life has been on pause, I've been waiting for  the pain to get more bearable, for me to grow stronger.  Waiting to heal so that I can take myself off pause and take a step forward. And those who know me well can testify that I'm not known for my patience.

It is so frustrating, this feeling of not quite living. I don't want to wait.  I want to be doing all the things that my friends are doing, having babies and making plans and sharing their lives with the person who loves them more than anything else in the world.

I'm now at that point where the restlessness to 'live' is getting stronger than the sense of needing to wait.  It's just so hard to know what to do about it.  How do I live again while such a big part of me is dead?

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Six Degrees

Tonight, I just wanted to be me.

Sometimes, I just want to be me.

But, not this version of me. Old me. The me that existed before July 13, 2011. The me that had a sick but random and giddy sense of humor. The me that laughed with abandon, and laughed often. The me that was easygoing and fun and carefree, sarcastic and crazy and youthful. The me that had only been through the deaths of my grandparents, uncles, and a few family friends and acquaintances, which , although very hard, isn't even on the same playing field as husband. The me that knew what it was like to go to a funeral, and then go home - affected by the death for a few hours or days or weeks, but able to live my life much in the same way as I did before. That me.

Tonight, I was joking around on Facebook with some friends, giggling pretty hard about the silliest of things; a press conference by Tom Brady and the New England Patriots, about the "deflated footballs" controversy going on right now from their last playoff game. During the press conference, Tom Brady and coach Bill Belichick both used the word "balls" over and over again, and many comedy websites and comedy shows took the liberty of editing their words together to create hilarious videos that are now going viral.

So a bunch of us were cracking up at this, posting funny comments back and forth, and just generally having a good time with this lighthearted and fun thing - this thing that had absolutely nothing at all to do with the fact that my husband died. Except that it did. It does. Because everything does. Try as I might to keep "old me" from "new me", or put situations and emotions into cute little segregated boxes and keep them in their designated place - none of that actually works. That isn't life. That isn't real. What's real is that, whether I like it or not, everything that I do from now on, is always six degrees of seperation away from my husband being dead. And believe it or not, that game is nowhere near as fun as the one where everything comes back to actor Kevin Bacon. In this world - my world - old me and new me have to somehow exist together, often punching and kicking one another like confused step-siblings that don't understand why the other is there. But the truth is, neither one of them is going away. Ever.

Old me is definitely not the same person as she used to be. That is for sure. It would take me too many pages and too many hours to list all the many ways that old me has forever changed because of the death of my husband. But, there are still some pieces of old me that will always be there, and that will always be a part of me. They won't change much. They might hide for awhile or come out a bit differently, but they remain. My love for baseball and the Yankees. My passion for music. Finding humor in the darkest of places. My love for family and friendship. So many things. And sometimes, old me just wants to come out and play. Alone. Without new me ruining all the fun with her damn knowledge about life and death and how fragile it all is,  and her PTSD and anxiety and panic attacks at the most unfortunate times, and her fierce loyalty and intensity and courage that she didn't even know she possessed. Sometimes old me sees new me coming and thinks: "Oh man. Her again? What a buzz-kill. " 

Because new me is always there, lurking, even when I think she isn't. When I'm simply enjoying a good joke, like I was tonight, there was new me sitting inside my thoughts, with the inner-monologue running through my brain in the background: "My husband would have cracked up at this stupid 'deflate-gate' thing, and this press conference. A lot of these people who are commenting on this post I put up about the press conference - I didn't even know them when Don was alive. If he was alive, is this what I'd be doing tonight? What would we be doing? Where would we live? Surely not in this apartment that I live in now. Would we have a house? A child? Would we still be in our New Jersey apartment? God I hope not. That's depressing. Wait - what was the joke I was just laughing at again? Oh yeah - football. " 

That is pretty much how my life is now - this life. Everyone and all of our moods and emotions and issues, all have to get into the sandbox and play together, and that's just how it's going to be  Everything has layers in this version of life. If I'm laughing, there's always a small part of me that is crying inside. When I'm feeling joy, I am very aware of how lovely and beautiful and fleeting that is, and so I cling to it and marinate in it and feel every bit of it until the moment passes. Often, my heart and brain cannot remember or make sense of all the pieces of my life and who fits where and when and how. The other day, my friend (and founder of Soaring Spirits and Camp Widow) Michele Hernandez was in NYC, so me and some other widowed friends were able to meet her for dinner and drinks. We had a great time. I will also be seeing her, along with many of my other "new" friends in 2 weeks exactly, at Camp Widow in Tampa, Florida.



 My brain must have been thinking about this, because I had a dream last night that Don was still dead, but he was here "visiting me", and we were talking all about my life now. I was sharing with him all about my life now, and telling him about all the incredible and inspirational people I have met in this widowed life. Widowed people, who have taken their pain, and with it, created empires through books and art and communities. People like Michele Hernandez and Christina Rasmussen and Tom Zuba and Sarah Treanor and Tanya Tepper and Carolyn Caple Moor and Catherine Tidd, and on and on and on. I was also telling him about my grief counselor and how much I admire her and love her, and how helpful she is. And we were joking about my "girl-crushes" that I have had since he died, specifically on people like my therapist Caitlin, and my friend Michele. "Yeah, that's a little weird", he said to me in my dream. "But you've always been a little weird, so it doesn't surprise me." In my dream when I was talking to my husband, who was still dead but yet alive somehow, the giant mess of my past and present and future universes all sort of melted together and made sense, in a crazy and chaotic kind of way. I was telling Don about how much he would love my friends that I have made because he died, and he was responding by saying: "They sound great, Boo" and "She sounds so familiar to me." It was like he didn't know them, but yet he did.



Some people say that if my husband were alive today, right now, and could somehow run into me or meet me for the first time, that he wouldn't even recognize me anymore, because I am now a different person than I was when he was alive. I don't believe that. I understand what they are saying, but I don't think so. My husband would know me anywhere, and even though I'm a lot different inside, I don't look that much different outside. Some days I have more sadness than maybe he ever saw, and other days I have a new glow that he never saw.

But it doesn't matter, because I truly believe that the changes in me are mostly positive ones, and they are all things that my husband already saw in me anyway. He saw them in me. He saw things that I couldn't see about myself. Where I saw insecurity, he saw beauty. Where I saw failure, he saw bravery. He always believed in me more than anyone else I have ever known. So I tend to think that not only would he recognize me today, he would also be extremely happy and proud of the universe I have started to create ,out of the ruins of his death. He would not only know exactly who I am, but he would still be in love with who I am, even more so, because I am the me that he already loved. So that when I take his hand in my next dream and show him the world that I live in, the one I am always building, he looks at me and he says: "I know, Boo. I've been here before with you, and I already know."




Forever

No matter what else is happening on any given day or who I am with, Mike is never gone from my mind. I realize now, after 23 months, that he never will be. One never “gets over” the death of a beloved spouse. I think we just learn how to live with it. One way or another, we slog or float through our days, even though sometimes we don’t want to. And we are changed - some space deep within myself feels altered, warped perhaps, as a result of living through this experience and landing on the other side of the unimaginable. I will never be the same person again.

Before he died I never thought about death very much. I didn’t think about my own mortality - I didn’t think about the fact that my own days are numbered. I didn’t ponder life without Mike. It just never entered my brain. I truly, honestly did not think he was going to die…at least, not so soon. Forever seemed endless. But forever is gone now.

Now, I think about these things every day - every day, all day. I am conscious that I have a an end date; I am hyperaware of the decisions I make, and how I want to live each day. I am making plans and starting new ventures and friendships with this specifically in mind. Not that any of it is easy. It is challenging, unexpected, and strange. Even when I am laughing with friends - something I thought I’d never do again for a long time, mind you - I am still sensitive to the empty space beside me. I think I always will be.

The vision of him lying there that morning when I found him will always be there. It used to come with a feeling of sheer horror, and a trembling; a horrible ache and disbelief. Now, the image brings sadness of a different level - perhaps a more grim, resigned sadness that I will not share any more days with him. Sadness that he will not share any more days on this earth in this life he loved so much with me, his daughters, his grandchildren. Most of the shock and horror has worn off. Sometimes I feel guilty about that - but I’m also grateful. Grim is dusty and shadowy, but horror is just that…horrible.

I find I use the constant reminder he is gone that I must do something with the life I have left. I mourn the loss of the presence of the man I loved so deeply and grew so conformable with; the man who knew me so well, the man who adored me so much, the man with whom I shared so many irreplaceable moments, memories, beliefs, conversations, adventures…but I’m not done yet.

I know this now. It has taken this time, and will take much longer too. In fact I know I will always be a work in progress, as we all are. But I never thought about life that way before. When I look back to the days with Mike, I remember a feeling of eternity…as if time had stopped and I was simply where I wanted to be. Now, I find movement and change are stiffly potent motivators. I know nothing will be fixed anymore. Like surfing a wave - a monstrous, swirling thunderous and continuous wave that I must struggle to balance atop of, lest I get swallowed up.


I’m getting better at it. I have good days now. I have good friends and family and plans and I’m grateful for all of it…grateful in a way I might not have been before. But one thing for sure -forever is gone forever.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

An Odyssey Towards Camp Widow~

There is no getting around the silence.  It's tangible and fraught with emotions.  We can dress it up however we wish, but the silence that consumes every corner after our beloveds die is, almost, as palpable as their presence once was.

I'm on the road again, headed to Camp Widow in Tampa, driving PinkMagic.  My intention is to stay primarily at military family camps for overnights along the way.  I feel more secure on base, and I feel closer to Chuck.  Today was my first day of travel, with a late start from Phoenix after running into difficulty with the lights on my trailer.  I didn't get far;  I'm at Davis-Monthan AFB in Tucson. Quite frankly, everything is so emotional, and Chuck and I had always wanted to come here, so I decided to call an early day.

The stars tonight are quite beautiful, clear-lit and visible way up there in what seems like forever.  For a little while, I sat outside on the picnic table with a blanket around me for the chill, just....gazing.  Thinking. Wondering about this Odyssey, which is no longer only about honoring Chuck's final request of scattering his cremains at our favorite places, but about creating a new life without him.  Part of that creating means attending Camp Widow.  It means registering for the flashmob and the Widows Dash.  Neither of which I am in any shape to do, physically or emotionally, but that is precisely the reason I need to do them, to push myself.

Dancing with the flashmob will most particularly push every comfort zone.  Since Chuck's death I haven't danced, I haven't hooped, I've struggled with yoga and the heart-opening poses.  Before he died, any of those activities would have been done joyously by me.  And it isn't that I won't allow myself to feel joy in doing them now.  Its' that I don't feel joy enough to do them.  It just isn't in me.
I expect there will be torrents of soul-wrenching tears when I join the flashmob;  I expect it will call up every bit of emotion in me.

What do I expect of this Camp Widow?  I don't know.  An easing of this devastating grief, perhaps.  I can't imagine such a thing but I'm open to it.  At the least I'll connect with hundreds of other widow/ers and there is incalculable value in that.  I'll make new friends, I'm sure.  I'll be able to talk about Chuck.

This widowed grief.  Never could I have imagined the down-to-my-toes filling every cell in my body crushing sense of loss and emptiness it would bring me.  You can't dress this up as anything other than what it is and I'm not going to lie about it.  It's horrifying and devastating every second of every day.

So, I look up at the stars and I wonder and I think about Chuck and this new life without him that I have to create and how unbearable his absence is to me and the long road ahead to Florida, to, I don't know....forever.

And then I stop thinking and I just look up at this starlit sky.  My heart can bear nothing more than this moment.

And tomorrow I'll turn the key in the ignition and continue on.


Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Profile Picture

This week someone said that it was time to change my Facebook profile picture.  My profile picture is the one above of Ian and I from our wedding, the banner picture is our 2011 Christmas Card photo.

Changing my profile picture is not something I did that often anyway.  I'm a bit 'set and forget' that way, but I was taken aback at the blunt statement of it.

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Even in the early days, I was able to adapt to my "after" life pretty quickly - mostly because I put blinkers on and just kept pushing on through.   I intellectually  acknowledged my loss, but I didn't deal with the emotional fall out for quite a while.   Which worked and didn't work in equal measure for me. 

I've been able to incorporate new directions into my life, like my studies.  Similarly to Sarah, I was able to give up finding a new "safe" job to try something that speaks to my soul more (although there's quite a chasm between 'artist' and 'accountant'!).  I took a risk of nominating for, and being elected to, a board position. Without my primary cheerleader and support person.

I was able to do a lot of what outside observers would term 'moving on', but what was really adapting and accommodating to a seriously unwanted change in circumstances so I didn't turn into a hermit and disappear.  An option, but not one I wanted to take up.   I've been doing an awful lot of 'fake it until you make it'. 

I don't get overly emotional, can be quite clinical,  and I'm not a big crier at all. I've always been able to compartmentalise phases of my life and deal with the next/current phase for what it is at that point in time. 

But for all of these personality traits that have shown up loud and clear in my loss and grief journey, and you'd think make taking some of these steps easier,  there are things I can't do.

At least just yet.

Like change those Facebook photos or my marital status and it's link to Ian's profile.

I have thought about it and the closest I get is considering adapting my banner picture into a collage that has the original and a number of recent photos in it.

But I'm not ready to change the profile pic. To me, that action and removing the photos around the house feels more like removing Ian completely that taking my rings off and moving possessions out of the home.

Monday, January 19, 2015

A Cuppa Tea

Stan at the Buddhist Centre, making tea for the others

This has been a difficult week. I have re-entered the work arena, on a 'phased return', as they call it, here in England, and, Tuesday, I had to go speak to someone from Occupational Health, to justify my time away, and my continuing to work part-time for a few more weeks. This meant I had to recount the story of the tragic day my husband died. And it meant that the images of that day, images I have tried to place in the background of my consciousness, were brought, full force, to the front of it. 

It's not as if they are ever far away. Something can trigger a memory of that day, and the image of him in that place, on the ground, is as clear as if it happened yesterday, today, a moment ago. I know that all of us who were witness to his death, including his children, and his sisters, are plagued by that image, too. It is a trauma that is replayed over and over again, for us, and one that we will never be able to erase entirely. It is a trauma that compounds our loss of him. It is forever etched into our memory. Imprinted, there. 

It is this image that I carried with me, into the rest of my day, and  through that evening. Though I begged for it to fade away, it clung, stubbornly, replaying itself, relentlessly. When I arrived home from my counselling appointment, I used my words to write into that image, that memory, in the hopes of putting it to rest.

I wrote several hundred words about that day. I am not yet able to share those words, here. They are raw and intimate and too difficult for me to expose in a public forum. One day, perhaps, I can find a bit of distance and shape those words into something I can post. But not now. Not yet.

I did share them with an online writing workshop I am doing, however, called Writing Your Grief. This workshop is a challenging, deep, and incredible forum, in which we are given a prompt, each day, for thirty days, around some aspect of our grief journey, and asked to write what we can, in reflection.

There are people there who have lost best friends, husbands, wives, mothers, fathers, daughters, sons. There are people in the group who have lost more than one loved one in a short period of time. There are those whose loved one died a few months ago, and those who have lived with the grief for years. There is a loving cradle of support, for each of us,  as we explore all the complexities of living without the ones we love.

We are asked, in this forum, to reflect and remember. We are encouraged to share the things we miss about our loved ones, those that make us happy and those that make us sad. We are asked to dig deep. We are asked to laugh and to cry and to stomp our (virtual) feet, if we need to. The writing is, like the writing here, in Widow's Voice, beautiful and brave.

I like to rejoice in the memory of my husband. I like to write about who he was and what he meant to me, and to others. I like to laugh about his quirks and his silly ways. I like to remember his quiet wisdom and his strength of character. I feel closer to him when I am able to focus, not only on my grief, but on all the ways he enriched my world.

The Writing Your Grief workshop is helping me to do just that. One day this week, I reflected on my husband's relationship with tea.

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My husband was an Englishman, and loved his tea. I learned early that there is an art to making it, even though, to me, it seemed a simple process of teabag into cup. But no. Some like it strong, some like it weak. Some prefer it with milk, some without. Some like two sugars, some like one. To not remember how guests like their tea, when they come to visit, is considered impolite.

My husband liked it weak. His was more like coloured water. Just a swipe of the teabag in the cup. Pour the boiling water from the kettle, swirl the bag around, take it out.

He wasn't particular about the type. He was a working class man. He didn't get snooty and insist on English Breakfast or Earl Grey. Although he did not fancy our Lipton's Tea when he was in America. He said our tea was rubbish. 
When we first met, he stood over me and showed me exactly how he liked it. From then on, it became my job to make him his cups of tea. I would bring him his first cup in the morning, and set it on his bedside table, before I went off to work. When I got home at night, and turned my key in the door, I could hear his voice as I opened it. "BooBoo? Is that you?" Invariably followed by, "Could you bring me a cup of tea?"
Most often, he would be upstairs, in his man-cave, on his computer, playing music, writing, studying his dharma lessons. Scattered around him would be two or three or four cups. Did he not think to take one down, and use the same one, each time, I used to think? I would bring him a new cup of tea,  gather the other cups to take downstairs, and he would wrap his arm around my waist, pull me toward him, and thank me, always.
He drank a lot of tea. He must have found comfort in having a hot drink, even in summer. Our summers are not that hot, here, so a cup of tea never seemed out of order.
This meant he had to use the bathroom, a lot. On our road trips, (and there were many, in the short time we were together), we had to make frequent stops for him to use the toilet. Then we'd need to sit and have another cup of tea. 

It used to irritate me, us having to stop every hour or two for tea and toilet breaks. I was an American, after all, and we buy our coffee at the drive-thru, and drink it in a styrofoam cup, while barrelling down the highway.  We have many more miles to cover, on our road trips through America, and we think we need to get someplace, fast. No time to stop. Our lives are too driven to consider such a thing.

Stan liked stopping. He knew how to slow down. He liked to sit in a spot and watch people, smile, have a conversation, and maybe a little snack.
My husband. how I miss his calling for me when I turn my key in the door. Gathering his cups. His thank yous for that simple act of nurture.
I have the same box of tea bags I had when he died, seven months ago. No one to use them, now.

Perhaps I'll set my coffee habit aside, and learn to love tea. I'll pour it into the cup my husband's grandchildren bought me for Christmas. A quick swipe of the bag, swish it around, take it out

Just the way he liked it.