Thursday, April 30, 2009

Take My Hand

I had sand all over my feet and the wind in my face. My eyes were closed as I stretched my arms out wide as I could and I balanced against the railing of the life guard tower. I held my palms up as if waiting... expecting David to take them, I almost felt as though he did. I took deep, careful breathes... I wanted David. I caught myself whispering, "Come get me... please... come get me." I meant those words with every cell in my body. Come get me. Rescue me. David. I let my mind dance around whatever memories volunteered themselves.

Once again, I remembered the night David and I watched a movie called, "The Village." In the movie, Ivy (a blind women), in time of distress, holds her hand out in front of her knowing that her love, Lucious, would come to take it. He'd rescue her. She knew he'd come and he knew she'd be waiting. Watching this, David turned to me and said, "I want to be that for you." I knew exactly what he meant. As I stood on the that tower and remembered his words, I couldn't help but smile. I felt warm and safe.

As I opened my eyes I was determined, once more, to continue this journey. There is an intense spiritual yearning between me and David that is strong enough to withstand the loneliness and ache of this world. Each morning as I wake up I hold out my hand for David to take it... for yet another day. Each day I survive I am more convinced then the previous that this life is still to be shared with David. I am more convinced of Love's strength and determination. David is holding my hand and running me through to the end. With nothing to hold him back...not this world, not his body nor time itself restrains David. So David's love, the life of his soul, is free to pour out. I believe David is active in my life... I believe his love pours out on me everyday... My love, my husband, will always be there to grab my hand with his.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009


     I've been thinking about regrets a lot lately.  Not about Jim and me.  No way.  He knew that he was seriously loved and adored ...... as did I.  I have no regrets about us and our marriage, other than it wasn't long enough ..... not by a long shot.

     This past weekend was our youngest child's (Son #3) Confirmation.  This was our first Confirmation without Jim.  I had been dreading it for a while, as had Son #3, I think.
It was a very difficult .... and yet good, day.
Many tears were shed.  And not just by me.

     But in preparing for this weekend I've been pondering the mother that I have become in my "after".  I am a totally different mother than I was in my "before".  And I regret that.
My older kids are in college and so were really mostly raised when Jim died.  Our youngest was 13, now 14.  He had one mother for 13 years ..... and now he has a different one.
I have changed in many ways.  Some ways are for the better ..... some are not.

     I regret that he rarely has a home-cooked meal because I could care less about cooking now (as can he).  Actually, I could care less about eating ..... and have to sometimes remind myself that I haven't eaten all day and it would really be best if I did.
     Jim was a great eater and was always thankful for whatever I made for dinner ..... even if was soup and sandwiches.  My children, a couple in particular, have not been so laid back.
Son #3 is a picky eater.  
My enjoyment of cooking waned over the years .... and I totally blame my 6 kids.  Can I tell you what a hassle it is to come up with a new recipe, and then have to double it for 8 people, only to have just 2 people like it?  That's a lot of wasted food.
And a huge drain for the joy of cooking.

     But, if Jim were still alive, I would still be cooking.
But he's not ...... and I am not.
And so .... in my eyes ..... I am a bad mom.

     I know, with my brain, that I am here in other ways for Son #3, but my heart is mourning the person that I was ..... "before".  And it mourns the mom I was ..... "before".

     I have no doubt that I am a more patient and compassionate mother now.  I tend to let the small things slide a whole lot more than I did "before".  I'm not sure if it's because I know they don't matter so much ..... or if it's just that I don't have the energy I had 16 months ago.  Probably a combination of both.

     Yes, I went to every football game this year, and yes .... I went to every track meet.  So that was good.
Why is it so hard for us to see the good and claim it?  We so often see one bad thing (like not cooking) and then label ourselves with that one item.  
I wonder .... is that more of a female thing ---- or do we all do that?

     So .... I have a few regrets.  But I also know that, while Son #3 has lost out in some ways by losing his "before mom" ...... he has also gained in having his "after mom".  
This mom knows what's important now.  And more importantly .... what isn't.
She knows that life is fragile ..... and that time spent with someone is a precious thing.
She knows that you can never say, nor hear, "I love you" too many times.
She knows that time spent with someone is never wasted.
She knows that when something, or someone, catches your attention ...... you stop and look into it.  You investigate and spend some energy and time figuring out why that thing/or person, has caught your attention.
She knows that you can never have too many friends, or too much love, in your life.

     So yes .... I regret the loss of the "before mom" .... but I also am proud of the "after mom" .... and all that she has learned in the last 16 months.

     So maybe .... just maybe ..... my regrets do not outweigh my thankfulness.

And that, my friends ...... is something.

                              This is Daughter #2, Son #1, Son #3, me and Daughter #3, this past Sunday on Son #3's Confirmation Day:

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Embracing Life

I'm in Bloomington Illinois today to watch Michele, my WSM (love that Taryn!), receive one of the 2009 Embrace Life Awards presented each year by State Farm Insurance. The program recognizes people who have suffered the loss of a loved one and tried to make it into something positive. Obviously, Michele fits the bill perfectly.

The recipients varied from young adults suffering the loss of parents, to young widows and widowers, to older widows, all of whom have managed to make margaritas out of the limes served to them by life. It was an amazing awards ceremony, and I met some truly inspiring people. What a great way to start out a week. You can read about Michele and the other recipients on the State Farm website.

Congratulations Michele. The work you do will benefit so many, and the way you do it inspires all you touch. Love you Tacalla, and so happy to be along for the ride.

Happy Tuesday everyone!

Monday, April 27, 2009


My life path has never included poverty. Or prejudice. Or destitution. Or the feeling that my current life position was all I could ever expect. Overall, I have been greatly blessed. I live in a country where widows are able to inherit, own property, pursue a career, and manage their own affairs. Though prior to my introduction to the global state of widowhood, the concept of not having these privileges would never have occurred to me.
As I have grown as a woman, and as a widow, I have come to learn that here in America we have the luxury to grieve the men we love when they die. In other countries women without husbands are targets, thought of as bad luck, shunned from all social gatherings, shuttled from home to home, married to or made the concubine of their brother-in-laws, constantly concerned about how to feed their children, unable to be viewed in public, and in some countries if they do remarry they are required to give their children to their former husbands family. The challenges of widowhood in the homelands of our sister widows are daunting at best. Imagine the way you felt when you realized your husband was dead, then follow that immediately with the thought that someone may be coming for your children in a few moments. Or that your home will immediately belong to another family. Or that your head will be shaved, jewelry removed, and your dress exchanged for a white funeral shroud. To add this misery to the searing pain of losing your husband is beyond my imagining.

Learning about the lives of widows in India, Africa, Afghanistan, Iraq, and other countries has radically affected the way I view my own widow journey. Now I know life could be much worse...even in my darkest moments I was never in danger of losing my kids. This change in perspective has made me both grateful for my homeland, and determined to help my sister widows in some way. To begin work on this goal we will be discussing the condition of global widowhood at the National Conference on Widowhood in July of 2009. We will welcome representatives from six different countries to begin to build a network of support for widows around the world. Five American dollars can go a long way in a place where families survive on pennies a day. We can make a difference for women who don't have time to grieve the loss of the man they love...that is a luxury so many of them cannot afford. Join us in July to find out how. For more information visit Our hearts can stretch a very long way, let's make a difference together.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Why We Relay

This weekend was the Central Austin Relay for Life. This is the fourth year that Team Dippel has competed, and the fourth year that we have been in the top five fund raising teams on the day of the relay. Our team is made up of family and friends, all of whom have been touched by cancer, most of us in more than just one way.

The question of the night is usually, why do you Relay? For those who participate in the event each year, it is more than why do you do this each year, it is really who are you doing this for? Everyone there has been touched by cancer in some way and has an emotional attachment to the event. My reason to relay is solitary. I have numerous family members who have had cancer, but I was so young when they were affected that I didn't associate the loss with cancer specifically. About five years ago that changed.

When Daniel was diagnosed with cancer we were filled with fear, but were so optimistic. He was young and strong and healthy...of course he would survive. The problem with that pespective is this: his cancer was young and strong too. Daniel never did anything halfway in his entire life. Apparently his cancer had the same fortitude, and in the end cancer prevailed. I have an enduring hatred for this horrible disease that takes too much.

My reason to relay is to fight back in a way that I feel shows results. I feel less powerless knowing that I am doing something, anything to help, and each year I am thankful that I participated. The luminaria portion of the relay is my favorite part, and also one of the more difficult moments. The lights are turned off, the night is dark and quiet. One by one the lights in the luminaria bags are lit, and bag pipes play "Amazing Grace" into the softly illuminated darkness. Everyone walks the track in silence. In my head, I see flashed memories of Daniel, and my heart breaks a hundred times over. Around me in the silence, hundreds of people experience their own memories, and the air is tense with emotion. It is a wonderful, painful, awesome experience.

Thanks to the members of Team Dippel for doing it each year, and thanks to all who make donations to support our efforts. Team Dippel, doing everything we can to kick cancer's a$$ in memory of Daniel Dippel.

Saturday, April 25, 2009


What is a W.S.M.? A little acronym I came up with which stands for: Widow Soul Mate

After losing Michael I had the fear of never meeting anyone else who could or would understand the pain, love, and grief that I was feeling. Luckily with my line of work, I have met many amazing people who are the epitomy of survivors. In my travels through widowhood I have met a certain few which I truly care about, one who has come to be known as my WSM.

She is on the same plain as me, that is really one of the only ways to describe it. Although we have two different stories of love and tragedy, I cannot imagine this journey without her. She doesn't question my moody days and celebrates in my happy ones. All though we are opposite in many ways we learn from each other's stories and draw strength from another wen one feels as if they can't make it through the day.

I often feel closer to Michael when around her because she puts me in check in moments when I know Michael would, and she reminds me that he loves me when I feel disconnected. I do not know how or why are paths crossed but I know the load is a tad lighter because of it.

So here's to my WSM. Thank you for all that you do.

“This is my wish for you: Comfort on difficult days, smiles when sadness intrudes, rainbows to follow the clouds, laughter to kiss your lips, sunsets to warm your heart, hugs when spirits sag, beauty for your eyes to see, friendships to brighten your being, faith so that you can believe, confidence for when you doubt, courage to know yourself, patience to accept the truth, Love to complete your life.” - Unknown

Friday, April 24, 2009

Good(?) Grief

Dear Wonderful Widows!

Clients often ask me if I can recommend books - books that will help them understand their grief and help them feel less alone. There are many such books available.

I don't know about you, but when I was a new widow I was unable to concentrate long enough to read much of anything so I needed books that were easy to read and they had to be enormously engaging. Because my brain was mush, (widow’s brain) my preference was for fiction rather than nonfiction. I also came from health care and understood grief from a clinical point of view. I did not need more of that. My favorite book was Good Grief by Lolly Winston.

I love it when I find a book that not only supports my experience of widowhood but also makes me laugh. I so needed to laugh. The main character Sophie shows us that grief and humor are not mutually exclusive. When she showed up at work in bunny slippers and completely sloshed, she made me feel better about all the times I wanted to hide under the covers, cry, and get really fat on Ben and Jerry's ice cream. Sophie gives herself great permission to grieve. And grieve she does. She demonstrates just how messy grief can be and she also helps us laugh at our human-ness.

Lolly Winston is not a widow, (I am pretty sure) but don't let that stop you. There is much truth here. For instance, Sophie talks about the "Unrequited-ness of grief", one of the aspects of widowhood about which I struggled. (As I cried, painfully missing Mike, I always had the feeling that my husband was either not crying back, or even worse, that he was having a ball! I knew that I should have been happy about the fact that he was happy. But the one-sided-ness of it felt enormously unfair and I was mad, mad that I was here suffering and he was there (?) doing God knows what.)

This book is not for everyone, and as usual, timing is everything. I was two years past losing Mike when this book hit my funny bone. So, if you are like me and the timing is right, it is likely that you will laugh and cry with this book.

Mie Elmhirst Widows Breathe
(That's me in the photo... Mike died before we had a digital camera!)

Thursday, April 23, 2009

(Picture taken at Six Flags California, April 2006, our 21st Birthdays.)

It is birthday weekend. David and I were born only two days apart, out of all the years I've known him we've only been able to spend 3 birthdays together... Our 16th, our 21st, and our 22nd birthdays...

Previously, I looked forward to new years to come, new challenges... another birthday... life. Right now, just thinking of turning another year older without him leaves me with a knot in my stomach. How is this possible? How is it that time can fearlessly move forward without the love of life and without my consent?

It's all too easy for me to obsess over "time." Is it my gift? Or curse? Must I embrace it? I wish I can run from it. I wish hiding under my comforter actually made time cease. I remember thinking, in my early days of widowhood, that I wouldn't make it to 23- widowed at 22. Here I am, at the mercy of time, turning 24 just as David should be. Somehow in the midst of all my denial and obsessing over the impossibility of time's persistence, another year went by. A whole year.

I can no longer say with confidence that I won't be here next year. Time does not "heal all my wounds" as ignorance describes, but time does begin to dull the intensity of the pain. Time allows for my thoughts to clear, for love to grow, and for strength to persevere. Time... I hate it... but it's proven what's most important to me- LOVE prevails. It's shown me what David saw all along... my strength.

I'll probably be here for our 25th birthdays... so...(DEEP BREATH) here's to another year... With LOVE, I know I can make it!

Happy Birthday, My love.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Things Change .....

.... whether you want them to or not. I mean ---- obviously, right? I decided to carry forward with both Michele's post and Michelle's post.
After Jim died I never considered removing my wedding rings. Never. I felt it would be on my finger forever. And for many, many months it was.
And then one day ..... that feeling changed. I know that I am still Jim's wife. I will always be Jim's wife .... but to the outside world .... I am not. And so it suddenly felt like I was doing something false by wearing the rings. I in no way think this is true for every widow .... or even most widows .... I just know that one day .... it was true for me.
And so I took them (his and mine) to our local (and much frequented by Jim) jewelry shop and told them what I wanted. The rings fit perfectly inside of each other ..... and I wanted them at an angle. But I also wanted to be able to easily remove them, in case I change my mind down the road, or one of the kids wanted to use them.
This was my design and now I wear it every day (I think if you click on the picture you can see it up close).

Another irony is that several years ago I tore a picture out of a magazine and told Jim that this was the ring I would like for our 25th wedding anniversary. I was giving him fair notice ... he had over 2 years to plan. I had no idea whether he'd do it or not, but I soon forgot about it.
Then, on the Christmas vacation when we had just returned from Italy, we let the kids each unwrap a few, inexpensive toys. The trip to Italy was our gift .... to them and to each other. I had no idea that he had snuck a box into my stocking ...... until he asked my why my stocking was lying next to me and that maybe I should check it. I had no idea what he was up to.
But imagine my surprise when I opened that box and there sat the exact same, beautiful diamond ring that I had asked for our 25th anniversary. I screamed and ran across the room and grabbed him by the neck to hug and kiss him.
Then I asked him why he had given it to me this early ..... still a few years before the actual date. He replied, "We have now known each other 25 years .... I figured it was as good a time as any."
Fortunately for me he didn't wait until the official anniversary (or ironically, depending on you point of view) ..... we never made it to our 25th anniversary. He died 5 months before it. But I still have the ring ...... and I rarely take it off.
It wasn't like Jim to act impetuous and not plan something out to the T. This was a God-Thing. There is no doubt in my mind.
Here is the ring:

The next thing that changed greatly was my desire to have a tattoo. I had NEVER before wanted one, in spite of much pressure from my daughters ..... never planned to.
But suddenly I did ..... and it seemed so right. It still seems so right. I love it. And though it's backwards in this picture .... it's Jim's signature (yes, they can copy that) written over a heart. And then I included our wedding verse underneath it. I love it every day. Every time I see it, I smile. That's why I put it on my wrist .... for me to see .... not for anyone else. I wanted to see it and touch it ..... and remember. And I don't regret it at all. Sorry, that for you ..... it's backwards.
So there you go ...... three random and totally unexpected changes ..... and I'm still OK. Not always, but more and more.
Some weeks are still mired in blackness, some weeks seem a lighter grey and almost a brown.
Other things have changed ..... friendships have shifted. Some have lessened, some have increased. I can't explain any of it ..... nor, most likely can the people involved, but it's true.
Someone once told me that the second year is worse than the first. I had hoped she was kidding.
She was not.
I think people expect us to suddenly "be better" and we sometimes expect that of ourselves. We get tired of being sad. I know I do.
But I'm learning that things change ..... day by day ...... sometimes moment by moment ..... and I'm going to hang on for the ride.
And when an opportunity presents itself in front of me .... I'm going to jump at it now. "Before" I would've said I was too busy .... that I didn't have time. Now I know differently. Things come in front of me for a reason .... and I will look at each and every opportunity ..... because things change.
Sometimes for the worse.
Sometimes for the better.
Many times for the different.
And different can be something very, very good ...... if we allow it.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

In Sickness and in Health

I have many memories of hospitals from the months of Daniel's cancer treatment. I was at every appointment, every procedure, in some cases I was Daniel's voice because the nurses and doctors weren't always patient enough to understand his altered speech. I remember him telling me how much he appreciated me being there, and how much it meant to him to know that he was not alone in his battle.

I had a medical procedure myself last week. My dad flew in from England to stay with me and help me with my son. Although I didn't expect to need much help, Dad offered to come anyway. I was taking a week off of work, and he thought it was a great opportunity for a visit. I agreed. Thank goodness he came, as I was far more incapacitated than I was expecting, and I needed his help much more than I would have thought.

My dad and Grayson took me in for my surgery, and because he was watching Grayson, my dad left me there with plans to pick me up afterwards. I went back for my procedure alone and waited for the surgeon to come. As I lay in the hospital bed, my thoughts turned to the countless hours I had spent in various hospitals with Daniel, how much he hated being there,and how much I hate being in hospitals now. I would sit by his side, read, talk to him, distract him, etc. Who was doing that for me? Where was my partner "in sickness"?

I'll admit I had a small pity party for myself, and it was before they gave me the no excuse there! :) I just felt so alone and for a minute I wallowed in it. I only gave myself about a minute though before I began to make a list of those who were with me, whether they were there holding my hand or not: my son, who was so anxious to have me feel better and so willing to be my darling nurse-maid; my Dad, who travelled thousands of miles to help me; my mom, who was standing by the phone waiting to hear how it went; my wonderful friends and family, who sent well wishes and completely inappropriate jokes to ease my worry; my coworkers, who were checking in to make sure I would reappear and reoccupy my office. The list was a wonderfully full one, and it cheered me right up (okay, the sedative helped too!).

Although I no longer have a partner in sickness and in health to sit by my side and tell me it will be family and friends stand in quite well. Love to you all, and thanks for being such fantastic back-up. Some days I really need it, even when I don't know how to ask.

Happy Tuesday! - Michelle D.

Monday, April 20, 2009

My Favorite Trail

Long Canyon Trail, in my hometown of Simi Valley, is one of my favorite places. This beautiful dirt road has been pounded by my feet on many a run. It is also the place where Phil and I most often rode our mountain bikes, went for evening runs, took the kids for night hikes looking for frogs, and did many a "double workout" on the steep hills that lie within the canyon. And on the night of Phil's death...this trail is where he was headed.

On August 31, 2005 while riding up the street towards this trail head on his mountain bike, Phil was hit and killed by a large vehicle. I was called to the scene by a witness, and sat on the green grass of the sidewalk that I passed countless times on the way to my favorite place...watching as my unconscious husband was loaded onto an ambulance. He died less than an hour later.

About a month after Phil's death I was struck by the desire to get outside. After spending much of the first month after his death in semi-seclusion, I was desperate for some fresh air~and a break from the terrible sadness. My trail home was calling, and I longed to answer~but I would have to go down the road Phil died on to get to my destination.

It was possible to get to Long Canyon by taking the "long way," but I didn't want to give in to death. I couldn't control the fact that my husband was gone, but I didn't want to allow death to rob me of every joy. So, I determined to drive that path in order to find out if my trail still felt like home without Phil. As I drove down that road the first time my leg shook as I pressed the gas pedal. My brain flashed all the images of the last moments of Phil's life. Approaching the place in the road where Phil was hit, my heart started pounding and my breathing became shallow. I could almost feel my heart breaking. And then in a moment I was past the spot, and headed to the place that held so many wonderful memories.

Yes, going to Long Canyon hurt. Every tree, bush, hill, and rock screamed Phil's absence. But I didn't want to let death win, so I went back, over and over again. Eventually, the trail we loved helped me heal. Slowly those hills represented climbs I conquered alone. Some days I cried through the whole run; some days I was wrapped up in my daily life and thought of Phil in fleeting moments; some days I marveled at how far I have come since that fateful night. One thing hasn't changed, I never go to these hills without a smile for Phil~and I never feel alone there.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

My Wedding Ring

I confess... I am an American Idol fan. I know, I know, but I love the show. So, for those of you who don't watch, this year in the finals there is a young widower named Danny Goeke. As the season has progressed I have watched Danny with interest as he grows as an artist, and I can sometimes imagine that I see him processing his grief.

In the early episodes of AI, Danny wore his wedding band. One evening I noticed he didn't have his ring on. I wondered what the impetus had been for him to take it off...personal, professional, on someones advice, or because he needed to? As I have listened to him sing, watched his awed face as he discovers he will continue on the show for another week, I always watch for signs that he is thinking of his wife. They were young maybe this was a dream they shared? Perhaps she was his biggest supporter? Or maybe not, but because he has walked the widow road, I feel I know him somehow.

So when Danny came on this week's show to sing "Endless Love," by Lionel Richie I noticed right away that he was wearing his wedding band. And I also noticed that he looked into the heavens as he sang the final words of the endless love. The performance gave me chills, and it reminded me of the power of the jewelry we wear as symbols of our love.

Today I share with you my wedding ring. I took it off four months after Phil's death because I found it so painful to look at my hand and be reminded that I was no longer a wife; my husband wasn't coming home. But as time passed I found myself taking out my ring and wearing it when I wanted to feel Phil close to me. And I still do. On the anniversary of his death I often wear my beautiful ring. Sometimes I wear it when I am afraid, other times when I want to honor our love, and still other times just because. For me, taking my wedding ring off wasn't a permanent decision. That ring is mine no matter where the person who gave it to me resides, and it will always represent the promise Phil and I made to each other.

Death did part us, but my ring~and our love~remains.

So Danny, I totally get it. And she is really proud of you.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

La Vie en Rose

It's just one of those days, where the sun can't shine enough to get me out of this funk. One of those days where my bed held me hostage, and I didn't mind. One of those days where I don't feel like doing much, and you know what...............

I'm totally ok with that!

I've learned that at first I dreaded these days, they were a reminder that not all is viewed through rose colored glasses. I'd try and fight against the current to get out of these funks.

I now know, that by giving myself freedom to embrace these days as they come, it's a whole lot easier to embrace the good days that follow!

So here's to the "blah" days. Without the bitter how would I never know the sweet.

“May the saddest day of your future be no worse than the happiest day of your past”

-Irish Blessing

Friday, April 17, 2009

A Widow's Brain....

Dear Wonderful Widows!

When Anneke was eight, a year after Mike died, I dropped her off at her Tae Kwon Do lesson and I was so relieved to have time alone that I forgot to pick her up. Forty-five minutes later as I unpacked the groceries she walked in the house having gotten a ride home from her instructor. She was incredulous and outraged. “You forgot me! You actually forgot me!” I was speechless. My daughter who forgives almost anything did not forgive this for a long time. A child who has been abandoned by her father does not take well to being forgotten by her mother. I had visions of the instructor reporting me to DSS.

Even worse, a year later I forgot her again. She was at summer camp. I remembered 45 minutes after closing time and burned rubber to get there. The fact that I almost got a speeding ticket did not make up for my forgetting. She is now 15 and still talks about being forgotten. I tell her that widowhood messes with a woman’s brain. That was my excuse for years and nine years later, it still comes in handy.

Widowhood does mess with ones brain.

That was also the year that I lost the telephone while it was in my hand. It rang and rang, and everywhere I looked I heard it loud and clear. The bathroom, the kitchen, under the couch…Only when I finally put it down did I realize that it had been in my hand.

It was like looking for my glasses when they were on my head. Once I had 2 pairs of glasses on the top of my head.
I have learned not to be amazed at what widowhood does to us.

But is surely messes with our brains.

Mie Elmhirst. Widows Breathe

Thursday, April 16, 2009

My Valley

It's Thursday. As I lay in my bed pondering all the emotions I've traveled through this week... I can't help but smile and shake my head... Wow. Where the heck did I go this week?? And how did I get back?!

Have you ever traveled through the depths of the "valley" of grief and lost recognition of who you are? I think and say things that surprise even myself while I'm making my way through the dark. I speak of doubt and my thoughts are easily consumed by hopelessness. I become lazy as the remote control becomes my best ally, my social skills go down the tubes, and I see no end.

Convinced that the past 8 years have been nothing more then my imagination, I doubted David. I doubted his very existence. I doubted his love. I doubted us. Sinking deeper into my couch cushions, I began to ask myself: Did you ever really know him? Did he really love you? The possibility that I exaggerated the strength of our love... the connection of our souls... My valley got darker before I saw even a flicker of light. I can't even count how many times I've thrown in the towel while curled in my ball of pain. Still, I survive. Still... I'm here. Why??

I called David's mother... to make sure he was real- that I didn't make him up. And I began to sift through the emails... emails he wrote to me. I laughed out loud, smiled childishly, and cried my eyes out. This time, my tears were not tears of hopelessness, rather tears of comfort and hope. He is real. I remember now... He is real.
"...We were meant from the very beginning of time to love each other."
-David, from an email in August 2003-
I held on tight to his words...HIS words and began making my way out of my valley.

I decided that I have a mission- a purpose. I have NO idea what, but I'm trusting that the moment my "mission" is complete that I too will return to eternity... return to "the very beginning of time," where our souls were destined to be united. This is what pulled me from my darkness this week... This is my hope.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

My Circle ...

This picture is from our last vacation .... we went to Alaska in June of 2007.  Jim died in December, 5 months later.  I love this picture because it really "shows" us.  We didn't know it was being taken and were just enjoying some quiet time together.  We held hands .... all of the time.  
I hate how empty my hand feels now.

And this is the last family picture taken of our Crew.  It was Thanksgiving of 2006.  Once the kids start heading off to college it gets much more difficult to get "family pictures".

     I think it took me about 4 to 6 months to come out of the black fog that came with Jim's death.  Maybe it was less .... it's hard to remember anything back from that time, even though it was only a little over a year ago.

     But I do remember when I knew it was time to take Son #2 to a counselor because of the problems we were having with school.  Jim and I had decided to send him to a military school (for 9th grade) in January of 2008.   We couldn't find the way to motivate him and feared he would drop out if he stayed at home.  This was our last-ditch effort.  Papers were signed, money was sent.
And then ..... a few weeks before Son #2 would have left ..... Jim died.
And I could not send my Son away.  Selfishly .... I wanted him close to me.  And I told him it was an additional chance for him to raise his grades, do his work, show some interest .... anything, so that he could stay home the next year.
He did not.
And do I sought out counseling for him ..... for both of us.
She ended up counseling me a lot more than she counseled him.
And in the end, Son #2 left for military school this past August (and hated it the first sememster, continually begged to come home, but still didn't study.  THIS semester, he's a different young man: he's motivated, he's more mature, he's confident, and he knows he' smart enough to make decent grades).  So he'll be coming home for good at the end of this semester, as was promised .... if he improved his attitude and his grades.  

     That decision .... to send him away to school, was one of the hardest things I've ever done.  And it was the first time I found myself angry at Jim .... really angry.  How could he have left me here with all this ...... this ....  CRAP?!  This is NOT how it was supposed to be.

     The counselor was wonderful and she kept validating the decision that Jim AND I had made ... together. She could also see what I could not ..... this change for Son #2 WOULD be for the better, in the end.

    So I kept seeing her and relied on her counsel.
One of the things she suggested was that I try going to a grief support group that was located weekly at our community hospital.  She thought it might be time.
And so I went .... that very evening, in fact.
It was difficult.  To say the least.  It was for all kinds of grief ..... the death of a spouse, a child, a family member.  I was not comfortable, but I could "hear"the same feeling being talked about that I felt.  I didn't talk much.
I was, by far, the youngest, or next to the youngest person there.  The other widows and widowers were well into their late 60's and up.
But I went.
And I went back.
But I was till uncomfortable and knew that it was not meeting my needs.
I cried all the way home from that second meeting.  
I cried because I even had to be in this position in the first place -- looking for a damn grief group.
I cried because I didn't fit.
I cried because I wanted to fit ..... somewhere.

And so when I was done crying I came to a decision.  I knew that I needed other women around me.  Other women who are walking on this "path".  Other YOUNG women, who have children at home and who had long, great dreams ahead of them that included their husbands.
So I decided that if I needed that kind of support, it would be up to me to get it going.
It was a G0d-thing, because starting up some kind of group is not something that would come naturally to me.
But I had no doubt that I would do this ..... though I had no idea how to begin.

One night I was sitting with a friend and this whole frustrating story came pouring out of me.  I told her that I knew there were more of "us" out there .... I knew that, in our elementary school alone, at least 4 families had lost their fathers in the past 2 years.  I needed to find those women.  I needed to get us together.
Well, it just so happened that my vented-upon friend knew one of these women.  And so she called her and asked for her thoughts.  This  young widow, of course, jumped right on board and got all of my contact information.
About the same time that was happening I was out having dinner with a large group of people one night.  I happened to glance over my shoulder and saw a young woman, enjoying the band and a glass of wine ..... alone.
She looked very familiar to me ...... and then it hit me where I knew her from .... and my heart started racing.  My blood pressure went up and I felt sick to my stomach.  
I had seen this woman at the hospital support group, only briefly, and we'd never spoken.  But here she was ..... and God was inside of my head saying, "There ya go, Janine.  You said you'd put this group together.  There she is.  I've put the two of you here tonight for a reason ... now let's see if you can walk the talk."
It took me a good 20 minutes to control my shaking and my breathing before I pushed back my chair and went over to her and introduced myself to her puzzled face.  She looked a bit wary at first, until she realized what, not who, I was ...... someone on this path.
In fact, our husbands died only a month apart .... and of the same extremely rare cause:  an aortic dissection.  We were stunned.  I pulled up a chair and we talked and cried for over an hour.  We were like a life line for each other that night.  We had each heard about the other (it's a small community and news like that travels) but had never met.
And yes, she very much wanted to help start a group of us to support each other.

And so we did.
By word of mouth.
One woman at a time.

There are now 8 of us .... in less than a year .... and I expect there will be more.

We meet for dinner once a week and we get so much healing from each other, that we physically miss the nights one of us can't make it.

Five of us are going to the Conference in San Diego in July.

We are a "Circle".
A circle of friends ...... that stays tightly bound, but can always expand to make the circle bigger. We are bound by our grief and by our love for each other.  We can say anything to each other, and I do mean ANYTHING.  We can say all of the things that we can't say to our other friends, because those friends wouldn't "get it", thankfully for them.  We can talk about wanting to die, having no hope, depression, anger, blaming God ..... all the normal things that grieving woman talk about, without feeling that we will be judged.  Because we "get" each other.  We are "safe" for each other.  And many times .... we don't even need words to understand each other.
We hope and pray that we are Circle for the rest of our lives .... so that we can be there for each other not only in our grief, but in the days to come when we'll be celebrating for each other, celebrating new love, weddings (ours and/or our children's) grandchildren, trips, fun, ...... life.
We want to celebrate.

All of our children and friends know about our "Circle".  My kids often ask me how my Circle is doing.  My friends often ask what night is the Circle meeting this week?

If you don't have a "Circle" and live in the Houston area .... I invite you to join ours.  We will welcome you with open and loving arms.

If you don't have a Circle and you live no where near here, then I challenge you to start one.
It's not has difficult as it seems ..... unfortunately.  There are a lot of us out there ..... way too many.
All it takes is word of mouth. Just ask a few friends if they know of any  young widows.  Start with sharing your e-mail (is the "safest" way to put yourself out there to connect) and/or your phone number.
Then set a date.  Go to dinner.  Drink some wine (lots and lots of wine!).

We started with 2.
And now we have 8.

I always see myself, my Circle friends .... and you, my blog widow friends as walking on this "path" (my name for widowhood).  But I also see all of us ...... each one of you ...... in this Circle.
Our Circle.
It's big enough to hold all of us ...... and it holds a lot of love and support ..... and tears.
It does what it does best ..... what we most need .........
It holds us.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Still Looking for Signs

The weather on the day of Daniel's funeral was spectacular. It was early November, 75 degrees and beautifully sunny. When they covered his grave, all of the funeral flowers were placed on top of it. Although the service was long over, family and friends still lingered, and no one seemed ready to leave. I know for me it was a finality I wasn't yet ready to experience. The kids were playing in the cemetery, picking flowers, running around the headstones, finding the joy in the situation as kids tend to do. I have a very clear memory of watching my son with his cousins as they each picked a flower to keep in Daniel's memory.

As I watched the kids, I noticed the flowers on the grave were covered in butterflies. I have never seen so many butterflies in one place. I must have stood there for quite a while, just quietly staring. One of my girlfriends, Megan, noticed too, and explained to me that in the Aztec culture, butterflies were believed to be the souls of warriors. At the time I remember thinking it was very appropriate, and if I'd ever seen a warrior in action it was Daniel as he battled cancer. It seemed fitting that Daniel's warrior soul was receiving an escort to heaven. It made sense in a way, and I held on to that idea.

Since then, butterflies have been my personal sign of Daniel and they have accompanied me in the craziest places: fluttering around my head at Disneyland, landing on my arm while I cry driving down the highway, flying next to Grayson at odd moments, and recently dive bombing me while I walked a pipeline right-of-way (that one was a request, I told him I needed a sign and within a minute a huge butterfly almost hit me in the head! :). I still feel the need to know he's with me and watching over us. It may be crazy and sheer coincidence, but I'm okay with it. I'll take the signs that come my way as gifts regardless. I need all the gifts like that I can get.

Happy Tuesday, see you next week. - Michelle (dippel)

Monday, April 13, 2009

What My Kids Have Taught Me

There is not much I wouldn't do for my three kids. You know, jump in front of an on-coming train to save their lives, feed them first from my last ration of bread, offer myself as a meal for the hungry bear that is chasing them...pretty much anything.

In the normal course of life moms feed, bathe, clothe, soothe, encourage, celebrate, hold, hug, and protect their little ones through the bumps and bruises associated with living, learning and loving. But when death came knocking, I couldn't protect them.

The night Phil died, I rode in the back seat of a car with my three kids crying in my arms. They asked question, after question...why did that man hit him, Mom? Where was Phil's bike? Wasn't he wearing a helmet? I thought you said he probably broke some bones. Why did he die? I remember these moments like you recall a dream, vivid and yet out of focus and somehow backwards. However, one feeling from that night is crystal clear...the terrifying sensation of being completely helpless. For the first time in their young lives there was not one thing I could do to take away my children's pain. Being powerless to alter the course my children were about to travel, I became certain that all I could offer them was a hand to hold as we walked the road that lay before us. And so we grieved, together. Some days were ugly. Some days I yelled more than I should have. Some days we cried, others we laughed. They went back to school, I sat on the couch and stared into space. They did homework, I tried to pay attention. Dinner was sometimes from a box, and other times from the drive through. We went to the beach, we slept in when we felt like it, and we said Phil's name often. We kept some of our previous family traditions, and we created some new ones. We slowly built a new life one day at a time.

What my kids taught me in the wake of our tragedy was that just because they are young does not mean they are weak. They taught me that time together is the foundation for the memories that hold us up in times of loss. Their laughter reminded me that being happy was necessary, too. Their love was I didn't have to be perfect. They showed everyone around them that step-parents are real parents, too. They memorialized Phil in writing, painting, music, and dedications of important events; always striving to make him proud. My kids taught me that I could lean on them, the whole world didn't have to rest on my shoulders alone.

My three teenage angels taught me to be a better mother, and to see the world as it can be if we believe all those things we teach much, laugh often, live well.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Happy Easter?

Wishing someone a good day or a nice holiday weekend seems innocuous enough most of the time...but as a new widow well meant wishes from family, friends or strangers struck me like arrows. How exactly am I supposed to have a good day? Why do I care about this holiday? Have you forgotten for a moment that my husband is dead? Some days I could accept the kind words for what they were, other days I lashed out at unsuspecting humans with no screen for the kind of pain I was in.

So today, at my own personal risk, I am going to wish those of you who celebrate this day a Happy Easter. Yes, you heard me right, Happy Easter.

I brave the horrid looks you would throw my way if you could see me to wish you a happy day because you deserve one. It took me a long time to come to that realization. Grief, sadness, loneliness, desperation...those were all easy emotions to embrace. In fact, I reveled in them. Happiness was not only banned from my heart, it was taboo, disloyal, impossible. Any hint of fun was tarnished by the idea that if I was feeling good I must be recovering from the experience of losing Phil, and in my mind any step towards the dreaded "stage of acceptance" was a tettering step on the slippery slope of forgetting the man I loved. So I avoided pleasant things, tortured myself with sharp memories often, and cried into my journal every night. All this misery I piled on top of the obvious and unavoidable fact that Phil was dead.

But love and gratitude snuck in and saved me. As time passed I came to see that I was still a very, very lucky girl. My husband was dead, but I have a beyond fabulous family. My husband wasn't coming home, but I have three amazing children. Phil would not be celebrating Easter with us, but my mom was still making homemade bread. The rest of my siblings leave holidays with their spouse by their side, but though I leave the party a single mom...I return to a home I love and get to keep. And the best surprise of all, when I allowed a little happiness into my life the brightness of the love I shared with Phil was not dimmed by my dark despair, instead I was reminded of the depth and constancy of a love that is mine forever. Not only did I not forget him, I loved him even more.

So, on this day of family fun, Easter egg hunts, giggling children, too much chocolate, and bittersweet moments associated with the empty spot at the family table...I wish you happiness. Don't be afraid, you won't forget.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

See You In My Dreams

Dreams take on a whole new meaning after the loss of your soul mate. They are a realm you travel to each night, with their population and surroundings always a mystery.
Sometimes I have dreams in which I see my love; that smile, that face, that counterpart of my being. There have been times I've been able to speak with him and other times in which I feel as if he cannot see me. There are times in which I am conscious of the fact that he is not alive and times when I feel that I've been thrown into a time machine taking me to a time when he was still here.

After encountering theses night encounters I may wake up with a smile on my face and a drive like no other to take on the world, then there are the times in which I wake up in tears or just with the need to stay curled up in the enveloping warmth of my comforter.
I've come to terms that these dreams may not all have a special meaning or happy ending. There are no dream dictionaries that can decipher their hidden message or let me know which ones may actually be Michael visiting me, or just my imagination feeding into my never ending want to be near him.

I still will wake each morning and face this new chapter that I never thought I'd be the author of. I still will be go to bed each evening not knowing what will come, but unafraid to shut my eyes..... and I will still see you in my dreams.

I think we dream so we don't have to be apart so long. If we're in each other's dreams, we can play together all night. ~Bill Watterson

Friday, April 10, 2009

I saw him...

I saw him. Seven months after he died, I saw him. I was standing outside the Coffee Obsession, and I swear to God, I saw him. It was Mike. He was about three blocks away and talking to a lady. I couldn’t see who she was, but it looked like he was giving her directions as he pointed down the street.

I stood frozen. I knew it wasn’t him. It couldn’t be him. He was gone and I had cried for seven months.

But there he was. It was Mike. It seemed like they talked forever. I was sure he was smiling.

I wanted to get a closer look.

Don’t go, I told myself. Don’t go. You know it can’t be him. If you go, it will mean you have stepped over the line, that you really are crazy.

I waited, desperate to talk to him, terrified that it might be him and terrified that it wasn't him. And then, I saw him turn and walk in the opposite direction.

I took off.

I ran three blocks, dodging sightseers and shoppers, saying “please excuse me” and “I’m sorry” over and over. I knew it couldn’t be Mike, but still I ran after him.

When I was close, I stopped.

My husband had been 6’2”, 185 pounds. He was bald from chemo and 52 years old when he died. He was handsome.

This man was old. He had gray hair and he was skinny. Almost wizened. He was 5’6”-ish and he looked nothing like my Mike. Nothing at all.

I starred, incredulous and gasping for air. How could this be? How could I have mistaken this man for my husband?

I looked at the people around me.

Did they see me? Did they see what I had just done ? Did they see me run down Main Street chasing my dead husband?

But, no one noticed. They were busy.

Thankful they didn't see but also wishing that they had, that I wasn't so alone, I slowly walked back to my coffee shop, again amazed at what grief can do.

The above happened over 8 years ago. I am re-telling the story because
1. I can finally laugh at myself. (And I do!)
2. I know that I am not the only woman to whom this has happened. (OK, maybe you were smart enough not to run after him...)
3. Because sometimes it is good to look back and see how far you have come. (A long, long way!!!)
Mie Elmhirst Widows Breathe

Thursday, April 9, 2009

The truth?

Have you ever had to lie to protect yourself? To protect what's left of you?

I thought I was ready to go back to work 3 months after David was killed. I have no particular logic as to why I thought it was time to mingle with the "others" but I assumed if I just refused eye contact I'd be OK.

In my line of work, you see the same people maybe once a month or once every few months, so there's plenty of small talk... "How's the family" "What are you up to" .... When I got to work, I realized no one knew. No one knew what I had just gone through only 3 short months ago, what I still go through every day. They had no idea nor did I think they cared that my soul mate was killed in Iraq.

I kept to myself. Sticking to the plan: NO EYE CONTACT. I had my cell phone in my hand at all times and the moment I felt a conversation heading my direction I used it. But, of course, this plan didn't work all day. An elderly gentleman began a polite conversation with me... He noticed my wedding ring and began the routine:

"Wow. You look so young... Are you really married?" (Blah Blah Blah)
"Yes, I am"

I knew it was coming... the dreaded questions... about David.

"What does you husband do?"
"He's in the military. Army."
"Oh! Where is stationed?"

...... I took a huge deep breath... this was it...

"He was killed in Iraq 3 months ago."

It surprised me how flat the words came out of my mouth. I said them fast, as if ripping a band aid off. But it didn't help, right at that moment I wanted to run away. Run home. Allow my bed to swallow me whole!

He began, "Well, your heart should be healed by now... You're so young... When do you think you'll start dating again?"

Oh, this poor unsuspecting man never saw me coming. I finished this conversation and I finished it well... giving him no chance to interrupt me, I told him exactly what I was thinking. When I walked away from the man (now 5 inches shorter) I felt like collapsing. I was exhausted! It took so much out of me, more than I thought remained, to fight... to defend my love. I realised I couldn't do this all day long.

So when the next innocent person began the routine conversation... "Are you married? What does your husband do? Where is he?".... I'd answer,

"He's in Iraq."

This seemed to go over better then telling the truth. So this is what I did instead. I lied. Don't get me wrong, I wasn't in denial about David... I knew very well that he was gone... not in Iraq. But I couldn't stand the comments, the casualness... the dismissal. I had to protect myself. There were those rare people I entrusted with the truth but I always chose who to tell my story to, our story, very carefully.

This week I found myself in a position to continue my lie or tell them the truth. I hadn't seen this group of people in about a year and last thing I told them was David "was in Iraq." I decided, whoever asked would get an honest answer. They asked. I casually briefed them on the past 15 months of my life. They nodded. Giving a "wow" every now and then. And it was over. Nothing special. No tears, no hugs, no "you poor thing..." I didn't feel particularly ecstatic about their emotionless reaction but... now they knew.

I began this journey scrambling for "support." I was unable to speak the truth, because at the end of the day I was left alone with my thoughts... with their piercing words... with my pain. Now... I can look to the east and west and see... another widow's journey... I could look in front of me and see those ahead in their walk... I could look in back of me, to see those entering the doors I've opened. This among other things gives me strength to tell undeserving ears the truth. Our story is mine to tell, and I reserve the right to withhold it if needed... but I'm less scared at this point to share it with those who can not relate.

The truth is: My gorgeous husband sacrificed his life to protect me and his men... He served this country. Our story? Ask me. I'm proud to share it.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

The Inconsistency of Consistency ....

     If there's one thing you can count on while on this road through widowhood (and there's not much!) ..... it's how constantly inconsistent everything seems to be ....... especially, but not limited to, our emotions.
     I used to think I was crazy ..... early on the path.  I mean, after the first few months of black blurriness, I started to emerge once in a while.  And then I'd realize, at the end of a day, that that day had not been too bad.  If fact, I might have almost called it "good" if that word hadn't seemed so inappropriate!
     And then, wonder of wonders, the next day went by and it was almost "good".  Two days of almost "good"?  "Well," I'd think to myself, "I must be getting better!"
(ummmm ..... yes ..... like I had the flu or something ....... this was, remember, the "early days" on the path).

     And then I'd wake up the next day ....... and ...... WHAM!!!!  I'd be blindsided by a huge wave of grief that I never saw coming.  No reason.  No one to blame.  No finger to point.
It just hit.
And it hit hard.
And dropped me to my knees.

     And there I' be, soaking wet, coughing, choking on the salty water of grief, crying and wondering ..... "what the hell .....?   I thought I was doing better ........?"

     And that, my sisters on this path, is the one consistent thing I've found ...... you never know when the next wave will hit.

     Note that I didn't say "you never know IF the next wave will hit" ...... because it will
Sometimes we will be able to see the wave coming ..... we can expect it and watch it as it approaches, building in size as it gets closer and closer.  But on those occasions, when we know it's coming, we can prepare ourselves.  We can change our stance, planting our feet as firmly as we can in the shifting sand of the ocean.  We can bend our knees so that our strength is centered lower in our bodies and we can manage to stay upright as the wave crashes over us.  We might teeter a bit, but it's easier for us to keep our balance, shake off the water and stand back up.
     But when we're standing upright, unaware, looking back at the shore ...... dreaming of what was back on that shore ..... and we can't see that wave building and building and getting closer and closer ...... we are slammed to the bottom of the ocean floor when it hits.  And then we are drug out further with the pull of that wave.  
Yes, we kick at it, we struggle against it and we claw our way back up to the surface, our eyes stinging, our throat burning ...... but we do manage to stand back up.  It just takes a bit longer when we're hit unaware.

     I'm not saying that we should always be aware ..... always scanning the horizon for the next wave.  That's impossible.  
We can't do that.  We each have a life to live, we have responsibilities, we have others who need us.  We can't possibly be anticipating every wave.

    But we can give ourselves grace.  The grace to know, and accept, that these waves will hit and they will drag us down once in a while.  The grace to say ....."That's OK.   Just because I'm brought down by a wave does not mean that I am weak, or that I am crazy, or that I am not grieving well."
     These waves are normal ..... whatever that word now means.  They will come.  And we will fall.  
     But hopefully, they will start to come less often.  Hopefully there will be longer times of peaceful waters between the waves.
     And ..... hopefully ..... they won't always knock us down.  Shake us up, yes.  Upset the balance for a bit ..... yes.  But knock us flat?  Hopefully not.

Or at least ....... hopefully not as often.

So, if a wave should catch you unaware today, or next week ..... or even next year ..... please remember ...... to give yourself the precious gift of GRACE ...... and know, without a doubt, that you are "normal", you are not alone ...... and that the waters will become calm again.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Pennies from Heaven

Years ago I was walking with a friend and we came upon a dime lying on the ground. Seeming disappointed, she stooped to pick up the coin saying she thought it was a penny. When I asked why she wanted a penny, she looked up at me and said, "Don't you know the story of pennies from heaven?" After I told her that I'd heard the phrase, but didn't know the story, she explained that anytime you found a penny someone in heaven was thinking of you. I laughed aloud and said that Phil so enjoyed being different I wouldn't doubt he would drop a dime from heaven instead of a penny...just on principle. She stopped in her tracks, looked me in the eye, handed me the dime, and said "Then this must be for you."

That small exchange has given pennies a new meaning for me. From that day forward (ignoring Phil's need to be different) every time I found a penny I thought of him. And of course I began finding those copper pieces in odd places. I found one on my pillow on the anniversary of his death. Once while having a very difficult day I found one perfectly centered on the seat of my car. While opening my Christmas stocking at my parents house I found a lone penny at the bottom of my stocking. My penny discoveries have continued since that day, and they always make me smile. I don't really care if they are a "sign" or not...they remind me of Phil and that is enough.

But I do have to say that every now and then the placement of these shiny tokens is unnerving. There are moments in my life when I am desperate for a bit of reassurance from Phil. I want to know he is proud of me. I wonder whether or not he would approve of a decision I have struggled to make. Sometimes I just want to know he hasn't forgotten me. Is it possible for finding a coin to be the thing that says...yes, I am still here? Can randomly discovered one cent pieces confirm that a decision made is a good one? Would Phil really use a penny instead of a dime to send his love? As with all things widow, the answer lies somewhere between of course and who knows. No matter how badly I wish it or what I would give up to change it...Phil isn't coming home. And though I do believe he would be proud of me today, I also know that at the end of each day I have to find a way to be proud of myself. And then for my own confidence in the decisions I make to be enough.

All that said, I am currently in Australia for the first time. Taking this trip was a big decision, and some life changing possibilities are being explored here. When getting out of the shower on the first morning after my arrival, I looked over on the counter and found a lone penny. American currency on the counter in an Australian home? Yep, I think things are going to be okay.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Birthday Thoughts

Tomorrow is Daniel's 39th birthday. I haven't seen him since he was 35, and that thought surprises me in a way that seems ridiculous. I know he's been gone three and a half years, but not seeing him since he was 35? "Inconceiveable!" The passage of time is a mystery to me. There are moments when it seems like he just left, and others when it feels like a lifetime since we last talked. Time passes regardless, and it appears to pick up speed with each year.

To celebrate this year, Grayson and I loaded up on Friday and headed to the Texas coast. Daniel loved the ocean and would try to escape to Rockport whenever he could. We have really wonderful old friends who live there and they are always game to celebrate with us, whatever the occasion. My father-in-law and his wife joined us for dinner last night, and we ended up sitting around the table telling old stories on each other and on Daniel in particular. There were some really great ones, and a few tears of laughter shared in response. It is always a comfort to me to be surrounded by friends and family who can remember and smile. We didn't used to be able to do that, it was too painful for everyone. Now, as time passes like a speeding bullet, we find it easier and easier to remember and celebrate the joy he brought us and laugh out loud at the crazy things he did while he was here.

My husband, though with us for a shorter time than any of us planned, lived a fantastic life and was a wonderful man. As I reflect on his birthday and on the millions of happy memories of us I have recorded in my brain, I am so grateful that I was given the opportunity to share his life. What a gift he was to me!

Happy Birthday Daniel. I hope you are playing Heaven's Augusta tomorrow and drinking a Jack and Coke.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

The Sun is Shining

With spring upon us I can't help but think of a blog I wrote over a year ago. At that point I was 10 months out from losing my soul mate, but all still rings true. This time 2 years ago Michael was home on R&R, it would be the last time we'd spend with each other, and most of it was spent at the river. I hope y'all enjoy it:

How is everyone? Today it is 90 degrees out, sunny and perfect. Today was also a day of further realization. I always connected memories of Michael with photos, places, physical things, etc.. I never had connected him with a hot sunny day in San Marcos, TX. I woke up and knew today would be a day where we would go swimming in his favorite river. A river where he grew up as a kid, a river we went tubing down, a river with memories that could fill a small book. The river where I spread his ashes, a wish he requested and one that is now written in my will for my resting place. Even though he’s probably in the Atlantic ocean by now :D

I remember how he would dive into this falls that I always thought would suck me under. He’d beg me to jump in and I always would. I’d sit on a tiny rock and he’d swim up to me all cold and wet and give me a kiss. Sometimes I’d lay in the sun and he’d jump on me all soaking. On this sun blazing day, I miss you Michael…but I love you even more because I can sit here and share the memories you left me, memories I will forever cherish.

So widows…..share your favorite memory, share that day that is tinged with sadness but filled with recollections of better days. It is one thing to wake up and feel as if it will never get better, but even better when you share it and embed it that deeper in your heart.

Line by line, moment by moment, special times are etched into our memories in the permanent ink of everlasting love in our relationships. -Gloria Gaither

Friday, April 3, 2009

Widows Loving Again

Dear Wonderful Widow.

What did it feel like the first time someone reassured you that you would find love again, that you would find another man, and that it was just a mater of time?

The first person who mentioned the possibility of a new love to me, well, I wanted to break her legs. Ok, maybe this is a little extreme, but it was only a few months after Mike died and to me the mere suggestion reflected a world of misunderstanding of what it had been for me to lose my husband.

I felt unacknowledged and dismissed; as if my marriage was just any marriage and that my pain was less that life altering. It was as if she was saying, he was just a man, your husband, and there are many more like him.

I know the suggestion was well meaning. She did not want to see me in such pain, and I don’t blame her.

What I wanted to say at the time but couldn’t, was that the pain I was in, was mine, all mine. It was what I had left, and I was not going to give it up without a fight and I was not going to toss it out for a man. Any man.

No, there could never be another Mike Elmhirst. Not because he was better than any other man or anyone else’s husband – just because he was Mike. And it was Mike that I missed, not just a husband, and not just being married.

As widows, we must be seen. We need our circumstances acknowledged. We need people to say something like, “You and your husband created something between the two of you that cannot be duplicated.” This is why our fellow widows are so helpful. They know this about us and about our marriages, our husbands and our children. It is why we write so much about our husbands…to be seen.

Yes, we might find a new relationship, and in fact many of us have. I have. When I say it isn’t the same as what I had with Mike, I mean that it is different. Not better and not worse, it is just different. It can’t be the same because he is not Mike and I am not the Mie I used to be. I have grown and changed. The experience of widowhood requires that we change.

Occasionally, on my website, I talk about dating again, for widows who are ready to explore new relationships. And invariably I get emails from new widows who are hurt at the suggestion. I understand this. It hurt me too, when I was a brand new widow.

But we are a community that is as diverse as any population. Some of us date within the first year of widowhood and some of us choose not to date at all. There is room for all of us in our community of widows.

New relationships happen for a widow when there is finally space in her heart to again give and receive. As hard as it is for a new widow to imagine, most in our community eventually get to the point where they enjoy the gift of a loving relationship again. But it takes time and work. A lot of time and a whole lot of work.

Warmly, Mie Elmhirst

Thursday, April 2, 2009

I am not alone.

Confession: I am not fun when hungry. When my hunger sets in I get a headache, become weak, and I'm grumpy! I can't hide my hunger well, and David knew this better than anyone. The moment I became difficult he'd ask, "Have you eaten today?" "No." His action? Drop everything and get my wife some food! David always prevented my "hunger monster" from showing it's face. Thinking of this makes me smile, because I know no one takes better care of me than he does.

This week, I found myself... you guessed it... hungry! I had an hour before my appointment, I had just spent the last 20 minutes searching for parking and my headache started to kick in. My choices? Get food and take it back to my car (I've done this many times) or eat in the restaurant... alone. It was almost 15 months ago when the first thought of being the "lonely-looking lady, eating alone" entered my mind. I refused the thought then, but now? I was actually considering it! I've conquered grocery store shopping and cooking a meal for one... but eating out? Ugh. I could feel the lump in my throat swell, my headache grow, and my energy lessen. I have to eat. "Today's the day," I challenged myself.

While placing my order I began to create my plan of action- sit outside in the patio because there are less tables. Less tables meant less people. Less people meant less eyes which, of course, meant less staring. Finally, my food came and it was official... I began my first meal alone in public. All of a sudden, all eyes were on me! The spotlight was focused on me! And everyone waited for my next move ...or so I assumed.

What's better? To act as if you eat out alone all the time and it's no big thing ooor act as if at any moment your company is about to join you? I don't know. I'm pretty sure I did both. I pulled myself together and looked around. No one was watching. No one cared. I was sitting at a table for two and they didn't even blink an eye. Calmly, I began to eat my meal. "Why did you leave me here," I said to David. I tried to take each bite with purpose, hoping I would appear less insecure. I picked up my phone... checked my email... looked at my twitter account. Before I knew it... it was like my dad had let go of the bike before I had the chance to realized I was riding it on my own. I was doing it! Eating. Alone. I took a deep breath, "You're almost done."

(My phone rang) My eyes got big with excitement, "Woo-who! I'm being rescued!!...No. Nicole, don't answer. No cheating. You must do this alone."
(Voicemail) "Listening to the voicemail isn't cheating..." I convinced myself as I brought the phone to my ear.

"Nooo!" It was a new widow... one I had been worried about. Never having heard the voice of another widow before, I knew calling me was a challenge for her in itself. And I just let it ring! Before her voicemail could finish playing my phone died. "Crap!" I stuffed what I could in my mouth, left the rest behind and began a quick pace back to the car. I had to plug in my phone and at least tell her I'm out of battery before my appointment begins in 9 minutes!

As I hustled my way to the car, it hit me... As I faced my apprehension, a widow clear across the country was also overcoming hers. She made her first call to another widow. And I knew in that moment what David would say as he'd give me his patient smile, "Oh, My Love... but you are not alone." I closed my eyes briefly as if to inhale it all in... I am not alone.