Friday, July 31, 2009

Still human...

I arrived back home (Cape Cod) from my vacation and the Conference on Widowhood late last night and went straight to bed, more tired than tired.

This morning I got up and took a look around.
The grass needed to be mowed, the garden needed to be weeded, and the house had a layer of fine dust that I couldn’t see but I knew was there. My desk was the same messy mess that I left a week and a half ago and my voice mail was full.

The first thing I did was to fill the bird feeder. My finches don’t need food this time of year, but I feed them anyway because when I do they put on a colorful show.
The second thing I did was to make myself a cup of good, strong, Starbucks coffee. I then flopped in my favorite comfy chair and recalled the flight home.

Flying from Seattle to Boston I sat in the middle of a family, two parents and three small well-behaved children. I rested, as much as one can inside of a 180-thousand-pound missile hurtling through the atmosphere aiming hopefully for one’s city of origin, in my case, Boston. Knowing the landing would include flying over water, I was not comforted. I don't like flying.

But my mind gradually drifted from the quite lengthy list of possible catastrophes, to the young family that surrounded me.

That family, I thought, that family was supposed to be us. Two parents, many kids. We were supposed to be going on trips and coming home late at night and quietly, together, depositing our sleeping children in their beds. We were supposed to be whispering above their dream-filled heads about our plans for the next day or the next week. We were supposed to be reminiscing about the vacation we had and planning the next. And furthermore, I'll bet our kids would have been as smart as theirs, or smarter and more musical and more athletic and and and and.... And better behaved.

(God help me, this was really what I was thinking...)

And so there I was. Right in the middle of self-pity and pettiness once again. The good karma from the Conference and my vacation, evaporating before my eyes.

I have been a widow for a good while now, and I know the signs. I know the difference between grief and self-pity. I know, as they say, that pain is inevitable and suffering is optional. We must grieve. We must feel the brokenness of our hearts. We must talk about what we have lost. And we must do it over and over again, for as long as it takes to get better.

But the truth is that I am happy these days, and I treasure our very little family. I have done my grieving. I have an amazing daughter and an equally amazing (and pregnant) stepdaughter. I can recognize that my life is different than it would have been without once again causing myself to suffer.

So why do I still sometimes choose to suffer? Yikes. I don’t know. Habit maybe? Anyhow, this time I caught myself in the act and stopped my jealous thinking…and instead fed on the memories of the amazing gathering of widows in San Diego. And I was happy for those two parents and their beautiful children. That is what I will focus on for today.

Mie Elmhirst

Widows Breathe Coaching

Thursday, July 30, 2009

110 Carriage Place

There's something daunting about entering the place where your life last thrived. I know for a while now that I had to make a trip to Clarksville, TN, where David and I were stationed,but I chose not to dwell on the idea. To be honest, we'd be happy in a cardboard box so long as both of us fit in it, but Clarksville was never our favorite place to be. Yet, it was our home, we built a life and had a routine... we were happy here. At one point, I vowed never to come back. But as fate has it, our tenants moved out and our house needed some fixing. So! Off to Clarksville...

I was doing good! ...Until I drove past Exit 4 on the highway... the beginning of Clarksville. The beginning of all the memories to come. My heart started raising and I had to catch my breath. Did I really want to do this?! ...Too late now, I guess. As the military base entered my view on the right a particular panic began in me and I knew if I didn't call someone I might just lose what strength I have left. I called my WSM. I needed another voice... someone to tell me I was crazy or I could do this. While on the phone I drove around aimlessly for a bit, collecting my mind and taking in all that was familiar. ...The walmart we always went to, his favorite taco stand, the post office, the park... I asked WSM to stay on the phone with me while I made my next stop... 110 Carriage Place... our home.

I sucked in a deep breath as I turned the corner past the street sign... our home in full view. "Memories are too painful for me," a woman once told me... I thought about this as I drove up to the house. I held the house key in my hand for a while... determined to go in... determined to make it through the next few minutes. I stood at the red door with the phone to my ear and the key in the door.

I couldn't do it. I couldn't open it.

I let the key go for a bit, then went to turn it... then let it go... I did this a few times. What if the place wasn't what I remembered? The tears began. The panic found me. I could do this...

I couldn't understand what WSM was saying but I did hear her say something about "good memories..." Yes. Good memories... I have good memories here. With that I opened the door. It was bright inside, open and airy just like I remember. The sunlight came flooding in from the all the windows in the same way it did the first time David and I saw the house. It's was made us fall in love with the place... it reminded us of California. It was perfect.

I walked straight to the spot I've daydreamed about most the past 18 months... an area on the floor not far from the door. I've longed to return to this simple spot on the carpet... the spot where we laid next to each other before I dropped him off the night he left to Iraq. The house was empty, all our furniture was in storage. We had no were to sit so we just sat by the door. It was in this spot where we spent our last moments in our home, in this spot I tried so hard to keep my brave face... in this spot where I cried... in this spot he kissed my tears. It was in this spot that he last held me... he held me the way I will never forget and always crave. One hand under the small of my back, the other under my head. Without thinking, I collapsed my body on the very spot and closed my eyes. I realized how much I love this place and just how good our memories are.

For the past three days I've been at 110 Carriage Place... a tiny house on a cul-de-sac, jam packed with good memories. Happy memories. Every wall, every room, ever cabinet- a memory. There is so much I didn't remember!! But I'm so glad I gave myself the chance to do just that... remember our best moments at 110 Carriage Place, because the woman was wrong.... because for me forgetting is way more painful then the quick sting of a memory.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Life goes rushing by ....

.... way too quickly sometimes. Or is it just mine?
I doubt that ..... look who I'm writing to. We ALL know that life went rushing by too fast.
But my life as been so hectic in the last day or so, that not only did I not write on my own blog yesterday, I forgot to write my post for this blog!!!
So, here it is.

Another wave this week .... but one I'm dealing with pretty well, all things considered.

I think I lost a friend this week.
Or, if I didn't lose her completely, I lost the kind of friend that she was. Which, I suppose is only fair, since she lost the kind of friend I was back in December of 2007.

This friend does not like the way I am healing.
She does not agree with my choices.
She is upset with me.
Might I add ..... she's never been a widow.

This has caused me a lot of pain and sorrow over the past few months. A lot.
And the other night it came to a head.
And I cried. And felt so much hurt and sadness.

But the next morning .... I suddenly didn't.
Because I knew that there's nothing I can do to change her mind. I cannot force her to walk this road with me, growing as I grow ...... not as she wants me to grow, but just as I grow .... and heal.
And so I did the only thing I could ....... I slowly, very, very slowly ..... let go.

I cannot put myself out there for more pain and sorrow just because I cannot meet someone's expectations and needs.
I can't.
It's physically and emotionally impossible for me to take on someone else's needs at the moment. I'm doing the best with my 6 kids' ..... and sometimes mine.

And .... the funny thing (if there IS a funny thing in all of this) is ...... I think I'm doing OK.
I can see that I'm healing. I can see that I'm making progress .... sometimes one wave at a time. But there are days when there are no waves. I love those days and I stop to enjoy them and do not take them for granted.

So, while I hope that this friendship can one day be mended ..... I know it cannot until she can learn to accept my healing and growth as I accept it. As a blessing, and as a slow progress (and sometimes a quick recession). But it's mine and I'm doing the best that I can.
After all ...... I didn't get the instruction book on how to deal with the death of the most important person in my life.

Did you?

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Put on a Happy Face...

Here's my happy face. This smile isn't fake, it was very sincere at that moment - I'm sure the free margaritas were enough to buy some sincerity, but I could be wrong. ;-)

In the first months after Daniel died I didn't feel like I put on a happy face. I didn't feel capable of it. I've heard from others that I did and I seemed to be "okay". Three and a half years later, I don't have to put on a happy face. Most days I just have one on naturally. I've found lots of things to be grateful for, and lots of things to focus on that make me happy. Obviously Grayson plays a large role in my happy face! But it is also the littlest things that do it: a hot cup of coffee, a call from a friend, a day with no firedrills at work :).

Right now some bigger things put a smile on my face. My new job, although incredibly challenging, is going great and I'm happy to be there every day. I've found a new house, close on it in a few weeks, and I love it. I can't wait to move in, put my stamp on it, and make it my own. I'm living closer to lots and lots of loving family (which is growing as we speak..congrats David and Leslie!) and am already enjoying the extra time with all of them. Grayson is enjoying his summer camp and growing like a weed, our tickle fight this morning was enough to keep the smile on my face most of the day! :)

Alright, so what is my point? I don't know really, but I sometimes have to remind myself of the things that make it all worth while. I don't always have sunshine shooting from my major orifices...but I do make an effort to be glass half full (while my widow self waits for the other shoe to drop). It doesn't take much for me to see the bright side, but making a list of all of the good things is a great place to begin. So, that is my start to the day on this hot Tuesday in Austin Texas.

Happy Tuesday! - Michelle D.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Remembering When

The word remember has taken on a new meaning since Phil died. Looking back is both painful and comforting. Sometimes recalling a specific event that I shared with Phil causes a jarring pain in my chest. These memories are often visceral...the atmosphere of a specific restaurant; the inflection of Phil's brother's voice; or the smell of a hotel room when you first pass through the doorway. Each of these sense triggered recollections throw me back to a time when Phil was alive. The reality of his death seems doubly cruel when my senses convince me that only moments have passed since I last heard his voice. Four years later I am still occasionally thrown unexpectedly back in time.

On the other hand, the kids and I talk about Phil with ease, and laugh often as we remind each other of jokes he played, his very definite preference about any number of things, and the nicknames he gave to just about every item in our house. The lightness with which we speak about him has been a gift to all of us. The fun memories have become a treasure that increases in value with the passing of time. We mitigate our loss by savoring what we have left.

A journal entry, that I wrote just months after Phil died, screams out my frustration at having nothing concrete to hold onto after he left us. In those early days I wanted something, anything, that would be real. The visions of us that danced in my head were both excruciating and infuriating. Seeing him in my minds eye, but being unable to touch him, was maddening. I alternated between torturing myself by calling up every available memory, and avoiding thoughts of him like the plague...just to stop hurting for awhile.

I don't know exactly when I realized that thinking of my life with Phil made me smile more often than it made me cry. At some point I became capable of looking at a date on the calendar, and intentionally recalling what we did on that exact day 6 years ago, without feeling the need to lie on the floor in the fetal position. When looking at photos I could recognize the happiness evident in the moment, when years ago all I could do was bemoan the lost opportunity for more of that brand of contentment. All of this happened when I wasn't looking. So if you find yourself wondering if you will ever be able to look at your wedding photo and smile, you will. In time.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Freedom To Be

Overheard in the hotel check-in line at the San Diego Marriott..."Did you hear that there is a WIDOWS conference here in the hotel this weekend?" The unspoken next line was most likely, who would want to go to a widows conference? Ugh. And don't we look miserable? ;)

Convincing people that this weekend would not be a downer was one of the most challenging parts of the planning for this event. Because face it, who wants to go to a conference about widowhood? As I have reflected over the last week about the experience of hosting well over one hundred people who have lived through the devastating pain of losing their spouse, I have been awed by the courage they each displayed in walking through that hotel lobby to find the widow conference. "Pardon me, do you know where the registration desk is for the widow conference?" or "Hi, I am here to talk about death, do you know where I can go for that?" or maybe "Yes, my room is booked under the widow conference block." and finally... "Oh, excellent, I should wear this lovely tag and it will let everyone in the hotel know that I am widowed." Nice. Actually, really, really nice. Because for once I wasn't a widow alone.

There was an unexpectedly powerful feeling of freedom in the ability to be a widow among other widowed people. We laughed, we cried, we laughed some more...and nobody gave anybody that awkward glance. You know the one. We asked each other how we lost our spouse without tiptoeing over the words. We nodded in agreement to the phrase, "Well, you know things have been worse." No matter how long ago we received the news that life was unalterably changed, we were part of a community that accepts us where we are, the good, the bad, the really bad, and the ugly. Long after each official conference event was through small and large groups were gathered laughing, drinking wine and sharing stories late into the night. It was magical.

My favorite part of the weekend was watching each person slowly begin to stand up tall. Upon first entering the hotel mentioning our purpose was almost embarrassing, but by the end of the weekend what started as a meek inquiry about where to find other widows became a unique pride in standing side by side with other people who continue to fight the war against despair. Our green lanyards became the sign of hope, instead of the mark of the dreaded "W". We banned together, we lifted each other up, and we allowed each other the freedom to be momentarily happy. The weight of grief was lightened by sharing the load.

**This photo is of your Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday girls...we couldn't find Friday and Thursday and Saturday were there is spirit!**

Friday, July 24, 2009

Old Things

I've long had a fascination of things from the past...things with a history. I can rummage for hours through an antique story, thinking of the stories that lay behind each piece, and the lives that created them. I love to feel old pieces of furniture or read old postcards and then in my mind weaving a tale for those who sat on it's cushions or pushed the lead to paper.

I also love going to used book stores. I go in with little to no agenda on what I am looking for. A spine will catch my eye and I'll briefly glance at its description and decide whether it's a keeper or not. The best part though, is coming home, opening the book and finding a hand written note or notes in the pages. I stare at the curves in their letters, wondering why or how the book came their way.

All in all, I'm fascinated with the idea that there are items out there that have been in the hands of others. They are people I don't know, people who may no longer be here, people that are proof that time will come and go and so will there physical belongings. Their items may have been donated or purchased at an estate sale, they may have loved them or simply never thought twice about the object, and now for some reason their are in my possession.

I wonder if one day my items will be for sale at a thrift store. I wonder if one day some person in the world will open a book they picked up at a book store and see the lines I underlined for their special meaning, quotes they gave me strength when I felt I could no longer go on. I wonder if they will know what those highlighted sentences got me through. Or maybe one day someone will come across a letter from Michael or I, will they read it and feel the love that I feel?

I do not know and I have no notions of what they may bring to others. I just know that the past has proven to overlap into the present. I feel that when I pick up that book or feel the carved wood, I have taken something that used to be forgotten or overlooked and brought it into my present, brought it into my life. The power that book may have had on someone 30 years ago will now become a part of me and that is amazing but also reassuring.

These random items are proof and reinforcement that my past and memories are guides and will continue to be my "antique finds" when times get tough.

There are rest and healing in the contemplation of antiquities.
- Mark Twain

Next Stop Letterman...

OK, maybe I am exaggerating just a tad...

But last weekend, the National Conference on Widowhood gave me the opportunity to step WAAAY outside of my comfort zone. Like, Way.

This shy, insecure, risk-averse widow stood in front of a whole bunch of women and revealed herself. I wanted to give these fabulous, courageous and generous widows a few minutes of fun. I think they had fun and I know I did.

I really want to pretend nonchalance, to be cool about it, like "Oh, that ole talk?"
But I can't. The experience, like so many experiences since Mike died, was life changing.

I now say, "If I could do THAT, without seizing, throwing up or fainting, (and it was touch-and-go for a while) I can do anything." That is how big it was.

I used to say that about surviving the first 3 years of widowhood and it is true. If you can make it that far...

We all have these defining moments.

My M.O. was always to run from defining moments, to run like hell. Really, who needs defining? Certainly not this babe…

Maybe Mike's final gift to me was the willingness to say "yes" or at least "I'll think about it" rather my usual "not in this life time" when I am offered an opportunity that is scary.

If this is so, thank you Mike. It was not an easy road we walked, that is for sure. But I am grateful for every ridiculously hard moment and every unwanted lesson for I would not be here today if it were not for you. Love you forever, Mie

Mie Elmhirst Widows Breathe Coaching

Thursday, July 23, 2009

A Thin Thread

I've always felt like I related to this art piece made by my sister-in-law. It reminds me of pain. Of strength. Of holding on. Of hope. Do you ever feel like you're hanging on by the thinnest thread? I had been running on empty for a while now... feeling dry and indifferent... Feeling like I had given everything that I had to give, leaving nothing left for me. The past few weeks, like usual, have been a whirlwind. But this whirlwind has been an extremely personal one- intimate even. This whirlwind... took my soul for a ride and dropped it off in a dark alley. In the tear's flood gates busted open, my heart screamed of pain and my body lay limp, in shock of so much emotion. I've noticed that there's usually a point for me in the midst of this kind of pain when I choose to hold on to that thin thread or let go. If I consider letting go, even for a split second, letting go will be the direction I take. And so, in the dark alley where I thought no one would be looking, my thin thread held strong but I stopped fighting...I let it go.

Over the next few hours I saw nothing but the pain the past 18 months have brought me... I saw only the unfair, unjust, and ugly. My mouth opened to speak but sound failed to escape. I told my body to move but it denied me. I held onto nothing and let myself fall dangerously further into my loss, jealousy, and anger. I tried to recall everything that would wound me further. I didn't care. I didn't crave relief. I didn't want comfort. Finally, air escaped my lungs and as if a switch had been flipped, my eyes dried up. I looked around and realized... somehow I had made it from my bed (my dark alley) to the floor of my shower. Despite my efforts to hide, comfort found me.

Life. I kept thinking. Life.

Life, can be my curse if I let it. Life... I can hate. Or in life... I can hope. I thought again about the past 18 months. This time, allowing myself to remember the places in which I have found strength... in a good listener, in memories, in the bond of another widow, in grace, in David... most recently, I found hope in the birth of new life- David's niece. Even though these things at some point brought me strength to put one foot in front of the other, I attempt to recognize where these things have all derived...

God. I thought out loud.

With that realization, I took a deep breath and replaced my thin thread... with something new... Hope.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009


It's surprising to me how much peace one can feel in the middle of a couple of hundred people.
Yet that's exactly what I felt at "Camp Widow" (love the nickname, M!).
To be surrounded by so many women, and a great guy, who understand what I'm feeling before I have the words to describe it ...... is very peaceful.
It's not that it was all sugar and spice .... I mean really ..... we were there for a pretty sucky reason, right? And it was difficult to hear some of the stories, or just to look at the numbers of people in a room and know they all have a story. I think the hardest part for me was all of the very young widows. There were many (or there were many with amazing plastic surgeons!).
But ..... there we were, together. Laughing ..... a lot. Crying .... sometimes, but laughing more. And I bet it's been a very long time for many of us since we've laughed more than we've cried.
It was a wonderful weekend. I needed it. I think most of them needed it.
I look forward to "Camp Widow 2".
And until then, when I'm not feeling all that peaceful ..... I will remember that weekend, the women (and wonderful guy!) that I finally got to meet face-t0-face, and will smile ..... and feel some peace.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Value of a Friend (continued)....

I spent this past weekend at the first ever National Conference on Widowhood, an experience I now fondly call “Camp Widow”. I watched in awe as women from around the world met each other for the first time and talked for hours like long lost friends. I’ll never say I take my friendship with Michele for granted; having a widow friend to walk the path with me has been a gift from God. However, I think I saw firsthand this weekend what it might have been like without that friendship. As I saw the understanding dawn in each woman’s eyes and the amazement as some woman they just met “got it” in a way no one else ever had, I was reminded what a gift this kind of friendship is: someone to finish your sentences, to know what you mean when you say you’ve had a terrible day, or even a good one; someone to understand, to “get it”. Invaluable.

I was struck several times over the course of the weekend by the sheer numbers of us, and the terrible tragedies represented by each person there. It is so sad that we need each other so much, and so awesome that we have found each other. I think the message I came away from the weekend with was a simple one: our club is one with a very high initiation fee, and not one I hope others have to join anytime soon, but if you have to join the club, find us. We’re here and we understand.

Monday, July 20, 2009

And Life Goes On

Do you ever count the things your husband has missed since he died? Or think about the amazing things that have transpired since you last had one of those, "You will never guess what happened!" conversations with him? I sometimes catch myself marveling about the ability of the world to continue in the aftermath of death and tragedy.

And yet it does. Continually. And I thank God for that now, though I was horrified by the audacity of the sun in the days after Phil's death. How dare that big yellow orb keep rising! Hadn't anyone informed that celestial mass that Phil was dead? I remember clearly my first journey to a store after becoming a widow. The salesperson asked my in a very chipper voice how I was today. I stared at her for so long after she asked the question that she became uncomfortable. What she didn't know was that I was trying not to scream, or run, or lay down on the floor and cry.

When Phil last graced the world with his presence, my brother (pictured here with his wife and adorable baby) was single, and not sure he would ever have kids of his own. He lived the life of a single bartender in New York, and Phil and I talked about what a great dad he would be if he found a woman that could be partner, friend and mother to his children. When I saw this picture for the first time I wanted to say to Phil, "Honey, he found her!"

The day after Phil's accident, given a choice, I would have beamed myself straight up to heaven to be beside him. No thought, no hesitation, no fear. What I have come to realize is that I am now very grateful for the rising and setting of the sun. I appreciate that there is no choice involved in whether the sun will rise each morning, because some days I would rather it didn't.
But since the each day begins, whether I like it or not, I am given the chance over and over to make the best of the daily opportunity to live. And though Phil may not experience these milestones beside me, I still let him know when something happens that he just won't believe!

Sunday, July 19, 2009


Life hasn't turned out like I thought it would. Never in my wildest dreams would I have pictured myself standing before a room full of widows sharing with them my thoughts on finding hope in the aftermath of despair. Never. And yet here I am, and here you are, and we are here together.

Unimaginable does not mean impossible. How do you apply that concept to life as a widow? The night Phil died, I could not imagine sleeping comfortably in our bed ever again ~but now I can fall happily into my bed and sleep the night away. When I stood in front of our friends and family to speak publicly about my love for Phil at his funeral, I could not imagine ever wanting to verbalize my love for him in front of a large group of people again ~but now I share our journey with groups all over the country. When I sat alone in a restaurant eating lunch without my partner, I could not imagine a comfortable lunch alone ~but now I often grab a quick bite to eat without even noticing that I am alone. When I took off my wedding ring, I could not imagine ever wearing another ~but now I know that some day I will.

In the same way that we could not have imagined where we would be today, we won't be able to imagine where we may be tomorrow. Sometimes the unimaginable is terrible, but other times the uncertain future brings us gifts that defy our ability to comprehend.

As we gather together today for the first ever National Conference on Widowhood (VERY unimaginable), I encourage you to embrace the possibility of that which has yet to be imagined.

Saturday, July 18, 2009


This past week Nicole (WSM) and I were both able to speak to military widows from the Vietnam era. Now we did it in different ways (mine was on the phone and hers was at the podium), but both brought us to the realization that we were overlapping two generations with one common thing, sharing our stories of love, grief and survival.

The woman I spoke with has been on this journey of widowhood for 40 years(where as I'm only going on 2), yet for 30 minutes time and age were not a factor. We spoke about what we do in our free time, about how we were notified and other topics. Excitement was present in both of our voices, for in those moments we had come full circle. 40 years later she was able to share things with someone who understood that she and so many others had paved the way for our generation.

Of course I wanted to ask her if there was some secret to getting through this new life, some seeds of wisdom I could plant in my garden. She paused for a moment, and in the words she then spoke, I was reaffirmed to why I am still here.

"The one thing that has pulled me through is the love I have for him and the hope that one day we will be together forever."

It was then that I realized that yes, we are the new generation of military widows and things have changed from past generations, but there is one constant that will always unite us, always bring us together as one in the end, and that is love.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Life does sure insist on happening...

Life does sure insist on happening.

This weekend, while I am in San Diego for the Conference, my daughter will be putting herself on a plane for musical theater camp. She will take a plane to Newark, and then a bus. We have reviewed the itinerary maybe one hundred times. She is really tired of me. "Do you have your ticket? The confirmation number of the bus service? The notarized permission form? Death certificate? Money? Do you know what to do if there is a glitch? Do you have the Marriot number in San Diego?" And on and on.

The poor girl.

It is not her separation anxiety that is at issue. We are both clear about that. It is mine. Since December 2000, it has always been mine. The first time she went to overnight camp I struggled not to go to bed for the two weeks. The next year it did not get any better. The third year, it was for a month, and as I walked to my car having said my 30th good bye, I met her counselor. "I think Anneke is very sad," I wept, "and she might might need some consolation from you". And then I just sobbed.

This kind, young, cute-as-a-button counselor reached out to me and patted me on the shoulder... "I know its hard Mrs. Elmhirst, but you will be fine."

Ah, humbled again. My tears dried up and I regained my composure, not wanting to appear less put-together than a young woman 30 years my junior.

I am thrilled about this trip to San Diego. I am following the weekend with my first vacation in over 9 years. By vacation I mean, no child. I will be in a boat sailing among the San Juan Islands with my geologist.

But it is a mixed bag as always. Anneke is growing up and our family that started as three, and then became abruptly two, feels to be getting even smaller as she spreads her wings and puts miles between us.

I know that it is right. But at the same time, it makes me a little sad.

Mie Elmhirst

Widows Breathe Coaching

Thursday, July 16, 2009

WINGS and Things

A warm hello,Add Image

My coach once shared a quote with me quote with me that said, “Take the Leap and Build the Wings on the Way Down.”

That was in 2006, about a year and a half after my husband Rory passed away when I found myself at a major crossroad both personally and professionally. To bottom line it, I knew I had to make significant changes in the way I worked, how much I worked, how available and present I was for my young son and it was also time for some self care. Can you relate? I worked too much (because I thought I had to), I slept too little (because I worked too much), I was stressed out (because I worked too much and slept too little), I struggled with being a single parent to my young son (because I was stressed out), and I ran as hard and as fast as I could to not feel and experience the full and raw pain of my grief.

So, after much hand wringing, and more tossing and turning I decided to “Take the Leap and Build the Wings on the Way Down.” This involved quitting my job (a corporate career of 19 years), going back to school, starting a business and taking the time to breathe and to grieve.

For the past few years I have been building my wings and learning how to fly solo and along my own personal flight plan. I have become accustomed to being alone, to making all the decisions for me and my son, and in knowing I had me and just me to rely on. Okay, it hasn’t been a bowl of cherries, but I’ve figured it out for the most part. (I still hit some turbulence now and then)

Now, enter my significant other, whom I love dearly and who has become a very important part of our lives. This, as you can imagine is a very big deal! It is awesome and personally eye opening as well. Eye opening because I am still learning how to be the best me I can be and I can still get hung up. For so long it seems I’ve been the “widow” and all that entails. Now, after five years of flying with just my own wings, it seems I need to remember what it is like to have a “wingman” again. (A “wingman” is someone who supports and backs us up). I’ve been somewhat afraid to lean on him. It is almost a forgotten behavior and I’ll also admit I have been a little fearful of losing someone I love again to death. Such is life. I know there are no guarantees, and I intellectually know not to spend my energies on the “what if’s” something happens to him, but with that said I am still I am a work in progress.

So, the next course on my flight plan includes continuing to work through my own personal issues (fear of another loss), to cherish my “wingman” and learn to allow myself to lean on someone and completely love again. I also plan to be a great “wing woman”, because I’ve learned I am strong and a great support person as well! This is and continues to be quite a journey. A woman’s (and a widow’s) walk or “Soaring Spirit” is ongoing, is it not?

My hope is to keep flying (adjust as necessary for turbulence) and I absolutely hope to see many of you building your wings, flying and soaring high in the sky.
Colleen Phillips

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

New Adventures

This is a picture from my vacation last week.  I'd love to tell you all that it was the most fantastic trip I've ever been on.  
That, however, would be a lie.  
It was mostly .... not fun.  It was mostly ..... lonely.  It was mostly .... painful.
I really, really needed Jim there.

But there is no answer for that need ..... and so I move forward.

There were some good moments ..... like the time I spend reading and relaxing underneath the above beach umbrella ..... all by myself.

And I met some nice people, even though I'm not one who easily engages with strangers.  Well, let me re-phrase that.  I never used to easily engage with strangers, until Jim died and suddenly widowed people were not strangers.  Not even for an instant.

I am in San Diego this week, staying with Jim's brother and his family.  My father-in-law was here until yesterday.  And when he left .... a very huge wave came crashing down on me.  I never saw it coming.  I had to leave the house and stay outside for a while before I could calm down enough to come in.
I haven't seen him since my mother-in-law died last May.
When he left in the car it felt like another part of Jim was leaving .... and who knows if or when I'll ever see him again.
Grieving totally sucks.

But, on a good note, I love being here with my family.  They let me just relax here and don't expect anything of me.  The kids are not here and are being well taken care of.  As is everything back home.
I'm still able to get some work done each day, which I love, because my job makes me feel as if I matter ..... that I make a difference.

And on another good note .... I will go on another adventure in 2 days .... the Widows' Conference.  I can NOT wait to meet so many of these people whom I've only met through cyber space,
I don't think I can possibly love them any more than I already do from seeing them face-to-face, but it will so great to hug each one and just sit and talk, hopefully with no masks.

Yes, it is an adventure that I wish with all my heart I did not have to take.  I would trade every good thing, every single blessing, to just wake up and find that this has been a 19 month nightmare.
But ... that, too, is not meant to be.

And so, I push on .... looking for new adventures ..... sometimes having to force myself to go on them, but I'm usually glad that I did.
And I know that Jim is glad that I did.
I would certainly want it for him if our places were switched.

So, in spite of this year and a half nightmare ...... and many, many times because of it ..... I have been blessed.
Very, very blessed.

And I have no doubt that ..... in 2 days, I will have a weekend of blessings to tally up and share.

I pray that many of you will be there .... and that we will get to meet.
Because we are stronger than we think we are ..... especially when there's a group of us .... together.  
We can do anything.

And I look forward to doing that.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Value of a Friend

For lots of reasons, but likely due to the National Conference on Widowhood this weekend, I keep thinking about my friend Michele and how different my life would be without her. She once wrote that God closed the door to Phil, but by an odd twist sent her the window that opened to me. Given the choice, she'd have slammed my window for sure... :) and I understand that. Not given the choice, we have been blessed by the friendship the new window gave us the view to.
Thank you Michele for being my partner on this curious and very often painful path. Thanks for being my partner in crime, the loud laughter in my ears, the person who knows when my voice "just doesn't sound right". It is so much easier to bear the load while walking next to someone with a similar load and a similar attitude about life. I'll be in the same city with Michele this week, and I can't wait! Look out San Diego, we're on our way.
Happy Tuesday! - Michelle D.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Life In Yellow

So, it is Tour de France time. This may or may not mean anything to you, but in this house Tour Time is a big deal.

The Tour de France is the granddaddy of cycling races, made famous in recent years by the athletic feats of Lance Armstrong. You will notice in any photo of me that I am wearing a bright yellow LIVESTRONG wristband. I took the band I currently wear off of Phil's wrist as I sat beside his beautiful body in the emergency room trying to grasp the fact that he was dead. He wore this particular yellow plastic circle for at least a year before his death, and I have been wearing it in his honor for the past four.

Anyone who came to Phil's funeral left with a livestrong band, because Phil loved the message this yellow campaign represents...never give up. His mother was diagnosed with Leukemia about seven years ago, and Phil felt an even deeper connection to the Livestrong Foundation knowing they were providing support, encouragement, and resources for people fighting cancer. All this, plus the fact that Lance Armstrong kicks butt on steep hill climbs made Phil a lifelong supporter of the Livestrong movement.

So as I watch the cyclists battling up the intense French hillsides, I remind myself that I have hills to climb too. When the uphill battle of grief makes me want to throw in the towel, my little yellow band reminds me to never give up. Phil didn't, and I won' least not today!

The photo above is of me and Paul Sherwen at the Tour of California. He is a longtime cycling commentator and former English cycing pro, and to say I was starstruck is a serious understatement!

Sunday, July 12, 2009

More Than A Guest Book

Being required to plan a funeral right after someone dies is cruel and unusual punishment. Yes, I know, arranging a final resting place for the deceased loved one is necessary...but putting together a thoughtful celebration of the person you love is incredibly difficult when you are still trying to register the fact that they are actually dead.

Phil died on a Wednesday night at 6:18PM. Hours before he died I didn't know the first thing about planning a funeral...and then suddenly there were decisions to be made immediately upon hearing that the man I loved wasn't coming home, ever. What funeral home would I like them to call? How was I supposed to know?

I have signed many "funeral guest books," but the practice didn't seem odd to me until I needed to decide whether or not we would have one at Phil's service, if the book would be at both services or just one, and what kind of book would I like? I distinctly remember trying to focus on what kind of book I would like. My husband is dead. What kind of book would I like? My husband is dead. Who cares?!

I am blessed with a spectacular family. When I think of what angels on earth must be like, this group of people is what I imagine. So, I never had to choose. My sister picked a book, my mother planned the services, my dad ran errands all day long, my other six siblings did every job that I was not capable of even thinking about, much less accomplishing. With the exception of one. The guest book. Yep, I sat at my kitchen table while chaos flooded my house and made this blue guest book into a photo album of our lives together. I couldn't explain to anyone why I needed to do this, but I knew that I did. The pages are smeared with tears, spelling errors abound, and you will encounter all kinds of crazy grammar...but every page is filled with both sorrow and love. Next to the photos are personal messages written by our friends and family about the man that touched so many hearts. And the book I could imagine no use for has become one of my most treasured possessions. So anytime you see a photo page that looks like the one above, you'll know I am sharing a piece of both the life, and the death, of Phillip Hernandez. Love you honey.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

The Ocean

I cannot think of any better example of this new chapter of mine then that of an ocean. Waves are a constant but there are days when all is calm, and then there are the days where they crash on the sand with all their power and might.

So goes the same with my grief.

There are moments of serene beauty. The sun rises and the sun sets and all is well, even with the knowledge that the weather will change and along with it the current. But what is life if all we do is focus on all that is to come....the inevitable? I think there are moments where I feel I need to shield myself from the waves crashing in, as if putting on a blindfold would deter me from hearing them hit the beach....hit my heart. But as I have learned, there will be moments of pure bliss and those of pure pain. The tide will rise and the tide will fall, the water will glisten and the water will produce squalls, the ocean will be as smooth as satin and as ridged as a mountain.

Of these realizations, one thing I have decided to do when the storm comes and the water hits the beach like a rock through glass, is I will not sit in pain on the pier thinking that distance will deter me from feeling all that it brings, I will go to the edge of the ocean and let the waves crash down on me. I want to feel it soak me down and make me shiver, I want to scream at the top of my lungs as it covers all that I am, scream in victory that I have and can take it on.

I know there will always be moments that I am brought to my knees, but I want to say I felt each ounce of the weight that got me there.....and then I will stand and face a new day.

For whatever we lose (like a you or a me),
It's always our self we find in the sea.
~e.e. cummings

Friday, July 10, 2009

I am Talkin' !!! (Or...Our imperfect Marriages)

What about the widow who was NOT married to her soul mate? What about the widow whose marriage was a challenge? Or, what about the widow who, after her husband died, had to grieve not only him, but who also had to grieve what didn't happen in her marriage? Who faces the reality of missed opportunities?

There are those women among us who married their soul mate, and there are those women among us who married a good mate, a mate who was right for them but about whom we might not use the word soul mate. Grief for these women is no less challenging.

Recovery is complicated for the widow who experienced major imperfections in herself, her man, and/or in their relationship and for the widow who experienced deep pain during her marriage, not just after he died.

My marriage was full of imperfections. Truthfully, most of them were mine. Or, at least those are the ones I am talking about.

There were opportunities for intimacy that I did not take. Mike was diagnosed with breast cancer (yes breast cancer) a month before we got married and for the whole of our marriage we never spoke about the possibility that I would out live him.

I wanted to communicate. I wanted to talk about my fears, my confusion, the affect cancer had on me, my concerns for our daughter and my concerns about what cancer was doing to our family. I wanted to share but I didn't take the opportunity. I was unable to screw up the courage needed to break the silence. Both out of loyalty to Mike who did not want to talk and because I was afraid of opening a Pandora's box fulled with unknown terrors.

For the 10 years of our marriage I struggled with the dichotomy of living with Mike as if he would live forever and knowing deep in my heart, if I had had the courage to look there, that he was dying.

I told myself that I was doing it for him, protecting him. But that is only half of the truth. I was really protecting myself from the intimacy that could come from ‘digging in’, from facing that of which I was most afraid.

My greatest regret is that I failed both myself and my husband; that I did not have the courage to speak up.

I have compassion for the woman I was. I understand what I was up against, my personality, Mike’s personality and long family histories of silence. I understand and I hold in high regard the people we were, all those years ago. It is hard to speak up when your growing up was about keeping silent.

But I tell my partner now that the good wife is gone. She quit.


When I am upset, he will know. When I am afraid, he will know. When I am happy, he will know. I will do it warmly and compassionately, but I will talk. No more Mrs. Nice Guy! No more secrets just too scary to talk about. I want intimacy. And in order to get what I want, I will have to talk.

“Be afraid” I tell him, “Be very Afraid.” He laughs, ready for whatever it is I have to offer.

Dear Widows - What will you have to offer???

Mie Elmhirst

Widows Breathe Coaching - Coaching for Widows.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

What Might Have Been

Last night I was sitting on the front porch enjoying a gorgeous Summer night. Whispy strips of clouds lined the sky and created a red and orange evening canvas. As the breeze blew over me I was reminded of the many Summer nights I sat in the same place on the porch chatting with Phil. As I called up memories of July evenings past the driveway was populated with images and I sat back and watched them dance across the stage of reminiscence.

Phil loved to play basketball with the kids, and the images of them shuffling, stretching, laughing, and going in for the shot were heartbreakingly clear as I sat in my place on the bricks. We have an ornamental plum tree in our front yard that has grown from a sapling into a sturdy tree since Phil's death. Looking over at the beautiful purple leaves I could almost see him holding the base of the what looked like a stick in a bucket and wandering around the yard asking me what I thought of the tree here, or there, or how about right here? The year before he died we remodeled our home. Part of the building was the addition of the porch I sat on last night. Phil and I used to go on runs looking for specific things...doors we liked, outside house colors, types of porches, varieties of shrubbery; we called them remodel runs. On one porch run I made him sneak up under a neighbors porch to see how far out from the house the beams reached. He was always game for my crazy ideas.

Sitting quietly by myself on the porch that was built after sesveral porch runs, I couldn't help but smile at the memory of my husband sneaking across the lawn of an unsuspecting home owner. My heart still aches when I consider what could have been. What would we be doing now? How would we have changed as people and as a couple? What adventures would we have experienced? The what if questions multiply until I grow tired of trying to imagine a future that can never be. Four years ago getting tired of this game seemed impossible. Now I believe that enjoying the memory of what used to be is more comforting than wishing for a future that can never be. I don't think the pain of losing Phil will ever go away, but I am reminded of my favorite grief quote printed on a greeting card...In time, the warmth of every memory will transform your tears of sorrow into liquid gratitude...last night I was floating in liquid gratitude.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009


     Tomorrow is the last full day of my vacation with Son #2 and #3.  
I knew this vacation would be "different" .... since it was our first one without Jim.  But I really had no clue as to how very different it would be.

     It has been difficult, to say the least.  I expected waves ..... but I didn't expect quite so many.
I expected tough times, but I did not expect something huge ...... I no longer have a "filter" between me and the kids.
When we took trips Jim and the boys stayed in one room and the girls and I stayed in another.  So Jim always had more time with the boys and he made sure they stayed in line and treated the females with as much respect as he could make them muster.  
He was also by my side and we were in everything together.  Us against them, when needed.  Now it's them against me.  There is no filter to help buffer me from the complaints of boredom or of unhappiness with certain aspects of the vacation.  I planned it all (as I usually did) and I'm the one who hears the whining now.  Not both of us together, which makes it easier to blow off, but just me.  
There's no one to tell me that I did a good job, that this has been fun ..... that we're in this together.
I miss my buffer, my filter.
I miss him so very much.

So it's been difficult.

On the other hand, I've been able to identify aspects of this vacation that are totally new for us, that we never did with Jim so now they will be traditions for the boys and me, which is good.  They will hold no memories, other than the ones we now make.
And so we will.
Because I'd want that for Jim.
And he wants that for us.

And maybe the next time .... which will be quite a ways off .... I will have someone else come with me to act as a buffer for me ..... because I will expect to be filterless.

I find that it's always better to expect it and be ready for it ..... than to be surprised .... and knocked over by a wave.

So for anyone who has yet to try this part of your life again .... you might want to consider bringing along a filter.
Just in case.
Always be prepared.
A very good motto.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

The Family We Choose

They (whoever they are) say that friends are the family we choose....

This opening was written by our Tuesday girl, Ms. Michelle Dippel...then a new job, a recent move, her little guy's ninth birthday, and a holiday weekend happened...and she could use a little help from a friend, so you'll hear from me (the other Michele) once again this week! I promise you will get a new writer tomorrow ;)

The ladies you see in the photo above all knew and loved Michelle and Daniel Dippel as individuals, and as a couple. They celebrated their marriage, the birth of their son, the purchase of their first home, the comings and goings of the roaming Dippel family, and on a day they will never forget, they shared the terrifying news that Daniel had cancer. From that day forward they also illustrated why friends can indeed become the family we choose.

Together this band of women hoped for the best when they first heard Daniel's diagnosis of laryngeal cancer. When the road to the cure included surgery, they stood by phones, said prayers, and held Michelle up with their positive energy as they waited for news of the surgical outcome. After Daniel's surgery left him without the ability to speak, they found new ways to communicate with him, and held onto the hope that things would begin to look up for the Dippel family. And when the worst outcome they could imagine became Michelle's reality, they moved towards her instead of away from her encircling her in their constant love. It wasn't always easy, tears were common, and learning how to support the new Michelle required some adjustments...but these ladies were willing to make them.

Perhaps willing is actually the best word to describe this band of women. Willing to listen, no matter how difficult the subject matter. Willing to cry, or to laugh, depending on the day. Willing to say they didn't understand, but they would try. Willing to hug tight or let go as they each adapted to the challenges life threw at their friendship. Willing to grieve with ,and for, Michelle knowing they couldn't fix anything for her. Willing to allow Michelle to become a new version of herself without the fear of losing her lifelong friends.

Being the friend of a widow is not for the faint of heart. Don't let their big smiles fool you...these ladies are warriors.

Monday, July 6, 2009

On My Own Two Feet

Before Phil died I never questioned my ability to stand on my own two feet. Being in a relationship was something I loved, but I didn't believe that living life as a pair was mandatory for achieving happiness. My husband was my partner and my friend, but we were definitely two individuals with our own opinions and preferences...that didn't always line up. Then the world shifted, Phil died, and I was inexplicably unstable on my previously solid two feet.

Death made me feel, for the first time in my life, like half of a person. Suddenly I struggled to define myself, even though my identity was clear to me just days before becoming a widow. It was as if adding the word "widow" to the list of labels I wore mixed up all the others and left me wondering what applied and what didn't. This confusion was both terrifying and disconcerting at the same time. The dread I felt about living life without Phil made sense to me, but I was confused by the fact that I didn't know who I was without him. Since when did I define myself only by my marital status? When did I lose tract of the fact that I was an individual in a partnership? To take that a step further, I was proud of the fact that Phil valued me as an independent, intelligent, self sufficient, where did she go? I was terrified that I would never see that version of myself again and that I would be stuck with the half person I saw in the mirror in the weeks and months after Phil's death.

Over time I have come to see my definition of self as a playing card pyramid. Each role I play in life is represented by one card in the deck. Inborn talents, preferences, bad habits and good habits, shortcomings, interests, indulgences, unique abilities and quirky life experiences...all stack precariously one on top of the other to create my life pyramid. Since every structure needs a base, I see my most important roles~ wife, mother, daughter, sister~as the foundation of my self definition card house. When Phil died, one of my base cards was ripped out and the whole structure toppled. Playing card pyramids are constantly falling down. Usually, after a deep breath, the rebuilding process is patiently started and the pyramid slowly rises again. In the aftermath of my identity collapse, I was temporarily unable to remember what card went where in the rebuilding. And I hesitated to use the new card, "widow" to hold up my personal pyramid, unsure if this unwanted joker would be capable of stabilizing my house.

I have learned that the new card is indeed capable, as am I. In fact, this new card is much stronger than I ever would have guessed. There is a solidity and confidence associated with the role of widow that most people do not know. I have heard many a widow utter the phrase, "Well I have lived through worse." The knowledge that the widow card is acutally the survivor card changes the way I look at my self, and every one of my roles in life. I am no longer afraid of being a widow, and I am a better person for having lived through this devastating, unwanted experience.

At my parent's anniversary party (our family photo is above) I noticed something about myself...I felt whole. I was me, not us, and that was amazingly okay. Not wanted, not planned, not intentional, sometimes still intensely painful, and yet not incapacitating. As I looked down at my yellow shoes I suddenly realized that I was standing on my own two feet once again.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Why Me?

I will admit that I have uttered the phrase, "Why me?" on more than one occasion. I could follow that with the similar, "What did I do to deserve this?" or "Why is THAT person still alive while Phil is dead?" and a few others that are equally ugly. But the land of the ugly is where I resided for quite awhile, and sometimes a place I still visit. The infuriating thing is that no matter how many times I have asked myself, God, or my closest friends these questions; I never get an answer that I find acceptable.

I guess that is because there is no acceptable answer. I can't think of any reason good enough to explain Phil being taken from us. Sorry, I don't believe that God needed him. And while I am certain that he IS in a better place, I can't think of any place I'd rather him be than here, on earth, with me, and his children, and all the people whose daily lives were enriched by knowing him. But that is not what happened. Period. So, I eventually stopped searching for the reason, and began searching instead for the strength to make the most of the days I have left. Don't get me wrong...I am one of the strongest women most people know (maybe you have also heard this well meant line?), and yet I have to seek the personal courage I need to allow happiness into my life, to face the day knowing that the outcome is not guaranteed, and to trust regardless of my current emotional state. Not easy, and some days just not possible.

My parents celebrated 40 years of married life yesterday. This photo is of them dressed as pirates (I should note here that they usually don't dress like pirates so that my mom won't kill me for posting this photo!) living it up at one of our themed family gatherings. As a widow, how do I celebrate the longevity of other people marriages? Some folks would think this is easy; these are my parents we are talking about! But you know that it isn't always as easy as it should/could/might be. My mom told me the other day that she didn't know why her and my dad were blessed with so many married years, while many of their friends have lost their spouses over the last decade. She marveled aloud at the gift of their time together, and guess what...she doesn't know why they were the lucky ones. In the same way I do not know why I am not going to celebrate 40 years of marriage to Phil. The lesson I took from our conversation was that life is an unpredictable ride, and the best we can do is be very, very grateful for what we do have, when we do have it.

Happy Anniversary Mom and Dad...I can't think of anything more beautiful than celebrating the reason that I have the ability to love. You first taught me how.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Happy 4th of July!

Today marks another holiday that truly puts into perspective just all that our husband's fought, loved and died for.

I will not lie....Veteran's Day, Memorial Day and 4th of July used to be holidays that seemed to melt together. Besides separate months, fireworks and parades, I truly never felt to full capacity what each really stood for and meant to me.

With Michael getting killed in the US Army, as a veteran of a war I now feel, live and know just what each one of those holidays mean to so many of us who have been directly affected by the sacrifice that make's these days what they truly are.

Fourth of July is a holiday that celebrates the country and independence we all have, but also the lives lived by those who love and loved it so much that they laid and lay they're lives on the line to secure it for all of us.

Tomorrow I will celebrate in my own way some of the freedoms Michael so loved, as I know that they were a key component to him doing and having the job he had. I thank him and so many others for teaching me through their actions what the epitomy of these holiday's are.

Happy 4th of July!

Friday, July 3, 2009

Death by Sunburn??

My (rather new) significant other is a geologist. A few months ago, he left (Martha’s Vineyard) for the desert West of Palm Springs CA to do field work. He called me each day, either before he left to do field work in the desert, or after he returned. All was well. I was, and am, bonkers over him. I enjoyed our telephone connection. We were a new couple so the phone calls were a daily surprise and not an expectation. Or so I thought.

One day, after a week of this, he was in the desert working longer than usual and I did not receive a call. I didn’t know that cell service was not reliable from that location and his call did not make it through.

Mildly concerned, I called his cell at 4 PM with no answer. Then again at 5 PM. Then at 6 PM, 7 PM. You get the picture. (!!!)

By 9 PM I was Possessed and Crazed and quite sure that something had happened. Death by rattlesnake I figured, or sunburn.

I tried to employ my brain’s executive functions.
9 PM East Coast was 6 PM West Coast. 6 PM is not late. He is fine. You are being silly. He will call in a little while.
And yet, my anxiety continued.

I called my sister in Connecticut, looking for a calming influence. She said smart things like, “he is probably out of cell range”, and “did you both agree that he would call?” and “isn’t he with a partner?”. Yes it was true, cell connection was tentative in the desert. No, we had no such understanding. And yes, I was pretty sure he was not alone.

She suggested that I go to sleep and call the state police the next morning if I had still not heard from him. This suggestion comforted me enough that I finally went to bed.

Two hours later he called, high from a geological discovery. I shared a little of my anxiety with him, too groggy to go into detail. We said good night and I slept soundly.

As many widows have done, I watched my husband take his last breath in a cold, noisy and impersonal intensive care unit. I was alone. No matter how well I am doing in my life, when my daughter comes home later than expected, or someone I care about is not where I expect him or her to be when I expect them to be there, I get anxious. Still, 8 years later, the possibility of loss seems just around the corner.

I know that this is not logical. I am smart and have two degrees to prove it. (???) But my brain, the brain that watched Mike die, fails me and I become irrationally concerned.

I am sure that gradually, I will grow out of this habit of thinking the worst. But I have learned that really bad things really do happen so it will probably take some time.

In the meantime, I have grownups in my life who are reasonable and can gently remind me that death by rattle snake or sunburn are quite unlikely.

Mie Elmhirst Widows Breathe Coaching

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Thus begun our Dance

It was a clear, sunny morning on July 2nd, 2005, not an ugly cloud in the sky. I got ready in a room with the women most pronounced in my life at that time. I was escorted by the 8 beautiful women of my bridal party through the hotel and across the country club in California. I stopped briefly at the white fence behind the gorgeous gazebo before taking my place at my father's side. I wanted to take a peek at what awaited under the arched flowers... the sight made my heart race! ....There he waited... for me. At 11am I stood before my best friend, the man I went to for advice, comfort and love. I couldn't tell you what our Pastor spoke of that morning. I can only remember David's hand embracing mine and his eyes- the most pure shade of blue seemed to burn straight into my soul. I remember thinking "Finally... Finally..." It was on that day David took my hand, placed a ring on my finger, and made me his bride. Thus begun our dance.

Today is our 4 year wedding anniversary.

July 2nd represents the most important union in my life. It represents a covenant. A promise. When I was told that David was killed, I remember thinking, "I will not let this end." I was thinking about my marriage. As time has passed, I've been able to continually iron out my thoughts and confirm the ideals I choose to live by. After January 8th, I made a promise (a re-commitment of my vows) to find a way to continue my marriage with David. At the time, I didn't know what exactly I was promising myself. I didn't know what it was like to live day in and day out without the sound of his voice or the warmth of his body. Of course... At age 22, I had never heard of a widow pursuing the growth of her relationship with her deceased husband! But I knew I had to try. Regarding my decision, I've been told that death ended our union, I'm denying myself joy, I've forgotten how to love, and what I seek can not be found... and I've told them all, "Watch me."

And so, my "dance" with David continues. Our relationship is different is every way. This dance... is hard. Painful. It has it's frustrations and anguish. But how can anyone judge my path if it is I who is willing to bear the obvious burdens? To so many degrees I feel like David unknowingly prepared me for this phase in our journey together. He taught me that we don't live for this world, love is the point of all sacrifice and that love, the context of all missions, is stronger than death. I choose to believe and hold onto his words. I can't help but open my heart more and more deeply... to allow him to love me, even now... even after death... on the day that marks the commitment to our soul's union.

To My Husband,
We are separated by form, but 'I am here.'One day I will be brought to my hearts true home. Until then, we dance. My heart burns for you.
Happy Anniversary, My Love.

"Where there is love, there is increase." ~Cynthia Bourgeault

Perspective ....

..... is in the eye of the beholder, is it not?
This picture was from our last vacation.  The last day of our last vacation to be exact.  In June of 2007.  Six months before Jim died.
It was a "different" vacation for us.  A different perspective.  Only half of our children were able to go.  The three girls were working that summer and could not go.  So although it was a "family" vacation ..... it was different.

     In two days my two youngest boys and I will take our "first" vacation (not to worry .... I have family staying here to keep track of the livestock).  Our first since Jim's death.  (I do not count the cruise that we took the day after his funeral as a vacation ..... we were escaping Christmas and home .... not vacationing.  By a long shot.)

     So it will be three of us this year.  A very different perspective.  Them .... and me.  Not even half of our family.
It will be bittersweet.
I predict at times ..... more bitter than sweet.
But I hope at times ..... more sweet than bitter.

And much of that will have to do with my perspective.

It's strange how your perspective can change in the blink of an eye.  
Or ..... in the beat of a heart.
It's not always under your control.
Not at all.

I must admit that as of late, my perspective has been a bit ..... murky.
To put it mildly.

But I am going to try to choose, as much as I can, to have a clearer one this next week.  
In spite of the bitter.  
In spite of the waves that I know await me out there.
In spite of the times I will be lonely while the boys are out having fun.
In spite of the many, many families that will be surrounding us.

I will try to focus on the boys.
I will try to think of Jim being there with us, wanting us/me to have a good time.
I will try to see things the way Jim would want me to see them .... the way he would have seen them.
I will try.

I will not always succeed in changing my perspective.
But maybe, just maybe ..... I can tweak it just a bit.

And that will be enough.

For now.