Wednesday, September 30, 2009

This, Too, Shall Pass ....

It's time to be brutally honest and up front with all of you. Proceed with caution.
Before I write this confession, I must also confess that there's no way that I believe I am alone in this. And that is why I decided to write about it.

I have wanted to die.
No shock there, right? We've all felt that desire. But for me, there have been more than just a few times when that desire was all-consuming. One of those times was when the boys and I were on our cruise this past summer.
We had, for the first time, a balcony room, which was nice, but which was also something very, very difficult for me to face every day.
Every day.
It's a dang good thing they had that sign hanging up there ...... since I, as a first-born and mostly a rule-follower, followed that rule.

As you can obviously tell, I have not died. And that all-consuming thought of it has passed (thank God for good meds and good doctors). I still do not mind the idea of dying and I wonder if I ever will again. I have no fear of death, nor of anything really. I have faced the worst and have survived.
So far.
I think I've been mostly shocked that I didn't die of a broken heart. Maybe my children are surprised by that, too.
But again, I'm still here.
In spite of those days when all I wanted was for the world to stop. For peace and quiet and blackness to overtake me. I wasn't looking beyond that .... not to seeing Jim, not to heaven, not to anything except for the pain to stop. I was tired. Heck, I was beyond exhaustion and could not see anything different in the future. I couldn't see a future. I couldn't see beyond the pain of each moment.
Even on a cruise ship.
And I couldn't really talk about it with anyone .... not on the ship anyway. I was supposed to be in the "happiest place on earth" .... not trying to determine how difficult it would be to climb over a railing.

But ..... this, as do many of the thoughts, the pains, the blacknesses ...... passed.
And I confess that I'm glad it has passed. It's certainly not what Jim would have wanted. I wouldn't have wanted that for him had he been the one left behind.
And if it hadn't passed, I would have missed the experience of things going from deep, inky blackness to a lighter shade of grey.
I like grey.
I would've have missed my son's football games, my daughter's college graduation, 6 special birthdays, time with my children.
But most importantly, I would have missed the love, compassion and caring that friends, family and complete strangers have poured out on me.
I would have missed the warmth that those people brought to my heart.
I would have missed the healing that is going on inside of my heart.
And I would have missed the opportunities to say, "Hang in there. I get it. It's hard. But it will pass."

So here's to warmth, and hope and faith and love.
And here's to a future, whatever it may hold.
And to all things passing .... one way or another.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Not Dead Yet

I had another run in with death this week...No, not a friend or family member. This time it was me. How, you might ask?

"Ms. Dippel, we are having a problem verifying your credit for your cable installation.....(uncomfortable pause....) um, Ms. Dippel, uh, has anyone ever told you that you show up as "deceased" on your credit report?"

Yup, that's right. I'm apparently deceased. I wish someone would tell my mortgage company so I could stop making those payments. "Sorry, all debt collectors, Michelle can't take your call. She's deceased. Please leave a message at the tone...beeeeeeep." Honestly, if the guy hadn't been so uncomfortable, and a widower himself, I might have been a bit testy about it. Instead, I was nice as pie to him, and called Michele to vent for a good 20 minutes. What else? Really? The cable guy has to tell me I'm dead? Really? Where the heck is my "get out of jail free" card?

One more bump in the road of life. A minor one really, I mean it could be worse. It could be true! It's not true though, and I'm still here. In the words of a favorite Monty Python character: "I'm not dead yet, I'm feeling much better".

Happy Tuesday! - Michelle D.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Compare and Contrast

Yes, your eyes are working well. I have actually posted a photo of Phil and I (top left) above a photo of me and my boyfriend, Michael (bottom right). Why? While I was interviewing widows several years ago, I spoke to many women who were in new relationships. I asked each of these ladies..."Do you compare your new partner to your former husband?" Without exception they said, "No."

But I couldn't figure out how that could be true. If you were married to someone for 20 years how would it be possible to have no expectations of your new relationship that were based on your previous one? Would kissing another man feel weird or disloyal? Wouldn't going out to dinner at your favorite restaurant be strange if the person across from you was not your husband? What if the new person in your life did something just like your husband would do it? Or scarier, what if he did it the way your husband would never do it? Before I began a new relationship of my own, none of this made sense to me.

So here I am to tell you that I do compare and contrast these two loves in my life. Yep, I notice differences large and small all the time. But my sister widows were right, there is no way to compare your new man to your former husband because they are two unique individuals. And I am a different person in each of these two photographs. Grieving the loss of Phil has fundamentally changed me. The things that bothered woman A, aren't even slightly annoying to woman B. The qualities that woman A looked for in a man are very different from what woman B decided she must find in a partner with whom she would be willing to share her life. You'll notice that we look a lot alike, woman A and woman B, but closer inspection of the eyes will reveal that woman A never met the demon of despair. She didn't struggle to grasp at life when death called. That innocent looking girl on vacation could never anticipate the turn in the road that was just around the corner.

I consider both of these men to be gifts. They are very different people. Phil loved running; Michael wonders why anyone in their right mind would run 26.2 miles. Michael reads a book before bed each evening; Phil would nod off in front of the TV, then wander into our room and fall immediately asleep. Phil told me I was beautiful on special occasions; Michael tells me almost every day. Michael loves cars; Phil loved bicycles. Phil's job included daily physical labor; Michael wears a suit to work. Phil's skin would turn a deep golden brown in the Summer; Michael turns a very deep shade of red. Phil's eyes were a milky brown; Michael's are a vibrant blue. Stand them side by side and you would wonder what they could possbily have in common.

For all their differences they have one striking similarity, they love me. And at the end of the day this one similarity is the only thing that matters.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

8 Strangers

Peace comes tonight in the form of 8 strangers. Mexican and Jewish, white and other, one young with child on the way, one older with a young child, spiritual, long haired, out going and quiet, well dressed and unclipped toe nails.

We are strangers. We come together and shut the door, shut the unclear, confusing and sometimes mean world on the other side of the door. The latch releases in its hold and we exhale.

I miss her, he states. I am angry too! she says. I crave to be touched, says another. We all laugh, nodding our heads. We hear, nodding our heads. We cry nodding our heads. We all nod our heads, we all get it, we all understand.

And there is wonderment at the same emotions we strangers share. For now it’s our new Utopia, the closest we can come in this grief to it. This Utopia offers understanding and silence and space to raise our voices, stare out our hands, to sob, to swear, to joke and gafaw. No excuses necessary.

And when we open the door, our fellowship continues in a near-by restaurant, discussing our lives before we got here, what we are doing now that we are here. You have two dates? Smiles. This is a picture of my son, he said. And I look and my mama bear roars and I want to defend that child. I know that I love him. I know that I would defend him with my life and he’s not mine, but he is because he belongs to one of us.

And finally the world pushes in on the clock. We leave. I get in my car and I feel lighter, sweeter – less full of rage, more full of relief and calm and Okness. I drive home – knowing that they are driving home too and I feel safe. If my phone rings tonight, if I make someone else's phone ring tonight, it will be answered and there will be no should, no don’t worry, no you’ll get through this. There will be a space held for me (I for them) and I can cry or they can cry, or rage or laugh or whatever.

They know what it’s like, these strangers. They know my grief because it’s their grief and I love them for that. I love them in a place I have never been before.

They make this journey manageable when nothing or no one else can.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

I Am Thankful

This weekend I am at another AWP event. We have military widows from all different creeds and backgrounds, all celebrating, smiling and living life to the fullest. As I sit in their presence, I am at awe and honor to be in their presence.

In each of them I celebrate their own individual journey, as it reinforces my own. I never envisioned my life being this way at the age of 23, but I could have never asked for more amazing widows in arms to be along this with.

This weekend we are staying in a cabin in the woods, horseback riding, cooking, and relaxing at the spa. But more then that, we are learning how to live and love life again. The instant camaraderie that comes with being a widow is one I know will never ever take for granted, as it has been a key to my path in widowhood.

Thank you widows.....Thank you.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Good-bye to Mie

Widows need widows. I first realized this when I didn't know who to ask how long I should wear my wedding ring after Phils' death. At the time I had no idea there was no definitive answer to that question. Meeting other widowed people taught me that I would discover my own wedding ring answer as time passed, and that there would likely be a long list of other questions that would challenge me as my own widowhood journey unfolded. But listening to other widow's stories helped me to find my own answers to the endless how-to's and when should I's that are part and parcel of the widow experience. So, that is the purpose of Widow's help you find your own way through the jungle of despair and into the sunshine of hope.

Mie Elmhirst has gifted us with her stories for the last several months. She, like Nicole, has decided that her own journey needs her attention now. We can expect to hear from her again, and you can find her, as always, on her website at Remember she also offers a how-to course for widows who are ready to get back into the dating pool, which she facilitates with her unique blend of compassion and humor.

Thank you Mie for showing us a glimpse of the sunshine yet ahead.

joining the team


I’m Jackie. Unfortunately, if you’re reading this, you are most likely on the same dreaded team as me - a Widow.

On March 25th, 2008, my husband, Jeff, our kids and I woke early to get him to the doctor because he hadn’t been feeling well. He had put off going to the GP because he hated to admit there was ever anything physically wrong with him.

When he woke that morning, he didn’t do what he usually did - jump up and make coffee, feed the dog and play with the kids. He laid in bed and had to be coaxed to get up. After I had my shower, I had climbed back into bed with him and snuggled up to his warm and cozy back. I told him I loved him and we talked about the day when we would be able to sleep in the same bed together without our little one’s appendages draped across our necks. “That’ll be the day,” he had said to me. How right he was.

After his appointment, he had headed to the car before me. When I arrived, he was gasping for breath. As I ran back to the office to get a doctor, I saw him lose consciousness in the front seat. Our five year old daughter was already in the car. The noises he made and the lack of response from him to her cries still haunts her. When I came back, I started CPR. Between breaths, I screamed and begged him to come back. I tried to ignore the fog that was creeping into his eyes. The doctor who was doing the chest compressions had to remind me to breathe each breath into him.

Life since that day has been a slow and long plod. To my detriment, I have expected a slow and steady climb forward. Unfortunately, grief does not follow a regular path or route. It’s bumpy and scary….but at times; I have found light and hope. I have found that there are blessings that go along with this thing called widowhood. And although, I would prefer to have my beloved husband back with me, I am thankful for the gifts of strength and the ability to see life with gratitude as I never did before.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Unlikely Community

When Phil died on August 31, 2005 Matt and Liz Logelin were a happy couple with their whole lives ahead of them. As my body writhed in pain at the violent removal of my husband from my life, Matt was thinking about his next trip with Liz and the adventures that traveling the world with the love of his life would surely bring. While I searched for a new way to define myself in the role of a widowed person, Matt chose a ring for Liz to wear that would identify her as his wife. As my days passed in a haze of pain, his were filled with the clarity of purpose that comes from finding the person with whom you want to spend the rest of your life. We couldn't have been more different, Matt and I. Our lives were on completely disparate paths, until fate intervened.

On March 25, 2008 Matt's path tragically converged with mine. The day before he knew only hope and promise, but the death of his wife introduced him to despair and tragedy. Losing his young wife, the day after she gave birth to their first child, changed the course of Matt's life. That day he and I began heading towards each other, drawn by the power of shared experience and compelled by a desire to not allow death to have the last word.

Matt's journey through widowhood is chronicled on his blog and his desire to create a legacy to Liz and their love is spoken clearly through his work in founding the Liz Logelin Foundation. I am honored to be a board member for this organization, and included in the work they do to support widowed parents through the devastation that follows the loss of a spouse. This photo was taken last weekend after the second 5K benefiting the LLF. The 5K was followed by a wildly successful Gala that raised money to provide grants to widows/widowers who are struggling financially after the loss of their spouse.

When I consider how different Matt and I are, I have to laugh. How would we have ever found each other while we moved in different circles, lived our unique life stories, and followed our hearts into our separate futures? And yet, we are the same. We now know the pain of loss. We now know that despair can kill you. We now know what wishing to be dead feels like. We now know that fighting the uphill battle of widowhood is best done with an army of people who understand the struggle. We now know that giving back is the best medicine. We now know that the unlikely community of widowed people that we both serve are generous, compassionate, and inspiring.

Though I wish I could have met Matt by some other whim of chance, I am proud to say that he is my friend. Congrats Matt on all you have done to honor Liz, you have certainly made her proud.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

I Didn't See it Coming ....

.... and .... shockingly enough .... it came .... and went .... and I never saw it it.

Friday was the 18th, month 22. And I didn't think about it one time. Even as I wrote the date down once or twice, it still didn't occur to me.
After last month's tsunami of a wave slammed into me on that date I find this incredible. And very hard to believe.
And a bit troublesome, though I'm not letting that one take a foothold in my heart.

I can't believe I didn't think about it one single time.
It wasn't until someone asked me about it on the 19th, and I was stunned. Literally.

So how does that make me feel?
Pretty darn good.
Not guilty?
I pondered that for a moment. Should I feel guilty that I didn't give the day it's due .... that I didn't give Jim the recognition for that day.

But here's what I came up with:

Jim was not about the 18th. Never. He was about living. And about his faith in God. And about his love for me and for his children and our families. He was about helping out where he could. He was about improving our school district. He was about being a man of God at work.
He was about so many, many things ..... but he was never about the 18th, and what that day brings.

So yay for not being aware of that number once in 22 months. Yay for being so busy being about what Jim was about that I forgot.

We'll see what happens next month. I'm not foolish enough to think my grief is done now on every 18th, but I'll certainly take this past one for all it was worth.

Which was a lot.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Gifts of Widowhood: Me

A friend of mine shared this picture with me earlier this week, and it made me laugh out loud. I've been told I'm pretty good at this particular skill. As an only child for the first ten years of my life, I was a pleaser. I didn't like to rock the boat and went to great lengths to avoid conflict. Don't get me wrong, I still wanted to get my way. I just wanted you to think it was your way too. :) I didn't change much into adulthood. I've never been a shrinking violet, but if I could avoid confrontation I would.

The shortness of life is something that I have become painfully familiar with, and it has shaped me in ways that are probably not surprising. My list of things that are important has been shortened, and my need to protect the things that are important to me has been increased. I am much clearer in expressing the things that are important to me and much less worried about what someone else will think about it. I am more "me", and less "what will you think of me." I like that change, it's been a needed one for years. Too bad it took something so catostrophic to bring it about.

Living in the fish-bowl, as I like to call the state of widowhood, you become the topic of conversation: "how is she doing?" - "she's so thin...." "she's gained weight..." "she bought a new car" -"she shouldn't have bought a new car" - "she shouldn't be dating..." "why isn't she dating?...." I've become accustomed to the many opinions about my life and the way I choose to live it. For some reason when you are a widow people feel more at ease in giving you unsolicited advice, opinions, instruction. Without a partner they seem to see you as needing their opinions or requiring their consent for the most basic of activities. I won't say I enjoyed it, but it has helped me to learn a valuable lesson. No matter what I do or say, someone else will think I should have done or said it differently. I can't make everyone happy, no matter how hard I try. That realization has meant freedom for me. I can't make everyone happy and I no longer try to. The only person I am trying to please is myself, and I have high standards. If I'm happy with me, then I'm good. Guess what? I'm pretty good! :)

I haven't changed completely; I'm still very much about avoiding and/or resolving conflicts. Am I less tactful? Probably not, old habits die hard, and it's a good skill in most situations. I'm just more likely to be me regardless of what you might think.

Happy Tuesday! - Michelle D.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Michele's Musical Mondays

My personal taste in music is extremely eclectic. I am influenced by all kinds of things when it comes to music; including my children though they claim to be unable to improve my musical tastes. One thing you can count on though is there will be music playing somewhere when I am driving, home alone with no kids to complain about what I am listening to, and when I need a good cry, music always does the trick.

Many of my major break-downs after Phil died were fueled by music. Sometimes the music was completely unrelated to the situation...for example, I once drove the one and a half hour drive to my parents house listening to a country song about a woman whose husband cheated on her. When I reached my parent's house I walked straight to my mom and started bawling my eyes out. When she asked what was wrong I replied, "I wish Phil were still alive and he had cheated on me!" And then burst into wild tears once again. My poor, poor mother.

Then there was the first Thanksgiving after Phil's death. My sisters and I were 'making the best of the day' and cooking together in the kitchen. We chose the soundtrack for Wicked as our cooking music and when the song "For Good" came on the tears started pouring down my face, and all four of us ended up sitting on the coach singing and crying. Happy Thanksgiving.

No matter how crazy the circumstance, music has always been an outlet for me. So I thought I would share with you once a month the songs that have touched my heart over the past four years. Today you will find the above referenced song from the Wicked soundtrack. Knowing and loving Phil changed me for the better. I am extremely grateful, and I still can't get through this song without a few tears.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

New Perspective on Sundays

It is my pleasure to introduce you to our new Sunday blog author, Kim T. Hamer. Five months ago Kim lost her husband, Art, to cancer. She was his caregiver. She is the mother of his children. She is a working professional, an unwillingly single mom, a bright and energetic lady, and a powerful writer. And we will experience all of this, and more, here on this blog every Sunday.

My job as editor of Widow's Voice is only one of the many roles I play professionally, but leading this group of women is one of the responsibilites I most enjoy. There are risks in sharing your widow journey with the world at large via the wide, wide world of the Internet. Being honest sometimes leads to severe criticism. Writing about the parts of widowhood that we sometimes don't even talk to our friends about can be a risky endeavor. There have been a few, "Why didn't you tell me?" and "I never knew this day was that hard for you." and "How come I have to read about this on your blog?" type of comments for most of the blog writers I know. Then there are the darker comments, "Shouldn't you be past this?" and "Do you think talking about this (blank) years later is a little over the top?" and once someone thought that I should "Stop writing about death already, and spend a bit more time on your life." Wow. I wanted badly to know if that person were married, and if their spouse was still alive. But we often never know what is behind some of the barbed responses that are par for the course if you share your innermost thoughts with the Internet crowd.

So why do we do this? What makes us write week after week about the things that drive us, make us cry, cause a few belly laughs, and especially the darkness that sometimes threatens to swallow us whole? I can only answer for myself, but for me I write because Phil's death needs to be more than just a tragedy. Reaching out to others makes being dealt this deck a little more paletable. I am convinced that I will never find a purpose for Phil's death (I've been through plenty and none of them are even close to good enough), but I can create something from the pieces I have left. And so I write. Thanks for sharing your journey with us, thanks for embracing Widow's Voice as a place to find hope amidst the sorrow, and thanks for continuing to tell us what helps you put one foot in front of the other day after day.

Welcome aboard Kim, this is a really great place to be.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Flashlight in Hand

After Michael was killed, people I had known nearly my whole life seemed to drop like flies, one by one. The calls came less and less and with each meet up it seemed like bricks had been laid that separated me from them more and more. The lack of understanding, the not knowing what to do, or just the not wanting to know what I was going through, were a few of the many reasons I believe they evaporated from my life.

There were times where I found myself with no one to turn to. Or those that were left to turn too, I made sure not to share too much, in fear that when they saw my reality they would disappear too. It wasn't until I met some of my dear widow friends that I learned the true depth and the many levels of what a friend can be. I was not scared to face my future in knowing that when the darkness came creeping my way I would have others around with a flashlight to lead me out.

It's been over 2 years and people still come and go and every time I make ot form a new friendship there is an inkling of fear that they may disappear without a trace. But I have been taught that whether they are there one day or there a lifetime they each have helped me take a step forward and have guided me through tunnels of despair I never thought I'd get out of. More importantly, there are the friendships that have taught me that they will never be far away, no matter the distance or the different paths we take. They are the people who are there for me when the tears come, but more importantly there to enjoy this journey we each our individually taking. They are the friends that help me build my own flashlight in the times when they couldn't be there to shine their own.

No matter what paths we may be on or how along the widowhood journey we have traveled, all disappears when it comes to those true friendships, for if they are true, none of that will matter, for it is those friends who celebrate your heart's calling, for they know you are cheering them on along on there's.

From telephone calls to meet ups in person, I'm excited to share what great memories the past has brought me, what is up and down in my present, and all I have to look forward to in the future. They celebrate what strength I have been able to attain from my soul mate, and encourage and lift me up in a nonchalant way on the down turns that sneak up when we least expect it.

I have been hurt, as all of us have of the bonds that may have broke too soon, but there will be those friends that come into your life that make you forget it ever happened, and for that I am forever grateful.

The most beautiful discovery true friends make is that they can grow separately without growing apart.
~Elisabeth Foley

Friday, September 18, 2009

The Widda' Elmhirst

It was true - the skin on my face was dry and it seemed to have turned a permanent, dull shade of gray. Every morning I put make up on, hoping that this would be the day that it would last beyond 7 AM. It never did. My eyes were dark and puffy. My eye lids hurt to touch.

I lost ten pounds that I could not afford to lose, and it seemed that most of those pounds were lost from my chest. My breasts. Over a period of what seemed like just a few months, they morphed from wider than long, to longer than wide. Why they shrunk at that particular time was a mystery to me but it certainly assured that I wasn't getting naked with anyone anytime soon. My mouth developed a permanent downturn. I hardly bothered with my hair and it showed.

I looked like a 47 year-old version of the Little Match Girl. I was not what anyone would call attractive. If I happened to pass my living room mirror and also happened to glance at my reflection, always a mistake, I was each time shocked anew. Who was that woman and what in God's name happened to her?

I felt sure with all the tears I shed, that eventually, maybe by the time I was 60, I would be shriveled up completely, prune-like, rocking in some rocking chair, probably in someone's attic, wearing black lace-up boots, a black skirt, a black cape and bonnet. Probably knitting. And muttering to myself about the old days. The days when I felt like a woman. The days when Mike was alive.

Yep, they would say, The Widda Elmhirst, poor thing, she just went and dried up. Got old before her time.

The neighbors would bring their young children by on Halloween for a viewing, and the little ones would run, screaming, when I snarled... Leave me alone, ya brats!

It was difficult to believe, when I was in the throes of grief, that there would come a time when I would eventually feel good. It was impossible to believe that there would eventually come a time when I would feel really good. How could that happen if Mike was still gone?

I was pretty sure that real transformations were reserved for Oprah's guests. I studied the Oprah show. Who were these people who faced adversity and survived? Were they more special than me? Better than me? Smarter than me? Prettier than me? Richer than me? All of the above?

Or, might I be one of them, coming through my own personal tragedy a better person?

Well, I have no idea if I am a better person. That is for others to judge. But I do feel good. My complexion is back to normal, I put the ten pounds back on, although they did not all go back where they came from. (Where is the justice in that?) My mouth is back to normal, usually turned up and the mirror is no longer my enemy. I am not in someone's attic, being whispered about and little children are not afraid of me. Usually, that is.

Life, now-a-days, is pretty darn good. Go figure.

Mie Elmhirst

Widows Breathe Coaching

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Twists and Turns

The concept of widowhood being a journey sometimes annoys me. Yeah, yeah, we KNOW this gut-wrenching, life-swirling, upside-down roller coaster of an experience is actually a journey! When I picture taking a journey, my mind conjures up Bilbo Baggins packing his mutton and tea and heading out into the beauty of the shire; not me rolled up in a ball on my bed trying to keep from crying so loudly that I wake the kids. And yet there is no denying that widowhood is indeed a journey.

But what kind of journey? A Hobbit like adventure? How about Voyage of the Dawntreader? Or maybe Braveheart (Phil loved that movie)? Some days I think Mr. Toad's Wild Ride would be the best description. One thing I know for sure, no matter what book or movie best describes your widow walk, there are many twists and turns along the way. Unexpected barriers suddenly appear around blind corners, and sometimes halting the ride for a moment is the only way to get through. The idea that I can't do everything has been one of my most challenging widowhood revelations. For the first time in my life my own needs have made themselves absolute. No giving in to others, no stuffing feelings under the rug, and no ignoring the call to feel. In the end the willingness to feel is what has gotten me through the ups, downs, twist, and turns of losing the man I love way too soon.

Our Thursday writer, Nicole, has come to a place in her journey where self care is needed, so she will not continue writing on Thursdays. Thank you Nicole for sharing your powerful story with us, and know you are surrounded by sister widows who stand by you in spirit as you travel the path ahead.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

What We Can't See .....

.... can't hurt us, right?
Or at least that's what we thought when we were 3. (The above picture is of Son #3 at Disney World with his beloved band Aerosmith's hat upon/over his head.)
But I wonder .... do I still think that what I can't see can't hurt me? I think I'd have to say the answer is yes. Why else would I only concentrate on the here and now, one step at a time, one breath at a time? Why do I not dare to look out at the future, which appears to be grey and very foggy when I do take a moment to lift up my head and peer out into the fog.
I don't look for very long because the fog and the grey hurts.
But guess what?
It used to be an inky blackness that caused so much pain it took my breath away. So I'm thinking that grey is an improvement. Not a huge one, true, but it's a step forward anyway.
My day to day life doesn't look grey anymore ..... not every day anyway. Yes, there are still some dark days, but when I take them one at a time I'm finding that I can manage them and that I'm even finding smiles hiding in the day. Some times even a belly laugh or two.
So for now, I will keep my hat pulled down firmly over my head about the future and what it does or does not hold. I doubt I will always see grey. In fact, I know that one day, in the not-too-distant-future, I will raise my hat up over one eye and peer out for a brief look. And on that day, the grey will have lightened to beige.
But until that day, I'm still good with taking it one day, one step .... one breath at a time.
Because I think that's progress.
And that's something.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

You Don't Look Like a Widow....

I've heard that statement countless times in the past almost 4 years. I wondered early on, "what do widows look like then?" I knew what I thought they looked like before: old, black dress, and so very sad and lonely. Well, I had the sad and lonely part down pat. Old and a black dress? Not so much.

At conference this year, I got a good glimpse of what widows look like. Here are three of us. We look old, sad, lonely don't we? ;) Okay there are a couple of black dresses here, but this ain't your grandma's black dress!

That one comment, or a variation on it continues to be stated over and over as the years pass. "I would have never thought....", "You are just so young....", "You seem to be doing so well....", etc. I guess if we aren't crying in our drinks all the time, wearing a lumpy black dress, or looking more than a bit hagard we aren't recognizeable as widows. I have described this condition in the past as being sort of invisibly mummified - no one can see the dangling torn bandages but you, but they are there. The bruises and bumps of grief in many of us aren't outwardly apparent. They are there nonetheless.

I guess I'd rather not be immediately recognized as a widow, if looking like a widow means terminal unhappiness, misery, and hagardness. But, I do wear my invisible scars as a badge of honor. I did not choose this path, but I have become something I would not have otherwise. Given the choice, I'd rather be the weaker, untested, old-me, with my healthy and happy husband by my side. Not given the choice, I will be proud of what I have done in the face of such a challenge. I will take my limes and make margaritas for my girls any day. Care to join me?

Happy Tuesday - Michelle D.

Monday, September 14, 2009

My Running Identity

There were a number of athletic activities that Phil introduced me to during our marriage. He loved all things outdoors, he especially loved risky sports, fast cars, and physically challenging tasks. Our vacations always included exercise related activities in beautiful locations, and we would regularly spend several hours a day hiking, biking, or running. Not only did we exercise together when we were on a trip, but our daily routine included a dual workout. Phil always believed that if he could complete a physical feat, than I could, too. There were many times I wondered about my sanity as I followed him down a scary trail flying downhill after him on my mountain bike.

As a personal trainer, I am passionate about fitness. I enjoy a variety of activities and regularly remind myself (and others) that 'move it or lose it' is a very true statement! In Phil I found a partner that loved to move as much as I did, and we relished plotting and planning for our next fitness adventure. When he died I lost a part of my fitness identity, and found myself floundering in a world I previously embraced. Did I love to bike? Or did I only love to bike with Phil? Was running something I would enjoy alone, or would my heart break pounding the pavement by myself? How could I face a climbing a mountain without the person who protected me from wildlife that may want to eat me? The big question became what role does fitness play in MY life now that the person who made everything an adventure was gone.

Through trial and error I have slowly uncovered the answer to that question. First, I have not been able to reawaken a love of cycling after Phil died riding his bike. At first I saw my inability to cycle as caving into death or allowing fear to rob me of an activity that I loved. Now I see this is one of the things that I came to enjoy because of Phil. And it just isn't fun without him.

Running on the other hand, centers me. For months when I ran I felt as if I was somehow escaping the pain...traveling as fast as possible away from the heartache. Then I realized that the pain I felt followed me wherever I went. While running I saw Phil on street corners;, I could almost hear his breath in my ear; his voice would challenge me to run farther than I thought I could, and yet at the end of every course I came home alone.

I've run a lot of solo miles. While traveling along the courses we used to run together, I've cried, I've screamed, I've raged at the unfair reality that is now my life, and I have learned to run on my own--for my own reasons. Those first runs without Phil felt lopsided, my center was ripped out and my gait drastically changed. But slowly I began to find my own unique stride, and the certainty that I do love to run.

Turns out I do love fitness as passionately as I did before Phil died, and that I have found a way to embody that fire that is uniquely my own.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

A Blank Face

Phil loved watches. When he died I think there were at least ten assorted time pieces stored in various places around the house. Several work watches were stored inside his nightstand, four more called his sports cabinet in the garage home, and he stashed his 'nice' watches inside his top dresser drawer. He rarely left the house without a watch strapped to his wrist, and he was gifted with an uncanny ability to guess the exact time of day without consulting his wrist.

Today I was cleaning in my room and found four of Phil's treasured possessions tucked inside my top dresser drawer. I picked them up one at a time and stared at each blank face. None of the small round screens showed the time. Looking from one blank face to the next, I stared at the shell of something that was once useful...sort of like a body after the soul has gone. I remember tucking these watches into my drawer, uncertain where to put them and unwilling to have them too far from my reach. And here I am again deciding what to do with the things I have left.

Turning over one of the watches I noticed a build up of sweat from the many workouts timed by Phil throughout the years. My heart caught when I looked at the physical proof of my dead husband's existence. Living without his physical presence for so long has dulled my recollection of him as a real human. He lives in my mind as a cross between a friendly Casper type ghost, and the sharp memory of another lifetime. Viewing the evidence that he really did live here not that long ago made me slightly nauseous. Facing the physical proof means facing the subsequent tragic loss. Facing the loss means testing the emotional waters. Testing the emotional waters forces me to wade into the pool of despair and discover whether or not I have learned to swim.

So what did I do? I took the watches out of my drawer. I ran my fingers over each wrist band. I marveled at how he managed to actually use each of these time pieces; recalling the many occasions that I saw him mark time with one or the other. Then I laid them on my arm, and waited. The nauseous feeling faded, and was replaced by sadness. As I looked into each blank face, I realized that Phil wasn't there. His things have become things again, empty without his vitality to light up the face.

Perhaps I will stop looking for him in his clothes, his shoes, his hats, his watches, or even crossing the occasional street. The only place I know he can reliably be found is inside the hearts of the people who love him.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Wax On, Wax Off

It is life's little things, the daily routines, that bring me peace in days of mental stormy weather. From vacuuming to paying the bills, they are those tiny moments we take out of our day to do the necessary (and the sometimes unnecessary) things that give my mind a break and time to focus on the doldrums before me. In what some could view as pesky tasks, I look forward too.

A perfect example would be last Sunday. I took my car to car wash, inserted my quarters, finished off with spot-free rinse and headed back to my driveway to what would continue on to be 3 more hours of car-laboring love.

I roll down the windows, blare some of my favorite tunes, and start at the rims and make my way up. Who knows if that's the correct order, but it's my order. From there I waxed, buffed, polished, and moisturized every inch of that little car of mine.

During that time I reminisced about when Michael and I would wash the car together. From deciding who got to use the sprayer to who got the change. I smiled quietly that Sunday afternoon of memories passed. The simple ones, the ones that were ignited from me buffing a large chunk of metal or the others that float up when checking out at the grocery store. They have no magnificent tale behind them or message of any kind, they simply are my memories being brought to life by my present actions.

It's surprising how much memory is built around things unnoticed at the time.
~Barbara Kingsolver

Friday, September 11, 2009

No fixing.

School is in session! I have looked forward to this day for over two months. Not because I want Anneke gone, because I don't, but because with the house empty of daughter and S.O. I get to write without distraction.

This past weekend, Labor Day Weekend, I really labored. I cleaned the house, washed the floors, weeded the garden, did three loads of laundry start to finish, heck, I even washed the car.

I did all of this in order to remove any temptation that might lure me from my desk. As much as I love what I do, the last time I sat down to write a serious piece I decided that the floor underneath the refrigerator needed attention. After eight years of neglect, I chose that moment to wash that grimy piece of flooring.

It was pretty gross under there and I found a drumstick, four very shriveled grapes, a yoyo, and countless really disgusting dust bunnies.

But the fact remains that the floor under the refrigerator could have waited another two hours, two hours that should have been spent in front of my computer.

However, this morning, even with all of my preparations, I am distracted none-the-less.

A prominent and well-loved figure in our town died last week of lung cancer and her community has asked me to meet with them because I am a widow and I have walked the widow's walk. They are concerned for her young husband.

I wonder what they want to hear? How to help him? How to talk with him? What to do?

And what can I tell them that might help? Because really, I want to say that there is nothing that they can do that will help. Nothing can fix what is wrong.

I looked to books and experts, nine years ago when I was in his position because I was sure that there was something out there that could make me feel better. There HAD to be something, right? After spending many dollars I found that the answer to getting better was inside of me. In order to feel better, I was going to have to be willing to feel bad for a long, long time.

When I try to fix someone's pain, and I have tried (always unsuccessfully) to fix my daughter Anneke's pain, it is usually because I can't stand to sit with how it feels to be near someone who is hurting so much. I don't like the feeling so I offer them tissues, or a hug, or I desperately try to make them feel better by sharing some of my almost useless wisdom. (You would think I would know better by now.)

I try to remember that when others tried to make me feel better, way back when, I didn't like it and I resisted all attempts. I needed to feel bad.

So today, I feel like the expert who knows nothing except...

1. Don't offer help. Just give it. Mow the lawn, make soup, take the kids for the night.

2. Don't try to fix what can't be fixed.

Warmly, Mie Elmhirst

Widows Breathe Coaching

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Even the Vet

Over the past four years I have become accustomed to filling in the blanks on various forms...marital status, spouse's name and date of birth, person to contact in case of emergency, etcetera, etcetera. In fact, if you asked me a few days ago, I would have told you that while filling out forms still annoys me I have learned to manage my feelings regarding the dreaded blanks on any form I fill out.

Last week our dog Terra (isn't she cute?)managed to get a burr up her snout. My very capable daughter took her to the emergency vet (I was in Texas and talking to her by phone at 2:00AM)where the burr was removed and we were told that Terra is showing signs of arthritis. This news created the need for an appointment with our regular vet, which is where I was standing, chatting with Terra, when I saw it. Looking over the file the vet left on the table, the word deceased stared up at me. And tears came to my eyes just like that. Blindsided once again.

Why, why, why are even dogs required to have two parents?! How does knowing my husband is dead change my dog's veterinary needs? Please do not tell me there is some other handbook on how to handle doggie grief that I have yet to read! The world swirled for a minute while I raged at the need for forms of any type. Then I wondered what would have happened if I were just a single girl with a they write "no husband" next to the names of women who fit into that category? Finally I was just sad. Because there I was sitting in the vet's office, worried about my puppy, staring at a form that reminded me that Phil is dead.

As Terra and I headed out the door, she wrapped her head around the back of my leg and gave me a 'take me home please' look. I paid for the visit, picked up her prescription, loaded her in the car, peeked at the tires of the car to be sure they didn't need any air, started contemplating what to make for dinner, and then laughed out loud. My husband is indeed dead, but somehow I am managing.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

What Not To Say

OK .... forgive me, but I'm cheating today. I'm copying a post I put on my blog over a year ago ... just a couple of months after Jim died. I've had several requests to post it again, which I did on my blog earlier this year, and I thought I'd post it here, too.
It was a list of the top things that my children and I did NOT need to hear, but did, after Jim died. It's followed by a list of things we did need to hear.
It might not speak for you .... at least not every point, but I would guess that we can all relate to at least a few of them.
Feel free to use this list freely ..... to help those not on this path ..... "get it" a bit better. Not that they can fully "get it", God willing, but I think it's helped many of my friends understand a little.

OK, buckle your seat belts. And please, please, please remember -- I have no memory of who said what. Please don't put that onto me or yourselves. This is not to make ANYONE feel badly. It's just what I've learned and have been told to pass on. I think most of us are doing this for the first time. And like parenting, we don't always get it right the first time.
And, like parenting, this is done in love.

1. This is the most important item and I cannot stress it enough: "I understand." or "I know what you're going through."
No. You. Don't.
You can't. The loss you have suffered is yours and yours alone. It's interesting but every single widow who spoke to me never, ever said those words. My relationship was unique and mine. No one else can possibly understand the depth of pain and despair that I feel.
This brings me to #2 -- which is from my children.
2. "I lost my father, too." Not only does it not help because every relationship is unique, but it also turns the attention to YOU. When you're shaking a mourner's hand at a funeral or a visitation and you say, "I lost my father, too", or "I lost my _______(fill in the blank") then the mourner feels compelled to say, "Oh, I'm so sorry." and the whole reason for the event is lost. Bad, bad, bad idea.
3. "God has a plan." REALLY??? Because at that moment in time, I didn't give a damn. And neither did my children. The plan, whatever it was, sucked.
4. "God must've needed Jim for work in Heaven." Again, REALLY????? I don't think so -- God seemed to be doing quite alright on His own. WE needed Jim here. We STILL need Jim here.
5. "At least he's no longer suffering." Let's get this straight -- Jim wasn't suffering -- at least not until 4:00 a.m. on December 17th. And then he got meds and felt quite relaxed. He would have rather suffered some more and stayed here. And I'm sorry, but being the selfish person that I am, I would have rather had him suffer more and still be here.
6. "This has made me appreciate my dad more." Yes, someone said that to one of the kids.
7. "Merry Christmas."
8. "How was the cruise?" I'm sorry, what?! It sucked. Although that's not we said. We said, "It was O.K." (Note to WV readers: Jim's memorial service was the Saturday before Christmas. The kids and I left on a cruise the next day and "skipped" Christmas."
9. "Call me." This also goes along with "Call me if you need anything." People who are grieving don't usually call. They are just trying to breathe. And they don't know what they need, other than the loved one who is gone. Don't ask me to call. Call me. Come sit with me. Just sit.
10. "How are you?" You really don't want to know, so try not to ask.
11. Also from the kids, "Your dad lovED you very much." They know that he STILL loves them very much.
12. This is one that I really struggled with but I think everyone wants me to be open and very honest here. So here it is:
Try very, very hard to not write a Bible verse on a card. As one of my daughters said, "If you're not a Christian then you look at the card and think 'why the hell would someone write that to me?!' and if you are a Christian you think, 'Why the hell would someone write that to me --- I already know that." The first days are not the time to be reminded of God's love because it doesn't feel like He's very loving.
13. "Hang in there."
14. "This is going to be a very difficult Christmas for you." You think?!!!
15. "What can I do for you?" This goes along with #9. Again, I can't think past the fog in my brain and the pain wracking my body, heart and soul. I have no idea what you can do. This is where the "just sit" comes in. Jewish people "sit shiva" when someone is grieving. They go to their house and just sit. They talk if the griever feels like talking. They don't if she/he doesn't. The important thing is, they are there. Very important.
16. This has also been a difficult one to include but here it is:
"God never gives you more than you can handle." To that I say B.S. I don't agree with that - at - all. God gives us a whole lot of crap that we can't handle. Trust me. And I don't agree with that theology. I read that verse as saying "God won't TEMPT you beyond what you can bear. And when you are TEMPTED He will provide a way out'." The only temptation that I had was the desire to off myself in the early days. But God did give me the loss of Jim -- and it's way more than I can handle. Just because I'm alive doesn't mean I'm handling it. Try to never, ever, ever say that to someone who's lost someone. Ever.
17. "You're young .. you can find love again." There are no words for that one. None.
18. "Trust in God." - when someone gets knocked to the ground by God, there's going to be a trust-issue. Trust me.
19. No one has asked me this directly but I guess some people have worried that I'm on meds and that I joke around about alcohol. Really?! Because even if I were drunk &/or higher than a kite most days --- could you blame me?! And to put everyone's mind at rest (or not -- think what you want to think) - I doubt that I could play tennis, work, write in a blog, or converse with my children if I were drinking every day or taking more than an anti-depressant and a sleeping aid every day (which are both prescribed by my doctor). So I'm not overly depressed and I sleep at night. Find someone else to worry about.
20. And the coup de grace, the ultimate thing I didn't need to hear and the only one I have vividly in my mind and know exactly who said: 'I am the reason Jim was successful. Let me handle your money. You owe me.' --- or something to that effect.

Now, to end on a positive note:

The Things I/We Needed/Need to Hear

1. "There are no words."
2. "You are constantly in my thoughts and prayers."
3. "I am so angry at God."
4. "This sucks."
5. "I love you."
6. "My heart aches for you."
7. "I'm sorry that I never got to know/meet him because he sounds like an incredible man."
8. Any time someone shares a memory of Jim.
9. "Can I come over?"
10. Any time a man cried in front of us. It sounds strange, but we need to know how much Jim meant -- especially to men.

So there you go .... the top things I needed to not hear and need TO hear ..... 20 months ago.
I'm thinking about posting a new list entitled, "The Top Things I Don't Need to Hear, Year 2").
Feel free to add your own comments and tell us what you didn't, or did, need to hear.

Have a great Wednesday.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Can She Fix It? Yes, She Can!

This is a picture of Grayson and I waiting for Amtrak to take us to Disneyland almost 4 years ago. If you look closely, you can see Daniel's reflection in the glass behind us. He's taking the picture. I didn't realize until he was already gone that his reflection was captured in the photo, and he looks for all the world like a ghost, sort of watching us in the background. Sometimes this picture comforts me, and I do believe that he is watching over us. Other times, the picture just pisses me off, this is me not knowing the light at the end of the tunnel was a train. Either way, that discussion is for another day.

Today, I'll focus on me and little G (or not so little G, as he has grown leaps and bounds since this pic). We are on our own now, and have been for a while. I could bore you for hours with the stories of all of the things I have had to take care of by myself that would have been Daniel's jobs: plumbing, sheet rock, painting, possum infestations, auto repair, etc. Usually, whatever the issue, I either do it myself, or call an expert (my brother, my dad, my various brothers-in-law). I am always annoyed by the need to ask for help. Jesus, could I need more help, really? Babysitting, home repairs, etc. Things I used to have a partner to help me with...everything, everything, everything belongs to me now. Want to see the definition of accountability? Look at the picture above. The friggin buck stops here that is for sure.

I moved into my new house two weeks ago. That was a ton of fun with me, myself, and I...the usual suspects, trying to get it all done. Thank goodness for my parents, in-laws, and various other volunteers who came over to help shorten the process. It might have taken weeks! :) New house. New challenges.

Last week's challenge? The dishwasher. Seems simple enough: load dirty dishes, add dishwasher soap, close door, hit start. The light comes on, a brief noise, then....nothing. In the classic definition of insanity, I repeated this process about 5 times before it occurred to me that this was not working. Well, what the hell is going on then? The power is on. The door is completely shut. No water? The sink is working. So it can't be that, right? I wanted to kick the damned thing in, but realized just in the nick of time that this was not a solution to my problem. So, out comes the thinking cap. No water. Why? After inspecting the thing thoroughly, I realized that the top shelf was off of its track on one side, causing it to sag under the weight of the dishes. The sag caused a disruption in the water connection for the washer. One Phillips head screwdriver and a few adjustments later...a functioning dishwasher! I was on cloud nine, and I'm pretty sure I called at least 5 people to tell them what a genius I am and how I didn't even have to call anyone. No one. Not a soul. I'd done it myself. HA! It's the little things really. ;)

Happy Tuesday! - Michelle D.

Monday, September 7, 2009

The Death March

I dread deathiversaries, with my whole soul, as my daughter would say. This dread is instinctual, and has nothing to do with how happy I am in my current life. The creeping feeling of impending doom sneaks up on me at the same time every year, and at odd times when I am distracted by nostalgia or lost in a happy memory. Sometimes the feeling of dread appears as a great crashing wave, hitting me full force from behind and knocking me into the swirling sea of despair, shocked and unprepared. Other times I can hear the drumbeat of the death march from afar, and I have time to steel myself for what lies ahead.

I am amazed by the way my body takes over as the days before his death day unfold. Singing along to the radio in the car can be suddenly halted by a realization that I am living in the moment when we visited my parents for the last time. How does my body know this, when my mind is completely unaware? The simple act of walking through the front door is fraught with danger when the death march has begun, each time I step over the threshold I imagine a random moment when he did the same. Pancakes become tearjerkers, cyclists cause a lump in my throat, photos now stacked haphazardly around the house are dusted and petted, and the memory of the life I used to live calls my name over and over again.

The craziest part about this death march is that I am happy. Life is good. Difficult still, but I am more aware of the goodness in the world, and in my life, than I have ever been before. So why does the death march have this hypnotic power over me? Why do my feet dance to the beat of the drums before my mind is aware that they have begun to play? Why does knowing the outcome of the story not alter in anyway the dread I experience as the day approaches? I don't know.

What I have learned is that the death march is worse than the actual anniversary. I have realized that honoring my feelings, and allowing my body to move to the rhythm that I can neither anticipate nor control, does help. Allowing the people who love me (including my boyfriend) to walk a portion of the march with me keeps me from isolating myself in the sometimes overwhelming sorrow. One other thing I know from experience--all marches come to an end. When this one moves on, I find myself still standing and holding onto the memories of a love for which I am eternally grateful.

I am in Texas right now with Michelle celebrating us, Phil, Daniel, our families, friendship, laughter, and the fact that we are alive. We are in the midst of her march and we know what is ahead, but we also know we will make it through.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Just One

Four years after Phil's death, I am still trying to work out how to do twice as many tasks with half the amount of hands. The anniversary of his death stirs up emotions for the kids each and every year. You would think I could anticipate their reactions to this day of remembering by now, but I can't. My own walk down memory lane includes my children of course, but each year I get caught up in my own pain and then am surprised once again my theirs.

Being a parent used to require me to be an adult in every difficult situation with my kids. As a mother I used to remind myself not to take things personally, to remember that their reactions to things are not always about me (no matter what they say), and to respond with calm assurance when my teens were throwing a load of angst my way. With Phil gone, I find my reserves for this kind of great advice to be very low. Not only do I have one less adult to help with the every day needs of raising a family, but his death has added an element of need that was not there before. Unfair!

Things have changed around our home. Perfection is no longer an option (funny how I really believed in that concept four years ago!). I can't always be counted on to remain calm in the face of dramatic behavior. More often then not their tears reduce me to a puddle of "Why can't I do this right?" tears of my own. Even though I know the answer to that rhetorical question...there is no instruction manual for healing a family from a loss like this. Initially, counting on my intuition seemed risky, at best.

The amazing thing is that my kids have flourished despite my tendency to be blindsided by their on-going grief. Despite the fact that I often feel as if my last nerve is about to burst. Despite the hole in the middle of our living room where contentment used to be commonplace. Despite the aching need we all feel as a reduced family of four. Despite the fact that I am not silly like Phil. Despite the tears that burst out of nowhere that always seem to have the same source. Despite my fear that just me is not enough.

Our little family unit has learned to count on each other in ways we didn't before. We have come to accept that life isn't always fair. As a mother I listen more than I used to, and cry more than I once did. Together we examine the problem solving options...because we are all that is left. Where once Phil and I would have decided on a course of action, now the kids and I decide. There is a strange camaraderie that has developed as a direct result of my inability to pretend that I have everything under control. I wish things were different. I wish they didn't know all they know about loss, sorrow, the pain of moving forward when the whole world is upside down. But, I am proud of us ,because somehow we are making it through with our love for each other not only intact, but enhanced.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

I'm Fighting

Michael and I fought....or as I called it....debated, over who took the trash out or burned whose clothes ironing. The minute...the small things. But out of those small things, simple and silly things, I found the most important thing to fight for... And that is our love.

After losing Michael, I did not fathom the amount of adversity that comes along with following ones heart. It was one thing to follow your heart when your soul mate was alive, but once they have passed on everyone believes they are worthy of having a stake or claim over what you should do with your own life.

Two years into my journey I can say thatI have fought, and continue to fight, for the most worthy of causes. I have been bruised and beaten down to the pulp. I have tasted the blood on my lips from the battering of others trying to force their own journey upon my own. But thankfully, I have stayed my course....I have "fought the good fight".

It is in the biggest fight of my life that I have found the most everlasting of loves. I have seen the reality of miracles and the light of one's life upon my own.

All it takes is one glimpse of the most unfiltered of life's gifts to know that all the pain and adversity faced will bow down to that which will always reign above the rest....that of our love together and the love he continues to show me.

He is my my lighthouse, my debate, my guidon, my heart, my soul and my everlasting gift of true happiness.I will fight till the end for that which I believe is worth fighting for, and I could have never asked to put in the ring for such a worthy cause.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Woman's Intuition...

Here in the North East, most public schools began their fall sessions this week.
My sister, a first grade teacher, told me in an email that never in her life had she heard so much crying, five and six year olds being asked to leave their parents, many for the first time. According to my sister, "The sound of sobbing was everywhere."

I thought about Anneke's first day of school eleven years ago, the cafeteria where nervous parents and progeny gathered, and how the only person sobbing out of the approximately two hundred and fifty assembled, was Yours Truly.

That's right. I was bereft and with shoulders heaving, I understood that although I was clearly the oldest parent in the group, I was not the coolest, nor the most mature and I understood that any attempt at pretending otherwise, would be in vain. Sadness overwhelmed. Leaving my daughter for her first day of kindergarten, I was most definitely not at my best.

Yesterday, my partner asked me what I thought I was sad about, way back then. "Why missing Anneke, of course", was my easy answer.

But when I thought further, I realized that it was much, much more. Mike was struggling with back pain that had turned out to be a metastases and a large lump on his temple had also turned out to be cancer. Three weeks later he would have a stroke that would temporarily rob him of the ability to speak.

The potential of loss surrounded us. Did I know that I would lose him in 2 years? Maybe. Deep down, probably I did.

I am learning to trust my deep sense of intuition and knowing and I am learning that I share this ability with many, many women.

My daughter sometimes tells me that she is sad "for no reason."

We are never sad "for no reason". Ever.

The challenge is to have to courage to explore it rather than try to gloss over it by saying "I should be over it by now", or "I don't want to explore this because I don't want to make others uncomfortable".

Eleven years ago, leaving my daughters kindergarten, I felt embarrassment. If the same thing were to happen today, I hope that I would feel more understanding and compassion for myself. I believe that I would.

Mie Elmhirst

Widows Breathe Coaching

Thursday, September 3, 2009

When Memories Fail Me

I remember crying silent but painful tears in the back seat of someones car... we were running an errand for the memorial service and barely above a whisper, I asked, "What if I forget..." they too began to weep with me. Finally, they cleared their throat to answer, "You'll always have your memories."

I find that statement less than accurate. Because, for me, it sort of feels like the past 20 months have been a downhill battle for my memory. I fight. I fight hard to remember... to recall things we did, things he said, how it felt... But no matter how hard I try, I feel as thought I'm losing just a little as each month passes. There's so much I can no longer recall... and even more that I don't even know that I've forgotten until the need to remember hits me like bricks.

September marks the final days I was able to spend with David before he deployed yet again. Last September I went crazy trying to remember what we did the day before I dropped him off... I went into panic mode. I looked through journals- nothing. I looked at old calenders- nothing. And I looked through bank statements. I tried so desperately to piece together our final hours. I couldn't believe I had let myself forget. I still can't completely recall how we spent that day... but I can clearly replay how we spent that night... in each other's arms.

This September... the desperation isn't there... today, my nails aren't scratching at the door of memories. I think this time around, my hope isn't in the memories itself but in the "knowing" that there are memories. I know we were together. I know he remembers :). This morning, I woke up replaying our last vacation with my family in my head... there was a gap in the memory... but instead of beating myself with a memory stick I decided that when my memory fails me I'll just bask in what I could remember.

"The existence of forgetting has never been proved: We only know that some things don't come to mind when we want them." ~Friedrich Nietzsche

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

I Miss Touch

I have decided to carry on Michele's theme of "What I Miss" on Sunday. Because for the past week or so one fact has been glaring me in the face ..... and all over me:
I miss being physically touched.
Note that I did not say I miss being sexually touched (not that I don't) but those are two very different things. I live in a house with two teenage boys who aren't that crazy about touching, let alone hugging, their mom. They are normal.
And I am starving.
I miss the small reassuring pat as he walked past me. I miss the hug from behind as I stood at the sink doing dishes, or at the stove, cooking.
I miss the kiss goodbye ---- Every. Single. Morning.
I miss the kiss hello ---- Every. Single. Evening.
I miss holding his hand.
I miss rubbing my hand over his too-short buzz cut.
I miss doing his laundry.
I miss him picking me up and squeezing me hard to help pop my back when I needed that.
I miss his massages.
I miss dangling my short legs over his long legs when we sat in a movie theatre (for some odd reason, that habit started on our 2nd date and never stopped).
I miss crying in his arms when I was upset/frustrated/angry about something.
I miss him holding my face because he loved looking at the smile in my eyes.
I miss him pulling me down onto his lap to just sit and cuddle.
I miss falling asleep with him, hand in hand.
I miss gently touching him to wake him up when he was snoring so that he'd roll onto his side.
I miss hearing the loud clacking sound of his biking shoes as he walked through the house after a ride.
(I miss making fun of his biking shorts before he left for a ride.)
I miss shutting the pantry doors behind him because, as a male, he couldn't manage that.
I miss hearing him thank me for dinner ...... whether it was soup and a sandwich, or a wonderful steak.
I miss the "just because" phone calls during the day to check on me.
I miss the text messages he'd send from the school board meetings.
I miss him opening doors for me ..... and making sure his sons did the same for me and for their sisters.
I miss the light in his eyes when he talked about biking.
I miss him helping me zip up a long zipper on the back of a dress.
I miss asking him which pair of shoes looks best with an outfit.
I miss making eye contact with him from across a room when we were out at a party.
I miss trying to avoid making eye contact with him at a party because I wasn't ready to go home.
I miss his arms ..... he had great arms.
I miss watching him drive the boat at the lake and how much he loved being there.
I miss watching him freak out when the weather turned suddenly and the waves ripped in while he tried to dock the boat with out uttering too many four-letter words in front of the kids.
I miss seeing live theatre regularly with him ..... which he learned to love because I loved it and he loved me.
I miss his deep voice.
I miss his whisper.
I miss him telling me that I'm beautiful.
I miss him, when I would complain about the heat in a room, telling me it was because I was "so hot".
I miss telling him he was full of crap when he'd say those things, but thanking him anyway because I knew that he truly saw me as beautiful ..... even if I didn't.

I truly don't understand how I've managed to stay alive this long with missing him so much, because this list of things I've missed is only a minute fraction of the things I miss. I can't believe that my heart has not just given out.
There are many, many days when I've wished it would, but there are starting ..... ever so slowly .... to be more days when I don't wish for that.
I watch my other widda friends who are further along on this path .... and they give me hope. I read the words of other widda friends and acquaintances who are further along, and they, too, give me hope.
I need hope.
Lots and lots of hope to help take the place of the things I miss.
I want hope.
I want laughter.
I want happiness.
I want to live so that I can encourage others and give them hope.

I want a lot.

And I think that's OK.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The Deathiversary

There are lots of fun observations to be made about the picture above...let's not go there ;) What I love about this picture is that it reminds me of a great day on a great vacation with a great friend. I think I've said before that I sometimes have to remind myself of all the good things and make a list. It's always a long list of good things, and in the past 4 years that list has always included Michele. Yesterday was the anniversary of Michele's husband Phil's death - his "deathiversary" as we choose to call it.

That day, 4 years ago in sunny southern Cali was the day she started on the path towards me. I, unknown to her, a stranger, was walking the Cancer path (kcuf recnac) in Austin, Texas. My countdown to the final days begins each year at the same time she is re-experiencing the day. It's funny, I keep expecting each year to be easier, and in some ways it is...but the day and the countdown to the day just isn't that much easier. It sucks. It's a kick in the stomach and a sudden transport back in time to a place that is so unreal and yet so real that it is almost incomprehensible.

Every day leading up to "the day" is full of intensity and memories - "at this time we were...(fill in the blank)...we only had (fill in the blank) days/hours/minutes left and we didn't even know it...." etc. The first year was the worst, and every day had something to mark - day of the 3rd diagnosis, day of the family trip to Disney regardless of the diagnosis, the day we checked into MD Anderson, my birthday in the ER, the day they told us how bad the prognosis was, the day we chose treatment anyway, Halloween (the last day he was home), three days later when he suddenly died without any real warning at all....(my list looks like lots of warnings, but it isn't real until it happens).

I walk the path of events and memories every year, and this year is no different. When Michele's deathiversary passes, my Death March begins.... What is different is that each year I get better at finding the good in the memories and I try to focus less on the tragedy and bitterness. I am getting better at it. I do have to work at it. I still have my days where I wallow in self-pity for a while, but they are few and far between. I also know something I didn't know that first year. The stepping stones of grief would bring me a wonderful friend. Last year on Phil's deathiversary, we ran a half marathon at Disney and for Daniel's we ate sushi and sang karaoke (yes, that's right - we all grieve in our own ways ;). This year we weren't together for the day, but will "celebrate" soon. So glad to have you on this path my friend. Champagne this weekend, we deserve it.

Happy Tuesday! - Michelle D.