Friday, August 31, 2012

Every Cell: Seven Years

About six months after Phil died I was having a conversation with a widow I had just met about the ways in which trauma can leave a physical imprint on your body. As we talked, I envisioned a huge, ragged tear starting at the top of my head and ripping my body, not exactly neatly, in half. The tearing was caused by Phil being yanked from my life, and I became lost in thought trying to figure out how I was supposed to sew those two halves of me back together. I was snapped out of my revelry immediately when she said these words:

"I heard somewhere that every cell in your body regenerates itself after seven years. So, any trauma we experience in life stays with us, on a cellular level, for seven years."

This is what I heard: there won't be any cells left in your body that know Phil after seven years. I have reflected on this conversation more times than I can count over the past 2,555 days.

With each year that passes the memories of my life with Phil become less crystal clear. I can't smell him anymore by just closing my eyes. I can't recall exactly where the top of my head came to when standing next to him in my highest heels. I don't remember the words he used every time he greeted his mother on the phone. I have to count backwards to recall whether he was alive when this baby was born or that person got married. I've lost the immediate recall I once clung to so fiercely, and that makes me wonder if my cells have forgotten him, have forgotten us. Those words uttered innocently almost seven years ago have made this anniversary of Phil's death different than all the rest.

Over the past few weeks I have been 'taking stock,' and I would like to share with you what I have found.

After seven years, I can still summon Phil's 100 watt smile in my mind's eye. 2,555 days after the accident that took his life, I cannot drive past a cyclist without uttering a silent prayer. 84 months after our last goodbye kiss, I never leave a person I love without letting them know that I do. 61,360 minutes after standing at the foot of an emergency room bed, watching the monitors attached to Phil registering no signs of life, I am more certain than ever before that life is a gift not to be wasted. 365 weeks after the word widow first applied to me, I have found a way to wear that word with both pride, and a bit of awe.

My biggest fear over the past seven years has been arriving at this day, and realizing that "they" were right. I was afraid that without the cells in my body that actually held Phil, loved Phil, walked through the world with Phil...that I would lose the essence of him. But all along my heart has told me that really losing him was not possible. The love we shared was too beautiful to be forgotten.

Turns out, I was right. Science has proven that there are some cells in the body that never regenerate...and there are others, like the muscles of the human heart, that slow down the regeneration process as we age.

"Even in people who have lived a very long life, less than half of the cardiomyocyte cells have been replaced. Those that aren’t replaced have been there since birth."~Dr. Frisen*

Music to my grieving heart...even science agrees that hearts just don't forget.

So my amazing man, you are safe inside my very slowly regenerating heart for years to come. To celebrate this news, I will give more than I take. I will keep believing that love, in its many forms, is worth the risk. I will do my best to honor you, but I will do it my way...I know you would love that. I will seize the day, savor the moment, and treat life like the adventure that it can be. I will also sit on the couch more often; read that book I have been meaning to pick up; have lunch with the kids just because; make time to babysit for my adorable nieces and nephews; and value every minute I have with Michael knowing that eventually that time will end.

All this I will do not because you died, but because you lived, really lived. You taught me that living the dream is a fluid concept. Dreams don't end when we wake up, they only end when we give up.

And, through every bit of this topsy turvy life, I will love you still.

Special thanks to Michelle for sharing her writing day with me today. *You can find the quote from Dr. Frisen at Naturalist dot com, and many other sites that a Google search of this topic will me, I've read them all!


Thursday, August 30, 2012

Grief will always suck.

No matter how good life can get, grief will always suck.

And that sneaky little bugger grief always pops up, whether you're ready or not (when are you ever really ready?)

And the other thing about grief - it's life long. Just like love. And you when you lose someone you love, the hurt never disappears, even when it doesn't hurt to breathe anymore. And that love never goes away either, even when you find more room in your heart to love again.

This week grief has been following me around. It popped up in different places: in the faces of my children, in hearing stories of others' tragic losses, in my early morning prayers while I'm out running, going through stuff in the basement...nearly everywhere. Like someone kicking the back of my knee each time until finally I fall down.

The other night, Steve took our three girls out on a date. Since the boys and I weren't feeling all that well, we were just going to stay in, but Caleb asked if we could go on a "sick date" - how could I say no? We grabbed some food and headed to Jer's memorial stone to eat with Daddy at the College. I love getting to chance to have one-on-one with our kids, and Caleb is so much fun to talk to - I never have a dull moment trying to figure out where the heck he comes up with half the stuff he says. But I also love hearing him talk about his daddy. How much he misses him, what he thinks daddy might be doing in Heaven, what he wants to tell him, and his favorite memories of him. He is just the spitting image of Jeremy, it hurts my heart sometimes.

I sat in front of Jer's stone and watched the boys play while tears filled up in my eyes. What an odd place to watch my sons play - at their dad's memorial stone. I love being able to go there and spend time in that place, but it will never feel right to be there.

Every once in awhile, the kids ask to watch the videos on my desk top that were taken days before Jeremy died of the kids with a whoopie cushion. The sound of Jer's his voice can confuse me like nothing else. This morning when Caleb asked to watch it, my brain couldn't make sense of hearing his voice right there but knowing he's not here anymore. He sounds so close, still so real like I could reach out and touch him. Only, I can't.

I tend to be too hard on myself sometimes, thinking I should be ok and grief shouldn't overwhelm like it still can sometimes. But then I remember that it hurts so great because I was loved so great.

I try to let myself have the bad days, because just sucks.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The Things I've Done ......

…… without him.

In a little over three months I will have been without Jim for 5 years.

In those 5 years I’ve had to do many things without him.
Things I was supposed to do with him.
Or things I wasn’t supposed to do …… at all.

The first thing that he should have been here for was the news that Daughter #1 made it into Harvard for grad school.  I was so excited for her, yet so sad that her dad didn't hear the results of those applications.  Nor stand with me to put her on a plane to go.
It was very bittersweet.

Four months after Jim died, I stood next to his mother, our mother, and held her hand as she died.  He should've been the one holding her hand.  But actually, if he had been there, I don't think she wouldn't have been in that hospital ..... dying.  She would have had the "fight" in her that she needed.

The next month he missed Son #1’s high school graduation.  As the president of the school board he would’ve stood on the platform and handed a diploma to our son, and to the children of our friends (as he did when Daughters #2 and #3 graduated).
Instead, I stood in his place and did his job. 
Though not nearly as well, since it was an emotional evening.

But the hardest thing I did during that first year, by far, was taking Son #2 to military school. 
Against his will.
Jim should’ve been there so we could’ve been there together, one unit of authority, making it much easier on each of us.

I have done many, many things without him.

But not all of them have been emotionally draining.

In this month alone I managed to put together my first Power Point presentation.
Without the help of my very computer-literate husband.

Then there was the day last week that I jumped my car …… by myself.
I’m pretty dang proud of that one.

And then, just a couple of days later, I cut down and uprooted a tree/bush. 
Me, myself and I.
It wasn’t huge, but it wasn’t tiny, either.
I cut/sawed off all of the branches, and then the top part of the bush/tree.  And then I used all of my strength, which is more than most people think, to uproot the trunk.
And I think I only received 2 mosquito bites (West Nile inhabits my community, so each bite is noticed) and I didn’t break a nail.
Or anything else.

I have traveled, bought two cars, sold a boat, bought a boat, hired an accountant, fired said accountant, watched my children graduate, stood my ground, alone, when I didn’t think I had the strength (sometimes I surprise myself, too), stupidly bought a time share, hired a real estate company to sell said time share (still not sold….sigh), attended court (more than once) for a child, given my children financial advice (!) and killed/gotten rid of every single bug, lizard or spider that’s dared come into my personal space.

I know that I can add hundreds of things I’ve done by myself.
As can each of you …… or at least you will be able to before long.
Even though we all have hated hearing the words, “You are so strong”, we really are.
I know I’m not the only one who has surprised her/himself.

It’s funny (not as in “ha ha-funny”, but in “isn’t-it-ironic-funny” …. just to be clear), but when I was in that room (many of you know which room I'm referring to), with the surgeon sitting knee to knee with me, holding my hands, all that I could think, over and over and over again was, “God, what are You thinking?!  What the hell are You thinking?!!  I cannot do life with him!  I can’t parent these kids without him!  WHAT ARE YOU THINKING??!!”
But I was wrong.

I didn’t want to do life without him and I’d still rather not do it without him, but here I am.
And here are you.
We’ve made it one more year, one more month, and/or …… one more day.
Heck, there were days when I wasn’t sure I’d make it one more minute.

There will be many things we’ll do alone …… and we’ll wish they were here.
But there will be many more things …… that we’ll do alone …… and we’ll be proud of ourselves.
And proud of each other.

You dads are not only combing your child’s hair, but you’re even managing to put it into a ponytail!
And you women are probably killing/getting rid of any critter that dares invade your personal space!
You are stronger than you think you are.

And though I’d rather be weak with him here, I, too, am stronger than I think ……
without him.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

I think its catching

The farm kitchen

Greg was a hoarder.

His entire family were / are hoarders.
For example...
  • My brother-in-laws friends made him a "new engine" out of cardboard and tin-cans as a joke for his 21st birthday.  This enormous construction took pride of place above Greg's parents TV ..... for  17 years!
  • My mother-in-law kept every single Reader's Digest magazine she ever bought: she began buying monthly editions in the 1950s. O.o
  • Newspapers were kept to use as kindling in the stove.... there was always a huge pile of papers in the kitchen.
  • Ice-cream tins from the 1960s graced the top of the kitchen counter.
You get the idea.

I think it comes from living on a farm and knowing the intrinsic value inherent in "stuff".  "Stuff" that can fix other "stuff" or be re-purposed.

Greg would prefer the term "collector of things", and I thank the Universe that most of his "useful stuff" and "collections of things" was kept in a shed at the farm.
Much of it consists of car, motorbike and tractor parts which I have always accepted as necessary hoarding as it is hard to find parts for classic vehicles.

My darling sister-in-law (a champion hoarder herself) has taken to bringing me "important things" that belonged to Greg from where they were stored at the family farm.  This of course is the trickle-down effect of Greg's mother's death (exactly a year to the day before Greg's death).  The possessions of a long-term hoarder are slowly being broken down into allotments, lest any of us  forget their original owner.

Some of the things are cute and endearing - a picture from Sunday School, school photos, other trinkets.

But dancing sunflowers that were kitch in the 80's and the ugliest faux-rock sculpture that Hong-Kong has ever produced???
They hurt my eyes with their ugliness.
....and yet, I keep them anyway.

Things that I had always offered to "accidentally break"  (and toss in the bin) when Greg was alive are suddenly things I can't bear to part with. If they were important enough for him to have kept from his childhood, who am I to toss them out?

A lewd and disgusting mug he gave me before we had children?  I can't use it or even leave it anywhere the kids might see it .... but neither can I part with it as it was one of the first gifts he gave me.

I think hoarding is catching.... or perhaps it is something that goes hand-in-hand with widowhood.  Holding on to the things that were important to them as a way of keeping the link, the memory, the contact alive.

I part with things now and again, but it is such a bittersweet, gut-wrenching process.

But it is a process.

Small steps.

Recognising that I have re-homed much of his "useful stuff" and sold three of his motorbikes.
Recognising that I have passed most of his clothes onto charity.
Recognising that I will never be able to part with his classic car.  Ever.

Eventually, I will reach a point of feeling happy with what I have saved and what I have let go.

....but I'm not there yet.

Let's just hope I reach that point before I catch full-blown Hoarder's Syndrome and end up barricaded into my house by boxes of things I can't bear to part with.

Anyone else have a case of Hoarder's Syndrome where their spouse's belongings are concerned?

Monday, August 27, 2012

Dear Me

Writing has been a lifeline since Dave died.

Once I started my personal blog, writing every morning right after I awoke became a ritual I depended on. Writing was how I figured out how I felt. Verbalizing it made it tangible and sometimes uncovered feelings I hadn't realized I'd had.

I realized that by writing on a blog I'd become for other people the kind of lifeline that I'd depended on in the beginning and that was healing too.

To get even more healing out of this writing magic, I found a women's memoir writing group in my new city and began sharing my writing in a circle of supportive, talented women. I didn't think writing could bring me more gifts than it already had, but the gifts just multiplied.

Now, I host a women's writing group in my home every week and it brings me so much fulfillment.
Last week, the prompt was - What would your older self write to your present self in a letter? I wrote to this prompt as though I was actually channeling an older me. I didn't have to think. The words flowed out of me without restraint. The result was self-love I didn't know I possessed.

I feel like sharing it with you here because of all the writing I've done since Dave died, this one felt the most powerful and healing. Maybe you might like to try it yourself. I think it will surprise you. I certainly didn't expect it to be as illuminating as it was.

Dear younger me:

I want you to listen carefully. It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter what you look like or smell like or sound like or dress like. 

It matters how much you love. 

But don’t love just anyone, honey. Love someone who makes you better than you would be without him or her. Love someone who makes you laugh until you pee. Love someone who thrills you and teaches you and honors you. Love someone who shares him or herself with you without hesitation. 

Don’t waste your time with the people who don’t love you back or who hurt you even though they love you. You can love them from afar but don’t let them stop you from living fully. Don’t let anyone get in your way. 

You know all those times you worried about what you said and how it might be the final straw that would turn that person away from you? Remember all those times you thought people would see right through your facade right down to the dark, selfish, ignorant, judgey, small and petty you? 

Oh, honey, don’t you know by now? You are worthy regardless. Every part of you and every cell of you is worthy and wonderful and the reason you sometimes feel so critical of others is because it’s YOU you’re so critical of. It’s just your own self-hate directed outward. Love yourself and and you’ll see good stuff in everyone else too. 

We’re all connected. The tiny 82 year old lady next door whose husband died when she was 50, the man in unit number 3 whose wife is clearly in the end stages of cancer or some other horrible disease. The gorgeous Greek guy who owns the restaurant on the corner and twinkles those blue eyes at you and makes you nervous and forget how to talk. The crazy hairstylist who channels old Chinese men. The beautiful, multifaceted women who come to your house to write each week. We find each other and we need each other and we’re all connected. We’re all worthy, faults and all. 
Remember what your beloved friend said to you? He said “I love you, bat-shit crazy and all”. 

That’s what I’m talking about, darling. That.

Remember to take good care of yourself, sweet pea. You have been through so much and your job now is to learn to give yourself what you need. The naps, the massages, the time to sit and think and cry. The chance to travel and meet new people and breathe and stop racing around trying to be better better better. 

If you can learn to give yourself that, you will make this loss a little less awful because something beautiful has arisen from its ashes. When you do, once again, find your days filled with work and possibly even a family, you might have the mindset of self-care a little more programmed in if you work on it now. 

Give yourself a chance honey. You deserve it. 

No one can take better care of you than you. Even if some wonderful man is worthy of your love and you find him, he can’t give you everything you need. You’ll need to pull from other sources to get all your needs met. The biggest source of all, the best source, hon, is you. 
Also, don’t go around so scared to lose. It’s something that will keep on happening. You can live in fear of it or not, and it’ll keep on happening. So then you’ve got loss and fear. Why have both? 

Live as fearlessly as you can. Walk right into the inevitable loss. There’s a whole lot of beauty along that road. And the loss? Well, you’ll survive it. Of course you will.

You’ll be very scared. Just remember to act anyway. Each time you do something that scares you, you’ll be a little stronger. You’ll build that courage muscle. Just treat yourself after you’ve done it. It’s a lot of work. I know it is. 

I know your core and I know you’ll be just fine. Just let in the love and light and do what scares you. Live and live and live until you fade away. You only have this one chance. Don’t ever forget that sweetheart.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

No Signs of A Man

Please welcome our guest writer, Wendy Doyle Diez, who is filling in for Matt today. Thanks Wendy!

“Excuse me, but is your husband in the service?,” the kind, if not nosy, carpet cleaner asks as he dumps the enormous amount of dirty water he has pulled out of my area rugs into my kitchen sink.

“No,” I reply, genuinely surprised at this question.  This is not a question I expected to hear, ever really, but definitely not today.  I used to be prepared and anticipate the questions when someone came into my home to do work.  I used to be ready to tell them that Chris died if necessary.  There was a time where all I did was wait for the inevitable references to my husband to come up in conversations.  But today, I let my guard down and I failed to brace myself for this inquiry.

“Why do you ask,” I question Mr. Nosy Pants Carpet Cleaner. 

“Oh, just wondering,” he says.  “I saw that picture up in your bedroom that says, “We love Daddy” in the sand and there were no signs of a man around so….”, he trails off, perhaps wondering if he has said too much.  “I thought maybe your husband was deployed.”

“Oh,” I respond.  “No, actually he passed away a few years ago.”  

And there it is--The Look.  You all know it.  The how-can-this-young-woman-with-two-little-kids-have-a-dead-husband look.   When he recovers from his shock, he offers his condolences.  He shakes his head and says, “Man. That’s just too bad.”  And then offers the standard proclamation, “You are one strong lady.” 

After he leaves, his words, “no signs of a man,” ring out in my head.  Are there really no signs of a man in my house?  For some reason, this observation hits me hard.  Have I erased all signs of Chris so much so that complete strangers entering the premises have no idea that he ever lived here? 

I take an inventory of the rooms of my house.  The kids’ rooms each have a couple of pictures of themselves with Daddy.  However, the master bedroom is clearly feminine.  There are some photos of Chris around but I redecorated a year and a half ago to make the room feel more like mine and less like a constant reminder of my old life.  Did that project expunge Chris’s existence from my life?  My dining room could definitely use an update of pictures as there is only a couple of Claire from when she was a baby and one family picture of me, Chris and Ian.  Maybe there is some truth to the assertion that there are no signs of Chris around.

Convinced that this can’t be, I review again.  I remember the artwork that Chris liked that is hanging in the living room near the piano that he loved to play.  I glance at his Cubs pictures and mold-a-rama collection that still reside in my office.  I consider the beautiful garden he created in our yard that despite my neglect and weed infestation still resembles its original likeness.  I smile thinking about the ways that Ian and Claire manifest their father’s personality and passions.

Slowly, I realize that my hyper-sensitive widow brain has interpreted the phrase, “no signs of a man”, all wrong.  Mr. Nosy Pants Carpet Cleaner didn’t infer that Chris never existed but rather that he was missing.  He correctly sensed that he must have been a powerful force in our lives and that he was dearly loved.  He was accurate in his assessment that there are no signs of just any man here.  But there are plenty of signs of my man.  Even if they are imperceptible to an outsider, they are here.  And those who loved him and knew him intimately know it.  

And that is all that counts.

Saturday, August 25, 2012


I feel so behind on sharing some of my time at Camp Widow.

Words will never do justice to the silent and solid bond created within hours to the most unlkely of people. The young and seasoned. Hearing and deaf. Male and female.

It was a melting pot at the very least of those with one commonailty...okay..two.

They had found true love and that person was taken too soon.

When reflecting on my time there and people met, Tarra and Bella came to mind.

Their friendship so unlikely in normal circumstances, but obviously they're ahead of the curve  in knowing there is no "normal".

They embrace each other unconditionally and are there through thick and thin...just like I know all of my fellow "campers" are and will always be to each other.

Thank you, Michele...for creating a "sanctuary" for all of us Tarra's and Bella's!

Friday, August 24, 2012

Maggie's Cool Car - A Goodbye

It’s been a long time coming and a lot of emotional work to get to this point, but Sunday a guy is coming over to look at Maggie’s cool car.  I put it up for sale about a month ago.  It only took me about 2 ½ years to do that.  I’m terrified that this jerk is going to want to pay me for it and then do something really crazy like drive off with it.  I can’t imagine what it’s going to feel like to watch that car head down the street.   If it’s ok, I’d like to tell the story behind Maggie’s Cool Car as I originally told it on my personal blog on September 2009.  It’s long.  I think you’ll see why it’s so hard for me to let go of Maggie’s Cool Car.

September 28, 2009
Today the Mercedes dealership called to congratulate Maggie on three years ownership of her car.  Apparently, I bought the car back on September 28, 2006.  While I didn’t realized it had been three years, I clearly remember the event but it seems like so long ago.  The car was an early graduation gift from me to her.  She was so, so happy about it but she was also studying for her finals or something else important that my show of kindness was interrupting so celebrations were brief.  Nonetheless, she posed for a few photos and then shooed me off so she could continue her colligate grind.  It was a fun day and one of my favorite memories.

Maggie and I had a master plan.  She was going to graduate law school and then I was going to head off to business school.  It was a grand plan and one we were both quite excited about.  The end of that plan, at least where the specifics started getting fuzzy, was when I graduated from school in May 2008.  The finale, we decided, was for her to be pregnant with our first child as I marched across the Acton finish line, diploma in hand.  From there, we weren’t really sure where we’d go but hey, we made the plan back in 2002-ish.  And having a first child set in motion a whole new plan of in and of itself.

When Maggie started law school, we had two cars: a Corvette (2000, white, awesome) and a Jeep (Wrangler, 2000, bright yellow, bad ass.)  Both were amazing vehicles in their own right.  But the Corvette was mine and I certainly didn’t trust my crazy, phone-talking wife to drive it.  That left the jeep as Maggie’s daily driver, yup, even to and from Waco on I35.  Now, in case you’ve never driven a stick-shift, jacked up jeep with massive 32” tires on I35 at Texas highway speeds, trust me to say that it’s unpleasant.  Big tires on short wheel-based vehicles tend to wander.  And big tires don’t stop rolling very quickly, making for some hair-raising moments each trip.  Making matters worse, this particular jeep didn’t have cruise control (you don’t need cruise control for rock crawling!)  But she drove that jeep every day and never complained once.  She was a trooper, a real champ.

Maggie had never had a go-fast, sexy, wind-in-yer-hair car.  And with children soon coming, there was a short window for her to live that dream.  So, in keeping with the plan, we decided to buy her a fun car she could sport around in while I’d get a family car that would hold baby seats.  She could drive passionately until the day came when we needed to trade cars.  Then I’d drive the sports car and she’d take over the family-mobile.  It was a great plan.  Have I mentioned lately how happy I was to be married to my sweetie?  We were perfect together.  But I digress…..

After a fun bit of looking around, she decided that the Mercedes SLK 350 was the car for her.  It’s a fun convertible and, really, just an impractical car but it wasn’t for practical; it was for her smiles.  So I went a-searchin’.  I had to special order the car with the options we/she wanted and (apparently) it showed up on September 28, 2006 at the dealership.  Eagerly, I showed up a few hours later with Niko riding shotgun.  A long hour or so afterward, me and puppy were headed to Waco in a brand new SLK registered in Maggie’s name.

Maggie was still in class when we arrived, which was all part of my master plan.  She didn’t know we were coming, see.  <insert evil laughter here>  I headed over to the flower shop that, by now, knew me (or my credit card, rather) by name, Baylor Balloons.  There, after introducing myself after nearly three years of constant business, I left with a single red rose in hand.

In the parking lot of the school I found the jeep, which weren’t too hard cuz it’s big.  REALLY big.     And yeller.  Did I mention cool?  Leaving Niko safely in the car I started up the jeep and, whoops….. where the heck was I going to put the jeep?  Did I mention it’s big?  And very, very yeller?  Finally, after some mental debate, I figured I was going to have to break the rules and, thus, parked it around the side of the law school in staff parking.  I figured if the rent-a-campus-cop showed up then I’d explain the gag, take my licks and move on.  (For the record, they never did.)  Good, jeep was gone.

Back where the jeep used to be parked, I placed the very shiny, very brand new Mercedes SLK 350.  Under the windshield wiper blade I placed my single red rose.  Now the waiting game began.

Over to the side of the law school building parking lot is a quaint little park with some benches and grass.  Niko and I took up temporary residency there and I started my light reading while waiting for my soon-to-be-quite-surprised sweetheart to break out of the building.  And wait we did.  Fortunately, I was somewhat engrossed in my book and the time kind of flew by.

Finally, after a decent sunburn on both me and Niko had developed, I spotted my sweetie walking out of the building.  I can recognize that walk from miles away.  Immediately, my heart spun up to full on rumba.

Oh how slowly she walked from the law school doors to the place where she thought she left the jeep.  Her saunter was making me sweat with anticipation.  Finally, as if she was in another universe on the way there, she stopped and looked a little puzzled.  She looked around (like she was going to find the jeep!), probably wondering “Where the heck did I park?”  No, she wasn’t fooled for long, my smart girl.  She knew she parked it right where this…..  this…. really pretty, really shiny car is.  Then, one gigantic smile appeared blinding out everything and making my heart burst through my chest with joy.  She walked over, picked the now-wilted rose from the windshield and began looking around, but this time not for the jeep but for the perpetrator of the crime.  Of course, I wasn’t very shy and bounced over, all grins myself.  I figured she would have figured out it was me eventually.

The next few minutes were all about hugs and kisses, Niko kisses included.  She was just thrilled.

Maggie loved that car.  She drove it around proud like it was a Ferrari.  She beamed when she talked about it.  Top down, top up, in the rain, in the sun – she loved, loved, loved that car.  780 days.  That’s how long she got to drive it. November 14, 2008, the day they hooked up that damned pain pump, I did something I still have a very difficult time coping with to this day – I took her car away.  You can’t possibly imagine how bad that hurt, or rather, still hurts.

I’ve never been a controlling person.  Gosh, couldn’t be with Maggie.  She had her own way and she was quite good at convincing you she was right.  Ms. Independent and I loved her for it.  Very much.  But, with this, I put my foot down and did not budge.  It was heartbreaking.  It made me sick.  I was fighting for something I didn’t want, fighting for something that represented something I hated and for something I didn’t believe in.  Oh, gosh, it was tough.  She argued.  We fought.  She cried.  I cried.  Repeat weekly.  Heck, repeat daily.  She pushed.  I held fast.  Then one day, she quit fighting.

Something came up months later about the car and we touched the subject again, but not in our fighting stance.  She said that she was still angry with me but she could tell that it was something I felt strongly about so, while she still didn’t agree, she agreed to go along with what I wanted, for me, for us.  We never spoke of it again.

I’ve driven her car nearly everywhere I’ve gone since, well, since she’s not with me anymore.  I try to always put the top down and pump loud music through the speakers.  I don’t always feel like singing but I do anyway.  And I drive fast, like Maggie did.  There, flying down the highway, music blaring and me singing, I feel a little bit closer to her.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

A Mom by any other name...

When Steve and I answered questions about our story, our family, and our relationship last month, we got a lot of questions about what the kids call us. We were both in agreement that we both eventually wanted to be Mom &amp; Dad, but we would let the kids call us that on their own terms and in their own timing.

I remember when Steve and I were dating, our oldest asking him what she would call me if we got married. He, of course, told her that she could call me whatever she felt comfortable calling me. Then she asked if she could call me Mom. When Steve called me up to tell me that, it brought us both to tears.

Then when Steve proposed to me and orchestrated his amazing plan of having everyone important in my life be present, the girls really wanted to be a part of it and were unable. But, they asked if they could write me letters for the day since they couldn't be there. I collected letters from everyone that day, including theirs, but in the chaos of the day didn't get a chance to read them all until later that evening. We opened a letter written by our second oldest that very simply was addressed to "Mommy" - a beautiful, simple, 8-year-old expression of unconditional love. Steve and I sobbed together for a good 10 minutes over the implications of our sweet little girl and how she innocently and unknowingly filled our hearts and brought our family together in such a unique way.

Well, I really thought it would take the girls awhile to adjust to actually calling me Mom. And I was ok with that. But it didn't take long at all, maybe a few weeks, before they started sneaking it in here and there. Every time it made my heart leap.

We had only been home as a family for a few weeks to finally get adjusted to a schedule that they ended up spending some of their summer time visitation with their biological mom. I thought for sure that the time away might make them take a step back in their comfort level with calling me Mom. I was ok with that too.

But something shocking happened. No sooner had they hopped in the car after intense hugs and kisses from being gone for 2 weeks that they were calling me Mom. Only this time, it wasn't sporadic - not like before when they were testing it out to see how comfortable they felt with it or how I would respond to it (I always tried to be cool about and not make a big scene about it, even though my heart always did a little touchdown dance) - this time it stuck. And it was beautiful music to my ears.

Steve and I exchanged knowing glances. And giant smiles.

There's something about hearing your child say "mama" for the very first time that could just make your heart burst. I used to always tell Faith and Caleb not to call me Mom, that it was strictly "Mama" or "Mommy" while they were little - they weren't old enough to call me Mom yet! I wanted to hold on to those days knowing I wouldn't get to carry that title for long.

I had no idea how meaningful or sweet it would be to hear the word "Mom" apply to me. Maybe not from the children I carried in my womb, but these beautiful girls that I carry in my heart, that God has entrusted me to love and care for. These two children who were so desperately searching for that connection and bond that they were missing, and feel their walls come down, feel their trust in me, and know that something very special was happening. Hearing them call me Mom means so much more. There's so much healing and hope in that word. It's the beauty that only a blended family could produce.

Come to think of it, I absolutely adore the title.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

I Freaking Hate ......

                                                     picture source

...... weekends.
Truly hate them.
With a passion.

Ironic, isn't it?
When Jim was alive I loved weekends.
I'm guessing most of us liked them a whole lot better than we do now.
I can't stand them and usually just want them to be over.
What a waste.

Weekends are no different than week days for me.  It's just 7 days that run right into the next 7 days.  No days of rest.  No days of recreation.  No days of hanging out with the person I love and just relaxing.
I miss weekends with Jim.
I miss week days with Jim.
I miss nights with Jim.

I have one child left at home.
But he is a boy.
And a young man, at that.
A senior this year.
Who is involved with after school activities.
And he works.

Needless to say, he's not home much.
Which is as it should be.
But that was fine when I had Jim.
Now .... it sucks.
Because even though my nest is not literally "empty" .... it's still empty .... most of the time.
And I hate it.

It's not that I want my son to stay here an extra year.  No way.  No how.
It's time for him to move on.  Hell, he's had "senior-itus" since he was in 7th grade.
And I've had it for 2 years now.
It's almost time .... and that's a good thing.

But my nest will be emptier than it should be.
I should not be here alone.
That was not the plan.
It's not what most people experience.
But it's my life.
And that sucks.

I'm beginning to hate my house, my community, and the absence of my "before" friends.
I'm tired of being alone 24 hours a day, 7 days a week .... for the most part.

I am counting down the days until my son graduates and then I can sell my house and start somewhere else .... fresh.  Some place where I'll only be known as Janine, not Jim's wife.  Not Jim's widow.  Not "how terrible is it that Jim died and I'm going to keep my distance because you never know .... that may be contagious."
To get out of here.

And yet I realize, that no matter where I go .... Jim will not be there.
My weeks may still run into the weekends with no change ..... no marked difference to recognize a week day from a week end.
And yes, it may still suck.

But that is my life.
No matter how much I loathe that part of it right now.
No matter how much I dread the 6th and 7th days of the week.
No matter.

I also realize that this is just a "phase" I'm feeling at the moment.
And that not everything in my life is horrible.
I am genuinely happy most of the time.
This is just not one of those times.
But it will pass.
Maybe today, maybe next week.

Yet when it passes, one thing will most likely remain for a longer time.

I hate weekends.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Sharing both pain and joy

A friend posted this picture on facebook today.  
I agree with the premise of it - I do think we need to  share the everyday joys in our lives.
The things we are grateful for.
The people we love.

I tend to do this in pictures: photography is my therapy, and my camera lens my rose-coloured glasses.
I post photos of the things and the people I am grateful for - my children, my surroundings, a flower, sunlight and warmth.


I do think it is also important to share our pain.
Our dark days.
Our black moments.
Our little niggles and our enormous problems.

Sometimes, having a good whinge is therapeutic in its own right.

Posting facebook statuses commanding people to "stop being so negative" gags those who want .... or rather need... to reach out to someone else and say "Life is not good right now.  I need support". 

It gags the sad and it gags the desperate.
...and it gags the suicidal.

Sometimes it takes real courage to say "I'm having a really hard time right now.  Please send me some love".

I don't know about you, but those early days of grief spent reading the ups and downs of widows and widowers like Michele, Matt, Dan, Kim, Janine, Taryn, Jackie, Michelle and others like Megan and Supa helped me see that what I was experiencing was REAL.  

Not sugar-coated.

Not all happy-happy-joy-joy that other people want to see..... the "happy" that friends and family want so badly for us because they are kind and can't fathom the depth of grief we are experiencing.

But in sharing the ups and downs of their grief, these bloggers showed me that life goes on.  
Not all good, but by the same token, not all bad, but life in all its multi-coloured glory.

I hope I am able to do the same.

Each week I strive to "blog my now".  
....  the sinking pain and the intense joy.  
....  the furious, fierce love.

So while I commend anyone who takes the time to look for the joy in life, wherever it can be found, I stress the equal need to voice those fears and troubles that can become unbearable if borne alone.

To paraphrase a woman who is amongst the strongest I know, a woman who voices her ups and downs in equal measure: "by sharing the sad days in life with friends, there's one less miserable person in the world because they've found support and love to get them through it."  

Amen to that sister!

Monday, August 20, 2012

The Party


I was at a party last night. An amazing party. The setting was breathtaking. There were fun, smart, adventurous, worldly people there and homemade paella so good it almost made me cry and wine from some guests' wineries.

There was live music played by those great people under a starry sky, including a dobro and a mandolin, some of my favorite string instruments. There was laughter and a fire pit and even a beautiful pet king snake I got to hold (I love snakes). The people at the party were friendly, accepting, warm and inviting.

I had a good time.

I keep thinking of how that's all I had. A good time. Not a great time. Not an amazing time. I wanted to have an amazing time. I wanted to flirt with everyone and feel free and easy in my skin. I wanted to be silly and lose track of time. I wanted to feel a part of it all. I wanted to FEEL the beauty of the night.

But that's not how it went. I'm sure I put on a great game face and seemed like I was enjoying myself. And I was, to some extent, but inside I was a bit of a mess. I was miles away instead of right there in that gorgeous setting. I was just existing. I didn't really want to be there, but I didn't really want to be anywhere else either.

I felt like a shell of a person. I felt like I was separated from everyone else by a bubble. I couldn't quite reach them through the skin of the bubble and they couldn't quite get to me either. It was lonely in the bubble. It was awkward and uncomfortable and lonely.

I can't remember the last time I felt completely present. It's that part of me that's been mostly inaccessible since Dave died. The part of me completely at ease and open to all the joy that's available to me at that moment. I haven't fully been able to access that yet because the other part of me, the part that's been so altered by this trauma, has been taking the forefront.

I know it'll take time and that it will come back. Or at least, I have hope that it will. I've not given up on that at all. I look forward to the time when I can be present enough to focus on others' needs more and get out of my mind enough to be fully present, the better to suck all the joy out of the current moment.

I know that 16 months of this is a drop in the bucket and that I have a long road ahead of me when it comes to seeing that side of me again. Patience and being gentle with myself will be crucial in the years to come, but there is a part of me that's impatient to see the light again, to feel at ease and clear-headed again.

I'm doing all I can right now. I'm seeing a therapist and trying to take it easy on myself (no small task) and I'm reaching out for help and connection as much as I can (also a stretch for me). What more can I do?

I often ask the Universe for a little comfort. For someone to hold me and make this better. For a tiny piece of happiness I can carry with me everywhere and never have to let go of again. I ask for peace and clarity and ease of mind.

Unfortunately, I think the Universe expects me to meet it halfway. I have to make the damn choice to find comfort, hold and love myself, make my own happiness and seek out clarity and ease of mind. I think the Universe gave me this task because I can handle it.

Sometimes I just long for a break from proving I can.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Haley Checks In

(love this photo of Haley and Lisa compared.  Same smile.  And no, that is not me next to my wife.  I am standing behind her, that's my brother-in-law)

I’m in the middle of writing my blog when my twelve-year daughter, Haley, walks in my room,

“Dad, can we buy The Hunger Games on DVD?  It's out now and grandma and grandpa said we can watch it after the girls go to bed.”

“I’m writing my blog right now.  Let’s talk about when I’m done.”

“You should write about your wonnn-derrr-fulll daughter.” She says. 

“I wrote about you guys last week.  Why, do you have any thoughts?”

“What is it you need to write about?”

“Who we lost and what it does to us.  How is it not having mom around?”

“Well, it’s different because there’s not a woman adult around.  It’s harder to talk about puberty to my dad because men have different versions of puberty.”

“What about when mom died. How was that for you?”

“I don’t remember much about my childhood. I know what she looks like, but not a lot of memories, not a lot of memories of anything when I was eight.”  She says.

“Does it bother you, you don’t remember mom?”

“No. Not really because I can’t remember a lot of things.”

“Does it feel strange growing up not having a mom?”

“A lot of my other friends don’t have both parents, don’t forget I have two kids in my class who had their dads die.”

“But does it bother you not having a mom and dad?  And let me rephrase, you of course have a mom, I meant a mom who was still alive.”

“I know what you meant.  Umm, that’s a difficult question to answer because I don’t know the difference.  I love her, but I don’t know the difference.”

“What about growing up with a dad who has to be the one always enforcing the rules?”

“Like I said, I don’t know the difference of any other way.  But it is different with the dad issuing the discipline because I heard I heard that mothers are more sensitive about punishments.  Can we go to target now and get Hunger Games?”

I’ll have to reflect later on this conversation, but I find it interesting that for her, this all seems normal.  The rough couple of years we all had to go through haven’t retained many memories for her.  Hmmm, so many questions I have.  I always assumed that having such young girls would be difficult, but maybe the kids who are already teenagers have a more difficult time because they do know the difference.
I don’t know.

I am constantly amazed of how resilient kids are. 

Saturday, August 18, 2012


The ability to simplify means to eliminate the unnecessary so that the necessary may speak. ~Hans Hofmann

I pulled into the driveway.

It was Friday evening. The junk food in hand and wine awaiting my lazy evening.

I step out of the car and see a puddle of water in front of the garage door.

'Did it rain?'


I open the garage door and the water starts pouring out.

'It's probably the water heater in the garage. It must be.'

Then I see it pouring out the small cracks of the door leading into our home.

I exit the garage. Close the door.

Hold my breath for an instant and start walking towards the front door.

The sidewalk is soaked.

I was afraid to enter.

I looked through the glass panes and see it.

4 inches of water throughout.

I open the door. Set down the drive-thru food.

'The computer cord' flashes through my mind. I unplug it.

Michael's combat boots by the front door. I grab them and set on higher ground.

I didn't think about much more. The electricity and cords probably should have been a first conventional for my brain, I guess :)

Clothes are floating, carpet is rippling like waves in an ocean.

I put the dogs outside. Call the emergency water shut off and sit in my car.

Long story short...much was ruined. The whole hose has been boxed up. All of my laundry was sorted through by commercial dry cleaners and is who knows where (makes me regret the stacks of clothes unwashed ;D ). The walls drilled through. Floors ripped up. Photos and every memento taken down by strangers.

But I had what I needed:

My dogs. His combat boots (his flag was safe on a mantle).

With further rummaging...the letters he wrote me, his voicemails, and portraits of our Charlie.

It's all I had. It's all I needed.

And even if those didn't make it, a calm draped over me that it would reminded me all will be okay.

The crazy thing is I never screamed, cried, became hysterical, etc.

It was as if the house was on fire and I grabbed the essentials and quickly became at peace with all I might have to part with.

As the water rushed through every inch of our house, enveloping everything in it's grasp...In a way it enveloped me with the knowledge that the material was the material. What I needed was with me or already within me.

I'm unable to live there for another month, but as I lay her with my dogs, a picture of Michael and Charlie, and a bag of clothes that will more than suffice..I'm grateful.

It could have been so much worse. I could have lost so much more. I could have not been as ready as I was when the pipe broke.

It's a new beginning for our home...and a new chapter in me simplifying my life with the essentials....high off the ground ;)

I've gained so much more than I lost.

For once I've realized the strength and fortitude I had no idea was within me.

My soul was tested unwillingly and passed with flying colors.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Courage, Time, and the Number 20

Last week I celebrated what would have been my 20th wedding anniversary...and by celebrate I mean I worked a 15 hour day and spent almost no quality time with anyone outside of work.  I did have a quiet glass of wine with Carl, but both of us were exhausted, we went to bed almost immediately.  I left the next day for Camp Widow - and toasted my anniversary with 6 fabulous widows and it seemed right in a very wrong way...I'm sure you know what I mean.  Had Daniel lived, I would never have met all of the fantastic people I've met along my widow path. 

It's an interesting overlapping universe.  I sat in my kitchen with my new husband of 6 months on the day that would have been my 20th anniversary with my late (usually late actually ;-) husband.  It didn't feel wrong, in fact it felt oddly right.  My life was changed radically by cancer and then again by a horrible early death....and yet, I am still here.  I am still alive and I'm making it the best life I can make it.

I don't know that I would have ever described myself as courageous before this experience.  Watching Daniel's courage and determination in the face of ungodly odds inspired me in a way I'll never be able to adequately describe.  In my darkest days I would tell myself - "he struggled with every breath to live - you won't honor his battle if you waste your life or Grayson's - he'd come down here and kick your ass if he could." Sometimes it was the only thing that could get me going (although I will admit to thinking "bring it! go ahead and come down here and kick my ass - at least I'll get to see you!").

Meeting and talking to so many new widows at camp, I was transported back to a time when I was so raw in my loss and so incredibly horribly sad.   I don't have to imagine it, in meeting some of you, I felt it all over again.  It was a powerful emotional reaction.  Those first years are such hard work.  It makes me cry just thinking about it.  Had it existed, I don't know that I would have had the courage to attend Camp in the first couple of years, even though I desperately needed it.  I'm in awe of the widows who came from everywhere, you my friends are courageous!

I don't usually brag on myself, but I'll admit I'm proud of how far I've come.  It's only been possible because of my widow friends and our daily acts of courage - just getting out of bed!  It's been quite the journey and I know it will continue to be challenging - it's life and death after all.  I'm just glad I'm here, living every day with as much energy as I can and appreciating it for all it's worth.  I'm glad that Carl saw all the bags I had packed behind me and had the courage to take it all on!

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Great is worth it

A very special moment during the Saturday night message release

I'm still recuperating from the travel and lack of sleep from Camp Widow.
It was totally worth it. :)

I anticipated going to Camp Widow to reach out to other widows/widowers who have been through this horrible journey called grief. But instead, I was blessed.

I watched hundreds of widows take this huge, scary leap into an unknown world to reach out in their grief. These courageous men and women who all came together just to know that they're not alone. But they didn't just reach out. They shared, they laughed, they cried, they helped each other, they danced..

they lived. 

What a blessing it was to sit around with a group of people who shared their hearts, their fears, their worries, they're anger, and even their joy. They have no idea how much they touched my heart and blessed me.

As Michele gave her keynote address, she said something that became my mantra for the weekend. So often, we settle for good enough, because after we lose something so incredibly important to us, great is so scary and comes with the probability that we could lose again. But as most widows/widowers would agree, I would NEVER trade my time with Jeremy even if I knew I would lose him so soon. Because love is worth it.

Great is worth it.

Whether it means taking that huge leap into giving your heart to someone else, or whether it means baby steps into finding joy in your every day life, don't settle for good. Because underneath the pain and loss and hurt and grief is life. And life keeps moving forward even when we don't want it to. But, it can be good. Better than good. And the risk is worth it.

Thank you all for the reminder to keep striving for great. For me, for Jeremy, and for every person out there struggling through this roller coaster journey called grief.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Back To Normal ....

                                               photo source

...... whatever that means.

I returned home last night from Camp Widow.

Back from spending 4 days with people I know and love .... people who understand, and love, me.
Back from meeting new people, who I understand ..... and with whom I instantly connected.
People who don't expect me to be anyone other than who I am ..... now.
People who know there's really no such thing as .... "normal".

I always leave Camp Widow wishing that we all lived in the same community.  Can you imagine living in a place where most of the people you know are widowed?  Where everyone understands that some days are just "stay in bed days", and that sometimes a wave comes out of nowhere and knocks you to your knees.
How different would it be to live among people who know that hitting the one year date does not magically bring about healing and who don't question or blame you for not "getting over it" and getting back to "normal".
I think that living in such a community would make me feel ..... ironically ..... more "normal" than I've felt in over 4 years.

But that's not where we live.
And those aren't the people who surround us.

So here I am .... with another Camp done, summer coming to an end and another school year rapidly approaching.  My schedule will start filling up as different activities start back up.  And I'll often be the only widow in the room.
And I will deal with that.

But I won't stop being who I am to make other people feel comfortable.
And I won't meet some expectations to be who I used to be.
I will not meet their definition of "normal".

I have a new "normal".  Which really doesn't look "normal" to most people at all.
Some days .... not even to me.

But I know that when next April rolls around .... and Camp Widow East begins .... I will once again be surrounded by friends .... who will make me feel absolutely, positively .... normal.

Eight more months .... and counting.