Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Paying it Foward

Tomorrow I move onto my second calendar year without Ian.  Moving from 2012 to 2013, to a year that was no longer the year I lost him, I found difficult, but got through with a small group of friends. 

Tonight I move one more digit further away from the 2012 in which he left us. 

I realised this morning that I will no longer be able to say 'he died last year'.  I'll have to say 'he died in 2012'.  And I'm not sure how I feel about that additional distance - if it's a turning point or a mill stone. 

But I'm doing something simple early in the new year to try feel a bit better in general...
"How can I/we help?"

I heard this question a lot while Ian was sick.  And thankfully I came up with an answer that would allow those around us feel like they were able to do something practical to help.

Ian received lots of platelets in hospital as he'd been on blood thinners, and the medicos needed to reverse the thinning in order to do the procedures they needed to.   I can't remember how many transfusions he had, but it was a reasonable number.

So I was able to tell people "donate blood if you're able to, Ian's needed a lot".

Which is a bit hypocritical of me, as it's something I'd always wished I could do, but for my needle phobia. I'm bad enough with ordinary sized needles.  Bugger going near the bigger ones they use for collecting blood!

However I had guilt about this phobia starting to gnaw away at me probably from about the six month mark after he died. 

It's just a couple of hours of my time, 3- 4 times a year.

It's just a needle; nothing compared to what he went through.

It may help me with my healing.

Other's donations played a part in giving us those extra three months.  Who am I not to give that time to someone else when quite frankly, I'm perfectly capable?

So I made my first donation around my 1 year widow-versary mark.  And it felt good. 

I've now booked myself in to make my 2nd donation on January 2nd.

As cr@* as it is that that pesky concept of time marches on, I'm feeling it's a positive way to mark the start my second calendar year without Ian.

Monday, December 30, 2013



It's been a long time since I could say without hesitation "I feel happy".

In the time since Dave died, I've laughed and enjoyed myself, but always I felt that underlying layer of sadness and shock that dampened everything. It made even laughter a bittersweet act. How could I laugh when he was gone?

Lately, though, I've felt happy. Not tinged with despair, not lost in a fog of numbness, not laughing through my pain, just simply happy.

Along with the happy though, is a little bit of the sensation that I'm at the top of a roller coaster ride. It feels great up here. I want to stay here and feel this high. I want to see the view of the world below, safe on my high perch. But being this high means returning to earth. It means coming down and sometimes that coming down can be more scary than just staying down there. 

But that's okay because this time it feels like I simply don't care anymore about the fallout of feeling good. I don't care if announcing my happiness to the universe means it might be snatched away from me.

For once, it feels too good to care about what might happen. It only matters that what is happening is that I'm feeling happy. And I can't stop thinking that Dave, wherever he is, is ecstatic too. His girl is happy. It's all he ever wanted.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Taking Chances on Life

I've had a particularly hard couple of weeks lately. Not only has there been Christmas and the 18 month mark since he died, but throw in a trip to Dallas where we lived together, his younger brother graduating from college, my idiotic attempt to start a pretty strict new diet and workout regimen (beginning a week before Thanksgiving, really Sarah??) and the still impending nerviness of the gallery I work at closing in just 2 weeks... and it's no wonder I've had a total and complete meltdown. 

I went out with a girlfriend last night just to get out of my head for a little while. We ended up at a country concert. Drew and I used to go to tons of concerts together. While they have become easier for me to go to this year, my emotions were high last night, which left me really nervous.

I'm sure you all know what I'm talking about... there are just those times in this whole experiencing death thing where you feel really frail and worried as to whether you can handle social situations. I thought going out to a bar and having some drinks might not be the best idea given how emotional I was feeling (crying almost all day for several days pretty much describes it). But, then again, it also couldn't be the worst either. The way I figured, I had sure as hell sat in my own head for long enough and that didn't seem to be helping a damn thing, so I might as well try having a life for a night.

To my surprise, we ended up having a blast... dancing and singing and laughing for hours followed by a bit of crying and heartfelt conversation over hamburgers and fries at 2am. I didn't get home until after 3am. I honestly can't remember the last time I did that. And even though I'd rather have been curled up in bed with the love of my life… I got to spend some really special time and made a great new memory with one of my oldest friends.  

I *may* be a little hungover this morning, but you know what? It was worth it. It was worth it to dance the night away and not focus on the pain for just a few hours. It was worth it just to freakin LIVE a little. I realized last night that sometimes I'm not as fragile as I fear I am… and that within me is still a desire to seize the moments of life and seek adventures. Not only did I have fun at that concert, I lived and breathed and screamed and danced and laughed and cried and hugged and sang my heart out like it was my last night on earth. I was wide open to life and it felt great. 

At times, when the pain is so incredibly deep, I feel like it can be so easy to forget that today is a day to be lived… should I choose to do so. Shaking things up last night and doing something spontaneous reminded me that sometimes I do need to make that choice. It also reminded me of the girl he fell in love with… the one who appreciated and lived deeply, who could find something to be grateful for even in the worst of situations. It was nice to see that girl again… the girl who believes that no matter how difficult a day may start out, there is always - each day - the potential for something really meaningful (and maybe even incredible) to happen. 


Today marks 8.
8 years since the most remarkable man chose me to spend the rest of his life with....and he did...if only for a year and a half in flesh.
I prepped the night before...jotting down what great deeds I would do, not only in commemoration of this special day, but the people and universe that surround and house the spirit and love that we share.
I awoke, opened my eyes to the sun shining through the blinds and said aloud "Happy Anniversary, my love...let's rock this!"
As I showered, Sam Cooke's "What a Wonderful World" played and I my heart filled with the mission at hand.
The mission to share a fraction...an ounce..of the love...unconditional love...I had been shown during his time on earth.
This year was different, I wanted to spread kindness, but throw in bit of us...who we are...what we love.
I warmed up with a stop at Starbucks, buying giftcards for the two cars behind us and leaving a 300% tip to the warm smile that handed me the green tea latte.
I found joy in looking in the rear view mirror at the unsuspecting person that I hoped to share a bit of sunshine with.
Next, I stopped to get flowers, hoping that our favorite (tulips) would be available. We used them in my wedding bouquet and Michael loved surprising me with them on occasion.
With my heart open to whatever was available, I smiled to find red and white ones waiting.
I then googled "cemetery". It led me to a small back-country haven, in which I headed to the back corners.
Once there, my heart led me to one headstone, cracked in half due to time's grip. No longer bearing a name, all it shown was a poem that I have no doubt I was supposed to read:
This lovely bud so young and fair
Called hence by early doom
Just came to show how sweet a flower
In paradise could bloom.
I laid a bouquet of tulips, and offered it the attention I know a loved one past would have appreciated.
-3Next, I set forth to my favorite used bookstore.
At arrival, I headed to one of Micheal's favorite book series "The Dark Tower" by Stephen King. I found the oldest edition of the first book of the series and inserted enough for its next reader to buy the whole set. As I placed its message, I remembered the moments in bed where Michael would read aloud to me. My heart swelled knowing that that memory may be passed on to another lucky soul who falls in love with a Stephen King reader.
I headed out, also ensuring that the next two book lovers left with their books on us.
As I left, I bought a mildly inappropriate Christmas card (the best ones, in my opinion) and found a man who looked as if he deserved a laugh and kind deed.
I hope it made him smile.
My next stop led me to a random car, where I placed another bouquet on the windshield.
As I was plotting my next route, I was honored enough to see the elderly couple return to their car, find the flowers, sit in their car seats and simply inhale the flower's fragrance with a smile. It was one of the best moments.
Next, being a lover of the sweets :) I placed many a treats on many a cars:
One of my last stops was at a place that embodied so much of what we love...FILMS!
My dear friends know just how many 12 hour film marathons I've attended, and Michael knows just how many sofas we imprinted while watching our favorite foreign films.
I wanted to make sure other people could enjoy such a blissful aspect of our intertwined passions, so I headed over to the Alamo Drafthouse to buy multiple gift cards for the next groups to arrive.
The gentleman preparing the gift cards responded with " I thought all of humanity was lost...thank you."
I thanked him.
He was giving me much more than I was giving monetarily.
I entered my car, with my list of acts of kindness completed in hand, and smiled with the same joy I felt as if Michael was by my side.
I ended the evening with a dear friend, at a favorite restaurant, sharing some of my favorite memories of my journey with Michael. She surprised me with dessert, and I was humbled to know the staff felt honored to share in the celebration, as well.
I conclude this remarkable day with gratitude.
Gratitude for the messages sent. Love shared.
Gratitude for those that let me show and give them something they undoubtedly deserved.
Something that I believe to be the greatest resource our society has.
A resource the kindest being I knew shared with me to their last ounce.
Happy Anniversary, baby.
Thank you all.

Friday, December 27, 2013


About a week or so ago, my mom found this great quote from a much older widowed lady who was featured in a photography / interview project on a website called "Humans of New York." She saved the quote for me because she thought it sounded exactly like something that Don would have said to me, if his death wasn't sudden, and if he had the chance. It is this: 

"When my husband was dying, I said to him, 'Moe, how am I supposed to go on without you?' He said to me, 'Take the love that you have for me, and spread it around.'"

For whatever reason, and for multiple reasons, this quote caused an immediate, instinctual reaction inside of me - leaving me filled with deep emotion and thought-provoking feelings. When I posted the quote on my Facebook page, almost 200 people "liked" the status update, and it received many shares and comments. I couldn't stop thinking about why this seemingly simple thought, conveyed such a powerful and loving message. All week long, these words from a total stranger stuck to my heart, the way that comfort food sticks to your ribs. It was clearly one of those things that some may refer to as a "game changer." 

I found myself thinking about it Christmas Eve, and Christmas Day - during those moments of pure loneliness, as I sat in darkness and silence after the day was done or just beginning - listening to the rhythm of my own breathing, and hearing the exhaustion that comes from two and a half years of missing him - sitting inside of each exhale. As I dragged my head off my pillow, I would ask myself with 100% sincerity: "How the hell am I going to get through this day?" At first, there was no response. Just the nothingness of questions unanswered, lingering in the cold winter air. But then, suddenly, I would hear the voice of this older man, coming to me as a spirit, whispering into my ear: Take the love that you have for me, and spread it around. 

And really, if Im being honest, that is what I have been doing all along. Paying it forward. Helping others. Helping myself. Trying to heal. Offering support. Accepting support. Expressing my feelings. Sharing my world and my pain and my truths. Telling everyone and anyone who will listen, about the amazing man that was my husband. 

I have spent the past two and a half years doing this very thing - taking the love I have for my husband, and spreading it around. Only, I never realized that is what I was doing. I never really thought about it in that way. Until now. And now, when it is worded that way, it is just about the most beautiful thing I have ever heard. 

And even more than that, it is the thing that will save me. It is the thing that will keep me from drowning in the waves of hurt. It will force me to keep going, keep crawling through mud, keep walking through fire. It is the thing that makes me keep choosing life. 

Hearing these words and knowing them and putting them into action, does not stop the pain. Nothing does. Not ever. But it does give me a really excellent reason to continue to connect and love and feel and be. It makes me want to do better. It carries, in it's words, the love that my husband gave to me, and that I will now give outward, in the largest and smallest of ways. 

It really is the only way to get through this. The only way to survive. 
In order to get through losing love, you have to give love. 
Love is contagious. 
Love is ongoing. 
Love is a circle. 

And I will keep going around. 

Thursday, December 26, 2013

I survived....

... Christmas, that is.

I won't lie to you, the week before Christmas, I was not feeling great.  The weight of another Christmas without Greg weighed heavily on my mind. 
I missed him.
I know I miss him every day, but last week I really missed him.

I missed sitting on the couch and snuggling, watching the lights on the tree flicker. 
I missed talking to him about everything. 
I missed his strong arms.
I missed his safe embrace.
I missed seeing the kids play with him.
I even missed seeing him stuck under a piece of machinery, tinkering away for hours on end.

I was sad.
Really sad.
Should-have-been-medicated sad.

But then on Sunday, I received an e-mail from my friend that made me feel less alone.

On Monday, we went to stay the night with one of my oldest friends and her family.  She is the friend that introduced Greg and I, 20 years ago.  Greg was best man at their wedding.  We drove to their resort-like house on the hill on the other side of the city and we swam in their pool and drank champagne while all of the children played.  I walked through the bushland at their house and smelt the eucalyptus. We laughed and cried and it felt so wonderful to be there.

On Tuesday, I got a phone call from my friend who lives too far away from me.  I haven't known him long, but it feels like we've known each other far longer.  He is a widower with a school-aged child: we understand each other. Talking to him put me on a high for the rest of the day ..... to the point that when I took the children to church for the Christmas Eve service, I actually sang every carol.  I sang the harmonies and the descants.  I sang for the love of singing, if not from the love of the song itself.  This is HUGE. This is the first time I have sung inside a church for the past 3 years and 9 months and 24 days.....

Christmas Day itself was so much better than I could have imagined last week.  Of course I missed Greg like crazy, but for the first time since he died, I felt some of that old Christmas joy float in on the breeze.  My children showered me with love and my darling parents came bearing food and gifts.
It was hot here (Australian Christmases usually are), but we feasted on cold meats and salads, enjoyed Mum's plum pudding and ended the day with a swim ....
.....and if you know me, you know that swimming is my path to instant happiness.  I don't want to sound trite, but some of the most peaceful and surreal experiences I have ever had have been when I was floating on my back, staring up at the sky, remembering how much he loved me.

....and so I find myself on Boxing Day feeling the best I have since Greg died.
Last week, I couldn't envision any way that I would feel this calm, peaceful and even happy.

Again, love has saved the day. 

Love never dies.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

The Ghost Writer ......


...... of Christmas Past.

I know that most of you out there wish this day was just an ordinary day.  Just the 25th day of December, no more, no less.
Actually, I know that most of you wish that you could've fallen asleep around December 22nd or so and stayed asleep until January 2nd.  Or February 15th.
I get that.
All too well.

In honor of all of us, I decided to go through my blog and give you posts of my past Christmases. Christmases that have occurred in my "after".
Maybe you'll relate to one or two of them.
Maybe you won't.

But here they are, for whatever they're worth.
I hope they help.

Year One:
"Let's Be Honest ......"

...... not everyone likes Christmas.

    Let me clarify.  It's not Christmas itself.  I mean, I'm thankful for Christ's birth.  I'm great with setting aside a day to be extra thankful for that and to remember that without this birth my life would be very black indeed.  I'm grateful that this birth gives me the gift of hope --- and the knowledge that I will be with Jim again.

     But I have oh-so-recently arrived on the "other side".  The "outside looking in" side.  And the people on the outside do not like Christmas.  Not the event, but the season.  Or more specifically, the way Americans celebrate the season .... starting before Halloween.  
     I've always been aware of the 'outside people', but since we're being truthful here, I didn't give them a whole lot of thought.  Of course we've donated to charities, we've worked for the homeless, we've bought gifts for families who had none, etc. etc. etc.  But once I'd done that, my attention shifted to MY family, MY shopping, MY celebrating, MY plans.  The thought that one day I'd be an 'outside person' never entered my head.  Never.
     Yet here I am.  Looking at the "joy" and the commercials and the shoppers and the commercials and the decorations and the commercials and the people who feel pressured to go out among the millions of crazy people shoppers to get one more gift.  Or maybe two.
And now I see, really see, for the first time, what a mess we make of this holiday holyday.  It's like my eyes had some kind of film over them "before".  The same film that millions of people have over their eyes.  Or is it thousands of people?  Or hundreds?  
     I'm not sure what's worse:  to have had the film and then have it torn away, or to never have had the film in the first place.
     My eyes now see how many there are of us on the outside.  I didn't see them before.  And now I am one of them.  And there are hundreds of them.  Or is it thousands?  Or millions?  There are more than you know.  Many of them clamp those masks on for this time of year, so they're harder to identify.  But I see them.  Most of them anyway. 
    I see the people who have no family.  No one to "celebrate" with.  No one that looks like the people in the commercials.  
     I see people who have "family" but cannot, choose not, should not spend time with people who don't deserve the title of "family".  
    I see people who have nothing -- who feel and see the pressure of "celebrating", but can't afford it.  And then feel worthless because they can't make their family look like the ones in the commercials.
     I see people who have only one thing in their life .... because that one horrible thing has pushed everyone and everything else out of it.  They don't want this thing, but don't know how to free themselves of the demon that it is.
     I see people who are angry.  I see that they were hurt first, and then became angry.  And that anger is their shield of protection to push everyone away.  They don't have anyone to "celebrate" with, but they also don't have anyone close enough to hurt them.
     I see the people like me -- the ones who's hearts are torn apart and hurting.  The ones who's bodies feel so heavy that smiling is exhausting, let alone "celebrating".  The ones who wonder if they'll ever want to "celebrate" again.
     But then I remember this holyday.  And what it's supposed to be about.  What it's really about.  
 I know that the film will never grow back over my eyes.  
But I think that's a good thing.

And I hope that my heart, though it will always hurt, will hurt a little less.
And I know that's a good thing.
Year Two:
December 27, 2009
"It's the Most Wonderful Time ......"

..... of the year.
Or not.
I wonder why we have three such huge holidays slapped right up against each other?  Who was in charge of that?!
I mean, really?  We (read: "outsiders") just get through the whole "being thankful" thing and then, a few weeks later we manage to barely get our head above the crashing waves of Christmas.  But we do.  We tread water and manage to survive the waves as best we can.
And then ..... just when we think the waves may be subsiding ...... the tsunami of New Year's roars in.
For us "outsiders", there is nothing ....... (well, other than that pesky 14th day of February) ..... worse than New Year's Eve.  
And I think that we make the "insiders" very, very uncomfortable.  They don't know what to do with us on those two days ..... so they don't.  
I can't say as I blame them.  
I envy them.  
I hope they realize how blessed they are.
I hope they don't take for granted how blessed they are.
And I hope they have a wonderful New Year's Eve.

And maybe toss a lifesaver out into the waves once in a while.
Year Three::
December 22, 2010

"You Should Be Happy ......"

.... is what someone told me last night.
Actually, the entire sentence was .... "All of your children are home.  You should be happy."
I felt like I had been slapped in the face.
I was on the phone, explaining to this person, through tears, that I was feeling sad.
And that sentence was the response I got.

Most people would probably agree with that statement.
But you who read this blog are not "most people".
Thank God.

My response was to almost yell into the phone, "Don't tell me that!  Don't tell me what I should be feeling!"
There was quiet on the other end.  But no apology.  No attempt at an explanation.
I said, "I AM happy that the kids are home.  But it's very bittersweet.  Yes, we're all together.  But we're not ALL home.  Jim is not here and that makes me sad.  Very sad.  Yes, even after three stinking years it makes me sad."

It's been a difficult week.  I'm content one minute, in tears the next.
I don't remember being this emotional last year, but then I AM a widow and so my memory is not what it once was.
I AM happy to have all of the kids here.  And so very grateful.
But the presence of seven of us is a huge reminder that there are not eight.
Just like the stockings that are hanging over our fireplace.
This is the first year that I did not add Jim's.
It just seems too painful to constantly see it there.
The stockings are such a visible reminder that he is not .... visible.

So yes, maybe in the eyes of some people I should be happy.
I am blessed.  My children are all healthy and they are all home.
I have many loving family members and friends.
I am financially secure.
I should be happy.

And I usually am now.

But this week, this month .... I am sad.
And there's not a damn thing I can do about it.

Except ignore the ignorant, thoughtless words of people who don't know what the hell they're talking about.
Sounds like a plan .....
Year Four:
December 24, 2011
"I Have a Love/Hate Relationship ......"

.... with Christmas Eve.
Actually, I'd love to say that I weigh in heavier on the love side, but I don't think that would be true.
And I hate that I hate some of it.

Every year we go to one of the Christmas Eve services ..... and then we go to dinner with friends.
And every year I sit there and cry through most of the service.

Every year at least one person stops me after the service and says, "Are you ok?"
And every year I say, "No."
Sigh .....

It doesn't get easier.
It just ..... is.

I dread going to church on this night.
But I can't imagine not going on this night.
It's part of Christmas.
It always has been.

Staying home wouldn't do anything ..... it wouldn't make me feel any better.
It would just make one night different .... one night that should probably stay as much the same as possible.

And so .... it does.
I hope one day I will love it again.
At least more than I hate it.
Year Five:
December 22, 2012
"December 22, 2012 ...... A Date That Will Live ......"

...... in my memory.

This is the day ...... the very first day in 5 years and 5 days ...... that I have truly, unquestionably and finally ...... felt 100% happy.
Happy without reservations.  Happy without "if only".  Happy without having to add "mostly".

I have all 6 kids under one roof (although only momentarily because Son #2 has to leave shortly and Son #3 just returned home).  And we have two additional friends here, spending Christmas with us.
Nine stockings have been hung by the chimney with care.  Two dogs are frolicking around our family room (and I'm good with that ...... I'll soon have two more here permanently).  The beds are all full, as are two additional air mattresses.
The pantry and the fridges are full.  The games are out and ready to play.  The packages are wrapped (don't get me started) and under the tree ..... almost dwarfing the tree this year.  (The problem with doing all of your shopping on line is that you sometimes lose track of what you've bought .... and who's been ordered what.  I'll have to do a much better job next year).

It's been a very good day.  We didn't go anywhere.  Or at least I didn't.  Daughters #1 and #2 left to get a couple of presents and to go to the airport to pick up Daughter #1's friend tonight.
We've watched great classic movies.  And Harry Potter #3, which I don't consider a classic.  Not for quite a few years.

Son #2 came over after he got off work.  We all had pizza for dinner.  And a little wine. (OK, we ALL didn't have wine ..... 2 of the 9 are too young, much to their chagrin).  And momentarily, as soon as HP3 is over, there is talk of doing something called "Irish Car Bombs", which is a hugely politically incorrect name of some kind of "shot".
But I'm a game girl and willing to hang in there with the young people ...... for at least one of them.
And then praying I'm not upchucking all night long.

Tomorrow we will meet at Son #2's apartment and then go out for lunch.  Then we'll attend a Christmas Eve Service, and then come home for a home cooked meal.  We haven't decided what that will be yet, but most likely, Italian.  And maybe the start of a new tradition.


And so happy that I'm happy.
It's about time.
It's beyond about time.
It's been 5 years.
And 5 days.

Yes, I wish Jim were here.  But he's not.  And I can't do anything about that.  So I will enjoy who I have, while I have them.  And remember him and treasure his love and him ...... in my heart, where he'll always be.
So, in a way, he's here, too.

It feels so great to feel 100% happy.

Thank you to all of my loved ones, who've waited for this day with me.
Thank you to all of my readers ...... who've rooted for me and for the arrival of this day.
Thank you to all of you who are on this path with me, both ahead and a bit behind.
Don't lose hope.

While I know there will still be painful days, and still be tears that come from nowhere, I am still happy.
And that's very, very huge.
So there you go.  Five Christmases without him.  Today is number 6.  
And I can truthfully tell you, though while I wish with every fiber of my being, that he could be here, it's still going to be a good day.
He would want that.  As I would want that for him and for our children.
Christmas, just as every other day of the year, is not the same.
But that doesn't mean it can't be good ...... again.

It's been a long road.
A very long road.

For all of us.
Please know that today I am thinking about all of you.
And wishing you peace, love and contentment.
They might not come today ...... but they will come.
Please hang in there.  And hang onto Hope.
Because someone is on this road, right behind you, 
thinking, "If he/she can make it that far, so can I."

*T.A.N.W. = There Are No Words

Tuesday, December 24, 2013


Blessings to you, during this difficult time of year for many of us.

I've handled Christmas pretty well since Ian died.  Partly as we'd not really developed/embedded traditions before he passed, partly because I have a very young child who I want to experience and have memories of the childhood magic and joy of the season.

So I bring you my Christmas Eve musing...

Some have a trophy wife; I have an ornamental husband*.
Ian actually hangs on our Christmas tree.  Well, part of him, anyway.

He's up near the top (safer that way, with an active toddler and all).

At our Church's 2012 Christmas community event that we hold in early December, one of the stalls was run by the wife of a Minister from another parish.  Her hobby is glasswork, making jewellery mostly.
But she also makes small amphora for placing a hope or wish in, written on a small piece of paper.
I saw them on her stall, and immediately my mind went to work about Ian’s ashes.   I’d already had some preserved in a glass orb (or as our best man puts it, I’ve turned him into a paperweight), so I asked her if she thought placing some in the amphora would work.  She thought so, and very, very kindly gave me one as a gift.

About a quarter teaspoon of ashes fit into the vial, and I sealed it with some candle wax. 
And so John and I have a new tradition.  For the last two Christmases, we've hung daddy on the Christmas tree.  Ian's still a part of it all, watching over as our son grows in excitement around the season, and as gifts get placed and opened.

I like that.

*full credit for this line has to go to our Minister, and Ian would have absolutely cracked up at it.
Photo: the amphora with Ian's ashes hanging on our tree.

Monday, December 23, 2013

The Path


Things are softening. Memories that used to have razor edges that sliced me from the inside are hazier and the edges don't leave as much damage as they used to.
Talking about him often results in a smile almost as much as tears. Most of the time it's both. And the tears are a bittersweet love story not a fathomless depth of blackness.
The idea of never seeing him again doesn't rip and tear its way through my body like it used to. It floats at the edge of disbelief still, but it doesn't injure me quite like it used to.

Thoughts of the future don't terrify or mystify me anymore. They aren't lost in a gray fog as much. They seem warmer, brighter and ever so slightly more imaginable. A future seems possible. The present is easier to bear.

My therapist said something really interesting the other day that I just thought of as I was typing this.

She said that we often think of grief as traveling on a line that goes from the first, worst moments to many many years away when you're as "better" as you're ever going to be. We think that if we suddenly have a set back and feel worse again, that we think of it as traveling backwards on that line and undoing all our work. We're back at square one. But in reality, she says it's more like we've just temporarily stepped off the tracks. We get back on at the same place we got off. That must explain why, over time, I've had setbacks but have recovered more quickly after each one, and continued to make improvements despite many setbacks and struggles.

It's because I didn't go back. I just went off track for a bit and got right back to the path as soon as I'd gathered my strength again.

I've felt as though it's hopeless when I've have those setbacks. I've felt as though I'll never be better and I'm just retracing my steps, but I don't think I am now. I think I'm just stepping away for a bit but not losing ground. Every day of those worst times made me stronger, though it felt like the opposite. Every day was progress, though I couldn't see it then. Every day got me farther and farther down that road toward better, and the detours just took me off-road, into the woods from time to time.

Even if things begin to feel sharp and dangerous and thoughts slice me up from the inside again, I'll find my way back to the path and start right where I left off, stronger than before. I never turned around and walked backwards.

All those miles were hard-won and have not been in vain.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Brave Love

I knew when I decided to love you

fully, with all of my cells

that I was risking everything.

I knew you were human

and that you might die

younger than either of us wanted.

Despite this,

I still chose to love all of you

with all of me.

Because you deserved that

and because I did too.

And though you did die -

younger than either of us wanted -

to stand in the pain of your death

and continue to love you fully,


with unwavering dedication,

has transformed me.

For I know now,

that to have given every breath of myself

to love the all of you

is the most beautifully brave thing

I have ever done in my lifetime.

It is the single greatest achievement

of my life.

I have learned

that this is what true love is -

to choose the possibility of pain

for the privilege to be love.

It is to risk everything

- everything -

inside ourselves.

It is to meet our greatest fears

and decide that it's still worth it,

so that we may come to realize

that we are capable of giving

the kind of love

that changes lives

and moves mountains.

In this way,

true, deep, complete love is not easy.

It is simple, but not an easy choice.

Which is why

whenever I see such love in the world

It leaves me in awe.

Never a more beautiful thing

have I seen

than the immense bravery

of any single human being

that chooses to LOVE.

Image Source


“A song can take you back instantly to a moment, or a place, or even a person. No matter what else has changed in you or the world, that one song stays the same, just like that moment. Which is pretty amazing, when you actually think about it.” -Sarah Dessen

This Monday will mark our 8 year wedding anniversary.
As I've said over the years, I've never defined Michael's life by his death, so the anniversary of his death has never had the burn of the day that symbolizes him and our time together...

Our wedding day.
A day that symbolizes our love.
His love.
The unconditional love he showed myself and everyone else.

The pain and angst enveloped me at times, but one thing always takes me away from any sadness that wears on my soul:
Hearing our wedding song.

He let me choose it, and when the time came for our first dance, we swayed (mostly due to lack of dancing skills) back and forth, lost in the moment, tunnel vision only into each others eyes and the warm glow of our hearts melding even deeper into their eternal bond.

After his death, a year and a half later, the words of the song have guided me through dark moments.

They've reminded me that everything that I've been able to do, survive and embrace, has been built upon his love...his kiss. And I'll keep on building.

Happy Anniversary, my love. SILWY
Give me a kiss to build a dream on And my imagination will thrive upon that kiss
Ah sweetheart, I ask no more than this A kiss to build a dream on

Friday, December 20, 2013

A Little Bit of Christmas

So, eight years ago this past Sunday, December 18th, Don Shepherd got down on one knee on a freezing cold night, in front of hundreds of cheering tourists, underneath the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree, and said, among many other things: "Kelley, in the middle of the best city in the world and with all these people watching, at the biggest tree in the world and because you love Christmas so much, will you be my best friend forever and ever and marry me and be my wife? Please?" I screamed yes as the tears froze to my face, and he slid the engagement ring on my finger, right over my mittens. Then we called our family and friends from the city, told them everything, and sat in a nearby cafe drinking hot chocolate with marshmallows and looking across the table into the eyes of our future. But that future never came. Death took it away.

Death took a lot of things away. Like my extreme love of all things Christmas. It was my favorite day of the year, in my old life. I was that annoying person who started singing christmas songs in August, and putting up the lights and tree in October. I was giddy with excitement at the thought of making cards, wrapping gifts, eating mom's fried dough with cinnamon and sugar on Christmas morning while we opened our stockings, seeing the boyish look on my husband's face when I bought him a brand new guitar, and ducking side by side with him as we dodged snowballs coming from the enemy (my brother and his 2 year old son.) I loved Christmas so much, the theme for our fall wedding was "Christmas in October." And then, of course, there was that famous tree, smack in the middle of NYC ...

The first Christmas after Don's sudden death, my parents and I literally ran away from all things holiday and spent the night in a hotel at Foxwoods Casino. We played the slot machines and had a nice dinner and didnt talk of or mention that thing called Christmas, and to this day, I don't remember one single second of it. My heart and my brain and my soul could not handle even a small slice of Christmas that year. I was traumatized, in a fog, and living in the state called shock. I did not pass by the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree that year. I pretended it didnt exist, and I did my best to stay clear of that general area of the city. (not always easy.)

Last year during Christmas season, I did not go home to Massachusetts to spend the holiday with my family. I stayed in my NYC apartment, and made brunch for two friends. Then we went and saw the film version of "Les Miserables", the saddest movie on the planet, because there was something oddly appealing to me about sobbing uncontrollably over other people's misery and pain for a couple hours, rather than my own.

On one particular Monday last year, after leaving my weekly grief counseling session in the city, I found myself walking in the general direction of the Rockefeller Center Tree, and although everything inside me screamed "Dont do it!", and "You're not ready!", suddenly, there I was, practically running to get to that tree. Our tree. There was a bench by the base of the tree, and my body went limp as I plunged myself down on it, frozen into that space. My memory flashed back to the day that he proposed, and I felt anxiety and panic and fear take me over, and that tree was like a monster or an enemy I had to conquer, and it all became too much. I sat on that cold bench and just cried. I cried and cried and cried. And then, finally, I went home.

I wasn't ready. I was not ready for that much Christmas yet, but because I am so impatient with myself and my grieving and healing process, I tried to rush things and tried to BE ready, even though I wasn't. The tree engulfed me and enveloped me with pain and hurt - it destroyed me.

This year, on my third Christmas without my dear husband, I have started to let a little bit of Christmas back in, but just a little. A verse of a song, a widowed people Secret Santa, the watching of one of our favorite specials on TV: "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer." But could I handle the tree? Our tree? Last year's viewing was so traumatic and awful, I really wasnt sure. Yet, something inside of me very much wanted to go back to that tree again, because something inside of me wants very much to one day love Christmas again. Really, truly love it again. So I did go back. Except this time, I did not go alone. This time, I was armed with my wonderful, very caring grief-counselor alongside me, taking care of my heart and making sure I felt safe and okay. As we approached the tree together, my heart pounded and my insides churned. The intense sadness of what once was - sat in each breathe of cold winter air. She looked at me and asked: "How are you feeling right now? Is this okay?"

"I'm realizing why this is so hard," I answered matter of factly. "It's because this tree represents the beginning. The beginning of our future, our marriage, our life together. And then we never got to have any of that. It was just gone, for no reason. And so when I look at that tree, all I see is the years and the kids and the family and the house and the jobs and the dreams and the life that we were robbed of - this tree is the beginning of all the things we never got to have. I dont know how to look at this tree, and just see the proposal and the love. I keep seeing what comes next, and then I feel sick inside."

She looked at me and said: "It's okay. You can't see those things yet. You're just not there yet. But you're here. "  Yes. I am here. And this time, it didnt destroy me.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Surviving Christmas

 I am finding it hard to find any Christmas spirit this year.

I have no idea if I have bought the children presents that they will enjoy... just a couple of small gifts to keep up the pretense of Santa.
I have not sent a Christmas card in years ... they remind me too much of all those funeral "thank you" cards that sat on my dining room table and mocked me for months after Greg's death before I threw the lot of them in the bin and decided I just wasn't going to do it and if anyone was offended, tough luck.

I am no longer a Christian, so there is no religious element to lift my spirits.
I don't sing carols anymore: I used to enjoy singing so much.  They are now meaningless to me. 
I sit through Christmas services at the church where I was married and where we had Greg's funeral service. I go for my children. That they still have any faith is incredible to me when mine has gone.
I love the minister as he is a truly lovely man, but the words he speaks don't reach my ears.  My heart is closed to the words that used to fill me with joy.
I smile at the people who look at me, wondering why my mouth does not open to sing and why I remain seated instead of taking communion.
None of it feels real to me anymore.
None of it has any meaning.
None of it gives me hope or joy or peace.

(Side note -  if  religion gives you peace, that's great!  It just doesn't do it for me).

But I have found something else that smoothes a balm onto my jangled nerves.
Another source of comfort when it is all I can do not to try to scratch my skin off so that I feel something.
A way of making things bearable when they are definitely not OK.

....and it comes in the form of other widows and widowers who don't try to make everything joyful or happy or peaceful.
Who know what it is like to choose life and light every morning when there are days that you can only see the darkness.
Who laugh at how absurd it is that we have both found ourselves here (How the hell did we get here? Really? here?  He's dead?  dead!   How did that even happen? How is this even possible?).

Each and every widow who looks around and wonders how the hell they arrived here and reaches out to another person wondering the same thing  makes this season bearable.
They don't knit Christmas decorations and coat the house in tinsel and fake goodwill and love to all humans...
... they actually mean that love.

I hate that you guys have to be here with me, but I thank you for being here.
You are definitely making a difference.
Thank you.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Wistful ......


...... is probably the best way to describe how I am feeling today, the day that marks the sixth year since Jim died.
It also happens to be the birthday of my sister, my brother and my step-dad.  Which totally sucked for them 6 years ago.  I hope it sucks less now.

I'm at a good point in my life, and yet ......
...... I miss him.
So very much.

I'm looking forward to Christmas, for the first time in six years, and yet ......
I'm also sad that two of my sons will be back in Texas, while the rest of us are up east.
I know that this eventually happens with most families with adult children.  And with six children, I can't really expect that we'll all spend every holiday together, no matter how much I'd like that.

I love living in New York and I truly feel that this is home now, and yet ......
the tears have flowed this week, and flow as I write this.
That's because I can never, EVER say, or write/type the words, "I miss him", without crying.
Even after 6 years.
God, how I miss him.

But I am in such a better place now, even with the tears.
Rather than feeling depressed and hopeless this week, I mostly feel wistful.
Which is so much better than how I've felt the past six years.
I looked up the definition of "wistful" and here's what Merriam-Webster's says:


 adjective \ˈwist-fəl\
: having or showing sad thoughts and feelings about something that you want to have or do and especially about something that made you happy in the past

Wow!  That pretty much sums it up.  I'm having sad thoughts and feelings about someone I want to have, and especially about someone who made me happy in the past.  Wistful, but not full blown grieving, because I've moved forward and know it isn't possible to have him back.  And I know that focusing on my grief at this point in my life will keep me from seeing the good in my life.
It will keep me from living in my "now", and enjoying the people and things I have now.

Hell, that doesn't mean I wouldn't trade everything to have him back.  That will always be a "given".  It just means that I now accept the fact that I'll never have the chance to do that.  But I do have a chance, every day, to focus, and enjoy my "now".  
That doesn't mean that there won't be more tears today, or in the future.
It doesn't mean that things are always great, or that they will always be great.
I'm not a fool.

I'm just a woman who's grieved very, very hard ...... and is relieved to just feel ......
wistful ...... on this day.
And during these holidays.

I wish that for each of you ...... in your own time.

I love you, Jim.  And always will.
No matter how many December 18ths come and go.