Friday, January 31, 2014

Grieving for Two

After two and a half years of feeling this soul-changing, earth-shattering loss, I just realized something sort of huge. Well, I always knew it,  but I just stopped and actually thought about it, and now I am able to put it into words. It is this: I grieve on behalf of my husband more than I grieve for my husband. 

I hope that makes sense. I miss Don more than anything. I miss him and our life together literally every time I take a breath or walk a step or speak a word. I miss him in the rhythms of everything that I am, and some nights and some days and some moments are still horribly painful and intensely emotional.. However, after two and a half years, I have finally, (sometimes) started to actually believe that I might be sort of, kind of "okay", and that a new brand of joy and life will happen for me again somewhere. It is already happening, at times, in very small pieces. As I continue to process and heal through the loss of the love of my life, I am beginning to feel things other than pain and despair and roads to nothing. I am beginning, slowly, to be able to see the colors inside my own world again - and to know that not only will I survive this, but that I will also create and build a new world for myself, while always proudly taking my husband and our forever love with me, blending him into my future. 

So there is that, and all of that is good. It is progress. A lot of hard-earned progress. 

But lately, and probably always, I have noticed a pattern within myself and the way I grieve. A large percentage of the intense pain that I feel, the really tough pain that I cannot seem to let go of, is pain that I am feeling on behalf of my husband. When I get really sad about the fact that I will most likely never be a mom and we will never have the family we wanted together, that sadness almost immediately turns into sadness for him. Suddenly, my heart aches and pounds with thoughts of: I am 42 and will never be a mom, but at least I get to LIVE. He will never be a dad, AND he doesn't get to be alive anymore either. His life was just taken from him, in a flash, in a few seconds, without warning. 

When I get scared about my own future and growing old or getting sick and being alone, that fear eventually turns into feeling pain on his behalf: Maybe I will be alone forever and grow old alone, but he will never get to retire or be a grandfather or even a father. He will never get to move back to Florida like he wanted to one day. He will never be the old curmudgeon he was so looking forward to being. 

I find that I spend a LOT of time feeling my loss on his behalf, almost as if I were him, and I'm somehow feeling it from the insides of his heart. Instead of thinking: "This is so unfair, why was he taken from me?", most times I am thinking: "This is so unfair, why was his life cut short? Why doesn't he get to live anymore?" I carry the grief for me and for him, and it feels extremely heavy. There is no sense of peace or logic when your partner dies so suddenly. No warning. No goodbye. No good morning. No goodnight. He was not sick. Not ever. He was in no pain. Not ever. Our lives were only beginning together. He was just here, and then, he wasn't. How can that ever make any sense? 

He was ripped off. Life ripped him off. He got screwed, and that is just how I feel, and I know that is how he feels too. I can just hear him saying with that dripping sarcasm of his: "Really? That's how it all ends for me, huh? I collapse on a Petsmart floor and just die? That fucking figures. What a rip-off. I want my money back!" He would be smiling and joking as he said this, but to me, it isn't funny. It isn't funny at all. It is endlessly unfair and cruel, and I am forever feeling the cruelness of it all, through his eyes. I travel into his soul, and I hurt for him. I sob for him. I ache on his behalf, and I don't know how to stop. These emotions make me feel crazy and manic and strange, but they keep forcing themselves inside me, and they play like a broken record, and I feel all of the hurt for him that he can't feel.

I can come to terms with having to live the rest of my life without him here on earth. 


But how can I ever come to terms with the idea that he died at all? And how do I stop feeling pain for him? Where my sadness ends, his begins. 
And so it goes on ........ 

Thursday, January 30, 2014

The holidays are over....

Australian children have just come back from their 6-week summer holidays.
So have their teachers....

The first year after Greg died, I dreaded the Christmas holidays.  All those long weeks of just me and the kids.  NO trips away (every holiday doubles in price during the holidays as we all know).  No will to do more than walk the tracks to the beach near our home and photograph things. ... and always the uncertainty of what work I could come back to.

I'm not sure that the second year was any better.

By the third year, I had some coping strategies - meet up with friends.  Go to the parties you want to go to and skip the ones you don't.  ...and I had a job to go to.

This year was the first summer holiday where I felt completely relaxed and OK in my own skin.  I relaxed.  I dreamed.  I looked forward to doing things ....
Maybe this is me, getting used to not having Greg here.
Maybe this is me, feeling comfortable in my (now) permanent job that I would return to.
Maybe this is me, feeling excited about catching up with friends.
one in particular.......

I'm not sure what it is but I am so much calmer and happier than I was 4 short years ago.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The "After Me" vs. ......

.... the "Before Me".

We all know that we are changed after the death of our spouse.
We are changed because of the death of our spouse and everything that follows in its wake.
But how am I different now?
How is the "After Janine" different from the "Before Janine"?
Let me count the ways .....

1.  I am less naive. 
I know, really know, that happiness is not guaranteed, nor does it last forever.  I know that being a good person, citizen, friend, son, father, husband, Christian, community volunteer/leader, etc. will not keep you from dying ..... not even at a young age.  I know that being a good wife, mother, etc. will not keep your husband from dropping dead.
2.  I am less controlling.
I now know that I really can't have control and that I never did, even if I thought so.  I know that I cannot keep bad things from happening to my family.  I know that life is sweeter when you accept the fact that it's not yours to control, but to enjoy.
3.  I parent differently .... for good and/or bad.
See #2.  I know more clearly now what really matters .... and what really does not.  I know that my children are already their own persons and that there are some things that I cannot force them to do .... or not do.  I know that the decisions they make are theirs and not a reflection on my parenting (mostly).  I know that Jim and I both raised our children to be independent so even though there's now only one of us here, I need to keep stepping back to allow them to experience independence.
I no longer keep the strict parenting rules that I did when Jim was here (and when there were six of them here).  I give in much easier in arguments.  I don't enjoy arguing a point with them the way I sometimes did (when I had support).  I say yes a lot more than I say no.
4.  I don't "sweat the small stuff".
This is directly linked to #2 and #3.  Life is too short.  I'm not going to waste any more time on worrying about things that will not matter in the end.  The often-used question, "Will this matter in 10 years?" really carries weight with me now, except that I sometimes shorten the time to one year, or even to .... tomorrow.
5.  I am stronger now.
I know that I can survive anything, now that I've survived the worst thing that could have happened to me.
I know that I can accomplish anything that I want to accomplish.  I know that I can fix a lot if things around the house if I just take time to read.  :)
6.  I am not afraid.
I no longer fear death .... or a loved one dying.  This is directly related to #5.  I've been through Hell .... what is there left out there for me to fear?  Nothing.
Don't get me wrong .... remember #1.  I know that there are plenty of bad things that can happen to me, or to my family, but I don't fear them.  If something happens .... I will move forward.  One step at a time, and sometimes many steps backwards.  But I will move.
7.  I am quieter.
I'm not really sure why this has changed, but it has.  I used to be fairly out-going, once I became comfortable around/in a group of people.  I'm still comfortable, but I speak less often.
I think that maybe, just maybe, it's because I now listen more.
I hope so, anyway.
8.  I'm more compassionate.
I think I've always had compassion for people, but not for all people.  This has changed quite a bit.  I now can see the other side of issues and understand why people suffer/act out/are depressed/say stupid things, etc.  I try not to make snap judgements about their character, but really look beyond what they are showing to the public to see what's going on.  And when I see suffering, my heart breaks.  A lot more than it used to.
9.  I'm more honest.
I've always had a knack for speaking into people's lives and saying things that are hard to hear (again, for good or bad), but now I'm a lot more honest about myself and what I'm feeling.  I don't hide my feelings as much as I used to, nor do I hide my true thoughts as often.  Not always a good trait.
10.  I say "I love you" a WHOLE lot more.
Jim and I said "I love you" every day.  Several times a day.  Every time we left each other, every time we hung up on the phone, every night before we went to sleep.  Mostly.  Of course there were those times when one of us felt snippy (mostly me) and didn't say it, but that was rare.  We also said it (and I still do) to our children every day, every night, every time we left them.
Now I say it to my friends.  Often.  I let people who matter to me know that they matter.  I want people to know that they are loved.  I don't want to let it go unsaid because ..... well, you know.  There will come a day when that person is not here to hear it.  And there will come a day when I am not here to say it.
I don't want anyone guessing. 
I express love more and I feel love more.  I love a lot easier than I used to.  And I think that's a good thing.

I could go on and on in the ways I've changed, both positively and negatively, because of Jim's death, but I thought I'd just give you a round number of 10.  Nine or eleven just seemed awkward.  :)
I could also write a list of the ways I'm the same, I guess.  But I think that list might be a bit shorter.
How can I be the same?
I can't.
And how can anyone understand that unless they've walked this path?
They can't.

So, while it sucks that so many of you understand .... I'm thankful that you do.
And I'm glad that I've changed.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014


I'm heading into the run of second anniversaries that begin in February and run for about 4 months - his surgery; the complications hitting and the roller-coaster of his illness; him dying.   Something I'm acutely aware of.

In my journey, the big anniversary for me is the March "complications hitting" anniversary.  That's the day from which my life was never going to be the same again.   Ian's death itself changed the tone of "never going to be the same".

And right now, year three and beyond looks scarier than the first two.

Throughout this journey, I've never been worried about "surviving". 

But this week, fear of the future's suddenly risen to the surface. 

It's always been there, I guess, but has come into sharp relief this week.

Fear of being alone.

Fear John will grow up, and then toss me to the wind.

Fear I won't re-partner in the future; find someone for simple companionship.

Fear something will happen to either John or I.

Fear of the next 40-50 years that stretch out before me.

Monday, January 27, 2014



In the hospital, suffering from myocarditis, Dave accidentally pulled the heart pump out of his vein. This meant that he'd have to have a new heart pump inserted. Instead, while waiting to get the new pump, he crashed. That heart pump had been helping his terribly damaged heart keep plugging along and without it his vitals went downhill fast.

The doctors threw everyone else out of the room and I never saw Dave conscious again. From that room, he was transported by ambulance to a bigger hospital where they had better technology. I wasn't able to ride in the ambulance with him. He died in that ambulance.

CPR brought back his pulse, but he crashed again and they were not able to bring back a pulse that time. Since then, I have not been able to see an ambulance without having to catch my breath. It's not quite a full panic attack, but it is a fear response, for sure. It's not just the thought of the patient's suffering in that rig. It's also the idea of the family that has already or is about to learn that they might lose their person.

When their sirens and lights are on, it's even worse. I have to focus on breathing when they scream by. I'm only able to breathe a full breath again once they're gone.

Oddly, about a year after he died, I moved less than a block from an ER. I never thought twice about it. I didn't fear it. I didn't consider that I'd be confronted with more ambulances than ever. And it hasn't really been a problem. I've had less and less of a fear response when I see or hear them.

 The streetcar stop I take to get to campus is directly across from the ER doors, though. As I sit there, waiting for the train, I see ambulances come into the ER bay over and over as I wait. I see people being pulled out of them on stretchers. The other day I saw one young man's face clearly through the ambulance window. His face was covered in blood. I felt my heart constrict in pain for him and his people.

The effect of seeing this as a part of my day has been really interesting and completely unexpected, though. I've begun to have less of a fear response and more peace.

There's nothing peaceful about remembering the trauma of that day that Dave's life ended in an ambulance, without me. There's nothing peaceful in the reminder that at that moment, folks and their family members are suffering.

However, there is something weirdly comforting in the fact that death and the ensuing pain (though in this culture we like to pretend it isn't) is simply natural, expected and a part of life. It doesn't make it okay and I'm not saying it doesn't still terrify me.

I'm saying that I think sometimes we are so separate from the end of life that we forget how much a part of it we all are.

It's not something we might experience, it's something we will experience. It might happen in an out of order way, which makes things much more tragic and difficult to understand and grieve, but it will happen, regardless. We will leave behind loved ones. We will watch loved ones leave this earth. It is a part of our existence. Being confronted with it on a regular basis has helped me lose some of my horrific fear of the trauma of it. It's helped me lose some of the denial around the idea of it.

I'm not sure it was a coincidence that I moved so close to an ER. I think it was a part of my healing to end up in a place where I'd see the evidence of the truest truth of all.

We die. We leave this place. We go somewhere else. It's sometimes a peaceful exit. It's sometimes terrifying, painful, shocking. But it's what we do.

Why have we, as a society, gotten so good at pretending it's not coming? Why has it become such an uncomfortable topic? How much of our fear around our dying loved ones is based on our inexperience with the idea, with our "ignore it and it won't happen"mentality?

Not that there's any way to prepare for the actual grieving process, but I have been wondering more and more about why we're all in such great denial. Does it really serve us to pretend it won't happen to us and ours?

Is that a lesson that only those of us who've ushered a dear loved one out of this world can truly understand?

I sit on that bench watching those vehicles of fear (and of rescue) bringing hurting, scared people to the place where they might die. I think again and again about how incredibly fragile we are, how life is a miracle and how I'm lucky to have right now because it is truly all I ever have.

I think about the beauty inherent in pain and how pain has brought me clarity, peace and a completely different outlook on life. I never imagined I'd live a stone's throw from an ER, but I'm actually glad I do.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Journaling through the Emotions

I've been going back over a lot of my old journal entries lately and picked one out to share a part of. For some years now I have been doing this inner-child dialogue technique... Basically having a conversation with that deepest, most vulnerable (and sometimes most wounded) part of myself by asking her questions and allowing her to share until I get to the real root of some emotions.

I know. It sounds WEIRD. And at first it felt really weird to do, but the results have always been profound at revealing some very deep emotions that I can never seem to get to so clearly any other way.
This entry was in Nov 2012, just a few months after he died:

"Inner Me: I'm so angry. SO ANGRY. Is it so much to fucking ask to just be able to fucking hear his VOICE again... telling me he loves me. Is it so much to ask?!

Me: I'm so sorry this has happened to you. You've already been through so much... I wish so badly I could take this away from you.

Inner Me: You should be sorry. you told me I was safe with him. you told me he's not going anywhere, you told me I could trust him, I could relax and feel safe. Well fucking now look where I am.

Me: You're right. of course you are mad at me, and at him. how could you not be. you've been totally betrayed.

Inner Me: Well, not totally. I mean, you've done a really good job of taking care of me through all this. You've made decisions for us that have made a HUGE difference and all. And... I know you are hurting too. I know there is now way anyone could have known this would happen. And I know, its not his fault either. I'm just so angry. I just want our old life back, you know?

Me: I know. God, so do I."

This part of the dialogue stood out to me because I knew I was angry at the world and at sometimes even at Drew, but the notion that I was angry at myself was so shocking. I was floored that this part of me had felt so hurt and so unheard by me during all of this. 

Anytime I get to a really dark place with my emotions, start to isolate a lot or begin having those "what's wrong with me?" feelings… I always use this exercise to get to the root of things. It's been a while since I've done it though, I'm thinking tonight I may just do another to see where we stand a year later.


I've been traveling a ton the past week and in the midst of that, found myself looking through notebooks filled with quotes and thoughts that have inspired my being.

One in particular, stuck out this evening:

"Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding."


If that isn't poignant to the ebbs and flows of our lives as surviving spouses, then I don't know what is!?

SO many times I was consumed by the pain, that I put on blinders to the understanding and lessons they carried.

THe pain became a safe haven from the scary and sometimes amazing truths that awaited life after tragedy.

And to be honest, even 6 years later, I sometimes find myself paused on the pain and not pushing play to the teachings.

But that's life. Recognizing the pain. Releasing it. Realizing the jewels of wisdom it carries and carrying on.

Harsh at time to hear, but my reality.

A reality I come to terms with, celebrate and embrace.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Letters from Home

My husband and I used to have those silly magnetic letters on our kitchen refrigerator back in our New Jersey apartment, and we would leave each other cute and often ridiculous or random messages on the fridge like: "I love you Boo", or "Yankees won", or "UR cute." One of his favorite things to spell out for me in colored letters was "Don 'N Kelley" or sometimes "Don Wuvs Kelley." He could be syrupy sweet to the point of nauseating, at times, because he knew I would be rolling my eyes at the gag-inducing baby-talk and he loved to annoy me. So it was sort of his way of being sarcastically romantic.

Fast-forward to 8 months ago, when I moved out of one apartment in Queens, New York after my roommate kicked me out, and moved into another apartment in Queens, New York after finding another roommate. I walked over to the 99 cent store and got 2 packs of the magnetic letters, because spelling out little messages makes me oddly happy somehow, even though it also makes me really sad. It is the "familiar" and the "routine" of doing something and having something that we had together, and now continuing it alone.

Yesterday morning, I woke up super early to go teach a full day of theater and comedy courses at the university I work at. As I was getting ready in my room and making the bed, I noticed the letter D was IN my bed. It had to have been there the whole night, but I didn't feel it or notice it at all. I brought the D into the kitchen and told my roommate that the letter D followed me into my room, apparently. She laughed and said that she was looking for the D last night so she could spell out "DIRTY" on the dishwasher, which we often do to tell the other person if said dishes inside are clean or dirty.

Later on, after returning home from my work day, I went into my room to get some things, and my kitty Sammy meowed loudly while rubbing himself against the blanket on my bed. He rolled himself over, and then over again, and underneath him, sort of hidden in the folds of a blanket - was the letter K. I'm a little slow, but I was starting to understand now. D + K = Don and Kelley. Okay, very weird. For ONE letter to end up in my bed is strange, but two? And they are the first letters of our names? Sure, the letters maybe came off the fridge somehow and stuck to me or my clothing and followed me into the bedroom. But that has never happened before, not even once, and now it was happening two different times, seperately? That seems impossible.

 Plus, I've been incredibly stressed out and sad and missing Don much lately, and he seems to come and comfort me somehow whenever I feel that way. Apparently, he really wanted me to spell out his favorite message from our old days back in that New Jersey apartment. So I did. I went over to the refrigerator, took the D and the K, and used them to complete the spelling of "Don N Kelley." And when I finished, I stood there and stared at it, like it was some genius work of art. There was a weird little smile on my face, and I felt my husband near.

I do believe in signs. I mean, I have FELT his presence here with me sometimes, and there is no questioning what it is, and I just know. But normally, he doesn't send me things like songs or feathers or coins or ANYTHING LIKE THAT. That is not usually his style. He likes to give me much bigger things. Things that will help me in my life - like an amazing grief-counselor, for example. But today, he must have been missing me in the same way that I always miss him. He must have sensed that I needed to feel a piece of the familiar - a tiny piece of home. Either that, or he just really wanted to annoy me by being syrupy sweet, while at the same time, saying: "Jeez Boo, I sent you a D and a K. How much more obvious can I be? Do I have to spell it out for you?"

No, Boo. Go off and do your spirit things. Go do whatever it is you spirit and soul types do out there in the atmosphere. Swing from a star, or have lunch with a comet. I can take it from here ..........

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Things that have changed

I am sitting here, marvelling at how far I’ve come since March 1, 2010; I am a different person with the same heart.
I can now look back and remember the sharp, stabbing grief of that day.  The insanity. 

The weeks and months directly  afterward where I alternated between shrieking pain and dense fog; I rocked and cried or I floated behind a thin wall, a sense of being elsewhere and detached.

The forced smile at work and the tears as I left the gate each day.
The craziness  at home.  My children  .. my poor children.
The first BirthdaysFathersDayChristmasNewYear  without him.   All the firsts.  I distinctly remember the first day I brought my children back to school afterwards and broke down at the gate, and the angel of a friend who saw me and walked me in.  She knew. 

That first, aching anniversary of his death.

The depression of the seemingly endless blackhole that stretched in front of me.
The hideous instability caused by my old boss who made it harder for me than it needed to be (because he is a petty, stupid man).
The desperation that I never spoke of.  To anyone.

The feeling that I was repeating history: I would repeat my grandmother’s and my great-grandmother’s long, lonely widowhood for decades to come.

The hopelessness.  The feeling of Just Not Bothering to do more than exist for the sake of my children; there were days that their presence stood (unknowingly) between me and oblivion.  I couldn’t hurt them, so I continued on.

The reaching out to others in the widower community.  The voice that would weave across an ocean and give me ways to distract myself from misery. The women and men who wrote about their experiences and I realised that I was not alone in this pain.

Then a chink of light with a friend offering me work at a new school.  This move has changed my life for the better.  I now have a permanent job as my new boss is made of clever and awesome and fought to keep me.

And then... and then ....  the confidence to once again try dating.  For real. 
....and the meeting of a person whose mind is like my own.  Whose situation is like my own and whose heart is like my own.  Healing slowly, together.

The realisation that my life is not over and that I can see a new future. A future built on hard-won battles and scars of resilience.  A future that acknowledges the injuries of the past and weaves them into its beautiful tapestry.

I have come so far since March 1, 2010.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

I Miss Touch ......

(It's been a crazy day and I'm suffering from writer's block, so I've decided to do something I rarely do ...... re-post.  I was going through some old posts and this one from Sept. 2009 caught my eye ...... because it still applies ...... almost 5 years later.  Except for the part about having 2 teenage boys at home.  
So I apologize for re-posting, but I hope that some of you can still relate.)

...... for the past week or so one fact has been glaring me in the face ..... and all over me:
I miss being physically touched.
Note that I did not say I miss being sexually touched (not that I don't) but those are two very different things. I live in a house with two teenage boys who aren't that crazy about touching, let alone hugging, their mom. They are normal.
And I am starving.

I miss the small reassuring pat as he walked past me. I miss the hug from behind as I stood at the sink doing dishes, or at the stove, cooking.
I miss the kiss goodbye ---- Every. Single. Morning.
I miss the kiss hello ---- Every. Single. Evening.

I miss holding his hand.
I miss rubbing my hand over his too-short buzz cut.
I miss doing his laundry.
I miss him picking me up and squeezing me hard to help pop my back when I needed that.
I miss his massages.

I miss dangling my short legs over his long legs when we sat in a movie theatre (for some odd reason, that habit started on our 2nd date and never stopped).
I miss crying in his arms when I was upset/frustrated/angry about something.
I miss him holding my face because he loved looking at the smile in my eyes.
I miss him pulling me down onto his lap to just sit and cuddle.
I miss falling asleep with him, hand in hand.
I miss gently touching him to wake him up when he was snoring so that he'd roll onto his side.

I miss hearing the loud clacking sound of his biking shoes as he walked through the house after a ride.
(I miss making fun of his biking shorts before he left for a ride.)
I miss shutting the pantry doors behind him because, as a male, he couldn't manage that.
I miss hearing him thank me for dinner ...... whether it was soup and a sandwich, or a wonderful steak.

I miss the "just because" phone calls during the day to check on me.
I miss the text messages he'd send from the school board meetings.
I miss him opening doors for me ..... and making sure his sons did the same for me and for their sisters.
I miss the light in his eyes when he talked about biking.

I miss him helping me zip up a long zipper on the back of a dress.
I miss asking him which pair of shoes looks best with an outfit.
I miss making eye contact with him from across a room when we were out at a party.
I miss trying to avoid making eye contact with him at a party because I wasn't ready to go home.

I miss his arms ..... he had great arms.

I miss watching him drive the boat at the lake and how much he loved being there.
I miss watching him freak out when the weather turned suddenly and the waves ripped in while he tried to dock the boat with out uttering too many four-letter words in front of the kids.

I miss seeing live theatre regularly with him ..... which he learned to love because I loved it and he loved me.
I miss his deep voice.
I miss his whisper.

I miss him telling me that I'm beautiful.
I miss him, when I would complain about the heat in a room, telling me it was because I was "so hot".
I miss telling him he was full of crap when he'd say those things, but thanking him anyway because I knew that he truly saw me as beautiful ..... even if I didn't.

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

I want a lot.

And I think that's OK.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014


Ian used to call me Sheldon, as in Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory.

In order to keep up with the housework and household management, I followed a routine through a website.  And it worked pretty well for me for years and years.  To the point I'd get antsy if it wasn't followed.  Heck, I got antsy if he mopped the house from the back door to the front door.  That wasn't the right way!!  It's front to back!!

And Ian teased me about my 'Sheldon-ness' all the time.

But since he died, the old routine I just can't do. It got me through his illness and the first couple of months of autopilot, but no further.

Some of the long standing practices have stuck, like doing a weekly budget and menu plan. Money is now tighter, and I have to watch it carefully, and these two practices help with that.

But the housework side of things... nope.  The routine is gone, and although the mess and dirt honestly drives me nuts, it's not enough to get me off my butt regularly and actually do something about it.  It was easier in the early days when friends dropped by with limited notice - I'd need to do a spruce up.  Particularly since one friend actually verbalised his expectation that the floor be clean.

But their jobs change, the kid's activity lists grow, they move, DIY tasks around their home need doing, their lives happen, so the visits drop off.

And so the housework drops off. 

I've tried a few times, but I just can't get back into the old routine.   I think partially I just haven't cared enough to be consistent and/or disciplined about it; partially because I didn't want to be living here  (I wanted to move since before I even met Ian, and we had plans, but lately I've come to accept I'll be here for a while longer).

But mostly because that's part of my before, a part that we shared good humour about. 

However since I've accepted that I'm staying put for a while, I need to do something before the place goes to rack and ruin.

A few weeks ago I came across a different routine to try.  And this last week I've started to use it.  Haphazardly, but I'm working on it.  I'm hoping that the simple fact it's not what I used before will allow me to actually get a new routine embedded. 

Because I know, before or after, I'm better with routine.

Monday, January 20, 2014


Friday was Dave's birthday. He would've been 41. I met him nearly 20 years ago. These three facts feel impossible. The day I met him feels like yesterday. I will always think of him as the 23 year old I first met. And his birthday keeps showing up to remind me that I'll soon be older than he ever got to be.

He was a sweet, chubby baby. His aunt found him irresistible and would go into his room even when he was sleeping to squeeze him.

He was a lefty and when he was very small, his parents would hand him a spoon to eat with - offering it to his right hand. He would just sit there, with the spoon in his hand until they finally thought to put it in his left hand and he could finally go to town with it.

Once when he was tiny, after being told that the family would not be having waffles that morning, he pointed at each of them in turn and squeeked "I hate you, and you, and you, and you." He really loved waffles. And pies. And doughnuts.

He was an old soul from the beginning, reminding his mom to wear her seatbelt when he was too small to put his own on himself.

He would save and scrimp to buy himself something and then find it on sale. He had a very simple taste in clothing and things. Safety and practicality were essential. He didn't abide by any foolishness or wastefulness. He would go to bed at night nearly fully dressed so he could be prepared in case of emergency. I never did figure out what he thought that emergency might be.

He worked his way through college, completely supporting himself. He was the most hardworking man I knew. He loved our cats with his entire heart. He could laugh at himself, especially if I laughed first.

He had a very unrefined palate. Anything a 5 year old would love to eat - that was his diet. Mac and cheese, chicken tenders, fries. Corn was his go-to veggie.
We almost always cooked separate meals because I had the adventurous palate.

He could use sign language. He'd sign "I love you" to me frequently. He'd finger spell certain words to me in public if he wanted to tell me secrets. He'd rather have been with me than anyone else on the planet.

After being with me, he was happiest in a boat or on the shore of a river, fishing. He owned more than one boat and about four thousand rods, reels, and tackle boxes full of lures and anything else you can imagine having to do with fishing.

He had a sweet soul and he loved me dearly.

On the 41st anniversary of his birth, I felt, yet again, how his very being is woven into mine. He is not physically here, but he is here, within me.

That's what happens when we go. We leave behind parts of us in those we loved.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Capturing our Stories

Today I read a beautiful article that really got me thinking. During a commercial photo shoot for a show on the Oprah Network - near the end of the shoot - one of the actors requested the photographer to take a few more shots for him. As he stepped back onto the backdrop, the actor began to sob. The photographer captured about a dozen or so shots before finally feeling uncomfortable with remaining uninvolved and then walked around the camera to give the man a hug. The actor went on to tell him that his father had died that day, and he had just gotten the phone call while on their lunch break during the shoot. He had been holding it in all day - without anyone knowing - and finally, at the end of the day, he just wanted someone to record what he was going through. The images are beautiful… I have shared one below.

As a photographer, and as a human being, this story touched my heart and really got me thinking. I have taken many many self portraits since Drew died… and the vast majority of them seem to end up being on my phone while at the cemetery (including the two below). I don't know why I do this, but nearly every time I am there, in the quiet space where his body lay, far out in the countryside, I seem compelled to get out the camera and look back in at myself. I want to see myself going through it. I want to capture it - all of it - the pain, the tears, the anguish. I want to have a conversation with myself and explore it from a different point, from a point where I am suddenly outside looking in on that moment. I don't know why, but I want that. I'm guessing a lot of us for one reason or another want to capture the pain in some way. After all, even pain is sacred… especially sacred.

The other thing it made me think about was the fact that I have just one photo of myself from the week that Drew died that captures the essence of that time for me. Only one. For someone who takes thousands of pictures a year and whose very nature is to record everything visually, this feels horrifying. I had no thought then to take photos of myself or to have anyone else do it. I had no thought at all. And yet how I wish - in some strange way - that I had a photo of myself and my two girlfriends enclosing me in their arms on my bedroom floor in the hours after I got the news that he died. I wish there was a photo of the moment I burst into tears in front of his open casket near the end of the viewing… when I clasped my hand tightly over my mouth to keep from screaming. In that moment - in that photo - you would see my older brother jumping up from his seat to rush by my side. My brother, who had not seen me cry since our mom died when I was nine years old, whom I have called countless times since Drew died now, in tears, and been made to laugh and feel loved by the end of our phone call. Or the moment I stood in front of a church full of people and spoke with complete tact and strength and grace about the man that I will love forever.

How I wish there were photos of all of those moments. And I don't even know why. I suppose because it would prove that it was real. Because it all feels too awful to be real. Or maybe just to be able to look back more literally, and see from where I am now, where I was in those first days. To see it from a different place. To see with these eyes what I have lived through.

But I do have that one photo of me from the week he died. It's not one that I took of myself. It is not even a photo I was aware was being taken. It was he and I, in the very last moments of closeness our bodies would ever have. It is a photo that I cherish because it tells such an important part of my story. Decades from now, when someone wants to know how I became who I am - it is this picture that I will show. It shows the death of both of us… and it shows the tender beginning moments of the woman that I would go on to become… that I am becoming day by day.

Whenever I lose sight of everything I've been through or begin to be too hard on myself for not being stronger or doing better… this is the photo that puts everything back into perspective for me and reminds me of exactly the woman I am dealing with, and to be gentle with her heart… for she has endured enough and needs only and absolutely love - now and forevermore.

The source of the article and photo referenced in this post can be found here - via Jeremy Cowart. Thank you Jeremy. All other photos are my own.


They will tell you; you can stack misery, you can pack, disappear, you can even wear your sorrow -- but come tomorrow you must change your clothes. Everyone knows pain. We are not meant to carry it forever. We were never meant to hold it so closely, so be certain in the belief that what pain belongs to now will belong soon to then.

For my 200th post, I wanted to share a video that is a reminder for all those (everyone), of what we need to remember in the moments our life and mind have a tendency of clinging to. To that which no longer serves us but has become a comfort zone. Something that acts of no use, but a reminder of what you used to be, and what we never want to return to.

I guess more than anything, I post it because 200 posts later, I can say that the pain belongs to the 'then'.

It sometimes hurts to type the truth, especially when you were convinced it could never be possible.

200 posts later, I know that it is...and so is everything else.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Talking to the Echo

There is a space where my husband’s voice once lived,
a big empty hole that sits in the center of my hours,
my days,
my years.
It mocks me by following me wherever I go,
And it feeds off of it’s own nothingness,
Sipping on the hollow void,
A cruel silence where there used to be sound.

It follows me everywhere,
But it is most cruel whenever I try to be my creative self.
I can write something,
Perform something,
Shape something,
And in that creative process,
I still look into the air, thin as a wafer,
And ask my husband,
“How does this sound?”,
“What do you think of this, Boo?”
There is a pause that lasts ten thousand years,
And then nothing.

Where he used to help me write,
And add his humor to my scripts,
There is nothing.

Where he used to sit in the crowd,
And clap loudly,
His big and wonderful laugh,
Being heard above all the others,
There is nothing.

Where he met me after the show,
Outside of the club or the theater,
Sometimes with flowers or cards in his hand,
Wearing his pride for me in the pupils of his eye,
Saying, “I’m so proud of you, Boo”,
Twirling and hugging and holding my hand,
There is nothing.

I can fight the nothing
With the opinions of other caring people
In my life.
My parents, my friends, my counselor.
Sometimes that helps.
But most times,
Try as they do,
They do not respond in the way that I am searching for,
In the way that I long for and need,
Or they arent always there,
At the ready,
Waiting to be the response
to words
that I speak.
That is what a partner does.
Partners are there,
And they say the thing that you long to hear,
And they make your ideas shine,
And they put the period on the sentence,
Or they suggest that maybe it needed a comma,

The nothingness where my husband used to be,
Causes me to feel so much jealousy,
When I am forced in a room with couples,
With marriage or long-term partnerships,
And when I hear the literal words
Of a wife saying to her husband,
“Honey, what do you think of this?”
It is like a slow stab,
And it pierces my insides,
While nobody notices.
And it hurts.
Oh boy, does it hurt,
To witness the simple thing,
Of somebody saying words,
And somebody saying words back.

The nothingness where my husband used to be,
Makes me needy,
Much more needy,
than I ever thought I would be,
than I ever wanted to be.
When I write blog posts,
like this one,
I need to hear and read the comments,
Or I feel worthless,
Like I am talking to that thin air,
Or talking to myself
Again and again,
And again.
My constant status updates,
On Facebook,
are a helpless and desperate plea,
to seek out connection,
and fill the gaping wound,
that cries,
in that space,
where my husband used to be.

It is almost like,
I need to fill that space,
With 200 comments,
A thousand voices,
To make up for that one voice,
I can never hear again.
And since none of those voices,
Are his voice,
And none of those people,
Are him,
It does not fulfill,
What I need fulfilled.
It helps.
It helps in the same way,
That throwing a raisin into a manhole
Would help to fill the space
Of that manhole.

But it hurts.
Oh boy, does it hurt,
Because nobody is him,
Nobody ever will be him,
Not ever again.

And I try to remind myself,
Or ask myself,
In those moments,
“What would Don say?”,
Or I will attempt
To hear him
And listen for his voice,
There to complete my sentence.
But there is no sound.
No feeling.
No hint of his essence.
And with each new moment of silence,
The memory of what he might say,
Becomes less certain,
And it drifts away in a rowboat,
Leaving me at the shore.

There is a space,
Where my husband’s voice
Once lived.
I cannot stare at it,
Or find it,
Because it is all around me,
But I feel it.
I feel the nothingness,
And this is why,
I am terrified of finishing things,
Of things ending.
Like when this book is finally written,
And a box of them is sent to my door,
And I open the box,
And it is filled with my dreams.
Books that I can look at,
And touch,
And know that the words inside are mine,
And the stories inside are mine,
And I will look into that thin air,
And say out loud
To the nothing,
“Aren't you proud of me, Boo?”

And yes,
I know he is proud,
But that is not the same,
As hearing him say it,
And instead,
Hearing the loud roar of silence,
That comes just seconds,
After my own shallow voice,
In a room filled with people,
Or alone,
Always alone,
Talking to the Echo.

(pulled from my personal blog, written a few days ago.) 

Thursday, January 16, 2014

It's 3AM

Filling in for Amanda today, who will be back next week! I thought I'd share a post I wrote in 2011...sometimes photos STILL take my breath away....

And I can't sleep. This used to be a normal time to be sitting at my computer fingers tapping, and tears streaming down my face. I can't count the number of times my feelings have been pounded out on my keyboard, but its been a good long time since the familiar ache of missing Phil has kept me awake into the wee hours of the morning. My heart is aching in that unforgettable way, and I knew you would understand. So here I sit covered in blankets, futilely trying once again to reconcile the fact that Phil is dead. 

This afternoon a good friend sent me a message. I opened the e-mail on my blackberry and saw a link but no greeting. After a quick glance I decided to investigate from my computer later. The indecipherable text was forgotten until I was working in my office later in the day, and remembered to open the message. All I found was a note that my friend shared a facebook page with me created by the community track team that Phil coached with for ten years. I clicked the link and immediately felt the oxygen being sucked out of the room. There were three photos of Phil among a gallery of old track photos posted front and center on the screen in front of me. The tightness in my chest that used to make my breathing shallow and my head ache returned as if the five years since Phil's death was only five minutes. I sat just staring at the photo above. 

There is something about this picture that trumpets everything I lost when he died. This pose is so him. I know him, I can hear his voice, I can almost smell him, and I can hear his laugh in the corners of my mind. As I sat dumbfounded by my reaction, the grim helpless feeling that follows the realization that I can't turn back time began creeping in on me. The questions that used to torture me when the house was quiet and I was alone came whispering tonight...Why is this man dead? Why does this 100 watt smile only exist in my memory? Why does the boy in this picture have to mourn the death of his father? Why is it that one photo, one moment in time can throw me with such speed back to the helpless, breathless, unfair reality that dead is dead?

When I watched the photos of the track team scroll by on my computer screen I was gripped by a piercing longing for what used to be. Not because I am unhappy. Not because the life I live now isn't wonderful in ways I wouldn't have believed five years ago. Not because I don't love the man I am now married to who has blessed my life in countless ways. But because it still sucks that Phil is dead. When this hilarious, mischievous, infuriating, dedicated, stubborn, kind hearted, single minded man died, the rest of us were robbed. Sometimes the force of this reality still takes my breath away.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The People I Love ......

...... have grown in numbers over the past 6 years.
Some people have faded from my life.
Some have stayed.
Some came in during my "after".
And those have never left.
I doubt that they ever will.

This past weekend I spent time with 8 of these people.
They are 8 of the most amazing women I know.
And 8 women that I'm proud, and so very grateful, to call "friend".

This is the board of Soaring Spirits International.
We all come with different backgrounds, different stories, different views on somethings.
I would trust them with my life.

But on one thing ...... we are in 100% agreement.
We have a passion for widowed people.
We want to give them Hope.
We want to let them know that they are not alone.

We just spent a weekend talking about all of you who come here each day, especially the new people who come.
We discussed Camp Widows and how we can get more of you to come and be emotionally fed during that amazing weekend.

We talked about reaching more and more widowed people.
We talked about wanting to give them Hope.

You are very important people in our lives.
We love you.
We care for you.
We cry for you.

And we want to give you Hope.
Plus the knowledge that you're not alone.
We're here.
And we will be here.

Long live love!

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Day by Day


I'm often still taken by surprise when being able to do some tasks are often a day by day proposition.  Mostly these are tasks to do with Ian, but not always. Often this freeze is not so much in the sense of having a 'bad' day, but just a day of not wanting to go there.

Just prior to Christmas I was working on swapping which rooms are used for what around in my house. In order to achieve the swap around I needed, I reached a point I had to do something with a pile of Ian's clothes.  This was his 'not much of this is in regular use' pile of clothes that took up a closet and a dresser, that I'd been ...umm...  asking... him to sort through for a good year, if not longer.

The first day of the swap around, there was no way I could have gone through the clothes and parted with them.  I was so frazzled simply trying to juggle stuff so we had room to work and paint, that it made trying to make decisions on keep/donate/toss just impossible and I would have been screaming like a banshee if I attempted it. 

But the next day, I was surprised how easy a task it was to work through a pile of clothes that, for the most part, I never saw Ian wear AND to actually make decisions on what to do with each individual piece.  I'd planned to pack them all away in a box or suitcase to be dealt with at a later time, but I found I could do the keep/donate/toss right then and there.

There were some items I kept aside as they did hold memories, but I still filled my trunk with clothes and was even able to take them immediately to an emergency assistance shelter so they could be used, rather than sitting in my house, frankly mocking me because he'd not done the sort out before he got sick. 

I've had a couple more days since where I've been able to work through a box here, folder there - I'm learning to grab them when they come; the desire to tidy the place up and de-clutter pre-dates Ian's illness and death, and is still there. 

It's just some of the decisions are harder.

Monday, January 13, 2014

My Home


I live in a wonderful city now. I've become more and more comfortable here. I like the weirdness, the outdoorsy-ness, the coffee shops, the rampant recycling and composting and organic gardening. I like the dogs and the green of the woods and the mist hanging in the west hills. I like the bridges and the dragon boats on the river. I like the people. Most of all I like the people.

This is a city where I often see people on their way to dinner or work, sit down on the sidewalk to talk to a person who is panhandling. Where they willingly sign up to help the environment or support gay marriage on their way to the office in the morning. This is a city where people will go out of their way for you. Once I was talking to a girlfriend at a bar and I was crying (can you guess what I was talking about?) and our waitress left the restaurant, went next door to get me chocolate and kleenex, and put them both on our table without a word and went back to her tables.

This is the city that brought me a dog walking job, a chance to get a degree in art, a choir to sing with, beautiful new friends who've changed my life, opportunities to meet and talk to people I'd never have been lucky enough to meet in my old life. It's welcomed me and gently pushed me into this new life. There's so much to see and do here that it isn't enough to stay at home.
I've stretched myself so much to find out what this city has to offer and I'm so glad I did. I've grown emotionally more than I thought possible in the past 2.5 years and so much growth was possible because of my move here.

And that's when things get weird. I wouldn't have moved here if Dave hadn't died. And I am so grateful I am here now. It is very difficult to fit both these thoughts in my brain at once. It seems wrong to see both as true. But they are.

It is simply a different life, I've finally realized. It's not better, it's not worse, it's just drastically different. The day he died, my life ended and a new one began. To make it really count, to make something redeemable out of such a terrible ending, I had to aggressively choose to LIVE. No living small anymore. No protecting my heart. With a heart that had already been shot through with the worst pain imaginable, I had very little left to fear.

It's because of that temporary breakdown and rebuilding of my heart and mind that I could find the way to a completely new life, one that is missing Dave, yes, but one that would make him so proud. And just as, if not more importantly, makes me proud and fulfilled. I haven't shrunken in fear. I have taken on that which terrifies me. I have been broken open. My heart is simultaneously stronger and more open and vulnerable.

The rewards have been more satisfying relationships, more learning and more emotional growth than any other time in my life. It's not fair that it had to happen after losing Dave. But it's proportional to the vastness of that loss.

Everything was torn out from under me. The foundation was dust. Unrecognizable. To build a life from the ground up could have either crushed me or turned me into a new human being. Actually, I suppose it did both.

There's nothing about losing him that I'm grateful for (goes without saying), but I am grateful that his death was not the end of me and my story. I'm grateful I have a chance to live on and make it worth it. He'd want me to. I'm going to make it as beautiful as I can and Portland has been my gateway. I am so grateful for the opportunities and people this city and has brought me.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

The Blindside

I've been in a clay workshop for the past few days, and its mostly been a heck of a lotta fun. Each say we have worked with a different teacher, making sculptures, dinnerware, decorated tiles, and learning alternative techniques for firing clay (examples in the picture above!) It's been a whirlwind of new and exciting creative ideas for me, especially since I haven't actually worked with clay since I took a ceramics class back in college about eight years ago. Making things has been one of the most powerful ways for me to cope with my emotions since my fiance died. I was excited to start off a new year with something healing and grounding.  

Of course as happens sometimes when I take the chance to insert myself back into the world of the living, I was slapped in the face rudely with my reality, and the fact that other people have a different reality... The one I wanted to have.  Over lunch at the workshop, while sitting outside on the porch enjoying the beautiful warm weather we have in Texas this week, all the women around me started to talk about their husbands. And worse than talk... Brag. About how they fix things around the house, and cook dinners, and help with the wives' businesses. Then one of the women my age, around her early 30's, introduces her husband who happens to be dropping off these mountainous apple pies that he made from scratch and delivered to us for dinner tonight. Aaaand that did it. Cue the breakdown. 

It's quite amazing... In about three minutes they managed to reduce me from joyful and content to slinking away and finding a place to cry my eyes out. And just like that I realized - at a year and a half - I'm still not quite so good at being out in the world of the living yet.  

Aside from our friends and family, I have kept to myself a lot since he died. I have felt too vulnerable, too raw, too different to really be out in the world a lot... But I have gotten much better at it in the past few months. His death is no longer the thing I have to tell everyone. Instead, it is something I feel okay with not saying right away. I suppose this means some healing has happened.  

Today though, I was taken by surprise. Accidentally alienated. It's something I'm used to... I've spent years learning how to pause and choose how I will feel when others my age talk about their parents in front of me. Years learning how to not let my mind go to that place where I feel alienated, alone and like I have no parents. I do, even if they are dead, I still have them. The logical part of me says that I should have been able to stop and choose today in the same way about Drew when all those wives were going on.  

But my heart knows there was no graceful way out of the lunch debacle today. I am not healed enough that I can make that kind of rational choice yet... Not about him. Not when I am surrounded on all sides by happy women talking about their happy husbands.  

Sometimes I just have to fall in the pit and cry my heart out as I claw my way back out. Sometimes it can't be avoided - when people remind me so clearly of the life that I wanted to be having right now. To even have been able to call him my husband in the first place. To have begun a family. Some days, there will just need to be tears. That was today... and then I dried them, stood up tall, and walked back into the fire to finish my class. 


Though I love to come here to share my thoughts, experiences and words, there are moments that I come across things that speak so poignantly that it must be given the space to spread to those who deserve to hear it.

This letter is one I found this evening that I know so many who have lost, struggled, hurt and suffered, should read.

Written by a stranger. But a human. Who has gone through who knows what in their lifetime.

May it impact you the way it has for me:

There will be days when the tears become waterfalls upon your cheeks Feelings cascading down your skin soaking you to the bone, to your soul.There will be nights when you are so overcome with the weight of being alive that you cannot sleep. You turn and toss in the sea of bed sheets. There will be years when the emotions you held in for so long, for too long, breakthrough in waves and currents that you have not yet learned to swim in.

Breathe my love. It’s okay to feel. It’s okay to be emotional. It’s okay to sit with the feelings and try to understand them. It’s okay to let them hug your body for a while, till you are ready for them to let go. And if it takes longer than most to say goodbye that’s okay. You feel what you feel till you don’t feel it anymore. It takes time. You will not drown in the ocean of emotion. You will float on your back and feel it all, every ripple, every wave as the sun leans in to kiss away your tears.

For every person that told you, “you’re too emotional” I stand before you with arms open wide and say it’s okay love, it’s okay to be emotional.

I love you,

Friday, January 10, 2014


I got an email today that made my heart do a little dance. It was from a fellow widow friend of mine, whom I've only met online, and who also happens to be a therapist. This was what her email said:

"I was with a client yesterday, and I asked her where she has found support online. She sighed and then said, 'Well, most of the stuff is useless. But I like 'Whats Your Grief' and ' (my personal blog). Those are really the only two.' So, there you have it. Not only one of a woman's Top 2. But one of her only 2. " 

Talk about powerful. Somebody out there, someone I have never even met, read my words on a page and found "support" in them. And someone else whom I've never met, is this person's therapist, and decided to share that information with me, so that I would know it. And now I share it with you, so that you will know it too. Because if we don't tell people that they have made a difference to us, affected us, shaped us - how on earth will they ever know? All it really takes for isolation to become connection is for someone to say the first word.

It got me to thinking, as my heart was doing pleas in the corner. I started thinking about all of the ways in which everyone is connected. Sometimes you can feel that connection, that bond, like a jolt of lightning that goes through your entire body. Other times, it's more subtle, like someone reminding you of it in an email. Either way, it is there. That connection. It is always there.

We all inspire hope to someone. All of us. You might not even be aware of it, but it's true. Right now, right this very minute, you might be striving to get to where someone else is on the path of life. Meanwhile, at the exact same moment, there is somebody else who wants to be exactly where you are right now. You are inspired by the ones who are a bit ahead of you, and others are inspired by you. If you look forward to the ones in front, you think: "I saw that person in total darkness, and now they are no longer in that darkness. If I just keep going, I can get to where they are too." If you look behind you to the ones who are a bit in back, you think: "I remember what it was like to be there, where they are now. It was awful there. Maybe if I just keep going, they will be able to see my frame through the darkness, and they will know that they can get to where I am too."

In the beginning, all you can see is pain. Nothing else can get in, because the pain is everywhere. In the beginning, most of us are not capable or do not have the energy or motivation or care to look outside of our pain and into someone else's. Our own pain is much too overwhelming. Until it isn't. Eventually, the pain begins to spread itself out, like the end of a morning fog, and it makes some room for more of the sky. In that sky, and in that fog, you can just barely make out the lighthouse that sits far away in the distance. The pain is still there - it is always there - but now you are able to shape it and mold it and turn it into something more than just pain. Like my friend Michele, who took her pain and with it, created a community for widowed people everywhere. Or my friend Janine, who writes here every Wednesday. She and her pain packed up their life in Texas, and started a new one in NYC, using her own courage as the building blocks to glue together her new world. And there are countless others, each of them a beacon of light, scratching and clawing and finding their way to the top of the lighthouse, always fully aware of the others behind them, still wandering through the fog.

It is the ones in front of us, who offer pieces of what our own future might look like, if we just keep going. It is the ones in back of us, who offer us perspective on how far we have come already, especially when we are feeling like giving up, or feeling judged or like nobody can see us.

Keep going. Keep walking. They see you, in the same way that you see them. They are looking at your every step in the hot, thick sand - and they are saying with their tired and hurt voices: If he or she can get there, maybe I can too. You are somebody's lighthouse. And someone else is yours. And we are all silently helping each other, even when we don't know it. Maybe, especially when we don't know it.

Isn't that cool?

(Pictured: Lighthouse at night in Montauk, Long Island. Me with Janine. Me with Michele.)

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Suicide Widow


I am filling in for Amanda today. The current heat wave has knocked out her power! Amanda stay cool (get it?!) and I will try to stay warm!

Recently I have had a lot of suicide widows reach out to me on Widow’s Voice and facebook. “I have no one to talk to, I have no one that gets it. I can’t talk about the suicide to my friends or family. They change the subject.”

I get it.

The thing about suicide is.. it’s complicated. Very complicated. Which leads to very complicated grief.

We are often hushed, because suicide is a “sin” therefore we shouldn’t talk about it. Suicide makes people uncomfortable. Because in the real world, it doesn’t happen (insert sarcasm here).

Let me get this straight.. I’m not supposed to talk about my husband’s death? I’m supposed to lie about how my husband died? To make other people comfortable?

You got to be kidding me.

Seriously people, stop putting that kind of burden and grief on us! We have enough grief to deal with we don’t need to try to make you happy and as comfortable as possible.

Sunday I woke up to such a sweet email. Here it is –

Hi Melinda,
My name is *Name removed for privacy reasons *, I'm a 33-year-old widow from Brisbane Australia. I lost my husband to suicide in July last year, only six weeks after we were married. It's been a very difficult six months, however something that has really helped me is the daily Widow's Voice blog. I have really missed your postings since you moved on and was wondering if you had a personal blog that I could follow or wrote anywhere else (I hope I've got the right Melinda!!)? I hope 2014 is a good year for you, bringing you much peace and happiness : ) Warm regards, *Name removed for privacy reasons *

When I read the email, I leaned back in my bed with tears in my eyes. Tears because I remember being “there”.. Two years ago.. When I was a year and a half into this.

Tears because I thought when I retired from widow’s voice, that would be the end of my story. Somehow my past would end along with my suicide widow blog. Somehow if I didn’t write about it anymore, it didn’t exist.. Right?

I thought that would be the end of me reaching out to pull a suicide widow out of the hell and isolation they are living in.

It never occurred to me that a month after I “retired” I would still be reaching out.. Again.

It warms my heart to know that my gut wrenching, soul scrapping, story and writings actually helped someone.

There is the other side of this.. people that find my blog through searching for ways to end their life. On this blog that I wrote, there is a comment that stopped me in my tracks.

May 16, 2013 at 10:38 PM
At least for another day, you just saved my life. Im a 24 year old homeless veteran with post traumatic stress disorder. The nightmares and flashbacks from Afghanistan are unbearable. Im so far beyond lost and I feel so alone. I need help but the Army just threw me away. I just dont know what to do anymore. Rock bottom was a few miles up from here

When I started writing my story, I did it to get it out of my soul. I did it to help myself. It never occurred to me that I would be reaching out not only to the widowed, but to people that want to end their life.

Reading the stories, hearing the stories, is hard. Seeing that someone is suicidal is hard. But knowing I “get it” brings me peace.

Just when I thought my “And then” was starting, I do a double take and wonder if helping suicide widows (or those that are suicidal) is a huge part of my “and then.”

Hold on friends. This is a long and bumpy ride. But I promise one day, bit by bit, hope seeps into your heart. 

It will catch you off guard and it first you won’t know what has happened. What changed? Hope entered your life.

Be well my friends, until next time!