Friday, October 31, 2014

Different Universe

Today is Halloween, and other than a few lighthearted traditions, such as our annual watching of one of our favorites: "It's The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown!", this holiday never really had much significance for us as a couple. Except that it did. It does. But not because of Halloween. Halloween just happens to fall right in the center of the happiest week of our short time together. Wedding, honeymoon, his birthday. In that order.

Monday, October 27th, was my wedding anniversary. It would have been 8 years for us, but instead, he died suddenly just 2 months before our 5 year anniversary, and so I still feel very robbed. For me, the wedding anniversary day is even harder than the death day. It is sadder. Don't get me wrong. The death day sucks big time and it's incredibly hard, but at least on that day, I usually feel like I can honor him somehow, plus I do my "Pay it Forward for Don Shepherd Day" each year on that day, and so tons of people are performing acts of kindness in his honor all week long. It is awesome. It helps. The wedding anniversary is way different. Unless I post publically about it on Facebook or somewhere, nobody really knows about it or acknowledges the day. Other than my parents, nobody in my family called or texted or left a message on my Facebook page or anything. Nobody said "this day must be so hard for you", or "I just want you to know that your love will never die and that I'm thinking of you today", or something like that. You know who acknowledged my wedding day? Other widowed people. And yes, a few close friends and acquaintances also said something. But the day just feels intensely private to me, like it's between me and my husband, and since my husband is no longer here, nothing that I end up doing with that day ever feels like enough. It all just makes me very sad.

Since the day fell on a Monday this year, I chose to honor it the day before, on Sunday. I did what I have been doing each year since his death - get a rental car and drive out to Sea Cliff, Long Island, where we got married, and sit on the rocks and the benches at the bay where some of his ashes are scattered, and go inside our wedding venue and have a cup of tea with the owner and look through my wedding album. Then I have a nice quiet gourmet dinner, at one of my husband's favorite restaurants, which just happens to be a place owned and head-cheffed by my best friend's husband. So my best friend Sarah and me have dinner together. I told her that she should feel honored, because she is pretty much the only human that is allowed to be around me on my wedding anniversary. It is a day where I normally don't much feel like dealing with other people. I only want to feel close to Don.

On Monday, I was supposed to teach a weekly stand-up comedy workshop that I teach in NYC, but I literally felt like I couldn't function on that day. I was so damn sad, and just kept crying and feeling pretty awful. So I asked my 7 students, who are all adults of various ages, if we could move the class to Wednesday this week instead so I could continue to be an emotional basketcase. They were so understanding and great, and said "of course. Take care of yourself." So I went into the city anyway and went to my weekly grief-therapist meetup. She knew it was my wedding anniversary, and she has been holding onto the DVD of my wedding day for months now. I had asked her to hold onto it, and when I thought I was ready to watch, we would watch together during session. So that is what we did on Monday. I finally watched some of my wedding day video, 3 plus years after his death.

As she put the DVD into the player, I felt so nervous. I said to her, in a voice that was barely audible, "Are you going to sit with me?" (because there are 2 chairs and a couch, and she normally sits in one of the big chairs across from me, while Im on the couch) She said: "Of course I'll sit with you." I was expecting to shed massive tears and cry so hard and so much that I couldn't breathe. I was expecting to perhaps explode from the sadness and shock of it all, and not be able to deal with the real world any longer, after having seen my own husband alive again - and knowing he is still dead. I don't really know what I was expecting, but the reaction I had was much different than the reaction I thought I would have.

As we watched the wedding ceremony, the first thing that struck me slowly were all the people sitting in the crowd that were no longer in my life today. All the friendships that were so strong on that day, that don't even exist now. Then I saw my Nana walking down the aisle, being escorted by my brother. At that point, my Nana already had cancer, but she was still well enough to come to New York for my wedding. She looked so tired and withdrawn on the video, like it was the beginning of the end of her lively spirit. Her light would slowly dim out after that day, and about 3 years later, she would die while living in my parent's home, from complications of cancer. As the ceremony continued, and we got to the vows we had written, my eyes fixated on Don as he spoke his beautiful words of: "I want you to know that my greatest joy in life, is watching you succeed, and watching you chase after your dreams and catch them." He teared up when he said that, and he looked right into my eyes and soul. Watching him, sitting there with my therapist, it felt like an out-of-body experience. It felt like a different version of me was watching another version of me , and another version of him. God, his eyes were so blue. He loved me, and loves me, so much. I was shaking and nervous and strange while watching, and I was tearing up, but not sobbing.

Watching my husband on video, alive, with the knowledge that he is dead, was beyond weird. However, the thing that surprised me most, and that I didn't really expect, was the strangeness and surreal-ness of being a different version of myself, watching myself getting married. I sat there, in my sweatpants and t-shirt and no makeup - a face and body that has been through hell for 3 plus years now - that has survived grief and pain and hurt every single day and been beaten by life - watching this girl on that video. This girl that had bright, big beautiful eyes, and who was smiling and laughing and giddy in every moment of this video. This girl who looked up at her new husband and said with great enthusiasm and meaning: "I do." This girl that clapped with excitment when the minister announced "you are husband and wife." To be this version of me, watching that version of me, was perhaps one of the saddest things I have witnessed. It was my own insane joy reflected on the TV screen, that made my heart hurt. Because since the day he died, I have not felt joy like that again. Not even close. Sure, I have moments of joy and happy. I laugh. I enjoy my life, in parts, now. But that joy that comes from deep love and future and possibility and hope and the naive wonder that all things last forever - that girl is gone. And that made me sad. Watching my husband alive and knowing he is dead, was very hard. But watching me and realizing that I am dead too - that version of me is dead - that was pretty devastating. Yes, I already knew that my old-self no longer existed, and that since he died, I have been re-creating a "next life" for myself. But knowing that and seeing it on video are two different things.

This new version of me is still a work in progress, but she feels so very far removed from that girl with the sparkling eyes and giddy smile. Like a seperate universe, watching another galaxy with old, tired eyes.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

A Molten Grief

photo courtesy: USGS

We here on the Big Island - as others around the world now too - are watching in awe, horror and sadness as Pele, the Hawaiian goddess of the volcano, marches her molten walk through the community of Pahoa. It is indeed a big island; I live far, far away from that and am quite safe, but we who live here feel a kinship with our neighbors. We all hoped and prayed it would stop or change direction, as it can and has been known to do, since it started this past June.

But now, as it has indeed reached the town itself, I can't stop thinking about it. In particular, the lava recently crossed over the 100-year old cemetery down there, covering the headstones, statues and burial places. What are families going to do now? People who have lost their loved ones must bear this next loss now too. My heart goes out to them. Grief compounded. Buried twice. Markers lost forever.

Many lives are now going to have to change. Important roads and access are now breached. Homes, schools, pastureland, gardens and businesses are threatened, and another beautiful corner of this lovely place will be eternally buried under the slow but unstoppable fiery rock.

Driving home today I was thinking how all the islands were formed this way. One day many hundreds or thousands of years ago, even the road I was driving on was molten, hot and steaming. Not an inch of the place I live is free of the experience. Because of the lava, Hawaii exists. Destructive - and yet also creative.

I realized that the lava reminds me of the process of grief. It is unstoppable, searing, and can bring unwanted changes and terrible destruction to our lives. And eventually, unfortunately, it will touch most, if not all people, somehow. It is unavoidable, because everyone dies. But generations pass, and the world continues being created, changed; morphed into its new being.

Many of the residents of Pahoa are facing Madame Pele with a grim calm and resignation. Such is the nature of life on a volcanic island. I imagine there will be a period of grief for them, as they will mourn the loss of the way things used to be. That sounds familiar. Many have already left the area. Some are in evacuation mode as I type this. Others, I have read, hope to continue on even despite the moves and changes that are to come. To restore and rebuild this beautiful and unique community however possible. To see the lava flow as another story, another chapter, of this already unusual place. Because it will never go away, that giant scar through the land in Pahoa. The community will just have to learn how to live with, and around, the long, gaping wound of that lava flow. 

That also sounds familiar.

I sometimes feel like I'm being dragged along, pulled screaming and writhing through the molten morass of my own grief since Mike's death into a future I never asked for. I sometimes want to just curl up into a ball and make everything go away. I sometimes don't want life to go on...and I don't mean that how it sounds. I just want things to stay exactly how they are...or more exactly, how they were, maybe around Christmas 2012. But they can't. Time is a vicious, cruel creature that cannot be trained, corralled or controlled...also, much like the lava.

One day, many, many years from now, life will again begin to grow on top of the now-molten flow. It will take ages and ages, but it will happen. Eventually, the island will heal itself and nature will rebound. Similarly, facing disaster, we humans, somehow, some day, begin working towards that inner strength to persevere.  That survivor instinct. We pick up our lives, piece by piece, from the torn and scattered bits.  It might take ages and ages, it might be really hard and terrible, and it might come in fits and spurts - but it can, and will, happen. I have to believe this is possible.

Some days, I do feel an inner strength quietly forming; one that wants to release me from the bondage of this horrible fate, and set me free to explore this strange new world. I have no choice but to find a way to live without Mike; I have no choice but to wait for the heat to subside, wait for the new ground to solidify, and rebuild upon the ashes and ruins of the old.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014


Sometimes, when I allow myself to think of my nebulous future, and whether I'll ever have a man in my life to love again, and be loved by, I think maybe I've had my love story and that's the end of that.  After all, I can't be greedy, can I?  Many people don't have their love story even once.  I had 24 years of a love affair marriage-how can I ask for more?

So then I think, well, maybe I'll just have lovers.  I travel full-time so I can be very sophisticated about it and have lovers around the country.  That way I'll have the human, male connection with friendship and sex involved, but nothing permanent.

The only difficulty with that story line is that I've never been that sophisticated and I don't know that I can make it happen and the fact is, I would love to have another love story with one man.  I would love to have a man in my life who is a real man, as Chuck was, who is as passionately in love with me as I can potentially be with him.  I love being in love.  I'm good at being in love.  I love male energy.  So the idea sounds good to me; working it out is another whole story.

Because I can't imagine finding a man who meets my high standards.  Not in a comparing him to Chuck way-I realize that wouldn't be fair.  I wasn't, and am not at all now, high maintenance in any way.  But I do have high standards after being with Chuck and he would expect no less of me than to maintain those standards.  Where does one find a physically/emotionally/mentally, healthy male in my age group who is a gentleman, educated but not snobbish, one who is as comfortable in work boots as he is dressed up, one who slow dances, someone who wants to cherish me as I would cherish him, who would mutually nurture a relationship with me?  Is there another man out there who can be all of this?

I don't know if I'll ever really be ready to be in another relationship, honestly.  But I wonder if anyone is ever completely ready or does it just happen?  Which is what it did with Chuck.  No effort-it just was, as if it had ever been.

My husband is missing from me.  I know he wanted me to find another man to love and be loved by.  But I am so devastated by his death, I can't even imagine such a thing.  Even though my heart is open to it.  The fact is, I want Chuck and I don't know how that can ever change, the wanting him back.

It's all very confusing, isn't it?  

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Turning on a Dime

I figured I'd keep with the currency theme for my post title...


There are two things I've noticed in widowhood - how time becomes quite elastic and how quickly you can find yourself in another stage, another headspace without even realising it.

A while ago I wrote about avoiding going back to work.  I've tried to find the post, but in my pre-coffee haze and with that elastic time thing going on, I can't find it.  Must be older than I think it is, although I swear it's only a few weeks.... 

hmm... checked. 

It was three months ago.

Anyhow back to the present. Not long after that post, the marketing guy for the CPA come into our accounting lecture, as they do about this time of year, and he did to the 'hey join us, not Chartered' thing.  As an off-hand comment, he mentioned my state's Auditor-General's office was recruiting.

So I decided to take a look - they were recruiting for graduates for ongoing employment and students still with a year to go for a month long summer internship for February.  Timing sucks as my parents are usually skiing in the northern  hemisphere for February, but I spoke to my childcare provider and they'd be able to take John for the month full time.  Yep - a month full time is doable.

Ok, so I applied.   And promptly forgot to attach my academic transcript.  Figured I would wind up in the pile of candidates culled in the initial review of applications.

Well, I was gobsmacked when I got a call for an interview, which I had yesterday*.

I'm not sure how I went - especially since I mucked up a basic thing - but I'll hear later this week. Although I study in our central business district, I'm usually dressed as a student.  It was nice to be there in corporate attire - and it felt right.  Maybe going back won't be so tough after all. 

I figure if I get it, it gives me a chance to really test the waters of going back to work.  Especially since I'll most likely need to go back full time when I re-enter the workforce in 2016.

It's funny how quickly things can change without you realising you've moved into another space.

*Once at home I had to get a three and a half year old to put pants on.  That was tougher than the interview.

Monday, October 27, 2014

The Flip Side of the Coin

As you all know, Cassie felt that it was time for her to share her writing spot with another widowed writer. I want to begin this post by thanking Cassie for her years of dedication to Widow's Voice. She has changed so many lives on Monday after Monday after Monday...mine included. Thank you so much for sharing your heart with us Cassie!

Also, we have a new writer joining us next week. Her name is Tricia, she lives in England, and she will be sharing her story with you starting next week. Welcome, Tricia...we look forward to getting to know you!

For today though, you have me filling in as the Monday writer! I am the 'founder' of this blog and also the editor. My job, as I see it, is to provide relevant content for a blog about living life as a widowed person. I ask our writers to share their thoughts honestly, and to write about their now. Finding writers for the blog would be much easier, actually, if I asked writers to share the wisdom they've collected as they look back on their loss journey. But as they say hindsight is 20/20. What I want is the minute to minute trudging through the pain, the confusion, the questioning, the incredible growth, the flashes of clarity...I want to read about those moments, as they happen. So, that is what I ask from our writers, and they consistently deliver. They are rock stars in my eyes.

I love thought provoking posts. Kelley Lynn's blog on Friday about her experience with opinionated folks who offer comfort via forcing their religious beliefs upon grieving people is a perfect example. In my experience, platitudes rarely provide the intended comfort, but instead create further emotional distance from the griever. However, religious platitudes have the extra consequence of forcing the grieving person to either remain silent about their personal beliefs or risk the bashing that may occur if word gets out that they don't believe in a "better place."

Personally, I don't believe in the use of phrases that include the words 'better place' or 'another angel' or 'hopefully your loved one was saved.' I've spoken to enough widowed people over the past nine years to know that these words often wound, despite whatever genuine desire to provide comfort prompted the saying. I founded Soaring Spirits (the organization that hosts this blog) to be a secular organization very intentionally, and regularly hold our programming, and our message, to that secular standard.

Here is the irony, my desire to ensure that every widowed person has access to a community of support regardless of gender, sexual orientation, religious affiliation, marital status, race, political grounded in my personal faith.

When I read Kelley's post, I struggled with a keen desire to apologize to her, and to every one of you who commented, about the pain that has been inflicted on you by another person in the name of religion or of God. I wanted to say, "We aren't all like that! There are quiet people of faith who don't need you to believe what they believe in order to offer incredible support and understanding." I almost wrote those words in reply, and then I remembered. Oh yes, she isn't talking to me. Right, she pointed that out in the beginning of her post. Yet, as a person who believes in God, I feel somehow silently responsible.

When 'religious people' are misrepresented by the loud, obnoxious, intolerant people who cause harm in the name of a particular set of beliefs I find it frustrating, and disappointing. I can never figure out why people don't know that their actions speak louder than their words. How anyone can think that hate breeds love is beyond me. But, at the end of the day, the squeaky wheel is the one that is heard, and we remember pain more often than we remember kindness.

Today, I want to be the representative of the quietly religious folks here in our community, those of you who didn't comment on Friday because you were worried that you might be lumped in with the extremists by accident, but who vehemently disagree with the tactics they often employ. The more I thought about this problem, the stronger I felt about voicing an apology. I want to apologize to any of you whose opinions and beliefs have been disregarded by someone who felt you needed to 'find God' in your time of grief. I want you to know that not all religious folks find daily comfort in their loved one being in a better place. Call me selfish, but I can't think of a better place for Phil, than here with all the people who love him. I don't claim to know what the 'plan' is, and like many of you, I have disagreed loudly with the 'dead partner plan.'  Kelley's post wasn't speaking to me, but I will accept responsibility for the hurt caused by others, because your collective pain makes my heart ache. Sometimes the sins of the few are born by the innocent many.

At the end of the day, aching hearts is what brings us to this space each day. Thank you for the kindness you show each other. Thank you for participating in the culture of tolerance that allows us each to espouse our own beliefs without risk of retribution. Thank you for understanding that grief is both universal, and oh so personal.

Grief has broken our hearts. That brokenness has the potential to expand our view of the world, because every barrier has been crushed by the magnitude of our loss. We stand together in a powerful emptiness, imagine the good we can build from here.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Trying to Keep an Open Heart

I just want to be alone so much lately. I've always been a bit introverted, but I literally haven't wanted to be around anyone at all lately - and that's not like me. For me, it can be so easy to just close off from the world. I know it's one of those things I have to be careful about keeping in check. Particularly as an artist - it is extremely tempting to only express my emotions through the things I create. While this is very healing way to express my pain - it can also turn on me and become a way of keeping the world at a distance if I'm not careful. I can begin create an image of myself through my art - let people see my pain the way I want them to see it. Sometimes, it's tempting to only let people see my pain that way.

Which is why I'm grateful for being able to write here - because it's one of the places I feel like I can let my hair down. Today, while sitting and reading over some of your comments from my last post - I just burst into tears. All my emotion came out just be reading heartfelt words from others, words that heaved themselves over my carefully constructed walls. I was surprised I was crying. I was surprised at how quickly I went from seeming just slightly melancholy to really really painfully sad. I guess sometimes we need someone else to pull that out of us… to notice it in us so that we can notice it in ourselves. It reminded me that I need remember to let people in more… to let them help me cry, or sit with my while I cry. Not just let them see what I create out of my pain - but let them see my pain, just the way it is. Gosh, why is it so hard to do that? Why is it so easy to just want to hide it away - especially when we know that it's what connects to each other the most?

In a strange way - it's actually something I miss about the first year. I was SO raw and so broken open that I did not close off from people. I couldn't. It didn't matter if we'd known each other five minutes… there I was, spewing my emotions out on any unfortunate soul who crossed my path! And to my surprise, in return, most of the time they gave so much love and support. They didn't gawk or walk away. And they still do give so much, but it seems over time I have slowly retreated and allowed people less of a chance to help me. I've become comfortable again at not letting people see me cry. It's a constant dance to try and remain open-hearted… a dance that others - including everyone here - helps to make a lot easier. I honestly don't know what I'd do without my widowed community. This amazing army of people whom I never - not once - feel ridiculous with. I hate that we all get it - but I'm so very glad we have each other. You help me keep my heart open and you help me to remember that sometimes even a really strong gal just needs to cry. And sometimes she needs to cry a whole lot maybe - and maybe even for seemingly no particular reason other than she's just sad. Thank you for all you do for me.

A Dangerous Indulgence

Waiting to board the plane for our first holiday together in May 2012. Dan was so excited, like a big kid. He made every day so fun.  I really miss that. 
I’ve been really missing my husband this week.  I miss him every week, of course, but this week his absence has been palpable.  I’m not sure why, maybe it’s because I’ve been spending a bit of time helping a friend who has a new born baby, which is a sensitive issue for me. Maybe it’s because yesterday marked the 15-month anniversary. Maybe it’s just the grief rollercoaster swinging me through a new bend or dip.  Whatever it is, it sucks.

I’ve been waking up in the morning and finding myself just laying there, staring at his pillow and resting my arm on his side of the bed, knowing I’d be hugging him if he were still there. 

I’ve been feeling that urge to call or text him throughout the day with the tid bits of information about what I’m up to that would be mundane to most other people in my life but fascinating to him.  I’ve been clenching my fist as I walk through the city to work, wishing he was beside me and I could tighten my grip around the comfort of his hand in mine.

At night our house has felt quieter than usual.  The emptiness has been bigger. When I look at the photos of him scattered all around our home, I’m less able to smile at the beautiful memories we shared and instead have found my thoughts wandering towards his depression.  Imagining what dark whispers might have been lurking in the corners of his mind, tormenting him. 

I’ve been day dreaming about what life would be like if he were still here.  This is always dangerous territory for me; it’s an indulgence that I don’t often dare allow myself. To start with it’s such a sweet sensation. When I let go and imagine the life we could be living, it fills me with warmth and love.  We had a very fun, kind and playful relationship. Dan would make even the most mundane and boring chores a delight. 

When I think about how dramatically different my life would be if he were still here (and his depression had magically never existed), how I’d be spending these lonely nights, the adventures we’d be getting up to on our weekends, the face of the child we could be raising, with Dan’s bright blue eyes and round cheeks - well it’s so wonderful that it’s almost unbearable.  Because when I come crashing back down to reality and this dream is replaced with the severity of my new life.  It’s nothing less than torture.

I’m overwhelmed with how unfair this world is.  Everything around me seems so bleak and inadequate.  Trying to look for positives or find things to be grateful for is just impossible – all I want is Dan. 

I want the life we should be living together and I want my innocence back and I don’t understand a world where this could be taken from me. I don’t understand why such horrible things can happen to good people.  I miss him.  And I’m so sick of these words because they just feel so inadequate to explain how deeply I ache for him.

I understand my grief well enough now, that when this low sets in, I instinctively go in to self-preservation mode.  I pull back, tread lightly, and reach out to my support network when I can.  I remind myself that I'm stronger than I know.  This agony will lift again. I know Dan would be so proud of me for surviving without him.  I just wish I didn't have to.  I wish he was still here.  I wish I didn't know this pain - I wish no one did.  Death sucks. 

Friday, October 24, 2014

Just Pray

Okay. So I'm probably going to alienate some people or piss some people off with this post today, but you know what? The reason I'm writing it in the first place is because I feel alienated every single day, by the very same people who will be angry or upset by this post. Besides, my intention is not to upset anyone. My intention is, as always, to tell the truth. And sometimes the truth pisses people off.

So here we go. It's been 3 years and 3 months since my husband's sudden death. In that time, there have, of course, been many comments and sentiments said to me by others, that have been hurtful or ignorant or unhelpful. However, in my experience, and I am only speaking for myself here, it is the comments and thoughts made by very religious people that have been the most hurtful and sometimes downright rude. And after 3 plus years of nodding my head or smiling or not saying anything back to them, I am fed up.

Let me be clear. I have many religious friends, and people in my life who have a strong faith. There are many friends and family and other widowed people who, although they are religious, realize that I am not, and therefore, they don't ever push their views on me or make comments which they know would only be hurtful to me. I highly appreciate these people, because they have respect for me, and I have respect for them. There are many people of faith out in the world that are also beautifully and wonderfully open-minded and nonjudgmental. But this post isn't about those people. This post is about all the others, who, unfortunately, outweigh the "good" religious types by a pretty big margin.

Like many widowed people, I run into and deal with thoughtless comments about my loss on a regular basis. Sometimes it is in person, other times it is on the internet. The comments in person are mainly from non-widowed people, and the ones online are from widowed and non-widowed alike. Since I belong to quite a few closed/private groups for widowed people on Facebook, there are a lot of opinions flying at me. None of the groups I am part of advertise themselves as being religion-based groups, yet it seems that lately, the nutty religious types are overwhelming the rest of us. If I post about an issue or emotion I'm having, or just a rough day, often I will get replies such as just pray, Trust in the Lord, everything happens for a reason, God wont give you more than you can handle, we have no control over what happens to us - leave that to God, etc, etc , etc ..... Now, depending on how many of these comments I get, often times I simply ignore them and don't respond to it. However, when it's being pushed on you by multiple people, it can get annoying and feel like an attack. If I respond by simply telling them I am not religious, therefore those comments aren't really helpful, then I am bombarded and judged, with replies like: "I can't see even getting through this without God in your life", or "perhaps you need to be Saved." Nope. Don't need to be saved, and I'm doing just fine without religion, thank you very much. What I need is to not be judged for my beliefs, and to not be made to feel like I am somehow "less than" you because you are a person of Faith.

If it matters, I will share what I do believe. Yes, I believe in God. Sort of. To me, the term God is more of a concept or an idea. I believe that God is whatever you think it is. A higher power of some kind, yes, but that could mean many things. It could be nature, or a force of some kind. I believe in some form of that, and I truly believe that people should believe or not believe in whatever it is that helps them or comforts them in some way. I do not follow any religion, nor read any Bible, nor do I believe in "God's Plan" or "Heaven and Hell" or "Satan" or any of that stuff. I generally think that things happen randomly, and that sometimes life is beautiful, and sometimes life sucks. People live and people die. My husband had a sudden heart-attack at age 46 with zero warning or symptoms, because he had a crappy father that didn't bother to tell him his medical history, and so he was walking around earth as a time-bomb and didn't know it. He did NOT die as part of some ridiculous PLAN that God has, and everytime someone tries to push that idea down my throat as if they know that for a fact, it is not only hurtful, it is offensive.

I don't know what happens when we die, and I don't pretend to know. I do know that science says energy cannot be destroyed, and that humans are made up of energy. Everything is. So, when we die and our souls leave our physical bodies, I assume and I hope and I think, that our energy and our cells and our being, is alive out there somewhere in the universe. Is it a star, a plant, a cloud, part of the earth, a sunrise? I don't know. And because I don't know, I try to focus on what I do know - the here and now. Life. Being a good person who gives to others. Leaving behind a legacy that I did something important, and that I was loved and gave love. Not so I might get into some Heavenly place, but because it feels good. I take credit for all of my own accomplishments, and my mistakes. I do not give that credit to God. I am the one who has gotten myself through this Hell for 3 plus years. I am the one who decides to wake up each day and give it another shot. I am the one who hasn't given up. I did that. I'm doing that. Me.

At my husband's funeral, someone that I barely know (a co-worker of Don's I think) came up to me and said: "Now you can feel better because your husband was called Home to Jesus." I wanted to explode with fury and fire, but I was in too much of a fog, and too exhausted and in shock to respond. But inside, I was crying. My heart was crying. Now I can feel better? Better? My husband just f**king died, and he wasn't sick, and he wasn't in pain of any kind, and we were HAPPY, and we just started our lives together, and now he is just gone forever. He is with Jesus? He is home? Home? No. Our home is home. Our life here was home. A couple weeks later, at a family gathering, a friend of my family gave me the "God's plan" speech out of nowhere, and I replied with a shaky (because I was about to cry): "Actually, I don't believe in that concept, but thank you anyway." She got really upset with me, and said very seriously and sternly: "Well, you'd better start believing and you'd better start reading your Bible, or you will go to Hell and you will never see your husband ever again." Wow. Thank you for threatening me. That is so helpful and kind of you. I could sit here and list all the many horrible religious-themed comments I have received over hte past 3 years, but then this post would go on forever, and it's already too long. I run a closed group on Facebook called: "Non-religious Widows and Widowers Club", and I have also facilitated the Round Table for Non-Religious, Atheist, and Agnostics at Camp Widow, 2 times now. The stories of cruel and mean comments coming from some religious people that are thoughtlessly lobbed at us, continues to astound me. Someone joked in our last meeting at Camp Widow that she tried "praying the religious meanies away, but it didn't work. They're still here."

As most of you know, I am in the midst of writing a book about the loss of my husband, and our love story. recently, it was suggested to me by a widow friend, with the best of intentions, that perhaps I should consider "toning down my views on religion while promoting the book." I understood what she was saying, and I understood why. But I cannot do that. It goes against everything that I am, and everything that makes my book different. The phrase "brutally awful truth" is in the title of my book, and I intend to tell the truth, always. If you don't want to hear it, just pray. Maybe I will disappear. If not, then please don't worry about it. I take no responsibility for this post. It was all part of God's Plan.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

It's Complicated

Recently I've had people say to me, when they learn I've been widowed, well, you know he'll always be with you. I know they say that with all the best intentions...and in a way, I agree, because yes, he will always be in my heart. But it's not as easy as that. Regardless of what my personal spiritual beliefs are, saying something like that can sound awfully close to someone wanting to gloss over the tragedy of the death of my husband and what it means for me in my own life. Easier to say that and hope the conversation will move away from the uncomfortable subject, right? Or am I being difficult here? What do they expect - that I'll say, oh, he will? Well that's great, I feel so much better now! Thanks for letting me know!

I do have my own beliefs about what happens to us when we die. And I have my own suspicions about how Mike occasionally makes his presence known...the wind. The birds.

Most recently, a grasshopper. I'm sure it's not the same grasshopper, because it's been happening for months, but at certain moments that will only ever be truly meaningful to me, there it is...on a doorknob, on a light switch, on my computer much so that I have taken to sighing, rolling my eyes in a playful way and saying hey, Mike. Thanks for being here. Miss you. Love you. Or something like that.

But you still can't tell me he's really here. Even if he really were that grasshopper for that moment, or using it to somehow tell me he's's still not really him. He's not sitting here in his full, living body, talking to me, touching me, arguing with me, walking next to me, holding my hand...he's not here, and he never will be, ever again. I can never talk to him again. I can never ask him questions, hear him sing, or wonder what time he's coming home. 

So, while I want to believe in the grasshopper...I don't want people to say in some wishy-washy way he'll always be with me. Can I have it both ways? Is it fair to want to tell people to go to hell when they try to reassure me (I don't, but I want to), and then try and explain about an insect in the next breath?

I really do feel like a walking enigma. My thoughts and feelings are so all over the chart I even puzzle myself some days. All I can tell you is that grief can be difficult to define or delineate, especially to anyone on the outside. 

First of all, no one goes through exactly the same experience. We all have our own stories of grief. We might have lost them through sickness, accidents, suicide, might have been a terrible, long process, or a sudden unexpected moment.

We might have been in beautiful, loving relationships. We might have been having problems. Maybe it was both. We might be strong, resilient personalities. We might be struggling with our own identities. Maybe too, it is both.

Those of us in the middle of it all know by now that the process of our bereavement, the timetable of our grief, doesn't follow any plan, or clock. It may chug along at a fair pace, as life begins to fill in those empty spaces. Other times, or for other people, an eternity passes between each tick, and "life" feels very, very far away. I often have both sensations going on at the same time.

I guess it's just complicated. As my genius friend Sarah says: the cup is not half empty or half full. It's both. I'm a strong person and nowadays in public I'm fairly even-keeled and doing pretty well. But I have my moments - moments usually no one but those closest to me know about. Sometimes, it surprises people that I'm still talking about it, writing about it, missing him, grieving him.

I try and explain how that can I can seem relatively fully-functioning on one hand, and yet come out with all this grief on the other. But I can't really explain it. Nor can I speak for anyone else and their grief; it's just how it's happening for me.

Even though I can claim to have experience and understanding of a deep and abiding grief in a way I never imagined I would have this early in life, I also feel like I have no business telling anyone else what to expect or how to deal with it. Nor, may I say, do I appreciate anyone else other than my grief therapist telling me what to expect, how to experience it, what to think, how to behave, or what I should or shouldn't be doing with it, or about it. 

I don't have an ending to these thoughts...I don't feel like these thoughts will ever end, or that there will ever be a tidy summation to grief. So for today, that's all there is.