So today is Michele's birthday. Who is Michele? Well, if youre a reader of this blog, you probably already know the answer to that question. And if this amazing woman has affected your life in any of the incredible and many ways she has affected mine, than you are a very fortunate person. But, just in case you are living under a rock and have no idea who she is, I will tell you. She is the founder and Executive Director of Soaring Spirits International. She created a village of widowed people. Camp Widow, this blog, Widowed Village, all of it - started with her. This is a piece I wrote about Michele, with one L - about 2 years ago, when I was asked to give the intro speech for her Key Note Address in Toronto, Canada .....Read more
My fingers know the letters. I can type as fast as most people can talk. But what to say…what to tell, this day in the middle of all the holiday madness.
I can’t write about this. I can’t write about that.
But my life is what it is.Read more
I’m so fucking relieved to say goodbye to 2017.
Our daughter told me that 2017 was as hard for her, harder in some ways, than the year right after her dad died.
It was harder for me, too, not for any one reason in particular, really. Maybe because our entire world seems on edge.
I’ve always told our kids that, no matter the state of the world, life has always managed to continue on, and improve in some ways. I can’t say that as easily any longer. Life feels very threatening in every way this past year.
When I spoke to our oldest son about this, he agreed and said well, we might not have to even think about any of this anymore in the new year because North Korea might bomb us and the world will end anyways.
Why do I find that strangely comforting?Read more
I've had many silent nights since Mike died. Nights where I had nowhere to be. Nights that I had no one to share with. Nights where the only sound in the house was the clock ticking obnoxiously. On these nights, the only place I want to be is back in his arms. I have endlessly wished to go back. Back to a place in time where Mike exists. A place where I can still hear his voice. A place where I can feel his touch. This is what I want for Christmas, to go to this place where Mike is still "real". I desperately want to fall back into him. And, I know that this is not possible - not even on Christmas Day.
When your spouse dies it's an amputation of sorts. There is a relentless missing that is hard to describe. A bottomless emptiness forms inside you that no one can understand; unless, they too, have been forced to out live someone they love. Death creates a separation that is both p-e-r-m-a-n-e-n-t and choiceless. You are severed from one another on a physical level; and, a deep, fierce ache grows inside your Soul. The missing is hard at the best of times; and it can be unbearable on days like today.
Unfortunately, Grief does not observe the holidays by assigning vacation time.
Although well deserved, we won't get any "time off" today.
Grief doesn't come bearing gifts for time served.
Grief won't put a shot of amnesia in your stocking.
Grief isn't going to go out of her way to help you get through the day today.
But, I am going to give it a try...
Within the widowed community, in the private widowed groups online mostly, Ive been hearing a lot of talk this week about holiday cards. Widowed people being upset or angered by or feeling very real pain - having to look at a Christmas card sent to them, with a picture of a happy and complete family, where nobody is dead, smiling and glittery with joy standing by their perfectly decorated Christmas tree. I remember year one and year two after Don's death, receiving these cards from friends and family, and feeling such a HURT inside my gut, looking at them. Their joy, their partnership, their kids. All the things that were stolen from me, and now I had to put it on my wall and stare it in the eye everyday? No. I just couldn't. That wasn't happening.
When I was a kid, Christmases were pure joy and fun. It meant cousins, grandparents, decorations, special dinners, holiday treats, and sometimes, winter fun like snowmen and sledding. It meant no school, warm fires, music sing-a-longs and laughter.
Pretty soon I grew up. Christmases were still, for a few years, about family and love and gift giving. Then I met Mike, and being a wife, having a husband, brought new meaning. I was no longer the child but the grown-up, doing the cooking, shopping and wrapping presents. Taking joy in creating and presenting the spirit of the season in the faith we shared.
The last Christmas we spent together in 2012 might have been the best one because Mike was excited like he’d never been with me yet. He helped decorate our little tree, put up the lights, and choose presents to give. I remember sitting outside on our lanai gazing at the lights and ornaments with him. I remember his sense of peace, that year. I always wonder if he knew the end was near for him, because somehow, it felt different. I had no idea it would be our last. But looking back, I wonder if he did.
I stare into the distance of everything and nothing many times during a day’s measure,
And, as I stare, I see everything and I see nothing
I feel everything so much that I feel nothing.Read more
As we near Shelby’s 11th Christmas, what will be our third without Megan around, I’ve got my head down. I’m powering through this week at work, excited more for the 4 day break from the monotony than any festivities. Every activity, preparation, and event seems more like a “have to” than a “get to”. Wrapping gifts, baking cookies, school Christmas recitals, stringing lights along the house, shoveling snow, and trimming a tree are all perceived as just “one more thing I need to take care of”, rather than “another thing I GET to do”.
I’m stressed. Work is extra busy. There are countless projects at home that we have to take care of before this weekend. I’m sick of looking at blinky lights, knowing that I have to pack them all back up within a few weeks. All of the beautiful snow we had last week has now melted into a sloppy wet mess. The house feels cluttered and somehow smaller than it already is. Bills still need paid. God I hate this time of year.
Today it is thirteen months and 3 days since you died. Some moments, your death still does not feel real to me. And, other times, the realness of your death is so apparent I feel nauseated. This is grief in all it's unapologetic glory.
In the early days when you died I couldn't even breathe. I'd gasp for breathe and I'd rock back and forth, holding my chest, in an effort to encourage the air to move from my lungs into my body. For months I struggled desperately, day and night, to soothe my broken Soul. I remember I'd stand in the kitchen and I'd clutch my chest as I cooked dinner because I thought my heart was going to explode into a million pieces when it broke. I remember thinking that grief was cruel because it forced us to endure and survive this deep aching pain. I knew full well that my heart wasn't going to literally reduce to fragments - even though it felt like it was. Those early days of grief were completely gutting. And, I am glad that the raw intensity of those first four months is behind me. Somehow I survived.
As much as I never want to feel the pain of the early days again, I do wish I could go back and tell my newly widowed self what I have learned about grief. I'd tell her that in order to survive she does not need to do anything - except breathe. (Which, I know, is easier said than done.) I'd let her know that the shock and numbness she feels is there by design; and, I would tell her that she is not to worry about being in a daze. I'd tell her that the laundry and housework are not a priority. I'd wink and let her know that she won't have any memory of these first four months after his death, so she should feel free to let it go. I'd also brief her about the fact that she can't rush through this. I'd say with authority, that there is no way to side step this pain because there is no "cure" for grief. Grief isn't a disease that you are magically healed from. Grief is a journey that lasts your lifetime from what I can tell so far. I'd continue with the advice, knowing full well, my sleep deprived self would not really understand or absorb much of what I was saying because her mind could no longer process anything. She was consumed with trying to make sense of the fact that Mike was dead.
At this point, in my made-up (but all too real) scenario, I'd make us both something to eat because I know that she is on the "widow diet". I know that she has probably only had coffee all day. Once I got her fed, I'd tell her I notice she's lost more than her smile, she's lost weight too. I'd remind her to eat everyday. And, I would tell my freshly widowed self that she needs to start wearing makeup again, and I'd tell her that doing her hair is not as optional as she thinks. And, then, I'd hear her laugh... and it's magic.
As a new widow she needs to know that she should try to lean into the pain and absorb the ache into her DNA. I'd let my frazzled self know that when your person dies you are reduced to a state of infancy. And, I'd smile and I'd gently brush the strands of stray hair from her eyes; then, I'd tell her that she's normal. And, I'd promise her that she's going to be okay. I'd remind myself to tell her that death is a trauma. And, because of the trauma Mike's death caused, she has forgotten how to soothe herself. She will need assistance with the basics: breathing, sleeping and eating. I'd recommend that she surround herself with only compassionate, loving, people who don't try to "fix" her. These people who simply walk along side her as she grieves will become her lifelines. They will carry her on the really hard days in the year ahead. I'd gently tell my newly widowed self to be patient and settle into her feelings. I'd remind her to smile more, even if it's just for a fleeting moment. I'd let her know that, in spite of herself, I heard her laugh today - and it was magical.
And, finally, I'd stop and hold her for longer than most normal hugs last.
And, then, I'd look far past the glazed, "deer in headlights", look in her eyes,
I'd look straight into her Soul and I'd whisper to her "you've got this".
Photo credits: @heidi_the_untold
Somehow I've survived this surreal experience of out living Mike. I have learned that in order to survive his death I had to undergo a sort of re-birth, and this process is still ongoing. I've come undone and I've been unhinged for the better part of this last year. But, alas, I've arrived here, in this moment. I've emerged exhausted and a bit disheveled because...
This year, Christmas has given me a lot to consider. Reminders to give myself ample time to take care of all that needs doing, so I don’t get overwhelmed. To give myself at least 30 minutes each day to myself, to do something that relaxes me, like yoga or taking a walk or drawing, in order to help me stay sane. That daily maintenance has been a Godsend. Not only has it kept me sane, it’s left space for me to actually enjoy the holidays… and maybe *gasp* be excited about the season for the first time in years.
It’s also given me more space to feel the loss. Not only of the people I love who have died, but also of the traditions I’ve lost with them. This has been one of the things my counselor and I have been talking about quite a bit lately. Loss of tradition. I honestly don’t think I’d even considered how significant that was until now. How much it has affected my Christmas experience my entire life.Read more