Photo source: mapofthenight
Grief takes us to a secluded, dark place.
We resist settling into this lonely realm.
But, in order to slowly breathe life back into ourselves,
We have to temporarily take residence in this muted, mysterious environment,
I resisted this shadowy, hidden place for a long, long time.
I ran from it whenever possible.
Because, I was scared to be alone in the "nothingness" of this place.
I had the notion that my fears would swallow me alive.
I thought I would drown in the silence.
Maybe you feel like this today.
If you feel lonely,
Displaced and rootless,
You are not alone...
If you are drifting in a place of "nothingness"
Does it comfort you to know,
I am here - in this abyss - with you.
Take my hand,
Let's find our way...
We need to turn to our hearts for direction.
If you listen, in the stillness, past your heartbeat, you can faintly hear the breeze.
The Winds of Change are here...
My memories of Mike echo off the walls of the house, yet the silence in my home is deafening. Everything is quiet now. Death makes your whole world go silent. I think this is by design. We need this noiseless environment and solitude to contemplate how we will re-create ourselves. As we do the work of re-defining our identity we need to concentrate intensely. Death can create isolation, but maybe this detachment is necessary as we prepare to reinvent ourselves. Maybe we are required to withdraw so that we can be born anew.
Daily, I am surrounded by the hum of life, but since Mike died I don't hear the sounds of joy anymore. My heart doesn't feel the beauty of an ordinary moment like it used to when he was alive. My eyes don't clearly see opportunities before me. I feel it, I am allowing my life to pass me by because I have momentarily lost my enthusiasm. No one can change this but me. I know this, but finding the motivation to re-engage in life without him eludes me.
I need to be encouraged to embrace life, take risks and find out what I am made of; but, my biggest champion is dead. Now, I have to motive and inspire myself. I am not used to being my own encourager. Since I was 17 years old I have always been part of a couple; and, I was never solely in charge of coaching myself. I always had a companion to hold a mirror up to me. To reflect with. I had a voice, other than my own, telling me to "take it day by day, everything will work out". For me, being alone feels scary and I desperately want to be rescued.
I feel inadequate when I admit to myself that I'm scared to "do life on my own". I continuously remind myself that I am a divorced woman; and, once upon a time I left something familiar and chose to move towards the unknown. I've dealt with uncertainty before. I tell myself that "I've got this" because I'm no stranger to adversity. I tell myself that I'm strong... and I'm capable. But, Mike's death is different. His death knocked me to the ground and all my dormant insecurities have re-emerged.
In the early days after Mike died, I thought that I should be able to navigate my way through his death. I felt like there was something wrong with the way I was grieving because I was so completely immobilized with sadness. Thankfully, over this last year, I have come to realize that there is nothing to actually get "through" here. Grief isn't a disease that you need to be healed from. There is no end game because grief isn't something you complete. Grief is something that becomes a part of who you are. When your person dies you continuously absorb their absence into your Soul.
I will confess that absorbing the death of your person is ridiculously hard. I still have not accepted his death and I don't know if I ever will. I mean, logically, I know Mike is dead. I've stood at his grave. And, countless times, I've traced my fingers along the letters of his name that are etched on his headstone. I've taken wine to the grave on many a Saturday night because, well, I wanted to be with my best friend. I've written heartfelt messages on red heart shaped balloons and I've tied them to a shepherds hook I put behind his headstone because, well, I miss him.
I know Mike is dead.
His headstone tells me he died November 15, 2016.
But, in my mind he's still very much alive.
And, in my heart, I'm still very much in love with him.
I know you "get it". And, I also know that you hate that your person died too. It is the permanence of the situation that sucks. But, it is what it is. We can't back up. So, we resign ourselves to breathe and somehow continue living. On the days when I have the patience to do "nothing", I sit with my grief. I invite Grief in and I just wait until Grief speaks. Let me tell you what Grief has said (it' pretty awesome) ...
Ringing in the new year without you is something I never want to do. This year, or ever. No matter how much time passes, no matter how my life changes; and no matter where I am standing on New Year's Eve, I know that I will always pause and think of you. I will always want you to still be alive, here with me. And, always, I will want to kiss you at midnight.
I can not find it in me to 'celebrate' another year that you will be missing from my life. New beginnings are bittersweet for me now because part of me always wants to go back to the time when we shared our life together. Moving forward is hard for all people, and it's especially difficult for widowed people. I resist celebrating New Year's day because in my mind it puts more 'distance' between us. The time when you were alive gets further away from me and I feel desperate to somehow return to the life I used to have. When I get nostalgic I feel like my memories are more alive than me. This mindset is dangerous because when you live in the past, you are not present and you are not living the life in front of you. So, today, when you visit the past, go there and remember that:
The life you lived together is still there somewhere, suspended in time, untouched, and unchanged.
What you were to one another, you STILL ARE.
Know that the love you share doesn't disappear just because you can't see them anymore.
In the words of Rumi,
"Goodbyes are only for those who love with their eyes.
Because for those who love with heart and soul there is no such thing as separation"
I am learning that the past doesn't need me to stay there and be a permanent caretaker. It's not going anywhere. I do not need to stay there and tend to it. The past is always there untouched and unaltered. It is there whenever you need it. I visit my past life all the time; but I know that I can not stay there forever. I can not rebuild my life there. That life is over. Maybe if I say it again and again and again I will finally accept it...
I know logically that Mike isn't somewhere hidden in the past; but, still, thirteen and a half months later, I can't stop myself from endlessly searching for him. As I wander looking for him, I know that he won't be found anywhere but in my memory.
I know that Mike is actually here, in the present, "with" me as I move through my life. But, honesty, it feels empty, even when I believe what Rumi says about there being no separation. For me, it is not always enough to have Mike "with" me without his physical presence. I feel badly admitting this because I feel like I'm letting Mike, Rumi and myself down somehow. But, it's the truth... I still desperately wish that Mike could take my hand and lead the way again...
Today we are forced to consider the year ahead; and as difficult as this is, it is necessary.
As you say goodbye to 2017,
Stand still, and listen to the sound of the sun going down.
In that moment hear what is in your heart.
Take your own hand and lead the way...
New Year's Day is a time to reflect on the year that passed; and, more importantly look forward to the possibilities ahead.
Last New Year's Eve was particularly punishing for me because I did not want to say goodbye to the best year of my life. I will always think of 2016 as our vintage year. The year of us. This was the year Mike asked me to be his Wife. We had an accepted offer on our beautiful new house and we were so excited to live together under one roof as husband and wife. The boys were beginning to feel excited about our new life; and, the girls and I were planning weekly family dinners. We were busy creating new traditions that never got a chance to be. We thought we had the rest of our lives ahead of us; then Mike died, and our future died with him.
Last year as the clock struck midnight, I stood alone on a friend's balcony,
I was broken and bewildered.
I looked up at the stars and wondered how the hell the best year of my life had come and gone.
This wasn't real, it didn't feel like this could be true, except it was.
As I began my life without Mike, I felt like I just landed in a foreign country and I could not speak the language. I stood at the baggage claims area and I didn't know where to go from there. I wanted to ask someone for directions. I needed help. But, I was not sure how anyone could help me. Mike was dead, no one could fix that. So, I stood frozen in place for a long time.
Now, just over a year later, I'm standing here alone. I've got my baggage sorted out, but I am still aimless. I still don't really know my destination. Where am I supposed to go? Where the hell do I want to go? Someone, give me directions, please. I don't want to follow the crowds so I guess I will have to figure this out myself. Really, there should be a traveler's guide for widowhood, or an App because nothing prepares you for this new life. Initially, I ...
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...
I can’t tell you how I manage to pull off a post every week, or how I have done so for the past three and a half years here. I get asked that a lot. Some weeks I know exactly what I want to write. Other weeks I feel dry…uninspired, lackluster and done. Then suddenly something will move me. Feeling overcome with emotion in a moment, a vision of something in our world, something a friend says, a memory I have. Sometimes it’s just a phrase that comes to me.
Sometimes I start writing and never title it. It remains in my files, which Apple titles for me, Blank 22 or Blank 24. Sometimes I go back and read what I’d started, and I find I can finish.
Other times I just know the title, but nothing more. This is one of those times. I think maybe a friend said that to me, or I read it somewhere, this phrase.
Life after the death of the person you love demands that you ask yourself BIG questions. Ironically, the questions are often about life and living. I have asked myself over and over again, Who am I now that Mike has died? Maybe part of the answer lies in Who I was before I met him. Who I was before he died. I think a lot about Who I was when I was Mike's fiancee. And, I ask myself again and again, Who I want to be now that I am his Widow.
Admittedly, these are questions to which I don't have the answers; but, I'm working on it. These questions challenge me and scare me because of their enormity and because I feel the potential here. I still have choices in my changed life. I have the opportunity to re-create myself, and you do too. I know how overwhelming this is; but I believe that if we allow ourselves to be off kilter we will find ourselves in the process.
In the last year, I have spent a fair bit of time on my knees scrounging for direction and answers. I have spent many a night on the floor crying, begging Mike to come back. I've dance under the stars with my dead fiance; desperately wanting his touch, longing for the days when his arms were wrapped around my life. Many times, I have wandered through the day completely absent with thoughts of him endlessly ruminating in my mind. Grief is gutting. I know how hard it is for you to live with the relentless heaviness and ache in your chest. If I am awake I'm likely on the verge of tears at any given moment, I get it. I have noticed, with time, the ache in my heart is softening a little and my tears don't last as long anymore. But, still, the emptiness is there. And, maybe in some weird way, that's okay. Maybe we are meant to use this emptiness and rootlessness as our foundation. Maybe we need to feel the emptiness and absorb all this "missingness" into every cell of our body. If we feel it and lean into our grief we will learn something about ourselves. I think there in the empty silence - is where the answers are for all of us. I've decided that if I am going to survive Mike's sudden death I have to build a purposeful life around the emptiness inside me.
So, I haven't told you Who I am. Well, for starters...
“I dream of wandering”
That was the simple, unpolished statement written upon my paper heart at Camp Widow. Sarah and I were a large part of the message release there...constructing the large heart, cutting out all of the smaller ones, mounting it in the banquet area, and being the first two to place our torn dreams in front of the rest of the campers. I knew what was to be asked by Michele, well in advance, and so when the time came, I had my answer swiftly.
I enjoy “wandering”. I love finding new places, whether on the road, or trudging through knee-deep mud. Very often, I will pick a dot on the map, and head “that direction” in the most wandering way possible. For me, the journey is truly part of the adventure.
In the past 30 days, we’ve had a birthday party/ family reunion, visits with friends, Sarah’s sister in town for a few days, Shelby’s best friend at the house after school for five days, a fall festival, halloween costume prep and decorations, dress fittings, tuxedo fittings, counseling appointments, extremely busy days at my work, extremely busy days with Sarah’s work, loads of homework for Shelby, Sarah’s birthday, concerts, trips to grandparents’, airport pickups, and all of the other general day-to-day minutia.
Vegetable harvesting, clothes washing, house cleaning, grocery shopping, dog walking, dish washing, dinner making and such all need to happen at least a few days a week. Somewhere in all of it, at least a few hours of sleep need to happen.
In the next 30 days, we have my birthday, a trip to a haunted house with one of our other widowed friends, Halloween (our favorite holiday), tuxedo pickup, a wedding rehearsal, the wedding itself, my parents’ anniversary, a trip to Canada for Camp Widow, Shelby’s 5K run, and best of all, the 3 year anniversary of Megan’s death.
So much of our lives are built upon expectations. We plan our higher education based on the expectation that we can have a career doing what we love. We raise children on the expectation that they will succeed even beyond what we ourselves as parents have achieved. We marry, with the expectation that our partner will be there by our side until one or the other has met their end.
On the simpler side of things, we expect to be scared, emotional, or laugh when we go to a movie. We expect hunger to be sated by dinner, and we expect to have thrills and fun at an amusement park.
We expect to be entertained at a concert, enjoying an artist or band plying their trade in front of us. Then...the unexpected happens.
It’s not exactly a secret that sometimes, I just can’t foresee a good subject for my weekly writings here. I’ll pine over ideas to see if they spark something, thinking about if there were any milestones, anniversaries, or triggers in the past week. More often than not, I’ll find a nugget of something and expand upon it, and sometimes, a halfway decent writing comes out of it.
But sometimes there just isn’t a good inspiration. I’ll “pocket” some ideas for later, like Megan’s birthday (next week) and our anniversary (three weeks from today), knowing full well that the emotions, and subsequent words are going to flow easily at those times. Still though, it leaves me sitting here on some Tuesdays asking myself the following question.
“What should I be thinking and writing about right now?”Read more