Since coming back from Camp Widow Toronto, the upcoming holiday season has been on my mind a lot. I met so many new widows in Toronto. So many who are enduring the horror of their first holiday season without their person this year. As I sat down this morning to write, I began thinking, just what could I share that might resonate with anyone out there who is about to endure the kickoff of their first holiday season widowed?
I decided to go back, to my personal blog - Our 1000 Days - where the majority of that first year was written about, before I wrote for Soaring Spirits. I went back to November 26, 2012… just 5 months after his death. It is there that I found this piece, talking about having made it through that first major holiday...
“I survived First Thanksgiving, as I’m calling it, and I learned a thing or two… I learned from writing and talking to other widows that sometimes the time leading up to the holiday is the worst. And sometimes the day of the holiday is the worst. And sometimes, as was the case for me… the actual holiday itself is kind-of not too bad. Hell there was even some really enjoyable times and I was able to share in them and feel all the love. It was easy to feel all the love, I spent the day with Drew’s family. Lots of things to do. Lots of people to be with, lots of love. Lots of joy.
This is the tricky part… this is where your mind wants to believe that maybe you’ll make it entirely through the holidays with that same “this isn’t so bad” feeling...Read more
I'm writing this a bit late today, but for a very good reason. As I type this, Mike and I are driving back from Toronto. For the past few days, we've been enjoying the company of so many beautiful, brave people here at Camp Widow Toronto... some of who may be reading these words.
If you've never been, I can assure you, this gathering of love and healing put on three times a year by Soaring Spirits is one that is lifechanging. I can still remember my first Camp. I was so cynical about going. It honestly sounded stupid – mainly because I was afraid of opening my heart. Cynicism is great for avoiding openness.
By the end of that first camp, I was changed. My heart was opened up, my cynicism gone. I didn't cry in front of people embarrassingly. Instead, we cried together. I made new friends who got all of it. I laughed probably harder than I had since my fiance died, too. I left feeling proud that the word “widow” was a part of me, because I'd spent the weekend surrounded by some of the bravest, most authentic, most loving souls I had ever met. I left that first camp no longer hating the word “widow”. I left feeling proud to belong to this club that no one wants to belong to, and have been proud ever since.
Fast forward a few years to today and now I am experiencing a new perspective. This time, I wasn't coming back because I was in that broken place and in search of how the hell to keep living and breathing each day. I wasn't coming with a cynical mindset about my grief. This time, I was here to give back, like so many had done for me, by teaching a workshop.Read more
Some days, it catches you breathless.
The longing to know them now.
The desire to share your life today with them.
The wish to be able to just sit down at the coffee shop together and chat...
Today is my Dad’s birthday. It’s hard to believe he died 8 years ago. That eight entire years have passed, and so much more living has happened for me, since he died. It’s hard to believe I’ve been without any parents now for eight years. But it’s amazing to see where things have gone in my life since his death. Not only the good, but also the challenges and hardships. Not only have those struggles taught me more about myself, they’ve taught me so much more about my dad. You see, he was also widowed. It was a journey I never expected to go on that horrible day when I got the phone call that my fiance was killed in the accident. A journey of walking in my father’s footsteps in so very many ways. Of being able to see with new eyes the depth of his love for me.
My dad struggled with depression and alcoholism for most of his life. I watched it periodically destroy him, and strain our relationship in such complex ways over the years. But for a time, when I was between the age of 9 and 17, he was sober. He went to AA meetings weekly. And though I wouldn’t quality our life as normal or healthy by any means, he did create some semblance of stability in my life at a time when his had fallen apart.
The catalyst of his sobriety? My mom’s death. I don’t quite know how it all went down… whether he had begun to stop before she died, or after, or what the main motivator was. I wish today I could ask him those questions. I wish I could know… how on earth did you stop drinking? How on earth, when the love of your life had been ripped from you, and you were certainly plagued with guilt for how your addictions created unhappiness in your marriage and family…. How?
Mindfulness has always been something important to me, in one way or another. Usually, art and creativity have been my way of being mindful - my form of meditation. In the first few years after Drew’s death, I created deeply mindful photographs which helped me reach that meditative space. I don’t think I knew it at the time, but they created a spiritual connection for me. A deeply focused time of flow where nothing else but the present moment existed. In fact, the first few years after his death were some of the most deeply spiritual years in my life.
I think I lost that when I moved to Ohio, without really realizing it, and I’ve been trying to re-establish it ever since. I was so busy just trying to figure out this new life in a new place, that I got completely derailed from any deeper internal/spiritual connection. Photography was no longer working the same way for me. Being in a new and unfamiliar place made it too hard to connect into that flow with my camera. I've had trouble finding using any other creative stuff to get that connection for long either. So, I’ve felt lost and not even sure exactly why until recently. Not knowing what wasn’t working. Not knowing what was missing. But knowing something was indeed missing...Read more
This past week, Mike, Shelby and I put up our usual Halloween decorations in the front yard. For some folks, the idea of putting a graveyard in your front yard once a year might be tacky or in bad taste. We have no idea what our neighbors think - though none of them decorate at all for Halloween so they probably care very little. Some people take offense I’m sure, because they have lost people they love and think it is rude to make light of that. Well, not us. We have a lot of dead people, and so I feel we have every right to make light of it. Or to put it better… to bring some light to it. Because there should be light let in on death, don’t you think?
That is my favorite thing about Halloween-time… it is a chance once a year to literally put death right out in the front yard. For that one month, I feel a little bit freer to put it out there to the world that, yes, death and darkness are a part of my life and I am actually very proud of it. Prop gravestones and skeletons my just be for fun, but for me, they have always held a deeper meaning.Read more
Five years ago this week, I turned 30. My fiance had died just 3 months before, suddenly, and I was a field of shrapnel spread out for miles upon miles.
That week five years ago, I decided not to give up my 30th birthday. I decided instead to honor it, because I would only turn 30 one time and I still deserved honoring. With that, Drew’s mom and I hopped on a plane and headed West for the Grand Canyon. I decided if I was going to sit around and cry on my birthday, I was at least going to do it looking at something incredible that I’d never seen before.
It turned out to be the perfect and most sacred place I could imagine being that day. It was hard, no doubt, but it taught me something important. I made that choice not in spite of Drew’s death but because of it. I cast all practicality aside, and I followed my heart leading me to somewhere incredible. And there, on the edge of great canyon cliffs, watching the sun setting the sky on fire as it went down, I learned that I can use his death to lead my life better. I can harness that into experiences I would have never otherwise had. It was the beginning of learning to see purpose in things… perhaps a glimmer into lessons about love that I am starting to see in a deeper way now five years later...Read more
Do our souls live on when the body dies? It’s one of the biggest questions widowed people will be faced with on their journey… and anyone who has been faced with death. We all find our own answers in our own ways to this. For some of us, it is our belief in a religion or faith. For others, it is confirmation from a medium who brings us clear signs of our loved ones. It may come to us directly through signs and synchronicities. For me, it was a very strong feeling, and direct messages from my fiance after he died. They were simple things in the weeks after his sudden death… like “go eat something”. He was gently nudging me along, reminding me I didn’t need to figure it all out, I just needed to take a deep breath and take care of myself today.
Months later, those feelings and messages from him became further confirmed by my first reading with a medium. She told me things that she could have never known. Things only he could have told me. It was then that I was certain, the feelings and messages I was getting were not my imagination… but were in fact him. It was then that I was certain of the answer that our souls do live on when our bodies die - and his was very much well, happy, and full of sarcastic humor as always.
I’ve had a dozen or so readings since then, and it never ceases to confirm for me that belief, and strengthen that connection I have to him. But there is still that lack of scientific evidence about all of this that leaves the entire subject feeling a bit taboo for most of us. A bit like we have to be careful who we talk about it with. Understandably, a lack of scientific proof still creates many skeptics. Had I not had the experiences I’ve had, I wouldn’t believe in any of it either. This is why I am feeling completely in awe of the presentation I just witnessed today.Read more
For whatever reason, today, I have this fear that something horrible is going to happen, or that something horrible IS happening that I don’t know about. It may be all the horrible stuff going on with hurricanes and now earthquakes… the edginess that all of that upheaval in so many people’s lives. The anxiety that I had just a few weeks ago when a friend of mine was caught in the midst of hurricane Harvey. It’s all reminding me how fragile everything is… of how stability and security are really just illusions of safety.
I went over to a nearby coffee shop to sit down and to some computer work this morning, when the feeling hit. This hasn’t happened to me many times really, not in this way, but when it does, I can’t help but want to panic. Because it almost feels like a knowing. Like you know how in Star Wars, Yoda just knows when there is a disturbance in the Force? How he feels when someone dies even though he wasn’t even there to see it? Yeah, it’s the Force feeling.
It feels like an instant fear that somehow this ordinary day is not in fact so ordinary. That something just shifted and I don’t know what. I’ve yet to have this feeling actually connect to something… so I guess I kind of think of it now like my brain short circuits or has some kind of spasm where there is this one little misfiring neuron that thinks today is disaster day. Like that synapse in my brain that was triggered in the moment I got the phone call that Drew was in an accident and already dead, sometimes has some sort of tremor of aftershock. And then, out of nowhere, I feel like today, right at this moment, something bad is happening to Mike, and I don’t know it yet.Read more
I think one of the hardest things about losing people we love, is that in a way, we lose a part of our own history when they die. Or at least, we lose one of our living, breathing connections to that history. Without those connections to the history of ourselves, I’m learning it can be easy to get lost. I think this has been especially hard because both of my parents are gone along with Drew. I simply do not have a wealth of people in my life that I'm in touch with often who remember all the many moments of my history with me.
There are pieces of me that I wish so badly to reconnect to - parts of myself I’ve struggled to nurture in this new environment because of stress, busyness, my own self-critical nature… who knows what exactly. Parts of me that I think I was beginning to finally nurture a few years ago, but the upheaval of moving I guess interrupted that more than I could have known it would.
They are pieces of me I wish for Mike to know also. Sometimes it feels like all he has known is this person who is constantly battling overwhelm, feeling homesick, trying to make order out of everything, while periodically having complete meltdowns about her inability to cope pretty much all adulting. I’m certain he would disagree of course, but quite honestly I don’t always feel like he is getting to have the best version of me, at least not right now. I know there is so much more in there. I know because I remember her.
For a while now, I think I’ve believed that losing my parents, my fiance, and proximity to my friends and family and the culture of my state back home meant I lost me too. No doubt, it's left me questioning... without any of that around me to help define me anymore… who am I supposed to be now?Read more