I had some bad news this past week that has really been on my mind and in my heart for days now. Something that brought back a lot of memories, and a lot of important lessons, for me.
It may be an odd thing to say, but at times there are things that I actually miss about those first few years after Drew’s death. As painful and horrible as that time was, I can’t deny that there were certain gifts that I suppose I always knew would be short-lived. The main one being a perspective shift.
I remember living so vividly those first few years. I remember being so without fear, and so without concern for all the mundane things in life. I was so raw, and essentially giving a big “fuck you” to life by decreeing to live more fully. So it was an odd time - a time of terrible gifts. A time of painful joys.
For someone who has spent a lifetime walling off from people and bogged down by the smallest fears and the biggest self doubts, it felt like a miracle to be leaping over those walls and reaching out to connect with other hearts going through what I was going through. Breaking is breaking open, as they say, and that was certainly true for me.
As I “re-enter” a more normal day to day life now, I can see my perspectives sliding back. I can see myself worrying once more about the small stuff. I can see my self doubt closing in around me more than before. But that perspective his death gave me hasn’t left entirely. It still resides in my heart. Even if often times being back in the day-to-day takes up more of me mind, I can still hear those lessons I learned about having no control, about letting go of fear and worry, about opening my heart more fully to the world.
This week gave me a swift kick into remembering all of those lessons when I got a text from an old friend back in Texas. She said that one of our other friends had died, the day before. While I don’t know for certain the details, it sounds as though he may have taken his own life. And just like that, with a simple text, everything felt different.Read more
Early this morning, I woke up to the bed being empty next to me. It's an ordinary Saturday, and I can hear Mike downstairs, tinkering around, packing up for a short backpacking trip. Eventually, I hear the stairs creak as he comes back up to the bedroom kiss me goodbye. These moments are always sensitive for me, since Drew left on a trip and never came back. But this isn't some 3 month long work trip like Drew's... Mike will be back tomorrow. Or will he? Because of course, now, I never really know that anymore.
All morning now, the thought of him not coming back has been with me. I’ve not cried or even been upset over it… it’s just…. There. Haunting me at low volume. As I make my morning coffee, I have to go through three cups before I can drink it. The first is one of my favorite mugs, with skulls on it. I decide not to drink from a skull cup while he is out. “If he dies and you drank out of a skull cup that day, it will feel like a creepy omen”. So I pour my joe into his favorite coffee cup, one with a woodland scene that says “The Good Life” on it. I decide that one makes for an equally bad omen - as I never use his favorite coffee cup, and it’d be horribly ironic if he died while I was drinking from the "Good Life” cup. I finally settle on a random cup with no irony apparent and am able to let it go for a moment.
There were half a dozen other situations just like this for the next hour. Putting on his hoodie - which I wear around the house almost daily... "What if he dies today and I am wearing his hoodie?!". The little surprise love note he tucked into my laptop, so that I would find it after he left "Oh my God, what if he dies today and this is the LAST LOVE NOTE I EVER GET?!" Worrying about ice on the roads, cars flipping, him slipping on ice with a heavy pack on his back in the woods alone... it goes on and on of course. Even writing these words, sends chillful thoughts of "What if he dies and THAT is what my post next week is about?!" It's scary. And tiring. All of this because of “the knowing”...
Being that both Mike and I are both writers here, we do try to talk about our relationship as two widowed people, to share how this whole “chapter 2” thing can work. There are plenty of times this is awesome to write about - when we have things to share that show you how beautiful loving again can be. How beautiful it can be when two people honor their dead loved ones, welcoming them with open arms into this new, loving space. Times when we can share how incredible it is to be on a new journey of love, and feeling like your other person is getting to come along with you for the ride. So many times I have truly felt Drew’s joy in my own heart during moments with Mike. So many times have I felt like when I am laughing, Drew is too. They’re a part of it all. And we should never expect any less of our new person than to want them to be a part of it all. Mike even wears some of Drew’s old dress shirts now. And I use Megan’s old backpacking gear when we go out for trips. They’re always with us.
But there’s another side to that too. What if things weren’t all roses and rainbows when your person died? What if your last words were words of anger? What if there was a lot of unresolved stuff going on that you never got to address? What if, like Mike and Megan’s story, you were only just beginning to resolve things? What if your widowed story, or even your story outside of being widowed, comes with some muck?
For the first few years after Drew died, I lived in between lives. Back then, I remember distinctly feeling that way. Many of the photographs I took spoke to this. I wasn’t in my old life, nor was I in what I would define as a new life.
I recall wondering what it would be like to one day live in a new life, instead of the in-between. Back then, I couldn’t even fathom that idea… and largely, I didn’t want to. I had found an odd comfort in my in-between world. It’s the place that first began to rebuild myself - this new self. I actually didn’t even know how that new self would be able to enter into a new life. I didn’t know what a new life would look like.
I also remember those first glimpses into a new life… it was an internal feeling inside me. A feeling I don’t know how to explain, other than it being a shift that I didn’t consciously make myself. It was as if my soul, or the universe, or something began to whisper to me, saying that it was time… that change was on the horizon. I could feel it in my bones, even before meeting Mike - which I would define as the catalyst that throttled me into new life.
I was in no way prepared for my “re-entry” into life. I had grown so comfortable in the space of my grief, to the point that we became friends. I didn’t really want to leave that space, though I knew I would one day have to. I had spent years exploring in my own emotions and soul… through words and photographs and paintings and such. Creating from my grief became such a part of me, that I didn’t know how to keep creating as I re-entered life. I really still don’t know how, to be honest...Read more
There are days that make you look at the places you are arriving more than the ones you are leaving behind. Mike and I spent most of the afternoon yesterday out hiking. It was the first warm, sunny day we’ve had in ages in Ohio… and it put me in an especially grateful mood just to be existing and feeling the sunshine. We went to a big overlook high up on a ridge, one we hadn’t been to in over a year. It looked out on the river, which snaked and curled down through the valley below.
Afterwards we drove down into the valley to hike around by the river that we had just stood above. It was an area neither Mike nor I had ever hiked before… and it led us to a beautiful cascading waterfall that came out to meet the river from a side creek. It nearly took my breath away. We remembered seeing this very ravine a year ago, from far across the river, not knowing how to reach it. There was a deep feeling of accomplishment about finally discovering the way to get to this spot - particularly as it was quite on accident. I mentioned to Mike, I could sit here all day and watch the water tumbling softly down the thin plates of shale on its journey to the river.Read more
When you are a widow or widower, and you’re dating, It truthfully doesn’t matter how “good” you think things are going. There will always be some aspect of your new relationship that becomes amplified quite simply BECAUSE you are a widow/er. It may be a perceived slight in comparison to how your pror person treated a situation, or it may be an observation that your “second chapter” (I hate that term, by the way) actually does something better or more desirable than your first. It can be good, or bad; it doesn’t matter, it’s amplified.
Each time one of these moments arises, one can’t help but think “well, it wouldn’t be this way if my first person hadn’t died”. It can bring up emotions that are deep seated, yet hidden. Emotions that you did not know even existed, and perspectives that you had never thought about.
One of these moments occurred between Sarah and I on Sunday night, where we both were trying to explain ourselves clearly and with love, yet emotions only continued to rise.Read more
Last week I shared about feeling like some new layers of my grief are beginning to thaw as we shifted the calendar into what is my 5th year on this journey. I was pretty teary the week before, but it wasn’t until this past week that the breakdown came. Quite honestly, I’m glad for it. It was such a release.
I don’t even know why it came when it did. Nothing particular triggered it. I think I was just exhausted. A combination of underlying emotions and residual holiday stress and unexpected school cancellations for Mike’s daughter… somewhere halfway through the week, as I was driving home from dropping her off to school, I just broke. I think it was a song that started things off… “The Sound of Silence” it was called. Suddenly, I am screaming and crying with all of my might with the music cranked as loud as it can go.Read more
Here we are. A new year. I woke up feeling weird about that. I think mostly I am annoyed. Annoyed by all the expectation that society holds for everyone to have this wonderful sense of hope for what’s to come on this day. Annoyed that every widowed person out there has to deal with the weight of that expectation as they manage to crawl across this annual threshold. It’s crappy. It’s crappy how much it upsets us. It’s crappy what a reminder it is to us, sometimes even more than Christmas, that our person is not here.
I am grateful to have someone new to spend my New Year’s with now, but Mike being here doesn’t mean I don’t still feel crappy about all the expectation. So many people expect that because you have someone new, your life must just be magically super happy and you are 100% healed from missing your old person. Right. Because that works.Read more
I recently heard an interview with Pema Chodron, a well-known Buddhist nun and author of the book When Things Fall Apart. This woman is chock-full of wisdom. And she got my mind turning about something this morning. In the interview, she talks about a graduation speech she gave recently, telling those brave young folks about to embark into the world, that the most important thing is to learn how to stumble well. To pay closer attention to our pain when we are stumbling through it, and allow ourselves to be fully in our losses and our pains so that we can learn what lessons they hold.
As I’m thinking about this idea, of stumbling well, I realize that the walk with grief is really one of stumbling greatly. Because, after all, losing your partner leaves you in a treacherous landscape, am right? Imagine for a moment what your grief landscape looks like. To me, it’s a mountain range. A vast place of ups and downs, with jagged edges and surprises at every turn. For you it may be a desert, or a barren, underwater world. These images of the landscape of grief can hold a lot of value for us.
Grief is not a minor thing in life. It’s not just tripping you up. It’s not just potholes and speed bumps along the road. Losing your partner is not stumbling and hitting the ground in front of you. It’s stumbling and suddenly there IS no ground to fall on anymore. It is falling off a cliff in slow motion… into a whole other landscape that you were not prepared to travel...
Suddenly, everything feels dangerous to you.
Yesterday, we received a great big box in the mail. Shelby drug it in through the front door, and we slid it across the living room floor, near the Christmas tree, to open it up. I zipped a pocket knife through the tape and she pulled open the top of the box to reveal presents of all shapes and sizes. She squirmed with excitement, while Mike and I stood watching her pull each one out and read off the “To” and “From” tags one at a time.
As she read them, my heart filled with joy. Presents from all of Drew’s family… his parents, siblings, aunt and uncles, to all three of us. It quite took me by surprise actually. I had assumed after moving away from them, and starting a new journey, that we might fade from each other’s lives a bit. I think I mentally prepared myself for that shift to happen some this Christmas. Instead, we received this great big box of goodies I could have never imagined...