"The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek" - Joseph Campbell
I am starting to have a realization that my choice to restart pretty much ALL areas of my life since Drew died means that there is still a hell of a lot to rebuild and build anew. Probably way more than I even can understand right now. When he died, I quit my job and moved out of the city we called home to live with family for support. Not only did my heart have a major change, but my city, and home, and support system changed too. Looking back, it is astonishing how much change I endured all at once. No wonder it seemed like I was floundering for at least a year or two.
Even during those first few years of aimlessness - which I think are vital after a major trauma like this - I was always trying to create a new direction for my “after” life. Though most of that ended up in my hopping around from one thing to another or just wandering about. I learned that, though I felt like I had no sense of direction, there was in fact a direction slowly taking hold.
Over time, one failed direction after another, I kept trying to find a new direction I could to pour my heart and soul and guts and sweat into that would one day hopefully, be able to sustain me financially too. A direction that - even though he was not standing beside me for - he would somehow be the core of. That was it. Something that would give purpose and meaning to his death happening.Read more
I generally try to write my posts in advance, which gives me a bit of time to pore over them and change things up here and there before it goes public. This week, I did just that, writing a post about the five year anniversary of Megan’s lung transplant, which is Wednesday, the 6th, and what it meant to me.
Then, at the eleventh hour, I decided that I didn’t want to write about grief, or changes, or missing or mourning Megan. I didn’t want to spit out emotions and metaphors about losing her. I want to write about something happy, hopeful, and fun. Lord knows that we can’t just sit and mire in our grief forever.
On New Year’s eve, 2014, I was deep within the pit of grief. Megan had just died a month and a half before. Shelby was at my grandparents, and I sat alone, on my couch. It was a horrible, lonely night, I cried myself to sleep, and that’s all there is to say about it.
One year ago, everything was new. I was newly widowed, and a new single parent. There were new emotions, new challenges, and new triggers around every corner.
I had heard about Camp Widow, and I had a new idea. I would peek out of my armored shell of grief, and go against the grain of my own personality. I would force myself to be a new person, even for just a few days. My new year’s resolution was to stand up, wipe the snot off of my nose, and just do something new.
I never was much of a social person. Megan always had to drag me out of the house to be around other people, and even when she succeeded, I was usually grumpy and unsociable. Who knows what lit this new fire in me, but I resolved to put myself in what was sure to be a complete train wreck of a weekend, validating my outlook that it was better and safer to be a loner.
I think I may be starting to sound like a broken record with all of my “nature” posts, but regardless, I’m writing about it again. I’m even stealing the title of Sarah’s post on Sunday, and rolling with it. Seeing as how we’ve both written about something we did together, I see no shame in making a “Part 2”
It feels odd, seeing as Christmas is just a few days away, that I am not deep into grief at this moment. Perhaps the distraction of getting ready for the holiday, having a young daughter, enjoying life with Sarah, work, or a million other things is keeping me from falling into the dark pit of despair and mourning.
Really though, it’s nature. Sarah and I have decided, and followed through with it, to go on a hike at least once a week. Northeast Ohio is blessed with a national park, state forests, numerous well-run county parks, and very varied terrain in a relatively compact area. This past weekend, we traveled to Mohican State Forest, resolving to spend a night in twenty degree weather. We’ve talked of going backpacking since we met at Camp Widow, and finally, we did it.
Patience. I’m trying my hardest to have some lately… with myself, with change, with pain. It’s easier said than done. I am beginning to realize that it is going to take a lot longer to adjust to moving somewhere so far away than I’d imagined. Especially while carrying my grief on my back wherever I go. No matter how much good there is about this move, it still feels like another aftershock of Drew’s death. I can feel it causing new cracks in the earth of me to splinter off… new openings into the grief.
That’s one of the things I am learning about living on with his death in the 3+ year era. Not that I expected to magically not have new layers of grief. I’ve been dealing with death for 24 years already from losing my mom as a child… I know better than anyone, that grief stays with you forever. I guess somehow I just maybe was still holding out some sort of hope that I wouldn’t have to deal with it so acutely in this new chapter. And while it may not be like the first year, this internal earthquake has definitely shaken things up more than just about any major change has since he died. It should though. And I shouldn’t be surprised that it is, really.
I'm always astounded at the things nature teaches me about life and grief. This week I went for a walk at a park near my new house. It's a wilderness park, with one trail that makes a 2 mile circle surrounding a prairie. For years, this area was farmland, and the park system has now preserved it to allow the landscape to fully restore back to it's original state. For miles all around, it is now an expansive prairie, flanked by thin fingers of woodland and bogland where the ground slopes low. Mike and I first found it a few weeks ago, and it has quickly become my favorite escape since moving to Ohio two months ago.
Firstly, not many people go there, so it's easy to feel almost entirely isolated in nature while you're there, which I love. Secondly, with the time of year, all the plants have begun to die off or go dormant, with their seed pods yawning wide into the brisk winds and tossing their seeds into the breath of autumn. From the moment I first laid eyes on this place, I was completely drawn to it. With dozens of varieties of flora, even dead plants create a kaleidescope of textures and shades – from browns to tawny yellows to silvery blues. For weeks I've been feeling a pull to go back here... to feed my eyes with all the richness of seeds and grains, cattails and milkweed pods, dried leaves and rustling grasses. To be surrounded by a place where death is beautiful...Read more
I enjoy road trips. Given the time, I would happily drive across the country and back just because I can. This past weekend, Shelby, Sarah, and I drove 7 hours or so from Ohio to upstate New York to visit Sarah’s sister and her family. Being an odd person, a 400 mile drive through fairly boring terrain excited me in and of itself.
We talked the entire drive. Shelby was in the back seat reading, napping, and occasionally piping up with one of her “Shelbyisms” or a random fact that she learned in school. I had a playlist of all different types of music playing, and had the cruise control set just so. There was no traffic or weather, and the roads were smooth.
Somewhere between Erie and Buffalo, my playlist brought up “Let her Go” by Passenger. It is a beautiful song, and ultimately, one of my favorites, but it is also a HUGE trigger song. My finger almost immediately moved towards the skip button, but I caught myself. We had just been talking about Sarah’s forthcoming post (found here), so we were both already in a little deeper thoughts, and I decided to let it play.
I was reading an article today about grief, one of the best I’ve read in a long time. One of the things that really stuck in this article was about the platitudes people throw at you when you are grieving… mainly, “It happened for a reason”. They make the assumption that, if you became a deeper, more compassionate, better person after the loss, that this loss was somehow necessary for your evolution. Like the author, I don’t agree with this either. I want to share a small excerpt from his article, as it really resonated with me and got my gears turning:
“...But loss has not in and of itself made me a better person. In fact, in some ways it’s hardened me. While loss has made me acutely aware and empathetic of the pains of others, it’s also made me more inclined to hide. I have a more cynical view of human nature and a greater impatience with people who are unfamiliar with what loss does to people…
...To say that my losses somehow had to happen in order for my gifts to grow would be to trample on the memories of all those I lost too young.
...I’m certainly not going to pretend that I’ve made it simply because I was strong enough, that I became “successful“ because I ”took responsibility.“ I think people tell others to take responsibility when they don’t want to understand….”
Every now and then, something comes along that fills you to the bones with gratitude for this totally messed up, chaotic, stressful, sometimes shitty and also amazing life.
Just moments ago, I finished up a live phone interview. I was invited to speak about grief and the healing power of creativity at DeathExpo - an annual online conference held by the End-of-Life University. It all started by going to another conference about death, in Virginia earlier this year, where I met the founder of the university. We chatted over a few drinks at the bar and after hearing about my story and my photo series on grief, she invited me to be a part of this wonderful expo. That was back in the summer, so I've been waiting a while for this event.Read more