On February 5th, 2015, I wandered into a Hotel in Tampa, Florida, not quite sure if I was supposed to be there. I had lost Megan less than three months prior, and I hadn’t honestly accepted the fact that I was now a Widower. In the year leading up to it, I had spent more time sitting next to my dying wife than anything else.
Like many of us, I was searching for answers to hypothetical questions. “Who am I now?” and “What am I supposed to do?” served only as constant reminders that, well, “I don’t know” was the only answer.
Almost three years later, and the questions, and the answers, are still the same. What has changed, and what I’ve learned in that time is that we will never know the answer, but we are always inching closer to it.
It is very rare that one particular emotion takes the forefront of my mind for any longer than a few days. In general, there is a veritable melting pot of thoughts occurring at any given moment, ranging from sadness to joy and everything in between. Fear and confusion are tempered by confidence and determination.
Of course, there are periods where certain emotions boil over and persist. Obviously, the first few months after Megan’s death were filled with overwhelming grief. The “busy” times of year at my work are always stressful, and it shows, even when I’m at home. There are times when my “give-a-damn” appears to be busted, and times when worry about the future pervades. Excitement and joy one week can easily give way to doubt and malaise the next.
Approaching three years since Megan took her last breath, I can truthfully say that I’m openly wandering.
And that’s a good thing.
Last week in my nutrition course we heard some amazing lectures about Blue Zones. If you don't know what Blue Zones are, they are communities in various places around the globe that share common lifestyle and environmental factors that contribute to their populations being among the longest-lived and healthiest on the planet. These areas were first identified and labeled by Dan Buettner of National Geographic magazine and was the featured cover story in November of 2005.
Sardinia, Italy. Okinawa, Japan. Loma Linda, California. Nicola Peninsula, Costa Rica. Icaria, Greece.
In these areas, people are found to eat a traditional, largely home grown and plant-based diet - but more important, stressed Mr. Buettner in our lecture, they share a sense of community and purpose. They have close-knit families and communities which create a strong social network of support and compassion, regular physical activity and positive and healthy lifestyles.
It’s no secret lately that I share my outlooks, experiences, and emotions with ruthless integrity, perhaps bordering upon over-sharing that information. Private anecdotes become public, once a week, as I write here. The quiet grumbles or “bad moods” that friends and family may see me in become soap-box seminars when it is in digital form on the internet. They morph into baring my very soul for all to see on a blog, when in person, the only indication of stress or deep thought may be the distinct lack of my underlying sillyness.
Suppose that it is the anonymity then, that brings forth this behavior. Barring Sarah, no one hears or sees my “grief” emotions via an attentive look in the eye or a cupped ear. It is only through your screen, dear reader, that I share my life and its many complexities. A simple electronic series of ones and zeros that organize themselves into something that a grieving person may need to read, even if it is only a “me too” thought or a “wow, at least I’m not THAT bad” comparison.
My writing here, initially, was simply allowing a bleeding wound to flow freely. Allowing it to flow into the deepest corners of the room and drip onto anyone nearby. I let the pain out by screaming it to the world. As time has progressed, the bleeding has slowed...the wound of Megan’s actual death is all but closed. Writing has become more of an examination of old scars.Read more
For the past week, I have poured myself into the creation of my new grief workshop. It’s finally getting real now. Which is scary and exciting all at the same time. The fundraiser is over, and by the end, I raised $1700 to help with the creation of all of this. Amazingly, 95% of those donations were from widowed people. None of my close non-widow friends donated, or really have even bothered to ask about this whole endeavor. Only one of my family members really has. This fact is not lost on me. I have done my best not to get bogged down by who ISN’T supporting me, and instead have been focusing on who IS.
To have the support of any kind is awesome, but to have the support of people who are going through one of the darkest times in their life… that is something entirely different. It is deeper. It says that they not only believe in you, but they understand what you’re trying to do. It says that - even in their darkest time - they still have the heart to reach out and help you too. And that is one thing death does for us, isn’t it? It’s one of the gifts we’re given for living through this agony… our own broken hearts just want to help someone else.
I don’t even know how it is possible that when we are in our most broken and fragile state, that this is the time so many of us reach out to help others. Is it some instinct that takes over? Does our gut know that helping others will help us? That healing or supporting another will heal and support us too?Read more
Sarah and I have just returned from Camp Widow, in Tampa. This was our third camp together, and our first time returning to Tampa, where we met last year. If you’ve read her sunday post, you know that we had great expectations of what this Camp was going to be like, and for the first few days, it seemed as if everything we had planned for went awry.
Until Sunday morning, we were both a little grumpy, especially me. Camp itself...the workshops, gatherings, and banquet were still helpful, healing, and emotional, but all of the “little things” we wanted to do that seemingly kept going wrong wore my patience thin.
Beginning sunday afternoon however, that turned around. I remembered that, for me, it’s the social aspect, and being in a comfortable, non judging space with others is what makes it so valuable to return to Camp. Yes, it’s still a break from work in a beautiful, warm city, but I can do that any time...we went to camp, not on a vacation.
It's less than a week until Mike and I will be flying down to Tampa for Camp Widow. It's so surreal to think of all that has happened in a year. Life is no less complicated than it ever has been, in fact more so for me. It's a good complicated, but that doesn't make it easy. I was talking with another widow friend the other day about this. Like me, she is in a new relationship now. It was such a relief when she told me she feels so much grumpier all the time now than in her past relationship with her late-husband.
I think my mouth hung open when she said this. "My God," I thought to myself, "it isn't just me!" And suddenly I was reminded of the power of those four little words...
A lot has been going on this past week. Most notably, birthdays. I wrote last week about Shelby’s birthday and all the emotions it brought up for me. I don’t think it is any coincidence that my mom’s birthday was just a week after Mike’s daughter’s. And thusly, as happens most years, emotions are high. For years now, I have been celebrating my mom’s birthday the same way. Every year, on February 26th, I go buy a card, some flowers, and a tasty dessert and I enjoy this day in her memory. I did the this over the weekend, only a bit different than previous years. I still bought her flowers - bright, cheerful sunflowers. I still picked out a card, and wrote her a letter in it. Instead of one dessert though, I bought three. Because I decided to include Mike and his daughter in this tradition. For me, but more so for Shelby.
When I was Shelby’s age, I didn’t see any version of continuing to celebrate my mom on special days. We didn’t talk about her, and we certainly didn’t celebrate her. To even mention her felt very taboo. I didn’t want another little girl to grow up with that same feeling. Shelby deserves to see examples of how people can still celebrate the ones that have died. How they can still be in our lives as we live on. She deserves to have ways to celebrate her mom when her birthday and Mother’s Day arrive. She deserves to feel like the people around her support that idea and understand that she still has the right to have a bond with her mom.