I am tired of trying to be - 'not sad'.
I am exhausted from the aching in my heart.
I am weary from recognizing Joy everywhere,
All around me,
And, still feeling hollow inside,
I am aware of all the good in my life,
My heart is grateful for what I have.
So, I ask myself again and again,
Why isn't it enough?
Why isn't my life enough - without him?
I don't have the answer to this question.
For now, all I can do is ask.
And, I will be strong on his love as I seek the answers...
Painting: Big Heart by Ivan Guaderrama
The truth is, I can write all my positive thoughts and affirmations onto this page;
But, I can not reverse all the ways that Mike's death has permanently changed me.
I'm different now.
Nothing can alter this.
I can't be who I used to be - ever again.
As I am moving forward I am not just grieving Mike,
I am grieving the person I was when he was alive.
- I miss her too -
My eyes look dull and lifeless. Sometimes...Read more
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...
Photo credit: opticalillusionphotos.blogspot.ca
It's been almost fifteen months since Mike died and people around me presume that I am adjusting to life without him. With no experience to draw on, most people believed that the bereaved heal with time. As you know, this is not completely correct. Grief is an active process. With every breathe we take, we work towards finding peace and purpose in our new, changed lives. I believe that grief requires us to actively participate in our own re-birth.
The truth is, I have not "adjusted" to Mike's death. At this time, I exist in a life that I barely recognize. It feels like my old life was hijacked. And, now, I feel removed from my own existence. I sense that I am being forced to live a new life; and compared to my old life, this new existence is lack lustre. Most days, it feels like I am masquerading in someone else's life. I do not want to live this facade. I miss Mike and I want my former life back.
At this point, I can not accept that Mike is gone from the physical dimension where I exist. The permanence of his absence is overwhelming and it nauseates me. Mike's death is not something that I will easily get used to. Mike wasn't a gold fish. I can't just flush the toilet, forget about him and carry on. It is going to take a hell of a lot longer than fifteen months for me to adapt to Mike dying.
Acquaintances in my life see me working, raising kids, and socializing. They believe the illusion that I'm "getting on with my life". They think I've got this. I wish they were right. But,
When Grief comes,
Take her in your arms and dance with her.
Fall into her.
Move and sway in time with her.
Hold her carefully.
Then, when the music is over,
Look her in the eyes and thank her for the dance.
Maybe the words are too kitschy. Maybe this image of Grief is overly sentimental and idealistic. I concede, that as lovely as the words look on the page, a part of me is choking as I read what I wrote. A piece of me wants to gag because I feel like I'm asking you to accept Grief, when I haven't done this myself. The truth is, I don't really like Grief. So, in my writing, I don't want to imply that I have a smooth, functional relationship with Grief, because I don't.
My connection with Grief is somewhat dysfunctional. I certainly don't want to "hold her carefully". Honestly, some days I want to march her cold hearted ass out the front door and slam it behind her. However, at the heart of it, everything I wrote is the truth - as I know it. I can't edit any of my words because there is nothing I know about grieving that is more pure and unadulterated.
I am certain that if I am going to survive this mess, I can not resist Grief. I must fall into her. And, I must hold her carefully - whether I like it or not. I have to believe that Grief is not my enemy. I can't hate her. And, I have to learn to exist with Grief because she isn't going anywhere. Grief has unpacked and she's here to stay.
This said, Grief is not my first choice for a dance partner. Grief is not overly warm, affectionate or accommodating. Rather, she is relentless and demanding, albeit honest. Grief is a straight shooter. As I dance with her, she confidently leans in and whispers her truths, and I appreciate this. I've always liked honest and forthright people; and, Grief, like these folk, is candid. I respect that.
Still, when Grief shows up, I always secretly hope that my dance card is full. Dancing with Grief is awkward because I don't know the steps. She always leads and sometimes Grief takes me places I don't want to go... However, over the last fourteen and a half months, I've learned...
I feel like each breathe I take puts more distance between us. You are in another place. A place I don't know. A dimension I can't fully understand because I am still here. You exist somewhere far from me; yet, somehow you are right here beside me. You are everywhere; and, also nowhere to be found. My Soul loves you, forever, for Eternity. And, now I love you in separation.
Photo credits: celestialworld.co.uk
My eyes can not see you,
But, my heart loves you.
Our Souls remain coupled forever,
You are gone physically,
But, we are connected by the heart.
And, I miss you.
I miss you.
I miss you.
We are not content loving in separation because we want back what we had. But, that isn't an option. Loving in separation is the only thing we have now. And, it is not some big new concept. Loving while separated is something we have done countless times before, when they were alive. And, now, we, the bereaved, continue to love our person despite their permanent absence.
At times, Mike and I were physically apart because of work; and during these separations he'd always tell me "Honey, it could be worse, I could be at war and gone for a really long time." He was right. Throughout history, people have loved each other through long periods of separation. Obviously, we have the innate ability to continue to love one another while we are physically apart. And, this is done without any special training. As a human being, we can instinctively love what we can not see in front of us. Our love doesn't fade when someone leaves the room; and, therefore, our love doesn't disappear in our current circumstance.
"We don't stop loving one another when we part. We know a great deal about how to love in separation, how to hold one another in our hearts when we are apart - thinking of, speaking about, remembering, sharing interests, being grateful to one another, drawing inspiration from one another..." (Thomas Attig)
I acknowledge that this time, we are separated from them for the rest of our lives... And, yes, this is so, so different than being temporarily detached. Death makes this physical separation permanent. This is f-o-r-e-v-e-r. I get it. And, yes, I know that loving in separation does not fill the physical void, nothing can...
But, what else is there?
The task of loving Mike for the rest of my life without his "presence" is daunting, and it saddens me,
But, I have to give it a try.
I don't know what else to do with all the love in my heart...
So, now that he is physically gone,
I am continuing our relationship, on a purely Soul level.
Let me tell you about the best way I know how to do this...
My smile has been gone for a long time.
I wore it effortlessly when Mike was alive.
But, now, my smile feels like an accessory I wear only on special occasions.
I know that it won't be like this forever because I love life too much
to never smile again.
But, for right now, my heart feels empty,
And, I see a deficiency of joy in my eyes.
Yet, some moments, I smile in spite of myself,
Even so, my smile feels awkward and it is always fleeting.
I know Mike wants me to smile again.
And, damn it, I need to smile again, for me...
Mike would stop what he was doing every single time I walked in the room. Every. single. time. He would look at me and his eyes glistened with tears of adoration. Next, he would softly smile, as he treasured me with his gaze. Then, he'd say "Hey, Beautiful" in a tone he reserved only for me. He'd reach out to me and pull me into him. Mike would look so intently at me while he held me, in the middle-of-an-ordinary-moment. It was magic, and even that's an understatement. These 'intimate' moments between us were genuine and intense. Mike would lay his eyes on me in a room full of people; and, honestly, it was like he made love to me right then and there. The way he looked at me had that kind of passion.
Common everyday routines like washing dishes, grocery shopping, sitting on the back porch, making the bed and even brushing our teeth became extraordinary events. Our life was ridiculously wonderful. It was a crazy, pure, deep love that we shared. And, every so often, I would stop myself in one of these "ordinary" moments because I felt the power of his love. It was tangible in the air. Together, we were everything love is supposed to be. And, now, like you, I'm here, in this moment, wanting everything I had back. I want him back and I want him to bring the love we shared back to life.
I knew we were lucky when Mike was alive; but, I didn't know how truly blessed we were. I didn't fully savor the life and love I had because I thought there was more ahead. I naively thought I'd be brushing my teeth with Mike by my side for at least the next twenty years... I thought our story was just beginning. I did not wholly appreciate how big our love was because I thought it would last forever.
Now, let me tell you part of the best love story. Not one that I read about or heard, but one that I lived...Read more
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 ...
I've had many silent nights since Mike died. Nights where I had nowhere to be. Nights that I had no one to share with. Nights where the only sound in the house was the clock ticking obnoxiously. On these nights, the only place I want to be is back in his arms. I have endlessly wished to go back. Back to a place in time where Mike exists. A place where I can still hear his voice. A place where I can feel his touch. This is what I want for Christmas, to go to this place where Mike is still "real". I desperately want to fall back into him. And, I know that this is not possible - not even on Christmas Day.
When your spouse dies it's an amputation of sorts. There is a relentless missing that is hard to describe. A bottomless emptiness forms inside you that no one can understand; unless, they too, have been forced to out live someone they love. Death creates a separation that is both p-e-r-m-a-n-e-n-t and choiceless. You are severed from one another on a physical level; and, a deep, fierce ache grows inside your Soul. The missing is hard at the best of times; and it can be unbearable on days like today.
Unfortunately, Grief does not observe the holidays by assigning vacation time.
Although well deserved, we won't get any "time off" today.
Grief doesn't come bearing gifts for time served.
Grief won't put a shot of amnesia in your stocking.
Grief isn't going to go out of her way to help you get through the day today.
But, I am going to give it a try...
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...