While we were down in my hometown last week for a wedding, we managed to get out for a few hours one morning to make the drive out to Rockport. If you’ll recall, this little coastal town got the brunt of hurricane Harvey last year. I will never forget sitting in bed at 2am, watching the TV in horror from 1400 miles away as one of my favorite little beach towns was swallowed alive. And all the pictures and videos that came in the days following as they began to assess the damage of a place I hold so dear.
I both wanted and didn’t want to visit Rockport… but I knew I needed to. As we drove the long, straight stretch of single highway out there and hopped the ferry across the channel, I grew emotional at what we might see. As we started to get in to town, my stomach turned in a way I’ve rarely ever felt. Nearly every other house was missing a roof or a wall. The little ice cream shop where Drew and I stopped on our first trip to the beach together was gone. Every one of the big beach shops was empty - nothing but a skeleton of gaping broken floor-to-ceiling windows… all the merchandise and shelving now stripped clean. Boats were still lying in piles on top of one another all about, and mounds of old furniture and refrigerators and twisted up metal roofing and splintered, rotting wood lie at almost every corner.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) ...
Most times I have no idea what I'll write for this blog, ahead of time. Sometimes I swear that I have nothing to say and no ideas and I think I just have to give up writing here. I have no more thoughts about widdahood.
But I've also realized that ideas come from the most unexpected places. I can be out and about and hear a phrase from strangers conversing. Or I notice how someone is dressed on a particular day. Or how their hair falls a certain way. Words beget ideas for me, and that's how today's blog happened.
I was out with my grand-goddesses, who are 4 and 2 years old, respectively. We're in Arizona, so we went for a walk to the park. The sun was out, they were wearing lightweight jackets, because 60* is cold to us here...as I hear all of you from everywhere else in the country groaning and wishing for that, as you freeze your patooties off in subzero temps.
The 4 year old was skipping along, and called my attention to her shadow, that was moving with her, of course.
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 ...
Nearing New Year’s, of course we’re all looking back. Or maybe some of us aren’t because we don’t want to - or we just can’t. I imagine a lot of us are ready to leave 2017 in the dust. I certainly am. Not perhaps in the same way I was ready to leave 2012 in the dust… that was more about running away from my reality and my pain. This is more a feeling of being ready for what’s next. A feeling of accomplishment for making it through a year filled with all kinds of new challenges I’d never faced before.
This year I also hit a major grief milestone - the 5 year mark. I remember having so much fear about one day being FIVE ENTIRE YEARS away from the last day I saw him or heard his voice. For a long time, that number scared me a lot. Then it just became hard to imagine. It’s still hard to imagine even though it’s now here. Now approaching 5 ½ years as I write this and somehow it hasn’t been so traumatic after all. There have been painful moments yes, but not as I had imagined it would be. It was a softer and more gentle pain, if that makes sense. Still there is a longing for a time that once was. For a life I loved. A person I still love. For the person I used to be that I will never be again. But it doesn’t feel like I’d thought it would.Read more
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...
Life after the death of the person you love demands that you ask yourself BIG questions. Ironically, the questions are often about life and living. I have asked myself over and over again, Who am I now that Mike has died? Maybe part of the answer lies in Who I was before I met him. Who I was before he died. I think a lot about Who I was when I was Mike's fiancee. And, I ask myself again and again, Who I want to be now that I am his Widow.
Admittedly, these are questions to which I don't have the answers; but, I'm working on it. These questions challenge me and scare me because of their enormity and because I feel the potential here. I still have choices in my changed life. I have the opportunity to re-create myself, and you do too. I know how overwhelming this is; but I believe that if we allow ourselves to be off kilter we will find ourselves in the process.
In the last year, I have spent a fair bit of time on my knees scrounging for direction and answers. I have spent many a night on the floor crying, begging Mike to come back. I've dance under the stars with my dead fiance; desperately wanting his touch, longing for the days when his arms were wrapped around my life. Many times, I have wandered through the day completely absent with thoughts of him endlessly ruminating in my mind. Grief is gutting. I know how hard it is for you to live with the relentless heaviness and ache in your chest. If I am awake I'm likely on the verge of tears at any given moment, I get it. I have noticed, with time, the ache in my heart is softening a little and my tears don't last as long anymore. But, still, the emptiness is there. And, maybe in some weird way, that's okay. Maybe we are meant to use this emptiness and rootlessness as our foundation. Maybe we need to feel the emptiness and absorb all this "missingness" into every cell of our body. If we feel it and lean into our grief we will learn something about ourselves. I think there in the empty silence - is where the answers are for all of us. I've decided that if I am going to survive Mike's sudden death I have to build a purposeful life around the emptiness inside me.
So, I haven't told you Who I am. Well, for starters...
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
As I sit here thinking about what I want to write, I am struck by the fact that I don’t really want to write about Ben specifically. That’s a first. I had a pretty good week overall, and despite going it alone I was still able to find some joy.
Last weekend was the start of several busy days in a row which left little time for grief to rear it’s ugly-yet-somewhat-comfortable head. My sister and niece came over from Vancouver Island and together with my mom, my eldest daughter and my other sister we all spent the day in a tattoo parlour. (It was my mom’s idea. She’s 73, by the way). By the time we left at the end of the day my mom was sporting her very first tattoo – a small tulip on her ankle. She’s been talking about it for years and now it’s done. Way to go Mom!
The rest of us also left sporting brand new tattoos of our favourite flowers. Jaime and I chose the daffodil which is the flower of March (Ben’s birth month) and of course it is the symbol of hope for finding a cure for cancer.Read more
In the before moments
As you hold tight while trying to let go
Waiting for that last breath
Dreading that last breath
Holding your breath waiting for that last breath
Gasping in your breath as he exhales his last breath
Long Live LoveRead more