Don't Die

“Don’t Die”

It’s an instruction that Sarah has given to me as I walk out the door to work more times than I can count.  Sometimes, it’s fairly innocuous. Other times, it’s said with a fervent, if not pleading “PLEASE don’t die today”; usually after waking up from a particularly emotional dream.

It’s not a “tic” or meaningless, repetitive saying.  She means it. She is constantly and consciously aware that at any moment, I could be gone.  Any of us could, for any reason. Is saying it going to change fate? No, but it does indeed absolve her from responsibility in the event the worst occurs...like a pre-emptive “I told you so”.

Interestingly, I don’t say it nearly as much.  I do say the far less instructive “Drive safe” often, but it is rarely “Don’t Die”.  I think there are a few observations I’d like to make.

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This is Getting Old

This whole widow thing is getting old.  I just want to be like the other women my age who are casually going about their "normal" lives.  I want to be like the women who are busy raising their kids, getting scheduled manicures in between loads of laundry and maintaining a successful career.  I want to be like the women who are planning romantic weekend get aways - without the kids - because finally the kids are old enough to stay home alone.  I want to be like the woman who hosts intimate dinner parties inspired by Pinterest.  I want Mike and I to sit around the dining table with other couples who are enjoying the good life. 

In truth, I used to be this woman.  I had this life before, and I want it back.  I kept myself busy with work and family and somewhere in between all this, Mike and I were mentally preparing to be empty nesters in a few short years.  We had a charmed life.  And, I admit, I didn't do anything particular to deserve this beautiful life; but, nonetheless,  I had it with Mike.  Our shared life was a fairytale come true.  Suffice to say that my former life was a hell of a lot more enjoyable than being a widow.  I want to return to this place in time when I thought about going on cruises and travelling abroad with my husband.  Okay, leave the travelling aspirations aside, I want just one thing.  I want a husband who is not dead. But, mine is and no amount of wishing will change this.

Still, I want to participate in retirement discussions with my coworkers instead of leaving the staffroom because their words sting my ears and hurt my heart.  I want to sit on the well worn office couches and proceed to shamelessly gush about our retirement plans with my colleagues while I recieve text messages from Mike because he knows that it is my lunch break.  I want to be in the club again.  I desperately miss being part of a couple because it grants you entrance into these types of conversation.  I yearn to live in a reality where I am looking forward to spending Mike's retirement with him - but, I don't.   All of this stuff is just a daydream in my head because Mike died before he even get to retire.  For us, there will not be any retirement years spent together.  There are no more years.  There is no more anything.   There is nothing.

There will be no trips abroad together.  Mike and I will never lay together on another beach.  We will not stroll hand in hand down the cobble stone streets of some far away place.  We will not leisurely walk through an open air market in Thailand because Mike isn't here anymore.  We can't stop to eat some exotic street food made with dodgy ingredients that were harvested just that day because he is gone from this reality.  Never again will I hear Mike make one of his impulsive, uncouth, crazy comments as he excitedly experiences all these places we will never go.  I can never experience watching Mike talking to a man selling doughnuts on a beach in Mexico again.  (The best part of this memory is that Mike hates doughnuts. He would never eat one - especially not on the beach when it is over 100 degrees.  But, Mike loved people and he wanted to know about this guy who was trying to sell doughnuts on a beach when it was hot AF.)

In this new life of mine, Mike is only a memory.  He can not wake up and have coffee with me in my kitchen or some dreamy place along the Amalfi Coast.  We will not sit together on a balcony of a boutique hotel in Santorini.  We can not get lost in conversation as we drink red wine while we watch the sun go down over the ocean in Crete.  He can not lean over and kiss me and tell me how "Beautiful" I am while we wander through a vineyard somewhere in the South of France.  We can not get blind drunk in an Irish pub and stumble back to our hotel room.  I can't stand in the Scottish Highlands with Mike and listen to him tell me about his Scottishness.  We can not go anywhere in this world anymore because he is gone from here. 

What a cruddy reality this is.  My future is nothing like the one we had planned.  There will be no cruises with my husband.  The year following his death, there was no trip to Hawaii in the Spring and we never went to Italy like we planned for my son's graduation.  Sure, I am self sufficient.  I will take myself on a cruise one day.  And, I will sit on a beach in Hawaii; but, while I do this a piece of me will wish that I was there with the man I love.  And, yes, someday I will go to Paris and stand under the Eiffel Tower at night; but Mike will not physically be with me like I imagined.  The way I constructed all of this in my head will never come to be.  Like you, I have been forced to live a future that is radically different from the one I had planned.  In our shared plans, Mike was going to live until he was 99 just like his Grand Dad, except he didn't. 

So now what?  Now, I spend my weekends alone and occasionally I go to the grave with a bottle of wine and shoot the shit with my dead fiance.  I guess maybe I am pouting and getting lost in the past.  But, it isn't easy to adapt to this altered reality.  I'm trying.  I do make plans and engage with my friends, but usually on the drive home from these activities I feel absolutely empty.  Having dinner with a divorced girlfriend, or meeting one of my married friends for brunch because her husband happens to be away for the weekend is not as fulfilling as sharing my life with Mike.  How could it be.  Being in a loving relationship and sharing your life with another human being is what makes life full.  The huge void inside me can not be filled with a well made eggs benny brunch or a savoury steak dinner at a classy restaurant with a group of girlfriends.  All of this rings utterly hollow in comparison to my former life.

 

I am so tired of living this widow life. 

It is mostly empty.  And, most days, it is inadequate in comparison to the life that I shared with Mike. 

There I said it. 

And, I feel poorly about admitting this because earlier this month I blogged about seeking JOY in 2019;

and, so far this blog is far from joyful.  However, what it lacks in joy, it makes up for in truth and honesty. 

 

 

*I am mainly done my tantrum against widowhood. If you read further I will spin this to be more hopeful...

In this blog, the truth has spilled from me and onto the page, but this isn't enough.  For me, it is not enough to say something sucks; and then, to proceed to have no solutions.  Yes, I admitted that being a widow is terrible.  This is nothing you haven't already figured out. 

I have a tendency for being extraordinarily truthful.  And, this blog is no exception. I have bluntly stated my truth - but, in and of itself,  that doesn't accomplish much of anything.  The real question is now what the hell do I do about all this truth? 

If I don't make an effort to improve my life who will.  No one can make this better for me.  It is up to me to get on with it and attempt to LIVE again.  But, here is the thing, I am tired.  I am exhausted from trying to be hopeful.  I am tired of trying to convince myself that life will be okay without him.  I'm tired of missing him.  Two years into this mess, I am just f@cking tired.

 

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Their Stories are Still Being Written

There are surreal little things lately about my life lately. About getting together for coffee with girlfriends recently, who are eager to see the new engagement ring and hear all about Mike’s proposal. Surreal because part of me still thinks something will go wrong before we ever get to a wedding. Part of me is wary of that… how could I not be. And surreal because even though I am in a whole other chapter of my life with someone new, I don’t feel like the other chapter is “behind” me or “gone”. I don’t feel any less close to that life and to the person I was with then. I don’t feel Drew’s absence the way I feared I would years ago when his death was so fresh.

It will be 7 years this summer since Drew died. Which is also surreal. I still remember the enormous knot of fear in my stomach in the first year… about ever, ever reaching 5 years, or 8 years, or 10 years, or 20 years of him being gone. I think somewhere around years 3 and 4 though, something started to happen. A shift where I realized I don’t have to ever be scared of losing him. I left Texas, and the life he and I knew together. And I faced the fear of losing my connection to him in an even bigger way by doing so. I chose to love someone new, and start a life with that person too, facing that fear even more.

I realize now, that every single new milestone that causes a fear of losing more pieces of him, or of the life we shared together, is one that I must push through. Because every time I have done so, I have come out the other side realizing that I still feel just as connected to him, to our life, and to who I was. Every time I have dared to venture into more living and loving, I have felt his presence with me… most especially in quiet moments to myself where I will simply, suddenly, feel him near and feel him assuring me that all is well. Or in unexplainable signs that pop up when I least expect it. 

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Losing the holiday weight

Losing the Holiday Weight

 

The holidays were rough. My first without Tin and there were days I just could barely keep it together. Christmas is over and I spent New Year’s alone for the first time in years with no one to plan a new year of adventures with. It’s been a struggle and I have 3 more months before I hit the anniversary of his passing. I felt like I was carrying a thousand pounds through the holidays. I get holiday weight but that was not what I was ever expecting.

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Inside the Rhythms of the Music

In the beginning, there was music. 

Back in 1998, in the days when AOL was a thing, I went into a music chat / trivia room about 1980s song lyrics, and met Don Shepherd. 

We talked about Lionel Richie songs, great singers, guitar players, and more. Then we just kept on talking. 

Seven years and lots of plane trips from Florida to NY and back later, he packed up his life and moved to New Jersey to be with me. 

We married a year later, and just 3 months before our 5-year wedding anniversary, he would die suddenly from cardiac arrest. 

 

At first, I could not hear music. 

It was too hard. 

It hurt too much. 

Every song was a reminder that I would never hear him strumming his guitar again, in our apartment. 

We would never sing and play together, just for fun. 

He would never use my leg or knee to try and figure out a chord or a beat again. 

He wouldnt ask me to come into the living room and "listen to this song I just threw together. Do you like it, Boo?" 

We wouldnt rehearse Natalie Merchant or Fleetwood Mac or Beatles or Aerosmith songs anymore. 

Or sit on the couch and listen to CD's. 

Everything about music started to hurt. 

 

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My Annual Milestone

We lost my wife about a month after my daughter’s second birthday and I was so distraught in the early days that I was having panic attacks.  The thought of being a single father was incredibly terrifying, how am I going to raise a little girl on my own?!  Luckily, psychotherapy and a detailed wellness plan have helped me leave those feelings behind.  Each year, my daughter gets a little older, and I am reminded that I do not need to worry about being able to walk the path of a single parent anymore.  Especially, since each added candle to my daughter’s birthday cake means I am not only walking the path of a single parent, I am in fact, making MY OWN path as a single parent.

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Wandering~

I wander quite frequently. It's mostly what I've done, and what I do, in this widowland.

For 5 years and counting now.

Physically and mentally...I wander.

Physically, in that I've spent these years since the death of my beloved husband wandering the country in my pink car, towing my equally pink T@b Teardrop trailer behind me.

Mentally, in that my mind is seldom where I am, physcially.

It's mostly in the past, honestly. Or totally daydreaming, a la' Walter Mitty.

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Risk Assessment

It has been almost a month since I last posted on here.  Sometimes, life can get in the way of all of our commitments to others.  Between the holidays, the busiest time of year at my work, travel, and budgets, sharing my weekly thoughts and anecdotes about life after becoming widowed took a significant back-burner.

But the primary reason I hadn’t shared is that my mind, in fact, my very being, was consumed by something that I couldn’t write about at the time.

An impending proposal.

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Average Widow

In the early months, I remember reading the blogs of people who were years into widowhood and I was dumbstruck.  I had no idea how they did it.  I was completely in awe about how they were going about rebuilding their lives.  And, I hoped that I could be like them.  I hoped I would survive outliving Mike; but, I was not sure how they were doing this.  Well, now I know.  They just did.  There is no magic.  There is no secret formula to grief.  There is not way to side-step the aching.  Widowed people simply leaned into their grief.  So, this is what I did, and so can you. 

You have to absorb the sadness and yearning and aching into your psyche.  And, with hard work, intention and persistance, you can somehow recreate a full life.  It will not be the life you imagined, but it can be a good life nonetheless.  I have been attempting to reconstruct my life for the last two years.  It has not been easy, but I refuse to let Mike's death define my life.  I have to strive to do more than simply survive his death.  I have chosen to choose joy, inspite of the sadness inside me.  And, moving into 2019 I will continue to relentlessly seek joy.  (#joyseeker)

 

I have been a widow for over two years now. This is a fairly significant chunk of time, but in the grief world it is still early on.  The last two years have been composed of the longest days and loneliest nights of my life.  There were many moments that I did not think I could do this one second longer, but I did. Time has softened the rough edges of my grief and it will do the same for you.  Nothing in this life remains the same, grief included.  With time, the intensity of your grief will change.  And, for me, sometimes it still comes on full force.  Certain times my grief is raw.  The aching is primal and the sadness is overwhelming; but, thankfully, now, most days my grief is just a dull heaviness that lives inside of me.  I am learning to live with Mike's absence.  I don't like it, but I am attempting to accept the permanence of his death because there is nothing else I can do.  I was a good "Wife" and only an average widow.

 

 

Recently, I have stopped counting the time 'earned' in widowhood.  I no longer keep track of the months because it feels odd now that I am over 2 years into this mess.  This whole counting the months passed reminds me of when my sons turned from babies into toddlers.  When my boys turned 2 years old, like most parents, I  stop referring to my children in months because I thought it sounded kinda quirky.  Now, my sons are teenagers and I have no idea how many months old either of them are because it stopped being relevant a long time ago.  And, being Mike's widow has developed this same feel.  The time I have spent as a widow is less relevant than it used to be.  The fact is, I am a widow.  I am not going to become more or less of his widow with time.  Even when I meet someone new, and if I marry this man, I will still be Mike's widow.  Nothing changes this.

 

And, as far as being a widow goes, I am gettting somewhat "better" at it with practice. 

But, still, I remain only average at widowing.  I don't know if I even want to excell at it. 

 

I know that I can live a full life on my own, but I don't want to because I know that I am good at being in love with the right person.  I like being in love.  Mike made me a huge fan of love.  And, I want to share my life with someone again because it is simply way more fun.  Waking up alone and making coffee for one is getting old.  Wandering through life not being someone's person is less fulfilling than when I was Mike's girl.  I miss his random text messages throughout the day.  I miss him making me a coffee in a travel mug to drink on my drive to work.  I miss him stopping me on my way out so that he could run into the garage to get the pruners and clip some beautiful lilacs off the tree in the front yard - just for me because he loved me.  (For real, he did this.)  I miss him looking at me from across the table, and gently putting down his fork and softly telling me "you are so beautiful Stace".  I miss him.  Dammit, I miss him so much my heart aches as I am typing this. 

My life without him is not easy.  I miss being so deeply in love with a man who is alive - I was really good at it loving Mike.  And, I am not so good at crawling into my empty bed every night - it continues to sucks  two years later.  This widow thing is not a routine I enjoy. 

I am a far better Wife than Widow.

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First Weeks of Being an Engaged Widow

We’re a week into the new year, and I haven’t had a lot of time to sit down and reflect. Holiday travel definitely takes a lot out of you and we’re only just beginning to get settled back in at home. The thing that I am reflecting on right now as I write to you is mostly, my gratitude, and the big event I wrote about last week - Mike proposing to me.

A lot of people don’t know that Drew never officially proposed to me. He was planning to as soon as he returned from the work trip he was on - only he never returned. But he had sort-of asked in a roundabout way before that… because I was the queen of avoiding large milestones like these. Basically, he wanted reassurance that if he did ask me soon, I would be happy about it and not feel pushed or pressured. In the conversation, I started to overthink and freak out about the idea of it, as I do with most milestones, and then I stopped myself and I told him “Whenever you ask me, I will say yes”. So that’s as far as we actually got. A few weeks later, he was gone, without warning.

I’m sure most understand how painful it is to have not gotten to the proposal, or the wedding, or the first year, or the fifth year, or your first house, or children, or grandchildren… to not have gotten to some milestone. Or a lot of milestones.

This has been my story for the past 6 ½ years. A story I unknowingly settled into. Even though I referred to Drew as my fiance after his death, truly, no one had ever proposed to me. No one had ever said those words to me. And these years since his death, I have been a woman who has never been asked. I think a very old part of my damaged self worth liked to feed off of that sometimes. Like I didn’t deserve it. It’s not rational, and it doesn’t make sense, and I know it isn’t true, but it’s still there… somewhere in the dark corners of my heart, this whispering thought that I don’t deserve to be asked that question.

Only now, that story has been changed by someone new...

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