Bizarre Birthday

I’m sitting at the airport this morning headed to spend the weekend with my best friend from junior high. It’s my 40th birthday weekend and I’m all over the place in my head. Today’s blog is more of a list of competing emotions rather than a discussion or story…Sometimes bullet points get “the point” across better.  See what I did there? ;-)

Ok here goes:

  • Turning 40! Excited and how the Hell did I get this old?
  • Yay! Friends and fun!
  • Yay a break from work!
  • Oh God this is my first birthday without Clayton. Can I hold it together?
  • What’s next? Holidays? Oh God I won’t have him for holidays!
  • Do I want to even decorate? Too sad but he would want me to.
  • Seriously 40? I did not envision my life would be so shaken up at 40. Ugh
  • Ok deep breath! Birthday weekend!! I’m grateful for what I have but I’m also excited for presents :)
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Struggles

There are times in life when we struggle,

or when the people in our life struggle,

or when you are both struggling because you pass the stress back and forth

like a virus,

because you are both hurting and you just want to help each other. 

And sometimes,

you can't. 

You just can't help much.

Not because you don't want to. 

But because maybe you can't offer up

what that person needs,

or you haven't been through what they have,

or that person needs to go through some of this alone,

and they need to figure it out,

and it hurts to be witness to their pain and hurt,

but you know that it's what needs to happen,

for eventual healing to occur. 

 

And it's hard.

Really hard. 

But love is a verb,

and if you really love someone, 

you stay beside them and you figure shit out. 

And when it gets hard,

you just ask more questions and become more aware,

so that you don't miss anything important. 

 

I can't say much more than these vague sentences,

but Love will triumph,

and we will make our way through this

latest of struggles.

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H O P E

This past weekend, Sarah and I traveled to Toronto to attend our third Camp Widow there.  We’ve both realized that Camp Widow recharges us. Though we may not be in the active throes of grief on a daily basis, with Megan’s death four years ago, and Drew’s six, there is something about telling our stories, and hearing others’ that brings a warmth that we didn’t realize we were lacking.  

This year though, it was so much more.  I assisted with two of the focus groups on Friday, one for those that lost their partners less than a year ago, and one for widowers. I was given the opportunity and honor of introducing Michele Neff Hernandez for her final keynote address.  I helped Sarah setup for her intensive workshop on Saturday, “Rebuilding our Hearts”, and took my leave to let her shine. Those stories are for a different time though. I will certainly be expanding upon my “introduction speech” soon, because ten minutes is certainly not enough time to convey how much my story has been influenced by Michele.

A few months before Camp, Michele contacted Sarah, and proposed an idea for the message release that is conducted at each and every Saturday banquet at Camp.  It was to be a large sign, displaying the word “Hope”, with a similar look and feel to the large “Toronto” sign just across the street from the hotel. Since we can easily drive to Toronto from Ohio, and I have a pickup truck, logistically, it was easier (and obviously more cost effective) for us to create something and deliver it across the border than it would be to ship something from California.

We worked for weeks creating this.  Purchasing supplies, calculating, measuring, cutting materials, sanding, painting, gluing, and lighting these letters.  As late as the Wednesday night before camp, we were cutting out small cork “bricks” and tying a string to over 200 of them.

It was a lot of work, to say the least, but the reception we received to it was far and away more than we could have ever imagined.  

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I Don't Like Dessert

I don’t like dessert, so I will not be serving it with our Thanksgiving dinner.

I have never really liked dessert.

And, Mike didn’t like dessert either.  

I wonder if that is a coincidence?  

I think not. 

I can tell you that I don’t think there are any coincidences in life,

even when it comes to dessert.

 

I almost always pass on dessert.

I’d rather have seconds than eat sweets.

Honestly, I’d rather eat more steak and crab (that's a story for another day).

I like savoury foods because that’s how I like my people too.    

I like people who speak and act with a bit of tang.  

I like people who are spicy, with a side of sweet.

 

Even though I don't like dessert, I do desire the sweet things in life.

Sweet things like a walk in the rain.

A good book.

A good conversation.

A laugh that fills the room.

A kiss that takes your breath away.

I like these things.

I crave these things.

I need these things.

I desperately miss all these sweet things I shared with Mike.

 

Things like sunshine gleaming off a wine glass as I shared a meal with him.

Things like slow dancing in the kitchen.

I miss looking across the room and knowing that he would smile

and wink at me because I was his.

I still wish I was his girl. 

And, a piece of me always will wish this. 

I miss him desperately everyday; and during the holidays

miss him even more than usual.

 

Like I said, I don't like dessert; but I am a sucker for the sweet things in life.

I love a good love story.

And, I keep re-playing ours in my mind.

I don't think this will ever change.

 

As I was cook our holiday meals I know that I am loved

- even without him here telling me these words.  

Love does not die, it actually becomes stronger and even deeper.

I'm thankful for this.

 

 

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Unexpected Messages

It’s been a long day. I worked, came home, took the dog out, prepping dinner and the dishes of the past few nights are sitting in the sink reminding me that no one else will help me. It’s a regular reminder as I try to find a balance to this new unwanted bachelor life. It’s November already and Clayton has been gone for almost 6 months. I’m not doing better, I’m just getting better at acting. I just don’t know I my new abilities are going to be strong enough to get me through the next most difficult tasks before me….My 40th birthday, Thanksgiving, Christmas and starting a New Year alone. I’m already unbelievably overwhelmed and I feel like the loss is starting all over again. The intensity might even be stronger than when he passed. There is no immediate shock and adrenaline like there was in April. Again I feel myself back to the beginning of Dante Alighieri’s Inferno

“When I had journeyed half of our life’s way,

I found myself within a shadowed forest,

For I had lost the path that dos not stray”

Much like Dante, this season is a dark forest and before me stands a lion, a leopard and a she-wolf. My birthday. The holidays. The birth of a new year.  They block my way to the great mountain and there will be Hell before there is Heaven. I knew the path would not be easy. In Dante’s struggle to move forward he was visited by a shade. This shade was sent by Dante’s deceased love Beatrice to bring words to Dante and aid his path.

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Toronto Here We Come

In the morning, I am getting up at an ungodly hour (4am) to wait for my friends who are picking me up and then we are driving the 9 hour road trip to Toronto Canada for Camp Widow. We did this same thing last year, and we had fun on our car ride together. And of course, after arriving, the weekend was filled with healing, laughter, grief tools, honoring love, and friendship. I expect nothing less to be true this time around. 

It is the 10 year anniversary of Soaring Spirits International, and the founder, Michele Neff Hernandez, has decided to step down from doing her "Key Note Address", which she has done at every single Camp Widow since the event began. At each camp event, she creates a themed talk , always with a beautiful and poignant and different message, and she delivers it on the big stage on the Saturday morning at 9 am of the Camp Widow weekend. Her Key Note has always been my very favorite part of camp, and I can already feel myself getting emotional as I think about never hearing her words of comfort and wisdom again on that stage. I wonder who else will do the Key Notes, and will I be moved by their message? I'm not the greatest when it comes to change, and right now, I'm still in the deep mourning phase of my acceptance of this reality. 

The other thing going on for me is that this year, I am in a beautiful relationship with my next great love story. And although I love going to Camp Widow and always will, I don't want to leave him behind right now, for reasons I cant get into here, but I just wish we could be together at this time. He cant come with me because of work and other commitments and money, so we will part for 4 days and miss each other and talk every day and all of that. 

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Resting Sad Face

There’s this term that is frequently used called “resting bitch face.” It describes someone whose neutral or resting face looks like they are annoyed or mad.  

I don’t have that.

What I have is resting sad face.

I don’t know when it started. Presumably sometime after Mike died since he (or anyone else) had never mentioned it to me before.

It was first pointed out to me by David a few months into dating. I had no idea I was doing it. I’m resting, doing nothing, and he says to me in the most concerned, worried, panicked voice, “What happened? What’s wrong? Are you ok?” I just looked at him, “what?” I had no idea what he was talking about. He described how I looked so devastatingly sad. Nothing in particular was wrong at that moment. I don’t even think I was thinking about anything. Just relaxing.

He continued to point it out and be concerned whenever he saw it. I had to assure him that I was my usual self. I thought he was over analyzing. I wasn’t doing anything with my face. Then I was hanging out with my family one day and my sister and David were there. They were talking and I was kind of zoned out I guess. My sister interrupts the conversation to say, “Olivia, are you okay? What’s wrong?” in the same panicked, worried voice David had used that first time. David smiles at me as if to say, “see, I’m not crazy” and then they discuss it.

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One Word

I was asked recently to speak at an AA meeting in my old community in NJ.

I’ll be traveling there at the end of this week. It’s been 3 years since I’ve connected with family and friends there. Family and friends who knew Chuck, who knew me when I was with Chuck.

Memories will hit hard. I’m not trying to set myself up for that; I’m merely acknowledging the fact.

Family and friends will surround me with Love.

That’s a good thing.

So the topic of the particular meeting that I’m speaking at is “gratitude”, which is a really tough word for me to grasp.

Because here’s the truth of the truth of the tree of life that is my life since Chuck died…

I don’t feel gratitude for anything in my life.  I know that’s a terrible, forbidden thing to say, in life, but, I think, especially as a widow.

We’re supposed to have gratitude for, I don’t know…everything.

But it’s hard to feel gratitude anything when I don’t feel gratitude for life.

Which is also practically sinful to say, I realize. How can anyone not feel gratitude for being alive?

Alas and alack…I don’t.

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Condiments

For almost two years, I have kept a small, hand picked assortment of condiments in my freezer. The content of these containers have long expired; but, still, I can not bring myself to throw them out because they are from the recent past - when Mike was alive.

These common containers are anything but ordinary. To me, they are stale, sticky, well used time capsules. These bottles cue me to remember the life we shared together. And, I am just not ready to throw out these visual reminders because they bring to life so many heartfelt memories.


Logically, I know that the bottles should be recycled. 
But, they are not refuse to me. Instead, they are dreamy treasures from our past.
Many times, these containers were casually set out on our kitchen table where they quietly witnessed our conversations. These simple bottles stood watch over us during many shared meals. These containers silently observed all the love and laughter in our home. And, I just don’t have the heart to part with them because they were present when the happiest days of my life unfolded.

 

To me, these simple bottles are sentries 
who bore witness to my life with the man I love.

 

Mike is gone from here, so now our shared memories feel lopsided because the other person who was present, 
is now absent. When the other rememberer dies, they can not share in the recall of our memories. It is a further loss. 


Therefore, out of necessity,

I have developed a strange kinship with these stale condiments because they were present when Mike was alive.

These bottles have become somewhat holy to me

because they are inanimate bystanders who witnessed the love between us. 

They were present in the past; and, unlike Mike, 


they are still physically here.

 

I know that these partially used bottles of sauce are unlikely relics. But, nonetheless, these condiments have become sacred to me because the sight of them takes me back to another time - a time when Mike was still alive.
And, no, I’m not crazy.

 

 

 

 

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Their Best Selves in Us

I found this quote last week and it has really stuck in my mind. I feel like I’ve tried so hard just to find myself again since he died that maybe I’ve lost sight of this a little. Continuing on has a way of doing that I guess.

When he first died, I was so aware of this idea. The man died for his dreams… literally. He was in a helicopter flying as a job, the thing he had dreamed of doing, when he crashed and died. It kind of made it hard to use the excuse that I’m “scared” anymore after that. Especially because it’s not like I had particularly dangerous dreams like being a pilot. I mean, probably no one has ever died from exhibiting their artwork in galleries. So I guess that was one of the qualities I have tried hard to emulate… telling myself “fear is not a good enough reason anymore”. I’ve still let a lot of fear get in the way, but I’ve definitely experienced some amazing new things from following his example since he died.

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