For much of my life, I have been what can best be described as “grumpy”. I’ve tended to over-react and or see the worst in things, and myself. Something as simple as going to the grocery store brought out a part of me that only wanted to see the worst of humanity, followed by a reaction resembling anger, then followed by regret and shame at said reaction. It’s a vicious cycle that culminated in my general tendency to either want to be completely introverted, or to only seek out things that allow me to be alone, yet enjoy an activity.
I always find something to blame for these traits. Work is stressful, money is tight, bills are too high, it’s too cold for too long, I don’t have enough time in a day, or any other number of outside influencers gave me an “excuse” to just be angry or reactionary to the tiniest little stressors in life. More often than not, I placed the blame squarely on myself. I couldn’t handle work, I spent too much money or signed up for needless services. I’m too stupid to put a coat on and go outside, or I’m just plain lazy, and not using the time I DO have effectively.
In some ways, Megan’s health masked this. I was so laser focused on her well-being that I didn’t ever take the time to self-examine and really try to figure out why I am the way I am. Honestly, after her first transplant and subsequent relative good health, I didn’t know what to do with myself other than self-deprecate and become introverted. It caused issues. She finally had the ability to enjoy life, and I wanted only to sit in the house and “relax”.Read more
It was Mike’s birthday on March 22nd.
On this day, I will always "celebrate" him.
There will never be a birthday of his that I don't think tenderly of him.
On his birthday I purposefully choose to remember the way he lived.
I celebrate the life and love we shared together.
This is how I try to honor him everyday - not just on his birthday.
That being the case, I admit that I want to do something more on his special day, but this year I went into the day without deciding what this might be. A plan didn't seem as important this year as it did in previous years. Maybe because I have done this twice before, I sort of knew what to expect. As always, the day would come and he would be absent.
I know that there is nothig I need to do to adequately celebrate my dead fiance's birthday. There is nothing I should do as a "proper" widow. The date exists, but Mike does not. And, it is incredibly hard to "celebrate" when the person you are honoring is absent; but, for me, I can not let the day pass without acknowledging it.
This is his third birthday I have celebrated without him. And, it passed easier than the two previous ones. I am not sure why, but I was not as emotional this year. Of course I missed him, like I do every single day; but on this third birthday the missing was not super overwhelming. I simply missed him as usual; and, not particularly more intensely because it was his birthday. You would assume that this would make me happy because maybe this is progress. But, like all things in grief, this change was bittersweet. I don't feel good about it or necessarily bad about my less extreme emotional response to Mike's birthday. It did surprise me though. I think maybe I am getting "used" to Mike's absence. Maybe I am beginning to "accept" his deadness. I hate that he died and I am not sure I will ever accept his death in full. But, after nearly 2.5 years living without him I think being alone has become routine.
Below, I have written about the "birthday routine" I have developed to help me successfully celebrate Mike's day without him. Maybe this will help others who are facing a birthdate without their person. ~S.
In the grief world people do all different types of things to mark birthdays. The way we choose to celebrate our person are varied. The only thing constant is that the celebrations are fitting for those who died. I like that. Not one type of birthday celebration will do because the people we are honoring are separate, unique individuals.
To honor their person, some people release balloons and the environmentalist scold them, others set off lanterns that are biodegradable - they don't receive any backlash. Some choose to cook their person's favorite meal. Some people gather friends and family together. Some go to the cemetery. Some have cake. Some people spend the day alone - in bed. There really is no correct way to mark a birthday for someone who died, or for someone who is living for that matter.
For me, on significant days, I find that I am less out of sorts if I have a plan of some kind. When special days occur on the calendar I prefer to organize something. If I don't plan something, then grief leads me places I don't want to go. And, this year, I decided that having a loose plan was good enough. I followed my instincts and I suggest you do too. This year, I didn't need to organize an elaborate celebration to mark Mike's third unbirthday.
Still, creating a shape for the day is what works best for me. You might be different. Grief has many commonalities, but each of our experiences is unique. So, I think that we should do whatever is best for us. We should do whatever soothes our Soul.
Because I love to write, it's not surprising that I will write Mike a birthday letter. I will go to the grave and tie a balloon to the shepherd's hook I have placed with love behind his headstone. To Mike, there will be a handwritten message on his birthday balloon.
I will stand there, on his grave, wishing with all my heart that things were different. I will play him some of our favorite songs, and I will toast him with his favorite wine. And, then I will cry. (And, I cried a lot less than I expected on his third birthday.)
Before I leave, I will read Mike his birthday letter. And, then, I will cry some more. My graveside visit is very precise and somewhat predictable because I have completed this ritual for all our significant dates. I know how it feels. I know what to expect. And, I find it comforting in some strange way. For me, it feels right to honor Mike in this way. My rituals are sacred and intimate for us.
Mike's life was bigger than my ritual of reading him a birthday letter and toasting him with a glass of Malbec. His love for me was deeper than just me, standing at his graveside offering a balloon to the man she loves. But, this will have to do.
I honor Mike every day - in both big and small ways. Daily, I credit him with the profound impact he has on my life. I believe that we naturally "celebrate" our person, in their absence, every day of the year.
These last few years, I didn't buy him a birthday card, instead I wrote him a heartfelt letter. I also did not buy him a gift because, well, he was dead and he couldn't open it. But, it felt strange to "celebrate" his birthday with no gifts. I felt the need to figure out how to make his birthday feel more like a real and authentic birthday celebration. Then, all of a sudden, an idea came to me.
Mike died. But, I didn't. I am still very much alive. So, thinking outside the box, I bought myself a gift to celebrate Mike's birthday. It felt kind of strange and awkward. But, I also felt good because I know that it made him happy that I was doing something special for me - in honor of him - on his birthday.
My gesture had nothing to do with the "gift" itself. The gift was symbolic because I actively acknowledged that I was still here. I celebrated that I am alive and that I can still enjoy life; while also remembering and honoring Mike.
I've decided that it will always be my tradition to gift myself something on Mike's birthday. When he was alive he spoiled me; and, he loved to surprise me with gifts. He bought me inexpensive little trinkets and he also gave me very beautiful gifts. It was never the gift that was important to me. It was the way in which the gift was given to me. Mike gave to me from his heart. Whatever he offered me was given with all his love; and, therefore, it was a treasure to me.
When Mike was alive, everyday felt like a celebration. Ordinary days were magical. And, I want those days back. I want to be able to share my life with him the way we imagined we would. But, this can’t be. So instead here are some words to help you know the man I love.
I’m feeling drained today. I’m feeling fragile. I didn’t sleep well. I’m still struggling with fears of other people dying, or of just how fleeting life is. I’m struggling with the idea of my own short life and how I sometimes wonder if I will feel I have lived it fully by the end. The cold weather here is really hanging on for dear life too, which is not helping anything.
I guess it’s easy to think about all these things right now… it’s just a few days away from Drew’s birthday. It has been 7 whole years now since I got to celebrate this day with him here. For some reason, that number feels a lot harder than some of the previous years...Read more
I’ve had very few visitors since Tin passed away. I don’t know if the reason is avoidance, being unsure of how I’ll be with guests or just that life goes on and we become too busy for the little things. Approaching the first anniversary of Tin’s passing, as the warmer month’s and spring break approaches, I’m starting to get the calls to stop in for a weekend.Read more
Anger, my good friend, anger.
You are so reliable, so constant,
sometimes I can’t see you, but then suddenly you appear, snarl and bite.
you are always there, always so patient,
you never shut me down and tell me to look on the bright side,
with you, I can ‘be dark’ and talk about death whenever and wherever I want.
You are always deep in the core of my chest, sometimes you are almost dormant,
other times you shoot lava everywhere,
and then I get to grunt, bark and scream!Read more
So far, year three of widowhood has felt restless. After the initial shock of Mike's death wore thin, I began to feel restless and I have remained this way ever since. Early on, I naively sought to "fix" my brokenness. Now, after almost two and a half years, I know that there is no fixing this. I simply must build around the grief that exists inside me. And, as you know, there is nothing simple about this. It takes dedication and commitment in order to rebuild a full life after your previous life implodes.
I am grateful that with time and consistent hard work, the hollowness is becoming less prominent because the life I am recreating around it is becoming fuller. And, it is my hope that my life continues to become more fulfilling as I work to create my new identity. Yet, with this said, essentially, my grief has not changed a lot over the last year. The most notable difference is that I am more tired now. I am tired of feeling sad and lonely. The fatigue of grief has set in.
Thankfully, my grief is less raw now; but, the emptiness inside me remains present. There is no getting around it. There is no "cure" for it. Someone I was in love with died and this isn't going to magically be okay - ever. Grief changes and evolves, but this doesn't mean that I will ever not miss him. I will always wish he was still here sharing my life with me.
I miss Mike.
And, I will continue to miss him as the months turn into years;
and, then as the years turn into decades.
This is life as a widowed person.
There is a profound sense of missing that is always present.
I have now accepted that I will miss him for my entire life. I miss him all day long no matter where I am or what I am doing. I know for certain that no amount of busy work alleviates my grief. At the end of the day, it is there. It is part of me. I can't hide from it. And, the good thing is I don't want to. I am not trying to out run my grief. I see others try to quiet their grief with various things and I intimately understand their desire to seek relief from grief. I want grief to cut me some slack too. I'm tired of it. But, me being tired has no affect on grief. Grief does not grant breaks for time earned. Grief is relentless and demands your attention whether you are exhausted or not.
I learned early on that in order to "successfully" grieve, you can not push it down. You can not ignore it. Eventually, you must look grief in the eye. So, in an effort to grieve well, I have been very generous with the time and attention I have given my grief. To be clear, I am not advocating wallowing in grief; but, rather walking toward it. I believe in leaning into it. This is what works best for me.
I am better for listening to my grief and acknowledging the aching in my Soul. In the process of doing this difficult work I have learned a lot about myself. When Mike died I was forced to stand in the wreckage of my old life. And, here among the rubble, my foundation was exposed. I could not hide from myself. And, in the years that have followed, I have taken advantage of this lucidity and I have carefully and purposefully searched the landscape of my Soul.
Finally, after many hours of sitting in the sadness and brokenness I am in a good place. I know my grief well and, more importantly, I've come to know myself. I know what I need to do to successfully reenter life because I took the time to carefully consider the direction of my alternate life. I have painstakingly thought about who I was, who I am, and who I want to be. I have a true sense of myself; and, now, all that is left is to action what I've come to know.
This work of self discovery has consumed me for over two years. And, I am better for settling into my grief and allowing it to painfully absorb into me. I did not distract myself with people or things that would dull my pain. Well, in the spirit of full disclosure, there have been many nights over the last couple years that I have drowned my loneliness and sadness in wine. And, in truth, I don't feel bad about this. Grief is f@cking hard. Wine doesn't fix it or make it less difficult; but if a glass of Malbec is the worse thing I have indulged in since Mike died I can live with this.
I don’t know if it’s the glimmer of hope for being thru the worst of the cold, cloudy days or just that I am trying to be mindful to reconnect with my sillier side lately. Either way, I’ve been watching funny movies more, making my loved ones laugh more, and even just being sillier when I’m home all alone. I’ve started working on a photography project that is very new and fun too. It’s unlike the fine art type of work I usually create - and I’m finding there is a lightness to the fact that it is so opposite of what I’m used to. It feels more like play than work.
Creating fine art photography honestly has begun to feel more like work these days. Or at least I feel too much internal pressure to do my fine art a certain way and then it starts to feel heavy. And I start to overthink things and question myself. That leads no where good. And it’s something I’ve struggled with when I try and put all of my attention on my art.
This little side project is a nice break from that so far. A nice exploration of how else I can enjoy taking photos. And with any luck, I might be able to really build it into a nice little side job. Either way, it feels nice to be doing something new and not be putting a bunch of pressure on myself to do it any certain way. It feels good to be stretching new creative muscles and trying new things and just saying “Hey, let’s see where this goes!”
I think in life and in grief, it’s so important to have things like that to lighten the load - or maybe help us put that load down for just a few moments or hours each week.Read more
Why do you let my grief scare you?
Why can’t I just talk about Natasha how ever I want? She was MY wife, not yours!
Why can’t you just listen and try not to fix me? “You just need to focus on your daughter’s smile, and everything will be alright.”
Why do you give me an arbitrary timeline and act as if it is the word of some God? “So, how long has it been since your wife died?”
Why do you try to insist on measuring the severity of my grief by saying, “So, have you been dating?”
Why do you need to suggest that a man needs a woman to raise a girl, “Girls need a mother, it’s just good for them.”?
Wow, you really are an expert on grief! So have you ever lost a spouse, no? How about a parent, sibling, or good friend, no? I guess you haven’t had much experience with grief, yet you are so wise when it comes to my grief.
I know, I should relax, you are a good person and you are just trying to help, and, maybe I am being too sensitive.
All I ask, please let my grief be just the way it is.Read more
When I first became widowed, I remember asking someone who had been a widow much longer than me, if the pain would ever get easier.
Her response was: "Not easier, but softer. It gets softer. "
I didnt really understand what she meant.
I met Christina Rasmussen, from Second Firsts, early in my widowhood, on her first book tour.
She was in Boston and I was in NH, so I drove to the book store holding the event, and heard her speak for the first time.
It didn't change the emotions of my widowhood, but her words, her philosophy about life after loss touched me deeply.
It was my first true indication that I wasn't alone on this road.Read more