I had a widow moment with the kids in my class yesterday. Before I explain, let me give you the (extended) back story. The kids in my class now know I am a widow. They don’t know it in any personal, heart-wrenching way like people close to me do. They just know the bare facts: I was married and he died. I have always kept my personal life out of my teaching and have always chosen to share very little with my students. This intensified after Mike died because I didn’t think I could keep it together emotionally as they asked their million questions, I liked work as my space to focus on something other than grief and I didn’t want any backlash from parents for potentially traumatizing their child.
Regardless, curious 6, 7, and 8 year olds always seem to want to know, “are you married!?” I generally just avoided the question for the first (almost) 2 years but up until this September I was teaching many classes’ physical education and special education so it was easier to avoid. Now I have a group of 21 inquisitive grade one and two students every day who want to know about me. So a while back after being asked (again), “are you married?” I matter of factly stated that I was married but he died. I wasn’t emotional about it and I answered (some) of their follow-up questions and averted when needed. Anyways, the point is they know I’m widowed and they’re mildly concerned for my future (“will you get a boyfriend?” “how will you get a baby?” “why didn’t your husband leave you a baby” “will you marry someone else?” “will you get a baby then?”) in a kid way.Read more
Let the moments stop. Let them stay where they are.
Let them take me back in time.
Let them morph into the unknown future.
Let me be present.
Let me disappear.
Let me be numb.
Let my emotions riot my heart.
Let shock quiet my system.Read more
I still feel like Mike's girl. When he was alive, he'd tell perfectly good strangers about me. Anyone he encountered throughout his day was sure to find out about me in short order. The cashiers at the neighborhood grocery store knew of me because he proudly gushed about me while they wrapped the red roses he'd buy me every time he did his weekly shopping. Mike went from being a single guy buying obscene quantities of frozen meat pies -when they were on sale - to the man who carefully selected extra chocolate milk and certain juices because he knew my boys liked them. Mike was so happy and his love for me and my boys was revealed in everything he did. Mike showed all of us what true love looks like, and sounds like. And, for me, he showed me what true love feels like.
Looking back, our love story served as a live lecture on love. If you were a student of love you would have filled your notebook full with our 'love notes'. Together, we made love look easy. The way we spoke to each other had the rhythm of respect. Our tone was pianissimo, reflecting our gentle love. In our voices you could hear the harmony of happiness. The way we looked at one another reflected mutual admiration. We loved how love is supposed to be. The way he held me close to him; and, the way he pushed me to soar were both acts of genuine love. We unknowingly provided an education about love for anyone who stopped long enough to take notice. When we walked hand in hand I remember that strangers would look up and smile when my eye caught theirs. Our love was tangible. You could feel it in the air around us. People smiled at me because they felt the love they witnessed walking by.
Love is the little, shared nuances.
The small, familiar gestures between lovers.
The rituals that are thoughtfully developed between two Souls.
These intimate expressions are what we all desperately miss.
These are the things that keep us awake at night.
These are the intimacies we all want back.
Maybe Mike and I were so good at love because this wasn't our first attempt at it. We had practiced love before with mediocre results. And, finally, with three failed relationships behind us, we figured it out. Together, we were good at love. And, in my heart, and in my mind, I will always be Mike's "Beautiful Wife to Be". I have theRead more
My fiance died in 2012. In the spring of 2014, I began creating a photographic series about my grief, called "Still, Life"… sharing weekly self portraits that captured my pain, hope, confusion, anger and everything else that comes along with grief.
I worked on this series for about a year, creating 40 haunting, hopeful, honest images… with each one, I wrote a brief essay that talked about what that particular image represented about my own story. As it turns out, sometimes I wasn’t even entirely certain what the story was when I would go out to photograph myself. Sometimes I just wandered, with the camera, and let my intuition guide me. So when I would sit down to write about each image, many times, the personal meaning would begin to reveal itself there. More times than not, I would end up in tears as my typing fingers led me to the true, deep feeling of the image.
I wrapped up that series in a rather unceremonious way.... I just sort of faded out, from the pure exhaustion of it all. There was no grand finale. No final profound photograph to end the journey of the project. I just sort of lost my desire for it, or felt ready to stop looking so deeply at my grief after a full year of intensively doing so.
Looking back, I realize now, the way the project ended was just like everything in this “after” life. It was exactly like making it through the first year of his being gone… something I’d imagined would feel pivotal, like I’d graduated to the next level or something. Only it didn’t feel that way at all. Instead it felt gut-wrenching all over again. Because still, after making it through a whole year, he was not going to come back...Read more
I sat somberly in an empty hotel room, swirling the rum around the cheap glass, sipping occasionally, all while gazing out onto a view I wasn’t deserving of.
Today is only the beginning to a great many things still left for life to lend me. To me, it’s a step squarely somewhere I never pictured myself even a year ago.
It’s interesting how you can feel so fulfilled and so empty all at once.
I stood alone in a crowded room last night. I’ve convinced myself that the only person who truly knows me is me. Perhaps it’s best that way. For now, at least.
One day, I will cease trying to restrain who I am. One day, I won’t be so coy.
What others see is what we want them to, especially in this age. I am no different in that regard. I’m not trying to intentionally safeguard anything. There is nothing to safeguard that hasn’t already been left in ruin.
Perhaps I just don’t want them to see the damages that lay beneath. The destruction of things once riddled with potential. The outcome of potential squandered. The image of dreams dashed upon the shallow craggy waters of security and convenience.
Who knows what lies in wait for us with baited breath on the other side of our decisions?
There is truly only one way to know.
*Normally I write on Fridays, and although this post will appear here on Friday, I am writing it Wednesday evening, and setting it to publish Friday. This way I dont have to worry about finding a computer to post the blog while at the Marriott and busy with other things.
Well, I’m back from vacation. It was really good. I knew it would be. I also knew there would be some tough moments and there were. For starters, on the plane as I sat in the first row with the only TV in the plane directly in front of me the movie “Coco” played. I had been warned by other widows that it was a good but heart wrenching movie that tricks you by seeming like a harmless kids’ cartoon. I hadn’t had a chance to watch it yet. Ideally, I would have watched it on my own in my house but here it was in front of me. So I thought, “let’s do this,” and plugged in my headphones. If you haven’t watched it, I do recommend it. Be prepared to be emotional though. It’s basically about the importance of remembering people who have died and how you give them a second life by remembering them. It included some “insight” into an after-life showing how you will die and disappear completely once no one living remembers you. If you aren’t a widow then I guess there could be a different storyline but this is what I saw. So yes, I sat in the first row of the plane and I cried and I didn’t really care. Maybe in a way starting my trip with this movie was needed for me to acknowledge the grief I carry and release it right from the start. It let me feel so I could then be free to enjoy. I stepped off the plane ready for vacation.
The islands were hot, sunny, and beautiful. I can now remember which ones I visited (St. Thomas, St. Kitts, Antigua, St. Lucia, Barbados) and I enjoyed my time with my friend Heather. On the islands, we went on a catamaran, tried Snuba, went snorkeling (and saw the cutest turtles - eeeek), went to multiple beaches, met up with one of her family friends, explored some historical sites and explored local towns and shops. There was always lots to do on the ship as well in the evenings including a Whitney Houston tribute show. The singer acknowledged people who are grieving and have loved and lost someone too soon before singing, “I Will Always Love You” (exceptionally well, I might add). I cried (and again, didn’t care that I was crying). I appreciated it. Those little moments where I can acknowledge my grief seem to help me and provide the little release I need to keep moving forward. Heather was an amazing friend, as always, and was supportive of me when I needed it. It’s so nice to have good friends.
Almost 5 years.
5 years without you.
Don’t ask me how I’ve gone 5 years without you.
I don’t know.
Sheer grit and determination.
And a whole lot of the Love that you left behind for me.
The fact of the matter is, I’m a 37 year old widower. By most standards, it’s quite unique. I wasn’t married to someone in a high-risk career. Megan wasn’t in her seventies, hell, she barely made it into her thirties. Statistically, I’m much more likely to be divorced than widowed at my age.
The fact of the matter is, Cystic Fibrosis is a brutal disease. It’s filled with ups and downs that last a lifetime. Emergency room trips and months-long inpatient stays, immediately followed by “feeling good” and leading a normal life for awhile. One can never plan their lives out more than a few months in advance. You just don’t know what’s around the corner.
The fact of the matter is, I understood all of this very early on in Megan and I’s relationship. I knew she would have to be admitted to the hospital for, at a minimum, two weeks at a time, multiple times per year. I was completely aware that birthdays, holidays, vacations and other events would be a crap shoot from time to time, not knowing if she would be blowing out candles or coughing up blood.
It's his birthday this week. March 22nd. On this day, I will always "celebrate" Mike. There will never be a March 22nd that I don't spend with 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 I haven't completely decided what this might be.
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 plan something. If I don't organize something, then grief leads me places I don't want to go. 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 lovingly placed 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. Before I leave, I will read Mike his birthday letter. And, then, I will cry some more. My graveside visit is very precise and 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.
However, I am an overachiever and I outgrow routine quickly; so, this year, I want to do more to mark his birthday. I feel it is necessary. 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, his widow, standing at his graveside offering a balloon to the man she loves. (For those of you who did these exact things please know that your gestures were perfect as they are. Nothing more is needed to honor your loved one's birthday. It's just me. This year, I know that I need to change things up.)
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 think we all do this as widows and widowers. I believe that we naturally "celebrate" our person, in their absence, every day of the year. Yet, for me, my Soul is calling me to do something more on for Mike on his birthday this year, I just haven't figured out what...