Maybe this will Help - What I know about Grief and Support

I wish I had better guidance to give people early on when they tried to help me.

People were making heartfelt efforts to comfort me 
- most armed without experience.

Two years later, these helpers have almost all disappeared. 
And, I understand. 
People have lives of their own 
to live.

I understand.
I understand that they simply can not understand my life.

I recognize that visiting me, while I sift through the wreckage of what was, is not overly enticing. 
Truth be told, I don’t want to live here among the debris of my old life either. 
I understand their absence.
I understand the difficult position we are all in.

I know that those who have not lost their Soul’s mate can not possibly know what to say to me.
In the beginning of this mess, I was not adequately equipped to educate anyone about what they should and could do. 
I apologize. 
I wish I could have helped you help me.

I want to thank you for being with me when I was brought to my knees.
I know that you did not know what to do.
I didn’t know what to do either.
But, I know that both of us had the best of intentions.

 

When Mike died I was not given a manual to follow.  There were no instructions.  No roadmap has been created for grief because it takes us along different paths.  Yes, there are shared attractions and similar views along the way, but the road we travel is unique for all of us.  When your spouse dies, you must go where you have not gone before.  You are forced onto a road that is not well marked.  There are countless ruts along the way.  Some parts are bumpy and make for difficult travel.  Other times, the road is smooth and there is blue sky overhead.  Then, around the corner, the sky turns dark and it becomes hard to see where you are going.  During these stretches, you may bump into things.  On this journey, you will become lost.  It's unavoidable.  Along the way, you will be re-routed and sometimes you will travel down dead ends.  And, through it all, you will learn.  You will learn to rely on your instincts.  You will learn to believe in yourself - in a way you never have before.  Solo travel isn't easy, but it changes you in a lot of good ways.

At the start, even if I possessed all this knowledge about grief, I still would not have been able to teach you how to better handle me.  Widowhood has to be lived to be understood.  In the days and months following his death, I was completely disoriented.  I was unable to guide you as you tried to help me.  I wish I could have succinctly told what I needed.  And, really, the only thing I needed was him.  I needed him not to die.  But, he did.  And, his death is permanent.  There is nothing anyone can do to make this better for me.  It is what it is.

As the days turned into months, I learned to sit still in the horrific aching.  I learned to lean into the ugliness of it.  I learned to cry until I gasped for breath.  I learned to pick myself up from the floor after I thought I would die from missing him.  I learned that Grief is presumptuous and demands attention.  And, I have learned to give Grief the attention it screams for.

Grief is brazen, dauntless and in your face.  Grief pronounces everything in heavy, smashed strokes.  Grief threw me into an out of body experience.  And, I've learned that Grief rarely shows any mercy.  Grief deprived me of many things I once took for granted.
I had to relearn basic things like breath and sleep. 
For many months both eluded me. 
Sometimes they still do.

Early on I could not communicate without confusion. 
I could hear conversations around me, but the words did not make any sense to me because I had begun speaking in another dialect.

My heart was learning the language of grief. 
I am now fluent in it.

With time, many people have drifted away from me because we no longer speak the same language.
I understand. 
There is nothing that needs to be said.

For the past two years I have been physically present, 
but my mind is far away from here.
I have been unravelled.
I have come undone at the seams of my Soul.

Mike’s death has affected me to the depths of my psyche.
But, thankfully, with time, 
I am making a slow, steady comeback. 
In truth, comeback isn’t the correct word.

Death is a trauma. 
And, after outliving your spouse,
You do not and can not come back to who you once were.
There is no returning.

I can not come back to what was. 
Whatever “it” was, 
It is all over.
I apologize if this sounds overly dramatic to ears that have not lived in the silence 
I have existed in for nearly two years.
None of what I am saying is intended to be dramatic, 
it is just the truth.

I am forever changed because he died. 
But, even more, 
I am a better woman because he lived.

Slowly, I am finding ways to adapt to my changed life.
Daily, I drape myself in Hope.
I want to do more than survive his death. 
I want to live a full, happy life 
- somehow.

Since Mike died I have spent hours lost in my thoughts.
I continually revisit the past.
I endlessly mourn the future we imagined.
And, I desperately hope to become present in the moment.

As surreal as it remains,
I know that he does not exist here anymore.
And, therefore,
I accept that I must begin anew.

Mike’s death has forced me to be reborn.
And, though a piece of me will always wish for the life we shared and planned,
I am grateful for my chance at a new life.

Gratitude for what was, 
And, what will be, 
Has allowed me to survive without him.

My simple message below is intended to help everyone involved in this mess.
I only wish I had these words for you earlier when we both stood before grief without any guidance.
~Staci

 

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Remembering to Live

Everyone has a favorite holiday. Mine is Halloween. I decorate the house inside and out. I spend tireless hours on costumes. I await my first haunted house of the season with eager anticipation. I’ve always liked this holiday, but it wasn’t until after Drew died that it became something I appreciated more deeply.

Just 4 months after he died, my first Halloween without him arrived. I had no energy for costumes or decorating. I was still a complete wreck. But I did do one thing still - I went to a haunted house with one of my oldest friends. It was the first time to do anything of tradition without him.

When my friend and I entered the world of this dark and creepy place… something really incredible happened for me. For the 20 minutes or so we were inside, I was not a widow. I was just... me. Running scared and laughing with my friend through a house of horrors. Yep. Laughing! And feeling deeply alive. As we came bolting out the exit, the euphoric adrenaline was unforgettable. It was one of the first things that gave me proof that I indeed could still FEEL all these wonderful things. Because trust me, I was so broken that I was honestly scared to death that I would never be able to feel true joy ever again. I had a very literal fear of this. And that night as I came out of the haunted house, I realized I could indeed still laugh and still feel joy - even doing things I loved with him. It was a glimmer of hope that maybe, just maybe, I could make it through this. Just maybe, I would be okay.

My new partner Mike and I went to a haunted house last night, and as it always does, it took me back in time and had me reflecting back...

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The Silent Missing

Oh, the sadness of October. 

My wedding anniversary. 

Followed by our honeymoon anniversary,

just days later, 

and then Don's birthday, just days into that. 

 

October 27th we married. 

In 2006. 

Its toward the end of the month,

and its true what they say.

The build-up to these milestone days,

is often worse than the actual day itself.

 

But then again, 

the actual day itself 

is , for me, just heart-wrenchingly sad. 

There are no triggers. No panic. No anger or hysterical sobs.

Just intense and very real sadness. 

The kind of sadness that sits in silence by the ocean,

listening quietly to the waves, as they swish by one by one by one. 

 

It's the kind of sadness that not many understand. 

It has no drama, and would be boring to describe in a movie about grief. 

This sadness makes me feel the need to put a pause on life ,

just for a little while. A few hours. A day or two maybe. If possible. 

I need to just sit with the idea that my husband is no longer my husband,

but a cherished time and memory. An inspiring thought. A dream unrealized or

interrupted. 

He is the man who loved me first, and who changed me forever. 

He died loving me, and I will have his whole heart forever. 

There is a sad comfort that lives in that knowledge.

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Widow at Weddings

I’ve attended three weddings this year. I’ve heard of many widows who hate or avoid going to weddings but I don’t really feel that way. That’s not a new development for me; I attended 3 of my best friends’ weddings (within my self-set boundaries) and was a bridesmaid in my brother and sister-in-law’s wedding in the three to six months after Mike died because I wanted to be there and be a witness and part of their joy (they would all have all graciously excused me).  However, it is certainly not the same experience that it use to be for me and I have a different attitude and perspective attending than I once had.

I think the expression of love at weddings is beautiful and I’m so happy I got to experience that with Mike. I feel lucky for that. I’m glad when I go to weddings that the people get to experience that too. Obviously, my love story with Mike after our wedding was not what I expected and that’s where the “different” experience comes in.

The vows the bride and groom say to one another is the part that stands out to me the most now. It also is the part that makes me a bit uneasy. The weight and promise of those words is so enormous. I reflect on my own promise I made, what I think of it now, and my future moving forward.  

I understand the thinking behind the “until death do us part” promise but I just don’t find it actually works that way. When someone dies, you don’t feel like you’re not married to them anymore. It’s not a clean break. It’s not a breakup or divorce. I still felt very much married. Death doesn’t make you stop loving them. It is just no longer reciprocated.   

Beyond “until death do us part,” I think it makes more sense when brides and grooms also often say that they will love and honour their spouse for all the days of their life. It’s an individual choice as opposed to a joint one. It is carried out regardless of the other person. I think that is really sweet and also very true. I will love and honour Mike for all of my life. It’s a beautiful, huge promise.

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To My Beloved Husband

To my beloved husband, Chuck D, as we approach the 6th anniversary of your memorial service, which we held 6 months out from your death…

I know I did everything as perfectly as I could in those few short weeks between finding the cancer, our hospice time, and your death.

I know this more than I know anything else in my life.

And yet…

Doubt lingers in the corners of my mind and pops out in my most vulnerable moments, such as now. Such as everyday of living without you.

Just one doubt.

Was I at your side enough in our hospice time?  Should I have moved into that hospice room with you and not moved until I had to? Did I err in going, every so often, back to our rented condo, to sleep…even though I never slept when I was there.  Shadows of your impending death were ever on my mind. I knew I was a widow in waiting, no matter where I was. I didn’t need to hear a clock ticking away the time: my heart was more of a reminder than any clock.

I didn’t stay with you every night, and that thought has more power over me than I want it to.

There were many nights that I did, and I was there every day, but I wasn’t there every minute, even though I wanted to be.  What I wanted was to lay down beside you and never move. Hold onto you for every breath. Breathe with you and for you. Take your place in that bed, with cancer attacking my body relentlessly.

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Trigger Tropes

I don’t have much to say today, other than a reminder (and perhaps, a warning to those of you reading that are still in the raw, early stages of your grief) that triggers can appear anywhere at random, no matter how “far out” you may think you are.

We’re never truly “free” from our grief.  It may fade, in a way. We evolve and learn to acknowledge it, taking the sting off of it.  A birthday, anniversary, or even just a random thought gives us a bad day, but it generally doesn’t reduce us to a sobbing mess.  After that first year, I knew what to expect. I knew what songs, movies, events, and locations could trigger an upwelling of grief.  It didn’t make the feelings or thoughts any less significant, but there was certainly a sense of “it is what it is” making noise in the background, softening the blow.

But, there are those moments that you’re never prepared for.  The moments where it is a complete shock to the system. Happenings that you don’t have time to work up to or get your “gameface” on, like readying for battle.

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What do I do?

I ask myself again and again - What do I do?  I whisper these words to myself as I walk out into the world and go about my life - without him.  I've been asking this question for nearly two damn years...  I am tired of this question.  I want to fill my mind with other thoughts.  But, since he died, I'm different than most women my age.  The things that consume me are much more profound than they used to be.  I don't give a shit about the changing seasons, or that pumpkin spice lattes are back.  I care about things that live deeper in my heart.  I care about my children's happiness, our life, and my life that is connected and also separate from my boys.  I care.  I care deeply.  But, not about the shallow stuff that many people my age care about. 

Mike's death changed me, a lot.  I'm a very different person than I used to be.  And, truth be told, I like the new me.  I am becoming a woman I like to spend time with.  And, this is a good thing because I spend a whole lot of time alone now.  It is advantageous that I enjoy my own company - in a way I never have before.

In quiet solitude I think about the direction of my life.  I ponder everything.  The life we planned together died with him.  This is a fact, whether I like it or not.  And, now, I have to figure out what the hell to do with the life I have left.  So, I think.  And, I think.  I endlessly question what it is that I want.  I contemplate what to do with this alternate life.  I must figure this out myself because no one can "fix" this or plan my life for me.  It's up to me to decide what to do with the life I have left.  I know all the decisions ultimately rest with me; therefore, the things I think about are heavy and profound.  And, I realize that the answers will not just magically come because I ask the questions.  Throughout this process, I am generally impatient with myself and my progress. I need to work on this. 

My mind does not rest easy.  I'm exhausted by my thoughts.  But, at least I am engaged in life enough to be thinking and asking questions.  At least I am curious.  I think this counts for something.  It has to because it is all I've got for the moment.  And, this is okay - it has to be.  At this point I don't know a whole lot, but I do KNOW the answers to all my questions live inside me.  They are there for the finding.

There is so much I wonder about since Mike died.  Big things and small things consume me and I wish like hell I could talk to him about this stuff like I used to.  Since he died, I continually contemplate what I should do.  What do I want to do with the rest of my life?  I blogged about having a Makeshift Plan a few weeks ago.  And, I am glad that I have created a "plan"; but, still, I am anxious about the life I am living without him.  I know full well, that life does not always go according to plan.  I am somewhat prepared for the curveballs that life will undoubtably throw at me.  And, in some weird way, all of this change is kind of exciting.  Going forward there is so much potential before me.  My life can take any direction.  And, so can yours.

 

Still, living solo doesn't feel comfortable to me, yet. 

The life Mike and I imagined is the life I want, but it is not to be. 

I have to adapt. 

I have to go with the flow even if it is not the life I had planned.  And, so do you. 

 

Soon, Mike will be dead for 2 years and I would be lying if I said I know what to do with that.  I have not accepted his death.  I don't want to.  And, part of me may never come to terms with it.  I am okay with this.  A part of me will always want him to be alive and I accept this.  It is what it is.  

I remain conscious of how long Mike has physically been gone from me; yet, I feel the need to make more forward progress without him.  And, here is the tricky thing, I feel like I am going nowhere fast.  I do not know where I am heading... I have a rough idea of what I want to accomplish in my life, but it still feels somewhat lack lustre without him beside me.  Will this ever change?  I think it will.  In fact, I know it will.  I just have to be patient.  Mike has only been dead for 1 year, 10 months and 23 days...  (I had to google this on an app.)  As time has gone on, I have stopped knowing the numbers.  And, really, it doesn't matter anymore.  Maybe it never did.  He is gone.  He isn't coming back.  The days keep coming.  And, I am still here.  I had better start acting alive.  I need to live.  We all do, because we did not die.

Since early on, I have had the desire to live life well.  I have draped myself in hope.  But, even with all the optimism in the world, when night falls, I am always alone.  And, I feel the missingness and the emptiness.  There is a profound sense of loss.  Being lost fills me.  My Soul aches for him with every breathe I take; yet, I take each breath as it comes and I keep going.  I have to.  For myself, for my children and for Mike.  I did not die.  I can not let his death define my life.  The way Mike lived and loved me must be what I cling to as I move toward life again.  Day by day I fight forward.  And, I know that you do the same.

 

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Oh My God! I'm So Sorry! I Just Heard...

Time goes on and life begins to settle. You think you are past the hardest conversations until you get a message from out of the blue…

“Oh My God! I’m So Sorry! I Just Heard”

These words come in a text message, a social media tag, in an email and, rarely, in a phone call. Mine came just a few minutes ago through Facebook. It’s one of those messages you don’t ever expect from someone you really never thought you’d hear from again and you dread reading it. To be honest I did really look at my phone and say to myself “What in Gay Hell?” That’s a movie quote from Too Wong Foo. Tin loved that movie and I use that quote more often these days. It usually gets a good laugh.

As if we are really friends with everyone we call “Facebook Friends”, there is a sharper edge to the knife when the person that reaches out is someone that never really thought much about others unless they needed something. They gush over just how wonderful your person was and how sad. I have little patience nowadays as I figure out what to do with my new unwanted freedom. I need to fill my abundant time alone with things that allow me to feel and process but not trigger the feelings like I’m back reliving “D” day. I need to focus on the essential things in life and their importance in rebuilding my foundation.

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Daring to be Vulnerable

When connecting with others who are grieving, we obviously have one big thing in common. A death in our lives. An ending we did not want to come. Then there are other similarities we may find, like sudden loss, or long-term illness, or suicide. Then other similarities still may come… the myriad of “me too”s that arise when we begin to share about widow brain, or sleepless nights, or trying to date again, or managing as the only parent.

All of this requires us to have one other thing in common too though - the willingness to be vulnerable. Without that, we will not share, and we will never learn about all the many other things we have in common. You don’t have to be an artist to create. Creating doesn’t have to mean art. Creating is about connection… a deeper connection to yourself and to others. That is now how I see it.  

For the past week, I’ve been working tirelessly on something I would have never imagined myself doing before my fiance died. It is a proposal for a photography grant which, if chosen, would provide me funding and mentorship to take my career to the next level. This opportunity has forced me to sit down and reflect on a very deep level about my journey not only with photography, but also with grief...

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Celebrating With You

On Sunday, September 30th, I hosted a huge Book Launch Party Celebration in NYC, at West Side Comedy Club. A few years ago, when I was beginning to write this epic love and loss story book about the life and death of my husband, I did a fundraising campaign where lots of great people donated to help make my book happen. One of the things I promised as part of that campaign, was that when the book was finished, I would have a huge Book Launch Party in NYC. 

Well, 4 years and a few months later, I did it. I put time and energy and hard work and money into this party. I ordered food. There was a huge sheet cake that said "Thank You for your support", and had the cover of my book superimposed right into the icing. We did a raffle to raise money for Soaring Spirits, and I called and gathered people to donate services, goods, books, and gift cards toward the raffle for prizes. I stood up on the stage and read from my book. I did a little bit of comedy. My friend Lori, who manages the club where we held the party, also did some comedy and spoke very kind words about me in front of everyone there.

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