Kids Talking About Death

Last week my school took part in the Terry Fox Walk. I’m not sure how much everyone knows about Terry Fox but in a way oversimplified summary he was a young Canadian, who lost his leg to cancer in the 1980s. He had an artificial leg and set a goal to run across Canada to raise money for cancer research. He died before he could finish his “Marathon of Hope” but many schools across the country still participate in a walk and raise money for cancer research on his behalf. My explanation does not do it justice but I strongly suggest you look it up and there’s a great new video the Terry Fox Foundation put out this year as well.

Anyways, so our school starts the walk with an assembly where we watch the video about Terry Fox and then we’re on our way with a cause. After the walk, the 5-7 year olds in my class want to talk about Terry Fox dying and death in general.

As someone who has spent so much of the last bit of my life dealing with grief I am careful to not project that onto the kids I am constantly around. However, I also refuse to shy away from talking about death when it is naturally brought up by them. I think that would do them a disservice. Avoiding conversations about death, when they have questions or comments, perpetuates the idea that grief and death are a taboo topic when it really is a natural and unavoidable part of life. They shouldn’t be forced or taught to hide their emotions connected to death and they certainly shouldn’t grow into adults who have internalized those ideas. If they have questions or comments I’m going to do my best to respond and validate them.

I must say that I was both so humbled, proud, and full of hope by the conversation that stemmed from their little minds. It was so honest and raw. It gave me a perspective of the progression from their open minds as children to the closed minds we develop as adults. It gave me hope that if conversations can remain open that maybe their thinking can stay. It expressed their concerns and worries in such a true form. It demonstrated respect, care, maturity and an awareness for others that is inspiring.

Instead of describing the conversation in length I thought I would just write a few of the things they shared and my thinking behind it and hope that maybe it can be meaningful and insightful to you too.

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My Dare to the Universe

The mere idea of dipping my feet into the dating scene, no matter how lonely I am at any given point, invokes in me a huge HELL NO!  The quantity of nightmare stories I’ve heard from the widowed community about the quality of people in that scene, both male and female and what they’re looking for…no, please. There is, I hear, that 1% chance of meeting someone, that wonderful someone who brings beauty to a lonely life, but that's not enough to entice me into the quagmire. I'm still in love with Chuck, for one thing, even as my heart is open. That might sound like a contradiction to you...widowhood is filled with contradictions…but I believe that the heart expands to Love, and I can fall in love again, with the perfect man. Having said that, the perfect man would have to materialize in front of me, with immediate recognition in both of our hearts that…THIS.

It saddens me that there are many in the widowed community who feel that their widow experience has left them broken, and finding a person to accept their broken-ness seems impossible.

I don't see myself as broken or damaged at all. On the contrary, my experience shows that I'm good at Love, good at healthy relationships. I feel life intensely, I’m brought to tears by all that is real in life.  Reunions, watching people fall in love, commercials, the certain blue of sky out my moon roof, stars lighting up the Universe at night…tears are never far away.  I live on a higher adrenaline level than I did prior to Chuck’s death, coming from the realization that life really can, and does, change on a fucking dime.

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Connection

I miss our connection to one another.  When your spouse dies, it feels like you are undergoing an amputation without any anesthetic.  Their absence is felt on a Soul level.  And, learning to live without them breaks you in places you didn’t know existed.

Over time, a natural, graceful interdependence developed between us.   Together, we carefully crafted a secure, and easy comfortableness. Mike was able to read my body language like a well worn book.  I miss being perused like this.  Our daily exchanges were cozy and predictable.  Our interactions were snug.  We proceeded through life together performing well rehearsed rituals with ease and grace.  I loved moving through life with him beside me.  And, now, without him,  I miss being so intimately connected to another human being.  I miss my life partner to the depths of me. 

 

Witnessing our Souls sync was magical;

And, even more, our connection was something extraordinary to be a part of. 

Not surprisingly, it is something that isn’t easily unlearned or reestablished.  

Clearly, creating a new relationship with my dead fiance will take time to craft.

 

All through the day, and long into the night Mike and I were connected -  in both small and significant ways.  As a couple, we were constantly attached mentally or physically; and at the best of times we were both.  With time and repetition, our intimate and notable connections ran deep into our psyches.  We were not necessarily separate and distinct from one another.  Our Souls became entwined as we fell in love.  The lines between us became increasingly blurred as we built our life together.  And, now that Mike has died, I’ve had to learn how to become independent from him. 

 

Physically, I’ve been forced  to “uncouple”  from him. 

Emotionally and socially I’ve had to readjust my perspective and behaviour. 

And, mentally, I’ve been required to redefine my identity. 

I’ve spent hours questioning: 

Who am I?  Who am I without him? Who am I because of him?

None of these tasks are easy; nor have they been fully completed by me.

In truth, I will never completely disconnect from him.  

And, that's okay with me.

 

 

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Catastrophic Compensation

I’ve tried to write more about the good things in life recently but every week brings a new strange situation that results in processing new thoughts and difficult emotions. What does one think when they are given inheritance?

So many people are gifted property and money as their older family and friends pass away. It’s understood that each new generation gets a little lift from the ones before. Passing away at an old age allows for the ones left behind to process the loss as it comes closer. That death, albeit hard, is expected. Therein lies the trap for those of us whom have lost someone out of phase. Sudden loss or early loss due to illness steals our one chance to collect the time and memories of a life long lived. So when life starts to settle after the loss, the remaining possessions are passed around -  Inheritance. Inherently designed to help after loss as a loving gift, inheritance takes on another form for those of us with an early loss.

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A New Grief Project


The other day I was having a chat with a fellow widowed friend, and I shared an idea I had for a project about grief. As we discussed, the energy started to build around it. We began imagining this powerful version of it displayed in hospitals, galleries, or a book. The more we talked, the more clearly I could envision this idea. And I don’t usually share these ideas publicly so early on, but it’s what I feel really pulled to share about this morning.

The idea originated with my self portrait photographs I did in 2014 (shown in the photos with this post)… capturing my own grief story in photos was such a powerful experience. Once I wrapped up that project, I couldn’t help but wonder what it might be like to photograph others too. To capture them and their stories and their lives of living with grief. To capture all that it means to be grieving, from the loving moments and joyful newfound connections to the pain and despair. Showing people of all ages and types simply going through their own private experience of grief, and being there in the background to document moments of it. Being there to have conversations with them about all the many aspects of grief, and of the person they love as well. What I imagine this to be in whole is a collection of photographs and stories that documents grief in a way that unifies us all...

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Blurred Lines

Grief is hard. There is no denying that. There are things that are so obviously associated with grieving that I know will be difficult: anniversaries, birthdays, things that remind me of Mike and the list can go on. When those moments happen (or are soon going to happen) and I feel upset or angry or sad I can clearly attribute it to grief. It almost makes me satisfied to be able to classify it. “Ah, it would have been our wedding anniversary and I’m pissed he’s not here.” I know why I am feeling the way I am. It’s grief. I can give myself the grace to go easy on myself and let myself experience whatever emotion it is I need to feel.

The more difficult part is when I just feel sad, angry, or upset and I don’t know exactly why. Sometimes I just don’t feel like doing anything at all. I may just want my bed or I may cry over something that doesn’t seem significant. Is that still grief? I’m not necessarily crying about Mike but I still just feel sad or alone or whatever. I didn’t ever use to do that or feel that way so intensely before Mike died. Can it still be grieving? Is it something more? Is it normal to just have bad days for no reason? Is it for no reason? I just don’t know.

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The Miracle of a Well-Lived Life

Each April 26, I post a blog I wrote in the days after Chuck’s death. I called it “Happy Anniversary, Dear Man”. But it wasn’t about our wedding anniversary; it was about his sober anniversary.

One year, when I posted it, I was criticized for posting about his sober anniversary, because it broke Chuck’s anonymity, which is a crucial underpinning of the program of AA.

I understood where this person was coming from, as I myself am a recovered alcoholic, but I take another tack on it, now that Chuck is, you know…dead.

Chuck and I found sobriety together; it was another anniversary that we celebrated. In reality, if we didn’t both have a sober program, our marriage wouldn’t have happened the way that it did.

His program of sobriety was his to live when he was alive, and he lived it with grace and dignity. He believed in carrying the message of sobriety wherever it was possible, to whomever might need it.

In our hospice time, there were more than a handful of men and women who came to his bedside, to bring meetings to him, to receive final sponsorship from him, to learn from him, and thank him for his service and guidance to them.

And they presented him with his 25- year sober coin, even though he died 3 days shy of his 25th year. I had to convince him to accept it when he did. Chuck was very specific in previous years about not accepting a coin until the very day, aware as he was that up to that day, his sobriety wasn’t promised. The thing is, I told him, we didn’t know if he would be alive TO receive it on that day and he owed it to those he’d sponsored to honor him with it.

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Revolution 34

If many of my posts sound like a broken record, it’s because they are.  For those of you old enough to remember, the slightest scratch on a vinyl album could stop the music in its literal track and replace it with two seconds of repeating sounds.  It was aggravating when it happened. You could hope that it was just a blip. A speck of dust or an oddly perfect combination of bass vibrations that was causing the needle to jump back in time.

It usually wasn’t.  Being that the spiraling track of a record was actually a groove cut into the plastic, you couldn’t just “buff out” a scratch all that easily.  You couldn’t completely erase that imperfection. Every time the turntable spun to that exact point in your playlist, you would be greeted by a reminder that you didn’t handle your album with enough care, or that someone else mishandled it.  

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Makeshift Plan

I do not have it figured out yet.  But, day by day I am getting closer to finding my way back to life.  I have created a makeshift plan that I’m getting excited about. And, being even mildly excited is reason to celebrate because for nearly two years I’ve been completely underwhelmed by my life.

I know that my new life will be very different from the one I imagined sharing with him.  I wish it wasn’t this way, but it is.  The life of have now is completely unrecognizable compared to the life I shared with Mike.  But, this is the life I have. I can not go back to what was because it’s gone.  Our life together died with him. 

Whether I like it or not, I have to live without him. It’s up to me to make something out of my own life.  So, I’m attempting to do just that. And, the plan I’ve come up with is solid. But, it requires me to be patient because I have children under my roof. I can’t launch into big changes immediately, but I am preparing for what I’ve decided is inevitiable.  Finally, I have a plan for my future; and, this plan and my desire to dig back into life makes me very happy.  

For the first year, I simply survived his death. And, this took everything I had.  I discovered that I was built strong; but, my grief broke me in places too.  Now, I understand that breaking is a natural part of the process.  It is necessary and unavoidable.  When you fall to your knees - you will get bruised.  And, when you are forced to crawl in the ruins of your shattered life, you bleed from the shards of what was.  This is also necessary and unavoidable.  

 

It’s an understatement to say that the first year was compiled of the hardest days,

and long nights of my life.  

It was beyond awful.

But, with time, the bruising has healed.

And, see that my tears serve to cleansed me and ready me for what is ahead.

Somehow, I have survived his death.

And, now I am ready to do more than just survive.  

I’ve grown restless.  

I am no longer comfortable where I am.

I can no longer exist in this holding pattern. 

 I’ve outgrown this waiting place.  

I need to move towards the future.

Finally, 

I’m thirsty for life again!

 

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Long Time no See

The thing most people don’t get about losing your partner is that you also lose a part of yourself when they die. You lose aspects of who you were with them. You lose a lot of your innocence, without having any choice in the matter. You grieve a loss of your own self. This sudden identity change was an equally painful part of losing my fiance six years ago.

Death changes us, no doubt. And there’s this part of me that I had long-since accepted that I would never get back after he died. There was a lightness in who I was before. This effortless, joyful feeling. A distinct side of me that was silly and goofy and witty and warm. Which became replaced with something more akin to an over-serious somewhat distanced and far more uptight person. Of any part of myself, that lighthearted, goofy part is something I miss the most. My innocent self. My carefree self. Always ready to make those I love laugh. Always full of life and hungry for new experiences and filled with curiosity for life, love and people. She's a part of me that my new family has not really even met, which always gives me heartbreak.

As my birthday hit this weekend, I'm doing some reflecting, and realizing that maybe that part of me didn't actually die after all...

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