Mike's Birthday

April 6. Tomorrow. It’s Mike’s birthday. It would have been his 30th birthday. Instead, it is his 2nd birthday without him here. How is that possible? How is he not here to celebrate turning 30? Nevermind celebrating, how is he not here to turn 30 at all? He only lived to be 28 years old. It’s really not fair at all. Turning 30 years old seems like a given in life. It’s not like it’s something you ‘oooo’ and ‘ahhh’ over like turning 100. It just happens. Many of my friends, myself included, are doing it this year. Yet somehow, he is not. And he never will. It feels like a punch in the stomach. 

My family and his have always been big birthday people. Birthdays call for parties and celebrations. It is wonderful but now it is also difficult. Birthdays have so many memories attached to them. When the person is alive you’re looking forward to the year ahead but what happens when it doesn’t come? Then what?

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AND. Not Or~

We all know the power of words, especially in widowhood.

Words stream at us in loving support, with awkwardness, clumsy grace, and, unfortunately, in judgement.

We hear these words and phrases and they make us stronger or they make us want to hide.

We begin, as time passes, to hide ourselves. To isolate ourselves.

We present artificial selves to protect ourselves from judgements and maintain our daily lives, while our hearts and souls go underground.

Early on, in what I will presume was good intent, a friend told me to just fake it til you make it.

Instinctively, I knew that wasn’t an option for me. It felt like an unhealthy response to a genuinely traumatizing event.

As these few years have passed, I’ve spoken about life without my beloved husband, and the struggles of widowhood, in as real and authentic a way as possible.

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Happy Belated

Hey man,

 

Sorry I didn’t write you sooner.  As fate would have it, your birthday was last Wednesday, and this just happens to be the best forum for me to do this, albeit only on Tuesdays.  Sue me.

Anyway, this is the third year in a row that I’ve given you a birthday letter.  Last year, it was about cake and bacon beer (of which I did NOT get to partake in this year...you’re slacking, although, I did make a cake that was pretty damned good).  The year before, it was simply a personal thing, telling you about all the new things I was learning about being not only a widower, but dating a widow.

Mostly though, the song remains the same.  I still would have liked to know you personally, even though it would have absolutley sucked to see you gone.  There had to be something interesting about you that brought such a unique group of friends together. Friends who continue to remember your birthday every year.  Friends who still hate this day, because it reminds them ever more so that you’re not there wearing a purple tiara and having a beer with them.

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Hollow

In every store you visit the shelves are lined with colorful, foil wrapped chocolate bunnies.  They stand neatly organized in the aisles, adorned with ribbons and bows.  At first glance, these holiday treats catch your eye because they look shiny and decadent.  But, things aren't as they appear.  We know the bunnies are hollow inside even though they look substantial.  I am a lot like these chocolate Easter bunnies.  I appear to have my life together.  I look solid.  But, the reality is that inside I feel empty.

This may come off as slightly dramatic, but it is the truth.  After over 16 months, my life looks shiny and newly restored.  Outwardly, things have remained stable and solid.  In many ways I am a vision of widowed success.  I returned to a good career, I still have the house, the car, and the kids.  On the outside, the condition of my life looks good.  Aside from Mike's death, my life may even be enviable to some; but things are not as they appear.  Like the aesthetically pleasing chocolate bunnies, I look to be well dressed and professionally presented; but, inside me there is something lacking.   Inside of me, in my Soul, the landscape is sterile.  I am hollow inside like the foil bunnies.  On the inside of me there is 'nothing'.  Where there used to be unbridled joy there is now emptiness. 

 

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A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing

I’ve never kept many friends. My circle has changed from year to year. It changed drastically after Linzi passed away. In that regard, I’ve always considered myself a lone wolf.

 

The main reason being that more often than not they end up letting me down, not coming through on promises, or it could be that I’ve done the same and redemption was never had and issues were left unreconciled. Fill in the blank.

 

I’ve always been of the mentality that if you want something done best, done right, and done in accordance to your vision and ideals, you should do it yourself.

 

No matter the outcome of a situation or the fallout that ensues, it’s important that you always remember one thing: the only person who will ever truly know your intentions and values is you.

 

Others can only speculate. Others can assume the worst.

 

Let them.

 

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And That's Why You Don't Have a Baby

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.

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Let

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.

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His Girl

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 the

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In a Frozen World

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...

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Yo Ho Ho and a Bottle of Rum

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.

 

Make them.

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