Toronto Here We Come

In the morning, I am getting up at an ungodly hour (4am) to wait for my friends who are picking me up and then we are driving the 9 hour road trip to Toronto Canada for Camp Widow. We did this same thing last year, and we had fun on our car ride together. And of course, after arriving, the weekend was filled with healing, laughter, grief tools, honoring love, and friendship. I expect nothing less to be true this time around. 

It is the 10 year anniversary of Soaring Spirits International, and the founder, Michele Neff Hernandez, has decided to step down from doing her "Key Note Address", which she has done at every single Camp Widow since the event began. At each camp event, she creates a themed talk , always with a beautiful and poignant and different message, and she delivers it on the big stage on the Saturday morning at 9 am of the Camp Widow weekend. Her Key Note has always been my very favorite part of camp, and I can already feel myself getting emotional as I think about never hearing her words of comfort and wisdom again on that stage. I wonder who else will do the Key Notes, and will I be moved by their message? I'm not the greatest when it comes to change, and right now, I'm still in the deep mourning phase of my acceptance of this reality. 

The other thing going on for me is that this year, I am in a beautiful relationship with my next great love story. And although I love going to Camp Widow and always will, I don't want to leave him behind right now, for reasons I cant get into here, but I just wish we could be together at this time. He cant come with me because of work and other commitments and money, so we will part for 4 days and miss each other and talk every day and all of that. 

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Resting Sad Face

There’s this term that is frequently used called “resting bitch face.” It describes someone whose neutral or resting face looks like they are annoyed or mad.  

I don’t have that.

What I have is resting sad face.

I don’t know when it started. Presumably sometime after Mike died since he (or anyone else) had never mentioned it to me before.

It was first pointed out to me by David a few months into dating. I had no idea I was doing it. I’m resting, doing nothing, and he says to me in the most concerned, worried, panicked voice, “What happened? What’s wrong? Are you ok?” I just looked at him, “what?” I had no idea what he was talking about. He described how I looked so devastatingly sad. Nothing in particular was wrong at that moment. I don’t even think I was thinking about anything. Just relaxing.

He continued to point it out and be concerned whenever he saw it. I had to assure him that I was my usual self. I thought he was over analyzing. I wasn’t doing anything with my face. Then I was hanging out with my family one day and my sister and David were there. They were talking and I was kind of zoned out I guess. My sister interrupts the conversation to say, “Olivia, are you okay? What’s wrong?” in the same panicked, worried voice David had used that first time. David smiles at me as if to say, “see, I’m not crazy” and then they discuss it.

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One Word

I was asked recently to speak at an AA meeting in my old community in NJ.

I’ll be traveling there at the end of this week. It’s been 3 years since I’ve connected with family and friends there. Family and friends who knew Chuck, who knew me when I was with Chuck.

Memories will hit hard. I’m not trying to set myself up for that; I’m merely acknowledging the fact.

Family and friends will surround me with Love.

That’s a good thing.

So the topic of the particular meeting that I’m speaking at is “gratitude”, which is a really tough word for me to grasp.

Because here’s the truth of the truth of the tree of life that is my life since Chuck died…

I don’t feel gratitude for anything in my life.  I know that’s a terrible, forbidden thing to say, in life, but, I think, especially as a widow.

We’re supposed to have gratitude for, I don’t know…everything.

But it’s hard to feel gratitude anything when I don’t feel gratitude for life.

Which is also practically sinful to say, I realize. How can anyone not feel gratitude for being alive?

Alas and alack…I don’t.

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For almost two years, I have kept a small, hand picked assortment of condiments in my freezer. The content of these containers have long expired; but, still, I can not bring myself to throw them out because they are from the recent past - when Mike was alive.

These common containers are anything but ordinary. To me, they are stale, sticky, well used time capsules. These bottles cue me to remember the life we shared together. And, I am just not ready to throw out these visual reminders because they bring to life so many heartfelt memories.

Logically, I know that the bottles should be recycled. 
But, they are not refuse to me. Instead, they are dreamy treasures from our past.
Many times, these containers were casually set out on our kitchen table where they quietly witnessed our conversations. These simple bottles stood watch over us during many shared meals. These containers silently observed all the love and laughter in our home. And, I just don’t have the heart to part with them because they were present when the happiest days of my life unfolded.


To me, these simple bottles are sentries 
who bore witness to my life with the man I love.


Mike is gone from here, so now our shared memories feel lopsided because the other person who was present, 
is now absent. When the other rememberer dies, they can not share in the recall of our memories. It is a further loss. 

Therefore, out of necessity,

I have developed a strange kinship with these stale condiments because they were present when Mike was alive.

These bottles have become somewhat holy to me

because they are inanimate bystanders who witnessed the love between us. 

They were present in the past; and, unlike Mike, 

they are still physically here.


I know that these partially used bottles of sauce are unlikely relics. But, nonetheless, these condiments have become sacred to me because the sight of them takes me back to another time - a time when Mike was still alive.
And, no, I’m not crazy.





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Their Best Selves in Us

I found this quote last week and it has really stuck in my mind. I feel like I’ve tried so hard just to find myself again since he died that maybe I’ve lost sight of this a little. Continuing on has a way of doing that I guess.

When he first died, I was so aware of this idea. The man died for his dreams… literally. He was in a helicopter flying as a job, the thing he had dreamed of doing, when he crashed and died. It kind of made it hard to use the excuse that I’m “scared” anymore after that. Especially because it’s not like I had particularly dangerous dreams like being a pilot. I mean, probably no one has ever died from exhibiting their artwork in galleries. So I guess that was one of the qualities I have tried hard to emulate… telling myself “fear is not a good enough reason anymore”. I’ve still let a lot of fear get in the way, but I’ve definitely experienced some amazing new things from following his example since he died.

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To Urn or Not to Urn

We still haven’t been able to put Clayton to rest. His mother’s stroke has resulted in her having to move near relatives and figure out a new life. Until then, Clayton sits in a (beautiful) Urn in our apartment. At first it was unsettling, having to look at a container that holds the dust of the person you want to hold the most. You want to keep it and put them to rest all at the same time for, what feels like, competing selfish reasons but that is another layer of the loss.

I don’t have many friends in the small beach town where I live. When we moved here, my job took a lot of time and Clayton’s job had us with different days off. There wasn’t time to meet people before we lost time. Now that Clayton is gone, I have a lot of empty space and time. This past week I invited 41 people that I knew in the area to come over for wine and some social time. I set up my house and got all the fun drinks and food for a mellow social evening. The house was cleaned and I was ready to go but then Clayton caught my eye. His Urn is in the living room where everyone would be and everyone knows that he is here. I didn’t know what to do. Too urn or not to urn? That was an awful question and a terrible feeling. Do I keep Clayton’s Urn where it is because he was (and is) a huge part of my life or do I put his urn in the bedroom to keep things from being awkward? Either way I felt incredible guilt.

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Being Dead Is Not A Happy Anniversary

Tomorrow is my wedding anniversary. 

It would have been 12 years of lovely marriage. 

Instead, we got 4 years and 9 months. 

But who's counting? 

And does it even really matter anymore? 

I mean, I think that no matter how many years it's been since the last anniversary, this day will always hit me like a bag of bricks across the heart. I just think it will always hurt that my marriage was ended abruptly by death. It will always hurt and be unfair to me that I will never celebrate a decade of marriage with Don Shepherd. Or 2 decades, or 3. Or our first child, first house, vacations, life struggles, career moves, on and on and on. I think that no matter what, I will always feel intense sadness on my wedding anniversary, and I will always have this "lost puppy" feeling, of not knowing where to go or what to do on that day.

Tomorrow just sucks. Tomorrow is hard. Im still uncomfortable with being around humans on that day. I feel awkward and filled with sadness when they cheerily say: "Happy Anniversary!" , or when they tell me to "cherish the love you had!" Yes. Thank you for the advice, but don't you think I already cherish the love I had and still have, every single second of every day? Cherishing something while also being aware that it is forever gone , is a pretty empty feeling. 

So, tomorrow, and probably forever on every October 27th, here is what I miss: 

I miss getting flowers from my husband on our anniversary. 

Now, sometimes on that day, I will buy myself some flowers. If I feel up to it. But usually, I just do nothing, because buying myself flowers feels worse than not having them. 

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A Real Page Turner

I’m 38 today.  Eight years since 30, 2 years until 40.  Is it supposed to be surreal? Am I truly supposed to feel like I’m getting older?  I guess I’m considered middle-aged, or “getting up in the years”.  But, do I feet like I'm anywhere near the end of the story?

I don’t.  I don’t feel old or long in the tooth.  Sure, my back hurts about half the time.  Falling ill tends to floor me a bit more than it ever did, no matter how minor.  I don’t know what the latest craze is among twenty-somethings.

Then again, I was married and bought a house at 24.  I had a child at 26. I was widowed by age 34. Hell, I’m 20 years into my career at this point.  Had I re-enlisted in the Marine Corps and stuck with it, I could have RETIRED last month.

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How do I reenter life?  The life I knew and loved has been radically changed.  There is simply no returning to it.  That life is over.  I can not resume where he and I left off.  I need to rebuild.  But, where do I begin? 


When he died I felt my foundation shift and collapse. 

I buried Mike, but it was me

who was buried alive by the wreckage of our dilapitdated life. 


For a long time I thought that maybe if I stood still he’d come for me.  I thought he would somehow find me and save me from the ruins of our lost life.  Then, after a while, I realized that Mike was not coming back - ever.  I recognized that I was on my own.  I knew that I had to rescue myself.  But, I felt disoriented and far from battle ready. 

Early on, Grief had the upper hand because my confidence and self identity were lost and buried deep in the rubble of our shattered life. Even now, I can barely process all the changes that have occurred in the last 23 months. 



To soothe my Soul, I catch myself instinctively rocking and clutching my collarbone - as I choke for breathe.  I do this more often than I care to admit.  Daily.  My life is not easy anymore.  In fact, it is often so overwhelming that my breath is chaotic.

I'm tired of being out of breath.   

I have to starting breathing life in, or it will pass me by.  I know this.  Yet, despite what I know, I am still standing on the sidelines waiting to catch my breath.  I feel myself watching life unfold.  And, I know that I need to get back in the game.  I hate that I have benched myself because I am tired.  I hate that I am sitting out rather than breaking a sweat in the game of life.  I am growing impatient with myself and my lack of commitment.  I can't just write about actioning change.  I need to bring my ideas to life.  And, to do this I have to leave the safety and predictability of the sidelines behind.  When I start participating in the game,  I will bring myself back to life.  I know this.  So, it's about time I do this. 


But, I suppose,

In fairness, it is hard to remain confident and self assured when your world implodes. 

However, you do learn what you’re made of when your world collapses. 

Everything you are is exposed. 


I’ve spent almost two years on my hands and knees collecting the shards of myself that survived his death. 

But, I’m over it now. 

I’ve grown bored.

I’m tired of combing through the litter of my old life. 

Now, I am ready to do something with the tattered pieces I salvaged from the rubble of what was.



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Moments that Honor Them

There are days when this new life feels so connected to past lives. Days when I swear I can feel the joy of all our loved ones radiating through from some other realm. Usually, it’s the days I let go of trying to make everything go right and perfect and remember to just live and have fun. In those moments I can feel their presence, and I can feel healing happening within the joy.

A few nights ago, we had our first Halloween party at the house. Me, my new partner Mike, and his daughter Shelby, now almost 12. Her mother loved Halloween, so it’s become a connection to their past life that we still celebrate in a huge way.

Shelby still talks about one amazing Halloween party they had when she was 5. Each of the past few years since I’ve met Mike and moved into their lives, I’ve listened to her recall the stories of that party with such fondness. And each year I’ve felt sad that I didn’t plan a party for Halloween.

This year was different though. A few weeks ago, I decided to finally have one... to create new memories that honor the old memories...

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