The Challenge of Living At All

Sometimes I wonder, is life harder because I have been widowed or would have been just as hard in different ways if I had never been widowed? It’s a question I think on when I have long talks with friends who aren’t widowed, who are going through their own complex lives… complete with blended, divorced families and step kids or uncertainty in their current relationship, or loneliness and feeling unsure about their career or life purpose.

Our thirties and forties have taken us places I think none of us imagined. We used to all live across town from one another, and the most complicated stuff we really dealt with was the dating scene and fighting traffic across town to meet up together at our favorite bar every Tuesday night. We still look back at those days now with such nostalgia… it was a few good years where things were easy, good friends were plentiful, and there were no major catastrophes. For a short time we all were able to relax into the present moment of our lives.

Drew’s death changed everything. It was the beginning of life becoming far more complex… and it happened to occur when I was turning 30. I feel like it’s so easy sometimes to blame the grief. To feel like all the complexity and extra difficulty and all the changes that have been hard are the fault of grief and being widowed. But I don’t really think that’s true at all.

Had Drew not died, I would have been married within a year likely… and moved out of Dallas anyway - as was our plan. I would have then followed his career as a pilot wherever it took us around the country… likely living somewhere new every few years or so. Had we adopted a child by now, which was our eventual plan, I would be going through the same fears and doubts and struggles with learning how to be a mother as I am with my new partner Mike’s child now. And I would have been doing it a bit more alone, while Drew was likely gone a lot for flying gigs that would have him on contracts for weeks or months.

Death or not, my life was going to change drastically. And many of the complex things that happened in my friends’ lives were not because of grief either. The complicated stuff they now deal with in their lives is just a part of growing up into our thirties and forties and beginning new phases of their lives. Phases none of us were especially prepared for, it seems...

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Sympathy Pains

I’m sitting in the waiting room at the doctor’s office. About a week ago I started having stomach pain and strong exhaustion. I, uncharacteristically, do not have an appetite and I have lost 10 lbs in less than two weeks. At first I thought it was something I ate. A few days passed and I thought it was probably just a stomach bug. After a week it eased up and I had a few days of “normal” and the odd pain and discomfort has returned.

At any other point in life, I wouldn’t think too much about my digestion being off. That happens to everyone, right? However, the loss of Tin makes me unique compared to many other people. I just watched my partner’s health rapidly decline and he lost his life. What’s worse - To lose someone suddenly or to watch it slowly happen? You can argue both sides and both sides have their own traumatic effects in one’s mind creating a vessel full of emotions. Like a pot of boiling water, if you keep watching it never boils but as soon as you let your guard down and look away those tiny little bubbles join forces, take over the pot and spill your head and heart onto the fire.

For me, watching Tin fade and go through liver failure all in 8 short months has been difficult and this week I noticed a silent and deep wound, my new fear - Will I suffer the same fate? Why would I think this could happen and why be so afraid? Because I now have the knowledge of how this disease could slowly take me. Irrational? Yes. That doesn’t stop the wound because it is etched into my mind that Tin’s illness was unexpected and began with stomach discomfort and exhaustion.

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Shoutout to the Plants Growing Through Concrete

I heard the quote, “shoutout to the plants growing through concrete” and liked it. I thought of seeing a plant or two pushing its way through to continue growing towards the light. I thought of what I believe the quote intended, that a seemingly small, fragile plant can actually be stronger than what is thought to be powerful, forceful concrete. That a person, who is acted on by forces seemingly much stronger than themselves, can in fact break through and continue to grow despite whatever tried to bury them. I love that imagery. I always pictured it in a small scale though. Maybe one or two lonely but resilient plants.

Then I took this walk through what use to be untouched natural land. There was a paved path so people could walk through. I was so amazed by what I saw. Endless amounts of plants that had been paved over pushing through and distorting the pavement to continue growing. Not just growing through existing cracks but making way for themselves and creating the cracks for themselves after being fully covered with nowhere to go. Making cracks so big that it is difficult to walk on the pavement in this area. The plants have pushed the pavement out of the way. I was so excited by this. It isn’t just one, strong plant, it is so many, different types of plants growing together. It made me think of the many, many people who have obstacles thrown in their way and how so many of them choose to keep fighting and “grow through their pavement” whatever that may be. I thought of the widow community, my widowed friends, people I’ve met at Camp Widow, or even just in online groups, and about how many strong, resilient people I’ve had the privilege of witnessing and growing beside. I think of all the people that don’t just sit idle and let themselves be paved over. It really is inspiring.

This is now my favourite walk to take. I silently root for those little plants to keep growing through and hope for the ones that are still buried underneath to push through on their own or with the help of the other plants. Nature’s resilience is amazing. People’s resilience is too.

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Heart and Soul

When your heart and soul are just so tired, 5 years in.

Not for any particular reason, really.

Everything is pretty much the same as it’s always been.

Even when life is routine, my spirit is tired. And, yes, life on the road can be routine.

Tired from doing and being and all the stuff that comes from living a life that is so achingly and shockingly different from the life that was going to be.

Widowing.

How many of us just get out there and do what life requires? How many of us go beyond that requirement and strive to truly create a life for ourselves, alongside all the grief and devastation?

And we do, by god. But, Jesus, it’s exhausting.

To me, anyways.

Underlying all the doing and creating and self-care and just…everything….is the overriding knowing that I’ll never see him again, and I ache all over with that knowing.

Sort of like a continual flu.

And you just learn to live with it.

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Edited Memories

As Sarah, Shelby and I near the time to depart for our summer vacation, I am reminded of just how different things were, and I am finding some appreciation of the very fact that as a widower, those differences weren’t always convenient.  We’re traveling to my favorite place on earth, the Great Smoky Mountains, at the end of July.

Megan and I always took our “big” road trips around this time.  In between her birthday and our anniversary, occuring about 10 days later.  It was convenient, because of large annual festivals going on around home, it got us away from the tourists invading our space, and allowed us to be tourists ourselves.  We always did quite a bit of shopping and “touristy” type things, but my eyes were constantly transfixed on those mountains, standing like 6500-foot ramparts on the edge of the tiny town of Gatlinburg.  

I knew, given Megan’s illness, that the majority of the time spent in the trees, creeks, and cool air would be supplanted by more pedestrian endeavors in gift shops and restaurants.  I would see far more people than birds. Kitschy “mountain man” shops, selling red plaid, black teddy bears, and pine scented soap would be chock full of persons wearing fanny packs and crocs, scoffing at the idea of walking any further than a few feet from their car to see a real black bear or smell a stately stand of pines on a mountaintop.  

I hated the very thought of Gatlinburg, but I still loved going there.  I still do.

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Beginnings

It goes without saying that I miss Mike.  He was my life companion.  My best friend.  My lover.  My Soul's mate.  He was my person.  The one who championed me.  He was the man who loved me to the depths of my Soul - from the depth of his own. 

But, now he is dead.  And, I am here missing all that he was.

To say that I miss his love is an understatement.  When he was alive, Mike introduced me a love that was big, bold, and beautiful.  I long to have our love back.  And, a piece of me will always desire his love because it is impossible to have been shown a love of this power and immensity and not want more of it - to want it to last forever.  Suffice to say, Mike made me a life long fan of love.  And, today, like every day, I continue to crave his physical presence in my life. 

Simply 'sensing' his presence is not the same for me.  Continuing to love someone in separation -across dimensions- is possible, but it is different from loving each other in the physical world.

I don't know much, but I know that Mike still loves me from afar, from wherever he is.  But, now, his love is no longer tangible to me.  I know that his love has grown deeper since he died; but, now, his love is not something I can experience with all my senses.  I struggle because I want his love to still be enough to sustain me - for the rest of my life - but it is not enough.  I wish it was.  But, it just isn't.  As a human being I need more; and, it is crushing to admit this to myself.

I was 43 years old when Mike took his last breath.  I was young.  I am still young.  And, age aside, I can not imagine living the rest of my life alone.  And, this isn't because I am afraid of being alone.  I'm divorced - I've chosen to be alone before.  And, again, as a widow, I will chose to remain alone unless true love comes for me.  But, for reasons I can't explain, I know that love will find me again one day - in some capacity.        

Since Mike died, I've accepted that I need a palpable love.  I know and respect that some widowed people are content to remain alone.  They are satisfied with their choice and I am envious of them in some ways.  I often question why I am not completely happy without being in love.  I don't know the answer to this.  But, after 602 days, I accept that I need a type of love that the man I love can not give me anymore.   I need a love I can taste with my lips.  A love I can see with my eyes.  A love I can hear with my ears.  A love I can touch with my hands.  I want to be drunk on a love like this - again-  before my life is over.

 

 

I know...

Mike wants me to be happy.

Mike wants me to live.

Mike wants me to love and be loved again.

I want these things too.

But, this is not easy stuff.

Or, is it?

 

Outliving your spouse is many things, and simple isn't one of them. 

It is complicated.  All sorts of complicated. 

But, at the same time, it is actually very straightforward too.

 

 

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Listen to their Hearts

I think I’ve always been interested in the ways that people celebrate or carry on the memory of a loved one throughout their lives. Something last time got me thinking again about this topic.

Around this time last year, my new partner Mike took me to see Tom Petty on what ended up being his final tour. It’s not as though I knew this musician personally, but his music has always been a huge part of my life. Almost a year after his death, I am still grieving as if I lost a friend. I suppose a lot of folks are.

It was after Drew’s death that I found an especially close connection to his music. For a year, I photographed portraits of myself to explore my own grief and to tell my story in a visual way. Music was almost always playing in the background… very specific music that helped me to get into the heart of my emotions. Tom Petty became a regular in the background, and the more I listened to his words as I created my own stories, the more deeply those words became woven into what I created. Songs like Learning to Fly, Angel Dream, I Won’t Back Down, and more all felt like they were telling some piece of my story. I guess that’s what he was so good at though… he was telling all of our stories.

Last week, we went to a tribute concert here in town… a whole bunch of local bands were up there on stage taking turns singing Petty’s songs. And at the end, they all came up together - some two dozen people - and sang a few final songs. What an incredible energy it was.

It’s times like that when I think, “This is the way you do it. This is how you keep living on when someone dies. These people get it”. You celebrate them, and you keep on celebrating them. Granted Tom Petty isn’t just any random person, and it becomes easy to celebrate someone who made great, iconic music… but it’s more about the mindset of this idea that I think is a great takeaway for everyday life after loss. Why can’t we all celebrate our dead people and the gifts they left with us so openly? Why can’t we all have a concert or a celebration once a year or whenever the hell we feel like it just to celebrate them? What stops us? Or maybe the better question is, how can we infuse this kind of celebration into our daily lives and continue to keep our loved ones a part of the story for many years to come?

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History Repeats Itself All Too Often Too Soon

Since losing Tin, I look to each new week as a new horizon that will bring brighter days. This is my fourth post and I thought, maybe by now, my blog would have small sparks of settlement in the chaos. I guess it is good to hope but bad to assume. A very fine line that I often fail to recognize these days. I’ll keep the faith that those brighter days are to come but it is difficult with the unexpected challenges that continue to appear. I feel as though I have never heard of anyone else going through all of the milestone days associated with a loss along with the strange scenarios I have recently found myself cornered in. Yes cornered is a great description of how I feel and this week has been one of the most unmanageable yet.

Those who haven’t lost a partner can’t understand the extent of the loneliness. No one to wake up to. No one texting through the day to see how you are. No one to plan dinner with. No one to fold laundry with. No one in the room at the end of the night to wish you sweet dreams and provide a sense of safety through the night. Worst of all – No one to enjoy those special dates with. The lack of a person makes them almost unbearable.

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Fire and Rain and Huge Grief Triggers

So last month, June  14th, was my one-year anniversary with Nick, my new love. My new beginning. My "next great love story." I never know how to refer to us, but thats another post for another time. I dont like the term "chapter two", because he deserves way more than a chapter, as did my dead husband Don. But back to the point .......

I just returned from a mini-road trip (2 overnights in the Berkshires and then Sturbridge Mass), which was Nick's anniversary gift to me, taking us on this getaway which kicked off with seeing James Taylor in concert at Tanglewood, on the evening of July 4th. We had lawn seats, which was so much fun and such a cool vibe, walking through the wooded path with our cooler of picnic food, blanket, lawn chairs, and excitement; as we found and chose our place on the lawn near the stage. James Taylor has a voice that brings me back to nostalgia - back to childhood days and innocent times and being back in high school with old friends. I expected his music to be a bit emotional maybe for me. I did not expect the grief tsunami of triggers that happened toward the end of the concert. I did not expect the intensity and severity of these emotions to come on so quickly and suddenly. I did not expect that, even after almost 7 years into this, grief can still take the reigns and take full control and attack you full-force without your consent. 

It was toward the end of the concert, about 4 or 5 songs from what would be the last one. We were sitting in our lawn chairs, in the dark humid night, with thousands of others, loving and basking in the music of this talented man. It happened during the song "Fire and Rain", a classic for any Taylor fan. The song is about his childhood friend, Suzanne, who died by suicide, and Taylor's reaction to it. It is also about his own struggles in life with addiction. As he sang this song, I noticed HE was getting emotional, and his voice cracked slightly when he sang the line: "I've seen lonely times when I could not find a friend - but I always thought that I'd see you again." Suddenly, the tsunami hit. My heart started burning with intense sadness, and a furiously fast flash of music-related memories of me and Don started blinking through my mind, all at once, one following the next and the next. Don strumming his guitar in our apartment. Seeing Paul McCartney together in concert, twice. Seeing Fleetwood Mac together. Being in our friends recording studio doing a recording of me singing and Don playing lead guitar on "Sweet Emotion" by Aerosmith. Sitting on our living room couch and playing CD's for each other. Talking to him that first night in that music chat room.

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Planning Hawaii

I’m all finished with school for the summer and heading to Hawaii with David! By the time this posts on Thursday I will already be there actually.  I’m really excited to go. We have a lot of exciting things planned to do. Planning the trip was easy with David because we were interested in the same activities. If he found an idea of something he liked I was always super excited about it and vice versa. As we were planning, we started a shared document to use as an itinerary and for the first time since Mike died I was actually excited to use it.

I think I mentioned in a previous post when I was on vacation with my friend Heather about how I had lost my enthusiasm for trip planning. I had still wanted to go on trips but I didn’t have the motivation, concentration or memory to be able to plan the details of flights, cars, stay, and researching and coordinating things to do. It was frustrating to me because I had always been good at it and enjoyed it. It used to be my thing. Then after Mike died I couldn’t seem to care less even though I tried. And even when I tried I missed important things that could have caused a disaster travelling. I eventually just started to go with the flow of someone else organizing everything but I felt a bit numb doing that.

Planning for Hawaii has been so completely different. I feel like me. I have been on top of researching what I want to do, where, and when and following up with companies about booking.  I have every little detail documented in order with confirmation numbers, times, location etc. I printed all the excursions, car, stay, flight confirmation emails and put them in order. Maybe it’s a little intense but organizing and planning makes me feel good. I had just been in a shift for a while. I don’t want to say my trip planning “is back”or I’m the “old me”  because I don’t believe you ever really go back. Plus, this trip is so different than anything I had previously planned. It is a very active, adventurous trip. It’s full of a lot of things that I probably wouldn’t have done before. I’m not just making lists of possible sites to see; I’m planning, booking and gathering the needed gear for some pretty intense activities.  I think I’ve used my previous organization skills to be my basis for planning for a more rigorous, absolutely-need-it-all-figured-out and be prepared trip. It’s my 2.0 version of planning.

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