Paradox

Anniversaries are, in general, a prompt for looking back.  They’re an annual reminder to be reminded of the past. While oftentimes, an anniversary is also a milestone, it still remains that, simply put, an anniversary measures the passage of time.  

They don’t really MEAN anything to widows.  Our person is neither more, nor less dead on their death anniversary than they are on any other day, but damned if we aren’t reminded of the fact that they ARE dead a whole hell of a lot more.

Interestingly, other dates tend to morph into this reminder as well.  Shelby’s upcoming birthday? I’m always reminded of the fact Megan isn’t there to see her reach twelve years old.  Halloween? Megan loved halloween...she would enjoy being here. The anniversary of the date I was discharged? Oh wow, now I remember how I met Megan a few months after that.

That’s the thing, it’s like I can’t have an anniversary or holiday anymore without feeling the pressing need to remember Megan and either A) remember how she was on that day, or B) point out the fact that she’s not there.

But today’s anniversary?  It’s different.

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Lifelines

This is not how I imagined my life. 

We should have been in our new house for over two years now. 

Mike and I should be celebrating our two year Wedding Anniversary

August 20th, 2019. 

But, he died.  And, none of this happened or will happen. 

There is no shared home. 

There will not be a Wedding Anniversary. 

There won't be anything. 

Zero. 

There is nothing more.

Not one thing will be added to our story.

He is my heart.  But, Mike is the past.

 

Even though this is my story, it seems surreal to me most of the time.  I have to continually remind myself that this is actually real.  He is really gone from here.  Mike really died.  Ugh, I think I type this so often because I am desperately hoping that it will finally imprint onto my heart.  Cognitively I get it.  I know he's gone, but on a heart level I still struggle to accept this; but, as I've mentioned in previous blogs, I am working on it.  This third year of widowhood I will work on accepting his death on a heart level.  I have to do this in order to live without him.  For me, it is not possible to fully engage in my own life until I can accept that our life together is over.

As every widowed person knows, acceptance takes time, hard work and a consistent effort.  Acceptance does not just magically occur with the passage of time.  When ready, we, the bereaved, need to actively work to accept the death of our beloveds.  For the first year, I could not even consider accepting his death.  I hated it.  I think I hoped against hope that Mike would somehow come back to life and we would resume where we left off.  When Mike suddenly died, all our hopes and dreams died with him and I was left here to kick the tires without him. 

In the last few years, I recognize that I am doing a decent job of surviving his death, but it has not been easy.  Being Mike's widow is easily the hardest thing I have ever done.  Widowhood itself has not necessarily gotten "easier" with time, but it has become different.  My grief has definitely changed.  Now, it is no longer primal.  It is not as gutting.  Instead, my grief has become a permanent dull ache inside me.  My grief is softer around the edges, but it continues to take up a lot of space in my heart.  It still keeps me from actively and fully engaging in my life.  I half-heartedly go through the motions; but, I still feel somewhat detached from my own life.  Yet, I sense change.  I feel that this will change for the better, eventually. 

I've survived my first two years of widowhood because of the strong connections I made with other widowed people.   I have been helped through the longest days and loneliest nights of my life by fellow widows and widowers.  These people have become my Lifelines - the people who have been present in his absence.  I'm still standing because of human beings who, despite their own heartache, chose to support me in my grief.  Several widows and widowers have come into my life and loved me when Mike is no longer here to do this for himself.  The impact their presence has made in my life is beyond measure.  I have managed to survive Mike's death, in large part, because of the continual support of these kind people.  A strong kinship exists in the widowed community because we know the ugliness of grief and we come together to hold space for each other.  

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Sticks and Stones

Sticks and stones…They were wrong, words do hurt….

 

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When Love Wins out Over Fear

It’s been a little over a month now since Mike proposed. I’ve had a few hard triggers. Trying to think about planning a wedding has been tough at first. The last time I was going to marry someone, he died before we ever got to the big day. He died before we ever even got into the true planning. So needless to say, that part of me that remembers is very aware. I’ve had a few moments of just bursting into heavy, deep sobs because sometimes it feels like reliving the past and it gets very scary to imagine it all disappearing again.

I’ve worried this whole process would be too much to handle, and too emotional to deal with, and that I wouldn’t even be able to manage the idea of planning a wedding ever. But aside from those moments where the fears get big and scary, most of the time, I’ve felt a new awareness of time and a new appreciation for each day.

Just last week, I told Mike, “I’ve gotten to be engaged to you for a whole month now! That’s more than I ever got to before!” And it’s true. Just as with each anniversary year we have hit (4 YEARS next week, wow!)… there is a feeling of thankfulness that we’ve somehow gotten this far. Part of me is still expecting it all to fall apart at any moment like it did when Drew died. But instead of being so afraid of that, I just feel excited for every small piece. Excited to ask one of my best friends to make our wedding cake. Excited to ask another of our closest friends to be the one to marry us. And honored, so honored, that I get the privilege to have had one whole month of planning such a special day, so far. Even if all went wrong and it didn't happen, I still got this part. I still got to spend all this wonderful time dreaming of the day - which is something that was taken from me the last time I was going to marry my person. 

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Superbowl Sunday and a Brand New Life

The year was 2005, and it was a cold day in February. 

I looked out the window of my New Jersey apartment, which sat on the Hudson River. NYC looked back at me. 

I put the coffee pot on, and started making the meatballs and sauce. My Nana Mary's lasagna recipe, with bow tie pasta and meatballs and ribs on the side. 

I had made it for Don the first time we met in person, about 3 years after we began talking in that music chat trivia room. 

He had flown all the way from Florida to Jersey, to meet me, to stay with me for a few days, to fall in love. 

I took him into my apartment on that day, and we sat at my kitchen table and shared our first meal together. 

That was the first time he said to me: "My Boo makes the bestest food ever! I could get used to this!" 

 

So, here I was , a few years later, making it again, in anticipation of his arrival. 

Except this time, I would not have to say goodbye at the end of a few days. 

This time, he was staying. 

Don Shepherd was moving in with me on that day. 

He had his whole life inside that Penske truck that was attached to his 1997 Grand Prix car - 

soon he would be pulling up onto my street, and emptying out everything he owned out of that truck and into my small apartment. 

Soon, my small apartment would become "our" small apartment. 

His cat Isabelle that sat in his lap while he drove, would become "our" cat. 

Soon, we would begin our life together. 

It was Superbowl Sunday,

and the start of a brand new life. 

 

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Grief and the People I Meet

 

     I have to expect that my widowed parent journey is, and will always be, just that: MY widowed parent journey.  It is unlikely that I will meet another single parent who like me stood over his father-in-law, mother-in-law and wife while they all took their last breath.  Whenever I share this fact, most people’s jaws drop in surprise, and then people get quiet, and struggle to say something meaningful.  My grief for my wife is intertwined with my grief for her parents and the life we had.  I used to get really annoyed with people who quickly try to change the topic.  Now I have more understanding for them.  How can I expect them to respond correctly?  No one truly knows what to say in times of grief.  Besides, words that work today may not work tomorrow.  Or, words that work for me may not work for others.  Also, since my grief for my wife is intertwined with my grief for her parents, how can I really expect others to understand the complexities of my grief, grief that can quickly turn into anger?  This is where gratitude is very helpful.

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A Hall of Memories~

You and I, my Love,

We...

Are echoes in the halls of memories.

In lands far away and beyond the clouds

so beautifully and achingly tinged with vibrant colors,

I search for you.

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Joy Isn't Found in Tap Water

Grief is messy. And, it demands our attention. Grief does not follow a predictable route, and neither should you. There is no road map to follow.  You need to find your own way through this.  You need to follow your heart and trust your instincts.  When your person dies, no one hands you a manual that explains how to handle the cruddy stuff that grief will throw at you.  You learn by experience.  And, by necessity, you become better at grief with practice. 

You go about life.  You continue to live because there is no other choice.  And, as you navigate this alternative life, you will bump into things along the way, that's a given.  If you are colliding into things this means you are moving. And, if you are moving you are reentering life.  Momentum is good.

 

This morning, I was feeling disappointed with myself because I am “still” sad. 

(And, this is because after two full years, he is still dead.)

I  lay in bed a little too long, hesitating to greet Sunday morning

because I’m just plain tired of being wrecked by my brokenness.

 

But, instead of resisting it,  I know that I have to acknowledge my grief and lean into it.   I also know that I will be less sad one day; however, this “missingness” for Mike will always be with me, in some capacity, for my entire life.  Maybe I need to make it a strength somehow, instead of a weakness.  Maybe I have to use it to somehow propel me back towards life.  But, none of this is simple or easy. You know this.

This morning, as I lay in bed, I thought about how I've become ridiculously tired of making coffee for one.  Dejected by my lack of both coffee and life partner,  I sigh for the millionth time.  I lay still and stared vacantly at the ceiling while creating an elaborate, imaginary conversation between Mike and I.  This practice of drifting off to a place in my mind where I keep Mike alive is becoming less soothing with time.  It is a useless drill.  It doesn’t bring him back to life. Nothing will. 

Realizing the futility in all this, I throw back the blankets and limp out of bed.  I stood in the bathroom and noticed, with disappointment, how lacklustre my eyes look.  There is no spark in their darkness anymore.  As my wonderful widow friend would say, "Well, that's f@cking fantastic."   And, she's right.  This is just lovely.  I've got no spark.  I will add this to my to do list.  Find my sparkiness again. ✔️

 

In a weak effort to resuscitate the parts of me that have been dormant

for over two years,

I splashed cold water on my face. 

And, Nothing. 

Nothing happened.

Well, I’m not surprised. 

I figured it was going to take more than tap water to fix this. 

Joy does not drip out of my facet. 

Joy isn't found in tap water - good to know.

 

 

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Home is where the heart is

It’s taken me months and months to bring up the courage to go to dinner with a friend. Sounds crazy but she was Clayton’s favorite coworker and he is all we have in common. I knew it hit her hard when he passed and I knew she would want to talk about it. I guess that is just another layer of widowhood that others don’t understand – We want to see you but the memories you trigger are to strong for us to handle right now.

 

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An Expert on Death

This afternoon, I was honored to be a guest-lecturer / speaker for a large class of mostly pharmacy students at Ohio State University, who will one day be future practioners. Due to the magic of the inter-webs, I spoke to the large class of students and the professor, from the comfort of my room in smalltown Massachusetts.

They are learning about emergency codes and patient care and medical emergencies, and wanted me to speak about how I was treated by the E.R. staff and the hospital, on the day of Don's sudden death. I got to read a bit from my book about that day, speak with them about the life-altering after-effects of sudden loss and losing your partner to death, and then do a Q&A, in which they asked some really intelligent and thoughtful questions about my story.

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