Trigger Tropes

I don’t have much to say today, other than a reminder (and perhaps, a warning to those of you reading that are still in the raw, early stages of your grief) that triggers can appear anywhere at random, no matter how “far out” you may think you are.

We’re never truly “free” from our grief.  It may fade, in a way. We evolve and learn to acknowledge it, taking the sting off of it.  A birthday, anniversary, or even just a random thought gives us a bad day, but it generally doesn’t reduce us to a sobbing mess.  After that first year, I knew what to expect. I knew what songs, movies, events, and locations could trigger an upwelling of grief.  It didn’t make the feelings or thoughts any less significant, but there was certainly a sense of “it is what it is” making noise in the background, softening the blow.

But, there are those moments that you’re never prepared for.  The moments where it is a complete shock to the system. Happenings that you don’t have time to work up to or get your “gameface” on, like readying for battle.

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What do I do?

I ask myself again and again - What do I do?  I whisper these words to myself as I walk out into the world and go about my life - without him.  I've been asking this question for nearly two damn years...  I am tired of this question.  I want to fill my mind with other thoughts.  But, since he died, I'm different than most women my age.  The things that consume me are much more profound than they used to be.  I don't give a shit about the changing seasons, or that pumpkin spice lattes are back.  I care about things that live deeper in my heart.  I care about my children's happiness, our life, and my life that is connected and also separate from my boys.  I care.  I care deeply.  But, not about the shallow stuff that many people my age care about. 

Mike's death changed me, a lot.  I'm a very different person than I used to be.  And, truth be told, I like the new me.  I am becoming a woman I like to spend time with.  And, this is a good thing because I spend a whole lot of time alone now.  It is advantageous that I enjoy my own company - in a way I never have before.

In quiet solitude I think about the direction of my life.  I ponder everything.  The life we planned together died with him.  This is a fact, whether I like it or not.  And, now, I have to figure out what the hell to do with the life I have left.  So, I think.  And, I think.  I endlessly question what it is that I want.  I contemplate what to do with this alternate life.  I must figure this out myself because no one can "fix" this or plan my life for me.  It's up to me to decide what to do with the life I have left.  I know all the decisions ultimately rest with me; therefore, the things I think about are heavy and profound.  And, I realize that the answers will not just magically come because I ask the questions.  Throughout this process, I am generally impatient with myself and my progress. I need to work on this. 

My mind does not rest easy.  I'm exhausted by my thoughts.  But, at least I am engaged in life enough to be thinking and asking questions.  At least I am curious.  I think this counts for something.  It has to because it is all I've got for the moment.  And, this is okay - it has to be.  At this point I don't know a whole lot, but I do KNOW the answers to all my questions live inside me.  They are there for the finding.

There is so much I wonder about since Mike died.  Big things and small things consume me and I wish like hell I could talk to him about this stuff like I used to.  Since he died, I continually contemplate what I should do.  What do I want to do with the rest of my life?  I blogged about having a Makeshift Plan a few weeks ago.  And, I am glad that I have created a "plan"; but, still, I am anxious about the life I am living without him.  I know full well, that life does not always go according to plan.  I am somewhat prepared for the curveballs that life will undoubtably throw at me.  And, in some weird way, all of this change is kind of exciting.  Going forward there is so much potential before me.  My life can take any direction.  And, so can yours.

 

Still, living solo doesn't feel comfortable to me, yet. 

The life Mike and I imagined is the life I want, but it is not to be. 

I have to adapt. 

I have to go with the flow even if it is not the life I had planned.  And, so do you. 

 

Soon, Mike will be dead for 2 years and I would be lying if I said I know what to do with that.  I have not accepted his death.  I don't want to.  And, part of me may never come to terms with it.  I am okay with this.  A part of me will always want him to be alive and I accept this.  It is what it is.  

I remain conscious of how long Mike has physically been gone from me; yet, I feel the need to make more forward progress without him.  And, here is the tricky thing, I feel like I am going nowhere fast.  I do not know where I am heading... I have a rough idea of what I want to accomplish in my life, but it still feels somewhat lack lustre without him beside me.  Will this ever change?  I think it will.  In fact, I know it will.  I just have to be patient.  Mike has only been dead for 1 year, 10 months and 23 days...  (I had to google this on an app.)  As time has gone on, I have stopped knowing the numbers.  And, really, it doesn't matter anymore.  Maybe it never did.  He is gone.  He isn't coming back.  The days keep coming.  And, I am still here.  I had better start acting alive.  I need to live.  We all do, because we did not die.

Since early on, I have had the desire to live life well.  I have draped myself in hope.  But, even with all the optimism in the world, when night falls, I am always alone.  And, I feel the missingness and the emptiness.  There is a profound sense of loss.  Being lost fills me.  My Soul aches for him with every breathe I take; yet, I take each breath as it comes and I keep going.  I have to.  For myself, for my children and for Mike.  I did not die.  I can not let his death define my life.  The way Mike lived and loved me must be what I cling to as I move toward life again.  Day by day I fight forward.  And, I know that you do the same.

 

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Oh My God! I'm So Sorry! I Just Heard...

Time goes on and life begins to settle. You think you are past the hardest conversations until you get a message from out of the blue…

“Oh My God! I’m So Sorry! I Just Heard”

These words come in a text message, a social media tag, in an email and, rarely, in a phone call. Mine came just a few minutes ago through Facebook. It’s one of those messages you don’t ever expect from someone you really never thought you’d hear from again and you dread reading it. To be honest I did really look at my phone and say to myself “What in Gay Hell?” That’s a movie quote from Too Wong Foo. Tin loved that movie and I use that quote more often these days. It usually gets a good laugh.

As if we are really friends with everyone we call “Facebook Friends”, there is a sharper edge to the knife when the person that reaches out is someone that never really thought much about others unless they needed something. They gush over just how wonderful your person was and how sad. I have little patience nowadays as I figure out what to do with my new unwanted freedom. I need to fill my abundant time alone with things that allow me to feel and process but not trigger the feelings like I’m back reliving “D” day. I need to focus on the essential things in life and their importance in rebuilding my foundation.

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Daring to be Vulnerable

When connecting with others who are grieving, we obviously have one big thing in common. A death in our lives. An ending we did not want to come. Then there are other similarities we may find, like sudden loss, or long-term illness, or suicide. Then other similarities still may come… the myriad of “me too”s that arise when we begin to share about widow brain, or sleepless nights, or trying to date again, or managing as the only parent.

All of this requires us to have one other thing in common too though - the willingness to be vulnerable. Without that, we will not share, and we will never learn about all the many other things we have in common. You don’t have to be an artist to create. Creating doesn’t have to mean art. Creating is about connection… a deeper connection to yourself and to others. That is now how I see it.  

For the past week, I’ve been working tirelessly on something I would have never imagined myself doing before my fiance died. It is a proposal for a photography grant which, if chosen, would provide me funding and mentorship to take my career to the next level. This opportunity has forced me to sit down and reflect on a very deep level about my journey not only with photography, but also with grief...

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Celebrating With You

On Sunday, September 30th, I hosted a huge Book Launch Party Celebration in NYC, at West Side Comedy Club. A few years ago, when I was beginning to write this epic love and loss story book about the life and death of my husband, I did a fundraising campaign where lots of great people donated to help make my book happen. One of the things I promised as part of that campaign, was that when the book was finished, I would have a huge Book Launch Party in NYC. 

Well, 4 years and a few months later, I did it. I put time and energy and hard work and money into this party. I ordered food. There was a huge sheet cake that said "Thank You for your support", and had the cover of my book superimposed right into the icing. We did a raffle to raise money for Soaring Spirits, and I called and gathered people to donate services, goods, books, and gift cards toward the raffle for prizes. I stood up on the stage and read from my book. I did a little bit of comedy. My friend Lori, who manages the club where we held the party, also did some comedy and spoke very kind words about me in front of everyone there.

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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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