I’ve felt abnormal my whole life. Ever since I became aware of how my own childhood with a single father who was an alcoholic was far different from the seemingly idyllic 2 parent households of all the other kids at my private school. I’ve never fit in. I’ve never felt like I fit in. Largely, because of death and grief.
When my mom died, I became consumed by death. I thought about people dying all the time. I obsessed over my dad dying and not knowing what would happen to me then. I was nine. No one talked about it, we just pretended it didn’t happen and tried to keep going. That’s how things were done back then.
That feeling of not being normal was further enforced in my teen years. Without a mom, I didn’t know how to be like other girls. I had no one teaching me how to do makeup or shave my legs or to talk to about boys. I just had to learn a lot of things on my own… and often painfully and embarrassingly failed at it. Those were the years my dad started drinking again too. So while other kids were busy being worried about tests at school or winning the big game or how their hair looked that day, I was walking beside them to class wondering if my dad would be too drunk to pick me up from school. Or if he would die in a car wreck because he was drinking and then I’d be totally alone and what the hell would happen then?
The only place I didn’t feel all those things, was when I was making art or spending time with the few close friends I did have. It was the only time I didn’t have to live in that reality. When I was making art especially… I could create a whole other world for myself that had nothing to do with my reality.
It’s ironic as I sit here now, looking back at those difficult early years. At my relationship to death and how it has changed over time. Death has altered my life so drastically since such a young age. For so long, I was alone with death. I never met other kids who had lost a parent. Literally, not a single kid I knew growing up had also lost a parent. I think that’s what made it worse. Even though I have siblings they were all grown and out of the house… so I just felt very alone with death.
Then, I lost my fiance in 2012 suddenly, and death showed up again to alter my entire world. This time though, death did something a little bit different. I still felt very alone in the world of my pain and my grief. We all do in some way. But now, I was an adult, and I could make my own choices about death. There were certain things I learned that I can control. And one of those turned out to be community.
From the time I was nine until I was 29, death was something that isolated me, made me different from everyone else. Made me weird and hard for other kids to relate to. So I mostly shut off that part of me, and learned to be a chameleon in order to have friends.
What came at 29 was very different though. I was an adult now, and I could choose differently than I had the chance to as a child. I found Soaring Spirits. I found Facebook groups for widowed people. I found this whole other world I’d never known existed… a world of people just like me. People who are preoccupied with death in strange ways. Who have strange triggers like avoiding fruit in the grocery store, or black-listing certain movies because of triggers. People who have been broken into a million pieces - just like me - and had to put themselves back together. Hell I even found some widows who’s fathers had been alcoholics, resulting in a whole other revelation of “Me Too”s for me that gave me waves of relief.
Every single person that has befriended me on this widowed journey has actually been healing a much, much deeper pain in my world. It’s taken me a lot of years to even realize that. Every person I’ve chatted with in a group late at night, or spent hours on the phone with because of a grief trigger, or who has read the words of my own journey I’ve poured out here, or who has been moved by the art I’ve created from my grief… every single person who has crossed my path has brought back one of my own broken pieces to me and has been helping to put back together much more than the woman who was broken apart just before her 30th birthday. All of these people and incredible experiences with other widowed people have been unknowingly putting back together that little girl who was shattered at nine years old. Over and over, for the past 7 years, she has been finally discovering the words she has always longed to hear…
Most people don’t even know that broken little girl is still inside me. Most people don’t even think about stuff like that. In my day to day life, I’ve become good at just showing people the well-adjusted, happy side of me, because that’s what makes everyone comfortable. But people who have had deep loss know… the broken bits are still there. There is always and forever some part of you that remains broken, or cracked, or scarred. It’s just a part you don’t show too often to very many.
I’m not really even sure where I’m going with this one today, except to say that for so much of my life there has been death. And for so much of my life, it has made me feel abnormal. And alone. And weird because of how it has affected me and how I see the world. I used to see all of that as SUCH a negative. Over time, that has changed. Becoming widowed was a big part of that change. Being a part of a community of others, I discovered that we all do the same things. We all have the triggers. We all have to avoid certain restaurants, driving down certain streets, seeing certain movies. We all do things that people who don’t know grief so closely do not understand. We all do things that others who aren’t grieving might think are totally weird or “unhealthy” or nonsensical. Because in a way, grief requires you to be creative… to find a new way to live and cope with life. And actually, the creative, unique ways that you grieve are quite beautiful.
I didn’t know that when I was nine. Or ten. Or fifteen. Or twenty. I didn’t know how normal my grief was. I didn’t know that there were other kids out there likely feeling like freaks about their own grief because no one was talking with them about it. What a wonderful thing it is to know that now. What a wonderful thing to know that every single bizarre thing that I might do or say or decide or make in my life is actually experiencing grief just like every other grieving person.