And this is the last family picture taken of our Crew. It was Thanksgiving of 2006. Once the kids start heading off to college it gets much more difficult to get "family pictures".
I think it took me about 4 to 6 months to come out of the black fog that came with Jim's death. Maybe it was less .... it's hard to remember anything back from that time, even though it was only a little over a year ago.
But I do remember when I knew it was time to take Son #2 to a counselor because of the problems we were having with school. Jim and I had decided to send him to a military school (for 9th grade) in January of 2008. We couldn't find the way to motivate him and feared he would drop out if he stayed at home. This was our last-ditch effort. Papers were signed, money was sent.
And then ..... a few weeks before Son #2 would have left ..... Jim died.
And I could not send my Son away. Selfishly .... I wanted him close to me. And I told him it was an additional chance for him to raise his grades, do his work, show some interest .... anything, so that he could stay home the next year.
He did not.
And so I sought out counseling for him ..... for both of us.
She ended up counseling me a lot more than she counseled him.
And in the end, Son #2 left for military school this past August (and hated it the first semester, continually begged to come home, but still didn't study. THIS semester, he's a different young man: he's motivated, he's more mature, he's confident, and he knows he's smart enough to make decent grades). So he'll be coming home for good at the end of this semester, as was promised .... if he improved his attitude and his grades.
That decision .... to send him away to school, was one of the hardest things I've ever done. And it was the first time I found myself angry at Jim .... really angry. How could he have left me here with all this ...... this .... CRAP?! This is NOT how it was supposed to be.
The counselor was wonderful and she kept validating the decision that Jim AND I had made ... together. She could also see what I could not ..... this change for Son #2 WOULD be for the better, in the end.
So I kept seeing her and relied on her counsel.
One of the things she suggested was that I try going to a grief support group that was located weekly at our community hospital. She thought it might be time.
And so I went .... that very evening, in fact.
It was difficult. To say the least. It was for all kinds of grief ..... the death of a spouse, a child, a family member. I was not comfortable, but I could "hear" the same feeling being talked about that I felt. I didn't talk much.
I was, by far, the youngest, or next to the youngest person there. The other widows and widowers were well into their late 60's and up.
But I went.
And I went back.
But I was till uncomfortable and knew that it was not meeting my needs.
I cried all the way home from that second meeting.
I cried because I even had to be in this position in the first place -- looking for a damn grief group.
I cried because I didn't fit.
I cried because I wanted to fit ..... somewhere.
And so when I was done crying I came to a decision. I knew that I needed other women around me. Other women who are walking on this "path". Other YOUNG women, who have children at home and who had long, great dreams ahead of them that included their husbands.
So I decided that if I needed that kind of support, it would be up to me to get it going.
It was a God-thing, because starting up some kind of group is not something that would come naturally to me. But I had no doubt that I would do this ..... though I had no idea how to begin.
One night I was sitting with a friend and this whole frustrating story came pouring out of me. I told her that I knew there were more of "us" out there .... I knew that, in our elementary school alone, at least 4 families had lost their fathers in the past 2 years. I needed to find those women. I needed to get us together.
Well, it just so happened that my vented-upon friend knew one of these women. And so she called her and asked for her thoughts. This young widow, of course, jumped right on board and got all of my contact information.
About the same time that was happening I was out having dinner with a large group of people one night. I happened to glance over my shoulder and saw a young woman, enjoying the band and a glass of wine ..... alone.
She looked very familiar to me ...... and then it hit me where I knew her from .... and my heart started racing. My blood pressure went up and I felt sick to my stomach.
I had seen this woman at the hospital support group, only briefly, and we'd never spoken. But here she was ..... and God was inside of my head saying, "There ya go, Janine. You said you'd put this group together. There she is. I've put the two of you here tonight for a reason ... now let's see if you can walk the talk."
It took me a good 20 minutes to control my shaking and my breathing before I pushed back my chair and went over to her and introduced myself to her puzzled face. She looked a bit wary at first, until she realized what, not who, I was ...... someone on this path.
In fact, our husbands died only a month apart .... and of the same extremely rare cause: an aortic dissection. We were stunned. I pulled up a chair and we talked and cried for over an hour. We were like a life line for each other that night. We had each heard about the other (it's a small community and news like that travels) but had never met.
And yes, she very much wanted to help start a group of us to support each other.
And so we did.
By word of mouth.
One woman at a time.
There are now 8 of us .... in less than a year .... and I expect there will be more.
We meet for dinner once a week and we get so much healing from each other, that we physically miss the nights one of us can't make it.
Five of us are going to the Conference in San Diego in July.
We are a "Circle".
A circle of friends ...... that stays tightly bound, but can always expand to make the circle bigger. We are bound by our grief and by our love for each other. We can say anything to each other, and I do mean ANYTHING. We can say all of the things that we can't say to our other friends, because those friends wouldn't "get it", thankfully for them. We can talk about wanting to die, having no hope, depression, anger, blaming God ..... all the normal things that grieving woman talk about, without feeling that we will be judged. Because we "get" each other. We are "safe" for each other. And many times .... we don't even need words to understand each other.
We hope and pray that we are Circle for the rest of our lives .... so that we can be there for each other not only in our grief, but in the days to come when we'll be celebrating for each other, celebrating new love, weddings (ours and/or our children's) grandchildren, trips, fun, ...... life.
We want to celebrate.
All of our children and friends know about our "Circle". My kids often ask me how my Circle is doing. My friends often ask what night is the Circle meeting this week?
If you don't have a "Circle" and live in the Houston area .... I invite you to join ours. We will welcome you with open and loving arms.
If you don't have a Circle and you live nowhere near here, then I challenge you to start one.
It's not as difficult as it seems ..... unfortunately. There are a lot of us out there ..... way too many.
All it takes is word of mouth. Just ask a few friends if they know of any young widows. Start with sharing your e-mail (this is the "safest" way to put yourself out there to connect) and/or your phone number.
Then set a date. Go to dinner. Drink some wine (lots and lots of wine!).
We started with 2.
And now we have 8.
I always see myself, my Circle friends .... and you, my blog widow friends as walking on this "path" (my name for widowhood). But I also see all of us ...... each one of you ...... in this Circle.
It's big enough to hold all of us ...... and it holds a lot of love and support ..... and tears.
It does what it does best ..... what we most need .........
It holds us.