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?
Last Thursday, all of my closest friends flew in from around the country for our annual trip to see each other. Since 2012, when Drew died, we have been making it a point to come from far and wide to spend a weekend together celebrating his life and our friendships. We call it Drewfest, and this year was our sixth year. It was the first year having this celebration in Ohio, which was a big deal for both Mike and I.
I can hardly find the words to express how much this group of people means to me. I honestly believe they have made one of the biggest differences in how well I have coped with and healed these past 6 years. They are one of my strongest connections to Drew, because they were there for so much of the happy memories and good times - sharing alongside he and I. I know without a doubt they miss him the same way I do. And I know they remember all the good times as much as me. When we are together, we all feel closer to him.
They also remember the hard times, because they were there for that too. In the weeks and months after Drew died, these were the friends that showed up for me in countless ways and helped to carry me through. They were my rock. They may never really know just how much of a difference their presence has made.
Six years later, they’ve never left. Even though our lives continue on. As I found new love, they welcomed it. As some of us left Texas for Ohio, California, and Florida, we started video calling each other to stay close. So much living has happened since that difficult day in June of 2012. Good and hard times both. And still these friendships have remained. Even though sometimes we may not catch up for months at a time, I know they are there. I know because we have been through an unthinkable fire together and that fire has strengthened our friendship. It is the one greatest gift that Drew continues to give us…Read more
Here we are. A new year. I woke up feeling weird about that. I think mostly I am annoyed. Annoyed by all the expectation that society holds for everyone to have this wonderful sense of hope for what’s to come on this day. Annoyed that every widowed person out there has to deal with the weight of that expectation as they manage to crawl across this annual threshold. It’s crappy. It’s crappy how much it upsets us. It’s crappy what a reminder it is to us, sometimes even more than Christmas, that our person is not here.
I am grateful to have someone new to spend my New Year’s with now, but Mike being here doesn’t mean I don’t still feel crappy about all the expectation. So many people expect that because you have someone new, your life must just be magically super happy and you are 100% healed from missing your old person. Right. Because that works.Read more
This week, I went to the art museum by myself. This was a really big deal, or at least, I am deciding it is. Since moving to Ohio, I’ve been reluctant to get out on my own. I have only a handful of places I can even drive to without having to use a map to get me there. The shopping center by the house, the post office, the fancy grocery store 10 minutes north, and the shopping center 20 minutes south where I worked for a few months. That’s really it. It’s endlessly frustrating.
Instead of being more proactive about finding my way around a new city, I’ll admit I’ve avoided it. I have felt too vulnerable adjusting to a new place and lifestyle. I have felt a need to protect myself and not venture out. And that’s natural, I suppose.
As of this past week though, I officially added several new places to that list. I’ve taken Shelby to school enough times now that I finally didn’t use my phone to get me there this week. I’ve gone up to Mike’s work to take him lunch twice now, and drove the second time home without a map. After driving to my art class on Thursday nights for 4 weeks in a row, I made it there this past week on my own. And on Thursday afternoon, I went to the art museum for the first time, and thus downtown for the first time, and I drove the way back without a map.
It seems like such a small victory… but it’s definitely not. It means I’m starting to feel confident enough again to venture out. It means I’m beginning to adjust to this new life halfway across the country from where I grew up.Read more
I have the ironic honor of always writing on Mother’s Day, being the Sunday writer here at Widow’s Voice. Ironic because it always forces me to evaluate my feelings about a holiday I have mostly chosen not to celebrate since my own mother died when I was young. I hate this day, or at least, I mostly always have. But this post isn't about that. This is a story of surprises, and how life evolves after the losses in our lives in some of the most unexpected ways.
I decided today, that I would go back and re-read a few of my posts from previous years, to see if there was something to glean there. I came across this one, from 2014, called The Accidental Mother, where I share about a waiter wishing me a Happy Mother’s Day accidentally. The excerpt below stopped me in my tracks...Read more
Yesterday marked the two year anniversary of the day I lost my husband to depression. It's the hardest day of the year for me. I miss him always and there are obviously times that are harder than others, like our wedding anniversary, Christmas and birthdays. However while those days bring sadness, it's his death anniversary that has me re-living the trauma of that horrible moment that took my husband and my future from me.
Dan died at 11am. He got dressed for work that morning, kissed me goodbye, and then drove an hour away from our home where he spent some time writing me a letter before taking his life. This is something I don't think about too often anymore, I have somehow found a way to process the devastating details around the way that he passed so the details don't haunt me constantly the way they did in the first year or so. His disease robbed him of his ability to see a way out of the darkness, I have accepted this and understand, in that moment, he somehow thought it was the only option - that those of us left behind would be better off.
It's a cruel added complication to those of us widowed by suicide, in that we not only grieve our partners but have to wade through the stigma, judgement and unanswerable questions that come along with the loss. Time has helped, and the day-to-day has certainly gotten easier but I've come to know there will always be moments where the questions of how my funny, clever, popular and thoughtful darling came to be in such a helpless place (and what I could have done differently to help him) will always re-surface. His death anniversary is one of those days.Read more