Most of the time I feel empty inside. The landscape of my Soul is barren since he died. However, most people can only see the vibrant life I have. At first glance, my life appears fairly enviable. With the exception of Mike's death, I have all the trappings of a good life. I have the kids, the house, the car, and the career. I have managed to achieve a lot of success in Suburbia. The boxes are checked. My life does not appear to be barren. Not surprisingly, for those looking from the outside in, it is not comprehensible that I still feel empty. To them everything looks like it is returning back to "normal" without Mike. They think I am "strong". They tell me that I am "the strongest person they know". They tell me that they "can't imagine" how I do it. When my ears hear their statements I just kind of stare at them and watch their lips move. I don't say much in response because I know the truth. Yes, I am 'strong', because I do not have a choice. I have to stay the course for my kids, and for myself.
I do not feel bitter towards people who make these proclamations about me and my life. They simply do not understand the depth and breadth of my loss. I understand that they can not understand. And, I know that they are so lucky that they "can't imagine" my situation. I think that people need to believe that things return to normal after a person dies. They need to believe that I am okay now because if I am okay, that means - if and when this happens to them - they will recover and be okay too. But, as people who have outlived our spouses, we know differently. We are aware that there is nothing normal about our changed lives. We know that there is no backing up. We can not return to days gone by no matter how desperately we want to. There is nothing to return to. Our lives can not be as they were before. That life is over. It's gone. It's done. Period. And, yeah, we are 'strong' despite our blunt reality.
To me, the phrase "new normal" is ridiculous.
I HATE that idiom.
There is nothing normal about my new life.
It is the exact opposite of what I am used to.
I am different since Mike died, and - this is normal.
The hollowness and emptiness that I feel - is normal.
My grief - is normal.
My life is not normal anymore.
I spend a lot of time feeling disconnected from the world and from those around me. It feels like my thoughts are wrapped in cotton candy. My deepest thoughts are tightly spun like the sugar crystals that become the dense pink candy fluff. Most days, I can barely make sense of what I feel because my thoughts are hidden from me. I don't always know them, but, I feel my thoughts. My deepest thoughts live inside my heart, not my head. Everything is buried far away inside my Soul. Since Mike died, I feel like I am hidden in wad of airy blue fluff. All of me is insulated in this bulky, baby blue cotton candy cocoon because I need to be swaddled. I need time. I need things to be quiet while I come undone...
I’ve written about it quite a few times these past few years, but moving across the country really did a number on me. I don’t think - scratch that - I KNOW I was in no way prepared for how difficult it would be to leave Texas. I have a love affair with my state that runs very deep. I have gone through some of the hardest but most meaningful experiences in my life in that state. As well as some of the most beautiful.
The resting places for both of my parents and Drew are there. The friends that became family to me after Drew died, are mostly scattered all around that beautiful state. And the culture… once you’ve fallen in love with the Texas hill country culture, there is really no way to ever separate it from your heart. And no reason you’d ever want to.
So when I decided to take a chance on new love, and do this super brave thing like uprooting my life to Ohio, I really had no idea the level of new grief I was signing up for. Everything up north is very different. The houses. The yards. The language. The attitude. The lack of chicken fried steaks. The accents. Hell even the Dairy Queens... (they do not have steak fingers - and don't get me started on that!)
I guess I didn’t expect a new place to feel SO different. Or for change to feel so hard. Clearly I did not realize, I lived in TEXAS of all places - which is pretty different in its own right from a lot of the country. Most of all, I didn’t realize - as it common with loss - what I had until it was gone. Or until I was gone...Read more
Today an exciting milestone has happened for me. One that runs deep, and is stitched with so many remnants of a past life and of every day since that I've fought for. Today I was accepted to be a contributor for a major photography agency that works in the book publishing industry. They work with publishing houses all over the world to help them find the perfect photograph or artwork for a particular book cover. I am now one of the photographers that helps to provide those perfect photographs to their clients. In the near future, I may just be able to visit the nearest Barnes and Noble and find my photographs on the cover of beautiful books.
This milestone means so many things to me. I’ve wandered around trying to find a sense of direction ever since Drew died. I’ve tried countless directions with my art… and each one has had a feeling like it just didn’t quite “fit” for me. As I’ve learned, there are about as many different ways to be an artist as their are types of people. But this one - which marries my love of photography and storytelling - feels like a perfect match.
I can’t help but think back… I’ve been picking up a camera and capturing the world as I see it for almost ten years now. The first of those years, was the year Drew and I began dating. It was the year that he bought me my first DSLR camera, excited to see what I would create. In the three short years we had together, he continued to support and foster this direction in my life… buying me nearly all of the lenses and gear that I still use today. He was my photo assistant when I needed a helping hand or some strong arms for carrying ladders and lighting. And sometimes he was just there to observe. I still recall mornings at sunrise on the beach in my hometown when he would just sit back and watch me while I got lost behind the lens, capturing the sun-kissed waves. He loved to watch me seeing the world that way… to see how it lit me up inside.Read more
Since you died I feel like I am masquerading in someone else's life. The likelihood of outliving you was always in the back of my mind, but it wasn't something that I prepared for because I naively thought we had "the rest of our lives" ahead of us. I honestly thought that we had at least twenty more years together. And, because I blindly believed this, I arrived to widowhood completely unsorted. For the first few months everything was raw and rough. I was unpracticed at being a widow, so I made homespun, amateur attempts at surviving. However, with time, my ability to live with grief has become more polished. Fifteen months later, I do less improvising throughout my day.
I am doing this 'widow thing' . And, from the outside looking in, things appear to be returning to 'normal'. But, those of us who live this life know full well that we can never return to 'normal' again. I don't say this looking for sympathy. I say it because it is the truth. You know this as well as me. It just is what it is. This is widowhood.
As much as I dislike it, living with Grief has become somewhat 'normal' to me. I don't remember what it feels like not to miss you. I don't recall living without emptiness inside me. I don't remember what 'normal' feels like anymore. I don't remember what it feels like to be an 'ordinary', 'regular' mid-aged woman. I am forever changed.
The death of your spouse permanently alters a person, and I am no exception. Yet, somehow, I am starting to become okay with the changes in me. Even still, I am not proficient living my changed life. Most of the time I feel like I am participating in a makeshift existence that was not thoroughly planned out. I did not rehearse for this; and, honestly, it shows.
Art: Loui Jover
Death is a part of life. We die because we live.
The concept is simple. It is understood by everyone. But, the mechanics behind surviving without someone you love are tedious and complicated. It is relatively simple to comprehend the facts. They. are. dead. But, to accept this is not easy. To live this reality - this - brings you to your knees.
It is overwhelming and utterly disorientating to remain alive when the person you love is dead. Most of us do not prepare ourselves for outliving the ones we love. Honestly, I know there is no way to "prepare" for death; but, looking back I wish I had put more forethought into it. Until death intimately affected me, I never seriously entertained the idea of living without him. So, when he died I was blindsided. I was lost with no sense of direction.
Everything felt surreal. It still does...
I introduced who I am now last week but that is just a piece of me and really, she’s still kind of new around here. The other part of me is the me before Mike died. She was around for a long time and was very comfortable in her skin. At the time, I truly thought that version of myself was very independent but after he died I quickly realized how much of my identity was closely tied to Mike. I’m not saying it was a bad thing; it was just kind of a surprise to me. It suited me then and I liked myself and who he helped me be. Today I’d like to introduce me from before Mike died and our story. In introducing me from before and our story you’ll get to know more about Mike too. I can’t and don’t want to separate the two. He was and still is a big part of me.
The Before me was young. She was a bit naive about the world. She smiled with her eyes and with her whole heart. Sometimes now I begrudge her a bit for that but she had no reason to be any different. She was happy in the most innocent, purest form. When I can take a step back to genuinely reflect, I am glad she had that time to be that way. The reality of life could wait.
Photo source: mapofthenight
Grief takes us to a secluded, dark place.
We resist settling into this lonely realm.
But, in order to slowly breathe life back into ourselves,
We have to temporarily take residence in this muted, mysterious environment,
I resisted this shadowy, hidden place for a long, long time.
I ran from it whenever possible.
Because, I was scared to be alone in the "nothingness" of this place.
I had the notion that my fears would swallow me alive.
I thought I would drown in the silence.
Maybe you feel like this today.
If you feel lonely,
Displaced and rootless,
You are not alone...
If you are drifting in a place of "nothingness"
Does it comfort you to know,
I am here - in this abyss - with you.
Take my hand,
Let's find our way...
We need to turn to our hearts for direction.
If you listen, in the stillness, past your heartbeat, you can faintly hear the breeze.
The Winds of Change are here...
When Grief comes,
Take her in your arms and dance with her.
Fall into her.
Move and sway in time with her.
Hold her carefully.
Then, when the music is over,
Look her in the eyes and thank her for the dance.
Maybe the words are too kitschy. Maybe this image of Grief is overly sentimental and idealistic. I concede, that as lovely as the words look on the page, a part of me is choking as I read what I wrote. A piece of me wants to gag because I feel like I'm asking you to accept Grief, when I haven't done this myself. The truth is, I don't really like Grief. So, in my writing, I don't want to imply that I have a smooth, functional relationship with Grief, because I don't.
My connection with Grief is somewhat dysfunctional. I certainly don't want to "hold her carefully". Honestly, some days I want to march her cold hearted ass out the front door and slam it behind her. However, at the heart of it, everything I wrote is the truth - as I know it. I can't edit any of my words because there is nothing I know about grieving that is more pure and unadulterated.
I am certain that if I am going to survive this mess, I can not resist Grief. I must fall into her. And, I must hold her carefully - whether I like it or not. I have to believe that Grief is not my enemy. I can't hate her. And, I have to learn to exist with Grief because she isn't going anywhere. Grief has unpacked and she's here to stay.
This said, Grief is not my first choice for a dance partner. Grief is not overly warm, affectionate or accommodating. Rather, she is relentless and demanding, albeit honest. Grief is a straight shooter. As I dance with her, she confidently leans in and whispers her truths, and I appreciate this. I've always liked honest and forthright people; and, Grief, like these folk, is candid. I respect that.
Still, when Grief shows up, I always secretly hope that my dance card is full. Dancing with Grief is awkward because I don't know the steps. She always leads and sometimes Grief takes me places I don't want to go... However, over the last fourteen and a half months, I've learned...
I feel like each breathe I take puts more distance between us. You are in another place. A place I don't know. A dimension I can't fully understand because I am still here. You exist somewhere far from me; yet, somehow you are right here beside me. You are everywhere; and, also nowhere to be found. My Soul loves you, forever, for Eternity. And, now I love you in separation.
Photo credits: celestialworld.co.uk
My eyes can not see you,
But, my heart loves you.
Our Souls remain coupled forever,
You are gone physically,
But, we are connected by the heart.
And, I miss you.
I miss you.
I miss you.
We are not content loving in separation because we want back what we had. But, that isn't an option. Loving in separation is the only thing we have now. And, it is not some big new concept. Loving while separated is something we have done countless times before, when they were alive. And, now, we, the bereaved, continue to love our person despite their permanent absence.
At times, Mike and I were physically apart because of work; and during these separations he'd always tell me "Honey, it could be worse, I could be at war and gone for a really long time." He was right. Throughout history, people have loved each other through long periods of separation. Obviously, we have the innate ability to continue to love one another while we are physically apart. And, this is done without any special training. As a human being, we can instinctively love what we can not see in front of us. Our love doesn't fade when someone leaves the room; and, therefore, our love doesn't disappear in our current circumstance.
"We don't stop loving one another when we part. We know a great deal about how to love in separation, how to hold one another in our hearts when we are apart - thinking of, speaking about, remembering, sharing interests, being grateful to one another, drawing inspiration from one another..." (Thomas Attig)
I acknowledge that this time, we are separated from them for the rest of our lives... And, yes, this is so, so different than being temporarily detached. Death makes this physical separation permanent. This is f-o-r-e-v-e-r. I get it. And, yes, I know that loving in separation does not fill the physical void, nothing can...
But, what else is there?
The task of loving Mike for the rest of my life without his "presence" is daunting, and it saddens me,
But, I have to give it a try.
I don't know what else to do with all the love in my heart...
So, now that he is physically gone,
I am continuing our relationship, on a purely Soul level.
Let me tell you about the best way I know how to do this...
My memories of Mike echo off the walls of the house, yet the silence in my home is deafening. Everything is quiet now. Death makes your whole world go silent. I think this is by design. We need this noiseless environment and solitude to contemplate how we will re-create ourselves. As we do the work of re-defining our identity we need to concentrate intensely. Death can create isolation, but maybe this detachment is necessary as we prepare to reinvent ourselves. Maybe we are required to withdraw so that we can be born anew.
Daily, I am surrounded by the hum of life, but since Mike died I don't hear the sounds of joy anymore. My heart doesn't feel the beauty of an ordinary moment like it used to when he was alive. My eyes don't clearly see opportunities before me. I feel it, I am allowing my life to pass me by because I have momentarily lost my enthusiasm. No one can change this but me. I know this, but finding the motivation to re-engage in life without him eludes me.
I need to be encouraged to embrace life, take risks and find out what I am made of; but, my biggest champion is dead. Now, I have to motive and inspire myself. I am not used to being my own encourager. Since I was 17 years old I have always been part of a couple; and, I was never solely in charge of coaching myself. I always had a companion to hold a mirror up to me. To reflect with. I had a voice, other than my own, telling me to "take it day by day, everything will work out". For me, being alone feels scary and I desperately want to be rescued.
I feel inadequate when I admit to myself that I'm scared to "do life on my own". I continuously remind myself that I am a divorced woman; and, once upon a time I left something familiar and chose to move towards the unknown. I've dealt with uncertainty before. I tell myself that "I've got this" because I'm no stranger to adversity. I tell myself that I'm strong... and I'm capable. But, Mike's death is different. His death knocked me to the ground and all my dormant insecurities have re-emerged.
In the early days after Mike died, I thought that I should be able to navigate my way through his death. I felt like there was something wrong with the way I was grieving because I was so completely immobilized with sadness. Thankfully, over this last year, I have come to realize that there is nothing to actually get "through" here. Grief isn't a disease that you need to be healed from. There is no end game because grief isn't something you complete. Grief is something that becomes a part of who you are. When your person dies you continuously absorb their absence into your Soul.
I will confess that absorbing the death of your person is ridiculously hard. I still have not accepted his death and I don't know if I ever will. I mean, logically, I know Mike is dead. I've stood at his grave. And, countless times, I've traced my fingers along the letters of his name that are etched on his headstone. I've taken wine to the grave on many a Saturday night because, well, I wanted to be with my best friend. I've written heartfelt messages on red heart shaped balloons and I've tied them to a shepherds hook I put behind his headstone because, well, I miss him.
I know Mike is dead.
His headstone tells me he died November 15, 2016.
But, in my mind he's still very much alive.
And, in my heart, I'm still very much in love with him.
I know you "get it". And, I also know that you hate that your person died too. It is the permanence of the situation that sucks. But, it is what it is. We can't back up. So, we resign ourselves to breathe and somehow continue living. On the days when I have the patience to do "nothing", I sit with my grief. I invite Grief in and I just wait until Grief speaks. Let me tell you what Grief has said (it' pretty awesome) ...
Ringing in the new year without you is something I never want to do. This year, or ever. No matter how much time passes, no matter how my life changes; and no matter where I am standing on New Year's Eve, I know that I will always pause and think of you. I will always want you to still be alive, here with me. And, always, I will want to kiss you at midnight.
I can not find it in me to 'celebrate' another year that you will be missing from my life. New beginnings are bittersweet for me now because part of me always wants to go back to the time when we shared our life together. Moving forward is hard for all people, and it's especially difficult for widowed people. I resist celebrating New Year's day because in my mind it puts more 'distance' between us. The time when you were alive gets further away from me and I feel desperate to somehow return to the life I used to have. When I get nostalgic I feel like my memories are more alive than me. This mindset is dangerous because when you live in the past, you are not present and you are not living the life in front of you. So, today, when you visit the past, go there and remember that:
The life you lived together is still there somewhere, suspended in time, untouched, and unchanged.
What you were to one another, you STILL ARE.
Know that the love you share doesn't disappear just because you can't see them anymore.
In the words of Rumi,
"Goodbyes are only for those who love with their eyes.
Because for those who love with heart and soul there is no such thing as separation"
I am learning that the past doesn't need me to stay there and be a permanent caretaker. It's not going anywhere. I do not need to stay there and tend to it. The past is always there untouched and unaltered. It is there whenever you need it. I visit my past life all the time; but I know that I can not stay there forever. I can not rebuild my life there. That life is over. Maybe if I say it again and again and again I will finally accept it...
I know logically that Mike isn't somewhere hidden in the past; but, still, thirteen and a half months later, I can't stop myself from endlessly searching for him. As I wander looking for him, I know that he won't be found anywhere but in my memory.
I know that Mike is actually here, in the present, "with" me as I move through my life. But, honesty, it feels empty, even when I believe what Rumi says about there being no separation. For me, it is not always enough to have Mike "with" me without his physical presence. I feel badly admitting this because I feel like I'm letting Mike, Rumi and myself down somehow. But, it's the truth... I still desperately wish that Mike could take my hand and lead the way again...
Today we are forced to consider the year ahead; and as difficult as this is, it is necessary.
As you say goodbye to 2017,
Stand still, and listen to the sound of the sun going down.
In that moment hear what is in your heart.
Take your own hand and lead the way...
New Year's Day is a time to reflect on the year that passed; and, more importantly look forward to the possibilities ahead.
Last New Year's Eve was particularly punishing for me because I did not want to say goodbye to the best year of my life. I will always think of 2016 as our vintage year. The year of us. This was the year Mike asked me to be his Wife. We had an accepted offer on our beautiful new house and we were so excited to live together under one roof as husband and wife. The boys were beginning to feel excited about our new life; and, the girls and I were planning weekly family dinners. We were busy creating new traditions that never got a chance to be. We thought we had the rest of our lives ahead of us; then Mike died, and our future died with him.
Last year as the clock struck midnight, I stood alone on a friend's balcony,
I was broken and bewildered.
I looked up at the stars and wondered how the hell the best year of my life had come and gone.
This wasn't real, it didn't feel like this could be true, except it was.
As I began my life without Mike, I felt like I just landed in a foreign country and I could not speak the language. I stood at the baggage claims area and I didn't know where to go from there. I wanted to ask someone for directions. I needed help. But, I was not sure how anyone could help me. Mike was dead, no one could fix that. So, I stood frozen in place for a long time.
Now, just over a year later, I'm standing here alone. I've got my baggage sorted out, but I am still aimless. I still don't really know my destination. Where am I supposed to go? Where the hell do I want to go? Someone, give me directions, please. I don't want to follow the crowds so I guess I will have to figure this out myself. Really, there should be a traveler's guide for widowhood, or an App because nothing prepares you for this new life. Initially, I ...