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.Read more
20 years ago, I woke up to a screaming drill instructor, chaos, mind games, and effectively running everywhere I went. I lived in a green uniform, seeing no other colors but black, green, and brown for months. I swam in 10 foot deep water with 120 pounds of gear, went 3 days and 48 miles of marching on 4 hours of total sleep (and one meal). I didn’t speak with my family for 13 weeks, other than the occasional letter. I ran until I died, and then ran some more. Rifle marksmanship, hand-to-hand combat, history, military legal codes, uniform standard, rappelling, gas chambers, and a multitude of other subjects were drilled into my head, non-stop, and if I should not be sufficient in any given one, I would be held back and given another week on that godforsaken island in South Carolina.
Marine Corps recruit training (boot camp) was the hardest thing I had ever done, and for a long time, I thought it would be the hardest thing I would ever do.
If it was, I wouldn’t be writing to you today.Read more
Yesterday was the first day of the year to bring in an autumn cold snap here in Northeast Ohio, along with the remnants of the tropical storm that came through Florida last week. Since I woke yesterday, it’s been a slow, steady dripping rain… the kind where you can still open all the windows and feel the brisk air and hear the gentle drops on the leaves.
This time of year is my favorite. And even though I know it will warm up again and we aren’t quite to fall, for today, I get a little teaser of what’s coming… The air changing. The fall leaves turning. Halloween - which we go all out for around here. Decorating the house with warm oranges and yellows. Cooking stews and chilis and pies. Filling the air with cinnamon and pumpkin candles. Remembering it being my mother’s favorite time of year. Remembering it being my late-fiance and I’s favorite time of year too. There’s so much richness in the fall.
About 6 years ago, I was given new and different reasons to appreciate this time of year…Read more
When your heart and soul are just so tired, 5 years in.
Not for any particular reason, really.
Everything is pretty much the same as it’s always been.
Even when life is routine, my spirit is tired. And, yes, life on the road can be routine.
Tired from doing and being and all the stuff that comes from living a life that is so achingly and shockingly different from the life that was going to be.
How many of us just get out there and do what life requires? How many of us go beyond that requirement and strive to truly create a life for ourselves, alongside all the grief and devastation?
And we do, by god. But, Jesus, it’s exhausting.
To me, anyways.
Underlying all the doing and creating and self-care and just…everything….is the overriding knowing that I’ll never see him again, and I ache all over with that knowing.
Sort of like a continual flu.
And you just learn to live with it.Read more
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?
So last month, June 14th, was my one-year anniversary with Nick, my new love. My new beginning. My "next great love story." I never know how to refer to us, but thats another post for another time. I dont like the term "chapter two", because he deserves way more than a chapter, as did my dead husband Don. But back to the point .......
I just returned from a mini-road trip (2 overnights in the Berkshires and then Sturbridge Mass), which was Nick's anniversary gift to me, taking us on this getaway which kicked off with seeing James Taylor in concert at Tanglewood, on the evening of July 4th. We had lawn seats, which was so much fun and such a cool vibe, walking through the wooded path with our cooler of picnic food, blanket, lawn chairs, and excitement; as we found and chose our place on the lawn near the stage. James Taylor has a voice that brings me back to nostalgia - back to childhood days and innocent times and being back in high school with old friends. I expected his music to be a bit emotional maybe for me. I did not expect the grief tsunami of triggers that happened toward the end of the concert. I did not expect the intensity and severity of these emotions to come on so quickly and suddenly. I did not expect that, even after almost 7 years into this, grief can still take the reigns and take full control and attack you full-force without your consent.
It was toward the end of the concert, about 4 or 5 songs from what would be the last one. We were sitting in our lawn chairs, in the dark humid night, with thousands of others, loving and basking in the music of this talented man. It happened during the song "Fire and Rain", a classic for any Taylor fan. The song is about his childhood friend, Suzanne, who died by suicide, and Taylor's reaction to it. It is also about his own struggles in life with addiction. As he sang this song, I noticed HE was getting emotional, and his voice cracked slightly when he sang the line: "I've seen lonely times when I could not find a friend - but I always thought that I'd see you again." Suddenly, the tsunami hit. My heart started burning with intense sadness, and a furiously fast flash of music-related memories of me and Don started blinking through my mind, all at once, one following the next and the next. Don strumming his guitar in our apartment. Seeing Paul McCartney together in concert, twice. Seeing Fleetwood Mac together. Being in our friends recording studio doing a recording of me singing and Don playing lead guitar on "Sweet Emotion" by Aerosmith. Sitting on our living room couch and playing CD's for each other. Talking to him that first night in that music chat room.
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
With hindsight, I know that there is no way I could have better prepared for what has been required of me since Mike died. Widowhood is something you have to live to fully understand. There is no way to adequately explain this life in words. It is something that has to be experienced first hand to be comprehended.
This being the case, there is a strong kinship among those in the widowed community because our hearts speak the same language. We speak in fairly simple, yet carefully chosen words. The dialect of this 'language' can not be learned or interpreted - because it is not understood unless you are one of us. The aching inside us, the emptiness within us, and the sadness in our eyes is spoken in Grief's mother tongue. Widowed people do not need an interpreter. In fact, we often have the exact same tone in our voices . We can easily recognize what is said by others who are fluent in grief. And, maybe, more importantly, we hear what is not spoken by those who have lost the one they love. In short, we understand one another without words because there really are no words to adequately explain widowhood and how gutting it is.
Grief itself has many shared characteristics no matter who you are. The feelings of grief do not discriminate by gender, race or socio-economics. I believe that the emotions of grief are somewhat universal. Yet, our own grief is unique to each of us. It's ours. No one person feels the exact same way about losing their person.
We widowed people understand one another without words or explanation because we have lived through those lonely nights that we thought would swallow us whole. We have nearly crawled out of our skin yearning for the touch of our person. We have gasped for breathe because of the permanence of our situation. Their absence is forever - for the rest of our lives - and this changes everything about our future. Hence, we have been brought to our knees. We have laid on the cold, hard floor sobbing and wishing this was not our reality. We each know exactly how these things feel because we have done these things many, many times since they died. Thankfully, grief is fluid. The rawness of grief changes with time; but surviving the initial months of grief is something that is etched into your Soul. Outliving the person you love is something that changes you forever...
As time goes on, my grief has softened around the edges; and, for the most part, I appear to be "okay" - except that I'm not. And, recently, I have accepted that this is the way life is for me right now. And, I am okay - that I'm not okay.
I think that this is part of grief - to just accept that you are changed and working towards a future that you can't yet imagine. In grief, one must just breathe and have faith that things will work out - eventually. I now know that there is nothing I can do to "heal" myself - other than just live. I have to live the best way I can, and I must learn to forgive myself when I exist poorly some moments. Ironically, whether I like it or not, Mike's death is teaching me about living. (It is what it is.)
Recently, I find that I am continuously lost in my own thoughts. I spend hours imagining the future that we wanted to live together. I spend far too much time wishing things were different. And, I also spend a lot of time convincing myself that this is actually real.
He is dead. He is dead. He is really dead.
And, nothing can change it.
I say these words to myself again and again,
Because, one year and seven months later,
Mike's death is still surreal to me.
Maybe it always will be...
I can not believe how drastically different my life is without him. All day long I ask myself "NOW WHAT?" ... What the hell am I supposed to do without him? I don't have the answer. I have more questions than answers and I think that's okay for right now. It has to be.
This past week was the 6th anniversary of his death. I wrote last week about this, and what would have been our 9th anniversary together the week before. I will always hate that these two dates are a week apart. It’ll always piss me off to have to have my anniversary of celebrating our love so closely linked to when he died. But it is what it is I guess...
The week of our anniversary proved to be a lot harder this year that I’d expected. Harder than the anniversary of his death, which turned out to be pretty okay really. But our anniversary, nope, a lot of tears and just an overall sadness and wanting to withdraw for days. Still, it’s easier than it used to be. I will never forget the excruciating sadness and anxiety those first few years. The horrible hollow feeling when I first realized that no one else cares about your anniversary but the two of you… and thusly no one else remembers it or honors it. So you are alone then more than on any other day.
My new partner, Mike, has brought a lot of joy back to these hard days though. The first year I dated him, we were long-distance, but happened to be visiting each other when my anniversary with Drew fell. Mike took me out for a nice dinner that night, to a fancy restaurant. We got all dressed up and enjoyed a beautiful romantic evening. It was so surreal to be out with another man on that particular night for the first time ever… and even more surreal that it wasn’t upsetting or awkward at all. It felt beautiful. It felt like I’d found this new person who wasn’t afraid to celebrate both our love and the love I had before. He got that it was a part of me. It surprised me, no doubt, how easy it could be to actually have these two worlds in some way meshing into one new life...Read more
Every now and then something seemingly ordinary happens in our widow lives that has so much more meaning. Something that other people would really not think anything of. I had one of these a few weeks ago, when the glass top on our stove cracked.
This was a stove that my new person, Mike, and his late-wife, Megan, had in their house for a decade. A stove that was at the center of a lifetime of meals and memories in their household. And there it was, one evening after making dinner, I noticed something… a huge crack that ran all the way across the top of the glass top surface. After hopeful research, we were both frustrated to learn that a cracked glass top is completely unsafe to keep using.
It wasn’t a particularly triggery or upsetting thing for Mike… he doesn’t tend to go hunting out the symbolic meaning of ordinary household appliances the way I do. This was merely a minor extra annoyance in our life for him. And let’s face it, having to drop everything on your day off to go unexpectedly hunting for a stove bargain was not exactly something exciting or pivotal. Except that for me, it kind of was...
I was very aware, it was a moment in time we were sharing something major. Something that both of us "should" have been doing with someone else who isn't here anymore. That together, here we were, in the midst of our "plan B" journey - with a new milestone of adult life.