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.
This past week, I had a pretty crazy dream. It’s the first time of this sort that I have ever had. As many of you know, our Tuesday writer, Mike, is my boyfriend. He lost his wife, Megan, in 2014 to Cystic Fibrosis and I lost my fiance, Drew, in 2012 in a crash. We’ve been dating now a few years, and still nothing like this dream has showed up before.
And then came Mother’s Day last week… and the post I wrote about Mike and Megan’s daughter, whom I am now caring for as my own. You can read that post here, but essentially it boiled down to my deep appreciation for this little person being in my life now and all that she has changed for the better.
So that night, the end of Mother's Day, I had a dream... about Megan...
It was not just any dream. It was one of *those* dreams… and you all know the ones I mean. The dreams that some of us call “visits” because of how realistic they feel. In this dream, Megan was in a hospital bed and Mike and I were on either side of her. He was not a major part of the dream, except to introduce me to Megan at the beginning. He told her that I was the new person in his life. That I was the one chosen to be here, after her. And then, there was this completely real, completely tangible moment of us looking eye to eye at one another. Silence. Hearts beating, a little tensely. Guardedness. Neither yet saying words… she was taking me in. She was taking in this moment of her life that she knew would always come.
And just as if it had been real, you could feel the presence of protectiveness in her. The seriousness of the situation in her. And she then looked forward a moment, took a breath, and began to tell me in a very matter of fact way what was important to her for me to take care of after she’s gone...Read more
That’s how long I have been a widower, as of this very moment. It’s an arbitrary number...over 1,000, not quite 1500. Not an even number, nor a prime number. It doesn’t signify a specific milestone or even an approaching one. It’s just Tuesday, 1,273 days since Megan’s death.
I’ve now been through 3 of her birthdays, 3 anniversaries, 4 Mothers’ days, and 4 Christmases. Shelby is 4 grades ahead in her schooling, Megan’s brother is married, with two children, and I’m closer to 40 than 30. I’ve met and fallen in love with a wonderful woman that is now just as much part of our family as Megan was, and as much a mother to Shelby. There are at least 1,273 things that have happened since her death. I’ve mowed the lawn probably 80 times. I’ve went to work for 800 or so days. The trash has been taken out on sunday 180 times, and we’ve bought at least 45 bags of dog food. I’ve hiked over 100 miles. Many of these things are significant as it relates to widowerhood, most of them not.
On second thought...they’re all significant.Read more
I’ve been thinking the past few days about Kelley’s Friday post. She talked about how people treat us when widowed, and the frustrations of often being treated like a five year old or misunderstood in some way.
Or how people begin to act differently again once you find new love. That one I can definitely attest to. I wrote to her, saying how it felt like when I met Mike and found love again, all the people who had coddled me and worried over me disappeared, as if to say “Oh thank God, we don’t have to WORRY about her anymore!”
And then the avoiders who had been too uncomfortable with my grief came out of the woodworks to suddenly be more present and express their joy… which really felt more like expressing how happy they were that they could be comfortable with my life again. It’s funny what grief does to those around us... and then to us as a result.
When I moved to Ohio in the name of new love, it felt like a slow exodus I had not intended. Gradually, everyone seemed to just sort of fade out. I got the same sort of story from people over and over again, "Oh I figured you're so busy enjoying your new life, I didn't want to bother you!" Excuse me for being blunt, but that is the stupidest thing to say to someone you care about. Because you think I’m happy you think I’m too busy? Huh?
What the hell does that even mean? And how did virtually no one stop to think that maybe, just maybe, this change was not JUST joyful, but incredibly painful and hard? How did no one see that? Leaving the only place I’ve ever called home… the place where my parents and my fiance are buried, to live 1400 miles away in a totally different culture from Texas. Not to mention how hard it's been for Mike knowing he was the catalyst for my leaving home and for a lot of pain I've experienced by making that choice. Really, truly, almost no one asked at any point “how are you really doing?”. Somehow they all decided that being united with my new love after having dated from far away for nearly a year was all I needed to be 100% happy with no sense of loss whatsoever.
This still annoys me...Read more
Death has been on my mind a lot the past week, and I don’t even know why. There haven’t been any major milestones or triggers. No birthdays of people who are dead. No death anniversaries. No real explanation, yet I’ve been unable to shake these shadowy figures in my mind. The haunting things I know will one day happen to more people I love. And to me. And it just plain sucks.
It could be something as small as not getting good sleep lately, or the muscle strain I’ve had in my neck for the past 3 weeks that won’t seem to subside… or even just the lingering winter weather that will not seem to go away here in Ohio.
I suppose the one thing that has been a trigger was an email from my aunt - giving me some old lab results about cancers my aunt and grandmother had. It's information I needed for sure, but still hard to swallow. They both survived their breast cancer, unlike my mom. Still though, it makes it very likely that either my sister or I, or both of us, will one day be told we have cancer too. It’s quite possibly the most terrifying thing imaginable to me... facing this particular disease showing up in some way in my life again...Read more
I don’t have them very often, but last night was a pretty sleepless night. My mind was going. I couldn’t seem to quiet it. Usually I can put on a podcast and be out in ten minutes… but every now and then I find myself listening to an entire podcast, and then another, barely managing to doze off at all...
Even though nowadays, my sleep is pretty much back to how it was before he died, sleepless nights still feel fragile. I guess they bring back the memory… the weight of the sadness through the nights. It reminds me of sleepless nights for an entire year after he died, when I didn’t sleep for more than 3 or 4 hours a night, ever. It reminds me of the heavy dread when I would manage to sleep and then wake, around 3 or 4am, and realize all over again that he was dead and it was in fact not just a bad dream.Read more
My fiance died in 2012. In the spring of 2014, I began creating a photographic series about my grief, called "Still, Life"… sharing weekly self portraits that captured my pain, hope, confusion, anger and everything else that comes along with grief.
I worked on this series for about a year, creating 40 haunting, hopeful, honest images… with each one, I wrote a brief essay that talked about what that particular image represented about my own story. As it turns out, sometimes I wasn’t even entirely certain what the story was when I would go out to photograph myself. Sometimes I just wandered, with the camera, and let my intuition guide me. So when I would sit down to write about each image, many times, the personal meaning would begin to reveal itself there. More times than not, I would end up in tears as my typing fingers led me to the true, deep feeling of the image.
I wrapped up that series in a rather unceremonious way.... I just sort of faded out, from the pure exhaustion of it all. There was no grand finale. No final profound photograph to end the journey of the project. I just sort of lost my desire for it, or felt ready to stop looking so deeply at my grief after a full year of intensively doing so.
Looking back, I realize now, the way the project ended was just like everything in this “after” life. It was exactly like making it through the first year of his being gone… something I’d imagined would feel pivotal, like I’d graduated to the next level or something. Only it didn’t feel that way at all. Instead it felt gut-wrenching all over again. Because still, after making it through a whole year, he was not going to come back...Read more
The fact of the matter is, I’m a 37 year old widower. By most standards, it’s quite unique. I wasn’t married to someone in a high-risk career. Megan wasn’t in her seventies, hell, she barely made it into her thirties. Statistically, I’m much more likely to be divorced than widowed at my age.
The fact of the matter is, Cystic Fibrosis is a brutal disease. It’s filled with ups and downs that last a lifetime. Emergency room trips and months-long inpatient stays, immediately followed by “feeling good” and leading a normal life for awhile. One can never plan their lives out more than a few months in advance. You just don’t know what’s around the corner.
The fact of the matter is, I understood all of this very early on in Megan and I’s relationship. I knew she would have to be admitted to the hospital for, at a minimum, two weeks at a time, multiple times per year. I was completely aware that birthdays, holidays, vacations and other events would be a crap shoot from time to time, not knowing if she would be blowing out candles or coughing up blood.
I was talking with a friend the other day about new love after being widowed and it got me reflecting on the idea. I ended up describing to her how my fiance and my now boyfriend are like two different colors of love. I really liked this idea the more I thought about it…
There is no color in the spectrum that is better or worse, more or less, than any other. And loving another after loss is just the same. I’ve now been with Mike for a little over 3 years… roughly the same amount of time I had with Drew before he died. Having had about the same amount of time to grow with each of these men, I can say for certain they each have their own distinct color. By that I mean the feeling of them has a color to me. Their personalities and demeanor, while having many similarities, are still quite different.Read more
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