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
There I was, at a coffee shop downtown last Wednesday afternoon. I was sitting beside a large window enjoying the rain tapping against the glass as I did some work on my computer, when suddenly my awareness was completely shifted. In that instant, I felt a deep, emptiness that was both piercing and aching at the same time. A screaming hollowness inside me.
What had happened? I overheard a word from one of the two women who sat behind me enjoying lunch together. And that word, was “Mom”.
As I continued to listen in on their conversation, the hole in my heart grew bigger and bigger. The daughter looked to be my age, and here they were, just having an ordinary lunch together. Like this is a thing they do every week. She must have fired off the word “mom” twenty more times as I listened. There was such an ease in their voices. Such a comfortable knowingness of each other. Something I have never experienced as an adult. I teared up, and actually stopped working to grab my journal and write my emotions out….
“I feel it so acutely right now. This hole in me. This lack of security. I wonder if I should go back to counseling. I wonder if I will always have trouble with avoiding things. I wonder if I will always get in my own way, and if somehow all of it is because of this hole. Because of this lack of security deep down in me. I just miss my mom.”Read more
A few weeks ago, a milestone came that I have dreaded for a very long time. It’s odd to say that, considering it was my anniversary with someone I love very much. But it wasn’t just any anniversary. It was the third year since the day Mike and I met. The third anniversary was also the last I got to have with Drew… he died six days later, suddenly. This is almost unbelievable to me.. As my 3 years with Mike have felt like a whirlwind, and the same amount of time with Drew felt somehow like a decade.
It’s no surprise that I’ve had many mixed emotions the past few weeks. Emotions about the fact that, going forward from here, each new day with Mike is one more day than what I got to have with Drew. Emotions about Mike dying somehow suddenly a week after our third anniversary. I’ve even had some particularly difficult and confusing dreams as of late… dreams that seem like my mind trying to make sense of it all again, just like in the first year after he died.
I’ve struggled to find words about how all this feels. I haven’t really even journaled about it, which is my usual go-to. So I’m trying here to confront those feelings. I don’t want to. I don’t like these feelings. Because they are so complex. Because I don’t even fully understand them. Because they make me feel guilty for not being 100% joyful when milestones hit. Quite bluntly, I feel resentment. And It feels awful. And Ugly. And not at all like a feeling I want to have.Read more
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...
While we were down in my hometown last week for a wedding, we managed to get out for a few hours one morning to make the drive out to Rockport. If you’ll recall, this little coastal town got the brunt of hurricane Harvey last year. I will never forget sitting in bed at 2am, watching the TV in horror from 1400 miles away as one of my favorite little beach towns was swallowed alive. And all the pictures and videos that came in the days following as they began to assess the damage of a place I hold so dear.
I both wanted and didn’t want to visit Rockport… but I knew I needed to. As we drove the long, straight stretch of single highway out there and hopped the ferry across the channel, I grew emotional at what we might see. As we started to get in to town, my stomach turned in a way I’ve rarely ever felt. Nearly every other house was missing a roof or a wall. The little ice cream shop where Drew and I stopped on our first trip to the beach together was gone. Every one of the big beach shops was empty - nothing but a skeleton of gaping broken floor-to-ceiling windows… all the merchandise and shelving now stripped clean. Boats were still lying in piles on top of one another all about, and mounds of old furniture and refrigerators and twisted up metal roofing and splintered, rotting wood lie at almost every corner.Read more
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) ...
Here we are. A new year. An entire expanse of fresh time laid out before me… and a mixture of dread and excitement about what that means. As I’m reflecting and looking forward from this in-between space, I’m thinking on just how much has changed in my life in the past five years. In particular, how unreal it is that I have become so many new things since Drew died.
In the first year alone, I lost my fiance without warning, left the city we called home, quit my job and left my career as a designer behind and moved out to the country to be away from all of civilization. Effectively, I left everything that reminded me of our life together behind, except for the people we loved. Our friends and families. I guess I sort of shed all roles at that time, without realizing it. I rejected the idea of being anything really other than existing for a while. Except that I could not seem to escape the one role that now defined me… “WIDOW”...Read more
Nearing New Year’s, of course we’re all looking back. Or maybe some of us aren’t because we don’t want to - or we just can’t. I imagine a lot of us are ready to leave 2017 in the dust. I certainly am. Not perhaps in the same way I was ready to leave 2012 in the dust… that was more about running away from my reality and my pain. This is more a feeling of being ready for what’s next. A feeling of accomplishment for making it through a year filled with all kinds of new challenges I’d never faced before.
This year I also hit a major grief milestone - the 5 year mark. I remember having so much fear about one day being FIVE ENTIRE YEARS away from the last day I saw him or heard his voice. For a long time, that number scared me a lot. Then it just became hard to imagine. It’s still hard to imagine even though it’s now here. Now approaching 5 ½ years as I write this and somehow it hasn’t been so traumatic after all. There have been painful moments yes, but not as I had imagined it would be. It was a softer and more gentle pain, if that makes sense. Still there is a longing for a time that once was. For a life I loved. A person I still love. For the person I used to be that I will never be again. But it doesn’t feel like I’d thought it would.Read more
Today it is thirteen months and 3 days since you died. Some moments, your death still does not feel real to me. And, other times, the realness of your death is so apparent I feel nauseated. This is grief in all it's unapologetic glory.
In the early days when you died I couldn't even breathe. I'd gasp for breathe and I'd rock back and forth, holding my chest, in an effort to encourage the air to move from my lungs into my body. For months I struggled desperately, day and night, to soothe my broken Soul. I remember I'd stand in the kitchen and I'd clutch my chest as I cooked dinner because I thought my heart was going to explode into a million pieces when it broke. I remember thinking that grief was cruel because it forced us to endure and survive this deep aching pain. I knew full well that my heart wasn't going to literally reduce to fragments - even though it felt like it was. Those early days of grief were completely gutting. And, I am glad that the raw intensity of those first four months is behind me. Somehow I survived.
As much as I never want to feel the pain of the early days again, I do wish I could go back and tell my newly widowed self what I have learned about grief. I'd tell her that in order to survive she does not need to do anything - except breathe. (Which, I know, is easier said than done.) I'd let her know that the shock and numbness she feels is there by design; and, I would tell her that she is not to worry about being in a daze. I'd tell her that the laundry and housework are not a priority. I'd wink and let her know that she won't have any memory of these first four months after his death, so she should feel free to let it go. I'd also brief her about the fact that she can't rush through this. I'd say with authority, that there is no way to side step this pain because there is no "cure" for grief. Grief isn't a disease that you are magically healed from. Grief is a journey that lasts your lifetime from what I can tell so far. I'd continue with the advice, knowing full well, my sleep deprived self would not really understand or absorb much of what I was saying because her mind could no longer process anything. She was consumed with trying to make sense of the fact that Mike was dead.
At this point, in my made-up (but all too real) scenario, I'd make us both something to eat because I know that she is on the "widow diet". I know that she has probably only had coffee all day. Once I got her fed, I'd tell her I notice she's lost more than her smile, she's lost weight too. I'd remind her to eat everyday. And, I would tell my freshly widowed self that she needs to start wearing makeup again, and I'd tell her that doing her hair is not as optional as she thinks. And, then, I'd hear her laugh... and it's magic.
As a new widow she needs to know that she should try to lean into the pain and absorb the ache into her DNA. I'd let my frazzled self know that when your person dies you are reduced to a state of infancy. And, I'd smile and I'd gently brush the strands of stray hair from her eyes; then, I'd tell her that she's normal. And, I'd promise her that she's going to be okay. I'd remind myself to tell her that death is a trauma. And, because of the trauma Mike's death caused, she has forgotten how to soothe herself. She will need assistance with the basics: breathing, sleeping and eating. I'd recommend that she surround herself with only compassionate, loving, people who don't try to "fix" her. These people who simply walk along side her as she grieves will become her lifelines. They will carry her on the really hard days in the year ahead. I'd gently tell my newly widowed self to be patient and settle into her feelings. I'd remind her to smile more, even if it's just for a fleeting moment. I'd let her know that, in spite of herself, I heard her laugh today - and it was magical.
And, finally, I'd stop and hold her for longer than most normal hugs last.
And, then, I'd look far past the glazed, "deer in headlights", look in her eyes,
I'd look straight into her Soul and I'd whisper to her "you've got this".
Photo credits: @heidi_the_untold
Somehow I've survived this surreal experience of out living Mike. I have learned that in order to survive his death I had to undergo a sort of re-birth, and this process is still ongoing. I've come undone and I've been unhinged for the better part of this last year. But, alas, I've arrived here, in this moment. I've emerged exhausted and a bit disheveled because...
This year, Christmas has given me a lot to consider. Reminders to give myself ample time to take care of all that needs doing, so I don’t get overwhelmed. To give myself at least 30 minutes each day to myself, to do something that relaxes me, like yoga or taking a walk or drawing, in order to help me stay sane. That daily maintenance has been a Godsend. Not only has it kept me sane, it’s left space for me to actually enjoy the holidays… and maybe *gasp* be excited about the season for the first time in years.
It’s also given me more space to feel the loss. Not only of the people I love who have died, but also of the traditions I’ve lost with them. This has been one of the things my counselor and I have been talking about quite a bit lately. Loss of tradition. I honestly don’t think I’d even considered how significant that was until now. How much it has affected my Christmas experience my entire life.Read more