I have been pondering comfort, self-care, and help – what each of them is, to me, and what makes one or other easier and/or more accessible than another. Here is where I am at. And no, I have done no Googling or other research into what each of them is. Just research in my own life and experience. They are oft-used terms in Griefland – wobbly yet somehow vital components in this messy puzzle called life. Components that I have been shining a bit of a light on this week, supported by my therapist Catherine, and my grief guru Tom Zuba. This piece of writing won’t be particularly deep, nor complete. Just reflections at a point in time.
Self-Care, and more specifically, Extreme Self-Care. I pride myself on being excellent at “extreme self-care” – a concept I readily stole from Cheryl Richardson, having purchased her book with the same title, some 9 or so years ago. I’ve never done more than flick through her book but read enough to determine my own version of Extreme Self-Care, which has been about learning to trust what is good for me, how to monitor my health and energy, and how to restore energy when it was getting low.
My ability to self-monitor is pretty damned good (she says), and my strategies for (re)filling my bucket are vast. More to the point, my strategies provide enjoyment and are readily accessible. I have long been a bit of a guru, mentor, or role-model for others (specifically professional working mums) when it comes to extreme self-care, and the same skills have served me well in the land of Grief. Nothing makes the loss go away. Nothing makes anything better. But knowing if I am moving towards more pain, or able to shift microscopically towards some ease is often the difference between an awful day and an okay day. My ability to provide myself extreme self-care is second to none. For that I am grateful. And I know it helps me live and function as well as I currently do.Read more
This past weekend, Sarah and I traveled to Toronto to attend our third Camp Widow there. We’ve both realized that Camp Widow recharges us. Though we may not be in the active throes of grief on a daily basis, with Megan’s death four years ago, and Drew’s six, there is something about telling our stories, and hearing others’ that brings a warmth that we didn’t realize we were lacking.
This year though, it was so much more. I assisted with two of the focus groups on Friday, one for those that lost their partners less than a year ago, and one for widowers. I was given the opportunity and honor of introducing Michele Neff Hernandez for her final keynote address. I helped Sarah setup for her intensive workshop on Saturday, “Rebuilding our Hearts”, and took my leave to let her shine. Those stories are for a different time though. I will certainly be expanding upon my “introduction speech” soon, because ten minutes is certainly not enough time to convey how much my story has been influenced by Michele.
A few months before Camp, Michele contacted Sarah, and proposed an idea for the message release that is conducted at each and every Saturday banquet at Camp. It was to be a large sign, displaying the word “Hope”, with a similar look and feel to the large “Toronto” sign just across the street from the hotel. Since we can easily drive to Toronto from Ohio, and I have a pickup truck, logistically, it was easier (and obviously more cost effective) for us to create something and deliver it across the border than it would be to ship something from California.
We worked for weeks creating this. Purchasing supplies, calculating, measuring, cutting materials, sanding, painting, gluing, and lighting these letters. As late as the Wednesday night before camp, we were cutting out small cork “bricks” and tying a string to over 200 of them.
It was a lot of work, to say the least, but the reception we received to it was far and away more than we could have ever imagined.Read more
I was planning, this morning, to write about the total solar eclipse that Sarah, Shelby and I witnessed just a week ago. As we sat on the banks of the Oconoluftee River in North Carolina, at the foot of the Smoky Mountains and watched the sun disappear, I was speechless, awed, and felt transcendent.
That was the plan, at least. We had a family vacation to those mountains, topped off by the eclipse, and I was sure it would still be at the forefront of my mind when I sat down to write.
But it’s not. The memories and pure joy at what I witnessed are still present, certainly, but a little rain storm has consumed my heart and thoughts since last week.
The other day I received a text message from a friend of mine, who happens to have Cystic Fibrosis herself. This friend was there for Megan and I when Megan was going through her 6 month decline, and I can’t describe enough how she (and her husband) went above and beyond for us.
They would visit at the drop of a hat, when I just needed an hour away from the ICU, and Megan needed an hour away from my ugly mug. They would bring clandestine snacks for Megan when she had cravings, as she almost never had an appetite, but when she did, she needed broccoli and cheese soup (I can no longer stand the smell) or M&Ms RIGHT NOW.
I spoke with her every day during Megan’s hospitalization, giving her status updates, vital statistics, and news. She would get all the gory details, and, if I happened to be running late with the call, I would get a text not long after, asking how Megan was doing. She really did care whole-heartedly.Read more
Two years ago today, Megan was admitted to the hospital for the final time. Her rejection had already been diagnosed months before, and she was heading in for a yet another check-up and round of tests. Her dad was going to take her to the appointment, I was going to head to work, and she would be back in the evening.
I carried her to the car that morning. She was too weak to even walk the 20 or so steps from our living room to his vehicle. I loaded up her portable oxygen tanks, made sure she had extra tubing for them, a blanket on her lap, and kissed her goodbye.
That was the last time I would see her leave the house without me.
Before Drew died, I was not the softest person. Sure I was kind and loving and generous, but mainly just with him – the one person I trusted above all others. I honestly rarely gave anyone else my heartfelt genuine love – because I did not trust people. I always kept everyone but him at arms length, but did I good job of disuising myself as kind and giving from the outside. My whole life this has been something I've struggled with. Something I haven't liked about myself. And something I have not known how to move past.
After he died, somehow, miraculously, I did the opposite of this. I didn't close off from others. I didn't mistrust or question or hold back. Instead, I opened up to everyone completely and in a way I never had before. I exposed every fear, every tear, and every irrational, over-the-top outburst, to anyone who would listen. In conversations and phonecalls and blog posts and artwork and hugs and embarassing crying fits. I didn't think about it - it was survival. It is what I had to do. It still amazes me today that being this broken was the thing that broke down lifelong walls inside me that I had been yearning to get past for years. It was oddly the best and worst year of my life.
It was the worst for obvious reasons. But it was the best because it was the first time in my life that I truly opened myself – not just to one person – but to everyone. His death softened my heart. After a lifetime of trying to protect myself from the world – I finally put down my armor, looked around, and saw that I hadn't been keeping myself safe from harm at all. I had been keeping away love and laughter and connection and support...Read more