This past weekend Mike and I attended Camp Widow Toronto. We helped out with a lot of things this year, from leading panel discussions and groups, to building the enormous sign of HOPE for the banquet and working with Michele to plan the message release around it. I also hosted my creative workshop again, for the second year, which was an absolutely incredible experience.
There was so much to do before ever getting to camp… we have been working tirelessly for the past month or two to get ready. It has meant long nights and very busy weekends planning, dreaming, building, painting, budgeting, and hoping it will all go as well as we imagine. I stepped out of my own comfort zone in many ways. Not only in what we physically created in the huge sign of HOPE, which Mike wrote more about last week in his post. Also though, in deciding to commit myself so fully to focusing not one what I needed this year, but on what I had to give.
I can’t help but wonder, just how did I get here? Me… who just six years ago was so broken that I feared I'd never be able to put the pieces back together. Me… who couldn't even feed myself for 2 weeks after his death. Who couldn't even buy dental floss at the grocery store or remember to pay my credit card bill for 6 months. Who woke every morning for so long in a horror, wishing with all my heart that it was all just a nightmare. On top of all that, I have spent a lifetime fighting deep-rooted self doubt. Fighting to believe that I have anything of value to give to others. Just how did I get here then, shining a light for others along the path?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
Widowhood does not come with a map. In the beginning, there are no familiar landmarks and the curves on the road are unfamiliar. As you set out on your way, you will spend a great deal of time bumping into things as you shimmy along, and that's okay. The important thing is that you are moving and forward momentum is always a good thing. It's likely that you will not know what direction you are headed in, and that is okay too. It is time to have faith that everything will be "okay", somehow.
There have been many new beginnings born from Mike's death. I have met new people and some of these new acquaintances have become friends. And, further, some of these friends speak in Grief's mother tongue. I easily understand them because I am now fluent in grief. These new friends understand the language my heart speaks and there is great comfort in this. However, widowhood is a long journey and it demands solo traveling at times. My friends can accompany me and offer me empowering advice and encourage me with their words; but, I must recreate a life for myself. I need to navigate my way through this "mess" - no one can do this for me.
Wading through the quagmire of grief isn't easy stuff.
But, in order to re-engage in life we must sort through the broken shards of the life we imagined.
This is tedious.
This is grueling.
Simply put, it is hard work.
My fingers are bloody and raw from clawing my way back towards life.
But, bloody fingers aside, I know that the life ahead of me is worth it.
Re-entering life, without Mike, is the most difficult thing I have attempted to do in my life. There is a lot of uncertainty in my future, but more importantly, there is potential. Before me are boundless opportunities.
Once again, I find myself on a ledge. I am paused because I am scared. But, even more significant, I am excited. I am actually somewhat enthusiastic about life again. I feel it - I am standing on the edge of something big. And, in time, I am going to leap towards the new life that is waiting for me. And, I KNOW that I will land on my feet - somehow.
I have always looked for Joy. I search for it everywhere I go. Seeking Joy is like a treasure hunt; except, in this case, I don't have a map. Honestly, I don't mind the lack of navigational tools because I have grown used to hurling myself into the unknown since he died. With practice, I have become accustom to feeling lost. Now, I am somewhat comfortable being without direction and guidance because I have lived this way for over 500 days.
When you become a widow everything familiar is suddenly lost. The rituals and routines of your old life no longer mark the way. As a widowed person you are forced to sail into uncharted waters. It is incredibly daunting. But, with time, you get used to it. And, you can even begin to flourish in the open water.
I am different because he died. I am 'better' in some significant ways because of the devastation that I am living through; but, the price I paid for this growth is too steep. No gain will ever be worth what I've lost. But, there is no changing it. Mike has died. Wishing it was different does nothing to help me and it does not undo his death. I have to stay the course and be grateful for the good things that I still have in my life.
In a very real way, Mike's death has brought me closest to my true self. His death is leading me to some place I need to go. For a long time I believed that I was drifting aimlessly. I assumed that I was lost, so I desperately searched for direction. I was tirelessly drafting plans in my mind because I thought I had to "fix" my life. I felt compelled to correct what had been wronged. But, now I know that all my efforts were needless.
There is a plan at work here; and, in order for this plan to be successful, I am not required to "fix" or do anything. In fact, the best thing that I can do is step aside. Before I realized all this, I was my biggest obstacle. I was getting in my own way. The truth is, I do not need to carefully map out my own journey. With this realization, I no longer feel the need to control the direction of my sails. I have stopped flailing in the water because I trust that something bigger than me is at work. I believe that my best interests are being served. I do not need to intervene because everything will work out as it is meant to. In short, I have faith. I know that I will be okay.
The reality is, I am exposed as I float out in the open water. Anything is possible. I might be a lot of things, but I am not lost. I am exactly where I am meant to be. I may feel that I am without direction. But, I am drifting directly towards my destination. Everything is as it should be - I can feel it. I am not required to do anything. I don't have to steer in the right direction. In fact, I have to do less, not more. When Mike was alive he used to say "stay where you're at, I'll come where you are". And, this is exactly what I need to do now.
If I am drifting in the open sea,
Then, Mike is the water I am floating on.
I am not drowning like I thought I was.
He's got me.
I am being supported by the water.
I am being lead to where I need to be.
All I need to do is "stay where (I'm) at, (because) he will come where I'm am." I wish I remembered what Mike told me early. This would have been a whole lot easier. Nonetheless, I figured it out. I remembered his promise; and, this has brought me a great deal of peace. And, it's nice because I haven't felt peaceful in a long, long time...
I am tired of trying to be - 'not sad'.
I am exhausted from the aching in my heart.
I am weary from recognizing Joy everywhere,
All around me,
And, still feeling hollow inside,
I am aware of all the good in my life,
My heart is grateful for what I have.
So, I ask myself again and again,
Why isn't it enough?
Why isn't my life enough - without him?
I don't have the answer to this question.
For now, all I can do is ask.
And, I will be strong on his love as I seek the answers...
Painting: Big Heart by Ivan Guaderrama
The truth is, I can write all my positive thoughts and affirmations onto this page;
But, I can not reverse all the ways that Mike's death has permanently changed me.
I'm different now.
Nothing can alter this.
I can't be who I used to be - ever again.
As I am moving forward I am not just grieving Mike,
I am grieving the person I was when he was alive.
- I miss her too -
My eyes look dull and lifeless. Sometimes...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) ...
Just two weeks ago, I wrote of a friend that was, at the time, fighting for her life in the ICU, hoping for a lung transplant. She was on death’s door, and no one could guess if she would make it another week, waiting for a donor.
I am happy to say, that, as of yesterday, she received her transplant. A call came in late in the night on Sunday, and by 8:00 AM, she was being wheeled into surgery. That’s all well and good. It’s great news, in fact. It’s one less person that is going to die from Cystic Fibrosis this week. I witnessed Megan’s brother Jason in almost the exact same state, back in 2005. He didn’t make it. I witnessed Megan in almost the exact same state in 2011. She DID make it. It’s always hit or miss, but in this particular case, it was a “hit”.
But. There’s always a “but”.Read more
As I wrote last week, I had made plans to go to a place called the Dolly Sods wilderness for a weekend of backpacking. I’d been planning for months, to return to this place that I was so familiar and comfortable with. A place that felt like home to me. As fate would have it, a fire ban was instituted in the area, which quickly put this trip into an unsafe endeavor. Being wet and cold at 4000+ feet in December is not something one just says “oh well” to.
I’ve had a couple of really beautiful, full-circle moments recently. The sort that have reminded me in such sweet ways how totally interconnected my old life and my life now still and always are.
This past week, we finally got my couch moved into Mike’s house from the garage. And by my couch, I really mean Drew’s. I have been dragging this thing around ever since he died… an enormous olive green couch. It is really the only piece of furniture of his I have. Since we didn’t live together, much of his bigger stuff ended up being given away or taken to Goodwill when he died, as there was no place to put it. But this couch, I was not letting go of it. It sat in a storage unit for 3 years after he died, before finally making the journey north with me from Texas to Ohio last fall.
So we finally get this thing moved into Mike’s basement, where we have made a cozy den next to my art studio area. Over the course of a few days, I watched as something really heartwarming took place.
The day began with tears. Its brutally unfair were my thoughts. He should be here! Where is he?
My stomach in tight knots I felt physically ill. He would have been 30.
The day was spent with family. Reminiscing and sharing stories. Keeping busy, we laughed, we ate, and we supported each other. Sending balloons up into the clouds the physically sick feeling returned and I choked swallowing my tears.
I thought that once the day I dreaded was over, the mood I had felt intensely the past week would lift. I was wrong. The following day was worse. Maybe it was the shock and disbelief wearing off, the lack of distractions the denial I sometimes live in.
Denial that was taken away in an instant with the sound of his voice. “Close your eyes and listen” Unexpectedly and unprepared I leaned into the mobile phone being held to my ear. I closed my eyes and listened in wonder.Read more