When your spouse has a long-term, terminal illness, it’s very easy to devote all of your attention to their well-being. I rationalized for years that there was quite literally nothing as bad as what Megan was going through, so anything regarding my own health or person was minimal.
It wasn’t healthy in and of itself, but in the grand scheme of things, I felt “fine”. Megan was the important thing to focus on, just trying to get her to the next day, week, or month. I would simply hold down the fort at home while she was in treatment, go about the routines, and worry about myself later.
It’s now “later”.Read more
I’ve felt abnormal my whole life. Ever since I became aware of how my own childhood with a single father who was an alcoholic was far different from the seemingly idyllic 2 parent households of all the other kids at my private school. I’ve never fit in. I’ve never felt like I fit in. Largely, because of death and grief.
When my mom died, I became consumed by death. I thought about people dying all the time. I obsessed over my dad dying and not knowing what would happen to me then. I was nine. No one talked about it, we just pretended it didn’t happen and tried to keep going. That’s how things were done back then.
That feeling of not being normal was further enforced in my teen years. Without a mom, I didn’t know how to be like other girls. I had no one teaching me how to do makeup or shave my legs or to talk to about boys. I just had to learn a lot of things on my own… and often painfully and embarrassingly failed at it. Those were the years my dad started drinking again too. So while other kids were busy being worried about tests at school or winning the big game or how their hair looked that day, I was walking beside them to class wondering if my dad would be too drunk to pick me up from school. Or if he would die in a car wreck because he was drinking and then I’d be totally alone and what the hell would happen then?
The only place I didn’t feel all those things, was when I was making art or spending time with the few close friends I did have. It was the only time I didn’t have to live in that reality. When I was making art especially… I could create a whole other world for myself that had nothing to do with my reality.
It’s ironic as I sit here now, looking back at those difficult early years. At my relationship to death and how it has changed over time. Death has altered my life so drastically since such a young age. For so long, I was alone with death. I never met other kids who had lost a parent. Literally, not a single kid I knew growing up had also lost a parent. I think that’s what made it worse. Even though I have siblings they were all grown and out of the house… so I just felt very alone with death.
Then, I lost my fiance in 2012 suddenly, and death showed up again to alter my entire world. This time though, death did something a little bit different. I still felt very alone in the world of my pain and my grief. We all do in some way. But now, I was an adult, and I could make my own choices about death. There were certain things I learned that I can control. And one of those turned out to be community.Read more
I watched the first episode of a new show on Netflix this morning called Dead to Me. In the episode, two women meet at a grief group, both widows. They end up building a new friendship as late night phone buddies since neither of them are able to sleep. The show goes on to take a lot of unexpected twists and turns (and believe me you should so watch it!), but that one aspect had me remembering the early days of my widowhood… of building friendships with fellow widows in the wee hours of the night.
When I first connected with other widowed people, it was through a private Facebook group. Many of us ended up fairly often online, in the middle of the night. Effectively being late-night “phone” buddies for each other when we could not sleep. There was almost always someone there ready to listen, in the middle of the night or any other time of day that we just needed to feel heard and lay down our guard. And because we got each other, there was just this ease. A kind of comfort no one else could really provide. I ended up making a few of my closest friends from that initial group, people I now travel to see and talk on the phone with often.
I was fortunate to have found groups like that online, and to have since built friendships with people who will actually fulfill the words “Call me ANYTIME”. I have used that lifeline even now, seven years after my fiance died. Because new things do come up. You start dating again. You move in with someone new. You get engaged to someone new. You hit the 5 year mark or the 10 year mark from your person’s death. New stuff always comes.
So yes, I have been very fortunate to find places to spill out all my shit no matter the time of day. But I do remember for about the first 6 months, I didn’t have that.
Sarah and I are planning our wedding, taking place next year. Vaguely, it is going to be somewhat informal, in the sense that the traditional rehearsal, church, event hall, catering, DJ, etc are either going to not be a part of it, or otherwise substituted in a more unique way.
I’ve helped plan a wedding before. 14 years ago, Megan and I were “locked in” so to speak, by May. Our wedding was in August, and everything was booked, arranged, planned, and scripted. Invitations were not only sent out, but most RSVPs had been received. We had spent 6 months already getting everything in order. (Because of her health situation, all of it was somewhat “accelerated” from the traditional year of planning).
The point is, I’ve personally done this before. Most widows have. I have the benefit of a happy memory of doing half the work of planning a wedding, followed by a happy memory of nine years after the fact.Read more
This past week I started something new that I feel both a little bit nervous about but also really hopeful about. I finally signed on to be a regional Soaring Spirits group leader here in Northeast Ohio. I’ve been sitting on this idea for over a year now. In part, for my own reasons… I have very few friends nearby since moving to Ohio. Each year, going to Camp Widow in Toronto, I remember how wonderful that kind of community feels, and how much I’d like to have some piece of that community here locally. I also know, I’m not alone there. I know there’s plenty of other folks who could use the very same thing.
So I finally signed up to lead the regional group here, with hopes that we can grow a wonderful, kind, supportive, fun group. This is a new part of me… I’ve never really been one to be part of organizations or larger communities. I’ve certainly never been one to lead things. But widowhood has changed that some. It’s helped me to realize we all have the ability to lead each other, guide each other, and help each other - even if we don’t have all the answers. It’s helped me to see that we heal better when we heal together.
Being a part of the widowed community has helped me to become more confident and realize that we are all so capable of helping one another on this journey… simply by being there.
Since becoming an involentary widow almost 8 years ago, I have changed in many positive ways.
I am more empathetic.
I am more sympathetic.
I am less judgemental of people's lives and situations and circumstances.
I listen better.
I stop to talk with people more.
I find more meaning and beauty in very tiny things.
I exist in the moment more.
I love profoundly and deeply.Read more
If nothing else, 5 years down the road, I still have many questions and few answers. The amount and content of said questions only grows with time. Many of them are “what-ifs”, and still more are “what-woulds”.
“What if they hadn’t died?” is the first question for almost everyone. I can confidently say that it will never be answered definitively. In fact, in the world of multiple-choice answers, the number of choices has increased from A, B, and C, to the point that we’re way through the alphabet, and onto weird, made up characters.
In Megan’s case, seeing as she had a long-term illness, my second question was “what could I have done differently?”. It was the guilt setting in. Misplaced, mind you. There was literally nothing I, or anyone else could do that would have prevented a genetic, debilitating mutation from occurring, but my brain asked it constantly for months, nonetheless, and I felt it was somehow my fault.
I still ask question one almost daily, mostly in passing at this point. I’ve long since accepted that the second question is answered succinctly with a “nothing”, and largely moved on from asking it.
Every so often, however, the “what-ifs” creep back in. More and more frequently, the “what-woulds” are taking over.Read more
January is when Megan was first diagnosed with chronic organ transplant rejection. February is Shelby’s birthday. May is Mother’s Day, June is when she was admitted to the hospital, never to come home again, July is her birthday, August is our anniversary, September is when the next year of school starts for Shelby, October is my birthday, November is when she died, and December, is well, the “holidays”.
March and April though have no special “milestones”. I can’t really think of any specific memories or significant happenings that have or will occur as it relates to Megan and her death. I get to “coast” through these months, in a sense, fairly comfortable with believing that I shouldn’t have any “predetermined” triggers.Read more
I know what it means to be sad, afraid and angry, but what does it mean to be truly, truly happy? Lately, I find myself feeling more and more bored with life—and it’s not the kind of boredom that comes from depression. It is a very different kind of boredom because it is SO much lighter! It is hard to explain, but it just feels lighter. Depression boredom is heavy and is based on a bunch of fearful thoughts that lead nowhere good.Read more
I don’t know if it’s the glimmer of hope for being thru the worst of the cold, cloudy days or just that I am trying to be mindful to reconnect with my sillier side lately. Either way, I’ve been watching funny movies more, making my loved ones laugh more, and even just being sillier when I’m home all alone. I’ve started working on a photography project that is very new and fun too. It’s unlike the fine art type of work I usually create - and I’m finding there is a lightness to the fact that it is so opposite of what I’m used to. It feels more like play than work.
Creating fine art photography honestly has begun to feel more like work these days. Or at least I feel too much internal pressure to do my fine art a certain way and then it starts to feel heavy. And I start to overthink things and question myself. That leads no where good. And it’s something I’ve struggled with when I try and put all of my attention on my art.
This little side project is a nice break from that so far. A nice exploration of how else I can enjoy taking photos. And with any luck, I might be able to really build it into a nice little side job. Either way, it feels nice to be doing something new and not be putting a bunch of pressure on myself to do it any certain way. It feels good to be stretching new creative muscles and trying new things and just saying “Hey, let’s see where this goes!”
I think in life and in grief, it’s so important to have things like that to lighten the load - or maybe help us put that load down for just a few moments or hours each week.Read more