It has been 7 and a half years since my beautiful husband Don Shepherd's sudden death.
About 18 months ago, I found new and wonderful and beautiful love.
Somewhere in the first few months of the relationship with my new love, the topic of "Don's things" came up. I think I was the one who brought it up. We were in my bedroom talking, or kissing, or something. I forget. But in that moment, I looked over to my nightstand next to my bed, and noticed, as if for the first time or through my lover's eyes, the shrine that it was to Don. Our wedding picture was there. The American flag folded up and in it's frame from the Air Force funeral. The framed certificate from the Sharing Network for being a tissue/organ donor. And his rally monkey stuffed animal that was his lucky charm. I asked Nick very honestly: "Does it bother you that I have so many of Don's things all over my bedroom? Is it weird for you? I feel like it must be weird. " He paused for a minute, and then said just as honestly: "He was your husband. And he died. I think it's normal, and I don't ever want to be someone who would ask you to subtract anything about him from your life. I don't believe in subtracting . Just adding. " Then we talked about how we both looked forward to the day when we have started to build our own memories and private jokes and "things" that could be added to my life's collection.
I remember loving his response that day. It was exactly what I needed to hear, and it was comforting. It also made me fall in love with him just a little bit more.Read more
It seems I made it to adulthood with a rather enormous stack of self limiting beliefs to shuffle through. For a lot of years, I wasn’t even aware of it. I was so used to these beliefs that, in my mind, they were just truths. I always had all my ducks in a nice, neat row… and they were all well-fed and had an ample security system around them at all times to ensure safety. There wasn't any big risk taking going on, nothing much unexpected. Drew was more of a “leap and build your wings on the way down” sort of person.
In the years when I met and dated him, I started to become more aware of my negative beliefs, and started to challenge some of them. He was always a big supporter of me pushing past my own perceived limits. He got me to go skydiving, something I never imagined I’d ever do. And fly a plane. And submit my first photographs to an exhibit. He was the first person I truly felt took me under their wing and attempted to nudge me gently upward and forward.
When he died, I didn’t want that to die along with him. It was a part of myself that I had been with him that I didn’t want to lose. I think, it gave me something that I could choose to keep during a time when so much was taken away without my having a say.
So I kept doing things to push my limits. It was harder without him there, but also, his death made me more determined… more fearless.Read more
It’s been four years. Four times, the earth has orbited the sun in full since Megan’s death. That seems like an eternity, and yet at times, it also feels like it was yesterday. It’s still “fresh”, yet also “routine”.
If I could have foretold the future, four-and-a-half years ago, a few days before she died, it wouldn’t have changed anything, really. I would just know what to expect. I can reflect on it now, however. I can write to myself, 1,700 days later, telling my past not what I wanted to hear, but what I needed to.
So, here goes.Read more
I am no longer counting the days or the months of Mike's deadness.
It has become irrelevant to me.
The numbers don't matter anymore.
Mike is gone. Mike is really dead. And, I am not. This is what matters.
I know this sounds harsh, but how else can I put it? His death has been harsh, and that's such an understatment it is beyond ridiculous. Mike being dead sucks more than anything has ever sucked in my entire life. But, there is nothing that can change this. It simply is what it is.
His dead status is not fixable. Nothing can be done to undo it. And, no amount of practice or time makes me feel at "peace" with Mike being dead. But, I know that I do have to accept that he is dead because it can not be changed.
Until recently, I hated the word acceptance in relation to Mike's death. I have consistently resisted acceptance until now. To this point, I haven't learned to accept his death further than a cognitive level. However, now, I acknowledge that I need to do more than this.
This third year of widowhood, I have decided that I am going to try to accept Mike's death at the Heart level. I know that in the Heart is where true acceptance exists. True acceptance is something I have to feel, it isn't a thing I can think my way towards.
I am not entirely sure how to go about accepting Mike's death. And, I am not sure if anything particular is required of me other than my strong desire to make acceptance happen. I am going to simply stay the course and I will attempt to soften the edges of my grief - even more. If I can make my grief "quieter", I know that I will begin to hear the heartbeat of life again. Acceptance - it will ultimately lead me towards LIVING again; therefore it is mandatory for me to work on it.Read more
This week I began work on a goal that has taken me a long time to believe I could accomplish. It may seem like something very small to most people, but for me, it has been a hurdle all my life. This week, I have started swim lessons.
Something most people don’t know about me is that I’ve always been uncomfortable in the water. I never took swim lessons and though I can swim, I don’t do it well. I’m about the slowest swimmer there is, I hate the feeling of water in my eyes, I almost always have to hold my nose under water, and treading water is enough to send me into a mild panic and have me swimming for shallow ground. It has always been a frustration for me, and occasionally embarrassing. Worst of all, it’s something I have believed that I can never change about myself. And the root of it comes from not trusting myself to be able to keep myself safe in water.
I have always marveled at people who appear to be completely comfortable in water. Drew was like that, like a fish. And Mike even more-so since he was a diver in school and taught swim lessons. I have watched them both in complete awe.
I’ve believed all my life that I can never have that sort of safe feeling in water. That it’s just not in the cards for me. For years, I’ve wanted to at least try to challenge that belief. So this past week, Mike and I got a membership to an indoor pool for the winter, and he has started working with me.
After just two lessons at the pool with Mike, there I was, just effortlessly treading water like I’ve been doing it forever. Suddenly all the fear went away. All the panic and anxiousness that I have felt my ENTIRE life in deep water… GONE. I couldn’t even believe those feelings could vanish so quickly. And suddenly, for the first time ever, I began to feel some glimmer of that comfortable feeling in water that I have envied in others all these years. Some glimmer of trusting myself in the water. Even more importantly, I challenged a limiting belief about myself, and I decided that I don’t believe it anymore. With his help, I am beginning to trust that I can do this.
One of the things I am most grateful for in this widow journey is the people who have been willing to help me stay afloat...Read more
I’m not sure if it is just a part of the process, self-preservation or something supernatural but I caught myself of guard the other day. You see, I was quite surprised when an acquaintance walked by me at work and in front of everyone he grabbed my shoulder and asked me how I was. It might not seem much to some but everyone at work registered something was different. He acted like we knew each other very well and we only said hi in passing. The moment passed and everyone asked if we were friends outside work and were we seeing each other. They were shocked to hear me say no and the speculation began.Read more
How do I reenter life? The life I knew and loved has been radically changed. There is simply no returning to it. That life is over. I can not resume where he and I left off. I need to rebuild. But, where do I begin?
When he died I felt my foundation shift and collapse.
I buried Mike, but it was me
who was buried alive by the wreckage of our dilapitdated life.
For a long time I thought that maybe if I stood still he’d come for me. I thought he would somehow find me and save me from the ruins of our lost life. Then, after a while, I realized that Mike was not coming back - ever. I recognized that I was on my own. I knew that I had to rescue myself. But, I felt disoriented and far from battle ready.
Early on, Grief had the upper hand because my confidence and self identity were lost and buried deep in the rubble of our shattered life. Even now, I can barely process all the changes that have occurred in the last 23 months.
To soothe my Soul, I catch myself instinctively rocking and clutching my collarbone - as I choke for breathe. I do this more often than I care to admit. Daily. My life is not easy anymore. In fact, it is often so overwhelming that my breath is chaotic.
I'm tired of being out of breath.
I have to starting breathing life in, or it will pass me by. I know this. Yet, despite what I know, I am still standing on the sidelines waiting to catch my breath. I feel myself watching life unfold. And, I know that I need to get back in the game. I hate that I have benched myself because I am tired. I hate that I am sitting out rather than breaking a sweat in the game of life. I am growing impatient with myself and my lack of commitment. I can't just write about actioning change. I need to bring my ideas to life. And, to do this I have to leave the safety and predictability of the sidelines behind. When I start participating in the game, I will bring myself back to life. I know this. So, it's about time I do this.
But, I suppose,
In fairness, it is hard to remain confident and self assured when your world implodes.
However, you do learn what you’re made of when your world collapses.
Everything you are is exposed.
I’ve spent almost two years on my hands and knees collecting the shards of myself that survived his death.
But, I’m over it now.
I’ve grown bored.
I’m tired of combing through the litter of my old life.
Now, I am ready to do something with the tattered pieces I salvaged from the rubble of what was.
I wish I had better guidance to give people early on when they tried to help me.
People were making heartfelt efforts to comfort me
- most armed without experience.
Two years later, these helpers have almost all disappeared.
And, I understand.
People have lives of their own
I understand that they simply can not understand my life.
I recognize that visiting me, while I sift through the wreckage of what was, is not overly enticing.
Truth be told, I don’t want to live here among the debris of my old life either.
I understand their absence.
I understand the difficult position we are all in.
I know that those who have not lost their Soul’s mate can not possibly know what to say to me.
In the beginning of this mess, I was not adequately equipped to educate anyone about what they should and could do.
I wish I could have helped you help me.
I want to thank you for being with me when I was brought to my knees.
I know that you did not know what to do.
I didn’t know what to do either.
But, I know that both of us had the best of intentions.
When Mike died I was not given a manual to follow. There were no instructions. No roadmap has been created for grief because it takes us along different paths. Yes, there are shared attractions and similar views along the way, but the road we travel is unique for all of us. When your spouse dies, you must go where you have not gone before. You are forced onto a road that is not well marked. There are countless ruts along the way. Some parts are bumpy and make for difficult travel. Other times, the road is smooth and there is blue sky overhead. Then, around the corner, the sky turns dark and it becomes hard to see where you are going. During these stretches, you may bump into things. On this journey, you will become lost. It's unavoidable. Along the way, you will be re-routed and sometimes you will travel down dead ends. And, through it all, you will learn. You will learn to rely on your instincts. You will learn to believe in yourself - in a way you never have before. Solo travel isn't easy, but it changes you in a lot of good ways.
At the start, even if I possessed all this knowledge about grief, I still would not have been able to teach you how to better handle me. Widowhood has to be lived to be understood. In the days and months following his death, I was completely disoriented. I was unable to guide you as you tried to help me. I wish I could have succinctly told what I needed. And, really, the only thing I needed was him. I needed him not to die. But, he did. And, his death is permanent. There is nothing anyone can do to make this better for me. It is what it is.
As the days turned into months, I learned to sit still in the horrific aching. I learned to lean into the ugliness of it. I learned to cry until I gasped for breath. I learned to pick myself up from the floor after I thought I would die from missing him. I learned that Grief is presumptuous and demands attention. And, I have learned to give Grief the attention it screams for.
Grief is brazen, dauntless and in your face. Grief pronounces everything in heavy, smashed strokes. Grief threw me into an out of body experience. And, I've learned that Grief rarely shows any mercy. Grief deprived me of many things I once took for granted.
I had to relearn basic things like breath and sleep.
For many months both eluded me.
Sometimes they still do.
Early on I could not communicate without confusion.
I could hear conversations around me, but the words did not make any sense to me because I had begun speaking in another dialect.
My heart was learning the language of grief.
I am now fluent in it.
With time, many people have drifted away from me because we no longer speak the same language.
There is nothing that needs to be said.
For the past two years I have been physically present,
but my mind is far away from here.
I have been unravelled.
I have come undone at the seams of my Soul.
Mike’s death has affected me to the depths of my psyche.
But, thankfully, with time,
I am making a slow, steady comeback.
In truth, comeback isn’t the correct word.
Death is a trauma.
And, after outliving your spouse,
You do not and can not come back to who you once were.
There is no returning.
I can not come back to what was.
Whatever “it” was,
It is all over.
I apologize if this sounds overly dramatic to ears that have not lived in the silence
I have existed in for nearly two years.
None of what I am saying is intended to be dramatic,
it is just the truth.
I am forever changed because he died.
But, even more,
I am a better woman because he lived.
Slowly, I am finding ways to adapt to my changed life.
Daily, I drape myself in Hope.
I want to do more than survive his death.
I want to live a full, happy life
Since Mike died I have spent hours lost in my thoughts.
I continually revisit the past.
I endlessly mourn the future we imagined.
And, I desperately hope to become present in the moment.
As surreal as it remains,
I know that he does not exist here anymore.
I accept that I must begin anew.
Mike’s death has forced me to be reborn.
And, though a piece of me will always wish for the life we shared and planned,
I am grateful for my chance at a new life.
Gratitude for what was,
And, what will be,
Has allowed me to survive without him.
My simple message below is intended to help everyone involved in this mess.
I only wish I had these words for you earlier when we both stood before grief without any guidance.
Continuing to love him in separation
doesn’t just seem obvious,
It FEELS like the natural thing to do.
Our Love didn’t die.
Our Love didn’t wane
when his body died.
Continuing our bond
is as necessary as breath for me.
I continue to love Mike in separation,
because it’s the only way
I know how to live.
But, lately I admit that I’m living half-heartedly. I’m disenchanted; and, in response to this, I’ve disengaged from all the life around me. Now, I just exist. I am skimming along through the day. And, I do not genuinely feel anything anymore.
I don’t feel like my life is authentic. It feels uncomfortable and forced.
I’m so completely underwhelmed by everything around me. And, I feel pretty guilty about being less than enthusiastic about my life because there is a fair bit for me to be grateful for.
I know that I can not thrive with my current mindset. Gratitude must exceed my lack of enthusiasm if I want to have a good life. I know this. Therefore, I feel a strong desire to sort myself out. But, I’m not entirely sure how to do this.
How do I lift this shawl of grief from my shoulders and reengage in life?
How do I accept the life I have without yearning for what was.
How do I gently breathe life back into myself without attempting to recreate a cheap imitation of my old life?
I endlessly think about how to go about saving myself; from myself. Instinctively, I have some idea how to begin thriving, but I do not have the courage to action these ideas - yet. For now, I’m playing it safe. Actually, I’m being too safe, and this is beginning to hurt me.
It’s become obvious to me - I need to take a chance on something. Anything really. At this point, I need to commit myself to some sort of change. What the change happens to be is not as important as I’ve lead myself to believe. What’s important is that I actually do something to alter my life - something beyond the makeshift attempts I’ve made so far.Read more
I'm writing this from an airplane, somewhere over the Indian Ocean, as I'm on my way to Bali to spend a week at a beautiful yoga and healing retreat. It's a funny story actually... this whole trip only got planned on Tuesday. Yes, as in four days ago.
It came about through a range of unusual circumstances and has really had me thinking about how (a) we never really know what is around the corner and (b) even the biggest skeptic could struggle to pass these events off as coincidental, when all signs point to my late husband organising me a special post-wedding anniversary gift.
Let me start at the beginning...Read more