Sometimes I wonder, is life harder because I have been widowed or would have been just as hard in different ways if I had never been widowed? It’s a question I think on when I have long talks with friends who aren’t widowed, who are going through their own complex lives… complete with blended, divorced families and step kids or uncertainty in their current relationship, or loneliness and feeling unsure about their career or life purpose.
Our thirties and forties have taken us places I think none of us imagined. We used to all live across town from one another, and the most complicated stuff we really dealt with was the dating scene and fighting traffic across town to meet up together at our favorite bar every Tuesday night. We still look back at those days now with such nostalgia… it was a few good years where things were easy, good friends were plentiful, and there were no major catastrophes. For a short time we all were able to relax into the present moment of our lives.
Drew’s death changed everything. It was the beginning of life becoming far more complex… and it happened to occur when I was turning 30. I feel like it’s so easy sometimes to blame the grief. To feel like all the complexity and extra difficulty and all the changes that have been hard are the fault of grief and being widowed. But I don’t really think that’s true at all.
Had Drew not died, I would have been married within a year likely… and moved out of Dallas anyway - as was our plan. I would have then followed his career as a pilot wherever it took us around the country… likely living somewhere new every few years or so. Had we adopted a child by now, which was our eventual plan, I would be going through the same fears and doubts and struggles with learning how to be a mother as I am with my new partner Mike’s child now. And I would have been doing it a bit more alone, while Drew was likely gone a lot for flying gigs that would have him on contracts for weeks or months.
Death or not, my life was going to change drastically. And many of the complex things that happened in my friends’ lives were not because of grief either. The complicated stuff they now deal with in their lives is just a part of growing up into our thirties and forties and beginning new phases of their lives. Phases none of us were especially prepared for, it seems...Read more
I think I’ve always been interested in the ways that people celebrate or carry on the memory of a loved one throughout their lives. Something last time got me thinking again about this topic.
Around this time last year, my new partner Mike took me to see Tom Petty on what ended up being his final tour. It’s not as though I knew this musician personally, but his music has always been a huge part of my life. Almost a year after his death, I am still grieving as if I lost a friend. I suppose a lot of folks are.
It was after Drew’s death that I found an especially close connection to his music. For a year, I photographed portraits of myself to explore my own grief and to tell my story in a visual way. Music was almost always playing in the background… very specific music that helped me to get into the heart of my emotions. Tom Petty became a regular in the background, and the more I listened to his words as I created my own stories, the more deeply those words became woven into what I created. Songs like Learning to Fly, Angel Dream, I Won’t Back Down, and more all felt like they were telling some piece of my story. I guess that’s what he was so good at though… he was telling all of our stories.
Last week, we went to a tribute concert here in town… a whole bunch of local bands were up there on stage taking turns singing Petty’s songs. And at the end, they all came up together - some two dozen people - and sang a few final songs. What an incredible energy it was.
It’s times like that when I think, “This is the way you do it. This is how you keep living on when someone dies. These people get it”. You celebrate them, and you keep on celebrating them. Granted Tom Petty isn’t just any random person, and it becomes easy to celebrate someone who made great, iconic music… but it’s more about the mindset of this idea that I think is a great takeaway for everyday life after loss. Why can’t we all celebrate our dead people and the gifts they left with us so openly? Why can’t we all have a concert or a celebration once a year or whenever the hell we feel like it just to celebrate them? What stops us? Or maybe the better question is, how can we infuse this kind of celebration into our daily lives and continue to keep our loved ones a part of the story for many years to come?
I’ve been thinking the past few days about Kelley’s Friday post. She talked about how people treat us when widowed, and the frustrations of often being treated like a five year old or misunderstood in some way.
Or how people begin to act differently again once you find new love. That one I can definitely attest to. I wrote to her, saying how it felt like when I met Mike and found love again, all the people who had coddled me and worried over me disappeared, as if to say “Oh thank God, we don’t have to WORRY about her anymore!”
And then the avoiders who had been too uncomfortable with my grief came out of the woodworks to suddenly be more present and express their joy… which really felt more like expressing how happy they were that they could be comfortable with my life again. It’s funny what grief does to those around us... and then to us as a result.
When I moved to Ohio in the name of new love, it felt like a slow exodus I had not intended. Gradually, everyone seemed to just sort of fade out. I got the same sort of story from people over and over again, "Oh I figured you're so busy enjoying your new life, I didn't want to bother you!" Excuse me for being blunt, but that is the stupidest thing to say to someone you care about. Because you think I’m happy you think I’m too busy? Huh?
What the hell does that even mean? And how did virtually no one stop to think that maybe, just maybe, this change was not JUST joyful, but incredibly painful and hard? How did no one see that? Leaving the only place I’ve ever called home… the place where my parents and my fiance are buried, to live 1400 miles away in a totally different culture from Texas. Not to mention how hard it's been for Mike knowing he was the catalyst for my leaving home and for a lot of pain I've experienced by making that choice. Really, truly, almost no one asked at any point “how are you really doing?”. Somehow they all decided that being united with my new love after having dated from far away for nearly a year was all I needed to be 100% happy with no sense of loss whatsoever.
This still annoys me...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
This week Mike, Shelby and I are in Texas. It’s the first trip we are taking down to my home state together since I moved. We have spent the weekend with all of my oldest and best friends, having our annual camping trip. It’s a trip we’ve done ever since Drew died… and this is the first year that everyone has been able to make it.
These past few days have been so bittersweet… not only for me, but for my friends too. We all cannot help but feel Drew’s absence. One of my friends seemed very quiet the other night, and then pulled me aside after a while and explained that he was just really missing him here, and having a tough time with it. I told him, of course, me too… as there’s been a few times I’ve shed tears since we got here.Read more
Yesterday, we painted a wall. To me, this was no ordinary wall, this was the last major wall in the downstairs of Mike’s house to change since Megan died. Now, when you look through the living room, dining and kitchen, all of it has a totally new color scheme from when she was living. Which leads me to talk about a very touchy aspect of widowhood, and of me being on the other side sometimes… dating a widower: The process of merging your life into a widowed person's home.
I’ll confess, Megan and my styles are very different. She was all about Americana, and I am certainly not. I mean to say, bluntly so, I don’t like her style. I cringe to type this. Why is it so hard to say we don’t like a dead person’s preferences? Why would it even be expected for me to like or leave things the way she had it? I’m not sure, but it seems like a lot of those outdated societal expectations are at play here...Read more
This morning I’m sitting some fifteen feet up in the air surrounded by woods, near the northern border of Arkansas, and it seems no accident that the book I brought with me to read is titled "The Gifts of Imperfection".
A few days ago, Mike and I made the 14 hour drive down to Eureka Springs. Why? To stay in a treehouse cottage, which has always been a dream of mine.
This isn’t just any random dream though, this one, has a a great personal meaning to my story with life, loss, and living again. You see, the year Drew died… he and I were coming up with ideas for my birthday that fall. We talked about going to the Grand Canyon. And also about one other place, the treehouse cottages, here in Eureka Springs, AR. I can still remember so clearly researching this place with him… finding their website and looking through pictures and being so overjoyed that it was really not a very far drive from Dallas, where Drew and I lived. Our plan was, if we couldn’t swing a trip to the canyon that fall, that we would instead book a trip to the tree houses.
That plan never happened of course, because the crash happened instead, 3 months before my birthday. While I did end up making that trip to the Grand Canyon after all - with Drew’s mom - the treehouse cottage trip was lost… vanishing amidst the heaviness of grief. It has sat in the back of my heart all these years, gathering dust, until now.
I was reading an article today about grief, one of the best I’ve read in a long time. One of the things that really stuck in this article was about the platitudes people throw at you when you are grieving… mainly, “It happened for a reason”. They make the assumption that, if you became a deeper, more compassionate, better person after the loss, that this loss was somehow necessary for your evolution. Like the author, I don’t agree with this either. I want to share a small excerpt from his article, as it really resonated with me and got my gears turning:
“...But loss has not in and of itself made me a better person. In fact, in some ways it’s hardened me. While loss has made me acutely aware and empathetic of the pains of others, it’s also made me more inclined to hide. I have a more cynical view of human nature and a greater impatience with people who are unfamiliar with what loss does to people…
...To say that my losses somehow had to happen in order for my gifts to grow would be to trample on the memories of all those I lost too young.
...I’m certainly not going to pretend that I’ve made it simply because I was strong enough, that I became “successful“ because I ”took responsibility.“ I think people tell others to take responsibility when they don’t want to understand….”