I found this quote last week and it has really stuck in my mind. I feel like I’ve tried so hard just to find myself again since he died that maybe I’ve lost sight of this a little. Continuing on has a way of doing that I guess.
When he first died, I was so aware of this idea. The man died for his dreams… literally. He was in a helicopter flying as a job, the thing he had dreamed of doing, when he crashed and died. It kind of made it hard to use the excuse that I’m “scared” anymore after that. Especially because it’s not like I had particularly dangerous dreams like being a pilot. I mean, probably no one has ever died from exhibiting their artwork in galleries. So I guess that was one of the qualities I have tried hard to emulate… telling myself “fear is not a good enough reason anymore”. I’ve still let a lot of fear get in the way, but I’ve definitely experienced some amazing new things from following his example since he died.Read more
I need to see new things.
And, also, see the same things - somewhere else.
I need to stand on different street corners.
And, walk roads that lead to new
people and places.
I need to breathe the air - somewhere else.
I feel like I am holding my breath,
Living here in the outskirts of my old life.
I feel restless lately. I want to make changes in my life, but I am at a standstill because I am unsure of myself. Currently, I just exist in suburbia - I am "living" the life that swirls around me. But, I am not present in my life. I am just going through the motions. As much as I try, I am not content, despite the "good" life that I have in front of me. Without Mike, I am unsettled and underwhelmed, and no one but me can change this. I need to follow my intuition. I need to action something...
Around this time, last year, I painted my bedroom in an attempt to acknowledge that I was able to make decisions without Mike. I wanted to prove to myself that I was in charge of my life and I tried to accomplish this with a nice shade of the palest blue paint. A year later, I can say for certain that the paint was unsuccessful in making me forget who is not sharing my bed. His absence remains painfully obvious. Around the same time last year, I carefully rearranged the furniture in the living room. But, likewise, these changes haven't made me feel less alone on the couch. No matter how I fluff up the new pillows or arrange the furniture I feel him missing. Whatever small changes I make, I still picture Mike all throughout the house. Clearly, I have to do much more than these subtle alterations around my house. But, what?
I've grown tired of these ineffective, roughshod attempts at reclaiming my life. I feel big changes inside me, but I still do not have the confidence to bring them to life. I am frustrated with my lack of commitment. I want to do something significant to change my life because, at this point, I know that it is foolish of me to not attempt to live my life. Mike isn't going to become 'undead', no matter how much I wish he could come back. Only one of us is alive now and that's me. I best start acting like it.
I am not longer in survival mode. Simply surviving isn't enough to satisfy me anymore. I want to do far more than survive Mike's death. I want to LIVE again. I want to thrive for myself, and for my children. And, thriving is going to involve changes that go beyond pillows and paint, even if the paint is the best shade of pale blue.
Over the last few weeks,
Something in my mindset has changed.
And, in the process,
I’ve rediscovered how to taste,
His memory on my lips.
-in this reality.
HOW is this done?
It’s actually pretty easy...
I AM FALLING OUT OF GRIEF,
And, I am falling in Love with Life
-all over again.Read more
Last week, Mike, Shelby and I packed up and drove south for the Smoky Mountains. We’ve been waiting and saving for this trip all year long. It is by far our favorite place to go unwind and explore the beauty of nature. With buckling down on our finances, we haven’t been able to do really any trips this year, so this one was especially exciting to finally get to.
There’s plenty I could talk about on this trip, but the one thing that is on my mind most is that, in this new life of mine, I am doing things that he and I dreamed of doing, and I am still bringing Andrew with me. He and I were not really much into hiking - in part due to living in the hot, flat, North Texas landscape. We camped here and there but never anywhere of note, and usually only somewhere within 30 minutes of where we lived. We always wanted to get out there and see more of the country though. Our plan for our honeymoon was to buy a little teardrop trailer and go cross country to see some of the nation’s most amazing national parks… places we had only ever dreamed of. Neither of us had ever set foot in any of these marvelous national parks, and we were about to do it together.
We never made it to those dreams together though, he died before we ever got the chance. But I have, since he died, and I’ve taken him with me for every one of them.
Still, I haven’t made it out to Yosemite or Yellowstone. But I visited the Grand Canyon just months after his death, for my 30th birthday. It was excruciating to be there without him - but it was also the only place on earth I wanted to be for that milestone in my life. And even then, I brought him with me. Weeks before the trip, I found this little yellow helicopter toy at the store, and I bought it because it reminded me of him (he was a pilot, and died flying a yellow helicopter). This little toy was cute, and silly, and somehow brought some lightness and odd cheer to me. When I looked at it, I could feel him smiling. Little did I know all the many places that tiny toy helicopter and I would go...
I should have started writing my blog a long time ago, but the day got away from me because I got busy L-I-V-I-N-G . I didn't do anything particularly noteworthy today. In fact, I spent the better part of the day doing "normal" things; which, in and of itself, is not extraordinary. But, what was exceptional about today was that I actually got caught up in being "normal". For the first time in a long while, I went about my day like most ordinary people do; and, for brief moments, I didn't think about Mike being dead. Today, I gave myself permission to do something other than grieve. I allowed myself to just be alive. And, it felt good.
To be clear, in the months since Mike died, I've had my fair share of busy days; but, today was unique because I felt less like I was simply distracted from my grief because of the business of life. His death didn't lord over my mind today because I did not allow it to. Today, I consciously picked life and living over my grief.
Today I didn't organize my thoughts around his deadness.
Today I lived more than I grieved.
It wasn't the content of my day that was amazing,
My satisfaction simply comes from me choosing to live over ruminating about his death.
Today I put LIVING before grief and I'm better for it.
I have come to a place where I accept that my life hasn't stopped because Mike died. There are still demands on me and of me. And, I am keeping up with my responsibilities and, I'm glad for this. But, even more importantly, recently, I am doing more than what I am duty bound to do, I am starting to live a little for myself again.
The day he died, if you told me that it would be possible for me to live on I would have desperately wanted you to be right; but, I wouldn't have believed you. Now, twenty months out, maybe it still surprises me a bit that I am actually living.
However, I am no longer satisfied simply living.
Now, I want to thrive.
And, there is a huge difference in the two things.
The fact that I am now differentiating between living and thriving indicates to me that my grief is changing.
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