Our awesome Friday writer, Kelley Lynn, is having some technical difficulties today while attending Camp Widow West, so she's asked me to write something in her place. I didn't hesitate to help her out, even though I have other work to be writing on this morning that I'm actually a bit behind schedule on!
Now, this got me thinking about the unexpected, something that quite a lot of us - if not all - are familiar with. It made me think about how we have each other to turn to when the unexpected happens now... and before, we didn't have that. I know, we had our person then, which all of us would much prefer to have. But still, there is something magic about finding community in the face of adversity. Although none of us want to be a part of this club, it is truly a remarkable family filled with such fierce dedication. It's a kind of support I had never had in my life, certainly not in such numbers, before I was widowed...
Dear Younger Self,
Today is the four year anniversary of that horrible day… and you are just beginning on this ride of horrors. I wish I could have been there at the beginning. From here, there is so much I can tell you about what you’ll be facing in the years ahead, and about what wondrous things will unfold, too. I wanted to take a moment to write to you about all that is to come...
I can still remember getting the phone call, and Drew’s dad’s voice on the other end of the line that revealed to me he didn’t survive the crash. I can remember how the room spun around me… how it is spinning around you right now. I remember the primal, animal sounds coming out of my insides as I screamed in denial at his dad across the line. I can still remember the very worst parts of those first weeks… the shock. And the word that I began to hate for it’s overuse… “disbelief”.
I remember my emotions cycling at lightning speed, going from complete disbelief and a total inability to grasp reality one minute, to slamming against me with the full force of understanding in the next. I know, you are crying for hours at a time. And I know that you can barely sleep past 5am, and that the mornings are a special kind of nightmare for you, as you wake up and realize that, no, it wasn’t all a dream. Trust me, you will never forget how horrible those mornings felt, but, in 6 months or so, you’ll start to sleep longer, and eventually you will begin to have peaceful, okay mornings mixed between the bad ones. The nightmarish mornings will not last forever, but it is going to take a long time. Be patient with yourself.
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.
Many of you know, in 2014 I did a year-long series of self portraits capturing my grief. During that time, I lived so deeply in sadness, pain, anger… all of the emotions we face when losing someone. There were good times too, but the large part of 2012-2015 were spent in deep connection with my own darkness, working to understand how to heal and find peace with my loss. The last portrait I took was October of last year, the week before I my big move to Ohio.
It was a hopeful image, but still with a darker edge to it. I’ve been unable to capture more portraits since moving to Ohio… as I have gotten caught up in the expectations of others. With new love in my life and a new adventure unfolding before me… people started to express their interest in how all these positive things would come out in my photos. They were happy for me, but I also think, somewhat relieved. And I believe, they were hoping to see happy images instead of having to endure the discomfort of seeing my darkness come through my photos.
This expectation has been getting to me since I moved. I would like to note, most of these people who expressed wanting to see positive images from me, were not widows. Nor were they people who were currently experiencing a darkness of their own. It was usually folks who were meaning well, but totally missing the point. Our darkness doesn’t leave just because new joys come into our lives. I shoot my portraits to have a conversation with my most vulnerable, hidden self… not my joy. Our grief does not disappear, nor do our insecurities, fears, and triggers, as our life moves forward.Read more
I'm down in Texas this weekend. It's my first visit in almost 6 months since moving to Ohio. Drew's little sister is graduating... or actually, just did, yesterday. I arrived here on Thursday morning and immediately felt that beautiful rush of comfort of the familiar. The old, wide oak trees, the rolling hills, the warmth of the Texas heat... it all felt so wonderful. Like a dream almost.
I have moved away from many places in my 33 years that held a lot of hard memories for me. When I moved away from home, I left my dad in a terrible state - drinking himself to death. When I left, moving 8 hours north to Dallas, I had no idea if he would even be alive from week to week. There were a lot of difficult times that I left behind there... and each return home was filled with a strangeness similar to the one I felt a few days ago coming back here. That dreamlike feeling... that I was suddenly stepping back into a past lifetime.Read more
My mother, daughter, and girlfriend have all lost their own mothers at a young age, all to different illnesses. Each of their moms had to stare their own mortality square in the eye, and hope for the best for their daughters. They did everything they could to love and protect their little ones in the time they had, but ultimately, they had no choice but to leave them to grow up without their biological mother.
Tuberculosis, Cancer, and Cystic Fibrosis. Those are the diseases that took my mom, Sarah, and Shelby’s mothers, each before their daughters were even ten years old. Though each is of a different generation and time in their life, they have all needed to learn how to become a mother after losing their own biological mother. They each picked up surrogate mothers along the way. Friends of the family, adoptive parents, neighbors, teachers, and other relatives were all able to form part of the village it takes.
But none had their biological mothers. I can’t begin to fathom that.Read more
I have the ironic honor of always writing on Mother’s Day, being the Sunday writer here at Widow’s Voice. Ironic because it always forces me to evaluate my feelings about a holiday I have mostly chosen not to celebrate since my own mother died when I was young. I hate this day, or at least, I mostly always have. But this post isn't about that. This is a story of surprises, and how life evolves after the losses in our lives in some of the most unexpected ways.
I decided today, that I would go back and re-read a few of my posts from previous years, to see if there was something to glean there. I came across this one, from 2014, called The Accidental Mother, where I share about a waiter wishing me a Happy Mother’s Day accidentally. The excerpt below stopped me in my tracks...Read more
This was me, back in 2009. The week Drew and I began dating, we jumped out of a perfectly good airplane. It was a pivotal experience for me... and changed my beliefs in myself and how I dealt with risk and fear in my life. I have always been a cautious person, but every so often, I discovered after this day, I am able to make some pretty big leaps. I'm learning now, that even though sometimes I can make big leaps in the face of risk... I'm not always that person. Especially after his death, I have had to learn to accept that that it can take me longer now to take leaps in my life.
Something really hit me last week as we began to clean out Mike’s basement. For the first time, I started to see a space that I could make my own. A space where my art studio and office could live. I spend more than half my week over at his place, so I’m starting to feel the need for some small bit of “me” over here. That got my mind going about moving and suddenly it hit me… I only have 6 months until the lease at my house is up for renewal. As busy as we’ve been and all the energy I’ve put into just trying to adjust to a new place, that timeline completely snuck up on me.
Before I know it, my mind is in a tailspin about whether or not this fall will mean yet ANOTHER move to merge with Mike. He wants me to move in, and there aren’t actually any real reasons why it ISN’T a good idea… at least not practical ones. No, the only reasons I had were emotional ones. And somehow in my mind those didn’t seem like real enough reasons and so I started to pressure myself and thus the freakout ensued...
For the past week, I have poured myself into the creation of my new grief workshop. It’s finally getting real now. Which is scary and exciting all at the same time. The fundraiser is over, and by the end, I raised $1700 to help with the creation of all of this. Amazingly, 95% of those donations were from widowed people. None of my close non-widow friends donated, or really have even bothered to ask about this whole endeavor. Only one of my family members really has. This fact is not lost on me. I have done my best not to get bogged down by who ISN’T supporting me, and instead have been focusing on who IS.
To have the support of any kind is awesome, but to have the support of people who are going through one of the darkest times in their life… that is something entirely different. It is deeper. It says that they not only believe in you, but they understand what you’re trying to do. It says that - even in their darkest time - they still have the heart to reach out and help you too. And that is one thing death does for us, isn’t it? It’s one of the gifts we’re given for living through this agony… our own broken hearts just want to help someone else.
I don’t even know how it is possible that when we are in our most broken and fragile state, that this is the time so many of us reach out to help others. Is it some instinct that takes over? Does our gut know that helping others will help us? That healing or supporting another will heal and support us too?Read more