It's less than a week until Mike and I will be flying down to Tampa for Camp Widow. It's so surreal to think of all that has happened in a year. Life is no less complicated than it ever has been, in fact more so for me. It's a good complicated, but that doesn't make it easy. I was talking with another widow friend the other day about this. Like me, she is in a new relationship now. It was such a relief when she told me she feels so much grumpier all the time now than in her past relationship with her late-husband.
I think my mouth hung open when she said this. "My God," I thought to myself, "it isn't just me!" And suddenly I was reminded of the power of those four little words...
A lot has been going on this past week. Most notably, birthdays. I wrote last week about Shelby’s birthday and all the emotions it brought up for me. I don’t think it is any coincidence that my mom’s birthday was just a week after Mike’s daughter’s. And thusly, as happens most years, emotions are high. For years now, I have been celebrating my mom’s birthday the same way. Every year, on February 26th, I go buy a card, some flowers, and a tasty dessert and I enjoy this day in her memory. I did the this over the weekend, only a bit different than previous years. I still bought her flowers - bright, cheerful sunflowers. I still picked out a card, and wrote her a letter in it. Instead of one dessert though, I bought three. Because I decided to include Mike and his daughter in this tradition. For me, but more so for Shelby.
When I was Shelby’s age, I didn’t see any version of continuing to celebrate my mom on special days. We didn’t talk about her, and we certainly didn’t celebrate her. To even mention her felt very taboo. I didn’t want another little girl to grow up with that same feeling. Shelby deserves to see examples of how people can still celebrate the ones that have died. How they can still be in our lives as we live on. She deserves to have ways to celebrate her mom when her birthday and Mother’s Day arrive. She deserves to feel like the people around her support that idea and understand that she still has the right to have a bond with her mom.
I’ve been feeling overwhelmed the past few weeks. It’s not grief, but life. A lot of life happening. Having an anniversary for the first time with someone new, and Valentine’s Day. My sister coming to visit me, and Mike’s daughter Shelby having her 9th birthday. Meeting a whole bunch of Mike’s cousins, aunts and uncles I’d yet to meet. Hanging in my first art show since moving to Ohio. It has all been good things, but I haven’t escaped the triggers or the frustration of feeling easily overwhelmed.
Widow brain has been back in full action… to the point that I have literally forgotten at least 50 times every day what the plans are, what time things are happening, and what day it even is. It’s scary when this comes back. And it’s hard. I feel like every little thing becomes more difficult and scarier. I feel vulnerable. It reminds me of earlier days when the grief was fresh and my mind couldn’t even manage the simplest tasks. When I felt totally broken.Read more
So this is my first Valentine’s Day since Drew died that I am celebrating with a man. That’s big. It’s been 3 years now. In those years since he died, I have celebrated with my best friend. Each year, I drove up to Dallas and we would go out somewhere nice, me and her, and sometimes her Mom and another girlfriend or two. Together we would experience a different kind of special day to celebrate love. The love of friendship and womanhood. I wrote about one of those on my blog here. It’s hard this year to be so far away from her. To break our tradition. To know that she may be the one having a harder Valentine’s Day this year than me, and I can’t be there.
I will always cherish the years where we have celebrated our friendship on this day, and the amazing bond of women in general. It brought so much love into my world and it taught me that this day really shouldn’t be about romantic love, but just about love.
So today, as I am embracing love not with my women friends but with Mike, I am reflecting back quite a bit.Read more
"Surely now he's the one giving light to the stars"
As I sit here this morning, with a cup of coffee and the sounds of a familiar person milling around the house, I’m reflecting on some big things. This is a pretty significant weekend. A year ago, I arrived from Texas at a hotel in Tampa without any idea that I would meet a guy from Ohio that would change the course of things. Only 8 months after that weekend, I moved my entire life to Ohio to be near him and his daughter and give new love a chance. It’s completely surreal that it has already been a year since that day we met, at Camp Widow.
Ever since Drew died, I have always believed that I would meet someone new… someone who would be as wonderful as he was. I also believed it would be a long while before that would happen. Before I was ready. Sometime in that first year, I gave myself the timeline of 2 ½-3 years before I would even try dating. Somehow, this timeframe just felt right for me, personally. I felt it was enough time to honor my grief and also to honor Drew in such a way that I wouldn’t have to feel guilty or answer to anyone else for moving forward with someone new. Mike came along just under the 3 year mark, interestingly enough.
Sometimes the tears sneak up on you. Sometimes you are just going about your morning, having a cup of coffee, watching the news, having no thoughts in particular to the past or about missing anyone… and suddenly something goes right into that wound and touches it. Touches the loss in a way that makes you erupt in tears.
This very thing happened to me this morning, when reading our Friday Writer and my good friend Kelley’s post here. It was this part, so eloquently written, that got me:
“... And still, at the end of each day, no matter how long it's been, how happy I may be, or how much life keeps spinning - it always comes back to this: You are not here, and I miss you.
Still. Forever. Always.
The missing of you lives inside me, in the same way that stars light up and live in the sky. It's just there, like a baby napping or a child wanting ice-cream. It's there in the same way that all familiar things remain, and yet, it's depth and it's hurt still surprise me every time. For love does not end. It only begins, and then begins again, over and over, taking new and different forms. I love you. I love you today, tomorrow, and for many lifetimes into the future, where I will miss you still.”
I broke into tears when reading this. I’ll admit, it took me by surprise to feel so strongly out of nowhere. No matter how many times it happens, it always surprises me and leaves me amazed I had so much inside that needed to come out. But that’s what triggers do - they touch something deep inside us that likely needed a release. And they always seem to leave us blindsided or, in the least, surprised.
So there I am, crying into my coffee profusely and feeling almost ridiculous given that I was totally fine moments before. Plain and simple, I missed Drew, and her post made me realize it. It did not make me want my current life less. It was just… there.
The other day I was filling out a workbook that I have done several times in January… called Unraveling the Year Ahead. It’s a wonderful workbook created by author, photographer and teacher Susannah Conway. This little booklet is filled with solid questions to get you to write down your reflections on the past year - release what you want to, keep what you like, and then write down your goals and aspirations for the year ahead.
It is the first year I have done this since Drew died. The first year I have felt like caring about a new year. After his death, New Year’s never really felt like New Year’s anymore. For these last three years, June 12th has been my year marker. I have measured every bit of progress, every moment of growth, and ounce of healing all based on the day he died. Dec 31st was no longer the end of my year, June 11th was.
Last night, as I finished up the part of the workbook about looking back on the past year, I realized that January - for the first time in 4 years - felt like a new year again. I am back to being able to measure my own growth as a person by looking back all the way to the previous January. And somehow… it just happened. All on it’s own… naturally. It isn’t something I forced, or something I tried to make happen. It isn’t even something I noticed that happened until weeks later.
I'm always astounded at the things nature teaches me about life and grief. This week I went for a walk at a park near my new house. It's a wilderness park, with one trail that makes a 2 mile circle surrounding a prairie. For years, this area was farmland, and the park system has now preserved it to allow the landscape to fully restore back to it's original state. For miles all around, it is now an expansive prairie, flanked by thin fingers of woodland and bogland where the ground slopes low. Mike and I first found it a few weeks ago, and it has quickly become my favorite escape since moving to Ohio two months ago.
Firstly, not many people go there, so it's easy to feel almost entirely isolated in nature while you're there, which I love. Secondly, with the time of year, all the plants have begun to die off or go dormant, with their seed pods yawning wide into the brisk winds and tossing their seeds into the breath of autumn. From the moment I first laid eyes on this place, I was completely drawn to it. With dozens of varieties of flora, even dead plants create a kaleidescope of textures and shades – from browns to tawny yellows to silvery blues. For weeks I've been feeling a pull to go back here... to feed my eyes with all the richness of seeds and grains, cattails and milkweed pods, dried leaves and rustling grasses. To be surrounded by a place where death is beautiful...Read more
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….”
Every now and then, something comes along that fills you to the bones with gratitude for this totally messed up, chaotic, stressful, sometimes shitty and also amazing life.
Just moments ago, I finished up a live phone interview. I was invited to speak about grief and the healing power of creativity at DeathExpo - an annual online conference held by the End-of-Life University. It all started by going to another conference about death, in Virginia earlier this year, where I met the founder of the university. We chatted over a few drinks at the bar and after hearing about my story and my photo series on grief, she invited me to be a part of this wonderful expo. That was back in the summer, so I've been waiting a while for this event.Read more