This past weekend, Sarah and I traveled to Toronto to attend our third Camp Widow there. We’ve both realized that Camp Widow recharges us. Though we may not be in the active throes of grief on a daily basis, with Megan’s death four years ago, and Drew’s six, there is something about telling our stories, and hearing others’ that brings a warmth that we didn’t realize we were lacking.
This year though, it was so much more. I assisted with two of the focus groups on Friday, one for those that lost their partners less than a year ago, and one for widowers. I was given the opportunity and honor of introducing Michele Neff Hernandez for her final keynote address. I helped Sarah setup for her intensive workshop on Saturday, “Rebuilding our Hearts”, and took my leave to let her shine. Those stories are for a different time though. I will certainly be expanding upon my “introduction speech” soon, because ten minutes is certainly not enough time to convey how much my story has been influenced by Michele.
A few months before Camp, Michele contacted Sarah, and proposed an idea for the message release that is conducted at each and every Saturday banquet at Camp. It was to be a large sign, displaying the word “Hope”, with a similar look and feel to the large “Toronto” sign just across the street from the hotel. Since we can easily drive to Toronto from Ohio, and I have a pickup truck, logistically, it was easier (and obviously more cost effective) for us to create something and deliver it across the border than it would be to ship something from California.
We worked for weeks creating this. Purchasing supplies, calculating, measuring, cutting materials, sanding, painting, gluing, and lighting these letters. As late as the Wednesday night before camp, we were cutting out small cork “bricks” and tying a string to over 200 of them.
It was a lot of work, to say the least, but the reception we received to it was far and away more than we could have ever imagined.Read more
I’m 38 today. Eight years since 30, 2 years until 40. Is it supposed to be surreal? Am I truly supposed to feel like I’m getting older? I guess I’m considered middle-aged, or “getting up in the years”. But, do I feet like I'm anywhere near the end of the story?
I don’t. I don’t feel old or long in the tooth. Sure, my back hurts about half the time. Falling ill tends to floor me a bit more than it ever did, no matter how minor. I don’t know what the latest craze is among twenty-somethings.
Then again, I was married and bought a house at 24. I had a child at 26. I was widowed by age 34. Hell, I’m 20 years into my career at this point. Had I re-enlisted in the Marine Corps and stuck with it, I could have RETIRED last month.Read more
For those of you not aware of what “overdrive” is in a car, I’ll try to simply explain it. Overdrive is a gear in the transmission that is less than a 1:1 ratio with the engine. Effectively, the wheels turn faster than the motor.
It's great for cruising at higher speeds. The engine doesn’t have to work as hard, so it’s a more efficient use of fuel. There is so much weight and momentum behind the car that it could happily glide along with barely any input, needing only to overcome wind resistance and the occasional uphill segment of highway with a millimeter more depressing of the accelerator pedal.Read more
I don’t have much to say today, other than a reminder (and perhaps, a warning to those of you reading that are still in the raw, early stages of your grief) that triggers can appear anywhere at random, no matter how “far out” you may think you are.
We’re never truly “free” from our grief. It may fade, in a way. We evolve and learn to acknowledge it, taking the sting off of it. A birthday, anniversary, or even just a random thought gives us a bad day, but it generally doesn’t reduce us to a sobbing mess. After that first year, I knew what to expect. I knew what songs, movies, events, and locations could trigger an upwelling of grief. It didn’t make the feelings or thoughts any less significant, but there was certainly a sense of “it is what it is” making noise in the background, softening the blow.
But, there are those moments that you’re never prepared for. The moments where it is a complete shock to the system. Happenings that you don’t have time to work up to or get your “gameface” on, like readying for battle.Read more
If many of my posts sound like a broken record, it’s because they are. For those of you old enough to remember, the slightest scratch on a vinyl album could stop the music in its literal track and replace it with two seconds of repeating sounds. It was aggravating when it happened. You could hope that it was just a blip. A speck of dust or an oddly perfect combination of bass vibrations that was causing the needle to jump back in time.
It usually wasn’t. Being that the spiraling track of a record was actually a groove cut into the plastic, you couldn’t just “buff out” a scratch all that easily. You couldn’t completely erase that imperfection. Every time the turntable spun to that exact point in your playlist, you would be greeted by a reminder that you didn’t handle your album with enough care, or that someone else mishandled it.Read more
20 years ago, I woke up to a screaming drill instructor, chaos, mind games, and effectively running everywhere I went. I lived in a green uniform, seeing no other colors but black, green, and brown for months. I swam in 10 foot deep water with 120 pounds of gear, went 3 days and 48 miles of marching on 4 hours of total sleep (and one meal). I didn’t speak with my family for 13 weeks, other than the occasional letter. I ran until I died, and then ran some more. Rifle marksmanship, hand-to-hand combat, history, military legal codes, uniform standard, rappelling, gas chambers, and a multitude of other subjects were drilled into my head, non-stop, and if I should not be sufficient in any given one, I would be held back and given another week on that godforsaken island in South Carolina.
Marine Corps recruit training (boot camp) was the hardest thing I had ever done, and for a long time, I thought it would be the hardest thing I would ever do.
If it was, I wouldn’t be writing to you today.Read more
Seventeen years ago, today, I was driving back from the base medical office to my shop after receiving some vaccines. It was a beautiful morning in North Carolina. Slightly on the muggy side, but the sun was shining and the temperature was perfect.
As was common at the time, I tuned to Howard Stern on the radio, and after a few minutes, he mentioned that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. It was all he was talking about. I thought that it was a bit. He was doing tasteless schtick as he had always done.
I arrived at my shop, and walked into the rest of my platoon huddled around a small black and white, portable television, with mouths agape. Not 30 seconds after my arrival, I watched live, as a second plane crashed into the other tower. The news was quite on the sensationalist side with estimates of upwards of 10,000 people trapped in the upper floors of the burning buildings.
We stared at the news footage, listening to speculation about terrorist attacks, navigational failures, other possibly hijacked planes, and all of the other “guesses” that the news was making. We were interrupted by our commanding officer, telling us to fall into formation immediately, as the roar of F-18s and Harriers taxiing on our air station became more noticeable.
We were briefed about the two crashes in New York. Another crash into the Pentagon was confirmed. Yet ANOTHER plane was missing, last seen heading east towards DC. We were to be put into a state of full-readiness, returning to our barracks, packing our gear, and awaiting orders.
I was 20 years old. Most of my platoon ranged from 18 - 22 years old. We were confused, anxious, and scared.
We were not patriots.Read more
How about something a little light hearted? Instead of writing morosely and trying to explain metaphors, I’ll look around the room and just take stock of where I am, nearing 4 years since Megan’s death? I don’t feel like “finding meaning” today. Not every day has to have “meaning” when it comes to widowerhood.
Sometimes, funny things happen irrespective of our widowship (is that a word?). Sometimes, I just like to sit back and observe, and point out coincidences instead of “signs”. Sometimes, I just want to sarcastically write about funny things I notice, will no ill-intent, in the hopes that I can make someone smile, or perhaps even laugh.
Sometimes, the world doesn’t revolve around the fact Megan is dead.Read more
There were so many reasons for Megan to be proud of Shelby. From her sheer intelligence, to her love for reading, to even her quirky weirdness. She appreciated that Shelby had a love for nature, at least tiny animals and flowers. We would take Shelby camping at least once a year, but due to Megan’s condition, that was the limit.
We took one “backpacking” trip as a family. Shelby was about 5 years old, and carried nothing but a few stuffed animals and granola bars in her pack. Megan had received her transplant, and thus was just healthy enough to schlep some weight and contribute to a one mile hike into the wilderness of West Virginia to camp.
I was proud of Shelby at that point for her enthusiasm. We hiked in a thunderstorm, to a small patch of territory in the middle of nowhere, and she loved it. There was no apprehension about not having four walls, light at the flick of a switch, or running water. She, like me, actually wanted that lack of modern conveniences.
Since Megan’s death, Sarah, Shelby and I have taken a few more “easy” trips. Each has had the same effect of me being proud of Shelby, although I’ve had to be proud for both Megan and I. She’s still been carrying a very small load, considering there were two adults to shoulder most of the baggage for her.
A big first happened this past weekend though. Shelby and I took our first trip together, just the two of us, and she started carrying some of her own baggage.Read more
I met Megan when I was only twenty-two years old. I was fresh off of my active duty tour as a Marine, having been in the communications specialty for the past four years. My “job” was, effectively, IT, just as it is now.
I was ready to “settle down” already. I had met a good woman, I was back home, with four years experience in my career field and only a car payment as debt. While I hadn’t (and still haven’t) ever stepped foot onto a college campus (well, as a student at least), in the data communications field, experience is worth more than any diploma.
I was set. All I had to do is land a lower level job, pay my dues and work my way up in the field. It would be an easy path to a successful, stable career. Megan and I were married less than three years after meeting, bought a house, and continued on, with Shelby arriving a few years later.
I would be remiss if I didn’t say I felt “stuck” by the time Shelby was born. I couldn’t even switch jobs, let alone career paths, because we couldn’t go more than a week without health insurance. We had built up some additional car payments, mortgages, and bills, and a newborn isn’t exactly cheap, even with help from family.
The feeling continues.Read more