So it's been 7 years since my beautiful husband left for work one morning, and never came home. Seven years since his shocking and sudden death. Seven years of living this life in the "after" of painful and life-changing loss. It's a long time, and it isn't. It's forever, and it's also ten seconds. In all of this time living with the death of my husband, I do get asked one question quite frequently. People often ask me if I feel guilty for being happy. Do I feel guilt when I experience joy or joyful moments? Do I feel guilty for falling in love again?
The answer is no.
Guilt has certainly been a big part of my grieving and healing process. I felt guilty on my first two birthdays after Don died, because he would never get to see another year or enjoy another birthday or another year older. I felt guilty on New Year's Eve for years, and I refused to do the countdown to midnight, because it felt like a countdown to more time without him on earth, and another year that he won't ever get to be part of. I felt guilty for being asleep in our bed, while my husband was collapsing on a hard floor in a Petsmart, and going into cardiac arrest. These are the types of things I felt guilt about, and the types of things I worked on for years with my grief counselor, and came to better terms with.
I have never felt guilty for feeling joy. I have never felt guilty for falling in love again. I have never felt guilty for laughing so hard my sides hurt, or for feeling euphoric about something incredibly awesome or awe-inspiring. Maybe it's because I know for a fact that the most important thing to my husband, was my joy and happiness, so I know that me being happy would give him incredible peace. Maybe it's because I so fiercely want to LIVE, because my husband does not have that choice, so I look for and cling to moments of euphoria wherever I can find them. Maybe it's because it took me FIVE years and a hell of a lot of processing and therapy, to get to a place where I was even able to find love again, so why spend one second feeling guilty about it? I don't know what the reason is, but I have never felt guilt for feelings of joy or love.
What I HAVE felt is this:Read more
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
I became a NY Yankee fan in the 1990s, when I went to NYC for college. It was the Joe Torre era, and baseball in NY was exciting. Going to multiple games at Yankee Stadium with college friends, it was tough not to fall in love with it. When I started dating Don, my late husband, he wasn’t really into baseball. He said it was boring, and asked me how I could watch an entire game without falling asleep. I told him if he understood the strategy, it’s the furthest thing from boring.
When he moved to NY to start our life together, he understood. He became a huge Yankees fan too, bigger than I could have ever imagined. He was hooked. He would watch pre-game show, post-game show, and everything in between. When we watched a game together on TV, he would talk nonstop, analyzing the pitcher or hitters next move. It is a thinking man’s game, and my husband was a thinker. This was his sport. WE went to lots of Yankees games together. In NYC, in Florida during spring training - we had a blast, and so many memories. My love for the Yankees is my own, but it’s also very much connected to my relationship with Don. It was one of "our things" that we truly enjoyed together - a great Yankees game.
When he died, it took a long time for me to go back to my Yankees. At first, I watched an inning at a time. Or maybe two innings. Then I’d have to shut it off. It was too lonely without his commentary and back and forth conversation. After a while, I went back to Yankee Stadium. I went with good friends. We felt his spirit there, we felt him close. It was comforting.Read more
*Normally I write on Fridays, and although this post will appear here on Friday, I am writing it Wednesday evening, and setting it to publish Friday. This way I dont have to worry about finding a computer to post the blog while at the Marriott and busy with other things.
I was talking with a friend the other day about new love after being widowed and it got me reflecting on the idea. I ended up describing to her how my fiance and my now boyfriend are like two different colors of love. I really liked this idea the more I thought about it…
There is no color in the spectrum that is better or worse, more or less, than any other. And loving another after loss is just the same. I’ve now been with Mike for a little over 3 years… roughly the same amount of time I had with Drew before he died. Having had about the same amount of time to grow with each of these men, I can say for certain they each have their own distinct color. By that I mean the feeling of them has a color to me. Their personalities and demeanor, while having many similarities, are still quite different.Read more
Five and a half years later
There are days when I just want to disappear
To run away from everything
All the materialism of Christmas especially
Because no matter how hard I try
No matter how many lights are on the house
No matter how many ornaments are on the tree
No matter how many Christmas songs are played
So much is missing too...
The excitement of new.
The knowing of strife.
The frustration of sickness.
The commitment for life.
The determination to protect.
The joy of more days.
The newness of health.
The fear it won’t stay.
The sliver of hope.
The knowledge of none.
The witnessing a demise.
The grief that begun.
Early this morning, I woke up to the bed being empty next to me. It's an ordinary Saturday, and I can hear Mike downstairs, tinkering around, packing up for a short backpacking trip. Eventually, I hear the stairs creak as he comes back up to the bedroom kiss me goodbye. These moments are always sensitive for me, since Drew left on a trip and never came back. But this isn't some 3 month long work trip like Drew's... Mike will be back tomorrow. Or will he? Because of course, now, I never really know that anymore.
All morning now, the thought of him not coming back has been with me. I’ve not cried or even been upset over it… it’s just…. There. Haunting me at low volume. As I make my morning coffee, I have to go through three cups before I can drink it. The first is one of my favorite mugs, with skulls on it. I decide not to drink from a skull cup while he is out. “If he dies and you drank out of a skull cup that day, it will feel like a creepy omen”. So I pour my joe into his favorite coffee cup, one with a woodland scene that says “The Good Life” on it. I decide that one makes for an equally bad omen - as I never use his favorite coffee cup, and it’d be horribly ironic if he died while I was drinking from the "Good Life” cup. I finally settle on a random cup with no irony apparent and am able to let it go for a moment.
There were half a dozen other situations just like this for the next hour. Putting on his hoodie - which I wear around the house almost daily... "What if he dies today and I am wearing his hoodie?!". The little surprise love note he tucked into my laptop, so that I would find it after he left "Oh my God, what if he dies today and this is the LAST LOVE NOTE I EVER GET?!" Worrying about ice on the roads, cars flipping, him slipping on ice with a heavy pack on his back in the woods alone... it goes on and on of course. Even writing these words, sends chillful thoughts of "What if he dies and THAT is what my post next week is about?!" It's scary. And tiring. All of this because of “the knowing”...
Being that both Mike and I are both writers here, we do try to talk about our relationship as two widowed people, to share how this whole “chapter 2” thing can work. There are plenty of times this is awesome to write about - when we have things to share that show you how beautiful loving again can be. How beautiful it can be when two people honor their dead loved ones, welcoming them with open arms into this new, loving space. Times when we can share how incredible it is to be on a new journey of love, and feeling like your other person is getting to come along with you for the ride. So many times I have truly felt Drew’s joy in my own heart during moments with Mike. So many times have I felt like when I am laughing, Drew is too. They’re a part of it all. And we should never expect any less of our new person than to want them to be a part of it all. Mike even wears some of Drew’s old dress shirts now. And I use Megan’s old backpacking gear when we go out for trips. They’re always with us.
But there’s another side to that too. What if things weren’t all roses and rainbows when your person died? What if your last words were words of anger? What if there was a lot of unresolved stuff going on that you never got to address? What if, like Mike and Megan’s story, you were only just beginning to resolve things? What if your widowed story, or even your story outside of being widowed, comes with some muck?
Mike left around 3am Saturday morning, headed out to West Virginia. It's his first major solo backpacking trip since we've been together. Three nights out in the mountains alone, with no cell service. Our only form of contact has been a satellite device that lets him send me preset “all is well” messages with his location every few hours (this is proving to be a complete Godsend for quieting my mind, which is trying like crazy to create horrific stories of him breaking a leg or being mauled by a bear while I’m sitting on the couch watching TV).
I don’t have to tell any of you the sort of feeling this trip brings up. Especially if your person died from a sudden loss, while they were away on a trip. This specific trigger is one I have known I would have to face, some day.
The old me would not bat an eye over this sort of event. I am not a needy person, nor have I ever been. I can spend hours and days alone, and enjoy myself so completely in the space of solitude. For me, it is grounding. Drew was often on trips for work, long weekends or week long trips, sometimes out of service for most of the day. So I was used to this sort of thing before. Well, the old me was.