This past weekend Mike and I attended Camp Widow Toronto. We helped out with a lot of things this year, from leading panel discussions and groups, to building the enormous sign of HOPE for the banquet and working with Michele to plan the message release around it. I also hosted my creative workshop again, for the second year, which was an absolutely incredible experience.
There was so much to do before ever getting to camp… we have been working tirelessly for the past month or two to get ready. It has meant long nights and very busy weekends planning, dreaming, building, painting, budgeting, and hoping it will all go as well as we imagine. I stepped out of my own comfort zone in many ways. Not only in what we physically created in the huge sign of HOPE, which Mike wrote more about last week in his post. Also though, in deciding to commit myself so fully to focusing not one what I needed this year, but on what I had to give.
I can’t help but wonder, just how did I get here? Me… who just six years ago was so broken that I feared I'd never be able to put the pieces back together. Me… who couldn't even feed myself for 2 weeks after his death. Who couldn't even buy dental floss at the grocery store or remember to pay my credit card bill for 6 months. Who woke every morning for so long in a horror, wishing with all my heart that it was all just a nightmare. On top of all that, I have spent a lifetime fighting deep-rooted self doubt. Fighting to believe that I have anything of value to give to others. Just how did I get here then, shining a light for others along the path?Read more
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 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
Everyone has a favorite holiday. Mine is Halloween. I decorate the house inside and out. I spend tireless hours on costumes. I await my first haunted house of the season with eager anticipation. I’ve always liked this holiday, but it wasn’t until after Drew died that it became something I appreciated more deeply.
Just 4 months after he died, my first Halloween without him arrived. I had no energy for costumes or decorating. I was still a complete wreck. But I did do one thing still - I went to a haunted house with one of my oldest friends. It was the first time to do anything of tradition without him.
When my friend and I entered the world of this dark and creepy place… something really incredible happened for me. For the 20 minutes or so we were inside, I was not a widow. I was just... me. Running scared and laughing with my friend through a house of horrors. Yep. Laughing! And feeling deeply alive. As we came bolting out the exit, the euphoric adrenaline was unforgettable. It was one of the first things that gave me proof that I indeed could still FEEL all these wonderful things. Because trust me, I was so broken that I was honestly scared to death that I would never be able to feel true joy ever again. I had a very literal fear of this. And that night as I came out of the haunted house, I realized I could indeed still laugh and still feel joy - even doing things I loved with him. It was a glimmer of hope that maybe, just maybe, I could make it through this. Just maybe, I would be okay.
My new partner Mike and I went to a haunted house last night, and as it always does, it took me back in time and had me reflecting back...Read more
The thing most people don’t get about losing your partner is that you also lose a part of yourself when they die. You lose aspects of who you were with them. You lose a lot of your innocence, without having any choice in the matter. You grieve a loss of your own self. This sudden identity change was an equally painful part of losing my fiance six years ago.
Death changes us, no doubt. And there’s this part of me that I had long-since accepted that I would never get back after he died. There was a lightness in who I was before. This effortless, joyful feeling. A distinct side of me that was silly and goofy and witty and warm. Which became replaced with something more akin to an over-serious somewhat distanced and far more uptight person. Of any part of myself, that lighthearted, goofy part is something I miss the most. My innocent self. My carefree self. Always ready to make those I love laugh. Always full of life and hungry for new experiences and filled with curiosity for life, love and people. She's a part of me that my new family has not really even met, which always gives me heartbreak.
As my birthday hit this weekend, I'm doing some reflecting, and realizing that maybe that part of me didn't actually die after all...Read more
Yesterday was the first day of the year to bring in an autumn cold snap here in Northeast Ohio, along with the remnants of the tropical storm that came through Florida last week. Since I woke yesterday, it’s been a slow, steady dripping rain… the kind where you can still open all the windows and feel the brisk air and hear the gentle drops on the leaves.
This time of year is my favorite. And even though I know it will warm up again and we aren’t quite to fall, for today, I get a little teaser of what’s coming… The air changing. The fall leaves turning. Halloween - which we go all out for around here. Decorating the house with warm oranges and yellows. Cooking stews and chilis and pies. Filling the air with cinnamon and pumpkin candles. Remembering it being my mother’s favorite time of year. Remembering it being my late-fiance and I’s favorite time of year too. There’s so much richness in the fall.
About 6 years ago, I was given new and different reasons to appreciate this time of year…Read more
It has been now 6 years since my fiance died. Very seldom these days do I have those moments when all I want to do is pick up the phone to call him and tell him about something that happened. Part of that is due to time, and probably part due to being able to share many of our favorite things with my new partner Mike. Having lost my mom when I was 9 and my dad at 26, I think has to do with it too. I simply have SO many moments in my life that I wish I could call all three of these people to share with them, that I think over the years, I’ve become a bit numb to it. It’s just part of my life to such a degree that most of the time, it doesn’t even occur to me anymore that another reality could exist where I could call them up and talk to them.
And then yesterday happened…
Mike, his daughter Shelby, and I went to a local baseball game that I’ve been looking forward to for months. They often have guests at the games, and this game in particular there was to be one of the actors from the tv show Scrubs. What’s special about this is that it is my all-time favorite tv show, and a show that Drew and I both loved and watched throughout our relationship. There were countless inside jokes we shared that related back to the show, and countless memories spent on the couch together laughing. It’s silly to think that a show could mean so much, but there’s always one or two shows that do weave their way into our hearts in a deeper way.
This show also became a theme in my new life with Mike too. He was a fan before we met, and since we have enjoyed the same sort of memories and inside jokes together with this show. In fact, there is even a particular song in the show that has become our song. It feels in a way like this beautiful continuation of something that began with Drew and I.
So here I am, at the ball game, waiting in line to meet and get an autograph from one of the actors of the show, with my new person. I was so nervous and excited. We got a picture with him, and I got to briefly tell him how I’ve watched the show since the beginning and it’s our favorite show and such. But there was so little time, and more people in line. And so much more I wanted to say. I wanted to tell him about the whole history. About it being part of my old life and now my new life, and meeting him was somehow some exciting part of that whole thing. But there wasn’t time. I left feeling excited but also sad. And I tried to fight off the sadness the rest of the game, but it was definitely there...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...
Something that Megan and I did every year or two was get family photos taken. While we had thousands of “candid” pictures, taken from our phones or old point-and-shoot devices, we were never posed, and neither of us were exactly professional photographers. We would make the appointment, pack up a few various pieces of clothing, and head to JCPenney for an hour or so of awkward positions and goofy smiles, followed by standing in a department store looking through each and every shot, choosing the six best, and deciding on a package. The photos are done well, and I like them, but the experience of producing them was not exactly the most enjoyable memory. If we could have had them without all of the other hassle (and money), they would have been perfect.
We still have some of those photos hanging on our walls. Shelby truly lives up to her “Peanut” nickname in most of them...being about 2 feet tall and 25 pounds at the largest. (for the record, I too have added about 30 pounds since then, so the “growing together” has a literal meaning). The memory of her simply being that size is the most enjoyable to me.
Megan has a beautiful smile in all of them. She was, simply put, photogenic, and she knew how to apply a good “picture smile”. For Shelby and I’s part, we did our best to smirk.Read more
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