I think I’ve always been interested in the ways that people celebrate or carry on the memory of a loved one throughout their lives. Something last time got me thinking again about this topic.
Around this time last year, my new partner Mike took me to see Tom Petty on what ended up being his final tour. It’s not as though I knew this musician personally, but his music has always been a huge part of my life. Almost a year after his death, I am still grieving as if I lost a friend. I suppose a lot of folks are.
It was after Drew’s death that I found an especially close connection to his music. For a year, I photographed portraits of myself to explore my own grief and to tell my story in a visual way. Music was almost always playing in the background… very specific music that helped me to get into the heart of my emotions. Tom Petty became a regular in the background, and the more I listened to his words as I created my own stories, the more deeply those words became woven into what I created. Songs like Learning to Fly, Angel Dream, I Won’t Back Down, and more all felt like they were telling some piece of my story. I guess that’s what he was so good at though… he was telling all of our stories.
Last week, we went to a tribute concert here in town… a whole bunch of local bands were up there on stage taking turns singing Petty’s songs. And at the end, they all came up together - some two dozen people - and sang a few final songs. What an incredible energy it was.
It’s times like that when I think, “This is the way you do it. This is how you keep living on when someone dies. These people get it”. You celebrate them, and you keep on celebrating them. Granted Tom Petty isn’t just any random person, and it becomes easy to celebrate someone who made great, iconic music… but it’s more about the mindset of this idea that I think is a great takeaway for everyday life after loss. Why can’t we all celebrate our dead people and the gifts they left with us so openly? Why can’t we all have a concert or a celebration once a year or whenever the hell we feel like it just to celebrate them? What stops us? Or maybe the better question is, how can we infuse this kind of celebration into our daily lives and continue to keep our loved ones a part of the story for many years to come?
Last Thursday, all of my closest friends flew in from around the country for our annual trip to see each other. Since 2012, when Drew died, we have been making it a point to come from far and wide to spend a weekend together celebrating his life and our friendships. We call it Drewfest, and this year was our sixth year. It was the first year having this celebration in Ohio, which was a big deal for both Mike and I.
I can hardly find the words to express how much this group of people means to me. I honestly believe they have made one of the biggest differences in how well I have coped with and healed these past 6 years. They are one of my strongest connections to Drew, because they were there for so much of the happy memories and good times - sharing alongside he and I. I know without a doubt they miss him the same way I do. And I know they remember all the good times as much as me. When we are together, we all feel closer to him.
They also remember the hard times, because they were there for that too. In the weeks and months after Drew died, these were the friends that showed up for me in countless ways and helped to carry me through. They were my rock. They may never really know just how much of a difference their presence has made.
Six years later, they’ve never left. Even though our lives continue on. As I found new love, they welcomed it. As some of us left Texas for Ohio, California, and Florida, we started video calling each other to stay close. So much living has happened since that difficult day in June of 2012. Good and hard times both. And still these friendships have remained. Even though sometimes we may not catch up for months at a time, I know they are there. I know because we have been through an unthinkable fire together and that fire has strengthened our friendship. It is the one greatest gift that Drew continues to give us…Read more
This past week was the 6th anniversary of his death. I wrote last week about this, and what would have been our 9th anniversary together the week before. I will always hate that these two dates are a week apart. It’ll always piss me off to have to have my anniversary of celebrating our love so closely linked to when he died. But it is what it is I guess...
The week of our anniversary proved to be a lot harder this year that I’d expected. Harder than the anniversary of his death, which turned out to be pretty okay really. But our anniversary, nope, a lot of tears and just an overall sadness and wanting to withdraw for days. Still, it’s easier than it used to be. I will never forget the excruciating sadness and anxiety those first few years. The horrible hollow feeling when I first realized that no one else cares about your anniversary but the two of you… and thusly no one else remembers it or honors it. So you are alone then more than on any other day.
My new partner, Mike, has brought a lot of joy back to these hard days though. The first year I dated him, we were long-distance, but happened to be visiting each other when my anniversary with Drew fell. Mike took me out for a nice dinner that night, to a fancy restaurant. We got all dressed up and enjoyed a beautiful romantic evening. It was so surreal to be out with another man on that particular night for the first time ever… and even more surreal that it wasn’t upsetting or awkward at all. It felt beautiful. It felt like I’d found this new person who wasn’t afraid to celebrate both our love and the love I had before. He got that it was a part of me. It surprised me, no doubt, how easy it could be to actually have these two worlds in some way meshing into one new life...Read more
As luck would have it, today is Tuesday, my day to post my rambling here on Soaring Spirits. It is also the 6th anniversary of Drew’s crash, and the 4th trip around the sun since I began getting to know him. Through stories told by Sarah, his parents, and his friends, I’ve made a friend...a sort of widow pen-pal, in a way.
It’s odd, really, how often Sarah says things like “Drew really picked you”, often in a sarcastic tone when I’m being a deliberate goof. We have as many similarities as we do differences. His friends are my friends, and I enjoy hanging out with all of them. In fact, they are all coming to Ohio to visit next week...6 of them in a tiny 2 bedroom, 1 bath house with the three of us. That will be fun for 4 days.
I truly feel as if Drew was a friend of mine. I don’t have quite the stinging sense of loss that his friends and family had, obviously. Just the same, there is a huge desire to have known him personally and in the flesh.Read more
Yesterday would have been my 9th anniversary with my fiance. Instead, we got 3 years. Instead, it was my 6th anniversary without him, and a reminder that I've now been without him for twice as long as I was with him. I didn't even think about those numbers leading up to this week… it wasn't until the day hit that I realized it was twice as long. And it punched me in the gut.
I've spent days fighting a kind of numb sadness. So much so that this is actually the first time I didn't share anything on Facebook or anywhere else about our anniversary. I just quietly let it be here and let it pass. I just didn't feel like having everyone on all of social media commenting. It's odd, but instead of wanting to make certain everyone else remembered him and this day, I just didn't care, because I remember it and that's what matters. In a way, it felt nice to allow it to be private. I just didn't feel like having to say some grand statement. It is what it is. He’s gone and it sucks, again, just like this week sucks every years… and I'm sad, and I don't feel like including the whole of social media in that right now.
His death anniversary is in less than a week too, so I'm sure I will share something next week, but this week… this week is for me.
Somehow hitting 6 years of death isn't the number that bothers me. It's the other… knowing we would have been together for nine whole years by now. We would have been reaching closer to that exciting new chapter of having been together for a decade. Something that so many other people in their mid thirties can say they've achieved - including my new partner - but I cannot.
It really sucks to have had to reset that clock. And it's hard not to be sad and a bit numb this week, as my heart longs to joyfully tell someone “Happy Nine Years!!! Look how far we've come!” Only he isn't here to tell it to. And we've now had six years of a life we didn't get to live.Read more
Every now and then something seemingly ordinary happens in our widow lives that has so much more meaning. Something that other people would really not think anything of. I had one of these a few weeks ago, when the glass top on our stove cracked.
This was a stove that my new person, Mike, and his late-wife, Megan, had in their house for a decade. A stove that was at the center of a lifetime of meals and memories in their household. And there it was, one evening after making dinner, I noticed something… a huge crack that ran all the way across the top of the glass top surface. After hopeful research, we were both frustrated to learn that a cracked glass top is completely unsafe to keep using.
It wasn’t a particularly triggery or upsetting thing for Mike… he doesn’t tend to go hunting out the symbolic meaning of ordinary household appliances the way I do. This was merely a minor extra annoyance in our life for him. And let’s face it, having to drop everything on your day off to go unexpectedly hunting for a stove bargain was not exactly something exciting or pivotal. Except that for me, it kind of was...
I was very aware, it was a moment in time we were sharing something major. Something that both of us "should" have been doing with someone else who isn't here anymore. That together, here we were, in the midst of our "plan B" journey - with a new milestone of adult life.
This past week, I had a pretty crazy dream. It’s the first time of this sort that I have ever had. As many of you know, our Tuesday writer, Mike, is my boyfriend. He lost his wife, Megan, in 2014 to Cystic Fibrosis and I lost my fiance, Drew, in 2012 in a crash. We’ve been dating now a few years, and still nothing like this dream has showed up before.
And then came Mother’s Day last week… and the post I wrote about Mike and Megan’s daughter, whom I am now caring for as my own. You can read that post here, but essentially it boiled down to my deep appreciation for this little person being in my life now and all that she has changed for the better.
So that night, the end of Mother's Day, I had a dream... about Megan...
It was not just any dream. It was one of *those* dreams… and you all know the ones I mean. The dreams that some of us call “visits” because of how realistic they feel. In this dream, Megan was in a hospital bed and Mike and I were on either side of her. He was not a major part of the dream, except to introduce me to Megan at the beginning. He told her that I was the new person in his life. That I was the one chosen to be here, after her. And then, there was this completely real, completely tangible moment of us looking eye to eye at one another. Silence. Hearts beating, a little tensely. Guardedness. Neither yet saying words… she was taking me in. She was taking in this moment of her life that she knew would always come.
And just as if it had been real, you could feel the presence of protectiveness in her. The seriousness of the situation in her. And she then looked forward a moment, took a breath, and began to tell me in a very matter of fact way what was important to her for me to take care of after she’s gone...Read more
I’m going to do the easy thing today, and feed off of Sarah’s sunday post. I was in the woods for the first time in a while this past weekend, while Sarah’s sister came into town for a few days. They got to have their weekend together, while I got 24 hours or so next to a campfire.
Her sister got her first tattoo on Saturday. From her son, Sarah’s nephew. As Sarah watched, she thought of various tattoos that she might get. Ink that she has thought about for years. New ideas for shared tattoos with her sister. Memorial tattoos, signifying Drew.
She hated that her mind went to death when contemplating what she would get. As she wrote, even a shared, “fun” tattoo with her sister would ultimately, end up as a reminder that one of them is gone. It’s inevitable, and I get it.Read more
I'm writing you all on my phone, in the back room of a tattoo shop in Cleveland. An odd place to write from, and no, I'm not the one getting the tattoo… but my sister is. Her first. My nephew, her son, is apprenticing as a tattoo artist and is doing hers. This is in so many ways so very cool. Getting to be here for it and watch is something I'm grateful for… even though I've chickened out from getting one myself!
Sitting here, I am already dreaming of coming back for my first tattoo. I already know of two I want for certain.. both are memorials to Drew. I had decided to wait 5 years from his death and if I was still certain about one, I would get it. Well, I'm creeping I to six years now, and as coincidence would have it my nephew just moved to town to do tattoo work.. it seems like a sign.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