As the months pass, I am becoming increasingly reserved. I used to be a very social person; but, now, I am not overly interested in interacting with the people around me. I am not compelled to engage in superficial conversations because it distracts me from my own thoughts. My identity was intimately entwined with Mike; therefore, when I buried him, a piece of me was essentially buried alive. Seventeen months ago, I lost myself. And, now, I am grasping to redefine my self identity.
In order to do this, I need to withdraw and delve into myself. Now, I am quiet because I am constantly participating in an internal dialogue. As I attempt to re-establish my identity I am endlessly searching my Soul to discover who I am. Countless thoughts swirl around inside my head as I work to redefine myself and rebuild my life. I am completely exhausted from all this thinking. And, most of the time, I feel unsettled in both my mind and in my heart.
Recently, I have eased up on the continuous planning and over-thinking. I have reduced the amount of time I spend arranging ideas in my head because I realize that the best thing I can do is step aside and let the plan unfold. I am more relaxed because I am certain everything will work out exactly as it should - regardless of what I do or don't do. Endlessly shifting thoughts and ideas around in my head will not serve me well in the wake of Mike's death. Finally, I understand that I need to do less strategizing and worrying. I simply need to have faith and enjoy my life as I am re-routed toward a future that is different than I had planned. Thankfully, I am no longer lacking faith. But, now, my latest conundrum is that I am lacking passion...
He loved my smile.
And, let me tell you, I smiled a lot because of him.
I loved my life - when he was in it.
I wore my smile like a permanent accessory
because my life was beautiful.
Our joy permeated the air around us.
Our laughter echoed off every one near us.
Our words to one another were always heartfelt.
We looked at each other with a love that others could feel.
Our smiles were effortless.
Life was good,
And, this is an understatement.
Life with Mike was spontaneous and full of adventure. When he was alive I couldn't wipe the smile from my face because the life we were building together was so breathtakingly beautiful. We "had the world by the ass" as he would say. Mike loved a good swear word and I know that's not everyone's cup of tea; but, we were coffee drinkers... it is what it is.
Many of our joy filled conversations came complete with a few saucy swear words - thrown in for emphasis - because that's how he rolled. He tended to speak colorfully because he literally couldn't contain his excitement. Mike was so in love with life and everything around him that he just blurted things out. The crazy things that would fly out of his mouth made my life. He taught me how to live with wild abandon. And, I'm better for it.
When he spoke, sometimes he could be a bit brash, but he got away with it because of his smooth delivery. Once in a while the refined, cautious people would look at him sideways, or glance in my direction to confirm that their ears heard what he said. I'd knowingly smile because everything he spoke was accurate, albeit somewhat uncouth. Mike could always be counted on to state the unrefined truth. He was bright. He saw the world and the people in it exactly as they were. And, Mike definitely wasn't uncomfortable calling out what he saw. He taught me to speak the truth confidently. And, again, I am better for it.
Mike was a talker and he knew how to say the most audacious things with a twinkle in his eyes. He spoke with a simple honesty that was admirable and refreshing. Essentially, he was impulsive; and, a big kid at heart. Mike was animated and he had a larger than life personality. He saw the world in a whimsical way. It was a privilege for me to see life through his eyes. With Mike, my life became bolder and more magical. And, I am a better woman for sharing part of my life with him.
It was a wild ride wandering through life with him by my side.
from the moment my eyes opened,
I had a smile smeared across my face .
Life was big and bold and fun with Mike.
we were having the time of our lives.
was as natural as breath.
I miss living like this. Our life was rich. I have never lived with such enchantment in all my life. I miss the rapture he gave me. I miss the gush of excitement he brought to the ordinary. I desperately miss how he made me laugh. The depth of my laughter was different when I was with him. I often wonder if I will ever laugh that way again. I hope I do. And, in truth, I know that I will because he won't have it any other way; and...
I have always looked for Joy. I search for it everywhere I go. Seeking Joy is like a treasure hunt; except, in this case, I don't have a map. Honestly, I don't mind the lack of navigational tools because I have grown used to hurling myself into the unknown since he died. With practice, I have become accustom to feeling lost. Now, I am somewhat comfortable being without direction and guidance because I have lived this way for over 500 days.
When you become a widow everything familiar is suddenly lost. The rituals and routines of your old life no longer mark the way. As a widowed person you are forced to sail into uncharted waters. It is incredibly daunting. But, with time, you get used to it. And, you can even begin to flourish in the open water.
I am different because he died. I am 'better' in some significant ways because of the devastation that I am living through; but, the price I paid for this growth is too steep. No gain will ever be worth what I've lost. But, there is no changing it. Mike has died. Wishing it was different does nothing to help me and it does not undo his death. I have to stay the course and be grateful for the good things that I still have in my life.
In a very real way, Mike's death has brought me closest to my true self. His death is leading me to some place I need to go. For a long time I believed that I was drifting aimlessly. I assumed that I was lost, so I desperately searched for direction. I was tirelessly drafting plans in my mind because I thought I had to "fix" my life. I felt compelled to correct what had been wronged. But, now I know that all my efforts were needless.
There is a plan at work here; and, in order for this plan to be successful, I am not required to "fix" or do anything. In fact, the best thing that I can do is step aside. Before I realized all this, I was my biggest obstacle. I was getting in my own way. The truth is, I do not need to carefully map out my own journey. With this realization, I no longer feel the need to control the direction of my sails. I have stopped flailing in the water because I trust that something bigger than me is at work. I believe that my best interests are being served. I do not need to intervene because everything will work out as it is meant to. In short, I have faith. I know that I will be okay.
The reality is, I am exposed as I float out in the open water. Anything is possible. I might be a lot of things, but I am not lost. I am exactly where I am meant to be. I may feel that I am without direction. But, I am drifting directly towards my destination. Everything is as it should be - I can feel it. I am not required to do anything. I don't have to steer in the right direction. In fact, I have to do less, not more. When Mike was alive he used to say "stay where you're at, I'll come where you are". And, this is exactly what I need to do now.
If I am drifting in the open sea,
Then, Mike is the water I am floating on.
I am not drowning like I thought I was.
He's got me.
I am being supported by the water.
I am being lead to where I need to be.
All I need to do is "stay where (I'm) at, (because) he will come where I'm am." I wish I remembered what Mike told me early. This would have been a whole lot easier. Nonetheless, I figured it out. I remembered his promise; and, this has brought me a great deal of peace. And, it's nice because I haven't felt peaceful in a long, long time...
In every store you visit the shelves are lined with colorful, foil wrapped chocolate bunnies. They stand neatly organized in the aisles, adorned with ribbons and bows. At first glance, these holiday treats catch your eye because they look shiny and decadent. But, things aren't as they appear. We know the bunnies are hollow inside even though they look substantial. I am a lot like these chocolate Easter bunnies. I appear to have my life together. I look solid. But, the reality is that inside I feel empty.
This may come off as slightly dramatic, but it is the truth. After over 16 months, my life looks shiny and newly restored. Outwardly, things have remained stable and solid. In many ways I am a vision of widowed success. I returned to a good career, I still have the house, the car, and the kids. On the outside, the condition of my life looks good. Aside from Mike's death, my life may even be enviable to some; but things are not as they appear. Like the aesthetically pleasing chocolate bunnies, I look to be well dressed and professionally presented; but, inside me there is something lacking. Inside of me, in my Soul, the landscape is sterile. I am hollow inside like the foil bunnies. On the inside of me there is 'nothing'. Where there used to be unbridled joy there is now emptiness.
I still feel like Mike's girl. When he was alive, he'd tell perfectly good strangers about me. Anyone he encountered throughout his day was sure to find out about me in short order. The cashiers at the neighborhood grocery store knew of me because he proudly gushed about me while they wrapped the red roses he'd buy me every time he did his weekly shopping. Mike went from being a single guy buying obscene quantities of frozen meat pies -when they were on sale - to the man who carefully selected extra chocolate milk and certain juices because he knew my boys liked them. Mike was so happy and his love for me and my boys was revealed in everything he did. Mike showed all of us what true love looks like, and sounds like. And, for me, he showed me what true love feels like.
Looking back, our love story served as a live lecture on love. If you were a student of love you would have filled your notebook full with our 'love notes'. Together, we made love look easy. The way we spoke to each other had the rhythm of respect. Our tone was pianissimo, reflecting our gentle love. In our voices you could hear the harmony of happiness. The way we looked at one another reflected mutual admiration. We loved how love is supposed to be. The way he held me close to him; and, the way he pushed me to soar were both acts of genuine love. We unknowingly provided an education about love for anyone who stopped long enough to take notice. When we walked hand in hand I remember that strangers would look up and smile when my eye caught theirs. Our love was tangible. You could feel it in the air around us. People smiled at me because they felt the love they witnessed walking by.
Love is the little, shared nuances.
The small, familiar gestures between lovers.
The rituals that are thoughtfully developed between two Souls.
These intimate expressions are what we all desperately miss.
These are the things that keep us awake at night.
These are the intimacies we all want back.
Maybe Mike and I were so good at love because this wasn't our first attempt at it. We had practiced love before with mediocre results. And, finally, with three failed relationships behind us, we figured it out. Together, we were good at love. And, in my heart, and in my mind, I will always be Mike's "Beautiful Wife to Be". I have theRead more
It's his birthday this week. March 22nd. On this day, I will always "celebrate" Mike. There will never be a March 22nd that I don't spend with him. On his birthday I purposefully choose to remember the way he lived. I celebrate the life and love we shared together. This is how I try to honor him everyday - not just on his birthday. That being the case, I admit that I want to do something more on his special day, but I haven't completely decided what this might be.
In the grief world people do all different types of things to mark birthdays. The way we choose to celebrate our person are varied. The only thing constant is that the celebrations are fitting for those who died. I like that. Not one type of birthday celebration will do because the people we are honoring are separate, unique individuals. To honor their person, some people release balloons and the environmentalist scold them, others set off lanterns that are biodegradable - they don't receive any backlash. Some choose to cook their person's favorite meal. Some people gather friends and family together. Some go to the cemetery. Some have cake. Some people spend the day alone - in bed. There really is no correct way to mark a birthday for someone who died, or for someone who is living for that matter.
For me, on significant days, I find that I am less out of sorts if I have a plan of some kind. When special days occur on the calendar I prefer to plan something. If I don't organize something, then grief leads me places I don't want to go. Creating a shape for the day is what works best for me. You might be different. Grief has many commonalities, but each of our experiences is unique. So, I think that we should do whatever is best for us. We should do whatever soothes our Soul.
Because I love to write, it's not surprising that I will write Mike a birthday letter. I will go to the grave and tie a balloon to the shepherd's hook I have lovingly placed behind his headstone. To Mike, there will be a handwritten message on his birthday balloon. I will stand there, on his grave, wishing with all my heart that things were different. I will play him some of our favorite songs, and I will toast him with his favorite wine. And, then I will cry. Before I leave, I will read Mike his birthday letter. And, then, I will cry some more. My graveside visit is very precise and predictable because I have completed this ritual for all our significant dates. I know how it feels. I know what to expect. And, I find it comforting in some strange way. For me, it feels right to honor Mike in this way. My rituals are sacred and intimate for us.
However, I am an overachiever and I outgrow routine quickly; so, this year, I want to do more to mark his birthday. I feel it is necessary. Mike's life was bigger than my ritual of reading him a birthday letter and toasting him with a glass of Malbec. His love for me was deeper than just me, his widow, standing at his graveside offering a balloon to the man she loves. (For those of you who did these exact things please know that your gestures were perfect as they are. Nothing more is needed to honor your loved one's birthday. It's just me. This year, I know that I need to change things up.)
I honor Mike every day - in both big and small ways. Daily, I credit him with the profound impact he has on my life. I think we all do this as widows and widowers. I believe that we naturally "celebrate" our person, in their absence, every day of the year. Yet, for me, my Soul is calling me to do something more on for Mike on his birthday this year, I just haven't figured out what...
Most of the time I feel empty inside. The landscape of my Soul is barren since he died. However, most people can only see the vibrant life I have. At first glance, my life appears fairly enviable. With the exception of Mike's death, I have all the trappings of a good life. I have the kids, the house, the car, and the career. I have managed to achieve a lot of success in Suburbia. The boxes are checked. My life does not appear to be barren. Not surprisingly, for those looking from the outside in, it is not comprehensible that I still feel empty. To them everything looks like it is returning back to "normal" without Mike. They think I am "strong". They tell me that I am "the strongest person they know". They tell me that they "can't imagine" how I do it. When my ears hear their statements I just kind of stare at them and watch their lips move. I don't say much in response because I know the truth. Yes, I am 'strong', because I do not have a choice. I have to stay the course for my kids, and for myself.
I do not feel bitter towards people who make these proclamations about me and my life. They simply do not understand the depth and breadth of my loss. I understand that they can not understand. And, I know that they are so lucky that they "can't imagine" my situation. I think that people need to believe that things return to normal after a person dies. They need to believe that I am okay now because if I am okay, that means - if and when this happens to them - they will recover and be okay too. But, as people who have outlived our spouses, we know differently. We are aware that there is nothing normal about our changed lives. We know that there is no backing up. We can not return to days gone by no matter how desperately we want to. There is nothing to return to. Our lives can not be as they were before. That life is over. It's gone. It's done. Period. And, yeah, we are 'strong' despite our blunt reality.
To me, the phrase "new normal" is ridiculous.
I HATE that idiom.
There is nothing normal about my new life.
It is the exact opposite of what I am used to.
I am different since Mike died, and - this is normal.
The hollowness and emptiness that I feel - is normal.
My grief - is normal.
My life is not normal anymore.
I spend a lot of time feeling disconnected from the world and from those around me. It feels like my thoughts are wrapped in cotton candy. My deepest thoughts are tightly spun like the sugar crystals that become the dense pink candy fluff. Most days, I can barely make sense of what I feel because my thoughts are hidden from me. I don't always know them, but, I feel my thoughts. My deepest thoughts live inside my heart, not my head. Everything is buried far away inside my Soul. Since Mike died, I feel like I am hidden in wad of airy blue fluff. All of me is insulated in this bulky, baby blue cotton candy cocoon because I need to be swaddled. I need time. I need things to be quiet while I come undone...
Like a good vintage wine, last weeks blog, Malbec, requires a second harvest. Over the last seven days, I have changed my mind about a few things and, now, I am offering up another tasting - this tasting is paired with hindsight.
A week ago, I shared my ritual of holding out my hands, searching and reaching for him. In my own words I said, "it is awkward because I do not know where to place my fingers. I clumsily grasp at the air around me. Then, I just drop my hands to my side because there is nothing for me to hold. Where he should be, now there is nothing. So, I stand and ask myself again and again, how could someone so big and bold be gone? How can Mike be gone - into nothing? How can he no longer exist? I don't have the answers to these big questions. (But, I'm working on it...)"
When I wrote this, I had no way of knowing if I would ever know the answers to these big questions. I thought maybe it would take me a lifetime to figure out. I thought Grief would hold me captive for a long, long time before I came to any conclusions. But, by writing my questions down, I think I sub-consciously set the intention to discover the answers. At this point, I still have more questions than answers, but I did come to a pretty big realization. One thing I know is that I was wrong...
Since you died I feel like I am masquerading in someone else's life. The likelihood of outliving you was always in the back of my mind, but it wasn't something that I prepared for because I naively thought we had "the rest of our lives" ahead of us. I honestly thought that we had at least twenty more years together. And, because I blindly believed this, I arrived to widowhood completely unsorted. For the first few months everything was raw and rough. I was unpracticed at being a widow, so I made homespun, amateur attempts at surviving. However, with time, my ability to live with grief has become more polished. Fifteen months later, I do less improvising throughout my day.
I am doing this 'widow thing' . And, from the outside looking in, things appear to be returning to 'normal'. But, those of us who live this life know full well that we can never return to 'normal' again. I don't say this looking for sympathy. I say it because it is the truth. You know this as well as me. It just is what it is. This is widowhood.
As much as I dislike it, living with Grief has become somewhat 'normal' to me. I don't remember what it feels like not to miss you. I don't recall living without emptiness inside me. I don't remember what 'normal' feels like anymore. I don't remember what it feels like to be an 'ordinary', 'regular' mid-aged woman. I am forever changed.
The death of your spouse permanently alters a person, and I am no exception. Yet, somehow, I am starting to become okay with the changes in me. Even still, I am not proficient living my changed life. Most of the time I feel like I am participating in a makeshift existence that was not thoroughly planned out. I did not rehearse for this; and, honestly, it shows.
Art: Loui Jover
Death is a part of life. We die because we live.
The concept is simple. It is understood by everyone. But, the mechanics behind surviving without someone you love are tedious and complicated. It is relatively simple to comprehend the facts. They. are. dead. But, to accept this is not easy. To live this reality - this - brings you to your knees.
It is overwhelming and utterly disorientating to remain alive when the person you love is dead. Most of us do not prepare ourselves for outliving the ones we love. Honestly, I know there is no way to "prepare" for death; but, looking back I wish I had put more forethought into it. Until death intimately affected me, I never seriously entertained the idea of living without him. So, when he died I was blindsided. I was lost with no sense of direction.
Everything felt surreal. It still does...
I am tired of trying to be - 'not sad'.
I am exhausted from the aching in my heart.
I am weary from recognizing Joy everywhere,
All around me,
And, still feeling hollow inside,
I am aware of all the good in my life,
My heart is grateful for what I have.
So, I ask myself again and again,
Why isn't it enough?
Why isn't my life enough - without him?
I don't have the answer to this question.
For now, all I can do is ask.
And, I will be strong on his love as I seek the answers...
Painting: Big Heart by Ivan Guaderrama
The truth is, I can write all my positive thoughts and affirmations onto this page;
But, I can not reverse all the ways that Mike's death has permanently changed me.
I'm different now.
Nothing can alter this.
I can't be who I used to be - ever again.
As I am moving forward I am not just grieving Mike,
I am grieving the person I was when he was alive.
- I miss her too -
My eyes look dull and lifeless. Sometimes...Read more