I have been pondering comfort, self-care, and help – what each of them is, to me, and what makes one or other easier and/or more accessible than another. Here is where I am at. And no, I have done no Googling or other research into what each of them is. Just research in my own life and experience. They are oft-used terms in Griefland – wobbly yet somehow vital components in this messy puzzle called life. Components that I have been shining a bit of a light on this week, supported by my therapist Catherine, and my grief guru Tom Zuba. This piece of writing won’t be particularly deep, nor complete. Just reflections at a point in time.
Self-Care, and more specifically, Extreme Self-Care. I pride myself on being excellent at “extreme self-care” – a concept I readily stole from Cheryl Richardson, having purchased her book with the same title, some 9 or so years ago. I’ve never done more than flick through her book but read enough to determine my own version of Extreme Self-Care, which has been about learning to trust what is good for me, how to monitor my health and energy, and how to restore energy when it was getting low.
My ability to self-monitor is pretty damned good (she says), and my strategies for (re)filling my bucket are vast. More to the point, my strategies provide enjoyment and are readily accessible. I have long been a bit of a guru, mentor, or role-model for others (specifically professional working mums) when it comes to extreme self-care, and the same skills have served me well in the land of Grief. Nothing makes the loss go away. Nothing makes anything better. But knowing if I am moving towards more pain, or able to shift microscopically towards some ease is often the difference between an awful day and an okay day. My ability to provide myself extreme self-care is second to none. For that I am grateful. And I know it helps me live and function as well as I currently do.Read more
I never would have pictured myself being so ecstatic and thrilled and jazzed up to talk about death and loss and grief. I never would have thought my heart would beat faster at the thought of making another widowed person laugh at something dark, through their tears. I never saw it coming that my life would consist of comforting people and listening to people as they walk through this narrow and confusing unlit pathway called grief.
But here I am, ecstatic.
Here I sit, heart beating ...
Here I wait, to by that listening ear
for the next person in pain.Read more
I wish I had better guidance to give people early on when they tried to help me.
People were making heartfelt efforts to comfort me
- most armed without experience.
Two years later, these helpers have almost all disappeared.
And, I understand.
People have lives of their own
I understand that they simply can not understand my life.
I recognize that visiting me, while I sift through the wreckage of what was, is not overly enticing.
Truth be told, I don’t want to live here among the debris of my old life either.
I understand their absence.
I understand the difficult position we are all in.
I know that those who have not lost their Soul’s mate can not possibly know what to say to me.
In the beginning of this mess, I was not adequately equipped to educate anyone about what they should and could do.
I wish I could have helped you help me.
I want to thank you for being with me when I was brought to my knees.
I know that you did not know what to do.
I didn’t know what to do either.
But, I know that both of us had the best of intentions.
When Mike died I was not given a manual to follow. There were no instructions. No roadmap has been created for grief because it takes us along different paths. Yes, there are shared attractions and similar views along the way, but the road we travel is unique for all of us. When your spouse dies, you must go where you have not gone before. You are forced onto a road that is not well marked. There are countless ruts along the way. Some parts are bumpy and make for difficult travel. Other times, the road is smooth and there is blue sky overhead. Then, around the corner, the sky turns dark and it becomes hard to see where you are going. During these stretches, you may bump into things. On this journey, you will become lost. It's unavoidable. Along the way, you will be re-routed and sometimes you will travel down dead ends. And, through it all, you will learn. You will learn to rely on your instincts. You will learn to believe in yourself - in a way you never have before. Solo travel isn't easy, but it changes you in a lot of good ways.
At the start, even if I possessed all this knowledge about grief, I still would not have been able to teach you how to better handle me. Widowhood has to be lived to be understood. In the days and months following his death, I was completely disoriented. I was unable to guide you as you tried to help me. I wish I could have succinctly told what I needed. And, really, the only thing I needed was him. I needed him not to die. But, he did. And, his death is permanent. There is nothing anyone can do to make this better for me. It is what it is.
As the days turned into months, I learned to sit still in the horrific aching. I learned to lean into the ugliness of it. I learned to cry until I gasped for breath. I learned to pick myself up from the floor after I thought I would die from missing him. I learned that Grief is presumptuous and demands attention. And, I have learned to give Grief the attention it screams for.
Grief is brazen, dauntless and in your face. Grief pronounces everything in heavy, smashed strokes. Grief threw me into an out of body experience. And, I've learned that Grief rarely shows any mercy. Grief deprived me of many things I once took for granted.
I had to relearn basic things like breath and sleep.
For many months both eluded me.
Sometimes they still do.
Early on I could not communicate without confusion.
I could hear conversations around me, but the words did not make any sense to me because I had begun speaking in another dialect.
My heart was learning the language of grief.
I am now fluent in it.
With time, many people have drifted away from me because we no longer speak the same language.
There is nothing that needs to be said.
For the past two years I have been physically present,
but my mind is far away from here.
I have been unravelled.
I have come undone at the seams of my Soul.
Mike’s death has affected me to the depths of my psyche.
But, thankfully, with time,
I am making a slow, steady comeback.
In truth, comeback isn’t the correct word.
Death is a trauma.
And, after outliving your spouse,
You do not and can not come back to who you once were.
There is no returning.
I can not come back to what was.
Whatever “it” was,
It is all over.
I apologize if this sounds overly dramatic to ears that have not lived in the silence
I have existed in for nearly two years.
None of what I am saying is intended to be dramatic,
it is just the truth.
I am forever changed because he died.
But, even more,
I am a better woman because he lived.
Slowly, I am finding ways to adapt to my changed life.
Daily, I drape myself in Hope.
I want to do more than survive his death.
I want to live a full, happy life
Since Mike died I have spent hours lost in my thoughts.
I continually revisit the past.
I endlessly mourn the future we imagined.
And, I desperately hope to become present in the moment.
As surreal as it remains,
I know that he does not exist here anymore.
I accept that I must begin anew.
Mike’s death has forced me to be reborn.
And, though a piece of me will always wish for the life we shared and planned,
I am grateful for my chance at a new life.
Gratitude for what was,
And, what will be,
Has allowed me to survive without him.
My simple message below is intended to help everyone involved in this mess.
I only wish I had these words for you earlier when we both stood before grief without any guidance.
One of the most powerful things anyone can say to me is
“Yes, this is __________”.
*Insert: awful, terrible, horrible, sad, unfair, gutting...
Any word that acknowledges that Mike’s death sucks will complete this simple sentence.
The fact is Mike being dead is hard for me. And, yes, it still continues to be difficult almost 22 months later because, well, he still continues to be dead. Simply acknowledging that Mike dying is horrible, and awful and sucks helps me feel less isolated. I appreciate that it is not easy to bear witness to someone’s grief. But, your presence is really the best gesture. It’s what’s needed most.
Simply hold me in my brokenness and resist the urge to do anything more.
Sometimes people think they can encourage and support me by saying good things about my future. Well, in truth, don’t. Please don’t give me a pep talk. Grief isn’t something that you need to coach someone out of. There isn't a playbook that holds all the answers. It simply is what it is.
I assure you, I am keenly interested in my future. I am intimately invested in it because this is where my life lives. I assure you, I have given my future more thought than anyone else on Earth. In fact, I am consumed by thinking about it. And, this is not necessarily a good thing; because at best, the future is uncertain, for all of us. Not only is my future uncertain, it is radically changed from how I imagined it.
There is nothing anyone can say that will make my future better or necessarily brighter. If there was, trust me, I would have already told myself the words. It’s okay that no one can make all this better for me. This is going to take time and hard work. I’ve got a life to recreate and this isn’t going to happen overnight. And, please rest easy knowing that I am mildly excited about recreating a life for myself because there are so many possibilities.
This is the beginning of anything I want.
There is great opportunity in my future, this is not lost on me.
I get it. And, I look forward to the future unfolding.
No one needs to “fix” my broken life. This is my life to rebuild and no one can do it for me. I do not require sympathy or need pity, but it would be nice if those who love me could stand nearby as I go about my reconstruction. It is comforting to think someone might steady me or re-position me, ever so slightly, if I go too far off course. I am strong, but I would love for someone to help shine a light along the way because there are no markers on the dimly lit road I’ve been forced to travel.
I’d love for you to stand close enough to me so that our eyes can meet. This said, I am aware that I am not as social as I used to be. This is because I am preoccupied with trying to save myself. I’ve had to disconnect as I’ve focused on surviving. If I have withdrawn it was not by intention, but rather necessary. Rebirth of oneself is consuming and requires energy and attention.
I’ve spent nearly two years trying to find myself. I spend my days crawling around among the destruction of what was once a beautiful life. I pick up fragments of my former life, pieces of myself that I vaguely recognize. I quietly collect these shards of myself that can be salvaged. I scour the landscape of my old life for things that I can use to create the foundation on which to rebuild myself. This is hard work. It is tedious. I’m tired.
I've had to come undone in order to come forth. It's been a out of body experience. I’ve felt lost and displaced for so long now that I struggle to remember what it feels like to be comfortable in my own life. I have been stripped bare and the insides of my Soul are exposed. Surviving his death has been completely life altering for me. I am different now. I am better in many ways I can't even begin to explain. Mike dying has made me learn so very much about living, and at the same time I have never felt more detached from my life.
Along about the second year, definitely going into the third and then the fourth…I just wanted to scream at people.
Not in anger, but in shredded grief and pain…
Why can’t you just let me be sad? Why does it feel like I must defend myself against you? Why does it then feel like I have to defend my grief even to myself? Why does it feel like I can’t just feel what I feel, be whatever I am? Why must I expend all this energy defending my right to feel all that this is? Why is it not okay with you that I can’t find my feet and I’m feeling so disoriented that my stomach continually wants to heave its’ contents? Why are you trying to make me feel like I’m doing something wrong?
Why can’t you just let me be fucking sad?
These are a mere sampling of the piercing reactions that took up so much space in my heart and soul and mind in the first years of grief, in reaction to all the well meaning mostly discussions that people would have with me. To me, really, because they weren’t seeking discussion with me as much as they were telling me where they thought I should be with this, or how they thought I should be with this.
Grief, I mean.
How I was grieving vs how they thought I should be grieving.
They didn’t realize this is what they were doing, of course. At least, I hope they didn’t realize this is what they were doing.
Whether that was their intention or not, shaming is how I heard every word.
And every word from them shattered me more, because I, and we, already judge ourselves so much, when we grieve.Read more
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
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
Today I’m writing about a different side of grief… about being the one sitting beside someone who is grieving. About those moments watching a partner who is widowed go through their own pain. It’s no secret that Thanksgiving is a hard holiday for Mike. His wife died just a week before this holiday 3 years ago. Hitting the 3 year mark is hard enough without it happening near the holidays.
So there we were, having a very different holiday than they would have ever had before she died. Before he met me. And at some point, it was inevitably going to come crashing down. Which it did. Late the evening after Thanksgiving, we were about to get in the hot tub with everyone when his emotions welled up. He snuck away to one of the bedrooms at my sister’s house and I soon followed. As I sat beside my new best friend, putting my arm around him, I didn’t say anything at all.Read more
Last week in my nutrition course we heard some amazing lectures about Blue Zones. If you don't know what Blue Zones are, they are communities in various places around the globe that share common lifestyle and environmental factors that contribute to their populations being among the longest-lived and healthiest on the planet. These areas were first identified and labeled by Dan Buettner of National Geographic magazine and was the featured cover story in November of 2005.
Sardinia, Italy. Okinawa, Japan. Loma Linda, California. Nicola Peninsula, Costa Rica. Icaria, Greece.
In these areas, people are found to eat a traditional, largely home grown and plant-based diet - but more important, stressed Mr. Buettner in our lecture, they share a sense of community and purpose. They have close-knit families and communities which create a strong social network of support and compassion, regular physical activity and positive and healthy lifestyles.