I’ve written about it quite a few times these past few years, but moving across the country really did a number on me. I don’t think - scratch that - I KNOW I was in no way prepared for how difficult it would be to leave Texas. I have a love affair with my state that runs very deep. I have gone through some of the hardest but most meaningful experiences in my life in that state. As well as some of the most beautiful.
The resting places for both of my parents and Drew are there. The friends that became family to me after Drew died, are mostly scattered all around that beautiful state. And the culture… once you’ve fallen in love with the Texas hill country culture, there is really no way to ever separate it from your heart. And no reason you’d ever want to.
So when I decided to take a chance on new love, and do this super brave thing like uprooting my life to Ohio, I really had no idea the level of new grief I was signing up for. Everything up north is very different. The houses. The yards. The language. The attitude. The lack of chicken fried steaks. The accents. Hell even the Dairy Queens... (they do not have steak fingers - and don't get me started on that!)
I guess I didn’t expect a new place to feel SO different. Or for change to feel so hard. Clearly I did not realize, I lived in TEXAS of all places - which is pretty different in its own right from a lot of the country. Most of all, I didn’t realize - as it common with loss - what I had until it was gone. Or until I was gone...Read more
Today it is thirteen months and 3 days since you died. Some moments, your death still does not feel real to me. And, other times, the realness of your death is so apparent I feel nauseated. This is grief in all it's unapologetic glory.
In the early days when you died I couldn't even breathe. I'd gasp for breathe and I'd rock back and forth, holding my chest, in an effort to encourage the air to move from my lungs into my body. For months I struggled desperately, day and night, to soothe my broken Soul. I remember I'd stand in the kitchen and I'd clutch my chest as I cooked dinner because I thought my heart was going to explode into a million pieces when it broke. I remember thinking that grief was cruel because it forced us to endure and survive this deep aching pain. I knew full well that my heart wasn't going to literally reduce to fragments - even though it felt like it was. Those early days of grief were completely gutting. And, I am glad that the raw intensity of those first four months is behind me. Somehow I survived.
As much as I never want to feel the pain of the early days again, I do wish I could go back and tell my newly widowed self what I have learned about grief. I'd tell her that in order to survive she does not need to do anything - except breathe. (Which, I know, is easier said than done.) I'd let her know that the shock and numbness she feels is there by design; and, I would tell her that she is not to worry about being in a daze. I'd tell her that the laundry and housework are not a priority. I'd wink and let her know that she won't have any memory of these first four months after his death, so she should feel free to let it go. I'd also brief her about the fact that she can't rush through this. I'd say with authority, that there is no way to side step this pain because there is no "cure" for grief. Grief isn't a disease that you are magically healed from. Grief is a journey that lasts your lifetime from what I can tell so far. I'd continue with the advice, knowing full well, my sleep deprived self would not really understand or absorb much of what I was saying because her mind could no longer process anything. She was consumed with trying to make sense of the fact that Mike was dead.
At this point, in my made-up (but all too real) scenario, I'd make us both something to eat because I know that she is on the "widow diet". I know that she has probably only had coffee all day. Once I got her fed, I'd tell her I notice she's lost more than her smile, she's lost weight too. I'd remind her to eat everyday. And, I would tell my freshly widowed self that she needs to start wearing makeup again, and I'd tell her that doing her hair is not as optional as she thinks. And, then, I'd hear her laugh... and it's magic.
As a new widow she needs to know that she should try to lean into the pain and absorb the ache into her DNA. I'd let my frazzled self know that when your person dies you are reduced to a state of infancy. And, I'd smile and I'd gently brush the strands of stray hair from her eyes; then, I'd tell her that she's normal. And, I'd promise her that she's going to be okay. I'd remind myself to tell her that death is a trauma. And, because of the trauma Mike's death caused, she has forgotten how to soothe herself. She will need assistance with the basics: breathing, sleeping and eating. I'd recommend that she surround herself with only compassionate, loving, people who don't try to "fix" her. These people who simply walk along side her as she grieves will become her lifelines. They will carry her on the really hard days in the year ahead. I'd gently tell my newly widowed self to be patient and settle into her feelings. I'd remind her to smile more, even if it's just for a fleeting moment. I'd let her know that, in spite of herself, I heard her laugh today - and it was magical.
And, finally, I'd stop and hold her for longer than most normal hugs last.
And, then, I'd look far past the glazed, "deer in headlights", look in her eyes,
I'd look straight into her Soul and I'd whisper to her "you've got this".
Photo credits: @heidi_the_untold
Somehow I've survived this surreal experience of out living Mike. I have learned that in order to survive his death I had to undergo a sort of re-birth, and this process is still ongoing. I've come undone and I've been unhinged for the better part of this last year. But, alas, I've arrived here, in this moment. I've emerged exhausted and a bit disheveled because...
This past week, I dug up all my old journals from boxes and drawers to photograph for my grief e-course I am building. In the course, we will spend a week writing about our grief, and so I decided to go back through my own journals to look for examples of some of the raw emotions I have captured since this journey began.
One of the things we talk about in the course is writing poetry. I have found poems able to express my feelings in concise, creative ways that are very different from journaling. This poem in particular, feels both hopeful and hopeless at the same time... such a mix of the true emotions I have felt since he died. Each time I return back to this poem, I'm reminded of that time a year after his death when I wrote it. I'm reminded of how nature can serve as a powerful metaphor for our struggles, and how poetry can give us a different kind of voice for our grief. Enjoy...
Our awesome Friday writer, Kelley Lynn, is having some technical difficulties today while attending Camp Widow West, so she's asked me to write something in her place. I didn't hesitate to help her out, even though I have other work to be writing on this morning that I'm actually a bit behind schedule on!
Now, this got me thinking about the unexpected, something that quite a lot of us - if not all - are familiar with. It made me think about how we have each other to turn to when the unexpected happens now... and before, we didn't have that. I know, we had our person then, which all of us would much prefer to have. But still, there is something magic about finding community in the face of adversity. Although none of us want to be a part of this club, it is truly a remarkable family filled with such fierce dedication. It's a kind of support I had never had in my life, certainly not in such numbers, before I was widowed...
I'm down in Texas this weekend. It's my first visit in almost 6 months since moving to Ohio. Drew's little sister is graduating... or actually, just did, yesterday. I arrived here on Thursday morning and immediately felt that beautiful rush of comfort of the familiar. The old, wide oak trees, the rolling hills, the warmth of the Texas heat... it all felt so wonderful. Like a dream almost.
I have moved away from many places in my 33 years that held a lot of hard memories for me. When I moved away from home, I left my dad in a terrible state - drinking himself to death. When I left, moving 8 hours north to Dallas, I had no idea if he would even be alive from week to week. There were a lot of difficult times that I left behind there... and each return home was filled with a strangeness similar to the one I felt a few days ago coming back here. That dreamlike feeling... that I was suddenly stepping back into a past lifetime.Read more
Is it just me? I wonder, even as I know it isn’t just me. Logically and because I literally know otherwise, it isn’t just me.
There’s a boat load of men and women through time immemorial who have lived this shit that I'm living, that we're all living.
And yet, my brain doesn’t let up about it.Read more
In my heart, I’m carrying all the trauma from those 3 weeks when I went into auto pilot, (as we all do at such a time). Those 3 weeks where I was as present as could be to the best of my abilities as he and I said our goodbyes and my heart broke into pieces that were so huge and so small that they became invisible shards, but 3 weeks where I wasn’t really present at all to myself because I couldn’t bear what was happening.