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
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
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
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...
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
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
A few weeks ago, a milestone came that I have dreaded for a very long time. It’s odd to say that, considering it was my anniversary with someone I love very much. But it wasn’t just any anniversary. It was the third year since the day Mike and I met. The third anniversary was also the last I got to have with Drew… he died six days later, suddenly. This is almost unbelievable to me.. As my 3 years with Mike have felt like a whirlwind, and the same amount of time with Drew felt somehow like a decade.
It’s no surprise that I’ve had many mixed emotions the past few weeks. Emotions about the fact that, going forward from here, each new day with Mike is one more day than what I got to have with Drew. Emotions about Mike dying somehow suddenly a week after our third anniversary. I’ve even had some particularly difficult and confusing dreams as of late… dreams that seem like my mind trying to make sense of it all again, just like in the first year after he died.
I’ve struggled to find words about how all this feels. I haven’t really even journaled about it, which is my usual go-to. So I’m trying here to confront those feelings. I don’t want to. I don’t like these feelings. Because they are so complex. Because I don’t even fully understand them. Because they make me feel guilty for not being 100% joyful when milestones hit. Quite bluntly, I feel resentment. And It feels awful. And Ugly. And not at all like a feeling I want to have.Read more
I believe in Love.
I believe that Love enriches and empowers and creates and morphs mere humans into magnificent beings.
I believe that life dares us and bids us, at our best and our worst, to open our hearts to Love.
I believe that life challenges us, through strife and perplexity and awkwardness, to continue loving in the face of all that it throws at us.
Life entreats us and whispers to us…allow, yield, concede, open, persevere,
In spite of and because of…
Love. Just Love.