This time last year I spent wishing my life away, wishing that it was all a mistake. Wishing that people were playing a cruel joke on me. Imagining that this wasn’t my life but that I was living someone else’s life and that the real me was still living a happy and blissful life in love where nothing had changed. Each day was spent running on adrenalin and sleep was non-existent. Spending my nights writing endless letters to him, begging him to come back, writing about our memories. Pleading for him to walk through the door. Driving around late at night searching for him and when exhaustion kicked in I would lay awake in bed and scream for him. The longing I felt and the pain in my chest was so intense I thought it would never leave. So I thought of ways I could join him, ways to try to see him again, to speak to him, to hold him. This time last year was the darkest time of my life.Read more
I recently heard an interview with Pema Chodron, a well-known Buddhist nun and author of the book When Things Fall Apart. This woman is chock-full of wisdom. And she got my mind turning about something this morning. In the interview, she talks about a graduation speech she gave recently, telling those brave young folks about to embark into the world, that the most important thing is to learn how to stumble well. To pay closer attention to our pain when we are stumbling through it, and allow ourselves to be fully in our losses and our pains so that we can learn what lessons they hold.
As I’m thinking about this idea, of stumbling well, I realize that the walk with grief is really one of stumbling greatly. Because, after all, losing your partner leaves you in a treacherous landscape, am right? Imagine for a moment what your grief landscape looks like. To me, it’s a mountain range. A vast place of ups and downs, with jagged edges and surprises at every turn. For you it may be a desert, or a barren, underwater world. These images of the landscape of grief can hold a lot of value for us.
Grief is not a minor thing in life. It’s not just tripping you up. It’s not just potholes and speed bumps along the road. Losing your partner is not stumbling and hitting the ground in front of you. It’s stumbling and suddenly there IS no ground to fall on anymore. It is falling off a cliff in slow motion… into a whole other landscape that you were not prepared to travel...
Suddenly, everything feels dangerous to you.
Yesterday, we received a great big box in the mail. Shelby drug it in through the front door, and we slid it across the living room floor, near the Christmas tree, to open it up. I zipped a pocket knife through the tape and she pulled open the top of the box to reveal presents of all shapes and sizes. She squirmed with excitement, while Mike and I stood watching her pull each one out and read off the “To” and “From” tags one at a time.
As she read them, my heart filled with joy. Presents from all of Drew’s family… his parents, siblings, aunt and uncles, to all three of us. It quite took me by surprise actually. I had assumed after moving away from them, and starting a new journey, that we might fade from each other’s lives a bit. I think I mentally prepared myself for that shift to happen some this Christmas. Instead, we received this great big box of goodies I could have never imagined...
Mike left around 3am Saturday morning, headed out to West Virginia. It's his first major solo backpacking trip since we've been together. Three nights out in the mountains alone, with no cell service. Our only form of contact has been a satellite device that lets him send me preset “all is well” messages with his location every few hours (this is proving to be a complete Godsend for quieting my mind, which is trying like crazy to create horrific stories of him breaking a leg or being mauled by a bear while I’m sitting on the couch watching TV).
I don’t have to tell any of you the sort of feeling this trip brings up. Especially if your person died from a sudden loss, while they were away on a trip. This specific trigger is one I have known I would have to face, some day.
The old me would not bat an eye over this sort of event. I am not a needy person, nor have I ever been. I can spend hours and days alone, and enjoy myself so completely in the space of solitude. For me, it is grounding. Drew was often on trips for work, long weekends or week long trips, sometimes out of service for most of the day. So I was used to this sort of thing before. Well, the old me was.
One of the most precious gifts from my marriage to Mike is that I have, for the rest of my life, two beautiful stepdaughters. They were grown when I married him, but still very young, 18 and 22. Now, one is mother to three beautiful children and the other just got married this past weekend here in Kona. Let me tell you - I am deeply grateful I was able to be here for that. Caring for my dad the past five weeks in Virginia, with the unexpected turn of events in his condition, had me think I might not be able to leave. I never would have left had we not been able to settle things there so they were manageable, but somehow, his care got arranged, kind of at the last minute.
There were two really meaningful things about Thanksgiving for me this year. Firstly, I was at my sister’s house in upstate New York. For the first time in our adult lives, we now live close enough to each other that we can do the holidays together. This is an enormous deal for me… one that makes me wish our mom was alive to be a part of it all. God, she would be so happy to see it all.
As much as I try to escape it, that day has been on replay in my mind for the past few weeks. The lead up to the one year mark of the day life changed.
Terrified at the thought of what emotions this day will bring me. Angry that this day has a place in my life at all. And an overshadowing sadness that engulfs and strangles me with the thought that this is real. That it has almost been a full year since I last held him, spoke to him and kissed his warm lips. As much as I try nothing can prepare me for what this day will bring. A huge part of me wants to spend this day alone in my sorrow, hoping for my life to end. I don’t want anyone to witness what may unfold on this day. Then the other part of me screams, get out and live for him! Breathe for him, like you promised you would. He wants you to smile, but even writing about this day brings me to tears because sometimes it just hurts too much to smile.
I wrote him a letter last night in hope that it would help release some of this pain but with each day that brings me closer to one year without him, well the pain cuts deeper. And although this is my new normal life, I am angry that this is normal now. It shouldn’t be normal that every aspect of my life is affected by grief!
It’s unfair and I would give anything to have the normal that I knew before. The death of a spouse is rated the number one most difficult, stressful, life changing event a person can go through. No shit! It’s never ending and unfair is an understatement.
With this journey I have had the fortunate, yet unfortunate privilege to make many new friends in grief. These women will be lifelong friends. Some of which I speak to every day. We laugh and cry and vent our anger. And share the dry and messed up humour that comes with this grief. We share with one another what we cannot share with anyone else. We understand each other. So for this post of what a widows grief is like I will share from not just my own grief, but theirs also. In the effort and hope that it helps other women like us to express this grief.
At 357 days this is how my grief feels… and how it feels for so many others.Read more
In a few weeks, Mike will be going on his first major backpacking trip since I have moved here. This is a big deal for me. Drew died while he was away on a trip. Mike is going to be alone in the woods, in potentially dangerous cold temperatures, with zero cell service, for several days. One of the reasons that he hasn’t been on any solo backpacking trips since I moved here in fact is because of his fear of triggering me. Of knowing what it will mean for me in that moment when he leaves for the trip and we are saying our goodbyes. It may just be a few days, not a few weeks, as Drew’s trip was supposed to be… but there is no way that the thoughts will not still cross my mind: What if you don’t come back.
I had those thoughts when Drew left too. His job was dangerous, and we always knew there was a chance he wouldn’t come home, or that the next time he stepped into a helicopter could be his last. But back then, I didn’t REALLY think about it. Because I hadn’t lived through it. Back then, it was more of a vague fear that didn’t really have a huge amount of weight to it. I believed he was coming back. I had faith. Until two weeks into his trip when that faith was destroyed. When his body was delivered back to us from the crash in Washington state, without his beautiful soul inside it. I cannot erase any of that. I cannot unknow what I now know, which is that death is always possible. Every single day.Read more
I learned this morning that a good friend of Johns passed away yesterday afternoon, in the same way that he passed. Her passing is all too familiar and stirs up so many emotions. Following the shock I was overwhelmed with sadness for her and her family, the future they no longer have and that she no longer has. Grief consumes and there are no words to ease the pain her family are feeling. The time I had spent with her was brief, but I felt close to her because she was close to John. She grieved with me and supported me. She grieved for the love of my life and her dear friend. Now I grieve for her.
Similar to the emotions I felt during the early stages of my grief, I can’t get her smile to leave my mind. I remember laughing with her and sharing stories of our families together. She was so enthusiastic and bubbly, childlike and upbeat, and from the first day that I met her she greeted me with a smile and a hug. I can vividly see her baking cupcakes in our kitchen and lying on the floor in the lounge room writing letters to her friends, with a smile so wide. And as though it were yesterday I remember the last conversation we had. She showed me nothing but love, gratitude, humour, kindness and her huge vibrant personality.Read more
How many times can I write of the same pain? The same silent cries and the screams without sound. The aches I allow no one to witness and the angry and afraid version of myself no one would believe really exists. It’s a perspective I wish the world knew and a reality no one should have to live with. Choosing to show friends, only the side of grief I’m comfortable with them seeing. Explained with words like “I had a rough night” or “Yesterday was hard” followed with an “I’m okay now” and a smile. Because as much as I have tried to explain it, my words don’t come close.Read more