I’ve felt abnormal my whole life. Ever since I became aware of how my own childhood with a single father who was an alcoholic was far different from the seemingly idyllic 2 parent households of all the other kids at my private school. I’ve never fit in. I’ve never felt like I fit in. Largely, because of death and grief.
When my mom died, I became consumed by death. I thought about people dying all the time. I obsessed over my dad dying and not knowing what would happen to me then. I was nine. No one talked about it, we just pretended it didn’t happen and tried to keep going. That’s how things were done back then.
That feeling of not being normal was further enforced in my teen years. Without a mom, I didn’t know how to be like other girls. I had no one teaching me how to do makeup or shave my legs or to talk to about boys. I just had to learn a lot of things on my own… and often painfully and embarrassingly failed at it. Those were the years my dad started drinking again too. So while other kids were busy being worried about tests at school or winning the big game or how their hair looked that day, I was walking beside them to class wondering if my dad would be too drunk to pick me up from school. Or if he would die in a car wreck because he was drinking and then I’d be totally alone and what the hell would happen then?
The only place I didn’t feel all those things, was when I was making art or spending time with the few close friends I did have. It was the only time I didn’t have to live in that reality. When I was making art especially… I could create a whole other world for myself that had nothing to do with my reality.
It’s ironic as I sit here now, looking back at those difficult early years. At my relationship to death and how it has changed over time. Death has altered my life so drastically since such a young age. For so long, I was alone with death. I never met other kids who had lost a parent. Literally, not a single kid I knew growing up had also lost a parent. I think that’s what made it worse. Even though I have siblings they were all grown and out of the house… so I just felt very alone with death.
Then, I lost my fiance in 2012 suddenly, and death showed up again to alter my entire world. This time though, death did something a little bit different. I still felt very alone in the world of my pain and my grief. We all do in some way. But now, I was an adult, and I could make my own choices about death. There were certain things I learned that I can control. And one of those turned out to be community.Read more
I watched the first episode of a new show on Netflix this morning called Dead to Me. In the episode, two women meet at a grief group, both widows. They end up building a new friendship as late night phone buddies since neither of them are able to sleep. The show goes on to take a lot of unexpected twists and turns (and believe me you should so watch it!), but that one aspect had me remembering the early days of my widowhood… of building friendships with fellow widows in the wee hours of the night.
When I first connected with other widowed people, it was through a private Facebook group. Many of us ended up fairly often online, in the middle of the night. Effectively being late-night “phone” buddies for each other when we could not sleep. There was almost always someone there ready to listen, in the middle of the night or any other time of day that we just needed to feel heard and lay down our guard. And because we got each other, there was just this ease. A kind of comfort no one else could really provide. I ended up making a few of my closest friends from that initial group, people I now travel to see and talk on the phone with often.
I was fortunate to have found groups like that online, and to have since built friendships with people who will actually fulfill the words “Call me ANYTIME”. I have used that lifeline even now, seven years after my fiance died. Because new things do come up. You start dating again. You move in with someone new. You get engaged to someone new. You hit the 5 year mark or the 10 year mark from your person’s death. New stuff always comes.
So yes, I have been very fortunate to find places to spill out all my shit no matter the time of day. But I do remember for about the first 6 months, I didn’t have that.
This past week I started something new that I feel both a little bit nervous about but also really hopeful about. I finally signed on to be a regional Soaring Spirits group leader here in Northeast Ohio. I’ve been sitting on this idea for over a year now. In part, for my own reasons… I have very few friends nearby since moving to Ohio. Each year, going to Camp Widow in Toronto, I remember how wonderful that kind of community feels, and how much I’d like to have some piece of that community here locally. I also know, I’m not alone there. I know there’s plenty of other folks who could use the very same thing.
So I finally signed up to lead the regional group here, with hopes that we can grow a wonderful, kind, supportive, fun group. This is a new part of me… I’ve never really been one to be part of organizations or larger communities. I’ve certainly never been one to lead things. But widowhood has changed that some. It’s helped me to realize we all have the ability to lead each other, guide each other, and help each other - even if we don’t have all the answers. It’s helped me to see that we heal better when we heal together.
Being a part of the widowed community has helped me to become more confident and realize that we are all so capable of helping one another on this journey… simply by being there.
Since becoming an involentary widow almost 8 years ago, I have changed in many positive ways.
I am more empathetic.
I am more sympathetic.
I am less judgemental of people's lives and situations and circumstances.
I listen better.
I stop to talk with people more.
I find more meaning and beauty in very tiny things.
I exist in the moment more.
I love profoundly and deeply.Read more
Holy shit, is it a real thing.
Michele, thankfully, speaks about it each year, prior to Sunday morning breakfast.
Fair warning of gales ahead, campers.
Brace yourselves.Read more
I met Christina Rasmussen, from Second Firsts, early in my widowhood, on her first book tour.
She was in Boston and I was in NH, so I drove to the book store holding the event, and heard her speak for the first time.
It didn't change the emotions of my widowhood, but her words, her philosophy about life after loss touched me deeply.
It was my first true indication that I wasn't alone on this road.Read more
I'm 5 years and 9 months into life without Chuck.
I don't think I'm supposed to call it that.
Life without Chuck, I mean.
I think I'm supposed to structure it, this life after him, in a more positive manner, according to society at large.
The one thing I've done really well since Chuck died is be real about this widowed life shit.
And it ain't sunshine and roses, no matter how I try to dress it up.
Which I don't try to do, honestly, because I don't have it in me to be fake about it, or plant that pretend smile on my face.
I refuse to show it as anything other than what it is.
A shit show.Read more
I wander quite frequently. It's mostly what I've done, and what I do, in this widowland.
For 5 years and counting now.
Physically and mentally...I wander.
Physically, in that I've spent these years since the death of my beloved husband wandering the country in my pink car, towing my equally pink T@b Teardrop trailer behind me.
Mentally, in that my mind is seldom where I am, physcially.
It's mostly in the past, honestly. Or totally daydreaming, a la' Walter Mitty.Read more
I was sick during the entire 12 days of Christmas. And counting. I lost last Tuesday, thinking it was still Monday, when it was actually Wednesday. Also, I thought last year was 2019 already.
I'm so out of it.
I could blame illness. Widows Fog. General lack of interest in Time itself. So many things.
What I choose to blame is that my creative brain is in process, and that kind of takes over.
Let's go with that.Read more
This week I began work on a goal that has taken me a long time to believe I could accomplish. It may seem like something very small to most people, but for me, it has been a hurdle all my life. This week, I have started swim lessons.
Something most people don’t know about me is that I’ve always been uncomfortable in the water. I never took swim lessons and though I can swim, I don’t do it well. I’m about the slowest swimmer there is, I hate the feeling of water in my eyes, I almost always have to hold my nose under water, and treading water is enough to send me into a mild panic and have me swimming for shallow ground. It has always been a frustration for me, and occasionally embarrassing. Worst of all, it’s something I have believed that I can never change about myself. And the root of it comes from not trusting myself to be able to keep myself safe in water.
I have always marveled at people who appear to be completely comfortable in water. Drew was like that, like a fish. And Mike even more-so since he was a diver in school and taught swim lessons. I have watched them both in complete awe.
I’ve believed all my life that I can never have that sort of safe feeling in water. That it’s just not in the cards for me. For years, I’ve wanted to at least try to challenge that belief. So this past week, Mike and I got a membership to an indoor pool for the winter, and he has started working with me.
After just two lessons at the pool with Mike, there I was, just effortlessly treading water like I’ve been doing it forever. Suddenly all the fear went away. All the panic and anxiousness that I have felt my ENTIRE life in deep water… GONE. I couldn’t even believe those feelings could vanish so quickly. And suddenly, for the first time ever, I began to feel some glimmer of that comfortable feeling in water that I have envied in others all these years. Some glimmer of trusting myself in the water. Even more importantly, I challenged a limiting belief about myself, and I decided that I don’t believe it anymore. With his help, I am beginning to trust that I can do this.
One of the things I am most grateful for in this widow journey is the people who have been willing to help me stay afloat...Read more