While we were down in my hometown last week for a wedding, we managed to get out for a few hours one morning to make the drive out to Rockport. If you’ll recall, this little coastal town got the brunt of hurricane Harvey last year. I will never forget sitting in bed at 2am, watching the TV in horror from 1400 miles away as one of my favorite little beach towns was swallowed alive. And all the pictures and videos that came in the days following as they began to assess the damage of a place I hold so dear.
I both wanted and didn’t want to visit Rockport… but I knew I needed to. As we drove the long, straight stretch of single highway out there and hopped the ferry across the channel, I grew emotional at what we might see. As we started to get in to town, my stomach turned in a way I’ve rarely ever felt. Nearly every other house was missing a roof or a wall. The little ice cream shop where Drew and I stopped on our first trip to the beach together was gone. Every one of the big beach shops was empty - nothing but a skeleton of gaping broken floor-to-ceiling windows… all the merchandise and shelving now stripped clean. Boats were still lying in piles on top of one another all about, and mounds of old furniture and refrigerators and twisted up metal roofing and splintered, rotting wood lie at almost every corner.Read more
My memories of Mike echo off the walls of the house, yet the silence in my home is deafening. Everything is quiet now. Death makes your whole world go silent. I think this is by design. We need this noiseless environment and solitude to contemplate how we will re-create ourselves. As we do the work of re-defining our identity we need to concentrate intensely. Death can create isolation, but maybe this detachment is necessary as we prepare to reinvent ourselves. Maybe we are required to withdraw so that we can be born anew.
Daily, I am surrounded by the hum of life, but since Mike died I don't hear the sounds of joy anymore. My heart doesn't feel the beauty of an ordinary moment like it used to when he was alive. My eyes don't clearly see opportunities before me. I feel it, I am allowing my life to pass me by because I have momentarily lost my enthusiasm. No one can change this but me. I know this, but finding the motivation to re-engage in life without him eludes me.
I need to be encouraged to embrace life, take risks and find out what I am made of; but, my biggest champion is dead. Now, I have to motive and inspire myself. I am not used to being my own encourager. Since I was 17 years old I have always been part of a couple; and, I was never solely in charge of coaching myself. I always had a companion to hold a mirror up to me. To reflect with. I had a voice, other than my own, telling me to "take it day by day, everything will work out". For me, being alone feels scary and I desperately want to be rescued.
I feel inadequate when I admit to myself that I'm scared to "do life on my own". I continuously remind myself that I am a divorced woman; and, once upon a time I left something familiar and chose to move towards the unknown. I've dealt with uncertainty before. I tell myself that "I've got this" because I'm no stranger to adversity. I tell myself that I'm strong... and I'm capable. But, Mike's death is different. His death knocked me to the ground and all my dormant insecurities have re-emerged.
In the early days after Mike died, I thought that I should be able to navigate my way through his death. I felt like there was something wrong with the way I was grieving because I was so completely immobilized with sadness. Thankfully, over this last year, I have come to realize that there is nothing to actually get "through" here. Grief isn't a disease that you need to be healed from. There is no end game because grief isn't something you complete. Grief is something that becomes a part of who you are. When your person dies you continuously absorb their absence into your Soul.
I will confess that absorbing the death of your person is ridiculously hard. I still have not accepted his death and I don't know if I ever will. I mean, logically, I know Mike is dead. I've stood at his grave. And, countless times, I've traced my fingers along the letters of his name that are etched on his headstone. I've taken wine to the grave on many a Saturday night because, well, I wanted to be with my best friend. I've written heartfelt messages on red heart shaped balloons and I've tied them to a shepherds hook I put behind his headstone because, well, I miss him.
I know Mike is dead.
His headstone tells me he died November 15, 2016.
But, in my mind he's still very much alive.
And, in my heart, I'm still very much in love with him.
I know you "get it". And, I also know that you hate that your person died too. It is the permanence of the situation that sucks. But, it is what it is. We can't back up. So, we resign ourselves to breathe and somehow continue living. On the days when I have the patience to do "nothing", I sit with my grief. I invite Grief in and I just wait until Grief speaks. Let me tell you what Grief has said (it' pretty awesome) ...
Here we are. A new year. An entire expanse of fresh time laid out before me… and a mixture of dread and excitement about what that means. As I’m reflecting and looking forward from this in-between space, I’m thinking on just how much has changed in my life in the past five years. In particular, how unreal it is that I have become so many new things since Drew died.
In the first year alone, I lost my fiance without warning, left the city we called home, quit my job and left my career as a designer behind and moved out to the country to be away from all of civilization. Effectively, I left everything that reminded me of our life together behind, except for the people we loved. Our friends and families. I guess I sort of shed all roles at that time, without realizing it. I rejected the idea of being anything really other than existing for a while. Except that I could not seem to escape the one role that now defined me… “WIDOW”...Read more
Nearing New Year’s, of course we’re all looking back. Or maybe some of us aren’t because we don’t want to - or we just can’t. I imagine a lot of us are ready to leave 2017 in the dust. I certainly am. Not perhaps in the same way I was ready to leave 2012 in the dust… that was more about running away from my reality and my pain. This is more a feeling of being ready for what’s next. A feeling of accomplishment for making it through a year filled with all kinds of new challenges I’d never faced before.
This year I also hit a major grief milestone - the 5 year mark. I remember having so much fear about one day being FIVE ENTIRE YEARS away from the last day I saw him or heard his voice. For a long time, that number scared me a lot. Then it just became hard to imagine. It’s still hard to imagine even though it’s now here. Now approaching 5 ½ years as I write this and somehow it hasn’t been so traumatic after all. There have been painful moments yes, but not as I had imagined it would be. It was a softer and more gentle pain, if that makes sense. Still there is a longing for a time that once was. For a life I loved. A person I still love. For the person I used to be that I will never be again. But it doesn’t feel like I’d thought it would.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...
Life after the death of the person you love demands that you ask yourself BIG questions. Ironically, the questions are often about life and living. I have asked myself over and over again, Who am I now that Mike has died? Maybe part of the answer lies in Who I was before I met him. Who I was before he died. I think a lot about Who I was when I was Mike's fiancee. And, I ask myself again and again, Who I want to be now that I am his Widow.
Admittedly, these are questions to which I don't have the answers; but, I'm working on it. These questions challenge me and scare me because of their enormity and because I feel the potential here. I still have choices in my changed life. I have the opportunity to re-create myself, and you do too. I know how overwhelming this is; but I believe that if we allow ourselves to be off kilter we will find ourselves in the process.
In the last year, I have spent a fair bit of time on my knees scrounging for direction and answers. I have spent many a night on the floor crying, begging Mike to come back. I've dance under the stars with my dead fiance; desperately wanting his touch, longing for the days when his arms were wrapped around my life. Many times, I have wandered through the day completely absent with thoughts of him endlessly ruminating in my mind. Grief is gutting. I know how hard it is for you to live with the relentless heaviness and ache in your chest. If I am awake I'm likely on the verge of tears at any given moment, I get it. I have noticed, with time, the ache in my heart is softening a little and my tears don't last as long anymore. But, still, the emptiness is there. And, maybe in some weird way, that's okay. Maybe we are meant to use this emptiness and rootlessness as our foundation. Maybe we need to feel the emptiness and absorb all this "missingness" into every cell of our body. If we feel it and lean into our grief we will learn something about ourselves. I think there in the empty silence - is where the answers are for all of us. I've decided that if I am going to survive Mike's sudden death I have to build a purposeful life around the emptiness inside me.
So, I haven't told you Who I am. Well, for starters...
Mike is everywhere, and nowhere. I feel him in my bones, like a part of my own body. He haunts my every waking hour. I never forget. It never slips my mind that my husband is dead. I can’t stop the memories that flood in. It doesn’t matter where I am or what I’m doing. Shopping, celebrating a holiday, watching his birthday come and go, sorting through his old things, touching a spoon he used, looking out over the same view he loved.
He’s always there.
And yet he is not here. I can’t hear his voice reply to me. He can’t reach out and touch me. I can’t ride passenger in his truck. I can’t make plans with him, cook with him, or call for him on the phone. I can’t sit next to him on the couch. I can’t touch his lips.
Tomorrow marks the first day of the summer session for my eCourse that I am teaching now for the 3rd time. I create this class last year as a way to share much of what I had learned in my own grieving process about creativity. For four weeks, my students will be diving into lessons and creative prompts in writing, photography, and painting, with the purpose of expressing their grief and honoring their story and their loved ones.
Teaching is not a natural role for me, in fact it still makes me quite uncomfortable. I’m a writer, and that is where I feel most at home in sharing ideas. And while my course is mostly written, it does require interacting in a Facebook group and some video recordings. In other words - it requires me to be vulnerable too. Ugh!
So far, each time I run this course, there is a part of me that resists the call to be vulnerable. Maybe it’s that part of me that wishes she didn’t have all these lessons to share. The part of me that wants to just be “normal” and be doing work that is in no way related to grief. The part of me that is always a little bit scared to connect to others at first.
But then I get emails from women who want to sign up, but are nervous and need a little encouragement. Or from women who are in a bad spot financially and wondering if there is some way they can take the course still. Or women who have had major losses that were not loved ones, and wonder if the course will apply to them. They share a little of their stories with me before even beginning the class… and I am reminded of what an honor it is to be in the space of those who are grieving. I am reminded of how incredibly brave these people are - how much courage and strength and energy it takes to say “yes” to something like an eCourse when you are deep in your own pain. I am reminded that they are willing to be vulnerable with me… and suddenly I realize I have no choice but to be vulnerable with them too. Suddenly I am reminded of how precious it is to share that kind of true vulnerability with another person. Most of all, it reminds me of all the women I met the first time I went to Camp Widow - the ones that showed me the way and gave me hope. The ones that held a lantern along the dark and terrifying path of grief for me, so that I did not have to walk completely alone in the dark...Read more
I derive a lot of inspiration reading the other writers here at Widow's Voice. They are all strong, beautiful people with individual stories of tragedy and living this life. I feel honored to be listed on the same page as they are.
Reading Michelle's post this week, Runner Up, made me stop and think. I don't write much about my boyfriend here. A few widowed friends of mine have commented on that fact. They notice. I told them, as I have been telling myself, that this blog is not about him. It's about Mike. Mike and me. Mike's death, and my journey through my grief.Read more
It’s incredible what a song can do. I was driving home tonight, emotions already welling up in me. Moving in with Mike is probably one of the most bittersweet things to happen in my life since Drew died. And I hate that.
I was over at my place picking up a few things, walking around outside for a moment in the quiet of the evening, and a great melancholy came over me. A sadness for this little house I am saying goodbye to, after hardly having much time to even be there. Knowing that it will be quite a while before I’ll have the chance to live in a space so full of countryside again. A lot of things. But none of those were the real reason behind this melancholy feeling. No, it was one thing in particular… or rather, one person.
I never got this far with Drew. We never made it to merging our stuff together and stressing about how to fit it all into one space. We never got to decide on paint colors together or who’s bed or pots or dishes to use.
As I drove to what will be my new home, with Mike and Shelby, there was a whisper in my mind to play a particular song. It was an old folk song that I heard one day on my way to the cemetery several years ago. One of those songs that stops you in your tracks. I played that song every single time I went to the cemetery for years after that… sometimes on repeat a dozen times or more. It hypnotized me, and it so fully matched what I felt inside. That hollow melancholy. As soon as the first notes hit my ears tonight, I was taken right back to the cemetery, during that first horrible year… at sunset, in the quiet of the Texas countryside...Read more