Last night, I went to a party at a friend’s house and she had a woman doing henna tattoos there. It’s been ages since I’ve had one, probably 15 years ago in college. As I thumbed through the many designs in her notebook, one caught my eye of a sun and moon. I had her do that design, and add stars. As she worked on painting the delicate lines on my arm, I shared that they were each symbolic of the people I love who I have lost. The sun for my dad, the moon for my mom, and the stars for Drew.
For the rest of the evening, I looked down at my arm constantly. I’ve never had a real tattoo, but I couldn’t deny that there was some feeling of rightness about this symbol on my arm. This symbol that told a piece of my story, about some of the most important people in my life who have made me who I am today. To wear my story on my arm, where the world can see it, but only I really know the meaning of it… there was a rightness to it. It made me think how much I’d like to look down at my arm and have these symbols for these people there forever. And it made me wonder why on earth I’ve still not gotten a permanent tattoo like this.Read more
It is easy enough for most of us to identify with our own, “widowed” side of the story. We’re the ones left behind when our partner dies. We are all suddenly single parents, sole breadwinners, alone, scared, and confused. It doesn’t matter if we’ve had years to accept the impending death, or minutes.
But, what if we were on the other side of that coin? What if we knew we were the ones leaving others behind? If we knew that our children, partner, friends and family were going to have to be without us? What if we had to trust...REALLY trust that when we were gone, it would be horrible for our loved ones, but everything would be alright?
Even more risky, what if the riskiest thing we had to do was the one thing that kept us around longer?
This is what I’m thinking about this morning, after talking with an old friend yesterday.Read more
Most of the people in my life see me working, raising kids, and socializing.
They believe, that after this length of time, I'm "getting on with my life".
They think I've got this.
And, maybe, in many ways, I do.
However, what I feel like inside
Does not match what they see on the outside.
Things are not exactly as they appear to be.
The truth is, I am still out of sorts.
I am still constantly carrying on conversations with my dead fiancé
in my heart and in my head.
And, after nearly 2.5 years,
I am still trying to process
what has become of my life.
I understand that those around me believe that I'm okay because I'm functioning the way most mothers do. I make breakfast. I go to work. I pay the mortgage. I raise my kids. I cook dinner. And, in the last year, I am attempting to live again.
But, there is way more to my life than one sees at first glance. My situation is complicated. I'm not 'only' a previously divorced mom raising kids alone. I am also a widowed mom who is grieving. My scenario is beyond anything I ever imagined. And, I understand that most people around me can not comprehend my life. How could they? Honestly, most days, I can't even get my head around it myself.
An accurate description of my existence involves the bold type:
I make breakfast -and drink my morning coffee by myself, in silence, because Mike is dead.
I go to work - with only a few hours sleep because every night grief keeps me awake.
I pay the mortgage - but my income is now reduced to 1/4 of what it was when Mike was alive.
I raise the kids - feeling guilty because I feel like a failed Mom who lacks enthusiasm and joy because of grief.
I cook dinner- with invisible tears streaming down my face so that my kids don't know how sad I really am.
I socialize with friends - but while in their company I still feel alone and empty inside.
Widowed people's lives are often misread, because, unless you have outlived the person you are in love with, you can not possibly comprehend the emotional devastation and range of feelings that make up our tears. The depth and breadth of my loss is beyond anything I could have previously imagined. Widowhood must be lived to be understood.
Naturally, those in our lives want us to be better. They need us to return to who we were. They don't understand that this is not possible. Those outside of our community want to believe that the death of a spouse is manageable with time. But, time itself has no real bearing on our grief. Our spouse continues to be missing from our future forever; and this is why our grief continues - in some capacity- over the course of our lifetime.
January is when Megan was first diagnosed with chronic organ transplant rejection. February is Shelby’s birthday. May is Mother’s Day, June is when she was admitted to the hospital, never to come home again, July is her birthday, August is our anniversary, September is when the next year of school starts for Shelby, October is my birthday, November is when she died, and December, is well, the “holidays”.
March and April though have no special “milestones”. I can’t really think of any specific memories or significant happenings that have or will occur as it relates to Megan and her death. I get to “coast” through these months, in a sense, fairly comfortable with believing that I shouldn’t have any “predetermined” triggers.Read more
So this is how his birthday went this year…
I woke up, and actually did not even remember it was his birthday for maybe an hour or two. After I’d dropped the kiddo off at school, I ran to the grocery store for a few things. And that’s when I remembered. Only it didn’t hit me like a ton of bricks. It didn’t stop me in my tracks. It was actually more of a gentle, and even exciting feeling.
A lot of you know I lost my mom when I was a kid. My family didn’t really do grief all that well, and mostly our tactic was to just pretend feelings and dead people didn’t exist. So I grew up with the feeling that, when people die, you don’t get to celebrate them anymore. Sorry, it’s done. You aren’t allowed that anymore.
In my mid twenties, I started to question the way my family did grief though. I began desiring a connection to my mom. At some point, I decided that I was the only one who got to decide what my relationship with her was going to be. And I decided that just because she died, it did NOT mean that I don’t HAVE a mom. It did not mean that I no longer get to celebrate her or share my life with her. So I began creating rituals of my own to build that connection.
Little did I know I would be using those same sort of rituals to honor my fiance in just a few more short years from that time.Read more
For much of my life, I have been what can best be described as “grumpy”. I’ve tended to over-react and or see the worst in things, and myself. Something as simple as going to the grocery store brought out a part of me that only wanted to see the worst of humanity, followed by a reaction resembling anger, then followed by regret and shame at said reaction. It’s a vicious cycle that culminated in my general tendency to either want to be completely introverted, or to only seek out things that allow me to be alone, yet enjoy an activity.
I always find something to blame for these traits. Work is stressful, money is tight, bills are too high, it’s too cold for too long, I don’t have enough time in a day, or any other number of outside influencers gave me an “excuse” to just be angry or reactionary to the tiniest little stressors in life. More often than not, I placed the blame squarely on myself. I couldn’t handle work, I spent too much money or signed up for needless services. I’m too stupid to put a coat on and go outside, or I’m just plain lazy, and not using the time I DO have effectively.
In some ways, Megan’s health masked this. I was so laser focused on her well-being that I didn’t ever take the time to self-examine and really try to figure out why I am the way I am. Honestly, after her first transplant and subsequent relative good health, I didn’t know what to do with myself other than self-deprecate and become introverted. It caused issues. She finally had the ability to enjoy life, and I wanted only to sit in the house and “relax”.Read more
So far, year three of widowhood has felt restless. After the initial shock of Mike's death wore thin, I began to feel restless and I have remained this way ever since. Early on, I naively sought to "fix" my brokenness. Now, after almost two and a half years, I know that there is no fixing this. I simply must build around the grief that exists inside me. And, as you know, there is nothing simple about this. It takes dedication and commitment in order to rebuild a full life after your previous life implodes.
I am grateful that with time and consistent hard work, the hollowness is becoming less prominent because the life I am recreating around it is becoming fuller. And, it is my hope that my life continues to become more fulfilling as I work to create my new identity. Yet, with this said, essentially, my grief has not changed a lot over the last year. The most notable difference is that I am more tired now. I am tired of feeling sad and lonely. The fatigue of grief has set in.
Thankfully, my grief is less raw now; but, the emptiness inside me remains present. There is no getting around it. There is no "cure" for it. Someone I was in love with died and this isn't going to magically be okay - ever. Grief changes and evolves, but this doesn't mean that I will ever not miss him. I will always wish he was still here sharing my life with me.
I miss Mike.
And, I will continue to miss him as the months turn into years;
and, then as the years turn into decades.
This is life as a widowed person.
There is a profound sense of missing that is always present.
I have now accepted that I will miss him for my entire life. I miss him all day long no matter where I am or what I am doing. I know for certain that no amount of busy work alleviates my grief. At the end of the day, it is there. It is part of me. I can't hide from it. And, the good thing is I don't want to. I am not trying to out run my grief. I see others try to quiet their grief with various things and I intimately understand their desire to seek relief from grief. I want grief to cut me some slack too. I'm tired of it. But, me being tired has no affect on grief. Grief does not grant breaks for time earned. Grief is relentless and demands your attention whether you are exhausted or not.
I learned early on that in order to "successfully" grieve, you can not push it down. You can not ignore it. Eventually, you must look grief in the eye. So, in an effort to grieve well, I have been very generous with the time and attention I have given my grief. To be clear, I am not advocating wallowing in grief; but, rather walking toward it. I believe in leaning into it. This is what works best for me.
I am better for listening to my grief and acknowledging the aching in my Soul. In the process of doing this difficult work I have learned a lot about myself. When Mike died I was forced to stand in the wreckage of my old life. And, here among the rubble, my foundation was exposed. I could not hide from myself. And, in the years that have followed, I have taken advantage of this lucidity and I have carefully and purposefully searched the landscape of my Soul.
Finally, after many hours of sitting in the sadness and brokenness I am in a good place. I know my grief well and, more importantly, I've come to know myself. I know what I need to do to successfully reenter life because I took the time to carefully consider the direction of my alternate life. I have painstakingly thought about who I was, who I am, and who I want to be. I have a true sense of myself; and, now, all that is left is to action what I've come to know.
This work of self discovery has consumed me for over two years. And, I am better for settling into my grief and allowing it to painfully absorb into me. I did not distract myself with people or things that would dull my pain. Well, in the spirit of full disclosure, there have been many nights over the last couple years that I have drowned my loneliness and sadness in wine. And, in truth, I don't feel bad about this. Grief is f@cking hard. Wine doesn't fix it or make it less difficult; but if a glass of Malbec is the worse thing I have indulged in since Mike died I can live with this.
I don’t know if it’s the glimmer of hope for being thru the worst of the cold, cloudy days or just that I am trying to be mindful to reconnect with my sillier side lately. Either way, I’ve been watching funny movies more, making my loved ones laugh more, and even just being sillier when I’m home all alone. I’ve started working on a photography project that is very new and fun too. It’s unlike the fine art type of work I usually create - and I’m finding there is a lightness to the fact that it is so opposite of what I’m used to. It feels more like play than work.
Creating fine art photography honestly has begun to feel more like work these days. Or at least I feel too much internal pressure to do my fine art a certain way and then it starts to feel heavy. And I start to overthink things and question myself. That leads no where good. And it’s something I’ve struggled with when I try and put all of my attention on my art.
This little side project is a nice break from that so far. A nice exploration of how else I can enjoy taking photos. And with any luck, I might be able to really build it into a nice little side job. Either way, it feels nice to be doing something new and not be putting a bunch of pressure on myself to do it any certain way. It feels good to be stretching new creative muscles and trying new things and just saying “Hey, let’s see where this goes!”
I think in life and in grief, it’s so important to have things like that to lighten the load - or maybe help us put that load down for just a few moments or hours each week.Read more
As a widow, my relationship with time is strained and worn.
In the past, I assumed that I had at least twenty more years with Mike, but I didn't.
He and I ran out of time.
There was simply not enough time.
For reasons I do not know or understand, we were not given more time together.
And, now, without him, there is too much time.
Too much time alone.
Too much time spent thinking about a better place in time.
Too much time wishing things were different.
Too much time thinking about how to recreate my life without him.
While there wasn't enough time for Mike and I, now there is too much time for me.
I find that my deams often reveal the detail of my grief. In a recent dream, my wife was scolding me for my parenting approach, “You too often let her get away with not eating fruits and veggies!” Clearly, I have not moved on from feelings of self-doubt about my parenting skills. I know most parents struggle with healthy food options, but I know it would be A LOT easier to feed my daughter if Natasha were still here. She wasn’t just a good cook, she was a great food researcher: I didn’t have to read labels and search websites, Natasha would just say, “Buy this, and not that.” This is where relying on our community is very helpful.Read more