Saturday, April 19, 2014

The Strength Among Women.


The above picture is a specific shot of the Sex and the City girls that my girlfriends and I send to each other when we miss each other or just need a smile. It is - like the show is for us - a reminder that thru thick and thin, life and love and illness and death, it is your girls who were there for you. I'm sharing it because I was reminded of that tonight.

On this pre-Easter evening, I would like to say,  I really hate being vulnerable. I mean, doesn't everyone? It's definitely not the best feeling out there. Tonight, I felt so completely vulnerable. It's the evening before Easter - my in-laws are having a big party at the ranch. We are grilling and cooking up a ton of good food. I spend the whole day in the kitchen with my mother-in-law… partly because I really enjoy helping her out on these kinds of days and partly because just keeping busy with helping keeps my mind off the obvious person missing. So really, for the most part, I made it through the day alright. I made this amazing lemon-lime bundt cake that was "to die for" (I always feel odd saying that now). But the sadness was underlying. And eventually after dinner and several beers… the flood gates opened. Everyone was out back playing ping pong - I could hear them loudly cheering and laughing over the game and the country music. Laughter. That kind… you know, the kind we used to all enjoy? Yeah.

I snuck out to sit on the front porch. Alone. Crying in my beer. And looking at pictures of my fiancé and I on my phone. And crying some more. And wishing that someone would notice right away when I wasn't there, and would come to check on me. The way he used to when I needed it most. Wishing I was the center of anyone's universe like that again. Or that someone would just happen to come outside and notice me there and sit down beside me to be my friend. But no one came… except one person who walked right past, ignoring me. Which as you know, feels even worse than no one coming at all. And so I sat there more and more alone - just me, the glow of the porch light, and the june bugs occasionally thwacking into my back. I cursed aloud to… what? Someone. Something. My life. My stupid emotions. Him being gone. My pathetic desire to have someone rescue me. All of the above.

Eventually… I texted a few of my girlfriends. My best friend. And one of my also-widowed girlfriends. And my old high school girlfriend. It turned out we were all having pretty emotional nights for entirely different reasons. My best friend has just found out that this guy she really likes who she's been on several dates with is still hung up on an ex. My high school friend is pretty sad because her best friend just moved really far away, she just broke up with her boyfriend, and she had to move back in with her parents to boot. I really wish none of us had been going through any of that crap tonight… but you know, it helped to know I wasn't alone. Even though their situations were very different, that didn't matter. Tonight… each one of us was in need of someone to be there for us and console us and love us. Each of us wanted that someone to be a man, and each of us didn't have that. So we turned to each other. And we found exactly what we needed in each other. Love. And support. And understanding. And a warm welcome that will always be there. And a powerful "I've got your back, you are amazing and don't forget it" sort of feeling that we all needed.

I didn't used to be very close to any of my girlfriends. Many years ago, I had a really hard time connecting with women and I kept my distance from them for the most part. Losing my fiancé has changed that world so entirely for me. I have come to rely on the women in my life in such a deep and powerful way. No matter what our situations or differences… when we are in pain, and we share that with each other, there is a sacred bond of holding each other up that occurs. Its like this unspoken code that all women seem to abide by. And it only occurs when we take the risk to be fully vulnerable with each other.

For the past month or so, I've been resisting taking that risk. It's so easy to do… to try and avoid being truly vulnerable - even with my closest girlfriends - because I just don't want to face it sometimes. But this week as I've had a few instances of both myself and my girlfriends hitting low points and really needing each other… I am reminded again how important, how powerful, and how healing it is to just let it all out to each other. Sure it felt better to let that out with Drew. More comfortable. More secure. But there is something equally powerful about baring your soul to other women. Something that I have never experienced until losing him.

I'm not even sure where I'm going with all this. Honestly, it's late, I've been on my feet all day cooking, and super stressed about a million other things, and I'm on my 5th or 6th beer (the fact that I can't remember which tells you something!). All I can say is that tonight, I am so incredibly grateful for the women in my life. The ones who are widows. The ones who are not widows who still seem to get it. The ones who are older and wiser and help guide me, and the ones who are right in the thick of it with me. I truly do not know what state I would be in today without each and every woman who has crossed my path since losing Drew. They, you, are the safety net that keeps me afloat. The wind beneath my wings. And the fuel that keeps me trying to make something big and bold and powerful out of all of this pain. We may not have the lives we want, but dammit, at least we have each other. And really, that's a hell of a lot.


“How strange that the nature of life is change, yet the nature of human beings is to resist change. And how ironic that the difficult times we fear might ruin us are the very ones that can break us open and help us blossom into who we were meant to be.” 

2014 has been one heck of a year.

It's been the year that hasn't ruined me ( as I believe that any year after Michael's death has been one of recovering after the ruin).

But this year has been different.

It's the year that's shown me that even when we think we've sifted through the rubble of loss and feel that seeing the light on the other side will suffice enough (and I fully believe it does)....this year has kicked me in the face to say:

"Look, we're glad you made it out of the ruins, we're even glad that you have learned to dance where you once felt you were crippled to for eternity. Heck, we even love that you've taken that which has torn and tried you to your last fiber and smoothed it out to be fertile ground to plant upon! But this year, all those bulbs and seeds you forgot your soul and heart buried in that ground of hurt...well.....they're blooming!"

And bam! Like that, things I've never thought could or would or I even wanted to be in my life are! and instead of turning my eyes away from the garden's of my perseverance and resilience, I've decided to savor their colors...soak in the beautiful scents and colors...and even pluck a few to take home with me :)

And in doing recognizing, tending to and enveloping myself in the sprung seeds of hope....I have found I have blossomed too.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Alone, With You

Losing the person you intended to spend your life with transforms you and alters you in so many ways. Since losing my person on July 13 of 2011, I can say with 1000% certainty that I am not the same human that I was on July 12th, 2011. I am broken open. I am torn. I am changed. It's not all bad. I don't like to look at these changes as being positive or negative, because it's not that black and white. Nothing is. It's simply a fact that when you face the tragic, early death of your life partner - you cannot walk out of that as the same person who walked in. Sure, there are many elements of you that make you who you are, and those are all still there - but many other parts of you disappear, change form, or emerge as if brand new. These new pieces of yourself take time to recognize and acknowledge, and they are probably still happening and still evolving with time. It is a re-birth of sorts, and it can be challenging and strange and hard.

For myself, just a few of the new "pieces" I have noticed:

 I am a much more compassionate person. It's not like I was some uncaring asshole before my loss, but now, I am so much less judgemental of other people and their situations or why they might do things or behave in certain ways, and I have so much empathy and compassion for so many others, that I just didn't really think about before.

My patience ratio has completely altered in this "after" life. I have little to no patience for stupidity, ignorance, or judgemental people. On the other hand, I have so much more patience for things like traffic, long lines, and unexpected delays or things going wrong in general. These types of things used to annoy me on a much bigger level, and now, I am normally very calm and rather unaffected by these same things. My new brain just automatically goes to thoughts of: We are sitting in 45 minutes of traffic because there is an accident up ahead. Someone might be dead, and someone else may be finding out right now that their person is gone. There are way worse things than a little bit of traffic. 

I pretty much breathe the words "I love you" to the people that I love, all the time. At the end of a visit or a phone call or a conversation, I will tell my family member or my friends: "I love you!" The newer friends that I have made in the widowed community - they all say it right back, because they have been changed in the same way I have. In my old life, I never would have thought to tell a friend "I love you" every single time I see them, but now, anytime I see anyone, I am very aware that it could be the last time I see them - ever. Morbid? Maybe. But that is how my new brain functions - the same brain that did not get to say goodbye or good morning or anything at all to her husband, who left for work one day while she was sleeping, and never came back. Each time I tell someone that I love them, there is a tiny fragment of me that hopes he is somehow hearing that I love him, too - and that I will keep saying it forever. 

There are so many other changes that I could go on to list here, but the one very big transformation that I have noticed about myself, is the way I feel about going out vs. staying home, and how I choose to spend my time. In the first year or so after my husband's death, I was still living in the small-ish and run-down New Jersey apartment that Don and I had shared for 7 years together. I will never forget the feeling I had each day and each hour after his death, being there, surrounded by things and "stuff" that belonged to a person that no longer breathed, and a life that no longer existed. I felt trapped, like I was being suffocated by loss and grief and sadness, and like the walls of our life that was gone were closing in on me and attacking me at every corner. It was awful. Those first few months and year, I did anything and everything to get the hell out of there for as many hours as possible each week. If I wasn't at work, I was accepting the dinner and lunch invitations from my amazing support system of friends, or traveling to my parents house in Massachusetts for another weekend, just to escape those cruel and depressing walls. There were so many days those first 14 months or so, where I honestly didn't see how I would survive this, because I just felt so damn depressed. 

Then I moved out, and moved into a different apartment back in NY, with a roommate. Even though it was one of the hardest things Ive ever done, it made me feel lighter and more comfortable with just "being home." I was able to control what things I held onto and kept that made me feel safe or comfy or that reminded me of him in a lovely and beautiful way, and I was able to remove all the things that made me feel like I was choking on death and sorrow. Once I did that, everything changed. Now, when someone asks me to go out socially and do something, my response is usually well thought-out, and changes depending on my mood that day or that hour. A year ago, the answer was always "Hell yes!", because I did not like the feeling of being with myself and sitting with my emotions and pain and hollow, empty hopelessness. But now? Now, this new me that has begun to create a new sanctuary of safeness in my new apartment, will often times say "No thanks" to friends who want me to hang out. Sometimes, I enjoy the solitude. I need to be isolated and alone, so that I can recharge my emotional batteries, and be able to go out again and tackle the world. It is exhausting to be in a world where most people simply don't understand you, and have no idea what you're going through. It's tiring to be constantly faced with families and marriage and retirement stories and vacation tales and children and new babies and new homes and new parents - all the things you will never ever get to have, because they all died on that morning that he died.

So, the new me carefully picks and chooses whom to spend my time with, and when I am in the mood to go out, or stay home. I am finding that, these days, staying home is often the much more appealing option. Perhaps it is because I am currently teaching all day, then directing a show that puts me in rehearsals 6 nights per week for the next month, just so I can keep paying my rent and keep surviving. Maybe it's because my commute is a huge pain in the ass to get everywhere, so when someone asks me to hang out in the city on a weekend, all I think is: Subway to bus to subway - 2 transfers and a really long walk late at night - is this really worth it on my one day off? Or maybe it is because I am finally totally comfortable with feeling my feelings, getting them out when they need to come out, and sitting inside of the sadness, and the joy.

I love my family and friends with all of my heart, but there is something to be said about just spending some time alone, and being 1000% okay with that. When Don and I were together, he was more of the "stay home" type, and I was always the one who wanted to go out. He would go with me, and he loved socializing with our friends or seeing a movie together or whatever else, but he was incredibly content to just sit home most weekends, with nothing except his guitars, our kitties, the Yankee game, and me. Nothing made him happier than simply "hanging out" and not ever leaving the apartment. And now I know why. Now I feel the same way about being home.

The funny thing is, when I was in our apartment after he died, I couldn't feel him close to me. I didn't feel his presence. All I felt was the loss and the overwhelming pain of what was no longer there. I had to leave our home, and move someplace new, to be able to really feel him again. Because in the same way that saying I love you to friends is also saying it to him, being alone in my apartment is also being with him in our apartment - even though he never even lived here.

I don't pretend to understand it. I'm just in awe of it.

Thursday, April 17, 2014


There is a lot going in my life right now that I can't share here.  It's too personal.  But it's good.

What I can tell you is that I am happy.

I never thought I would ever meet this mystical beast ever again, but here it is, showing up in my day and making me smile for no good reason.

Not the legendary, mythical HAPPY that we all hear about in fairytales.

But the happy that comes from lifting your eyes from the floor and seeing that life is really not so bad.
OK even.

I have chosen to believe that my one-sided conversations with Greg are really two sided and that he is letting me know what he thinks and feels about things. 

Case in point ....
I had an attack of the "uglies" the other day.  Not that I am a particularly vain person, but the last time I allowed myself to be vulnerable to another human (other than Greg) was when I was 22 years old and 22 years younger than I am now.
Growing up, I had two grandmothers who were determined that vanity was not a sin I would ever have and so they both managed to convince me that I was a "solid" girl who was plain.  I don't hold it against them - that was the thinking back then.  But I wished I'd listened to my mother who told me what a beauty I was.
Anyhooo  - there I was, having an attack of the uglies last Friday night when I decided to look in a cupboard that contained yet more of Greg's "stuff".  ... and I found a motherload of his old photos.
 He had photos from the night we met (I looked shy and a bit lost) and he had photos from our early dating life that I had never seen.  I looked young and fresh and positvely beautiful.  Certainly not "solid" or "plain".
...and he had a couple of photos of me (and he) all dolled up at a friend's wedding that were positively smokin' hot!

 ...and just like that, the "uglies" went away and I knew that my boy had shown me what he saw when he looked at me.

So yeah - happy.
It doesn't come in with a fanfare and a show of light.
It sneaks up on you and surprises you when you think it has gone for ever...

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Possibly R-rated. But Definitely Real~

I remind myself, when I remember, to s...l...o...w  down.  Not in regards to daily life stuff.  But when I apply lotion.  When I shampoo my hair.  When I shave my legs. When I apply makeup.  When I take care of myself in the ways that a woman does when she has a lover in her life.

I don't remember often to remind myself but its more often than it was.

My years with my husband were filled with texture and depth and romance and, yes, ordinary days, but ordinary days that were sensually flavored with anticipation.  We flirted on the phone, from across a room, and in darkened hallways.  In the middle of, well, anything, be it serious or not, our eyes would make contact and electricity would burn between us.  I used to read books and magazines and articles about love and passion and second marriages and relationships and our conversations swirled around those topics.  

And now.  Now.  Where does that passion and sensuality go, now that he is gone?

Some part of me still cares and doesn't want to age before my time so I still apply lotion but there is no sensuousness in the application now.   I kind of slap it on to get it done.  Its a necessity, not an experience. My lips are chapped mostly and I never seem to remember to apply chap stick.  Always, in my previous life, I kept my lips kissably soft.  For him, because I loved his kisses.  We touched often.  Locked lips.  Linked hands.  We created atmospheres of intimacy.  My hands would slide over the muscles of his back, slowly anointing him with essential oils, memorizing the feel of him.  When he hugged me, I would breathe in his scent.   

The touch and the scents and the textures.  

Mostly I hear widows/ers speak of the financial distress, the practical lists of what has changed and how we must cope after our loved one dies.  Seldom do I hear lips speak of the yearning for those moments of teasing and laughing  and flirting and mutual knowing-ness and heart-pounding, sweat-inducing, rip-roaring passion that can make life so very sweet.  That did make life so very sweet.

It is an uncomfortable subject for some, I get that.  But in this new I refuse to be quiet about what this being alone is really like me that is forever me, I'm defiantly singing it out into the light.  Because I know I'm not the only one thinking it and feeling it.  Anybody can figure out the finances, the car, the place to live, the taxes, the daily living everything.  Technical stuff.

What I struggle with is the loss of his body close to mine for 24 years, touching head to toe.  His hand cupping my head as he lowers his mouth to mine, his arm around me, pulling me closer.  His green eyes catching mine across a room and speaking promises for when we're alone.  His hand against my lower back as we stand together.  His arms locking me against a wall.  His hand in mine, strong and sure, as we walk and walk and walk.  

Well-meaning people talk about moving on, and how he'd want me to be happy, and I hear the concern in their voices that maybe I'm still just a bit too sad for, my goodness, almost a year.  And I want to say to them, (and I'm starting to, in a very nice, diplomatic way), tell me then, HOW DO I NOT MISS EVERYTHING ABOUT HIM?  What do you suggest?  Give me a concrete, here it is, plan to make that happen.  Seriously.  You tell me how I go from being touched to not being touched, from being kissed and loved to nothing, zilch, nada, done, and how I can be okay with that, in the space of oneshortfrickin'year?  In the space of two years?  Tell me, I beg of you. Because I'll give it a shot.  Give me a recipe so that I can not miss him with every breath and, ultimately, make you feel better.

You tell me.   
How do I go from this?
to this?

and not feel it to my bones?  Every minute of every day and every night?

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Yes Honey, I know.

To get to our church and a particular café where a volunteer group often meets I have to drive through our central business district.  I find that I always drive the route that Ian always drove.  That's probably why I go that way.

It is one of the most efficient ways to cross the city from the north-west corner to the south-east, but also the most memory-laden route for me.

It passes a pub that he worked at during his university days, a job he very much enjoyed.  EVERY time we drove past he'd say 'I used to work there'.  And every time I'd say 'Yes honey, I know'.  And now often I drive past and hear this conversation - sometimes I find I even respond aloud. 

I also used to work at the other end of this street, and Ian would always pick me up from work.  

Sometimes I don't have a problem driving past the pick-up point; I'm focused on what I'm doing.  Other times I get flashes of grief, especially if I get stuck at the intersection.  It's very much a heavy heart moment the times they do hit, and I find I have to look at other things happening on the street to bring me back to the present.

Of course, when Ian was driving me home from work, we'd have to go past his old workplace:

'I used to work there'. 
'Yes honey, I know'.

'I used to work there'. 
'Yes honey, I know'.

'I used to work there'. 
'Yes honey, I know'.

'I used to work there'. 
'Yes honey, I know'.

'I used to work there'. 
'Yes honey, I know'.

I do feel sorry for my son... I feel I'm getting close to (repeatedly) saying 'Daddy used to work there'.  

I guess in time I should expect 'Yes Mummy, I know'.

Monday, April 14, 2014

The Fog


Losing my mom when he was in his mid thirties broke my father, seemingly beyond repair. We did not celebrate holidays, we didn't eat together or play games together, we did not have a circle of friends to help us through, we did not talk about our pain. We didn't have any rituals with which to honor my mom. My dad escaped by drinking and distancing himself from me. His grief morphed into rage and that rage would have no where to go but straight at me.

We were two broken people ill-equipped to help each other. Early on, I learned survival strategies. I wasn't aware that's what I was doing, but now I can see them and I carry them with me even though they are no longer necessary. The most useful one was blanking out. I just left my body. When I was overwhelmed by anxiety and fear and my father made me feel unsafe in the only place in the world I could go, I would just leave.

My body was there, but my heart and soul were gone. A blank gray fog where they used to reside. No fear, no sadness, no messy emotions. My body would shut off, like flipping a switch. My mind would either race in senseless circles or just completely shut down. The tears would stop and from the outside, at least, no one could see the pain.

But also, there was no me and no chance to feel any good emotions either. No chance to connect with anyone, not even myself. It was necessary and smart at the time. Now, though, it is a knee jerk reaction to what life throws my way.

My body does it, not my mind. My mind can tell me that all is fine and that people aren't my dad and that I'm safe and no one is out to hurt me, but my body doesn't believe a word. And my body just shuts down. No more emotion. The gray fog. Thoughts circle without landing. Eyes won't focus on anything for long. No emotions, just spinning mind. I look from the outside, I assume, like I have it all together. But I have taken leave and all that's left is my body.

After Dave died, it seems all my reactivity just increased. This response to stress happens more easily now than ever. I can be home, safe, cocooned, reading a book, and I suddenly realize every muscle in my body is tight as a knot. I can read a page 4, 5, 6 times in a row and not absorb a single word. There are no clear thoughts, just a spinning, anxious fog. Just the sense that I am in danger and my body is ready to fight or flee.

I do this in therapy, over and over and over again. I do it when anyone tries to get close to me. I do it when I'm embarrassed. I do it for no apparent reason at all, before my mind can connect with my body.
It makes closeness difficult. Not impossible, but difficult. I know there is no magic bullet for this. I know it will take work to begin to get my mind and body to connect.

I know the triggers, mostly, so that's good. There just doesn't seem to be a way to bring myself back once I've gone there for quite some time. It takes being away from the trigger (if that's even possible) for several hours at least, for the clarity to come back.

But, you know what? Of course I struggle with this. It completely makes sense and is reasonable. Trauma does all sorts of things to our minds and bodies. This part is inevitable. It's cliche, but I'm saying it anyway; what matters is that I identify it and address it.

That last step is easier said than done, but so many things are. I'm still going to stubbornly address it even though it feels like pushing a giant boulder up a very steep hill.