Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Changes and Things~

We all arrive at that time after our loved one dies where we look around and see what remains.  What remains of a person who filled our lives in one way or another or so completely that we look at their physical belongings and are struck with disbelief that this is it.  The sum of their existence.

My husband and I specialized in not being attached to external things.  In 2009 we sold our home in Jersey and most of our belongings.  A few special things we put in storage while we figured out what direction our lives would take us.  And then we decided to stay on the road, adventuring, and we donated more and more of what was in storage.

After Chuck died, I spent a day going through that storage unit.  I held his clothes against my heart, inhaling, striving to find some remaining scent of the man who impacted my life so hugely.  His scent was gone, of course, and, one by one, I placed his clothes in a bag for donation.  Piece by piece, memory by memory.  It wasn't easy, but with each article I thought well, if he were here, he'd want me to donate these rather than keep them in a storage unit.  So I took a deep breath and gave them away.

I kept a few things;  a couple shirts and pairs of pants I really loved seeing him wear.  Three of his ball caps.  His military uniforms, both dress Blues and BDU's.

Mostly, what remains of his clothes travel with me.  Those shirts and pants, the jacket from his BDU's (he looked so hot in those!).  His flag, his dog tags, his cremains.  His wallet.  The mustache comb he used almost absent-mindedly at times.

I don't want external reminders much, because they put my focus outside of me, where I can't find him.  I want to hold him close in my heart and feel him there.  Deep in my soul, in the marrow of my bones, and external stuff is a distraction for me, using energy I don't have.

You know what is hardest to rid myself of?  Things I had from our final time together.  Recently my tooth brush wore out.  I'd kept it unused for a while after he died but finally used it and now its worn out and I need to toss it.  And I'm having the damndest time doing that.  What I had when we were together, when our lives were filled with a future....those things require deep breathing through the pain and the desolation.  A shampoo bottle from our commonly used shampoo. Simple things that were of every day use and little noticed, until now.

I miss Chuck so very much.  I miss seeing him comb his mustache.  I miss seeing him striding towards me with a smile on his face.  I miss his wink at me from across the room.  I miss his arms around me as we slow-danced.  I miss his strong shoulders that supported me in hard times and good.  I miss his encouragement of me to live my best.  I miss his magic in my life.

Things?  No, they don't matter much, because they are ultimately temporary.  Instead I want to remember all the things about him that I miss, and hold them close and, in doing so, feel him so much and so deeply that he becomes me and I become him.  I want to feel him so strongly in my heart and soul that it will be as if he is still wrapping his arms around me.  Wrapping the loneliness from me.  Exorcising the grief and pain from me until I become nothing but the love he had for me and I, for him.

Sheer pure love.  I seek to become that and, in doing so, find again the very essence of what is stronger than death can ever be, what Chuck and I shared so vividly in life, fueling me in this life that I must create without his physical presence.

Just sheer love.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

I hate to ask.... again

Saturday morning I woke up with a 103 temperature.

So as soon as a reasonable hour hit, I called my parents, asking if they could look after John for the day. 

On short notice.


Yet another thing I hate about widowhood.  That sometimes you need to call on assistance to the point where you KNOW it's impacting others. Maybe asking them to go that step beyond their general helpful-human being willingness to help.  Especially if your circle of available assistance is limited. 

Before I called, I spent a couple of hours considering if I could manage on my own.  Just push on through.  But I can't really leave a three and a half year old running amok in the house, while it turns out, I sleep for 3 hours.   If he was 10, I could possibly get away with it.  But definitely not this young.

I knew my step-mother had a chunk of work to do, and also know how hard it often is to get anything done when John's around.  My Dad had standing commitments, so wasn't going to be around for the afternoon.

I keep worrying that he'll grow up and tell me that he felt abandoned as he kept being shipped off to Papa and Nini's house.  I know he's feeling it at the moment as he keeps telling me he doesn't want to go to their place; that he wants mummy.   He's with them a couple of days/evenings a week for 'grandparent' care while I'm studying as it is.  Some weeks of the month he's there more with commitments I want to keep up with for my own sanity.

At least this was only a short-lived thing, by late afternoon with the help of paracetamol and sleep, my temp was down to a level I could manage the short-person and his energy.

Which meant dealing with this...

Monday, August 25, 2014


I've been thinking about the loss of my mother a lot lately. She died in August, so no wonder. This time of year, her absence is particularly palpable.

She's been gone 33 years and I've never gotten over her death. I don't feel at peace about it. I feel a missing part, a vacuum where she should be. I rail at the universe for a life without her. I'm not okay with the fact that she had to leave me when I needed her most and when she most wanted to be here with me. In the last 33 years, I've adjusted to carrying around this loss. Mother's Days continue to hurt with an intensity that surprises me every year. But I've carried this with me for so long that I no longer know what it's like to not feel it. But no one should grow up without their mother.

It's been 3 years since Dave died so of course I'm in no way at peace with his death. I'm not over it. I can see that I never will be and I never will be at peace with his loss. I'm not okay with him being sick and scared and dying without my presence in the room. I'm not okay with our being ripped apart long before we should've been. I will just learn to continue to incorporate it into my new life and live side by side with it. I will continue to learn to live with a missing piece. A person I'm still linked to but cannot be with.

No matter what happens to me now, I continue to miss out on life without my mother. And I continue to miss out on life with Dave, even though I'm living a beautiful, full life without him now, too.

I have driven by the house Dave and I lived in together exactly 2 times. This last time was just a few weeks ago. I looked at that place that was home for us for over a decade and had the strangest sensation. It was this hallucination that I was somehow in two parallel universes at the same time. I was in this life, without Dave in it, and I was also back in that old life. It's very much like the feeling I get when I see a mother and daughter together, especially a grown daughter. I feel as though I'm in my life, watching what cannot be while somewhere, somehow, my mother and I are together again, me as a grown woman and her in her 60s.

Two lives. The one that could've been and the one that is. This life without them should be really lived in order to make up for their loss.

I don't believe their loss should completely define me or that it will restrict me from living fully now, but I will not agree with someone who claims I should be at peace with it.

Both losses have shaped me and will continue to. And that is okay. Why wouldn't they? They are my intimate companions whether I like it or not. I can and will continue to work on integrating them, but I won't be at peace with them.

I don't think I have to in order to heal and live.

Saturday, August 23, 2014


"Spirit" © Sarah Treanor 2014 
Living with the loss of partner, or any great loss, is one of the most challenging things we will ever face in life. It sends us on a journey through the fire – into a darkness the likes of which we have never experienced before. It brings us to our knees and breaks us. Severely. I certainly remember this feeling well. Before my fiancĂ© died, I knew I could handle anything that life threw at me. Only I didn’t really know that at all…
On the day he died, and the dark days thereafter, I came to find out what it really means to be able to handle anything life throws at you. To lose a soul mate – particularly in a sudden way – takes you to a place more painful and terrifying than I ever knew could exist. It breaks you right down to your bones. I know… I don't have to explain that to any of you. You have all, unfortunately, been there too.
I feared for my life – in a very real sense, for probably the whole first year. I feared for my life because I feared the death of my spirit. I was so badly broken that I honestly did not know if my spirit could ever recover. I was afraid that I would become dark and lose my sense of childlike wonder and hopefulness about the world. That this brokenness would overtake me and I would not be able to come out of the fire with my eyes ablaze anymore.
YET… I can still recall in the midst of it all – in those first hours and days and weeks – something inside me WAS ablaze. Something inside me was saying that this world can throw anything it wants to in my face and I will not stop believing that this life is beautiful. Or in the words of Mr. Tom Petty… “You can stand me up at the gates of hell, and I won’t back down”. (one of my go-songs right after he died, and still today).
I didn’t really know it at the time, but am quite certain now… that this was my spirit. This is the kind of stuff that amazes me about the human spirit. How broken we can be and yet still somehow, inexplicably, that soul part of us stands up for our broken human self. It doesn’t mean we feel any less broken. Or powerless. Or scared. But what I do know is that listening to my spirit was – and still is – something that gave me the ounce of strength I needed each day to get up and keep on trying to figure out what to do with all of this.
Looking back over things two years later is incredible at times. Because it feels like no time has passed at all – and often I still feel like I’m back at square one with my grief. But other days, like today, something lends me some perspective. And on days like this I can actually begin to feel like, yeah, I’ve crawled out of the fire… out of the worst of the darkness. This week's image from my "Still, Life" self portrait series is about just that. I’ve been battered and bruised and burned and scarred by this long journey, and I will be battered and bruised and burned and scarred much more before my time here is done… but I have not been brokenMy eyes are still curious, my heart is still hopeful, and my spirit still burns bright… perhaps, even brighter than before. 
"Still, Life" is a weekly self portrait/written series I am doing for the entire year of 2014 - all about my journey of living with loss. To see more of this project you can check out my blog at

Widows Do the Darndest things


This week I found myself participating in some very strange widow behavior, searching google earth for images of my husband when he was still alive. It started last week when I was using the program to check an address and noticed there is a sliding time line in Google Earth where you can go back weeks/months/years and see satellite images from previous versions. I was playing around with it and saw that one of the date options was the 24th of July, 2013. The day my husband died.
I immediately entered in the street address where he died and looked to see if there were any police cars, ambulances, etc, but he died at 11am and the sat image was taken around 10:15am. I can't describe the feeling in my stomach, I felt sick but frantic, like I needed to find him. Not sure why, I know I couldn't go back in time but I couldn't switch it off. So I then spent about 45 minutes looking for him in different places and times, at locations where we would often visit.
Until, I found a trace of him. His car parked out side my sister and brother-in-laws house. There were a lot of cars, so I'm assuming we there for some kind of party (but I/we did/do spend an awful lot of time there anyway).
I got so excited, like I'd found him and won some kind of challenge or competition. However as that wore off I just  sat there, kind of in shock. Yes it's his car and that satellite image shows a moment in time where my life was normal and innocent and happy, but it doesn't bring him back. He's still gone forever.

Wondering if had crossed the delicate boundary into ‘unhealthy behaviour land’, I turned to the only people who might understand, my widow friends. As usual, their responses were reassuring and comforting – a pretty solid 50/50 mix between ‘yep, I’ve done this too, you’re not losing your mind’ or ‘What a great idea, I can’t believe I didn’t think of it!’. 

There are so many layers to this widow thing.  After doing it for a year, I thought I had discovered them all.  Yet here I am, again surprised by some of the thoughts that flood my mind or the things I do to try and feel close to Dan and to create new memories with him.

I think that's what it's about for me.  On the day he died, I lost the chance to create new experiences with him.  I feel lucky to have shared some beautiful memories together and will cherish these and hold them dear for the rest of my life.  But 20 months is not enough.  I want and need more of him.  

I create these new memories by pouring through photos of the travels he did around the world in his 20's.  Looking at them much more closely than I ever had before.  I didn't know him then and wasn't there with him, but I find myself looking for a deeper understanding of who he was and what he did during his 34 years of life.

I also pour through the box of his childhood memories in our spare bedroom.  The diary he wrote as a young boy for a school assignment,  photos of his school formal, the messages his friends scrawled across his school uniform on their last day, where he was 'school captain' and had the world at his feet.  

I just want so much more of him.  I miss him so much.  

Friday, August 22, 2014

Time Piece

I never forget that I'm a widow. I never forget that my husband is dead forever. I never forget my reality.
But ...

There are times. Moments. Feelings.
There is being with my family, staying at my parent's house, like this weekend, and getting lost inside of something that is beyond my widowhood - something that sees far past my life without my husband.

There is eating "lazy lobster" and steaks on the grill and mom's famous Red Cake, and having my brother prepare my lobster for me with the drawn butter the way I like, and taking away all the green guts and gross parts, so I don't have to look at it.

There is doing an Ice Bucket Challenge Video with my 5 year old nephew, who is insanely excited to be able to dump ice-cold water on Auntie Kelley's head, for all the world to see. There is sitting around the dining room table with an my parents and an old family friend, who is now elderly and alone and depressed, and sincerely trying to talk with her and maybe give her an ounce or two of hope.

There is making another 5 year old boy, the grandson of another family friend, laugh so hard that he makes his grandmother call us from the car 25 minutes after they have left, so he can talk to me on speaker phone and have me "say more funny things."

There is even the strange feeling of having an entire conversation with family friends, about how I raised $20,000 in a crowd-fund-sharing campaign, so that I can self-publish and promote and market my book about the death of my husband - and yet be able to talk about it in a way where I don't even feel like I'm talking about the death of my husband.

I never forget that my husband will be dead forever. It sits inside of my every inhale, releasing it's truth with each laboring breath. But sometimes, there is life. And sometimes, lately more often than not, life makes it's way inside of the inhale - pulling and tugging and begging for some attention. All of the people and all of the friends and all of the wondrous, ordinary, entertaining, beautiful pieces of time - ban together to smash my sadness and my grief and my loss on the ground and turn it into an irrelevant speck, even if it's only temporary. It is like a mini-vacation from my grief, sort of. Sometimes it only lasts a few minutes, or a few hours, or a day. But those few minutes or hours are enough time for me to be able to see into a future which will hold more of these vacations, more often. It is a weird feeling, and one that is impossible to adequately describe. The entire time that I am enjoying myself at whatever I am doing, I am also very aware that I am a widow and that my husband is dead. But it isn't what I'm thinking about. It isn't where the focus is. It isn't where the radar goes. And a year or two ago, I could have never said that. Back then, there were never these lapses in time where the widow thing went to the back of my brain or heart. It just didn't happen. And now it does. And really, that makes my tomorrows seem just a tiny bit less frightening.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

A Momentary Lapse

I said to my stepdaughter yesterday after another conversation about some of the fallout in our lives since her Dad died, wow, we've learned so much about grief. It's not something we asked for, but now we understand things like what to say and what not to say to people in mourning. And we can relate to other people who are experiencing loss, with all those details of a reality without our loved ones.

She was telling me how for many months after he died she would reach for the phone to call him, then after a beat remember he was gone. I think we all have had those moments. A lot of us probably have that shock every morning for a long time. That beat it takes for us to wake up to the new, terrible reality that they are gone. But she said that it had been awhile since she reached for the phone like that. It seemed sad to her, somehow, that her brain had maybe processed the reality of his death on another level and stopped making that mistake. I get that. Because it has been a long time since I woke up with that morning jolt too. And there is a grim finality to that realization.

I find it interesting, now writing here at Widow's Voice, how sometimes our posts deal with similar material. Our experiences are individual and personal - and yet, there is a certain commonality.
A week or two ago both Sarah and Cassie wrote about songs, the lyrics, and how the timing and experience of hearing certain ones at certain times makes us think of our husbands, and our loss, in certain ways. Their stories are each very different - and yet, there is that commonality of song lyrics being the source. I have quite a few stories similar to theirs that have happened since Mike died. Incredibly specific timing of specific songs that made me think - there has to be something to it. I know there is. And yet, if I tried to explain it to someone who hasn't lost someone close to them like we have, most of them might not really get it. I might get a nod and a sad smile but after I turned away I imagine they might shake their head or roll their eyes like, poor thing, she is a little nuts after Mike died, isn't she?

Another source of this commonality is the subject of dreams. Last night I dreamed of Mike and woke up knowing I was going to write about it, even though I'd been working on a very different post for this week. Imagine my surprise - but not really, I guess - to see that Cassie had written about dreams today too (I am writing this on Monday even though I post on Thursdays). Her post was about her frustration and sadness in not dreaming about Dave. And I see in the comments, others have the same frustration.

I have, on the other hand, dreamed of Mike quite a few times since he died. So have his daughters. A couple of our dreams were so incredibly powerful that perhaps no one outside our family circle might even believe us. But those happened quite soon after he died, and haven't happened again since. We feel very fortunate that we had those dreams, because not everyone does.

But I've also had maybe about a dozen nightmares about him since he died. Those dreams are terrible. I'd rather not dream of him at all instead, to be honest with you.

Last night though was yet another difficult, stressful dream about him. In this one, I knew he was out there somewhere, but I couldn't call him. In my mind I could see his old phone number, and I had my phone and was trying and trying to dial it but I just couldn't. The numbers on my phone were all moving around, turning upside down, sliding across the screen so I couldn't touch them. It was agony. I couldn't connect. I couldn't call him. I couldn't talk to him. And the dream seemed to go on and on like that, it wouldn't end.

When I finally woke up I thought, oh thank goodness it was just a dream, I can talk to him now. I actually sat up and looked around for him and then - wait a beat - remembered he was dead.

Yes - it is shockingly painful when that moment of truth settles in once again. But this time, today, I also felt strangely grateful for that momentary lapse I hadn't had in months. I laid back in bed, relishing the familiar feeling of my old reality. I had had a real, pure moment when I actually and truly believed he was still alive. It was perhaps one last glimpse into a world where he still existed. 

Thanks to the workings of an overworked, confused brain, just for a moment, just for a felt like I had my Michael back.

I miss him.