Saturday, September 20, 2014

Embracing the After Birthdays

Birthdays. It's one of the hardest parts. My first birthday in this afterlife was just three months after my fiancĂ© died. I didn't even want to think about my birthday much less have one. We had decided to go to the Grand Canyon that year for my birthday, since I had never been to a national park. Refusing to spend my 30th birthday in bed, I decided to take the trip anyway. So in late September, his mother and I hopped on a plain and headed for Arizona. It felt like exactly the right place to be, and the exact right person to be there with. On the morning of my birth, there we stood, silently overlooking the canyon… both feeling a connection to this deep wound in the earth because of our own deep wounds of loss.

That year, I didn't want to see anyone or speak to anyone on my birthday. I didn't want my friends or my family. I didn't want to gifts or cards or balloons or a party. With the exception of his mother, I wanted nothing more than to be totally cut off from my life and to just sit silently with my heart. So the canyon proved to be the perfect location for that… after all there isn't even any cellphone reception in the park.

Last year, I had a small party with only a few very close friends and my fiancĂ©'s family. It was a small step towards re-entering life… towards being able to allow joy in again. Of course it was also full of a lot of sadness and weeks of dread leading up to the day. I was worried constantly about how dreadful the day was going to be. How painful it was going to be. If I was going to have a total breakdown. If I was even going to be able to get out of bed. But all in all, the day was filled with love, and a small party of those who matter to me most.

This year however is what I think I will always look back on as the birthday of re-entering life. I had plans for this weekend again with my close friends and family as last year, but then I did something else. Something BIG. At the last minute, I invited a bunch of friends from the gym to come out for dinner and drinks last night. There's a few reasons this was such a big deal. Firstly, because none of us have yet to hang out outside of the gym, so there was a big risk no one would even show up. But more importantly, these are really some of the first new friends I have made since he died, due to the fact that I left Dallas very soon after he died. Yup. NEW people. AFTER people.

You all know how scary and difficult and stressful that transition into letting new people into your world is. They didn't know our person - and we don't quite know how to fit these two worlds together. But, I took a deep breath, and sent out the invite, trusted that it would work out for the best.

The last reason - and biggest reason - that this was a huge deal was the fact that I even WANTED to do it in the first place. That's right. I wanted to celebrate. I wanted to celebrate with new people and old. I wanted to finally open myself up to allowing the new world and the old world to collide a bit. I wanted to embrace joy fully. Holy cow… how did that happen?

Not only did a few people come out, but quite a few. Probably 8 or 10 people showed up, and we had such a fun night. Honestly more fun than I've probably had all year. And to my complete amazement - even despite having quite a few drinks in me - I did not ever get emotional. I stayed fully in my joy the entire night, and never did it even occur to me to actually get upset. By the morning, I was so shocked that I had been so busy having fun that I never had a moment to be sad.

There was something really beautiful about the fact that these people were brought into my life because of his death… because of my moving here right after he died. It made me realize that every step of letting the new joys of life in actually keeps him even closer to me. Somehow it seems to solidify his place in my life even more strongly. Somehow, it is still like he is right in the middle of all of it. And I'm slowly beginning to see that letting more of the new life in doesn't actually mean that any part of me is left behind, but that he comes with me as he brings new people into my world that never would have otherwise been part of it. I'm definitely marking this birthday as a pivotal one in my new life.

Waiting for the Crash

So last week I put it out there that I’d been feeling happy and ‘doing ok’.  I seriously didn’t realise how scary that would feel, as if I was tempting the universe.  As the weekend came and went, I found myself full of anticipation and it took a while to work out what I was waiting for.   Then I realised, I was waiting for the crash. 

I know it’s coming.  It may not be today, or this week, or even for another couple of weeks, but I know for a fact that it will come again and I’ll feel foolish for my cockiness.  I know this, because there’s a proven track record.  The grief always seems to build and build and then surge into a wave that drags me under again.  Sometimes it’s dramatic and I find myself mid-meltdown in public, scrambling for a safe place to take cover while I try to keep my head above the tidal wave.  Other times it sneaks up on my when I’m not looking – I’ll wake up one morning and it’s back, just smothering me in its heavy cloak of misery.   

Gee, what a pessimist, huh!?  Here I am feeling pretty good, but rather than just soaking it up, I’m fighting this internal dialogue: ‘Hey lady, who do you think you are!  Don’t you remember that your husband died!?  HELLOOOOO!!  Who are you kidding, pretending that you’re not only coping – but actually finding some enjoyment in this world?  Pfft, good luck with that, enjoy your DENIAL, fool!’  Yeah, my niggling negative voice is harsh.

There it is… denial.  That’s what I’m worried about.  Am I really doing ok at the moment or am I just in a temporary state of denial where I’m subconsciously pretending that Dan isn’t really dead, he’s just gone away for a while.  Is it possible that I’ve just blocked out the horror of his suicide because it’s just too painful to deal with?  Maybe I’m not actually taking steps forward by feeling happy in my life, but rather, I’m regressing into a shock-like state where my brain is just having a holiday from the trauma? 

How exhausting it is to be constantly questioning and judging myself. When did I lost my confidence in my ability to know my own heart?  Why can't I just trust myself?  I think a big part of it is that I didn’t see Dan’s death coming.  I was so happy in my newly-wed glow, so secure in our love, so excited for our future together, so confident that Dan’s treatment was on the right track, so sure that he’d talk to me if he didn’t feel ok.  Now I look at that person and just think – you were so naive.  It’s always there – I missed the signs, I let him down, I failed him.  Will I ever trust myself again?  Will I ever let myself off the hook for not seeing how much he was struggling
I really hope so.  I know it’s not my fault and I didn’t cause his death, but I can’t imagine ever not wishing that I’d been able to save him. I will miss him forever.

Friday, September 19, 2014


The change in the air from humid to crisp, warm to slightly cool - puts a loud ringing bell on your death - as I ready myself for my birthday, then your birthday, Halloween, our wedding anniversary, Thanksgiving, our proposal anniversary, Christmas, and then ringing in another new year without you.

This time of year filled with holidays and family and love and my favorite weather and atmosphere, leaves way for a big red button on your forever absence - a button I'm forced to push again and again and again, letting off sirens of being left here on Earth alone, without my person. A future without you still frightens me, as panic and anxiety curl their way back into my bed each night, grabbing the blankets and stealing my sleep.

I try hard to recall the earlier days of this grief, and to remind myself that there was a time I could not see anything except darkness and pain. A time when autumn leaves and sunsets and brightly lit moons and candy apples and fried dough with cinnamon-sugar, all felt and looked and tasted like grey and blackness and death to me - because you were dead, so I could no longer see the beauty in anything. Everything was blank.

It took almost 3 years to see the beauty again, and to look at the autumn leaves again and really notice them, and to care again, to really care instead of just pretending. Now, today, I see the colors. I feel the rain. I taste the sweet cold ice-cream.

I feel your presence with every bite. I hear your voice faintly, in the silence of my own. I see your blue eyes, inside the pale sky. You are everywhere.

But I am selfish. It isn't enough for me. I want more.

You are everywhere, but you are also nowhere.

You are not here, curling your way into our bed each night, grabbing the blankets and stealing my sleep.

And the air changes from humid to crisp,
crisp to cold,
and the frost takes shape on the windows.
And with every biting, winter breath,
Oh, how I miss you.

I miss you.
I miss you.
I miss you.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Whispers of Ghosts

St. Michaels Street, Oxford 

I'm going to die.

Someday, yes, I'm going to die.

I didn't think much about death before Mike died; probably, many of us never do, until or unless we're hit with that horrific reality of losing someone so close to us.

Now, it seems to be constantly on my mind. The trying to make sense of the reality that he is really gone forever...and that someday, I will join him. Because...

We. Are. All. Going. To. Die.

On one of my recent posts one of the comments was about how our ancestors, living in times before modern medicine and the longer life spans we now enjoy, were likely faced with death so much more than we are. I thought of that myself often on my recent trip abroad, visiting places that contained remnants of human habitation so many more hundreds and thousands of years before we have record here in the US.

Dilapidated castles, old inns and pubs, ancient throughways, towns and cities.

It was as if I could hear the whispers of ghosts; if I was quiet and listened, I could imagine the people, their movements, their lives, their loves and losses and all the things they experienced so long ago. 

They are all gone now, as I will be too one day. As Mike is, already. He is now part of that crowd on the other side, who lived and died; who were present, and are now gone. Millions and billions of them.

All sorts of thoughts and feelings crowd my mind. Panic that I have a limited time left in my own life. Resignation that I will grow older every day and can't stop it. Gratitude that I've had this life to live. Hope that I will find pathways to new ways to enjoy and savor what I have left. And sometimes, the feeling that it's all for naught. No matter what we do we are going to die anyway, so what's the use?

But, I'm more positive than negative. I feel blessed that I have that natural mindset. And I do believe we each have purpose, if we truly look for it. So even though every day I battle the what's-the-use thoughts, I do also make that effort to get up and out, keep writing, playing, working, helping, sharing, living, laughing, crying...loving.

Life is a collection of memories, until we are dust, and someone else's memories...until, perhaps, it is we who are whispering from beyond. I guess I will make room in my scrapbook for a few more pages, until that time, for better or for worse.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014


This is what I wonder.  And I wonder this even though my career was in grief support and I led groups and replied to this very same wondering from so many people who graced my groups.

Will I ever feel engaged in life again?  Will I ever find passion for life again?  And energy?  Will I ever not feel that I am living without him and therefore I just don't really care about life?  Will I ever care that I have a future and not cringe from even thinking about that future because what it means is that I have a long life to live without him?

I know, I know, I know, that there is no time frame for grieving.  There are so many variables to it for each person.  But I'm so exhausted.  So very exhausted.  Living without him takes every bit of energy I ever thought I had in my body.

In every way I can I've gotten out into the world.  I put myself in every situation I can daily, pushing myself to engage with people.  I talk about my grief, I join in fun activities, my heart is open to possibilities.  But none of it is anything more than an intellectual exercise for me.  None of it seems to get into my body and soul.  No matter what it is, who it is, I feel detached, an observer.

This is so very different for me, to be this way.  I've always been passionate about life, about my life, about new experiences.  Since Chuck died, all I feel is pain and grief.  Its' been 17 months as of tomorrow and I feel like I'm drifting further and further away from myself and those around me.  That part of me isn't visible to most people, I suppose.  On the outside it looks like I'm fully functioning.  I'm not hiding my grief, necessarily; it's just that you have to get up and function each day, right?  And I do.  For god's sake, I'm on my 3rd cross-country trek.  I've met hundreds of people along the way and talked with them and gotten and given hugs and written about my grief here and other places and sought out new life experiences and welcomed all of them.  And with all of it I remain empty inside.  The numbness that envelops my insides and my heart is exceeded only by the grief that swings in rhythm with it.

There's no self-pity attached to this.  Just plain and simple.  The grief snags and shreds its' way through me on a daily basis while I go about life.  This isn't my first experience with grief by any means.  But it's the most devastating grief I've ever experienced.

Being left behind sucks the big one.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Street Appeal

Spring has sprung here, and it's glorious getting outside, enjoying the sunshine and melting off the cobwebs.  Particularly since all my anniversaries fall over the middle of winter and I coop myself up more than ever over the grey season.

After I joined the ranks, some of my before interests didn't satisfy me, didn't provide the enjoyment they had before.  Interests just got left alone.  However I'm finding each passing season I'm more and more able to tap back into what gives me joy, brings me peace and feeds my soul.

I've always enjoyed gardening, getting my hands in the soil and connecting to the earth.  It's one of those things that feed my soul.  But it is an interest that got left alone, leaving parts of my front and back gardens to get over run with weeds and become unkempt.  There's been the occasional spurt of activity, but not the level there was before.

It's a bit like how I've presented myself to the outside world in my after - I've not been interested in how I present myself (not that I particularly cared before, either), and my insides, both physically and emotionally, were a bit of a mess.

In the last couple of weeks I've been getting great satisfaction ripping out some of my ornamental plants in the back garden (taking to a mass of clumping reeds/grass with a mattock is a great stress relief!!) and spent the weekend planting a variety of veg, in addition to the berries and herbs and perennial veg that I already had in place from earlier in the year.  In warmer weather, I love heading out first thing with my cup of coffee and seeing how much plants have grown (or how much is left after the bugs have chomped away at my poor little seedlings - but I don't so much love that bit).  This is

Part of this is based in acceptance that John and I will be in this house for a while - Ian and I had plans to move for lifestyle and school options, but since I'm in the fortunate position that the house is paid off and John's schooling is settled, I'm nuts to be thinking of moving in the near future.   If I did, it would be for a bigger yard so I could plant an orchard and potentially have chooks.

So the back yard is back on track, looking neater and I feel like it's doing something.  I've been slowly getting my physical health back in shape and have been working with a counsellor on my grief experience too.

But the street appeal - my front yard and outward physical care/appearance probably needs work.  

I'm sure the neighbours are sick of the weeds and plants running rampant from lack of attention, and the weeds are going to seed, which will only result in more work in the future.  Personally, moving back into wearing ever so slightly more stylish clothes may be on the cards.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Cinema Therapy


I was raised to keep my feelings to myself. Burdening my father with my feelings and needs was simply not something I felt safe doing. The consequence was that I repressed my needs and feelings for so long, and so well, that I forgot how to know what I'm feeling. 

It sounds crazy, I know. How does one not know what she's feeling? You feel something and you name it. Easy! 

Unfortunately, sometimes, it just doesn't work that way for me. I can go very, very numb or feel fear only, for example, even when the appropriate emotion for most everyone else would be anger, or longing, or sadness, etc. 

It's because of this that sometimes I need a substitute situation to have feelings about. A scenario that is not my life, but resembles my life, that I can attach my feelings to and then I'll often be able to identify the actual feelings I am having and work through them.

Movies are one of the best ways for me to accomplish this. They're highly emotional and great for triggering. 

This probably explains why, from day one, I sought out movies about tragedy so I could make contact with my emotions obliquely. It was the way to feeling something. 

Lately I've been seeking out stories of loss so I figured I'd been trying to get in touch with some repressed feelings. So, I looked through Amazon Prime to find a humdinger. 

Get the kleenex ready, it's time to feel things!

I found this movie The Face of Love. I warn you. This one will hurt. In my case, that's exactly what I was looking for. If you're thinking of watching it now, too, spoiler alert in effect now...

Annette Bening plays a widowed woman who runs into a man who is a complete double for her dead husband and tries to have a relationship with him. When he finds out that she is with him just to recreate the love she had with her husband, they can't continue the farce. The movie then jumps to a year later when she finds out he has died, leaving behind a series of paintings he painted of her. 

I bawled. I sobbed. I cried out in pain. At first I was crying for the pain in the movie and then it shifted inside of me and I could identify it.

  I'm sorry! I wailed. I would've done anything to save you! I couldn't save you and you died! YOU DIED! I shrieked into the empty house. I cried into the bed, grabbing the blankets in my fists in utter helplessness. 

As I spilled out the hurt, I realized I'd been feeling guilty and hadn't been able to access it. Now I could. 

I've been feeling guilty for moving on and being happy and not being sad enough. I could name it, feel it, and move through it. Ah, cinema therapy. 

If you feel enough already, thank you very much, this one might not be for you. For me, it did wonders for clearing out my emotional storage files. 

I feel lighter now. I feel more connected to myself and as though I was honoring Dave by letting myself feel the pain his loss has left behind.