Friday, May 22, 2015

Bellissimo

This Monday at grief-counseling:
Caitlin: "Any changes lately on how you're feeling about the concept of "someone else?" Do you still feel like you have no interest in dating? Does the thought of someone else still make you feel sick to your stomach?"
Me: "Still no interest. I have zero desire to actively go out searching for love. I spent years dating before I met my husband, and it sucked and nothing came of any of it except heartbreak. I'm not going on any dating sites or going to bars or any of that. It's just NOT me. That's not what I feel comfortable doing. If I'm going to find love again, it will be through friends, or through just living my life and doing things I love and finding someone with similar interests, or the same way I met Don - through chance / fate. I'm open to that happening. I'm just not willing to go out and look for it. "

After my appointment, I was supposed to meet a friend for a light dinner in the city before heading home. Got to the restaurant and she texted that she had to cancel last minute due to an emergency. I was already seated there with an iced tea, so I figured I'd stay and get a light dinner and wait out the rush hour subway traffic going home. The waiter, a very cute Italian guy, said: "Who stood you up?" and winked at me. "My friend couldn't make it so I'm just gonna kill some time and get dinner anyway." He kept lightly flirting with me throughout my meal and we kept having a fun exchange, but I couldn't tell if it was actual flirting or just "server flirting" where he was being extra-nice in order to get a better tip. So I asked him.
"Are you flirting with me, or do you just want a nice tip?" I was shocked that I asked him that. I am never that open or at ease with men. But for some unknown reason, I just thought to myself "what the hell", and asked him. He laughed and said: "It's a little bit of both, to be honest. I'm definitely flirting, but I'd also love a nice tip!" When my bill arrived, he put a little mini-cupcake on top of it and brought it out to me. "Whats this? Does everyone get a cupcake or just me?" "Just you", he said. "Sometimes you just need a little cupcake in your life. Have a great night. " 
I opened my bill, and he wrote in pen at the bottom: "Dine with us again, Bellissima! " (which means 'lovely' or 'very pretty girl' in Italian, for anyone who doesn't know).
I left my pay, along with a nice tip, and my business card, which has my phone number and email address and all that, but also comes across as being "professional". Plus, this way he will know what he is dealing with if he did decide to contact me - as soon as he goes to my website, he will see that I'm a widow, grief coach, comedian, actor, writer, speaker, and did I mention widow??? That's a lot to take in. If he reads all that and STILL contacts me, then he deserves me meeting him for coffee at the very least. I'm quite sure nothing will happen with any of this, and to be honest, I actually don't really care. I mean that. Truly. This little story has absolutely nothing at all to do with me being ready to "date" again, or wondering if he will call me, or anything like that. It has to do with my reaction to having a total stranger flirt with me and be nice to me in "that way." 

I'm telling you all this story because for the first time since my husband died, a guy flirting with me didn't make me feel physically sick to my stomach or send me into hysterical fits of sobbing. It felt "okay", and that is a HUGE leap from how it felt, even just a few short months ago. 

When you are smack in the middle of grief and loss, it always feels as if the emotions that you have will last forever - that you will feel this way FOREVER. But it's not true. It's just not true. The feelings shift and change as you process through the loss. It takes a lot of time and a lot of work, but they do change. YOU change. I've changed.

 I never thought I would be "okay" with someone harmlessly flirting with me, ever again. It felt soooo awful, even just a few short months ago. It felt like I was cheating on my husband, because I still felt married. Sometimes I still do feel married, but I'm finally learning how to shift my relationship with my husband into something very different than what it was before. It is something that my grief counselor has been talking about for a long time - something called "continuing bonds". At first, I didn't know what the hell she meant by that term, but now I'm starting to get it. Now, I am starting to understand that the relationship I have with my dead husband is still a relationship, but it's a very different relationship than the one I had when he was alive. Here. On earth. 

 And now, suddenly, but also very gradually, a male person flirting with me no longer feels awful. It feels "okay". And that, my dear friends, is what they call healing. 

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Turning Corners

My friend Margaret just had her second angelversary the other day, on the 17th. I never knew her fit, beautiful husband Dave, who died unexpectedly of a stroke way to early, at age 50; I wish I had, but I am incredibly blessed now to know Margaret. It so happens that Mike also died on a 17th, so through the past two years we have made note of this date together many times, though as our lives have gotten busier again we’ve started to miss connecting on a few. But two years is a big one - we can’t help but remember what was happening on that date and that will probably never change. No matter what else is going on in our “after-lives”, those days still bring the grief roaring up.

I’m three months ahead of her so for me this past 17th was 27 months - or two years and three months. I’m not really sure how to count it now; do we measure time as if we’re telling the age of a toddler, in months? At what point do we start saying it in years? Years makes it sound long…but 27 months is 819 days. In days it doesn’t seem very long at all. After Mike died I figured out that we had been together for 5040 days. That didn’t seem very long at all either for an entire marriage, though I’m grateful for every single day we had, good or bad.

This past 17th at the shop where I work I was chatting with some customers who were from Mike’s home town. I found myself relating some of his memories of the place, and then of course the question came, what he’s doing now…well he passed away over two years ago now, I heard myself saying. After they left I pondered how I felt joy in passing on a few memories of his, as well as a bright description of my playful, special husband. And how I glazed over the timing of his death. In that moment, with those people, it didn’t seem necessary to be more specific but it was indeed exactly 27 months to the day.

After you lose someone close to you and people say things like, well, time will heal, you want to shoot them in the head. For me, time itself has not healed. It does change things - there is no way around that. But my grief now feels more like of like a see-saw of emotions…some days it seems easier, others are very much harder, even regardless of the day of the month or how long it’s been. I was talking to my stepdaughter the other day and we agreed that our discussions and mentions of Mike have changed as time has gone on. Sometimes we feel as if we’ve turned a corner in some sense in terms of coming to grips with the fact that he’s no longer with us. Then something else will happen that will drag us backwards again for awhile.

We are perhaps now forever embedded with certain triggers that can set off at any moment, without warning. I can work towards creating my “new normal” we all talk so much about, and then find myself sitting and staring into space, caught up in a memory or feeling I didn’t expect to land on me in that moment. Sometimes I’m surprised the tears don’t come; other times they arrive suddenly.

I can keep turning corners, so to speak, but after a few turns I often find myself standing somewhere that seems suspiciously familiar to the place where I started this journey. The changes I’ve gone through since Mike died have made it so I have other things in my head to think about; other tasks, thoughts, relationships, faces, plans…the grief is not alone in there anymore like it was those first dreadful months, so it does have to fight to be on top now. But it doesn’t go away. I feel as if it will always be lurking around that next corner, though I will try and keep turning them anyway.









Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Catching a Glimpse, I Think~

In the last few weeks I've caught a glimpse, I think, into the world of soldiers and Marines who return from the war zones, having defied death, seen their buddies die, who have had their hearts pierced with the tenuousness of life.

So often, I've read in numerous memoirs, they return to their so called normal lives but they go out and buy fast motorcycles, faster cars; they become thrill seekers.  And I think I have some understanding of what goes on in their heads and hearts as they look at life around them.  Just a glimpse, really, because their experiences are ever so much more than mine has been.

I don't think they're courting death so much as they're trying to find something...anything...that might make them feel again.  Something that will overcome the grief-filled apathy that comes along with numbness.  Something that will help them connect again to the living, maybe jump-start the very breath in their lungs.

That's where I am in these last few weeks.  I feel within me an urge to push, push, push beyond comfort zones, stretch outside of any and all boundaries.

As more time has passed since Chuck's death, the emptiness inside me grows.  Irrespective of my kids and grands and friends and other family, all of whom I love dearly, I feel completely alone.  Life goes on, as it should.  Yes, I know I'm loved by so many and I am so blessed with that, but those relationships don't replace being someone's someone, do they?

What is this growing sense of wanting to live on the edge?  Do I want to sky-dive? No.  Honestly, my first thought is to go out somewhere, anywhere, and go crazy with lovers.  Not in a one-night stand way but in a getting to know a man and then having wild and crazy sex with him.  And even as I write this, I realize that this crazy urge is the result of the distinct lack of intimacy in my life since Chuck died.  It has to do with the disconnect with my sense of female-ness and connecting with male energy so that I can (might) experience that again.  It has to do with wanting to be hugged and kissed and touched by a strong man.  Even though I want desperately for that man to be Chuck.

I'm so sad that Chuck died and I don't know anymore if it's sadness that is emptiness inside me or emptiness with sadness and there is a burning wish in my soul to force myself into some semblance of feeling again, of connectedness again.

I can't stand it that he died.  I can't stand it that I'm a widow.  I'm sad and it's overwhelming and it makes me think what the fuck I'm just going to find a decent guy and have wild and crazy sex and then maybe....maybe it will be enough of a distraction that I'll get a break and...breathe.

I don't know.  I don't know much of anything any longer.  Except the emptiness filled with his absence.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Fractured Relationships



In my extended family, there's another young widow, a suicide survivor. 

Yesterday, from a distance, I saw the effects of grief on her family and friends when all the disagreements, resentments, anger, frustrations, disappointments and grudges amongst each other exploded on social media.  The issues have popped up occasionally, but not to this extent nor this explosively.

Some are long-standing, obviously predating the loss and potentially have nothing to do with the loss per se.  Others seem to be a consequence of loss, either on the widow or those around her.  But they all came out.

But why yesterday with such force?

It was the anniversary that many of us in hindsight say was the hardest.

Not the first.

But the second. 

When you're not really expecting that sledgehammer.  

Here's the thing - she's been accessing mental health support from the start.  She may well have been expecting the harder hit of this anniversary.  But everyone else quite possibly wasn't.  Yesterday's events may not even be seen by them as founded in grief, but observing from a distance, being a year or so further into my journey, I wouldn't be surprised if at the absolute guts of it all, and for the timing in particular, is grief in all it's terrible 'glory'.

We get inundated with advice - where to find support, encouragement to seek counselling, access peer support groups face to face or on-line.  But our friends and family may not get that advice (or follow their own advice!!), seek that support and then experience similar reverberations of their grief at key dates that we do.

And we potentially have to deal with that fall-out, too.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Life Piles Up

Stan, Gavin, and me, at his daughter's 40th birthday.

It is the middle of May, now, and we are moving toward the anniversary of your death. Sunday, May 24th, is the day the police came to tell us they had found your son, dead, in his flat. I remember that moment as if it happened yesterday. It was a Saturday afternoon, and we had not long returned from our weekly shop. We were relaxing on the sofa, and watching a silly show. You put the show on pause to answer the doorbell. Our doorbell was set to the melody of "It's a Small World," an apt tune, for us.

I remember your face when you walked through the door, with the police officers trailing behind you. All the colour had drained out of it. They sat on one sofa, while we sat on the other. They asked you to tell them about Gavin. I remember you talked about him for a long time, about his struggles in his life, how he had been doing so much better, in the past year, but how it seemed that, recently, his life had again taken a downward turn.  Perhaps you were trying to stave off the inevitable. Then the words came: "Well, sir, there is no easy way to say this, but..."

I remember how your face fell. You took off your glasses, and the tears came, and you brushed them quickly away. The officers lingered for a few moments, while we poured over the details: where he was found, what they knew, which was nothing, where to find his body, now,  and when it could be released. I still have the card, in the drawer of the coffee table, that the kind officer gave us, with his name and contact details. Officer Leigh Carnally.  He put his hand upon your shoulder, as they stood and said goodbye. "I'm so sorry for your loss."

I sat beside you. We were both in shock. I had thought that perhaps they had come to tell us Gavin was in trouble, but you said no, the police here don't come round for that. You knew, the moment you opened the door, what they had come to tell you. You had been dreading this day for twenty years. 

Life has piled up without you. It is hard to recall all the things that have happened since that day, and the day, two and a half weeks later, of your death. I remember every detail of those days and weeks. But since then? It has been a blur. I have put one foot in front of the other, and I have swum through this cesspool of grief. I don't know how I have done it. I have managed to get to the shops, to purchase vegetables and bread. I have mopped the floors, hoovered the carpets, met with solicitors, changed the mortgage, conferred with creditors, paid the bills. I have taken care of all the little things I used to detest, the things you used to take care of, for us, when you were here. 

Meanwhile I have carried your memory around in my arms, like a basket of fruit, doling out pieces of you to anyone who cared to listen. I like to tell people about your ways. I like to reflect on how you were able to be present, with life, and how, in spite of all your childhood strife, and previous struggles, you were so content. I like to share funny stories about your eccentricities and quirks. It makes me feel closer to you, somehow. 

Your grandchildren have flourished, this year. One of them has passed her driver's test, on the first try, not an easy feat, here in England. She thought of you when she passed it. She knew you would be so proud of her. She and her cousin, your other grandchild, have been accepted at University, and will be going there, in the autumn. Your other grandson has grown, in inches and in maturity. Remember how you used to put him on your lap? It would not be so easy to do that, now. 

Your children miss you. There have been rivers of tears shed, for you and for Gavin, this year. They have tried to carry on without you, and to live in a way that would make you proud. They are such kind and compassionate and loving people, your kids. You raised them well. 

Me? I, too, have tried to live this life without you, this life I did not choose, in a way that would make you proud. I have had many wobbles along the way. I have had days where all I could do was curl up under the duvet and watch mindless telly. I have had days where I couldn't leave the house, because my face has been puffed and swollen and blotched with tears. But always I manage to move through it. I get up the next day and go out into the world. I read, I write, I hike, I meditate, I am even doing a bit of yoga, most days. 

Your beloved Sangha is now a big part of my life. They have welcomed me with their open, loving arms. This weekend, we are gathering down south, for a Sangha retreat. There will be about seventy of us, there. I know you'll be there, too. You will linger in the hearts and minds of those who loved you. We'll share memories and have a laugh. 

It has been almost a year since you left us, and life has piled up without you. I don't know how it happened. I don't know what to do with the time I have left. I wish you were here to guide me, with your gentle wisdom and support.  I've had to let go of your physical presence. I miss your embrace, your warmth, your touch. 

But as long as I walk this planet, your spirit will live.  I'll carry my basket of memories in my arms, and share parts of you with everyone I meet. I'll try to live in a way that will honour you. I'll step into this life I did not choose, and one day, perhaps, I will be able to embrace it. I know you would want that for me. I know you would want me to live.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Minefields & the Miles Ahead


Next week is a very big week in my world. Early Thursday morning, I will be hopping on a plane to see this new man that has come into my life. Yes, something I haven't shared yet is that we live pretty far away from each other. I'll be sharing more of the details next week, but it will be the first time seeing each other again since we met several months ago.

So yup... not only am I beginning again, but beginning with distance. Because apparently, the universe decided just being widowed and dating locally was not a huge enough challenge on its own. The distance has created a whole other set of challenges, but also a few benefits. It has created safety for me in this very scary and fragile world of trying to love again after death. I've had a buffer zone, allowing me to keep my life here the same for the most part while gradually opening the door of my heart, just a small bit at a time. It has been a beautiful experience, but not without difficulty.

Let me tell you, as soon as I began to open my heart again, oh how the triggers came flooding in. At every small step of the way... on every day that I choose to open that door of my heart just a millimeter more to this new man, the triggers are there waiting to rush in. At first this scared the shit out of me. At first, I was so terrified of having the triggers climb inside my heart that I was triggering myself ABOUT having triggers. I was in fight or flight mode about it. And then something began to happen... I realized this person was still here. Still listening, still supporting, still loving me. Doing everything he could from a thousand-plus miles away to comfort me and acknowledge my feelings. And I remembered, this is what Drew always did for me. At each turn, when I met a trigger, I shared it and it was heard. This was how he helped me to heal my old wounds. And this new person is doing the very same thing. With his patient love, I am finding there is so much room for healing.

This past week has been a grand buffet of triggers. On Thursday night, he announced excitedly that it is now just ONE week until we will see each other. And underneath my excitement the trigger swooped in. Within moments I was in tears... because Drew died exactly a week before I was supposed to go visit him up north where he was working. One week before seeing each other. It was a trigger I didn't even see coming... but one that seems obvious now. Instead of shutting down about it, I opened up. I cried to my new guy, and I told him what I was feeling, and how scary it was for me. And he just reminded me that he will be there. Just a few minutes of feeling deeply heard... it passed right through.

There have been many others splintering off from this as we get nearer to the date... like thinking about having to say goodbye at the end of our trip. Not knowing if it might be our final goodbye, because after all, I didn't have any idea the last time either. I hate that new love means new triggers... but, I'm deciding it is worth it.

We are days away from our trip now, and I am gradually learning how accept the new triggers surrounding this whole thing. I am excited beyond belief, but also emotional. I know seeing him in person again will be a trigger. The physical closeness will be a trigger. The goodbyes will be a trigger. And likely a dozen other micro-triggers I won't have even considered.

I am very aware that I am traveling into what may look like a minefield in the next week. And there is something actually very exciting about taking that risk. The thing is, I think most of the fields we travel in life may only have one or two actual mines. Yet our triggers are like signs telling us there are hundreds... telling us to turn back, not move, there is danger everywhere, be afraid. If there is one thing my life with Drew taught me, it is to question those signs. To not listen to the signs of my triggers telling me to turn back, but instead decide that love is worth walking through the minefield for. LIFE is worth walking through the minefield for.

Drew was worth the risk of having my heart blown to pieces when he died. And it is worth risking the chance that I may be blown to pieces again. It is worth it to feel the messy, uncertain, electric energy of living life fully. It is worth deciding to trust even though I have no clue whether I will be hurt... just to feel the cool rush of aliveness pumping in my veins. I know now, that I can put myself back together again. That is a gift his death has given me. And I also know, that some of the most beautiful parts of life are waiting just on the other side of my fear. I am walking ahead... into that so-called minefield with adventure - not fear - on my mind.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

A Day to Celebrate Love


When my husband died, I was still in the process of integrating in to his 'before life' and forming connections with his friends.  We lived in Brisbane and he was from Sydney, so most of his close friends weren't local and we therefore didn't get to hang out with them regularly.

I knew they were wonderful people though, lots of fun, loyal friends to Dan and the kind of people I was looking forward to having in my life too.

When he passed away unexpectedly, six weeks after our wedding, one of the many random thoughts that ran through my mind was 'now I will lose my connection to all of these people whom I was really looking forward to getting to know!' Luckily for me, I wasn't entirely correct.

Sure there are some whom I lost touch. Some of them have stayed in contact, checking in on important dates, liking my Facebook posts, etc.  And others have been more present throughout the past 22 months and I'm now blessed to call them friends of my own accord.

This was a great surprise to me. I wasn't expecting it but am so happy to not only have them in my life - to share my love for Dan and swap memories with - but to be making new memories together through our own genuine connection.

One in particular has been an incredible support.  She went to school with my husband and lived down the street from him. They'd formed a special life-long brother/sister connection that they'd both held dear.  She had also, many years earlier, experienced her own grief at the loss of a partner when her boyfriend died unexpectedly, and consequently, fought her own battle with severe depression.

After Dan's death, this friend called or text me at least once a week for a very long time.  Even thought she lived in another state, I started feeling like she was one of the few people I could talk to about what I was going through and rely on to listen to me and 'be there' with me in my darkest days.
This regular 'checking in' didn't stop at that point where most other people start to forget or drop off, it continued for well into the second year and we still talk regularly now.  I value and treasure both her friendship and the connection it gives me to my husband.

So when I heard that her long-term boyfriend had proposed and they were planning their wedding, I was over the moon for my friend and honoured to be invited to their wedding.  However, when the invitation arrived, I saw it would be held the week after Dan's death anniversary, on the same date of his funeral.

I knew that this friend would not only have no idea of the significance of this date for me (the funeral day is something that not many would think about), I also knew she'd be mortified if I told her the impact it had on me.

So, over the past couple of months, I've been thinking about what to do.  On one hand, I really want to be there to celebrate my friend's happy day.  A hopeless romantic, I have always loved weddings and was honoured to be invited.  But on the other hand, I knew this would be a difficult time for me. Possibly not the best day to be travelling interstate, to a 'love' themed event where I wouldn't know many people.

I was torn.  I didn't have to make a quick decision, it's still a couple of months away, so I let it sit and wait until the answer came to me.  We continued to speak regularly, my friend was very understanding and never put any pressure on me to attend but couldn't keep the excitement out of her voice when I enquired about her wedding plans.

As an example of what a wonderful person she is, they happy couple even asked my permission to incorporate Dan in to their day - choosing a reading from one of his favourite books and asking guests to consider making a donation to a charity that supports people with depression, in lieu of a wedding gift.

This week, I finally made my decision - and booked my flights to attend.  This was based on a range of factors.  Another friend offered to come with me as my 'plus one' and keep me company; the excitement that I felt for my engaged friend started feeling stronger than the dread I felt for my husband's pending anniversary; and I decided that the 1st of August didn't have to ONLY be about the day we said goodbye to Dan - but it could also be the day to celebrate something beautiful.

I chose to make it a day to celebrate love.  The love that my friend shares with her husband-to-be, and the love that brought me not only to Dan but to this special person he heralded into my life.