Just in case anyone is still checking out this site from time to time, I've moved over completely to just posting on Widow's Voice. I was posting the same entries on both this site and WV and it didn't make sense to keep doing things twice.
If you'd like to follow me over there, (even if you're not a widowed person!) please do!
Thank you so much for following this site and commenting. It's meant the world to me.
I'll keep the option to post here again at some point, in case there is something I want to write about that doesn't quite fit with the Widow's Voice purpose.
Thank you for your support. XOXO
Monday, November 19, 2012
I was talking to my therapist about the ways I've been moving slowly toward starting an honest-to-god dog-walking business and while I was telling her, I noted the flat, bored tone in my voice and I knew she'd take notice too. And she did.
She wanted to know what it was that was keeping me from feeling excited about it all and I thought and thought and thought. All I could dredge up was "I have no idea".
I tried to think of an example of something I was excited about, that lit me up and I couldn't think of anything at the time. I figured (and so did she) that maybe the dog walking thing just wasn't really what I wanted to do.
She asked me if I liked walking dogs.
She asked me if there was anything I didn't like about it.
I still couldn't access any excitement. For that venture or any other.
And I wondered, what DOES make me really excited? What really lights me up?
My lifelong passion has been animals. They light me up.
I love to sing in a choir.
I can draw and paint and feel very much in "the zone" when I'm doing it.
I love to read.
But as a purpose? A reason for living? True drive and passion for a project of some sort? Nothing feels quite right. Nothing really gets me jumping out of bed in the morning ready to tackle a goal.
Did that die with Dave? Will it come back? Do I just wait around for some sort of inspiration?
Why don't I even know what it is I really want to do?
I feel restless and frustrated.
There isn't much I really want to do.
Except to feel the way I used to, when he was alive. Like I had direction.
I'm not suicidal or even deeply depressed. It's getting easier to be alone, overall. I'm sleeping and eating okay and laugh easily again, despite bouts of grief. I even enjoy quiet nights at home with take out and a movie when I used to dread them. There are many things I'm doing and trying as I learn about myself as a single person. I'm slowly meeting new people and spending time with old friends. I have fun travel plans in the works. I don't feel hopeless, I just feel passionless. Purposeless.
But I think part of it is that I compare too much. I compare myself to people who seem to have satisfying occupations and find myself lacking. I tell myself stories that I'm lacking because I don't trot off to a formal job each day all filled with industry and good work ethic. Or because I'm not going to school to get another degree.
I'm not contributing or busy or industrious enough somehow, and I feel aimless.
There's that story-telling again. The stories I tell myself are almost always wrong or at least misled. I am contributing, it's just not in the way I used to. I used to KILL myself to perform as close to perfectly as I could at my job. Did that make me a better person? Did having that kind of (slightly nutty) drive make me worthy? More worthy than I am now?
I can also understand logically that I'm still healing and that all my energy is going toward that kind of growth so I don't have much left over for a great work ethic and a "go get-em" attitude.
Understanding all of that doesn't completely stop the feelings I've been having though. I still wonder when the hell the purpose will come back and what that purpose will be. I still wonder if my brain will come back online again and if it will always be altered by this trauma. I still wonder if I'll be able to support myself long-term. I still wonder if I'm ever going to feel grounded and certain again.
I know though, that the one certainty is that we can't see around the bend. We can just take the next step we think is right. As I look back on this time, I'm sure I will see how much I grew and how much I actually accomplished and how every little "next right step" took me in the direction I needed to go.
It's just hard to ignore the feeling that I'm missing some integral part of me now. It's like I lost my internal compass and now I'm just aimless, wandering, lost. Again though, the things I tell myself! I'm not "lost".
Lost and wandering are two different things, right? I'm wandering around as I learn about myself, this new self. I'll find my way. I am finding my way, I'm just too close to see the big picture.
So much easier said than felt, though, huh?
Monday, November 5, 2012
The last few days have been a bit rocky, with a little depression and uncontrolled tears. It's a spiral down into a dark place. I can feel the shift happening in my brain, the language goes from "maybe, hope so, it's possible" to "never, it's hopeless, impossible".
It's not just missing the love of my life. That's bad enough.
It's a story I start telling myself about how lonely I am and how maybe I'll always be this lonely and that I'm not worthy of love and soon I'm imagining myself homeless and dead, alone.
I call it the death spiral and I think I stole that name from one of my favorite bloggers, Heather Armstrong from Dooce.com. She believes she has the fastest death spiral in the west, but I think mine might be a close second.
The way to stop my death spiral is to plug into life in some way: make plans with someone to do something fun, sign up for a class I've always wanted to take, drive somewhere I've never been, watch a ridiculous movie, even simply take a walk.
I have to snap myself out of a death spiral before it can take me to the very bottom, which is a scary, dark place to be. Even if I return to the death spiral a little after trying to plug in, usually the plug-in has already led me somewhere slightly better. It's reminded me of the bigger story - that there's life out there to live, beauty to see, and what's happened to me doesn't mean I died too.
I was rereading a post I wrote a while ago during another one of these spirals I had. I wrote about how I'd joined a choir, signed up for a cooking class and started a grief recovery class. I realize now that all three of those plug-ins helped draw me up and out of that black place.
And even better, they now continue to deliver little rewards, but I love going to choir practice most of all.
I have always adored choir music. There is something about many voices blending together beautifully that stirs my soul like nothing else.
The moment a choir begins to sing in the middle of a popular song (think Madonna's Like a Prayer or Pat Benatar's We Belong) the goosebumps break out all over me as my soul lifts right out of my chest and floats up out of me. Seriously, that's the best way I can describe how it feels.
I had always wished to sing in a choir but hadn't made it happen yet.
Suddenly, while in that particular death spiral, I felt my heart search for something that would lift it and "join a choir" popped into my mind. I see now how instinct took over and got me to where I needed to be for my own healing.
My heart needed to sing in a choir. Who knew?
Now, I look forward to Monday nights because that's when I find myself sitting alongside dozens of other women, blending my voice with theirs while all of our souls rise up together in harmony. It feels like my heart's been carbonated.
Every time I plug in to life again, the death spiral's hold loosens and I find reasons to live, a moment of joy or wonder, or a reminder of the ways I've actually got it good, despite my loss.
Sometimes the plug in has to be something very basic, like watching a 30 Rock marathon while snuggling with the cats and other times it's something a little more adventurous like joining a choir.
Either way, it gives my broken heart what it needs to heal and it short circuits the death spiral long enough to get my feet under me again.
Monday, October 29, 2012
I keep thinking about the fact that before I met Dave, he was living his life thousands of miles away, day by day making his way toward me. Somehow, amongst all the humans I encountered, I found him. He found me. We were waiting for each other but didn't know it. He was mine and I was his and we didn't even know it.
I think about all the tiny, mundane and huge, crucial decisions I made and he made all those years that made it possible for us to be in the same hallway of the same building of the same university at the same moment, in order to meet each other. And somehow, in all the 15 years we got to be together, we didn't mess up. We stayed together despite the incredibly high divorce rate, the fact that we were together almost every single day, and the fact that we survived many difficult times together.
How is that possible? What are the odds?
Somehow, despite the odds of that happening to me a second time, I have hope that I will love again. I truly do.
I think about the things I want to say to that person who's out there, waiting for me too. I want to say...
Don't give up hope. I'm here, waiting. I have so much love to give and now truly understand how love is really all we have. Those moments of joy experienced with our loved ones make the inevitable loss of life more bearable. I will be more centered, present and appreciative in our relationship than if I hadn't been widowed. It's not a liability. It's a gift to you. Yes, my baggage has "widow" stamped on it, but you are the one who will help me carry that bag. You are the one who will want to stick around to help me bear that weight. I know that in searching for you, I will be looking not so much for a list of requirements in a partner, but in a feeling I get when I'm with you. No, not physical attraction. That might tell me that I want a second date with you, but not necessarily that you're the one. No, not the thrill of infatuation. That might make me pursue you, but it's not enough. That feeling I'm searching for? Safety. Safe to be myself. Safe to risk. Safe to tell you what I'm thinking, even if that feeling is emotionally tricky. I will feel as though my heart is safe with you, even when my heart isn't perfect. And then I'll know. I'll know it's you I was looking for all this time. It was you who was waiting for me, knowing you were looking for the same things. We'll recognize each other somehow.
It seems impossible that we humans find each other in this big world. And yet we do. We do all the time. I think I have two choices. I can either have faith that I'll find it again or not. Neither option guarantees a thing, but at least if I pick the faith option, I won't be acting as if I don't think it will ever happen.
When I taught fourth grade, nothing was more frustrating to me than seeing a capable student give up on a new skill before he started. He believed he couldn't divide, so he didn't even attempt it. His classmates who had faith that they could divide, did. And the more they divided, the better they got. My little faithless student proved himself right. Those kids who had faith were right, too.
If I believe I can find that person, I'll put myself in situations that will make it possible to find him. This is my theory, anyway.
Even if my theory doesn't hold water, it is much more likely to help me expand my life, rather than restrict it and that is reason alone.
Monday, October 22, 2012
My therapist asked me a question the other day that sent me down a rabbit hole of introspection. She asked me how I maintained hope from the age of 5, after my mom died and my extremely troubled alcoholic father raised me.
My brain went blank. I could only get a fuzzy image of me just numbly soldiering my way through my childhood. I told her I didn't know, that maybe it was just blind determination or the stubborn desire to survive just built into me. But later that day, I finally realized what got me through those years of pain, fear, and loneliness.
I was waiting to feel the way I did when Dave was in my life. I was waiting to find him. No, I didn't know that then. I just knew that the way out of my situation was to find a family of my own choosing, since mine didn't work out so well. I had a vague notion that my chance for happiness and security was out there.
It turned out Dave was the person who could give me that. When I lost him, I lost my family. My only true family. The only person who made me feel as though I'd found my home. Within the circle of safety and love we created, I felt more secure and able to tackle whatever came my way. My grades in college improved, my sleep improved, I felt more brave and focused.
Worse things have happened to better people than me, but holy hell have I lost a lot. I simply can't figure out why this is my path, why I don't get to have a mom, a dad, a husband, a family of my own.
I suppose the why doesn't matter. It just is and it's what I have. People everywhere go through terrible things. They also experience beautiful things. And so do I.
My test, my challenge, my reason for living, now, is to give myself what Dave used to give me - that stable base from which to function. The security of the knowledge that I matter just because I do. Not because there's someone waiting for me at home. Not because I have someone who wants to be with me above all others. Not because I have a mom who calls to check in or a dad who worries about me and takes care of me, now that Dave can't. Not because I have kids who need me and love me. Just because I exist. Just because I'm me.
Maybe I can accomplish that alone. Maybe I need to feel the belonging of having a "most important person" again in order to fully heal. I'm not sure. I just know that what life has offered me is this. This time in my life when it's just me. Life has forced me to learn how to do this.
It's almost as though life has thrown out this challenge, has said "bet you can't accomplish THIS one!" sounding a lot like the bullies I remember from childhood.
To that I say "WATCH ME, mo fo! Challenge accepted."
Monday, October 8, 2012
There is a question that always makes me freeze up. It's not "Are you married?", although that's a rotten one, too. It's "What do you do?".
I think it rattles me so much because it gets right to the heart of my biggest source of fear - that I no longer know what I'm going to do with my life. My identity is still forming in this new life of mine. In this life I'm only 16 months old and I haven't had enough time to figure much out. So, when someone says "what do you do?" I feel like saying "try to put my life back together".
People want to put other people in categories. I know I do it all the time. I want to know when I meet you if you're a teacher or a lawyer or a librarian or a chef. If you tell me "I don't know", I'm not going to be able to categorize you right away and that makes most of us a little uncomfortable.
When I asked a woman I met yesterday what she does and she replied with "Oh, that question is so hard," my fellow-widow alarm went off and sure enough she told me what she used to do and then said "but my husband died a year and a half ago, and now I don't know what I'm going to do," It was like hearing myself talking.
"MY husband died a year and a half ago!" I replied, suddenly fired up with the recognition of someone else who might truly get me.
And whoo boy, did she get me. She told me about her lovely husband and how he died and I told her about Dave and how he died. As we discussed our observations of this new journey we're on, I felt understood and recognized and truly heard. The veil of loneliness dropped away and I felt the ease of not having to pretend to be okay or find words for feelings nearly unexplainable.
We talked about how year two is harder than year one, and what to do with ashes and how to find ways to sleep well again. We talked about how, in our society, people often don't seem to be versed in dealing with the bereaved because it's a taboo subject in daily life. We compared notes on how sharing our widowed status often sends people nearly running from us in discomfort.
Meeting someone else on this journey always feels a lot like being thrown a life ring, or at the very least, having someone join me in the waves so I don't feel so terrifyingly alone as I tread water.
I gave her one of my SSLF cards with my phone number and email address and told her about Camp Widow and I felt the urge to scoop up all the other widowed people out there and move in together.
That would be an idea that my therapist would say is "over-identifying with my widowhood" but it's normal to want to feel as though I belong and I haven't felt that way much since Dave died.
I know that I won't always feel as though I don't belong outside of the time I spend with my widowed friends. I get that.
I also know that right now, the feeling of belonging is so comforting that I need a little injection of it on a daily basis to keep my strength up.
A little fellow-widow booster shot.
Monday, October 1, 2012
I went to a masseuse the other day.
When I got there, she sat down in front of me, looked me in the eye and said "So what's going on with you?"
I told her that I'd recently gone through one of the most stressful things a human could experience and that my husband died and now I was rebuilding my entire life and how I don't know what to do with myself now. I explained how the strain manifests itself in tight and painful neck muscles and headaches.
She said she was sorry for my loss and we got on with the massage. She asked me if it was okay if she told me if she "saw things". I immediately knew what was up. I thought this woman believes she can see "beyond" and/or could see through her hands to my innermost pain and "read me". I didn't hesitate. I was hoping she'd offer this, somehow.
"Yes. Tell me everything you see," I said.
A few seconds into the massage, with me face down on her table, she said "What was your husband's name?”
When the sounds that make up the word "Dave" came out of my mouth I could hear the reverence, pain and anguish in my own voice and tears instantly rushed to my eyes. I miss you I miss you I miss you I miss you I miss you my heart screamed.
Being face down, I wanted to avoid crying too much because I knew that if I did, the snot and tears would just instantly collect in my sinuses and stuff me up so much that I'd be mouth breathing for the rest of the day.
I held it together until she said "Do you feel him around you?"
My throat completely closed up as the sobs welled up in my gut. I couldn't answer her right away.
The fact that I don't feel him around me is one so painful that I can barely talk about it. There is nothing I want more than to feel his presence. Nothing. I talk to him. I beg him to visit me. I beg the Universe to give me the comfort of his presence, even for a moment.
The fact that it doesn't happen is torturous to me. I tell myself that it's hard for energy to communicate with those of us still in bodies. I tell myself that I'm not ready. That I'm somehow subconsciously not allowing the experience. Somehow, I speculate, I might be so trained not to believe that I've discounted the subtle signs before I can even truly see them.
All of this went through my mind as I cried on that massage table. The masseuse said "You're not sure, are you? You're conflicted about feeling him?"
I nodded my head yes as I began to bawl in earnest.
"Well, he's with you. Always. He's just energy. Energy doesn't die. Einstein taught us that. Once you've connected with a loved one like you did with him, they never leave you. He's right here," at this, she gently brushed her hand down the middle of my spine, from the nape of my neck to the middle of my back.
"His head is here" she said, touching the back of my neck.
"He's very gentle" she said. "He's just so gentle with you and he wants you to do whatever makes you happy. He just wants you to be happy."
At this point I was crying so hard that all I could do was nod as snot ran out of my nose to the floor.
I didn't tell her what I instantly thought of. I didn't tell her that when Dave was alive, one of his favorite things to do was to find me lying on my stomach and lie down on top of me, face down. I'd always affectionately complain that he was suffocating me, but really, it was soothing to be pressed down by the weight of him and completely warmed by his body, head to toe. Once we even fell asleep like this, and woke up much later, stiff and with multiple limbs that had fallen asleep too.
So I felt comforted and sure of his presence and skipped off to enjoy the rest of the day knowing my Dave can still make himself known to me. Yay!
Um. No. Didn't happen that way. It's not that it didn't feel good to hear the things she said. It's not that I don't believe. It's more like I don't feel much of anything either way. I'm not disbelieving her or the experience. I feel like it's absolutely possible to feel him again, somehow. I feel like it's possible she really sensed something. I just don't FEEL it inside me to be absolutely true. Nothing felt assured or doubt-free. I don't feel much of anything other than the loss, the missing, the Dave-shaped hole in me, and the utter frustration that we were pulled apart so early.
I’m glad I went. I’m glad she told me what she did. I’ll take it all in and allow myself to get whatever comfort from it that I can. It was a beautiful moment and an amazing sentiment.
Maybe I’m just impossible to satisfy because what I want, what I need, is HIM. Not his memory or a sense of him. I want HIM and everything else is a pale and unsatisfying substitute.
Maybe it’s the fact that even with his energy around me, I’m still alone. He’s not here to do the practical things a partner does, or provide the emotional support he provided, or be my one and only, my Most Important Person. He’s not here to text me how smart he thinks I am or that he can’t wait until I get home.
He’s not here to chauffeur me around because I get so sleepy when I drive, or to surprise me with elaborate and thoughtful gifts. He’s not here to lie next to me in bed, his solid presence allowing me to fully relax and sleep through anything. He’s not here to tell me that the coffee I make him every morning is the best he’s ever had. He’s not here to tell me that he was so lucky to have found me, or wrap me up in his arms when I get home.
He’s not here. And that is a frustration that hasn’t eased much yet. If anything it’s more obvious now that I’m spending more and more time alone and have to make more and more decisions without him as I venture farther down the road of this journey without him.
Of course, he wants me to be happy. Of that I have no doubt. But I’m not yet sure how to be happy when he’s not on this planet with me. I’m not yet sure how to make a life without him. I never thought I’d be doing this and I don’t know how.
And there you have it. No one knows how to do it and no one knows what the future will bring them. In the same way that I never imagined I’d be here, today, I can’t imagine where I’ll be in the next few years, what joys are out there for me, what tragedies. We just don’t know. And we all have to learn things the hard way. I’ve just had a lot of learning to do and I’m really, really tired from all the learning.
I still will work hard at being happy because it’s what he’d want. I’ll do it for him, of course. But damn it’s hard.