Entering the Cave of Fears

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The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek” – Joseph Campbell

Written Jan 10:
I am starting to have a realization that my choice to restart pretty much ALL areas of my life since Drew died means that there is still a hell of a lot to rebuild and build anew. Probably way more than I even can understand right now. When he died, I quit my job and moved out of the city we called home to live with family for support. Not only did my heart have a major change, but my city, and home, and support system changed too. Looking back, it is astonishing how much change I endured all at once. No wonder it seemed like I was floundering for at least a year or two.

Even during those first few years of aimlessness – which I think are vital after a major trauma like this – I was always trying to create a new direction for my “after” life. Though most of that ended up in my hopping around from one thing to another or just wandering about. I learned that, though I felt like I had no sense of direction, there was in fact a direction slowly taking hold.

Over time, one failed direction after another, I kept trying to find a new direction I could to pour my heart and soul and guts and sweat into that would one day hopefully, be able to sustain me financially too. A direction that – even though he was not standing beside me for – he would somehow be the core of. That was it. Something that would give purpose and meaning to his death happening.

After 3 ½ years and a lot of wandering, I’ve finally started to feel like I have some sense of direction… primarily with my art and writing. I’ve managed to find myself traveling more in that direction than any others now and I am incredibly proud of the work I’ve done thus far. It’s been meaningful work. I’ve helped others feel less alone with my writing and photography, and myself too. Both of these are my ultimate goals. Help others. Help myself. I’ve made a little money here and there also, but things have to move forward. I have lived off generous family support and savings in order to get this far, and money is running out now. There has to be a change, and soon.

Now come the new fears and questions… what if I have to go back to a regular job and give up on all this? This direction that gives so much meaning and healing and goodness to his death and to my life and to so many others? I know logically I should not listen to that voice. I realize that, ultimately, even if I take a regular job again, I will not let it stop me. I will find the time to create meaning. Plenty of people do it everyday. But it gets so easy to listen to the voices in your head sometimes, doesn’t it? Telling you that you’ll never make it, that you’re not capable of achieving what you dream of, that you can’t handle as much as you were able to before he died. That you’re weaker now. None of that is true.

I suppose now I have a different fear than I did before all this happened in my life… not a fear of losing security, but of losing purpose and meaning. Either way, it’s a fearing of losing something else I’ve fought hard to have. Losing things is still the biggest fear at hand… understandably so.

It’s no wonder, given everything I’ve lost… that fear of loss be so hard for me to face. Not to mention that it’s human to fear losing things to begin with. It makes us feel vulnerable, insecure, unstable, weak. I’m deciding, for now, to give it a little longer and to try some new things. It’s winter here in Ohio, which means plenty of time to hunker down indoors and work out the logistics of things. I’m going to give myself until the end of winter to try and figure out some new steps forward that will bring meaning and healing into other people’s lives while bringing me more financial support to continue on with this work.

This is likely going to mean stepping into some very new and uncomfortable situations – like creating online courses, recording podcasts, doing more interviews and presentations. Yeah, it’s going to be seriously vulnerable… I’m about enter into a glorious cave of “I don’t know what the hell i’m doing”, in a major way. But I really do believe that this cave is the direction to the outcome I want. This could just be the beginning of something really important. I have a feeling about it, and I’m willing to try. So, the end of winter, that’s my deadline. I’m not giving up yet. I’ll keep sharing with you all as it goes.

As the days go by, I’m going to try and remember that, Even without the added complexity of grief, building a business is incredibly hard and takes an unbelievable amount of time and stamina. Just the same, even without building a business, the work of rebuilding our hearts after losing our partner is incredibly hard, too. I should be more patient with myself on both of these fronts… and just take one step every day in the direction I have started to carve out. Eventually, one step, each day, I will get somewhere new. I will get to a place where I am able to help others for a living. I just have to keep my sights set on that. Thanks for listening, it’s going to be good to have the support of everyone here as I start making my way through this confusing, vulnerable and seriously scary new area of living on.

Photo Credit: Nicolas Ilinski 

Into the Woods

slide_352583_3820972_freeWRITTEN Dec 19:
Patience. I’m trying my hardest to have some lately… with myself, with change, with pain. It’s easier said than done. I am beginning to realize that it is going to take a lot longer to adjust to moving somewhere so far away than I’d imagined. Especially while carrying my grief on my back wherever I go. No matter how much good there is about this move, it still feels like another aftershock of Drew’s death. I can feel it causing new cracks in the earth of me to splinter off… new openings into the grief.

That’s one of the things I am learning about living on with his death in the 3+ year era. Not that I expected to magically not have new layers of grief. I’ve been dealing with death for 24 years already from losing my mom as a child… I know better than anyone, that grief stays with you forever. I guess somehow I just maybe was still holding out some sort of hope that I wouldn’t have to deal with it so acutely in this new chapter. And while it may not be like the first year, this internal earthquake has definitely shaken things up more than just about any major change has since he died. It should though. And I shouldn’t be surprised that it is, really.

This year I have begun a whole new direction in my life, one that would have never existed were he still alive. From here on out, whatever happens will be a complete split from the path he and I were on. I think that is the part I am struggling with most. It creates a lot of sadness, and even some resentment, despite the fact that I am quite happy with this new adventure I am on. There is no way around feeling sadness and pain it seems. It makes an already stressful holiday season even more stressful.

While I am going through some very deep and complex emotions about the direction of my life, Mike is often feeling bad for being the reason that I’ve moved so far from everything I’ve ever known. I remind him that this was my decision, and that I wouldn’t have done it if I hadn’t truly wanted to. But that doesn’t mean it will come without a cost… without some very complex emotions to navigate. And complex questions to try and explore. Who am I going to be in this new life? How do I go about creating that? How does my old life fit into it? How do I honor that life? What parts of myself do I want to change? What parts do I want to keep intact? What do I want to carry with me, and what can I leave behind? How do I begin to challenge myself and grow in ways that will help this new life feel rich and full of purpose?

I’m pretty much a different person every day since moving here. It feels like reverting back a year… the feelings of being uprooted and lost and prevailant. Insecurity and loneliness for friendships and many other things that are just going to take time to resolve. Bottom line, there are a lot of difficult factors that I just cannot change overnight. I have to take a kinder approach to adjusting myself to a new life… just like I did after her died.

I should know this. I’ve done it before. And it was only a few years ago that his death quaked into my life and I learned how to be kinder and more gentler to myself. His death taught me how to nurture and be compassionate with my heart. Amazingly, it was during those darkest and most painful times that I learned how to love myself the fullest. Once you start moving again, it’s so easy to lose sight of that ability. You get caught up in the hustle and bustle of life again, you start comparing yourself to others, you start doubting yourself, and before you know it… you’ve bullied yourself into a stress level that you do not deserve. I’ve been watching my stress rub off on Mike, too. I know, it is draining to be around someone who is stressing about EVERY SINGLE THING at a near-constant rate that I have for the past few weeks. Seeing it exhaust him, actually, is what is helping to make me aware that I need to stop pushing myself and start taking care of myself.

We’re on our way out to Mohican State Forest as I write to you. Mike is taking me on my first backpacking trip. It’s going to be in the 20’s, which is ridiculously cold for a Texan to be sleeping in the woods. But I decided I need to shake things up a bit. Firstly, getting out in nature is always a sure-fire way for me to remember to fall in love with life again, and stop stressing about umpteen little life problems – mostly revolving around my career and finances. Secondly, it might just be good to shove my self into the thick of a new experience just for a day or two to remind me I CAN do this. One week, one day, and one step at a time… remembering the lessons Drew’s death taught me about getting through life’s challenges with grace, tenacity, and spirit.

Connecting the Dots

Screen_Shot_2015-11-15_at_11.28.31_AM.pngWritten Nov 15:
It’s been about 3 weeks since I moved to Ohio… and I finally hit my first big trigger. A few days ago, I was listening to some country music when a song called “My Texas” came on. The lyrics wandered through familiar places… Enchanted Rock, Luckenbach, and my hometown of Corpus Christi Bay. Instantly I had images flooding my mind of all the many places I’ve lived and laughed and loved back home. All the family and friendships that are still there. But there was more to it than that. Which is why, in an instant, I spiraled into a total fit of grief. I must have cried for over an hour. It’s only now, a few days later, that I am fully realizing it to be much more than just the normal homesick feeling.

I miss my home state, where I have lived all my life. But what’s more, I miss the home of my heart – the person that is no longer here. Being homesick ties so deeply into missing Drew. Not only because our life there feels far away, but because he so embodies Texas culture for me. Western boots, dance halls, guns and beer… I was a city girl when I met him. He was the one who introduced me to that true Texas culture, and I fell in love with it immediately. Now years later, I am still drinking beer, wearing my western boots, going to country dance halls and enjoy going shooting. Or at least I was until moving here.

He infused into me this culture so deeply. In moving to Ohio, of course there are a lot of differences. There is plenty I like here that is new. A drive in diner called Swenson’s, the beautiful waterfalls and rivers and woods to hike in, the close proximity of other states (that one is still so bewildering!). But the overall culture is just so different. I know it’s normal to have culture shock… but having that be so wrapped up in a person makes it even harder. I cried just as hard for the life he and I never got to fully share together as I did for all the places and memories I miss. I cried because I realized that no matter where he and I moved across the country in our lives – he would have brought Texas with us anywhere he went. Leaving on my own, however, hasn’t felt like Texas has come with me.

To a degree, I have to let go. I know that. I have to make room to enjoy what IS new and different about Ohio… about this new life I am living. I have to be willing to embrace this life, to lean into it. But that’s hard. And painful. Even though I have Mike here, It’s hard to fully lean into him. I seem to often times get a small amount of resistance – which I imagine is normal when you’re in a new relationship after the person you loved dies. You know better than anyone that you could lose this new person too, and so leaning on them sometimes feels quite dangerous.

Until the moment comes that you melt into it… when you realize you had better just let yourself sink fully into this love because it’s ridiculous to avoid doing so out of the fear of them dying. Because you cannot prevent that from happening, or know when it is coming. So you might as well just let go and love.

12239557_10153617396530306_99357831669911175_n.jpgAfter a few hours of crying that night, I finally called Mike and shared my feelings of homesickness with him. He showed up to my place an hour or so later wearing a western hat and a plaid flannel shirt, carrying two six packs of my favorite Texas beer (thank God they at least have that here!). That was the moment I melted, and stopped resisting this new person before me. Because he cares a great deal about making sure that I never lose my feeling of connection to Texas, or to Drew. And he cares even more about making me feel at home here.

Last night, he took me out to a country bar around here, just so I could feel a little more like I was home. It wasn’t quite Texas… The music selection was pretty awful. And got progressively worse as the hours rolled on. We’re talking club remixes of Garth Brooks songs here. There was a decidedly lesser amount of western shirts and cowboy hats, and far more sneakers and loafers (which I’ll admit, felt like sacrilege to me). Almost no one was two-stepping, and everyone was doing insanely complicated line dances which we couldn’t even begin to get in on as newbies (to credit Ohio, we don’t really line dance a lot in Texas, and man they have got this shit down). So no, it didn’t exactly feel like Texas. But… they had my favorite Texas beer, which is HARD to find in restaurants and bars around here. That was really enough for me. So Mike and I sat and knocked back some Shiner Bock while we laughed at all the horrible dancers and bad music. Despite it all, there was laughter and fun and life being lived… and I did indeed feel reconnected to my roots.

This is not my old life. It’s not the life I imagined I would be having 4 years ago, before Drew died. And most certainly, sometimes I resist that. Sometimes I want to close off and not allow anyone else to offer me comfort or show me a new version of happy. I’m incredibly stubborn about this sort of thing. Even after 3 ½ years, I still catch myself wanting to just sit and stew in my own pain. But I try to remind myself to keep on deciding to live, as hard as that may be sometimes. Mike reminds me of this too… and since he is also widowed, I can’t play my widow card on him. Ha! He will call me out every time if I am just making things worse than I need to be. Which I love. One of Drew’s best qualities was believing anything is possible. One of Mike’s, is believing that it’s possible to make something good out of anything. In their character, they often times seem so much like brothers. Both bringing me the lessons to help me along my own path.

Sometimes this new life feels a bit like a game of connect the dots – only without a pre-defined picture at the end. There are all these pieces of me kind of floating around, some near, some far. As I move forward, I am connecting those pieces together into the full picture of my new life and who I am now. As I move farther from some and closer to others, the shape changes. New pieces appear too, and I have to figure out how to connect those into all the other parts of my life, and still make the picture complete. It’s a constant game of redrawing the lines, and trying new things, to try and get it how I want it. That’s life in general I suppose… we keep redrawing our lines, adjusting things here and there, until something – like death – comes along and turns us to a blank page filled with random dots. I’m grateful to have maybe a half-drawn page at this point… but I never forget that the page could be turned again at any moment. That keeps me on my toes. It keeps me working to connect the pieces of my life, both the sorrow and sadness for an old life and the joy and excitement of new life, into one complete picture.

 

The First Big Departure

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It’s official. Last night, I signed a lease agreement for the rental house. (As you can see, Mike’s daughter Shelby is just as excited as I am) So… as of the end of next month, I will be packing up everything I own and moving to Ohio. This whole thing is so surreal and honestly doesn’t feel real at all. The house is amazing… twice the size of anything I’ve ever had. It sits at the end of a beautifully wooded street on the outskirts of town, with small 5 acre farms and little ponds dotting all along the road. For a gal who’s only lived in 600 square foot city apartments her whole adult life, it sure is surreal to imagine waking up to a view of trees and gardens and ponds and flowers. In the winter, fields of fresh snow blankets will stretch out several acres from my front door. I can hardly even imagine this little slice of heaven practically jumped into my lap. I’ve been totally terrifified to move so far from home, but I really do feel like all of this would not be aligning if it wasn’t meant to happen. So despite my fears, I am trusting the universe, letting go of the fear, and leaning into it.

So, how does this feel, to be leaving behind the state I have lived in all my life and all the places I built memories with Drew before he died? To be leaving behind my closest friends and some of my family? It felt really sad at first, I’ve cried a lot in the past few months over the prospect of moving far away. Until I got up here and realized… I’m not leaving any of that behind. We’ll still talk all the time, and I’ll still be sharing everything that happens on this new adventure with them. And in that way, teveryone back home is always with me. Similarly, Drew is always with me too.

It still feels very eerie… almost like I am in someone else’s life. I’ve been down in the pits of pain for so long, and suddenly it’s as though I got plucked out of it and set into a lovely bright field. Part of me I think is confused about that. How did I get out of the pit? How did I get here? How on earth did I go from waking up in tears every morning and hoping for a semi-truck to just run into my car and end it all… to waking up in love again? How on earth is that even possible?

I honestly do not know. But it is. Despite how unfathomable it STILL feels that I have all of this grief and all of this new joy living inside of me… it’s there. Despite how unimaginable it still seems to me to be able to love both Drew and Mike so completely… it’s there. I really did think that our hearts only had so much room. It’s not true. They stretch to accommodate whatever love grows within them. And so that is miraculaously what I have watched happen since meeting Mike. My heart at least twice the size it was, because the part of my heart that holds Drew didn’t shrink at all.

Last night, Mike and I settled into bed after an amazing and exciting day… and I burst into tears. It was simple. I just missed Drew. I missed him so badly. More than anything, I wanted to be able to call him and tell him about this exciting new part of my life… which seems odd. But he was my best friend, and so yes, that is what I wanted. Another part of those tears are because this big step of moving reminded me yet again of the life Drew and I will never get to have together. Signing that lease was deciding to take a different fork in the road. To officially say, I am letting go of that life and I am choosing this one. It’s so painful. It deserves tears.

There will always be this alternate path that could have happened, had he not died. And it will only ever exist in my heart. Every new place I live, every new experience that happens in it… there will always be that other life in my heart that I will think about, wonder about. I will always have a melancholy about that.

On the other side of it though, it IS because he died that I am where I am today. It is because of him that I met Mike. It’s because of him that I am moving to Ohio and going on all sorts of grand new adventures… so part of me does feel like he’s here. That’s his way of still being around. He affects every single thing that will happen going forward in my life. He is a huge part of the foundation that this entire new life is rooted in. And he always will be.

As I cried in bed last night, Mike held me tight, and I told him all of the above. It is wonderful to be able to have someone who understands like he does, even though I hate why. I should mention, not for a single moment did I not want the beautiful love that was right in front of me. Not for a moment did I wish Drew was there instead of Mike. It is never an either/or kind of thing. I love them the same. I honestly can’t believe that’s possible still, but boy do I. I suppose sometimes, like in those moments, I just want to be able to be in two places at once, and live both lives out – the one I have now with Mike, and the one I was going to have with Drew. I want to be able to see how both of those beautiful lives pan out.

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It will always be hard that I only get to see how one of these directions unfolds. But it is still beautiful and wonderful nonetheless, I cannot have both of those lives, but I do get to have one life that is influenced deeply by both of those people – and by many more people who are here because of both of these men. And I am excited to not know where any of it is going. Despite all I’ve been through, and all the catastrophies I can imagine happening now, I am still going to choose to be excited about this first big departure from the life I’d planned. I am not going to let death take the color out of my view of life. No, I’m going to make death give my life more color than ever before.

Parallels & Pushing On

Screen Shot 2015-09-06 at 8.34.41 AMI am sitting upstairs in the bedroom… the morning light streaming through the window. Only today, I’m not upstairs in my own room, but at Mike’s place. He’s downstairs getting the morning started while I get my post done. I got in last night, and it’s the first morning here. The first time I have ever been here. I’m a little overwhelmed, I’ll admit.

It is immediately surreal to walk in the house as we came in. I halfway expected his wife Megan to be here. And in a way, she is. In every paint color on the walls and every picture and little embroidered wall hanging. In every small and sweet touch throughout their cozy home, she is here. And her love is here. I’d be lying if I didn’t say I felt like I wasn’t supposed to be here. Like in a strange way I wished it all back to how it used to be… for her to still be here with her daughter and her husband. For me to still be back in Texas with Drew. For a moment in time, I think it all felt so horribly wrong…

And then Shelby, his daughter, tells me excitedly to come up and see her room. We go up the stairs and she jokes that I should be faster at going up stairs (she knows I do Crossfit). I feel automatically old and laugh, telling her I would be if I wasn’t so tired. Her room is pink and of course… filled with stars. Stars on the ceiling, stars on the walls, the little glowing ones. And planets hanging from the ceiling, and a little solar system nightlight that projects onto the walls. Her walls are two shades of pink, which I like and tell her so. And she shares how that was her mom’s idea… that she couldn’t decide which pink she wanted and so Megan did this really great two-tone thing. Her room is cool, like half girly and half not, so much like my own room as a kid. My own room, which my mother also helped decorate for a short time until she was no longer here.

When she brought me back downstairs, she showed me the china cabinet with all her mom’s figurines. And we played with the dogs while Mike made plates of dinner delicious pork roast with sauerkraut. It feels so oddly comfortable and good. The house is filled with stars, every wall and around every corner. And this is not lost on me by any means… I was brought here very specifically. Drew’s (Andrew’s) initials and mine spelled STAR. And many of my business pages online are named after a memory of ours – Seven Shooting Stars. Mike’s wife, had seven star tattoos. Quite literally, the stars brought us together. Hell, I even saw a shooting star JUST as the plane was landing in Ohio last night. I’ve never seen that before. It was the blessing I needed. And I know, as I look around the house at all the many stars, I was brought here for a reason.

It is the most surreal experience. And this morning as I am soaking it in, I’m beginning to understand why. It is more than just walking into the house of a widowed man and feeling the presence of his wife all around. It is, in a way, like walking back in time into my own life, in some parallel universe. It is like seeing my nine year old self after losing my mom to breast cancer… only in this life, my dad chooses to date again instead of remaining single as he did. In this life, the little girl has a chance to see how love can keep on going, in a way that honors those we love who are gone. She gets to know how it feels to have another woman here in their house and for it to feel good and exciting and happy and safe. She gets to know a grown woman who has lost her own mother young. All things I never knew. I don’t even have words for how surreal it feels to suddenly be on the other end of things both the widowed experience and the motherless one. How can you not feel like you were brought here by some other force? By two souls scheming together from the other side no doubt.

There’s more… it’s going to be a hell of a day. I meet his parents later this afternoon, which I’m really excited for. And in a few hours, we will be driving to this rental house I am looking to get – which I’ve been pretty quiet about except for with my close friends and family. A house. In a place I have only seen in the dark so far. What? This is seriously rushed and crazy impulsive for me. Eight months ago I didn’t even know this man, and now I am about to uproot my entire life to be near him and try this thing. That isn’t me. I don’t do things like that. I am not romantic in that sense, but practical. I am a calculated decision maker. I take my time even approaching the idea of major life changes. But I also listen to my gut and trust it heavily. And so even if logic says this is not something I would normally do, I can’t ignore my intuition… telling me that it is time for change.

I have been feeling the push again… the same push I felt when Drew died and I left Dallas. It’s the feeling that Drew wants me to go. Like he is telling me – even though I don’t feel ready and it seems fast – that it’s time. And somehow I can trust that. I can trust that even though I have no clue if this will all work out, I must go and see. There’s a knowingness in my soul about it. I’d by lying if I didn’t say it’s still excrutiating though at times… that I am not still having many moments of tears and ache in my heart for how much I miss Drew. But that knowingness is there, and coming right from him… that I need to find out about this unknown. That no matter how hard and scary and emotional the idea of moving far away is, I can feel, deep down, it is time to push again. It’s time to brush up against uncertainty and fear and chaos once more. It’s time to be unsettled and unsure and time to adapt to a new world again – but this time, without death as the agonizing springboard. This time, instead, it is life.

The Warrior and the Wildflowers

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Before Drew died, I was not the softest person. Sure I was kind and loving and generous, but mainly just with him – the one person I trusted above all others. I honestly rarely gave anyone else my heartfelt genuine love – because I did not trust people. I always kept everyone but him at arms length, but did I good job of disuising myself as kind and giving from the outside. My whole life this has been something I’ve struggled with. Something I haven’t liked about myself. And something I have not known how to move past.

After he died, somehow, miraculously, I did the opposite of this. I didn’t close off from others. I didn’t mistrust or question or hold back. Instead, I opened up to everyone completely and in a way I never had before. I exposed every fear, every tear, and every irrational, over-the-top outburst, to anyone who would listen. In conversations and phonecalls and blog posts and artwork and hugs and embarassing crying fits. I didn’t think about it – it was survival. It is what I had to do. It still amazes me today that being this broken was the thing that broke down lifelong walls inside me that I had been yearning to get past for years. It was oddly the best and worst year of my life.

It was the worst for obvious reasons. But it was the best because it was the first time in my life that I truly opened myself – not just to one person – but to everyone. His death softened my heart. After a lifetime of trying to protect myself from the world – I finally put down my armor, looked around, and saw that I hadn’t been keeping myself safe from harm at all. I had been keeping away love and laughter and connection and support…

I started to see how the love of others can heal us… and not just the love of people we know well and trust – but the love of strangers, aquaintances, old friends, new friends… anyone. I started to see how allowing myself to TRULY receive love from many other hearts gave me what I needed to be able to be genuinely and deeply giving in a way I had always longed to be able to. It is actually the most whole-hearted I have ever felt.

Being vulnerable always feels a bit dangerous. We fear that opening our hearts so fully will result in us being mocked or laughed at or judged. What that first year of living with death taught me is that this fear has been running rampant in my life for all these years without any proof to back it up. I have listened to it without ever questioning it. It took the death of my world for me to finally have the courage to throw off the armor and question these fears. In the midst of death is where I discovered the stories I have told myself all my life were wrong. Putting down my armor and letting the world in will not result in ridicule, but will instead result in connection and love. That is why I often refer to that year as the best and worst of my life. No one has ever given me a greater gift than this insight he gave me when he died.

Despite this lesson, I still fall back into those old fears. I can feel my heart hardening and closing off again lately. With every big change in my world since his death, every new phase, my subconscious seems to automatically grab for the armor. Before I am even aware of it, I am standing there with a sword and sheild in hand – ready to battle. Meanwhile, the reality is that I am standing in a field of wildflowers. There are no threats, no enemies, no dangers – yet there I stand, poised and ready to battle. It’s a good quality to have – except when it becomes overly reactionary in your life.

I’ve been struggling with this over the past 6 months, since meeting Mike. This has undoubtably been the hugest change in my life since Drew died. And it’s got me throwing on the armor at every turn. Fearful of dandelions. Suspecious of sunflowers. Convinced the hearts of others will somehow do me wrong.

Short of writing here, I have been VERY quiet about anything I have been struggling with these past months. So after working myself up emotionally into a total mess in the past month, I am finally flinging the armor off again and saying “wait a second, there is no battle here… people aren’t here to hurt me. And this armor isn’t working. Let’s open up for real and see what happens.”

And so I made lunch dates with a few friends this past week… not even particularly close friends – with the specific request that I am struggling lately and I really need some support. To even ask that up front was a HUGE step. I felt silly. I felt vulnerable. I felt in danger. But the difference now is that I know better. I know now what it feels like to put the armor down. And I know those fears are not speaking the truth. I have a comparison now, one that Drew gave me. And I get to choose which I want – the armor, or the wildflowers. I choose the latter – that effortless, undulating flow of love between open hearts. I choose not to believe I am in danger all the time anymore. The result? Love. Support. Connection. A sharing of ideas and emotions. Together with friends, some very legit fears have been pinpointed and some really simple solutions have been found. Ones that have now got me excited about the idea of moving and a whole new adventure.

This morning I am sitting calmly for the first time in probably a month. Because I took the chance to throw off the armor and remember the important lessons that death has taught me about life: Everything in life has the potential to be both scary and exciting… but I get to choose which of these I will live inside of. Fear… or love. I think the biggest danger as we heal and become stronger is becoming hardened against the world. Getting over-confident that we don’t need people anymore. Wanting to NOT need people. Being strong and feeling powerful while remaining open-hearted can be such a tricky thing to balance. Remaining soft and allowing it to be seen as I heal has been probably the single biggest challenge for me this year – one I am working on every day. I am so grateful that this blog continually challenges me to do this. Thank you guys!

Photo © Sarah Treanor, from my self portrait series on grief. For more visit streanor.com

A Big Little First

image1.PNGThis weekend has been amazing. Challenging, scary, exhausting, sweet, beautiful, silly, and bursting at the seams with love. Mike and Shelby have been here now for 3 days and this afternoon they head home back to Ohio. I can scarcely even put into words how amazing and terrifying all this has been. After countless hours of Skype calls – to meet her in person for the first time. And for it to be so effortless between us… I don’t know how else to say it except that I have the same feeling about her that I did when I met Mike at Camp Widow: it is as if we have known each other our whole lives and much much longer even. It makes it hard to believe anything else except that the people we love and lost somehow put us together and know exactly what they are doing.

Here we are – an eight year old girl who lost her mother last year, a 32 year old woman who lost her own mother at about the same age, a 34 year old dad going through the same thing my own dad went through with me… Inexplicably connected by loss from 1400 miles apart on a chance meeting. Perhaps it is more than his wife and my fiance, but also my mom who put us together…

Last week I wrote very overwhelmed about all of this. And it isn’t to say I am not still overwhelmed – I am having my moments. I’ve never been around kids a whole lot, much less been in a relationship with someone who has a child. This is all VERY new to me. After 3 days I can begin to see just how tired you are by the end of every day when you have kids. I’ve never known that feeling before. But, as I was telling Mike last night, it is a really beautiful kind of tired – satisfying in a way that no other kind of tired ever has felt to me. Like every single thing you did that day, even just laughing and goofing off, was important work. Important work in bringing beautiful memories that she will carry with her always. The fact that I grew up without my mom makes me even more acutely aware of how meaningful the happy times are for children post-loss. There wasn’t a lot of laughter in the years after my mom died.

To watch Shelby playing so fearlessly… to see her enjoying life, embracing me into her world and loving being around me… it heals my heart in enormous ways. It heals age-old wounds in me about how painful my own childhood became after my mom died. To see Mike doing such a good job raising her, far better than my own father was able to do with me. To see Shelby so happy and well-adjusted and secure… it is a beautiful thing. She’s had to deal with some complex things at a young age, and she will always have grief to deal with throughout her life, but she is still able to be a kid. Far more than I was. Really nothing makes me happier than to see that for her.

I am convinced now that there is far more to meeting Mike than I ever could have realized. There are ways that our stories interconnect that is just beyond chance meeting. Yes, all of this is terrifying. And yes… it IS hard to let go of my old life… of my life with Drew and with my grief and my pain too. It is hard to lean into this new world that is so full of LIFE and love and laughter. It’s hard because I’ve been in the other world with my grief for so long that it’s become comfortable and safe. It’s also hard to do this without Drew – or at least without him physically here. But after this weekend, I think it is getting a little bit easier. I will never let go of Drew, but I do have to let go of the idea of the life we were going to have together to move ahead with a new life. That isn’t going to be easy, but the comments and support from everyone last week were truly helpful and so encouraging. I want to thank you all for that.

After holding my breath and just jumping in to some big first steps… I can whole-heartedly say that I am so very glad I have taken a chance on the things that have scared me. I was not ready for dating this year. I was not ready for meeting a spunky, hilarious, sarcastic little girl this weekend. I am not ready to stop holding on to the life I was going to have with Drew. But I don’t think “ready” actually exists. I think some things will always be terrifying and that we will never actually be “ready” for some of the hardest parts of grief and moving forward. All I know is that every time I am scared and I jump anyway, it always ends up being worth the leap.

It’s been 6 months now since I first sat down next to this guy at the Camp Widow meet and greet – the last place on earth I imagined to meet a MAN… much less a new best friend. It feels surreal. He and his daughter have already transformed my life so deeply that it feels like they have been here for years. And just as I cannot imagine my life without Drew, I can no longer imagine it without these two either. A year ago I could have never imagined such a thing coming into my life. Three years ago, when Drew was still alive, I could have never fathomed how my life would unfold. I’d never have believed you if you told me all of this would happen and I would end up here… falling in love with someone new, and with his daughter too.

All this dating and new love stuff IS hard and scary. And I forget sometimes that yes, it is supposed to be. The things that can bring us the most happiness are usually the scariest. I hope sharing about this journey encourages someone else out there. Not to go looking for love, but to grab onto life and to do something that scares you. If it scares you, then it means something to you. Jump in with both feet. No regrets. Jump in and LIVE.

Grieving the Grief Years

Screen_Shot_2015-08-02_at_10.10.06_AMI had an all-out breakdown a few days ago. The kind I haven’t had in at least a year. I am chocking it up partly to hormones and the damned full moon, but also to everything else going on.

Nothing is settled in my life. Most of the time I am used to this, and I ride the waves well. But sometimes it piles up. My career as an artist is sort of like hanging off a cliff on one finger right now. Every now and then I get a better grip, a few more fingers on the ledge, but yeah… this whole entreprenuer thing feels trecherous. All the time. I constantly have no clue what I am doing. And just keep trying my hardest to hold onto the ledge of blind faith sometimes faith is all I’ve got

Next week, Mike and I will have known each other for 6 months. He and his daughter Shelby will be coming down to visit for a long weekend in just a few more days. We’ve spent countless hours on Skype, but this is the first time I will be meeting her in person. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a bit nervous about that. I’d be lying if I said it didn’t begin to trigger all kinds of future thoughts.

Suddenly here I am, in the midst of so much change I barely know what happened. This time, it’s good change, but that doesn’t mean grief isn’t still part of it or that it isn’t still scary and hard…

Their visit next week has triggered the big question in a more real way: Will I move to Ohio to be with them if things keep going well? I was prepared to move anywhere with Drew for his work, but that was a different time and place and we had 3 years together already by then. Mike and I don’t have that luxury, the distance means looking at these things earlier. I’ve never even lived outside of Texas, or more than 8 hours from my home town. I would be 1000 miles from my best friend. 1400 miles from Drew’s gravesite and from his family. 1600 miles from my parents’ gravesite. This is all upsetting. Of course, I can’t stop myself from thinking about it all… and overthinking it.

Last week, I ended up in a complete emotional breakdown over all of the above. Life. Love. Work. Future. I have felt so tired and so worn down from trying to keep at it with my art that I’ve really wanted to quit. I’ve wanted to give it all up and go back to a regular job. So tired of not knowing where it’s all going. So tired of wondering how I will ever make any decent money doing what I love. And while that was going on, I worked myself up into a frenzy over far-away future ideas about moving… about having to leave certain things behind in order to bring other things into my life.

I am realizing all this potential change is about so much more than I had ever realized walking into it. It’s about more than keeping up with work or opening to new love and new adventures. It’s about the fact that I am beginning the process of greiving this life… this shitty, traumatic, painful, chaotic, terrifying, overwhelming three years of clawing my way through the pain and agony and anger and sadness. Somehow, as I stand now, I realize – yes – I will actually miss these years. Truly, deeply, miss them – on a soul level. Because there has been something incredibly sacred here. It has been painful, but it has also been the most pivotal time of change and growth in my entire life. I have spent these years trying to answer the questions about life, death, and my place in it all. I have dug deeper into knowing myself and my own fears than I ever thought possible. I have opened my heart more fully than I ever knew I could. I have done things I never imagined I could or would do. And I have always been acutely aware that this precious period of solitude would one day pass… as all things do.

And so with the introduction of one new person, suddenly I am beginning to see for the first time the way that one of the most pivotal chapters of my life beginning to close. Looking back at what these year have meant to me, there is no wonder as to why it’s been so upsetting as of late. It isn’t about moving. It isn’t about leaving my home state. It isn’t about being further away from my friends. It isn’t even about leaving Drew behind – because I know now, that he’ll go with me into every new chapter of my life. It’s about starting to say goodbye to one of the most special times in my life. It’s about knowing in my bones that it’s time to do so… even if I hadn’t met Mike – I was time for change to come.

How strange… to be looking at the worst years of my life as a thing I will MISS. But you know, I will. In much the same way I miss the years I had with Drew. There have not been the happiest years – since he died – but they have been some of the most important. And I will have to go through greiving these years in order to make room to move ahead into new and beautiful things. Into new chapters. Holding the joy and the sorrow – closely beside each other. It’s going to be rough, but I’m trying to remember that whatever those next chapters are… they will be just as important and sacred, in their own beautiful ways. They will hold new joy and pain all their own. And I will one day be looking back on whatever those future days are and missing them, too. Onward… yet again, into the grief – and life – I go.

Photo “Let Go” © Sarah Treanor, from my “Still, Life” self portrait series on grief. For more images of the series, visit streanor.com

The Other Side: Dating a Widower

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One of the most surprising things to come out of Drew’s death for me has not only been to find someone new, but for that person to also be widowed. This isn’t something I ever expected to happen, and it’s given me the unique opportunity to be on the other end of widowhood in a way I honestly never imagined I would be.

For a long time after Drew died, I was terrified of the idea that I’d be too difficult to love. That my whole situation would be too complex and that I wouldn’t be able to find someone who could handle it all. That they would have a hard time understanding my love for him or allowing room for it. Being on the other end of this has given me a different set of eyes though…

Dating a widower has helped me to see just how easy it is to love someone – no matter how complex their circumstances. In a few weeks, Mike will have several big milestones. Celebrating Megan’s birthday and their wedding anniversary… for the first time without her living, and spreading her ashes. Despite this being something that I am entirely on the outside of, I have spent a lot of time thinking about it over the past few weeks.

I’ve wondered what this will be like for Mike… to spend this first birthday without his wife. To wake up on the day he married such a beautiful, courageous woman ten years ago, without her here. I’ve wondered what these next weeks will be like for Shelby, his daughter. I also have another unique vantage point in that I lost my mother at roughly the same age that she has lost hers. The significance of this never escapes me. I am always wondering what her experience of losing her mom will be like. How it will shape the person she will grow up to be.

I wonder all of these things, because I cannot ever know. And that is where our commonality of losses ends. We are different people with different experiences. There is no way for me to step into their inner world. And no way for them to step into mine.

In this way, my being widowed does not give me any advantage in loving a widowed person. I cannot ever understand Mike’s exact experience – or Shelby’s. All I can do is watch with a thoughtful, loving heart as they go through the journey of living on with someone very integral missing. This fact would be no different if I was single or divorced instead of widowed.

Somehow, this feels hopeful to me. I suppose it is like an affirmation. We don’t have to understand each other’s journeys. We don’t have to be understood in ours. The important part is that our journey is accepted and we are loved, and that we accept and love the other person – including the people in their life, living and dead.

To love someone who has endured great loss is no different than loving anyone else – it is about accepting who they are fully. It’s about knowing them as well as the person they lost. It’s about wanting both of those people in your life – the one living and the one not. And I think when you’re a healthy person who really loves someone… it becomes easy to do. It becomes effortless and automatic to love the one they lost. It is merely an extension of your love for them.

From the other side of this equation – spending the past five months exploring what it means to love a widowed person myself – this is some of what I have learned. And I believe this to have far less to do with my being widowed and far more to do with my ability to love whole-heartedly – the way that Mike deserves to be loved. I don’t think someone has to be widowed or understand the widow experience to be able to give that to a widowed person. I think more people out there than we even realize have the capacity to give such love.

From Three Years

3_yearsThis past weekend marked three years since that terrible day. Three years since I lost my best friend and the love of my life. Suddenly. Without warning. I have also now lived the same amount of time without him as I shared with him… and going forward will mean increasing that gap. I remember dreading this day constantly through the first year. I remember how inconceivable it was to be so far away from the day I last heard his voice. How I could not even imagine being alive this long sometimes. How I could not imagine the breath of life ever coming back into me. Yet here I am… Somehow, miraculously, still standing. Still breathing. And even living and laughing again.

Things are better these days. Most of my days are good days now. My life is full and rich again, although still very up-in-the-air and not without struggle. It is messy still, but full of things that bring meaning to the fact that he lived and died. I have worked hard to make sure of it. And after these three initial years of wandering through a terrifying trauma, I can attest that creating meaning from the pain has been the single greatest way I have known to find hope and begin to build a full life again. It has helped me to heal over and over again, endless times for a vast field of splintered pains left over from his death. It has given a purpose to my life to honor him in how I live and love forward.

How different things are now. And yet, how so much of who I am has remained and been strengthened in the fire. I have much more faith and trust in the unknown since his death. I have watched my own journey unfold in a miraculous way. Just as I begin to work through and heal one layer, so does the next one reveal itself for me to navigate. Layers of all the first’s – holidays and anniversaries. Layers of meeting new friends who never knew him. Layers of being around men my own age again. Layers of moving and changing careers, challenging my beliefs of what I am capable of. Layers of loving again… Living again. Each layer seeming to come only after the previous one has been felt and moved through… It may be sooner than I FEEL ready to, but each time I dive into the emotions of the next layer – I discover I was more ready than I had known. And I always discover something of great worth. Maybe the key is to always look for the lessons and remember that pain is always here to teach me something.

I have experienced so many miraculous things these three years. I have been to places I never dreamed I would see. I have met people who have changed my life and opened my heart in the most beautiful ways. I have listened to my gut and followed its calling into the world of creativity. I have found a voice through my art and writing… and a voice through death that has helped me to know myself and life in a deeper way than I ever thought possible.

Three years later, I am entirely changed. I am new. Three years later, I can sit at the center of my own storms and be calm. The storms are still there, after all. The memories, the trauma, the loss, the never-ending missing of someone I love. But they don’t tend to rage like they used to. Now they are lighter, more like cloudbursts. Now I know how to be still when they come… To let the rains of loss and life wash over me for a moment and then pass on through.

Three years later, I know that I have something of value to share with the world – and that each one of us does. That the most painful things in our life are meant to show us how to help others through the same pains. Three years later, I trust the unpredictability of life more. I trust that life will lead me on a journey that will not be easy, but will be worthwhile. In fact I expect it now. I expect life to be full of difficulty worth enduring, fear worth facing, and risks worth taking. For that is what creates a rich life… the hardships, and the sweet, warm fields that lie just on the other side of enduring them. Three years of beautiful agony have taught me this, and I would not give back the lessons if I could. They are his eternal gift to me, and mine to the world.

Here’s to three years of loving you from afar, babe. Thank you for all you have taught me.