Home, Heart and Facing Fears

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Written Jan 2:
Last I wrote, I was really struggling with this move, and trying to learn some patience with it. I was on my way to my first backpacking trip with Mike. I’d have to say, I found so much peace in the woods. We’ve been hiking nearly every day we get a chance in the past month now… and it really is helping to settle me.

To fill you in, I was down in Texas visiting Drew’s family last week for Christmas. It is the first time I have ever “visited” Texas… the place that has always been my home. I had fears before leaving that it would dredge up so much emotion. That visiting the cemetery where Drew is buried would be so painful. That I would find myself missing Texas so much that leaving to come back to Ohio would be really painful. I feared all kinds of pain leading up to that trip. But, I am back now… and it wasn’t as bad as I’m anticipated. There were hard moments, but what I realized from those moments is that I have missed the experiences of my life with Drew in Texas, far more than the place itself.

I realized, I wasn’t sad just for western boots and plaid shirts. I wasn’t just sad for country bars and dance halls and the wide open Texas skies. I was sad for times I shared all those things with Drew. Going back there meant going back to all those things without him. Suddenly, they didn’t have the same meaning anymore. They felt empty. I also realized something else. Something that surprised me… I missed Ohio. In only a few months of moving, somewhere else is starting to feel like home. I can tell you, I never in a million years thought I’d be saying “I miss Ohio” haha. But it’s true.

I’ve had a new sense of appreciation for my new home state since coming back to Ohio last week. A feeling that I am more ready to embrace this life. A knowing inside that Drew is not down there in Texas… he is right here with me on every new adventure that Mike, Shelby and I go on. In this new life, with new memories, is where he will always live.

I want to end this post with a little side note. Like everyone, I’ve been reflecting on the past year. A year ago this week, I shared with you all about the debacle of my New Year’s Eve in this post. On that day, a man I’d been on a date or two with basically took advantage by messing around with me and then bailed on me. It was horrific, and one of the worst triggers I have had since Drew died… particularly because it was the first romantic encounter I’d had since his death. I still cannot even describe how traumatic that was.

This New Year’s Eve, I was sitting in the kitchen of my own house (my own HOUSE!), drinking beers and dancing around in the kitchen with Mike like a fool… to such old hits as the Fresh Prince theme song. There was laughter. So much laughter. And so much joy. And goofiness. And there were no triggers, and no sadness. Just life, and love, and joy. And everything felt good.

A year ago, if you had told me I would meet some guy in Ohio and end up moving my entire life 1400 miles away within a year in order to date him, I would have laughed in your face. Like really hard. Because I was never leaving Texas. And I do not make sudden moves in my life, ever. And I didn’t feel ready to be in a relationship at all. AT ALL. I believed 100% that my 2015 would be spent focusing on trying to get my career as an artist and writer going a step further in the right direction, and that’s it.

Then Mike shows up at Camp Widow, and turned all of my plans upside down… as men do. As life likes to do. (Does anyone else ever feel like life is just laughing at you when you start trying to make plans?) Before you know it, we’re flying to visit each other, meeting each other’s families and in-laws. And then bam, we’ve been dating for 8 months and I am flying up to look at a rent house in Ohio. Um, what? How did all this even happen?

Every step of this “after” life has been new, painful and terrifying – including this entire past year of beginning a new relationship for the first time since Drew died. I have walked through the fear that I could never love again, only to find that yes, I can… and that I am an even better partner now because of all I’ve been through. I have walked through the fear that I could never be a good role model or mother figure for a little girl because I lost my own mother so young… only to find that I am exactly the sort of woman this little girl needs in her life going forward, precisely because I lost my mother – as she has – young. I have walked thru the fear that I am fragile and cannot handle much since he died, only to find that I am handling more each day. Not always with the grace I would like to, but still, I am handling it.

Every step along the way has been scary and hard. But it’s taught me that it’s worth wading through the fears to see what else is out there for my life. To see what’s on the other side. It’s worth enduring some sadness and some scary new things now and again – even if I don’t know where they will take me. By enduring all the parts of life that are challenging, and stepping through them, I have almost always found joy, love, and fuller life on the other side. As always, I have Drew to thank for so much of this.

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.

 

Both Feet In

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This past week, a friend of mine shared a story with me about a woman she recently met while out shopping for boots at a western store. As they looked through the sale rack, the woman told her how she got through the death of her husband by promising herself a new pair of cowboy boots every time she had to do something hard in relation to her grief… like going to the mortuary, or collecting his will. Eventually, she had a whole shelf of them and she wore them everywhere she went. “Even to church” she said. “I medicated myself with old western movies and cowboy boots”. My friend, who is actually a grief counselor, fully endorsed her grief medication.

This woman’s story made me smile instantly, and reminded me of my own boot story. About a month after my fiancé’s sudden death, in June of 2012, on a horrible, grief-laden, sunny afternoon in Dallas, I walked my shell-shocked self into a local western store with one specific goal. To buy a pair of boots. Not just any boots, but THE boots. Golden tan with beautiful blue inlaid wings and red hearts. Meticulous stitching and hard soles for dancing, and walking a hard road. They were boots I had swooned over for the entire length of my relationship with Drew. The ones that were “too expensive and unpractical” to ever actually buy. The boots that were too bold and showy for me.

At least… for the old me.

The widowed me though, didn’t give a shit about any of that. She didnt care about being too showy nor did she care about how expensive they were. So she walked into that western store, dropped $300 down, and walked out with the goddamn boots because she wanted them and she damn well deserved them. It felt SO GOOD. I knew right then and there, that these were the boots that were going to carry me through this mess. It was a glimmer of hope. When I walked this hard road, I would do so with wings on my feet. I would do so boldly, and proudly, and without apology to anyone. Those wings would always remind me of the pilot I love and of his zest and passion for life. They would remind me to keep on living, and that I can still be whoever I want to be.

I wore them to every art opening I showed my artwork in, I wore them to work, hell I wore them grocery shopping. Every time I put them on, it felt like wearing the essence of our love for all to see. Because we were bold. We lived and loved boldly and fearlessly together. We left no room for regrets and always walked a bit more confidently out into the world when we had each other.

The boots provided some piece of that back, some reclaiming of my own power despite everything falling apart. They gave me a way that I could say to the world (and to myself) – I am still here and dammit, I am going to choose to live. I’m not going to lie down and let this destroy me. It may take months and years to get back to living life more fully again – but until then, these boots will remind me of the promise to myself – and to him – to keep on living life.

Sure, you can see this sort of thing as silly. Or frivolous. Or a waste of money. And before he died, I did a good job of that. But when you’re down in the pit, things look very different. It’s dark down there. And pretty damned hopeless. And maybe, just maybe, a simple thing like a pair of fine-ass boots aren’t so frivolous. They reminded me that no matter how broken I felt, I could still create my own hope by the choices I made, even the seemingly small ones.

As it turns out, those boots became a symbol not just to live boldly. They became a reminder that I had the power to decide what would carry my feet through the day… and that was the first step towards knowing I had the power to choose how I would carry myself through this entire experience of living with his death. They reminded me to choose each day to try and live what’s left of this life boldly, and with both feet in.

Complex Christmas and an Inspiring Story

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Jayci at her grandfather’s grave. Source.

I can’t believe it’s been September since I’ve written here. A lot has been happening, mostly good things. A lot of growth. A lot of healing. A lot of shifts. More than I could begin to fill you in on just at this moment, but I’ve been feeling pulled to get back to writing here again and thought I’d start with something that happened this morning.

I was watching the news this AM and saw a feature about a young girl – 14 years old – who is working hard to achieve a very special Christmas goal. Her wish, is to put a wreath on every single grave at Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery here in San Antonio, TX. To date, there are over 144,000 graves of fallen soldiers buried here. To say it is a big goal is an understatement. They have yet to reach that goal in a single year, but she is relentless. Partnered now with Wreaths Across America, she does 15 or 20 speaking engagements and fund raisers around the San Antonio, TX area in the fall to help raise money and bring in volunteers for this massive effort. The focus and resolve are nothing short of incredible to watch – particularly in someone so young.

I could not help but be completely inspired by the boldness and determination of her spirit. It allowed me to put my own pain aside for a moment and think about just how many ways on any given day there are to do something to remember or appreciate those who have died – whether as soldiers or otherwise.

It is one of those things that my fiance’s death has changed in me for the better. Now I know first-hand what it means to the loved ones of the fallen for them to be remembered. My fiancé was not in the military – though he wanted nothing more than to do so, a back injury prevented him from being allowed to enlist. Regardless of that, I still know what it feels like when someone does something to show me they remember him – like leaving something at his grave, or sharing a memory, or donating in his honor. It means more than words can describe. I want nothing more than for him to always be remembered.

I’ve been stuck in my own pain this past week – stuck thinking about how I’m sick of Christmas and ready for all this holiday mess to be over with. Year three without him is no better. Less scary for sure, less traumatic, but still I am able to muster only apathy for the entire affair. Even though I will be deeply happy to spend Christmas with his family – whom is now very much my own family – all the time leading up to that day is just an assault on the emotions. People talking about nothing but how behind they are on getting presents for everyone… when all you’re thinking as you hear them is how lucky they are to still have all of their people in tact to give presents to.

I hate this. I want to be able to enjoy the season. I want to be able to just enjoy things the way other people do again. I want a simple holiday season where all I’m worried about is getting the Christmas shopping done and making sure food is cooked. But it is so far from my reality – Complex Christmas. Where I am constantly bombarded by a kind of Christmas I no longer have. Where triggers lie around every corner, making me subtly uneasy with every potential situation – holiday parties, shopping, even just the feel of the cold weather. It isn’t like I don’t try to find the positive still. People think it’s just that easy – “oh he would want you to be happy” they say. Well, no offense, but no shit. It’s not like a switch you can turn off though. You want to be in the right emotional space to enjoy it all, but it is a battle to find a way when you’re working with Complex Christmas.

That’s is why I am so glad I caught this feature on tv this morning though. This story about the wreaths got me out of my own pain for a minute and woke me up to the possibility that – if I pay attention and look for it – there are ways that I could use the holiday season to help me find meaning. If I make USE of Christmas as a way to connect to other folks who are enduring a complex Christmas – whether due to death, illness, financial strains, etc – maybe I could reclaim a bit of the good in this season. Maybe I could actually be able to find more than apathy in this time of year again.

There are all kinds of ways to do this… and even though it won’t bring him back or make Christmas simple like it used to be, it would feel good, and make others feel good who might really need it too. That part of it I can get behind. I know that’s not rocket science, but I think you get it. We get stuck in our heads so easily in the midst of grief and trauma. We have blinders on much of the time. And it can be hard see anything that can help it.

Today, I’m really grateful that a young girl doing big things helped me to take the blinders off for a while and begin to think about what I can do in the next few days that could bring meaning back to Christmas – not only for me, but for someone else. We’ll see what I come up with.

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To donate or find information about Jayci’s Wreaths for Heroes project, you can visit her Facebook page.

Creating Altars & Memorials

I’ve added a new section to the blog recently called “Ways I’m Healing”. I thought it could be helpful to share some of the things that I am finding very healing as I navigate through this chaotic, painful, confusing, scary, bizarre and often times very dark place we call grief. One of the first things I wanted to talk about is creating altars and what I call active memorials – ways in which we continue to actively bring our loved one with us into a new life after they have passed.
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Whether you are into the idea of formal altars or not, having keepsakes and active memorials can be a very healing thing after someone we love has passed on. I have a small space in the corner of my bedroom (above) that is dedicated to my fiancé, as well as many other reminders scattered about the room that help me to continue to feel connected to him. 

image-5image-4Many of the important keepsakes on my altar stay the same; an old-timey photo we took together in Fort Worth a few months before his accident, his wrist watch and pocket knife – both of which he was never without, his pilot’s license, a few of his model helicopters, a rose from the last anniversary bouquet he gave me. Over the past year, I’ve slowly started adding things to it too, particularly when I go on trips. This has become one of the things I enjoy most about this altar… using it as part of other memorial activities that I do.

He loved the outdoors, so I’ve started bringing back small stones from various national and state parks I visit. (The stack of red rocks is from a visit to the Grand Canyon last fall, a trip we’d planned to take together but didn’t get to.) Another thing that I’ve enjoyed is the pressed pennies you can get in just about any city now a-days. I’ve always collected these, and before he died we used to collect them together, so now when I go to new cities, I still get them and bring them and keep them in his space. And then there’s  the awesomely creepy skeleton version of us I purchased at a Dia de los Muertos shop in San Antonio near where I live (while not for everyone, he would have appreciated the dark humor of it!).

Adding to his altar from all of my adventures helps me to keep him included in my life in a positive way and not to feel as if I am leaving him behind or not allowing myself to get out and live. I may not be able to buy him a cool tourist shirt that he can wear, but I can still celebrate the idea of bringing him something back from my travels and give myself permission to enjoy letting him be a part of my life still.

image-6These active memorials and altars allow me to use my creativity and give me some way to look forward to connecting with him no matter where I am. They also help to remind me that it’s okay – in fact beautiful – to let him still come along with me on my journeys and adventures in spirit.

Do you have an alter up for a loved one, or a special active memorial that you do? If not, what might be some creative ways that you can give yourself permission to still give your love to that person, even though they are no longer physically here with you?

Cemetery Songs: Stay Home

Thank you Melissa xoxo

Stay home with me
Never look back
I won’t let you down
I won’t make a sound
If you stay home with me
I’d nevner let go
I won’t do you harm
I’d never go far
Just stay home with me
Stay home with me
Never look back
I won’t let you down
I won’t make a sound
If you stay home with me
I’d nevner let go
I won’t do you harm
I’d never go far
Just stay home with me

In Death We’re all the Same

My friend Rachel over at the Do I Look Sick? blog shared this beautifully written post with me today from another fellow blogger, Mary Gelpi. She is writing of a friend of hers who recently lost her love, and sharing her own struggles both with having experienced death in her life and with the struggle of being there for someone else who is experiencing a loss. Firstly, I have to send some love out to her friend hope you all will do the same. It breaks my heart every time to hear of this happening to anyone else. There were so many beautiful parts to Mary’s heartfelt post that I wanted to call out, but this is the one I’ve chosen to touch on:

“I know this sounds perverted, but in some ways it can be a really beautiful time. It is when we truly acknowledge what it is to be human. We show our love without hesitation. We hold a friend in tears and cry with them, and in this embrace we communicate that their pain is our pain too. In death we’re all the same.”

In death we’re all the same. It is true, it unites us. In death, our walls fall down and we are opened up to a chance to give and receive unconditional love. I have felt that tragic beauty and it has absolutely transformed my heart. From my best friend, who told me that watching me go through this pain has been the hardest thing she’s ever had to do in her life (and still she shows up every day to endure it with me). Drew’s family, for opening their home and hearts to me – for giving me a safe place to heal and a sense of family I’ve missed for most of my life. My close friend Steve, who drove across Dallas sometimes twice a day every single day for the first few months to give my diabetic cat food and insulin while I was across Texas completely apart. My sister, who I’ve only seen cry once – when our mom died – but cried with me those first few weeks, and continues to send me encouraging packages at random in the mail from New York just so I know she is here and I am loved. My cousin, who I’ve barely talked to since we were kids, who shares me at our Grandma’s 100th birthday that she has read every one of my blog posts and that she feels like she knows Drew because of my words. And of course there’s the people that I barely even know, some total strangers even, who cry with me, talk with me, and send me gifts that seem to always arrive when I need it most. And so many more important people I haven’t yet mentioned but will someday.

If I can say, it has been a true honor for me to have had the experience of so much unconditional love – even if the thing that opened it up to me was (and still is) the most unfathomable and painful death. This past year had indeed been the most life-altering – due as much to the pain as to the love I have received. It has changed the way I see all of humanity. It has changed the way I see you. And me. And every person I meet. And every experience I have. It has changed how I care and how I show that caring. I will never be the same person I was before he died. I will always miss who I was, but because of those who stand in my pain with me, I’m beginning to see who I’m becoming, and I see more beauty in the world than I ever have before. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Going Back to Healing

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I can really tell that time has worn on me this year. The same way I suppose it wears on everyone else coping with the death of someone very close to them. I’ve heard from many people who have lost their significant other, child, or someone else very close to them that the second year is even harder than the first. I have failed to see how this could be possible – how on earth could ANYTHING be worse than the first year of loss?! At first this idea terrified me, then I just began to dismiss it entirely and allow my ego to decide that MY second year of grieving would not be like that. But I’m starting to understand now, at almost 14 months, that my second year is just like everybody else’s. It’s not harder in the same ways as the first year was hard… but its harder in NEW ways you haven’t had to feel it yet.

From what I’m experiencing, I gather it is simply because of time. Time is passing whether we want it to or not. In these past few months, approaching and passing the one-year mark, every cell of my body has begun to cry out for him in a way I hadn’t felt until now. It’s as if my soul and body didn’t really know he was gone yet, and some kind of delayed response kicked in after my mind had already been trying to cope with this for an entire year.

You can believe or even know that this person’s soul is still with you and that the love is eternal… but no matter how much you KNOW that, it just doesn’t ever make up for the physical presence of that person in your arms. It doesn’t make up for the affection you no longer receive on a daily basis from that person… or the way they used to look into your eyes with love. It doesn’t make up for the fact that you used to be given a dozen or more hugs in a single day, and now you might go for weeks or longer without a single heartfelt hug from anyone. That does something to a person. It really does. And when you’re really hurting from the lack of that, its hard to tell yourself that having a formless soul hanging out with you is enough (sorry babe, I love having you around in soul-form, but you get me!).

I’ve been fighting the pain a lot lately. I’ve been pushing it down and trying to force myself to focus on other things… believing for whatever reason that I need to focus on other things, like figuring out my career or figuring out how i’ll make money or figuring out…. you get the idea. Getting lost in figuring things out – its a great way to avoid feeling your pain, except that it piles on top of the existing pain an added pain of stress and worry. What is it that told me that after a year I needed to start figuring everything else out? That after a year it was no longer okay to just be as completely broken as I very much still AM?

I’ve actually had almost no one tell me those stupid lines that I need to “move on” or “let go” or “get on with life”. What I actually hear more of is people talking in general terms about how “everyone” just expects you to be moving on by year two. Who is this everyone? I keep hearing people say that… yet almost no one in my life says things like that or believes that I will just magically be getting on with my life a year after he died. But I hear it being said… so I start sharing less, and writing less, and holding more of it in. And try to refocus myself on what this “everyone” thinks I should be doing. It may look productive in some form, but it’s not helping.

I haven’t been wanting to write. I haven’t been wanting to take pictures. And I’m feeling more lost than ever just by trying to figure shit out that really doesn’t need figuring out. It’s adding noise. So I’m putting the brakes on. My soul is just plain damn tired, and what it really needs is to just be allowed to still be broken, and heal. To slow down, to let the pain happen, and to trust the rest to God. My healing to-do list for today…

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The Hand Grenade Analogy

I heard yesterday the perfect analogy of what sudden, traumatic loss is like… and its something I want to share with anyone who struggles to understand what I’ve been through (or anyone else they know who’s been through such a loss). Tom Zuba, a grief counselor who has lost his wife, daughter, AND son all in fairly sudden ways – explains these traumas in the most accurate way I have ever heard anyone put it into words:

“It was as if someone took a hand grenade and put it on my chest. And the hand grenade exploded, and I was expected to get up and live again.”

When I heard this in a video interview he did yesterday, I burst into tears. I cried because someone finally put into such simple words something that I have been trying to put into words for over a year. And I cried because it made me have a different view and understanding of what happened to me – and to everyone who loved him – that day last summer. And what happens to so many other people too. A grenade exploding on your chest. That is exactly… EXACTLY it feels like. And somehow you have to figure out how to live again. Imagine if you even lived through such a real trauma and how long it would take your body and mind and soul to begin to even be okay again. Imagine how long you would have flashbacks and irrational behaviors and beliefs.

The flashbacks and such are still so constant. Some days I will just be going about my business and suddenly I see a memory of ours, out of nowhere. A happy memory of us sitting on the couch eating chinese takeout and watching a movie. Or going to the grocery story to think up creative ideas for new dishes we could make and what wines might go with them. Or waking up in the morning and seeing him still sleeping peacefully next to me – and feeling happier than I ever have. I can see it all like a movie playing in my head. I’m grateful that I seem to have a photographic memory about so very many of our happy moments together, but its still hard. I am thankful I don’t often relive the story of how he died – of the crash – very often anymore, but even that still creeps up every single time I see a helicopter crash on TV or an ambulance drive by.

Year two is strange so far. There is this thing of settling into a new normal life now. Having new rhythms and routines that don’t revolve around him anymore – at least not in the sense that he’s physically here to share in them. I might be going about my new normal day now and suddenly out of nowhere I get slammed into the reality that I AM indeed in a new normal without him. And its heartbreaking to be starting to realize this. One of the saddest parts of all of this from the beginning has been the knowing that I cannot stop time – and I cannot stop time moving me farther and farther away from “our life”. Its one of the most helpless, exasperating feelings I’ve ever experienced… to know that there is nothing I can do but keep living and in doing so getting farther and farther away from him.

I do still believe he’s around and guiding me and a part of everything I do, so I don’t mean to say that I feel like he’s just completely gone from my life. I very much do feel like he’s part of my life – but we have a new relationship now and a new way of being. And no matter how much that helps me along, I still know that one day it will be 10 years since we sat on the couch and ate chinese takeout together. And there’s nothing I can ever do to change that. That knowledge makes me feel hopeless. And I hate it. I hate this enormous wound that is still gaping in my chest from that grenade going off. I hate that I still feel like I’m bleeding all over the place and that the only thing that will stop the bleeding is to just keep going until it begins to slow on its own time.

One Year.

Dear Andrew,

Its hard to believe how much our lives changed on an ordinary Tuesday of this week last year. Today, at noon, it will be 365 days since I last heard your voice on the other end of the line. When you left for Washington, I made you promise me that you’d come back to me. And you did keep this promise – always a man of your word – just not in a way I’d have ever expected nor believed possible before.

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Since you died, you’ve made sure to let me know you’re still around. In grand, bold ways, and in quiet subtle ways too. From the very first night of your life on the other side, I began hearing messages from you and feeling you. “Get up and start your day” was the first clear message I got, just two days after you died. That single sentence helped me get up every day for the next few months… although it took sometimes hours to pull myself out of bed. It was these words that gave me the strength to stand up.

Then a month or so later, on a night when the pain was so great, I heard you whisper “This is what we have now.” And a calm came over me, instantly stopping the tears. These words gave me an understanding of a truth I did not want in my life. And the only person who could give me this was the one on the other end of it, whom I knew did not want it either.

So here we are, two souls now worlds apart, but still somehow together. These words from you brought relief to me. They made me understand that we do still have something together – it is different, but it is still ours. A very large part of my pain was eased just by knowing where you are. Even if you’re not here – I know where you are now and that you’re okay. I know that I can always find you when I need you. I know this just as I know the grass is green and ocean is blue. It is not something I can explain to anyone, it just is. And always will be. And this helps me to go on.

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A few months ago, I heard you say to me in a very direct, bold way, “faith is fire”. I’ve been carrying this with me daily, slowly discovering its purpose. It’s helping me to stop thinking and to listen… listening for where you, God, my parents and universe are all guiding me. It’s much harder to listen when I’m busy worrying about figuring things out (and you know I’m great at worrying). So thank you for reminding me that it is vital to have deep faith and trust. That I must believe with ALL of me that my team will guide me to where I am to go in this life.

The universe now has an excellent way to communicate to me… a direct line to my soul. I’ve always had a hard time trusting in God or the universe, but I trust you to the end of time and back. I have followed every one of your cues abruptly and boldly, and it hasn’t steered me wrong… It has in fact lead me to where I need to be at every stage and moment of my difficult journey. It has lead all the right people into my life at the times when I need them most. I find this helps me to trust and let go of knowing or figuring it all out.

I never could have imagined where our journey was going to go. I have no idea where our journey will continue to. We sure as hell both know that there are going to be some curve balls we can’t avoid – we’ve already been through that. But no matter what happens, there’s one thing I do know… Every day, in the good and the bad, in the pain and the joy, in life and in death, to the end of time, I will find you next to me.

I Love You.
Sarah



I’ve been uneasy about sharing the spiritual aspects of losing Andrew for some time now. I’ve feared what others would think or say. But today for some reason I am feeling guided to share it, and unafraid. These are my spiritual beliefs, and they are a very vital part of how I’ve been coping with death for many years, even before losing Andrew, so it feels very appropriate to begin to share this here.

I believe very absolutely in an afterlife. I believe that our loved ones are in fact with us after they die – that they guide us and try to communicate to us. I believe they are just as real and present as anything physical in this world. Like radio waves, they are always all around us… even if we have trouble tuning in. I believe it because I have experienced it. Maybe my sharing it can help someone else out there who wonders or feels it too.