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.

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.

Milestones & Grief Creep

magazinecoverThis past week one of the most amazing things happened to me that has happened in my “after” life. I was selected as a finalist for a magazine cover of an art magazine – for one of my photographs that tells part of my grief journey – and ended up winning the final vote. It is the first time my art will be published on a magazine cover. This is huge for my fledgling career as an artist. And more-so it is huge because more people going through loss will see my grief series and hopefully find something of their own story there.

I couldn’t believe how many people voted and shared. Thousands of fans and friends and family all rallied behind me to make this happen. My gym shared it on their business page. My mother-in-law’s employees all voted and shared it. People I don’t even know. Old college classmates. Old coworkers. So many left comments about the grief journey they are on, and how one particular image or another of mine spoke directly to them. People bought prints – one, a counselor, who will be putting up the photo in her grief counseling room. It has been unreal.

Suddenly I have found myself looking back in a different way than I have before. Looking back and realizing that I’ve gotten somewhere I do want to be. Before Drew died, none of this was here. I was working in a cubicle, feeling trapped and unhappy and scared because I had no clue how to ever really go for my dream of being an artist. Leaving a full time job was the MOST terrifying thing I could possibly imagine. Before he died, this idea of being an artist was all just wishful thinking… a far away notion that he and I would often talk about over afternoon lunches and morning coffee.

Little did I know that his death was going to take me on a journey I could have never imagined for myself. Not an EASY journey… but somehow, a far more meaningful one. His death was the catalyst in my leaving that career behind. It was the thing that shook me awake and made me see that if he could die for his dreams, then I’d better get started living for mine.

It’s been a horrible and agonizing and fear-filled journey that I wouldn’t wish on anyone… and it STILL is every step of the way. It has just become less raw over time and I have become more quiet about it – but it is still a constant struggle. Somehow though, during these two and a half years I have found some sort of really meaningful beginning. One that is far more meaningful to me than the life I was living before he died.

It isn’t the one I wanted – not like THIS. I never wanted to make art about the death of the most important person in my world. Or death in general. But when you lose your mother at age 9, your father at age 26 and then your fiancé at age 29… it begins to feel like someone is trying to tell you something. I finally decided to listen and allow death into my art… nothing has felt more healing.

I’m learning that by having his death and him as the center of what I’m putting myself into, it is giving it a solid foundation. On the days when I feel scared shitless and still have NO CLUE how I will ever make any REAL money doing this (living off my savings, betting it all on this crazy dream right now). On days when I feel lost and like I’m floating… knowing that he is at the center of this work is what helps me to be able to keep faith going. It helps me to know with all my heart that this work is valuable and meaningful, because all of my love for him rests within these images. And I know without a doubt that will mean something to other people. Clearly, it is.

The days after the big win have been of course an emotional roller coaster – just like any major event after you’ve lost your partner or anyone who was vital to your world. I call it grief creep. The aftermath of anything exciting – the quiet moments when the pain slips back in to steal the spotlight. As the week has progressed, I think I’ve just gotten sadder. Sad that he is not here to celebrate with me. That I couldn’t see the enormous and beautiful smile on his face the moment we first learned that I won. Which leaves me with the painful reminder that the person who was sharing a life WITH me is not here… and that I no longer have someone to be excited for me in the way that only your partner can be.

I miss him and what he had so much. We lived to make each other proud, because nothing made either of us happier than to see each other going after the things in life we were passionate about. It was an incredible partnership to have… and how I miss it. How nothing else measures up to that incredible bond that was “us”.

Suddenly, the whole milestone event of the magazine cover begins to pale in comparison to the feelings of sadness and grief. I hate this. And it is absolutely unavoidable. You can fight it all you want – and lord knows I do – but I have come to learn that at some point you must leave room for the sadness to be with your joyful moments. The sadness needs to be felt as much as the joy. So I will let it in… and after a while, I will come back around to embracing the joy of it all. But dammit, the grief creep is not fun.

To view my grief series “Still, Life” you can visit my other blog here.

The Healing Cycle

“On the Backs of the Wild” ©Sarah Treanor 2012

This past week something really big happened for me. It was one of those things that originally came out of nowhere, yet will be something I will remember for the rest of my life. It all began almost a year ago, with an email. The woman writing to me was a poet, and she came across my photography online and wanted to use one of my images for the cover of her first poetry book. I was astounded. Somehow… in ALL OF THE INTERNET… this stranger from Utah found MY photos and fell in love with one of them for her cover. Was a dreaming?

And it wasn’t just any photo, it was one of my favorite photos that I took in the year that took him. A year I chronicled very deeply within the pages of this blog. It was a simple, serene image of the soft slope of a horse’s back just after a heavy rain… the sky still melancholy with a blanket of clouds. I can still remember the day. It was fall. I had moved down to central Texas from Dallas to live with his family on their ranch. It had poured all morning and the horses were covered in rain and dirt from running wildly through the pastures. Horses always know how to play in the rain, they never grow up in that respect – a lesson we could learn from.

It was just months after he died and the only thing in my world that made me still feel alive was to get behind my camera. There I could search out mysterious other worlds. Worlds where my reality didn’t feel so heavy. Sometimes worlds where it didn’t exist at all. Looking back, I am astounded at the photos that came out of me during this time. They were drastically different from anything I had shot before. Operating entirely by my broken heart – suddenly all of my photos were like portraits of my grief. This one in particular felt so very close to that sacred space inside me where my deepest grief lay. The quiet solitude of this image mirrors the feeling of my own solitude so precisely. I’m only now beginning to grasp that, two years later.

So by now you’re wanting to know where this story goes. I’ve wandered enough. I first mentioned to you that something big happened this past week… and it was this: After almost a full year of patiently hoping that my photo would be the final one the author would choose. After sometimes months of not hearing anything and wondering. And then months more after my photo was chosen for the publishers and designers to complete everything and get it into print… after all of that… this past week, a package arrived in the mail. From Utah. I zipped open the brown packing and there it was. The image that says everything that was inside my soul after he died… singing gracefully and proudly from the cover of a book. And not just a book, but a book of poetry – another deep love of mine (And the poems inside are breathtaking, by the way. I’ve read a dozen or so this week and many have moved me to tears with their beauty).

I’m not certain I can put into words what this feels like for me. It isn’t closure, I don’t really believe in that concept. I think it is something like purpose or meaning or maybe understanding. For the author wrote to me this: “I really can’t express this properly — I had no idea how beautiful this book could be until it was realized with your photograph on the cover. I’m so proud of this book & the image reflects the exact kind of beauty & solitude & mourning & serendipitous joy that I hope it contains in its pages. Thank you, thank you, thank you.” And there it is… yes, an understanding perhaps that I never had before. Something that I created when I was in the very darkest and most painful place in my life has somehow gone on to live its own new life. And it has its own entirely different purpose now too – to uplift the breathtaking work or another artist. And forevermore, this poet and I will be inextricably linked by the creations that we have both made out of our own lives and our own pains. It is an eerie and darkly gorgeous thing I could have never imagined would happen in my life.

I didn’t expect to have some profound lesson come out of this venture. But there it is… this understanding that maybe that is what we’re supposed to do with all of this pain in life. We’re supposed to express it. And give it away so that it can become something that uplifts or supports the life of another. In this way, it can be transformed into something – transformed actually, back into love – which is what our pain was in the first place. That is one powerful healing cycle.

Maybe it’s something we create – like this photo or a song or a painting – or maybe its as simple taking the time to talk about our pain openly, so that it can help another feel less alone. When we express it openly we are giving our pain a chance to grow wings and soar – and to give a gift to someone else’s journey along the way.

It is precisely the kind of impact I have hoped for his life and his death to have since that dreadful day one. And slowly, as I begin to heal a little more, and as I keep expressing my pain in any and every way that feels right, I am starting to feel like he and I are building a legacy together… one in which he is teaching me the lessons I could not have learned any other way. Lessons that are vital in helping me to be a part of others lives in ways I never would have been able to before. And that part of this dreadful journey… I would not trade for anything.

I don’t say it enough – but thank you all for allowing me space in your Sunday to give my pain. And thank you for writing back to me with yours so that we can keep this healing cycle going together. ~ Much Love

Widow Proud

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Since Drew died, I have been acutely aware of how uncomfortable my very presence makes people at times. I talk about it less and less on Facebook, and even with my closest friends and family. I’m not really talking about the people closest to me – family and dear friends – but rather the rest of the entire population who isn’t on that close level with me. You are a reminder to them of death, and they feel sorry for you, and you know it. It’s definitely a shitty part of this journey – feeling like my very identity upsets people or makes them uncomfortable or unsure of how to act around me (as if I need people to be anyone but themselves). This is made to suck even more by the fact that I am one of those people too – I also don’t want to be around my own pain and this new unwanted identity of “widow”. It is a constant battle for me to try and make peace with this new part of who I am that reminds me of everything I do not have.

Not entirely sure of what to expect or how it will help me with this identity crisis, last Friday I hopped on a plan to go to Camp Widow for the first time. This is an incredible conference for widowed people held three times a year – the only one of its kind. Upon arrival I am surrounded by a few hundred others just like me. I even meet a few close friends for the first time in person. These people are incredible. They are not famous, they are not peace prize winners or hollywood actors, they are just you and me – all of us regular people – deciding to show up even though life has completely broken us. There we all are… still trying to find hope and healing and something good in life. Despite it all… Still fucking trying!

I meet Tanya, who’s fiancé died in the 9/11 attacks and whose story both drops me to my knees and simultaneously fills me with so much hope and strength that my soul overflows. I meet a woman who lost her husband just three weeks ago – and somehow she managed to get out of bed AND get on a plane AND show up at this massive event. And Jennifer – the warrior – who is only 32 and has already been widowed twice and is raising six kids now on her own. I meet a woman who traveled alone all the way from Australia just to be there – knowing no one when she got there, and her husband died less than a year ago. I watch my dear friend Kelley do an incredible stand-up comedy act all about death and the death of her husband – getting widowed people to laugh harder than they probably have since their partner died. I mean wow people. Call Oprah and get her in here – cuz we’ve got a LOT of inspiration going on. Somehow we are all just opening our hearts fully – with tears and with laughter. SO much laughter. So much understanding and kindness.

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Myself and the Unwedded Widows group

There are moments that I just stand there in this great big ocean of courage and take it all in. The unfathomable pain of everyone there crashes into me like a ten foot wave, but the love… the love and the extraordinary strength of so many willing to share themselves fully changes my entire perspective on what it means to be widowed….

I leave the conference on Sunday and head for the airport… I am wearing my “Hope Matters” shirt, and I realize… I am different. I am changed and I can feel it. No longer am I a woman who is fighting with all her might against the idea of being a widow… suddenly, I AM a widow – and no part of me is fighting it inside. I am walking around a crowded airport literally wearing my identity, and for the first time in this whole horrible, excruciating, exhausting, terrifying, earth-shattering journey… I am PROUD.

I am proud to call myself a widow. I am proud that anyone around me can read it right there on my shirt. I don’t want to hide it away. I don’t want to hide myself away. I don’t care if I make every single person in a five mile radius uncomfortable. Because the thing is… there will be someone in that crowd who is hurting just as bad as me. And if I can be honest about my pain, it helps them be honest about theirs too. That is what all these brave people taught me last weekend – they were honest about their pain, and they allowed me to let my guard down and be honest about mine (and it turns out, I am still SO NOT OKAY with ANY of this and have been putting on a really good brave face for a long time). Everyone there helped me to realize that I really am strong, even in my most broken moments – we all are.

I don’t think I even realized how much of a wall I had built up over the past 2 years, it’s so easy to do and happens so gradually. This life may not be pretty a lot of the time, and everyone may not want to look at it or hear about it, but I have been reminded that hiding myself and my truth away does not help me – or anyone else – to heal. I need to be who I am, where I am, exactly how I am and to keep letting people into my life who can support that. I also need to make sure I am sitting with my pain and honestly seeing it too. I guess I just needed an army of other widowed people to help me remember that.

This experience definitely opened my eyes and made me realize that now, in my new life, this is a club I DO want to be a part of. And I plan to be, for a very very long time, coming back to Camp Widow each year. And I hope that next year – if it feels right for you – you will join me too.

Related Links:
Camp Widow
Soaring Spirits Loss Foundation

 

Cemetery Songs: Worlds Away

Worlds away
With memories of killing time with dreams.
Think of me;
It was so cold we burned.
And as they leave
They cross my mind.
No time; I think it’s over.
This life inside
I seem to mind.
Look in your eyes;
You’re worlds away,
And life is locked inside you..
They sleep and sleepwalk.
They dissolve to dreams.
Hear children crying;
They’re losing everything.
From heart to heart
The beat, slow, fades.
The sun explodes the night-time.
For all we know
There’s nothing changed.
Look in your eyes;
You’re worlds away,
Where art is close to science
A million miles,
A thousand minds,
Now worlds away.
Oh, no, don’t say goodbye.
When you can love only one thing,
And they want you to know.
It’s you, it’s you.
Worlds away,
Don’t say goodbye.
Worlds away,
Don’t…say…good…bye.

2014: A Year of Self Portraits

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Although I’ve taken hundreds of self portraits since Drew died, I hardly ever share any of them. The above photo is in fact one of the only portraits I’ve shared that is deeply related to my grief. I took it just 4 or 5 months after he died. This scarf made me feel both powerful and protected at the same time…. very important feelings when your whole world falls apart around you. It also made me feel close to him. As a pilot, his love of flight became infectious and deeply inspiring to me… and so anything flight related became a real symbol of hope for me after he died.

This photo represented for me the in-between – not in my old life and not yet able to be in any kind of new life. It is a part of the journey we all must go through when enduring any kind of loss. This photo for me represents my incubation from the world… the time in which I needed to be sheltered in order to become who the person who is able to step forward into a new life one day.

In the last post I wrote here, I shared several very private portraits I had never showed anyone. It felt REALLY vulnerable to do, but the response both here and on Widow’s Voice where I shared that post was wonderful and seemed to help many. It got me thinking that there might just be some power to sharing more of this.

So…. My plan is to do a year of self portraits – one a week – to explore my individual journey through grief more deeply. In order to focus on the true emotion and not get hung up on the technical, I am choosing to the full series as photography – a media that I am very comfortable and experienced with already.

My goal is to use both the photo-taking process and journaling in combination to begin to dig deeper into my own grief and myself going through it, to see it from different angles, and to allow myself to be seen and heard doing so.

I’ll admit as I type this, there is something about announcing “I’m going to photograph myself for a year” that feels entirely self-centered and irksome. The old demons come up, saying “Who do you think you are? Who will care about a year of pictures of you?”. Well… for one, I will. I want to know what I will gain from this, learn from it, how I will heal more, and how it might help others to do the same for themselves. I figure that’s a pretty darn good start right there.

So, I’ll be sharing my first portrait a week from today, and every Monday for the year, on my creative blog – 12 Months of Creativity. Along with the photos, I will share some of the journaling that happens around each image *Shudders at the thought of this!* So vulnerable! But I’m trusting anyone out there reading to be kind to what I give – as I am certain that most people will be. I’ll share an update once a month or so here too, for anyone not following my creative blog. Here I go…

 

Turning Pain to Love

hand-reaching-heart-21In 2012, when his death was so fresh, I needed to talk. About the pain, the fear, the agony, the anger, the loss, the accident, the future we will not have, the children we won’t raise, the wedding we won’t share… all of it. I wanted to crawl out of my skin with all the pain. I talked and cried almost every single day to someone about my pain. I talked to everyone. Even inappropriately so.

No literally… I have told my story – complete with shameless tears – to perfect strangers. Including customers at the gallery I worked at, a seamstress I had hemming a pair of pants for me, and my masseuse. Really anyone was prey to my grief attacks for about a year there. Sometimes it ended up weird or awkward, but most of the time, it didn’t.

Most of the time, it would allow them to share something really vulnerable in their life (the seamstress it turns out was a widow herself many years back, and has since remarried to a wonderful man), or help them simply feel honored that I would trust them enough to share. Almost every time, we both ended up in tears and hugging each other. It turns out, it doesn’t really matter if we know each other – we can all give that exchange to one another just by listening and honoring one another where we are.

Looking back, I can begin to understand it this way:
Sharing pain transforms it back into love. I stretch out my arms – with a piece of my pain held in my hands – to someone, to anyone who will have it. It is always a risk that they will not reach back, always, but I know I need to try if my heart is to survive this without becoming hardened. So I reach and I show them my pain. And my hope is that they reach back. And usually, they do. They take that small piece of my pain in their hands. They see it, touch it, come to know it. They turn it over in their hands and take it to their hearts and feel it for a moment. And then they give it back to me, but when it is returned to my hands… miraculously, every time, I find that it is no longer pain at all, but love. They have completely transformed that one small piece – with nothing more than a simple act of acknowledging it, and therefore acknowledging me.

Because our pain, you see, is really just the part of ourselves that has loved fully and deeply and come to be broken. When we give a piece of it to someone, and they receive it with compassion, they can return it back to us as love – as it once was. To me, this has been what healing is about. Taking the chance to be vulnerable and share my pain, bit by bit, day by day… reaching my hands out again and again and again… each time holding a single grain of sand from the desert of pain that resides in my heart. And each time receiving back a single grain of love.

It is a lifelong process, grain by grain. And no, we never do turn all those grains back into love. There will always be some pain amidst our hearts, but looking at it this way helps me to see how every person who has touched my life – and everyone who will – helps me to transform my pain back into love. He did this for me too, well before I was aware. Our vulnerability with each other helped us to turn each other’s pain from the days before we met back to love. And now, by the force of his death, I am having to learn a new way to do this. It is time to let others be part of that journey… let them turn my pain back to love, and give the same back to them. I am hoping that by sharing this, it does a little of that for both you and me.

Out on a Ledge

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So, here we are… day one of the new year and I’m already out on a ledge. Not quite the grand ledge I was standing at last year in the picture above (talk about symbolic), but still a pretty big one. The art gallery I have worked at since Drew died just closed its doors yesterday for the last time. It has been incredibly bittersweet to say goodbye… I can still remember walking into that place just a few months after he died, and how my heart was set ablaze with excitement. I remember walking around the shop, my eyes feasting on colorful paintings, clever metal sculptures, delicate hand-crafted jewelry and so much more. It was a kaleidoscope for my soul. It has been this way since he died – no matter how much pain I am in at any given moment… put me in front of beautiful art and I am transported entirely into childlike wonder. This is what the gallery gave me.

I remember walking in for my interview and meeting with the woman who would become the best boss I’ve ever had. The woman who often sat with me during my work shifts and let me talk to her about my pain and met me with a warm embrace when my heart fell to tears. The woman who let me stay in her home sometimes just to cut down on my three-hour round trip drive to the gallery… even on nights when her family was in town visiting. They greeted me with delicious meals (I still can recall the seared tuna steaks and salad with freshly made dressing that her husband created – he is quite an amazing cook). We would then talk over succulent red wines about life and death and spirituality and love well into the nights. It was more than just a place to stay… it was a home for my heart. It was the sort of caring and kindness my wounded soul needed.

I remember leaving after that interview and my soul beaming wildly to the point that I was laughing and crying all at the same time. I could feel Drew’s hand in it all. I could feel this deep spiritual connection to him and that I had somehow found the exact place I belonged for the next leg of this painful and terrifying journey. I had found hope.

Sure, it was just a $9 an hour retail job. But I had dreamed of working in a gallery or doing anything that could get me closer to the art world all my life. I walked away from a job that in no way fed my soul, and I stepped into a place that lit my soul up. Every time I walked through the door, I was reminded that he brought me to this place. Every day, his death was given purpose and meaning for me. Which in turn continued to give me hope. Looking back, it is no wonder that I felt that Drew was leading me there. I have no doubt in my mind it was where I was supposed to be.

But as all things eventually do, it was time for this to come to an end. I had felt a pull in my heart to move on as fall approached, and was beginning to feel antsy for a change. When my boss told me she was closing down at the end of the year, I decided to stick it out to the end with her. Of course. As impatient as I had been for a change earlier in the year, these past few months of knowing the end is coming I think gave me the time I really needed to feel ready for this ending. After all, endings of any kind now are tremendously painful as they bring up the pain of his death all over again, too. Funny how that works out sometimes – the universe seeming always to know fully well when the timing is right… making us look like fools for having tried to rush ahead.

So, here we are, day one of the new year – and at the same time – day one of some whole new adventure for me. I’m starting out the year quite abruptly on a ledge… staring out at this great big unknown. And just like when I stood on that ledge at the Grand Canyon – with a stranger asking me from a few dozen yards behind “aren’t you scared?”… surprisingly, I am finding yet again my answer to be no. I’m feeling right about it, and I’m trusting that I will be guided to what is next, just as I was guided this past year.

I’ve got some ideas about the year… things I’d like to accomplish, projects I’d like to take on, places I’d like to go, fears I’d like to overcome, a lot of things I’d like to do that I wasn’t quite ready for this past year. And honestly I still don’t know if I am ready yet for a lot of it… but that’s life. I’m already out here, with the wind whipping at my back. I’ve jumped once before, since he died, and it took me to the gallery – to a healing and hopeful place. So I guess this year is going to be about holding the courage and trust to take the next jump.

 

Thankful After Death

It’s that time of year again… where we all begin to focus a little bit more on what we’re grateful for. I admit that usually I am annoyed by this custom… especially when people bitch and moan all year long and then for just one month they decide to have an attitude of gratitude. Although if it helps people who otherwise forget to be grateful to think about things for a month, I suppose that’s a good thing.

So I thought I would get real with my list this year… and make it one that focuses entirely on the things I have to be glad for after death. These aren’t just things I am creating to make a list, they are the daily experience of my life, the things that keep me going and make my life still worth living each day since Drew died. Many of them are also not things I would have ever thought to be so deeply grateful for before experiencing a loss that rocked me to my core and left me completely incapacitated in many ways. I hope that it gives a small glimpse into my daily world of learning to live on…

1. I’m glad I’m alive today. Living and freely walking about without any hindrances to speak of aside from the exhaustion of grief. I am tired almost ALL of the time now, my body and mind depleted by the constant ebb and flow of grief that never really slows down too much. But even with all of that – even though sometimes I just get plain fed up with being so tired and having to work so hard to keep going and keep finding hope…. I still have a life, and that’s a big deal. The world doesn’t guarantee that life will be easy or fair, and no matter how hard it is at times… its still an incredible privilege to have, and I try never to forget it.

2. I’m thankful that today is not my “hardest day”, because for someone out there… Many someone’s, it is. Someone out there right now is losing a person they love dearly, or going through something else traumatic. And their life is – right at this moment – being changed irrevocably and exploding into pieces… pieces that will leave them terrified that they might not even survive it all. And they can’t eat right, or sleep right, or think right, and they feel handicapped by all of those things, and scared and alone. I’ve had that day. More than once. And I’m thankful that today, as of right now, is not that day for me… and that the worst thing wrong with my day is that my feet hurt a little and I miss my love.

3. I’m grateful that no one else in my life has suffered any sudden death or serious illness or trauma. My grandmother died this year, but she was 100, went peacefully, and was ready to go. I am grateful that has been my only new experience with death since last summer.

4. I’m grateful to have a best friend. Nothing can replace a best friend. The one who has walked through the fire with me, who gets that Drew is still just as much a part of our lives as he always was, who holds my hand each day, who reminds me to be silly, and who listens when I need to cry. Who always has my back. Who – even though at first I did not want her to – took on the role of my best friend when my best friend and soul mate died. She’s made him proud, and I know without a doubt he picked her to show up for me.

5. I’m grateful that I can listen to our song again. For over a year, I have been unable to… and in August the time finally came that I could – and that it wasn’t painful, but instead comforted me, and brought me crystal clear memories of beautiful times we shared.

6. I’m glad I know who my true friends are, the ones who will show up at my worst and keep showing up for the long haul, no matter much it pains them to be so near to my pain.

7. I’m grateful for massages. No seriously, it probably sounds sad, but it’s the only physical touch my body gets now, and our bodies need touch. I’ve become infinitely appreciative of the simple act of one human giving another human healing and love through massage.

8. In the same way, i am grateful for pedicures and manicures. It’s the only time that my hands and feet are touched with such kindness and care. The only person who did that before was Drew. Now, I let others and I appreciate each moment of being taken care of in that way.

9. I’m thankful for the waitress at a restaurant who brings me food when I eat alone – because she too is taking care of me, bringing more than a meal, but also kindness. I let her kindness wash over me and allow myself to feel the love coming through.

10. I’m thankful for the videos, pictures, and many writings my fiance left me with so I can always remember him, our endless laughter, and his lessons. Anytime I am really missing him badly, I can just open up pictures, watch videos, and read old conversations or journal entries and feel comforted.

11. I’m so grateful for every individual – friend or stranger – who does not run away from my pain… who is not afraid to sit in it with me for a moment and just listen. For the ones who treat me like a normal person still and do not try to tip-toe around me because of their own fears about death. You folks are priceless to me feeling human.

12. I’m thankful for dental floss. Last year, for 4 months I was out of dental floss… and my brain was so completely fucked up by the trauma that I could not remember to buy any. I would go to the store… i would even walk down the damn aisle every time, and every time I would walk out with no dental floss and not realize it until I got home. Of course every time I realized it I just sighed in frustration… I felt handicapped mentally in everything that I did for a long time. I even made lists for everything, but I could not remember even making the lists so that was a fail too. It took a long time, but now, I can think more normally again. Now I can actually keep a thing like “dental floss” in my mind, go to the store, and actually come home with it! I am really thankful for that.

13. I’m grateful for art. For the act of creating. Because it has saved my life. Because when everything else in my entire world exploded, and I exploded with it, the one thing I still had was the ability to make something. A poem, a painting, a photograph… anything. For a year and a half it has been this way – breathing and making stuff… literally the only things I know how to do that make sense anymore. On the really hard days, when nothing else can ease the pain, and I mean nothing… I can grab my camera or a paintbrush or a pen, and I can DO. And in the doing I connect to something spiritual, and to him, and I let go entirely, I find God, and I find my peace.

14. I’m thankful that I’m a really good cryer. That I know how and when to let myself completely fall the fuck apart, and that I’ve come to know that peace is always just on the other side of a really really good cry.

15. I’m glad that I love and respect myself and that I know how to put myself and my own health first. That I can say “no” to obligations without any guilt whatsoever because I am taking care of me. That I can stand naked in the mirror and love all of me, even with the extra 15 pounds I’ve put on this year. And that I know now that I will not take any shit from people, most especially, from myself.

16. I’m really grateful for loud heavy metal music on the bad days. Seriously. NOTHING gets the anger out like blasting some Slayer or Pantera and driving down country roads.

17. I’m glad for good sleep. After he died, I slept only about 3-5 hours a night for at least 6 months… usually interjected with waking up about 5 times and always waking up at 5 or 6am unable to go back to sleep. Every freaking day. This year, I’ve been able to sleep through the night almost every night now. I never stop being grateful for that, because lack of sleep and bad sleep is truly a special kind of hell that affects everything else in your day.

18. I’m grateful my cats are dead. What?! I know, that sounds awful. But I must explain that they were both older and one had quite a lot of health problems at the time Drew died… and I was honestly just SO exhausted from trying to heal myself and also take care of them. They ended up passing on in the summer this year, within a month of each other oddly. I miss them so dearly – they have been the one constant in my life since I was 20 years old – but it was just too much. It’s been such a weight off my shoulders to not have to worry about them anymore. I needed to let go of that.

19. I’m grateful for the rare moments and days when I get to feel like a “regular” person again… Where pain or longing or missing him does not dominate every fiber of me. For days when I have entirely normal conversations with people now, when before, every single interaction somehow involved talking about death. I’m grateful there is a little more room now for death to share me with other things, like life.

20. I’m grateful beyond words that I have the support of my family and his and our friends to enable me to rebuild myself. His family has helped me to be able to essentially take a year or two “off” from life so that I could make my most important focus be to find ways to heal and figuring out how I will begin again. No words can ever express how much the support in my life has changed my experience of his death – coloring my grieving world with more love and hope and kindness and possibility than I have ever had in my life. The people around me have helped to change the entire course of my life in such a way that I feel I will be able to look back in 5 or 10 years and say that Drew’s death did not destroy my life, but that it – and he – made my life far more beautiful.

21. I’m thankful I’m not a nervous person anymore. Drew even told me that once, and I knew he was right. I mean I would get nervous about trying to make it to the airport and get to my gate on time… so much so that one time he even had to go in with me and help me through the process of getting my bags checked and my boarding pass printed because I was just so anxious. I really hated this quality. But the truth is that when you lose a parent young like I did, and you are left always feeling scared of the other one dying, you become a nervous person. It happens. I don’t quite know how, but him dying changed that. Somewhere in the past year, trying to put my pieces back together, I noticed those pieces were missing… the nervous pieces. And I guess I just didn’t go looking for them. I now, for the most part, I react calmly and logically to things that used to make me nervous. Airports? Piece-o-cake now. I am not a nervous person anymore.

22. I’m grateful for a deepened and more intimate relationship to a higher power/God/universe which has developed this past year and I have allowed to guide me. I have spent this entire year with the theme of “letting go” being pushed at me from seemingly all directions. Not letting go of Drew or of my love for him, but letting go of the pain and the trying to control. Letting go so that a force greater than myself can guide me to where I am needed and where I am supposed to be. I pray a lot now, I meditate daily in various ways… not traditional meditation, but activities that allow my to clear my mind and find peace. Photography is a big form of meditation. I’m grateful for all of this.

23. I’m glad to have an incredible support network of widows/widowers that I can call on when I have really rough days and just need to vent to someone who gets it. These women are fiercely projective of me, and I of them. We know all the important days to check on each other, and we have heard each other laugh and cry in ways no one else has. I am so glad for this group of men and women.

24. I’m thankful I will always be the last woman Drew ever loved. That he really, truly, gave me his all, and that I did the same. That there was always – above all – kindness, trust, and respect. And that there are no regrets about our time together. We both lived fully and with  integrity for ourselves and with each other. He made me proud in a way no man in my life ever has… he showed me what a good man is, and he changed me entire world forever with his love.

25. I’m grateful that I know what real love is, and that I know love is the only thing that matters. Not just romantic love, but all love. Loving each other always with kindness and respect. I’m grateful I can see so much clearer now that such love – even from one stranger to another – can change people’s lives in really big ways.

26. I’m glad for the ways Drew shows me he is still around and for the ways he changed me for the better and still is even in his passing. That he guides me, and that on every twist and turn of this winding path since he died I have felt his hand in it. I trust him more than anyone I have ever known, and so I still trust him to lead the way.

27. I’m grateful that the cemetery where he is buried is out in the country, and that I can go sit in the grass beside him without another soul around for hours at a time. That I can play music, sing songs, cry my eyes out if I need to and take naps there entirely unbothered by the rest of the world. Out there, nothing else matters but us.

28. I’m grateful beyond words that his family is my family, and mine his… and that our families together have rallied around me with support in a way that has totally and completely changed my life and made an enormous impact on my healing and my ability to move forward. My life has been made so beautiful by their presence.

29. I’m glad I can help people who are grieving or in pain, that sometimes I am able to give them hope, or simply to help them feel like someone has their back. I’m glad that they trust me enough to allow me to sit with them in those most intimate and vulnerable corners of themselves.

30. I’m glad, once again, that I am alive today.