Building from the Grief Up

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Written Nov 8:
We took a trip to Pittsburgh yesterday. It was my first time to ever visit Pennsylvania. I’m not sure why, but I’ve wanted to visit this state since I was a kid. As we approached I was so surprised. The city itself was so beautiful… and the landscape was nothing like I’d expected – although I am not entirely sure what I expected it to be. The hills all around were steep and towering, the city itself built up within the twists and turns of the natural world. It felt inventive, and sturdy, and wonderfully adapted to the landscape. Tall, skinny houses on steep slopes. Narrow winding roads to accommodate the inclines and declines. A system of bridges to connect things amidst the two rivers that surround downtown and meet on one end.

I’m always fascinated by cities built up in areas like this. Even more impressive is that this city is 400 years old. You could feel the history of this place just driving through it. There was a certain feeling of grit and determination about it. A sense of the ingenuity and adaptability it took to create. I started to consider the idea of a place like this as a metaphor for human life and all it’s struggles…

Sometimes in life, we are born into a place with steep inclines and deep valleys. Other times, we are delivered to such a place somewhere along the way… by events like the death of a spouse, parent, child or other loved one. Or by some other catastrophic event.

The city was a reminder to me of our ability as humans to be adaptable. Despite the harshest of landscapes that life puts in our way, we can survive and create amazing lives. This city was also far more interesting and beautiful because of the hills and valleys that people had to work around to build it. And so I think it goes in life. Grief is the harshest landscape we will likely ever have to build the city of our hearts within. As we adapt though, we create something breathtaking. Every beautiful street in our hearts is influenced by the slopes of our grief. Each step took hard work, but work that was meaningful. We might start out in the bottom of the valley, where things feel overwhelming, but over time, we build up. We reach higher up the slopes. And eventually, we are looking down over the landscape of our grief and seeing a thing made beautiful – not in spite of the difficulties, but because of them.

The First Big Departure

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Warrior and the Wildflowers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Big Little First

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grieving the Grief Years

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Other Side: Dating a Widower

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Living with “After” Shock

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Something I don’t think we talk about much when it comes to grief is that there are many, many subsequent losses after we lose someone we love. We’re talking hundreds if not thousands. Like aftershock from an earthquake, they continue to shake our foundation for YEARS after the initial tragedy. This is particularly true if you lost your spouse or partner.

It can be the smallest things, like the first time you have to take out the trash or eat alone. Or the really big things like first holidays without them or moving from the place you called home together. But it’s also the joyful things, like landing a new job or winning an award, making new friends or dating someone new. Every single event or change in your life from the moment they die is another loss – another layer of having to come to terms with the fact that they aren’t here and aren’t coming back. Another small step of letting go in order to move forward. Not letting go of them, but letting go of what would have been to make room for what is and will be.

I’ve had several such tremors recently. One of which was attending a professional development workshop for artists. This workshop was kind of a big deal. I had to submit a portfolio of my artwork along with an artist statement to even be considered. They only chose 22 people to be part of the workshop. And I was chosen.

So last weekend, I hauled myself the hour and a half to Austin – not knowing what to expect. I was nervous, but excited. The workshop was great. It was lead by two very well established business women from NYC – one who works with artists and creative companies of all sizes on strategic and business planning, and the other a successful artist who now helps other artists all over the country through this workshop series. As I sat there, I felt full of excitement. And promise. And possibility. It was just the opportunity for helping me take the next steps of building this new career and life in my “after” life.

What I didn’t expect though, is the aftershock (You’d think after two and a half years I’d come to expect it, yet still it catches me off guard).

As the day unfolded, I began to see more clearly for the first time that this path will require me to grow into a person I am not yet. To learn how to approach galleries, curators, museums, magazines, etc. To learn how to speak professionally about my work and how that must differ depending on the setting and person. And if I ever hope to do speaking engagements about art and grief – I will need to develop my almost non-existent public speaking skills too.

So there before me, in this class, lay the outline of just how much change and growth will potentially happen if I step fully into this path ahead. Suddenly, I began feeling this backward pull – this resistance. Of course resistance to anything new is natural, but this was more than just the typical fears of being out of my comfort zone. It was the fear of stepping more fully OUT OF the life he and I shared together and the person I was when I was with him. It means stepping into becoming a woman he did not yet know me to be.

I felt backed up against a wall… not wanting to make those steps, not feeling ready to walk away yet from the remnants of our life together. And at the same time, wanting what that future could be with a deep burn inside me… knowing that this path will be the best way I can honor myself and him.

Such a mix of emotions. Wanting to go full speed ahead, but not wanting to let go. Even though I still feel just as connected to him as I have, I still fear that letting go more will somehow mean I will lose him more. Nothing has proven this logic – yet still, it’s quite a real fear. Will I always have this fear? Every step forward – will it test my ability to trust that he will remain with me just as strongly no matter where I go and what I do? Perhaps. Or maybe it will get easier to trust over time.

For now, I’m just taking it all in, paying attention, trying to learn what I can from it… and trying to be as brave as I am able to be. And also, as gentle as possible with myself. I don’t have to rush, or push too far ahead too fast. I can take things on as I feel strong enough, bit by bit. Or as my fiancé used to say… “how do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time”. It always made me smile. Remembering today to be okay with where I am at, and to trust that he will be with me fully as I move more fully into a new life.

Walking Alone, Together

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I’m writing today to you from Hawaii. I came out for a few weeks to visit a friend on Oahu. This is the longest trip I’ve ever taken away from home since he died, and the first real vacation I’ve taken without him or his family being with me. Leaving the shelter of home has always made me a little antsy, but now instead of just the usual nervousness, my mind is filled with new questions about how I will be able to cope with something so seemingly simple yet terrifying as vacation.

Will my anxiety strike? Will I have a complete meltdown in a totally public space because something triggered my grief or a memory? Will it happen totally unplanned and out of nowhere? Will I miss him so much that I won’t even be able to enjoy myself? I’ve found that the answer to all of those things is yes. At least until you get there. I’d be lying if I didn’t say that on the morning of my flight I wasn’t riddled with anxiety. But I am learning that if I want to ever get out there and do anything, I have to be willing to accept that the grief factors are just going to be a part of things for now. If I want to try something, I have to accept those things may happen.

So I got on that plane and I flew over an ocean alone… knowing full well that all of those scary things might (and very well would) happen. The crazy thing is, for the most part, they haven’t. I am on day 11 of this 14 day trip… and I am pretty okay. I had some anxiety for the first few days, and certain activities have been a little difficult, but no major melt downs. No insane anxiety. And his absence has absolutely not kept me from being able to enjoy the moment.

In an odd way, its been more of the opposite. I’ve felt more able to embrace the present moment and more appreciative of it all. Even in the frustrating moments or when things go wrong. Our helicopter tour got canceled due to rain (it was going to be the first time going up in a helicopter since he died in one… and the first time to have anyone behind the controls but him taking me up). I dropped my GoPro camera into the ocean while kayaking and watched it sink straight to the bottom. My DSLR camera quit working on me halfway through the trip – just totally dead (and thankfully now revived!). And I’ve gotten lost in the jungle a number of times and fallen into rivers getting soaked to the bone… and none of these things have phased me. I’ve responded to all of them with a calm resolve and clearheadedness that is so entirely foreign to my personality.

It’s a very familiar reaction for me, just not one that has ever come from within me. It was how HE responded to things. Always very solid and logical, he had a way of responding to things that helped me to stay calmer and more rational. I was always the one getting worked up about little things or creating problems where there weren’t any yet. I never liked that part of me, but I didn’t know how to not be that way. Now, when faced with frustrations or minor struggles, I seem to have adopted those qualities that I loved so much in him. It’s as if parts of him have been infused right into my own personality and soul… some of the best parts.

I feel like each new experience in this afterlife of mine is teaching me new things and bringing new depth, value, and meaning to his death. With every trip I go on, every new thing I try, every risk I take – I feel as though I am not only coming to know myself and what I’m capable of on a much deeper level, but also somehow that I am getting to know him on a deeper level too. I’m learning that embracing the now does not make me forget him or our relationship. Embracing this new life does not make him any less a part of that new life. In fact, the more over time that I am able to embrace the new life I was thrown into – the more I feel that he is on the journey with me still.

Sure, I still miss his body warmly next to mine. I still miss his eyes and his hands and his laughter. Sometimes excruciatingly so. But now, I am coming to know a different part of him. And a different part of myself. Parts of us that we would have never come to know had we not been sent on this journey. It still somehow feels like we are in this together. And in completely different ways, this new life together – this journey of walking alone, but still walking together – is just as beautiful.

Bad-Good Days

I wake up in heartache everyday… and it takes hours to really pull out of it usually. Half of the time, I’m lucky if I manage to make myself eat before two in the afternoon. Thanks to my hour and a half work commute, I’ve taken up the expert hobby of criving (crying while driving) – as the car still seems to be the best place to have a full and total melt down. The open road, the privacy of the car, and the right music… yup, a fool-proof recipe for a sob-fest. We’re talking explosive stuff here, like screaming and crying all at the same time. These are definitely things you do not want to do in front of other people, lest you scare them.

The tears must come though… there is no good to be had in holding them back. Something my brother said to me a few weeks ago that sticks with me; that there will be a lot of tears for Andrew, because he was that good of a man, and losing a man so good is worth crying a great amount of tears over for a long period of time. I couldn’t agree more. It doesn’t make it easier, but it does help me to allow it to happen. He is worth every tear.

It’s weird how a single day now can be both horrible and magical at the same time. Does this make sense? It doesn’t entirely to me, but it happens often. The day usually starts out with a lot of heartache, usually some tears… and from there it can really go anywhere.

Today I actually had a great day… work was fun, I went by the nearby town of Wimberley on my way home to check out their well-known art scene. I even managed to unexpectedly snag a really fun freelance design job while I was out making art contacts there, and met some very nice people who gave me great info. I grabbed an iced coffee from my favorite coffee shop on the planet – which happens to be here in Seguin. Then I came back to the house and spent the rest of the night eating awesome spaghetti and hanging out with Andrew’s folks.

But I also cried all day. I cried on my drive to work in the morning. I cried as soon as I left work. I cried about every 5 minutes on the way to Wimberley… and I cried several times on my way into Seguin. It was just one of those days. Yet somehow in the midst of heartache, so much good was happening today.. and I felt proud and excited that I’d made some new contacts in the art world and picked up that freelance job. That sure as hell is a lot to fit into one day. This is how most days are now. Exhausting, invigorating, bad-good days. It is still far better than the all bad days though – which do still come. It keeps me grateful for even the smallest moments of opportunity, productivity and joy each day.

 

On our way…

Well, the day is here. Two kitties and a carload of stuff and we’re off to the hill country….

Today is the day
Here we go on our way
I don’t know what we’ll find
or how long we will stay
all i know is one thing
as sure as can be
you’ll be in my heart
and with that I am free

Free to be bold
and free to be brave
Free to be fearless
while still feeling safe
Because you are here
to watch over me
I can finally be all
I was born to be.