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.

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.

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.