Connecting the Dots

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Turning A New Page

I’ve gotten behind on posting some of my blogs here recently, so this one is a catch-up. Written Sept 13….

I am sitting in my hotel room in Toronto writing… trying to find the best and most concise way to describe all that has happened in the past seven days of my life. I say “most concise” because I’ve got a bag to pack, and many wonderful widow friends to still say farewells to before leaving Camp Widow Toronto. In a nutshell, the past week has been an enormous roller coaster. My first day visiting Mike in Ohio, I met his parents, brother, sister-in-law, niece and nephew. Oh, I also viewed the house I am looking to rent… because yes, its a great idea to go looking at a house the very first day you have ever been to a state halfway across the country from where you lived with your fiance. Yeah.

On day two, I met Mike’s mother-in-law and father-in-law, Megan’s parents, and her brother. On the same day, I looked at a new car, which I would be driving around in this new state halfway across the country when I move. This is because my in-laws want to keep Drew’s truck, which they told me just days before leaving to Ohio. Since we weren’t married, that one isn’t my say. I’m grateful for their help financially to get a new vehicle, but the idea of leaving his truck has added a whole other layer of grief to the idea of this move.

During these first two days, Mike and his daughter Shelby also drove me around and showed me their city and the various interesting things about the area. Even this was overwhelming, because I wasn’t looking at it as a place to visit… but as a place I will soon live. A place I will soon live that is NOT any place I have ever been with Drew. It felt foreign, very foreign from Texas. I felt so tense, like a part of me was resenting every last thing in Ohio because Ohio is taking me away from my beautiful home state. Ultimately, taking me away from the world I knew with Drew, and with my parents. It is another layer of loss. Despite how wonderful it’s been to meet all of Mike and Megan’s family and to see this beautiful part of the country and to fall in love with this house I want to rent, my heart has been honestly pretty pissed off since arriving here… because I do NOT want to endure any more fucking loss. Like seriously, no more.

And then on Friday, Mike and I packed up the car and took a road trip up to Toronto, for Camp Widow. I really have to say that, yet again, I am leaving Camp completely transformed. I brought so much resentment and fear with me to camp. So much resistance to change. And I am leaving with none of it.

I am leaving instead with laughter and smiles. With a renewed lightness and trust about things working out. With an even deeper assurance that Mike is the person I want to uproot my life for. I’ve shared moments of tears and opening my heart to others who understand. Moments of being able to talk about how scary it is to be changing so much of my life all over again. I’ve shared about how much I really really REALLY hate that opening this new chapter in my life also means turning the page on some of the old chapters. But most of all, I am leaving Camp with HOPE.

There’s a feeling of excitement now about this big unknown future I am about to jump into (even the snow, which for a Texas girl, is a hard thing to say). Over the past few days, I’ve started to realize that just maybe there will be even more goodness to this change than I could possibly imagine. Just maybe there are so many more reasons for living in this new place than just being near Mike and Shelby. There will be a chance to deepen relationships with many other people who I have previously lived very far away from… widowed friends, artist friends, and even some family.

It is nearly official now… I will be signing a lease agreement in just a few days. I will be moving at the end of October. I’ve decided. And I am committing to this leap, no matter what. It’s still scary as shit, but now it is also exciting. Having my community of widowed people this weekend was EXACTLY what I needed during this time. And I cannot thank them all enough. You all remind me that I am safe, and loved, and strong, and I can do this. You remind me that we are all capable of doing big things. Michele’s keynote address reminded me that, even though I am starting a new volume of my life, I can always go back to the previous books. They are always there in me, just waiting for me to pick them up, sit down with them, and flip thru the pages. The volume of my life that is Drew will always be there… and his volume will go with me everywhere I go. Just as all the others will.

At the end of this whole crazy week, I am seeing that what’s waiting in the next chapter could still be some of the happiest years of my life… not the same happiest years I had with Drew, but different happiest years… with new love, new friendships, new laughter, new memories, and new life. Drew is going to be a part of this chapter too, just as he is going to be a part of every chapter ahead. And his volume in my life will come right along with me and my moving truck. And it will be okay. And life will still be beautiful.

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.

The Distance Between Us: Missing One, and then Two

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You know what I’m learning lately? New happiness can be a strangely lonely and difficult journey. When I was deeply in my grief, I experienced the other kind of loneliness… the one where no one REALLY wants to know how you are doing. Where they don’t see YOU anymore and all they see is the grief. Where you are a constant reminder to others of the loss they will one day experience. Where they just want to believe you are holding it together and are too scared to actually know the reality of your day to day existence. It is a horrible loneliness to endure.

I guess I didn’t expect new happiness to also be a very lonely journey, but at times it is. The complexity of it isolates you from many people who don’t get it. It brings up new layers of grief that must be worked through – during a time when most people are just taking a huge sigh of relief thinking that your grief is “over” now that someone new is there. They think its all butterflies and rainbows and that “poof!” your pain is over and love has saved the day. It isn’t any easier when your new love is 1400 miles away…

I’ll be the first to joke, as I often do, that at least Mike is not as far away as Drew. But in all seriousness, the distance does wear on me at times. It feels strangely similar to carrying my grief around with me. Here is this very significant part of my life, a deep and beautiful relationship, but it rarely exists within the space of my physical life. Although he is always with me via texts and calls and skype, no one else around me is really quite aware. Nor are they aware just how hard that is. How hard it is to want him to be able to be a part of everything. How hard it is to watch everyone else going about their life with no idea of how – for me – someone is always missing. More than one someone now. It feels all too familiar.

I am remembering what I told Mike the very weekend we met at Camp Widow… how I would never have a long distance relationship after being widowed because it seemed like all you would do is trigger your grief over and over again. Having to leave each other after short visits. Having to live your life still without that person while loving them from afar. But I guess we don’t get to choose who we fall for… he tells me that all the time. And I would not trade Mike for the world. I could no more seperate my heart from him than seperate the stars from the sky. To my surprise, there is already a love there that is as deep as my love for Drew. I am completely convinced that Drew chose him, and that Megan chose me, and that they brought us together for a reason. But it is still HARD work.

It feels shitty to talk about how difficult a long distance relationship has been for me… in this particular setting. At least I can call him. At least he is alive. At least I get to see him about once a month. At least I have a new person whom makes me feel important and loved and honors my dead person. I come up with every one of those justifications daily to try and not let myself acknowledge how much the distance wears on me at times. I don’t even feel like I have a right to be upset over it. But I need to stop fighting it. It does wear on me… and that’s okay. It would wear on anyone, particularly anyone widowed, and I’ve got to give myself permission to feel that.

Even if Mike did live here, there would still be previously unknown layers of grief to navigate (on both sides, his and mine) along with the usual work of building a solid foundation for the relationship to grow on. So many people think that finding someone new will just “fix” everything… they don’t realize that entering into new love is like signing up for your next course in grief work – a place to study new chapters of it, a place where new lessons will be taught and new tests given. The greiving are never really done – we are students of death forever.

This journey is hard. And it will be hard all of our lives, through all the milestones and steps ahead. It will also be beautiful, and worthwhile, and incredible. But also hard. Right now… I miss Mike. And I miss Drew. I may miss Drew in a different way now, more as my best friend, but not any less. I still cry for him – and want him here to see everything good in my life now. Having Mike in my world does not change that and never will.

I still hate that Drew isn’t here physically. I hate that I get the chance to begin again and he does not. I hate that he will never physically be able to be part of my life moving forward… even though he touches and influences each and every part of it. Some days… that just isn’t enough. Just like some days, having Mike only a phonecall away, isn’t enough. Sometimes I just want both of them to hug me… maybe even at the same time, in some big, bizarre group bear hug of protection. I want them both here. And Mike’s wife Megan too. And in some crazy, irrational, dream-world in my mind… I just want all of us still living and smiling and laughing – and still knowing each other. I want the four of us together, surrounding Mike and Megan’s daughter Shelby with love and laughter – instead of only two of us. I want every one of us in this widowed community to magically know each other without having to have gone through all of this to get here. It doesn’t mean my life is not good, and beautiful, and happy, and full of meaning and laughter and light… but I will always want for this, for the rest of my life. It is the quiet melancholy that will always sit somewhere within the depths of my heart.

Bringing New Love Home: Next Chapters of Widowhood

Another post that’s been pending for a few weeks… the big, awesome, scary, sad, beautiful journey of new love coming home:

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Mike and I on the far right, with my friends at Drewfest.

I have gone through a myriad of emotions the past few days. Mike is down this weekend visiting me from Ohio… it is the first time he is meeting my family and a lot of my closest friends. It’s one of those big and bittersweet and totally surreal steps forward. Even more so because he is coming for a special event – an annual camping trip that my friends and I have each year in honor of my late-fiance, Drew. It’s so surreal to be inviting a new man to this particular event… and to be camping for the first time with someone new too.

For those who don’t know, this is my first relationship since my fiance Drew died 3 years ago. Mike and I have been dating long-distance now for several months after meeting at Camp Widow – both of us widowed. We’ve had a few trips together, one in which my mother-in-law was able to meet and spend a day with him, but this is the first time one of us is entering the other’s home turf. IT. IS. STRANGE. And beautiful. And heartbreaking. And surreal. All in the same breath.

When I say “my family” I really mean Drew’s. With my own parents both gone and my siblings far away, I came to live with his family when he died so we could go through this together. They are as much my family as my own and have always known and been open to the idea that I will move forward with love again… but of course this is the first time we are all having to face it for real. As close as we are, my dating again is very much something they have to also go through. Its difficult knowing that my choice to move forward will be hard for others in my life too, not only me. And that in order to move forward in love and in life – I have to put them through a difficult situation. I don’t like this, but I know there is no way around it. If we want to all be in each other’s lives, it just has to get a little messy.

So lets break this down… I live with my in-laws, in my dead fiance’s old bedroom. And the other night I pick up this new man from the airport and bring him HERE. To their home. To sleep in their son’s room with me. It sounds like a cross between a lifetime movie and a bad joke setup. I know a lot of you out there are wondering if there is hope for something to work out in your future with someone new. If you will ever find someone else, or ever be ready or want someone else. I get it. I have had all those same fears for the past three years. And many more.

I am telling you… if THIS can work, anything can. I was in no way ready to date, and I had all those fears about whether I could even love someone new. I worried my love for Drew would hold me back. I worried the entire situation of my life would be too complicated for anyone new… that no one would want to “deal” with me. I worried I might lose Drew’s family in the process of all of this. But I guess sometimes you just gotta jump in and see where it all takes you.

To my amazement none of my fears have come true thus far. In fact the opposite. I have felt myself able to love even deeper because of losing Drew. The other day Mike told me that I am easy to love. Easy to love? After all I have been through? I nearly cried, because I don’t feel easy to love and that was one of my biggest fears. I feel messy and complicated and all over the place. But I guess that’s all in my head.

Last night, we all went out to dinner – Drew’s parents, his younger sister, me and Mike. And I am just watching as Drew’s dad and Mike chat and get to know each other. Watching how they hit it off and how well they get along. I grin when Drew’s mom tells Mike to show us all a picture of his daughter Shelby. I cannot help but be completely beside myself to watch all of this going on in front of me and actually working. I swear I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop… for something to go wrong. And still it hasn’t. Today all my friends have just arrived for the camping trip, and as I have been writing this Mike and all of my friends have been getting things ready… all together. It’s as if somehow he was just always part of everything. So surreal. So beautiful.

The beauty of it all doesn’t take away the pain of course. I want my best friend to be able to be here to see all of this. Oddly, I want the man I was going to marry to be able to see me this happy with someone else. It’s heartbreaking that I can’t share it with him. I’ve cried each day Mike’s been here… so many emotions of joy and of sadness. Neither of us would have met if our persons had not died. We would not be getting to experience this new and different and equally beautiful love either. We would not be bringing these different families together from worlds apart. It has made me so sad because neither Drew nor Megan get this chance that we get. We are still here and get the chance to experience all of the many ups and downs of living life… and they do not. There is no way around it – sometimes this is stuff just plain sucks – even when it’s great.

I’m so grateful to be still be alive and to have someone to share the next chapter of adventures with. Someone who isn’t bothered by my missing Drew… who will hold me in those moments when it all becomes just a little too much.

Colors of Love: Celebrating Anniversaries in Widowhood

Another in a series of backlogged posts I’ve been meaning to share!
Written on June 6th, the night before what would have been our 6th anniversary of when we started dating…

unnamed.jpgI’m writing this the night before celebrating my third anniversary without Drew. By the time you read it, I will likely be somewhere in the middle of the day itself. I don’t have to tell any of you how surreal it feels to be here – celebrating our three years together after three years without him. It has a different kind of sadness to it, which is hard to put into words. Less sharp around the edges, easier to hold in my heart, but still sadness nonetheless.

Since he died, I have tried to do several things on our anniversary to make it a good day still: Do something to make myself feel special, Do something to make myself and him proud. If I can make this day about either of those things… I can usually still find the joy.

The first year, I signed myself up for a weekend art workshop to learn a new art medium I’d never tried before. It turned out to be the best possible thing I could have done. Not only was it a fun and active distraction that fed my passion, but it turned out to be even more. All the other attendees ended up canceling for various reasons and I was left as the solo student for the class. I felt very special to have this one-on-one instruction, and even ended up sharing our love story and all about him and my journey with my instructor. If I had to celebrate without him, it was the best way to have gotten to do so. I felt special to have a class just for me. And I felt proud that I had the guts to even get out of bed that day, much less find something that would feed my soul.

Last year, the second time around, I ended up going to a weekend conference with my mother-in-law all about death, spirituality, and the afterlife. It was a beautiful place to be, but being in an ocean of people at a conference made the specialness of our day feel very overshadowed. By the end of the day I was so depleted and overwhelmed, I ended up in tears on the phone to my best friend from the hotel lobby… blathering on and on for some hours. I suppose in the end, it was a different kind of beautiful…between her and I. His death has indeed added a depth to our friendship we never had before. I felt proud of myself for reaching out and leaning on her. Maybe when the day doesn’t go so well, I think there’s still ways we can be proud of ourselves.

This year, it is very different and new. It happens that returning back to this conference again put me close enough to Mike – the new guy – for him to come for a visit. With us being 1400 miles apart, even a day together is special. It is so surreal that another man will be arriving here Sunday morning to pick me up. That this will also be the first day my mother-in-law will be meeting him in person – before she heads back to Texas. I’m finding it surprising that it feels so right to be spending the anniversary of Drew and I with Mike. It doesn’t feel uncomfortable at all. I think the way I am able to see it now, is that love is such a fluid thing. Drew’s love comes to me through many people. And this year, it is coming to me through Mike. He finds different ways all the time to make certain I feel special and loved. And the fact that Mike wants nothing more than to celebrate Drew and I with me on this day certainly does just that.

Losing Drew keeps teaching me new things about love all the time. The love of strangers – like my art instructor – to listen and open their hearts to us. The love of friends – like my best friend – who will be there for us at our worst moments to remind us, celebrate with us, cry with us and laugh with us. And this year… the love of a man – of this new man – and how it will never ever mean that I have to put my love for Drew aside in order to move forward in loving and being loved.

Somehow, all of this has come out of Drew’s death. All of these experiences of love are ones I would have never otherwise had. And while I still wish he were here, and I will always wish I could celebrate this day with him… I am so grateful for the other versions of love he has brought me. Each one, a color all its own… filling my heart up and adding new hues to my world along the way. Helping me see that there is still brilliant color in the world at a time in my life when it is not always easy to see it.

Into a Different Darkness

I’ve been so behind on posting here – all for good reasons though I am happy to share.  I’ve got a few backlogged pieces to post this week to catch you up to things… this one dates back to May 23, to a very big beginning:

Well, here I am in the caves region of Kentucky. With someone new. It is the first time seeing each other in person since we met a few months ago. As I write this, we’re a few days into our trip. He is lying next to me now, munching away on donuts while I write. I’m finally ready to share a bit more about this person with you all…

Crazy enough… we met at Camp Widow – an amazing conference for widowed people – back in February. I sat down beside this guy at the meet & greet on Thursday night, and for the entire rest of the weekend we were inseparable. We shared our whole stories with one another and laughed more than either of us had in ages. Something certainly clicked… although I had no clue then that it would end up meaning I would fall for someone new and be sitting here states away on some whole other adventure…

I’ve been saying for three years now that Drew would give me a really obvious sign about someone new coming into my life. And Mike and I have had many, many obvious signs. One of my favorites was just a few days ago, within hours of arriving in Cincinnati for our trip. He surprised me with a short ferry ride across the Ohio river, and on the other side was a little restaurant he took me to… called Drew’s. Imagine the delight on my face, and the love in my heart. Those are the moments I know that Drew will always be a part of us – just as his wife Megan will be. And speaking of Megan…

We walk inside and sit down by the window. It’s dead in there, no one but us, as it’s around 2pm in the afternoon. I said jokingly “Just watch… our waitress’s name will be Megan”. And sure enough, this very friendly waitress walks up and introduces herself as… you guess it… MEGAN. We both look right at each other in total disbelief. At the end of our lunch, we told her the whole story of us, including their names, and she was as amazed as we were. We chatted a while and there even ended up being other unreal similarities… so we had to get a picture with her for that first crazy memory of this new adventure.

Yesterday we made our way to Mammoth Cave National Park – the main reason for our trip here. We picked this place because it is something we could not have done with our loves that died. Drew was claustrophobic in small spaces, and Megan was unable to due to her medical condition and the bacteria in the air in caves. It’s a hard pill to swallow… but the truth is there. We WILL do things with someone new… Things we never could have experienced had our loves not died. Maybe that’s one of the gifts they leave us… the chance to discover new adventures in a way we couldn’t have done with them. With new eyes and new hearts. I like to think it is.

We did a few tours yesterday of Mammoth Cave, the first cave either of us have explored in years. As we gazed out into the darkness of the tunnels underground, that feeling of wonder and childlike excitement about the unknown filled us both. As we hiked around some 300 feet below the surface of the earth, I couldn’t help but think of the expansive metaphor before us.

Two people who have gone through unspeakable darknesses on our own in life, now walking willfully and quite literally into the darkness together – knowing full well that to love again will inevitably mean to endure pain again. Yet we are doing so with a sense of wonder, not dread. It’s not easy to do. There have been moments on this trip when I have broken down crying because of how new love is reminding me of the love I lost, and also of the fears of losing someone else. But even with all of that, with all we have both endured, how amazing it is that each of us is still able to see wonder in the darkness. To see excitement in the unknown ahead.

I have thought this weekend about enduring the journey through my own darkness for the past three years. I’ve thought about all the pain and fear I have encountered in the dark, and also all the amazement and wonder I have found there. Treasures that cannot be found above ground, but only in the most hidden depths of ourselves. Perhaps that is what the darkness of grief can bring us… a different appreciation for the dark and the light.

One thing is for sure, today I am very grateful. After traversing the dark alone, it is beautiful to have someone to journey into the darkness with me. Someone with their own darkness who is not afraid of mine. I suppose that is the best kind of person to find – one with a galaxy much like our own inside their heart. One who looks into the dark with wonder.