Metaphors for Grief in Nature

12316117_1176946098987591_6548427694565428408_n.jpgWritten Dec 12:
I’m always astounded at the things nature teaches me about life and grief. This week I went for a walk at a park near my new house. It’s a wilderness park, with one trail that makes a 2 mile circle surrounding a prairie. For years, this area was farmland, and the park system has now preserved it to allow the landscape to fully restore back to it’s original state. For miles all around, it is now an expansive prairie, flanked by thin fingers of woodland and bogland where the ground slopes low. Mike and I first found it a few weeks ago, and it has quickly become my favorite escape since moving to Ohio two months ago.

Firstly, not many people go there, so it’s easy to feel almost entirely isolated in nature while you’re there, which I love. Secondly, with the time of year, all the plants have begun to die off or go dormant, with their seed pods yawning wide into the brisk winds and tossing their seeds into the breath of autumn. From the moment I first laid eyes on this place, I was completely drawn to it. With dozens of varieties of flora, even dead plants create a kaleidescope of textures and shades – from browns to tawny yellows to silvery blues. For weeks I’ve been feeling a pull to go back here… to feed my eyes with all the richness of seeds and grains, cattails and milkweed pods, dried leaves and rustling grasses. To be surrounded by a place where death is beautiful…

I’ve always had a love of things dead and forgotten… dead plants, skulls and bones, old discarded furniture left to rot on the curb. I have forever been a rescuer of the forgotten. It’s taken me years to realize that this is directly tied to all the death in my life. It’s as if, even at a young age, honoring old bones and dead leaves and forgotten places was a way to honor those I love who have died. Giving a new life to an old chair or desk someone threw away was a way to symbolize my own ability to give new life to the souls of those loved ones. This week, the prairie rekindled that love of honoring.

Thanks to El Nino, this has been an unseasonably warm winter in Ohio… you could be inclined to call it autumn still, based on the temperatures. Which is what got me out hiking. As I walked through the prairie last week, I ended up at a trail that went into the center of the park. And at the center there was a small pond. I hiked around to the far side of the pond, followed a deer trail that went up into the three-foot-high foliage, and sat down in a grassy spot. There, surrounded completely by nature, and the end of life-cycles, I began to think.

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Just like the prairie – I have been going through a long autumn in my own life… for probably the entire past 3 ½ years since he died, my seasons have slowed almost to a standstill. I was dormant for so long… and this past year or so I have been spreading seeds and waiting for what will grow come spring. Now, it feels, that spring – the spring of a new life, a different but equally beautiful life – is finally on the horizon. I couldn’t help but feel completely at home there in the prairie grasses… as if we were both on the same sort of journey. Am I anticipating what grows in my own spring, and also excited to see this sepia-toned prairieland in its full, bright, springtime glory.

It amazes me how many lessons nature has to give. I’ve always felt connected to nature this way, and particularly so right after Drew died. It’s been presenting me with lessons, incredible metaphors for my own pain and the seasons of a life with grief since those first months after his death. One of the most memorable was when I visited the Grand Canyon, three months after his death. Back then, I wrote about the metaphor of the canyon and the rift in my heart…

Much like the canyon itself, in times when I have the courage walk up to the edge of this unspeakably large hole in the very earth of me… the strength to open my eyes to it with an un-judging heart and fully see it… I find beauty. I find that the winds of every soul in my world have blown through and softened the walls of this pain, and they continue to do so, little by little. I find a landscape in me that has been slowly painted with passion, creativity, and dreaming – rendering it vibrant with color. Also, deep within, I find the river still rushing through – the losing of you – still creating rapids and cutting into me with strong currents. And it is here on the edge looking out that I know… this journey, canyon of my heart, will last my lifetime. It will not fade, I will not forget, it is now a part of my landscape for all time.”

11222575_10153662886925306_7272631406032413798_n.jpgThis experience has been a reminder to allow the wound of losing him to remain. A reminder not to try and dam of the river of grief, or try to fill in the void to cover it up, but instead to honor it, protect it, and know that even this trauamtic part of me is a beautiful piece of the landscape of who I am. This idea has stayed with me through all these years working hard to rebuild myself. Something tells me I will be finding some powerful lessons about life here in the new landscapes of Ohio, too. As I made my way back to my car, I collected as many different specimens as I could from the prairie to bring home as a reminder of this place that may seem dead and forgotten to so many others, but still holds a magic and a beauty all its own.

 

The Trades We Make to Live On

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Written Dec 6:
I was reading an article today about grief, one of the best I’ve read in a long time. One of the things that really stuck in this article was about the platitudes people throw at you when you are grieving… mainly, “It happened for a reason”. They make the assumption that, if you became a deeper, more compassionate, better person after the loss, that this loss was somehow necessary for your evolution. Like the author, I don’t agree with this either. I want to share a small excerpt from his article, as it really resonated with me and got my gears turning:

“…But loss has not in and of itself made me a better person. In fact, in some ways it’s hardened me. While loss has made me acutely aware and empathetic of the pains of others, it’s also made me more inclined to hide. I have a more cynical view of human nature and a greater impatience with people who are unfamiliar with what loss does to people…

…To say that my losses somehow had to happen in order for my gifts to grow would be to trample on the memories of all those I lost too young.

…I’m certainly not going to pretend that I’ve made it simply because I was strong enough, that I became “successful“ because I ”took responsibility.“ I think people tell others to take responsibility when they don’t want to understand….” 

I feel the same about how the losses of Drew and my parents have changed me. This life has hardened me. I’ve spent most of my life with death and grief as visitors, and despite the ways it has made me a better person… it is not the loss itself that did so. It was not some magical strength or ability that people like to pretend we have once we’ve endured loss, either.

Yes, I am a very resilient person. Yes, I’ve survived a lot of heartache and I am still here, determined and working daily to rebuild a life of meaning and beauty. But all of that came from the trades made, the agreements accepted over time about continuing to live on. Not some innate inner strength or courage, but from what life itself has taught me about being alive.

We’ve traded a lot, in the aftermath of loss, to keep on living a life that has meaning and eventually, joy in it. We trade innocence for resilience. We give up naivety and unknowingness and instead accept a deep understanding of the fragility and pain inherent in walking this earth. It’s a haunting knowing, but one that allows us certain advantages. We trade the sugary taste of denial and the ease of ignorance for the healthier and more useful perspective of reality. It allows us to be less shocked about the pains of life, and thus, more resilient when pain does happen. And more open to letting the feelings of pain run through us. This trade, though, means to give up the illusion of safety that denial and innocence creates.

Not a day goes by that I am unaware of the possibility of death. With every positive thing that comes into my world, there is at least one moment of considering when the pain will come. When I will lose this thing. It’s not a worry, or something I get overwhelmed by, so much as a knowingness. A quiet understanding. A silent agreement that I have made in deciding to live a life. I know, at some point, that all things will be lost. It is the price of getting to be here, the price of this also beautiful, incredible, stunning world that is full of as much love as it is pain.

I wonder sometimes if other cultures, or our own American culture long ago, had a better understanding of this. We had funeral services in our homes, and took care of our dying ourselves. Many other cultures still do this, as well as other customs around death and dying that seem to make it much more a normal, accepted part of life. It seems as though we have removed death and loss from our overall culture to such a degree now, though, that we have collectively come to think of it as this shocking, unfathomable thing that shouldn’t happen. But when you really think about it… living on this earth, with all its perils, and somehow living a long and relatively painless life seems honestly, against all odds.

I personally feel like it would be a miracle to live to be 80 and for my partner to make it that far too. Not a rule, but a serious exception of having dodged illness and disease and sudden freak accidents for decades. When I look at it that way, it seems so odd for me to have had the naive belief that I would get to be with Drew for all of my days. I could only have that view after making some trades, though. Accepting some awful truths about life. I used to assume I would have Drew for all time. That I deserved loss-free life after losing my parents.

Loss can be very humbling though. Now, with Mike, I find myself thinking often, and sometimes saying to him “I hope I get to have you for a very long time”. I know now, that I don’t have any privilege when it comes to death. None of us do. I know now, to hold in my heart a humble gratitude that life has given me this person for even one more day. It doesn’t take away the haunting knowing that death will one day come. I don’t like that I am more cynical, harder, and that my thoughts do so frequently lean towards death and loss. Trading innocence for understanding has made it easier to live with though. And holding an acceptance of loss close by has made me more able to embrace the beauty of what it is here before it’s gone.

Source: Read “Not Everything Happens for a Reason”, by Tim Lawrence, the full article I quoted above.

Doing It Anyway: Pushing Through Fear

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Written Nov 21:
So my latest update on moving and homesickness and new places: it still fucking sucks. Don’t get me wrong, being close to Mike is wonderful… and things could not be better between us. The joy he brings into my world is immeasurable. But as the weeks go on in this new landscape, other things are actually feeling worse, not better.  Things are starting to wear me down… like the house still being in complete chaos and not being able to find anything when I need it. And not knowing how to get anywhere without my map on my phone telling me what to do. And not even knowing how to find some of the things that I am looking for – like a good community of artists or writers. And not having anything figured out in regards to work yet.
Okay, I shouldn’t be so hard on myself, these are all good reasons to be freaking out. It’s a lot. And it hasn’t even been a month since I moved here. It’s completely normal to feel all of this. So why can’t I just accept it? Why am I fighting it so hard? There’s a good reason for that too. After Drew died, I fought tooth and nail to find my joy again. I battled day in and day out with the pain and the sadness and the lack of motivation and the chaos of grief… and finally I had begun to pull out of that. Finally, I’d found my way back to joy, and groundedness, and peace. Finally, I could sometimes go to bed at night only feeling normal tiredness and not complete emotional exhaustion. Finally, I could wake up and not STILL feel exhausted. Finally, I felt like I was living. I do not want to let go of that. I do not want to have to sit in pain again.

I can’t avoid it though. I mean that is life. Struggles won’t stop happening just because he died. And just like the darkest days of grief… I am feeling exhausted all the time again. Suddenly, that joy I fought so hard for, is feeling harder to get to. That groundedness within myself is feeling shaky. The peace I had begun to find is feeling distant. A change this big is no doubt trying to pull apart the very foundations I have worked so hard to build. And suddenly I am feeling myself very much in fear and feeling lost. Fear of losing myself, fear of becoming bitter or isolating. Fear that I won’t be able to adjust to all of this. And especially fear that I will not be able to figure out the next steps for my work, which is very much my life as well. As an artist and writer, I’m still at the very early stages of building a career. I am on the cusp of continuing on and maybe one day “making it”, and giving in and going back to working for someone else. I am living off of savings just to give this a shot. So right now, I’m feeling paralyzed with what steps to take next to balance bringing in some better income with my art and writing. And that is where it ties into grief a great deal.

The unknown can sometimes be an exciting place. Other times, it’s terrifying. Like grief. This whole minefield of unknown pains. It’s so easy right now to see my unknowns as the same kind of minefield. I feel like I am just waiting for another explosion to happen somewhere nearby. Almost 3 1/2 years after Drew’s death, I am still trying to figure my life out. And I am just tired of trying to figure shit out. I am not in the depths of grief any longer. I have met someone new and wonderful and he has brought so much joy back into my world. But there is still so much that I do not have figured out… and sometimes it just gets scary, and exhausting, and frustrating beyond belief.
I forget sometimes that I somehow did make it this far. I am even still HERE and I have worked through a huge amount of grief and pain and heartache and anger in these years just to get to today. I have created a beautiful series of photography and essays on grief in the process of all this, too, and it has taught me much about healing with creativity. I have learned so many things that I still wish to shared with others who are grieving… things that can help. Lately, I’ve forgotten all of that. And all I’ve been able to see is my fear. Fear about how I will sustain doing this meaningful work. Fear about which directions to take it all in.
In the process, I’ve forgotten that the only way I got this far, was by choosing to push through the fear. It’s the only way to make room for things to begin to happen. I already know this. Ugh. I mean WOW how our minds tie us in knots sometimes. I have felt so small and confused and lost lately… being in a place where I know almost no one and everything looks and feels very foreign. How quickly I’ve lost sight of things, and of myself. It was by pushing through fear that I ever made it to Ohio. I was terrified on the drive up here from Texas, and I did it anyway. I was petrified to begin to date someone new for the first time since Drew died, and I did it anyway. I guess I just need to remember all those experiences, take a deep breath, and ride it out… because indeed – despite my fear – I am going to push through, do it anyway, and trust that things will work out.

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.

The Walk of Grief: What we take into it, and what we bring out.

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A few weeks ago while I was in Virginia, I got to do something I’ve been wanting to do ever since Drew died. There is a spiritual center in Virginia Beach called A.R.E. – full of studies and books about spirituality and just about every topic imaginable related to death and afterlife. They also have a labyrinth on the grounds outside. Which is what I was most excited about.

It’s not the sort made of hedges or stone walls. It’s not a maze you have to figure out. This is a flat path with only one way in and out. The intention is that winding your way into the center slowly brings your focus to the center of yourself. You walk inward, bringing with you all the distractions, insecurities, fears, etc of the outside world… slowly letting them all fall away as you make your way toward the center. Once you reach the center, you may sit there a while to be with the deepest part of yourself – without the distractions of everything else. And then you begin your return journey outward, back to the world, and bring with you the calm and any lessons you found at the center so that you may carry them back into your life.

As I walked, I couldn’t help but think of just how perfectly this walk mirrored my walk through grief these past three years…

There is only one way to get to a different place with grief – and that is to walk through it. The first year for me was about walking inward… walking through all the pain and fear and agony and triggers that lie deep within myself. Walking deeper and deeper until I could find that center of calm within me. And doing this over and over and over again. It was never easy to strap on my boots and do that inner walk. Some days, the only way it happened was to cry endless tears until I exhausted myself into a heap of half-asleep calm. Or to scream at the top of my lungs until there was barely a breath left in me. As I look back, I am realizing, all of these were forms of walking within. All of them were ways of walking through the emotions to get to the calm at the center of my heart.

The second year it seems the focus shifted, and I was spending much more time at the center of myself – in that calm, mindful space. A lot of the initial shock of his death had worn off by then, and I had done a lot of very deep grieving for a year already, and so coming to the center began to be easier I think.

This year feels different still. It feels like I am walking back out again… and bringing with me all the wisdom and gifts of new perspective that the inward journey has given me. All the things I have learned about coping and healing and feeling through the grief. Lessons I know that I’m supposed to take out into the world with me as I begin to re-enter it.

In the end, I think this is the most important lesson these three long and painful and terrifying years have taught me: My reason for having to endure the death of my fiance is so that I can better understand the pain of others, and so that I can bring whatever tools I have acquired to help them. I think that may just be the point of all this – for us to learn how to help each other better. It doesn’t take away the pain or the empty space in my heart for him, but it does give me something I can DO with it that matters and honors him daily… which, in a way, keeps him always alive.

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.

The Away Letters: Six Months

Hey Babe,

It’s been six months since I heard your voice on the other end of the phone. Six months since we said what would be our last words to each other… “I love you”. Six months and a week since I last looked into those beautiful blue eyes and had those arms swallow me up into safety. It feels at once like only yesterday and also another lifetime. I still don’t understand what happened or where you went. And I doubt I ever truly will.

My life now is so different. The day you left, I feel like I was plucked right out of this life and tossed into some alternate universe. It feels like our old universe is still out there somewhere, quieter and less rich without either of us there now. But neither of us has the key to get back there. And so it seems we are both living in an afterlife of sorts, learning to navigate two worlds apart.

My days are getting a little better, bit by bit, but not a day goes by that I don’t cry for you still. I’m doing my best just to make it through each day. I have such wonderful support from everyone in our life. They’ve honored you, protected me, and made certain I’ve never felt alone. And I know they’ve made you proud. I’ve met some amazing women these past six months too – other artists and brave widows – who have lifted me up and supported me fiercely. It is very precious to me to feel so many people have my back right now. And I know it means the world to you that they are here looking out for me.

I’ve done some things I’m really proud of myself for in the past few months. I’ve started painting! I’ve been filling my life up with love and creativity. I’ve hired a creative coach. I’ve gotten to help and support other women who are going through this same kind of loss. I’ve entered an art show, and am about to put some of my photos in the gallery I work at. I’ve registered my business name and opened up my first business bank account… when I look back at all that, it feels like nothing short of a miracle that I’ve gotten any of that done. I’m a little closer each day to my dream of being a “entrepreneurial artist”. That’s what your mom calls me, I like it!

I’ve been incubating myself carefully these past six months, and will continue to do so as I now begin to take small steps out into the world again. I know I’ve got a long road ahead of me still. I know that its going to take many years to find myself again, and that no number of years will ever stop the pain… but I’m so grateful for each little step forward I make.

I still feel you all the time, standing beside me from over in your world. Remember how we used to say all the time “how did we get here?” – just so amazed that what first began as best friends turned into so much more? And now we’re sitting soul by soul – and I’m saying those same words… sometimes there is excruciating sadness in it. I will always miss your physical presence. But sometimes it is because I’m in surprise and awe – that you are still very much here.

I’ve experienced a lot of things these past six months. But the one that has most surprised me is how much deeper I know love. It is like an ice berg… in this world it is only as big as what we can see jutting above the surface – the tip of the ice berg. But when someone we love deeply passes on, we begin to go below and receive the immenseness of love from them that always resides there. We cannot see it or touch it like the love in this world, but is always there – in the still, quiet darkness below – and is so much bigger than any love we could ever see or touch. I know that kind of love now… it is the most beautiful secret I have ever known.

Thank you for keeping your promise that you’d come back to me – even if you didn’t come back the way either of us ever imagined. Thank you for finding ways to show me you are still watching over me and helping me grow. I know without a doubt that you are always here. So here is to the first 6 months of the rest of our journey.

 

Creating Meaning from Loss

A lot of people like to say “everything happens for a reason”. I used to be one of those people. Now, I want to punch those people in the face! I do not believe this at all. I do not believe there is some greater reason for my best friend to have left this life so early, with so many plans and dreams ahead of him… with so much of his beauty to give the world. I do not believe there was a destiny for this happening to him, to me, to his family and friends, to my family and friends. I do not believe there was a reason that he did not get to have a long lifetime as a pilot, husband, father, teacher, adventurer and lover of life. So when people say to me, “Everything happens for a reason” it makes me burn inside.

The phrasing is completely wrong for me. It suggests some predetermined purpose for his death, for any death. And I do not agree with that. I do not agree that he died in order for some incredible change to happen. After this year, and the pain I have endured and watched his family endure, I will never believe that again. The very idea offends me.

But what I do believe is that in the aftermath of this crisis, there is a crucial time in which to make choices for what meaning we will create in relation to this loss and how it will shape our lives moving forward. There is a very unique opening within the darkness, an opening to our soul self, which can happen. It happens if we allow it, if we are open to it, if we let ourselves explore it and surround ourselves with others who are doing the same. It is not the reason for someone leaving us, but it is a gift that they leave with us. We may not even see it, so lost in the pain that we are unable to realize it is there, but in small moments we may come to know it in some way. It is there.

As someone who is left on this earth after he has moved on – left with the deepest pains and fears I have ever known – I see it as my job to create meaning out of it… to allow his soul to continue to shape and guide my life and the life of others. I am not always able to. Sometimes I am deeply lost in the pain of sadness and missing him, as is part of the whole process of death. But I find that much of the time I am able to connect to my soul and to his, and I am able to realize that right now, in this moment, I have a choice to make meaning out of this darkness. For myself, for him, and for others.

So to me, there is no one specific meaning that any loss is meant to have in my life or in anyone’s life. It is up to us to decide what meaning we will create for it – and how we will be open to what we can receive in the deep vulnerable spaces of grief. It is no easy task… something I have entered into kicking and screaming in pain. But I would rather create the most meaning from this that I possibly can, to honor him, and to continue to find a way to nurture my own soul to grow into what it needs to become in the next phase of my life.