About Me

My wonderful husband died when I was 44 years old. Being widowed this young happens to less than 3% of married people. Writing through this loss one word at time helps me understand what I've lost and helps me continue to grow. It is how I have gradually recovered from such a severe loss. Research shows that you can benefit from taking just 15 minutes a day to write out your deepest feelings as a way of healing. On the right side of this blog, you'll see a tag for Exercises to Try. If you need some help knowing how to use writing to help heal yourself, I suggest you start there.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

My Loss Is Like A Vacuum Cleaner, Sucking Me Dry

I've noticed that I often compare my life since losing my husband to living on an alien planet. Where the hell am I? How am I ever going to build a new life here in this strange place? It's so damn empty.

What metaphors do you use when thinking about life after loss? Is your loss like a nightmare from which you can't wake up? Is it a black hole sucking you down? Does it look like a stark, white, empty room? How about a dark and tangled forest? Was it your last chance for happiness? Did you win the lottery only to have it taken away? Is it a car crash?

No need to be original or avoid cliches here. This is just fun and games in the medium of loss. Toss enough words around, change will happen. You'll move. Progress will be yours. Get creative with your sorrow, it's all yours.

I've assigned a certain mood and personality to my loss, and its shaping my world right now. So I think it's worth writing it out to see where the idea takes me. Give it a try.

My loss is like..........

My loss reminds me of........


My loss reminds me of an alien world where I have arrived alone, surrounded by unfamiliar people and places. I didn't want to come here. I arrived forcibly, against my will. I don't understand the language or customs; I wonder if I ever will.

I miss my home planet. Even though I once took elements of that old life for granted, I like to think that if I ever had the chance to go back there, I would be blessed with a whole new outlook. But I'll never get to go back. I'm stuck here in this new world. The air doesn't suit my lungs. It's too hot, then too cold. I am uncomfortable. Over time, I need to find a way to love it here because wherever I am, I want to like my life. I must adapt.

The hardest part of living here is getting used to the pervasive sense of loneliness. The darkness. Even that can be conquered. I will keep searching this barren place because I know there is beauty here too. I've already experienced it from time to time. After the destruction that occurred on my home planet, I find myself braver and more willing to explore this new world than I might have been had the loss never happened. What could happen here that I can't handle?

They say take-offs and landings are the most dangerous parts of any flight. I made it without crashing, without everything blowing up. I survived. I'm alive. I get to keep on going.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Progress Examined Further

Breath by breath,
shower by shower,
dish by dish,
skin sloughs off,
pain doesn't hurt as much anymore.
I don't want to say it:
You're becoming an abstraction,
where once I was in your orbit, solidly,
my life
without you
lacks gravity,
a center,
a home.
Your absence has become
its own revolution.
Your hand on mine
kept me solidly on earth.
I won't forget that
as I drift away, spinning, searching,
no longer held by your heavenly body.
Without your weight, I'm shrinking.
No one can hear me when I call your name
inside myself; it echoes.
I am getting smaller and smaller.

This is progress.
In your absence, skinned, weightless, lessened,
I rise and shine. I bounce.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Progress: Measured by a Family Portrait

Over Thanksgiving Weekend, I took my kids and the dog and myself into the city to get a family portrait taken. I wouldn't normally do something like that (kind of not my thing), but I'm not the greatest visual documentarian of our family's existence (that was Ken's job), and the photographer Rick Aguilar was offering the "mini-portrait session" for just $50 so I couldn't resist.

So there we were: the three of us humans.

The three of us. One mother. Two children. Together. Our family. Having our portrait taken. Enjoying ourselves. Laughing. Hugging. Sitting. Standing. Showing it like it is.

A family portrait may be posed, it may be unnatural, and it's absolutely a formal visual document of a point in history of a family's life.

I loved getting that cheesy family portrait taken and I know that three years ago, or two years ago, or one year ago, I was nowhere near ready to admit visually and with a smile on my face: this is what my family looks like now.

I wish more than anything that Ken were still in our family, that we had a mother and father in our portrait, that we had a husband and a wife in the picture. But I am the mother and I am not one of the children of anyone anymore. I haven't been anyone's child since the year 2000. At age 48, I may be a very slow learner, a later developer. But finally, I know it. I can't live in a world made of a wish anymore.

I am single. I am a single mother. This is our family. Nice to meet you.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Progress (Measured in Squirrels)

We have a room in our house that we call "the fish room". It is a guest room on the first floor of our house that happens to have a fish tank in it. Tonight the double doors to the fish room at the end of the hallway are closed tight. Why? Because there is a squirrel in there, and while I can handle him hanging out in our guest room tonight, (perhaps peeing and pooping on our clothes and shoes in the closet), I do not want it running through the rest of the house.

Every fall since Ken died, (there have been three of them so far), a squirrel appears in our house. The first year (2007), I was really pissed off. On top of everything else, I grumbled, I even have to get rid of rodents. Surely, that is a man's job. Why the hell do I have to not only lose my husband, but also have to take on everything he did around here, including the yucky stuff. It made me feel really sorry for myself. Really sorry for myself. Getting rid of rodents IS NOT FOR ME. That was my husband's job. That's a man's job. (Similarly, having to mow the lawn really depressed me. I'm not much for changing lightbulbs either.) I was also scared. I called my father-in-law. I called my sister. My already depleted spirit feebly whimpered for help.

Fortunately though, I was able to chase the squirrel around with a broom, open a large window, and shoo him out. Oh, yes, it took a lot out of me. I called a few people to tell them of my feat. I lay down. I took the kids out for dinner instead of cooking.

2008...another squirrel, an assertive squirrel, that would venture up from the basement and steal fruit off the kitchen counter. This time, I shook my head, and rolled my eyes. Not again. Why me? It tired me out just to think about dealing with it. And it pissed me off too, but perhaps not as much as the year before. So I hired some professional wildlife trappers, big guys in jeans and T-shirts driving around with trucks full of trapped rodents. It was nice to have some guys around helping me out. One of them even showed me the flying squirrel he had caught at the previous house. We went out to the truck and I looked at him scampering around in his cage. He was cute. Then they set some traps for me in my basement, taped up some places to see where the critters might be getting in, and returned to take the traps away when we caught the squirrel. It wasn't cheap, but I was getting some help, and I really liked that. They even found a place in the roof where they thought squirrels might be getting in and patched it up for me.

Today, a 2009 model squirrel was perched on top of the TV in the fish room. I closed the doors to the room. I went to yoga. I went out and bought a squirrel trap for $50. I called two husbands of friends of mine to see if they would help me set the trap. Didn't hear from them. Meanwhile, my daughter's friend Anna helped me set the trap and I enjoyed mixing some cashews together with some sticky peanut butter. I put the trap in the fish room on top of a plastic garbage bag so that when I catch him he won't pee on my floor. I fully expect the trap will have squirrel in it in the morning, and I will pick that trap up, put it in my car, and release him somewhere far from my house.

This is progress. This is my work now.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Grief Then and Now

When I first lost my husband (in the first year):

I couldn't believe it.
It felt like he was still here.
I didn't know how I would manage.
I couldn't feel anything.
I wondered where all my grief was.
I lost weight and only ate for sustenance.
I couldn't read books.
I couldn't watch movies.
I couldn't listen to music.
I needed my friends desperately.
I depended on the kindness of women.
I couldn't imagine being single and on my own. (even though I was).
I hated looking at children with their fathers.
I hated looking at wives with their husbands.
I wished I had more help with everything.
I felt terribly alone.
I felt terribly unlucky.
My bed was cold.
My hair became completely gray. (Ok, it was pretty gray before he died.)
I developed an obsession with on-line dating thinking that if I could only find a new husband and father for my children all would be well. (My daughter did not share this fantasy.)
I had the whole house painted.
My friend Amy took my living room down to the studs and exposed some brick.
I bought a new dog.
I worried obsessively about my children.
I worried about what would happen if I got sick. Who would be there for me?
I had to learn to make all the decisions.
I hired a professional organizer.
I gave away some of my dead husband's clothing to his friends and relatives.
I got fit.
I bought a new computer.
I worried obsessively about whether or not I should get a job.
I spent more time than I wanted to with financial planners, accountants and lawyers.
I thought about Ken's death in the abstract more than I allowed myself to think about him.
I was awed by the goodness, kindness and generosity of everyone who helped me, and developed a realization that we are not alone, and that all we need surrounds us if we are open to receive it.

Almost four years after losing my husband:

I feel resigned to the bad luck that found me.
I still feel envious of married women and intact families.
I miss Ken, the life we had, and the life I imagine we would have had.
I don't get as much pleasure out of traveling as I used to because I'm not a brave explorer without a companion.
I now have a GPS.
I am going through a phase of reading some of the many blogs written by others who have lost big. It comforts me.
I am forever changed and still changing.
I know that without the many women who have been there for me, and who continue to be there for me, I would be lost.
The sense of loss never leaves, ever; it only changes shape.
I can let go of smaller hurts, disappointments, fears, regrets, and anger much easier now.
I can appreciate the simple pleasure of being alive more.
I appreciate good health.
I appreciate the power of breathing.
I am proud of my strength.
I am renovating my basement.
I am on the school board of a small private school.
I am writing a book.
I am occasionally concerned that my children lost the better parent. (Although I will take some credit for being the longer lasting one.)
I hope I can find love again, but I'm not so sure I will. (In lieu of love I will take: a lifetime supply of good books, new friends, old friends, a reasonable supply of money, creative pursuits that engage me, a job that fulfills me, children who grow up to be happy and successful, a body that continues to support my desire to live well, a means to contribute to the greater good, friends that stick by me, friends who I stick by, a keypad, a pen, paper, a screen, a published book, a resurgence of journalism, a reason to laugh, running shoes, a yoga class, emotions under control, openness, and the willingness to let this untimely loss give me an opportunity we seldom get in this life after we become adults: to change, to become someone different, to realize that there are infinite ways to be, to think, to respond. A major loss rearranges you; might as well be open to a different shape.)