Wednesday, June 30, 2010

I Dreamed a Dream ....

I am happy.
Finally, after what seems an eternity, I can say .... and mean .... those three words.
After over 2 years of thinking that I would never be happy again.
After over 2 years of wishing that I were there with him.
After over 2 years of feeling that I was going to drown.

And yet ......

..... there are still moments when a wave of grief will hit me smack in the face, threatening to knock me under again.
Even now.
And, I suppose, even later.
In spite of what's going on in my life.
Or sometimes .... maybe because of it.

Last week I was in heaven.
I was floating around the Mediterranean with our oldest daughter, celebrating her graduation from grad school.
We had a great time.
We saw and experienced and ate things we'd never seen, experienced or eaten before.
We swam in cold, crystal clear water.
We met wonderful, friendly people.
It was amazing.

And yet .....
One night, during one of the shows on the ship, I heard a song that I've heard hundreds of times before.
I've played it hundreds of times before (on the piano).
I've sung it (to myself!) many, many times.

But this time ..... it was different.
This time ..... it made me think of Jim.
And this time ..... it made me weep ..... a lot.
Because, as usual ...... he should have been there.

And yet .....
he was not.

So I listened to this song and cried.
And missed him.
And thought how this should be something we both experienced with our daughter.
And knew that it was only one of many, many times I will think this.

And yet ......
the wave did not drown me.
It's different now.
The waves don't knock me down.
They hit me, for certain.
They knock me off balance, for sure.
But they do not suck me under.
Not any more.
Thank God.

You will get stronger.
I promise.
You will be smile again.
I promise.
You will laugh again.
I promise.
You will still get hit with waves.
I promise.
And you will never, ever forget.
No matter how many years will pass.

I promise.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Come to Camp with Me!

I looked at the calendar last night and realized...I'm leaving for Camp Widow in 5 weeks. 5 weeks!!!!

It seems like just yesterday I was packing my bags to head home from last year's surprisingly fantastic weekend. I was expecting the weekend to be great, we had planned it for months and Michele can make anything fabulous. What I wasn't expecting was how amazing it would be. I wasn't expecting the feeling of immediate kinship I felt with almost everyone I met. I wasn't expecting to be so moved by seeing the groups of widows chatting like old friends, sharing each other's horror stories, laughing, hugging each other, and having a wonderful time. I was expecting it to be good for everyone else - and expecting it to be all work for myself. Boy, was I wrong! :)

I worked, I was right about that. I had just started a new job and was trying to meet a deadline while still trying to pull my weight at camp. I was doing Camp Widow by day and being an environmental consultant by night. You'd think burning the candle at both ends would have made me numb to most of what the weekend had to offer. Nope! Not even exhaustion could dull the power of that weekend. It was phenomenal.

Imagine it, rooms full of people who "get it". A place where the same language was spoken by all of us, and a place where the word "widow" was a badge of honor. We all crept into Camp, self-consciously wearing our name tags, uncomfortable with our branding as "widow." When we left camp, we marched out into the world, daring people to ask us about our name tags, and laughing out loud when we realized that our group was the rowdiest in the hotel, and the ones who were obviously having the best time.

There was so much joy, and it was an intense and energizing experience. In 5 weeks I get to hang out with some of the most fabulous people on the planet, and I can hardly wait. Come hang out with me at Camp Widow, I'm so looking forward to it!

Happy Tuesday! - Michelle D.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Musical Monday: Finding Myself

Before I was widowed I knew who I was and I held pretty firm beliefs about life in general. Prior to marrying Phil I lived through a divorce and the ensuing identity crisis, and I came out on the other side more aware of my personal strengths and weaknesses. My divorce also taught me that I was capable of recreating my life. I knew that I didn't need a man to feel that my life was complete, and even after Phil and I married I held on tightly to my independence.

Having made such an effort to be my own person in my marriage, I was confused when I discovered that I was struggling for ways to define myself after Phil's death. I couldn't understand why I felt like my skin no longer fit. Had I somehow lost myself in Phil accidentally? Where had my hard won sense of self gone? How could I find the me I used to be? Where was my memory, my organized brain, my outgoing personality, my ability to get the job done? Who am I and where can I find the girl I was before?

Fast forward five years to me driving in the car alone a couple of weeks ago and listening to a new song on the radio. This song struck a cord in my heart and I felt the vibrations all day long. I bought the CD, and listened again and again trying to figure out why a song about going home was haunting me. Something in my subconscious was tugged by the longing in the lyrics. As the word longing rang in my brain I made the connection between this song and the sadness I felt as I listened. The memory of wanting my old self back returned so clearly. The torturous feeling of facing uncertainty on every front filled my body. The unrelenting need for the familiar came over me and I cried remembering the pain of feeling terribly lost.

As I thought back to my own search for my lost self...I could envision doing the kind of backtracking that is depicted in this video; I returned to the places where I had been the me I was seeking, I lovingly touched objects that used to draw out a certain emotion, smell or sound for me, and I looked at photos of what my smile was like before my world collapsed. Looking back I think that I was actually trying to find my lost innocence. I wanted to be the me I was before grief and loss changed me, the carefree girl who believed death was rarely worth thinking about. The comfort of the known used to call to me day and night, pulling me relentlessly back in time.

Over the past five years I have learned to accept that I am no longer naive to the devastating effects of loss and grief. I have once again recreated my life and returned to the confident positive woman I used to be. I love my life now and the pull of the past no longer threatens to drown me. But hearing this song made it clear that I will never forget the pain of longing to recognize myself. What I do know now that I did not know then is that ultimately the me I sought was there all along.

The Other Side

I got into a silly argument.
I said you can’t protect him.
They said yes we can and they said we resent being told we cannot.
And after I read those words I dope slapped myself.

They are on the other side.
They are on the side where sure, sure random “bad” things can happen but to other people. But as parents we can navigate and shield our child from them. Their side says “We CAN keep him safe.”

They are on the side that offers power and assurance.
They are on the side that creates an illusion of strength and fortitude.
They are on the side I used be on.
The side where I could remove the mere threat of pain or at least negate it away.
That side is where I could plan for the possible assaults to their beings and plan how to keep them out of harm’s way.
That side is where I talked to professionals and stayed up talking to my husband about what we needed to “do” to improve a situation for our child.

That side is driven by action words like: DO, EXPLAIN, PROTECT.

This side I’m on now is different.
This side says gently “You cannot protect but in their tears you can show them their courage.”
This side says “You cannot make it go away, but you can teach them that the feelings won’t swallow them hole and that they won't last either.”
This side says "I am but a steward for my children. They have their own paths which I know nothing of or understand." In this case, their paths include learning to handle the loss of their father.
This side says “Have faith.”
This side finds me in a heap on my bed humbled by my inability to shield them and knowing that this inability is KEY to the amazing people they are becoming.
This side says, “Trust and love fiercely without getting in the way of the bullets.”

This side drops me to my knees when I watch my daughter loose her sanctuary (her school) because of the death of another child's father in her class. And every day afterward, when she entered her class, she faced remembering how she felt just one year ago.

This side has me awed as I watch my youngest son calmly respond to a child who is stupid enough to say something cruel about my son’s dead father. I want to slap that child, but my eight year old son responds “I’m glad you don’t understand what it means to lose a parent. I don’t like what you said and I’m not going to talk to you anymore.” His wisdom beyond anything I have ever witnessed.

Those people are on that side of pretend power, of control, of DO, EXPLAIN, PROTECT.

I am on this side that says HOLD, LOVE, CRY and RELEASE.

From here I see the inspiring strengths of my children in a way that both marvels and humbles me.

From this side, I marvel at my children’s ability to thrive in circumstances that shut the coping door for many.

If I had to choose, I would never be on this side but now that I am here...

It is such a beautiful awe inspiring view.

Saturday, June 26, 2010


After he was killed, it was so easy to stay down.

Barricaded not only in my house but my emotions, thoughts and feelings. I'd torture myself with not looking at the memories as a gift, but more so, a reminder of that which could never be again. Even as the light would creep in through the darkness, I still didn't allow myself to feel and live the way I already knew how to live when he was alive, but instead the way I thought I was supposed to live because he was dead. How can I exist, let alone smile and feel alive with my soul mate not here?

No one wanted to accept that I'm madly in love with a dead man, so separating myself from others and feeling that I could only live in a bubble became a notion I was ready to fulfill, as long as it meant I could live in his love.

But that's the thing...I wasn't.

The love we share is unrelenting, full of life, an explorer of the world and all the emotions out there waiting for us to feel them. It's a love that does not sit and wait for something to happen, but goes out and gets it. A love that defines the infinite and creates feelings in which words have not been created to describe.

But what was I doing?

The opposite. Afraid to go out into a world that I was letting the fear of the unknown and those who did not know hold me back. A fear that smiling, would make others believe that suddenly my love and pain was waning for Michael.

But those notions, each and everyone noted and unnoted, are things in retrospect that I have learned were my own aversion from embracing this life before me.

So I stopped.

Now my life is defined by the love that I know. The love that is compiled of all the things I spoke about. The love that has made me feel alive after I died inside, the love that grabbed the paddles, placed them on my corpse of a life, and recuperated me into living the life that I know Michael is looking down on with pride...and maybe a little envy :) and most of all gratification in the fact that I did what he was whispering through my soul, but did not allow myself to hear with the glaring pitch of grief...that to honor his life, and the gifts he's left me with, is to be the woman he fell in love with and proudly announced as his be Taryn.

“The reason why all men honor love is because it looks up, and not down; aspires and not despairs”
Ralph Waldo Emerson

Friday, June 25, 2010

apples and oranges

Although apples and oranges are both fruit, they taste, smell and feel different. They are both round. They are both sweet. But one is crispy and succulent and the other is juicy and zesty. Some similarities but you would never mistake one for the other.
When attempting to understand another person's circumstance we often seek out seemingly similar situations that have occurred in our lives or the lives of those close to us in an effort to empathise and comprehend the feelings of others. These attempts are most often an effort to offer solace and comraderie to the speaker of said issues.
As with most people, I have had this occur so very many times....and these kindly meant comparisons have increased in abundance exponentially since Jeff died.
I have had people liken the loss of my husband to the loss of their cat, the death of their grandfather when they were three and most often, a divorce in their family.
As a child of divorce and as a generally empathetic person, I can certainly see some very pronounced similarities. But I would never go so far as to say that I fully understand how a divorced person feels.....or that someone who has experienced the break-up of a family from divorce completely 'gets' the loss of a spouse to death.
I have to admit that at times, this comparison gets my hackles up. I feel angered at the thought that my loss is at all.....chosen.
I realize that often people do not want to get divorced. I can see that no one sets out when getting married with the idea that they will also get divorced....and that in someways, we should be more prepared for the death of our other half (because death always does eventually happen) than the separation of spouses.
But in Jeff and my situation -death, no one CHOSE to leave the other. It was, essentially out of our hands.
There was no lead up. No warning. Yes, Jeff wasn't feeling well for a couple of weeks before his death. But neither of us suspected that his lack of zest would result in the loss of his life.
Yes, like a divorced single parent, I do my parenting alone. But I do it alone everyday. There is no one else to consult (which at times I am sure is a real blessing) and no one else to send the kids to on a regular basis...or even an irregular basis. The kids have me to watch their extracurricular activities. Just me. There is no one else to cheer them on (or to glare at me from across the field). There is no one else who loves them as much as only a parent can (although I am aware that in some unfortunate situations, even an alive parent does not provide this unconditional love for the little ones either).
Fortunately, I never have to see the love of my life with some other woman's hand in his. I know he died loving me. I do think that having someone I love tell me that they no longer cared for me would tear my heart into tiny smithereens. When I see Jeff's expressions staring back at me from my little one's faces, it is a joyous moment - he still exists in them....and I am sure that at times this must be a difficult experience when you dislike or have been hurt by the other parent of your child intensely.
Although in divorce, you watch your marriage 'die', you do not watch as someone you love dies. Yes, metaphorically it is very similar. In 'real life', it is grossly different. Different pain, different sadnesses....different phobias.
As with many divorcees, I am lonely often. Bone-achingly lonely. I still wish that our lives had turned out differently. I worry for my children and wonder how this loss will affect their lives in the coming years.
But I have the luxury of loving my dead husband. And you have the luxury of hating your live one.

**I do so hope that this entry does not offend anyone or their feelings regarding death and divorce. I have been musing over it for quite sometime and just felt it pour out....**

Thursday, June 24, 2010

not gone

there, where they
used to be,
is a thin line,
dug deep into my
skin, one that only
i can see,
a reminder that
they’re still there
even if
they’re not where
they used to be.
that line will not
be there forever,
but the mark
they left on me
will remain until
i breathe no longer.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Moving Forward ....

.... is different from moving on.
Moving on implies forgetting what is past.
Moving forward is more difficult. It involves carrying the past with you while you walk forward one step at a time. Never forgetting, but continuing to breathe and live.
Some days I can accomplish this.
Some days I can't.
Some days the past feels too heavy to carry with me.
But I'm getting there.

I'm not gonna lie .... the 2nd year anniversary was hard.
I really, really didn't want to get out of bed.
I was supposed to play tennis but had a good friend that stepped in for me when I called to say I couldn't.
Instead I went with another friend to see a movie.
It seemed that I was more in the mood to escape from reality for a few hours.
And the movie did the job.
For a few hours.

But ..... the date is gone and I survived.
I am now well past that date of two years. Who would've thought?
Not me.
No way.

There were many days when I really didn't think I'd survive the week, let alone the months and years.
But here I am .... still breathing. Still walking.
Most days.

I am blessed.
I am thankful.
Most days.

I am thought of.
I am loved.
Every day.

And I thank God for the rest of you out there, those I've met and those I have yet to meet, who are with me on this road.
I thank Him for the way we all support each other and the way we "get it" .... with words, or just with hugs (real & virtual).
I cannot imagine having to walk this road alone.

Thank you .... each one of you .... for encouraging others through your pain.
It's quite an amazing community.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Man's Best Friend

A little over 6 years ago a tiny bundle of joy joined our family. We went to the pound, looking for a medium-sized short-haired dog...and came home with Osa - a tiny kodiak bear-cub of a dog. The joke was on us when our vet explained that our tiny fur-ball was actually part St. Bernard. She quickly grew into a ginormous hairy beast. I have joked over the years that she would make a fabulous rug.

Osa passed away yesterday. After a couple of months of mysterious digestive problems, our vet diagnosed her on Friday with cancer on her spleen and liver. She was declining quickly, and clearly in quite a bit of pain. Grayson came back from his fishing trip on Sunday and I had to break the bad news: she was very sick and not going to make it. My sweet little boy told me with tears in his eyes that he didn't want her to suffer and he wanted to be there when the vet put her to sleep. He said "it's like her funeral, isn't it? I should be there."

We took the day off yesterday, spent time with Osa, brushing her, talking to her, telling her what a good girl she is. We distracted ourselves by spending time with great friends. It was a very long day as we waited for the appointment. Finally, the dreaded moment arrived. Grayson and I sat next to Osa on the floor of the vets office, and they administered the drugs to stop her heart. It took only seconds for her to feel the effects and she slowly dropped her head, while we stroked her and told her over and over what a good girl she was. It was horrific and peaceful, and I'm so glad we were with her.

Our Osa was the sweetest dog you could ask for, and she is already greatly missed. Grayson wants to bury her ashes at the cemetery with Daniel, and I can't think of a more perfect place for her. Daniel loved her so much, and I have a clear image in my mind of him waiting to see her. Take care of her for us Daniel. Love to you both.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Missed But Not Forgotten

June 16, 2010 was a really busy day. In fact, the night before I was laughing about the fact that every minute of the next day was so scheduled that I felt like the day had flown by before it even began. These last few weeks have been packed with events, meetings, Camp Widow arrangements, packing to take the kids on a trip, the last day of school, baby showers, birthdays, friend traumas, and a seemingly never ending list of things to do. So maybe that is why I didn't remember the significance of June 16th.

I was chatting with a friend on June 17th when lightening struck and I realized that I totally forgot the anniversary of the day I married Phil. Gone. Not one moment of sadness, regret, or even just grateful reminiscence. I felt horrible. Was this a function of moving forward? Would I start missing anniversaries regularly? What does this mean? How do you forget the anniversary of marrying the man you loved so much and who is now DEAD?!

But after calling my Widow Match to say "You won't believe what I just realized!" things got worse. The anniversary I failed to acknowledge would have been our tenth wedding anniversary. Which means two things. One we would have been married a nice long time, and the less wishful thinking reality that I have been widowed as long as I was married. Five years for each title, wife and widow.

I still don't know how I feel about the fact that I forgot this day. Michelle and I discussed the many reasons that I might have not realized the date on the calendar, and I recognize that my life is crazier by far than it ever was when Phil was alive. But really...ten years...totally forgotten?! My grief guilt button has been pushed and I found myself all day wishing I could turn back the clock. Funny thing is I wasn't wishing to turn it back to five years ago, but to the day before so that I wouldn't miss our anniversary!! No one ever said that grief, even five year old grief, makes any sense.

I am confessing to all of you because I know you will understand and I am going to ask you to bear with me as I leave a belated anniversary message here for Phil.

Hi honey,

Happy Anniversary. Even though I forgot (you would have loved that actually) for the moment, I will spend my lifetime remembering. It was an honor to be your wife. I loved the way you took care of me, like when you brought me home four pairs of shoes because they were on sale and you weren't sure what color I would want. I appreciated the lightness you brought to our family, no one could keep a straight face when you were talking to them with your eyes closed! I can still see you standing at the end of our long dirt aisle shaking as I walked down the grass turf to clasp your hand. Your "I do" meant more than I can ever express. I wish that we really did have ten years together, but am so grateful for the five we did have. I love you today, tomorrow, and forever.

The day may have slipped by, but the man is a part of my soul.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Dreaming of Art

I dreamt about him. I was coming out of Pallas and Ezra's room and he was standing in the hall. "Hi!" I said, thrilled, as if he had come home early from work.

And we stood there for a moment, smiling at each other.

"Can I touch you?" I asked, for the last time I dreamed about him I had tried to hug him, only to touch cold air before he could tell me it was too late.

This time he nodded.

And when I reached out my hand, his hand was warm and firm, just like it used to be. Our hands together, his large white one, with my small brown one reminded me of those photos of the white worker holding the African child's hand.

I woke before I could place my cheek on his chest. I lay still, breathing slowly attempting to remember that feeling, to push it into my physical memory so next time, when I want to, I can remember it with ease.

My grief was shallow, suffocating fits of hysteria. Now it's thick, mournful moans and longing. The longing is like, is like a cord that is coming from me and reaching, stretching, tugging at me, different force of pull at different times. Sometimes it pulls me over. Along this line is my desire to hear him, to touch him, to see those deep blue eyes looking back at me. The longing is bearable, resonates with a low, almost imperceptible hum. It causes me to feel like something is missing only I can't figure out what exactly it is.

As it tugs, it detaches my skin from my muscles leaving this hollow space. This empty place. Nothing to fill it. It's not his immediate presence that I miss so much anymore, it's his lack of presence throughout the future years that make me wish him back. How is it possible he won't see Langston play volleyball or football, Pallas win an art award or Ezra get kicked out of class for telling the unwanted truth to a teacher's face. I don't understand how he can miss all that is coming.

And in this new emptiness, in this longing, I can see how I can go on.

And that just makes me sad.

Saturday, June 19, 2010


***It was nearly 3 years ago that I got my Memorial tattoo for myself. While reminiscing I found the blog I wrote about the experience less then 6 months after he was killed. Since we sometimes forget where we've come from in the midst of the grief, healing, and journey that takes place, I thought I'd share this.


Nearly 5 hours after sitting down on that black chair , with a pillow in front of me, I was done. The concept I had been pondering, freaking out, and looking forward to is finally on my back...a lot of my back!! I love it. The pain really could be best described as a hot scalpel cutting through flesh and bone. Half the time I had my eyes closed counting to keep my mind off the pain or trying to look at all the ghetto tattoo flash adorning the walls. I can't believe I did it and I do feel a tad bit stronger in this very weak world of mine. Now I just hope and pray it heals correctly and ends up gorgeous. After it finally finished, I think it was a combination of the pain and the anticipation.....I lost it. I don't know if it made it even more real that Michael is not coming home or just was a lot to take in. I got home and started washing sheets and towels and kind of lost it. I wanted to call Michael...tell him all about it or at least here one of his smart ass remarks......none were to be heard.

Friday, June 18, 2010

the impending father's day

It's actually 3:28 a.m. as I write this. Unpacking from our move and working at the clinic have kept me so busy that I haven't spent any amount of time ruminating about what thought of loss has most taken up my mind this week.
But as I've driven to work, opened boxes of photo albums and placed Jeff's dresser in the corner of the room, the thought of the impending "Father's Day" has popped into my head briefly and painfully.
I have come to fear this day for my kids. I worry that they'll begin to notice other 'normal' families out for Father's Day breakfast. That the flyers in the mail advertising copious amounts of tools for the other kid's dad will highlight their lack of an alive one. That the ties or other seemingly useless items that kids make to mark the day that they celebrate their dad will cast little shadows on my little one's hearts.
On Sunday, you'll find me at work. My kids will be babysat until I return to them. There will be no special brunch, fancy formal wear accessories or tool belts to give to Jeff to mark what a kind, funny or loving daddy he was.
So in the afternoon, the kids and I will practise our own father's day tradition. We'll head to the beach with helium balloons clutched in hand, tiny folded notes tied into the strings and send Jeff the father's day messages we wish we could hand over with a huge and mushy hug.
I hope he'll get them. I hope he will know that we remember what a fabulous daddy he was and will never forget his part in making our lives as special as they were...and are.
Thank you, my Jeffrey, for our little ones. Thank you for your giant love. We love you right back. Happy Father's Day, my love.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

working and happy

it is late

and i’m still awake,

a fit of creativity

has settled upon

my brain, and has

translated into

eight fingers and two

thumbs, working to pound

out the

words i’ve struggled

to find.

tonight i spoke to

one of my best

friends in the world,

and she

cried for us.

happy tears,


evident in the smile

in my photos,

the words that i

write and the sound

of my voice,

that i am

the happiest i’ve

been in a very long time.

and she knows

you’re to blame,

and for that she cried.

so sleep…

because i will

be awake, writing

about the past,

ready for the future.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Seasons of Solace ....

..... is a wonderful book.
It's a book about grief, but it's different. It one widow's story told through her poems and her photography. It's beautiful.
I'm not usually a person who enjoys sitting down and reading a bunch of poems.
I'm not that deep ............. shocking, I know (and shame on all of you who did a spit-take on that!).
I prefer to read an entire story.
But this book had me captivated from the first page.
Janelle Shantz Hertzler is the author. She and her husband were living in Thailand with their 18 month old son doing volunteer work in July 2005. Then one day that month, she lived through what all of us never want to live through (though many of you have) ..... the tragic death of her husband.
Janelle turned to writing and photography to help her heal. These are not your ordinary flowery, romantic poems. They are full of raw emotion and grief. They are real. I think that's why I like them so much.
That, and the fact that I "get it".
Her pictures are of nature and they are wonderful. The beauty of the pictures balances amazingly with the rawness of the poems.
I highly recommend anyone reading this book. And I'm not being paid to say that.
Nor am I being paid to say that you can find it right here.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Hanging with the Guys

(Grayson and his Godfather, Jimmy Simmons)

Grayson is about to experience his 5th father's day without his dad. The first few years were okay for him, but it is sort of difficult to get into a holiday like that one without your dad. We made cards, visited the cemetery, ate foods Daniel would have liked, did things he would have liked to do. We tried to celebrate it like we would have in the old days. I think Grayson enjoyed it, but clearly there was something missing.

Last year my father-in-law invited Grayson to spend Father's Day with him at the coast. He'd decided Grayson was old enough to go on a fishing trip and he really wanted share the day with his grandson. I was a little worried that Grayson wouldn't have a good time - he tends to get homesick and I wasn't sure he could hack the all day fishing excursion. I was also a little worried about myself, I wasn't sure I wanted to be alone on Father's Day. Thank goodness my worries were groundless. Both grandfather and grandson had a blast (and so did mom - a pedicure and margaritas with the girls can definitely cure what ails you!).

A couple of months ago my father-in-law called to invite Grayson again. I was touched by the gesture and told him so. I told him I thought it was really special for the two of them to have this time together and I asked if it made him feel closer to Daniel on that day. His response made me smile then, and continues to make me smile now. He told me it definitely made him feel closer to Daniel, but it wasn't the only reason he invited him. "I just like him. He's a great kid, and I really enjoy spending time with him" were his words. I loved it.

The trip starts on Thursday, and Grayson is excited. He's got his fishing hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen ready. He's convinced he's going to catch the most fish and can't wait to get out on the water with his Poppa. His Godfather is the fishing guide, and that is a double bonus to Grayson. He can't wait. Fishing, telling stories, and hanging out with the guys, what better way for the little guy to celebrate the day? His Dad would have loved it, and I'm certain will be smiling down on him, hopefully putting those redfish right on the hook!

Happy Tuesday! - Michelle D.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Just A Step Dad

Phil was my second husband, and not the father of my three children. Though not biolgically related to my kids Phil was what I like to think of as their Everyday Dad.

After he died my kids were often told, "At least your real Dad didn't die." Once in awhile I heard people make the comment, "Oooohhhh, he was their Step-Dad," as if this revelation meant that the pain of his death was lessened by the fact that Phil's relationship to them was not created by genetics. Over the years my kids have been slighted repeatedly by friends, relatives, and kindly strangers...because these well meaning people didn't know the importance of my kids everyday dad.

Our Everyday Dad would run to my youngest son's baseball games in order to fit the kids sports schedule into his workouts.

Our Everyday Dad made up ridiculous names for household objects like dorks, wifes, floop floops, and dippers.

Our Everyday Dad liked to surprise our mother with the feats that the kids could accomplish like hiking to the top of a very high rock, doing wheelies off the curbs on our street, or riding the dirt bike in the backyard.

Our Everyday Dad would slip us an extra $20 when we were going out with our friends.

Our Everyday Dad took us to movies, roller rinks, and out for rides on ferris wheels.

Our Everyday Dad bought a trampiline and bounced on it as much as we did.

Our Everyday Dad was silly, fun loving, and always jumping out from behind things to scare us.

Our Everyday Dad took us trick or treating on Halloween.

Our Everyday Dad taught us the meaning of hard work, personal loyalty, and service above self.

Our Everyday Dad got mad when we left socks in the living room, forgot to put our dishes in the sink, or used one of his tools without returning it.

Our Everyday Dad explained things to us in words we could understand.

Our Everyday Dad loved our mom, and we knew it.

So on this week of Father's Day I salute the many men who are raising children that came to them because they loved these children's mother. Love is love and being a parent is more than just the ability to trace your genetics to a particular family tree. My children were, and continue to be, blessed to have their lives shaped by a man who loved them everyday.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

These Are The Hands

These are the hands of the man
who cares for my youngest son.
My former suicidal 7 year old.
My newly 8 year old.
The hands belong to Mark.
Mark sees Ezra every Thursday.
Mark and Ezra play and Ezra talks to Mark.
Ezra says things like:
"I'm glad everyone is treating me normal now, only I'm not normal cause I don't have a dad. and
"When my mom cries I don't like it. And I do cause she is relieved and looks lighter when she is done."

Ezra tells Mark about the
ace bandage.
The one he had me wrap around his head one morning.
The one he wore to school and kept on all day.
He tells Mark he wanted his friends, his other 7 and 8 year old friends, to remember that his dad's death still hurt.
These are the hands of the man
who offers me insider glimpses into the inner emotional life
of my son.
These are the hands of a man who is showing me that not only will my son survive this, he will thrive.
These are the hands of hope.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

His Love...His Gift

“Love is the voice under all silences, the hope which has no opposite in fear; the strength so strong mere force is feebleness: the truth more first than sun, more last than star…”

e.e. cummings

Do you know?

Know what your love has gotten me through, lifted me above, allowed me to see and my heart to follow?

I'm not sure. But one day you will know when I'm back in front of you and able to share the places your love has guided me to, and the people, the amazing people, that reminded me when all else failed, to listen to that voice, that hope and that strength that you gave me as your gift.

The gift I'll never be able to repay, but the gift I swear to wear out, over-indulge in, stretch thin, and never get tired of.

Thank you for your love. Thank you for choosing me to give it to.

Friday, June 11, 2010

getting my voice

We’ve moved. Our stuff is in the new house…..but the house isn’t finished. The shower doesn’t work and two of the rooms remain incomplete. Although the garbage and previous tenants belongings have finally been removed, we haven’t been able to unpack our stuff and claim the house as ours. We have been staying with friends until it is safe and comfortable to stay here with the kids.

I’ve felt angry, frustrated and without ‘roots‘. Unsure what to do and how to express my disappointment, I remained quiet initially. This was Jeff’s department. He was the vocal advocate for our family.

One of the lessons that I’m trying to teach myself in the wake of Jeff’s death is the ability to voice my concerns and to act as the proponent for our family. It’s hard. I feel like a ‘bitch’ if I express my displeasure. I also agonize over the thought that they may not take me seriously. (Jeff used to say I was about as terrifying as a ‘hissing kitten’ when I got angry.) I worry that others are hurt or angered by the voicing of our family’s needs or expectations….but there is no one else to do it. No one else to turn to. If I expect to have my concerns heard, I need to say them out loud to someone who can make a difference.

So although I felt like vomiting at the thought of possibly causing discord, I spoke to the landlord. I expressed my worries and the concerns for my children’s safety amidst the broken glass that littered the property. I spoke about the need to have a working bath for the cleanliness of my kiddos. I told them that I hoped I would not be charged the full amount of our rent for this month…..and I didn’t cry. They didn’t cry. No one got angry or yelled. It was amazing! I stood up for us and I did it without Jeff. I know he’s looking down at me and smiling. “That’s my girl!!”

In My Dreams

Jackie is moving into her new home this week, and so I am filling in for her today. One of our readers commented on this previous post, and after reading it myself I thought I'd share these thoughts once again. I find that every time I read something from the past...I learn a new lesson for the future. The question I am answering today is whether I felt Phil's presence in any specific way after his death....

I have to admit that in the early months after Phil's death I ran from place to place (literally and figuratively) hoping to find a definitive sign that he was still with me. Is he in our room? Maybe in his garage amongst the tools? Could he be in the car? Near his bikes? Somewhere in the backyard? Insert in your mind here a vision of me looking under the bed, picking up each and every tool on the shop bench, sitting in his seat in his truck, straddling his bike though my legs were too short, and wandering aimlessly in our backyard...all in search of proof that Phil wasn't really gone. Over the last few years I have heard many stories of people who have felt their loved ones in their presence. They have no doubt that this experience is real, and derive great comfort from being with their lost spouse for just the briefest of moments, but Phil and I haven't been in the same room, for certain, since he died.

I have often wondered if the reason I don't feel him around me has something to do with my belief in the possibility that this could actually happen. Over the past three years I have looked for him in every imaginable spot, and even ordered him to appear when all else failed. I have spent a good amount of time fervently wishing, hoping, praying, or begging that I could find Phil in a particular spot, any place would do. Eventually I realized that if this were possible for me, I would never do anything but sit in that sacred location, and be with him. He knows me well, and I think he knows the truth: I couldn't handle being able to 'visit' him. Each visit would need to be a bit longer, every opportunity to run to him at any sign of trouble would be taken, and over time life would pass me by as I hid my face in his silent presence.

Some spouses are blessed with the certainty of their loved ones presence, some are left to wonder where they have gone; but I believe that love is the place all of us will most certainly find our heart's desire. Our loved ones live best in the hearts of those of us who loved them and lost them...each person who knew Phil holds a little piece of him in their hearts, and it is in our shared memories that I find him--without fail.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

and then there's this

happiness has pervaded

my life,

before, during and after

my time with


and since she died,

it’s been my friends

and family and stranger friends

and music and books and

travel and writing and

memories and photography

and baseball and cheeseburgers

and beer and this blog

and countless other things

that have all been

huge sources

of happiness for me.

and then there’s madeline.

what can i say about

her now that

i don’t think every second,

that i don’t write down

whenever i can,

that i don’t capture

on virtual film

every day?

well, she’s been

my biggest source of

happiness since


died, my reason for

getting out of bed

in the morning,

the reason

i can pull myself

together after

finding a long lost

photo of


in a box in our garage,

the reason i haven’t

fled the country

with just my ipod and wallet.

madeline is my everything.

without her, i would be nowhere,

but with her

i am here.

and now,

there’s another source of

happiness in my life.

her name is brooke.

and we’re dating.

it’s weird how

things like this

can sneak up

on you,

but i’m happy it did.

we met briefly

last september,

a five minute conversation

that found me teasing her

(that should come as no surprise to anyone who knows me).

we hung

out a couple of

times at the end of november.

and in december,

when maddy and i

were in mn for

the holidays,

we spent even more time together.

and now,

she’s been out to

los angeles to visit

us twice since

we returned here at the

end of january.

she makes me smile,

and maddy

really loves her.

how do i know?

because madeline hates

most women, yet

she lets brooke do

her hair without

putting up a fight.

but this…

this relationship,

it’s something i’ve

been reluctant to talk about.


because it’s hard

enough to discuss this

with my friends

and family, face-to-face,

let alone

with strangers

on my blog.

plus, i’m pretty

sure this is gonna

change the way

that some people view me.

and widows and widowers,

the people that

i’ve committed to helping,

both through my words

and through the foundation

i started in


name, may think

i no longer “get” them.

i assure you,

i do.

finding another source

of happiness does

not mean that i

have moved

past the pain,

’cause i still feel

that pain on a daily basis.

and this doesn’t mean

that i have replaced


the way i look at

things is that when


died, i died.

but i was reincarnated

a moment later,

and i’m

lucky enough

to have the memories

of my previous

life still with me.

these memories,

both good

and bad,

come to play in my

everyday life,

and it’s these memories

that will keep


alive for madeline.

she will know

her mother through

my memories of her,

through the photographs

i’ve taken,

through the family and

friends that i

hold dear,

and it’s these people who will

remain in her life,

and my life forever.

and i see this

whole thing

as an evolutionary process,

a process that has

me moving through,

not moving on,

because moving on

is impossible.

but happiness…

it’s been here the

whole time,

even in my darkest,

most fucked-up

moments, yes, there

has been happiness.

and with brooke

now in our lives,

there’s even more happiness.

and i don’t see

how that

could be anything

but positive.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

You Get What You Get ....

I've come to realize something over the past several years.
It's about a variation of a sentence I've heard over and over again.
And I would bet that most of you have heard it in the not-so-distant past.
I have come to hate ..... no, abhor, this sentence ..... "I could never do that." Or better yet, "God knew that I couldn't handle something like that."
This sentence is used in varying ways by all kinds of people, but always when talking about another person and her circumstance in life.
I heard it when I had twin babies: "I could never handle twins."
I heard it when I had four, then five, then six children: "I could never handle so many kids."
I heard it after Jim died: "I don't know how you've done it. I could never manage."
Well guess what?
We don't always get to choose our circumstances.
In fact, we rarely get to choose them.
Using the motto of our home while the kids were growing up ...... with life "you get what you get".
And you learn to adjust.
Because you have no choice.
Other than to quit.
But that's not really a choice, is it?
So for anyone who sees a mother with a handicapped child, or for anyone who sees a widow,
or for anyone who sees another person dealing with a struggle in her life ..... please never say "God knew I couldn't handle something like that".
Because you will handle whatever is dealt.
You'll HAVE to handle whatever is dealt.
You will have no choice.
Just as all of us who read this blog had no choice.
We got what we got.
And we keep breathing.
We don't always want to.
But we do.
And we move one step at a time.
And we move forward with the knowledge that we can now handle anything.
Whether we choose the situation or not.
We get what we get.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The Little Guy

Summer has started here in Texas and the heat is on. Grayson has started his series of summer camps, and we're looking forward to our birthday trip over the 4th of July weekend.

Ten years old. It's hard to believe that my little guy will be 10. He was 5 when he lost his dad, and I was so afraid that he'd be permanently damaged by the whole experience. Five years later, he seems to be doing so well, it's amazing.

My little guy is pure sunshine and sweetness, and such a joy to be around. He's a normal kid who drives me nuts with his contrariness and quest for independence, but he lights me up daily. When school ended last week, he brought home a poetry book that he had been working on all year. On the dedication page he wrote "to my mom, because she is my only parent and means everything to me, I love her." He gave it to me while I was getting ready for work, and I had to redo my eye make-up after. :)

I have said so many times over the past few years that he is the life line that has kept me sane and focused on the positive. He has been my evidence that life is still good, and the reason in the early months of this journey that I could even get out of bed. Without him I'm not sure how well I'd be doing now. The amazing thing is that I know we lift each other up. I made it a point early on to be honest with him about how I was feeling, I didn't try to hide my sadness from him. But, I also made it a point to show him it was okay to have a little fun in spite of it all. I wanted him to know that life was not over for us.

It was fake at first. I was sort of "modeling happiness" - consciously putting on a happy face sometimes, just so he'd have a little lightness in those first dark months. I wanted him to know that all the joy wasn't gone from our world. I tickled him and told him jokes and took extra care to play and be light. It was painful sometimes. I just didn't really have the energy. But as time passed, it became more sincere and easier, I needed that silly time as much as he did.

Now, almost five years later, it's not an act. I am happy and so is he. I don't have to intentionally put on a happy face anymore, it's naturally there. We are content with our world the way it is, and life is pretty darn good. I wouldn't have thought it was possible, and am so grateful to find out that it is. Is he permanently damaged by this experience? I hope not, but he has definitely been changed by it. So have I.

I guess my point today is: Thank heavens for little boys! :) They say it's the little things that help to get you through life's ups and downs, and in my case it's the little guy.

Happy Tuesday! - Michelle D.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Facing My Fears

It has been a long time since I have really shared my life with a man. Four years, ten months, and seven days to be exact. In that time I have learned to juggle life as a single parent, a single person, a sole provider, the sole tenant on my mortgage...I have become accustomed to the fact that the buck stops with me.

For the last two weeks I have been in Australia with my fiancee. We have been working out the details of his move to the United States. He is moving half way around the world to marry me. Most days I am humbled and a bit awed by this fact, but sometimes the idea of leaping back into married life causes a slight (or full blown) panic attack.

One day after a difference of opinion, I asked Michael what his Plan B was going to be. He calmly looked me in the eye and said, "I don't have one." My heart skipped a couple beats. No back up plan? So I asked him what he would do if things didn't work out between us. His answer, "I don't know." For some reason this irritated me and I insisted on discussing everything from how we will manage conflict to what time we will eat dinner and who will cook the meal. I went on for a good long time about all the reasons our relationship might not work, and then I started crying out of nowhere for reasons I could not articulate.

Sitting quietly in Michael's arms I realized that I was actually terrified. Since Phil's death I have worked very hard to avoid disappointment. In my quest to recreate my life I have become fiercely independent. By avoiding counting on people I have created the illusion that if someone else dies I can mitigate the impact their loss will have on my life. Death is the ultimate disappointment. Nothing is as I thought it would be, and the person who previously shared every part of my life is dead. The hole his death left behind took years to fill, and here I was prepared to link my future with another man. WHAT am I thinking?!

As all of this self reflection was going on, Michael just waited. He held me when I cried. He assured me that if things didn't work out between us that he would be okay. He repeated the promise that he would do his best not to die first. He laughed when I told him I had no idea why I was crying. And then I knew what I was doing, marrying a man who understands this journey though he has never walked this path. He loves me enough to stand by me while I work through the fear, the guilt, the uncertainty, and the various wounds that grief has left in it's wake and still offer a hand to hold as we walk forward into whatever the future has in store.

Widowhood has cemented in my brain the message that we only get to live once, so I am going to try to put that fear of disappointment on the back burner and make the most of the adventure that lies ahead.

This photo was taken of Michael and I on the second anniversary of our on-line introduction. We flew over the gorgeous Australian countryside in this plane while I marveled at the places life has taken me. Unimaginable and impossible are definitely not the same thing.

Sunday, June 6, 2010


Do NOT talk about them.
Do not bring them up in conversation!
Pretend they don’t exist.

Proper widows talk about proper topics. These two topics are socially don’t-ask-just-assume-the-best topics. Only the bold among my friends will broach the subjects.


Sex with a man I like is delicious, scrumptious, enticing, drug like, fun, exhilarating --- oh but wait. I, widow (female) am not too discuss that need, that need, at the age of 45, is alive and glowing in me because it’s not about making babies anymore. It’s about the sheer fun of doing it! I am not to converse about my need to be held, to be openly desired, to feel a man’s naked body up against mine. I am not to talk about how just imagining his intense breathing just ……yummy!
I am not to discuss my sexual need. It’s vulgar.

I widow, a mother to three poor grieving children who have lost their father so tragically is too angelic to consider her loins.

And then there is cash, moola, dinero, buck, dough.. M-O-N-E-Y.
Last week a good friend said “So how are you surviving anyway?” I laughed cause really I didn’t know.

The words “wing” and “a prayer” flitted across my mind.
Running out of it puts the issue of money in my face daily. And with it comes the shame.
The idea that somehow we mismanaged, lived to high, didn’t work hard enough, were foolish, not responsible…all of it presses down on me until it’s absorbed into my skin becoming part of my being.
I believe the whispers that say incompetent, fool and spender and then I look down at my three year old jeans, the ones I jam my ass into every summer.
Because if you are a hard-working, red blooded American you always have money. And because somewhere along the line of being that hard working red blooded American we learned how to manage money through….
And Rick Edelman, Suze Ormond and David Bach.
Not from my parents.
My husband not from his.
Today I am sucking that shit out of me.
We had six months of savings in an account like all professionals suggest. He had a retirement plan. Society says stay home with babies. What they don’t say is , it’s not worth paying you for your time.
His life insurance company unjustifiably canceled his account. (Yes lawyers are now involved…on contingency) His parents chose not to support their grandchildren with one single cent although they are very able.
Been working my business (private K-12 school admissions and financial aid expert) and its growing and searching for a job at the same time. There has been little space for me to “allow the grief to come” like some counseled. There were spots when I shoved it back down, deep and hard because I was on the phone with a client, taking to an admissions director or just had to figure out how to feed four on a not-even-well-balanced meal. There were doctor’s appointments that were put off. If it didn’t take so long to go to dental hygiene school (or cost so much) I’d go so I could clean my kid’s teeth. The teeth that haven’t seen those nice masked people with silver tools since 2008, months before Art’s cancer returned.
We budgeted. We stayed within that budget. Our credit card debt is below $3000. And yet the guilt borrows in, nesting in my essence. We must have missed something. If we did it all “right” I wouldn’t be trying to stretch a $10 into $100.
And I’m sick and tired of keeping this quiet. I’m struggling. I'm mad and I'm saying something.
I come out of the closet because
But shhhhhhh
Don't talk about it, I am grieving widow. It's undignified.
I vacillate between sweat-inducing fear and believing that “If I leap, the net will appear.” I have leapt, I have visioned and prayed and meditated and prayed again. Good has come my way…so many amazing gifts, Only umm, God? This time You seem to be cutting it a little close!
The fear of having no money grips me, shakes me and says “you need to do something NOW!” but fails to include details. I continue to take action, trusting that the ground is not coming up at me as fast as it appears.
And it all feels familiar, the fear, the anxiety, the not being able to see how I am gonna get through the next month or the next 5 seconds.
As I suck the guilt and shame from me, I find power, clarity, fire and a don’t’-mess-with-a-widow strength that is hard to contain.
I don’t know how this will work out. But damn it, my husband died last year. If I can survive his death. I can survive anything!
I am widow, hear me ROAR!

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Memorial Day is Everyday for a Military Widow

This past week I found myself in Washington, D.C. for the National Memorial Day Concert.

Accompanied by some of my greatest widow friends, we spent the weekend catching up, visiting fallen loved ones at Section 60, night walks around the monuments, searching of names for our Vietnam widows and more.

All in all it was a weekend above all Memorial day weekends since Micheal's passing.

Our last night was spent at the concert, where two actors portrayed myself and one of the first widows to reach out to me, a Vietnam era widow nearly 40 years older then me. But as I learned early on, age takes backseat when it comes to binds, healing and friendship. As the actresses took their place on the stage they told a culmination of the hardships faced by military widows. My story is a small and minute story in comparison to the thousands out there who share in the same plight, but I hoped that even an ounce of what was being portrayed that evening could help others in taking a glimpse into our reality.

That evening, surrounded by some of the most amazing women I have ever met, I think an ounce of that was achieved...due to them...due to us...due to you.

Friday, June 4, 2010

moving day

Photo from arttherapyblog

In times of stress and unease, I occasionally look for quotes to use as a mantra to repeat when necessary.
So tomorrow as we move from the house that we shared with my beloved best friend/husband/father of our little ones, I will be repeating yet another appropriate phrase in the hopes of easing the fear, sadness and sense of loss that this change is bringing....along with its' intrigue, curiousity and excitement:

"All changes, even the most longed for, have their melancholy; for what we leave behind us is a part of ourselves; we must die to one life before we can enter another." ~Anatole France

Thursday, June 3, 2010


i’ve been here,

in this place.

but when?

was it twenty five years ago?

maybe eight?



it was

thirteen years ago.

and it was

almost four years ago.

i was here.

she was here


we were here.

but it was different.

thirteen years ago

it was an

awkward meal with

people who didn’t

know me.

but she made

it comfortable,

even fun.

some of them

were here.

i was here.

she was here.


we were here.

and that day four

years ago,

we stood up


it was that day,

that day i

put the one

now on my

left hand

on hers.

and the one

now on my right

was on my left.

it was to

be like that forever.

that was the plan.

i can smell

the flowers.

i can feel the excitement

of that moment.

i can see the dress.

and the woman

inside of it.

but four years

later, i am here

some of them

are here,

but she,


is not here.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

It Should Have Been ......

.... our 27th anniversary.
The 28th.
It should have been.

Instead, it was the day our oldest child/daughter graduated from graduate school.
And I was with her.
Just me.

It should have been us.
But it wasn't.
It was just me.

I get tired of it being just me.
For everything.
Every big day.
Every "first day of ...."
Every "last day of ...."
Every birthday.
Every graduation.
Every visit.
Every holiday.

Every night.

Yes, these days/events are getting easier for me.
Yes, I cry a whole lot less now.
Yes, that horrifying pain is no longer with me every day.

No, he doesn't occupy every thought now.
No, I don't wake up every morning thinking that he's dead.
No, I don't wish that I were dead now.

Nothing has changed in the last 2 years.
And yet many things have.
He's still dead.
But I am healing.

I'll always be scarred.
I'll never be the same.
But I will be OK.
More than OK.

And every single year when May 28th rolls around I will think .......

.... "It should have been ...."

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Resting In the Riddle

(photo from, Pam Gill contributer)

Musical Tuesday for me. I went to the Indigo Girls concert this weekend. I loved them in college and it was such fun to see them so many years later. My sister-in-law Leslie and I went and were not disappointed. It was a fantastic show. They closed it out with one of my favorite songs "Closer to Fine".

I'm trying to tell you something about my life
Maybe give me insight between black and white
The best thing you've ever done for me
Is to help me take my life less seriously, it's only life after all.

Well darkness has a hunger that's insatiable
and lightness has a call that's hard to hear
I wrap my fear around me like a blanket
I sailed my ship of safety til I sank it, I'm crawling on your shore.

I went to the doctor, I went to the mountains
I looked to the children, I drank from the fountain
There's more than one answer to these questions
pointing me in a crooked line.
The less I seek my source for some definitive
The closer I am to fine.

I went to see a doctor of philosophy
With a poster of Rasputin and a beard down to his knee
He never did marry or see a B-grade movie
He graded my performance he said he could see through me
I spent four years prostrate to the higher mind, got my paper
and I was free.

I went to the doctor, I went to the mountains
I looked to the children I drank from the fountain
There's more than one answer to these questions,
pointing me in a crooked line
and the less I seek my source for some definitive
The closer I am to fine.

I stopped by the bar at 3 a.m.
To seek solace in a bottle or possibly a friend
I woke up with headache like my head against a board
Twice as cloudy as I'd been the night before
and I went in seeking clarity.

I went to the doctor, I went to the mountains
I looked to the children, I drank from the fountain
There's more than one answer to these questions,
pointing me in a crooked line.
And the less I seek my source for some definitive,
the closer I am to fine.

The closer I am to fine.

This song has a different meaning for me now than it did 20 years ago. Sometimes there is a peacefulness in deciding not to question what has happened. It doesn't work for me on a daily basis, but sometimes just accepting for a moment or two can be a relief. I will never be able to say or hear the words "it was part of God's plan" without cringing, but if I can rest for even a moment in that concept, there is a measure of peace there. I don't like the plan, but I wasn't asked to.