Monday, April 30, 2012


I spent last weekend at Camp Widow East and re-entering my regular life was harder than I'd anticipated.

The long travel day to get back home was exhausting and I missed my camp friends terribly. I spent the day alternately crying in public (a lot) and forcing the tears to stop long enough to function in the airports.*

The first time I went to camp I had only lived this life for 2 months and was still deeply in shock. I left feeling as though I'd found my people and the hope it would take to get me through.

And nothing was different about that this time. However, with less shock to buffer me now, I could more acutely feel how hard it was to return to "real life" and be, once again, the widow among non-widows. And, on top of that, I've been feeling like that pain is attached to the pain of also being an orphan and of having grown up missing the kind of love I so desperately needed. All the pain is linked like a rope I follow back to its source.

While I was at camp, I didn't even have to explain myself. I could look at another comrade and know they knew. And that I knew that they knew that I knew. Now (again), I find myself trying to explain how all of this feels and I don't have an adequate vocabulary. There is no way to fully explain this to those who haven't traveled this particular road and that can create a void.

I'm struggling with that. Combine that with not knowing what I'm going to do with my life and feeling unmoored, and I just long to feel secured to something, someone. I long for the feeling of absolute safety that Dave's presence gave me. I felt, from the day I met him, that I could depend on him completely. I felt watched over, protected and safe.

Now, all of that is up to me and I wish I felt a little more capable. But I keep pushing forward because that's what has to happen. I cling to my widowed friends' support, advice, and example.

At camp I saw, everywhere I looked, examples of people who experienced a loss this huge and continue to smile, laugh, live, love. I was held up when I couldn't stand from sobbing. I was protected and loved by all those fellow travelers.

That is why I keep coming back to camp. Nothing has made quite the impact on me like finding my "people". From the first few days after Dave died, I knew instinctively how badly I'd need to find others who'd been through this. And I did.

So, thank you Michele Neff Hernandez (and the rest of SSLF, of course!) for creating this refuge for us. Thank you for reminding me that pain like this can often result in incredible acts of love and healing for so many.

It's probably not much of an overstatement to say you've helped save my life. I just kind of wish that Camp was my normal life and "real life" was just a fleeting weekend once a year.** Can someone arrange that for me? Super. Thanks.

*Thanks to a phone call from a new friend made at camp, though, I actually laughed a little, too.  (Hi, Whitney!)

 **But I'll be there in August and I hope to see as many of you there as possible. If you haven't been before, you will be so grateful you chose to go. Please go. Please give yourself this gift of hope. And please find me and say hi!

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Best Headline Ever

Special thanks to fellow bloggers Chris and Cassie, as well as their friend whose name I forgot.  On our final day at Camp widow, they helped me come up with the idea for today’s post.

This year is my first Camp Widow.  A few of us from Chicago arrive at the Myrtle Beach airport.  As we wait for a cab, a young married couple behind us overhears we're going to the Hilton.

“You wanna share a taxi?” the guy asks.

We start to load our suitcases in the trunk when the girl politely tries to start a conversation with us.

“Are you here for a wedding?”

“Not a wedding, no,” I reply, mad for not having a response ready. I knew something like this was going to happen, I just didn’t expect it ten minutes after landing.

“We’re here for a widow convention,” I say.  “Our spouses passed away and there’s a weekend of workshops, reflections, and celebrations.”

As we get into the cab, we find out they're here for a wedding, one of his old frat brothers is getting married - his second marriage, her first.  The conversation on the 20 minute cab ride is more than pleasant as they ask questions about us, and we ask questions about them.  The only part of the ride that is uncomfortable is with the taxi driver himself – later our cab buddy said our driver reminded him of the guy in Men In Black whose body was taken over by an alien.  “I haven’t flown since 1978,” the cab driver barks out at one point.  “Had a couple of drinks and they found me passed out in my seat.  I don’t like to travel.”  The fact that one could argue driving a cab was traveling, coupled with no one had asked him the last time he’d flown, had us all in silence looking at one another.

As the weekend went on, we would run into our cab buddies and exchange stories of how the weekend was progressing.  As you can imagine, our stories were on different ends of the spectrum, but they were curious about us, and we were curious about them.  It looked like rain was going to ruin the outdoor wedding and it would have to be held inside.  We each had our celebrations and setbacks in these three days.

On Saturday night after our dinner banquet (“No slow songs tonight!” Michele announced before the DJ started, such a great detail to get right for this type of event), we decide to have the after-hour’s party at the hotel bar.  Miles away, at the end of a fraternity brother’s second wedding reception, they decide the same thing.  So, there we are, widows spread all over the bar like secret service agents and a wedding party, complete with bride in wedding dress and all.

“There should be a fight!”  One of us jokes.  And I agree, there should be a fight, if only to read the best headline ever in the paper the next day:

Myrtle Beach – Fight breaks out at local hotel bar between a wedding party and a widow convention.  Bride taken away in handcuffs as she screams, “Widows shouldn’t even be allowed to drink alcohol!” 

Of course, the dark humor starts flowing a little easier and there are suggestions of redoing some of our tee-shirts so they now read, “I went to Camp Widow and kicked some bride’s ass.”

In fantasy, the idea of fighting the wedding party made me feel better.  Forget the Spa and putting cucumbers on my eyes, I could release plenty of stress taking out my anger and frustration on some young couple who dared to rub in our face being married. 

But the reality of the situation doesn’t fit my fantasy, because as we are sitting on one of the couches during our after-hours party, our cab buddy goes stumbling by - he is having little success keeping the beer in his glass as his body seems to have lost the concept of gravity.  He happens to glance over and sees us sitting there.  He stops, straightens up, and walks over to us. 

           “Hey guys, how are you?” he says.  He steadies his hand, as the beer settles into the glass. 

           “We’re doing great.”

           “Really?  Are you guys having fun?”

           “We’re having a blast, look around you, you're surrounded by us.  See all these people laughing and having drinks.  That’s widows rocking out this bar.”

           “Cool man, that is so cool.” He says, and then calls his wife over.  She comes running at us in high heels, so happy to see us one more time before we all leave.

Michele Neff Hernandez, Founding President and Executive Director of Soaring Spirits Loss Foundation, spoke eloquently in her key note address Saturday morning, saying that one of the benefits of this convention is we’re changing the minds of employees at the hotel and anyone we run into of what being a widow is all about.  That someday, when they have to experience the sadness of losing a loved one, we are showing them that it can be done.  It’s painful, but it can be done and one can continue to have a fulfilling life.

And while she is accurate, I find that my mind is changed also.  It’s only by chance we shared a cab with that couple, because if we hadn’t, I probably would’ve seen that wedding party all weekend and been pissy. I probably would have heard their wedding was rained out and expressed no sympathies due to us being there because we lost our spouses.  I probably would have seen our cab buddies all dressed up and not knowing them, would’ve rolled my eyes – amazing what happens to one’s perception of people you don’t care for when you get a chance to talk to them.

So I find it ironic, of all the amazing people I met at camp widow, I am most grateful to a married couple who came to Myrtle Beach for a wedding.  For the short three days in S.C, we shared a connection I cannot explain - friendship at first cab.  We genuinely cared for one another on how our weekends were going.  A kinship I assumed I would share only with other widows. 

I left Chicago not knowing what the weekend held in store, but was hoping I would come home with some positives.  I did.  To my new friends in Pittsburgh, where ever you are, thanks for helping make the weekend great.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Never Enough

I've met quite a few widows in my day.

 I've laughed with them, cried with them, grown with them, and lived with them.

After nearly five years of meeting with those that share this title we were so unwillingly given, there is one thing I know for sure (that was definitely reinforced at Camp Widow East):

You can never have enough or know enough widows and widowers!

Of course, I'd like to think there weren't many of us out there, but there are.

But with each one lies a gift, waiting for you to unwrap.

A story, an inspiration, a smile, a hug, a love. Perseverance, strength, beauty and power. 

With each widow I have the honor of meeting, hugging, talking to, I feel myself getting stronger.

They are the epitome of a survivor and wear it proudly for all to see and be empowered by.

Like life, the moment we stop growing, learning, and evolving is the moment we are basically dead.

Every moment surrounded by my fellow bearers of the badge "W", is a moment that all of that takes place.

A moment that gives me strength for that it to continue on, even when we can no longer be together in our amazing widow bubble.

Thank you Michele, Dana, Barbara and all the SSLF team...for allowing us to continue to come together and have those moments never are long enough...but always just perfect.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Someone to Watch Over Me?

The picture above was taken one month before Daniel died.  We were waiting in the train station for Amtrak to take us to Disneyland.  Daniel took the picture, and if you look closely you can see his reflection in the glass behind us.  I remember seeing it for the first time a few months later and thinking how much like a ghost he looked in the picture and how I wished I could see the specter of him watching over us as he seems to be doing here. 

I know he does watch over us, and there are times I feel like he sends me messages when I really need them.  I've seen multiple mysterious messages.  On a particularly terrible day, I was crying as I was driving by the hospital he spent his last night in and  "I love you" flashed on a pharmacy sign and then disappeared completely.  I stopped, and watched and waited for 10 minutes to see if it was some gimmick of the pharmacy, but the message never repeated itself.  

Another day about 6 months after he died, I had to leave the office to have a private cry fest.  I realized at some point that I was starving - I likely hadn't eaten in a day or something ridiculous, and I stopped by a random Chinese place for takeout.  My fortune in my fortune cookie said simply "I miss you".  Um, yeah, I didn't make it back to work that day. 

Last example:  I was working on a pipeline project in Mississippi, it was a gorgeous day and for whatever reason I was missing him terribly.  I was sort of cursing the cloudless blue sky and thinking how unfair it was....a giant black and gold butterfly - the size of my hand, swooped down and almost landed on my head.  I decided it was a message from Daniel.  I'm sure I've made up tons of messages from him over the years, but some of them really seem to be too perfect to be coincidence.  I choose to believe.

I'm sure I'm not the only widow to make special requests of their dead spouse, and I'm certain I've sent more prayers directly to Daniel than to God in the last 6 years.  Recently, after hearing of a co-worker's wife's cancer diagnosis I asked Daniel to pull whatever strings he can in heaven to make sure that Carl lives a long, long life.  It's a strange universe when you send prayers to your late husband about your new one...but it's my reality, isn't it?  I asked Daniel to please make sure I never had to live through that again.  I'm sure he was listening, and if I know him he'll do his best to watch over me and G.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

I can't remember if I remember


I had a horrifying experience this week:

I couldn't remember.

It started with a drive to meet my sister-in-law in Canada. The drive was a familiar one that I've taken with Jer hundreds of times through the years. Suddenly and unexpectedly, but like a familiar wave of grief, I was struck with tears realizing I would never take the drive again with him. Then I started to try and remember all the different drives I had taken with Jeremy over the years on that road. I remembered very little, which bothered me, but that wasn't the problem.

I then started trying to think about what it felt like to hold Jeremy's hand in the car like I had so many times before. But instead, all I could remember for that little while was holding my brother's hand in the hospital as he slipped away from us, and the second I noticed a change in his hands and knew that he was gone. And like the wave, I was covered in tears. Tears for my brother, who I've been missing so much the last few days (well, ever since I saw my nephew last weekend and his resemblence to my brother was so eery and heartbreaking for me) and tears for the fact that I couldn't get myself to remember was it was like to hold my husband's hand.

I started to go back to all those familiar moments that I think about often. Like the night before he died - him holding my hand on the way home, telling me how much he loved to hear me sing....I tried to remember past what I normally thought about, maybe some other details I missed before and I couldn't. Then I started to doubt the memory. It feels so distant - did that really happen? Do I actually remember it or is it just because I thought about it so many millions of times that it has become a habit instead of a memory? It was truly horrifying to feel like my memories were slipping further away from me just like Jeremy was.

Luckily, it was fleeting. Sometimes, all it takes is a picture of his jaw line or crooked smile to bring all those things back. Or a random hot day where the smell of sweat suddenly made me miss his salty kisses in the middle of the afternoon on a lunch break. Or sitting with Steve, playing with his ears, and remembering how different it felt to play with Jeremy's. I remember with such detail praying every day that I never forget.

But every once in awhile....I can't remember if I remember.
I hate those moments.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Hope .... Personified ....

.... is what I saw this past weekend.

I saw individuals come on Friday .... who didn't look like they had much hope.
And I saw others who did.

But slowly, as the weekend wore on ..... I saw more hope on the faces of the former.
And I knew that all the work we had done to get this Camp here .... was more than worth it.

This was my fourth (out of 4) Camp Widow.
This was my favorite Camp Widow.
I met so many of you ..... and each one of you touched my heart.  I could feel my heart growing over the weekend.
It now holds more people than it did before.

Some of you I held .... while you cried.
Some of you laughed with me, until we both cried.
And some of you listened to me, as I cried.
Yes, there were tears this weekend.
But tears are not a bad thing.
Tears can connect us to one another.

I saw a lot more laughing than I did crying.
I know I laughed WAY more than I cried.
In fact, I cried less at this Camp Widow than I did in the past.
Far less.
Not that laughter is better than tears .... but it is a bit more fun.
(And laughing doesn't leave my nose red for 3 hours afterward.)

I saw a lot of beauty this weekend.
I saw a lot of love and acceptance.
I saw a lot of friendships made .... or deepened.
I saw a lot of understanding.
I saw a lot of ..... hope.

I did not see the inside of my lids much.
Nor did the rest of the board.
But we know that every hour of lost sleep was one more hour we were probably getting to spend meeting/talking with someone new.
And maybe that someone needed hope.
Or maybe just to laugh.

I'm not sure what each and every person needed who came to Camp Widow.
But I'd best that most of us wanted to connect with someone else.

And many of us needed ..... hope.

And if THESE didn't give anyone hope .....

                                              (S'mores on a stick .... WHO KNEW these existed?!)

....... then I would dare to bet that faces like this did.

To those of you who came .... thank you.
Thank you for the love and friendship you gave me.
Thank you for the tears.
Thank you for the laughs.
And thank YOU ..... for the hope.

The hope that we can keep making these weekends happen .... so that more and more widowed people will be able to attend.
And leave with hope.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Uncommon Therapy

I've done common therapy ... 
The psychologist I saw for over a year was lovely to talk to, had some useful ideas and she confirmed my own suspicion that my mental health is worth bottling ..... but ultimately, this sadness will not lift easily and all the mindfulness and affirmations in the world won't fix it.

But thankfully, I've also stumbled into a form of uncommon* therapy....
...just before he died, Greg gave me my 40th birthday present..... a second hand DSLR Canon camera with three lenses.
....and just before he died I signed up to the 365Project which is a free website where the basic premise is that you take and upload a photo each day.

It took a while for me to return to this project after Greg died, and when I did it was with photos that simply documented our lives.
...and ever so slowly, my photos improved in both content and technique.
 I can now look back over the last 2 and a bit years and see that my photographs are increasingly full of colour and joy again..... possibly more colour and joy than I feel .... but proof that for at least part of every day, I have sought beauty around me and captured it in an image.

...and I am thankful for that.

*At no point should it replace quality professional therapy..... but if it can lift your eyes from the floor on even the darkest days, then it as therapy worth doing.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Walk the Walk

I see my neighbor who just lost her 18 year-old son to a sudden heart attack while he was away camping.

I stand in the kitchen, pouring orange mango juice into my glass filled with ice. My subconscious must have seen her out of the corner of my eye – although that would surprise me, as the front window of my house is a full room away from the kitchen.  Yet, I find myself, mid-pour of mango juice, turning my head to the left and looking through the living room and out the picture glass window.  There she is, walking, passing by in front of our house.

I recognize that walk.  Shoulders slumped, leading with her head, she stares straight ahead and yet her eyes focus on nothing. Her feet never get more than an inch of the ground as she moves forward – if I was beside her, I’d be able to hear the sidewalk scraping the bottom of her shoes. 

I empathize with her, knowing at this point in her mourning process, all one can really do is to keep your body moving.  It’s not time yet for acceptance, understanding, or rebuilding.  Just keep the body moving.

My instinct is to run outside and talk to her, to tell her that I am sorry for her loss.  But more importantly, that I’m not one “of those” people who express their sympathies. I want to tell my neighbor that I experienced loss myself.  No wait.  That sounds like it’s more for me than it is for her, like some sort of competition.  Didn’t I hate when people did that to me, but then again, didn’t I hate when people said nothing at all.

I am over thinking this entire hypothetical conversation.  She is already long gone down the block and a quarter of the ice in my drink has melted – leaving a watery version of the tasty mango flavor.

Two days ago, I was putting my three girls in the car when she also walked by our house.  She was with a friend who was walking a puppy.  The girls ran to pet the puppy and I had the best chance to express my regrets to a neighbor I’ve never met.  “Is that a pure breed collie or a mix?” Is all that came out of my mouth.  Then the moment passed as well as her and her friend.

She’s been on my mind these days.

I know it’s okay to ask about her son.  It would be a bit much to run out of the house with a fruit drink in my hand yelling, “Hey, wait, sorry for your loss!”  But the next time I see her, I won’t hesitate to bring his death up.  I’ve been preaching too long that people don’t ask enough about loved ones we’ve lost.

She must be very proud of him and would like to know people are thinking of him.  Him.  I don’t even know his name.  I think I’ll ask her, as well as her name, when I see her walking by again.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

The Text

from here

Flashbacks are terrible. Simply terrible. I hate them. And I certainly don't want to bring them on, and yet they remind me of those bruises I sometimes get that hurt to touch, but that I keep touching anyway. Can't help myself.

Thinking about the "dark day" is pain beyond words. And yet, my mind seems to want to play those memories across the backs of my eyes like a movie on repeat.

Some parts are lost to the segments of my brain dulled by shock, but other parts are crystal clear.

Sometimes I want to talk or write about the memories of that time regardless of how much it tears me apart. Sometimes I don't think I have the energy to.

All the time there are triggers. An ambulance shrieking past, a character dying in a movie, the sounds and sights of a hospital. 

The flashbacks don't surprise me as much as they used to and they don't seem to undo me quite as easily as they used to, but trauma has etched its patterns in my brain.

The other day, my childhood friend's husband texted me. When that text popped up, the previous text from June 4th, 2011 showed up too, right behind it. The last time her husband texted me was on the day Dave died. In fact, now that I look at the time stamp, it was about an hour after he died.

I don't remember ever seeing that text before.  It read "Cass, I don't know if or when you will read this but Stacey is on her way to be with you. Stay strong and know we are thinking about you and Dave."

When we knew that things were looking very bad for Dave, my local friends notified my long-distance friends. When Stacey found out, she booked a flight from Ohio to be with me, and her husband sent that text, not knowing that Dave had already slipped away. By the time she got to the airport, she'd gotten the news that Dave had died. 

Reading that text that seemed to travel right out of time, out of nowhere to my phone almost 11 months later, made everything around me to dim to a gray, silent blur. My ears rang and my mouth went dry. For a split second I forgot where and when I was.

And then, I was right back in that hospital, seeing him conscious for the last time. Then, the last time I would see him at all, lying unconscious in an impossibly bright exam room, his face swollen and  almost unrecognizable.

I remembered holding his wallet in my hands and knowing, regardless of the doctors' efforts, that he'd never use that wallet again. I remember curling up on that horrible waiting room couch, cradled by my friend, begging my other friend to pray for Dave, just in case I was wrong about my terrible premonition. Just in case there was anything we could do with our powerless little selves to save him.

(As I type this, my hands are shaking and my pulse is speeding up. It's hard to get enough air, but I'm so strangely compelled to continue.)

I remember the doctor's words. The words the last few hours had hinged on. The words I wished I could stop in midair and redirect, back into the man's mouth to be changed to "We have him stabilized and he's going to be okay". The words that brought my life to a screeching halt.

I remember. I remember too much. Even shock couldn't save me from remembering those nauseating moments.

It might help to press that bruise from time to time. It might help to purge occasionally. But, damn if it doesn't feel like I will fall apart at the seams to think of it.

If Dave had survived me, I'd want him to focus on the 15 years we had together and not the last 7 days of life. So, I don't dwell there too much, but on the other hand, maybe unearthing those memories helps to dull their edges just a little every time until their edges don't cut quite as easily.

Friday, April 20, 2012

The Crazies are Normal

Last Friday I attended a wedding.  It was quite the picturesque spring evening affair: the weather was Austin, Texas-perfect, the bride was Texas-stunning, and the decor was spot-on.  Seeing the bride and groom exchange promises while holding hands and crying was truly heart warming.  But part of me wanted to grab them both by the shoulders and scream “No, REALLY!  Do you understand the commitments you are making?  These words you are saying MEAN SOMETHING!”  But that would have blown the mood all to hell.  And who needs to be known as the crazy widower who shows up at weddings and yells at the bride and groom? So I didn’t.

Being a widower has made me crazy in unexpected ways.  For one, I don’t really worry like normal people worry anymore.  Things that used to be a big deal (and still are to most sane people) don’t even hit my radar.  My perspective has changed. I know what a bad day REALLY looks like now and, frankly, no amount of spilt milk, flat tires, or cat puke is going to come close.   Hell, it’s unlikely that even if the car or the cat caught on fire I’d be that affected.

But life is balance.   So while many things don’t bother me, the most ridiculous things do, like hearing the words “in sickness and in health” repeated just because the minister said, “repeat after me.”  That bothered me quite a bit.  But I truly hope that the worst test of that statement the bride and groom ever celebrate is over cute winter sniffles.

I think most of my friends would understand my crazy, but there’s only so far they can walk down this path with me; they are just visitors.  Fortunately, there’s another group of friends I’ve come to know.  It’s a group of folks I’ve met since I’ve been writing for Widow’s Voice.  I met many of them last year for the first time at Camp Widow.  And this year, here at Camp Widow East, I am overjoyed to see them again for this short weekend.  They really, truly understand what those marriage commitments mean.  They understand the crazy that follows the crash.  Every single person here will take my crazy, and add to it a little bit of their own.  They’ve lived through the worst, like me, and have come out the other side changed.

It’s so nice to be here back in the asylum.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

It could be worse

It could always be worse

...I could have lost my children, too.
...Jeremy could have suffered.
...he could have been much harder to find.
...he could have fallen farther from his stand and done more physical damage.
...he could have been doing something he did not enjoy when he died.
...the kids could have watched their daddy die. friends could have abandoned me.
...Jer and I could have not had a great week together, and a great day together before he died.
...Jer could have died before we found out he was having a son, before he chose a name for him.
...he could have died before I knew I was pregnant.
...he could have died the day Carter was born.
...he could have been driving when his heart stopped and killed someone else.
...I could not have the best friends in the world.
...I could have been forced to go back to work right away.
...I could be forced into staying in our house, a house we were not safe in, that Jeremy hated.
...I could be feeling God's abandonment instead of His constant interceding.
...I could have not seen Jer all day that day. We could have had lunch separately.
...we could have been in a horrible marriage. I could have resentment.
...I could be angry with Jer for leaving.
...the kids could have forgotten their daddy, or stopped talking about him.
...the kids could be older and felt his death in a much more tangible way.
...the kids could be younger and not have any memories of their daddy.
...I could not have a relationship with his wonderful family.
...his family could have forgotten about me after the funeral.
...I could have a different church family. I could have been forgotten in the crowd.
...I could have already forgotten what he smelled like.
...the trauma could have severely affected Carter in the womb.
...Jer could have had skeletons in his closet.
...the kids could have not been able to see him all day that day.
...our last words exchanged could have been something other than "I love you."

I'm trying to write out some of these things to remind myself to be thankful, for I know deep down I am blessed.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

On Hope ....

                                             .... image from here.

.... and whether it matters.

I am now in Myrtle Beach, preparing with the rest of the Board members for our first Camp Widow on the east coast (therefore named, Camp Widow East).
We have all been crazy busy for the last few weeks (months for some) preparing for this weekend.
This past weekend I was attached to my computer almost 24/7.  Crazy, but worth it.

I have found myself thinking about the men and women who will come to Camp for the very first time.
Some of them have been widowed less than a year or two.

I think back to where I was at a year and a half ..... approximately the same time when I went to the very first Camp Widow.  I went with 3 other widow - friends, which made it easier.
And I loved it.

I loved it because I was surrounded by 100 other people who understood me.  Other people who understood what I meant, even if I couldn't finish a sentence.

I loved it because we laughed a lot more than we cried.

I loved it because I didn't feel alone for one second that weekend.

But mostly, I loved that weekend because I left filled with Hope.

There were many, many people who were "further out" than I was.  And they were surviving.  Not only were they surviving, but they were Living.  And that gave me Hope.  I was not at the point where I could live again.  I was just existing.  And trying to survive.
I needed Hope very badly.

And I got it.
I was filled with it.

I knew that if those men and women could live again, then I could, and would, too.
I had Hope.

Since that very Hopeful weekend I've spent a lot of time trying to give other widows/widowers Hope.
On my blog.
On this blog.
On the phone or through an email.
And sometimes ..... sometimes face to face.

Hope gives you the strength to live one more day.
Hope gives you possibilities.
Hope helps you know that you are not alone.

Hope matters.
Very, very much.

And that, my friends, is why I am here in Myrtle Beach, hoping to meet many of you this weekend.
I want to share Hope with you.
I want to tell you that you matter.
I want to help you realize that you are not alone.

And I want the same for all of you who read this blog.
You matter.
Hope matters.
You are not alone.

And hopefully, if I can give you hope, you will one day be able to give someone behind you .... hope.

Because, as we all know, Hope does matter.

Very, very much.

So please .... keep hoping.
And please .... keep passing it on.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Thinking about dating again: tell me it gets better...

Speed dating announcement in Paris
Speed dating announcement in Paris (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
please.... Please???

So I made my online dating profile visible again during the school holidays in an attempt to push myself out of the doldrums.  You know - maybe I could lift my spirits by having a coffee and a good conversation with a male to make myself feel like I am still young and attractive and not an old crone waiting for the grave.

When signing up on one site, I got 30 e-mails within half an hour of activation...... which sounds fabulous until I read through them and most were veiled suggestions of something rather sordid and soooooo not for me.  Although there were quite a few really nice ones as well but I got freaked out by the speed of the e-mail responses only minutes after I signed up and never contacted them.

On another, I got some lovely e-mails .... just a shame they were all from men at least 12 years older than me. (I am quite specific about wanting someone who is a non-smoker and under the age of 50 ... don't judge me!  I am looking to reduce my chances of being widowed too soon again.)

..and it is easy to see why so many people get discouraged.  .....

Men nearing 50 stating that they want a 25 year old woman with a 'hot body' (seriously??? when I was 25 with ...ahem ... " a hot body" ....  I thought anyone over 35 was ready for retirement). (and  HELLO  men aged in your late 50s and 60s, this 42 year old woman is looking at you like you are writing from your nursing home and low on your meds when you write to me and make lewd suggestions).

Or the young whipper-snappers who are looking for a Mrs Robinson or some sort of mother figure. No.  Just No.

Something in my waters tells me that I will meet someone I can truly love again..... I know it in my heart.  But as the holidays finish and it is back to school tomorrow, I know I will hide my dating profiles yet again whilst hoping that Mr Right just strolls into my life and finds me.'s hoping!

P.S. I hope nobody takes offence at this - I am just trying to make light of my own self-sabotaging nature and the absurdities of internet dating, and being Australian, I do that by "taking the piss" out of the situation. 
P.P.S. - If you have found a new partner via internet dating, I'd love to hear your success story ... and what site you used..  Alternatively, if you are at the point of looking around again on internet dating sites and have some "interesting" stories to share, I'd love to hear them.
P.P.P.S. I am aware of the irony of the last two paragraphs. 

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Monday, April 16, 2012


(not me!) from here

Dave was in my dreams the other night. I dreamed he hadn't actually died. He'd had a near death experience and recovered. "Surprise! I didn't die!"

Where he'd been for the last 10 months never came up, nor did the fact that I'd missed the memo on his NOT dying. But there he was anyway, all logic suspended in dreamworld.

In life, Dave was the most practical, level-headed person I knew. He had strong feelings about tattoos. He just couldn't get his head around spending money to have a needle poked into one's skin repeatedly and then having to cover it to get a decent job.

He was also practical when it came to his emotions. He just didn't spend a lot of energy talking about or analyzing life, dreams, hopes, feelings or emotions. 

In my dream, however, Dave's NDE had changed him completely. He had several tattoos to reflect the ways his experience had altered him and was outwardly philosophical and emotional. He was transformed.

I was so proud to have him back, as though he were a war hero, returned to me after fighting bravely. I kept reaching out to rub his back and I felt full to bursting with joy that he was here again. I had the urge to shout at everyone around us "SEE! He didn't die! He's here! He survived!"

They say in dreams, whatever you dream about represents YOU. If you dream of a house, the house is you. If you dream of someone rejecting you that person is YOU rejecting yourself, and so on.

So, it occurred to me that Dave may have represented me in this dream. I went through this life-changing experience, I survived and I am changed almost beyond recognition because of it.

Though I don't have any tattoos yet, I've been considering getting one (or more) for a while now, almost to mark myself as a new person since I feel completely different on the inside, anyway.

So, while the dream was heartbreaking and made me ache for him, it also felt like a simple message about my own growth and emerging self-worth. And by emerging, I mean baby-sized, blinking in the bright light, scared and ready to bolt back into the womb, self-worth.

But it's there, and it has potential. I get down on myself sometimes for not knowing what my new life's plan is, exactly, and worry about providing for myself.

Then I think of what I've survived so far and how, against all odds, I've held my shit together through it all and I remember that I have that flame within me.

 I can do what it takes to be happy and fulfilled. I deserve it and I can do that for myself. I have that strength.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

In The Dark

My sister’s kids are over at my parent’s house for a sleepover.  Since we moved into my parent’s basement a year ago, that makes five girls – three are mine, two my sister’s – who run downstairs and begin to pull every toy and game from every drawer, closet shelf, and cubby hole.  In less than five minutes the girls have accomplished making the basement look like 100 kids have been down here playing.

            Without warning, all the lights go out and one of the girls starts to scream.  The others join in and now five young girls are screaming while they run around in a dark basement.  I walk downstairs to inform them that the power is out and I’ll grab the flashlights in the closet.  As I grab one of the flashlights, I see my video camera in back of the shelf.  Sitting next to it are the tapes.  One is labeled, “Lisa’s last winter.”  I pop it in the camcorder and begin to watch - forgetting all about the flashlights.  The small screen now becomes the only light in the whole basement, the kids flock to it like moths to a candle.
            “Whatcha watching?" 
            “Who is that?”
            “Am I in there?”
            “Let me see.  Let me see.”
            I wasn’t planning a reflection of love lost, but it’s happening and now the girls, who I did offer to get a flashlight for, are killing the moment.  Dropping out of reality like I tend to do when it involves memories of Lisa, I lose my desire to help them attain light and walk away.

            “Hold on girls, give me one minute,” I say, as I’m already at the other end of the basement and go to my room.  The door to my basement bedroom has long been removed, as this room has been used for storage the past 10 years.  I don’t think my parents thought one of the kids would ever be coming back home to live at this point in their lives.  So instead of going to the garage and getting the old wooden door that has since been warped by outside weather, a curtain has been hung in its place acting as my bedroom door.  This curtain has a difficult time keeping out a fly, let alone a curious six-year-old child.

            Kelly peeks her head in with Molly hiding behind her – younger sister instinct to let the older sister get in trouble first – and asks again if they can see who is on the video.  They don’t wait for my answer and are almost in my lap within seconds.  I am trying my best to be patient but I haven’t seen live images of Lisa in months and this unexpected trip down memory lane has thrown me.  I get up and walk past the girls and head towards the bathroom – my last great escape in the house.  “Girls, you can see it, but I just need a moment here.”  Walking into the main room, I hear the other kids from the darkness call out my name. 
“There’s Uncle Matt…” 
            “Not now, need to use the bathroom.” I say, cutting them off and locking myself in.
            I close the toilet lid and sit down and start the camcorder again, I am ready to transport myself and pretend this video is happening in real time.  I watch Lisa baking cookies for Haley and Kelly in our old house.  The girls are coloring at the dining room table.  Lisa’s hair is pulled back in a ponytail, her brown sweater lets me know it’s winter, and the radio is on as she bounces to the beat of the music while scooping hot-out-of-the-oven cookies on a plate.  I picture myself in the kitchen with her.
            The voice of my mom talking to the girls brings me back to the bathroom in my parent’s basement.
            “Is someone in the bathroom?” She asks.
            “Dad’s in there.”
            Like getting a shot at the doctor, I close my eyes and lower my head as I know what is about to happen next.
            BANG! BANG! BANG!
            “Matthew, we have no power!  The pump isn’t working; you can’t go to the bathroom down here!”
            “I’m not going to the bathroom!!! Just need a minute of privacy!”
            As soon as those words come out of my mouth, I could tell that sounded like I was holed up in the bathroom wearing woman’s clothing while shaving my legs with a tube of Crest, Vaseline, and Desitin on the sink counter (What? Too specific?).
            I turn off the camera and put it on the bathroom shelf. I guess I wasn’t meant to find the camera tonight. I emerge from the bathroom into the darkness.
            “Dad’s out of the bathroom, come on dad, we’re playing midnight tag ghost.”

            Living in my parent’s basement has been an adjustment.  All of this has been an adjustment.  It’s been close to 20 years since my mom banged on the bathroom door yelling at me – I’ll save that for another day – and I don’t even have a real door for my basement bedroom.  But as I make myself aware of my immediate surroundings, I see five kids running around in the dark, holding flashlights, playing midnight tag ghost.  I smile comes to my face as I hear equal parts laughing and banging into furniture.  This should  be recorded.  Maybe I was meant to find that camera tonight.  I’m in the habit of thinking of the past; I almost missed the point.  I walk back in the bathroom to grab the camcorder off the shelf.



There's a poignant quote from a book that I truly related to in the first days and months after my love's death:

"My heart was chilled to ice. I felt ill with grief. But there was no time for frozen shock. Something in me did not want to give up on life, was unwilling to let go, wanted to fight the very end. Where that part of me got the heart, I don’t know."


I didn't know how I could still live...still breathe...without my other half on my side.


I turned on all things and people around me...believed in nothing....loathed my fear that deterred me from taking my own life.


But now I know.


Know how that part of me remembered I had the heart to keep living, to keep breathing...but most importantly, to keep growing, giving, and healing.


He did.


You see, Michael was not in the Army for his life career...only 3 a way to feel challenged in feel as if he was making a feel passion for something outside of himself and for those around him.


I never quite understood it. Understood the ability to be willing to risk one's own life for another he barely knew. To pursue a career that no one around him could even fathom doing. And yet Michael followed his heart . Became whole. Helped his comrades grow...pursue their dreams....find purpose. The same purpose he was once looking for but had found...if only for a short period in time.


That's how I had the heart to keep going.


He showed me...gave me the ability to say, that my love died doing what he loved, followed the path wholeheartedly, and had no fear when passion was the guiding light.


He gave me the ability to see that I could do the same...find that passion, pursue it, change my own life and hopefully those around me, and, when the moment hundred years from now...and fate meets me face to face....those who know me will be able to say the same, as I've been able to say for my husband.


All because I realized not where I got the heart from...but was reminded that I had it all along.

Friday, April 13, 2012

So We Stopped By For A Visit

Last Friday was Daniel's birthday. He would have been 42. I've tried to imagine what he'd have looked like now. I see all the new lines in my own face, all of the evidence of the 6 and a half years that have passed since he last saw me. I wonder what he'd think of me now? I wonder how the years would have changed him?

The cemetery where he is buried is next to the church where we were married, and down the street from the family farm. It's about an hour outside of town. We all headed out there on Saturday for lunch, an Easter egg hunt, rides on Uncle Derek's four-wheeler, and a trip to visit Daniel. The cemetery trip was the last part of the day, and almost everyone wanted to go. I piled into my car with Grayson and four of his cousins (three little ones 5 and under, and one big 13 year old - thanks to Garett for his help with the little ones!). We arrived at the cemetery before anyone else and walked to Daddy/Uncle Daniel's grave.

Over the years, quite a collection of "offerings" have been left at his grave. Washers, fishing lures, various crosses, and little carvings with poems on them. As I started pulling weeds on Daniel's grave, the cousins and Grayson did an inventory of the bits and pieces. Genevieve (5), picked up a small pewter book with a poem carved on it, and began to read it aloud. Her tiny voice cut the silence of the cemetery and her slow and deliberate reading made each word stand out clearly. The poem has always pulled at my heartstrings - it was left there by two nephews and a niece shortly after Daniel died - but hearing it read by the sweet voice of my niece pierced my heart and brought tears to my eyes.

The Broken Chain by Ron Tranmer

We little knew that day,
God was going to call your name.
In life we loved you dearly,
In death, we do the same.

It broke our hearts to lose you.
You did not go alone.
For part of us went with you,
The day God called you home.

You left us beautiful memories,
Your love is still our guide.
And although we cannot see you,
You are always at our side.

Our family chain is broken,
And nothing seems the same,
But as God calls us one by one,
The chain will link again.

When she finished, my nephew Jackson told us he loved the story and asked Grayson to read it to him again. I can't even describe how sweet the scene was, and how lovely the words were as Grayson read them. I was so sad for him, and so proud of him as he read the story and thought about the meaning. When the others arrived, Genevieve asked if she could read it again and there wasn't a grown-up dry eye in the place when she was done.

We spent the next 20 minutes pulling weeds and chatting, the little ones picking flowers and walking around the graves. As odd as it sounds, it felt so natural. Although it isn't a gift I wanted to give them, our little ones have experienced the tragedy of death and are learning that it is a part of life. They are learning that life goes on, but they are also learning that gone does not mean forgotten.

You are definitely not forgotten Daniel Dippel. You were and always will be well loved. We miss you.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Somebody's somebody

I wrote this 7.16.2011. It's written to my husband:

I had a weird discovery today. There are a lot of things that you were to me that cannot be replaced. So many wonderful people have stepped up to help out in areas where you used to cover, and that's great, but it's obviously never the same. Even so, I couldn't articulate exactly what it was that I felt voided of completely that can never be recovered. 

Today, I realized what it was: I miss being number one for somebody. At the top of someone's list. Aside from our children, I am not the first anyone would call if there was an emergency, big news, or something incredibly funny that they wanted to share. Even my closest friends have their families or spouses that they would call on - and should call on - first when they think of something important. Along side that loss, I'm now missing the one person at the top of my list I would go to for anything. If I have something to share, I have to consider who to share it with that doesn't have other things going on to worry about. When I need something fixed, I have to think about who I know that I might be able to call on. When I need a break, I feel guilty for finding people to watch the kids. When I remember a funny story, I have to think about who might appreciate it the most. You were all of that in my life. It's hard to not have that constant go-to person to share life with. Really hard.

I miss feeling that specialness that comes with being at the top of someone's list. I miss feeling like someone needs me. I miss being there for you, being the person you wanted to start and end your day with. I miss feeling a part of something. This is totally corny, but the lyrics "I wanna be somebody's somebody" popped into my head. Thank you, adolescent teen pop music days. It's true, though.

I miss being your number one, baby.
I love you forever and always.

The Effects of Stress From Grief ...

                                                    picture from here

.... are hell-bent on killing me.
Or .... at least making me miserable till the end of my days.

Before I became a widow (I abhorred that word for at least a year and a half) I was healthy.
Really.  Well, I had high cholesterol, but I'm totally laying that at the feet of my mother, whose genes caused my cholesterol to rise over 100 points.
In less than one year.
Thanks, Mom.

Anyway,  I was perfectly healthy.  I played tennis 3-4 times a week. I worked about 20 hours a week.
I was happy.  In more ways than one.

And then Jim died.
And I grieved.
I grieved hard.

And my body has been paying the price ever since.

First there was the deep, dark, cold cave of depression from which I could not climb out .... on my own.
And I still can't.
So add that med to the cholesterol med.

Next came a UTI.  My first.
And then another.
But not too bad.  Just pop some antibiotics and life moves on.

Then there was the kidney stone.
Don't ask.

Soon after that I started having trouble with my right shoulder.  The pain was 24/7.
I tried injections, physical therapy, not playing tennis .... you name it, I tried it.
I finally had surgery last year to repair and clean out that shoulder.

A year after Jim died I went to visit his family for New Year's.  A couple of days into the visit ... on New Year's Eve day, I thought I had another kidney stone so a lovely doctor told me to come in .... even on that day.
He thought it might be appendicitis, and ordered an MRI (or a CT scan, I can't remember).  It turned out to be a minor problem, which was a relief.  Ever had a kidney stone?  Again ... don't ask.
But as he showed my the scan from the film and said that all was relativity ok, he added, ..... "except for this" and pointed to a mass that they had found deep within my left hip.
He wasn't sure if it was cancer, but told me to see my doctor as soon as I got home.
Great.  Dad dies and one year later Mom MIGHT have cancer?  Think that might have scarred my children much?

My dr. sent me to a specialist at MD Anderson.  He claimed, after doing a botched biopsy (meaning, the IV med they gave to knock me almost unconscious ... did not work.  At all.),  that he didn't think it was anything to worry about, that I could just wait and they'd "keep an eye on it" every 6 months or so, or I could have surgery to remove it if that made me more comfortable.
I chose the surgery.  I've never been very good at waiting.  Especially not with something like this.
So I had surgery a few weeks later.  A surgery after which I thought I'd spend one night in the hospital.
I spent 5.  Or 6.  I can't recall.
The mass had doubled in size in less than 4 weeks and was starting to grow into my hip joint.  He had to file some of the bone away .... trying not to make the decision to break it to remove the invading tumor.
And guess what?
It was cancer.
Thankfully it was a very rare, very "tame" cancer.  It should not appear anywhere else in my body.
I had MRI's done for a year and a half every 3 months.
And the surgery and the results were horrid and painful.  I'd love to say something more than "painful" but I don't know a better word at the moment.
It took over a year for me to fully recover from that surgery.

Next, heart palpitations.  My heart seemed to flip flop every 5-6 beats.
Off to a cardiologist and another med .... but only for a year.

Then I developed something called "pernicious anemia".  Which just means that suddenly my body won't absorb B12 the way the normal person does .... by eating it or taking a supplement, or nose spray.
I found out people used to die from this, not knowing they had it, nor knowing the affects it has on the body.
So I went in for injections .... until I decided to learn how to give them to myself, which I do every 2 weeks now.

Last May I went on a beautiful cruise to Greece and some surrounding countries.  From the first day on I started having excruciating pain in my legs and then it started spreading up my body.
It was a miserable vacation and one I do not have fond memories of.
Which is pretty sad.

I came home to find that I have Rheumatoid Arthritis.
Or so he thought.
I started taking a chemo drug last year.
This past week my dr. decided that it my also be Fibromyalgia.
He thinks.
And he added 2 more meds to the long list I'm already on.

This past December I had sinus surgery.
Not a lot of fun but it could've been worse.

Tonight, I started writing this post after I got home from a trip to an ER .... for another UTI.  My 5th (or 6th, I can't keep up anymore) since January 1st.  Yep,  except for the 3 past weeks, I've had a UTI since the first of the year.
I knew this did not bode well for the coming year.

So now I will go off to see yet another specialist.

I hate my body.
It's trying to kill me.
Or so it seems.

If you look on line for articles of stress and what it does to the human body .... it's astounding.
It can cause your body to change chemically as well as physically.  Some of the things that the stress of grief can bring out?  Cancer, RA, pernicious anemia, heart problems, etc., etc., etc.

I wrote this long, boring post not to make you feel sorry for me, but to let you know that the physical effects of grief are not in your mind.  They are a fact.  A horrible, unwanted fact after the horrible, unwanted loss of your spouse.
You are not crazy, nor are you a hypochondriac.  (Trust me, the last place on earth I want to visit is my dr.'s office.  Or any dr.'s office.  I am fed up with doctors.)
You're not making this up .... you are experiencing the effects of grief.
And they are real.

So hang in there.
And breathe.
You are not crazy.
Just widowed.

Although some days, I do feel a little of both.