Tuesday, July 31, 2012


The dark mark on the fence marks The Spot.

For a while now, I have been able to get through every day with only missing Greg and not get caught up in HOW he died.

But then up until recently, I avoided most of  the details on the HOW and limited myself to knowing the barest facts of the accident: Greg was the passenger; neither speed nor reckless driving was a factor; and he died instantly.


On Sunday, through a cruel twist of fate and an unholy bridge closure which meant I had find an alternative way home.

But while "following my nose" along half-remembered routes from a former job and a former abode, I was more intent on avoiding the aforementioned unholy traffic nightmare on the "closed for maintenance"  freeway and so the fact that I was fast approaching The Bad Place snuck up on me. 
As I stopped at the lights at the top of the hill (just around the bend at the top of the picture), I looked ahead and realised what lay 250m in front of me.
Thankfully the traffic was light and I turned down a side street and avoided it.

I have successfully managed to avoid being anywhere near The Bad Place ever since the accident.  Its not hard - it is half-way across town and on a road that I rarely ever used anyway.

But coming so close has really shaken me to the core ....  but it is done: I've now driven along the the road that Greg and J drove along seconds before they died.
Another first out of the way.

....and so I now process this next bit if grief that has been far too hard to even think about up until now. 

 I will be stronger for it.

Little steps.

Monday, July 30, 2012

The Guest House


In my new condo (I've lived here a week), I have painted a large section of one wall with chalkboard paint. Once the paint has 3 days to cure, I will be able to write on it. I plan to cover it in the quotes that remind me of the things I need to hold in my mind.

The first thing I want on that wall is the Rumi poem The Guest House:

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.

Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

-- Jelaluddin Rumi,
    translation by Coleman Barks

It seems to me as though this Rumi guy summarized the biggest lesson of my life in this one short piece.

When I try to judge each event in my life as good or bad or wrong or right, I lose touch with reality and get lost in worrying. I miss out on what's happening now as I try to categorize, judge and second guess.

Instead of meeting the dark thoughts at the door with a laugh and inviting them in, I shame myself for having them and try to push them away. This makes everything so much harder than it has to be.

It's making me think that there's a chance that when I dwell on Dave's death as this terrible thing that happened to me (and it IS, objectively a terrible thing), I push it away, rather than accepting it and letting myself feel it. When I do this, I might be prolonging my pain unnecessarily.

This is MUCH easier said than done, but I notice that when I do, for one split second, allow myself to think, "Yes, he died. Now what?", I can see my future opening up in front of me. It terrifies me, but it fills me with hope.

I can get lost for days in "Why did he die?" and "How could this have happened?" and I lose sight of hope. But when I face it head on and then ask myself what I want for the rest of my life, I find a little balance again. I find myself in a place of hope once more, even if it's for one dizzy second. I also know with certainty that he'd want me to be in that state of mind as much as possible.

So, that quote is going on my wall, as big as I can make it, so that every few minutes when I forget to treat each guest honorably by letting go of the past and focusing on the future, I will hopefully be lovingly smacked in the face by Rumi's beautiful words.

I'll let you know how that goes.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Long Term Forecast

This week marked four years since of Lisa’s passing..

We were in the car driving when I told my girls that the next day was the date Lisa died – no need to give them a longer heads up, not sure what I would want them to do with that information.  I asked the girls what they would like to do.

“Go to the cemetery.”  The six-year-old yelled back quickly. My girls all seemed to have figured out the statistics of: The idea that is shouted out first has a better percentage of being implemented.

Kelly hasn’t asked to go to the cemetery before and hasn’t been since Lisa was buried and she was two.  The response surprised me.

Haley, who is now old enough to sit in the front seat next to me responds, “I don’t want to go to the cemetery.  It freaks me out.  But if you’re going to force me to go, that’s fine.”

Molly says nothing as she is focused on pressing her window button trying to figure out why she can no longer put her window up and down and up and down and up and down.  I waited until her window went back up (after the fifth time) and then hit the lock button right next to me – a power I have yet to reveal to her I possess.

“Haley, I’m not going to force you.  Someday you will be ready, and when you are, you can go….”

“Daaaadddd!” Molly cries.

“I don’t know Molly,” I respond before hearing her question as I know what’s coming. “Maybe the window is tired from going up and down so much and it needs to rest.  Anyway Haley, you can go at your own pace, I will never force you.”

For Haley, this isn’t her time.  It very well may be that her time could be in twenty years.  Maybe there will come a point in her life where she is searching for answers and a trip to visit her mother’s grave will provide some missing pieces.

It’s a reminder for me to be open for all three of them that every now and then, their mourning will show itself.  Even for them now, it’s not an everyday issue, not even an every month issue. But it will always be relevant.

We ended up taking a cousin who at the house with us as well as Molly - who asked as she was putting on her shoes, “Are we going to meet God?”  I told her it was a great question and I would explain how this all works while we were in the car.

I took some paper and markers and the four of us sat around the site and drew pictures.  We collected sticks from the trees nearby and used them as push pins to keep the drawings stuck in the ground.  Pictures of hearts and silly designs now decorate where she lies.

The girls, being kids, asked if they could play tag.  They could get over how much room there was out here.  I was about to say no when the image of Lisa being with us struck me and I thought what a nice way to celebrate her life to let her children run around and laugh.

“DO NOT step on the gravestones on the ground.” I said. 

“Don’t worry dad, I love obstacles,” Kelly said, as they all took off running.

I cringed at the word of obstacles when talking about sacred ground. I am going off the premise that all those who are laid there love the company and have no issues of seeing people who are alive enjoy life.  Little different premise than the movie Poltergeist, but I know how Hollywood likes to sensationalize.

I was happy how my kids treated the day and I was very happy Haley let me know she was not ready for this.  After the cemetery, I took them to Culver’s for dinner and frozen custard.  I picked up Haley along the way, frozen custard she was ready for.  As for the rest, it will be at her pace, whatever that may be.   

Saturday, July 28, 2012


Every now and then. Every once in a while she’ll get worked up and cry like that. But that’s OK. She’s letting her feelings out. The scary thing is not being able to do that. When your feelings build up and harden and die inside, then you’re in deep trouble.
-Haruki Murakami
This past weekend I was honored enough to spend with a fellow widow full of so much courage.
A widow that could admit their fault, their weaknesses...and when the time prompted, face the head on to say you have no power over me.
I saw the tears she held back...and then I saw them leave her.
A cleansing of all that she had held in for so long, and they glimmered down her cheek with the freedom they had pleaded for, for so long inside her soul.
Watching it. Being a part of it. Allowed me to reflect on the things, pains, regrets, that wanted to be set free.
I let them go.
I hadn't realized I'd been holding onto them.
In seeing the prisoners of her past pains be relinquished of their role of torturing her every step, I set them free.
Don't let them harden your soul.
They weren't meant to have a life sentence....
And neither were you.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Whoosh of Memories

Taken by Me at the Cliffs of Moher in Ireland

I’ve been sick since last Friday, which is truly an unusual thing for me – I’m one healthy horse.  So this morning I finally headed to the doctor.  She didn’t take five minutes with her stethoscope to diagnose pneumonia.  Then she went on to explain that pneumonia was collection of bacteria that had taken up residence in the crevice of my lung and it’s good that I came in because those pesky critters tend to spread.  Then she ran down the list of party treats I get to take home: antibiotics, codeine cough suppressant, and prednisone. That’s what started the memory avalanche.

When Maggie and I took our trip to Ireland, while stand there, overlooking the Cliffs of Moher, it started – her little cough.  We didn’t know it then, but that little cough was the signal that our days together were running very low.

Back in Austin, CT scans showed the culprit.  Little tumors had taken up residence in her lungs and were spreading.  This was a battle that there were no weapons to fight. So the doctors gave us codeine cough suppressant to try to minimize her discomfort and prednisone to try to cut down the irritation. And then they gave her just a few weeks to live.

I hadn’t thought about those days or the month and a half that followed in quite some time.  Those were hard days for us both.  But today, as I coughed uncontrollably, I found myself sad, like I was getting to experience life a little bit from her side of the bed, even if it was just a laughably small taste. But I also felt an unexpected warmth, or maybe even a feeling of compassion. Because of today, I feel like I understand her a little bit more. And, because of that, I’ve changed.  It sounds odd, but it feels real.

It’s interesting how still to this day things can happen that give me more insight and perspective on what has happened.  Just this experience of a week spent coughing up a lung has further enriched my memories, if that’s even possible.

I truly wonder how many new experiences I’ve yet to have that will continue to enrich both my new life and the precious memories of my old life. I still have a great life to live.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Death Week

I am in the midst of one of the toughest grieving weeks of the year for me. Last week it began with my wedding anniversary with Jeremy. Then, Friday I received the news that my Grandma Wanda passed away due to some complications after a surgery. Devastating. Today (Wednesday) is her birthday, and also the death anniversary of my brother, Brian. This week my mom will have her birthday as well. Needless to say, it's been a rough week.

One of my favorite memories of my Grandma Wanda took place while preparing for my brother's graduation party. Jeremy and I were down in the basement with Brian, putting together a decorated box to collect all the cards for the day. Upstairs, my other very rude Grandmother started bickering about how I wasn't helping and how ungrateful I must be while my parents would be paying for our wedding (Jeremy and I were engaged). These accusations were of course ungrounded and false, but she just likes to have something to complain about. My 4-foot-something spitfire Grandma Wanda starts yelling from the basement sticking up for me and telling her to shut her mouth. And then began to tell Jeremy how much she liked him and not to worry about haters.

I share this story because it hit me suddenly yesterday while I was sharing it with Steve that 3 out of 4 people involved in that memory are dead.
Not here anymore.
How is that possible?!

It was too much for me to understand. It's just not right. And to top it all off, it's all flooding me in the same week, at the same time. Three precious lives that have meant so much to me in different ways no longer exist. Yesterday, I'm pretty sure I cried at the drop of a hat - all of it was weighing on me.

Today I had made plans to stay distracted. But what was really pulling on my heart was to face grief. I needed to spend the day with my parents and grieve this horrible day last year when I felt my brother die in my hands. I wanted them to know how much Brian was and is loved. I want them to know I'm still here, still hurting with them, still healing. So we cancelled our plans and headed to my hometown to my brother's grave. What a sight it was to see today:

So many people had already been there today. Notes, pictures, flowers, plants, keepsakes - everyone leaving pieces behind. We added to the bunch with letters from the kids, flowers and balloons.
It felt right to be there.

Inevitably, when I face grief, it all gets mixed together - I grieved for Brian, Jeremy, and Grandma Wanda today.
It was heavy, but necessary.

You'd think the more people you lose close to you, the better you'd get at figuring this stuff out. Turns out it doesn't work that way. It just sucks every time.

I'll be glad when the week is over.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Life Long Friends ....

..... are nourishment to the soul.

No, they are more than nourishment.  Sometimes they are truly life saving.  Truly.

I've had a difficult couple of months.  To put it mildly.
But last week I could tell that I was starting to feel better.  I could tell that the waves were ebbing back from whence they came.

And then I had the opportunity to spend one evening with some of my "sisters".  And they truly are sisters.
They all live closer to each other than I do.  So it's an "event" when we can get together.  Sometimes that means there are 5 of us, sometimes it means that there are 10 ..... or 50.
But every time, EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. they make me feel nothing but loved.  Totally.  Unconditionally.  Warts and all.
We have grown up together.
We have had children together.  Some waited longer than others .... and some continued well past everyone else, but we've been together.
We have cried together.
Especially back when were were only 18 or 19 and met for the very first time.  We spent 4 or so years together and bonded.  We bonded in a way I've never experienced in any other friendship.  I love these women and would do anything for any of them.

I am the first to become widowed.
Yay for me.
I've usually enjoyed coming in first, but this time ...... yeah, you all know.
This time it sucks.

I guess one of us had to be first.  And since I wouldn't wish this experience on my worst enemy, I certainly wouldn't wish that it had happened to one of them, rather than me.
I'm relieved that it happened to me .... and not to one of them.

It will happen to one of them.  Sooner or later.  And I'll be here.  And there.  Wherever they are .... I'll be there.
These women have known me since "before Jim".
They knew me "during dating Jim" .... which was an experience in itself.
They knew me "after becoming Mrs. Jim".
And now they've known me as "After Jim".
And they've hurt, cried, prayed and loved me more than ever.

Life long friends are more of a blessing than can be described.
They knew me "before Jim" so they don't judge the "after Janine".
Not at all.
For anything.
They just love me.
Like they've always loved me, but only more.

They are my sisters.
They've never held up expectations, judgements, conditions for friendship, or thrown the past into my face.
They have only .... always ..... loved me.

Last night my eyes were opened to all of the love radiating from each heart that surrounded me.
I thought my heart would burst from the love it was receiving.

Funny thing ... the heart.
It can be broken .... I know that without a doubt.
You can lose half of it when it's torn out of your life.
But the heart, much like the liver, can regenerate to some degree.
And last night, my heart started to regenerate.  I could actually feel it.

It will never be the same .... it can't be.  Jim was half of it.  That half is gone.
But it can grow around the empty part.
It becomes somewhat like a patchwork quilt.
Each person that loves me unconditionally leaves a patch.

My heart is pretty colorful with all of the patches covering it.

Yes, I've been hurt since Jim died.
I've been hurt by people who I thought were life-long friends.
I have been judged by those I called "friend".
There have been times when I thought my heart couldn't stand one more ounce of pain.  Especially from people who supposedly loved me.

But last night .... last night all of those patches of love covered my heart and opened my eyes.  My true friends have always been here.  Praying.  Waiting.  Loving.  And praying some more.

And now I know .... without a doubt .... where I will go when it's time to move.
I will go home.
And return to the arms, and hearts, of these friends.


Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Some days are diamonds....

...and some days are (insert swearword) ..... just not.

I was recently asked by a relatively new widow whether *this* gets better.
Well ..... thinking back over time, I can honestly say there have been ups and downs but on the whole, I cope with everything better now that the shock has worn off.

.... but then, there will come a day like today when it all comes crashing down in full technicolour glory.

Firstly - our new State government is in the process of axing 20,000 public service jobs.  My contract will be part of the collateral damage.  I will be a 6-week contract away from permanency when it all ends in December.

To top that off, I have a tax bill for the first time ever.  I am still to see any of the money I apparently made  that wasn't gobbled up by my investment advisor, but I still get to pay the tax.  Yippee.

Then of course, there is my ongoing insurance debacle with an insurer who thinks I waited too long before seeking financial compensation for Greg's death (because that's the first thing recently bereaved people think of apparently - not shock and grief and how they are meant to keep breathing in and out .... but how much money they can claim).  <----- sarcasm.

...and then today, I decided to visit Greg's grave.  I don't often go there, but decided I needed to this morning.
....and I found that the little solar light the kids and I had left there in March is gone.  ....and a suspiciously similar one has appeared on a neighbouring grave.
I did not move it back because a) I am a decent human being and b) I can never be sure it is the same one.
But I would like a pointed word or two with the person who decided to move it.

....and I'm sitting here, wondering just how much more I can take before I lose the plot completely.

Surely I've served my time for my crimes (whatever they were). 
Surely I can play a widow card here and get  some relief from this seemingly ceaseless barrage of problems.

But life doesn't work that way.

So this week, sorry - I just can't hold out my hands to help other people up, but instead, hold out my arms in the hope that a lifeline will appear from somewhere else.

But rest assured, as soon as I manage to get both legs back under me and stand up again, I'll be here, helping other people find the solid ground. 

Monday, July 23, 2012

Heart Vacation


After puppy-sitting for friends for the last week and moving into my new place yesterday, I am sleep-deprived and stressed out. This has led to clumsiness, grief set-backs and general screwedupness.

But I'm in my new home and my incredible girlfriends stayed with me for my first night in my new condo last night. This turned out to be a lifesaver because while moving in I received an ominous sounding text from someone I've recently begun to date. It sounded like impending rejection and that was a little too much for the end of an already momentous day.

As always, in this journey, small losses (even half-imagined ones) open my heart up to re-experience all the pain I hold at arm's length every day. The pain of losing Dave.

The floodgates opened and all sorrow was traced back to the hamster wheel thought "he's dead he's dead he's dead he's dead".

I need to settle into my place, catch up on sleep, take care of myself and enjoy my new home, but right now, I'm also battling a little grief resurgence that unfortunately takes up all my energy.

 Every time I'm caught up in a wave of it, it feels the same. It's as though I have concrete in my limbs and the thought of moving is exhausting. Everything takes a concerted effort to accomplish. Small, everyday irritations, like getting lost while trying to drive to a new location, or locking myself out of my place become so overwhelming that I retreat to a place of numbness in my brain. I go through the motions, but no one's home.

Eating and sleeping become tasks that require a skill set I suddenly lose. Food loses its taste and good, deep sleep eludes me.

Last night I finally did sleep, but woke up every few hours with the unsettled feeling of being in a new place.

Somewhere in the early morning hours, I finally dropped into a dream stage and dreamed of rejection. In the dream, a beloved childhood friend and an ex-boyfriend snuck away from me to go dancing together to escape my sadness and reveled in being away from my black cloud of misery, followed closely by two of my girlfriends heading out to dinner without inviting me. 

It occurs to me now, as it does frequently, (this is a lesson I work on EVERY SINGLE DAY) that what I really fear is being alone. It's as though a part of me is waiting for those I love to come to their senses and flee.

I know how loved I am. I see it. I feel it. I logically understand that I have worth and that there must be some reason people I love haven't dumped me already. But that little inner girl who's about 5 years old, has her arms wrapped around her mother's and father's legs and is begging them not to leave her while they pull away anyway, firmly uncurling her hands from their  pants legs and slipping away into nothingness. And then there's the 36 year old me who is clinging to her husband, willing his heart to start again, willing him to come back to her while he gently floats away anyway.

How the hell will this heart of mine survive any more loss? In order to love and LIVE, I have to subject my heart to all kinds of pain. But, oh how I'd love a break from the endless pain. A vacation for my battered heart.

I'd like to send my heart to a beautiful tropical beach, where all day and all night, it's bathed with love and warmth and safety. Where it's filled back up again and thoroughly patched up. When it returns, it will be better fortified to withstand the inevitable pain of living fully.

I want to wrap it up in layers of insulation and a fortress of barbed wire so just for a little while, no one and nothing can get to it.

Then again, there are many beautiful things I'd miss out on if my heart is inaccessible.

For now, though, I've done enough. I've pushed forward again. A new place. The dating world. Those two additions to my life are more than enough for now. It's time to give my poor heart a little break for a while.

Not to say no to life, but to renew my ability to cope.

And it won't be long until I'm wrapped up in the embrace of Camp Widow, which in its own way, is a little vacation for my heart. 

Sunday, July 22, 2012

The Widow Yoda

     Niles, IL may not be the swamps of Dagobah, but on Osceola Street lives one of my best friend’s mom from grammar school.  Growing up, we were always at their house.  Kenny had an awesome dad and a very funny mom.  When we were seniors in high school, his dad died and it was difficult for all of us.
After high school, we went our separate way to college. I can count on one hand the times I have seen his mom.  But when I sold our house two years ago and I move in with my parents, it put me back to within one block of his house and right in the middle of treat-or-treating territory. 

Last Halloween, with some families from our school, we were going door to door and came to Kenny’s old house – Kenny has since married and lives out of state.  The second the doorbell rings, out comes Mrs. Thompson, bursting through the door like best friends have stopped by to chat, big green bowl full of candy, and she looks down to the sidewalk to get a glimpse of the parents.  I wave hello and announce who I am.

“Hello. Mrs. Thompson, it’s Matt Croke.”

“Matthew? Is that you?” she says.

 Forgetting all about the kids, she starts to walk down her sidewalk to meet me.  I walk up and meet her halfway and the group of kids and parents head to the next house – my presence for my kids irrelevant for the conquest of obtaining candy.  After a quick hug, she comes right out with it.

 “Are you dating anyone yet?”

 Only Mrs. Thompson could blurt out such a statement that makes me smile before it makes me wince.  It was the same tone and aggressiveness she used on us over 30 years ago when we were all playing in the backyard with 4x4 trucks and she would come home, “Have you boys had lunch yet?  Come on, you need some food.”  You normally had very little dialogue with Mrs. Thompson.

 I laugh as I shrug, “No, not yet.  Just taking care of the kids.”

 “You need to date a widow,” she said, not having the least amount of interest of my thoughts on this topic.  I was half expecting her to tell me that I need to eat and go into the house and fix myself a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

“Listen to me, will you listen,” she continued. “You need to date yourself a widow. They know.  They understand.  It would be a good fit for you.”

"Okay Mrs. Thompson, I’ll think about…”

 “You’re young, you have time, find yourself a widow and enjoy life.”

I pointed to my children four houses away, thanked her for the advice, and said goodbye.  One of the mothers asked me what that was all about and I told her she wants me to date a widow.  We both laughed.  I had no intention of dating a widow. 

I didn’t like the idea.  Too many deep wounds on both sides, not to mention, what if it didn’t work out?  How painful would another loss be for each person?  Mrs. Thompson means well, she’s been there, but not sure she gets it.

I met Cheryl at a camping trip the Good Mourning program puts on for our kids.  I remember seeing her once or twice in our group sessions, but really didn’t sit down and talk to her until this camping trip.  We had a nice conversation: both had three girls, both had spouses fighting brain tumors, both had spouses with outgoing personalities.  It was nice to talk to someone with common ground.

We went out as friends about once a month – great being on the same schedule.  One of my biggest fears of dating would be to explain to someone why I sometimes couldn’t go out on a Saturday night at 7pm because the kids needed more “dad” time.  Cheryl is in a situation where her girls need more “mom” time.  Most nights we would go out past 10pm for a few hours. Kids first, us second.  I think it was this common view point we both had that brought us closer.
Although, on paper, there were many reasons we should probably stay friends, we decided a few months ago to start dating.  There’s been way too much over thinking the past few years on how I’m managing my grief, so I decided for this relationship, to let it be what it is.  It is what it is.  And right now, we are getting along; all the obstacles on paper will have to wait.
Mrs. Thompson nailed it.  Even when I thought she was wrong. “Listen to me, will you listen.  You need to date yourself a widow. They know.  They understand.  It would be a good fit for you.”
Maybe I should go back and ask her, now how do I manage a relationship while living in my parent’s basement?

Saturday, July 21, 2012


Our job in this lifetime is not to shape ourselves into some ideal we imagine we ought to be, but to find out who we already are and become it.

(Steven Pressfield)

Ever since my Firewalk instructor certification, I feel as if a huge weight has been lifted off of me.   The bad thing about such enlightening experiences is that you must step out of that bubble of acceptance and understanding, into the real world where most people have a hard time grasping just all that occurred physically and mentally.   I, of course, haven't let that sway me, but I've taken on daily meditations as a way to center my mind for all that will come my way.   All that has come from me being aware of every thought, action, and reaction has made me feel like some sort of widow spiderman!   Of course I struggle, but I always bounce back up.   I feel so light inside.   I forgave those that I had been keeping my grasp in fear of what life would be when all mental and physical burdens were lifted.   I replaced it with gratitude.   I took fear and switched it out for following my heart even more.   I have not been disappointed.   So much is changing around me and I feel that there aren't any anchors to weigh me down or snags to hold me back.   I don't know of it's enlightenment or me just finally letting go of the things that were weighing my soul down.   Whatever it is...I like it.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Look, a chicken!

Family vacation has been this week, the first time we've all gone to the beach together.  It's been great!  Gorgeous sunsets, sand between our toes (and other less comfortable places), and lots of quality time together. 

G and K did pretty well, all things considered.   Two only children adapting to not being the center of attention at all times...quite the adventure! ;-)  All you people with more than one child are probably giggling to yourselves, but I'll just state the obvious:  having one kid is WAY easier than two.   All things require compromise, and only children are not famous for their skills at compromise.  Their idea of compromise is to make a proclamation and then wait for someone to "make it so" - they'll compromise on how long it takes for their demand to become a reality.  The adjustment period for our kids is still underway.  It brings back memories of me and my step-brother and how we learned to get along.  We're very close now, but I think it took years, my poor parents!  Now I have serious empathy for them.

Carl is better at dealing with it than I am.  I get worn out by the constant bickering and have considered a transaction with gypsies to resolve the situation.  Carl on the other hand tries to distract them from whatever the issue is - his joke distraction is always "look a chicken" - which oddly enough tends to work...the kids know its a joke, but they also know this is their queue to  resolve their issue quickly before the grown-ups break in and resolve it for them. 

I really appreciate his patience, and if the kids don't appreciate it, they should...I've got the phone number for the gypsies on speed dial.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Grief and Injustice

Today would be my 9th wedding anniversary with Jeremy.

Instead of spending that day in memory of him, I have to sort through issues concerning someone who has hurt a lot of other people in their path with their selfishness and manipulation. While I didn’t actually have a ‘to-do’ list for today, I can tell you this wasn’t on it.

But what I’ve noticed about grief and injustice is that they elevate each other, and can sometimes come together is a not-so-pretty package. This injustice I have to deal with is magnified because life doesn’t get put on hold for my grief. Not only is this unjust, but it’s injustice on a day that I should get to take a break?!? How dare life work that way. Life keeps pushing forward even though Jeremy should be here. I held my breath when Jeremy died and waited for the rest of the world to do the same. But it didn’t. I was devastated.

And because I was in grief, everything felt unjust: The way Jeremy died, the timing of his death, the situation I was left in, other families getting to enjoy each other while I had to suffer, fathers getting to hold their babies, old people holding hands – when would the injustice end? Every corner I turned, someone had something that I lost.

If Jeremy taught me anything in 7 ½ years of marriage, it was to love fiercely. The world doesn’t revolve around me or my needs and I should cherish every blessing I have the opportunity to be a part of. Even when the world is unjust and people get by with things they shouldn’t, or when people get to celebrate 9 years of marriage with their spouses when I never will with Jeremy – that doesn’t mean the world will stop. And it doesn’t mean I can’t be thankful I got to have at least that many years with an incredible man.

In the meantime, I will take the time I need to take today to think about Jeremy (not that I haven’t been every day anyway) and what my life with him meant to me. No amount of injustice can take that away. I will grieve, I will remember, I will be thankful, I will cherish those around me that I love, and I will pray for justice.

Happy Anniversary, my love.
I miss you dearly.

Surviving ....

                                                   (picture from here)
..... is what I seem to be doing right now.
And while I am proud of myself for being a survivor ....
that job is not over.

I am still surviving.
It seems to be an ongoing action.
I didn't survive WWII and then it was over.

I didn't survive raising teenagers (not yet anyway) and then they're grown and on their own.

I didn't survive something that has a finite end to it.
At least, not until I have my finite end.

I am still surviving.
I managed to go for months and not think about the job of surviving.
I even managed to believe that the worst part was over.  That it's all down hill from here.

But then some people hurt me.
They hurt me a lot.
And now ..... I am back in survivor mode.

And I'm back in the "Jim would never have ...." (fill in the blank) mode.
Jim would never have lied to me.
He would never, ever have hurt me.
And if he had been given a choice .... he would not have left me.
Not even by dying.

But then, Jim didn't come with a ton of baggage at the age of 21.
Of course we both had our own baggage, but not a ton.
And we were both able to see our baggage and admit to it and we learned how to unpack it .... together.

It is now close to 30 years later ..... and everyone has baggage.  Tons of baggage.
Huge steamer trunks.  Packed to the brim.  Even if they deny it.
It seems that the people who deny that they have baggage .... are the people who hurt you the most.
And seem to care the least.

I am really pissed at the moment.
I am pissed that I seem to have gone about 2 miles backwards on this path.
At least.

I had been making progress.
Pretty damn good progress.
And then, one day .... I wasn't.
And I'm not.

I know that I will again.
I know that this tsunami of emotions and of missing him and of hating that this is my life .... will pass.
The waves will slowly ebb back out.
I'll start feeling more stable standing in the water, with my eyes searching the shore.
Searching for something stable.  Searching for a hand to be held out .... a firm hand to help me step up on the shore.
At the moment there are no hands.

There are only expectations from others.
It's been 4 1/2 years .... I am expected to be firmly on the shore, not being knocked down by waves and certainly not needing a hand.

I am starting to really hate these expectations ..... and the people who have them.
And while I would not wish this road on my worst enemy ..... there are some people who will one day be on it ..... and I hope they don't look to me for a hand.

But here's the kicker .... I'm certain that if they do end up on this road ..... and they do reach out a hand .... I will grasp it as hard as I can ..... and help them up a step.
Even though I don't want to.
Even though they have hurt me beyond belief.
Even though they have expected "more" of me.

The people on this road are some of the best people I know.
They don't have expectations for others.
They don't hurt others on purpose.
They all know that life is short, that most battles aren't worth fighting, and that everyone ..... every single person on this earth .... has something.

And every person on this road would selflessly reach out to the person behind them.
Because that's just what we do.
Knowing that there's nothing worse a person could suffer.
We reach out to those behind us.
Even those who hurt us beyond belief.

That's how we survive.
That's how we help each other survive.
Even if we don't want to.
Even if they don't want to.


Tuesday, July 17, 2012


I have always been highly strung.
I give the impression of being laid back, but I'm like the proveribial swan, paddling furiously under the surface.

When I first studied at university, I made sure I got first class honours and a scholarship to finish my PhD.
When I went back to do my Diploma of Education the year before Greg died, I went a step further, getting straight 7s (highest score) and graduating with high distinction at the very top of my class, winning the prize for my year (which turned out to be a fancy dinner and a certificate). 
It wasn't that I was driven to succeed, it was that I was anxious that anything less than my best would spell failure.

....and that was what I was like when Greg was ALIVE and using his calming, grounding influence to keep me from shooting through the roof at every little thing that even mildly rocked my plan for world domination world.

Now, I find myself unable to calm down when things become a little stressful.  
There is no voice of reason there to remind me that nobody is going to spontaneously combust unless I run around like a chook with its head cut off to hose out the myriad of little and big fires in my life.

I am currently stressed .... my job is under threat.  It's a long story that involves a new government cutting jobs which will result in those eager young beavers on contracts (like me) being pushed aside as the old guard who have been working in policy for the past few years, dust off their rusty skills to return to the classroom, pushing us out in their wake.

I've been quite anxious about how I will support us next year (when my contract ends).

I've been quite shouty and didn't I sleep for two nights:  I get more shouty when I am tired.

To put it mildly, I've been barrels of fun to be around....

I am trying very hard to keep some perspective...... but it's been hard without my human security blanket here to calm me down.

Today, instead of flying into a rage or crying or rocking in the corner, I've tried to remind myself that possibly the worst thing to ever happen to me has already happened (Note to Universe - this is not a challenge to see if you can up the ante).

I have other options for work: we will not starve to death.

...and I've been spending as much time as I can outside: in the garden; walking through the bushland across the road from my house; strolling along the waterfront.

Trying to channel Greg's calming influence.....
Trying to hear his voice through the whir of my mind.

...and so far, I'm succeeding ..... it's ...... OK.

...and maybe that's all I can ask for just now.

Monday, July 16, 2012



My 9th wedding anniversary was July 9. Just as in my life before, when Dave was alive, I forgot to think about it coming up. Dave and I would occasionally forget about it and celebrate it any old time we felt like it whether we recognized it on the actual day or on another day. We didn't care. We lived with the motto that every day was our anniversary. No reason to wait to celebrate for that particular day.

So, the 9th approached and I didn't realize it. Consciously. As I look back now, I can see how my subconscious was probably aware all along.

Prior to, I'd say, the 5th of July I was feeling really good. The 5th through the 8th? Not so good. I went from crying briefly a few times a day in a bittersweet way (normal status) to crying for hours and hours at a time. A good, pounding crying headache became a constant. It became a chore to take care of myself and get out of the apartment. Sleeping? What's that?

The missing him got bigger and bigger until it blotted out all other small joys and excitements. The world grew gray and threatening.

When I tried to think of the cause, I came up with some theories. It was the let-down after the fun and magic of the fourth. It was the summer love in the air all around me that was making me feel extra lonely and envious.

None of the theories really rang true, though. On the evening of the 8th, someone reminded me of the significance of the following day and I realized that maybe all along, though I didn't acknowledge it consciously, the rest of me knew it was coming.

This has happened a few times since Dave died and I wonder if it's a protective strategy. A touch of denial: What anniversary? Don't know what you're talking about. What birthday? Nah, couldn't be. A special holiday? Nope.

As my conscious mind goes offline, my subconscious mind never stops churning away and the symptoms are a return of the grief monster, insomnia, and general misery.

So, things are getting a bit better now, but general, everyday stresses are getting the best of me and good sleep still eludes me most nights. When I don't sleep I become a miserable person. I think terrible thoughts, make regrettable decisions and grump around in a funk.

So, sadly, the one way I could deal better with the grief monster is to sleep and that's the one thing I can't quite manage. Yeah, I have sleeping pills, but they don't seem to help me. I generally notice that I get tired enough to finally crash and then I sleep so much that I hit the reset button and feel a lot better. But in the meantime, I have to be really gentle with myself, which is a challenge for me.

I just keep thinking that the only sleep aid that really ever worked for me was that wonderful man who loved me so much. I slept easily and deeply every night he was physically in my life. When he was by side, everything was right in the world.

I have hope that it won't always feel quite like this, but the fact is, he made me feel so safe, the safest I've ever felt in my life, and the loss of that is shattering.

If I have to go this road alone, though, it looks as though somehow (not sure how, yet) I'll have to be that for myself. That way, no one else has to provide it for me. I'll have to become the hero of my own story and make myself feel safe.


I'll let you know how that goes.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

The Wall - Tested

This is an unintended third part to my past posts about the wall.  I just finished writing a two-part blog about building walls after Lisa passed away.  Focusing on excuses and outside forces that allowed me to place brick after brick to build my wall and isolate myself from living a full life.  Talking about how I have torn down the wall and letting myself be vulnerable.

Two days after my post, Haley’s brand-new guinea pig died.  Haley, my eleven-year old daughter who was Madison WI with her two other sisters for a week and luckily wasn’t home to see what happened.  We bought a dog last year and it didn’t work out.  Girls were too jealous of the attention I had to give to the puppy.  So we sold it and I was mad at myself that I allowed a poor decision to take something else away from them.  So I went the safe route a bought a guinea pig (see first sentence of this paragraph to explain how that’s working out for us).

Having this happen so close after writing my last post, I took my own medicine.  My first thoughts were to come up with solutions that would minimize the damage (thinking about telling them I had to bring hers back to the store because of a previous ring worm problem and the store said we should get a new one).  With all that she’s had to deal with, I’ll be damned if I am going to give her more bad news.

But I knew going anywhere near that route would just add more bricks.  No, this is a tough world and we are going to try and live using its crappy rules.  I would tell her of this after getting home from me picking them up from Madison – of course on the drive home I get“I can’t wait to get home and cuddle with JJ, I’m sure he misses me!”  Sticking proverbial knife deep into proverbial chest. Ouch.

I took her to the backyard and simply broke the news.  Her face was in shock and I kept talking, “Haley, you’ve been through a lot and this is sad news.  I’m sorry.”

She took it well.  She decided she wanted to get another one.  She also asked me if it was okay if she let her friends know that he died –which I found as a very interesting question.  I don’t know why I found it interesting, but I did.

The one call I did make that I am happy I did, was instead of throwing JJ away, I went to the woods and buried him.  I even carved his initials on the tree by where he is buried – put the little guy in a backpack, went into the woods, found a tree, buried him, carved his initials, stood up, said some words, and headed back home.  I felt like I was in an old western movie.

When I told Haley what I did, her face lit up.  She asked if she could go visit the tree to which I said yes.  Haley has been too afraid to go to the cemetery to see Lisa and I told her I would never make her go until she is ready.  I’m glad she wants to visit JJ, this might be the perfect stepping stone to addressing something bigger.

I told her I was proud of her and I'm sorry. She said, “It’s okay.”  As I put her into bed she said, “Dad, people say animals can’t go to heaven, but we’re animals.  What do you think?”  I wish kids would give us a heads up for the big picture questions.  “Haley, I believe that God loves you and mom is up in heaven.  Why don’t you give them both a little prayer and tell them what you want.” 

Her head lying back down on the pillow, she let out one more thought before closing her eyes, “Yeah, maybe mom can make him understand me so when I get to heaven I can talk to him.”

I’m glad I didn’t sugarcoat this situation.  I was scared of how she would react and fear builds walls.  No bricks today and tomorrow we go get another guinea pig to bring us right back to being vulnerable for something bad to happen.   It's the only way to go.

Friday, July 13, 2012


When someone else accepts you, that’s when you begin to see yourself through their eyes. And you begin to realize that there may actually be many qualities to like about yourself.
-Natsuki Takaya

Being with other widows...even 5 years later...is truly such an example of this quote.

Daily and monthly I meet those who received that knock on the door or were forced to say goodbye far too soon, and within each one I see myself.

As one wise widow once told me, meeting another widow for the first time is like looking in the mirror. But not just seeing a reflection,  but seeing who you are and what you've become..good and bad.

But as the years pass, I see in each one of them acceptance, my past, my future, my present, the love, and the knowledge that one day, another will come along and be able to see the same.

To finally measure how far they've come and all they've survived.

The ability to see that you are perfect the way you are and that how you have and are living your life is accepted, cherished and celebrated by those who know the feat to have come that far.

I'm grateful for those that accepted me when I didn't want to accept myself. Those that held up the mirror when I was to frightened to look at it. Those that allow me to love me.

Open for Business

“So why don’t you throw a party for the 4th?” asked my friend.

My reaction startled me: “Ok.  How about a cook-out that afternoon?”  Game on.

Maggie and I used to throw parties. (I should probably be clear about this: Mostly it was HER parties.  I was just a happy helper - a very busy happy helper.)  There were big parties and bigger parties, but there were no small parties.  She loved to entertain and so we did.  This house was designed for parties and rarely did a month or two pass without a crowd getting their fun on in the living room.  Those were heady days.

To all good things, an end must come.  Or does life just transform into something different?

Apparently I was standing, perched, ready to pounce when my friend asked about the 4th of July party.  I didn’t realize that.  I certainly would not have suggested it.  But with just a little push, I sprang happily to action performing the tasks I knew all too well to produce a great party.

But this time was different.  In fact, this would be the very first real party in this big house since the last official (yet anemic) wine party in December 2009. My right-hand woman wasn’t there by my side directing, educating, and socializing.  But, you know what?  It was ok.  It was more work because, well, it was just one person whereas before it was two.  But it was ok.  And by work I mean I had several years of entropy to tidy up before I could even begin to do those things that get the house in shape for a good party.  And some of that plaque scraping was a little tough, as you can imagine.

That day, with the party in full swing, thirty or so good friends ate hamburgers and drank beer and played with dogs.  Kids painted windows with greasy fingerprints while the dogs cleaned up any food droppings.  And someone (or a few mischievous someones) fed Kali, my curious-but-dumb puppy beer*.  It was a full-on party.  The house was busy with happy people, smells of good food, and good fun.  Things were like they were meant to be.   Again… But it was different.

* Before anyone gets freaked out about the care and safety of my pampered and spoiled dogs, it’s fairly likely she found her own beer from all the orphaned glasses of vino and beer.  That girl finds all the trouble you didn’t even know was there.  Seriously.  She's like a two year old with a 6 inch tongue and a nose for danger.  That said, I won't rule out the mischievousness of my friends.

One of my guests, a wise been-there widow who is the mother of one of Maggie’s classmates from Baylor, pulled me aside during the hustle and bustle and said, “This is a great day. You have sent the signal people have been waiting for.  You are sending a message that you are open for business again.  From here, everything will change.”

July 4th, 1776 we as Americans declared our independence from an oppressive British rule under King George III.  On July 4, 2012, I declared myself open for business.  I’ll never be “independent” from Maggie nor do I ever want to be, but to be open for business again, I’ll take that.  Let the parties begin again.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Second Best

A few weeks ago, I opened up the floor for people to ask Steve and I questions: about grief, about dating/getting remarried after widowhood, our relationship...whatever. We want to be as open as possible about our story so that we can try to bring hope to others. So, we'll address one today, and maybe the others next week. But today's question was for Steve, and he is perhaps the first non-widowed person to guest blog. I'm thankful that he can bring his own perspective and I don't have to speak for him on these issues. And since I know this is such a supportive group of people, I know you'll show him the same love you've all showed me.

Hi Vee, I give you a lot of credit for doing this. You are brave! Does your husband ever feel like he is #2? Does he struggle with living in the shadow of your late husband? Just curious as I recently started dating a widow and sometimes I feel like no matter what, I'm never going to be first in her heart. I will never be the only man she's in love with, and that will make me sad from time to time (other times I do understand and accept it it but that doesn't mean it is always easy). Would like to hear your husband's perspectives if that is ok. Thanks.

Steve: Sure - there are definitely times when I feel second best.  I think it is because I, like most people, want to be the only one our special someone thinks about, loves, or wishes to be with.  When you hear the woman (or man) that you love speak about someone else, even if they are deceased, in a way of love, longing, or desiring it can be a blow to your ego.  While feeling "2nd best" has never been a big battle for me, there are times when I feel it - usually when it comes to things that Jeremy (Vee's late husband) was really good at that I am not and I know I cant give her, or when we get together with friends that Vee and Jeremy had together  and they share moments that everyone remembers fondly and realize that these stories don't have me in the picture, but probably most of all when Vee's grief comes at a point when I have tried really hard to make her happy. 

Before I go any further, I have to say that Vee is really great making me feel loved and has NEVER compared me to Jeremy.  Without those things in place I think it would be a much bigger battle for me.  As far as coping with those feelings, I can't tell you personally what to do, but I can tell you some of the things I remind myself:

First, I remind myself that I love Vee for who she is, not who I want her to be.  We fell in love after Jeremy died - and I realized that her grief would be a life-long journey.  There are parts of the journey that are tougher and some parts that are easier, but its always there somewhere.  I knew from day one that if I couldn't love Vee for all of her (including her grief and love for Jeremy) then I had no business being with her.  

Second, I remind myself that Jeremy died - it wasn't his fault or anyone else's.  If Jeremy was a jerk, or cheated on Vee, or abandon her and the kids, that would be one thing, but he was a great man who loved his family and died too early in life.  In anything we lose that is wonderful, its natural that we would want it back. Therefore, I try to put myself in her shoes and understand that her longing for him is only normal because of the love they shared.

Third, I try as hard as I can not to compare myself - but as a warning, this is really tough! There have been times where I wondered if Jeremy was funnier, a better match, more romantic, a better lover,  etc.  These thoughts can drive you mad and leave you feeling super insecure. When I have started down this road of thinking I try to remind myself that Vee is with me because she loves me - sure she loves Jeremy, but she also loves me. She chose me and wanted to spend the rest of her life with me - and she is a pretty incredible woman, so that makes me a pretty blessed guy!

Some food for thought:  I have looked for resources for guys dating or marrying widows (especially young widows) but haven't found much.  Because there is not much help or advice out there, my best advice is to be as open and honest as you can with the girl you are dating.  If there are things that make you feel inferior then be honest and try to work through those things together. 

I hope that helps!