Trusting the process

I was recently chosen to write a guest blog to promote The Widows’ Handbook: Poetic Reflections on Grief and Survival at The Best American Poetry Blog.  My blog was featured today.  It is the third in a series of pieces by contributors to the book.  If you are so inclined, you may check it out here:

If you would like more information about The Widow’s Handbook



Resting on my laurels is almost too enormous a thought for me, but I’m going to give it a test drive.  The widow in me feels somewhat jinxed by even writing the words on paper, because I know that bad things can happen.  I’m going to suppress those feelings as well as I am able and give myself a break for a bit (at least as long as it takes to write this blog.)  Over the past four or five years, I have been working diligently to accept and manage this unexpected life of mine. I have set goals and many times I have been able to achieve them.  It has been an enlightening time in my life.  I have had to completely reassess what is important to me and then align my life to support my priorities.

The health, well-being, and general happiness of my family are my first priority.  It was my priority before Dave died, but it’s funny how the magnification of our home lives and relationships has changed.  The balance of trying to do anything to make up to the boys that their dad died and not giving them whatever they want just to make them happy has been difficult.  I have always wanted my boys to be hardworking, loving, compassionate people who are givers, not takers in this world.  Then, life took their dad from them.  It took a while for me to learn to accept I will never be able to make up for this.  It took a while for me to come to grips that being their sole parent will be fine…maybe even a good experience for them.  I still struggle with that one…I miss parenting with him.  We were so different and he brought so many wonderful things to our lives.  Re-aligning my brain, my actions, well, really my whole life and soul to meet this priority has kept me on my toes and working really, really hard over the past few years.

Another priority is modeling a life worth living.  This is not just for my boys, but for me and anyone else around me that glance into my life.  My husband loved life.  My husband was a fun, happy guy.  The last thing that he would ever want for me would be for my life to stop or be miserable.  I’m not talking about my grief here…that is necessary…I have to recognize, name, experience and walk through my feelings, emotions, all of the consequences his death has brought me. I am talking about this unexpected life I have now.  I’m talking about my happily ever after.  I strive to remember the things that make me happy, the things that bring me joy, the good/healthy habits that bring me growth, the things that make me Chris, not just widow.

My third guiding principle these last years is to be kind.  I am kind in a way that I truly didn’t know before he died.  Kindness really drives me.  Again, with this priority, I have to make sure there is balance and I am not trampled over by those who may not value the same things.  Kindness does not mean pushover.  Kindness, smart, strong, and even sassy can live together.  I’ve always considered myself a servant-leader and acting with kindness toward others (and myself too) is at the root of this.  My older son has asked me, “How are you always so nice to people mom, especially when people can be such jerks?” My reply is that it isn’t always easy, it’s a choice.  It’s a choice to treat someone with dignity who may not do the same for you and at the end of the day I am at peace because I have been kind and loving to those around me.

These things will not change as I rest.  These are constants.  What will change? I will not be going after or trying to grab the next gold ring.  I am going to enjoy the ride for a while.  I am going to enjoy the culmination of my work for the last years. I am grateful for the struggles…working on my masters, getting my teaching certificate, getting/changing jobs, creating this blog, submitting work all over the place, learning to coach and then coaching, finding crossfit and working on my physical well-being…all these things have had me pushed to my maximum for a long time.  Now, many of these things are my norm.  Now, it is time for me to enjoy the nook I’ve carved out…enjoy the now, be present to today…maybe, dream about a future…yes, I said it…a future.  Sitting in the here and now,  resting my soul, and maybe walking into a future that doesn’t feel so foreign anymore.

Holiday spirit

Nearly every morsel of me wants to title this blog…bah humbug…but that little light of hope I carry around won’t let me do it.  The holidays are upon us and well, they are bringing me down.  At least I think it’s the holidays.  I’ve had so many changes this year. The largest one, taking a new job hasn’t been what I had hoped. My personal life, well, I’m not sure how much personal life I have because I work a bunch and it is catching up with me. My boys just aren’t themselves.  Is it really as simple as we are back in the midst of the holidays again and our broken hearts surface again in a more distinct way?

I really do have a hard time some days sorting out which is which.  Are some of the things that bring me down just normal things or am I taken down more deeply because of my widowed soul.  I know many people struggle with work, children, balancing their lives every day. Is the acute pain I feel because down deep, I know my life would have been very different if cancer hadn’t knocked on my door nine years ago and taken the only man that could put up with me?

It has been a very long several weeks.  Really, it has been a long semester.  The new job I took, shuffled our lives around so much.  That coupled with the fact that it was necessary for me to take on coaching for extra income the last six weeks has exhausted me.  I was already feeling pretty guilty about how much time I am with my boys, but add coaching and I only see them for three or four hours a day, if that.  I feel like that out of touch parent.  They spend more of their days with other people.  The time we are together is not quality time because it’s catch up time.

I’ve been trying over the past several years to let my social life back in too.  I’ve had a bit of success, but I think the more I let it in, it compounds the loneliness. Once a month or so, I have a night out and then the nights home feel quieter, lonelier than before when I was just used to being alone at night. Does that make sense? I think again, changing jobs has a huge impact here too.  Teaching in high school is a much different beast than teaching in an elementary school.  I’m not sure if it’s just this particular place or high schools in general, but the apathy runs deep and I finding myself disappointed in my choice.  I love the kids and the teaching, but miss collaborating with colleagues.  I keep telling myself that it takes time to build new relationships in a new workplace, but now I’m not sure if that’s it.  I miss my former colleagues very much.  I miss a work place that fosters building relationships and models it.

I also had very sweet, dear friend let me down in a way I never thought would happen.  I trusted this friend with a very vulnerable part of me.  A place of respite and safety for me has disappeared.  I am so hurt by this and what appears to be a lack of care for the disappointment that my heart is broken.  It really makes me wonder if it’s worth it to put that trust in someone, anyone really.  So, I don’t know if it’s just a normal disappointment that’s hurting my heart or is it my own abandonment issues that make it impact me more.

All these pieces of my life march into the holidays with me.  I see the spirit around me rising, but I’m feeling more broken this year.  My fragmented heart is feeling its scars. I am thinking about my boys and another year without their dad has passed.  My little one is always so angry.  I’m not sure if it’s a phase or if it’s his grief coming out sideways.  My big one had his heart broken by a girl.  He appears to be handling it ok, but again, that anger comes out.  I wonder if he’ll struggle with the same abandonment issues that I struggle with as he moves into adult life.  I wonder if we will always be waiting for the other shoe to drop when we have happy moments.  We did know happy.  We did know safety, security.  We did know love. The other shoe dropped though.  I really don’t know if I’ll ever be able to buy in completely again.  I want to, I hope I can, but I don’t believe I’ll be able to get there.  Well, because I know nothing really lasts forever.  Nothing.

Yet, despite nothing lasting, the light of hope, the memory of love, and the longing to feel safe again will propel me into the holidays the way it always does.  I will go through the motions and hope they become reality. I’ve come this far, I can’t give up now. I know I will hit moments when it feels like life is miserable. I know this.  I know I will hit moments that scream at me that I’ve made the wrong decision, trusted the wrong person, or let myself and my kids down.  I will pick myself up and try again.  I have survived.  I will continue…holidays or not.

That damn hope.

That wonderful hope.

That undying hope.

“She fell and no one caught her…”

Thanksgiving is here. I am grateful for many, many things. Every day I count my blessings…really. My life is pretty, dang good most days. Sure I have struggles and challenges, everyone does.  Widowed and non-widowed alike will have moments of acute gratitude and acute pain. It is what it is.  People have joy and sorrow in their lives every, single day….holiday or not.

I’m getting better at holidays.  Over eight years of practice now and I don’t feel completely taken down by them. This is my ninth Thanksgiving widowed.  It is my boys ninth Thanksgiving without their dad. When I write these words, they knock the wind out of me. Yesterday, I was so fortunate to see Dave’s work buddies.  I’m not sure if they know how much it means to me to get that call to come by and see them.  They were just gathered for a short time, but being in the room with them, well, it reminds me that he was real.  He was here. We had something. After all these years alone, sometimes I forget that I’m loveable.  I forget that I don’t have to bear all the responsibility alone. I forget it happened to me.

Along with those moments of respite, I remember things too.  I remember that for a while, I had someone who always had my back.  No matter what, Dave had my back. I had his. We knew this.  Our relationship wasn’t perfect…very far from perfect, but I never doubted that he would catch me if I fell.  He would catch me when the big things happened…when I lost a job, a friend, a dream…and when the little, daily things would trip me, his hand was always there to help me up again.  I did everything in my power to be that to him…always. Even in the midst of a fight, maybe even hating each other for a while for whatever reason, I knew he would always be there for me.  I could fall and be caught…no matter what.  Knowing this changed me.  I was braver.  I was more trusting.  I learned to love fiercely, because I wasn’t afraid of being dropped.

In the years since he died, I sought out people who might catch me.  I’ve been lucky because I have a pretty strong net of people who will catch me. The ones that wouldn’t or couldn’t catch me weeded themselves out pretty quickly after his death.  It takes a special soul to catch a widow…at least that’s how I see it.  As a widow, I feel even more invisible. I feel that not only I would not be caught, but who would even notice if I fell?  Who would see me? I feel invisible…would anyone even notice if I needed them to get my back?

I think this is one of those feelings that transcends time for me.  No matter how much I achieve, no matter how much I build in this new, unexpected life, I still worry about being seen and having someone there to catch me.  I know  that having someone like that is rare…I was lucky.

I think this fear of not being caught is a reflection of not receiving one of the things I value most in life.  I put it out there every day for other people.  It is who I am.  I build relationships.  I will love you fiercely.  I will have your back.  If you are family, friend, colleague, student, neighbor, well, really anyone who has become a part of my life, this is what I will do for you.  Some people get this.  Some people are ok with it…some are not. It is who I am. I am one of those people you can count on…nearly all the time.  I think this is why I miss having someone in my corner so badly.  It is one of the many, many reasons I miss Dave so badly…especially this week.  As I think about what would have been our 17th wedding anniversary that just passed, as I think about another holiday season, as I think about the future and how mine was ripped away eight and a half years ago, I miss him deeply.  I miss being caught.  I miss being seen.  I miss being loved fiercely and being able to love someone that way.

In the eighth plus year of this unexpected life, I know for certain that it will continue to teach me unexpected things.  I know that there will be new and unexpected joys.  I know that I will appreciate them even more than the average bear…I know that even though I worry about no one seeing me, no one catching me…someone will.  I know that this holiday season will pass and it will give me unexpected gifts.  I know that I will be stronger, more loving, and more me with every passing day…and for that I am grateful.


Seventeen years ago I got married. In only a few days, I will have been alone as many years as I was married.  Crazy.  Thinking back, I feel like there have been so many lifetimes in my one lifetime.  There is this intangible thing about time, yet when I look back, time feels so concrete.  When I think that eight and a half years have passed since Dave died, I really can’t wrap my brain around it.  In those early moments, it felt as if time had stopped.  If it hadn’t stopped, I certainly wanted it to stop.  I wanted to stay as close to the moment that he was still on the planet as I could.  I didn’t want to move.  I didn’t want to go forward into a future without him.  Now, I am sitting here and I’ve survived many more years than I ever thought possible.  Time has passed. I can breathe again. Who knew?

In those first years, time was the enemy.  It moved at a snail’s pace.  Every day took forever to pass.  The nights moved even more slowly than the days.  The exhaustion of the day would take me to sleep quickly, but only a few hours later, I would wake and lie awake for the rest of the night wondering how I would survive the rest of my time here.  How would I raise our sweet boys?  How would I crawl into bed every night alone?  How would I ever make it through another day without his smile?

It took many years and much help from others to get where I am today.  In many ways, time seems to have passed quickly.  How could so much time have passed already?  On days like today when I sit and remember, it feels like he was just here.  As I look around my life though, there are so few signs of him anymore.  Life is so different.  I am so different.  He is still in my heart like no other can be.  He is still in our conversations.  He is still ours.  The thing is, this life looks so much like me now.  I miss his imprint on my life.  We were so different. I miss the variety.  Time has cemented my will on this life now.  On days like today, I wonder what would be different if he was still here.  Would time feel like distance or like home?

I wonder too how he would feel about how I’m doing with all of this.  There’s the quick answer…he’d be proud of how I carry on and survive…but, I’m not so sure he’d like our world with so much of my slant in it.  He loved me, but he also balanced me.  He saw through me.  He knew when enough was enough with me.  I miss having someone to call me out on my stuff.  I miss that my kids don’t know “the me” that I was with him.  I still think I was better then.  I think my heart was softer.  I think the feeling of being beholden to someone and giving them that same space in your heart, life and soul makes me better.  It was such an investment of time and energy, but so worth it.  Maybe it isn’t time that feels intangible without him, maybe it’s me that feels less tangible?  Maybe it isn’t the movement of time that is so elusive, but it is me who feels so detached most days that I’m elusive?

I do know seventeen years ago, I made one of the best choices I ever made.  I would do it many more times…even if I knew that how much pain that choice would bring. To find each other was such a lucky moment…to lose each other, not so lucky…but I still feel lucky most days.

As time continues to push me into the future, sometimes it feels my life with him was the fantasy.  It feels like maybe that part of my life didn’t happen.  I know this new life so well now that a life with love at my side is a distant memory.  Time has cemented me into this life I created to survive losing him.  It is his love that keeps me strong and hopeful.  It is that memory of him loving me that gives me hope that maybe someday another will be willing to walk beside me, hold me near, and love me, even in this transformed state.  The more time that passes though, the more I don’t see it happening.  I know that no one will love me as he did.  That’s just not how it works.  New people love us in ways we never knew possible and I’ll love in new ways, but there is a tapping in my heart that the more time that passes, the longer I survive on my own, the less possible that new love will be.  Time becomes concrete when I look back at it and as I become even more capable of handling life alone, I fear that I don’t even look around anymore for a different way.

Time heals? I’m still not sure.  I do know that it passes whether I like it or not.  Is it better or worse? Who knows?  It is just different I guess.  I am so different now than I was seventeen years ago as we stood together and took the risk.  Time passes.  Time changes me.  Elusive or concrete, tangible or intangible, it still moves me forward…I will sit in it, survive it, look back at it, and continue to wonder where it will take me next.

Goodbye October

October is my month.  The month I’ve always loved because it is so beautiful here.  The sky is so crisp and blue, the weather cools, it is the month my little boy came into our lives and well, it has always felt like good things are coming.  It is also the month I dread.  The month we knew Dave was sick for sure, the month we found out that time was going be our enemy, the month we knew he would being dying much, much sooner than we expected.  In my post-Dave world, October is also the month we gather to remember him.  Every year, people still come and golf with us in memory of him.  Nine years later, I am always so surprised that we are able to do it again, but I know down to my bones that they will still keep coming because of who he was and what a good friend he was to them.

It is a remarkable thing.

I am glad today is the end of October is near though.  I will be glad to step into another November, knowing I put another October behind me.  This October started out and was going pretty well, but my overwhelmed button was pushed last week and has left me reeling, reflecting and possibly resetting my goals again.  I really thought to myself…it’s ok…it’s not too bad this year…I didn’t hit any low feelings.  I didn’t get stuck in the missing him.  I didn’t get overwhelmed by the “another year on my own.”

Last week, we started transitioning again.  After-school coaching was starting for me and I wasn’t quite sure how everything was going to line up for us.  I wasn’t sure that all the pieces were going to fall into place.  I am always apprehensive until the routine re-aligns.  I always stress out about how it will all fit.  I need the extra income though.  I am fortunate to have something I love to do, so my stress and mommy guilt are balanced with hope that finances will be relieved and the fun I have working with the girls.

When I came home on Monday, one of my hounds wasn’t looking himself.  His eyes were still twinkly as always, but he didn’t look well.  It was already near six and I had to get to my big boy to pick him up…so, my sweet pup had to wait.  Well, we got home and the evening fell apart quickly and my sweet dog died.  He was old, but not that old and it was unexpected. It knocked the wind out of me.  He was the last dog that Dave and I had together…he was the “good one”…well behaved, so sweet, and of course held so many lovely memories in his presence.  My heart was broken as I watched him and felt so helpless.  I know it’s not the same, but I was immediately brought back to watching Dave die…feeling so helpless…knowing what was going to happen, wanting to stop it, and being so, so helpless.

With the help of all the sweet people around me, I made it through the week.  The hug from my neighbor when I went over for help after my pup died.  My brother, his family and my mom who came right over and helped me with my boys and the logistics of a big, dead dog in the house, and the people who patiently listened to me this week as I told my story…

I made it through the week.  Then yesterday, we gathered to remember Dave.  We golfed.  We had a great time.  We reminisced. Dave’s friends embrace my boys, share stories about him and it is amazing.  All these years later, they come out and continue to help us heal.  One of Dave’s friends, a lovely man he worked with, was widowed several years after me.  I only see him once a year, but we have the widowed kinship.  We caught up as we do each year.  When he left the lunch, he hugged me and said, “it’s time…find someone to take care of you.” Now he didn’t say this in a chauvinist way meaning that I can’t take care of things, but in the loving, widowed way…his only intent was that I find joy again.  He knows the exhaustion.  He knows the sorrow.  He knows the loneliness.  He knows the healing, the hope, and the surviving too.

It got me thinking even more.  I really don’t even think of having someone to take care of me anymore.  It is my daily assumption that this is my life and it is my responsibility to take care of everything myself.  All my being goes into making our lives work.  All my energy goes into making sure my boys are ok and hopefully happy, healthy and well.  I even take care of myself more now…but someone to take care of me just seems like memory…not a possibility for the future.

So, as I sit here on this lovely, October morning, I feel a bit lost again.  My heart is sad again, but I know that with the sadness, with the lost, I will find something more.  I know that what is the most bittersweet about this time of year is the hope it brings to me despite the pain that always lingers.  I know those memories of hearing my husband was going to die only days after we had our sweet baby always propels me to love more and be more.  As my heart heals, sometimes it is necessary to feel its brokenness again.  It reminds me that there is much more to this unexpected life than just surviving it.

Pete and Repeat…

The thing about my parenting…I am the main common factor when it comes to my boys.  They have quite a gap age wise between them and as my little one hits phases and/or ages that my big one has already grown through, I sometimes have already forgotten how it went with the big one.  Other times, my little one’s behavior is so similar to my big boy it hits me like a bolt of lightning. We have recently hit one of those lightning bolt phases and it leaves me pondering if it is really my boys’ behavior or my reaction to the behavior that prolongs the issues.

My little one is eight years old.  When his brother was this age, our grief was still very fresh.  Their dad had only been dead a year and a half or so. Many years have passed, so I don’t expect some of the behaviors that I now see in my little one as he walks through this phase of his life.  I wonder many times if it is grief, normal eight year old behavior, or my responses to the similar behavior in my second child.  When his brother was eight, I was struggling so much. There was so much change in our lives.  We had switched schools, I was still crying all the time, I was still in the fog of the unknown and the sadness of what had happened.  My sweet little one was just a toddler.  We spent most of our days together while his brother was at school.  With the exception of school obligations with his brother or visiting cousins at my mom and dad’s, we really didn’t get out much.  I sat many days lost in sadness.  I often wonder how this will affect his sweet little soul.  He and his brother were my only sources of joy.  He was the sweet little toddler who helped me survive.  His brother was pretty sad at the time too…really lost without his dad who had been with him so much.  For my big boy, his life had changed so radically.  He and Dave had all their afternoons and weekends together for so many years.  Dave always pulled the afternoon shift with him.  I worked midday into evening and Dave worked early morning until afternoon.  We worked hard to avoid too much daycare/preschool for my big boy.  When my husband died…so did my big boy’s regular routine.

As my little one walks through the same age, I witness much of the same behaviors that my big boy went through at his age.  There is anger, disappointment, and conflict when he is asked to tend to his responsibilities.  He seems unhappy much of the time we are together and it makes me sad.  I’m not sure if this is an eight year old thing, just my kids’ thing, or me.  As a parent, I often wonder how my behavior steers my children’s behavior.  Once again, we are trudging through big life changes.  This time, the changes are not tragic, but they are altering our lives nonetheless.

Back then, I would reach out to one of my friends (who was a MSW, educator, children’s and women’s advocate) for help gauging my behavior, keeping my grief in check, and basically making sure I wasn’t going crazy.  She patiently guided me through parenting while living with great loss. She would often remind me of the parent I wanted to be and the goals I had prior to losing my husband.  She would help me with language when I spoke to my children about my own grief.  I always wanted to be honest with them, but never leave them with fear or insecurity of their own safety and to make sure that they knew that I would be able to care for them even if their dad was gone.

For my little one, this school year started with many unknowns, much like the beginning of his brother’s third grade year.  Although the circumstances are different, the changes for my sweet boy were many.  I would no longer be on campus with him.  We no longer ride to and from school together and most afternoons, my kids get home before me.  Evenings go by so quickly and my workload has increased.  We are all a tad bit more tired as we move from the laid back summer schedule to the regular schedule of the school year.  We also didn’t have our abundant, summer time together because I worked most of the time. He is feeling the impact of all these things.  I am sure about that.

As we settle in more (his words), I had hoped to see him drop some of the behaviors that were concerning me.  He has…a bit…but now a few others are rearing their ugly heads.   I am very aware of them now though.  I know that when he wanders into my room every night to sleep, he is missing me more during the days.  I know that when he refuses his homework, he might just need me in the same room while he works.  I know that when his anger erupts, he is most likely feeling like his life is out of control.

Will I be the same mom to him as I was to his brother all those years ago?  No, of course not.  I can’t be that same mom.  I’m not the same woman.  He is not the same child as his brother.  Although, behaviors may echo his brothers they are two very different souls.  Even if it is the similarities of how grief may affect an eight year old, my little one’s grief is his only.  This lesson I have learned because of my own journey…everyone has their own grief journey.  Will I alter how I deal with him? Will my actions be different with him than with his brother? Most likely…yes. Will the big ideals change? Nope.

In many, many ways my boys have similarities.  They look very much alike.  They both have their daddy’s beautiful smile and his mischievous eyes. They are hard workers, love to play silly, boy games, and both have great senses of humor. Even their behaviors mirror each other at times. As with anyone that crosses my path though, I must always remember that they are two wonderfully individual souls. As that sentence hits the page, I realize how lucky and really blessed I am to be their mom. I realize that no matter how hard parenting can be at times, it is an amazing gift.  No matter how much I worry, no matter how much I struggle with my own proficiency at parenting, and no matter how frustrated I may get along the way, I will always cherish these moments…and will always, always hope that their dad is close by and not missing how wonderful these boys he created with me are.  They are so much like him in so many ways…yet so themselves in so many ways.

Even though behaviors and time feel like they’re repeating, it is truly new every day.  The best I can hope for myself is that I’ve learned a few things along the way and my compassion and love for them shines through the most…even on those days when it feels like we’ve been here before…