“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.

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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…

A change will do me good…

After Dave died, every change was painful.  In those first days, I wanted time to stay frozen.  Even better…time would go backward for me and I would land back in his arms.  I would wake up and he’d be right there next to me, still healthy, still well. I remember going through his things, feeling like I was violating his privacy, and trying to throw away even a paper receipt would send me reeling.  Change was the enemy.  Change had been thrust upon me and I wasn’t going to give it anymore…I had already given him up and I couldn’t bear more change.

That was how I felt.  Despite these feelings though, throughout my time since him, I have still changed.  Imagine that! I have even agreed and chosen change along the way…so odd that one of the things that brought me the most pain, most days…well, I forced myself to do it anyway. When I was frozen in pain, I almost craved change, the very thing that terrified me most.  I felt that if I changed, I would be further away from him.  I just couldn’t bear that.

Change is inevitable, we know that.  I knew that.  There was also that sound, grief advice that I had heard through the years, “Don’t make any big, life changes in the first year of your loss.”  I always teetered trying to balance this.  I craved change hoping it would whisk me away from my pain and always worried I was doing huge damage to my grieving soul and perhaps the grieving souls of my boys.  I usually fell a little off balance, landing more toward change.  Hell, how bad could the change be…I’ve lost him…I can deal with a bit of a change, right?

Well, within a few months after his death, prompted by a friend, I bought a new home.  Soon thereafter, we moved from the home Dave and I had shared for a very long time.  It was hard.  It was really hard…but I felt the change would do me and the boys good.  We would have more space, a yard, well…all the good reasons a family moves for…and it has.  I love my home.  It was a good change and I think that if I had stayed in our home, believe it or not, healing would have come more slowly because I would have been more successful at freezing time.

In the next year, we had to change schools for my big boy for multiple reasons.  We left a community that I had belonged to for many years.  I had been a minister there, I had taught in the school there, we went to church there and we were at home there for many years.  They loved us through Dave’s illness and supported us in many, many ways.  After he died though, things changed.  My big boy needed a different learning environment.  So we changed.  Not everything at first, but within a year or so, we had.  We held on to some dear friends, but really didn’t look back.  In moving and changing, we found a school community that embraced us even more.  Not only did they embrace us, but they wanted what was best for my boy.  This community has been a lifeline for me for years.  They have truly embraced my crazy and loved me despite of it.  Eventually, I began working there bit by bit as my little one grew.  They moved me from position to position when they saw an opening that matched my talents, my time and their needs.  They inspired me to go back to school for my master’s degree (oh, there’s another change) to officially join the ranks of teaching.  This change has healed me and helped me become more of who I am meant to be.

This week I made another change.  I am moving to a new school to teach.  I have another amazing opportunity.  I will become more of who I want to become.  I have spent a few days in this new place, with these new people, and am excited for what is ahead and anticipate with joy how I will change.  I have the opportunity to teach what I love.  It is another life changing step, another step toward thriving again. I am hopeful that this change will do me good too.

Change is inevitable.  Many times, I have gone toward it kicking and screaming.  Many times, I have embraced it and ended up in a place that surprises me and even more surprising, brings me joy.  It is not easy.  Every step I take toward thriving again takes me another step further from who I thought I would be.  I end up further and further from what I used to picture as my future.  That hurts deeply sometimes.  I hate moving further away from a time when Dave was here with me.

Change is also filled with magic.  It gives me this magical opportunity to recreate, to adjust, to renew and revise myself in ways I never thought possible. Even when it terrifies me, even when the logistics of the change seem like it won’t work, even when I am so exhausted from over processing all possible outcomes…it comes down to that craving again.  I crave joy.  I crave happiness.  I want to be an example to my children of taking risks even if they don’t work out.  I want magic in my life.  When I embrace new things, new challenges, I am better.  I become more of who I want to become.

Eight years ago, I was on my knees begging for God to change what had happened to me. I was so broken. I was so lost.  Bit by bit, hour by hour, days grew to months, months to years and what happened to me has indeed changed.  The circumstances didn’t change, but I have.  It didn’t bring Dave back…which was all that I wanted then…but time has brought me back to life.  It may be a life that I don’t recognize some days, but I have carved it out and found my way, one change at a time.

Sometimes, most times, a change will do me good.

Preparing for camp

This week, I am preparing myself for camp.  Soon, I get to be a small part of the fifth Camp Widow West created by Soaring Spirits International (http://www.sslf.org/).  It is a weekend put together specifically for those who have been widowed…no matter what the circumstances or situation.  It is in lovely San Diego.  It is in the same area where Dave and I often vacationed.  It is a place of hope and solidarity.  It is a place of laughter and heartbreak all rolled into one.  I remember the thing that struck me most when I attended several years ago… the only common thread…being widowed.  To see so many men and women who had suffered this great loss come together to share their struggle, their hope, and their stories was inspiring.

This year, I am going back as a volunteer.   Volunteering is a more natural state of being for me…participant is really hard for me.  I know that although I wear the volunteer badge at this one, I will still be participant, whether I like it or not.  I know that I will listen to the story of others’ loss and I will share mine.  I know that my heart will break as I listen to the newly widowed and that I will be inspired by those who have survived this journey longer than I have.  It is a bittersweet place.  It is filled with broken hearts that still smile, laugh, and continue to face a life they had never imagined.  It is amazing to see how people turn tragedy into miracles.  It increases my hope and gives me the courage to thrive in my unexpected life.

So as I prepare, I get ready to face the heartbreak of others.  I get ready to experience my own loss in a new way.  I get ready to share my story with those who will hear it.  I have the wonderful opportunity to meet some of my heroes!  I get to be with the other bloggers who share their stories.  I get to listen to the stories of those who have created a place of healing for so many, including themselves.  I get to remember and see how much I’ve changed over the years too.

This year, the boys are coming to San Diego with me.  I was going to go alone, but then thought about sharing the inspiration with them and the value and the possible impact that it might have in their lives.  They don’t often see this part of loss.  They don’t often see people other than us surviving the loss.  It can be an isolating experience losing a spouse, or in their case, a parent.  They will have the opportunity to see others who walk the same walk every day.  They will meet other children who share similar struggles, sorrow, joy, and hopefully understand that we are not alone on this journey.  They will get to see a part of me that they don’t really see too.  They don’t pay much attention to the writer mom they have…sure, sometime they see the books come in the mail and they know that I write.  They might see that what I do has a bigger role than just me sitting at my desk.  They might see that words are healing.  They might see that sharing our story not only brings healing to us, but may bring comfort to others.  They might experience the solidarity of hope and healing that I have been privileged to experience.  I hope they are comforted.  I hope they are inspired.  Even if they are not, that will be ok.

So as I prepare, I think about all the other people who will attend. I wonder how I will be changed by their stories.  I wonder how I will be inspired.  I look forward to the unexpected…and for me that is huge!  Looking forward to something isn’t always a part of my life anymore…it is a more rare and precious thing.  Looking forward to the unexpected is an adventure!  I am so grateful to have this adventure ahead of me!  Camp Widow…here we come!

***Important Note – Camp Widow West is an adult experience for those who have lost a partner or spouse.  My children are not attending this event, but are accompanying me on my trip.  Their experience will be based on seeing my participation as a volunteer, not as participants.  They will be spending time with friends and family while I volunteer.***

The monthly hop!

Welcome back everyone!  It’s hopping time again!

I hope you enjoy the following links.

How to Participate:

1. Visit each of the links below and read their post. Leave them a comment with encouragement, commiseration, community, or however else the post touches you.

Samantha of the Crazy Courage blog

Janine of One Breath At A Time

Red’s The M3 Blog

Becky’s Choosing Grace Today

Marriott of Miracles and Answers to the Prayers in the Life of Marriott Cole

Robin of The Fresh Widow

Tim’s Diary of a Widower

Running Forward: Abel Keogh’s Blog

Carolyn at Modern Widow’s Club

Andrea of International Brotherhood of Single Mothers

Tamara of Artful Living After Loss

Jessica at Buttons to Beans

Missing Bobby: A Widow’s Journey

The Grief Toolbox

Ferree of Widow’s Christian Place

From Me to We: A Young Widow’s Journey

Happy hopping!

Thanks again to Samantha for making the hop happen each month!

Guiding, trusting, enduring

I’ve always followed my intuition.  I listen to my heart, look for signs or guidance and follow what brings me peace.  I started doing this more and more as I got older.  When I was young, I would have the intuition, the inkling, but didn’t trust myself or have the confidence to think that it would be the right thing for me. I started by trusting impulses and that grew into a somewhat reflective process that guides me.  Following my intuition has led me to beautiful places and to some not so great places.  It has planted me solidly in good decisions and bad.  It most often led me to being a better person, but there have been more than a few times I look back and wonder what the hell I was thinking??

When I was left alone to survive and care for the boys, my heart shattered, my strength depleted, it was hard to find my intuition.  My inner voice was drowning in sadness and despair.  I was only guided by the simple fact that Dave was gone.  I didn’t know what to do or how to survive.  I knew I had to endure, but I didn’t know how that would happen.  I felt like the heavens and all good things had abandoned me.  How after such a long search to find love had it been ripped away too soon and so tragically?

In the first years after he died, I would look to him for guidance.  I would desperately search for signs that he believed in me and that he would somehow point me in the right direction.  I gave up my voice.  I gave up my intuition for the voice that asked me “what would Dave want me to do?”  My voice, my intuition evolved into more of a to-do list dominated by what I thought he might want.  At that point in my journey, it was a way to survive.  It was a way for me to keep him alive.  The unfortunate part about this was that I ignored my intuition.  I still trusted my heart, but it wasn’t clear or intentional and I wasn’t really listening to the stirrings of my being carefully.  It’s hard to define.  I was trusting what I thought was my heart, but it was really me desperately searching for a way for this to be over, for him to still be alive, for the nightmare I was living to end.

As years passed, my voice began to emerge from the emptiness again.  As it started to whisper that I would not be able to endure for the long run living as I was.  I didn’t trust it.  As it said there had to be something different and I would have to search for another way, I rejected it.  Slowly, I began to listen to the stirrings of my soul, my heart.  The stirrings that weren’t about Dave, but were about me, began to surface to my consciousness.  Although I had been enduring widowhood, I began to change the way it looked to me. I knew something else was there for me.  I knew all the way through my being that there had to be more than just endurance.  I was sure about it.  The problem was that I was sure about it, like I was sure that I heard the phone ring or the baby cry when I was in the shower…I was positive I heard it, I knew it, but when I got down to it, it didn’t happen…there was nothing there when I ventured out to find out where it was.

I had to trust myself through the good choices and the bad.  I had to trust myself when I went back to work full time the first time, only to see the boys spiral back into grief.  I had to trust that giving up income for presence in my children’s lives was the way to go, no matter the financial struggles I faced.  I had to trust that my intention to teach was solid even when my own educational experience left much to be desired. I had to trust that giving my heart away again was the right thing to do even if pain followed.

So, after many years of searching for my intuition again and searching for the courage to trust it regardless of the result, has led me to place beyond endurance alone.  It has created a joy, found through surrender.  It has taken my despair of not having the life that I wanted so desperately and transformed it into a life that enhanced by those very experiences I have endured steadfastly.  I am now in a place where I can hear my voice again.  I can still be guided by Dave’s love for me and his boys, but instead of desperately searching for him to return, I found myself again.  I found a me that is more tender, more wise, more forgiving, more moved by beauty, more profoundly grateful for love and for this life.  I found a me that is more than enduring, a me that truly trusts her heart and finds joy in the decisions made carefully (led by intuition) even when they take me to unexpected places…good and not so good.  I have found a place beyond enduring…happy again despite the odds.