Thursday, December 31, 2009
last day of the year.
i wonder how
it’s gonna feel,
leaving this one behind?
probably not as good
as i hoped.
heading out for the day
it was cold.
and for the first
time in a
long time i had
to take off
rings so i could
wear some gloves.
i put them
in my camera bag,
imagining what i
would do if
i forgot the
our new year’s eve event…
the sea and cake
playing at a little place
i spent a
few nights in.
was here with
me a few times.
she sometimes hated
going with me
to concerts in
small venues ’cause,
as she put it,
“i hate staring at some tall guy’s ass all night! plus people always spill their drinks on me!”
i never understood
this until she
made me duck down
a foot to
her eye level.
the whole thing
made perfect sense then.
but this place…
she loved this place
’cause they allow
people to stand
on the bench seats
running the length
of the room,
on the left and right
sides of the stage.
from that vantage
point, a woman,
4′11″ tall, could
except some tall
and not once was
a drink poured down
until after the opener
had finished playing
and we walked
into the main room
to see the headliner play.
the band paused
to let us know
that a new
year had begun.
let’s hope it’s
the last one
was all i
could think to
myself as we
all knocked our
Tuesday, December 29, 2009
I had to change this post a little because of Michele's post from yesterday. Her life in pictures is a great way to think about the passing of 40 years. (Sorry to keep saying it Michele: 40, 40, 40...welcome to the club! LOL ;) I've seen the screen saver capture of those 40 years and have experienced in person only the last 4. What a life! They say a person can be judged by the company they keep: two fantastic parents, 6 fabulous siblings, 3 wonderful children, a wonderful husband, a loving australian, a host of amazing friends, and a partridge in a pear tree! :) Let's consider these the cast in our story.
What about the plot? We find our heroine, beautiful of course, beset with trials worthy of Odysseus. A joyful life? Definitely! A life full of challenge and adversity? Yes! The past 40 years have been a roller coaster of ups and downs - the highs - so very high, and the lows? No one should have to go that low. But, and this is my point, and the point of our story - it is the trials that show us our strength. It isn't our circumstances that define us, but how we respond to those circumstances.
Life has thrown some intense challenges in your path my friend. You have withstood them, absorbed them, and made them yours. Your bumps and bruises are fading, and what remains? A strong, confident, generous, beautiful, and amazing woman, ready for the next chapter and the next 40 years. I'm looking forward to continuing the story. As cheesy as it is, I love this little saying and it makes me think of you and of us:
Here's to you Michele, Happy Happy Birthday !!!!! Enjoy every moment of your very own day. I love you more than my luggage! ;)
Monday, December 28, 2009
The other night as I was wrapping gifts in my office, I glanced up at my computer screen. My screen saver is a slide show of all the photos saved on my computer. Each new photo brought a smile to my face as the last few years of parties, milestones, and random poses of family and friends lit up my desktop.
While the images of newborns and graduations flashed by one at a time, I realized that watching my screen saver slide show was sort of like watching my life flash before my eyes. In one photo my kids are half their current size, and still in elementary school...and in the next we are all attending my daughter's high school graduation. There are photos of the babies that have been born into our amazing brood (the three most recent are in the photo above), mixed with photos of hilarious family vacations, trips with friends, kids ready for the prom, and various people blowing out candles on birthday cakes. Some photos make me laugh out loud, and others cause a sigh at how quickly the time has gone by.
When a photo of Phil comes up I find myself so grateful for the memory the snapshot delivers. In these pre-death photos I look innocent and happy. Then there is the photographic evidence of grief that tugs at my heart. We had a family reunion the year after Phil died, and I am certain that you can see the sadness in my eyes in every picture of that day. My widow community makes an appearance in my life slide show, and I feel a sense of kinship when I see these photos that fills my heart with pride and a very deep gratitude. When a photo of Michael and I in Australia pops up in the mix I find myself wondering, "Whose life am I living?" Who is that woman in the photo looking content and confident? I have to remind myself that the grateful, joyful person in that photo is me too.
My slide show has provided evidence of all I that have survived in the past four years. There is proof that I have attended parties I thought would be terrible, but I managed to smile. Each frame shows a little bit of growth, and a lot of gratitude. Every memory is laced with love and joy, even when I couldn't see the forest for the trees. This collection of pictures showed me all that has been added to my life since Phil left this earth. The photos with Phil in them remind me of the happiness he brought to my life, while the photos without him prove that life really does go on. Judging from the pictures on my screen, Phil has left me in very good hands.
Sunday, December 27, 2009
I am like the daffodils that are blooming in my back yard (yes they bloom 2x a year in LA. I thankfully bloom more often.)
I crumble, letting the dirt and cold beat down on my brightness, making me floppy and weak, causing me to brown and shrivel. I go within too tired to care anymore. It is there I find the sustenance, the nutrients, all that I need to continue, to grow, to nourish me back into myself, brighter than before.
This is his gift to me. My transformation over and over and over again, until the pattern is so ingrained that I am not afraid of the floppy weakness but welcome it.
I managed to get us all on two different flights.
I have developed a healthy fear of flying. Perhaps it is because I have experience with the randomness of death.
We all arrived in Maine.
Our luggage did too.
That is all that matters.
Saturday, December 26, 2009
Last Christmas my family started incorporating Michael back into Christmas by filling a stocking full of gift-cards, gadgets and more that Michael would have loved....but I could use. It was heart warming to see them remember and bring to life some of his favorite things and places from memories passed.
This year my family arrived and handed over Michael's stocking. It was light. At first, I had thought maybe they had run out of ideas on what to put in his stocking. I slipped my hands in ready to grip on to something.....paper. Sheet and sheets of paper filled the green velvet stocking sporting his name.
I opened one up to see stories and memories written by those who had known Michael. Some that had only known him briefly, others that had just were affected by his kind and giving nature, and my family, who had seen first hand the makings of my soul mate.
I started reading one in front of them before I announced that I would rather read these in private. After my family departed I ran straight to the pile of words that made up moments in time. The tears streamed down as I reminisced and re-lived some of the magic and mundane moments that others had shared with Michael.
It truly was the best gift. For in reading those letters, Michael came to life in my heart this Christmas day, our love boiled in the cauldron in which it is permanently located in my soul.
My chest pounds even as I type this.....with the love that never flees. It may feel dormant at times, especially those times in which I wish he was here the most. But, like any moment in time where i feel that, I am reminded that it is still coursing through my veins more then ever.
I love you baby...and am so in love with you.
“A place in thy memory, dearest, Is all that I claim; To pause and look back when thou hearest The sound of my name”- Gerald Griffin
Friday, December 25, 2009
As you wake this Christmas morning, you may feel alone lying in your bed. You may feel far from your beloved that you've lost. You may cry and feel sorry for yourself. You may watch your children open their presents as tears roll down your cheeks.
But know that we are not alone. We are all facing this together. Your loved ones are with you, if in spirit, memory or in your children, whatever you may believe.
I know that, for me, knowing that you are experiencing a similar morning is enough to make me not feel so sorry for myself. I am not really alone. You know. You understand. You are facing the same day as me.
Try to find the light and joy in the day. Be thankful for all that we do still have left. Find joy in remembering all that we have had and the memories that we keep so close to our hearts. Remember to make new joyous memories.
I am thinking of you all today. Merry Christmas!!!!!
Thursday, December 24, 2009
This Christmas the veil between where Phil is and where I am seems to be much thinner than in years past. Michelle and I once talked about the "feeling" of knowing our husbands were in the room. Michelle remarked that she wasn't sure if knowing for sure that Daniel was right there would make her feel better or worse. If he were right next to you, but you couldn't touch him or hold him or hear his voice would that drive a person insane? This is what we wondered aloud.
Phil has showed up for Christmas sporadically over the years. Some years I have felt him very clearly, either through things he would have done or the many things I have learned to do in his absence. Other years I have wanted to scream into the heavens..."Where are you?" Every year since his death Christmas has been a little different. I miss him most when sitting on the couch watching the kids open their gifts. Or when I leave the family party and bundle up my kids to drive home alone. The empty bed that waits for me is particularly difficult to climb into at the end of a day filled with joy and laughter.
But this year Phil has been around more than ever before. Maybe he knows I need his assurance that the life changes ahead for me are okay with him. Perhaps he gets the idea that I can handle knowing he is near, but not be able to touch or hear him. I guess it could be that my heart isn't pierced by the happy memories of Christmases past like it has been in years past, so I welcome the visions of us instead of shying away from them.
In any case, my Christmas message from Phil this year is that he loves me and that he is never far away.
That may just be the message for all of us.
Wishing you peace, comfort, and memories that settle around you and calm your heart.
the same christmas
tree lot we went
to last year.
she helped me
pick out a tree,
something i always
hated doing when
but i had
to do it.
i know this would
have been a really
for us, maddy’s first
christmas, but it
just doesn’t seem
real, doesn’t seem
this year we
did’t buy the biggest
tree on the lot,
but i know that
would have been proud
that i actually went
out during one of
the busiest shopping
days to buy one,
without her pushing me
to do so.
decorating the damn
thing was a whole
i went to a few places
and picked up
and over the past few
weeks i’ve been
at random places i’ve
visited with madeline,
so we can
continue the tradition
that we had.
there was no
way in hell i
was going to dig out
all the ornaments we
collected over 12
years of christmas.
i just couldn’t do it.
they’ll be there in
the garage, waiting
so i finally found
the will to
put the fucker up.
maddy watched as i
put the tree into
the stand and
covered the tree in lights.
i learned that
waiting until the
last minute to buy
is not a good idea.
we visited 5 different
stores and came away
with the last box
of lights in the la,
the lights that look like a
small net, normally used
to cover a small bush.
(thankfully i bought that tiny tree).
i also was unable to
find the little ornament hooks,
so i had to buy
some wire and make
at me as i cut
the wire and hung
the ornaments on the tree.
for someone who
hates christmas, i am
certainly doing a
lot of work.
and i actually
loved doing it,
’cause i know
that this is what
would have wanted.
Wednesday, December 23, 2009
Sometimes it seems that grief wipes out every feeling except despair. Nothing matters, no moment is free of sadness, food doesn't taste good, family time is painful, memories are daggers to the heart, and life does not feel like a gift.
But once in awhile a different feeling floats to the surface of the dark pool of loss. Maybe laughter at something absurd, or gratitude for a sweet gesture, perhaps a smile that can't help but be returned...or the genuine curiosity of a baby wondering what he is doing on this big guy in a red suits lap.
Grief taught me to savor moments of unexpected lightness. The relief of feeling something besides sadness was palpable. I remember being a bit disoriented the first time I felt something, anything really, because nothing threatened to swallow me whole. I discovered that love really is more powerful than death, and love in all of its forms slowly heals the damage caused by the absence of feeling.
So today I am grateful for my children who love me with a devotion that sometimes overwhelms me. I celebrate the love of my family who have stood beside me or held me up, depending on the day. I thank God for my friends who willingly walk the journey of life with me no matter where the road leads. I am grateful for Phil's love which has enriched and changed me, and for the opportunity to love and be loved again by a wonderful man.
Love matters, especially in the darkness. Wishing you a ray of love light today.
Monday, December 21, 2009
Don't get me wrong, even in this wonderful joyous season I have my issues with God, and birthday or not...when I get up there, they will all have some splaining to do! But that conversation and it's illuminating answers is for a another day, and one that I honestly hope is way far in my future. In the meantime, I have a ton of life left to live in the long term, and in the short term: gifts to wrap and give, eggnog to drink, more baking to do, more hugs to give to Grayson, and just in general more love to spread around to the people who mean so much to me.
Merry Christmas (and happy Tuesday too!) - Michelle D.
My husband LOVED to run. When we first began dating, he was training for the Los Angeles Marathon. At the time I could not imagine why anyone in their right mind would purposely run 26.2 miles, but as a newly in love girl I willingly accompanied Phil on many training runs. The upside for me was that my job only entailed riding my bike alongside him carrying his water and runner's fuel (goo packs to those of you who run). We spent many wonderful hours getting to know each other while he pounded the pavement, and I coasted along at his side.
Phil was a very disciplined runner. He timed every run, he lived his life by his training plan, and he judged how much he could eat based on how far he ran. Seriously. But watching him run was amazing. His stride was effortless, you could set a watch by his pace, and to see him run was to see grace in action. He also loved to coach running...you can see where this is going. I became both Phil's wife, and his running partner. One of our favorite dates was heading out for a trail run, then stopping to pick up tacos on the way home. Running alone was very rare during our married years.
As I rubbed Phil's legs down after his first marathon, I mused about what a great accomplishment finishing a marathon would be. Phil said, "You could do it." I said, "I think I will, when I am 40." Don't ask me why I made this random statement, but that became our plan. He would run one more marathon, with me, when I was 40. We discussed locations, Hawaii was a favorite and Big Sur a close second. He told me he would be there for me, he'd pace me, carry my water, write my training plan, do all the runs with me, and he promised not to make me miserable in the process. As the years passed, whenever a marathon was mentioned he'd remind me that mine was still ahead.
When Phil died, I thought my love of running died with him. Being out on our favorite trail without him was torture. I could see him around every turn, I could hear his voice in my ears, and feel the pounding of his feet beside me as I navigated the paths we ran so many times together. I thought my heart would literally break each time I thought I "saw him" around a familiar bend. For the first few months after his death I quit running. But as the days passed I discovered that I needed to run. For me, for him, and for us. Slowly I learned to pace myself. I carried my own water. I found ways to push myself. I started heading out with an iPod full of inspiring music as my companion, and eventually I adapted to running solo.
My 40th birthday is next week. As the milestone year was approaching, I kept thinking about the plan I made with Phil. Now that life was so radically different...did I really need to run a marathon? As much as I have come to enjoy running alone, I wasn't sure I wanted to do all those training miles by myself. After a month or so of waffling I found a marathon and made a commitment to accomplish the goal I set long ago. I guess I felt I was honoring a promise to Phil by staying the course we set ten years ago.
So yesterday I went out for a run. I left my iPod at home so that I could think about all that I need to accomplish this week. As I jogged along my route I heard Phil tell me to loosen up my arms so that my neck wouldn't hurt. I automatically shook my arms out. A little while later he told me to get off the pavement because it is so bad for my knees. I swept off the sidewalk and ran along on the asphalt. The route I planned was hillier than I expected. Phil's voice chimed in reminding me that it would be all downhill on the way home. Every time I heard his voice, my body responded immediately. My brain was still busy planning the week, when suddenly I really HEARD him. And then I knew. Tears ran down my cheeks as I realized that I won't have to run the marathon alone. He will be there with me for every one of those 26.2 miles. We can still do this together.
One other bonus? I talked Michelle into running the marathon, too! Wish us luck ;)
Sunday, December 20, 2009
I spent last December 22nd in the emergency room, which isn’t necessarily an unusual place for an extremely pregnant woman to be. Unfortunately, I wasn’t there to deliver a bundle of joy but rather to find the source of the unrelenting headache that had kept Chris in bed for almost two days. Within an hour of arriving at the ER, my world started to crumble when the attending physician suggested I call some family to sit with me because something had shown up on the CT scan. After an additional tense hour of waiting and the revelation that there were two large “masses” on Chris’s brain, the slow crumble became an avalanche and my world furiously collapsed around me. “I’ll never enjoy Christmas again,” I thought to myself.
Chris spent the rest of the week in the hospital while the doctors ran tests and determined the best plan of action. It was especially difficult for him to be there on Christmas Day. Chris loved Christmas. I mean he really loved it (don’t even get me started on how many days—yes, days—it took him to decorate our tree). We ate the traditional Diez family holiday meal of Kassler rib and sauerkraut in his hospital room. Chris’s sister, trying desperately to bring some joy to the day, brought the meal to us in a picnic basket along with cloth napkins and real plates and silverware. Ian, in his dapper holiday outfit, visited daddy and marveled at all the machinery in the room. And all day long, I thought, “I’ll never enjoy Christmas again.”
My last holiday season was a tumultuous ride of major life events: terminal diagnosis, birth of a baby and death of a spouse within a three-week span. “I’ll never enjoy Christmas again, “ I thought for months.
But inexplicably, a little bit of the Christmas spirit has penetrated my guarded and grieving heart in the last few weeks. Maybe it is the continuous loop of Christmas carols running through my head or the abundance of holiday lights and decorations in my neighborhood. Perhaps it is the pure joy and excitement that Ian exudes when talking about Santa. Or possibly, it is the deep desire to feel “normal.” Whatever it is, I’m grateful that my grief has moved over and made a little room for happiness this season. “Maybe I might enjoy Christmas again…someday,” I have found myself warily thinking recently.
I know I am hardly the first widow to feel great sadness during the holidays. So, my earnest wish is that Santa may bring you all some bit of joy during this season. It is what our loved ones would have wanted.
I wish you a Wary Merry Christmas.
Saturday, December 19, 2009
December 23rd will mark the four year anniversary of our love eternal. We wrote our own vows, we rocked into each other the whole ceremony, we had a moment in time where all else melted away, we sealed our devotion with a kiss.
It wasn't about the dress, venue, gifts, or cake....it was simply about our love being personified.
Nearly three years of our marriage have been spent on different plains, yet it grows stronger and deeper with each breath I take for him...for me. He left me on this world with a kiss that I have been able to build a dream on....continue to build a dream on.
Here's to you my love...here's to us. And for ol' time sake, let's here Satchmo play the song we danced to nearly four years ago.....
"Give me a kiss before you leave me
and my imagination
will feed my hungry heart
Leave me one thing before we part
A kiss to build a dream on"
Friday, December 18, 2009
Photo by h.koppdelaney
I had a dream that I found Jeff. I was so totally overjoyed and so excited that I attempted to jump into his arms. The shock and confusion, even hostility, that he looked at me with was horrifying. He didn't recognize me. He didn't know me anymore.
He scooped up our little ones in a tight embrace and laughed at how they've grown and who they are. They snuggled into his chest and glowed.
He ignored me. He didn't know who I was. I was a stranger. I was outside his embrace. I was no longer 'his'.
Losing Jeff has changed me. I am stronger, braver and more capable....I think. But without him to act as my mirror, I can no longer see myself through the eyes of someone so close who loves me so dearly. Part of the reason we love our spouse is who they see and believe us to be. Without that rose-tinted reflection, I often don't know who 'I' am.
I see myself as horribly blemished. Terribly scarred. A monster at times. Wiser but angrier. More able but less patient because I have SO much more to do. More capable of standing up for myself but louder because of the necessity to be heard.
I know that he would laugh at these neurotic thoughts that plague me. The thoughts that I am unsuited to be a mother, a sister, a friend. I can feel without a shadow of doubt that he would roughly snuggle me close, kiss the top of my head and tell me that I was the 'sweetest, most loving person he has known'.
But with only a memory of these statements and the knowledge of my metamorphosis into 'widow' and all that entails, I wonder if his kind description would still stand.
Would he know me? Would he love me? Would he still want me?
Thursday, December 17, 2009
supposed to be in hawaii
(fucking reminder popped up on my blackberry the other day to make me feel like shit).
i sit here
thinking about nothing
but the fact that
died 2 months ago today.
(i fucking hate the 25th now).
how can i not
think about it?
there are too many reminders.
i have to look out
the picture window
in the front of my house
to see her car,
parked in her spot.
like she may just be
sitting out there,
like she did so often,
one of her post-work
calls to chandra.
(i stare out that window way too much).
i have to see her
black, elastic pony-tail holders
on every door knob in
i don’t know why she
chose to put them
there, but there they
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
Tuesday, December 15, 2009
I was thinking about Michele's post from yesterday and this word kept sort of popping into my head. I have a number of people who help me stay afloat and I wouldn't be here (or anywhere else for that matter) without them. My long-time friends, family, co-workers, and of course my new-found widow community. There isn't enough room here to list the number of people who make things "seem lighter" for me. I have a mental image of myself in a giant mosh pit of these people, pushed up and along by the force of their love and support. I can't help but smile with that image in my head!
Some days the weight of the world came make buoyancy feel impossible - impossible for me alone maybe, but not impossible with all of the wonderful people I have in my life. I can be lighter because of them, and for them.
Happy Tuesday! - Michelle D.
Monday, December 14, 2009
Last week was a whirlwind of party planning, traveling, and meeting new people who have been touched by the work of Soaring Spirits...and this blog. I attended three of the four holiday events (sorry Austin, I so wanted to be there!) planned by some amazing women, and supported by fantastic sponsors from all walks of life. I traveled up and down escalators wearing my Widows Rock! t-shirt, scurried to beg for ink pens when we discovered that we'd forgotten them, missed a flight due to some crazy regulations, arived in time for party number three but needed to change clothes (and curl my hair) in a restaurant bathroom in Seattle, arrived in New York at 9:00PM to discover that the ride I thought would be waiting for me was unavailable, juggled miscellaneous Death Sucks merchandise from one flight to another, and once again was repeatedly blown away by the power of community.
Watching the interactions between widowed people always astounds me. At every event I attended there was at least one person who discovered a different connotation to the word widow. And the change occurred as they spoke to another person to whom that label also applied. Being together took the widowhood loneliness away, if only for a few hours. Talking to someone who didn't want to fix the problem (anyone own a magic revival wand?), allowed for honest conversation about how much we miss the person we grieve. Honest conversation led to both personal revelations, and also to much needed laughter.
As I flew home at the end of my trip, I was struck by the realization that my own concept of the word widow has radically changed over the past four years. I don't know exactly when the word widow no longer horrified me. I remember so clearly not wanting to be called a widow in the aftermath of Phil's death. For weeks? months? a year? I could only associate the word widow with death. Each time the word was applied to me I felt as if I'd been hit in the stomach. "This is Phil Hernandez's widow," was a sentence that caused me to feel nauseous and angry all at once. When I looked in the mirror I didn't see a widow. I didn't LOOK like a widow!
I have learned some things about widows since I became one. I know that widows are warriors, assigned to a war they didn't want to fight. I know that widows have a clear inner voice, even when it is buried in uncertainty. I know that widows reach out to each other in the most amazingly generous ways, and often discover that giving and healing go hand in hand. I know that widows need to be allowed to be real people, no matter how devastating the damage death has inflicted becomes. I know that widows may look great on the outside, and be bleeding from the inside out every single minute of the day. I know that widows have been taught the most important life lessons by living their worst nightmares. I know that widows are stronger than anyone can comprehend. Above all, I now know that widows need each other.
The day the word widow lost its power over me must have been the day I realized that Widows Rock.
Saturday, December 12, 2009
I count ...
I count to remind myself that I have only begun, that I am a newcomer to this kind of grief. I count the days to get me to the next one. Each time I count a day I tell myself that some day, when there are three or four numbers in that count, it will not hurt so deeply.
I count the days to remind myself not to expect too much.
Sometimes I count down. Only 4 more hours till this day is over. The only comfort it holds is that another day is done.
I cry ...
so deeply that I am used to the sound of it. I never liked the sound of my crying. It was harsh, raw, rough and completely un-feminine, I thought. But the sound has changed. It's deep, full of such...full of such distress and shit-will-I-make-through-this-ness. The sound makes me cry more. It's the kind of cry that no one can listen to and not cry themselves. It's the kind of cry that only time can lessen.
what someone told me, thatgrief is like waves of the ocean. I am treading water. At first the waves that wash over me are huge, they crash in over my head, pounding me down, slamming me into the bottom of the ocean. I am turned around and confused. I am not sure which way is up. I panic as my need to draw air intensifies.
Each time I come back up. Each time I am exhausted from the effort of just being. They say in the beginning the waves are numerous and fierce and then they diminish in size. And even lessen in strength.
that there will always be big waves but that they won't come as often or with such intensity as they do now. And it is then that I can start thinking about what direction I want to go in. Instead of just trying to stay afloat, I will be able to swim to dry land.
I pray they are right.
I've miscalculated my energy for this month, which has equated to many a'naps.
In the midst of the over-exertion and holiday bustle, I drained my tank with no one in sight to grab me some gas. It's just a month of lots of everything!
December 23rd will be our four year anniversary and December 27th will be my birthday...heck, and lets throw in Christmas to make the party a little bit more fun ;)
Like any lead up to a special date or days, I've come to learn and know that it is the "pre-show" that messes with my mind. When the days actually arrive I see that it is like any other, yet it isn't. I have the ability to take another day in my life without Michael, but make it one he looks down on in celebration, one that isn't doom and gloom.
Until those days come, and I am given the blessed option to take an amazing day(that I know unluckily I can't share with my love) and make it even more amazing by sharing our love with other's who believe and support it, I will nap and most likely be drained to the core.
I'm resting up for the party, and letting the "pre-show" run its course.
Party on Wayne...Party on Garth......
“No day is so bad it can't be fixed with a nap.”
Friday, December 11, 2009
I've struggled this past year and a half to find the 'right' words to mark Jeff's life and his person on a commemorative bench on the West Coast of this island, in a the small fishing village where we met, fell in love and started our life together.
I needed to find something that would bring 'him' to life in a phrase for those who knew him and for those who didn't, a taste of who he really was. I poured over letters and cards he wrote me, his favourite songs, poems, common phrases, even his funeral program. In frustration, I asked our very good friend, Jimmy (aka Dad) how he would describe my love. Without hesitation, he said, "Jeff Chandler - A Truly Loving and Irritating Man"
In those brief words, he summed up Jeff for those who knew him. He hinted at his persona to those who didn't.
I was concerned that some may feel offended or feel that Jeff had been insulted. I called his family for their feelings on it. Everyone laughed. Everyone remembered Jeff as he was - 'loving and irritating'.
He was a pest. Those he loved, he loved ferociously and protectively. He laughed often. He joked always. He was full of hugs and kisses (and licks to the face) even for his buddies who hated it - and he loved that they hated it.
I am pleased that those of us who knew him will conjure these images when we read those words and sit upon his bench. I am so glad, as well, that those who didn't know this kind, loud and humourous man will read the inscription, laugh and wonder. Even in his death, he is making others chuckle....And I think that is right. I think that it so fitting.
So with a fond smirk and eternal love for the man who could love and irritate like no other, a bench has been placed upon a point of land overlooking the sea that he so adored. I hope that it offers some solace for those of us who are missing him and a giggle for all who read the inscription.
Thursday, December 10, 2009
today was tuesday.
and it sucked.
started the day working
on the stuff
i didn’t want to
wrote the check for
two copies of
out to some folks
who need them.
also had to
get something from
and for the first
time was faced with
of dirty clothes
wall of shoes.
they made me
Wednesday, December 9, 2009
Tuesday, December 8, 2009
I've let the stressful things get the best of me this time and have been wading through the muck with a crappy attitude and a stiff neck. I'd really love to run away to a tropical island for an extended appointment with a bottle of rum and my flipflops. Unfortunately for me, this isn't an option. I have to face the music and choose to have a good attitude about it or allow myself to wallow in the shit. If your wondering if this is a new "make a list of the things that are good" post....it's not. It's great I have good things in my life. Focusing on the positive things won't help me resolve my current issue. I've been challenged in the last few years to be clear with myself about who I am: what I like, what motivates me, how much I am willing to give, how much I am willing to take. I think I'm reaching a threshold and I have to decide what it means. Does it mean I have to suck it up and plow through, or does it mean I have to suck it up and go around?
I'm not certain yet of the answer. I'm digging deep to make sure the decision is the best one. Either way, sucking it up and moving forward in one way or the other will be the answer. I try to keep my life a "no whining" zone. Lately it's been me that's been the whiner. Enough is enough already. I'm done.
Happy Tuesday! - Michelle D.
Monday, December 7, 2009
My husband died less than one hour after being hit by a car on his bicycle. I arrived at the scene before the ambulance did, and stood at the foot of his bed in the emergency room as he took his last breath. I watched the color leave his face, and I recognized the moment when his spirit no longer inhabited his body. And I consider myself one of the lucky ones, because I was there for his last moments surrounding him with my love.
Last week I sat beside the bed of another dying person, my great aunt Martha (pictured here with her sister at our 2006 family reunion...she is the one on the right). Auntie was a very spunky 90 year old girl with a zest for adventure, and one of the kindest hearts I have ever known. Two weeks ago she was in my kitchen cooking enchiladas for my kids, telling stories about her time in Australia, and insisting on helping with the dishes. Less than a week later she suffered a massive stroke, and our family sat by her bed as she struggled to separate her spirit from her body. As I stroked her hair and tried to decipher her garbled words, I realized that we were sharing our last moments. The severity of her stroke indicated that she would not recover from the brain damage that followed. And so I sat, knowing I was saying good bye.
Harder than saying my own farewell was being an observer to the pain of my family as they each wrestled with the concept of a life without their: wife, mother, sister, grandmother, friend, and beloved auntie. My uncle stood beside his wife and stroked her cheek in a beautiful display of love and affection. My mother kept vigil by auntie's bedside for over a week, playing music, adjusting pillows, combing her hair, and rubbing her feet. Auntie's children each spoke to her with love, and arranged things they knew she would enjoy...like putting the Laker game on in her room so she would know the score. As I came and went from the house she shared with her husband of over sixty years, I was overcome with how much love this lady showered on those around her, and how clearly they were impacted by having her in their lives.
Phil died so quickly that before I could get my head around the fact that his injuries were life threatening, he was already gone. There was no bedside vigil, or final words shared. Witnessing the gift being given to my aunt by every person willing to look death in the face, literally, was a powerful experience. As she lay in bed waiting to begin her next grand adventure, Martha was covered in love. She wasn't alone. The people who loved her held her hand, even though they were afraid, and in pain. I am in awe of this gesture of devotion, and so grateful that auntie was cared for with love right to the very end of her life.
I love you Auntie, thank you for teaching all of us the meaning of devotion.
Saturday, December 5, 2009
Michael's my prince charming. He saved me from the poisoned apple, kissed me out of an eternal sleep, slayed the dragon, and swept me up into his safe arms. And as soon as I was swept up, I felt like he was pulled away from me.
But, I still believe in fairy tales. It has been through my fellow widows; their stories, pictures, memories and thoughts....that I realized there were others in this world that had found their Aladdin, Beast, and Prince Phillip. It reinforced that I have felt the greatest of love's yet survived the largest of tragedies....and I was not alone in surviving.
It reinforced that love will always live on.
So I will wake tomorrow, out of my glass case, surrounded by seven dwarves but no prince...within sight. I will take on this world, this tale we started....and in the end I will have my happy ending, as we will be together, and live happily ever after....and until then, I shall always believe in fairy tales and the FACT that they do come true.
Friday, December 4, 2009
Tonight, as I attempted to turn off the water to the tub, I was hit with a
Turning the knob to the left did nothing. Turning it to the right had the same undesired effect. Saying my most favoured and shocking swearword, unfortunately, didn't help either....
So I took a breath. I stopped. I thought (really, really quickly). I unplugged the tub. I got a screw driver, a pair of vice grips and an adjustable wrench. I took off the tap with the screw driver, I turned off the water with the vise grips and I removed the cartridge with the wrench.
Before Jeff died, I may not have known how to conquer this house's plumbing monsters. I didn't know where the water shut-off was. But even if I did, I still probably would have let him deal with these things. I wouldn't have believed in my abilities to fix these dilemmas correctly or I would have just allowed him to do 'his job' in the variety of household repairs that spring up. It would have seemed daunting and overwhelming.
But tonight, I didn't panic (much) as I performed my plumbing magic; because I now know where the shut-off for the hotwater tank AND household water is if I need to shut the whole thing down.
Although this is post sounding like a plumbing how-to, it isn't. It is a testament to the strength and growth we experience and gain after surviving any tragedy. It is a statement of how, although we think we may not be able to make it, do it, survive it - we can. We learn how. We grow. We grudgingly troup forwards.
All of us have this in us, it is just forced to the surface when you find yourself suddenly alone. Suddenly solely accountable for everything that occurs in our household. The strength and courage rise to the surface whether it is a
This, I believe, is one of the blessings of grief.
Thursday, December 3, 2009
for the first time,
just saw some photos of
posted to flickr by anya
and i lost my shit.
(almost all taken by me)
have brought me
lots of comfort
over the past few weeks,
but these were different.
these photos were taken
by someone else
during happy times
that i wasn’t a part of…
her bachelorette party
various girls-only weekends.
all of a sudden
now i think i know what
to look at this from
a strangers perspective
and it’s awful.
i found myself
same things everyone
else has said,
“what a beautful woman”
“so full of life”
“can’t believe she’s gone”
holy shit i miss
so much right now.
Wednesday, December 2, 2009
Tuesday, December 1, 2009
This was the first one that wasn't quite so difficult to bear. Grayson and I usually go to the coast with my family and spend a couple of days fishing, collecting sea shells, feeding the sea gulls (like this picture) and just relaxing. Every year for the past 4, I have at some point had to take a moment or 30 alone to cry my heart out and just wallow in the missingness. This year the need just didn't occur. It wasn't that I didn't miss him, I did. It just wasn't so painful this time. It was more normal - more" this is the way it is". I was grateful for it, and sad about it too.
I knew the day would come when it would be more normal for us, and on my darkest days I looked forward to that time. However, having reached that point (at least for now, I'm sure a wave will come again in the future - that much is guaranteed), having reached that point, it makes me a little sad. How can it be so long that it doesn't hurt as much? The distance that thought creates in my mind is hard to bear. The less painful it is, the less close I am to the feelings and memories of him. Right? I expected that to happen, but now I'm not so sure. I don't feel farther away from him or less attached to the memories. I just feel more peaceful about it, and find myself smiling at my many memories instead of crying.
It is a minor shift, but when I open my eyes and truly see what's in front of me....when I stop focusing on what isn't there and appreciate what is....wow, how nice. I feel peaceful in a way I haven't in a long time.
Happy Tuesday - Michelle D.
Monday, November 30, 2009
I have the very distinct honor of leading a group of the most compassionate people I have ever met. Really. When I tell someone what I do for a living, I am generally met with a questioning look and an awkward silence. Since I don't look like a widow ;) the person across from me generally spends a few seconds trying to figure out WHY I am the director of an organization that supports people who are grieving the loss of someone they love. Many times the assumption is made that I am just that kind of giving person, one who reaches out to the downtrodden, grief stricken, mourners of our world.
But I have a secret. Even though I am a card carrying member (um, the initiation is intense!) of this club, I receive more from this organization than I give. Each and everyone of you are amazing. Our facebook page is filled with support to and from one widowed person to another. The comments left on this blog create the framework for a support network that reaches across barriers of all kinds: geographical, religious, political, situational. Over and over again you all prove the point that we are stronger together. We are facing all of the difficult days in solidarity. Whether our challenge is a National Holiday, a deathiversary, a birthday (yours, your spouse's, your kids), or one of those private heart wrenching days no one else would recognize...we all know there is someone associated with Soaring Spirits that will understand, completely.
This week SSLF is hosting holiday parties in four different states (CA, TX, WA & NY). Why? Because we need each other. And I can't think of any better way to start this holiday season than by being surrounded by people who understand me, and you. I think of attending these parties (and I will be at three of them!) as a way of getting my holiday vaccination! The love and support of my widow community will give me the boost I need to run the race of the next five weeks. I want to take this opportunity to thank my board members (Barbara, Michelle, and Patience) and one special Camp Widow attendee who has spearheaded the party in Seattle (Dana!) for their tireless efforts in support of widows across the country, and around the world.
If you are a widowed person, or love a widowed person, or wish to support a great cause...join us. And if you aren't close enough to come by, know that you are well represented, and with all of us in spirit.
See, that is my secret. I carry all of you with me in spirit. Thank you for reaching out a hand to another widowed person. We are all better, and stronger, for every single outstretched hand.
Sunday, November 29, 2009
You poised to help, not knowing what to do.
Me, on the other side, wanting help, not knowing what to ask for.
Art’s presence has been with me all day.
I just stood in my kitchen crying.
Pallas looking on, hugging me.
"This is so hard." I said
'I miss him too, Mommy." she said.
And I want dinner delivered tonight… food that I would feed them.
And I want my kids fed and washed and put to bed… the way I put them to bed.
And I want the bills paid…the way I pay them
And I want someone to take away his music. I want to hear nothing.
And I want someone to take away his clothes, his everything.
If I can get to the nothing, the longing will go away. The hope that, maybe this time, when I walk into our bedroom, he’ll be there bald and laughing, will disappear.
I want to erase all this.
It won’t hurt if it’s gone.
Saturday, November 28, 2009
"December is the toughest month of the year. Others are July, January, September, April, November, May, March, June, October, August, and February." Mr. Twain hit the nail on the head with this quote, but December truly is a month that tests my perseverance more then the other 11 on the calendar.
I think as widows/widowers there are times of the year that are just a straw away from breaking the camel's back. Those times where if someone just looks at you funny you burst out in tears. Plus, the holidays just add to the burn that is already present in one's heart.
December is all encompassing of all I've mentioned above. It's a time with cheer, lights, parties, gifts, family, yada, yada, yada. Overall, it's a time that can be a tad hard to swallow when the person you'd most like to enjoy it with is not around. Add your wedding anniversary, and birthday to the mix and it makes it even more of a test of this "strength" we have.
The first "Hell Week" (Dec. 21-28) was not a good one. The family didn't know how to handle Christmas, I drowned myself in my sorrow, my eyes were swollen from crying and my voice hearse from screaming, "Why!!??" repeatedly. Now don't get me wrong, I went into it hoping to make it one Michael would look down and smile upon, I just wasn't ready to see the "roses and beauty" this darkness of a time held.
The second "Hell Week", was a tad better. I tried a new haircut, shared it with one of my dearest widow friends, stayed up sharing stories, looked at photos, cried tears of joy of things I've been blessed to have, but overall a huge change from the previous year.
This year I have no clue what way the emotional wind will be blowing, but I'm ready to pull up the "sail" and let it take me where it wants me to go. That's all I can really ever do in this life. Good times and bad. Happiness and sadness. January, May, October....December. No matter how tough they may be.
Yeah, I don't even know if there is a message to this. It's kind of a chex mix of a post, so I'll end it on that note :)
Friday, November 27, 2009
Today, as I scanned through my CD collection in search of something mellow yet fun to listen to while doing housework, I found that every. single. bloody. CD had some memory intertwined in its' melody.
I found myself sobbing due to the fact that I am the one now, the ONLY one, who remembers dancing in the wheelhouse of the boat in the middle of the night to Van Morrison with my head upon his chest. The one who can recall playing "Smooth" in my little truck on the way to Port Hardy and singing at the top of our lungs. The one who has stored in my head the long ago deleted messages of Jeff singing Jeff Healey's "Angel Eyes" for me to find in the morning on the answering machine.
Each of these memories are sacred and terrible. I love them. I want to keep them. But they pain me with a new and fresh pain.
I had been shying away from these memories. Hiding them in the bottom of my brain's sock drawer. So now at 20 months out, I can either play the music, have a big ole pity party for myself that will last god-knows-how-long...or I can buy some new music.
So tomorrow, I am heading to the music store. I need a soundtrack that'll make me light on my feet, not heavy in the soul.
Thursday, November 26, 2009
Before Phil's death, Thanksgiving Day was filled with gratitude for the gifts of the present. Then death changed my focus, and the past was were my heart longed to be.
On my first widowed Thanksgiving Phil's empty seat at the dinner table represented only my personal loss. Knowing he would never again sit bside me as we spoke aloud the things for which were grateful, around our Thanksgiving table, made the empty space beside me pulsate in my mind's eye. My heart radiated pain, and sitting through the meal required every drop of determination I possessed. The laughter around the table hurt my ears, the sadness my entire family felt burned my eyes like gas, and every thing for which I was grateful was somehow associated with grief.
The following year when Thanksgiving dinner came around, I found myself feeling more bitter than sad...that unoccupied seat beside me emphasizing the obvious fact that I was alone, and that Phil was still dead. His continued absence baffled me in an inexplicable way. I could hardly look at the seat beside me.
365 more days brought resignation to sit beside me at the Thanksgiving table. Phil's absence was as much a part of my life as his presence once had been, and I found that oddly comforting. We all missed him, we all talked openly about his funny antics, and as a family we learned how to include the joys of the past into our Thanksgiving celebration. I became resigned to the realities of widowhood, but able to be grateful for the gifts surrounding me.
Year four I was taken off guard by the realization that I was okay by myself, not just pretending, or wearing a mask, or making the most of a difficult day...but really okay. I didn't feel less than, I felt whole. Missing Phil had become a part of my daily life without consuming me completely. I didn't know this until I heard myself laughing and turned to the seat next to me without flinching in pain.
Somehow Phil's empty seat has come to represent more than just my personal loss. That seat is now filled with the spirits of the many people who have been gifts to me during my life. Today I count the blessings of both the past and the present. Losing Phil opened my eyes to the many gifts that have come and gone from my life. The gifts I can no longer touch have become all the more precious. I count blessings in a new way, and my gratitude list has experienced some amazing growth as a result.
And year five? I have realized that there will always be an empty seat around our family table. There is no other person who can fill the space that Phil occupies in the hearts and minds of every single person who loves him, including me. Now I know that his seat doesn't need to be physically filled for his presence to be felt. I can see that he has been beside me all the time, but I was in too much pain to see him there. He was a very patient man, and I can imagine that he just continued to sit in his seat, rolling his eyes, waiting for me to notice him.
Now I can see you honey, thanks for waiting.
Wednesday, November 25, 2009
Tuesday, November 24, 2009
The last month or so has been very stressful for me, and I've lost focus on the things that should matter to me right now. I've been running in circles trying to do it all, and in the course of it have managed to do all and nothing at the same time. Work has been intense, homework and school activities are constant, home responsibilities and chores, (lions and tiger and bears, oh my...). I've made some time (thanks to several of you who know who you are!) to do a few fun things, but I'm so worn out that I almost don't enjoy them. So far I haven't been too grumpy with Grayson, so that is a good thing. But, the challenge is finding the soft spot, something has got to give, and all of these demands seem like non-negotiable responsibilities owned by me alone.
The whole situation is making me less tolerant and grouchy. Case in point: I met a new neighbor this past week, a nice enough lady from across the street. I've been here three months and have never seen her. Her comment when we finally met was "I heard you work, so I guess that is why I haven't seen you....." She repeated this phrase: "you work..." three times throughout the course of our two minute conversation, and each time the judgement was implied: what kind of woman works instead of raising her children full-time? Who knew a working mother was such a novelty in the 21sth century...Good God I wanted to punch her. Of course I smiled, and said "yes, I do work" while inside I wanted to scream Frank Costanza style "Serenity NOWWWWW!" I guess I'm a little on edge. ;-)
I find myself trying to list the things that are going well and the balls that I'm not dropping in an effort to calm the screaming inner voice. I'm looking forward to the long holiday weekend and the time with my family for Thanksgiving. I need a bit of grounding, and hanging with my parents and brother will make me feel a bit more "home" than I have been feeling lately. It will be a great way to carve out some quiet time and give thanks for the many blessings I have in my life.
I'm looking forward to coffee at sunrise looking out over the Gulf of Mexico and concluding in my mind "serenity now".
Happy Thanksgiving ya'll - Michelle D.
Monday, November 23, 2009
Last week was very difficult. More than one person took issue with the way I handled an issue or a choice, and one of the questionable decisions involved my opinion about the man who killed my husband. Finding out four years later that my choice was not appreciated hit me hard. And I found myself floundering in the abyss of grief once again.
Being widowed for over four years has provided me with a certain grounding. Most of the time I feel confident about the person that I have become since losing my husband, and my post-death self recognizes that life is too short to waste time trying to please everyone. I don't hold grudges, I say I love you (even when I am angry or annoyed) often, and I attempt to honor the good in myself and others. These are things that death has stamped on my heart, and lessons that have been reinforced the hard way. So, when my world began to spin wildly this week I was taken by surprise.
My solid footing was shaken by the idea that someone doesn't think I did right by Phil. Having spent every minute of the last 449 days in an effort to leave no doubt that Phil's life mattered, that my love for him remains, and that my life is a reflection of the many things he taught me just by being himself...this was devastating news. I cried, I reflected, I questioned myself (both the old me and the new me), and I felt that awful need to curl up in the fetal position and give in to despair.
Then I remembered. I can't please everyone. Those simple words gave me the strength to stand up for myself. For some people nothing I do will ever be good enough. No memorial to Phil will ever embody his entire spirit. There are people who will never understand the depth of my love for him. Every choice I make as a widowed woman will be questioned by someone. In some circles the fact that I am in love again will mean that I am over Phil. I am certain that people around me will wonder if I will be done with this widow thing now that I have a plan for my future.
The answer is NO I won't be done with this widow thing. I am a widow. I will always be a widow. I will continue to honor the love I have for one amazing man, even as I love another one. I am certain to do some things wrong. I may not honor Phil in the same way others do, but I will do my best to remember the lessons death has taught me, and to act on them in my daily life.
And no matter what anyone else thinks of my actions, my choices, my work, or my words~I will be able to sleep at night, because I will be true to myself. Phil would be proud.
**This is a photo of me with my nephew Miles. Who could give in to despair when looking at that adorable face??**
Sunday, November 22, 2009
on the school forms for the kids
In Case of Emergency?
I am not dressed. I did not do my hair. I have not put on my contact lenses.
I wear a pair of Uggs, sweatpants, a long john shirt and a fleece. The plumber will just have to deal with it.
I do not want visitors. I do not want to go out. I am sure that if I open his closet and smell him, I will stay in it until my back hurts or the kids come home.
I sat in the living room today, opening cards and crying. I napped and dreamt my daughter almost died.
I've lost all of his memories, his half of the kids. Our reactions to poopy diapers, temper tantrums, funny word orders. I don't remember them all. Now, part of my children's lives are gone. Part of who they were has just disappeared.
Those thoughts, comments, memories, all the things that I couldn't remember about our kids are gone. They went with him.
This is what they mean by lonely. I had no idea.
Saturday, November 21, 2009
With the holidays upon us I started creating a list of things for our organization to make this time a more bearable one. I thought I'd share it with you all below:
The holidays have a way of magnifying our loss and can be a difficult and confusing time of year. “What to do? How to act? How to wake up and seize the day?” are just a few of the thoughts running through our widowed brain. With Thanksgiving kicking off the rollercoaster ride we’re all on this holiday season we thought we’d put together a list of ideas and things to do to make this time one you can enjoy.
· Help Others
o Bake Goodies to Donate to a local organization or charity that is helping to feed the needy this holiday season.
o Having guests over? Ask them to each to bring clothing, books, canned food, etc. and donate them to local shelters (women’s, homeless, animal).
o Deliver or hand out food for a local church, VFW hall or hospital or shelter.
o Volunteer in a Thanksgiving Trot or local festivity that may be going on that day.
o Host local military personnel that may not have a place to eat.
o Visit these sites:
§ www.volunteermatch.com is a great resource to find something in your area.
§ www.craigslist.com >community section also is a good site to find volunteer opportunities.
· Give Thanks…to yourself and others
o Go to www.legacy.com/soldier/home.aspx and leave a message to a stranger who made the ultimate sacrifice as well, or visit www.letssaythanks.com and send a free postcard to military members serving overseas.
o Start a Gratitude Journal. It's pretty simple. At the end of every day, write down five things that have made you happy or appreciative that day; not necessarily big things, even small ones count. For example: 1) nice weather, 2) being thanked by a customer at work, 3) my pet, 4) having people who love me, 5) or a funny joke to tell everyone.
o Be grateful for old traditions but don’t be scared to start new ones. Ask your kids or friends if they have an idea.
§ Here’s a site that has ideas on starting new traditions on Turkey Day: http://aginggrandparents.suite101.com/article.cfm/new_thanksgiving_traditions
o Don’t feel pressured to celebrate if you’re not in the mood. Be thankful that you recognize your boundaries and know that there are not right or wrong decisions. There’s only the decision to follow your heart and what you can bear.
o During Your Holiday festivities, go out by yourself or with your children and pick out a candle. Square, round, scented, unscented, whatever you like, and light it at dinner or whenever you choose, as a representation of your loved one who can’t be there. Light it when you miss him, light it when you feel him, light it when you need to feel the glow of his love.
o Write a message to your hero of all that you are thankful for that he made possible or did to make your life better. Tie it to a balloon and send it up to him.
o If you’d like, you could do an empty place setting for your loved one at the photo, as they do at military balls and other military functions. Here is a link to read more about it:
· And Most Importantly…..Relax
o Stick in a favorite movie or go to your local theater.
§ Visit http://www.google.com/movies to find your local showtimes.
o Hog down on turkey, stuffing, and pie till you pass out, while watching the Macy’s Day Parade on TV.
o Not cooking but still want a Thanksgiving Feast? Cracker Barrel and Denny’s are two spots open that day that serve all the fixings and more. Check your local newspaper for other places in town that may be doing the same.
o Don’t want a Thanksgiving meal? McDonald’s is open for all your Big Mac and french fry needs. Also, Chinese Take-Out is a sure bet on this day as well.
o Pick out an outfit to go shopping in on Black Friday and buy yourself a gift for surviving your 1st, 5th, 20th….Thanksgiving without your hero. You deserve it.
o Cry, scream, laugh, sleep…. Do whatever you need and remember to breathe.
Other Useful Links and Articles:
What to do with your leftovers:
Thanksgiving Day Games and Crafts: