Sunday, May 31, 2009

Changing Perspective

There is a Fleetwood Mac song called "Say Goodbye," that has broken my heart repeatedly over the last four years. I have found the concept of saying goodbye to Phil so difficult that I have avoided it like the plague since he died. You see, there are still speed bumps on this road of grief that I have yet to cross over.

Phil and I were blissfully unaware while we shared our last kiss. The morning of his death was the last time we went out for an early morning coffee run. Our last phone conversation ended with Phil telling me that hearing my voice made his day. I laughed because I had just finished ranting about a problem I needed to solve, and he somehow found that pleasant. Days before his accident we took our last family photo. Weeks before that day in August we'd taken our last family vacation. Minutes before he left for his bike ride was the last time he told me that he loved me. None of these were recognized as final or even finite. Because we never said goodbye, I have since 8/31/05 been afraid to utter the words.

So running along a trail the other day, this haunting goodbye song came up on my ipod. As I ran I suddenly realized that the song that has always shot an arrow through my heart was not about my fear of a final farewell or really even about me at all. Instead the song is speaking from the perspective of the person who has died, and is assuring the ones they left behind that they will see them again. When I heard these words with this new view in mind I suddenly thought about life from Phil's perspective...and a light came on. Maybe he hopes my heart isn't broken, he wants me to know he isn't really gone, he wants to remind me that we will be together again...funny how none of this occured to me until I was ready to consider the idea that goodbye doesn't have to be forever.

Just to be clear, I haven't decided to say the words yet...but I am beginning to get the idea that I may not need to.

Saturday, May 30, 2009


Checking the mail. A routine that we all have, some everyday, others a couple of times a week. Today was one of the moments that interrupted a action I did for societies sake.

I opened my box to find a package. As soon as I saw who the sender was I knew from our wedding.I did not know there was video until after Michael was killed, for what reasons I cannot say. When I heard there was film I did not think I would actually ever get a hard copy simply for the reason that it took 2 years for me to know it was even real. I did not know what the pieces of cardboard held inside of it, nor did I know how I would react.

I put it in.

What I saw were things I knew of, words I knew were exchanged, people I knew attended. What I got from it was more then that though. I got to feel the way I felt standing across from Michael that day, the rocking back and forth from excitement, the tears of happiness that had no off button. For 26 minutes I had pure love, on film.

I have it with me in my heart, as I know all of us do, but to watch it, to see the gleam in my eye, the nod of my head as Michael made sure I was ok, the kiss on my forehead from my soulmate....that is bliss, that is life, that is why I am still here. I am here for those moments, even if they are relived 2 years later with my husband by my side in spirit.

Do I still hope to have some freak accident occur that would lead me to Michael?......Yes. But am I happy to be able to know and be a living example of the purest love I've ever known?.....Hell to the yeah!

So here's to those memories, the best ones, the ones that are sometimes to painful to watch because of all the happiness present that we can't share with them now. May they be our personal sanctuary when all else is a hurricane.

Have you ever been at sea in a dense fog, when it seemed as if a tangible white darkness shut you in and the great ship, tense and anxious, groped her way toward the shore with plummet and sounding-line, and you waited with beating heart for something to happen? I was like that ship before my education began, only I was without compass or sounding line, and no way of knowing how near the harbor was. "Light! Give me light!" was the wordless cry of my soul, and the light of love shone on me in that very hour.
-Helen Keller

Friday, May 29, 2009

Our "Invincible Summers"

Last week when I was posting to this blog I saw the following quote in the right hand column of the Widows Voice website.

“In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.” Albert Camus

Albert Camus died in 1960. His life was not easy. His father died when he was an infant and he was raised in extreme poverty. Camus’s mother was deaf and according to his writings, she was in a state of almost continuous melancholy. Camus himself contracted tuberculosis at age 17.

There lies all of us an “invincible summer”. We all have resources we do not know we have until our lives change in such a way that we must find them.

My life, before I was widowed was a good life no matter how you look at it. (Husband, dog, child, fence, job, friends, etc…) I was grateful.

But something else was true also. Since very early childhood, I struggled with a low-to-medium-to-high grade depression. Sometimes it was hardly noticeable, and other times the struggle consumed me. This depression was the result of both growing up in a very disconnected family and genetics. Regardless of the cause, my life was intimately entwined with depression and I came to see it as my cross to bear.

When Mike died I was afraid I would finally be consumed by this relentless affliction; afraid that my 40-year dance with depression would end with me slowly, quietly disappearing into the black vortex. Ironically, at this lowest of times, I found a strength I did not know I had.

Although there were a good many days when I really was worried for myself, I ultimately discovered deep within me that ‘invincible summer’ that that Camus speaks to; a desire to live that was more powerful that the depression that seemed to want me to disappear.

So the fact that I am a good mother, that I have good friends, a successful business, brothers and sisters who love me and whom I love, and a blossoming intimate relationship, and the fact that I made it through grieving my husband, and that I experience joy on a regular basis, is nothing short of miraculous.

Through the uninvited experience of widowhood, we really do get to see more of who we are. I found out who I really was and as it turns out, I am far more than depression. I rather like who I am. It is nothing that I can take credit for, any more than I can take credit for my brown hair. It is all God given. Our capacity for joy and humor is directly related to our capacity to experience the more difficult side of life. The more I let myself grieve, the more I get to experience joy. I am still watchful for depression but it very rarely shows itself. Amazing.

So, do the work of grieving. Cry. Talk. Cry and Talk. Go to the people who can hear you rather than those who want to fix you. You know who they are. And, be willing to look deep into your heart and see the glimmers of your own invincible summer. Even the most hurting widows among us have an invincible summer. I promise.

Warmly, Mie Elmhirst Widows Breathe Coaching

Thursday, May 28, 2009

A Life Altered

Still, I am taken back when someone in David's life has just learned of his death. How could they not have known??! Shouldn't anyone who had ever come in contact with him during his life have felt the earth pause the moment he passed away? As if the earth should have been altered if he no longer walked upon it. Dramatic, I know. It's the best way I can describe the disgust I feel when I'm told that someone is yet to hear of his passing. My world will never look the same again. Why should theirs?

I have lived through more than I've ever considered possible. Surprising no one more than myself. Life moves on... but it should be different. Changed. Shouldn't it? I have come to grips with that fact that I will never again be satisfied with the pace of life. It will now always be either too fast or too slow... One day closer to David, yet another day farther from when I had him.

The earth does not skip a beat when extraordinary men, like David, exit from it's pull. It does not alter. It does not cease... It pushes forward. But forever I am changed. Today, I recommit to embracing that change! I can bathe in gratefulness for the moments I did have. Smiling, because as I type I can almost remember the true sound of his voice... Music to my ears!!

It's hard for some people (non-widows) to believe that I truly consider myself to be lucky. Blessed. Yes, I am living through my nightmare. Yes, I wake up everyday to a new realization that David isn't coming back and the world keeps going. But, this morining, the clouds have parted and I can see that a life with David is more than I could have thought to ask for. No, it's not the typical lifetime we thought we'd experience together but it's a lifetime nonetheless.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009


We often see or hear the phrase “Happy Anniversary”, don’t we? Venture into any card store and you’ll find an assortment of cards depicting the phrase “Happy Anniversary”. Fortunately, I did experience “Happy Anniversaries” in my marriage, and I could buy those cards, and for that I am grateful.

Tomorrow would have been my 15 year wedding anniversary. However, as my husband Rory’s death was 5 years ago today, Happy Anniversary is not in the cards. I doubt if I walked into a card store I could find “just the right card” to depict what these Anniversaries evoke.

So, the questions come every year around the anniversary of his death. What to do? How to be on this Anniversary day? How “best” to remember and honor? How best do I help my son remember? (He was just 3 years old when Rory passed away) How much is too much, how much is too little? Should there be a yearly ritual? As the years go by, so much has changed. I have been racking my brain and asking myself how do I honor this “anniversary day” in a meaningful and authentic way now? If we are remembering Rory all throughout the year, how can we best remember him on this one day? How much weight do we give the “Anniversary Day”? I do remember Rory every day and do my best to share interesting and funny daddy stories along the way with my son Ryan.

Is there a “best” or “right” way to commemorate? As far as I can tell, each and every situation is unique and what I hope to be true is that my heart and head continue to guide me to make good decisions and when I make mistakes, I learn from them.

This year, I will write a card to Rory and Ryan will write a card to daddy. We’ll attach them to a helium filled balloon (Ryan loves balloons!) and let the balloon lift up in the sky as we remember. Here is the card I have written and will attach to the balloon (since it must come from me and not Hallmark for this type of Anniversary). On the outside of the card I have written, “Honoring the Past and Embracing the Future."

Dear Rory, You are missed and you are loved. It has been 5 years now. Here are a few memories I want to share. I can still see you wearing the “Survivor Buff” you wore throughout chemotherapy. You were such a trooper and you showed everyone and me that even in the midst of pain and a terminal prognosis, a person can be at their best, and you were. You were a role model for us all. I can still see you with a smile on your face even when you were in pain, getting treatments, or in the hospital (well most of the time anyway). I can still see how happy you were on our wedding day, the days and years we shared, and let’s not forget the day you finally got your cherished John Deere lawn tractor. I thought your cheeks might crack from smiling so much!

I can still hear your laugh and the jokes you used to play on our family and friends. Ryan’s laugh is just as lovely…I wonder if he will be like you as he grows up? In many ways he already is. He is a constant reminder of you, our love and our life together. I can never thank you enough for our son.

Today, Ryan and I are sending a balloon and cards in your honor. I want you to know that it has been a challenging 5 years, but everything is getting better all the time. I know you wanted me to eventually find someone to love, to share a life with, and who would also be good with and love Ryan. I couldn't fathom that thought for a very long time, but now I can tell you that I am very happy. I have fallen in love with a wonderful man (someone you personally knew and thought was “one of the good guys”!) I know you would be happy. Ryan is doing great. He’ll always love and miss his daddy. I’ll always love and miss you.

We were blessed to have you in our lives. Much Love, Colleen

So, my dear Widows Voice reader, I hope you find your own special and unique way each day, including anniversaries. One day at a time.

Warmly, Colleen Phillips, Coaching For Widows

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

What Friends Are For

I've spent the holiday weekend in Cali with the other Michele and head back to Texas today. Although the weekend has been packed with activities (sushi night out, a long and beautiful walk, visits with family, a day at the beach, etc.), we've managed to cram in some fantastic talks and some really great quality time.

In one of our many conversations, Michele pointed out that although we've only been friends for a little over 3 years, we've done so many things together that it feels like a much longer time, and despite the geographic separation, we manage to see each other more often than we see some of our friends who live in the same state. An abbreviated list of our activities would include such things as: selecting a husband's head stone, the scattering of a husband's ashes, a half marathon, the frantic OJ Simpson style race across LA to Disneyland to make packet pick-up for above referenced half marathon, "pizza christmas" night in NYC, chicken and duck night at the Garth Brook's concert, children's birthdays, teenage driving, endless late night phone calls with giggling, crying, laughing out loud, and frustrated cussing (mostly mine, Michele is less profane than I am), the list goes on and on.

I remember realizing about 10 years ago that you just don't make friends as an adult the way you did as a teenager. You don't have slumber parties and share all of your intimate thoughts as an adult like you did when you were a much more vulnerable girl. Don't misunderstand what I mean, we make new friends, but the bond is different. I think it is because we don't share a history in the same way that we do with our childhood friends. I think the exception to that trend occurs if your friendship is forged in the depths of hell and at the heights of personal vulnerability. Although Michele and I don't share a long history, we share a jagged path. A path we didn't choose, and a path we happened to meet on by sheer coincidence (thanks Debi, we owe you big).

I can't imagine doing this without Michele, and I'm glad I don't have to try. (The photo above is Michele's new nephew, who is also my new second cousin...Michele and I are now officially "family" as well!)

Happy Tuesday! - Michelle D.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Worth a Second Look

I started to write something to honor the men we have lost in recognition of Memorial Day. Then I realized that I couldn't write anything more poignant or beautiful than what Nicole has already posted. And so I am re-posting her Thursday post with this addition...there are no words of thanks that adequately honor the sacrifices made by the men and women who serve in the military today, nor the families they leave behind when they make the ultimate sacrifice. The only thing I can think to say is that each of you are heros, and we owe you a debt that can never be repaid. Taryn and honor the men you lost by your courage, your determination to make a difference, and your belief that love never dies, thank you.

Today is Memorial Day. I remember last Memorial Day. I was alone on my couch with the computer on my lap... searching for another widow. Searching for someone who understood my pain. I was also searching for Memorial Day ideas. Of course, Memorial Day had a new and profound meaning to me. It was no longer a day David and I got off work... It was a day that defined David's death. Putting a flag on my door was no longer enough. But then again... what gesture is good enough to say thank you for FREEDOM?

The quality of a true warrior is that he is in service, selfless service, to a purpose greater than himself; a transcendent cause. Albert Einstein once said, “Only a life lived for others is worth living.” Selfless service is such an astounding concept, one that is either barely grasped or the source of the nature of your soul. Memorial Day is a day we come together not to remember victims but warriors; idealists, who risked their lives, their futures, in the pursuit of something bigger than themselves.

But what actually brings a person to give so much of themselves to the service of others?

After David gave four years to his country and was stoplossed. When I asked him to runaway with me he looked straight into my eyes and said, “I’m here to give all that I have to offer, to serve whoever I can… To serve my leaders, my men, and you. I can’t leave them. Some won’t come back if I don’t go.”

His mission was to serve. I knew asking David to stay behind was asking him to be less then who he was. I never asked him again. He's a warrior, like so many, who believe in a cause greater than self preservation, a cause they're devoted to even unto death… because it is written into the very fabric of their being.

Today marks the 2nd Anniversary of Cpl Michael Davis' ultimate mission in action. 2 years ago today, Michael walked his last day on earth. I never got the pleasure of shaking his hand and thanking him for my freedom... but his widow is my best friend. My WSM. For the Davis' I will always be thankful.

Indeed, Memorial Day has a new meaning...

Because David and Michael's ultimate mission of service was in the forefront of their mind at all times, they lived passionately, loved with all their heart, and left a legacy not soon forgotten.

Thank you, to all the men and women who have given me the gift of freedom... freedom to enjoy life. I will never be able to express my gratitude and pride for my husband and those who represent the country I walk upon.

Thank You, Cpl. Michael Davis. I will never forget.

Proverbs 20:5 “The heart of a man is like deep water..."

Sunday, May 24, 2009


I sometimes wonder what would happen if all the wishes people made on stars came true. Where would my life be today if my whims were met by the imaginary wish granter in the sky who hears the things our hearts whisper when we witness those flashes of light across the night sky? One thing is certain, my heart has definitely not been whispering over the last four years...I think a better description would be screaming or beseeching, or even howling. And the request? That I would wake up from this nightmare and discover that Phil isn't really dead. Seems pretty straightforward as far as wishes go.

Recently I have been transported back to a place in time when Phil was my husband. Unfortunately this opportunity does not include the perk of him being alive. But, I have been his wife. I have told his story. I have purposely walked back in time to the moment I lost him. This journey seems to have no limit of lessons to be learned, and I find myself once again a student of grief.

This visit back in time has allowed me to see the world as it was, and to unexpectedly mourn the temporary loss of the world as it is. Time travel is not what I expected it to be. There is no euphoria, there is little comfort and there is no buffer of shock to shield me from the harsh realities that death by blunt force trauma inflicts. I am faced with the realization that I have changed. I have often said that the woman I was when Phil was alive died with him. She did not know the agony of loss. She thought that her life was planned, and also that planning meant something. She woke up every day to Phil in her arms. She believed that life was short, but that knowledge did not affect the way she lived her life. She knew she and Phil would grow old together. When I went back in time and tried to wear her shoes, I discovered that they no longer fit.

But I also realized she would never wear yellow, peep toe, faux crocodile skin stilettos.
The woman I have become has a core I would never have known existed if it were not tested. I am both saddened and proud to realize that I have created a life that I love. The fact that I can never go back has often been a source of bitterness for me. This week I learned that going back isn't only impossible, but the reality of yesterday has built the life I have today~and today is a good place to be. I haven't left Phil behind; I brought him with me into a life that is uniquely my own.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

On My Way......

On my way to North Carolina, to sit next to a widowed fiancée who called our hotline and wanted another widow by her side, I stopped in Atlanta.

With all the travels I’ve been doing the past year I have come to terms with the face that I will see numerous amounts of men and women in ACUs. Today was the same. As I stood at the gate my ACU radar detected a man to my left waiting to board.

Ok, he’s on I don’t have to be reminded of the fact that it isn’t my husband. No. As I make my way down to seat 30B I see him up ahead. ‘There is no way!’ I thought to myself.

Sure enough, I was squeezed between him and an older gentleman. I turned to him, tear defense in full effect and said, “Heading back?” He looked over at me and said, “I’m on break.”

He turned back to reading Newsweek and I went to reading my book. Through the one hour flight I would take glimpses of the ACUs on him, remembering the days when my husband filled them up so nicely. I wanted to glance to see the unit he was in or if he was airborne but knew it would be too obvious.

I was wearing my Gold Star pin and wondered if he recognized it, or the watch I was wearing that was set to Baghdad time, the watch my husband wore when he was killed.

We landed and sat there waiting for all the rows to unload. I knew I wouldn’t be able to talk to him again so I turned and said, “Are you going back over after R&R?” “Yes” he replied. I then went on to tell him thank you for his service.

From his reaction, I knew it may have been something he had heard before and his answer sounded somewhat scripted “Thank you, I appreciate it.”

I continued....

“My husband was killed last May and I know the danger you are put through," I spit out. His eyes teared up and he said, “Well, I’m sorry.” I told him how I was on my way to actually attend the funeral of the 4000th soldier killed in Iraq to sit and be there for his widowed fiancée. He told me about how he was on his 3rd tour, where he was based, what his mission was, what rights he wished could be changed for those going through what we do, etc.

I then reached into my bag and pulled out my AWP Card. On it included the site, our ‘1-800’ number and smaller details. “If you ever have something happen and know a widow who could use our help give her this.” I told him what we all are doing, about the site that includes courageous stories of my fellow widows, and the documentary. He sat there quietly and looked at the card as I spoke.

He looked up and said, “I know you all have a lot of work to do to make others know of the hardships you go through on a day to day basis. Keep doing it.” I then shook his hand, told him to have the best R&R possible, told him about the wonderful one Michael and I last shared and how those 2 weeks meant the world.

There really is no point to this story other then the fact that:

1. I’m really freaking happy I had the balls to even talk to someone in ACUs, coming back from the place where my husband was last alive. ……

2. That taught me even more; how much strength we have just by opening our mouths when we don’t want to.

3. We do have a far way to come, but I am happy in knowing that one other US Soldier knows that there are so many of us Military widows just getting up.

I wish that I could do things better, have more motivation at times, not sleep in till 12 because I don’t want to face reality that day. But most of all, I wish that I could tell and show him all the strength he embedded so deep down into my being that I am able to do the small things that I try to do. Whether that be brushing my teeth or talking to a stranger on a plane.

I’d also want Michael to know that I am not alone. To not be afraid I have no one that understands, to not fear that I will forever be lost. I have my widows! I have the people that call me and brighten my day, who share their corny stories and share a laugh, who toasts with me up to the heavens. I have YOU.

I know he is up there with that gap-toothed smile, which no one knows he was planning on getting fixed LOL So thank you for giving me strength to face my fears.

Friday, May 22, 2009


I have been on my back for the last 3 weeks or so, nursing an inflamed sacroiliac joint. What a pain! Literally. Every turn and twist, every journey to the bathroom (all of 25 painful feet) and every trek to the kitchen elicits mild and not-so-mild expletives. Thankfully, my daughter is in school and the the walls are my only witness.

Of course, lots of time on one's back allows for insights, welcome or unwelcome. I do wish these marvelous insights would happen when I was licking, say, a large, double chocolate ice cream cone instead of lying supine on an ice pack.

But no, my insights seem to come to me when I have finally over-done something or other (stacking wood, mowing the lawn... talking...) and have no choice but to cry "uncle" and finally settle down to listen to my body's teachings.

So I have been listening from my bed, and what I am hearing, I must say, I don't like one little bit.
  • Meditation is not simply a misspelling of medication.
  • Pfish food is not a physician recommended treatment for stress.
  • I should stop treating Meditation like a four letter word. It may be my ticket to feeling better.
  • The five minutes I spend each morning saying a quick hello to God is NOT meditation and five minutes of 'thanks' at night are also not enough quiet time to relax someone like me with a mind that races faster than a speeding bullet.
  • 15 minutes on the treadmill once a month is not exercise. (Its not???)
  • I have been ignoring my bodies warning sign for a long time now, and I have been running from...
OK - here it is...
  • missing my husband.
  • Yes, even after 8 years, I miss him. Not all of the time, not every day, not even every month. But right now, I miss him.
I don't want to miss him. I am in love with a good man, a man who I know is good for me, a man who agreed to come to San Diego with me if I want him to, (and I do!), a man who thinks I am wonderful, and a man who even my mother would love and that is saying a whole lot.

But the funny thing is, the more I let myself love my new man, the more I remember Mike.

As I lie in bed, I see that I have been sprinting a good 500 miles an hour, trying to run from this truth, the fact that I still have a little bit of grieving to do.

But wait. Maybe it is not grieving. Maybe it is just remembering?

I used to think, when I met new love, that one 'era' would end and another would begin. I can see now that although I am given the opportunity to love again, I still have my old life/love in my heart. It is not 'one or the other'. Both loves can live in synchrony.

This morning I imagined them sharing 'man hugs', you know, when men briefly slam into each other and then quickly jump apart? And then I cried a bit, either about my back pain or about my heart pain. I don't know which it was, but I do know when I was done, my back seemed to feel better.

So yes, it is time to get serious about medication - oops - I mean meditation, to slow down, to stop running, and to appreciate the gifts I have been given. The grass is green, the lilacs are in full bloom and filling the neighborhood with lush aromas, Anneke is headed to final exams feeling competent, and I get to explore my old and new love. Other than the (lessening) pain in my back, I feel luckier than I have any right to be, I am sure.

This morning I will make that oft procrastinated telephone call to our local meditation center and further the process of slowing down my body and learning mindfulness. The new frontier!

Warmly, Mie Elmhirst, still, a Widow-in-Training. Widows Breathe Coaching

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Finding Our Way

(Editor's note: Janine will be away for the next two weeks and we are happy to welcome visiting contributor Colleen Phillips as our Wednesday blogger in her absense. Thanks Colleen!)

A warm hello,

Since Rory died almost 5 years ago, it seems as if we have been trying to find our way, figure things out and be a family of “2”. Ryan, my son, had just turned 3 years old and I was 40. We had so much life to look forward to and we shared so much love in our home when it all came crashing down on May 27, 2004. Next Wednesday, it will be 5 years to the day Rory lost his battle with cancer. It literally feels like yesterday, that I saw, spoke with and touched Rory for the last time. In other ways it feels like a lifetime ago. I suppose that may be the way it will always be, but I don’t know…

So, maybe like you, I have found becoming and being a “widow” has been a tough road. It has hurt, it has been lonely and it has been scary. I think about and remember moments driving along this tough road. The day the washing machine broke (which was the day after Rory’s memorial service) and water flooded my home, the nights I cried myself to sleep while missing him, the nights I was challenged with getting Ryan peacefully to sleep. These are some of the events that occurred that reminded me I was no longer a couple. Even some of my “couple” friendships ultimately changed. I remember trying so hard to juggle all the balls (you know the balls I am talking about…being a new single mom, having a career, taking care of the house, the finances and being 100% responsible for everything, and I mean everything.) It is no wonder the state of “overwhelming” was a state I lived in for a time. Thankfully, with a concerted effort, I moved from the state of “overwhelming” to the state of “possibilities”. I learned that driving down this road is an active process and one in which I had to take initiative to make positive changes.

Rory used to sweetly call me the “Sponge of Gibraltar”, in sharp comparison to the image that the “Rock of Gibraltar” conjures up. He chuckled at how a heartfelt commercial, book or movie could move me to tears. He laughed and smiled at how much I loved life and loved to laugh and experience all life had to give. I realized that along this “widow journey”, I had only been experiencing the sadness, the grief, the loneliness and the difficulties. All of this was true, I was sad etc., but I began to realize that this “Sponge of Gibraltar” had much more to “soak up” in life. Just like a sponge, I could take in what had happened, be resilient and eventually I could give back as well. When I chose to move to the state of “possibilities”, it became very clear to me what was important now and I went after it!

Although our lives have changed and the road is not as difficult (there is much love and laughter in our home once again) my son and I still continue to “find our way”. It is a journey isn’t it? May you find the state of “Possibilities” along the road you travel.


Colleen Phillips Coaching For Widows

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Do I Want a New Happy Place?

For the past ten years, my vision of my happy place has been the same: a tiny beach on the island of Caye Caulker, Belize. Daniel and I spent 14 fantastic days there in the summer of 1999. At the worst of times when I have wanted to scream "calgon take me away"...this little oasis is the picture in my mind's eye. I haven't been back there since then and we always swore we would go. In 2000 we had Grayson, and life became so full that the trip took a backseat. We took plenty of other trips, just not that one.

This year is 10 years since my last visit to my happy place. I have been very tempted to go there in August, to celebrate what would have been our 17th wedding anniversary. That actually hurt to type. It's hard to believe it would be 17 years, I haven't seen him since 13. Damn death.

In thinking about the visit, I've struggled with how it would look. Honestly, I don't want to share it with anyone, but I really don't want to go alone either. So what to do? I have considered designating a new happy place, but I can't imagine a place that would make me feel more happy, loved, and alive. The problem I face is the reality that the place will not be so happy for me if I return. I took my happiness with me when I went there before, this time I'm likely to bring a big stinky case of misery and spoil the memories. But I feel so drawn to it, like I need to go and say goodbye there too. I feel like I need to do it alone, like it's some right of passage or something. I don't know.

I've never travelled alone, except for business. Going to a tropical island by myself sounds so freakin lonely I can almost taste it. I don't think there is enough rum and pineapple juice to cheer me up there. But, then again, it was so much "our place" that it might just be a wonderful trip. Who knows. I guess I have a few months to decide. In the meantime, I'm happiest when I'm laughing with Grayson and just being silly. That particular happy place is near, cheap to get to, and always a good bet.

Happy Tuesday - Michelle D.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Sometimes Healing Hurts

When a friend is sick you hope they will get well soon. If you know someone who has cancer, you might pray fervently for them to be cured. After you've had surgery, a friend might call to tell you they hope you will heal quickly. But what about when someone dies. What do we wish then?

After Phil's death I feared getting better. I didn't want to get over it, move on, allow time to heal me, or be grateful that Phil was in a better place. Frankly, getting better sounded like forgetting, getting over it was impossible, moving on implied leaving a time when Phil was a part of my world, time as a concept wasn't doing much for me, and I couldn't think of a better place for Phil than in my arms. None of the things people said to me about healing or recovery were in any way comforting. In fact, they were horrifying. I will confess...I was afraid everyone around me would assume I didn't love Phil all that much if I could recover from losing him.

So I quietly wallowed in sorrow. I found all the tender spots on my heart and poked them regularly. I covered my office in photos of Phil, using them like wallpaper. I was always on the look out for signs, and would cry on the way home from a run if Phil didn't visit me. I avoided expanding my world, because I didn't want to leave behind the one Phil occupied with me. Often I wondered if I was doing this widow thing right.

What would it mean if I laughed? How could I enjoy a party? Why should I be merry? God forbid I should go on a date. In my mind all these things screamed, "Over it!". But there were a few things I didn't know. All the nights of crying myself to sleep, going home alone from a family gathering, grocery shopping solo, climbing into my empty bed, eating by myself in a restaurant, and finding my way in the world of single parenting have taught me that pain is actually an agent of healing. Grief drops us into the burning inferno of shattering loss, and day-by-day the fuel for the fire burns down. Each painful experience is the burning of another piece of timber, until we have lived through one more thing we thought might kill us. And it didn't, again. Bit by painful bit, we blaze through the hurt, the anger, the loss, the fear until we find that we aren't afraid of healing anymore. Because healing doesn't mean forgetting. Instead true recovery from a loss as life altering as this creates embers that light our illumination that only grows brighter with time.

And so the dreaded phrase, "Time heals all wounds," actually does mean something. It just doesn't mean what I thought it meant. I expected that the passing of time would facilitate healing. That each day would be a little less painful than the last. Following this logic, we might even expect to be healed by a certain date. Of course you are all laughing at me right now and telling your computer that I am crazy, because it just doesn't work like that. And you are right, it doesn't. But time gives us the opportunity to burn our personal grief fuel. One experience at a time the timber of grief pops and blazes, and each day we emerge from the fire. Burned perhaps, raw for sure, dazed on occasion...but walking through the smoky haze to begin again tomorrow nonetheless. At the end of each haze filled day it doesn't matter what anyone else thinks about how you heal or when. There is no right way to be a widow. Instead there are just survivors who face the flames of loss armed with the shield of love, and hope for the day when the embers that remain when grief has burned its seemingly endless fuel provide the light through which they see the rest of the world.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

As Promised... Question #19

When did you clean out your husband's closet?
(For our new readers: Over the past several years I have interviewed many widows about their day-to-day life after the loss of their husbands. I asked all of the women I spoke to the same fifty questions, all practical inquiries about everyday life. Many readers have asked me to share my answers to these fifty questions...and since I could hardly say no seeing as the whole thing was my idea...I answer them here at Widow's Voice.)

Cleaning out Phil's closet has been an on-going process. In fact, I don't think I will really be done until I move from this house. But the initial moving of his things began six weeks after he died.

Initially I was comforted by having Phil's things all over our bedroom. Shoes where he left them, laundry in the hamper, watch on the night stand...but within a few weeks these personal items began screaming his absence. When I walked into our room the atmosphere suggested that he would be back any moment, but the reality was starkly different. I began avoiding the place that was once our retreat, our little escape from the rest of the world.

Since I ran my own business at that time, I closed the doors for six weeks while I tried to get my head around the fact that my husband wasn't coming home. As the deadline to go back to work approached, I decided that I needed to transform our room into my room. Harsh as that may sound; I needed to be able to walk into the bedroom without being accosted by loss each and every time. So, I painted, moved the furniture, hung some art, bought girly bedding....and ended up one night sitting cross-legged on the floor, beer in hand, looking into our closet. I sorted, I laughed, I cried, and then I cried some more. I lined up seven cardboard storage boxes against one wall in the room (one for me, and one for each of the kids) and began filling them with items that would mean something to each one.

Each of the girls got one of his sweatshirts. I put a pocket knife from Phil's collection in each of the boys' boxes. Everyone ended up with a hat, a pair of socks, a t-shirt, a pair of crazy boxers, coins, photos, cards from the funeral...a collection of odds and ends that told a story about the man we loved and lost. I took his bike jerseys out and assigned one to each friend. These went into envelopes with notes attached asking each friend to please wear them, use them, celebrate in them. The process was both excruciating, and cathartic. His clothes became gifts, his preferences became memories, and the reality that he wasn't coming back stopped screaming at me every time I walked through my bedroom door.

There are items that never left their spot, most went to a church in Mexico, many went to friends or family, but slowly the closet has morphed into a single woman's closet. You know what that means...I have run out of room for my clothes already.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Shovel Time

I made the choice to go into my office to throw the bundles of trash I have stacked in different places all over the room. One bag had a can of his dip that he left over R&R, bundles of every receipt from when he was here, and the lip gloss I wore when I was able to kiss his lips. I got through many of the boxes which led me to the closet...the closet that has bags of letters. Of course I'm a sucker for torturing myself, and opened the bags.
Letters from the past 3 years. A faint smell of the perfume I'd spay on them, and the envelopes he's write tiny messages on. Reading through them I smiled and laughed, but most of all....cried. Cried for the unfairness and cried for all the letters talking of spending the rest of our lives together. I think we all can relate to that :)
Then I opened the calendar I wrote in while he was there. March 24th, 2007 "Baby surprised me today!":

I remember that day like it was yesterday. I was wearing nothing but a Army sweatshirt, sending over Patriotic Chippendale stripper messages to my friends on MySpace, blasting eighties music. I remember hearing my phone ring and ran to the living room to get it. I grabbed the phone and looked up.....there in the window stood my gorgeous husband in his ACUs. I fell to the ground as he smiled at me. Then he said through the door "Baby, open up!." I unlocked the door and couldn't even breathe so laid behind it on the ground. He said "Hi Baby!" I had NO clue he was coming home for R&R! I jumped up and wrapped my legs around him and I think by that time his family, who had dropped him off, left or got a nice glance at my bare butt ;D I was shaking and he walked to the bedroom to put his bag down. He laid on the bed and smiled at me. I literally had to touch his face for 15 minutes to even believe he was there. I could never touch it enough. I would always tell him when he came home for R&R I would give him a million kisses, I got a pretty good start that very moment :)

We all have that moment that seems too surreal. For me it was that day and also the day I drove up to my house with 2 soldiers waiting. I know we all have these days that bring us back down to our knees. The place we all started when we received the news, a place we all have worked hard at getting back to standing position.

I realized that when I was sobbing I was repeating in my mind, "This too shall pass." So cliché'! But you know what, it did, and I'm still here, Michael's still gone, and we have to keep going. We have to read through those letters to not feel pain from the days passed, but to feel the strength we had when we wrote them, the strength that we may have buried with the pain.

So grab your shovels ladies!! Let's start digging the things we may have 'buried' in hopes of feeling less pain. The holes we create will be the ones we are able to pull ourselves out of when we need to.

There is in every heart a spark of heavenly fire
which lies dormant in the broad daylight of prosperity, but which kindles up and beams and blazes in the dark hour of adversity.

-Washington Irving

Friday, May 15, 2009

On being Pathetic

Sometimes I am quite certain that I am pathetic. Not only am I pathetic, but I am the pathetic-est of all. I am sure that no one anywhere is as petty, jealous or pissed off as I am. I feel like my cat Sophie must feel when she sleeps with her face jammed into her pillow. I don't want to see anyone, I don't want to hear anyone, and I especially don't want to speak to anyone...

This morning I sat down at my computer to work on a chapter in this so-called book that I am writing. This book that, if things go the way they are going, will most likely never get written.

Anyhow I sat down to write and realized that I had two choices. I could write a chapter that made me look good, like a good widow, a smart widow, a competent and gracious widow. In short, an admirable widow.

Or, I could write the truth. I decided on the truth.

This morning I am a pissed off widow, who is tired of walking the solitary walk, who wants someone to help with the damn yard work, (sorry) the plugged toilet and college conversations. I have really had it with this journey.

Yes, yes, I know, I have done a good job and Mike would be proud etc etc etc. But he is not here, and I am, and when my sister visited yesterday, with her two stunning kids in their expensive clothes and her husband who makes more money than God, and they looked like a wonderfully, perfectly balanced family, well, something in me got mad all over again. (And yes, I realize that everybody has their problems...)

I thought I was past this, this pettiness. Usually, I am. I really am, usually, the kind of person who loves and enjoys the successes of others.

But today, I am pathetic. I decided to let myself stay pathetic until 2:00 PM. I figure after 2:00 PM I will be sick enough of myself that I will return to a more desirable state. But for now, I am rolling around in pathetic like a pig rolls in mud. I am exploring all aspects of pathetic-ness. I am allowing myself jealousy, cynicism, and pettiness.

I called up my best friend and asked her if she would join me in pathetic-ness. She said she would love to so we both got to be pathetic together. We tried to out-pathetic one another, a contest of sorts. Who could be the most pathetic? We ended up laughing and I believe it was a tie.

I think I might actually be done being pathetic in a few minutes. I don’t think that I will need until 2:00 PM.

And isn’t that how it always is? What we resist, seems to go on forever.

But when we accept our human-ness, our vulnerabilities, our dark side, and even our pettiness, when we really welcome them in, their power over us is diminished and we become free. In admitting and fully engaging with 'pathetic', rather than making myself feel something more acceptable, I paradoxically become free to celebrate my sister's good fortune.
My head is cleared, and the words that were so blocked in the morning seem to come faster than I can type.

Ahhh, life is again, good.

Mie Elmhirst Widows Breathe

Thursday, May 14, 2009

I can't stop thinking about David. Not that I actually try. But today it's more like he is ALL I'm thinking about. Even when his beauty fills my mind I can't help but feel partial. Like someone tore off my legs and somehow…I’m still living.

I've wondered from day one (of widowhood) how long I’d survive this life. “Time” I no longer understand nor try to comprehend. I can only hope I don't live long enough to forget. If I think for too long about how much I already fail to remember, I panic. Fearing that one day there will be nothing authentic left of David in my consciousness but only a notion of who he once was.

At times, I feel as though all I have are memories. But I cannot allow his passing to be just a memory. JUST A MEMORY... is NOT enough. David is more. I want more for us. I know God didn't bring us together for only memories. How pointless... where would “hope” be in that? No. We were brought together for more... Like David, I too believe there is something bigger to this life than we can see or grasp.

Still... my legs are lost. A man's lost legs are not recaptured... He'd never forget what it was once like to have his legs. A physical part of him that is not longer visible. Forever they would be his legs. David is my pair of legs. He is not a memory... I will not let him be... David is forever a physical part of me... I will never forget what it was like to have my legs. To run with David through life. To jump off clips with faith in hand. To proudly stand next him.

Today, I must remind myself that forgetting David is beyond the bounds of possibility. I can hold on. I still have both arms.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

A Lighter Shade of Grey ....

     Today's post is really for all of the "newer" women who are on this path ...... the one we didn't want to be on, the club we didn't want to join. 
     I was trying to think of what to say to a new friend whose husband died a few months ago.  She is in the middle of what I call the "black".  I am not a veteran in this process, by any stretch of the imagination.  But I can see that I'm slowly moving forward.  And so I wanted to encourage her, and those of you who are in the "black".
     My heart is so heavy for each one of you.  I wish there was something I could say, something I could do to take some of the pain off of you.  But I can't, can I?  All I can do is let you know that I am here (as are the other women on this site) ...... that you are not as alone as you feel (which is horribly, horribly alone) ..... and that the blackness surrounding you will one day ...... I promise ..... turn to a lighter shade of grey.  And when you've realized it has become grey ...... you'll realize that you're stronger than you thought you were, you'll be surprised at how many "after" days are now behind you, and you'll be amazed that you're still here.
     No, you won't like it any better, but it will be a bit easier to breathe.  You'll still hate the "firsts" (which never seem to end) but you'll realize that you've survived too many to count.  
     I don't think you ever "get better", but you can feel better.  I don't think you "move on" .... I think you "move forward" .... one step at a time.  And I don't believe that in moving forward you leave your husband behind.  He's right there with you, cheering on each of those hard-earned footsteps.
     And he will be so happy when the day comes that you realize that you are smiling more ..... and maybe, just maybe, even laughing once in a while.
     That day WILL come.  Just be patient with yourself until then ..... and give yourself permission to grieve in whatever way you need.
     Give yourself a little grace ..... and time.  Take all the time you need to move forward.  Don't let anyone pressure you into being someone or doing something you're not ready for.
Only you will know what is best for you.
     And though I am not a veteran ..... and am not sure I'll ever consider myself one ..... I do promise you that you will one day look up ...... and find that your world has turned to a lighter shade of grey.
     And I imagine that it might just slowly continue to turn lighter.
I'll keep you posted.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Grateful (me, mom, and grandma in the pic)

This past weekend was my fourth Mother's Day without Daniel. The last three have been very difficult for me, and had I had time to think about it, I would have dreaded this one too. Oddly enough I was too busy to think about whether the weekend would be hard or not.

It was hard in a different way this year. I missed him, as I usually do, but it was so much less of a bitter feeling that it surprised me. No pity party this year, no envy of other mom's with adoring husbands to wait on them hand and foot (or not, as the case may be). I wished Daniel could be there to enjoy it and his absence was noticeable as it usually is. I wished he could have spent some quality time with me and with Grayson making me breakfast or whatever they might have done. I missed him of course, but the overall feeling I had for the weekend wasn't bitter or angry or envious, it was grateful. I was grateful to have my wonderful little boy make me a lovely vase in art class and a homemade card. I was grateful for his giant hug, and the yummy fruit salad he made all by himself. I was grateful for the time I spent with my own mom and my friend Patience, just relaxing by the pool and chatting. I was grateful for the time I spent with Daniel's mom and his sister's family - being waited on hand and foot by my fabulous brother-in-law and watching the cousins play in the pool. The list goes on: all of my friends who called, sent text messages, facebook posts, etc. I had a wonderful weekend and felt very loved.

The sadness definitely comes and goes in waves, but apparently this past weekend was on a high tide. I'll just accept it at face value and enjoy it (living in the planner's hat on this head today). The low tide will come again, but even then I will know that I am blessed.

Happy Tuesday! - Michelle D.

Monday, May 11, 2009

My Inner Voice

Decision making has never been difficult for me. If asked to choose between one thing and another I pick one, and stick with my decision. When facing a challenging task I determine a course of action and get moving. When a problem appears unsolvable...I go for a run, and nine times out of ten come back with an answer. And then came widowhood.

One of the most disturbing aspects of widowhood for me was the very new experience of constantly questioning every decision I made. Was I doing this or that right? Should I choose one thing or the other. One minute option A seemed best, the next minute I was more inclined to go with option B. I called people and asked their opinions often...and I let myself be swayed toward their way of thinking regardless of what my gut was telling me. Buy a new fence or fix the old? Sell Phil's truck or keep it? Get a gardener or teach the kids how to mow the lawn? Vacation or no vacation? The list went on and on....making a decision large or small became a monumental effort. I lost confidence in myself, and began to believe that everyone else knew what I needed better than I did. Until one day when a well meaning friend stepped over the line regarding my privacy...and a little voice sounded inside my head...."He did not just do that!" And I realized in one mind blowing moment how much of my daily life I was allowing to be determined by what other people thought, felt, knew, said, or sometimes even ordered. I didn't recognize myself and as they say~I was scared straight.

The truth is our inner voice still speaks while we are grieving, but sometimes we can't hear her over the din created by sorrow. The initial realization that we are no longer a part of a couple often begins an all-consuming tempest inside of us. But at the eye of the storm still rests the core of our being. And that innermost self still knows what we need. When I first became aware that I was abdicating my right to run my own life, I asked myself the question...who are you? I didn't recognize the woman I saw in the mirror, because I allowed her voice to be silenced by grief.

When my inner voice finally spoke, the first thing she told me was that I would be okay. She spoke up when I tried to do too much, and pointed out when I needed a mental health day. When I wanted to quit, she reminded me that quitting wouldn't stop the pain. When I began to hear her again, she helped me choose between going out to dinner with friends or staying home to watch a movie. Myself helped me figure out how to manage the holiday season. She knew instinctively what I needed on the first anniversary of Phil's death, and all the ones that have come after. And she always knows which choice is best for me. Sometimes I ignore her, and when I do I usually pay a price. But she loves me and she is proud of what I have done, and of who I am becoming. Only she knows the effort this has required. Finally I realized that her approval is what I need most. No one knows me better than I know myself. But I only discovered that fact when I was willing to trust my inner voice once again.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Celebrating Moms

Sports practices, music lessons, school meetings, homework, school projects, dinner every night, getting multiple children to different locations at the same start time, crying for daddy, asking where he went, consoling, advising, figuring out what the best solution to the problem is when you only have one opinion to consider....any of this sound familiar? The list of the duties of a single, widowed, mom is so long I haven't even scratched the surface here. Not only is the list very long, but there is not another person with whom you can split the list. Remember those days? You take son here, I will take daughter there. Would you please go into his bedroom...I went in last time he called! What should we do with this problem? What do you mean I am overreacting?! Oh, the things I miss about having a parenting partner.

Widowhood has changed me. And yes, that is the understatement of the year. I am not the woman, or the mother, I was 44 months ago. But as my friend Janine shared with us in another post...I am learning to love the new mom I have become. What is new? I realize that life is short. I count the minutes I have with my kids as precious, and I try to be more present. My 17 year-old daughter climbs into bed with me most nights of the week to recap her day. One boy has taken Phil's name as his confirmation name, a tradition of honor in our religion. My other guy hugs tighter, and longer. We eat dinner together often, even when someone gets home late. We discuss death in very real terms. Once in awhile any one of us may remind the group that life is short. We can imagine life without a person we love, because we have lived it. I think that makes us love each other all the more from day to day. We are bonded in a way we weren't before. I can think of one hundred other ways I would have rather learned these lessons, but we didn't have a choice. And there is a lesson in that as well.

So my friends, Happy Mother's Day. Hug your kids and/or your mom, enjoy the rays of the sun (or the rain drops on your face as the case may be), value the moments you have here on this earth, know that you are not perfect and that imperfection is okay, embrace the woman you are becoming, grasp the lessons of grief as they are the most powerful lessons you will ever learn...but most importantly, congratulate yourself. Each day that we get out of bed and love our children is a successful day. They don't need you to know all the answers, they just need you to hold them tight. YOU are my heroes.

May each mother be richly blessed by her motherhood, and every one of us find value in the blessings that a mother figure has brought to our whatever form they have come.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Help is Better with Self

I believe for me, that a huge part of figuring out one's grief, one most know themselves. Now I know some could say this goes without saying, but after the loss of your soul mate it's difficult finding out who this new you is, or in my case, who this new me is.

It is has been through meeting others in like situations, reflecting on my own thoughts and actions, and lastly, making my self aware of auditory and visual things out there that may help in describing things that may not be able to put into words, that I have grown leaps and bounds.

One such example of the latter would be books. From Lewis to Emerson, it is in those bound pages that I have found that what that ink and paper holds is fare more precious then ever imagined. It was in college that I began reading a book entitled, "The Myth of Tomorrow" by Leo Buscaglia. After concluding the last chapter I realized the strength, power, and changes that I was allowing the words to have on me. I read things I had never pondered, things that stretched my thoughts and emotions to a new plain....and I loved it.

Miguel Ruiz explained in "The Four Agreements" that it is words that can either be the poison or tonic that determines our moods, thoughts, actions, etc. Anybody can read a paper, but we are the ones who determine what will impact us. We hold the pillar tp what will light our way.

It is because of that, that I am proud to say I happily stand in the "Self Help" book section! I love it there! I especially fancy the used book stores where there is a plethora of spines staring at you. I go into the section with no certain book or author in mind. Whether it's the title or decor, I'll pull out only a few, and usually in that mix, will find a book to take home. It is because I have no preconceived notion or background on what I will read that my mind is more open to soaking in the words or inspiration or knowledge that will help me on this lifetime journey we are all on.

Now you must excuse me, as I have a couple hardbacks calling me to the bedroom.....

The worth of a book is to be measured by what you can carry away from it.
~James Bryce

Friday, May 8, 2009

Widows and Dating (Only for those who are ready to think about it...)

Dear Wonderful Widows,

Last night was the first evening of this months ‘Widows Dating Again Class’. It was fun and I know we all learned a lot.

What struck me after the class was how truly vulnerable widows are. I don’t mean that we are vulnerable to unscrupulous men.

We are vulnerable to our own need to connect, to touch, to be touched, and to our desire to rid ourselves of the devastating loneliness of loss.

It we expected our husband to die or if he died suddenly, the loneliness of loss is always sudden. There is no way to prepare for being alone and no way to anticipate and prepare for the unremitting loneliness that follows. It is this loneliness that makes widowhood so long and so arduous. And it is this loneliness that has us make mistakes.

Eight years ago, this loneliness hit me like it hits all widows, like a tsunami. It was an emotional, physical and spiritual loneliness.

Emotionally, I craved connection with someone who could hear me; I craved understanding and I craved loving someone and being loved.

Spiritually, I temporarily lost my sense of connection with God, making day-to-day life even more rigorous. No matter what I tried, I could not MAKE that connection happen. I was lonely for God.

Physically I craved skin-to-skin contact. Touch. The touch of a man. Sex! I yearned for the connection that happened when Mike and I made love, and I (ridiculously) thought that I could have it with someone I did not love.

Can I admit here that I made mistakes without going into detail? I hope so. Let me just say that in my drive to rid myself of loneliness, I met a wonderful man who was just not for me.

Many of you will make similar mistakes. A great deal of the discussion last night was about safety. It was about emotional safety as well as physical and spiritual safety. (Spiritual safety I define as making decisions in your life that will not mess with your own connection with your Higher Power.)

Widowhood is the time to include others in your decisions, especially decisions around relationships. Include girlfriends in your life. Tell all to those women who will not judge, but rather will give their honest and compassionate opinion when asked. Ask for help.

We need our friends who are our allies to know what we are up to so that we don’t make mistakes that are too big. I appreciate the people in my life who, when I ask them, tell me exactly what they think, even if I might not like it. I need these people, even if sometimes I get mad at them. You need them too.

Much Love, Mie Elmhirst Widows Breathe Coaching

Thursday, May 7, 2009


Indifferent: Lack of feeling. Being neither too much nor too little. Neither good nor bad. Neither right nor wrong.

Journal entry this week: I wish I was upset, but I'm not. I wish I felt sad, but I don't. Depressed?...don't think so. I want to cry, but I can't. Scream... but I won't. I feel so out of place. Maybe this is it. I've finally snapped. I lost it to the point where I feel nothing. No ache. No agony. No burn. No malaise. Might this be the calm before the ruthless storm blindsides me once more? Or the end to my most vivid nightmare? The silence is eerie... unsettling... yet, not out of place. Still, this is wrong... I feel neither torture nor exuberance. Where's my drive? Motivation? Passion? Is there any of that left within me?

Purgatory. Emotional purgatory... that's what this is. As much as I want to feel something... I'm can't. No pain, no energy... no David.

"Indifferent," WSM said. She was right. What I felt... what I feel now is indifferent. But how is that possible? How can one ever feel indifferent after spreading the ashes of their soul mate over the ocean, writing their eulogy, or planning their memorial? Indifferent? Seriously?

I've become what I swore I couldn't. Accustomed. I'm used to not waking up to David sliding my body across the bed and closer to him, used to not hearing his voice call my name, used to not seeing him walk through the door and take off his sunglasses... I am used to waking up, taking out the trash, cooking, and watching a movie... without him. I'm even used to seeing his name on websites, engraved on stone, and on a memorial. I can bare it all... and even that doesn't hurt to say out loud anymore.

What has become of me? Who I was, I vaguely remember. Who I am, I'm figuring out. This sense of indifference might be a coping strategy of mine... my body's safety switch. I don't know. But what I do know is this "absence of feeling," like most of my mental journeys, won't last forever. For now, it's possibly what I needed. This chapter is only temporary, maybe even brief... but a juncture for what's to come nonetheless. And so I wait and hope that what's to come will be better than indifference.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Sometimes I talk to him ....

     Yes ..... sometimes I talk to Jim.  This is a new experience for me.  I've been a widow for over 16 months and I've never really "talked" to him .... until recently.
     I couldn't do it before.  I couldn't believe that he could see and hear me.  After all, I have no doubt that he is in Heaven .... no doubt at all.  And I have no doubt that there are no tears .... or sadness in Heaven.  And so I believed that there was no way he could see or hear me ...... or he would be terribly, terribly sad.
He would hate to see what his death has done to me.
And so I couldn't talk to him.

     But this has started to change in the last month.  I'm not entirely sure why .... though I believe one reason is that I am feeling "better".  I decided last month to go back on my anti-depressants that I first went on a month after he died.  That story is a whole 'nother blog post for a whole 'nother day.
     But .... I did go back on them .... and I am glad.  I can tell a huge difference.  And somehow ... in that difference .... I have started talking to him.  
I now talk to him at different times in the day .... mainly in the car when I have some time to be quiet and reflect on things.  I tell him what's going on and what the kids are up to.  I tell him that I wish he were here to give me his opinion on things, but I'm not sad.  I feel a bit more relaxed talking to him ..... pouring out my day to him.
     I'm still not sure what I believe about him being able to hear me.  I'd like to believe that he can.  I'd like to believe that he's here .... with me and with each of our six children .... as a sort of "guardian angel".  That's what I'd like to believe.  But if pushed to answer if I really believe that .... I'm not sure what I'd say.  So I choose to not dwell too much on what is, or is not, possible ... and I talk.
Because talking to him makes me feel better now.
It didn't always ...... but it does now.
I know some women have talked to their husbands from day one.  I envied them when I couldn't do that.  
But now I'm one of them.
And I'm glad.
I know that he is very proud of the kids .... and of me.  I don't think he's surprised at how much we've accomplished and how far we've come.  He always had much more faith in me than I had in myself.  He was my number 1 cheerleader.  
And I think he still is.

I still miss him more than I can say ..... and would give anything to have him back.
But that is not a choice.  And so I move forward.
And I talk to him.

I hope that I always will .......
..... until the day that I see him again, face to face.
And I know that we will have SO much to talk about that day.
I look forward to it ..... probably more than he does.
Because he knows that on that day .... I will talk his ears off.
Hopefully he's enjoying the peace ..... while he can.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The Roadless Traveler

I woke up Sunday morning, made the coffee, walked out on the back porch and listened to the birds. It was so peaceful outside and for about 30 seconds I enjoyed it. My brain wouldn't be quiet though and the peaceful moment disappeared. I was feeling very anxious, melancholy, and uncertain, but couldn't pinpoint the cause.

I tried to quiet my mind and just be, but it wasn't cooperating, and the question that kept running through my mind was "where are you going?". At first I sort of listed to myself the activities of the day, checked off the plans for the week etc. My mind responded "where are you going?" Obviously my quick list of upcoming activities was the incorrect response: "where are you going?" I sat and thought about it on a larger scale. The only answer I could come up with was "I have no freakin idea." End of conversation with unruly and annoying inner voice.

I consulted my local oracle (Facebook) and ultimately came up with a scheme to open a bar/fishing guide service/archaeologists hang out in Belize with a few friends who also have no freakin idea. It was entertaining, but the thought stayed with me. Honestly, I am a planner for work. I plan everything, my life is a model of structure on a daily basis (being a single parent requires it). I've always had a 5-year, 10-year, 20-year plan until 3 and a half years ago. It was then that I began to plan on a day by day basis. As time has passed, I've become more able to see the road ahead and can plan 3 to 6 months ahead (Jimmy Buffet in October anyone?), but that is the extent of it. If I sit and think about it, it stresses me out. How can I have no plan? What the heck am I doing? Really, where am I going?

I'm not very good at living completely in the moment, and that is what my life lessons are trying to teach me. Living in the moment is really all we have. I can have a 10 year plan, a 20 year plan, a plan for every minute of the day, but the fact remains that my plans are an excercise in optimism. I've already learned the hard way that my plans don't always work the way I have envisioned. You'd think I'd have that particular lesson tattooed on my forehead by now. So for now, I've given up plans. If it were Lent, I'd formalize this process. For the time being I'll just tell my friends. I'm giving up planning (okay, I'll still plan parties and vacations).

I don't know what is going to happen in the future and I'm going to try my hardest to truly enjoy the present. I always say that my vacations start when I begin to pack, it isn't the destination, it's the journey. I'm going to try to apply it to my everyday life too. Do me a favor, if you see me with my planner's hat on, knock it off.

Happy Tuesday! -- Michelle D.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Whose Life Is This?

The last couple of weeks have consisted of a whirlwind of new experiences, new people, new opportunities, and new challenges. Generally, I drop into bed exhausted and with little time to reflect due to my constant need to plan for the next day...not a new problem for me. When I do stop to look at the path my life has taken over the last 44 months, I sometimes find myself wondering whose life I am leading. How did I get to this place? In what universe did I ever see myself speaking to rooms full of people about loss, grief and recovery? And where is Phil? Oh yes, he is dead.

And that is the one fact that centers me, odd as that may sound. Knowing that the best way to honor my love for Phil is to live the fullest life I can pushes me to do things I wouldn't have attempted before. The certainty that meeting other widows changed my life provides motivation to spread the word about the work my foundation does. Having the honor of hearing other people's stories of love and loss provides the on-going desire to create a community that people who have lost a spouse can call home. Because death has changed our defintion of home, and we have to find a different safe place. I have watched what happens when random strangers share the common bond of loss, and I am always astounded by the results of these meetings. Watching this kind of interaction is like viewing hope dawn like the sun--to be understood is priceless.

So even though I don't always recognize the path my life has taken, I am not afraid of the unknown destination. Having been led through the darkest days of my life by a loving God, an awesome family, and amazing friends who provided every single thing I needed along the way...I walk forward with confidence. And knowing that the love Phil and I shared is possible, I look toward tomorrow's sunrise with hope in my heart. My life with Phil opened many exciting doors, and my life in honor of Phil will open many, many more.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Innocence and Storytelling

This is my four year-old nephew Ethan posing
with his beloved cousin Caitlin. Yesterday we celebrated several family events with a day at the park. In a quiet moment Ethan and I had a conversation that went like this....

E: Auntie Neechelle, where is your husband?
M: Well E, my husband was your Uncle Phil and he died when you were just a baby. You might not remember him, but here is a picture of him. (I show a photo)
E: Was he sick?
M: (deep breath) Noooo....he was hit by a car. Remember how your mom tells you to look both ways when crossing the street? She does that because sometimes cars hit people and when that happens they might be hurt so badly that they die.
E: (thoughtfully) That is not good.

We sat for a minute after this last statement. He searched his memory banks for visions of Phil (who died the day before Ethan's first birthday) while I marveled at how much time has passed since Phil's death and how far we have all it or not. Life marches on, children grow, milestones come and go, the sun rises and sets, and the seasons follow one after another. Grief follows suit by marching on, growing, coming and going, rising and setting and flowing from one season to the next as well.

You never "get over" losing someone you love, thank God. Instead the season changes, and grief takes on a new face. Our loses lead to unexpected gains; tears cleanse, pain bears fruit, and somehow we learn to lift our faces to the sun once more.

Ethan's little voice reminded me today that Phil is a part of our family history. We will tell tales of his silly antics, his sly side remarks, his holiday dancing, his life, and yes his death, for the rest of our lives...I am so grateful for that.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

The Fire

The other night I was excited to be watching a new episode of "Grey's Anatomy". As odd as it sounds, I always know something in the show will make me tear up, whether I can relate to it or not. It's almost like watching "Extreme Home Makeovers"....I always end up crying at the reveal.

Well this episode of "Grey's" was no exception, and I sat on my couch in my quiet living room with a few tears streaming down my face. It was not a water works show at Sea world, but enough to make me wipe my cheek.

At that moment I thought of the beginning of my journey without Michael. I remember screaming out loud, pounding my fists on the counters and just sobbing uncontrollably. It was the polar opposite of how I was this evening, with the silence as my companion and the warm droplets making their exits from my eyes.

It was through comparing these two moments that I realized how grief is so much like fire;
in the beginning our grief was an intense flickering blaze, but now, even though the flames have gone down, we still may get burnt by the embers.

I know this is a far distance from McSteamy, but I find solace in the smallest of my own self realization, for even when it may not always seem the brightest or happiest, it let's me know I am viewing the growth that underlines it all.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Wonderful Widows, What are you choosing?

Dear Wonderful Widow.

For the next 3 weekends, three performances per weekend, Anneke, my 15 year-old, will be playing the part of Wendy Darling in Peter Pan. Anneke is afraid of heights. Flying across the stage requires that she put a great deal of trust in the backstage crew who orchestrate her flying. This is not easy for her. Anneke has chosen to face her fear of heights in order to be able to do what she loves. Anneke is an actress.

We who are widows also make choices, many choices.

Remember when your friends said to you, “I don’t know how you do it?” (show up, be a mother, make dinner, go to work, breathe…)

And you thought to yourself, “What choice do I have?”

I am not comparing being Wendy Darling to widowhood. But like Anneke, we choose to show up. You might think you don’t have a choice, but you do. Every time you make dinner, check homework, every time you get out of bed, you are choosing.

We choose to show up, or we choose to shut down.

Around seven months after Mike died, I almost chose to shut down. I thought I was losing my mind. I felt on the edge of a precipice, and at any moment I might step over the edge and quit. Never in my life had I felt so close to insanity. I called my sister in Connecticut and asked her, if need be, would she take care Anneke on a temporary basis?

Daily I faced the choice of continuing or quitting. Thankfully, I did not end up needing my sister’s help. I chose to show up and gradually, very gradually, the choice between continuing and quitting became unnecessary as I began to recover for real. But I learned the meaning of deep fear and powerlessness and I stand in judgment of no one who chooses differently than I.

Yes, we do choose. Every widow who chooses to stay in reality and face her circumstances is a hero in every sense of the word. The choice is not always easy. But it is a choice.

Much Love to all of you Courageous Widows.

Mie Elmhirst, Widows Breathe Coaching