Friday, October 30, 2009

Insert Soul Mate

After traveling the last 18 hours, I have arrived home! Ireland was amazing and lived up to all of my dreams and expectations (though I had set none). From Cork to the Wicklow mountains, I compiled a dictionaries worth of memories.

With each new locale I'm blessed enough to see, I capture some of the best shots through the lens of my camera that Michael bought me while serving in Iraq. It's my dream Canon, and with it I've frozen some of my most beloved moments in time. When Michael died it began to gather dust. Taking photos brought me so much pleasure, and due to the "woe is me" attitude I had in the beginning, I wanted to enjoy nothing....even that which Michael knew brought me happiness. It's a selfish act that still tries to creep in at dark times.

It would be months later that I took it out. The first shots were in a National Cemetary. Slowly, I eased into other things, and when I began to travel it would be all of the sights before me. Shot by shot a slight void was filled, a passion rekindled.

One thing I have done through the glass shutter is bring a picture of Michael with me and take a photo of it in a spot I know he'd have loved to see with me. Afterward, I place it in a spot to stay forever, a way for me to leave a part of him, as I know I do with locations that I never dreamed to behold

Above is a photo in Finisterra, Spain after my 16 day trek. This past week I found two of the most amazing spots to cross my range of vision, Michael is there too. As it makes no better sense, since through him I have seen what true beauty is in this world. Not only did he give me the camera to capture so many moments, but the heart and eyes to perceive it.

Often while traveling with a camera we arrive just as the sun slips over the horizon of a moment, too late to expose film, only time enough to expose our hearts.
~Minor White

growing up

In the first days after being widowed, I was much like a young child. Oblivious to the world around me. Completely in my own little realm - though not one of wonder but of grief and fear. My existence was confusing. I didn’t understand what had happened. I relied on others to care for me. To make sure I was fed, clothed, and essentially, breathing.
As those fuzzy and half-remembered early days passed, I began to realize that there were others out there. Other widows. Other people who had endured various other forms of terror and grief. And these people amazed me. I was in awe of them.
Even if they had been widowed a few days, weeks or months earlier than I had, I saw them as veterans. I looked up to them, much as a ‘tween’ looks up to a teenager. I thought they knew it all. Had mastered all their grief and easily morphed into their new lives. But I was bumbling and dorky child-widow.
But now, when I meet other ‘younger widows’, I realize that some of them are looking to me for confirmation that they too will make it. That one day will pass into the next and they will still be standing as the widows before us are. That as they watch my journey, they can see that they will have a journey and they too will learn and grow from it.
But, so very often, as I stare at myself in the ‘mirror’, I think, “Who me? Really, we are all just groping in the dark. I am no more wise than you.” I feel like everyone else has more of a handle on all of this stuff than I do.
Other, more rare times, I am able to give myself more credit. “Yup, I am entering widow teenage hood. I am wiser than I was as a child widow. I am pimply and awkward and don't know it all, but I have a grasp on a few things. And if my growth and vertical position gives you the hope and strength you need, I understand. And I can tell you, I know you can make it at least this far."
One day, a child widow will look to you for confirmation that they will be able to smile, even briefly, again one day. And they will be grateful that you have gone before them and the hope that you provide as an 'adult widow'.

Thursday, October 29, 2009


some of us

were talking

about madeline’s long fingers.

someone suggested

that she should be a

piano player.

i said,

“just like her momma”

and then i realized…

i was in love with liz

for over

12 years

and i never

saw her play the piano.

and that made me sad.

then i got to thinking

about the other stuff

we never did.

we never skied together.

we never made it to egypt.

we never went on that african safari.

we never made it dubai.

(she really wanted to see those crazy human-made islands)

we never got one of those

cheesy family portraits

(you know what i’m talking about…the three of us all wearing the same all-denim outfits).

but really,

those are the only



Wednesday, October 28, 2009

I Can't Make Up My Mind .... Part 2

This is Jim with Son #1 and Son #2 (Son #3 was 2 years down the road):

Last week I wrote about my sons and the likeness each one has of Jim. I mentioned that I have let the boys go through Jim's clothes.
Well, I've decided that I can't make up my mind about that, either.

I want Jim's clothes to do more than just sit in a closet. I think.
I want the boys to be able to have something of their dad's and to be able to wear some of his clothes. I think.
I like seeing the boys wearing Jim's clothes and bringing back memories of him. I think.

Sometimes I like these things.
Sometimes .... not so much.

Sometimes I feel angry that he's not here to wear them.
Sometimes I feel resentful that his clothes can be worn so easily.
Sometimes I feel like taking every item back and boxing them all up securely.

But not all of the time.

I miss him.
I miss him wearing these items and this not being an issue.
I miss being a mom who never had to think about things like this.
I miss our life "before".

And so I can't make up my mind.
Do I want the boys to take his clothes or not?
At the end of the day, when all is said and done .... I guess I would have to say, "Yes. Mostly."
I don't want Jim's clothes to just lie around collecting dust.
I do want the boys to have things of their Dad's that mean something to them.

And I do want the memories of Jim wearing those clothes. I do want to remember my "before" life and I want to cherish those memories. If the clothes just sit in a box then they can't bring back those warm memories.

And so I have to make up my mind. Again.
And decide I'm going to be OK with this.
Even on those days when I am not.
Especially on those days when I am not.

Do you ever have days like that?
Or am I totally crazy?
I don't know.
I can't make up my mind.


Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Always Look on the Bright Side of Life...

So here I sit, 7 days til the anniversary. I am absolutely beyond swamped at work (could I have more meetings and more documents to review??) and overwhelmed with personal commitments as well - a funeral (no, they never stop, and they are always sad), two evening meetings, basketball, Halloween parties, homework, and that is just to get me to Friday. Calgon, take me away!

I was talking to Michele about it today and how it is such a terrible time for me to be so busy. Emotionally I'm a little unpredictable. Some minutes I'm fine, and then a wave hits me. I realize that 4 years ago this very minute....whatever, fill in the blank. On the other hand, perhaps it's a blessing to be so busy. I can be sad for 5 minutes, but that is all the time I have available. No, so sorry, no time for grief and remembrance'll have to check with my blackberry and make an appointment.

On the other side of it is the fact that my life moves merrily forward with or without my permission. With or without the corresponding appointment in my blackberry. I am working, driving, playing, cooking, smiling, laughing, crying, all of the stuff that we do when we are alive. Life happens - haven't I seen that on a bumper sticker before? I always thought it was a joke about procreation! Kidding, I do get it though. Even when you're not paying attention, life is happening all around you.

Case in point - the little boy in the picture above. His life is just unfolding, his options are unlimited, and his joy is a lesson to me. On a lot of levels my life too is unfolding. My options, though - let's face it - not unlimited, are pretty open. My joy? My joy is in transition. My joy has been convalescing and if I'm honest, it's not really up and moving around just yet. But I can feel it stirring occasionally, if only for the briefest of moments. Maybe it will stretch it's legs soon and make a comeback. I'll keep you posted.

In the meantime, seven more days til I can stop the countdown. I'll play golf on that seventh day and drink a jack and coke for Daniel. I'll find some joy in that for sure.

Happy Tuesday - Michelle D.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Ready or Not?

I loved being married. Knowing that I shared a commitment with my husband to face life together, come what may, was a daily comfort to me. I didn't miss dating; I didn't long for freedom; I didn't feel limited; I didn't fear slipping into complacency. Looking back, I even miss the hard work that was required to create a harmonious union. Phil and I weren't the picture of married perfection, but even our imperfections were unique to us, and I miss those too (well, sometimes).

When I began another relationship I was more terrified than eager. My boyfriend Michael lives in Australia, and for the first year that was a very good thing. There was a continuous battle going on between my head and my heart as our relationship began to unfold. My heart wanted what you see in this picture of Michael and I, a place to rest. My head called me a traitor. My heart yearned to give and receive love and devotion, while my head screamed, "This one might die too!" I longed to be gently held, to discuss the day in hushed voices before drifting off to sleep, to reach out in the night and not find a cold, empty space beside me. I wanted to have a date for dinner parties, share the household duties, feel the need to hurry home because someone was there waiting for me, get a checking in call on my cell phone in the middle of the day, have a person to call when I forgot to pick up the bread at the store, and to know that there was one person in the world who chose to put me first in his life because he loved me that much.

After the initial fog of grief lifted (sorry, I can't tell you when exactly), I was able to clearly articulate what I wanted from a new relationship. But being willing to risk loving again took me a much longer time. The idea of loving and losing again would immediately accelerate my breathing. The thought of someone who knew Phil seeing me with another man would begin a chorus of voices in my head asking question after question about my devotion to him: what would seeing another man mean, what would people think, and how long should I wait? Though I knew what I wanted from the life I was left to lead without Phil, I stumbled repeatedly over roadblocks I built for myself.

The war between heart and head became very clear one December day last year. Michael was visiting for his first extended stay and we were walking across a street I'd crossed with Phil countless times. Michael reached out to take my hand and I pulled away. He continued walking for a few minutes, and then asked whether I might be more comfortable if we walked on opposite sides of the street. His tone was even, his demeanor calm, and I could see him processing my internal tumult and wondering if I was struggling with an emotional time bomb. In that moment I realized that I was choosing death over life. I was standing in the middle of a street with a man who loved me, and was willing to fly all the way across the world to be with me...but I couldn't hold his hand for fear that anyone who saw me would think that my love for Phil was a thing of the past.

I wish I could tell you that this one moment was the end of my struggle to give myself completely to my new relationship, but leaving behind the fears and wounds caused by Phil's death continues to be a daily challenge. Slowly I have learned that the only thing stopping me from having a full life with a man who loves me is the roadblocks I have built for myself. The voices in my head have proven to be wrong on many counts, and I am getting better at silencing them. The judgements I imagine, rarely exist, and even when they do I am able to recognize that no one else has walked in my shoes. I am the only one who can make choices for me and for my kids. Eventually I have to trust my heart, and tell my head that the battle is over.

Love has healed my heart in many unexpected ways, but the scar of loss remains. Loving Michael doesn't mean I don't miss Phil. Being mostly happy doesn't remove the sting of Phil's absence. Deathiversaries are still down days, and each passed birthday a reminder that I am getting older while Phil is still the beautiful Superman of my dreams. Ironically, allowing myself to love again means I no longer live all of this sadness alone. Michael and Phil are linked by their love for me, and one thing that assures me that I have made the right choice is the fact that Michael would be the first one to tell you that.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

50 Days Before His Death

February 18, 209
Happy Birthday to Art
58 Days Before His Death

Art's Birthday Bash
February 18, 2009

for making it a great day!!!!!!!
Posted by Picasa

Gifts the kids gave Art thought up by themselves!
Pallas: A scale, so "Daddy can see how much weight he's gaining."
Langston: A workout video so "Dad can exercise while he's resting."
Ezra: 2 10lb. weights. "Cause his other weights are too light and these will make him strong."


February 24, 2009
My seven year old cuts his father's hair
52 Day Before His Death


February 25, 2009
51 Days Before His Death

The plan is two more rounds of chemo, then a stem cell transplant. The transplanted stem cells will come from a donor. (become a donor and SAVE SOMEONE LIFE!!!!!)

Two more rounds.

Two more stupid rounds of those stupid drugs that alternatively save his life and kill him.

Round 1 (of 2) starts again tomorrow. Then 21 days later, again, on March 19, we go again.

There's a whole lot of love and stuff in those 21 days!

Retuxin (yes I know about the dangers of this drug. Do NOT email me with an article. We have made our decision. Thank you.)

R.I.C.E for short.

Y.F.K.M (Your Fucking Kidding Me!) for long

These posts are from February 2009, all within 50 days of his death and my second beginning.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

My Other Car is a Porsche

**Taryn is traveling Ireland this week (lucky girl) and will be back with us next week. Filling in for her this week is guest author Wendy Diez. Thank you Wendy!**

Wendy Diez lost her husband, Chris, on January 13, 2009, to Glioblastoma Multiforme, a very aggressive type of brain tumor. He was diagnosed when Wendy was 9 months pregnant with their second child. Chris lived only 22 days after diagnosis and died when their daughter, Claire, was 10 days old and their son, Ian, was 17 months old. Wendy and her children live in Chicago where she owns a very nice Toyota Sienna mini-van.

You know those bumper stickers that say things like, “My Other Car is a Porsche?” The implication is that the driver isn’t quite satisfied with their real car and that they have a much nicer one parked at home. I can appreciate this sentiment.

My “other car” is my other life—the one I was supposed to be living right now complete with a doting husband. This car is a real beauty and comes with premium features like Chris’s presence at every holiday, birthday, graduation and wedding. My favorite quality about this car though, is all the miles it has logged simply doing everyday things. Things like raising two small children together as a team, enjoying date nights, taking strolls around the neighborhood, helping with homework, spoiling daddy’s little girl and teaching a boy how to throw the perfect pitch.

This “other car” of mine is parked safely in my mental garage but I take it out for a spin at least once a day. I take it for a drive when I start to panic over the fact that every childrearing responsibility, whether it be a diaper change or a discipline strategy, is ultimately mine and mine alone. Regardless of how much help I have (and I do have a lot), the buck stops with me and that is frankly overwhelming. So, I go driving. And when I do, I replay events that have happened and cast Chris in the role of loving husband and father. Sometimes, this makes me feel better. Other times, I have to park the car back in the garage lest I be tempted to crawl into bed and cry the day away.

The truth is that my “real car” isn’t nearly as satisfying to drive around as my “other car”. But the surprise I have discovered on my widow journey is that my “real car” does bring me joy. I am able to laugh at some jokes, find the silly things my kids do funny, and enjoy my relationships with family and friends. I will always cherish my “other car” and take it out when needed. But I will also get regular oil changes and tune-ups for my “real car” so that it continues to be one that Chris would have been proud to drive.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Not Feeling It

There are many days, weeks and months that the grief that was born after Jeff's death has crippled me. Days that no matter what I do, the sadness and loss steal over me and infect every thought and movement with pain. Weeks where I can feel nothing but the ache that has accompanied this journey and months in which the sorrow manages to reek despite all my attempts to banish it.
But I also have days where I am stuck, floating, unsure of any feeling at all. I know the pain lurks somewhere below. I am aware that I am hurting and broken. But I am unable to feel.
When the topic of Jeff's death comes up for the millionth time to some stranger, I rattle off the 'statistics' of his death with stoic, eery calm. Often, the listener is in tears as I stare at them with the eyes of an emotionless observer - head cocked and wonder why they are so sad. I am a Vulcan.
For some reason unknown to me the painful stabs of loss don't slice away at my heart at these times. I feel like an automaton moving and functioning but without a heart. I wonder if something is 'wrong' with me. I worry that people will mistake my bland and expressionless face for uncaring. I feel guilt for not feeling.

Is this a 'normal' part of grief? Do others have these moments where pain, and happiness, escape them? Is this is way to give my heart a rest? I'm not sure.

I do I know that I relish and abhor these moments simultaneously. To not have to hurt is bliss. But to not be able to feel sucks.

Who would ever think that I would wish for pain?

Thursday, October 22, 2009

what happened...

i’ve been hearing

that question

a lot.


for those of you

who don’t know

here goes…

5 weeks of bedrest.

(2 at home, 3 in the hospital).

liz had low amniotic fluid.

baby had her cord around her neck.

baby’s heart rate dropped

(multiple times).

liz almost delivered

(multiple times).

the day finally came


madeline was born via c-section.

everyone was happy

and healthy.

liz was told

to hang out in bed

for another 24 hours

and then she was going to

see madeline.

she waited patiently

hearing stories

and seeing photos

of me

feeding and changing

madeline’s diapers.

(she was soooo jealous and i teased her mercilessly that i was 1, 2, 3 diapers ahead of her and that she had to catch up).

24 hours came

and she got ready

to lay her hands

on madeline

for the very



she got up from bed

(with the help of some nurses and me).

we joked about her new-found independence.

i told her that she

had to start waiting on me

because i’d been waiting on her

for 5 weeks.

she laughed,

and said,

“of course.”

she walked to the mirror

and said,

“my hair looks like shit.”

we all laughed

(because her hair looked great, especially for someone who’d been on bed rest for 5 weeks).

the nurse said,

“are you ready to go?”

she said,


her excitement

was overflowing.

she turned around

to sit in her wheelchair

for her ride to see


she said,

“i feel lightheaded”

and then she passed out.

we got her in to

her hospital bed.

doctors and nurses

rushed to help her.

but nothing could be done

to bring her


no one to blame.

shitty luck


a pulmonary embolism

are what led us to

the saddest,

most horrific moment

of my life.

(and many other people’s lives).

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

I Can't Make Up My Mind .... Part 1

(though we didn't know it, this was to be our last full family picture -- a year before Jim's death)

.... I really can't. Not about everything, but by a couple of kind of big things, one of which I have no control over whatsoever: my sons and their similarities with their Dad.

Son #1 is so much like Jim that it amuses, stuns and stops me cold sometimes. I find more humor in it than sadness, but there's still the sadness. He has the same dry sense of wit that Jim had. He has some of the same mannerisms and some of the same wonderful qualities. He also has some of the same qualities that used to irk me (don't you love that word .... "irk"?).
So I can't make up my mind some days ..... is this a good thing, or a sad thing?
The truth is ..... it's a very good thing ....... even on the sad days.

Son #2 looks like Jim. So much so that it sometimes takes my breath away. Some days I can't make up my mind on that, either.
He also has the same eclectic taste in music. He, much to my chagrin when I'm riding in his car, likes about every kind of music there is .... from screaming to 40's.
Jim used to love to harass the kids with his music on long car trips. Especially with zydeco music. Or bad country music.
Son #2 loves to do the same thing .... especially to me.
I can't make up my mind.

Son #3 has Jim's quietness and surprisingly wicked sense of humor, which comes out when you least expect it.
He has the same love for a sport that Jim had (though the sports are different). He has the same drive for his future and the same ability to be patient when it comes to spending money. He also has the ability to pick a stock and just wait .... and watch it.

Each one of my sons has the ability (unbeknownst to them) to make me smile.
They each make me smile in remembrance of their Dad and yet each can make me cry from that, too.
Some days it fills my broken heart with a little bit of healing to see so much of Jim in them.
Some days it seems to break my heart more with the loss of him.

So while I might not be able to make my mind up EVERY day ..... I would say that most days, most, I love seeing Jim when I see them.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Value of a Friend (part One Million and One...)

These are the faces of a few of the women who celebrated 40 with me in Vegas... interestingly enough, all of them had read last week's blog and were still brave enough to go! Thanks guys! I'm not usually as black as last week, and I think I stirred up a few worries with that post. It is what it is, and most of the people in my life get it, or at least want to. I am very blessed.

I've been asked over the past few years about "how do I help my friend" issues regarding grief and loss. I guess if you've experienced it, people think you'll know how to help someone else. It's true, I do have a good idea of the things not to do (don't tell a widow that you know she'll find someone and be happy again at the funeral....). But what to do? I'm still at a loss in some ways too. Being there is the best way to help.

Checking in
Doing something thoughtful without asking first
Understanding how hard it is to move forward and being there to jump off the curbs
Going with them to Vegas even when it sounds like they might be a downer... ;)
Jumping on a plane on a moments notice because you just "should be there"
Remembering the days that are hard and being willing to be there anyway
Celebrating the smallest accomplishments (dishwasher repair for instance :)

Those are the things that friends do. I have great friends.

Soooo, we survived the trip and it was a blast! What a great group of women to spend three rather inebriated days with! You know what they say, what happens in Vegas gets posted on facebook...

Happy Tuesday! - Michelle D.

Monday, October 19, 2009


When I meet people for the first time I feel like I am keeping a secret from them. Looking at me, they would never guess what I am hiding. I can carry on an intelligent and interesting conversation without revealing the circumstance of which my new acquaintance is unaware. Depending on who they are I may even artfully dodge inquiries that would lead to the revelation of the unknown thing. I have become very good at changing the subject, saving people from embarrassing moments, and steering conversations onto safe territory.

At a recent dinner party I found myself in the uncomfortable position of answering THE question to a table of eight unsuspecting folks while we were all eating...

Guest: "So, what do you do?"
Me: "I am the director of a non-profit organization." (see how I try to give them an out?)
Guest: "Really, that is great. What kind of organization?"
Me: (tap dancing a little) "We support people grieving the loss of someone they love."
Guest: "Oh. Wow. That must be, um, rewarding."
Me: "Yes, it really is." (here I try to move the conversation to another topic, but no go.)
Guest: "Well, how did you get into this kind of work?"

**Sometimes I want to shake my head and say, you don't really want to know. But because they ask, and because I am not afraid to discuss any part of death and dying, I just take a deep breath and answer them.

Me: "My husband died in an accident four years ago."
Guest: "Oh God, I am so sorry."
Me: "Thank you. My husband's death has taken me to places I would never have imagined. The work we do to create a support network all over the country has been an amazing gift."
Guest: "That is nice."

Whole table: Awkward silence and lots of chewing noises. The silence goes on until I change the subject.

I can't count how many times the above scenario has been played out, with minor variations, over the past four years. Because I don't look like a widow, right? Nothing about my external features prepares people for the shock of my marital status. The funny thing is that I often feel sorry for people who ask me an innocent question not realizing that I am about to hand them a hot potato. My husband is dead. (Toss the hot potato) Should a person hold onto the burning spud? Throw it back to me? Run for the hills tossing the hot little veggie over their shoulder as they go? And all the while they feel terrible, uncomfortable, helpless, and just plain awkward.

Initially this awkwardness made me angry. Why couldn't people treat me like a human being who was in pain? Why must they make things worse by looking at me like I just announced that I was born with two heads and was hiding one under my coat? How nice that this person I didn't even know has the luxury of turning a blind eye to the fact that death happens?

After a couple of years I became tired. I was exhausted from dealing with my own feelings about Phil's death and did not have any desire to deal with the death discomfort of anyone else--especially a stranger. When asked a question about my "status" I gave a vague answer. If a conversation headed in a "dangerous" direction, I abandoned ship. Taking the road of least resistance helped me avoid the embarrassing tears that still crept up if I was sideswiped by having to say the words, actually my husband is dead.

These days I have no fear of awkwardness, though I do still take a deep breath before tossing the hot potato. I have become accustomed to the variety of responses my widowed status elicits. Rarely do I find myself too tired to do the tap dance that assures people that I don't mind talking about my grief experience. Often I leave a conversation having provided someone with a new outlook on the concept of creating a support network for grieving people. I have become a collector of stories, and have been gifted with some amazing tales of love, courage, and compassion.

But the most important change that has occurred for me is that I am now able to share my story without expecting anything from the person listening. I don't need them to approve of how I grieve. I don't wonder if they left our conversation with an understanding of how much I loved Phil. I don't care whether or not they think I am "over it." I get that most people are incapable of understanding the unique, and yet universal, pain of loss. And I no longer wish they could. Because one day they will. And on that day, with some luck, a bit of determination, and a lot of support from people around the world, that little non-profit organization that is a direct result of the death of my husband will be around to support them from the moment grief walks into their life.

There may be a day when someone I talked to at a dinner party recalls meeting a girl who didn't look like a widow telling them that help exists for grieving people. If they remember just that much than Phil's death won't be reduced to just an inexplicable tragedy.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Julie Andrews and Starting From The Beginning

Like Matt, I realize I need to start from the beginning. Art and I were married for 14 years. We have three children. On August 24, 2006 he was diagnosed with Large B Cell Lymphoma, Stage IV, primarily in his lungs. He was an athlete. In March 2007 we were told he was in remission.

We lived apprehensively at first, always fighting right before he had to have tests. Always making love the night before his appointment because we knew he was clear. (Doctors really don't call with good news!)

On January 12, 2009, less than two years of being cancer free, it was discovered that the cancer had returned and was stage IV.

They came into the room tonight, two of them. Familiar faces, dressed in their white coats.

They mouthed words. Words that sounded like:



Worse than before

Chemo on Friday

I heard them and felt detached. Those poor men, the two doctors, delivering such difficult news to this wonderful couple. Problem is Art and I are that couple.

Later, I leave the room, head to the car, pay the parking attendant and then everything else comes between sobs and screams.

This is what we try to protect our children from. This sharp, deep pain.

No, no... those are not the right words.

Gut wrenching. No, no.

It feels like someone is pulling my insides down and out and in and sideways. No rhythm to the motion. No sense.

The wave of fear and loss come over and under me, I lose my footing. I pull over. I want to scream at the drivers as they pass me

“STOP. You must STOP! I’m falling. Everything must stop!”

For that moment, everything I know is a false. And I want the world to stop so I can get a finger hold, a fingerprint hold, find a place where I can begin to find my balance.

This is our journey. Mine. Art’s.

The cancer is back.

The fucking cancer is back.
Oh my God

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Once In a Lifetime

Michael and I always wanted to see the world with each other.

We had it all planned out; After he and I graduated, we would go to Europe and start our travels. From Greece to tropical terrains, we'd see it all (leaving a few places for after retirement) and then head back and start our family.

Fast forward to 2007 and our "plans" fell to the waist side. The last foreign country Michael would visit would be Iraq, and all the dreams and hopes of our life together dissolved as fast as it took two uniformed men to say, "We regret to inform you..".

It would be a little less then a year later that I found myself on the couch ( I know that's so hard to believe), watching TV (hold the gasps), when a movie came on that concluded with the main character leaving his life to pursue a "spiritual journey" in Spain. The sun set as he walked with a backpack and stick in hand. I'm a huge movie buff and for some VERY odd reason, this "straight to DVD" film caught my curiosity. As all humans do when curious, I Googled "spiritual journey & Spain" to see what came up. 5 months later I was backpacking 220 miles across Spain on the Camino de Santiago. I flew out a day after the one year anniversary with nothing but some euros, and and a backpack with two sets of clothing and socks. I walked over 15 days with nothing but my thoughts, and when I finished, I felt closer to Michael then ever before.

Everything I saw I took snapshots in my memory. Everything I'd never touched before, I brushed my hands across. Everything I'd never smelled, I inhaled into my being. I was taking notes of all that I'd be able to share with Michael. If he couldn't be here with me, I wanted to report back in full detail when we are reunited again.

Since that trip, I've made the personal decision to take a once in a lifetime trip....once a year. It's a time for me to reflect on where I have come, and revel in the fulfilling life I can live in the love of my husband, and in the love I have for myself. So next week I am off to Ireland, with my senses as my pencil and my memory as my paper. To write of the living I did (and continue to do) in the memory and spirit of my soul mate, and in the spirit of who I have become (and continue to become) because of him. Slainte!

“Every day you may make progress. Every step may be fruitful. Yet there will stretch out before you an ever-lengthening, ever-ascending, ever-improving path. You know you will never get to the end of the journey. But this, so far from discouraging, only adds to the joy and glory of the climb.”

Winston Churchill

Friday, October 16, 2009

what to lose when it's all lost

* Photo by jimstmp

If I take an inventory of all of Jeff's things that I have clung to, stored for safe keeping or discarded since he died, I realize that to an outsider, these items would seem like random detritus. Debris. Maybe even junk.
I have managed to let go of many of his 'collections'. The plastic Stanley Cups he collected from some fastfood restaurant. A couple of his hats. A few nicknacks.
But there are items that I look at and wonder at the strange eccentricity of my sentimentality.
I keep a diaper wipe box with the last pile of hair that I will ever find lining the bottom of the bathtub. I managed to throw out the old phonebook, but had to keep the cover with the phone number for the hydro company scratched in his handwriting. An old photo of him holding a massive sturgeon and smiling hangs on the wall at the foot of my bed. His last load of dirty laundry is stored, still soiled, in a vacuum-packed bag under our bed. And I still cannot bring myself to recycle the newspaper dated for the day before his death - the day before the world shift dramatically and suddenly.
I know I keep the hair because it seems the last bit of his DNA, the last pieces of his also reminds me of what a truly astonishingly hairy person he was.
The phonebook cover reveals his beautiful handwriting and brings some amount of comfort knowing that he did the everyday odd jobs of calling about utility bills, etc. That he was 'with' me. A team.
The photo brings me to him. His laugh. His love of the ocean. His ability to find wonder and joy even in the midst of pain and hardship. His strength.
His last load of laundry smells like him. When I catch a whiff of 'him', I nearly buckle now. I become so completely filled with grief and longing. But the thought of never being able to smell him again is even I vacuum packed it.
And the newspaper, it just makes me wonder at how simple life was before. How life was so taken for granted and how good I had it. It is a reminder to try to not complain as much. To not worry so much. To not 'take score' as much.
Because no matter how we think we can control our lives, we can't and we are humbled in an instant. And then we are sorting through our lives and realizing that the small things, like bottle cap collections don't matter one iota. It's who we are and what we are to others, that make this 'living' all worth the too short time we get with each other.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

march 24, 2008

Our new Thursday blog author is Matt Logelin. His emotional candor and willingess to share his life, and his grief, with millions of people across the globe have made him a media sensation. With appearances on Oprah, The Rachel Ray Show, People Magazine, and over 50,000 blog followers, Matt's widowhood story has mobilized the compassion and generosity of thousands of people around the world. But Matt never loses sight of what is real. His wife, and the mother of his daughter, is dead. And so Maddy and Daddy carry on in the spirit of a love that continues to light their way. Instead of a direct syndication of his blog, Widow's Voice will use Matt's words and pictures to tell the story of Matt, Liz and Madeline satrting from the day of Madeline's birth.


after an uneventful weekend.

we had a rather eventful monday.

madeline decided to make her first appearance today.

baby’s heart rate dropped around 3:30am.

everyone was concerned.

dr. stopped by in the morning.

and said that it may be best to have madeline come out and play.

dr. nelson came a bit later and agreed.

so we were given 2 hours notice.


we waited.

and made a lot of phone calls.

and sent a few e-mails.

anya came immediately.

grandparents booked flights (again).

around 11:30am liz took a little ride.

to the delivery room.

anya and i followed behind.

liz went with the doctors.

anya went to the waiting room.

i got dressed in my “daddy suit.”

(said to myself…”holy shit. this is really happening.”)

i waited in the hallway. and waited. liz also waited.

i came into the delivery room.

then the doctors started working...

and a little while later...

madeline met mom.

mom met madeline.

i cried a little.

cleaned up my act.

cut the cord.

madeline took a little trip to the nicu.

mom took a nap.

i paced.

anya did some liz babysitting.

i found my way in to the nicu.

and hung out with our baby.

doctors say everthing is good.

madeline is sucking in a little extra oxygen for a few days.

she may stay in the hospital for a little while.

just so we have enough time…

to get her room ready.

oh yeah…the important stuff.

madeline was born

at 11:56 am (march 24, 2008).

at a bruising 3 pounds, 13.5 ounces.

17.25 inches long.

(almost as tall as her mom at age 30).

kidding of course,

but liz is really short.

and baby is really long.

we’ve been joking over the past few days…

if madeline gets daddy’s height and mommy’s looks,

everything will be okay.

if it goes the other way

she’s in trouble.

thankfully she’s long…

and beautiful.

thanks to everyone.

the visitors.

the callers.

the writers.

the silent web page readers.

we appreciate the support more than you know.

the proud parents will continue to update everyone on our beautiful baby.

look forward to even more good news.

(i know we will).

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

My Own Private War

I had a flashback this week. Out of the blue, as they always come. Knocking me over as only the force of a tsunami wave can.

You know the kind.

I was driving home from work and it had been a good day. Several good days, in fact. Maybe that should have been the warning. But who wants to keep looking over their shoulders, waiting for the next wave to hit? Not me. I want to keep marching ahead. But I also want this war that grief is waging against me to stop. I feel very much like a soldier who's been in a terrible war.
I've heard that soldiers sometimes have flashbacks of their time at war.
I hate these flashbacks.
One moment I was driving my car, heading home ..... and the next moment I was watching myself standing in the ER the day that Jim died, not quite realizing what the hell was going on or why everyone was flying around when I just though he had a bad case of acid reflux.
It took less than 10 minutes for them to discover that I was quite wrong and he had a torn aorta. I was still trying to digest all of this while the nurse very coldly told me that if I had children and family I'd better call them right then.
I'm not quite sure how I finished the drive home during the flashback. I don't remember it. I do remember coming into the house and heading straight to my bedroom to let the tears out and to let the words out on my blog.
Michele and Michelle write about their "death march". I didn't really get that until today. And then suddenly I knew exactly when my "death march" starts .... on Thanksgiving, and when it ends .... December 18th. I remember it from last year ... my first time to experience that march.

So I wonder if the flashbacks will start coming again as the march gets closer and closer?
All I can say is ... I hope not. But we never know .... do we?
Some waves we can see coming and steel ourselves for them.
Some waves just come out of nowhere .... like the flashbacks, which are an all together different kind of wave. There's nothing we can do to prepare ourselves for them .... we just have to get through them.
And so we do.
But not without the pain.

I'm borrowing the ending of my blog post to end this post today because I can't think of any other way to end it:

"I want this damn pain to go away. I want my heart to stop hurting from missing him every moment of every day.
I want ..... too much.
I want .... what I can never have.

So I write.
And I scream on the inside, "Damn it, God!!!!! Why did You allow THIS to happen to US? Why HIM? Why not ME?!"

And all I hear is the deafening roar of ..... silence."


Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Put on a Happy Face (Part 1,439)

Yes, here we are once again...trying to put on a happy face. Tomorrow is my 40th birthday, and although I could care less about the fact of "40", the birthday itself is hard. Not the 40 part, just the birthday.

Four years ago I spent my birthday in the emergency room at MD Anderson, then in the outpatient surgery center, and as a celebration of the survival of a horrible night: Starbucks for a vanilla latte. A latte I felt guilty for drinking, as Daniel couldn't enjoy it - he was on a tube fed diet only at that point. I remember hardly noticing it was my birthday, and not really caring. We had bigger fish to fry at the time. A little more than two weeks later, the worst nightmare I could have possibly imagined came true, and the rest as they say is history.

I don't think my birthday will ever be the same. It is so burdened with memories and so much sadness in hindsight, I can hardly celebrate it. I put on a happy face, and some parts of the day it is real. Grayson always sings happy birthday to me at breakfast, and it is the most wonderful gift. It is a great start to a difficult day, and only a few people know how hard it is for me (until now I guess). My birthday falls smack in the middle of the march to the deathiversary, and it just hurts. Right now, while I am letting myself think about it, I can barely breathe. I find it hard to concentrate, I feel like I can barely function.

I keep expecting it to be easier, and in some ways I guess it is. The surprising thing each year is how intense the pain still is. How clear my vision and memories of that final time still are. How much like yesterday it seems. My god, he was just here. How can it be 4 years???? It can't be possible. And yet, here I am, 40, and Grayson, who was in kindergarten at the time is in the 4th grade. Apparently it IS possible.

The thing is, in general I feel okay - other times of the year. It's this time that I wonder at my sanity, wonder how much I have truly healed and wonder how on earth I'm supposed to make it to 80 without him. I don't want 40 more years without him. I DO want 40 more years with Grayson. I guess my future is in that balance. Somewhere squeezed between wishing my life away and wishing for a long and happy one for the little guy is where I'll find the space for me. Sometimes I feel like I've found it, other times, not so much. The month of October falls into the "not so much" category.

Overall, I am optimistic and hopeful in general. It's just this time of the year that I can't always muster it. Major parts of me want to curl up and cry at the smallest provocation. I still want my husband back. I know I always will. How do you move forward from that place? I've seen it happen, so again, it's possible. My heart is pieced together with duct tape and Elmer's glue. I don't know what a more permanent fix will look like. I can't imagine it. I can't feel it, and at this time of year, I don't even want it.

So the happy face comes out. I repeat Daniel's favorite saying and remind myself that if I'm not having a good time it's my own damned fault. I guess I can admit that I'm not having a good time. That must mean it's my own damned fault. Yes, clearly I'm a genius. At least I've got that going for me, and it isn't seasonal in nature... If I'm accountable for my own good time, then I will try to focus on that. I'm looking forward to having a great time in Vegas. Thanks to my wonderful friends and family who are willing to go with me, and hold my hand (or my hair, as the case may be).

Michelle D.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Still Helpless

Michelle and I have been doing this widow thing side by side for almost four years. When we met we were both newly widowed, and shell shocked. Each of us watched our dreams for the future unceremoniously demolished as one minute passed into the next. Thrown into a whirlwind of grief we discovered each other in the eye of the storm.

For the first year after Phil died my e-mail inbox was my lifeline. Whenever grief, or life, became more than I could handle...I would furiously type out a note (often through tears and at 3:00AM) to the only person I knew would not try to fix me. If I said I wanted to die, she said me too. If I said I will never marry again, she said me either. If I said life sucks, she said death sucks too. When I cried, she listened. Often at the end of my long sobbing rants she would say, I wish Phil wasn't dead. To which I could say, me too. When I talked to Michelle I never felt the need to pretend that I was okay. We built a friendship based on the reciprocity of understanding.

With four years of experience under my belt you'd think I would have the comforting friend thing down by now. I should be able to say just the right thing when a wave of grief crashes over my friend. Since I can hear the anguish in her voice when she discovers that another amazing person has been diagnosed with cancer, shouldn't I know how to reassure her that not everyone dies? As the dates of the calendar rush towards the anniversary of Daniel's death, I am the one who is uniquely qualified to walk the death march by her side. I know the dates of anniversaries and birthdays. I know that Daniel loved to cook, and stirred the sauce in a certain direction. I know that Grayson is becoming more and more like his daddy every day. I know that Daniel would be so proud of how Michelle has managed her life since he has been gone. Yet knowing all these things does not make me any less helpless.

Grief breeds helplessness. There is no fix for this kind of pain. The perfect words won't change the fact that my friend is a single parent. Knowing what dates or times of year will make her yearn for the man she loves won't make the missing of him less intense. Wishing that Daniel were here to tell her she really is stunning at 40 won't make up for the fact that he isn't. And even though my heart has also been torn out of my chest and replaced upside down, I am still helpless when the tears of sorrow and loss pour down her cheeks.

And so I listen. And I listen again. And I don't try to fix anything. I just walk beside her and remind her that hope is a choice. When I get tired, she reminds me.

And despite the tragedies that brought us together, we celebrate our triumphs (like fixing dishwashers and leaking pipes), we laugh and cry at the same time (okay sometimes we snort), we intentionally look into the future (even when all we see is black space), and we have made a pact to live courageously (we call this jumping off of curbs). Like many of you Michelle's birthday is a stepping stone along the road to the anniversary of her husband's death. And so we acknowledge the bitterness of Daniel's loss as we embrace the sweetness life still has to offer in the year ahead.

Happy Birthday my friend. You are an unbelievable gift to me, and to the many others who are privileged to know and love you. Wishing you overflowing happiness, extravagant love, and fields full of butterflies.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

When Is He Coming Home?

I want to write away the pain. Sometimes I think that's why I write. I know that's why I talk to people, why I spend the energy to explain to them what this process is like. The more I talk the more distance I have from the process. The more distance I have from the process the less like mine it feels. Or the more sense I can try to make of it.

Sense. On a very primal level, his death makes no sense to me. I look at pictures of us in November, when we thought he was healthy, when the cancer was only the tiniest cell in his body and I get confused. How could he not be here? Why hasn't he come home yet? How is it possible I will never hear his voice or know the feeling of his hand on my back or hear him yell at the kids again. I don't understand how this can happen.

And God am I lonely. Admitting that in a country that is built on independence and do-it-yourselfness feels almost shameful. I don't want a companion, not a boy friend, not a relationship, but just someone to touch that female side of me.

Part of my power of being a woman was in being able to make Art laugh, turning him on, having someone sharing my insights, giving me input, turning me on, being held by him, kissed gently with no intention other than to touch his lips to my forehead or hair or hand or shoulder. To smile at him and have it returned as if we held some big secret. I miss all that.

I miss the arguments that were broken often with laughter. I miss hearing his foot steps in the bedroom hall, hearing his closet door open, the muted rustle of the plastic hangers as he hung up his clothes. I miss watching him parent, our tete-a-tetes on how to handle X situation with Z kid.

I miss being mad at him, in my righteousness and in my rightness too. I miss apologizing to him. I miss being swallowed into his chest, his arms completely wrapped around me. I miss sharing the green chair with him when we watched movies. I miss his smell. I miss his chemo smell too. It meant he was alive and he was fighting.

And I miss the wonder of him. His deep blue eyes, his way of bending a conversation to his will without you even noticing. His sincerity.

And the other side is I miss having a man in the house. The deepness that testosterone brings. I
I don't want someone to replace him. I just want like, an on-call guy. Someone I can call and say, "Come over and lie with me in bed till I fall asleep." or "Come watch a movie with me." Or touch my shoulder and say "You're beautiful, you're amazing." Someone to remind me that I am more than just a widow and a mom. that I am more than someone who has lost a spouse or whose life will never, ever, ever be the same. Someone to help pull me out of me.

This on-call guy has to feel the need to be needed, know that his masculinity is in the small moments and thoughts and touches. It would not be about sex (although...mmmm, no complaints if it goes partly in that direction.) It would be about helping each other through this difficult moment, his (whatever it is) and mine. There would be tentativeness and tenderness and hope and laughter and gratitude. It wouldn't last but it would serve its purpose, helping both of us to emerge on the other side more intact.

And in the end, it wouldn't take away the confusion. I still don't get it. I still don't understand. Why am I here and he's not? Why do I talk to the kids about him in past tense now, always. When is he coming home? When is he coming home?

Saturday, October 10, 2009


There are moments where I feel as if I am on an idle screen. It's a screen that am totally aware of what it looks like when it is fully loaded. It's full of memories, strength, perseverance, and a positive outlook that is all fueled off the amazing love I have been given. Yet, with this new journey before me, there are times when the page doesn't fully load.

I want to be reminded of all that is wonderful, all that fills my "screen", all that keeps me going. I want to click the "refresh" button, in hopes that the blank areas will "load" in those days and moments where I feel that all is gone.

It is only when I have sat and stared at that "idle screen", truly believing that the page will never fully be filled with all of it's contents, that out of nowhere, the refresh button is pushed.

I want to scream at the "screen" I call my life, for dragging me through so much, making me tear and break down all of my being, to then "refresh" what is the essence of who I am. But I can't. Because in the end, all is "refreshed", all reminds me of why I can stare at that not fully loaded screen. I can always remember what it looks like when it's all there, and look forward to the permanent "refresh" that will reign again.

“Affliction comes to all not to make us sad, but sober; not to make us sorry, but wise; not to make us despondent, but its darkness to refresh us, as the night refreshes the day; not to impoverish, but to enrich us, as the plow enriches the field;”

-Henry Ward Beecher

Friday, October 9, 2009

moving on, healing and getting over it

*Photo by shieken

I'm sure that as widows, we have all heard these words in some form or other. "You'll get over it one day." "You're young. You'll move on." "Time heals all wounds." And the like. I remember the first time some well-meaning, naive person attempted to instill these words of 'wisdom' upon me. I think I wanted to drop them.

The truth is that these silly phrases are....a farce. They are just not true. You won't get over it. You won't move on. Time won't heal it. Before I throw you into deep despair as I go on my little tirade of gloom, I'll tell you my theory.

I liken the monumental loss of my beloved husband, in fact any large loss, to the acquisition of a large, ugly and cumbersome backpack.

When this backpack (aka pain) is thrust upon you, you don't think you will ever be able to stand again. It is so heavy and oppressive that it hurts just to breathe. You can't imagine that one day you may be able to stand.

But each day, you grow slightly stronger. One day, you can drag yourself a few centimetres. Eventually, you can crawl a little ways. That bloody backpack is still there. You can't shed it, but you learn to carry it so that it is slightly more manageable.

One day, you find that you are strong enough to stand. It's hard. In fact, it's exhausting and it may make you feel resentful and fed up, but you do it.

Knowing that eventually you may be able to run or dance again, even though you carry this mismatched piece of luggage upon your back, is an achievement in itself. You are not 'over it, moving on or healed", you are just carrying that blasted thing with you because it has become a part of your shape and part of you. It may not match anything else you wear, but you are stronger than you ever believed or knew you could be.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Perspective and Purpose

These are two words whose meanings have changed for me since Phil's death. Perspective used to be a word I threw around when I wanted someone else to view a certain topic or situation in a different light. Looking back, I doubt that I worried too much about how I viewed the world around me. Things in my life were pretty black and white, and I liked my goals and plans to be well defined. I know you are laughing right now.

Before Phil died I did things on purpose and expected the intended result. More often than not I achieved what I set out to do, and on the odd occasion when things didn't work out as planned, I would move onto plan B with relative ease. At least that is how things were when the world made sense.

Death mixed up my vocabulary. Many words no longer have the same meaning since I lost my husband. I have an odd feeling that someone swapped my old trusty Webster's Dictionary for the Death and Grief edition.

The meanings for the words perspective and purpose that are found in my new dictionary can be aptly applied to the mission of our blog here at Widow's Voice. We strive to bring you several different perspectives on the journey of widowhood. Our voices are each unique. Our stories reflect our personal reality. The authors of Widow's Voice come from different backgrounds, and we work in disparate fields--yet a variety of paths have led us to the same destination. And from that landing point we have come to find our purpose. We all reach out to others who understand that no matter how different our experiences with death may be, the searing pain of loss is universal. We are a group that believes in the power of a community of widowed people.

Using my old dictionary I may have felt the need to change your perspective. Now I hope we offer you the gift of perspective. Previously I counted on the outcome of my purpose to determine the merit of my action plan. Today I can tell you that fueling a purpose is more important than the gains that result from the effort. Through death I have found a surprising purpose, and I view life with a whole new perspective.

Beginning next week, our Thursday blog will provide us with the male perspective of love and loss. The purpose of this, and other upcoming changes to our blog, is to extend the reach of the hope we offer our readers, and to create a better rounded view of the world of widows. I think you are going to love this. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

A Lighter Shade of Blue ....

I, like Michelle, have not thought a lot about my future. It seems to be a very fuzzy grey fog out there somewhere (but hey, it used to be an inky black fog so here's to the color getting lighter!).
But recently, I have caught myself thinking about it. Even making a plan or two. And then I'll realize what I'm doing and stop ..... and be amazed.
The above picture is an example of me thinking about the future and not catching myself until later. While I was back "home" in Oklahoma I spent some time with one of my dearest and best friends (and oldest but that's such a rude term!). We drove over to her in-laws' property so that I could see this chapel that her father-in-law had built on their land. I thought it was darling and went back to the car to get my camera because the future suddenly hit me. You see, my oldest daughter fell in love with a very small chapel while we were in Scotland many years ago. It was at the Edinburgh castle and she has always said it would be wonderful to be married there (even though you can get only about 12 people in it).
Well, as I was busy snapping away inside my friend read me the story behind the chapel. It seems her in-laws had been to Edinburgh, seen that castle and loved it so much they copied it. I was standing in a replica of the chapel my daughter loves! And it's a heck of a lot closer than Scotland!
So I started thinking of taking pictures for her .... so that she could see how lovely it is and maybe she'd decide it would be a beautiful place to get married.
Wait!! That would be "the future". Especially because she's not even engaged at the moment! I, Janine, the person who never thinks further ahead than the current day, was thinking about the f-u-t-u-r-e? I was a bit stunned for a moment. But only a moment. Because I then realized that thinking about that grey fog is a good thing. Good for me, good for my children.
Good for Jim.
He wouldn't want me having no future and only inky blackness. I think he'd be grateful for the grey, but he'd be hoping for it to start lighting up to a pale blue.
And I think that's what he's pulling for because I swear I saw more blue while taking pictures of that chapel.
So .... maybe I'm moving forward more with less backward steps. Maybe.
Not always ..... I'm not clueless enough to think I'm done with the backward steps.
But until then .... I'll take a lighter shade of blue.
Curiously enough, it was Jim's favorite color.
It's a good thing I like the color blue.

Go blue. :)

Happy Wednesday, friends.
Janine (txmomx6)

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Lordy Lordy look who's 40....

Next week is my 40th, hard to believe really. Forty has an odd significance for me. I met my husband when I was 16. When he proposed to me at 22 (we reunited after a couple of years of not seeing each other in college), I remember him telling me I was beautiful....BUT..... Beautiful but what?? "Beautiful", he said, "but I know you'll be stunning when you're 40. I just know it." Interesting to be 40 and he's not around to tell me if I'm stunning in his eyes or not.
I've been told I'm nice looking, attractive, beautiful, etc. No one has used the word "stunning" and for that I'm grateful. My reaction to that statement might not be the one they were hoping for.

The words I apply to myself: bitter ( :) - okay, not really, but it's fun!!) - wizened, honed, burnished, brazen, bold, self-preserving, sarcastic, and on the other end of the spectrum - scarred, tender, sensitive, wounded, kind, caring, engaged in life, cautious, daring, pragmatic, protective...

I'm definitely a different woman from the beautiful girl who was loved by her husband at 22. In lots of ways I'm better (not bitter), I think I've said that before. I feel 90 on the inside, and yet in some ways I feel 16. Forty though, that's a biggie. How is it possible? Statistically I've lived half of my life. A friend asked me today if I'd thought about how I wanted to spend the second half of my life. I have, but not exactly in those terms. I have been without the ability to imagine my future for several years, and I'm only slowing getting it back. I recognize I have a future, but I am less likely to feel in charge of that future than I did before death entered my reality. I still plan, but only in the most flexible ways. I am no longer ignorant to the fragility of my plans.

So what will I do with the second half of my life? First of all, I'm not silly enough to assume I've got another 40 years to decide....death waits for no one and my turn could be sooner than I think. What will I do tomorrow and the day after that? I know I'm working, spending time with my son, spending time with wonderful friends....other than that, I'm open to the possibilities. Who knows what may be ahead for me? I certainly don't. For now that is okay. Again, although it is sometimes hard for me, I'm resting in the riddle.

Happy Tuesday! - Michelle D.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Another Musical Monday

Okay, consider yourself warned about the potential for tears when reading my musical Monday posts. Teary eyed smiles are a good thing, right? Today's song was written, and performed, by a good friend of mine, and has been the background for a few intense moments for me ;)

Kimberly Roads-Schlapman was living the dream of an aspiring artist in the Spring of 2005. After struggling through some tough years with her band, Little Big Town, the group found their niche and they were on their way to making their dreams of a career in music a reality. Kimberly's husband, Steven was a steadfast supporter of the band...even when they were driving for hours at a time to play in an out-of-the-way bar in an unknown town. Steven believed in the chemistry of the band, and in the beauty of his wife's voice. Kimberly and Steven were married for fourteen years, definitely through thick and thin.

While being interviewed for a radio station in a state far from home, Kimberly received THAT call. Steven's lifeless body was found in their bed by a neighbor concerned that Steven wasn't answering his phone. He died of a massive heart attack sometime during the previous night. The race back to their home, flying along the interstate in the band bus, was the beginning of Kimberly's journey as a widow at the age of 35.

I met Kimberly in December of 2008, in her dressing room, on the night of one of Little Big Town's concerts. We were instant sisters. She told me that music helped to heal the tear in her soul. I totally believe that. Stay was written by Kimberly and her bandmates; the first time I heard the lyrics I knew that the person who wrote the song had experienced deep loss. Somehow knowing that connected Kimberly and I before we ever met. Giving her a hug in person, and seeing the song performed live, was a fabulous birthday present, and the cementing of a sisterhood to which neither of us asked to belong.

This song has been played on my iPod countless times...wishing Phil could have stayed just a little bit longer.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Moths In the Pantry

The moths in the pantry are back. I check the flour, the beans, and the couscous. I check the box of forgotten rice crispies...waiting for the marshmallows and butter. Nothing there.

I check the cereals. Gorilla Munch. No. Koala Krisps. Nothing. Then I see it. The box of Optimum wedged into the corner. It was his cereal. I kept thinking I'd eat it ... but even my desire to be close to him could not make me put milk in my body. I open the box and the months flutter free.

Suddenly I am smashing the moths between my fingers, crushing them between the lining of the bag and box, content on my devastation of them, wanting to get them all. And I stop.

Composure. The kids are up. Besides I would have to clean up the mess. I'm too tired to do that. And then I think of the release of not caring, how wonderful it would be to let it all go.

Later I am reading Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and hiding my sobs from the kids. Harry has just returned, Voldermort has risen again, and he saw a friend die. And while Harry is recounting the story, I can feel Dumbldore and Sirius's sadness watching as this boy recounts what he saw. And then I think of Cedric's parents and I have to stop reading for a moment. And I suck in my breath in.

I recount my emotions. The terror I felt when I first saw him on Sunday morning, his eye unable to focus, he responding only sometimes to my voice, and not at all to anyone else's. How I thought he was crazy to tell me "I'm OK" when he had a moment of complete clarity, recognized me and the concern and fear I must have been wearing. My surprise seconds later, at his response to "Honey, do you know where you are?" He said "Yes, I'm climbing up, I'm going up." And how later, those words would sit on me and so would the anger at not telling him then and there that I loved him.

The go-ahead-I-can-take-it attitude to the on-call doctor on Sunday night who asked my briskly "What is his code?" "In English please." I had said. "What are his resuscitation orders?" he asked in very plain English. And I said, without hiccupping, as if I were the professional, "Keep him alive till my kids can say good-bye to him."

The next day, when our oncologist came in and said "He is going to die. He will probably go within the week." And the relief I felt. Finally, someone had said "die."

And then watching him go. The way his breathing changed, the way his color changed, the coolness of his hands.

And I can't believe this is my life. And I want to cry, and curl up and just wait for all this to pass. I want to stay in bed and function enough to use the bathroom and occassionally eat. I want this world to go AWAY.

But it won't. There is school to attend, meetings to get to and clients to see. There are trips to be planned, food to be made or accepted. I must function.

Some have said that I am brave. "You have so much courage." And I want to laugh. It's not courage. My back is up against the wall. The only reason I'm standing is because it's supporting me.

Saturday, October 3, 2009


Doing things that Michael and I would have enjoyed together was once unthinkable. "If he's not here to enjoy them then I shouldn't" was a philosophy that was stuck in my brain the first months after his passing.

With time though, I realized that that was not doing myself or what Michael had taught me any justice. Little by little I dipped my toes back into the pond of life. With time those toes have become my feet, which led up to my legs, and at times cover my whole being.

Bitersweet they may be at times, but living life, is the one trait that Michael would want me to take from his time here on earth.

This weekend I'm at the Austin City Limits Festival, listening to bands Michael loved, bands he would have loved but never lived to hear, and enjoying life to the fullest. I am his ears, eyes, and life note taker of the things I can't wait to share with him. It is the best job I could ever have.

"I will not fail you, my love. I will continue on the path we shared and I know you will be there to help me, as you always were. And when we meet again at the journey’s end, and we laugh together once more, I will have a thousand things to tell you."

Friday, October 2, 2009

renovated reactions

On the day our daughter, Liv, first started preschool, my husband, Jeff, and I dropped her off together. We helped her off with her coat. We put her shoes on the mat. Then, we stared expectantly at her wondering (possibly hoping) if she would start to cry and demand that we stay. She didn't. In fact, Liv told us with thirteen year old form, "You can go NOW." Jeff and I left feeling excited, rather sad and comforted with the comraderie of parenthood. Both our cellphones sat on the table anticipating an urgent call to come retrieve our distraught daughter while we sat in a coffee shop waiting for her two hours of separation from us to be over.

Our son, Briar, started preschool a few weeks ago. So much has changed in the four years since Liv embarked upon her preschool journey. Jeff is gone. Instead of him, I sat with Liv in a coffee shop while we waited for the two hours to pass. No phone on the table. No nervousness. No dramatic sighs of "He's getting so BIG!" We just enjoyed having a cup of tea and talking.

We had arrived at his 'school' with his snack in his hand, introduced him to the teacher, snapped a picture or two, exchanged hugs and kisses and left. I was gone before the majority of other mothers had finished applying lipstick marks and other ministrations upon their budding schoolers. I didn't join the little group outside daubing their own tears and remarking that they can't believe this day had arrived.

I know that my lack of drama and tears could be misunderstood as 'second child syndrome'. That nothing is so vivid or surprising after the first child has done it. But that was not the reason for my possibly seeming apathetic attitude.

Firstly, for now, I have come to a place where those types of emotions are a frivolous luxury that I am unable to afford anymore. If I start thinking of how Briar has grown, what Jeff and I would do to celebrate this milestone or how life 'could' or 'may' have been, I eventually wind up at a place where I realize that his father will never witness this day and end up rocking and moaning in the parking lot.

Secondly, I have larger fish to fry. I know Briar is safe and will spend my time worrying about how to afford the skating lessons he wants or the dance shoes his sister desires. And I can't and won't allow myself the painful thoughts that we seem to love to taunt ourselves with before a true tragedy has occurred.

I wonder if my little ones are missing out. If they will ever wonder if I care as much as the other mommies. I so do. I love them so intensely. I just don't have as much silly, frothy emotion to spill up anymore. Now when I cry, it is huge sobbing painful jolts. Tangible pain and sorrow.

But my children have also gained a parent who tries to waste as little time possible bemoaning what that we've lost. Instead, she'd prefer to open her eyes to what remains around us and the bit of wonder that is left. Otherwise, there isn't a point to carry out these small yet pivotal moments.

Maybe that's hiding or suppressing. Maybe it's coping. Who knows? I am just doing what seems to fit at this moment.