For the last 3 days I've been turning something over and over in my head. I am SO ready to write, but just can't seem to settle on a new blog title. I have a million and one *ideas* but none of them translate to a blog title that makes me proud. I don't think it's my perfectionist tendencies coming out...rather, I think it's that I am trying to pigeon hole what I have to say into a tiny category in order to give it a name. I didn't realize that until Jeff essentially stated it for me.
I'm frustrated, because I feel like unless I'm writing I'm not really living. I wasn't sure how to put it into words until just now...but that's it. Unless I'm writing, I feel like I'm not really living.
For me, living is awesome...full experiences peppered with emotions...people...places...things...but until I write about it, it's like a beautiful sketch without the paint. For me, writing is what gives my cherished experiences their color. Then they stay in my mind, blazing with vibrancy and hue for years to come.
There are still people who read The Cat Widow. There are people who, even now, become newly widowed and find it through the internet, reading through every post as though I still write daily. It will always have a place. It will always have a purpose.
I'm ready, though, to leave it all behind...to keep it published on the web as a chapter of my life I went through...as a chapter of my life to which I had to give voice...but to end it and instead transition to a new chapter and a new blog.
I know it's been a while since I've posted. It wasn't because nothing was happening. On the contrary, it was because so much was happening. There are so many things I could have shared...so many things I could have written...but the fact of the matter is, I have been (at least in part) holding back on the blog out of respect and privacy for the man who has (in a nutshell) lit up my life.
Much to my surprise, I found love again. I turned around and it was there. I didn't even know what was happening until it had already happened.
It felt like: Is this real? Is this right? But wait, is this real? Oh my God, it is.
I love the way he makes me feel. I feel like things are falling into place. When I look into his eyes, I see so many things...and all of them are amazing.
He is thoughtful, fun, nonjudgmental, smart, confident, and passionate about life. He makes me feel good. He is respectful of me and of my situation. I feel excited about life with him. He understands me, because our personalities have so many threads of the same fabric. He loves me for who I am. He's the kind of person you want to be around. He knows what he wants and he makes it happen. And he is unapologetic for who he is, a quality I realized is almost as important as confidence and zest for life.
I have been in love before...but I have never felt this way about anyone before. I don't want to lose it. It's too awesome.
I see so much happiness in my future as it evolves. I'm almost scared to write that down.
There are times it seems almost too good to be true that I could have so much fun with someone, but also be so comfortable too...that I could giggle easily and freely but also feel so understood...that I could continue to be surprised but also feel that I've known him much longer than I have.
When I look at him...whether he is making me dinner in the kitchen, talking to the football game on TV, laughing at something I've said, or kissing me good bye, I'm just so...happy. How can a person do that to another person?
I can't remember the last time I felt so...wonderful...in the presence of another person. Although it sounds downright cheesy to admit it, there have been nights I've fallen asleep saying to myself, "Thank you, thank you, thank you for this person being sent to my life."
There is risk in every endeavor in this life. We can't predict the outcomes. But for this - I'd risk it all. Every day I wake up happier than the day before, full of gratitude that I took a risk on love...because to not take a risk would be an insult to this astounding and amazing gift that's presented itself.
I sit here, one day after my 31st birthday...nearly one and a half years a widow...thinking: This is the kind of feeling I've been waiting for my entire life. 31 years may not be a long time, but I know that if I searched for 31 more years, I would never find such depth of feeling again with someone else. This gift of passionate yet fulfilling love and companionship was knocking me on the head, smacking me in the face, jumping up and down screaming THIS IS IT! DON'T MESS THIS UP! DON'T IGNORE THIS! THIS IS THE REAL THING!
He will make me better, I will make him better, and incidentally, life will be better for both of us.
He once asked me somewhat incredulously, "Don't you want anything?"
The truth is, I want happiness. I want to be allowed to be happy. And I want to share that happiness with the person who makes my whole being feel alive. I don't want material stuff. Or the best of everything. I don't want the things money can buy. I want time, memories, touch, fun, and emotion. I want to live. And I want love. Real love. And...holy shit...I've found it.
It's been over a month since I last blogged. I find that these days, the more I have to say, the less I write.
But I miss the blog, you miss the blog, we all miss the blog...and while my posts may be more sporadic, the blog is still here.
The new job is going well. I still find that I miss my old job, especially around 8:45 every morning when my internal clock tugs on my heart and tells me it's time for morning meeting and I'm not there around the table with my former co-workers. There is a part of me that feels as though I'm on vacation and will be returning at any moment. And yet...I'm working hard, so I don't feel as though I'm on any kind of "break." I am learning the new job more and more every day, solid with my social work skills and fine-tuning everything else that goes along with my new position. I feel good about where I am, but I'm still adjusting.
I do feel called to the work I am doing. I do feel privileged to work with people as they move through dying, death, and grief. The process is an honor.
As tumultuous as life can be, my inner happiness grows each day. And I can tell it is more and more visible to those around me. I do not have the perfect life...and a perfect life is not my goal. Instead, I hope to navigate through difficulties with grace, work through mistakes with humility, and remain ever grateful for the things and the people which have entered my life.
The light is definitely back in my eyes... I can't fake it, I can't shake it, and despite life's challenges and my own shortcomings, I am taking one day at a time with a smile. As my blog falls silent or only whispers a post from time to time, know that I am moving forward...know that I am happy.
My first week at the new job has come to a close. I feel good about my decision to leave my last place of employment, but I have to admit that I miss my old job terribly. I am struggling to get into a new groove, and while I know it will happen, it hasn't happened yet.
I have met a lot of great people at my new job...and the work itself is rewarding and just the right amount of challenging.
As is typical when meeting new people, I have been asked questions that require me, for some reason or another, to tell my story of widowhood.
"What brought you to hospice?"
"Why were you interested in working with families dealing with grief and loss?"
"Are you married? Do you have children?"
"Where do you live? Do you live alone?"
Sometimes my response is brief. Other times, there is more explanation. Often, my answers create more questions. It still amazes me how many questions people ask. The shock value is always there, even though I never intend it. People see a young woman in front of them, cheerful, positive, smiling brightly, eager to do a job, quick to make a joke, and even quicker to laugh. They see bouncing curls and pretty clothes. And then it all gets broken open for them when they discover I'm a widow, a survivor left behind in the wake of a tragic suicide, or someone who has dealt with unimaginable loss. I guess I just don't look like someone who has dealt with great loss.
I don't prance around, telling my tale for all to hear. I simply respond to the questions as they arise. It's normal for people to discuss their personal lives, so there's really no way around my story once the chit-chat begins and the usual questions come up.
That said, I don't feel like a widow too much these days. I have so much burning inside me - so much life and excitement and love. I read once that being vague while speaking or writing makes a person's words seem more powerful...but I don't believe that. I have never liked being vague. I think being direct and honest is far more powerful (and empowering). But bear with me...
I look forward to the day when I can tell a different tale to those who ask me questions. I look forward to the freedom of being direct at all times. I look forward to being able to share as many good things as I have shared bad. I look forward...
The week began with pouring rain which continued for a few days, but has ended with bright sun.
Tonight I did something I haven't done for a long time: I cooked a real recipe. Over a year ago, back when Rick was still alive, it was typical for me to cook several nights a week. I made meals that lasted for more than one night, but I cooked a lot. I had a whole binder of collected recipes and I flipped through it every weekend in order to make my shopping list so I could plan our week.
I considered myself a decent cook and a lover of food.
Once Rick died, I went through that initial period of wanting to do nothing "extra." People brought me food, they sent me food, they froze food for me, and some even did my grocery shopping. When that period ended, it still felt too taxing to cook. Any free time I had was devoted to taking care of business - the business of death. I had an endless to-do list full of more pressing matters than making meatloaves or casseroles.
Once the paperwork, phone calls, bill paying, and appointments finally tapered off, I found that making dinner for one was a) difficult and b) kind of annoying. It actually annoyed me to think about having to make meals for myself. So much prep and zest was my usual way in the kitchen, but with only me left to enjoy the fruits of my labor, everything was a letdown. Cooking was no longer enjoyable.
Over the past year, I made a meal a couple of times for my friend Jennifer and me when we watched the Gilmore Girls on a Wednesday night, but that was somewhat different - it felt more like cooking for a purpose (and a person other than myself) once again.
Once a wife who cooked, I resorted this past year to picking up salads on my way home, ordering a random pizza I'd proceed to eat for 3 days, or going out to dinner with friends. I even found that I began to tailor my eating habits to having my main meal for lunch where I could eat with my co-worker friends and then eating something smaller for dinner when I was alone. I can name several local places who know my face if not my name (Salad Works, WaWa, Primo Hoagies, Panera Bread), because they became the frequent provider of Widow Dinner as I made my way home from work.
About once a week, I ate at my parents' house. I also tried buying frozen bags of Italian food or frozen pizzas, but that annoyed me almost as much as considering cooking real food because it felt lesser, as if I was demoting myself from a woman who used to cook to someone who didn't know how. Bags of frozen food I bought months ago are still sitting in my freezer, unmade. Around once a week, I ate at my parents' house. On nights when I didn't grab something on the way home or call for some kind of delivery, I realized that I ate things like Parmesan goldfish crackers or cheese and pepperoni after a heavy lunch at work, which seemed pathetic and less than well-balanced.
Well, tonight I made Creamy Tomato Tortellini Soup. It wasn't a very difficult recipe, but it was a real meal that I actually created from an actual recipe. I even chopped cloves of garlic for it. I'll eat it with a salad.
Tonight, I did something else I haven't done for a long time: I cried. And not for something I've shed tears for in the past. I cried tonight for a different kind of loss: the loss of my former job. I found myself with a horrible lump in my throat as the reality set in that I wouldn't be driving to my former place of employment tomorrow morning. And then I felt tears form in my eyes...and the thought that actually made me cry was my former co-workers/office neighbors listening to the radio trivia in the morning and how I wouldn't be there to help them guess the answer. I pictured my office-that's-not-my-office-anymore and the fact that tomorrow is the Lessons in Loss support group I used to lead with Pastor Ginny and I won't get to hear what the residents talk about. And Ashlee's probably going to ask what's for lunch, but she won't be asking me...
It's a bit tangled in my heart... because I really want to be there...but I also don't want to be there. I know I did the right thing by moving onward...and I know I don't have to say goodbye to the people I met at my old job...and I'm not sorry I'm heading to a new, exciting, good job in the morning...but it feels really WEIRD.
Weird isn't bad. For now, it's just weird. And I have to remind myself that no amount of tears changes the fact that I took control of my life to do this. I chose to leave. And I'm happy about it. It sets the stage for the rest of my life in a bunch of awesome ways, and I go to sleep knowing that. So in true Cat Widow fashion, I'm going to taste my comforting soup, wipe my eyes, and toast to new beginnings.
There are people we meet who ignite a spark within us, people who pop into our lives and suddenly it's like they have always belonged there. The unexpected, when it's terrible and painful, is brutal - a reality check and a loss of ground. The unexpected, when it's beautiful and awesome, is exhilarating - a dream come true and a lesson in inner happiness.
It's exciting when you find parts of yourself in someone else. It's meaningful when the presence of another person makes you look forward to tomorrow.
Some things are better left unsaid, tucked away into a quiet place in the heart. There is plenty of time for stories, explanations, and thoughts. Right now, it's good to just feel good.
Today was my last day at my job before I embark on a new professional journey - nervous, eager, and full of anticipation for all the good that is yet to come...
Two weeks ago today, I resigned from my current job and gave 4 weeks' notice. I have two weeks left. In July, I will begin a new journey - head first in the field of grief and loss - as a Hospice Social Worker for a large health network. I'm excited. Helping people as they die, helping people as they cope with the death of those they love, walking through the bereavement process day after day - those are the things I know I can offer with compassion and skill.
It's bittersweet. I will miss my current place of employment, my current co-workers, and the residents I serve. But for multiple reasons, it's time to move on.
This new position is one of many changes to come. There's more in store and probably more to say. Stay tuned. My blogging days aren't over.
There are things to share. The journey hasn't ended simply because I hit a year and stopped writing daily.
Changes are brewing. Everything is swimming around...but at the same time, everything is opening up - a wide expanse of opportunity. And even on top of that, things are falling into place. I'm not exactly sure how those three things can happen all at once, but they are.
I think back to what I was doing and how I was feeling this time last year. Oh my...what a different story was being told. I was navigating my way through my first month as a widow, shell-shocked and dazed, overwhelmed and raw with pain and disbelief.
This June is significantly different...so much so that I feel I've lived at least 3 lifetimes since this time last year.
Life continues to amaze me. And surprise me. And comfort me.
It's been a week without blogging and it feels good... but as I used to say on my old blog: through a writer's eyes, the world is a tale to be told...
And I'm a writer, no question about it.
So I need to write.
Maybe not every day, but I need to write.
I've been thinking a lot about the reach of writing. I'd like to write a book. The thing is, I already have a book. Here. On this blog. Hundreds of posts would certainly add up to hundreds of pages... and sure, it's written in daily format... the process mapped out day by day... but that was kind of the point.
And what do I do? Seek out an agent to help me get this work to a publisher? Say, "Here is my life, all tied up with lessons on grief and loss and living. Help me throw it out into the world," and cross my fingers?
So many people are reading the blog. So many new people still join the ranks of readers all the time. They whisper it to me when they see me for that fleeting moment, as I go about my day in the Lehigh Valley. They email it to me. They search me on Facebook to send me a private message. "I'm reading."
Thank you for reading... and thank you for telling me. I know you want to know how the story ends. I won't stop writing.
I've written children's books, poetry, short works of fiction, novels, research studies, and articles... I have a collection of literary works just waiting in the wings... most of which need to be re-done due to how long ago they were written... but THIS... all the writing here on this blog is what I need to say most right now.
Perhaps one day soon a new blog will exist as my identity as the cat widow fizzles out to make way for new things...but this one will always have a place. And maybe, just maybe, that place is not limited to the world wide web.
Back in September of 2014, I wrote a post called Ashes to Wind, and I envisioned what I'd do when I finally scattered Rick's ashes in Maine. I've had a picture in my mind of what I wanted that event to look like... and here I am, fulfilling it at last.
Today, to mark a year, to say good bye, to fulfill his wish, and to get some closure around his death since there is no grave and abruptly never got to see his face or body again, I scattered Rick's ashes near the sea.
A ceremony of one.
Just before sunrise, I walked the Marginal Way and I settled myself in a cove of stone and sea to read Rick the letter I wrote.
Here I am, sitting along the Marginal Way, near the “mermaid rocks” where you took my picture several times. The last time I was here, you were here too. I can’t believe a year has passed…but at the same time, I feel that I am already living a new life. I think that you’d be proud of me. In fact, I can almosthear you say, “You did it, kid. Way to go, A.”
There have been times along the way when I’ve been angry at you for putting me through something so tragic…so traumatic…so heartbreaking. There have been times when I’ve been frustrated I couldn’t get answers to some of my questions. There have been times of loneliness and times of feeling sorry for myself. There have been times of stress and sadness. There have been times of confusion and pain. But in spite of all that, and actually because of all that, I’m living a new life. And so, as strange as it sounds, I want to thank you.
I will never fully understand why you did what you did, and I will always be sad that you put out your own light…but even in the midst of your emotional pain and desperation, I know you knew I’d be all right. I lost count during the years of the number of times you told me I was “amazing” or “full of energy.” You always saw a resilient creature who could easily make her own happiness. You knew I’d find my way through the darkness you created.
It’s been quite a year, Rick. I don’t have to tell you all the things I did, because you already know. You always thought I was a great writer, but I think I’ve surprised even you with the daily blog I’ve kept for the world to read. What a journey this has all been. What a year I’ve had since you’ve been gone.
It’s strange to say good bye to you again when you’ve already been gone a year. But I need to let you go. I came back here to leave a piece of you as you wished, and to say good bye.
So many times this past year, when I’d cry out of the blue, a grief burst socking me in the stomach, I’d find myself whispering, “I’m sorry.” It took me a while to even realize I was saying that as I’d wipe my tears. I think I was apologizing for not being able to help you. I know what happened wasn’t my fault, and I know I don’t have to take responsibility for anything, but I’ve always been so sorry that you could be so low and not get what you needed out of life. I wish it could have been different. I’m sorry, Rick.
I am so full of life and I’m never going to waste it. I am going to live this life so good. No fear. No regrets. No settling.
You taught me a lot of lessons in life and in death. I’m grateful for that. I’m happy I’ve had the experiences I’ve had with you and because of you. Good and bad. I really mean that.
Your life touched mine, Rick. The world may be different because you are no longer in it, but the world will also be different because I was shaped by the experience and now Ido things and will be things I might not otherwise have done/been.
This world will never be as it was when you were here, interacting with people on a daily basis. I know that places will seem emptier, that hearts will seem heavier at times, and that everything has forever changed. But I also know that because of your death, because of how it’s changed me, I will be different. I am different. And because I am different, this world will be different.
I can search for happiness...or I can choose to create it. This is a choice I get to make every day. I feel lucky that despite the lack of control I’ve had over so many things in my life, I always have this choice. I always have the option to search or to create. And I will always choose to create happiness.
For me, there is no other way. Rick, you always knew this about me, and I like to think that it was one of the things you loved.
The choice you made affected me. It's a choice that will always affect me. But I know I can also be happy. The whirlwind of emotions I’ve felt over the last year do not negate my desire to live and breathe and thrive.
So here we go… My life will go on, and it will be different than I imagined... And I’m okay with that. I’m happy with it, Rick.
Your life made a dent in my life. There’s a groove somewhere in my existence that you made. That’s what I’m saying “thank you” for today.
Life kept moving, even after you died. And I have to keep living too, Rick. Keep cheering me on.
Right here, with the sun newly shining above the water, I released Rick's ashes and watched the sea carry him away. This is the spot.
And though I cried all through my letter, I felt freer with every word. And though I cried releasing Rick into the stone and sea, I felt a release too. And though I cried as I looked out over the water alone, when I turned to leave, it was with a smile.
One day, I don't want to be known as the cat widow anymore. I can appreciate that what happened to me has shaped me and given me new perspective. I am glad I ran with it and made a new life for myself. But I don't want my struggle to be my identity.
And so...one day, I don't want to be the cat widow anymore.
I think my life is moving in the right direction...and I'm excited.
Tomorrow is the anniversary of the worst day of my life. But many people read my nightly blog posts the following morning, so it seems fitting to get this all out as I prepare to settle in for the night and wake up on May 18th - a sad, scary day which also happens to be my new Day One. Today is the last day of my year one. Today I described my first 365 days as a widow as "this terrible, crazy, eventful, beautiful year."
When I began this blog last May, I did it with the intention "to grieve, learn, accept, and adapt." I also did it "to cope, heal, and to reach." Those are the words I chose to use in the first post I ever wrote here. Those were my intentions... and I believe I have succeeded.
On May 26th, just a week after Rick left this world, I began this blog, stating:
"A new beginning has presented itself to me, and though it was not my choice, I am choosing to welcome it."
How do you welcome a life-altering event with open arms? How do you relinquish control and give yourself over to the process? How do you move forward each day without expectations, just gratitude?
These are the questions I've asked myself over the course of the last year. And the answers to these questions lie in the posts archived here. The posts are the process, bared for all to see. This has been work. The answers to those questions lie in the work. I have worked very, very, very hard not only to live an authentic and fulfilling life after grief, but I have chosen to share that step-by-step journey with you.
This blog has sent more things my way than I could ever have imagined. I have gained surprise readers who have made an incredible impact on my life. I have been sent anonymous packages. I have developed relationships with strangers who have been through similar experiences. I have deepened existing relationships with friends and co-workers. I have been the recipient of random acts of kindness by way of cookies, cakes, letters, cards, cold medicine, tea, coffees, etc. - and I don't mean just in the first week after Rick's death. The love and support and sweetness has been ongoing, sporadically showing up over the course of this past year.
In good and bad ways, I have been shown the true nature of those in the world around me. I have been guided by a number of people, including my friend Pastor Ginny, the residents I serve, my parents, my best friend's mom, and even myself. I have been surprised, again and again, by the messages, comments, and emails that this blog has generated.
But most of all, I've been surprised by life itself. In a lot of ways, so much has been taken from me...but I have gained so much from this experience too, as strange as that might sound. I believe I have gained so much, because I chose to enter this transition LOOKING for all the positives. Look and you will see. Seek and you will find.
That's not to say I haven't had my awful moments. I have been sad, angry, hurt, lonely, and confused. And everything has been documented here. But the only way out is THROUGH - so I let myself feel all those things instead of pushing them away or hiding them somewhere no one could see.
One year ago, my mind spinning with shock, sorrow, and things to do, I sent a Facebook message to Heather, my best friend's mom (and also a widow), part of which said:
"Maybe I'll start a new blog called The Cat Widow. Even in my grief, I think about a clever blog. WTF."
The next day, I made my half-joking musings a reality and this blog was born. When I began it, I had a vision of a site where I would daily chronicle my grieving process. And I have to admit, I do have a serious sense of pride in knowing that I committed and held fast to that vision without fail. I have written every single day, with very few exceptions, over the course of the last year. 12 months. Hundreds of days.
Today, I was contemplative all morning...running through feelings of gratitude for various people...putting together the pieces of the past year, if such a thing is even possible. I talked about some hard stuff with my co-worker friend Chelle. She thoughtfully brought me a piece of homemade cheesecake. At home, my friend Jennifer and I toasted to Rick's life. I'm mentally preparing for tomorrow...Monday...May 18th...a rough remembrance and a new Day One of a new year ahead for me.
This is not the end of the journey. I'm not ending the blog - at least not today. But don't be surprised if daily posts become bi-weekly posts, or bi-weekly posts become weekly posts.
My life, like these daily blog posts, has been tagged with the key words widow, death, suicide, husband, grief, loss, life... But I'm looking ahead, to key words like happiness, resilience, and love.
Last night, I had two nightmares...but then I had a pretty interesting dream.
I was sitting in the backseat of a moving car. Someone was driving me, but I'm not sure where I was heading. I had my hands in my lap and I was looking out the side window of the car, watching everything passing by.
All of a sudden, an older man in the front passenger's seat turned around to look at me. With an awed look, he said, "All I want is to one day be as happy as you are."
And in that moment, it was like I realized how happy I was inside...and I smiled at him like I knew a secret.
Today was okay and tonight involved a lot of laughing with two of my work friends. I am good at getting right in the moment and living in it so that I can push away any scariness or sadness. I'm still fairly anxious about the rest of the weekend + Monday...but I know that soon it will be over and I'll have hit all the milestones.
At this moment, I'm living the worst part... that feeling of coming home to an empty house after a fun night...lying alone in the darkness, thinking...
It's time for bed... And hopefully good dreams instead of bad ones.
Today when I got home from work, I found myself walking around my house aimlessly, putting dirty laundry in the hamper, feeding my cats, replacing paper towels, looking in the refrigerator, staring at my calendar, gazing out the window...
I found myself standing in my living room, saying out loud to my cats, "Well guys, we did it. It's been almost a year. Can you believe it?"
Then I laughed at myself.
But then I kept talking. "I wasn't sure what this would look like. I wasn't sure what a year into the future would look like. There have been some surprises, most of them good. Do you remember last May? Can you believe how different everything feels now?"
My cats didn't answer me, of course, but they listened just the same.
I feel as though I am involved in a countdown of sorts. I'm just waiting for Monday to show up and pass. A year of pain over. I want to check it off a mental to-do list. I want to breathe that sigh of relief. I think I am feeling a bit of anticipation anxiety about the 18th.
I feel healed and healthy and happy... I feel in charge of my life... but I am afraid (perhaps unnecessarily so) of the resurgence of memories associated with May 18th. I am afraid of the scary stuff. I am afraid of the pit that settles in my stomach when I think about that day. It's a flashback problem. A remembrance of sadness. I can feel myself worrying already about my emotions on Monday.
Knowing myself as I do, the two most difficult parts will be 1) going to sleep on Sunday night alone, thoughts tumbling around in my head and 2) waking up on Monday morning alone, remembering what that day held for me last year, remembering all it represents, feeling alone. I have kicked fear to the curb so many times this past year - and it's been one hell of a year - but I'm afraid of Sunday night into Monday morning. There is something about being alone with the heaviness of such a tragedy that makes a person feel helpless.
I don't want to re-live that day. But almost as though there is a sentence or a deadline, I know I will. And I can't stop that... and I am afraid.
A date has no power over me. I am bigger and stronger than any day, no matter how significant. But still... it's my first time... and I am scared.
It's a vulnerable weekend here upon me. I can't believe it's here. I made it...almost.
I didn't blog last night, mostly because I didn't feel like it. I'm feeling a change in the air... a good one.
I see multiple doors opening in various areas of my life. I feel transition all around me like a rhythmic heartbeat.
I have been thinking about the word "healed." Grief can't be cured or fixed or gotten over. But healing does happen.
- to restore to health or soundness
- to ease or relieve
- to set right; repair
Everything that's happened in my life has shaped me, chiseled me, and molded me into the Arielle who is lying here in this bed right now. But this woman I am - this woman I've become - isn't new. She is just a better, stronger version of the woman who was always here. Healing happened...internal focus played its part and external factors were at play as well.
I still get sad sometimes. I still find shock and horror in certain aspects of my life. I still can't control the trauma reactions that slip into my subconscious and into my affected world at points. But like the definition above says, I've been restored.
I know everything is all part of a plan. I know my life is on the path that's right. I know fate brings me to the destinations and people and gifts that most benefit me. In those things, I am free of doubt. And when I lie here in the stillness, realizing that I am indeed free of doubt that my life is good and that things happen for meaningful reasons, that inner happiness expands inside of me.
It's funny, but I was more emotional today than I was on Rick's birthday. Grief is full of unexpected feelings.
I went to visit my former mother-in-law this morning with a card, flowers, and chocolate. I apologized that her son Rick could not be the one visiting her, that instead she got me. I told her even though Rick was dead, even if I eventually have a new mother-in-law, that she would always be my mother-in-law. I hijacked her box of tissues and wiped at my eyes a lot. We held hands and had a little cry together, but we recovered.
I told her I love her. She gave me kisses and called me "precious." She tried to wrap her head around the fact that her son will be dead for a year next Monday.
Today, I also posted on Facebook an old photo of my mom and me, accompanied by these words:
I have grown up always knowing I have the greatest mom as my mom. She has been an amazing example of a working mom (nurse), a caregiver, and a wife. She is also a comedian, a smarty-pants (though she can fool you with her lack of common sense at times), and a wonderful artist. She has always been supportive, non-judgmental, thoughtful, and fun. People would meet my mom and say, "Wow! I love your mom!" or they would hear a story about her and say, "I wish my mom was like that!" BUT during this last year, from May to May, I've never felt LUCKIER to have her as my mom. She held me on the worst day of my life and stayed with me at night in the same bed. She watched her daughter experience pain and tragedy, plan a funeral, and move forward...but she was hurting too. She took care of my cats while I traveled, she helped me do my laundry and clean my house, told me Rick stories, and she helped me navigate life. I love you, mom, and I wouldn't want any other mom but you! Thank you for being the person you always are, which is the person I always need the most!
After I posted that and my mom read it, she texted me to tell me that the post made her cry, that she loved me, and that Mother's Day was the last time she saw Rick. I hadn't realized that. Rick died exactly 1 week later.
I spent the rest of today with my family - my mom, my dad, both of my grandmothers, my brother, his girlfriend, and my two nieces. I am not a mom, but I have a great one and I know many, many other fantastic ones as well. It's nice to know the world has so many awesome women in it. Today, more than one person told me these words: "Happy Mother's Day. I know you'll be a mom one day." I'm not sure how to feel about that, except to take it as a compliment and move on. I have so much good in my life already, I couldn't possibly ask for anything more.
Earlier tonight, I fell asleep in my living room chair for about 2 hours. While I was asleep, I had a dream that I was alone on vacation somewhere warm, walking from house to house and hotel to hotel, trying to find a place to stay. Every place I came to looked special in some way - fun or beautiful or comfortable - but I could never find a person anywhere who could help me. At once place that looked promising and peaceful, I looked into the window of the closed door to find that it was empty inside, vacant as though it had closed or gone out of business.
I have no idea what a dream like this means, but I do know that when I fell asleep in the early evening it was still light outside and when I woke up later alone in my living room, there was darkness all around me. I was disoriented and lonely. It took me a minute to remember what time of day it was.
My dream was like living disappointment over and over. Every time I'd see a place that looked great, I'd have hope that it would be somewhere I could stay. I'd happily walk up to it to discover that for whatever reason, I could not. Disappointment would hit. Then I'd move on to the next place. On and on and on.
I am so close to the end of this first year of grief. So ready for transition and happiness and new beginnings. No disappointment.
I have a terrible, terrible headache, so I think I'm going to go back to sleep...this time in my bed.
Last week, in a work meeting, someone tried to describe a tragedy that had befallen their family: "This is something that happens to other people. Not you." I nodded along. Yes. I understand that feeling very well.
Like everyone else, I went through life reading books about people who committed suicide, watched TV shows or movies in which characters shot themselves in the head, saw news stories of tragic events or crime scenes. A person killing himself by shooting himself in the head is the kind of horrific thing you hear about, or read about, or know about and you just can't imagine it ever touching your life. It's a scene in a movie or the stuff nightmares are made of.
It's removed from your life, because it is too terrible to ever happen to you.
And then it happened to me. My husband shot himself in the head. I came home to a suicide note and a crime scene. Suddenly, life was very, very different. I became those "other people" stuff like that happens to.
I became a survivor, a widow, the bereaved, a woman in the back of an ambulance with a State Trooper's business card and the coroner's words ringing in my ears.
Endless waiting. Mandatory autopsy. And the questions.
"What medications was he taking?"
"Where was the note?"
"Did you see ever see a gun?"
"What funeral home do you want to use?"
My neighbors lined the sidewalks like it was a show while police with shields went into my house. My dad, mom, and brother - all in separate cars - arrived at my side and tried to put me back together while I sat holding oxygen to my face and EMTs attempted to calm me down. They protected my view as Rick left the house in a body bag.
I tried to feel the ground beneath my feet again.
As May 18th nears again, these are the kinds of memories that flood my brain. It buzzes with the images and sounds of that earth-shattering day. The memories threaten to disturb the happiness I've built around myself.
But when that happens, I do something important. I remember the effects of the sun. The sun on May 18th as I walked bravely back into my house after the police and EMTS left, to begin the evening and my new life. The sun coming strongly in through the window as Rick's brother and I taped old photos to poster boards on my living room floor in the days before the funeral. The sun outside as I left the funeral home to head to Hotel Bethlehem for a luncheon where a ton of people who love me gathered in one room together for the first time since my wedding. The sun just days after the funeral when my friend Daniele and I walked with her dog Tango at Paradise Valley. The sun pouring into Jennifer and Matthew's porch where we ate dinner just days after that. The sun in Branford, CT right on the beach with Libes. The sun on my long, thought-provoking runs. The sun...the sun...the sun...
It nourishes the parts of the soul that are hurting the most, even in the times of greatest darkness. It always fills me back up with light again.
The sun hits all the parts of me...from every angle. The sun illuminates the parts of my memories that hold the hope. The sun shows me what's right in front of me, so good and special, and lets the past lie where it was left.
The sun is my spotlight in the best photographs, splashing life onto emotion onto body onto heart.
The sun is what whispers, "You are alive." A soft caress of warmth, an oppressive heat, a dawning light - no matter how the sun presents itself, it makes itself known and just in case you forgot, whispers again, "You are alive."
One word kept popping into my head tonight as I pondered this wonderful thing called life and the roller coaster of the past year:
- having the ability, fitness, or quality necessary to do or achieve a specified thing.
- open to or admitting of something.
- able to achieve efficiently whatever one has to do; competent.
I was capable. I am capable. I will be capable.
I endured. I lived. I prevailed.
The door on my first year as a widow will close in less than 2 weeks... and here I sit, cats at my side, happy dreams in my head, and a computer screen in front of me... totally and utterly capable.
Well, there's a nifty app that lets you input words to create a word collage... tonight, I made a collage of my blog titles over the last 330 days. The larger the words, the more times the word was used over the course of time.
So I guess you could say at its core, this blog has been about Grief and Time. How accurate.
Sometimes I let my mind wander to the most random of things. I go about my day, completing task after task, only to discover that in the midst of doing something mundane, my mind has arrived at some random destination.
That happened today, and usually when it happens - when my mind stops spinning and arrives somewhere - it's a "full circle" moment or one of those pauses where I nod along to the clarity in my own head for a second.
I found myself arriving at the random thought: where do you find the most widows all in one place?
A nursing home.
Day after day, night after night, what kind of place has the most widows all together?
A nursing home.
And that's where I work.
In the kind of place where there are the most widows.
It wouldn't surprise me at all if my personal experience has the benefit of attempting to make me a better social worker in my current line of work. I've come to realize that this tragedy is fraught with lessons, whether I notice them immediately or not.
I co-lead a grief and loss support group at my place of employment. The other leader is my friend Pastor Ginny who gave the funeral service for Rick for me last year. Together, we call our support group "Lessons in Loss" and every other week for almost a year now, we've gathered residents together to learn and share...while learning and sharing ourselves.
Instead of just a "kid" (to our elder population anyway) or the Social Work Director with a penchant for leading groups, I have something in common with the residents who sit around the table with Pastor Ginny and me every other week. I'm a widow too. I know about loss. I'm not just talking the talk... I walked the walk. And sometimes when someone new comes along and she's decades older than I am, but she just lost her husband... I've been there before her. And that's weird. Because I'm 30. But it's cool. Because I can help.
I've been mentally mapping out a timeline of this past year.
Just a week after Rick's funeral, I traveled to the Philadelphia Zoo with my friend Jenn to be a guest speaker at the official NEDA (National Eating Disorder Association) Walk. I'm not exactly sure how I had the stamina and mental clarity to do such a thing at that particular time, but somehow it happened. I had made the commitment and it was important to me to follow through.
I traveled to Connecticut to help my best friend Libes shop for a wedding dress.
An impromptu day at Mauch Chunk Lake Campground.
My good friend Alicia traveled from Michigan to see me.
Back to CT for Libes's engagement party.
Girls winery weekend outside of Philadelphia in honor of my good friend Beth's upcoming wedding.
Beth's wedding outside of Philadelphia.
American Foundation for Suicide Prevention Walk at Lehigh Parkway. My team was awesome, massive, and raised tons of money.
I turned 30. My friends took me out for a surprise dinner. I skipped a night of blogging for the first time in 142 days.
Pumpkin Day 2014 with Jennifer - a new tradition.
Back to CT for my best friend's bridal shower.
Halloween at the Bair household, complete with Sotos and a Durn.
Alicia came back from Michigan to visit! We went to Rittenhouse Square in Philly.
I escaped Thanksgiving and ran away to Denver, Colorado for a week.
Back to CT for my best friend's birthday.
A special Christmas Eve dinner - Salisbury, Durn & Bair style.
Off to NYC for Libes's Bachelorette Party. Visited the 9/11 museum with Lindy and Beth as well while I was there.
I put my house on the market.
My world started getting even brighter, especially towards the end of the month.
Surprise package from the anonymous widower.
A visit to NYC with my mom for a Broadway show.
Matron of Honor duties and wedding weekend in Connecticut for my best friend.
Adventures and a concert in Philly with my friend Daniele.
Virginia Beach for my friend Lindy's wedding.
3 weeks until Ogunquit, Maine with my mom.
May to May, it's been quite a year. I'm in the homestretch. It's all coming together...
There's nothing more awkward and low than being at a wedding, being out on the dance floor for an upbeat song...and then the song ends and a slow one begins...and as you look from side to side, watching everyone else reach for someone, you slink away alone.
I like to think I'm a fun girl...I like to think I can have fun no matter what...and I have, so many times...but damn, I was kind of mopey tonight.
Dressed to the nines, hyper from my little coffee tour earlier today, and smiling with friends, I was ready to have fun...but I just couldn't figure out the knack somehow.
The wedding was lovely, the reception was awesome, but my mind was elsewhere and I couldn't shake it.
No big deal, just the way it is sometimes I guess.
But after 3 weddings alone in the same year, I think I've overplayed that role at this point.
Tomorrow morning, I'll be on my way to Virginia Beach for my friend Lindy's wedding. Last June, just one month after Rick died, I spent a day at the beach with my three friends - Libes, Beth, and Lindy. I documented that day here on this blog.
"All three of my friends are getting married in the next year," I wrote that day. "I hear them talk about their plans and smile. All three of them deserve so much love and happiness. I am so excited to share in their joy and to see their lives unfold. It is a stark contrast to my own life, though, and it couldn't be clearer. They are starting their lives with the men they love and my life is just a blank page."
Well, Lindy is the last of the 3 getting married. The year of those 3 weddings, and simultaneously my first year post-death, is about to come to an end.
I remember that day at the beach and how I struggled to live in the now... turning off parts of my brain as needed in order to be able to smile, talk, and laugh. I have been lucky to have such good friends - those 3 among them - to punctuate this past year with many days of enjoyment and camaraderie.
Even back then, after that day at the beach, I wrote: "I don't have to think about my life pre-death or my life post-death. I don't have to draw a marker down the center of the timeline that is my life. I try to put a positive spin on the hand I've been dealt: I'm a writer, so a blank page has always appealed to me. I can do this. I have to live in the now, because there is no other way."
As a woman who is all about self-reflection, I love it when things come full circle. So here I am, kind of proud to say that for the most part I've learned to live in the now. And it's served me well! I still get impatient at times or find myself, like any normal person, letting my thoughts jump to the future, but I think that's healthy and only natural. I know, though, that I've learned to enjoy living in the moment. And I've been given the gift of so many great moments lately. I have been collecting so many moments of awesome, happy, special, and meaningful over the last few months. And as for how I feel about my life moving forward...I've discovered that living in the moment is actually the best way to begin to fill that blank page with the things that really matter...and the things I really want.
The braver we become, the more we are rewarded. This is why we can experience such hardship, why we can face challenges, why we can endure great pain...AND STILL COME OUT ON TOP.
Perhaps come out better.
Perhaps come out happier.
There are times when I can feel my life expanding. I watch my future spread out before me, vast and beautiful. I know that courage brought me here, to this point. To this moment. I know that courage taught me, molded me, and propelled me forward. My past knows me. But my future is waiting, ready to receive me.
When I was a little girl and I went to sleep at night, I lived with my parents, so they were in the house.
When I went away to college, I always had a room mate (or room mates) every year, so when I went to sleep at night, someone was asleep in the same room, in a bed just feet from my own.
When I finished college, I moved back home for almost a year. I lived with my parents, so when I went to sleep at night, they were in the house.
When Rick and I got engaged, I moved out of my parents' house and began living with Rick, so when I went to sleep at night, Rick was with me.
For the next 7 years, when I went to sleep at night, Rick was there.
Which means once Rick died, shockingly enough for the first time in my whole life, I was alone at night. I learned to sleep alone in a quiet house.
Until Rick's death, my life was comprised of transition after transition, where I had somehow moved through 29 years of...never living alone.
Like a little frog, I hopped from lily pad to lily pad...always sharing space with someone else. But for the last year, I've lived alone and I've slept alone at night. No parents. No room mates. No significant other. No kids of my own. Just me. And the nights.
And you know what I realized? It's not so much that I've learned to sleep alone. It's that I've learned to sleep with myself.
Every night, no extra stuff going on around me, no human interaction, no breathing somewhere else in the house... but the house isn't empty, because I'm there. Me. So much of me. Emotions to untangle. Words to write. Songs to sing. Thoughts to hear. Dreams to dream. Tears to cry. Lessons to learn. Me. So much of me.
Literally hundreds (320+ so far) of days of learning... of having the new experience... of sleeping with myself.
We are fast approaching May. Last May was the worst month of my life. I can hardly believe it is about to be May again. It doesn't seem possible.
And yet... in most ways, it seems ages ago. I feel as though I've been living this life for such a long time. I am used to living alone. I am used to total independence. I am used to being the woman who writes on a widow blog each night.
But all that can change too.
May is a month of transition... I welcome it this year in ways I could not welcome it last year. So much is happening around me and inside of me. I sense change and promise brewing. I sense relief. I will finally be free of the most difficult year of my life. I am ready to release this past year - spring to spring - May to May - and completely begin again. In truth, I have never been more ready.
I think if I was still in graduate school, I would do a research study on selfies. I'm serious. I believe I could turn it into a social work issue.
Long before "selfie" was even a term, taking photos of myself was part of my recovery from an eating disorder. 12 years ago, in an attempt to see the beauty I had a difficult time seeing, I began taking a lot of photos of myself. This was long before you posted stuff like that. Before Facebook. Before Instagram. Before you shared your face after you snapped a picture.
I didn't take pictures of myself to look for bones and thinness. I took pictures of myself to look for beauty in them. The purpose was to try to like the photos I took of myself. Or at least to like something about them.
Taking selfies (before the word "selfie" existed) was how I learned to smile at myself. How I learned to laugh at myself. It was how I learned to tell myself it was okay to have thoughts like, "Wow, I look really nice here" or "I like this picture of myself." It was how I learned that liking a photo of myself didn’t mean I was conceited. It was how I learned to perceive happiness in my face in a picture. It was how I learned to like my own appearance, even as the weight went on.
Back when taking selfies would have been deemed ridiculous or unheard of or horribly self-centered, I used to just sit with myself, inside or outside, hair up or hair down, and snap photos of my own face and body with my old digital camera. I'd upload them to my computer and save them in a folder. Then, instead of picking them apart, which was the initial reaction my mind had, I did my best to admire them.
As time wore on and self-criticism was replaced with self-confidence, I took selfies more to chronicle feelings and changes in myself. Not to share, just to keep for my own personal reflection. And then lo and behold, selfies became a craze... First, selfies were mocked with zeal, then they were all the rage, and now, they are simply part of our new culture.
If I could make a video montage of all my selfies from the last year, I know it would show a progression of great magnitude. A tale of grief and growth and change and strength and emotion. When I post a selfie, it's not to say, "Hey, look at me!" - it's to say, "Hey, look what's happened to me! Look what's changed in me! Look what's inside me!"
I mean, yes, selfies are a portrayal of the outward appearance. Obviously you can't ignore that or discount it. But I know damn well that every one of my selfies shows just as much of what's inside me as what's on the outside. And that's what I think is so cool.
You know what they say: a picture is worth a thousand words.
This morning, I was having a nightmare and I couldn't wake up. I knew I was dreaming, but I couldn't awaken myself. My limbs were heavy, my eyes wouldn't open, and I felt sluggish and unable to break away from my dreamworld.
Please make it stop, please make it stop, please make it stop was thundering in my head and I was willing myself to get out of there, to end the dream. To wake. To be free.
I eventually woke up thrashing in bed, panting, cats aside of me.
And as my heart began to slow and I steadied myself in the real world, sheets tangled around me, I breathed a sigh of relief, because there is a difference now.
Before, when I would wake up from a bad dream, it would be to the heavy realization that my life was still a nightmare. I would lie there, deadened, anxious for relief from the bad dream that had just ended... but no relief would come, because life was difficult. Waking up brought no immediate rush of solace. Remembering my lot in life would hit me like a ton of bricks. And the dreamworld nightmare would fade, but it wouldn't be replaced with better emotions.
Now, it's different.
I woke up from my nightmare, breathed that sigh of relief, and felt ease. Joy. Gratitude. Love. The sunlight hit me in bed and I smiled. Thank God it was all just a dream, I thought. Relief flooded my heart. Good things are here. And even better things are coming.
When I say that I have been a writer my entire life, I'm not exaggerating. I know that I've posted before about my childhood writing aspirations and my first "novel" at age 7. But fictional stories aside, for a long, long time I've been mastering the art of self-reflection. To really understand Arielle, you have to understand that The Cat Widow is just normal course of action for a child who began writing her deepest thoughts and feelings way back in elementary school.
I still own journal entries from when I was as young as 10.
Decades ago, at 9:39 PM on a Monday (yes, I always wrote the exact date, day, and time), 11 year old Arielle wrote:
"I really want to be different, do something that no one else has ever done."
I'll admit that from time to time, the entries waver on humorously dramatic, such as when I wrote that same year, "Please read this with respect for your childhood." I always chuckle to note how I gave myself directives, as though I knew I would always be the kind of girl who would save her writing and look back many years later. It wasn't out of character for me to write myself a note on the page, addressing myself by name, like a letter to the future.
But I guess what I'm trying to say is that it is not my experience with tragedy and widowhood that makes me the way I am...or that causes me to write the way I write. Long before I was ever grown up, my old little soul was writing journal entries that are eerily similar to the tone and depth of this very blog.
At 9:21 pm on a Tuesday in 1996, I was 11 years old, sad and conflicted about something...and I wrote: "What will I do? My good, strong, fearless spirit will help me."
2 days later, I wrote: "There is a saying: 'Those who endure most are rewarded most.' I believe it is true and I have endured a lot so maybe my reward is yet to come."
I read these sentences from my childhood and realize with some surprise that they could be posted here, in 2015 - on this blog - and still hold the same weight, still resonate, and still be true.
When I was 13, I wrote: "I feel years older." And I've always felt that way. I carry that girl with me every day...the 7 year old, the 11 year old, the 13 year old... she has taught herself along the way to 30 that the act of feeling - really feeling - is the pathway to writing... and by writing, she can be the person she wants to be.
There are nights I sit here, waiting to see what I'll write. It's not because I don't have anything to say...it's not because I don't know what to say. It's because I have too much to say. And on nights like that, rather than write a long post, babbling on and on, getting philosophical or introspective to the max, I look back. I click through the archives and take myself back to different posts in my own mental timeline, just to see how I've fared.
12 weeks ago, I wrote:
It's fun to play this game of life, but sometimes I'd rather just take a deep breath, fall, and be caught. I get tired just like everyone else. I get scared.
11 weeks ago:
I don't know what I'm doing...I don't know what I'm doing at all...but at least I'm having fun.
10 weeks ago, I wrote:
Life is a ride. A pretty cool ride actually. Every single day - no, every single moment - is a crossroads of some sort. You can take so many different paths - left, right, back, forward...you can even stand still. You get to decide. Even though there are so many curveballs, so many circumstances, so many risks, so many questions, so many positives and negatives, we get to decide what direction we take. And that in itself is empowering.
At 9 weeks, I skipped a night of blogging because "I wanted to feel everything but keep it and not give it away."
The outer layers of the onion that is my heart are no longer ripped and shredded and bruised. They've been ripped away completely and that strong, resilient core is all that's left. My heart beats in a different way now.
And I really like it.
No, I love it.
6 weeks ago:
I enjoy being pleasantly surprised. That tends to be the most fulfilling kind of life - the kind that surprises you.
5 weeks ago, I wrote:
The Universe works at its own pace. And since my every day already holds great things, it's easy to believe that even better things are coming. As Tom Petty sings, "The waiting is the hardest part..." But I will always, always, always wait for the things that are worthwhile in this life.
4 weeks ago, I listed the things that are important to me in life (living in the moment, positive relationships with the people in your life, genuine interactions, kindness, laughter, real love, hope, passion, honesty, respect, and fulfillment).
3 weeks ago, I wrote:
The quiet, soft, open kind of crying is the kind of crying that so few have seen...the kind that brings me closer to those who have witnessed it...and closer still to those who have wrapped me up (figuratively or literally) in their love and understanding.
2 weeks ago:
I'm resilient, folks. Don't expect to see me crash and burn. I am full of life.
And 1 week ago:
If you have no expectations, everything is a gift.
And tonight, I sit here typing at almost midnight, looking at just the titles of my blog posts over the last 3 months...