Attitude of Gratitude

In one week I’m getting remarried.  I’ve written quite a bit about this adventure of trusting again and daring to date again after loss.  I’ve also heard the words, “Now you won’t be a widow anymore!” Uh…nope! Once a widow, always a widow. But here’s the thing: there can be life after widowhood.  It doesn’t mean you don’t love your late spouse, or that the love shared in that relationship wasn’t “enough”. It doesn’t have to mean anything at all.  For me, it means that I can take the love we shared, the person I became because of our love, the lessons learned, and love again.

Loss leaves you with a choice: what to do with the time you have left. What attitude will you have? What will be your perspective on life and death?  For me, I decided early on to have an attitude of gratitude.   As I mentioned early on, a friend of mine, who had also been widowed at a young age, gave me a journal during that first month. The journal had a spot for writing the good things that happened that day.  Writing in that journal daily put me in the practice of looking for the blessings in each day.  That practice lasted long after the journal was filled and packed away.  An attitude of gratitude helped me to change the way I look at things.  It’s easy to get caught up in the negativity of each day, or the trials that can come along, but it’s also easy to find the good when we look for it.

If you write down those blessings and take time to look back through them sometimes, it’s easy to see how things have worked out. For me, I prefer to see it as the hand of God in my life. Looking back, it’s easy to see the lessons learned, the fears overcome, the support provided at much needed times, and most importantly, how this whole experience has formed me into the person I am now.

It’s easy to slug through each day, just trying to survive. Writing things down and looking back at them provides us the gift of hindsight and the ability to see what we’ve not only survived but how what we needed was provided for us, maybe not exactly when we thought we needed it, or how we wanted it, but provided all the same.

He and I were talking last night about details of the nuptial Mass, and it was then that the ugly grief monster reared it’s head in an unexpected way.  I’ll be speaking words I never thought I’d say again, hearing prayers I never thought I’d hear again, and exchanging rings again.  Do I feel guilty? No. I just feel sad that forever with my late husband ended way too soon, and pray that this forever lasts decades longer, which is a gamble at our current ages.

Next Friday will be bittersweet. We’ve traveled a long, winding road full of obstacles to get here.  Our families and dear friends will be present for the happy occasion, and I’m sure, somewhere, he’ll be smiling down on us and giving his blessing, too.


The Grief Spiral Still Exists

We (my fiance and I) just got back from a 10 hour one way trip down south to close up his property and move the rest of his things up here. It was a great, though physically demanding, trip and we realized on the way home that we’ve been “a couple” for about eight months now and haven’t had our first fight yet! That’s got to be a record.

Still, I found myself moody at times this week, and then I realized the dates and why. This week would have been our 27th wedding anniversary, and we always did our anniversary up big ( Tough Times ).   Even when you try to ignore things, that old spiral comes back to bite you. Even when you try to focus on the positive and how wonderful life is now, that ache of loss can still sneak in.

We were sitting in Mass on Sunday and, out of nowhere, I heard his voice as if he was whispering directly in my ear saying, “Be happy, Sweet Cheeks.”  I know it was permission from him to be happy again and to continue living.

This week will be difficult, I’m sure, although probably not as badly as past years. Still, I wonder if certain dates will every slip by without remembering, or without a little bite from the ever messy grief spiral.

Life goes on….. Life can be happy again…… But the loss never goes away……

Living Again Doesn’t Mean Forgetting

It’s been two months since the sale and move from what was our home to the new house. I admit it, it’s been a bit strange, but it’s also felt right and has felt like home since the moment I stepped in the door.  I’d be lying if I said it was easy to leave that house.  It was very late at night when we loaded the last of the items and I went to look around one last time.  And I lost it.  All I could see in my mind’s eye was Christmas mornings, and I could hear his laugh and see our son’s joy. And the tears flowed.  My fiance was supportive. He knew when to give me space and when to come to me. That would be when the ugly cry started.  Yet, as I look back and think about it all, I realize it hasn’t been home for a long time. It was a shell of what it used to be and I was really no longer happy there. It was becoming a tomb of memories and memorials with no real feeling of life.

People keep asking me how I like the new house, and congratulating me on my upcoming nuptials. I hear things like, “Now you can start over,” or ” You can put the past behind you.”  Others get it and say things like, “You know your late husband has to be happy for you,” or “He would want you to be happy.”  And yes, I know he would, and I’ve received my signs.  Following your heart is almost always a good thing.

But here’s the thing.  Starting over doesn’t mean I’m forgetting him.  Loving again doesn’t mean I no longer love him.  The way I’ve described it is that when you have another child, you don’t stop loving the first one. They’re completely different people, and the heart is capable of great love and change.  How can I forget 25 years of my life, and 22 years of marriage?  It’s impossible.  And yet I’m head over heels in love with my fiance.  It’s a totally different love because he’s a totally different person and completely different from my late husband.  There is no comparison.  Oh, sure, there’s been twice when I’ve accidentally called him the wrong name, both when I was over tired and complaining about something, but as I’ve heard from others, that’s totally normal.

And I’m finding that it’s easier to let go of his things now that I’m in this space. There are certain things I’ll never get rid of, but others that were so much a part of that house just don’t fit in this house.  It’s the same with a lot of mementos from other parts of my life. I find I’m looking at things with new eyes and I don’t need the stuff.  The memories are in my heart, where they will always be, not in the stuff.

My late husband will always be a part of me. It’s because of him that I am who I am today, and it’s because of this journey that I”m able to be the spouse my fiance deserves at this stage of our lives. I will always love them both. ‘Nuff said.

Is this the end of the blog? Probably not…..The journey never ends.  But I might just share wedding photos in the fall.


The Roller Coaster Ride Continues

In two weeks, it will all be over.  In two weeks, this house will no longer be mine.  In two weeks, I’ll be in a new house, with my “new” fiance, and without a dedicated room for my son.

As the time draws nearer, the roller coaster of emotions gets more intense. One part of me is incredibly excited that the time is almost here, that “my guy” will be here for longer than four days, although he’s not yet moving here permanently. We’ll finally be starting what we’ve dreamed of for several months.  Then, like a roller coaster, the bottom drops out, and I’m in free fall, encountering “landmines” as I pack and memories coming out of nowhere.  This week, two things snuck up on me: 1) As I was packing up my closet, out of nowhere I found his favorite baseball cap.  He wore this cap everywhere. It’s completely stained with sweat and totally worn and falling apart.  Yep! Tears fell.  2) As I was packing up the bathroom, in the back of a drawer was a baggie filled with medical gloves, or, as we liked to call them, “Papa Smurf gloves”.  No tears this time, just laughter.  Any wife of an athletic trainer knows you find these gloves in the most unlikely places, but the worst is when they go through the dryer.  So many memories, and so perfect that, of everything I could have found, it had to be those. I had to laugh!

I was talking with “my guy” yesterday, working out the details of the move. I told him that I will need some time as we empty this house. I know that, amidst the hubbub of friends, movers, trucks, boxes, and furniture, I will need some time alone to say goodbye.  It brings tears even thinking about it.  I need to allow myself time in each room and most of all, our yard.  I’ll hate that the swing will already be moved.  In the last four years,I’ve spent a lot of time in that swing, my dad’s swing, thinking through things.  I wish the weather would cooperate, allowing me one more time there with this view, but it doesn’t appear to be possible.

It’s a crazy feeling to feel both emotions at once: the excitement and anticipation of a new beginning with such an amazing man I never expected to love like this, and the unexpected wave of grief and the feeling of saying a final goodbye to the man who was my husband for over twenty-two years and almost half my life.   This house is no longer home, but it’s still difficult.

By the way, I never liked roller coasters.

The Two Sides of Change

As the date for the move grows near and my house continues to be deconstructed, I find myself in strange moods.  Part of me is so incredibly excited to start this new life and to have him here helping to make all of this come true, while the other part of me can’t help but remember back twelve and a half years ago when we moved into this house, and all the dreams we had then.

Packing up of course means revisiting his things, but it also means packing up things that I did after the funeral.  After the funeral, I created a corner downstairs filled with all of his awards, halls of fame plaques, and various memorials received.  Today I had to take it all down.  Packing up pictures means packing away photos around the house that I still routinely look at and “talk” to him.  At the same time, I’m packing up my son’s belongings to take to his new home.  That’s a lot of change!!!

It is truly a roller coaster ride of emotions these days. I’m excited for what lies ahead and I can’t imagine my life without my fiance now. At the same time, it feels like I’m losing my late husband all over again in so many ways.  This time it’s saying goodbye and revisiting all the lost dreams, all the little (and big) things he did for me.  It will be especially difficult to leave the back yard, which was the last big gift he gave me.  Leaving my lilacs, roses, hydrangea, and garden is probably the most difficult, especially his memorial rose.

When the day comes in three weeks to walk out of this house for the last time, there will probably be tears.  But I know as soon as we get into our new house and start setting things up, the promise and hope of the future will win out.

It’s true that memories are nice to visit, but you can’t live in the past.  Still, even positive, exciting change can be difficult.  Risking to love again is scary, because with that risk comes the risk of loss again.  But life is about risk.  And life is about change.  And I know that, even though there’s a side of sadness served with it, that this change will be amazing.

On Leaving…..

In almost exactly one month I will leave this house that was our home for eight and a half years, and mine for twelve years. The house that was our dream house. The house that had a two car garage that he was so in love with he would go press the button just to watch the door go up and down. The house I was so in love with that I actually hugged it. Yes, I hugged the house. Multiple times.  The house I declared I would live in until I either died or could no longer live independently.

Oh, how much can change in twelve years. When we moved into this house, I was still disabled and wearing leg braces. Now, I can walk as far as I want in whatever shoes I want.  When we moved into this house, we didn’t have enough furniture for it. Now I’m downsizing and deciding what to sell.  When we moved into this house, our son was ten years old. Now he’s an adult and moved out on his own.

You would think that starting to pack up this place and selling things off would cause me to wax nostalgic far more than just a couple of paragraphs. The truth is, this is no longer home.  If I’m completely honest, it’s not been home since he’s been gone. For a long time, it was a haven of memories, but now, it’s just a place that deserves more.

Having to go through the last of his things has been difficult, I won’t lie, but the time comes when you finally realize that things don’t hold as much meaning. The memories are with me, with or without his things.

I’m excited about the new life ahead. There’s still a small part of me that feels guilty, and a part of me that’s sad to let go of the rest of it all, and still a good part of me that’s still mad at him for dying.  But mostly, I’m looking forward to what this new life will be, and to spending the rest whatever’s left of my life with  “him” and beyond grateful to find such an unbelievable love at this stage of life.  It’s time for new dreams and a new home.

Postscript: For those who believe in signs, I fully believe that it has happened and he is happy for me.  Going on with life does not mean forgetting or no longer loving him.  I will always love him, times infinity squared.

Advice to the me of 4 years ago

Brad Paisley has a song called, “Letter to Me” where his adult self writes a letter to his younger high school aged self.  Hearing it on the radio today got me to thinking about what I’d say to the me of four years ago, fresh off the unexpected death of my husband.

At the time I was blessed to receive a letter from a friend who gave me advice on how to get through and what to expect. It was helpful, but there are still things I would tell the me of then, from the me of now.

  1. Ignore people who say everything happens for a reason.  Sometimes there is no reason. Sometimes free will comes into play and you don’t have to understand everything, especially not how free will affects God’s will.  Leave that to one of your favorite priests and have that conversation with him over a beer a few years down the road.
  2. It’s true what they say. Don’t make any major decisions in the first year. The fog of grief is real, and while you think you’re doing the right thing, you may regret it even years later.  No….major…decisions.  Don’t move away, don’t change jobs, don’t get rid of everything.
  3. Let yourself feel. Even the most painful pain. Feel it. Own it. Scream. Cry. (But don’t punch a wall.  You know what happens when you punch walls.) Don’t try to stuff it down inside. It will find its way out, some way, some how. Numbness gives way to pain, and you have to feel it to fully grieve.
  4. Fear is okay.  Much of grief is fear. Fear of the future. Fear of the unknown. Fear of what life will be like without him. Fear of how to take care of your son. Just remember to feel the fear and do it anyway. Fear can be crippling. It’s one of the feelings you must feel, but you don’t have to live there.
  5. Don’t listen to others who try to give you advice about your son. You know him. You love him. You know what’s best for him. Listen to your inner mama bear and protect him above all costs. He’s grieving, too, and needs to move at his own pace, not yours or anyone else’s.
  6. It’s okay to explore your options. Life is not stagnant.  There will be days you wish you could just stop time and wallow, but the rest of the world is still moving.  Life will never be the same again, and you have decisions to make. Take your time, pray, consider options, but make decisions and trust yourself.
  7. It’s okay to love again. If you’re blessed enough to find love again, you don’t have to let go of your past or stop missing him, or even stop grieving him. And the right man will understand that and care for your heart in tough times, too. (This happens, by the way, when you least expect it, and, wow, is he amazing.)

The 4 year anniversary of his unexpected death is Monday. A part of me died that day, too. But a new part of me has come to life in recent months, and a new life awaits.   As tough as the journey has been, it has shaped me into who I am today. His love formed me, the love of God and friends sustains me, and new love gives me hope; something I thought died with him.