Sunday, December 14, 2014

"I Can't Feel My Life"

A couple of weeks ago, I was trying to get a little Christmas shopping done and I remember leaving a store and driving down the street.  I looked around and saw the decorations in the store windows and life buzzing all around me and I felt so detached.  Like it wasn’t real or like it really had nothing to do with me.

I was going through the motions, like so many of us do, doing what needed to be done without really letting life sink in.  Or maybe I was just in a mental place that wouldn't allow it to penetrate my surface.

It’s a disconcerting feeling, walking through moments in life that should be felt but you don’t know if you’re capable of it.  Watching others laugh and laughing along with them…but not really feeling the joy in your soul.  Even living moments when you know you should be sad but some part of you can’t absorb what’s going on…and watching life’s moments pass by as if they’re part of a movie reel and not part of the life you’re living.

There is a moment during the movie Postcards from the Edge when Meryl Streep says, “I can’t feel my life.  I look around me and I know so much of it is good.”  And I would think that most people have times in their lives when they know exactly what she’s talking about.  Life gets busy or overwhelming or too serious and we’re almost forced into a role of abstract observation.

Time to evaluate and realize.

Of course, these phases of detachment are often followed by times when I feel almost too much and the ups and downs must be dealt with in a different way.  Joy is felt deeply.  Sorrow is cried about.  Life gets scary and then it’s wonderful in ways I can’t put into words.  

I was thinking about this earlier today…about which scenario is better:  is it easier to stand back from your life as an observer or feel each moment?

The only thing I came up with was that it’s an in-between place that I think we call “contentment” that is the happy medium.  Those fleeting moments we experience whether we’re on an upswing or down – the up, knowing how good life is about to be even if it’s temporary.  And the down, appreciating where we were when we were up.

Those are the moments that make life worth the ride.

Monday, November 17, 2014

A Shot of Unexpected Grief with a Hormone Chaser

I have realized in the last few months that some people out there think that I'm somewhat of an expert on grief because I wrote a book about it.  I know this because I've received quite a few emails congratulating me on having it all figured out. And while there is part of me that appreciates it, the other has been thinking all of these months, "Well, at least I know what I can write a sequel about." 

I think I'll call it Eight Years Later and I Still Don't Know What the Hell I'm Doing.

Kind of long, but you get my drift.

I actually think that the title "grief expert" is either complete bullshit or there are millions of grief experts out there.  No one can be an overall expert on an experience that is so individual and personal.  BUT everyone can be their own grief expert.

Great.  Now I sound like an infomercial.

The problem is that sometimes I start to believe my own PR...and that's never a good thing.  Because I'm somewhat self-aware and have figured out how to write about it, I've had moments when I do think I have my shit together.

And then moments, like this morning, when I think I'm a complete moron for even entertaining that notion.

I couldn't sleep last night, which isn't anything new.  My mind was in overdrive and would Not.  Slow. Down.  It was like I'd had a four-pack of Red Bull with a double espresso chaser.  I can't even tell you what I was thinking about, my mind was racing so fast. And so this morning, I woke up (sort of) and felt completely disoriented.  I felt shaky and dizzy and in a complete fog and try as I might...I couldn't get myself out of it.

I dismissed it as a lot of things - I'm thinking about making some major changes in my life and while they aren't going to happen immediately, I always worry at least six months in advance.  Maybe I was just tired from the weekend.  Maybe I wasn't active enough this weekend.  Maybe, maybe, maybe.

And then I started to cry.

Which made me realize what it actually was.

Wednesday is our 8th annual Daddy Day.  Otherwise known as my husband's birthday.

And then I felt like an idiot.

For crying out loud (literally)...I have written for years about how my body reacts to grief I'm not recognizing!  Shaky, dizzy,'s all right there in the handbook!  I have a whole section in my book called "Milestones:  I'd rather pass a kidney stone than a milestone" and I still didn't get it right away.

My slow down and self-forgiveness kicked in a little late this year, but I've got it now.  Today is my one day off and while I had planned to go to yoga, I decided I'm just too emotional for it and chose to meditate at home instead.  In a little while, I will try to get some sunshine but no matter what happens...I will not beat myself up for the next few days.  Whatever I can do, I will do.  Whatever I can't is just going to have to wait.

And because I have a PMS kicker going on right now, I'm a little bitter about this turn in my week.  So all I have to say about this is....

Happy 42nd Birthday, Brad.  You owe me a pedicure.

Monday, October 6, 2014

The Big Picture

You'll have to forgive me with this post because it's more for me than for you.  You know how it's sometimes helpful to find a good friend and think out loud?  Well, this is my version of that.

Just be glad you're not on my speed dial.

One of the biggest running themes of widowhood is "the big picture."  We're scared of it.  No, wait.  We were scared of it before our spouses died - what happens if one of us loses a job or we can't pay a bill or our car breaks down? - but in the wake of widowhood...the big picture is nothing short of terrifying.

I've always been a big picture person because I'm a control freak and a planner.  You'd think that the death of my husband would have cured me of that (obviously not something I had on my calendar) but it hasn't.  I think it did for a short while when I went through my "I can be as self-destructive as I want to because life is short and I could go tomorrow so why not live it up" phase.  But that didn't last long and pretty soon I was back to my old ways.

I think that sometimes I get "big picture" confused with goals.  Goals are good.  Goals are what keep us moving through our day and growing as human beings.  But I think focusing on the big picture is bad.

Scary and bad.

The big picture is either one of two things for me:  It's either so overwhelming I can't even wrap my head around it (what if we get Ebola?  What if the economy crashes?  What if, what if, what if?) or it looks bright and sunny and how in the world can I achieve all that I need to in order to make that happen?

As my therapist says...I operate in absolutes (either all good or all bad).  I'm working on that.

 You see, I've gotten myself into a little bit of a pickle with this whole big picture thing because I really envisioned that my life would be different by now.  I thought I would be well past every ounce of grief I would have and settled where I wanted to be in my life, both personally and professionally.

In other words...I thought I would be happy. 

And I am.  Sometimes.  But sometimes I'm not.  Because the problem with this fairytale way of thinking is that it's not permanent.  Happiness is not a constant for anyone.  Unfortunately, even if you have all of your shit together, your car can still break down, you can still catch the flu, and there is always a never-ending list of things that need to be fixed around your house.

Even lottery winners sometimes have issues with their plumbing.

Happiness is fleeting.  For everyone.  It comes and goes and as much as we try to chase it, it's usually the things that we didn't even count on when we think about the big picture that make us happy.

I don't know about anyone else, but my big picture usually includes all of the things I need to do to get where I think I want to be.  But that's just not realistic because every day brings so much change, it's impossible to completely stick to that step by step process.  It can be good and bad things, but not knowing what's ahead makes it impossible to completely take control of the overall scope of our lives.

In other words...the big picture, whether it's awesome or scary, is really a load of crap.


The other day, I was writing a scene for a novel I'm working on and I was in that mode that I love, when I'm so completely into the story it's like I'm reading it instead of writing it.  And even though I had outlined the general story (something I almost never do), something happened to a character that completely shocked me.

And I was the one who was writing it.

What happened changed so many things going forward - how this woman operated, how others reacted to her, and how I related to her even though she's a fictional character.  One incident that wasn't even on my radar completely changed the story I had planned.

Just as it would in real life.


This has completely altered the way I think about my life.  In fact, I didn't even realize that I thought this way until these last few months when I've had to truly digest that life is so different from what I envisioned.  Yes, I have moments of happiness, but I still have moments of sorrow.  Yes, I've achieved a lot of the things I wanted to, but there will always be something else I want to experience.  I've had to pause every once in a while and think, "Even if everything you wanted to happen had happened...what do you think your life would look like now?"

And then I have to stop myself from fantasizing about the "perfect life" that, even if everything had worked as planned, would really not be happening.  I have to remind myself that even if everything had unfolded as I dreamed it would I would still need new tires on my car, I would still need to figure out how I was going to get all three kids to the dentist, and that there just isn't this perfect "happily ever after" for anyone - as much as we would all love that to happen.  There isn't a magical moment when we feel like everything has been wrapped up in a perfect Disney ending.

It all ebbs and flows, evolves, changes constantly, and provides us with the ups and downs that everyone experiences.

That's the big picture.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Drinking for Fun or Drinking to Numb?

I swear I've written a blog about this subject, but for the life of me I can't find it.  So, if you've been reading this blog for years I apologize if this is a repeat.  But then again, maybe it bears repeating.

I received an email from someone who was generally beating herself up because of a falling out with family members during the last week.  Her husband has only been gone a month.

Now, as almost all of you know...nothing brings out the best and the worst in people like the death of a loved one.  We all say things in the heat of the moment that we hope will be forgiven someday (or we hope we find the patience to forgive others for things they might have said).  I know I've been there - as those of you who read my book know, my mom and I had a falling out over the cardboard boxes in my garage just weeks after my husband's death. 

It happens.

But this woman's problem is compounded by the fact that she was "under the influence" when she had these discussions.  And she's having a really hard time forgiving herself.

Again, I feel like I've addressed this before, but I know from hanging out on the widow block for a while that extreme grief and can sometimes lead to addiction.  I know I joke about having a glass of wine or two every once in a while and maybe I shouldn't - it is a very real problem in our community.

The difference between widow drinking and other forms of consumption is that we're not doing it to have a good time.  We're not doing it because we're out partying it up with our friends.  We're not necessarily hoping it will make us feel better and we find it hard to believe that we could feel worse.

So, why do we do it?

Because we don't want to feel anything at all.  At least for a little while.

I will admit that I've stared down this abyss myself.  Widowed, stuck at home with three small children who would go to bed at 8 PM and leave me with a silent house and a feeling of loneliness I don't even think is possible to put into was sometimes pretty hard to fight the urge to seek that numbness.  And when you're already in a state of feeling abandoned by the person you thought would always be there and wondering would anyone care if I just had one more...?

Yes.  Someone cares.  There is a whole community of us who care.

The issue (one of the many) with self-medication is that it compounds the problems we already have:  We're depressed, tired, and emotionally drained.  It can make us feel anxious (which most of us already are) and depletes us of our already vanishing physical reserves. 

We're already dehydrated from crying so much and then we tack on a bender?  That can't be good.

As with most things, I've figured out there is no one solution for everyone.  Some people have found solace and help through churches and support groups.  You know me - I'm all about finding a good counselor to fix what ails you.  And some people just have a wake-up call of their own and suddenly think, "I just can't do this anymore."

But the number one thing that I hope that anyone reading this understands is, as with most things when it comes to widowhood, you are not alone.  There are others out there who are struggling just as you are.  There are those who have climbed out of that abyss and are willing to share their knowledge and understanding to get you through.  Remember that there are online communities (like mine and many others) where you can post anonymously without worrying your mother-in-law is going to read it.

Find those people

You are not alone.

Friday, September 5, 2014

The Fine Art of Self-Forgiveness

I'm beginning to think that all of us women in our thirties and forties are just a hot mess.

We're not young enough to still have that sunny outlook that everything is going to be okay all of the time and we're not old enough to just say "screw it" and completely not care what other people think about what we do.  And, unfortunately, we're a couple of decades away from completely losing that filter between mind and mouth when we can actually say "screw it" to anyone we feel like and move on, driving forty-five miles an hour in the left hand lane on the highway and blocking the Metamucil aisle at the grocery store with our Hoverounds.

It seems like most of the friends I talk to who are my age are going through something similar to what I am.  Even though our circumstances may be different, a lot of us our in a "what now?" stage in our lives.  And because we're slightly embarrassed to admit that we're going through a mild mid-life crises and none of us have the funds to go out and buy a Porsche and fund a boy seems like we're all suffering in silence.

We're tired.  We feel stuck.  And many of us feel slightly dissatisfied with the life we're living.

I can only speak from personal experience, but part of my issue, I think, is that I've been churning for so long trying to live my life's motto of "if you don't like where you are or where you're going, change it" and I'm suddenly realizing that I'm not always in control of everything my life, no matter how hard I work at it. 

You'd think someone who's had a dead husband for seven years would have figured this out by now, but I'm a slow learner.

And anyway, I'm not really talking about big stuff like that.  I'm talking about the little stuff, like career, dating, friendships, kids, etc.  Okay, maybe that stuff isn't so little but in the grand scheme of things (like when you compare it to death) it really kind of is.

I'm very much in a "wait and see" period in my life.  I'm tired of desperately trying to make things happen all of the damn time.  I mean, you're reading about a woman who tried to fast-track her grief, jump into dating because she was positive that if she put her mind to it she could find "the one" in thirty days or less...all while she was building her dream career.

Some of it panned out, some of it didn't.  The problem is that I think I was under the assumption that if I successfully checked off all of the boxes on my to do list, I would end up at a destination called Happy and have absolutely no worries after that.  I'm not kidding.  I think that was what was in the back of my mind.  And even with the things that worked out the way I wanted them to, it's not like I've ended up where I thought I would on my personal road map.

Is that what's wrong with us?  We've lost the ignorance of youth when we actually think we are in control, but we don't yet completely have the knowledge that we don't and, really, it doesn't matter as much as we previously thought?

The women in my age bracket are doing one of two things (or both):  We're in the thick of raising children and have, in many ways, lost our sense of self or we're in the thick of working on our careers because we feel like we need to be settled in what we are going to do for the rest of our lives.  Either way, there's this "now or never" mentality and we put so much damn pressure on ourselves to do it all right because we're positive that only we know how it's supposed to be done and we can't let go of that control.

Okay.  Everyone practice this with me.

Screw it.


Last weekend, I was having a glass of wine with a friend and mother of four when she confessed something to me.

"I took a nap today," she said, her eyes downcast in shame.

"So?" I said.  "What's wrong with that?"

"I just know I should have been doing something else."

I paused for a minute.  "Why?"

"I...I don't know.  But there's always something that needs to be done."

Of course there is.  There is always something that needs to be done and someone else who needs to be taken care of.  That will never change - that is a constant for everyone.  The thing is...we don't have to constantly be doing it.

"I just don't know what I'm doing anymore.  I feel like I don't have a direction.  I'm not inspired," she said.  And I nodded with complete understanding.

But here's a thought:  What if being directionless is actually a direction?  What if being in a place of not knowing is exactly where you're supposed to be?  What if taking that nap for an hour means that you're going to suddenly wake up inspired?  And what if it doesn't and it just means that you needed a nap?

I've really slowed down these last few months.  I've taken that nap she's talking about and I've learned not to feel so bad about it.  But here's the thing - learning how to slow down is a hell of a lot harder than working yourself into the ground.  Giving yourself permission to just be rather than move takes more discipline than I ever realized. 

It also takes a lot of self-forgiveness.  

I'm just to the point where I'm ready to let go a little and see what comes to me.  I actually think we all have to do that sometimes:  Stop trying so damn hard to take control and just hit pause and see what happens.  Because when we quit constantly concentrating on the end game - you know, that moment in life when we have raised the perfect kids while running a multimillion dollar company and our houses are clean for five blessed minutes...

...we actually open ourselves up to all kind of possibilities.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Acceptance is Healing

So, I was at my Yin Restorative class this morning and, once again, the instructor said something that got me thinking.  I both love and dislike it when this happens because it gives me a lot of food for thought, but it also makes me want to shout out, "Wait!  Say that again. Does anyone have a pen hiding in their skin-tight yoga pants so I can write this down?"

Needless to say, shouting is frowned upon when people are trying to restore their yin, so I'm forced to chew on it for the rest of the class until I can run to my car and try to make sense of my own "monkey mind."

The theme this morning was acceptance of mind, body, and spirit and so much of what was suggested applied to me and I suspect many others.  Because complete acceptance of who you are is an incredibly difficult thing to achieve and probably only really happens in fits and spurts.

But when it does...what a an amazing release.

I think I've been in denial about a lot of things in my life and, truth be told, I think I've been in denial about being in denial.

Hey.  If you're going to do something do it well, right?

This isn't as much about denying grief as it is denying the experience and who we are when we come out the other side.  I don't deny that I have grief and probably always will in some way.  But I think I've almost always had a hard time accepting myself, my value, and the things that only I can offer this world.

I realized this a couple of months ago when I began seeing a new therapist.  Within the first few sessions, I noticed that I started almost every thought and feeling with the phrase, "I know this sounds terrible, but..." and then finished the sentence.

Why does it sound terrible?  Because it's my own opinion?  Because I'm worried whoever is receiving it might not agree?  Because I'm worried about being perceived as "bad"?

And the second I realized I was saying that, I immediately stopped.  It was as if I was constantly admitting to myself and whomever I was speaking to that what I was about to say didn't have worth.  It didn't have value.  And it does, whether someone agrees with me or not.


The other thing I think I've been doing my entire life is asking the question, after expressing a thought or feeling, "Is that bad?"  It took many counseling sessions for me to realize that it's important that I stop doing that or even allowing that thought to enter my brain.  Because many things in life aren't actually good or bad (except the biggies:  donating to a charity - good; committing murder - bad).  Many things just are and by asking approval when expressing a thought or feeling...what an unnecessary headache I've been giving myself all these years.

No wonder my mind has been churning for so long.

I know I'm not the only one. I have been asked countless times my thoughts on when it's okay for someone to start dating, whether or not they did the "wrong" thing at a funeral, what an appropriate timeline is regarding several different aspects of widowhood.  "I think I want to move from the home my husband and I shared our entire married lives.  Is that bad?"

It's not good or bad.  It just is.  It's how you feel. You don't need my approval or anyone else's.  It's where you are in your life in the moment.


Throughout the last few months, I've grappled with the whole acceptance thing.  Actually, I've done that a few times throughout my entire life.  And I'm not talking about not accepting that my husband died or anything like that.  I'm talking about accepting where I am in the here and now, whether it's a good place or bad, and accepting it for what it is.  I've spent so long trying to back-peddle against the things I didn't want to have happen and not stopping for a moment and saying, "Okay.  This is it.  This is your struggle.  Accept it."

"You have anxiety. Accept it."

"Life is not what you thought it would be.  Accept it."

"You are not good or bad.  You're human.  Accept it."

What a liberating feeling it is, those moments when I'm truly able to digest that.  It's freeing.  It's a gift.  Right now it's a conscious decision to make my mind go there, but I'm hoping that at some point it will be effortless.

I'll have to work on it.

And I accept that.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Haven't Most of Us Been There?

I was going to write about something different today.

With all of the stuff that's been going on in the last couple of weeks...I had a lot to write about.  But I'm sure I'm not the only blogger this morning who is changing her mind on her subject matter.

Robin Williams.

He's everywhere today, isn't he?

Yesterday I posted on Facebook and Twitter that his death was making me feel a little weepy.  I read at least one person's response that was something like, "Not me.  I didn't personally know him."

And I get that.  I really do.  When you've been through what we have, we usually don't have the energy to grieve someone we didn't even know - we're too busy trying to breathe in and out after losing someone we never thought we could live without.  So I certainly understand that.

I'm not usually one to grieve the loss of a celebrity either.  Sure, I feel sad knowing that yet another family out there is going through what I've experienced.  But I usually don't feel a small catch in my throat like I did yesterday.

Maybe it's because I always looked forward to whatever he was in - whether it was a movie, TV show, or even just a short interview because I knew he would always do something so unexpected.  Maybe it's because I find it so incredibly sad that someone who seemed so joyful and always had a twinkle in his eye was probably in unbelievable pain for most of his life.

Or maybe it scares me just a little bit about my own.

I would think that almost all of us in this community have probably been touched by suicide and depression in some way.  Either we've lost a spouse or partner to it or we have felt our own depression and hopelessness at some point along this journey.  I know I have certainly looked down that abyss a time or two, but the difference is...I've always either been able to talk myself out of it after a certain amount of time or I've been able to find resources to get the help I've needed.


These last few months have been different for me.  When I started experiencing such overwhelming anxiety that prevented me from leaving my own house some days...that scared the crap out of me and the last six months have been a constant struggle to find a solution.  I haven't been able to talk myself out of it and there have been moments when I find it almost impossible to get a handle on it.

It's been life-altering.

For the first time, I know what it's like to not be able to control my own thoughts and have a physical reaction because of it.  I have no idea when or if I will be able to get a handle on it and the prospect of always living this way is exhausting.  It's one thing to feel sad or slightly out of control because of outside forces.  It's another thing entirely to carry it with you always and have no idea what triggers it and, therefore, really not know how to "cure" it.

For the first time I think I understand depression in a way I never have before. I understand how it has the capacity to take over your life.

Now, I've heard from several people that anxiety and depression go hand-in-hand and while I don't feel depressed...who knows?  Maybe I am.  I don't feel that my life is unlivable, but because of this experience, I now know what it's like to feel your life spiral out of control from the inside out and I have a new, enormous sympathy for the people who just can't take it anymore.

Because I really don't think anyone would make a life-ending decision unless they feel like they have exhausted all of their options.

And while I'm so sad about Mr. Williams' death, it does seem to be opening up conversations about depression and suicide that should probably happen more often.  Because I think that while most of us knew that he had addiction and depression issues, what we saw publicly was a laugh and the problems were easily dismissed.

I'm wondering if the outcome of this could be that we look at each other a little differently, and really wonder and care what's behind every smile we see.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Let's Play Pretend

I had forgotten they were in there.  Actually, I had forgotten that I had them at all.

Last night, as my parents and I were rushing around, trying to save and dry what we could after yet another basement flood (in a different spot this time), my mother came across an old laundry bag filled with stuff.  I’d known it was there, of course, and I knew that it had some old clothes in it – some mine, some my husband’s – but it had been stuffed in a corner, only to be soaked in water some ten years after I’d put it there when we moved into this house.

It was one of those things I had been putting off going through all of these years.  I’ve come to the conclusion that the reason why my garage and my storage area are always disaster areas is because every time I try to clean them out, it’s like a minefield of memories.

And so I avoid doing it as much as I can.

“I just want to warn you,” my mother said as we rushed around last night, “that there was a lot of Brad’s stuff in that bag.  I’ve laid it all out on the front porch so it can dry out and I’ve put some stuff in the washing machine.”

“Okay,” I said and then quickly moved on to the million things that needed to be done in that moment.

This morning I woke up to piles of laundry around my bed, the result of being gone with the kids for a week to my grandmother’s funeral in Louisiana.  Exhausted, I hauled myself to my feet to start a load.  And when I opened my dryer, it was like a time capsule.

I pulled out at least eight pairs of my husband’s old military socks and two sets of camouflage uniforms.  I did it slowly, almost savoring the moment, allowing myself the brief fantasy that this was real – that I was really doing his laundry.  I ran my fingers over the badges that had been sewed onto the shirt and then hugged it to my body, willing the empty shell to fill with the form I’ve missed holding onto for so long.

Never before have I enjoyed folding clothes so much.  I carefully creased his pants, pretending that I was putting them away to iron later (which was kind of silly because he always did his own ironing).  I paired his socks like I was about to put them back in the drawer in the closet that became mine seven years ago.  I closed my eyes for just a moment.

 And I pretended I was living a different life.


I don’t do that often.  I’m firmly entrenched in the life I have going on right now.  And it’s a good one.  

 But I’d be lying if I said there weren’t moments – split seconds really – where I allow myself the fantasy that things are different.  And by that I mean, that things had never changed.

There are times when I’m in my car and I pretend Brad is home waiting for me.  Or I’ll have a conversation in my head because I’d like to think I’d know what joke he would make about some situation or pretend that he’s providing a voice of reason when I need it the most.  It’s not often, but it happens.

It’s just never been so tangible before – like I’m actually holding time in my hands.  I swear that if it didn’t mean adding to all of the laundry I already have to do, I’d start washing some of his old clothes all over again.  I’m envisioning writing “play pretend” on my calendar every Friday at 2 PM when I’ll go up to my laundry area and fold those just-from-the dryer-clothes over and over.

And just be in that moment.  


When I’ve talked to groups about my book, many times the people I’m talking to aren’t actually widows.  Sometimes people will say to me in surprise, “I really enjoyed your book” almost as if they don’t understand why because they’ve never lost a spouse.

I always explain to them that the reason why they enjoyed it is because they actually do relate to it – that not one of us is probably living the life we pictured we would when we were young.  Things happen that shape us into who we are and many times experience comes from situations beyond our control.

I think of so many of my friends who have gone through changes in life or have dealt with things they wish they could change but they can’t and I wonder if they have those moments when they pretend, too.  Maybe it’s not a “laundry moment” but something else that catches them by surprise and allows them that brief moment of escape.

It can’t last forever, this pretend game. Otherwise men in white coats might come take you away.  And, really – it wouldn’t be as special if it did.

It’s just that second.  When you take a deep breath all the way down to the bottom of your lungs and close your eyes, holding onto that moment and the overall feeling that comes over you that’s almost impossible to explain.  It’s like coming home for a second, this flash of elation and recognition. 

It’s more powerful than a wish…because in that moment it’s real.

Then you open your eyes.

And breathe this life in again.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Everything Happens for a Reason

If you're anything like me, you gave this title a big eye roll when you read it.

I would say that of all the things most widows hate to hear, "everything happens for a reason" has to rank somewhere in the top five - somewhere in between "I know how you feel because I remember how sad I was when my dog died" and "when are you going to get over this."

In fact, I would venture to guess that most people going through a difficult time, no matter what it is, really don't like hearing it.  Which makes me wonder why we say it or even why we think it.

So, I was at yoga this morning, upside down in a position I wasn't all that fond of and all of the blood was rushing to my head.  And for some reason, I started thinking about this (even though I really wasn't supposed to be thinking about anything at all - baaaad little meditator) and pondering this statement.  And I realized something.

We really only think "everything happens for a reason" during difficult times.

I mean, really.  When was the last time you won the lottery and thought, "Well.  I guess everything happens for a reason"?  (That could be a bad example, but you know what I mean.)  My guess is you don't.  When you're on one of life's upswings, you don't question just ride the wave.  It's when life tries us and we're mired down in the gutter of circumstance that we wonder why in the hell it's happening.

So, as I was upside down, blood rushing, and hoping that everyone else looked as dopey as I'm sure I did in my version of downward-dog-with-a-hangover...I did some thinking.

Now, I know for me the phrase "everything happens for a reason" can sometimes be comforting.  Not because I think I've deserved any of the bad things that have happened in my life (anymore than anyone else does), but sometimes it makes me wonder if there is a plan.  If I really allow myself to think about that concept, it sometimes allows me to relinquish a little of the control I try so desperately to have over my life and for a moment just shrug my shoulders and say, "Eh.  Shit happens."

But the next logical question, if we choose to in any way believe that phrase is, "Okay.  So what's the reason?"

And that's where we almost always get stumped.

But maybe there's a reason for that, too.

I don't think we're actually meant to know the reason at all.  I don't think we're supposed to have the answers as to why good or bad things happen.  I think the whole damn point of that phrase is the questioning...the attempt to connect the dots in our lives so that we can move forward, knowing ourselves just a little bit better.

And just as it's not about knowing the reason, it's more about the question, sometimes it's not about the outcome.  It's the process that matters.

We all go through these growing pains...moments in our lives when we've hit a certain bottom and wonder why.  I know I have.  I've found what usually happens is that I'm forced to go inward and ask the questions that are necessary to get me out of whatever place I've found myself in.  The funny thing is that when I've climbed back out, I'm usually distracted by the fact that life has evened out again and I forget to keep questioning and looking for the reason.

Until I'm on a downward path once more.

So, I guess I do think everything happens for a reason and that reason is the human experience, the questioning, and the process of becoming the next version of yourself.

And sometimes we have to let go of why.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Floating Through Life Without a Purpose?

I've been feeling pretty rudderless lately.  Kind of like I'm floating through life without much of a purpose.

I know that sounds depressing and maybe it is.  But I think most of us go through these lulls.  So most of us know how hard it is to get out of them.

The hard thing is that feeling rudderless makes it hard to figure out why you feel this way.  If you're just floating without a destination it's hard to focus on the reason why you're suddenly in this situation.

In my case, I don't think it's depression.  I don't even really think it's the anxiety that's thrown me for a loop lately.  I actually think it's lack of inspiration.

"I'm not entirely sure what I'm doing anymore," I confessed to a business coach over club sandwiches one day.  "I used to be so tunnel-visioned.  I could see everything stretch out before me and I just knew I was going to accomplish those goals.  Now...I have no idea where I'm going."

"Of course you don't," she said as she took a bite.  "You were inspired then and you're not now.  And that makes everything you used to love to do become a chore."

It was true, I realized.  I had gotten to the point where I was just slogging through my days.  I didn't wake up each morning, ready to take on the world.  I woke up each morning feeling like deciding on breakfast was too much of a pain in the ass so I just wouldn't have any.  I didn't check my email, positive that something amazing was about to happen - I opened it up because if my mother didn't hear from me for a few days she'd call my neighbor and make her come over and see if I was still around. 

I had no energy.  No plan.  No inspiration.

I know I'm not the only one because since that discussion, I've had several people tell me the same thing.  In fact, the same day I had the meeting with the business coach, I was getting my eyebrows waxed and my esthetician and I started talking about being in a lull.

"So, how are you?" I asked her.

"Eh," she said.  "I don't know what's wrong with me.  There's nothing bad going on in my life, but I'm just feeling...I don't know...."

"I know," I said and winced as she pulled the hot wax from my brow.  "You're not inspired."

She stopped with her hand above my face and stared at me.  "You know what?  That's it.  Awhile back I took some life classes and I loved them and felt like I could take on the world.  I quit taking them and now I just don't have any idea what I'm doing."

"I know exactly what you mean," I said.

And I do.


But here's the problem with inspiration:  You can't really go looking for it.  Because the more you seek it, the less likely you are to find it.

You just have to be open to it, which is an entirely different thing.  And it usually doesn't come at you directly - it comes to you in a roundabout way.

Take me for example.  One day I just had an idea that I would volunteer for the Donor Alliance.  Now, that is a worthy cause and something I am passionate about, but it wasn't the inspiration I needed - it was just the catalyst to get me there (I just didn't know it).  From that point, I started  doing more public speaking, came up with the idea for the blog, the book and the website...and for about three years I felt like I could accomplish anything.

I wasn't really looking for the inspiration because I didn't know I needed it.  I was at a point in my life, right after my Brad died, where I was so completely rudderless, I didn't even know how rudderless I was.  But the flip side to that was that I was open to anything and when you're that open...chances are something will happen.

And it did.  And it changed my life.

But here I am again.  In a lull.  Rudderless.  Life has changed for me again in ways that I didn't see coming and now I find myself peeking around corners to see if inspiration is there, but trying not to be too obvious about it in case I scare it off.

I've realized that during those years when I was so tunnel-visioned, I had in some ways completely closed myself off to new inspiration because I was constantly on the move, unwilling to stand still.  And so it was somewhat inevitable that I would find myself in this place, at a crossroads, so completely unsure about life that I don't even know where to start making decisions.  I don't even know what the choices are.

Kind of like I was after Brad died.

And now I have no choice but to just be.

And let it come when it will.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Is Life a Pass/Fail Test?

My life has been very grey lately.

Now, before I start getting emails and phone calls from my friends and family inquiring about my mental state...let me assure you that this is a good thing.

It kind of snuck up on me, this whole grey thing, and it's been pretty eye-opening for me.

I don't know how my other self - the one I knew before all of this pesky anxiety happened - allowed her life to become so black and white, but she did.  Every day was good or bad, never just okay.  She either succeeded or she failed, never did she just complete a task in a way that left her content.  Every movement and decision was right or wrong, black or white.

Never was it grey.

As you can imagine, living this way is like waking up in a pressure-cooker every morning.  To greet each day with a "pass/fail" mentality is not a state anyone can live in forever - it's just not possible.  Actually I guess it seems possible until your mental state makes it completely impossible.

And that's when you're forced to live in the grey.

It occurred to me this week that it's been a long time since I've gone to bed thinking, "Today was a great day" or "Today was completely awful."  That's not to say that good and bad things don't happen...they just seem more fluid for some reason.  Kind of like whatever happens, there's something about me now that knows that whatever it is will never be permanent.  That what seemed like past failures actually weren't that at all and moments that I thought I had succeeded to a point where I thought my life would be golden from then on...that wasn't the case either.

It's really weird how sometimes you don't realize the rock-bottoms in your life until you're on the way up and how, for whatever reason, that thud might have been necessary for you to find the solid ground of "bad" so that you could stand up and start climbing towards the monument of "good."  I'd like to think that I'm in touch with myself enough to know by now that even when rotten things happen...I know I'll eventually learn from them.  But it usually takes space and perspective to figure that out.

And that takes patience and sometimes a little forgiveness.

For some reason right now, my life feels less angular, less sharp.  The everyday pressure I didn't even know I was putting on myself has disappeared somehow.  Truth be told, I didn't even realize it had been there until it was gone.

And now there is this sense of freedom I didn't even know was possible.

Some days aren't good or bad...they're just days.

Some successes turn out to not be what we imagined and some failures are sometimes just the catalyst we need to get us where we needed to go in the first place.

Some mental breaks are necessary while some intensely good or bad moments could be leading us to those mental breaks.

Life is not black.  It's not white.

It's not a pass or fail situation.

It's just life.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Fate's a Bitch

And so it begins.

On the eve of Father's Day, I am speaking the words of every single mother out there.

Aw, crap.

This begins my descent into milestone hell with Father's Day, my birthday, his death, and our wedding anniversary all wrapped up into one giant wine and tissue filled package.  Of course, it's not enough that I've got to deal with all of that, but this is also the time of year that I usually sprain an ankle, come down with a rash I can't explain, or - as was the case last year - have a series of floods in my house that I just finished recovering from.

It's been seven years and I've gotten to the point where I'm so scared of what Fate has in store for me every June and July, I really try not to make eye contact with her. Slowing down during this time of year is not just for my mental well-being, but also for my safety and the safety of those around me.

Seriously.  I wouldn't call to try and make a Happy Hour plan with me until at least August 1st.

I wake up every morning and cower through my day, just hoping I can make it to the end of July.  Because if she decides to attack, I usually spend the better part of my fall trying to pick up the pieces of my life that she's blown apart.

I know I'm tempting her right now by admitting this, but I actually feel pretty good.  I was a little worried a few weeks ago when I was dealing with near-crippling back pain.  I looked at my watch and thought, "Yup.  She's right on time."

I had resigned myself to the fact that I was probably going to be bedridden until the stroke of midnight on my last milestone, but for some reason unknown to me, the pain cleared up and I'm actually walking upright again.

Makes me wonder if Fate found a better target.  And if it's you, I'm truly sorry.

Amazingly enough right now, I don't have the shakes like I usually do before Father's Day.  I'm not crying uncontrollably in my car.  Heck, I've even had the attention span to make it through a People magazine.  I don't know who this widow is, but I hope she sticks around.

But I'm seasoned enough to know that she might not. After all, I felt pretty good around year four, only to have year five completely knock me on my ass.  So, I'm wise enough at this point to appreciate the fact that I don't feel too bad, but cautious enough to know that she might decide to strike tomorrow and then I'll have to write a whole new blog that will make you all think I have a multiple personality disorder.

Eh.  Who am I kidding?

You probably think that already.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

No Really...How Are You?

I had an interesting therapy appointment last week (of course, I find all of my therapy sessions interesting because my craziness always entertains me).

I walked in feeling pretty damn good.  It was a beautiful day outside and I'd just finished a walk with my oldest daughter, around our little main street and to a local frozen yogurt place where we sat outside and looked at the butterflies.  It wasn't too hot, wasn't too cold, and so by the time I dropped her off at home and headed to my counselor's office...I really had no complaints.

Which was why it shocked me that the second I walked in and she said, "How are you?" I started crying.

"This is so bizarre," I said, wiping my cheeks with the tissues she always has sitting next to my chair.  "I was feeling great when I walked in.  I have no idea why I'm crying right now!"

"Maybe because you're not as great as you think you are?" she suggested.

"Maybe.  But I really didn't have any burning issues on my mind."

"It could be that I'm just really wondering how you're doing.  And you know you can really tell me."


It's no secret that one of the worst things about losing a spouse is that we've usually lost the person who really cares about our day - who is as invested in our well-being as they are in their own.  We've also usually lost the person we would tell anything to...because, while we know friends and family members do actually care about us, there is also a part of ourselves that we keep hidden from most people.

A part of ourselves that we only unleash on a chosen few.

I've been thinking about this a lot for the last few days.  Not that this is directly linked to being in a romantic relationship, but for me...these last couple of years have been the longest stretch that I've ever been single.  It's been a long time since I've had the same person ask me every single day how I'm doing and really care about the answer.

For two years, I haven't had the same someone I can consistently unload on (even if it's for just a few minutes a day).  And that has started me thinking about the impact of that on my overall mental health.

Now, everyone is different and we all have different needs.  Some people are better at handling things on their own and some people need more personal interaction.  I fall into a strange category - I actually think I need someone to interact with on a daily basis, but have somehow crafted a life that doesn't allow it.

And that could be the root of many of my problems.

I've been wondering these last few days...if I had had someone all this time who had been asking me about my day and who allowed me to let off some pressure a little bit at a time...would I have experienced the crushing anxiety that began (or climaxed) months ago?  Would that have saved me this life-altering experience or would it have happened anyway?

I don't know.

But the fact that I was sailing through a beautiful day only to collapse into tears the moment someone safe asked me how my day was going...makes me wonder what an impact that simple question from someone who really cares might have on us all.

Friday, May 23, 2014

MORE CONFESSIONS: Families Come in Many Shapes and Sizes

Our first photo session as a new family.

My kids developed a knack for making comments that alarmed me on a regular basis and could often stop any conversation midsentence.  Remember that old Bill Cosby show Kids Say the Darndest Things?  Well, those kids had nothing on my own who had many thoughts and questions when it came to their dad and his death - and had no problem sharing them at any given time.

Sarah, in the beginning, had no filter.  I'll never forget swimming with her at the local indoor pool, when she was a toddler and watching her play with another little girl.  I don't know what prompted this, but I suddenly heard the echo of Sarah's voice from across the water:  "Oh yeah?  Well, my daddy's dead. DEAD!"

And then I watched the other child quickly swim away from her.

While Sarah seemed to come up with these little comments for shock value, Michael just wanted
information.  His questions, while difficult for me to answer, were part of his process and as time went on, I began to practice age-appropriate honesty:  answering those questions as truthfully as I could at a level I thought he could understand.

"Mom?" he asked me when he was about four.  "What does 'extinct' mean?"

And I told him, "It means that something isn't around anymore.  Like the dinosaurs are extinct."

There was a silence as he pondered that one.  Then he asked, "So is Dad extinct?"

Pause.  "Yes.  I guess he is."

It was a question that really made sense when you think about it...especially to a four-year-old boy. But, of course, as he got older, the questions got harder.  And once we had had some space and time away from Brad's death, they were also more jarring when he asked them because I wasn't expecting them.

"Was there a lot of blood on the road when Daddy had his accident?" he asked me about three years into our new life.

""I said, trying to catch a glimpse of him in the rearview mirror so that I could see his face.  "Why do you ask?"  

"I was just wondering," he said, as if he had just asked what was for dinner.

For some reason these questions always seemed to arise when we were in the car.  It could have been that just being on the road reminded him that his dad was in an accident and that he still needed more information to complete the puzzle that had become the life we were living.  It could have been that there was something about the quiet rocking of the car that made him think deeply about things he was normally too busy to contemplate.  Or he could have just been testing my skills as a driver, wondering what it would take to throw me off enough to crash through the door of the coal Dairy Queen so that he could get a Blizzard.

With kids, it's always hard to pinpoint their motivation.


Five, three, and one when their father died (and now twelve, ten, and eight), my kids' memory of that time is a little sketchy.  But I did ask them a few gentle questions about that time in our lives, as well as some questions about their favorite things about our family now.  This was an eye-opening interview for me and I'm so grateful to my kids for their honesty.

This interview was a reminder to me that life does go on.

1.  What is your favorite Daddy Day memory?

Haley:  This wasn't even a good memory!  The one that I remember best was when we tried to see a movie and we were late and couldn't get in.  Then we tried to go bowling and we couldn't get a lane.  But with all of them, I just remember being together.
Michael:  My favorite Daddy Day memory was when we got balloons and they all popped but one.  We all got to let go of one balloon.
Sarah: My favorite Daddy Day memory is getting balloons and letting them go.

2.  When you went to Judi's House (group therapy for kids), what was your favorite thing to do?

Haley:  I didn't have a favorite thing.  I didn't like going.  I didn't like hearing other peoples' sad stories.  I didn't like getting treated like there was something wrong with me.  I can do anything a normal person can do.
Michael:  Probably to go to the room that had all the mats and foam things and stuffed animals.
Sarah:  Mom, I was only three when I went!  I don't remember.

3.  How do you help a friend who is sad?

Haley:  You don't have to say anything.  You just need to be there and listen to them.  No one wants to be alone.
Michael:  I try to be with them and talk to them more often.
Sarah:  I go and try to be friends so we can talk about their problems.

4.  What is your favorite thing to do as a family?

Haley:  Eat dinner together.  I love when we all sit around the table and say the things that made our day good and the things that were bad.  And everyone listens to each other.
Michael:  Go to amusement parks!
Sarah:  My favorite thing to do as a family is go see a movie.

5.  Do you have a favorite holiday tradition?

Haley:  I love when Pop and Nana come over on almost every holiday.  We are all together.
Michael:  When we always sit at the top of the stairs when mom goes and wakes up Pop and Nana.  Then we get to come down and see our presents.
Sarah:  My favorite holiday tradition is watching movies on Easter in our pajamas.

We love you, Dad.