When the concept for My Round Two started I remember chatting with my sister about it. I told her I wanted to share how post loss in “My Round Two” that things happened differently. I wanted to share how my round two family experience was different, my round two relationships (spouse and friends) totally different, my round two with a baby completely different.
I also talk a lot about how my approach to fitness post loss has changed. I’m softer and gentler with myself while at the same time pursuing my goals with a determination that I was not capable of before life as a widow.
But this week, the focus of my round two has been on my career. It had to change because my outlook on life was so vastly different that staying where I was simply became unacceptable. And this week I have had this overwhelming emotional climax because my career transition feels complete.
Classroom to Classroom
On Tuesday I started my day at 5:30am at the Lively Athletic Centre. An amazing new facility 5 minutes from my home, where I am proud to be employed as a personal trainer and fitness class instructor. I then left the gym to head to the University where I’ve been working for the last 9 years as a marketing professor. An extremely under valued one.
I made the decision to change careers not because of my lack of love for my job as a professor. I’m an amazing professor, my students love me and my dedication to their development has kept me engaged for nearly a decade. The administrative side of academia, however, became so incredibly toxic and detrimental to my own mental health that change became essential.
It’s not that I will never teach again. In fact, I fully intend to. I simply will not be employed full time in an environment that is damaging to my inner peace. Life’s too short for that.
So I’ve taken a pay cut of roughly 70% and jumped into a career where my colleagues and I build each other up. Where instead of students learning marketing I have clients who leave puddles of sweat on the gym floor.
Maybe some will call this change irresponsible. But my tribe, the ones that matter most to me, they say I have big #widowballs. And they call me #braveAF.
So is my transformation complete? Is the story of My Round Two complete? Not by a long shot.
Tomorrow is the day. The deathaversay...the shitaversary...the day. And for the first time I actually have the space and support to grieve it in a meaningful way. Year 1 was a complete blur, and as most widows feel on that first year, it was an anti-climactic nightmare. Year 2 I was dealing with a newborn in NICU, year 3 I was in the midst of a house flip, busy AF and barely coping with life.
Life is complicated right now. But somehow tomorrow I have manifested a good amount of time alone with my three children from Round 1. And I’m scared. This is the real deal. The widow shit I ran screaming from in the first year. It’s about to hit me full force.
Recently I had to switch phones. To do so I had to delete a bunch of pictures. I kept a few. Newborn pictures. One of me with my grandpa. Some fun memories from recent trips. And this one.
I was sitting on the couch with a woman I thought would never leave my side. She was just as concerned as I was. Our kids were playing in the basement. And one of mine came up dressed like this. And I snapped this picture and sent it to her Dad.
It was one of many things I did that day in a desperate attempt to convince him life was worth living. I sent crisis info. I called on friends to check in on him. I kept checking on him. I knew.
I know now that he never received the picture. That I was already too late. I know far too much about what was happening right around that time. Details I will not share. Not with you. No one needs that shit in their head.
I know how many people currently blame me. I know the haters that read this. I recently password protected this part of my sight because of some nasty comments left anonymously by the same cowardly haters. I know saying this will attract new haters. And I don’t give a fuck.
I know now why the first words to leave the funeral directors mouth were “this was not your fault”...at the time I didn’t understand. You mean people will blame me? Wow, was I ever naive.
I know after months of counseling that secondary losses of friends is normal. Loss of identity, normal. Massive self esteem issues stemming from abandonment, normal.
I know every emotion I felt that day. I can name them. And each year I relive them. The pain in my chest becomes unbearable. The physical agony that accompanies the emotional heartache is exhausting. But I know how to handle it. I’ve done it before. I’ve got this shit handled.
I also know the love and support from the most amazing community in the world. A community no one wants to be a part of. My widow tribe literally picked up the pieces of my life along side me and supported me putting them back together. And they still do.
Day after day.
1462 of them to be exact. I know. And they know. This was not my fault. And I know and they know that day 1462 is just as fucking hard as day 1.
It's no secret that the holidays are tough for the widowed community. There's a bunch of blogs out there on what our triggers are and what to say and not to say to us. I'm not about to start re-hashing those here. I have one clear message for you today. If you know a widow and see her this holiday season, give her a hug.
You may want to ask first...in case she's having a bad day and you try to hug her without warning and her last self defense lesson kicks in. I wouldn't want to see anyone get hurt.
When you are done hugging her, and I can almost guarantee you she won't let go first, tell her she's doing a fucking awesome job raising her kids without their father around. Look her in the eye when you say it, because not many people have the balls to look a young widow in the eyes, and mean every word you say.
And then you will have given her an incredible gift this holiday season. One that you can't wrap and put under the tree.
From the Kitchen Floor
In my early days of widowhood I spent a lot of time on the kitchen floor. Usually drunk. And alone. The comfort I get there is inexplicable. And more so now that I've connected with other widows /widowers who also end up on the kitchen floor for emotional breakdowns. Who knew it was such a common place?!?
I've made a shit ton of progress in my journey as a widow. And now as a remarried widow I don't spend as much time there. Nor do I spend as much time alone as my fellow young widows. But there's one area of widowhood that always drives me back there. Worry about my parenting skills with my round one kiddos. The overwhelming desire to talk things out with their Dad and have his input. The frustration of not being able to do that.
I consider myself fortunate to have easy access to an adult to hug. And one who tells me regularly that I'm an amazing mom. And will also tell me on request, "Please just tell me I'm doing a good job." He's happy to oblige. But recently I was thrust back into the memories of the early days when I didn't have that someone and was reminded of how incredibly hard those days were.
In October I made the 7 hour trek to visit my suicide widow sister, my Redneck wifey, to see her and her amazing kids through their 1 year deathaversary. There are 101 moments from that trip that I could blog about. It was an incredible eye opening experience for me. But this blog is about the hug in front of her garage.
She had been trying to get the kids ready to head out the door. They were being challenging. Pushing limits as kids love to do. And more so when there is company around to watch. It got to be excessive and some disciplinary action was needed. I gave them some space and shortly after my wifey wandered outside behind me.
She was standing in front of the garage and I could see it in her eyes.
Young widows question their parenting all the time. It's a regular topic in our widow/widower groups - the safe places we go to express ourselves. Those of us who have lost a spouse to mental illness - be it suicide, drug overdose or other ends - have the added stress of being ultra paranoid about the mental health of our children. These concerns are amplified around times of discipline.
More than words
So there she was standing in front of her garage. And I could see the look in her eyes. I knew that expression. And it all came rushing back to me. The early days of widowhood when I needed so badly to be reassured - but not with words. When you question those parenting moments, you just want someone to hug.
As I walked towards her I knew it was going to be an emotional one. I couldn't just see it, I could feel it in the air between us. It was pulling us together.
I'm a pretty strong woman, physically and mentally. I can toss around a 20kg kettlebell and I've navigated my way back to mental wellness...but my wifey is strong AF. As I approached her and opened up my arms to pull her in and give her exactly what she needed, she attacked me...she grabbed me and pulled me in.
And she squeezed so hard it knocked the wind out of my lungs.
I tried so hard to match her force I strained a muscle in my back.
All those nights on the kitchen floor alone came rushing back. Agonizing over my parenting. Having no one to hug for reassurance. And I knew that this hug was about more than just the discipline incident of that day. It was about all the ones prior when she had no one to hug. And all the ones still to come. That hug has been with me ever since. And the desire to plea with everyone I know to hug more often. Because in that moment I was reminded of how much we as humans need that physical connection and reassurance.
We live in a society that is starved for affection. In the land of the widowed (and single) this is amplified. "Maybe lets give people real hugs. Real hugs to single people and widows." One of my widow idols, Erica Roman (who discovered she was pregnant with her second child during her husband's funeral), wrote a beautiful blog about this.
If there is one thought I can leave you with let it be that - hug people, often, hard. Don't let go. You don't need to say anything. Just hug.
This is a guest blog written by my Redneck after my visit to see her and her amazing kids as they passed the one year mark post loss. The words are all Kristen. The subtitles, however, are mine.
Enjoy! And thanks wifey for letting me in and letting me hug you.
Third time’s a charm, right? I have sat down two other times focused on writing this, but came up with an unfinished product that didn’t do this topic the justice it deserves.
Today’s topic…the bond of widowhood.
Like many widows who came before me, and (unfortunately) many who will follow, I have experienced the dynamic shift of strong friendships post loss.
(…Shit…tears from the bedroom…pause to go comfort a grieving kid who misses her dad…45 min break to settle kids, 15 min to respond to a work email that needed done tonight, and 15 min to plan out my week…it is now 10:05 and I’m circling back where I was awhile ago…)
In lieu of writing about those shifting friendships, tonight I’m going to focus on a very special friendship: the bond of widowhood.
Seriously I wanted to run away from her.
Early in my grief journey I found myself searching for someone who could validate the plethora of thoughts, feelings, and emotions that were running through my mind. It didn’t take long to realize that I needed to find another person who had a crumbling marriage, young kids, a LH who completed suicide, AND who was working on moving her life in a positive direction post loss.
I’ve heard many widows state that they often feel alone even when they’re in a room surrounded by people whom they love and who love them. This is one of many completely foreign truths I have learned over the past year.
This is where Michelle enters the picture. I read her story and was immediately drawn to her. In short, she had walked the road I was just beginning, AND she was remarried, with a baby to her Chapter 2 – Round Two as she calls it – all while improving her mental and physical health.
I had just entered widowhood at 32. Loss by suicide which was preceded by infidelity is scary shit…how do you piece your life back together? Is it possible to let your guard down enough to trust ANYONE after that, let alone dissolve that guard to allow a new love to form? Basically, this woman was living the life I hoped to build…I needed to see HOW she did it. Ohhh, except, I have zero interest in having another baby…but that’s off topic.
Our love story is one of a kind!
The special widowhood bond that we have formed (you can read the whole story here) over the past 8 months is truly a once in a lifetime bond. This woman became my rock when nobody in my life was in the position to do so. She didn’t have to, but she did…again and again. I can’t even estimate the amount of messages we’ve sent to each other, or the time we’ve spent chatting.
She knew the 1 year deathaversary was coming…and she decided she would, too. In her previous life, she must have been a clown. The juggling act it must have taken for her to line out schedules for her other 3 children, her working non-English speaking husband, the university classes that she is teaching, renovations/move out of one of her rental units, and make the 7 hour drive across international lines with an 18 month old – ya, a circus for sure! Let that last part sink in for a second. 7 hours of driving, through customs, with a toddler. No. Thank. You!
To hug another suicide widow...there are no words
Except, she did.
That hug the Tuesday night she arrived…it was the strong, understanding, loving kind…the kind that takes the broken pieces and, at least for a moment, squishes them all back together. I never knew the bond of friendship could be this strong. But then, the paradox of widowhood is learning that the human heart is capable of and yearning for deep, meaningful relationships full of love and life. There are no limits on the amount of love a broken heart can absorb…if walls are taken down enough to allow that love to pour in.
I thoroughly enjoyed our time together. I was able to introduce her to a few of the folks who have been instrumental in my grief journey. We canned deer meat from the deer that Timmy harvested a few days prior. We enjoyed walks in the woods and walks while the little one pushed his lawnmower on the street. The weather was absolutely perfect. Even made the time to set up my outdoor office so we could both hammer out some much needed work from my back porch. She stayed long enough to see Jennifer swim her first race in her first swim meet on Saturday. I know NOTHING about swimming…glad she was there to coach me in how to be a “swim mom.”
What she calls me most often is "bitch" and "fucker"
But she loves me so its ok
I call her my “wise ol’ widow,” among other knick names, because she has often warned me of pitfalls, brewing shitstorms, and easy workarounds. She knew the 1 year mark was going to suck. No way around it. Not only was she here for that day, but stayed long enough that she was here for the day that I made all the arrangements as well as the date of the funeral. That’s a huge commitment from somebody with an even bigger heart. Pretty sure I didn’t shed a tear the entire time she was here…and it certainly wasn’t because I stuffed all my feelings and emotions into the society approved “grief box.” We talked about Jory, we said his name, we talked about the good and bad times, and walked through the old house. The comfort that she provided can’t be put into words.
Then, she left. Because we live so far apart, goodbyes are always tough. The day after she left, the emotional hangover hit. I did pull up my big girl panties and I’m poised for a kick ass week of work…which is good, because this is my busiest and favorite week of the entire year. It’s the time when I get to say THANK YOU by coordinating an awesome veterans pheasant hunt for many, many of our nation’s heroes. These brave men and women have endured battlefields with bullets. They have survived…many have thrived. Their heartfelt, misty eyed thank you’s that I get at the end of each of these events puts my life into perspective. A major shitstorm hit me in the battlefield of life. A canook kept me alive, and as I write this, I’m intentionally, methodically orchestrating my life to move it in a positive direction. I would never, ever be at this point today without her guidance, her sympathies, and her ass kickings.
I do not wish this journey on anyone…but if you find yourself slugging down this path, my best advice is to find yourself a Canook and hold on tight.
This is my Redneck. We are so different I'm baffled at times by our friendship. Except for that one thing we have in common...that suicide widow badge we share.
Tomorrow I get to hug all three of these amazing humans and eat some of that beast, harvested by that little fire cracker there. Tomorrow my Redneck will hit her one year deathaversary. And I'm making the 8 hour drive to hug her so hard that all the pieces will go back together. Because I'm the "wise old widow"...or so she thinks...
Except I'm not.
I've told her. Warned her countless times. The first year is the easy part. The second year is waaaaay harder. This is not something the average person knows. It's not something I knew in my first year. I was devastated when first year mark passed and it didn't get better.
Fuckers. They all lied to me. "The first year is the hardest". Lies. All lies.
Whoever said that was not living in the land of the grieving. Not widowed. That's for sure.
All the firsts
The big expectation that life reaches this magical recovery point at the 1 year mark comes from the fact that you have survived all the firsts. First Christmas. First round of birthdays. Etc.
You made a plan. Or fumbled through and you made it out the other side.
And my Redneck has done an amazing job on all the firsts. I was with her for almost every single one. Chatting late into the night. Drinking on our kitchen floors. Making sure to help her pick up the pieces the next day. Staying functional right along side her.
She has kicked ass all year. Raw honesty and no denial of the circumstances. Which gives me hope that somehow maybe her second year won't be as rough as it was for me.
Don't deny the feelings
It took me 2.5 years to start rebuilding post loss. The very first thing I did was deny that I was a widow. What? Widow at 36? I don't fucking think so. I'll get married. That will fix that.
Except it didn't. It just made me bury the feelings deeper.
And when they started to emerge I was told to "get over it". "Move on"...and when the emotions kept coming I lost friends. Because I wasn't "fun" anymore.
Because I had finally started to grieve. But with no support.
My Redneck has done such a better job at her first year. And yes I know we don't compare in grief.
But she got support. Never denied her widowhood. Was raw and up front about her feelings from day 1. Didn't bury any of it.
And so I hope that maybe, just maybe her second year will defy the odds and not be worse. She deserves that.
Worth every second
Life is a little nutty in My Round Two. 4 kids with busy schedules, trying to start a small business, means I've had to do a lot of arranging to make this trip happen.
And it will be worth every second. To share the same kitchen floor. To be there for this amazing woman...we pull each other along every day.
All I can think is that I wish I had known her when I hit my 1 year mark. But that would be a terrible wish to bestow upon anyone. And as much as I love this woman I also hate that our paths have crossed at all.
But I know how lonely and completely gutted I felt that day. I can't take her pain away. But I can make damn sure she doesn't feel alone. If there is a way I can take that feeling away for another suicide widow...I'm all over that shit. And she's not just any suicide widow. She's my wifey...wifey for lifey.
Watch out Pennsylvania. I'm on my way.
I have a file sitting on my computer of 486 pictures of Lego scenes. For the longest time after her Dad died my oldest child tried desperately to keep everything exactly the same as it was. She refused to let her hair grow – she had shaved it in September, 6 months prior to his suicide. She wouldn’t move any future in her room, change any pictures on her walls. And she wanted to do all the activities that they use to do together.
One of their favourites was to make stop motion Lego movies.
The spent hours on this together. Carefully placing the Lego. Using the tripod for the digital camera so that the picture was taken exactly in the same spot. Carefully moving the Lego. Take the picture again. And repeat – 486 times to create a second stop motion movie less than a minute long.
This should also give you some insight into the character of both my daughter and her father. Meticulous, perfectionists, extreme patience.
Some times they would even do voice overs for the movies. Which I am forever thankful for as we now have several clips for the kids to listen to their father’s voice.
My LH was a techie. He insisted on using Linux as an operating system – had a serious hatred for all things Windows. So not only did he write a script – that’s like a mini computer program – to create these stop motion movies, he also documented all the Linux code functions that were needed to make them and saved it in a file on our computer. Imagine creating a computer program you could use with your kids to make stop motion movies. I’ve since learned there are apps for that.
But that was his “thing”. He would spend hours with the kids taking those pictures and then hours on the computer getting it to work correctly. After the first time, with the script in place, it only took a few minutes.
So in the first months post-loss when my daughter announced that she wanted to make a Lego movie like she had done with her Dad I panicked. I am not techie. He was always my “tech help desk”. I had needed to get myself a more user-friendly Windows system after he died. Linux has a lot of good qualities, but user-friendly is not one of them.
Faaaaack…how am I going to make this happen for her?
Keep calm, Michelle. Smile. “That’s a great idea Ais, here’s the camera.”
Hours, days, more hours. She spent the better part of two weeks between swim practices taking 486 pictures. Then came the part where I needed to step up. She handed me the camera. Now I needed to do what her Dad had always done. Turn the pictures into a movie.
I had already tried looking up instructions. I had called a local computer store asking for a Linux Geek. They told me, “there’s an App for that.” I tried telling my daughter that we could do it in an easier way. Nope. We needed to do it…
I logged into his old computer. I checked the web browser history and found online help forums for Linux users. I found the file that contained the Linux instructions to make the script work. But I didn’t understand what the instructions were telling me.
So I went to the help forums. I explained to the Linux Geeks what I was trying to do and why I was unable to – I was not one of them. I was simply trying to help my daughter after the death of her Dad. They were so incredibly helpful. They walked me through each step. They provided all the guidance I needed and I was on my way to making those 486 pictures into a movie.
One keystroke at a time. Following his instructions, in a language that I needed translation to read.
I got to the last instruction and…
The computer’s memory was too full to be able to run the script. Ugh. Now what.
Yes, I sat on the kitchen floor and cried. I was so angry that he wasn’t there to solve that problem. That he wasn’t there to take the pictures with his daughter and convert them to a movie. I was angry that I had tried so hard and still failed.
And I still had to tell her that I failed. It wasn’t the first time I failed at trying to accomplish a task just the way their Dad had. And I’m 100% certain now, at 3.5 years post loss, that it will not be the last.
That look of disappointment in your child’s eyes. That doesn’t leave you. Ever.
Shortly after my epic failure I discussed the situation with my therapist. And she said to me...
“Michelle, you cannot become Kenn.”
Faaaaack that was one of those earth shattering therapy moments. An extremely hard pill to swallow. So many layers of emotion in that short sentence.
You cannot become the one you lost. You cannot do things exactly the way they did. You cannot protect your children from all the hurt that comes with letting go of that.
You can keep the memory. You can make new memories. You can smile at what is and cry at what is not.
I still have those 486 pictures. I won’t get rid of them. But I have let go of my obsession with taking over every role he left behind.
**The true stop motion files are mega huge and I couldn't attach them here, but this link is of a movie they made prior to starting on the stop motion adventures.
One of my earliest lessons in my grief healing journey. And one I still need to remind myself of.
The week of prep for my LH's funeral was pure chaos. We don't live in the same town as our families so my house was full. Literally my living room was wall to wall bed. I was surrounded by family who love me unconditionally. But there were 3 people I needed to see that week who were not family members. I could write a separate blog for each of them...but not today.
An amazing woman who lost the father of her first born many years ago and was still thriving in life. She had always been a great friend. And gives fantastic hugs. I needed to see her.
My LH's friend who I had tried to get to connect with him the night of his suicide. I was concerned about him. Still worry about him.
And a woman who I had just started to get to know because her son had passed away. That she was still functioning fascinated me. I had always viewed her as a pillar of strength and I felt that if I could see her I would be able to suck up some of that strength. I was desperate to see her.
Grief has no rules
I am living in very surreal times right now. I'm still healing in my own grief journey. And I've met some incredible people along the way.
My very own Redneck is about to hit her one year deathaversary and I'm doing my utmost to keep my own shit together to support her through that.
I watch as some of my new online contacts pass their wedding anniversaries and birthdays of their LH or LW. The grief is real. And it's raw. And I learn a lot from what they share.
I have also recently made some new friends closer to home. Which was a very brave act on my part. Not easy at all, but necessary since I was running a little low on friends. One of said friends, who I'm totally smitten with, just lost her Dad. She's just entering her year of firsts.
So I've been asking myself a lot what I would like to have been told at the beginning of my journey or as I was approaching my first year. And I've narrowed it down to two.
Grief has no rules. I should state up front this is not my image. I saved it. Don't know where it came from. I'm shitty at that. But it's frightening how accurate it is. It's also frustrating as hell that grief is presented in such a straightforward manner like the picture on the left side.
And because it's not straightforward the myth that the first year is hardest is complete BS. So to anyone in their first year please hold on even tighter for that second year.
Keep it simple
I joke sometimes that my goal for the day is simply to stay functional. But really it's not a joke. Sometimes we have periods in the grief process where that's all we can manage. Eat, make yourself presentable, stay functional. There's no need to move mountains.
Find a support group. In person or online. I cannot stress enough how much it helps to know others have had your experience. It feels like you are being "seen". Know that other people see you. I see you. You are not alone in your pain.
As I was reflecting on these two precious beings in my life and their respective journeys, I was also having a tough weekend. And then I remembered the days following my own loss. And the amazingly simple message I would receive from that woman I needed to see in the funeral prep week.
The sun is shining.
That was it. Repeatedly.
The sun is shining.
I remembered it as I was outside this weekend, desperately trying to get my own head on straight. It's a gratitude message, yes. But it's so much more profound than that. Sit with it awhile.
I see you.
The sun is shining.
Yesterday NBC Washington published a news article about a woman, Kate George, who has an Instagram account she terms “griefstagram”. Where she posts openly and honestly about her grief. The article included an interview with my ultimate suicide widow crush Michelle Miller and was very well written. If you are not going to take the time to read it here, basically it tells the world about how some of us are bucking the butterfly and sunset posts about grief and getting real about what grief really is.
And cue the haters!
NBC Washington deserves a ton of credit for publishing this. The comments that the article received, nearly instantly, should not surprise me. And I know they don’t surprise or even hurt my seasoned widow blogging community. However, I’m relatively new to this game,and I’m not in the best of moods these days, so I’m going to rant about these comments. And you’re going to listen. Or you can keep scrolling for cute puppies and carry on with your perfect little life.
I made the commitment to start my own blog when I ran into a colleague one day and when she asked me the classic “how are you?” And I gave her a less than positive reply – I forgot for that split second that most people actually don’t want you to answer that in an honest way, duh!! – she responded with “but your life is great!”
Right…I post a bunch of positive shit on my Facebook account and suddenly the fact that I’m a grieving suicide widow, bordering on postpartum depression, all that goes up in smoke. Hold on while I add your naïve ass to my restricted list (side note: best Facebook feature ever) and unfollow you.
Happy me photo credit: svk photography
Ms. George was quite smart when she decided to grieve openly, she was sensitive to the puppy seekers and created a separate Instagram account for her grief. Yet still, there are a so many negative comments to the story NBC Washington posted. Thankfully the openly grieving widow/widower community was quick to defend both Miller and George – a term that developed when we were defending one of Miller’s meme’s #widowmafia
A few quotes – without names to protect the gloriously innocent non-grieving haters – from the article.
“Another new low for social media”
First of all, if social media is so “low” then why are you still gracing it with your presence? You can actually control what you see and don’t see on social media, so if our grief is interrupting your perfect day then by all means hide our posts so you can carry on with your puppies.
We in the widow/widower community have more than sufficient time in the “lows”…this sharing of grief in a public manner helps us climb out of our low spots by making us feel supported. I’m really happy for you that don’t know what that’s like. Carry on.
“…she sits there obsessively checking to see how many likes her grief received…”
Yep, that’s us. We post about our grief and then we hope that it gets “liked”. UGH!! Do you think we asked to be grieving? Does this look fun to you? Would you like to hold one of my kids some night while they cry for their Dad?
Want to know what we post for? Because those who are grieving alone tell us REPEATEDLY that reading our posts helps them. That because we share our reality their’s is more bearable. And as Miller talks about in the article – which I’m sure you didn’t read, you just posted your judgement based on the tag line and picture – this new online forum has changed grieving so much, creating opportunities for us to network and not feel so alone. I spent the first 2.5 years post loss unconnected with the online grieving community. I can tell you how lonely that was.
“egotistical” … “attention seeking lames”
Wow. You know what I would actually rather be those things than a suicide widow. Tell you what. If you can find a way to remove my widow badge I will gladly take these labels you bestow upon the grieving from the safety of your keyboard. Would you walk up to any of the amazing widow bloggers I am blessed to know – Polo, Lynn, Miller, Phillips – and say that to their face? No. Cyber-bullying is rampant in our society and that it makes its way into our community of grievers is ultra-shitty. But I’m not concerned – because #widowmafia and we are the strongest people I know.
“Give me a Effing break”
I would like to lend you my #widowballs for a second so you have the cojones to swear online – give me a fucking break. And while you’re at it, I can send you a list of widows/widowers who would really like a break. They are solo parenting, doing it all on their own. They are learning new skills that they never wanted to learn, like how to change the tire on a lawn mower. They are comforting kids that miss their dead parent and then picking themselves up to finish the dishes and clean the kitchen. You want to give them a fucking break? I’m certain they will accept your offer.
Sunshine, happiness and rainbows
I am amazed daily by the raw honesty of the grief community I have thankfully been embraced by. I spent far too long denying that they could help me. Sadly, I am also amazed on a daily basis by those outside of the land of grief who are so quick to post their judgement when we share our brave writing.
But I know that this group of widows/widowers will not be stopped. So go ahead, post your negative comments. We will sick the #widowmafia on you and we will carry on so that others who need us can find us.
I call her my suicide widow sister. Actually, most often I call her BITCH. And other choice words that I'll leave to your imagination. I love her more than words can accurately describe. But I also f#*king hate that I know her.
I talk about her a lot, and often refer to her in my posts and here on this blog. So I thought it would be helpful, for those unfamiliar with our awesomeness, to share the story of how we met. And explain our complex relationship.
Redneck and I met in an online fitness group, My1FitLife. It's not exclusive to widows, but there's a lot of widow badge holders there. Mostly because the badass founder is the one and only Michelle Steinke-Baumguard of One Fit Widow. I started on my online journey meeting other badass widows in October of 2016. I was 2.5 years into widowhood, post partum and a complete mess. At that time Redneck wasn't even a widow yet.
I completed my first 12 week challenge group and had amazing success. Mostly because I met Mari, an amazing woman who also was a remarried widow with 4 children and daily I thought - if she can be thriving so can I. Mari kept me going in that first challenge. Once I got rolling there were two other women who's consistency impressed the hell out of me, Joey and Deborah. They were also early morning workout queens and their posts would get me out of bed on the tough days.
When Mari moved on to the big Quest group I decided to stay in the Challenge program with Joey and Deborah. I really felt we needed each other and felt this overwhelming need to be involved in the next challenge. It was January.
When you join these online groups you post a little introduction. I read Kristen's and was drawn to her story because she was another suicide widow. But at the same time I told myself to steer clear - she was a Newbie. Less than a year in. Much less. She scared the shit out of me. I was sure she would be a disaster and I wasn't sure I could handle that when I was still struggling to put myself back together.
And really...WTF was she doing in this group already? I spent the first year drinking on my kitchen floor...too busy falling apart and wallowing in grief to put any thought into self care.
She was a Newbie and I had already lived through the hell of the first two years....I was making good progress in my healing. Best to steer clear. There was a lot of other people to support her.
Ya...little did I know she was not about to let me walk away so easy. And she wasn't a disaster at all. Instead of crawling into the rabbit hole of grief, she was proactive in seeking out the right kind of support. Ok fine. I'll say it. She was WAAAAAY smarter in her first year than I was in mine.
Don't let her in...just don't
She was persistent. I decided it would be harmless to allow an AP (accountability partner) relationship to form. I could do that and still keep a safe distance. And that worked for a while. But we open up a lot on the My1FitLife page. It's a safe place to express your emotions around grief. The people there understand. And they don't go running in the other direction when times get rough.
Problem...I was approaching my 3 year deathaversary and I needed some emotional vomiting sessions. As I started to open up on the page Redneck, as I had started to call Kristen, and I started to chat privately as well. Infrequently at first. Then more often.
Now I was getting worried. Only months after my husband's suicide the woman who I thought I could always rely on walked out of my life. And then a year later, another woman I trusted, gone. BOTH of my closest friends lost in the grieving process. I was just beginning to heal from that pain and I was no where near ready to let someone get close enough to hurt me again so soon.
And there was this crazy Redneck making her own path into my heart. I would toss up road blocks and she would bust them down. I would try and hide and ignore her messages...by this point we were chatting several times a day...and she would totally call me out on my bullshit excuses. It was like she could read my fucking mind.
I was defeated. She won. She was in.
Face to Face
Now that I let her in we started talking more. A lot more. I don't recall when it happened...but I also don't recall the last time I went to sleep without sending her a good night message. Or the last time we didn't check in with each other in the morning. Make sure the day was on track. We are each other's sounding boards, we drink on the kitchen floor together when things are really rough. And we celebrate life's successes, big and small. Together we tackle the daily routine widow shit storm and make sure to frequently report the size of our #widowballs.
Then...she wanted to meet. Not gonna lie. That really scared me. All my life had taught me lately was that I couldn't even keep a walking buddy let alone a real friend. I was truly concerned that meeting in person may end our online friendship and that scared the shit out of me.
It also told me I wasn't done working on my own self-therapy issues. But that's another blog post.
So we made a plan. A Spartan Race. June 2017. We were both like giddy teenagers before a prom date. It was surreal. I'll never forget that first hug. I knew then she wasn't going anywhere. You don't hug someone that tight and then walk away. It was the real deal that hug. And so was she.
The shirts. She had our race shirts made. Mine with a 24 - the day of the month her LH passed. Hers with a 15 - the day my LH passed. Because we have each other's backs. That's what she said. And I could feel her grab hold of a piece of my heart...that I never intended to share with a woman-friend-type again. Fuck. She really was getting in.
Happily Ever After
So that's about it. In 95% of our battles I win. From our epic Fitbit challenges where she text screams at me to SYNC BITCH, to getting to bed on time (yes we battle about that) and crossing more stuff off our lists that we make each other create to keep our widow brains in check. Yep, the Canook typically takes the crown. But I am the wiser widow.
Shiiiiit she's going to make me regret that claim to 95% victory. But if I'm truthful the battle I'm most pleased that I lost was the battle to keep her out of my heart.
Honestly, I learn just as much from her as she does from my years of widow experience. We have a pact to not let ourselves fall apart on the same day. That way when one of us is in need the other is there to support. It doesn't always work...who controls widow fits anyways?!?...but we do our best. And we both know that if there ever a need for an emotional vomitting session, the other is there catcher's mitt ready.
Two things I repeat often: 1) I love this woman, but I hate that I know her. We found each other and are united by the suicide widow badge. Which leads me to 2) I would never wish my reality on anyone, but if you do find yourself carrying this badge I sincerely hope you can find yourself a Redneck to love.
In case you didn’t hear, there’s been a hurricane called Irma wandering around the Caribbean and southern USA. If you didn’t know, My Round Two husband is Cuban, and has family and friends in both Cuba and Florida, so this has been a bit of a stressful time in my household. It has also provided me with several opportunities to reflect on my grief journey and in the last 24 hours the words have been busting at the seems, just looking for a place to get out.
I look for both large and small metaphors in my life that mimic my grief journey. I find it an incredibly powerful and healing way to “frame” my grief and often it gives me clarity and greater understanding of my own journey. My hope is that by sharing it with you, it may help you understand yours, be it that of a suicide widow or otherwise.
Hurricanes are a great metaphor for grief – the eye, the eye wall, the outer bands and the aftermath. They each represent part of the grief journey. The recent visit we had from that bitch called Irma, gave me the opportunity to reflect on that and it also taught me more about my Cuban and Cubans in general.
Hurricanes and Grief
The outer bands: increasing wind, rainfall
This is the beginning stages of grief. You are so busy with funeral preparations and incoming family and paperwork that you are able to function throughout the day. Things still get done, somehow, and there is a good amount of support from those around you. You think you know what you are preparing for and you have purpose in your actions. There’s a list and you need to accomplish it, amidst the sadness.
The news clips I saw of people buying supplies, boarding houses, buying gas, etc. Everyone is getting things prepared and ready for the storm to hit. Even as the outer bands hit, people get their last minute preparations done. But they still have power, water and generally life is normal. Added bonus: there are even guides to provide you with a checklist of what to prepare!
The eye wall: severe winds, massive rainfall
Just like a hurricane it is near impossible to predict when and where the eye wall will hit. Remember how many times Irma changed her course? And category? It’s a 5, no wait, a 3, oh back up to a 5 again! In the grief journey these are “grief waves” – you don’t know when they will hit, you don’t know what will trigger them. They knock you right on your ass – for myself on to my kitchen floor – they can literally paralyze you. Sometimes it’s a category 5 – takes you out of life for days on end. Sometimes it’s a 1 – a few tears through a forced smile and on with your day.
When they start varies, maybe the week after the funeral when the visits stop. Maybe after you make it through that dreaded 1st year (not, in fact, the hardest). The frequency and duration of their visits also varies. More on how that fits my hurricane metaphor later.
The eye: holy shit the sun is shining
During the chaos of Irma I had the most amazing conversation with the Cuban. He told me the story of a hurricane that passed over the town he was living in when he was younger. It was a direct hit, the center of a hurricane passed right over. When he got to that part of the story his whole face lit up as he told me about the sun coming out and everyone pouring into the streets to marvel at the amazing site that is the center of the storm. I was completely enthralled by the look on his face.
There are times in the grief journey when the sun comes out again, there is happiness again. And you will catch yourself marvelling at it. Thinking, “oh my goodness, is this real?” But just like the people in the streets during the eye of a hurricane, you know the grief wave is coming back. Which made me really reflect on why I was so enthralled by my husband’s facial expression when he described the eye of the storm. And it eventually made me question my whole hurricane metaphor for grief – which lead to putting Irma on a leash
The aftermath: clean up and pick yourself up (off the kitchen floor)
The storm passes, the eye is a wonder of nature and Cuban’s know that they will recover. Cuban’s have lived through dozens of hurricanes. They know they are going to make it to the other side and they know they will help each other through the recovery process. There was remarkably little fear from my family on the ground in Cuba and from my husband when Irma was causing chaos. However, he was very clear about something. It’s not the storm that’s the problem. It’s the aftermath. The days and days without electricity, high potential for looting and violence. It’s what comes after the storm that worried him.
Hello grief journey. When you look back on the journey and really reflect, the aftermath is where there are the most struggles. The support drifts away, there are friendships lost, your children will reach milestones that will break your heart to celebrate as a widow. It’s endless.
And here is where I struggled with the whole metaphor I was trying to form in my head. The hurricane passes, and life returns to normal. I can promise you that on the grief journey life is never “normal” again. There is a “new normal”, but it’s never the same. You can clean up and rebuild back to the exact original state after a storm, but you can’t do that in grief. It changes you forever. And the eye of the hurricane doesn’t come back once it passes, but in the grief journey there is more than one moment of happiness and sunshine. Shit, my metaphor just fell apart.
And then it hit me…grief isn’t just a hurricane. It’s a hurricane on a leash. And not just any leash, one of those fancy leashes that goes in and out when you push the button – longer or shorter depending on how far you decide your dog/hurricane can run from your side. Sometimes it comes back on it’s own and you cannot stop it. Other times you pull it back and keep it close. You can revisit the different parts of the hurricane – the outer bands, the eye wall and the eye – depending on how short you have that leash. And you control that distance. You can control how long you stay in each of those stages of the hurricane. You can dwell longer in the eye if you so choose. You can stay stuck in the eye wall and decide to be miserable for long periods of time.
I would like to tell you that you can let the hurricane off the leash and it won’t ever make you sad again. But that would be like telling a Cuban they will never see another storm again. You can’t change who you are or what you have lived through. It’s a part of you, and it can teach you an amazing perspective on life if you let it.
I am Michelle. Above all I am a mother of four incredible little beings. I am a certified Personal Trainer and Healthy Eating Coach, an educator and a real estate investor. I am a coach who also participates fully as a fitness enthusiast, a runner, and a swimmer. I speak from the heart and have no filter left to tolerate bull shit.