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.