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 am Michelle. Above all I am a mother of four incredible little beings. I am a certified Personal Trainer and Precision Nutrition Coach, an educator and a Yoga Instructor. 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.