2014 started off well. I was so relieved that the holidays were over and that we’d made it through our second holiday season without Ron relatively unscathed. I was on a high for a while and felt good, solid. But bit by bit, that solidity chipped away and I started to shakily and rapidly sink down. I thought I was doing the grief work, I thought I was letting myself sit with the emotions that bubbled up. On the outside I’d say everything looked fine. We looked like we were managing well. I am a good actor. But, my sleep was getting worse and worse and my mood was getting too heavy to bear. The anxiety left me awake in the middle of the night with my heart pounding and my muscles tight. The physical feeling was familiar but I couldn’t quite identify it. After a while I started to recognize the sensations. The tightness in my chest and throat, the pounding of my heart—it was the feeling of deep sobbing--my body was crying without the awareness of my mind. I’d lie there so uncomfortable and annoyed that I couldn’t sleep, couldn’t breathe my way out of this state. I didn’t recognize the “body grief”. Somehow my mind and body became detached. Slowly, I started to realize that I wasn’t doing the mental grief work at all. Oh, the grief was there and was jumping up and down in front of my face but instead of leaning into it, I was trying to force it away and the result was middle of the night panic and an increasing feeling of hopelessness that anything would or could change for the better.
Finally sad. The description that a wise and beautiful Widowed Voice blogger wrote when someone asked her if she was still sad. No, she wrote, not still sad, I am finally sad. Those two words were a revelation to me. Finally sad. The first year of Ron’s death I was too shocked, too horrified, too terrified, too fatigued even, to feel the force of pure sadness. I realize now, in this second year, that the space had opened up in my emotions to let the sadness surface. And it was terrifying. And I thought it would crush me. I thought if I let myself go that far, there would be no return. I still don’t know if I have let myself go to the deepest, darkest place of sad or how to even get there. What I know now is that I will get there. Grief is its own thing that demands attention. It will come out one way or another and at some point, I have to get there so that I can rise up from it and create my safe sanctuary, my home.
Another remarkable beautiful and wise woman spoke to a large group of widows one Saturday morning and told us about the true meaning of home. Home. I am still digesting that. She must have seen into my brain and realized exactly what I needed to learn. A safe sanctuary, home. The home that reflects me, who I am now, the me with whom I need to become acquainted. A safe home.
“How are you?”
Can you here those alarms? Can you see the red flags? The noise you hear is the bullshit meter exploding. I was not fine. I kept insisting that I was, building up the façade higher and stronger and the result was that I became lonelier and lonelier. I thought about going to an event I’d known about called Camp Widow. Sounds like a laugh a minute, right? I wasn’t sure. I’ve become more and more introverted since Ron died, so different than how I was before, and I thought it might be too uncomfortable. I wasn’t sure about leaving the girls and I wasn’t sure I could spend all that money. I decided to go and then I changed my mind. I thought that what I really needed to do was to reach out to people locally, fight the loneliness and isolation here, and that maybe it would be nice to be with other widows but I should focus on people nearby. I told this to my grief counselor and she said, “well why can’t you do both?” Both. Both? Huh. That hadn’t occurred to me. I am always so surprised when the barriers I didn’t know I’d erected are pointed out to me. Right, I could actually go to the camp, make new long distance friends, feel accepted, not have to explain, and actually let some grief out at camp AND I could try to reach out to people at home. What a mind blowing concept. (I am a late bloomer. Haven’t quite bloomed yet….) Less than two weeks away, I made the plans to go to camp. Once the decision was made it was like I’d been deprived of water or air, I needed to get to Camp so badly. I needed to be somewhere where I could just be. I needed to be with people who get it. I needed to find community. I was parched for community. I am not a public crier. I rarely cry in front of other people at all. I cried on the plane on the way there from relief that I was going to be someplace where I could feel free. I raced from the airport into my first workshop. I didn’t even check into my room. I threw my suitcase and down coat behind the camp registration desk and ran up the stairs to the meeting room. I sat down, caught my breath and started to cry. I cried my way through camp. I needed so badly to cry.
I learned that I don’t have to cling so hard to the past, to the status quo to hold onto Ron. I think I was afraid that if I make changes in my life, in my surroundings, I would face losing Ron again and that I had to hold tight to the past in order to keep him with me. I now understand that he will stay with me. He will go where I go and our love will not fade away or be diminished by my living. Maybe I can slowly dismantle the barricade I’ve been building around my heart, trying to keep him in and shut others out. I told people that I was trying to honor him by living a good life and being as positive as I could be for myself and the girls but now I realize what tight, restrictive parameters I gave myself to do that. The only thing holding me back right now is me. I am still fearful, still unsure but now I feel hopeful.
I learned that I have to re-create my home. I have to get to know this new person that I never wanted to be. Running away, pretending, clinging to a life that doesn’t exist will not work, will not get me to my new safe sanctuary. Maybe this new person that I am isn’t so bad, won’t be so bad after all. I learned that being a widow doesn’t mean that I am weighted down with baggage. It means I have a slice of life experience I didn’t expect to carry. It really is just that—life experience. It isn’t “baggage”. I will carry Ron, our life together and our love with me, forever. It will not leave me if I change around our house, get a new job, or a new love. I won’t lose him by living.
Now, more than a week after camp I realize I feel calmer. I feel a little more confident. After being with this group of people who were oozing love from every pore and in their pain, oozing hope for their futures, I see hope and a future for myself. Another wise and beautiful Widow’s Voice blogger wrote how much, before camp, she was resisting thinking of herself as a widow, didn’t want to go to camp, didn’t want to be part of a group called widows, and I get that completely. Who would? Who the hell wants to be a widow? The day Ron died I looked at my brother and said, “I am a widow now” and he just looked at me not knowing what to say. But meeting all those remarkable people who are admirably building their next plan A lives, made me not want to run, but to be part of them, step into that community. Their hearts were shattered, but there they stood. There was so much hope and so much love. Who wouldn’t want a piece of that? I didn’t really understand the words, “Hope Matters” but now I can honestly say I do. Is it going to be easy from now on out? No, I know it won’t be easy at all and I will still ache and hurt and cry and it will still be so difficult to get out of my shell and reach out to others. But that kernel of calm that now exists in me feels like it can only grow and flourish. That kernel of calm feels like the first brick in the foundation of what will be my new home, a home built on hope, bolstered and fortified by Ron’s and my love, built by me, for me. A home that I hope will be filled with love and gratitude for the life I had in the past, the life that I have now and whatever life the future brings me.
Thank you, Michele, thank you Soaring Spirits, thank you Camp Widow, thank you to my community of widowed people in Widville. With love and gratitude: HOPE MATTERS!!!!!!!!!!!!