Supporting Kids Through Loss

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Like any important life experience, death is not just one conversation.  As parents and caretakers, we must prepare for the concepts of loss and death to be woven into the everyday conversations of life.  A dead fly on the windowsill might spark an explanation of the physical death of the body.  A lost toy may be a means of working through the concepts of impermanence and lost attachment.  Like any major life concept ( sex, finances, spirituality), death is a lifelong conversation that evolves with our developmental growth.

The first time I talked to my son about death, I was sitting on the front step of my parent’s home.  It was late May, shortly after his father had died.  We had not seen each other in days.  As I stepped out of the car, dazed and disassociated, he ran to me from my father’s garden and softly said, “Mama.  Where’s Papa?”.  At three years and two months old, he felt the heavy weight that question had taken on in the past week.  I scooped him into my arms and took a seat on the edge of the deck, my feet resting on the rocks below.  I told him that Papa was dead.  I explained what death was.  And we had his first glimpse into the concept of death while processing the sudden and inexplicable disappearance of his beloved father.

We have had countless conversations about death, loss, grief, the body, since this moment.  Claira asks questions now too.  It’s a part of our dinner conversation, and small talk at birthday parties.  Death is part of our lives, and we treat it as so in our family dynamic.  We have to.

A lot of people have approached me, personally and professionally, to gain information about processing death, dying, and loss with children.  I have put a great deal of thought into this subject, and I would like to share my own beliefs and practices around this important concept.  I am a LCMHC, Music Therapist- Board Certified, and School Counselor, but this is information I also share as a mother and widow.  I highly encourage anyone seeking information of sort to seek multiple resources and talk to qualified mental health professionals in their own communities.

Supporting Kids Through Loss:

1. Explain Death

It can be difficult to find the words to explain exactly what death is to children.  We, as a culture, are generally removed from realities of the body’s death, making it a taboo and uncomfortable subject for many to talk about.  This is the script that I have used in talking to my children about death: “When someone dies, their body stops working.  They do not move or breath or talk.  They are not able to think anymore.  When someone dies, they are dead forever.  They do not come back to life.”  Depending on your family’s personal spiritual belief system, it is then helpful to describe the afterlife and important spiritual aspects of death.  Including their method of burial can also be part of this conversation.

(Because I am secular, I describe that Papa’s physical energy went back into the universe, and that his body was cremated and put in his urn.  I tend to keep it science-based, but this is up to each individual family).

My professional advice around this discussion is to keep the information you give your child simple and honest.  Answer their questions as best you can, and do not give them more information than they ask for.  Allow them to feel comfortable asking any question, and encourage them at any time.  Know that it will be an ongoing and evolving conversation through childhood and adolescence.

 

2. Show Your Emotion (But Don’t Make Them Responsible For Supporting You)

Something that I have seen stated repeatedly is the importance of allowing children to see us grieve.  We attempt to be strong for the children in our lives, hiding our tears and emotions in times of sorrow and strife.  The reality is that sadness is normal.  Crying is healthy.  It is important that children see adults grieving as we grieve, and normalize the emotions that come with loss.

There are times that I’m having a tough day.  Perhaps an anniversary or special occasion has triggered my memories, or I am simply feeling overwhelmed by the weight of post-loss parenting.  I may be irritable or sad, and struggling to keep up with my children’s needs.  On these days, I tell my kids that I am having a tough day.  If I yell or have an inappropriate outburst, I will explain to them how I am feeling, and they will often respond with a long hug and empathy.  I allow my children to go through their emotions, and support them in however they are feeling.  We talk openly about how we feel, how we miss Papa, and allow each other the safety of trusting challenging emotions to be a normal and healthy part of the grief process.

This being said, it is also important for us to do our best not to make children feel personally responsible for caring for us when we are overwhelmed with emotion.  While crying in front of a child and sharing feelings is a healthy means of dealing with grief, it is important that children know we are capable of caring for them and loving them even when upset.  Throwing breakable objects or sobbing over a bottle of bourbon is best saved for after bedtime.  Driving too fast while listening to excessively loud music is common, but not with kids in the car.  (I’m not recommending any of these things, but you know what?  It happens). We can express emotion to our children while also being sure not to make them feel personally responsible for supporting us.  It can be a difficult balance, and we all make mistakes, but it is a concept to keep in mind during dark days.

 

3. Behavior is a Form of Communication

Kids can be total shit-heads.  Their incessant demands, irrational opinions, big feelings and infuriating sleep schedules can wear down even the most patient caregivers.  Children can be challenging in general, but the behaviors of grieving and traumatized children can be especially difficult.  Bereaved children and adolescents may experience and exhibit changes in sleep and eating habits, behavioral regression, tantrums, emotional outbursts, sudden bouts of crying, depression, withdrawal, anger, talking-back, risk-taking behaviors, and violence.  This may present itself in different ways with different children at all developmental stages.  When a grieving child acts out, it is important not to personalize their behavior.  Children do not show us challenging behaviors because they are trying to hurt us, it is because they themselves are hurting.

It is important to take a rational approach in dealing with difficult behaviors in bereaved children (any children, really).  Responding rather than reacting.  Recognizing that a child screaming “I HATE YOU!” in a crowded grocery store is not trying to be a terrible person, they are just processing a feeling that feels too big for them to express.  Respond to their anger with love.  Tell them when they are crossing a boundary, but chose natural consequences over punishment (ie, a screaming child may get carried out of a store without a treat, but should not be spanked or publicly shamed for their outburst).  Not not attempt to neutralize anger with anger, rather respond with kindness, empathy, and understanding.  Easier said than done.  Still important.

 

4. The Arts and Healing

Expressive Arts Therapies (including music, art, dance/movement, drama, and play therapy) are an incredibly powerful tool in support children through the grief process.  If you are fortunate enough to live in a community with access to expressive arts therapists, consider reaching out to enroll your child in individual or group therapy sessions.  Child psychologists and mental health counselors who specialize in working with children may also use expressive arts techniques in their work.  Giving your child a trusted adult to process with is a gift that will continue to support their emotional and behavioral health beyond the initial stages of grief.

At home, consider creating space for art and music in your daily lives.  Put music on in the background while eating dinner, or play dance tracks and groove during clean-up.  Make art materials easily accessible, and allow your child to focus on self expression and exploration of the materials over structured crafts.  Give your child opportunities to explore themselves through art, music, movement, play, and hang even the angry paintings up on the wall.  By expressing ourselves, we feel seen, heard, validated in our emotional experiences.  Give your child to express any of it, without judgement, as they grow and cultivate their interests and passions.
5. Get Outside

In the early stages of loss, it can be difficult to get out of bed, let alone go for a run.  Find small ways to get you and your children outside.  Feel the sun on your face and allow the wind to cool the tears on your cheeks.  Interact with nature.  The rhythms of the natural world mirror the rhythms of our lives, and the first crocus, even on the coldest day, is a reminder that hope is possible.  Even when it is difficult, even when you don’t feel like it, try to get outside with your children.  It will offer you all freedom and emotional re-set, and might make the day feel a bit more manageable.

 

6. Take Care of Yourself

Being a caretaker to bereaved children in an astronomically difficult task.  Especially when you yourself may be grieving.  Be sure to fill your own cup first.  Hire babysitters, and don’t be afraid to ask for help from those who offer it.  Give yourself time and space to explore your own passions and meet your own basic needs.  Shower, eat, move, sleep. Get a therapist.  Get out sometimes.  Do the best you can to care for yourself.  In time, and with personal work, it will get easier. (Maybe a lot of time and work).  Care for yourself so that you can care for them.

On Vulnerability

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“Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity. If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper and more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path.” – Brene Brown

 

It has never been especially easy for me to find myself in a place of vulnerability.  Throughout my life I have built my identity on my strength.  My ability to navigate challenging situations.  My willingness to lead.  My ability to learn quickly, and adapt to new situations and environments with ease.  I intellectualize my emotions.  While I share my internal world openly, it is through an analytical lens.  A self study on emotional transparency.

Vulnerability, or avoidance thereof, has become a theme in my post-loss existence.  To have experienced the sensation of being publicly exposed, nude, flayed from belly to neck, my guts spilling out for all the world to see.  Emotionally mutilated, stripped of privacy and place.  The sudden loss of everything I ever held to be true.  A fiery wreck on a busy interstate highway, helicopters buzzing overhead, passerby’s faces pressed to glass.  Tragedy in real time.

I have a clear memory of Tim’s hospital room.  Sitting in the plastic recliner next to his bed, my engorged breasts pressed into the plastic flange of the hospital grade breast pump.  My nippled pulled to the steady rhythmic whoosh as milk sprayed into a small bottle.  My baby on the other side of the East River.  My husband on a ventilator.

Tim’s cardiologist walked in, quickly excusing himself for the intrusion.  I was numb and apathetic.  I invited him over.

We sat and discussed Tim’s care.  The failing state of his liver and kidneys.  The timeframe of a possible MRI.  The levels of Fentanyl building up in his bloodstream.  His comfort and care in the time to come.  Woosh, spray, woosh, spray, areola on display.

You might imagine I am not comfortable with the feeling of vulnerability these days.

 

I’ve established patterns of self-preservation in response to this instinct.  I have avoided asking for help, and rarely have taken others up on their offers of service and support.  I have purposefully pursued emotionally unavailable suitors in an attempt to avoid any significant emotional attachment, and therefor, heart hurt. (Spoiler alert, it hasn’t worked.)  I have attempted to do as much as possible independently, often to my own emotional and physical detriment.  A island of steel and granite rising from the grief ocean.  Impervious to further damage.  As if erosion isn’t an unavoidable reality.

I had grown comfortable in this lonely tower, basking in the illusion of invincibility.

Recently my therapist called me out on my shit.   A simple observation tearing the facade of effortless strength.  Exposing the delicate tissue below.

I have spent the past month reflecting on the obvious revelation that I’m just a regular, vulnerable human.

I am no longer willing to allow myself to exist solely for the purpose of comfort.  I have pushed and expanded myself in countless ways over the past two years, and I have arrived at a juncture in my path.  To continue on being guided by my fear and focused on my own self preservation is to prevent my own emotional and spiritual development.  To lean into the discomfort of vulnerability, to allow myself to be more easily aided and supported by others.  To be a tender being.  To open myself to the next level existence I hope to experience.

That’s scary, dudes.  But necessary.

One could argue sharing these revelations in the vast, exposed platform of the inter-webs is vulnerable in itself.  We’ll start there.

 

 

 

 

In Sickness and Health

I tend to get sick at highly inconvenient times.  Last night, just hours before the kids and I were scheduled to drive to New Jersey for a family visit, I came down with a stomach bug.  A bad one.  The kind that keeps you up all night with abdominal contractions that are a little too close to childbirth.

My mom arrived early this morning to take the kids and give me a chance to rest.  Throughout the day I’ve been trying to recover and heal as my body violently sheds itself of whatever virus settled into my system.

Jack Byron struggles when I’m sick.  He knows that Papa’s body was too sick to survive, and his subconscious fears affect him greatly when I’m not well.  I’ve been burdened with guilt over not being able to care for my babies, while simultaneously being overwhelmingly relived not to have them in my charge for a night.  Solo parenting through illness is a special level of challenge that I most often attempt to power through and avoid, until life sends me a not-so-gentle reminder that I am, indeed, human.

I write about this because it reminds me of a memory.  Six months into our relationship, on a cold night in January, I came down with food poisoning after eating a questionable tuna melt from the college student center.  I was a kid, 21, violently vomiting in the three stall bathroom next to my dorm room.  I was scared to be alone, and started calling friends around campus, all of whom were out at parties and not answering their flip-phones.  I couldn’t get ahold of anyone nearby, so I called Tim, 1.5 hours away in Storrs Connecticut.

Even though it was late and cold and snowing, he drove in his busted up old car, up 91, to my college dorm.  He parked in back and I embraced him weakly as I let him in the door.  He brought Gatorade and crackers.  He set my love seat futon up so that he could sleep sitting up, watching me through the night as I writhed on my twin size bed.  He nurtured and comforted me through the night, and left early the next morning to make it back for a class.  At a time that I felt vulnerable and frightened, and completely undesirable, he made me feel unconditionally loved and cared for.

I knew that night that I would marry him.  6 months into our young love.  5 years out from our actual wedding.  I knew he would be my person.

I don’t do well with vulnerability these days.  I like to pretend I have super-hero emotional and physical strength.  The kind of woman who can single-handedly raise her babies without ever feeling hurt or sick or grief-stricken.  But I’m not.

I’m missing Tim like crazy today.  I’m feeling endlessly thankful for my mom.  I’m cleansing my body of some real shit.  (Metaphorically and literally).  Sometimes I need a little reminder that I deserve help too.

Perspectives for June

 

We are closing in on mid-June.  The days are slowly warming, punctuated by rain and chill from the lingering endless winter.  The school year has come to an end, and summer lies ahead with it’s promise of road trips, lazy mornings, hikes through local mountains, and impromptu beach adventures.

Tim’s birthday was this Tuesday.  I had originally planned to celebrate it with mylar balloons and homemade chocolate pudding pie, but then life happened, with busy days at work and car appointments and the general whir of life 3.0.  I kept him in my mind all day, and told the kids about their Papa’s knack for finding four-leaf clovers.  We celebrated him in our own small way.  Tim wouldn’t have minded.

I’ve been surprised by how smoothly grief season has gone by for me this year.  I go into the months of May and June with the understanding that I will likely have some tough days.  Small things may affect me in bigger ways.  The seasonal sensory reminders of the life that was torn out from under us.

There have been challenging moments for sure, but I am realizing just how far I have come in my healing process.  My stress levels are subsiding.  My trauma reactions are rare.  I’m able to think of and remember Tim without the heavy, sick weight churning in my gut.  Being a widow is part of who I am, but no longer defines who I am.  My current reality feels like my life, not an alternate universe I was unexpectedly dropped into.  I own it.  This body, this family, this home, this life, this experience.  It’s mine now.

I initially thought this new perspective was a result of the distractions I allowed myself this spring.  Dating and men and the unreliable high of an occasional oxytocin rush.  Then it became more a source of stress than recreation.  A rollercoaster of external validation and rejections large and small.  I started to recognize patterns and behaviors that were not supporting me in the path I wish for myself.  I disabled my accounts and deleted my apps, favoring evening workouts and porch parties over internet connections.  I realized just how whole I feel, even on my own.  The love I have developed for myself and my life more important than the attention and affection of new men.  I’m leaning into that for now.

A friend somewhat recently suggested that I change the name of my blog from sorrowpie.  Because I’m healed now.  And I was like “lolololololololfuckyouNO.”

The thing is, I have healed.  I’m in a completely different mental and physical space than I was.  But I continue to honor what I have survived.  I continue to honor the grief that will forever exist in the corners of my heart.  I’ve learned to love myself the way I wished a partner would. I’m confident in my ability to live this life the way I wish for myself.  I’ve embraced this life with the constant knowledge that it would not exist without the trauma-blast that ignited it.

I am whole now.  Pieces soldered together.  Bonded and reformed under heat and pressure.  Stronger that before.  I would not have believed it two years ago, in the burning rubble of the life I ignorantly assumed would always be mine, just how powerful and beautiful this existence would become.

I post here less frequently.  I do not need this space quite as much as I did through the  initial crisis.  I will continue to write here about the evolution of life after loss, about my shifting perspectives and life with kids.  There is less sorrow.  Fewer pies.  But we are still here, with our growth and challenges and the mundane day-to-day I’m now grateful to have.

Grief season is behind us. Summer lies ahead. We continue.

Two Years

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This week brings us into Grief Season, a two week stretch of milestones and anniversaries.  We have successfully navigated the passing of another Mother’s Day, the last full day we had a healthy, happy Tim in our presence.  Yesterday, May 15th, brought the anniversary of his heart attack.  The Urgent Care visit, our drive into Brooklyn, the feelings of frustration and annoyance I had towards him that I have recycled and regretted a thousand times over.  The shocked look in his eyes when his heart seized up.  CPR on the living room floor.  The beginning of the unknown.

I’m doing surprisingly well overall.  I feel firmly settled into my new life, navigating the new challenges of homeownership, career, housework, childcare, dating, life.  I’m learning and growing with my new experiences, keeping Tim’s legacy permanently tattooed to my heart like his words inked into my skin.

“…may we create the best possible universe together…”

Year two has brought new life experiences and obstacles.  I’m having to learn quickly and leave my ego aside as I navigate this new existence without him.  My grief has softened it’s edges and rests comfortably in the corners of my consciousness.  It doesn’t strangle my brain anymore with it’s black, toxic numbness.  The sadness can be heavy, but it no longer weights me down like the leaden coat I wore through the first year.  I no longer get flashbacks.  I manage trauma triggers effectively.  I’m healing.

I’m lonely, I can admit that.  I miss him. I miss companionship, intimacy, the feeling of being valued by a loving partner. Most of all, I miss him as the father he had always dreamed of being.  The kind of dad who would have coached youth sports and taught his kids to ride bikes and skateboards.  The kind of dad who would have sat down and lovingly supported his children through homework and creative projects and heartache.  The kind of dad who gave baths and read bedtime stories, and enveloped his children and wife with open arms and heart.  The father of my children.  My Tim.

I’m stronger.  Stronger than I ever imagined I could have been.  I’m confident and outgoing and passionate.  I take advantage of the experiences life offers me far more enthusiastically and openly than I ever did before.  I no longer take any of what I have for granted.  I more fully embrace my existence and what I truly wish to do with this life.  I’m still learning, growing, expanding.  A woman forged in fire, singed hair and heart muscle.  Still fighting.  Still loving.  Always working on it.

The eternal winter is slowly fading over the daffodils and tulips sprouting in my perennial beds.  The sunlight is stronger.  The birds sing in the trees surrounding our home.  This morning, Claira danced in the kitchen and repeatedly exclaimed “Dis is a HAPPY HOUSE!”.

It is, indeed.

We are happy.  We are thriving.  We are evolving.  We press on.

Two years, my love.  You would be awfully proud of us.

 

 

Confit Garlic Roasted Lamb with Fresh Herb and Shallot Sauce to Unfuck Your Week.

 

I see you there, Friend.

It’s been a Spring, right?  The kids have been sick.  The weather is cold and dreary.  That pesky Universe has been up to her tricks again. (What a bitch, amiright?)

I see that you’ve been struggling a bit.  Yeah, you’ve been through worse, I know.  But these feelings right here?  Those are valid too.  It’s ok that you’re struggling.

I need you to remember two things, sweetheart.

One: Everything is temporary.  All of it.  All the time.  “This too shall pass” and whatnot.  Just as the leaves will emerge and the flowers will bloom, so shall you, with the verdant energy of every renewal before.  It will get better.  It always does.  Trust that, my love.

Two: 

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Confit Garlic Roasted Lamb with Fresh Herb and Shallot Sauce to Unfuck Your Week.

Roast (cook time 7+ hours):

5-6 Lb Lamb Roast

20+ cloves of Garlic (Don’t doubt me on that one.  Hush your mouth.)

2-3 Springs Fresh Rosemary

1.5 teaspoons Salt

Generous grind of Black Pepper (Did someone say “generous grind?”…Yum.)

1 Tablespoon Olive Oil

 

Sauce:

1 packed cup fresh herbs (Parsley, Cilantro, Chives, Rosemary)

7 large cloves Garlic

1 Shallot

1/2 cup good Olive Oil

Juice of 1 Lemon

Salt to taste (2-3 large pinches)

 

Ok, Honey, time to get your shit together.  You’ve been bummed lately.  Things haven’t really been going the way you had hoped.  It’s ok, we’re going to make it all better today.

Are you ready?

First, get yourself a roast of lamb.  One with good bones and thick muscle and just enough fat to make it luscious.  (Mmm.  Yeah.  You know you like it like that.)  Preferably from your friend that owns that local organic heritage sheep farm.  Yeah, that one.  That’s the stuff.

Pat that beautiful piece of meat dry and stick it in the dutch oven your dead husband gave you for Christmas four years ago.  Oh, you don’t have one of those?  Huh.  Well, go to Target or Amazon or wherever it is that normal people buy Enameled Cast Iron Dutch Ovens and get yourself one.  You’re welcome.

Add a bit of olive oil to the pan.  Salt the roast and place the rosemary springs on top.  Sprinkle the garlic cloves (yes, keep them whole) around the bottom.  Stick it in the oven. 275 degrees.  Covered.  Now just leave it.  Yes, go live your life for a couple hours.  Just trust me on that.

*Two Hours Elapsed*

Ok, get back in the kitchen, friend.  Pull that roast out of the oven.  It’s not even close to done, but that’s ok.  See all the garlic at the bottom?  See how it’s been slowly roasting in fat and juices?  Oh yeah, baby.  Take that garlic and use a fork to smash it all over the top of the roast.  Mmm.  Really press it into the meat and let that confit garlic paste smother that meat in deliciousness.  You got it.

Put the roast, uncovered, back in the oven for another 4-5 hours.  Baste occasionally.

Ok, it’s almost dinner time.  Take the roast out of the oven.  The meat should be beginning to fall off the bones at this point.  The goal is the roast that beast into submission, until it’s succulent flesh is falling apart in your hands.  Yes.  Time to let it rest.  30 minutes or more, covered.

Let’s make some sauce, baby.

Ok, roughly chop the sauce ingredients.  Don’t overthink it.  Throw them in a food processor, blender, or bowl with immersion blender.  Add liquids and salt.  Puree until smooth.  You’re good.

Chop up that meat.  Stick it on a serving tray and top with sauce.  More sauce on the side. Sauce forever.

 

Ok, Honeybee, now comes the important part.

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Invite some friends over.

Some good ones.  The ones who make you feel light and love in their presence.

Have them bring some vegetable sides and sweets.

Open up some wine.  Set a nice table.

Gather and laugh and share and sing.

Feast on good food and the shared energy of people who love you.

Pick at the lamb with greasy fingers.  Dip chunks into the sauce, letting the oil dribble down the side of your hand, licking it clean.

Get a little tipsy.  Eat until you’re satiated.

 

Maybe someone will bring a fun chocolate dessert.

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You’re going to be just fine.

 

 

 

Second Firsts: Heart-Hurt and Healing

 

The Universe has not always been kind to me in regard to romantic connections.  A college boyfriend took it upon himself and sleep around during our six-month courtship. Tim and I enjoyed a strong and passionate love for 12 years before… well…you know.  Upon re-entering the dating pool at 34, I enjoyed a handful of first dates, one enjoyable yet unattached relationship, and a myriad of online bores, creeps and man-children eager for female attention yet unable to fully connect.

After a hiatus over the winter to focus on myself, my career, and the tiny humans in my constant care, I jumped back into the online-dating world in early February.  Amongst the forest of matches and messages, one man, with kind, cocoa-colored eyes and adorable dimples, stood out.  We made a date to FaceTime for four days later, that Wednesday.

The next day he texted requesting an earlier date.  I admitted that I was already in my flannel robe and settled in for the evening.  He didn’t care.  We talked and laughed for well over an hour, like old friends catching up on life events.  The tone and rhythm of his voice warm and resonant.  We wrapped up the call in unison.  A surreal connection formed in moments.

Timing quickly made itself a strong and undeniable presence in our dynamic.  He would fly out for vacation a few days after our first call.  I flew to Florida with my kids a few days later.  Between flights and kids and activities we would steal away in quiet moments for video calls and texts, eager to catch the heady dopamine rush of new connection.  The chemistry that was forming was intense and unexpected.  It was crazy. Completely out of character for my normally cautious heart.  It felt great.

Our first in-person meeting was planned for three weeks after our first conversation.  I drove to his small city two hours away and planned to meet him at his office building.  He greeted me at the front door, his presence familiar and warm.  A man I had just met, yet seemingly had known forever.  He showed me his office, with exposed brick, and his framed photography on the walls.  Nag Champa burning next to a small windowsill Bonsai.  Joni Mitchel on the stereo.  It went very well.  I’ll leave it at that.

Over the next weeks we communicated daily.  The mental-emotional-physical-spiritual resonance I found with him shocked me, and left me off my guard.  On an over-night date we enjoyed Vietnamese, craft beer, and a shared dark sense of humor.  We walked in step, arms linked, fingers clasped, talking about futures while side-stepping puddles.  He shared the complications of his life.  A man in free-fall, navigating life’s transitions, as I had been a year prior.  I ignored the red flags he openly waved.  His arms felt like home.

He ended it with a text 8 weeks in.  An offer of friendship, a wish for my “great day”, and a winking emoji.  An anticlimactic and disappointing ending to an otherwise thrilling and meaningful relationship.  In many ways it came as a relief, as I processed the slow fade he had been displaying for the previous week or more.  Much of life comes down to time and place, and neither were working in our favor.  My first post-loss heart-hurt.  My emotional scar-tissue left raw and throbbing.

I can openly admit now that I felt love for the man.  The rush of oxytocin clouding my generally sound judgment.  I do not regret the connection that we shared, nor do I question the feelings I developed for him.  I have experienced the deepest depths of loss and trauma, yet I am still fully capable of opening my heart to another man.  I am capable of connection and laughter and growth.  I can experience a significant emotional set-back, and still enjoy the first warm day of Spring.

I wish nothing but peace and happiness for this man.  I cannot fault him for the timing and complexities of life.  I hope to remain his friend and continue our unique connection through a new lens.  I am unsure of what the future will hold (as we all should be).  I chose to move forward with a renewed sense of growth and self-awareness.

I’m grateful for the brief memories.

I look forward to what new love experience life may bring.

I now fully realize I’m ready for it.

Onwards.

 

 

Mid April

“Grief as a spiritual enzyme waits for our sorrows and then is recreated by our soul, not to soften losses, but to utterly change them by metabolizing the impossible emptiness and confusion of our losses into a spiritual substance that can definitely be digested into the matrix of our ongoing existence.  We are changed by this…and how to allow grief to instigate in us what it always has: the ultimate and only legitimate source of all human expression of beauty, real art, and kindness through living”

– Martin Prechtel “The Smell of Rain on Dust: Grief and Praise”

We are closing in on two years.  A year ago this Thursday, I closed on Hopewell House in a quiet ceremony of scrawled signatures, financial transfer, and warm metal keys passed from hand to hand.  This was the beginning of Chapter 2.  Smudged sage in every corner with spoken intentions of love, peace, and happiness.  Tiny lemon cakes and wine.  Hannah crosslegged on the empty hardwood floor of what would be my living room.

A month from now will be the anniversaries, 9 days of memory amongst the day to day that has evolved from the worst possible thing.  Work, dinner, sippy cups and snuggles in the shadow of the memories of his waxen body, ventilators, surgeries, informed consent, the MRI, the long-short exhale of his final breath.

We are firmly in the midst of Life #2.  We have a rhythm and pattern to the days.  New opportunities and potentials have emerged and slipped away and emerged again in unexpected places.  I have started to reconnect with my creative self.  I’m working on learning jazz chords on my guitar at the longstanding suggestion of Matt.  I’m singing in the shower.  I’m accepting my many small failures and shortcomings and attempting to make it all opportunity for growth.  So. Much. Growth.

(PS, there is a bumper sticker that says “Oh no!  Not another learning experience!” and I want it real bad if you see it.)

I’m thinking less about my grief, though it does pop up in the opportunities it finds.  It’s softening and snuggling it’s self into the crevices.  I’m growing accustomed to its presence.  The surreal and comforting memories it brings of life before.

The snow is melting.  Despite the persistent chill, we now hear bird song in the morning. My hyacinth are poking their little stems out from their leafy blankets.  I’ve started cleaning off my porch for Summer.  Easter is 12 days away (the kids are PUMPED).  I’ve got plans and minimal expectation.

It’s April 2019, 23 months out, years ahead.

Let’s see what happens. life.

 

 

Transformations.

IMG_5343(July 2017 and January 2019)

 

Losing Tim changed me on a molecular level.  I have said this before.  I cannot say it enough.  The physical and emotional shifts that I experienced in the early grief phases of 2017 transitioned me from a quiet, comfortable, sometimes mundane married life into the hell-scape of early widowhood.  I went from being a stay at home mother and wife of my college sweetheart to a broken, crumpled mess of a woman, still breastfeeding her baby while mentally fighting for emotional and physical survival.  My worldview, sense of self, physical location, home, relationships, and aspects of my personality underwent profound transition in the months post-loss.  I became a different person.  A stranger to myself.  A trauma survivor.

For over a year after losing Tim I focused on getting by.  I struggled to function, yet I was still responsible for my children and the mountain of emotional and logistical challenges that Tim’s death left behind.

In August of 2018 I made the conscious choice to change other key parts of my being.  My relationship with food, my fitness, and my attitude towards my life moving forward.  This transition has been slow, but deliberate.  It has been one of countless miss-steps and moments of self doubt.  It continues to be a work in progress, but I have found myself coming into a place of ownership over this new life, mindset, body, existence I have created for myself.

And you know what?

I’M DAMN PROUD.

I haven’t really put much of this journey on this blog.  I did not want this space to become some sort of sad, awkward weight loss journal.  I did not want my inner journey to be boiled down to pounds and inches.  I did not want to have my changing body be seen as a sign that everything was somehow magically better for me.  Though I have fought my way into a healthier existence and holistic healing, I still struggle at times.  I have much growth ahead.  I’m not where I want to be.  I’m trying.  I’m doing it.

 

IMG_5342

(Pictures from September 2018 and March 2019)

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My relationship with my body had been strained for the majority of my life.  As a child, I began gaining weight at five and hit 200lbs in 7th grade.  I was accustomed to being the fat kid.  I was teased, bullied, and made to feel inferior on countless occasions.  A constant in my life was the sentiment “you would be so beautiful *if*…”.  If I lost weight.  If I got in shape.  If my cheekbones showed.  If I changed.

I can remember becoming aware of my food consumption around age 11.  I started actively trying to lose weight at 14.  Through high school, college, and young adulthood I exercised regularly and counted calories.  I did cleanses, diets, fasts.  I saw fat and flesh with hatred and distain.  I literally dreamed of cutting it off.  I spent one summer forcing myself to burn no less than 1000 calories daily on the elliptical before I allowed myself a small dinner.  I went through phases of self hatred and self defeat, always wishing that somehow I could make my body change into one that better fit our society’s standards of beauty.  With Tim, I found confidence in myself, but I continued to feel insecure in my skin and excess flab.  My body was not a reflection of who I was, it was separate from myself.

I took up running in 2011, which allowed me to lose weight and changed my body composition.  I loved running before dawn, and the feeling it left in my muscles throughout the day.  I loved the confidence, mental clarity, and swagger it gave me.  I continued running until well into my second trimester with Jack Byron.  Then came the realities of a postpartum body and the onset of hypothyroidism that left me feeling like I had been hit by a truck.  Then a second pregnancy with Claira that forced my feet to grow a full size in 41 weeks.  Then another period of postpartum existence, chronic foot pain, two babies, life.  I worked hard to tackle my body demons while nourishing myself appropriately.  I began to find new footing.

Then Tim died.

And everything, mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually, went to shit.

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August 2018 began the transition.  And in one month, I lost 10 pounds of grief weight.

It started with a sense of inner urgency.  I had spent the summer of 2018 moving into our new home, setting up and decorating every corner with colorful pieces of a life old and new.  I was eating a lot of crackers and sweets, and drinking a fair amount of alcohol.  Not so much that it was a problem, but enough that I felt the need to keep myself in check.  So, going into August with a will to change and a bit of personal motivation, I made the decision to cut out added sugar and alcohol entirely for a month.  It was not easy at times, and I did go off track on a few occasions, but I had made the decision that I was tired of being fat.   I was a person I never imagined I would have to be.  My lover of 12 years was suddenly gone from this earth.  My entire life had changed.  It was time for my body to change with it.

So I did it.

In September 2018 I began working with a wellness coach who helped me find a nutrition and fitness routine that fit my new life as a single working mother.  I began to feel fitter and lose weight through sustainable lifestyle choices.  I began to learn more about what dietary choices worked best for my individual body, and how to stay focused through periods of stress and self-doubt.  I learned to transition away from emotional eating patterns.  I learned what I needed, and how to provide that for myself.

I am now 56 pounds into this new phase of life.  I still have around 25 to go, though my goals go beyond a number on a scale.  I’m confident in my body now.  I love the woman I have become on every level.  I feel physically and mentally stronger than I have ever been.  I have the energy and focus to care for my children (most of the time).  I’m embracing this new life and the forced and chosen transitions it has brought.

I’m truly excited to see where this life will go.  I am transitioning into a body that reflects the woman I am now.  I am embracing these changes and challenges that come, with the knowledge that nothing is permanent, everything changes, but I still have some choice in the matter.  I am feeling the power I have earned and growing and expanding by the day.

This journey of self-discovery, awareness, clarity, and wellness, is far from over.  It will never be over.  But each day I make the choice to love and care for myself.  It’s my choice.

 

The Value of Independence.

I have always been an independent person.  As an only child, I grew up being self-sufficient in my play and overall worldview.  As I grew older, I found that I worked better in independent projects than group efforts.  While I have always held a deep value in friendship and human connection, I have always been comfortable navigating on my own.  Taking the lead.  Motivating and driving myself.

In my partnership with Tim, it was my independence and strong will that could sometimes come into conflict with his own needs.  He thrived from abundant external motivation and collaboration.  I thrived internally.  We were different, but we generally made it work with love and communication.

My independence has served me well as a widow.  I have come to a point in my journey where I can look back on the months that have passed since Tim’s death and see just how much work I have done to bring my life to where it is.  I bought a house on my own.  Unpacked, decorated, assembled furniture and hung drapery rods.  I negotiated the purchase of my car and am nearly finished finalizing Tim’s estate.  I manage my money.  I embrace my career.  I raise my children.  I pursue my goals.  I make life happen.

We recently returned from a family vacation in Florida.  Over February break, we flew down, the children and I, to visit Tim’s family in Sarasota.  The travel days were brutal, with delays, cancellations, last minute flight exchanges, a dead car battery, and two very tired little beings in my charge.  Yet, we made it happen.  I managed the car rental, airports, vacation home and itinerary on my own.  We spent a wonderful five days with Tim’s family, and enjoyed quality time with the reunited cousins.  We scattered a portion of Tim’s ashes amongst the buttress roots of one of our favorite trees.  We splashed in the ocean.  And while I had the love, support, and help of family, I did it on my own.

I am entering a point in my healing process where I am recognizing my own power.  The authority I have established over my own life.  The potential for growth, renewal, transformation.  A year ago, I was not able to recognize that.  But today, as we near the two year mark through this new landscape of life, I can see myself as the woman I have become.  An independent, powerful, loving being, capable of living the life she deserves.

I like her.  She can stay.