“By changing nothing, nothing changes.” -Tony Robbins

the-road-to-changeAs the New Year has just begun, I sit back and think about last year.  I have been able to do some very exciting and interesting things.  I have been able to reach out to people who have lost loved ones.  I have been able to encourage them as I was encouraged after my husband was killed.  This has been more fulfilling than I ever imagined.  I believe that this is my path.  I do not like the circumstances that led me to this place, but appreciate that I am able to do something positive after my life was turned upside down.

In a previous post I shared I have been presenting material in training with law enforcement individuals on the severity of driving intoxicated.  To be honest I didn’t think much of it before.  I think I was like so many others and thought “oh, if they think they’re okay to drive, they are”.  After my husband was killed by a drunk driver I take it much more seriously.  I wish I had this passion before.

This is one example of how a tragedy can change your perspective.  Our life experiences mold us into the individuals that we are today.  There are typically two paths we can choose after an event happens to us.  Those are the hardest decisions we have to make.  We may even veer off the path a few times before sticking to what makes sense for us.  I believe that is okay.

I am a person that needs answers, I need to know who, what, where, when and why.  I have learned we may not ever get all those answers and I need to be okay with that.  You can waste so much time looking for answers instead of focusing on the solutions.  Solutions are where we can create something great… sometimes something even bigger than ourselves.

For example, I look at my children and I see so much potential in them.  I see who they were when they were just babies, when they lost their father and who they are now.  They are such capable individuals and I wait for the day they are old enough to see their endless potential.  I am not a patient woman so waiting is not going to be easy for me.  I believe with my encouragement and telling them how proud I am of them they will have the confidence instilled in them to conquer whatever lies in their path.

Last year I began volunteering with an organization that works with families and co workers of fallen officers.  The people in this group are so passionate about what they do.  They inspire me to move forward and support as many individuals as I can.  We held a holiday party and being a part of that was amazing.  Seeing the faces of so many people who have lost loved ones is ground breaking for me.  Sometimes you don’t get to see how many people one person touches in their lives until they are gone.  It reminds me of my husband’s funeral and seeing all the people in one room that my husband touched.

This makes me even more conscious of the conversations that I have with each person.  Relationships are built one conversation at a time and when you lose track of that, you lose track of the relationship.  I am learning to really listen to what someone is saying to try and understand what they might need or what they want to accomplish.  At times, that can be difficult, because they might not even know yet.  Just as I sat lost for many months, but I let myself be lost.  This is when I began recreating myself to move my life forward.   I am not the same person I was.  I have a lot of the same characteristics, but a lot of my perspective has changed.  Once I realized that, I was able to get to know myself again.

I sit here eagerly waiting for the events of this year…the ways in which I will be able to continue to support others and hopefully inspire.   The changes that I hope will happen with one conversation at a time.

“It doesn’t matter where you are, you are nowhere compared to where you can go.” -Bob Proctor

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Fast Forward

pond in autumn.  woman wearing red coat siting on a benchAfter I heard the words your husband is dead I sobbed for a brief moment.  Then my thoughts went to my children.  How was I going to tell them that their father was dead?  It brought instant pain to my heart.  For the first time in life, I knew how someone could die from a broken heart.  The emotional pain consumed my body.  The anticipation of what I might feel next was overwhelming. 

You might think that during those first few weeks you experience the worst emotional struggle in your life.  Sad to say you haven’t even started…

I know that is not very uplifting, but honesty might get you through the next few moments of your journey.  

You begin to feel numb.  Your tears subside a little and you wonder why.  Is it normal not to cry now every time you hear his or her name?  Yes, it can be.  

Then there is a time when you want to hit the fast forward button to spare yourself from feeling any more.  I would meet other widows who were much farther in their journey than mine, and I would be jealous.  I could not even wrap my mind around how they were capable of functioning.  

I wanted to push fast forward and be in their shoes.  I wanted to laugh without guilt, to look at my children without tears and to face the world without fear.  What I discovered was that they too had walked this journey and that is why they were capable now.  

What made me realize this was meeting others who had lost their loved ones many years ago and hit the fast forward button.  They were still walking in my shoes. They did not let grief take over.  It frightened them so much that they couldn’t.  It depleted them, and they did not let go.  When I was in the room with them I could feel the heartache that was there. The grief absorbed into me.  I got up from my chair, ran out of the room and kept running.  I found a peaceful place near a pond and sat on a bench.  I sobbed.  It felt like I was sobbing for all of them.  I was releasing all of the pain and anger that had devoured them. 

Sitting alone listening to my own sobs provided me with an understanding.  I needed to choose which path I would take.  Would I hit fast forward or face what scared me?  I chose to face what scared me, and in those moments by the pond I began to hear the whispers of my crazy courage.  

Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear.” – Ambrose Redmoon

My First Date continued…

front car window.  A man and woman holding hands resting on a center consoleAs we drove away from my house, we settled into the ease of our friendship, talking about what we did that day.  I looked over at him with disbelief, how can a person’s heart feel so much pain for months, feel like it was broken beyond repair — then in a given moment transcend.  The two feelings collided, creating a hurricane of thoughts and emotions ready to explode like a shaken soda bottle.  

We arrived at an ice skating rink, which was a surprise to me.  I had only been skating once in my life, unless you count the times growing up where I had put on old skates and tried to skate down the gravel road next to my house after an ice storm.  He had played hockey growing up, so skating probably came second nature to him like riding a bike.  

people on ice skating rinkWe snapped our skates on tightly and walked to the ice.  I went on hesitantly, but soon was skating with some comfort.  I watched as he gliding around the ice, lapping me a few times.  Then he came up behind me, grabbed my sides and pushed me along.  His touch on my hips sent tingles up my back and this assured me that the feeling I thought I was having was most definitely true.  I had feelings for him beyond our friendship.  We skated around, laughing and enjoying ourselves.  In those moments, I was able to wipe away all the anguish that had consumed me and there was even more hope in my journey and in my life story.  

Hunger called and we left the rink to eat.  During dinner, I decided to start the conversation that I had been waiting to have for some time now.  I told him how I felt and that I never imagined feeling this way about someone after Mike died.  

I thought that those possibilities of love left the day Mike took his last breath – that my heart would not mend and be capable of love again.  

He looked back at me over his salad and we discussed a line that would get crossed.  A line that he was not sure if he wanted to or would be able to cross.  It was about brotherhood, about respecting Mike and about what was right no matter how he might feel about me. 

This invisible line was hard for me to understand and took me time to really “get” what he was saying.  I knew though, that I needed to be patient because committing to me would be a decision that needed to be weighed in his mind.  He was a man of respect and integrity.  He needed to be all in and make that leap with confidence.  I had adoration for that.  This is one of the reasons I was drawn to him. 

Leaving dinner that night, I was a bit confused.  I was not sure how this would turn out in the end.  I knew that I wanted him in my life.  He had helped my children and me through some of the hardest moments.  I just preferred it be more than a friendship, but I was willing to compromise if I needed. 

It was a quiet drive home.  The sun had set and darkness had fallen.  I began to fall asleep. I think the emotional struggle I had built up drained the energy out of me.  I reached over and grabbed his hand into mine.  I was hoping for a sign, either he would embrace it or shy away.  With delight he held my hand back.  This was a turning point and I knew that our life would begin together in the near future. 

“Love isn’t love until we share it, but the real fulfillment in life is finding love and sharing it with someone who can freely and without any conflict love us faithfully in return.” – Joe D. Mango

A Widow’s Connotation continued…

A woman cashier in a grocery lineHow are we supposed to feel as a widow?  There are days when I felt angry, sad, depressed and when I was in shock.  I did want others to be as angry as I was and feel what I felt.  I did have breakdowns, blow ups (one happened to be at the funeral director and another at a cashier in a local grocery store) and overall depressive behavior. These are “normal” feelings that society expects.  What about the days when I was smiling, I didn’t cry or feel sorry for myself.  How does society react to this?  It’s like people get even more confused when you laugh at a joke or smile at a neighbor after you lose your spouse. The fact is, we are human and there are days when I did not feel like crying.  I was so tired of crying and being depressed.   I would wake up those days and vow that I was going to have a “happy” day.  I would not let the emotions control me that day.  If I wanted to have some light at the end of the dark trauma tunnel, I needed to laugh. 

When I became a widow, I was young.  Did this change what society’s connotations of my widowhood?  I believe so.  There are widows that are much older than I was and they thought that since I spent much less time with my husband, Mike, I did not get the respect or carry the sorrow that they did.  So even amongst the “group of widows” there were some beliefs.  We both felt robbed of time with our loved one.  When we took our vows of marriage, no matter how old we were or how long ago it was, we thought it was for the rest of our lives.  Not once did I think it would be for the rest of my husband’s life.  On the other hand, you might think that someone that becomes a widow at 70 is lucky they got to spend so much time with their significant other that they did not miss out on much, but they do.  What about dating again or getting married again?  There are connotations on this as well.  People have expectations on how much time should go by before this happens.  There are also certain expectations that come with how old you are.  The expectation differs if you are a man (widower) or a woman (widow) that has lost their spouse.   I believe the fact if you have children is considered by society as it relates to society’s beliefs on how you should feel or act.  The fact of the matter is there is no right timeframe, age or gender that should impact beliefs.   We are our own person.  Life is full of unexpected events, like the passing of your loved one.  Why should there be expectations on timelines on other events in life?  There shouldn’t be.

As a widow I felt responsible for so much.  I was responsible for Mike’s last wishes and keeping his memory alive.  I put a lot of responsibility on myself.  I wanted to make sure I was doing what Mike wanted me to do.  I even developed a saying “What would Mike do?”  It helped me get through some tough decisions that I had to make.  I am not sure if it was society’s connotations that created this feeling or if it was my own doing.  The community does feel a strong need to take care of the widow.  This is something that needs to remain.  The support those around us can get us through the day or even the next hour.  I wonder if this was created by passages in the Bible or culture.

Over time, widow connotations have been developed, just as other connotations in society are developed.  Words mean different things to different people.  It all depends on your experiences, but society has a role in this.  We can change what society believes, but what is important is that we believe in our own decisions and ourselves.  There are people that do not completely understand or can’t comprehend what a widow goes through emotionally and physically unless they have become one.  We make our own path in our life story from what is given to us, even if we have to make it on our own. 

I encourage you to not always follow the connotations, but to muster the courage to face the unexpected, unfamiliar life to begin to heal, love and live again.

 

A Widow’s Connotation

Jackie Kennedy in black dress and black vail.  With her two small children. With John Jr. saluting at JFK's funeral.

Jackie and her children at JFK’s funeral

There are many contributions to what we develop as our beliefs.  Society has a large impact on what we deem as “normal”.  Although I am a big believer there is no normal.  When I became a widow, I did not know how I was supposed to act or what I was supposed to do.  As we grow up we look at people for guidance and search for mentors.   I had seen my grandmother become a widow, but I was young to really understand behaviors.  A famous widow that I can think of is Jacqueline Kennedy.  There are pictures of her all over the internet and President Kennedy’s funeral was all over the media, as was his death.  Jacqueline Kennedy is really an icon.  When you picture her, you might see her black dress, dark eyes and hair.  She wore a pearl necklace quite often and large sunglasses.  Is this what a widow is supposed to look like?  There were so many times that I could have used some validation that what I was doing was right.  I even wondered if I looked like a widow.  I thought I could be recognized by anyone as a widow and for some time wanted to be recognized that way.  If they recognized me as a widow then all of the connotations that come with the word would not need to be said out loud by me.

But I discovered very quickly that I did not want to be associated with all of society’s beliefs about widows.  Although the connotations today have changed over time, some of them remain the same.  In the past, widows were to wear black for the rest of their lives to signify they were mourning.  In some instances the widow wore black for the first year after their spouse’s death.  People still use a year as some sort of magic number.  As a widow we will mourn for the rest of our lives, but how changes through first few weeks, months or years.   In certain cultures, a widow is required to marry within their late husband’s family.  Could you imagine if you were required to marry someone specific after you lost the person you loved?  Especially if all that was eligible was Uncle Bob.  But the best idea of all that I have learned about is that the widow is to throw yourself onto the lifeless burning body of your husband at their funeral.  This is called a sati.  I understand that there are certain culture and religious beliefs, so to each their own.  But if someone told me to jump on the fire and burn myself, I am not sure I could do it.  Actually, I can guarantee I would not be able to do it.  Don’t get me wrong, I love my late husband.  I am just not willing to burn myself alive.  If I did, I can only imagine what he would say to me.  He might ask me if I ate my “stupid sandwich” for breakfast that day.  On a serious note, there was a time when I wanted to die right along with my husband.  I even pictured my own death.  Thankfully I got through those feelings.

 Return Friday for more on my thoughts on widow’s connotation.

The People You Meet

hands with blue backgroundAfter I became a widow, I met some very inspiring people.  I met other widows that showed me their strength and their desire to live life.  I watched them all grieving in different ways, but their desire to help others was astonishing.  It made me realize that there are so many unselfish people in this world.  That people are able to put themselves aside and give you the support you need to make it through your new life.

I also met new sides of people who I had known for years.  We often take on roles in each others lives and are very comfortable with that.  When something turns that balance around and you begin to take on a new role in the relationship it can cause some complications.  In my situation it happened so seamlessly that I did not notice any role changes until after it was over.  Most of the roles have returned to normal, but knowing that people are capable of such great things really provides the comfort that you need.

There are organizations that provide support without asking anything in return and for someone who has been in a role of giving, not receiving can cause some discomfort.  So it can be challenging to get used to.  All I can say about that is know that is okay to ask and genuine people will not ask anything in return.  I met with some individuals of an organization last week and they provided me with the guidance I needed to move forward with a project that is very important to me.

This past weekend I met up with some really great friends.  It is great to be able to enjoy each others company. Being able to discuss life without feeling like there is a white elephant in the room.  It really made me feel like I am continuing to move forward in my life and am creating the social environment that is important to me.

I am fortunate to have those friends and organizations that support me and what I want to accomplish.

I want to continue to live this life with such passion that when I leave this world I will know my life will be celebrated!