Seriously. What’s up with the ginormous photos that appear for the funeral? They are HUGE! And no one else wants them (because they are freaking HUGE) and yet it feels wrong to throw them away. So they end up in the shrine of our dearly departed. Or hidden in a closet. Or just disappear. Seriously, when you get comments that most churches don’t have pictures of the Madonna that large, you know they are ridiculously HUGE.
When Dan died, I knew I didn’t want to spend a minute longer in our dream home than necessary, so I downsized as soon as possible. My fresh-start house was supposed to be just that, a fresh start. Tons of Dan’s stuff still ended up coming with me. Including the ginormous canvas photo that ended up over my fresh-start fireplace where he could watch me try to put the pieces of my life back together. Or watch me not leave the couch for weeks at a time.
After staring at it for months, I knew it needed to go. It didn’t feel right to throw it out in the trash. And unlike another W, I didn’t have anyone I could ask to throw it away for me when I wasn’t looking. Plus, I needed something over the fireplace. So…on a whim I painted over it. Wine and Pinterest may or may not have helped in this decision. I googled how to paint over a canvas, and trekked out to the craft store for supplies. I skipped an important step (when Google tells you to sand it down first, you should do that), so it took five coats of gesso to cover it up. Have I mentioned I’m not an artist and have never painted before? Yes, wine was definitely involved.
I was nervous when that first coat went on but then started laughing. Dan’s face was still there after each layer of gesso. He always was stubborn. It was a perfect metaphor for my fresh start in life. He’ll always be there underneath. Part of my core. But as I strive to Live Now, the new memories and experiences I have will add paint to my canvas, and it will eventually become all about me.
As always, thanks to wine and the ladies of The W Club for their heartfelt contributions to this post.
Next week–a discussion on proper disposal of military uniforms.
Dan hated it when I called him a hoarder, but he had this thing about keeping EVERYTHING. (Buy me a drink and I’ll tell you a story about a box of rocks, enough baseball mitts to field a team, and every letter his mom and grandma ever sent him). As I was downsizing, lots of stuff went in the trash. Lots of stuff got donated. Lots of stuff had to be shredded (FYI the shred company will come to your house for a fee saving you a trip). Everything left over went in an estate sale. But it’s really hard to filter through a lifetime of someone else’s treasures. How do you get past the gut instinct to keep every little thing as if he was going to come back and be mad at you for getting rid of it? How do you honor their memory and treasured items without living in a museum of the dearly departed? Seriously, I’m asking because I want to know. Despite all the work to downsize, I have boxes and boxes of his stuff in the garage of my new fresh start house.
One of my W friends shared what she did. All of her husband’s clothes got piled in the guest room. She kept the things she wanted, then had their son pick out what he wanted. After that, his friends were invited to come by and pick out what they wanted. Whatever was left over was donated to a local charity. Genius! I immediately did the same thing. I was sometimes surprised by what Dan’s friends wanted to keep as mementos, but glad I let them choose what was meaningful to them. Everything else got donated without a shred of guilt. And in case you were wondering, watching crusty old Veterans crying as they picked through their dead buddy’s stuff was hard so I mostly hid out in the other room while they were looking.
Since we’d started a memorial scholarship in his honor, anything with monetary value that wasn’t a family heirloom was sold to fund the award. Guilt free. And thanks to Evel Knievel dolls action figures, his coin collection, Star Wars trading cards, his World War II Paratrooper rifle and a bunch of other junk stuff that will soon be sold, some kid is going to get to go to college. Who needs a museum with a legacy like that?
Tune in next week for what’s up with the ginormous funeral photos?
This post is not trolling for sympathy. In fact, I hesitated quite a bit before posting it. In the end, I decided it was important to share my story in the hopes it might help someone else. Since we collectively fear grief, it’s hard to comprehend how consuming despair can be or what to do when someone we love is drowning in it.
Why is Grief so terrifying? Why do we turn away and shield our eyes and our hearts from the pain we see in the ones we love? Why do we push them to be more positive or delete a grief-related post just because it makes us feel uncomfortable? It’s a topic I think about often.
It was about four months after Dan died that I was sitting outside in the fall moonlight with a glass of wine and my besties when one of them looked at me and said, “I have to tell you that I’m mad at you.” I was a bit taken aback. Where the hell did that come from? How much wine did I drink? What did I do?
Let’s rewind a bit.
Losing Dan pulled the earth out from under my feet. In addition to the loss of my soul mate and love of my life, I had a front row seat to his agonizing battle and very gruesome end just months after losing my Dad to the ravages of another horrible disease. PTSD, Depression, and Anxiety are Grief’s annoying evil step-sisters who crash the party. To say I was struggling was an understatement. I suffered from nightmares every single night, reliving those horrible last few moments in every gory detail. Death like you see on TV and the movies would have been a blessing. Dan’s passing was not peaceful. I was later told that he didn’t suffer because he’d been in a coma for days. I call bull$%^t. How would anyone know whether or not he suffered? It’s not like you can verify this statement.
But I digress. I wasn’t sleeping without pharmaceutical help, and the sleep I did get was deeply troubled. I was miserable. I didn’t know who I was anymore. I couldn’t think. I couldn’t function. I withdrew from the family and friends (the ones that stuck around after the funeral) that were trying to be there for me. I dodged my grief counselor. And I went to a very dark place. VULNERABLE MOMENT ALERT (as if anything in this blog isn’t): I became suicidal. I went from questioning how I was supposed to live without Dan, to not wanting to live without Dan, to praying to die, to thinking about how I could take matters into my own hands. I had reached the point where suicide seemed the only logical escape from the unbearable pain I was suffering. I repeat, it seemed LOGICAL, not EMOTIONAL. So logical I was dead calm (haha, inappropriate humor is a coping mechanism) and convinced that, in death, I would be with Dan again. I was fortunate to wake up one morning with the clarity that these thoughts weren’t me and that I needed some help to pull myself out of the downward spiral. Only a handful of people knew how bad it had become. The besties were in that group and got me the hell out of Dodge hoping that a change of scenery would do me some good. Sweet Baby Jesus at Christmas-time I love them so much.
Fast Forward back to besties and wine and moonlight. She was mad at me for even considering taking my life. And she was scared. She said that if grief could shake ME to the core, one of the strongest people she knew, what would it do to the rest of them? How on earth could anyone else survive a catastrophic loss?
I loved her for trusting me enough to share how she truly felt and that she looked at this broken mess and saw strength at all. And I realized at that moment one of the reasons we fear looking at other people’s grief is that we don’t want to look in that mirror and envision that loss for ourselves. And that’s okay. We can’t live in the joy of all that life has to offer if we’re too focused on losing it. And at the other end of the spectrum, there is another truth-that in recognizing loss is inevitable, we can free ourselves to enjoy the time that we have.
So for my W’s who are in that dark place, it gets better. I promise. You will reach a point where the light breaks through and finds you. But we can’t always do it alone. When those who love you are throwing you a lifeline, reach out and grab it and hold on with all your might.
The Wandering Widow
Suicidal thoughts are a serious matter. If you have them or think someone does, please get help. Those closest to me had suspicions but were afraid to take action in case they were wrong. Old Lisa was “strong” and independent and apparently a scary bitch who would have freaked the F out on someone if they dared mention it. If I hadn’t woken up that morning with the epiphany that I was about to fall off the cliff, I probably wouldn’t be here today.
Shortly after Dan died, Julie showed up at my door. She sat with me and assured me that, while I wouldn’t believe her now, things would get better. Julie was one of the few people who could get away with saying that without it being a useless platitude. She was a few months ahead of me in losing both husband and father. She alone had the street cred to tell me to hang in there and promise that I’d want to live again.
And she was right. I didn’t believe her. I was drowning in grief and couldn’t comprehend anything different. I nodded, thanked her for coming, and prayed that someday I’d have it as pulled together as she did.
And she was right. It was long and painful but it did get better.
Today marks eight months since that horrible morning. 243 days on this grief journey. 5832 hours of recovery. And it is better. There are more good days than train wrecks. I find myself dreaming about the future again. Things I’d lost…my smile, laughter and hope have resurfaced.
So now it’s my turn to share. To all the new W’s out there, it does get better. I promise.
This is an article I wrote for a recent Treasure Valley Hospice newsletter. Special thanks to the wonderful women of The W Club who contributed their thoughts on the topic.
Starting the moment your loved one breathes their last, a flurry of activity takes place. Family and friends are notified, funeral plans kick into high gear and you are surrounded by people 24/7. You are in shock, even if it was expected. You are surrounded in casseroles, flowers, stories and love.
And then the funeral happens. And then there is silence. The friends and family that were at your side disappear, returning to their own busy lives while you are left behind. This is normal, but painful. Even if you’ve been warned about it, it will be unexpected. Why do the people we need most disappear after the funeral? Some of them thrive on crisis, which is now over so they move on to the next adrenaline filled tragedy. Others have been strong for you and now need to deal with their own grief and pain, and will try to hide it from you to protect you. Others find your pain too much to bear because they love you so much and don’t know what to do, so they turn away. In fear of saying the wrong thing they say nothing. Silence.
Regardless of the reason, their disappearing act doesn’t reflect on you. It doesn’t lower your worth, or mean they love you any less. We live in a grief phobic society. We aren’t taught how to handle these situations. Our friends and family are desperate to help us, but usually don’t know how. Most people feel useful if you can give them busy work, an action job or task that needs done. Tasks like mowing the lawn, cleaning the kitchen, grocery shopping or even getting the oil changed in your car. If they ask, have a list ready (or show them this newsletter). And to those of you who want to help your W, if she can’t think of anything, just pick something you know needs doing and do it. It will be appreciated.
W’s we can help them help us by simply communicating. When they ask what we need, tell them the truth. Be honest, even if you don’t know the answer. After visiting with some of my fellow W’s, here are some examples we came up with:
Call or text me every day to let me know you haven’t forgotten me.
Don’t disappear or stop asking me questions, even if you think I’m being negative. Help me talk about him, and listen when I do.
Don’t let me become a recluse. Keep inviting me out, even if I say “no” a lot.
I don’t know what I’m feeling or what I want.
I just need to be held or to talk and you don’t have to fix anything, just be here with me.
I just lost everything. Please don’t leave me too.
Don’t offer me solutions or advice, just give me time to pull through this with you at my side.
And most importantly don’t hide your grief from me. I want to know you loved him as much as I did. It makes me feel less alone.
You really aren’t alone, even if it may feel that way. So do yourself a favor and help them help you.