The Wandering Widow

Observations, Tips and Reckless Truth Telling on the Road Through Grief


April 2017

Bringing Sexy Back

Now that you’ve got JT singing in your head, I need to tell you this post has nothing to do with sex or being sexy. Not really anyway. Dan used to say that confidence was sexy, so I guess you could go that route if you wanted to. But I digress.

After surviving the depths of grief’s darkest days, you finally wake up one day and look in the mirror and see a dumpster fire staring back at you. Caregiving and grieving can destroy your identity. When you don’t remember who you were, or know who you are now, it’s almost impossible to rediscover your confidence. Or sexy. Or whatever. How do you remember that part of you that was strong, independent, beautiful and worthy? Can you remember the queen that first turned your husband’s eye? Or the woman that loved life? Your inner goddess? Me neither.

Before you were a Widow, you were a Wife. And before you were a Wife, you were a Woman. So how do you find her when you’re wearing this giant W around your neck? HOW do you rediscover the confidence you had before you joined this f@#$%d up W club? After surviving what seems like forever as a no-make-up-wearing-pajama-clad-crying-everyday-wreck-who-eats-cookies-in-bed-and-drinks-bourbon-from-the-bottle-mess, where do you even start to bring your sexy back? Aside from the obvious things like showering, getting dressed in something other than PJs, going to work and leaving your house to socialize with fellow humans, ask yourself what used to make you feel confident? What made you feel good about yourself? What used to make you feel like you OWNED this life?

I came across an idea that sounded both silly and fun, and scary as hell. My kind of adventure, and another check mark for The Grief Recovery Project list. The American Cancer Society adopted the phrase “Look Good, Feel Better,” and it’s true. Seeing is believing is also true. Enter the extreme makeover and photo shoot with technicolor proof that you are more than a widow, more than a train wreck of a broken human being. Sounds harmless enough, why would that be scary? I may have forgotten to mention it was a boudoir photo shoot. You can’t say I won’t try anything in the name of GRP research, but before you turn all creeper on me, it’s probably not what you think it is.

Photographing beauty and boudoir is so dear to my heart. I know what it’s like to look in the mirror and not like what I see. I know how hard women are on themselves. But I also know the POWER of a beautiful portrait and what it can do for a woman’s self-esteem. And THAT is why I do what I do!                

Erin Blackwell, Photographer

I found a local photographer who had, coincidentally, done sessions for widows for that very reason. I liked that it was an all-female team, which took a whopping almost half a percent off the vulnerability scale. Yikes! It’s not like you have had time to exercise or take care of yourself when you’re in caregiving/grief mode. Not to mention the fact that you’re a million years older than the last time you went on a date or that anyone other than your husband was looking at you that way. But Erin made me feel comfortable so, on yet another whim, I booked a session. Anything for research, right?

Instant regret took hold. Thought one: What in the flaming hell are you doing?!?! Thought two: There goes any chance of running for office someday. Thought three: That’s a lot of money for something no one else on the planet but me will ever see. Thought four: Maybe I should blog about it. Circle back to Thought one: What the hell are you doing?!?!

I told two of my closest W’s what I’d done. Their positive reactions made me feel better about my temporary insanity. Interestingly, I didn’t feel I could share this decision with anyone else in my circle. It IS true that there are some things only another W can understand.

So on a cloudy weekend, I woke up and suppressed my fear and anxiety, and headed to Erin’s studio. Faith made me feel like a movie star with the full hair and make up treatment. I’m pretty sure I said something like “holy f@#$” when I finally got to look in the mirror. Erin brought out my best, even though I was nervous and self-conscious. Once I got over the nerves I had a blast. And yeah, with a little help and a lot of champagne, I brought my sexy back. Sing it JT!

Photo credit to Erin Blackwell Studios. Hair and Make-up by Faith Garcia.




Take Cover

Grief Waves. Grief Bursts. Grief Bombs. Whatever you call them, they exist. And they suck. There you are, going about your day operating under the assumption you are managing. You may think you are getting better and managing quite well. And then out of nowhere, your grief jumps out from around the corner and bitch slaps you. If you’re not prepared for these explosions, they are harder to deal with because we end up blaming ourselves for backsliding. Here are a few things to remind yourself of when these happen.

  1. They can happen anytime. Grief doesn’t have a timeline.There are W’s that still have grief bombs years after their husbands have died.
  2. They can happen anywhere. Grief doesn’t have a sense of privacy. It doesn’t care if you’re at work or the supermarket or a restaurant.
  3. They aren’t always here and gone again. Grief bombs can be an afternoon of crying your eyes out or a week where you can’t get out of bed. It can be so overwhelming it feels like you’re starting over at the beginning.
  4. There is usually some kind of trigger. Sometimes you can predict them-holidays or other milestones you can see coming and brace for impact. Other times, you’ll be sitting in your car at a red light, and a grief bomb goes off in the form of his favorite song on the radio. Or you’ll be at the supermarket and out of habit throw his favorite snack in the cart only to remember he was the only one that would eat it. Or you start sobbing in the kitchen alone because you can’t get the dang lid off a jar. Or you realize it’s the first perfect spring golf day and he’d be on the course. Or you start crying because you get tickets to a sold out show but the one person you want to hug or high five isn’t there. You get the idea.
  5. You aren’t backsliding. Grief bombs just happen and are a normal part of the grieving process. Be kind to yourself. I find it helps to step back and try to identify the trigger. It doesn’t necessary shorten the meltdown but does help me take the pressure off myself.

And just a reminder for you friends of W’s. It’s NEVER okay to tell someone that they should be over it by now, no matter how long it’s been. 

The Grief Recovery Project

Did you know the caterpillar doesn’t just grow wings and become a butterfly? It digests itself, dissolving into a cocoon full of goo before reforming into a butterfly. It’s messy. And I’d imagine it’s painful. How is that for a freaky visual?

As disturbing as I find it, I love that analogy for what happens to us as we allow ourselves to come through the grieving process. It’s gruesome and gory. Who we were is destroyed. But in the end, we come out of it transformed. We are reborn. If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you’ve heard me say that the old Lisa died that July 10th morning, may she Rest In Peace. I chose to experience grief fully, allowing myself to become the caterpillar. I dissolved into a gooey mess that resembled neither who I was nor who I am becoming.

JM Storm is amazing and one of my favorite writers.

I’m told I’m goal oriented. I LOVES me a checklist. I set goals, and I figure out how to make magic happen. Once I set my mind to grief recovery, it became a project too. One of my W friends laughed as she accused me of over-achieving my grief. And I laughed with her! I had already given myself permission to take all the time I needed so I wouldn’t turn into a self-destructing-ticking-grief-bomb but was desperate to get as far away from the black pit of despair that almost cost me my life. So I went full bore into project mode.

The next few posts will cover my experiences with the different things I tried as I researched the Grief Recovery Project. I’ve already written about my experiences with grief counseling, and that is still at the top of my list for being the most helpful. But  acupuncture, massage therapy, Reiki, hypnotherapy, travel, a makeover and tons of books and blogs also became part of The GRP.  I’m far from being ready to fly away, but I can feel myself becoming solid again. I’m tired of the cocoon and getting ready to break out and flex my new wings.

Burning Down The House

This post continues my look at what to do with all the stuff my beloved left behind.

The hardest thing for me was getting rid of his Army stuff. Twenty-two years of service to his country made up almost half of his too short life.  Some of it was easy, like shredding all of his old paperwork and manuals. (Dear US Army, where should I send the invoice for the shredding bill?) His challenge coins and uniforms were a different story.

The challenge coins will eventually be displayed at his favorite neighborhood pub, and the duplicates were divvied up to those friends who had served in uniform. Easy enough.

But his uniforms took up three boxes in the garage. Remember how I said he kept everything? No exception here. He kept at least one pristine set of every single type of uniform he was issued in 22 years of service. That’s a LOT of freaking uniforms, boots, and paraphernalia.  Dan HATED Stolen Valor so I knew that I’d have to be thoughtful about how to dispose of them. Our local military history museum was overflowing and couldn’t take them. No one else in the family wanted them. Since grandkids aren’t in the picture, a quilt wasn’t going to work.  Plus, these uniforms were OLD and flammable, not really what you’d want around a baby. The best I could come up with was a ceremonial burning since I couldn’t bring myself to cut them up and toss them in the trash. 

My friend, and fellow W, Susanne graciously invited me to use her burn pit for this. She had done something similar so it wasn’t weird for her. On a cold almost almost spring evening, we sat outside and burned 22 years of Dan’s personal military history. Some of them did indeed melt, releasing toxic fumes into the winter air.  Some of it (brass buttons maybe?) created green flames. Cool.  We were lucky the neighbors didn’t call the fire department. Perhaps six foot flames were a bit much.  We sat out in the cold until we could see the full moon rise and the fire burn down to smoldering bits and ash. As the last of the smoke wafted into the night, the Museum of Dan was finally closed.


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