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The Wandering Widow

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

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November 2017

Surviving Grief Milestones Alone

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When I started this grand adventure, there were only a few things I feared. One of those was this two-week period in November that encompasses four back-to-back grief milestones. I wasn’t afraid of the days themselves; I’d already survived them once before. No, what I was afraid of was attempting to get through them all by myself, 5000 miles away from my family and friends. Although my new friends have reminded me I’m not alone even though I’m far from home.

I will not allow my fears to limit my life. And while I could feel my stomach starting to knot up as the first date approached, this was no exception. So I broke bad with a little strategery and will power. I made sure to stack my calendar with fun activities and outings with new friends. My family and friends back home were put on a regular FaceTime schedule so I wouldn’t feel so isolated. And my lovely W’s surrounded me with their long-distance love and support. And most importantly, I gave myself permission to feel the feelings, good or bad. And they’ve been mostly good.

And I made it through the first milestone, the second anniversary of losing my Dad. For those of you who are new, losing him kicked off my downward spiral year-and-a-half of hell. My Dad died a month after we learned of Dan’s terminal diagnosis, and eight months before I lost Dan. The day I told him about it he was heartbroken since he loved Dan like his son. I didn’t want to tell him but had to fess up that I was going to break my promise to visit him every day due to Dan’s chemo schedule and care needs.

We had a heart-wrenching conversation about it. We’d already had a plan of care meeting scheduled for that day, and Dad shared with the social worker that he was concerned about his family and that he didn’t want to be a burden. He believed it was too much for me to deal with and he didn’t want me to visit anymore. My tough as nails samurai Dad cried. I cried. Hell, the social worker and head nurse cried. It was horrible. And, in case you were wondering, I did successfully negotiate my way into continued visitation rights.

That was the last time we had a lucid two-way conversation. Dad knew caring for both of them was going to break me but that I was going to do it anyway. With each visit, I noticed he was a little further away. I will always believe Dad let go intentionally, his last sacrifice to take care of his little girl. I saw it in his eyes that day that he’d made the decision. For those of you who never met him, my Daddy had a willpower like no other. He quit smoking cold turkey the day I was born. He approached everything in life that way. When nothing else would work, sheer will would win the day. That was the Ikeda way. He was the strongest person I’ve ever known. So when he decided that it was time for him to go, it was go time. That Friday the 13th (he was also a real joker) he’d waited until after I’d already visited and til his favorite nurses had left for the weekend. He was alone, which was how he wanted it. No drama, no fuss.

People that knew my Dad have told me that I’m just like him. I take that as a huge compliment, even though I don’t always see it. But I know he’d be proud of me, willpower-ing my survival through this grief journey and all these $hitty milestones. He’d high-five my efforts to re-frame these dates with new happy memories. And he’d give me one of those magic hugs and tell me he loved me and to have faith that everything was going to be okay.

Whew. One down, three milestones to go.  But with the help of Team Lisa and the will to choose a positive outlook, I’ve got this. Everything is going to be okay.

XOXO,
The Wandering Widow
Live Now. Dream Big. Love Fierce

P.S. If you are lucky enough to have your Daddy with you, please stop what you are doing and call him or visit him RIGHT THIS FREAKING MINUTE! Hug him for me. Tell him you love him for you.

One of the last photos before Parkinson’s Disease stole his ability to smile.

Adventure Part 10 – Kildare, Ireland

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I wrote in my last post about the essential role Forgiveness played in my Grief Recovery Journey. And I’ve worked incredibly hard at it. But if I’m entirely truthful, I have still struggled to forgive God/The Divine/The Universe/Whatever You Want to Call It for allowing two of the people I’ve loved most in the world to suffer and die the way they did. ALERT: This is not a religious post, so if you’re thinking about chiming in about faith and spirituality, or with any religious platitudes, you can back that truck up right now. Go on, back it up. I’ll wait. A little more. Yep, okay we’re good.

Just like those I visited in Scotland, Ireland has many ancient sacred sites that I wanted to see. Without a car, that was next to impossible. I got a great referral to Teresa Collins, a psychic medium who does private tours of sacred sites, and booked a day with her. With decision making fatigue setting in, I decided to go with the flow.  And in a “hey show me watcha got” move I let her choose our itinerary based upon what she thought I needed most. I just knew I wanted to go somewhere interesting that most people don’t get to see.   She picked me up in Kilkenny bright and early and we headed out to Kildare to explore the sites associated with St. Brigid. Not the stone circles I was anticipating, but still fascinating, so coolio.

We visited some beautiful places, but the best part was the surprise meeting she’d set up for me with Sister Mary of the Brigidine Sisters of Ireland. I’m not Catholic, and the only things I know about the Catholic faith are what my beautiful friend A.E. has taught me over the last few years. I knew nothing about Brigid (Saint or Goddess) except for what I crammed the two days before our tour. I won’t go into details since this was a profoundly moving experience for me, but it was a quantum leap forward in my grief recovery.  All I know is I left with peace, love, and forgiveness in my heart and a Sister Mary hug to go with it. I’d say Teresa knew exactly what I needed.

XOXO,
The Wandering Widow
Live Now. Dream Big. Love Fierce

BRIGID

St. Brigid of Kildare was born in the mid-5th century. She was a spiritual leader, peacemaker, and an advocate for the poor. She also bridged the pre-Christian Celtic and Christian Celtic Spirit, establishing monasteries for both men and women. Unusual for her time, she also held a leadership role in the Catholic Church in Ireland.

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The Solas Bhríde Centre is close to both St. Brigid’s well and St. Brigid’s Cathedral, the original site of the monestary. The Centre and Hermitages are unique for many reasons, one of which is their commitment to protecting the environment. The facility uses 0% fossil fuels, being powered by wind, solar and ice tubes. Ice tubes were new to me, but the simplistic explanation I took away was that it works similar to the warm coils in the back of the freezer, only in this case it’s the reverse. The ice tubes provide heat. Pretty cool stuff.


Contact The Brigidine Sisters for an appointment if you’re interested in learning more about what they do or want to book a stay in the hermitages.

IRISH NATIONAL STUD

I’d seen the Irish National Stud on a map of Ireland as I was preparing to leave Scotland. I thought it was funny, and even made jokes about how us single ladies would appreciate it if all maps were so clearly labeled. Whomp Whomp. Guess you had to have been there.

The National Stud is where Ireland’s prized stallions are stabled and live a life of luxury in a stall larger than my first apartment.  It is amazing. In addition to the stables, there are beautiful gardens onsite available to tour. If you’re in Kildare, don’t miss it. Oh, and just in case you aren’t used to being around prize stallions worth more than your entire stock portfolio, standing at the edge of the paddock exclaiming, “Ooh look at the pretty horseys,” is not how you look cool.

THE JAPANESE GARDENS

I’ve seen a lot of Japanese gardens in my life, and the one at Kildare is one of my all time favorites. Definitely in my Top 5 if not tied for first place.  Designed by Tassa Eida in 1906, this garden packs a lot into a small space. The garden represents the journey of life we all must take, and walking the symbolic paths from birth through death is like being transported into a Japanese poem.  I almost cried at the end when I reached the Hill of Mourning. i’m so glad I ended up here in the fall since that’s when Japanese gardens are at their most beautiful.

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Even if there was such a thing as an Easy Path, the Path of Life is so much more beautiful.

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ST. FIACHRA’S GARDEN

A tribute to Ireland’s natural beauty, St. Fiachra’s Garden is almost wild compared to the formality of the Japanese Garden. Take the time to stroll through and find the fairy gardens and sculptures hidden in the trees. You can even walk through a reproduction beehive shaped stone monastic cell, which you can still find ruins of all over Ireland.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Forgiveness and Grief Recovery

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Considering we teach children that forgiveness is a good thing, we really suck at it as adults. It’s been the hardest thing for me about my Grief Recovery Project. In the quiet hours when we’re alone, it’s all too easy to go back to the dark side of anger and blame.

It took a long time for me to realize how much anger I was holding on to. Once I finally acknowledged the rage that had been simmering under the surface, I had the monumental task of working my way through it. Remember playing hot lava as a kid? I was unconsciously jumping over that anger, which was making it impossible for me to move forward with healing. Feel the feelings, remember? Those of you that had a front row seat to my Hulk Smash mode know that I did finally explode. Thanks for sticking with me when I was a big, green, rage monster.

After lots of crying, screaming, and gnashing of teeth I forgave. I forgave the doctors for not saving him, and for their role in stretching out his suffering needlessly. I forgave Dan for dying and leaving me. I forgave a lot of people for a lot of things. And I eventually forgave myself, although that took a lot longer. Funny how much easier it is to forgive someone who took advantage of you in your moment of vulnerability than it is to forgive yourself for failing to save the one you love the most. But forgiveness slowly happened, and my burden got a titch lighter.

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You know I like to dissect things, so I still look at forgiveness often. I’ve come to view it not only as a powerful and necessary grief recovery tool but lately as an important part of the Live Now philosophy. You’ve heard me talk about living every moment to the fullest, of making sure your friends and family know how much you love them, and of not letting fear stand in your way of living. Well, life is also too short to deprive yourself of peace because you are angry.

If only we could forgive as quickly as we cut people out of our lives. A few years ago Dan and a family member severed ties. When he knew he was running out of time, he wanted to mend fences, but the other person wouldn’t cooperate. (Geez! Hatfields and McCoys got nothing on Bains). It created a lot of pain for Dan that he was going to die without being able to say his final peace. By the time the other individual agreed to meet, Dan had lost most of his ability to speak. He’d also lost his interest in ripping this individual a new one. He’d figured out that forgiveness was all that mattered. He knew that at the end, being right wasn’t important. He’d learned that the time we waste being angry and hurt only deprives us of any possibility of good things that may come from forgiving, even if the other person doesn’t care to receive it.

I’ve come to believe that forgiveness is what allows us to move forward with the new lives our grief journeys lead us to. However you get there, I wish you the peace it brings.

XOXO,
The Wandering Widow
Live Now. Dream Big. Love Fierce

 

 

 

 

 

Adventure Part 9 – Kilkenny, Ireland

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Just like my visit to Cork, I didn’t put much thought or research into choosing Kilkenny as a destination, beyond the fact that it was in the general path of my return to Belfast. My friends had visited recently and couldn’t say enough good things about it. Good enough for me! Sometimes going into life with no expectations leaves you open for the best kind of surprises, and I’ve continued to luck out.  Although, you really can’t go wrong anywhere in Ireland.

So I hopped on a bus and headed off to Kilkenny and new adventure. And it got off to a bit of a rough start. One of the most annoying adjustments to life as a widow for me was learning to take care of stuff Dan used to handle. In addition to being (over) protective of me, Dan would take care of all the junk I hated. In the last year, I’ve been forced to learn to deal with horrible contractors, hire and fire lawyers, fix broken things myself, and remember what day trash gets picked up. In Kilkenny, I added a new one to the list. I’d booked a hotel online, and it was a disaster. Not kidding, it looked like a room you see in an “American tourist murdered here” kinda movie. It doesn’t sound like much, but changing hotels and then fighting the cancellation fee was a big deal for me since Dan would have handled that after taking one look and turning around with a big fat, “Nope!” Yeah, feeling pretty proud of myself right now.

Kilkenny and I got along great. It’s got everything you could want in an Irish town–a castle, lots of shops, restaurants, pubs, its own whiskey guild, and a river that flows through it. Ireland’s medieval capital, Kilkenny is also breathtakingly beautiful and was another spur of the moment decision that turned out to be fantastic.

XOXO,
The Wandering Widow
Live Now. Dream Big. Love Fierce

P.S. Just for Brian…Oh My God! They killed Kenny!

THE OUTSIDE:

River Walk: One of the best green belts I’ve seen outside of Boise. Maybe even better! You can walk for miles along the river on a paved walk, so it’s popular with walkers and dog people. Benches dot the path so you can sit and enjoy the view, along with the occasional sculpture, and beautiful street art when you get to the freeway underpass. A lovely way to start or end each day, although the lights do get turned off early in the fall.

 

Kilkenny Castle Park: More woodsy than the river walk, the castle park is on the other side of the castle wall from the river. Different vibe, but still easily accessible, and the fall foliage is gorgeous in October! Don’t let ANYONE put you off visiting Ireland in the fall; it may be the prettiest time to go.

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THE PUBS/FOOD

The Kilkenny Whiskey Guild: Did you know the first written account of whiskey distillation in Ireland comes from Kilkenny? Guild members commit to stocking a minimum of 60 Irish Whiskeys and providing knowledgeable staff to assist with pairing advice and other recommendations. Look for their sign outside of restaurants and bars.

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Savour Kilkenny was just getting started as I was leaving, but I did my Airborne Best to sample as much of the local offerings while I was in town. I blame the whiskey and ice cream for shrinking my pants the week I was there. Totally worth it.

Matt the Millers: Great food, friendly staff, and awesome live music. I got a few new Irish Pot Still whiskey recommendations based on my current favorites. Matt the Millers is a member of the Kilkenny Whiskey Guild and has live music every night. Their Table For One service was consistently superior each time I went, which I can’t say for many pubs and restaurants.

Langton’s Bar and Grill: Langtons supposedly wins Best Irish Pub every year. I haven’t verified that, but the food, service, and live music were phenomenal. It’s comfortable, but the kind of place where I’m Madam for everything, even though I was rocking jeans and a Boise State Broncos tee. Madam likey that a lot. Also a member of the Kilkenny Whiskey Guild, I got some great recommendations for Irish Single Malts.

Murphy’s Ice Cream of Dingle: One of my Irish friends boasted that Murphy’s makes the BEST ice cream in Ireland. He may be right. The Black Forest Gateau made with Tipsy Cherry sorbet was my first experience, and it was heavenly. I went back later (Okay, so it was the same day. Don’t judge me!) for the Irish Coffee made with Jameson’s Whiskey. What magic is this?!? Ice cream and whiskey fell in love and had a beautiful baby, that happens to pair well with a scoop of the sea salt ice cream. This heavenly place also has something called an Ice Cream Intern, which means I’ve been doing life wrong all these years. Tell Padraig I sent you.

THE HOTEL

I won’t bash a business publicly so my first hotel will remain unnamed, but I do want to give a huge shout out to the River Court Hotel. Despite rolling in looking like a trainwreck after a night of no sleep, they got me a spacious room and let me check in immediately even though it was only 9:00 am. Riverfront views and professional staff made this a win, on top of the fact it was the same price as the dive I’d initially booked and included breakfast each morning. I highly recommend this one if you are going to stay in Kilkenny. Did I mention you have a postcard view of the castle? Oh, and I got to be Madam here too. And you know Madam likey that.

Understanding Grief: Grief Recovery is a Privilege 

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I was recently accused of putting a positive spin on grief, and it wasn’t intended as a compliment. I won’t lie. Once, when someone screamed at me in anger that I was Pollyanna, I thanked them and took it as one of the best compliments I’d ever received. And that was before cancer ever showed up on our radar. I DO try to find the glittery silver lining in whatever $hitclouds life throws my way. I know some people find it annoying. But it’s how I survive. No matter what, I choose to believe people are good, things get better, and love is real. There you go, a little Lisa 101 to give you a point of reference.

But no. No matter how hard we try to focus on the positive, there is no positive spin on grief. WE can grow and transform and develop, but grief itself sucks. It’s the evil joy stealing vampire that won’t let go of your heart. Ever. Ever ever. But you can find a way to make it less deadly and more symbiotic, like one of those gross fish parasites. How’s that for a lovely visual with your morning Cheerios?

Those of you that have been following along know I was repeatedly encouraged by my grief counselors to “feel the feelings” and that I chose to go deep into the grief recovery process. I’d usually say that I dove head first, but in this case, I could only push myself up from the bottom of the abyss. And I recognize it was a privilege to be able to do so.

I talk to the other widows in my tribe regularly. From all over the world; in person and online, we share our grief journeys. And the thing I don’t usually like to talk about is not everyone moves forward. Not everyone can, and not everyone wants to. I’ve met widows that have been on this journey for years, sometimes decades. And they are stuck. They weren’t allowed to grieve the way they needed to and have lived with the pain for so long they don’t know how to get out and no longer care. They have been abandoned or left behind by family and friends who couldn’t handle their grief. They are no longer living and wrap their grief around them like an old tattered blanket. Maybe it’s better to have something familiar and horrible than something new and scary and MAYBE beautiful. (FYI, for those of you even thinking about telling a widow she needs to move forward or that she’s stuck, please see me first so I can throat punch some sense into you).

I’ve also met widows that have no help. On top of the emotional black hole, they are struggling to survive on their own financially.  Taking time to “feel the feelings” is a luxury they don’t have. Not dealing with the feelings takes a toll on your physical health and mental well-being. It’s a vicious cycle. There is a reason that widows as a demographic live at or below the poverty level. My heart breaks for them. I know that I am one of the lucky ones.

So many widows are forced to go back to work before they are emotionally ready. I worked for the world’s BEST company who not only waited for me, they picked up a f@#$%^g sword and helped me fight my way back to life. When I made the difficult decision to leave, they lifted me up on their shields and celebrated my survival and new adventure like a bada$$ Viking queen. I am blessed. I know not everyone has that kind of support network.

And unlike many of my fellow widows, Dan and I had the chance to say the things most of us think we have more time for. We chose not to say goodbye because there wasn’t enough oxygen on this planet to allow us to breathe those words out loud.  But I know without a doubt that Dan loved me, and that he knew I loved him. I know without a doubt that my family and friends love me and have saved me repeatedly, from the worst situations to just holding space with me when they didn’t know what else to do. I have no question in my heart about how much I am loved.

After spending so much time being miserable, bitter, hurt and angry about how life cheated me out of my happily ever after, I’ve worked hard to find the positives and be grateful for the time we had. And don’t for a second fool yourself into thinking it’s easy. Learning to re-frame life’s most f@#$%d up moment is harder than any mountain climb I’ve ever done. And I think that’s what makes the most significant difference of all. When I meet all of these widows at varying stages of their grief journeys the ones that can still be grateful for what was, in spite of the pain of what is, seem to be the ones that find it “easiest” to move forward.

To my fellow grievers, my random thoughts are in no way meant as any form of judgment. We all walk paths that are unique to us. When the clouds roll in, and I’m straining to find the silver lining, I pull that glitter straight out of my heart and throw it around until I can find some light. I’m happy to share if you need some for yours. And no matter where you are on your journey, don’t ever forget you’re not alone, you matter, and you are loved.  Of that I’m positive.

XOXO,
The Wandering Widow
Live Now. Dream Big. Love Fierce.

P/C Pixabay

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