The Wandering Widow

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



You Should Journal

From the minute we got the terminal cancer diagnosis, we were hustled into counseling.  Dan’s was different than mine. Mine should have been called “How To Become A Widow” counseling (totally vomit inducing since I hate that word), but one thing was constant.  Every session, every social worker, psychiatrist, and grief counselor all said the same thing…you should journal.  

I am VERY good at following instructions, so I did.  I wrote out everything I was too afraid to talk to Dan about.  And after he died I wrote out my pain. It was endless.  And horrific.  And sad.  And miserable.  And lonely.  One day I was complaining journaling how I missed being able to talk to him.  How I missed being able to share my thoughts, fears, and dreams with my best friend in the whole wide world. In that moment I decided to stop using my journal to log my misery, but to start talking to Dan.  I decided to write the same kind of letters I did when he was away on military training, and something crazy happened.

This promised coping mechanism finally started to help me start coping.  The tone of my journal entries changed.  Instead of focusing on how awful I felt, I was reminded that I WAS actually doing things.  I wasn’t as stuck as I thought I was. By writing to Dan as if he was still alive, I was slowly helping myself realize that I was still alive. The darkness was starting to fade.

Will that approach work for everyone?  Of course not…is there anything that works for everyone?  It’s working for me, so I’m sharing it with you, my lovely W’s. 

Dear Diary Dan, I miss you.

The Bucket List

Dan and I worked on our bucket list for years, but that work was limited to talking, dreaming, and writing it down on an actual list.  We saved, paid bills, took care of my folks, and did the responsible stuff. We didn’t start checking things off the list until our oncologist gave us a six-month deadline.   We cashed out retirement accounts and crossed as many off the list as his increasingly failing health would allow.  Don’t get me wrong, over the years we did some amazing things, just not all the things we’d dreamed about.

In the weeks and months since Dan died, I’ve taken a sabbatical from many things that were “ours” together.  I stopped going to our favorite restaurants.  I sold the dream retirement home we built.  I took a year off from cheering on the Boise State Broncos because we met at a BSU football game and that was our thing.   I’ve taken a break from all the things that have become too painful for me, even though I know he wouldn’t approve.  

My grief counselor gently advised that not doing anything we loved was about the same as erasing Dan from my life. That was unacceptable. So I made myself a promise to live the bucket list.  Some of those trips will be stateside, but many are overseas.  This is how I choose to honor his Live Now motto. This is how I choose to honor him.  And this is how I choose to honor myself.  This widow is wandering.  Look out world, here I come.

The last time I needed my passport was on our honeymoon in Belize. I never got around to changing my name. So now I have to submit our marriage certificate with the renewal. *sigh*

100 Days and the Non-Disappeared

It’s been 100 Days since he left us.  Remember when you were a kid and 100 seemed like the biggest number in the world?  It’s still a big number,  but in widow years it goes by much more slowly.  I feel like I’ve aged 10 years in these last 100 days.  Watching everyone else’s lives go by is like watching them in fast forward.  Life goes on. Their lives go on. I’ve been left behind.

I’d been warned that after a funeral people disappear.  Maybe it’s because the action is over…those individuals that feed on crisis and helping in a crisis now have nothing to do. This was hard…the people that had been there week after week helping during Dan’s illness drifted away and left a void. Maybe it’s because our pain is overwhelming to witness and they have to turn away.  Maybe they loved him as much as I did and they can now focus on their pain.  Dunno.  All I know is people disappear.  I expected his friends to fade away.  Which they did.  Almost immediately.  I expected some of our mutual friends to disappear.  And some did.  Even family has to take a break from the pain sometimes.  It’s exhausting watching someone you love suffer so much. And it’s okay.  People come in and out of our lives when we need them to.

There are those stalwart few who don’t disappear.  To quote one of my favorite memes, they stick to your face like an octopus. They call, show up, force you out of your house.  They bear witness to your pain, your grief, your anger, and they love you anyway. They ride the roller coaster with you, holding your hand as you scream on the way back down.  When you fall, they curl up on the floor next to you reminding you that you’re not alone. These Non-Disappeared are the ones that will help you survive. Hold on to them.

Photo credit to Lauren Giuffre.

For 91 Days

Today marks 91 days AD (after Dan).

One of my favorite travel blogs is These guys have the best gig ever…travel around the world, pick a spot and hang out for 91 days. The idea being that in 91 days you can really get to know the true vibe of a place. If widowhood is a place, I’m still horribly lost. Although I may have picked up a few key phrases, and definitely some amazing guides, I am a stranger in a miserably strange land.  I didn’t ask to come here.  I fought tooth and nail to avoid landing here and am here against my will.  I am absolutely flabbergasted that I’ve survived this far.  

The hubs and I loved to travel together.  I like to think he’s still with me as I try to get through the next 91 days.

Our last family road trip to Hood River, OR. This photo was taken 10 days before he left us. His sense of humor was still going strong.

The Little Things

I find it amazing that it’s the little things that will suddenly turn off my auto pilot and force me to remember. Force me to take control of the jet in the middle of extreme turbulence.  The little things are the ones that force me to live the pain, wondering if this is just what my life will be like going forward.

Practical. One of the many adjectives used to describe me.  I love it when form and function make beautiful babies, but ultimately things exist to serve a purpose and there is no emotional attachment. Or there didn’t used to be.  It was one of the few things Dan and I squabbled about…his need to keep things to help remember those he loved, and my need to get rid of clutter.  Imagine my shock when the simple and practical act of throwing his toothbrush out dropped me to my knees, sobbing on the bathroom floor.  And it kept happening!  The disposal of his razor, his house slippers, and his ridiculous collection of articles and magazines celebrating an old Boise State football victory all became chapters in my new  crazy pain chronicles.  

Today it was breakfast.  For the first time in months I made breakfast.  It was his favorite.  He loved making breakfast.  I enjoyed waking up in time to eat it.  He love it so much he talked about opening a breakfast restaurant when he retired so he could cook and  hang out with people in the mornings and then go golf all afternoon.  Yep…ham and eggs have me curled in the fetal position cursing breakfast memories.

Even when he didn’t feel like eating he still enjoyed cooking breakfast.

Because of the little things it’s easier to avoid doing things that remind me of him altogether.  My grief counselor says that never doing anything we loved or did together makes him disappear.  I’m told I’ll find new things to explore and adventure, but that Dan wil always be part of the old me and future me needs to honor that, even thought it hurts like a mother.  I dunno…I can’t even bring myself to watch Boise football this season. All I know is you don’t need salt when you’re crying in the skillet. 

This F@#$%d Up Club

People like to say life is a bitch. I think that’s because they’ve never had a front row seat to death.  If life is a bitch, death is the psycho ex that torments you in ways you never imagined possible.

I like to hike. I’m not especially good at it, but I enjoy it.  Last year I blindly signed up for a “hike” of Idaho’s tallest mountain.  I didn’t know anything about it, but it was a fundraiser for a cause I’m passionate about.  It was horrible…40% grade, ugly shale covered path, and my fibromyalgia screaming at me all the way up.  I very quickly fell behind our group.  It wasn’t long before I couldn’t see anyone ahead of us. (My lovely husband and friend never left my side).  Periodically I’d catch a glimpse far ahead of someone from our group.  It was both reassuring that I was on the right path, and disheartening to realize how far behind I was and how there was no end in sight.

Bringing up the rear.

That “hike” has become a metaphor for the horrible climb I’m on right now. Only this time I didn’t volunteer. Like everyone else in this f@#$%d up club, I was kidnapped and put on a forced march. Unprepared, hauling all the wrong gear and trying to stay alive.  Every now and again I can see others, my mentors in widowhood, up ahead.  They give me comfort in knowing I’m still on the path and that there is something ahead.  They help me understand that I’m not alone on this really crappy ugly trail.  They call back to me to encourage me to keep going.  And when I’m about to go over the edge, those beautiful women are there to reach out and help me find my footing.

I can’t imagine going through this alone.  And while each of us carries our pain differently, sometimes sharing that pain with others helps us get through our own.   I don’t know where I’d be without them. My beautiful Michelle who lost her love decades ago, leaving her a young widow and single mom, who only just remarried.  My beautiful Susanne who lost her love two years ago to the same horrible disease that stole Dan from me. And my Double Whammy Widow Club mentor, my beautiful Julie, who is just a few months ahead of me and also dealing with the profound loss of both husband and father so close together.  And since this club keeps forcing women to join, I know that all too soon I’ll be the one up the path looking back to encourage our newest member to keep going.

A Lonely Hell

It’s been 44 days since my world stopped turning.  In that time I’ve attacked grief like I do most things in life.  I made a plan.  I enlisted experts. I set some timelines. And just like life sometimes does, those plans all went to hell. I would normally hit the hiking trail to work through it, but my state is on fire.  It’s actually a perfect metaphor for my life right now…miserable, burning, smokey, out of control and no end in site. 

What I’ve learned:

  • We are a grief-phobic society.  After the funeral people are very uncomfortable with your pain. They don’t know what to say, so don’t say anything.  Or say the wrong thing.  They try, but it’s too much for them to watch. Even the good ones who won’t leave you alone eventually get impatient with how long it takes.
  • When your grief counselor says you have to “feel the feelings” in order to get better, they leave out the part where it feels like walking through the firey streets of hell all alone.  
  • It’s lonely.  There are a few beautiful women who joined this awful club before me, and they have been amazing.  They tell me it gets better.  I trust them, but it is hard to believe. 
  • I’m not the same.  I will never be the same.  I need to accept that.
I remind myself that sometimes fire produces amazing beauty.

I Just Called to Say I Love You

It took 23 days for me to breakdown and call his phone just so I could hear his voice again. In the last 23 days I have greedily consumed every text, video, photo, and journal entry I could find in the desperate attempt to feel him close to me. I’ve begged  my bonus daughter, his mini-me, to come over because she reminds me of him.  Because our shared grief and love for him make me feel less alone.

It’s overwhelming how unprepared I was for how painful this would be. It hurts so much I sometimes can’t breathe. And it seems so completely wrong that universe exists without him.

Throughout his battle with cancer we focused on staying positive and proclaimed “Live Now” as our motto.  We crossed items off our bucket list. We spent time making memories with family and friends.  We knew that, despite the horror in front of us, we were blessed with the knowledge that the clock was ticking and had the opportunity to choose how each minute was spent.

Now he is gone.  And each day that I wake up still breathing, I am faced with a battle.  The fight to figure out how to “Live Now” with the raw wound that consumes me.  Until I find my way out, I’ll just call his voicemail to say, “I love you.”

The last phone call with his bonus son. Eight days later he was gone.




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