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.
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.
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.
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.
The Wandering Widow
Live Now. Dream Big. Love Fierce
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.
The Wandering Widow
Live Now. Dream Big. Love Fierce.
Cork must have read my post about loving storms. And since Ireland is nothing if not hospitable, Storm Brian rolled into town shortly after I did. I don’t mind the rain. I consider myself a pluviophile, and after years of living in the high desert, it was one of the things I was looking forward to most about my time in Ireland. You know how the Inuits are said to have hundreds of words to describe snow? Well in Ireland there must be as many words to describe rain. I’m not sure which one is appropriate to use when it rains so much your umbrella starts to leak so, if you know, please tell me. I still love the rain but am learning to appreciate it from the warm sanctuary of my favorite coffee shop or pub, especially when it’s blowing sideways.
I know I’m supposed to learn something from each part of this journey and, when I think about it, moving through the grief process is a lot like surviving the storm only to face the endless rain and grey skies. Sure, it would be easier to take shelter from the bad weather and hide out, but we’d miss out on so much! We must sometimes force ourselves to get out there anyway, Live Now, and not waste the time we have. We have to find a way to recognize the beauty that is all around us, even when sunlight does not illuminate it or you have to wipe the rain out of your face to see it. Along the way, we might meet new friends, discover new paths, dance with strangers, and have adventures that propel us forward on this journey rain or shine.
The Wandering Widow
Live Now. Dream Big. Love Fierce.
I wasn’t sure what to expect since I hadn’t done much research on Cork before getting there. It was one of those close your eyes and point to the map decisions. In fact, I actually got busted complaining about having to choose where to go next. After an ass chewing from a friend about my bad attitude, I corrected and I’m glad I went. Even at the end of the tourist season and dealing with damage from back-to-back storms, Cork knows how to show a lady a good time. I love college towns, and Cork was no exception. City Centre has a layout that is easy to navigate, even for a Lost Girl like me, and there is something going on every night of the week.
Cork Walks has marked paths around the city so you can get out and stretch your legs. My favorite was along the river, although when I encountered fallen trees in my path, I decided I should probably not walk there again until the storm was over. Death by falling tree is a real possibility in Irish storms.
Just like Belfast, there are shops, restaurants, and pubs everywhere, and due to the weather I probably spent too much time in all of them. Here are a few of my faves.
The Woodford: I always seem to find a favorite pub in every town I visit and tend to go back multiple times. You know I rate everything on Table For One Service, and these guys were awesome! Welcoming, good food, funny, and had my favorite whiskey. Ask for Joel; he’ll take good care of you. And don’t forget to check out the live music.
The Oliver Plunkett: Amazing live music and the food is excellent. Friendly service every time I went in, even when they were busy.
The Frisky Whiskey Bar: Upstairs from Oliver Plunkett, the name alone makes this place a win, and I was relieved they didn’t sell a lotta merch, or I might have ended up with yet another whiskey bar tank top in my collection. They do a traditional Irish dance/music show in the evenings and serve food. And whiskey, of course.
Amicus: They make homemade ice cream every day at Amicus. Despite being in the country for a few weeks, I still hadn’t tried any and had been promised that Ireland’s superior dairy quality made the ice cream amazing. All true. I highly recommend the passion fruit ice cream, which I’m pretty sure was sent down to us from heaven. The rest of the food is also delicious, but I’m still dreaming about that ice cream.
Kinsale: A 45-minute bus ride from Cork, Kinsale is a pretty coastal town with brightly painted houses and cute shops and pubs. Sunday afternoons a lot of shops are closed, so do your homework. Pubs, however, are open, because you have to have your priorities straight.
Cobh: The last stop of the Titanic before it set sail towards its doom. Larger and busier than Kinsale, it too has brightly painted houses, shops, and pubs. My favorite thing was not a pub; it was St. Coleman’s Cathedral. This was a surprise since I usually avoid churches and cathedrals (please reference any of my previous What Not To Say posts about spewing useless religious platitudes at the grieving for the explanation). This giant grey monolith towered above the city but didn’t feel imposing at all. The sweet church bells must have magic in them because they called me in and I couldn’t stop my feet from climbing the hill to get there. After spending time exploring, I had to force myself to leave so I wouldn’t miss my bus.
Blarney: a 15-minute drive from Cork, Blarney Castle is easily accessible. The gardens are the best part and unfortunately closed the day I went due to damage from Storms Ophelia and Brian. If you intend to kiss the Blarney stone (Eww!), you’ll want to bring a lotta hand sanitizer for your lips. And ladies, maybe skip the skirt that day since you’ll be hanging upside down with a stranger holding your knees. Make sure to give yourself enough time to explore the gardens and the walking paths. And call first if you’re visit coincides with a recent storm.
The Jameson’s Distillery in Middleton: Come to mama! You can do the tour, or skip it and do the premier tasting if you’re short on time. It breaks my heart that some of my favorite whiskeys aren’t available in the US, but it’s fun to enjoy them while I’m here. You can also bottle your own, and they’ll do a personalized label for you which makes a lovely gift for the whiskey fan back home. Full bar with some delicious whiskey cocktails and a restaurant onsite.
THE BEST PART
I’d started to feel the effects of hauling luggage around for eight weeks and sleeping in some horribly uncomfortable hotel beds. Thanks to Storm Brian I made time to fix that when I found Caroline at Dervish and treated myself to a massage. They take walk-ins, but you can call and schedule an appointment as well. Prices are comparable to what you’d pay in the states.
Kintsugi, or Kintsukuroi, is the Japanese aesthetic that repairs broken pottery with lacquer mixed with gold powder. The belief is that the piece is more beautiful for having been broken. This philosophy honors its survival rather than hiding the fact it was once damaged.
I love this metaphor as it applies to grief recovery, and not just because glitter is my favorite color. I can remember sitting with my grief counselor bawling about how broken I was. And being broken was terrifying. But somehow owning my brokenness, out loud, made it a little better. The simple act of acknowledging my being shattered meant that I also had the opportunity to put myself back together. Someday. With precious metal as the glue.
And it wasn’t easy, but it happened. First I had to crawl around on the floor picking up as many shards of my life as I could find. I was already a broken mess of a grieving human being and their sharp edges cut me open as I tried to make them fit where they once belonged. No one warned me that the grief recovery process could be so gruesome, bloody and painful. What I couldn’t find either couldn’t be replaced or didn’t need to be. The reality is when you’ve suffered a massive loss, you’ll never go back to being the person you once were. Some of those shattered pieces of your heart just turn to dust.
The good news is, with time, your heart has the potential to end up stronger, and more beautiful than you could have ever imagined. Those missing pieces create space for the light to get in, and eventually for sparkly precious metals.
A few months ago I had a conversation with a friend and fellow W. We were discussing our grief journeys, our survival, and the fact that we were both transformed into new people through the grief recovery process. Stronger, kinder, wiser, braver, more loving people. We struggled for words for a bit but were eventually able to express that it was the deaths of our beloveds that were the catalyst for us to become these better people. We were able to take the horror and the pain and transform their loss into a blessing. And that while we never wanted it, we were grateful for all of it. I’m sure if anyone else had been eavesdropping it would have been an odd conversation, but we knew what we meant. Grief’s fiery forges took the raw material of who we used to be and made us MORE.
Neither of us would have EVER surrendered our husbands no matter what kind of higher evolution was waiting for us, but we didn’t get a vote.
And no matter how much time goes by, or how much happiness I’ve created in my new life, every now and again I find another shard. It slices through the soft pink scar tissue of my heart. It hurts. But I know that it’s just a matter of time before it’s glued in there with gold.
Killarney was one of the stops I’d made on my spring trip, and I had some unfinished shenanigans that needed my attention. Since I am leaving a lot to chance on this adventure, it made perfect sense to travel from Northern Ireland to about as far South as I could go in one day. Um, no. It’s a good thing I’m not in a hurry because I spent a whole day on trains, trams, and buses. Fortunately, I continue to luck out meeting cool new people on trains, and this travel day was no exception.
It was also the first place on this adventure I was going back to with a big item that needed checking off my list, and I found my closure at a whiskey bar. I know you’re shocked, but I’m convinced all good stories start with whiskey.
When I first visited Killarney in April, I was having a rough time. I was having fun, but crying myself to sleep every night that I was here on this dream vacation without Dan. After two weeks on the road, I was tired of living out of a suitcase. (That sounds hilarious now). I was tired of getting lost everywhere I went. (Also hilarious since Killarney isn’t large enough to get lost in unless you’re like me and getting lost is your superpower).
So there I was, tired, hangry, and couldn’t find my way back to my hotel. To prevent yet another public cryfest, I got angry. I started yelling at Dan (in my head, no need to let ALL the cray-cray hang out) that this was all his fault. I was angry at him for dying. I was angry that he’d made me promise to take this trip anyway. And I was hangry and knew I was going to lose it soon. I yelled at him to find me a place to have a good meal and an even better whiskey, that wasn’t too crowded with tourists at that hour.
Imagine my surprise and relief when I turned the corner and found Murphy’s Whiskey Bar. My lunch was fantastic, and I did get to try a fancy new whiskey. I also noticed a wall of American police patches behind the bar. There were none from Idaho. It felt like Dan had led me to that spot, and that’s where he wanted his last Caldwell PD patch to end up. (I’d found it in a box just before leaving for Europe). So, threads still attached from where I cut it off his uniform, it’s traveled with me ever since I left home. Now it lives at Murphy’s. Somewhere he is laughing that not only is he hanging out in a bar, he’s also hanging out in an Irish whiskey bar with a bunch of other cops.
When you visit Murphy’s on your next trip to Killarney, look up and raise your glass to Dan Bain. I officially close this chapter of the adventure. Cheers. (Details below as usual)
The Wandering Widow
Live Now. Dream Big. Love Fierce.
THE KILLARNEY PUB CRAWL
Killarney caters to tourists, and you can find live music pretty much every day of the week. I ran out of nights to check it all out.
***PSA: Ordering a Black and Tan or Irish Car Bomb at ANY bar in Ireland makes you an insensitive ass. (If you don’t know why, pick up a freaking history book or google The Troubles). You may be asked to leave. Even if you’re allowed to stay, you’re now embarrassing me. Don’t do it.***
Murphy’s Whiskey Bar: There are two sides to Murphy’s, separated by hotel reception. The cop patches are only on one side (door number three). An excellent choice for lunch or dinner, with an extensive whiskey collection and live music on the weekends. And you can’t forget your opportunity to take a photo of that super sexy Caldwell PD patch for Facebook and Instagram. Tag me so I can send you a virtual high five.
Here’s the scoop on the patches. For my non-American friends, historically many US cops have had Irish heritage and a strong connection to Ireland. One or two patches showed up at the bar one day, and more followed suit. You know how that goes, it then takes on a life of its own. Each patch is a story about how it got there and the person or department it’s connected to. I love that Murphy’s allows them to stay, and that Dan Bain and Caldwell, Idaho (and maybe even me, too) are now part of it.
The Lane Cafe Bar (in the Ross Hotel): If you’re tired of traditional Irish pubs (we’ll have a chat about that later) this contemporary cocktail bar will take good care of you. Good food and a surprisingly large menu considering cocktails in Ireland are limited to two shots.
The Killarney Grand/Liquid Lounge: Live music every night in the traditional bar on the ground floor. Upstairs is a cocktail bar that opens around 11:30 pm with a fantastic piano player.
Reidy’s: Fun place with multiple bars, each with their own theme. Start at the front and keep working your way back until you find a spot you like.
Courtney’s: Pulling pints in three centuries, this traditional pub has a cool, down-to-earth vibe. Perfect place for a pint or a whiskey. TIP: the fireplace is en fuego hot, so don’t stand too close unless you want to set your backside on fire.
O’Conners: Another traditional pub, covered with signed dollar bills. O’Conners will have a soft spot in my heart as the place I tried my first Guinness.
The Flesk: Open only for dinner, and I recommend making reservations. A friend suggested this place, and it didn’t disappoint. Excellent seafood and superior service. I wasn’t out of place in my usual jeans and hiking boots, but you would also blend in if you wanted to dress up a little. Thomas was a gracious host, and you’ll have to ask him about the connection with the American Legion.
THE RUGGED STUFF
Last time I was here I wasn’t able to get out and do any hiking. I overcame my reluctance to hike alone because the trails in Killarney National Park desperately needed my footprints. Glad I did because I found one that’s now on my Top Ten. I’d say “check that one off the list” but know I’ll be back for more. The proximity of this beautiful National Park to the center of town is hands-down my favorite thing about Killarney.
You know I hate driving, so the hop on/hop off Red Bus was my best friend to get to and from town to Killarney National Park sites. Torc Waterfall is about a 5-10 minute walk from the parking lot where you get dropped off. Don’t stop there or you’ll miss all the views. There are three looped trails with varying degrees of difficulty and length to choose from, and bathrooms next to the parking lot.
Keep going, and you can follow a trail along the lake past the Muckross House estate. It’s easy, beautiful and it goes for miles. I encountered only one other hiker that day, so it was like we had the lake to ourselves. I loved it so much I went back more than once. The bus will get you back to town when you’re ready.
Want to stay on a paved path but still be in nature? Start at Killarney House and Gardens and continue until you get to the River Walk. Paths are well marked and maintained, and you’ll get to enjoy some up-close views of the red deer and Kerry cows that roam the area. I know towns and cities in the US that would kill to have a natural resource like this.
Unfortunately, all the ocean-faring activities I’d hoped to do wrapped up at the end of September due to weather. Even when you don’t have a hurricane headed your way, the season ends the first part of October. It looks like I have yet another reason to come back. If boating out to the Skellig or Blasket Islands is a high priority for you, be sure to plan accordingly.
I still can’t get over how friendly people are here. When I got into town, my new neighbors picked me up at the train station, took me to the market, and checked on me every day. And I lucked out with the Airbnb jackpot. Great place and the most attentive and friendly host I’ve ever met, and that’s saying something since they’ve all been fantastic.
Everyone I met gave me great tips for dining and suggestions for the next stops on my adventure through Ireland. I don’t know if they make everyone in Killarney kiss the Blarney Stone when they are born, but I’ve heard the best stories since I got here, and been in stitches since everyone also seems to be a comedian. Even the rare cranky ones.
In addition to catering to tourists, Killarney rolls out all the stops for Americans.
Take a jaunting cart ride through Killarney.
Not a cloud in the sky after Hurricane Ophelia blew through Killarney.
BONUS BEACH DAY!
Hurricane Ophelia blew out all the grey weather and my last full day in Killarney dawned with sunny, warm, blue skies. Since I’ve been so openly in love with Scotland’s beaches, one of my Irish friends decided I needed to give Ireland’s a fair shot. Yowzas, I’m torn. I love the Carribean blue and wildness of the beaches in the Orkneys and Hebrides, but being able to run around the beach and watch surfers without a jacket won out for personal enjoyment. I could have stayed forever.
A short drive up to North Kerry made for a fun afternoon of beach hopping. Ballybunion Beach was my favorite of the five with the cliffs, castle ruins, and a long stretch of sandy beach. I’d recommend staying the night, so you don’t have to rush back, but be aware that most restaurants close up shop in October.
Apologies if you could hear the squee from where you were. The promise of the beach can turn me into a five year old.
Derrymore Beach. My first beach in Ireland.
Rattoo Tower is a restored round tower near Ballyduff. Learn more at roundtowers.org
Before I left Scotland, someone in Glasgow described Belfast to me as very European, and I had no idea what that meant. I get it now. Belfast boasts a diverse population with a seemingly endless supply of shops, restaurants and pubs to enjoy. If Scotland’s landscapes and single malts are rugged and handsome, those in Belfast are smooth, charming and a helluva lotta fun. Wait, what were we talking about?
Unlike Scotland and the Republic of Ireland, this was my first trip to Northern Ireland. For those of you who didn’t pay attention in school, NI is a separate country and part of the UK. I’d heard that the people of Belfast like to have a good time, are iffy when it comes to the rules, and have a quick (and dark) sense of humor. All accurate from what I’ve observed. My outsider’s theory is that their experiences during the Troubles have cultivated a collective “Live Now” attitude, which resonates with my heart and might be why I fell in love with it instantly.
It hasn’t stopped raining since I got here, but it feels warm and welcoming nonetheless. I’ve spent a good chunk of my waking hours laughing, and laughter is good for the soul. The day I spent at the salon getting my hair cut, laughing so hard I was almost crying at my sassy young stylist’s descriptions of Irish men and football players by region. I’m laughing out loud right now as I remember it. She should take that comedy bit on the road! Or listening to my driver’s explanation why Belfast is the best city in Europe. (FYI every taxi driver in every city I’ve been in insists their city is the best value for the money). Or laughing while listening (it’s not eavesdropping if they’re so loud you can’t help it) to a group of university students’ thoughts on life, girls, and why they are going to solve the world’s problems. Cheers dudes, I genuinely hope you do.
Don’t get me wrong; Northern Ireland has its share of rugged beauty. With the Giant’s Causeway, the Carrick-a-rede (not for the faint of heart) rope bridge, and countless miles of gorgeous hiking trails, there is a lot more to this place than just the city.
Although after just one afternoon I decided to make Belfast my home base for this week. I had to hopscotch my hotels a bit since the sold-out FIFA World Cup qualifier between Northern Ireland and Germany affected availability significantly. If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. Right? I got laughed at by everyone I asked about getting a ticket, but thanks to some new friends I connected with a lovely gentleman who was too ill to attend (I really hope you’re feeling better Dave!) who agreed to sell me his ticket since I was a visitor. Wow. What a memorable experience! To all the doubters who told me to give up trying, this is a good reminder that all kinds of good things can happen in life if you have faith, friends, and don’t quit taking chances.
If you’re planning a trip to Ireland, don’t forget to head north. I fell in love with Belfast and will be back soon since a week wasn’t nearly enough time to get to know this city. (Details below as usual).
The Wandering Widow
Live Now. Dream Big. Love Fierce.
St. George’s Market.
Looking for Belle and Beast at Belfast City Hall.
That’s right you typo maniacs, now that I’m in Northern Ireland that’s how you spell it. There’s lots of it. Some of it is crap, some blessed by the angels. Maybe someday when I’ve completed the Scottish single malt challenge, I’ll start working my way through all the Irish stuff. Until then, you’ll have to decide for yourself what your favorite is. My current splurge is the Redbreast 21, and I will forever owe a couple of cool Canadian dudes for this recommendation.
There is no way to get through all of them, so here are a few I recommend.
Brennan’s Bar (City Centre):
Fabulous service, decent pub food, good wifi, and Sunday’s feature an all-male staff. Don’t judge me. It backs up to a tiny street called Bains Place, so I was obviously meant to be there. That and it came highly recommended by some Idaho friends who were recently here. Thanks Jimmy and Michelle!
The Crown Bar (City Centre):
Owned by the National Trust and directly across the street from the Europa Hotel, the Crown features some incredible woodwork and stained glass. This place is worth a look even if you don’t like pubs, but it’s likely to be packed at all hours of the day.
The Harp Bar (Cathedral Quarter):
This one came highly recommended by my Belfast guru, and I can see why. We loved it so much we went back three times! The live music and atmosphere quickly made it our favorite place. My only complaint is that my drinks were always double the price when poured by a female bartender.
The Dirty Onion (Cathedral Quarter):
One of several pubs that claim to be the oldest building in Belfast. Friday night was rocking with fantastic live music, and the patio was full. Sunday night not so much. It’s around the corner from Harp Bar and The Duke of York, so be sure to stop in.
Just like the whiskey and the pubs, there are almost unlimited dining options, so here are my two favorites.
Hadski’s (Cathedral Quarter): An epic Belfast Pub Crawl can really work up an appetite. We found Hadski’s and lucked out. They were full, but had two seats open in front of the chef. Are you kidding me? Those are the best seats in the house because your dinner comes with a show. The food was plated so beautifully I felt bad digging into it. Then I realized it was so delicious I didn’t care and had to refrain from licking the plate. If you’re going to be in the Cathedral Quarter, go there. Happy noms!
Fratelli’s (City Centre): I stayed in City Centre for a few days. I liked Fratelli’s and dined there more than once. I’d describe the food as Italian with a delicious twist, and the restaurant has a robust wine menu. Hey, a girl can’t live on whiskey and pub food alone. Excellent service despite being a solo diner on very busy evenings.
THE RUGGED STUFF
Giant’s Causeway: This lengthy stretch of hexagonal basalt columns is geology nerd cool, and far more accessible than Scotland’s Isle of Staffa. That may also be why it was less impressive to me. Sorry, Northern Ireland. I still liked it, just wish I’d visited the Causeway before Staffa. My recommendation is to get there first thing in the morning (or late in the day) to avoid busloads of annoying tourists.
I promise to give it another shot. I do appreciate that so many people can go to experience the science behind this world heritage site, and it looks like some fun hiking. Minus the tourists. And before you say it, I’m a traveler, not a tourist. Completely different mindset and behavior.
Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge: They closed the bridge for crossing the day I visited due to crazy high winds. While disappointing, I didn’t come all this way to die. It’s a freaking rope bridge. It sways in the wind. If the wind were strong enough to push grown men (and one short girl) around on the trail, attempting a crossing would be beyond terrifying. I’ll be back to take on that bridge another day.
The Troubles: In my opinion, political history tours about the Troubles are necessary for foreigners to understand the current culture of both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. When I mentioned the Troubles to family and friends back home, I was surprised how few people knew anything about it beyond a song by U2 or some vague recollection of the IRA. I know it isn’t our country’s history, but it is part of our global history and no different from taking a tour of the USS Arizona Memorial in Hawaii or visiting the Hiroshima Peace Park in Japan. I won’t go into detail (click the link to educate yourself) but felt the tour I did was pretty neutral and fact-based, and I learned a lot. Kudos to my guide JR because I was unable to guess which side he’d grown up on, and he still won’t tell me.
Another thing I think I liked about Belfast, is directly related to the Troubles. I can’t quite put my finger on it and will probably butcher this, but there were so many widows created here during that time frame that my being a young W is no big whoop since everyone knows one and it doesn’t make me a freak of nature like I often feel at home with non-W’s. The loss of life during The Troubles is horrifying but, for the first time since Dan died, I feel like my tribe has expanded beyond my local widow’s group to an entire community. As I said, there is no clear or easy way to describe it, it’s just a feeling I have.
Irish Genealogy: Do you claim Irish heritage? JR gave me a good tip, and I spent some time at PRONI, the Public Records office, trying to track down additional information on my great-great-great-great-grandparents who left Co Antrim sometime after 1802 for the US. Unfortunately, there isn’t much information available before the mid to late-1800s unless you know what church your ancestors belonged to, so the only new bit of information I was able to glean was the name of their parish. Kudos to the lovely Paul who spent a fair amount of time helping me search, even though I could tell by his facial expression that it was hopeless. And the fact he said to me that it was almost undoubtedly impossible if I didn’t know the church affiliation. (Dear Paul’s Boss: Please give him a raise because he didn’t roll his eyes once despite my endless and annoying questions and “what if” optimism).
There is no charge to visit PRONI, but you’ll need valid government-issued photo identification to access the records. Your passport will do fine to get your new official ID card. PRONI is just a short walk from the Titanic Museum, so if this is something you’re interested in schedule adequate time to visit. And bring as much information with you as you can. Names and dates alone aren’t very helpful.
I’m sitting in my living room in Killarney, Ireland watching Hurricane Ophelia roll into town. Not exactly what I thought I’d be doing today, but Mother Nature does what Mother Nature wants, and I’ve learned not to try and fight that. While most tourists (and some locals) are freaking out right now, I’m curled up with my coffee enjoying the show. I can’t EVER see a storm without thinking about Dan. Honestly, I kinda wish I was at the beach right now for a better view. (Don’t worry Mom, I’m not doing it).
Dan’s favorite quote while fighting cancer was Fate whispers to the warrior, “You cannot withstand the storm.” The warrior whispers back, “I am the storm.” To this day our inner circle still calls him The Storm, and the moniker suited his personality. Maybe we were fated to meet. My Dad called me Hurricane Lisa for years, and together Dan and I were the perfect storm.
After diagnosis, he became a symbol of strength and grace in the face of adversity and a losing battle. But for a few of us that were there that horrible-no-good-very-bad last day, the storm took on a new meaning. Summer storms are common in our part of the country, but typically you’ll see them in the late afternoon or evening. When I woke up that morning I could no longer deny the end was imminent. And it wasn’t like the peaceful BS you see on TV. He fought to stay. He fought so @#$%^&* hard to stay. With me. It was horrific to witness. Unbearable. But as the battle raged within his body, a storm picked up outside. It was surreal. The winds were whipping the trees around and flinging bark and leaves and twigs against the house and the windows as if the storm was trying to get inside. It was powerful enough that a small part of my brain even made a mental note to go out and check for damage later.
Our inner circle was on standby at this point, so most everyone was awake and watching the storm. It mirrored both Dan’s fight to stay, and the agony that was crescendoing through my entire being. And then, with one last breath, The Storm died. All the winds and rain outside stopped instantly. He was gone, carried away on the winds of the storm like a mythic warrior in an ancient tale.
So on days like today when a storm comes visiting, instead of worrying about it, I get a big smile on my face. My Storm is back to remind me that nature will always take its course even if it makes no sense, like a hurricane in Ireland, or a healthy young man dying of a weirdo cancer. He reminds me that love never dies and that in the aftermath of the storm, we have the choice to rebuild stronger than before. And he never lets me forget that while my Storm is gone, I’m still the Hurricane.
The Wandering Widow
Live Now. Dream Big. Love Fierce.
If you’ve been following along, you know about how ugly and beautiful this grief journey has been. My sister and I were talking, shortly after I shared my plans to retire and live out of a suitcase, about how it feels to emerge from the darkness into the light. Eyes blinking a bit, unaccustomed to what hope and happiness feel like, but slowly remembering what the warmth feels like on your face. That’s where I’ve been these last few months…just reveling in the heat of the sun.
I joked about how people kept telling me that I looked younger these days and how I must have aged a lot since Dan was first diagnosed. She looked at me and described the joy in her heart to see ME again. She explained that it wasn’t a matter of looking older. It was that, for a long time, I was totally unrecognizable. That grief had stolen the light from my heart, the light that normally shines through my face. That I was not just twisted by pain, I was hollow. A shell of the person I once was. Damn! Little sister can be super poetic when she wants to be.
She said the reason none of my family and friends have pushed back on my recent life choices is that they can see that I am not just happy again but that I am alive again. Living again. That while they are terrified in the same way you are when a toddler takes off running that they may fall, you are also so excited to see them growing you don’t stop them.
When you no longer know who you are anymore, not recognizing your face in the mirror can only make it worse. For those of you who still find this new you unrecognizable, don’t give up. It may be a slow process like it was for me, or it may happen quickly. But when you’re ready, the sunlight will be waiting for you.