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The Wandering Widow

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

Bro Tips

I love my guy friends. Like bulls in a china shop they tread on delicate topics my lady friends won’t even acknowledge exist. Lately, they’ve been entertaining me with their dating advice, especially since it’s all over the board. Here are the ten that keep me laughing the most. I hope you’re as easily amused as I am.

  1. Guys aren’t that smart, don’t give them too much credit.
  2. Lower your standards, get on Tinder and find Mr. Right Now.
  3. Find a Duke or Earl when you’re in Europe. Make sure he owns a castle.
  4. Be careful of guys who want to take advantage of widows.
  5. Guys are afraid of widows so don’t lead with that.
  6. Try Match.com.
  7. Match.com sucks.
  8. Make sure you (conceal) carry when you go out.
  9. Don’t trust any guy you meet in a bar.
  10. You’re not going to meet anyone if you don’t leave your house.

✔️ His Bucket List Gift

A Grief Recovery Project Post.

Do you remember when my grief counselor told me that if I stopped going to our favorite places or doing the things we loved, it would actually make Dan disappear and not help me feel better? Well, Dan and I had been planning this Harry Potter bucket list trip to Europe for years. We never got farther than planning and dreaming, but we knew that SOMEDAY we were going to go. When Dan realized he wasn’t going to be able to make the trip, he made me promise to go anyway. That promise was one of the many gifts he gave me to help me get through my grief journey.

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It was a gorgeous morning at Stonehenge. 

 

So I booked the trip and headed out solo. I figured if I were having a bad day I wouldn’t have to mess up anyone else’s itinerary. If I were by myself I wouldn’t have to explain why I was crying or laughing as I thought about him and wished he was there with me. And I underestimated the amount of crying I would do: saying goodbye to my dog; in the airport bar; in the boarding area; on the plane…you get the idea. I lost track of how many times I broke down in tears, but crying myself to sleep alone on our dream vacation became the norm. It’s a good thing I got over crying in public a long time ago, because there was plenty of that too.

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Glastonbury Abbey in England, reported to be the burial place of King Arthur and Queen Guinevere.

 

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The beauty of getting lost is finding random art galleries down random alleys.

 

But I wasn’t really solo. Dan was there with me, watching out for me and pulling strings. I’m sure he intervened when I was able to get tickets for the Harry Potter and the Cursed Child play, despite it being sold out for a year. And I give him full credit for the unseasonable picture perfect weather every single day that made Ireland look like the tropics! And he sent me little messages to remind me he was there and I was going to be okay.

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The Cliffs of Moher, Ireland.  I’ll be back to hike the cliffs.

 

And I met amazing people, did amazing things, saw amazing things, drank (a lot) of amazing whisk(e)y, and the night before I was supposed to go to Scotland I had a full meltdown and started packing to come home. I’m not sure why that was the trigger, other than visiting Scotland was what we’d talked about the most. We both have Scottish ancestry, and there was just something about Scotland that called to us.

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I’d dreamt about Loch Lomond several months before making the trip.

 

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Dan came through with perfect weather the day we visited Loch Lomond.

 

So there I was in my hotel room a blubbering mess trying to figure out what to do. My little sister convinced me to stay, and I’m so glad she did. Scotland was magic. Somehow just crossing the border changed everything. I let go. I felt like I’d come home. It was everything I’d expected…windy, rugged, and beautiful. I’d actually dreamed about Loch Lomond a few months before taking the trip. Imagine my surprise when I got there and recognized it as the place I’d been dreaming of. And as I was standing outside in the highlands, cold wind whipping my hair around, I was laughing like a crazy woman. At that moment, I remembered. I remembered what it felt like to feel joy-pure joy! And happy. And at peace. And with hope for the future. It was like those highland winds ripped off all the grief and survivor guilt baggage I’d been carrying around and I was suddenly weightless. Dramatic, I know, but I can’t think of any other way to describe it.

Crazy highlands woman.
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I left my heart in the highlands.
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Clava Cairns, not far from Culloden Moor. No Outlander sightings that day, but you can go right up to the cairns and stone circle, unlike Stonehenge.

And here’s the big shocker.
I met someone!

Me. I met me without the weight of the world on my shoulders–the me that is going to not only survive but thrive in this new reality. I met the me that can cry and laugh at the same time and still enjoy life–the me that can look fear and loss in the eye and keep going. I met the me that was the wild crazy laughing woman in the highlands. And I think Dan somehow knew that would happen and that’s why he made me promise to go.

Taking this trip was terrifying, but I’m so glad I did it. And I can’t wait to go back.

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The River Spey, one of Scotland’s greatest natural assets.

 

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Edinburgh, Scotland. 

 

I’ll be back!

Table For One-The Euro Edition

In my earlier Table For One post, I discussed not waiting around for someone to invite us out.  Widowhood doesn’t mean having to hide out until you have someone to go out with. That has hangry written all over it.  I just completed our big bucket list trip in Europe and encountered a whole new table for one scenario that I couldn’t wait to share with you. Mostly because it’s so bad it’s comical. 

There are many things Europe does better than we do, but taking care of solo diners isn’t one of them. Or at least not solo female travelers who like to venture off the beaten path.  I don’t mind dining at the bar, but sometimes a W just wants to enjoy a lovely meal at an actual table. After spending three weeks across the pond, I was horrified and then amused at what would be offered. It almost became a game to see how bad it could get. My favorites include:

  • The hideous corner table where I was made to face the freaking corner like a naughty five year old.
  • The “it’s just you?” when asking for a table, followed by the big sigh.
  • The quick dragging away of the offensive “extra” chair.
  • Being ignored as soon as my food was delivered.  DO NOT MAKE EYE CONTACT must be part of the training manual.

Sadly, one downside of traveling solo means there was no one to capture the many WTF faces I tried very hard to control.  

As if this weren’t appetizing enough, this is where a table for one is a punishment. As a courtesy to the restaurant I won’t name them here.

There were some notable exceptions to the rule, my favorite being Hams Hame Pub and Grill just outside of St. Andrews Old Course. This lovely pub was clean and spacious and the staff was lovely.  It was all “Madam” this and “Madam” that.  Madam could sit anywhere she damn well wanted and received lots of smiles and attention by the staff.  Madam left feeling like a princess and not an outcast to be hidden away.  Madam likey. Check out Hams Hame if you are ever in St. Andrews.  Excellent food, great whisky options and a beautiful staff with amazing service.

So, my Dear W’s, keep trying until you find a place you like that makes you feel like Madam and not an embarrassment.  And remember-nobody puts baby in the corner.  Not even in Europe.

Cheers!

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. 

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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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What’s The Deal With Those Ginormous Funeral Photos?

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.

He’ll always be there.

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.

Affectionately titled “He’d Find It Funny.”
 

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.

Throwing Away Your Crap Doesn’t Mean I Didn’t Love You

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?

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