Someone recently asked me about the gang sign I use in my travel photos. Once I stopped laughing, I was able to explain that it’s not a gang sign, it’s the American Sign Language shortcut for “I love you.” I almost asked if they wanted the long or short answer, but decided they’d get the long story answer whether they wanted it or not.
A few years ago my best friend lost her daughter in a tragic car accident. Krissie died well before the word cancer ever showed up in our lives. Back then I was the one who didn’t know what to say or do, but my heart hurt for her grieving family. As long as we’d been friends, it wasn’t until her funeral that I learned their family custom was to say “I love you” before you parted. No matter what. Even if you were angry or didn’t feel you meant it, you said it. The preferred response was, “I love you more.”
So on that horrible summer day, the last words they heard each other say were I love you. Take a minute to think about that. Sometimes we don’t get the chance to say our final goodbyes. Sometimes even when you do plan for them, the universe cruelly changes the plan on you. Sometimes the last time we see someone is the last time we’ll see them forever. Sometimes the last thing you say to someone will be the words that echo in their heart for years to come.
So as we sat there at the funeral letting that sink in, Dan squeezed my hand, and we looked at each other. We didn’t have to say a word. We knew, starting at that moment, we’d adopt that habit too. We even called a family meeting to share with mom and the kids how important this was to us. We understood you don’t always get the happily ever after, we just didn’t know it was OUR ever after that was going to be cut short.
Krissie’s legacy was to help spread that message of love. A legacy that continues as I share this story with you. The last words my family and friends will ever hear me say to them, are I love you, or I love you more. There will never be any question about how we feel about each other. And since I can’t talk to them often from the road, my photos have to say it for me.
As we got close to the end the brain tumors stole Dan’s ability to process word meaning association and, eventually, his ability to speak. But the last words we spoke aloud to each other were, “I love you” and “I love you more.” Thank you, Krissie, for giving me that beautiful gift. I will treasure it always.
The Wandering Widow
Live Now. Dream Big. Love Fierce.
Special thanks to Krissie’s family for giving me their blessing to share this story and Krissie’s photo. Love you more! ❤️
Let’s talk about the D word. No, not divorce. Not even death. I’m talking about dating–scarier than the other two combined, at least it can feel that way for a W. Ever wonder what it’s like for a W to go on a date? Grab a drink and lemme tell you. Take all the regular dating bull$hit and add a whole new layer of WTF.
Since I’m not the only W who has well-meaning friends and family encouraging us to get back on the horse or get back in the game, I thought it would be a good time to explain a few things to you.
For those who may have forgotten, it is NEVER, EVER acceptable for you to voice an opinion on if and when your W decides to date. For non-W’s, you may be surprised how much thought goes into this process. So much to consider, so many new rules, so many new risks. The longer you’ve been out of the game, the worse it is. And while there are a lot of articles about widows dating and what to expect from both sides, most I’ve read make me shake my head and wonder who comes up with this $hit? Reading an advice column that instructs guys dating a widow on what to do/not to do to get the most mileage is enough to make you grab a box of cats and never leave your house again.
So once again I turned to the experts in The W Club for a few things a W should consider.
“Am I ready?” is a hard question to answer, but if you’ve been thinking about it, then you probably are.
2. The Kids:
If you have kids, that changes things. They will have feelings and opinions. While those shouldn’t determine your decision, they are important. Sometimes push-back will come from your adult children or other family members. Try to remember that they are probably just being a bit over protective and that it’s not because they don’t want to you to be happy. Over the last year, I had my “I’m doing the best I can to figure out who I am supposed to be in this new post-Dan reality. I don’t need your approval, just your continued love and support,” speech ready to go if needed. Fortunately, I haven’t had to use it. Not once. I ❤️ my friends and family so much!
3. The New Rules:
The last time most of us went on a date you met people in real life, not on an app. Things have changed. When do you call? How many days do you wait? Screw these stupid rules! Life is too short, and we should be way past high school games. Having said that, safety is still a priority. Be smart about the people you meet and the choices you make.
4. The Widow Hunters:
As a blogger who has been open about my grief journey, it’s not difficult for the Widow Hunters to find me. Although you’ll be found anyway if you have a social media presence. What’s a Widow Hunter? Those are the Quagmires of the world who actively seek out widows, whether it’s because of a mistaken perception of inheritance or a weird conquest thing, they are definitely out there. Giggity. And they make it hard for other guys to ask a W out because they don’t want to be perceived as THAT guy. (Dear Nice Guys, please ask anyway).
If your date goes great, you may be hit with waves of guilt. Your brain knows you have nothing to feel guilty for, but your heart doesn’t quite get the memo. We’re not cheating on our spouses; they messed that up when they died. But since they are still a part of our daily lives it is hard to wrap your head and heart around it. God bless the good guys who are strong enough to handle this bizarre family tree.
6. The Fear:
What few people realize is that dating for a W includes a layer of fear, one we don’t often acknowledge to ourselves. No, not fear of intimacy, although that’s a post for a different day. I’m talking about the fear of loving and losing again. See what I mean about the whole extra layer of WTF? Imagine setting up your first date, only to have your fear center take over your brain and drag it down a wormhole of future painful what-ifs. For example, OMG what if the date goes well? What if I like him? What if it turns into a relationship? What if it turns into love? WHAT IF HE DIES? HOW WILL I SURVIVE THIS A SECOND TIME?
If you’ve never had anyone die on you, it may seem ridiculous that this thought would consciously (or unconsciously) cross your mind. But our fears are shaped by our experiences, and all W’s have this one under our belts. Again, God bless the good guys who are strong and confident enough to date a widow and all the widows who are brave enough to open their hearts to the possibility of loving again.
And, as always, special thanks to the members of The W Club for their insight and contributions to this post.
If one lights a fire for others, one will brighten one’s own way.
A few months after losing Dan I had someone chastise me for spending so much time with other widows. They berated me and argued that I should be spending time with “normal” non-grieving people. I was still in a very vulnerable place, and couldn’t even find the words to tell her to f@#$ off. What the hell did she know? She’d never lost anyone. These fellow grief survivors were my new tribe of widow warriors, and there was no way I was going to let them go just because someone else thought it was morbid. She couldn’t understand that they were the lifeline I needed most.
Connecting with these other W’s became part of my GRP. I communicated with them through chats, blogs, and other groups. One of these groups has coined the term “the unwelcome committee,” which is aptly named. What is it? It’s the group of “seasoned” W’s who reach out to new W’s. We unwelcome you to the W Club, because we wish you didn’t qualify to be here. Hell, we wish WE didn’t qualify to be here. But we extend a lifeline because we remember what it was like to feel so alone, in shock, in pain, and without anyone who truly understood. We call. We message. We blog. We show up. We enfold you into our tribe, where no explanations or apologies are ever needed, and where love and support are unconditional.
Honestly, just learning you exist is a gut punch to a lot of us. Our grief muscle memory kicks in, and we instantly flash back to the early days of our own grief storm. I can remember being such a raw wound I couldn’t think straight. Back then another widow reached out to me. She knew that I wouldn’t answer the phone or respond to a message, so she showed up at my front door. (For the record, we already knew each other, so this wasn’t a random stranger showing up at my house). She’d lost both her dad and her husband in a very short time frame, just like me. Out of all the people that tried to get through to me, Julie was the only person that was able to because my heart recognized that she KNEW and UNDERSTOOD what I was feeling. Not sure that I’d describe it as widow street cred, but she’d walked the same streets of this new hell, so I guess it could be.
So when I get the news that another woman has joined the W Club, I give myself time to deal with the tightening in my belly and my chest and allow the grief wave to crash over me. I cry for both of us. I cry for the loves we lost. And then I brace myself to extend a hand and unwelcome her to this new reality.
I’ve read a lot of articles and posts about death after Facebook. Thanks to the digital world we now live in, you can live on forever in the interweb. In the immediate weeks following his death (F@#$ you cancer), many used his profile as a way to collectively grieve. I was one of them. I spent days scrolling through years of photos and posts that documented every random thought he’d had. I received messages and stories from his friends, all of which were lovingly saved into a document for his future grandchildren. But as time passed, I became one of the few to ever post anything on his wall. Facebook Memories became a daily assault on my healing heart. It became something I dreaded looking at. And we can’t forget about the people who’d wish him a happy birthday, or ask him for something, that I’d have to inform that he’d died. Super fun for me.
Before he died, Dan added me as his Legacy Contact to make the decision on what to do with his Facebook profile. (Twitter and LinkedIn don’t have that option so required death certificates). For the last few months I’ve felt that it was time for his profile to come down. After consulting with family, my grief counselor and other W’s, I felt surer of my decision. I don’t need a Facebook Memory to remember him, or the amazing life we shared together. And if you were an active part of his life, you don’t either.
So, since I’d had his entire profile printed out with the help of My Social Book (for future grandchildren), I took his profile down this week. Dan Bain, you may finally rest in digital peace. ❤️
The Wandering Widow
P.S. For those of you who are freaking out right now, the Dan Bain Memorial Scholarship page will remain active.
Have you seen the movie Up? Dan and I used to say that it was the most incredible love story we’d ever seen, captured in the first five minutes of a children’s movie. That first five minutes wrecks me EVERY time. If you haven’t seen it, please have tissue handy as it’s a tear jerker. And maybe some Oreos. And if you have Oreos please invite me. The movie picks up after that, but damn those first five minutes! Never in a million years did we dream the movie was about us.
After the brutal reminder that someday is promised to no one, I refused to end up like the Carl you meet where the movie actually starts, miserable and alone and full of regret. I’ve had a lot of amazing people come through my life in the last few months. Each of these people helped me get a step closer to making the decision that brought me to today. They helped me realize that the new me IS Carl, the Carl that lets the balloons fly and heads off into the adventure he and Ellie never got to take together. The Carl that rips his house off the foundation (Holy Moly what a metaphor) in search of happiness. Does he find it? You’ll just have to watch the movie. (Don’t forget the Oreos).
So honoring Dan’s Live Now motto, and adding a new one of my own, I’m letting my balloons fly. Today I retire from a career and a work family I love beyond measure. I’ve ripped my house off its foundation to go in search of beautiful places, interesting people, and adventure. As scary as this is for someone who has played it safe all her life, it’s far more terrifying to imagine a life of regret if I don’t take the chance. I refuse to live a half life. So this widow is going wandering. And I don’t need to search for happiness, I’ll make my own.
It’s funny how you can live somewhere and never do the things other people travel there for. I lived in San Diego for years, but never went to Comic-Con. A few years ago, during an especially funny episode of The Big Bang Theory, Dan and I decided that going to SDCC should be on our bucket list. Since we’re both kinda geeky, it sounded fun. Plus, how can you go wrong in San Diego? So my friend, an SDCC veteran, helped me get badges to the biggest geek party in town.
And it was a party. It’s a good thing I’m retiring in a few days because I’ll need a week or two of naps to recover.
The Wandering Widow
P.S. In case you’re thinking I’m a huge jerk for taking a vacation right before I retire, this bucket list trip was on the books before I made that life altering decision. Live Now.
Here are my Top 5 Comic-con Takeaways:
1. You can definitely do it as an SDCC virgin, but having someone help you learn the ropes is easier. Fortunately, there are a lot of SDCC blogs that can guide you along. Read them. Learn from them. When you are advised to bring a refillable water bottle, snacks, sunscreen, and backup batteries for your phone, do it. And be prepared to walk a lot! We averaged around 20,000 steps a day, and that was with a LOT of breaks at San Diego’s finest eateries and drinkeries. (Breakfast on the patio at Mary Jane’s gives you a lot of people watching and celeb spotting opportunities. And Whiskey Girl has my stamp of approval for any time of the day).
I’d add a small umbrella (for shade) to the list for those long outdoor lines. It was unusually humid and I didn’t reapply sunscreen frequently enough, so brought home a lovely stripey sunburn. I can’t imagine how hot it was for those in full costume and makeup. I bow down to their dedication and commitment to their characters. And the cosplay didn’t disappoint.
2. Don’t wait until AFTER you have your badges to book your hotel. Rookie mistake! We ended up paying a premium for a divey motel. I was told that most San Diego businesses close to the convention center make over 30% of their annual revenue during Comic Con. I don’t doubt it. Price gouging is the name of the game. It was still worth it, just be prepared and budget accordingly.
This was the only protest sign fit for print. It’s sad that these people can’t find something better to do with their time.
San Diego PD got into the spirit of Con too. Talk about a hard working bunch They kept the peace and smiles and seemed like they were having as much fun as we were.
3. Don’t stress if you don’t get badges for every day. Enough events are happening around the convention center that you will have plenty to do. I found that some of my favorites were offsite and didn’t require badges at all. Bladerunner 2049 was my favorite, and not just because of the Johnnie Walker whiskey bar at the end.
One of the things I loved best was that the whole town gets involved, taking it from mere convention to super festival. Hotels, trains, and trams were all wrapped and decorated appropriately. And there were lots of themed marches and displays supporting shows or movies. We participated in Nerdist’s Wonder Woman March but also got to enjoy History Channel’s Viking funeral march and Outlander’s exciting outdoor entertainment.
Outlander was well sponsored, and kilts were everywhere.
I couldn’t find kilted yoga when I was in Scotland, but found it at Comic-Con.
My favorite landmark for off=site events. Thanks Cartoon Network.
Love how the whole town gets into the spirit.
First ever Nerdist Wonder Woman March through the Gaslamp District. Loved all the interpretations, ages and that men participated too.. (Photo credit to Nerdist.)
The Bladerunner 2049 Experience (powered by Johnnie Walker) was the big winner for the off-site events.
4. Keep your patience and a sense of humor. Everyone else is just as excited to be there as you are, lines are inevitable. Make new friends. And don’t be put off by the 2-3 hour waits…the lines move faster than whatever the end-of-the-line-keeper tells you.
If it’s your first time, be prepared for sensory overload. It was worse than Vegas for me, and I couldn’t figure out what to look at with all that color, lights and noise everywhere.
5. Enjoy yourself. SDCC was amazing, but the best part was being able to spend time with friends.
I loved that everyone connected with the Con was respectful and still able to have a good time. I lost track of how many languages I heard spoken–this is truly an international event. It is also family friendly, and it warmed my heart to see so many parents bringing their kids. But folks, please leave your dogs at home as this is an anxiety ridden event for Fido.
Over the Memorial Day weekend, we headed out to Hood River, Oregon to scatter the last of Dan’s ashes. It had been almost a year, but it was a year of horrible weather and bad fires at home, so we had to delay and adjust the plan several times. There is something to be said for getting things over with early. Having this task hanging over my head was uncomfortable, but given the trials and tribulations of the last year I wasn’t ready to let him go just yet either. The only thing Dan loved more than golf was hiking with his family, so we knew all along that we’d hike somewhere beautiful to do it. The summers he spent in Hood River with his grandparents were his happiest memories as a child, so when our favorite trail in Idaho was destroyed by fire last summer, this seemed the logical choice. With Skamp The Dog leading the way, the kids and their spouses, the SIL and the nephew and I all headed out.
The sunny weather was Dan’s kind of perfect, although too hot for me with barely a breeze. The river was so glassy that you could see the reflection of the birds flying up above. The windsurfers you usually see were replaced by boaters and stand-up paddle boarders. Exactly the weather we had last year, so we gave Dan credit for it.
A random conversation at hotel check-in sent us out to Tamanawas Falls, and it was perfect. It was also overly ambitious for someone coming off both an injury and illness who hasn’t been on a trail hike in two years. If I’d been in my prime hiking shape, it would have been no biggie, except for maybe the scary boulder scramble. Instead, the elevation changes and the heat had me cursing myself for believing when someone said it was an easy four-mile hike. When I got passed by people on the return trip, including a chemo patient, small children, and old people, I decided there’d be no more whining about over-heating, just a few more breaks to catch my breath. Did I mention how hot it was?
When we came around the bend and finally reached the falls, I couldn’t help but smile at the reward that was waiting for us. Tamanawas Falls didn’t disappoint. It was rocky, and the water was freezing, but we found a log on which to perch. After overheating on the trail, the cool mist from the falls was welcome and refreshing. We scattered Dan’s ashes and toasted him with a flask of the same bottle of Maker’s Mark we opened to toast him on his last night with us (FYI hot Makers Mark on a hot day is gross, and we should have put the flask in the river first.) I can’t speak for the rest of the group but, to me, it felt like the circle was now complete.
Despite being a crowded day at the falls, when people saw what we were doing they respectfully hung back. That was pretty cool, unexpected, and much appreciated.
For those of you that asked for more details, scroll down for trip info. We hope you love Hood River as much as we do.
The Wandering Widow ❤️
If you want to head to Tamanawas Falls, take exit 64 towards Mount Hood, and follow Highway 35 about 31 miles until you get to milepost 74 and park at the Polallie Trailhead. You’ll need to pick up a trail pass in town since you can’t purchase them onsite. We took a chance that they wouldn’t enforce the permit rule over the holiday weekend, and as we were pulling out of our parking spot the park ranger showed up. Oops.
Take your life in your hands and sprint across the highway to the trailhead to get to the falls. It’s a pretty steep ascent for those of us out of practice, at least for the first mile. There are a few slick spots along the way, so don’t be a dork and wear flip flops. A few years ago there was a massive rock slide, so now to reach the falls you have to rock scramble over a ginormous pile of Toyota sized (okay, maybe not quite that big) granite boulders. FYI, on a hot day, they are freaking HOT! This was the most nerve-wracking section for me, and coming back down was worse than going up since I could see all the ways I could die if I fell. I was grateful for the little girl crying that she couldn’t get down since she made me feel better about myself and my non-graceful crab walk back down the boulders. TIP: Stay low to get around the boulders. There is more loose gravel but an easier/faster path.
Once you’re over the boulders, the trail bends, and you are rewarded with your first view of the waterall. The base of the falls is rocky and moss covered, although there are logs and some dry rocks to sit on. If you’re brave enough to cross the painfully cold water, there is a lovely spot of ground where you can take a break. The dry cave behind the falls is relatively large, but you need to scramble up a narrow wet rock ledge to get there, and it is slippery. I opted out of this part, but everyone who did it said it was worth it to enjoy the view through the falls. TIP: If you’re not from Oregon, or are hiking with kids, be advised recreational pot use is legal and your hike will have a certain stink to it.
Overall a beautiful hike and one I’d do again. And despite my whining, a fairly easy hike.
With our big project crossed off the list, we were ready for a little fun. So the next day we set out on another easy adventure at Skamania Lodge, about 20 minutes across the river in Washington. I can’t recommend the Skamania Lodge Zipline Tour enough. This two+ hour tour includes seven zip lines (the longest being over 900 feet), three sky bridges, an auto rappel and a few short trail walks. The views were amazing. The harsh winter ice storms took down a bunch of trees, so the view of the river from the tree tops was better than usual. And don’t forget to look down. We saw red tail deer that were completely unfazed by the noisy zipline.
The guides are friendly, knowledgeable, and patient, even with a big baby like me. I’m still not sure how zip lining ended up on my bucket list since I have some issues with heights, but with my SIL and nephew cheering me on, I womaned up and checked it off the list. The first few zips were sorta terrifying, but after that it was fun. I was surprised to find I was disappointed when it was over.
TIP: Read the website regarding appropriate attire before going. My poor nephew and all the kids in our group were scarred for life by the woman who wore a skirt for this excursion. Geez Louise lady!
After last year’s Air BNB disappointment, we decided to hotel it. This year we stayed at the Westcliff Lodge for the first time. An older hotel just on the outskirts of town, the rooms are clean and spacious, and you can’t beat the view. If you decide to stay there, be sure to request a third-floor river view room with a balcony. The view is worth it! There are no elevators, so if accessibility is an issue stick to the second floor, where the views are still pretty good and the walkway goes straight to the parking lot. We wrapped up our weekend at the Lodge fire pit with s’mores, stories about Dan, and new happy memories. We’d definitely stay here again.
I continue to offload my worldly possessions to go in search of adventure, and last night I watched my Christmas heirlooms get divvied up and walk out the door. Out of everything that has been sold or given away, this is the one that got under my skin. I hadn’t even wanted to be in the room, but couldn’t bring myself to leave.
Old Lisa was a Christmas Elf. Every one of life’s milestones or memories was translated into a special ornament that ended up on a giant Christmas tree that needed an extension ladder to decorate. Watching my sisters unwrap each one was an instant flashback to that memory, just like it was each Christmas, only now those memories hurt. Putting the Christmas stocking I handmade for Dan into the kidlet’s pile was painful. And it made me cranky! I could hear a harsh edge creep into my voice as I explained the stories behind each ornament. Not exactly the way I wanted two of the people I love most in the world to remember the evening.
After sleeping on it, I realized that it was all okay and they are just things. (Isn’t it amazing how much power we give to inanimate objects?) Many of those memories are shared by my family, and as those ornaments are unwrapped and hung on their trees, they will continue to be kept alive. And more importantly, they will go back to being happy memories to be enjoyed during our family’s favorite holiday. I guess in a way it means I’ll still be with them this Christmas, even as I’m out making new Christmas memories on the other side of the world.
Of all the things I tried for The Grief Recovery Project, meditation was the hardest. I tried a bunch of different things…Buddhify and Calm (both apps), YouTube videos, pretty much anything that wasn’t a class. I quickly learned meditation worked really great at one thing…making me fall asleep. Meditation became synonymous with napping. Clearly, I was doing something wrong.
Ben, my hypnotherapist, told me about a study that showed how meditation helped those with PTSD and depression. In this study brain scans were done on the participants at the start and end of an eight-week meditation challenge. The scans revealed that the hippocampus was undersized at the start of the eight weeks. After eight weeks of daily meditation, scans were done again which revealed a normal sized hippocampus. Cool. You know me and science, so of course, I wanted some pretty pictures of my hippocampus. Since you can’t just walk into a lab and get some taken, I had to go on faith and my meditation journal.
Since I kept falling asleep, Ben encouraged me to be sitting up during meditation. That made my back hurt and I couldn’t find my zen. A friend gave me a tip about sitting upright on a cushion with my tailbone against the wall to cut down on the back pain. That helped a lot, but I was still easily distracted…breathe in, breathe out, grocery list, bills to pay, what flowers to plant, shiny thing, shiny thing, shiny thing. I took a tip from Pema Chodron in her book When Things Fall Apart and would recognize that I was distracted and let whatever that thought was float away with the exhale. Everything was about focusing on the breath, being mindful of my breathing.
So did it work? Om, yeah it did. I still get the fidgets. I still get distracted by random thoughts. But after eight weeks of daily meditation, I found it is easier to step out of emotionally charged moments and just breathe. If I skip a day I feel it. The days I meditate I fall asleep faster and sleep better. I also deal with the grief related social anxiety better, which is the whole reason I went to see my hypnotherapist in the first place.
Oh, and if you know where I can get a hippocampus scan let me know.