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! ❤️
This week I had the privilege of being a guest on a podcast about life insurance, something we don’t like to discuss. Something I didn’t want to discuss. But it got me to thinking about the other important icky things that W’s (and all adults, really) should consider taking care of as soon as possible.
As if going through their clothes and personal belongings weren’t already miserable enough, there are a few more things we need to do after losing a spouse, even in the midst of our worst grief.
A few months after losing Dan, I found myself sitting at the conference table in my attorney’s office. I didn’t want to be there but knew that I had some responsibilities to address. Without a living spouse or offspring, I had to designate what my final wishes were in the event of my untimely demise. Morbid? Not really. Unpleasant? Yes, definitely. Necessary? HELL YES. And now as I get ready to depart on my big adventure, it’s time to review and make sure all those documents are up to date.
I still have non-W friends and family that refuse to designate legal guardians for their children or prepare their wills or trusts. I think it’s mostly because they don’t want to think about the inevitable end we will all face. To them, I ask, “could you be more selfish?” Yeah, that’s right. Selfish. Using your discomfort at thinking of your death (or hurting someone’s feelings) as an excuse not to take care of this leaves those you love with heart-wrenching decisions to make, or legal battles to fight, while they are at their most vulnerable. File this post under reckless truth telling and get over yourself.
Even if I weren’t a childless widow (aka single person), I’d still want to minimize my family’s burden any way I could. Here’s my list of icky things (besides life insurance) to think about:
1. WILL OR TRUST. You need to be able to speak for yourself, and this is how you do that. Make sure your designated executor or trustee has the original because they will need it. Digital copies are fine for your files. Putting it in a safety deposit box will only work if your executor has a key and is listed on the account, so think long and hard before stashing it there. And be specific about your real estate holdings as some states will require that. A good estate planning attorney can help you determine whether a will or trust is more appropriate for you.
2. LEGAL GUARDIANSHIP OF YOUR CHILDREN (or pets in my case). This is a $hitty conversation but imagine the person you want LEAST to raise your kids, and know that it will be THAT person who will fight the hardest to get custody of them. For the love of God, please make this decision in writing. You can always change it later. Most of you say you would die to protect your children. If you’re willing to do that, why wouldn’t you take care of this?
3. BENEFICIARIES. Your spouse was likely your automatic beneficiary on life insurance, retirement accounts, etc. Time to get that updated.
4. ADVANCED MEDICAL DIRECTIVE and POST INSTRUCTIONS. This is probably the worst. And in my case, the one I received the most pushback on, most notably by my doctor who had to sign it, which should be all the evidence you should need as to why this document is necessary. (FYI, never question a person’s decision here, especially not a W). I learned that paramedics and emergency room staff would not honor your wishes UNLESS you have your POST instructions on you, as an Advanced Medical Directive isn’t good enough for them, at least not in my state. I posted mine on the fridge (where paramedics are trained to look), registered with the state, and I carry my POST instructions in my wallet. When I travel, they are with my passport, on the off chance someone in another country might think to look there or care. Think about what you want, and make sure those closest to you know your wishes as well. Friends and family don’t have to agree with you, and this document ensures your wishes are met.
5. The miscellaneous crap. You know, family heirlooms and all that. You can add a descriptions page to your will, or just have a typed document that your executor can access. If there are stories that go with them, write them down or record them. Having gone through it TWICE in a year, I can assure you that being the one left behind to guess who you wanted to have your guns, jewelry or record collection is an awful burden. And you may want to ask if they even want it…one man’s treasure is often another man’s trash.
All of this stuff is in my hard copy (and electronic) “Lisa’s Dead File.” Yes, that’s really what it’s labeled. I hope someday my family can appreciate this as my final gift to them. I have every intention of living a long and adventure filled life, but we could have never imagined we’d lose Dan so young and so quickly. After what I endured in the aftermath of his loss, there is no way in hell I will allow anyone I care about to have to go through it on my behalf, especially without the leeway community property laws would give them.
And as icky as this topic is, it’s not as bad as leaving your loved ones to deal with it after you’re gone.
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.
Many of you ask for help with what to, or not to, say to the grieving widow. It’s pretty easy in the initial period to find help on what not to say (please reference God has a plan; Everything happens for a reason; Some day you’ll realize this was a blessing; et al). But what about when a period of time has passed? You know, six months from now, a year from now, or three years from now? There’s not a lot of advice out there. What should you avoid saying?
Please write this one down. Under NO circumstances do you have the right to question what a W does with her wedding ring. None. Zip. Nada. Zero. I don’t care how many years it’s been.
I’ve been lucky and no one has talked about my rings to my face. I’m horrified at some of the things my fellow W’s are asked (or told).
When are you going to stop wearing your wedding ring?
It’s time to stop wearing your wedding ring.
Why are you still wearing your ring?
You’re taking off your ring already?
SERIOUSLY! None of these are okay to say! If you’ve already f’d up and said one, get down on your hands and knees this instant and start apologizing for being a judgemental ass. Assure her that you love her and would never knowingly add to her pain. A hug won’t hurt either.
Here’s the deal–it’s different for everyone. Some W’s will wear it for a year. Some will change out the stone but keep wearing the ring. Some will wear it forever. Some will stop wearing it immediately. Some will keep it for children or grandchildren. Some will sell it. It doesn’t really matter. What matters is that you support your W in whatever she decides.