The Wandering Widow

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



Surviving Grief Milestones Alone

A Wondering Widow Post

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.

One of the last photos before Parkinson’s Disease stole his ability to smile.

My Dear W, You’re a BadA$$ and Don’t You Forget It

A Grief Recovery Project Post

I visit with a lot of W’s and often hear us (yeah, I’ve done it too) say things like I can’t do it or I can’t do this without him. One of the things that helped me get out of that thought spiral was to keep a list of all the FIRSTS I’ve done on my own. It started out as FUN FIRSTS but evolved into everything I’ve done for the first time, that I wouldn’t have done if Dan were still here. I kept this list in the back of my journal, so it was handy, but if you need a visual reminder put it on the bathroom mirror.

For those of you who are still struggling to see yourself as a survivor, here is a sample list that might help you look in the mirror and see the badass warrior queen you are. (This list is representative of some amazing W’s in my life, and not my personal list).

  1. You sold /remodeled your house.
  2. You bought a house.
  3. You started a new career.
  4. You went back to work.
  5. You fixed your toilet all by yourself.
  6. You hired an attorney to fight for you.
  7. You kept breathing even when you didn’t think you could.
  8. You put on a family wedding.
  9. You took care of your kids despite your grief, and THEY ARE OKAY!
  10. You went on a date.
  11. You moved to a new town.
  12. You went on an adventure/trip/whatever.
  13. You cut people from your life who were dragging you down.
  14. You made new friends.
  15. You bought a car.
  16. You made investment decisions.
  17. You finally remembered what day trash pick up is.
  18. You took up a new hobby.
  19. You learned how to <<fill in the blank>>.  I took apart and fixed my steam vac all by myself thanks to YouTube. Badass, right?!?!
  20. You allowed yourself to remember what it is to feel happiness and joy.

Whether you type your list or write it in hot pink glitter lipstick, never forget how amazing you are, how much you’ve done, and how far you’ve come.  None of us chose to walk this path alone, but we are a lot stronger than we give ourselves credit for, and that includes you. 

And for what it’s worth, I’m proud of you.

The Wandering Widow

The Unwelcome Committee

A Grief Recovery Project 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.


The Wandering Widow


A Wondering Widow Post

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. 


The Wandering Widow

Photo credit to Jm Storm. You can find his book, In My Head, on Amazon.

How Did I Get Here?

A Wondering Widow Post

It’s surreal. How did I get here? How can it possibly have been a whole year? How can it have been 365 days since that horrible morning when I watched Dan die? How have I survived 8760 hours of being broken wide open? Shattered? How can 525,600 minutes have passed without him in a single one? It doesn’t seem real. It doesn’t seem right.

And yet here we are, at his one-year deathiversary. I know some people hate that word. No judgment here if you are one of those who prefers angelversary. While I do like to look for the positive in every situation, I also refuse to sugar coat a turd. To-may-to, to-mah-to, we all cope in our own way. But I digress.

The last year has been a journey that often left me feeling like a refugee from my own life. I have at times been appalled at things people have said or done. I have also been overwhelmed with gratitude at the kindness of strangers. And I have fallen more deeply in love with my friends and family for whom I am incredibly blessed. Not only did they walk this path beside me, I’ve lost count of how many times they picked me up and carried me. And, truthfully, sometimes those brave souls had to drag me along kicking and screaming.

The old me died that day when Dan took his last breath. That was also the day I was reborn, like the phoenix rising from the ashes. In the last year, I’ve had to figure out who I am in this new reality. Here are a few things I’ve learned about the new Lisa. And you know what?  I kinda like her.

  • The new me has ninja level survivor bada$$ery. I’m stronger than I ever dreamed possible.  My proof? Laughter.  I can still laugh, even through the tears. Admittedly, sometimes it’s a Lt. Dan crazy kinda laughter, but laughter nonetheless. Even after nights like last night where I was a f@#$%&g bawling train wreck.
  • The new me is brave. Mostly.  I kept breathing when I didn’t want to. When I was too afraid to think about the future, I kept putting one foot in front of the other anyway. I may not have always looked up from my feet but persisted in the direction of the unknown. I now recognize that asking for help and being vulnerable are where real courage lies. If you knew the old Lisa, you’d know how significant this is. 
  • The new me pursues happiness and joy with abandon and without apology. 
  • Life is too short to put up with bull$hit. The new me has learned to walk away, purge, move on, forgive, and not look back.
  • I’m keeping it real. The new me is a card carrying member of the reckless truth teller club. Authentic has become one of those business buzzwords, but that doesn’t take the power out of our truths. To wrap my brain around my own grief, I share and hopefully help others in the process. No more carefully curated social media presence, no more worrying about what other people think. This girl DGAF about pretense. Like it? Great. Don’t like it? Reference previous “life is too short to put up with bull$shit” and move along. (Dan, inventor of DGAF, would be both proud and horrified).
  • The new me is obsessively grateful. I recognize that every second we are on this earth is a gift. No more sweatin’ the small stuff. No more 60 hour work weeks. No more waiting. No more I’ll call them later. It’s all about living now, loving now, laughing now and making sure those we love know how valued they are. 

To those of you who pop in to read my story, thank you. Thanks for showing up to bear witness to all the ugly and beautiful bits of my grief journey.

The Wandering Widow

Who Do You Write For?

Someone asked me recently why I only write for Widows and not a larger group of the grieving. This was part of a conversation on why The W Club is Widows only and doesn’t include Widowers or parents who had lost a child. It was an interesting question, and I had to think about it a bit.

Here’s the deal. I don’t write only for Widows. I write for myself. I write for other widows because we share a common story and we are part of the same tribe. I write for friends and family of W’s who are desperate to help and need insight. I write for my fellow grief journey travelers which by the way, includes all of us.

At some point in our lives, we will all experience loss. Maybe it’s not the death of a loved one. It could be due to divorce, the loss of a job, a pet, or a childhood dream. The point is we all experience loss. These losses impact us whether we want them to or not. We all grieve differently, but life ALWAYS comes with loss. If we can accept that loss is inevitable, it can free us to revel in all the other glorious live now moments life brings us.

With a few exceptions, the advice (or rants) I write aren’t Widow specific and can apply to anyone who is grieving. I’m not a professional, so can only share my experiences about what I’ve found helpful or harmful. As terrifying as it has been, I’ve chosen to shine the light on the dark side of grief that most of us hide from the world out of a sense of propriety or shame. Why would I open myself up to that kind of scrutiny and vulnerability? Because I know how alone it felt in the darkness, and I’ll do my damnedest to make sure no one else has to feel that. And if I can help just one person figure out how to reach out and grab the hand of their loved one who is grieving and not let go, it helps me find meaning in Dan’s horrible death. If I can help one widow avoid the internal dialog about taking her life, it makes my struggle worth it. And if one person who is grieving, regardless of the reason why, remembers that there are support options out there for them, being open and vulnerable was worth it.

So no, I don’t write only for Widows. I just happen to be one.


The Wandering Widow

✔️ 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.

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.

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


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.

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.

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


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.
I left my heart in the highlands.
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.

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


Edinburgh, Scotland. 


I’ll be back!

An Open Letter to Employers of the Grief Stricken

Dear Employers of the Grief Stricken:

I know your employee handbook probably has a sentence or two about bereavement leave, and that’s where this subject ends. Hey, don’t feel bad. We live in a grief phobic society, so why would the workplace be any different? As I get ready to celebrate 11 years with THE BEST FREAKING COMPANY ON THE PLANET, I thought I’d share some tips for other employers on how to help their employees who are grieving a loss. Here are a few things you may want to consider:

After being diagnosed with a rare and aggressive form of cancer, our company did a special fundraiser where everyone got to wear jeans and Dan’s favorite team colors. Go Boise! Photo credit to Lanee Johnson.
  1. Grief affects you both mentally and physically. Brain fog and a short attention span are pretty normal. So are increased irritation and anger to things that previously wouldn’t have phased them. Your employee is back at work because they want or have to be, and are doing their best. If you have concerns about their performance please talk to them. Be gentle, but don’t beat around the bush.
  2. Your three-five days of bereavement/funeral leave is woefully inadequate, but appreciated. Grief isn’t something you check off on a calendar. Please be aware that it can take months or years for some of us to be back to full capacity. If you offer a longer unpaid leave option and feel your employee might benefit from it, please offer it to them if you can handle them being out. Weigh the options…potentially losing them for good vs. a short leave of absence. If you can be creative with work schedule or roles that may be another way to protect the investment you’ve made in a great team member. The most appreciated words my boss ever said to me were the day before I was scheduled to come back to work. She told me that if I came in and it was too much, to just turn around and leave and not worry about saying anything to anyone. She may not remember it, but the memory of that care and consideration is carefully stored in my heart the way I used to keep my Snoopy watch and other treasures in my jewelry box when I was nine.
  3. If you offer an Employee Assistance Program that covers counseling, remind them of that resource too. (Depending on your state, you may want to run that by HR first. Some companies don’t like to cross that line into human decency due to fear of litigation).
  4. Please understand that social anxiety (grief’s annoying evil step-sister) can make being around people hard, especially upon first returning to work when you’re more likely to get The Look**. Your employee may walk out of a room in the middle of something. You may find them crying in a bathroom stall or in their cars or at their desk. Crying is healthy. They aren’t doing it to get attention. It will pass. I promise.
  5. Some people bury their grief and want to act like everything’s normal. That’s okay too. You can’t force people to talk about it if they don’t want to. For some, work is an escape from the reality that sets in as soon as they get home to an empty/emptier house. Please give them that reprieve if that is what they want.
  6. Grief isn’t restricted to the death of a loved one. Divorce and other losses can be equally profound, and aren’t covered by bereavement policies.

If you truly value your employee, please do what you can to reasonably accommodate their grief. I’ll tell you, that makes for one hell of a loyal employee.


The Wandering Widow

**The Look: the look of pity or sadness one often receives after a tragic loss or terminal diagnosis, usually dispensed freely by those who don’t know they are wearing it; sometimes accompanied by sound effects and uncomfortable personal bubble violations by huggers; to be avoided at all costs.

Year One: What I’ve Learned About Grief

As we wrap up what has been, by all accounts the most challenging year of my life, I’m forced to reflect on what I’ve learned about life, death, love, and grief.  

1.We all grieve for different things throughout our lives…lost loves, lost innocence, lost opportunities, even election results. None of life’s previous losses prepared me for losing Dan and Dad. I quickly learned that grief doesn’t just make you sad.  It can be an overwhelming pain that affects you on an all encompassing level: physical, emotional, mental, spiritual and financial. If you would have cleaved me in two, I don’t think it could have hurt more than the pain I’ve endured. For the first time in my life I had no answers, no plan, and no solutions.  I couldn’t fix it. All I could do was keep breathing…and that was harder than it sounds.

Grief also seems to come to the party with anxiety. This was a surprise, but it is pretty common even for those that never struggled with anxiety before their loss. I’ve decided that it’s the pressure (unintentional, of course) by others to be back to normal (not an option), have a good time, perform on the job, etc. that makes the anxiety so much worse. You wouldn’t believe the amount of energy it take to smile or hold back tears. I think as women we are taught to focus on others so much, that even in our worst pain we don’t want our grief to make others uncomfortable.  So it’s just easier to hide.

Screw that! When your W doesn’t want to go out, leave the house, or do anything but live on the couch, support her in that. Unless you’ve been through it, keep your advice to yourself. (On that note, every single W I’ve talked to encourages couch surfing as a survival tactic). If her grief makes you uncomfortable, perhaps you should take time to reevaluate what kind of a friend you are, because it’s not about you buddy!

2. In the darkest depths of despair, there are so many shining lights of hope.  So many lovely people stepped up to surround us with love and light and support. The meals, the angels who showed up to rake the fall leaves, the friends who never gave up on checking on me, even when I withdrew, all shining examples of the good in the world.  As Dumbledore wisely said, “Happiness can be found, even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.” Sometimes we just need someone else to help flip that switch.

3. You can’t do it alone, but being alone is okay.  I continue to survive with the help and guidance of my grief team: which includes my BFFs, family, grief counselor, financial advisor, acupuncturist, massage therapist, reiki master and others. I’ve also had my fellow W’s surround me in a ring of love and acceptance and support. Their unique understanding was something no one else could provide. 

But being alone was also a key component to my survival. After spending years in caregiver mode, giving myself permission to take care of myself was the best gift I could have ever received. And while nothing will ever replace my perfect travel partner, I’m looking forward to finishing out our bucket list as a solo traveler.  There is something therapeutic about being alone…it counters the anxiety/pressure of being with others.  

So many great memories to treasure. Take that vacation. Live now.

4. Grief isn’t linear.  It gets better.  And it gets worse.  And it’s different for everyone. On some days it’s hour to hour, or even minute to minute. So you shouldn’t beat yourself up about having a backslide because there is no forward and back. There is only now.

The circle of life goes on. Our sweet nephew has been my joy since losing Dan.

5. “There’s our old Lisa,” was one of the most painful things (even worse than the first time someone referred to me as a widow) someone said to me AD (after Dan).  I wanted to scream. The Lisa you used to know died that July 10th morning, half a second after Dan took his last breath.  And FYI she won’t be back.  I think that’s one reason the pain is so excruciating…you are really grieving for two.  In addition to learning to live without your love, you are mourning who you used to be.  And that’s not all that died that day.  Your hopes and dreams for the future were also snuffed out. So you grieve for all of you. And that is almost freaking impossible to shoulder. 

So as most people enter the new year with new goals, new dreams, and new hopes, those of us drowning in grief just focus on continuing to keep breathing. And you know what, that’s damned good enough if you ask me. 

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