Kintsugi, or Kintsukuroi, is the Japanese aesthetic that repairs broken pottery with lacquer mixed with gold powder. The belief is that the piece is more beautiful for having been broken. This philosophy honors its survival rather than hiding the fact it was once damaged.
I love this metaphor as it applies to grief recovery, and not just because glitter is my favorite color. I can remember sitting with my grief counselor bawling about how broken I was. And being broken was terrifying. But somehow owning my brokenness, out loud, made it a little better. The simple act of acknowledging my being shattered meant that I also had the opportunity to put myself back together. Someday. With precious metal as the glue.
And it wasn’t easy, but it happened. First I had to crawl around on the floor picking up as many shards of my life as I could find. I was already a broken mess of a grieving human being and their sharp edges cut me open as I tried to make them fit where they once belonged. No one warned me that the grief recovery process could be so gruesome, bloody and painful. What I couldn’t find either couldn’t be replaced or didn’t need to be. The reality is when you’ve suffered a massive loss, you’ll never go back to being the person you once were. Some of those shattered pieces of your heart just turn to dust.
The good news is, with time, your heart has the potential to end up stronger, and more beautiful than you could have ever imagined. Those missing pieces create space for the light to get in, and eventually for sparkly precious metals.
A few months ago I had a conversation with a friend and fellow W. We were discussing our grief journeys, our survival, and the fact that we were both transformed into new people through the grief recovery process. Stronger, kinder, wiser, braver, more loving people. We struggled for words for a bit but were eventually able to express that it was the deaths of our beloveds that were the catalyst for us to become these better people. We were able to take the horror and the pain and transform their loss into a blessing. And that while we never wanted it, we were grateful for all of it. I’m sure if anyone else had been eavesdropping it would have been an odd conversation, but we knew what we meant. Grief’s fiery forges took the raw material of who we used to be and made us MORE.
Neither of us would have EVER surrendered our husbands no matter what kind of higher evolution was waiting for us, but we didn’t get a vote.
And no matter how much time goes by, or how much happiness I’ve created in my new life, every now and again I find another shard. It slices through the soft pink scar tissue of my heart. It hurts. But I know that it’s just a matter of time before it’s glued in there with gold.
If you’ve been following along, you know about how ugly and beautiful this grief journey has been. My sister and I were talking, shortly after I shared my plans to retire and live out of a suitcase, about how it feels to emerge from the darkness into the light. Eyes blinking a bit, unaccustomed to what hope and happiness feel like, but slowly remembering what the warmth feels like on your face. That’s where I’ve been these last few months…just reveling in the heat of the sun.
I joked about how people kept telling me that I looked younger these days and how I must have aged a lot since Dan was first diagnosed. She looked at me and described the joy in her heart to see ME again. She explained that it wasn’t a matter of looking older. It was that, for a long time, I was totally unrecognizable. That grief had stolen the light from my heart, the light that normally shines through my face. That I was not just twisted by pain, I was hollow. A shell of the person I once was. Damn! Little sister can be super poetic when she wants to be.
She said the reason none of my family and friends have pushed back on my recent life choices is that they can see that I am not just happy again but that I am alive again. Living again. That while they are terrified in the same way you are when a toddler takes off running that they may fall, you are also so excited to see them growing you don’t stop them.
When you no longer know who you are anymore, not recognizing your face in the mirror can only make it worse. For those of you who still find this new you unrecognizable, don’t give up. It may be a slow process like it was for me, or it may happen quickly. But when you’re ready, the sunlight will be waiting for you.
Random thoughts on a Thursday. I’m okay, just thinking out loud about how far I’ve come and the lessons I’ve learned on this journey.
Two years ago today I was on the receiving end of the private conversation that told me I was going to be a widow and that we needed to stay positive for Dan. This conversation was so private I didn’t tell anyone else about it. It hurt too much to acknowledge. I was auto-enrolled in “how to be a widow” training, which was the name I gave my Widow 101 counseling sessions provided by the cancer clinic. I was in shock and denial. There was no way this f’n diagnosis was correct. They don’t call it practicing medicine for nothing, and I told the doctor as much. I put my big girl panties and my war gear on and attacked cancer the same way I took on any challenge or project. I was Lisa By God Bain and still operating under the belief that I had control and could bend this diagnosis to my will. I put on the “we got this face” for Dan and our family and friends but cried in private every single day. Every. Single. Day.
A year ago today I was at rock bottom, fighting the effects of the PTSD and anxiety that no one warned me could come with grief. Instead of fighting to keep Dan alive, I was waging an internal battle every day to keep myself alive. Or at least breathing, since being alive and living are two very different things. Despite being surrounded and supported and loved by the amazing people in my life, I’d never felt so alone and isolated. I’d lost my will to live.
Today. Today I’m both alive and living. I’m happy and at peace, two feelings I wasn’t sure I’d ever know again. I’ve rediscovered my laugh, my sass, and my hope for the future. I love my life, and I’m grateful for each and every minute of it.
Like I said, just random thoughts about this journey. I’m okay. I’m better than okay. I’m Living Now. For my fellow travelers on our collective grief journeys, please don’t give up hope. Our paths are all different but it does get better. You will heal, even though you may not believe that now.
The Wandering Widow
Live Now. Dream Big. Love Fierce
Over the last few months, I’ve written a lot about going with the flow and trusting my intuition as I navigate this new post-Dan reality. Unfortunately, there isn’t a process map for picking up the pieces and starting over, and I have had to learn to trust my heart to guide me. It’s something I encourage my fellow W’s to do as well. No one knows you, or what you need, as well as your heart does. As much as I try to live that way, every now and again I still need a reminder, and Oban was most certainly a beautiful one.
Oban is best known for its single malt distillery, but this Western port has got a lot more than that to offer. The seafood is legendary, and it’s the jumping off point to explore the Hebridean Islands. I did a lot of research for this trip, so before I left home, I’d put it on my list of possible home bases.
But when I passed through Oban a few weeks ago on my way to the Isle of Skye, I found it underwhelming so took it off my list of places to stay. That was shortsighted and dumb. Due to some scheduling limitations, and the encouragement of my friend (and Scotland expert) Gavin, I decided to go back. Yay me! (Or, yay my intuition and Gavin). Out of all the places in Scotland I’ve fallen in love with (which is most of the country), Oban is the one I feel I could put down roots and stay long term. I can’t believe I almost missed out on that.
So my dear W’s, trust your heart. Trust your instincts. Only you can decide where this journey will take you. And wherever that may be, it will be the right place for you.
The Wandering Widow
Live Now. Dream Big. Love Fierce.
Since I chose not to drive in Scotland, I relied on public transportation. Oban is a four-hour train ride from Edinburgh. The train ride was incredibly beautiful, and you’ll be able to relax and enjoy your trip through the Trossachs. TIP: The earlier you buy your tickets, the less expensive they will be.
I knew I wanted to stay on the Corcoran Esplanade, a short strip of super cute B&Bs right on the water and a five-minute ocean front walk to the center of town. I’d been referred to Kilchrenan House by my B&B Hosts at the Pipers Lodge when I was in Skye. Availability was an issue since I’d waited so long to decide where I wanted to go. So instead of a full week, I was only able to get four days. Four beautiful days! Book early, especially if you want to stay for awhile. I don’t think four days was enough and would have liked at least a week if not two. Frances and Colin are super friendly and welcoming hosts, and you can’t beat the amazing view of the ocean at breakfast, or the sunsets in the evening from the front porch.
If you tried to force me to choose between the ocean and the wooded hills and mountains, I couldn’t do it. Thankfully, in Oban I don’t have to.
The Inner Hebrides:
I decided to do a day tour of Iona, Mull, and Staffa, which are part of the Inner Hebrides. My scheduled tour got canceled due to weather the first day, but I was able to get on one the next day. Good thing, since it was sunny and the ocean was pretty calm.
It was freaking fantastic, although Mull was just a pass-through so shouldn’t be advertised as part of the tour. Staffa is the famous basalt column island that is home to Fingal’s Cave. I wish I’d had several hours here, but did get down to the cave and also had a chance to scramble around up top and enjoy the views.
Iona was stunning. Crystal blue waters, white sand beaches, and the greenest fields I’ve seen outside of Ireland. If you like to hike, you’ll want to spend a whole day here. I’ve already decided on my next visit that I’ll need to overnight on Iona to fully explore the trails.
I’d been advised by fellow travelers to make reservations at EE-USK as soon as I got to Oban, which I did. Wow! The seafood and service were superior. And despite being a Table for One, I was seated at a window table so I could enjoy the best view they had to offer. Top notch, so be prepared to pay for it.
First of all, whisky in Scotland isn’t called Scotch and isn’t spelled with an “e” so please stop messaging me about typos. This whisky woman knows what she is doing.
Now on to the business of single malts. Oban grew up around the distillery. That means it’s an entire town centered on the production of an amazing single malt. It also means that the distillery can’t expand. Their Instagram boasts “great from small, ” and they rock it. Their copper stills are works of art, and I would encourage you to do a tour (even the short one) to check it out. Here science and art come together to make beautiful single malt babies. If you’re a whisky fan, I also recommend doing the four taster, since we can only get one or two of those easily in the US.
Beyond the tour, go across the street to the Oban Whisky and Fine Wine Shop and talk to James. He was able to turn his single malt hobby into a business, which is both cool and makes me a little envious. And he knows his stuff. In addition to the tasters and education, he gave me suggestions on which newer distilleries would be coming online soon, and which whisky bars in Glasgow would likely have the lost and silent stuff on my single malt challenge checklist. And, now that I know the Old and Rare whisky festival is a thing, it’s going on the bucket list.
Okay, so I know adventure and slowing it down don’t usually go together. But that’s what this week was all about. I still have 11 months left to go on this adventure, and I’m notoriously bad at pacing myself. Hey, this is all new to me. I’ve never had a vacation where I could take so much downtime and not feel guilty about it. Sleeping in, coffee in bed, and writing for hours isn’t something I’ve ever gifted myself with on an itinerary.
I chose to stay in Edinburgh and rented a cute flat in walking distance to both Portobello Beach and Arthur’s Seat. Each evening as I sat enjoying the view with a glass of wine, Arthur’s Seat (on my list to hike since my last trip here) would silently mock me through the living room windows. Whatever Dude, I’ll get to you when I feel like it. (Which I eventually did).
I took time to smell the flowers, walk on the beach, people (and dog) watch, and eat ice cream on the promenade. There is something about the ocean that is soothing to the soul, even one as unremarkable as Portobello Beach. But this island girl will take any beach she can get and be happy about it.
This week was also a good reminder that we need to make time to rest on our grief journeys (and life in general). Sometimes we are so eager to get away from the horrible emotions and feelings that we choose “busy” as a shield as we run pell-mell towards grief recovery. The truth is, those feelings aren’t going anywhere, but if you’re too tired to face them you won’t get anywhere fast, and it’s easy to start drowning again. So be kind and every now and again give yourself permission to take a timeout.
Walk on a beach.
And eat ice cream.
The Wandering Widow
Live Now. Dream Big. Love Fierce.
The super cute flat I rented was in Portobello. My Airbnb hosts (the same cool people who left me a bottle of wine when I checked in) were awesome! I’d mentioned how much I loved the beach, so they called one day to invite me to join their family beach walk out at Yellowcraig, a beach I wouldn’t have found on my own since it was about a twenty-minute drive away.
Their advice helped make this week so much better and relaxed, and they recommended all three of the pubs below.
Since it was practically across the street, I went for dinner almost every night I was there. The food was excellent, and the service even better. Light and bright, the vibe changed every night depending on whether there was live music or football on TV. It must have a loyal crowd because everyone knew everyone.
The Barrelhouse Bar and Grill:
After climbing Arthur’s Seat, I rewarded myself with lunch at the Barrel House. I was surprised with how many American items were on the menu, but the neon, “I am the God of Hellfire” sign above the bar was what drew me in since I knew there had to be a story there.
Right on the promenade, The Espy is home to the best cullen skink (seafood chowder) I’ve had in Scotland, a robust single malt menu and ocean views. A perfect spot for lunch during my beach strolls.
When was the last time you opened your box of treasures? When was the last time you took them out, held them in your hands, and went back in time? Sometimes on our grief journeys, no matter how well we’re doing, it’s important to take a timeout and honor the things you miss about your dearly departed.
That’s what I did this week. I hadn’t planned on it, but some of my new friends found that box of memories and dragged it out in the middle of the room for me, where I couldn’t ignore it.
Steve, Andrea and I were hanging out at the pub one evening. The singer that night invited people to come and dance on the mini dance floor she’d made by moving chairs out of the way. Steve dragged Andrea out on the dance floor and proceeded to shake his goofy groove thang. Andrea was a little self-conscious since they were the only two on the dance floor in this tiny pub.
I was laughing my a$$ off but told her how much I loved their love and that I thought it was fantastic. Dan danced like a dork (and there is a wedding DVD somewhere in storage that can prove it). He may not have invented the T-Rex dance moves, but he sure owned them. And lemme tell you, I would give just about anything to be able to dance with that goofball again, even if we were the only two on the dance floor and everyone was staring at us.
Somehow that memory opened the floodgates to all the little happy memories about things I miss. It was as if the contents of my treasure box got dumped on the floor so I could find and savor all the little ones that get buried at the very bottom like tiny legos or Barbie shoes.
Things like how he’d run around the house singing falsetto and opera just to be funny. Or how we shared the same adolescent sense of humor and could drag any event into the gutter with just a look.
I miss coming out wearing his favorite Boise State hoodie, only to see him roll his eyes and complain that he was just going to wear that. All the while knowing he secretly loved seeing me in it. Something he proved when it mysteriously showed up in my side of the closet one laundry day.
And I miss all the little thoughtful things he would do, despite being a knuckle-dragging cretin (his words, not mine). Like how my coffee was always waiting for me on the bathroom counter when I got out of the shower, or how he’d fuel up my car while I was still asleep. Or my favorite, how he’d throw my bathrobe in the dryer to warm it up for me on cold winter mornings to coax me out from under the warm blankets so I wouldn’t be late for work.
It’s been a long time since I’ve thought about these little things. I’m grateful Steve and Andrea helped me rediscover them. I’m grateful they danced and laughed that night. And I hope those of you still lucky enough to have your hubs with you remember that it’s the dancing that counts, not what you look like or who may be looking. Someday all you’ll remember is the joy of the moment. So don’t be self-conscious, just get out there and dance.
The Wandering Widow
Live Now. Dream Big. Love Fierce.
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! ❤️
Sometimes it’s best to just hand the reins over to someone else and go along for the ride. Can you believe I just said that? I feel like I should get a “recovering control freak” gold star sticker for that one. This week a tour worked out great since I didn’t have to worry about scheduling ferries or buses or lodging. Instead, I just had a whole lot of enjoying the views along the way and taking time to figure out my next stop. (Still undecided as I write this).
I guess you could say it’s a mini-version of this entire year and my Grand Tour of Europe. Where to go? What to do? Who do I want to be? When your only plan is not to have a plan, it leaves the door wide open for adventure.
I was blessed to be able to cross another item off my bucket list: to visit the fairy tale Isle of Skye. It’s the first time since Dan died that I’ve crossed one off the list that was just mine, not ours…kind of like this whole adventure. And you know what? It felt amazing!
I’ve had so many people comment that they wish they could be brave and do something like this. Here’s the deal. I don’t feel brave. I do, however, believe that choosing to Live Now takes courage. Part of me misses the easy routine of my comfort zone. The other part of me is in a near constant state of bliss to be in a completely new environment. Living now is the only option that makes sense, especially to those of us that have lost so much. We know too damned well that tomorrow is promised to no one.
Live Now doesn’t mean selling everything you own to go on adventures, although that’s what I’m enjoying. It means squeezing every last drop of life out of the minutes we have. It means to be present in everything we do. And I wish for all of us to have a life full of Live Now minutes.
The Wandering Widow
Live Now. Dream Big. Love Fierce.
The Isle of Skye
Visiting the Isle of Skye has been on my list for close to two decades. It didn’t disappoint. One of the bazillion things I love about Scotland is how the clouds and the light are constantly changing. It changes the colors of the landscape from minute to minute and, if you can stay put for a bit, you get a whole new perspective without even moving your feet.
Every time I rounded the corner, I’d think to myself that there couldn’t possibly be a more beautiful vista in the world. And then I’d go to the next place and think the same thing. Maybe it’s all the fairy magic, but it’s definitely beautiful.
The Orkney Isles
It’s a trek to get here, but it’s like being in a whole new country. Colder and windier, the Orkneys gave me my first beaches in Scotland. You know this island girl and beaches; when I see them, they make my heart sing. I don’t care if they are sunny and tropical or cold and windy. It was a bit too cold to put my toes in the sand and water, but I could have stayed and walked for hours if I wasn’t worried about being left behind.
The Orkneys are also home to Neolithic stone circles and Pictish archeological sites.
The ghosts of my Highlander ancestors must know when I’m back because it always works out that I have perfect weather. There aren’t enough words to describe the breathtaking vistas, so photos will have to do.
I didn’t realize we were going to stop at the Cairns of Loch Loyne. The first cairn was put there to honor Hugh Mackay. I left a few stones in memory of Dan. It was fitting since the Bains are part of Clan Mackay. There were so many stone piles, some with names and dates. To think that all these people had traveled here to honor their dead was overwhelming. It was moving and emotional and I bawled my eyes out for the first time since I left home. Actually, it was the first time in a long time so I guess I was due.
Since I had trouble narrowing down which photos to include, here are a few extras.
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.