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.
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.
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.
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).
You sold /remodeled your house.
You bought a house.
You started a new career.
You went back to work.
You fixed your toilet all by yourself.
You hired an attorney to fight for you.
You kept breathing even when you didn’t think you could.
You put on a family wedding.
You took care of your kids despite your grief, and THEY ARE OKAY!
You went on a date.
You moved to a new town.
You went on an adventure/trip/whatever.
You cut people from your life who were dragging you down.
You made new friends.
You bought a car.
You made investment decisions.
You finally remembered what day trash pick up is.
You took up a new hobby.
You learned how to <<fill in the blank>>. I took apart and fixed my steam vac all by myself thanks to YouTube. Badass, right?!?!
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.
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.
On my recent adventure down the Snake River in a kayak, I spent a lot of hours fighting the wind and the current. I’d lost my momentum and kept getting spun around and around. I started to panic when I realized I was the last of our group and falling even further behind. So naturally, I fought even harder, which didn’t do anything but tire me out faster.
I stopped fighting to control where I was going and started laughing when I realized I was stuck in my favorite grief recovery metaphor. For the better part of the last six months, I’ve reminded myself that I need to go with the flow. That if I untie myself from the pier and stop fighting the current, the river will carry me where I need to go. It’s something I work on daily. (Recovering control freak, remember)?
Just as it is in our grief journeys, we can’t control how long it takes or how we get through it. So I quit paddling and reminded myself to breathe through the fear. I spun around some more as I let the river carry me where it wanted to, but managed to enjoy the view along the way as I eventually made it to where I needed to be.
As I get ready to head out in search of global adventure, I needed to get a few last-minute checks off my Idaho bucket list. If you’ve never been to my adopted home state, you’re missing out. I’ve been blessed to see a lot of it and this weekend, thanks to some amazing friends, I focused on the Valley of Magic. (Okay, so it’s called the Magic Valley, but I like my version better).
I started at the Minidoka Internment Camp Monument. This has been on my list for a long time. This memorial to a blight on American history has huge significance for the Japanese American community. When I first moved to Idaho, I was surprised to learn that the Japanese Americans I met either didn’t celebrate their heritage (like we did in Hawaii) or didn’t know about it. The more I learned about Minidoka, the more that made sense to me. Why would you celebrate the very thing that caused you to lose everything and get rounded up and imprisoned like cattle? For those of you that don’t make time to read but want to learn more, I recommend the Dennis Quaid movie, Come See The Paradise. Not only an amazing love story, but a pretty good depiction of the time.
I also found it shocking that most Idahoans don’t know about the role their state played in one of the most regrettable acts in American history. Groups like Friends of Minidoka are helping to change that (if you want to support their efforts you can donate at minidoka.org). Heavy stuff, and a story that more people need to hear. My friend and fellow adventurer, an Idaho native, was there for the first time too and she was sad to learn about all of it. But it felt surprisingly peaceful to me as if the simple act of being there and bearing witness was enough to calm the energy of the place. The Japanese have a word called gaman, which is loosely translated as enduring the seemingly unbearable with patience and dignity. In hindsight, I guess that attitude also helped get me through my dark days of grief, although the patience and dignity parts are questionable, so we’ll just go with enduring.
After the dusty camp, it felt great to spend two days on the water.
The first day we rented kayaks and had a leisurely float down the Snake River under the Perrine Bridge in Twin Falls. Normally you’d see base jumpers off the bridge, but it was quiet there that day. The water was relatively smooth, and the wind wasn’t horrible. Overall a perfect set up for a beginner.
The second day a group of us kayaked down the Snake River in Hagerman to get to Blue Heart Springs. This little crystal blue oasis off the river is fed by underground springs. On a clear day, you can see straight down to the white sand bottom and see the bubbles percolating up to the surface. It was windy the day we went (not ideal conditions for a beginner), but the crystal blue water was still amazing. I never cease to be amazed at the beauty we can find if we make time to look for it. Blue Heart Springs is a Caribbean blue jewel in the middle of the high desert.
So for those of you that have been wanting to find an adventure of your own, it may be closer than you think. What’s waiting for you to find in your backyard? Live Now. ❤️
The Wandering Widow
Minidoka Internment Camp:
Bring your walking shoes and park near the entrance under the guard tower. Follow the paths and read the placards. Many have audio options of interview excerpts from people who lived in the camps. It’s free to enter and self-guided, but you’ll want to monitor the website to see if there are any activities going on while you’re there.
My favorite quote:
I will always remember my father’s statement on the eve of our departure to Camp Harmony. “I don’t know what will happen to us. I don’t know where they’re going to take us. I don’t know whether we will ever be able to come back here. But always remember, this is your country, and you must act accordingly.”
Kayaking under the Perrine Bridge:
Put in at Centennial Waterfront Park. We rented kayaks and all our gear from AWOL. They made it super easy. Make your reservation online, check in and sign your waiver, and then walk to the dock where some very nice young people will help you get all set up. You don’t even have to drag your gear, just hop in your kayak (or raft or paddle board or whatever) and have fun. We took a leisurely two-hour trip which got us past the bridge and allowed a leisurely return.
And if you need a quick snack while in Twin Falls, head downtown to Twin Bean, home of the best crepes I’ve ever had. The fact that they were named after Harry Potter has nothing to do with that, although my Gryffindor crepe was magical.
Kayaking to Blue Heart Springs:
I borrowed gear for this one, but you can rent in Hagerman and have them delivered to the “dock” at Banbury Springs. If you don’t plan on making a return trip, you’ll want to leave a second vehicle behind at Thousand Springs RV park so you can get back.
This was a four-hour trip for us. We fought wind and current in both directions (which is why I can’t lift my coffee cup today) so it took some of us a lot longer to get through. When you get to Blue Heart Springs, you’ll find a spot on the rocks to have lunch (don’t forget to pack yours) and enjoy the sunshine. FYI the water is COLD. Shock your system cold. While some of us did jump in, we didn’t linger.