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The Wandering Widow

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

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Reckless Truth Teller

The D Word

A Wondering Widow Post

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.

1. Readiness:

“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).

5. Guilt:

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.

XOXO,

The Wandering Widow

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.
XOXO,

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. 

                                           ~Nichiren


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.

XOXO,

The Wandering Widow

Death in a Digital Universe

A Grief Recovery Project Post

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. ❤️ 

XOXO,

The Wandering Widow 

P.S. For those of you who are freaking out right now, the Dan Bain Memorial Scholarship page will remain active.

The Wandering Widow’s WTF Guide to Planning for the Inevitable

A Grief Recovery Project Post

 

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.

XOXO,
The Wandering Widow

Good-Bye Half Life. Hello Adventure.

A Wondering Widow Post

Have you seen the movie Up? Dan and I used to say that it was the most incredible love story we’d ever seen, captured in the first five minutes of a children’s movie.  That first five minutes wrecks me EVERY time.  If you haven’t seen it, please have tissue handy as it’s a tear jerker.  And maybe some Oreos. And if you have Oreos please invite me.  The movie picks up after that, but damn those first five minutes! Never in a million years did we dream the movie was about us.

Photo credit to Disney-Pixar

After the brutal reminder that someday is promised to no one, I refused to end up like the Carl you meet where the movie actually starts, miserable and alone and full of regret. I’ve had a lot of amazing people come through my life in the last few months. Each of these people helped me get a step closer to making the decision that brought me to today. They helped me realize that the new me IS Carl, the Carl that lets the balloons fly and heads off into the adventure he and Ellie never got to take together. The Carl that rips his house off the foundation (Holy Moly what a metaphor) in search of happiness.  Does he find it? You’ll just have to watch the movie. (Don’t forget the Oreos).

Photo credit to Disney-Pixar

So honoring Dan’s Live Now motto, and adding a new one of my own, I’m letting my balloons fly. Today I retire from a career and a work family I love beyond measure. I’ve ripped my house off its foundation to go in search of beautiful places, interesting people, and adventure. As scary as this is for someone who has played it safe all her life, it’s far more terrifying to imagine a life of regret if I don’t take the chance. I refuse to live a half life. So this widow is going wandering. And I don’t need to search for happiness, I’ll make my own.

XOXO,

The Wandering Widow 

#LiveNow #NoHalfLife

Waterfalls, Ziplines, Bourbon and Good-byes

A Wandering Widow Post

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. 

Tamanawas Falls

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.

The view from the cave behind the falls.
 

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.

XOXO,

The Wandering Widow ❤️ 

The Hike:

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.

The view from Skamania Lodge.

Ziplining:

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!

This is what conquering fear looks like.

Lodging:

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.

Our gorgeous view from the third floor.

Heirlooms

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. 

XOXO,

The Wandering Widow

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

How Bad Is It, Really?

A Wondering Widow Post

I recently had a conversation with someone (an acquaintance whom I hadn’t heard from in over a year) who was freaking out over something full of drama at work. She was spooled up, and I don’t want to diminish her concerns, but if you call me for advice you need to understand that my benchmark for crisis isn’t what it used to be and you may not like what I have to say. I’m happy to listen and empathize, but if you ask my opinion and I tell you it’s small potatoes, just remember how I got here. If you just want to vent, preface your bitch session with that so I understand my role in the conversation. Or, better yet,  call someone else so I can focus on positive healing energy.

Old Lisa used to freak out about a lot of stuff. Recovering Control Freak, remember?  New Lisa is a lot more chill. My new yardstick is pretty simple. Is <<fill in the blank with the potential problem>> worse than watching the person you love most in the world die a gruesome death right in front of you?   If yes, freak out immediately ’cause that $hit is really bad. If no, breathe through your nose and mellow out. Whatever it is can be fixed or isn’t worth your time and energy. 

Insensitive?  Yes. What the hell were you thinking calling me, the grieving widow, about this? Oh,  you mean me? Perhaps. And Old Lisa would have worried about that too. New Lisa says small potatoes.  Life is full of disappointments.  It’s also full of beauty and magic and wonder. Go outside and admire the sun or the moon or the stars. Look around you at all the blessings you have in your life.  Go for a run. Do whatever you need to do to find perspective. Let yourself have a pity party if you must, but don’t stay there long. And maybe take a look at your phone tree and take a few moments to think before you call someone grieving to vent about your problems. We still want to be a part of your lives, but come on.

XOXO,

The Wandering Widow

P.S. Calling me to complain about your husband, who is still alive, will probably invite Hulk Smash Lisa to the party. Do us both a favor and don’t go there.

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