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The Wandering Widow

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

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Starting Over

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 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

✔️ San Diego Comic-Con

A Wandering Widow Post

It’s funny how you can live somewhere and never do the things other people travel there for. I lived in San Diego for years, but never went to Comic-Con. A few years ago, during an especially funny episode of The Big Bang Theory, Dan and I decided that going to SDCC should be on our bucket list. Since we’re both kinda geeky, it sounded fun. Plus, how can you go wrong in San Diego? So my friend, an SDCC veteran, helped me get badges to the biggest geek party in town.

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You can never go wrong in San Diego.

And it was a party. It’s a good thing I’m retiring in a few days because I’ll need a week or two of naps to recover.

XOXO,

The Wandering Widow

P.S. In case you’re thinking I’m a huge jerk for taking a vacation right before I retire, this bucket list trip was on the books before I made that life altering decision. Live Now.

Here are my Top 5 Comic-con Takeaways:

1. You can definitely do it as an SDCC virgin, but having someone help you learn the ropes is easier. Fortunately, there are a lot of SDCC blogs that can guide you along. Read them. Learn from them. When you are advised to bring a refillable water bottle, snacks, sunscreen, and backup batteries for your phone, do it. And be prepared to walk a lot! We averaged around 20,000 steps a day, and that was with a LOT of breaks at San Diego’s finest eateries and drinkeries. (Breakfast on the patio at Mary Jane’s gives you a lot of people watching and celeb spotting opportunities. And Whiskey Girl has my stamp of approval for any time of the day).

I’d add a small umbrella (for shade) to the list for those long outdoor lines. It was unusually humid and I didn’t reapply sunscreen frequently enough, so brought home a lovely stripey sunburn.  I can’t imagine how hot it was for those in full costume and makeup. I bow down to their dedication and commitment to their characters. And the cosplay didn’t disappoint. 

2. Don’t wait until AFTER you have your badges to book your hotel. Rookie mistake! We ended up paying a premium for a divey motel. I was told that most San Diego businesses close to the convention center make over 30% of their annual revenue during Comic Con. I don’t doubt it. Price gouging is the name of the game. It was still worth it, just be prepared and budget accordingly.

The entire Gas Lamp District gets into the Con spirit.

3. Don’t stress if you don’t get badges for every day. Enough events are happening around the convention center that you will have plenty to do. I found that some of my favorites were offsite and didn’t require badges at all.  Bladerunner 2049 was my favorite, and not just because of the Johnnie Walker whiskey bar at the end.

 One of the things I loved best was that the whole town gets involved, taking it from mere convention to super festival.  Hotels, trains, and trams were all wrapped and decorated appropriately.  And there were lots of themed marches and displays supporting shows or movies.  We participated in Nerdist’s Wonder Woman March but also got to enjoy History Channel’s Viking funeral march and Outlander’s exciting outdoor entertainment.

4. Keep your patience and a sense of humor. Everyone else is just as excited to be there as you are, lines are inevitable. Make new friends. And don’t be put off by the 2-3 hour waits…the lines move faster than whatever the end-of-the-line-keeper tells you.

If it’s your first time, be prepared for sensory overload. It was worse than Vegas for me, and I couldn’t figure out what to look at with all that color, lights and noise everywhere.

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5. Enjoy yourself. SDCC was amazing, but the best part was being able to spend time with friends.

I loved that everyone connected with the Con was respectful and still able to have a good time. I lost track of how many languages I heard spoken–this is truly an international event. It is also family friendly, and it warmed my heart to see so many parents bringing their kids. But folks, please leave your dogs at home as this is an anxiety ridden event for Fido. 

I can’t wait for next year!

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.

Bringing Sexy Back

Now that you’ve got JT singing in your head, I need to tell you this post has nothing to do with sex or being sexy. Not really anyway. Dan used to say that confidence was sexy, so I guess you could go that route if you wanted to. But I digress.

After surviving the depths of grief’s darkest days, you finally wake up one day and look in the mirror and see a dumpster fire staring back at you. Caregiving and grieving can destroy your identity. When you don’t remember who you were, or know who you are now, it’s almost impossible to rediscover your confidence. Or sexy. Or whatever. How do you remember that part of you that was strong, independent, beautiful and worthy? Can you remember the queen that first turned your husband’s eye? Or the woman that loved life? Your inner goddess? Me neither.

Before you were a Widow, you were a Wife. And before you were a Wife, you were a Woman. So how do you find her when you’re wearing this giant W around your neck? HOW do you rediscover the confidence you had before you joined this f@#$%d up W club? After surviving what seems like forever as a no-make-up-wearing-pajama-clad-crying-everyday-wreck-who-eats-cookies-in-bed-and-drinks-bourbon-from-the-bottle-mess, where do you even start to bring your sexy back? Aside from the obvious things like showering, getting dressed in something other than PJs, going to work and leaving your house to socialize with fellow humans, ask yourself what used to make you feel confident? What made you feel good about yourself? What used to make you feel like you OWNED this life?

I came across an idea that sounded both silly and fun, and scary as hell. My kind of adventure, and another check mark for The Grief Recovery Project list. The American Cancer Society adopted the phrase “Look Good, Feel Better,” and it’s true. Seeing is believing is also true. Enter the extreme makeover and photo shoot with technicolor proof that you are more than a widow, more than a train wreck of a broken human being. Sounds harmless enough, why would that be scary? I may have forgotten to mention it was a boudoir photo shoot. You can’t say I won’t try anything in the name of GRP research, but before you turn all creeper on me, it’s probably not what you think it is.

Photographing beauty and boudoir is so dear to my heart. I know what it’s like to look in the mirror and not like what I see. I know how hard women are on themselves. But I also know the POWER of a beautiful portrait and what it can do for a woman’s self-esteem. And THAT is why I do what I do!                

Erin Blackwell, Photographer

I found a local photographer who had, coincidentally, done sessions for widows for that very reason. I liked that it was an all-female team, which took a whopping almost half a percent off the vulnerability scale. Yikes! It’s not like you have had time to exercise or take care of yourself when you’re in caregiving/grief mode. Not to mention the fact that you’re a million years older than the last time you went on a date or that anyone other than your husband was looking at you that way. But Erin made me feel comfortable so, on yet another whim, I booked a session. Anything for research, right?

Instant regret took hold. Thought one: What in the flaming hell are you doing?!?! Thought two: There goes any chance of running for office someday. Thought three: That’s a lot of money for something no one else on the planet but me will ever see. Thought four: Maybe I should blog about it. Circle back to Thought one: What the hell are you doing?!?!

I told two of my closest W’s what I’d done. Their positive reactions made me feel better about my temporary insanity. Interestingly, I didn’t feel I could share this decision with anyone else in my circle. It IS true that there are some things only another W can understand.

So on a cloudy weekend, I woke up and suppressed my fear and anxiety, and headed to Erin’s studio. Faith made me feel like a movie star with the full hair and make up treatment. I’m pretty sure I said something like “holy f@#$” when I finally got to look in the mirror. Erin brought out my best, even though I was nervous and self-conscious. Once I got over the nerves I had a blast. And yeah, with a little help and a lot of champagne, I brought my sexy back. Sing it JT!

Photo credit to Erin Blackwell Studios. Hair and Make-up by Faith Garcia.

 

 

 

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