The Wandering Widow

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



How Did I Get Here?

A Wondering Widow Post

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Wandering Widow

Letter to my 25 year old self

A Wondering Widow Post

Dear Lisa,

It’s 20 years from now, and amazing things are about to happen in your life.  I wish I could spare you the heartbreak and pain ahead, but can truthfully say it will forge you into a better you. And while it won’t feel like it, you will survive.  Here are some words of wisdom I wish you could hear:

1. Your goal to retire at 45 WILL happen, but you will pay an unbelievably horrible price to achieve it.  Don’t let that stop you from doing it.

2. Forever isn’t linear, it’s now. Forever is in every tiny moment. Don’t waste a single one. Stop working so damned much and invest those tiny moments in those you love and those that love you. Memories will always be worth more than things (trust me, at this exact moment you are selling everything you own). Take that trip. Take the class. Take a chance on love. Take the risk of living outside the plan, and outside what is expected of you. Sometimes happiness lies on the other side of playing it safe.

3. You have no control over anything but your attitude. I know your inner control freak won’t believe me until the universe decides it’s a lesson you WILL learn, and it will be in the hardest way possible.  It’s okay. It will be okay.

4. You are f@#$%^g awesome. I know you will spend years feeling insecure and not enough. You will hide those fears and lack of confidence in a hard shell that does you no favors.  Don’t be afraid. Believe in yourself. You are stronger than you could possibly know. 

5. It’s taken me our whole life for me to learn to love me.  Love you for you, and don’t wait so damned long to do it. 


Future You,  aka The Wandering Widow

You Just Don’t Understand

One of the many lessons you learn in business is never to say, “I understand,” because you can’t. You can’t understand where someone is coming from unless it’s happened to you. While many of the grieving lament that people just can’t understand what we’re going through, the truth is WE DON’T WANT YOU TO.

As lonely as grief can be, we don’t want you to understand how awful it is. Because the only way you could possibly get it is to have gone through it yourself, and I wouldn’t wish that pain on my worst enemy.

When my friends, who lost their daughter a few years ago, told me they couldn’t understand what I was going through, I argued they were wrong. That they had been through the horribly wrong things that people say, the “friends” impatient for the old you to be back, the misery, the loss, the pain. Mike gently said no, there was no way they could ever understand. That while they mourned the loss of their daughter, she didn’t live with them. That while there was a huge void in their family, it was nothing like the constant void I now lived with: my empty bed, my now always clean bathroom counters, my suddenly clear schedule now that I wasn’t nursing my patient 24/7, the silence. 

I was still in shock over losing Dan, so I didn’t understand what he was saying. I do now. There is a reason W’s gravitate to each other. There is no need to explain or justify your feelings. We all, unfortunately, understand. It’s why our hearts stop, and we hold our breath when we hear one of you has joined this f#$%^$d up club. It’s why we reach out to you, despite knowing we can’t say or do anything that will make a difference. Except, maybe, to let you know that you aren’t alone.

So when we tell you that you just don’t understand, it’s okay. It’s good that you don’t understand. We hope you never understand. So don’t argue that you do. Don’t get defensive. Just say that we’re right, you don’t understand, but that you are here with us anyway because you care.


The Wandering Widow

What Not To Say–Take 573

Dear Friends and Family of W’s:

Recently someone said something to me that was so insensitive and thoughtless it caught me off guard. Although maybe that’s because I’ve lowered my guard in recent months. 

Most people mean well but say the wrong thing simply because we are a grief phobic society and aren’t taught what to say or do in this situation. I’m posting this in the interest of education so you don’t have to cut off your foot to remove it from your mouth. And just so you know, most W’s will just nod and let it go, even though you just hurt them deeply.

So, for what feels like the millionth time, here are some examples of what NOT to say to a W:

  • You must really miss him and think about him all the time and wish he was here to talk to. Okay Captain Obvious, I’m sure this is just an example of words bypassing your brain to exit your mouth, but please take a moment to think about what you are actually saying. Talk about rubbing lemon juice in that healing wound. 
  • Wow, has the last year been hard for you? Seriously? The answer, of course, is yes. But why would you ask someone that, especially if they are out and about? Some days it’s a real struggle to be with people, and this is the reason why.
  • Do you have plans to date again? This was actually said to me shortly after diagnosis while I was still married to a very alive, and fighting to stay alive, husband. WTF!
  • God has a plan. Um, I try really hard to be understanding, but F@#$ you! It’s really best to keep your useless pseudo-religious platitudes to yourself. 
  • Do not ask for details of his final moments.  WTF! She’s reliving it anyway without your help, don’t make it worse by dredging up the worst moment in her life.
  • Oh my God. What will you do? NOT HELPFUL! Please count to 10 before speaking to give yourself time to evaluate the words you are going to say.
  • Dan would/wouldn’t want you to__________________. Really? How the F would you know? If you have a phone line to him and haven’t shared it before now, this normally peace loving woman will cut you. 

Whew! No strong emotions there. Nope! In the interest of helping you help your W, here are some examples of what TO say:

  • I wish I could take away the pain.
  • I know nothing I can say or do will make this better, but I’m coming over anyway. Only come over if you have the close relationship that allows for this. Coming over to gawk at the train wreck when you are only acquaintances falls under the WTF category.
  • Please let me be the one to throat punch the first person who says “God has a plan.” I clearly have some unresolved issues with this one, which should indicate how many times I heard it. I’m still not sure I’ll ever step foot in a church again.
  • I love you, and I’m here WITH you. WITH you, not FOR you, there is a difference.
  • Nothing. Just be there in silence.

Fellow W’s, I’d love to hear some of the other helpful things people have said. And feel free to share the asinine comments too. I’ll be happy to commiserate with you.


The Wandering Widow

Take Cover

Grief Waves. Grief Bursts. Grief Bombs. Whatever you call them, they exist. And they suck. There you are, going about your day operating under the assumption you are managing. You may think you are getting better and managing quite well. And then out of nowhere, your grief jumps out from around the corner and bitch slaps you. If you’re not prepared for these explosions, they are harder to deal with because we end up blaming ourselves for backsliding. Here are a few things to remind yourself of when these happen.

  1. They can happen anytime. Grief doesn’t have a timeline.There are W’s that still have grief bombs years after their husbands have died.
  2. They can happen anywhere. Grief doesn’t have a sense of privacy. It doesn’t care if you’re at work or the supermarket or a restaurant.
  3. They aren’t always here and gone again. Grief bombs can be an afternoon of crying your eyes out or a week where you can’t get out of bed. It can be so overwhelming it feels like you’re starting over at the beginning.
  4. There is usually some kind of trigger. Sometimes you can predict them-holidays or other milestones you can see coming and brace for impact. Other times, you’ll be sitting in your car at a red light, and a grief bomb goes off in the form of his favorite song on the radio. Or you’ll be at the supermarket and out of habit throw his favorite snack in the cart only to remember he was the only one that would eat it. Or you start sobbing in the kitchen alone because you can’t get the dang lid off a jar. Or you realize it’s the first perfect spring golf day and he’d be on the course. Or you start crying because you get tickets to a sold out show but the one person you want to hug or high five isn’t there. You get the idea.
  5. You aren’t backsliding. Grief bombs just happen and are a normal part of the grieving process. Be kind to yourself. I find it helps to step back and try to identify the trigger. It doesn’t necessary shorten the meltdown but does help me take the pressure off myself.

And just a reminder for you friends of W’s. It’s NEVER okay to tell someone that they should be over it by now, no matter how long it’s been. 

The Grief Recovery Project

Did you know the caterpillar doesn’t just grow wings and become a butterfly? It digests itself, dissolving into a cocoon full of goo before reforming into a butterfly. It’s messy. And I’d imagine it’s painful. How is that for a freaky visual?

As disturbing as I find it, I love that analogy for what happens to us as we allow ourselves to come through the grieving process. It’s gruesome and gory. Who we were is destroyed. But in the end, we come out of it transformed. We are reborn. If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you’ve heard me say that the old Lisa died that July 10th morning, may she Rest In Peace. I chose to experience grief fully, allowing myself to become the caterpillar. I dissolved into a gooey mess that resembled neither who I was nor who I am becoming.

JM Storm is amazing and one of my favorite writers.

I’m told I’m goal oriented. I LOVES me a checklist. I set goals, and I figure out how to make magic happen. Once I set my mind to grief recovery, it became a project too. One of my W friends laughed as she accused me of over-achieving my grief. And I laughed with her! I had already given myself permission to take all the time I needed so I wouldn’t turn into a self-destructing-ticking-grief-bomb but was desperate to get as far away from the black pit of despair that almost cost me my life. So I went full bore into project mode.

The next few posts will cover my experiences with the different things I tried as I researched the Grief Recovery Project. I’ve already written about my experiences with grief counseling, and that is still at the top of my list for being the most helpful. But  acupuncture, massage therapy, Reiki, hypnotherapy, travel, a makeover and tons of books and blogs also became part of The GRP.  I’m far from being ready to fly away, but I can feel myself becoming solid again. I’m tired of the cocoon and getting ready to break out and flex my new wings.

What Not to Say to the Widow #11 (or, with this ring)

Dear Friends and Family of W’s,

Many of you ask for help with what to, or not to, say to the grieving widow.  It’s pretty easy in the initial period to find help on what not to say (please reference God has a plan; Everything happens for a reason; Some day you’ll realize this was a blessing; et al).  But what about when a period of time has passed?  You know, six months from now, a year from now, or three years from now? There’s not a lot of advice out there. What should you avoid saying?

Please write this one down. Under NO circumstances do you have the right to question what a W does with her wedding ring. None. Zip. Nada. Zero.  I don’t care how many years it’s been.

I’ve been lucky and no one has talked about my rings to my face.  I’m horrified at some of the things my fellow W’s are asked (or told). 

When are you going to stop wearing your wedding ring?

It’s time to stop wearing your wedding ring.

Why are you still wearing your ring?

You’re taking off your ring already?

SERIOUSLY! None of these are okay to say! If you’ve already f’d up and said one, get down on your hands and knees this instant and start apologizing for being a judgemental ass. Assure her that you love her and would never knowingly add to her pain. A hug won’t hurt either.

The symbol of undying love.

Here’s the deal–it’s different for everyone.  Some W’s will wear it for a year. Some will change out the stone but keep wearing the ring. Some will wear it forever.  Some will stop wearing it immediately.  Some will keep it for children or grandchildren.  Some will sell it. It doesn’t really matter.  What matters is that you support your W in whatever she decides.

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