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The Wandering Widow

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

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Widowhood

Two Years

A Wondering Widow Post

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.

XOXO,
The Wandering Widow
Live Now. Dream Big. Love Fierce

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.

Going With the Flow

A Wondering Widow Post

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.

Like my lame ass kayaking skills, I couldn’t control any of the events that occurred after we heard the words Stage Four Terminal. All my fighting to “control” his cancer, my grief, and this life without him did nothing to help me. Surrender and acceptance were what brought peace.

 

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.

XOXO,

The Wandering Widow

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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

✔️ 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!

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