riding bitch

The life of a writer and survivor of loss.


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Remembering a Friend

A lot has happened lately. A good friend died last month in Los Angeles, shortly after my father died. His name was Brian. He was around my age, and his death was sudden. News of it spread like wildfire, friends, family and co-workers sharing their shock, sadness and tributes on social media. While I’ve talked to a few people on the phone, it is taking me some time to process. For now, I just want to share some memories.

Brian was a good friend of my late husband Kaz. They worked together at DreamWorks Animation for a few years and remained friends afterwards. They both knew music really well, loved football, hard liquor and curvy women. I met Brian in 2008, the year that Kaz and I officially started dating – I can’t remember if it was at a show or at Thanksgiving, but I remember liking him right away.

Brian was rough around the edges but a sweetheart. Tall and blond with a raspy voice and loud laugh, he always reminded me of a viking, except he was from Montana. It seemed like he was always either going fishing or had just returned from fishing. Every time we went over his house he offered us fresh fish to take home.

Brian had started dating a woman named Erin around the same time as Kaz and I started dating, and the four of us used to  hang out quite a bit. We went to a lot of rock shows together, the Glow Festival in Santa Monica, bike rides on the beach, Thanksgiving, Super Bowl and Halloween parties. We witnessed each other’s ups and downs. Brian and Erin were really supportive when Kaz was ill, and were among the last people to see Kaz alive.

After Kaz died, Brian and I hung out every now and then and kept in touch via texts and phone calls. We got together every year to celebrate Kaz’s birthday at Jumbo’s Clown Room. We went up the mountain to visit the spot where Kaz’s ashes were scattered, and  to see Kaz’s favorite band Clutch.

Once, after he watched my dog for a week while I was traveling, I gave him the gift of a small handmade knife with his initials engraved on the handle. It was perfect for skinning fish. Of course, when I gave it to him, I forgot to tell him that it was a knife inside the rolled up fabric. When he unwrapped it, the knife fell to the floor with the pointy end lodging into the wood an inch away from his big toe. I was mortified, but Brian thought it was the funniest thing ever.

When I left Los Angeles for New York, I took the Northern route and traveled through Montana. I called Brian from the road a couple of times to tell him what a beautiful state he came from, the most beautiful I had ever seen. He loved hearing that. I felt like I understood him just a little better having seen his home state, where one felt the wildness in the landscape and the people.

I will never forget Brian. He was larger-than-life in many respects, beloved my many, a really good and loyal friend, and a helluva lot of fun. He loved Kaz like a brother and was so kind to me after he died. We didn’t talk too much directly about this mutual loss, but we toasted many drinks and shared many laughs remembering the good times. Kaz’s death rocked many people’s worlds and I know it was a huge loss for Brian. He went up to visit Kaz on the mountain on a regular basis, always posting a pic of a Maker’s Mark bottle with a brief note, “Came up for a visit. Miss you big Kaz.”

It’s strange to think of the world without Brian. I’m so grateful that I knew him and got to share some good times with him. My heart goes out to his family and loved ones.

We will all miss you, big Brian. Give Kaz a hug for me.

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Kaz and I at Brian’s Halloween party

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Erin and I posing with Brian at a Fear Factory concert

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Brian’s Maker’s Mark bottle on Kaz’s mountain

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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“I’ll be back.”

Well, this is it. Within minutes of ‘publishing’ this post, Ruby and I are leaving the Bay area, where we’ve been for three days, and heading north for our cross-country adventure (which is starting out more like up-country). I’m both excited and nervous to begin this journey into unchartered territory, literally and figuratively. As I face these huge unknowns, I wanted to take a moment to look back at all the things, places and people that I’m leaving behind (in no particular order).

My apartment. Kaz’s apartment. He lived there for many years before he met me. The place where we fell in love. Where we lived together. Where he died, and where I grieved him. I still remember the first time I stepped into that apartment, I had butterflies in my stomach.

My neighborhood. One mile east of Mann’s Chinese Theater on Hollywood Boulevard in an area called “Little Armenia,” which is adjacent to “Thai Town.” Unlike much of Los Angeles, in this neighborhood everything you need is in walking distance: café, cheap tacos, cheap Thai food, dog supply store, dog washing, dry cleaning, bank, grocery stores (the small mom-and-pop kind and the large chains), gas station, 7/11, post office and so on. Many of these establishments knew me. The mom-and-pop grocery store once let me walk out with a $50 I.O.U. because I didn’t have cash and their credit card machine was down and it was 10 minutes to closing time. I came back the next day with the money. It was such a wonderful interaction. “That’s what it means to be a regular,” a friend told me. 

My neighbors. Believe it or not, I never knew any of my neighbors before getting a dog. But in the past two years, I’ve made some very dear friends on the block, mostly other dog owners. We’ve spent hundreds of hours walking our dogs together, having play dates, drinking vodka and juice on hot summer nights, having heated discussions about all kinds of subjects, and laughing until we cried. My neighbors helped me so much with the move, I honestly don’t know how I would have managed without them. Meeting these folks enriched my life, and I’m very grateful.

My dog’s friends. The summer of ’14 will always be known as the summer Ruby met her first love. His name was Capone. They were exactly the same age, born in the same year, just three days apart. They would run around and wrestle in Capone’s yard for hours. To a stranger’s eye, their rough-and-tumble play might have looked scary. But despite the bared teeth, growls, body slams and neck grips neither ever got hurt. On the contrary, they were perfectly matched in size, stamina, strength and love. Capone’s father Ivan said Capone now has two “tear drop” markings under his left eye and sent me the before and after pics. It’s true. They’re there. That’s love for ya.

My dog’s daycare. A dedicated bunch of super professionals who loved Ruby as if she were their own (and whom she loved just as much). Whenever I left her there, I knew she was in good hands. On her last day, they gave her an entire bag of dog treats for free. 

My dog’s vet. Though across town and a little pricey, the level of service was excellent. Again, she was in good hands.

My dentist. Remember when I came back from Vermont with a loose front tooth? My dentist gave me a brand new smile and didn’t charge me an arm and a leg. He was kind, patient, gentle, thorough and professional. As a bonus, he was also young and handsome. He was my favorite dentist thus far in life. And, as we all know, a good dentist is hard to find. 

My mechanic. In a city like Los Angeles, your mechanic is almost as important as your dentist. I had the same mechanic for 19 years. He was a handsome, middle-aged, white-haired, Persian Israeli man named Eddie. He was like a second father figure, helping me maintain the four cars I’ve owned since moving here. He would always shake his head when I would bring in my ailing vehicle, “Why don’t you bring it to me sooner?” Of course, I brought my car to him before the road trip for a total tune-up and new front brakes. He hugged me goodbye, “Please call me when you arrive. I want to know you got there safely.” That’s a good mechanic.

My therapist. I changed therapists this year and really liked the new one. I liked the old one too. In any case, I’ll miss them both.

My friends. I have the best friends in the world. The only thing that makes leaving slightly less painful is that a few of my closest friends have also left L.A. in the past few years (one just the other week). But I still have close friends in the city, and I will miss them dearly. The good news is a few have promised to visit, and now with social media and Skype, it’s not as difficult to keep in touch. But still.

No list would be complete without mentioning the weather, which is so consistently sunny and pleasant that it’s almost the only thing you can count on in L.A. (other than the traffic). As a friend recently told me, “There is more to life than sunshine.” She’s right. But when I’m shoveling snow in sub-zero degrees I can almost guarantee I’ll be thinking of balmy L.A.

Finally, I will miss my father, who didn’t live in Los Angeles but six hours away. Even though we didn’t see each other more than once or twice a year, it was reassuring knowing he was fairly close. Now, I will be joining my siblings on the east coast. 

I’m sure I’ll miss more things and people, but these are the first things that come to mind. 

As our former governor cum action hero once famously said, “I’LL BE BACK.”

Now it’s time to hit the road.

Los Angeles (view from Griffith Park)

Los Angeles (view from Griffith Park)

 


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The Solidarity of Widows

This past weekend M came to visit. Some of you may recall M from last year (I wrote about her here and here). M and I were friends before she lost her husband, but since then we’ve grown much closer. We speak on the phone every week or two. I’ve been to visit her once, and now she’s been to visit me. On her last day here, we went for a hike with L, another widow friend of mine from my old job. Then the three of us went to brunch. It was a lovely time, full of laughter and good food. Though M and L had just met, they got along like old friends.

There’s something to be said for the solidarity amongst widows. M and I discussed it on the ride to the airport. When you’re a widow, it doesn’t matter how young or old you are, what your cultural or ethnic background is, if you’re rich or poor — you can usually relate to another widow.

It’s more than just sharing a unique and powerful loss. We all come to the loss in different ways, some by illness, prolonged or sudden, others by freak accidents or crimes. Still others by suicide. We share the loss, but we also share what happens after that. We know about the guilt: caregiving decisions, life decisions, the “shoulda-coulda-wouldas”.

We know about the madness of grief, the swirling of thoughts, the sleepless nights, the constant questioning and unsatisfying answers. We know about the crazy things people say to us, the financial issues, the burden and emotional complexity of dealing with all of our loved one’s things.

We recognize and respect (and never question) widows who still wear their wedding rings, even if we don’t choose to do so ourselves. The same with widows who decide not to date, and those who do. We don’t judge each other like others so often judge us.

We understand how life changes for a widow, how it’s never ever the same. Even if a widow remarries, she will never see her new husband in the same way she saw the one she lost. It’s not a matter of “better” or “worse” — it’s an awareness that will permeate her existence forever. An awareness that might make her less prone to anger, irritability, pettiness, or might prompt her to quit her job and pursue her dreams, or to help others in need.

Her outlook on life and her priorities change. She might cut off certain people in her life simply because they do nothing for her anymore. Though grief makes her foggy, certain aspects of life become crystal clear.

No matter how young she is, she will be more mature.

M said to me this weekend, “That girl is gone. And she’s never coming back.”

I told M that I see loss like a natural disaster of the heart. Hurricanes, tornados, fires, earthquakes, tsunamis… are all an unfortunate part of nature. They strike randomly, leave great devastation in their wake and, in some cases, actually change the landscape of the earth. But afterwards, life springs anew. People rebuild. Plants grow. Animals return. Everyone adapts to the new reality, while never forgetting the past.

And widows are their own unique group of survivors.

It pains me that M had to endure what she did at such a young age (more than ten years younger than I am). We still cry over the men we can no longer hold dear, the mistakes we feel we made, all of the wasted time and silly arguments. If only we knew then what we know now. But we can both agree that there’s no going back to what was. There is only now.

There is only now.


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New Essay on Modern Loss

Friends,

I’m happy to announce that my essay is up on Modern Loss. Please check it out: http://modernloss.com/forever-girls

Thanks for the support, as always.

Niva


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Can You Stop Complaining? (Seriously)

Years ago, one of my closest friends, a former cheerleader, called me to announce that she was going to stop complaining for a month. “That’s great,” I responded. “But maybe try 24 hours first and see how it goes.” We laughed. But she did pretty well. To this day, she always leads with the good and looks on the bright side when it comes to the bad. I adore her.

Other friends are the opposite. They lead with the negative — and stay there. I adore them too, but can only tolerate this up to a point. It’s not that I don’t understand hard times, depression, job/partner/life/money dissatisfaction. I DO. But once I feel a person has sufficiently vented (30 minutes is about all I can handle), the “fixer” in me starts suggesting things they could be doing to alleviate their situation.

“Have you thought of this or that?” I venture. “Well, no I haven’t actually,” the person responds. With some people, the conversation then moves towards a more positive direction. With others, it quickly veers like it’s avoiding a pothole, then continues in the same direction. Blah blah blah… another 30 minutes go by. This is usually when I hit the speaker button, place the phone down, and start checking my email. Wrong, I know. (Would it be better to abruptly say goodbye?)

Of my least favorite pet peeves (littering, bad driving, ogling, to name a few), chronic complaining is right up there. I don’t mean the kind of complaining that we do with co-workers around the water cooler, or those conversations with our closest confidantes where we get things off our chest and/or ask each other for advice. I also don’t mean the kind of venting people do when they’re grieving, getting divorced, dealing with a new baby or any other major life change.

I mean the kind of chronic complaining people do about situations they could actually change if they wanted to, but don’t.

You know the type I’m talking about. If not, this is how you spot one:

Friend complains to you about something. You listen and empathize.

Friend complains again about the same thing. You feel bad that they’re still dealing with the same issue and offer suggestions that might help.

Friend complains a third and fourth time. You start to wonder if the person considered (or even heard) any of the advice you gave the last time.

When the friend continues complaining about the exact same issue(s),  you realize this person isn’t looking for answers or helpful suggestions – she doesn’t even want to fix her problem(s). She’s a chronic complainer who wants you to listen to how miserable she is (and if you don’t listen, then you’re not a good friend). She is like this because she’s 1) seeking attention, 2) looking for ways to justify her unhappiness, and/or 3) unable to handle other people being happy or doing well (both trigger her internal “miserable” switch).

Of course, to suggest such a thing is preposterous. No one wants to be miserable, right?

Wrong.

I recently overheard a mother tell her daughter on the phone, “The doctors told me I don’t have the kind of cancer that’ll kill me, but come on. We’ll just see.”

(Really? Okay.)

I think some people are uncomfortable with optimism, or don’t feel like they deserve to be happy, or can’t be satisfied with what they have. They always want more/better, and the grass is always greener over there. Or they continue to think of some past period of their life as “the good ole days” when the truth is, they probably complained just as much back then (about other things).

I admit, I’ve had chronic complaining moments myself (it’s not uncommon to disdain in others the same traits we disdain in ourselves). Remember my optimist friend? She would always listen patiently while I rattled on about everything bad in my life. Then she’d give me practical advice and point out the good things too, all of which I appreciated. To this day, I always feel more upbeat after talking with her, even if I was upbeat to begin with.

Another friend and I still complain to each other, but we’ve jokingly nicknamed our bitch marathons “The Depress-offs,” a la a competitive game show. So, we’re actually bitching and laughing at the same time.

In general though, I try to complain less than I used to. Part of this is watching someone die young of a terrible disease and feeling like what the hell do I have to complain about? Also, Kaz would often remind me that the best way out of depression is ACTION, and I follow that advice as much as possible.

At the writing seminar I mentioned in the last post, the instructor said to us, “What if you were to accept your current life and be happy with the way things are right now?” Everyone gasped.

He quickly explained that he didn’t mean giving up on our dreams and aspirations. He meant hitting the pause button on our perpetual moaning, choosing to acknowledge – and be in – the present, and being grateful. We were alive. We were sitting in a room with a bunch of fellow writers and new friends. The sun was shining. We had homes to go back to. We had pets/children/spouses/friends who loved us. We were unique.

We went on with the weekend feeling more positive and energized. Nothing had changed, and yet everything felt different.

At drinks, later that night, someone asked the instructor, “So, what are your dreams? What do you want to do?” He smiled. “I’m doing what I want to do. I’m here with you right now.”

Do you think you could stop complaining? Have you ever tried?

Tree at sunset (photo: @nivaladiva)

Tree at sunset (photo: @nivaladiva)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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Alive and Well

Hey good people! A quick word to say sorry for the extended absence. All is well on my end. It’s just been a crazy time of too many things happening at once… including multiple classes and a trip to Athens, Georgia! Lovely, small, quaint town, beautiful University of Georgia campus (lots of columned fraternity houses), amazing food, very friendly people. I wanted to check out Atlanta too, but only got to spend a couple of hours there. Next time I’ll go for longer than 2.5 days.

Hope everyone is good. Can you believe the year is almost over? I can’t! 

More soon. Peace.

 


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On My First Year of Blogging

A year ago I literally knew nothing about blogging. I had never used WordPress before. I didn’t read blogs. I didn’t know how to build or tag a post. The idea of reaching hundreds or thousands of readers felt completely impossible. I felt like one snowflake floating down to join  millions of others. How would anyone notice me? How would I find other like-minded folks? Did I have the courage to write about my life, worries, hopes, dreams and fears? Did I have anything substantial to offer? I always thought one had to be an expert at something to blog. The only thing I felt knowledgeable about was grief. I was an expert at sobbing. Would that attract readers?

Of course, I knew other things, a little about filmmaking, a little about writing, a little less about motorcycles, even less about raising a puppy. As a result, the blog has morphed into a hodge-podge of personal reflections, memories, advice and whatever expertise I can beg, borrow or steal. You might not know what to expect from one post to the next, but hopefully that’s part of the fun.

Little by little, I have learned (and continue to learn) how to blog. I learned to stop worrying if I would be Freshly Pressed (or Freshly Pressed again) and stop hitting the Stats button every five minutes after publishing. I learned to let go of fear and just let my soul speak. I learned that blogging is more about relationships than anything else.

One of my very first blogger friends was Paula B of The Temenos Journal. She had recently lost her beloved Tim and started her blog a week after I did. Separated by thousands of miles (she lives in Canada, I in Los Angeles), we would cry and laugh at each other’s posts, and encourage each other to keep going and not give up on life. 

I met Darcy Thiel at Help For Healing who was nearing completion on her heartfelt memoir Bitter and Sweet: A Family’s Journey With Cancer when she proposed doing a few joint interviews about grief. I met DS over at Diary of a Sad Widow, who was chronicling her first year of grief in beautiful, touching, witty posts (Freshly Pressed twice). Now that she’s in Year 2, she has changed her blog’s name to “And Now For Something Completely Different.” I can’t wait to see how she and her blog evolve.

Other blogger friends this first year: Ann at RamblinAnn, who blogs about everything and nothing, all things that happen in life; LB at Life On The Bike And Other Fab Things, a fellow rider and fabulous photographer; Pete at BeetleyPete, who blogs on the musings of a Londoner now living in Norfolk; Jack Joseph’s Mom at Jack Joseph’s Mom, an anonymous blogger who chronicles her grief after miscarriage; Patti Hall at 1WritePlace, another fellow memoirist who writes about grief and life; Kimberly at Words4JP, who writes at least one poem per day; Dara at The Clear Out, whose goal is decluttering, clarifying and connecting one post at a time.

No list of blogging friends would be complete without Caitlin Kelly (also Canadian) of Broadside, to whom I was introduced online by PaulaB. Caitlin is a writer, journalist, author and teacher. She’s also the only blogger I’ve met in person (at a fabulous 7-hour brunch in New York City) so far. Among her many professional accolades, Caitlin has been Freshly Pressed six times (!) and just started a series of webinars on writing, blogging and the business of freelancing. I’m planning on taking at least one of them. If you’re interested in checking them out, go here.

But these are only a few of the friends I’ve made this year. Riding Bitch now has over 1,000 followers and 11,000 views. To the bloggers with tens of thousands of followers/views, this might seem like chicken feed, but to me it is hugely rewarding. If building a blogging community is like building a pyramid, then this year represented the foundation. We’re all helping each other build little pyramids across the blogosphere.

Blogging has been therapeutic, enlightening, entertaining and encouraging. It has helped me find and strengthen my voice as a writer. It has opened my eyes to different stories, experiences and views from all around the world. It has led to friendships which will hopefully last a lifetime.

Thank you for reading and participating. May this second year bring new opportunities and friendships, while solidifying and deepening those that already exist. I look forward to continuing to share the journey with you.

– Niva (and Ruby)

birthday hike with Ruby


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The Sweet Gift of Grief

Recently, I have felt a growing distance from my grief, and it’s been bumming me out. It’s as if I’m losing the sense of being Kaz’s widow. Even more disconcerting, of being his wife. The healing seems to have replaced something intangible in addition to the grief. Or perhaps it has become a thing in itself, like a scar that replaces a wound and then becomes a permanent fixture of the body.

I’ve actually found myself yearning for the earlier days of grief. The days when it felt like my heart was splitting in two, every waking moment an excruciating reminder of his permanent absence. Yet I could still feel and remember him vividly, and we were still together, still part of a union. So there was sweetness mixed in with the pain. Now the pain has subsided taking the sweetness with it, and I’m left feeling empty, longing for one or the other, or both.

Then three triggers happened this weekend.

The first – a dear friend got upset with me about something on Friday night (details irrelevant to this post). When I finally left work at 7:45pm, I drove home knowing this friend was disappointed in me and basically feeling like shit. I remembered similar times before when I had come home upset and Kaz had put things in perspective.

“Don’t beat yourself up,” he would have told me Friday night. “You apologized. There’s nothing more you can do.” He would have diverted my attention to the positive. “Hey, at least today was pay-day, and tomorrow Angelina is coming over, and Sunday is football, and you’re going to cook us dinner.” At that point, I would have nudged him and laughed.

Angelina is the new cleaning lady I’ve hired to come every other week. She is reasonably priced and sorely needed, but still a splurge. The last time I had a cleaning lady was when Kaz was sick. One of my former bosses had very generously donated several months of cleaning service. Kaz immediately dubbed these nice ladies “the help” (a year before the film came out), and mumbled about them moving his stuff around. But we both appreciated them very much. 

This new lady, Angelina, did a wonderful job. She also emanated a certain energy that I haven’t felt in a long time. It’s comforting to know she’ll be back every two weeks, and not just because of the cleanliness she leaves behind.

The second trigger was a dream on Saturday night, in which I visited Kaz in a hospital. I hate to see him sick in my dreams, but it was still good to see him in general.  We spent the time lying on the grass in the shade of a large tree outside his hospital room, just listening to the wind rustling through the leaves. 

Sunday I slept in and captured this classic moment:

Ruby in the morning

Then it was off to Agility class with Ruby, where she got to do the course off-leash for the first time, and see her pal Louie, the grey poodle I wrote about here. They’re both in Obedience and Agility together and quite an item now, play-wrestling before and after class to everyone’s amusement. Louie shows his affection by chewing on Ruby’s ears, and she shows hers by nibbling on his ankles. “He has a thing for female pitbulls,” Louie’s dad told me with a smile.

The third trigger happened when we stopped to look at motorcycles at a Honda dealership on the way home. “My late husband owned an RC51,” I told the rep as he showed me around. I could almost feel Kaz walking around with us.

Not surprisingly, I cried harder this weekend than I have in the past several months. But it was a good cry, familiar and somewhat comforting. I had been missing my man, and this weekend he came back briefly. His sweet presence in turn triggered the painful grief. But despite – or perhaps because of – the tears, I felt grateful.


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Welcome to the Club

M lost her husband yesterday. She has now joined what dswidow so aptly termed “the club.” Unlike most clubs, none of these members joined voluntarily. We found ourselves here through various paths, the only common denominator that we’ve all lost our husbands or partners.  

One would think already being in the club makes it easier to talk to a new member. Yet, there is some trepidation, a defensive dam which, during the healing process, each veteran slowly built to hold back the raging torrents of her own grief. Will the new member with her fresh, searing tsunami of tears cause cracks in the cement? Will her cries of anguish unplug some of the bricks? Can we withstand the after-shocks of her collapsed world?

And what do we tell her? Who among us can say – “It all turns out alright in the end, you’ll see”? Perhaps all we know for certain (at this moment) is that there will come a day when the tears ebb, when we go back to functioning. There will be moments of joy and laughter again, as well as days of not constantly thinking of and pining for our lost one, something that seemed impossible in the beginning. We might be less certain about how to lead a normal life again, rather, the life we dreamed of when our loved one was alive.

Every woman’s dream is different, yet connected by some variation on a life with a loving partner, comfortable shelter, a fulfilling livelihood, perhaps a family. When we lose our partners all these possibilities, once within reach, suddenly get stretched back very far… to the point of not being able to see them.

After some time on the widow’s path, we think we can make them out again, faintly, on the horizon. But the path between us and them is still foggy. We move forward in this fog full of yearning that we are heading in the right direction… yet not quite sure we can trust our step. After all, the rug has been pulled out from under us already. We can still feel the bruises from when we fell into the abyss.

This is not something to tell the new widow. In fact, she doesn’t need to hear words right now. She needs someone to listen. She wants to talk about her loved one, she wants to tell us about him and their time together, things he told her, things that made him unique. She wants to gush about him, lest he be forgotten, lest she forget him, perhaps even to remind herself that he really existed, that he was really here at one point. She can still see him, smell him, remember his voice, his touch… even if these things are already beginning to feel like a dream or distant memory, to which she was the sole witness.

She yearns to interact with someone who is not grieving and therefore not crazy, at least not in the same way she feels. She aches for understanding, answers, anything to explain the inexplicable. She also wants to be alone, hidden from view, from pity, from judgement, from other people’s pain, from all the useless-heard-it-all-before advice.

All the veterans can say is: We understand. We are here for you. We won’t judge you, nor bombard you with ridiculous statements like “He’s in a better place now,” or “Who are we to question.”  We will help you question. We will help you accept the lack of answers. We will help you forgive and navigate this unwanted, yet apparently destined new path.

Hold our hand, sister. Together, we’ll find our way. 

fearlesswomenglobal.blogspot.com

fearlesswomenglobal.blogspot.com


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An Open Letter to M, a New Widow

Dear M,

I’m writing here because I want to get my thoughts down in some semblance of order. When we spoke yesterday,  I’m afraid our conversation didn’t live up to your expectations. “How did you get through it?” you asked. I found it hard to answer, shocked as I was by the news that you, more than 10 years younger than I, not even 30 years old, married for less than a year, are about to be a widow too.

I had just seen you and your husband a few months ago on the eve of your move up North to start a new life. When I didn’t hear from you for a while after that, I figured you were in the throes of settling in. And you were – until six weeks ago when the shit hit the fan. You said you found it too late and now he’s on hospice with days to live. I couldn’t wrap my mind around it. How was this possible? I felt silly saying, “I’m so sorry, M… I’m so sorry…” but I didn’t know what else to say. So, here are a few more words.

Contrary to your impression, I am not “the strongest woman ever.” I am the same as you. The difference is I had a little more time to deal with Kaz’s illness, 13 months to be exact, which is a lot longer than your 6 weeks.

I was also in denial most of the time. I didn’t believe Kaz was dying (as quickly as he was) until he had the seizures, ironically six weeks before the end. Then I had to accept the situation and things got a lot calmer. It stopped being a race against time and became more about his comfort and well-being. In a strange way, I think my being in denial helped me get through quite a bit.

When I wasn’t in denial, I had the equivalent of emotional blinders on. I focused on practical matters rather than on the reality that I was losing him. I pushed the reality into the recesses of my brain, consciously choosing to deal with it later. Sure enough, after he was gone, the volcano erupted.

Unfortunately, it sounds like you don’t have time to be in denial or have emotional blinders. Six weeks is a blink of the eye. Yet, some women who lose their husbands instantly would, no doubt, be grateful for six weeks. Every widow’s path is different.

As I told you yesterday (and glad it made you laugh), you can expect to cry A LOT. More than you ever thought possible. So much that it might scare you. You might think you can’t get through it, but you CAN get through it. I can’t tell you how exactly. I just know that you can – and you will.

The most important advice I can give you is to surround yourself with folks who love you, be they family, friends, neighbors, pets. Only good people and good energy. Even if you end up being alone, have these people on standby for the times when you need them. Anybody who gives you any kind of drama, or makes you feel bad about ANYTHING, avoid like the plague and don’t feel one iota of guilt. You don’t owe anybody anything. 

Your creativity might help too. When you’re feeling overwhelmed and unable to deal with the pain, try writing things down – a poem, story, memory, letter, journal entry – or pick up your camera and take pictures. Anything to direct your pain somewhere instead of letting it swirl inside you like a never-ending whirlpool.

To answer your original question, “how did you get through it” – it was a combination of the above, and it was also Kaz. I leaned on the memory of his character and his love. In the darkest moments, I could hear him encouraging me to keep going, to not give up, much the same way I had encouraged him. I knew that he wanted me to go on, that he believed in my strength, and I kept coming back to this over and over.

Keep your beloved S in your heart and mind, and he will help you too. Also, not to get all “new-agey,” but try to be open to feeling his energy around you after he passes, as he might not leave your side right away. It is my personal belief that energy doesn’t just evaporate, especially the powerful energy of Love.

I won’t give you this letter right now, it’s too soon. But I’m thinking of you. I remember how you helped Kaz and I when we were in the thick of things, and now I’m angry that you are suffering. I’ll never understand how unfair life can be sometimes. The pain feels unbearable but somehow we do bear it. As one who is further down this path of fire, I can’t tell you that it won’t hurt, but I can tell you it won’t last forever. You will come out the other side, and you are not alone.

I love you, and I’m here for you always.

Niva

[prompted by WordPress]