riding bitch

The life of a writer and survivor of loss.


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Request from a Young Widow on #GivingTuesday (Guest Post)

Some of you may remember my friend M who lost her husband last year. I wrote about her in An Open Letter to M, a New Widow and Welcome to the Club. M and I have kept in close touch since then, and I’m happy to say that she is doing better. One of the reasons is that she channeled her grief into something positive. The rest of this post is directly from M (Melissa). I have never asked Riding Bitch readers for anything before, but today I am asking you to please read Melissa’s letter and consider her request. Thank you. – Niva

Letter from Melissa (“M”)

Once upon a time I fell in love with the most amazing man. His name was Sean.

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When I lost Sean I thought my life was over. In a very real way it was, because the life we shared died with him. After about six months of sleeping, sobbing and binge watching Netflix, I started to think about what Sean’s legacy would be. Was it going to be that losing him destroyed me? Or was it going to be something else?

I pulled myself off of the couch, sat in front of my computer and wrote to the University of Colorado Denver, where Sean had been studying at the National Center for Media Forensics for his Masters of Science in Recording Arts, emphasis in Media Forensics. He had been a sound engineer before that, and he loved that media forensics expanded the realm of what he could do as a sound engineer. I don’t know why exactly, but I had this idea of establishing a scholarship fund in Sean’s name. I asked his university how to go about doing that.

They explained that there were different levels of donations: $10,000 to just name a scholarship after someone; $25,000 to endow the scholarship. This seemed all so overwhelming, especially as I was sitting under piles of medical debt, that I decided not to move forward. There was no way I could ever raise that amount of money.

But I couldn’t stop thinking about it. Several weeks later I researched exactly what an endowment meant. When I realized that if we reached the goal of $25,000 that this scholarship would last forever, I knew this was something I had to do, or at least try. There was something about that word forever that motivated me.

Sean’s life was so very short (he was 32 when he died). And I loved the idea that because of Sean, students for generations to come, even long after I too pass away, would get to go to school because of him. With this scholarship, Sean would leave a lasting and tangible impact on the world. I had absolutely no idea how I was going to reach $25,000, or if it was even going to be possible, but the only way I would ever find out was to just make a start.

Working on this scholarship drive was not unlike working on coming alive again after watching my husband pass away and my entire life crumble before my eyes. It started very, very, very slowly. There were days when I saw real development, then stagnation, then some headway again, and of course I had to be constantly mindful for the crushing waves of grief and disappointment waiting behind corners camouflaged as progress.

The first donation was $35 from a friend. Then a colleague of Sean’s donated $1,000. That was the day I realized that this might actually work. Over the course of the last four months the donations have added up to almost $18,000 – a number I could never have imagined when I started out with only $35. When Sean died I could not even imagine sitting here a year later capable of writing this letter, let alone accomplishing this mission. Now with two weeks to go until I go to his university and accept his diploma on his behalf, I am only $7,000 short of my goal (our goal).

Today, December 2nd, is #GivingTuesday a global day about giving back. To kick off the holiday season, on this day charities, families, organizations, businesses and students around the world come together for one common purpose: to celebrate generosity and to give.

Today I am asking you to please consider the Sean P Coetzee Memorial Scholarship Fund for your tax deductible end-of-year charitable giving.

Today you have an opportunity to make a difference. Because of you a young man’s life will mean something to countless students that receive the scholarship. You will be bringing awareness to young adult cancer just by donating and sharing our story. You will bring hope to young widows out there and help them realize that the world just might be a place worth sticking around in for a while. It will also mean the absolute world to me, and I know it would mean the world to Sean too.

For more information and to make a donation please visit http://www.gofundme.com/seanslegacy

You can also read about Sean’s scholarship here: http://www.ucdenver.edu/academics/colleges/CAM/Centers/ncmf/Pages/Sean-Coetzee-Memorial-Scholarship.aspx

Thank you for taking the time to read this. Thank you for sharing. Thank you for donating. Thank you for caring.

Warmest Regards,

Melissa Watson Coetzee

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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.