Fake It ‘Til You Make It

“Fake it til you make it.”

It’s a statement usually said in a joking, self deprecating manner. For me, since Bob died, it’s become a matter of survival. Some days I’m just not okay. I have no desire to do anything, let alone be here. That’s just the reality of widowhood for a lot of us. I’ve talked to a LOT of widows. Most of us struggle with being “okay”. We struggle with finding reasons to want to be here anymore.

Faking it til I make it is sometimes the only way I get through the day. I pretend I care about exercising and get up and do it. I fake that I care about eating so I force myself. I fake that I have my shit together. I fake a smile for the public when I am screaming on the inside. I pretend the loneliness isn’t killing me.

“Act as if you have the life you want.”

I act as if I feel the way I want to feel in the hopes that I will someday. I try to make choices that take into consideration the future I hope to have, the life I want to have. I find things to appreciate in my life now. I act as if my heart isn’t shattered. I try to trust people again. I act as if I’m not terrified most of the time.

Traumatic grief is not what you think. It’s not black clothes and handkerchiefs and quiet, dignified tears. It’s not wistfully staring out windows with a small smile at the memories. It’s not quiet conversations about them. It’s not a linear process where you slowly get better over time.

It’s waking up sobbing from dreams of them or nightmares. It’s being triggered by random things that cause you to have a panic attack or a sudden bout of inexplicable rage. It’s finding some small piece of your life with them in the back of a drawer and staying in bed for the next 3 days. It’s desperate need for comfort and the fear of letting anyone close to you. It’s having a fog on your brain so heavy that you can’t remember what you’ve done or conversations you’ve had, even if it just happened. Its forgetting appointments and birthdays and suddenly being late to everything when you used to always be early. It’s dissociation so bad that you literally lose hours to days where you have no idea where the time went.

Grief includes the secondary losses. Friends who can’t handle your pain. Family who are too selfish to put you first. The loss of your future you planned. The loss of your identity. The loss of your security. Loss of faith. Loss of support. Loss of income. The grief of the life that you will never see again.

It’s slowly getting rid of their belongings. It’s the day you go to smell their shirt and it doesn’t smell like them anymore. It’s the inability to choke down food because it’s tastes like ash in your mouth. It’s overeating because that’s the only place you find comfort. It’s not sleeping because your mind won’t stop or sleeping all the time because that’s the only way you get a break from it all.

It’s the EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. Battle with your own mind and heart. It’s the fight to stay alive and not give up hope.

So when I say I’m having a hard time, put yourself in my shoes. Don’t ask yourself why I’m still struggling. Maybe you could ask yourself how you can help.

I “fake it til I make it” every day.

Grief and Grace

Grief is hard. It’s messy. It never looks the way you think it will. It’s sometimes feeling every emotion at once and sometimes feeling nothing at all. It’s nothing like they show in the movies.

I’ve felt crazy. I mean, lost my whole entire mind, never going to function normally, brain and heart completely broken, never going to be okay again…crazy. Unable to manage my emotions. Unable to sleep. Huge and violent mood swings. Amnesia so bad that I’m missing 4 months of memory after I lost my husband. It’s just black. I was a MESS.

Many days I could barely move. It took me hours to manage a shower if I took one at all. Cleaning my house, walking my dog, laundry or any other “normal” daily tasks became impossible. Drinking water and laying on the couch, staring into space, were all I could manage for months.

During this time, I was struggling to want to stay alive. I believed that I was never going to be okay again. I believed that my life had ended when my Bob’s life ended. I felt like I should be able to handle things better. I was ashamed of how absolutely wrecked I was.

There’s a part of surviving the suicide of your partner that not many people talk about. It takes a huge toll on your self esteem. Even though it’s clearly not true, you feel like they wanted to die rather than be here with you anymore. I felt like I was worthless and unwanted and now I was broken so badly that there was no coming back from it.

This is where I had to start to learn how to give myself grace. One of the definitions of grace is “disposition to or an act or instance of kindness, courtesy, or clemency”. I had to learn to be kind to myself. I had to learn to give myself clemency, which is another word for mercy.

I had to learn to honor where I was at, even when it was crazy messy. Well, ESPECIALLY when I was crazy messy. I had to learn to be kind and merciful to myself on the days where I couldn’t get out of bed. I had to learn to not be ashamed of myself for my tears and my anger. I had to learn to be gentle with myself when I was on my face, screaming from the pain. I had to learn to give myself the love and the grace I would give to someone else who was going through what I was.

I had to constantly remind myself that I would never shame someone for the way they grieved or survived if they lost their partner. So, I could not do it to myself either. It has not been an easy thing to learn to do….To honor whatever I was feeling while not allowing myself to stay mired in the darkness. It’s been quite a journey to learn to allow myself to be where I am at without judgement.

Through this messy roller coaster of an experience, I have learned to love myself. I used my husbands love as an example when I didn’t know how to give myself love and grace. I would ask myself what he would tell me to do or what he would do for me if he was still here. Even in his death, his love saved me. It was his final gift to me…to teach me how to love myself unconditionally like I loved him. Like he loved me.

Grief, no matter what the cause, is difficult at best. It alters our lives and breaks our hearts and takes time to learn to live with. It is a long journey. Sometimes it’s two steps forward and a hundred steps back. It’s definitely not a linear process. It hurts in ways you never imagined possible. It changes almost every aspect of your life and can change almost everything about you when you live through it.

We give others grace when they struggle. We love them even when they aren’t perfect. We excuse messiness when it is warranted. We hold the people we love when their hearts break. We wrap them up and tell them it’s okay to just breathe if that’s all they can do.

We must learn to love ourselves this way, too. Often times, we hold ourselves to a standard that is not only impossible to meet but that we would never hold others to. Why do we expect things from ourselves that we would never ask of others?

Grace can save us. When we get it from others, it’s wonderful and soothing. When we get it from ourselves, it’s life changing and life saving. Give yourself the love you so generously and unconditionally give to others. We cannot truly feel what we need to feel and heal what we need to heal without it.

If you are grieving, be kind to yourself. Where you are is exactly where you need to be. If, today, all you can do it breathe then just breathe. Honor yourself, where you are and what you feel. Be gentle in your words you speak to yourself. Grief is one of the hardest things to go through. Loss changes everything. Yours too.

Give yourself grace. Kindness. Mercy. Forgiveness. Gentleness. Patience. Time. You are healing from your worst day. Treat yourself as you would someone you love. You’ll be amazed at how healing it can be.

Love Is Not Enough

Whoever said love is all we need was a liar. Sorry to rain on anyone’s parade but it simply isn’t true.

Love is not enough when one person loves and the other doesn’t. Love isn’t enough when one person is giving of themselves and the other only takes. Love isn’t enough when one person loves and the other is only there to fill the time or so they don’t have to be lonely.

Love is wonderful and important. However, love alone is not enough to sustain a relationship. Relationships also need trust, respect, honesty, vulnerability, communication, consideration and compromise to survive.

I’ve known so many people who stay in relationships because they love the person they are with but the relationship is missing everything else. They say “but I love them” or “but they say they love me”. They are miserable and lonely and they can’t figure out why.

Love is not enough. It’s not enough to sustain a relationship. No amount of love will ever be enough to make someone change. Love cannot make a person happy if they are not happy inside themselves.

You can love someone more than anything in the world. You can give them everything you have. You can do everything you know to show them how much they mean to you…and they can still choose to treat you badly. You can tell yourself “if I just love them enough they will change”. You would be wrong. You cannot love someone into loving you. You cannot love someone into changing.

People have to want to love you. They have to know how to love. They have to choose you. They have to choose to change. They have to choose respect and communication and compromise and honesty and vulnerability. They have to choose because they want to. No amount of suffering or being a doormat or sacrificing your own needs and wants will change that. No matter what you do or how much you love, a person will only return that love or change their behavior if they want to.

Sometimes we love people who are incapable of loving us back. Sometimes we love someone and we want to save them from themselves and we can’t. People can only save themselves. Sometimes we love and love and love and all it does is damage us. Sometimes, we love other people desperately because we don’t know how to love ourselves.

I know all of this because I’ve done all of it. I thought my love could save my husband. I thought that if I loved him enough, he would choose to get help. I thought if I loved him enough, he would learn to love himself. I thought he would change. I thought he would get better if I put myself last.

He died. Despite the unfathomable depth of my love for him, he took his own life. I loved him more than most people ever are and he still chose to die.

Don’t spend your life throwing your love at people who can’t feel it. Don’t beg people to love you. Don’t beg people to change. If you aren’t being respected and valued and if there isn’t compromise and communication and vulnerability on both sides, it doesn’t matter how much you love them…it’s time to move on.

Love is not enough. Take that love you are throwing at the wrong person and give it to yourself. Walk away. Wait for someone who loves you back without you having to suffer for it. Wait for someone who celebrates you as you are. Wait for someone who freely and happily loved you without you asking for it. Wait for someone who you don’t need to save. Wait for someone you don’t want to change.

Save yourself. Love yourself. Work on yourself. Love your friends. Work on healing whatever is in you that makes you feel unworthy of being loved. Cultivate a life that makes you happy. Become happy and healed on the inside. Then, you won’t settle for begging for whatever scraps of love someone throws at you because you are starving for it. When you love yourself, you will be full. The love others offer you will only be like a wonderful dessert that makes life more enjoyable when you’re already satisfied.

To My Widow Sisters

To every military widow….

I see you. I know how hard this life that you have been handed is. I know we so often feel forgotten once the funeral is over. I know people think we should “move on” or “get over it”. As if that is even possible. Regardless of how your husband died, you served this country too. You paid the worst price for this country. You should all be loved and cared for and your sacrifice should not be forgotten.

I see you when you hear Taps and it takes you back to his funeral, no matter how many years it has been. I see you when you hear the national anthem and your heart swells with pride and breaks at the same time. I see you when you have to face Memorial Day and Veterans Day without your service member. I see you when everyday life becomes overwhelming and all you want is for him to hold you and tell you it will be okay. I see you cry yourself to sleep and then face the world like you slept like a baby.

I am with you. You are in my heart. We are too often forgotten by the masses once the funeral is over. They like to say how much they support our troops and how patriotic they are but they forget about the war widows and their children. I feel your struggle.

Your sacrifice matters. You matter. Your children matter. Your husband matters. I will hold you in my heart. My love to all of you. This is not an easy life we were given. But we are the widows of heroes. We will survive.

The End? Or the Beginning?

People talk about the creation of the world or the universe all the time. Whether it was a Big Bang or the hand of some creator, it’s usually talked about as some moment in the very distant past. A moment and then creation was complete.

People also like to talk about the “end”. Armageddon. The Apocalypse. The sun consuming the planet. Extinction. All of these conversations are about a time in the future.

Funny how death brushing close can make you understand the absurdity of believing that there’s one beginning and one end. Birth and death. Creation and destruction. One of each in any given scenario. Wrong.

The moment I saw the police on my lawn and my husbands car in the driveway, my life ended. The life I had known, the person I had been blew away like ash in the wind. A bomb was dropped into the middle of my existence and burned everything away. I knew he was dead before they told me. Why else would they be there? He wasn’t violent. No one disliked him but himself. He was gone. The end.

I spent months after that day suspended in a sort of purgatory. I wasn’t alive but I wasn’t dead, either. Maybe it was a cocoon. Maybe it was a womb. Whatever it was, I neither existed or didn’t exist. I remember nearly nothing of that time. I just remember darkness and numbness and, occasionally, pain. So much pain.

At some point, the light started creeping in. I started feeling things. I started noticing life again. I started to remember things. I started to move my body and stretch my mind, testing how they worked now. Nothing felt like it had before the end. I was, different now. The world was different now. The Beginning.

You see, there are beginnings and endings happening all the time. Some huge, some small. To not acknowledge all of them is to not recognize the truth of life. Everything ends. Nothing is permanent. New beginnings come from the end of things.

Appreciate what you have while it’s here. It will be gone someday. That’s a certainty. Grieve when things that you once loved end but realize that in every end there is a beginning. All hard times will pass. All good times will pass, too.

Today it’s the end. Tomorrow, the beginning. Then the end again. You can focus on the end if you want….Or you can look for the beginning.

You Never Get Used To It

It’s been very nearly 15 months since Bob died. It seems like forever and just a moment since that horrible day. So much about my life has changed. There is one thing that hasn’t…

I still have moments when I cannot wrap my mind around the fact that he’s never coming back. There are moments when it catches me off guard. I will be at the store and reach for something he liked to eat to surprise him and be struck like a lightning bolt that he’s not here to eat it.

I will be driving down the road and see the same car he used to drive and look to see if it’s him. Then my breath will catch in my throat when I remember that it can’t be.

I sometimes still expect his text in the evening that he’s on his way home. Sometimes I wait for that text to start dinner and then realize it’s never coming. He’s never coming home for dinner again.

I read something recently that described this feeling perfectly.

“The realization of everything you lost, once again-comes crashing down.

As a kind looking human walks up next to you and grabs – a tomato – and you remember what life was like when a tomato was just a tomato.

& did not have the ability to take your breath away.” -John Polo

Man, do I feel that to my very soul. It’s amazing what can steal your breath. It’s unpredictable what will stop time and take you back to when the person you love was there next to you.

I think there will always be these kind of moments. I think there will always be pieces of my heart and my mind that will never accept he’s never coming back. I also think that’s okay. It makes sense that parts of me will always look for him since there are parts of me that will never stop loving him.

Lean In

Healing is hard. It really is. Facing your demons and your deepest pain is terrifying. Owning your life and your healing and your behavior can be so difficult. It can be so daunting that many people would rather continue to suffer than to heal.

I chose to heal. I chose to turn and face all the still bleeding wounds in my heart and soul. I chose to lean into the things I am feeling. I chose to lean into my fear and depression and heartache and anger and loneliness. I chose to heal because I knew that, if I didn’t, I would not survive.

Let me tell you something. Our society is designed around escapism. Ignore your pain. Suppress it any way you can. Pretend you’re fine. Eat. Drink. Get on your phone. Watch tv. Do drugs. Have sex. Jump from relationship to relationship. Chase money. Stay so busy you can’t feel anything. Anything to avoid your emotions. Never admit you struggle. Put on your happy face. Never let them see you sweat.

This is why our society is so sick. This is why our suicide rates are consistently rising. This is why we have mass shootings. This is why we are so disconnected and miserable. We aren’t allowed to be human. If we show perceived weakness…fear, sadness, depression, anxiety, insecurity…we are pushed away. We are treated as if there is something wrong with us.

No. We are humans. We all have wounds. We all have bad habits. We all have demons. We all have unseen battles. All of us. We all struggle with things. We all feel afraid and lonely and anxious and sad and insecure and angry and millions of other emotions. Every, single person stumbles.

The way to healing, to happiness, to connection, to your best life is this…

LEAN. IN.

It’s that difficult and that easy. Lean in to your pain. Lean in to your fear. Lean in to life. Lean in to love. Lean in to your hopes. Lean in to your dreams. Lean in.

Don’t look away. Don’t hide your truth, especially the difficult parts. Don’t pretend you’re fine when you’re not. Don’t run from your feelings, good or bad. Lean in. Look at all of it. Own all of it. Feel all of it.

I’ve been leaning in. I’ve been reaching all the way back to my earliest pain and leaning in. I’ve been owning it. I’ve been facing all the wounds that have never healed right. I’ve been ripping off the scabs and letting them bleed again to let the poison out. It hurts, a lot. It’s scary. It’s hard. That much is true.

But living with festering wounds in my soul that were perpetually creating situations that caused more wounds was worse. Reliving the same patterns again and again was worse. Running from everything that was hurting me and holding me back wasn’t working anymore. So, I leaned in.

I found out something no one tells you. It’s only the initial leaning in that is scary. Once you do, the most amazing thing happens. Once you lean into everything that scares you and hurts you and you own your whole story and whole self…the light comes on.

Suddenly, there’s hope. Suddenly you can see that there is another way to live. You realize you don’t have to carry the whole burden you have been carrying. You realize that much of what you believe was wrong with you is just the result of unhealed wounds. You realize that hiding all of it is what has been destroying you.

So many people talk about wanting to be loved for who they are. So many people feel lonely and disconnected. How can people be loved for who they are if we tell them that only certain parts of them are worthy of love? If we tell them that they are only loved if they have no struggles and look perfect and weigh a certain amount and make enough money and never stumble…no wonder people don’t lean in. They retreat. Their wounds poison them.

Let’s lean in. Let’s talk about how hard life can be. Let’s show our struggles. Lean in. Love each other and love ourselves, even when we aren’t perfect. None of us will ever be perfect. Lean in. Chase your dreams. Lean in. Live your truth. Lean in. Be brave enough to be honest about what you struggle with, let it bleed and then let it go.

Life really starts on the other side of fear. Don’t fear your story. Don’t fear being rejected for who you are. People who do that are not your people. Don’t hide your story. There are people who need to hear it. You need to tell it.

You can heal. You can change the things that hurt you over and over and over again. You can purge the poison. You can live a better life. You can’t if you hide and run and wear a mask and avoid and pretend. You can…if you lean in.

Stream Of Consciousness 12/30/2019

I don’t have a theme to write about tonight. I have so much tumbling around in my head these days. I think I just need to say some things “out loud” in whatever way they fall out.

Today I got emails from several of you who read my blog regularly. I appreciate your kind words and that you shared some of your story with me. I am filled with such gratitude that you shared with me that my words help you. That’s why I started this blog. I wanted other people who were struggling to know that they are not alone. I feel alone so much of the time and I want to try to do my part to help other people know that they are not the only ones who feel like they have lost their minds and lost their way.

My husband killed himself.

That reality is almost too much to bear most days. I held his wedding ring and dog tags in my hands today and was struck by something I hadn’t realized until today. He is gone. Really, really gone. I wouldn’t be holding those things in my hand if he wasn’t. His ring was the last thing that touched his body before he was cremated. I have it in my hand. That means he is really, truly gone. Forever. It has been nearly 14 months since he died and I am just now actually accepting it.

Grief is weird. On one hand, it has absolutely shredded me and my life. I’m talking complete devastation. On the other hand, it has taught me more than anything ever has about everything. I mean, everything I thought I knew and believed and understood about everything came into question. It’s surreal. Kind of like invasion of the body snatchers. Everything seems familiar but nothing is the same.

I don’t know about those of you who have also lost your spouse suddenly but, for me, I had to relearn how to do every day tasks. In the beginning, just trying to shower would take all my energy. What used to take me 15 minutes suddenly took 2 hours. I was moving slower and having to concentrate to remember how to do the most basic things. Plus, I had to stop a lot because I was too tired to move. I couldn’t remember my own name most of time. Literally. I couldn’t think. I cant remember almost anything from the day after my husbands funeral to about 4.5 months later. My heart stopped functioning normally. I was so messed up.

I feel like our society in the United States is so terrible with grief and death. People are unbelievably uncomfortable with even the mention of any of it. I think that is so weird. It happens to all of us. Why can’t we talk about it? Why can’t I say that my husband died without people avoiding eye contact or changing the subject or walking away completely? People die all the time. We all lose people we love. It makes no sense to me why we don’t talk about it.

If we talked about it maybe I would have known that I wouldn’t be able to eat because the food tasted and felt like ashes in my mouth. I would literally gag when I tried. Most of the time I didn’t even try.

Maybe I would have known to expect that I wouldn’t be able to take care of myself. I would have known that I wouldn’t even be able to do the most simple of tasks like brushing my teeth or remembering to drink water.

Maybe if we talked about grief I would have known that it comes in waves. Just when you think you may have your feet under you, you get knocked down again.

Maybe if we talked about grief I would have known that there would be lots of days that I couldn’t even get out of bed. Maybe I would have known that being nearly catatonic is normal. Maybe I would have known that there would be times that I literally feel every emotion possible, all at the same time.

Maybe I would have known that, no, you can’t run out of tears to cry. Or that there are some words that can’t be spoken, they only come out as screams and sobs.

Maybe someone would have warned me that there is a level of pain so agonizing, so terrible, so extreme that it would make me scream until my throat bled. That the pain would be so bad sometimes that I wouldn’t be able to do anything but curl up on the floor and make sounds like a wounded animal.

Perhaps I would have been prepared for my hair to fall out and grow back in silver. Or I may have understood that my body was going to be as impacted from the stress and grief as my heart and mind were. Or I would have known that there would be days where I couldn’t be touched at all.

No one told me about the nightmares and the inability to sleep and the insanity that comes with it. No one warned me that I wouldn’t feel anything at all for long stretches of time. No one warned me that seeing his grave never gets easier.

I didn’t know that you never get over it. I didn’t know that you wouldn’t even recognize yourself in the mirror. I didn’t know that I would have flashbacks and panic attacks. I didn’t know that there would be days that I HATE EVERYTHING. I mean, soul searing rage.

I didn’t know that I would have to fight to live. I didn’t know that the death of my husband would come a breath away from ending my life, too. I didn’t know that I would have to fight with everything I had in me to choose to stay. I didn’t know that surviving his death would be the fight of my life.

I didn’t know that I would learn so much about life and love and pain and gratitude. I didn’t know how humbling it can be when everything is stripped away. I didn’t know that I would learn the true meaning of gratitude.

I wasn’t aware that I would lose all my fear. I didn’t know that it is hard to be afraid when you’ve already lived your worst day. I would have known that, when I lost everything, I would find myself.

I didn’t know the kind of strength I had until I had to save my own life. I didn’t know what I was capable of until I was left alone to try to survive in the days and weeks after coming home to find my husband dead.

I have learned that loving yourself is the most important thing you will ever do. Ive learned that life is too short to choose things that aren’t good for you. Ive learned that walking away from things and people and situations that aren’t good for you is one of the best things you will ever do for yourself. I’ve learned that we, as humans, generally spend far too much time focused on things that don’t matter at all. Not everything we lose is a loss. Let the things not meant for you go.

I’ve learned the value of finding your tribe. Find the people who love you even when you’re broken and messy. Find the people who remind you that you’re worthy and important when you forget. Find the people who will come sit with you and not judge you when you haven’t showered in a few days, your hair is a mess and you can’t sop crying.

Grief sucks. Being a young widow is awful. It is reality, life. We need to talk about it. We need to share our experiences so that the people who have yet to experience it know that they aren’t crazy when they do. We need to share with each other so we know we aren’t alone. We need to share with each other so we can all have that feeling that it is normal and expected to be brought to your knees again and again from the weight of the grief you carry.

If you are out there reading this and your heart is broken, you aren’t alone. It is hard. It is heavy. Give yourself some grace. If you didn’t do anything but survive today, that is enough. Life can be so very, very hard. We can’t always be strong enough to do everything. You aren’t alone. There are millions of us out here, going through the same struggles and not even realizing it.

Life is hard. Be kind as often as you can be. Especially to yourself.