Thursday, May 24, 2012

Dear Chrissy

My wife, Chrissy, was born on May 24th, 1968. We met in December of 1983, dated, married, and had two children. In 2007, Chrissy was diagnosed with Stage IIB Breast Cancer. She fought very hard to beat the disease, but eventually the cancer won and she died on December 11th, 2009. Her children were 9 and 7 years old when she died. Two and a half years later, her children are left with very vague memories of their mother. When my daughter came to me crying saying, “I can’t remember Mommy’s voice,” I felt compelled to do something about it. We watched movies and looked at pictures but it was obvious that something was missing. Pictures, still or moving…cannot capture what it was that made her who she was. This project was intended to fill that void.I instructed family and friends to address a letter to her, under the premise of telling her what they remembered or loved about her. This book is the result.

As I compiled and read the letters, it is obvious what her legacy is and what made her special. There is a reoccurring theme throughout these letters. There was something about her that she was able to connect with people in a way that meant something. While her children are her most important legacy, these letters do tell a story… a story of a life lived in a very honest way. While Chrissy had faults, her true gift was simply being real. Not many people can say they lived that honest of a life. Typically, we get wrapped up in our jobs, the house, the car, and the family politics. There was no agenda with her, no ulterior motives. Chrissy had a gift for realizing that it was the people who mattered. The tragedy of this is that when she knew the end was here, she started to withdraw from life. This is a common protective mechanism the dying employ to try and deal with the end of their lives. Her life lesson is very simple; it’s not the meaning of life that is important; it’s how you affect the people around you.

Obviously, Chrissy had an enormous impact on my life. She will always be my wife, and I her husband.

All that I am,
all that I ever was,
is here in your perfect eyes.
They're all I can see.

I believe that verse from a favorite song of ours captures (as best as language can), what she means to me. Those 4 lines say everything that I can’t. She is who I am. I am here because of her. It’s that simple. While all of her friends and family put these thoughts on paper, it must be noted that Chrissy is the true author of this book. She wrote these stories inside each and every one of us. We were simply the medium she chose for her narrative. I would like to thank each and every one of you for contributing to this work. It is something that her children will be able to cherish when they reach adulthood and can then understand the significance of their mother’s life.

Thank You,

Read the results of this project here: Dear Chrissy

Monday, February 13, 2012

Which road is the right road?

At the urging of a friend, I decided to start writing again and I have to speak up regarding something that affects all widow(er)’s. It’s been on my mind lately and I just thought I would offer my perspective (insert shameless plug for my BLOG name here).

My perspective is a bit different than the general population regarding this issue. I have had widow(er) friends echo my sentiment and some vehemently disagree with me. This is just my opinion and has no basis in fact. I just wanted to clarify that.

Some people who have suffered a loss see the journey as moving on or past their loss. They are convinced that the only way to move is to take the pain, the pictures, and the tokens that remind them of their loss and store them in a place that is safe. I’m not sure, but I’m guessing this is their way of telling themselves and society: “See, I’m all better now. I’m healthy again and I’m ready for my next chapter.”. For them, I see it as a necessary step in their journey. They need this. They need to close that part of their life in order to open the next part. They see this as a way to invite society, and possibly their chapter two into their lives. I have no issue with this. If it works for them, I say good for you!

Some people (like me) see the loss as moving forward. It’s taking all of that baggage and bringing it with you. I see this as a part of me, much like my hands, my eyes, and my soul. They made me who I am today and they helped shaped my perspective on life. Why would I want to hide that? Why is that such a bad thing? Any person who is going to be in my life is just going to have to accept that. Because ultimately, if they cannot accept my past, they cannot accept me. It is who I am. For better or worse.

For those on the outside, I can see how this baggage can be intimidating. One friend mentioned you never hear a love song that mentions, “You’re my one and only 2nd one.”. They all say “You’re my one and only,”. How true that is. What a wonderful insight into how society views love. If we widow(er)’s had our one and only, what does that make our chapter two’s? I can’t imagine how tough that can be for those who love us. When dealing with us, you need to have a lot of strength and a lot of self-esteem. I have no doubt that is true... because we can make it hard to see how much we love you. Trust me, it’s worth the fight. We widow(er)'s love with such appreciation, such is hard for those who have not suffered our kind of loss to understand. We truly understand how fragile love can be. We know how quickly it can all be taken away. We know it is not owed to us.

At least for me, I believe that it takes a lot of strength to keep those memories alive… to keep those momentoes out in the open. It is a reminder. A reminder of the pain AND the joy that brought me to this place in my life. I wear those mementoes with pride. For me, I am able to face them and they remind me of how far I have come. I’m proud of those tokens. How can I not be? And I would expect any one who loved me to also be proud of those accomplishments. They should not be seen as a threat, but as something to be cherished and nurtured.

Each one of us has to do what is right for us. There is no playbook for how to live after loss. Some websites, authors, etc… will try and take what has worked for them and make it “the right way” to move on/forward. I will never disagree that this worked for them. My problem is the way it is presented: That it is the right way and they have figured out the universal truth of moving past loss.

One individual in particular even will sell you a book or perhaps tell you that you are angry because you haven’t properly grieved. I’m intrigued at how sensitive they can be to any challenge of their “right way”. In does scream of insecurity and certainly does not lend them credibility as they seem to have a very narrow view of the world. How is acknowledging the many different roads that are grief, a bad thing? I’m somewhat baffled at how they cannot see that. What’s wrong with having a lot of paths in our journey? What’s wrong in trying to figure out which is the right one for us?

Why does there have to be only one road?

An analogy for me is to picture us widow(er)’s driving from L.A. to New York City. There are literally thousands of combinations of roads that will get you from L.A. to NYC. Some take longer, some are quicker. Some are more scenic, some more drab. Some have potholes, others are newly paved. Some of us might even pick one road, and decide that it’s not the way we want to go. We may even detour and pick an entirely different path in the middle of the journey. Sometimes, we need to go backwards to move forward. It doesn’t mean you have chosen the wrong path, it means it wasn’t the right road for you. It’s not the way you get there; it’s that you get there. The only thing that matters is that you pick the roads that work for you. There is no “right way”.

What I have learned is that the journey is very unique and there is no playbook for life after loss. It’s an individual choice and don’t let anyone tell you that have gone the wrong way. As long as you are moving, it’s the right way.

Stay true to yourself. Trust who you are, and eventually…on your own… you will arrive.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Thank You

Losing a spouse is very different from losing a sibling, a parent or a grandparent. The only loss I cannot compare it to is losing a child as I have never experienced that and I hope I never do. I can’t even imagine that kind of pain. When you lose a spouse, there are expectations that are not part of any other loss. Plenty of people try to tell you what to do, when to grieve, how long to grieve, when you can start living again, etc… That doesn’t happen with any other kind of loss. I don’t know why, but it seems society brings a lot of baggage when dealing with this type of grief. I haven’t come to terms with that and I won’t pretend to have the answer as to why. I am still searching…

I understand that we widow(er)s are a lot of work. We are not easy by any stretch of the imagination. From the outside, we can seem distant, reserved, or just plain crazy. One day we can be positive and the very next we can be in a pit so deep that you cannot possibly fathom. You just can’t. You don’t know how it feels to lose the foundation of your life and then while dealing with all of that, you have to find the strength to rebuild it. You don’t know how it feels to have your child come to you crying telling you they cannot remember their mommy’s voice. Or watch your child at a mother daughter/son event look longingly at the other children and ask why did this happen? You cannot feel the depth of our loneliness or what we feel for our children. Not only are we grieving our loss, we are grieving our children’s loss. We have lost our identity. We have lost who we are.

But…because of our loss, because of our experience, widow(er)s can love more deeply than the rest of the world. This might sound very arrogant, but the rest of you cannot even understand what a widow(er) means by the term love and I can’t explain it to you. It’s not your fault. I am placing no blame. But words just do not capture the depth of love that our fraternity understands. So when you think you understand us, let me say this very bluntly: YOU DO NOT! Only those who have suffered our kind of loss can understand our behavior, our emotions, and our depth of love. If you are dealing with a friend, a sibling, etc… who has suffered this kind of loss, be patient. Do not abandon us. Do not judge us. Simply accept. We are worth it because as ironic as it sounds, we have been given a gift. We understand the meaning of love in a way that no other can. We feel this emotion with depth, gratitude, and above all…appreciation. We know life does not owe us love. We know it’s a gift and that at any moment, it can be torn away. You may understand those words, but trust me…unless you are one of us, you don’t understand the meaning.

So why am I writing this entry in my blog? Because I want to say thank you to my “Band of Brothers and Sisters”. I have found comfort in other widows and widowers who understand what I go through. We are part of a fraternity whose bonds run very deep. I am extremely grateful for them. You have helped me more than you know. Just when I think I am crazy, or broken, or a freak, you let me know that I am not. You let me know I am not alone. You do not judge me. You simply accept me. You let me know that I am human and I make mistakes…but most importantly, you let me know that I am still valuable and you help define the new me. You have helped me find myself again. Thank you for that. Thank you for the great advice. Thank you for accepting me as I am. I hope that in some small way, I have helped you in your journey. I hope that 2012 brings us all the happiness, peace, and love we can so deeply appreciate.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

The Behavior of the Bereaved

A friend of mine posted this on her blog (Thanks Em). I've changed some of the wording to fit my situation. Just wanted to post this to give my friends and family some insight on where I'm at.

"Just when your friends may think you should be getting on with your life, a long period of sad reflection will likely overtake you. This is a normal stage of grief, so do not be "talked out of it" by well-meaning outsiders. Encouragement from others is not helpful to you during this stage of grieving.

During this time, you finally realize the true magnitude of your loss, and it depresses you. You may isolate yourself on purpose, reflect on things you did with your lost one, and focus on memories of the past. You may sense feelings of emptiness or despair".

I include this quote today as a gentle reminder to others that when a griever seems to want to be alone, that is perfectly normal and acceptable. It is nothing to do with you or what they think of you as a person. They are not trying to subtly tell you they dislike you or prefer the company of someone else. They are simply grieving and behaving normally for someone in that much pain. Sometimes being alone is the most helpful thing for them.

When the magnitude of the loss becomes too great, it can bring us to our knees. We need time to think, to ponder, to go over the details of our loved one's life and death over and over again in our minds until we can find some measure of resolution on some aspect of it.

Please understand that asking the griever to do the work - to call you or to stop by your place or to make the effort to socialize can seem overwhelming to them.

Even in times of isolation and sadness it is important to let the griever know you care. While they may not want to see anyone, a simple email, note, or phone call saying you are thinking about them and still care can make a huge difference.

Rather than looking at the griever's behavior and trying to decide if it is normal or not compared to your own, understand that they are in a position you cannot even imagine. Your ideas about what is normal behavior for them are misguided, at best. You may think you can imagine what you would do in their position but that is impossible. Instead accept them for where they are at knowing that their pain is too deep and overwhelming for you to understand without having walked in their shoes. Be the listener they need rather than the giver of advice. Each widow(er's) journey is different and there is no "right way" to grieve. Remember, they know far more about THEIR grief than you do, even if you have suffered a similar loss.

And above all, do not hold this behavior against them later on down the road. While you may never understand why they chose to be alone at certain times or why they seemed so sad for so long, their behavior was still completely normal.

The analogy that best sums up the grieving process is one which describes the journey as walking through a mountain range. As you climb one mountain, you feel normal, positive, and healed. But eventually, you must traverse the other side of the mountain. And as you climb down the other side, you feel isolated, sad, and pain. This process is repeated as you climb one mountain only to find another waiting for you. And then one day, you find that you have reached the end of the mountain range. And peace and resolution await.

As difficult as it may be, you must remind yourself that it is not about you. It is about the loss of their spouse.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Over Forty Clan...

I had gotten into a video game called Call of Duty in the fall of 08. Being an older player, I went to the internet to get tips on how to play video games. After all, I was 43 years old. :) I went to the game maker’s forum to get some info and to post questions on how to play a first person shooter. After a few visits to the website, I noticed that there were some older players on the forums, just like me. We talked and decided that we should make a clan (which is a group of players who play the game together), called OFC (Over Forty Clan). I created a website for the clan and OFC was born. Over the coming months, the clan grew. It was amazing. The response was incredible and we were all having fun and acting like little kids again. I played almost every night after Chrissy and the kids were in bed. A member from Europe set up a server so we could talk to each other via the internet and headsets while we played. And then the fun really began. We laughed, talked about world events, and got to know each other while we played the game. As dorky as it sounds, it was alot of fun... And a time I will cherish until the day I die.

And then we got the news that Chrissy’s cancer had returned. My motivation for playing the game changed from that moment on. I played to distract myself from the pain..from the constant and unrelenting thoughts of what my life had become, and will become in the very near future... what life would be like without her. I played the game to escape, plain and simple. And that escape turned into something wonderful. I didn’t tell anyone but a couple of the original members what was going on with me. Because very few people knew about Chrissy at the time, the majority of OFC does not know how much they helped me during those dark days. They kept me sane during a very insane time. I am so thankful that I got a chance to know these wonderful people. The camaraderie, the jokes, the laughter… it literally saved me from the abyss. It kept me from falling into a hole whose depth I cannot even imagine.

Chrissy would make fun of me for playing the game, wearing the headset and talking to other OFC members while we played. She called me a big dork. :) But if she knew what these folks did/have done for me, she would know that it was really something very special. When Chrissy's health started to decline, I had to stop playing completely. I would log on every so often and play for 20 or 30 minutes. But I never played with the guys and gals of OFC again.

One day after Chrissy died, I got a letter in the mail. It was from the members of OFC...and there was a substantial check enclosed with said letter. They took up a collection and raised money for my kids. I cried for a half hour because these wonderful people, who I had never met, gave me faith...not in God, but in us...humans..people..but more importantly, faith in life. The world and people are not as bad as some people make it out to be. There are these random acts of kindness that fill our world and make an impact beyond words. And appreciating that…that the world is good…and life is what it’s all about. We complain about those who don’t get it… I’d rather talk about those who do.

Which brings me to why I am posting this now. A couple of days ago, some of the guys from OFC kept telling me to go back and take a look at the website I created some two years ago now. They said "I wouldn't be disappointed". Well, I finally did last night. What I found sent me back to the same place I was when I opened that letter. The members of OFC changed all of their user names for the website and their in game names to pink in honor of Chrissy and Breast Cancer Awareness month. Needless to say, I cried again. However small the's these little things that can make a huge impact. And it did.

There are over 200 members of OFC now. We have members across Europe and North and South America. When I started OFC, there were about 5 of us. I'm convinced that the reason it has grown is not because of me, but because it is something special. It is family. We are family. OFC is my family. I hope that I can live up to the standard they have set. I hope that I can be there for them in the same way they were there for me. Because they have shown me what life is about... And that all we can do is be there for each other when we need it... And that my friends, is what it is all about.

Thank you OFC.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

It is done

Yesterday marked a milestone in my grief journey, and it was bittersweet to say the least. Chrissy had always wanted some home improvement projects done to our house over the years, and we just never had the time or money to do them. With the life insurance money, I decided to make sure that every single project she wanted done was completed. These projects included new outside lighting, a huge patio in the backyard, new landscaping, new kitchen floor, updated indoor lighting in all of the rooms, and painting several rooms throughout the house.

Yesterday, I planted some new plants in our new retaining wall in the front. She always wanted a japanese maple like at her old house and new bushes. As I looked back on everything I did this last year, I cried. I wish she was here to share all of this with me. I so badly want to see that excited grin on her face, and that sparkle in her eye as she saw all of these improvements. And I had no one to share it with. Just me. And it didn't bring me any peace at all. I'm glad I finished her to-do list, but without her it is an empty victory.

All of these projects have been great therapy. It has kept me busy over the last 10 months and made me feel like I was honoring her. But the bigger question now haunts me. What now?

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Fuck Cancer

We lost another woman to breast cancer today. And all I have to say is fuck cancer.