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.