Monday, March 22, 2010

On Healing

Since I seem to be in a pattern of posting a maximum of once a month of late, I’m going to proceed with a series of mini-posts that will hopefully serve to catch you all up to speed on what has been happening in the last month or so. It seems like there is always so much more I want to write about than there is time and energy to actually type it out and post it here. I am hopeful that this pattern will change soon, but until then, please accept my “mini-series” of posts, if you will.

On Winter Snow

As even the most occasional reader of this site has likely discovered, I am not a big fan of winter. I do not enjoy cold weather. I do not enjoy scraping ice off the car windows. And I most assuredly do not enjoy snow or ice.

We have experienced both this winter.

One weekend late in January we had an inch or two of rain that froze overnight. I live far south enough on the East Coast that life pretty much comes to a stand-still when there is ice or snow on the ground. It had melted off by time for church the next morning, but it was enough to cancel Sunday School, which is unheard of in these parts.

Just a few weekends later, we woke up to a slightly different sight. On the Friday night before Valentine’s Day about eight o’clock, I looked out the window (knowing what had been forecast) and saw huge, wet snowflakes falling from the sky. I got my daughter and we walked out to the back porch so she could really see them well. By the time she went to bed an hour or so later, there was a groundcover of snow and the flakes were still falling rapidly.

The forecast had said one to four inches, which is a rare sight in this area. What we actually had in our yard the next morning was eight fluffy inches of pure white snow. If this had happened a year ago, I would have been nothing short of traumatized. But I have done a tremendous amount of healing over the last year, thanks in large part to being able to write out my thoughts and feelings here, so I was able to see this snow through a different lens.

So instead of grumbling and being in a generally lousy mood all weekend, I embraced the snow, knowing it would only stick around for a short while. So once the power returned (it went off just as we were suiting up to go out and play), we headed out to build snowmen, make snow angels, and have snowball fights. I took plenty of pictures and even some video (my daughter gave me a five-minute instructional video on how to have fun in the snow, which I will always treasure). All told, we spent about four hours total in the snow that day.

By the next morning there was significantly less snow on the ground and even less than that by the time we arrived home from church. But being unsure of when this might happen again (good for me, but not so much for her), we suited up again and played in the wet slush until there was literally no snow left to throw or build with. I think we eked out about another two and a half hours between morning and evening service that day.

When I was a kid I loved the snow. And growing up in the Midwest, we definitely had our fair share of it each winter. I have three siblings and many fond memories of times had in the snow with them. This snowy weekend reminded me of those times, only I shared them with my own child instead of my brothers and sister. I was able to play with reckless abandon in a situation I would not have otherwise (or at another time) enjoyed.

And I took that as a sign of healing.

On My Daughter’s Sixth Birthday

The Friday after the “big snow” was my daughter’s sixth birthday. She loves birthdays and was, as expected, very excited about having another party. The thing she was perhaps the most excited about was getting to take cupcakes to share with all of her friends at school. But that turned out to be overshadowed by some other events that day.

Since it was a special day, I drove her to school that morning instead of having her ride the bus as she normally does. I was dressed for work, so she had no reason to think I wasn’t headed there after I dropped her off. However, I instead went into town to pick up the cupcakes and then back home to finish doing a few other birthday related things. Since kindergarten classes eat lunch first at her school, I was able to finagle my schedule so that I could take a half-day and join her for lunch. And seeing the look on her face when I showed up with the cupcakes and told her I was going to stay for lunch was definitely worth it.

I hated to leave after lunch, but she had more to learn and I had a mandatory meeting that afternoon, so I walked her back to class and went on my way. But my joining her for lunch was just the first surprise of the day.

My daughter usually attends an after-school program since her school ends earlier than mine, and she rather enjoys it. I can only imagine what went through her mind that afternoon when the secretary came over the intercom to ask her teacher to send her to the office for pick-up. And further still, I can only imagine the look on her face when she turned the corner and saw not her daddy as she had probably expected, but her grandma and grandpa who had driven down to surprise her again this year. (After last year I told them no more surprises for me, so I was in on it this time). Once we all got home, we headed to our favorite Chinese restaurant for dinner, then watched her open her gifts (again with plenty of pictures and video).

On Sunday we had her party and since the weather was a far cry from that of the previous weekend, she and her friends who attended were able to spend quite a bit of time playing outside. We also did the usual cake and ice cream and presents, plus a craft activity which the girls all really seemed to enjoy.

We usually have her party at home and invite a small number of her friends and their families. She has made it even easier on me by requesting Disney Princess parties the last three years (plus the one before that which her mommy and I chose), so I have been able to use the same accessories from year-to-year. She just chooses a different princess to highlight (this year it was Belle) and we make sure she is featured on the cake.

Each year it seems like the actual party-throwing part of the birthday festivities comes a little easier (though I’m still learning), but each year that passes is another year that her mommy has missed.

And no amount of personal healing on my part is going to make that any easier.

On the Third Anniversary

Exactly one week after my daughter’s birthday was the third anniversary of my wife’s death. I wasn’t sure how I would be affected on this day as this was the first significant grief event to pass since I started dating. I talked to my girlfriend ahead of time about the actual date and my plans for it, and she was overwhelmingly supportive.

So that morning before work, I posted this on Facebook: [My name] is attempting to see something positive in this day. If you knew [her name] please share a memory of her here.

It was the most positive thing I could think of to do, and it turned out to be really good for me. Throughout the day and well into the evening, my Facebook ring tone went off repeatedly as people posted their memories. It was nice to find reasons to smile that day, instead of focusing solely on how much I missed her and how much she was missing by not being here.

As tends to be the case with us, this day was also marked by two other events. Since I started this blog on the second anniversary, this date also marked one year of blogging (however sporadic) for me. That one was anticipated.

But the surprise event came that afternoon, when my daughter came into my bedroom and said “Daddy, I think my tooth is loose”. I checked, and sure enough, it was loose enough she could wiggle it with her tongue. I told her I’d pull it and she said “No Daddy, I think I can do it”. And sure enough, halfway across the bedroom she turned back with a tooth in her hand. It was so loose she had popped it out with her tongue! So the third anniversary of my wife’s death also became the first anniversary of the tooth fairy’s inaugural visit to our home. Only in this family could two such events coincide.

That night my daughter and I went down to the beach and ate at the restaurant we discovered on this date last year, although this year there were no dolphins to watch as we ate. It was however, considerably warmer than this time last year, so we walked on the beach for a little while both before and after we ate. (I took plenty of pictures, but no video this time). I had planned to post something here that night, but she and I were both asleep on the couch by nine o’clock instead.

In a lot of ways this anniversary was “better” than the past two have been. And by better, I mean more bearable. I think the passage of time had something to do with it. And the fact that I not only had considered dating, but was actually in a relationship (though I did not see her that day) probably made a difference as well.

Whatever the reason, a bearable anniversary is much-preferred over an unbearable one, and I considered the bearable nature of this one a sign of healing.

On a Different Sort of Milestone

Exactly one week after that, on March 5, I had a pretty rough day grief-wise. It was the anniversary of my wife’s funeral, but that was not the cause of my grief on this day. It actually had to do with what was to follow.

One semi-consistent pattern in this widowed journey has been that my grief tends to well-up more after a grief-inducing event, once the anticipation and the actual event have passed, than it does before. This usually happens within the first few days following the event. But as is common with grief, its patterns are often inconsistent, and this one hit me a day in advance.

When my wife died, my daughter was three years and one week old, to the day. On March 5, my daughter was six years and two weeks old, to the day. So March 6 marked the day that I had officially parented her longer alone than I had with my wife.

That’s the first time I have acknowledged this in any form outside of my own mind. I haven’t even told my parents (sorry you all had to find out with everyone else). I think it was something I wanted to keep private for just a bit longer, but in staying true to my journey and this site, the time had come to post it here.

Ironically, this is one event in this post that I had planned to mark with pictures, but did not. You see, my daughter has had her picture taken at day care and school many times over the last three years, but she and I have yet to have a professional family photo taken. I kept putting it off, then realized that maybe after this “milestone” I’d be ready. And I think I am. But I didn’t get it scheduled in time for that day, so it will have to wait just a bit longer.

I’m not sure where I am in terms of healing on this one. But I do know that I’m really thankful it’s a “milestone” and not an anniversary I’ll have to acknowledge (and dread) every year from here on out.

On Breaking Up

In my last post, I mentioned that I had been dating someone for the first time since my wife’s death. And throughout this post I have referred to her as “my girlfriend”, which was true at the time of each of those events. But early last week we decided to break up.

It was strange in terms of break-ups in that it was something neither one of us wanted, but both of us knew was necessary. The fault was not really with either one of us so much as with some external factors that were not likely to change any time soon. So it was a better decision to break up than to continue working against them.

I believe that she is okay with this decision as we arrived at it together. And I am okay with this decision, even though I think there was some unrealized potential in the relationship. Her daughter is young enough that it probably didn’t even faze her.

But mine is not.

So that evening, I sat her down and got the reaction I had expected to get when I first told her I was going to date someone – lots of tears. She was upset that she would not be seeing my girlfriend much anymore, but was more upset over the fact that she would not get to play with her daughter. She had allowed herself to start to get close to them, even though their contact was still fairly limited, so it was another loss for her when she realized they wouldn’t be coming around any longer. After a few minutes she calmed down and began to accept it, as she has had to do so often in her young life. Within a few days, she had stopped mentioning it altogether. That’s not to say she won’t again, but I think it’s a sign of her acceptance of the situation.

There is some good news in all of this though. I met someone who sparked my interest, asked her out, and built a new relationship with her. At the time of the break-up we had not said or done anything regrettable, which made it that much easier to create an amicable split. And the split was in no way, shape, or form related to my “baggage” as a widower. So I’d say for my first foray into the dating world things went pretty well.

In addition, I learned some things I will do again if/when I date someone else. I will be honest and up-front about my “situation”, but careful to disclose information at a rate with which she is comfortable. I will take things slowly. I will maintain minimal contact between my daughter and her (and myself and her kids should she have any) until the relationship is established and is moving to a more serious level. And I will remain content in my circumstances until then, so that I can be content if/when my circumstances should change.

And I think that’s the best sign of healing I’ve experienced yet.


  1. Thanks for sharing all your insight and wisdom, which is always valuable for those of us behind you on this journey. I'm sorry your new relationship didn't work out, but I'm sure that there is someone out there who is meant for you and your daughter. And when the time is right, you will find each other.


  2. i, too, am sorry your new relationship did not work out. i am glad it ended on an amiable note. you are a good and decent man who deserves happiness however it comes. your daughter is a very lucky girl to have you, a sensitive soul, as her father. she will be fine as i know you are watching her in ways less obvious. you are meeting more than just her basic needs. you are there for her spirit as well and able to articulate abstract things to her to help her accept life.

    btw, i love the beach photos, especially the one with the moon.

  3. "On the Third Anniversary" -- I totally get that. The birthday that I struggled with the most for myself was the day I turned 33, making me one year older than my husband ever was. It was very sad. I passed him in age... I bridged those six and a half years between us.

    I also passed the period where I'd been without him longer than I'd been with him. That would have been in 2004...

  4. Suddenwidow - Hoping we can help others by sharing our experiences is all any of us can do. Being able to read blogs of other widow/ers has certainly done that for me. Two years ago I couldn't imagine opening myself up to someone again and yet, it happened. If/when the time comes to do that again, I will be ready. But if it never does, I'd like to think I'll be ready for that as well.

    WNS - I love what you said about happiness "however it comes" (see return comment to Suddenwidow above). Too often we think we can only be happy if certain conditions are in place. My goal is to be content regardless of the conditions. As you've read here before, it hasn't been an easy journey, but it's one I intend to keep plugging away at.

    (You do realize I took the moon picture for you, right? I actually tried to take a few after dinner, but the moon was too high to reflect on the water and they all came out dark. Glad you enjoyed the one I did get though.)

    Mars Girl - I was six months older than my wife, so there was never a time when I passed that mark as you did, and the longer-single-than-married mark won't come for almost another three years... but there will always be something, won't there? It's strange. We expect the major things to come along, but we don't always know how these other, less common ones will affect us...

  5. Really beautiful pictures. I think short posts is an awesome way of sharing your thoughts. They all work together quite nicely, though, I do miss reading you more often.

    You always sound so calm and even... thanks for sharing your experiences and ideas with us all.



  6. I had started reading your series of posts earlier in the week, but haven't had time to get back to them. I found each one so significant, as each speaks to milestones along the way.

    I find it helpful to read your posts, as they help me to anticipate where I might be in the future. I am especially moved by the milestones that your daughter is continuing to reach, birthday's and first lost tooth. I can totally get how bittersweet each of these are for you. It is so difficult to realize, then acknowledge, when the scales of time start to sway in the direction of time away from our spouses. I realized last weeke after visiting Michael's mother, that I have now known her longer than I knew him. Realizing that completely threw me off. For some reason it makes me feel like he is slowly disappearing.

    You acknowledged my candor, and I must say the same back to you. I know it must have been a thought out process to post that you had started dating someone, then to post about the end of the relationship. Know that you are benefitting all of us by your willingness to share this process. I also like that you have looked to the silver lining, realizing that this is a first in this new part of your life.

    Good for you.


  7. Supa - When I realized that all of the sub-posts were linked by how they affected my healing process, it made sense to link them. I often want to post, but don't for any number of reasons, so I figured I'd better get as much as I could on here while I was at the computer that night!

    I tend to be a pretty calm person in general, but by the time I write these posts I usually have had the benefit of reflecting on them as well. Everything I write is true, but because of this, it may come across with more serenity than I actually felt in the moment it happened.

    Dan - I'm a firm believer that every situation is a learning experience. And as I am learning from it, it seems logical to share it with others in hopes that they might be able to draw on my experience as well.

    I'm glad that you find my posts helpful. There was another widower (who has since taken his site down) who served the same role for me. It was so helpful to be able to read that this was all normal and that it would slowly become more bearable.

    I actually find your site helpful as well, though for the opposite reason. I've mentioned that I was unable to write during the first two years of widow(er)hood. Your being real helps me to recall that early raw grief in myself and to see it spelled out in words in a way I was unable to when I was experiencing it.

    So thank you for sharing as well.

  8. Thank you for posting this. I'm also noticing that anniversary grief tends to hit the day before or after the day I'm expecting.

    Yesterday (Friday) marked six month since my beloved's death. It hit me pretty hard. Fortunately my friends dragged me out of the house. Friday was his official day of death, but I didn't find out on Saturday, around 12:30 am, so Saturdays are worse for me. So in a sense today was the six month mark. I was bracing for yesterday, but not for today. But really all last week was hard...

    At two years I'll have reached the point where he'll have been dead as long as we were dating. (We were serious dating. I was expecting engagement to be imminent, not his death.) But I haven't made it all the way through the first year yet.

    Thank God for your blog, and the blogs of others sharing their grief...It reminds me that I'm not alone...And I see people farther along in the process, and it gives me hope that I can, indeed, heal, and do that mythical thing called 'move on.'

    Thank you for sharing.