moving on

Time Doesn’t Heal Wounds

They say time heals all wounds, but what if it doesn’t.

What if time allows for the wounds to fester and spread?

If a wound doesn’t heal what happens? Savage wounds kill, some kill quickly because of the lack of blood, other more minor wounds can fester. Medically speaking when a wound festers it can spread to other parts of the body, like a broken? bone leading to an amputation or eventually death. This innate knowledge leads most of us to treat our physical wounds with tender care. However, even with tender care some wounds rip savagely through the body leaving unrepairable damage.

Fortunately we have medication, treatments, and educated doctors who can help heal these wounds- in most cases. But my wounds aren’t medical. They are emotional and mental.

I often tell myself I am fine, happy and healthy. In most schemes, I am. Yet I am highly dysfunctional when it comes to relationships. Relationships… Yuck. Even the word repels me. People announce their happily-ever-afters and I look at them with pity. I think in my mind, you poor souls, you have no idea what you are about to do. Is this out of bitterness? I don’t think so. I don’t feel bitter. I don’t feel angry, just weary.

As a widow, the trauma of “loved and lost” comes into effect. I have opened up my heart to have it ripped from my own chest. My mind shattered, every belief and thought down to my identity destroyed. How do you heal a gaping wound that doesn’t present itself like a cut to be bandaged? Because like a physical wound, mental and emotional wounds will fester and spread if they aren’t addressed.  

I suppose like physical wounds, the first step is to find the cut and acknowledge it. Then slowly start to sew it together.  Ironically each person is different which makes grief hard. There is no one fix fits all. We are unique in that we are human, and each human is different. Each hurt and emotion is exclusive to its owner. To carry on and find our own wounds is a challenge and some we don’t even know we have. The first trick is to know it is there. Then allow ourselves the vulnerability to accept it as a part of us to be attended to. As we attend the emotion and mental wounds by whatever means we can, therapy, counseling, working out, education, art we address the burden of what has happened. As we continue to work on our wound it the bleeding slows and eventually stops.

Sometimes we think we have sealed the wound shut and venture back into the world to find out we were wrong and weren’t really healed. This happens a lot. I think I’m over my husband and am prepared to date. Then my first date goes horrible and I come home and cry. The wound is reopened with memories, shame, hurt, guilt  and every vulnerable insecurity I have comes to the surface. This is part of healing. Just like physical wounds don’t always fully heal immediately, neither do emotional and mental ones. Just as it takes painstaking physical therapy to get the injured limbs back to full movement, it also takes exposure to vulnerable emotional and mental states to get ourselves back. We make mistakes and we keep trying.
Dressing our wounds overtime allows us to heal. Maybe not completely, but slowly and surely the bleeding with stop and leave us with scars. The mistake of our first night back won’t be the same as the second night back. Each night we come back stronger after readdressing the vulnerable state we were in and what made us feel the way we did. Dressing our wounds overtime heals.

Widow vs. Divorced

onewayDSCF4475Alot of people try to empathize and show their support when you are a widow. One of the easiest ways for others to relate is through divorce. While this seems harmless, the feeling of someone trying to compare the death of your loved one to their divorce can feel insulting. People will do this, try to think of it as their best intentions: people are trying their best to relate to you the best they know how. Unless someone has lost their significant other they just can’t.

An analogy that a friend told me was divorce is similar to breaking your arm while being a widow(er) is having an arm amputated. Loss and emotional trauma happen in both situations. While the break might seem minor compared to the amputation, they both have a major impact on life. I’d like to break down differences and things you can expect to have people compare and potentially give you a chance to think about how you could respond to these incidents. Keep in mind that each divorcees and widow(er)s experience is different.

Psychological

Many divorces end in conflict. Many deaths happen unexpectedly. This difference leaves a different psychological effect. I’m not saying every widow had a happy marriage, but it was ended by death not by a contract. Widows had no negotiations regarding possessions and children. They were left to take care of everything. Regardless, both end up hurt, in pain, and have a feeling of loss. While divorcees might relate to a feeling of loss, it is different because there is still the potential for a rekindling of a relationship with someone who is alive. It is not a contest for who feels pain the most, but there is loss and pain for everyone involved in both situations. Be kind; you know what loss feels like to an extreme level, but that doesn’t give you the right to discount others loss.

Children

Children are affected by both divorce and death. Differences may seem obvious, but some are not. In both situations the child went from dual partnership to single parenthood. While divorced parents may have to pay alimony, split the time with their ex, and live in a specific state due to court decree, widows often feel they have to be both parents. They might feel responsible for finding a suitable “new parent” to help take care of the kids and have a role model. They are now the sole parent and have all child raising decisions. This can be overwhelming and difficult. Also the child might remind the parent of the deceased; thus the relationship can end up more connected to fear of losing the child as well.

Physiological

There is no chance of touching the deceased again. They are gone. Their physical presence in the world no longer exists. Both Widows and divorcees go through a sense of grief. Everyone responds differently. Some lose weight, others gain weight, some physically stop functioning. Both can suffer from depression and stress. Both take a significant toll on the body.

Getting back out there

Divorcees might be excited to get back out there and start dating, though that is not always the case. Widows usually are a little more cautious. Feelings of guilt and cheating on the deceased are not uncommon. Dating can be very uncomfortable and awkward. However, both haven’t dated in a long time, will struggle, and be awkward for the first little bit. Validate and support each other.

The main point is yes, they are different, but it is unnecessary to need to one up the other. Support and validate each other. Everyone has gone through pain it is not a contest. Just be aware that people will try to compare. When this happens try to understand where they are coming from and have an open minded conversation about each others experience.

Finding Out

I still remember the day I found out my spouse died. I know what I was wearing. How my hair was. My plans. The day was going ordinarily according to plan. Then it completely changed. The moment doesn’t just take your breath away. It completely knocks you off your feet. The acceptance, denial, anger, hurt, the word to describe the emotions doesn’t exist. Its a combination of so many thoughts and feelings in a split second as half your heart is ripped from your chest.

Please share how you found out and how you feel or felt in the comments.

This is how I found out. Hopefully it gives you something to relate to.

It was Saturday, July 17, 2010. I was cleaning the house and getting ready to go out for the night when I got a phone call. It was from my First Sergeant (1SG) (for those of you not in the military and have no idea what military rank or terms mean I’ll put a civilian term of equal status next to it for you. A First Sergeant is a manager). I answered and he ask if I was going to be around for a bit because there was an issue with a soldier. I said yeah and didn’t think much about it when I hung up. This was not out of the ordinary. I was a Platoon Leader (supervisor) and had approximately 30 soldiers (employees) under me. I was use to getting phone calls about personal issues at least once or twice a week. I went about doing my thing and getting ready to go out with friends later that day.

I was halfway through curling my hair when I heard a knock on my door. It was about an hour after I had received the phone call from my 1SG. I went to answer the door and saw my Commander (boss), 1SG, XO (work peer) and Chaplain. I was really confused at why they would show up at my house. It didn’t click. I had a dog with two puppies at the time so I asked them to give me a minute to put them away before I let them in. I put the dogs away completely clueless as to what was to come. When I let them in. They ask me to sit down. I knew something was wrong then. I didn’t sit, I told them I was fine. Then My commander said “They found a body.”

I didn’t need him to say anything else. I knew it was my spouse and I knew he had killed himself. I was shocked, but not surprised. I knew him. I loved him. He was my best friend and he was gone. I felt the tears come. I took a deep breath. I was in the military I had been to training about informing someone if their spouse died. I was suppose to be on the other end of this conversation. At the same time because I had been to training I had thought about how I would react. The thought came back to me and I followed them. I didn’t know what else to do, but I knew there was stuff I needed to do. I looked at the four men around me and asked what I needed to do.

My spouse had died in Utah. He was there to finish school. I had to call the detective. He told me what happened and what would happen. He told me they had a friend identify the decayed body. I gave him contact information for my spouses family. Then I sat helplessly while my command took care of finding the first flight possible for me to go home.

Again please share your experiences by linking what you have already wrote in the comments or leave a comment.

Words Left Unsaid

Berlin copyPremature death causes a roller coaster of emotions; pain, hurt, frustration, guilt, things left unsaid and undone. Survivors find themselves reminiscing about moments and promises no longer possible. Combined ideas and dreams, now empty. Survivors often wish they could communicate every thought and take back each cruel comment. However, normal text messages sent come back with no reply. Conversations and behaviors become one-sided. Option one is now gone, what is option two?

Communication with the dead varies from seances, psychics, prayers, dreams and other rituals. I am not going to discourage any of these as I am not familiar with all of them, I only want to caution you. Not everyone is good and some will take advantage of you. Please research and know who you are engaging with. While seances and psychics might ease the pain, they are not always available or reliable. Expressing words unsaid can be therapeutic and necessary for healing. Thus, my goal is to give you suggestions available to you, without the need for others to be around.

Suggestion number one: Write them a handwritten letter. Handwritten letters are intimate and have a level of irreplicable sincerity. Holding a pencil to a clean piece of paper allows for words, drawings, diagrams. When words can’t express a feeling, a drawing might. Paper filled with emotions becomes beautiful art. Art gives you power. If you have a friend you can trust, I would also encourage you to put it in an envelope and send it. Physically sending the letter can give a feeling of fulfillment. If you don’t have someone to send it to, you may always send it to me. Private message me for my address.

Suggestion number two: Write them an email. Today is full of technology. Emails, text messages, phone calls, skype, the list continues to grow. Writing an email and sending it can be satisfying. Rarely are we anywhere without a smartphone, allowing us a place to collect our thoughts at any moment. Whenever you have something you want to say put it in your phone. Later write an email and send it to their email account if it is still active. If it isn’t and you have a friend you trust, send it to them. If you don’t you are always welcome to send it to me.

Suggestion number three: Keep a Journal. Writing down expressions and feelings can help you process your own thoughts. Journals allow organization and creativity. Journals allow us to be honest with ourselves. Secrets we might not want to even admit to ourselves are safe to ponder and explore within a journal.

Suggestion number four: Find a creative outlet. If you are an artist, create a painting expressing what you wish you could tell them. If you are a dancer, create a dance expressing your words unsaid. If you write, create a poem or essay, photographer, make a photo series. Whatever you do find a way to express yourself through it. If you don’t “do creative,” now is the time to try.

Find a way to communicate what you didn’t, couldn’t, forgot to say. Try multiple avenues. If option two doesn’t work, try option three, then four and five. Express yourself and your feelings.

Please share in the comments any things that you have done to express the words left unsaid.

Taking off the ring… or not

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One of the more challenging moments in widowhood is deciding whether or not to take off your wedding band. Many ask themselves when they should do this or if they should just leave it on. Here are a few thoughts and ideas for you to consider.

  • You are always capable of putting it back on.
  • Consider why you are still wearing your wedding band
  • Do you see removing your wedding band as a acknowledging your single again?
  • Do you want to take it off or are you feeling pressured to?
  • Are you ready to move on?
  • Why are you still wearing it?
  • Does taking it off change anything?
  • Does wearing it make you sad?
  • Try wearing it on your right hand and if you feel uncomfortable slip it back on your left.
  • Some people put it on a chain and wear it around their neck.
  • I got another band that has black diamonds to represent his death that I always wear with my wedding band when I wear it.
  • Get a ring to wear in it’s place.
  • Put it in a memory box (I’m going to write a post about this later)
  • If you are angry at the person you lost and want to throw it away. Consider giving it to someone you can trust for a year or two, then reevaluate when you aren’t as hurt.

Taking your ring off can be difficult. Evaluate yourself and your emotions, then decide for yourself when you are ready. Don’t decide anything when you are angry. Taking the ring off doesn’t have to be permanent, you can always put it back on. Do what is right for you.

Feeling Lonely

Gustav Vigeland created a beautiful life art series in Vigeland Park, Oslo, Norway

Gustav Vigeland created a beautiful life art series in Vigeland Park, Oslo, Norway

Feeling lonely is very common for Widows and Widowers. Even with family, children, and friends around, it is common to feel lonely. Why? Why, when there are so many loving people around us, do we feel so lonely?

There is a difference between an intimate relationship and any other relationship. A child can not fulfill the same role as a spouse, neither can a parent, nor a friend. Each relationship is important and has value. However, a spouse fulfills us in a way that other’s can’t. In intimate relationships there is a physical, mental, and emotional connection. There has been compromise and respect, fights and hurt, love and sex. Your spouse made you feel safe and provided for you whether that was fixing the car or doing the dishes. You have become accustomed to being able to rely, or not rely in some cases (which isn’t a bad thing), on the person you love. Now that person is gone. Regardless, of how many people are around it is lonely.

I wish there was a quick fix to this loneliness. There isn’t. It is going to take time to adjust to being alone. People deal with this in many different ways. Some people drown in the emptiness, others fill it with people, others focus on rebuilding themselves. It is up to you. Which is the larger point I want to make. How you respond is up to you. When you respond is up to you.

There is no proper waiting period to let new people in your life. It is acceptable to ask someone to give you a hug or hold you because you need physical contact. It is acceptable to ask someone to spend the night or stay over at someone else’s simply because you want to know someone else is in the house. It is acceptable to have sex, simply to feel. It is acceptable to all of these things or none of them and it’s nobody else’s business. It is not scandalous to reach out for emotional or physical support. Taking care of yourself is the utmost importance. To do this you need to create your own timeline and simply do things when you are ready. Don’t wait for others approval or disapproval. This is about you and what you need.
For those that have felt this way. Please share in the comments how you have dealt with the feelings. What worked and what didn’t. The goal is to give ideas to others who are going through this now.

The World Moves On

The_Window

One of the most surreal experiences you will have, is your life coming to a crashing halt; the world continues to move on as if nothing has happened. It is a bizarre and strange perception.

Eventually you will pause long enough to look out the window. When you do, you see a million different things. You see life when everything seems like it should be dead. Children playing, a man jogging, people coming and going to and from their homes. They go to work, they have friends over and have parties. They live. This experience makes you question humanity. How can everyone continue on with their daily activities and jobs when someone so precious has passed away only moments ago? How can they go on as if nothing has happened?

You aren’t the first person to experience this nor feel the injustice of it all. It was only yesterday when his job needed him to stay late for a last-minute project. It was only yesterday you had a fight; a fight so petty that you don’t even remember what it was about. But meant everything at the time. It was only yesterday that actions and words meant everything. It was only yesterday that his kiss stole your breath away. Alas, the world waits for no one. His work found someone new. He missed his weekly poker game. His friends barbequed without him. He didn’t do the dishes. He no longer walks through the door and says “I love you.” It’s as though he never existed. Are you the only one that remembers he was just here yesterday?

There are remnants of him everywhere. Pieces left, pieces of him. Debts to be paid. Accounts to be closed. Possessions to put in boxes. He is everywhere and yet, it’s as though he never existed. The world has moved on without him.

Please share in the comments about the window moments you’ve had.