Saturday, August 26, 2017

NEW SHOES

Imagine dating a woman who often cries about missing another man. What type of a person does it take to be able to endure that, let alone console when it happens? I have to say that kind of respect, resilience, and patience is really compelling. But I hate the idea of putting someone that extraordinary through the struggle of being with me.

However, I’ve realized that Jim taught me how to be a great partner. I wasn’t interested in developing that skill in my first marriage. I didn’t care enough to do the work, and I didn’t love my first husband in a way that compelled me to learn to love deeper through service. But I loved Jim. I love him. I wanted to make him feel as loved as he deserved. I wanted to be the kind of partner to him that he was to me. And I did it. I’m proud of how well I loved him. I learned how to be one hell of a wife.

So I have to ask myself, did I learn how to be a partner that’s worth someone putting up with the massive trial of dating a mourning widow?

You can’t just wait that out forever, you know. When will I not be mourning? Oh, that’s easy—Never. I won’t ever not miss Jim. I won’t ever fall out of love. Our halt happened at a high point, and really that has a disturbing beauty to it. There weren’t dirty secrets or regrets or loose ends. There was just life lived all the way and more happiness than I thought a single soul could bear. So it leaves me in love forever.

Which, though incredible, isn’t enough.

Dustin got married last month and I traveled to the wedding solo. As I walked through the Reno airport I thought over and over, “Alone . . . I’m alone . . . This is bullshit.” Alone just isn’t fair. How could I—how could anyone—expect me to be stuck all by myself? Like I’ve said before, I can do that. I’m good at alone. But for it to be a forced solitude? Therein lies the bullshit. I’m independent by upbringing and preference. I’m alone by way of horrid circumstance. I fret and fret that Jim’s friends and family will hate me and cut me off if there is another man in my life. I feel like they might think that I don’t miss Jim or honor his memory. That would be wrong. He is always there. He will always be there. It doesn’t matter who I see or who I’m with, Jim is part of me. I love his kids completely, and they’ve become part of me too.

My late husband improved me in way that would be unfair to keep to myself. Jim hated wasted potential and skill. Would he want me to waste me? I’ve come to a place where I’m certain he wouldn’t. Is it dishonorable to take the skills I got from loving Jim and apply them to a new relationship? I’ve struggled with that a lot. But I know the answer’s no.

“Jim would want you to be happy.” Yes. I believe it. He would want that for all his people in the way that suits us each best. But I also don’t know if full-tilt happy is even in me anymore. I can laugh loud. I can be useful. But it all ends up colored with despair or concern. I’m either dealing with the drench of sorrow, or I’m worried that if I don’t look the right amount of sad the other people who love Jim will think I’ve moved on.

That’s not a thing though. I can’t move on. That means leaving him behind, which I will never do. Yet I can move forward and take steps where he comes with me. Those steps forward involve a lot of walking into the dark without a light. So I think as I take those tottery steps I’d like to be allowed a strong hand to hold.

You're looking at my left-side ribs. Tattoo's real and the only one I have. It wasn't even a week after Jim died that I knew I wanted it and getting the thing was how I celebrated our anniversary in May. 
Being with me isn’t an easy task that’s for sure. It wasn’t easy for Jim—think “smart, beautiful, and difficult”— and it’s worse since he’s gone, but I’d like to think I’m worthy of a shot and worth all that effort. Okay, I actually have it on good authority that I am. Giving another guy a try in my current state is weird. I certainly didn’t set out to do it, but I stumbled onto a terrific something—a someone—and experiencing care and laughter and a sense of light in this kind of relationship is an astounding relief. I’ve tried on a new pair of shoes, and while I’m gonna be wobbly as hell maybe forever, it feels so nice not to have to be barefoot.s

Thursday, August 10, 2017

STUCK A.F.

Sometimes I can’t tell whether a particular struggle is widow-related or just regular old life. Then I realize that my regular old life includes the element of widowhood, and I can’t separate that out. And my life is so First World that all my problems are a direct result of Jim’s death. Really, all of them.

Before saying more I must make clear that I’m not struggling. Not regularly. There are the terrible days and the bummer days, but I’m plodding along decently. I’ve just got potholes to navigate.

When you lose a loved one people give you whatever they can as comfort; usually it’s the thing they’ve found most helpful for themselves. For lots that’s religion. So these caring folk offer you Jesus. Though that’s not my thing, I’ve taken whatever people gave—graciously, except that one time when I lashed out—because I appreciate the gift of care. 

People like the idea of seeing their lost person in heaven or thinking that the loved one’s waiting with family. There could be something terribly wrong with me, but I really don’t think about that stuff. I guess my yoga garbage has gotten in deep enough where I take seriously the living-for-now B.S. I ignore Later, since Now is what I actually have to work with. Now isn’t theory or hopes. It’s concrete, and I deal better with concrete.

That said, I’m having a tough time finding a point. For all of this. Not, like, a life purpose or understanding of God’s Plan, but just a point. What’s the point of cultivating relationships? Of following through? Of making the bed? I do all those things without whining and usually without wondering, but there are times where I pause in curiosity over what I’m doing.

With Jim I decided that what I wanted the point to be was to be happy. Love him hard. Serve him. Let it make me happy. It was the only point I needed. But then he was gone and there wasn’t any point anymore. 

I’m kinda stuck. This isn’t like a divorce where you buck up and go back to being yourself but a better version of yourself because—screw you!—I got this! For me that situation was about picking up pieces, reassembling, and being even more awesome. I succeeded. I think I don’t have the same pieces anymore though, and I certainly don’t have clear assembly instructions, so with this disaster I sit with my pieces pretty confused. 

When I was working on the design for Jim’s headstone I put our births and death date on there. Our death date. Really just as a place-filler for spacing purposes I made his death date my own. The gal at the masonry place told me they’re superstitious so maybe take it off the design. I told her 8.30.16 is when my soul died, so for now it stays.

Honestly though something in me did die. I’ve had nearly a year to come to that conclusion. I’m back to pretty damn functional. I have gained relationships that are vital. From the outside I think I come off as pretty healthy. And I am. Except the part that’s dead. I’m not at all certain what part of me that is.

It might be zest, verve, umph. That seems to be what’s missing from Me. I feel more solemn. I feel less fun. Sometimes I even feel mean and it comes out as acerbic. There’s a necrotic something inside me, and I can’t cut it out, because I don’t know where or what it is. I only know it’s there.

This can’t make much sense to you, which is perfect, because it doesn’t make sense to me either. I know what depression feels like. This is different. I struggle to engage with people. I have a hard time caring. I think I’m more reserved. I don’t enjoy it.


So where I land is that the thing that died is Jim. He became part of me. He made me starkly happy such that it showed on my face. Being with him planted Jim-branded joy square in my soul, and without it I became listless and nonsensical.

This makes me feel like I'm cheating the new people in my life. You don't know who I was, so you don't know the best me. But with fracture nothing heals exactly the same. It could look the same, but the structural integrity is compromised. I do know I don’t get to get back to normal. I’m to redefine. Trouble is that that new normal person I’m putting together seems like a lame replacement for what I felt I was before.

Do I be okay with that crummy new self? Or do I locate some gusto that isn’t there and craft a being worth being? I have no idea. That’s the stuck part. But here’s where I’m smart: I know that being stuck is part of it. It’s part of loss. It’s part of healing. It’s where I’m at. I don’t have to enjoy it but I do have to slog through. So slog I shall.

Monday, May 15, 2017

ON OUR ANNIVERSARY

I’ve been dreading this day. It’s our third wedding anniversary. The dread is not knowing how I would feel. Would I wake into the sadness of my loss or would I be able to do what anniversaries are for, relive the euphoria I felt in becoming that man’s wife?


Coming up on the day, it turns out—and probably predictably so—I’m all the things. I’m sad. I’m happy. I’m weighted yet light. I’m pitiable but almost unbearably lucky. I had him, and we were the kind of happy that defies realism. I was left broken. I was left bettered.

Choosing to learn to love that man in his language was me closest to perfect. Dealing with my ex-husband’s infidelity and doing what I could to try to salvage that marriage showed me I’m made of grit to spare. But being Jim’s wife softened my edges and taught me there is power in making love a priority.

One of the many specific things I’ve cried over since Jim died is not having him to serve anymore. Doing for that man delighted me. I can still do for others, yes, and I do, but they're not, you know, my other. There’s something to having a someone, your own person, that human with whom you’ve got a pocket of solace and that intimate relationship where you get the most practice in cultivating a best self.

Well, great. I had that. Had. Now what the hell am I supposed to do? Just end? Megan, you peaked. All downhill from here. For the next, like, 45 years.

I like remembering me as Jim’s wife. He went too long in his life being the one making everyone else happy without being catered to himself. I felt like a superstar giving him so much of what he merited such that my love overwhelmed him.

What if the memory of feeling that way isn’t enough to sustain me as long as I want it to?

Since my memories are more precious now I feel that much more fortunate to have them. Since he’s gone and I don’t get to make more, I feel that much more lonely. I’ve always been resourceful though. I can fix that. But when I think of solving the kind of loneliness losing a spouse leaves I feel sick. The only solution to that one is to date, right? Oh gosh, ew.

I can’t. I couldn’t. I simply never would.

But shit, I’ve had eight months to learn that all the yoga and writing and shopping and travel and friends and family that I can handle can’t fill the void of having my own someone.

You don’t top Jim. It isn’t done. Jim was the top. A person perfect for me. The funniest (just ask him), friendliest, most generous, most memorable. The cutest. So the solution has to be that you don’t try, right? You don’t try to top him and what we had. So then what's left is to have nothing or to open yourself to the possibility of something altogether different.

Good grief, what does that even mean? And when would it not make me want to vomit?

In muddling through this unsavory quandary I came across an analogy that works. Shoes. Partners as shoes. In my first marriage I wore a pair of shoes that constantly gave me blisters. They were scuffed and when I tried to shine them it was half-hearted. I covered my feet with bandaids. The blisters didn’t heal. So I got rid of those shoes and was relieved to walk barefoot. Then I bumbled into Jim, the best pair of shoes I was never interested in looking for. Comfortable, supportive, good for all occasions. Irreplaceable. And then lost. So I’m barefoot again, and it sucks. I can walk without shoes forever, sure, but now knowing how it feels to love a pair of perfect shoes, barefoot forever's sounding bleak.

Jim made my heart tick quicker and, if I’m being honest and nauseating, with more meaning. Maybe there is another someone in my future that can make my heart beat something more than sad and much too steady for how nice I think it would be to just die already. I’m young enough and lonely enough to start to consider the possibility. I’m recently widowed enough to want to throw up thinking about it and hate myself for the disloyalty of having the thought.

But dammit he died. Jim died. My heart-holder, love, and favorite thing died and left me alone. I'm 35 years old.

I didn’t know what to expect on our wedding anniversary, and I certainly didn’t expect this, to feel the kind of loneliness that looks to be motivating me to consider the option of new shoes.

My mom reminded me the other day that one of the things Jim would go on about regarding his wife was how capable I am, how I’m good at whatever I do. Usually the things I do are a choice, but grief was thrown at me, and I’m kind of crushing that too. He would be proud of how I’m working through this. I still want to make him proud. I felt like he was something to live up to. His memory is still that. I’m Jim’s wife. It amplified my awesome, and I have that to take with me. Considering that my happiness was his first priority, I can’t imagine he’d want me to be holed up and lonely forever.

Happy Anniversary, sweetheart. You taught me to make happiness a valid life pursuit. A happy person is more useful, they make life around them easier. It’s what you did. There isn’t anything I wouldn’t surrender to have you back. But since that’s not a thing, I’ll make more relevant what you taught me and how you made me feel.

Happy isn’t selfish. Happy is correct. Happy was my Jim. Like usual I wonder, “What would Jim do?” He would live huge, have fun, and by way of serving his people he would acquire joy. And then my boy would share it like gangbusters.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

CONSIDERING HAPPY

“How are you doing?”

I feel strange and pretty guilty when I reply, “Well, good . . . I’m doing good.”

It looks as if I’m no longer the weepy, fatalistic heap that I became at 6:06 PM on August 30th. Seems kind of right. But mostly wrong.

I wrote in my husband’s obituary that “the best way we can honor Jim's memory is in living happy and taking care of each other.” It’s taken me nearly eight months to even consider adopting what I wrote. I can do the “taking care of each other” part easy. I’m pretty good at caring for my people. But even though I wrote that it would be honoring Jim to live happy, actually following through on that has seemed more like dishonor.

If I laugh am I not giving Jim the mourning he deserves?

If I have fun does it look like I don’t miss my sweetheart?

If I go a week without crying, maybe even a month someday, am I forgetting him? Am I—gasp—moving on?

I’m a stickler for using the right words to say what I mean. So I am careful to specify that I’m working on moving forward. Never that I’m moving on.

Moving on sounds like I forget or brush him under a rug. Instead, moving forward means pocketing all my pieces of Jim so that they’re close and taking a step or two toward what’s next. Whatever the hell that is. I talk about him. I sigh at his photos. But I also think about permitting new stuff to enter my life. That has been hard. I still avoid watching new shows that I hadn’t before he died. TV series. Movies. Guys, I haven’t seen Rogue One. Me. There is a Star Wars movie I haven’t seen. I own it—thanks, Kay Kay—but I haven’t watched it. There are some strange stumbling blocks along my way “forward.” Evidently that is one.

I am proud of how I’ve grieved. I do it. I don’t pushed aside my sadness or avoid talking about the loss, even if my voice catches or my makeup runs. I can’t imagine not talking about Jim whenever I want. I wrote about him and talked about him constantly while he was alive (to the annoyance of pretty much all the people everywhere actually) and I don’t see a reason to stop even though he’s gone.

With that I think I’m left healthier than if I didn’t have a talent for emotional expression and a willingness to do it publicly. I feel that maybe I am even progressing toward acceptance faster than I’m comfortable with. Just eight months after my husband died should I really be ready to even consider the idea of someday seeking happiness? The only way I can stomach that consideration is by giving myself credit for immediately embracing grief and the recognition that I’m luckier than most in the constant support I have from family, friends, and people I didn't even know before Jim died.

I have always been bright, clever, funny, and useful. But Jim made me vibrant. I’ve felt like that vibrance died with him. However, you don’t live with Jim, gain so much, and at his passing just lose it all. His knowledge base was so different from my own. It awoke dormant curiosity. He loved to go, to do. It made me braver and even eager to try new things. He gave me more family—the kids, his sisters and parents, Victory Woodworks. It beefed up my team and left me more people to serve. I’d like to think what our love and marriage gave me is mine to keep. I just have to find the tools and gumption to dig it back up.

With Jim I was happier than anyone had ever seen me be before. He was his happiest too. That’s got to be one of the things that my family has had the hardest time with, that so many people have really. She was so happy! He was so happy! They were so happy together.


Is Happy still in me? If the qualities I gained or amplified in being Jim’s girl—curiosity, bravery, and a desire to live bigger and offer up my strength and spark to more people—still belong to me, shouldn’t at least the concept of absurd happiness also remain mine? I don’t know where I can find it or even if I will, but gradually I’m coming to a place where I can bear the idea of keeping an eye out for joy, of “living happy” and letting Jim’s memory be the thing that takes care of me.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

WIDOWING

A few weeks ago there was an 18” bruise up the side of my right leg and pain in my back. A mean windstorm flipped our stupidly giant hammock over the top of my upper deck rail, I fought to stop the thing from totally wrecking a rain gutter, and I lost. There is a 3” dent in the drywall in my office because I have no business wielding a hammer of any sort.

Where I’m lucky is that at least 20 people read those things and thought, BUT I TOLD HER TO CALL ME IF SHE NEEDED ANY HELP AROUND THE HOUSE! I’m grateful that’s the case, but, honestly, like I’m going to do that. Why should my friends be inconvenienced when I want to hang things? Also, I’m not patient. If something needs doing, I’m not good at waiting for help. I’m going to plow ahead, do a horrible job, probably break something, and then take a humble pie in the kisser by way of paying a guy to fix the result of my impatience, ignorance, and arrogance.

I’ve always talked to myself when things are hard. You can do this. You can do this. Problem is, I’m generally wrong. But that’s what I whispered heading out to the garage this evening on the hunt for a stud finder. (Couldn’t find one. We have every other tool imaginable, but evidently Jim didn’t need to find studs; they found him.) When the tool chests came up dry I scanned the garage for more possibilites. I’d already been teary, searching through Jim’s stuff, but I didn’t actually lose it until my eyes landed on his nail bags. It wasn’t often that Jim donned bags to get my silly home decor tasks done, but when he did it was about the cutest thing I’ve ever seen. He loved me for how capable I am, and man I loved that about him too. There wasn’t anything he couldn’t do. My husband liked that about himself. When hanging shelves or mirrors or doing whatever strange thing I dreamed up for him—Can you please suspend this painting from our slanted ceiling using eye hooks and rope?—he’d be about halfway through and say, “I’m really talented at this stuff.”

Heart eyes. Eyes spewing a shit-ton of hearts.

It’s just about every day that I’m grateful I cupped Jim’s face to kiss him. It’s not only my lips that remember his face but my hands can too. Sometimes I bring my hands up and reach out like I can hold his face in front me. My fingers don’t find anything, but I have to make sure my arms remember the height difference between us and my hands don’t forget the width of his face and feel of his whiskers.

We hit seven months last week. Another dumb marker. And one that makes conversation kind of harder. “My husband died.” Sad eyes and sympathy accompany, “How long ago?” “Seven months now.” And then faces lift a touch—I don’t have to be too, too sorry for her now; phew—and sad eyes shift into a look that reads something like, Oh, so you’re pretty much fine now, right? No. Not how it works. And even though I appreciate that you try, you can’t understand. I’m happy for you; being able to understand what this feels like means you’ve been through it, and that’s awful. There are very few people on whom I wish Awful.

I look pretty normal. I act pretty normal. I pat myself on the back—I’m a yogi; I can actually do that, pat myself on the back—when I consider that my new students can't guess that my insides are wrecked. I’m just the really, really encouraging teacher who gives her all to trying to curse less in class and manages to laugh off moments where she biffs it out of an arm balance in front of 20 attentive adults. I am pulling this off like a champ.

I recently saw my dentist for the first time since losing Jim. She gave me the inevitable sad eyes and said, “You were so happy.” I’ve gotten good at accepting sad eyes without crying in response, but her words did me in.

“We were,” I replied, “So, so happy.” She and I talked about how great things had been and how I have piles of amazing memories that make me smile and get me through the days. In remembering Jim, nine times out of 10 I laugh instead of cry.

“But, really how are you doing?”

After a pause I said, “Well, I’m good at this. I know it sounds weird, but I’m pretty good at alone and I don’t deny myself grief. I can’t. I love him too much. So while I’m not doing good per se, I am doing good at this.


It’s weird though. While I’ve pretty well ditched shame regarding public crying, I am having a hard time figuring out how to talk about Jim without making people too uncomfortable.

I was talking with a gum-loving student after class the other night and told him about the time that Jim was chewing gum in one of Tanya’s yoga classes and she walked over, put out her hand, and he spat his gum into it. “One of my favorite memories,” I said. And then I looked away and quickly pushed the conversation another direction. Because when you say “memories” it implies that something is done. But why? Why’s it done? Not because you got a divorce; you don’t usually talk about favorite memories when you’ve gotten divorced, right? And if not a divorce, well, what is it? Yeah, a death. So then you have to go there. And while I love talking about my husband, I’m more socially adept than that. People don’t know what to do and I just end up apologizing for telling them about my situation.

I was at a doctor’s office a couple weeks ago and a nurse asked about the double strand necklace I wear. “What’s engraved on that second pendant?” she asked, “The thing that starts with N?”

“You’re so bummed you just asked about that,” I said.

“Oh, I’m sorry. If you don’t want to talk about it—”

“No, I do,” I told her, “It’s why I wear it, but you’ll be sad you asked. The top pendant has my husband’s initials, JSE, and that number—N985CA—on the bottom pendant, it’s the tail number from the plane that crashed and killed my husband.”

And then shit gets all awkward. Killed. My. Husband.

“Oh I’m so sorry.” “I know. Thanks . . . ” And so on.

My friend Liz who also lost her husband gave me an analogy that stuck. This widowing thing is like learning to live with a limp. Initially, it's everything. The pain that causes you to limp is your world. And then you learn to live with your new escorts, Discomfort and Difficulty. It might look unwieldy, but that's just your new way to walk. I limp now. Depending on the moment my limp is more or less pronounced. It might not make me stall at crosswalks anymore, but it's there, and figuring out how to maneuver around the change and craft a new normal is the task at hand. 

Sunday, February 26, 2017

THAI COLLAPSE

The Thailand entry stamp in my passport says February 25. The Thailand departure stamp in my passport says February 26. The 24 hours I’ve been in Thailand are about 22 too many.

February 25th:

4:00PM—Land Koh Samui Airport in southern Thailand
5:00PM—Check in Samahita Retreat for Yoga Medicine week-long spine training
6:00PM—Mandatory dinner. Meet other trainees. Silently begin to lose shit.
7:30PM—Training orientation. Shit-losing increases.
7:45PM—Admit defeat. Book it back to private room to frantically schedule flight to get the hell out of Thailand.

Koh Samui airport. About as much Thailand as I actually saw.
This trip was me being the brave widow. And it was a big fat fail. I’ve traveled a fair amount since Jim died. Disneyland, three or four trips to Utah, Los Angeles for a baby blessing, Denmark to spend Thanksgiving with the Johnsons. All the trips are sad because I’m without my love, but I’ve plodded along, going through the motions. Thailand was supposed to be part of that.

I erred. It didn’t occur to me that all the other post-Jim travel I’ve done was with or to visit friends and family. This wasn’t that. Instead it was Megan jetting to the other side of the planet entirely alone. Genius.

Yoga teaching certification-wise, I have my RYT-200. A next step is getting the 500. Maybe six months before that stupid plane crash I picked a school—Yoga Medicine—and kept an eye out for a training module that would work. Jim and I talked about going to the spine training in Thailand at the end of February. Maybe I could do that and he could come and we could explore after? Yes.

Then he died.

And I got extra stubborn. I’m going on the damn trip. I’m gonna do the damn training. Did I want to? Not even a little bit. But it’s the right thing—go learn, get better at teaching, do something. Be tough.

I’m not a quitter. I don’t fail. Except I just quit and failed.

I’m glad that I didn’t chicken out before I got here. If you heard from me that I was going to Thailand you were probably kinda confused; I seemed way bummed out. “But Thailand, Megan! It’s beautiful!” “Don’t care. Don’t want to go but have to do this.” Even though it’s lame that I traveled for 30 hours to get here just to turn around and travel 30 hours to get home, it’s better than not having tried at all. Which I myself don’t even understand. Why is good to try and fail? To learn your breaking point? I don’t know. I only know that I’m glad I didn’t back out in Reno.

Rather I got to travel really far to learn for certain that I’m newly emotionally ill-equipped for life outside my home bubble.

On my flights to Asia everyone was coupled. On the ride to the yoga center I was desperate to to hear what Jim would think about all the old power lines strung through the streets. At dinner other trainees did what people do—talked about their kids and their significant others and their teaching jobs and other trainings they’ve done. I sat quiet, attributing my reticence to fatigue when really I was just mired in spite, resenting anything that might smell of happiness. That's not like me. I overheard girls talking about how some Instagram yoga people get big followings they don’t merit, and I wanted to smack ‘em for their intense interest in the inconsequential. It. Doesn’t. Matter.

Whimpering stray dogs made me sadder than they should have. Strays are a problem in Thailand. Hotels ask guests not to feed or touch them. It was too much. At home I keep an extra leash in my car and will miss appointments and classes to catch a pet and help it home.

Even though admitting defeat isn’t my proudest moment, I’m supposed to be pleased that I had the self-awareness to concede that the little things were adding up to a too-big thing, and I couldn’t hack it. I’ve got limits; I misjudged them to start, but I am fixing it. I can’t be alone for hours and hours and see couples happily traveling together while I’m so close to Jim’s death. I can't pull off common social graces and to pretend Instagram is important or fein interest in strangers’ kids. I don’t have to cope with the sadness of walking past whimpering homeless puppies.

So I’m withdrawing back to Sparks where my mom is waiting to feed me healthy food and hover to wait for a bit more rebuild. In weaker moments ditching out on the training feels like regression. I’ve been holding it together like a champ for months by way of making the right choices. I cry when I need to. I push forward when I can stand it. I bail when things are too much and usually don’t beat myself up about it. In this case the size of the bail makes the success of yielding to my limits feel like a fail, though I suppose I know better. I need to be where I can stay held together—with people who know what I’m dealing with and dogs that have homes. While I don’t hesitate to acknowledge that I’m mending from being broken, I guess it took coming to Thailand to realize that I have to be more cautious when the glue’s not dry.

Friday, February 24, 2017

ONE DOZEN LOVE LETTERS

In filling out that book 642 Things About You That I Love for Jim I came across this prompt:

This is what I believe about you—

My answer came easy. I really believed that you could save yourself. I’m still shocked that it’s not true. I believed you were more powerful than death.

A lot of what I’ve felt since Jim died is shock. There are still the bewildering realizations that he’s never coming home but also this sense of disbelief that my sweet man was actually able to be killed. Something in me was convinced he had the power to prevent that.

While rolling trash cans to the curb this week—a task that wasn’t all mine until 6 months ago—it occurred to me that actually I was right. With a soul the size of his, Jim was too powerful to die. I see myself as Jim's legacy-keeper—the job that came with the privilege of getting to have him at all is keeping him alive once he’s gone. It's not hard. There is so much good to hang on to.

I don’t focus my attention on life after death. Now is what matters to me, but no matter what I might believe about the soul and life after we die, I can treat Jim’s death as absence not disappearance. Like I mention perhaps too often, you don’t live as large as he did and just vanish once you’re not breathing. By way of my unabating memorialization, that man’s not going anywhere.

I have scads of little love notes from Jim. When my mom asked for copies of a few [of the chaste ones] I was delighted to oblige. They’re too good for me not to share. Enjoy. And maybe do this: pick up the nearest scrap of paper and write your person a love note. It doesn’t need to be fancy or poignant or a work of literary art. Just take a sec to be you loving your someone while you’ve got the opportunity to do it.












Friday, December 30, 2016

THE HIERARCHY OF SADNESS

I’m back in memorial-service mode. Jim’s mom died three days ago. It seems the world at large is whining about 2016 being a bitch, but I’m not in a position to indulge in the frivolity of giving a damn about this year’s celebrity deaths. So if I wasn’t opposed comparing miseries, I’d go ahead and call the win on behalf of my clan in regard to the suckiest 2016. Jim’s best friend Brandon died. Four months later my Jim died. Four months after that Jim’s mom died. And there were two family dog deaths sprinkled in there someplace. So we win at loss. However, that yields to the Hierarchy of Sadness, which shouldn’t be a thing.

When people find out about my loss, they invariably end up waiving claim to sorrow of their own, surrendering to what I’ve come to call the Hierarchy of Sadness. Everyone has misfortune and when friends tell me about what’s hard for them they qualify it by saying something like, “I mean, it’s nothing like what you’re dealing with . . . ” They don’t want me to think they compare their grandma’s death or rear-ending a car to losing my person and our future.

It’s unavoidable though.

We do our best to relate, dusting off our saddest thing and using it to find our way to comprehension of some kind. It’s good. It’s kindness. But also people feel like they can’t tell me their woes because I might assume they find their stuff equal to what I’m dealing with. Here’s the deal: you don’t know how I feel. I don’t know how you feel either. It’s why we talk—or write—about stuff, to reach something like understanding. I don’t know what it’s like to lose a parent. I don’t know what it’s like for my parents to get divorced. To lose a sibling. To lose a child. I know what having a cheating spouse felt like. I know what my own divorce felt like. I know what it feels like to become a widow.

My horrible thing that I think about all the time and weighs me down and makes me pitiful doesn’t make your problems any smaller. I don’t want people to feel like they’re not entitled to their emotions because my misfortune seems bigger. And okay, maybe it is bigger, but really it’s just different. I’m in a different place of sadness than someone separating a family or struggling with a disabled child. My sadness might debilitate or visibly alter me more, but it doesn’t nullify how your sadness affects you.

I spent the last few years breathtakingly happy. I had an incredible man, I told people about him, and I know that my story made some people wish their lives were different, maybe even more like mine. I feel like people forget—no, that they don't know—that the mass and style of how happy I got to be shouldn’t have rendered anyone else’s joy insignificant. While it’s natural for us to compare happenings and feelings, letting our judgement of the comparison invalidate how our own life experiences affect us bums me out.

That was me being nice for a minute. And I do feel like that. But generally I need to avoid looking at other people’s lives because when I slip into the inevitable comparing I usually end up invalidating people’s experiences for them. Oh, but is your partner still alive? Oh he is? How nice for you. Shut your mouth.

Random old people get under my skin. Because they’re alive. They get to be 80 and my Jim got 30 years less. I hate that I’ll probably be one of those old people some day, healthy and stuck staying alive. Come 80 I’ll have been widowed for 46 years.

It’s not uncommon for people to suggest that I’ll get married again someday. You’re kidding, right? He died. We didn’t get divorced. I’m married. The difference between my marriage and others is that I wear both our wedding rings. I didn’t marry Jim because I wasn’t good at or fine with being alone. I married Jim because he was Jim.

Our wedding ceremony. Gay, Jim's mom, giving me his dad's ring. Though blacked from the fire, that ring survived Jim's plane crash. Now it's fixed and shiny and part of a bracelet on my wrist.
Yes, post-loss I had to amp up my alarm system because I don’t have a person to make me feel safe without beefier electronic security. Yes, I do fret about what if I start to choke and I’m too short to use the back of a chair to successfully Heimlich myself. But those concerns aren’t enough to make me want to hop on eHarmony. I’m putting my name on Jim’s headstone. Our headstone. The hole in my life isn’t just man-shaped; it’s Jim-shaped. 

With the right components in place, suffering can morph into healing. Admittedly I don’t want that, to heal, so whatever improvement occurs is pretty much against my will. Yet whether I want to be or not (not) I am one of those right components.

When I got divorced I was crushed with the feeling of failure. So I became an expert in redefining the win and spun losing the marriage into a victory because I lost a loser. After Jim’s death though I decided that redefining the win was stupid and quit that shit. There was no spin there that was going to make my husband getting killed a good thing. We were already each other’s great success. Alas, as I’ve said too many times to count after this tragedy, I am not stupid. And while the small boosts I can identify don’t fill the pit in my soul even a little bit, I can’t help but see them and they give me pause enough to acknowledge that everything doesn’t absolutely suck.

That acknowledging isn’t something I do enough publicly. Mostly I just bump around downcast and come off as hating everything everywhere, which, yeah, might be my most-of-the-time take, but I keep coming back to the concept that I’m not dumb. I would be dumb not to see what’s great, and there is a boatload. You’ve read that here more often than I say it aloud because I write it for the reminder to myself and because I want to holler that I’m not the most depressing, negative, unfortunate person ever. I’m just a girl who was so happy and then suddenly so not. But it has to be separate from the good things, because the not-Jim good things didn't go away. In fact, they enhanced.

The relationships that were already in place strengthened. I've been able to enjoy the Victory crew personally. It’s been a gift getting to know my sisters-in-law more. The relationship I have with the kids couldn’t be better; we are a team. I already loved Traci and her kids, but now she’s my sixth sister. We all had the saddest, most sentimental Christmas, but we did it together. And we have a wedding coming up. Dustin and his doll got engaged.

As a grief exercise I bought a fill-in-the-blanks book called 642 Things About You (That I Love). While Jim will never receive it, at least I’ve got stuff written down and I have direction for that time I hover in memory space. One of the early questions is “If our relationship had a mascot, what would it be?” Not each answer comes immediately, but that one did and came with a groan. A damned phoenix. My sweetheart and I came together from the ashes of destroyed marriages, the both of us, and now I’m left to rise again, this time from for-real plane-crash ashes. A phoenix. Shit. Of late the rising looks more like hovering and then diving into ash again and again, but I’m Jim’s wife—against my will there’s moments of rise. I pretty much hate being so freaking awesome.

Monday, December 26, 2016

SMART, BEAUTIFUL & DIFFICULT

Stuck to a magnet on the door of the garage fridge is a small laminated paper that says LUNCH. My solution to a recurring problem. I slapped the magnet on Jim’s car door at night when I put his lunch in the fridge so that the next morning he’d take it off, turn around, and go back to the fridge to get the lunch he invariably walked past on the way to his truck. I made him fancy salads and tart, tart vinaigrettes. And yeah, once or twice I may have included carrots and radishes cut out in the shape of hearts

If he didn’t get all the way to work before remembering he forgot the lunch he’d turn around and drive home to get it. “I could have brought it to you!” I’d tell him. “How else will I learn?” he’d reply.

He wanted to eat healthier. I wanted him to eat healthier. He didn’t have time to figure it out. I did. “But more than that,” I told him, “I love making your lunches because at 11:30AM every day you are certain that I love you.” The care I put into that food couldn’t spell it out more clearly.

I’ve said here before that my mom often told us that you love those you serve. I kept that in mind in my marriage. I trusted that the more I did for Jim the more I’d love him and the more I loved him the happier I’d be. Listen, I failed in my first marriage. I’ve never been shy about taking responsibility for my part in a marriage that was weak enough to snap. I didn’t make time or care, and I’m not sad it broke; it got me Jim and his family. Fresh out of a failed marriage though, there were some things I knew I wanted to do differently to make this one work.

The euphoria I felt from the love Jim and I had was enough to overpower inconveniences. So he forgot his lunch, his glasses, his computer, his charger and I’d have to restructure my day to get it to him? So what? It meant I got to see him. And if I didn’t get to see him it meant I got to leave a love Post-it. So he left his shoes at the bottom of the stairs? First, they’re darling, second, it was an uncommon occurrence, and third, if I put them away that’s one less thing for him to do when he got home from work. I’m grateful that even when he was alive I knew that seconds saved doing stuff for him were seconds I could use to enjoy him instead. Think of it as selfish. What I wanted was to be happy. Doing a good job loving Jim made me happy. So doing the things that could enhance the love and increase our time together would get me what I wanted. Simple, simple.

I am not saying I was the perfect wife. Gosh, no. The other morning I finally read through the last few months of our text messages. It was mostly logistics and me whining about stuff. Yes, there is lots of “love you baby” and “miss you” and “can’t wait to see you” and even a “hey hotpants,” but there are also boatloads of me being a pain in the ass.

But that’s part of it.

For one of Jim’s business groups he had to put together a list of the 10 things that are most important to him. In reading it to me he listed “My Family” and named all the kids and his mom and sisters and then moved onto the next item. “Hey,” I interrupted, “I want to be on that list!” “Hold on—” He got through a few more things and then read, “My Wife. I think she is smart, beautiful, and difficult.”
(from early June this year)
The love was worth it. It was worth inconveniencing myself to accommodate him. It was worth him putting up with how difficult I can be. I’m not naive to the fact that we didn’t get to do that for nearly as long as we would have liked and so we didn’t have 25 years to see if our patterns were sustainable. We also had the benefit of starting over together in second marriages. But I’d like to think that rather than us not having time to see if the ardor would fizzle, his death took the time we would have used to continue the work of perfecting Us.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

WAITING IN STAGES

Well, I’d do it. I’m certain that given the real option, I’d spend the price of my soul to avoid sitting through another double date without him. Why can’t that be a thing? If not access my soul, can I at least surrender an arm? An ear? Both ears? My sight? My talents? All of it? Tonight I was alone on my side of a restaurant booth. “Put your coats and purse over here,” I told Nick and Mallory.  I'd give whatever asked to make it so Jim and I together mean that we all have to find hooks for our things.

I’ve spent the holiday week in Copenhagen at my sister, Mal’s, house. “You don’t have to try to smile,” she tells me, “It looks like it’s hard today, and you don’t have to do that with me.” She watches my gaze slide to the floor when a room’s silent and I think she sees I’m scrolling through the memories that got me here. He bought our tickets. I cancelled his. I came alone. 

There's a difference between being a tourist and traveling to visit family. It means we go to the grocery store. We pick up my little nephew from school. I eat lots I shouldn’t. I ask about my brother-in-law’s job, and he listens to me talk about Jim. We watch movies and drink tea. The time here isn’t the go-see or find-trinkets kind, and while I can’t help but laugh with any of my sisters, I often find that laughter can’t get to my eyes. But they are my family and they’re patient with me. They wish he was here too. Last year Jim and I met Nick and Mal in Milan so the guys could go ski the Matterhorn. While I’m glad they got to do that before he died, it isn’t comforting.

Venice last year after Nick and Jim crushed the Alps.
I don’t try to find comfort. I don’t even try to find forward motion. Comfort isn’t there. Forward motion doesn’t interest me. I wait for each part of this bullshit to find me on its own.

My version of the denial piece of grieving seems to look a lot like incredulity. Wait. It’s real? . . . What about now? Is it still real now? And now? Seriously? Still? I smell Jim’s cologne on his t-shirt that I keep tucked in my bed, and at the inhale I remember smelling it on him after a shower and saying, “You smell like my husband,” and I with that I recall what his back felt like under my hands while he fell asleep. I linger in a remembering space longer than a wife of the living would. Yes, Megan, it’s real. You can’t make a new memory. No more slipping into the laundry room to make out when company’s over or thanking him for vacuuming cobwebs on the porch. What you have is all there is.

My version of the anger stage isn’t anger with Jim for getting on the plane or for the pilot for crashing it. It’s at the exhausting business of death and the insensitivity surrounding the stuff that has to happen after your someone croaks. So what he made you feel pretty and took comfort that you drive the safest car? His death is just a death. Sign these papers and go cancel his gym memberships.

And Depression isn’t a stage of grieving. It’s the norm. The shifts come by way of how the depression shows up. Today it feels like sandbags on my shoulders. Today it feels like boards over the doors. And today it feels like why-can’t-I-just-take-another-Ambien-and-pass-the-hell-out-to-just-skip-this-day. After he died a few friends asked if I was going to see about upping my antidepressant dose. No. While I am on board with knocking myself out at night so I don’t spend eight hours stretching my arm into his side of the bed to feel that it’s still tight and cold, you can’t medicate away sadness. And Jim’s memory warrants feeling it all. I want to feel the tonnage of disconsolation because to do otherwise makes less of what he was.

But it makes me tiresome. I dwell. I make death-related jokes that turn conversation awkward. I fixate on memories. The number of Jim-stories I’ve got is finite, so I tell the same ones a lot. The reverence surrounding a death and the tiptoeing around a new widow means that no one tells me to stop. “We’ve heard this story before. Ten times.” “Stop saying that he ‘does’ things. Present tense doesn’t belong to you anymore.” No one can tell me to shut up without immediately becoming a colossal jackass. I’m a 34-year-old widow. The dead guy’s deified, but I’m the one they fear.

When I make comments about wishing to die, my people get uneasy. “You’re not going to, like, hurt yourself,” some say, some ask. No. I’m not that girl. But, man, I wish I was dead. It’s not that I want to bail on those here or cause myself more pain. I just want to be with my person. As that’s not an option, I’d prefer not to be here at all. The death-wish is hollow though; instead of taking action I'll just wish and waste.

Because of this: I’m still Jim’s wife. While wasting and pretty damn worthless, I still have somewhere a spark of what my husband loved. Jim was likable on sight, good at everything, and generous with all. It made him something special, and I was worthy of him. I’ve been dynamic and determined. I’ve dug out from ashes. I’ve accomplished hard things. His death is the hardest to get through, and I know that the me on the other side will be changed. My grief is about waiting. I wait for the tears and wait for them to stop. I wait to accept the void of my new normal. And I wait for pieces of the old me to find their way forward.  I’ve got a feeling that the parts that made me Jim's are the parts that will pull me to my feet when I’ve waited long enough.

Monday, November 14, 2016

WHAT'S GOOD? WHAT'S GOING RIGHT?

When Jim encountered rough stuff—say, work turning in the wrong direction or frustration from his ex-wife’s unwillingness to coparent—I’d listen, usually feed the fire, then stop and ask, “Okay, what’s good? What’s going right?”

His answers were consistent. “I have a great relationship with all my kids. I love my wife. I get lots of sex.” Even though big things might be rotten, bigger things were good.

I’m struggling. A lot is wrong. The business of death is a hassle and draining. I don’t have motivation to get myself out of the house for anyone but family and the Allens. I wish I could help the kids feel better, but I know nothing will to work. Most of all I ache like hell for my husband.

It’s a more difficult exercise now, but—Okay, what’s good? What’s going right?

I have a good relationship with all the kids. They’re my people. I get to hang out with Katelynn. I went flying this weekend with Dustin and Tjaden. I hear from Jo a lot. Ben sends me jokes. We don’t get to see each other nearly as much as we’d like, but when we were last all together Ben said, “This is like Disneyland.”

I’m mad as hell about it, but Jim left us ready. We were ready to be family without him. A year ago, we all wouldn’t have been able to brace up and enjoy each other without him around, but we’ve spent enough time together under Jim’s influence to have built trust and love enough to fashion our own support structure.


What’s good? What’s going right?

I have words. I have the ability to write about all this awful stuff. It blunts some of the despair. Writing and posting about losing Jim is like opening a carbonated drink, some pressure leaves, but all the liquid is still there.

By way of both my blood-family and my in-laws, I have a big bunch of family that I love and love me. My mom moved in with me for the month after Jim died. She went where I told her, waited when I couldn’t move, made me food, and even now if I told her that I can’t do this alone and I need her back, she’d be on the road in minutes.

I was in Utah this weekend to see my niece in a play. Before the show started her 11-year-old brother leaned across my mom to ask, “Hey Aunt Megan, how’s life?” “Shitty.” I replied, feeling only a little bit guilty that I cursed to a kid. Accuracy over prudence. “I’ll bet,” he said. Top to bottom, my family gives a damn.

I used to be superstitious. If I say something’s going to happen, it won’t. I lost that conviction in seconds. I am not dramatizing when I say that I wrote the last bit of my Terminal blog post as a specific mechanism to prevent loss. I first wrote the last paragraph as only disbelief at my good fortune. But then, afraid that my unrestrained happiness would spur some terrible event, I added as safeguard, “I know as well as anyone that things can—they will—change, fast, and life may not always look like this.” Despite my concerted effort, it was less than a week before life didn’t look like that.

Along that same hollow line of thought, I was counting on odds to give me more time with Jim. With a 16-year spread between us, I always expected to outlive Jim, but by how much? Brandon’s death gave me what I thought must be at least 20 years; best friends do not die close together. The remote chance of losing Jim soon after losing Brandon was enough for me to settle into relief that I didn’t need to worry about losing my person for a while.

Never tell me the odds. I need that on a shirt or tattooed on my body. Though the odds looked to be in my favor, they never were.

Two dead dads. When the Allen kids lost their dad, Brandon, the next best thing was Jim. He couldn’t be their dad, but he could love Traci and her kids like family. He could keep the memory of their dad fresh. He was consolation prize far from what they wanted but enough to be some kind of solace.

Nope. He only got to carry Traci’s post-vacation suitcases up the stairs one time. The only thing he got to fix at her house was the door to the playhouse. He only got to drop Brandon’s jeep off at the mechanic, never pick it up. The Allens only got to feel Jim’s runner-up support for four months.

What’s good? What’s going right?

I have Traci. Along with friendship, I have close and complete understanding from the other widow. After Brandon’s death Jim took comfort that he left behind a capable wife; Traci would do a hell of a job figuring things out after losing her love. I have that example to draw from.

I have my dogs. Since there are heartbeats waiting for me, when I come home it’s not to Entirely Alone.

I have long-suffering friends who let me have time and distance. They offer help of whatever kind I can accept whenever, if ever, I can.

I have yoga, the teaching and the taking. Yoga is somewhere to go that’s familiar. I told Cameron a few weeks ago that I appreciate that I’ve been doing yoga long enough that new studios don’t scare me. I’ve always gone to class when I travel—my husband loved that about me—and wherever I go yoga studios are places where I know what to do. With the teaching I have that slice of time when I really can ditch my sorrow and focus on someone else. I get ringside seats to students’ progress and change. It’s a reward I get paid to receive.

I have the team at Victory Woodworks, a group of talented, big-hearted A-players. A couple weeks ago I was having one of the extra rotten days, and if I hadn’t already said I would go by Victory to drop stuff off, I’d have stayed home all day. But I followed through and went to the office, and their kindness and hugs and success lifted me such that I left feeling a little bit better.

A while into my relationship with Jim I apologized to one of my sisters for being so off the grid. “I used to be a good sister,” I told her, “I used to be attentive and thoughtful. Sorry for being absent.” She said my absence was good, it meant I didn’t need them, that Jim was filling my needs. She was happy for me instead of resentful. There were so few of my needs that Jim couldn’t fill.

Because the biggest thing is rotten, I have a hard time seeing through the grief to identify what’s right. People. I read through what I’ve written above, and I see that what’s good, what’s going right, is lots about people. When I have the ability to pause and look what’s right, it’s there by way of the living.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

OPTING OUT

Most of the time I am doing one hell of a job faking it. I can’t tell if it’s a good thing or not. I go out in the world and I smile at my people and I make jokes—usually really morbid, sad ones, but they’re levity of some kind. I pull off what looks like a good mood, and if not upbeat, at least I come off as something not utterly heartbreaking. Hey, so it’s all a big fat lie. I don’t know though if it’s better to put on a smile and fool people or to do what’s more honest and tell everyone that I couldn’t possibly care less about what they’re saying and I’m even a little irritated that they aren’t as depressed as I am.

I wasn’t all that social before Jim died. I’m so much less so now so as to be antisocial. I don’t know how to talk about anything not-Jim. That’s not true. Cameron and I can talk about yoga postures for hours. But other than that, nope. Even then though we talk about Jim in between yoga stuff. I’m grateful when I learn that I’m not the only one who misses my husband.

It’s simultaneously shocking and deadeningly heavy that he is for-real gone. Like, really. Like the I’m-serious-and-still-can’t-believe-what-I’m-saying type of gone. How did I, at 34, lose the best thing that will ever happen to me? You can try to tell me that it’s not all downhill from here, but I’m uninterested in bullshit. Jim was the pinnacle. He was my trump card. When comparing myself to others, as I can’t help but do because I’m a girl, the inevitable inadequacy couldn’t beat me because I had Jim. You might be beautiful, but I get to go home to Jim. You might be smart, but I get to go home to Jim. Even if I couldn’t be the things I wished I wished I was, I could be to Jim the things he saw me to be. It was plenty. Being loved like I was loved was more than enough.

When you’re polite, and I like to think I was polite once, you talk to people about them and the things they care about. I can do that barely halfheartedly. 80% of the time as I’m saying the words that sound right I’m thinking, “ . . . I don’t care I don’t care I don’t care . . . ” It means I barely know what’s coming out of my mouth and don’t remember the conversation later. But I feel like I have to go through the motions of being a decent human or I will make myself permanently irrelevant.

It’s different when I’m teaching yoga though. Then I’m doing that being-present thing quite adeptly. I can focus on my students, and really, I adore them. It’s an hour and fifteen minutes where I can give a damn. I think I use up all my caring about others during that time and don’t have any left for casual conversation or optional social interactions. So I elect not to engage.

I suppose the fact that I can teach at all indicates some kind of progress in my process. But progress toward what? It’s all empty future without him. Okay sure, I’ll find some kind of happy someday, but I want the happy I had. It was fulfilling and unreal. And not just retrospectively. It was unreal when we were in it, ending in confirmation of the concept that if it seems to good to be true it probably is.


People used to tell me that our relationship gave them hope. Hope that they could find some kind of beauty for themselves, that when things seem all loneliness and dark there is potential for a turnaround. What I want to say after August 30th is this—sorry, but no; it’s all awful. Best I can give you is to say that you need to love your people full-on and ferociously because your version of Good can literally go up in smoke—flames and black smoke falling into an RV park and DOA—and all you’ll be left with is whatever memories you’ve created. So save the love notes, spend money on experiences, take photos of the mundane, blow off what only seems critical to be with your loved ones, and focus less on surface achievements and goals so that you can indulge in the luxury of having someone to love.

That’s the most positive stuff I can say. Everything else I have to offer is drenched in despair and outright intended to make people feel bad.

I do remind myself that other people are dealing with shit or have things they want to talk about that are interesting to them, but my response to my own reminder goes like this, “Oh, I don’t care.” So rather than go out and be an asshole, I avoid social stuff as much as I can. It’s poor manners to be with people and spend all your time sulking in a corner mumbling, “None of this matters, you know.” I run into real problems though considering that I have people in my life I love and appreciate who want to be there for me, who want to help me and the kids, and they don’t know how. I don’t know how to tell them how, and I don’t have the social fortitude to make up the difference between their love and my selfish sadness.

I often wonder why i keep the house tidy, why I don’t eat myself totally fat, why I go to class or teach class, why I voluntarily interact with anyone at all. It feels pointless when Jim isn’t my reward. The Whys I come up with are habit and fear. Fear that I’ll just make it all worse. That did not, however, stop me from sitting at my kitchen table tonight roasting marshmallow after marshmallow with the blow torch and squashing them between Oreo after Oreo. It’s what I had to work with since the preferable option of sitting on the couch tickling Jim’s head while he fell asleep on my lap was pretty well out of the question.