Grief: Less. Absence: More.

By John Polo

I believe, that grief changes.

I believe, that grief lessens.

I believe, that grief itself does indeed get easier.

As the full out meltdowns seem to become a thing of the past, and the gut wrenching tears become less frequent, there is, however, one thing that becomes more profound.

Their absence.

For the last few months I have been feeling a certain way.

I believe it began shortly after the one year anniversary of her passing.

Michelle’s birthday was in November. Christmas, of course, in December. January the month that she was called Home.

Not only did I gorge myself for those three months, to the tune of an additional eight pounds, but I grieved. 

Hard.

Her birthday, the Holiday’s, and the day that she passed away.

It was so much more than that though.

Those three months were so difficult, as every day I relived the horrific memories that they brought with them.

The last three months of her epic cancer battle.

But, I got through it. 

The first year passed, and my intense grief began to fade a bit.

But, something else reared its ugly head.

Something, that I was not anticipating.

Something, that I did not think was even humanly possible.

I started to miss Michelle, more.

I started to feel the absence of Michelle, more.

Fifteen months in to this journey I have learned so much.

So much.

About myself. 

About life.

About love.

About grief.

And now, I have learned this: 

Hardcore grief lessens, a bit.

Hardcore grief eases, a bit.

BUT

While the moments where you catch yourself on the floor, with tears coming down so hard, that you fear you may wake a neighbor or break a rib, become less and less frequent, absence grows.

The hours and days tick away, and we grow to feel further and further away from them.

Somehow.  Someway.  We miss them more.

Somehow.  Someway.  We feel their absence more.

We ache for their hand. To hold it just one more time.

We ache for their lips. For just one more kiss.

We ache for their smile. To see it even for a second, would bring us the ultimate bliss.

We ache for them.

For their presence.

For their very being.

For just one more second.  Of just one more day.

We miss them. 

Now more than ever.

We miss them in everything that we do.

We feel their absence in every breath that we take.

Yes, grief changes.

Yes, grief lessens.

Yes, it does get easier in time.

The missing though.  It gets worse.

The absence though.  It intensifies.

That is why ‘We aren‘t over it yet’.

That is why we NEVER get over it.

The longer that we go without them, the more that we miss them.

© Copyright 2017 John Polo

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Does the Pain Ever End??

By Christina Saunders

I was watching this show and the father was dying, of course he didn’t tell the kids. They only found out when he passed out on the beach and was rushed to the hospital. As I watched this little boy fighting back his tears my began to over take me. At first I’m thinking why are you crying with your grown 43 year old self? Then I thought why can’t I cry? Sure it’s a movie but I know the pain to well. I was no longer 43 in that moment but I was 6 all over again. That little girl who was trying to hide how much pain she was really in. That same little girl that everyone overlooked. That same little girl who couldn’t understand why her father had to be killed. Oh how I hate that gut wrenching feeling that just brings me to tears every single time.

Then I think do people ever tell you the truth? They say things like I promise you it will get better with time. And what you want to say is come here and let me punch you in the face for saying something so stupid. I don’t think it gets better with time. I think in time you learn how to maneuver through life without letting the grief consume you. I wish there was a road map with how to grow up dealing with the loss of your father. There are times that I still wish someone would hold me and say it will be okay. But will it really ever be okay? I think the thing that aggravated me the most is that people who had never walked in my shoes were telling me how I should feel. They had the nerve to tell me when I should stop feeling sad about not having my father. Or that sadly I wasn’t the first to grow up without a father. Well you know what my father didn’t make a choice not to be there. So why don’t I have a right to be sad. He was taken from me. Not only was I sad but I was angry as well.

Often I have to remind myself that it’s okay to feel the way I feel. That is the one thing I want all children to know is that it’s okay to be sad or angry. There isn’t a soul here on earth who should tell them how to feel. Yes, another can assist us on working through our emotions but don’t try to force us to be alright with the loss of a father!!

13 Reasons Why My Husband and Hannah Baker Killed Themselves

By Michelle Miller

13 Reasons Why….My Husband and Hannah Baker Killed Themselves

1. They were mentally ill
2. They were mentally ill
3. They were mentally ill
4. They were mentally ill
5. They were mentally ill
6. They were mentally ill
7. They were mentally ill
8. They were mentally ill
9. They were mentally ill
10. They were mentally ill
11. They were mentally ill
12. They were mentally ill
13. They were mentally ill

I almost ended this blog here. Upon completion of Netflix’s hit drama series, “Thirteen Reasons Why,” I was so infuriated that a show was created to focus on blaming others for a suicide, instead of bringing awareness to mental illness, that I was just going to post the list above with a middle finger as the thumbnail picture.

Then I had a glass of red wine (or bottle, whatever), and realized that I have no ability to objectively review this show like I had planned. The guilt it has triggered in me, a suicide widow who was blamed for the death of her husband, is just too strong. So instead, I am going to let all of you into my head for a bit to show you what it is like to battle the catastrophic, life-altering guilt of a suicide, on a daily basis. I want you all to see the thought process that happens for me to go from physically sick with guilt, back to functioning.

Since my husband John’s suicide in 2014 I’ve repeated the mantra, “It’s not your fault” both aloud and in my head obsessively just to make it through the day. Have you ever said a phrase so much that it becomes one long word?

It’sNotYourFault
It’sNotYourFault
It’sNotYourFault
It’sNotYourFault
It’sNotYourFault

This year I almost started to believe that long word. I almost started to believe that I wasn’t the reason why my husband shot himself. Even though his suicide note, and the demons that now live inside of my head say otherwise, my manta and I almost won!

I almost exhaled. I almost went a whole week without a nightmare. I almost loved myself again. Almost. So close.

Enter, “Thirteen Reasons Why.” A show constructed around the idea that other people are the reason why a high school girl named Hannah Baker dies by suicide. If an entire book and show have been created about blaming others for a suicide then it must be true, suicide is the fault of others, right?

This must mean John’s suicide really is my fault then, right?

And now here I am, back to repeating my manta in hopes that one day I’ll get close again to believing it.

It’sNotYourFault
It’sNotYourFault
It’sNotYourFault
It’sNotYourFault
It’sNotYourFault

Only this time, the mantra has not been enough to make it through the day, because everywhere I turn, “Thirteen Reasons Why” is being flashed in front of my eyes like the obnoxious neon bar signs I’ve come to know so well over the last few years.

My mantra now has now turned into a letter. A creed. A defense of myself, from myself.

Dear Michelle,
Take a deep breath.

It’sNotYourFault

If everyone who was bullied like Hannah was, killed themselves, the human race would be in danger of extinction.

Bullying does not cause suicide.

Bullying can cause mental illnesses or exasperate an already existing mental illness that can lead to suicide.

Those who bully should be punished for causing and exasperating mental illness.

If everyone who was raped like Hannah was, killed themselves, the human race would be in danger of extinction.

Rape does not cause suicide.

Rape can cause mental illnesses or exasperate an already existing mental illness that can lead to suicide.

Those who rape should be punished for causing and exasperating mental illness.

If everyone who was abandoned by their spouse like your husband John was, killed themselves, the human race would be in danger of extinction.

Abandonment does not cause suicide.

Abandonment can cause mental illnesses or exasperate an already existing mental illness that can lead to suicide.

Those who abandon a dangerous, chronically unfaithful husband like you did, should not be punished.

You should not be punished.

Stop punishing yourself.

It’s
Not
Your
Fault
That
Your
Husband
Killed
Himself

What your husband did to you before and after he died was worse than what you did to him, yet you persevered and he did not.

Your brain was healthier than his despite being subjected to years of his bullying.

You fought the depression, the fatigue, the confusion, the rage, the disappointments, and the humiliations brought on my HIS maltreatment of you, and you won. You gained the courage to leave him and in the midst of your victory dance he stopped your music with a single shot gun bullet.

John’s suicide was not your fault.

Ignore his suicide note, it was written by a sick man. Ignore John’s friends pointing the finger at you, they too are sick. Ignore the strangers that tell you he’d still be alive if you hadn’t of left him, they are ignorant. Ignore the voices in your head at 2:47am that tell you, you could’ve said something to make him drop the gun; you said all the words there were to say. His sick brain pulled the trigger, you did not.

Go back to that victory dance now, you deserve it.

Love,
Michelle

ItsReallyAndTrulyIsNotYourFault

©Copyright 2017 Michelle Miller

A Widow’s Reflection on Weddings and Dating

By Sabra Robinson

I finally did it. I attended a wedding. And … it was magical!

I wrote a blog last year during the holidays about my issue with attending weddings. Attending weddings for me was non-existent. My fear was powerful…until now.

I’ve documented my experience below as a follow-up to my article: An African-American Widow’s Battle with Holiday Wedding Invites: Is Your Struggle Real, Too?

I hope this encourages someone as much as I enjoyed writing it.

The Wedding ‘Date’

It’s hard to put into words how I was feeling on this day. It was Saturday, April 15, 2017. I was invited by a friend, my date, who is also considered one of the “fab five friends” of the groom. He had mentioned the wedding of his best friend in prior conversation and I inquired more. He was excited to go and I was excited for him. He took my excitement as an open invitation to probe. He asked.

I said yes…

For some reason, I knew it was the right moment, season, and time to attend my first wedding in five years since the death of my husband. I was in route to meet my date but I was late. Not intentionally, well maybe – well maybe not. I think deep down I was just a bit nervous. (I did stop on the way to grab a McDonald’s coffee, though). I was almost 30 minutes late meeting him at our meeting place prior to traveling to the wedding. He didn’t say anything when I arrived; he was cordial … and quiet. :-). He was a gentleman.

We walked into the wedding together. We weren’t late but the majority of guests had already arrived. Now mind you, we had to walk FACING the audience to get to our seats.

Lord, why me?!

It was in a gorgeous restaurant setting called Cafe Luna. The restaurant was closed just for the big day and it was well worth it. My date made introductions and I was very nervous. He asked if I was OK. I questioned him why. He said because I was twirling my fingers. I had not noticed.

Nervous?
No.
Anxious for it to be over?
Yes!

The Ceremony

It was a small and intimate wedding, no more than fifty guests. The ceremony itself lasted about 30 minutes. To my surprise, a portion of the wedding vows read by the pastor were also included in an inscription I had engraved on their wedding gift (I nominated myself to be the one to obtain the gift – I had to, with my date’s feedback, of course). As I sat there listening to the scriptures and readings of the pastor, the couple was engaged in eye to eye contact. Their love for one another was apparent.

It was a 1 Corinthians 13 kinda day.

David & Tracey Cook

Guests were cheerful, the food was tasty and the music, well let’s say it was a language that was rhythmic and performative. It was a harmonious language familiar to club dwellers of the Chicago, Detroit, DMV, New York and New Jersey belts amplified by legendary DJs such as Frankie Knuckles, Larry Levan and Baltimore’s own, the late Reggie Reg and a newbie to the scene years later (but gone too soon), DJ K-Swift. House music was the talk of the table and the tables were turning, I mean…the table I sat at consisted of fans of this urban electronic music who boasted about their younger years of club-hopping, attending Rutgers and family life. Feeling comfortable at this point, I spoke up. Besides, I knew the topics all too well. My guard was finally down and I endorsed myself to consume the ambiance of love, laughter, and liveliness of the special event.

Grief was not allowed nor was it welcomed.

I looked over at my date’s face and I saw a widower undefined by the event but defined by the harmony, love, and legacy of his fab-five brothers. It was a feeling I envied but understood.

Plus One

My date was such a gentleman that day and who was very much respected by his ‘fab five’ friends. As I sit here typing this, I cringe at the fact that I’m about to open up about my personal life at such detailed level. I’ve never done this before but I feel the need to. Why? Because there are others like me, in my position who are going through the emotional rollercoaster of attending weddings and dating while widowed. He was a special kind of date. Why?

Because … he’s a widower.

This was also his first wedding since his wife’s transition three years ago.

#DatingAWidower

I struggled with writing this portion but it so happened that a great article was posted in one of the Facebook widow forums that I co-manage, Black and Widowed: A Unique Journey. The article, Why Widows And Widowers Should Only Date Each Other, garnered much attention from widows and widowers in the group. Many provide their individual variations of their experiences, concerns, and expressions of how they view dating as a widow or widower:

I still find myself saying ‘we’ or ‘us’
I find it interesting dating divorced women. She talked about her ex-husband all the time
When I’m asked about my late wife I was told, ‘Oh, you’re still thinking about your late wife?’
As a widow with a 10-year-old, I’m clueless
I equate dating with a drunk guy on the dance floor
What’s the definition of dating?
I can’t recall what my husband and I did while dating. We met, fell in love and we were never apart … so, I have no idea.

Their replies are valid. Their concerns are understandable and their fears are relatable. I’ve been there. I’ve dated but they just couldn’t relate, until I met a widower.

My Hourglass

Well, there you have it; an hourglass reflection of what it’s been like for me on this journey. I’ve reached a milestone and I’m good now. I’ve even attended a wedding video viewing party just this past weekend! Yes, it was one of the weddings I skipped last year but the viewing party was even better! Although this type of event is new for me (never had one when I got married twenty-eight years ago), it was well worth the invite.

Talk to Me

Have you dated a widower or widow? What’s your experience attending weddings? Are you ready to date again?I’m curious to know so please chime in with your story. Do tell!

Sincerely,

A Happy Widow xoxo

*Stay tuned for part 2, A Widow’s Continued Reflection on Weddings, Dating And Beyond

Read more of my writings over at blackwomenwidows.com

A Diamond Under a Shrouded Veil

By Wendy Simpson

As my husband was dying, he and I never talked of his dying of cancer… never said good bye and never lived like death was something to give into. Oh yes, there were moments of agony and defeat and doubt, but never a formal goodbye or giving up. It was the most difficult, beautiful thing that has ever happened to me. Indescribable….

I may never have said good bye.. but I remember when he went to sleep… I knew, in my heart he may never wake. I whispered in his ear, Jesus loved him and that it was okay to stop battling and rest. I was shocked, he actually said “I know,”… he’d been so still for so long, but from the depths of who he was, he spoke. I asked him what Jesus was telling him, as I truly longed for assurances of heaven and for peace in these last moments together. He said, “Jesus is telling me lots of things.” That was the last thing he said on this earth. The strange thing was… with all the people in the room, no one else heard it but me.

I wondered if it was real… but it was the enemy, he had entered my thoughts was trying to steal from me this one last precious treasure. A treasure that I had begun to discovered within myself, because of my beloved husband. It was a gift from God through the humility and honesty of my beloved that I saw, underneath this rough stone, there was a diamond inside of me, though veiled and shrouded. Chris would have said it was formed over these many years of living in the pressures of the heat and fire; living in the adversity of this world; living in the tremendous challenges of death’s dark corners.

My beloved husband saw my value under all the rubble I was buried under, the protective veil I wore and the shroud I covered myself with. He gifted me with His love… not perfect love, but unconditional love, together we moved from beyond the fires of Hell, this world can burn us with. The day he spoke his last words… my grey, stony, outer layer cracked. His words ushered me in to see a glimpse of heaven… and through that deep painful crack… something began to sparkle and shine. The rubble and veil and shroud, could not hide the discovery of this light. I believe my husband saw it, and knew what I wouldn’t begin to understand for sometime. Chris was faithfully used by God, helping me leave the fire kilns at the outskirts of Hell…. to see heaven was real, sharing it’s brilliance with me… so that the light of it would shine from the crack in my stony, protective places. I knew that he was going to live again, free of his cancer ravaged body. My husband death changed my life.

A facet this treasure revealed was… my value. Under all that this world can pile upon us, and bury us under… there is a diamond of great value inside us all. Though shrouded by a veil of pain and loss… it still… should not be hidden. For my beloved husband and the great love of my Savior, I will go forward and allow the outer layer to be painfully and patiently removed.

I pray, in time, that the stone gray shroud of a widow’s painful loss, will reveal more facets… and that I may shine, someday, for the one who gave them as a gift to counter the darkness and reveal the beauty that has been hiding there waiting. Just waiting for the Great Bridegroom of my heart, the one whom my beloved husband stands beside today, to lift the veil that has hidden the diamond facets of my face. And… in lifting this veil, I will know… truly know, God is my husband, the Lover of my soul, the giver and provider of all I have and the redeemer of my broken heart.

Hope sisters, please remember you are of value, precious and treasured. There is more inside you then you know.

The Cancer Survivor, Redefined

By John Polo

In December of 2016 I was added to the National Cancer Survivor’s Day Foundation Speakers Bureau.

I was pretty excited when I found out the news.

I had written the foundation a few months prior and had submitted my application, but had not heard back.  I had assumed they were not interested.

After all, my blog is entitled, ‘Better Not Bitter Widower’.  How can a widower speak about cancer survivorship?

My wife didn’t survive.

It got me to thinking:  What exactly does it mean to be a cancer survivor?

Is one a survivor if they are living with the disease?

Do successful surgeries make one a cancer survivor?

How about effective chemotherapy?  Or radiation? Or immunotherapy?

Clean scans?  Is that what defines a survivor of this wretched disease?

Well, yes.  Any of the items stated above would indeed classify one as a cancer survivor.

By typical standards

I suppose I am atypical.

Most, would say that my wife is not a cancer survivor.

I would say, they are wrong.

My wife IS a Cancer Survivor.

Cancer may have taken her life, but the fight is not null and void.

Her fight, her bravery, her strength, her grace.

Her smile.

Her very being.

The beauty that was her soul.

Cancer did not take these things from my wife.

My wife may no longer be here.

Cancer may have forced her Home.

But, my wife survived cancer.

Michelle survived cancer because of how she fought.  Brave as could be.

Michelle survived cancer because of how she lived. Full of love.

Michelle survived cancer because of how she smiled. Genuinely, and up until the very end.

Michelle survived cancer because of the memories and enduring legacy that she leaves behind. She will never be forgotten.

The typical definition of a cancer survivor is preferred, obviously.  I hope that successful surgeries, effective therapies and clean scans become more of the norm.

I hope that one day, they will find a cure.

Until then, know this:  Once a cancer warrior, always a cancer warrior.  Once a cancer survivor, always a cancer survivor.  That rank, it can never be taken away.

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Sex, and Buffets, and Widows, Oh My!

By Michelle Miller

The other night I happened to be in a jacuzzi with three men and a bottle of whiskey. You know, just a typical Sunday night for Yours Truly. As whiskey-laced conversations often go, ours became deeper with each pour. A discussion of friends these men had lost to suicide arose and I asked them all how their friend’s widows were coping. This lead to a discussion on grief-sex.

“I could never have sex with someone who had just lost their husband,” said Number One. “I’d feel too much like I was taking advantage or something.”

“I would! If a widow needed sex I’d do it,” said Number Two with a tone full of sincerity and devoid of humor.

Number Three just lit his cigarette.

Right there in front of me was the polarized opinions of the masses when it comes to grief-sex. Some see sex after loss as harmful or disrespectful, some see it as helpful and natural, some people ignore the very notion of it…….and then you have people like me, who see grief-sex as one big food analogy.

The way I see sex after death, particularly the death of a spouse, is like food. Some people simply can’t eat while in mourning, and some people put on their stretchy pants and hit the all-you-can-eat buffet.

I hit the buffet.

The unending choices that online dating provided me with, and my ability to put whoever I wanted on my plate was how I regained my sense of power back after the free fall that was my husband’s suicide.

I regret none of it. Not even the guy with erectile dysfunction. The man buffet was a necessary part of my early grief.

Yes please I’ll take another scoop of that twenty-two year old gym rat with extra surfer-guy gravy on the side. No wait, put him on top, thanks.

Why yes, I’ll have a third slice of that sweet bartender and his cold-hearted ice cream friend next to him. Extra whipped cream.

No thank you to the emotionally healthy salad bar men with a savings account and kind eyes, I’ll stay over in the deep-fried-fucked-up biker guy section with the men whose engines are always running hot and their feelings for me cold.

There were very few times during my sex buffet years, when I felt taken advantage of. For the most part, grief-sex was an outlet for my rage and a way to regain my sense of power during those early years while in a perpetual state of free-fall.

The loss of power that comes with the loss of a spouse, particularly in cases of suicide, is something no one can prepare you for. Having my husband kill himself was to have the earth removed from my feet. It was to fall into a void that was darker than pitch black, only to land in a deeper void that was filled with infinite voids. It was to scream at the top of my lungs with no sound coming out and no one around to notice me. It was not having power taken from me, it was the realization that I never had any to begin with.

In so many ways, his death was also my own.

Sex, is the opposite of this. And while we are at it, so are all-you-can-eat-buffets! The consumer gets to chose the who, how, when, and how much. We cannot chose this of our spouse’s death, which is why a lot of widows and widowers have a lot of sex soon after their spouse’s funeral.

And sometimes AT their spouses funeral.

(FYI: Had I not had my children surgically attached to me at my husband’s funeral, I probably would have had sex with a groundskeeper or something!)

The loss of power is an interesting and universal part of the human experience, especially in the context of widowhood. Lack of power and the trek to regain a sense of it, manifests in so many different ways. Some find power in prayer, some find power in food, some find power in creating a charity, some find power in exercise, some find power in traveling, some find power through art, and some find it through sex.

The only differences in these quests to regain our sense power is how outsiders react to them. There is this undertone of expectations every culture has for how their widows are to behave; here in America you are a good little widow if you participate in church and charity, and you are a bad little widow if you participate in beer pong and car sex.

I am a bad widow, and it heals me the same way that church and charity heal my “good” widow sisters. We are all the same underneath our coping mechanisms and metaphorical black veils. At the end of the day, as we crawl into our big, empty beds we are all just widows. Not good, or bad, just hurting, and oh so very beautiful.

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