The “Chapter 2” Myth

By Kerry Phillips

I can’t remember when I heard the phrase “Chapter 2” for the first time. I believe it was on a Facebook page dedicated to supporting the widowed community. A widow lamented that she’d never find another man to love her the way she’d been loved by her hubby. Her “Chapter 2” hadn’t yet arrived.

I’ve been guilty myself of referring to new love as “Chapter 2”. But who says “Chapter 2” has to be a mate? What if you’re perfectly content with never dating again? Don’t you get another chapter?

I believe that you are your own “Chapter 2”. Heck, you may even be on “Chapter 4 or 5”. As a wise widow pointed out, she had a life before she met her spouse and therefore her book was well underway by the time they met.

Our life is a series of pages and chapters. The chapters occur whether or not we have a partner. Our “Chapter 2” is what we make of it.

If you’ve been wanting a career change but were too busy caring for your ailing husband to consider going back to school, why not make enrolling in college your “Chapter 2”? You traveled with your spouse but stopped once he passed away…book that flight, pack your bags and fill the pages of your “Chapter 2” with passport stamps.

Too often we believe that we can’t be happy again because we haven’t met our “Chapter 2”. That’s simply not true. Though a new love can help your heart heal, for the most part, you have to put in the work required to get to a place of healing on your own – before dating.

Part of that healing is getting to know yourself, figuring out your interests; learning what brings you joy. Typically, we go from caring for our spouse and kids to just caring for the kids. We neglect ourselves and even more so when we lose a spouse. We throw ourselves into raising our children in an attempt to overcompensate for their having lost a parent.

While our children absolutely need extra-special attention to navigate the difficult road ahead, I dare you to pour some of this attentiveness into self-care. Stop putting yourself last. Discover the person you’ve become post-loss. I guarantee she isn’t the person you were when you met your husband. Get to know her…her likes, her dreams, her desires, her goals and her plans for future.

I’ve found many widows are now no-nonsense, fiercely independent women. A few have even said they don’t think their late spouses would have even dated them as they are now, let alone married them. That’s why it’s so important for you to get to know who you are post-loss.

Happiness comes from within. A new love story isn’t synonymous with happiness. If you haven’t taken the time to write on your own pages then why expect a partner to do it for you? You have to live and embrace life. Do things that bring you happiness. Adopt a child. Quit your job. Buy your dream car.

Whatever it is, make it count! You are your own “Chapter 2”. You don’t have to wait for anyone or anything to begin writing the rest of your story. And, if your current chapter isn’t going the way you’d like, you have the power to change it. You’ve already been through so much. You deserve all the happiness your heart desires. Be your “Chapter 2”!

Was My Husband’s Suicide a Choice? 

By Michelle Miller

“You have high markers for bipolar, and depression,” said our marriage counselor to my husband John after looking over his paperwork, “but I can’t formally diagnose you or prescribe meds; your need to go to a psychiatrist for that.”

John crossed his arms, leaned back onto the therapists’ sofa and snorted in that familiar way that told me that he and his pride would not be making an appointment with a psychiatrist.

Men don’t see psychiatrists. Men, suck it up.

In this way, my husband chose suicide. I do not forgive him for this. He should have gotten help. I too was told I had high markers for major depressive disorder by our therapist. I promptly went to a doctor, tried diet, exercise, and vitamin supplements, and when those failed I went on antidepressants. In this way, I chose life.

But maybe it was easier for me because I am female. Females see doctors. Females don’t have to suck it up.

I do not forgive society for this double standard.

Two and a half years after this therapy appointment, John would attempt suicide two times before he completed. Twice by carbon monoxide poisoning in his garage (he would admit this to me on the night he died), and once with a fateful shotgun bullet to his torso.

These attempts were not his choice. I know this because I’ve read his suicide note more times than I can count, and the author of that selfish, anger-laced, letter was not the man I married. I know these attempts on his life were not his choice because I spent two hours on the phone with him trying to talk the gun out of his hand. The voice on the phone that night was not my husband’s.

The voice on the phone that night made me a believer in what the Holy Bible refers to as demon possession. I recalled all of the accounts in The New Testament of Jesus healing people from demon possession as I listened to John attempt to string sentences together that made no sense on the night of March 23, 2014.

As I listened to him on that awful night, I knew three things for sure:

One, that mental illness has always existed and the authors of the Bible did not have “mental illness” in their vocabulary, so they referred to these people as “demon possessed”

Two, Jesus would not be saving my husband

Three, I no longer believed in Jesus

(I will not be responding to the ridiculous private messages and facebook comments that these last few lines will be provoking. I’m allowed to have an opinion, and loss of faith, and I am allowed to use my experiences and beliefs to make a point. I hope you have enough confidence in your own beliefs to not attack others with a differing opinion).

Not much has changed since biblical times. Although we now have “mental illness” in our vocabulary, we don’t use it very much; or we use it but don’t fully understand it’s meaning.

We call victims of suicide selfish. We tell ourselves and others that they made a bad choice. I wonder if the demon possessed were called selfish.

There are very rare cases in which suicide is actually a choice.

Legally (or illegally, for that matter) assisted suicide for people with a terminal illness is one. Suicide for the sake of honor, in cultures where choosing to die brings honor to ones tribe or family is the other.

Outside of those two examples, I venture to say that the vast majority of suicide is not a choice.

The situation with my husband is a little more complicated though. Did my husband choose suicide? Yes and no. Yes, he chose not to get help when he was told he had symptoms for two mental illnesses that could lead to suicide. Had he reached out for help he might still be here…….or he might still be dead. Plenty of people do reach out for help and still they die by suicide. Or maybe when our therapist told him to see a psychiatrist, he was already too far gone and his sick brain kept him from seeking help. Or maybe it was his pride. Or maybe it was society.

These are the questions I ponder at 1:00am while the non-traumatized people of the world get to sleep peacefully.

Did my husband John choose suicide? No. By the time he wrote that suicide note, and loaded that shotgun his brain had been overtaken by an illness. Saying that a mentally ill person chose suicide, is like saying my maternal grandmother chose not to feed herself when her cancer spread to her brain and she lost her fine and gross motor skills.

Do me a favor, next time you see or hear the word, “Suicide” replace it with the term, “Brain Cancer” and see how your perception of its victims and its survivors change.

John’s sick brain made the choice to fire that gun, but my husband did not. My husband was not merely a brain and I resent those who treat his legacy as such. My husband John was a unique and precious soul; and that soul no longer exists as it once did, encased within a sick body.

While I will always be conflicted about whether or not John’s suicide was a choice, and whether or not it could have been prevented, I am not at all conflicted when I say this:

NO ONE HAS THE RIGHT TO TELL ME JOHNS SUICIDE WAS A CHOICE.

NO ONE.

The implication of saying this to me, a suicide widow, is that one, my husband chose to leave the kids and I (which only makes us feel more shitty…so thanks for that), and two, that my husband was a selfish person. Maybe he was, maybe he wasn’t. Either way, I’m allowed to think and say this about my husband, you are not.

I am sickened when I see people attacking the loved ones of those who have lost their battle to depression, PTSD, bipolar and other un-diagnosed mental illnesses. Your opinions are self-serving, pretentious, and of course “well-intended.”

You’re not allowed to voice an opinion to someone who has slept in their dead spouses shirt in hopes that their skin cells might still be on the tattered fabric.

You’re not allowed to voice an opinion to someone who has had to tell their young children, “Daddy did something called ‘suicide. ”

You’re not allowed to voice an opinion to someone who has picked out clothing for a corpse to wear in a coffin.

You’re not allowed to voice an opinion to someone who has ever had to check the “widowed” box on paper work.

So, what are you allowed to do?

You’re allowed to shut.the.fuck.up.

🙂

© Copyright 2017 Michelle Miller

Stop the Shame

By John Polo

Did you know that widows feel shame? 

Did you know that widowers feel shame?

I just realized this.

As I was driving to hospice bereavement last week it hit me like a ton of bricks.

Sometimes when I speak about Michelle, I feel shame.

And many times I do not speak about Michelle when I want to, because I feel shame.

Yes, even me. 

I know that is shocking to most of you.  After all, I write about Michelle all of the time on my personal page, and on my blog.

It’s true though.  Even me.  The outspoken widower from Illinois.

I feel shame.

And so many others do too.

When the realization of this hit me, I was taken aback. 

I realized that when I post about Michelle on my personal page, I sometimes cringe –  because I know that there are certain people that will see my post and will think things. 

He wants attention.

He still isn’t over her?

Why does he talk about her so much?

He’ll never find someone else if he keeps this up.

His posts make me sad.

I realized that the last time I posted something truly intense about how badly I miss Michelle on my blog page, I felt shame.

The truth is, I am not blaming these people.  Or their thoughts (as ignorant as they may be).

No, I am blaming myself.

And – I am blaming you – for your own shame, my fellow widows and widowers.

Only YOU have the power to Stop the Shame.

The ignorance of others cannot – and should not – prohibit us from loving our spouses.

The ignorance of others cannot – and should not – prohibit us from missing our spouses.

The ignorance of others cannot – and should not – prohibit us from speaking of our spouses.

The ignorance of others cannot – and should not – prohibit us from carrying their memory and love with us for the remainder of our days.

The ignorance of others cannot – and should not – prohibit us from grieving beyond the 365 day marker that has been deemed appropriate by those who know no such pain.

The ignorance of others cannot – and should not – prohibit us from grieving the way that we need to grieve, from living the way that we need to live and from loving the way that we need to love.

Let them think we do it for attention.

Let them snicker.

Let them roll their eyes.

They don’t know.

They have no idea.

Their ignorance shines a bright light on their character, or lack of it.

Let it.

The truth is, while we are a community of people that can generally understand each other – EVERY situation is unique, EVERY grief is different, EVERY pain stamped with its own custom print.

Judgment, even amongst each other, should be checked at the door.

Stop the Shame.

If you want to talk about your deceased spouse – talk about them.

If you don’t want to talk about deceased spouse – don’t talk about them.

If you want to try and date again – date again.

If you don’t want to try and date again – don’t date again.

Stop letting  others shame you into what you do, what you say and how you live.

Do what you feel is right.

Say what you want to say.

Live how you want to live.

Let me be clear, this is NOT a post enabling bad behavior.

No, I am not saying to drink yourself to sleep every night.

No, I am not saying to be mean or cruel to others simply because you are in pain.

No, I am not saying to quit your job and give up on life.

No, I am not saying to let the bitterness of your loss eat away at your soul.

I hope that each and every one of you can take your loss, take the immense pain from your loss and manifest it towards a positive.  Not right away obviously, but in due time.

What this is, is a post to tell you to: Stop the Shame

Stop letting the words, actions and opinions of others dictate how you grieve.

It is your grief!

They were your spouse! 

It was your future!

It is your life!

Our loves were taken from us.

Through cancer, and heart disease.  Through suicide, and drug addiction.  Through war, and accidents.

Our lives were turned upside down.

Our futures were forever altered.

I am done feeling ashamed.

As much as I may type the words, I almost never say this out loud:

I MISS MY WIFE!

I MISS MY WIFE!

I MISS MY WIFE!

I want to go outside right now and I want to shout it.

Loudly.

Over and over again.

Because I have been holding it in for so long.

Out of shame.

I MISS MY WIFE!

I miss her in our youth.  The teenage romance that made a young man fall madly in love with his blonde beauty.  Those memories I will forever cherish.

I miss her in our past.  The reuniting of soul mates after nearly a decade apart. A fairytale romance I will never forget.

I miss her in our future. Fifty beautiful years together. Stolen from us in the most callous of ways.

I no longer care if people think I am weird.

I no longer care if people think my openness is embarrassing.

I no longer care what timetable people think a grieving heart should be subject to.

My shame is over.

Done.

Finished.

I don’t care who judges me.  Anyone who judges is too small minded to matter.

I don’t care what they say. Anything they say is too irrelevant to be taken seriously.

I don’t care if the love I have for my wife makes all potential new love interests run away. Any woman who doesn’t understand a heart large enough for two, lacks the depth that I require.

So, to all of my fellow widows and widowers – and to anyone else who is grieving and sometimes feels the same way, today is the day:

Stop the Shame.

© Copyright 2017 John Polo

*You can follow John Polo at his blog http://www.betternotbitterwidower.com and on Facebook by searching Better Not Bitter Widower*

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Anticipatory Grief

By John Polo

I talked to many social workers during the two and a half years that Michelle was sick.  We spent so much time in the hospital between the surgeries, the treatments, etc. that while she was sleeping I would often ask for a various social worker to come to talk to me in the waiting room.  My grief was so intense.  The knowledge that her cancer was so rare, so aggressive and was not going to be beat. I needed to speak to someone, to cry to someone. To pour my heart and my soul out to someone.

For all of the amazing help that these individuals gave me – and they did – they helped me SO much – nobody ever told me the medical term for what I was experiencing:  Anticipatory Grief.

A few months after Michelle passed away I stumbled across this article.

And it hit me like a ton of bricks.

Hey, that’s me!  That’s what I had!

It finally made sense.

The grief that I endured while Michelle was alive was finally explained.  Finally justified.

Anticipatory Grief.

Read this.

http://www.whatsyourgrief.com/anticipatory-grief

You can follow John Polo at http://www.betternotbitterwidower.com and on his Facebook page by searching Better Not Bitter Widower

 

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The Black Hole

By Wendy Simpson

The black hole of grief. This thought has been on my mind for a couple of months now.  The idea of being in a place that is so vast, so dark and so void of life… is a sobering thought indeed. It is easy to believe, as a widow, we are in such a place.  Our emotions pull us into its darkness, and for some reason we think that we are stuck there for eternity.  It is not true of course… but we can be hurting and grieving so much that that becomes our truth. Wandering blindly in this dark place long enough, bumping into things and falling on our faces invites us to think that being drawn into this place of pain and loss is our end, that lie’s pull is just so strong.

In light of this terrible place we didn’t choose to be in… dear ones, I’d like to share a bit of hope. God is the maker of heaven and earth.  He knows every black hole and every dark corner and is well acquainted with us in our darkest grief and painful loss.  He will, if we let him, pull us out of this vortex we’ve been spinning uncontrollably in. His strong arms will carry us from the darkness to where we can see the stars and the sun again.

When my husband passed away, I lost my footing. I functioned as a zombie, mechanically moving through life painfully aware of my missing half of a heart and the chill of moving forward. Every day I wondered when the nightmare would end and I’d no longer be alone. The darkness of this black hole swallowed me and I thought I’d be lost forever. Until one day I learned the meaning of goodness and heard the audible whisper, “you’re not alone,” from other dear widows walking ahead of me.

I have a gentle dear pastor.  He’s like a father to me. I’ve known him for years, he married my husband and I, and he was there at our side to support us as my beloved took Jesus hand and stepped into heaven.  One day he shared of goodness… something I’d never pondered in my walk. Love, joy and peace had always seemed bigger and more important. But now goodness has become one of my favorites. Goodness is… Christ living inside us, the hope of glory. I know my beloved husband knew this and now experiences it.  And I have that hope inside me… no matter how dark this hole is.

That whisper… “your not alone.”  Oh how precious it was to hear this from others who’d walked this valley and spun in this black hole’s dark vortex.  I’ve met some dear widows whose candles have brightly burned through this thick, ominous dark place.  They’ve been light, precious God given stars in a place that was so void of any light and hope.

It’s been nearly two and a half years… and now I see my own candlelight joining others, burning into the dark corners of my widow sisters sadness and grief.  I am blessed to share it and call attention to the hope that sparkles in spite of this black hole of grief.

“The Lord their God will save them on that day… they will sparkle in his land like jewels in a crown.  How attractive and beautiful they will be!(Zechariah 9:15-16)

Sisters, this is you… black hole, deep valley, cave dwelling, stuck in grief mud up to your waist or in bed with the covers over your head.  None of that changes who you are in Christ and how much He values you.  You still sparkle in his eyes.  Hugs and may you know hope.

The Three Things Every Widow/er Needs You to Say

By Michelle Miller

“Well he never believed in God so now that he’s dead, I guess he knows the truth,” said the religious man. And so began the litany of awkward, insensitive, and of course ‘well-meaning’ condolence comments in reference to my husband’s suicide, that I would have to endure in addition to the constant vomiting and perpetual shaking of my hands for the next year.

Four days later it would be, “Well I can always take you out to dinner next weekend; I clean up nice” as another religious man rubbed my back a little too long for my comfort level during the obligatory, ‘hug-the-widow’ show that took place at the buffet table near the entrance of the reception.

My husband shot himself. Casseroles and hugs for everyone!

“You’ll remarry. You’re so pretty and young!”

Because if I were ugly and old I wouldn’t get that luxury?

“I just want you to know that I don’t blame you at all. It was his choice to shoot that gun.”

Thanks for reminding me that everyone else does indeed blame me.

“How are you?”

Fucking fabulous, thanks.

“I’m here for you”

Except for you won’t be about three seconds after the funeral reception when you return to your own life and decided that ‘here for you’ means occasionally liking my social media posts.

“He’s in a better place”

No he’s not. He was an atheist that denied the existence of God up until his final breath. I heard his final breath on the phone as he shot himself; trust me, he’s not in your version of a ‘better place’.

“His death happened for a reason”

Yes. The reason is, that when a bullet enters the body at point blank range, it kills you.

“I know exactly how you feel, when my great Aunt Agnes died…..”

Yep. That’s the same thing.

“Why did he kill himself?!”

While I appreciate your nosiness I’m gonna decline that question for now and ask that you please do not speak to me again until you have adequately researched suicide and mental illness. Idiot.

“I’m praying for you”

Great! While you’re at it, please make sure to tell God I no longer believe in him. Thanks.

What do all of these questions and statements have in common? None of them brought me comfort, and about half of them aggravated my already indescribable pain.

These people were not insensitive assholes (well except maybe the first two men I mentioned), they were just uneducated in the true needs of those who are in mourning. Years and years ago when I was normal, I too was guilty of using some of these cute little grief catch phrases. I am guilty in my past life of asking things I should never have asked and making promises to mourners that I never intended on keeping (Call me anytime of the day or night and I will be there for you!). I have said these phrases to children who have lost grandparents, and I have said them to Grandparents that have lost siblings. Most regretful of all though, I have said these things to widows. And then, I became one at the age of thirty-one.

Now that I’m living this experience I know better, and so, I do better; and doing better to me means spreading awareness of how to help those in mourning so they are not further injured on top of their life-long grief. I have talked to hundreds of widows in the last few years through social media and in person and we all mostly agree that the three things every widow/er needs you to say to them are:

  1. Nothing…followed by a statement about how you are not going to be saying anything. At all costs avoid words. Never underestimate the power of shutting the hell up, especially early-on. The only exception is if you want to acknowledge your commitment to silence by saying, “There really are no words for what has happened to you.” Or “I don’t know what to say” or, “If there were word in existence to comfort you, I would say them.”
  2. Nothing….followed by validation. If you are ever lucky enough to be the person a widow comes to, to vent, you have one job and one job only: to validate them. You can validate them through listening and nodding in silence with lots of eye contact and attentive body language, or you can validate them by saying things like, “Absolutely! This is not fair and you have every right to be angry” Do not offer unsolicited advice. Ever. More often than not, when people come to talk to you, they are not seeking answers, they simply want to be heard and understood. Let them know that every feeling they have is being heard and that they are not crazy.
  3. Nothing….followed by action. Yes, food and money in those early weeks are helpful. Do that. But also, be aware that grief is a life-long process and helping someone who is grieving should also be. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. Two years after the funeral deliver (or have delivered) a meal on a school night. Find out when their wedding anniversary is and take them out for a margarita. Show up to their child’s baseball game. Five years (or ten or twenty) later randomly call on a Sunday and see if they need anything picked up from the store. Action.

Early on in my widowhood I could not identify my needs. I could barely identify which shoes were mine and which shoes belonged to my then, seven year old son. I am forever grateful for the ones who knew my needs and still fulfill those needs for me now, almost three years later. I try my best to pay it forward with all of you who come to me and share your horrible stories of loss on facebbok and instagram, but I wish I could do more. I wish I could respond to every message and read every facebook comment, but I can’t. I will keep writing though, and hopefully this is enough to help you see that you are not alone. You are understood. Your feelings are valid and important. Widowhood sucks.

Love to you all,

Michelle

© Copyright 2017 Michelle Miller

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