Permission

Permission

I'll start by thanking the She Explores podcast (if you don't listen already, you should start) and the guest on episode 41, Amanda Machado, for sparking this post idea. To inadequately summarize the episode, Amanda was struggling to reconcile her love of the outdoors with her identity as a Latina (full article here). The big picture idea is feeling out of place (culturally, in Amanda's case) in a location/sphere/space where you were never well-represented before and/or don't feel welcome because you aren't the "typical" hiker/mother/astronaut/whatever that is arbitrarily shown in the mainstream.  

“I wanted someone to give me permission for that kind of stuff. I felt like I needed to hear from lots of people that it’s okay to do it and I think that was probably what restricted me from doing it for a really long time. I wish that I would have just done it without permission from anybody. To just trust that eventually by doing it I’m going to meet all these other people who do it as well. And will validate that it’s not weird or crazy or doesn’t make you strange. And that it’s totally normal and wonderful to do these things anyways.”

You may think this is a bit of a stretch, but I immediately related to her experience as "other" in the outdoors based on my experience as "other" in world of grief (no, I am not equating them). I am not your typical widow (yeah, I just said widow). I wasn't married, I didn't have kids, I wasn't of an advanced age. From the moment Mark died, I felt like I'd been widowed. But as soon as my brain used that word, I flinched. I told myself not to say it out loud, I didn't want the shit storm to be worse than it already was. On the worst day of my life I was more concerned with how people outside our relationship would react. How fucked up is that?

From day one, Mark and I fought for the legitimacy of our relationship. For external validation from numerous people that would never come.  I didn't truly accept the impossibility of that task until Mark was gone. It was made painfully and abundantly clear that acceptance would never come. I've since spent the year dancing around that word. It is an ugly and exhausting dance that I have performed in support groups and counselors' offices, at my job and among friends. Hell, even basic adult paperwork these days includes a question on marital status. Who am I, unmarried person with dead partner, to lay claim to the widow mantle and all that comes with it?    

I'm not one to have a strong backbone most days. I do care too much about what people think and I waste an inordinate amount of time making decisions, large and small, because I wonder who will judge me. Grown-ass woman, still insecure as hell. More often that I would like to admit, I let that fear of judgement steer the ship. I would rather have everyone like me or approve of me than live my own GD life. I've gotten better in the last year (that happens when you run low on fucks to give) but only with the smaller choices that don't seem important anymore. That ends today. I'm a fucking widow.  

I don't need permission from his family, my family, or my friends to be a widow. I certainly don't need (or want it) from anyone who has never lost their significant other. If you knew us, you knew we were it for each other. You know that my age has no bearing on me "finding love again." There is no "at least you weren't..." there is only "I will never get to." The fact that we never had the piece of paper that serves as the sole measurement for legitimate relationship status in this country no longer matters to me. If you disagree, feel free to go kick rocks because I don't need you in my life anymore. 

Beyond what I am giving myself permission for today, I wanted this to serve as a blanket permission slip to anyone reading to do (or not do) whatever has been weighing on your heart. Whatever you afraid to do, say, be, or think because it is scary or other or a path different from the rest. Dearest person, you hereby have permission to:

Have kids
Don't have kids
Get married
Don't get married
Be happily single (yes, that is a thing!)
Take that crazy trip
Register for that intimidating race
Take that class to start learning that hobby/skill/trade
Quit the job that eats your soul
Take the job that pays less but fills your heart
Go camping/hiking/climbing alone
Go minimal and get rid of most of your material possessions
Fill your home with items that give you joy and comfort
Live in a van and hit the open road
Stay happy right where you are
End that toxic relationship with your friend/coworker/family member

This is a woefully short and surface level list of what you have permission to do. If the only thing holding you back is permission, and this thing would make you happy and will not cause irreparable harm to others, the wait is over. I know it won't be easy. If these were easy choices to make we would have made them already. I fully expect fallout from this post but the weight lifted off of me is beyond worth the risk. If you want to share what you've been waiting to get permission for, I'd love to know. For now, I will leave you with these words from She Explores host Gale Straub: 

"We so often look around us for permission to take a risk, when we just might not find it within our close circles. Amanda’s advice? Take the risk, with or without external approval."

 

A Falling Out

A Falling Out

Somehow, September has arrived. For the first time in a long time, I'm not excited. September generally kicks off my favorite part of the year. The best of the four seasons, Fall. I loved cruising through September, October, and November, soaking up everything this time of year has to offer. Now I want nothing to do with it. 

Orr's Fall Farm Fun Days - September 2016

Orr's Fall Farm Fun Days - September 2016

A lot of tough firsts are approaching, the soonest being my first birthday without Mark. I would be happy if I went to bed the night before and woke up the morning after. I just want to skip the whole day. It wasn't that Mark made a big deal of my birthday, that wasn't his style or mine. But he was sweet and thoughtful and made sure I felt just a bit more loved than I already did. I treasure my family and friends, but there is no equal replacement or substitution here. I view each day of my life through a lens of absence. Everything is colored by what is missing. On a day that will only accentuate that which is painfully obvious, I'd like a pass.  

I still dream about this cake - September 2016

I still dream about this cake - September 2016

I felt a cool edge to the air today, the edge that usually brings a smile to my face and spreads a warmth across my heart. Today it just made me sad. It made me want to pull the collar up on a jacket the way you do when the chill hits your neck and you just can't wait to get indoors. That small gesture I chuckle at in others is what my spirit did today. Cold air on raw soul. It wants to hunker down, bundle up, and see you in a few months.  The realization that fall brings with it ache where it once brought joy is unsettling. My foundation cracked, shifted. 

Morning on the ATT, November 5, 2016

Morning on the ATT, November 5, 2016

I'm not saying that this time of year is ruined for me forever. But the magic that it has carried for me for so long has disappeared. I am not ready to make the best of it. I will not do and see and taste and smell all that I once anticipated with something bordering on childlike wonder. The beautiful simplicity suddenly got dreadfully complicated. I am not in a place where making new traditions feels possible. I will limp through the next three months, as I have limped through the past nine. I will survive this first dark year, through both hell and high water. 

Backyard Burn race - October 23, 2016

Backyard Burn race - October 23, 2016

Everything is a little less shiny, less bright, less brilliant. Just...less. I could rattle off a laundry list of things big and small that won't happen this season, most of which are of no consequence to anyone but me. In a season usually defined by its colors and spices, I find myself feeling flat and bland. I had no idea this would happen, until it did. A temporary falling out of love with Fall. She will pass, as all seasons do, and come round again. I doubt she'll notice I'm gone but I know she'll welcome me back when I'm ready. Until then, collar's up.  

Memos in the moment

I recorded a couple of voice memos last night. Things that I wanted to remember and felt were important reflections on my grief experience as it unfolds. What follows here is not a word for word transcription of those voice memos. It is a large part of the content, edited as I felt necessary for clarity, listening to them a night later. What you won't get here is the sound of bathwater sloshing in the background, or the sound of me choking up and sniffling. You're welcome. I'm not going to preface this with anything else other than to say that my intent is not to upset anyone who has supported me these last several months. Here we go: 

The reality of grief is that you will never be more alone in your entire life. There will be so many people that love you and want to help you, and yet you will never be more alone. There is just no way to describe it because everything that other people will say...they just can't possibly understand what you are going through and saying that it's not always going to feel this way or think about the times you had or it will get better...it's all fucking bullshit. 

This is all shit that people say to make themselves feel better because they are terrified at the magnitude of your situation and cannot and do not want to imagine what it might be like to feel what you are feeling for five seconds. And they don't mean to be harmful. They don't. Your friends and your family love you and they do not mean for a moment to hurt you. In an act of self-preservation they do. There is no getting around it and they do and you don't want to hear that shit. You really don't. I would rather hear someone say "this is so fucking terrible, I can't imagine, I'm so sorry and I love you." I don't want to hear "it won't always be like this, it will get better, why don't you just go to sleep, why don't you do this, blah blah blah." Be fucking honest.

I had no idea about grief, I had no concept of grief before this, and oh my god, the horror. Truly, the horror. I'm learning so much about what grief is like and what love is like, what life is like. And I just want someone to say it might always be this fucking shitty. It might. It really might. But somehow you will still continue to survive. You might come out of it. You aren't the same person you were and you're never going to go back to that. That's just not possible. There is no new normal or new life or fresh start or whatever. There's just before and there's after. This is the after. And its ugly and messy and dirty and scary and violent. its all those things that no one wants to think about. Until you're there and you have no choice but to think about it and honestly its all you think about all the time. 24/7. 

You have a phone full of contacts and yet no one you can truly talk to. And I've tried, I really have. And God bless my friends and family for what they've tried to do so far but you're crying into the phone and they don't know what to do. They just say they're sorry and inevitably the distractions start. The world does not revolve around you and your loss and other people have the challenges of their life. But if I'm reaching out to talk to you and asking you for help I don't want you to distract me with what happened at your kid's school that day. I just don't.

You start to learn how those conversations are going to go before you even have them. So you literally scroll through your history of text messages and your finger hovers over the "voice call" button but you don't actually press it. Maybe you post some sad image or depressing quote on Instagram or Twitter but you don't actually talk to a human being. I would never want anyone to know what this was like but holy shit would it be great to have someone who knew you and loved you and knew what you were going through. I could be connected with anyone in the world within seconds on this smartphone and this social media universe and there is not a person on this planet that I would want to talk to right now. Maybe just one, but he's dead. 

There you have it. I wanted to share this because I think it shows what my experience of grief is like. This was my Tuesday night. I went to work, I ran, I did all the other required daily adulting things. This is also what most Thursday afternoons or Sunday mornings or any other time of day or night can be like for me. Sometimes there is an obvious trigger, more oftentimes not. I do my best not to let show in public or impact my work. But I'd be lying if I said it didn't. I can't control it, though I damn sure try to. More and more I find myself too tired. Too tired to think I can hold back the ocean for eternity. So, here's a wave for you. Breaking and crashing on my shore. Thank you for witnessing.