Monday, October 13, 2014

"You'll Have to Tell This Without Crying"

On many weekends, I listen to one of the local NPR stations' Saturday afternoon lineup, including The Moth Radio Hour. According to its website, "The Moth is an acclaimed not-for-profit organization dedicated to the art and craft of storytelling." At their events, ordinary people get up in front of an audience and tell a story about their lives.

One thing I often wonder as I listen to The Moth stories is whether I could ever tell my story there. (Telling my story—not just of my loss but also of how it has changed me—and, hopefully, inspiring others—is one of the ways I've figured I could bring good out of it. Whether I'd every truly try to tell it there is arguable, but it's something I sometimes think idly about while listening.)

The thing is: most of The Moth's stories are not only interesting but also funny. And every time I think about telling my story there, I realize, "But there's not a lot of 'funny' in my story." I mean, it might be some measure of inspiring, but...the man I was in love with and believed I'd marry and spend the rest of my life with died. And there just really isn't anything funny about that. (Maybe I just suck at finding the "funny" within it? I don't know. Two widows that I know are each working on a memoir; somehow they've found humor along the way, and they're writing about it. Kelley Lynn, a comedian, writer, actor, and performer, is working on her book, My Husband is Not a Rainbow. And author, speaker, and advocate Hyla Molander is working on Drop Dead Life: A Pregnant Widow's Heartfelt And Often Comic Memoir About Death, Birth, And Rebirth. I really have no idea how they do it.)

Anyway, one Saturday a while back, my assumption that my story would never be funny enough for The Moth started to change when I heard a replay of the story told by comedian Anthony Griffith. He told about how, at the very same time, he was both working toward (and getting) stand-up appearances on The Tonight Show With Johnny Carson and dealing with the cancer that had returned to his 2-year-old daughter's body. He had to come up with a lot of "funny" during the time when he also had to provide home care for his daughter, watch cancer wreak havoc with her body, and somehow be strong for her. Tragically, she eventually passed away.

Anthony Griffith. (source)
As he tells the story, appropriately called The Best of Times, The Worst of Times (you can listen to it there), he gets choked up many times, sometimes sobs a bit, and has to pause multiple times to compose himself enough to keep going.

I listened with rapt attention. Wow, a Moth story that is not only not funny but also one in which the teller is actually crying? I guess The Moth has room for more kinds of stories than I had thought!

But after the story ended, one of the producers said that when she and the other producers were initially talking with Griffith about his sharing this story, she had told him, "You'll have to tell this without crying."

I could hardly believe my ears. They expected a bereaved father to talk about his late daughter and the cancer that took her life—and shed no tears at all?!?

Why are we so afraid of tears in our society? Why are they so often seen as a sign of weakness? Why are they seen as something to be avoided, sometimes at all costs?

The things is...tears are simply a sign of emotions that already exist; they are the body's way of expressing those emotions, of getting them out, of providing release. So—when we say to someone, "Don't cry," we're really telling them, "Don't show me your emotion. Don't be that raw, that real, that vulnerable with me." I realize that most of the time, what someone saying that probably means is, "I care about you and don't want you to be sad." But I don't think that's the message that tends to be received.

Did you know that crying is literally healing? Scientists have discovered that there are 3 kinds of tears: continuous (which keep our eyes lubricated and healthy), reflex (that happen when an irritant gets in them, like smoke, dust, or onion fumes), and emotional. And they've discovered that emotional tears contain stress hormones and other toxins, which means we're flushing them out of our bodies when we cry. They've also discovered that "crying stimulates the production of endorphins, our body’s natural pain killer and 'feel-good' hormones."1

I think it's high time we start making room for tears. That we start letting ourselves and those we care about be human and express whatever we and they need to express.

And it's high time we learned how to respond well when someone does so (see the video below). That we learn how to hold the space for them.

I can't help but think that the world would be a better place if we did.


1Source: Judith Orloff, M.D. The Health Benefits of Tears. Accessed October 13, 2014.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

10 Things in 10 Years

September 4 was the 10th anniversary of Ron's death. Earlier this year, for International Widows Day (held annually on June 23), Soaring Spirits International asked members of its community to submit a story of something they'd accomplished post-loss that they were proud of or had never thought they'd do. And on that day, Soaring Spirits periodically shared these stories on its Facebook page as a way to celebrate widows' amazing spirits and to inspire others.

My first thought on hearing about this (and the only one for quite a while) was, "I haven't done ANYthing yet that I didn't think I'd do!" Only after pondering for a while did I realize a couple of things that did, in fact, fit that description. And in the meantime, I've thought of several other things that do as well. Why didn't I think of any of these things right off the bat? I think it's because my list of "want to's" in life is so long, and I haven't had the energy to do so many of them, that that's the first thing I think when I encounter this question. I guess in the future I'll just have to try to remember the following list. And now, without further ado, here are 10 things I've done in 10 years that, if you'd told me right after Ron's death that I'd do them, I'd never have believed you:

  1. Survive.
    Seriously, when the person you love most in the world dies, you think you're going to die, too. At least you want to. And you have to decide, moment by moment until you can do it hour by hour until you can do it day by day, that you're not going to join your beloved on the other side. Even though the only thing you wanted and still want is to be with that person. Thanks for my not doing that go in largest part to the grief support resources I discovered early on: a grief support website (no longer in existence) with a 24/7 chat room—a life saver!—and no less than 3 separate in-person support groups. For online support now, I go to Facebook groups and Widowed Village (which also has a 24/7 chat room).
  2. Date again.
    After Ron died, my thinking was: I've already had the love of my life; why would I want to do that or try for that again? What I didn't know yet was: that was just the grief talking. About 9 months after Ron's death, I met Tim....and sensed a connection with him from our very first conversation. Within a couple weeks, we were dating. I think it took that experience to show me, as nothing else probably could have, that I did in fact want to and could love again. He and I didn't last, and I haven't yet found a truly long-term relationship, but at least I know it's a possibility.
  3. At Camp Widow West 2013 (source).
    Shirt from the American Widow Project.
    Call myself a widow.
    When he died, Ron was my "boyfriend." We'd just started dating officially a couple months before. But I realized pretty quickly that "boyfriend" didn't begin to cover what he meant to me. "Dating" wasn't nearly sufficient. I began to call him my fiancé because we had talked so much about getting married; we had agreed in our hearts that we were headed for it. I truly believed that I would marry him someday. Even more than all that, though, the thing that most gave me permission to call myself "widow" was the essay The Widow's Gates by Kim Go. It opened my eyes to the historically-wider meaning of the word "widow" and more importantly, validated my unique journey. I can never thank Kim, herself a widow who was wedded, enough for writing that piece.
  4. Find and join an inclusive community through something called Camp Widow.
    I can't remember exactly how I first heard about Camp
    All of us at my first Camp Widow. Can you see me? (source)
    Widow or its parent organization, Soaring Spirits (though I've racked my brain trying to!). But I'm so very glad I did. The thing that makes Soaring Spirits so meaningful to me is that anyone whose significant other died is welcome to participate in its programs—regardless of marital status, gender, age, or orientation. Of course, if it weren't so inclusive, I wouldn't be a part of it. I've been told time and again that I'm "not really a widow" because Ron and I weren't married. But that distinction doesn't matter at Soaring Spirits. The other thing that makes it so meaningful to me are the many friendships I've made through it, including some that I now hold dearest.
  5. Support other widows. If I didn't imagine calling myself a widow, I certainly couldn't have imagined supporting other widows. But in July 2010, I and one other UW started the Unwedded Widows Facebook page (for UWs and supporters), and a few years later, I added the Unwedded Widows group (for UWs only).

    In 2013, Soaring Spirits started their Regional Group program, which allows widowed people in the areas where there are groups to regularly hang out with others who "get it." And I volunteered to lead Soaring Spirits Central Ohio, which has been in existence since August of that year.

    I've gotten indications that these support avenues have been helpful for people, and I am so, so grateful that's the case.
  6. With some of the members of SSCO.

  7. Start 2 blogs.
    Of course, in 2004, I probably would've said, "What's a blog?" But about 5 years after Ron died, I started my other blog, Loving From the Inside Out—part of my attempt to bring good into the world out of his passing. There's still a lot more I want to do around that concept...and I'll certainly share about it when I do.
  8. With Bare Escentuals Executive Chairman Leslie Blodgett during
    her visit to our store in July, 2010 (source / credit: Photolosophys).
    Become a makeup artist.
    In June 2007, I was laid off from my full-time job as a technical communicator, the job I had when Ron died. And while being laid off was certainly no fun, if it hadn't been for that, I'd never have needed a second job to supplement the temping I was doing, and I'd never have applied at Bare Escentuals. I already used and loved the foundation and a few other products, and I thought it'd be cool to work there. And it was. But it was more than that. For the first time, I really learned how to apply makeup, something I'd never been taught growing up in a home where it was largely forbidden. And knowing how to skillfully apply makeup helped me feel more beautiful and helped me help others to do the same. And not incidentally, that job did even more for me: it provided a bright spot in my life. It helped me experience some much-needed cheerfulness and fun. It gave me something to look forward to, which I hadn't had in a long time. I will forever be grateful for my time at BE.
  9. Take long, solo car trips.
    In 2012, I wanted to go to Camp Widow East, but flying to Myrtle Beach (where East was held for the first 2 years) was so expensive, I knew I could rent a car and drive there for cheaper than the flight. And so I did, even though I couldn't find anyone to ride with me. And then in September 2013, I drove to New Jersey and back during a weekend so I could spend more time with my widowed peeps. As I've said before, it's certainly not the solo part that I love; I just don't let that part stop me. And I gained in confidence through doing it! Always a good thing.
  10. Become a LGBT ally.
    Having grown up Independent Fundamental Baptist, there was only "one" answer regarding
    all things LGBT, which of course was that all of it is wrong, period. I mean, it's clearly stated
    Card given to those who sign up to be allies to the Pride
    Partnership (employee group) at my company. This now
    hangs directly below my nameplate outside my cubicle.
    in the Bible, right? Well, thanks largely to my frequent readership of Rachel Held Evans' blog and other voices, I have come to have a very different opinion about that. Especially since many scholars believe that the passages that conservatives interpret as being anti-homosexuality are actually referring to pedophilia and similar forms of abuse. Also, this video was especially enlightening. But possibly the biggest thing that shifted my thinking? The simple question: When did I decide to be straight? Ohhh, right. I didn't. Plus: I don't care anymore how other people live. 'Long as they're not causing harm to self or others,...I couldn't care less. Anyway, I'm so grateful I've changed in this way. There are people in my life today who I've come to care a great deal about who wouldn't be, if I hadn't changed my mind and heart.
  11. Take up yoga.
    Well, yoga was another thing forbidden by the IFB. The conservative Christian "party line," as I've heard it, is that yoga comes out of Hinduism and is therefore evil and that you're a) worshiping Hindu gods when you assume certain poses and b) inviting demons into your body and life when you sound an "om." I've even heard that "om" is the name of a specific demon. (How anybody would even "know" that, I have no idea.) Well, I now find all of that to be patently ridiculous. Worshiping is an act of the will; it's not like you can accidentally worship something. And as for "om"? A very experienced yoga teacher, when I asked what the deal with "om" was, said that the word itself doesn't mean anything; sounding it is just a way to experience vibration in the belly, chest, and head. I started practicing in June of this year, and I've come to love going to class. I've begun to see inklings of a difference it is making in my life, and that is very cool.
And...a bonus one (since this one didn't occur until just after the 10-year mark passed): Have my own website. I don't remember when I first had the idea of having my own site, but it may've been because my old Internet service provider included some free website space with every account. I'd learned a little HTML in my work as a technical communicator, so I created one on that platform, but it was pretty rudimentary. It did, however, tell the story of Ron and me. Later, when I changed ISPs, that site went away. Then sometime within the last couple years, I discovered Wix, which allows people to create their own professional looking site without having to do any coding. And after a lot of thought and hard work, I finally have a site that I'm proud of and that once again tells my and Ron's story. Ladies and gentlemen, I give

So there you have it. Come to think of it,...I've done a lot!