~ notes from an uncommon journey ~

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. All of us at my first Camp Widow. Can you see me? (source)
    Find and join an inclusive community through something called Camp WidowI can't remember exactly how I first heard about Camp 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.
    With some of the members of SSCO.

  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.

  11.  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 you...conniewinch.com:

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

Letter to Heaven

September 4, 2014

Dear Ron,

Today it has been 10 years since you left this earth. When I first realized that it would be 10 years soon, that seemed impossible to believe. How could it possibly be 10 years since I saw this sweet face?

The first photo I ever saw of you.

But what I have realized is that in no way does that amount of time—or any amount of time—alter the fact that you and your love changed my life forever.

Little did I know, on a date I can't even pinpoint much less remember, when I joined a site called christiancafe.com, that I would encounter and eventually fall in love with the sweetest man I have ever known. Little did I know, when I went into the chat room. Little did I know, when we had our first private chat. When we started chatting outside of the site. When we started talking on the phone. As I drove to the meetup where we first laid eyes on each other. Through all the fun we had, alone and with the rest of the group, throughout that gathering.

I shall never forget that moment in my apartment when the thought that you'd be leaving the next morning brought tears unexpectedly to my eyes. I shall never forget that when I asked if you ever thought about us as more than friends, you said you'd been thinking about that for a long time. I shall never forget how we dreamed together about the future. When we officially became a couple. That time in the hot tub. The moments you first said "I love you" to me and when I first said it to you.

Thank you for loving me. You were such a bright spot in my life. Your love helped me see myself more as lovable. You proved to me that not all men are the same. You accepted me exactly as I was and weren't put off by the knowledge of what was in my past. You called me your beautiful lady and other names too special to share.

I'm also so very grateful that I got to be the one to love you to the very end of your life. To love you in a way that I suspect you might not have been loved before. To love you from the inside out. I'm so glad I got to the point where I could say to you—and really mean it—that the weight didn't matter to me. I knew and cared about you, the real you, the person inside. And when you said you were trying to lose weight for my sake, because "I'd want you to be proud of the man you'd married," well, that melted my heart. And of course it broke my heart that we never got to fulfill that dream.

But you are a part of me. You will always be a part of me. No amount of time will ever change that fact.

As I'm certain you know, I've faced opposition for calling myself your widow, for continuing to speak of and honor you as I have throughout the years. But no one else was in that relationship besides me and you. I'm the only one left on the planet who knows what it was really like between us. And because I know how we were, because I know what we'd planned, because love is worth honoring, and because grief does not just go away: I will always honor you and our love. I will continue to identify as widowed and will support other widows as long as I live.

You are one of the best things that has ever happened to me. I can never thank you enough for coming into my life, for being your sweet self, and for loving me.

I loved you then, I love you now, I will love you forever.

© A Road Less Traveled

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