Wow, friends, this has been a long week. I was supposed to speak at Westside this weekend and I did – once. I spoke at the Saturday service with no trouble and then went to a birthday party where many were fighting a stomach bug. As I got into bed that night, I felt a little anxious but I often feel that way on a speaking weekend. By 1 am, it was clear it was more than jitters, it was the flu. For the first time ever, I called in too sick to speak and tried to ride out the wretched virus, mostly praying for Jesus to come back.
As I write this, it’s two days later @ 2 a.m., and I’m on round two of the same dumb bug. I haven’t slept a single bit and I’m currently in between throwing up so I feel okay for a minute and there are a couple of things I want to commit to a blog post before I forget them:
Being sick and alone really, truly sucks. I don’t even know if I need to say anymore than that, but I feel whiny enough that I had to at least get that much out. Steve was a good man in situations like this. He was nurturing and grace-giving and kind. He was strong and present and caring. Few things compare in terms of loneliness – at least for me – to being sick in my room by myself. About an hour ago, I sent a text to my mom and sisters, to check if anyone happened to be awake and was willing to take a phone call from a sick-again sister. I just needed a human voice. My sweet sister called me right away, prayed with me and tucked me back in over the phone. I’m so grateful for the people who have been willing to step into my widow life and be as much Steve as they can be in the really lonely moments.
When the chips are down, I really am pretty brave. I can do these things. I don’t like them, but I can do them and this is a happy discovery because a secret fear of mine over the past few years anticipating life without Steve was how I would handle the tough nights alone. And I’m okay. Perhaps walking someone through a disease like ALS helps build resilience for things like stomach flu, or maybe I’ve had this in me all along. I don’t know, but I’m glad I don’t feel as desperate as I thought I would.
Worship music is saving my life. It really is. I play it on my phone as I moan in my bed and I feel not so alone. Sometimes I wonder if the people who are singing those songs ever imagined that they would be singing to a sick widow on a lonely night. Well done, worship leaders of the world. You serve us well, even when you don’t know it.
God is faithful. In sickness. In death. In life. In health. In peace. He is true and steadfast. I feel Him here and I’m thankful.
I cannot explain to you the affection I feel for the ALS FancyDance. For those of you new to my family’s story, the FancyDance was born when we decided to raise money for ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease) and were tired of sad disease-related fundraisers. My husband was fighting ALS at the time and we were so weary from the battle and quite desperate for something that felt happy and fun and yet meaningful and true. From those wishes, came this event. If you want to re-live or catch up on the past two years of this event, you can read my blog posts here and here. If you want to read about one of the most amazing moments in my life which occurred at the first Fancy Dance – you can read that here. If you just want to know the deets on this year’s event, read on!
2016 ALS Fancy Dance FAQ’s:
Is the FancyDance actually fancy? Yes. Because it is. Because we want it to be. Because how often do you get to dress up and dosey-doe with your best gal without having to sit through fourteen toasts by the wedding party? HOW fancy, you ask? That’s entirely up to you. Some people go full-on red carpet ready and some wear their ‘good jeans”. Again I say: up to you. We won’t boss (except for naming it the Fancy Dance which, yes, is inherently bossy.)
MUST I bring a date? From the beginning, we (meaning me, and my kids have gone along because they know what’s good for them) have encouraged people to bring dates because I worry men and women are losing their dating mojo. However, coming without a date or with a group of friends is entirely appropriate and exactly what I’m planning to do since my date is dancing in another location now.
Are you going to ask for money all night long? No. But sort of. We will ask for money, but not often and it won’t take long. I usually speak for about 10 minutes and it’s sometimes a little sad, yes, because we need to remember how treacherous the ALS fight really is. (This year, we’ll have a convenient text-to-donate option as well.)
Where does the money go? To the ALS Association, the team that saved our sanity during our five-year battle with ALS. They continue to serve countless families in our region.
What about food? Tell me about the food! Food trucks(Jacked Up Waffles and Cur-b-Que are in the lineup now) and the fabulous Bend Beerstream (serving beer and wine) will be on site, keeping the good vibes flowing and enabling you to keep your Macarena moves strong. These vendors are fantastic and each of them donates back to the cause so you can feel good about any cash you spend at the dance. The inimitable band, Precious Byrd, will be filling the night air with Superphonic Magical tunes as well. Gah! I already cannot wait!
Where, where, where do I park? The venue is magically beautiful, but it does not have parking. Therefore, we use a shuttle (this year it’s Bend Trolley) to transport people from the Lowes parking lot to the dance, less than a minute away. The dance runs from 7-10, the shuttle starts rolling at 6:40 and goes throughout the evening. This is not always entirely convenient and sometimes involves waiting for a ride, so we ask that you just factor it into the fun of the night and enjoy your fellow trolley friends. There is also limited parking at Deschutes Memorial Cemetery which is adjacent to the party venue (ironic sentence if ever there was one.)
How much does the FancyDance cost? The event is free to attend, but not free for us to host. We suggest a $15 cover charge, and will have a donations jar on site if you’d like to help us with the cost of trolleys and bands and sparklers and such, but it is totally optional.
Can I bring my kids? Yes! PLEASE bring your fancy little darlings so I can dance with them! However, take note that the venue is located very close to the very busy Hwy. 97 and there is also swimming hole on site. In the midst of all the fancy and dancing, it’s imperative that you know where your kids are at all times.
Will there be a sparkler dance? Um, is Bend the best city on the planet? Is coffee essential for life? Is this the worst election ever? Yes. The answer to this question will always be yes.
And now, to prepare your dancey feet for the August 26 and all the wonder it shall be, I give you Superphonic Magical by the best band I know.
And hey – if you have a question I didn’t answer, feel free to put it in the comments and of our FancyDance experts will answer it ASAP!
This morning I caught myself talking to myself about talking to myself. No joke. And I realized yet again how much Steve listened to me over the years.
I am a verbal processor, and this has been one of the most challenging changes to adapt to in single life. My closest friends have been fantastic to listen to my stuff and help me connect the dots from my heart to my head, but it’s not the same as having someone who is living in the very fabric of your days, hearing your thoughts and dreams come out raw and ragged and unedited. Steve was the most gracious man I’ve ever known. He cared about people and their feelings – he cared about me most of all. And he understood that my head is filled with words and those words need to get out somehow. In the beginning, he tried to offer solutions or work arounds to any problem, and that used to bug me a little. I mostly wanted to be heard and acknowledged. But he figured it out. He got pretty good and knowing when I just needed unwavering support and when I needed someone to offer pushback or correction. He gave my thoughts and feelings a soft place to land.
The question in my life now becomes: how do I function as a words-girl in this new world where I have no live-in listener? The only answer I really have is: be willing to talk to people who aren’t Steve. I committed in the beginning of this sojourn through singleness that I would try to connect with three friends each week and that I would determine to share something of my life with them (because I can pretty easily dodge and weave gut-level honesty if I let myself). I am still committed to this and it has been really good for me. I have a counselor who listens, a mentor who listens and a handful of dear friends + my daughters who I know are always available and I use that open door quite regularly. I also journal relentlessly and, yep, talk to myself quite often. My people are such a blessing to me and so willing and wonderful and I’m grateful and trying to learn not to worry so much about over-burdening them with the words of my life.
I know this post isn’t filled with helpful tips for single people, because I don’t really have many. But I do have a tip for married people, especially husbands, and it’s this: Your willingness to stop, listen and let your wife feel heard is beyond beautiful. Even if you have no brilliant strategies to offer. Even if you don’t feel like the best conversationalist. Even if you would rather be watching ESPN (especially if you would rather be watching ESPN.) In the end, I think your availability as the one who makes space for her words to live and breathe is what sets you apart from every other man in her life (and I really did consider all the other things that set you apart before choosing this one and I stand by my story.) Keep up the good work, men-with-ears. You are worth your weight in silver, gold and words.
Today’s list is harder to share than was yesterday’s list. Even though this one feels like much better news, I also feel the need to offer a few disclaimers. First, the beautiful things I’ve discovered inside of single living do not replace Steve or the life I had with him. This is standalone beauty that creates a happier, healthier life – a life in which I have surprising amounts of hope and joy. Secondly, these things do not cancel out grief. I will always grieve losing my beloved, but I remember the very day I determined that grief would no longer be the boss of me. It was an intentional decision to carry grief rather than being carried by it and I couldn’t have made the decision a moment sooner than I did; I had to wait til I was ready. Finally, embracing these aspects of my new life has not come without struggle, prayer, counsel and a fair amount of emotional chaos in the process. This is where I’ve landed now, one year in; I’m sure thngs will keep changing and evolving as I go.
Having said all that, I give you The Things I’m Embracing & Enjoying About Being Single:
1. Spontaneity. I only have one son at home, but he has a very busy schedule and so other than about three dinners each week, I’m mostly on my own. This can be lonely or fun; I choose fun. I choose to go to happy hour with friends. I choose trips to the beach instead of being jealous of everyone else’s beach trip photos. I choose popcorn and red wine for dinner. I choose to watch A Few Good Men for the 700th time on a Saturday morning or study in bed until the wee hours. I choose no makeup on my day off. I choose to go out with friends after a wedding and not come home until such time as my son is sitting worried on the couch (no kidding – really happened – and I don’t choose that anymore.) I really do love this season of life where my free time is my own and I can steer it any direction I choose.
2. Self-investment. I am learning to spend time and money on things that bring me joy and/or security without guilt or apology. The extended warranty on my car. A new dress on a hard day. Healthy food. Good sheets. Vacations in which I plan all my favorite things with all my favorite people, even though it costs more than doing one thing in one place for a week. I work hard and have saved and planned even harder to create a life for Josiah and I that includes a few happy extras, and I am intentional about stopping to absorb them with gratitude.
3. Beauty. I’m not even sure how to articulate all I feel about this, but I am embracing the gift of beauty in the things around me like I never have before. After Steve died, I painted walls and changed furniture and it’s not at all the way Steve would have wanted it, but this house is now exactly me. At night I go out on my deck lined with string lights and sit beneath the stars, absorbing the immense beauty of it all. I am constantly buying new candles for my desk because they change the way I feel about studying in the morning. Just beauty. All around. Waiting to be found and absorbed and enjoyed. It’s not that I couldn’t have done this while I was married, it’s just that I didn’t. Not like this. So I’m going to tag this one as a side benefit of single life and no one can stop me.
4. Reinvention. I’ve mentioned this before, but I have loved Steve Stern since I was 18 years old. My life grew around his. My dreams formed to his, which is appropriate and good, but he’s gone now – so what happens next? I can either spend the rest of my life mourning the Bo that was intertwined with Steve, or I can find what this Bo looks like – this new me who has opinions (so, so many of them!) and desires and gifts and passion. It’s not that I’m a different person, I’m still me, but I’m me in a different way and different season than I have ever been before. The people I’ve seen deal with grief the most successfully are those who choose an “all bets off” approach to their future. They quit the jobs they hate, pursue the education they’ve always wanted, take the vacation, buy the shoes, live, breathe, become. That’s what I want for this new Bo.
5. Um…okay, tricky one here: Male friendships. Because the topic of dating and remarriage has come up so frequently since Steve died, I feel very watched in this regard. [Quick Optional Backstory: I went to a Christian college that was very strict (very, very!) in its handling of male/female relationships. Unless a man and woman knew their future was leading to marriage, friendship was not really encouraged. This meant that any glance toward a person of the opposite sex led to wild speculation and fast-moving rumors about the glance and the guy and your future. I’m not criticizing that, just explaining that this is my lens. End of back story.] The thing is: I’m not 18 anymore and I’m not at all ready to date or remarry, and yet I still carried that same all-or-nothing view of male/female friendships. But somewhere in the course of this topsy-turvy year, I decided that was silly and that my life would benefit from having single male friends. So I worked on that and I don’t have a lot of ’em, but I do have a few and they are important to me. They offer a perspective on single life and single parenting that enriches my own. They also even occasionally offer a way out of attending weddings alone, which is a gift to me even though it might be a little shocking to the watching world. Bottom line: I am learning to enjoy this season of life and the friendships that come from it without apologizing, justifying or explaining. This has been a win and has added happiness to my heart. (P.S. My daughter told me that telling the world I am not apologizing for having male friends is brave, but not as brave as just doing it and not apologizing. Heh. I think she has a fair point, but there is something in me that wanted to get this out for other widows who might be looking for permission to do the same thing.)
6. Courage. I’m far less afraid to make mistakes at this stage of life, and much less concerned about what people will think if I fail. I don’t know if it’s because I’m older or single or have survived a tough fight, but I’m more okay with things being a little messy, a little in-progress than I’ve ever been before and I like it.
So, that’s part of my list. It’s not everything, but that’s the gist of what I’m discovering as I begin to re-enter my life one year after death. This year has been – wow – amazing. Awful. Beautiful. Terrifying. Difficult. Astounding. Miraculous. And I am ending it believing more strongly than ever in the God who makes all things new, and entirely certain that Steve would be proud of me. Sometimes I think I can hear his happy laughter when I make a brave decision to move forward.
I’ve heard from so many widows and widowers this week who are also walking out this journey. I have no universal advice except this: believe that you can live again and then take baby steps in that direction. My list may not work for you for a million reasons. Every journey is different. But I don’t think we can go wrong if we always walk toward life.
Day 346. We have almost moved fully around the sun. We have weathered fall and the holidays and a wedding and his birthday and The Master’s and Father’s Day. All that’s left of the ‘firsts’ are the Fourth of July which is a big one for reasons I may or may not explain down the road and The British Open, which formed the backdrop for Steve’s death and I will always, always think of it that way.
So, nearly one year in, I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting on what I’ve learned and how I’ve grieved and grown through all of it. Over the next few weeks, I hope to share more with you about what I’ve discovered because I think it might be helpful for those coming behind or alongside me in the adventure (?) that is widowhood. It also might be useful for those of you hoping to encourage someone experiencing the grief journey that is losing a spouse. My mind works better around lists, so I give you: The Twelve Things I Really Miss About Being Married. (And, duh, there are more than twelve – but also, there are some good things in my single-life season, which I will share in a future post.)
Let’s start with one that won’t seem important, but I promise you it is: I hate fastening my own necklace. Steve used to do that for me and it was sweet and intimate and romantic and made me feel really cared for and loved. Again, I know it’s weird, but it’s exactly these sorts of things that create the rocky terrain of navigating loss. It’s not usually the birthdays and holidays, it’s that moment alone in my bedroom when I go to fasten my necklace that says “brave” on it and wonder: am I really? It’s been a tough one.
I miss having someone to call on my way home from work. Or after a tough meeting. Or when I’m waiting in line at Starbucks and don’t want to wait alone.
I miss having someone else drive. On the rare occasions Josiah and I travel in the same car, he always drives and I really like that. But it’s different and I think most widows would agree.
I miss having someone tell me if this outfit makes me look fat. Mostly, I miss Steve’s answer because it was so amazing that sometimes I asked him just so I could hear him say it. (Yeah, I’m not going to tell you what it was.)
Vacations. I know I can still take them and I can take people with me who love me. But it’s not the same. My husband made me feel comfortable and safe. He made each place home just by being there.
The very empty bed thing. I actually sort of love having all the closet space, but I do not enjoy sleeping alone. Even though Steve was in a hospital bed during the last two years of his illness, he was still there with me and I didn’t feel as alone.
Decisions. I miss having someone to collaborate with on decisions, big and small. What car to buy. What to give our kids for Christmas. Where to go for breakfast on our day off. Should I say yes or no to a speaking gig that falls on one of the kid’s birthdays. There’s not a single one of these decisions that I am incapable of making, but it was so lovely to have someone else weighing in and even carrying some of them entirely. I get tired of having to figure everything out on my own.
Weddings. Ugh. Seriously. Weddings are a surprising tough spot for me. I’ve tried to think through all the reasons and some are obvious, but some are more subtle and sneaky. I don’t really want to explain it all, except to say: I am an introvert (no, really) and while I actually do enjoy going to them, I do not enjoy going to them alone. Also, it’s worth noting here, for the sake of those who want to say the right thing to widows: resist the urge to offer easy answers. Often, when I share a painful point like this – especially on Facebook where it’s easy to give fast input – people will respond with one-sentence solutions, like, “That’s why you have a son! Make him go the wedding!” Please understand two things: 1) While having Joe go with me to an event is a blessing, it is not the same. 2) Josiah is also navigating the waters of grief and fatherlessness. There is a limit to how much of my load I want him to carry. If I know he will also enjoy the event, I will ask him to go and he will say yes because he’s fantastic like that. But if the event would not be fun for him, then I’m essentially asking him to pick up the weight of my loneliness and I’m not going to do that. I determined early on that I would not place the “man of the house” title on the shoulders of a 16-year-old and I am sticking to that commitment even if it doesn’t make sense to the rest of the world.
Kids. I don’t miss my kids -they’re right here – I just miss having someone who loves them in the same way I love them. I miss having someone who knows their history and their weaknesses and that one thing they did in fourth grade that made us laugh til we cried. I miss having someone to tell me what to do when I don’t know what to do as a mom or would be willing to pray through the night until we found the answer. In fact, the thing I just said about Josiah and not wanting to accidentally make him the man of the house? Sometimes the lines are unclear and I’m not sure how much is too much to expect of him and I go to ask Steve and he isn’t there and, yeah…this one is just really hard.
Mayonnaise jars. Though I’ve yet to run into one I couldn’t break into, sometimes it’s quite lovely to be able to feel like the weak, helpless female. Sometimes I really miss being rescued, even though I know I can usually save myself. I mean, apologies to feminists everywhere – but also: it’s true. I think sometimes men want to be rescued, too, and that’s just fine.
I miss the lovely language Steve and I shared. We understood facial expressions (especially in the last few years as his communication was forced to become increasingly non-verbal) and had developed a certain lexicon over thirty years of life, love and battle together. Maybe a better way to say this is: I miss feeling understood by a spouse, and so I gravitate toward friendships that offer easy understanding and acceptance and away from those that feel laborious. Maybe someday I’ll be ready to invest in relationships where I have to do the work of explaining myself, my history and my idiosyncrasies, but right now I don’t have the energy.
I miss being part of a team. I really liked that and I think I was pretty good at it. I also think I’m doing well at going solo, but sometimes I miss having someone who is always on my side, no matter what. And I miss him.
Those are my honest thoughts and I know they might not seem very encouraging, especially if you are also facing an uncertain future. But I promise I’ll share the good stuff I’m learning, too (and there’s a lot of it!) – maybe even tomorrow!