Burn, baby burn!

Photo credit: werner22brigitte

We are entering the season of fall bonfires. There’s something mesmerizing about a fire…when you are seated around it, with friends, family or neighbors, watching the blue and orange hued flames dance about. These are the fun fires, the smell of the season, the time to relax…

Unplanned fires, however, can be tragedies. My heart aches when I see a house, garage, barn or business burned, erasing memories, value and leaving ashes and brokenness. I know families that have had to start from scratch and grieve the loss of not only the structure but of memories and irreplaceable contents.

These examples are two extremes – good/enjoyable and bad/devastating. Is there a fire in the middle of those two opposites, or a combination of the two? Can a fire be good and bad? Yes. 

Recently I used a fire to extinguish evidence of a time filled with pain and confusion. 

I had been in the process of organizing, decluttering and assessing what I could sell, donate or minimize in order to live more simply. (No, I’m not living simply yet, but there’s a will and I’m digging my way.) I came across binders of letters that my ex-husband and I had written to each other during an awful time. I had saved them all and even made copies of the letters I wrote to him. I’m not sure why I was keeping them, neatly organized by date, even. Would they make for a tell-all book someday? Sure. But these were extremely personal questions, explanations and feelings that I would never want anyone else to read, especially my children. The thought crossed my mind – what if something happened to me tomorrow and my children, friends or family had to go through my belongings and found these letters? 

I made the decision that I was ready to get rid of these letters. They served no purpose anymore except to relive a nightmare, as I started to read through them. I felt the anxiety and anger rise in my body as I had forgotten some of the worst exchanges. I didn’t read them all again, but I read enough to confirm that these needed to disappear. I called a friend and asked if she wanted to join me in a “burn party,” saying goodbye to documents and letters. She agreed and gladly contributed boxes of painful paperwork from two decades prior that she, too, was ready to be rid of. 

It was hard. It was hard to let go even though I knew it was the right thing to do. I felt angry and a little bitter that I had to even spend energy on a task like this. I teared up and tensed up. Little by little,  I tossed the letters into the fire.  I carefully watched the pages curl and brown, shrink and disappear. I gradually felt a peace pass over me as if the pain, at least some of it, was shrinking and fading with the pages. My friend felt the same about her papers. Years of tangible reminders of stress, pain, legal and financial burdens and feelings of grief were being released into the flames … soon to be nothing but meaningless ashes. 

The fire can’t take away what’s in my mind. I’ll have the memories and reminders forever. But letting go of the tangible evidence of pain was the right method. I know how far I’ve come in healing and I’m grateful that I don’t have to worry about my kids, friends or family finding those horrific written exchanges between two people in the midst of an unimaginable tragedy.  The fire was destructive; bad for the papers but good for the healing.

Are you holding onto needless and maybe even painful clutter? 

Do you have paperwork or letters in your house that you wouldn’t want anyone else to read? Maybe it’s no-longer-applicable love letters or fight letters or documents that are unnecessary. Is it time for your bonfire? 

If you’re not ready to get rid of it all, consider downsizing it to a smaller box, file or lockbox. It’s ok to let go gradually. But letting go of unnecessary “stuff” is cleansing, freeing, and might just be the healing you need in order to move forward. 

Disclaimer: Make sure your items to burn are strictly your property, within your authority to possess or get rid of, won’t ever be required to be presented again, and that no one else would be negatively affected by the ‘good riddance.’


How travel has helped with grieving

I love to travel and always have. 

I love exploring new places – seeing what cool foods and places are found elsewhere, outside of my little bubble. 

Traveling with my husband Kevin was focused on national parks – Smoky Mountains, Glacier National Park, Yellowstone and Mount Rushmore. I’m so grateful we took those trips, because eight years into our marriage he suddenly passed away from an enlarged heart. 

If you’ve gone through grief, you know it hits you unexpectedly and turns your world around. You now measure time in terms of before the loss and after the loss since your world is much different from one to the other. 

About a year and a half after my husband died I was with some friends who were talking about our friend Carrie, who had moved to Ireland with her husband and kids. It hit me like a lightning bolt. That’s what I need. I need a girls trip to visit Carrie in Ireland. We did and it was amazing.  The trip was therapeutic for so many reasons. The main one was finally getting to take care of and focus on myself. I was the only person I needed to get ready (and not calculate time to get a child ready). When asked what sounded good for dinner, I only had to ask myself and not make sure there was chicken nuggets or mac n cheese on the menu. 

Did I feel guilty? A little bit. Some questioned me leaving my 3 year old with family back home for 10 days. But it was necessary for my mental health. I realized during that trip that traveling with my friends was good medicine for me. I healed a lot on that trip. I ended up taking off my wedding ring after that trip – a personal choice for widows/ers that only they can determine the right timing.

For me, traveling with friends is therapy, a treat, an escape from hard day to day decisions as a single mom. I highly recommend finding those friends that you can be with for a few days that allow you to enjoy this break. I try to take a girls trip at least once or twice a year. It’s no longer a luxury but a necessity for my mental-well being. The trips aren’t extravagant but full of laughter and adventure. 

For some that are grieving, travel can be a welcomed escape. On the second anniversary of Kevin’s death, I wanted to get out of town. I rode the train to Chicago with my son and we met up with my friend and her two kids. I just wanted to be distracted in a different space. Don’t let anyone judge you for wanting to travel and get away and do something different. Do what’s best for you – you might not know if it will be better, but try it anyway. Tradition is good, but there’s no rule that says you have to keep doing the same thing forever. Your tradition could be doing something different each year. 🙂 

One widow friend loves to travel but realized this time upon her return there won’t be flowers on the counter welcoming her home. Another friend says it’s hard to travel since the only person she ever traveled with was her spouse, no longer here. To them I say I am sorry. Your travel, should you wish to keep doing it, will look different. But if you loved it before, you can love it again – just with different people and different experiences. Maybe you have a friend back home arrange to drop off flowers before you get home. Maybe you choose to travel to places that your spouse wouldn’t have wanted to travel to anyway. Or maybe places that he wanted to travel to but didn’t get the chance…and he will surely be glad you did and will be thankful you got there, even without him. 

If you haven’t heard of One Fit Widow, check her out. She is a Michigan native whose husband died suddenly when she had two small children. She created One Fit Adventures that travel to exciting places that check off bucket list dreams that her husband wasn’t able to do. She understands that he would want her to do them even without him.  It’s one of my bucket list items to go on a trip with her group. https://my1fitlifeadventures.com/

The latest travel experience that I’m now addicted to is called Pack Up & Go. It’s a surprise travel agency that plans the details of the trip for you. For single moms, and anyone that tires of having to figure out details and make decisions for everyone, it is a dream. Or, for those that just like to be surprised. You pick your budget, travel method (plane, train, road trip), travel dates (at least 30 days out), you choose where they should not send you, and you fill out a survey about things you like to do on a 3-day vacation. Then…a week before your trip you get an envelope that you don’t open until the day of your trip. The day of your trip you find out where your destination is. You just go. You just go where someone else has planned for you to go. It is lovely. You can follow their itinerary (full of hidden gems) or you can do your own thing once there.  (Check it out: https://prz.io/bpmEXDriv)

Whatever your situation, I highly recommend travel. Travel outside of your bubble once in awhile and try new things. A change of scenery is so good for the soul even if it’s for a 3-day mini vacation. I don’t consider myself to be “actively” grieving anymore, but I suppose as a single mom there is always a level of grief; for this life you have, while grateful, is different than you imagined. For me, travel with my friends helps immensely with that.

Travel therapy: Hike at Red Rocks, Colorado May 2022.

A miniseries you won’t want to miss…

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(Photo credit toolakeacreage dot com)

Recently, I’ve known of three people close to me or friends of mine, that have passed away suddenly and unexpectedly….all three were in their 40’s or early 50’s. Way too young. Who are you thinking of that passed away too soon?

We all know life is “short.” But most of us assume we will live into our 80’s or longer. When we know of people that seem to be healthy and alive one day and gone the next, we are left shocked, confused, scared, and dumbfounded. It just feels wrong. We are sad for the loss of that person, sad for the spouse or family and friends that are left to live with this void. But we also think of ourselves, our spouse, our friends and family…could it happen to me? To us? To my friend? To my sibling?  We hope and pray not.

I’m working on a large project that isn’t quite ready yet, so I’m going to be doing a BLOG mini-series in the meantime, that I really hope readers will find helpful.  It’s coming soon! I don’t want you to miss it. I promise you will be able to put the lessons learned into practice, albeit in unfortunate situations. But you could be the blessing to someone that desperately needs it. 

That is, I believe, what we are called to do. Whatever life experience you have, whatever your passion….share it with others. Whatever you’ve lived through, the tough situation, the devastating loss, the growing pains….why not help someone else going through it so they might experience a little less pain?

If you haven’t gone through anything really hard…yet…well, then, Hallelujah!  You are probably young. 🙂   Because as wonderful as life is, you will face trials, and possibly a tragedy here and there. (Let’s hope those are few and far between).

I recently saw a post (author unknown) that said, “Be the person you needed when you were younger.”  This.

I have to say, I was lucky in that when I suffered the loss of my husband, I did have many good friends around me, some that had experienced the death of a spouse. But I still want to be the person that I needed back then. I want to support, help, educate and inspire others to be there for someone else who is grieving.

For the next several blog posts, I will be tackling some of the important issues surrounding grief – specifically the sudden death of a loved one….though even people that experience an “expected” death (illness, old age/natural causes) can, hopefully, relate to or be inspired by the readings as well.

Thank you for reading this. It tells me that you care. Maybe you can relate to grieving a sudden loss, and don’t want to feel alone in what you’ve gone through. Or maybe you’ve seen others go through a sudden loss and you want to know how you can truly help someone who is grieving. This world needs you! Thank you for caring. Stay tuned.