Before I tell you how I started to save my life, I’m going to tell you about the toughest night of my life. Some might think that would be the night my husband died. It wasn’t ….it was a little better than 15 months after Jerry died (actually, I am writing this on February 24, 2016 – 4 years to the day from that very dark night).
On December 8, 2011, I woke with an enormous feeling of relief mixed with amazement and pride at my ability to survive the previous year. The one-year anniversary the day before had been hard and a lot of tears were shed, but I had made it and felt sure things would only get better. After all, it felt like I had made solid progress. I’d vacationed solo (to London), handled numerous household catastrophes (including a downed tree, new roof and failed sump pump) and had even made a new friend that was not proximity-based (i.e. not someone I met through work!).
HA! A scant two weeks later everything started to slide …
Descending Into the Abyss
A Christmas visit to family in South Carolina was strained due to some challenging family dynamics. Suffice to say that spending my second Christmas without Jerry was probably the worst I had felt in months. By the time I returned home a few days later I was in a major funk.
From there, it felt as though the bad stuff just kept piling on for 8 straight weeks.
Work continued to get even more stressful. I had a management job with an automotive supplier and the entire industry was in turmoil. It was a competitive workplace before bankruptcy. After it was the corporate equivalent of “The Hunger Games.”
The new friendship went south unexpectedly for a reason that still doesn’t make sense to me. I visited another friend for a weekend and left feeling like she didn’t know me at all, despite years of friendship.
A couple of minor household repairs and other equally small things contributed to my mounting dissatisfaction. Taken separately at any other time none of these things would have caused me to feel so stressed. But at that point, my life felt as bleak and hopeless as the Michigan winter.
On the evening of February 24, 2012, after yet another miserable week, I made a decision. The life I was leading could not be my future. If it was, I didn’t want a future. I literally sat at my computer and calmly typed out a deal with myself: If on August 24, 2012 my life was still as horrid as it was on February 24, I would plan my death for December 7, 2012, two years after Jerry’s.
Digging In to Save Myself
Would I have done it? I don’t know. What I know is that I then wrote myself out a set of Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-Oriented goals to objectively measure my progress. Yep, that’s right—I used the “S.M.A.R.T.” philosophy of objectives, just like it was work. (You can read a little about SMART on Wikipedia.)
Back in April of 2011, I had started looking for a social group for widows and widowers. Mostly I found organizations oriented around people who were already retired or a few things run by churches. I believe in God but I’m not much of a fan of organized religion so the latter didn’t appeal to me.
One of the things I had found though was Meetup.com – where I saw a list that said 75 people in Detroit were interested in a group for widows and widowers. Being a good introvert I couldn’t fathom starting a group myself. But I had checked Meetup again in January and even joined a group that played cribbage (that met exactly twice unfortunately …) just to get out of the house. It had been pleasant enough, I learned a new game and no one demanded personal conversation so I didn’t even reveal my widowed status. It was very non-threatening, especially since it met in a popular restaurant and I knew I could change my mind or leave if things looked off.
So on that fateful night, in my desperate state, I said “what the hell” and took the plunge and bought a three-month membership. I started the Metro Detroit Widowed Meetup Group around 10pm on the 24th. By the 28th, 12 people had joined—including one guy who when I looked at his very, very bad picture I had the most disconcerting thought pop in my head … “I think you’re going to be my boyfriend” … which I promptly dismissed. I was excited (and terrified!). It was such an amazing confirmation that I was not the only one who felt the need to talk with others who had been through the same experience.
The first meetup was not a resounding success (sort of that table you didn’t want to sit at in junior high) but the second was much better and after that each one got a little easier. It was nice to have people to talk with who didn’t get that slightly panicked look if I mentioned Jerry (you know the look … oooooh, she mentioned the dead husband, let’s change the subject ….). It gave me such a sense of perspective and normalcy.
The Widow Gets a Cat
I had always liked cats and had grown up with one but hadn’t had one as an adult since Jerry was allergic to dander. I started looking at the Michigan Humane Society site and ran across a lovely little cat that someone had surrendered after almost 4 years.
Libby was the hard luck kitty all the “how to pick a cat” advice tells you to avoid. She stayed at the back of the cage, had a heart murmur, bad teeth, and was four-paw declawed. On top of which she had contracted feline herpes and was so depressed the vet had to give her appetite stimulants. But there was something about her that just made me think she was meant to be mine.
So off I went to Petco to see her in person on a late Sunday afternoon in mid-April. They handed her to me and I held her for a bit and then put her down and tried to get her to play. She was very low energy and timid and not interested in playing. I was sort of wavering, this poor little kitty seemed even worse off than me. But then she suddenly leapt to the top of a little half wall and sat. She was curious to see what was out there. And I knew in that instant there was no way I could leave her there. She was as desperate to break free of her cage as I was to break free of mine.
I put a $10 deposit on her and headed home to cat-proof my house while they did their background check. The next day I took a half day of vacation and picked her up. She meowed all the way home and promptly threw up under my bed within the first 15 minutes she was in the house. She spent most of the afternoon avoiding me. But later that evening as I was talking on the phone, she put her head in my hand and purred as if to say thank you and my heart melted completely.
Things started to pick up then. Two days after I got Libby I had scheduled a meetup at a local pub for dinner and drinks. The guy with the bad picture was coming for the first time and was sitting at the other end of the table across from me. My first thought was that he was a lot better looking than the horrid picture on his profile. My second thought was “why does this look right?” But I was reticent to get involved with anyone who belonged to the group. Plus, I had just started thinking about dating (mostly because it was one of my S.M.A.R.T. objectives …).
And I did start dating. Lots of cocktails, a few dinners, some second and even third dates. Nice enough guys, no magic. Bad picture guy and I were hanging out as friends, he even started organizing a few meetups for the group.
In mid-May, one of my closest friends asked me if I’d like to go receive Reiki with her. A friend from her work knew someone whose wife was a practitioner. I knew a little about it and was intrigued. Besides, I didn’t have anything else to do that day so I went along.
WOW, talk about life-changing. I had started to dig in and do the work of saving my life but receiving Reiki … words fail me. The best way I can describe it is to say it felt like undulating waves of love, acceptance and peace. That first session was so compelling that I made appointments for the following 4 weeks running (and every other week for another year or so). After the third session, I left the practitioners house and the first thought that popped in my head was to head to Whole Foods and pick up some food.
At that point, my eating habits had seriously deteriorated. I basically lived on coffee, almonds, York Peppermint Patties and vodka. I’d get a salad in the cafeteria at work and that was the only decent food I ate unless I was meeting someone for dinner. It may have been a mixture of many things but to this day I still feel like receiving Reiki urged me to take care of myself again. Later it became something I knew I was meant to learn—or maybe more like the thing I couldn’t NOT learn (I am a master level practitioner, trained at Beaumont Hospital).
I want to be clear and say that none of these things were a miracle or a short-cut on my grieving for Jerry. I still had ups and downs and good days and bad. But by August 24, my life felt so significantly improved it seemed like far more than six months had passed. And on August 31, the Last Normal Day of My Old Life also became notable for another reason. Because bad picture guy? He sort of became my boyfriend that night. But that’s another story.