It Had to Happen This Way

Thank You (Photo credit: thoughtfulbeliever)

Recently I came across an old email from the man I once believed was the love my life…my soulmate. I wasn’t looking for it. I was searching for something else. I thought for a moment about not opening it. Just going on my way. But it had been a while. And I was curious. You know how that goes.

His words were so sweet. My heart softened as I read them. It was from the beginning of our relationship, a time so full of hope and promise. A time when we both believed we would be together forever. A time when we thought we had found that ever-elusive fairytale in our love for one another.

Some would argue (and have) that I should delete those emails so I won’t be reminded of the pain I felt when that relationship suddenly ended. I see their point. No one wants to feel bad. But I look at it differently. Just because the relationship ended doesn’t mean I have to close the door on those feelings. Love isn’t so black and white. And sometimes, when I’m feeling particularly low, it’s nice to be reminded that someone loved me that much. If only for a short time.

It’s been two years today since he broke my heart. I’m not focusing on it, but it’s there…lurking around in the back of my mind. The anniversaries of significant life events are hard to shake. Maybe you’re not supposed to. Daphne Rose Kingma wrote in her book, Coming Apart, “Next to the death of a loved one, the ending of a relationship is the single most emotionally painful experience that any of us ever goes through.” I can attest to that.

Sometimes I’m still angry with him. He handled it so poorly. But in his defense, there was really no way he could have ended things that I would’ve agreed with. I didn’t want it to end. And yet, there are moments now I feel I should thank him. When I lost the thing I thought was most important to me, when I no longer had someone to focus my attention on, I was forced to focus on me.

So much has changed in the last two years. I’ve taken risks and challenged myself in ways I previously hadn’t though possible. I’ve realized I have a calling as a writer. This blog is a direct result of experiencing something so painful I felt my whole world was falling apart. I am also completing a course to become a life coach. A course I had no idea when I signed up how I would pay for. I’m leaving my current job to find more fulfilling work. I’m still scared all the time, but now I don’t let that stop me. Life is short. What you think will last forever can be gone in an instant.

I still feel sadness from time to time. And I often miss having him in my life. It hasn’t been easy, but I know it had to happen this way. Though I would not have chosen this path, I am grateful for where it has led me–and for the person I continue to become.

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What A Year Has Taught Me

The last photo of us together taken July 31, 2010

It has been a year since my life took an unexpected turn. Since the man I thought would love me forever said those words, ”I don’t want to be in a relationship.” I’ll never forget that moment. I didn’t believe him. Honestly, I still don’t. But he seemed pretty convinced. He took me to the airport, gave me a hug and never looked back. I walked away with my head held high. I was determined to be strong…I wouldn’t let him see me cry. But as soon as I went down the escalator to security, the tears started to flow. Other than two brief email exchanges, we haven’t spoken since. I have missed him every day.

I told myself I would give it six months. Six months to hurt and to heal. But six months came and went and still the pain persisted. Apparently you can’t put a time limit on moving on. You just have to live your life and follow where the pain leads you. A lot has happened in the last year. It struck me recently as I realized Labor Day weekend would mark the anniversary of that time in my life, that I have learned so much over the last 365 days. It has not been easy. But it hasn’t been all bad either.

I have often thought about what I would want him to know. What I would say if I had that opportunity. So here is what I would tell him; what the last year has taught me about life, love and being myself.

  • No matter how painful the loss, or how fearful you are of that pain, love is always worth the risk. ALWAYS. Even in my darkest hour, and there have been many, I never had regrets. Before our relationship, I had never experienced such a deep knowing, a sense that we were meant to be together. And that everything we’d experienced in our lives had led us to each other. As difficult as this has been, I would do it all over again, given the chance at that kind of love.
  • Loving you gave me a kind of courage I’d never known before. I’m not saying there wasn’t fear and trepidation. You know how many times I ‘pumped the brakes’. It’s just that loving and being loved so deeply, helped me push past my fear. The decision to move away from my friends, my family and the only life I’d every known was huge for me. But it paled in comparison to the thought of living without you. And as a result, I don’t have that same fear of moving now. In fact, the thought of it excites me more than anything. I look forward to the adventure someday.
  • I learned to step outside my comfort zone and take a new job even though I’d been with the same company for more than 11 years. After you broke up with me I kept thinking, “Why would you walk away? Don’t you realize life is short and you have to live it right now?” And then it hit me! I was doing the same thing with my job. Playing it safe. Doing something I really didn’t like, but not leaving because I was afraid it wouldn’t work out. So, I took a leap of faith, got a new job in a completely different industry, have met some terrific people and learned so much about myself in the process.
  • I realized I wasn’t spending my time doing the things I truly love and that make my heart sing. I had wanted to write a blog for a long time. I really enjoy writing. There’s just something about conveying my thoughts and feelings through words that amazes me even as I’m doing it. So I started blogging and have been jotting down ideas for a book. I am also working toward getting training to become a life coach. I look at my life and the choices I make now more in terms of how I really want to spend my time and what’s really important to me.
  • I’m stronger than I realized. When I left that day I had no idea we wouldn’t see each other or talk again. I really still thought it would all work out. Ever the optimist. But it hasn’t worked out the way I thought and dealing with that loss has been a day by day experience. I have felt the feelings as they come, but I don’t let them consume me. If I can get through the pain of losing you, and come out with more peace and clarity of purpose on the other side, I can get through anything.  There have definitely been some dark times. Some moments where I didn’t know if I could keep going. But I did. And I do.
  • I learned what it feels like to love deeply and truly…without limits. I loved you to the depths of my soul. Until you, I had never loved anyone that unconditionally other than my children. I had hoped it was possible, but I had never experienced it. Now I know that deep, “I will love you until the end of time” kind of love does exist for me. And it doesn’t go away just because you’re not with that person. Love that deep and true spans time, distance and circumstances. I would never settle for anything less again.
  • I learned I don’t have to try so hard; that I’m fine the way I am. I like that I’m introspective, love to read and figure things out. I’m not a morning person or a neat freak and that’s okay. Better than okay. It’s who I am and I wouldn’t change it. I’m neurotic, I worry too much, I wear my heart on my sleeve. I can’t take a hint or read between the lines. I think a lot and often over-analyze things. This is who I am…I make no excuses. There really is beauty in imperfection. I didn’t believe it at first, but I’ve come to realize it’s true.
  • I learned I needed to be alone, to not have someone to ‘take care of’ right now. Because it allowed me to see what I really want my life to look like. As painful as this has been, I needed to figure it out on my own. Oddly, I am grateful for the pain. It has been a doorway to finding my purpose in life. You gave me a great gift by walking away. And though it wasn’t what I would’ve chosen, and I still miss you so much, I don’t believe I would’ve discovered these things about myself in any other way.
  • I was reminded how much I enjoy cooking. Cooking feels like something I do for the people I love. It makes me feel like family. After 15 years of having to cook for someone who didn’t appreciate it when I was married, I had forgotten how much pleasure there is in cooking just for the joy of it. This last year I’ve spent more time in the kitchen, trying new recipes and spending time around the dinner table with friends and family. And you were right. Life really is easier with a good skillet. I am reminded of that every time I use the one you bought me.
  • I learned you can love someone even though their actions have caused you pain. It’s true you don’t have to feel things so acutely when you put up that wall of anger and blame and play the victim. But it doesn’t make things easier. The pain is still there. You can love someone for the person you know them to be; underneath their fear, shame and nagging sense of unworthiness. I understand those feelings. Because I fight my own battles with those very same things. It gives me compassion. You can love someone and not be with them.
  • I realized that life is good right here, right now. No matter what is going on I always have something to be grateful for. When I say something funny and Kyle actually laughs. When a friend calls for a spur of the moment barbeque. When I find myself in a great conversation or enjoying a lazy afternoon. When I make time for a walk outside in the middle of the work day. I’m living my life more in each moment than in the future or the past. I hope you know what that’s like.

Even though we’re not together, I am grateful for the time we had. I will always cherish those memories. Loving you has taught me so much about myself. I got to see the things that still need work, like communication and feeling not good enough. And the things I’m proud of, like how much I care about people and how deeply I am capable of loving. And all the things in between that are often less than perfect, but make up the incredible imperfect me. Loving you made me want to be a better person. Not just for you or for us, but for me.

I hope you have learned something this last year too…about yourself, about life, about love. That you realize with all your strengths and all your faults, you are worthy of love. You are sweet, kind, dorky, stubborn, opinionated, loving, funny, smart, messy, strong, fearful, open, withdrawn, introspective, protective, negative, handy, and so much more. You can be both the sweetest man and the biggest pain in the ass. But I hope you realize, as I have, that there’s nothing wrong with you. I still have my fears and insecurities…my feelings of not good enough. That’s just part of being human. But I learned, through this experience, I still deserve to be loved. I hope you learned that too.

Closure…It’s Not What You Think It Is

Clo·sure Webster’s dictionary defines closure as : an often comforting or satisfying sense of finality <victims needing closure>; also : something (as a satisfying ending) that provides such a sense. Dictionary.com describes it as a bringing to an end; conclusion. But I call bullshit! This has not been my experience. When you lose someone you love; due to death, divorce, a break up, there’s nothing satisfying about it. And there’s certainly no conclusion. Maybe the hope of getting closure someday keeps us going when we might otherwise give up. I suppose that’s a good thing. But I don’t think closure exists…at least not the way most of us look at it.

I’ve been thinking about closure alot these last months. Ever since the man I thought I was going to spend the rest of my life with walked away and my heart was broken beyond words. The ‘solution’ I am often presented with is closure. Well-meaning friends and family members often say, “You just need closure.” Or, they’ll tell me something negative about him saying, “Maybe this will help you get closure.” Apparently, no matter what the circumstance or how deep the pain, all you need to do is get closure and that matter will be behind you forever. They make it sound so easy. It’s not.

Most days come and go without tears, but not without thoughts of him. I get up, I go to work, I live my life. But then something out of the blue sparks a memory. I hear a song, or a line in a movie and the pain comes flooding back. Before I know it I am consumed by the longing to see him again, to hear his voice, to touch his sweet face. Often those journeys into darkness are completely unexpected. The other day I picked up a book off my shelf thinking I’d sit down and read for a while. Inside the front cover was a folded piece of paper. I opened to it find a print out of an email from him professing he would love and adore me forever. He didn’t. And just reading those words all these months later brought back the pain of him leaving as if it were yesterday.

There are also times when it’s a funny memory. I was at the grocery store recently and suddenly felt the urge to start drumming. You can imagine my confusion since I am not, nor have I ever been, a drummer. It took a minute, but then I realized the song playing ovehead was also on the video game Rock Band. We used to play that game until the wee hours of the morning. We had our own ‘band’ and we were on ‘tour’. He was the guitarist, of course, and I was the drummer. I wasn’t very good at it, but we had alot fun! It was our thing…something we did together nearly every time I visited. I laughed out loud in the aisle when it hit me.

And then there are the times when I wonder if the Universe is messing with me. Has that ever happened to you? I was driving through Eatonville the other day. This is the town where we met…were we went to high school together. I have to drive through town on my way to my parent’s house. He was already on my mind as he often is when I drive past the high school. As I was sitting at the four-way stop in the middle of town, I looked up and realized the car in front of me had Virginia license plates. That is where he lives and where I was going to move. Virginia is where we were going to build a life together. I just looked up to the sky and sighed. Really? There are 49 other states; why Virginia plates? What does that mean? Or is it just a random coincidence? I still don’t know what it means, but don’t believe in coincidences.

To be honest I was starting to think something was wrong with me that I couldn’t get to that ever-illusive state of closure. I felt like people wanted me to get over it already and move on. Maybe I wasn’t trying hard enough. Then my mom loaned me Jerry Sittser’s book, “A Grace Disguised.” It’s the story of a man who lost his mother, his wife, and his daughter in one fateful car crash. He talks about loss in such an honest, real way. And reading his story reminded me that while my life goes on, and so does yours, it will never be the same. You can’t go back. Losing someone you love leaves a hole in your heart that nothing else can fill. That’s not to say you won’t be happy again. But you’ll never stop missing them; they will always be a part of you.

I have to admit I still get angry sometimes when people tell me I need closure. As if that’s the magic pill that will make my heart stop hurting; the memories stop flooding back at the slightest provocation; the longing to see him again fade away. I just don’t think closure is the right word. I think the word we’re looking for is acceptance. You can accept the fact your loved one is gone. But that doesn’t mean you forget them. And I don’t think you should. The memories will always be there; some sad, some happy, some just downright weird. But I think acceptance brings peace…a little at a time.

So here’s my advice on loss. You can take it or leave it. It’s your choice. Let yourself feel the pain. Remember that person as often as you want and cry or smile or both. Don’t fight those feelings because you think you shouldn’t have them. This is not about wallowing or feeling sorry for yourself; though you may feel that way at times. This is about being real. The experiences of your life are as much a part of you as your fingers and toes. The pain will come and go. There is no closure; no magic moment; no satisfy ending; no conclusion. The person you love will always be with you; in your thoughts, your mind, your heart. Life is a story that goes on and on. And they will always be a part of it.

“Even the saddest things can become, once we have made peace with them, a source of wisdom and strength for the journey that still lies ahead.” ~Frederick Buechner

Putting Things in Perspective; It’s Just Stuff

They say less is more, but I’m having a hard time believing that right now. Friday night I lost all my electronic ‘stuff’; documents, pictures, music, everything. As soon as I realized it was gone, my heart sank to the floor. I literally thought I was going to throw up.

It was an accident. My son, Kyle, had run out of room on his Xbox hard drive. A new hard drive was on his birthday list and he asked me if anyone had gotten it for him. I said no, because no one had. I was still thinking about buying it, but it was late and I was tired. Besides, his birthday wasn’t until the next day. He asked if I had a memory stick he could use. I didn’t, but told him he could probably use my external hard drive since there was plenty of room on that. I’ve used the hard drive on both a PC and Mac with no problem so I figured storing things on the Xbox would be much the same. I was wrong. Apparently when Kyle plugged it into the Xbox, it asked him if he wanted to customize. He clicked ‘yes’ and it reformatted the drive. Just like that, years of data was gone. I hadn’t backed it up anywhere else because I was waiting to get our new laptop and put it all on there.

Kyle could see how upset I was. He just kept saying he was sorry and wiped away the tears from his eyes. I felt so bad for him because it really was an accident. Neither one of us thought anything would happen. We text my other son, Mitch, to see if there was anything we could do. He said no; it was all gone. And then he said, “it’s just stuff.” Sometimes your kids have to remind you what you already know.

I’m trying to put this in perspective. My mom went to the funeral of some friends yesterday who laid to rest their beautiful seven year old daughter. And I know they would gladly lose all their electronic ‘stuff’ just to have their daughter back. When I think about what they must be going through and the pain they must be enduring, I start to cry. I feel guilty for even thinking twice about my loss. And still, I wake up in the middle of the night in a panic thinking about the photographs I’ll never have again or the documents I might need that are gone.

Yesterday I started reading Geneen Roth’s new book, “Lost and Found”, which is about what she learned when she and her husband lost their life savings in the Bernard Madoff Ponzi scheme.  In the beginning of the book, she tells her spiritual teacher about what happened. Jeanne, her teacher says, “I know this is shocking. And you will probably need to spend some time crying and feeling angry and grieving. But I promise you that nothing of value is lost.” I had to stop and think about that. Nothing of value is lost.

My friend Marian, who had contemplated losing all her electronic files recently, wondered what she would do in a similar situation. She decided if she lost all that stuff, she would survive and she’d have a lot less clutter. Well, she’s right…I will survive and I do have a lot less clutter. I’ve since found a lot of the photographs in other places; KodakGallery, Facebook, on my camera. And I know friends and family will have more of the missing photos too. All is not lost. And yet, I still have moments when I think about what happened and my heart sinks.

This morning I read a post on LifeByMe.com. It was called “Living in Courage” by Debra Oakland. From her bio, “Within six years, Debra Oakland lost her son, her unborn child, two brothers, and her father. Instead of giving up, she chooses to live in courage, joy, and power.” (www.livingincourageonline.com) Wow!  I don’t even know what to say to that. But it seems the Universe has conspired to help me see something beyond my own experience.

I’ve been wracking my brain as to why this situation has felt so devastating to me right now. After reading and hearing about other people’s experiences, I know I’m fortunate. And I am grateful for all I do have; my family, my friends, good health, a job I enjoy, food on the table and love in my heart. And yet, I have to wonder why I this hit me so hard on Friday night. Honestly, I feel pretty ridiculous even caring about it at all. But I committed to being honest and real on this blog. These are my real thoughts and feelings…whether I like them or not.

My friend Denita wondered if this loss hit me so hard, because I haven’t quite recovered from the last big loss I suffered in my life. Maybe she has a point. There are days when losing the person I thought was the love of my life, rocks me to my core. So I know those feelings are still there and it doesn’t take much to bring them to the surface. But I also know that experience, any experience, really, leaves me with a choice. I can choose to learn and grow from it, or I can let it destroy me. The balance I’ve chosen is to acknowledge and feel my feelings; even the ones that hurt. But not let that pain work it’s way in and poison my beliefs about life and love. Some days that’s tricky.

I imagine in a year, losing all my data, won’t even matter to me. And that’s really how I try to gauge the importance of things. But part of this journey is to not apologize for how I feel about something…no matter what you might think of me. I want to be true to myself at any given time, feel those feelings and learn from them. Part of the process of authenticity is learning to accept that sometimes I let things bother me more than I should. That’s just part of being human. Debra Oakland says, “It takes courage to believe in ourselves, to be our true authentic selves, never apologizing for who we are.” I’d like to think I have that kind of courage…at least some of the time.