Monday, August 5, 2019

A Widow's Companion

There’s a cute little two-bedroom brick bungalow beside my house, the kind that would be perfect for an older retired couple.

But it’s not. It was a bungalow built for one.

The sweet lady who lives there is also a widow. Slightly over five feet, with dark hair and glasses, she could pass for my mother. Although, ironically, I have more grey hair than either one of them does.

We hit it off right away, her and I. The older and younger widow, bonded by a commonality we both wish we didn’t have.

Her diminutive stature belies an indomitable spirit that even the biggest, burliest man would envy. That I envy.

The last decade has not been kind to her. She nursed her husband through a long, difficult illness only to have him die shortly after he had seemingly recovered.

Her children long grown, she was left alone with two furry friends her husband had insisted on adopting against her protests. She found herself surprisingly grateful for their companionship, until they too both died, one and then the other, leaving her completely alone. She misses them fiercely.

I often hear her out in my front yard talking to my dog Ginny as she lies in the sun. I watch them through the window, and my heart melts. Their conversations seem so intensely personal, I’m loath to interrupt. I let them have their time before I go see if she needs help with anything. The answer, of course, is no.

It’s always no.

“Thank you for asking, but I’m good.”

We both know this is a lie. She is far from good.

She leans heavily on her cane as she slowly and painstakingly makes her way across the un-landscaped space between our houses. I want to take her arm to make sure she doesn’t stumble. I take a step toward her but stop myself. Instead, I hold my breath until she reaches for the post on her landing and climbs the steps to her front door.

In one of life’s cruel twists, she was diagnosed with cancer after her husband died. Chemo, radiation, surgery. She’s done it all, without a partner to support her. One bout with cancer was followed by another, this time in her bones.

It seems like she’s spent more time in the hospital than she has at home over the past six months. I’ve woken up several times in the middle of the night to see the flashing lights of an ambulance in front of her house. Each time I wonder if she will be coming home again. I tell her to call me the next time so she isn’t waiting alone. But she never does.

She’s fallen several times. Her son got her an alert necklace after the last late-night ambulance ride. She’s relieved to have it, to ease his mind if nothing else. But she also resents it, this tangible symbol of her gradual loss of independence.

She’s so determined to keep going.

“You have to keep going, Monica. You can’t stop.”

And so she goes.

Every day I see her walking slowly to her car. Off to Walmart or Michael’s, or sometimes even the local pub. She tells me I’d love their fish and chips.

“They’re pretty good, even for a fish snob.”

She already knows me so well.

Often she is out watering the flowers and plants she has in multiple pots on her front step. I can hear humming and talking to herself as she works.

Her only concession: last week they paved her driveway. The only spot to park was down across the street, too far even for her stubbornness. And so she relented and parked in mine.

I pull into the driveway just after her. She’d spent the day in the emergency room. Again. Her hands and feet both covered in blisters, a reaction to her latest round of chemo. They’ve stopped chemo temporarily for her to heal.

“But what happens when I start chemo again?”

Tears glisten in her eyes and her voice cracks a bit. She struggles to regain her composure. It’s the first time I’ve seen her show emotion.

I try to swallow my own.

We’d literally just returned from a few days playing tourist in Montreal. The bottoms of my feet were blistered from rubbing on my sandals in the heat. I feel small for whining about them.

I ask her if she would like some help, but I know before I even ask what her answer will be.
She turns and hobbles down the sidewalk towards her house.

As I watch her go, I am overcome with sadness. I rail at the unfairness of it all. And I wonder why life has to be so damn hard.

And then fear closes in on me like a thick, dense fog.

Fear, the widow’s companion. Always lurking, waiting to make its presence known.

It is there in the darkness of the night when the house shifts. And in the morning light when the floorboards creak. A sudden noise, a backfired car, a doorbell ringing on a sunny day.

It is always there.

It is never far away.

I do not dwell on my fears. I don’t ever want them to win. I refuse to live in fear. And most of the days, I have fear mastered. I can look it directly in the eyes and send it on its way.

But some days. Some days that battle exhausts me. And fear is not quite so willing to say goodbye.

Today is one of those days.

Today this is my truth:

There are times I am afraid.

Deeply afraid.

Afraid that my children will lose me too.

Afraid of a future alone.

Afraid I will never again find that person who will love me until the end.

Afraid that someday, I will be the widow hobbling home to an empty house on badly blistered feet.

I watch as my dear, lovely neighbour climbs her steps. First one, then another. She stops to catch her breath. And then takes the final steps to her door.

I wait until I know she is safely inside.

I exhale the breath I didn’t know I was holding as I unlock my front door, glancing next door one last time.

Keep going Monica, I whisper.

A lone tear escapes my eye and rolls ever so slowly down my cheek.

Just keep going.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

48 Things I Learned After I Was Widowed

by Monica Bobbitt

I turned 48 a little over a week ago. Forty-freaking-eight. 

And believe it or not, I am alright with that.


I am so alright with that. I consider myself very lucky to be 48.

So many people don’t even make it to 48, their lives tragically cut short far too soon.

And so many people never truly live while they have the chance. They rush from day to day, so busy making a living they don’t even notice as life passes them by.

I was one of those people until tragedy completely changed my life and me.

After my husband died, I had to rebuild my life and myself.

It took a lot of grief and a lot of hard work for me to get to where I am today.

I’m far from perfect, and I’ve certainly made my share of mistakes. I have more wrinkles and my hair colour is now (a well disguised) natural grey. I’ve been skinnier in my life, but I’ve never been fitter.

In fact, I am emotionally, mentally, and physically healthier than I ever was when Dan was alive.

And I can honestly say, I’m the happiest I’ve been in years.

Ironically, the best version of me was born from my husband’s death. It took a long time for me to reconcile that with myself.

Death truly is life’s greatest teacher.

Death challenged me in every way possible. It took away everything I believed in and forced me to confront my worst fears.

And yet, it also made me appreciate each and every moment. It has shown me the power of vulnerability and the importance of gratitude.

And it has made me love more fiercely than I ever thought possible.

Death has made me more resilient, and stronger than I ever thought I could be.

And it has made me wiser.

I have learned so many valuable life lessons in the five years since Dan died.

You may say they are clichés, but there’s a reason why clichés are

I learned the truth of these 48 life lessons the hardest way possible.

1. You don’t know what you don’t know. Nobody has all the answers.

2. Nobody can rescue you but you. Get up and be your own damn hero.

3. You have to let go of the life you thought you’d have and make happiness in the life you do have.

4. No one else can make you happy. Only you can do that.

5. Happiness is a choice and you have to work at it every day.

6. Be kind, you don’t know what someone else is going through. But remember: going through a hard time does not give you a license to treat people poorly.

7. You can’t change the past. Learn from it, then let it go. Before it destroys your present.

8. Only parenting is the hardest job you will ever do, but the most rewarding.

9. You have to keep laughing, it really is the best medicine.

10. You are more than enough. When you realize your worth, it will change everything.

11. Coffee won’t fix it. But it will help. Be kind to the baristas of the world.

12. You can’t numb the pain, and it just makes it worse when you try. Sadly, gin is not always your friend.

13. Grief demands to be heard, so don’t even try to bury it. Until you lean into it, acknowledge it, and process it, you will never heal.

14. Your grief is your grief, only you truly know what you are feeling. And you are not obligated to share it with anyone.

15. Stop caring what other people think. Seriously. There will always be people who judge you. Their opinion doesn’t matter.

16. Not everyone will be there to support you. Let them go. They aren’t your people.

17. Sometimes people show up in your life just when you need them the most. Serendipity is a beautiful thing.

18. Everyone needs a tribe to support them, in good times and in bad.

19. It’s okay to ask for help, it doesn’t make you weak, it makes you strong.

20. Self-care is not indulgent, it’s necessary.

21. Material objects are just that— objects. What you own is not who you are.

22. Less really is more, except when it comes to coffee, of course.

23. Exercise is just as important for your emotional health as it is for your physical health.

24. Put down your phone and go for a walk. Even 15 minutes will have a positive impact on your attitude.

25. And while you’re out there, stop and smell the roses. They only bloom for such a short period of time.

26. Vulnerability is a strength, not a weakness.

27. Sometimes you need to go somewhere to discover where you don’t want to be.

28. You can never truly go home because home is not the same and neither are you.

29. Sometimes you accidentally find your purpose, but your purpose is never an accident.

30. Be there for others when they need you. You get what you give.

31. Gratitude completely changes your outlook and your heart.

32. There is always something to be grateful for. Even on the worst of days. You’re still here, aren’t you?

33. Sometimes you have to say no.

34. And sometimes you have to say yes.

35. Some things and some people are totally worth the risk.

36. You’ll never know if you never ask.

37. It’s okay to be scared. Do it anyway. That’s courage.

38. Stop waiting for the perfect time. There is no perfect time, there is only now.

39. Regret is the price you pay for fear. Fear isn’t worth the price.

40. Grief is the price you pay for love. Love is so worth the price.

41. Shattered hearts do heal. You will love again if you are brave enough to let love find you.

42. Time spent with people you love is never wasted time.

43. You never know when it will be the last time you say I Love You, so say it to your people as often as you can.

44. Loss teaches you the true value of time. It really is much shorter than you think.

45. Eat the chocolate. Burn the candles. Wear the perfume. Life is too damn short.

46. The little things that annoy you so much often become the things you miss the most about someone when they are gone.

47. All that truly matters, in the end, is that you loved.

48. Get busy living or get busy dying. The choice is yours.

The choice has always been yours. Just like it was always mine.

Don’t make the same mistake I did. Don’t wait until something catastrophic happens to choose to live the best life you possibly can.

Live it now.


To learn more about grief, resiliency, and life after loss, follow Monica Bobbitt on Facebook:

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Let's Talk: One Family's Story of Mental Illness

This incredibly moving story of one family's struggle with mental illness was submitted to me by a very courageous lady whom I am privileged to know and call a friend. Their story:

The Bell Let’s Talk annual campaign day is here and once again our social media feeds become full of great posts and articles about the need to talk openly in order to reduce the stigma surrounding mental illness. Brave people share their stories and struggles.  But there is a group of people who feel they can’t really talk about how mental illness affects them: they are the ones closest to a person with mental illness.

Oh, we do talk! We talk to friends and family for support. We talk in closed online support groups when family or friends don’t really understand.  We talk to our doctors and to counselors and support workers.  We talk in hushed voices in the grocery store aisle when we run into another person we know who is dealing with it in their family. But nobody talks about it out in the open or publicly online on designated Mental Health Awareness Days. Maybe it’s because we don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. Maybe it’s because it might create stigma for those struggling. But regardless of the reason, there are so many families in anguish and grief because of the severe mental illness of a loved one.

It’s not that the resources aren’t there for families.  We can get counseling and support for all family members through various organizations.  In fact, every article I’ve ever read aimed toward caregivers of someone with mental illness ends with a caring note to take care of one’s self and to seek out support.  This is all well and good, but when the person causing the grief and stress, and in some cases trauma,won’t accept the help that they need, then how long does a family really benefit from support? Honestly, every time I read a line like this in an article, I want to scream,

“A fat lot of good me getting support does!” Sigh.

One of the main causes of someone not getting the help they need is not stigma or shame or even outright stubbornness and denial. It’s actually a symptom of many types of mental illness.  It’s called lack of insight. “The formal medical term for this medical condition is anosognosia, from the Greek meaning “to not know a disease.” When we talk about anosognosia in mental illness, we mean that someone is unaware of their own mental health condition or that they can’t perceive their condition accurately.” (NAMI – National Alliance on Mental Illness

If you are interested in learning and understanding more about this condition of mental illness, Dr. Xavier Amador has a great Ted talk that explains the frustration families have because of the condition when trying to help the person experiencing lack of insight.

Our Story: We (my kids and I) talk to one another behind closed doors and in private away from the person with mental Illness. That person is my husband and dad to our three kids.  The problem is he hasn’t been the husband and dad we once knew him to be for a long time now and we are reaching our breaking point. And when a person changes like that and there is nothing that can be done to help them, the effects on a family are devastating.

He has been diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder with Psychosis/Schizoaffective disorder.

Because diagnosing mental illness is not fine-tuned to a science, the psychologist explained that the two titles differ in when the psychosis takes place (during depression or outside of it). Frankly, I can’t even tell when or if he is ever out of psychosis. It’s that bad now. 

We’ve been together since we were teens. From his early twenties, he has had a handful of episodes. They always occurred around an event or life change (stress related probably): A surgery followed by what was called steroid-induced psychosis shortly after we were married. The birth of each of the kids. These episodes were labeled acute temporary psychosis. There was also a lot of drinking in the early years of our marriage (realizing now it was likely self-medicating for the mental health issues we didn’t realize he was having). The drinking came to an abrupt end when he came out of a couple of months long binge that resulted in some very hurtful actions. Ones we worked through and put behind us for the sake of the family and our love for each other. But unbeknownst to me the depression was probably always there lurking and I had no idea what was in store after a few happy years together.

I just have to say that though there are lots of conversations about depression, it appears in many different forms for different individuals. I didn’t know this until I joined a support group wondering if my husband was bipolar. I questioned it because he didn’t seem depressed! He gets up like clockwork every day without an alarm. Meanwhile, I’m desperately pressing my snooze button before I get up. He exercises and doesn’t look like the typical image of depression. But someone in the online support group told me that in men, depression can look different. It often appears as anger.  Aah! That fit.

Just more than four years ago, we decided to move. It was a big change! I was closing down my home daycare that I had run for eight years, allowing me time at home with our kids when they were young and heading back out into the world to look for a job outside the home. During the time waiting for the house to sell, he had a couple of panic attacks in the middle of the night. Looking back, I remember hints of paranoia but nothing that couldn’t be explained away.

It was also a stressful time due to my daycare closing down as we made plans to move but the house not selling as quickly as we’d hoped. When I got a job, I expected some happiness and relief, but the response I got from my husband was kind of blank. This puzzled me, but I carried on.

Then came moving day, and we had all of the family out to help us. And he just stopped talking. If someone spoke to him, we got a goofy kind of grin and that was it. We lived for a few months in a new home, new schools for the kids, new community and a new zombie-like dad/husband. Needless to say, this was hard on the kids.

One evening I became frustrated and asked him to please speak and explain what was going on. What came next was an outpouring of all the paranoid thoughts he’d been having: there were cameras in the house, someone was controlling his muscles and zapping them and making them weak. He talked until I couldn’t listen anymore. I was shocked and scared. In days and weeks to come, we just watched this person we knew and loved turn into someone we didn’t know. It was his body, but he wasn’t there.

About a year in came random rage episodes. Thankfully these were enough to elicit a trip to the doctor after he became violent and smashed some closet doors. He was given an antipsychotic medication and it worked wonders! I naively thought we were out of the woods! I was so relieved and ready and happy to carry on with a back to normal life.

And then he stopped taking the pills.

Things began to decline again. He became more withdrawn and weird in his mannerisms. At this point, he was talking more to me though (maybe as a result of the medication for a few months). He shared with me incidents he was concerned about at work and told me how these feelings of rage would come up out of nowhere and they didn’t make any sense. He said that usually, something happens to trigger feelings of anger, but for him, it could be as simple as a coworker saying good morning. He’d feel like they were all up in his face and had to walk away or not respond in order to keep the rage suppressed. Eventually, that rage released. 

We had just arrived back home from having dinner at his parents. I could see that he was in an episode of psychosis so I drove the car home instead of letting him drive us. When we got inside the house he smashed some things in the kitchen and then grabbed my phone out of my hand and smashed it on the table. I calmly told the kids to get in the car, grabbed the keys and his phone and left. We stayed overnight at a friend’s house. Once again, that was enough for him to see he was out of control and needed help. So we went together to talk to our family doctor. He prescribed an anti-depressant/anti-psychotic drug this time. The doctor also was obligated to put in a report to children’s aid. They came for an in-home visit the following week. 

We discussed a family safety plan. I think it was all enough to make him feel obligated to take the medication. And once again, it was almost miraculous how this tiny white pill brought him back. I felt my whole being give a huge sigh of relief. But for some reason, he didn’t see it that way. 

We had a good three months, and then he started into complaints about the side effects. I honestly think they were excuses. I noticed that the pill number count stopped going down one day, and I asked him about it. He felt he was fine now and didn’t need it. I cautiously said, “Okay . . . will you go back on if you start to feel bad again”. 

“Yes”, was the curt reply I got. Somehow I knew it wouldn’t happen. 

Funnily enough, the rage didn’t appear again. Or he was doing a really good job of suppressing it. That was the one issue that got him to agree to get help.  If that was no longer an issue then all other symptoms were fine in his book. It’s ok that he doesn’t talk to anyone (like not even respond when spoken to). He says he’s changed.  So we carried on and it was kind of like that analogy of a frog in water . . . The boiling frog is a fable describing a frog being slowly boiled alive. The premise is that if a frog is put suddenly into boiling water, it will jump out, but if the frog is put in tepid water which is then brought to a boil slowly, it will not perceive the danger and will be cooked to death.
That’s what it has felt like for our family the past two years. Eventually, I began to realize we were boiling and I needed to find help.

Help was there. But getting help for someone who doesn’t realize they are sick is next to impossible. Short of talking to him, writing, having his parents come and do a group intervention, nothing has gotten through to him. We even did couples counseling because his interpretation of the family problems was that we were having marriage issues. She persuaded him to get a proper assessment done which is how he has a diagnosis now from a neuro psychologist. But his answer to everyone who tries to get him to get help is, “I’m fine. There’s nothing wrong with me. I don’t need medication”. Even discussing separation is not enough for him to get help. It’s like he has lost all normal social and emotional connections.

So here I am trying to wrap my head around the fact that my marriage is most likely over.  I need to do what is best for the kids and me. There is the vow “in sickness and in health” to consider, but when does someone else’s health come before the health of a family. I have spent time feeling depressed myself (though nothing a good Netflix binge, some chocolate and red wine and a good time of rest can’t get me through thankfully).  But I know that many spouses of someone with mental illness end up seeking help for their own mental health, and for the kids also.

I have grieved over the loss of the person I love. There is nothing like having him physically before you but gone at the same time. It’s devastating. It’s grief mixed with hope that then gets dashed because of the system. 

Even our family doctor agreed that the laws have swayed too far in giving individuals full rights over themselves in this condition.  It doesn’t take into
He may lose his job. He is probably going to lose his family (we will always be there for him but we can’t continue to live with him like this).

And nothing can be done. Because he is not a threat to himself or to others. That’s because he has become so good at suppressing emotions that he doesn’t really seem to have any. Not mad, not sad, not anything.

Monica writes about grief and I have gained so much comfort from many of her posts.  I’ve asked her to share my story so that people like me can become part of the “Let’s talk” initiative. I know people don’t have a clue because I certainly didn’t. Until you experience someone with this level of mental illness, you really can’t understand it. It’s grief. It’s loss. It’s painful and frustrating. It’s not really okay to talk about when you’re on this side of the mental illness fence.  That’s why I’m signing this anonymously.

Here is a drawing that our 12-year-old son drew because sometimes a picture tells a thousand words. 

He said, “This is dad. He thinks he is strong but he is really falling apart.” 
This is mental illness.

Let’s talk.



Sunday, January 20, 2019

Please Stop Calling Yourself A Football Widow

Please stop calling yourself a football widow. Or a hockey widow or golf widow or hunting widow or a widow of any form.

Just don’t.

As an actual real-life widow (of the military variety), I can’t even fathom why anyone would refer to themselves, jokingly or otherwise, as a widow when they are not.

When you joke about it or use the expression to complain about your husband’s hobbies, you diminish what thousands and thousands of women (and men) go through every day. Widowhood is no joking matter, although it does have it’s darkly humorous moments. It’s tragic and devastating, and lifelong. 

It doesn’t just last one sports season, it lasts all of them. Forever.

Widowhood is excruciatingly painful, a pain that rocks the very fiber of your being. It’s overwhelmingly sad. It’s profoundly quiet and empty. And the loneliest thing you could ever experience. 

Trust me on this— you do not want to ever call yourself a widow. 

And I hope you never have to.

I do know how annoying it can be when your husband is consumed by football or hockey or any other hobby. Or by their job. My husband was in the army for our entire married lives. Lord knows I get the challenges of being alone for extended periods. Of running a household. And of single parenting. 

I know it’s frustrating when all he wants to talk about is his fantasy team when you need to talk about your real life home team. I know you feel like you are doing all the work while he gets to relax and hang with his buddies. I totally understand your frustrations. I really have been there. 

But that all pales in comparison to widowhood.

My late husband wasn’t much for watching sports, in fact, he never watched football at all, unless we were invited to a Grey Cup or Super Bowl party. But he was an avid mountain biker. There were days he would disappear on his bike for hours and hours on end. And there were days, too many days, it would irritate the hell out of me. Sometimes he would return home bloodied and bruised from an argument with a tree, and I’d shake my head and chastise him for not being more careful (a recurring theme in our house). Often I was annoyed because I was left to do all the running around with the kids. And even worse, there were times he’d load his bike into our only vehicle and go for the entire day, leaving me stranded at home, alone, to yet again entertain three kids.

For the last almost five years, his beloved bike has sat in my garage gathering dust. There is a brand new set of never-used winter tires on the floor beside it. How excited he was when he picked those tires up, he couldn’t wait to try them out. He never did. Because he never got another winter.

When I look back now, I wish I hadn’t been so resentful. I wish I hadn’t complained so much when he went mountain biking. I wish I could have seen how important it really was to him. And appreciated how much he loved it. 

But I can’t go back. 

Instead of complaining about your husband’s football obsession, be grateful you still have a husband. 

Relish the yelling and cheering and the smell of chili and nachos. 

Because those little things that drive you crazy? You will miss them so much when they are gone. More than you can possibly know.

Instead of being resentful of whatever hobby your husband has, be thankful that he loves it so much.

And the next time you start to refer to yourself as a widow of any form, stop.

Think of the bike gathering dust in my garage. 

Remember there is a permanent season far worse than any sporting season. 

And be very thankful you are not actually a widow.

To learn more about grief, resiliency, and life after loss, follow Monica on Facebook:
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