(Photo by ImageGolf)
(This essay was published on April 9, 2012 in the Ashland Daily Tidings.)
Even now, eight years later, I can still conjure up Michael’s voice on the other end of the phone line: “How’s our little Bunny?” he would have said, checking in on our six year old daughter after returning from his surfing trip to Mexico.
But his call never came. He died of heart failure on the beach. And I still expected that call for days, weeks and months afterward. Even though we had divorced the previous year, we remained close friends with a commitment to raising Emma together. And now he was gone.
I had experienced other losses – a favorite aunt, two grandmothers, and a second-trimester miscarriage. But Michael’s death changed my life forever and I was shocked by the maze of complexity as I learned to navigate as a “widow” without any widow’s rights.
I faced a community of folks who blamed me for the divorce and a daughter mired in the loss of her beloved daddy.
No rights to his things, bound by a will he wrote without a lawyer, hounded by his unfinished business: a life insurance policy still in my name that the estate lawyer said wasn’t rightfully mine and my basement filled with his tools and miscellaneous junk. The callousness of his friends astounded me as they vied for his outdoor gear and personal effects. Even though I was left to raise our daughter alone, I felt invisible in the process of settling his affairs.
Where was my support system? I had many friends who rallied around us. And thankfully we could afford counseling. Mostly, we limped through without a roadmap to grief and survived it. But the dreary climate of Bellingham, WA, where I had lived for 26 years, became a heavy reminder of our tragedy. I needed a change.
Four years later, we moved to Ashland for a fresh start. I’ve watched my daughter thrive in this community. Me too…but I never could have guessed it would take me three years to find a job here. And yet, the waiting now makes sense. When I interviewed with WinterSpring last November, I felt like I had found “my people” in this small nonprofit providing group bereavement support for kids and adults. I sat with three passionate Board members, each of them drawn to WinterSpring because of their own deep losses, and I felt my heart open as we discussed bereavement and how to pull the organization out of financial stress.
I wish we had found a similar organization eight years ago. Group support would have helped me make some sense of the chaos and to feel less alone. My daughter would have had a place to access her grief in a healthy, supportive process. Currently, Emma is attending a teen grief support group at Ashland Middle School and appreciates the opportunity to share with peers. We both took the recent WinterSpring volunteer training, because there’s always more to learn about travelling through grief toward the joys of living fully again.
This job gives me an opportunity to offer bereaved people the very thing Emma and I needed most. My compassion grows daily for those who stumble through grief when a loved one dies, and I hope to expand our reach into the community to help more people find joy in life again. I am passionate about serving such a worthy cause and honored to be their new Executive Director.