Risks and Vulnerability

You are constantly torn between knowing that you have to move on with your life, and actually being ready to do it.

This journey is a wild one. Am I right? You are constantly torn between knowing you have to move on with your life, and actually being ready or able to do so. Embarking on a new journey can be terrifying. Personally, I have always been a risk-taker, (Just ask my parents — they would love to tell you about it!) but as I’ve matured, risks seem less than ideal.

In my rebellious teenaged years, I knew everything. Because of this, I skipped school too much, got myself into arguments with teachers, and dabbled in the occasional fisticuffs with older girls. To be fair, many of the girls I went to school with were freaking crazy, but we also all grew up in a town where going to the local Roast Beef place for shoestring fries on Friday nights was the cool thing to do. That said, there were always rowdy and cute boys there and I loved boys.

For most of my young life, I couldn’t wait to fall in love and get married. I think I had my first crush in 4th grade. Do you remember those Grade/Classroom photos you received with your school pictures? Mine was hidden in the jacket pocket of Where the Sidewalk Ends, where I was sure my father would never find it, since realizing I liked a boy at nine-years-old probably would have given him a heart attack.

The desire to find love like my parents shared was real. They have been married for more than 45 years and together even longer. The love between them is fierce and something to be admired. My dad worked his ass off providing for my mother, my sisters and I and he is the standard to which I have always held men I dated accountable. Only Mark has ever exceeded that standard. (So far, anyway — there’s a lot of life left to live.)

I took my first risk on love at age 18, when I moved 1,000 miles away to play house with a young Gunner’s Mate (US Navy) I was absolutely sure I would be with for the rest of my life. That didn’t happen, but if I’m really honest with myself, I’ve always loved the idea of being in love. And who doesn’t? Love is wonderful. But as life with Mark taught me, actual love — and the idea of being in it — are two very different things.

To be fair, my love rebellion occurred in the early 90s, when the Internet was in its infancy, and after I lost my grandmother, a prominent female role model in my life. We had a special bond and her death was my first real experience with loss. She was sassy, brave and loved her family deeply. I’m often told I resemble her, and I do have a lot of her traits (minus her love for Gin.) She was widowed too, losing her husband young. Somehow she found the courage to raise her four children alone and God blessed her with another deep love. Her “Chapter Two,” as us widows call it, whom she also lost in 1975.

Fierce right? She took chances, and she was a gambler on more than just love. I guess I got that trait too because I love the casino AND I’ve never been afraid to risk my heart. But once you’ve lost everything that matters to you, taking any risk becomes terrifying. A new job, a new house, changing your preferred coffee brand…you get the idea. Instead of taking risks on new experiences, you suddenly want to remain attached to what you know, because it’s familiar and safe.

I finally understand why grief counselors and experienced widows/widowers are adamant about NOT making major life decisions in the first year after loss. You’re in a grief-fog and barely existing. Your brain is only there to keep your body alive. Critical thinking isn’t really an option, because your brain turns off any features deemed optional (like rational thought) to ensure physical survival. Because of that, your ability to make decisions is hindered.

Life Lessons

Less than three months after Mark died, I took a job at a private high school. Having suddenly become the only income again, I had to find something. This job was close to home, in the marketing and communications field, and the mission resonated with me. Unfortunately, I had never worked in an independent school so I had to learn a completely new market, and I had to do it fast.

I thought I was up for that challenge, but I was wrong. I remember feeling overwhelmed because I felt like I had no idea what I was doing. Not within my role, but in my life. I cried in my office more than once, devastated I wasn’t as productive as I could have been because my mind was incredibly broken and focused on other priorities. It was so unfair to both my colleagues and myself. If I’m really honest, I became a little resentful. It had nothing to do with the role itself, just my own internal turmoil.

Because of this, I struggled to adapt. It wasn’t because the people around me weren’t phenomenal and understanding, (not to mention patient) but rather, I had just begun to process my loss and truly feel my grief. I also developed a nasty infection that nearly killed me, so that made me question all my recent decisions and what I really wanted for my second act of life. It’s just what happens when your world crashes, regardless of why — you reevaluate everything and consider new, more meaningful directions. I still struggle with how I can effectively put this concept into words, but I give it a go below.

Do What Sets Your Heart on Fire

Mark had a short life. He was 44 when he died and barely in the prime of his life. He walked this planet for 44 years. We think we’ll always have time to accomplish the things our souls need to feel fulfilled in this life, but the truth is we really don’t. I’ve learned I cannot effectively (and happily) live my life by planning it all out and to this day believe that’s why the universe brought Mark and I together. So he could teach me how precious life is, remind me that this is my only shot, and make sure all my future moments count.

This summer, after COVID turned everyone’s life upside down, I knew I needed a different path. I started caring less about planning for how I’d spend the years ahead and instead thought about the following things: What will people remember about me? How can I make a positive impact on the world every day? Am I living a life that’s worthy of remembrance? Mark certainly did. He was a wonderful person with a forgiving spirit and the kindest heart. He showed me how to overcome adversity through resilience and positivity, which I often lost sight of before I met him. I owe him everything for this experience. Mark reminded me to live with purpose, and by doing so, he saved the rest of my life.

Through this tutelage, Mark helped me evolve into a more forgiving and loving person. I want nothing more than to continue the fire he ignited within me and show as much kindness to others as possible, and maybe help them realize their own goals and aspirations in the process. Whether that’s through a helping hand, financial support, advocacy, friendship, whatever, and I’ve practiced this for the last two years. But this mentality has also got me into trouble, because I’ve also struggled to distinguish if those I have helped really needed it, or if they just capitalized on my kind nature and vulnerability. Enter grief-brain.

When Your Brain Fails, Listen to your Body

In the past, I have heavily relied on gut feelings or intuition to help me make decisions. When you’re grieving it’s harder to do this, because your body isn’t well-aligned with your broken brain. Everything is wonky. Plus, I made the very naive mistake of thinking because I had already endured the worst pain imaginable, the Universe couldn’t possibly dish me more romantic life lessons.

To my fellow wids: you’re on this journey with me too, so you know this struggle. The loneliness feels like it will never end. Sure, we manage life’s daily tasks okay, but the desire and basic human need for human connection, physical affection and sex are very real things. These feelings don’t just apply to situations where a partner has passed either. They apply to any romantic relationship that has ever ended, for any reason, ever. We grieve the loss of love, no matter how it occurred.

BUT, as I’ve already said, when you’re grieving the death of a significant person in your life, your brain isn’t working optimally. Because of that, you start to question yourself, your gut feelings and your own intuition. Please don’t do that. Those “feelings” are physical reactions to negative energies your body is sensing. They’re still functioning, because your body is in survivability mode. It’s basic fight or flight, but because a grieving brain is a mess, you will question those responses.

I am so guilty of this. I completely dismissed so many warning signs about a man I had begun spending time with last year. I use this example, because I repeatedly ignored the “WTF are you doing, Laurie!?!?” warning signs but my brain responded: “Oh this feels familiar and safe. I hope Mark isn’t angry at me. Did I pre-make my coffee? I need to write that press release. I miss Mark. Why can’t I sleep?” and a host of other thoughts.

And now, for the warning signs:
– Man wasn’t divorced or emotionally available.
– Told me everything and anything I wanted to hear and meant absolutely none of it.
– Ditched me/blew me off way too many times, despite making plans.
– Ignored my requests for help, despite my helping him (more than once!)
– Joked about my living room mantle being a “shrine,” where Mark’s ashes rest.
– Became argumentative and defensive when I expressed my feelings about the above.

And I ignored these things for months.

Why? Because my brain turned off my ability to think and act like a rational human being the second Mark died, and this guy made out like a bandit because of it. He got my time, my attention, my affection, and my hard-earned money and he wasn’t worthy of any of it. Hindsight is a funny thing but if I had just listened to my body from the very beginning I would have suffered far less self-inflicted anxiety and embarrassment. I felt — and ignored — the signs. It pains me to admit what I allowed in the name of vulnerability, but my lesson is your gain.

I am not suggesting situations like the above will apply to you, because we are all different. But I will argue your vulnerability is more present than you may realize. Consider this fact as you make decisions moving forward. I now recognize I needed to learn these lessons to understand where I was in the grief cycle, but also to realize and accept my rational brain’s total vulnerability.

Take extra time to consider what you’re getting into or the decision you need to make. Sit with it for a while. I know you’ve lost your person and you feel like you need to make decisions quickly to get “back to normal,” or feel like you have more control of your life, but don’t rush any decisions right now. Gather every thought and consider every probable outcome. Take the time to listen to your body on these matters. Your mind will thank you.

Be brave and be bold. But most importantly, be honest with yourself.

In support,

The Widow Cooties

Being around grieving people is uncomfortable, but being uncomfortable isn’t contagious, and neither is grief.

As many know, I am part of a private widow/widower support group founded by a fellow widow who’s now remarried and changing the world’s outlook on spousal grief. Well, all kinds of grief really. She’s been around the “grief block,” too.

The group is loaded with young widows and widowers, and since we’re usually pitied by society, or deemed pathetic, (or both, though the latter is highly inaccurate) we flock together like a bunch of flightless birds talking about our losses, experiences and lives in general. We all “get” each other, because we’re going though this shitty life lesson together. And it’s shitty. It’s ultra shitty. No sugar coating here.

That’s not to say people are not sympathetic. LOTS of people are sympathetic…overly sympathetic. They’ll make dinner, even though we sometimes feel we’d rather join our lost person by choking on our dinner; or they’ll hug us, even though we can’t find energy to shower and the same individuals point it out as if we don’t know; or we have to endure the endless “I can’t imagine what you’re going through” mindless chatter.

Trust me, they can imagine…they just don’t want to, because the emotions they feel when they do so makes them super uncomfortable and super sad. That is empathy, not sympathy…and that’s where most non-grievers (and well-intentioned supporters) stop dead in their tracks and hop the first metaphorical bus to “I’m Outta Here.” And hey, I get it. This is some uncomfortable shit we’re going through. Why would anyone want to imagine losing someone they care about? It’s horrifying.

But that mindset needs to change. If non-grievers would take off their metaphorical shoes, and put on those of the person going through the worst hell imaginable, understanding a grieving person becomes SO. MUCH. EASIER. Empathy is instant transportation to “This is unbearable” land, first-class fare included. When a non-griever examines how they may feel if their person was suddenly gone, their perspective changes.

Being around grieving people IS uncomfortable, but being uncomfortable isn’t contagious, and neither is grief.

Laurie Moon-Schmorrow

Almost instantly, they understand the complete and total mind-fuck it is to realize they’re the only parent and breadwinner; or why the old, ratty stuffed animal their spouse loved so much now has new meaning; or why they may no longer have a desire to go to their favorite restaurant; or why bathing and eating was suddenly optional.

Being around grieving people IS uncomfortable, but being uncomfortable isn’t contagious, and neither is grief. Don’t avoid us, try to become okay with being uncomfortable, because you can’t catch sadness. One of the wids in the group labeled this avoidance phenomenon best, calling it “The Widow Cooties.” I couldn’t have coined a better term if my life depended on it, and I am a marketer by trade.

While non-grievers understandably get the heebie-jeebies being around us and unpredictable crying, try just sitting with us, and just listen. Cry with us, that’s okay too. It’s important to remember you cannot fix our pain, so don’t try to. Just sit and be with us in those moments. We cannot control them though, so don’t question why we have them, or say really dumb things like “You’re still sad?” or “They’d want you to move on.”

Be present with us as tears roll down, hold our hand even tighter on the hard days, and help us consider a new future when we finally accept the one we envisioned is gone.

Laurie Moon-Schmorrow

We KNOW. Telling us silly shit like above isn’t going to help us to move forward. What does helps us continue moving forward is when you sit down and allow us to share our pain with you so it’s not so damn heavy for us. Help us carry it, even for a few moments. You may also find you have a new respect for your own mortality and have become a more emotionally available, awesome human being too.

Be present with us as tears roll down, hold our hand even tighter on the hard days, and help us consider a new future when we finally accept the one we envisioned is gone.Support our new goals, new ambitions, new dreams. And please remember time has ZERO relevance in grief — whether it’s been six months or six years. Grief isn’t linear. We can have concurrent great weeks, months or even years. And a smell, song, sound, or memory can trigger us and bring us right back to that dark and lonely place, even when we’re secure in our new lives, or in a new relationship.

Remembering that grief never “stops” does help make those awkward silences easier, and should help you better prepare for the uncomfortable sadness that generally follows. We are not okay, and that is okay. You can’t (and don’t have to) fix us, or fix our pain, even though we sense you desperately want too. While we are so grateful for that, we actually do like to remember our person, and talk about them. Doing so helps keep their memory, their legacy, their impact on us…which remains very much alive.

And that’s really a win-win for all. Reflection matters. Perspective matters. Empathy matters.

In support,

Pictures…of a life lived

Hearts are resilient muscles: they beat fast and slow; they stop and can be restarted; and they heal. There is room for both the lost and the living within them.

It was 7:15 p.m. when I decided to go through the laundry room cabinets.

Things I don’t use tend to get stored there because I don’t have enough cabinets in my kitchen and feel guilty when I throw stuff away. Plus, if I store items here, I probably won’t see or think of them ever again. And I’m short, so I can’t reach anything in there anyway…which makes it the perfect location for useless crap.

While I was there, I decided to tidy up the cabinets, and found old picture hanging kits. I don’t use these things. Most of the time I use Command Strips so I don’t wreck my rented walls, but also because I should never have a hammer in my hand because frankly….smashing shit feels great!

I wasn’t built to build things. I’m good at destroying things, but building and crafting furniture was Mark’s thing, and he did so with much precision and care. I don’t know how many tools he had in his shed, now the property of his nephew. Once Mark’s disease got really bad he couldn’t work with his hands anymore. When I say “really bad,” I am referencing a naive time in my life when I had no idea how “really bad” things would actually become.

When Mark moved in, he brought a bunch of hand tools with him, but all his “big” tools and woodworking stuff stayed in his shed, where it has likely gone untouched since 2017. I hope not though. Mark’s nephew owns that house now — and I hope he’s using those tools to make his house everything he wants it to be. Plus, it continues Mark’s legacy of building things to be better.

That realization filled me with sadness, because newly discovered momentos, forgotten memories, or unseen pictures are the miraculous reminders that Mark was alive.

Laurie Moon-Schmorrow

I drive by that house every now and again, and I’m reminded of the parts of Mark’s life he left behind when he moved in. The fire bowl we’d enjoy on cool fall nights. The saws, sanders, and “man tools” because his hands and body had already begun to fail him. The many pictures in his attic he would have used those picture hanging kits for to mount pictures to walls “the right way.”

While holding these kits in my hand, I thought about the memories Mark never had the chance to share. All the memories I’ll never know because the attic pictures never made it to our house and my relationship with his family is so deeply severed it cannot be repaired. Those memoirs are gone forever — a realization that fills me with sadness because newly discovered momentos, forgotten memories, or unseen pictures are important reminders that Mark was alive.

I take pictures. (Okay, I take a lot of pictures.) Partly because I like to see myself on film and because pictures are tangible trinkets that transport me to another lifetime; a lifetime where Mark was alive and things were “normal.” A time when I was blissfully unaware of the emotional and physical chaos that would eventually infiltrate my life. My heart swells with those memories and I feel deep gratitude for them. I reminisce his time here and wish I had just one more moment with him.

But while the human brain is amazing, it can’t consciously remember everything, so it’s my crazy belief that photos help to unlock metaphorical doors our brains have created to catalog the wealth of memories and experiences we have over our lifetimes. So take the damn picture, okay? You’ll thank me later.

But then I think of conversations I’ve had with others, including men I’m interested in, and feedback from friends about just how present Mark is on our home’s walls. And they’re right…he is. We definitely made a lot of memories together. The large portrait of our family at our wedding, his Schmorrow Strides banners, the framed photo collage I made from photos I found in his safe after he died. You know, the little miracles I mentioned earlier.

He is very visible in our home, but...he was my husband. He is also present alongside the photos of my dead grandfather, grandmother, pets, friends, and many others I have lost along the way. These people influenced myself and my children in so many positive and beautiful ways. They helped shape me into the spectacular gal I am, which helped me raise my children as the awesome beings they are. They are more than deserving of such prominent wall space.

Hearts are resilient muscles: they beat both fast and slow, they stop and can be restarted, and they heal after they’ve been damaged. There is room to love both the lost and the living within them.

Laurie Moon-Schmorrow

But allow me to say this to anyone considering dating, committing to or marrying a widowed person: you should not ever feel or believe that you are competing with their lost person, or with their memory. You are not, and you will never be. You are the wonderful person you are and that we truly believe you to be.

We will get lost in our thoughts and mourn the person we lost, but I promise those moments pass, and we come back to this lifetime with you, as present as we ever were. Our hearts are fantastic and resilient muscles: they beat both fast and slow, they stop and can be restarted, and they heal after they’ve been damaged. They is room for loving both the lost and living within them.

Still, the picture hanging kits haunt me, because not only will I never use them, I will never make a new memory with Mark again. Because of that, I treasure those that hang on my walls as they are both the proof that he lived and the reminder he is gone. Yes, those we’ve lost have leave their marks on our hearts, but it’s okay if they leave their mark on our walls too.

In Support,

A One-Year Road Trip with no Map

Your grief journey is your own. There are no exit ramps and there are no short cuts, so navigate it however you see fit, because the journey is unique to all of us.

There is no map for this journey, and no way out of it either. Your grief journey is yours, and you’ll do much of it alone. It’s the hardest trip you’re ever going to take. There are no exit ramps and there are no short cuts, so navigate it however you see fit, because the grief journey is unique to all of us.

The grief journey sucks — I won’t sugarcoat it. You’re frustrated, depressed, angry, bitter, sad, overwhelmed, indecisive and yes, happy, too. Usually all in the same day. Sounds like an emotional roller coaster, right? That’s because it is. The grief journey is full of uncontrollable twists and turns. It’s a sad, wild, scary, heart-pumping and sobering joyride. I’m only slightly kidding.

I wish I had the foresight to know what I was truly in for when Mark died. He was in hospice care, so I was prepared for his death in knowing his burial wishes, who he wanted present at his memorial, the songs he wanted in his video tribute, what he wanted to wear, etc. But I wish I had known just how much of my life would be impacted by my coming grief. The true grief that no one warns you about.

Even weird, unexpected things, like knowing I’d break down crying in the grocery store realizing I didn’t have to buy Cracked Pepper Turkey Breast at the deli anymore; or how I’d lose my marbles realizing the only reason I could have area rugs in my kitchen and bathroom again was because he was dead; or just how lonely I’d be drinking my morning coffee alone at the table. You aren’t prepared for those moments, because those are the “little things” that allow your grief to quietly dig its claws deepest into your heart.

A few weeks ago, I noticed an unsealed Vanilla Chai Tea K-Cup I opened for Mark the morning before he died. I never used it, as he was sick and sleeping that day. I don’t remember putting the cup back into the swivel holder, or why I didn’t throw it away, but there it was. I stared at it…and my heart sank. He died nearly a year ago, but that moment tugged at my breath with such force I couldn’t contain the emotions. I cried in the kitchen for a few minutes, let the feeling pass, and went on to make my own coffee.

There are fewer of those moments now, but when they come, I let them unearth the sadness. I do not put them away, I feel them wholly and go on about my day. For me, that’s the best way to manage it, because bottling up the little things adds up and usually results in a tear-fest of epic proportions.

As I’ve said, the real grief doesn’t come in those first few weeks, when friends and family are at your beck and call and the most supportive. It comes when the cards stops, dinners have slowed, and life returns to normal for everyone else. It comes in the months and years later. Time has absolutely no relevance in grief and has no limits on the love we carry for those we have lost.

Grief can be compared to a roller coaster ride. Grief tosses you upside down and spins you in circles. And while you can’t escape the ride once you’re on it, you do learn to balance yourself as it throws you all over the place.

Did I mention how much your brain fails you too? It’s referred to as “widow brain,” and it’s a real thing. You forget to do the most important things, like turning off the stove when you’re done cooking. But you remember ridiculous details, like the shoes your Aunt wore at the funeral.

So write everything down, and then double check. Your brain is working to keep you alive and breathing, not to help you remember dentist appointments or to put gas in your car. Studies prove this, although I won’t refer you to them. Just know your brain shuts off and you’ll become more inept than you ever thought you could be. Go with it, you get a pass.

Take a life break, buy tissues and be gentle with yourself. Grieving is emotional and physical trauma. It weighs heavy and sometimes feels unbearable. I remember thinking my sadness would never end and I would have to fake smiles forever. You don’t. You will smile again and one day you’ll laugh like crazy and it will feel amazing.

I had one of these moments three months after Mark died. My oldest son (he’s 26 and quite witty!) and I were reminiscing about Mark one night, and I was complaining I hadn’t heard from his family. No one. Someone’s ears must have been ringing, because his sweet cousin reached out to me to check in. The first (and only one) I ever heard from. My son said I should tease her as she’s a good egg with a sense of humor. Anyway, in response to her inquiry, my son said, “Tell her you and Mark have been fighting a lot, so you flushed him down the toilet!”

Never lose HOPE. Your life is NOT over. If you ever feel this way, call someone…anyone. You are very much here, and your person wants you to live your life.

Laurie Moon-Schmorrow

I laughed so unbelievably hard. So hard, I lost control of my bladder a little. (We’ve all been there!) What he said was SO. VERY. FUNNY. I could have sworn I heard Mark’s deep belly laugh too. It felt amazing to release so much physical energy in the form of a laugh instead of snot and tears! My shoulders relaxed and my stomach ached with joy. His cousin must have thought I lost my mind (and I have, because…you know, grief) but she responded with a laugh herself.

It’s okay to completely reset your life, because you are living a new one now. A reimagined future where you person no longer walks at your side, but within your heart. Take that new job. Kiss your crush. Donate their clothes. Go out. Laugh with your friends. LIVE.

Never lose HOPE. Your life is NOT over. If you ever feel this way, call someone…anyone. You are very much here, and your person wants you to live your life. You can let go of their physical self and things too, but only when you’re ready.

Nora McInerny, a fellow widow and founder of Still Kickin‘ said in one of her novels, Your attachment is to the person, not the thing. Paraphrased, but she’s right. I had a breakdown about this issue earlier this year, and I know (now) you can only do this when you are actually ready, not because you want to be ready. This man knows who he is, and if he’s reading, I hope he knows that debacle had everything to do with me and nothing to do with him.

In any event, it’s okay to let go of things. You’ll figure it out as you go. It’s okay to completely reset your life, because you are living a new one. A reimagined future where your person no longer walks at your side, but within your heart. Take that new job. Kiss your crush. Donate their clothes. Go out with your friends. LIVE.

You will still love them with all that you are, I promise. Time won’t matter. You will still talk about them as if they are still here, because they are. The parts of them you loved so much, you now carry within yourself. You will try to emulate them, and that’s okay. Grief changes you. You’ll do crazy things like quit your job and decide your credit rating doesn’t really matter as much as it used to. You start to appreciate what truly matters in this life. You will still feel that tug of loss and love when you think of them, but your heart will allow you to long for and love someone else too. And you won’t see it coming.

I unexpectedly developed feelings for someone late last year, and while it didn’t work out, I was so grateful that I did. There is a lesson to be learned with every experience you have. I still think of this man often, and how alive he made me feel. It mattered. He mattered. He saw me, and not as a widow, but as a living, breathing, exciting woman.

It felt amazing. The timing was wrong, because grief had not hit me fully yet, but I will carry gratitude and fondness for him forever. I was so relieved my love for Mark — and the pain I buried from his loss — did not inhibit my ability to develop those feelings. While it was a little weird to miss Mark and desire someone else, it’s not wrong to feel either of those things, even at the same time. For what it’s worth, I’m still figuring it out the process, but I know I can still desire, and so will you, when you’re ready.

Have gratitude that your journey isn’t over, because it isn’t. Stay hopeful. Know you will learn to walk with your grief, because I promise you that while you may not be able to see it yet, you and your grief will walk together one day. You will find hope buried under/in all of that sadness. You will cry…but you will laugh. You will still forget important things, but you will adjust. You will smile again, you will love again, and you will move forward.

And please know, there is no such thing as the “right way to grieve.” No matter what anyone tells you. Their thoughts and opinions on what you should or shouldn’t do…don’t listen. There is no map for this journey, and no way out of it either. Your grief journey is yours, and you’ll do much of it alone. It’s the hardest trip you’re ever going to take. There are no exit ramps and there are no short cuts, so navigate it however you see fit, because the grief journey is unique to all of us.

How are you navigating your grief? Share your experience below in the comments, and help support your fellow grievers!

In support,
– L