Hollow (Third edition)
In every store you visit the shelves are lined with colorful, foil wrapped chocolate bunnies. They stand neatly organized in the aisles, adorned with ribbons and bows. At first glance, these holiday treats catch your eye because they look shiny and decadent. But, things aren’t as they appear. We know the bunnies are hollow inside even though they look substantial.
I am a lot like these chocolate Easter bunnies. I appear to have my life together. I look solid. But, the reality is that inside I feel empty. This may come off as slightly dramatic, but it is the truth. After over 16 months, my life looks shiny and newly restored. *I originally wrote this blog in 2018 – please keep reading to see my reflections throughout. There is a lot here. I have taken the time to unwrap the foil of what I previously experienced.
Outwardly, my life has remained stable and solid. In many ways I am a vision of “widowed success”. I returned to a good career, I still have the house, the car, and the kids. On the outside, the condition of my life looks good. Aside from Mike’s death, my life may even be enviable to some; but things are not as they appear. Like the aesthetically pleasing chocolate bunnies, I look to be well dressed and professionally presented; but, inside me there is something lacking. Inside of me, the landscape of my Soul is barren – or at least it was for many years. For a long time after he died I was hollow inside like the foil bunnies. On the inside of me there was ‘nothing’. Where there used to be unbridled joy there was emptiness.
Wow, that “nothingness” I wrote about seems bleak; and, the truth is at 16 months my grief was ridiculously heavy and all consuming. Now, 4.4 years later, thankfully, there is more joy in my life. I am no longer hollow. I am not joy filled like I was when Mike was alive, but I am still joyful at heart.
I have discovered that not all of who I am died with him – phew. Still, most certainly, there is a dullness in my eyes that was not there before. And, there is *still* an emptiness inside me that I don’t exactly know how to fill, but it is less consuming now. With time, I have begun to build a fuller life around the hollowness that is grief and I want you to know that you can too.
Before Mike died, I did not know that you could be swallowed alive by a sorrow that is born in the depths of your Soul. In the past, I desperately ached for him and I was far less engaged in my own life because of his death. Some moments, the intensity and rawness of my grief consumed me from the inside out. And, sometimes it still does. But, these days, I am living a bolder life because I have demanded this of myself. I have made a conscious choice to seek joy and rebuild a beautiful life.
Currently, as I type this, I am surrounded by moving boxes. I have sold my house and next Easter when I write to you it will be from a new location… Life has continued for me and it will do the same for you.
Years ago, I didn’t know how my life without him would unfold. I felt lost and alone. Over time, what I discovered is that day by day you can rebuild a new identity and an alternate life for yourself after your life implodes.
Life has a tenacity about it that I find endearing. Life simply goes on – even after your person unexpectedly dies. And, thankfully, the gutting feelings of early grief are less frequent as time goes on.
Time has served to tame the wildness of my grief. The edges of my shattered self are smoothing out. My tears do not last as long anymore. My inconsolable sobbing has turned into less frequent, quiet crying. Now, my aching is refined and controlled. Nearly 4.5 years later, this mess that is Mike’s death is easier to navigate for me.
I have digested the reality. Mike is dead. And, he will stay this way forever. My mind knew all this all along; but, before, my heart could not accept his death. Sometime in the third year acceptance was granted to me and it has made all the difference. Accepting his death gave me my life back.
Looking back, Mike’s death has altered me in ways I didn’t expect. Since he died, I feel like I participate in my life with less enthusiasm. After all these years, this is not acceptable to me, and; in truth, it never was. I want more. I have always wanted more. In the first few years, I was desperate for more living and less sadness; and, finally, with practice, I am becoming more capable of living again.
I can say with confidence that I am living forward. I am actively creating a life for myself and this life is going to be “okay” even without him. This took me a long, long time to come to peace with. At 16 months and 11 days, when I sat first writing this, I remember feeling directionless. I was aimless and drifting. And, still, I am searching for purpose; but, I no longer feel that I am without direction. After a lot of Soul searching, I know what direction I want my life to head in and I am confidently venturing that way.
I have made a lot of progress since I first wrote the first version of this blog in 2018. Without doubt, I know that I have the stuff to make it through this “mess”. But, I am impatient by nature. For years, I wanted to breathe in life again. I did not want to live with an endless emptiness forever. And, because I deeply desired a full life, I have been successful in recreating one.
My mindset is key in my success. Early on I recognized that it was up to me to recreate the life I wanted. I realized the future was in my hands. And, most importantly, I knew that I was in good hands. Despite my grief, I felt fiercely confident in my own abilities. I knew that I needed to play the hell out of the shitty cards I was dealt. And, I have done this.
In the last four years, I have played the hand I was given and I have played it well. This is what the girl Mike loves would do. She would throw this shitty hand on the table and look the dealer in the eye and say, “I’m all in. Let it ride.” Admittedly, despite my “all in” attitude and brave talk, a part of me was scared of the unknown. But, I forged ahead despite my fears because my fear of living in limbo was greater than the uncertainty of the future.
At the heart of it, I have always believed that I have the capability to achieve whatever I want.
The issue wasn’t my ability – it was fear. I feared further change.
And, once I conquered my fear of fear my whole life changed.
Early on, I felt scared to make a move without him. And, because of my fear, I lacked the courage necessary to make changes. Then, after the first few years, it was no longer fear that held me hostage, but rather mostly a lack of motivation. It was complacency that held me back. I had felt dead inside for so long that it became somewhat “normal” to me to be only skimming along and partially participating in life. I had grown accustom to feeling numb; and thankfully, this has changed.
For years, I was only partially engaged in life. Outliving Mike required all my energy so I lacked the motivation to initiate change in my life. In the early years, I had less spark than before; and, truth be told, most days, in the beginning, I was not even motivated to strike a match. For many years, I chose to exist safely. I needed to pause and reestablish my footing. And, thankfully, I have now outgrown the comfort of the limitations I created for myself.
However, I will never forget those early days of grief when I was so unhinged because of his death that I couldn’t manage much more than limping through the day. As time has progressed, I understand that this staggering was necessary. I had to experience the process of faltering and coming undone, in order to move forward. Now, I understand that I needed my toes to touch the bottom before I could re-surface. That was part of the process. It was unavoidable. And, it served me well.
In my fourth year without him, I have located the momentum I need to get me to where I need to be. I have made big progress. I am reengaging in life once again. From my vantage point, I see all that I’ve accomplished without him. I am proud of myself. I really like the woman I’m becoming. And, I know that Mike would like her too.
I have always had grit and an unbridled tenacity about me. I am a lover of life and a seeker of Joy and his death has not changed this. Mike loved who I was as a human being; and, if I ever doubt my capabilities, I remind myself that once upon a time I was his. And, Mike loved me because I was solid. There is nothing hollow about me.
Wrapped in grit, not foil,
Written: APRIL 2, 2018
Edited: April 4th, 2021