First Things First

first things firstHappy Holidays

First things first. The holiday season has arrived and for me the beginning of the season also marks the one year anniversary of losing my wife. The plan to begin writing again was also contingent upon getting that first year under my belt. Honestly, what follows is not what I hoped to be writing about just a week post year anniversary. So, in the spirit of truth and fearlessness, here goes.

Holidays are a wonderful time for friends and family to connect and celebrate joy, hope, and peace. What happens when this seems like an impossible ask? In my case, I hoped the ending of “the year of firsts” would feel lighter. Day 366 felt a lot like day 1. What the hell?

I imagine this is how someone who just earned their one year chip in AA feels. It is a wonderful accomplishment to have made it through the first year of sobriety, but day 366 is just another reminder of the long haul that accompanies recovery of any kind.

Getting through my first year without Yvette being a daily part of life is still hard and the “One Day at a Time” philosophy is still in place and unlike someone working a twelve step program, some of those days may have included a drink or two or six. It’s called coping. Don’t judge.

What a Difference a Year Makes

True, but also false. I blinked and a year passed however it felt like slow motion. Welcome to my brain folks. One year without her did not make the seventeen we had together or the however many we should have had together feel any less painful. Yes, it is a bummer but part of the healing process I am told.

Admittedly, I am disappointed all of my planning and embracing change did not circumvent any of the grief, especially around this time of the year. I moved in to a new home, made plans to be away for “hell week”, and kept my schedule on the full side to distract me from the countdown from the ER to hospice.

Yesterday, after a wonderful day of decorating the house and spending time with my son, his girlfriend, and my fiancé, I turned in the kitchen to grab something and expected to see Yvette there. This happens less and less, but yesterday it shook me. I no longer live in the home we bought together.

The environment is completely different, yet my brain still forgets she is not here. I was sad, and angry, about these moments still creeping up on me. I began to search for something to help me understand why this was still happening. Hi, my name is Dawn and I am an impatient widow.  Is there a meeting for this kind of thing? The answer is no. Damn.

I was in a fog and barely remember the day she died up until her memorial service for the first holiday without Yvette. Side note: I did not drink at all for the first three months after she passed. Recently, my therapist suggest I spend some time trying to fill in the gaps and to process the fuzzy moments. Healing is a demanding bitch.

My intention was to begin after I made it past the magical first year point. Notice the past tense. Instead I am dealing with flashbacks, nightmares, and a holly jolly Christmas funk. This too shall pass, but for now it is frustrating. No worries though. I am ok. Really, you can be okay and not okay at the same time.

Even in my frustration, I am taking very good care of myself and making sure to get the help I need to keep moving through this phase of moving through, if that makes sense. As I promised Yvette, every day my focus was/is to move through. But this grief thing is a bitch.

Grief and Joy

What some do not realize is moving through looks a lot like sitting on the floor in tears or stepping outside to get some air when my chest gets tight and breathing is difficult. It also looks a lot like a normal everyday life complete with happiness, laughter, peace, and contentment. It is a strange mix, but important to remember.

Our journey together is not based simply on grief and loss. How sad would that be? Speaking openly about our new relationship is tricky because neither of us want to diminish or replace our past relationships. This is an impossible task. Erasing our past serves no purpose. We are both the sum of all of our past parts and our future construction depends on our ability to love each other through the moving through moments.

Grief is possible without a death.  Where any loss exists, grief is found. My fiancé, who is a saint in her own right, has also been dealing with loss. Her seventeen year marriage ended right around the time I lost my wife to cancer. Between the two of us, our “having a moment” incidents are a part of the new normal. It is a sight to behold and makes for some really messy moments but it does not stop us from living, loving, and finding peace in the quiet moments of our day.

Divorce is an ending and the loss of a marriage. In her case, it was a loss of contact with someone who was in her life for seventeen years. The divorce was ugly and the chances of them speaking again are slim to none.  In some ways, I feel she has it worse than I do. Knowing someone, who is alive, has cut off contact is awful and heartbreaking. Thankfully, we both understand moving through to be a work in progress which lacks a timeline for completion. Yay for open ended things.

Respecting the Process

Figuring out the next steps takes time and respecting the passage of time is a skill I am learning to master. There are hundreds of approaches to grieving, if not thousands. Each circumstance carries its own unique challenges in order to resist the temptation to stay stuck in the heaviness. The takeaway here is that learning to respect the process is part of the healing.

Maneuvering emotions has never been my strongest gift and the past year has taught me to let go of the notion that strength requires stoicism. When we embrace the mess we find the gift of resilience. There is no greater achievement in the face of heartbreak than the ability to keep going. Not all gifts are wrapped in Santa paper.

Christmas Wish

Sharing this journey is necessary to help me, and hopefully others, make sense of how unexpected and life changing events influence our decisions and emotions. My Christmas wish is to have the ability share glorious words of wisdom and the answer to end all suffering for those who are dealing with loss, trauma, or difficult situations.

In the absence of a genie in a bottle granting wishes, or a fat man in a red suit coming down my chimney, I am left with the choice to be brutally honest and authentic about what it feels like to lose a piece of your heart too soon. There is also an opportunity to show how joy, hope, and love can smooth over the rough patches.

The following advice may be of little comfort when everything seems bleak or pointless, but is it is the truth. Despite how crushing the emotions may feel in those dark moments, there is always light to be found. Look around at the people in your life and find those who you can call on to bring light and love. This sounds lovely on paper, but in practice it makes every difference. Do not be afraid to ask for help. Read that again please.

Let it Go

If you are struggling, let go of the idea that you are alone or need to keep a stiff upper lip. We are all connected in this brilliant tapestry of life and our purpose is to lift each other up with kindness, love, and understanding.

Reaching out is only possible if we learn to be patient with our thoughts and feelings. In order to succeed you must first admit you have an issue that needs attention. Again with the firsts. Ugh. I know. Dig deep. Be fearless and the long path might not become shorter, but it will get better. This is my hope for you and me both.

Dealing with Grief & the Holidays

Self Care and Grief


  1. I always love your writing Dawn. So honest and raw. You are surely helping others by sharing. Merry Christmas to you and your family!

  2. I read your book for the first time a few years ago, when I also came out at a later age, after a marriage to a man and children. Your book was there for me then, helping me to understand that I was not the only one going through this massive shift in my life.
    I just tripped over you again on Instagram this year, and am absolutely blown away to hear about your loss. I can’t imagine what you are going through, and don’t ever want to. But I am embracing your raw emotions and advice as I am coming out of a relationship where I was cheated on and I wasn’t ready to see the end either. I guess life is what life is.
    Stay strong, much easier said then done. I am right there with you on the roller coaster of emotions. I wish I could jump off and ignore the ride, but each day is different, and in a weird way, kinda better. I really appreciate your advice and with you a peaceful and joyous Christmas season.

  3. Thank you for sharing. Grief is a jagged path to walk and sometimes crawl through. It gets softer but I don’t think the missing ever stops. Loving carries a hefty price at times, I hope I never stop wanting love in my life.

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