Having been with Spence for 26 years, it was a shock to the system to find myself alone. It’s taken a lot of time to figure out who I am without him. Part of self care involves getting comfortable with navigating all aspects of life successfully by yourself.
I took my first of two solo vacations in early 2018. Travel was a passion for Spence and I whether a spontaneous road trip or an international vacation, we were utterly simpatico. I needed to know that could travel alone and find myself along the way.
For the first trip I chose Scottsdale, somewhere I’d never been. I stayed at the Omni Scottsdale Resort and Spa at Montelucia. It was a magical escape from the bitter cold Michigan winter, with daily spa treatments, fabulous meals, hikes and a few visits to a nearby casino. I had nothing but time to be alone and reflect on my life. The true test was the last night which fell on Valentine’s Day. I’d thought I might be sad seeing happy couples celebrating over dinner and considered ordering room service. Instead I put on a pretty dress, jewelry and makeup and went to their fanciest restaurant where I enjoyed an amazing meal and attentive service. I took a long walk after dinner, enjoying the beauty surrounding me and realized, I was okay. In fact, I felt happy. It was empowering to feel that spark reignite.
A few scenes from the resort and spa.
This hike was on a warm, breezy day and allowed me to immerse myself in new surroundings, nature, silence and reflect on all the good things in my life.
Long before I started blogging, I was photographing (and journaling about) food. Spence always found this funny and would title our trips, “Laura’s Eating and Drinking Vacations”. That said, I had to include a few pics of the delicious food and adult beverages I enjoyed on this first solo vacation.
It’s human nature, for women in particular, to be harder on ourselves than others. With family and friends, we support their choices and are non-judgmental of their mistakes. We accept their imperfections because we know their worth, in other words we provide unconditional love.
In contrast, we hold ourselves to higher standards and our inner voice can tear us down if we don’t manage its volume.
Self care isn’t just about getting through a crisis – it’s an ongoing awareness of our inner critic who makes us feel we’re not meeting every self-imposed expectation. Call it changing the lens or flipping the script and try to imagine that same internal voice consistently offering up positive affirmations and encouragement instead.
None of us truly knows how we will handle loss. In my case, I was capable of living on my own, handling my finances, getting through the final arrangements and all that follows the loss of a spouse.
I didn’t count on not being able to take a deep breath for what felt like months.
I didn’t expect to completely lose my appetite and my sense of humor.
I didn’t count on the paralyzing loneliness that overwhelmed me.
In the first few months most days I didn’t get dressed or even walk outside to get my mail. Days I spent almost entirely in bed, covers pulled over my head and tried to sleep so I wouldn’t have to think. I took a lot of bubble baths and basically hid out. I desperately missed my husband and our happy life. Every memory, even the good ones, caused me pain. Not surprisingly, I cried a lot during this time. And though, intellectually I knew I wasn’t the only person in the world dealing with loss and sadness, it felt as though I was.
There is no time-table, no book, no one else’s advice that can tell you how to navigate your new normal. This is where self-care comes into play. Being retired, I didn’t have to return to work for which I was grateful. Instead, I allowed myself to just….exist. No judgement, no guilt, no pressure to speed the process along. Losing someone you love is the most intimately personal experience you can have and you’re entitled to feel every emotion that comes at you.
Be as understanding and kind to yourself as you would to others.
It gets better but it takes time.
If there’s one thing I learned last year, it was the importance of self-care. My awareness came after losing Spence in March 2017. For months, I had no appetite nor desire to cook. I had no interest in music and it was hard to focus on a book let alone a movie. I all but gave up blogging. The idea of traveling by myself after having had the most stellar traveling partner for 26 years, seemed too sad.
After months of being a recluse and hiding from my new reality, the fog started to lift – a little. I knew that Spence would expect me to embrace my life and live it. I had a lot to be grateful for even if I couldn’t acknowledge it. With the unwavering love and support from family and friends, even on my darkest days I knew there was no way they’d let me slip through the cracks.
March 4th marked a year since I lost Spence. By doing this series, it’s my hope that what I share may help someone else. Self-care is not for widows only. It’s about putting yourself first, forgiving yourself, pampering yourself and moving through challenging and stressful times eventually reclaiming your life, your heart and your joy.
Watch for the next installment and in the meantime, stay strong. You are not alone.