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.
There was a moment during my journey that stands out, what Oprah would call an “aha!” moment.
It came from Ina Garten, the Barefoot Contessa on The Food Network.
For months I hadn’t been able to focus on a book, movie or tv show. I had no appetite nor interest in food or cooking which had been passions of mine.
I’d lost my mojo.
Enter The Barefoot Contessa. I’d tuned into her show out of a need to fill the silence with a familiar voice but then found myself engaging. Ina’s on-screen warmth drew me in and whatever she was cooking (though I can’t recall what it was) had my full attention. Her joy of cooking ignited a spark in me and at that moment I felt a shift as my inner foodie began reconnecting with my heart. It was a big step forward. Though she’ll never know, just by being herself, Ina Garten helped me on the path to healing myself.
Making yourself a priority is something everyone can benefit from. Whether dealing with loss, trauma, stress or life in general, it’s important to do something just for you, especially when you’re feeling overwhelmed. Tune into what you need and take a self care break.
None of us knows how long we have, treat every day as a gift, make it count.
Roughly three months after my loss, I was exhausted from thinking about the life that Spence and I had shared and how nothing would ever be the same. I desperately missed our happy life together. I felt incredibly lonely, angry, resentful and hated the word “widow”.
Then I decided that I was going to be happy again. I wanted to lose the “sad Laura” cloak that I’d wrapped around myself. It was Spring 2017, the weather was warm, my garden was coming back to life and I felt the pull toward being in nature with my hands in the dirt, something that’s always brought me joy.
Not every choice I made was successful or well thought out. At times it felt like I was hurling myself forward in my pursuit of happiness without regards to where I was going to land – which accounted for some mental bruises. But I knew Spence would want me to live a full and happy life and on days that felt like a struggle to do it for me, I did it to honor him.
I’m not saying it was easy to change my mindset or imply that I didn’t backslide. Grief took pot-shots at me more than a few times however I was determined to outrun it. It’s like the old adage about how many times you have to repeat a behavior before it becomes a habit – so I behaved as though I was happy. Fake it till you make it, right? And as habits go, this is a good one to have.
There’s no clock on this process nor is it a competition. On the road back to embracing life, take one step at a time.
Even if you stumble, you will get there.
The Self Care series is my personal journey over my first year after losing my husband and reflects both my struggles and successes.
Getting through loss is a one step forward, one more step forward and five steps back process. Sometimes it’s more than five steps backward and it’s part of grief and recovery.
There is no road map that’s laid out for you. Every now and then you step on a land mine. It happens.
I found that the first few times I met friends or family at a restaurant, I’d think “I can handle this” and then suddenly, up bubbled the tears. I’ve always hated for anyone to see me cry (not a pretty crier) and they weren’t full on sob-fests, but I was embarrassed and felt bad for the person with me.
But this is what I learned.
These same people missed Spence and had memories of their own, many of which we shared. Speaking for myself, it’s often hard but inevitably healing to talk about him with those who loved him. He was funny, loving, smart, worldly and larger than life.
You are not alone in your loss and the loss is not yours alone. Share those memories.