Escaping reality and finding purpose

By all accounts, my 2013 has been pretty awful.  As I approach Thanksgiving, I begin to reflect on those things for which I am grateful.

I realize that looking back I can find little pockets of joy that were preserved in the worst months of the first half of the year.  More recently, those pockets are beginning to look more and more like full pairs of trousers.  There may be some ratty cuffs and torn knees, but my joy seems to be growing as time passes.

I knew this would happen, I just wasn’t sure how quickly.  Everyone says, “Give yourself a year.”  Many say, “Some days the grief is crippling.”

I’m happy to report that I don’t feel like I need a year, nor do I feel that I’ve been crippled by guilt.

Now, it took a lot of courage to write that.  Before you go judging me, I will assure you that I miss Francis terribly.  There is a hole in my heart that will never be filled.

However, what I didn’t realize until recently is that my life began to move on as soon as the hospice nurse and chaplain walked into the room to join me next to Francis’s body.

Time stops for no one, not even a grieving widow.  It may march a little slower at times, but it also may speed right by without so much as a wave.

Everyone grieves differently.  Everyone has a very different experience.  But my grief is my own, and no one should judge someone else’s grief experience by a yard stick that is their own.

My counselor often reminds me that grief has no timeline.  She’s correct.  Some may never move on from the death of a loved one.  Others may not even seem fazed by it.

One thing I am thankful for is that I am blessed with two amazing little kiddos.  They give me reason to get up in the morning – albeit earlier than I would like – and plenty of opportunity for gut-busting laughter (when they aren’t too busy making me their referee).  Our children are terribly ticklish.  I need only hear that tickle-induced laughter to feel better about my day and the days to come.

One other experience for which I am so grateful happened just a little over a month ago.

When our family returned from Houston, Francis and I had many conversations about what my life may look like after he was gone.  He was insistent that I find a way to get back in touch with who I am.

Over the course of nearly three years, I had redefined my life.  I am a woman who found great pleasure in my identity as a successful and hard-working political insider.  I worked long hours and had some incredible opportunities that came to an abrupt end with Couper’s birth.  Much of that change was a choice, though some was unexpected.  It has all been worth it.

I went back to work after maternity leave.  But just two months later, I found myself in an SUV packed to the gills, with a nine-month-old who hated his carseat and two completely freaked-out cats.  We were headed to our new home in Tallahassee to start a new chapter in our family’s life.  I found out I was pregnant seven months later, and six months after that Francis’s health began to deteriorate rapidly.

I write all this not to complain but to explain why there was an urgency to Francis’s request.  He was making sure that I was taken care of after he was gone, and that I was in a position to take care of that which we loved most – Couper and Riley.  I had been a caregiver for so long that I needed a break.  He may have recognized this more clearly than I did, but deep down I knew I needed to refresh after such a long, difficult period of caregiving.

His request was specific – go take a trip, without the kids.  Take some girlfriends along, and get back in touch with the part of myself that had to be tucked away due to life’s circumstances.

So I did.  I went to Florence with three friends.  Not the Florence in SC, AL, AZ, WV, KY, WI, or MI (sorry if I left any others out).  I went to Florence, Italy.

I was there for about 40 hours in 2004 and fell in love with what little I had seen.  I knew I had missed a LOT, and have always wanted to go back.  I thought this was as good a time as any, so I took the plunge.

There was no agenda or scheduled itinerary (other than an AMAZING tour of Amedei Tuscany Chocolate Factory – seriously, go).  It was the best way to do Florence.  We wandered the city (miles of walking each day).  We embraced the Italian way of eating long and delicious meals.  I didn’t do any speed walking and didn’t eat a single meal interrupted by urgent runs to the “potty” or small hands reaching onto my plate for a bite or twenty.

It was truly what I needed.  It was also even better than I could have imagined it would be.

While Francis wasn’t there, he was the reason that I was.  He was present in all that we did and perpetually on my mind.

The best part wasn’t finding amazing art, food, fresh air, or chocolate.  The best part was that I found myself there.  I found small pieces of what makes me who I am in places all over Florence and through building closer friendships with some amazing women in my life.

What I found was the me I am afraid I would have lost completely if I waited much longer to fulfill Francis’s wish.  And thankfully, that is the me who flew home.

I left the worst parts of my widowhood – bitterness, anger, frustration, short temper, and impatience – stranded in transit like a much less pleasant Viktor Navorski in the movie The Terminal.

I hope that me doesn’t ever find it’s way home.  This me is a much better and more content woman and mother.

The trip also inspired me to help other women find the same renewal that I did.  The seed Francis planted, over six months ago now with his request that I make a fresh new start, has grown into a full grown dream.

Francis and I merely discussed an inspiring idea.  I shared this crazy idea with a fellow young cancer widow.  From there, it’s developed a life of its own and inspired other fantastic people to join us in our efforts.

Now, thanks to the dedication and inspiration of that amazing group of people who have become both my cheerleaders and teammates we’ll see that dream become a reality.  I’ve found my new purpose – one that is far more worthwhile and rewarding than my career path to date.

I will gladly pour my blood, sweat, and tears into this dream to see other young cancer widows refresh, renew, and restart their lives after the death of their spouse.  It’s thoroughly worth it.

Stay tuned for a more details in the coming weeks.  In the meantime, if you have questions/comments or want to discuss this endeavor in more detail, feel free to contact me through the contact link.

I will close by saying that I am happy with where I am.  I have many people to thank for that, including you, but I am more thankful for the value that falling in love with Francis has added to my life.  Without him, I wouldn’t have Couper and Riley or all the other amazing adventures we shared.  And now, thanks to him I have had an amazing new adventure of my own that has allowed me to begin to feel growing excitement for the adventures I will have in the future.


12 responses

  1. I love you, LeAnne! You are such an inspiration! This endeavor will be so special and I am excited to see where it leads!

  2. Hi LeAnne – I have read both of your recent posts and love them. Spot on. I have nothing but admiration for you. If we could help in any way with your new endeavor, if you want to talk to Brian’s sister, the Executive Director of the Jay Fund, about the art of providing support to families with a family member with cancer let me know. Not exactly what you are doing but if you wanted to just pick some one’s brain I can get you in touch with her. Sending you hugs. – Susie

  3. LeAnne, Uncle Mike and I were privileged to be there the week you came into the world. Through the years we have seen you become the LeAnne that God intends for you to be. We have shared wonderful family times. We have watched you, loved you, and prayed for you as you and Francis shared an all too short time together as a family. Your beautiful son and daughter are truly a blessing and so precious…to us all! We have deeply loved every “LeAnne” that you have been and will always love and support the “LeAnne” that is again, becoming. As you continue to grow in life and follow the path you feel that God is leading you on, you can count on us to be ever “in your corner”. LeAnne; you, Couper, and Riley are always in our hearts.

  4. God bless you in this mission. So glad you followed Francis’ advice. Love and hugs,Frances’ cousin ,Nancy

  5. Dolores Strickland | Reply

    To a tremendous brave and inspiring woman, all of my blessings and love go out to you.

  6. Thank you LeAnne for sharing your successful grief transition story. Accentuating the positive will always be rewarding.

    With best regards, Chuck Mull

    Brunswick, ME

  7. You are so amazing. I am so proud to call you my cousin. Your writing over this past year has been so inspiring to so many people going through similar experiences. Thank you for allowing me to realize how thankful I am for all the relationships I have. I prayed for you often with “groanings only the Spirit could understand” because I couldn’t know what to pray for or what you needed from God at any particular time. I hope you felt the Holy Spirit and strength you needed during your time of distress. I love you.

  8. GOD BLESS YOU!!! I am so happy for you.

  9. Happy you have found a new purpose. Your blog has helped me deal with my Mother’s death. I have been saying goodbye to her for a year and did not waste a minute. It helped me to know what I felt was ok and I was not alone. Thank you.

  10. I picked up John and Anne’s wedding album this morning while dusting and as I flipped through the pages, I was reminded of all the joy the day held for our family. So thankful that Francis was a part of that day and for his incredible friendship to my brother!! Praying for you and the kids this morning, LeAnne!

  11. Thank you very much for all the time and effort you put into your blog. I met my husband when i was 19. We dated five years and have been married for 30. We have three children and a very close family. I am his 24/7 caregiver as he fights pancreatic cancer. The most difficult part (physically) has been the pain against his stomach & back and the mets on his GI tract that have slowed his digestion down so much, presenting a lot of colon cancer related issues. They are trying everything to avoid placing an NP tube at this time during our 8th admission in half that many months. Things are growing more tenuous quite quickly now as he fights to see his 2 sons graduate high school & college this coming spring. I would love to hear about the project you were planning to start and i wanted to wish you much joy and fulfillment in that, and all other pursuits. Your story helps me persevere when I don think I have an ounce of sanity or strength left, and that is coming from a naturally enthusiastic optimist! 😉 All the best to you and your family. Hugs

  12. I stumbled onto your blog tonight after a google search for supporting people with terminal illness. I just finished reading your blog- I think I read all of it. I am deeply touched by your experience. Thank you for sharing.

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