revisiting old places

widdaI really wanted to step away from all the grief stuff. Widowhood. People who date widows. Widow blogging. As I mentioned to an old friend from the YWBB days (yes, I did make friends when I was there), grief on the web anymore is about selling it. Promoting a website, a convention, a book or whatever niche business you grew out of the depths of your despair. And if you did, good on ya! Do what you love and know. But I never could get past the idea that I was taking advantage of vulnerable people by asking them to pay me for something that they needed – kindness, advice, common ground.

Now that the YWBB is in its final days, I find myself oddly drawn back in to the community. One that I never fit into really and didn’t derive much direct solace from hanging around on its edges. My aforementioned friend found herself added to a Facebook group of YWBB alumnae (and now you know that no one ever leaves high school just as you suspected and probably feared as much as I do). She in turn added me and quite a few others. It was just like a high school reunion. Right down to my not recognizing a single soul because we are all sans aliases and aside from those who really are my Facebook friends, I have never seen a picture of a single one of them. In between shock and venting (oh, some of us were a tad ragey though nothing like I remember from the YWBB’s wilder west days), stories were shared. Some I recall. Many I do not because I don’t harken back to the earliest days of the board’s existence like many of the story-tellers do. And while we reminisced, the current residents of the YWBB were scrambling to find each other off-site and two hardy members were setting up a temporary refugee board. A kind of virtual muster point that an astounding 400+ people registered at one point before a permanent home was established at Widda.

Though I sort of enjoyed the Facebook reunion group, I found myself far more concerned with the new site. The flight. The information that needed to be shared. The reformation of the group that is rather than the group that was. For me, the Internet has always been a world with real places. People dream about outer space. Space travel. My husband does and so does my middle daughter but the real alternative universes and worlds already exist and better still, we have access to them. They’re on the web. YWBB is a real place to me. Just like Babycenter was when I was there fifteen years ago now. The fact that I can’t touch it, and the method of interaction is virtual, has never stopped me from immersing, meeting, sharing and establishing very real connections and relationships with very real people. Some of whom I know now in real life – like my husband for example – and some of whom I have never even had a phone conversation with – like my YWBB and FB friend, Stella. I met Rob at the YWBB and it’s a story I’ve told countless times and in as many places, so I won’t rehash it word by word, so the board has special meaning.

When I told Rob the board was closing, he shrugged. It didn’t matter to him. He has such a profound faith in our connection that he really does believe we’d have met regardless of the board. I love this about him. But the board is still our meeting place and soon it will no longer exist. It feels just the same to me as when I learned that the Science Center in Des Moines – where my late husband and I established the relationship that would lead to marriage, baby and widowhood – had been closed. It was the week before he died and the day after he died, I went there. Parked in the empty lot and walked around to the far side of the building to stand in the spot where we were standing the evening I realized that I loved him. I just stood there and cried. Said goodbye.

I haven’t cried about the YWBB. But it has brought back memories. Sharp. Stinging. Regretful. And, as per usual, when I am faced with emotions that threaten to swamp me, I act. I shuttled information between the new board and the Facebook group. Searched the YWBB archives, took screenshots and found links that I shared. I even posted again. Lord Almighty, save me from becoming “that widow”, who hangs around the board past her “best before” date, trying to “fix” and emoting far too much. Something that I swore to the imaginary gods that I would never do. And I won’t be her. Not for much longer but as the original YWBB founders feel the need to finally drive a stake through a dying board forum (and sadly, it was dying and this new board is just the jump-start it’s been needing), I find I have just enough widow left in me to pass it backward. Give so that a new haven for young widows can become a new place for others. Sure, there are a shit-tonne of venues for the widowed, but as I mentioned, they drip with the stench of self-help conformity and commercial entrepreneurship. The beauty of the YWBB (and with luck Widda) is that it’s a community of just people. No angles. Nothing being sold or promoted. Just people who hurt, sharing and healing – hopefully – with the help of one and other. Even the worst day on the YWBB, and there were plenty of those, someone reached out and someone cared enough to answer. 24/7. 365 days a year. The board never closed and no one was ever (knowingly) turned away.

Jill is right. I should blog more.

Back in Des Moines and haunting myself in an Ebeneezer Scrooge kind of way has brought me round to a not so profound conclusion – moving on and away from the past is better than constantly, or even just occasionally, ruminating on the fairness or unfairness of the cards we are dealt.

What I hope I do more often than not is remember what I have learned from my not so long ago – good times and bad – put it into practice and remember that I am a very fortunate person all things considered.

All along I have told Rob that I wasn’t looking forward to coming back to Des Moines and seeing all the old sites and visiting Will’s grave. To me it seemed like a pointless scab-picking of my soul. I am not someone who buys into the notion that tragedy and grief should be ruminated about and given in to simply because it happens to be there and handy. But my daughter had need of seeing the headstone, visiting the old places and seeing people, and so I have sucked it up and picked a bit around the edges but not enough to draw blood. There really is no need for that.

Today we wandered the mall and did things that were familiar to BabyDaughter from the life she and I lived during the years her father was dying and mostly living apart from us. I think she was very surprised by the fact that things have changed and life here has clearly gone on without us.

Tears have been shed by all of us at different points in the last three days but not many and not hysterically and not without a realization that to be happy now – then had to happen and be survived, which for me is not as hard to reconcile as one might think or expect.

Life goes on. Mostly because it has to. The whole thing was designed this way and not by accident.

Rob asked me if I miss living here and the answer is no and yes.

I consider home to be where Rob is because people embody the idea most that people speak of when they talk about “being at home” or “going home”, but life in the U.S. is corruptively convenient and this makes it easier than living where we do in Canada. Things are abundant, relatively inexpensive and readily available. This does not make here home to me though. It just makes it easy and thoughtless.

I still feel a bit alien here even though I probably stick out more where we live in Alberta. Being back reminds me of how different I am and how much I have changed – hopefully grown – over the past year. It reminds me too of how far in the past the past really is and how quickly time moves forward when you allow yourself to live.