It’s been many years, many miles, and many tears since the early, raw days of being widowed. The life I am living now is one I would never have recognized as mine when I walked down the aisle to take the hand of my soon to be husband. And, yet, it is of my own making. Completely designed and created by me with an incredible amount of effort, courage, and support from people who love me.

Pieces from the Past

Bits and pieces of the past are peppered throughout the life I am living without Gary. His artwork, a painting purchased in Santa Barbara, treasured pieces of jewelry. But it’s not just things he left behind. There are habits once belonging to Gary, like no longer turning a bedroom chair into a pile of clothes, that impact my life today. His willingness to stand up for himself and those he cared for is something I’ve drawn on to learn to stand up for myself in his absence. And letting go of seeing confrontation as a bad thing where people yelled at each other. Gary taught me how to see it as a conversation with different points of view being expressed…and an opportunity to co-create a solution together.

What I’ve Left Behind

So much of my life has changed since my first days as a widow. I’ve left behind many pieces of my past. After twenty years as a filmmaker, I risked it all and started life over with my mission to bring coaching into healthcare and to help others work through their loss and grief. I broke through my wall of isolation by taking up social dancing. First salsa, then Argentine Tango. Dance has taken me to cities all across North America and, last year, to Argentina – the heart of Tango. I let go of the dream I’d had with Gary of becoming a mother. Instead, I found a way to nurture others through coaching, training, and speaking to large groups of healthcare providers, patients, and caregivers.

Scattered throughout my life today are bits and pieces of evidence of my grief recovery process. A soft green hand-thrown bowl with touches of gold sits on my bedside table. I first started pottery classes while Gary was going through chemotherapy. I returned to them in the months after his death. It was my way of connecting my body to the earth when I felt like the ground had fallen away from my feet. Fridge magnets with inspirational sayings I’ve collected to remind me to breathe and trust that better days will come. A binder thick with printed pages of our story that became my story sits on my desk awaiting the final pass. Anecdotes I share as an advocate for patients and caregivers from the lessons I learned as a caregiver.

What I’ve Learned

These days, after I focus more on what has been gained instead of what has been lost. I still wonder, in certain moments, what our life would have looked like on our tenth wedding anniversary, or our fifteenth – at our milestone birthday parties, or as parents to the child we’d hoped to bring into this world. I know that I cannot know what would have come to pass, so these musings are short-lived. And I also know, I must live in the present making the most of the hand dealt to me and the way I play those cards.

My life is a tapestry woven of the good and the grief. We each must, in our own time and our own way, figure out which threads we want to pull through and weave together and which ones are best left behind. We get to decide what parts and pieces of the past and our process remain a part of our life moving forward. And we get to choose the how and when of our grief recovery. It is our story to write and to tell and to live, no one else’s.

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Tambre Leighn

Tambre Leighn is a published author, speaker, and outspoken patient/caregiver advocate. Her background as a professional athlete and her personal experience caregiving for her late husband along with her struggles with grief-related depression after being widowed inspired Tambre to become a coach. After years of coaching individual clients, she now provides consulting and training to healthcare organizations to improve the patient and caregiver experience. In her down time, she enjoys dancing Argentine Tango and writing.

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