This is strange.
I’ve never done this before. I’ve never written something so vulnerable to people I don’t personally know.
I want to preface with: THIS IS SCARY - opening up and allowing people to read about me and my story. Please be kind with me as you would want people to be kind with you. I also want to preface that I am a forever griever. My days never look the same. I may write multiple times a week or multiple times a year. Please don’t expect too much from me.
I am here without pressure. I am here to share a story for those without the voice to. I am here to share my love for Keith and my grief for him too. I am here to pull back the curtain and show you a side of grief that society doesn’t allow you to see. The real side of living with loss; not the instagram side, not the “I ran into her at the grocery store and she looked good, considering” side. The side where I don’t leave my room for 4 days straight. The side where I can’t see more than a few 26 year old males having a good time at once before I have an anxiety attack. The side that screams in the shower. The side that can’t bear the thought of driving in the passenger seat at night. The side that has to make a tough decision to choose life everyday.
I am here to share my story - raw, real, love, and loss.
HOW DID I GET HERE?: The re-branding of Tatum The Label.
Keith passed away in a car accident around 10pm on Saturday March 26th. We were on our way home from dinner when someone ran a stop sign and hit us.
I didn’t get a blink of sleep for almost 48 hours. I couldn’t close my eyes without seeing Keith, blood, and the accident.
Exhaustion finally took over my body and I fell asleep late Sunday night. I woke up a few hours later on Monday morning around 4am. I was in my parents bed. The first thing I woke up to was confusion, shock, and scare. “Where am I?” I thought I was dreaming - but this dream felt so real. I tried to move, and my neck instantly pinched. I started crying. I stared at the ceiling and said, “How did I get here?”
I spent 30 minutes staring at the ceiling. What the fu*k do I do now? How do I even exist if Keith doesn’t? Am I a widow if we weren’t married? How did this happen?
Is this real? I pinched myself.
Am I alive? Yup…
I was so worried about how to live, how to survive. The resourceful Tatum in me had to start researching. I needed my phone but hadn’t touched it in 2 days, I couldn’t imagine looking at it without a text notification from Keith. I was way too afraid of even the sight of it on the nightstand. I had made my dad put it away in the dresser. A few hours later, I carefully made the decision to publicly post Keith’s passing. My cousin, Hailee, helped me make the post. People thought it was an appreciation post for Keith. The way I talked about him in the post wasn’t abnormal and I refused to write “RIP”. Someone even texted me, “Happy Birthday!” That was enough phone time for me. I put my phone away and asked my mom to search around town for a grief counselor. I had never been to counseling before but somehow I knew I needed it ASAP. I got an appointment the next day.
It took a few more days and a lot of staring at the ceiling before I finally gained the courage to get on my phone. I searched “young widow” and was shocked to find, well, really nothing… a few pages from different countries, a 3rd world country’s widow donation page and Hospice of The Valley grief group. I found a church grief group that met up weekly, they included everyone but widows. It was specifically labeled “Family and friends.” I found resources for kids who lost a parent. I remember thinking, how do you support a kid that lost a parent but not the other parent that is experiencing the same depth of loss? People are widowed 1 million times a year. One. Million. Times. And I found 2 pages worth of widow based resources on google? None that even remotely helped me? Cool. Let’s also add that I found a definition for “Young Widow” - someone losing a spouse between 50-60 years old. So now I’m 20 years early to a party? Double cool…
I now felt even more alone, scared, shocked, confused. Do people even recognize widow grief? I knew this was wrong. I knew this shouldn’t have happened to me. BUT IT DID. I am living proof that it happens. Was there really no one there to help me? To understand me? To give ANY guidance? ANYTHING?
That was enough phone time for me… again.
I’m a list girl. Miss organized. Miss “you better clearly detail everything.” Miss OCD. Miss teacher’s pet, lol. I was so frustrated. Why is there no “First Week Checklist?” Does it sound dumb to a non-griever? Probably, but I didn’t even know how to breathe anymore. I didn’t know if it was day or night, if this was real life or not. So yeah, I needed a checklist. If only someone could just tell me what to do rather than expect me to know.
How was I supposed to know what to do? How was I supposed to know where to look? You know the answer here… I wasn’t supposed to know because no one taught me. No one taught a 27 year old what to do once she saw her soulmate die - yet death is going to happen to everyone. Why are we not taught about grief? We are taught how to handle everything in life but the ONE thing that is inevitable!? We are taught to handle things that may not even happen to us. Stop drop and roll? When have you ever heard someone use that? We all know death, whether it’s near or far. Why are we not taught ONE thing on the matter? (Now I’m just getting carried away with passion, LOL! Back to the story.)
Fast forward a few days. They are all blurred together. I was a full zombie. I didn’t understand what was going on. People talked and somehow I didn't hear one word they said. Days went by and somehow I didn’t know if I ate. Did I shower this week? Where is my room again? Who came over 20 minutes ago? Did I change my clothes yesterday or 3 days ago? I don’t know. I only focused on one thing - how many hours, minutes, seconds it had been since Keith died and how many hours, minutes, seconds until I saw him again. If you know anything about grief, you know we have an internal clock. It’s real, it doesn't need to be tended to. It knows before you know. It never skips a beat, it ticks every second of the day and never fails to keep score. Like today, I know it’s been 204 days without Keith. Disgusting.
I gained the courage to get on my phone again. I read my text messages - I had over 1,500. I read my DM’s - I had over 2,000. And then there it was… young widows in my DMs.
Women under 30, with kids, without kids. SEARCHING for someone to connect with, to compare. THERE was the community, the resources I was searching up and down on google for. Every single message sounded something like this, “You’re the only widow I know. How was your first week? Do you want to live? Is your family being supportive? Do you go to therapy? How did Keith pass? Where do you live? Do you think we could meet? What’s your number? Any information would be so helpful. This is so painful. I don’t know what to do.”
All of a sudden, THERE were my young widow resources. I got to e-meet so many helpful, loving, supportive and hurt women. All understanding what I’m going through; all up at 3am when I needed to talk, all stranded with no place to go, all missing the biggest part of their lives.
Fast forward 3 weeks and countless late nights talking to my newly widowed friends.
Now I had some time under my belt. I played enough board games and finished enough 1,000 piece puzzles. I wanted to know more about grief. I ordered every grief and widow book I could find, I needed ALL the information. I had to see what I was up against. Was this doable? (Stupid question - but remember I’m a list girl. I needed to know the wholeeeee assignment.) I started posting the books on instagram and rating them. I was obsessed. I’ve never finished a book in my life, and I was reading multiple 100-300 page books a week. I read and felt Every. Single. Word. I was living it. I learned so much. I’d take a stack of books to therapy and review them with her. I felt exactly what the pages were saying and I started to put names to my feelings.
I got a flood of messages. “Where did you get that book? My neighbor just became a widow. What can I get for her to read and what can I read to best support her? Do you recommend this for my dad who lost my mom? Do you think my widowed friend from highschool would learn from this? What book can I read to better understand grief? Your situation?”
Wow. I was astonished. How were they looking towards me for any recommendation? I was a little more than a month in, I was no expert. I was trying to learn for myself. I was trying to find anything that made sense. Anything that made me feel like I wasn’t crazy, like I wasn’t the only one feeling these emotions. I was struggling to eat. To talk. I hadn’t been out of the house yet besides therapy twice a week and Keith’s funeral.
Over the next few weeks, I read more books and got more messages. I felt SO overwhelmed. I felt that I needed to help every single person who messaged me. I HAD to be helpful. I HAD to be a resource. I started a “note” in my phone that stored all my lengthy written reviews of the books, what I had learned in therapy, different skills and tools I was taught, my daily thoughts, grief quotes and analogies. It was becoming a long list. I started to think, I should start a 1 page website with my resources listed out. How beneficial would that be for both sides? Instead of copying and pasting my note in instagram DM, I could help direct people to the page rather than exhaust myself. (I’ll talk about this more another day, but I learned I can suffer from compassion fatigue. I tend to put someone else’s pain, hurt, healing before my own. It’s great when I can manage. Not so great when I’m dealing with a traumatic death while trying to survive.)
There it was right in front of me. I already had a website up and running, I have had my TTL website since 2018. I still owned the name, web page and domain. The website was still active and everything felt right and easy from there. I started my resources page. It took weeks to fine tune and complete it before releasing it. I stayed up all night long for days. I HAD to get this information out. I had to explain to people what grief is. What not to say. What books to read. It started to snowball - how could I help these widows? How could I get out there enough for people to notice us? To hear us? To listen? To understand?
I had this wild idea. I went out into public for the first time. It took me about 8 weeks before it happened. I felt like the world was staring at me. Why was everyone staring at me? Were they really staring at me? No. Did I feel like I had a spotlight on my head and a sign that said “I JUST TRAGICALLY SAW MY BOYFRIEND DIE. I SHOULDN’T BE HERE ANYMORE!”? YES. I wanted everyone to know. I wanted everyone to hear, “please be kind to me, I’m grieving”. I wanted to write “WIDOW” on my forehead. I wanted to wear “WIDOW” on my sleeve. If I could walk in with a “FU*K DEATH” shirt on, on a day I specifically didn’t want to talk, maybe they would know not to approach me.
In the meantime, I was finding so much peacefulness in drawing. It was a constant, I’d draw on my iPad anywhere from 4-12 hours a day. I was distracted. I was releasing emotions. I started taking my drawings and placing them on digital T-shirts for fun. What if I could actually give myself the option to wear my heart on my sleeve? To allow people to see me for the “new” Tatum that I am? To CLEARLY see me? Yup. That was it. I was going to make T-shirts and allow everyone to wear their grief, heart, love, loss, thoughts, on their sleeve, too.
I had used up multiple therapy sessions to set up a plan for my TTL future - how do I help people but still help myself? How do I avoid compassion fatigue? I wanted to bite off more than I could chew. I wanted to start a widow’s brunch in the valley to get us all together - to help everyone. I wanted to start a foundation. I wanted to go to every hospital and ask them what their “Grief Plan” was. When someone walks in with a husband and walks out without one, what do you tell them? Do they have to search google like I did? I wasn’t surprised when my therapist said, “Let’s pump the brakes for a second Tatum.” (Really? Why? Is it too much? LOL. Yes, what was I thinking?…) One thing at a time. The old Tatum could handle multi-tasking, she could handle a lot of stuff. Old Tatum didn’t know a life where Keith was dead. Old Tatum didn’t know trauma and tragedy first hand. New Tatum had to learn how to manage my feelings and my energy, I had to learn that the old Tatum died when Keith did. She was no longer available - but once an overachiever, always an overachiever.
After much planning, my therapist and I came up with a great plan. A plan that allowed me to help others, re-brand TTL and still check in with myself. Everything came together so magically. I felt called to share my learnings with other grievers. TTL was rebranded and released on July 8th. 3 months and 20 days after Keith passed.
I LOVE being creative. I LOVE helping. I LOVE that I have created a platform that encompasses everything that makes me feel something. I LOVE that I can share my love for Keith and my loss of him too. I love that I can give a voice to grievers.
Welcome to the start of my story. The greatest love and greatest loss I will ever know. Thank you for being here. Thank you for wanting to learn.