Monday, September 15, 2014

Cinema Therapy


I was raised to keep my feelings to myself. Burdening my father with my feelings and needs was simply not something I felt safe doing. The consequence was that I repressed my needs and feelings for so long, and so well, that I forgot how to know what I'm feeling. 

It sounds crazy, I know. How does one not know what she's feeling? You feel something and you name it. Easy! 

Unfortunately, sometimes, it just doesn't work that way for me. I can go very, very numb or feel fear only, for example, even when the appropriate emotion for most everyone else would be anger, or longing, or sadness, etc. 

It's because of this that sometimes I need a substitute situation to have feelings about. A scenario that is not my life, but resembles my life, that I can attach my feelings to and then I'll often be able to identify the actual feelings I am having and work through them.

Movies are one of the best ways for me to accomplish this. They're highly emotional and great for triggering. 

This probably explains why, from day one, I sought out movies about tragedy so I could make contact with my emotions obliquely. It was the way to feeling something. 

Lately I've been seeking out stories of loss so I figured I'd been trying to get in touch with some repressed feelings. So, I looked through Amazon Prime to find a humdinger. 

Get the kleenex ready, it's time to feel things!

I found this movie The Face of Love. I warn you. This one will hurt. In my case, that's exactly what I was looking for. If you're thinking of watching it now, too, spoiler alert in effect now...

Annette Bening plays a widowed woman who runs into a man who is a complete double for her dead husband and tries to have a relationship with him. When he finds out that she is with him just to recreate the love she had with her husband, they can't continue the farce. The movie then jumps to a year later when she finds out he has died, leaving behind a series of paintings he painted of her. 

I bawled. I sobbed. I cried out in pain. At first I was crying for the pain in the movie and then it shifted inside of me and I could identify it.

  I'm sorry! I wailed. I would've done anything to save you! I couldn't save you and you died! YOU DIED! I shrieked into the empty house. I cried into the bed, grabbing the blankets in my fists in utter helplessness. 

As I spilled out the hurt, I realized I'd been feeling guilty and hadn't been able to access it. Now I could. 

I've been feeling guilty for moving on and being happy and not being sad enough. I could name it, feel it, and move through it. Ah, cinema therapy. 

If you feel enough already, thank you very much, this one might not be for you. For me, it did wonders for clearing out my emotional storage files. 

I feel lighter now. I feel more connected to myself and as though I was honoring Dave by letting myself feel the pain his loss has left behind. 

Sunday, September 14, 2014

The Cold Front Comes In

Photo Courtesy of Diana Varner

The cold front comes in
and chills my bones
with the reality
that you are not coming home -
not now
not tomorrow
not ever.

That none of my family is.
not my mother
not my father
and not you.

So many people I have lost already
in thirty-two years of living
I have lived and died already
many lifetimes in this body.

Some years
the cold front whisks in
with a freshness of

Other years
and apparently this one
it feels more like
it steals something from me
my breath
my heart
a piece of me

Just by its bare reminder
that I will never have memories with
any of these three people in my life
ever again.

I have gained so much
I have a life full of love
full of incredible people.
But I think some years
no matter how long its been
(23 years for my mother,
5 years for my father,
and two for you)
The cold front still steals away my ground
and leaves me floating once more.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

This Little Light of Mine...

The sun shone a little brighter for me this week.  The grass looked a little greener; my steps were a little lighter; the sounds of my nephews playing was a little sweeter and my smile was a little easier. 

Finally, after what has felt like a really long low, my grief appears to be lifting and easing again.  I haven't felt this good for months.  I had almost given up hope that I'd get back to this place of peace; the days had been so dark for so long that I had started to forget that the roller coaster DOES go up again, in between the lows.  

Dan's anniversary shook me, along with finally receiving the results of his autopsy (which were apparently delayed by more than a year due to a back-log in work on the coroner's desk).  I had lost my generally positive outlook and had trouble seeing the light in anything, which was probably evident in my writing.  

As I sit and type, I'm overlooking my parent's garden on  the gorgeous Queensland Sunshine Coast, an hour away from my home.  I love visiting their and spending time with my mum and dad, but I haven't even had the energy to make the short trip because I couldn't stand the thought of being too far from my house - my sanctuary.

Yesterday I checked in with one of my counsellors (yes, I have a few - one who specialises in suicide survivors, one who is great for general grief-related issues, and one who works with a nutritionist to help with the impacts of grief on my health).  I was so happy to be able to tell her that I was feeling a bit better and something had shifted.  

She asked me what happy felt like, physically, for me.  It took a while to put it into words, but I was finally able to explain that it felt like a soaring sensation, as if I was light and airborne.  It felt like a bright, piercing light was beaming out from my chest. And it felt like relief.  I was so incredibly relieved that I hadn't lost the ability to genuinely smile and rise out of that deep black hole that the 'unhappy' days feel like.  

Just to clarify, even though I feel happy at the moment, I am still grieving.  I still miss Dan with all of my being and thoughts of him - what he'd say about something, what we'd be doing if he was here - are never far from my mind.  I still cry for him daily, but it's more of a five minute release that I can pick myself up from, rather than something that drags on for hours and days on end, morphing between body-wracking sobs and sad, empty silence.  

I'm not naive enough to think the worst is behind me, I know this path by now and accept there will be more dark days ahead but for now the reprieve is such sweet relief. 

This week also hasn't been without it's triggers and challenges.  World Suicide Prevention Day fell on Wednesday, followed by an Australian mental health awareness day called 'R U OK day' on Thursday and then the anniversary of September 11 on Friday (which has always been a day of sadness and reflection for me, even before I was personally touched by grief).  

As much as I still felt the impact of these days and she'd tears for the victims of suicide being remembered on Wednesday and the thousands of lives lost on September 11, I didn't slide back into the hole.  A few weeks ago it would have been inevitable, but this week I felt stable and strong and able to just let the sadness wash over me. 

Today I feel grateful for the life I have, acutely aware of my many blessings and excited about everything that is still to come for me.  I also feel secure that Dan is close by and looking over me smiling. I know he'd be happy and proud to see me looking forward.  As I inhale and feel the air filling the depths of my lungs, bringing a calm flow of energy through me, I can almost feel his arms around me and hear him whisper 'Go babe, you've got this'.  

Friday, September 12, 2014

The 9-11 Effect

There is something I have noticed in relation to both 9-11 and Don's death. I refer to it as "the 9-11 Effect." Remember right after 9-11, how NYC and America, became a totally different place, and people changed overnight from bitter, hurried grumps who didn't have a second to spare to patriotic, beautiful, generous, patient souls? Remember how in the wake of that awful horror, our city came together as one; with the mission of helping one another however we possibly could? Suddenly strangers talked to each other, held doors for one another, gave each other a smile or a hello. There was an instant chemistry and bonding between everyone who lived here; as if every person you saw looked at you with their eyes and said: "I get it. I understand your pain." You saw American flags on the outside of every home, people lit candles in the streets and prayed for humankind, for peace. Everyone put aside their differences and their attitudes and really came together. It was a thing of beauty. And then it was over. After awhile, the newness of the fear of that day went away, and with it, so did the unity. The flags started to come down, doors were slammed in your face once again, and people began to move on with their lives, and NY became moody NY again. 

The same thing happened when Don died. Within minutes of hearing about his sudden death, I was overwhelmed by people. People came out of the woodwork for me. People I literally haven't heard from in years, sometimes decades, were offering their support and love to me, reaching out in various different ways. My voice-mail flooded with messages within hours. I think there were 56 messages on that first day. The texts were coming at me like wildfire. I thought maybe I had become famous and just forgot. I couldn't keep up. The first three days and nights after it happened, there were a total of probably 16 people inside our tiny apartment. They came in shifts; sometimes overlapping. They brought food, and fruit baskets, and flowers, and love. My friend Matt was on crutches and hobbled his way from upstate NY just to be there for me. He could barely walk and looked like he was about to topple over, but he was there. My friend Shawn, who I haven't seen in years, buzzed my apartment door at 11:30 pm on the night of Don's death. I was there with my mom, and the second shift of friends had just left, when suddenly, Shawn appears. "I didn't know what to do, so I just came over."
The love and the comfort and the people continued to come days after that service, weeks even. Friends took me to lunch over and over. I had 567 lunches in a two week period. And then , slowly, the lunches diminished. The people went away. The responses to my Facebook status updates weren't as many. And that whole Air Force thing they do at the funeral? Sure, it was beautiful, and they really did love Don, but that was a standard military service. They do it for all their men and women. Later on though, when you try and receive some kind of survivors benefits because your husband served his country and served in WAR-time and was a Flight Crew Chief for almost 9 years - they are suddenly nowhere to be found. Suddenly the President doesn't care quite so much about Don's time in the service; because it wasn't enough time to qualify him for "retirement status". The honor, the pride, the flag ... its all part of the show. Just like people and their patriotism after 9-11. Unless you personally lost someone on that day or were personally affected, you begin to recover from it. You go back to the way you were before. Maybe not totally. Maybe some small part of you changes in some way. Maybe on a day like today, you acknowledge it, because you are supposed to. Because its an "anniversary" and that's what you do. Maybe you go all over social media and post things telling others to "Never Forget" and all that jazz. But anyone who was personally affected by it does not need to be told to never forget. Trust me, they never forget. 

And the thing is, I knew in my heart that it would happen like that with Don. I knew it and I felt it, because it happened after 9-11. All that patriotism and love, it was just temporary. It was real for some people, of course, but with others, it disappeared when the tragedy was no longer in their face. Days after losing Don, I remember telling a friend that I wasn't afraid of the right now, because I am surrounded by friends. I couldnt knock people off with a stick at that time, so that is not what scared me. What terrified me was the far away future. I was afraid of what would happen months and years down the road. I knew even back then, that some people would end up completely disappearing from my life, or decide that my new reality was just too uncomfortable for them to live in, even part-time. And that is exactly what has happened. Some people stuck around, others left. It's human nature. It didnt happen to them, so they eventually move on.
Its the 9-11 Effect. When the wound is fresh, ,and the fear and pain are immediate, the people will come. It is only now, three years later, that I am starting to figure out who my real friends will turn out to be, and who will simply fold up their American flag and put it back in the closet. 

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Life Lag

Usk Castle, Usk, South Wales
The past few days since I got home from my trip I've been struggling to readjust to a 10 hour time difference. My sleep has been both in fits and spurts, and long and heavy, and at weird times. But when I woke up this morning after a solid nine hours my first thought was, ok, maybe I'm starting to catch up now, and can get back to normal pretty soon.

Ha! Normal. As if. I can hear you all thinking that, just as immediately as it hit me, what a ridiculous thought that was. What was I thinking? Normal? What the heck is that?

When did I last feel normal, I wondered next? And what was normal? Peace? Comfort? Being used to the way things are, being ok with the way things are? Feeling like the events on any given day were at least reasonably able to be anticipated? I looked it up. The dictionary definition says: conforming to a standard; usual, typical, or expected.

Right. Not much about my life right now seems standard, usual, typical, or expected. Instead, what is now "normal" is conforming to something totally and completely unexpected: the death of my husband.

It got me thinking about the different stages of my life, the choices I've made and the chapters I've lived, and realized that many of them were of my own design, or at the very least, usual, or expected. And I imagine, they are probably much the same for many of us. For a long time, likely "normal" for us was our childhood life. Then one day, we went off on our own - to college, or our own apartment, maybe a new job. This, then, became our new normal.

At another time, we met our loves; we dated, fell in love, got married, maybe moved again, maybe changed careers, had families. This again became a new normal we chose, and even cherished.
Those new normals didn't seem to take very long to get used to. They were happy new normals. Normals we wanted. Normals we felt comfortable with. Expected normals. 

The difference with this new reality is that I did not choose it, or expect it. When our loves perished, our lives became strange. Surreal. Aside from the horror, loneliness and heartache, our daily routines became stressed...difficult...and that feeling of normalcy? Of comfort? Nowhere to be found.

As a widow, I have struggled to reclaim any sense of "usual". Some feeling of calm, and peace. Of being used to the way things are, and being ok with it. Some days, it seems impossible. Others, I feel like I am indeed making inroads towards a new future. A work in progress. 

I miss Mike terribly. I still have memory triggers and heart clenches every day. But I had a lovely trip, and am pleasantly surprised to be building new memories too, upon the ruins of that happy, old normal. I spoke to my grief therapist about these mixed emotions yesterday, and my uncertainty about my future. She said: that's ok. It's totally to be expected to feel this way, and it's ok to be ok with that. It's kind of just what I needed to hear.

It's taking awhile to get used to the time change. I guess it will also take awhile to get used to this new normal too - whatever that may end up being.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

By Any Other Name~

I've had a bit of an odd thought lately, running through my mind.

When Chuck proposed to me 24 years ago, I was ecstatic but had a condition.  He had to be okay with me keeping my maiden name.  I'd taken it back after my divorce and it had taken work on my part in womens' groups and counseling to win back the me who'd disappeared for the years of my first marriage.  I'd fought long and hard to redefine myself and I wanted to keep my last name.

He was completely okay with it and, honestly, relieved that I hadn't set a serious condition.  He was at ease with it.

At one point, around our 19 year mark, I recall, he mentioned that he'd like it if I took his last name.  I considered it but once again decided against it;  at that point, for me, it was a professional decision as much as anything.  I'd begun a non-profit and my name and role as president was well-established with that community.  Upon giving it some thought, Chuck agreed it would be confusing and it was better to maintain that identity.

We sold everything and went on the road together to adventure and, professionally, my last name wasn't a big deal and in our last year together he asked me again and I really did give it due consideration.  I knew he asked because he loved me so much and it clearly meant something to him for me to share his name.  And part of me wanted to and thought well if it means that much to him, maybe I ought to.  But I still hesitated.  Names have always been powerful to me, and I felt closely connected to mine.  He and I discussed it but ultimately decided against it, with cost being a primary factor.

Now he's gone from my life and my heart is broken and a tiny thought popped into my head the other day that maybe I need to revisit the idea of changing my last name to his.  It would be a way to be even more attached to him.  Maybe it would bring him close to me in a way I haven't felt since he died.  Maybe it would help ease my agony.  Maybe, maybe, maybe....

And yet.

Hesitation again.  He is so very gone from my life and all that I hold onto is the love he and I shared and that love is bigger than his name or my name.  Which is why I haven't had his name included in the 3 tattoos I've gotten in the 17 months since his death.  The love must be bigger because its all I feel I have to hold close to me any longer.  It feels like my life with him was a figment of my imagination and not really my life for 24 years.  How else can he be so gone?  Why don't I dream of him?  Why don't I feel him?  Why don't I remember what it felt like to have his lips on mine or his arms around me?  Why can't I remember what it felt like to have him sit next to me in the driver's seat for 4 years?  How is he so gone?  And would taking his name now make any difference in that feeling?

Honestly, I don't feel a connection to my own name, any more than I feel a connection to the woman I was with him-she disappeared the night he died.  Names are meaningless to me now because I don't know who I am again yet and it will be a while before that is revealed to me and, in the midst of a world where nothing is okay, I'm not going to make that decision.  Who knows?  I might choose an entirely different name for myself as time goes by that will reflect who I am becoming.

Meanwhile, I hold his name close to my heart.  More strongly than that, I hold his love close in me.

And that's all that matters~

Tuesday, September 9, 2014


John on a ride at our state fair
It's one of those 'what the heck to I write about' weeks.

It's hard because it's been a "good" week.   Which is really anything that isn't a bad week.  The week has been without too many of those sledgehammer 'my husband's dead' moments.  And when they've come, it's been at odd times, like unstacking the dishwasher.  But it's simply been a week where we have been living our lives, without being overly aware of why our lives are the way they are.

I've even be relatively comfortable as a solo parent plus I've knocked a lot of things off the long-standing to do list.

I took John to our equivalent of the state fair late last week. We had a full day out, spending some of the day with friends who came into our life through Ian, and it was quite successful.  There were some "frazzled, squarking mum" episodes (usually when John ran off and I couldn't find him in the crowd) but it was a good day out.  Plus we got to spend a bit of time with some of Ian's friends, who John adores.

A key personality trait of John's was confirmed - that kid has no fear.  He's looking at all the rides in side-show alley - you know those really high, fling you round and round and up and down rides - and asking incessantly to go on them.  Pointing upwards saying 'wow, Mummy'; 'that one Mummy'.

At only 3 & 1/2 he's a good inch or so too short from the minimum height for the majority of the rides with an adult, and for the most part he'll be waiting until he's tall enough to go on without an adult, because there is no way on God's green earth his mother will be going on there with him!!  I did get to take him on the ride my dad always took me on, so it was nice to start that tradition.

Even Father's day this weekend, because Australia celebrates in September, didn't really throw me too much.  There were some pangs, as John is becoming more aware that other kids have their dads around and he doesn't and is beginning to ask more questions. Add all the father's day marketing, which has also probably heightened that awareness. 

I guess I'd just call it a normal, garden variety, week.