Saturday, January 31, 2015

Travelling My New Path


Travel selfies at LAX
As I write this, I'm sitting in a plane, flying from Los Angeles to New York.  I'm back in the USA for Camp Widow East next weekend and decided to make a holiday off it, fulfilling a life-long dream of visiting the Big Apple. 

This is my second trip to the states and again I find it very emotional to be here without Dan, as it reminds me of all the plans we made to travel together but never got the chance to see through.

New York has not only always been on my bucket list, but it was one of my husband's favourite places.  He'd visited a number of times and had even spent a Christmas here with a mate, many years before we met.  

Before he died, we'd planned a wonderful holiday to experience a New York Christmas together, which we had scheduled for 2013. He was so excited as he spoke about all the places he wanted to show me.  Central Park, the Rockefeller Christmas Tree, all the beautiful boroughs and neighbourhoods.  This was one of the many dreams we didn't get to see through, because of his death.

Making this journey now without him is so very bittersweet.  I miss him so much, I miss the excited glow he would get, I miss the twinkle in his eye, I miss being able to sit here and hold his hand and share such a special moment with him.

I can't help but feel like he's with me though.  For example... I am not what you'd call a sports enthusiast.  I don't hate sport, but I wouldn't exactly seek it out.  However when the friend who I'm travelling with asked if I wanted to join her at the basketball or ice hockey during our visit, I thought it sounded like a fun thing to do.  She ended up organising tickets to both, and then we realised we'd also be in the USA for Superbowl Sunday!  So, that's three 'sporting events' that I will be viewing (the Superbowl we will only be watching from a bar somewhere, but still). Dan, the sports nut, MUST surely have pulled some strings to make that happen. 

I like that I'm able to feel connected with him through places.  I find myself wondering, did he walk down this street?  Maybe he even sat in this taxi.  I know for sure that he loved this country and if the spirits of our dearly departed really do get to stay with us and share in our happiness, he would be loving that I'm here, experiencing a city that is so dear to his heart.  

Even though I'd chose my life with Dan over any alternative, I'm also very aware that I will have opportunities and experiences on this holiday that would not have been possible if he were still here with me. 

I'm grateful that I will get to spend time with my friend (and fellow Widow's Voice writer) Kelley Lynn while I'm here.  I didn't know any 'real new yorkers' before Dan died, but my world has been broadened significantly because I'm now part of the widowed community.  I will then get to travel to Florida and see another dear friend Michele and make more new friends at Camp Widow.  

It is so easy to dwell on what I am missing.  I can't escape the fact that he should be here.  But that loss is softened slightly on the days that I'm able to take a moment and think about what blessings have come in to my life, only because of the path that it has taken.  A path I would never have chosen or wanted, a path I find myself on reluctantly.  But, nevertheless, a path that still presents adventures and experiences that are waiting to be explored.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Go

I wrote this piece on Tuesday evening, after a very profound phone session with my grief-therapist, in which we talked about a horrible dream I had awhile back , where Don was still alive - and told me he wanted a divorce, and that he didn't love me, and that he had never loved me. I honestly had no idea what that dream meant, or why I would dream that he was being so cruel to me, when I know 100% that he would NEVER be that way with me in real life. Never, never, never. My therapist is so smart, and she cleared this up for me pretty quickly. She said, among many other things:

"This is actually a really good dream. I know it didnt feel that way, but I believe this was a dream about all the massive changes in your life right now, and it's about what we have talked about before - the continuing bonds that you have with Don. You are in a place right now in your life where you are finally starting to take the reigns again. You are in control, and Don is with you and beside you, as he always will be, but you are no longer letting his memory or spirit dictate how you live or do things - you are stepping out on your own and it's incredibly scary. But those continuing bonds never die. This is where you get to have that special, new, profound relationship with your husband, because I think you're ready. It's never been about letting him go. It's about figuring out where he fits in your life - now - and experiencing your love in a different way. Its very profound, and not everyone gets here. I think the dream is one about changes and leaving something behind. It's not a divorce from marriage. It's a seperation from the relationship you used to have with one another, and learning to figure out what this new one will be. Your relationship with him in death, is very different. And I think you are coming to terms with this, right this very minute. "

When I got off the phone, I ran to my computer, and started furiously typing up this piece/poem. The words just sort of fell out of me, as if my husband was talking to me. That is what this piece is - it's Don, and also my own inner-voice, telling me the things that I need to hear right now in order to keep healing and go forward. All I can tell you is that everything about writing this piece felt so profound to me. I cried and cried the entire time I was typing it. It wasn't a painful cry, but the kind where you feel that something has shifted and changed in that very second. Those of you who follow me and my writing either here or on my personal blog (ripthelifeiknew.com) might know that I've been writing a book about our story and my grief story for the past couple years. This piece feels like the perfect full-circle ending to my book. Things are shifting. This will never be easy, but the only way I can explain it is to say that I feel different. I feel like I have just made a discovery that will help me learn to live with this loss. I hope this piece resonates with you, and brings you hope ....


Go
Step into your life
the one that waits for you
the one that knows
of the promises you made long ago,
to dream
to risk
to dare …
Step into the moment,
to become that thing
the thing that you were meant to become
the thing that you always were,
somewhere deep within,
but lost along the way.
Be that thing now …
Right now.
Go
Walk beside your vision
crawl there if you must
breathe through the fire that burns you,
the swords that stab you,
the fears that stop you,
time and time again.
Each time you fall, or each time that needle
travels through your heart
and into your open wounds,
stare it down.
push it into the cold bricks.
Look it in the eyes and tell it,
“You are nothing,
for I have been through worse.”
Go.
Run into that spotlight
stand upon your mark
claim the very universe,
that is yours in which to play.
Seize the absolute second,
In which the world receives your talents,
that I have always seen.
Go.
Are you afraid?
I know you are afraid.
Please, my Sweet Angel,
Don’t be afraid.
For you have loved me better,
And with more wholeness,
to last ten thousand billion moons.
And even though I can no longer
sit beside you,
I am still beside you.
In heart.
In spirit.
In soul.
And every time you take your life,
and you create it,
and you build it,
and you fill it up with wonder,
you embody
the very thing
that is Love.
You loved me better,
Than I have ever been loved or felt love,
before.
You filled my life with everything,
In the short time I was here.
And now that I am living
On a star,
Or in a sunrise ...
I want you to know,
that when you go,
when you go off to collect your dreams,
when you leap forward to grab that Bliss,
when you dance wildly across the finish line,
Do not be afraid.
Because in that moment when you have reached
The brightest star
and called it your new home,
you will not have traveled away from me.
You will not be leaving me behind.
No.
When you reach that star,
And you sit along it’s corner,
Listen.
Just listen.
There will be a breath of air,
and a hint of music,
a melody
hidden just for you,
Within the measures of the silence.
Listen.
That is me,
 us,
 Love,
Our Love,
Living and laughing and singing
Deep within
The night sky.
And you will always feel that love
and be aware of that love
every single time
you decide
to live.
So go,
Sweet Angel.
Go and step into your life,
And I will meet you,
Inside
our special place
I will meet you,
In the rhythms of the music.
Hurry up, my love.
It's your time now.
Step into your life.
I love you.
Now go ...

Thursday, January 29, 2015

I shall wear purple...

Many years ago Mike and I were having lunch at a local restaurant here in Kona when a bevy of ladies filed in all dressed up in purple dresses and big red hats. I stared, mouth agape, in utter astonishment and fascination. What were they doing coming out dressed like that? It was the first time I’d seen the Red Hatters and I was instantly enamored of this group of adorable, vivacious, giggling ladies. I became determined to join them some day, when I was old enough, but haven’t thought about it much since.

One evening this past December I was working at the little dress shop where I spend a couple of days a week now, when a tall, striking woman strode in wearing a sparkling purple evening dress and a bright red hat fancy enough for the Kentucky Derby. I mean wow it was huge!! And so was her personality. She wore it all with a feisty, bright attitude of I do what I want and seemed like she was having the time of her life. She was on her way to dinner nearby and needed a place to change into a big red M&M costume she would put on for members’ birthday celebrations. Of course, she could use our shop to get ready until it was time to go surprise them.

I immediately knew she was a Red Hatter (I mean, duh) and remarked how I’d always looked forward to joining such a group when I passed the required age. Of course she readily invited me to join as a Pink Hatter until then. So this past Saturday I attended my first Red Hat Society luncheon with about 25 ladies from all over the island. Funny thing, a friend had just randomly gifted me an adorable pink hat she had crocheted last year, with no thought of this group whatsoever entering either of our minds.

I mentioned that I had done this to a few friends who stifled giggles that I would do such a thing. But there is some part of me, I guess, that was drawn to it…and I couldn’t ignore the random series of events that led me there. This group was filled with so many different, wonderful characters, many drinking wine and cocktails, laughing and sharing stories. Some groups do fundraising too I know, but the primary focus is socializing and having fun. 

The Queen, the woman who I met initially in the shop, sat next to me and during the course of the meal said something I won’t forget. She said the one thing she knows is that one day she is going to die, and that there are so many things we must deal with while we are here that aren’t fun…so she is determined to make room for fun and frivolity whenever she can. I wrote last week about how Mike’s death had brought the notion of my own mortality into clearer view. So I could relate to this very much, and I sat there with my glass of wine, delighting in the personalities and stories around me.

I was actually surprised that none of the ladies at my table were widows (I seem to meet so many of them these days) though I didn’t get a chance to talk to everyone, of course. I did flash on a little jealousy that some of them had been with their husbands 20-30 years or more. But - I did enjoy myself, and there was some sense of comfort, or relief perhaps, by feeling included and befriended by these confident and joyful ladies who so clearly treasured this group, and each other. Being widowed in middle age has made me hyper-sensitive to the idea of getting older but maybe it wasn’t going to be all that bad. I couldn’t help but think how tickled Mike would have been that I’d done this. I could almost sense him smiling at me. I am already looking forward to the next gathering in February for Mardi Gras.

Afterwards as I was walking to my car in my own colorful costume bordering on the ridiculous I wished so much to have been able to tell Mike about it and laugh with him. And I couldn’t help but wonder at the strangeness of my life. How unpredictable it all is. And the idea that our human condition is so filled with the commonality of pain, grief, and tragedy…but that we also share the amazing and beautiful capacity for love, friendship, and laughter.


Thank goodness. When I am an old woman I shall wear purple…

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

And Then There was Love~

I'm almost in Tampa for Camp Widow, arriving early from Arizona.  This has been a long road trip for me, and taxing in a different way from my previous travels, emotionally.  Perhaps it's the knowing that this really will be for me, as so many have assured me, a life-changing weekend.  This grief is exhausting and I want it to shift for me but at the same time, being honest, I suppose deep in there somewhere is fear also.  Fear that it will be so life-changing for me that I won't recognize myself afterwards.  Not that I recognize myself now.  All I know is that I'm not the woman I was with Chuck.  Everything else is up for grabs.

What has made this trip more bearable for me, winding my way along the southern route in my PinkMagic rig, are the people who have reached out to me.  Prior to leaving, I'd mapped out my route and marked the military bases where I would find a site to set up for quick overnights.  That isn't what has happened, however.

One of the groups to which I belong is called Sisters on the Fly;  it's made up of women around the country who own vintage trailers and meet up for camping and other fun activities.  So before I left I posted about my trip and the reason for it on our page.  And I hadn't even reached Texas when Sisters began contacting me, inviting me to come overnight with them, to either curb with them (which means to have hook-up for my trailer in their yards), or to stay in their guest rooms.  And once that got going, more and more sisters joined in from the states along the way:  Texas, Louisiana, Florida...single women, married, divorced, widowed;  they have all reached out to cheer me on my way.  They have loved me through these miles and so even in the midst of all this grief, there is a strong sense of being blessed.  We've shared stories of cancer and love and grief and family and strength and joy and connected through tears and laughter and hugs.

I'm not the same woman I was with Chuck and I worry sometimes that he might now know me were he able to come back to me.  But then I think, oh, yes, he'd know me in a way that he knew me for 24 years.  He knew me better than I know myself and that's why he set me on this Odyssey of Love in the first place.  There was no way for him to tell how it would play out, but he damn well knew (because he loved me so), that this is exactly how I'd create a new life without him.

I have no idea when this Odyssey will be done and I don't even think about it.  All I know is that I'm on my way to Tampa and Camp Widow and that I have been embraced and supported along the way and...period.

Grief and Love and, oh yes, PinkMagic as my chariot~

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The Long Cycle

What Ian probably wanted to do to the hospital TV...  source
 
I've been aware for a few days or so that the anniversary march is starting up for me again.  John's birthday, Surgery day, Illness day, Death day.  A long 5 months.

This year, although actually a whole lot better at this point than the last two, there have been some bells ringing that I just couldn't put my finger on.

Until a bout of insomnia last night. 

I've mentioned before Ian was very much interested in politics.   One state here is in the middle of their state-level election campaign, which occurs every three years.  I've been watching the campaign from a distance on our national news channel and I've mostly been pricking up my ears as one candidate's name is very similar to someone I worked with a number of years back, and I've been doing a double-take every time I hear it.  But something else was simmering underneath.

It's a bit earlier in the calendar year this year (there's a degree of flexibility in when Australian elections are called), but this same state was going through their last election when Ian was unconscious in the ICU.  Election day from memory was a week or two into our first stay of 6 weeks.

That election, the opposing party to Ian's views won the election.  I can remember a discussion with nursing staff about having the TV on for Ian with familiar programs and so forth as although he was unconscious, you never know what might be getting through.

My response was a joking, but definite no in terms of election coverage - the result would have been enough for him to give up fighting entirely, he detested the winner that much!  His mother was with me at the time visiting and whole-heartily agreed.  Not sure how the ICU staff took that one, although we did get a few chuckles at it.

The result was still being analysed a week or so later when Ian was awake and beginning to gain an awareness around him and the degree of disability he faced from his stroke.  But fairly quickly he understood enough to know what he was looking at on the TV screen with the frequency that the winning leader's face kept appearing.  It was one of the more expressive facial reactions we had in the early days.  If he had the ability to throw something at the TV, he probably would have.

................

As time progresses, we learn where our cyclical trigger points are, both the obvious and not so obvious.   We're conscious of the passing of each 12 month period.  But one thing I never considered was trigger cycles being longer than 12 months, in this case three years.   It's a bit of a shock to the system.

I'm glad I have a councillors appointment tomorrow to debrief this one.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Rushing Toward the Light



These past few weeks, I have been in a rush toward healing. I have tried to dwell in the blessed memory of my husband, and to rejoice in his character. I have tried to begin to rebuild my life in a way that would honour his spirit. I have tried to reach, to grow, and to soften, as I know he would have wanted. 
I am doing all the right things. I am eating fairly healthy foods, and I am writing, reading, and reaching out to others. I begin most mornings with yoga and meditation. I walk outside, sometimes miles, on the weekends. I am immersed in my Buddhist sangha. I even started a Zumba class on Fridays.
I have set aside the depths of my grief to put one foot in front of the other. 
Meanwhile, sorrow lurks in the shadows. 
It waits for me to meet it with my presence.
It's going nowhere until I do this. 
All these healthy habits will not make this pain disappear. 

This week,  I returned to counselling after avoiding it over the holidays. "I don't need these sessions," I told myself, on my way to the appointment. "I am fine. I am coping. I have returned to work."

Then the counsellor made the mistake of asking me how things had been, for me, and the floodgates opened. I haven't shared the depths of my sadness with someone, at length, for a long time. For the first time in months, I was able to look another human in the eye, and have her be a witness to my pain, to help me hold it. I am so tired of holding it all, on my own. 

I share my sadness, but only in snippets, with friends. I tell them that some days are better than others, that this is still a difficult, exhausting, heartbreaking, roller coaster ride and that I don't know when it will ever settle. 

But it has been over seven months, now, and I worry that most people don't want to sit in the nitty gritty of this darkness, with me. I have had my share of attention, I think, and I don't want them to grow weary of my presence.

Instead, I let my writing speak for me. I write my weekly post on Widow's Voice. Perhaps that is why I am so anxious to find that people are responding to what I post, on this blog. Because I crave a human witness to this pain of mine. Because I want to share it and be heard.

But I am too afraid to do it in person. I'm afraid my friends will avert their eyes when they see me, if I share too much, that they will feel burdened by the depth of my grief, and turn away.

So I smile and say I'm well, considering the circumstances--and walk on, before they do.
This fear has nothing to do with the people around me. I am certain there are those who would be happy to sit with me awhile, and let me speak, if only I would ask. But I don't. I try to contain it, myself. And it is too big for one person to hold. 

It is customary, in our Western culture, to rush toward wholeness. We want to show the world that we are strong. We want to be an inspiration to others. We want to rise above, dwell in possibility, climb over obstacles in our paths, get well, move on, be happy, thrive. 

But grief does not work that way. There is no linear path for us to follow. The steps in grief do not uniformly lead upward to a sunny, radiant realm. Grief has us laughing one moment and crying the next. It sends us from the heights of hope to the depths of despair in an instant. There is no rhyme or reason to it. It is baffling and powerful. And there is no way to know when we will come up for air. 

We can pretend that we are better. We can smile and stretch and say all the right things. But our sorrow still lurks in the shadows. 

This week, I decided to sit inside my grief, instead of brushing past it with a backward glance. It felt important to allow it to arise, in me, and to speak to the voice that tells me I should feel better, look to the future, be grateful for what I have, move up, move on, get over it, already. 

I wrote this piece below in answer to that voice. 
*****     *****     *****     *****     *****     *****     *****     *****     *****     *****     *****

It is easy to sit on the sidelines of loss and to assume things--that there is dignity in this grief; that one can bear the scars of one's sorrow with elegance and grace, and thereby become an inspiration and an amusing companion for others. That one can rise beyond her pain, embracing the inevitable fact of death.

But today I find no dignity in grief--no elegance, no grace. There are no twinkling angel spirits around me, no chiming bells, no aromatic swirls of misty promise to accompany this loss. There are no rhythmic chants that can soften this sorrow.

There is only me, sitting here, streaming words onto a page. There is only me, eyes darkened with the shadow of his death, forehead twisted into furrows, arm muscles taut and aching for his body to embrace.

There is no light in this grey room, on this grey day, only the soft flame of fire, curling around a piece of wood, in the stove, as it slowly cools into white, dead ash--like his body, that rests inside its cardboard tube upon my dresser. Gone too soon. Finished. Snuffed out.

There is only me, back curved with the weight of this sadness, legs buckled at the knees, crawling up the stairs to step into that dark night, to our bed, without him.

There is no dignity in this death. I will not stand tall, this night, to shape a life as beautiful as the one I had with him. I will surrender to the ugliness of my sorrow.  I will sit with the darkness, and honour it. 

I will not rush ahead toward the light. 

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Living with "After" Shock


Something I feel many people don't understand about losing your partner is that there are many, many subsequent losses. It's something all of you understand, or will come to. Like aftershock from an earthquake, they continue to shake our foundation for YEARS after the initial tragedy. It can be the smallest things, like the first time you have to take out the trash or eat alone. Or the really big things like first holidays without them or moving from the place you called home together. But it's also the joyful things, like landing a new job or winning an award, making new friends or dating someone new. Every single event or change in your life from the moment they die is another loss - another layer of having to come to terms with the fact that they aren't here and aren't coming back. Another small step of letting go in order to move forward. Not letting go of them, but letting go of what would have been to make room for what is and will be.

I've had several such tremors recently. One of which was attending a professional development workshop for artists. This workshop was kind of a big deal. I had to submit a portfolio of my artwork along with an artist statement to even be considered. They only chose 22 people to be part of the workshop. And I was chosen. So last weekend, I hauled myself the hour and a half to Austin - not knowing what to expect. I was nervous, but excited. The workshop was great. It was lead by two very well established business women from NYC - one who works with artists and creative companies of all sizes on strategic and business planning, and the other a successful artist who now helps other artists all over the country through this workshop series. As I sat there, I felt full of excitement. And promise. And possibility. It was just the opportunity for helping me take the next steps of building this new career and life in my "after" life.

As the day unfolded, I began to see more clearly for the first time that this path will require me to grow into a person I am not yet. To learn how to approach galleries, curators, museums, magazines, etc. To learn how to speak professionally about my work and how that must differ depending on the setting and person. And if I ever hope to do speaking engagements about art and grief - I will need to develop my almost non-existent public speaking skills too. 



What I didn't expect though, is the aftershock.

So there before me, in this class, lay the outline of just how much change and growth will potentially happen if I step fully into this path ahead. Suddenly, I began feeling this backward pull - this resistance. Of course resistance to anything new is natural, but this was more than just the typical fears of being out of my comfort zone. It was the fear of stepping more fully OUT OF the life he and I shared together and the person I was when I was with him. It means stepping into becoming a woman he did not yet know me to be. 

I felt backed up against a wall… not wanting to make those steps, not feeling ready to walk away yet from the remnants of our life together. And at the same time, wanting what that future could be with a deep burn inside me… knowing that this path will be the best way I can honor myself and him.

Such a mix of emotions. Wanting to go full speed ahead, but not wanting to let go. Even though I still feel just as connected to him as I have, I still fear that letting go more will somehow mean I will lose him more. Nothing has proven this logic - yet still, it's quite a real fear. Will I always have this fear? Every step forward - will it test my ability to trust that he will remain with me just as strongly no matter where I go and what I do? Perhaps. Or maybe it will get easier to trust over time. For now, I'm just taking it all in, paying attention, trying to learn what I can from it… and trying to be as brave as I am able to be. And also, as gentle as possible with myself. I don't have to rush, or push too far ahead too fast. I can take things on as I feel strong enough, bit by bit. Or as my fiancĂ© used to say… "how do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time". It always made me smile. Remembering today to be okay with where I am at, and to trust that he will be with me fully as I move more fully into a new life.