Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Rest



I'm sitting here incapacitated, writing my post while implementing the RICE acronym for injuries. 

On Saturday while working in the garden as John played under a sprinkler, I tripped over something I knew was in the lawn. Because I've not yet got to mowing, the stand for my sun shade has been hidden by the long grass.  Whilst trying to avoid the spray from the sprinkler, I leaped and landed awkwardly on the hidden umbrella stand, resulting in a very badly sprained ankle.  My initial fear was a broken foot or ankle because of the lovely sequence of crunches I heard/felt while going down.  My first thought was "SH*T - this isn't good".

I asked John to bring one of the phones to me, but he struggled to find one.  I was eventually able to crawl into the house and call my step-mother for help.  John meanwhile was back under the sprinkler because he's 3 and loves the water. 

While waiting for help to arrive, I was able to get John to take his wet top off, and I wrapped it around my rapidly swelling ankle which although not ice, was a decent alternative in the circumstances.

After being looked at in emergency, and having an x-ray that showed nothing was broken, I get released with instructions to 'rest'.

Ha! You've not met my kid.  The hospital staff began to get the picture when he came bouncing in saying 'sorry we're late' with my step-mom to collect me. 

John and I spent two nights camped out at my Dad's place to get over the initial pain, which was great because the pain meds kept putting me to sleep.  But I am now home, and have been be looking after John on my own.  Cooking, entertaining, bathing, tidying up his trail of trip-hazards. 

Being stranded because he's run off with my crutches. 

Because crutches are excellent as pretend guns from the perspective of a 3 year old. 

I really need to work with John on what to do in an emergency - teach him Papa and Nini's phone number and our address.  I need to find somewhere to put the phone so John can access it easily.   I don't want to put that load on him, he still needs to be a three year old kid, but it's probably time, anyway.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Constant Companion

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I was listening to a Moth podcast tonight in which a funeral home director talked about his long history of burying people's loved ones.

 He said he believed that when we die, we go home. I thought that sounded so beautiful and comforting. 

I wonder, when I die, what Dave would think of me when I came home? What would that reunion be like? Would it be as if no time had passed between his death and mine? Would he he say he was glad I had found happiness after his death and that he was proud of me for pushing onward even when I didn't want to?

My favorite image of Dave is of him on the riding lawn mower, waving at me when I pulled into the driveway at the end of a workday. He had this ridiculous wave where he'd shake his whole forearm madly and give me a goofy grin. I was absolutely sure, in the pit of me, that he was thrilled for me to be home and that there was no one else on the planet he'd rather be with than me. 

That's how I hope he'll greet me when I see him again. I hope I'll see him again. I hope I get to see my mom and dad, too. I hope we all reunite, even if just for a moment before we go on our next journeys. 

It's an interesting experience, having your foundational loved ones on the other side, out of reach. Your life continues on this side, and you value it and have cultivated joy here, but there are those people you long for, out of reach. And being with them again, if that's possible, would mean leaving this life you love now, too, and the people you don't want to leave. 

So, I keep them with me and try to (frustratingly), experience them now in this new way. Their legacy, their memory, their love that lives within me now, the way their existence changed me fundamentally, and somehow learn to adjust to that reality, even though I'm earthbound and operate on a much more temporal and physical way. How do I maintain a relationship with someone I can't directly talk to and touch? It's one sided and I resent that. I feel as though I will always be missing out. 

But this is it. This is life and how it works. If it didn't end, we'd take our time here for granted even more than we already do. So, we live long enough and we will have to watch people go, one at a time. We grieve. We are sad. We are always missing someone, somewhere. It wouldn't be life without it. It is such an unequivocal fact. It's THE fact. And yet it's so hard to accept. 

Maybe only in dying do we actually understand and accept it. Maybe. I don't know. Maybe we do come home and we finally understand all that we couldn't quite make sense of on this side. 

It's hard to find peace with that, but I work on it daily because I have to. 





Saturday, September 27, 2014

And I Danced

It turns out I had a couple of big things happen last weekend. Aside from last week's post, I also met up with my three closest girlfriends halfway between Austin and Dallas to celebrate my birthday. We went out Saturday night to a country dance hall. Now this is the first time I've ever really gone to a dance hall since he died. He and I used to go often - and I'd never gone before I met him... So naturally it didn't occur to me that men would be asking me to dance. But within just a few minutes of being there - guys were walking up and asking all of my friends and I to dance.

I didn't even know how to process that. I said no, to each one that asked. I had NO intention of dancing with a boy. Ew. A few asked why, so I dropped the widow bomb. That's definitely the quickest way to keep men from coming back around! So for a while my girlfriends and I just went about our way on the dance floor together, laughing and having a great time.

After an hour or so of processing this totally freaky new situation I was in… I began to hear a little whisper in me though. It wasn't "no" - it was something else. It was the thought that Drew would really want me to get out there and dance with a boy that night. It was my birthday weekend after all… and he was a sensible man. I know, if HE couldn't be there to dance with me, then by God he would want some nice boy to show me a good time on the dance floor. Who knows, maybe that little whisper was actually him. Telling me to lean into it a little, telling me it was okay. All I know is that suddenly it started to feel more okay.

I turned down a few other guys, because I just didn't get the right feeling about them. And then…
All my girlfriends were out dancing and I was standing just on the edge of the dance floor, leaning over the bar and sipping on my beer. And this sweet boy with glasses came up next to me and asked me to dance. I'd seen him dance with my girlfriends and they all seemed to think he was nice. I thought so too. Still, I told him no at first, and that I'm an awful dancer (which is true!). He prodded me a little, ensuring me it was really easy and he'd keep it simple. Unlike any of the other guys, he didn't give up when I said no the first time. And unlike any of the others, there was a real genuine kindness about him. Even in his prodding.

It was the sort of kindness that reminded me of Drew… back when he was prodding me to go on a date with him. I was a year out of an abusive relationship back then and terrified to date. And he was never pushy or demanding in his request - a gentleness and respect in the way he tried to persuade me. I felt all these same things from this boy asking me to dance.

Before I knew it, I agreed, and we were out on the dance floor together. And my inner dialogue went something like this: "Holy cow… I am DANCING WITH A BOY. Look at ME!!! How is this happening? Is this for real? What the hell is going on? This feels….. so…. NICE! How does this NOT feel more weird?!? How is this not upsetting? He's quite a good dancer. And he feels safe. And warm. And look at me… I'm actually dancing and not falling all over the place! How the hell does this feel okay?!?! How on earth am I holding the love I have for Drew in my heart and also dancing with someone else and it feels perfectly wonderful?!"

Not only did we dance, but we danced 5 or 6 times the rest of the night. And apparently I'm such a serial monogamist that I even do it with dancing… because I still wouldn't dance with anyone else that night. lol. He kept his word too, went very slow and kept things easy for me. He tried to spin me a few times - most of which went horribly wrong and ended in brilliant laughter. I would not say there was a spark or anything like that… but we sure laughed. And it didn't feel wrong to laugh with him either. It felt good to allow myself that. It felt beautiful. and Free. And strangely okay.

And then came the last dance. The bar was closing up, and we had one final dance together. About halfway through, he moved my hands to his shoulders and both of his hands to my waist and moved just gently closer to me. At first I panicked a moment, half nervous about tripping over his feet and half unsure of having an emotional breakdown. But I didn't stop… I kept dancing. And I let go of the fear. I closed my eyes, brushed my cheek slightly against his arm and just let myself be carried away in the moment... feeling a closeness to a man that I haven't felt in over two years. I was - for that instant - a little bit less afraid of letting in someone new.

Sure it was just a few dances. And no, there were no phone numbers exchanged or anything of the sort. Heck we barely talked to each other really. But we laughed. And we shared a kindness between each other that was so wonderful. And for one very small moment in time - I got the tiniest glimpse of how one day, it will feel warm and safe and beautiful to take the other first steps again, like going on a date, kissing, saying "I love you"... making love. And how maybe, just maybe, it won't be as painful and scary and horrible as I imagine it will be.

It made me realize that one day I will meet another boy with that same kindness - and I will know how to recognize that sort of kindness because of Drew. Because he was the first one to do it right. And in doing so, he will come with me into every new beginning I take.

His widow and his wife



I was invited to a wedding this week, one of my husband Dan's good friends is marrying his long-time love.   They live in a different state and I only got to meet them a couple of times while Dan was alive, at our engagement party and our wedding.  Since his funeral I've also caught up with them at a fundraising event we held on his birthday, in March this year, and even though they are really nice people, we've never quite had the opportunity to form a friendship of our own.

I'm honoured that they invited me to join them on their special day, it's really thoughtful and lovely of them to include me in an event that I would most definitely have attended if Dan were still here.

When I thought about going to their wedding I felt so many different emotions.  For a start, most widowed people would agree that any wedding is going to be a tough ask, particularly in those first couple of years.  Three weeks after Dan's death I was faced with my first big hurdle when I attended my best friends' wedding as her bridesmaid.  It feels so surreal to me now that I did that.  She had been my bridesmaid only a couple of months earlier and was with me the night that the police told me that Dan had taken his own life (and by my side almost every day after).  I knew no one expected it of me and my friend and her fiancé basically let me decide on every element of how I wanted to be involved.  It was difficult but I was driven by wanting to be there for my friend - even if it was just sitting quietly in a corner, I wanted to be present for her.  I actually think I was still in such deep shock that the reality of what I was doing didn't really sink in, enabling me to get through the day in my zombie-like armour.  This event would be very different.

I also felt some sense of duty to represent my husband by attending his friends' wedding.   I'm not sure why.  I mean, there's no way I could fill his shoes.  He was loved and admired by all of his friends for his wonderful, cheeky sense of humour, his positive outlook and his kind, caring nature.  He was like a big brother, the one they went to for advice. I could never be that for this couple - even if I had of been given the chance to grow closer to them before we lost our common denominator.

I wondered what they expected of me.  Did they genuinely hope I'd make the trip and maybe forge a stronger friendship that would carry us forward without Dan's presence to bond us?  Or were they being polite, assuming it would hurt my feelings to be overlooked and excluded (which it most likely would have) but not expecting my attendance.

Eventually I stopped wondering what I SHOULD do or guessing what people WANTED me to do and just looked at what felt right.  I sent them an RSVP thanking them for being so kind and thoughtful.  I told them that I thought they were beautiful people and was genuinely happy  that they were coming together to build a life.  I told them that I wished, so much, that Dan and I would have been able to join them in celebrating their love but that unfortunately it would just be too difficult for me to be there without him.

That's what it came down to.  Sitting there, amongst his friends, in a room filled with love and laughter - knowing he was meant to be by my side, holding my hand was just too much.  It wasn't a place that I belonged without him.  It's a celebration that I would have loved to attend as Dan's wife.  But just couldn't bring myself to go as his widow.







Thursday, September 25, 2014

Rebirth on my Birthday

It is 12:40 a.m. east coast time, on Friday, September 26th, and I am writing this blog piece from the Marriott hotel in downtown Toronto, Canada. I am here for Camp Widow, getting set to give my comedy presentation for the 5th time in a row. Sitting in the lobby where the Wi-fi is free on my laptop, exhausted after an almost 12 hour train ride from NYC into Toronto, followed by a lovely dinner at the Old Spaghetti Factory with some of my widowed friends. And then, of course, in classic Kelley fashion - I was just about to snuggle up under my covers in the comfy Marriott bed, when I suddenly out of nowhere remembered: "SHIT!!! I HAVE TO WRITE THE BLOG!!!" So, down the elevator I went, to the Wi-fi hot spot area in the lobby, and here I sit, with no real idea what to say.

Did I mention that today is my birthday? Yup. I am now 43 years old. I was widowed at 39, just 3 months before my 40th birthday. Never in a million years would I have imagined on that 40th birthday, that I would be sitting here, in Canada, my first time ever, writing this blog. When I turned 40 without Don, it felt like I was being stabbed and beaten up. I had no desire to celebrate, and the very idea of being happy about having more life granted to me when my wonderful husband didn't get that choice ever again, made me feel sick to my stomach. It's been a long 3 years, and I have come a long way. Along with the gorgeous crisp fall air that has always been my favorite, I feel a return to excitement again. I am excited about this birthday. I am happy to be in Toronto, making people laugh through their pain and helping them to heal while also helping myself. I am anxious for things to come and people to meet. The thought of more new friends excites me, and the idea of still not knowing where my life will end up terrifies and wakes me up all at once.

When I turned 40, I felt like I had died. Now, at 43, I feel like I am somehow born again. Or, at the very least, slowly on the road to there. My husband is always on my mind and in my heart. That will never change. I miss him severely. Sometimes the pain is still so heavy, and sometimes I still feel like the intensity of that pain is too much to handle. But other times, the volume on that pain is turned down, and I am able to turn up the joy and the laughter and the newness and freshness of life. I wish I could explain to you, or to me, how I got here, to this place of more tranquility and calm. I don't quite know, but I know I cannot give you directions. You have to find it yourself. I know it was a lot of hard work, and I know I am nowhere near finished with that hard work. This is not a finish line by any means. No. It is a milestone. It is the day that my life was rebirthed to me, because I worked hard through the awful grief to make it so. And dammit, it's about time I gave myself some credit for that.

This is not the life I wanted, but it is the life I built and created, from the ashes and the pain and the death. I may never be a mother, but I have created life. My life. Somebody give me some goddamn cake already. It's time to blow out the candles and work my dreams into existence.

Counting Time



Today is 19 months and one week since Mike died. 

How long am I going to count like this? Forever? Is this just the widowed way to measure time? I seem unable to think about it any other way, and I have yet to hear any other widow's experience being any different. So many of my conversations these days start with either when Mike was alive... or since Mike died... I guess there's a third one too: before I met Mike... Is it like being in some treatment program where people say it's been thus-and-so long since my last drink...?

No matter what other things I have in my life now, everything still relates back to him, my marriage, the life we shared and the life I find myself in now, without him. It all still revolves around my lost life, like there was a before, and now an after. If I were to start my own calendar, the day Mike died would be day zero, and I would now be in the eighth month of year two. I sometimes have to stop and think that we are actually in the year 2014, headed for 2015; time flies by and we get older and we do sometimes even forget how old we are, for a moment, now and then. But how long Mike has been gone? Always right there in the front of my brain. Like there is a clock now etched on my forehead, counting from  a moment that Sunday morning February before last when I found him. The moment everything changed for me forever.

Most of the people around me are probably not aware of exactly how much time has gone by. Of course a few people are  - his daughters, and a few other family and friends who were very close to him. But most people have long since gone back to their own lives, perhaps counting time in ways that are meaningful to their own experiences.

But for me, the life I knew died when he died, and the days, weeks and months I've been here since then are part of a brand new life. A shockingly strange, new reality that I must forge without the person I thought would be by my side for many more years. It's like living in another world; maybe, another dimension of time. When he died, reality seemed to fork off somehow. I can't figure any way else to explain the feeling. I sometimes wonder if there is another time line in which he didn't die that day, and we are still together...

I consider myself fortunate that I can say though, now, it's not all been horrible...I do have much to be grateful for, I know, and I am working hard to envision what this future will become for me. But it's not easy. Some days are pure torture. And the tears still come. But others have been, especially as this calendar continues to stretch forth, surprisingly ok too.

Either way, I carry him with me. The missing him, and for now anyway, the counting of the days doesn't seem like it will ever end.




Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Oh, yes, I'm Running~

Our younger son asked me recently, in reference to this full-time life on the road that I'm living, if I'm doing this as a way of running away from the pain and grief.

It's a legitimate question and something I've pondered over the last 9 months.  He and I spoke frankly about the possibility and I was able to reassure him that it isn't the case.

If only.

For me, running away from this grief would consist of renting an apartment somewhere and staying put.  Just from the short times that I've stayed with family as I've traveled this Odyssey of Love, I know that what would easily happen if I rented a place is that I'd zone out into a routine and it would be no time at all before I'd sleep later and later, covers over my head.  If I didn't actually end up under the bed.  Hiding indeed.

Living on the road as I am, I'm very much driving headlong into my grief.  Over the 4 years that Chuck and I adventured together, living full-time on the road, though in a different way than I'm doing, we covered all the lower 48 states, driving the back roads, visiting monuments, National Parks, landmarks-you name it.  I don't even remember all the roads we drove or places we stopped; Chuck was the rememberer for us.  Now that I'm the pilot I never know when I'll suddenly remember oh we were here! and the deluge of emotions hit me.  It can be as simple as a roadside picnic table or as big as one of the places he asked me to revisit to scatter his cremains.  And it can be as simple as fueling the car; he was always the one to do that.  It can be me driving; he did all the driving.  In huge and small ways I'm reminded on a minute by minute basis that he is gone and I'm still here and without him and every instance sends shards of glass through my heart.

No, there's no hiding from this grief.  Not that I'd want to; I've always been the sort of person to face things straight on, no matter what.  Chuck knew that and I believe that's why he set me on this road.  Furthermore, I believe that he intentionally mentioned only 4 places to revisit.  Crazy Horse in South Dakota was the last place.  From that point to this, and further as I continue on, his intent was for me to keep my heart open, not only so that I'll know where else I need to scatter his cremains, but, in so doing, find my new life without him.  There is now a twofold purpose to my travels.

Grief. Sadness. Love.  Magic.  Heart open.  And somewhere, somewhere, a new life for me.  Whether I want it or not matters not.  I'm still alive.  Left behind but still alive and Chuck set me on this course to help me figure it out.

I'm running alright.  Running towards though, not from.  Running towards, carrying his love for me, with me.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

All to Myself




Right from a young age, Ian encouraged co-sleeping  with John.  Ian always wanted him close.  It was a habit I personally wasn't keen on, but let it slide.  Once they were both asleep (like in this photo), I'd take Ian's glasses off, and move John to his crib.

Since it was the easiest way to calm John, I maintained that habit once Ian got sick and John and I spent the first few weeks of his illness camped out at my parents place.

And it continued once we came home.  If I'm exhausted and John's not going to sleep, if he's in with me he drops off more quickly than left on his own.

But in the last few nights, he's moved himself to falling asleep in his own bed, without necessarily needing me cuddling him like his dad did, and staying there for most of the night.

And now I'm having to adjust to having the bed all to myself, and not having someone to cuddle, or at least reach out to.

Alone.  Consistently.  For the first time since Ian got sick two and a half years ago.

In some ways I'm very much aware of Ian's absence.

In other ways I'm enjoying the space the absence of a small person who seems to take up much more room than his father ever did has given me.  And not getting kicked, punched, rolled on, shoved to the edge of the bed, having my pillow stolen, or woken up by a sleep talking child having in depth conversations with whoever (another trait he's inherited from his dad).

And I'm not sharing my bed with a whole heap of toys that either hurt or make noise if you roll on them or knock them and freak you out at three o'clock in the morning - Buzz, Spiderman, a 2-foot long fire truck, toy cars, blocks etc etc etc.  Because I'm 3 - I HAVE to have all my friends with me!

I guess it's one of those rolling changes you just have to get used to.

That's my side of the bed, my pillow, awkward sleeping position,
the undercarriage of said fire truck, and a water bottle at the close of his 2nd birthday.



Monday, September 22, 2014

Phobia



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Before he died, Dave had to be hospitalized a couple times. Once for an attack of pancreatitis and once for a strange flu-like illness that kept him very ill for over 2 weeks.

Each incidence, separated by years, brought about my complete unhinging. Just the thought of Dave having an illness serious enough to send him to urgent care several times, or the ER, or god-forbid, be hospitalized, would cause me anxiety. I suffered panic attacks both times and  was nearly as ill as he was, except my illness was mental. I was crawl-up-the-walls, hysterical, uncontrollable, can't-eat, can't-sleep, lose control of my bodily functions scared.

It was such a primal fear and other than my previous traumas, I could never quite explain it. I was too fearful to be very supportive of Dave, and that sent me to therapy specifically to try to conquer this phobia of mine. It was a phobia, after all. Fear when your loved one is sick is normal. This was an unhinging of the most spectacular variety. At one point, the thought of admitting myself to the psych ward sounded soothing.

His final hospitalization sent me over the edge. I couldn't even drive near that hospital without a full panic attack until months after he died and that was under great duress. I moved away, in part, so I'd never have to see that hospital again.

After he died, I wondered how I'd handle another partner's illnesses if I happened to find love again.
Last week, I was able to find out.

Dirk had been having some symptoms that finally sent him to urgent care Friday evening. Okay, I sent him to urgent care to make sure his heart was okay.

 I watched myself in a slightly detached way as we drove there and sat in the waiting room, wondering if the panic would set in, wondering if my body would shut down like it had in the past.

Other than a few moments of my heart rate spiking slightly as the doctor took his blood pressure, I felt okay. Stable. I was able to joke around with Dirk while we waited for the doctor.

I listened to and watched the nurse and doctor raptly, taking in every detail. Heart rate? Normal. Blood pressure? Normal. I asked questions to clarify and I felt on top of things. And he's okay. There seems to be nothing seriously wrong with him and no major lingering worries about his overall health.

I'm so grateful for that and I'm so grateful to have made it through without a panic attack.

Dirk's symptoms weren't as worrisome as Dave's ever were and his diagnosis was not scary at all. Had that evening turned out differently, with a diagnosis of something more scary or violent symptoms of some kind, I'm sure the panic would have set in, though there's no way to know for sure.

But maybe not. Maybe instead of phobic, now I would have a more reasonable fear reaction to a serious illness. One that doesn't take over my whole body and leave me needing hospitalization almost as much as my sick partner.

If so, was the worst happening the key to breaking the fear cycle? I was faced with my biggest fear and survived it, so now it's simply not that scary anymore? Or was my fear back then with Dave because I knew somehow, on some level, that an illness would take him from me eventually?

It doesn't really matter. I just hope I don't have to find out for sure anytime soon. I want to stay out of hospitals for a very long time.

But, maybe, if I have to go near one again, I'll be able to be more supportive and less trapped in my own horrible panic. That would be nice.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Embracing the After Birthdays

Birthdays. It's one of the hardest parts. My first birthday in this afterlife was just three months after my fiancé died. I didn't even want to think about my birthday much less have one. We had decided to go to the Grand Canyon that year for my birthday, since I had never been to a national park. Refusing to spend my 30th birthday in bed, I decided to take the trip anyway. So in late September, his mother and I hopped on a plane and headed for Arizona. It felt like exactly the right place to be, and the exact right person to be there with. On the morning of my birth, there we stood, silently overlooking the canyon… both feeling a connection to this deep wound in the earth because of our own deep wounds of loss.

That year, I didn't want to see anyone or speak to anyone on my birthday. I didn't want my friends or my family. I didn't want to gifts or cards or balloons or a party. With the exception of his mother, I wanted nothing more than to be totally cut off from my life and to just sit silently with my heart. So the canyon proved to be the perfect location for that… after all there isn't even any cellphone reception in the park.

Last year, I had a small party with only a few very close friends and my fiancé's family. It was a small step towards re-entering life… towards being able to allow joy in again. Of course it was also full of a lot of sadness and weeks of dread leading up to the day. I was worried constantly about how dreadful the day was going to be. How painful it was going to be. If I was going to have a total breakdown. If I was even going to be able to get out of bed. But all in all, the day was filled with love, and a small party of those who matter to me most.

This year however is what I think I will always look back on as the birthday of re-entering life. I had plans for this weekend again with my close friends and family as last year, but then I did something else. Something BIG. At the last minute, I invited a bunch of friends from the gym to come out for dinner and drinks last night. There's a few reasons this was such a big deal. Firstly, because none of us have yet to hang out outside of the gym, so there was a big risk no one would even show up. But more importantly, these are really some of the first new friends I have made since he died, due to the fact that I left Dallas very soon after he died. Yup. NEW people. AFTER people.

You all know how scary and difficult and stressful that transition into letting new people into your world is. They didn't know our person - and we don't quite know how to fit these two worlds together. But, I took a deep breath, and sent out the invite, trusted that it would work out for the best.

The last reason - and biggest reason - that this was a huge deal was the fact that I even WANTED to do it in the first place. That's right. I wanted to celebrate. I wanted to celebrate with new people and old. I wanted to finally open myself up to allowing the new world and the old world to collide a bit. I wanted to embrace joy fully. Holy cow… how did that happen?

Not only did a few people come out, but quite a few. Probably 8 or 10 people showed up, and we had such a fun night. Honestly more fun than I've probably had all year. And to my complete amazement - even despite having quite a few drinks in me - I did not ever get emotional. I stayed fully in my joy the entire night, and never did it even occur to me to actually get upset. By the morning, I was so shocked that I had been so busy having fun that I never had a moment to be sad.

There was something really beautiful about the fact that these people were brought into my life because of his death… because of my moving here right after he died. It made me realize that every step of letting the new joys of life in actually keeps him even closer to me. Somehow it seems to solidify his place in my life even more strongly. Somehow, it is still like he is right in the middle of all of it. And I'm slowly beginning to see that letting more of the new life in doesn't actually mean that any part of me is left behind, but that he comes with me as he brings new people into my world that never would have otherwise been part of it. I'm definitely marking this birthday as a pivotal one in my new life.

Waiting for the Crash



So last week I put it out there that I’d been feeling happy and ‘doing ok’.  I seriously didn’t realise how scary that would feel, as if I was tempting the universe.  As the weekend came and went, I found myself full of anticipation and it took a while to work out what I was waiting for.   Then I realised, I was waiting for the crash. 

I know it’s coming.  It may not be today, or this week, or even for another couple of weeks, but I know for a fact that it will come again and I’ll feel foolish for my cockiness.  I know this, because there’s a proven track record.  The grief always seems to build and build and then surge into a wave that drags me under again.  Sometimes it’s dramatic and I find myself mid-meltdown in public, scrambling for a safe place to take cover while I try to keep my head above the tidal wave.  Other times it sneaks up on my when I’m not looking – I’ll wake up one morning and it’s back, just smothering me in its heavy cloak of misery.   

Gee, what a pessimist, huh!?  Here I am feeling pretty good, but rather than just soaking it up, I’m fighting this internal dialogue: ‘Hey lady, who do you think you are!  Don’t you remember that your husband died!?  HELLOOOOO!!  Who are you kidding, pretending that you’re not only coping – but actually finding some enjoyment in this world?  Pfft, good luck with that, enjoy your DENIAL, fool!’  Yeah, my niggling negative voice is harsh.

There it is… denial.  That’s what I’m worried about.  Am I really doing ok at the moment or am I just in a temporary state of denial where I’m subconsciously pretending that Dan isn’t really dead, he’s just gone away for a while.  Is it possible that I’ve just blocked out the horror of his suicide because it’s just too painful to deal with?  Maybe I’m not actually taking steps forward by feeling happy in my life, but rather, I’m regressing into a shock-like state where my brain is just having a holiday from the trauma? 

How exhausting it is to be constantly questioning and judging myself. When did I lost my confidence in my ability to know my own heart?  Why can't I just trust myself?  I think a big part of it is that I didn’t see Dan’s death coming.  I was so happy in my newly-wed glow, so secure in our love, so excited for our future together, so confident that Dan’s treatment was on the right track, so sure that he’d talk to me if he didn’t feel ok.  Now I look at that person and just think – you were so naive.  It’s always there – I missed the signs, I let him down, I failed him.  Will I ever trust myself again?  Will I ever let myself off the hook for not seeing how much he was struggling
  
I really hope so.  I know it’s not my fault and I didn’t cause his death, but I can’t imagine ever not wishing that I’d been able to save him. I will miss him forever.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Seasons

The change in the air from humid to crisp, warm to slightly cool - puts a loud ringing bell on your death - as I ready myself for my birthday, then your birthday, Halloween, our wedding anniversary, Thanksgiving, our proposal anniversary, Christmas, and then ringing in another new year without you.

This time of year filled with holidays and family and love and my favorite weather and atmosphere, leaves way for a big red button on your forever absence - a button I'm forced to push again and again and again, letting off sirens of being left here on Earth alone, without my person. A future without you still frightens me, as panic and anxiety curl their way back into my bed each night, grabbing the blankets and stealing my sleep.

I try hard to recall the earlier days of this grief, and to remind myself that there was a time I could not see anything except darkness and pain. A time when autumn leaves and sunsets and brightly lit moons and candy apples and fried dough with cinnamon-sugar, all felt and looked and tasted like grey and blackness and death to me - because you were dead, so I could no longer see the beauty in anything. Everything was blank.

It took almost 3 years to see the beauty again, and to look at the autumn leaves again and really notice them, and to care again, to really care instead of just pretending. Now, today, I see the colors. I feel the rain. I taste the sweet cold ice-cream.

I feel your presence with every bite. I hear your voice faintly, in the silence of my own. I see your blue eyes, inside the pale sky. You are everywhere.

But I am selfish. It isn't enough for me. I want more.

You are everywhere, but you are also nowhere.

You are not here, curling your way into our bed each night, grabbing the blankets and stealing my sleep.

And the air changes from humid to crisp,
crisp to cold,
and the frost takes shape on the windows.
And with every biting, winter breath,
Oh, how I miss you.

I miss you.
I miss you.
I miss you.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Whispers of Ghosts



St. Michaels Street, Oxford 


I'm going to die.

Someday, yes, I'm going to die.

I didn't think much about death before Mike died; probably, many of us never do, until or unless we're hit with that horrific reality of losing someone so close to us.

Now, it seems to be constantly on my mind. The trying to make sense of the reality that he is really gone forever...and that someday, I will join him. Because...

We. Are. All. Going. To. Die.

On one of my recent posts one of the comments was about how our ancestors, living in times before modern medicine and the longer life spans we now enjoy, were likely faced with death so much more than we are. I thought of that myself often on my recent trip abroad, visiting places that contained remnants of human habitation so many more hundreds and thousands of years before we have record here in the US.

Dilapidated castles, old inns and pubs, ancient throughways, towns and cities.

It was as if I could hear the whispers of ghosts; if I was quiet and listened, I could imagine the people, their movements, their lives, their loves and losses and all the things they experienced so long ago. 

They are all gone now, as I will be too one day. As Mike is, already. He is now part of that crowd on the other side, who lived and died; who were present, and are now gone. Millions and billions of them.

All sorts of thoughts and feelings crowd my mind. Panic that I have a limited time left in my own life. Resignation that I will grow older every day and can't stop it. Gratitude that I've had this life to live. Hope that I will find pathways to new ways to enjoy and savor what I have left. And sometimes, the feeling that it's all for naught. No matter what we do we are going to die anyway, so what's the use?

But, I'm more positive than negative. I feel blessed that I have that natural mindset. And I do believe we each have purpose, if we truly look for it. So even though every day I battle the what's-the-use thoughts, I do also make that effort to get up and out, keep writing, playing, working, helping, sharing, living, laughing, crying...loving.

Life is a collection of memories, until we are dust, and someone else's memories...until, perhaps, it is we who are whispering from beyond. I guess I will make room in my scrapbook for a few more pages, until that time, for better or for worse.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Without-ness~

This is what I wonder.  And I wonder this even though my career was in grief support and I led groups and replied to this very same wondering from so many people who graced my groups.

Will I ever feel engaged in life again?  Will I ever find passion for life again?  And energy?  Will I ever not feel that I am living without him and therefore I just don't really care about life?  Will I ever care that I have a future and not cringe from even thinking about that future because what it means is that I have a long life to live without him?

I know, I know, I know, that there is no time frame for grieving.  There are so many variables to it for each person.  But I'm so exhausted.  So very exhausted.  Living without him takes every bit of energy I ever thought I had in my body.

In every way I can I've gotten out into the world.  I put myself in every situation I can daily, pushing myself to engage with people.  I talk about my grief, I join in fun activities, my heart is open to possibilities.  But none of it is anything more than an intellectual exercise for me.  None of it seems to get into my body and soul.  No matter what it is, who it is, I feel detached, an observer.

This is so very different for me, to be this way.  I've always been passionate about life, about my life, about new experiences.  Since Chuck died, all I feel is pain and grief.  Its' been 17 months as of tomorrow and I feel like I'm drifting further and further away from myself and those around me.  That part of me isn't visible to most people, I suppose.  On the outside it looks like I'm fully functioning.  I'm not hiding my grief, necessarily; it's just that you have to get up and function each day, right?  And I do.  For god's sake, I'm on my 3rd cross-country trek.  I've met hundreds of people along the way and talked with them and gotten and given hugs and written about my grief here and other places and sought out new life experiences and welcomed all of them.  And with all of it I remain empty inside.  The numbness that envelops my insides and my heart is exceeded only by the grief that swings in rhythm with it.

There's no self-pity attached to this.  Just plain and simple.  The grief snags and shreds its' way through me on a daily basis while I go about life.  This isn't my first experience with grief by any means.  But it's the most devastating grief I've ever experienced.

Being left behind sucks the big one.




Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Street Appeal



Spring has sprung here, and it's glorious getting outside, enjoying the sunshine and melting off the cobwebs.  Particularly since all my anniversaries fall over the middle of winter and I coop myself up more than ever over the grey season.

After I joined the ranks, some of my before interests didn't satisfy me, didn't provide the enjoyment they had before.  Interests just got left alone.  However I'm finding each passing season I'm more and more able to tap back into what gives me joy, brings me peace and feeds my soul.

I've always enjoyed gardening, getting my hands in the soil and connecting to the earth.  It's one of those things that feed my soul.  But it is an interest that got left alone, leaving parts of my front and back gardens to get over run with weeds and become unkempt.  There's been the occasional spurt of activity, but not the level there was before.

It's a bit like how I've presented myself to the outside world in my after - I've not been interested in how I present myself (not that I particularly cared before, either), and my insides, both physically and emotionally, were a bit of a mess.

In the last couple of weeks I've been getting great satisfaction ripping out some of my ornamental plants in the back garden (taking to a mass of clumping reeds/grass with a mattock is a great stress relief!!) and spent the weekend planting a variety of veg, in addition to the berries and herbs and perennial veg that I already had in place from earlier in the year.  In warmer weather, I love heading out first thing with my cup of coffee and seeing how much plants have grown (or how much is left after the bugs have chomped away at my poor little seedlings - but I don't so much love that bit).  This is

Part of this is based in acceptance that John and I will be in this house for a while - Ian and I had plans to move for lifestyle and school options, but since I'm in the fortunate position that the house is paid off and John's schooling is settled, I'm nuts to be thinking of moving in the near future.   If I did, it would be for a bigger yard so I could plant an orchard and potentially have chooks.

So the back yard is back on track, looking neater and I feel like it's doing something.  I've been slowly getting my physical health back in shape and have been working with a counsellor on my grief experience too.

But the street appeal - my front yard and outward physical care/appearance probably needs work.  

I'm sure the neighbours are sick of the weeds and plants running rampant from lack of attention, and the weeds are going to seed, which will only result in more work in the future.  Personally, moving back into wearing ever so slightly more stylish clothes may be on the cards.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Cinema Therapy

source

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
possibility

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'.