Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Could This Be "Widda Brain" ....

                                                                         picture from here

.... or am I just a moron?

I'd like to think it's Widda Brain.
But how long can I claim that?

I mean, my life is forever changed because I've been widowed .... it will never be the same.  Ever.
So .... I should be able to claim "incapacitation due to Widda Brain".
It should be an accepted medical term.
I wonder if it's an accepted mental health term?

Anyway .... I'll tell you what happened (I can NOT believe I'm telling you what happened!).

I had sinus surgery in December.
Since then I've had to "rinse out my sinuses"on a daily basis.
Yes, that does bring to mind horrifying pictures, I know.
Try having to do it.
It's a bit like trying to intentionally drown yourself, which goes against every fiber of your being.
So does drowning your sinuses with so much water that it pours out of your nose.  In one nostril and out the other.
Without going up past your sinuses.  Into your brain.

I've been ordered to do this daily, several times a day.
It's become easier and easier and it really does make one's sinuses feel better.

So last week I took this thing:

why, yes .... it does look like some sort of medieval torture device, doesn't t?

You fill that thing up with the water and stuff that you're supposed to spray up (and out) your nose.
I filled the first nostril.
And I instantly felt a burning, searing pain in my head.
No kidding, I thought I was dying.  I didn't know what was going on.
I hadn't rinsed in several days so I thought maybe I had to get used to it all over again (or was paying the price for not doing it).
Funny thing though, I don't remember feeling like a psychopath was inside my brain with a machete the first time I tried it.  But I guess I forgot about that.

Kind of like how one forgets about the pain of labor until she gets ready to have that second kid.
Which would explain why I have 6.
I didn't forget after 6.

But I digress.
So ..... I shook my head around, yes, kind of like a dog when you spray water up its nose, or in its ears ... or just at it.
And then I thought, "Now I have to do the other nostril."
I thought maybe this whole brain-killing event was just a fluke.  There's no way it would happen again.

I shot the water up the other nostril and the pain was worse that time.  I fell to my knees and grabbed my head.  I just knew that I must've irritated some brain aneurysim and it was now exploding in my brain.
Death was imminent.

Not so much.
It took me about 2 seconds to realize what had happened.
I had put 8 ounces of distilled water into the bottle and then screwed the lid on tightly.
Then I sprayed it up my nose.
Only .... and this is a BIG only .... I had left out one crucial step:  I had failed to add the packet of powdered saline rinse to the water.
The powdered rinse neutralizes the water and turns it a fluid that soothes and clears out your sinuses.
Distilled water, all by itself, burns the hell out of your brain.
Trust me.
And never try this at home.

So yes, I did this.
Not just once .... but twice.
How much more moronic can you get?!

Why do I tell you .... ALL of you .... this story?

Two reason, really.
First, to show you that we can have humor on this blog .... even in our grief and our "after".

And two, to prove that grief causes a person to lose her/his memory, forget words she's/he's recently uttered .... forget whole conversations that supposedly have occured.  "Widda brain".

But I'm sure you all know that.  In fact, you've probably experienced that.
But do you know what else grief can trigger?
(Here's where the humor takes a break.)

The stress of grieving a loved one can trigger:
1. Anxiety
2. Depression (duh!)
3. Bronchitis
4. Nausea
5. Intestinal cramps and problems
6. Headaches/Migraines
7. Rheumatoid arthritis
8.  Asthma
9.  Crohn's Disease
10. High blood pressure
11. Irregular heartbeat
12. Heart disease
13. Compromised immune system
14. Cancer

These are some of the things I've discovered that grief can trigger.  There seem to be a lot more out there.
And I know that I've experienced many of them.

I know that my body changed chemically after Jim died.  And since then it's been one thing after another.
The stress of grieving is a real thing.
A real physical thing.

So take good care of your body.
Try to listen to it when it complains.
Like you, it's been through a lot.
And it has to keep working right.
For you. For your kids/the people who love you.

But try not to freak out when you can't remember things.
Because grief definitely gives you "Widda Brain".

And yes, that's my excuse.
Even after 4 years.

Because I sincerely hope that I have not chemically been turned into a moron.
The good news?  I probably won't remember this happened in a month.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Two years

reflections on 365 Project
March 1 will mark 2 years since my beautiful life ended.

The life I loved.
The life where my best friend did everything with me.
The life where beautiful things were abundant and not edged with sadness.
The life where I felt safe and loved and content and happy.

Two years since that awful day.

Last year, there were lots of people around me on that day, but this year I know I want it to be just us so we can acknowledge it fully: crying when we need to cry, saying what we need to say and doing what we need to do.
After all, grief has to be acknowledged and lived and I can't do that when ten people are willing me not to cry (when I have every right to).

So this week, I shall wallow in the grief.
I shall acknowledge it, live it, and weep for the life I wanted for my family.
I will take that day off work and spend it with my children.
We will talk about Greg.
We will share our memories and look at old photos.
We will visit his grave - the kids will see it for the first time since the funeral.

...and we will grieve.


Then, we will pick ourselves back up and continue onwards into this different life.
This life that has replaced the beautiful one.

and we'll do it together.
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Monday, February 27, 2012


I spent the morning yesterday hiking alone in Forest Park. I started at Hoyt Arboretum which has acres of trails lined with groupings of tree plantings. I walked through hemlock, fir and oak groves and eventually came to the redwood and sequoia forest. The light barely filtered through the canopy and the giant red trunks seemed to muffle sound.

 I walked out onto a newly built overlook, wrapped around the bases of some of the giants and tried to crane my neck back far enough to see the tops of the trees but finally had to lie on my back on the damp planks to see the canopy. Being surrounded by these ancient living things felt holy.

After taking a few pictures I got up and brushed the needles from the back of me. It was then that I noticed the memorial plaques on the benches around me.

I began to read them. Some were simple and just listed the names of lost loved ones. Some included quotes. I read each one, photographed the ones that seemed to speak directly to me and then pressed my hand against the cork-like bark of a redwood. Something too big for my heart to hold surged up inside of me. The pain of loss, and the knowledge of so many loved ones missing from our lives. The fact that these giant trees have been witnessing hundreds of years of humans living, dying, fighting, loving. The reminder that Dave was missing out on this hike.

My eyes spilled over and I heaved a huge sigh. Spring is coming, I thought, and Dave won't witness it. If he'd been on that hike with me, we'd have discussed the Indian Plum I saw all around me, sending the season's first tiny green leaves up to the dim light of the forest. We'd have commented on the beauty of the pileated woodpecker I saw fly to the top of a giant Douglas Fir. We'd have watched in silence as a Douglas Squirrel climbed over the branch arching above me to watch me as he twitched his tail, nervously.

We, we, we. The loneliness of no longer being a we stabbed at me. The thought Why is it so hard for me to be alone? kept playing and replaying in my mind. The answer came, in my own deep inner voice that sounds like a patient teacher...because you never have been before.

I had 15 years of Dave wanting to spend every hour of every day with me. How do you get used to the end of that when it happens so suddenly? I believe I can adapt and adjust to just about anything. But this? This is going to take a long time. Maybe I'll never get used to it. Maybe we aren't meant to be alone for too long. Maybe it's written into our genetic code to find a mate.

But, despite that, I wonder if this is a test. In order to learn from this terrible loss, I have to learn to be alone. I think the key to this is to learn to love myself and that is where my lesson really lies. The ability to love myself. That might just be my entire life's lesson.

As I left the redwoods for the light of the deciduous groves beyond it, I wondered if I'd ever be able to. Now, as I type this, I think of Dave telling me a thousand times how he could never understand why I didn't see in me what he could see. Why do I doubt myself more than anyone else, even when the proof that I shouldn't be doubted exists? I still don't know. But I suppose, in his death, he's going to get me to see, once and for all, what he could see.

Why isn't it enough for me to witness the beauty of those redwoods all alone? Because half of me is gone and I'm growing a new half. Not to replace Dave, but to be whole again.

Maybe one day, I'll be able to go back to that redwood grove (or anywhere) and feel as though my own company is all I need to feel whole.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Dog Eat Dog World

Who do I complain to about the discrepancy of dog years compared to human years?  I want to know the person in charge who came up with the math of 7 years of a dog’s life is equal to 1 year of a human’s life.  I’m confused by acceleration of dog time; I’ve watched a dog for an entire day.  He gets up, goes outside to the bathroom – without the hassle of flushing - comes back in, heads to the water bowl to lap up a few drops of refreshing H2O, walks around the kitchen eating droplets of food that fell to the floor, saunters over to the living room – tail wags slowly the entire time, rubbing it in my face his constant state of bliss – circles around a few times before he collapses on the same spot he was before his excursion, and then takes another nap -  a nap, by the way, for which he doesn’t have to wake up for any appointments.  So, you may ask yourself, when does this dog get up again? Whenever he damn well pleases, that’s when.  And when he does wake up from his 100th nap of the day, he gives a big sprawling stretch, and then - to add icing on the cake in case life wasn’t great enough – begins to lick himself.  So 365 days of this routine is equal to 7 years?!

What about my days?   I get up early, get three kids ready for school, rush off to work – everyday I’m one gapers delay from being late – work until after dinner, drive  home, go over the kids homework, do laundry, clean the house, eat dinner, put them to bed, and then I go to bed - without the ability of licking myself.  And 365 days of this is equal to 1 year?

I want new math for the widow/widowers of the world.  One year of our life should at least be 1.78 years.  That will be our base number.  From there we can begin computing all the extra time figures: an additional .49 years per child, a full-time job is .73,   for every time someone has said to you, “At least you weren't married long, there aren't as many memories”, go ahead and pile on another .31 years to your age.  Then another .58 for every family gathering you went to where they completely ignored your spouse even existed,  .36 for every movie you had to sit through where the spouse dies,  .41 for every friend who stopped calling you, and .27 for every in-law you had to comfort while you were grieving.

We can start calculating the new math from the age we are when our spouse dies.  In my case, my wife died when I was 38 years-old and I just turned 42.  So when I am walking down the street, I want to walk by a bus stop and hear strangers say:
Person 1: “Hey isn’t that Matt Croke?  I think today is his birthday.”
Person 2: “It is.  I heard he is 42 today.”
Person 1: “Wow, that’s 47.36 in widow years.”
Person 2: “How did you get .36 at the end?”
Person 1: “He took his kids to see “Up” and nobody told him in advance that the wife dies in the first 20 minutes of the movie.”
Person 2: “What is Disney’s problem with all the adult-dying themes they do?  That had to suck to watch.”
Person 1: “Yep, had tears coming down his face right there in the theater with his kids sitting next to him.”
Person 2: “Boy, it sure is a dog eat dog world.”

Saturday, February 25, 2012


May will mark the 1 year anniversary of my beloved Charlie's death.

It still feels like I was just walking through the airport terminal getting the call from the oncologist. Yesterday, that he was fighting for his life and my soul and heart. Yesterday, that I laid with him at the fireplace and felt his last breath pass by my cheek.

Just like Michael, the gaping hole will never be filled where Charlie's life and love still lay, but the past few months I've felt that it may be time to find Maximus a new friend, a new brother. Not only that, I felt that I was ready for the possibility for there to be another fur-monster in our family.

I looked online, found doggies that peaked my interest. I went to meet and greets and even had one dog spend the weekend with Maximus and I.

When he was here, I felt disheartened. He was a good dog, but my heart wasn't in it, and Max seemed more depressed than ever.

I then headed to Paris, and while there saw all of this squatty, terrier type dogs and when I returned home, found myself on the same place I found Maximus...Craigslist.

There was still a fire in my heart that this was possible.

Then I saw him...this furry, white, westie with a smile.

I emailed, got a response, and 5 hours later was meeting him.

He jumped right into my lap and started kissing me.

I knew Charlie wouldn't have killed him immediately and I knew that he'd keep Max on his paws. I knew he was right. My heart felt like it was smiling.

So it's been 3 full days with my white stallion, that I can't quite figure a name out for (that was always Michael's job...or mine and then Michael's to come up with a more sane one), and I'm glad I listened to the call my heart was making.

It's bittersweet, in knowing that the Charlie, Michael, and Maximus family is growing, but more sweet than anything.

Opening up our hearts to experiences, new friends, new additions to our always scary. But if we listen to, and allow the new things to not take place of or fill the gap...I think everything comes together...we realize that the heart still bears its scars and holes, but it can always stretch just a little bit more.

"A person's world is only as big as their heart"
-Tanya A. Moore

Friday, February 24, 2012


The other day while talking to a very caring friend, I mumbled, “Oh, boy, I can feel it coming.” My friend responded, “What does it feel like?” I laughed out loud because of the inherent insanity of describing something that has been so ever-present in my life to someone who has been blissfully untouched by such pain. Yet, my friend was insistent that I not dismiss her query and instead summon up an analogy to help her understand; to understand was to know me better. But it’s hard to describe deep feelings, especially feelings that we have so little experience with, around, or in. “Pish, posh”, she said. “Of all the people I know, you are the best at describing your feelings. So get to it.” I laughed. And then here’s what I said.

Imagine waking up abruptly trapped inside a small, rubber balloon. The cold rubber is like water, touching every part of your body, suffocating you. As you push your arm out, the stretchy material wraps tightly around your arm and resists your every effort to move. Every ounce of energy you use to squirm and fight, the balloon absorbs. Like a black hole, it takes everything you can throw at it and still wraps tightly around your body, suffocating you. You can’t breath. Life, it seems, is over.

Eventually, you notice that the rubber seems to be giving a slightly and it’s not quite as clingy as it once was. A barely perceptible space between the rubber and your mouth gives you just enough room to breath. Inhale and the rubber pulls into your mouth. Exhale and the rubber protrudes out. Yet, somehow, you can breath.

Then you notice that the rubber isn’t quite sticking to your body quite so tightly. It’s still in your face and stuck to almost every part of your body but it’s not so stubborn as it was; there’re places where it’s not even touching your skin. The absence of rubber in those places feels weird. Confusingly, you kinda sorta miss the rubber rubbing against your skin. Where it used to touch, now you just feel cold, like the feeling of a new short haircut or the feeling of a t-shirt the first day of spring.

Time goes on and eventually the rubber isn’t touching you any where despite being completely surrounded, like a bubble. If you lift your arm or tilt your head, skin meets rubber and now, instead of feeling cold, the rubber hurts. It’s so much better to stand very carefully, make no contact, and avoid the pain. So you do. Until you can’t stand there, trapped, any longer. So you push.

Pushing hurts. But you push and push hard. You reach out your hands and push the parts of the rubber bubble. As your hands hit rubber, the feeling is familiar: cold, doughy, absorbing. But you push and push hard. Each push hurts; it’s been a long time since your body has moved this way. And it seems like each stretch of the bubble is tied to pain. Slowly, the bubble expands. After tremendous hard work, sweat and pain, the bubble is big enough for you to sit inside. So you sit. And you cry. You are tired and you hurt. Stretching the bubble hurts.

As more time passes you grow quite comfortable living inside the little bubble. It doesn’t hurt inside as long as you don’t touch and don’t stretch. You can stand and you can sit. But eventually, you realize that you can’t live inside this bubble forever. And so, once again, despite the memory of the pain from last time, you push. And you push hard. And, like last time, it hurts.

With every push, the bubble expands and each expansion is met with enormous pain. But with each expansion, the world you know gets a little bit bigger. After a few big pushes, you can even take a few steps. With a few more pushes, you can walk around. Eventually, you have enough space inside your little bubble to live a simple little secluded life. The pushing, despite how much it hurts, is working. You are growing a new life.

But you have felt the terror of being trapped, of life wasted, and life lost. Living inside a bubble is not a life you are willing to live. So you continue to push, pain and all. Every push hurts and is followed by a period of rest. But to not push is to not live. And so the cycle continues.

It’s been nearly three years for me. I’ve pushed and I’ve sat. I’ve sat inside my bubble and cried. I’ve fought hard and now my bubble is big enough for me to live my life, have new experiences, meet new people and even have a relationship. It’s unusual now for me to hit the rubber walls. But I still hit them, even after nearly three years. But I’ll keep pushing. Life is too precious to be kept trapped behind any kind of barrier. The pain of pushing is worth the reward. One day, maybe the bubble will break. More likely, I’ll just keep stretching that damn bubble until it’s so thin I can’t see it any more and it’s so big I never run into it. I won’t be free, but I’ll be pretty close.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

perspective driven purging

When we moved two years after Jeff died, I was forced to go through many of his things. At first, it truly saddened me. I stared at the mass of accumulated items that he had kept for sentimental reasons....sometimes I scratched my head. Sometimes I cried. Often times, I was furious. Why the hell did he keep this collection of bottle caps and an assortment of baseball caps from seemingly every godforsaken place he had ever visited. I was appalled by the amount of "life dandruff" he had accrued that had no meaning to anyone who would be left behind. This "stuff" certainly wouldn't have told a stranger anything interesting about Jeff aside from the fact that he liked hockey and drank a lot of beer. I told myself that he was a bit of a pack-rat and that I would never have so much "junk".

Last week a friend of mine dropped off a trunk of mine that had been stored in her basement since a move five years ago. We hadn't been able to fit it on the moving truck or in our little house (I can't totally remember why now) and had planned to retrieve it soon-ish. Life has gone on. Our son, Briar, was born. We have since moved twice. Jeff died. The trunk was essentially forgotten.

When my wonderful and funny friend dropped off the trunk, I was at work. She left a note saying, "Jeff was not the pack-rat. You were!" I scoffed thinking, "All the stuff in that trunk is IMPORTANT! She just doesn't know...." But then I took a look inside. Sweet love of all that is good and holy. I was a pack-rat. A bad one.

That night, I removed every item from that trunk. Sorted every letter, toy, item of clothing, and set of seagull wings (yes, sea gull wings. I don't get it either). What I found was a realization that not only had I changed over the years since Jeff's death but that my ideas of importance and sentimental significance have changed dramatically.

Since cursing and sorting Jeff's stuff and realizing that much of the "stuff" has no relevance to who he was and his journey as a least from a separate person's eyes, I realize that the majority of items I have retained over the years will have absolutely no significance to anyone after I die. It will be a pain in the heart and the ass to my family, children and friends to have to sort one-eyed dolls and broken clocks when I die. But the old journals and handwritten letters from friends were interesting and certainly chronicled my life and my being.

From now on, I will turf anything unimportant. A few letters, many photos and special cards can stay. Drawings from the kids and one or two special items can stay. But everything broken, unused, or forgotten for sometime will be sent to the secondhand store or the dump. I now know that just as Jeff left everything behind, I will as well. The detritus from his life is just stuff. And mine is too.

This week, I have let go of about 75% of the stuff in that trunk. And I feel better. Lighter. And more aware of what I will leave behind and the snapshot of the person it leaves.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

It Seems That I Am Overqualified ....

                                                     picture from here

... to grieve in the same way as most widows.  
According to certain people.

(Surprisingly enough, I wrote this post before I read Amanda's post from yesterday.  It seems we know some of the same people!  :)

This can be a touchy subject, so be prepared to feel "touchy".
It's about money.
Or the lack thereof.

Someone who reads my personal blog thinks I don't deserve to complain, feel sad, or write my honest feelings about my life, my challenges,  my need for a break from the "stuff" that keeps cropping up in my life ..... from my grief.
Of course, this person doesn't post with her/his own name, but hides behind the label "Anonymous".
Of course.

She writes that she is "offended" by my blog.
I wonder why she reads it?  

Anyway, it seems that there is a division in widowhood (according to her .... and I would bet it's a "her"):
1.  Widows who were lucky/blessed enough to have a husband who thought "what if" .... and prepared  financially for the event neither thought would happen

and ....

2.  Those who didn't.  

This person doesn't seem to think that I have the right to "grieve",  or complain about all of the crap that's happened in my life these last 4 years ..... because I get to "play tennis".
Because I don't have to have a full time job.  Yet.
And because my children are all healthy.

She has written, more than once, that there are other widows out there who are "much worse off" than me.
And she's right.  There certainly are.
I am so aware of those widows ..... that I have often written about how blessed I am.  I know it.  And I don't take that for granted.

But ..... to believe that widows who aren't struggling don't deserve to grieve as hard as those who aren't .....
is to be ignorant of what true grief is.
Lucky her.

I don't deserve to hurt, to be unhappy some days, to write about the negative things that have gone on for over 4 years ..... because I'm in group #1?

I don't deserve to feel overwhelmed on some days?
I don't deserve to feel that I need a break from:  only-parenting 2 teenage boys (and 4 "adults"), health issues that never seem to end (including cancer and surgery, R.A., depression, an almost 3 month-long bladder infection .... I won't continue to bore you with all of that crap), children who make wrong decisions, children who are struggling with their grief, being the sole care-taker of a home and cars, 
being the sole decision-maker for 7 people .... and most times just taking a wild guess, which goes horribly wrong?

I don't deserve to grieve openly and honestly because I have more money than some people?

How many of you have found that having money means that your heart didn't break when your loved one died?  Or that you "moved on" .... and sooner than most widows?
How many of you didn't feel like you wanted to die .... because you could pay your bills?
How many of you haven't struggled with your children's grief, with the fact that the person who was you, died that day, with loneliness, thoughtless comments, depression, health issues, sleepless nights, wondering if you'll die alone, wondering if something happened to you while you were alone in your home ... how long it would take for someone to find you ..... because your spouse bought life insurance?

How many of you have no worries about the future .... of ever being loved (or ever loving someone),  of witnessing all of the milestones of your children .... without their father .... because you live in a nice house?

And .... how many of you would give up every cent you have, every single possession ..... and live on the streets if that would bring your loved one back?

This is not the first time I've heard this judgement from someone.
But it still surprised me.
People can be so thoughtless.

Especially people who've never heard the phrase, "Money doesn't buy happiness."

They most likely haven't heard this one, either:  "All the money in the world cannot make up for becoming widowed".
Yes, I just made that one up.

And this one ......  "Money can't bring back a dead husband/wife".

But I guess, according to some people, money makes you overqualified to grieve.

I wish someone had informed me of that fact 4 years ago.


Tuesday, February 21, 2012


Photo from here

I can't believe she's staying in that big house. Surely she'd be better to move to something smaller without all those memories.

I can't believe she won't write in that journal I gave her. She should write her memories down. You'd think she owes Greg that much. (I do write them down ... but not to share in that journal).

Why isn't she dating? She's too choosy if you ask me. She should find someone new and get over it already.

Did she just say she'd put her name on a dating site? Goodness me! Greg's not even been dead for 2 years. You'd think she'd show some respect.

She is too boring. She needs to lighten up a little and go out and have some fun.

I can't believe she left her kids with her parents so she could go out and party with her friends. She should put her kids first.

and my very favourite:

Greg would have wanted her to.....

Sound familiar?
Don't we all hate it when other people make judgements on our decisions when they don't understand the particular circumstances that lead us to those decisions?

Yet we all make them.....

That guy who cut you off in traffic - well he's an idiot who doesn't value his life.

That needy friend - well she doesn't have to deal with half of what I'm dealing with. Who is she to complain?

I've made them about other people and I'm not proud of that, but I usually try keep mine in my head and remember that it's not my place to judge someone else's life choices and decisions and point them out to everyone at every opportunity.

When a beautiful-but-troubled celebrity died this week, I was gobsmacked at the judgements on her lifestyle that flowed quick and fast. Assumptions were made about her death when we well know .... the coroner wouldn't have even had a chance to establish a cause of death at that time. People forgot (or chose to ignore) that she was just a person underneath all the fame. A person subject to the same faults as the rest of us.

Nobody is perfect.


We are all fighting our own battles, doing the best we can on what we've got.

....and I'm going to try and remember that the next time a judgement about someone else's life choices reaches my lips.

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