Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Will the Moon and the Stars Answer Me?

Even while I'm engaged in various activities, my mind's eye, my heart's eye, is searching for something that will ring a bell of recognition within me.  Something that will make my heart say oh, that's what I've known all along and didn't remember I knew!  That something that will ease some of the devastating ache of my soul and heart and body.  That something that will bring light back into my life, that will help me not only believe but help me know that Chuck is still with me.  That he is around me in ways that are in no way as he was but in a way that may, that will, help me feel less alone and less without him.

I'm not a Christian.  I believe in a Higher Power that was forged in AA but everything I ever believed in went up in flames the night Chuck died and since that time, any belief I have is intellectual more than something felt.  My brain seems to know so much that does me no good at all because I can't connect to it emotionally.  Emotionally, all I feel is the pain of grief or numbness.  The missing-ness. If Chuck were here, he'd tell me to get out of my head.  I don't know what action to take to implement that, is the thing.  How to get out of my head...

So, I'm searching.  My plan is to go out to the desert some night and gaze up at the dark skies and marvel at the stars and the moon and contemplate the hugeness of the Universe.  I'm stockpiling poetry about those things.  Somewhere in me, when I read of the stars and the moon and mysteries of the Universe, a little ping goes off and a place I can't yet connect to, recognizes their beauty and possibility of the pain easing through them.  I want to read about parallel universes and Einstein and his theories.  Poetry and science, I think, are the path for me.  I hope.

I read this earlier today.  "rather than make resolutions for grief, every morning and every evening we pray (by chanting, our form of prayer), for the happiness or repose of all the deceased.  We believe that if we continue our growth and pursuit of happiness, our deceased family and friends will continue to become happy as well".   This was from and it appeals to me.

I don't have any answers, for myself or anyone else.  We're all searching.  For a sense of peace.  For an end to the pain.  For the Love that remains to truly be stronger than the grief.  Searching.  And that's not a bad thing, at least for me.  Asking questions, searching...that's what can lead to answers and even more questions and, more answers.

Oh, my dearest love, as we enter this new year, another new year without you, my heart reaches out to you, wherever you are, hoping you are somewhere.  Do you feel me missing you?

I will love you always~

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Another year over

Another number away from the "2012" in which Ian died.

One thing I read late last year was people doing a 'word' for the year, not New Years Resolutions, which seemed a far more sensible way to go than dragging out the perennial resolution that never gets stuck to.

The word that stuck out to me at the beginning of the year was Faith.

Not religious faith, but ...

Faith in my ability to solo parent John without screwing him up too much.

Faith that I'll work through Ian's death and learn to live with it humming quietly in the background, rather than shoving it aside or down and ignoring it, especially when it gets too loud.

Faith that I've made the right decision to re-train rather than try and work through.

Faith that I'll settle into the rhythm of my life as it is now, and maybe learn to thrive.

Faith that it's ok to slow down occasionally and just let things be.


I think I've managed to get to a point of self-belief and acceptance over this year, no small thanks to my counsellor.  Accessing the right counselling with the right counsellor for me was one of the best decisions of the year. 

There have been moments where widowhood and solo parenthood has seriously bitten.

Having John diagnosed with an illness that could have impacted his heart, the same organ who's issues caused the death of his father, was a significant low light.  Especially when it occurred when my key support network were travelling and unable to help with hospital runs, cat feeding, random meals and snacks.  But I learned to ask for help from my broader network during this period, rather than lumping it all on a small number of key people.

Being incapacitated with a badly sprained ankle and having a small person who kept running off with the crutches.

Nearly burning the house down in a massive case of widow brain.

I'm heading into 2015 ready for what the year brings, the ups, the downs. A new word, whatever that turns out to be. 

All with the hum of Ian's absence in the background.

I wish you all a peaceful, gentle ticking over of the calendar tomorrow night, and all that it marks and means in widowhood.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Broken Open

"There is a crack, a crack in everything. That's how the light gets in."
Leonard Cohen

My heart has been broken by the death of my husband. It feels unfair that he left us so soon. We were just beginning our lives together. We were good companions and the best of friends. He had children and grandchildren who needed his guidance. He was on the cusp of transforming his life.

When my heart feels broken, I draw the curtains and shut the door. I circle the wagons and hide in the middle. I curl into a ball and turn off the lights.

Then I remember how Stan softened me. My heart is broken because my love was real. I don't want his death to harden me again.

Stan's life and death changed me forever. I am not the person I was before.

I once placed great value on my opinions. I thought them morally superior to those who opposed me. I was a big fan of political debate, and always certain to have the last word.

But I've lost my desire for conflict. My opinions don't seem to matter, much. When people were shouting, Stan urged me to see the pain and fear behind their anger. "It's only a view," he'd tell me. He taught me to lean toward kindness. He showed me how to meet their pain with love.

I used to fancy myself a misfit. I revelled in my uniqueness. I was not like all the others, I thought. I was deep, and complicated, and misunderstood. I felt weird and awkward around people. An outcast. Alone.

Now, I search for what connects us. I see that we are all born and we all will die. I knew this before, but now I have witnessed it, and it's made me different. I see how we feel lost and afraid, and how we cover our fears with words and certainty and attempts at control. If we are lucky enough to live very long, we will all know whiskers, and wrinkles, and achy joints. We have moments of joy, and glimpses of peace. We all fear losing our loved ones. His death taught me to remember these things.

People's ways used to grate on my nerves. I was easily offended, and good at finding fault. This one drank too much, that one talked too loudly, this one chewed with his mouth open, that one's voice quivered when she spoke. I took their ways as a personal affront.

I'm less prone to irritation these days, and quick to forgive perceived slights. Each of us has our habits and defences, and we navigate this scary and shocking world the best we can. I am learning to let people be.

I used to be careful, and shy, and slow to warm, afraid I'd be rejected, and look a fool. Then Stan died, and I found that time is short. We could be gone in an instant. We could be cut right down. It's made me lose my filter. Now I want to celebrate the people I love.

I have a tremendous affection for those who knew Stan. My heart leaps for joy when I greet them. I am so grateful that they knew him and loved him, that they remember him, and miss him, too.  He feels alive to me in their presence. I want to hug them and squeeze them. I think my exuberance scares them a little bit!

I spent four days last week on retreat in Shropshire, in a building of simple brick, set at the end of a long, dirt road. Thirty women gathered in this peaceful place, to meditate and study, to sit in silence and reflect. Freed from the disturbance of city lights and internet, immersed in spaciousness and quiet, I felt my heart open up.

 On Christmas Eve, there was the sliver of the moon, and a hundred thousand stars across the sky, dancing with delight. I walked down a muddy path to sit before a rupa of Prajnaparamita, the mother of all the Buddhas, future, present, and past. Under that starry night, I let my sorrow rise, and I cried out to the heavens my loss of Stan. I felt the ground beneath my feet. I let the stars and rupa cradle me. I let the earth absorb my tears.

Back in my little room, I lay in darkness and listened to my breath. I stared at the stars outside my window, and I asked Stan to teach me kindness. He was so good at it. He put aside his petty quarrels and inner turmoil to tune in to the people around him. He knew how to show up in the way that they needed--a few soft words at the reception desk, a strong shoulder to lean on, a warm hand grasping theirs--a lift to the hospital for a poorly friend, an evening call to his young son at University, his "Daddy's Pasta," cooked for his children, stirred with love, in a giant pot.

My heart has been broken open by the death of my husband. I hope I can let his light shine through it.

Prajnaparamita, The Mother of All Buddhas

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Neighbors of the Heart

It's been a few weeks since I shared about going on my first date with someone since my fiancé died. I have been through every wave of emotion imaginable since then. I have cried buckets of tears for how much this experience has made me miss my fiancé. For how much all of this is bringing up old familiar memories and joys I shared with him those years ago. For how much it makes me miss the safety and rock solid trust that I had with him. I have felt paralyzed by the fear of being vulnerable with another man in ANY way. Of allowing any man into that space in my world again - the space where I cry, the space of allowing myself to be comforted. The space my fiancé has held so powerfully in my heart all these years. His space.

I have also felt joy, and butterflies in my stomach, and a giddiness that has been so delightful. I have felt excited by the idea that someone is thinking of me in this light. And I have enjoyed thinking of them in this light too. So all of this, both extremes, have been rushing through me at the speed of light.

I honestly did not expect things to go anywhere after that lunch date. I thought I wasn't ready… not even for the slightest romantic experience. I thought he would fade out of the picture pretty quickly. But since that first date, to my surprise, we've talked pretty much daily. And despite the fact that his presence has triggered a tsunami of emotions in me, I have still found myself feeling open to it. There is something so strangely comfortable about him - it's felt very quickly like old friends. In some unexplainable way, I feel like he's here for a reason.

Last night, we went on a second date - a dinner date. And I cannot remember the last time someone made me laugh so much. Well, that's not true. I can precisely remember… because it was my fiancé - every day together. He lived to make me laugh. It's one of the things I miss the most about him. It has been two and a half years now since someone has made me laugh like that. Since anyone has even cared about making me laugh. So last night felt so beautiful. More than words can say. To have someone care about making me laugh… especially when they know I've had a really hard week with the holidays. How often really does anyone do that for us? Not often at all.

There was another moment that meant even more to me though. More than he'll ever know. It was when we walked back to his truck after dinner. "This is SO WEIRD… because I miss someone else" I said, starting to get visibly upset. He hugged me tightly and said, "I know, and you'll always miss him". My heart nearly burst with those words and I held onto him with everything I had for a few minutes.

Maybe it was just a second date, and maybe I have no idea if this even goes anywhere at all… but in that moment, he gave me a priceless gift. He gave me a small glimpse into what it means to meet a person who is accepting of who I am and respectful of this person's place in my heart forever. He gave me hope I can all find someone who makes sure to let me know there is more than enough room for me to love my fiancé forever.

For almost three years now I have had NO idea how on earth a new man could possibly fit into my world. "I'm too complex. My life is too complicated. Who is going to want to deal with all of this?" I have said many times. "How could any of that possibly work? How could it not just feel like a battle trying to be won in my heart? How could there be room for two people in my heart?" countless other times.

This experience over the past few weeks has made me realize, yes, I am complex and so is my life. But that complexity does not mean I am a burden. In fact it very well may be the opposite… because this complicated life has also made me more lovable, more open, more compassionate, more accepting, and more beautiful. And there are people out there who are looking for that kind of complex beauty in another soul, and who will appreciate it in me.

This experience has also taught me that when new people come into our lives, it doesn't mean that there is less space in our hearts for the person we lost and still love. I have always feared that. But I'm discovering it's not true. Our hearts grow when we let in new people - be it friends or more - and there becomes an entirely new piece of heart created there just for them. They never replace any part of us that loves the one we've lost. They live instead as neighbors of the heart, alongside each other, strengthening and healing our heart in a way we never imagined possible - and doing so together.

Those Who Don't Know Grief

My husband's photo in the centre of the table for our Aussie back yard Christmas
 As I write this we're full swing into the holidays and I've survived Christmas Day, Boxing Day and am about to head to my parent's house for a large lunch celebration with 20 or so members of extended family.  I'm absolutely exhausted, but hanging in there.

I've heard many widowed people say that the second year can be harder than the first, because the shock has worn off and reality has set in. However for me, this Christmas has been slightly easier than last year.  I guess it just goes to show that everyone's time line is different and you shouldn't try and measure your grief against anyone else's. 

Despite being a bit easier than last year, it was still difficult and very sad.  Maybe I felt less raw, or just knew what to expect. The day started off quite well really, as I spent the morning with my parents, my sister and her family, including my three wonderful nephews.  We are all very close and they have all been with me every step of the way for past 17-months since Dan died.  When the tears start flowing freely, they are generally comfortable enough to sit with me and let me ride it out.  I know it hurts them, my dad usually chokes up when I cry and you can see the heartache all over my mother's face, as she feels so helpless to ease my pain.  But they know I need to cry and have grown strong enough to let me, which makes a world of difference.  So I was doing ok and was able to weep without having to remove myself from the activities or let it interrupt my day.

We exchanged presents and spent the morning snacking on oysters and cheese, my sister and I enjoying our traditional pina coladas while watching her husband and boys playing in their pool.  We placed a photo of Dan on the centre of the table and I felt happy and at peace.

When it came time for lunch, by brother-in-law's large extended family arrived and as the crowd started to grow and the mood grew more hectic with kids running around and babies crying, I felt my anxiety level rise.  

While Dan's photo still sat on the middle of the table, not one person commented to me about how nice it was to include him in our day or ask how I've been going.  The only time he came up in conversation was when I was asked about my trip to Sydney last weekend (to see his family).  When I mentioned that it was quite emotional because we had all felt his loss acutely, the topic of conversation was changed. 

Someone later asked if I had plans for New Years Eve and when I said I thought it would be too difficult for me this year, she suggested it might be a good way to distract myself.  I didn't even have the energy to explain how grief works or why counting down the new year with other couples wasn't the right choice for me.  I didn't bother, because I knew she didn't get it - and in truth, didn't really appear interested in understanding how every day was a fine balance between distracting myself and knowing when to push myself and grow through my pain.

There is something incredibly lonely about being surrounded by people who don't understand you or those who ignore the fact that an incredibly tragic incident has forever changed the person who are and the trajectory of your life.  No one seemed aware that I was there 'alone' while they all had their partners and children running around.  It became harder to connect with my family who got lost or diluted in the bigger group.  I started feeling like it was really wasn't ok for me to openly grieve or even talk about Dan.  I had to choke down my tears and hide my pain.

I understand that people don't know how to talk about death, I don't blame them for this - because I didn't know how to either before I was forced to face it front on.  Maybe they didn't want to dampen their own festive mood or maybe they thought that bringing him up in conversation might upset me.  That may very well be the case for some widowed people, who are just trying to make it through the day in tact, and talk of their departed loved ones makes it harder to do that.  But I was so deeply hurt that no one acknowledged that he was missing, or that I might be doing it tough. 

Yesterday Kelly wrote about how when people don't ask about your life and what you have been up to, you feel offended and ignored and unacknowledged. But then if they do ask, most of the time, you feel uncomfortable telling them about your life and what you have been up to, because they just wouldn't get it.

I felt like she was speaking from my own heart.  While being around this larger group of people made a difficult holiday even harder, I'm not angry or resentful about their ignorance to my grief.  It really is something that no one can understand until they have lost someone.  And even those who have, might have a different experience or personal view on the best way to endure tough situations, so their advice or approach might not work for me anyway. 

Today, at my parent's barbecue, there will be another group of extended family on my father's side who I don't see often and who won't know what to say to me.  They too might ignore Dan's death or they may feel brave enough to place a hand on my arm and ask how I am, or tell me they've been thinking of me.  If so, I will probably cry and things might get awkward - but that's my life now. 

I have become comfortable with the crying, I've had to.  As have the people close to me.  There will always be a barrier between me and those who don't understand.  I envy their ignorance or discomfort, because they don't yet know the deep pain of grief.  And that's just the way life goes. 

Friday, December 26, 2014


I did it. I survived, and sometimes even thrived, Christmas day.
It is now Christmas night, and I sit here in my parents dining room on my laptop writing this blog.
I am staying with them for 10 days over the holiday, in Massachusetts, away from my usual NYC apartment and life.
I love being here. I love my family. However ...
and there is ALWAYS a "however" with grief ....
sometimes it hurts being around my family. It hurts a lot.

It hurt my heart this morning when I woke up to Christmas, and for the first time in the 3 and a half years since my husband died, I participated in our annual family Christmas morning tradition of scratch-off tickets, fried dough, hot chocolates, and opening stocking gifts at the breakfst table. It hurt because the only people around the table were me, my mom, and my dad. My brother and his family were at their own house, and we would see them later in the day. Some of the family that used to spend this time with us, are either distant, unavailable, or no longer with us. Things change. Life alters. Time sucks. I thought about my Nana, who died 6 years ago, who used to love Christmas just as much as I used to love Christmas. She loved scratching the lottery tickets in the morning, and she couldnt wait to break open each gift. I thought about my husband, and his childlike innocence on Christmas mornings with my family. He never had much of a family himself - dysfunctional and distant. When he met me, he gained a family, and he always loved and deeply appreciated everything that came along with that. So, this morning, my heart was beating out of my chest and I felt anxious and on the verge of crying as I opened the presents from my parents, drank hot chocolate, and tried to stop staring into the void where all the empty chairs at the table were. Time sucks. Holidays magnify the loss and pain of anyone going through something difficult, something awful.

But I did it. I got through it. We went to my brothers house and for the first time in years, I went Christmas shopping for my nieces and nephews again, and I enjoyed doing it. Watching them rip open their gifts and play with them, and seeing their excited faces and watching my niece try on all her new Disney princess outfits - it made me happy and it made my heart cry with pain. I cannot look at them without immediately thinking that it's been 3 years, and if Don had lived instead of died, where would we be today? Would we also have kids by now? Would our children be around the same ages as my brothers kids? Would they play together? What would my life look like right now? My husband would have his dream of being a dad, and I would get to be a mom, instead of the crazy Auntie Kelley who comes in from NYC now and then and makes them laugh by acting silly. It's not fair. It will never be fair. It hurts, and it hurts a lot more on the holidays.

Everyone is gathered at the holidays. Large groups of people , relatives, friends, people you maybe only see once a year in some cases - and all the people are talking about and comparing what has gone in for them within the last year of life. So and so is graduating college and this one is having their second baby, and let's all look at the happy couple in this corner who just an engagement ring and a proposal for Christmas. The older ones have proud stories about their grandkids, the ones who are married are continuing to build their families and jobs and buying houses and taking vacations and such, while the younger ones are just beginning their futures together. Being a widow at Christmas is like being stuck inside of a giant snowglobe, and it won't stop shaking. Please, somebody - make it stop shaking. Please stop telling me about your lives and accomplishments and additions to your families - the families and the lives and the dreams that I will never get to have. The dreams and the future and the present that was stolen from me, for no reason at all.

If the people you're stuck inside the snowglobe with don't ask about your life and what you have been up to, you feel offended and ignored and unacknowledged. If they do ask, most of the time , you feel uncomfortable telling them about your life and what you have been up to, because they just wouldnt get it. They wouldnt understand. How could they? How could they possibly grasp my response of: "Well after 2 years in weekly grief-therapy, I am finally able to go to the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree where Don proposed, and not have a panic attack. Im still working on my feelings of guilt of being asleep while my husband was collapsing on a Petsmart floor and dying. Im working on some new death jokes for my Camp Widow presentation, and Im hoping my book about loss and grief is able to help people and also help me too." Very few people can hear information like this and not feel totally awkward or run away or change the subject. Very few people can understand a world that they have never been part of. They just stare at you, confused, as they continue to live their lives. Meanwhile, they do not comprehend that you are sitting inside of this snowglobe - at the very beginnings of creating your next life. They dont know how exhausting or daunting or frightening or confusing that is for us - to create another life, when we dont want to. When we have no choice. When nobody asked us our opinion on the subject.

So you sit inside the snowglobe of the holidays, until it's time to escape. And today, and last night, and all of this week leading up to the day - I did it. I made it. I got through it. I smiled and I laughed and it was a real, actual smile and laugh. I felt real joy. There was happiness. But I worked and fought and crawled for that happiness, and the pain sat beside it the whole time too. It never goes away, really. Im just learning how to manage it and manipulate it and sit with it. I know how to remain inside the massive storm, instead of denying it or trying to get out. There is no out. Only through. And I did it. I did it. They never stopped shaking that globe - and I never stopped feeling dizzy - but I'm here, I'm alive, and I did it.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

A Leaf Adrift

Somehow it ended up that Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's Day all fell on Thursdays this year, my day to write. It is the season so I know it doesn't really matter what day we write or what, if any, religion we practice - holiday time in general is hard for us widowed folk, but it certainly rings very clearly that I'm posting on days that are meaningful to many of us.

It makes me search for something special or meaningful to write about, but there isn't
really anything particularly insightful that comes to mind. I'm just surviving as best I can, this second year without Mike, this time around at my parent's house almost on the other side of the world from my little house in Hawaii. Here in Virginia the air is crisp and cold, memories from my childhood stir and wobble my brain, old dear friends are revisited, and my house, dogs, new guy and "normal" (for what is normal anymore?) day-to-day life are very, very far away.

I am glad to be here. It feels like a healthy respite. A bit of perspective....even though Mike is very much on our lips and in our thoughts. We all miss his amiable, quirky presence...we remember how he used to make his tacos, which we tried to recreate for dinner one night; how he would entertain the kids, as the kid at heart he always he would regale us with stories and jokes that never failed to bring laughter. We all miss him and his bright, lively presence. It took my parents a while to understand his unusual character but by the time he died they were as enamored of him as so many were, and they were also as devastated with his passing.

Being here brings to mind very much questions about my future. Will I be able to find a way to keep my little house in Hawaii? Will I want to spend more time back here with my parents anyway, as they get older? How can I reconcile all the future possibilities, present day responsibilities and past heartaches and disappointments? How will it all go as I move forward without Mike? What decisions will be the hardest, and what do I really want - what is realistic for me to expect? What should I, what could I, what would I do with my life now that he's gone in this middle, kind of awful, kind of notyounganymore but notoldyeteither time I didn't expect to be without him for?

I can't know the answers to those questions yet. I know I'm in limbo-land for awhile, so I am trying to lay much of that aside and just enjoy time with other loved ones. It's not always easy - one morning I woke from a fitful, jet-lagged sleep knowing I was dreaming of Mike but couldn't remember what or why...trying not to obsess about that or let those morning tears stain the rest of the days I have left here.

There are plenty of good moments. We saw Santa drive through the neighborhood atop an old fire engine decorated with lights, wishing us Merry Christmas over the loudspeaker the other night...and a beautiful fox appeared nosing around on the front doorstep. I spent an evening with a college friend in Georgetown, enjoyed an afternoon at the Kennedy Center, reminisced with a few dear high school pals, baked some nostalgic cookies, and shared our traditional Christmas Eve cheese fondue. I'm grateful to spend time with my mom and dad, and my brother and his family. And I'm lucky my new guy loves my dogs so much and was willing to take care of them while I'm gone, since he had to work. That's about as far as I think I should think right now.

Part of me just wants to keep going. Just wants to keep moving, traveling, seeking and journeying beyond my little house on that big island. Sometimes I catch myself daydreaming about living on the road, seeing where the world might take me...but I can't. I have responsibilities and financial limitations, as most of us do...deep inside somewhere though, losing Mike has made me feel in the sense of a leaf finding itself drifting with the cold winter wind, even as it would rather still be attached to the tree during a bright, warm summer.

For those with dear holiday memories of their lost loves, I send my heartfelt hugs, love, and aloha. I have no other words, no other solace, no other explanation or solutions. It just sucks and there is no way around it but through.

See you on the other side.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Marriage Rings and Heart-Strings~

It's a topic written about and commented upon, frequently.  Little circles, made of gold or silver, encrusted with stones or plain.  Maybe engraved.  Little circles that symbolize so much.  For such a tiny thing, they can wield so much power.

Mine did.  I loved being married to my husband.  I loved our passion, I loved our friendship, I loved that we split our responsibilities between us, according to our strengths.  The ring on my finger meant so much to me.

Chuck was unable to wear his wedding ring after his first cancer, due to the swelling left after the massive radiation and numerous surgeries, so he wore it on the ring finger of his right hand.  When he went into the hospital, of course, he removed it and I wore it on a chain around my neck until he died, and then put it on my ring finger, behind my own since it was too large for me.

In the 20 months since he died, his ring has traveled back and forth from that finger to my right hand, to a chain around my neck again, and then back.  It became my talisman, the shine on it worn even dimmer by my fingers tracing it as my mind traveled backwards in time.

As of a few days ago, neither Chuck's nor my ring blesses my hand.  I removed them, said a blessing on them, kissed them and tied them together with a suede ribbon, in order to give them to my son and his soon-to-be wife.  It was okay emotionally, really, because of who they were going to.  Our son and his girlfriend are a beautiful couple and I see their future marriage as one similar to mine and Chuck's, with love present in every way.  And our son grows more like Chuck every day.  He is a man committed to his family, with a strong work ethic.  When he marries, he'll become a step-dad, as Chuck was, adding another daughter to his life (he has an almost 2 year old already).  

My determination is to have very little to leave behind when I die.  I want any treasures I own to already be in possession of those I love.  If I kept my rings, of what use would they be after my death?  This way they will be used and loved by my son.  Those rings carry beautiful, loving Karma and I'm blessed that they want to have them to signify their new love, their new life together.  

My ring finger is indented from 23 years of wearing that ring and I cherish that indent the same way I cherish the intangibles of our life together; dancing with him, looking at the full moon with him, standing with him as he reenlisted in the Air Force, hugging him so tightly when he finally got home from work at the base on 9/11, cruising with him in his t-top 78 Corvette, packing the truck and preparing to go adventuring on the road full-time, hiking as we traveled in our last 4 years, climbing rocks, nursing him through his first cancer, saying goodbye to him and thanking him for the love he gifted me with, washing and wrapping him in colorful blankets after he died, and pressing the button to raise the door of the crematorium to admit his body...all of these memories and more are a part of each breath I take in this unwanted life of being without him.

Those rings.  His and mine.  Soon now to bless the fingers of our oldest son and his bride.

A true legacy of Love~

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The Begining to the End


I received the parchment last week for a course I started about 18 months ago.  No formal graduation, just a small package in the mail.  Additional studies over and above my university studies.

It's the first thing I've done from beginning to end since Ian died.  Wholly and completely without him.  Concept to completion.

I started it because I wasn't sure my uni studies were the right direction.  Seeking counsel from friends, many thought that this course/profession would be a good fit for me. 

It was a six month course, so I've taken a lot longer to do it than is scheduled (but that also seems to be usual with numerous students taking more than the minimum to get through).

Here's the thing.  I probably won't even use the qualification. 

It's something I wanted to use long term in a voluntary capacity rather than paid employment.  Maybe some paid employment while I studied since most roles in the profession are part-time which would have worked nicely, but as I got further into the course, I figured out that some of the core work in the profession is probably not really for me.   

During the course, I interacted with people already in the profession, and I figured out that I'll get crazy frustrated with clients.   Which probably isn't the best mix.

So it will probably sit there unused, unless I find a broader community education opportunity where I'm presenting to a room rather than working one on one with a client.

Before, particularly because of the expense of gaining the qualification, I would have pushed to find work to justify the expense, and driven myself bonkers trying to make myself fit.

Now, I'll happily just walk away.  


Didn't fit.

Chalk it up to experience.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Simple Gifts

the Shrine at Stan's memorial service
On Tuesday, I am going away for four days on a Buddhist Retreat. I will spend Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and Boxing Day there. This is my first Christmas without Stan, and it seemed the best way for me to let the holiday pass, as much as possible, without notice.

I won’t be celebrating Christmas this year, but I have wrapped some simple gifts for the people who have held me up when I felt I would surely crumble.  Stan’s friends and family have found their way through their own grief to reach out to me and remind me that I am in their thoughts and hearts. I hope my small token of appreciation will help them to know how important their generosity of time and presence has been to me.

My Buddhist sangha, my spiritual community of friends and teachers, has been the rock that I have leaned on through these last few months. I am not certain I would have survived without them. They made sure that my husband’s memorial services were meaningful and beautiful. They generously gave of themselves in those first few days and weeks, when I could not eat or sleep or think. They lit candles in his honour and placed his photo in the reception area and on the shrine, next to the Buddha. In the months since his death, when most people have returned to their daily lives, they continue to allow me to express my sadness, and they are not afraid to speak his name.

I sit in meditation most days, but some days, I am afraid to make space for what will come, that whatever it is underneath all my busyness and chatter might overwhelm me, if I allow it to surface. I sit at home, on my own, or meditate with friends at the Centre.

When I make time and space to sit in silence, not planning or doing or thinking, the sadness inevitably erupts, from a place deep within, from the pit of my stomach, and, most often, I cry. It is not something I can control, and I think it is best that I don’t try to control it. It feels healing to sit quietly, before the shrine, with all that I am, at that moment, and to let the tears come. I breathe with the tears, and let them fall onto my cushion, not moving to quell them or rub them away.

Particularly, during our ritual pujas, in which we chant and recite ancient sutras and sacred texts, I am moved to tears. The aroma of incense, the trail of smoke rising to the ceiling, the glow of candlelight, the harmonies of chanting, the people in my sangha bowing in humble reverence before the shrine—all of these elements combine to move me beyond my thinking head and toward my heart. It is then, when I allow the controls I place upon myself to slip away, that my sorrow arises. I remember Stan and feel his absence from our sangha. I feel the emptiness he left behind.

Not long ago, our sangha gathered to celebrate one of several festivals we hold throughout the year, and we concluded our day with a ritual puja. Little tea candles lined the pathway from the back of the room to the shrine, and the chanting was hauntingly beautiful, that night. I remembered Stan, and I let the tears come.

People walked toward the Buddha with gifts of flowers and incense, offerings to lay upon the shrine. I closed my eyes and deepened my breath. When I opened them, I found that a flower had been lain at my feet. An Order member had seen my sadness, and, when taking his offering to the Buddha, decided to give the flower to me, instead.

His gift of the Buddha’s flower meant the world to me. It meant that my sorrow was witnessed and accepted. It meant that my grief could be held and responded to and met by others. 

I am blessed by the compassion and presence of my friends in the sangha, my spiritual home. My heart is soothed by the simple gifts they bring to me—an invitation to share a walk together, a conversation and a cup of tea, a thoughtful card in memory of my husband, the Buddha’s flower, lain at my feet. These simple gifts bring me strength and hope and the courage I need to face another day without him.

members of my sangha and me, on retreat, 2014.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Complex Christmas and An Inspiring Story

Jayci at her grandfather's grave. Source
This morning I was watching the news and saw a feature about a young girl - 14 years old - who is working hard to achieve a very special Christmas goal. Her wish, is to put a wreath on every single grave at Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery here in San Antonio, TX. To date, there are over 144,000 graves of fallen soldiers buried here. To say it is a big goal is an understatement. They have yet to reach that goal in a single year, but she is relentless. Partnered now with Wreaths Across America, she does 15 or 20 speaking engagements and fund raisers around the San Antonio, TX area in the fall to help raise money and bring in volunteers for this massive effort. The focus and resolve are nothing short of incredible to watch - particularly in someone so young.

I could not help but be completely inspired by the boldness and determination of her spirit. It allowed me to put my own pain aside for a moment and think about just how many ways on any given day there are to do something to remember or appreciate those who have died - whether as soldiers or otherwise.

It is one of those things that my fiance's death has changed in me for the better. Now I know first-hand what it means to the loved ones of the fallen for them to be remembered. My fiancé was not in the military - though he wanted nothing more than to do so, a back injury prevented him from being allowed to enlist. Regardless of that, I still know what it feels like when someone does something to show me they remember him - like leaving something at his grave, or sharing a memory, or donating in his honor. It means more than words can describe. You all get that.

I've been stuck in my own pain this past week - stuck thinking about how I'm sick of Christmas and ready for all this holiday mess to be over with. Year three without him is no better. Less scary for sure, less traumatic, but still I am able to muster only apathy for the entire affair. Even though I will be deeply happy to spend Christmas with his family - whom is now very much my own family - all the time leading up to that day is just an assault on the emotions. People talking about nothing but how behind they are on getting presents for everyone… when all you're thinking as you hear them is how lucky they are to still have all of their people in tact to give presents to.

I hate this. I want to be able to enjoy the season. I want to be able to just enjoy things the way other people do again. I want a simple holiday season where all I'm worried about is getting the Christmas shopping done and making sure food is cooked. But it is so far from my reality - Complex Christmas.

That's is why I am so glad I caught this feature on tv this morning though. This story about the wreaths got me out of my own pain and woke me up to the possibility that - if I pay attention and look for it - there are ways that I could use the holiday season to help me find meaning. If I make USE of Christmas as a way to connect to other folks who are enduring a complex Christmas - whether due to death, illness, financial strains, etc - maybe I could reclaim a bit of the good in this season. Maybe I could actually be able to find more than apathy in this time of year again.

There are all kinds of ways to do this… and even though it won't bring him back or make Christmas simple like it used to be, it would feel good, and make others feel good who might really need it too. That part of it I can get behind. I know that's not rocket science, but I think you get it. We get stuck in our heads so easily in the midst of grief and trauma. We have blinders on much of the time. And it can be hard see anything that can help it.

Today, I'm really grateful that a young girl doing big things helped me to take the blinders off for a while and begin to think about what I can do in the next few days that could bring meaning back to Christmas - not only for me, but for someone else. We'll see what I come up with.

To donate or find information about Jayci's Wreaths for Heroes project, you can visit her Facebook page.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

My love for Sydney

A happy Sydney moment - our engagement party in 2012.

Today, I'm writing to you from Sydney, Australia, where I'm in town visiting my in-laws for an early Christmas celebration.  I'm one of those lucky widows who has wonderful, supportive parents-in-law. Our already healthy relationship only grew stronger after Dan died, as we found comfort, strength and support in each other.

Sydney has always held a special place in my heart.  I was born here and even though we moved to Queensland when I was only five-years-old, I've always loved visiting family and holidaying in this beautiful city.  When I met and fell in love with Dan, who had moved to Brisbane for work, I was very excited that I would have an excuse to spend so much more time here and was welcomed into his Sydney life by family and friends alike.

I have some beautiful memories of being here in Sydney with Dan, including cruising around the harbor on a ferry for his 33rd birthday; our engagement party in a beautiful old pub; Christmas Day and New Year's Eve in 2012.  He loved this city, it was part of him. I know it was a difficult sacrifice for him to settle down in Brisbane but I'm just lucky he loved me more and, in his words, his home was now in me.

Like most of Australia, I was going about my day on Monday morning when I heard the news bulletins about the gunman who had taken 17 hostages in a popular cafe in the middle of the city.  My first reaction was to run through mental check list of all our family in Sydney and work out if any might have been in the area that morning.  I had spoken to Dan's parents the night before and quickly worked out that they should have all been safe.

I then sat glued to my computer for the whole day and late in to the evening, flicking between the live stream of commentary from different news outlets as I tried to understand what was going on and how such a terrifying situation could have occurred.

When I finally switched off and went to bed, I laid quietly in the dark, with tears running down my face, while I thought about those families who wouldn't sleep that night, as they waited with heavy hearts for news of their loved ones inside the cafe.  My heart broke as I wondered what news I'd wake up to in the morning.  I felt so very scared, not only for those hostages but for our country.  How would this change us?

I know that many parts of the world live with this kind of fear constantly.  Terrorists and extremists kill innocent people every day. I am lucky to live in Australia where these feelings of fear are so alien and strange but this thought didn't make me feel any more ok - it only made me sadder.

I couldn't stop wishing Dan were here.  To hold me and make me feel safe. To talk to about what was going on and what this would mean for a city we both loved. Dan was the most open-minded and tolerant person I'd ever met. Not only did he not care about people's colour, culture or religious beliefs - he didn't even notice they were 'different' to his own. He was the personification of love and acceptance of fellow man - with the kindest of hearts and purest of intentions.  He was everything right with the world and everything I wanted for our future.

I tried to think of what he might say about this siege in Sydney and I knew his heart would be aching with pain and confusion too.  We would have probably clung to each other and cried together when we woke on Tuesday morning to hear that two innocent lives had been taken over night.

One thing that would have most definitely been different if Dan were here is that I wouldn't have been able to understand or relate to the grief of the families of the two victims who wouldn't be home for Christmas.  Because I wouldn't have been through my own traumatic life-altering loss.  I would have felt deep sorrow for them in a 'Oh gosh, I can't imagine what they must be going through right now' kind of way.  But, I wouldn't have really been able to empathise with any meaningful emotion.

Instead, I was able to very easily put myself in their shoes and recount some of the first-moment grief they would be feeling.  That numbness and physical sickening. The thoughts of how unfair it was that their wife or son were the ones to be killed.  How random that this murderer had walked into the same cafe where their loved one happened to be working or enjoying a morning coffee.  How quickly their lives had been torn apart without any chance to say goodbye. The strange, almost trivial things that pop in to your mind in those first moments of shock - 'what will we do with her Christmas presents'?  Or 'but he has an appointment with the doctor/hair-dresser/accountant next Tuesday that he's supposed to go to'?

As their hearts tore open, I held these families in my own battered heart and thought about the long painful road of grief that lay before them. And as my plane touched down in Sydney on Thursday night I hid my own silent tears behind my sunglasses.

When I walked out of the terminal to meet Dan's parents, I clung to them when they embraced me, taking in the feeling of their arms around me. I had been looking forward to that hug, that connection with another heart that shares your pain and beats with the same ache for the person you're missing.

I hope that the families of the two Sydney siege victims at least find some comfort in the arms of those who share their pain. Because there are hundreds of thousands of arms reaching out to them from all around the country today.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

This Day, That Tree, Marry Me

Thursday, December 18th, today, is the 9 year anniversary of the day that Don proposed marriage to me underneath the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree in NYC. (You are reading this on Friday, but I'm writing it and posting it on Thursday evening, and it is right now, as I write this, my proposal anniversary.) The first Christmas after he died, going within even blocks of that tree made me panic and gave me anxiety and awful, horrible pains. My stomach would go into knots and I would literally go in a different direction and walk detours just to avoid even seeing that tree by accident, rising in between the buildings that make up the NYC skyline. The second Christmas, I went back there way before I was ready, and had a pretty epic emotional breakdown while sitting under those lights. I sobbed until I couldn't sob any more, and then I sobbed a little bit more. Last year my grief therapist came with me to the tree, and we talked and remembered Don and I cried and it was very hard and very sad. This year, yesterday, one day before the actual anniversary, I was in the audience for the taping of The Meredith Viera Show, and afterwards, the plan was to meet Caitlin again by the tree so she could be beside me for whatever emotions I needed to get through.
Got out of the taping, and the sky was looking very dark, and it was starting to rain. Knowing she was coming right from her other job as a guidance counselor to meet me there, I called her cell phone and let her off the hook for meeting me, telling her the sky looks weird and she should go home. She said: "Are you sure, sweetie? Because I will come if you feel like you don't want to be alone there. Whatever you need." I assured her I was okay, and that I was just going to take a quick look at the tree and remember my amazing day there 9 years ago, and then go home. She said: "Well I hope you can feel his love while you're there and I hope he makes himself known to you that he's there like he always seems to."
I hung up and started walking to the tree. Seconds before staring into it's beautiful glowing lights, a man and his wife and their little boy came toward me. It was a couple I hadn't seen since Don's funeral -literally. Years ago, when I had my own wedding planning business, I planned their wedding with Don's help. The guy and Don used to work together on the ambulance in New Jersey. They were coworkers, colleagues, friends. Of ALL the people for me to run into ,at this tree, I ran into him. 
"Kelley? Holy shit! No way! This is so weird. We were JUST passing by this tree, and this stranger came up to us nervously and started telling us how he was going to propose to his girlfriend tonight here. Immediately thought of you and Don. " I replied: "That is beyond weird, because I just made the last second decision to walk here alone after telling my counselor not to come. She usually meets me here. It's 9 years tomorrow that he proposed." "Wow! No way!" "Yup. He is obviously saying hello to us."
After they left, I sat under the lights and just remembered. I remembered that night 9 years ago, and how nervous he was and how he kept adjusting his jacket pockets and fidgeting and I didn't know why. I remembered him slowly going down to one knee in the 25 degree weather, screaming out his beautiful and well-thought out words to me, over the hundreds of clapping and cheering tourists. I remembered my frozen fingers shaking as the ring went on, I remembered drinking hot chocolate with marshmallows in Rockefeller Center afterwards, and I remembered never ever knowing a happier or more joyful moment. My heart sort of skipped a few beats, and I felt an overwhelming sadness, and this weird sensation of unbalance and lightheaded-ness, as I remembered all of these things. But I was okay. I was okay.

And then, I remembered something else. Amongst the chaos and the crowd that night, 9 years ago, there was a little boy and little girl. Siblings. Seconds after Don proposed, the boy tugged on his jacket and asked: "Are you marrying her?" "Yes, I am", Don said, smiling and laughing. "Eww! Gross!" He then turned to his sister and started to "mock-propose" to her: "Will you marrryyyy meeee??? Yuck!!!" Don and I and the children's parents were all cracking up, and then we asked their parents if they would take our picture underneath the tree. They did.
Coming out of my time-warp and back in present day, I stood up to leave the tree area and go home, and just then,, I saw them. Two children. A boy and a girl. Friends, or maybe siblings. I don't know. As I walked by, the girl's mom (I'm assuming) said to her little girl: "Honey, show him how much you love him for us! Let us take your picture!" The adults all snapped pictures as the girl leaned on and hugged the boy, and the boy moved away. "Eww!" he said. "Yuck!" The little girl gave it one more shot. "We're gonna get maaaarrrrieddd!", she said knowingly. The boy laughed nervously and fidgeted with his jacket pocket.
The mom gathered up her bags and said to the children: "Alright guys, let's get going. We have to meet Donny for hot chocolate, and you know he doesn't like to miss his hot chocolate."

Everything up until this point was surreal and unbelievable enough, but this last sentence said by this woman, was my proof that Don was with me yesterday, and always, but especially yesterday. "We have to meet Donny for hot chocolate, and you know he doesn't like to miss his hot chocolate." Two things about this. First of all, Donny. My husband's name was Don, or Donald, but the only thing he hated more than being called Donald, was being called Donny. The only person who he would let teasingly call him Donny, was his nephew Mark, because he loved that kid. So we had a running joke about calling him Donny to piss him off. Now, secondly, the hot chocolate. Not only did we drink hot chocolate with marshmallows and candy canes and whipped cream right after the marriage proposal that night, but we also had the venue where we got married serve the same thing to our guests. Peppermint hot chocolate with marshmallow and whipped cream and a candy cane. Everyone raved about the hot chocolate at our wedding. For YEARS, literally, friends would just mention it out of nowhere to us. "That hot chocolate at your wedding was the best hot chocolate I've ever had in my life! What was in that?" 

But we didn't know. BECAUSE WE NEVER GOT ANY. Somehow, with all the chaos of the reception and us being up dancing and everything, the bride and groom never got served any hot chocolate. So, the running joke for years was how Don loved his hot chocolate and he never got any at his own damn wedding. He would randomly say to me sometimes, out of nowhere: "I still cant believe we never got any of that hot chocolate." So for this woman to not only mention hot chocolate, but to use the term "he doesnt like to MISS his hot chocolate" , was beyond weird. It was a sign. That whole place was filled with signs. It was as if Don was talking to me and laughing with me through each one of those brightly lit Christmas tree lights. 

I stood there, stunned. In disbelief, yet also not at all surprised. For I am here, at this tree. Our tree. And he is here too. Not here in the way that I want him here. No, not ever. But he is here. And it will never be okay with me that he is dead. It will never be okay. But I am okay. I am okay.

Pictured: The tree , this week, going there for my wedding proposal anniversary. The little boy and little girl that I saw, who were just like the boy and girl Don and I saw and had the exchange with 9 years ago today. Me, taking a "selfie" with "our tree" behind me, happy that the mere sight of it no longer reduces me to a puddle of anxiety. )

A Heart's Reflections

I went to a Christmas party the other night. A year ago, there is no way I could, or would have been able to socialize like that. And I was going alone, as my guy works evenings. So I know I have made vast strides this past year. This time around I found myself really looking forward to it. I felt happy to have been invited; it felt nice that someone had thought of me and asked me to join in, as invitations from people Mike and I met here together have really dwindled since he died, other than a few dear exceptions. This hostess is a beautiful person I met this past year who lost her husband about six years ago. Well, re-met, actually, since after a couple of conversations we realized she had taken Mike’s last class session before he died. That happens a lot around here, running into people who remember him. Which is nice. 

But our relationship is purely our own; I am glad she had met him, but we didn’t become friends because of Mike’s talents, which happened a lot before he died, I now realize. We are friends because we share so much in common with each other as women, and widows. Much like my experience she came upon her husband gone from a heart attack, unexpectedly. Like Mike, her husband was a well-known figure in our town, and like us, in their own circles, they were well-known as a couple together for a long time. And like me, she is also dating someone new - and we both have faced backlash from various people who were not ready, or willing, to see us with people other than our husbands whom were both so revered in our little community in their own ways. So we get each other, as we fellow widows often do…the pain of losing our beloveds, and the ins and outs of our lives now without them. 

The party was a relatively small gathering with a potluck, and after all the food was laid out I found myself at a table with four other ladies, and one man. Most of them I hadn’t known before, but it did turn out - of course - that one of the ladies had also been one of Mike’s clients and remembered him well. She had looked familiar but I couldn’t place it; when I asked her if she’d known him her eyes got wide and there it was. As someone commented that night: it’s a little big island. As large an expanse as we live on, our small population often finds multiple connections to each other. 

So as is wont to happen the subject of grief and loss came up. I met yet another widow (we are everywhere, it seems), Mike’s former client had been through a devastating divorce (no it’s not the same no matter what anyone says - but I will grant that there is some sense of mourning a lost life), and another had lost a grandchild recently. So we ladies ended up chatting about our experiences for much of the meal, including the topic of how our culture is so uneducated about the process of grief. Then at one point a sort of silence overcame us as we all kind of realized we’d been leaving out the only man at the table. We chirped our sorries in a way people do at casual polite gatherings, but then he did something unexpected. This kind, gentle man proceeded to tell us, quietly and a bit haltingly, how he understood what we were talking about. He had lost a wife, a child and fought in Vietnam where he witnessed horrors indescribable. He went on to explain how after he picked up the pieces of five of his fellow soldiers there - literally - he spent two weeks lost in the jungle where he had a lot of time to reflect on his own life and how he was going to live his when (and if) he got back. He said he made a decision, back then, to live positively, to do something good, in honor of his fallen comrades, and not let the grief and horror overtake him as it did for many who fought there. It changed his life in a massive way.

Don’t get me wrong. He wasn't trying to outdo us in any way at all. This man’s nature is quiet…sweet, and soft-spoken. He even said he almost never speaks of it but was moved to share it in that moment with us, having listened to us sharing our own stories. After a moment of sitting there silently blinking my stunned horror at his story, I mentioned how during that first terrible day when Mike died I remembered thinking, and commenting, how it felt as if I could suddenly hear all the millions of other voices crying out around the world. It was as if I could suddenly relate to this palpable, physical grief I knew so many others had experienced. As if I became suddenly attuned, or aware of in some deep, visceral way, not only to people in my own country who had suffered losses, but to people who live in terrible circumstances, war zones, genocide, poverty and sickness that we in our First World culture really have no idea about. How I suddenly realized how life-shattering grief was an experience so many of us as humans in this world have in common, but I had been sheltered from; uneducated about. He nodded. 

I knew the conversation was not meant to subvert any of my own personal feelings; it didn’t happen to show me simply that so many people have had it worse than I have, or make me berate myself for the personal devastation I’ve slogged through after my one loss. It happened to show me how people can survive. How people can, as one of the ladies put it so eloquently I thought, move to the other side of it. It doesn’t go away; but, over time and after much work and introspection, I believe we can find a path to walk along that other road we didn’t know was there - that warped reflection of a life we must strain to bring into focus.

The picture above is the gift I ended up with after the party’s lively and fun gift exchange that evening - a mirrored, winged heart. It spoke volumes to me. And as this posts I will be hours away from leaving for the mainland. I am looking forward to a quiet time away with my family. I am looking forward to another opportunity to shift my perspective; to grasp a little more onto this new life. To spend time with loved ones, rest, write, bake, chat with old friends - and reflect. To build a new memory I can keep with me on my new journey over to the other side of this grief. And to do it all with Mike close to my heart.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Widow Confusion~

Widowhood is confusing to me.  I suppose every huge life change is, for those in the midst of it.

My mind whirls with thoughts of my husband's final days, his death, leaving southern California in my rear view mirror, driving away from him, being out on the road without him...the memories, and the pain that go with those memories, are strong and vivid and color the moments that have brought me to this time, 20 months later.

In numerous conversations even before his last cancer, he told me many times that he wanted me to find another man to love, and be loved by, someday.  I agreed, though I expressed doubts of ever finding any other man who could measure up to my now high standards.

The confusing part?

My marriage to Chuck was a passionate one.  We not only made love, we had wild and crazy sex through the years.  Neither of us was afraid to experiment and he was an exquisite lover.  When we weren't doing that, we touched.  Holding hands.  Kissing.  Hugging.  Dancing.  Our eyes sought each other out when we were in a room together.  I was accustomed to his touch, frequently, as he was accustomed to mine.

So, how does a woman go from that to...nothing?  And I'm sorry to tell you, but all the massages in the world don't replace that.  And here's what confusing to me;  I crave touch.  I crave sex again and the closeness that comes from being with him.  And I want that again.  Desperately at times.  And I know I could go out and find it with some man.  Which makes me vulnerable to not only myself because of that craving, but vulnerable to men.  Is it an old wives tale that men are on the lookout for widows because they figure on this very need being present, and they prey upon it?  I don't know but I feel like it would be so easy to take anything that's offered.  Except that it wouldn't, not really.

It wouldn't be Chuck and he's the one I want.  But having sex, and having that touch, would be a great distraction, I think, on the one hand.  But maybe not, on the other hand.

I have no fucking clue.  There wouldn't be a sense of disloyalty to Chuck, but I suspect there would be a bone-deep wanting-ness because it isn't him and never can be again but this is what is now and I need something and tears along with relief and every other possible emotion.

You see?  It's your classic (to use my favorite military term)...clusterfuck.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Attempt at a Christmas Tradition

Sunday marked two and a half years without Ian.

The first year, I decided to mark the date with a visit to a iconic local Christmas light display - do something nice with John on the day that we'd done with Ian.

It's something we've done each Christmas since. 

Well, attempted to.

This year's attempt was not as disastrous as last year, but not great either.

A weekend evening is a bit of a mad-house there, and I have to accept that John gets over-stimulated and wound up by crowds and noise.  Sunday wouldn't be as bad as a Friday or Saturday, but summer school holidays have started, so there would likely be a bigger crowd than earlier weekends.  So I opted to not do it on the day to hopefully manage his response a bit better.

And I'm kind of glad we cancelled the plans.  John seemed to know it was a significant time, or at least the universe conspired against me.

On the Saturday I'd taken John to a major sporting event, at which he lasted all of 15 minutes before I dragged him out kicking and screaming.   He's not a "sit still" kid, plus it was at least 93F and on the busy and noisy side at the ground. 

It didn't help I then got wails of  "I want my Daddy" and "I miss my Daddy" as we were leaving.  All I can do is tell him 'I miss your daddy, too'. 

Then on Sunday he was ratty-as at Church. He went running up the front (usual - he high 5's the Minister)  and then unusually up onto the pulpit, smiling down cutely at everyone.  Until the pipe organ behind him started and he scurried off like a rabbit.  He didn't want to be left in the children's programs this week - it was the first time they had to come and get me as he was too upset.  Then a while later, he tripped over and fell head first into the metal upright for a hand rail.  The result was a nice old goose-egg, but no concussion thankfully. 

I gave up on the day about then and headed to my parents for a coffee. Meanwhile John was good as gold and "helped" Papa work on his off-road vehicle.

So to at least have a crack at maintaining the tradition, my sister and I took our kids Monday evening.

Yeah, I forgot he's terrified of the volcano with Thor hammering inside that's part of the display.   

So the whole attempt was a bust.  At least John wasn't the only kid wigging out at it.  I have vague recollections of not liking the thing myself as a kid, so I shouldn't be surprised.

I guess I'll have to wait a while before I can really try making it an enjoyable Christmas tradition for us.

Ian and John at the lights in December 2011
Dang it... And as I write this... he's sleep walking through the laundry. Yet something else to deal with.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Snow, Wind, Water, Rock

It is almost Christmas, and I have spent most of the last ten days on my own, in silence. At times, I have thought that I should make an effort to visit with people, make connections, socialise. I just don’t seem to handle it well. Even a short trip to the shops on the High Street brings me to tears—couples hand in hand, brightly coloured lights, fresh trees for sale, Santas in the windows, ribbons and bows, carols blasting through the speakers—all this celebration and excess is out of sync with the way I feel, inside. I am awkward around people. I don’t know how to act. What do I say? What greetings do I employ? Merry Christmas?  Happy Holidays? I don’t even want to think about the New Year. I want to crawl under the covers until it is all finished.

The one time my world makes sense, these days, is when I walk, alone, into the hills. I set my boots onto a muddy path, my face exposed to the biting wind, and watch my breath stream in and out. I hear birds rustle in the trees above me. I see rabbits hop into the underbrush. I take note of the droplets of water, hanging, like tears, on naked branches. I feel the rain, sleet and snow pelt against my skin. I put one foot in front of the other. I don’t have to worry, or plan, or think. I only walk, and breathe. When I am outside, among the elements, it feels that perhaps I do have a place on the planet. I find a sliver of hope that, perhaps, one day, I will heal.

I am currently in the midst of reading my third book about thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail. This trail, which spans 14 states from Georgia to Maine, is 2,172 miles in length and takes six months to complete. I am obsessively researching the proper equipment to purchase, which parts of the trail are the hardest, which shelters are best, what critters I may encounter on the trail, both irritating and dangerous. This, I do, while finding it difficult to venture out of the house, some days.

Perhaps my walking this trail is a wild fantasy that will never be fulfilled. I have a mortgage to pay, and a job to go to, and a need for comfort. I am not sure this almost 58-year-old body could even withstand such an endeavour.

Yet, there is a part of me that wants to mark this monumental change in my life in a monumental way. It doesn't feel right to have gone through the trauma of watching my husband die and to return to my regular, mundane existence—to trudge to work and to shop in stores and to pretend that I am the same. I am not. Nothing will ever be the same.

I want to have an outward expression, beyond these words, of the depth of my grief. I read somewhere that it is a Jewish tradition to tear one’s clothing, over one’s heart, after a death. I want to do this—tear my clothing, beat my chest, rub my face with ashes, shave my head—something, anything, to mark this sorrow.

I loved the life I had here, with him, walking these hills, Sunday drives, our nights together. I still love the place where I live and the world he gave to me—stone walls and terrace houses, the remnants of century old mills, stately churches and castles, the beautiful, windswept moors, the ever changing landscape—shadow and light, snow and wind, water and rock.

But it is wrong to proceed with this life as if nothing has changed. I feel a need to purge, to cleanse, to let go of the me that was, before his death, to slough off the old me, to make myself anew.

I don't know if I will have the heart and the strength and the courage to do this thing. But, I have done it before. I have changed my entire life. The last time I lost two people, my mother and sister, I moved from Florida to England. This move is what brought me to my husband.

Now he's gone. And my world has, once again, shifted. And I can't continue to walk around like it hasn't.

my son, Desmond, and me, on the Appalachian Trail, 2012.