Friday, February 28, 2014

Happy Birthday, Husband. You Are Still Dead.

Something that I really do not like is that each time my dead husband's birthday rolls around, (and yes, I will always call him my dead husband, because that is what he is. He is dead. He is not "late" for anything. He is just no longer here) people all over the atmosphere say things such as:

"Happy Birthday, Don!", or "Happy Birthday in Heaven!", or "I bet he is having a party in Heaven!"

Yuck. Just yuck. First of all, it's not a "HAPPY" birthday. He isn't here with me anymore. So it isn't happy for him, it isn't happy for me, it isn't happy for anyone who loves him. There is really nothing happy, to me anyway, about having to breathe through and crawl through a birthday for a person who is not alive. A birthday - the day celebrating their very life - yet they are not here to do that. For me, it still stings each and every time it comes around. It hurts. And I have tried handling his birthday in different ways. The first one without him, someone gave me the advice of: Just do everything you would normally do together on that day, but do it yourself. If you normally go out together, take yourself out. Buy him presents, get him a cake, and talk to him. He is with you. Okay, I thought. I will give this a shot. It sounded corny as hell to me at the time, but I tried it anyway because I was so desperate to have something not feel horribly awful for 10 minutes. So I went to the store, bought the traditional 3 cards for him - one from me, and one from each of our kitties - and wrote in them and signed them. I bought all his favorite candy, and I left everything on his favorite recliner chair. Then I got in my car and drove to the nearby restaurant we would often go to on the Hudson River with the beautiful city skyline view, and I ate dinner with my husband. 

Except I wasn't with my husband. I was alone. In a public restaurant. On my husband's birthday. Now, I am an extremely independent person. I love going places alone. But there is a huge difference between going somewhere alone because you have the choice and you feel like it, and going someplace alone because today is your husband's birthday, and he is dead. After my depressing as hell dinner alone, I went home that night, saw the card and gifts I had left on the table sitting on his chair, and just cried. Then I cried some more, and then a lot more after that. When I was finished with the crying, I began crying, and then some more crying. It is amazing just how many times you can keep having the realization in your heart, that your husband is really, actually, truly gone.

I live in a world of extreme reality. This I know about myself. I cannot "pretend" like my husband is still here with me, and just act accordingly as if he is in the room. That may work for some people, and it may comfort them, but it sure as hell doesn't do anything for me, except make me cry endlessly looking at the sad cards written out to nobody, and having candy that I dont even like in my fridge, because it was his favorite. (Special Dark Bars. That is what he loved. He is literally the only person ever to exist who eats the Special Dark bars FIRST, in those bags of Hershey miniatures. I would eat the Krackel and Mr. Goodbar, because everyone knows those are the best ones, and that Special Dark Bars suck and are not good on any level. But he would eat the Special Dark bar, and boy, did he love those things.) 

This is also why I cringe at the "he is having a party in Heaven!" type remarks. Again, if that comforts you, great. But it does absolutely nothing for me, except make me think to myself: He isn't on some cloud partying it up and playing his guitar and eating dark chocolate cake. He is just gone. If anything, he is energy floating around in space somewhere, but I truly don't believe he is happily enjoying his birthday, or that he is even aware of his birthday, as a spirit or soul or energy particle. I am not religious, and so any kind of general Heaven remark never comforts me on any level. I do believe and feel and hope that when people die, their energy lives on, because energy never dies. But again, that thought does little to comfort me either, because energy can't sit here and laugh with me and open birthday gifts with me and age and grow older with me. So, a birthday really isn't much of a birthday when the person is dead.

Add to all of this, the fact that my husband's birthday is extremely unique and has much history behind it. Today, February 28th, is, to most of the world who knew him, my husband's birthday. But in the world of extreme reality that I live in, my reality, the absolute truth - today is not my husband's birthday at all. No, today is the day Don and I used to refer to as his "fake birthday." You see, my husband had 2 birthdays. Sort of. He was the product of an affair, and at the time, his mother did not want his father to know that he had a son, because his father had a family of his own. Also, Don's mother was batshit crazy. She was head nurse at a hospital, and she had access to birth records and files and things. So she somehow toyed around with Don's birth certificate, and changed the date on it so that her pregnancy and his birth would not match up with the time of the affair. So, my husband's actual birth date is November 6, but that is not what is written on all his paperwork or birth certificate. All of that says February 28th. And no, what I just described is not this week's latest plot on General Hospital. Like I said, I live in reality. And this story is the absolute truth, and it is my husband's life. Don and I always joked about how, because he was so awesome, he got to have two birthdays. He would say "I want two parties! And two cakes! And two presents!" Each year, on today's date, we would celebrate his birthday with friends and family, because most of them did not know about his real date of birth. Then, in November, we would always do the real celebration privately. Just us. That was always a really special day in our world. The world where we existed alone, just the two of us.

So now, in my world of extreme reality and truth, I get to crawl through his birthday each year, not one - but TWO times. And this year, this year I get to realize two times, that this is the year my husband would have turned 50 years old. He died at 46, and in just 4 months, he would have been 47. And if he were here, this November, I would most likely be throwing him some huge party with our family and my parents and all our friends for his 50th birthday. Instead, I am finishing and publishing my book about us, and having a huge book-release party on November 6 in NYC. I wish like hell that I had him to celebrate life with, instead of a book - but that is not my reality. So I take my reality, and do the best I can with it. But it still isn't him, and he still isn't here, and he he never will be again. The weird thing about death is that it's forever. It still floors me that my husband will be dead forever. It still feels like it can't be true. But it is true. And it always will be.

So, if it makes you feel better or comforts you somehow to wish my husband a happy birthday today, or in November, or both - then go ahead and do that. If that works for you, that is what you should do. For me, I will be quietly reflecting on the reality of what this day is, and what it isn't. And in between my crying sessions each time I realize all over again the forever-ness of his death, I will laugh. I will laugh because I know my husband, and I know what he would say to all the people wishing him a happy birthday. He would say with a laugh: "Happy Birthday? Seriously? What's so happy about it? I'm dead. It figures I would be dead on my own birthday. Twice. I don't get any cake when I'm dead. I can think of a lot better ways to spend my time than being dead and not eating yummy cake. This sucks."

Thursday, February 27, 2014

The death march part 4: signs

Angel Danbo  by grizzlysghost
Angel Danbo by the immensely talented and all-round nice guy Aaron Aldrich

Here I am in the final week of the death march.  March 1 is racing towards me like a freight train. 
To be honest, it can't come soon enough so I can put it behind me and then maybe my subconscious won't feel the need to see 2am come in each day.

But 2am has seen me think about all the signs I have received .... some of them, even before March 1, 2010.  I am not going to list them here, but I will say that there have been so many, many specific instances of contact that I can not ignore them.
...and on talking to others, it seems I am not the only one who knows, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that they are here with us.

As many of you know, before I was a teacher, I was a scientist.
I have a PhD and a string of other qualifications. 
I am trained to be skeptical of anything that can't be backed up with hard data.
 ..... but at the same time, I am trained to entertain novel ideas and I am trained to understand that just because something can't be measured with current technology, it doesn't mean it isn't happening. 
But then again, I have always had a Bayesian weight-of-evidence view of science over and empirical one.

....and for me, for my own personal beliefs, the weight of evidence is overwhelming.  It may not be overwhelming enough to withstand peer review and publication, but then I don't really care how others view the eternal .

So as I sit here, writing the last of the death march posts, I remind myself of my own, hard-won knowledge that he never left me and is part of my life everday.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The S Word That goes along with the L (Love) Word~

I'm a stranger in my own body since my husband died.  I have no sense of myself as a person, or as a woman.  Who is that staring back at me from the mirror?  She has short hair that's going gray all of a sudden.  She's put on weight (not much but enough that it's unsettling).  Her skin looks unhealthy.  Yes, I know that I might very well be the only one seeing these changes-others in my life don't seem to.  Maybe I only see that because I also see that the sparkle that was always in her eyes isn't there.  Those blue eyes he loved so much reflect back pain and uncertainty and loss.

I'm not only mourning the death of my husband;  I'm mourning the death of who I was for the last 24 years.  Chuck and I always had our separate passions with jobs and friends but our passion for each other ruled above all, especially in the 4 years we spent on the road traveling full time.  He loved my spontaneity and sense of fun.  I loved teasing him into lightheartedness and silliness.  Ours was a very physical relationship;  touching, kissing, holding hands and wild and crazy sex and a depth of intimacy that only grew stronger as we drove and adventured around this country.

Why isn't this spoken about more often in the widow/ed community?   Why don't we talk about this huge loss that takes place in addition to the death of our husbands or wives?  Why don't we talk about the ache of loneliness that comes from the end of not only the emotional intimacy but the tearing loss of the physical?  I'm sure that there must be others who think about it-I can't possibly be the only one.   Making love.  Having sex.  Flirting with each other. Having fun. All of the laughter and the teasing that is a cornerstone to a healthy relationship.

How do you go from always being touched to not being touched any longer by the man you love?  How do you go from deep, passionate kisses with his hand holding the back of your neck just so, to...nothing?  How do you go to sleep by yourself when you spent 24 years with his body wrapped around yours?  What do you do with the memory of standing against the wall with his hands on each side of you as he leans in to kiss you and the tearing loneliness that fills your body and mind knowing it will never happen again?  What do you do when you know that all you have is memory and you look in the mirror and see your body suddenly aging because what kept you feeling so young and in love, even after 24 years, is gone?

I don't care if it's uncomfortable to talk about this.  It's real.  I felt so much a woman with my husband.  I celebrated being a woman, feminine to his masculine, the yin/yang of our love.

And I deeply mourn the loss of that self.  I mourn the death of the woman I was with this man who was the center of my universe, this man who brought sunshine to my life, who made me feel more a woman than I've ever felt.

Grief is a morass that creeps its' tentacles into every area of my life in ways that I never envisioned; I miss the love, I miss the romance of being in love, from him and with him.  My body cries out for him and my eyes reflect the loss.

I need to stop looking in the mirror.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Immunity, or lack thereof


I'm now in my death-march. 

February 22nd was the 2nd anniversary of the surgery that resulted in the complications that lead to Ian's death, and for me is the start of my 'bad period' in the year of some 4 months.

And yet again, I am sick.

My general immunity has been, quite frankly, crap since Ian got sick.  Anything that gets within striking range seems to take up residence in my system.  And since I have a child in childcare, I get exposed to just about everything going through town.

It took a really nasty dose of sinusitis and bronchitis hitting at the six month mark to realise the correlation between dates and illness. Strangely, my illnesses weren't hitting on the death date being the 14th of the month, but the 4th, our wedding anniversary. 

Sinus infections were/are my main signal. I went down with them again, and again and again.  Anything minor, even a simple cold, would convert.  Heck, a stubbed toe would seemingly convert to a sinus infection!   I have taken so many antibiotics in the last two years, I have developed a reaction to penicillin.

In the last year I've managed to knock back the frequency and severity of the infections with a combination of acupuncture and sinus surgery.  Within 24 hours of the surgery I felt physically well for the first time since Ian got sick, and have ticked along quite nicely since it was done in September. 

But with the death march, I've got one back. And am feeling more than a little blah physically. 

Emotionally, I feel all right. But I'm probably not since the physical's telling me otherwise. 

Monday, February 24, 2014

Many Me's


Did any of it actually happen? The days surrounding Dave's death seem so incredibly unreal. I feel elementally different than the person I was before he got sick. That world and this world seem separated by a thousand miles and epochs of time.

And still there are moments when it all rushes at me. A smell or a sound. Medical terms like blood oxygen levels or cardiac arrest. The sight of his handwriting. A picture I haven't seen since he was alive. His wallet.

I know that person was me. I know that was me kneeling on the hard floor, forcing myself to read as much of his autopsy as I could until the nausea and fear overwhelmed me.  I know that was me, as I slid to lie face down on the floor boards, unsure of how I'd survive in a world in which I had to read my love's autopsy.

I know that was me, walking into a room full of people who were together that morning to say goodbye to my husband, my best friend. I know that was me, watching a slideshow of his life with hundreds of other people, thinking "he is dead and gone".

I know that was me, taking off the funeral outfit and planning to burn it later, knowing I'd never want to see it again.

I know that was me, struggling to stand up in the shower, eat a bite of food and sleep for more than a minute at a time. I know that was me screaming and thrashing when I'd wake up and remember what had happened. I know that was me.

But it wasn't me. The me I am now. The me I am now knows too much. She knows death intimately and understands things like autopsy reports, myocarditis, funeral homes and memorials. She knows how to get nutrients into a body too despondent to eat. She knows too much about prescription drugs and alcohol and how they can sometimes be the way through to a time when they're no longer necessary.

Just a year ago, even, I was a different me. I wasn't sleeping or eating well and I was riding the raw-nerve-ending waves of anxiety most hours of most days. The me I am now resembles a me I hoped I'd be again.

Never the same. Never that other me, no. But a functional, present, positive me. A person who could face a day with at least curiosity instead of dread, sometimes even excitement. A person who could want a future again, even if it's missing the person I thought I couldn't live without. A person who has a life to live.

A person who can finally, finally look up from the sucking pain and darkness of grief and see the sunset, the waterfall, the stars, the moon, the look of love in another man's eyes. Who can see all of these things again, finally. Who can stand up straight again now that the weight of the grief is small enough to carry around while experiencing life.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Pride & Pain

Ever have one of those days where you are both extremely proud of yourself and excited and - in the same heartbeat - totally heartbroken? I definitely had one of those this week. It started with an email I got a few weeks ago from the local art league, with a note about a woman who was looking for art lessons for her son. I knew it was the universe talking. Since Drew died, I've been feeling more and more called to teach art, and this step was just small enough that I knew I could take it.

It still took me four days to muster the courage to call the lady. Teaching is WAY out of my comfort zone and totally intimidates me. As an artist, you have total control over your medium, the outcome of a project, and who sees it. But teaching involves… people. And people are a total wildcard to us introverts. I suppose I didn't realize just how uncomfortable that makes me until I was dialing the phone.

A week later, I'm sitting in the home of a lovely woman, teaching her eight year old grandson his first private art lesson. I realize pretty quickly that I have no idea what I'm doing. "How the hell am I going to fill up an hour?!?!" I still don't know how I did. We talked mostly. I asked him about his favorite cartoon and video game characters, what sort of things he already likes to draw, what sorts of things he might want to learn. I was flying by the seat of my pants, and to my surprise, even enjoying it. For a cautious, calculated person - this sure was new!

Sometimes I like to think that when he died, our souls infused with one another - leaving parts of him in me. He had this solid, confident air about him when working with people. I'm convinced this is one of his qualities that I somehow gained. The old me before he died would have been too nervous and panicked to even be able to enjoy being this far out of my comfort zone. But with this kid, I was solid and calm as ever. Without all the nerves rushing through me, I was able to think things through better. Instead of worrying about what I didn't know, I was thinking about how much I was learning from this experience… and that was pretty exciting.

I left feeling really proud of myself. I felt empowered… which is a big deal. So much of my power was taken away when he died. Not being able to function fully, forgetting everything all the time, gaining weight, always trying to anticipate emotional swings (with no luck). And of course not having my partner there by my side to help me feel strong. Any time I've done something on my own since he died - even the tiniest of things - the feeling of empowerment has been incredible.

Of course as always happens with any exciting moment now, the pendulum swung to the other side too. Drew was trained to be a flight instructor, and was planning to work as an instructor soon. As I drove home, tears came to my eyes when I imagined coming home to him… we would talk about how cool it was that we were both instructors now, him teaching his passion of flying, and me teaching my passion of art. It would have been beautiful to share that together. But, I also know that I probably never would have done any of this had my life not been so completely uprooted by his death. So even though it is always bittersweet - there is a strange comfort in knowing that he now brings every good thing into my life.

(Image Source)

And the Oscar Goes to....

Taryn is away this week, and I thought since the Academy Awards are coming up here in the US next weekend, that I'd re-post this blog from past writer Dan Cano addressing the many ways widowed people "play a part." Taryn will be back next week!

No, I'm not watching The Academy Awards. Not that it doesn't interest me. I used to be one of those people who saw every single film nominated, even the foreign and sometimes documentary. I love film, and I love story telling, but that love, those interests, are part of those things that have dropped by the wayside.

Friends and family are still often surprised. "Hey Dan, did you see..?" No. "Hey Dan, what film could you recommend?" Well, I haven't seen anything, so I'm no longer the person to ask. I have no interest in going out anywhere these days. I have no interest in viewing other people's lives.

But I do know one thing, they forgot to list one very talented actor from this year's list of nominees.


Best Actor in a staring role....Dan!

This life that I am now leading is one that takes careful, and trained, execution. Before heading out each morning, I am already studying my lines. What will I say when asked how my weekend went? What will I say when other's ask how I am doing?

Nobody where I now live and work ever knew my husband Michael. They never knew me when I was happy. They didn't know me when I was on top of the world. They never new me when I was filled with love.

At my last job I was the only person there who was widowed. Nobody had anything to compare me to, so I was a bit of an anomaly. At my current job there are two of us. A widow, and me. I remember not so long ago my office mate said that someone remarked to her that Dan seems to be handling the death of his spouse very well, and that I didn't seem as emotionally fragile as my female counter part. My office mate looked at the person and said, are you serious? She went on to say that I put so much effort into getting through the day, but if you stop and take a good look at me, you will see the enormous pain just below the surface. And, if you follow Dan out to the parking lot at the end of the day, you will likely see him in tears.

You see, acting is a difficult profession. It requires you to stay in character through a sometimes very long and grueling day. When my day is finally over, I have to almost run out of the building, because my pain begins to ooze out of every pore.

When a new day begins, especially on a Monday after the weekend, I have to prepare something to share about how I spent my time. Explaining how many hours I actually sit and do nothing just doesn't cut it. Talking about how many minutes a day are devoted to getting lost in memories of him, or getting thrown off by unexpected jabs to the heart, aren't often what people want, or are prepared for, to hear.

And let me say this about my time at home. While I am often very honest with my kids about how much Michael is still on my mind, and in my heart, I cannot be falling apart around them all the time. Even though I have a staring role in my own life, I play a supporting role in theirs.

As a parent I have to be prepared to tend to their needs, and emotions, at any given moment. I have to be prepared to stop what I am doing, be it typing on this computer, or crying in my bedroom, and go cook them dinner, or rush them to the ER when they fall face forward from their bike and split their lip!

And somehow I do this with great finesse. Apparently, I'm one damn good actor, because no one around me thinks to ask if I'm needing any help? No one around me stops to think that what they say in front of me might make me feel hurt, or slighted. No one stops to realize that perhaps while they are off having wonderfully romantic, or exciting weekends together, I am at home, sitting on my couch, staring at this computer, or staring off in space.

What did I do this weekend? Not a damn thing. What did I feel this weekend? Sadness, loneliness, and that I really need to get my shit together. But, just once, wouldn't it be nice to have some occasion to get dressed up for? I don't need a red carpet, a fancy tux, or even a beautiful trophy. I just need a place where I don't have to be acting. I need other people around who are interested in what is really going on with me.

Well, the night is still young, and the award show is still going, but I can tell you this much, I don't win. Why? Well, because I am all about loss, right? I'm not on the winning side of life, at least I haven't been for awhile now. It's okay, I've come to accept it. I've learned to keep that ever present smile on my face just in case the camera quickly pans my way. And, just like the nominees that will go home empty handed tonight, I have to be a gracious loser. You know the drill: "Just be happy for what you had."


Friday, February 21, 2014

A Weight Lifted

"I want to tell you something, but I'm afraid". These are the words I said to my grief-counselor last Monday, when I saw her for my weekly session. For the past 2 years, she has been the one person that I have bared my soul to and opened my wounds to, over and over and over again. But this was different. This was something I was terrified to say out loud, because once I said it out loud - that would mean it was out there in the universe, it was no longer just thoughts inside my head, and I would now have to be accountable for it. These are all the things I said to her when she asked me why I was afraid.

"I realized something about myself", I continued, taking a leap and hoping she would be there to catch me. "I made a connection between my weight and my constant struggle with my body image- and everything else in my life - including the morning he died, and all the days before that morning , and why I cannot let go of all the guilt that I feel about not being able to say goodbye to him. It wasn't so much about saying goodbye as it was about saying 'I'm so sorry that I didn't do better in our marriage. I didn't work harder so that you wouldn't have to hold down 2 jobs and be exhausted. I was so happy and so lazy and so complacent, that I just sat back and let you take care of me, because you did it so well. I am so very sorry. '

My counselor said something that she has said to me many, many times before - because it never seems to sink into me. I never seem to want to accept it, or let myself off the hook. I have this inner-need to punish myself, and I don't know why. She said the familiar words that I have heard her say before with such love and warmth: "You didn't kill him, Kelley. You didn't kill your husband. You are not the reason he had a heart attack and collapsed. It would have happened wherever he was in his life at that time, and you have to know that he was with you and he was incredibly happy being with you. It was what he wanted. You have to stop making yourself responsible for something you could not control."

 I couldn't even look her in the eye. What she was saying made logical sense, but I still felt like a murderer. I still felt like my actions and my lack of actions had somehow been the indirect link that made my sweet husband die. I should have been working two jobs, too. Why was I allowing him to exhaust himself that way? I should have gone to more auditions and tried harder to get acting work. That was the reason he packed up his cushy life in Florida and moved it to New Jersey with me, so that I could pursue my dreams of being a performer and comedian. I should have gone to the gym all those times that I got in my car and said I was going to the gym, instead of parking at a McDonalds parking lot and stuffing my face with french fries while listening to comedy radio to waste enough time to equal "a good workout." What kind of sick person sits in their car just to avoid going to the gym? What kind of wife does that to the husband she loves so much?

As I rushed all the words out to my counselor, she cheered me on like a sports coach. "You're doing so great. Keep talking", she said. My eyes were red and I was sobbing suddenly with the next few sentences. It was the first time I had said them out loud to anyone.

"Why did he die? Why was it him and not me? I was the one who was so overweight and out of shape. I was the one who ate like crap and never exercised and was so lazy. Not him. He played tennis, he rode his bike, he kept in shape, he was a paramedic and helped people everyday. It's not fair that he died, when it should have been me that died. Not him. I feel so guilty for living. I feel so guilty that I'm alive and that his death STILL hasn't made me lose weight and get healthy. I STILL cant motivate myself to do it. I just keep gaining more and living in denial about it. What the hell is wrong with me? Why couldn't I see this before?"

"You're seeing it now. This is so huge. Just saying it out loud is such a big deal. Now you can really, actually, start to move forward and start to process some of these feelings. There's a lot of healing in all the things you just made the choice to say today. You chose to open this door. Congratulations. Im very proud of you."

I told her I felt so much better just having said it out loud to someone. And I did. But I also felt a lot of shame and hurt and grief. There is so much shame in talking about your own weight with someone else. Talking about your lack of control over what you eat and don't eat. Talking about your zero desire to exercise, and your ability to come up with creative excuses NOT to work out. The whole thing feels so violating, and I hate it when anyone else comments on my eating habits or weight. Even when they are trying to help or when it comes from a caring place, it always feels like they are breathing down my neck and I want to push them far away. I need to start dealing with this weight issue though, and I need to do it silently, amongst myself, and my husband, who never deserved to die. And I need to somehow believe that I did not kill him, and that I still deserve to live - even though I am broken.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

The death march part 3: birthday week

Zen Garden  by grizzlysghost

  Zen garden by the immensely talented and all-round nice guy, Aaron Aldrich.

So - only one more week (and a few days) until March 1.
Only three more days until his birthday.

Still the nightmares about the accident.  

Still that vivid mental image of how his arm looked in his work shirt contrasted with the smashed watch and phone that were given back to me.

Still the crying at odd times.

Still stressed about work....

... but

still .... Fine
I know I am teetering on the edge of "fine"  and "f#cked-up" though.

I know it won't take much to make me lose my balance and go tumbling down the rabbit hole.

I am hoping that there isn't that One Single Straw that floats onto my back to break me into small pieces.

But so far ......

Still fine.


Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Mindful Reverie~

I won't lie to you.  The first time I saw the man who would become my husband, I almost swooned.

Yes, I'm a sucker for a uniform and he was wearing his dress blues, Air Force style.  With a mustache.  I was maybe 4 houses away but he caught my eye and, though it took me quite a few months to recognize it, my heart.  He was handsome with a capital H.  And then I saw him in his BDU's (battle dress uniform, also known as camouflage) and swooned again.  He looked just as good wearing civilians. And his heart, as I came to find out, matched the good looks.

For many months (after I managed to pick myself up off the floor), we were friends and it took my mom giving me a mom look and a "so just what it is that's going on between the two of you?" for me to stop short and re-think the meaning of friendship.  She told me she could see the sparks shooting like fireworks between us.

That spark never left.  I know-people fall in love, marry, have a honeymoon phase, have kids and get on with life;  that's the general trajectory.  Not so with me and Chuck.  We fell in love, married, never had a honeymoon for 10 years or so, but stayed in love and lust with one another right until the end.  He and I began our marriage with 4 kids between us; my 3 and his 1, so I knew we were going to have to pay particular attention to us, husband and wife, and nurture that relationship, to keep it strong.

Which we did.

Our bedroom was our sanctuary.  Our kids weren't invited to come in and loll about.  There was no family bed, no snuggling there except between he and I.  Which wasn't a popular view at the time, and maybe not now, either.  Out in the rest of the house, we were mom and dad and kids and a busy life and all that entailed.  In our bedroom?  Alison and Chuck.  Woman and man.  No pictures of us with our kids or any other relative there.  Nope.  But oh yes on pictures of the two of us kissing, or hugging, or holding hands.  We knew that we had to keep us strong if we were to have a strong family, and for us that meant creating a space where we could be just us, with reminders of just why we joined our lives in the first place.  We were, we hoped, wiser in our second marriages than we'd been in our first.

We were just as passionately in love with one another on the night Chuck died last April as we'd been 23 years earlier when we married.  He and I spent 24 years together, 23 of them married.  Yes, of course we fought and disagreed around the same issues as every other couple:  kids, work, stress, old emotional baggage.


For 24 years we hugged and kissed and held hands and made love and had wild sex and teased and we danced and danced and danced until he couldn't any more, and then we just held hands and gently kissed and said goodbye and he left me a message on my phone and promised me that, no matter what,  he would see me again and that he would always, always, be with me.

And then he closed his eyes and his body took over and the cancer ate him up and spit him out and my life with him disappeared and my body and my heart became a mass of pain and agony and now it's just me and my memory of the love we shared and if I have nothing else left to me I have that and I'm going to....I am....building a new life for myself based on that because in the end all we have is love and that's bigger than our physical bodies.

Yesterday was...would have been...our 24th wedding anniversary.  And I cried for what I had and what I no longer have and for the joy of having him for the years that I did, and the years that I must now have without him.

It is better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all.  Yes, I would do it again, over and over, even knowing the end.

I love you, D.  I always will.  I carry you in my heart.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014


I am working through one of those 'I wish this decision didn't rest solely on me' moments currently.

John has turned three.  And that's when private schools here interview for the start of school at age 5.

I knew that, somewhere in the back of my mind.

But for some reason I thought I had at least six months before I had to think about setting up private primary schooling for John. 

As long as I've lived here, the local primary school was always going to be actively avoided for any children I may have.  After marrying Ian, he and I had planned to move to a different part of town and into a better school zone. Problem solved, kids won't be going to this school.

But obviously that didn't quite go to plan.  

John and I are still in the same house. 

Still in the same school zone. 

So late last year I started to look into private schools in the area, including one that was recommended by a family from our church.  Yep, that one looks good. 
  • Strong academics - students are winning scholarships to top level private high schools. 
  • Good language teaching program. 
  • Very active sports program
  • A smaller Christian school with a strong community.

Ticks a lot of the boxes Ian and I had, plus some I added to my list once I knew I was making schooling decisions on my own.  So to the top of the list it goes.

But I really wish the decision wasn't on my own head.

About this time last year I looked at high schools (back to front, I know), but then Ian's mother was actively involved in the selection & decision process.  We agreed on the choice of school, and for the same reasons. 

But she too is no longer here, so I'm making the primary school decision on my own. 

Late last week, I figure it's time to get a move on, so I look online to find out when they may be doing tours and meet and greets for potential families. I find their first newsletter for the year posted, so take a read.

And have a minor panic attack when I read the Principle is currently interviewing families for the 2016 Reception intake.

John's intake.

Once my heart rate slows down, I make a phone call. Thankfully they still have places available for the intake.  We have an interview with the Principle and school tour booked for today.

Now to hope they'll send an offer of enrolment after they meet us...  

Monday, February 17, 2014

White Knuckled



Leaving you in the hospital was awful. I couldn’t stop thinking of you there in that room, all alone. I wanted to be there if you woke up so you felt less lonely, but I also knew that I wouldn’t be much comfort to you and that I was making things worse with my worrying. It nearly takes my breath away to think of you being scared or hurting. I can’t bear it.

I can’t believe I was ever annoyed by your “get up and go” personality. I will never again complain about your attempts to drag me out of bed and do work because I don’t ever want to take your health for granted again.

I am so glad you knew something was wrong and got yourself help. Thank god you listened to your hunch. I am so grateful you’re not the kind of person who tries to be a hero and “tough it out” instead of getting to a doctor before it’s too late.

I want you to know that I am working so hard on this phobia. I want to be helpful and supportive. I want to be a good caregiver to you. I will continue to work on this and get more help to be better at riding out my fear and maybe one day beating it. I want to do that so badly, for you.

I was searching through my computer, looking for a random poem I remember saving a long time ago and I found this. I don't remember writing it and it wasn't dated, but I have a feeling I wrote it the night Dave was admitted to the hospital and I went home to sleep, gather some comfort items for him and check on the cats. 

We lived 45 minutes from the hospital and driving home and then driving back didn't make sense. The real reason I didn't come back to the hospital, though, is that my fear of his illness being deadly was making me almost need to be hospitalized myself. 

Imagine a panic attack (if you haven't had one, you're so very lucky) and then imagine that you're having one all day, all night. That's how it felt. My legs would barely hold me up, I was shaking nonstop, I couldn't eat or sleep and I was irrational. 

I knew that I needed to save myself so I could be of service to my sick husband and I knew one more minute in the hospital would turn me into a psych patient (I'm not kidding about that part) but as soon as I left the hospital, the feeling of abandoning Dave there and escaping the hospital myself filled me with a new horror. I probably wrote this to relieve some of the horrible feelings I had building up inside that night as I tried to calm myself. 

I didn't make it through the night. As soon as I closed my eyes, around 2 am, the hospital called and told me to come back, Dave was in trouble. It was a downhill spiral of fear and pain after that. 

Seeing these words now, almost 3 years later, squeezes the air out of my lungs. It feels like some sort of cruel joke to hear myself (that old me) say things that hinted at the idea that Dave would survive long enough for me to work on my fears. I was trying so hard not to believe that he would die from this illness. Something in me, something deeper than my mind, was convinced he was dying. 

What the hell was that? Was that the voice of fear or was it the voice of knowing? 
I don't know. I'm guessing there's a possibility there was something in me that knew Dave wasn't going to make it. 

Sometimes we know things we can't know. Sometimes we feel things with parts of us we don't understand, that even science can't understand. 

I wish I'd had a chance to work on that phobia with him. Instead, my biggest fears came to be. This is rather damming when it comes to the trajectory of my phobia. Instead of seeing his illness through and riding out the panic, I feared that he'd die and he did. I never got to see the conclusion prove me wrong.

I know everyone dies. Even some in unnatural, out of order ways. I know that if I allow myself to love any another human being, that there is a chance he or she could die before me. I know that. I wish knowing that would bring me some peace, but it brings me a lot of fear. It brings me reality.

Reality isn't pretty. But it's what we have. It’s life. Life is death and death is life. There is no way around it. That reality makes the current moment more momentous and more meaningful. It also makes me scared. I’m scared. And I feel his loss so deeply when I read this journal entry. An ache that does not go away. It just hides until a moment like this, when words from the past bring it all back again. The terror, the loss, the pain. It hurts so much. But when I’m hurting, I’m also living. I’m here. I’m experiencing the messiness that is life. Fear is a part of it. So is love. And love is all that matters. The rest just comes along for the ride.

I’m on that ride. Sometimes I’m holding on, white knuckled. Sometimes I relax a little. But I’m here.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Love Where you Can

I'm just going to say it, we're aaaall glad it's over… one of those dreaded days in most widowed people's lives - Valentine's Day. If we're lucky enough to keep our noses out of Facebook and our feet out of public places, we might actually be able to survive this day relatively in tact. Or maybe not… maybe no matter how much we might try to ignore it, our bodies will still know THAT day is here.

This year was my second Valentine's without my fiancĂ©. I spent most of the day on the road... driving the five hours up to Dallas to see my best friend. Going back to Dallas is always a lot like playing Russian roulette with my heart. I never quite know how I'm going to react. Sometimes, when I get my first glimpse of that sprawling city skyline over the horizon, I'm completely overcome by a total grief meltdown. Other times, as I drive through familiar streets and past old favorite restaurants, I feel this odd detachment… as if I am in a dream, driving through some post-apocalyptic version of a past life. A few times my trips have even been incredible, all thanks to my amazing friends who still live there.

In retrospect, it was perhaps not the smartest idea to return back to the city we called home on Valentine's weekend of all weekends. Really Sarah? Sometimes I am amazed at the bold (aka stupid) decisions I make. But anxiety attacks and crying fits aside, I'm gonna say it was worth it.

Friday morning, I took some flowers to Drew at the cemetery on my way out of town, and then headed for Dallas. There we were - me, my suitcase and my anxiety tightly packed into his truck. Anxiety quickly hogging all the space. So I called a girlfriend of mine, already in tears, and hoped that feeling the pain with someone by my side would help. We ended up talking the entire five hour drive. By the time I arrived, I had gotten plenty of crying out, and even some good laughs too. Most importantly, I felt like someone had taken the time to really see me - all the way down to the bones - and to love even the most painful parts of me. A good girlfriend will always do that.

The evening landed me with my best friend, her mom, and another good girlfriend of ours out for dinner and dancing. We had a three-course meal at a swanky restaurant in uptown, with a live band playing. I even bought a brand new dress just for the occasion. Last year, I was such an emotional wreck I could not even think about doing something like this. I don't know if I was feeling stronger or just reckless this year, but I really wanted to try doing it up right. Sure, I was terrified of having a complete breakdown in the middle of the restaurant and fleeing to the car in shame… but you know, that's just the gamble I've gotta take now.

The really amazing thing is… with good people surrounding me, I really wasn't focusing on all the things I didn't have. I never noticed any of the couples having romantic dinners nearby, or got upset at any of the sappy love songs (I was just as shocked as anyone by this). Because I felt seen for who I am - pain and all. We laughed and cried and sang songs and danced and drank wine and savored delicious food. We talked about happy memories and hard times and about how glad we were for each other. We lived precisely in the moment - an untouchable group of four fabulous females. As it turned out - even though I was missing the person I love the most - I had plenty of love right there in front of me and I knew just how lucky I was to have it.

And really, isn't that was life is about? I know in the times I am able to experience what is right in front of me fully I feel most alive, and most grateful. It was an honor to be able to sit in the presence of other beautiful human beings with their own pains and heartache and imperfect lives and know that - in that moment - we were sharing an exchange of love together. In that moment, we were seeing each other as the flawed and wounded souls we truly are and saying to one another "I see you. I see all of you. And I will not ask you to hide any part of you away from me. And I love you for all of it."

It is a gift I had only allowed him to give me before. For me, it was just too vulnerable to open myself up to anyone else in that way. But since his death, I've been quite forced to open myself more fully… time and time again my friends and family have shown they love all of me. It's a pretty important gift for his death to have given me, I happen to think.

Who knows how next year will go. Maybe I won't be feel able to celebrate love, or maybe I will. I sure can tell you that I woke up this morning feeling "the grief hangover". Missing him more deeply than I have in months… you know the feeling, where it hurts so bad that you want to crawl out of your skin just to get away from it. The pain that makes you want to tear out every synapse in your brain just to short circuit it. When even the tears won't come. I expect the next few mornings (at least) will likely be that way.

BUT... last night, just for one night, I was able to put on a beautiful new dress, my favorite black pumps he bought me just to see me smile, and just be me…. right where I am. No hiding my pain away, or hiding my joy away either, but letting it all be seen, and discovering that sometimes the best love is the love that is right in front of you.


I know with V-Day having past, that it's good to have reminders that their love lives on. So I'd like to share this favorite story of mine:

It was February 12th, 2009, and I decided to do something I had given up after Michael's passing...create homemade Valentine's Day cards. Making cards was one of my favorite things and with it being a dismal part of the year, I was secretly hoping it would lift my spirits. Michael used to love recieving them and seeing all the little touches I'd add to make it special.

So I pulled out my box of paints, papers, embellishments and more. I grabbed enough to strat creating and sat at my kitchen table. The first card was made without a hitch, but it was as I created my second one that it happened...grief decided to make an uninvited visit, and the tear's soon followed. Oh, what I would do to have spent that Valentines with Michael, to just hear him say, "I love you"...those thoughts and more clouded my brain as fast as the tears clouded my eyes.

But no!! I could not let this stop me..."I just need to find even brighter papers and paints, maybe the perfect quote on vellum....I'll go back to the box and continue forward. " was what I told myself. So I got up, went back to closet and pulled out the box, digging for something...I didn't quite know what. I sifted through a rainbow of colored papers, paintbrushes, cardstock, and more. I lifted one stack and noticed a tiny sliver of paper with the ink of a sharpie seeping through the back.

I knew it had to be something written by Michael, he always wrote with sharpies. The pain from my very recent breakdown gave me a moment of hesitation is which I feared to turn it over and read it's words.

I put my hand into the box and slowly pulled out the ruled paper. Sitting on the floor, I flipped it over....

"Happy Valentine's Day"

Written in his handwriting (all caps)....waiting for me in that box, in that closet, in my office....waiting for me to find it 2 days before Valentine's Day, to let me know he was there.

"A box without hinges, key, or lid, yet golden treasure inside is hid."
-J. R. R. Tolkien

Friday, February 14, 2014

Dance Class

The first Valentines Day without my husband was torture. Everything that existed in the universe felt like a personal attack. The cheap-looking bears holding heart-shaped balloons on a stick at CVS, the conversation heart candies, the kissing and giggling couples around every corner. It all felt like one, giant personal attack on me and my loss.

The second Valentines Day was a little bit softer, but not much. I tried to busy myself and pretend the day wasn't happening, but that didn't work, because last year I had to work on that day, and I teach at a college. So it seemed as if everywhere I turned, guys were presenting their girlfriends with flowers and gifts and hugs and love; as the sad widow professor darkened the hallways with her every heavy step. I wanted to sit in my car and sob, which I did, after my last class finally ended.

This year, we are stuck in yet another major snowstorm in NY, so I didn't have to work, and here I sit, alone in the caccoon of my apartment, safe from the world of other humans, hiding behind my keyboard. The comedian in me was planning on filming a funny Valentines Day - themed video for my You Tube channel today, in order to help combat depression with humor - but the stupid weather may stop that from happening. So here I am. Should I venture out into the land of people? I don't know. Part of me wants to rebel against my own sadness, but the other part just doesn't much feel like having other people's love shoved in my face in the form of red velvet cupcakes and Whitmann's chocolates.

Grief changes all the time. But the changes don't always feel easier, especially when you are inside of them. Just because the pain gets different, doesn't mean the pain gets better. It just gets different. And the longer you have been dealing with the loss of "your person", the more familiar you become with all of the many changes. So instead of "what the hell is THIS that I'm feeling?", it becomes "Oh, right. THIS again? I remember this. I know this. Let me sit inside of this for awhile, until it becomes something else." 

This year, Valentines Day carries a pain with it, but it's a familiar pain. I know this dance. I've done these steps. My legs are tired and my feet burn from doing them, because nobody asked me if I liked this choreography or even if I wanted to dance at all. So I do the steps like a robot, phoning them in and getting them over with. I know how this one goes. I hate this song and dance, but I know it, and I know that I have no choice but to listen to it, until it stops. Is this the extended remix version? Why won't it stop??? 

It won't stop, because for us, it never stops. There is always something. Always. The emotions of grief lurk in every single corner. The extreme sadness of Valentines Day, isn't even about Valentines Day. Not really. Not entirely. It matters not whether you celebrated the day with your person. What matters is that you had a person, and with that person, you had rhythms and music and steps. Days like Valentines Day are brutal mirrors into what is no longer there. The music has stopped, and now you hear new music. Or no music. Maybe you hear nothing at all. But none of that matters. Nobody cares what you hear or don't hear. Nobody cares that you don't like the steps and you hate this song and you don't want to do this anymore. Nobody cares that you signed up for this dance class by mistake, or didn't sign up for it at all. Nobody cares that you can't walk and you need to sit down, as they walk on by with their love roses and candy hearts and comforting cards. They don't care, or they don't notice, because they are in love and therefore, in the midst of their own sweet dance.

People are dancing all around you, and love is in the air. But your person is gone, and they can no longer dance with you, yet you are forced to dance anyway, not knowing or wanting to know the steps to this horrible song. Keep dancing, they say. Let the pain in your heart and your feet and your eyelids, carry you forward into that next step - until the music finally changes, and that next step becomes something else.