Thursday, April 30, 2015

Grey Days

I don’t have time to watch much television, but I do enjoy movies of all kinds, and there is some pretty great television out there these days too. I just have to pick and choose - there is so much, and I’m too busy living life these days to spend too much of it staring into the idiot box…but still, I do look forward to those down times, those few hours a week I take for myself, to zone out and tune into to the fictional lives I’ve allowed myself to become attached to. 

I watched more when Mike was alive. We were both huge geeks and never missed anything Star Wars or Lord of the Rings or Indiana Jones or Marvel comics…as an avid archer, he devoured the Hunting Game books and was looking forward to the two final movies in that series, but he died before they came out. I have yet to see them, or much else that has come out in our batch of favorites since he died. It’s just no fun without him, and when I see ads for them it makes my heart hurt. 

His favorite books were the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon…we read the entire series together (the second time for me) and turned a lot of other friends and family on to it. We speculated heavily on the casting for the TV series we knew was coming; alas, he didn’t make that one either (or her last book, for that matter). This series I have been watching though, with my dear friend Cheryl, who read the series at his excited recommendation. She happens to also be a widow, so she relates to everything going on with me quite a bit, and since she knew him she also gets how much Mike would have been geeking out at the whole thing. So I’m immensely grateful for that, but it’s still bittersweet.

Mike and I also loved watching a lot of classic films - it was he who introduced me to The Thin Man and the Marx brothers, among so many others, which became some of my all-time favorites. He did amazing impressions and was constantly entertaining me with his Cary Grant, Kathryn Hepburn, Arnold Schwarzenegger, you name it…his Paul Lynde had me in stitches almost from the day we met.

That all said, I still had my personal guilty pleasures…shows that were mine and mine alone, which he had no interest in and in fact refused to share. I get it. I do love me a good soap opera - always have. I still remember that tiny old black and white TV I had in my dorm room in the 80s, so glued to General Hospital in the days of Luke and Laura that I even scheduled my classes around it. So when Grey’s Anatomy started up over a decade ago now, I was hooked…and never left. I have seen every single episode, I must admit.

The night Mike died  we watched part of To Catch a Thief which happened to be on TV, one of his favorites. Then he had gone to bed early, as he usually did, and I stayed up to catch up on my Grey’s, as I often did. I remember watching two episodes, then putting the dog into his room with him before I turned in (we slept separately, due to his terrible snoring). I remember the dog jumping on his bed, and noticed briefly that he didn’t stir…but didn’t think much about it. I figured he was just sleeping hard; we’d had a long day, and I wasn’t really surprised. The next morning, when I found him still in that same position, after waking up to a dark and quiet house and no hot coffee…that moment was a shock that will live with me forever. He was already stiff and blue, so even though the coroner put his death for the 17th, I will always suspect he had that heart attack pretty soon after going to bed that night on the 16th…when I was blissfully unaware, watching my Grey’s Anatomy. So needless to say, this last episode made my heart hurt for a lot of reasons.

If you watch the show but are not caught up: Spoiler alert.

McDreamy is dead.

The writers killed off the character that I had grown to love…a character who had come to terms with his marriage and family; the character of his wife, Meredith, was a personal hero of mine…strong, smart…I watched their fictional relationship develop, ebb and flow for so long. So when this character died last week, I sat there, stunned, tears streaming down my face…

I know it’s silly. I know there is so much real horror and heartbreak out there in the world…but, these characters had just become dear to me, somehow. I always looked forward to spending an hour a week in this alternate universe…and now, he was gone.

For a few days after I vowed I’d never watch the show again. I felt devastated and abandoned by these writers. But now, I think, I will watch, to see how they write the newly widowed surgeon dealing with the loss. I wonder, if it will be relatable. I wonder, whether they will portray the grief in a way I can fathom. I wonder how this series will deal with the widowhood of its main character.

However unimportant it all may seem in the great scheme of things, I’ve been haunted by everything I’ve written here this week. The night Mike died; all the hours we spent together enjoying watching TV; all the things I can’t watch without him; if I hadn’t been watching Grey’s that night could I have found him earlier? Known there was something wrong? Could he have been saved?? Was it my fault somehow? Am I a bad person for still watching that show, and feeling sad that a fictional character is dead? Why does it bother me that much? And why can’t I stop thinking about it?

I have no final answers, this week. It’s just…it’s just another week on this planet, another one without Mike, but with all the bits and pieces that make up the experience I’m still living, all the good and the bad.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

This Point~

I reached a point in these last few days.

I need to stop looking (albeit unconsciously) for this sharp cutting edge of grief in my body to stop.  I need to stop looking for that elusive something that will take it away.  Cut it away as carefully as a surgeon's knife, leaving my body and heart as intact as it was for my 24 years with him.  There wouldn't even be any scarring because that then, in those old days that seem like another century and time, was the real, whole, me.

But, of course, the only thing that will remove it is if my beloved husband returns, and we all know he ain't gonna do that.  Which is unimaginable to me and probably always will be,but it's the ugly truth.

Our culture...many cultures, I suspect, are unforgiving of grief.  A certain, quantifiable time is allotted but then there's just that feeling in the air that society at large is whispering behind their hands oh she's depressed all she talks about is her husband she's always sad why doesn't she appreciate life. 

I'm tired of not allowing the totality of my grief to be present;  truly, it's exhausting to not show the depths of it.  I'm tired of continually striving to push my way through it.  Tired of holding myself together when, honestly, you know what I want to do?  I want to tear at my clothes, pull at my own hair, curl in a ball on the floor and become the pain that I am.  Allow myself to sob and grieve and shriek my madness at the Universe and dissolve into its' stars and the moon and the dark nothingness of what is too huge for my feeble human mind to grasp.

Where is he?  Why is he gone?  What happened to my life?  Where is the part of my soul that mattered most to me?  How the holy fuck hell am I supposed to care about life without him?  How do I do this?  How do I not die from the loneliness of my soul?  How can I live for god knows how many years of my life with this fucking meat-cutter in my chest?  How, how, how, how? 

This man....this man who was my husband, was the keeper of my heart.  I mattered to him more than anyone else in his life and the gone-ness of that knowing has left me dislocated and lacking any sense of direction.

I talk to people throughout my day, like everyone else, as life goes on, but the words in my mind are much different than the words on my lips.  What I'm really saying is I miss you I miss you i miss you I Miss you I miSS You I miss infinitum...

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Weeping Willows

Hey babe,

Do you remember this place?  Do you remember how much Shelby loves coming here?  It was the first place that Shelby and I ever took a hike, and it's the final place, a year ago, that you and I took a walk.  I can still remember Shelby running around, picking up last year’s acorns, the few remaining ones left alone by the squirrels at least.  I remember holding your hand and just walking, letting her be fascinated by nature, as she always was, and still is. We strolled...slowly. You had already been in rejection for a few months, but you weren't sick enough yet that you couldn't shuffle along.

We could smell the dogwood trees blooming, and I remember you commenting on how they smelled so much better than any perfume that anyone had ever worn around you, and how, for a change, a potent scent didn't make you cough.

I remember being terrified at the time that this would be the last walk we would ever take together. Turns out, my fear would become reality in November..

God, how many times we came here, and walked the different paths through the various gardens, but we always ended up here, at the “Weeping Collection”.  

You loved weeping willows.  They were your favorite tree, and every time we would pass one on a drive, you would always comment on how much you loved them.  I always wished that we lived somewhere where I could have planted one for you.  They need more space, and our little white house with the white picket fence on a ⅛ acre city lot in Akron just would not suffice.  I wish we had gotten even just a year or two more...long enough we could have moved, and I could have planted that willow for you on the little mini-farm I always wanted to live out the rest of my days on.  I knew you weren't going to be around forever, but I had at least hoped for the chance to get you out of the city.  

We would have renewed our vows on our 10th anniversary, this coming August, right here under this weeping willow in the gazebo.  I had decided upon it on our walk, but I never got the chance to tell you.  

So, I came back here today to write this to you.  I had to come in the spring, just to remember that walk, and all the sights, sounds, and smells. Honestly, what I needed most was to sit and mourn you for awhile.  I haven’t mourned the loss of you for some time because frankly, I've been happy.  I needed to sit here and talk to you, honestly, deeply, and frankly, in a place that was one of the last that you and I shared before sitting quietly among industrial tile floors, a ventilator pumping away, and IV poles for six months, and I needed to do it alone, at least this first time.

I’m sorry babe.  I’m sorry that I didn't move fast enough in life to plant that willow for you, or to renew our vows under the little gazebo covered in wisteria.  If I knew then what I know now, we would have done it that very day. There was no sense in waiting for a specific date, because honestly, the vows I took, and wanted to renew, meant the world to me no matter when they were stated.  I guess there is no sense in renewing them now, as now that death has done us part, they can never be broken. I am morbidly proud of that fact.  

Unfortunately, we can only know what we know now.  I know now that you were preparing me, for 12 years, to be the man I am today.  I know now that, other than still being alive and healthy, you wouldn't have it any other way for Shelby or I.  I know now that I am supposed to continue my life as if you were still here with us, but with someone else that is just as special as you were, and that I can love just as much as I loved you.

I know now that every spring, I should come here, walk, talk to you, mourn you, and thank you for being who you were, and who you continue to reveal yourself to be.  I know now that the same thanks should have been given to you while you were alive.  I know now that those who deserve thanks and love should get it then and there, when I’m feeling it, and not on some arbitrary “special occasion”, because there aren't any guarantees that the special occasion will occur.

You taught me all of this, Megan.  You've taught me that I can love even more than I ever thought possible, and that my love for you will continue to grow right alongside my new love. You've brought me to where I am today, and you'll continue to take me where I'm going. In that sense, we're still holding hands, walking together, and I know you'll be there by my side the rest of my life. Shelby? She's running just ahead, taking in everything on her own terms, but always under both of our watchful eyes.

Thank you.

Take care babe, I love you.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Count on This

I have outlasted all desire,
My dreams and I have grown apart;
My grief alone is left entire,
The gleamings of an empty heart.

From Grief Alone Is Left Entire, by Alexander Pushkin

The poem from which the excerpt, above, was taken, could be considered rather bleak. The writer speaks of his grief being the only thing he can count on in this world. It is the one thing he can cling to, he says, and he waits, in desolation, for the end to come.

I can't say that my inner life echoes the sad words of this writer, these days. There are bright periods with slivers of hope. But always, underpinning them, is the experience of this loss, and the grief that surrounds it.

Last week, I attended a pension planning seminar at work. I don’t know what I thought I was doing there. The presenter spoke of setting money aside, from our monthly paycheques, so that we could receive a lump sum, tax free, at our legal retirement age, which, for me, now, is 66. Men and women in their 30s and 40s raised their hands and eagerly participated in the session, calculating their future riches, counting up their pounds and pence.

I looked at them, so certain of their years on this planet. So trusting. So naïve.

I don’t count on anything, anymore. I assume nothing. I know that I could be cut right down, like my husband was. I could be out in the world, on a sunny, summer, day, enjoying the birdsong and the flowers blooming, and my heart could say, ‘enough’. I could be surrounded by family, (like he was), in the midst of grief, and I could walk outside, into the sunlight, and I could crumble to the ground.

I put some pounds and pence aside, when I can. But I am not going to squirrel part of my paycheque away, each month, in the hope that I will be here in eight years to enjoy it. I am not going to work and work, and wile away my precious time on this earth, dreaming of some future pleasure, my arms filled with tax-free cash. I have seen too many people put their lives on hold until retirement, and never make it there.

My sister-in-law died one month after she received her first Social Security payment. One month.

I do make some plans for the future. I hope to someday hike the Appalachian Trail. I am working on some short stories. I have plans for this weekend, and next month and next year. Retreats. Hikes. Visits with family. Phone calls.

But I know that those plans are not real. They may never happen. If nothing else, my loss has taught me this: everything changes, in this world, everything. Everyday. 

Even my grief. 

My grief is no longer frozen. It is a landscape of hills and valleys, rivers and streams, still lakes and turbulent waters. On days like today, when the sun shines, and the air is warm and breezy, I awaken with a sense of calm and hope. I stand at the top of the hill, looking out. I go about my routine, and try to remain aware, and mindful, and I may even feel happy, for awhile, until something hits. A remembered image of him, on the ground. A walk past the shop where we bought our wedding cake. A lingering look through the window of our coffee shop, on the High Street. Remembering our last time there, together. Such minute moments in time can send me tumbling, face first, into the valley of my grief.

The grief is always there. It might shift and change in shape and breadth and width, but the depth of it remains. It is dark, and sits in the pit of my stomach. Some days I can move around it, or mould it, like clay. Other days it is hard, and unrelenting. Like coal. Like rock.

I can count on this grief. I know it will never leave me, entirely. My love was deep. My grief is real. 

It is the one true thing I have left.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Carrying the Grief Ahead

I've had little time to think in the past few days. I came down for the weekend to the beach a few hours south of where I live, with a bunch of friends. Like everything in this After Life, even the most ordinary stuff - like a beach trip - has significance and can feel heavy.

I woke this morning early to write this - all my friends still dozing away from a late night of fun. As I brew up a pot of coffee in the morning quiet, I am able to finally think things over.

It's been a great trip, but I have found myself having to really try hard to put on a smile. I am just having a diffiult time getting excited about things...

This morning, it hits me: All these friends who came down for the weekend... They are new friends. Friends I have met in the past year. Friends who never knew Drew. Even after almost 3 years, that can still be hard. It can still be hard to not wish he were here, and remember what it felt like when my partner was there on these kinds of trips with me... Where we could enjoy being that beautiful extension of one another in the company of others.

This was compounded by the fact that the new guy I am dating was not able to be here, and I was simultaneously wishing to share that with him too. And then finally, further compounded by the fact that we are staying at my in-laws' beach condo. The place where Drew and I had so many memories. And the forever strange reminder that his family is not only still in my life, but IS my family now too... Only he isn't here to get to enjoy that. 

Anytime there is a coming together of my new and old world like this - it stirs up the grief. He wanted so badly for us to be married and share a life together... And we just didn't get there, and while I may someday go on to have that with someone else... I will always be sad that it was a funeral - not a wedding - that united his life and mine forever. 

Grief: it's like a pack I've been carrying these years. At first it was too heavy to even walk with - for a long, long time. At first I could not fathom how I would ever be strong enough to carry it onto any forward path. And while I did become stronger, I'm discovering a lot of the forward movement has had more to do with lightening the load I carry.

I have been opening up this pack, day by day, taking things out of it - pieces of my grief. I've turned them over in my hands and heart. I've cried for them, held them, felt them, and then.... Finally, kneeled down to leave them on the ground as I walk ahead. 

The good news is that, after a few years of pairing things down, my pack IS getting lighter. And I AM stronger than when I started out. Even with a lighter load and a stronger back though, carrying the grief on the new legs of this journey is still exhausting. Sometimes the inclines get too steep and I have to slow down, or the storms of life cause me to have to hunker down a while. I am okay with that most of the time. He was worth it, IS worth it. But some of the time, I wish I could just leave the whole pack behind... Only I know there are vital tools for navigating in there that I must take with me.

Last night I ended up staying in while all my friends went out to the bar. I hesitated, almost forced myself to go out when I wasn't up for it. At the last minute though, I bailed and let them go out while I went to bed. Today I am already feeling a bit better overall.

I am reminding myself this morning that this journey is still challenging and there will be times when I need to take my pack off and rest a while. It may even happen in the middle of a social gathering or another inconvenient time... But the most important thing is to put that pack - and myself - first. To make room in my life to stop and open up my grief, and also to stop and look back over all the distance I've traveled so far... and be proud.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Dating in the After

For some reason, I seemed to have developed the assumption that dating would be easier this time around.  God knows why.  I think, maybe, I decided that after being through something so horrific, that by the time I got to the stage where I felt ready to open my heart again I would have accumulated some kind of positive ‘love karma’ and earned myself another nice, respectable man. 

I imaged that I would make some kind of grand statement (like uploading a profile on a dating website) and eligible suitors would form an orderly queue.  I’d go on a couple of dates before finding someone whom I sparked with, and we’d be off. 

Silly, silly widow!  Why or why was I so naive?  How could I not have remembered the shallow pool of contenders I encountered last time around – let alone imagined the minefield of idiots that would be waiting for me this time.  To attempt to take advantage of a perceived vulnerability, or freak out and react uncomfortably at the first mention of death.  Or just to basically be disappointing overall.

So far, dating ‘after Dan’ is very different to dating ‘before Dan’.

I don’t have the energy I did before. I don’t have the stamina or resilience for the game playing (is he going to call?  Should I call?).  I’m much more fragile this time around and now that I know the stakes and what I could potentially gain – and then lose again – I’m more cautious and reserved. 

Furthermore, Dan set the bar REALLY high. As in, I'm really holding out for someone incredible. Someone who makes me light up. Now that I know what the real deal, no-holds-barred, 100% true love feels like, nothing less than will ever be tolerated. Not that it should ever have been tolerated before, or by anyone in any circumstances.  But before Dan I didn’t know exactly how incredible love could and should be.  

This next man will need to have a bit of class about him but be humble at the same time. A gentleman, honorable, funny, loyal and basically an all-round stand-up guy. Because, as I now know without a doubt, this is what I deserve.

Which, is another big difference to dating this time around, I have a better understanding of my own worth. Before Dan, I put up with more than my fair share of nonsense from guys who really should have treated me better. I'd been taken for granted and this had subconsciously impacted on what I perceived that I was worth. I didn't realize it at the time, but until I met Dan I think I'd started believing that love just wasn't meant for me. 

And then along came the most wonderful man. He meant it when he said I was beautiful, kind, funny and smart.  He taught me what love felt like and proved that I'm the type of woman who really does deserve the best. Furthermore, I'm not ashamed to admit it. I'm freaking awesome! The next guy who wins my heart is going to have to be pretty special, because he'll be getting have a very incredible woman. 

In my wedding speech, I said to Dan (among many other things) ‘You’re such an amazing man.  You always know just what to say and you save me every day.’ When I sat this week and pondered what being in love with Dan had taught me, I realised that he had taught me how to save myself.  Never again will I find myself in an unfulfilling relationship or question my worth. He gave me that. 

I’m still impatient though, I am wanting to take a step forward.  I’m wanting to test the waters.  I’m wanting to feel a stirring in my heart again but just can’t find the right person to make it stir.  I’m scared as all get out, but I’m ready to try. 

I know, I know – all good things come to those who wait.  You can’t hurry love.   You’ll find someone when you aren’t looking.  Bla bla bla, I know.  I’ve been around this block before, I know how it works.  It’s just so bloody annoying that I’m going through it all again. 

Thursday, April 23, 2015

After Shine

I am so grateful for this Widow’s Voice. And it’s not just about having the opportunity to share, but to know that each day I can check in and “hear” another widow’s voice; that I can follow and learn about the multitude of paths, thoughts and feelings that are experienced. Even if I ever stop writing here, I know I will read it every single day, as long as it is here. I will never stop being a widow, even as my life will, and indeed has, taken different turns since Mike’s death.

I think a lot about how different the grieving process is for each individual. How many factors there are that determine our reactions and decisions since our losses. How we view the world, and our lives, through such a kaleidoscope of ever-changing colors and patterns.

How death - the finality and reality of death - will now always be intimate. This is something I’ve been thinking and writing about the past few weeks. But on the heels of that horror I’ve also been made aware of how the development of my own self has taken an unalterable fork in the road. We will never be the same again - but I am beginning to give myself permission to realize the positive side of that fact.

I have talked at length with several of my other widowed friends about how in many ways we would not be the people we are today had our husbands not died. That we find ourselves again alone in the world, again seeking and searching, and this can lead us to our own brand of greatness and fulfillment that we may not have had opportunity to find otherwise. That the person I am becoming now can still shine brightly, even despite the grief of missing him.

Sometimes these thoughts are as big and scary as the grim reaper ones. I no longer have the life partner I thought I would have in this phase of my life; I no longer have that special person to rely or lean on, or seek advice or comfort from. I must take this detour on my own.

Mike and I were really joined at the hip. Our relationship was all-encompassing and I know I did lose myself in it. And I happily allowed that to happen. He taught me more than anyone on this planet aside from my own parents. But maybe I was ready to fly out on my own; at the time of his death I could not imagine this was true or even possible. I can’t help but see what a different person is walking around out there now - one with lots of different parts: the person she was before she met Mike, the one who spent nearly 14 years by his side, the one who walked through death’s cold shadow, and the one who now finds herself the sum of it all, plus the new extra bits that are gathered in these after days. After Mike; after my marriage; just…after. My after me.

My new relationship is not a replacement for my marriage to Mike. There is no replacing anyone. But I am so grateful for it in so many ways, some of which I am only just now coming to understand. My new guy is teaching me things too. He is a very different sort of man, perhaps just the kind of man I needed right now. His fierce independence and practicality has solidified the idea that I must be my own woman now. His own brand of support and encouragement has, in a way, forced me to view my own potential from a very different perspective. The fragile fledgling I was when Mike died has been developing her wings and is now taking test flights out from the nest.

I still wobble from time to time; I still find I must occasionally come to rest on a branch and gather my bearings for the next swoop around. But I am finding I can find joy in this life still. I will miss Mike every day for the rest of my life - but I must also admit that some days, the feeling of independent flight can be awfully exhilarating. And instead of feeling guilty about that, I now focus on how deeply proud Mike would be that I’m striving to use what I’ve learned and shine it back out into the world.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

This day. Today.

Today is 2 years since my beloved husband Chuck died.

I've always used the word died since he...died.  Don't care at all for the other, gentler words.  Not at all.  I need the harsh words to remind me that he is indeed dead because there is a part of me, somewhere inside of me, a part I can't identify, that just doesn't believe that he's dead or that this isn't some huge cosmic joke being perpetrated upon me and someday he'll come walking in the door and we'll both be totally disbelieving and we'll hug and hug and hug some more and then we'll have wild and crazy sex and then, well, get back to our lives.

So, 2 years ago.  The grief is still very present but I imagine to most of the world I seem okay and ordinary on the outside.  On the inside the grief has lodged itself into the marrow of my bones and become my heartbeat and the rush of my blood but nobody can see that so yes, I look incredibly normal whatever that means to the outside world.

I took my normal appearing self to Sedona today to remember and honor him.  Our oldest son went with me, along with his almost 2 year old daughter, who was born 2 months after Chuck's death. Our destination was the Stupa at the Buddhist Peace Park.  Chuck practiced Buddhist philosophy and that was part of what sustained him through an ugly cancer.  Alexander, my son, scattered some of his dad's cremains around the base of the Stupa and we walked around it 3 times, as is the custom, each of us quietly praying a mantra.

Before going to the Stupa, we went to Bell Rock, the site of our last family hike and where we went last year to remember Chuck.  Bell Rock holds a strong place in all of our hearts and my grand-daughter danced with me on the first level.  She's also an FWG, though, of course, she has a long way to go before attaining the true rank and file.  At her age, she's a future warrior goddess, and proved it when she good-naturedly hiked the trail with us and did some climbing with our assistance.

I don't know that my heart will ever not be broken and I'm not concerned one way or another.  What I know is that there aren't many who are gifted with the love of a man the way I was, in my life.  How miraculous that on this huge earth he and I found each other and fell in love and stayed in love.  And how impossibly devastating it is to know that he is gone from my life.

And how beautiful it is that today, our son, and the grand-daughter Chuck never met, went with me to remember him and remember the love, and that this little girl danced with her Granna to celebrate this man who left such a legacy of love behind him.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015



This week in Australia and New Zealand we are leading up to the centenary of our initial engagement in the First World War at Gallipoli in Turkey, an engagement that for Australia is often considered the birth of the nation.

Most of the documentaries, news reports and commemorations surrounding the anniversary are focused on the men who went away and what they faced on the front lines.

But there seems to be very little on those left on the home front so far from the theatres of that war.

Little on those widowed by the war.

I think about my experience - I knew what was happening. I'd reached a point where I knew Ian was going to die.  It was simply a matter of when and to be prepared for either being there, or the phone call if he died while I wasn't at the hospital.  And I'd knew I'd get word pretty quickly.

I can't imagine the uncertainty those left home would have felt.  Maybe getting delayed news reports of the slaughter that was Gallipoli and surrounding campaigns, and having no idea if their husband, fiancé or child had survived or not.

The constant underlying stress of waiting to see if the telegram or army representative came to your home to deliver the dreaded news that yes, they were on the casualty list.

Knowing their last resting place is on foreign shores.  That you'll probably never get to say goodbye, lay flowers at their grave.

Just being so far removed from the fighting that apart from the absence of one, or many, men from your life, it doesn't seem real.

Of not knowing what social supports would be in place, how you'd raise your family, run the farm, simply survive if you were a war widow.  Prior you might have had to head out and marry the first bloke that came along to simply survive - but they're all at war.

We see the collective effect of grief when we join together at Camp Widow or our local support groups, but I can't imagine how that would feel on the sheer scale that occurred during the wars.

To grieve at a time where grief wasn't as understood as it is today.  Where quite possibly the pressures to 'get over it' was far more overt and wide-spread than we experience today. 

"Sorry your husband died, but the country can't afford for you to grieve, there's a war on".

Repeated again, and again, and again.

It's important to remember those who served and didn't come home.

But I'll also remember those at home who also sacrificed the life they thought they'd have.

Those that ARE at home, who have sacrificed the life they'd thought they'd have.

Monday, April 20, 2015


The shrine at the Buddhist Centre, at Stan's memorial service

In this week of sunshine and gentle breezes and flowers blooming, I have felt a subtle shift in my grief. The warm weather and sprouting leaves have helped me to approach my days with hope. I have cried less often and smiled more. I have begun to consider how I might live this new life without him. I have had hours and days of calm and gratitude. I have had fewer days crouched in sadness. Some days I think that perhaps I will be alright.

On other days, though, a simple slight can open the dam, tapping into the grief that is stored in the deep recesses of my heart, sending it like an electrical surge through my body. 

Last Monday, I made my usual trek to the Buddhist Centre, after work, to share a meal with my sangha friends before our evening teaching and ceremonies. It is a familiar, welcoming place of wood and brick, set in the middle what is known as the Northern Quarter. I feel Stan's spirit, there, when I visit, and his influence lives on in the people who knew him and in the lives he impacted. 

Each time I entered, I would glance at the photo of him on the bulletin board, promoting the bursary fund that was set up, using the donations people made, in his memory, to help those with less money to attend Buddhist retreats. The bursary fund was something he had proposed and was passionate about, before he died. He wanted the dharma to be available to all people, not only those with enough money to afford expensive retreats. He would have been so happy to see it flourish.

It was a comfort to me, to see his photo and the poster, there, on the board. I would smile at him, pat his picture, and say hello. 

I didn't notice it, at first. I was immersed in conversation, and appreciating my food, when I glanced at the board. And his poster was gone. Just gone. The board had been rearranged, and other announcements had taken its place.

 I panicked, as a mother would do when she realises her toddler is missing. I raced to the board, to get a closer look. I ran to the reception desk, to see if it was there. I asked people what happened to it. No one seemed to know. My voice got louder. I began to cry. Then I began to sob. 

Friends came to help me. No one could really figure out what could have happened that would cause me such great upset. A good friend from my study group stood with me as I explained it. She rubbed my shoulders and tried to help me gain composure. 

Some folks looked at me as if I had truly "lost the plot", as they say in the UK. And I suppose I had. Some did not understand why it mattered. It was just a poster. It was a large one, and other events were coming up at the centre, and the board needed to be rearranged.  Simple. Logical. It was just a poster. 

But, to me, he had disappeared. He had been discarded. Someone had decided that he no longer mattered. His legacy had been tossed out. 

Another good friend helped me to find a quiet place where we could talk, so that I could sort through all these surging feelings, and make sense of the enormous grief and loss that had erupted, seemingly, out of nowhere. 

It was just a poster. But it symbolised so much. It meant that he still had a presence there, and that his contribution to the place was still appreciated. It meant that new sangha members who came along, and did not know him, would at least know a little about him. It meant that I could come there, and see him, every time I entered. It meant that he was not forgotten. 

I work so hard to make sure that he is not forgotten. I would prefer that the shrine be decorated, always, the way it was on the day of his funeral. Or that his photo be enlarged, and framed in gold, with an eternally glowing light directed at it. Or that one of our talented artists create a life-size bronze statue of him, and place it in the reception area, next to the Buddha. 

 I want to preserve him, just the way he was. 

But the truth is that, with time, his memory will fade. Not from me, and those who were closest to him. But, for others, the sweetness of his spirit, his kindness, his strength, his funny stories, all those things will drift away. People will come to the centre, as the years pass, who never knew him. Friends who knew him a little bit will no longer talk about him. Time passes. Memories fade. 

My husband is gone. He is not coming back. He has disappeared.

This constant effort to preserve his memory takes so much energy. And, in the end, it is futile. Those who loved him dearly will carry his memory in their own way, and those who barely knew him will not think about him anymore. I can't control it. It is the way of the world. 

Yet, there are some things I can do. I have decided to hike to the top of Mount Snowdon, one of the highest peaks in the UK, on the weekend before the anniversary of his death, to raise money for the bursary fund. Others have agreed to hike it with me, in his memory. Perhaps we can make it an annual event--a tangible reminder of the kind and compassionate person he was. 

My husband will live, always, inside me, and in those who knew him well. Those who did not know him missed a lot. He was a great man. He was the kindest person I ever knew. He never met a stranger, because he turned them into friends. 

I can't preserve my husband. But I can hike up the mountain, raise money for those who need it, and honour his spirit. I am touched that my friends and the people who loved him want to join me in this effort. 

On to Mount Snowdon, June 6, 2015! 

The first Memorial Walk for the Stan Kukalowicz Bursary Fund!

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Complex Joy

©Kelly Rae Roberts
I struggle tonight with what to write here. Not because I have no words for my pain... but because lately, I have been... happy. And I am struggling to write about that. Lately, my new life has become one I genuinely love. It may not be the life I had with him - but it is rich and full... and to be completely honest, it is actually far richer and more full than the life I had when he was part of it. I am a deeper, healthier, more open hearted person. I have deeper relationships with everyone I am close to now and have kicked the unworthy ones to the curb. My artistic career, although very challenging and still in the fledging stages, is meaningful and fulfilling for me. While I still have my bad days and occasional triggers and there are still certain aspects of my life that I am working to change... for the most part, I have a very full and fulfilling life.

I have mixed emotions about this. How can I possibly love my life again? And furthermore... how can I possibly love this life even MORE? How could I choose this life over my life with him if given the choice? (And I would actually). And how do I not really feel bad about that? That's some really complex shit right there.

I don't feel bad for feeling happy. I feel like it is only making Drew happier to see me finally wanting to embrace joy more fully again. And I do believe I deserve happiness. So why does it feel so damn difficult to write about happiness. Why do I fear that it will sound like I am bragging or that I will alienate readers who are in a different place on their journey through grief? It shouldn't be so hard to write about this. But it does seem like happiness becomes a taboo subject when we are grieving. Like it's not okay to admit that you may actually have some joy still left in you. Heck, maybe - eventually - you find you have even MORE joy left in you than you'd ever had before. I think this is how I feel now... that my heart is even bigger since he died - and has room for both more sorrow and more joy.

I'm just going to close this up by saying, I think that is a wonderful thing... the thought that maybe we can find just as much joy in new ways and in a new life someday as we had in our old lives. Maybe holding onto this idea can help us along when things are rough and there isn't much joy. And the grander thought that maybe - as our hearts expand from the pain of loving them - we will find that their death has created the space in us to experience even greater joy than we could have ever known had they not died. It's a complex idea, for sure, but in my heart I personally believe - this was his greatest and most lasting gift to me.

Until Death Do Us Part

Yesterday I was faced with another one of those big hurdles for us widowed folk – a wedding.  My dear friend married the man of her dreams and began her life as a Mrs. 

This wasn’t my ‘first’ wedding as a widow, my best friend got married three week’s after Dan’s death.  While I attended that event, wore my bridesmaid dress and managed to stick around until after the formalities before excusing myself and going home to cry, I was still in deep shock at that point and the whole experience seems surreal to me now. 

So I guess you could say that yesterday’s wedding was the first that I was really present for. 

Leading up to the event I was delighted for my friend.  She is a wonderful person, as is her new husband - the type of people that genuinely deserve to find happiness.  They have a kind and generous love and an incredible appreciation for each other that very much reminded me of my own relationship with Dan. 

I knew it would be challenging to see another couple sharing their special day – so full of hope and potential – but, like many things, the reality was more difficult that I was ready for.

The day was full of moments that made my heart ache.  The vows... the exchanging of rings... the speeches... the endless references to living happily ever after.  Even just watching all the other coupled-up guests enjoying each other's company, I was not only faced with the constant reminder that my own marriage was so unfairly short-lived, but I missed the person I most wanted to share that day (and every happy day) with. 

I watched couples exchanging sweet, intimate smiles as they found their own relevance and meaning in the beauty of the day. I sat as partners danced closely with their significant others. I felt the love in the room and couldn’t stop wishing with every part of my being that my husband was there with me, holding my hand.

I exhausted myself, trying to keep it together, but there were many tears. The friends I sat with knew it was difficult for me and tried to offer comfort but I didn't want people to know much I was hurting.

I especially didn’t want the bride to see my pain – I was mortified at the thought of taking anything away from her beautiful day even though I knew, of course, that she would understand.

It’s important to note that there were also a lot of good things about the wedding. I had moments of really enjoying myself, I laughed with my friends and was filled with love and happiness for the beautiful couple.  I just wish so much that Dan had of been there too. I think he would have had a nice time and made friends with the new partners who have come in to our group since he passed. 

All day, despite trying so hard to fight it, I kept thinking: I can't believe we only got six weeks of our ‘happily every after’, it sucks so damn much.  I guess that will never NOT suck.  It will always be shit and unfair and painful as hell.  Hopefully just not as often.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Full Circle

About 2 years ago, during a long and emotional session with Caitlin, my grief-therapist, she looked at me very seriously and she said:
"There is going to be a day when you no longer need to come and see me anymore. It will be gradual. Maybe you'll only come every other week for awhile. Maybe skip some weeks. And then, finally, you just won't need to see me anymore. Maybe once in awhile you will call or we will have an emergency session when grief-triggers happen, but mostly - you'll be able to figure it out on your own."
When she said this to me, I cried HARD. I didn't understand. I couldn't even SEE a day where that would even be possible, and at that time, knowing I had somewhere to go every Monday to process and express my pain, was what got me through the week and into the next one. I saw it as her rejecting me and not wanting to see ME anymore. I constantly feared that she would decide she no longer wanted to hear my bullshit about Don and loss and death and pain. I decided in my head that she was bored with me, or that she thought I was a whiny annoying repetitive dolt that she no longer cared to see. I FELT repetitive, but I was in SO MUCH PAIN, and it wasn't getting better. The only thing I could do was keep showing up to therapy, keep talking about and writing about the pain, and hope like hell that one day, it would turn into something else.
I sobbed and sobbed and told her: "Please don't say that to me. That will never happen. I will need this forever. I can't have anything else END. I can't have this just disappear on me, like Don did. Like my marriage did. Like my life did. You can't just leave me. I have nightmares about it."
"I won't ever leave you. It won't be my decision. YOU will be the one who decides when it is time for what we are doing here to change. It will be 100% you who makes that call. And notice I didn't use the word END. Nothing will end between us. Just like I've always told you about Don - the goal was never to "let go" of him, but to change your relationship with him. Once you have done that, and really GET what that means, the relationship between us will also change. Maybe we will become friends or even colleagues, but trust me on this, you won't NEED to see me every week in this way, forever. "

Fast-forward to the past few months. Without even realizing it, the exact things that she said are now coming true, but in even bigger ways than either of us probably imagined. There have been many weeks where one of us had to cancel due to crazy schedules, snow, or her taking care of her elderly mother, who has been slowly dying for the past year. If there is a cancellation, she always offers to call me. Sometimes I say yes, other times I say; "No, it's okay. I can wait until next week. It's nothing pressing." Two years ago, I couldn't even breathe most days if I were to miss a session. Now - there are more days than not when it's "nothing pressing."
In addition to that, she is writing the Foreword in my book, and creating the Arc of the story with her words about our time together in grief-counseling. Plus, she is the one who suggested long ago and put it in my head , that perhaps I should look into becoming a grief-coach myself. Now, over time, although still technically my therapist, she has become my friend and mentor. She is letting me assist facilitate with some grief-groups that she runs, and one of her private clients is letting me sit in on a few of their sessions. She is training me and walking me through the logistical parts of the grief world. 

Last night, she sent me an email asking if we could do our session via phone again this week, because she will be getting back late from her mom's house on Long Island. She ended the email by saying: "I'm pretty stressed out - I might need to talk to YOU! You can practice on me . Ill help you with your stuff and you can help me with my stuff. That's what I do with my friends who are colleagues in the grief- world. We unofficially use each other to keep us emotionally sane, so that we can be at our best for our clients. Welcome to the club. "

I can't tell you how amazing it feels to have come full-circle in this way. 

Back when I was in pain 24/7, I NEVER would have been able to see this coming. But I kept trying anyway. I just kept showing up to talk to her and process, even when it felt like it wasn't helping. And she kept trying too, even on the days when SHE felt truly powerless, and felt like maybe she couldn't help me. We both stuck with it, and we didn't give up on each other, or on ourselves, or on the process of hard, hard grief-work.
You HAVE to sit inside the pain and work through it and with it, if you ever want it to become something else. You have to understand where its coming from and what it wants and how to process the emotions you are having. That is what I did every single week for almost 3 years with Caitlin. We worked HARD at moving through my pain, and now that pain is evolving. FINALLY.
This is why I get angry whenever people say stuff like "Just decide to be happy. Happiness is a choice", and all that nonsense. When you have been through a trauma or huge life-changing loss in life, happiness is NOT a choice. Not for a long, long time. You are simply not capable of feeling joy - until you work through all the hurt and grief and pain that sits underneath it, buried. It is very hard work, which is why most people choose not to do it. They don't WANT to feel that kind of pain. So they deny it or suppress it or drink it or push it away or keep busy enough to ignore it completely or feed it with any number of unhealthy addictions or distractions.
But guess what? If you are willing to go there, and to ignore all the people who don't get it telling you to "move on' and "stop being sad" and you just keep working on YOU, what lies on the other side of that is joy. And purpose. And life. But you have to work for it. I have worked my ass off for every ounce of joy I now feel, in this post-loss life. But that's okay with me, because joy that you worked for is so much sweeter than regular joy. Joy that was earned feels so much more intense, and you feel it with every cell inside you. 
In my post-loss life, when I look at a sunset, I don't JUST see a sunset. I see beauty and death and loss and colors and brightness and love and meaning and nature and miracles and peace and wonder - and always, the soul of my husband. Every piece of joy I feel now carries his death, and carries his life in it. Everything is more intense now. Everything is turned all the way up.
Pain eventually evolves into something else entirely. If you mold it enough and sit inside it enough and shape it enough. It might take you 2 years or 3 years or 5 years or more, but it can happen. It happened to me. And the feeling is blissful.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

The Grim Reaper Repercussions

This past week or so I have been feeling very melancholy. 

This grief thing is a very difficult business. Will we ever get the hang of it? Will it forever be a process we can never escape? Will we always be struggling to slog our way through? The ever-changing game of it all is simply, some days, exhausting. I often feel as if death will be ever lurking; a grim reaper constantly whispering some dark, unintelligible secrets just out of my line of sight like the droning of a wily, invisible mosquito circling my head.

Even my new guy expressed concern over my ebbing melancholia. I think this most recent wave started when my uncle died a couple of weeks ago. He was 90 and had a good life, but it still seemed to represent the end of an era, on that side of the family - and the news of the failing health of a few others there left me feeling sad. Then a few days later my new guy’s aunt died. She was 94 - but the women on that side of his family share some kind of longevity gene (he knew his great-grandmother, who lived to be 99), and when I met her last summer in Wales, I was tickled by the firecracker of a personality she was, still, and I was really hoping to chat with her again this year. But she was unexpectedly taken by pneumonia. 

I know I’d only met her once and my new guy and I were really still very new, but for whatever reason that news sent me reeling on top of everything else. I guess the dominoes just came tumbling down after that, and I’ve had a hard time picking myself up because too many friends and family are facing scary health issues these days. Is this just another sucky part about getting older?

I’ve talked to quite a few widowed friends this week about how our husbands’ deaths have made us so much more aware of death’s cold hand - and how that sensitivity may never go away. How our own aging and the fragility of life is such an intimate knowledge now - one we never asked for, but will forever be stuck in our psyche. The grim reaper repercussions, as a widowed friend of mine, Deb, put it so well.

Is there any way to shine a light on this bleak landscape? 

Another friend of mine who has cancer is battling hard. She is a real git’erdone kinda gal and the complications in her case have been really frustrating - and terrifying.  But she told me recently she finally realized that maybe she was just rushing it. That maybe, she had something to learn from what she was going through. That maybe, the experience of walking through the pain was part of her own personal transformation, and that realization was freeing her to seek out new avenues of healing and deeper investigation of her own self.

Wow. What a powerful and strong way to view it. And it really flowed into my own personal demons I seem to be facing. Can I use the nearness of sickness and death to absorb any wisdom? Could being widowed somehow lead to a deeper experience of myself and appreciation of this world while I’m here? Can I turn my scars into stars?   

Can we ever really let go of the things that are weighing us down? Or - can we transform them? My widowed friend Karin recently expressed my same frustration at the question - yes but how do we actually let go?? She then said she learned one practice, which was to write the things down and then rip up the paper. Yes - I’d heard something similar, to write things down and then burn it as a symbol of letting go. It’s a helpful practice, but perhaps not a magic bullet, we decided. 

Maybe this kind of transformation does have to come from within. Or maybe, from a deeper Source, if you happen to believe in that stuff at all: when we first had our school here in Kona all those years ago, Mike set up a “God Can”, where we wrote down things we asked the Universe to take care of for us so we could be freed from the stress and worry. An act of faith, so to speak, the idea being that God can do all things. I even still have that same can, with everyone’s little requests still inside. Mike used to like to say, Let Go, Let God. It seemed so easy then, with him around.


It’s something I’m going to try and be conscious of. Because as another widowed friend commented wryly a few days ago: yup, better let ‘em go, because otherwise they’re just gonna get ripped out of our freakin’ hands.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Believing....or Not~

I'm not in denial.  I know Chuck is dead.  I feel it...have felt every part of my body since 2 years ago, April 21.  He's gone.  Gone, gone, gone.

And yet, I swear that there is still a part of me that doesn't believe it.  That can't believe it.  How can he be gone when he and I were so connected?  How can it be that I'm walking on this earth, just Alison, without his name said in the same breath?  We were Chuck and Alison.  That couple who, after 24 years, were still in love with one another, who still kissed and hugged and whose faces lit up when the other entered the room.  How can that be over?

2 years.

I didn't think I could live 2 months without him and I don't know that I'm actually living but I'm still alive these 2 years later, as insane a thought as that is to me.

I don't necessarily believe in an afterlife.  Heaven.  Hell.  In between.  Other dimensions.  I'm open to the possibility but even if there is something, it isn't good enough for me because it won't be (I can't imagine that it would) what he and I had here on this earth.   Our spirits may never connect after I die.   So I don't have a belief that brings me any comfort.

In some part of my brain I think that there is that grain of a thought that he's somewhere here still. We're just apart for now and I'll find him again and we'll continue on as before.  In our years together we'd spend time apart, whether it was when he was in the military, deploying somewhere, or when I visited family or friends, knowing that we'd be back with one another in a timely manner.  I guess my heart still needs to believe that so that the reality of his death doesn't crash down on me and into me and flood my system with such agony that I can't continue standing.

He was my husband, my lover, my everything.  And I just don't understand how it will ever be okay that he is missing from me.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Setting a Standard

Shelby needs to have an example of what a caring, devoted man, father, and husband should be.  She is a mere 8 years old, but I believe most readers here will understand when I state that, well, I might not be here by the time she's 18.  It's a cold, hard truth that should never be swept under the rug or glossed over, and I can unfortunately speak from experience.

She needs standards, before she even sniffs at being interested in boys.  I can only hope that I've been, and will continue to be an example to her.

She needed to see that a man can allow and encourage her to be independent, but to always support her in a time of need.

She needed to see that a man will sacrifice his own happiness, not in love, obviously, but in general for his wife's well-being.

She needed to see that a man will hold his wife's hair for 1.5 hours, every morning for a decade, as she has her routine coughing fits, and that it is never seen as normal to him.

She needed to see that a man will be calm and collected and able to make informed, quick decisions when faced with his wife coughing up pints of blood.

She needed to see that a man will carry his wife to bed when she can't walk up the stairs, and that it is always effortless.

She needed to see that a man will bathe his 33 year old wife as she cries, because she can no longer do it herself.

She needed to see that no amount of sickness, frustration, or trauma will ever make a man walk away from a woman he truly loves.

She needed to see that 12 years is not nearly enough time for a man to give all of his love to his wife.

She needed to see that a man can be strong most of the time, but it's OK for them to cry when their goddamn wife dies.

She needs to see that a man will fulfill his vows, in sickness and in health, until death does him part from his wife.

She needed to see what true love is, and she needs to see it again.

She needs to see that though a new woman may be now part of his life, a man can and will still love his wife, and the mother of his beautiful daughter just as much.

She needs to see that a man in this situation will make smart decisions about bringing a new woman into his daughter's life.  Decisions not based on loneliness.

She needs to see that a child is always the priority for a man, but he is able to balance that with someone new that he truly loves.

She needs to see what it's like for two smart, experienced adults to meet and fall for each other in a healthy way.

She needs to see that a man can only expand his heart with love for another person, rather than replace space that someone else previously held.

She needs to see that a man should have his own drive and determination, but that the women in his life will always factor into that.

She needs to see that a man can lose his wife, but still have the confidence to move forward and keep living life without fear.

She needs to see that a man will always honor, cherish, and respect a woman's past, and know that it is what makes her who she is.

She needs to see that a man will always tell his worst truth, rather than his best lie.

She needs to see that lightning can indeed strike twice.

Shelby needed to see me love and take care of Megan for those years. As much as it pains me to say this, Megan becoming sicker and dying was another learning experience for her.  She learned that although her dad bent over backwards, he didn't break, and would walk to the end of the earth for the woman he loves.  He didn't shut down or stop taking care of his one remaining piece of his wife.  She deserves to be honored, respected, loved, and taken care of by a man just as much as I honored, respected, and loved Megan.

As I'm writing this, I'm realizing that Megan also set a standard for Shelby, upon which she can judge all women.  She has briefly met this new woman, just through a video call, and she has fully approved.  She has even made the statement that she is "magnificent", and she can't wait to do things with her.  To have Shelby not only approve, but to encourage me to love the new woman means the world to me, because Shelby is the closest I will ever come to having Megan's approval.

Shelby knows I deserve a woman that loves me just as much as her mother did.  She knows that whatever woman comes into my life will need to be strong, driven, smart, and ultimately, will need to accept that Megan is and always will be a part of our lives.  She knows that no woman could ever replace Megan, and that a new one should only compliment her.

She knows that this new woman fills out all of those check-boxes.

No matter what anyone else's opinion is on new love, there is only one person's that matters to me, and that is Shelby's.

I need to ensure that as I move forward with this new woman that the example I set with Megan continues on.  Megan is no longer here to advise Shelby on these matters, so all I can do is lead by example.

I am setting the standard by which Shelby will judge all men.