Missing Him on 40~

I’m on the road again.
I left Arizona, headed to Arkansas, a few days ago. Or maybe it was a week ago, now. I’m kind of tired after driving some long ass days.
Tune up on my car. New tires, brakes on my rig, PinkMagic, fixed.
Our daughter was road tripping to Arkansas with me, to see the opera camp where I work for the summer. It’s my second year back there, as the groundskeeper.
We were planning a fairly easy trip, stopping to visit family in Denver, taking our time.
Well, as they say…
The best laid plans of mice and men…
We were only 200 miles out when we heard a loud pop from the rear of my trailer, followed by smoke billowing out, and brake fluid trailing behind us.
Fortunately, I’d just pulled off the highway, so that we could drive the main drag of Winslow. You know….
Standin’ on the corner and all that.
Again, fortunately, I have roadside assistance and called them and they sent a tow out to us. He quickly diagnosed major problems and I followed his tow truck, very slowly and carefully, to his garage.
Where he removed the drums and discovered that all rubber parts had melted and all metal parts had turned to dust. They dissolved to the ground as soon as the drums came off.
Not good.
But better than what could have been, which was a fire from the massively overheated brakes, which could have easily burned my rig into nothingness, and taken the car too, I suppose, since it’s all so small.
Scary shit.
We ended up camping out at the garage for 3 days and 2 nights while they sent for parts and worked on the brakes.
High Chaparral Garage in Winslow, AZ; the best people EVER. They went above and far beyond what was necessary to keep us safe while there and take us back on the road.
Hooked us up to electricity so we could sleep comfortably. Put a large mat outside so we didn’t track grease inside PinkMagic.
Worked diligently on the brakes. We were right on the famed Rt 66, so people stopped in to say hi and take a tour of the inside of my rig.
Gave us great tips for exploring the area while we were stranded.
We’d go downtown to the corner and drink chai while watching the world go by.
Before leaving, even though it was late at night and we were all tired, the wonderful guys at High Chaparral tightened up the spare, power washed my car and trailer, signed the back of it with loving words, gave us hugs, told us to keep in touch…and away we went.
During our stay at the garage, I met 2 other widows who were 5 years out, as I am now. We spoke of the ravages of cancer and how it changes lives.
Because I was stationary, albeit unexpectedly, I had the opportunity to speak on the phone to a radio host with a program called Bringing Love to Life, about my Odyssey, and my marriage to Chuck.
Because we were stuck, so to speak, for the time we were, timing was set into place that brought us to a rest stop further on where we met a young couple, themselves stranded, trying to get to Montana to see the young man’s dad before his dad died of liver cancer. Remembering that desperate feeling, we were able to buy them a tank of gas, some groceries, and give some cash to help them on their way.
It’s the kind of thing that Chuck would have done, and all I asked in return was for them to remember the name Chuck D.
Our continued travels took us from Arizona to New Mexico to Texas to Oklahoma and then into Arkansas, and every mile along the way was filled with memories of my and Chuck’s travels, what seems so many years ago now.
How is it possible that it is 5 years since his death?
Next month I’ll have been on the road alone, as a widow, longer than he and I were, together.
That thought messes with my mind.
He is everywhere along Rt 40, through the middle of our country. He is at every roadside rest stop, at the picnic tables where we’d stop to eat lunch. He’s at the national monuments and parks, where we’d visit to learn local history. He’s in the wildflowers growing in the median strip and in the flat lands of west Texas with the huge sky overhead.
He is everywhere, in memory and in my heart.
I missed him for the entirety of 40.
I miss him on that road and every other road that I drive.
And I also know, more than ever, after the experience in Winslow, that his legacy is strong and vibrant and that our Love story is as strong as it ever was, and that I am doing just exactly perfectly heart wide open what it is that I am destined to do…
Live this Odyssey of Love. For him. For me. For all my widow brothers and sisters and their ones. Live it for all those I meet along the way, for all those whose path I cross or who cross my path.
Just, quite simply, live the Love that he left behind for me.
Fiercely. Strongly. Powerfully. Confidently.
Always.

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Shattered Glass and Dust Motes~

This shattered glass strewn around my feet, under my feet,
Glass that was once my leaping joyous joyful heart,
Shattered as I shared a last breath with my beloved.
Turned into a meat slicer roosting in my chest,
Where my heart once beat in rhythm with his.
His. Now forever stilled.
And mine?
Still beating. Somehow, and mysteriously.
My heart that once beat with his, now shattered glass into glass dust strewn at my feet…
Tiny luminous particles of dust motes dancing in the air
Kicked up by my feet that still walk on this earth
Unbelievably but absolutely.
Uncertain yet determined feet that crunch loudly through the shattered glass powder under my feet,
Striding into this shattered glass dust life of his absence.
Glimmering glass dust motes swirling into the air…
Shimmery dust glass reflecting light back to me around me.
Shimmer and glimmer and beauty and pain and missing and Love…
Beating heart to shattered heart to glittering dust that, tenaciously and insistently,
Rises around me,
And illuminates my way~

What I Know for Certain~

But don’t you want to be happy? Don’t you owe it to your kids to remember you as happy? Life is supposed to be happy. Maybe you’re depressed. Don’t you want to be happy?
If you’re a widow/er, then you’ve heard the same questions and comments. I know you have. Or, if you’re public about your grief, as I am, you hear it from the general public. Less frequently, possibly, as the years pass. But you hear it. Such comments were more prominent somewhere in the second half of my 3rd year. Apparently, if one is still grieving in the 3rd year, bells of doubt start ringing in the minds of those around you, whispering words like depression complicated grief not moving on not getting on with it medications therapy etc…
I’m embarrassed to admit that, upon hearing these comments (and let’s be honest, it’s thinly veiled criticism because it comes across exactly as it sounds: a judgement, as if I’m doing something wrong), I initially and inevitably ended up defending myself, and trying to explain myself, even as I knew I had no reason to defend myself. But those words made me feel defensive and attacked. So, I defended.
No longer. No. Longer.
Guess what? I’m perfectly content with my legacy. If I were to die right now, this fucking minute, I’d have zero regrets. None. Nada. Zero.
And I owe my kids nothing, because they already have all the Love in the world from me.
I know exactly how my kids will remember me and I know what my kids will remember about me. Whether I die today, or tomorrow or years from now.
Our mom was THE most kickass mom ever. She and pop had a Love story for the ages. They sold everything and traveled the country together and remember when we’d call them up we’d ask them where are you now? She nursed him with so much Love through his first cancer and they kept on traveling and when the cancer came back, she did it all again, and bigger. She ensured that all of us had one on one time with him in hospice and she honored and supported us through our own grief, even as she grieved. She bought a trailer after he died and painted it and her car pink and she dressed in pink and she drove all over the entire fucking country, honoring him and their Love and connecting with people everywhere. She was a connector. She inspired people. She was colorful and crazy and she was the Love Warrior and a Fucking Warrior Goddess and she did all that while she was grieving because she loved pop so much and her life felt empty without him and she fucking did it all anyways. She left an example to all of us and to her grandkids about determination and grit and Love. She cried and she laughed and none of it meant anything and all of it meant everything and she lived when she didn’t want to live and she talked to us honestly about the impact of his death on her and she loved hard because Love was all that was left amid the ashes of her life when pop died. She was unapologetic about her grief and her Love and she lived in spite of it and with it. And we are proud of who she was and what she was because she was real and being real was all that mattered. She was a Fucking Warrior Goddess.
No. I have no qualms about the memories I’ll leave behind for my kids, or for anyone else who might remember me.
My epitaph will read Here lies a woman who lived the duality of Love and Grief, who made everything around her shimmer and sparkle with Love, with a shattered heart, and she did it all in pink. She was a Fucking Warrior Goddess.

A Yoke and 2 Buckets~

What I knew instinctively as soon as Chuck died, and what I knew I had to immediately institute with myself and my body language, my behavior, my thinking:
Even though my brain was fogged with devastation.
Grief is isolating.
Do every damn thing you can so that you can’t, you don’t, isolate.  Whether you want to or not.  Don’t isolate.  Therein lies your own living death.
Make yourself visible.  You want to disappear.  Don’t allow it to happen.  Make yourself so visible that people will pay attention and, if you try to disappear, they’ll wonder where you are. This will be your saving grace.
When you walk, don’t allow your chin to drop.  Don’t allow your shoulders and posture to sag forward.  You want to do this, but don’t.  Always make sure your chin is up, your shoulders back.
Write. Write about this grief.  Write about this widowhood. Write about the devastation of living without the man you loved more than life. Write, and then write some more.  Keep writing. Always write.  It…this living, breathing, thing called grief, will putrefy inside of you and become toxic if you don’t write. What you write doesn’t have to make sense.  Just write, as if your life depends on it.  Because it does.
Be honest with those around you, whatever their response. It may not matter to them, but it will matter to you, both in the long run and the short run. Be raw and honest and real about it. Even if it hurts. Which it will.  Even if they judge you. Which they will.
Allow yourself to go into the darkness of this devastation.  Yeah, it’s scary to do so, but maybe maybe maybe, somewhere in the darkness, you will find that your other senses will sharpen, and you’ll find your way through this to whatever degree it can be gone through.
None of this is okay and it’s okay to acknowledge that.  It sucks and you don’t have to pretty it up for anyone.
However devastating, unbearable, impossible, lonely, soul-shattering this grief, is…and it is…remember remember remember every damn day, every minute of every damn day, every second of every damn minute, the Love that Chuck left behind for you and fucking make it balance as much as you can every nanosecond.  Carry the bucket of Love and carry the bucket of grief and know that, even though they slosh over during the day, making a mess, as long as they’re mostly equally filled at the end of the day, then it’s been a manageable day.

And manageable is okay~   yoke2[2458]

Grace Absorbed~

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This picture expresses it all for me.
Where I am in this widowed life.
It was taken 3 years ago, but even then, without knowing….I was determined.
Determined that Love must be bigger than the devastation.
Determined that if I knew nothing else, if I remembered nothing else, I would know and remember the Love that Chuck left behind for me.
And I would make it shine forth from me so brightly that it would rival the sun.

And it does. It shines and it shimmers and it glows.
It isn’t any easier for me than it is for anyone else in this widow life.
What you can’t see in this picture, what is invisible to the human eye and completely visible to my eye, is the humongous shape of Chuck’s absence that is always with me.
His physical and tangible absence right there to the left of me.
That’s the side he walked on, always, because of deafness in his right ear.
The day this picture was taken, I very consciously chose my clothing, wanting them to reflect the fucking warrior goddess that I was determined to be.
I chose a clear crystal to wear around my neck, on a strand of pink beads.  Clear crystal, so that the light would shine through. Pink because, well…pink, and Chuck said wear pink to mourn for me, not black.  Pink is your color.
I wore leggings that I laced with pink thread. They were a bit ragged, which suited me.  I was ragged and torn up. I still am.
A lace shirt to remind myself of softness and light and my femininity. What I was, what I felt, when Chuck and I were together.
A laced suede vest denoting armor.  Widowhood is not for sissies.  Life is a battle for me, everyday.  I make the decision every day to get up and suit up and show up, and I armor myself in pink, for strength.  For Love.
A sword. But a sword for Love, not violence. A sword because a fucking warrior goddess must have a sword.
I purposefully went barefoot that day, as I crossed streams and climbed red rocks to get to a rise above the earth. I wanted my feet to sink into the ground.  I wanted them dirty and natural and bare.  Bare and as stripped down as I felt.
And, as I posed and lifted my face to the sun above me, I felt, even as my shredded heart beat beneath my lace shirt and suede vest…I absorbed the grace descending upon me.
Grace.
What I needed then, what I need now, to carry me, along with the Love that is the only real and tangible thing to me in these 4 years and 3 months of without-ness.
I lift my face to the sun, still, and I lift my face to the moon and stars at night, as I travel my Odyssey of Love.  I speak to Chuck and I ask him to send even more Love here to me, more Love to hold onto, more grace to continue on.
Love…the Love that Chuck left behind for me, the Love that I feel for him now and always, is the very breath of my existence. It fuels me, it gets me going, it keeps me going.
I lift my eyes to the skies to absorb Chuck, wherever he is, if he is…and I breathe the Love from him into every step I take, every mile I drive.
It’s all I have.
And it isn’t enough.
Except that..
It is.

It must be.

Dark Veil Included. Of Course~

My Odyssey of Love began almost 4 years ago.  Chuck died April 21, 2013, and 3 weeks later I loaded our belongings into our red Ford Escape, gently placed his cremains on the shotgun seat, the jacket from his BDU’s on the back of the seat, climbed into the driver seat and turned the ignition.

I’ve been on the road ever since and I’m just shy of 100,000 miles, having crisscrossed the country 8 times. Not bad for a chick who had no idea of how to tow a trailer, or camp.  Directions were never my strong suit, which has worked out well, because my only plan all along has been to head north, south, east or west. Once I learned to back up my rig, I lost all fear of getting lost and having to turn around and getting stuck because I didn’t know how to back up. Mostly, I’ve gone where my heart has led me to go.  In so doing, I’ve met hundreds upon hundreds of lovely and loving people who have reached out to me and I’ve given and received as many hugs. Love has been my compass. It will always be my compass.  My Odyssey of Love will always lead me.

Grief is isolating, something I well knew from my hospice training, so I set out to fight back against isolation.  I painted my rig pink to draw people to me. Telling one’s story is a necessary component of grief, and I’ve told my story to as many people as I’ve met along the way. Creating a new life for one’s self after being widowed means trying new things and I’ve pushed as many comfort zones and boundaries as come to mind and I say yes to most everything, endeavoring to find something that grabs me, hoping for something to make me care about life again.

So many times, I wish that I had the luxury of hiding under the covers.  I wish I’d had the time after Chuck died to do that.  To just grieve. To fall apart and have someone care for me while I fell apart. I’ve had moments, of course, and my kids have been so amazing as they’ve sat with me through those meltdowns.  But you have to stand back up again, right?  So, I did.

As I approach the 4-year mark of widowhood, as I consider mygodhowhasitbeen4fuckingyears, I marvel that I am alive at all.  How has a broken heart not killed me? The answer is, of course, that it isn’t as easy as it sounds.  I wish.

I consider, too, what I’ve learned in this time.  Nothing great, really.  I don’t value life more. I’m not more grateful. I have not become a better person; I’m pretty much the kind and loving person I was; just sadder and heavier feeling now. I’ve had no great epiphanies other than life can suck a great deal and, yep again, it isn’t as easy to die of a broken heart as I’d heard.  My life is not better for Chuck’s death; on the contrary, it’s quite a bit tougher financially, emotionally, and physically. 

I am amazed and taken aback at how I keep going. 

I’m also amazed and a bit dispirited at the realizations about the social aspects of widowhood that I didn’t know about before…because, well, I wasn’t widowed, you know.

Mostly, the people in my world have been supportive and I don’t know where I’d be without our kids. Yes, I do. I’d have driven into the desert and disappeared.  My support community is pretty awesome, fortunately.

Chuck and I had a conversation while in hospice, about what kind of widow I’d be.  Dark humor, you know. We talked the pros/cons of tragic widowhood, merry widowhood…but never about being a dark widow, the title that seems to have become mine simply because I’m not the happy, cheerful person I once was, and the world is very unforgiving of that.  Not that I chose the dark widow title; it sort of just became an awareness on my part that I have become that, and there is a degree of pariah-hood that comes along with the title.

Grief now, for me, is more personal than ever, in that it has gone deeper, no matter how much I’ve tried to keep it in the open, because who wants to hear about it constantly, right? Or even sometimes? Christalmighty, I’m tired of me.  But I’m in my body, so, yeah, and believe it or not, you can’t just flip a flipping switch to change grief, despite what the positive living gurus tell you.

Grief isn’t just sadness; it is everything else that goes with the death of your person.  It is your entire life, and it takes more than 4 years to recalibrate the obvious shit, never mind the hidden bugaboos and treacherous grenades that explode in your face without warning.

I get it, though.  I admit and acknowledge and understand that it’s tough to be around me and in my world.  I wonder if that’s why, in part, widows way back in medieval times entered convents. A life away from society at large…it’s tempting, actually.  No need to put on a happy damn face.  No need to talk, really. Just meditation and quiet.  I swear I could do that.

Here’s the thing. I know that everyone who loves me would love for me to be grief-free, pain free, happy go lucky, embracing the world, joyful, connected to life…call it what you will. Call it everything you want to call it.  Basically all the things I’m not. mea culpa mea culpa mea culpa, etc…

But I am so many other things. I’m determined, unafraid to challenge myself or accept challenges. For god fucking sake…I have gone out and done shit I couldn’t ever imagine doing in these 4 years and I’ve done it in fucking pink.  I haven’t let grief and trauma or sadness or fear stop me from anything. I’ve gone out and done 4 years of shit instead of burying myself under the covers.  Not because I didn’t want to bury myself, not because I’m running from this sadness, but because I knew that would be a downwards spiral for me. Instead, I’ve fucking done new shit left and right and up and down.

There are times when I want to scream to the world, to people in this world what the fucking fuck do you want from me?  I’d be proud to know me.  I know Chuck is proud of me, if he’s anywhere where that matters, and I’m not sure that he is, but, whatever. I’m a damn amazing role model for my daughter, for my sons, for my grandgirls. I’ve touched the lives of more people than I can count as I’ve driven this Odyssey.  I know because they write to me to tell me. They tell me that they tend their marriages more consciously because of what I write about the Love story Chuck and I shared. They tell me that I inspire them to suit up and show up, because that’s what I do everyday. They tell me that they’ve learned to live more simply, because of how I live. When the time comes that I finally die, I know I’ll leave behind a bigger legacy than many can own to. No, I’m not joyful, no, I don’t give a fucking damn about life. Yes, I’m sad, yes, I find life overwhelmingly lonely at all times, yes, life sucks without Chuck and that has only intensified in this time since his death. But so fucking what, right?  It hasn’t stopped me, it doesn’t stop me, and that’s what matters.

Godalmighty, world, just fucking accept me as I am, for who I am: a woman who does shit even as I’m weighed down with missing my husband.

The fucking dark widow, if you will.  *Dramatic black veil available upon request.*

 

Pink in the Midst of Black~

The colors of widowhood.

I reflect on them sometimes.

The colors we wear.

The colors we strive to wear personally and the colors social structures put on us, or expect from us.

Maybe not so much in words, maybe not conscious.

But still there.

Black widows are the female spiders that kill their mates after…mating.

It is the term used to refer to human women who kill their mates.

Or families.

Interesting, isn’t it?

I, of course, didn’t kill my mate.  My husband.  My lover.

But as time passes in this widowhood, I feel the pressure of widowhood and it colors my perception of self and I feel like the Black Widow.

Though I struggle to not let it color who I really am, who I strive to be in the days and months and years since my beloved husband died.

I freely admit that I am dark.  Darker than I’ve ever been.  I’m the party pooper, the one to rain on your parade because I’m not me anymore.  Or, at least, not the me I used to be.  And I have no idea who this me is now.  The lightheartedness that used to make me the life of the party, the joie de vie that guided my life…that’s gone dark.  The smile, the humor, the sparkle in my eyes…gone.

Oh my god.  Have I become the Black Widow?

To counter all of this, I wear pink.  Chuck said that to me, you know.  Before he died.  Black isn’t your color.  Mourn for me in pink.

And I do.  Not a gentle pink, though.  The pink I wear is such as the great female warriors of times past might have worn.  If they wore pink.  Which they didn’t, to my knowledge.  Though glowing pink armor would be totally radical, dude.

Pink is my armor.  My clothing.  My hair, on occasion.  My car.  My trailer.  Whatever bags I carry. Jewelry.  My boots are brown, but they need to be.  They are my Fucking Warrior Goddess boots.

I’ve been asked why do you need armor?  Why do you call yourself a Fucking Warrior Goddess?  Isn’t that all kind of a violent perception of yourself? Of widowhood?

Um..yeah, it’s necessary. What do you think this is, this widowhood?  What do you think it takes when your world is incinerated around you and it’s now just you, after having been two for so long? I do this not to protect myself from anything, but because this widowhood, the grief and the Love that propel me daily…it’s a battle.  A struggle.  For my sanity, in some ways.  To hold on when I don’t want to go on.  A reminder, daily, to myself more than others, that I am a force to be reckoned with, though I don’t feel very strong most days.  An outward symbol, perhaps, and maybe hopefully, that this pink…this pink…it’s kind of like the S on Superman’s chest.  An outward symbol of strength and determination. Yes, I’m a widow, but I don’t need pity.  I’m not needy.  I’m not here to be taken advantage of or to take advantage of anyone. 

I’m sad, yes.  I miss my husband desperately, yes.  I need to talk about him, yes.  I even need to talk about how he died…because his dying was one of the most powerful things ever to happen to me. It is part of my history now. His death and his life and everything else that has changed, continues changing…this is my life.  This is what I need to talk about with whatever warm body happens to be near me, because I don’t have my warm body near me. It’s as simple as that.  And as complicated, I guess, to the outside world.

Perhaps the term Black Widow exists because that color best describes what happens to our world when our person dies.  It goes black.  The black holes in space have nothing on what happened to my world when Chuck died. Perhaps, too, it exists because people don’t know what to do with widows.  What to say, how to respond to them, either in words or actions.  Perhaps it best describes their discomfort with us, with our intensity, as we navigate a new life.

Are we too intense for normal folk?  It really does seem so.  I’ve seen friendships end, family relationships blown to bits, I’ve heard about it all from my widowed community.  It’s kind of mind-blowing, really.

Widowhood is a world and a language that continually presents itself in new ways to me as I navigate the world, post Chuck’s death.  PCD.  There’s a huge learning curve in it for me, and, I suspect, for many.  It’s confusing and bewildering and honestly makes me feel more vulnerable than I’ve ever felt in my 58 years on this earth.

Which is one of the reasons I do it in pink.

I am the Black Widow, in pink…

(I wonder if being a Black Widow involves endless amounts of glitter?)