Tu Me Manques…

 

My beloved husband,

You have been gone from me forever and a day….mere minutes ago, as measured by my heart’s yearning.  One thousand four hundred and fifty nine days, as measured by the Roman calendar.  I love you.

There is no meaningful way, really, to measure the depth of the grief in my heart that you are gone from me.  Perhaps the only true measure of this grief can be found in the exact measure of my Love for you.  In these four years and forever and a day, my Love for you has only grown.  I love you.

There is an emptiness to my life now, an emptiness that is the shape of you…your broad shoulders, your strong hands, the smile that lit your eyes as you looked out at life…as you looked at me.  That emptiness that is in the shape of your lips on mine as you kissed me, and the grasp of your hand behind my neck.  It is the shape of your arm around me as you pulled me into you as we danced, our bodies moving in synch across a dance floor.

The most painful thing I’ve ever done is watch you in that bed in your final weeks, tending to you, hurting for you, smiling for you, touching you, holding your hand as I sat in a chair next to you, exhausted but never as exhausted as you were, speaking to the nurses, trying to find ways to shield your body from the cancer onslaught and never succeeding, but trying again and again because it was unbearable and unacceptable that this was happening to you, my dearest husband. I loved you beyond measure in those moments, in a way that was more intimate than ever before.

The most painful thing I’ve ever done is draw the blanket over your face for the last time, kiss you for the last time, say goodbye to you for the last time.  I miss you.

Life is lonely without you, D.  I don’t know what to do with myself, don’t know what to do with the aching of my body without your touch, what to do with all the beautiful memories that remind me of times past and a future gone.  All this Love I had for you, have for you…I reach out and you aren’t there to receive it, so my Love lingers in the air, an energy of its own.  Love with nowhere to go.

I gaze up at the sky, day and night.  The bright blue skies and the darkest blue of night, wondering.  Wondering if you’re somewhere out there, seeing me, missing me.  Are you there, D?  Do you see me, wanting you, missing you, wishing you?

My soul requires broad open skies now, no hindrances blocking the way of the horizon in any direction.  My soul craves the skies we opened our sunroof to when we traveled, the skies that meant freedom of the open road to us. There is such vastness in the depth of my sorrow that it can be contained only by the endless expanse of sky and Universe.  Each cloud in the day, each star in the night…each is a marker for me.  Are you there?  Or there?  Maybe there?

It isn’t as simple as missing you.  Of course, I do, and there is no way to express the enormity of this missing.  But it goes beyond missing you, D.  More than me missing you is that you are missing from me.  The French have a phrase for it…tu me manqué.  You are missing from me.

I grow anxious at times, wondering what you would think of me now.  Would you be proud of how I’ve lived without you? Would you be disappointed?  I know that you’d hurt for me that I hurt so much without you, but I know you’d understand, too.  Mostly I know that you’d be proud of how I’ve done this, even with all the pain and sorrow and missingness.  I know this to the bottom of my heart.  I want to do you proud, D, and I believe I have.  I hope I have.

You are my dearest Love.  You will always be me and I will always be you and our hearts will always be connected, no matter how far apart we are, no matter how long a time we are separated.

What remains of you is Love, strong and sure.  You are Love and I am yours and you are missing from me and I miss you and I carry who you were and who we were in my heart day and night and I’ll carry our Love with me until my final hours and minutes.

And when the time comes, I hope, I hope, I dream, I wish, I demand, I whisper, I implore, I beseech…please find me.  I don’t know where you are, but you know where I am and I need you to come find me.

Until then, my dearest, my most beloved husband, my lover, my heart and soul…

Tu me manques.  Tu me manques.  Tu me manques.

 

From the Depths of my Soul~

 

My dearest love, my beloved husband.  D.

It’s 4 years since you and I drove to the ER at Eisenhower Medical Center in Palm Springs.  It is now 4 years since you and I began our final Happily Homeless travels, travels that began on a sunny May day in NJ in 2009, as you got into the UHaul truck with the few of our belongings that we’d kept after the sale of our home, and I got in our car, having just signed the papers and closed on our house, and we headed west to drop those few things into a storage unit in Indiana and visit with your mom for a few days.

And then we headed south and west and our adventures began.

We had our last 4 years together traveling the USA, hiking trails, climbing to the highest heights, discovering history at our National Parks, visiting family and friends, gazing upon views I only ever thought to see in books.  I pushed boundaries I never thought to push, and we fell more in Love each and every day, rejoicing in the times it was just us, far away from responsibility and distractions.  Just us.

Life and reality hit hard with your first cancer and shocked us and horrified us through all the surgeries you had to endure, but endure you did…we did…and we didn’t let it stop us.  You came through it and we continued on.  You were a cancer survivor.  I’d never met a cancer survivor before.  The big C was a disease that had already taken so many from me, and I cried when I realized you…my beloved husband…you were the one I got to keep.

Until this time 4 years ago, when I took you to the ER, your breath raspy, your body doubled over in pain, your face creased as it had never been before as you struggled to maintain some sense of self.  For the first time, though, you couldn’t hide it.  You couldn’t reassure me any longer.  I knew the truth of what was in front of us even before you did.

These 4 years of widowhood, my emotions wouldn’t allow me to write to you.  I haven’t been able to speak to you.  All I’ve been capable of saying, as I’d look up at a night sky glittering with stars, out on my own travels across the USA, is…I love you.  Find me.  I don’t know where you are.  You find me.

I still can’t speak to you, but I need to write to you.  I need to force my fingers to type words to you.  I need to vomit words of pain and grief that you, my beloved, are gone from me.  Have been gone from me for almost 4 years now.  Speak to you of my anguish and horror as I watched the cancer decimate your strong body, watched the drugs muddle your mind even though we tried as hard as we could to minimize those drugs, wanting you to be as present as possible.  You were insistent on that and I wanted to honor your wishes even as it added difficulties into a confusing time.

There are those who say that power shouldn’t be given to memories such as pour from my heart and mind and soul; memories that deepen grief and pain and loss, but I disagree.  The very few weeks we spent, 4 years ago now, as test upon test occurred, as I watched you lay in a hospital bed, as our kids gathered, as you and I found tumors exploding in every limb of your ailing body, as doctors spoke to us of cutting edge treatments that sounded impossible to me, because I knew…I knew…on that very first night in the hospital, your time on this earth was so limited that there was no time no time, to even attempt such treatments.  I watched as if outside my body as I spoke to the social worker, begging him to tell me how to tell you that we had no time.  How do I tell my husband, this man who is my life, that it is time for us to find a hospice, that we must prepare as best we can for the impossible and unbearable time of his death?  How do I tell him that there is no time for treatment without him thinking that I want him to die?

And then going into your room and telling you that I will do anything you want to do I will make it happen I have your back but I don’t think we have time and I think we need to find hospice. 

Gazing at your face, D, in those moments, as I stifled my sobs through the words I had to speak to you…the look on your face is sealed into my being forever.  A few very quiet ticks of the clock passed and then you took my hands in yours and you said okay.  And I sobbed more, and we spoke of the magnitude of this, and we began to realize that we were saying goodbye to us, and you said how you would miss us more than anything else in your world.

You signing the papers that would admit you into hospice, the ambulance ride, the 3 weeks of multiple hearts breaking as the cancer gnawed at your body and ate huge chunks of who you were, you staring into the mirror, a look of confusion in your eyes, striving to recognize the narrowed face and sharp nose of cancer staring back at you and me taking your face in my hands, gazing directly into your eyes and saying you have been my hero you will always be my hero…god, every fucking moment of horror and drugs and breathing machines and treatments and doing slow jogs through the family gardens to work off my shock and anger and despair and every other goddamn physical emotion roaring through my own body…and returning to your room and your side to offer you all the Love that was in my body and soul, all the Love that you’d given so freely and willingly to me in our 24 years together, your vow of Love that you spoke, the vows of Love that I spoke, on our wedding day that we lived and honored and grew, every day that we had together and apart.

How can I not honor and remember our final days as we stumbled through the halls of hospice and spoke words to one another that I can’t remember?  How can I not honor every painful and loving and sacred moment of those moments that lasted for 3 weeks and for eternity all at the same time?

These almost 4 years later I remember, and I honor those days and I honor you and me and us.

“I remember the night.  I remember the sound.  I remember the light, when the moon came ‘round.  The night flowers bloomed, the air so sweet.  I remember you. I remember me. “ (Sara Watkins)

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On Being Cherished. And Kissed.

I was cherished in this life.

Cherished by a man who determined, from the time of meeting, that I was the one for him. Determined, by me, that he was my one.

Cherished by a man who set out to show that love to me each and every day of our lives together, in word and deed. As I showed it to him.

This is the time, 4 years ago, that my beloved husband, Chuck, and I, began, so very unknowingly, our final 2 months together. If possible, as our world narrowed into physical pain and emotional trauma, our love expanded and deepened.

I was cherished in our healthy years, and in our cancer times.  No matter what, Chuck sought to love me even as his brow furrowed in distress and discomfort.

Oh, how he cherished me.  And, oh, how I remember his kisses upon my lips, on the top of my head, and on my hand as he’d take it in his as we finished dancing, and raise it to his lips, as a gentleman of old would have done.

His kisses rained down upon me on every occasion.  I recall reading a book about relationships early in our marriage, suggesting that a couple kiss consciously, rather than, say, a quick peck on the cheek.  I mentioned that little fact to him and he put it into practice immediately.  Our kisses at the door, as he left for work, or at the door, when he arrived home, lingered for up to a minute.  Sometimes we’d tease each other if we left the kiss too soon, so we’d start all over again.

He kissed me under the full moon as we sat on the curb in New Hampshire, our first weekend away together.

He kissed me under a full moon as we gazed at it in New Jersey, when I rented my first apartment after living with my mom post-divorce, and we stood on the balcony, savoring the pure contentment of having our own space.

He kissed me again under a full moon in Indiana when we visited his folks, and he came to get me, grabbing my hand, wanting me to share the brightness and beauty of that luminescent orb in the night sky with him, from their front porch.

He kissed me, every time he kissed me, with passion, with so much love, with possessiveness, with happiness, with pure pleasure…and I kissed him back with the same fire.  His hand behind my neck, or cupping my chin in his hands, pulling me to him…sometimes stooping down a bit, as he was taller than I, but just as much I loved to stand on tiptoe and put my arms around his neck and feel his arms around me, holding me closely and tightly…

In those final weeks before making our wild and unplanned for trip to the ER in southern California, something in the depths of my heart murmured to me each time we kissed and said remember this and after we kissed I’d stand on tiptoe again, leaning in close to where his neck and shoulders joined and I’d inhale deeply.  He noticed, of course, and asked me about it and I said to him I’m memorizing you…  He smiled, figuring I’d picked up another tidbit from another book.

We kissed in the hospital, and in hospice.  It was I, then, who would lean down to him, in the hospital bed, or at the mirror in the bathroom as he studied his image, wondering, I’m sure, what the fuck had happened to his face and body. I’d see that look and I’d turn him to me and take his face between my two hands and say you’re still my knight in shining armor. You’re still the handsomest man I’ve ever met

I leaned down to kiss him when he could no longer kiss me because his spirit was no longer in his body.  In that kiss that I pressed upon the lips of this man I loved more than my own breath was the love of 24 years and every full moon we’d gazed upon, and every dance we’d ever danced and every piece of my heart and soul.

That last kiss held all of the honor he’d given me, and all that I’d returned to him in our living Love story. In that last kiss was our beginning, all of our wonderful in-betweens, and our end…

My dearest, my most beloved husband…Chuck Dearing…

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Love’s Guiding Force~

Today is the 21 anniversary of my brother Kysa’s death.  January 26, 1996.  Two decades plus one year.

I sat with him as he transitioned and was with him when he died.  It was the first time I’d ever been with anyone who died and it was a very physical process for him. None of it freaked me out, really, as much as it left me in awe and wonder.  What I was privileged to witness gave me a glimpse into what I believed was a world beyond ours; it was enough to leave me shaken for years as I strove to make sense of it and find a place for it in my life.

In the month before Kysa died, family and friends sent lengths of colorful cloth to wrap him in for cremation.  My brother-in-law made a sturdy and lovely oak body board for him.  We were all very hands on in his last hours, talking to him, moistening his chapped lips with ice cubes, wiping his brow, drumming softly with animal skin drums and fanning him with feathers.

I felt like a cheerleader as he died, quietly encouraging him to relax into what was happening.  Near the very end, as he choked and the death rattle took over, I found myself chanting go Kysa you’re almost there keep going as if I was cheering him to a finish line.  And indeed, that’s how it felt.  It felt like I walked right up to the veil between this world and the next and pulled it back aside and then stepped back, because this was his time, not mine.  And as I gazed upon his quiet body, relaxed against the sheets, I felt, of all things, pride.  Pride in him, that he’d won some invisible marathon and was now beyond the veil, hands triumphantly raised in the air.

We, all of our nearby family, went with him to be cremated.  We held a service over his body on the gurney, tucked flowers into his shroud, murmured blessings, quoted poems, and then stepped outside to give his widow her time with him. 792143_10152488276805441_1728747169_o

It was the most powerful moment of my life.

Until Chuck died.

What we did with Chuck in hospice, how we tended him and loved him, and the way we cared for him as he lay dying, the way we bathed him ourselves, and dressed him, then shrouded him with soft blankets…supported his body as they lifted him to the gurney to take him away, went with him to be cremated, covered him with flowers, tucked notes into his shroud…the Love that guided my finger to press the switch that opened the doors of the crematorium…the grace that held me up as I heard the loud swoosh of the flames…

I knew to do what I did for Chuck because we’d done it for my brother all those many years ago.  Because of Kysa I knew to challenge the narrow parameters of thinking that I might otherwise have had.  Our homage to my brother opened my heart to light and Love.  What I learned at his bedside in 1996 remained in my soul and as I watched my beloved husband die, as I gazed upon his still body after a death that was unbearable to witness, I knew that what I did and how I did it was only about Love, not about fear.  All that determined how I and our daughter and Chuck’s daughter did what we did was the law of Love.  Tending the body of my husband after death couldn’t be left to strangers, as careful as they might be.

In those moments after he died, I remembered Chuck’s words to his doctors after the many surgeries resulting from his first cancer a year and a half earlier.  His left arm and right thigh from knee to hip looked like hamburger from grafting of skin and blood vessels and muscle tissue.  The bandages required twice daily renewal and the dr. wished to set him up with a visiting nurse.  Chuck thanked him and refused, telling him that he was sure they’d do a good job but I would do better because you see, Dr. my wife loves me and that makes all the difference in the world.  Mind you, I’d never done such a thing before and was most definitely not a nurse.  But Chuck was right.  I loved him and it was a service I could do for him. Did for him. With Love. 043

Which is precisely how I felt when he went into hospice in April 2013 and died 3 weeks later.  I looked at the man I loved lying on that bed, his breath forever stilled and knew that no stranger could care for him in the same way I could.  And in my mind I saw him smile at me as I dipped a clean cloth in the warm, soapy water and began washing him, and then dressed him in street clothes again because I knew he hated the hospital gown and, finally, wrapped him in colorful blankets.  A week later I gently pressed the switch to open the doors to admit his body into the flames and turn his beloved body into ash. photo

My brother Kysa in 1996 and what I learned from being with him as he died empowered me to do the same, and more, with my beloved husband Chuck after his death, many years later.

Love gives me the power to do all that needs doing and it opens my heart to possibilities and deeds never imagined.  Love is all that matters.  collage

Long Live Love~

In the before moments

As you hold tight while trying to let go

Waiting for that last breath

Dreading that last breath

Holding your breath waiting for that last breath

Gasping in your breath as he exhales his last breath

Long Live Love

As you sit and stand and pace and stare

Wondering at this new world of without

With only your breath in it

Where once the two of you breathed the same air

Restless and sleeping but not sleeping til you don’t even know what it is to sleep and wake rested

Long Live Love

As you stumble and fall and get up and fall again

And determination and grit lock your knees and stand you up day after day

While you can’t imagine living

But you aren’t dying even though you don’t understand how you aren’t dying

Because how can you not die of a broken heart

But you somehow keep living

Long Live Love

And birthdays and anniversaries and death days seep into one year and another

And the missing-ness is impossible and unbearable

Yet here you are still

Determined and broken and broken but determined

And all you know to do is let Love be stronger until it becomes bigger

Long Live Love

This Carrying~

A dear friend and Air Force widow sister said to me last weekend, in response to my endless questions to her about this grief (she’s 6 years out), and time frames and, oh, you know, everything…she said this to me, and I’ve reflected on it in the days since.

It isn’t that it goes away.

We just get stronger, and we carry it differently.

Such simple words but they make sense to me, at a time when, really, so little makes sense in my world.

I closed out my counseling and trauma therapy today, and I’m spending this week preparing my return to the road, continuing my Odyssey of Love.  Sunday will see me on the road East in my rig, PinkMagic. The trauma feels more outside my body than inside my chest as a meat slicer, as it was when I began therapy.  I can see it and sense it but it isn’t slicing me to shreds. The trauma protocols that my therapist led me through have done that and I appreciate the time and energy that she gave me as she companioned me through this.

But, I’ve realized, of course, that the missing-ness is just as much there.  How can it not be?  I’ve realized, too, that when the word acceptance is thrown about in grief, that, for me, it isn’t so much about accepting that Chuck is dead (which is fairly evident every day, right?) but accepting, each day, that I must live without him.  Oh, the impossibility of that…

Chuck died April 21, 2013, almost 3 years ago now. God, that’s incomprehensible to me.  How is it that I’m still alive?  That the stress of grief hasn’t killed me is one of the great mysteries of life to me.  I freely confess that I don’t know what hope looks like. I can’t grasp the concept of forever.  As in, he’s gone forever.  I don’t know what it means when people tell me I need to choose happiness, or joy, or set my mind to any other emotion.  As my counselor said there isn’t an on/off switch for this…

What I can understand, at least to some degree, as my sister widow said, is that I will get stronger (and by stronger I mean physically stronger), and that will help me carry it…the memories, Chuck’s absence from my life, the missing-ness. I must make myself physically stronger, and it is in in my power to do so.

I’m returning to the road, and I’m doing it in a mighty explosion of pink, with wings on my rig flying me down the road, clothed in pink armor, with a determination to live loudly, strongly and emphatically, leaving no doubt along the way that I have been hereand here and here, sharing hugs along the way with those I meet on the road.

I don’t know what a future looks like, anymore than I know what hope looks like, but what I do know is that I will continue to do what Chuck always said to do; suit up and show up and let the day unfold.  Doing so is what will make me stronger so that I can carrythis.

Because, of course, as I carry the grief, I carry, right along with it, the remembrance of a love that was bigger than life itself. And there is, in that love, all the magic of the Universe.

Love and grief and magic, the unbearability of it, the strength of it…all of these things, and the open road…carrying it all, as I become…

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The Pulse Beat of Love Over Everything Else…

I have to remind myself, as many of us do, I expect, that this widowhood is, as I learned in AA, a matter of progress, not perfection. Because I, for one, consistently seem to expect more of myself than is realistic. By which I mean, I continually scan my body and mind and heart to see where I am in this grief and why I’m not further along, even as my mind tells me to stop such nonsense and lays out all the reasons why I need to stop such nonsense.

Still it continues. But I’m getting better at just letting it be and not gauging my grief by anyone else’s grief.

So…progress, not perfection.

In the months after Chuck died, I remember writing on my personal blog about an issue that arose in terrible ugliness while he was in hospice. Without getting into gory detail (because family issues are rife at such a time for many of us, I know), what I’ll tell you is that in the 2nd week of our hospice time, which was the week before he died, I was told by his daughter that he’d asked her to be his medical advocate. Instead of me.

Because my career was in hospice, death/dying/grief were fairly regular topics at our dinner table. Chuck and I had done all the paperwork of wills, advanced directives, etc. I’d written particulars down on a piece of paper so that I’d have an easy reference sheet.

Once he and I went on the road, and most especially after his first cancer, he and I spoke even more frequently about such matters, clarifying our individual wishes. I was as clear on his wishes and desires as he was with mine.

The day previous to being informed of this matter, he and I made a personal pact: whatever he needed, I had his back. I recall him holding up his pinky finger (which he’d never, ever, done), indicating for me to do the same, wrapping mine with his in pinky swear. I promised that I would have his back and kick ass and take names as needed. It was intensely emotional.

And then the next day I was told what I was told. And, no, as implausible as it sounds, I never questioned him about it. I believed that, if I did, it would further agitate him because he’d feel caught between me and his daughter and I would not, would not, would not, add to his agitation.

There were many comments and actions in his hospice time and the weeks and months after his death that pretty much sent me over the edge, and, though I don’t wish to be overly dramatic about it, the added trauma seeped into my bones and marrow.

What I recognized even amidst the devastation of this conversation with her was that my husband had needs to be met in regards to his daughter and it was my responsibility as his wife, as the woman who loved him, to ensure they be met to the best of my ability. It wasn’t necessary for him to articulate those needs to me; after 24 years together, my instincts regarding Chuck were sound….so I stepped aside, I stepped back, and gave space to his daughter.

Now, lest you start crowning me with halos, let me quickly disabuse any notion of saintliness or such nonsense on my part. I struggled every day and night with the decision I made to step back and was talked through it every day and night by my sister, who called me daily.

However, because I’m not a fucking saint, stepping aside as I did, though done with and for love for him, also raised in me a sense of helplessness and rage…and rage while in the insanity of grief is what I felt when I lifted the cover of the box he was in for his cremation and it horrified me that this was my last feeling for him, when I’d never in all of our years together felt such an emotion towards him.

Today’s EMDR therapy took me into the depths of that rage and helped me delve more deeply into the layers of it. I realized that Chuck’s supposed request of her to serve as his medical advocate made me feel betrayed; clearly he must have thought me to be weak and incompetent and incapable of handling his illness.

The reality is that I don’t know what he said to her, if anything, and whatever he said, she heard what she needed to hear and ran with it, due to her own issues and agenda. Chuck and I were square on everything and I suppose, as I think of it, that’s a good part of why I was able to step aside, even as I craved more time with him.

The biggest revelation for me today was this: in our hospice time I loved him even more perfectly than I’d ever loved him. Even as the cancer consumed his body, I made his final few weeks about life and living for him. I encouraged his Air Force buddies from around the country to visit him and made sure he had alone time with them. I encouraged numerous of the men he’d sponsored in AA to come from Jersey to California to bring him meetings and meet one on one with him for final sponsorship and so that he could say his final goodbyes to them, and that very important aspect of his life.

I advocated for him every minute of every one of those days and I made it all about the love he’d brought to so many and most especially to me. And he died knowing how much he was loved.

Death is, in the simplest of circumstances, I believe, traumatic for those who witness it, who bear the grief of it afterwards. Which is not to say we ought not to witness it; I’d do every big and small thing again and again. But memories and words and anger and pain from emotion-wrought times seep into the marrow of our bones and become trauma and it gets carried through our bodies and into our hearts and minds, even as grief swirls around and through us.

If Chuck were here, he and I would have a conversation about what happened and he’d clarify to me what he said to his daughter and we’d work our way through it, as we worked our way through all issues. Ultimately, he would tell me how proud of me he was for what I did and how I did it, and he’d thank me and tell me how much more he loves me, even now. That is the man he was to me for 24 years and that didn’t change in hospice. He spoke highly of me to his friends and co-workers through all of the years of our marriage; his pride in me and his love for me, shone brightly, always.

Grief is indeed a matter of progress, not perfection. We put our own pressures on ourselves even before the world does, to be more, to be better, to be different. Trauma sets into our bones and we may not even be aware how it simmers into that progress and chokes it until it chokes us so that we can’t breathe.

There is a sense of relief in me after today’s therapy. Perhaps as I consider the revelations of this consciousness, the tide of trauma will wash out to sea and the soft lapping of the love he left behind for me will become my pulse beat.

This man I loved more than my own life…he left so much love behind for me. How I miss him with every pulse beat. But maybe now, as I allow the trauma to wash through me and out of me, this grief will have cleaner lines to it.

Maybe this is where the twin sides of simple grief and love can now dwell…with love becoming the stronger and mightier of the two…10685434_807833169271619_169846425441466326_n