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.

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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.

Birthdays~

Chuck threw me a huge birthday party for my 50th.  To be honest, our daughter, Rachael-Grace, helped out with it quite a bit, but it was lovely.  A dear friend, who died the year before Chuck, baked a red velvet cake.  My friends were there from all walks of life.  Our kids were there; it was a memorable 50th.

Life changes quickly, and the following year, for my 51, we were just beginning our new life on the road and Chuck surprised me with a trip to Graceland.  I’d always been a huge Elvis fan and he knew this would be a huge hit. As it was.  I didn’t have any idea where we were headed until I saw the sign that said Memphis.  We stayed in a hotel that had framed Elvis pictures in each room, a guitar shaped swimming pool and Elvis music playing throughout the grounds. All songs which I knew and Chuck got such a kick out of me singing along with them.

One of my earliest birthday memories, after Chuck and I married, is the year he took the time leading up to my birthday to get my address book and ask everyone in it to call me on my birthday.  He also alerted his family and friends.  I spent the day answering our, yes, land line phone, and hearing Happy Birthday, Alison!  Chuck made my birthdays so special, every year.

My next few birthdays were spent on the road; I don’t even remember where. What I do recall is that I spent them with him, hiking and exploring the USA.  We had all the time in the world together and that was the greatest gift of all.  With lots of wild and crazy birthday sex.

The last great present I received for my birthday, my 55th, was the news that Chuck’s first cancer had been eradicated numerous surgeries.  He was cancer free, with really really really good odds that it wouldn’t return.  God, did we celebrate…I knew a cancer survivor! and that cancer survivor was my beloved husband.

I’m 59 today.  Chuck has been dead for 4 years.  Fucking cancer got my cancer survivor after all, and my birthdays have never been the same.

I know, I know…I can hear it now.  But you must celebrate you! You must grab life and savor it and live it!

Here’s the thing.  I know, because I’m a smart, loving person, that I must allow our kids to celebrate me. I must allow my friends and family and all who love me, to celebrate me. And I do and it means so much, especially since Chuck is no longer here to wrap me in his arms and plant a huge, lonnnngggg kiss on my lips, leaving me dizzy.

In just the past month, I’ve received 2 gifts that touch my heart in the only ways that matter:  I was reunited with my younger sister, after many years of estrangement, and my wee grandson, Owen Charles, was born.  Each of these huge events touch my heart.

But there is a loneliness that goes along with my birthdays in the years since Chuck’s death and that’s just a fact of life.  It’s the new world that I live in.

So, today, here in the Ozarks, at the opera camp, on my 59th birthday, living a life I’d never imagined or planned for (emotionally), my gift to myself is telling each person that I meet that it is my birthday and I want hugs.

I want hugs from every person who comes within my radius today. Hugs, hugs and more hugs.  All the love that comes with those hugs is what keeps me going, and my heart expands with each hug.

And that’s what I ask of you, too.  Anyone who is reading my words today.  For my birthday, your gift to me is to hug people you meet along your way today.  Stop for a minute, share some time with them, connect with them, and don’t leave them without hugging them.

And maybe, whisper a word to Chuck, whether you know him or not, that you’re all looking out for his girl.

Thank you.

Happy birthday, me~

 

The Rhythm of Memories~

 

Here is the deepest secret that nobody knows.  Here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud and the sky of the sky of a tree called life….

I don’t know why the rhythm of this particular poem rings so deeply in my heart, around so much of what this widow life is for me.  Chuck kept a copy of this poem in his wallet for years;  I’d printed it out many years ago to give to him, and I read that copy at his memorial service.  The rhythm and flow of the words, e.e. cumming’s lack of capitalization, this poem above all resounds through my heart continually.

The words of e.e. cummings fit my soul as I think of Chuck today.  I think of him every day.  I think of him every minute of every day and every second of every minute.  I think of his life and our life together and his death and how it was for me, how it was for him, as he lay dying, and what this life is without him.  What my world is like without him. These are the things I think about as I go about my daily life.  I’m looking at you and talking to you and working and doing and I’m present in that moment at the same time as I am fully present in the life I live with Chuck in my heart.  Before he died, ten thousand years ago and 10 nanoseconds ago, I thought that a person could only have one thought in their head at any given moment but I’ve found that to be untrue.  I consistently and continually have 2 thoughts, 2 lives, in my mind and heart at the same time.

Here is the deepest secret that everybody who reads anything I write knows.  Here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud and the sky of the sky of this tree called life…

 

I am still very much in Love with my husband.  I am still very much in Love with Chuck Dearing.  As much in Love with him now as when he was alive.  More, if such is possible, because I was very much in Love with him when he was alive, and I told him so daily and I showed him so daily, and now that he’s dead, he is the very rhythm of my life.

 

His absence has only made my heart grow more with Love for him.  Not in such a way that I’ve raised him to saint status, which is what many do when a loved one dies, but in a way of remembering him as he was, which was as a real man who walked on this earth and swept me off my feet for each of our 24 years together.  I don’t even have to dress him up…his life and his character and our Love speaks for itself.

I’m still very much in Love with my husband.  In Love with Chuck.  The only thing is about this is that…he’s dead.  I’m in Love with a dead man.

And I don’t believe that I will ever not be in Love with him.  How, after all, does one make oneself fall out of Love?

Distance isn’t enough.  People love over distance all the time; they have through the centuries.  Of course, this distance is incalculable, for I’ve no idea where Chuck is.  If he is.  Perhaps I’m in Love with a dead man who has no existence in any realm any longer.  I fully acknowledge this. And that is the fuck of widowhood.  Love with nowhere to go…

 

As these ten thousand years have passed, as each 10 nanoseconds pass in the here and now, I remember how he loved me, how I loved him.  I remember his calm spirit and his groan-worthy jokes.  I remember his dedication to the military and how glad he was to retire, having done his time.  His quiet rebellions that grew from holding his own counsel and just going about business in the way he knew he needed to do.  It’s easier to ask for forgiveness than permission, he told me many times, and that carried him through his military service.  I remember how he not only read the Big Book of AA but read what it all meant, and the history of it; he gave context to AA and the 12 Steps and Tradition, and living a life of sobriety.  Chuck lived his sobriety as honestly as he could, every day.  Not perfectly, but as well as he could, and he earned the respect of many because of it.

 

His promise wasn’t given lightly, and I could count on his promises being kept.  His promises were his word, given as a gentleman of old times would have given his word.  It was his honor, and he held true to it, whether that promise was made to me or one of our kids or a friend or anyone else. 

 

He would, as knights of bygone days of chivalry and honor, have given his life for me.  Sometimes, in my mind then, as he was living, and now, since his death, I picture the two of us strolling through shadowed hills of a glade, or the bare red rocks of the West, and, if this were times of old, he’d have my hand in his, and a sword in the other.  It is as if, when he took his marriage vows, he not only promised to care for and cherish me, but to protect me with his body and his strong arm.  And I can hear those who are less romantic minded, scoff at such imaginings, but here’s the thing that will make you secretly drool with jealousy…Chuck was that man.  I knew he would protect me with his life.  He was a lover and a warrior both, and I was the most fortunate of women to be his chosen.

 

His kisses melted my knees and left me desiring more.  He was the loveliest of slow dancers, holding me firmly against him and guiding me around the dance floor, smiling down at me, sometimes humming along (in a voice that was kind of always off).  He was the most passionate of lovers and I returned that passion in spades.  We were well suited to each other in our strength and passions.

He was all that I’d never dreamed to be possible.  Until it became possible one day when he knocked at the door of my mom’s house and I answered it, wearing my military issue ugly frame glasses and holding a book in hand with a finger marking my place.  He remembered that moment to me often over the years.

And now my lover, my warrior, is dead.  And I love him, am in love with him, no less now than when he breathed the air I now breathe alone.

If this is all that I will have for the remainder of my life…the memories of his kisses, his arms around me, his glances at me across a room, the feeling of swaying against him in a dance where only he and I existed…if all that I have forevermore is the memory of his body and mine twined together before sleeping…well, then, that is more than many, if not most, find, and I will be content in journeying back to those moments of ten thousand years ago, ten nanoseconds ago.

Memories don’t keep me warm at night, but oh, they are such memories and I hold them close. 

Yes, I’m still in Love.  It’s just that I’m in Love with a dead man. And my heart aches.

Ah, well, we must each have our quirks, I suppose.

And that is the root of the root and the bud of the bud and the sky of the sky of a tree called…my life….

 

Just Love~

When calls my heart

To the distant past that is both yesterday and incalculably forever ago.

When calls my heart

To those feelings and emotions that seem so far distant

And so deeply buried

That they are unreachable.  Unrememberable. 

Cherished.  Loved.  Nurtured. 

Secure.  In Love.  Joyous.  Passionate.  Spontaneous.  Upbeat.

What becomes of this heart

And those words that described a life, and a man,

Who gusted into my life and took my breath away with a whoof!

I knew, of course, the possibilities of Love happening in my life before he came into my life.

Zero possibility.

And then.

He called my heart and Love opened my heart

And I breathed Love and I lived Love and I loved him and he loved me and our passion burned brightly

And non-stop

For all of our years.

As we lived our Love story.

Until and then

An ugly and relentless and starving beast took that man who called my heart and opened my heart.

Took him into a world I couldn’t know.

Couldn’t go.

And left behind, calling my heart?

Still Love.  Only Love.  Always Love.

Not enough.  Never enough.  But has to be enough.

Love.  Love more.  Love hard.  Love always.

His words.  His life.  His actions.  His message.  My words.  My life.  My actions.  My message.

Only Love.

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?)

 

Slow Dance. Last Dance.

I first wrote this blog in 2014, just a couple days before Valentines Day, a few days more before our 24 wedding anniversary.  It holds as true today as it did then..

So, here I am, writing my first blog right before Valentine’s Day.  Right before what would have been our 24th wedding anniversary. I’m getting ahead of myself, I know. I was going to introduce myself, give some back-story, and I promise I will.  But maybe, because of the timing of this first entry, I’ll give you a glimpse into the world that was mine with my beloved husband, let you peek through the keyhole so you can understand the missing-ness of him in my life.  This, dear ones, is the memory I carry with me in my heart and soul.  The only memory, really, that I can easily call to mind. (Why is that?)

As I remember him, and me, and our full-time travels of the last 4 years, this Death Valley dance lingers in the nooks and crannies of my heart.  Exploring Death Valley National Park in California was a dream of ours, and for 3 days we drove up and down the Valley, exploring the muted colors of the Canyons. Chuck was already sick and in pain; we thought it was the die-off from a fungal infection.  We thought it was a pinched nerve.  So this last day was taken slowly.  He’d managed a short hike back into the rocks.  Our last hike, but we didn’t know it then.  All we knew was that it was getting late, he was tired, and it was time we returned to our ranch cabin.

But, as I steered the car over the road to the ranch, looking at the changing colors of the rocks around me, my instinct told me that here was a memory that we needed to imprint on our hearts.  I’m relieved now that I listened to that instinct that made me maneuver the car to the dirt on the side of the road and say to him “Let’s dance”.  We loved to slow dance, and Chuck was a master at it.  He wasn’t quite sure of the footing on the rutted ground but I said let’s do it anyways.  And he smiled and got out of the car.
 
It was that most beautiful part of the evening that the Scots call “the gloaming”.  The quiet moment when the day is done but right before full dark sets in.  Silence surrounded us as I met him in front of our Ford Escape.  The strains of “You’re My Inspiration” by Chicago wafted from my IPOD.  Our song.  He put his right arm around my waist and clasped my right hand in his left, wrapping his fingers around mine.  In spite of everything, his body was strong against me.
 
And on the side of the road, there in Death Valley, in the setting sun, we danced what would be our last dance.  

Chuck’s romantic heart met my even more romantic heart and we kept that passion alive for the 24 years we were together.  This Valentine’s Day is my first without him.  Our 24th wedding anniversary is the 18th.  I don’t know if any one particular day is more painful than another because right now every day is filled with immeasurable pain.  I miss him kissing me and holding me and dancing with me and loving me and that slow wink at me from across a room. 
 
I miss him with every beat of my heart, with every painful breath that keeps me living without him. 529438_552029828185289_1995679461_n