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]

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Numbered Days. Numbered Nights~

1567 days.
I know because I checked.
After waking up in these too early morning hours.
I didn’t check right away, of course.
Because I do what we all do when we’re not supposed to focus on what we don’t have
I try to think of other things.
Staring into the darkness of my tiny space
My gaze landing on the bright blue light of the radio.
That’s no good.
It immediately reminds me of the light in the distance
On the mountain top
Staring at it night after night as I paced the floors of our condo in Cathedral City, after you died.
What was that light?
The harder I strive to not think of you, this life without you….
The more insistent the thoughts become.
So…I stop trying to not think of things…of everything…and just let my mind go.
And the flood is instantaneous.
Words and images and emotions swirl into the whirlpool of my mind and my heart
And my soul aches unbearably
So I reach for my phone and check the days since app and yes…my heart knew what the numbers state. The numbers are almost meaningless, really, because who can define forever?
I put on a mindless TV show and stare at it, hearing nothing. I read a book and the words are meaningless. I eat a muffin and it’s tasteless. I’m not hungry and I’m not eating my feelings…I’m just trying to find something so that I don’t think for a moment…
Should I try to sleep again? I have to work in the morning. My body is wired. My mind restless. My heart painful.
Where are you, D? More importantly, why aren’t you here with me, where you belong? How many more nights of this? How many days and months and years?
My body aches for you. My mind wanders to where you and I were, but are no longer.
Distraction works for only so long in this life without you. It really doesn’t work at all, but I have to do life, right? It is required of me, by life, to do life.
So, I do.
But, oh, how untethered I am. This life, as colorful as it looks, is empty because you aren’t here in it, with me. I’m wandering, is all, jabbing at life where I can, trying to find my way, but it feels empty, no matter what I do, and my soul and body knows that something, someone, vital is missing from me.
Will this ever change? Will I ever find something anything that makes me feel that, yes, this is why I’m here still? When will I care again? When will I not wake and stare into the night again? When will I not feel the alone-ness of this life? Will I ever find a sense of peace in my heart and soul again?
I hear all the words that society says about all of this, and I do all that I’m supposed to do and I do it with intent, but in the end…
I stare into the darkness, gazing at that blue light…
And my heart hurts and I miss you I miss you I miss you…
My god how I ache for you…

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.

Return To Me~

Return to me…
Please come back…
Return to me, with your strong arms
That wrapped round me…
And made me feel safe and secure
No matter what was going on around us.
Return to me, with your broad shoulders
Upon which I rested my head
And listened to your heartbeat…
Until our breathing became one breath and I felt reassured and knew, always,
That my world was good, and would always be good
Because you were in it.
Return to me…
With your smile that lit up my world
And brightened my days
Even if we were on the phone and you were far away
I’d feel your smile and…
My world was serene.
Return to me…
With your green eyes that would catch mine across a crowded room
And the one would crinkle in a slow wink
Meant only for me…
A wink that carried promises of passion and flirtation and teasing
And my heart would grow giddy and butterflies flutter in my stomach.
Return to me…
Take my hand in yours again, wrap your fingers around mine…
Return to me, my beloved
I beg of you…
Hold me, touch me, love me, dance with me, put your hand upon my knee, kiss me, envelop me.
My body longs for you
My heart beats for you
My mind wanders to you and me and what we had…
My pulse is your pulse…
And I die inside a little each day, that I don’t have you any longer…
That you don’t have me any longer…
That we are gone and it is just me here on this earth…
Return to me, my beloved…

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~

 

Memories and Remembering and Love~

Chuck never wanted to be one those people who retire and die the next day or the next week.  He wanted time to enjoy his life without work, time to relish waking up together and lingering abed. Time to travel and be with each other and grow our marriage even more.

In April 2009 he sent an email to me at home.  This is what it said.  And this was my response….IMG_2851.pngWe put the house on the market, sold or gave away most of our belongings, and packed everything else into a U-Haul truck to put into storage for future use.  We’d need some shit to start up again, right, when we settled down?

On May 29 we closed on our house, and Chuck immediately got in the truck, I got in our SUV, and we headed west, the first of many times we headed west from Jersey.  And we never looked back.

May 29, 2009.  The day we began our Happily Homeless adventures.  We tossed what was left of our belongings in storage and continued further west, state shopping, so to speak. Where did we want to settle down?

Until, 3 months in, we looked at each other and said why on earth do we want to stop doing this? and continued on.  And on and on, for our last 4 years together. We drove over mountains and through desert valleys and crossed miles long bridges over breathtaking rivers and we climbed to the highest points of various states and laughed when they were barely above sea level, and danced among the waves of the Pacific Ocean and visited family and friends and made new friends along the road, and stopped to have lunch and wander among out of the way cemeteries and paid our respects at National Cemeteries and had wild and crazy sex in towns and cities around America and fell more deeply in love and managed our way through Chuck’s first cancer with its’ 5 surgeries and went back out on the road to fucking live by god and visited National Monuments and Parks and learned American history from a local standpoint and we danced to Clint Black in hotel rooms and in military lodgings and we sat 1 foot across from one another in our SUV and discussed marriage and relationships and men and women and roles and our kids and family gossip and our hopes and dreams and we lived and we lived and we fucking lived until we danced our last dance in Death Valley and this man who lit up my world died in a hospice in southern CA, eaten up by cancer but strong in spirit and with love until his last fucking moment.

On May 15, 2013 I began my Odyssey of Love.  I walked down the 15 steps from a condo we’d rented for our stay in Cathedral City, CA, carrying Chuck’s cremains in my arms.  I returned to Jersey to give him well-deserved military honors. I bought PinkMagic.  I’d never towed and I’d never camped and my world was incinerated around me and beneath me and my heart was shattered into glass and my chest felt as if a meat grinder was continually slicing away inside of me. I couldn’t breathe, I didn’t know how to do what I was doing.  I didn’t have a plan, or a destination or a goal.  I was like Sgt Schulz on Hogan’s Heroes, but not in a funny way.hogans-heroes-cbs-198-b

All I knew then, all I know now, all I will ever be able to tell you, all I really care about telling anyone, is this…

Love must be stronger than this grief. It must both be bigger than the emptiness of life without Chuck and fill that emptiness.  It has to be, or I will cease to exist.  I push every day, every every day, to make his left behind Love bigger than anything else.

I don’t know how else to do any of this.  Without that Love I couldn’t have driven over 100,000 miles on my own, tracking down highways and side roads Chuck and I traveled together, stopping to eat lunch at roadside stands where he and I lingered over lunch, seeing the mountains and deserts and bridges and lakes and rivers and prairie grasses and beauty of this country through eyes wet with tears and my heart shattering again and again.

The thing is, for anyone who doesn’t know this already…yes, I have incredible memories. Everywhere I go there are memories. I have memories to look at and memories to hold in my heart…but those memories don’t make this better. Indeed, those memories serve as a stark reminder of 24 years gone, never to happen again. Those memories, though I cherish each and every one of them, are a double-edged sword, reminding me of my alone-ness in the world now, without him. And I struggle with that.

Each day is a decision on my part to get up and make Love bigger than anything else. I don’t ignore my grief; I hold it within the Love Chuck left behind for me, I hold it within the Love I had for him, still have for him.  And it fucking hurts, no matter how I do any of this, and it’s spiritually exhausting, so I feed the Love every day by reaching out to people, giving and receiving hugs, and being of service where and how I can.

Chuck was Love.  I was his Love. He was my Love. He was my beloved, as I was his.  We were in Love for 24 years.  He died loving me and I kissed him for the last time with my heart overflowing with Love for him and the Love he’d brought into my life.  His left behind Love pushed me into my pink car and has fueled me for 4 years and I have to I must always always always carry that  knowledge in my heart and plant it in my mind every damn day so that I don’t lose my mind. 

Love Love and Love harder and more, no matter anything else.

I repeat this to myself now, at this moment, as my heart takes me back to May 29, 2009, watching Chuck climb into the U-Haul, as I remember turning the key to follow behind the truck, headed west, as we began our Happily Homeless adventures…

Love.  Only Love.  C8D2FCE2-F53C-43D6-9CF4-C9D600907140

 

 

 

These Few Words~

 

I will sing you to me…..

These words curve around my lower right leg, from knee to ankle.

My 3rd tattoo.  My first one says nothin’ but love, our credo in hospice.  Those words swirl in a circle on the back of my neck, with the circle ending in a small heart, and the circle is left open.  As my heart must be in this new life without him.

My second one simply says Love, and is on the inside of my left wrist, in the exact location where the tumor I named Wilson, first showed up on Chuck.  It took a 11-hour surgery and 4 reconstructive surgeries afterwards to rid ourselves of Wilson and reconstruct Chuck’s arm.  His right thigh looked like hamburger when they were through.

Each of my tattoos carry special meaning, as all tattoos must.

But…my 3rd tattoo…

Chuck and I both enjoyed watching the movie Australia; a movie set in pre-WW2 Australia, dealing both with the invasion by the Japanese, and the kidnapping of mixed race Aboriginal children from their parents.  The kids were sent to orphanages where they were taught white ways. 

One of the most charming characters in the movie is a little boy named Nullah, a mixed-race boy, taken in by the character of Nicole Kidman.  The two are separated, in the movie, by the kidnapping of Nullah.  As she stands on the pier, desperately trying to keep him with her…as he is taken away to an island for orphans, he says to her I will sing you to me.

And she responds and I will hear you…

In our Happily Homeless travels, Chuck and I visited the huge bike rally in Sturgis, South Dakota.  We didn’t go there specifically for it, but it was going on when we were there, and we walked around and admired the bikes and fell in love with the state.

In the second year after his death, my daughter, Rachael-Grace, went on the road with me for 6 months, supporting me in my Odyssey of Love.  We crisscrossed the USA, and, in the process, ended up in Sturgis, SD, and, again, happened upon the Sturgis bike rally.

South Dakota is home to Crazy Horse National Monument, one of the places Chuck and I visited together, and the final place he’d asked me to return to, to scatter his cremains.

Rae created a beautiful ritual at Crazy Horse, and was the one to scatter her dad’s cremains there.  And then we walked around Sturgis.  Which is where I found the tattoo artist who created my 3rd tattoo.  I’d told him about our Love story, about my Odyssey of Love, and though I didn’t know when I first got there to SD what my tattoo would look like, the words came to me as I walked about, and he did a quick sketch.  Unfortunately, the cost was too much for me to justify, and I was honest with him about that.  Another of the artists, who had listened in to my story, told me that he thought I really needed to get the tattoo there…it was the last place Chuck had named, after all, and given the words I wanted, it was perfect. So, he offered to pay for half, stunning me.

I will sing you to me….

Words spoken in the movie Australia, among the Aboriginals, when saying goodbye to a loved one, with no idea whether that one will be seen again.  Words of hope for the future, maybe…

I’ve no idea whether this phrase, and the concept behind it, are true to the Aboriginals or not.  I honestly don’t care; the idea of the words touched my heart years ago, and they touch my heart now.  And I seek comfort where I can find it.

I will sing you to me…

These words that wind around my calf speak of my wish to believe, even as I struggle with believing, that I will see Chuck again someday.  Somehow, maybe, he will greet me when I die.  Maybe.

Meanwhile, in this life that I must live without him, maybe I can sing him to me in my heart, by living the Love he left behind, by reaching out with kindness, in service to others. 

I will sing him to me…

And the other half of the meaning of those words for me?

Maybe, maybe, maybe, I will sing my future to me even as I live each moment without him, as I continue this Odyssey of Love.  The future that I still don’t want, that I don’t care about, but one that seems as if it must be lived for all the days of my life until my own death.

I hold these words to me, written as clearly on my heart as they are written on my calf.

I will sing you to me…