6 Years. And 6 Centuries~

This Sunday it will be 6 years since Chuck died.

Just writing that number leaves me breathless, and not in a good way.

Jesus.

How can it be 6 years?

Though it might as well be 6 centuries. That’s how it feels.

So, my thoughts on these years/centuries as they meander through my mind…

I spent last weekend with our older son and his family, which includes two grand-goddesses, 5 and 3 years old.

I love them so very much.

And I love my son and his wife so very much, as I do my other kids and their spouses.

But-and I don’t know if this is just me-it’s almost…painful…to be with them. Well, maybe not so much in being with them, but after I leave.

Grief surges up in me as I drive away from them, or any of our kids, after visiting.

Thinking about Chuck, and driving down the road with him. 

Now, looking out at the desert and the mountains…I feel so fucking empty.

Where the ever loving fuck did he go?

If tasked to respond to the question what is it like now, as opposed to those nightmarish days right after he died, this is what I’d say:

It is exactly what a dear widow sister of mine, who was further along than I, told me in my 3rd year of grief.

It isn’t that it gets better. We just get stronger to carry it.

Yes.

I’m definitely stronger to carry it.

6 years out, and contrary to what I look like on the outside, I’m wiry and my arms are strong and my back is straight and my stride is sure.

I know in every part of me that I am living Love out loud.

I approach everyone I meet, whether stranger or family, with Love. Even people I don’t care for.

I’ve learned the subtle art of not giving a fuck. With all the Love in the world, of course.

Anyone who chooses to see me as desperate, depressed, dark, too much, fill in the blank, chooses to question me or my life/methods of navigating this widowhood, etc…oh, I am WAY too strong to be taken down by such judgement.

I wish I’d learned this strength much earlier on, but it happened as it happened, and believe me, that strength is who I am now and it comes from such a place of Love and surety of the Love that Chuck left behind for me, and certainty of what I’m doing along this Odyssey of Love…it makes me absolutely unbeatable. I cannot be taken down by others’ opinions of me. 

This life isn’t easy in any way. It is painful beyond unbearable. It’s impossible. 

And I’m fucking doing it anyways.

I remember what was told to me by a woman I met in a Target store early on my Odyssey of Love. She didn’t know me, had no way of knowing anything about me.

But she purposefully caught my eye as I browsed in the clothing dept of that store. After catching my eye a second time, she approached me and asked if she could tell me something.

I’m always open to whatever comes my way, so I nodded yes. She put her hand ever so gently on my lower arm and looked right at me and said this…

I need to ask you -do you know that you are surrounded by angels? You have so many around you that I can’t even count them. And you are protected. They are protecting you in whatever it is you’re doing. So keep doing it. Just keep going. They are all around you and you are protected.

I didn’t know how to respond, so I thanked her and we went our separate ways. 

But I’ve never forgotten her words.

She was one of the people…the markers…that Chuck told me in an earlier message he’d left for me to help me find my way on this Odyssey of Love. 

I wouldn’t leave you without a road map. I’ve left markers for you along the way, both physical and metaphysical. Look for them.

Those words were told to me, a message from Chuck, by yet another woman, just a few months after he died. Also a woman I’d never met before, who sought me out.

So here’s the thing, world.

Don’t fuck with me. Because, yes, I’m protected and I know it.

I’m protected by a legacy of Love that is more than most people know in a lifetime. By the Love of a community I created for myself around the country. By the Love of 3 adult kids who live their dad’s legacy every damn day. 

I was loved by Chuck.

Five simple words that carry the power and force of forever in them.

I was loved and I am Love.

And no matter what else happens, 

That makes me the fiercest woman alive~

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Numbers and Changes~

Chuck and I sold our home in NJ in May 2009 to go out on the road and travel our country together. 

No more rat race for us. 

Just time together.

We had just shy of 4 years on the road together.

He died April 21, 2013.

11:21 pm is when he took his last breath.

In so many ways, I did too.

Take my last breath, I mean.

My breathing hasn’t been the same since the hands of the clock ticked to 11:21 and froze.

At the end of May, this year, I’ll have been on the road alone for 6 years.

10 since I lived in a home with Chuck.

I’ve had more time on the road alone than he and I did together, in our Happily Homeless time.

Over the years I’ve frequently been grateful, in a very consuming way, that we didn’t have a home for me to return to after his death.

It would have been impossible to keep our home, financially and emotionally.

I know it would have been too painful for me to wander around the rooms and the beautiful yard, with all the memories.

And the very thought of having to sell all our stuff, appraise the house, sell it, all on my own, without him, sends me into panic mode.

So I’m glad I didn’t have to do that.

My dear friend/wid sister, Lorri, and I have had numerous conversations about how, after our person dies, we oftentimes end up living a life that is no longer ours. 

Sometimes we have to stay put because we have kids/family/responsibilities.

But sometimes, too, we stay where we are because we don’t know we can go somewhere else. Live somewhere else. Create a different life for ourselves.

And our old lives just don’t fit us any longer.

I’ve a few friends…Lorri is one of them…who have decided to explore a life living on the road, same as I’m doing.

A couple of them are widowed. One, a guy, is just tired of living life in the mainstream.

RVs, trailers, camper vans, conversion vans, tents, cars…there’s an entire subset of people living full time in various vehicles, working along the way.

I never want to own a house again. Ever.

I don’t want the responsibility and I don’t want to settle somewhere Chuck isn’t.

If he’s anywhere in this life of mine now, it’s out there in our memories of the road and I meet him unexpectedly at road side picnic tables, rushing rivers, and strangers along the way who approach me to hear my story wow look at all that pink!

This widowed life of mine, coming up on 6 years way too soon, is a life of contradictions, duality and, well, just surreal. 

How the ever loving fuck is he not here with me?

I just finished working my 2nd year at the Renaissance Faire, and, on the 22, one day after Chuck’s 6th anniversary, I’m heading east to Arkansas to work for my 3rd year at the opera camp, where I’m the groundskeeper.

I don’t know where I fit in this life without Chuck. Mostly I don’t think about it. I just live it.

What I do know is that when I sit inside my rig, PinkMagic, and gaze upon the pictures of he and I through our years, or read the notes he wrote to me, now covering the walls, I feel as close to home as I expect I’ll ever feel. 

In this world without Chuck, where nothing is enough, it’s enough for me.

It’s my cocoon, and wraps me in memory.

It’s my world~ 

This Hall of Memories~

You and I, my Love,

We…

Are echoes in the halls of memories.

In lands far away and beyond the clouds

so beautifully and achingly tinged with vibrant colors,

I search for you.

Green tinged mountains with trees so tall they reach up into and beyond those clouds,

Valleys of rock that jut sharply into one another and, if I squint my eyes, become castles of ancient times,

Rivers that wind and rush into oceans,

Names and places and adventures and shared history

That are carried now only by me, in my hall of memories.

Carried with me, deeply embedded into my heart and soul.

Carried, not without sadness, but carried, too, with all that is the Love we had together.

I am the courier of us.

The emissary of our Love story.

The herald of who we were

In our time.

Who you were, who I was, who we were…

What we did, what we shared, how we lived together, the secret language of us,

Carried in me, in the halls of memories.

Forever, my Love and my beloved.

Never forgotten. Always remembered.

You and I,

Who we were,

In the clouds, the mountains, the rivers and valleys,

The very air I breathe, and the pulsebeat of my heart,

The aching of my soul,

This sacred hall of memories~

Words in a Book, From the Grave~

St Thomas Aquinas said that Love feels no burden, thinks nothing of trouble, attempts what is above its strength, pleads no excuse of impossibility. It is therefore able to undertake all things. To hear your laugh again did wonders for my heart. I feel so deeply for you and want you to be as happy and fulfilled as you can be.
I know that Betty is now free of pain, is with Kysa, and both are celebrating their new life.
I know that love is a powerful emotion and if anything can help, it is love.
Together, in love and through love, we will get through this difficult time.

For most of our 24 years together, my beloved husband, Chuck, and I kept a journal for Love Notes to each other. We did this instead of exchanging cards. I’d write a note to him, a page maybe, and then place it on his pillow for him to find. Or he’d write a note to me before leaving TDY (military travel) and put it on my pillow to find and read while he was gone.
Our Love Notes journal has traveled with me for all the years since Chuck died. Mostly I haven’t opened it; it’s been too painful. But it resides snugly with his flag and cremains, within hands reach each night, whether I’m in my trailer or in a room somewhere.
A few nights ago I opened it again. Just read the first couple entries I told myself. That much is bearable.
Our first few entries began the same year my mom and brother died. Each of them had a different kind of cancer. My younger brother died, and when I called my sister to tell her that our brother had died, she told me something was wrong with my mom. Six months later my mom died. Chuck was newly retired from the military, unable to find a job, money was tight, and death seemed all around us. It was an impossibly stress-filled time.
The quotes above are Chuck’s words that he wrote to me in the first two entries of our Love Notes journal. He writes the words about my brother and mom, about grief, about death…but he is speaking to me from the grave, isn’t he? Because the words he wrote are what he believed, they tell me his concept of the afterlife, his fervent belief in the power of Love, and yes and most especially, what he wanted for me then, what he would want for me now. untitledvv.png
These words are so very important because I’ve agonized since Chuck’s death, trying to remember what he believed of an afterlife. I know we must have had numerous conversations about that, and about a Higher Power but I can’t recall any such conversations. I don’t know what I believe and it has literally sickened me that I may not ever see him again, that maybe our 24 years is what we had and that’s it and it’s done and over and I can’t bear that thought. I just can’t.
Within those sentences, within those words that I read night after night so that I can memorize them into my heart…I read them and I physically felt my heart begin to pound. Here it is, I thought, here they are…his words Chuck’s words his beliefs here they are! I don’t need to try to remember any longer because they’re right here to read, in a tiny journal of Love Notes, words that were written from him to me over 20 years ago.
His words echo what my heart and my instinct have told me continually since I began my Odyssey of Love. That Love is all that matters, that with love and through Love, I can get through this. It’s what I have left of him and what I live daily, mile after mile, year after year.
Chuck spoke to me from the grave yesterday, powerful words on the pages of a little book covered in stars and moons. He spoke to me in the here and now, from a day in the past, and told me what he believed and what he hoped for, and what he wanted for me, and each and every one of his words are what he would write to me today, as I widow my way.
Love is powerful. Love is what he and I shared for 24 years and Love is what he left behind for me and Love is all that matters to me now and forever. We were Love and now I am Love.

This Full Moon, and Me~

I wrote this on a night when the moon blazed so brightly in the sky…
“I remember, barely now, because it’s been so long, the feel of my hand in Chuck’s. His hand so strong and firm around mine. His hand gave me a feeling of comfort, of protection, of belonging… a sense of order in my Universe.
As the nights grow colder now, as the moon shimmers so very brightly above my upraised face, I remember, sometimes barely now, because it’s been so very long, the strength of Chuck’s arms around me from behind, as we stared up at this same moon, marveling at the beauty of it, transfixed by its’ distance from us, and the might of the Universe around us…
I remember, but softly and uncertainly now, because it’s been so very long. It is all memory now, and Chuck seems so far distant from where I am now, in a way that saddens my heart and causes despair in my soul. As if the tether that bound us together for so long snapped, and he drifted away into space, never to be seen again.
I know that his Love is with me still. I know that my Love for him has only grown, as it would have if he were still here with me. Alive. 
And I know that this isn’t enough, but must be enough, lest my sanity take flight and disappear in the same way that he did in that long ago time of only yesterday. 46667943_1952232871498304_2060287432410005504_n
So I look at that far away golden orb high above me, as it was above us, though I remember barely now, and I wonder…
Do you see me? Do you know of my longing as I wander into long ago memories? Were you really here with me at one time in the hugeness of this space? Did we really exist as two?
And where are you now?”
A friend of Chuck’s, who reached out to me after his death, who is a friend, now, of mine, responded to my post with this…
“I know, because Chuck told me, how he loved you. He felt he must have done something right along his complicated life for God to allow your paths to cross. I always thought it corny for anyone to say that they cherished someone. But Chuck cherished everything about your life together.
Alison, I know the fading memories of the feelings of his touch disturb you. But I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that chuck is nearer than you think. And as some memories fade, other memories will come to you, like the whisper of his kiss on your cheek.
You will see the twinkle of his eyes at sunrise and sunset. You will swear you hear him calling your name. Don’t think yourself crazy. His words of Love will ride on the breeze. When the darkness threatens to overcome you…whisper his name. He will hear you and you will feel his hugs in your dreams.
I wish you peace, my friend. My prayers follow your journey of Love. You know he left you a roadmap. Just know in your heart that he hasn’t forgotten how to navigate!”
I don’t think I can add anything more to these compassionate, beautiful, words~

To My Beloved Husband~

To my beloved husband, Chuck D, as we approach the 5th anniversary of your memorial service, which we held 6 months out from your death…
I know I did everything as perfectly as I could in those few short weeks between finding the cancer, our hospice time, and your death.
I know this more than I know anything else in my life.
And yet…
Doubt lingers in the corners of my mind and pops out in my most vulnerable moments, such as now. Such as everyday of living without you.
Just one doubt.
Was I at your side enough in our hospice time? Should I have moved into that hospice room with you and not moved until I had to? Did I err in going, every so often, back to our rented condo, to sleep…even though I never slept when I was there. Shadows of your impending death were ever on my mind. I knew I was a widow in waiting, no matter where I was. I didn’t need to hear a clock ticking away the time: my heart was more of a reminder than any clock.
I didn’t stay with you every night, and that thought has more power over me than I want it to.
There were many nights that I did, and I was there every day, but I wasn’t there every minute, even though I wanted to be. What I wanted was to lay down beside you and never move. Hold onto you for every breath. Breathe with you and for you. Take your place in that bed, with cancer attacking my body relentlessly.
I wanted to do all of that.
But I know you worried for me. I know that you watched me as I moved about your room. That you spoke to others of your concern for me. That you loved me beyond anyone else and you would want me to take care of myself, even as I cared for you.
So I preempted the conversation you might have with me, and took it upon myself to kiss you good night and return to our rented condo, having ensured that one of the kids was with you overnight. They would care for you as lovingly as I could and I entrusted your care to them so that you wouldn’t worry about me.
I was told after you died that you would ask where I was at times, and I wonder. Did you feel that I abandoned you on those nights? Or for the few hours I’d take to grab food with one of the kids? These thoughts aren’t logical, I know, especially as I consider the source from which the words came…but I wonder anyways.
I wanted to curl up beside you. I wanted to be so close to you that I became you and our bodies would be one body and even though that meant I would feel your pain, you…you would feel more strongly than ever, the depth of Love I had for you, and that would be so much more powerful that the pain of the cancer would be meaningless. I wanted to clutch your hand in my two hands and squeeze hard and hold on…but I knew I had to tell you that I would be okay and that you could go whenever your body and mind had done this enough. I wanted to look into your eyes and stare into forever…not the forever of death but the forever of a passionate Love. I wanted to turn back time and live our together life again and again, an endless round of Groundhog’s Day…so that our life together would never end. I wanted my fingers to trace the bone of your brow that I’d stroked so often over so many years, run my hand gently through the hair on your arm…while you still breathed. I wanted to breathe deeply of the breath we both shared and make it last forever…not watch as you suffocated and took a sharp inbreath and…nothing.
Instead, because I knew you would want me to take care of myself in whatever way I could, I would kiss you softly and tell you I’d see you in the morning and return to that condo and lie down on that bed that was never ours…and stare into the darkness. Waiting, waiting, waiting, until I could rise and shower and drive back over to your hospice and kiss you good morning and begin a day of living in the moment and offering Love in all the ways that I could while I shattered again and again, watching you disappear from me.   532901_10152250938645400_1112002834_n
I know you would forgive me, my beloved D. I don’t know that I can forgive myself. I know what you would say and how you would say it and how you would hug me and love me even more, for having cared for myself to whatever degree I was able to.
This one doubt crowds my heart sometimes, and mixes in with the godawful missingness of you.
As we who love you approach the 6-year mark of the day of your memorial service, all that my heart will permit me to say to you is this…
I miss you. I love you. I crave your touch. If I could only gaze into your eyes gazing into mine. If I could tuck my hand into yours and feel our fingers intertwine. If I could feel the strength of your arms enclosing me. My life is so different from what it was, with you. I’m so different, in ways that make me feel like an alien to my own self. IMG_4895
God, if I could just sink into your welcoming embrace and hear your heartbeat in my ear. Wrap my arms around your waist. Sink into all that you were, with all that I am, and breathe in, again, the peace that was…us.

September Remembering~

My body felt September 11 approaching, even before my mind became aware of it.
This morning, September 11, I woke up and could feel the nerves edging along my skin. The feeling only intensified as I watched snippets of remembrances on TV.
Why, you might ask, would I put myself through watching something more when my heart was already hurting?
To bear witness, quite simply. It’s my tribute to those who died on that day, 17 years ago. If they could bear to go through what they went through, I can bear to watch it and honor them.
This day of remembrance is a day that hits so hard, personally. Nobody I know died that day, but Chuck and I were living in south Jersey, just a little over an hour away from NYC. He was working at McGuire AFB and, as I watched the news, it seemed as if the base might be another target. Nobody was allowed on or off the base and no phone calls, so I couldn’t reach him.
He finally walked in the door around midnight.
My sense of safety in the world, since Chuck died, is gone.
We would speak of that day, often, in the years afterwards, especially when we were flying somewhere to visit family, or when he flew on business.
Chuck was adamant that if terrorists were to take over a flight he was on, he needed me to know that he would fight back. Of course you would, I’d tell him. And if I’m on the flight with you, I’d be right beside you.
He was at my side, and I was at his, through thick and thin. He’d been a safety officer while active duty, and would go over What If scenarios with me regularly. As in…if this bad thing were to happen to you, how would you react? How would you get out of that bad situation? Put a plan in place in your mind. Plant it there, so that you react out of muscle memory, rather than freezing and not responding. Learn how to save your own life. Or, at least, give it your best shot.
I felt so safe with Chuck at my side. Yes, I still go over scenarios in my mind, training my muscle memory. Yes, I keep a go bag at the ready, in case of…I don’t know…all the unexpected shit that can happen in life.
I was as prepared as I could be for his death 5 years ago. Because my career was hospice, death was a familiar topic at our dinner table and anywhere else. We didn’t shy away from it. We’d spoken about our wishes long before his first cancer, and I’d written it all down in a notebook. You know, what kind of service, life insurance, imagined scenarios for me.
Somehow, even as we spoke about the possibility of me surviving him, the word widow never entered the conversation. He’d be dead and I’d be on my own but…widow? It never entered my mind.
With all our conversations about death and dying, with all the responsible shit I wrote down in that notebook, never once could I have imagined the devastation of living without him. Never once could I have envisioned the emptiness of life without him, the sheer agony, the silence.
The silence.
Even though I speak on the phone with family and friends every day, use social media, text, use all the methods of communication that exist in our day and age…the silence is deafening.
The silence is in my heart and soul and it comes from the stark reality of Chuck’s absence. There is no other voice that fills that space, no matter what I do.
And I wonder, on all days, and on special days like this September 11, if I’ll ever feel that sense of safety again. Or a sense of peace. Or lightness.
Yes, I’m a strong woman. Yes, I’m independent. Yes, I can live on my own and be good with that. Yadda, yadda, yadda.
September 11, 2001 took away our sense of safety as a nation.
April 21, 2013 took away my sense of safety, personally.
Chuck was my go to person, at my side on that day, even though he was on base and unreachable. I knew he was there, though, and that comforted me.
There is no comfort to be found in this life without him.
And that’s just the honest truth~