A Life of Grace and Dignity~

Each April 26, I post a blog I wrote in the days after Chuck’s death. I called it “Happy Anniversary, Dear Man”. But it wasn’t about our wedding anniversary; it was about his sober anniversary.
One year, when I posted it, I was criticized for posting about his sober anniversary, because it broke Chuck’s anonymity, which is a crucial underpinning of the program of AA.
I understood where this person was coming from, as I myself am a recovered alcoholic, but I take another tack on it, now that Chuck is, you know…dead.
Chuck and I found sobriety together; it was another anniversary that we celebrated. In reality, if we didn’t both have a sober program, our marriage wouldn’t have happened the way that it did.
His program of sobriety was his to live when he was alive, and he lived it with grace and dignity. He believed in carrying the message of sobriety wherever it was possible, to whomever might need it.
In our hospice time, there were more than a handful of men and women who came to his bedside, to bring meetings to him, to receive final sponsorship from him, to learn from him, and thank him for his service and guidance to them.
And they presented him with his 25- year sober coin, even though he died 3 days shy of his 25th year. I had to convince him to accept it when he did. Chuck was very specific in previous years about not accepting a coin until the very day, aware as he was that up to that day, his sobriety wasn’t promised. The thing is, I told him, we didn’t know if he would be alive TO receive it on that day and he owed it to those he’d sponsored to honor him with it.
So, he accepted that coin.
A few evenings ago I had a conversation with a dear friend of mine who was also one of Chuck’s sponsees in AA, and she said to me “Do you even realize, Alison, what a miracle that was, seeing the lines of people outside of Chuck’s room? All of them coming to thank him for helping them change their own lives, because they saw what he’d done with HIS life? The level of sobriety that he had in his life, that commanded such respect among AA, that brought these men to his bedside at the end of his life?”
Chuck was a strong and passionate man. A confident man, but one who struggled with demons from his past. He found sobriety, though, before he and I married, and strove to live his life according to the principles of AA.
He lived a life of sobriety that commanded respect not only from others in AA, but from the outside world who didn’t know he was even in AA…the anonymity thing, you know. He lived a life of grace and dignity, and that allowed him to die with grace and dignity. Nobody was left, afterwards, heaving a sigh of relief that he was gone, and with him, his addiction.
Instead, he lay in his hospice bed for those 3 final weeks of his life, receiving all of the Love he’d given to so many, as they paid their respects to him before his death.
What greater gift is there than to know that you have made a difference in the lives of so many, and just a sampling of that number now stand at your bedside to tell you that, in no uncertain terms.
And then Chuck died.
And I wrote about that time in hospice, and his life of sobriety and what it meant for him and for me and our family.
I have no regrets when I break Chuck’s anonymity, since his death.
It’s how I carry the message now, when I meet an alcoholic.
A couple years after Chuck’s death I met a woman who is also a dear friend. Her husband was struggling with addiction. He had a year’s sobriety.
I’d been carrying Chuck’s 25-year coin with me, not quite certain what to do with it but knowing I’d find a purpose for it along my way.  IMG_1059
That purpose was suddenly in front of me and I removed the coin from my backpack and gave it to her to give to her husband. All I asked was that he remember the name Chuck D, and the life of sobriety he lived. The grace and dignity with which he died. The Love he’d left behind, because of his sobriety.
I carry Chuck’s message of living a life of grace and dignity through sobriety, now, as much as I carry the message of Love that he and I lived for our 24 years together.
Our years wouldn’t have been possible without sobriety on both our parts.
His message is still very much alive, and I carry it proudly.

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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….

 

I’ll Be at my Hotel~

I remember these words from my mom, spoken many years ago at a time when one of my younger brothers was dying.

Family and friends had gathered from around the country to say final goodbyes.  As it happened, he didn’t die until many months later, but it seemed like the end, so…there we were.

There were 8 kids in our family;  our folks were divorced, but we were all there that long ago weekend, and, as is normal at such a time, emotions were running high.  It’s funny to me, really, to think of my mom at that time.  She’d been alcoholic for decades but, as I came to recognize as I grew and matured, that was only one aspect of her personality.  Mom was also an intellectual, wise beyond wise, realistic, and she had a hugely funny cynical sense of humor that I totally loved.  She’d been an Army wife for 20+ years, a demanding lifestyle that took her overseas frequently, and around the USA, oftentimes as she was ready to deliver another child, or having just delivered a child.  The strength that was molded into her bones didn’t come easily or lightly, and there was much to admire about her, in spite of her alcoholism.  In the decades since her death (she died of breast cancer just 6 months after my brother Kysa succumbed to Hodgkins), I’ve come to admire her even more and sometimes wondered, given all that life pushed on her, why she wasn’t also a drug addict. (I say that with a sense of humor, because, really, looking at her life, who wouldn’t want to anesthetize themselves as thoroughly as possible?)

Anyways, back to the topic at hand…my brother dying and all of us gathered together to say goodbye and emotions running rampant, except that mostly it seemed none were being expressed (our family didn’t do emotions well, if at all). Which made for very dicey possibilities, none of which sounded good.

A meeting was called at a sibling’s house, to discuss…shit, I don’t even remember anymore what exactly needed to be discussed. I do recall that there had been a few angry outbursts and there was an air of uncertainty floating about, as if anyone in the area might need to take cover momentarily. Like the  heebie jeebie feeling that I imagine might crawl along one’s spine prior to a major engagement involving weapons (not that any of us were packing).  In any case, my mom, being the smart woman she was after raising 8 kids, beckoned me over to her and in a very calm voice requested that I drive her back to her hotel.  But don’t you want to join us at the meeting?  I naïvely asked.  Mom shot me this deadpan look as if taking my crazy temperature, and said if you think that I’m going to put myself in the middle of whatever is going on, you’ve got another think coming.  I’ll tell you what. You go and then come tell me all about it. I’ll be at the hotel.  Watching TV.

All of this to say, and why I’m telling you this, is that my mom gave the greatest response ever and I think of it whenever I’m with my kids and their spouses and their kids, when emotions are running high and it’s all kind of chaotic and undecided with the almost sure outlook of exploding fireworks and I just want to tell them, seriously,  I already did all this when I was in my 30’s and figuring it out and I don’t need to be part of all of your figuring it out, so thank you anyways, but…

I’ll be at my hotel.

I graciously extend the invitation to all of you, dear readers, to use this response, especially those of you who are parents with adult kids. Especially when the hackles on your neck rise in family situations that are beginning to sound explosive…listen to those hackles.

This is a mighty useful phrase to use at such times.

Thank you to my mom, Betty Catharine Miller~

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