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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Do it NOW. Seriously

In 2015, in my second year of widowhood, I went to Camp Widow.  Never heard of it?  It is a weekend sponsored by Soaring Spirits Loss Foundation, bringing men and women together in Tampa, FL, and San Diego, CA, for workshops and connections with other widow/ers  from around the world.  The speakers are exceptional, sharing their experience, strength and hope, and it all wraps up with a ball on Saturday evening, where men and women whose lives have incinerated around them with the death of their person, dance madly on the dance floor, music blaring.

The year I attended, there were roughly 150 people attending Camp Widow, and it took my breath away to see the number of young widows; women whose husbands were healthy young men, now left to raise their children on their own. Young men, whose wives had died way too soon…

Men and women, with the median age probably in their 40’s and 50’s. Men and women who carry grief in their hearts, desperately missing the one they shared their lives with, the one they loved, who loved them, reaching out to offer Love to one another, to hold each other up, to hold hands and share hugs, to listen without judgement, to bear witness to the stories each person carried.  The woman who started SSLF is Michele Neff Hernandez, now a remarried widow, who sought, after her own experience, to reach out to others.  That’s what life is all about, right?

I wrote the following piece after my first Camp Widow, and it holds just as true now as it did then.  This is what was in my heart, and is in my heart still, after witnessing this phenomenal weekend…

And so you know what I have to say to all of you out there in the world who still have your husbands and wives and partners?

Forget the bullshit. Stop being so fucking busy that you don’t pay attention to each other and your relationship.  If you’re in the habit of being a bitch to your husband and bashing him when you get with other women, knock that shit off.  If you’re a man and in the habit of complaining about the old ball and chain, stop being an asshole.  If all you do is gripe at one another and speak disrespectfully and condescendingly to one another, knock that shit off too.  Even if you think you’re doing it in fun. Ever hear the phrase passive/aggressive? And do you know how fucking blessed you are to still have your husband or wife? Do you?

Don’t just grab them and hug them; drag your husband, your wife, your partner, off to the bedroom and have mad, crazy sex like its the last time for you.  Smile at one another.  Kiss each other for a minimum of 30 seconds; no peck on the cheek!  Kiss consciously! Make your partner your priority. Over and above your kids. THEY’RE the ones who will be with you after the kids are grown and off to their own lives.

Become conscious of each other and your relationship.  Every minute.  Be aware of all you can do for each other, big and small, to show your love. Fucking talk to each other about what made you fall in love in the first place. Talk about your lives together and what you mean to each other.

Chuck’s death is the most devastating, excruciatingly painful thing I have ever experienced, bar none (and I’ve had numerous deaths in my life). And guess what?  One day either you or your partner will be standing exactly where I am. So make what you have count NOW.  Not tomorrow, not next week, not “Oh, I should schedule him/her in”.  That’s bullshit.  NOW is the time.

Because one of you, at a time hopefully far into the future, but really at any time, is going to be staring down at their beloved face in a coffin, the same way I did with Chuck, and your heart is going to break and you don’t want to have any regrets.

Tough for you to read this? It pales in comparison to what its like to live it~photo

Just Drive. Just Talk. Just Dance~

In no time at all, I’ll be going back on the road.  Launch date:  May 1 at the latest. My intention is to stay out on the road this time.  I’ll visit friends and family, but will stay in my T@b Teardrop, PinkMagic, primarily.  I’ve missed the coziness of her, the cocoon that she is to me.

This time in Arizona has been what I needed it to be, what I intended it to be. While I’ve fallen off the wagon as far as regular exercise, I have been working hard in counseling. It’s been incredibly intense, now that I’ve added EMDR to the process.

Because it’s Tuesday, my day for EMDR, I’m very tired. It takes a physical and emotional toll on me, which is okay; how can it not be wearying when I’m delving into all the fucking trauma of Chuck’s death and the months afterwards?

So…idle thoughts running through my head:

My therapist who does the EMDR is a knowledgeable woman who gives her all. She’s done the EMDR, guided me through a tapping exercise I can do myself, and today taught me TRE, which is a trauma release exercise. It works through a series of physical positions that stress the body into shaking and tremors, and through those physical reactions, the trauma in muscle memory is released. All of it is fascinating and not completely understood as to why it works; it’s just been found to work.

My Saturday’s are taken up with burlesque dance classes and throughout the remainder of the week I work on my costumes, glittering and sparkling them up. When I return to the road this time, my altar-identity of FWG will be stronger and more vivid than ever. This class has already filled my intention, which was to find some level of creativity again, and awareness of my body.

I’ve created and designed both costumes for my performance, and most of the choreography. The Merry Widow (definitely a play on words with that cuz there ain’t no merry about it), morphs into an FWG.  My entrance onto the stage will be to Leonard Cohen singing Dance Me to the End of Love.  I’ll be dressed in a long, trailing, frayed, black skirt.  Over my head I’ll carry a parasol, draped in black veiling that hangs to my hips.  I’ll swirl to stage center, and, as the words to the tune begin, I’ll dance as if I’m dancing with my beloved husband, not a hard thing to do, as he and I danced to this tune many times.

As that tune ends I’ll step behind a tall screen, which will be backlit so the audience can see my silhouette, and, in very theatrical movements, I’ll toss my parasol to the floor and shed my black widow’s weeds and begin donning the bright pink and orange of an FWG. Two layers, two shades, of pink tutus, with pale pink stockings, pink and silver glittered shoes, and a flaming orange short cape.  My last accessory will be a glittering sword, and I’ll move to the tune of Girl on Fire as I step from behind the screen and assume a Warrior Goddess pose as the lights flash on to the sound of an explosion.

I don’t know where this will lead, this burlesque, and I mostly don’t think about it.  It’s simply one avenue of my therapy for myself.

I do think of Chuck, if he could see me now, doing this. Doing all of this that I’ve done since that April night, and he wouldn’t be so much proud as fucking impressed with the chutzpah that has been required of me to bust down walls emotionally and physically.

I haven’t conquered the grief but that has never been, and never will be, my intention in anything I’ve done in the almost 3 years since he died.  My only intent has been, ever will be, to be as honest as possible with myself and with others, about this clusterfuck of grief.  I swore, right after he died, that I would write directly and in as raw a manner as I needed about it, and not try to pretty it up to make it palatable to the world at large. I need strong people in my life and if they get scared off by how I am or how I express it, then they need to pretty much just get out of my way to make room for those who can bear it with me. No hard feelings, just go over there thank you very much.

I’ve been clear with people regarding the following:

Don’t tell me everything is going to be okay you don’t know that, nor do I.

Don’t tell me he’s with me you don’t know that neither do I.

Don’t tell me I’ll be a better person for going through this that’s bullshit. I was a damn good person before he died.

Don’t tell me anything about God thank you very much, about how He/She/It must have wanted another angel bullshit. Bullshit.

Don’t tell me there’s a plan. I don’t believe it. God, if He/She/It exists, is, I’m sure, busy doing other shit and not looking down to see who can be stricken and killed next.

Don’t tell me there’s a reason and it will reveal itself to me in time. That’s bullshit. The reason he died was that he got fucking cancer and it ate him up and he died. God had nothing to do with it.

But here’s what you can do:

Cheer me on as I continue to make the decision every day to get up and face the damn day and do whatever I can to engage with people and things, even if I’d rather not be here on this earth.

Cheer me on as I face all the fucking trauma of his dying time and saying a final goodbye and sob that trauma out each week in counseling and EMDR.

Cheer me on as I hitch up my trailer again and drive out into this country, going only on my heart’s instinct as a guide, and pass by spots where he and I stopped for lunch, or went hiking. We spent 4 years on the road; there is hardly anywhere that isn’t as a spear to my heart with each and every goddamn and blessed memory.

Cheer me on as I don pink, pink, pink, and glitter it up on a stage, dancing my way through this devastation and in spite of this devastation because it’s what he would expect of me. He knew that, however I did this, it would be in a large way because he knew the woman I am.

Idle thoughts…driving, dancing, sobbing, embracing the pain and grief, keeping my heart open no matter what, gripping the sword of battle in my hand and facing into the fucking wind because it’s what I do and this grief is a battle for me and I don’t take it lightly at all and no matter how often I stumble and fall, and fall apart, I will always,always stand back up.

No matter what.

7 Years of January 7~

Facebook timelines and grief and reflection. Much of grief is about meaning making, about looking back, trying to make sense of stuff that really doesn’t make sense but striving to anyways.

Timeline on fb is a sure way to show us all how quickly life changes:

On January 7, 2009, Handsome Husband and I signed the papers that put our house in Jersey on the market.

srj traveling

Handsome Husband

We wanted to sell everything and go on the road and adventure together. Which is what we did, and loved it. He was “time wealthy” he told people.

 

On January 7, 2010 he and I were on the road as Happily Homeless, IMG_2784and back in New England, celebrating the holidays with our kids and grands.

 

On January 7, 2011, Handsome Husband underwent a 4 hour surgery to biopsy a tumor that, in the space of 4 months, had grown from the size of a bb pellet to the size of a grapefruit. His oncologist was so concerned that he personally walked it down to the lab for immediate results. It ended up taking a couple weeks to determine the type of cancer and all the details. It was a peripheral nerve sheath tumor, on the inside of his left wrist.  189597_1650969277272_3069653_nIt was incredibly aggressive and very rare. Our travels stopped short as we dealt with what would end up being 5 major surgeries. I remember well how, hearing his oncologist say the word “cancer” took my breath away.

On January 7, 2012, with the primary, 12 hour surgery to remove “Wilson” as I called it (the tumor was so huge it needed its’ own zip code and I thought naming it might remove some of the fear), he and I were back out on the road, and in Destin, FL, sitting on the crystal white sands, absorbing the warmth of the sun.  403752_280915965296678_1988399988_n

On January 7, 2013, Handsome Husband and I were on our way west from Arizona, after spending the holidays with a couple of our kids. He’d been ill over the winter months, with what we thought was a systemic fungal infection. We did what we could to treat it IMG_9385homeopathically, as he wasn’t getting any satisfaction from allopathic doctors.

All told, we had just shy of 4 years on the road together, as Happily Homeless. downsized_0813121702

On January 7, 2014, I was a widow, and had begun my Odyssey of Love for him, scattering his cremains at our favorite places.  I’d only been on the road for roughly a month, and was at Sigsbee NAS, in Key West, FL. Our youngest son, Fireman Nick, accompanied me from Connecticut to Florida, to help me scatter Chuck’s cremains at the first spot: the Dry Tortugas, off of Key West.

On January 7, 2015, I was in Arizona, visiting a couple of our kids, before continuing my Odyssey of Love. A 6 month long road trip with my daughter was already in the planning stages and would culminate in a cross-country trek as she and I honored my husband/her dad, scattering his cremains at his and my favorite places.  fueledbymagic.jpg

January 7, 2016…here I am, in Arizona, trying to get my shit together, knowing I need to return to the road.

Life bounces us around gently sometimes. Other times it’s a blood-curdling, holding on by fingernails type of ride. It can rock us slowly, then abruptly turn us upside down and spin us at the same time.

4 years on the road with him.  Almost 3 years on the road without him, making it work somehow, when I didn’t know how to do one day without him. But I bygod have made it work, however messy it might look.

Love is the only thing, as far as I know, that makes it all make sense~ Collage

Life, Grief and Lovelocks~

I’ve had my Lovelocks for a week now.  (Most people refer to them as dredlocks but my term is more fitting for me).  I’ve washed them twice and thank goodness for my daughter Rachael-Grace who works on them for me. … Continue reading

Time and Gestation~

Geographically, I’ve come full-circle.   9 months ago, I left Newtown Connecticut, and here I am back again, visiting our son, Fireman Nick, and his girlfriend, SugaPie.  I began this Odyssey of Love when Handsome Husband had been dead for 8 months.  In total I’ve been on the road for 5 years.   4 of those years were with Handsome Husband;  this last one on my own.  Which is to say, without him.  For the first 2 weeks last December, Fireman Nick traveled with me.  For the last 2 months our daughter Rachael-Grace has been with me.  I just finished my 3rd trek across country since he died.

Numbers.  They mean everything and they mean nothing.  Most especially nothing without him.  So, I’ve been asked, What’s different?  Is your grief different?  What have you learned?  How is it being on the road?  Are you happy doing this?  Is this exciting?  What is it like driving the roads you drove with your husband?  How has it been, scattering his cremains?

Practical fears paralyzed me as I began this, towing my pink-trimmed trailer behind me.  How could I possibly  learn how to tow?  How to unhitch?  How to camp?  How to travel the country?  How to be safe on my own?  How to allow grief the space it demands while creating this, believe me, wholly unwanted life?

My life philosophy is I haven’t died so apparently I must live and I must create a life for myself beyond the us that I had with him for 24 years.  It must be done.  I thought a broken heart would most assuredly kill me but it hasn’t.  And I frequently damn the fact, because this is the hardest thing I’ve ever done.  I hate life without him and it fucking hurts with every breath.

Today is 16 months since my husband, my lover, my safety system, the man I loved more than my own life, took his last breath and so did I.   God, that’s so dramatic, isn’t it?  And yet, so true.

I’ve grown in confidence.  I tow PinkMagic like a pro.  I hitch it up and so far, its’ always gone with me.  I can break it down and set it up, lowering the legs, plugging in as needed, set up my bed, organize the inside…and then reverse it all when I leave wherever I am.  I’ve cooked on the propane stove (though not frequently).   The electric broke and I got it fixed.  I back it up and I’ve even parallel parked it.  Bam!

I’ve learned to ask for help.  I have no problem standing out where I can be seen and asking the first person who passes if they can help me with whatever situation arises.  I can’t know everything, nor do I wish to.  Mostly people want to help, I’ve found.  I certainly assume that they do.  And if the first person can’t help, I politely ask them to move out of my way so that I can find someone who is able.

I have no fear.  The term “FWG” that I coined, is serious business to me.  It means that I stared Death in the face and I suited up and showed up in spite of and alongside of.   I’ve learned to live on the road, camping, and I am not a camper.  I’ve learned to state my mind even more so than before Handsome Husband died.  I state my needs clearly, with no apologies.  I’ve learned to own the talents and gifts that were given to me upon birth and through self-development.  I am a gypsy.  I am a story-teller.  I am a hugger of people.  I am a listener of tales.  I am a giver and a receiver both.  I am a writer.  I am a woman who wanders and discovers.

I have no expectations on outcomes.  Not in a negative way;  just in a way that if one way doesn’t work, I’ll try another.  I have no expectations of people and how they may or may not behave.  I will accept only those in my life who are interested in honest, authentic relationships.  (I still have some coming to Jesus meetings with a few that need clarification and that’s on my near schedule, believe me).   I expect, and demand, honesty, whether it hurts or not, both in giving and receiving.

Handsome Husband was the Buddhist in the family but what’s happened as a result of his death is that I’ve become a perfect Buddhist.  I have genuinely emotionally detached from outcome, results, and life, by which I mean I get that it is entirely fleeting and can be gone in an instant, and so I’m not terribly attached to it.  I’ve had the hardline talks with our kids about my own end of life and what I expect from them in support when I make the choices that I will make.

I’ve learned to allow myself to dwell in dark spaces  where my eyes are of no use and allow my other senses to heighten instead so that they might aid me in finding my way.  And I’ve learned to challenge those who would question my grief, both the intensity and the length.  This is my grief, not yours, I say.  Fuck off. (said with love, of course).

I live fiercely.  I love fiercely.  I grieve fiercely because I loved fiercely.  Those around me and those I meet on the road are fire in my blood.  Yes, I can say I love them, these new friends not yet met, or met only briefly.  They each have their stories as I have mine and in this way we connect.  I am incredibly comfortable about approaching strangers and being approached.  Talking in front of a crowd?  Pfft!  Whatevers.

Handsome Husband hoped that I would find another man to love someday.  That may or may not happen.  What I can say is that any man who joins in my life is the damn luckiest man in the world because I know how to love and I’m not afraid to show it, every second of every day because each second can be the last second and I will make damn certain that every second matters, as I did with Handsome Husband.

Whatever I knew before he died, I know in the very marrow of my bones now.  Oh, yeah, this last year has changed me in ways that I haven’t even defined yet.  I coined FWG without full knowledge of what it would come to mean to me as time passed and I’m still growing into it.  And always will be.

Fierce.  Determined.  Take no prisoners.  No apologies.  Passionate.  With a heart open to love, everyday.

#FWG rising.  Damn right.  10612999_10202636518455039_3458728546477215861_n

The Process of Uncovering~

My daughter and I are in Ashland, Oregon.  Last night we went to the Whiskey Room in nearby Medford to listen to our friend Dani sing.  She has a voice of gold.

The last time I heard her sing was with Handsome Husband and we were at a dance club with a group of our daughter’s friends.  He and I closed the place down, spinning to almost every tune.  That night was exhilarating and romantic for us-we were in our element.  Last night, in this different club, Dani dedicated a song to him.  As the band played I could picture he and I swirling around the room, his strong hand covering mine.

Rachael and I have been on the road for just over a week now, making our way up the California coast.  Our first year of travel, Handsome Husband and I traveled these very roads, thrilled with the discovery of northern California and the Pacific Northwest.  His show of excitement was always much more subdued than mine.  Primarily what he loved was seeing me so thrilled and knowing that he’d been the creator of that.   Now we’re traveling those roads with me a widow, our daughter grieving the absence of her dad.

Layer upon layer will be stripped away as we travel this Odyssey of Love.  There are depths to this for both she and I that we will only know afterwards, after these 6 months are behind us.

I’m deeply grieving in a way that other widows will recognize, as I stand on the beaches where he and I stood, raise my eyes up to the magnificence of the Redwoods, as he and I did.  10314701_690329767688627_5864217604970271625_n Now I’m maneuvering my pink car around the switchbacks of Route 1 but on the dash I have a picture of him as he drove and my eyes are continually drawn to that.  collage

Our daughter stands in the places where her dad stood  and hears my stories and imagines it through his eyes now, connecting with him in a new way.  He loved the life we lived on the road.  He lived his dream in our years of adventure.   If he could see us doing this now he’d be both impressed and not surprised.  He knew the women in his life.  He knew our strength.

She’s making memories to carry with her after I die.  Yes, we’ve had those intense conversations already.  Not because we’re morbid but because they are conversations that must happen between parent and child.  I will not ever leave my kids wondering about disposition of my belongings, about my end-of-life intentions, about financial matters, simply because I don’t want to have that conversation.  She and I have spoken in-depth and the conversation will continue as we spend this time together.  I hope she will be able to look back on this Odyssey and remember not only what she experienced, but will take away an example of healthy grieving.  I can already see her growing into.  (No, that isn’t an incomplete sentence-that is a descriptor).  I am also growing into.  I don’t know into what and it doesn’t matter.   The woman I was with my husband disappeared one year and two months and a few days ago.  That life with him burned to ashes, the same as his body in the crematorium.

There is nothing easy about this road we’re on, but that’s okay and there is no melodrama involved.  It simply is what it is.  I needed to do this for my grief.  I need to drive headlong into it-that’s who I am.  Nothing beautiful was ever born from easy.

And there is so much beauty out here.  Seriously.

FWG rising.

Every minute of every day.