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 Pink Anniversary~

Today, Tuesday, is an anniversary of sorts for me.
It isn’t an anniversary connected to Chuck, since it happened after he died.
And yet, it is entirely connected to him.
Because today is the day, 5 years ago, that I picked up my new Ford Escape from the garage, and the man, I’d taken it to after buying it from the dealer.
I took it directly from the dealer to a man named Anthony, who had his own garage.
He and I had spoken a week or so earlier, when I’d called him and told him that I was looking for someone to create a shade of pink for me and paint my car in the created color.
I shared with him the Love story that Chuck and I had for 24 years. I told him what Chuck said about me wearing pink after his death. He knew I’d need color around me. I told him about our Happily Homeless travels for our last 4 years together. I told him that I was staying on the road, alone, and I was terrified and devastated and didn’t know how to do it, but I was doing it.
The price he gave me was just too high for me, but I told him how very much I appreciated that he listened to me and we hung up.
Not half an hour later, Anthony called me up again and quoted me a lower price. He really wanted to create a color for me and paint my silver car.
The first shade of pink that he did was too dark, and I told him to lift the brown out, and add a creamy white, but that I didn’t need to see the second shade. Paint my car in the color you get and it will be the exact right shade.
A couple weeks later I went with my daughter to pick up my car. She cried and I cried when I saw it, and we cried more when Anthony handed the can to me, with the formula for the paint on it…and the name he’d named it.
The name….
It’s to give you courage to return to the road on your own Anthony said.
Chuck’s Watchin’ Over Me was what he’d named the color.
God, did I cry.
And a few months later, I bought my tiny trailer. It’s a T@b Teardrop, and before taking it off the lot, I gave the guy my paint can with the formula on it and said anything that’s yellow, paint it pink! 16114600_1227243173997281_3474194353379356472_n
I was terrified to return to the road on my own. My heart was shattered into pieces and it felt as if a meat slicer was in my chest. Alternatively, it felt as if my heart had been seized from my chest and thrown on the ground and a sharp-edged ax was slicing at it haphazardly.
I’d never camped and I’d never towed anything.
I knew nothing about what I was about to do, and I was fucking riddled with anxiety. Waking up every morning was unbearable. How could I do this when I didn’t even want to live? When I felt numb and breathless with pain at one and the same time? When I couldn’t focus on maps and reservations and routes? When I didn’t know where campgrounds even existed and how to make reservations with them? How far would I drive each day? What if I broke down? What if I was attacked? What if I just couldn’t do it suddenly, and I stranded myself somewhere?
How could I possibly do any of it, when all I wanted was my husband?
Maybe it was fortunate that I didn’t have a home to return to. Maybe it was fortunate that I was too young (55) to live with my kids. Maybe I was fortunate that I didn’t know what else to do. Maybe it was fortunate that I was so filled with fear and anxiety that it opened my eyes to doing the impossible. Maybe it was fortunate that the fierce grief and exhaustion, even as it killed my energy, forced me on.
I learned as I did it. I didn’t have a fucking clue what I was doing or where I was going. So I learned to make myself vulnerable and ask for help from whoever happened to be standing near me.
I learned as I joined every fb group of campers and military people that I could find, so that I could reach out with my concerns and confusion.
I learned as I began writing my blog and posting daily on my Happily Homeless is MoonStruck page, knowing that all that I held inside my heart and soul was impossible to hold inside for long.
I learned as I began saying why not to any idea that came into my head, no matter how outlandish it might seem.
I learned as I began listening to my heart, trusting it to guide me much more than I trusted my brain.
I learned as I insisted, to myself, that the Love Chuck left behind for me must must must be fucking stronger than the grief, or I’d go over the edge completely.
I learned as I reached out to my widowed community and began visiting them around the country. I got so many hugs and each one took me another mile.
I did whatever I had to, reached out, pushed my boundaries and comfort zones and grew Love bigger.
I miss Chuck unbearably to this day, 5 years later. I always will. Life is less than without him. My heart and soul get so tired. My body gets tired, being out on the road constantly. When it gets to be too much, I find rest with family or friends.
What I learned, most importantly, I think, is that there ain’t nobody going to do this for me. This is it…my life. I had 24 years of Love from a man I adored, who adored me. And my world now, will never be the same. And that isn’t okay in any way. But this is what I have.
And by fucking god, I will, and I AM, living it in color, living it as much over the top as I can manage and I’m doing it in Chuck’s name and in the name of our Love story, and in the name of Love.
That’s it in a nutshell.
All the pink. It’s the color of my courage and determination and the Love Chuck left behind for me, and the Love that meets me on the road daily.
You don’t have to wait to feel better to do whatever it is you think you might want to do. You don’t have to wait til you’re not as sad as you are now. You don’t have to wait for anyone’s approval.
You just pack every damn bit of that stuff up in a suitcase and take it with you.
It’s in the doing that you learn. It’s in the doing that you gain some measure of confidence. And it’s in the doing that you find that dark bit of humor that lets you announce to the world that you really don’t have a grand flying fuck clue what you’re doing….
But you’re doing it anyways.
So, no, this anniversary isn’t about Chuck. But yes, it’s all about Chuck and the mission that he started me on, as his cancer filled body lay on that hospice bed and I told him that my plan was to continue traveling, as he and I had done, and he asked me to return to our favorite places and scatter his cremains but he only named 4 places because the other places would be up to me, and I’d have to keep my heart open in order to know them. And, in keeping my heart open, I know that he hoped I’d create a new life for myself.
My Odyssey of Love continues, beloved husband.
My knight, my lover, my hero, my light, my life…529438_552029828185289_1995679461_n

 

Missing Him on 40~

I’m on the road again.
I left Arizona, headed to Arkansas, a few days ago. Or maybe it was a week ago, now. I’m kind of tired after driving some long ass days.
Tune up on my car. New tires, brakes on my rig, PinkMagic, fixed.
Our daughter was road tripping to Arkansas with me, to see the opera camp where I work for the summer. It’s my second year back there, as the groundskeeper.
We were planning a fairly easy trip, stopping to visit family in Denver, taking our time.
Well, as they say…
The best laid plans of mice and men…
We were only 200 miles out when we heard a loud pop from the rear of my trailer, followed by smoke billowing out, and brake fluid trailing behind us.
Fortunately, I’d just pulled off the highway, so that we could drive the main drag of Winslow. You know….
Standin’ on the corner and all that.
Again, fortunately, I have roadside assistance and called them and they sent a tow out to us. He quickly diagnosed major problems and I followed his tow truck, very slowly and carefully, to his garage.
Where he removed the drums and discovered that all rubber parts had melted and all metal parts had turned to dust. They dissolved to the ground as soon as the drums came off.
Not good.
But better than what could have been, which was a fire from the massively overheated brakes, which could have easily burned my rig into nothingness, and taken the car too, I suppose, since it’s all so small.
Scary shit.
We ended up camping out at the garage for 3 days and 2 nights while they sent for parts and worked on the brakes.
High Chaparral Garage in Winslow, AZ; the best people EVER. They went above and far beyond what was necessary to keep us safe while there and take us back on the road.
Hooked us up to electricity so we could sleep comfortably. Put a large mat outside so we didn’t track grease inside PinkMagic.
Worked diligently on the brakes. We were right on the famed Rt 66, so people stopped in to say hi and take a tour of the inside of my rig.
Gave us great tips for exploring the area while we were stranded.
We’d go downtown to the corner and drink chai while watching the world go by.
Before leaving, even though it was late at night and we were all tired, the wonderful guys at High Chaparral tightened up the spare, power washed my car and trailer, signed the back of it with loving words, gave us hugs, told us to keep in touch…and away we went.
During our stay at the garage, I met 2 other widows who were 5 years out, as I am now. We spoke of the ravages of cancer and how it changes lives.
Because I was stationary, albeit unexpectedly, I had the opportunity to speak on the phone to a radio host with a program called Bringing Love to Life, about my Odyssey, and my marriage to Chuck.
Because we were stuck, so to speak, for the time we were, timing was set into place that brought us to a rest stop further on where we met a young couple, themselves stranded, trying to get to Montana to see the young man’s dad before his dad died of liver cancer. Remembering that desperate feeling, we were able to buy them a tank of gas, some groceries, and give some cash to help them on their way.
It’s the kind of thing that Chuck would have done, and all I asked in return was for them to remember the name Chuck D.
Our continued travels took us from Arizona to New Mexico to Texas to Oklahoma and then into Arkansas, and every mile along the way was filled with memories of my and Chuck’s travels, what seems so many years ago now.
How is it possible that it is 5 years since his death?
Next month I’ll have been on the road alone, as a widow, longer than he and I were, together.
That thought messes with my mind.
He is everywhere along Rt 40, through the middle of our country. He is at every roadside rest stop, at the picnic tables where we’d stop to eat lunch. He’s at the national monuments and parks, where we’d visit to learn local history. He’s in the wildflowers growing in the median strip and in the flat lands of west Texas with the huge sky overhead.
He is everywhere, in memory and in my heart.
I missed him for the entirety of 40.
I miss him on that road and every other road that I drive.
And I also know, more than ever, after the experience in Winslow, that his legacy is strong and vibrant and that our Love story is as strong as it ever was, and that I am doing just exactly perfectly heart wide open what it is that I am destined to do…
Live this Odyssey of Love. For him. For me. For all my widow brothers and sisters and their ones. Live it for all those I meet along the way, for all those whose path I cross or who cross my path.
Just, quite simply, live the Love that he left behind for me.
Fiercely. Strongly. Powerfully. Confidently.
Always.

Looking at the Numbers~

Almost 5 years.
5 years without you.
Don’t ask me how I’ve gone 5 years without you.
I don’t know.
Sheer grit and determination.
And a whole lot of the Love that you left behind for me.
It isn’t enough, you know.
Living on memories of your Love for me.
Mine for you.
But it has to be. Enough, I mean.
24 years with you wasn’t enough.
We thought we’d have at least 35, calculating our ages.
We had 24.
23 of those in marriage.
We had 4 years together, living on the road.
Adventuring and loving and bonding more deeply than we’d ever thought possible.
4 years. Our last 4 years.
I spent 3 weeks after your death, alone in that condo in southern California.
And then returned to the road, alone.
It’s almost 5 years now that I’ve been on the road by myself, on my Odyssey of Love.
I’ve been on the road alone longer than we were on the road together
115,000 miles solo.
North, south, east and west.
8 times around the country.
I will never stop missing you,
No matter how many miles behind me,
No matter how many miles in front of me.
I miss you, D.
I just miss you.  2018-03-21

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.

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