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.

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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

This Still Beating Heart~

When was the moment you realized you would survive this?
Your person’s death…this new life…
I never doubted for a moment that I could and would survive this.
From the time Chuck was told that the cancer was everywhere.
My fear was that I would indeed and unfortunately, survive this,
And live the rest of my life without him.
I did.
I have.
I cursed myself daily, that I was surviving his death.
Surviving this widowhood.
I didn’t want to survive this and I cursed whatever it was in me that made me keep on living.
I researched broken heart syndrome, and was disappointed to meet all the criteria, yet continue to live.
How was that possible? How?
Did I really not love Chuck enough? Was the stress of his illness and death and the fucked up family dynamics that sent me into meltdown anxiety attacks, not enough?
Why did I not qualify for broken heart syndrome? Why?
And yet, here I am, 4 years and 11 months later, widowing.
Fuck.
I suppose I’ve lost all that energy I spent wondering why I didn’t die.
Lost the will to search and curse that I still lived, that I still am, that I still must.
I’ve driven thousands of miles since Chuck’s death, following highways and backroads of our country.
Honoring and remembering him.
Missing him.
More aware, each mile, of how he is missing from me
And my life is less without him.
Now I wonder…
Is there death from empty life syndrome?
I’ve learned so much about widowing
About living in the after
How it isn’t only about healing our hearts
But healing our minds.
Reframing
Plugging in
Honoring the process of grieving in a world that has no patience for grief,
Or anything that requires more than a pause in doing and rushing and performing.
I’ve insisted on doing this my way, which we all know, is the only way to get from here to there.
I don’t know where there is
Mostly I don’t know where here is.
And I wonder still, in passing thought, how it is that I’m still here,
Without him.
It’s a mind fuck of the Universe.
Some would say that I’m still here because I still have work to do.
To which I say…
Poppycock. Baloney. Hooey, and bunk.
I’m here because I haven’t yet died.
Whether there is a reason for it or not is up to an individual’s personal beliefs.
I cringe, still, at the thought that I may yet live centuries without him,
Which is what it already feels like,
Only 4 years and 11 months in.
No broken heart syndrome here.
Fuck.
Just plugging away, reaching out where I can, living on Love.
An emissary, a servant, a courier, of Love~

My Shadow Selfie~

Many times, as I begin typing a blog, I have little to no idea what will spring from the keyboard.  Sometimes I swear that I have nothing to say…I’ve said everything that can be said. Which is kind of an arrogant way to think, isn’t it?
But I’ve also realized that ideas come from the most unexpected places. I can be out and about and hear a phrase from strangers conversing. Or I notice how someone is dressed on a particular day. Or how their hair falls a certain way. Words beget ideas for me, and that’s how this blog happened.
I was out with my grand-goddesses, who are 4 and 2 years old, respectively. We’re in Arizona, so we went for a walk to the park. The sun was out, they were wearing lightweight jackets, because 60* is cold to us here…as I hear all of you from everywhere else in the country groaning and wishing for that, as you freeze your patooties off in subzero temps.
Anyways…
The 4 year old was skipping along, and called my attention to her shadow, that was moving right along with her, of course.

As soon as I looked at her shadow, following along with her, I whipped out my phone and wrote the word in the notes section. I think of the most amazing ideas and then promptly forget them.
Shadows.
As widow/ers, we live with shadows. We become shadows of ourselves. Our shadows move with us. Our shadow represent the dark parts of grief, too…the parts we are often too frightened to explore. Also, society doesn’t like peering at us and seeing our shadowed selves, so they try to move us from where we are to a place that is more comfortable for them.
Shadows make us humans uncomfortable. We want to see what we expect to see. Or we want to see what we need to see, so that we don’t have to spend too much time on that one person. Hi, how you doing…and get on with your day.
Early on in my first year of grieving, my daughter said to me mom, maybe you need to let yourself be in the shadows for awhile. Maybe you need to stop fighting the shadows and just go there. Don’t worry. I know you’re there, and I won’t let you stay there. I’ll keep watch.
The most valuable, loving words I’ve heard in this widowed life.
Yes, it was frightening to contemplate falling into that darkness; it was all so unknown.
I couldn’t see in front of me. Because not only was it dark…tears also blinded my vision.
I couldn’t hear anything…except my hitching breath and broken sobs.

But, for me, it wasn’t so much about allowing myself to fall into that darkness; it was more about releasing the resistance to falling into that darkness. I was already there, honestly, and expending an inordinate amount of time refusing to acknowledge it. Because, you know, people continually tried to talk me out of it. Too uncomfortable for them to see me there. It made me unrecognizable to them, and that concerned them. Though, maybe I’m assuming that was their thinking. I never really asked.
So, I stopped resisting, and, in hindsight, I realized that when some of our senses aren’t working, others work overtime.
The darkness allowed me to simply feel. As unbearable as it was…I allowed the grief to claim me.
I felt  and heard my heartbeat, even as a meat slicer chopped every breath I took, when I placed my hand over my heart.
My heart, even shattered, became aware of the hands reaching out to me.
Allowing myself to be in shadow gave me a place to rest, inasmuch as I was able to rest to any degree.
And I knew that no matter how severe it all was, there was a person who loved me standing in the light of my shadow, keeping watch for me.
That mattered. It mattered in ways that are unexplainable even now. But she knows.
I lost my fear of the shadows, and now, these almost 5 years later, I welcome my shadow self, in all its’ glory, even though it’s dark. Dark, and yet, revealing, at one and the same time.
My shadow self is no longer an arbitrary unknown part of me that causes fear to rise up in me.
It exists just as surely as the walking, talking part of me.
I love my shadow self. I hate my shadow self too, honestly, because it was revealed to me as a result of Chuck’s death, and I’ll never be okay with that. His death, I mean. I’m tiptoe through the tulips happy for all those in our world who reach a Zen state of okayness with their loved one’s death, but that isn’t me.
The duality of loss, again. The duality of widowhood, always.
My shadow selfie, and this blog.
A blog that happened because, yesterday, I took a walk with my two grand-goddesses and she said Look, Granna! My shadow is following me!

And I recall the old song from years ago…Me and My Shadow….strolling down the avenue…

Strolling with my shadow selfie since April 21, 2013…

IMG_8399

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.

Birthdays~

Chuck threw me a huge birthday party for my 50th.  To be honest, our daughter, Rachael-Grace, helped out with it quite a bit, but it was lovely.  A dear friend, who died the year before Chuck, baked a red velvet cake.  My friends were there from all walks of life.  Our kids were there; it was a memorable 50th.

Life changes quickly, and the following year, for my 51, we were just beginning our new life on the road and Chuck surprised me with a trip to Graceland.  I’d always been a huge Elvis fan and he knew this would be a huge hit. As it was.  I didn’t have any idea where we were headed until I saw the sign that said Memphis.  We stayed in a hotel that had framed Elvis pictures in each room, a guitar shaped swimming pool and Elvis music playing throughout the grounds. All songs which I knew and Chuck got such a kick out of me singing along with them.

One of my earliest birthday memories, after Chuck and I married, is the year he took the time leading up to my birthday to get my address book and ask everyone in it to call me on my birthday.  He also alerted his family and friends.  I spent the day answering our, yes, land line phone, and hearing Happy Birthday, Alison!  Chuck made my birthdays so special, every year.

My next few birthdays were spent on the road; I don’t even remember where. What I do recall is that I spent them with him, hiking and exploring the USA.  We had all the time in the world together and that was the greatest gift of all.  With lots of wild and crazy birthday sex.

The last great present I received for my birthday, my 55th, was the news that Chuck’s first cancer had been eradicated numerous surgeries.  He was cancer free, with really really really good odds that it wouldn’t return.  God, did we celebrate…I knew a cancer survivor! and that cancer survivor was my beloved husband.

I’m 59 today.  Chuck has been dead for 4 years.  Fucking cancer got my cancer survivor after all, and my birthdays have never been the same.

I know, I know…I can hear it now.  But you must celebrate you! You must grab life and savor it and live it!

Here’s the thing.  I know, because I’m a smart, loving person, that I must allow our kids to celebrate me. I must allow my friends and family and all who love me, to celebrate me. And I do and it means so much, especially since Chuck is no longer here to wrap me in his arms and plant a huge, lonnnngggg kiss on my lips, leaving me dizzy.

In just the past month, I’ve received 2 gifts that touch my heart in the only ways that matter:  I was reunited with my younger sister, after many years of estrangement, and my wee grandson, Owen Charles, was born.  Each of these huge events touch my heart.

But there is a loneliness that goes along with my birthdays in the years since Chuck’s death and that’s just a fact of life.  It’s the new world that I live in.

So, today, here in the Ozarks, at the opera camp, on my 59th birthday, living a life I’d never imagined or planned for (emotionally), my gift to myself is telling each person that I meet that it is my birthday and I want hugs.

I want hugs from every person who comes within my radius today. Hugs, hugs and more hugs.  All the love that comes with those hugs is what keeps me going, and my heart expands with each hug.

And that’s what I ask of you, too.  Anyone who is reading my words today.  For my birthday, your gift to me is to hug people you meet along your way today.  Stop for a minute, share some time with them, connect with them, and don’t leave them without hugging them.

And maybe, whisper a word to Chuck, whether you know him or not, that you’re all looking out for his girl.

Thank you.

Happy birthday, me~

 

Memories and Remembering and Love~

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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