This Confusing Afterlife~

It’s been 6 years and 5 months since Chuck died.

I kind of feel like I need to put that identifier in so that anyone who reads this will have a gauge.

Except that those newly living this widowed life might look at the time since and then read this blog and shudder. 

Or shrink back in dismay.

Because….really?

The confusion lasts that long?

And I don’t mean to convey that.

It’s all personal, right?

That’s what we always hear, anyways.

So, apologies ahead of time to anyone who reads this and is discouraged…

I’ve come in off the road, with the aim of settling in for up to a year, for the first time in a little over 10 years.

Chuck and I were on the road together for our last 4 years, and I’ve spent the last 6 1/2 years solo on the road.

Truthfully, I’m fucking exhausted in all the ways I can be; physically, emotionally, mentally.

And I know it’s time to take my Odyssey of Love to the next phase.

To do that, I want to be in one place so that I can put together all the puzzle pieces floating around me.

To that end…

As I approached Arizona a few days ago, which is where I’m planting myself, the thought popped into my head, and into my heart that I’m so excited to see Chuck again! It’s been so long! Just a few more miles!

Followed too quickly by the stomach clenching, heart shredding, soul shrinking reality check that nope, you’re not going to see him again. Ever. He’s gone. He’s dead.

All I know how to do is bite down onto that thought and just let it be.

Just…FUCK.

So that’s part of what happened.

Over the weekend I met up with my daughter and talk turned, invariably, to our grief. 

And she told me something that I’d not considered.

I miss Pop, she said, and I miss the woman you were. The mom you were.

I know that I miss the woman I was, but I’d never thought about my kids missing that woman also. 

Further conversation brought out that she (and I think my other 2 feel this too) that it feels as if I’ve drawn away emotionally.

You know what? She’s right. 

I have.

I was 55 when Chuck died. I’m 61 now, and I’ve spent all these years out on the road, traveling the country. I do stop and visit with my kids and their families but as I think of it, I own up to the fact that I keep my distance, emotionally. 

Not that I don’t show them and their families love. I do. I feel it towards them and I do show it.

But I’ve been so fucking intent on not being a burden to my kids and their spouses and families that I’ve gone way over the other direction to be independent in every way that I can. 

I don’t know how to explain how that shows up other than what I’ve already written and I can’t even really define all of it.

I just know that I’ve done it.

And I don’t know how to be otherwise.

They have their own lives, with their own families and busyness of lives and I never want to need anything from them.

The first few years of feeling emotionally needy was enough and they don’t need that burden. I don’t want them to feel that I’m dependent on them, because they have enough of that as they grow their families/careers/etc.

Widowhood is an incredibly confusing life for me.

I don’t know where to draw lines so I draw them far away.

I don’t know how to make my needs known to them without showing desperation or looking, well, needy.

So I draw bubbles around myself.

How the ever loving FUCK do we figure any of this out?

Seriously, I’m asking you, my community.

How do we navigate family in this afterlife?

Where the fuck do I fit now?

Chuck’s death blew our world apart.

It just did.

We were strong before, as a family.

Have I failed our kids?

I don’t know.

I just know that his death blew me into smithereens and I don’t know how to come back from it.

Or if it’s even realistic to think that I can.

Just…

FUCK.

Roads, Places, and Memories~

70. 20. 10. 65. 85. 60. 1.

East to west to north to south and back again.

The Oregon coast. The road to the Keys. New England. The Southwest. Deep South.

Roads and directions and places and, most of all…memories.

We…you and I…were everywhere together.

I travel to as many places, the same roads as we did.

I don’t go to places though.

I don’t go to National Parks or monuments.

I’m not much interested in places since you left this earth.

Since you and I parted.

None of it carries the same meaning for me.

The thrill isn’t there, alone.

Or with others, really.

So I don’t go places.

But I do go. I do see.

I travel the roads you and I traveled and my eyes light on a roadside picnic table and I think to myself…we sat there under an umbrella and ate lunch, marveling at our surroundings.

I suddenly realize that the road I’m on is one we were on in our red Escape.

I’m on that same road now, in my pink car, towing my pink trailer that bears hundreds of names written in red pen.

It isn’t the same.

I didn’t expect it would be, of course.

How could it be?

It’s powerful.

To me and to so many others.

What my pink car and trailer represent, I mean.

I’m passionate about what I’m doing.

I’ll do it as long as I can.

But oh, my dearest Love, my eyes search for you on these roads.

My heart searches for those memories. It searches for all we felt for each other.

I try to feel it again and it’s there but distant…a memory of my mind because it’s been so long.

So very long since I glanced over at you in the driver’s seat and reached out my hand to massage the back of your neck as you steered us into adventure and you returned my glance and smiled and rested your hand on my knee.

Oh, my Love, my dearest Love…

I wish you back, adventuring with me.

I miss you~

My Life from Movies~

It seems that my imagination…what goes on in my mind to help me manage this life…has ramped up.

Almost any situation I encounter has a counterpart from various movies I’ve watched over the years.

The big picture of all of this is me in the middle of a romantic comedy.

I’ve always loved watching romcoms.

Chuck used to watch them with me.

Within the big picture romcom, scenes and quotes from other movies interpose themselves.

This past week I headed to Louisville KY to visit a dear friend/wid sis/AF wid/AF veteran. She and I met a few years ago in the 3rd year of my Odyssey of Love, and we’ve maintained our friendship.

I was coming from IN where I’ve been visiting Chuck’s mom.

Part of this story that I want you to know is that I was listening to a playlist that I’d created for my Odyssey of Love from tunes sent to me by a few hundred of the community that follows my Odyssey.

I’d asked them to give me the names of songs their loved one loved, or that they loved together. Or just their favorite tune.

Frickin’ amazing. Really.

And these were the tunes I was listening to a few days ago as I rolled down the backroads of Indiana. Windows open. Tunes blaring. Me singing with them because I’m making a point of doing that. It’s my new challenge. Feel the energy of singing. Which I haven’t done since Chuck’s death a little over 6 years ago.

Cruisin’ along…

My pink car draws up to a 4 way intersection. Which is a normal thing to come upon on any road across America.

But, as I sat there momentarily, scanning for oncoming traffic, my mind drifted to the movie Castaway, with Tom Hanks. Specifically the end scene where he sits in his truck at a 4 way intersection in the middle of nowhere, looking thoughtfully in each direction. 

The movie ends with that. We have no idea except we kind of do which direction he takes.

I turned right, heading to KY. Not a big thing.

Except that, as I made that turn, for the first time since Chuck died 6 years and almost 5 months ago, the thought kind of appeared in my mind that I’m driving into my future…

As my car settled onto the road, into my mind came the scene from Practical Magic where the sister, Jillian, is driving east to help her sister, who’s just been widowed. The scene changes from night to day to night again, as she drives. Open road in front of her.

I considered to myself how I’m way over defending how I widow. Trying to convince people that I’m okay, in the midst of a world that is not at all okay. All the bullshit we hear, you know?

And into my mind came the speech made by the President in Independence Day…

We will not go quietly into the night!

We will not vanish without a fight!

We’re going to live on!

We’re going to survive!

Today, we celebrate our Independence Day!

Here’s the thing.

I’m devastated, living without Chuck. This life isn’t better than the life I had with him.

AND

I’m by god going to continue doing what I do. I drive my Odyssey of Love. I wear pink. I carry Chuck with me in every way possible. I honor him and his memory everyday. I reach out to those I meet in order to create community. I keep my heart open, even in its’ shattered state. I’m not broken. I’m not carrying baggage with me in the sense that I’m emotionally broken. On the contrary, I’m the woman I am because I’ve refused to allow others to dictate how I do this. If, at some point which I honestly don’t believe will ever happen a man comes into my life, he will be strong and confident and sure enough in himself to honor Chuck with me. I know how to love. I’m really good at being in a healthy relationship with a man. Any man would be damn lucky to have me. I’m a fucking warrior goddess.

Love is what fuels this life of mine. The Love left for me by Chuck. The Love I’ve created for myself in a nationwide community. All of this right alongside of the pain and devastation. 

It isn’t enough.

But it, by god, is what I have and I’m going to keep doing it.

I will not go quietly into the night. I’ve been fighting to survive since 11:25 pm on April 21, 2013.

I’m writing my own script for this movie I’m in~

To Us~

Yes, You~

to those of us left behind
standing amidst the ashes that remain
atop the skeletons of our lives and ourselves.

to those of us left behind
who struggle with unseeing eyes blinded by grief
and limbs made heavy with exhaustion
and shattered souls
uncertain about…everything.

to those of us left behind
who must learn to live in the without
and open our hearts to life
when all that is in us begs to close those very hearts.

to those of us left behind
who loved so deeply and so passionately
whose lips whisper names into the darkness
of the soul and heart and body
and hear only an echo.

to those of us left behind
who stagger through each moment and each hour
of every day and night
as the months pass by and the sharp blades of a love gone
cut and shred.

To you, to me, to us
left behind but left behind
with the love that can and will and must
become bigger than the absence of those who
have gone beyond our reach.

We who grieve the grief of a lover gone
and slowly dance our spirit dances and speak their names in our hearts
as our hands and souls entwine with theirs
and our bodies search and our minds question and the deepest part of ourselves
burns and become determined and we become Love in remembrance of the love we once held close.

To those of us left behind
searching the heavens, finding our footing, seeking,
gasping, breathing,
being…

To us~

This Uncertain Terrain~

The landscape of widowhood.

Of grief.

The Alaskan tundra.

The Sahara Desert.

The Australian Outback.

Every side road in between cities and towns.

This parched landscape

Of devastation.

This existence of one where there was once two.

I picture nothingness

In the midst of these tundras and deserts.

Nothingness under bright blue skies and a sun so piercing

It makes me squint my eyes.

The only water available streams from overheated eyes…

The eyes he used to look into, and smile.

Crawling on hands and knees, searching for something familiar,

Aching muscles and shattered self…

I don’t know where I’m going with this.

It’s been a rough day emotionally.

All I want is the life I had with Chuck,

And that life is dead and gone,

Same as he is.

Do you ever get tired of being brave and courageous,

Even though that’s a very real part of you?

I think of myself as Thing One and Thing Two now and wouldn’t a shrink have a field day with that?

I’m that woman with parched throat and hollow self, crawling through the tundra and desert,

And I’m the woman decked out in pink, foraging for hugs so that I don’t lose my sanity,

Keeping the Love front and center, so that I don’t lose my fucking sanity.

I’m Thing One and Thing Two and both are real.

I desperately miss my beloved husband, Chuck.

The longing for him, the yearning for his touch…that’s my desert. My tundra. My Outback.

And I don’t know what to do with any of it.

So, I write this…

Numbers Again~

On May 29 I celebrated 10 years of fulltiming on the open road.

The first 4 were with my beloved husband, Chuck.

The last 6 have been solo. Widowed.

Wishing for it to be different, and living it fully, at the same time.

Living on the road in my little pink trailer, driving my pink car, this Odyssey of Love, is just what I do, and I don’t give a whole lot of thought to it.

But my DIL and one of my best friends suggested to me that a decade of living on the road was something I needed to acknowledge publicly, and celebrate.

Since I’m workamping at Opera in the Ozarks, I thought it would be the perfect place to have the celebration, so I planned it out pdq.

I decorated the tables in the cafeteria with pink tablecloths and strewed pink heart beads and necklaces across it, and pink napkins.

Our on site baker made a cake for all of us. Strawberry cake with chocolate frosting, with a road made of pink glitter and a pink camper she’d found perched upright on that road. Underneath the road flowed the words of my motto Love leads the way.

I bought sparkling cider for everyone, because I wanted them to toast with me.

Lots of the students wore pink in my honor.

When dinner was finished I stood up and shared how my Odyssey of Love began, and the power of the Love that fuels every mile.

It is only because of Love that I’m still here, and sane.

I told them that it’s up to us, even when we’re devastated, to go out into the world and create community for ourselves, and build connections with others, because nobody but we ourselves can do the footwork.

I explained to them all the names and messages of Love written all over my pink rig.

I told them about Chuck and how much he loved me, and I, him.

And then I asked them all to raise their glasses in a toast to the most powerful force in the Universe.

Love.

When I sat down, my chair had my back facing the rest of the room and I knew that everyone was applauding but one of our staff told me to turn around and look.

Which I did, and they were all standing, applauding.

It choked me up.

I’m on year 10 of my life on the road.

I’ve been on the road solo for 6 years. 

The same amount of time that I’ve been widowed.

In a few days I’ll be 61 years old.

That’s one year older than Chuck got to live.

My heart breaks when i think of it.

While this life that I’ve created is colorful and adventurous, at least to some, it isn’t my first choice.

I’m only living it because Chuck died and I had to find a way to make everything that he and I had together, matter.

I had to make our Love matter.

I had to find a way to live with purpose.

I’ve done that. I have purpose in my Odyssey of Love.

I live on memories and on the Love that I find in the community I’ve created for myself.

And I don’t much care whether that meets the approval of the latest psychological studies or not.

10 years. 

4 with him.

6 without him.

In a few days, 1 year older than he was when he died.

I don’t know what to do with any of this, if I stop and think about it.

So, I don’t think about it.

I just hug people and allow myself to be hugged.

Love is the only thing I hold to be true.

Here’s to Chuck and the Love he left behind for me that gave me, gives me, the courage to live out on the open road by myself.

Here’s to me, and listening to my heart.

And…here’s to Love~

Beginning my New Year~

My new year begins each April 21.

That’s the date of Chuck’s death.

It’s the only new year that carries any meaning for me.

What do I care about January 1? 

April 21 is the day my life incinerated and I was eviscerated.

So it stands to reason, at least in my mind, that this is the day where I look back, and, insofar as I’m able, look ahead.

I knew, to the depths of my heart and soul, and into my bones, that this April 21, just recently passed, is the year where all the energy of my Odyssey of Love, would expand and grow, and it’s already happening.

Since I began my Odyssey of Love, just weeks after Chuck’s death, I’ve been laying the foundation for…something.

I didn’t know what, and I still don’t know where this is all taking me.

I just know that it’s taking me somewhere big. 

Where big is, I don’t know, and I’m not concerned about where it is.

All I’ve known, since Chuck died, is that it is my responsibility to suit up and show up and let the day unfold. The outcome isn’t up to me.

And I’ve done that. Whether I felt like it or not.

I had to make meaning out of this fucking devastation, or go nuts.

And I realized, very early on, that there ain’t nobody going to do this for me. 

I could have gone to ground. Isolated myself. God, that would have been so easy to do. It’s what my instincts told me to do.

But how could I make meaning out of any of this if I disappeared?

How could I maybe somehow connect to Chuck again, if I disappeared?

So I painted my car and trailer pink and donned my pink clothes and set out to connect with people. Share my story. Listen to theirs. Write about our Love story. Write about my fears and doubts. Write what it’s like to navigate widowhood while towing a trailer around the country, navigating new roads and pushing beyond my comfort zones.

I made myself vulnerable, in spite of the grief and pain.

It wasn’t easily done. It isn’t easily done. I’m just doing it anyways.

And where has it brought me?

It has brought me to a place where, this coming fall, I’m meeting a woman who is a photographer/videographer, in Arizona, who, along with her partner, is teaming up with me to film a documentary about my Odyssey of Love.

Wait…what?

Yep. We will create a spectacular documentary about all of this that I’ve been doing for the last 6 years. Holy shit, right? I met the exactly right person recently who has the skill, the vision, the magic, to help me translate my story into an epic documentary that I’ll take on the road with me.

I’ve been wanting to do this for…well, forever.

And it’s going to happen.

And it will be fucking epic and you’re going to want to see it.

My rig, PinkMagic, covered with the names of loved ones from around the world, will have a starring role, of course.

I plan on hosting a premiere showing of it and inviting the world.

This is the first time I’ve been excited about anything since Chuck died. 

I’m holy shit excited about this.

The energy around my Odyssey of Love has shifted and is palpable.

It’s time, you know? 

Time for all of what I’ve been creating from the depths of my shattered heart to get out into the world in a bigger way.

It’s my way of reaching my hand back, and out, to anyone else trying to figure out the “now what?” of widowhood.

Maybe someone will see it and think well, she did it. So I can do something too.

In the name of Love. THE most powerful force in the Universe.

Here I am, Chuck. And look what I’m doing with what you left behind for me.

I’m making meaning out of the godawful missingness of you. 

I’m making what we had count for something.

And I’m doing it all…including breathing…in the name of LOVE~