Our Moonlit Dance Through Time~

We danced under the moonlit, starlit, skies
You and I
Your right arm around my back, your left hand grasping mine.
We turned and swayed and moved our feet not only to the music from the player
but to the hushed beat of our two hearts.
Under the starlit skies in our backyard.
Everywhere and nowhere
For no reason and every reason
Our bodies moving so well together
Even when it looked like we were walking side by side
We were actually dancing
Because we were so in sync
You, on my right side because you had hearing loss in your right ear
I still keep my right hand free when I walk
Just in case
Maybe….maybe someday I’ll feel your hand take mine again
We moved and swayed together for 24 years
In passion, in motion, in love, in sync
That space on my right side?
There is a gaping emptiness there that is as tangible as your physical presence once was
And my physical body reaches towards that emptiness
Only to find air
And I think it just kind of remains suspended there
Not knowing where to go or how to go, differently
I don’t know how to go, differently.
But I move and I sway sometimes
In my memory
Under moonlit skies I raise my hand to your shoulder and place my right hand in yours
Universes and stars and moonlit darkness gleam as our dance floor
And I spirit dance with you~  Collaccge

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

 

 

 

Our Death Valley Dance~

The Death Valley dance.

I know-it sounds so theatrical, doesn’t it?  To call it such, I mean.  I only named it that in hindsight. All I knew on that February day in 2013 was that this was a moment to remember, as Chuck and I remembered so many of our times together. We knew what was important in life. We grasped that life was impermanent and it needed to be grabbed and appreciated and loved and marked in that spot in our hearts that remembered such moments.

Nothing but wide-open road in front of us, there in Death Valley. We’d had this place on our go-to list, and this was our last evening here.  Our day had been spent mostly driving through the various canyons because Chuck wasn’t feeling well-his strength was minimal and he was in pain. We thought it was the die-off from a fungal infection. We thought it was a pinched nerve.  So we moved more slowly that day, and I took the wheel.

But, as I steered the car over the road, looking at the changing colors of the rocks around me, I knew that here was a moment that we needed to imprint upon our hearts. Something in my heart told me to mark this memory deep into my bones, so I maneuvered the car to the dirt on the side of the road and said let’s dance.  We loved to slow dance, and Chuck was a master at it.  Today, he wasn’t as sure of his footing on the rutted dirt of the roadside, but I said let’s try.  And he gamely smiled at me and stepped out of the car.

It was that most beautiful part of the evening that the Scots call the gloaming, when the day is done but right before night sets in and it was quiet, with no traffic from any direction.  We were the only humans on the planet at that moment, and the rocks glowed golden from the dying sun’s last breath. Silence surrounded us as I met him in front of our red Ford Escape and the strains of You’re My Inspiration by Chicago, wafted from the IPOD I’d plugged into the radio.   Chuck put his right arm around me and clasped my right hand in his left, wrapping his fingers lightly around mine.  In spite of everything, his body was strong against me and that strength flowed from him to me and back again, and all the Love in the world between us simmered and shone.

I knew something was wrong with him.  He did too.  Maybe we both wondered if his cancer had returned, but were afraid to voice the thought aloud.  I don’t know.  I just know, at that moment in time, with that particular tune playing, my heart called for me to remember this moment.

So there, on the side of the road, in the setting sun… there in Death Valley, we danced our last dance.

It was nothin’ but love~

 

What Has Changed. Besides Everything…

It hit me this morning as I drove the back roads of south Jersey and passed a tree whose leaves were changing colors in preparation for the Fall.

Each time the seasons have changed since Chuck’s death, it takes my breath away.  Not for the beauty of them, which I always used to appreciate, but because…the season is changing again.  As they’ve changed 14 times in these 3 1/2 years since his death.

Each season takes me further away from his life, from our lives together.  And, yes, it hitches my breath each time I acknowledge this.  And it hurts my heart.

Many years ago, for his birthday, I surprised him with a trip to the Poconos.  And yes, we stayed in one of the cheesy hotels with a heart-shaped tub.  We loved it.  Fall colors popped all around us, because Chuck’s birthday is in October.

On our way back home again, we stopped at a roadside park for lunch.  There was a river there, with trees draping their leaves over the water.

It was beautiful.  Now, I can barely bear to see the leaves turn.

Everything changes when your person dies.  The meaning of everything changes when your person dies.   What once had color is now bland.  The flavor and flow of daily life, of days becoming weeks and months and years, changes.  There is an absence of color.

I realize, of course, that I don’t write for every widow and widower.  I can only speak of my own experience.

My heart sang with Chuck’s for our 24 years, and my world was filled with color and beauty.  If there were a switch I could find to turn everything back on, I would, and I’d look at the trees outside and see what color feels like again and I’d listen to the fallen leaves rustle under my feet, and I’d feel everything down to the soles of my soul.

I just don’t fucking know how to change this everything’s changed world of mine~

 

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

Family moments~

Family.  We all have them of one sort or another.  Scattered.  Close.  Dysfunctional.  Working.  Big. Small.  All shapes and sizes.  Love.  Hate.  And everything in between.

This almost 3 1/2 years of traveling as Happily Homeless has been, for me, about family.  Discovering it.  Tracking it down.  Reconnecting with it.  Finding roots in a way I’ve never had.  Realizing that keeping it can take effort and time.  Which is not a bad thing.  How can any relationship be sustained if there is no effort?  A realization that isn’t new on my part, but definitely a new perception of it as we’ve traveled.

So, my family.  I grew up in a family of eight kids.  Twenty years between the youngest and the oldest.  Five boys.  Three girls.  I’m the youngest of the older four.  The middle sister.  My dad had a brother and a sister.  There are two cousins from them.  My mom had two brothers.  Her brother Les was born on her birthday seven years apart.  He and his wife Linda had two kids.  Numbers and more numbers.

My siblings and I grew up and scattered to live our lives.  Married. Children. Divorced.  Our family has never been easy.  We had our own way of keeping the “fun” in dysfunctional.  There were issues, but sometimes its been nothing more than time and distance keeping us apart, and not paying attention to the relationships.

This underlying theme of my years of travel has been about re-establishing and reconnecting with my immediate and extended family.  I have an overwhelming curiosity about my parents (who divorced), my sibs individual relationships with them, who my parents were as young adults, the relationships they had with their own siblings.  You know-everything!  And so I’ve sought out relatives as we’ve traveled, and I’ve grown my tribe.  I’ve met relatives I never thought I’d meet!

California:  my Aunt Linda, whom I’d met twice in my life.  I went and visited her and she gave me a big box of family papers left to me by my Uncle Les.  During my visit with her I met her son, my cousin Kevin.  I really liked him.  There was a strong family resemblance to my mom, who was an intellectual, same as him.  And I was so glad I stopped to visit Aunt Linda.  She died not a year later in a fall.  

Northern California:  my cousin Laura, Aunt Linda’s daughter.  I need to get in touch with her again.  I want to know her better.  Also in northern CA, I met Laura’s daughter Jessica.  What is that relationship-cousin once removed?  Not sure.  But Jessica had a daughter of her own.  Need to contact her too.   

Maine:  I attended my Uncle Ken’s funeral and was able to meet his widow, my Aunt Peggy again.  She’s a firecracker, even in her 80’s.  Her son, my cousin David, and his family-met them too!

Connecticut:  my cousin Sam and his wife, Jean, and their son, Jon.  I was able to take our son, Fireman Nick, who also lives in that state, over to meet them.  I wanted him to know them, and know that he has family nearby.   

Maine again:  I spent time with one of my older brother’s, David, and his wife Linda. David has that kind of humor where he says something funny, but he’s kind of non dramatic about it and a minute later you realize what he said and you kill yourself laughing.  He and I spent time perusing family geneology.   My older sister Catharine came to visit while I was there.  She and I have come a long way in building a friendship and I so cherish that!  

Colorado:  my dad.  I’ve loved spending more time here with him.  Today Handsome Husband and I went up to Estes Park to meet up with my oldest brother Ken.  I haven’t seen him in 7 years.  Not for any particular reason.  Just life, and our lives are different, so we didn’t.  But I’m going to stay in touch with him from now on.  And I hope he feels the same.  He reads my blog so he’ll see this (Hi Ken!  We had such a great time hanging out with you today!)  

Tomorrow, my youngest brother Joseph is coming up to Loveland with his two boys, my nephews, Finn and Arden. I last saw Arden when he was maybe a year or so old.  Finn was a couple months old.  Presumably he’s taller now.  My kids and I, who always make up nicknames for people, and combine names (how Hollywood of us!) call them FinnArden.  Lovingly, of course.  Joseph’s girlfriend, Tammy, will be with him, so I’ll meet her for the first time.  Joseph and I have spoken on the phone for the first time in these last couple days.  We’ve laughed a lot.  I’m going to really like connecting with him again.  And we’re going to stay connected, and I’m going to be present in his kids’ lives, even if its through the mail, and the internet.

It has taken me out of my comfort zone, reaching out to family.  How odd to say that.  But we haven’t been connected and I got out of the habit of reaching out, and nurturing the relationships.  I’m very glad I took that breath and picked up the phone.  It was worth it for me.  It is worth it to me.  It doesn’t always work when we reach out to others.  But sometimes it does.  And dear readers, it is priceless and heart-warming, and an altogether lovely feeling when it does.  Life is good.