All good love stories begin with Once upon a time. Once upon a time a man and a woman met and fell in love, created a life together….and, it pretty much ended there. We don’t hear much of the fullness … Continue reading
Quite early on in this widowed life, as I went out on the road and realized that I didn’t recognize myself or my life in any way since the night of April 21…
I remember thinking to myself…though it was more in the way of torturing myself…with the thought…
What if Chuck were to come back to life?
Would he recognize me?
How could he possibly recognize me when I no longer had any sense of who I was or what I looked like and everything inside of me was frozen?
The mere thought that he might not recognize me caused me immeasureable pain loaded on top of the pain of his death.
Because he might come back, right?
Reality had nothing to do with it for me.
It was like shards of glass embedded in my skin, that question.
Embedded in my skin and in my blood vessels as I stood in hundreds of campgrounds around the country, looking up at the night sky in futile frustration, asking what the ever loving FUCK happened to my life?
So I posed that question to our kids as I visited them along my Odyssey of Love.
Would dad know me if he were to return and maybe, I don’t know…see me at some campground somewhere?
Such a simple question, really.
But not simple at all, because at the root of it simmered all my doubts of who I’d become after his death.
Was I hardened? Was I bitter? Was I too shellshocked? Was I…gone?
Each one of our kids responded unequivocally….YES. Dad would know you right away. Even if he saw you from a distance.
Without doubt. Absolutely.
I’ve been widowed for over 6 years now.
I’ve been on the road, alone, for 6 years and 8 months, living in my pink trailer. Driving the roads of our country on my Odyssey of Love.
And this is what I know now, for certain, way down deep in my soul. All the way to my toes and tips of my fingers.
If I were in some campground somewhere, my pink trailer sitting right next to my pink car, my outdoor living space glamped up, a pretty pink umbrella with crystals hanging from each point, music playing…
And Chuck were somewhere nearby, with his own, much more military like, campsite, maybe talking with someone who stopped by to talk to him…
And out of the corner of his eye he caught sight of a whole lot of pink…
He’d turn and look at my campsite in full…
Excuse himself to the person he was talking to…
And stride over to all this pink…
See me sitting in one of my pink chairs, on top of the pink flowered rug, with a clear crystal gazing ball propped on a lace covered table…
He’d come right up to me, with a smile on his face…a grin, really, because he’d be so intruiged…
And he’d say Hi. My name is Chuck. I couldn’t help but notice and he’d wave his hand around and I had to come over and meet the woman who created all of this.
I’d smile. and stand to greet him.
My heart would melt and my knees would weaken, and I’d feel the same surge I felt the first time I opened the front door of my mom’s house, way back in 1988, and saw this handsome man standing there, dressed in BDUs, with that same smile on his moustached face, looking right into me.And our Love story would start all over again…
I thought of you last night,
One night among the thousands of nights that have passed since your hand last grasped mine,
As we lay next to each other in the dark.
I thought of your breath,
Of your arms braced,
As you raised yourself above me,
The passion in your eyes
A mere reflection of mine.
My dearest, my beloved, my knight, my hero, my lover, my husband,
I thought of you last night,
As I turned my body to face where you would be,
In another lifetime and if life were fair.
I turned to face you,
And my eyes lit not upon you,
But on a rectangular box covered in pictures of you when you were here,
and a triangle shape of red and white stripes and white stars.
My hand reached out to caress what is left of your physical form,
Fingers curled around those stripes and stars,
And I remembered your strong body raised over mine…
Your eyes…your breath…
Passion, and Love…
So much Love…
Written on the eve of what the world celebrates as New Year’s.
But since Time has ceased to hold any meaning for me since Chuck’s death, I’ve taken it upon myself to designate my New Year as beginning on April 21; the anniversary of Chuck’s death.
That’s the time when I reflect on whatever needs reflecting upon. It’s when I do a self-check, and it’s a time that is meaningful to me. I realize, more and more, that Time is merely a social construct. It’s necessary, in our culture, to keep our worlds moving, I suppose, but for those of us left behind, it’s a mish mash of how can it be so long? and oh my god it’s been forever! There doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of in between.
Recently I also made the decision to stop counting the years since Chuck’s death. Not because it doesn’t matter; it very much does. But my heart can’t manage the reality of all the years yet to come. I started sorting it all out and it will soon be 7 years and…nope. Not doing 7 years. In my mind, and what I will forever tell people henceforth, it has been 6.5 years. Period.
Additionally, since I’m stopping counting the years since his death, I will no longer age. I’m 61 now, and that’s the age I’ll stay. I’m already one year older than Chuck was when he died. Enough already.
Yes, yes, of course there are those who might say, behind their hands, that I’ve gone nuts. Crackers. Over the edge. Look at the crazy widow! they’ll whisper.
Behold the field of fucks I don’t give.
I stopped caring about other’s opinions of me a looooong time ago. In fact, the first thing I’d tell anyone new to the grieving community is to install a hinge on their elbow so that it automatically shoots up when someone offers an opinion/comment/suggestion about the right way to grieve, and your fingers automatically flip them a bird.
You can, of course, in order to appease such people, stare at your elbow/hand in shocked surprise that this happened. Act horrified if you wish. You’ve made your point with them.
In some ways I relish the prospect of being known as the crazy widow lady. Kind of a cool rep, in my mind.
I may very well create a reputation as that crazy widow lady dressed all in pink and what’s that all about? they’ll ask, not really certain if they want to know the answer.
That’s okay, too.
I’m going to just be over here, driving my pink car, towing my pink trailer with the names of all these loved ones on it, shooting sparkle and glitter at everyone. Giving hugs. Getting hugs.
The crazy widow lady in pink.
My wid sis, Lorri, sent me this meme yesterday, and I snorted with laughter til I just about choked.
Seriously. It’s frickin’ hysterical.
I laugh like a lunatic every time I see it.
Which is frequently, because I printed it out and put it on the wall next to my desk.
This kind of dark humor is pretty much the only thing that tickles my former funny bone.
You know, the one I had when Chuck was alive and I genuinely laughed at all kinds of shit, and enjoyed life.
Now it’s this kind of dark humor.
One of my other fond laughing til I snorted moments was last Spring, after I and two of my wid sisters had wrapped up Camp Widow Tampa and returned to MacDill AFB where we’d taken lodging.
Before going to our separate rooms, we hung out in the snack bar near the front desk, knoshing on french fries and sandwiches.
Talking about CW, people we’d met, workshops we’d attended. How the best part was just hanging out with our wid community, shooting the shit.
Our conversation quickly devolved…or evolved, as I see it…to our dead husbands. Funerals. Cremations. Urns. Memorials. Widowhood. The shit of widowhood. What it’s really like. How we’d love to say to those who are in early stages that it all gets better but mostly it just stays shit and you do life anyways and you make it count because what are the options and dating and marrying again and…everything.
We were laughing uproariously about all of it. Same as me and Lorri, with whom I’m rooming here in AZ, were doing this evening, over this meme.
As we sat in that snack bar at MacDill, and sat in the diner here in AZ this evening, laughing til our stomachs hurt, anyone looking at us would have thought we were having the time of our lives. The server at the snack bar commented to us about the good time we were having and how good it was to see people so enjoying themselves.
Bless her heart.
If we’d told her that we were discussing rubbing our dead husband’s cremains into our arms after scattering them…or scattering them and having the wind blow them back into our faces…or mixing them in with, say, brownies or muffins and how inappropriate that would be…but would it really be inappropriate?…I can imagine the look on her face, right?
Dark widow humor. It’s my saving grace.
It takes what is real and painful and forever and puts it right there in front of me and you and helps us cope.
Yeah, death takes us all at one point. Of course it does. In any couple, 1/2 of you will die before the other half and the remaining half will be left holding the bag, trying to make sense out of the wasteland you now stand upon.
I’m never been comforted by the memes that boldly state when you can bravely tell your story without crying, that’s when you know you’ve healed. Shit, I don’t even know what the word healing means, other than I’m sure it carries different meaning for each person.
I don’t know what the word hope means, except…shit, I don’t know.
I don’t care for the meme that says “you can cry because they’re gone or you can smile because they lived. That kind of shit diminishes the real and true and natural and normal expression of grief. I do, however, believe that I can cry because they’re gone AND smile because they lived, etc, etc...
I can’t promise those who are newly bereaved that it gets better, or easier. There are considerably too many components to grief to make such a blanket statement. Too many variables presented to each individual to say such a thing.
Call me a pragmatist.
All I know to really say is get ready for the shittiest, most confusing, exhausting, life changing and not always in a good way, ride of your life. Hang on tight. Hang onto your community. Find your community, as quickly as you can. They’ll save your life and, sometimes, with dark humor, your sanity.
Widowhood….grief in general, whatever the relationship…ain’t for the faint of heart.
So, yeah, I have a great sense of humor.
But it isn’t anything like the sense of humor I used to have.
And I’m okay with that.
Because, you know….
If I could…
These 6 1/2 years later than the day after your death that I never thought I’d survive…
I would approach you hesitantly…
I would rush into your arms…
I would stand in wonder…
I would stare disbelievingly at you…
I would shake my head back and forth…
It would feel so normal, seeing you standing in front of me again.
I knew you weren’t really gone I’d breathe.
Even though I knew you were dead.
Even though I knew you couldn’t be dead…
Because, really, how could you be dead
When you are so alive in all the pictures of you and I together?
You’d reach for my hand as I reached for yours…
And our bodies would touch so closely that all light between us would disappear…
You and I again…
Me and you…
My world would be bright again.
It would shimmer and glow and fireworks would explode around us…
If I could…
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.
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.
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 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.
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?
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~
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.
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.
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~
stripped me down to bone and marrow.
It dug my heart out of my body with sharp talons
And flung it, bloodied, onto the ground
A sharp bladed axe,
Such as was used for beheadings in the days of Henry VIII
Hacked away at that bloodied heart of mine on the ground.
Slicing and dicing it into miniscule pieces.
It took effort and determination and grit
And all the Love he left behind for me,
To string those pieces of you and me together.
My heart doesn’t look the same now, as it did when it was full in my chest.
I don’t look the same as I did all the years of our together lives.
I am stripped raw.
That isn’t a bad thing.
Or a good thing.
It’s just what I am now.
I’m still dislocated. Dispossessed. Disoriented. Displaced. In dissaray.
I’m okay with all this, too.
In a world where nothing is okay because you are no longer in it…
I’m weirdly okay.
Living and missing you. Living while missing you with each breath. Living. And missing.
Empty and filled with Love for you.
I don’t try to reason any of it out any longer.
Perhaps that is the true freedom that comes with grief.
In the truest, most loving, strongest way of letting go…
It is letting go of people’s expectations of me.
People’s opinions of me.
People’s anything of me.
Or judgement of myself.
I’m just me.
Still, and always, in Love with a dead man.
With a heart open to Love every day.
No matter what.
Aching with Love.
Aching for you.