I’m not averse to opening my heart to Love again. Indeed, I know well how to love and be loved, by and with a man who honors, respects, and loves me more than his own life. I know what it … Continue reading
Where was it, and what was my hair doing when I met Chuck? I do remember the ugly brown, military issue, glasses I was wearing the first time he knocked at the door and I opened it to find a man dressed…and well-dressed, I might add…in his uniform camos. Continue reading
Perhaps one of the most helpful things I’ve learned in a little over 5 years of widowhood is this…
I don’t have to be anything different, feel anything different, aspire to anything different…before going and doing whatever it is that I feel I must do to live this life without Chuck.
I don’t have to have hope. I don’t even know what hope looks or feels like.
I don’t have to have faith. Seriously, I have no clue what faith is, especially as related to religion. Which I shed many years ago in any case, with no interest in returning to it.
I don’t have to have confidence. Mostly, since Chuck died, the road I’m on diverges and changes at any given moment. I’m living a life completely removed from the life he and I lived, even as we spent our last 4 years living full time on the road. I started out on my own not having a clue, and, though I believe I present a fully confident face to the world, each day is another day of figuring it all out. Even if I have some of the technical stuff figured out, about living in a trailer, the emotional components leave me, often, wandering in circles.
I don’t need to feel any of these to do what I’m doing.
Then what do I need? What does get me through each day and each night?
I get that question a LOT.
It’s quite simple, at least to me.
It is only Love that keeps me driving mile after mile, getting up each day, and wrapping me in its’ embrace each night.
I stop and think, sometimes, what this widow life would be like for me, if I’d settled into an apartment after Chuck’s death, and I’m fairly certain exactly what would have happened.
I would have closed the door, drawn the shades, and the only thing that might have possibly drawn me to the outside world would be the occasional need for groceries. I would have had to get a job, so I’d have forced myself outside for that, and then retreated as quickly as possible to the rooms behind the closed doors.
Isolation would have been public enemy number one. It is for many of us in the widowed world, I expect.
Instead, I bought my little trailer and painted it pink and began my Odyssey of Love.
It began as a tribute to the Love that Chuck left behind for me. It was a tribute to our Love story.
I added his name, in decals, to the back of my rig, in my 3rd year of widowhood.
In my 4th year, I realized that this life of mine without him was bigger than me and Chuck…bigger than the Love story he and I shared. So I decided to ask around my widowed community for who might like me to add the names of their person to my rig, PinkMagic.
Very quickly upon that thought was…it’s about our Love for them, certainly…but I want to honor those of us left behind. So I added the names of my widow sisters and brothers too.
My thinking continued to expand…
This Odyssey of Love was, and is, about all the Love left behind, and it’s about honoring those left behind, but it’s also, quite simply, about Love and all the power that is carried in those 4 letters.
I was workamping at Opera in the Ozarks and many of the students there, and orchestra, were coming to me to read Oracle cards for them. We’d have deep and insightful conversations borne of the cards they drew, and I started inviting them to sign my rig with messages of Love. We’d get pictures of us together after they signed it.
They wrote lovely poems and true messages of Love, cheering me on my way. They’d even write messages of Love to my rig, PinkMagic, thanking her for carrying me on this Odyssey.
All of this energized me, and I put the word out to everyone who follows my Happily Homeless is MoonStruck page, to send names of those they love and I’d add those names. Send a message of Love you’d like me to write and I’ll write their names on PinkMagic. People started sending auto paint pens to me so that I could write and write and write on PinkMagic and the words and names would remain, no matter the weather.
My rig is covered in names and words of Love. Front, back, sides.
As I continue my Odyssey of Love, driving along the roads of this country…highways, 2 lane roads, back country roads…people passing me by will see those names, read those names, find my blog and know the power of Love.
My god, the fucking power of these names and words of Love….the sheer fucking power of Love.
Every time I glance in my side view mirror, I see those names. I step outside my rig and I read those names and I feel all the Love that those names represent.
I don’t know what I’d do with my life if I wasn’t doing this. It’s the only thing that gives me any sense of purpose in this life without Chuck.
And what I found out, as I began this Odyssey of Love 5 years ago, is that the only thing I need to do this is believe in the power of the Love that Chuck left behind for me. I only knew it intellectually when I first began, and that was enough to get me going.
It took me almost 5 years to feel it in my heart, to feel the connection to him in my heart, but that’s okay.
I still struggle with feeling it, but that’s okay.
I don’t need to do any of this perfectly.
I just need to do it.
Because ain’t nobody going to do this life without him, for me.
It’s all that I trust in, in this widowed life.
Trusting in his left behind Love. Trusting in all the Love that I meet on the road. Connecting with as much Love as I can, every mile.
Trusting that Love will continue to carry me.
My second Memorial Day without Handsome Husband.
When we lived in NJ we watched the fireworks at Ft Dix (back before it joined up to McGuire AFB and Lakehurst). There was always a huge crowd (the fireworks were some of the best I’ve seen), and we’d plant our chairs and flags and people watch and hold hands and breathe in our surroundings. There were always people to greet that he knew from the base. He seemed to know pretty much everyone, no matter where we were.
In our years together, Handsome Husband and I talked frequently of death and dying and what we wished for our memorial services afterwards. It was something that was very far in our futures of course, but we talked because such things must be spoken about, if only as a gift to the ones left behind, so that they wouldn’t have to wonder and guess.
Strangely, however, he never spoke about military honors at his service. He was a proud Air Force retiree, but he was also very happy when he finally left the service. The military had, as it was bound to do, changed since his early days in, and not for the better, as he saw it. I gave him a small plastic dinosaur once, to place on his desk to remind him that he was indeed a dinosaur in the service. He believed his job, whatever it was at any given time, to be of primary importance because somewhere along the line, someone’s safety could depend on him doing it correctly. He had standards of excellence, he knew the AF manual inside out, he knew the proper wearing of a uniform, the code of conduct, and I never saw anyone give as sharp a salute as he did, even in civilians (which is not necessary to do but if the occasion called for it in respect, he’d do it anyways).
Which is not to say he went by the books at all. One of the greatest lessons I learned from him is that its easier to apologize than it is to ask for permission and he lived that credo in order to get his job done.
His last position in the AF is the one that convinced him to get out fast. The office was a total shambles and the man leading it was not a leader and the morale was laughable. It colored Handsome Husband’s first year of retirement as he came to terms with it. Now? I’m forever grateful to his old boss, whom I have always referred to as Satan. And also the two bitches in the office whom he allowed to run him around by his, if you’ll forgive the vulgarity, non-existent balls. If Satan and his two bitches hadn’t been the way they were, Handsome Husband probably wouldn’t have retired and he would have gotten cancer and forced to retire and he’d have been stuck in the usual play of chemo/radiation/surgery rounds until he died. Thanks to them he tipped his hat and we sold everything and had 4 glorious years on the road. Thank you, Satan and the two bitches.
In spite of THEM, he served proudly and it was curious that he never spoke about military honors and I suspect it had more to do with his humility than anything else and I was bound and determined that he have those honors, so I planned the entirety of his memorial to include them. I and each of our kids had their moments to honor him but what brought it home to me that he was indeed dead was the Honor Guard folding the flag. My heart stopped as I waited for the captain to present it to me. I counted his steps as he approached me and spoke those words to me that we all know. On behalf of the President of the United States, the Department of the Air Force, and a grateful nation, we offer this flag for the faithful and dedicated service of MSgt Charles Dearing.
Master Sgt Chuck Dearing. He’s the veteran I’ll always hold close. A man who showed up at my door one day wearing his BDU’s and embedded his way into my heart. He is in every broken piece of it and all the in-between spots of light.
He was always quick to remind people that Memorial Day is about remembering our veterans who have died. Veterans Day belongs to those who still live.
I never thought this day would be about you so soon in our lives together, D.
On this day. Everyday. Every moment. Every beat of my heart. I remember and honor you, my dearest love.
Handsome Husband loved numbers. Which was interesting, because he was dyslexic. He worked with numbers, doing tail number scheduling while in the Air Force and then with Civil Service. As we traveled, after becoming Happily Homeless, he kept numbered lists of the National Parks we visited, the military bases where we took lodging, the places he wanted us to visit.
He and I were together for 24 years. For 23 of those years we had a love-affair marriage. Today would have been our 24th wedding anniversary. He’s been dead for 10 months in just 3 days. My body and heart and soul and mind have been a cauldron of pain since March 27, 2013 when we were told his cancer had returned. In spite of that, or because of that, I’ve been on the road traveling on my own (with a few exceptions here and there) for 9 months. The time it takes to give birth. Is that kind of what this entire process of grief is? Giving birth to my new self?
I’ve realized, as time has passed, that the grief hasn’t dissipated. It’s just gone deeper. It’s in my bones and cartilage. Which I don’t count as a negative. Nor is it a matter of depression, because the love beats just as strongly as the grief. The love has gone as deep and twined itself around the grief. Both are so deeply entrenched that they have become my life-blood. The co-existence of these two human emotions has opened me up to life in a way I’d never imagined.
I was in love with my husband, and I was filled with joy and I didn’t take life for granted, or him, or us, and I sought to recognize and acknowledge every moment and be present. I lived fully. Until he died and such a conflagration arose in me that it left me burned and blackened internally. He disappeared, as did my life with him, and so did I, in a fiery burst of death.
But, this is okay. Even though it’s not okay. But it’s what was presented to me when I was left behind. So, as Handsome Husband would say, it is what it is.
Grief and love can co-exist and open one up to life as never before. Life tinged by the utter knowingness of pain and agony and choices. Not, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger choice, but letting the pain and shattering allowing the light to shine through you choice. Opening up with the pain and not shutting down. Reaching out with open arms instead of holding arms close to my sides choice.
Letting the love beat more strongly. Being honest. Being raw. Being direct. Letting love in choice.
Lists and numbers. Handsome Husband kept his and I’m keeping mine. What was on his, what is on mine. His lists were really about the memories we were building.
My list is about the life I’m building, the people I’m meeting, the love I’m holding close in my heart.
Thank you, my dearest love, for loving me, for helping me prepare for this, my life without you. I’m who I am because you loved me so passionately.
I carry your heart. I carry it in my heart.
For you, who are reading this; go find your loved one immediately, and hug them. And dance with them too. Gracefully or awkwardly. Just dance with them and hug them and love them.
This grief. How grief will express itself in the human mind and body. It isn’t just a matter of the heart and the unmeasurable soul. There is brain activity involved. The physical body is involved.
It isn’t as easy as getting over it. Moving on with it. The physical bio-rhythms ebb and flow, dipping and flowing in the dance of life. If it were as easy as a mindful decision, I’ve no doubt anyone going through this would stop it short.
It also isn’t a matter of not feeling blessed, not feeling grateful for having had your loved one in your life. It isn’t a matter of trying to remember the good times. It is, in fact, the remembrance of those good times, the feeling of being blessed, that bring the shattering pain because it brings too, the sure knowledge that those times are as gone as your loved one.
Handsome Husband and I were so blessed. We didn’t take one another for granted, even before his first cancer. Each day we woke up together was a day to be grateful and feel blessed. That’s why we touched so often, why we held hands, why we danced and soaked in each and every moment with each other. We loved passionately because we knew life didn’t promise us one more day. We talked about things that mattered, in the midst of the minutiae of life and raising kids and maintaining our house and jobs. In the years he and I full-timed on the road, we talked about after, about what we would each want for the other. We talked about what we wanted for our memorial services, about how we wanted to be remembered. We spoke as deeply as we knew about what it would be like for the one left behind.
And, no, we could not know what the reality of being left behind felt like. We each agreed that we’d like the other to find another love while agreeing that it would be an unlikely possibility that we’d find someone not the same but someone who could be held in the same high esteem. I teased him that he’d have women all over him if I were to die first and he’d tell me quite seriously that he couldn’t imagine another woman for himself.
From the day I met him, Handsome Husband was the only man for me. The first time I saw him in his Air Force dress blues, I almost swooned on the street, he was so gorgeous. And then I saw him in his BDU’s and notched that up even higher. As the years passed, as happens with so many men, he grew even more handsome. He gained confidence and made my blood tingle whenever he was around. My nerves would jump to the top of my skin and I’d feel electric. Yes, I was head over heels in love with him. His humor made me roll my eyes, he was obsessive about things but he knew things I didn’t know and I loved his mind and its’ workings. He had a twinkle in his eyes, and a smile in his eyes, whenever he gazed at me, or whenever his eye caught mine. He was a romantic through and through. He was charming and could talk to women and women in turn, were charmed by him. Who wouldn’t be?
He’s dead now. The emptiness beside me is complete. I study pictures of us over our years together and thank him for bringing love into my life and my heart breaks that this most beautiful time of my life is done.
Here is grief: Most days it’s all I can do to keep my feet right where they are instead of letting them run in all directions, any direction, carrying me screaming into nothingness. On any day the pain of grief makes me want to tear out my hair and shriek at the unendingness of this, my life without him. It makes no impression on me that I’ll see him again someday, if indeed that happens. I’m only in the here and now. I don’t dare think of 2 hours from now, never mind “someday”. That word isn’t even in my lexicon.
This grief, this pain that isn’t just mine but belongs to so many. This grief experience that has been felt by women around the world since time began. This unbearable, unimaginable, fucking, devastating, loneliness of not having him with me, talking to me, touching me, being with me.
I lean over the sink and want to throw up with the actual physical pain that shudders my insides and tears them up and hitches my breathing and tears through my skull in a pulse beat that can be counted as I remind myself over and over and fucking over again: he’s gone, he’s gone, he’s gone. And the pain shrieks up inside of me.
Beaumont, Texas. Thanks to Charlie, who suggested this State Park to me, I was able to rest my very weary body for the night. After backing PinkMagic, by myself, into the campsite. Which, yes, is a huge thing to do. It’s my second successful backing up. A couple of days ago, I impressed myself terribly when I did a holyfuckdidyouseemedothat!! 3-point turn in order to get out of where I was. Yes, accolades are in order. Believe me!
Life is surreal for me now, and life is full of ironies that would make him laugh out loud. Try these on.
At times, during our travels, Handsome Husband and I spoke about RV’ing or camping full-time. I was ardently against such a thing. I’m not an outdoorsy person. I appreciate nature and am okay with hiking in it (by which I mean walking casually in it). I named myself an anti-campite, a la’ Seinfeld. Mostly I loved curling up in a soft chair with a good book. I loved indoor things. Here I am now, in a pink-trimmed T@b trailer, camped in the woods. Using community bath-houses. With signs, at times, that warn about wild things out there. I hitch and un-hitch, I set up and break down. Holyhell, before you know it, I’ll probably have a gun rack perched somewhere.
For most of the years or our travels, Handsome Husband put the miles on our car, steering us into so many adventures. He loved to drive. I drove some while he recovered from his first cancer surgeries. He wasn’t a good passenger, though he did try to be and felt badly that he made me so nervous. We had an occasional knock-down drag out about driving habits and then I said to myself “Hey, if he wants to spend the next 20 years driving, far be it from me to inhibit that”. And kicked back with my feet on the dash. I’m now doing nothing but driving. Thank god I have a different car now. It would cause such agony for me to drive our old car; I’d see him endlessly, not there any longer.
I had no faith in my map-reading or directional skills. I still don’t, and I thank Fireman Nick’s sweetheart, SugaPie, for encouraging me to upgrade to an IPhone with travel apps galore. I cross-reference maps, google aids, etc to get where I’m going. Before he died, Handsome Husband told me (yes, he did), that, as I traveled, if I thought I was supposed to go in a particular direction, go the opposite way because that would be the correct way. I remember that. He also reminded me that, by staying at 50-55 mph, we’d saved up to $300/monthly. That’s pretty much the speed I maintain.
It caused endless anxiety in me, as I contemplated full-timing on the road on my own, mapping my routes, making reservations, pulling a tow, the extra fuel money because of towing; I was in full panic mode constantly.
In the months since Handsome Husband died in southern California, I’ve driven to Arizona to see 2 of our kids, drove to New Mexico for a family wedding, picked up my dear sister-in-law, Diana, in Albuquerque, New Mexico so that she could road-trip with me to Indiana for me to pay my respects to his mom and attend a family reunion, drove alone to New Jersey to prepare for and hold his memorial service, bought my T@b in New England, and prepared for this Odyssey. And now, a month and a half on the road has taken me to Key West to scatter the first of his cremains, sat me down to dinner with his Air Force buddies and their families, touched me down at military Fam Camps along the Gulf Coast, and grown my determination to honor him and his military service. Which translated to our story on the Biloxi news, WLOX. (http://www.wlox.com/story/24473960/alison-miller-proves-that-true-love-never-dies). And now, here I am at Village Creek State Park in Beaumont, Texas, waiting for the sun to rise so that I can ready myself to continue my drive to San Antonio.
I do what Handsome Husband always said to do: I suit up and show up. My brain is fogged with grief- so I don’t over-think things. I’m allowing my heart to lead me, I’m listening to my gut each day. I have no attachment to how the day unfolds. Not because I’m irresponsible but because my inner self is dislocated and lost; my compass companion is dead. So I trust my heart, I trust his love that he left for me. His love, our love we had together, is my guiding force and my only force. With that fully entrenched in me, I’ll find my way. I’ll drive and I’ll camp and do whatever I need to do to continue this Odyssey and I’ll keep my heart and soul open to what life unfolds before me and I’ll do such an amazing job of it that, wherever he is, he’ll be fucking applauding me endlessly and his eyes will shine with pride and joy and no surprise because he knew. He knew, when he said his forever goodbye to me, that the woman he married, this woman he loved so passionately, and who loved him passionately and forever in return, is a kick-ass and take names type of woman. He didn’t expect this of me. He knew it of me and as devastating as it was for him to say goodbye and kiss me for the last time, he knew I’d make it happen.
And I will. I am. I’m a fucking warrior goddess and I’m on an Odyssey of Love and if I have my way, the entire military world and the world at large is going to learn about Chuck D, and our love story and how someone you love can suffocate in front of you and you can bathe him and dress him and help put his body on the mortician’s gurney and press the switch to open the crematorium doors to admit the body of the man you love, and walk out of there and place his urn and his flag next to you in the passenger seat and point your pink car in the direction of life and you can bygod open your soul to love and even though you’re no artist, you can set a blank canvas up and splash color and joy and pain and grief and every emotion you need onto it.
And create a masterpiece of magic that will leave the world panting.
So, yes, it happened. The day that has been happening for the last 6 months almost, since Handsome Husband closed his eyes for the last time and died.
The memorial service.
At some point when I can take it all in, I’ll write about it. Those of you who were there saw how very personal it was to him, how beautiful, how moving. Our kids were stunning in their words and dances and creativity. I sang to him. And, believe me, I don’t sing and that was going WAAAAYYY out of my comfort zone. And yet there was absolutely no anxiety on my part about doing such a thing in public. I was always braver with Handsome Husband and this was for him, so..no fear.
The military honors almost did me in. I zeroed in on their white-gloved hands as they folded the flag, keenly aware of that very last fold because I knew what the next steps were. As the Honor Guard captain was presented with the flag and swiveled on his heel to face me, I wanted to fall right on the floor. That is the moment I knew this was all for the flesh and blood man who graced my life for so many years. That is the moment when my heart shattered into hundreds of many millions of pieces that are unrecoverable. That is when I started saying over and over in my mind “Stand straighter. Stand straighter. Stand straighter.” And held out my arms to receive the flag and hear him say “On behalf of the President of the United States and the Department of the Air Force, and a grateful nation, we offer this flag for the faithful and dedicated service of MSgt Charles Dearing.”
So, here’s the thing, dear readers. NO. There was no closure for me, having had the service. There is no closure. Not that I’m sure what that word even means, so maybe in the way it’s meant by you, there is, but in the way I would describe it, no. Yes, I no longer will devote every waking moment to planning his service, ensuring that he is honored in every way. No, there is no easing of the shattering pain of loss. Kind of, really, honestly, now that I no longer have the distraction of his service, I am more aware than ever of my grief and devastating loss.
I feel badly for anyone who wants me to have closure and I have to disappoint them by not having it. It’s hard to be with those who are grieving. I know that. And I receive your intent with love, knowing that you just want me to be okay again.
My okay again is going to be a whole different okay than I’ve ever been before. It’s going to be okay with a depth of loss that has seared my soul and scorched my earth.
But, see, that’s okay. I’ve learned that it’s okay to let myself be right where I am, to allow myself to be shattered and in a cave while I rebirth. This part is necessary to who I will become. I’m in this darkness that will, I so hope, allow the light to shimmer even more brightly when I emerge. I’m not frightened of this darkness. It’s incredibly painful and my eyes when I look at them, reflect that. But it’s okay. Okay? Just be with me through this darkness and walk with me as I find my way. I relieve you of the burden of making me feel better, or being optimistic or trying to make me laugh.
I’m not depressed, so don’t worry. Totally unwillingly, I’ve been cast into the depths of this darkness, this hell that is my life without him. I spent 24 years with him and it’s going to take more time than any of us can imagine, I expect, for me to learn to live without him. But that’s okay too. Because I’ve also learned that just because I’m where I am, I can still do what needs to be done for planning a new, thrust-upon-me life, and I’m doing it.
No closure. None. Yes, pain that radiates and stabs through me every breath, until I remind myself of this mantra.
One breath. One heartbeat. One step.
And it’s okay even while nothing is okay.
He was, I know, a man among many other men. Most of the world didn’t know him. That’s their loss, because he was a very good man, and a man who mattered to so many. So for those of you who didn’t have the joy of having him in your life, let me tell you a little about my husband.
I called him Handsome Husband in a humorous panacea to him, helping him maintain his anonymity (stop laughing-I really was trying) as I endlessly wrote about him and our adventures. Our back and forth was me telling him “I just want to be semi-quasi famous, and him moaning “I just want to be retired!” In spite of that, he encouraged me to write, giving me permission to write of more personal things about him, and between us. I used to tell him that when I became a famous speaker, he wouldn’t have to come on stage with me. He could be chillaxin’, as he called it, on a beach somewhere, or hiking a mountain top somewhere, and I’d get a life-size cardboard cutout of him to be on stage with me. The cutout would be made from one of my favorite pictures of him: clad in black shirt, arms crossed over his chest, dark military-style glasses shading his eyes. I kidded him that he looked like my fierce bodyguard when he stood like that. Which really…he was. He was my bodyguard, my hero, my knight in shining armor. Always.
No, he wasn’t a saint. After a person’s death, those of us who remain tend to elevate them to the clouds and plant a halo on their heads. I won’t do that with Handsome Husband. He was so real, and that’s what I so loved about him, about us. He had his human-ness, we had our struggles and arguments as a couple. He was focused-I called it being anal. He was driven-I thought he had difficulty with spontaneity. He was insistent at times-now I realize he had his reasons that made perfect sense.
I had various nicknames for him over the years. Of course, when we first met, he was Chuck. I first met him when he came to my door, inquiring about a babysitter for his daughter. He was wearing his BDU’s (camouflage), because he was just on his way to work. And yes, I thought he was gorgeous. I’ve always loved a man in uniform. He loved my blue eyes. And the fact that I was wearing horribly thick-framed glasses didn’t faze him. I was holding a book in my hands, he reminded me over the years. He loved that I loved to read and would often boast of my quick reading skills, telling people that I read a book a day. I didn’t, really, but who was I to argue with his pride in me? Once we became romantically involved, I started calling him Sarge. (He was a MSgt in the Air Force). That was his nickname for years. He called me Sunshine because, he said, I brought that to his life, after so many years of feeling like he was sleep-walking through that life.
He was a recovered alcoholic. Shortly after we met, I invited him to go to an AA meeting with me. I was already going to meetings, hoping to find out more about my mom, who was an alcoholic. I continued attending meetings because I realized I was an alcoholic. Chuck went to meetings and stopped drinking. His marriage ended. We decided to get married-he wanted to set a good example to our kids. We celebrated two anniversaries together: our wedding and our sobriety date.
He had 1 daughter from his marriage. I had 1 daughter and 2 sons. He told me he’d always wanted a large family and, well, he got it. Just not in the way he imagined. My ex wanted nothing to do with his kids and Chuck wanted everything to do with them. He took them into his heart in every way. It wasn’t always easy for him but he persevered. He supported them emotionally and financially and was their dad in every way. Most people didn’t even know he was their step-dad-he didn’t think of himself that way and neither did they. He’s their dad. Period. Blood had nothing to do with it, in his eyes and in his heart. He loved his daughter from his 1st marriage intensely and parented her in an exemplary fashion through his divorce and afterwards, no matter how tough it got for him.
He was intense and focused. He loved his mom and his dad, his brother and sister. In our Happily Homeless travels, we’d always visit his hometown of Muncie Indiana where he’d do all he could to help out his mom, especially after she was widowed. He loved his brother Steve and we were able to visit his sister Diana in Washington state a few times too.
He was a romantic through and through. He loved our marriage. He loved us. Through the years he’d oftentimes say to the young men who asked him how they could have in their marriage what he and I had, that they needed to consider the adult partnership of husband and wife, as the most important relationship there was in the family. Kids grow up and move away and you want to make sure you’ve nurtured your marriage and your wife, so you have a strong bond together, he’d say. There was no empty nest for us when the kids left home. We relished our time together. We danced endlessly in the kitchen to Alan Jackson and Clint Black and others, and I played that same music when he was in hospice. I was told that this music, the music we listened to over the years, especially as we traveled, caused him agitation as he lay in the hospital bed. Bullshit, I say. Whoever thought that didn’t know him at all.
He’d go to romantic comedies with me, and discuss love and relationships with me afterwards. I always told him he should run a class for men on having successful relationships with women-he was that good. In the last weeks before he died, he told me, in one of our quiet conversations, that though he loved our kids, it would be hardest to leave me, his wife, the woman, he said, who brought spontaneity to his life, and he would miss “us” more than anything. We both cried. How do you say a final goodbye to someone who is the very beat of your heart?
Women loved him. How could they not? Men respected him-how could they not? He served honorably in the US Air Force and was known as a man who got things done. He was a dad respected and loved by his kids. His sponsees in AA sought his counsel. And me? I adored him. I loved him more than I’ve ever loved anybody. He was my life. I was his life. He would have walked on water for me, and when he said that he would give his life for me, I believed him.
It is sheer, fucking agony for me to not have him next to me, not to feel his arms around me, not to lean into him, on tiptoe, so that I could rest my head in the hollow of his neck and breathe in his scent. Sometimes when I’d do that-stand on tiptoe-he’d bend his knees a bit to lower himself so I could just stand level. But I loved fitting myself into him. He gave me courage, he gave me love, he gave himself to me.
All I know to do with my life now that he’s gone from it is focus on the love he had for me, and I for him. He knew that I would take my life with him, and our final travels together in hospice, and make something of it because that’s what I do. I don’t know how that will translate and I don’t know when it will translate. All I know is I refuse to leave him in my past, to leave our life together in the past. His love for me was too strong and powerful. His love for me is my armor, plain and simple.
I had to put the book down, to catch my breath. Not just catch my breath, but remind myself to breathe at all. My ending is different from the author’s and the reality of the difference is just too much for me.
It’s been a good read. “Dinner With the Smiley’s”. A woman and her young boys dealing with the year-long deployment of her Navy husband, and the inventive way they dealt with his absence. The end, where he comes home, where they greet him, is what is too much for me. Because he comes home. I know that joy they felt as they welcomed him at the airport, having him safely back with them again.
The reality of Handsome Husband never coming home to me again is a stark and vicious stab into every part of me. A pick-axe flailing madly into me, like a scene from an Alfred Hitchcock movie. I’m Jennifer Leigh, in the shower scene. A movie, by the way, which I’ve never cared to see, but who doesn’t know about the movie or that particular scene?
In our early days together, when Handsome Husband was active duty, he was away a lot. As in, weeks out of every month. Sometimes I’d know where he was going, most often I wouldn’t. I wouldn’t know how long he would be gone, or when he’d be back. I don’t know how I managed those times. I just did.
Is that how I’ll look back on this time, this year of his being gone, this life of his being gone? Will I be able to look back and know that I just did, in spite of the fact that I know that this is a time of never returning? Tell me, how does a person do this? How does a woman continue to care about living, when her very heart has been ripped from her chest? Not only been ripped from her chest while she is still alive, but watches as her heart is then attacked with a sharp-edged axe, and bludgeoned into a bloody mess on the floor in front of her.
Yes, that’s how it feels.
I remember once, when Handsome Husband was due to return from a TDY, he left a message on our answering machine, telling me that he hoped to be able to meet me that evening at a regular meeting that we both attended. I quickly found a babysitter for our kids, and fairly flew to the meeting. He hadn’t been 100% about being there, but I knew that if it was humanly possible for him to be there, he would. Because that’s how he was. He made things happen.
I listened to the speaker and heard nothing of what he said, at that meeting. I sat there with my eyes glued to the door, waiting, all my senses heightened, just waiting, just knowing, that the man I loved more than anything else, was going to walk through that door and my world would be alright again.
What amazing self-control I employed when, yes, he did walk through the doors! It was in the middle of the meeting, someone was speaking, so he came in very quietly. I knew, my body knew, as the outside door was opening, that it was Handsome Husband. The adrenalin picked up speed and my heart knew he was there even before the door opened. It was all I could do to not leap from my chair and catapult across the table, stepping over the speaker, to leap into his arms, to feel him wrap himself around me, to lose myself in the warmth of his embrace and his love. But I’m courteous and polite and I waited the 10 minutes until the break to do just that. There has never been a better feeling. I belonged in his arms. His arms belonged around me.
I can’t, and won’t, sit here and tell anyone that any of this pain of grief has diminished. That, no, I’m not finding a measure of peace, or of acceptance, that my husband is forever gone. I feel no peace about it whatsoever. In some ways, the pain is only more intense as time goes by, because, with time, comes the continual recognition that this is my new forever, and I can’t stand the thought of forever. My brain struggles with even computing the word forever.
I wish, I wish, I wish, that he was deployed, that there would be an end-game in sight for him, for me, for us. I find myself begging him, begging the Universe, begging whatever powers that be, for him to be returned to me, knowing all the while that such a thing is impossible. But the abject pain won’t allow me to not say it. Sometimes that’s all I can say. Please. Just please. Return him to me. Don’t let this be forever. I’ll bear up as I must, if he’ll only come back. I can do this for a year, if I must. I swear I can. If only I knew that, at the end of that time, I could leap across space to be in his arms again. If I could put my arms around him and inhale his scent. If I could be in his arms and feel safe again.
I beg of you.
Come back to me.