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~

Advertisements

6 Years. And 6 Centuries~

This Sunday it will be 6 years since Chuck died.

Just writing that number leaves me breathless, and not in a good way.

Jesus.

How can it be 6 years?

Though it might as well be 6 centuries. That’s how it feels.

So, my thoughts on these years/centuries as they meander through my mind…

I spent last weekend with our older son and his family, which includes two grand-goddesses, 5 and 3 years old.

I love them so very much.

And I love my son and his wife so very much, as I do my other kids and their spouses.

But-and I don’t know if this is just me-it’s almost…painful…to be with them. Well, maybe not so much in being with them, but after I leave.

Grief surges up in me as I drive away from them, or any of our kids, after visiting.

Thinking about Chuck, and driving down the road with him. 

Now, looking out at the desert and the mountains…I feel so fucking empty.

Where the ever loving fuck did he go?

If tasked to respond to the question what is it like now, as opposed to those nightmarish days right after he died, this is what I’d say:

It is exactly what a dear widow sister of mine, who was further along than I, told me in my 3rd year of grief.

It isn’t that it gets better. We just get stronger to carry it.

Yes.

I’m definitely stronger to carry it.

6 years out, and contrary to what I look like on the outside, I’m wiry and my arms are strong and my back is straight and my stride is sure.

I know in every part of me that I am living Love out loud.

I approach everyone I meet, whether stranger or family, with Love. Even people I don’t care for.

I’ve learned the subtle art of not giving a fuck. With all the Love in the world, of course.

Anyone who chooses to see me as desperate, depressed, dark, too much, fill in the blank, chooses to question me or my life/methods of navigating this widowhood, etc…oh, I am WAY too strong to be taken down by such judgement.

I wish I’d learned this strength much earlier on, but it happened as it happened, and believe me, that strength is who I am now and it comes from such a place of Love and surety of the Love that Chuck left behind for me, and certainty of what I’m doing along this Odyssey of Love…it makes me absolutely unbeatable. I cannot be taken down by others’ opinions of me. 

This life isn’t easy in any way. It is painful beyond unbearable. It’s impossible. 

And I’m fucking doing it anyways.

I remember what was told to me by a woman I met in a Target store early on my Odyssey of Love. She didn’t know me, had no way of knowing anything about me.

But she purposefully caught my eye as I browsed in the clothing dept of that store. After catching my eye a second time, she approached me and asked if she could tell me something.

I’m always open to whatever comes my way, so I nodded yes. She put her hand ever so gently on my lower arm and looked right at me and said this…

I need to ask you -do you know that you are surrounded by angels? You have so many around you that I can’t even count them. And you are protected. They are protecting you in whatever it is you’re doing. So keep doing it. Just keep going. They are all around you and you are protected.

I didn’t know how to respond, so I thanked her and we went our separate ways. 

But I’ve never forgotten her words.

She was one of the people…the markers…that Chuck told me in an earlier message he’d left for me to help me find my way on this Odyssey of Love. 

I wouldn’t leave you without a road map. I’ve left markers for you along the way, both physical and metaphysical. Look for them.

Those words were told to me, a message from Chuck, by yet another woman, just a few months after he died. Also a woman I’d never met before, who sought me out.

So here’s the thing, world.

Don’t fuck with me. Because, yes, I’m protected and I know it.

I’m protected by a legacy of Love that is more than most people know in a lifetime. By the Love of a community I created for myself around the country. By the Love of 3 adult kids who live their dad’s legacy every damn day. 

I was loved by Chuck.

Five simple words that carry the power and force of forever in them.

I was loved and I am Love.

And no matter what else happens, 

That makes me the fiercest woman alive~

September Remembering~

My body felt September 11 approaching, even before my mind became aware of it.
This morning, September 11, I woke up and could feel the nerves edging along my skin. The feeling only intensified as I watched snippets of remembrances on TV.
Why, you might ask, would I put myself through watching something more when my heart was already hurting?
To bear witness, quite simply. It’s my tribute to those who died on that day, 17 years ago. If they could bear to go through what they went through, I can bear to watch it and honor them.
This day of remembrance is a day that hits so hard, personally. Nobody I know died that day, but Chuck and I were living in south Jersey, just a little over an hour away from NYC. He was working at McGuire AFB and, as I watched the news, it seemed as if the base might be another target. Nobody was allowed on or off the base and no phone calls, so I couldn’t reach him.
He finally walked in the door around midnight.
My sense of safety in the world, since Chuck died, is gone.
We would speak of that day, often, in the years afterwards, especially when we were flying somewhere to visit family, or when he flew on business.
Chuck was adamant that if terrorists were to take over a flight he was on, he needed me to know that he would fight back. Of course you would, I’d tell him. And if I’m on the flight with you, I’d be right beside you.
He was at my side, and I was at his, through thick and thin. He’d been a safety officer while active duty, and would go over What If scenarios with me regularly. As in…if this bad thing were to happen to you, how would you react? How would you get out of that bad situation? Put a plan in place in your mind. Plant it there, so that you react out of muscle memory, rather than freezing and not responding. Learn how to save your own life. Or, at least, give it your best shot.
I felt so safe with Chuck at my side. Yes, I still go over scenarios in my mind, training my muscle memory. Yes, I keep a go bag at the ready, in case of…I don’t know…all the unexpected shit that can happen in life.
I was as prepared as I could be for his death 5 years ago. Because my career was hospice, death was a familiar topic at our dinner table and anywhere else. We didn’t shy away from it. We’d spoken about our wishes long before his first cancer, and I’d written it all down in a notebook. You know, what kind of service, life insurance, imagined scenarios for me.
Somehow, even as we spoke about the possibility of me surviving him, the word widow never entered the conversation. He’d be dead and I’d be on my own but…widow? It never entered my mind.
With all our conversations about death and dying, with all the responsible shit I wrote down in that notebook, never once could I have imagined the devastation of living without him. Never once could I have envisioned the emptiness of life without him, the sheer agony, the silence.
The silence.
Even though I speak on the phone with family and friends every day, use social media, text, use all the methods of communication that exist in our day and age…the silence is deafening.
The silence is in my heart and soul and it comes from the stark reality of Chuck’s absence. There is no other voice that fills that space, no matter what I do.
And I wonder, on all days, and on special days like this September 11, if I’ll ever feel that sense of safety again. Or a sense of peace. Or lightness.
Yes, I’m a strong woman. Yes, I’m independent. Yes, I can live on my own and be good with that. Yadda, yadda, yadda.
September 11, 2001 took away our sense of safety as a nation.
April 21, 2013 took away my sense of safety, personally.
Chuck was my go to person, at my side on that day, even though he was on base and unreachable. I knew he was there, though, and that comforted me.
There is no comfort to be found in this life without him.
And that’s just the honest truth~

Looking at the Numbers~

Almost 5 years.
5 years without you.
Don’t ask me how I’ve gone 5 years without you.
I don’t know.
Sheer grit and determination.
And a whole lot of the Love that you left behind for me.
It isn’t enough, you know.
Living on memories of your Love for me.
Mine for you.
But it has to be. Enough, I mean.
24 years with you wasn’t enough.
We thought we’d have at least 35, calculating our ages.
We had 24.
23 of those in marriage.
We had 4 years together, living on the road.
Adventuring and loving and bonding more deeply than we’d ever thought possible.
4 years. Our last 4 years.
I spent 3 weeks after your death, alone in that condo in southern California.
And then returned to the road, alone.
It’s almost 5 years now that I’ve been on the road by myself, on my Odyssey of Love.
I’ve been on the road alone longer than we were on the road together
115,000 miles solo.
North, south, east and west.
8 times around the country.
I will never stop missing you,
No matter how many miles behind me,
No matter how many miles in front of me.
I miss you, D.
I just miss you.  2018-03-21

Happy Anniversary, dear man~

You might think, seeing the title, that Handsome Husband and I are celebrating our wedding anniversary. And you would be wrong.  Today we’d be celebrating a much more important anniversary, because if this particular one hadn’t happened, we would never have been married for 23 years.  Our life together wouldn’t have happened at all.  So much wouldn’t have happened.  And much more would have likely happened, with none of it being good.

Handsome Husband wanted so badly to make it to this day.  He struggled with the knowledge that he wouldn’t make it.  This is the anniversary that meant as much to him as our wedding anniversary.  I can say, happily, that he and I share this particular day also.

This dear man, who lived joyously, would have celebrated 25 years of sobriety today.  I’ve struggled with writing about this, to be honest, because of anonymity, but my heart says that I want you to truly know this man who was my husband, and the impact that his sobriety and recovery had on him,  helping him live his life in a way that honored the gifts given to him through his sobriety.

Being in hospice, and at the end of his life, didn’t stop him from continuing his recovery, and his work of sponsoring others.  His sponsees  came from the East coast to pay their respects to him, to bring meetings to him, to show him and tell him how much he’d helped them change their lives, and the lives of their families, through their own sobriety.  He tasked me to put all of the information he had from his step work on a zip drive in order to distribute it to others, knowing he wouldn’t be here to further support anyone.

I was so proud, I am so proud, of how he changed his life.  Our lives together started out with him already sober, with both of us sober, but he stayed engaged and built the years of sobriety, and made a difference in the lives of so many because of it.  He spoke at many meetings, and there were un-counted numbers of evenings when he was hours on the phone, talking AA with those who sought his experience, strength and hope.  What he’d been given, he passed on, with all the love in his heart.

Being recovered helped him get through the last part of his life, where he was in so much pain.  He didn’t drink.  He could have-what the hell did it matter any longer?  But he chose to stay sober, and gift all of us who loved him with the clarity of time.

Chuck D was my husband, yes, and I miss him as passionately as I  loved him.   A very strong part of what I admired and respected most about him was that he was also a man who found a life of recovery and made his life count for something and touched many other lives because of it.

So, congratulations, dear husband of mine.  You aren’t here for this important date, but many are remembering you and holding you close and feeling gratitude that your example of living sober led them to their own version of living the dream.   Your sobriety lives on in so many.

” God, I offer myself to Thee-to build with me and to do with me what you will.  Relieve me of the bondage of self, that I may better do Thy will.  Take away my difficulties, that victory over them may bear witness to those I would help of Thy Power, Thy Love and Thy Way of Life.  May I do Thy will always”.

IMG_1059

Shape-shifting

Shape-shifting.  The word rolls off my tongue as I try to get the feel of it.  I’m shape-shifting this year.  My grief is shape-shifting in unexpected ways.  My life has shifted in ways I never could have imagined.  Our lives are shifting.  One of our kids is in crisis across the country from us.  Handsome Husband is debilitated with pain.  Tomorrow will be 17 years since my brother died.  And yes, all of this is connected in my heart, contained within this morphing of life.  I lie here and pray for this child, encircling her with the love of everyone I can imagine.  I had the same imagery for my brother as he lay dying of cancer these many years ago.  I lie here and pray for my husband, that he can find relief from the his pain, both emotionally, for this child, and his own physical pain.  And all this pain around me catapults my mind to that early morning of January 26, when Kysa died and I called my parents to tell them that their child had taken his final breath.

This year it isn’t my pain, it isn’t my grief.  My grief has morphed, I have morphed, into my parents, receiving that call.   Our kids are all adults, out on their own, scattered, sustaining themselves through all that life flings at them, and as their parents, we experience a good part of it from a distance. (We never seem to get it lined up that we’re with any of them when a crisis surges-how is it that life happens that way?)  And now, experiencing a child in crisis so far away, it muddles up with my memories of the day my brother died, and the finality of that call to them from me.

In the moments after Kysa died, after an insane battle with FC (that is forever how I’ll think of cancer, and you can figure out what the “F” stands for), I know I was numb.  I was so numb and exhausted that I  didn’t realize how numb I was, but here, this morning, I’m shocked anew at the memory of it.

I was at his house, with him as he died.  Fog and shadows.   Kysa’s wife called her mom, I do remember that.  And I remember asking her if she wanted me to call my folks, or did she want to.   She requested that I call them, so I dialed the number for my sister in NH; my mom lived with her.   My memory of that call and my sister’s memory of that call could very well be two different memories.  I know I told her simply that our brother had just died and she needed to tell mom.  I know I called my dad, but then I go blank.   I called my sister who lived nearby, and she immediately came over.  She and Kysa’s wife sat with him in his room while I went out to the living room and lay down on the couch.  I don’t know how long I was there before she came out and asked if I wanted to go back to her house with her.  I agreed. I don’t know why I agreed, other than to say that if I’d been asked to strip naked and walk into traffic, I might very well have done so.  My mind wasn’t working.  All these years later, having worked in bereavement, and studied bereavement, I know that the fog that descends in the immediate time after death is a mind-saver.  Grief, at the same time that it smacks down in a way similar to the boulder falling on the road-runner and stuns you with pain, also numbs you to the bone.

It has shifted and changed over the years, this grief of mine.  Mostly its just sadness now and again when I think that my brother no longer graces this earth.  What surprises me is that grief can still surprise me.   This year?  This year, worrying about our child in crisis, has caused a shape-shift in my grief, taking it from my experience to my parent’s experience, and I’m ruminating on what those moments were for them, hearing that their child died, far away from them, and I grieve this new grief for them.   My dad is elderly, memories of his past constantly current.   My mom died of cancer 6 months after my brother, her grief still very present in her heart.

Grief.  Drifting fog, chasing shadows, winding its’ way through my life, lying low, surging high, mostly familiar, weaving into me in ways unexpected.  Parents.  Children.  Children becoming adults. Becoming parents.  Coming into empathy for our parents.  Step, step, shift.