To My Beloved Husband~

To my beloved husband, Chuck D, as we approach the 5th anniversary of your memorial service, which we held 6 months out from your death…
I know I did everything as perfectly as I could in those few short weeks between finding the cancer, our hospice time, and your death.
I know this more than I know anything else in my life.
And yet…
Doubt lingers in the corners of my mind and pops out in my most vulnerable moments, such as now. Such as everyday of living without you.
Just one doubt.
Was I at your side enough in our hospice time? Should I have moved into that hospice room with you and not moved until I had to? Did I err in going, every so often, back to our rented condo, to sleep…even though I never slept when I was there. Shadows of your impending death were ever on my mind. I knew I was a widow in waiting, no matter where I was. I didn’t need to hear a clock ticking away the time: my heart was more of a reminder than any clock.
I didn’t stay with you every night, and that thought has more power over me than I want it to.
There were many nights that I did, and I was there every day, but I wasn’t there every minute, even though I wanted to be. What I wanted was to lay down beside you and never move. Hold onto you for every breath. Breathe with you and for you. Take your place in that bed, with cancer attacking my body relentlessly.
I wanted to do all of that.
But I know you worried for me. I know that you watched me as I moved about your room. That you spoke to others of your concern for me. That you loved me beyond anyone else and you would want me to take care of myself, even as I cared for you.
So I preempted the conversation you might have with me, and took it upon myself to kiss you good night and return to our rented condo, having ensured that one of the kids was with you overnight. They would care for you as lovingly as I could and I entrusted your care to them so that you wouldn’t worry about me.
I was told after you died that you would ask where I was at times, and I wonder. Did you feel that I abandoned you on those nights? Or for the few hours I’d take to grab food with one of the kids? These thoughts aren’t logical, I know, especially as I consider the source from which the words came…but I wonder anyways.
I wanted to curl up beside you. I wanted to be so close to you that I became you and our bodies would be one body and even though that meant I would feel your pain, you…you would feel more strongly than ever, the depth of Love I had for you, and that would be so much more powerful that the pain of the cancer would be meaningless. I wanted to clutch your hand in my two hands and squeeze hard and hold on…but I knew I had to tell you that I would be okay and that you could go whenever your body and mind had done this enough. I wanted to look into your eyes and stare into forever…not the forever of death but the forever of a passionate Love. I wanted to turn back time and live our together life again and again, an endless round of Groundhog’s Day…so that our life together would never end. I wanted my fingers to trace the bone of your brow that I’d stroked so often over so many years, run my hand gently through the hair on your arm…while you still breathed. I wanted to breathe deeply of the breath we both shared and make it last forever…not watch as you suffocated and took a sharp inbreath and…nothing.
Instead, because I knew you would want me to take care of myself in whatever way I could, I would kiss you softly and tell you I’d see you in the morning and return to that condo and lie down on that bed that was never ours…and stare into the darkness. Waiting, waiting, waiting, until I could rise and shower and drive back over to your hospice and kiss you good morning and begin a day of living in the moment and offering Love in all the ways that I could while I shattered again and again, watching you disappear from me.   532901_10152250938645400_1112002834_n
I know you would forgive me, my beloved D. I don’t know that I can forgive myself. I know what you would say and how you would say it and how you would hug me and love me even more, for having cared for myself to whatever degree I was able to.
This one doubt crowds my heart sometimes, and mixes in with the godawful missingness of you.
As we who love you approach the 6-year mark of the day of your memorial service, all that my heart will permit me to say to you is this…
I miss you. I love you. I crave your touch. If I could only gaze into your eyes gazing into mine. If I could tuck my hand into yours and feel our fingers intertwine. If I could feel the strength of your arms enclosing me. My life is so different from what it was, with you. I’m so different, in ways that make me feel like an alien to my own self. IMG_4895
God, if I could just sink into your welcoming embrace and hear your heartbeat in my ear. Wrap my arms around your waist. Sink into all that you were, with all that I am, and breathe in, again, the peace that was…us.

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Because Love Must…

I must write about Love, because I will go fucking insane if I write of the painful past. I will go fucking insane from..I don’t know…rage? World stopping anxiety? Despair?
It goes by many names, this feeling that is the experience I shared with Chuck in his hospice time. In the cancer time. In his death and dying time.
How I torture myself by reading the blogs I wrote on my private page, of those times. And yet, how unfailingly drawn I am to read of those times…
The horrifying morning where I drove Chuck to the ER because this man who had a massively high pain threshold could no longer absorb the pain of the cancer that returned and ate his ribs, and made it difficult to walk.
The determination of me, of our kids, to make his hospice time one of Love, not instead of fear, but as a cup for the fear.
The horror of realizing that my beloved husband was dying and I couldn’t stop it.
And the sharp in breath I took when I recognized, somehow, that the breath he was taking at that moment, would be his last breath.
The…everything…as I put my hand on his heart and knew that he was gone.
And that my entire life was somehow, also…gone.
My god, the dread, the panic, the purity of that moment of sheer Hiroshima level shock…
I must focus on the Love. Or go more fucking insane than any person since time began.
The Love.
His Love for me, and mine for him.
Chuck was my life, and I, his.
With kids and siblings and parents and friends we loved deeply…still, and all, it was me and him, always.
I recall his Love more than I recall him, weirdly. He is so gone, has been so gone since he took his last breath. It was as if he and I had never been a we together. The mind fuck began at that moment he drew his last breath.
I try to remember him as a man, as the man who was with me in our Love story, but it seems so distant. And that, too, is a mind fuck.
Did we even ever exist as a man and a woman together?
The mind fuck waits patiently for me, at the corners of my mind. Remember the agony of those last 3 weeks, it bids me. Remember that you can barely remember who you were together. Remember that there is only pain if you give energy to any of that.
No.
I may not remember much of us, in my mind. But my heart remembers being loved well and truly and passionately. It wasn’t a figment of my imagination, though his continued absence tries to tell me otherwise.
There was a man named Chuck, many years ago, and a woman named Alison, who fell in love and beat the odds against them. They were real people…there are pictures to prove it. And oh, how they loved each other and danced through time and kissed and held hands and were strong together and oh, how cherished and nurtured that woman felt.
Love did live for those 24 years, no matter what tricks my mind attempts to play.
Love lived.
It lives still, in a very unsatisfying way, because he isn’t here, but in a manifestly huge way, because he isn’t here.
Love fucking lives.

Birthdays~

Chuck threw me a huge birthday party for my 50th.  To be honest, our daughter, Rachael-Grace, helped out with it quite a bit, but it was lovely.  A dear friend, who died the year before Chuck, baked a red velvet cake.  My friends were there from all walks of life.  Our kids were there; it was a memorable 50th.

Life changes quickly, and the following year, for my 51, we were just beginning our new life on the road and Chuck surprised me with a trip to Graceland.  I’d always been a huge Elvis fan and he knew this would be a huge hit. As it was.  I didn’t have any idea where we were headed until I saw the sign that said Memphis.  We stayed in a hotel that had framed Elvis pictures in each room, a guitar shaped swimming pool and Elvis music playing throughout the grounds. All songs which I knew and Chuck got such a kick out of me singing along with them.

One of my earliest birthday memories, after Chuck and I married, is the year he took the time leading up to my birthday to get my address book and ask everyone in it to call me on my birthday.  He also alerted his family and friends.  I spent the day answering our, yes, land line phone, and hearing Happy Birthday, Alison!  Chuck made my birthdays so special, every year.

My next few birthdays were spent on the road; I don’t even remember where. What I do recall is that I spent them with him, hiking and exploring the USA.  We had all the time in the world together and that was the greatest gift of all.  With lots of wild and crazy birthday sex.

The last great present I received for my birthday, my 55th, was the news that Chuck’s first cancer had been eradicated numerous surgeries.  He was cancer free, with really really really good odds that it wouldn’t return.  God, did we celebrate…I knew a cancer survivor! and that cancer survivor was my beloved husband.

I’m 59 today.  Chuck has been dead for 4 years.  Fucking cancer got my cancer survivor after all, and my birthdays have never been the same.

I know, I know…I can hear it now.  But you must celebrate you! You must grab life and savor it and live it!

Here’s the thing.  I know, because I’m a smart, loving person, that I must allow our kids to celebrate me. I must allow my friends and family and all who love me, to celebrate me. And I do and it means so much, especially since Chuck is no longer here to wrap me in his arms and plant a huge, lonnnngggg kiss on my lips, leaving me dizzy.

In just the past month, I’ve received 2 gifts that touch my heart in the only ways that matter:  I was reunited with my younger sister, after many years of estrangement, and my wee grandson, Owen Charles, was born.  Each of these huge events touch my heart.

But there is a loneliness that goes along with my birthdays in the years since Chuck’s death and that’s just a fact of life.  It’s the new world that I live in.

So, today, here in the Ozarks, at the opera camp, on my 59th birthday, living a life I’d never imagined or planned for (emotionally), my gift to myself is telling each person that I meet that it is my birthday and I want hugs.

I want hugs from every person who comes within my radius today. Hugs, hugs and more hugs.  All the love that comes with those hugs is what keeps me going, and my heart expands with each hug.

And that’s what I ask of you, too.  Anyone who is reading my words today.  For my birthday, your gift to me is to hug people you meet along your way today.  Stop for a minute, share some time with them, connect with them, and don’t leave them without hugging them.

And maybe, whisper a word to Chuck, whether you know him or not, that you’re all looking out for his girl.

Thank you.

Happy birthday, me~

 

These Few Words~

 

I will sing you to me…..

These words curve around my lower right leg, from knee to ankle.

My 3rd tattoo.  My first one says nothin’ but love, our credo in hospice.  Those words swirl in a circle on the back of my neck, with the circle ending in a small heart, and the circle is left open.  As my heart must be in this new life without him.

My second one simply says Love, and is on the inside of my left wrist, in the exact location where the tumor I named Wilson, first showed up on Chuck.  It took a 11-hour surgery and 4 reconstructive surgeries afterwards to rid ourselves of Wilson and reconstruct Chuck’s arm.  His right thigh looked like hamburger when they were through.

Each of my tattoos carry special meaning, as all tattoos must.

But…my 3rd tattoo…

Chuck and I both enjoyed watching the movie Australia; a movie set in pre-WW2 Australia, dealing both with the invasion by the Japanese, and the kidnapping of mixed race Aboriginal children from their parents.  The kids were sent to orphanages where they were taught white ways. 

One of the most charming characters in the movie is a little boy named Nullah, a mixed-race boy, taken in by the character of Nicole Kidman.  The two are separated, in the movie, by the kidnapping of Nullah.  As she stands on the pier, desperately trying to keep him with her…as he is taken away to an island for orphans, he says to her I will sing you to me.

And she responds and I will hear you…

In our Happily Homeless travels, Chuck and I visited the huge bike rally in Sturgis, South Dakota.  We didn’t go there specifically for it, but it was going on when we were there, and we walked around and admired the bikes and fell in love with the state.

In the second year after his death, my daughter, Rachael-Grace, went on the road with me for 6 months, supporting me in my Odyssey of Love.  We crisscrossed the USA, and, in the process, ended up in Sturgis, SD, and, again, happened upon the Sturgis bike rally.

South Dakota is home to Crazy Horse National Monument, one of the places Chuck and I visited together, and the final place he’d asked me to return to, to scatter his cremains.

Rae created a beautiful ritual at Crazy Horse, and was the one to scatter her dad’s cremains there.  And then we walked around Sturgis.  Which is where I found the tattoo artist who created my 3rd tattoo.  I’d told him about our Love story, about my Odyssey of Love, and though I didn’t know when I first got there to SD what my tattoo would look like, the words came to me as I walked about, and he did a quick sketch.  Unfortunately, the cost was too much for me to justify, and I was honest with him about that.  Another of the artists, who had listened in to my story, told me that he thought I really needed to get the tattoo there…it was the last place Chuck had named, after all, and given the words I wanted, it was perfect. So, he offered to pay for half, stunning me.

I will sing you to me….

Words spoken in the movie Australia, among the Aboriginals, when saying goodbye to a loved one, with no idea whether that one will be seen again.  Words of hope for the future, maybe…

I’ve no idea whether this phrase, and the concept behind it, are true to the Aboriginals or not.  I honestly don’t care; the idea of the words touched my heart years ago, and they touch my heart now.  And I seek comfort where I can find it.

I will sing you to me…

These words that wind around my calf speak of my wish to believe, even as I struggle with believing, that I will see Chuck again someday.  Somehow, maybe, he will greet me when I die.  Maybe.

Meanwhile, in this life that I must live without him, maybe I can sing him to me in my heart, by living the Love he left behind, by reaching out with kindness, in service to others. 

I will sing him to me…

And the other half of the meaning of those words for me?

Maybe, maybe, maybe, I will sing my future to me even as I live each moment without him, as I continue this Odyssey of Love.  The future that I still don’t want, that I don’t care about, but one that seems as if it must be lived for all the days of my life until my own death.

I hold these words to me, written as clearly on my heart as they are written on my calf.

I will sing you to me…

 

Just Love~

When calls my heart

To the distant past that is both yesterday and incalculably forever ago.

When calls my heart

To those feelings and emotions that seem so far distant

And so deeply buried

That they are unreachable.  Unrememberable. 

Cherished.  Loved.  Nurtured. 

Secure.  In Love.  Joyous.  Passionate.  Spontaneous.  Upbeat.

What becomes of this heart

And those words that described a life, and a man,

Who gusted into my life and took my breath away with a whoof!

I knew, of course, the possibilities of Love happening in my life before he came into my life.

Zero possibility.

And then.

He called my heart and Love opened my heart

And I breathed Love and I lived Love and I loved him and he loved me and our passion burned brightly

And non-stop

For all of our years.

As we lived our Love story.

Until and then

An ugly and relentless and starving beast took that man who called my heart and opened my heart.

Took him into a world I couldn’t know.

Couldn’t go.

And left behind, calling my heart?

Still Love.  Only Love.  Always Love.

Not enough.  Never enough.  But has to be enough.

Love.  Love more.  Love hard.  Love always.

His words.  His life.  His actions.  His message.  My words.  My life.  My actions.  My message.

Only Love.

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~

 

Upon This, I do Insist~

I wonder, frequently, when grief changed from a normal, human response to the death of a loved one, to a condition that, seemingly, must be gotten through (with all due speed, thank you very much for your consideration), with clinical protocols assigned to it?

When did grief get designated as complicated and unhealthy and uncomfortable and perceived as an enemy to be overcome?  When did our culture start demanding of us that we, as grievers, choose life again as quickly as possible, focus only on the happy memories of life and not dwell in the layers of sorrow that come with death? When did grief become something to hide from the world at large?

When did we medicalize grief so that our approach is clinical instead of soulful?

Years ago I read about traumatic stress and the military, what is seen and done in war, and the suffering that occurs as a consequence of what is seen and experienced by our military. I read that it wasn’t always called traumatic stress. In past times it was called combat fatigue, shell shock, war neurosis. The term that most appealed to me and best described it was from the Civil War era. It was called soldier’s heart.

An apt description, don’t you think?

Science has discovered neurons and all sorts of scientific stuff about the brain and grief; our brains that are, of course, involved, when it comes to grief. We feel crazy and our thinking and focus goes all to hell and back again, ad infinitum. Maybe drugs calm all that shit down sometimes, and it’s good to have options to treat the crazy.  Modern times and all that…

Speaking only for myself, I see grief as a matter of the heart. I believe that every grief is potentially complicated, simply because our worlds disintegrate after our loved ones die, and that’s kind of, you know, complicated. I believe that every death potentially is traumatic because grasping the forever-ness of death is beyond human comprehension, and trying to grasp that particular concept is kind of, you know, traumatic. And once we work our way, sometimes with a good therapist, through the worst of the trauma, layers of grief remain that we must muck through and that takes a fuck load more time than the 6 months that the DSM allows for complicated grief.

A matter of the heart…

Thursday, April 21, at 11:21pm will be 3 years since my beloved husband, Chuck, died of a cancer that ate him up and killed him dead.  I was present when he died and I wonder when was the last time he looked at me and saw me before closing his eyes forever? After he died, I bathed him and dressed him and wrapped him in beautiful blankets because I didn’t want him put in a body bag uncovered. Before the mortuary took him away, I spoke with them and told them his name, that he served in our military, that he was a dad of 4 kids-3 of them step kids who never, ever, felt like step kids. Before they took him away, I told them that he was a man of honor who loved me every day of our 24 years together and that I knew they would treat him with all the respect that he deserved. And made them promise me that they would.

Before he was cremated, I opened the box that held his body and covered him with stunningly bright and beautiful flower bouquets. After gently closing the box over him again, I pressed the switch to open the doors of the crematory and watched as his body slid inside and felt sick to my stomach. After he was cremated, I retrieved his cremains that were still almost warm to the touch. I know because I touched them and buried my hands in them, bringing my hands to my face as I huddled into myself and sobbed.

In the years since, Chuck’s cremains have traveled shotgun with me, next to his flag that was presented to me at his memorial service, the jacket from his BDUs, and a picture of him as a flight engineer on the 141’s. With these precious tangibles of our love story, I’ve criss-crossed the country 8 times in my PinkMagic rig.

All of this…all of these memories, all of these tangible reminders of his existence in my life, all of the reminders that our existence together is no more…these are matters of the heart. Matters of the soul. Matters that deserve my time and attention because they were…they are…sacred times.  I have Widows Heart.

We are not bound to what our culture teaches us about grief.

Grief, in reality, has the potential to bring us to a place of our strongest connection to life. It smashes open our hearts and souls and insists on recognition of all that is holy and sacred in life. It is, perhaps, one of the few times in our busy lives that we are forced to slow down, waken to our souls, and listen to what makes us human.

I will not see grief as negative or positive. I will not see it as an adversary, something to be gotten through. I will not force it away by doing whatever it is that I’m supposed to do so that I don’t feel it, or feel it as strongly. I will not push it and shove it and force it in one direction or another. I will not run away from it. Nor will I wallow in it.

What I will do.  I will continue to be honest about grief’s impact on my life. I will continue to connect with my widowed community and the community of love that surrounds me on the road and as I tarry in one place or another.  I will continue to become familiar with my grief, because that is, I believe, how it will ultimately soften around the edges. It is not my enemy, as much as I detest its’ presence in my life.  Grief is an emotion to be honored. It is the twin to Love.

And, in the end, this grief…my grief…in the end…it is about my dearest, most beloved husband, Chuck D, the man I will carry with me in every breath I take, forevermore.

I miss you, my dearest love. I miss you. I miss you, I miss you…

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