I Do. Over and Over Again~

I do.

Again, and over and over.

Even knowing that you would someday leave me.

Not of your own will, but because cancer is an evil and twisted demon that seeps into the pores of a healthy person’s body and wreaks havoc within.

You left, not of your own free will.

And I, also not of my own will, stayed.

In the first years that followed, as I stayed, not of my own will, I tried desperately to remember you and I.

You, and who you were with me,

And I, and who I was with you.

I forgot how to move my feet as they moved with yours in a slow dance around the room.

I forgot how we moved together in our last dance, there at the side of that long and Picture1distant road in Death Valley, as the canyons glowed gold and music wafted from our car.

That I could no longer remember horrified me differently, but in the same way, as your death.

I remembered again, though, somewhere in my 4th year.

I remembered how to stand with you, as if your body were pressed against mine,

And raise my left hand to your broad shoulder…

Curl my fingers over your hand,

And dance…

Clint Black…When I Said I Do

Chicago…You’re the Inspiration

These two.

Over and over again.

This night, as I remember what would be 30 years marriage…

Blended family, military life that took you away from me so often, scratching our pennies together, sitting on our swing in the back yard admiring our colorful gardens, retirement, traveling together in our last 4 years, that strong hand of yours on my leg, my hand on your arm as we sat a foot across from one another and explored and adventured…

This night, as I remember saying I do to my life with you, as you slipped a simple silver band on my finger… 24174380_1518274098227519_8389293166807736662_n-226x300

You and I are dancing again, my feet moving in tandem with yours.

You are my heart, always.

We are dancing in the dark and starlit skies of the Universe.

Always~

May I Have this Dance?

The Death Valley dance.

I only named it that in the hindsight of all that happened in the next months.

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’d always, in our 24 years together, 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 bucket list forever, and we’d finally made it. 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. Picture1
But, as I steered the car over the road, headed back to the ranch, 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 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 as far as the eyes could see and the ears could hear. It seemed as if 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.
Our feet moved slowly to the music…back and forth. A step here, a step there. I soaked in that moment in time. I suspect that Chuck did too. Cancer had already visited us once. Something was so clearly wrong with him again, and we knew that every breath between us, every bit of Love between us, counted, more than ever.
Our feet moved gracefully between the ruts on the side of the road, in the setting sun, in the gloaming of a quiet evening.

Oblivious to all but each other, Chuck and I danced our last dance, in the beauty of Death Valley.

And Love moved with us~

Slow Dance. Last Dance.

I first wrote this blog in 2014, just a couple days before Valentines Day, a few days more before our 24 wedding anniversary.  It holds as true today as it did then..

So, here I am, writing my first blog right before Valentine’s Day.  Right before what would have been our 24th wedding anniversary. I’m getting ahead of myself, I know. I was going to introduce myself, give some back-story, and I promise I will.  But maybe, because of the timing of this first entry, I’ll give you a glimpse into the world that was mine with my beloved husband, let you peek through the keyhole so you can understand the missing-ness of him in my life.  This, dear ones, is the memory I carry with me in my heart and soul.  The only memory, really, that I can easily call to mind. (Why is that?)

As I remember him, and me, and our full-time travels of the last 4 years, this Death Valley dance lingers in the nooks and crannies of my heart.  Exploring Death Valley National Park in California was a dream of ours, and for 3 days we drove up and down the Valley, exploring the muted colors of the Canyons. Chuck was already sick and in pain; we thought it was the die-off from a fungal infection.  We thought it was a pinched nerve.  So this last day was taken slowly.  He’d managed a short hike back into the rocks.  Our last hike, but we didn’t know it then.  All we knew was that it was getting late, he was tired, and it was time we returned to our ranch cabin.

But, as I steered the car over the road to the ranch, looking at the changing colors of the rocks around me, my instinct told me that here was a memory that we needed to imprint on our hearts.  I’m relieved now that I listened to that instinct that made me maneuver the car to the dirt on the side of the road and say to him “Let’s dance”.  We loved to slow dance, and Chuck was a master at it.  He wasn’t quite sure of the footing on the rutted ground but I said let’s do it anyways.  And he smiled and got out of the car.
 
It was that most beautiful part of the evening that the Scots call “the gloaming”.  The quiet moment when the day is done but right before full dark sets in.  Silence surrounded us as I met him in front of our Ford Escape.  The strains of “You’re My Inspiration” by Chicago wafted from my IPOD.  Our song.  He put his right arm around my waist and clasped my right hand in his left, wrapping his fingers around mine.  In spite of everything, his body was strong against me.
 
And on the side of the road, there in Death Valley, in the setting sun, we danced what would be our last dance.  

Chuck’s romantic heart met my even more romantic heart and we kept that passion alive for the 24 years we were together.  This Valentine’s Day is my first without him.  Our 24th wedding anniversary is the 18th.  I don’t know if any one particular day is more painful than another because right now every day is filled with immeasurable pain.  I miss him kissing me and holding me and dancing with me and loving me and that slow wink at me from across a room. 
 
I miss him with every beat of my heart, with every painful breath that keeps me living without him. 529438_552029828185289_1995679461_n

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~

 

Those Million Days Ago…Yesterday…

This day, 3 years ago…

Handsome Husband and I arrived in Cathedral City, California.

We’d come from 3 months in the Phoenix, Arizona area, where we’d visited with 2 of our kids, and we’d adventured along the way in Vegas, and Red Rock Canyon outside of Vegas, where we’d stayed with an Air Force buddy and his wife. IMG_9612

We’d gone to Death Valley…yeah, how fucking ironic is that? and I remember Chuck teasing me as I’d apprehensively and not terribly gracefully, climbed down a rock facing..

IMG_9894

…stopped at Edwards AFB to visit another Air Force buddy, IMG_0389

…contemplated WW2 at the Japanese Internment Camp in Manzanar, IMG_0364

and vowed to return to the Salton Sea on a day trip as we meandered along I-10.

I can still recall the heavy scent of orange blossoms as we parked our car at our rented condo.  There was a huge orange tree in a tiny grassed area to the right of the stairs.  IMG_110015 steps led us to our 2nd floor temporary home.  I remember that, too, because I counted them as Handsome Husband slowly ascended them.  He, who ordinarily carried all of our heavy stuff, carried a small pillow and our camera…all that he could manage and even that exhausted him.  I walked behind him in case he fell;  he was suddenly tired and frail.  It was left to me to trudge the remainder of our belongings up those stairs;  he couldn’t, and it broke his heart.  I could see the frustration in his eyes as he watched me.

Thus began our final almost 2 months together.  We thought his illness came from a systemic fungal infection.  We were wrong.  The fucking cancer had returned.

Why return to those times, you might ask?  Why submit myself to the pain of it again, by remembering, by writing about it yet one more time?

I don’t know that there is any good answer, except to say that it is my history.  It is our final history together and that matters to me.  There was so much uncertainty in those early days in the condo, but there was also a deepening of the love we had with and for each other.  Our sex life was a thing of the past and I distinctly remember thinking back to our beginning times when I told him that I  was so much in love with him that I wanted to be with him even if we could no longer make love…which was a strong statement from me, because our love life was passionate from the very beginning.  But the remembrance of that early thought was there in my mind, along with everything else that scrambled through it as he and I dealt with his ever-worsening health.

I need to remember these days and weeks as much right now as I need to breathe.  That time wasn’t all of our lives together by any means, but it was a defining moment in the hugest way possible.  Something was so very wrong, and we set our minds to deal with it as best we could, researching alternative methods of treatment and doing all we could, and loving each other intensely in spite of, because of, and no matter what.

In a meeting that only showed as horribly ironic much later, after his death, we met a woman in the hot tub the first time we ventured into it, who shared with us that she was newly widowed. We asked her gently about her circumstances, but didn’t speak too much about it later.  She was the one person we met while in California…the only person we met.  And she was a widow…

I write about that time, at this time, 3 years later, because the death of my husband was and is as much my life with him as our previous 23 years, and because, as traumatic as that time was, and as much as it echoes in me still, it was the time I said goodbye to a man who loomed so largely in my life because of how he loved me and how much he loved me and I will never forget it.

I write about these last times he and I had, to honor him and the valor and humor and love that he displayed, right up til the end, and to honor the love I, and our kids, and our friends, and his Air Force buddies, and his AA buddies, brought to that time, for him, and because of him.

I write about those last times because it was our last times together and I miss him unbearably and in a part of me that directs my blood to continue running through my body…I just can’t believe he’s gone…

It’s in the Numbers~

Handsome Husband  loved numbers.  He would compile our miles traveled, tally up the military bases and hotels  we’d stayed,  the National Monuments visited-he loved those numbers.  Me, not so much.  My tally of anything is vague, mainly because I get more satisfaction with the pictures those numbers represent.

Except.

We stayed in Arizona for 3 months last winter.  He started getting noticeably sick.

It took us 1 month to travel from Arizona to southern California.  During that time we hiked twice.  At Red Rocks National Park, outside Vegas, we hiked 1 mile back into the rocks to view the petroglyphs. It went okay but he was tired.  We also walked around Manzanar Relocation camp, in California.  We’d come upon it unexpectedly and I’d always wanted to visit there.  So we did.  He was okay for that, though he was getting very thin.

At Death Valley, we hiked 1 mile back to Natural Bridge Canyon.  We met some other hikers and thoroughly enjoyed it.

Handsome Husband hiked an hour’s hike up Dante’s Ridge at Death Valley.  He was thrilled.  Excited to be there.  I stayed down below and, in a moment of creativity, decorated my side of the car with flower stickers across the dashboard.

We danced for maybe 4 minutes alongside the road in Death Valley on our last night there, as we drove back to Furnace Creek Ranch.  To Chicago’s “You’re My Inspiration”.   He wasn’t sure he had the strength for it.   He did.  It was magical.  I loved his arms around me.  It was our last dance.

We stayed at 3 military bases between Arizona and Cathedral City, California.   When we arrived at the Marine lodging, we parked under the overhang so he could check in for us.   He had to step off to the side of the building where there were some bushes so that he could throw up.  The pain was that bad.  We thought it was the die-off from the systemic fungal infection.  It makes me want to throw up, remembering back.   Knowing how much he concealed from me.  I knew most of it, but not the degree.   And I want to rage against my frustration at the not-knowing.  How could I not know?  Except that he didn’t want me to know.  He didn’t want to acknowledge the severity even to himself.

There were 14 steps up to our condo in Cathedral City.  He was able to carry a pillow and our camera up those steps.  Separately.  I struggled to carry everything else.  He felt so helpless watching me.  He apologized continually.  I hugged him and said it didn’t matter.  It was okay.  We’re a team.

He made 4 trips to the Yay Institute 3 hours away, seeking treatment for what we thought was his systemic fungal infection.  On the first visit, after reading the computer readout, Dr Yay told him he was a very sick man.  But no x-rays were taken that would have revealed the solid tumor of his left lung.

He made 5 trips to the chiropractor we found in Cathedral City, for what we thought was a pinched nerve.  The chiropractor told him the left side of his back had seized up into a solid block.  We now know that was the fucking tumor.

We made 1 trip to the Eisenhower Medical Center ER in Rancho Mirage.  He had 1 tumor in his left lung that completely destroyed said lung.  He had a smaller tumor in his right lung that collapsed the bottom 1/3 of that lung, rendering it ineffective.

He had 1 huge tumor in his pelvis that blocked his bowels and caused horrible pain.

He had 2 very large tumors externally on the inside of his thighs.

The tumors that destroyed the rest of his body were uncountable.

He died on April 21 in the year 2013.  At 11:21 pm.

I’ve traveled almost 3000 miles since he died.

It’s been 4 months since he died.  That’s longer than we were at the condo in Cathedral City where he died.  Yes, he died.  He didn’t pass.  He didn’t cross over.  He died.  Those words are important to me.  They make it what it is and doesn’t gentle it up.

Numbers.   He would have tallied everything exactly.  I’m working with rough numbers through all of these specs.

What I know definitively is that my 1 life was forever changed by loving him, and being loved by him, for 24 years.  23 of those years we were married.  The full 24 years were years of passion and happiness for both of us.

What cannot be numbered are the times my 1 heart has shattered and shredded and died, only to start beating again so that it can repeat the process, each beat of that heart relentlessly pounding out my new dance  rhythm.  Gone. Gone. Gone.  IMG_0056