Unknowing the Known…Not~

I stare into the distance of everything and nothing many times during a day’s measure,
And, as I stare, I see everything and I see nothing
I feel everything so much that I feel nothing.
Pain and grief have morphed into emptiness
Which is funny and humorous except not
Because my life is incredibly full
With family, with new friends and old
Driving new roads and old roads, literally.
Continual adventures
In all directions.
How can a life so full feel so empty?
How can it feel so heavy?
Why is it so exhausting?
How do I change it from that to something different and not as heavy or empty?
Is this just part of the package resulting from the death of a beloved?
Just as we can’t know something until we know it…
So, too, we can’t unknow something that we know into the marrow of our bones.
I guess. I suppose. I don’t know.
I would give all that I am to unknow what I most regretfully now know and will never not know…

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This Baseline~

It’s a constant dichotomy, this life without Chuck.

The promise (if that is the right way to describe it) that we all hear, after going through a death or traumatic event (sometimes they are one and the same), is about finding that new normal.

This so-called new normal of mine, since April 21, 2013, is a life lived without Chuck.  Which is emotionally and physically exhausting, no matter which way I try to navigate it.  Practical, day to day, living, is a crap shoot.  Emotions…well, life has to be lived, and shit has to get done, so I can’t lie abed all day, I can’t curl up in a fetal position in the corner, so I have to get up and do the living thing.

In these 3 years and 4 months since Chuck died, I’ve been laying a foundation for the next part of my life;  I’ve been writing my first book and putting together my first public presentation on this Odyssey of Love, and thinking. thinking, thinking, constantly, and working every day, creating workshops, networking, reaching out in every way I can to those around me.

And I’m tired.  Bone  tired.  Soul tired.  Exhausted.  Today I realized that my body is strung as tightly as a rubber band right before it snaps.  My nerves are humming along the surface of my skin.  My heart is racing.  I must consciously remind myself to take a breath.  There is a consistent, low-grade itching all over my body.  My mind feels as tightly wound as my body and all I want to do is run shrieking into whatever oblivion I can find.

I can’t do this anymore.  And yet, this is what I have, what I am, where I am, so I must.

So I use my homeopathic remedies for grief and trauma.  Star of Bethlehem.  Ignatia Amara.  Rescue Remedy.  Relaxation essential oil on my pulse points and in a mister that shoots the scent into this room where I sit.

What do you do when you can’t stand the silence and the alone-ness and the missing-ness any longer, but you have to stand it because this is it?  This is life now, simply stated.  Chuck will always be dead, for the rest of my life.

In order to create this part of my life that will bring me into a semblance of financial security, I have to project, in some measure, into the future.  A future I don’t want to consider because it is a future without him.  But I have to consider that future, practically thinking, no matter what I feel at any given moment.

Doing so hitches my breath and causes anxiety to rise in frantic measures to every nerve ending.  It is as if flood waters are pouring through a breached wall.

I allow some of this to happen;  I know the futility of trying to hold it back.  But, at the same time, how much do I allow and how much control do I have with it and over it?

Rhetorical questions, all.   I do what I can to manage it all, but I know it’s a temporary fix.  I’ve done counseling, one on one, and in a group.  I’ve gone through various trauma modalities, and they have made a difference.  But none of it can remove what this new normal is, what it will be for the time I have left living;  Chuck is dead and life without him is empty.

And, honestly, none of this is a plea for sympathy.   I’ll still do whatever needs to be done to create some semblance of a life for the rest of my life.  Nor is this a pity party.  It is, simply, an acknowledgement from me that this life of widowhood is the most difficult, unbearable, impossible, thing I’ve ever tried to do and my heart hurts.  Desperately.

I miss my husband.  I miss Chuck.  The space next to me, where he stood for 24 years, is empty.  And I cannot convey to you in any real way what it feels like, what this life feels like, without him.  It is silence and it is loneliness and it is emptiness, no matter how I strive to change it or accept it or balance it.  It is as if I’m blindly throwing darts at an unseen dart board, with no idea of where or how they land.

That’s all.

 

 

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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The Pulse Beat of Love Over Everything Else…

I have to remind myself, as many of us do, I expect, that this widowhood is, as I learned in AA, a matter of progress, not perfection. Because I, for one, consistently seem to expect more of myself than is realistic. By which I mean, I continually scan my body and mind and heart to see where I am in this grief and why I’m not further along, even as my mind tells me to stop such nonsense and lays out all the reasons why I need to stop such nonsense.

Still it continues. But I’m getting better at just letting it be and not gauging my grief by anyone else’s grief.

So…progress, not perfection.

In the months after Chuck died, I remember writing on my personal blog about an issue that arose in terrible ugliness while he was in hospice. Without getting into gory detail (because family issues are rife at such a time for many of us, I know), what I’ll tell you is that in the 2nd week of our hospice time, which was the week before he died, I was told by his daughter that he’d asked her to be his medical advocate. Instead of me.

Because my career was in hospice, death/dying/grief were fairly regular topics at our dinner table. Chuck and I had done all the paperwork of wills, advanced directives, etc. I’d written particulars down on a piece of paper so that I’d have an easy reference sheet.

Once he and I went on the road, and most especially after his first cancer, he and I spoke even more frequently about such matters, clarifying our individual wishes. I was as clear on his wishes and desires as he was with mine.

The day previous to being informed of this matter, he and I made a personal pact: whatever he needed, I had his back. I recall him holding up his pinky finger (which he’d never, ever, done), indicating for me to do the same, wrapping mine with his in pinky swear. I promised that I would have his back and kick ass and take names as needed. It was intensely emotional.

And then the next day I was told what I was told. And, no, as implausible as it sounds, I never questioned him about it. I believed that, if I did, it would further agitate him because he’d feel caught between me and his daughter and I would not, would not, would not, add to his agitation.

There were many comments and actions in his hospice time and the weeks and months after his death that pretty much sent me over the edge, and, though I don’t wish to be overly dramatic about it, the added trauma seeped into my bones and marrow.

What I recognized even amidst the devastation of this conversation with her was that my husband had needs to be met in regards to his daughter and it was my responsibility as his wife, as the woman who loved him, to ensure they be met to the best of my ability. It wasn’t necessary for him to articulate those needs to me; after 24 years together, my instincts regarding Chuck were sound….so I stepped aside, I stepped back, and gave space to his daughter.

Now, lest you start crowning me with halos, let me quickly disabuse any notion of saintliness or such nonsense on my part. I struggled every day and night with the decision I made to step back and was talked through it every day and night by my sister, who called me daily.

However, because I’m not a fucking saint, stepping aside as I did, though done with and for love for him, also raised in me a sense of helplessness and rage…and rage while in the insanity of grief is what I felt when I lifted the cover of the box he was in for his cremation and it horrified me that this was my last feeling for him, when I’d never in all of our years together felt such an emotion towards him.

Today’s EMDR therapy took me into the depths of that rage and helped me delve more deeply into the layers of it. I realized that Chuck’s supposed request of her to serve as his medical advocate made me feel betrayed; clearly he must have thought me to be weak and incompetent and incapable of handling his illness.

The reality is that I don’t know what he said to her, if anything, and whatever he said, she heard what she needed to hear and ran with it, due to her own issues and agenda. Chuck and I were square on everything and I suppose, as I think of it, that’s a good part of why I was able to step aside, even as I craved more time with him.

The biggest revelation for me today was this: in our hospice time I loved him even more perfectly than I’d ever loved him. Even as the cancer consumed his body, I made his final few weeks about life and living for him. I encouraged his Air Force buddies from around the country to visit him and made sure he had alone time with them. I encouraged numerous of the men he’d sponsored in AA to come from Jersey to California to bring him meetings and meet one on one with him for final sponsorship and so that he could say his final goodbyes to them, and that very important aspect of his life.

I advocated for him every minute of every one of those days and I made it all about the love he’d brought to so many and most especially to me. And he died knowing how much he was loved.

Death is, in the simplest of circumstances, I believe, traumatic for those who witness it, who bear the grief of it afterwards. Which is not to say we ought not to witness it; I’d do every big and small thing again and again. But memories and words and anger and pain from emotion-wrought times seep into the marrow of our bones and become trauma and it gets carried through our bodies and into our hearts and minds, even as grief swirls around and through us.

If Chuck were here, he and I would have a conversation about what happened and he’d clarify to me what he said to his daughter and we’d work our way through it, as we worked our way through all issues. Ultimately, he would tell me how proud of me he was for what I did and how I did it, and he’d thank me and tell me how much more he loves me, even now. That is the man he was to me for 24 years and that didn’t change in hospice. He spoke highly of me to his friends and co-workers through all of the years of our marriage; his pride in me and his love for me, shone brightly, always.

Grief is indeed a matter of progress, not perfection. We put our own pressures on ourselves even before the world does, to be more, to be better, to be different. Trauma sets into our bones and we may not even be aware how it simmers into that progress and chokes it until it chokes us so that we can’t breathe.

There is a sense of relief in me after today’s therapy. Perhaps as I consider the revelations of this consciousness, the tide of trauma will wash out to sea and the soft lapping of the love he left behind for me will become my pulse beat.

This man I loved more than my own life…he left so much love behind for me. How I miss him with every pulse beat. But maybe now, as I allow the trauma to wash through me and out of me, this grief will have cleaner lines to it.

Maybe this is where the twin sides of simple grief and love can now dwell…with love becoming the stronger and mightier of the two…10685434_807833169271619_169846425441466326_n

On Being Cherished…and Kissed~

I was cherished in this life.

Cherished by a man who determined, from the time of meeting, that I was the one for him.

Cherished by a man who set out to show that love to me each and every day of our lives together, in word and deed.

This is the time, 3 years ago, that my beloved husband, Chuck, and I, began, so very unknowingly, our final 2 months together. If possible, as our world narrowed into physical pain and emotional trauma, our love expanded and deepened.

I was cherished in our healthy years, and in our cancer times.  No matter what, Chuck sought to love me even as his brow furrowed in distress and discomfort.

Oh, how he cherished me.  And, oh, how I remember his kisses upon my lips, on the top of my head, and on my hand as he’d take it in his as we finished dancing, and raise it to his lips, as a gentleman of old would have done.

His kisses rained down upon me on every occasion.  I recall reading a book about relationships early in our marriage, suggesting that a couple kiss consciously, rather than, say, a quick peck on the cheek.  I mentioned that little fact to him and he put it into practice immediately.  Our kisses at the door, as he left for work, or at the door, when he arrived home, lingered for up to a minute.  Sometimes we’d tease each other if we left the kiss too soon, so we’d start all over again.

He kissed me under the full moon as we sat on the curb in New Hampshire, our first weekend away together.

He kissed me under a full moon as we gazed at it in New Jersey, when I rented my first apartment after living with my mom post-divorce, and we stood on the balcony, savoring the pure contentedness of having our own space.

He kissed me again under that full moon in Indiana when we visited his folks, and he came to get me, grabbing my hand, wanting me to share the brightness and beauty of that full moon with him from their front porch.

He kissed me, every time he kissed me, with passion, with so much love, with possessiveness, with happiness, with pure pleasure…and I kissed him back with the same fire.  His hand behind my neck, or cupping my chin in his hands, pulling me to him…sometimes stooping down a bit, as he was taller than I, but just as much I loved to stand on tiptoe and put my arms around his neck and feel his arms around me, holding me closely and tightly…

In those final weeks before making our wild and unplanned for trip to the ER in southern California, something in the depths of my heart murmured to me and said remember this and after we kissed I’d stand on tiptoe again, leaning in close to where his neck and shoulders joined and I’d inhale deeply.  He noticed, of course, and asked me about it and I said to him I’m memorizing you…  He smiled, figuring I’d picked up another tidbit from another book.

We kissed in the hospital, and in hospice.  It was I, then, who would lean down to him, in the hospital bed, or at the mirror in the bathroom as he studied his image, wondering, I’m sure, what the fuck had happened to his face and body. I’d see that look and I’d turn him to me and take his face between my two hands and say you’re still my knight in shining armor you’re still the handsomest man I’ve ever met

I leaned down to kiss him when he could no longer kiss me because his spirit was no longer in his body.  In that kiss that I pressed upon the lips of this man I loved more than my own breath was the love of 24 years and every full moon we’d gazed upon, and every dance we’d ever danced and every piece of my heart and soul.

That last kiss held all of the honor he’d given me, and all that I’d returned to him in our living love story. In that last kiss was our beginning, all of our wonderful in-betweens, and our end…

My dearest, my most beloved husband…Chuck Dearing…

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7 Years of January 7~

Facebook timelines and grief and reflection. Much of grief is about meaning making, about looking back, trying to make sense of stuff that really doesn’t make sense but striving to anyways.

Timeline on fb is a sure way to show us all how quickly life changes:

On January 7, 2009, Handsome Husband and I signed the papers that put our house in Jersey on the market.

srj traveling

Handsome Husband

We wanted to sell everything and go on the road and adventure together. Which is what we did, and loved it. He was “time wealthy” he told people.

 

On January 7, 2010 he and I were on the road as Happily Homeless, IMG_2784and back in New England, celebrating the holidays with our kids and grands.

 

On January 7, 2011, Handsome Husband underwent a 4 hour surgery to biopsy a tumor that, in the space of 4 months, had grown from the size of a bb pellet to the size of a grapefruit. His oncologist was so concerned that he personally walked it down to the lab for immediate results. It ended up taking a couple weeks to determine the type of cancer and all the details. It was a peripheral nerve sheath tumor, on the inside of his left wrist.  189597_1650969277272_3069653_nIt was incredibly aggressive and very rare. Our travels stopped short as we dealt with what would end up being 5 major surgeries. I remember well how, hearing his oncologist say the word “cancer” took my breath away.

On January 7, 2012, with the primary, 12 hour surgery to remove “Wilson” as I called it (the tumor was so huge it needed its’ own zip code and I thought naming it might remove some of the fear), he and I were back out on the road, and in Destin, FL, sitting on the crystal white sands, absorbing the warmth of the sun.  403752_280915965296678_1988399988_n

On January 7, 2013, Handsome Husband and I were on our way west from Arizona, after spending the holidays with a couple of our kids. He’d been ill over the winter months, with what we thought was a systemic fungal infection. We did what we could to treat it IMG_9385homeopathically, as he wasn’t getting any satisfaction from allopathic doctors.

All told, we had just shy of 4 years on the road together, as Happily Homeless. downsized_0813121702

On January 7, 2014, I was a widow, and had begun my Odyssey of Love for him, scattering his cremains at our favorite places.  I’d only been on the road for roughly a month, and was at Sigsbee NAS, in Key West, FL. Our youngest son, Fireman Nick, accompanied me from Connecticut to Florida, to help me scatter Chuck’s cremains at the first spot: the Dry Tortugas, off of Key West.

On January 7, 2015, I was in Arizona, visiting a couple of our kids, before continuing my Odyssey of Love. A 6 month long road trip with my daughter was already in the planning stages and would culminate in a cross-country trek as she and I honored my husband/her dad, scattering his cremains at his and my favorite places.  fueledbymagic.jpg

January 7, 2016…here I am, in Arizona, trying to get my shit together, knowing I need to return to the road.

Life bounces us around gently sometimes. Other times it’s a blood-curdling, holding on by fingernails type of ride. It can rock us slowly, then abruptly turn us upside down and spin us at the same time.

4 years on the road with him.  Almost 3 years on the road without him, making it work somehow, when I didn’t know how to do one day without him. But I bygod have made it work, however messy it might look.

Love is the only thing, as far as I know, that makes it all make sense~ Collage

This Odyssey-and Magical People~

They seek me out.  I’ve no need to find a psychic or a medium and pay for them to fish in my life in order to give me reassurances about Handsome Husband or what I’m doing.  Not that I’ve ever been tempted; I’m actually kind of suspicious of anyone who receives payment in return for telling us about our loved ones.  Not that I have a problem with the entrepreneurial spirit at all-it’s just that in the case of psychics, I always figure that they’re very good with reading people and cast out such generalities that someone in the audience is bound to connect.

Here’s the thing.  Since I began this Odyssey of Love, following Handsome Husband’s death, there have been people I would term either intuitives, or actual angels (sometimes), who have sought me out, and the things they tell me leave me, most often, breathless with their accuracy.

My daughter and I are in Key West and while wandering Duval St yesterday, we chanced upon a shop and entered on a whim to browse.  She quickly found a few articles of clothing that are perfect for hooping and went to the dressing room while I continued to check the racks.  The proprietor, (Leslie by name, as we discovered), had been very friendly, bidding us hello as we came into her shop.  But nothing more, really.

Until.

As I moved hangars around on the rack, Leslie, who was standing not far from me, looked over at me and said You’ve been through a devastating change recently, haven’t you?  I was startled and didn’t reply immediately and she went on to say  You know you’re okay, don’t you?  Even though you don’t feel as if you are.  You’re okay.  And whatever it is that you’re doing, you need to continue doing it.  You’re on the right path.

She spoke to me for maybe another 20 minutes and I said nothing.  Really there was nothing for me to say;  I was just trying to take it all in.  At one point I almost reached for Rae’s hand to steady myself because there was a buzzing sound in my ears and I was actually seeing stars dance in front of my eyes.  Ultimately, I told her of my husband’s death and my Odyssey of Love and showed her a picture of my rig.  She was more than ever convinced of her message to me.   She told me (paraphrasing) that she had become aware of the energy around me when I entered her shop and felt compelled to speak to me and tell me what she did.  We left the store after an hour, with my head still reeling.  I didn’t seek her out.  I solicited nothing.  No money exchanged hands.  I’d never seen her before.

Last year as I made my way along the FL Gulf coast, as I took a break from driving at a Target store, an employee in the women’s section complimented me on my pink shirt and this led into a discussion of the color pink and my rig, etc.  We weren’t too far into the conversation when she took both my hands in hers and very earnestly said to me I have the ability to see things, and I want you to know that you are surrounded by angels.  They are all around you.

I’ve already written of the woman I met in NJ last year who, having no knowledge of my life, of Handsome Husband (other than to know that he had died and we’d traveled together), took my hands and looked directly into my eyes and said He wants me to tell you that he wouldn’t leave you without a road map.  And many other things that were…well…true.

I don’t know what to think about any of this, except to say that, as Handsome Husband was in hospice, I knew that something big was going on.  Not just his death, as huge as that was, and is.  But something bigger than his death and the grief that ran with it.  I termed it as something magical because I didn’t know what other word to use.

All I know, since he died, all I believe in, is that he and I were very much in love and I have to believe that the love is still present and that is what fuels me each and every day as I drive this Odyssey for him.  Meeting the people I have, being approached by messengers, the affirmations I receive from them, the messages they deliver to me, at no prompting from me…that is the magic and I can’t explain it but I know, I know, and I know, that I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing.  I don’t have much money and I wonder if I should fret and worry about it running out, as it will soon, and I’m new to this full-time trailer life-style, and there is so much that could freak me out.  And yet, it doesn’t.  I don’t know why;  I’ve always worried about money.  Always.  Except now.  Not because I think money will magically appear in front of me, but because I know that this Odyssey is exactly what I’m supposed to be doing and it will be okay somehow.

Our younger son, Fireman Nick, when I told him about yesterday, said to me, Ma, Pop said he wouldn’t leave you without a road map and he never broke his word.

This type of thing never happened to me prior to Handsome Husband’s death.  Never.  But even I can’t ignore that, in this Odyssey of Love, magic is very much afoot.  Somehow.

Love.  Grief.  Magic.  The open road…to what?

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