Dark Veil Included. Of Course~

My Odyssey of Love began almost 4 years ago.  Chuck died April 21, 2013, and 3 weeks later I loaded our belongings into our red Ford Escape, gently placed his cremains on the shotgun seat, the jacket from his BDU’s on the back of the seat, climbed into the driver seat and turned the ignition.

I’ve been on the road ever since and I’m just shy of 100,000 miles, having crisscrossed the country 8 times. Not bad for a chick who had no idea of how to tow a trailer, or camp.  Directions were never my strong suit, which has worked out well, because my only plan all along has been to head north, south, east or west. Once I learned to back up my rig, I lost all fear of getting lost and having to turn around and getting stuck because I didn’t know how to back up. Mostly, I’ve gone where my heart has led me to go.  In so doing, I’ve met hundreds upon hundreds of lovely and loving people who have reached out to me and I’ve given and received as many hugs. Love has been my compass. It will always be my compass.  My Odyssey of Love will always lead me.

Grief is isolating, something I well knew from my hospice training, so I set out to fight back against isolation.  I painted my rig pink to draw people to me. Telling one’s story is a necessary component of grief, and I’ve told my story to as many people as I’ve met along the way. Creating a new life for one’s self after being widowed means trying new things and I’ve pushed as many comfort zones and boundaries as come to mind and I say yes to most everything, endeavoring to find something that grabs me, hoping for something to make me care about life again.

So many times, I wish that I had the luxury of hiding under the covers.  I wish I’d had the time after Chuck died to do that.  To just grieve. To fall apart and have someone care for me while I fell apart. I’ve had moments, of course, and my kids have been so amazing as they’ve sat with me through those meltdowns.  But you have to stand back up again, right?  So, I did.

As I approach the 4-year mark of widowhood, as I consider mygodhowhasitbeen4fuckingyears, I marvel that I am alive at all.  How has a broken heart not killed me? The answer is, of course, that it isn’t as easy as it sounds.  I wish.

I consider, too, what I’ve learned in this time.  Nothing great, really.  I don’t value life more. I’m not more grateful. I have not become a better person; I’m pretty much the kind and loving person I was; just sadder and heavier feeling now. I’ve had no great epiphanies other than life can suck a great deal and, yep again, it isn’t as easy to die of a broken heart as I’d heard.  My life is not better for Chuck’s death; on the contrary, it’s quite a bit tougher financially, emotionally, and physically. 

I am amazed and taken aback at how I keep going. 

I’m also amazed and a bit dispirited at the realizations about the social aspects of widowhood that I didn’t know about before…because, well, I wasn’t widowed, you know.

Mostly, the people in my world have been supportive and I don’t know where I’d be without our kids. Yes, I do. I’d have driven into the desert and disappeared.  My support community is pretty awesome, fortunately.

Chuck and I had a conversation while in hospice, about what kind of widow I’d be.  Dark humor, you know. We talked the pros/cons of tragic widowhood, merry widowhood…but never about being a dark widow, the title that seems to have become mine simply because I’m not the happy, cheerful person I once was, and the world is very unforgiving of that.  Not that I chose the dark widow title; it sort of just became an awareness on my part that I have become that, and there is a degree of pariah-hood that comes along with the title.

Grief now, for me, is more personal than ever, in that it has gone deeper, no matter how much I’ve tried to keep it in the open, because who wants to hear about it constantly, right? Or even sometimes? Christalmighty, I’m tired of me.  But I’m in my body, so, yeah, and believe it or not, you can’t just flip a flipping switch to change grief, despite what the positive living gurus tell you.

Grief isn’t just sadness; it is everything else that goes with the death of your person.  It is your entire life, and it takes more than 4 years to recalibrate the obvious shit, never mind the hidden bugaboos and treacherous grenades that explode in your face without warning.

I get it, though.  I admit and acknowledge and understand that it’s tough to be around me and in my world.  I wonder if that’s why, in part, widows way back in medieval times entered convents. A life away from society at large…it’s tempting, actually.  No need to put on a happy damn face.  No need to talk, really. Just meditation and quiet.  I swear I could do that.

Here’s the thing. I know that everyone who loves me would love for me to be grief-free, pain free, happy go lucky, embracing the world, joyful, connected to life…call it what you will. Call it everything you want to call it.  Basically all the things I’m not. mea culpa mea culpa mea culpa, etc…

But I am so many other things. I’m determined, unafraid to challenge myself or accept challenges. For god fucking sake…I have gone out and done shit I couldn’t ever imagine doing in these 4 years and I’ve done it in fucking pink.  I haven’t let grief and trauma or sadness or fear stop me from anything. I’ve gone out and done 4 years of shit instead of burying myself under the covers.  Not because I didn’t want to bury myself, not because I’m running from this sadness, but because I knew that would be a downwards spiral for me. Instead, I’ve fucking done new shit left and right and up and down.

There are times when I want to scream to the world, to people in this world what the fucking fuck do you want from me?  I’d be proud to know me.  I know Chuck is proud of me, if he’s anywhere where that matters, and I’m not sure that he is, but, whatever. I’m a damn amazing role model for my daughter, for my sons, for my grandgirls. I’ve touched the lives of more people than I can count as I’ve driven this Odyssey.  I know because they write to me to tell me. They tell me that they tend their marriages more consciously because of what I write about the Love story Chuck and I shared. They tell me that I inspire them to suit up and show up, because that’s what I do everyday. They tell me that they’ve learned to live more simply, because of how I live. When the time comes that I finally die, I know I’ll leave behind a bigger legacy than many can own to. No, I’m not joyful, no, I don’t give a fucking damn about life. Yes, I’m sad, yes, I find life overwhelmingly lonely at all times, yes, life sucks without Chuck and that has only intensified in this time since his death. But so fucking what, right?  It hasn’t stopped me, it doesn’t stop me, and that’s what matters.

Godalmighty, world, just fucking accept me as I am, for who I am: a woman who does shit even as I’m weighed down with missing my husband.

The fucking dark widow, if you will.  *Dramatic black veil available upon request.*

 

Marriage on the road, not the rocks~

We get the same question.  A lot.  “How do you manage being together all the time?  Doesn’t that get you crazy?  What about alone time?  I could never do that!

Interestingly enough, most of these questions/comments, come from my women friends.  Do guys have similar thoughts?  No clue!  (Please let me know here if you do and I’ll write a blog and give you credit)!

Handsome Husband and I just celebrated our 23rd wedding anniversary-our 4th on the road as Happily Homeless, and, yes, we’re still happy, still together, still planning on staying together.  Anyone who’s been married for more than a couple of years knows that its tough enough when you’re sharing a house with someone, no matter how much you love them.  Amplify that to the confines of a car and then talk to me about tough…

We travel in a Ford Escape, which is the smaller of their SUVs.  There is a console in the middle between the two front seats.  That’s about it for space while we’re on the road.  But we’ve learned to have our own space even within this.  Sometimes its a beautiful, comfortable space, listening to music, chilling out, staring dreamily out the window at incredible sights.  Sometimes, if we’ve had a disagreement or outright fight…not so much!

Our marriage is a strong one.  Started out that way, and grown stronger.  That’s good.  But that doesn’t meant that we get along perfectly, by any means.   There are times when I need to vent over a particular issue, times when I need to share something not with Handsome Husband, but because of Handsome Husband.

Before retirement, Handsome Husband was Air Force and then, civil service.  He was a long-range planner, he was a safety  manager for his unit,  he worked with numbers (not accounting but in tail number scheduling for the C-141’s and other planes).  It took attention to detail, focus, and, as a safety officer, thinking through a sh*tload of  “what if” scenarios.  And he was really, really good at what he did.  All praise for him and all that.

Does it sound like I’ve digressed from my original writing intent?  Pay attention, because I haven’t, not in the least.  I’m merely giving you some background as to how we aren’t perfect but still manage to stay married (happily) even though we are mainly only a few feet away from one another at any given moment.  For nearly 4 years.  That’s F-O-U-R.

For instance, regarding detail.  I just told him what I was writing here, and the whole safety thing.  And he pointed out how he wasn’t a safety officer, which is how I’d originally described it.  He doesn’t want anyone to think that he was a military officer.  He was an NCO (non-commissioned officer).  But, as he just explained further, he wasn’t just an NCO, he was a Senior NCO.  And then said I need to explain what an NCO is, for non-military folks.  See what I mean?  Attention to detail.  Me?  Not so much.  The point is, he did a bunch of what if scenarios, and, while I am fairly cognizant of surroundings, my safety issues, etc, it isn’t anywhere near where he goes with it.  (BTW, an NCO is an enlisted person of higher rank who does all the work for the officers, without any of the credit.  That’s my definition, not his, which would be more technical, but you get my drift).

Now I have lost my point.  Wait a minute.  Hang on….marriage….relationships…anniversaries…lack of space…being together 24/7…..oh, got it!

We’ve had our times when it hasn’t gone smoothly.  Handsome Husband doesn’t mind me sharing with the world at large (because I’m that sure that I have that many followers!) about our decision that he would do all the driving.  It’s a good thing, I suppose, that we didn’t have our huge “Happily Homeless” decal on the back of our car early on, leaving us un-identifiable when the Ford Escape suddenly veered to the side of the road while driving through Vermont our first year of travel.  Close upon that veering was the sight of Handsome Husband slamming out of the driver’s side of the car and taking off down the road in the opposite direction.  Where was I, you might well ask?  In the passenger’s seat, fuming.  I don’t even recall exactly what we’d fought about.  Something having to do with my driving earlier in the day, which he’d criticized, followed by silence for a few hours after he took the wheel, followed by me making some comment, followed by him slamming out of the car. (For the record, I’ve only ever had 1 (that’s O-N-E, ticket, when I was 17-year-old.  Ask him how many he’s gotten).  Anyways.

He kept walking.  I kept sitting.  He disappeared from view.  I sat.  And fumed.  And considered driving away leaving him there.  Especially after an hour or so had passed.  He’ll refute that a few hours passed.  I stick to my guns because, believe me, I was watching the clock.  I was pissed, I was scared for him, and I was pissed.  Until mainly I was pissed, and seriously contemplating driving off into the horizon.

He eventually returned.  Somehow that moment was resolved.  (How is it that we seldom remember such life-changing moments)?  Anyhoo, I think we actually verbalized aloud that he would do all the driving from there on into the future.  And, other than when he had cancer, and the surgeries on his arm, briefly incapacitating him, we’ve stuck to that.  On some days I think, wow, if we’re going to continue traveling for the next 20 years, that’s an awful lot of driving!  And then I think, hey, he wants to drive, let him drive.  I’ll go along for the ride!

This is one small sample of how we’ve managed all these years.  Which is to say, I don’t really know how we’ve managed.  He’ll be the first to tell you that he doesn’t know how I put up with him at times, and on certain days, I’ll agree with him.  He is a self-admitted obsessive/compulsive, and yes, that drives me nuts at times.  The only thing I can point to that we share in common are our basic morals and concepts of life.  Because, personality-wise, we are polar opposites.   He does detail.  I don’t.  He speaks pretty literally.  I speak in generalities.  He makes a plan and sticks to it (and I most often agree with his plans, knowing that when he makes plans, he’s always keeping me in mind).  But, me- even though I’m agreeing with his plans, my idea of sticking to plans means oh, let’s go off on that pathway, or, oh, look!  we should check that out!

(He just now told me that he’s going to start blogging someday so that he’ll have equal time with the story-telling.  Of course I realize that he must have his list of  “What Alison does that annoys the hell out of me”.   And if and when he does write, I’ll read it and laugh because he’ll probably be correct).

The only possible reason we’ve managed this long on the road is because we deeply love one another and are still very much in love with one another.  It gets tough sometimes, absolutely.  Its been difficult for him to deal with the cancer, and the results of treatments, its been hard for me to see him struggling, and I hate that our lives have been so impacted with illness.  The thing is, as I remind myself through all of it-you gotta laugh.   Me and Handsome Husband?  We’re all of you, figuring life out, figuring relationships out.  It’s just that we’re doing it in a really, really,  small space.

So, I say to us-happy 23 wedding anniversary to my favorite Handsome Husband, and I hope we’ll have many, many more years on the road, celebrating life together!1e4f9ab5a3775c7973ad40f0d949e755