Love’s Guiding Force~

Today is the 21 anniversary of my brother Kysa’s death.  January 26, 1996.  Two decades plus one year.

I sat with him as he transitioned and was with him when he died.  It was the first time I’d ever been with anyone who died and it was a very physical process for him. None of it freaked me out, really, as much as it left me in awe and wonder.  What I was privileged to witness gave me a glimpse into what I believed was a world beyond ours; it was enough to leave me shaken for years as I strove to make sense of it and find a place for it in my life.

In the month before Kysa died, family and friends sent lengths of colorful cloth to wrap him in for cremation.  My brother-in-law made a sturdy and lovely oak body board for him.  We were all very hands on in his last hours, talking to him, moistening his chapped lips with ice cubes, wiping his brow, drumming softly with animal skin drums and fanning him with feathers.

I felt like a cheerleader as he died, quietly encouraging him to relax into what was happening.  Near the very end, as he choked and the death rattle took over, I found myself chanting go Kysa you’re almost there keep going as if I was cheering him to a finish line.  And indeed, that’s how it felt.  It felt like I walked right up to the veil between this world and the next and pulled it back aside and then stepped back, because this was his time, not mine.  And as I gazed upon his quiet body, relaxed against the sheets, I felt, of all things, pride.  Pride in him, that he’d won some invisible marathon and was now beyond the veil, hands triumphantly raised in the air.

We, all of our nearby family, went with him to be cremated.  We held a service over his body on the gurney, tucked flowers into his shroud, murmured blessings, quoted poems, and then stepped outside to give his widow her time with him. 792143_10152488276805441_1728747169_o

It was the most powerful moment of my life.

Until Chuck died.

What we did with Chuck in hospice, how we tended him and loved him, and the way we cared for him as he lay dying, the way we bathed him ourselves, and dressed him, then shrouded him with soft blankets…supported his body as they lifted him to the gurney to take him away, went with him to be cremated, covered him with flowers, tucked notes into his shroud…the Love that guided my finger to press the switch that opened the doors of the crematorium…the grace that held me up as I heard the loud swoosh of the flames…

I knew to do what I did for Chuck because we’d done it for my brother all those many years ago.  Because of Kysa I knew to challenge the narrow parameters of thinking that I might otherwise have had.  Our homage to my brother opened my heart to light and Love.  What I learned at his bedside in 1996 remained in my soul and as I watched my beloved husband die, as I gazed upon his still body after a death that was unbearable to witness, I knew that what I did and how I did it was only about Love, not about fear.  All that determined how I and our daughter and Chuck’s daughter did what we did was the law of Love.  Tending the body of my husband after death couldn’t be left to strangers, as careful as they might be.

In those moments after he died, I remembered Chuck’s words to his doctors after the many surgeries resulting from his first cancer a year and a half earlier.  His left arm and right thigh from knee to hip looked like hamburger from grafting of skin and blood vessels and muscle tissue.  The bandages required twice daily renewal and the dr. wished to set him up with a visiting nurse.  Chuck thanked him and refused, telling him that he was sure they’d do a good job but I would do better because you see, Dr. my wife loves me and that makes all the difference in the world.  Mind you, I’d never done such a thing before and was most definitely not a nurse.  But Chuck was right.  I loved him and it was a service I could do for him. Did for him. With Love. 043

Which is precisely how I felt when he went into hospice in April 2013 and died 3 weeks later.  I looked at the man I loved lying on that bed, his breath forever stilled and knew that no stranger could care for him in the same way I could.  And in my mind I saw him smile at me as I dipped a clean cloth in the warm, soapy water and began washing him, and then dressed him in street clothes again because I knew he hated the hospital gown and, finally, wrapped him in colorful blankets.  A week later I gently pressed the switch to open the doors to admit his body into the flames and turn his beloved body into ash. photo

My brother Kysa in 1996 and what I learned from being with him as he died empowered me to do the same, and more, with my beloved husband Chuck after his death, many years later.

Love gives me the power to do all that needs doing and it opens my heart to possibilities and deeds never imagined.  Love is all that matters.  collage

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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

The Art of Night~

Are the nights without you harder than the daylight hours and the crush of remembrances?  How does one measure the rhythms of the heart?  Is conscious awareness more difficult than sleep-induced memories?

It’s been 17 months since you suffocated to death.  17 months since the flames of cancer extinguished my life with you.  17 months since I lay down to sleep without you for the rest of my life.

In the months after your death, I struggled mightily with the trauma of your time in hospice.  I thought I’d created beautiful for you only to be told of the agony I’d brought to you.  In those months my heart fought desperately to know what my brain knew and now my brain battles my heart in the same way and in the darkness of the night thoughts seep in and wake me with pounding pulses.

The art of dying is a canvas on which is splattered the history of complicated and unresolved relationships and issues and so it was when you lay on that bed in a southern California hospice.  It isn’t about what I did or didn’t do; what creeps into my heart in the darkest hours of the night are agonies that have no answer.   My brain knows that thoughts of your own dying, medications, your body turning on itself as mini strokes and tumors devoured you-all these things caused flights of fancy and forgetfulness and you might have wondered where I was or had doubts about what was going on around you.  My anguish is that I didn’t know of your doubts and the one who knew said nothing to me, and you were left in confusion.  You were stung with a past that wasn’t yours and it followed you into your last breath.

Days are impossible for me as I navigate my way through grief.  Nights are unbearable as these memories hum in my unconscious and wake me reaching for you.  Your flag sits at the head of my bed and my fingers find it and I remember the warmth of your presence and my heart aches again.  I quickly monitor my thoughts because there is no purpose in painful memories.  My brain knows what I created for you.  My heart knows that you knew how passionately I loved you.  Your agony is over and you are at peace.  But as quickly as I insist on sleep again, these thoughts invade and the process begins again.

That you suffered needlessly sears me to my core.  It all played out as needed.  I get that.  And I’ve come to terms with so much of it.  But in the darkness, as I sleep, my mind wanders and my heart weeps and it all multiplies into racing pulse and accelerated heartbeat and adrenalin rushes into my blood and another night passes.

You are missing from me.

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Cancer Fucking Sucks

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(from Rachael)

I just learned that the mom of my two oldest friends (sisters that I have known since the fourth grade) has been diagnosed with lung cancer. I grew up with this family. Their parents were like a second set of parents to me. I was their “adopted” third kid. Summers were full of swimming in their backyard pool, almost nightly slumber parties, roller skating, fashion shows, climbing up into the rafters of their garage, dinners, walks and bike rides, waiting at the bus stop together…the list goes on. Needless to say you can imagine how heartbreaking this news was to hear. Tears have already started flowing- some for me, but mostly for this wonderful family.

Cancer is not a death sentence for everyone. And I obviously wish the very best for them. I also understand the realities of this diagnosis. Even if the treatments work and their mom gets a clean bill of health, it does not change the fact that right now, it’s fucking scary as hell. I know because even though my story did not come with a happy ending, I still remember how it all felt. And there is nothing I can do for them to make it go away. All I can do is show them the same love and support that they showed me and my family when we were living and grieving through my dad’s cancer.

Family and friends (humanity in general really) react differently to this kind of news. Naturally people want you to stay positive and strong. Of course they do. Most have the best of intentions with Hang in there!, If anyone can survive this, (fill in the blank) can!, Think positive thoughts!. That’s all well and good, but you know what else  you need to hear? That this really fucking sucks. It’s not about pity, it’s about allowing them to feel whatever they need to without everyone else telling them to buck up. You know what I say? Cry. Scream. Be scared. Be hopeful. Cry some more. Talk it out. Write it out. Be with it. Go for a run. Pray if you pray. Dance it out. Blast some music to help drown out all of the thoughts that may be running through your head. Do WHATEVER you need to and don’t have any judgement about it. Know that everything you are feeling is OK and NORMAL. And don’t apologize for it.

However this all turns out, I just want them to know that I am holding them all in my heart. I am wishing them all nothin’ but love. I will be an ear for listening if and when any of them may need or want one. And I am pulling for their mama with every fiber of my being.

I love you guys. *HUGS*

Love and the Lack of DNA~

Once upon a time, there was a man who was a single dad (of one) who fell in love with a woman who had 3 kids.  This is just a short vignette to tell you about him and another dad.  The first dad is known to you as Handsome Husband.  The other is our older son, Alec, sometimes known as Snads.

These two men shared so much in common.  They are proof positive that DNA actually can have little to do with, well, anything.   Technically, they had a step relationship.  Lots of people didn’t know that about Handsome Husband’s kids.  As far as he was concerned, my 3 were merely added to his 1 from his first marriage and all 4 of them were his.  He never spoke differently of them and, even at his memorial service last September, there were those who were surprised to find that out.

When Handsome Husband and I got married, he readily took my kids under his care.  Emotionally, financially, spiritually-in every way he became their dad.  He’d tell me that he’d always wanted a big family; he just never figured getting it the way that he did.  My ex chose not to be in his kids’ lives.  Early on, after Handsome Husband and I married, our daughter Rachael came to me, an emissary for her brothers, and, at age 6, asked me what they should call this new man in their lives?  Dad?  Chuck?  What did I think?  My response was you know what, Rachael?  You and your brothers can choose because all that matters is that you have as many people in your life to love you as possible.  What you call them isn’t important. Coddllage

They chose to call him dad.  He was their dad.  He had the toughest time with our older son, Alec.  The usual growing up stuff but Handsome Husband used to get so frustrated because he’d tell me that he’s the one most like me why is it so hard with him?  I could have told him that it’s exactly because he’s so much like you and just be patient and it will be okay.

Issues between Handsome Husband and his son Alec smoothed out years before his death.  Respect was strong between them.  During his dad’s hospice time, Alec spent a grueling 6 hours coaching him in taking one breath and then another when his breathing became completely compromised.   Alec brought his girlfriend to California and Handsome Husband was able to feel his grand-daughter -to-be move in the womb of her mother.  She was born two months after he died.

Upon his death, I saw our son Alec grow up overnight.  He’s had to struggle to maintain his right to be a dad, same as his dad had to struggle after his divorce.  Single dad parenting, when the dad really wants to be a dad, isn’t always an easy thing.  But Alec has his dad’s determination to not just be a babysitter but to truly be an involved parent.  He’s got a good example in front of him.

This is Alec’s first Father’s day.  He’s a single dad who revels in his daughter’s growth and who is the dad to her that his dad was to him.  His love for her is as deep as the love he learned from his dad.  He will teach his daughter to be of service to others.  He will teach her to expand her mind and her horizons and not be stopped by obstacles in her path.  He will teach her joy in family and he will tell her stories of his own dad, a man who opened his heart to 3 kids not of his blood and  who never stopped loving them.  She’ll probably roll her eyes at times, as Alec did when his dad told stories, but someday she’ll treasure those stories, as Alec does now.

Two men of two generations.  One made such a difference in the lives of his 4 kids.  The other is making a difference in the life of his one daughter.

Father’s day now connects them even more strongly.  I miss my husband.  They miss their dad.

Happy Father’s day to the man who was our patriarch.  And  happy Father’s day to the man he was proud to call his son~Collage

How I wear my grief.

ImageI wear my grief differently. It was a discussion my mom and I were having today. I mentioned how people are constantly asking me how she is doing, and basically how, well, I’m tired of it. It has nothing to do with not caring. It’s just that I feel people are looking for a response that I simply cannot give them. What they are looking for is hope. It’s understandable. They want her to be ok. Of course they do, so do I. Hell, she wants to be ok too. But guess what? She isn’t. Her husband is still dead, and her body screams at her in pain. There is a huge gaping hole in her heart, and it fucking hurts. 

And then it hit me. When was it that people stopped asking me about how I’m doing? I can’t really even recall. There are a few here and there who ask, but overall, it’s always, “How is your mom doing?” I don’t hold it against anyone, it just got me thinking, and here is the conclusion I have come to- I wear my grief differently. My mom is constantly posting, writing, and talking about her grief- every day, in some form or another. It’s out there. She tears up and falls apart more frequently. She doesn’t hold back. Compared to her, I appear to be ok. And on the surface, I am. I teach my classes, I socialize, I laugh and smile, I post positive and loving messages, I am outwardly excited to be heading out on the road for 6 months with my mom. For all intents and purposes, my life is “normal” again. Until it’s not. And it comes on sudden and unexpectedly. Triggers are what we call them, and they can be a real bitch. 

I think because I appear to be happy, most folks assume I have moved on (whatever that means). And that’s likely why they don’t ask. Now mind you, I don’t want people asking all the time, cause guess what? The answer is still the same. My grief is still very much present and a monumental part of who I am. It has taken me to a depth of compassion, understanding, love, and heartache that I never would have been able to comprehend without my experience. I just don’t wear it on my sleeve anymore. Neither way is better or worse, they are just different. My relationship with my dad was different than the one he shared with my mom. Obviously. Neither of us love him more, just differently. He was a part of her day to day. I haven’t had that since I lived at home. It’s easier for me to imagine he is still adventuring out on that great open road- that I just haven’t talked to him in awhile, but will soon. 

And then while driving home from a magical day in Sedona, AZ, my mom’s car slams into a deer (or rather, that ass of a deer slams into her car). Suddenly, in that moment, my world is turned upside down. I want my dad. I want him for me, but honestly even more, I want him for my mom. He was her person. I at least had mine waiting for me at home. Want to hear something even more strange? I have momentary guilt about that. It’s completely irrational, and intellectually I understand that. But my heart screams anyway and starts playing that fun game of the why’s and what if’s. “Why is it that I get to run into the safe, loving arms of my husband, but my mom doesn’t?” *meltdown*  “What if my mom had been killed? She is the only parent I have left.” *meltdown*  “What if I had been killed? How would my mom handle that?” *meltdown*  They come sporadically, but when they do they hit like a ton of bricks. Sobbing, loss of stability in my legs, nausea, hyperventilation….and I am never prepared.

Be assured, my grief is ever present, but settles in a way that isn’t so obvious- even to me at times. The one thing I do know is that this is all NORMAL. And that brings a weird sense of comfort.

 

 

Class dismissed.   

 

Allow me to introduce myself…

ImageMy name is Rachael. I am Alison’s daughter, or KamaHooptra, as most of you may know me. Handsome Husband (as most of you know him) was my dad. I miss him dearly- everyday. The stories of my parents travels, my dad’s time in hospice, and his death, have been told. You have all carried them/us in your love and support over the years. I was there when my dad died. Witnessing him take his last breath was the most horrific, sacred, and humbling experience of my life, thus far. I hated every moment and yet, wouldn’t change it for anything.

This is my first blog post since the Happily Homeless/MoonStruck blending, and it won’t be my last. My presence here will continue to grow stronger as it evolves. It didn’t start out this way. We were both happy going about our separate ways. My parents (well, my mom mostly- my dad really just wanted to be retired!) traveled about as Happily Homeless, documenting their adventures. MoonStruck was an idea that my mom and I started together, but I was the primary one behind the scenes. And as you all know by now, that has changed. Life had a plan of its own, so here we are- a couple of FWG’s learning how to maneuver through this vast new ocean.

In less than a month, I will join the rankings of Happily Homeless, but this time with a twist. I will take my place next to my mom in the newly restored Pink Magic, and we will hit the road together for 6 months (with the intention to not hit a deer again, or any other animal for that matter!). Most people hear about what we are doing and think it’s wonderful and amazing. Other people look at me like I have two heads- “I love my mom, but there is no way I could travel with her for that long!” “Your husband is going to let you be away for 6 months?” “You’re going to be offering what?” Here’s the thing- my mom and I are great friends. Like, the best. She was my maid-of-honor in my wedding. People who used to call our house often got us mixed up. My dad always swore that we were a couple of witches (in the best terms of course). We both love pink and glitter. We have the same sense of humor. We share clothes- minus pants, as I have a number of inches on her. We gossip and chat like two girlfriends who have known each other for lifetimes. So yes, we will be fine. As for the husband thing- my husband doesn’t “let” me do anything. We have a discussion, and come to an agreed upon decision. He knows if I really want to do something, I am going to do it- and vice versa. He has been wonderfully supportive of this venture from day one. Yes, it will be a challenge to spend so much time apart, but we will make it work because that’s just who we are. And finally, FWG workshops, blessing ways, and moon circles seem like a foreign concept to some, but to us they are things we feel driven to offer. They will connect us with (mostly) women across the country, and will continuing spreading our love story. We were given so much during our time in hospice and it is now our wish to give back.

This entire partnership as Happily Homeless and MoonStruck, and as mother and daughter, is a mission of love. It can’t NOT be. Our time together will be filled with laughter, tears, storytelling, dancing, grieving, magic making, and adventure. And it will absolutely extend beyond these upcoming 6 months together. I look forward to seeing how our relationship deepens. I look forward to seeing how my relationship with myself deepens. I am not the same woman I was before my father died. I can’t be. I now allow myself to sit in the shadows when I need, I love more fiercely, and I speak more freely. It is my desire to unfurl magic and light into the darkest corners of the universe. And I am more determined than ever to leave my mark of love on this planet.

Will you join me?