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…

 

The Rhythm of Memories~

 

Here is the deepest secret that nobody knows.  Here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud and the sky of the sky of a tree called life….

I don’t know why the rhythm of this particular poem rings so deeply in my heart, around so much of what this widow life is for me.  Chuck kept a copy of this poem in his wallet for years;  I’d printed it out many years ago to give to him, and I read that copy at his memorial service.  The rhythm and flow of the words, e.e. cumming’s lack of capitalization, this poem above all resounds through my heart continually.

The words of e.e. cummings fit my soul as I think of Chuck today.  I think of him every day.  I think of him every minute of every day and every second of every minute.  I think of his life and our life together and his death and how it was for me, how it was for him, as he lay dying, and what this life is without him.  What my world is like without him. These are the things I think about as I go about my daily life.  I’m looking at you and talking to you and working and doing and I’m present in that moment at the same time as I am fully present in the life I live with Chuck in my heart.  Before he died, ten thousand years ago and 10 nanoseconds ago, I thought that a person could only have one thought in their head at any given moment but I’ve found that to be untrue.  I consistently and continually have 2 thoughts, 2 lives, in my mind and heart at the same time.

Here is the deepest secret that everybody who reads anything I write knows.  Here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud and the sky of the sky of this tree called life…

 

I am still very much in Love with my husband.  I am still very much in Love with Chuck Dearing.  As much in Love with him now as when he was alive.  More, if such is possible, because I was very much in Love with him when he was alive, and I told him so daily and I showed him so daily, and now that he’s dead, he is the very rhythm of my life.

 

His absence has only made my heart grow more with Love for him.  Not in such a way that I’ve raised him to saint status, which is what many do when a loved one dies, but in a way of remembering him as he was, which was as a real man who walked on this earth and swept me off my feet for each of our 24 years together.  I don’t even have to dress him up…his life and his character and our Love speaks for itself.

I’m still very much in Love with my husband.  In Love with Chuck.  The only thing is about this is that…he’s dead.  I’m in Love with a dead man.

And I don’t believe that I will ever not be in Love with him.  How, after all, does one make oneself fall out of Love?

Distance isn’t enough.  People love over distance all the time; they have through the centuries.  Of course, this distance is incalculable, for I’ve no idea where Chuck is.  If he is.  Perhaps I’m in Love with a dead man who has no existence in any realm any longer.  I fully acknowledge this. And that is the fuck of widowhood.  Love with nowhere to go…

 

As these ten thousand years have passed, as each 10 nanoseconds pass in the here and now, I remember how he loved me, how I loved him.  I remember his calm spirit and his groan-worthy jokes.  I remember his dedication to the military and how glad he was to retire, having done his time.  His quiet rebellions that grew from holding his own counsel and just going about business in the way he knew he needed to do.  It’s easier to ask for forgiveness than permission, he told me many times, and that carried him through his military service.  I remember how he not only read the Big Book of AA but read what it all meant, and the history of it; he gave context to AA and the 12 Steps and Tradition, and living a life of sobriety.  Chuck lived his sobriety as honestly as he could, every day.  Not perfectly, but as well as he could, and he earned the respect of many because of it.

 

His promise wasn’t given lightly, and I could count on his promises being kept.  His promises were his word, given as a gentleman of old times would have given his word.  It was his honor, and he held true to it, whether that promise was made to me or one of our kids or a friend or anyone else. 

 

He would, as knights of bygone days of chivalry and honor, have given his life for me.  Sometimes, in my mind then, as he was living, and now, since his death, I picture the two of us strolling through shadowed hills of a glade, or the bare red rocks of the West, and, if this were times of old, he’d have my hand in his, and a sword in the other.  It is as if, when he took his marriage vows, he not only promised to care for and cherish me, but to protect me with his body and his strong arm.  And I can hear those who are less romantic minded, scoff at such imaginings, but here’s the thing that will make you secretly drool with jealousy…Chuck was that man.  I knew he would protect me with his life.  He was a lover and a warrior both, and I was the most fortunate of women to be his chosen.

 

His kisses melted my knees and left me desiring more.  He was the loveliest of slow dancers, holding me firmly against him and guiding me around the dance floor, smiling down at me, sometimes humming along (in a voice that was kind of always off).  He was the most passionate of lovers and I returned that passion in spades.  We were well suited to each other in our strength and passions.

He was all that I’d never dreamed to be possible.  Until it became possible one day when he knocked at the door of my mom’s house and I answered it, wearing my military issue ugly frame glasses and holding a book in hand with a finger marking my place.  He remembered that moment to me often over the years.

And now my lover, my warrior, is dead.  And I love him, am in love with him, no less now than when he breathed the air I now breathe alone.

If this is all that I will have for the remainder of my life…the memories of his kisses, his arms around me, his glances at me across a room, the feeling of swaying against him in a dance where only he and I existed…if all that I have forevermore is the memory of his body and mine twined together before sleeping…well, then, that is more than many, if not most, find, and I will be content in journeying back to those moments of ten thousand years ago, ten nanoseconds ago.

Memories don’t keep me warm at night, but oh, they are such memories and I hold them close. 

Yes, I’m still in Love.  It’s just that I’m in Love with a dead man. And my heart aches.

Ah, well, we must each have our quirks, I suppose.

And that is the root of the root and the bud of the bud and the sky of the sky of a tree called…my life….

 

When He Smiled at Me~

Sometimes it can be too painful, after a loved one dies, to look at pictures of them.   Not because we don’t want to see their faces and remember back, but because the very act of remembering back is a stark reminder that those times are gone, never to return.

That happens to me when I look at pictures of my beloved husband, Chuck.  It tears into me that those lovely, loving days of being loved by him, of being his special someone…those days are gone, never to return.

And yes, I’m so beyond grateful that I had those years with him.  But that has nothing to do with this grief at his death, or the daily missing-ness of him.

But, even so, I look at pictures of him.  Often.  Even as it causes daggers to my heart and tears choke me.

I look because I know he’s looking at me.

In most of the pictures I have of him, he’s smiling.  And I know that he’s looking directly at the camera…at me…the woman he loved, as I snapped a picture to preserve that particular memory.  So even as the tears come, I smile, because I know he’s looking directly at me, smiling at me with all the love in his heart showing in his eyes as they crinkle, and on his lips.  Sexy smiles, devilish smiles, smiles of love and joy, his eyes glinting at me, sharing secrets that we carried between us. Smiles that conveyed promises of passion and enjoyment for both of us, later on when we’d be alone. Smiles of love.  I half expect him to wink at me from those long ago moments…

I’m the recipient of that smile.  I was the recipient of his smile for 24 years and what a gift it is to me to know that little ol’ me brought such a smile to his face.

I love you, D.  Always.  Collage1Collage2

Grief…Preplanned. Ain’t it Precious?

“When my husband goes, I’m not going to hang on to my grief. I’m celebrating the time I had with him and the memories. Each and every person deals with it in his or her way, but I don’t think my husband would want me to be sad and carry that burden. I told my husband if I go before him, re-marry with my blessing and don’t spend time living in grief over my maybe departure. I would want him to be happy and not be bowed down with my passing. I would miss my husband, but I would not carry it on for years. he would want me to move on with my life and remember the times we had together. and not be grief stricken a long time. I would make friends and make the most out life. It would be sad, and I would feel it, but I would let myself heal.  I have a pink car and trailer but I’m letting it go for him when he’s here to help him money wise.”

This blog plopped directly in my lap, gifted to me by a woman who wrote the above comment in response to a picture I posted on one of my camping pages.  Mind you, the picture was one of me smiling, triumphant because I finally, 3 years later, completely emptied my storage unit, leaving me with what travels with me in my T@b trailer.   My mistake, obviously, was that I also mentioned that it was a significant accomplishment, not because of the stuff, but because it was a letting go of the future my husband and I planned together.

*note to self; never, EVER, mention grief to anyone, or my husband if at the same time as mentioning that he’s, you know, dead, and that makes me kind of sad and I miss him because people get the heebie-geebies when real emotions get expressed*

So here’s my response, and, yes, I get so many frickin’ points for diplomacy and efforts to educate, and, also, patience…

Dear woman whose husband isn’t dead yet but you’re smart so you’re pre-planning your emotional response to the time that he does become, you know…dead;

How precious that you know how you’ll respond to your husband’s death!  How further precious it is for you to be so far-sighted to plan for that certain event!  I see that you also covered the possibility that you might go first, leaving instructions for him to remarry (though you seem to allow him some small amount of time to grieve so that’s big of you).  Why, it just fills my heart with warmth as I’m assured that you want him to be happy and not bowed down by grief and that he’ll just..you know…get on with it.  As will you if he dies first.  There’s just nothing better than pre-planning an emotional response for which you have no real world experience, and it saddens me that I, and so many of my widowed brothers and sisters didn’t just tear a page out of your planning book!  Why, there’s no telling how great we could all be doing right now!

I, of course, had no idea that the secret to going through this grief was so simple and I thank you for enlightening me.  Who knew that instead of allowing this grief to take its’ course and allowing it space and being honest about it wasn’t the answer?  I’VE BEEN DOING IT ALL WRONG!  I see now that all I needed to do was celebrate the years we had together and resolve not to be sad and make friends!  It’s precious, I tell you!  Precious!  Because for all these 3 years of Chuck being, you know, dead, I’ve allowed myself to have the normal, natural reaction to the death of a man I loved more than life itself, and I’ve been thankful for and loved the years we had together but…fuck!  My mistake was that I’ve allowed those memories to break my heart because every time I remember, I also remember that those times are gone.  Well, just seriously FML!!  I’ve made hundreds of friends and connected with people all around the country but FUCK! none of them have replaced him in that place in my heart and that’s clearly my bad and a conscious wrong choice on my part.  WHEN will I ever learn, right?

I just don’t know WHY it doesn’t matter a tinker’s damn to me that Chuck wanted me to be happy after he died; a failing on my part, I acknowledge, and if he were here and insisted that he wanted me to be happy, I’d tell him IT JUST DOESN’T FRICKIN’ WORK THAT WAY and I’d be happy to go round and round with him that you just don’t tiptoe through the fucking tulips when shit like this happens.  I do know that I knew…know…my husband enough to say that he’d look at me like I was bat shit crazy that he wouldn’t know that and he’d understand completely that it takes the time it takes, but I’m so, so, SO, glad and happy for you that you’d carry on so easily and oh, I know!  Perhaps you could write a book about being a widow before you even become one and you could show those of us who are already widowed the RIGHT way to do widowhood and you could help other women and men pre-plan their emotional response to the death of their other half and you could get rich and be on Oprah and everything and that is also just so precious that I almost want to throw up in my mouth but I won’t because that wouldn’t be precious…

It’s just the silliest thing ever that I still feel sad and miss my husband and I just know you know that!  Why, 3 years is way too long to go on and on and carry on about him and what we had together and how much I miss that and, why, I won’t even mention what it’s like to no longer have passion and wild sex in my life with a man who was just as much in love with me as I was with him, just to name one thing that’s gone, because really, who cares about that stuff and it just isn’t proper, you know, to talk about such things!  And my goodness, it just doesn’t matter, does it, that the life I had with him in the present and the future we had planned just evaporated and poofed away and how on earth anyways is that grief-connected?  Apparently, you are so upset by my expression of my emotions that you don’t even see the smile of triumph on my face in that picture, or my celebration of this huge undertaking (do you see what I did there?  Undertaking…get it?  I wrote undertaking, which sounds like undertaker, the person who is, as you know, the one who takes dead people away.  Like my husband.  Who was dead.  Who is dead.)  Apparently you see it as no accomplishment at all that, hand in hand with my grief is a massive amount of love that gets me in my car every day to drive and drive and drive around this country, meeting and connecting with people, hugging and getting hugs.  That I do this even though it would be much easier to just lay down and die.  That every widow/er I know has the guts to get up every day and live WITH their fucking grief, and that we have the fucking guts to walk with each other through this foreign terrain and laugh and smile with each other and keep company with each other and give hope to each other when we don’t even know what the frickin’ word means…well, woman who knows how she’ll do this and dares to judge me for how I’m handling this fucking widow clusterfuck…I don’t know what to tell you about us except that we KNOW what this is like and we’re doing it and one of the ways we’re doing it is by talking and writing and making it as real to others as we can.

I do lament and commiserate with you that you are bowed down and, it seems, threatened by my grief, or any expression thereof.  It must be difficult for you to read how I’m handling it when you clearly know that all this emotion and sadness is so unnecessary because it’s all about just clicking on the happy switch and voila! No more grief…yay!

Just a friendly little note as you pre-plan your response to your husband’s death: 

I don’t care how strong you are, I don’t care how independent you are, I don’t care how sure you are….there is no planning this.  Whoever is left behind…it will feel as if you have been thrown onto a strange planet where no man or woman has ever walked before, and your feet will stumble into potholes and your heart will be wrenched from your body and you will see it on the ground in front of you being mashed into a bloody mess and guess what?  You can’t just flip a switch and make it go away, and years later, tears will still fill your soul and your eyes when you speak of the love that is now only in your heart and you will always miss his arms around you and his kiss on your lips and the surety that you, and only you, were special to someone special, once upon a time…

Or you might not.

Whatever. 

P. S.  Carry on…

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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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…

Holding on~

I’ve put off writing this blog as long as I possibly can this evening. Fiddled around on face book, pinned some pins to pinterest. Organized some of the pictures cluttering my desktop…

This blog must be written. Not for any other reason except that the words are burning in me and need to be gotten out of my system and onto paper. The idea of zoning out to a stupid show on my computer, with my glasses off as I nod into sleep and wake a few minutes later only to nod off again, is tempting, rather than acknowledging in words where I am right now, emotionally.

Honestly?  Emotions are roiling my insides and it feels like I’m swirling in the confusion of the days and months after Chuck’s death, dealing with memories and devastation anew. The reason for this is that today I underwent my first EMDR, which, for those of you who maybe unfamiliar with the therapy, has to do with the bilateral rhythms of the brain and reconstructing them.  Or something.  I can never remember the exact terminology but it has to do with reliving traumatic events while a trained therapist taps (in my case, on my knees) which somehow, (and even the trained brains don’t know exactly how or why it happens) causes a re-processing of said traumatic event, easing the level of distress and trauma.

All of which is to say this will hopefully help me break through the blockage that has me stuck in this godawful grief.

Isn’t it funny how conversations can start casually, and meander along for a few minutes, seemingly innocuously, and then suddenly BAM! you’re in the midst of this massive groundswell of emotional vomiting?  All my therapist did was mention about moving boxes of books this past weekend so she could de-clutter, and I mentioned how I’m an artist at living small now, since I live in my T@b, and then about how Chuck and I sold everything in Jersey and went on the road, which is where he died, when we were in southern California, and, well, there you go… all the stories and details of his final days in hospice and his death were spilling from me.

Which was good, insofar as I was suddenly talking about exactly what I needed to talk about, and she began her tapping.

Without fancy detail, here’s the gist of it:

Initially, before beginning tapping, the therapist wants to establish a safe place to which a client can return, if and when talking becomes too emotional. Trying to establish a safe place was, for me, a fail; I couldn’t come up with a safe place because, pretty much, there is no safe place for me since Chuck died. So we’ll revisit that next week.

I spoke of washing him after he died, and turning him over and seeing a hole the size of a quarter on the base of his spine, which allowed me to see inside of his body. The bed sore in the tumor had eaten his skin away.  And, yes, in response to the unseen person asking the question…yes, I needed to be the one to wash him after he died.  It was a final act of service to this man I loved so deeply, and I have no regrets.

I spoke of the night his daughter laid on his bed sobbing, with him begging her to tell him what was wrong, what had happened to her, while, in the hall outside, I held my sons back as they fell apart because it was their last night with their dad but they couldn’t go in with her there and she wouldn’t leave (and we didn’t feel we could barge in on whatever was going on).  When she finally came out, they only had a few hours left with him, and he fell asleep and they left in the morning and never saw him again.  Chuck told me the following morning what she’d told him and he was in tears (it was something pretty bad and he was in agony that he hadn’t been able to protect her).  When I remarked upon that information in the months after his death, she denied telling him any such thing.  For the first 2 years after he died, I’d wake from nightmares, my heart pounding and riddled with anxiety that she’d spoken to him of what she told me had actually happened to her.  (I don’t mean to sound mysterious but that part is her story, not mine).  It made me physically ill that he had to bear any of that on his death bed.

I spoke of my almost breakdown brought about by the horrific things said to me by her after he died, about how I’d agitated him, how he questioned my care and love of and for him, how he’d dated other women during our engagement;  horror, once again, brought about because, in my broken state I allowed her words to penetrate my brain and I actually questioned whether I’d even known the man I was in love with and who loved me.  And I spoke of the rage I felt at Chuck when I lifted the cover of his cardboard coffin prior to cremation.  Rage because he’d never said to her what needed to be said, enabling her to feel free to behave as she did and say the things to me that she did.  It horrified me to have rage be my last feeling for him before his body disappeared, when I’d never felt that emotion towards him in my 24 years with him.  I felt like I’d betrayed him.

These things I’ve carried with me and in me.  Rationally I know that he loved me and I loved him and I cared for him and made an impossible time as sacred and beautiful as I could for him and he knew it and loved me more for it.  In my heart, I’m carrying all the trauma from those 3 weeks when I went into auto pilot, (as we all do at such a time). Those 3 weeks where I was as present as could be to the best of my abilities as he and I said our goodbyes and my heart broke into pieces that were so huge and so small that they became invisible shards, but 3 weeks where I wasn’t really present at all to myself because I couldn’t bear what was happening.

My favorite military term that I learned from Chuck is the word clusterfuck. That’s what it was then, and that’s what it all feels like now. T ruthfully, it has never yet stopped feeling like a clusterfuck, and that’s what I’ll be addressing in the next few weeks as I continue the EMDR. I need to deal with the trauma of it, and then we’ll get to the grief.

In some ways, as emotionally exhausting as today was, as done in as I am at this moment, it is also kind of freeing to just fucking openly say You know what, world?  My husband’s death was traumatizing.  The months afterwards were equally traumatizing and I don’t know how I didn’t end up in the looney bin.  I don’t know how I’m even walking around.  I don’t know how I’m upright.  How on earth am I making any kind of sense when I speak?

But you know what, part 2?  In spite of the trauma, I’ve still gone out and done shit and I’ll continue to do shit even while I deal with this and maybe, maybe, maybe, this will make a difference for me, but even if it does, I know that this treatment isn’t about not missing him, not longing for him.  It’s about easing the trauma, and I’m not going to apologize to anyone for what remains after I work through this part.  I’m not going to pressure myself to be better, or feel happiness or joy or any damn thing because for me, life isn’t about such words.  Life is only about letting love be stronger than grief.  I’m going to get to the other side of this trauma, at least in part, by admitting that, yeah, the word trauma pretty well fits what it was and what it is and it’s actually liberating to hear someone identify it as that and speak that word openly to me and then work with me on the trauma itself and not worry about trying to make me feel better or dose me with medications or label me as insert label here.

Work on the trauma and that will free up the grief. It sounds simple and it kind of is simple to me.  I’m okay with going through it and reliving it because I know it has to be done.  The way to it has been presented to me, so it’s time to saddle up, right?

Isn’t it strange, though, when my first thought in approaching this therapy is the entirely unrealistic thought that, hey if I go through this trauma and get through it, and prove that I can do it, that I’m strong enough to get to the other side, then maybe my prize on the other side of it will be….Chuck.  It isn’t real to have that thought, I know, but somewhere deep inside of me….well, there you go.

Onwards and upwards. Onwards and upwards.

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

Becoming…

This almost sacred becoming, and how it happens…

I’ve spent the last 27 months on this Odyssey of Love for my dearest husband.  For the man who helped me become who I am so that I could go out and do this. For the man who loved me with strength and humor and dedication.  The man I loved in return.

I’ve gone to the 4 places he named for me.  He was setting me on his own version of P.S. I Love You.  Minus the actual letters/notes/gifts.  I haven’t had anyone handing me those letters, as happened in the movie, but I’ve had people show up along the road, people who had no idea who I was, what my story is, who might as well have given me those tangible messages.  Instead of that, Chuck sent me actual people to speak those messages to me.

Because this is how the messages are delivered to me, I know that I must continue on the road, finding those other places for scattering his cremains.  This Odyssey is the creative process for my new life without him.

What I haven’t yet done in these past couple years and few months is fully own my part in this Odyssey. I’ve attributed all that has happened to the love he left behind for me. And it’s true that is what drives me, but I need to get fully honest with this.

A writer from a glamping magazine recently wrote a blog about my Odyssey *you can find it at http://www.farmgirlbloggers.com/category/suburban_farmgirl*,  which I mention primarily because the article made me really look at myself through her eyes and shifted my perceptions for the first time.  It made me look more deeply into how skewed my perceptions of self are so vastly different from what the world seems to see.  And maybe that’s a good thing; it makes me feel stronger.

I saw what I think is the real me in that article and what I’ve done on this Odyssey for the first time, which I know can sound odd but is the truth.

So this is what I’m now acknowledging to myself:

My husband died and I took that devastation out on the road, when I was terrified to go out on the road alone but I was determined to carry out his final wishes and I bought a trailer even though I didn’t have a fucking clue what I was doing with that and I’d never camped and didn’t have a clue about that and I was worried about navigation and how hitch and unhitch and what if I got on the wrong road and had to back up holymotherofgod and how would I find my way and how would I see through the waterfall of tears and how would I know what to do and, ultimately, how would I live without him?

And I did it.  And I’m doing it.  And the love has fueled me, and continues to fuel me.  And even in the midst of that very early grief, I knew enough to paint my car pink and the trailer too because I knew grief is isolating and I didn’t know anyone on the road and it would draw people to me and fucking force me to not isolate and talk to people and share my story because telling the story is how you get through it and I contacted newspapers and news stations and magazines and joined camping/T@bbing/glamping/women who solo on the road, groups and shared my story with them all and I grabbed emails with names of people I didn’t know and said  I’m a widow and I want to write for your organization and now I am and I began writing my book and I connected with people all over the country and I talked and I talked and I continue to talk and reach out and I respond to emails from other widow/ers and sometimes veterans and people who are hoarders who want to not be hoarders any longer and how did I rid myself of my stuff they ask and not one damn bit of this happened by chance.

I’m going back out on the road this weekend, making my way to Texas, visiting friends and family along the way.  I’ve a long way to go in this Odyssey of Love yet.  Healing and the future and all that both of those words entail mean nothing to me and I’m not worried about either of them.  Honestly, I’m struggling a lot these days; the grief is overwhelming but that’s okay. I have this story and I have PinkMagic and I have the open road and these are the things that will create whatever needs to be created.

This is what I’m promising myself and what I want to say aloud to you, all of my dear friends/family/followers:

The next phase of this Odyssey of Love  is more sacred than ever before.  My heart must be ever more open so that I recognize where I need to scatter my beloved husband’s cremains.  This is on me now.  It requires honesty from me; I must truly own my strength that has been there since the night he died.  Yeah, it might sound overly dramatic to call this sacred but for anyone who knows of me and Chuck, and our love story and the story of our Happily Homeless travels and how it morphed into Happily Homeless is MoonStruck, you will know that no word can better describe it.

He and I had a love story.  That love made me stronger.  That love was…is…sacred in my life.  It is the blood that flows through my veins, it is the beat of my heart, it is the determination in my gut, it is what causes me to turn right or left with my pink car that tows my pink trailer.

This…this is holy to me.  And I don’t have to not feel the grief, not feel the devastation.  I don’t have to change anything in me, I don’t have to stop the tears, not feel torn in every direction, not feel desolate without him, not feel confused and dislocated..nothing.  All of that can, and will, come right along with me and I freely and openly own every bit of it, because this is my love story and I will live it forever because he was mine and I was his and that isn’t gone and it will never be gone and the world be damned if they get tired of hearing me talk about it because I haven’t even begun to tell this story.  The world needs real love stories to balance the cynicism and lack of belief and so, folks, here’s one for the ages.  Hear ye, hear ye…

This girl, who was loved by this man, who knew her better than she knew herself…this girl is on fire.  It’s a sacred fire that will take me in all directions and, if you’re lucky, you might be able to hear it in person.

Living up to what is on my T@b:  FWGFucking Warrior Goddess~ IMG_2607 IMG_2032