Memories and Remembering and Love~

Chuck never wanted to be one those people who retire and die the next day or the next week.  He wanted time to enjoy his life without work, time to relish waking up together and lingering abed. Time to travel and be with each other and grow our marriage even more.

In April 2009 he sent an email to me at home.  This is what it said.  And this was my response….IMG_2851.pngWe put the house on the market, sold or gave away most of our belongings, and packed everything else into a U-Haul truck to put into storage for future use.  We’d need some shit to start up again, right, when we settled down?

On May 29 we closed on our house, and Chuck immediately got in the truck, I got in our SUV, and we headed west, the first of many times we headed west from Jersey.  And we never looked back.

May 29, 2009.  The day we began our Happily Homeless adventures.  We tossed what was left of our belongings in storage and continued further west, state shopping, so to speak. Where did we want to settle down?

Until, 3 months in, we looked at each other and said why on earth do we want to stop doing this? and continued on.  And on and on, for our last 4 years together. We drove over mountains and through desert valleys and crossed miles long bridges over breathtaking rivers and we climbed to the highest points of various states and laughed when they were barely above sea level, and danced among the waves of the Pacific Ocean and visited family and friends and made new friends along the road, and stopped to have lunch and wander among out of the way cemeteries and paid our respects at National Cemeteries and had wild and crazy sex in towns and cities around America and fell more deeply in love and managed our way through Chuck’s first cancer with its’ 5 surgeries and went back out on the road to fucking live by god and visited National Monuments and Parks and learned American history from a local standpoint and we danced to Clint Black in hotel rooms and in military lodgings and we sat 1 foot across from one another in our SUV and discussed marriage and relationships and men and women and roles and our kids and family gossip and our hopes and dreams and we lived and we lived and we fucking lived until we danced our last dance in Death Valley and this man who lit up my world died in a hospice in southern CA, eaten up by cancer but strong in spirit and with love until his last fucking moment.

On May 15, 2013 I began my Odyssey of Love.  I walked down the 15 steps from a condo we’d rented for our stay in Cathedral City, CA, carrying Chuck’s cremains in my arms.  I returned to Jersey to give him well-deserved military honors. I bought PinkMagic.  I’d never towed and I’d never camped and my world was incinerated around me and beneath me and my heart was shattered into glass and my chest felt as if a meat grinder was continually slicing away inside of me. I couldn’t breathe, I didn’t know how to do what I was doing.  I didn’t have a plan, or a destination or a goal.  I was like Sgt Schulz on Hogan’s Heroes, but not in a funny way.hogans-heroes-cbs-198-b

All I knew then, all I know now, all I will ever be able to tell you, all I really care about telling anyone, is this…

Love must be stronger than this grief. It must both be bigger than the emptiness of life without Chuck and fill that emptiness.  It has to be, or I will cease to exist.  I push every day, every every day, to make his left behind Love bigger than anything else.

I don’t know how else to do any of this.  Without that Love I couldn’t have driven over 100,000 miles on my own, tracking down highways and side roads Chuck and I traveled together, stopping to eat lunch at roadside stands where he and I lingered over lunch, seeing the mountains and deserts and bridges and lakes and rivers and prairie grasses and beauty of this country through eyes wet with tears and my heart shattering again and again.

The thing is, for anyone who doesn’t know this already…yes, I have incredible memories. Everywhere I go there are memories. I have memories to look at and memories to hold in my heart…but those memories don’t make this better. Indeed, those memories serve as a stark reminder of 24 years gone, never to happen again. Those memories, though I cherish each and every one of them, are a double-edged sword, reminding me of my alone-ness in the world now, without him. And I struggle with that.

Each day is a decision on my part to get up and make Love bigger than anything else. I don’t ignore my grief; I hold it within the Love Chuck left behind for me, I hold it within the Love I had for him, still have for him.  And it fucking hurts, no matter how I do any of this, and it’s spiritually exhausting, so I feed the Love every day by reaching out to people, giving and receiving hugs, and being of service where and how I can.

Chuck was Love.  I was his Love. He was my Love. He was my beloved, as I was his.  We were in Love for 24 years.  He died loving me and I kissed him for the last time with my heart overflowing with Love for him and the Love he’d brought into my life.  His left behind Love pushed me into my pink car and has fueled me for 4 years and I have to I must always always always carry that  knowledge in my heart and plant it in my mind every damn day so that I don’t lose my mind. 

Love Love and Love harder and more, no matter anything else.

I repeat this to myself now, at this moment, as my heart takes me back to May 29, 2009, watching Chuck climb into the U-Haul, as I remember turning the key to follow behind the truck, headed west, as we began our Happily Homeless adventures…

Love.  Only Love.  C8D2FCE2-F53C-43D6-9CF4-C9D600907140

 

 

 

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From the Depths of my Soul~

 

My dearest love, my beloved husband.  D.

It’s 4 years since you and I drove to the ER at Eisenhower Medical Center in Palm Springs.  It is now 4 years since you and I began our final Happily Homeless travels, travels that began on a sunny May day in NJ in 2009, as you got into the UHaul truck with the few of our belongings that we’d kept after the sale of our home, and I got in our car, having just signed the papers and closed on our house, and we headed west to drop those few things into a storage unit in Indiana and visit with your mom for a few days.

And then we headed south and west and our adventures began.

We had our last 4 years together traveling the USA, hiking trails, climbing to the highest heights, discovering history at our National Parks, visiting family and friends, gazing upon views I only ever thought to see in books.  I pushed boundaries I never thought to push, and we fell more in Love each and every day, rejoicing in the times it was just us, far away from responsibility and distractions.  Just us.

Life and reality hit hard with your first cancer and shocked us and horrified us through all the surgeries you had to endure, but endure you did…we did…and we didn’t let it stop us.  You came through it and we continued on.  You were a cancer survivor.  I’d never met a cancer survivor before.  The big C was a disease that had already taken so many from me, and I cried when I realized you…my beloved husband…you were the one I got to keep.

Until this time 4 years ago, when I took you to the ER, your breath raspy, your body doubled over in pain, your face creased as it had never been before as you struggled to maintain some sense of self.  For the first time, though, you couldn’t hide it.  You couldn’t reassure me any longer.  I knew the truth of what was in front of us even before you did.

These 4 years of widowhood, my emotions wouldn’t allow me to write to you.  I haven’t been able to speak to you.  All I’ve been capable of saying, as I’d look up at a night sky glittering with stars, out on my own travels across the USA, is…I love you.  Find me.  I don’t know where you are.  You find me.

I still can’t speak to you, but I need to write to you.  I need to force my fingers to type words to you.  I need to vomit words of pain and grief that you, my beloved, are gone from me.  Have been gone from me for almost 4 years now.  Speak to you of my anguish and horror as I watched the cancer decimate your strong body, watched the drugs muddle your mind even though we tried as hard as we could to minimize those drugs, wanting you to be as present as possible.  You were insistent on that and I wanted to honor your wishes even as it added difficulties into a confusing time.

There are those who say that power shouldn’t be given to memories such as pour from my heart and mind and soul; memories that deepen grief and pain and loss, but I disagree.  The very few weeks we spent, 4 years ago now, as test upon test occurred, as I watched you lay in a hospital bed, as our kids gathered, as you and I found tumors exploding in every limb of your ailing body, as doctors spoke to us of cutting edge treatments that sounded impossible to me, because I knew…I knew…on that very first night in the hospital, your time on this earth was so limited that there was no time no time, to even attempt such treatments.  I watched as if outside my body as I spoke to the social worker, begging him to tell me how to tell you that we had no time.  How do I tell my husband, this man who is my life, that it is time for us to find a hospice, that we must prepare as best we can for the impossible and unbearable time of his death?  How do I tell him that there is no time for treatment without him thinking that I want him to die?

And then going into your room and telling you that I will do anything you want to do I will make it happen I have your back but I don’t think we have time and I think we need to find hospice. 

Gazing at your face, D, in those moments, as I stifled my sobs through the words I had to speak to you…the look on your face is sealed into my being forever.  A few very quiet ticks of the clock passed and then you took my hands in yours and you said okay.  And I sobbed more, and we spoke of the magnitude of this, and we began to realize that we were saying goodbye to us, and you said how you would miss us more than anything else in your world.

You signing the papers that would admit you into hospice, the ambulance ride, the 3 weeks of multiple hearts breaking as the cancer gnawed at your body and ate huge chunks of who you were, you staring into the mirror, a look of confusion in your eyes, striving to recognize the narrowed face and sharp nose of cancer staring back at you and me taking your face in my hands, gazing directly into your eyes and saying you have been my hero you will always be my hero…god, every fucking moment of horror and drugs and breathing machines and treatments and doing slow jogs through the family gardens to work off my shock and anger and despair and every other goddamn physical emotion roaring through my own body…and returning to your room and your side to offer you all the Love that was in my body and soul, all the Love that you’d given so freely and willingly to me in our 24 years together, your vow of Love that you spoke, the vows of Love that I spoke, on our wedding day that we lived and honored and grew, every day that we had together and apart.

How can I not honor and remember our final days as we stumbled through the halls of hospice and spoke words to one another that I can’t remember?  How can I not honor every painful and loving and sacred moment of those moments that lasted for 3 weeks and for eternity all at the same time?

These almost 4 years later I remember, and I honor those days and I honor you and me and us.

“I remember the night.  I remember the sound.  I remember the light, when the moon came ‘round.  The night flowers bloomed, the air so sweet.  I remember you. I remember me. “ (Sara Watkins)

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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…

An Unconventional Life~

I have a difficult time defining my life to myself since Chuck died, never mind to anyone else. Not that I need to explain it to anyone, but, holy shit, does it come up in conversation. Not just this widowhood, but my lifestyle.

I full-time on the road, as many of you know. In the last year I’ve taken more time off the road than I ordinarily would so that I could take care of various issues, such as getting intensive grief/trauma counseling, which kept me in Arizona for just shy of 6 months, but the open road is my home, as it was when Chuck was alive.  I’m in Arkansas now and I’d initially planned on a lengthier stay, but as it happens, I’m leaving for points east after not quite a month here.

A scholarship came through for me to attend a Where Womyn Gather festival in PA. 4 days of creative workshops, sweat lodges,crone councils, artistic endeavors, and meeting women from around the country. It will be a great way for me to immerse myself in the healing arts and I intend to soak up every bit of it and, someday soon, return to facilitate a workshop.

Additionally, while here in Arkansas, I applied to volunteer with Team Rubicon USA, a non-profit that does disaster response, nationwide and overseas, wherever they’re needed. A friend told me about them months back and I researched their website and was immediately impressed when I saw that their motto is We get shit done. In that language. How could a woman like me, who uses the word fuck liberally, NOT be impressed with the real-ness of that? They primarily hire veterans to work in both paid and volunteer positions but also accept kickass civilians. My kind of people, right? I’m pretty sure I qualify as a kickass civilian at this point in my life.

I had no idea what my next step would be when I contemplated Arkansas. All I knew was that I needed to return to the road full-time. What I did believe is that my next step would reveal itself to me once I got here. Which is what happened.

I have faith in very little since Chuck’s death. I have no religious faith, but I do know that he left me an incredible legacy of love, and I know that I have a huge support community around the country, seen in the hundreds of hugs from strangers on the road, as I travel. Love, really, is my spiritual baseline and it’s how I stay strong.

Generating an income is necessary, of course. Not imminently so if I’m careful, but I don’t want to leave it to a time when it’s an emergency, so I’m always thinking about it. Mostly my ideas seem to float around in the atmosphere and I’m unable to grasp onto them; it’s hard to know where to start. But I refuse to allow anxiety to rule my days.

Because what I do know, what I’ve known instinctively since April 21, 2013 when Chuck died, and I set out on the road solo a month later, is that I’m building a foundation, have been building it for 3 years, and it will lead me to what I need. Not in a pie in the sky oh magic will happen and there will be enough money way, but because of that trust I have in the love he left behind for me, trust in my abilities and some instinct that tells me to continue doing what I’m doing….being out on the road, meeting people, connecting…this is all leading somewhere. Don’t ask me how I’m so certain of that; I just am. In my old life I would have thought myself crazy and spent endless days worrying myself sick about the practicalities of life. Not these days…and I really can’t explain the whys and wherefores of it. It is just something that is as real to me as the love he felt for me and I, for him.

A woman came to me shortly after Chuck died, a woman who didn’t know me, didn’t know my story, couldn’t know my story. I’d mentioned Chuck’s name so she knew that, but no more than that. This woman delivered to me a message from Chuck…I wouldn’t leave you without a road map, he said. Be aware of the sign posts I’ve left for you, both tangible and intangible.

Numerous other strangers along my way have also sought me out in a similar manner, encouraging me to continue doing whatever it is that I’m doing, because I’m on the right path, they say. They have said things to me that could only come from Chuck, even if I try to convince myself that their words couldn’t possibly come from him.

Which brings me back to the beginning of this post.

It was difficult enough for people to understand that Chuck and I chose to live on the road, driving and adventuring. And it’s 100 times more difficult for them to understand my choice to solo on the road, a woman alone, with all this grief and uncertainty and all the possible dangers.

Why on earth would I choose to live this way?

I’m going into my 8th year on the road. 4 years with Chuck, 3 on my own, now on the 4th year. At the end of this year I’ll have been on the road for as long as Chuck and I were.  I’m a long, long way from the days of living in a sticks and bricks home. Not that a sticks and bricks was my definition of home in any case. Chuck was my home, as I was his. Now that he’s gone, I feel a visceral need to maintain this way of life.

Yes, it’s tough living this way at times, and grief lies around the corner at any point. But for me, it would be much tougher to stay put. So I drive.

My driving next week will take me to PA, and, as soon as I fulfill beginning requirements with Team Rubicon, I’ll volunteer from wherever I happen to be in the country. Anticipation of working with them is the first true spark of life I’ve felt in this grief. I’ll be working side by side with veterans and will feel closer to Chuck because of that. Disaster response is what I need to do in this part of my life; I need something that equals the hugeness of what is in my heart and body and soul, and this meets that mark.

All of this…this unconventional life that I live…is leading me to where I need to be, where I’ll have financial security and be okay. That’s all I know to say. I’m going somewhere and I know this in my bones and in my heart and soul. My life isn’t the life for everyone and my choice is difficult to understand for those who are accustomed to a more traditional lifestyle. But it’s my life and works for me to the degree that anything works for me since Chuck’s death.

My heart, the love that filled my heart when Chuck was alive, the love that he left for me, and his memory that I carry fervently in my heart now…I have to believe that it will, that it is, carrying me into a future that will be squarely mine.

PinkMagic is the chariot carrying me into that future…sss10649826_10203576907175805_5053873018434830644_n

Upon This, I do Insist~

I wonder, frequently, when grief changed from a normal, human response to the death of a loved one, to a condition that, seemingly, must be gotten through (with all due speed, thank you very much for your consideration), with clinical protocols assigned to it?

When did grief get designated as complicated and unhealthy and uncomfortable and perceived as an enemy to be overcome?  When did our culture start demanding of us that we, as grievers, choose life again as quickly as possible, focus only on the happy memories of life and not dwell in the layers of sorrow that come with death? When did grief become something to hide from the world at large?

When did we medicalize grief so that our approach is clinical instead of soulful?

Years ago I read about traumatic stress and the military, what is seen and done in war, and the suffering that occurs as a consequence of what is seen and experienced by our military. I read that it wasn’t always called traumatic stress. In past times it was called combat fatigue, shell shock, war neurosis. The term that most appealed to me and best described it was from the Civil War era. It was called soldier’s heart.

An apt description, don’t you think?

Science has discovered neurons and all sorts of scientific stuff about the brain and grief; our brains that are, of course, involved, when it comes to grief. We feel crazy and our thinking and focus goes all to hell and back again, ad infinitum. Maybe drugs calm all that shit down sometimes, and it’s good to have options to treat the crazy.  Modern times and all that…

Speaking only for myself, I see grief as a matter of the heart. I believe that every grief is potentially complicated, simply because our worlds disintegrate after our loved ones die, and that’s kind of, you know, complicated. I believe that every death potentially is traumatic because grasping the forever-ness of death is beyond human comprehension, and trying to grasp that particular concept is kind of, you know, traumatic. And once we work our way, sometimes with a good therapist, through the worst of the trauma, layers of grief remain that we must muck through and that takes a fuck load more time than the 6 months that the DSM allows for complicated grief.

A matter of the heart…

Thursday, April 21, at 11:21pm will be 3 years since my beloved husband, Chuck, died of a cancer that ate him up and killed him dead.  I was present when he died and I wonder when was the last time he looked at me and saw me before closing his eyes forever? After he died, I bathed him and dressed him and wrapped him in beautiful blankets because I didn’t want him put in a body bag uncovered. Before the mortuary took him away, I spoke with them and told them his name, that he served in our military, that he was a dad of 4 kids-3 of them step kids who never, ever, felt like step kids. Before they took him away, I told them that he was a man of honor who loved me every day of our 24 years together and that I knew they would treat him with all the respect that he deserved. And made them promise me that they would.

Before he was cremated, I opened the box that held his body and covered him with stunningly bright and beautiful flower bouquets. After gently closing the box over him again, I pressed the switch to open the doors of the crematory and watched as his body slid inside and felt sick to my stomach. After he was cremated, I retrieved his cremains that were still almost warm to the touch. I know because I touched them and buried my hands in them, bringing my hands to my face as I huddled into myself and sobbed.

In the years since, Chuck’s cremains have traveled shotgun with me, next to his flag that was presented to me at his memorial service, the jacket from his BDUs, and a picture of him as a flight engineer on the 141’s. With these precious tangibles of our love story, I’ve criss-crossed the country 8 times in my PinkMagic rig.

All of this…all of these memories, all of these tangible reminders of his existence in my life, all of the reminders that our existence together is no more…these are matters of the heart. Matters of the soul. Matters that deserve my time and attention because they were…they are…sacred times.  I have Widows Heart.

We are not bound to what our culture teaches us about grief.

Grief, in reality, has the potential to bring us to a place of our strongest connection to life. It smashes open our hearts and souls and insists on recognition of all that is holy and sacred in life. It is, perhaps, one of the few times in our busy lives that we are forced to slow down, waken to our souls, and listen to what makes us human.

I will not see grief as negative or positive. I will not see it as an adversary, something to be gotten through. I will not force it away by doing whatever it is that I’m supposed to do so that I don’t feel it, or feel it as strongly. I will not push it and shove it and force it in one direction or another. I will not run away from it. Nor will I wallow in it.

What I will do.  I will continue to be honest about grief’s impact on my life. I will continue to connect with my widowed community and the community of love that surrounds me on the road and as I tarry in one place or another.  I will continue to become familiar with my grief, because that is, I believe, how it will ultimately soften around the edges. It is not my enemy, as much as I detest its’ presence in my life.  Grief is an emotion to be honored. It is the twin to Love.

And, in the end, this grief…my grief…in the end…it is about my dearest, most beloved husband, Chuck D, the man I will carry with me in every breath I take, forevermore.

I miss you, my dearest love. I miss you. I miss you, I miss you…

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The Pulse Beat of Love Over Everything Else…

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

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

So…progress, not perfection.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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