Done, and Doing~

How I’ve survived/lived since Chuck’s death on April 21, 2013…

And, yes, I do keep track of how long it’s been. In days and moments and months and years.

Yes, every moment of this life is defined by his death because the only reason I’m living this life as I am is because he died.

Yes, every moment of this life of mine is defined, equally, by the enormous quantity of Love that he left behind for me.

I strive, each day, to sift all that is this grief, which is much more than sadness, through the filter of Love.

In the beginning time of widowhood, by which I mean the first 5 years, this wasn’t possible for me to do. I knew the Love we’d shared was there, but it didn’t matter, because he was dead and it wasn’t enough.

It still isn’t enough, but I take all that is unbearable and impossible and sift it into that Love that he left behind for me.

The only thing I know to be true in this life without Chuck is that, if it is at all possible, he left all that Love behind for me when he died. untitledl

So.

Chuck died.

We were in a rental in southern CA. I had no physical home to return to; Chuck was my home, as I was his.

We’d spent our last 4 years together living full time on the road, staying at inexpensive hotels and at military base lodgings.

The idea of settling down without him, anywhere, freaked me out in the extreme. I didn’t want to be where he wasn’t. Maybe I’d find a connection to and with him out on the road somewhere, was my thinking.

I bought a trailer to go with the new car I’d bought with his life insurance money. No, I didn’t feel guilty or sad about that. I used the money exactly what it was intended for; creating a life for myself after his death.

Before he died, having told him that my plan was to continue traveling, I told him, too, that I would paint my car pink so that he could find me out on the open road. I’ll forever remember the small smile on his lips as he looked right into my eyes and responded I’ll be looking for you. 920592_10152805925115441_611082349_o

I was terrified to set out on my own. Grief is isolating. I knew nobody out on the road. If I did as I’d promised him…paint my car and trailer pink…that would draw people to me and keep me from isolating myself.

If I started writing about navigating widowhood and the open road, in the midst of devastation, if I posted something everyday on our Happily Homeless fb page, then maybe, if I didn’t post on a particular day, someone would notice and reach out to me, asking if I was okay.

All I wanted to do was drive into the desert and disappear. It took everything in me not to do that. On some days, especially now in the midst of the trauma and chaos of our world, I still fight that urge.

My wardrobe, already pink in most ways, became almost entirely pink. Chuck said to me, in his last week don’t mourn for me in black. It isn’t your color. Wear pink.

I wear something pink everyday since he died. My goal is to wear pink everyday, ultimately. And I’m proud to say that I’ve gained a rep as that lady in pink.

I haven’t allowed myself to disappear, no matter what.

As I drove around the country, I discovered workamping as a method to support myself, and I worked at an opera camp where I drove a tractor and learned the New Orleans strut from our sous chef, and a renaissance faire, where I learned about theater and spoke to a Prince and my personality began to shine again.

My voice strengthened as I projected it, as my job required to interact with thousands of guests each day. I started repurposing clothing, even though I don’t sew. A bit of trim here, an old button there, taken from an old piece of clothing, and added to another piece of clothing. IMG_3262I grew comfortable wearing what most people consider costuming, especially while out on the road.

A beautiful pink top hat that I decorated with feathers and trim.  A bright yellow bodice made for my faire days, but worn as a top over a bright pink blouse. Lace leggings with a jangly scarf tied around my hips. Knee high boots with sparkly necklaces wrapped around the instep.

It doesn’t bother me in the least that people stare at me. And they do. Honestly, I assume they’re staring in admiration, wishing they had half the nerve to dress how they please, but don’t dare, for fear of judgement.

Also, people staring at me is a bit of the point.

Too often, widows hide themselves from the world, for too many reasons.

Too often, the words we wish to speak choke us before leaving our throats.

Our words, our hearts, freeze in place, because we fear that judgement from others.

And yes, that judgement is there. For me, too.

Here’s the trick to that.

Don’t give a fuck. Not with anger, but with Love for self and survival.

The knee high boots I wear, draped with jewelry, are perfectly capable of kicking in doors, figuratively speaking. Kicking in and kicking down the doors of judgement and silence as our culture shuts down the unpleasantness of grief that we represent.

The pink clothes I wear are the armor that I don every morning. I refuse to fade into the shadows. The sparkle and glitter I wear ensure that light casts itself on what is real. Shadows and light. I wear armor because I know…have known…since I learned, one month before Chuck died, that I would soon be a widow, that I was in for the fight of my life and it would, and does, require every ounce of strength and courage that resides in my bones. I am a warrior.

I promised Chuck before he died that I’d spend the rest of my life ensuring that every person I met would know his name and who he was, not only to me but to the world at large. I’d get out there and kick ass and take names.

All in the name of Love.

My pink car and my pink trailer, with the color named in Chuck’s honor. It’s my chariot.

My chariot, not only painted pink but covered in hundreds of names and Love notes from chance met people on the road, takes me where I need to go on this Odyssey of Love. It is covered with Love. A traveling tribute to Love.

My two selves battle each other every morning when I swing my feet to the floor.  One self doesn’t want to live this life without Chuck.

The other self hopes that I have enough time left on this earth to accomplish all that I want to accomplish, with my Odyssey of Love. This self wins out every day, if only begrudgingly.

I know who I am, even as I create myself. I know my why, even though I have no end game. I’m completely comfortable living with one foot in the past, with Chuck, and living this life as a fucking warrior goddess. I preferred that life, but this is the life I have and I will, by god, make it as grand and passionate as the life I lived with Chuck.  And, since this life pales in comparison, in my mind, I’m also completely comfortable with the fantasy life I live in my head. A life that is filled with romance and Highland warriors and passion and intimacy and, well, all that I had with a man named Chuck D.

I know I was loved more than any woman was ever loved, by a man who touched my life deeply.

I know that I’m a fucking warrior goddess, and I have much to do in order to complete the mission that Chuck set me on in that last conversation before he sank into oblivion and took his last breath.

And though I am, of course, vulnerable as a human, I am fucking invincible in spirit.

And that, my dears, is how I survived, and how I live.

I am armored in Love.

Curious people along the way have admired my rig and said oh, it’s like a Barbie house!

I’ve hidden my disdain well, but I very pointedly respond that no, this is most definitely not Barbie pink.

It’s FUCKING WARRIOR GODDESS PINK, and it’s my color only, not some pale ass Barbie color.

Said, of course, with all the Love in the world, because I have no room for any other emotion.

Don’t mess with this pink.

Don’t mess with this FWG.

Ultimately, I will draw you into the weave of all this Love, and you will feel strengthened and braver than you ever thought you’d feel, and I’ll tell you about Chuck and we’ll speak of Love and how it is the most powerful force in the Universe, which is how we live on, no matter what.

I promise this to you.

As I promised it to Chuck.

All because of Love~

 

Just…This~

I hope, someday, if it hasn’t already happened for you,

that life allows you to experience

the beautiful intimacy of fully

entrusting your body,

your heart,

your soul,

your very being,

into the hands of a man

who will hold it tenderly, and with care.

Who will cherish the gift of all you are, and call you beautiful.

I hope, someday, if it hasn’t already happened for you,

that you take into your own heart and soul

the deep down truth of his pledge,

as he kneels at your feet,

As knights knelt in days gone by,

and promises to protect you with his life,

as he offers his own heart’s troth to you.

I hope, someday, if it hasn’t already happened for you,

that he takes your hand in his,

and presses his forehead against it,

as he swears his fealty to you,

then raises his head and stares hard into your eyes

as

you are mesmerized by his steadfast gaze, and the truth of his promise,

as he lightly kisses your hand with warm lips, half smiling,

then rises, hands entwined.

I hope, someday, if it hasn’t already happened for you,

that life gifts you with a man to stand with you,

beside you, 

his arm around you,

Strong. Sure. True.

Together.

I hope, someday, if it hasn’t already happened for you,

that life gifts you with the surety of such Love,

as it so splendidly gifted me.

Even as my heart cries out for him in his absence.

Even as my soul whispers his name into the Universe.

Even as I stand alone, facing into the wind,

Alone but emboldened with his strength, his Love, his protection,

Enfolding me in shimmery armor crafted from who we were,

Together.

I hope, someday, that such Love,

finds  you~

Love in the Time of…This~

I’m not going to write about what’s going on all around the world right now.
We’re all getting enough of it on a 24 hour basis.
I will, instead, write about Love.
I’m going to write about the power of Love in uncertain times. Continue reading

May I Have this Dance?

The Death Valley dance.

I only named it that in the hindsight of all that happened in the next months.

All I knew on that February day in 2013 was that this was a moment to remember, as Chuck and I remembered so many of our times together. We knew what was important in life. We’d always, in our 24 years together, grasped that life was impermanent and it needed to be grabbed and appreciated and loved and marked in that spot in our hearts that remembered such moments.
Nothing but wide-open road in front of us, there in Death Valley. We’d had this place on our bucket list forever, and we’d finally made it. This was our last evening here. Our day had been spent mostly driving through the various canyons because Chuck wasn’t feeling well-his strength was minimal and he was in pain. We thought it was the die-off from a fungal infection. We thought it was a pinched nerve. So we moved more slowly that day, and I took the wheel. Picture1
But, as I steered the car over the road, headed back to the ranch, looking at the changing colors of the rocks around me, I knew that here was a moment that we needed to imprint upon our hearts. Something in my heart told me to mark this memory into my bones, so I maneuvered the car to the dirt on the side of the road and said Let’s dance. We loved to slow dance, and Chuck was a master at it. Today, he wasn’t as sure of his footing on the rutted dirt of the roadside, but I said let’s try, and he gamely smiled at me and stepped out of the car.
It was that most beautiful part of the evening that the Scots call the gloaming… when the day is done but right before night sets in, and it was quiet, with no traffic as far as the eyes could see and the ears could hear. It seemed as if we were the only humans on the planet at that moment, and the rocks glowed golden from the dying sun’s last breath. Silence surrounded us as I met him in front of our red Ford Escape and the strains of You’re My Inspiration by Chicago, wafted from the IPOD I’d plugged into the radio. Chuck put his right arm around me and clasped my right hand in his left, wrapping his fingers lightly around mine. In spite of everything, his body was strong against me and that strength flowed from him to me and back again, and all the Love in the world between us simmered and shone.
I knew something was wrong with him. He did too. Maybe we both wondered if his cancer had returned, but were afraid to voice the thought aloud. I don’t know. I just know, at that moment in time, with that particular tune playing, my heart called for me to remember this moment.
Our feet moved slowly to the music…back and forth. A step here, a step there. I soaked in that moment in time. I suspect that Chuck did too. Cancer had already visited us once. Something was so clearly wrong with him again, and we knew that every breath between us, every bit of Love between us, counted, more than ever.
Our feet moved gracefully between the ruts on the side of the road, in the setting sun, in the gloaming of a quiet evening.

Oblivious to all but each other, Chuck and I danced our last dance, in the beauty of Death Valley.

And Love moved with us~

Once Upon a Time~

All good love stories begin with Once upon a time.  Once upon a time a man and a woman met and fell in love, created a life together….and, it pretty much ended there. We don’t hear much of the fullness … Continue reading

If I Could…

If I could…

These 6 1/2 years later than the day after your death that I never thought I’d survive…

I would approach you hesitantly…

I would rush into your arms…

I would stand in wonder…

I would stare disbelievingly at you…

I would shake my head back and forth…

No.

Yes.

Of course…

It would feel so normal, seeing you standing in front of me again.

I knew you weren’t really gone I’d breathe.

Even though I knew you were dead.

Even though I knew you couldn’t be dead…

Because, really, how could you be dead

When you are so alive in all the pictures of you and I together?

You’d reach for my hand as I reached for yours…

And our bodies would touch so closely that all light between us would disappear…

You and I again…

Me and you…

Us.

Yes.

My world would be bright again.

It would shimmer and glow and fireworks would explode around us…

Us again. 

Me again.

Love again.

You again.

If I could…

To Us~

Yes, You~

to those of us left behind
standing amidst the ashes that remain
atop the skeletons of our lives and ourselves.

to those of us left behind
who struggle with unseeing eyes blinded by grief
and limbs made heavy with exhaustion
and shattered souls
uncertain about…everything.

to those of us left behind
who must learn to live in the without
and open our hearts to life
when all that is in us begs to close those very hearts.

to those of us left behind
who loved so deeply and so passionately
whose lips whisper names into the darkness
of the soul and heart and body
and hear only an echo.

to those of us left behind
who stagger through each moment and each hour
of every day and night
as the months pass by and the sharp blades of a love gone
cut and shred.

To you, to me, to us
left behind but left behind
with the love that can and will and must
become bigger than the absence of those who
have gone beyond our reach.

We who grieve the grief of a lover gone
and slowly dance our spirit dances and speak their names in our hearts
as our hands and souls entwine with theirs
and our bodies search and our minds question and the deepest part of ourselves
burns and become determined and we become Love in remembrance of the love we once held close.

To those of us left behind
searching the heavens, finding our footing, seeking,
gasping, breathing,
being…

To us~

This Uncertain Terrain~

The landscape of widowhood.

Of grief.

The Alaskan tundra.

The Sahara Desert.

The Australian Outback.

Every side road in between cities and towns.

This parched landscape

Of devastation.

This existence of one where there was once two.

I picture nothingness

In the midst of these tundras and deserts.

Nothingness under bright blue skies and a sun so piercing

It makes me squint my eyes.

The only water available streams from overheated eyes…

The eyes he used to look into, and smile.

Crawling on hands and knees, searching for something familiar,

Aching muscles and shattered self…

I don’t know where I’m going with this.

It’s been a rough day emotionally.

All I want is the life I had with Chuck,

And that life is dead and gone,

Same as he is.

Do you ever get tired of being brave and courageous,

Even though that’s a very real part of you?

I think of myself as Thing One and Thing Two now and wouldn’t a shrink have a field day with that?

I’m that woman with parched throat and hollow self, crawling through the tundra and desert,

And I’m the woman decked out in pink, foraging for hugs so that I don’t lose my sanity,

Keeping the Love front and center, so that I don’t lose my fucking sanity.

I’m Thing One and Thing Two and both are real.

I desperately miss my beloved husband, Chuck.

The longing for him, the yearning for his touch…that’s my desert. My tundra. My Outback.

And I don’t know what to do with any of it.

So, I write this…

This Woman Who Showed Me the Way~

I don’t write about my mom too often. Not because she wasn’t important to me but because, since Chuck’s death, all I can think about is him, and my life without him.

I’ve always known that I inherited some very clear traits from my mom. She passed along her love of reading to me. Her inability to suffer fools gladly…that she got from her mom. Her sense of humor.

This morning I realized I got a trait from her that I’ve not given much thought to, but one that looms large in my life. The one that has brought me to where I am, 6 years after the death of the man who was my life.

Betty Catharine, my mom, passed along to me the tenacity, the determination, the grit, that has kept me grounded and sane, to the degree that I can claim any sanity at all.

My mom, Betty Catharine, was an active alcoholic for most of my growing up years. There were some rough years, especially in high school.

She got sober, cold turkey, on the day my younger brother Kysa was diagnosed with cancer, and set about making amends (without calling them such) to her eight kids.

How she managed to get sober on her own, without medical intervention, after 30+ years of heavy drinking, I don’t know how she didn’t suffer delirium tremens or anything life threatening, and she never spoke of it, but she did it and stayed sober until she died one and a half years later, of breast cancer. Six months after Kysa died of Hodgkins cancer.

Honestly, as I’ve grown and matured, in the years since mom’s death, I’ve come to know her in more ways than I knew her during her life. As milestones have come and gone in my life that were nothing in degrees to what she’d gone through, I’ve wondered about how she got through the challenges in her life.

She was an Army wife at a time when the military did a bare minimum in supporting families, moving, as she said often, 29 times in 30 years. She had eight children born in 5 states and 3 overseas, and was always either pregnant or had just given birth with many of those moves. My dad frequently reported for duty ahead of her so she’d be in charge of kids, supervising packers/movers, adapting to new homes/countries, knowing nobody, far away from family.

I don’t wonder at all that she took up drinking. The family story is that she went to a doctor for stress (this was in the 50’s) and he told her to have a drink of sherry each evening after the kids were in bed.

She was the daughter of a Presbyterian minister who, in adulthood, converted to Catholicism. She was a nurse. She was the most intelligent, well read person I’ve ever met. She never remembered the punchlines of jokes. She had a droll sense of humor. She adored the royal family and, the older she got, the more like Queen Elizabeth she looked. She left me notes on my pillow as a young teen and called me every morning at 7:30 AM after I left home, cluing me in on political news and encouraging me to call the White House comment line to express my opinion. She’d given me the phone number and I kept it next to my phone on an index card.

She loved me the best she knew how and gave me what she had to give me, in spite of her struggles.

And what she gave me the most of was the grit and tenacity and determination that made her keep standing up when she was knocked down. She never gave in, in spite of what my young eyes saw growing up.

My mom was more than her alcoholism, and it didn’t take me long after her death to realize that.

I’ve no regrets, no blame. Only Love and the heartwarming memory of sitting at the kitchen table with her and my younger sister, Maggie, sharing Hollywood gossip, family stories, politics, everything under the sun, while laughing over our coffee or diet pepsi, in the last year and a half that I had with her, sober and loving and joyful, holding her hand over her mouth when she was doubled over with laughter.

My mom, Betty Catharine, gave me everything I would need as an adult, and it was my privilege to call her mom.

I hope, this Mother’s Day, that, if she is somewhere…and she believed in Heaven so I’ll picture her there…that she has found Chuck, and I hope that they share a hug with each other, from me, the woman who loved them both. Who loves them both so much, still.

I miss you, mom. Thank you for who you were.

What you gave me has helped me continue standing up again and again.

And I always will.

Just like you did~

Beginning my New Year~

My new year begins each April 21.

That’s the date of Chuck’s death.

It’s the only new year that carries any meaning for me.

What do I care about January 1? 

April 21 is the day my life incinerated and I was eviscerated.

So it stands to reason, at least in my mind, that this is the day where I look back, and, insofar as I’m able, look ahead.

I knew, to the depths of my heart and soul, and into my bones, that this April 21, just recently passed, is the year where all the energy of my Odyssey of Love, would expand and grow, and it’s already happening.

Since I began my Odyssey of Love, just weeks after Chuck’s death, I’ve been laying the foundation for…something.

I didn’t know what, and I still don’t know where this is all taking me.

I just know that it’s taking me somewhere big. 

Where big is, I don’t know, and I’m not concerned about where it is.

All I’ve known, since Chuck died, is that it is my responsibility to suit up and show up and let the day unfold. The outcome isn’t up to me.

And I’ve done that. Whether I felt like it or not.

I had to make meaning out of this fucking devastation, or go nuts.

And I realized, very early on, that there ain’t nobody going to do this for me. 

I could have gone to ground. Isolated myself. God, that would have been so easy to do. It’s what my instincts told me to do.

But how could I make meaning out of any of this if I disappeared?

How could I maybe somehow connect to Chuck again, if I disappeared?

So I painted my car and trailer pink and donned my pink clothes and set out to connect with people. Share my story. Listen to theirs. Write about our Love story. Write about my fears and doubts. Write what it’s like to navigate widowhood while towing a trailer around the country, navigating new roads and pushing beyond my comfort zones.

I made myself vulnerable, in spite of the grief and pain.

It wasn’t easily done. It isn’t easily done. I’m just doing it anyways.

And where has it brought me?

It has brought me to a place where, this coming fall, I’m meeting a woman who is a photographer/videographer, in Arizona, who, along with her partner, is teaming up with me to film a documentary about my Odyssey of Love.

Wait…what?

Yep. We will create a spectacular documentary about all of this that I’ve been doing for the last 6 years. Holy shit, right? I met the exactly right person recently who has the skill, the vision, the magic, to help me translate my story into an epic documentary that I’ll take on the road with me.

I’ve been wanting to do this for…well, forever.

And it’s going to happen.

And it will be fucking epic and you’re going to want to see it.

My rig, PinkMagic, covered with the names of loved ones from around the world, will have a starring role, of course.

I plan on hosting a premiere showing of it and inviting the world.

This is the first time I’ve been excited about anything since Chuck died. 

I’m holy shit excited about this.

The energy around my Odyssey of Love has shifted and is palpable.

It’s time, you know? 

Time for all of what I’ve been creating from the depths of my shattered heart to get out into the world in a bigger way.

It’s my way of reaching my hand back, and out, to anyone else trying to figure out the “now what?” of widowhood.

Maybe someone will see it and think well, she did it. So I can do something too.

In the name of Love. THE most powerful force in the Universe.

Here I am, Chuck. And look what I’m doing with what you left behind for me.

I’m making meaning out of the godawful missingness of you. 

I’m making what we had count for something.

And I’m doing it all…including breathing…in the name of LOVE~