I’m not averse to opening my heart to Love again. Indeed, I know well how to love and be loved, by and with a man who honors, respects, and loves me more than his own life. I know what it … Continue reading
Where was it, and what was my hair doing when I met Chuck? I do remember the ugly brown, military issue, glasses I was wearing the first time he knocked at the door and I opened it to find a man dressed…and well-dressed, I might add…in his uniform camos. Continue reading
You and I, my Love,
Are echoes in the halls of memories.
In lands far away and beyond the clouds
so beautifully and achingly tinged with vibrant colors,
I search for you.
Green tinged mountains with trees so tall they reach up into and beyond those clouds,
Valleys of rock that jut sharply into one another and, if I squint my eyes, become castles of ancient times,
Rivers that wind and rush into oceans,
Names and places and adventures and shared history
That are carried now only by me, in my hall of memories.
Carried with me, deeply embedded into my heart and soul.
Carried, not without sadness, but carried, too, with all that is the Love we had together.
I am the courier of us.
The emissary of our Love story.
The herald of who we were
In our time.
Who you were, who I was, who we were…
What we did, what we shared, how we lived together, the secret language of us,
Carried in me, in the halls of memories.
Forever, my Love and my beloved.
Never forgotten. Always remembered.
You and I,
Who we were,
In the clouds, the mountains, the rivers and valleys,
The very air I breathe, and the pulsebeat of my heart,
The aching of my soul,
This sacred hall of memories~
We spend our lives with an awareness of our physical bodies. We dress our bodies, we move our bodies. Our hands hold the hands of people for whom we feel affection, or love. Our arms hug. Our lips meet in exquisite kisses. Our lips smile and laugh. Our eyes sparkle as we gaze upon life and our loves. Our feet dance, in rhythm or not.
Physical presence is a big deal in life, in love. Physical presence makes Love tangible, it makes who we are, and what we represent, an entity. Our physical bodies were very much a big deal with me and my husband, Chuck, for our 24 years. We touched often. My husband’s physical body and presence was measurable in my life, as mine was in his.
His absence from my life is just as palpable and I’m uncertain how that might translate scientifically but his absence is, to me, as strong as his presence ever was. In fact, now that he’s gone, his absence is almost stronger than his presence ever was, which causes anxiety in me. It has seemed, since he died, that he’s so gone that its as if he never existed. Chuck died forever ago, or 4 years and 11 months. Long ago and no time at all ago. I suppose I could say, he’s been gone almost 5 years. Dead almost 5 years. Absent from me for almost 5 years. But why rush the years, right?
Presence and absence. My external life has changed drastically since each of my last April 21sts of these 4 years and 11 months but not quite 5 years. I’ve changed drastically, or at least it feels like I have. Nothing is the same, either in my external world or my internal soul world. He disappeared the night he died and my life did too.
Weirdly,though, his absence from my life really is as tangible and measurable as his presence ever was. His absence is an entity that breathes and walks and moves with me as I stumble along, and not in an oh, look! He’s still with you! way, but in a fuck, I can’t believe he’s not here but he’s clearly not in such a massively huge way, so….
As the months have passed, because he is so very gone, I’ve held onto, and purposefully courted, the love he left me. I cherish his last message to me, left on my phone at my request the week before he died. I still listen to it with a sense of disbelief that I’m not seeing him say he loves me, that I’ll never see him say that to me again, with his green eyes glinting with Love and passion.
Those words though. That love he had for me. That love I had for him that beats as strongly today as it did for all of our 24 years. The love is a physical presence to me now, and co-exists with his absence. Presence. Absence. Love, no matter the mind fuck of it.
I can’t explain how presence and absence can both be real. It just is. He is here with me in his absence.
He loved me. I loved him. That is still real.
It was our blessed gift to each other.
With Chuck for me, for me with him, it was always, always, always, about the Love we shared daily. How our bodies moved together, even when we weren’t in close proximity. How our hands automatically entwined when we fell asleep. The rhythm of Love was our SOP…standard operating procedure.
And I ache for its’ absence, as I ache for him.
St Thomas Aquinas said that Love feels no burden, thinks nothing of trouble, attempts what is above its strength, pleads no excuse of impossibility. It is therefore able to undertake all things.
To hear your laugh again did wonders for my heart. I feel so deeply for you and want you to be as happy and fulfilled as you can be.
I know that Betty is now free of pain is with Kysa, and both are celebrating their new life.
I know that love is a powerful emotion and if anything can help, it is love.
Together, in love and through love, we will get through this difficult time.
For most of our 24 years together, my beloved husband, Chuck, and I kept a journal for Love Notes to each other. We did this instead of exchanging cards. I’d write a note to him, a page maybe, and then place it on his pillow for him to find. Or he’d write a note to me before leaving TDY (military travel) and put it on my pillow to find and read while he was gone.
Our Love Notes journal has traveled with me for all the years since Chuck died. Mostly I haven’t opened it; it’s been too painful. But it resides snugly with his flag and cremains, within hands reach each night, whether I’m in my trailer or in a room somewhere.
A few nights ago I opened it again. Just read the first couple entries I told myself. That much is bearable.
Our first few entries began the same year my mom and brother died. Each of them had a different kind of cancer. My younger brother died, and when I called my sister to tell her that our brother had died, she told me something was wrong with my mom. Six months later my mom died. Chuck was newly retired from the military, unable to find a job, money was tight, and death seemed all around us. It was an impossibly stress-filled time.
The quotes above are Chuck’s words that he wrote to me in the first two entries of our Love Notes journal. He writes the words about my brother and mom, about grief, about death…but he is speaking to me from the grave, isn’t he? Because the words he wrote are what he believed, they tell me his concept of the afterlife, his fervent belief in the power of Love, and yes and most especially, what he wanted for me then, what he would want for me now.
These words are so very important because I’ve agonized since Chuck’s death, trying to remember what he believed of an afterlife. I know we must have had numerous conversations about that, and about a Higher Power but I can’t recall any such conversations. I don’t know what I believe and it has literally sickened me that I may not ever see him again, that maybe our 24 years is what we had and that’s it and it’s done and over and I can’t bear that thought. I just can’t.
Within those sentences, within those words that I read night after night so that I can memorize them into my heart…I read them and I physically felt my heart begin to pound. Here it is, I thought, here they are…his words Chuck’s words his beliefs here they are! I don’t need to try to remember any longer because they’re right here to read, in a tiny journal of Love Notes, words that were written from him to me over 20 years ago.
His words echo what my heart and my instinct have told me continually since I began my Odyssey of Love. That Love is all that matters, that with love and through Love, I can get through this. It’s what I have left of him and what I live daily, mile after mile, year after year.
Chuck spoke to me from the grave yesterday, powerful words on the pages of a little book covered in stars and moons. He spoke to me in the here and now, from a day in the past, and told me what he believed and what he hoped for, and what he wanted for me, and each and every one of his words are what he would write to me today, as I widow my way.
Love is powerful. Love is what he and I shared for 24 years and Love is what he left behind for me and Love is all that matters to me now and forever. We were Love and now I am Love.
I kept my maiden name when Chuck and I married. It was, in fact, a condition, so to speak. Not long after he’d proposed to me, I approached him one day and told him I had something I had to tell him.
My first marriage was emotionally and physically abusive and ended in divorce. It took me a long time to find my center again, once I’d gotten away from my ex. I took back my maiden name at the time of my divorce and I recall, once the judge banged the gavel and declared me divorced, stepping up on the railing that ran around his high desk, and reaching across to shake his hand, thanking him for my freedom.
So, I told Chuck, I wanted to keep my maiden name when he and I married. I’d fought long and hard and my own identity was important. He breathed a sigh of relief and said is that all? I thought you were going to say you didn’t want to marry me!
Chuck was proud of me over the years of our marriage. He kind of liked it that I had my own name, and he encouraged my independence.
Somewhere in our 20th year, he asked me one day if I’d re-think taking his last name. For no particular reason; just that he liked the idea of sharing our last name. I did consider it but I was building a name professionally, with my maiden name, and didn’t want to muck that up. So I stayed Miller.
In our 23rd year of marriage, out traveling on the road as Happily Homeless, the question came up again. He said it differently that time, and I really, really, thought about it. I could feel his feeling about it, but I hesitated again. I was so attached to my name; it spoke to who I was, even if it no longer mattered professionally. There was, on his part, understanding but some disappointment also.
Why do I bring this up now? Because, running around in my mind and my brain in the last few days, I’m thinking about his request again. Maybe taking his last name now will give me a closer connection to him, now that he’s no longer by my side. Of course, I know that connections happen in the heart, in our minds, but I acknowledge, too, that what we do externally can affect a change internally and perhaps taking his last name of Dearing would give me a further sense of that connection.
I don’t know yet. My heart is still ruminating over the idea. Practically speaking, I can’t afford it at the moment, in any case. But it’s interesting to me that, 4 years out from his death, this idea is rising up in me again.
Alison Miller or Alison Dearing?
Grief is indeed a holistic experience. Mind, body, emotions, spirit.
I breathe in. I breathe out. Consciously. Letting go of pain, opening up to Love. Opening to Life. I go all Zen about it and try not to try while doing it. I just let it be whatever it is, with no judgement. Yup.
Or I dig in and allow the flood of emotion. I allow the force of memories (all good ones) and let the grief wash through me, stabbing and drawing blood and gushing forth devastation.
Physically I push myself out into the world, meeting new people daily, learning a new environment as I tow my rig and camp for the first time in my life. I’d like to say I exercise so I seem all virtuous and stuff but I’d by lying. I know exercise is a helpful thing during grief but I just can’t get there. Mostly, I don’t even remember that it’s an option and secondly, there is an over-riding exhaustion in me from doing the first two things from the top of this blog and my body and mind don’t align to get me out there to even do a meandering walk. I could push myself to push through that probably, with a great deal of focus, which is something I also seem to have lost since Handsome Husband died.
Nutrition? Vitamins? It’s hard enough to do with a home base, never mind living on the road. I don’t have a clue.
Papers get lost, even though I intentionally place them in the most obvious location to be found. Things I know that I possess scatter into the stratosphere, to be found again purely through chance. I plot routines in order to make habits, only to forget them or, if I write the routine down to remind myself, I then lose what I wrote. Including if I noted it on my computer. Passwords to various links swirl in my head, lost and found intermittently.
Phone calls that need to be returned. Emails that need response. The best intentions on both until they join the morass that is my brain these days. (So, please forgive me for that phone call you didn’t get from me).
Some of this can be blamed on the full-time traveling lifestyle I live. Small space, attempts to organize, followed by the feeling that I’m lucky I can find my keys to drive at any point. Most of it I attribute to grief primarily because I used to be really well-organized and competent.
So I go back to trying to breathe, which I haven’t done well since my husband died. I try to feel joy in what I’m experiencing (because there is cause for joy, after all). I try to feel contentment. Or serenity. Or anything other than grief but those emotions are intellectual exercises for me and can’t seem to make their way past the acid lump in my throat or the meat-slicer that resides in my chest or the exhaustion that sings through my veins or the heaviness that is my body or the maelstrom of devastation that is my self. And I hate that I’ve lost who I was and have no concept of who I will be and I hate that I have to be me without him but that’s what I’ve got.
I was a strong woman with a solid sense of myself for the 24 years I was married to Handsome Husband. We had an interdependent relationship and I felt strong within it and I mourn the lost me. Because I feel no strength in this new life, I have no trust in it and honestly, I don’t care about it or a future. I’m in this moment, surviving and trying to remember where the fuck anything is.
Which is why I give myself the FWG image to live into each day. It’s the only thing I do remember to do. I remind myself that I can do this because I fucking have to do this. Period. End of story.
Grief isn’t for wimps.
It’s been one full week on this Nothin’ But Love tour. Our first night was spent boon-docking off a forest road just outside of Sedona, AZ. The crickets chirped and the stars were bright. A hot air balloon greeted us in the early morning as it landed by our campsite. Camping for me typically involves not much more than a tent and perhaps a hammock. This new form of glamping (as “they” call it) is so up my alley. Night two in Dewey, AZ welcomed us with a home cooked dinner, storytelling, hula hooping, and a glorious view. Our hosts were warm and generous. The third night took us to a Flying J in Barstow, CA where I had a surprising solid night of sleep. Days 4, 5, and 6 put us in Morgan Hills, CA at USVA Pines RV Park where green vineyards, rolling hills, and tall trees kept us company. It also gave us some time to rest (sort of) and catch up with friends and family who lived in the area and brought with them so much love and many hugs- all of which keep us moving forward on this Odyssey of Love. One more long day north up the Pacific Coast Highway filled with winding roads, a fog covered ocean, and floral dotted cliffs finally brought us to our landing place in Fort Bragg, CA where we treated ourselves to a hot meal and comfy hotel room.
This first week has brought with it a wide range of emotions. Memories take hold and plop a smile across my face as I remember times traveled with my husband. Familiar places fill my heart with love for him. Other moments warm my heart but also tug at its strings as my mom and I happen upon places that she and my dad visited in their first year of travel. It helps me to know and feel closer to my dad as I stand in view of the very same sites he set his eyes upon in times past, but with that comes the grief of knowing that he will no longer hold my mom’s hand as the adventure continues. I also find myself wondering if my mom ever feels out of breath when she turns to look towards the drivers seat and finds me sitting there in place of my dad. Needless to say, it’s been an emotional roller coaster.
I also miss my husband. It’s only been a week so it’s relatively easy to pretend I am simply on a short trip and will return home soon. The days come and go with gentle ease, as they are filled with many distractions. But as the lights go out, I climb into bed, and the sounds of night take over the bustle of the day, I miss him. I miss his arms around me. I wear his college sweatshirt to bed every night and shall until I can crawl up next to him again. He and I have always enjoyed falling asleep wrapped up in each other. It is a place I feel safe and oh so loved. It gives me the tiniest glimpse of the life that my mom is now forced to lead. This is a trip that I chose to do voluntarily, and one that he has been supportive of from day one. He and I both knew that this was something that I just needed to do with my mom. I have no regrets about that but that doesn’t make it any easier. I have left behind all comforts and everything that I know for 6 months to hit the open road. The only thing that I do know is that this adventure is being led by intuition and nothin’ but love.
So, what is to become of my life at the end of this time on the road? I have no idea and am completely ok with that. I will be a changed woman at the end of this particular experience- of that I am sure. I am moving forward with an open heart and allowing my world to unfold before me. And you know what? It’s kind of beautiful.
As we drove, he would always put his hand on my knee, clasping my hand in his. Or I’d put my hand on the back of his neck, or my arm under his.
He opened car doors, and all doors, for me. We only figured this out in our 2nd year of travel. (yes, it took that long). He asked me once why I didn’t let him open doors and I had no real answer for him, other than to say that I didn’t think about it. I just did it automatically on my own. So he said he’d like me to think about it and let him do it for me. I did. And loved it. He opened doors for me right up until he walked up those stairs at our condo in California for the first time, 2 months before he died. And I know it killed him that he couldn’t perform this gallantry for me any longer.
No matter where I was in a room, or if I just entered a room, he’d look across at me and smile. Or wink. He had the sexiest wink.
When we had a house and it was about time for him to get home, my body could sense when his car approached the turn into our street, and my skin would buzz with electricity. That feeling never left me, no matter where we were. Or I’d feel his gaze on me. And get that same feeling.
We’d be watching TV, or each of us reading, or otherwise occupied, and a tune would come on from something on a CD, and he’d stand up, come over to me and hold out his hand for mine and he’d pull me up into him, take my left hand in his right, put his left arm behind me and we’d dance. In the few years it took me to get completely comfortable in letting him lead, I’d try to lead and he’d stop us in our tracks and humorously remind me who was leading. And then start again. We weren’t fancy in our dancing, but he did know how to swirl and move his feet and make it look like something fancy. And he knew how to gracefully dip me at the end of a dance. I loved that. He was a good lead in life in general, not just on the dance floor. And I trusted him enough to follow.
When we went to sleep, he’d curl into me from behind, giving me a feeling of being loved and secure. When I went into the heat surges of menopause and I’d overheat and he’d start sweating and we couldn’t curl into one another for more than a few minutes, we’d still clasp hands as we drifted to sleep. And maybe touch our feet together.
He loved being touched. My fingertips sweeping along his arm especially. Which actually physically irritated my fingertips, weirdly enough. So I never did it for as long as he would have wished. Now I wish I had.
I loved painting our house when we had one, and every 6 months or so, I’d paint each of the rooms a different color. Ultimately most of our house was painted in some shade of pink, which never bothered him. I used to tell him that it emphasized his masculinity, standing with such a background. His wry smile clearly accepted my declaration while not believing me for a minute. But he never complained.
I also loved moving furniture around, constantly searching for a new look. I told him I did that because I’d been raised an Army brat, always moving around. I loved that he was in the Air Force when we got married, and hoped that we’d move frequently. That definitely didn’t happen-he stayed put at McGuire AFB in Jersey. So I moved furniture. He would joke that it was good he wasn’t a blind man, or drunk, because when he came home he’d end up killing himself crashing into newly moved furniture in the dark.
He told me frequently that he loved me but was fully aware that love is an action word, so he showed me always. Fall and winter evenings would see him brewing up a cup of Chai or hot chocolate for me. I can only say it was flavored with love because it was always perfect. I don’t know what he added to make it so good but since his death I’ve been unable to drink either. He supported me in whatever made me happy, and was always proud of me.
Just as often I would, of course, tell him I loved him in return. But I also would tell him in response “I feel loved” acknowledging and affirming for him that all he did was recognized by me. Such a response gave it an entirely different energy from automatically telling him I loved him too.
I’m still very much in love with him but here’s a harsh reality (I read this in a book recently) that is a truth I need to accept and it’s what the struggle of grief is all about for me. The was and the now.
I’m in love with a dead man.
Mostly, I don’t find God or Fairness or anything of the sort in this life of mine. I do have, in a way I haven’t yet figured out, a strong spiritual side of me but that is very much undefined and mostly I have questions with no answers.
The strongest belief I have is in Love. Capitalized because I believe it is that strong a word. I strive to hold on to that word daily and minute-ly through this gut-shredding grief at the loss of my husband. He and I had love with and for each other, to a degree that I’d never had before we met.
Each of us came from a previous marriage that presumably started out with what we each thought was love but, in hindsight, turned out to be dysfunction. I had a very bad first marriage but my gift from that was 3 kids who grew into lovely, loving adults. He had, if not a bad first marriage, a very neutral, unconscious, one but brought from it the gift of his daughter. But when we found each other, despite every kind of hurdle, we found love such as we’d never known could be. We nurtured it, we cherished each other, we were passionately in love until his last breath. There was never a moment when we took each other, or our love, for granted.
Which is not to say we didn’t fight, and steam, and get caught up in the trivialities of every day stresses of working and raising kids and blending our families, to varying degrees of success. When the time came, neither one of us suffered empty-nest syndrome: we looked forward to the day when it would be just the two of us, and our marriage and bonds with each other grew even more intense.
Which brings me to this business of life. It’s inherently unfair. My head and my intellect get that and accept that. In grieving the death of this man I loved so deeply and passionately, I’m walking a well-worn path.
My heart, though, looks around and sees other couples, married and not. Doesn’t matter. What I look at is the interaction between couples. I’ve always been interested in such things, and Handsome Husband and I spent many a mile discussing couple relationships.
It doesn’t bother me, as it does some who are grieving their husbands (I will not use the word “widow”. I hate that word) to be around couples. I revel in seeing couples in love, who aren’t afraid to express it with one another. I love seeing love. It reminds me of the gift I had. The thing is, I don’t see much of that. Couples in love, I mean. Couples who have been together for any length of time. In their actions, I don’t see much, if any, love and I wonder at that.
I struggle at the unfairness of seeing couples who barely tolerate one another, who are disrespectful in their words and treatment of one another, couples who are barely conscious of one another, couples who disparage one another in front of and behind the backs of. I see people who don’t take care of themselves or each other, physically or emotionally and yes, I gasp at the fucking unfairness of it. I see women who consider their husbands to be boys, just another one of their kids, and I see men who act as boys and despots. I see a lot of not cherishing going on. I see alcoholics who don’t take care of themselves and whose drinking impacts their marriage. I see men order their wives around and women accept it. I see people who don’t know that there is such a thing as real and actual love, even while daily life is happening. Maybe most especially because daily life is happening and love can, and should be, the saving grace that brings us through it.
Handsome Husband did everything right. He ate well, he exercised, he meditated, he was of service to others, he was a guiding light to his kids and those he mentored. He was a man, not a boy, and behaved that way. He loved me passionately and fully. Even when I drove him to distraction (and he, me, and yes we did), there was never any name-calling, no referring to me as “the ball and chain”, no lack of respect. We took care of ourselves and each other and were fully aware, coming from bad marriages, how blessed we were. Our love was our refuge from how tough life could be, and often was. Thank god.
So, I look at couples and I see them not taking care of themselves or each other, being negative with one another passively and aggressively, and I’m struck (and, yes, angered) at the fucking unfairness of life that allows life to them and takes it away early from me and my husband. I don’t see a lesson in it, though, yes, it makes me even more grateful for what he and I were blessed with for so many years.
It’s simple really. You can do everything right, you can eat well, you can grab every moment, you can be filled with gratitude and acknowledge every blessing and you’re still going to die. Young or old, blessed or not, you’re still going to die. And those of us left behind, who loved you, are going to wonder at the unfairness of it, even while realizing it’s just life.
I look at the couples around me and I wonder: do you know how blessed you are to still have each other? I see the unkindness in words and act, or just the passivity of the relationship, and I wonder at anyone who is settling because they don’t think they can have more, don’t deserve more. I was there, once, in my first marriage, as was Handsome Husband, until we each learned, in our time, that we could have more. Have that fullness of a life lived with love for another person.
None of which is to be preachy. People do what they do. Handsome Husband and I didn’t do it perfectly but we did pay attention (as Willy Loman so famously said). Our relationship to each other mattered first and foremost in our lives, even above our kids. We were aware of each other and how blessed we were and knew how easily it could all slip away. It isn’t a matter of being preachy. It’s just that in this time of being without my husband, learning to live without his arms around me, without his kiss on my lips, I wonder at how people don’t let love in, or that they settle for a definition of love that tears down rather than builds up, and it makes me ache for what I had and what I have only with a ghost anymore.
Don’t settle, I want to say. We are all worth love. Love that is passionate and full and makes you fearless and adventuresome even while struggle and daily life happens. Believe in it, seize it, cherish it, nurture it, be fully in it.