Numbers and Changes~

Chuck and I sold our home in NJ in May 2009 to go out on the road and travel our country together. 

No more rat race for us. 

Just time together.

We had just shy of 4 years on the road together.

He died April 21, 2013.

11:21 pm is when he took his last breath.

In so many ways, I did too.

Take my last breath, I mean.

My breathing hasn’t been the same since the hands of the clock ticked to 11:21 and froze.

At the end of May, this year, I’ll have been on the road alone for 6 years.

10 since I lived in a home with Chuck.

I’ve had more time on the road alone than he and I did together, in our Happily Homeless time.

Over the years I’ve frequently been grateful, in a very consuming way, that we didn’t have a home for me to return to after his death.

It would have been impossible to keep our home, financially and emotionally.

I know it would have been too painful for me to wander around the rooms and the beautiful yard, with all the memories.

And the very thought of having to sell all our stuff, appraise the house, sell it, all on my own, without him, sends me into panic mode.

So I’m glad I didn’t have to do that.

My dear friend/wid sister, Lorri, and I have had numerous conversations about how, after our person dies, we oftentimes end up living a life that is no longer ours. 

Sometimes we have to stay put because we have kids/family/responsibilities.

But sometimes, too, we stay where we are because we don’t know we can go somewhere else. Live somewhere else. Create a different life for ourselves.

And our old lives just don’t fit us any longer.

I’ve a few friends…Lorri is one of them…who have decided to explore a life living on the road, same as I’m doing.

A couple of them are widowed. One, a guy, is just tired of living life in the mainstream.

RVs, trailers, camper vans, conversion vans, tents, cars…there’s an entire subset of people living full time in various vehicles, working along the way.

I never want to own a house again. Ever.

I don’t want the responsibility and I don’t want to settle somewhere Chuck isn’t.

If he’s anywhere in this life of mine now, it’s out there in our memories of the road and I meet him unexpectedly at road side picnic tables, rushing rivers, and strangers along the way who approach me to hear my story wow look at all that pink!

This widowed life of mine, coming up on 6 years way too soon, is a life of contradictions, duality and, well, just surreal. 

How the ever loving fuck is he not here with me?

I just finished working my 2nd year at the Renaissance Faire, and, on the 22, one day after Chuck’s 6th anniversary, I’m heading east to Arkansas to work for my 3rd year at the opera camp, where I’m the groundskeeper.

I don’t know where I fit in this life without Chuck. Mostly I don’t think about it. I just live it.

What I do know is that when I sit inside my rig, PinkMagic, and gaze upon the pictures of he and I through our years, or read the notes he wrote to me, now covering the walls, I feel as close to home as I expect I’ll ever feel. 

In this world without Chuck, where nothing is enough, it’s enough for me.

It’s my cocoon, and wraps me in memory.

It’s my world~ 

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

 

 

 

What Has Changed. Besides Everything…

It hit me this morning as I drove the back roads of south Jersey and passed a tree whose leaves were changing colors in preparation for the Fall.

Each time the seasons have changed since Chuck’s death, it takes my breath away.  Not for the beauty of them, which I always used to appreciate, but because…the season is changing again.  As they’ve changed 14 times in these 3 1/2 years since his death.

Each season takes me further away from his life, from our lives together.  And, yes, it hitches my breath each time I acknowledge this.  And it hurts my heart.

Many years ago, for his birthday, I surprised him with a trip to the Poconos.  And yes, we stayed in one of the cheesy hotels with a heart-shaped tub.  We loved it.  Fall colors popped all around us, because Chuck’s birthday is in October.

On our way back home again, we stopped at a roadside park for lunch.  There was a river there, with trees draping their leaves over the water.

It was beautiful.  Now, I can barely bear to see the leaves turn.

Everything changes when your person dies.  The meaning of everything changes when your person dies.   What once had color is now bland.  The flavor and flow of daily life, of days becoming weeks and months and years, changes.  There is an absence of color.

I realize, of course, that I don’t write for every widow and widower.  I can only speak of my own experience.

My heart sang with Chuck’s for our 24 years, and my world was filled with color and beauty.  If there were a switch I could find to turn everything back on, I would, and I’d look at the trees outside and see what color feels like again and I’d listen to the fallen leaves rustle under my feet, and I’d feel everything down to the soles of my soul.

I just don’t fucking know how to change this everything’s changed world of mine~

 

On Being Cherished…and Kissed~

I was cherished in this life.

Cherished by a man who determined, from the time of meeting, that I was the one for him.

Cherished by a man who set out to show that love to me each and every day of our lives together, in word and deed.

This is the time, 3 years ago, that my beloved husband, Chuck, and I, began, so very unknowingly, our final 2 months together. If possible, as our world narrowed into physical pain and emotional trauma, our love expanded and deepened.

I was cherished in our healthy years, and in our cancer times.  No matter what, Chuck sought to love me even as his brow furrowed in distress and discomfort.

Oh, how he cherished me.  And, oh, how I remember his kisses upon my lips, on the top of my head, and on my hand as he’d take it in his as we finished dancing, and raise it to his lips, as a gentleman of old would have done.

His kisses rained down upon me on every occasion.  I recall reading a book about relationships early in our marriage, suggesting that a couple kiss consciously, rather than, say, a quick peck on the cheek.  I mentioned that little fact to him and he put it into practice immediately.  Our kisses at the door, as he left for work, or at the door, when he arrived home, lingered for up to a minute.  Sometimes we’d tease each other if we left the kiss too soon, so we’d start all over again.

He kissed me under the full moon as we sat on the curb in New Hampshire, our first weekend away together.

He kissed me under a full moon as we gazed at it in New Jersey, when I rented my first apartment after living with my mom post-divorce, and we stood on the balcony, savoring the pure contentedness of having our own space.

He kissed me again under that full moon in Indiana when we visited his folks, and he came to get me, grabbing my hand, wanting me to share the brightness and beauty of that full moon with him from their front porch.

He kissed me, every time he kissed me, with passion, with so much love, with possessiveness, with happiness, with pure pleasure…and I kissed him back with the same fire.  His hand behind my neck, or cupping my chin in his hands, pulling me to him…sometimes stooping down a bit, as he was taller than I, but just as much I loved to stand on tiptoe and put my arms around his neck and feel his arms around me, holding me closely and tightly…

In those final weeks before making our wild and unplanned for trip to the ER in southern California, something in the depths of my heart murmured to me and said remember this and after we kissed I’d stand on tiptoe again, leaning in close to where his neck and shoulders joined and I’d inhale deeply.  He noticed, of course, and asked me about it and I said to him I’m memorizing you…  He smiled, figuring I’d picked up another tidbit from another book.

We kissed in the hospital, and in hospice.  It was I, then, who would lean down to him, in the hospital bed, or at the mirror in the bathroom as he studied his image, wondering, I’m sure, what the fuck had happened to his face and body. I’d see that look and I’d turn him to me and take his face between my two hands and say you’re still my knight in shining armor you’re still the handsomest man I’ve ever met

I leaned down to kiss him when he could no longer kiss me because his spirit was no longer in his body.  In that kiss that I pressed upon the lips of this man I loved more than my own breath was the love of 24 years and every full moon we’d gazed upon, and every dance we’d ever danced and every piece of my heart and soul.

That last kiss held all of the honor he’d given me, and all that I’d returned to him in our living love story. In that last kiss was our beginning, all of our wonderful in-betweens, and our end…

My dearest, my most beloved husband…Chuck Dearing…

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Where we Don’t want to be, but thank god we’re here~

My mind has been racing since our consult appointment with the doctor from UPenn on Thursday. I have wanted to write, but can’t nail any one thought down at any point so that I can start.  So with pardons to all ahead of the game, I’ll get us all started on this new chapter of our life called “Shit, Its Cancer-Now What?”

Snow, snow and more snow started our day, but we knew ahead of time that, at least insofar as getting our car on the road, we wouldn’t have a problem.  Dear friends of ours, who have hearts as huge as can be, came over in the dark, before we were even up, cleaned our car off, and shoveled our car out of all that snow.  Life made so much easier for us, and one less thing to be concerned with for that day!  It was a fairly easy trip to the train station, short walk from the train station to the office in Philly.  All good.

And then.  Life changed. As it does.  Our great anticipation was: doctor looks at the tumor, says “holy shit! and sets a date for surgery to remove that little bastard.  How it happened: doctor looked at tumor, looked at MRI’s (which are almost negligible at this point, as the tumor has grown so much), possibly says “holy shit!” to self, but says to us chemo isn’t an option, won’t do any good.  Radiation needs to start today, the cancer is very far advanced (at which point I say to myself “no shit!”), and if insurance won’t come on board immediately, then he’ll admit Handsome Husband to hospital, so treatment can start stat.  Yes, its that bad.  Its big, its ugly, getting bigger, getting uglier.  The whole wrist is involved, side to side.  It goes down deep into the wrist, the top of his arm is swollen, going up to the elbow.  Already loss of movement in hand (small motor movement-grasping and such).  Course of treatment, or battle plan, as I would call it:  five weeks radiation, from slightly below the thumb area, up to maybe a couple inches below the elbow followed by 3-4 weeks off, as radiation continues to work followed by ONE week hospital stay for surgery.  “WHAT?”  I say to myself.  The general gist of things:  there is so little room to move on the wrist.  Radiation will hopefully (yes, it will, I say), shrink the tumor, pull it away from nerves, tendons, etc, kill the tentacles of cancer that are reaching out from the ugly center of the tumor.  Dr will have to beg, borrow and steal nerves, veins, whatever else is needed, from other parts of the body, including skin from Handsome’s back, (in order to create a flap, to cover what I imagine will be a gaping hole.) All of this, of course, needs to be watched carefully, to avoid infection blah, blah, blah….  Post operative occupational therapy-between radiation damage and what they are able to string together during surgery, where he is now with the use of his hand maybe where he will stay.  Which isn’t too bad right now.  Side effects from radiation are so individual.  There maybe fatigue, maybe some, maybe none.  The tumor is going to have the hell burned out of it, and there will be ulcers that will show themselves externally as the poisons surface.  Just calling them ulcers and stopping there is manageable to me-realizing what that actually means is, yeah, different.  Sores, and not pretty ones, dotting the landscape of his forearm.  Yes, they will be covered, so that’s good.  If all of this doesn’t work, or the cancer returns (10% chance of that happening, so good odds), then next step is amputation. Which, when you think of it, we’re lucky, because prior to 1989, amputation was the standard protocol when it came to this cancer…

By the time we went downstairs, across the street to the hospital, the powers-that-be had orchestrated things on the phone with insurance, and we had a consult with the oncological radiologist, and an intern.  They spent time with us, explained and answered everything, and got Handsome Husband right in for the fitting and tattoo session for radiation.  I wondered aloud to Husband if maybe the person doing the tattoo for him would be a burly, long bearded guy, (think Harley-Davidson), wearing a leather vest with ties in the front.  Now that would make it an experience!  (Such wasn’t the case-oh, well).  As we sat in radiology, I looked at brochures for “cancer survivorship”, etc, and thought, “wow, never thought to be here!”  Conversely, with cancer now in our lives, thank god we’re here. These peeps know their shit, and will help us.

The entire day was spent in Philly-there is so much more to tell-another few blogs!  By the time we walked out of there, speaking for myself, I was overwhelmed, exhausted, done, done, done.  The world of cancer. And so much to think about.

As a final word on this blog: Radiation starts on Monday, and, henceforth, the tumor is known as “Wilson”.  Sense of humor is imperative, and, seriously, that damn tumor is big enough that it warrants its’ own name. (and, really, its’ own zip code) However, we don’t expect Wilson to be around for long…his demise is in the cards already…burn, baby, burn!