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

 

 

 

Tu Me Manques…

 

My beloved husband,

You have been gone from me forever and a day….mere minutes ago, as measured by my heart’s yearning.  One thousand four hundred and fifty nine days, as measured by the Roman calendar.  I love you.

There is no meaningful way, really, to measure the depth of the grief in my heart that you are gone from me.  Perhaps the only true measure of this grief can be found in the exact measure of my Love for you.  In these four years and forever and a day, my Love for you has only grown.  I love you.

There is an emptiness to my life now, an emptiness that is the shape of you…your broad shoulders, your strong hands, the smile that lit your eyes as you looked out at life…as you looked at me.  That emptiness that is in the shape of your lips on mine as you kissed me, and the grasp of your hand behind my neck.  It is the shape of your arm around me as you pulled me into you as we danced, our bodies moving in synch across a dance floor.

The most painful thing I’ve ever done is watch you in that bed in your final weeks, tending to you, hurting for you, smiling for you, touching you, holding your hand as I sat in a chair next to you, exhausted but never as exhausted as you were, speaking to the nurses, trying to find ways to shield your body from the cancer onslaught and never succeeding, but trying again and again because it was unbearable and unacceptable that this was happening to you, my dearest husband. I loved you beyond measure in those moments, in a way that was more intimate than ever before.

The most painful thing I’ve ever done is draw the blanket over your face for the last time, kiss you for the last time, say goodbye to you for the last time.  I miss you.

Life is lonely without you, D.  I don’t know what to do with myself, don’t know what to do with the aching of my body without your touch, what to do with all the beautiful memories that remind me of times past and a future gone.  All this Love I had for you, have for you…I reach out and you aren’t there to receive it, so my Love lingers in the air, an energy of its own.  Love with nowhere to go.

I gaze up at the sky, day and night.  The bright blue skies and the darkest blue of night, wondering.  Wondering if you’re somewhere out there, seeing me, missing me.  Are you there, D?  Do you see me, wanting you, missing you, wishing you?

My soul requires broad open skies now, no hindrances blocking the way of the horizon in any direction.  My soul craves the skies we opened our sunroof to when we traveled, the skies that meant freedom of the open road to us. There is such vastness in the depth of my sorrow that it can be contained only by the endless expanse of sky and Universe.  Each cloud in the day, each star in the night…each is a marker for me.  Are you there?  Or there?  Maybe there?

It isn’t as simple as missing you.  Of course, I do, and there is no way to express the enormity of this missing.  But it goes beyond missing you, D.  More than me missing you is that you are missing from me.  The French have a phrase for it…tu me manqué.  You are missing from me.

I grow anxious at times, wondering what you would think of me now.  Would you be proud of how I’ve lived without you? Would you be disappointed?  I know that you’d hurt for me that I hurt so much without you, but I know you’d understand, too.  Mostly I know that you’d be proud of how I’ve done this, even with all the pain and sorrow and missingness.  I know this to the bottom of my heart.  I want to do you proud, D, and I believe I have.  I hope I have.

You are my dearest Love.  You will always be me and I will always be you and our hearts will always be connected, no matter how far apart we are, no matter how long a time we are separated.

What remains of you is Love, strong and sure.  You are Love and I am yours and you are missing from me and I miss you and I carry who you were and who we were in my heart day and night and I’ll carry our Love with me until my final hours and minutes.

And when the time comes, I hope, I hope, I dream, I wish, I demand, I whisper, I implore, I beseech…please find me.  I don’t know where you are, but you know where I am and I need you to come find me.

Until then, my dearest, my most beloved husband, my lover, my heart and soul…

Tu me manques.  Tu me manques.  Tu me manques.

 

Pink in the Midst of Black~

The colors of widowhood.

I reflect on them sometimes.

The colors we wear.

The colors we strive to wear personally and the colors social structures put on us, or expect from us.

Maybe not so much in words, maybe not conscious.

But still there.

Black widows are the female spiders that kill their mates after…mating.

It is the term used to refer to human women who kill their mates.

Or families.

Interesting, isn’t it?

I, of course, didn’t kill my mate.  My husband.  My lover.

But as time passes in this widowhood, I feel the pressure of widowhood and it colors my perception of self and I feel like the Black Widow.

Though I struggle to not let it color who I really am, who I strive to be in the days and months and years since my beloved husband died.

I freely admit that I am dark.  Darker than I’ve ever been.  I’m the party pooper, the one to rain on your parade because I’m not me anymore.  Or, at least, not the me I used to be.  And I have no idea who this me is now.  The lightheartedness that used to make me the life of the party, the joie de vie that guided my life…that’s gone dark.  The smile, the humor, the sparkle in my eyes…gone.

Oh my god.  Have I become the Black Widow?

To counter all of this, I wear pink.  Chuck said that to me, you know.  Before he died.  Black isn’t your color.  Mourn for me in pink.

And I do.  Not a gentle pink, though.  The pink I wear is such as the great female warriors of times past might have worn.  If they wore pink.  Which they didn’t, to my knowledge.  Though glowing pink armor would be totally radical, dude.

Pink is my armor.  My clothing.  My hair, on occasion.  My car.  My trailer.  Whatever bags I carry. Jewelry.  My boots are brown, but they need to be.  They are my Fucking Warrior Goddess boots.

I’ve been asked why do you need armor?  Why do you call yourself a Fucking Warrior Goddess?  Isn’t that all kind of a violent perception of yourself? Of widowhood?

Um..yeah, it’s necessary. What do you think this is, this widowhood?  What do you think it takes when your world is incinerated around you and it’s now just you, after having been two for so long? I do this not to protect myself from anything, but because this widowhood, the grief and the Love that propel me daily…it’s a battle.  A struggle.  For my sanity, in some ways.  To hold on when I don’t want to go on.  A reminder, daily, to myself more than others, that I am a force to be reckoned with, though I don’t feel very strong most days.  An outward symbol, perhaps, and maybe hopefully, that this pink…this pink…it’s kind of like the S on Superman’s chest.  An outward symbol of strength and determination. Yes, I’m a widow, but I don’t need pity.  I’m not needy.  I’m not here to be taken advantage of or to take advantage of anyone. 

I’m sad, yes.  I miss my husband desperately, yes.  I need to talk about him, yes.  I even need to talk about how he died…because his dying was one of the most powerful things ever to happen to me. It is part of my history now. His death and his life and everything else that has changed, continues changing…this is my life.  This is what I need to talk about with whatever warm body happens to be near me, because I don’t have my warm body near me. It’s as simple as that.  And as complicated, I guess, to the outside world.

Perhaps the term Black Widow exists because that color best describes what happens to our world when our person dies.  It goes black.  The black holes in space have nothing on what happened to my world when Chuck died. Perhaps, too, it exists because people don’t know what to do with widows.  What to say, how to respond to them, either in words or actions.  Perhaps it best describes their discomfort with us, with our intensity, as we navigate a new life.

Are we too intense for normal folk?  It really does seem so.  I’ve seen friendships end, family relationships blown to bits, I’ve heard about it all from my widowed community.  It’s kind of mind-blowing, really.

Widowhood is a world and a language that continually presents itself in new ways to me as I navigate the world, post Chuck’s death.  PCD.  There’s a huge learning curve in it for me, and, I suspect, for many.  It’s confusing and bewildering and honestly makes me feel more vulnerable than I’ve ever felt in my 58 years on this earth.

Which is one of the reasons I do it in pink.

I am the Black Widow, in pink…

(I wonder if being a Black Widow involves endless amounts of glitter?)

 

So….Pink~

I’ve gotten comfortable now in telling the story of all this pink around me.  Pink car.  T@b trailer with pink trim.  Pink insides on both.  Mostly pink fashions (if what I wear can be named such-I tend to shop at thrift stores).  I have a pink straw cowboy hat and pink cowboy boots.  Pink jewelry.  I also have bling wherever possible.  My motto is too much is never too much.  Go big or go home.

Pink, pink, pink.  Raspberry pink, soft pink, shimmer pink, pink in all shades and patterns.

So, the thing is, none of this is just because I like the color pink.  Which I do, but not because its the thing.  I hate to do anything because it’s the thing.  Trendy, you know.  Who cares about trendy?

Before I start:  2 things to mention as back story.

I told Handsome Husband, before he died, that I was going to paint my car pink so that he could find me out here on the road.  He smiled and said he’d be looking for me.

He said to me, before he died  “Don’t mourn for me in black.  It isn’t your color.  Mourn for me in pink”.

I took him very seriously.  Can you tell?

None of this is done lightly.  Pink is, at this time in my life, a deadly serious color.

I wake in the morning and sheath myself in pink to give myself courage.  It’s always been a color of strength and joy to me.  I need strength and I want to find joy again someday.  So pink is my armor.   On days when I’m feeling particularly needful, I wear all pink.  I can never wear too much of it.  Yes, it’s armor but it isn’t armor that protects me from anything.  It’s armor that reminds me to keep my heart open to the love coming my way.  It reminds me that Handsome Husband loved me deeply and that the love he and I shared is still with me.  Pink is my love armor.

PinkMagic.  Yes, my car and my T@b, both in their glorious “Chuck’s Watchin’ Over Me” pink-they’re my magic ride.   PinkMagic takes me out on the road to connect with Handsome Husband again, to connect with friends not yet met, to meet people I need to meet.  I drive east and west and north and south and that one honk from someone passing by, drawn to the color, usually accompanied by a thumbs up, takes me out of my grief and makes me look up and over and smile in return.  It draws fellow campers to me at the camp sites.  We share stories, we exchange phone numbers, we stay connected.

Pink is the color of my grief and it’s the color of my re-entry to life.  It’s my heart wide-open, no matter how much it hurts.  It’s the color of all the love that is lifting me and carrying me through this devastation.   Pink is the solemn promise that there is life again, whether I feel it now or not, whether I want it or not.

Pink.  Love.  Life.  Promise.

Pink as armor for a Warrior Goddess.  Who knew it could be so powerful?IMG_2352phqqqqoto

Finding people in books moments-

I’ve always loved thrift stores, second hand stores, stores where you find previously used “stuff”.  Back when we lived in a house, I collected old plate ware, and I loved it most when it had tiny chips in it, signifying to me that someone had made use of this lovely item.  Maybe that pretty flower patterned plate decorated a tea party table, or was used in an anniversary dinner.  All of my plate ware was mismatched, held together by a common color (pink, of course), and I’d nestle mismatched glasses and silverware next to those plates, set upon a “found” tablecloth of old times. I loved those dishes.  It was a little bit of a wrench to let go of them when I left my old life, but I passed them on to a dear friend who cherishes them and hopefully considers me for a moment when she uses them.  I’m part of their history now.

All of this is to say, I seem to be inadvertently starting a new collection as we travel.  One of my pleasures is happening upon a Goodwill store, or Salvation Army store, anything like it, in all the different parts of the country that we’ve been in, and stopping in to browse.  Any purchases I make tend to be clothing (my goal is to eventually have all my clothes either be all pink or bear some pink in them).  But because I am an inveterate book lover, I take time to scan the book section too-you never know what treasure may be found.

My first “find” was actually made by Handsome Husband, in Loveland, Colorado.  He was leafing through a book and found, marking one of the pages, a picture of a young woman in nurses uniform.  We were  intrigued.  Because Handsome is a researcher extrordinaire  (something that is much more easy to be in this day and age-thank you, internet), he looked up common names in social security data from the time it looked like she might have been born.  The uniform she wore seemed to be from around the WW2 era,  and she seemed to be roughly in her early 20’s, so he backtracked to that time, and scrolled through most popular names, and we decided she would be “Madeleine”.  Or, as we call her, Maddie.  And she travels with us, in her place next to our GPS-our mascot.   This is Maddie-

Today, here in Okeechobee, I wandered into a Goodwill store to explore, and found a book that immediately interested me, called “From Daughters to Mothers-I Meant to Tell You”.  Its an anthology of letters written by daughters to their moms, telling them things that they always wanted to tell them, but for one reason or another, never did.  So, just with the title,  I’m already sold on the book.  (Anyone who knows me knows that, with my work all these many years with daughters grieving their moms, this is right up my alley!)  On Mother’s day, 1996, the book was given by a daughter, Susan, to her mom, (whose name is unknown), as a gift.  This note is on the cover leaf-

Further, inside is this note, written by the mom to her daughter Susan:

(Dear Sue and Larry, Just a short note to say “Hi” and, send “snoopy” down.  Thought you’d like to see what your golf balls turned into. Love, Mom and Dad” (What golf balls? What did they turn into? Who’s snoopy?)

And, extra gold!  I find a picture of Susan’s mom in the pages!

I have no idea, obviously, who this mom/daughter combination is.  It sounds like they had a loving relationship.  I like to think that Susan read this book and maybe had some thoughts that she, too, had things she wanted to tell her mom, but never had.  And, maybe, as a precursor to talking, she gave this same book to her mom, with the enclosed note, and the expectation of sitting down someday soon with her mom to talk about all the stories inside, about moms and daughters and who they each are, and how, so often, we become who our moms were, and are.  And how we, as daughters, can sit in harsh judgement of who our moms were, and maybe still are, but, as we mature, we come to an understanding, and a wondering.  Who were our moms, as women, before they gave birth to us and the title of mom was bestowed on them?  Who were they as daughters, as sisters, as wives of our dads?  My own mom, in spite of her liberal, both professional parents background, married a man who was a West Point graduate, Army career bound.  She spent her life traveling with him to foreign countries and around the US, including the southern states (which might well have qualified as foreign to her).  In the midst of numerous moves every couple years, she gave birth to 8 children.  And, after 25 years of marriage, they got divorced.  Those are the barest of facts.  And then there is the rest of the story, about how she was living on one side of the country when her own mom died, and didn’t go to the funeral-probably couldn’t afford to go, and what to do with all those kids if she did?  I have often, since my mom’s death, pondered about what that could have been like for her.  Knowing the impact my mom’s death had on me makes me think deeply about the impact her mom’s death had on her.  Having gone through a divorce myself, with 3 kids involved, I wonder what was the impact on her, after all those years of marriage, to go through a divorce?  I wonder, I wonder, I wonder, and maybe I’ll write one of those letters too, that this book talks about.  Maybe, after reading this book, I’ll have more insight to my mom and my relationship to her and with her.  I’m a strong believer in synchronicity, and this found book, chanced upon in an obscure Goodwill store in Okeechobee, Florida, a place where I never expected to be, may very well provide another avenue to know my mom more, to be able to connect with her more strongly, even now after her death.  And this thought just came to me as I’m typing this-Susan gave this book to her mom in May 1996.  That’s the year I celebrated my final Mother’s day with my mom.  She died the following July.  Synchronicity-its happens all the time….