Grace Absorbed~

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This picture expresses it all for me.
Where I am in this widowed life.
It was taken 3 years ago, but even then, without knowing….I was determined.
Determined that Love must be bigger than the devastation.
Determined that if I knew nothing else, if I remembered nothing else, I would know and remember the Love that Chuck left behind for me.
And I would make it shine forth from me so brightly that it would rival the sun.

And it does. It shines and it shimmers and it glows.
It isn’t any easier for me than it is for anyone else in this widow life.
What you can’t see in this picture, what is invisible to the human eye and completely visible to my eye, is the humongous shape of Chuck’s absence that is always with me.
His physical and tangible absence right there to the left of me.
That’s the side he walked on, always, because of deafness in his right ear.
The day this picture was taken, I very consciously chose my clothing, wanting them to reflect the fucking warrior goddess that I was determined to be.
I chose a clear crystal to wear around my neck, on a strand of pink beads.  Clear crystal, so that the light would shine through. Pink because, well…pink, and Chuck said wear pink to mourn for me, not black.  Pink is your color.
I wore leggings that I laced with pink thread. They were a bit ragged, which suited me.  I was ragged and torn up. I still am.
A lace shirt to remind myself of softness and light and my femininity. What I was, what I felt, when Chuck and I were together.
A laced suede vest denoting armor.  Widowhood is not for sissies.  Life is a battle for me, everyday.  I make the decision every day to get up and suit up and show up, and I armor myself in pink, for strength.  For Love.
A sword. But a sword for Love, not violence. A sword because a fucking warrior goddess must have a sword.
I purposefully went barefoot that day, as I crossed streams and climbed red rocks to get to a rise above the earth. I wanted my feet to sink into the ground.  I wanted them dirty and natural and bare.  Bare and as stripped down as I felt.
And, as I posed and lifted my face to the sun above me, I felt, even as my shredded heart beat beneath my lace shirt and suede vest…I absorbed the grace descending upon me.
Grace.
What I needed then, what I need now, to carry me, along with the Love that is the only real and tangible thing to me in these 4 years and 3 months of without-ness.
I lift my face to the sun, still, and I lift my face to the moon and stars at night, as I travel my Odyssey of Love.  I speak to Chuck and I ask him to send even more Love here to me, more Love to hold onto, more grace to continue on.
Love…the Love that Chuck left behind for me, the Love that I feel for him now and always, is the very breath of my existence. It fuels me, it gets me going, it keeps me going.
I lift my eyes to the skies to absorb Chuck, wherever he is, if he is…and I breathe the Love from him into every step I take, every mile I drive.
It’s all I have.
And it isn’t enough.
Except that..
It is.

It must be.

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Those Million Days Ago…Yesterday…

This day, 3 years ago…

Handsome Husband and I arrived in Cathedral City, California.

We’d come from 3 months in the Phoenix, Arizona area, where we’d visited with 2 of our kids, and we’d adventured along the way in Vegas, and Red Rock Canyon outside of Vegas, where we’d stayed with an Air Force buddy and his wife. IMG_9612

We’d gone to Death Valley…yeah, how fucking ironic is that? and I remember Chuck teasing me as I’d apprehensively and not terribly gracefully, climbed down a rock facing..

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…stopped at Edwards AFB to visit another Air Force buddy, IMG_0389

…contemplated WW2 at the Japanese Internment Camp in Manzanar, IMG_0364

and vowed to return to the Salton Sea on a day trip as we meandered along I-10.

I can still recall the heavy scent of orange blossoms as we parked our car at our rented condo.  There was a huge orange tree in a tiny grassed area to the right of the stairs.  IMG_110015 steps led us to our 2nd floor temporary home.  I remember that, too, because I counted them as Handsome Husband slowly ascended them.  He, who ordinarily carried all of our heavy stuff, carried a small pillow and our camera…all that he could manage and even that exhausted him.  I walked behind him in case he fell;  he was suddenly tired and frail.  It was left to me to trudge the remainder of our belongings up those stairs;  he couldn’t, and it broke his heart.  I could see the frustration in his eyes as he watched me.

Thus began our final almost 2 months together.  We thought his illness came from a systemic fungal infection.  We were wrong.  The fucking cancer had returned.

Why return to those times, you might ask?  Why submit myself to the pain of it again, by remembering, by writing about it yet one more time?

I don’t know that there is any good answer, except to say that it is my history.  It is our final history together and that matters to me.  There was so much uncertainty in those early days in the condo, but there was also a deepening of the love we had with and for each other.  Our sex life was a thing of the past and I distinctly remember thinking back to our beginning times when I told him that I  was so much in love with him that I wanted to be with him even if we could no longer make love…which was a strong statement from me, because our love life was passionate from the very beginning.  But the remembrance of that early thought was there in my mind, along with everything else that scrambled through it as he and I dealt with his ever-worsening health.

I need to remember these days and weeks as much right now as I need to breathe.  That time wasn’t all of our lives together by any means, but it was a defining moment in the hugest way possible.  Something was so very wrong, and we set our minds to deal with it as best we could, researching alternative methods of treatment and doing all we could, and loving each other intensely in spite of, because of, and no matter what.

In a meeting that only showed as horribly ironic much later, after his death, we met a woman in the hot tub the first time we ventured into it, who shared with us that she was newly widowed. We asked her gently about her circumstances, but didn’t speak too much about it later.  She was the one person we met while in California…the only person we met.  And she was a widow…

I write about that time, at this time, 3 years later, because the death of my husband was and is as much my life with him as our previous 23 years, and because, as traumatic as that time was, and as much as it echoes in me still, it was the time I said goodbye to a man who loomed so largely in my life because of how he loved me and how much he loved me and I will never forget it.

I write about these last times he and I had, to honor him and the valor and humor and love that he displayed, right up til the end, and to honor the love I, and our kids, and our friends, and his Air Force buddies, and his AA buddies, brought to that time, for him, and because of him.

I write about those last times because it was our last times together and I miss him unbearably and in a part of me that directs my blood to continue running through my body…I just can’t believe he’s gone…

A One Year Dance~

Grief is an emotional, mental, physical, gut-wrenching, life-changing, soul-shattering, struggle.  Grief is endless nights  of cat-naps but blessed relief if unconsciousness actually happens so that the missing-ness can temporarily recede into nothingness.  Grief is getting up one more day and appearing normal on the outside (not because you’re trying to appear normal but because you just weirdly appear normal in spite of)  while the insides, right behind the eyes and right underneath your skin, are churning with the debris brought ashore by the tsunami that killed your life.

Is that over-stating it?

Family begins arriving today.  Our niece, Stephanie, who has been busily traveling the world, comes in from California, her first port of call after months in SouthEast Asia.  Tomorrow Fireman Nick and SugaPie fly in from Connecticut.

The reason?  Monday marks the one year point since Handsome Husband died.  Each stroke of the alphabet as I type that three-letter number slices into me.  The cognizance that one year just passed doesn’t make this time more painful to me; it makes it only more surreal to me.

Friends will join us at Bell Rock in Sedona, Arizona on Sunday for a ritual to remember Handsome Husband.  Not everyone will be there-life interferes with no accommodation for sadness.  My step-daughter has 2 children to tend, with the attendant school and care issues so she’ll adjust the time difference (she’s in Vermont) and remember from afar with us.  Our NJ peeps, Bruce and Mary Ann, and so many others there…same thing.  All around the country, they’ll be remembering with us.

Words fail me (in spite of how much I’ve been writing recently).   At some point grief reaches such a saturation point that there is nothing left to say and silence falls.  I think back and remember this happening when my brother and mom died.  After 6 months, after 1 year, what is left to say?  It becomes repetitious.  I’m sad, I’m grieving, I’m desperate, I’m lonely, I can’t stand this life, I’m lost.  Understandably (but no less annoyingly) the general public starts to look at you and think “depressed”.  Cue the threatening music.

Grief is so much not depression and to name it that is condescending and dismissive and it also leads to the easy fix of medication.   (No, I’m not dissing medication as a personal decision.  I keep homeopathic remedies on hand to help me through the worst of it;  I’m just not going to get myself involved in prescriptive medication).   By its’ very definition, grief means a lack of.  Lack of focus, lack of sleep (though sleeping too much also happens), lack of joy, lack of patience, lack of most of what used to be.

Primarily, lack of the one who died.  Lack of their love, lack of their touch, lack of…them.

And it takes time to adjust, time to build a new life, time to find your feet underneath you so that you can build that new life.  Not one year, very often not two years.  Whatever time it takes.  You can’t just lay about and wait for it to happen though.  You have to get out there and do it, in spite of.  Which I’m doing.

Grief is a seesaw of emotions and not because emotions veer back and forth.  At least in my case, I’ve found that my emotions are fairly stable, in that there is nothing but pain as a baseline.  It’s a seesaw because we must search out balance again.  We must plant our feet in the middle of that seesaw, moving our weight from side to side until both ends level.  Not an easy job in any way.

On Sunday, at Bell Rock, I’ll play music  to celebrate Handsome Husband and we’ll all dance and I invite you, dear readers, wherever you are, to join us at 3 pm and dance your own dance.  Dance with us as we remember a man who touched our lives, and touched so many lives because of us.  Dance with me as I shout my love, and defiance of the death that took my most beloved husband from me last year on April 21.  Dance with me and our kids and our family and our friends and shout out your love for those who left you behind but also left so much love behind.

Dance it out.  Shout it out.  Love it out.

It matters.  IMG_8964

Too much thinking moment~

In traveling around this country, just the little bit I’ve seen so far, a thought strikes me constantly. The states I’ve been in so far, here in the Southwest especially, are BIG! And there are so many parts of each state that are vastly different from the parts already seen. Texas went from hill country, soothing to the eyes, some green, low-growing mesquite and pine, to flat and ugly down near the border. And then pretty again as we headed to New Mexico. We came into New Mexico from the East–UGLY with a capital U!  Who knew that part of the state was a long road with oil wells as far as the eye could see? And the stench! of sulphur for miles…only to turn pretty again as we approached Arizona, and went into the mountains–absolute beauty. Which turned into the red rock area of Sedona, which is completely different from 45 minutes north into Flagstaff, which is busy, much cooler, and has snow regularly. Leaving this morning to head into northern AZ, and the Navajo reservation, which has a beauty of its’ own in parts, but looks much like a stone quarry would back East. Once again, ugly, and it gave me some understanding of why any native Americans would be pissed at the white man for shoving him off into this godforsaken area where it is nothing but HARD living, and miles away from ANYWHERE in a very serious way,and how on earth can anyone make a living? Then it gradually changed again to pretty, then ugly around the Four Corners area of CO, then pretty into Cortez, green mountains, gentle hills, and the beauty of the mountains as we came into Durango. So, my thought is: each part of a state, each part of the country, has its’ own terrain, its’ own geography, its’s own weather, and this necessarily makes the people different. The cities and/or towns, are far apart, most often people are very far away from law enforcement and that gives me an understanding of the need and desire to own guns–you have to know how to take care of yourself and your family. The biggest question I have is: how on earth can all of our differences necessitated by the vastly different places we all live in, be overcome by everyone, to the point where we can find enough common ground to have agreement? It gives me pause to be awed by the fact that our founding fathers were able to accomplish anything, never mind anyone who came after them. I’d always read how vast this country is-now I”m seeing it, and it is a bit of a shock to the system to realize it in fact. Without sounding too dramatic about it, I am awed at the fact that we have ONE country here. Yes, there are differences in thought, and disagreements, but ultimately, we have one country, and one government, and that is not to be dismissed lightly…
Sorry for the soapbox-this country does that to me!

A changing moment…

We went hiking yesterday to Bell Rock.

contemplating the climb..

I didn’t get as far to the top as I would have liked-I have a terrible fear of heights and it was getting a bit steep for me. In those moments, I stop to consider-am I trying to prove something to myself or to others? How far do I need to go in an attempt to overcome my fear? Do I NEED to overcome my fear? After all, isn’t it a choice to go climbing? And how often am I going to need to scale such heights in a physical way? In any case, I got about half way up, then decided to sit it out while the others continued. But it was while I was sitting it out that I had some thoughts about my life in the last month, and how I’ve already changed so much…

Our belongings are sitting in a storage unit back in Indiana, to be retrieved when we decide that we are done with traveling and have found a place to settle down. So far, as I’ve said before, top of the list is the hill country of Texas. That part of Texas, this part of the country, holds a vastly different feeling than that of the East coast. Yes,there are cities here and there, and the people there are just as rushed as all other cities. But there is a wildness out here, a spaciousness, that makes me think differently. And, as I contemplate our belongings there in Indiana, I consider that we need to have another yard sale prior to moving our stuff anywhere, because I don’t want or need all that is enclosed in that unit. I think of the clothing I packed away and realize I’m not the same person who packed them up. As I was packing, of course I got rid of the business type clothes mostly, but I think of the few pairs of heels that I saved, some of the fancy boots, and my first thought is that I can’t imagine ever wearing them again. I want sandals and cowboy boots, or something of the type! And nylons? Sooo not happening ever again! How about jeans and boots from now on? I go on to think about even the bed linens and stuff for decorating the house–lots of it the Shabby Chic that I so love. And I still think its beautiful, but I no longer want the pale colors around me….I want VIVID! I want jewel tones! I want colors that reflect all the excitement and joy of my new life…
Changes…I practice daily being open to changes, looking forward to changing. This is a whole new life for me…one where there aren’t any hard and fast plans for the future. I am being in the moments of each day, soaking them up, taking heart pictures in the moments that can never truly be captured with a camera. It feels good, and I’m so very glad that Handsome Husband and I were willing to take the chance to do this, willing to make the trade-offs of financial security and physical security, to grab at life and get out of that rat race. This life we have together now is bonding us even more strongly-we are finally getting the time together that we have always wanted, and we are making all of our moments count, and creating memories both for and with each other.

Handsome Husband

A meditative moment~

On the way to uptown Sedona, from the village at Oak Creek, you can take a turn to the right, there is a road that will lead you into the Red Rocks. Park your car, and look up above, and you’ll see the starkly simple Chapel of the Holy Cross. The ramp that leads to it is winding, and you will come upon small gardens that are tucked into the sides. What makes it so stunning is that you are surrounded, you are IN the red rocks….
I’ve visited this chapel each time I’m here in Sedona. The window behind the altar looks out at the natural wonders of creation–and if you step to the edge, near the back, AND you have vertigo, it can get it going! The heights and drops will get your adrenalin racing through your body.
As in many chapels, there are rows of candles that you can light in memory of…and I lit one in memory of all of our moms and said a prayer too, for Jess Boykin and her team who are crewing the Avon walk for the Cure this weekend in Denver. Its very moving to read the inscriptions under each candle-the one that always chokes me up says “isn’t this beautiful, mom?”
There was an Indian family visiting when I was there, and I watched as each of them exited the chapel, stood at the center of a circle of bricks on a mosaic tile of a dove, and meditated for a few minutes. There is a sense of peace there, whatever your faith. It gave me a chance to slow down and truly be in the moment.  

a Southwestern being in the moment~

It’s been a long trip to get here to Sedona, and I saw parts of the country I didn’t even know were out here!
Handsome Husband and I had thought that we might settle eventually in San Angelo, Texas, and it was duly checked out–and promptly, checked off, our list! Texas, as we all know, is a HUGE state–I found out that there are enough roads in Texas to wrap around the world 5 times–so, yep, that’s huge. We were hopeful, going from the hill country we fell in love with, to further south, that we’d find more of the same…but, nope! not to be. Heading into the San Angelo area, the geography got FLAT, flat, flat! We did stay overnight, and drove around the town, and I kept hoping to find the GOOD part of town, but there really wasn’t a good part of town. That part of Texas has to put the natives through some tough times–how does anyone do it? And I don’t mind the middle of nowhere, but it was the middle of nowhere ugly….so, a resounding NO to San Angelo.

Interesting traveling AWAY from San Angelo–it got pretty again, and who knew that there were extensive wind farms out there? And when I say windfarm, I mean extending for upwards to 60 miles in every direction–look at this picture, and imagine a horizon full of them–

Texas windmill

Also, in the middle of nowhere, Texas, suddenly this massive castle-like house–clearly some money at work here, and it must be from oil, because we suddenly started seeing oil wells…like big ducks, dipping down to pick seeds off the ground. And then, another big surprise, as we drove out of Hobbs, New Mexico–I had no idea that New Mexico was oil country! Just like the windfarm, for miles and miles, except it was nothing but oil drills. And believe me, it was miles and miles and miles, and all the while, the air stank of sulfur, and it was UuuuGggly! with flat land, crazy big rig drivers and others, who would come right up on your tailpipe, suddenly swerve out, almost hitting you, and then pass with no room to spare. I’m giving you fair warning, people, you take your life in your hand to drive in this part of the country! At least in New Jersey, people pretty much know that they are aggressive jerks when it comes to driving–out here, I don’t think they know how to drive but they think they do, and that makes for trouble!

We have been leisurely in driving–we each take turns at the wheel, and stop when we see something interesting. I saw my first roadrunner–outside of the cartoon, that is! It wasn’t going beep, beep, and it skittered across the road so quickly, you had to look twice to make sure of what it was, and there wasn’t a coyote chasing it, but it was, yes, indeed, a roadrunner! And then, an elk, standing right at the side of the road–don’t know why, maybe he didn’t know, but there he was. And  armadillo–more dead ones, but still a southwestern thing….

A lovely night at a hotel in the mountains of Arizona, in a town called Show Low, which I can never seem to remember properly, and so call Slow Mo, or LowShow, or Show and Tell, but it is a pretty little town, though approaching it was when we saw that horrible sign about wolves and keeping your kids and pets close by-as if we don’t have enough to worry about as parents. Sounds a little too Hansel and Gretl, and I will not be moving there anytime soon, thank you!  

The White Sands speak for themselves-the true vastness of this earth, how small we all are in the scheme of things. I’ll be interested in contrasting them with the Sand Dunes of Alamosa, Colorado, which we plan on visiting…

That’s Handsome Husband there!

So, folks, here I am in Sedona, Arizona, with our two sons, and I think we’ll be here until July 4, maybe watch some fireworks over the Red Rocks. Feeling relaxed, loving the time with Handsome Husband, wondering when I’m going to get back to work on my book, but enjoying my first time off in a very long time.  Angel blessings to all of you-I carry you with me…