These Few Words~

 

I will sing you to me…..

These words curve around my lower right leg, from knee to ankle.

My 3rd tattoo.  My first one says nothin’ but love, our credo in hospice.  Those words swirl in a circle on the back of my neck, with the circle ending in a small heart, and the circle is left open.  As my heart must be in this new life without him.

My second one simply says Love, and is on the inside of my left wrist, in the exact location where the tumor I named Wilson, first showed up on Chuck.  It took a 11-hour surgery and 4 reconstructive surgeries afterwards to rid ourselves of Wilson and reconstruct Chuck’s arm.  His right thigh looked like hamburger when they were through.

Each of my tattoos carry special meaning, as all tattoos must.

But…my 3rd tattoo…

Chuck and I both enjoyed watching the movie Australia; a movie set in pre-WW2 Australia, dealing both with the invasion by the Japanese, and the kidnapping of mixed race Aboriginal children from their parents.  The kids were sent to orphanages where they were taught white ways. 

One of the most charming characters in the movie is a little boy named Nullah, a mixed-race boy, taken in by the character of Nicole Kidman.  The two are separated, in the movie, by the kidnapping of Nullah.  As she stands on the pier, desperately trying to keep him with her…as he is taken away to an island for orphans, he says to her I will sing you to me.

And she responds and I will hear you…

In our Happily Homeless travels, Chuck and I visited the huge bike rally in Sturgis, South Dakota.  We didn’t go there specifically for it, but it was going on when we were there, and we walked around and admired the bikes and fell in love with the state.

In the second year after his death, my daughter, Rachael-Grace, went on the road with me for 6 months, supporting me in my Odyssey of Love.  We crisscrossed the USA, and, in the process, ended up in Sturgis, SD, and, again, happened upon the Sturgis bike rally.

South Dakota is home to Crazy Horse National Monument, one of the places Chuck and I visited together, and the final place he’d asked me to return to, to scatter his cremains.

Rae created a beautiful ritual at Crazy Horse, and was the one to scatter her dad’s cremains there.  And then we walked around Sturgis.  Which is where I found the tattoo artist who created my 3rd tattoo.  I’d told him about our Love story, about my Odyssey of Love, and though I didn’t know when I first got there to SD what my tattoo would look like, the words came to me as I walked about, and he did a quick sketch.  Unfortunately, the cost was too much for me to justify, and I was honest with him about that.  Another of the artists, who had listened in to my story, told me that he thought I really needed to get the tattoo there…it was the last place Chuck had named, after all, and given the words I wanted, it was perfect. So, he offered to pay for half, stunning me.

I will sing you to me….

Words spoken in the movie Australia, among the Aboriginals, when saying goodbye to a loved one, with no idea whether that one will be seen again.  Words of hope for the future, maybe…

I’ve no idea whether this phrase, and the concept behind it, are true to the Aboriginals or not.  I honestly don’t care; the idea of the words touched my heart years ago, and they touch my heart now.  And I seek comfort where I can find it.

I will sing you to me…

These words that wind around my calf speak of my wish to believe, even as I struggle with believing, that I will see Chuck again someday.  Somehow, maybe, he will greet me when I die.  Maybe.

Meanwhile, in this life that I must live without him, maybe I can sing him to me in my heart, by living the Love he left behind, by reaching out with kindness, in service to others. 

I will sing him to me…

And the other half of the meaning of those words for me?

Maybe, maybe, maybe, I will sing my future to me even as I live each moment without him, as I continue this Odyssey of Love.  The future that I still don’t want, that I don’t care about, but one that seems as if it must be lived for all the days of my life until my own death.

I hold these words to me, written as clearly on my heart as they are written on my calf.

I will sing you to me…

 

Love’s Guiding Force~

Today is the 21 anniversary of my brother Kysa’s death.  January 26, 1996.  Two decades plus one year.

I sat with him as he transitioned and was with him when he died.  It was the first time I’d ever been with anyone who died and it was a very physical process for him. None of it freaked me out, really, as much as it left me in awe and wonder.  What I was privileged to witness gave me a glimpse into what I believed was a world beyond ours; it was enough to leave me shaken for years as I strove to make sense of it and find a place for it in my life.

In the month before Kysa died, family and friends sent lengths of colorful cloth to wrap him in for cremation.  My brother-in-law made a sturdy and lovely oak body board for him.  We were all very hands on in his last hours, talking to him, moistening his chapped lips with ice cubes, wiping his brow, drumming softly with animal skin drums and fanning him with feathers.

I felt like a cheerleader as he died, quietly encouraging him to relax into what was happening.  Near the very end, as he choked and the death rattle took over, I found myself chanting go Kysa you’re almost there keep going as if I was cheering him to a finish line.  And indeed, that’s how it felt.  It felt like I walked right up to the veil between this world and the next and pulled it back aside and then stepped back, because this was his time, not mine.  And as I gazed upon his quiet body, relaxed against the sheets, I felt, of all things, pride.  Pride in him, that he’d won some invisible marathon and was now beyond the veil, hands triumphantly raised in the air.

We, all of our nearby family, went with him to be cremated.  We held a service over his body on the gurney, tucked flowers into his shroud, murmured blessings, quoted poems, and then stepped outside to give his widow her time with him. 792143_10152488276805441_1728747169_o

It was the most powerful moment of my life.

Until Chuck died.

What we did with Chuck in hospice, how we tended him and loved him, and the way we cared for him as he lay dying, the way we bathed him ourselves, and dressed him, then shrouded him with soft blankets…supported his body as they lifted him to the gurney to take him away, went with him to be cremated, covered him with flowers, tucked notes into his shroud…the Love that guided my finger to press the switch that opened the doors of the crematorium…the grace that held me up as I heard the loud swoosh of the flames…

I knew to do what I did for Chuck because we’d done it for my brother all those many years ago.  Because of Kysa I knew to challenge the narrow parameters of thinking that I might otherwise have had.  Our homage to my brother opened my heart to light and Love.  What I learned at his bedside in 1996 remained in my soul and as I watched my beloved husband die, as I gazed upon his still body after a death that was unbearable to witness, I knew that what I did and how I did it was only about Love, not about fear.  All that determined how I and our daughter and Chuck’s daughter did what we did was the law of Love.  Tending the body of my husband after death couldn’t be left to strangers, as careful as they might be.

In those moments after he died, I remembered Chuck’s words to his doctors after the many surgeries resulting from his first cancer a year and a half earlier.  His left arm and right thigh from knee to hip looked like hamburger from grafting of skin and blood vessels and muscle tissue.  The bandages required twice daily renewal and the dr. wished to set him up with a visiting nurse.  Chuck thanked him and refused, telling him that he was sure they’d do a good job but I would do better because you see, Dr. my wife loves me and that makes all the difference in the world.  Mind you, I’d never done such a thing before and was most definitely not a nurse.  But Chuck was right.  I loved him and it was a service I could do for him. Did for him. With Love. 043

Which is precisely how I felt when he went into hospice in April 2013 and died 3 weeks later.  I looked at the man I loved lying on that bed, his breath forever stilled and knew that no stranger could care for him in the same way I could.  And in my mind I saw him smile at me as I dipped a clean cloth in the warm, soapy water and began washing him, and then dressed him in street clothes again because I knew he hated the hospital gown and, finally, wrapped him in colorful blankets.  A week later I gently pressed the switch to open the doors to admit his body into the flames and turn his beloved body into ash. photo

My brother Kysa in 1996 and what I learned from being with him as he died empowered me to do the same, and more, with my beloved husband Chuck after his death, many years later.

Love gives me the power to do all that needs doing and it opens my heart to possibilities and deeds never imagined.  Love is all that matters.  collage

An Unconventional Life~

I have a difficult time defining my life to myself since Chuck died, never mind to anyone else. Not that I need to explain it to anyone, but, holy shit, does it come up in conversation. Not just this widowhood, but my lifestyle.

I full-time on the road, as many of you know. In the last year I’ve taken more time off the road than I ordinarily would so that I could take care of various issues, such as getting intensive grief/trauma counseling, which kept me in Arizona for just shy of 6 months, but the open road is my home, as it was when Chuck was alive.  I’m in Arkansas now and I’d initially planned on a lengthier stay, but as it happens, I’m leaving for points east after not quite a month here.

A scholarship came through for me to attend a Where Womyn Gather festival in PA. 4 days of creative workshops, sweat lodges,crone councils, artistic endeavors, and meeting women from around the country. It will be a great way for me to immerse myself in the healing arts and I intend to soak up every bit of it and, someday soon, return to facilitate a workshop.

Additionally, while here in Arkansas, I applied to volunteer with Team Rubicon USA, a non-profit that does disaster response, nationwide and overseas, wherever they’re needed. A friend told me about them months back and I researched their website and was immediately impressed when I saw that their motto is We get shit done. In that language. How could a woman like me, who uses the word fuck liberally, NOT be impressed with the real-ness of that? They primarily hire veterans to work in both paid and volunteer positions but also accept kickass civilians. My kind of people, right? I’m pretty sure I qualify as a kickass civilian at this point in my life.

I had no idea what my next step would be when I contemplated Arkansas. All I knew was that I needed to return to the road full-time. What I did believe is that my next step would reveal itself to me once I got here. Which is what happened.

I have faith in very little since Chuck’s death. I have no religious faith, but I do know that he left me an incredible legacy of love, and I know that I have a huge support community around the country, seen in the hundreds of hugs from strangers on the road, as I travel. Love, really, is my spiritual baseline and it’s how I stay strong.

Generating an income is necessary, of course. Not imminently so if I’m careful, but I don’t want to leave it to a time when it’s an emergency, so I’m always thinking about it. Mostly my ideas seem to float around in the atmosphere and I’m unable to grasp onto them; it’s hard to know where to start. But I refuse to allow anxiety to rule my days.

Because what I do know, what I’ve known instinctively since April 21, 2013 when Chuck died, and I set out on the road solo a month later, is that I’m building a foundation, have been building it for 3 years, and it will lead me to what I need. Not in a pie in the sky oh magic will happen and there will be enough money way, but because of that trust I have in the love he left behind for me, trust in my abilities and some instinct that tells me to continue doing what I’m doing….being out on the road, meeting people, connecting…this is all leading somewhere. Don’t ask me how I’m so certain of that; I just am. In my old life I would have thought myself crazy and spent endless days worrying myself sick about the practicalities of life. Not these days…and I really can’t explain the whys and wherefores of it. It is just something that is as real to me as the love he felt for me and I, for him.

A woman came to me shortly after Chuck died, a woman who didn’t know me, didn’t know my story, couldn’t know my story. I’d mentioned Chuck’s name so she knew that, but no more than that. This woman delivered to me a message from Chuck…I wouldn’t leave you without a road map, he said. Be aware of the sign posts I’ve left for you, both tangible and intangible.

Numerous other strangers along my way have also sought me out in a similar manner, encouraging me to continue doing whatever it is that I’m doing, because I’m on the right path, they say. They have said things to me that could only come from Chuck, even if I try to convince myself that their words couldn’t possibly come from him.

Which brings me back to the beginning of this post.

It was difficult enough for people to understand that Chuck and I chose to live on the road, driving and adventuring. And it’s 100 times more difficult for them to understand my choice to solo on the road, a woman alone, with all this grief and uncertainty and all the possible dangers.

Why on earth would I choose to live this way?

I’m going into my 8th year on the road. 4 years with Chuck, 3 on my own, now on the 4th year. At the end of this year I’ll have been on the road for as long as Chuck and I were.  I’m a long, long way from the days of living in a sticks and bricks home. Not that a sticks and bricks was my definition of home in any case. Chuck was my home, as I was his. Now that he’s gone, I feel a visceral need to maintain this way of life.

Yes, it’s tough living this way at times, and grief lies around the corner at any point. But for me, it would be much tougher to stay put. So I drive.

My driving next week will take me to PA, and, as soon as I fulfill beginning requirements with Team Rubicon, I’ll volunteer from wherever I happen to be in the country. Anticipation of working with them is the first true spark of life I’ve felt in this grief. I’ll be working side by side with veterans and will feel closer to Chuck because of that. Disaster response is what I need to do in this part of my life; I need something that equals the hugeness of what is in my heart and body and soul, and this meets that mark.

All of this…this unconventional life that I live…is leading me to where I need to be, where I’ll have financial security and be okay. That’s all I know to say. I’m going somewhere and I know this in my bones and in my heart and soul. My life isn’t the life for everyone and my choice is difficult to understand for those who are accustomed to a more traditional lifestyle. But it’s my life and works for me to the degree that anything works for me since Chuck’s death.

My heart, the love that filled my heart when Chuck was alive, the love that he left for me, and his memory that I carry fervently in my heart now…I have to believe that it will, that it is, carrying me into a future that will be squarely mine.

PinkMagic is the chariot carrying me into that future…sss10649826_10203576907175805_5053873018434830644_n

Not Done~

I’ve fulfilled Handsome Husband’s requests:  Dry Tortugas, Crater Lake, Little Big Horn, Crazy Horse.  His cremains now rest in each of those spots around our country.  I went back, I held a ritual, I scattered his cremains at the places we loved.  My heart broke over and over.  It shut down in pain and opened up in love.   And, it isn’t finished.

As the months since he died have passed, (not quickly enough for me but that’s a different topic), I realize that he was intentionally setting me on a road that would take me through his spoken request that was seemingly about him.  But he had a knowingness for me and about me, even in his dying time (maybe even more so because of his dying time) and he was stamping his love for me upon me.

Did you ever watch the movie “P.S. I Love You”?  Bear with me on this because I’m seeking feedback.  Bullet points will make it more succinct.

*He and I watched that movie several times over the years.  We watched it the night before I took him to the ER in southern California.

*While he was in hospice, I teasingly told him one day that he needed to do for me what the character had done in the movie when he knew he was dying (sending his soon-to-be widow messages, etc).  Handsome Husband replied that was too much pressure and he said I‘ll tell you what.  Watch the movie.

*Right before his voice weakened, I asked him to call my phone and leave me a message, so that I would have his voice to bring me through the years without him.  Which he did, and at the end of the message, he said P.S. I love you.

*A couple of months after he died, our younger son, Fireman Nick, texted me that he’d found a song that he thought I should sing at Handsome Husband’s memorial service, which I was in the midst of planning.  Having no idea of the significance of it, the song was “Love You Til the End” from the movie, yes, “P.S. I Love You”.   I don’t sing, and I most especially don’t sing in public but Fireman Nick said he’d play the guitar to accompany me and it would be perfect.  So we practiced together and I sang and I didn’t hear myself but my voice felt strong and my soul felt engaged and it was, for me, perfect indeed.

*I met a volunteer at the VA hospital in Tacoma, WA recently and, upon seeing PinkMagic, Kathy, the volunteer, wanted to know the story of this Odyssey of Love.  Afterwards, she barely paused before telling me, with some excitement in her voice, that it sounded like…what was that movie?…it sounded like…yes, “P.S. I Love You”!

The movie isn’t just about the messages he leaves her, is it?  It’s about what she finds while she is responding to his requests and suggestions and how she changes as she is does it.   How her grief morphs and how she is revealed to herself as she accomplishes various tasks and how her heart opens.  As she does these things for him.  But not really for him at all.  Which was his purpose all along.

This Odyssey of Love that I’m living is truly only beginning.  My daughter and I have been to California, Oregon,Washington, Idaho, Montana, South Dakota and, as I write this, we’re in Colorado.  Along the way, as I’ve scattered my husband’s cremains, I’ve met magical people, I’ve met angels, I’ve given and received hugs, I’ve learned to tow a trailer, I’ve learned to adjust to a life that is so outside my comfort zone (camping) (and honestly I have a love/hate relationship with that particular aspect), I’ve learned, out of emotional necessity, to live in the absolute moment of where my feet are, I’ve gained every sort of confidence in speaking to crowds of strangers, I’ve learned to state my needs without hesitancy, I’ve learned to ask for what I need, I’ve learned when to come in off the road and rest…and so much more.

I’ve learned to trust my instincts and let my heart lead me to where I need to be.  And, that, dear readers, is what I need to trust more than ever in this next phase of my Odyssey.  He left me no other stated destinations.  He knew I would have to trust my heart and his love and our love.  This now is where I have to trust that I will find him again, find my connection to him because it now truly does become about nothing but love.  I will have to fully trust what an unknown woman told me early on He says for me to tell you he wouldn’t leave you without a map.

In this next chapter of the Odyssey of Love, I’ll need to fine tune every muscle and fiber of my heart and soul and see more with my third eye-the eye that sees from within.    He got me started and now I have to believe that I won’t be left hanging and that I will connect with him in ways I can’t imagine.  Watch the movie, he told me.  He loved allegories and so he knew I’d figure out what he meant.  Watch it and learn that it’s about opening up and being brave and allowing space and, thus, finding your way.  Because you must.

My grief is huge.  I feel dislocated and detached.  But I’m on an Odyssey and you don’t just quit an Odyssey because it’s unbearable.  Odysseys must be lived.  Especially when it is love-driven.  He set me on this with love in his heart.  I’m doing it with love in my heart.

And we’ll meet on the road.  Collahhhhge

One Week

1908022_686124304775840_8575168731822894139_nIt’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. 10491221_10153133209695400_8993084184656114303_n

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.

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