Dark Veil Included. Of Course~

My Odyssey of Love began almost 4 years ago.  Chuck died April 21, 2013, and 3 weeks later I loaded our belongings into our red Ford Escape, gently placed his cremains on the shotgun seat, the jacket from his BDU’s on the back of the seat, climbed into the driver seat and turned the ignition.

I’ve been on the road ever since and I’m just shy of 100,000 miles, having crisscrossed the country 8 times. Not bad for a chick who had no idea of how to tow a trailer, or camp.  Directions were never my strong suit, which has worked out well, because my only plan all along has been to head north, south, east or west. Once I learned to back up my rig, I lost all fear of getting lost and having to turn around and getting stuck because I didn’t know how to back up. Mostly, I’ve gone where my heart has led me to go.  In so doing, I’ve met hundreds upon hundreds of lovely and loving people who have reached out to me and I’ve given and received as many hugs. Love has been my compass. It will always be my compass.  My Odyssey of Love will always lead me.

Grief is isolating, something I well knew from my hospice training, so I set out to fight back against isolation.  I painted my rig pink to draw people to me. Telling one’s story is a necessary component of grief, and I’ve told my story to as many people as I’ve met along the way. Creating a new life for one’s self after being widowed means trying new things and I’ve pushed as many comfort zones and boundaries as come to mind and I say yes to most everything, endeavoring to find something that grabs me, hoping for something to make me care about life again.

So many times, I wish that I had the luxury of hiding under the covers.  I wish I’d had the time after Chuck died to do that.  To just grieve. To fall apart and have someone care for me while I fell apart. I’ve had moments, of course, and my kids have been so amazing as they’ve sat with me through those meltdowns.  But you have to stand back up again, right?  So, I did.

As I approach the 4-year mark of widowhood, as I consider mygodhowhasitbeen4fuckingyears, I marvel that I am alive at all.  How has a broken heart not killed me? The answer is, of course, that it isn’t as easy as it sounds.  I wish.

I consider, too, what I’ve learned in this time.  Nothing great, really.  I don’t value life more. I’m not more grateful. I have not become a better person; I’m pretty much the kind and loving person I was; just sadder and heavier feeling now. I’ve had no great epiphanies other than life can suck a great deal and, yep again, it isn’t as easy to die of a broken heart as I’d heard.  My life is not better for Chuck’s death; on the contrary, it’s quite a bit tougher financially, emotionally, and physically. 

I am amazed and taken aback at how I keep going. 

I’m also amazed and a bit dispirited at the realizations about the social aspects of widowhood that I didn’t know about before…because, well, I wasn’t widowed, you know.

Mostly, the people in my world have been supportive and I don’t know where I’d be without our kids. Yes, I do. I’d have driven into the desert and disappeared.  My support community is pretty awesome, fortunately.

Chuck and I had a conversation while in hospice, about what kind of widow I’d be.  Dark humor, you know. We talked the pros/cons of tragic widowhood, merry widowhood…but never about being a dark widow, the title that seems to have become mine simply because I’m not the happy, cheerful person I once was, and the world is very unforgiving of that.  Not that I chose the dark widow title; it sort of just became an awareness on my part that I have become that, and there is a degree of pariah-hood that comes along with the title.

Grief now, for me, is more personal than ever, in that it has gone deeper, no matter how much I’ve tried to keep it in the open, because who wants to hear about it constantly, right? Or even sometimes? Christalmighty, I’m tired of me.  But I’m in my body, so, yeah, and believe it or not, you can’t just flip a flipping switch to change grief, despite what the positive living gurus tell you.

Grief isn’t just sadness; it is everything else that goes with the death of your person.  It is your entire life, and it takes more than 4 years to recalibrate the obvious shit, never mind the hidden bugaboos and treacherous grenades that explode in your face without warning.

I get it, though.  I admit and acknowledge and understand that it’s tough to be around me and in my world.  I wonder if that’s why, in part, widows way back in medieval times entered convents. A life away from society at large…it’s tempting, actually.  No need to put on a happy damn face.  No need to talk, really. Just meditation and quiet.  I swear I could do that.

Here’s the thing. I know that everyone who loves me would love for me to be grief-free, pain free, happy go lucky, embracing the world, joyful, connected to life…call it what you will. Call it everything you want to call it.  Basically all the things I’m not. mea culpa mea culpa mea culpa, etc…

But I am so many other things. I’m determined, unafraid to challenge myself or accept challenges. For god fucking sake…I have gone out and done shit I couldn’t ever imagine doing in these 4 years and I’ve done it in fucking pink.  I haven’t let grief and trauma or sadness or fear stop me from anything. I’ve gone out and done 4 years of shit instead of burying myself under the covers.  Not because I didn’t want to bury myself, not because I’m running from this sadness, but because I knew that would be a downwards spiral for me. Instead, I’ve fucking done new shit left and right and up and down.

There are times when I want to scream to the world, to people in this world what the fucking fuck do you want from me?  I’d be proud to know me.  I know Chuck is proud of me, if he’s anywhere where that matters, and I’m not sure that he is, but, whatever. I’m a damn amazing role model for my daughter, for my sons, for my grandgirls. I’ve touched the lives of more people than I can count as I’ve driven this Odyssey.  I know because they write to me to tell me. They tell me that they tend their marriages more consciously because of what I write about the Love story Chuck and I shared. They tell me that I inspire them to suit up and show up, because that’s what I do everyday. They tell me that they’ve learned to live more simply, because of how I live. When the time comes that I finally die, I know I’ll leave behind a bigger legacy than many can own to. No, I’m not joyful, no, I don’t give a fucking damn about life. Yes, I’m sad, yes, I find life overwhelmingly lonely at all times, yes, life sucks without Chuck and that has only intensified in this time since his death. But so fucking what, right?  It hasn’t stopped me, it doesn’t stop me, and that’s what matters.

Godalmighty, world, just fucking accept me as I am, for who I am: a woman who does shit even as I’m weighed down with missing my husband.

The fucking dark widow, if you will.  *Dramatic black veil available upon request.*

 

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And She Became~

If I were an author writing a book about this woman who travels the country in a pink car, towing a tiny pink-trimmed trailer, living the legacy of love left behind by her husband, this is what I would write for this moment in that timeline~

And, right then and there, somewhere in the 5th month of the 3rd year of doing this crazy, crazy, Odyssey (because, really, what the HELL was she doing, living a life so far outside of her comfort zone that it was almost absurd, at least to her?) she came to the realization that her grief was SO huge, the devastation SO complete, that all she could do with the hugeness of that LOVE she carried in her heart for her dead husband was to allow ALL of those things to really, truly, exist IN her all at the same time, along with the tears and the laughter and the pain and missing-ness of him. And she’d KNOWN since he died that this is what was real but hadn’t felt the ENERGY of it BECOME in that time. It became not merely intellectually realized manifestation and not only FELT but it became HER.

And with that realization came the understanding that THIS, whatever THIS was, or is, was now who she WAS and she didn’t have to judge any of it one way or the other, or try NOT to grieve or be sad or happy or anything.  All she had to do was ALLOW all these emotions to co-exist, which she always thought couldn’t be done, honestly but time had taught her that yes, they could and not only COULD complete opposite feelings be thought and felt at one time but when she gave them all space together she felt more powerful than she had EVER felt before.

So this woman who drove a pink car towing a pink-trimmed trailer, with pictures of her love story framed inside, with shades of pink and gold and copper all ’round, with tassels and prayer flags and love banners pinned to both windows and on the door and not one bit of it anything but an expression of the love she and her most beloved husband had for 24 years….she made the down in her gut and through her blood vessels decision to make LOVE her superpower in a way never done before, ever. In the history of man, only a select few had ever had this absolute power of Love BECOME to such a degree. And it wasn’t at all, EVER, a gentle birthing; it was an explosion of all she had become FROM love and it tore through her and it burned and shredded all she had been and all her life had been and all that it wasn’t because she was without him and she would always be without him in this world now and now here was THIS, that surpassed the force even of who they’d been together but endured BECAUSE of who they’d been together and.

She became. Love and loss and grief and tears and destruction and light and darkness and nightmare and memory and love again and again and again and she became. She wasn’t sure of how and what or any of those questions humans ask of the world and of themselves. Questions no longer mattered. Explanations for not doing THIS…IT… better, more, differently… self-judgement and care for societal critique of HOW to do IT, to grieve, how to mourn the loss of a lifetime, all of the love of who they’d been and how it must now be….all collapsed into the air around her and swirled as particles and dust until it all crashed and surged into a nuclear surge of what was more than energy or power.

She BECAME in capital letters because that is the only thing she could do with THIS, with THIS that was more potent than she or him or them but WAS because of she and him and them.

A force. A reckoning. Such as this was not a natural occurence. It didn’t come to birth from nothing. Or anything. Or everything. It superseded mere words or ideas of life and love.  It could only come BECAUSE of a Love that crossed all boundaries and barriers and energy fields and became more powerful BECAUSE it must transcend breath and being.

Love became her superpower. It became her breath and life-force. The love the love of her life left behind for her that colored her world into terrifying dark and equally terrifying light when he took his last breath in this world and shattered her into dust with him…surged in her and through her and became her superpower.

And, knowing, feeling, recognizing, realizing that power, even though not fully, firmly, grasping what or how or who or when, she decided to let it all BE what it was, and not try to change it or shift it or mold it to suit anyone other than herself.  She merely decided to HARNESS it and so now there she stood, higher than she’d ever stood…lightly bouncing on that diving board way, way, up there…straddling the clouds almost.  Standing higher than she’d ever willingly stood…in spite of her abject fear of heights and falling and crashing and drowning…

She jumped.

And exploded into being.  Collage

 

 

Words That I Can Grasp~

A woman who follows my blog, a woman who struggles in her own life, messaged me yesterday to offer support to me in my confusion about this grief and how to do it.  She herself is what I’d call a shadow widow; her husband has Alzheimer’s and has been gone from her for 7 years and yet is still physically here.  Her words brought clarity to me; she said that she sees my struggle with moving on, moving forward, letting go…all the words that are more and more placed in my way as I begin this 3rd year without Chuck.  Placed along with the words that, of course, there is no timeline on grief.  Constant contradiction-that is the language of grief in our society.

The words she gave me?  It isn’t about moving on, moving forward, it’s about living on and she sees me doing exactly that.  Those words released something inside of me and wandered around my thoughts throughout the day.  Because you know what?  I am living on.  I may not be doing it in a way that looks okay to others but I am living on.  My life reflects that, 2 years later.

I know it causes its’ own kind of pain in family and friends to see me so devastated and I want to tell all of you that it’s okay.  You can’t fix this for me.  There are no words anywhere that can fix this. Time won’t fix this. Nothing will fix this except Chuck being in front of me, smiling and taking me in his arms, and that ain’t happening, so I release you from the burden of having to make this better for me.

This grief time has pushed me to contemplate our culture and how it perceives real life.  We have, certainly in the last decade, been swamped with a culture of positivity.  Be positive at all times, find the good in everything, grow stronger from fill in the blank difficulties.  God knows the DSM doesn’t help.  It’s medicalized every form of human behavior.  Do you know that it actually says that if, 6 months after a loved one’s death, you’re not having more good days than bad that you should seek help?  I wasn’t even out of shock at 6 months and I hear the same from many others.  Seriously?  Wow.

The very act of naming something as positive names the opposite behavior as negative and therein lies my personal raised eyebrow.  An example?  Grief can make you bitter or it can make you better.  Hmmm…how extreme.  How about grief can open hearts to a depth of compassion and empathy never before experienced? How about grief can make you see better and more than you’ve ever seen before?

Mostly, we don’t care for darkness.  There’s not much good ever said about it, is there?  in any situation we’re encouraged to go towards lightness.  Sadness, grief…both are associated with darkness and we’re encouraged to head towards light as soon, as quickly, as possible.  All while being told, again, that there is no timeline to grief. Grief is not a place to linger.  Move along, folks.  Choose to be happy.  And yes, these are judgements on those who are still grieving, still sad, who aren’t tiptoeing through the fucking tulips on a daily basis, being happy.  I don’t believe for a minute that people mean to cast judgement on it, but it’s in the very words used.  Because by the very words, they are saying if you aren’t this way, then you’re choosing sad, choosing grief, choosing not to be happy.

Maybe I’m too sensitive to words and I admit it freely.  Being in this has made me more aware of words but I read that as a good thing, because words matter.  Concepts matter.

I’ve spent 2 years doing, being, allowing, letting, going towards, pulling back…all in the name of moving this grief. And what I’ve finally realized is that I’m not in a negative place.  The fact is, I’m not afraid of darkness any more than I am of light.  Sometimes the only way to the light is through the darkness, don’t you think?  The fact that I’m grieving deeply, missing horribly, isn’t a negative thing.  It means I loved deeply.  I’m not ever going to be the person I was before Chuck died and yes, I grieve the death of that woman, but, in a very real way, she’s as gone as he is.

Life changes people; we all know that.  The death of the man I love changed me.  Grief runs deeply but why is that a bad thing?  How am I ever not going to have that as my baseline in life?  He’s always going to be dead for the rest of my life.  My heart is broken and I hurt but that’s kind of okay in this new world.  I’m not going to try continually to move on from that any longer. Maybe, what life really is about when grief happens, is letting it be whatever it needs to be.  Maybe that’s what acceptance is really about; that sadness is now a part of me and that’s okay.  It doesn’t mean that I’m depressed or need to be on drugs.  I get that it can make it tough being around me; I’m fairly intense, if not in words than with my energy.  So I understand if you can’t deal with that.  It’s okay. This doesn’t make me less of a person; possibly it makes me more of a whole person.

Even in the darkness, even in the grief and pain, there is light shining through, and maybe that light is the light of compassion and sweetness.  I’m okay here.  I’d never, ever, choose this and I don’t like it but this is what happened.  I don’t need to re-wire my brain. I don’t need to choose anything.  I don’t need to look for happiness or hope for it.  It will happen or not as I live on, as it does with most people.  I don’t need to seek joy or anything else.  I don’t need to seek a Zen state of being.  Maybe where I am is the ultimate Zen state, because I’m so very aware of the depth of life and love, having lost so much.  What others see as darkness, I see as Love.

I’m still a whole person, made more whole because all of me is completely real.  I don’t need to move through this, I don’t need to move on, let go, nothing.  I just need to continue doing as I’ve been doing.

Living on.   IMG_2812

This Curious Grief~

As shocking as it is still to me, I have now lived for 22 months without my husband.

Am I supposed to be further along with this grief than I am?  I’m just kind of letting it happen in a way I’ve never allowed anything to just happen ever before in my life.  I’ve always grabbed life by the balls and done whatever I could to influence it.  I’ve always been passionate about life but, yeah, that feeling is gone.  Quite honestly, I’m allowing life to just happen more because I don’t have energy to do anything else.  While it’s just happening, I’m going out there and creating a life for myself without him, as I’m supposed to do and as I have to do because here’s the thing.  I’m still alive.  And, as I’m not going to kill myself, that entails a certain amount of effort to ensure that I have a place to sleep, food to eat and…well, that’s pretty much it for what I’m caring about.

Let me shock and appall the general public with my next statement.  I don’t give a flying fuck about life since Chuck died.  Quickly, quickly, let me respond to the in- drawn breaths of horror that statement likely invokes, and please take back the anti-depressants you’re holding out to me.  Yes, Chuck would want me to be happy.  Yes, I know I’m supposed to be grateful for being alive.  Yes, I have kids and grandkids I love desperately and that should be enough to make me feel engaged in life.  Yes, I know you (that’s a general you) are horrified that I’ve given up (or seem to have given up).  Yes, I know you believe that Chuck is everywhere around me.  Yes, I know I’m supposed to think positively towards life and not allow negative thoughts in my head. (and I will as soon as someone tells me what is positive about the love of my life dying).

Its’ almost become a humorous thing for me, the degree of grief I feel and the almost instantaneous response I get when I speak of it at times.  Because we’re supposed to get on with it, don’t you know?  We’re supposed to at least be grateful to be alive!  And it discombobulates people when you don’t follow the general life program.  Fortunately, those who people my life are supportive (though they have been called enabling by others) and encouraging but holy shit, the stuff I hear from others in grief and what they go through isn’t to be believed.

See, I’m not really here.  My body is here, but I’m not.  That woman who was deeply in love with her husband, the woman who lived passionately and absorbed and enjoyed the sensuality of life and love…she’s not here any longer and I don’t have a fucking clue who this woman is who wears my body.

Pity is unnecessary and unwelcome.  No sympathy needed.  Just trying to be honest here.

For god’s sake, go find someone who’s grieving and offer them empathy.  Go right now.  Pick up your phone and call them.  Ask them if they would like to talk about any of this shit and what it’s like for them.

That’s how you can make a difference and, maybe, help them find themselves again~

Tiny, tiny, tiny~

I consider today my first full day of, well, I guess for lack of a better word, I have to call it widowhood.  Is there another word for it?  I’ll have to find out, because, honestly, when I say that word, it feels like an Elmer Fudd word.  You know, in the way that he can’t pronounce his “r’s” so that they come out as “w’s”.

Wordplay.  It keeps me distracted.

Last night was my first full night of being alone in forever.  Handsome Husband is dead.  The kids are gone.  People are back in their own lives.  Appropriately so.  And, yes, they are still grieving in their lives for the loss of their friend, their mentor, their lack of him in their lives.  As they will continue to do because there is a huge void in so many lives now.

I had a busy day yesterday, which was good.  Yes, my plan, after the girls left to go back to their lives, was to spend the day under the covers.  That would have been such an easy thing to do and I really did seriously contemplate it.  As it happened, I stripped all the beds, found every towel and bit of linens I could, and did 4 loads of wash, then re-made the beds.  I still need to do vacuuming and other assorted household tasks, but those will happen.

And then I showered and dressed and drove to Indio to seek out the courthouse so that I could get the death certificates that I need.  I had directions but couldn’t find the right street, and my GPS isn’t working due to a short in the cord (new one arriving soon, hopefully).  I didn’t allow myself to be frustrated and just tried to be in the moment of open windows, the sun, and the breeze on my face as I drove what is now my car, not our car, down the highways.

I found a pink dress to wear.  My intent is to surround myself with pink, to wear pink, to drive pink, to think pink.  There is where I find my serenity and peace and sense of happy.   Not that I’m feeling any of that at the moment, but the intent is there, and the action is there.

And then I searched out a local Gilda’s Club, so named in honor and remembrance of Gilda Radnor, who died of ovarian cancer many years ago.  Her husband, Gene Wilder, started these clubs as a way of supporting people with cancer, and their families.  It was hard being on the other side of the table, where I sat with others who were seeking support.  I’ve always been the facilitator.  It was a good reminder for me, as I continue in my role at Tapestries of Hope, of the shock and pain of early grief.

I signed up for a bereavement support group, I met one-on-one with a counselor, I registered for a hypno-meditation class, and got the schedule for Tai Chi and yoga classes.  Rented some comedy to watch.   I made myself reach out when all I want to do is shrink into myself and howl with pain and missing.

I walked into our rental at the end of the day, feeling the emptiness of Handsome Husband not being here.  Organized a bit, talked to my sister who lives in Okinawa and felt better after the talking.  Slept alone.  Felt the emptiness right through to my heart and soul.  It stands ready to annihilate me.  But I won’t let it.

This morning, I cooked an egg for myself.  I didn’t ask Handsome Husband if he would like one also, carefully leaving out the yolk.  Didn’t make his first, adding some onion and hot stuff to it.  I made mine, over-easy and put it on a small plate.  Which sounds awfully pathetic.  And it is.  But I did it, and I ate it. And that’s the first time I cooked for myself and ate something vaguely healthy since all this fucking bullshit began.

Tiny, tiny, steps.