Holidays …

Another day of tears and regrets.  It seems that the holidays will be quite lonely again this year.  I feel for anyone “out there” who finds themselves alone at this time of year.  Everyone sees how busy I keep myself and they equate my desperate bid not to simply fall apart with happiness.  But, every night I go to bed alone, I wake up alone, I manage, I work, I refinance, I do a million tasks and I’m not sure why.  I “protect my future” without really having much hope of it being anything I really want.  I am told that I my life can be full and rich without a mate.  I can charge along under my own steam and make a great life for myself.  To some extent this is true.  I can pursue interests, enjoy the arts and culture, learn new skills, study and earn degrees, and even travel the world.  It’s all good — but without someone to share it all with, it feels incredibly hollow.  The moments come and go then I’m on to try and fill the void with the next important thing.

Right now, it’s another Masters degree.  Why not?  I have nothing better to do, and it is distracting.  That’s what my life has become.  This is my third holiday season without my husband, it seems like forever since I had my daughter, and for whatever reason, my son seems to have abandoned me.  I don’t know why, I have tried my best to keep him close but not require too much or expect too much as he was pursuing his military career.  I’m told by friends, it’s just a stage guys go through in their youth, but it hurts.

When I lost my husband, it was only my son that held me on this planet.  I was so very ready to give up and move on.  I didn’t feel I could do that to him.  His sister is gone, his dad is gone, and I am all that’s left of our little family.  I don’t know where he is or what he has been up to for months now.  Whatever is said, it still hurts not to hear from him.  I guess, ultimately, he did save my life.  I’m still here.  I’m just not sure why.  I know that I’m more than just a widow, but I don’t feel like more.  I am finding myself pulled back out with the tide — back into the depths of my grief — moonless nights, rolling waves, and no clear idea of how to get myself back to the shallows.

See what happens when I have even one day without things that must be done and places I have to go?  I’m not living, I’m just treading water as hard as I can.


When mourning replaces grieving …

I think I’m at the point where I mourn my losses … I miss my daughter and my husband, but where mostly the grieving is past.  I still cry, I’m still struck silent and still at odd moments when  memory or a wish for an impossible future strikes me.  I still ache for their presence, for their smiles, for their voices, for the opportunity to share ideas, triumphs, losses.  There is a sadness in my life that will never be filled, however, I’m not immobilized for hours, days, weeks, months … even years, now.  I am able to remember the joyful times and to revel in them, not just grieve them.  I can recall conversations, silly phrases, inside jokes we shared.  These memories comfort me now, more often than they drop me into that pit of despair.  I walk the shallows of grief and mourn my losses, but I am not as likely to end up in the depths, just trying to find a way to breath through the pain.  It is a different pain, and it is tinged with my feeling of great thankfulness that these two lives touched mine.

Mourning, for me is quieter, I don’t keen or bawl, and while I cry, it’s less dramatic, though no less poignant or real.  I have learned to ride the waves of grief rather than drown in them, they carry me into memories, dreams, and wishful thinking.  I still miss them every single day.  That doesn’t change, no matter how much time passes.  Today would have been Tara’s 34th birthday.  I can only imagine that we would have gone out for sushi, probably lifted some glasses of saki to celebrate.  We might have started the morning with pancakes at Denny’s while it was still dark, sitting around telling stories, coloring the little kids place mats, telling stupid jokes.  I would give so much today to be able to do that one more time.  She was the one person in the world who got me completely.  We sort of grow up together … I was so young when I had her.  I wish she were here.  I wish she were telling me about her loves and her losses, plans and dreams, friends and colleagues…I just wish she was here, even if we talked about nothing.

So, Tara has been gone almost 10 years now, I’ve grown comfortable in a strange way with these hard days … the ones that are wrapped around our hearts because of births, or deaths, anniversaries, celebrations, losses… On the horizon is the end of September … the days that mark the loss of my husband … first his collapse, then his brain death, and finally the day they let his body rest, after harvesting his organs and skin.  Ever the hero… even in death.  So I have this miasma of emotions during the end of September … the real days are such a blur, they were like an out of body experience.  The grieving of the first and second years are more real, more palpable to me than the year he died.  It was surreal,  just a haze of confusion and emotion with nothing to pin it down to.  Thank God for my friends and family who got me through it.  I didn’t want to survive it, I didn’t think I could face such a tragedy without my husband’s strength.  My friends lent me theirs.  The boys had commitments and the military doesn’t put things on hold until Mom gets herself together.

And, here I am … mourning Tara’s death and facing the month in which I lost Barry three years ago.  Three years.  Three long years.  Some happiness has been found, I have a man to love who loves me, but it’s complicated and maybe even impossible.  I guess we shall see.  I choose to love regardless, failing to love would have been the worst tragedy of my life.  I have realized that I would go through it all again, if I’d known the outcomes … I’d have loved them both, I’d have spent my life with them, for as long as allowed… and I’d go through all the grief and mourning again, if I could have them back.    So … I mourn tonight, deeply and completely alone.  I mourn my beautiful girl.  My tears will help heal me, now that I’ve learned enough to let them flow, to press into the pain, rather than trying to pull away from it.  I will cry myself into weariness, but I will wake with a little bit of my heart cleansed by those same salt-water tears.  The more they clear my heart of grief, the sweeter my mourning becomes.







It Still Takes Me By Surprise Sometimes…

It’s odd, these days when the world seems okay for a while … I’m self-absorbed, or entertained, or just busy enough that my thoughts don’t stray too far down those, now lonely paths of memory.  I distract and engage, I find myself trying to figure out how I spent all that money … anything to keep me from feeling what my heart wants not to be true.  It is a dance, of sorts … Shakespeare was right … “All the world’s a stage…” it feels like I perform my way through the days.  Smile … go to church, talk politely, be nice, act enthusiastic, stay focused, work hard … and all the while, he is the one I’m trying to please, trying to be better for, trying to remember without being too vocal about, without upsetting everyone else’s apple cart…

Then some silly comment, a scene in a movie, a picture in a magazine, the strains of a stupid song we both like…  a glimpse of a black cowboy hat … a deep, sexy laugh from another room … a thunderstorm in the darkness … the thought of his smile … whatever it is, it takes me right over that edge and I’m drowning again … in my own tears, as it were.  I am so acutely aware of how very completely alone I am.  How alone I am likely to remain.  I feel old,  I feel lost and without an anchor.  He was my best companion, my stalwart guide, my protector, my playmate, my lover, my friend — my best best best, never going to have another one like him — friend.  He liked me … ridiculous, uncoordinated, distractible, distracting, emotional, irrational, obsessive, opinionated me.  He liked me.  I don’t even really know why, but he did.  And I liked me then too.  Without him to show me to myself, I don’t know what to do, who to be — there’s no one to be funny with, to tell jokes to, to sing old country love songs too, poorly… to read passages to, to explain the physics behind some crazy movie or story segment … no one to jump on line to lead one of my toons to safety in the wilds of a game, to hold my hand in the moonlight and talk about what he wants to do in twenty years, no one to hold me when I cry.  He would have.  I know.  What am I going to do now?

How many hours?

I find myself adding up the months, the days, the hours since I last saw my husband alive.  It was a normal morning.  Nothing struck me as unusual or spectacular.  I certainly didn’t expect my life to change in the course of a few hours.  I really don’t remember much about that particular morning, just that I had the two exchange students we were hosting in the truck with me, bound for school.  I remember that Barry had opened the gate for me to pass through then came through on his motorcycle.  I made sure to wait and use the remote for the electric gate, so he wouldn’t need to get off the bike to take care of it.  I know he waved his appreciation and left for school.  Everyone was bound for one school or another.  The boys to high school, Barry to his college classes, and me to the elementary school where I teach.

What I don’t remember is what we said that morning to each other.  Did we have plans?  Did we joke around?  Were we happy or irritated with each other?  Did we kiss goodbye?  Did we smile at each other?  I wish I could remember, but all I remember is going down that drive and opening and closing the gate for him.  One little act of kindness, really quite insignificant.  But, that is all I have to hold on to as my final token of love toward my husband.  I know that the night before, whenever he came to bed, he kissed me while I was sleeping and whispered, “I love you,” to me.  That I know.  He did it every night, like Swiss clockwork.

I have found that being in Virginia has made some things easier, I am not in the house we had just moved into, I am not constantly running into boxes that need (still) to be unpacked, or into his clothes, his shoes, his personal items that still take their proper places in the closet, the bathroom, and throughout the house.  I don’t think of him every time I use a knife … I bought that set for him — Christmas or birthday? … or grab some spices … the Moroccan curry tins I bought for him to use, the small bag of spices from France, the tiny dried red chilies grown by his friend, Jazmit, from college.  Pretty much everything in my home is a memory of him, or a memory of me, trying to create memories without him.  Either way, it is a constant drift of memories … from the shallows to the depths and back again — sometimes wonderful, joyous memories, but almost always they lead me to the memories of losing him, of waiting for days and hours, minutes and seconds, for him to make his way back from the land of the dead … to miraculously beat those fucking doctor’s predictions and find his way back into his beautiful, strong body.  And still, unreasonable as it is, I still beg him to come back to me.  I don’t even care how, just that if he can find a way, I still need him.  I miss him so deeply, so urgently, that I have gone to the edge of rationality.  I don’t even make sense to myself.   It’s an impossible request that I make every morning and every night, and sometimes throughout the day.

I am not rocking and bawling and begging, like I did for so many days and hours and minutes during the first year or so.  Now, I make my requests with a little less dramatic flair … some quiet tears and sniffling, usually.  On a bad night, some serious crying and misery, but I’ve rounded the bend and am mostly somewhat restrained now when I cry over him.   Is that better?  I don’t know.  It doesn’t feel better, just less chaotic.  The sadness has gotten no less, I’ve just learned to deal with it more calmly — to keep my head above the waves of grief, rather than drowning in them.  I am still left gasping for breath, for some sense of hope at the end, but I’m not as completely overwhelmed, most of the time.  I don’t beg for whomever is in charge to take me out of this world with the same regularity or fervor that I did originally.  I do still put in polite requests — I’d prefer something quick and painless, but I’m open to other options, as long as my beautiful husband is waiting for me on the other side.  Of course, I worry about the effect it would have on the kids, and the people we love, but honestly, my missing of him, my deep and abiding loneliness is so enveloping, that I would just prefer to be gone, and if he won’t be there when I die, then I want to simply not exist.  That was always his view, we died and that was it, fini.  I don’t think he thinks that now, I have my reasons for thinking he has been, and still is with me at times.  Coincidence only explains strange things that happen up to a point, after that, you have to be open to the possibilities.  But, I am willing to become non-existent, rather than to live this very solitary existence.

My friends keep telling me that things will change, I will change, life will change.  That I do know.  The one thing you really can count on is change happening.  I just no longer have the capacity to believe that all change will end up for the better, that even the hard lessons are part of the path to becoming stronger, wiser, more capable.  I am stronger, but in ways I don’t want to be.  I am wiser — I understand loss of child and spouse in the most intimate way possible.  I am more capable – I have to be, there is no one in the world ready to come rescue me at a moment’s notice anymore. So I have to be more prepared, more proactive, more self-reliant.  I guess my misunderstanding was thinking that with those gifts — strength, wisdom, and capability, should come a greater sense of happiness, of contentment, of self.  Instead, I am swimming in an ocean of grief.  Everyone thinks I’m doing so much better, because they can see that I’m treading water, quite successfully, granted, but I’m still in the water.  I’m not even close to the shore, and I don’t see a point when I will be …

I just see a seemingly endless number of seconds and minutes, hours and days, weeks, months, and years, stretching out in front of me…without any long term relief, without any real joy or relief, just me, treading water when I can, succumbing to the waves of grief when I can’t, and growing older and more lonely in the process.  What a horrible thought — to feel more lonely than I feel right now without him.  I can’t really imagine it, I just fear it.

Will there be better days than this — yes, of course.  But part of me believes that those days are just the illusion, that the real delusion isn’t that I will remain in these dark waters for the rest of my life, but that I will find a way to the shore, or that someone will come by and rescue me from the waves.

My husband’s son…

I am in Virginia … I arrived this morning and am busy being “Mom” to our eldest and his wife, “Grammy” to their kids.  I look at my husband’s son, mine only through marriage, and I see this blueprint of my husband … the same tall, elegant frame, rougher around the edges … the same awesome smile, although a little slower to arrive and a with a bit of a skeptical air…I see the bones of his face, the angle of his jaw, the straight shoulders, the strong back, and I hear his fathers voice through his words.

For now, it is enough to know that the kids care that I care for them … that I can still honor my husband by being part of their lives and keeping his memory alive and their memories alive.  So, tonight I sleep in Virginia, alone, but not quite so alone, thankful that he had such a beautiful son …wishing we had visited more and saved less for those “magical retirement years” when we were going to spend so much time with our family.

I offer this one advice, which I now follow … save some, but spend some, too.  You can’t live your life for tomorrow.

One more thing…

It’s one of those weekends.  Everywhere I go, everywhere I look, there are these little reminders of who my daughter and husband were, and how amazing our life was, even when we didn’t realize it.  I love the commercial on tv with the couple who keep saying … “never,” and whatever they didn’t want, happened … never going to have a kid … they have a child, never going to drive a van … came with the kid … never going to … and it just goes on.  And at the end, the guy is certain that he will never give any of it up.  Life happens like that.  It’s happening, whether we are paying attention and participating or not,   whether we want the next phase or not, it is coming to us.  We don’t even realize the good stuff is the good stuff until after the fact, much of the time (there is a good country western song about that, too).  My husband and I used to joke about who could die first. We joked about it (that seems almost impossible to me now).  We both said the other couldn’t die first, so we figured we had to die together.  I always said we would ride off into the mountains and dine on puffer fish when we were 90.  We were meant to be together, and we were meant to die together, at least in my head that was the way it was.  I was never going to be a widow.  Never.

Losing my daughter, Tara, taught me a great deal, eventually.  It was another never … you never outlive your kids.  Never.  Your grown daughter would never take her own life.  Never.

Wrong again.

I had no play book or manual or plan to deal with losing Tara.  I just had Barry.  He kept me sane.  He took care of so many things so that I wouldn’t have to face some of the hard parts.  Sometimes I think it was a mistake.  He took care of everything at the home where my daughter died.  He wouldn’t let anyone call me because he was afraid I would have an accident on my way home.  He had all the official things completed, her body had been taken to the morgue, and he came home to me and told me.  It was the worst moment for both of us in our marriage. I wish I could unremember it.  I can’t even describe it … it took place in another universe, another reality … somewhere that time is extended beyond bearing.  In some ways, I am still in that time-frame … existing with the raw knowledge in a constant, unending wave of pain.  Maybe I should have seen her body, touched her cold hand, seen the absence of light in her, as I did when he left his body.  Maybe.  I don’t know.  Perhaps it would have made no difference at all.  But, for around five and half years, I put myself into a holding pattern, and my husband was there to pick up the pieces and rebuild my airplane mid-flight.  I slept.  I slept away much of my life during that time.  I got up, I went to work … I went to work the Monday after my daughter died.  No one understood, but it was better than trying to sleep away every moment of every day.  So I worked in a strange fog of unreality … and I came home to this lovely man who made the most incredible dinners and treats and deserts to tempt me into happiness.  So, I ate.  I ate a lot. Then I slept.  The only “activity” was that I would watch tv while I ate.  I stopped working out, riding horses, doing artwork, going to painting class, and seeing my friends.  I no longer read books or wrote.  My body, mind, and spirit atrophied.

What set this whole tirade off today was seeing the audio file on his computer that he made for me and played for me every night when I went to bed.  It’s a long-running thunder and lightning storm:  from the pre-storm rumbling, through the massive crescendos of the full storm, and into the slow retreat to silence.  I don’t know how long it lasts, I just know that it allowed me to sleep instead of crying and keening all night, which was how it was at first.  (Keening was one of those things I would never do … far too undignified … but when you are in that much grief, your body betrays you.).  Later I would use hypno-therapy  to help gain some balance and sleep. It helped.  We did NaNoWriMo together in 2009, which helped.  But really for over five years, my lovely husband just tried to make me want to live, want to be part of life.  And I mostly just curled up in a shell and ignored the world, and in many ways, him.  It was only really about the last six months or so before he died that I really started getting back to myself.  We decided to buy a house and get another horse, and I was going to leather working classes and he and I were doing lapidary together, and I was thinking about our life together, again…we were kind of “back.”  We were having some fun, working on projects, spending time with each other in all the right ways.  We were reconnecting.

When I lost Barry, I realized how very alone I am now.  There really is no one here — Tara is gone, our boys are both military men now and often out to sea.  They are stationed in Virginia, so it’s not easy to visit the daughter-in-law or grand kids.  And, while friends and god kids did their best.  In reality.  I come home to an empty house every day.  I eat, sleep, and often even play alone — I go to movies, out to dinner, for a drive, to a play, to the beach … whatever it is, usually I do it solo.  But I am doing better than I did losing Tara because my amazingly kind and loving husband showed me how.  When he heard things or saw things that made him sad, he stayed with it until the tears were spent.  He tackled life, doing more and connecting with friends and family all the time.  He was quite the famous “poker” on FaceBook.  He went deeper into professional photography, he studied all the time, he kept doing things we had always enjoyed, until he enjoyed them again.  He was in the process of getting his armor together and getting ready for the first SCA war he would fight in again, after many years of not participating.  He didn’t make it.  He died September 28.  Great Western was held in October.

So, I am trying to emulate him.  I am trying to be more, do more, and indulge myself in life, rather than retreating.  My body has been a trial to try and get back into some sort of shape.  I had gained 70 pounds after I lost Tara (eating all that great food and sleeping your life away will do that to you).  I lost a lot of the weight, mostly because of the effects of losing him, not really through much effort, but I am actively keeping it off.  I’ve done the work so that my knees and ankles are reasonably useful and I can walk a decent distance, or climb a hill again.  I do artwork, not my oil painting, I’m not ready for that, but I do SoulCollage and am puttering around with acrylic painting.  I am functional.  I’m even happy off and on.  This summer, I will go to Virginia and babysit my grand kids for a few weeks, maybe meet my husband’s spotter from his army days, maybe see some old friends, maybe make a jaunt up to Boston, hell, I might even take a run up to New York.  I’ve never been there.  I do know that I won’t sleep and eat my summer away.  I am going to make myself get up and be part of a family.  I am going to explore a little of the east coast. I will try to visit some areas special to our family.  I am going to try and have a life.  I hate doing it without him, but I know that he expects nothing less.

A reading…

In the crazy time since I lost my husband, I have tried, not very successfully, it turns out, to have a relationship with a very nice man.  I loved that he seemed to see me with my husband’s eyes … the things he admired about me, were the same things my husband admired.  He told me I am beautiful, a delusion my husband was also under.  To hear that someone found me funny, smart, talented, and attractive was such a huge draw.  After my husband’s death, I was unsure if anyone would ever look at me that way again.  Of course my friends think I’m great … that’s what friends do, but I wasn’t sure that there would ever be a man who saw me a desirable and worth their time.  Why?  I have no idea.  It’s old programming, because my husband never swayed in his absolute commitment and love for me.  I know, I’m very lucky, to have had that.  It doesn’t always feel like it when I’m waking up in the middle of the night and keening for what I’ve lost.  Nor when I drive home to yet another lonely evening with something frozen to eat and the tv to keep me company.

Having my interest and attention on someone else was like a drug.  I had hours even parts of a whole day or night, when I didn’t constantly think about my husband.  I reveled in the distraction.  I was able to sleep at night because I could text this nice man in the middle of the night, whenever I woke up, as he worked all night long.  I would send a simple message, and fall asleep — no tears, no heartache, no memories breaking down my reserves.  I still didn’t sleep well … usually less than two hours at a stretch, in succession.  I might get 5 or 6 hours of sleep a night if I’m lucky.  But having another man to focus my attention on was such a relief from the constant grieving, that I reveled in it.  I was warned that feeling so much relief can be misconstrued as love.  I tried very hard not to let that be the case, but I guess I failed.  Our relationship has come to a close — and I’ve realized that it wasn’t nearly as connected or necessary as I thought.  He wasn’t the right man for me.  If he were, we’d be together.  But more importantly, I’m not the woman that the man I want, wants.  I keep thinking about how this younger man (yup — I actually did the cougar thing, Nothing I would have predicted).  He told me that one of the things he couldn’t get past is the fact that I’m still married.  He said that the way I talk about my husband made this man feel like he knew him, as if he were a friend and that it really bothered him.  I didn’t know that I talked about Barry so much.  I didn’t realize that I was making him a barrier between us, and who knows, maybe I did it subconsciously.  I don’t know, I just know that while my feelings were hurt, my heart is far from broken.  I know exactly what that feels like, and this is not it.  This is some bruised ego and disappointment…but I came away with some new understandings of myself and how this journey is transformed me.  I am curious to see who I become.

On one hand, it has taught me a lot of humility and to remember that everything counts.  The kindnesses we offer, the snubs, the harsh words, the hugs, the missed opportunities.  We don’t know if that is the last interaction we will have with that person — the last words they will hear from our lips, the final look that they will or will not get from us, the last touch, taste, or breath.  Anything can happen.  I also realized that I was trying to hide my grief in the attention I was giving this other man.  I needed him, but not for the right reasons.  I’ve done some soul-searching and come to the conclusion that I’m really not ready to walk my path with another person.  I am going to take this summer to just focus on my inner world, to reflect on my loves and losses.  I will spend time with my family in another state.  I will walk the coast, I will wander old battlefields, I will visit my father’s grave, and I will rest under a different canopy of stars as often as I can.  Maybe I will catch fireflies and keep them in a jar for a bit – just a little taste of childhood.  I am going to taste some wines, listen to music, wander streets I don’t know, and do so all alone.  Something I’ve never been before this last year and a half.  I live alone.  I exist alone.  There is no one I am responsible for, and no one responsible for me.  I need to find a way to embrace this new way of being.  If I can’t be at peace within myself, I can’t make peace with my loss, and I will remain a married woman, without a husband.

I will never not love my husband, that is impossible.  But I need to find the room in my heart to let new love in.  I was not made to live my life alone.  I know that.  My husband would never have wished solitude on me, he would want me to have a wonderful life — after all, he spent a lot of time and energy trying to provide me that.  This summer it is time to find out what life is like with only me, to refine some of my rough edges, and to figure out what direction I want to go in, now that there are only my own dreams and aspirations to attend to.