Eddies, ellipses, and deep sea dwellers

When you are in the worst of it…you think it will never end. You feel like someone dunked you into the pool of sadness, your lungs fill with water, and when you come up gasping for air, you get dunked again. Come on. I didn’t even get a chance to breathe! That’s how it can feel for quite a while. Death is a choker. And loss, a deep, deep well.

But slowly, you learn to calm the waters. When you feel the wave of panic coming ’round, instead of fighting it, you roll with it. You ride it out. Or – you plug your nose, close your eyes, and let it pass, fully aware that you can only use escapism so many times…

Sometimes you drop to the bottom, allowing the weight of the water to push you down, and you are able to sit still for a while in that dark cool place, feeling it for what it is. Cold. Lonely. Beautiful and still. That’s what I always loved about diving toward the bottom of a lake. There was anxiety there, too, holding my breath, heading toward the quiet coolness, totally alone, testing my strength, pushing my lungs, pushing at life. And then the warmth…as I’d swim back toward the surface. Feeling like I was bursting back into the world, a place of air, sounds, laughter and sun.

It does get better.

They say that you will always carry your loss with you, and that you learn to live with your grief. I don’t doubt this. And I am aware that the deepest pool, the one that contains the darkest moments, will always be there. It has incredible power. My chest still tightens at the thought of falling back in, it can pull you down so quickly, with such force.

But it has eased a little. It’s like the death-grip loosened, and spread itself out into smaller eddies. Places that are still swirling with the same water, but less deep. Less painful. Less potential for emotional drowning. There are even moments, when I dare to say, I am the ROCK, damn it….around which everything else can just go ahead and swirl.

Thank god. It does get better. I am better.

But definitely not the same…(<—- and if I might say so myself, this ellipsis is probably the most appropriately placed one in this entire blog)

Apparently over 95% of the ocean has yet to be explored. And what of our minds, our psyche? And the mysterious beauty of soul, spirit, and those incredible deep water fish…

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House rules

photo 5Before I started a blog, I read a lot of other blogs about loss. I noticed that many of them had a “shelf-life”, so to speak. The writer eventually must have felt that expressing their grief in a blog, had run its course. I took it to mean that they had moved on to processing their grief differently, that they were healing, and were finally able to let grief move into the background…no longer hogging center stage. Some people probably also just got sick and tired of writing about grief! I’ve been starting to feel like a broken record, myself.

In fact, just this morning, armed with an extremely ambitious to-do list, I thought, “Hey! I might be done writing about grief”. Not that I am done grieving, but I am starting to feel that perhaps writing about it isn’t helping me move forward any more. And really, I feel like I keep saying the same damn thing, just in a slightly different way. See? Didn’t I already say that? Continue reading

The best of times, and the worst of times.

VatiCollage2013When you spend most of your life living far away from family, phone calls carry a different weight. Like a dog that understands its owner’s root habits (better than the person themselves), when you live on another continent, or in a state several hours ahead in the time zone, you become very attuned to your family’s “calling habits”. You just sense it intuitively – don’t even need the “Caller ID” to know – oh, that’s mom calling.

So, when my phone rang in January of last year, and I got “the” call, my heart just sank, and my legs starting shaking before I even picked up the phone.

It was the worst phone call of my life. My dad had all of us on the phone, and told us he had decided to stop his kidney-dialysis treatment. This meant that he would die, possibly even in a day, or two. Continue reading

It’s not you, it’s me (and this big black hole)

20130727-092210.jpgIf you don’t mind, I need to curl up in a ball. Right now. Right here. In this chair.

I don’t care that I am surrounded by people. I don’t care that it’s a staff meeting, and we’re celebrating national ice cream month. That’s how these things go down, that’s how grief comes round. I know it’s a corporate formality, but please do not ask me how I am doing today, unless you really want the truth along with my salty tears topping your sundae.

Because some days it hits you so hard, you have to pull over to the side of the road before you drive off of it. Then, you dust yourself off, and head to a staff meeting….

There might be a few who wonder, casually, what was it like to lose your husband? But no one has ever asked me. People are conscientious, careful, and tender-footed around the topic of death. That’s just how it is.

I can tell you this…when my husband died, a big black hole opened up right next to me. And there it remains. It will probably be there for the rest of my life, in some capacity or another. That’s what they say about this kind of loss. Most days now, I am able to drag myself out, and slither around the perimeter, see ya’ later, sucker! I’ve got my cuppa’ joe, gotta’ go, that’s right, watch me get up and walk, (I mean crawl), away. I might even ignore that bugger entirely for a day or two, now. That’s good. That’s progress. I’ll take it.

But no so fast, eh? Not today!

‘Cuz the forces start pulling on you, in the middle of a restless night, those freaky arms start dragging you down. You wake up exhausted, too tired to shower, too tired to care, and very, very confused by the strange, deranged, “fact” that he’s gone. Too hard to imagine what it would be like? It is for me, too. I’m not special, or super-human. I can’t “imagine” it either, that’s why it’s taking so long to process, to heal. I still can’t believe it. But I have to live with it. His death. Who knew, something so concrete, something so undebatably undeniable, would be so hard to grasp?

So, yes, I continue to show up. I’m at this meeting, but I cried on my way down the hall. And I just can’t eat the ice cream at the social today; I don’t have the strength. I’m wrestling the pull of the big black hole, you have no idea how exhausting it is. Sign up for a marathon? Not after this doozy. I don’t even know if I’ve hit rock bottom yet, grief has so many layers. No offense, all water-cooler, work-talk aside, how am I doing today? How do you think? I’m too tired to lie. My husband is still dead, and I can barely swallow the fact. Not after a year, not even as “soft-serve” with peanuts, caramel, and fucking multi-colored, stupid-ass sprinkles on top…

It’s just one of those days, ok? Please let me curl up and ride it out.

(Your love is better than ice cream….)

I’ve got a bad case of the Tuesdays…

photo 4There is some other-wordly power that gets me going on Mondays. Ok, let’s do this. Start the week, get it rolling, an object in motion stays in motion, get in the shower, put on some clothes, feed the dog, start the car, drive to work, there you are.

After my husband died, some other-worldly power got me through my first year, too. Or perhaps I don’t give myself enough credit. Let me re-phrase: somehow, I got myself through the first year. I DID IT. But I don’t know how. I wasn’t myself. I was beside myself. Like Tuesday, cast in the shadow of Monday.

Continue reading

Half & Half

June08In our household the most important items on the grocery list were always coffee beans and “Half & Half”. Still are. People could find substitutes for other things, but no Half & Half to go in the coffee? All hell broke loose on a nice quiet Sunday.

You can’t even get Half & Half in the UK, where my husband was from. There is only milk, or cream (heavy cream), neither of which are quite right. We tried mixing them on a visit to London once, to simulate Half & Half, it didn’t work. It’s about ratios, people! Ratios. Same goes for a latte. I am a coffee and latte snob. Truly. I grew up drinking european espresso, lived in Seattle as coffee and Starbucks became what they are today, and have been perfecting my taste for all things coffee for close to 20 years. When we moved to Madison, I said to my husband, as long as I can find a Bikram yoga studio and decent coffee, I’ll go. Good thing I also had some job offers.

So secure am I in my coffee snobbery, that I used to claim to my husband that if he blind-folded me and fed me lattes from the different coffee shops in town, I’d be able to tell which one came from which locale. Oh, how I wish we would have done that! I really wanted to impress him with my distinguishing tastebuds. Especially after I failed the “blind taste-test” of the pickle chips…that’s right, I also have a strange obsession with Lays brand Dill Pickle flavored potato chips. Once hubs brought home a different brand, and I complained that they were sub-par. I insisted on proving their inferiority with a blind taste-test, which hubs eventually obliged to, after we got some Lays back in the house. And guess what, I couldn’t tell the difference. Ha ha!

Whatever. Back to the coffee. My parents, too, loved their afternoon espresso and pastries. It was a ritual part of their lives together. When I still lived in the same town, I’d often go over for coffee. My dad was the barista, and my mom the patissiere. It was something they did every sunday, “Kaffee und Kuchen”, as they call it in Austria.

A lot of criss-crossed memories have been running through my head. Especially since Father’s day came and went.

I’ve been thinking about how I have always described myself as being 1/2 like my mom, and 1/2 like my dad. Split right down the middle, half and half. I’ve also been thinking about how when my dad died, it was a huge loss for me. But it was a loss that got drowned in another loss.

I really admired my dad, he was a great father, a great person. I thought he’d live to become a wonderfully stubborn old guy, still insisting on driving and skiing into his 90’s. My dad lived one of the healthiest lives of anyone I have ever known. Never smoked, drank little, ate right, had a positive, light-hearted attitude, didn’t carry grudges or negativity around, exercised his mind and body his whole life. Yet he still ended up with heart-disease, and kidney disease. Neither of which had anything to do with the way he lived. When he called to tell me he had made the decision to stop dialysis, my world stopped. Then only one month after he died, we found out my husband had terminal cancer, and he died four months later. The shock of the unexpected loss of my husband, right after losing my dad, overtook me. It has been very hard to understand it, to absorb it, to separate it, to lay out the pieces in nice little strands and work through each one. It’s a tangly mess of grief, where my sadness is split between the loss of my dad, and the loss of my husband.

Logically, of course, I know their deaths aren’t related. Yet, there is nothing that will change the fact that they both died in short succession of each other and the tsunami of grief that came my way was one big monster of a wave that swallowed everything in sight. A big knotted mass of sea kelp and salt, coffee and cream, my dad, my husband, my past, my dreams.

And here my mom and I are, sharing this unusual journey of becoming widows together. A mother and a daughter. Each of us lost our other half, and are trying to catch our breath on this lonely shore. But if she’s a half, and I’m a half – even if it’s faulty logic – I have to believe that together we can become whole again.

4×6

There are days when I want to burn them all. Every single flat, one-dimensional photo that I have of him. Because I hate that it’s all I have. I hate that I can’t feel the stubble on his face, only run my fingers across the high-gloss sheen of a 4×6 from Walgreens. Is that all you’ve got for me? A shiny fake finish on a life that was so much more? It’s not enough to fill the void. Not. Enough.

Actually, hold on, we can frame it differently if you’d like, we give him 4-6 months. How do those dimensions work for you? 4-6? 4×6? More like getting smacked in the chest with a 2×4.

I never thanked his oncologist. I think it’s because she was the one who said those words. She wasn’t to blame; she tried to help. But it was on that day that I felt the floor give out from under us, and down the rabbit hole we went. It was infuriating and sickening to look up and see them all watching helplessly, with pity in their eyes, knowing there was nothing they could do. But 4 months is more than some people get. And cancer? I guess I can be thankful that I have a convenient enemy to direct my anger at.

And so I continue to flop around, some days thankful, other days resentful. Surrounded by photos, and his folded t-shirts. Memories. A drawer full of socks. His shoes, sitting in the closet, empty, never to be filled again. And the photos, a precious, precious facsimile, but devilish in their trickery. I hate them and love them. The reminder of everything I had, and everything I lost.