New Growth (…and, the end)

bleedingheartsYou are not going to believe this, people…but I got asked out on a date. By the cute landscaper who came by to give me an estimate on some projects (and who I know is far too young for me).

I won’t be sharing a budding love story here. I haven’t been on the date yet. And initially, I didn’t even take “plant guy” up on the offer because I thought he was just buttering me up so I’d hire him.

What I am going to talk about is how it completely blew my weekend apart. I could not think straight. I forgot about the things I had planned to do; pacing around the house like in the early days of grief. I woke up every night around 3am, with my heart pounding. Crying on and off all weekend. Deep sobs about the fact that I got asked out on a date. Deep sobs about the reason behind my “eligibility” to date. After all, not too long ago, I was married to the best kisser, hand-holder, foot massager in the world…well, in my world. My husband was my world. The only reason I am even considering a date is because he’s no longer in it.

But I’m pretty sure that any widow who has had this particular “first”, knows all about what happens after your world has exploded, and you slowly start picking up the pieces. There are many, many aftershocks. I’m still wearing my heart on the outside of my chest. I’m still vulnerable, like a snail without a shell. In fact, after I told Plant Guy (and before he asked me out) which plants I needed removed, I started to feel sick to my stomach because we were talking about taking some things out that my husband had planted. Who am I to change the garden we created together? It felt like a betrayal. And a date? Talk about the ultimate betrayal.

See, these roots, of a marriage, of a union that ended prematurely, they are very tender and delicate. They remain entwined. And they still bleed. Even if you go to your massage therapist and talk about wanting to move forward, with your heart open, you do it with a lump in your throat, every step forward a shaky one, a quaky one. There is simply no way to move toward new things, without letting go of some of the old things. Without releasing that white-knuckled grip on what you lost, one bloody, clenched finger at a time.PampasGrassRoot

It was just over a year ago that I wrote what would become my first official blog post. I wrote about digging up an invasive ornamental grass that my husband had planted. There were residual stalks that shot up again this year…Plant Guy told me that his staff actually break shovels digging the roots out. So apparently my struggles last year weren’t just dramatics!

Those are some tough, tough roots. One of my favorite plants is the bleeding heart. So delicate and vulnerable. There is room for both of these in a garden. In this life. The tough and the delicate growing together in a fully tangled embrace of roots, shoots, and bloody grit. So I am moving forward with changes. Big ones, little ones…knowing that I can still get bruised.

Who am I to change our garden?! Who am I not to. The dear, sweet men that I lost last year would want me to keep living, growing, feeling, faltering, and shining. For me. For them. For the love of this precious and unpredictable life.

I don’t know where things will go in the next little while. The garden isn’t the only thing I’m pushing toward new growth. I’m opening myself up to new things. New places. New people. Heart forward. I don’t know if my “date” will become anything more than an important “first”…but I do know that there is actually a love story here…the story that was told in this blog.

And it’s coming to an end.

Not in my heart, of course, but in my sharing of that story, here.

I can’t even begin to explain how much it helped me last year, to write. Thank you, to all of you who read, commented, and were so kind, and supportive in this virtual sharing of my losses, and of the painful processing of my grief.

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…

Word.

photo(1)Did you know that Walt Disney recently tried to trademark “Day of the Dead” for one of their upcoming Pixar movies? Seriously! Death might be “black and white”, but the whole trademarking of holidays, commonly used slogans, etc…that’s an ethical gray area for me. I mean, does everything have to be “owned” by a big corporation?! Disney is infamous for raking people over the coals with trademark lawsuits.

I work in advertising, as a designer. I have a great job that allows me to be creative. I understand the importance of protecting creative ideas. But I’ll let you in on a little secret, I’m not a big fan of consumerism and marketing, and I actually hate selling stuff. That’s a big part of what we do in advertising. Of course, it doesn’t always feel that way from the inside. If you watch Mad Men, you know that there is a lot of skill, strategy, and thought that goes into creating a message, and that the “creatives” at an agency live to come up with the right line, the perfect font/photo/and layout combination, a comprehensive piece of communication so meaningful that it lives on beyond the campaign. They – we – are passionate about it. Continue reading

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

Composting

IMG_1022Some people take action right away…they sell the house, the car, they get rid of the stuff. Some do it because they have to, for financial reasons. Others because they need to get rid of the reminders – not the memories – the triggers.

Around here, not a lot of change has been visible to the naked eye. I’m maintaining. And I’m doing it pretty well. Things could have gone differently. I could have run through the neighborhood naked, screaming at the top of my lungs, with my dog chasing me, scratching me, biting my ass. Because that is, at times, how I have felt. Turned inside-out, for all to see, raging and raw. Or I could have kept the shades drawn all year….allowing the garden to take over, covering the whole house in spiky tangled vines. I’ve felt that way, too. That’s right, stay away kids, that’s the crazy widow’s house!

But one thing about grief is that when it isn’t slamming you over the head with emotion, it’s taking place on the most subtle of levels. I’m talking shades of shades of shades of gray. Too faint for the eye to see. Yep, a lot of grief takes place inside the closet. At the heart level, the cellular level, deep dark earthworm level.

And that’s good stuff. Right? I mean, worms are cool. They are good stuff. They do good stuff, below the surface. 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….)

Bloodsucking gratitude

20130814-073205.jpgMan, the bloodsuckers were out tonight…Midwest mosquitoes. Because our spring was so drab, the bugs were delayed in their arrival, but now they are here with a vengeance, making up for lost time. Which is what I am trying to do with my neglected garden as well, spreading mulch after work whilst swatting the bloodsuckers. My garden is out of control this year. I can’t keep up with it because, really, it’s a two-man project, and I’m down one man. But I’m doing the best I can, and some dear friends had extra mulch that they shared with me.

Death, and losing someone, will do the same thing if you allow it, suck the “blood” right out of your life. There’s a strange apathy that hits, coating everything in gray. I won’t deny that there have been times when I have wondered what the purpose is? What am I living for? I could get cancer tomorrow, and I wouldn’t even have a mate to take care of me. So they tell you to try and appreciate the small things. Look closely, there are little breaks in the clouds. Try to be grateful for the things you do have, the things you still enjoy, and eventually the color will come back. I know this to be true. But my gratitude is a work in progress, and it often feels as unruly as my garden. A “thank you” here, a quiet moment there…

…like spreading mulch on this hot summer night. I know my husband would have given anything to be here doing this with me. Despite his hatred of mosquitoes, he loved powering through a gardening project. If he could have made a deal with death, or with the fierce she-leader of the mosquito kingdom, trading his blood for his life (along with some itchy bites), he would have done it. If only that were the choice. Cancer is a much deadlier adversary, the oft victor of life-and-death negotiations, one bad-ass parasite.

I realize my blog tends to focus on the hard parts of loss. It’s a healthy way to work through the tough, honest emotions. A person can’t just go from grieving widow to happy clown in a day. I lost two people, and my life is less without them. I miss them both tremendously. But I’m trying to shift my focus, my attitude, my gratitude.

And I realized tonight that I have turned a corner. I am not out of the woods yet, but on this beautiful summer evening, I can smell the mint and the lavender my husband planted, I am sweating and swatting, and I am grateful. Not for the mosquitoes…(I mean come on, I ain’t the Buddha!), but I am grateful for the life-blood that continues to run though my veins. Some lucky skeeters actually got to enjoy my husband’s sweet blood; I got to enjoy his sweet and funny nature, taste his salty skin. I am still relishing it, here, now, as I tend to our lush garden, full of bugs and blooms, thinking of him, on this night.