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.

Advertisements

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

Parallel paths

I was at the dog park the other day, getting ready to walk the loop. It was the first warm day we’d had in while. The first true inkling of summer. It was gorgeous, and on the inside and outside, I felt good to be alive.

As I entered the park, I found myself walking along side a nice young man. When I say young, I just mean he wasn’t the retired chatty college professor I have ocasionally walked the loop with. And I should clarify, that it’s not exactly customary to “walk the loop” with other dog owners, but sometimes if the dogs connect and the conversation between owners is flowing, it just happens, and you find yourself walking the whole way round with a stranger.

So, this young guy and I just happened to be walking along together, on parallel paths. We didn’t really talk much, mainly about the beautiful day. I’ll admit, I snuck a few glances at him. He was cute. I liked his energy. And for the record, there are plenty of loonies at the dog park, too. It’s amazing how you can sense their energy from miles away; I steer clear of them, as I have enough of my own “crazy” to contend with right now. But this guy seemed nice, I could tell he was someone who appreciates nature. He said he heard it might be in the 80s all next week, and I said, really? I don’t look that far ahead anymore. Then his dog went one way, my dog went the other, and our paths diverged. It was completely natural.

As natural as the feeling that followed. My heart relaxed and a sliver of light got in. I took a deep breath, and I thought, yes. Maybe one day, I will meet someone again who I will want to shimmy up next to, and walk a parallel path with. It might not be today. It might not be with this young man. I won’t be going home and immediately uploading a dating profile, but I am open, and that’s saying a lot.

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.

Touch-and-go

20130510-103247.jpgWhen learning how to fly, student pilots practice something that is called a “touch-and-go”. You bring the plane in for a landing, but right as the wheels hit the runway, you pull the steering wheel toward you, fire everything back up, and take off again, barely touching down, never completing a full landing.

It makes sense to do this kind of exercise, to kill two birds with one stone, to practice these over and over again. After all, landings and take-offs are the most critical part of every flight.

I wish I had more practice at this in real life. I wish I knew how to turn a dive-bomb into a powerful take-off, an ascent of intention. A trip with a destination. Yeah, I know…it’s about the journey, the ride, and I have the “opportunity” to create a whole new life here! Well, blah. I liked the journey I was on, and it was nowhere near complete.

But apparently it wasn’t time for me to get comfortable in a marriage, to start nestling down for a family. Because here I am, airborne, jettisoned back into the search. The search for meaning, for happiness, for love—for what?

That’s how it feels when you lose your mate, no matter where you were at in your journey together. Talk about a rudely interrupted flight. A mangled, incomplete landing, from which you have to recover and take off again. Some couples just had a baby, then boom. Some couples had a rich, long history, and were finally enjoying retirement. Boom. Some, newly engaged, a wedding in the works. Others, deeply entrenched in parenting four kids (I know five different women who found themselves widowed moms to 4 kids)….

We all know there are certain climbs we make in life, toward milestones, and that after we reach them, we relax, we let go of the pressures, the anxieties. I wasn’t someone with a strict life-schedule or plan, I never assumed I would get married. But once I did, I was happy. I loved being married to my husband. Of course there are no guarantees in life, or in a marriage; a successful take-off doesn’t guarantee a smooth flight, or a successful landing.

I accept that this is now the place, from where I have to take off, that there is no other choice. I can’t land back in the past, I can only rev up the engines and hope to get lift. A feat of nature it will be, flying with directional instruments all messed-up, fuel-tank on empty, flight-plan in flames, control-tower on strike, and my co-pilot, gone.

Wish me luck, steep climb ahead…but I also see mystical mountainous cumulonimbus, if ever there was a dream-cloud to take respite in…

A light dusting…

20130202-123152.jpgIt’s been quieter around here. I’ve been going to yoga, working on my strength. Healing my body. Calming my mind. Trying to take it one day at a time, keeping anxiety at bay. Like the light dusting of snow just barely covering the sidewalk this morning, just barely covering the dangerous icy patches underneath, I am lightly treading the path of grief…for now.

This time of year is tough in the Midwest. Everyone else is posting pictures of spring, the catalogs show women wearing sandals…we’re getting a snow storm. The simple act of stepping out your front door is treacherous, there’s black ice on the sidewalks, you can’t decipher wet from slick. Most people don’t even walk their dogs. The worst part is that your body remains in a constant state of anticipation, hunched over from the cold, wound tight like a spring ready to absorb a fall. I haven’t been able to turn my head to the left for months. Though I am not sure who to blame, winter, grief, or my job. Continue reading