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.

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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

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.

Sacred things.

It’s still very hard for me to think about the day he died. While I have visited the hospice grounds several times, I haven’t visited the memories of his last days that often. It’s still too painful. Even thinking over the entire year that is now behind me, I revisit bits and pieces, grief flings certain moments back in my face, but to absorb it all, I’m still not able.

But I would like to share one thing that I really loved about my husband. He had beautiful hands; big, strong, perfectly proportioned, and soft. He loved holding hands. He also liked giving foot massages, and had funny names for the self-taught techniques he’d employ. My feet loved him. All the animals loved him, too, because he’d woo them to sleep with full-body rubs. His touch was magical at taming a beast, at turning a grouch into a slouch, at kneading the hard edges out of a tough day. Man, it was good to be a pet in our house…or a foot. Or a wife. My husband had a lot of love to give, and he wasn’t shy about showing it.

I remember noticing his hands on one of our first dates, we took a picnic to the lake, went swimming. Afterwards, as we dried in the sun, he put his hand on my back. I completely melted. I felt so cared for, protected. Instantly safe in his love.

He also became the designated jar- and bottle-opener in the house. A small thing, but a big trigger of his absence. I’ve actually thrown out several full, unopened jars of spaghetti sauce this past year, in a complete rage. I really wanted to hurl them against the wall, a red messy burst of anger against cancer and death, but at least my rational mind was smart enough to aim for the garbage bin.

* * *

My husband died early in the morning on May 28, 2012. He had been breathing heavily all night. I lay next to him for a while, but then moved to the chair, worried that I was bothering him, worried that he needed room, to breath, to be…to die.

It’s the strangest thing, you go to hospice knowing you are there because someone is going to die. But, truthfully? I didn’t understand that he was going to die there, on that day, on that morning. If I had, I wouldn’t have left his side for a second. But my mind could not make the leap from “before” to “after”.

It has taken an entire year, navigating this stoney path of loss, for my mind to grasp it. No wonder I am tired. My psyche has been working hard, and there’s no one here to massage my feet. I’m the only left walking the dog, a dog that we used to walk together. Every day. We’d walk, talk, hold hands, critique our neighbors’ gardens, discuss what we were going to plant in our own…

So I often think about him when I am walking. I think about his hands, and how I miss them. How I miss him. And sometimes I think back to his last day. How, after he died, I left the room for a while. In shock. I don’t even remember where I went. When I returned, they had folded his hands across his chest. They looked so perfect, as if they’d been carved out of marble. I remember thinking that maybe I should take a photo, so I would never forget.

But some things are sacred. Too sacred to be photographed. Some too sacred even to be to talked, or written about.

And why would I need a photo? The image is etched in my heart. Me, looking at him, touching his hands, one last time, as if captured by the great artist above, the day that my world turned to stone, my husband’s beautiful hands never again to touch my back, my feet, my face, his hands never again to open a jar, or soften one of life’s many blows.

Be still, my beating heart.

LeveesREVColorThere are moments in life, when there is no way to describe what you are feeling, other than trying to explain what is going on with your heart. That your heart skipped a beat, or started pounding, or was fluttering like butterflies. That it crawled up into your throat. Or completely sank.

When I was younger, I trusted my heart, my intuition, that inner guiding voice. As I muddled through life, the decisions of adulthood, painful but necessary heartbreaks, it seemed harder and harder to hear my heart. The drum that it was beating to, often muffled.

But when I met my husband, my heart flipped. A couple words from his mouth, and it double flipped. I remember going to yoga, where I was supposed to be concentrating on breathing and holding postures, and all I could think about was him. My heart was definitely a-flutter. After only a few months, he asked me to move across the country with him, for a job. It seemed crazy, but I followed my heart. Things fell into place, there was flow. I got a job offer, we found a wonderful apartment on a lake, eventually we bought a house, got married. Life was not without challenges, but overall, my heart was at ease. It was comfortable in a steady, stable rhythm.

I have heard that it is important to get a physical exam after suffering a deep loss. Your body is affected. Increased blood pressure, anxiety, depression, the heart…your heart is affected. The first fissure started with the phone call from my dad, telling us that he was going to stop dialysis. Stop he did, and my heart too, for a moment. At the first grief support group I attended, when it was my turn to talk, my heart blocked my throat completely, not a single word could squeeze by. It would not let me utter the words. It chokes me up just thinking about it.

Never before have I lived from my heart, like I am living now. The core organ that keeps us going, beat by beat, we don’t pay it a lot of mind. We don’t give it a lot of thanks. But it’s got my attention. Every day. It reacts quickly, letting me know if something I am doing is good or bad for my well-being. If I need to be paying more attention, if I need to slow down. It reminds me that I am fearful of other losses, because even though wounded, I still have the full ability to love. It starts beating frighteningly fast when things cross my path that symbolize my husband, like the time I saw the owl in my back yard, or when a deer walked with me for a full block. I held my breath until he disappeared into the woods. Then the heaving sobs spilled forth. When tired, my heart closes up tightly…unyielding in its sorrow, it knows I still need to mourn, stay home, take a day off, honor my losses, respect my heart’s ache. And my heart really hurts when I read of others’ losses, hearts in grief are like kindred stars shining as hard as they can to give a little light to each other across a vast dark sky.

I can’t deny that death has rattled me, pierced my rib-cage. I find myself saying, “be still, my beating heart”, because I often feel anxious, unsteady, vulnerable and exposed. My heart dangling out there, for all to see. But I am also thankful. My parents gave me life, but it’s my heart that has been carrying on the daily work. Beating loudly, fast and furious, frightened and fearless, continuing to guide me along, through the thick of grief, the steady drum of life that I can not ignore. How can I not thank it? With every breath. Every day.

Looking for signs of life…

(Or Movie Mash-up: “Get busy living, or get busy dying, Dude.”)

Shawshank Redemption. Good movie. No, GREAT movie. It was on last week and I watched it for the hundredth time. I was reminded of the quote, “get busy living, or get busy dying.” I also watched the Big Lebowski…the Dude. I had forgotten most of it, and it had me busting out laughing. Every morning now, I hear the soundtrack in my head, asking to “see what condition my condition is in”….

I was in a very dark place recently. And while in this “condition”, many things happened. Mostly, I was mourning the loss of my husband, remembering the months we spent in the hospital, worrying that I will forget his wonderful qualities, wondering if I will ever come out of my grief. Have I made a single step forward? I often feel stagnant, boxed in by a very narrow vision of my self.

When I started this blog, I didn’t know what I was doing, or why. Stuff was just pouring out of me. It had to come out. But not without some trepidation, about sharing publicly. Worried that no one would read it, worried that anyone would read it. When I got my first follower, I had a panic attack. Then, as others started following, I got even more confused. Why are they even reading this dark shit? I haven’t posted anything funny for weeks! And why do I even feel the need to be funny? This is a blog about loss. Again…what am I doing? Why? Continue reading

Morning Routine

EarlyMorningThis story might be a little intimate. It’s about my morning routine. I know, seems innocent enough, but when you think about it, we are all very unique in how we wake up to the day. It feels pretty personal to admit that while I am generally an optimistic person, I am not, and never have been, a “morning person”. It takes me a while to get going – and I can’t blame this one on grief.  In fact, not everyone in my history has had the patience for my early morning persona; she’s kind of high-maintenance, and needs gentle coaxing. But those who have understood this, and have loved me despite my grouchy early morning demeanor, are gems. When I was young, my dad was always really sweet to me in the mornings. My husband too, bringing me my coffee. My dog? Not so much. She doesn’t really apply that “fine touch” when it comes to waking me up.

Continue reading