Miles away….

Dearest followers, many a post have I started, yet I can’t seem to finish any of them. Maybe because I like to tie my tales up in a bow, and at least attempt to bring a nice conclusion to my mind’s rumblings, er, ramblings – and these days I can’t seem to wrap anything up. I will be honest and admit that lately I prefer to play games like Candy Crush and Fairway Solitaire on my ipad, rather than complete an emotionally-driven thought. I play these games over and over and over.

It’s a self-protection mechanism, and an avoidance tactic. I recognize it for what it is. Because if there is one thing I have learned in this past year, it’s that my mind is extremely powerful. It rules the roost around here, and when it tells me it needs an escape, you better believe I listen. I know it might sound strange to keep separating my mind from the rest of my little old self, but I think some people tend to be ruled by emotion, some are ruled by their bodies and desires, and some of us are ruled by our minds. Like I said, in this house, the “noodle” is in charge.

Now, I’m not going to debate whether this is a good thing, or a bad thing. That’s a post for another time, it’s just an observation about what I have been doing, and why I haven’t been writing, and how my mind is trying to steer miles clear of the pain point coming my way, the unavoidable fact, that in one month, on May 28th, it will be one year since my husband died.

Me and my mind, we’re just not sure what to make of this. That much is clear.

I have been feeling pretty good. I recently attended a wonderful retreat for people who have lost a spouse. In addition to playing games on my ipad, I’ve also been gardening, re-seeding the lawn, taking the dog to the park. I’ve been “busy”, ya’ know? I haven’t been stirring the emotional pot. Am I in denial? I really don’t know. I have a month to go, my mind is starting to tire of games, my heart is getting restless, and reality is coming knocking. Many people say that the actual day isn’t as difficult as the build-up to the day. I say, TBD. TBD.

In the meantime, if any of you are so inclined, let me know which half-completed thought you’d like me to try and finish: the one about Uncle Jim’s Worm Farm, the one that references “The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat”, the one titled “Touch and Go”, or the most recent one about Parallel Paths…

Yeah, I know, everyone’s going to want to hear about the worm farm.

A shadow of light.

photo 1Loss can cast some strange shadows across your days. Sometimes dark and engulfing, other times a sharp sliver of illumination. Gone if you’re not paying attention.

This morning, as I sat drinking my coffee, I noticed the speckled light moving across the room. It landed on a porcelain bear that my husband had picked up at a garage sale, and cast an amazing shadow. A strong, angular bear, chiseled out of the ice on which it’s standing. A bear that looks a lot like the tattoo my husband had on his arm. A piece of art that I will never see again.

I continued to think about shadows as I walked out into the beautiful morning. We used to laugh at my old dog’s shadow because we thought her shadow looked like an ant-eater. My new pup, her shadow looks like some kind of mythical wolf. Fierce and fangy. I looked over at my shadow this morning, too. A long, lonely alliteration.

We are our shadow selves, are we not? Continue reading

Stuck in the middle.

ks2012Sometimes I refer to myself as a widow. I know friends are usually a little surprised when they hear me use the term. I’ve seen the look on their faces. Believe me, I’d rather not be one (a widow, that is).

There all kinds of people. All kinds of widows, too. Sadly there are really young ones, and old ones, and also the ones who fall in the middle (like me). Officially, I belong to a “young widow” support group, it meets once a month. I haven’t gone in quite a while. Winter storms canceled several meetings, other things came up. But I finally made it back, last night. It reminded me that there are all kinds of widows. Loud ones, quiet ones, cheerful ones, sad ones. And that as we move through our loss, as we continue to live with it, our relationship with being a widow changes too. Continue reading

Buzz Cut

Yes, indeed. I am mortal (in case any of us forgot). Just had my hair cut. And it took me down a notch. What was that story about Samson? He lost all of his strength when his hair was cut?

It’s been almost a year since I was last at the salon. I remember, because it was not long after my husband died, and at the time I couldn’t bring myself to tell my stylist. And today? Same thing. I couldn’t say it. There were a few moments in the conversation where I could have said it, but I felt my throat choke up, and it didn’t come out.

Why does it matter? Does she need to know? Kind of. I’ve been going to her for years. We chit-chat. When I leave out the truth, there’s not much else to say. My weekends are not full of adventures, my nights are not spent trying new restaurants. Any trips coming up? Why yes, I’m going to “Camp Widow”! That would have at least gotten the conversation started.

And those who do know, try. How are you holding up? You look good. Hanging in there? Yes. Not bad. Fine. Hanging in there. But they will never get it, and I don’t expect them to. I’m walking around like a “normal” person, upright, holding conversations steady. Keeping to the safe zone. But every day, there lies the potential for something to completely slay me. Boom. At the knees. Chopped down before I can even say splat. Continue reading

Happy Birthday dear Pisces.

It’s been sitting in the same place for months. The beautiful ceramic container. I dust it. I put my hands on it. Sometimes I say a few words. I like to place flowers next to it, offerings of chocolate. A bear-claw pastry and tulips for his birthday.

My best friend flew out from California, to stay with me after my husband died. She and I wandered the little galleries and shops until I found the “container” that would become his urn. When I saw it, my heart welled up. I could barely speak. The earthen tones, the round soft shape, and the lid, it had a fish on it. For my nature-loving Pisces.

The container was heavy even before it contained his remains. But when I held it for the first time at the funeral home, I was shaking. The weight of it. Both physical and emotional, I wasn’t sure I could carry it forward, let alone out of the funeral home. Continue reading

An altered landscape

GovNelPrairieThere are a lot of things you are forced to accept when someone dies.

One of the more confounding things is that other people will mourn differently. Most of them in their own quiet way, not able to share their experience of the loss with you. Perhaps because they are afraid to, or they don’t know how. When we grieve, we learn about ourselves. Though grief is brought on by the loss of someone else, when you are thrust into grief, you spend a lot of time trying to comprehend your own reaction to it.

There is a park that I drive past often, my husband and I used to run there, we’d take the dog to the lake, we’d photograph prairie plants. It’s a vast park with woodland and prairie trails, and it lies along a scenic, but busy country highway.

I remember several years ago noticing a dead tree that stood on its own, near the road. It punctuated the top of the hill as you drove past the park, it was such a lovely silhouette. I told my husband that I wanted to photograph it. It was one of those things you say, but never do. It would have been hard to photograph, it would have to be done from the road, there wasn’t really a good place to stop, it was dangerous, last year a cyclist was hit and killed. And really, I have always thought, not everything has to become a photo, right? Some things should just be experienced.

Well, one day we came over the crest of the hill and the tree was gone. It had crumbled, or fallen, perhaps taken down in a storm. As we zipped past (going at least 55mph, as is the posted speed limit), I could see the remnants, how the tree had fallen, on its natural way to decomposition. On this busy commuter road, probably no other soul even noticed. But I have often wondered, did anyone else notice?

I noticed. Every time I drove past the park, it bothered me! I mourned it, the old landscape. The striking view, that was once worthy of a snapshot, had lost its star performer. This singular element gave the whole scene meaning, tied everything together. Like my life. My marriage, my partnership. The Fred, of Fred and Ginger, gone.

That is one of my greatest anxieties now. The worry, and frustration, that I am the only one who remembers there was once a beautiful and unique tree, completing the hillside, completing the picture of our life. The other commuters continue on, busy with their lives, too consumed with their own comfort to stop and take note of a landscape forever changed. But that is an assumption. And I hope it’s wrong.

I know he wasn’t “everything” to “everyone”. But he was everything to me. And his death has altered me, my view, and viewpoint. And even though I have slowly gotten used to the landscape at the park, I have accepted its softer silhouette, I will never be able to look at it without feeling the absence of the tree, without missing what once was.

And those who knew him, I can only hope that they too will remember him, that he will forever be a part of the landscape of their lives, even in his absence. They probably don’t realize that every time they mention him, or mention their grief, it’s a treasure to me, it helps diffuse the burden, the weight, the worry that I am the only one working on the scrapbook, desperately trying to keep the pieces together, every single story, every memory, like dots of ink on paper, building to create the complete picture, a snapshot of a life once lived.

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

Going through the (e)motions.

VICTOR 07I just learned something this week. Something new about grief.

Yep, I’m still on the grief train over here…albeit in “panicked passenger” mode…desperately seeking the drink cart, woo-hoo!

And just to completely derail for a moment, I have been on many trains. We lived in Switzerland during my high school years, and my mom is from a picturesque little town in the alps, Wassen. Wassen is known for its beautiful church that sits out on the edge of a slope. It is also known for the train tunnels and tracks that wind up through the mountains, the Gotthard pass. From the town, if you look up the mountain, you will see the same train pass by 3 times. Each time a rung higher, and each time going in the opposite direction. Continue reading

Driving through a snow storm.

In about 3 months, we will reach the day.

It’s a day that looms large for all who have lost someone. People seem to think that in the first year you are grieving and “getting over it”, but the way I see it is that for that first year you are just surviving, just getting “into it”. Slowly being forced out of sedation, to face your injuries. (The biggest one being a hole in the heart. And for me, also a hole in the brain.)
Making it to the anniversary of his death, will be a fucking testament of my survival. It will also be a tough, tough day. And, unfortunately, the hard work is still to come. I knew it from day one. This is going to hurt, this is going to take a while.

Yesterday, I saw a job that I am interested in. It’s in an entirely different field, but one that I’ve been wanting to transition into. My heart lept when I saw the job posting. I thought, that’s it! My chance!! It’s what prompted my post yesterday about following my heart, because my heart has been racing with anxiety and excitement ever since I saw it. I read the description and thought, I am all those things. I can do those things! I have those skills. I will work on my resume and apply. See what happens. If nothing, then fine, it wasn’t meant to be. Go for it! That’s the “old me” talking! Good to see you! Where have you been?!

Then last night a storm hit. Like in “Back to the Future “. The “new me” met the “old me”, and it got trippy. My future got funked up. Continue reading

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.