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…

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

Sweet! Everything was going gangbusters, now I’m back in the slammer.

There will be days when you feel trapped in your cage of grief, and every stinkin’ emotion is there with you, like a gang of degenerate hoodlums, just waiting to mess up your face, topple your day, threaten your future. These guys are smokin’, they’re missing teeth, breathing their rancid breathe in your face, and they aren’t going anywhere fast.

Just ride it out. Ride. it. out. Feel the waves of nausea and panic. Lay down on the cold cell floor and play possum. Or scream. Go ahead, bang those fists ’til they are bloody, ‘cuz no one is going to post bail. That’s right. Accept it.

No one can rescue you from grief. It’s yours. Your own. But some days, it owns you. And there’s no way around it, under it, or over it. You just have to get through it. Sit, cry, scream, through the shit-storm.

I know it’s a healing process. I know I will have better days! I’ve already had them.

But today, I’m back in the slammer, and I don’t know why I am here. All I did was try to have fun, live life, get back to normal. Is that a crime?

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

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.

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.