... a voice for those who mourn the loss of a soul mate
"He felt now that he was not simply close to her, but that he did not know where he ended and she began." - Leo Tolstoy

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Another Thanksgiving

And so the Holiday Season is upon us once again.
For those of us who are missing loved ones, it's bittersweet - possible emphasis on the bitter.
When everyone else is gathering family around them and celebrating and laughing, we are reminded all too well of those who are missing.
And while we don't begrudge anyone their happiness, it hurts.
Sometimes, it hurts a lot.
I have found that it helps me to remember the good times and how lucky I know I am to have had those times.
I spent part of today scanning in some more old photographs. I do this every so often. It takes me a while to go through all the albums and envelopes of photos because I tend to stay and look at the pictures, immersing myself in them, going back in time and actually remembering all that came before and after each photo.
There is the time that John worked so painstakingly on designing and making a stained glass window for us.
And our first Thanksgiving dinner.
Our many vacations.
The older photos are not great quality and I worry they will deteriorate even further so I try to preserve the good ones as much as I can.
But even in their less than perfect state, they still trigger the memories, the feelings, and those will always be crystal clear and precious.
So today, I am thankful.
Thankful for the love we shared.
Thankful for the love and relationship we still share.
Thankful for the memories.
Thankful for the love.
Thankful for a man so good that I sought to be good too.
Thankful for the person he helped me to become.
Happy Thanksgiving, John.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

First Holidays

After our son, Dale, died this summer, I could only think about getting through one day at a time. For the longest time, I think we were all just numb and trying our best to survive those first mournful days. Slipping into task mode somehow made the first few weeks a little easier.

First, there was the funeral and all that went into preparing to have family fly in from distant cities. But then everyone left and gradually, life slipped into a different rhythm, one without our Dale in it. I had not realized how much we relied on him to be there – until the first time I needed help with something around the house and thought, oh Dale can help with it. But then reality hit, and we had to find another way to get the job done. We managed but barely.

There have been a lot of those firsts. Birthdays were especially hard. Dale passed in June and in September we were still aching in sorrow as we moved into what the family has always thought of as a birthday season. Our daughter’s birthday in September, several grandchildren and finally Dale’s and mine a mere week apart. They all felt oddly empty but when Dale’s birthday came, we gathered together anyway for breakfast and honored a life cut short too soon. It was a way to keep the connection alive for just a little longer.

Now we are moving into the big holiday season with Thanksgiving this week, then Christmas and a new year. This holiday is complicated. With Dale gone and our daughter, Dennie, fresh out of her stem cell transplant and still way too vulnerable to infection, I am struggling with the idea of celebrating Christmas Eve, what has always been our family’s biggest day. With rare exceptions, our extended family gathers at our house on that day every year and it is usually a raucous affair filled with high spirits, gifts for the children, food, and a silly gift exchange game for the adults. Children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren in one house have always made for a happy time.

This year, I cannot seem to find the energy to even begin. I find myself debating over every step of Christmas preparation. Put up the tree or don’t (for years, Dale and Dennie helped us set it up)? Keep the Christmas Eve family gathering or not? Will anyone really care if I skip buying books for each of the children? Will I? Maybe gift cards will be enough. And all the while my heart is screaming, not this year!

Still, I have made some first steps. I have made sure my grandchildren know they and their families are still invited to be here. I have started a shopping list. And most importantly, I have committed to keeping our family together through this holiday season even though my heart is not in it.

I find myself wondering how my friends made it through all the firsts after their soul mates died. I wonder how my daughter survived that first holiday after her first husband died in December and left her alone with their young son. I worry about how my daughter-in-law and Dale’s children will manage through this holiday. Perhaps the only way is just one day at a time, one moment at a time.

In a recent interview, Saturday Night Live comedian Kenan Thompson said something about the holidays that shifted my perspective on holidays after a loss. Referring to this time of year as a season to take stock, he said, “It’s the time of year where everybody remembers what if feels like to love others and be thankful. The joys of the little things come flying back."

So, that is how I am viewing this first Christmas without Dale. I will remember how much I love our family and treasure the precious moments we have with them. I will be grateful our sweet daughter is again on the road to health. And I will remember all the joys of the years we were given with Dale. He will surely be with us through every moment of this first Christmas without him.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

The circle of life

It's not often when you can pinpoint the exact moment when your life changed.
Yes, there are occasions that mark momentous events - marrying your best friend, the birth of a child, the death of your soul mate.
But those are the obvious ones.
I am talking about something that seems totally innocuous on its face but, when you look back on the arc of your life, you can actually say “This. Here. This spot. This day. This thing that I did. That’s when my life started. That’s when I embarked on the road that led me to the exact place I am today. Without that one thing, everything would have been different.”
Today is such a day for me.
Fifty years ago today I had a first date with someone. That someone turned out to be a man I spent some years with off and on, eventually even becoming engaged to him for a short period of time. We never married and eventually even lost touch with each other. Then through the magic of Facebook we reconnected earlier this year. He’s happy now, married, and thriving.
But that is not the point.
The point is if I had not started seeing him, other things would not have happened.
I would not have worked where I did and I would not have met and married my first husband.
And if that hadn’t happened, I would not have wound up in Pennsylvania working at a place where I finally met the love of my life.
My John.
My soul mate.
The man whose life completed mine.
I guess the fact that I am approaching 70 years old in a few months is making me feel introspective.
And 50 years is a long time no matter how you look at it.
I don’t regret that day at all. I was lucky to have known a very nice person who I still like today. I’m glad we have reconnected, even if it’s only on the Internet. It completes the circle, so to speak and I know John is ok with it too.
Truly, I am in awe how life works out.
If not but for...then this wouldn’t have...
Have you ever felt that way? Can you single something out like that?
I feel lucky to be able to see the pattern in my life.
I am grateful.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

B/W Photos/Life

Facebook was fun this past week as people accepted and then challenged each other to post 7 days of black/white photos, sans people, showing things in their everyday life. It was interesting to look at the compositions and figure out stories based on the images. This challenge and seeing the results gave me a new appreciation for dimension which I notice is often lost in the color photos we post. The black/white photos look more poignant. And, sometimes, as in the case of my cactus garden an almost outer spacey "Look out ma, the aliens have landed,"composition. Remember all those black/white photos from Roswell, NM?

Black/white can also mean opposing viewpoints. It’s right up there with hot or cold, in or out, wet or dry, sweet or sour, and dead or alive. It looks amazing in photographs but is hard to apply to daily life. We need shades of gray to blur our edges. To smooth out the disagreements and soften the set in concrete ideas some of us are prone to espouse. But to make life pulse requires color.

I know I need color in my life. Color stimulates me, keeps me alert, makes me expectant and heightens my powers of observation. Along with my fellow fashionistas, I’ve tried to do capsule wardrobes. After carefully selecting/limiting my wardrobe to one or two-color pallets it quickly falls to the wayside like a failed diet. Before I know it, the navy, cream and black clothes are being shoved back and I am reaching for something printed, bright and vibrant.

I noticed after my husband passed, my perception of colors was so heightened that it was almost painful to look at bright colors. The yellow and red lantana seemed to vibrate, and bougainvillea in their various shades of fuchsia were mesmerizing. I felt sucked into every brilliant sunset. I wanted to climb up into the clouds thinking I might reach him. When you see a beautiful sunrise or sunset, don’t you want to ask people you care about if they are looking at it, too?

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

If only

And this sadness of grief is not something that really goes away. Yes, it changes. I don't cry every day. I hardly ever scream any more or pound the furniture in the frustration of grief.
But I ache in my heart.
Every day.
I yearn for what was.
I see couples going about their day and I feel cheated.
Nothing brings true lasting joy any more. 
Every day I am reminded that John's not here.
John's not here.
Here. *

I have been dealing with several issues on many fronts these past couple of weeks, both personal/health-wise and family crises.
To the point that it has at times felt a little overwhelming. The last straw was when someone who I had thought was going to work with me on a project that I was hopeful about turned out to be less than genuine in their dealings with me.
So, in relating all of this to a friend I told her how I just felt like throwing in the metaphorical towel and telling the world to just take a long walk off a short pier, as my mother used to say.
And that might sound like a little pity-party. But it wasn't.
I see it as more of self-preservation rather than woe-is-me antics.
I’m sad but I am adjusting.
I withdrew, yes. But it was to regroup. To gather the troops, so to speak, and live to fight another day. I spent the day reading Sue Grafton’s entire latest novel and played with my furbabies.
It was a good peaceful day.
I know how to take care of myself. I know what I need to do to renew my strength.
But it also brought another feeling to the forefront. Something that I try to ignore sometimes because it's downright scary to me.
I am alone. 
And I have to act accordingly. If I fall and knock myself out, for example, no one will know for hours, if not days. That’s a terrifying thought.
It’s also my life now.
I can handle the current troubles and I will. I feel I already am. But it drives home that feeling of being alone. And that above all else is what bothers me.
So, I am learning to put things in place to safeguard myself. I know I am resourceful.
But part of me - a huge big humongous part of me - wishes this weren't so.
In some respects it makes John’s gone-ness seem even more real.
And that hurts, too. None of this would probably bother me nearly as much [if at all] if he were here.
All it would take would be one of his smiles or one of his hugs and the world would be right again.
What I wouldn't give for that.

* From I Will Never Leave You by Joy Collins

Monday, October 30, 2017

Holding On and Letting Go

As a writer, I often read things that touch me and light a small spark of creativity in my mind. But then I am not sure quite what to do with the quote or the idea. Instead of just letting it go, I write it down. I have notes like this all over my office.

That said, I have started trying to de-clutter and get rid of extraneous, energy-clogging stuff in my house (again!) and in the process, cool things tend to show up. This last weekend, it was one of those scraps of paper with a quote by the Persian poet Rumi who once said, “Life is a balance between holding on and letting go.” Isn’t it interesting that it would show up just as I was having to make decisions about what to keep and what to give my daughter-in-law for her yard sale?

In any case, seeing that and actually deciding to release things that had been in my house for far too long (can you imagine something like 25 jigsaw puzzles?) got me to thinking about what is worth keeping and what is worth letting go.

So, to the best of my ability, here are a few of my thoughts on that …

People are worth keeping … stuff can go
Memories are worth keeping … regrets should be released – forever
Love is worth keeping … hate hurts and can go
Caring relationships are worth saving forever … grudges only hurt
Successes are worth treasuring … failures can go once we learn from them
Peace is worth keeping … conflict and chaos are worth letting go
Family is worth keeping … toxic relationships are worth letting go

It is very easy to hold on to things because we “might need them some day” or because we have some emotional attachment to them. But in time, all those “might needs” just take valuable space from what can truly enrich your life. Rather than think of the stuff I let go as being discarded or wasted I am trying to think of it as finding a new home with someone who needs it far more than I do.

For example … for years, I refused to give away a single book I had bought and read. Now, I am a voracious reader, so eventually I was buried in paperback books. They were everywhere! Until one day, I realized I would never read a single one of them again and asked myself why I would deny someone else the pleasure of enjoying those stories. Suddenly it was much easier to donate them to the Visiting Nurses for their annual book sale. They earned money for their cause, someone else enjoyed the stories, and I felt a tremendous clearing of the energy in my house.

Sometimes what we let go is beyond our control. I think of the year we had to evacuate because of flooding or the recent wildfires that completely demolished entire neighborhoods in California. When you are faced with losing everything, you must quickly decide what is important to keep and what ultimately has no real meaning for you. It can come down to recognizing that as long as you still have those you love, nothing else is especially important. The rest is just stuff and replaceable.

I think the idea of balancing what we keep with what we let go of is especially important after someone we love is gone. We loved that person so much that we want to keep every reminder of them with us forever. Their clothes, their favorite coffee cup, the gifts they gave us, their very scent. Perhaps we fear that in letting anything of theirs go we will let them go as well. I don’t think that is possible. Their memory holds a permanent space in our heart. That will never change. But at some point, we begin to live in the world again. That is when mere things can no longer tie us to the one we can no longer hold. That is when we can begin releasing the material things as we grow more comfortable with letting them go and instead learn to keep their memory vividly alive in our heart. That memory will never die and it is eminently worth keeping.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

A beautiful sign

Well, John really showed me a sign yesterday. A big one.
I was having our first meeting of a new spiritual/afterlife group that I am forming with two friends. We met at a restaurant in Carefree AZ and over lunch not only did we get some important work done but we shared some stories and got to know each other better. I told them my story about how John showed himself to me in the airport that first day after he passed by playing “Lyin’ Eyes” over the airport terminal loudspeaker. 

After checking my bags and getting my new boarding pass issued, Claudia and I ran for the stairs. And that was when John reached out to me for the first time since he had passed. As we were running down the stairs, overhead on the airport loudspeaker came the song “Lyin’ Eyes” by the Eagles. I couldn’t believe it.

Years ago, when I was divorcing my first husband, he dedicated that song to me. I’m not sure why. Bill did not take my decision to leave him very well. He felt that I was giving him a raw deal and was very afraid I was going to try to bilk him out of money. The opposite was true. My attorney had told me that I was the only doctor’s wife he knew who got next to nothing in her divorce. I didn’t care. I just wanted out. But that didn’t stop Bill from being angry and so he tried to hurt me by telling me that “Lyin’ Eyes” was my song since it was about a scheming wife who cheated.

I had told John about it when it happened and he helped me laugh about it. Over the years it became our private joke. Every time the song came on the radio, John never failed to poke me lovingly in the arm and say “There’s your song, Joy.” And he would smile and that would make me smile.
         And now John was doing it again. He was poking me. He wanted me to smile. *

After our meeting as Diane and I were walking to our cars we were talking again about songs and she told me how her husband, who was also deceased, loved Santana (it was playing overhead in the restaurant at the time - a sure sign from him) and how she was sure he was going to play Santana when they met again. I said John was probably going to play “Lyin’ Eyes” because he knew it would make me laugh again.
So, fast forward only a few minutes.
I was following Diane on the highway as we both drove to our next appointment, a class we were taking together. Just as I slowed at the stop sign before making my turn into the street where the class was going to be held, what plays for me through Pandora?
You guessed it! “Lyin’ Eyes”!!! 
Not only was John with me. Not only was he once again poking me and trying to make me laugh. But I think he was showing me how happy he was that I am continuing to keep busy and I am doing things that I love with wonderful sweet friends. Maybe he was even giving his stamp of approval to our new fledgling group.
Thank you so much, John. I love you.

* from I Will Never Leave You by Joy Collins