... 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, June 29, 2016

I once blithely asked a recently divorced friend

I once blithely asked a recently divorced friend what he missed the most about being married. It was an acrimonious parting and I expected a trite answer like dinner being prepared, 2 paychecks coming into the house, dry cleaning miraculously reappearing in the closet, all things I figured would impact his busy doctor life. He floored me completely when he said what he missed the most was being touched or embraced, not sex, just being touched. I never forgot that answer and these days I concur. I miss human touch. I really miss being hugged with arms tightly wrapped around each other body to body. You know the hug I mean? Where you stand and sort of sway for a moment or two and just inhale each other’s essence. That hug signals all’s right with your world and you are safe, protected and loved. I was married to a really good hugger.

When you are recently widowed or divorced you can go days and sometimes weeks without being touched. I craved that physical aspect of love as I mourned my loss. I half expected my skin to shrivel up and slough off from lack of touch. No one was squeezing my shoulder, holding my hand or dropping a kiss on the top of my head as he passed by. Hugging a friend or family member when we meet or when we say goodbye is second nature to me. Mom freely dispensed hugs to us children when she left for work or when she returned home and the family habit stuck.

We have a fun short break during our church service on Sunday mornings where we take about ninety-three seconds to greet each other. I make it a point to try to greet people who I know are alone. They are the ones who need to be touched the most. When personal space became such costly real estate in the work place a lot of people, including me, had to learn new rules. I was used to hugging my co-workers and my customers, and shush, I continued to do so.  Maybe there could be a day of the week designated as hug day like casual Fridays.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

First Day, Last Day

In my book, Peeking Over the Edge, I wrote about the idea of first day, last day. It is a principle I try to keep in mind all the time, sometimes successfully, sometimes not. Basically, it says that while today is the first day of the rest of your life, it could just as easily be the last of yours or of someone you love.  Those who are grieving the loss of their soul mate understand this all too well. None of us wants to lose someone we love, but having regrets after they are gone is the hardest thing of all.

Reminding ourselves to forgive more, to play more, and to tell those we love how much we respect and admire them helps us keep our relationships clean.  But the fact is, the one sure thing in life is that someday we will all die.  Maybe our purpose in life is to live the days we are given as fully and joyfully as we can so that when we are gone, people will remember us as someone who embodied love and enriched their lives. I am sure that looks a little different for each of us and is not always easy, but in our hearts, we know when we are living to that purpose and when we are not.  The times we are not are the times we begin to “should” on ourselves or demand impossible levels of perfection from ourselves and others.

Friday, June 24, 2016

When Breath Becomes Air

When Breath Becomes Air is a newly published book that I just finished reading. I started it just yesterday but - and forgive me for using a trite phrase - I couldn't put it down.
It is the story of Paul Kalanithi, a neurosurgeon, told by him. But it is not just any story of a new doctor. Told against the backdrop of his training and his work and his life that included his wife, it is the story of a man who faces his own mortality when he is suddenly diagnosed with stage 4 metastatic lung cancer in his mid-thirties.
Paul's background is English literature and the book is beautifully written. If dying could be set to the music of words, this book is a song.
I recommend this book at its face value but, more importantly for me, this book touched my heart not only because of Paul's response to his death but perhaps even more so, by his wife's response to it.
The book is not sad or morose because Paul's approach to death was strong and peaceful, courageous and accepting.
Yet, the Epilogue, written by his wife Lucy, brought me to tears. I don't know her but I felt a kinship as she talked about losing her husband. I also appreciated her concept that his death and her grief do not signal the end of her marriage. But rather this is the next phase of their relationship. This is something I have been saying for years since John passed.
John and I are doing this together. I spoke that to him just minutes after finding him gone and I still feel that way today. Perhaps more so. Lucy quoted C.S Lewis from his book A Grief Observed:

"Bereavement is not the truncation of married love but one of its regular phases - like the honeymoon. What we want is to live our marriage well and faithfully through that phase, too."

Thursday, June 23, 2016

I kept looking for lessons or clues...

I kept looking for lessons or clues to help me move forward in life after Jerry transitioned. I was just bummed out with my life in general. Sure, I could still smell the flowers but no one was there to plant them for me. Or water them or pick them after they bloomed. And that analogy kind of bled over into most areas of my life. 

A few months before Jerry became ill, I’d had a nasty fall while we were on vacation. The injury topped off my previously diagnosed spinal stenosis by further compressing my spine column giving me the equivalent space for my spinal cord of a 12 lane expressway feeding into 2 lanes according to my surgeon. As a result of the fall I went from being able to walk a few steps unassisted, and usually navigating on crutches with partial wheelchair backup to becoming totally wheelchair dependent. After three orthopedic consults, I opted for surgery primarily to ease my unbearable pain whenever I stood up to transfer. I hoped a secondary benefit would be regaining some of my lost mobility. Jerry was diagnosed with lung cancer about three weeks after my surgery. After several weeks of physical therapy following the surgery, it became obvious that my walking was not going to be an option. I needed the power chair full time. By some miracle, I was able to continue driving. And I was able to care for my husband for 10 months before he passed. I was suddenly in charge of the driving, shopping, meal preparation and laundry. These were chores Jerry usually handled.

I actually became grateful to be using a power wheelchair when it came time to unload and carry in groceries from our vehicle, to transport a bundle of clothes to the laundry room or take dinner on a tray balanced on my lap from the kitchen to the bedroom so my husband and I could eat together every evening. I would not have been able to do these things if I were using crutches. I amazed both of us with my new found abilities. Jerry was no longer the care giver. We had traded places.

Three years after Jerry passed, the economy tanked and my business closed affecting me like another death. For the first time since I became the oldest child, I was suddenly without responsibility for anybody except myself and my fur kids. With my sister’s blessing and promises to care for my pups and to water my plants, I loaded up my mini-van and headed off on a solo road trip. I drove almost 6,000 miles round trip from Arizona, stopping in Arkansas to visit my Mom, then heading up to Mt. Vernon, IL to see another sister and her family. From there I went to Myrtle Beach, SC to reacquaint  myself with the Atlantic ocean and to see more family and friends before heading to Iowa for a rock concert.  I drove home to Arizona passing through many small towns with empty buildings and boarded up store fronts. It was comforting in a sad way to realize that our state wasn’t alone in the wretched economy and I wasn’t the only one grieving for a lost business.

The road trip was very liberating for me. Some days, I played my music loud so I wouldn't think. I talked to Jerry a lot, often drifting away from the conversation only to pick it up hours later or even the next day. I learned the words to all the songs on my Adam Lambert, Meatloaf, Pink, Lady Gaga and Adele albums. I allowed myself the freedom of singing and sometimes screaming at the top of my lungs. It felt good. I howled at the moon. And I cried. I cried for my losses; my husband, my business, my retirement plan of sitting on the porch swing with Jerry and living happily ever after. I might have gone a little crazy. I talked to a lot of people. I met most of them at gas stations or diners. They were friendly, often a little shy, and they asked lots of questions about what I was doing off by myself. I would grin and tell them I didn't have to be back at the home until 5 p.m. After 7 weeks I returned to Arizona. My dogs were indifferent, and my plants were green for the most part. I had a list of priorities and I had set some goals. I felt the beginning of a small sense of peace. And I felt incredibly empowered. I am woman, I am physically challenged, and I am invincible. Or nearly.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Shared Grief

Sometimes, when I sit down to write my Sunday blog and Facebook post for From Grief to Peace, I find myself facing a blank computer screen with absolutely no ideas coming to mind of what wisdom I could possibly impart that will touch your hearts or spur discussion within the community we are trying to build. Those are the days I find myself turning to our old friend, the internet, looking for inspiration. This week, I found the quote below and realized it speaks directly to what we are all about, what we are trying to accomplish with the work we have been doing for some time now.

Our goal is to reach out to those of you who are going through the deep pain of grief after losing your soul mate and to those around you who wonder how they can help you. One or the other of us has been there. We know there are those of you out there who are reading what we have to say.  What we do not know is how it is affecting you. We hope it is for the better and that our words help to ease your grief just a little bit.

And so today, I invite you to share with us, to make us a safe haven for you to unburden your heart and make the most of this community where, to paraphrase what they used to say in the TV sitcom Cheers, everyone knows your pain. This is where you will find others who know what you are going through. Maybe, just when you need it most, you will find a friend … or more than one. Just remember, the hardest step is that first one. After that, things will get easier.

Friday, June 17, 2016

A sweet little John-Hello

Someone a while back coined the phrase "God-wink" to mean a coincidence that probably isn't; an occurrence that makes you stop and think that maybe - just maybe - Someone really is in charge and sending us a message that all is well. An example would be thinking about a person we haven't heard from in a while and then the phone rings and it's that person at the other end. Or needing some important information and then opening your email and someone has sent you the very thing you needed.
God-winks happen with our loved ones who have passed, too. They are still here reaching out to us. We just have to train ourselves to pay attention. John reaches out to me all the time and it helps to make this time that I am separated from him a little more bearable. I call them John-Hello's.
Here is a perfect example:
I love Victorian houses. It's something I learned from John. They have been his passion ever since I have known him. So much so, that both of the houses that we owned in Pennsylvania were beautiful old Victorian farmhouses with gorgeous wraparound porches and lots of gingerbread [not the cookie - it's the ornate woodwork in the archway of the porch].
So, recently I came across a picture of an old Victorian house on one of the Facebook pages that I follow. It reminded me very much of our first house. It made me a little sad to remember this time that was no more. But I decided to post it on my blog page anyway and under it, to show the similarity, I scanned and uploaded a picture of our first old house.
Imagine my surprise when I saw that picture appear on the page. There, sitting on the side of the porch was John. I hadn't noticed him when I had loaded the picture into the scanner. He was sitting in the shadow and was small in the original.
But there, enlarged on the monitor of my computer, there was no mistaking him.
He was reaching out to me from our past, from his present - our present.
I smiled when I saw him. The memories of us sitting on that porch together came flooding back and I felt the love.
I know that is what he wanted me to feel.
And I whispered "Thank you" and mentally hugged my Love and felt a little less sad.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Why should we only Rest In Peace?

Why should we only Rest In Peace? Why don’t we live in peace, too? What do you feel when a tragedy happens like the horrific mass murders in Orlando this past weekend? I didn’t personally know any of the victims but the waves of sadness and grief I feel for their families and friends are so hard to rise above. Death is difficult enough to accept when it’s the result of a debilitating illness or the sudden onset of heart failure or an aneurysm. As a society we abhor the senseless deaths of young people whether it’s from war, accidents or in this case evil craziness. Going out for an evening of joyful dancing, laughing and visiting with friends while listening to music should not be paid for with forfeiting your life, your future, or your relationships. 

There are 102 people that didn’t make it home after "last call" early Sunday morning. Loved ones of 49 people are feeling the same devastating pain and grief I’ve experienced from loss. I wish I could put my arms around those loved ones for a gentle hug or place my hands on their shoulders and look them in their eyes as I tell them how sorry I am for their suffering. Instead, I will make do with hugging and telling each of my friends as I meet up with them that I love them. If each of us practices this, perhaps it will help counterbalance the endless grief being felt around the world.

“Hate, it has caused a lot of problems in the world, but has not solved one yet.” Maya Angelou.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

How Do We Recognize Our Soul Mate?

What is it that lets us know our soul mate when we meet in this lifetime? There is, for sure, a soul knowing that comes, but I think there must be other, more tangible things we recognize. A smile. A certain sparkle in the eyes. The electric energy of a familiar aura. I just know the attraction is there and inevitable.

And I believe, too, that each of us is, in our truest essence, a being of light. Perhaps it is that light we recognize across lifetimes.


Oh, your light.
It glowed
With such a lovely warmth.

I felt its caress
In your eyes.
I kissed it
In your smile.
I touched it
In your soul.

Oh, your light.
It knew me
From lifetimes ago.

I knew it
I loved it
I will cherish it

Oh, your light
Calls to mine
Across time and space.

Two lights become one.
A sparkling swirl,
Our light celebrates.
An eternal flame
Is born.

Friday, June 10, 2016

The little things that make up grief

             Remember that song from The Sound of Music where Maria tells the children all about what makes up her favorite things? It's a fun silly little song whereby she lists almost inconsequential everyday little things that somehow become important just because they made up the things she liked in her life.
I think we can look at lots of things in life like that. Many occasions and periods of our lives are made up of little things that go on to become a bigger more important whole. By themselves they may be almost nothing but when you add them all together, they become important.
For me, grief is like that, too.
I distinctly remember one of the times I finally understood that, when it really came home to me what the emptiness, the bottomless void that was made by John's death, really was going to be like. It was the first summer after John had passed away, maybe just two months. I had gone out to dinner with some girlfriends in Phoenix and was driving home to Fountain Hills, a thirty-five to forty-minute drive. It was a little after nine o’clock in the evening, maybe a little later because it was already dark. And suddenly it hit me. In the past, I would have been calling John on my cell phone, letting him know that I was all right and on my way home. We would have chatted a bit, maybe we would have laughed about the latest things one of the dogs had done. He would have told me he missed me. We would have said I love you to each other and I would have felt loved, knowing he was waiting for me when I returned home.
But now, as I drove home in the dark, it came crashing down on me. No one was waiting for me at home. No one was anticipating my return with happiness. No one worried if I was late. No one would even know if I had an accident.
And then my mind wandered even further. There was now no one in this world who knew the me that was Joy. Sure, I had friends, even some close friends. And certainly I had family who had known me since birth. But it wasn’t the same thing. There was no longer that person whose face would light up in that special way when I walked into the room. There was no one on this earth with whom I shared inside jokes, special gestures, a wonderful history, beautiful memories, happy plans. There was no one who understood me so completely, who cheered me on when I had a new idea for a business, who believed in my abilities as John did. There was no one who made up johnandjoy anymore and never would again. It was a horrible, sad, awful, gut-wrenching, and profoundly life-changing realization.
No wonder I felt so adrift, so bereft. The identity that I – that we - had built up over thirty plus years was gone – forever. Now it was just me and the losses that that implied were confounding. It was more than losing John, although that alone was horrible. I had lost our future, our everyday life, everything that made us us.
This is the true realization of grief and why it is so hard. And why someone who just sees the widow or widower becomes frustrated with that person when they fall apart months and even years after losing their spouse. They don’t understand. They don’t get that just because we are functioning does not mean that we are healed. Yes, we are dealing with a new reality but we don’t like it. We are still mourning what was and what can no longer be. *
* Excerpted from the soon-to-be published book I Will Never Leave You by Joy Collins.