... 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, September 27, 2017

Little acts of love

Many many years ago I worked as an inpatient oncology nurse. I was chemo certified so part of my job was to administer intravenous chemotherapy to our patients who came in strictly on an out-patient basis. These people were not as immuno-compromised as our overnight patients. They came in, stayed for a few hours while they received their medication, and then - if all went well - they went home. Most times they were accompanied by family members. That gave me a chance to observe how the family dynamics were doing with the stress of the illness, do some teaching, offer support, and just enjoy the interactions.
Even though this was over 20 years ago, I still remember one particular married couple.They were probably both in their sixties. The woman was the patient, receiving chemo for advanced stage breast cancer. She  looked as though she had lost weight recently and her bald head was wrapped in a colorful scarf. But it was obvious that they had a wonderful loving relationship just by how they interacted with each other. Her husband doted on her, sitting with her while she underwent treatment, anticipating her every need. I know he was probably feeling very helpless and wanted to do what he could - anything - to lighten her burden. Over the course of her time with us, I got to know them fairly well.
Once, I remember she was going to read a magazine to while away the time and she pulled out her glasses from the bottom of her purse. Right away her husband jumped up and held out his hand.
"Here, let me clean those for you," he said.
He immediately went over to the sink in the room and lovingly washed and dried her glasses before handing them back to her.
It was a small gesture. Something we all do every day.
And yet to this day, whenever I wash my own glasses I think of him. That one small gesture said volumes.
She was loved. Cherished. Cared for.
It's the little small things we do for each other that make up the bigger picture of our lives.
And when death robs us of our loved ones, our hands hang idle, longing to do one more loving act.
I ache to be able to caress the soft spot next to John's eyes.
I wish I could cook one of his favorite meals for him again.
Or surprise him with a bag of red vines - his favorite candy.
I often think of the times John would go grocery shopping and come back with a bouquet of flowers for me.
Or make my coffee just the way I liked it.
Or make me soup when I was ill.
It's the every day things that we miss.
Each and every day.
That couple I met all those years ago have probably gone on to the next World now but I still remember them and the lesson the husband taught me.
Little gestures of kindness, of affection, of saying I know you and I love you just the way you are are what make
the world go round.
Grab every opportunity. They are fleeting.
But powerful.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

It Is What It Is

Do you often look for hidden meanings in words that you read? Or do you play back conversations you had earlier in the day, week, year, whenever? I sometimes do. And then I wonder why I put so much energy into trying to interpret something that wasn’t meant to be that deep—just some banal chatter between associates or friends. My husband would always say, “It is what it is.”

Some of you are aware that I have a very fun part-time gig as a customer service representative. It’s a job I do from my home office, wearing whatever attire I feel like and even an accompanying hat as my whim dictates. I keep the background music low, and depending on my mood, it can be any artist or group from ZZ Top to Little Big Town. Alexa does the DJ part, and I supply the caffeine. Early on, I realized that I seem to get calls from very special customers. Sometimes, widows call who are in early stages of grief trying to figure out the ordering systems their husbands had set up for repeat deliveries. They find it easier to talk a little to a stranger than to a relative or friend.

It might be a person living alone, who is worrying because his or her cat’s favorite food hasn’t been delivered on time. Often these are people that can use a little extra hand-holding. It’s so cute when they tell me they promised their pet a special weekend treat. We exchange the names of our pets, and we each gain a little warmth from our conversation. And I especially love calls from seniors needing help placing their orders who tell me they weren’t raised with computers. They delight in telling me their age and the kind of work they used to do.

Occasionally, I get a call that is so totally out of the blue, I know it has been ordained by the universe so that I can reach out to someone and share a small story or piece of advice, as I was moved to do today. A young man had cancelled an order for an item he said he had never selected or even admired in passing. We couldn’t figure out how he had come to order it. He told me he was saving up for something special, and I told him that maybe he would receive it for husband-of-the-year award or for his birthday, anniversary, and Christmas gifts combined. He kind of sighed and said he wasn’t getting the husband-of-the-year award. I was moved to share that I had a lot of years’ experience in the happy marriage department and that you want your spouse to be your best friend and the person who always has your back. I went on to tell him about my friend who couldn’t figure out why his marriage was failing when he always gave his 50%. I said in marriage you always need to give 100+% along with unconditional love and total respect. My new young friend was quiet for a moment and then he said that he could afford to do those things—they don’t cost any money. He said he was still puzzled as to how he had placed his original order. I said that maybe the universe wanted us to talk today. He agreed with me, and we said goodbye. I think he might earn that husband-of-the-year award after all. It is what it is.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

How Wide Is the Life You Are Living?

Fair warning. I am feeling a little philosophical today. I may even ramble a bit, but hopefully, my musings will make sense to you. Join me if you dare.

American author, poet and naturalist Diane Ackerman once said, " I don't want to get to the end of my life and find that I just lived the length of it. I want to live the width of it as well."

I see the line she is describing as something more than just a wide, straight track from point A to point B. Rather, it is more like a curved arch that starts out a mere pinpoint - that spark that marks the birth of consciousness. Then the width gradually broadens and fills in as we move through life adding experiences to its dimensions. But somewhere around middle age or, if we are lucky, not until lat in life, the line begins to narrow again until that spark of consciousness dwindles once more to a single point and we transition to a new existence.

It is what lies between those two singular points that defines a life. What have we done to make a memorable mark, to create a legacy of joy, laughter and love? Have we stared life in the face and laughed with the sheer exhilaration of being alive, living every moment to its fullest? Or have we cowered in the shadows, just hoping to get through another day? One way is living wide, the other narrow. Some days we live wide. Others, we can barely sustain a narrow existence. Our line is not always wide. It contracts and expands between those first and last points. The question we must ask is whether on average it has been wide.

When I look back, I realize I have lived most of my life as though I would live forever, as though I would always have time. I dieted for looks more than health, never looking to a future when health would be paramount. I played and partied rather than exercise, never seeing a body that could begin to fail. I took chances, savoring the rush of adrenaline that came when I dared to do something risky and exciting. And I cared more for how events would impact my own comfort than I did for long-term issues. But I think that is how most young people see themselves – invulnerable and immortal. With experience, we learn otherwise. But I would like to believe that we hold on to that magical thinking for as long as we can. It adds substance to the width of the life we live.

Life has managed to smack me upside the head a few times, but still I believe I have lived the full width of this life of mine. I am content. Oh, I have known broken bones and a broken heart. I have felt love and betrayal and forgiveness. And I have seen unimaginable changes that would never have happened in the Pollyanna world I knew when I was young. And yes, I have known grief in seeing death claim those I loved and even those I did not know. In seeing them pass from this world, I have learned that I am no more immortal than they were. Their immortality lies in the memories they leave behind. But their deaths also taught me an even more vital lesson. What defines living wide for me is not necessarily what it is for anyone else. When Diane Ackerman wrote about living, she talked of living the width of her life. Not mine. Not yours. No one else but hers. I am content with the width of my life. So, my question to you is, how wide is the life you are choosing to live and is it the life you want?

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

I miss my best friend

I have been feeling very down these last few days.
I can't say I can identify a particular reason but that is the nature of a grief surge. It doesn't follow any rule. You can be bopping along all confident and happy and then something - a scent, a word, a song - anything - will remind you of your soul mate and the grief returns and the sunny day is gone.
Or something will cross your mind and for a nano-second, your mind forgets and you think "I must remember to tell J - oh, wait, I can't." And the world crashes in on you. And just like that, the sadness, the longing - it all returns.
That's what it's been like for me this past week.
Not constantly.
But enough so that I am aware. Grief is an ever-present companion. An unwelcome roommate.
We have a detente of sorts.
But I would give anything for it to leave.
I miss my best friend, the man who made the sun rise and the birds sing in my heart.
The man whose smile made my day. Whose eyes lit up when I entered a room.
Whose hug eased my sorrows. Whose wise words helped me through life's trials.
Whose love cushioned me, surrounded me, gave me strength.
I forge on. I know I can do this grief thing.
I will make John proud of me.
But I still miss my best friend.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Spiders, and water, and fear - oh my!

It's been a heck of a past couple of days. Will get to why in a minute.
But first I am reminded of a saying that my husband was very fond of: "Things are happening the way they are supposed to." John said it so often it became a game between us. I would get upset about something, he would smile, and I knew what was coming.
Sometimes I would yell at him before the words even came out of his mouth. "I know! I know! Don't say it."
Or I would threaten to punch him if he said it.
But I got the point.
And time and time again since he has passed I have heard him say it in my head.
To the point that I now truly believe it.
Not to mean that things are predestined. No, what I believe is that certain things happen (that we agreed to) so that we could learn and grow from it - or not, if that is our choice.
So, to get back to my last couple of days. I am a big control freak. Ask anyone who knows me. I don't like sudden change and I am at my best when I am in charge. It was great when I was in management. It's hard as a mere human civilian. I always deferred to John when it came to things re the house.
And it's hard for me to ask for help.
But I'm learning.
In a big way.
I was heading into the kitchen and "something" (or someone) told me to look up at the living room ceiling. Yikes! A huge spider. Not the little creepy kind that you can squash with a shoe. Remember I live in Arizona. Land of tarantulas and other horrors.
No, this was a huge spider - over three inches across from what I could tell. Possibly more factoring in distance from me and that his legs were somewhat curled. And he was at the uppermost area of my vaulted ceiling. I have a horrible fear of heights so getting on a stepladder and capturing a huge spider was out of the question. I texted some friends, including my handyman and my scorpion guy. I went on our local town Facebook page and asked for suggestions. That was NOT helpful (throw a brick and using a blowtorch were two suggestions). I called a local exterminator but since it was Labor Day (these things ALWAYS happen on a holiday) the best they could offer was a technician coming out the following day. Not good.
So I took a step back.
And started to talk to John, asking him for help. Right after that my handyman texted me back and asked me if I wanted him to come help. Yes, please!
He arrived in about 10 minutes and got to work. With the help of my ladder, a plastic container, and a stiff piece of paper, Mr. Spider was captured and then safely released in the front yard.
With some networking I found out it was a male huntsman spider, one of the largest species in Arizona.

Turned on the shower in the Master bath - no hot water. Not good but, hey, I'm getting better at this Disaster-A-Day program. Called my plumber and they promised someone out by the end of the day. Then they called and said a technician could come within the hour. Was that okay with me? Duh!
Oh, and by the way, his name is Johnny.
Really? I looked heavenward and smiled. I'm seeing a pattern here.
So, I corralled all the animals in safe quarters in case the plumber needed to come inside.  Johnny arrived and immediately saw the problem with the water heater and set to work. An hour later I had hot water. And happy surprise - everything was still under warranty so no charges.
Moral of the story as I am starting to see it:
I can do this problem solving thing. I have it in me. Even when it comes to taking care of the house.
And the other thing is this: John is still here. We are still a team. He told me once through a medium that he is still taking care of things. I believe that. He's just doing it through me now. I have to trust. Myself and him.
I'm learning.
Things happened the way they were supposed to.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Letting Go of the Small Stuff

How much do you worry about the small things? How much energy does it take to fret about those small things? When you are grieving, you have little energy to spare and grief is like a magnifying glass that can blow anything out of proportion. The thing is, given enough time, none of those small worries will matter.

There was a time in my life when I worried far too much – often about things of no real consequence. I sweated the small stuff and worried about how it would affect my present and my future. The thing is, I eventually learned that most of the stuff I worried about really did not matter over the long term. In time, life had a way of working things out.

I still worry, but not as often and now more about big things. How I can support my daughter as she fights cancer and deals with all the damage treatment does to day to day life. What advice I can give my grandson, just starting in a new career, to help him find work to make his heart sing. How to ease my daughter-in-law’s midnight tears and oh-so-understandable grief over our son’s death. In some ways, I suppose, I have become more fatalistic. Whatever is meant to be will be. And far too often most big things are really beyond my control. All I can do is my best.

Grief is one of those big things. It can take on a life of its own.

Grief can leave you raw.  Your feelings, suddenly far too close to the surface, bubble free and as they touch the air, they remind you over and over of the dimensions, the depth and breadth and weight of the agony that came with your loss.  Worries over small things lose their impact in the face of such pain. In grief’s immensity, they just do not merit your attention.

What does deserve your attention?

Your health.
Giving yourself permission to cry when you need to, to feel what you must
Your healing
Moments of inner peace
Whatever brings you even a small measure of joy.

Rather than worry, notice the nice things the Universe sends to your troubled, sad heart …
a butterfly … a baby quail ... your silly dog … a cat’s comforting purr … that one exquisitely perfect flower ... a friend's hug ... a stranger's smile … unexpected acts of kindness.

In time, you will find yourself letting go of the ridiculous and the silly, grudges and anger. And if all goes well, you will find your heart opening once again. Let’s hope that when that day finally does come, you will never again cling to the small stuff and the worry it can bring.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Another Form of Grief by Betts McCalla

Grief comes from many sources–not only from someone you love dying. You can experience grief from losing your job, the necessity of giving up your home, your pet dying, or your best friend moving to another country. All of these can cause immeasurable grief. But what about the people who cause you grief either intentionally or unintentionally? Tonight, my sister and I accompanied our ninety-year-old mother to a neighborhood restaurant chain known for its pie menu. Mom had mentioned having some lemon meringue pie several times in the last few weeks. She is recovering from radiation treatments for lung cancer, and this was the first time in a long time that she expressed an interest in going out to dinner or even in eating a meal.

Our mom has difficulty walking and since a stroke several years ago always uses a walker for balance and mobility assistance. It is her crutch, her confidence, and her way to ambulate as quickly as possible to facilities she may require. As soon as we were seated, the host announced he would take the walker and store it “over there.” Mom said she would like to keep it with her in case she needed it immediately. The young man continued to insist he move it because of the fire marshal. At this point, I said send the fire marshal over and I’ll speak to him if he shows up. Then he said well it’s really my manager who insists we remove all walkers in case of a fire so there’s no interference with people trying to leave. I said she needs the walker next to her for medical necessity so leave it there, please. If this is a problem, send over your manager and I will speak to her. The host did the body language walk away that indicated exactly what he wanted to say. And our mother, bless her heart, said well we can go somewhere else for dinner if they insist. Note that we are talking about a walker that folds up flat and leans on the table next to her. In no way did it interfere with our food server getting up to the table, with any traffic in the almost empty restaurant, and it allowed our mom to be in control if she needed to get up. 

When I got home from dinner, which was definitely dampened by our encounter with the host, I immediately went online to research whether walkers could be removed from patrons in public places. I couldn’t find anything that said it’s okay to remove mobility devices from patrons as long as you promise to return them. I guess this isn’t a big enough issue to have a ruling and it’s left to the common sense of the proprietors. This is just an example of the grief we as human beings cause each other.