... 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 29, 2017

You Are Not Alone

I never know when something will remind me of how sorrow can affect life. On Thanksgiving Day, I was watching the Macy’s parade, a tradition I love. Usually, I multi-task and watch bits of the parade as I prepare for the day ahead. As always, NBC featured songs from various Broadway shows. When the song, You Will Be Found from the show Dear Evan Hansen came on, I heard the lyrics and immediately stopped what I was doing as I listened to this remarkable piece of music. By the time the song was over, I was on the verge of tears.

The song starts with the plaintive line, “Have you ever felt like nobody was there?” Now, that is an attention-grabber! How could I not think of friends and family who have lost loved ones and are left feeling like there is nobody there? How could I not be reminded of my own sorrows and how I bury them so deeply?

Grief is isolating. That is an undeniable fact. No matter how hard we try to maintain connections, solitude inevitably creeps in and we are left alone with our sorrow, our memories of what is no more. The feelings can be so painful they become paralyzing and solitude is easier than moving to open the door. The one you love is gone and your heart is numb. The memorials are a thing of the past. The “official” mourning period is over. And one by one, people have drifted away. Perhaps you have turned them away, but the fact remains that it is so easy to feel completely alone. These are the dark days.

But there is light there. You have but to open your eyes and see it. You are not truly alone. Friends still love you. The truest ones never stop searching for ways to touch you, to ease your grief. As you wander, lost, in the dark forest of your sorrow, they are sending search parties out, calling your name in hopes you will hear. And one day, when you are ready to begin healing, you will hear them. You will be found.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Black Friday

My husband used to get so amused and would affect a slightly superior demeanor as my sister and I perused the Black Friday ads after enjoying a sumptuous Thanksgiving feast. We’d make clandestine plans to meet at 5AM to staunchly assault the bastions of retail harbingers so we could claim those coveted spoils of victory. It was a game we loved to play. We would shop early and then indulge in mugs of hot chocolate and people watch the other shoppers, smug in the knowledge that we had accomplished our goals. We were usually on the hunt for just a couple of items, but we enjoyed the shared sister play date.

Years ago, there was a pre-lit Christmas tree listed for $11.99 on sale at Walmart. My sister needed a tree, so I played wheelchair roller derby against reckless shopping cart drivers to triumphantly locate the sale display. The stack of boxed trees was dwindling fast. I managed to pull one box off the pallet and guarded it until she could arrive with a shopping cart. There wasn’t a sample tree set up on display, so we were purchasing her new tree sight unseen.

When she and my brother-in-law assembled the tree for the first time, she dubbed it a Charlie Brown Christmas tree. It stood just over 5 feet tall and although it seemed a little skimpy and the greenery barely covered those flimsy metal branches, the multi-colored lights gave it such a festive look. Once she added some treasured ornaments, and you squinted your eyes just slightly, it looked very acceptable. And she said they would probably only use it a year or two and then purchase a better one. Guess what? Years later, they are still using that same Charlie Brown tree. It has become a Christmas tradition for them and I imagine it serves to remind them of the joy they share even during thinner times. Some of the needles have been shed and only one strand of the pre-lit lights still work but they add additional strands and that little tree is a annual reflection of their love for each other.

Their tree reminds me of a few special relationships I’ve been privileged to observe. The outer packaging might be a bit worn and perhaps misshapen in places, but the sparkle radiates love and joy. When you are in the company of one of these special couples, you see a strong friendship confirming trust, admiration freely given, and humor being shared. They seem to embrace life. They are people you enjoy being around and you might also envy a little bit because, as in my case, I think that should still be us.

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