... 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

Sunday, June 30, 2019

Free Hugs.

The other evening, I watched an interview with Sara Cunningham, the founder of FreeMomHugs.org. I was struck by the resonance her message made with me. Not just because I am a supporter of equal rights for all, but because I feel the absence of and a hunger for hugs. Some weeks depending on my schedule I often go from Sunday to Sunday without any human physical contact. How I treasure my church friends who bend down to give me a hug or extend a hand to shake or give me a shoulder squeeze.

After one of my often married and subsequently divorced friends once again split with his then current wife, I asked him what he missed most about being married. I expected a flippant remark about dinner on the table, dry cleaning picked up, or arm candy for social events, but he surprised me. He said, “I miss just having someone to hug and to be hugged.” I know what he meant because just that little bit of daily physical contact reminds us that we are important in someone’s life, and it validates us. The human body craves touch. That is one of the reasons I enjoy linking hands during our last hymn on Sunday morning. I anticipate that little hand squeeze at the end of the final stanza and sometimes a proffered handshake as we wish each a blessed week. 

Another thing that Sara mentioned was that she stands in at weddings if someone’s parents are unable to attend either by choice or circumstance. This led me to think about the opportunities we all have to stand-in or to attend and support activities for our friends. Whether it be a long-coming graduation, achieving citizenship, getting a community-recognition award, being baptized, having a book signing, or exhibiting in an art show—ask if you may attend. Say you would like to be there for your friend. For a performance, even karaoke, show up and show support. I don’t know who said it first, but it is worth repeating—we are all in this world together, and no one is getting out alive.

I Think I'm Building a Bird

When our loved ones or guides on the other side want to communicate with us or show us support, I am convinced they each find their individual ways. For some, it is a dream visit. For others, it may be a quail or a butterfly or a cardinal. For still others, it is a penny or a significant number or song. For me, it is feathers. It always has been. Usually, I discover them in unlikely places. That is how I know they are a sign and not just a random feather dropped by a hapless bird.

I have been getting feathers since just before my dear soul sister Anita died. And they keep coming, usually around a memorable important date or when something difficult to handle is happening or just the horizon.

I always find them around Anita’s birthday and the day she died. Often, I find them when I need that small boost to deal with a really challenging situation, like when I had to deal with major mechanical problems with my otherwise amazingly dependable car. That is when I understand the message. We’ve got your back.

Up until Father’s Day of this year, the flow of feathers had dropped off significantly. But then, life was going pretty smoothly too. Then they started up just before Father’s Day with a lovely woodpecker feather to wish Norm a happy Father’s Day. I wrote about that one and the next one in a recent blog post here, so enough said about it.

But I am still getting feathers.

I think, that as the second anniversary of our son Dale’s passing approached, he finally figured out how to send them.  Like a happy child with a new toy, he has been sending them almost every day. I found his latest one, a black feather, on the dark rug inside the dimly-lit entry to our favorite restaurant as we were leaving. That sucker was hard to spot, but Dale made sure I saw it.

I suspect all this flurry of feathers is his way of letting us know he is still with us and watching over us, his little hellos as we make our way through all the sad reminders of his absence at this time of his transition “birthday.” One reminder since the beginning has been in the form of the plaque Dale's granddaughter Jenica made for his son shortly after we said goodbye to Dale. I have included that image with this post. Of course it includes a feather!

Those feathers are reassuring and now, I have a lot of them. A whole bagful if you really want to know. Some are from Dale, others from Anita or my Guides. In any case, there really are a lot of them. Maybe soon I will be able to build my own special bird, a treasure to always remind me of the love and support I still get from those who have gone ahead of me.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

"I'm here. You're safe."

One of the byproducts of John's passing and the fact that I now live alone [if you don't count the dog and cats] is that I worry about every little thing.
Every noise.
Every broken thing.
Every possible outcome becomes a potential catastrophe in my mind.
I have always been a world-class worrier. But, in the past, I had John to bounce things off.
Invariably, he would ease my mind, remind me I was being silly, and life would go on.
In the beginning of our relationship, he would even draw a smiley face on my forefinger so that I could look at it and know he was telling me all was well.
But now it's just me and I have fallen back into my old ways.
Yet, I think John is still looking out for me.
Oddly - or not so oddly - just the right person has shown up at just the right time to join the team I now have helping me with the house.
It was how I found my landscaping crew.
And my handyman.
And the housecleaning team.
And when I still worry, John sends me messages to let me know that he is still here and I need to trust.
Sometimes, it's a feather at just the right time.
Or a special number or song.
And yesterday I think he was really upset with me because he went into overdrive.
I was watching TV and half my brain was mulling something. I can't even remember now what it was but my mind was sure it was important at the time.
And then out of the blue, the security system armed itself. And the voice in the box said out loud "Alarm, Stay." At first, I blamed Alexa. She's programmed to do Alarm Away which sets the system on and then beeps for 2 minutes so that I can leave. But even then it's done by a specific command which I definitely had not said.
No, this was absolutely NOT Alexa.
This was the mode I use and set manually before I go to bed.
"Alarm, Stay." No beeps.
It definitely got my attention. Did it mean anything? I didn't know. It stopped my thoughts and then I tried to figure out the message. This happened another time just before I had surgery last year and I took it then to mean all would be well.
And it was.
So, I feel that is the message again now. All will be well.
All IS well.
"I'm still here. You're safe."
Thank you, John.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

What do you get when you fall in love?

What do you get when you fall in love? If you are lucky, you get a best friend, a lover, and a life partner who always has your back. I got all those things and extras—a guy who not only could cook and garden, but he enjoyed it. He loved me enough to make sure I laughed every day. He helped me to grow by challenging me to reach for things that I considered out of my reach. I grew up poor and had the mindset that money was for other people. I would save up to buy the basic plain wrapped item. My husband taught me that top brands and extended warranties were worth the additional cost. He shared his love of classical music and master artists with me. He taught me to love camping and how to fish. But mostly he taught me that I was enough. I was smart enough to run businesses. I was creative enough to write articles for newspapers and scripts for documentaries. My social skills were developed enough to entertain friends and clients in our home. He gave me the gift of super confidence. If he had my back, I was pretty much invincible. And then one day his time was up. I felt I had been reduced to less than half of a whole. My spirit shriveled. My self-confidence eroded. I would become tongue-tied at the most inconvenient times. My health suffered both physically and mentally.

It took me a year before I felt brave enough to host a social gathering at my home. This started a new tradition of an annual Christmas party featuring white and red lasagnas. After another year passed, I practiced saying yes to invitations, and I would show up even if I didn’t choose to stay long. My circle of friends shrunk to the point of being nonexistent, and I started a new circle that is much smaller but infinitely more caring and rewarding. I started volunteering at the local county animal shelter. The dogs seemed to sense my abandonment issues. I gave them pep talks about finding their new forever home and a whole new family and friends who would love and cherish them. All the while I wished someone would give me a pep talk. My journey from grief to peace has had backslides and complete stalls, necessitating starting over again with baby steps. I took on the care of my mom the last 5 years of her life. This required me to step up and concentrate on her well-being, and consequently gave me the opportunity to know her as a friend and confidante. I tried to make her laugh every day. I will always cherish the memory of entering her hospital room with my newly published book in my hand. She smiled broadly with tears of happiness in her eyes, and she told me she was so proud of me. It’s been a year since she transitioned, and I am grieving her also. I live alone but I’m not lonely. I eat whenever and whatever I choose. I’m free to travel. Some days I almost feel whole, and I know I am enough.

Friday, June 21, 2019

They're just things, right?

Yesterday morning I met a friend for breakfast.
He wasn't just an ordinary friend.
He was the husband of a dear friend of mine who died last November. David had asked me to join him because he had some things of Sherri's that he wanted to give me and we also just wanted to sit and chat and reminisce.
It was a good breakfast and I came away with  a small shopping bag full of mementos.
And as I put the little treasures out in my office, I have to wonder why having these little inanimate objects come to mean so much to us when we lose a loved one.
I know, in my own life, I have lots of treasures of John's all over the house.
I keep his hairbrush in the glove compartment of my car. It used to be in the glove compartment of his car. His car is gone but I feel good knowing a part of him, as it were, is with me as I drive now.
I sleep in his old scrub tops (John was a nurse and wore scrubs to work every day).
I keep an old ChapStick of his in the drawer of his desk.
And Sherri's angel now sits atop my desk in my office where I can see it every day and remember the good times we had together.
To touch something of the person who is gone is to stay connected to their memory, their love, their friendship.
The object itself is almost meaningless. After all, isn't it only a brush, a piece of clothing, a piece of wood?
No, it's more. It is infused with love and memory now.
It is now more than it ever was.
Keep those treasures around you.  Hold them. Touch them. Relish the joy of the memories.
And be grateful for them.
They are blessings.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Gratitude Redux

Sunday was Father’s Day. It has become a bittersweet time for us. I suppose it always will be now. You see, two years ago, our family was still intact. With our Dale in the hospital and our Dennie fighting her own health battle, it was damaged, but intact. A week later, Dale was gone, and the long-term damage and pain had set in for all of us. In those days after his death, I saw little to be grateful for, only grief.

For my husband’s sake, I try not to show my sorrow, but it is hard. So, now I am trying something new. Rather than focus on the grief we feel over our son’s death, I am instead focusing on the gratitude I feel for what he meant and for what we still have, his legacy if you will.

I am grateful for the happy memories we will always have of Dale. Of all our children he was the one who could be goofy and just plain fun to be around. He had a playful streak a mile wide that treasured gifts of silly toys, the more unique the better. We still have many of the ones he gave us. They will always remind us of him. Oh yes, this kid could play. But at the same time, we could always rely on him to step up and help whenever we needed an extra hand. I miss all of that, but I am so grateful we had him with us for as long as we did.

And I am also grateful for the signs he sometimes sends us that he is still with us, usually a special song when the family gathers for breakfast or a feather. For Father’s Day this year, he sent a lovely black and white woodpecker feather just for Norm. It was the only one I saw that day.

But I take gratitude one step further. I am immensely thankful for the extended family he brought into our lives, his generous wife, amazing children and grandchildren. They have given us a measure of joy, music and creativity we would never have known without them. I am grateful to Dale for that legacy.

And finally, I am grateful for the son and daughter we still have with us. It is a gift that our daughter has survived her own health challenge and is finally able to move forward with her life. Sobered, but moving forward. And losing his brother seems to have given David, our other son, a renewed sense of purpose in life. He, too, has battled his own health demons but finally seems to be winning the war. I cannot begin to express how grateful I am for that.

I have heard it said that without the rain, we would not have flowers. I have a new appreciation for how true that is. I have a lot to be grateful for. Yes, there is sorrow. That rain will always be a part of me. But perhaps in focusing my attention on gratitude for the good I still have around me, on the flowers grief has left in its wake, I can ease the sorrow ever so slightly. Is that not a way to survive grief?

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Missing My Grandfather

It’s only fitting that today I remember a man whom a little part of my heart has missed and grieved for since my childhood. My paternal grandfather did magic. He wasn't a magician. He was a
Cherokee Indian and a Brinks security guard. He had straight black hair and the kindest brown eyes. My high cheekbones and my profile, said to closely resemble that on an Indian-head nickel, were inherited from this proud man. He worked nights in a bank building keeping other peoples' money safe. Usually he got home from work about 8am and would go right to sleep so he could wake up just about the time I arrived home from school. He always made me delicious after-school treats: butter and sugar sandwiches or his favorite—ketchup on white Wonder bread.

He loved to make life an adventure. Often special surprises happened in the middle of the most ordinary trips around Chicago, the city we lived in. One Saturday, he turned day into night and then night back into day. We went downtown on the "elevated," which runs underground when you get into the metro area of Chicago. We were on the "A" train about 15 minutes when suddenly the sunshine disappeared, and we were plunged into total darkness. I was a very proud 6-year-old that he shared the day's magic with, and I've never forgotten the wonder of the sudden darkness, and then much later that same day, the reappearance of the daylight. And I've never forgotten how his eyes flashed with reflected excitement as we shared our delight in "fooling Mr. Sandman."

We moved away from that grandfather when I was 8 or 9, and he died when I was 12, so it has been many years since those special excursions and that "treat food" we made together. But to this day, when I get lost, I say, "I'm having an adventure," and I believe in my heart that if I really wanted to, I could turn day into night and back again.