Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Inversions~

I felt safe with Chuck.  Emotionally.  Physically.  Every way.  I knew that if a situation arose, he could handle it.  I felt protected in a way I'd never felt in my first marriage.  My well-being was first and foremost in his mind.  His military training was in his blood and he'd run through "what if" situations with me so that I could plant responses in my head, but I always knew, if he was around, he'd ensure my safety.

He died and all sense of safety flew out the window.  I was out in southern California, no family or friends around, with our community all the way back on the East coast.  The only way to get there was to drive.  Mapping that out, routing it out, left me paralyzed with fear.  Thank all the stars in heaven, his sister road-tripped with me for a good part of the way and took over with those details.

I've continued to live on the road, towing my new home behind me.  I'm on my third cross-country trek since that mid-April day of 2013 when he died.  And I don't understand the whys and wherefores, but I feel safe again.  I have no fear.

And I've thought about this.  How can I possibly feel as safe as I do, when I meet strangers daily, dozens of times a day, strangers who approach me constantly, when I'm in new places every few days, on new roads?  My world is filled with strangers more than well-known friends.  This feeling of security doesn't necessarily make sense to me.  But then, nothing makes sense any longer and therein lies my answer.

I was so fearful after he died, so fearful of living life without him, not just physically but emotionally, that the fear inverted itself into no fear.  A bucket can hold only so much of anything, right?  Full-fledged fear became no fear.  I felt so unsafe when he died that it inverted to a complete feeling of safety.

Maybe someone can explain this more fully.  Me, I don't over-think it.  It is what it is.  I have situational awareness-he did a great job of teaching me that, but beyond that, I keep my heart open to people and Love and what the road brings me to.  I trust fully that I'm doing exactly what I'm supposed to be doing and I trust that I'll be safe.

Somewhere in me is an acute awareness that Chuck set me on this Odyssey and that is why I trust my heart to guide me, to meet hundreds of strangers who are set in my way, to allow the Universe to open for me.  So much of it hurts like fucking hell, its exhausting in most ways, and grief is everywhere I turn.  I won't lie to you about that. But I know there is something bigger than what I see, going on here.

So, yes, I feel as safe as I did when he was at my side, and I have no fear, no matter what is thrown in my way.  Full circle.  Somehow...somehow...he is guiding this, guiding me, into a new life, and I trust him now as I always have.

Driving on, driving into.  No worries.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

This Woman I Do Not Know



Many have posted all over the net, and here, how the death of Robin Williams has affected them. 

Their surprise... or degree there of.

The loss of his creativity and ability to shower abundant joy on others.

Of how his catalogue of work is central to their childhood and youth.

The stories of someone who, by the reports, was a kind and generous human being.

I have had some of this, but foremost in my mind has been his family.  As is whenever I hear of someone joining the ranks. 

My first thought is "Damn, not another one"

Quickly followed by "has his wife found this community yet...  even caught a glimpse of the guiding light to a safe shore"

I think about what she's going through - dealing with officials around her husband's death, organising a funeral, an estate, trying to put a brave face on for the outside world as she's trying to comprehend in utter disbelief. 

And she literally has the outside world watching her. 

And my heart aches for her.

And what's coming - the world around them, close circles and those far distant, turning back to their day to day lives. The roller-coaster of bad days, not-so-bad days and curl up in a ball and block the world out days.

And my heart aches for her.

This woman I do not know.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Dreams


source

I never dream about Dave. This doesn't make sense to me. He was the most important person in my life for 15 years. We were so close and we spent so much time together.

Where is he in my dreams?

I dream of people who've barely been in my life at all instead.

 I have stress dreams about teaching like I used to have every late summer as fall approached. The kids are completely out of control and I can't quiet them down or start a lesson no matter what I do. I can't even yell loudly enough to be heard over their racket. I can't get to work on time no matter what I try and my students are all alone in my classroom all morning, I come to work barely dressed with no time to go home and get clothes.

I have inane dreams my mind can't be bothered to remember.

But that day? I never dream about that day. Him? I never dream about him.

What on earth is this about? I don't pretend to know how dreaming actually works, or how my dreaming in particular works. And I'm trying not to compound my pain too much by feeling guilty about it. This particular aspect doesn't have any bearing on the relationship I had with him, I know that. I just wonder about it, in a scientifically curious way.

I've been told it's protective. You dream about the person you lost when you're ready to. Well, I'm fucking ready to. I always was.

I've been told you just have to think about that person before going to sleep and make the intention to dream of them, and you will. If all I had to do was think of him and hope for a dream, then I should have been dreaming of him nearly every night since the day he died. I don't begin each night's sleep thinking of teaching (I don't even teach anymore) but I do dream of teaching.

So, what the hell? Where is he? Why isn't he in my subconscious? Why is my mind clogged with stupid meaningless stress dreams? I wish they'd provide me some comfort, healing, closure...something.

I watched a show today in which the main character told her son that we dream so we can work through all the things that happened to us that day. I'm still working through the fact that he died every day. I'm still working through the impact of that day on my soul, body and mind. I'm still processing. Not nearly as much as I was, but still. Where are my dreams that will help me process this?

I suppose I should just be glad I don't get nightmares and leave it at that. Stop looking for something to worry about or lament. But what kind of brain doesn't dream about the most painful, shocking and heart-breaking event of my life?


Saturday, August 16, 2014

To Be The Giver

Every once in a while, something slams into us without warning. On a hot summer night two years ago, it was the phone call, with my father-in-law on the other end of the line telling me that the love of my life was in a crash while flying, and he didn't make it. His death slammed into me like two planets colliding.

And then this week, on another hot summer night, I think Robin Williams' death slammed into all of us. I have been surprised by just how deeply this has affected me. I've found myself having the same reaction of disbelief as when my fiancĂ© died. The same outcry from deep inside myself that "No. No. This cannot be real." I've cried multiple times, deep sobs, for the loss of this man who - despite having never even met me - had a huge impact on my life. I grew up with him, watching Mork & Mindy and later Mrs. Doubtfire just about every week. I watched The Birdcage religiously through college - one of my go-to movies whenever I needed a break from all the stress in life. I watched Hook countless times whenever I needed a good dose of wonder and a reminder that life is full of magic. In fact, just a few weeks ago I watched it for just that reason… I watched Robin's childlike eyes light up and it made me believe in wonder and beauty and magic again.

All of this has got me thinking… how many people's lives do we touch that we have no idea about?
How many people's lives do I touch by writing here each week? Or by sharing my artwork about grief and loss? Or by just being kind and a good listener? There are countless people who may never tell us that we touched their lives… but nonetheless we have. And I don't think we ever have a clue just how much impact we have on others by the choices we make and the ways we choose to live our lives and treat others. But this week, this one very special man reminded me of just that. His death reminded me not only of the impact he has had, but of the capacity we ALL have to impact each other, inspire each other, love each other, and make each other laugh. It reminded me that - when I feel most alone - I can think about the little ways I've touched people's lives and know that I probably touched twice as many as I could ever know. We all have. Somehow, it makes things feel less lonely. It makes my heart feel more open and warm.

I don't really know where I'm going with this post. I hadn't planned to write about this today… so I'm letting it take me along for the ride. There has been much to think about this week, but what I am thinking on right now is that one idea: We touch so many more lives than we know. Every single interaction we have is a chance to leave the other person better than we found them. Every. Single. One. To give them laughter they didn't have, comfort they need, most of all - to allow them to feel seen and noticed. We all want to be noticed.

The beautiful thing about being the giver is that it goes both ways. Every time you give to someone else - that love flows right back to you. A selfless act of love for another is one of the most healing and beautiful gifts you can ever give - to them and to yourself.  Most especially in the midst of great loss.

It was death that woke me up to this two years ago, and keeps it in the forefront of my heart now. It is death that continues to remind me each day that every single interaction with another person matters… whether I've known them a decade or a day. It is death that reminds me that the way I live my life matters… and that I matter, probably far more than I will ever realize. 

Take time out

Self-care can be taking the time to enjoy the light and scent of a beautiful candle
This week I started out wanting to write about how difficult it's been facing the onslaught of traditional and social media commentary on Robin Williams' death, from the point of view of a suicide widow.

I wanted to talk about how it felt to read the ignorant, misinformed and hurtful remarks about suicide being 'selfish' and 'a choice' or 'the cowards way out'.

I wanted to talk about how my battered and bruised heart broke, again, for his family. And the personal triggers that have been set off, taking me right back to that day I lost my love to the demon disease depression.

But I'm exhausted from the relentless onslaught of information.  It's like every day there's another new angle the media has found to explore. The thousands of words that I've read about him began to swirl around and around me to the point where it's just become white noise. It started getting hard to breathe.

So instead, I'm choosing to remove myself from that space and talk about 'self-care'. Because when my energy levels start to drop and my anxiety begins to rise, I know it's time for me to wind things back a couple of notches and give myself room to breath again.

Self-care doesn't come easy to me. I'm not great at being assertive and am a 'pleaser' in the sense where I'll put myself out rather risk making someone else uncomfortable. Not with family of course, growing up I had no qualms in hogging the biggest piece of cake or disappearing after dinner when it came time to do the dishes. However when it comes to work or social situations, I seem to be forever worried about disappointing people or being seen as self-seeking or high-maintenance.

Luckily, I’ve had a wonderful counselor who helped me understand the difference between being ‘selfish’ and ‘self-care’ and with her help, I’ve learnt to identify when I need to say no or pull back; and how to let go of the guilt I’d usually associate with this.

I’m now actually really good at it.  I’ve developed an internal monologue that goes something like ‘Right, how are we holding up?  Have we got this?  Can I push on a bit longer or is it time to take a break? Yeah, feeling a bit fragile to be honest.  Ok, time to pull back.” 

Sometimes it feels like I’m a little character in a video game, running around collecting coins and fighting monsters and bouncing from level to level, and then suddenly I remember I’ve forgotten to collect those nourishing ‘food’ energy tokens.  Something red starts flashing in the corner of the screen and ominous tones start beeping at me, letting my know my vitality levels are dramatically low – if I don’t stop fighting the dragons and make ‘self-care’ my priority, it will soon be Game Over and I'll be back at the start.

So for me, self-care can be taking a half-hour break from work to walk through the nearby botanical garden or shouting myself to a 20-minute shoulder massage or pedicure.  It might be turning my phone and lap top off for the night to curl up on the lounge with a cup of tea, a packet of chocolate biscuits and some trashy reality tv (hello Real Housewives!).  Or it might be running a hot bath, lighting a candle and soaking in the silence. 

It's also about knowing when I'm reaching my limits in regards to my triggers.  There are days where I can talk openly about what happened to Dan.  I can speak up about his experience with depression and help others understand some of the challenges that he faced, doing my bit to raise awareness and fight the persistent stigmas.  However some days it can be too much.  Too heavy.  Too personal and too heartbreaking.  So it's also about knowing when I have to put my own wellbeing first, identifying the times when I'm nearing exhaustion and working out how to protect that part of me that is still grieving his loss. 

Yoga and meditation has been a wonderful source of self-care for me.  This week, when I started feeling dangerously low, I spent 75 minutes laying on a mat, listening to the calming voice of my yoga instructor reminding me not to let the past pull me back or the future pull me forward, but to live in the moment and quieten my mind.

For some of my widow friends, self-care can be cooking, reading, doing craft, going for a run or gardening. Basically anything that helps shut the noise of the world out, even for 15 minutes. 


Whatever it may be for you, I hope you too can find your place of peace and learn to check in there regularly.  After all, we are unable to grow and blossom without nourishment.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Robin Williams and The Door

As heartbroken as I am about the death of Robin Williams, I am not entirely shocked. Not entirely.  I recall about 4 or 5 months ago maybe, seeing him as a guest on some late night talk show. (cannot remember which one) I remember distinctly thinking to myself that he looked exhausted, withdrawn, and old. Not old in the way that he got gray hair or wrinkles, but old in the way that life had beaten him up one too many times. He was coming up with insane one-liners and jokes like always, but his eyes looked vacant to me. He looked lost and in slower-motion than normal. I remember just silently thinking to myself: “He seems sad.” Then, about a month or two ago, I remember reading that he had checked himself into a rehab facility, “for precautionary reasons.” Everyone was saying good for him and all that, and it was – but I just felt like something was off. Like it was the beginning of the end somehow.

I recognized the darkness in his eyes that night, and the light that had left them – because I had been there too. Not in the exact same "there" as he was, because how could I ever know the darkness that he felt, but I was in my own darkness, and seeing his looked familiar to me. Before losing my husband to sudden death, I didn’t understand depression, or suicide. Not really. Not truly. I was never judgmental about it, but I didn’t get it. Then my husband died, and I died too. My soul was in pieces – my light went out. All I could see was darkness. There were many nights, 3 months after the death, 7 months after, 13 months after, 19 months after, where I sat inside my own darkness and thought about not being on earth anymore. The pain was so awful and so unbearable, that I didn’t understand what to do with it. Most nights when I felt that way, I would log on and reach out to the Facebook world, or call up another widowed friend late into the night.

Sometimes that got me through. Sometimes it didn’t. Sometimes I still didn’t want to live. One night, when I felt that way, I called my grief counselor in an “emergency session”, and we talked for a long time. I said: “I just don’t want to be here anymore. It hurts too much, and I really think the pain is going to kill me anyway, because how can anyone live, being in this much pain all the time? I can’t do it.” She got very serious and then she said to me: “Do I need to call the hospital? Do you feel like you might harm yourself?” I stopped and thought about it for a minute, and then I said very calmly: “No. I don’t want to be here, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to do anything about it. Not wanting to live isn’t the same as wanting to die. I just needed to say it out loud.”

I was grieving, and all I could see was darkness and more pain. I didn’t understand or see that there might be a way through that pain, and I didn’t have the energy or desire to think forward. I just saw blackness. But even in my days and hours of blackness, and even when I didn’t feel any hope – I still was not willing to actively take my own life. I would sit around THINKING about suicide all the time. I actually sort of obsessed about it sometimes, and thought about all the different ways I might do it. But in the end, something somewhere inside of me knew that I would never actually do it. I just knew that I would have to sit inside of this awful, horrific, mind-blowing pain – until it wasn’t as horrific anymore.

Depression is different than that. It is an illness, and it takes you over and screws with your head and hurts you. It makes you think that you are a burden to everyone else, and that maybe the world is better off without you. You just want the pain to stop, and so ending your life FEELS like the only logical way to make it stop. Depression is all over my family – almost everyone on my dad’s side has dealt with it in some form. It is on my mom’s side too, as are other forms of mental illness. I have dealt with anxiety and PTSD as a result of my husband’s sudden death, along with other trauma I have experienced in my life that I won’t get into in this post. Mental illness is just that – an illness. Why we continue to blame the person going through it is beyond me. The person going through it does not have the capability to think what I thought that night talking with my counselor. They don’t think: “This is really going to hurt my family”, or “I don’t much feel like living right now, but I don’t want to die either.” No. Their brain has turned on them. They have a chemical imbalance that they fight against everyday. Now, I am not saying that every person who takes their own life is suffering from mental illness. But I’m willing to bet a good portion of them are. And with depression, which Robin Williams had struggled with his whole life and talked about openly; most times; you are done reaching out or you HAVE reached out but you no longer want to – you just want the hurt to end.

So you end it. And it’s not selfish. And it’s not cowardly. It is a person in a lot of very real pain. It is a person, most likely, with a disease. It is a person whose light turned off long ago, and they couldn’t find their way out of the room.

RIP Robin Williams.

I’m so sorry that your light went out before you could reach the door.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Gathering Rosebuds



Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,
Old time is still a-flying;
And this same flower that smiles today
Tomorrow will be dying.
                -Robert Herrick

Robin Williams died this week. Too early. He was in pain. Hard for us all out here who didn't know him personally to imagine this, seeing only what he gave us in his performances - so much laughter, so much character, so much life. But he was. Hard not to think about his widow, and his family, suffering this loss in their private, personal lives. And it brings depression to the forefront, this week. So as we mourn the loss of this spectacular talent, maybe there will be some work done, some awareness brought forth, to help someone else in need out there. I think Mr. Williams might be glad of that, if anything else. 

My heart goes out to all who are suffering this debilitating condition. I know there are many causes for depression. I can only speak now as a widow, but I am aware that depression affects many of us. Because loss of a spouse is a terrible, life-changing, tragic event that can send even the strongest of us into a deep and dark abyss. 

Mr. Williams is known for many performances, one of which was a teacher in the Dead Poets Society. In that film, which incidentally also deals with suicide, he teaches his students the meaning of the Latin term carpe diem, or "seize the day", by having them read the poem I quoted above from Robert Herrick. Time, and life, are fleeting. Boy that is sure true.

Lauren Bacall also died this week, of a stroke at age 89. Also immensely beautiful and talented, her death got lost a little in the media, coming so close on the heels to Mr. Williams' unexpected demise. But Ms. Bacall has a story too. She lost her love, Humphrey Bogart, after only 12 years of marriage. She was only 20 when they married; he was 45. I do wonder about her pain after she lost Bogie. I suspect  she never stopped missing him, but looking back on her life, she gathered many more rosebuds, I think.

These are celebrity stories. But they are also personal stories. It doesn't matter how famous someone is, or isn't. It's just true that death affects us. There are a lot of people out there in deep pain and grief that we never hear about. We in the widowed community live with death. We know it. We are scarred by it. We think about it. And we are perhaps not as surprised when other people die. It doesn't make it any easier, if another friend, family member, or even celebrity passes away. But we know: it happens.

Mike gathered a lot of rosebuds in his life. The way he lived, in full love and joy especially in his last years, will never stop resonating for me as I struggle to move forward after his loss. So I am out here myself, attempting to seize as many days as I can. It's not easy. Roses have thorns, for one thing. Because no matter what future happiness I find, I will never stop grieving for Mike

I am dating someone I didn't expect, or look for. He is a rose that literally fell into my lap. But there it is. I'm thankful for it, even though it doesn't end the pain of losing my dear Michael. He will always be in my heart. And my new guy knows this. I think some people who knew Mike and me as a couple don't get that...yet. Hopefully some day they will. I can't say I know what will happen in any long term kind of way yet, but I'm just seizing days as they come.

In fact, I'm about to leave on a trip with my new guy. We talked at length about life, how fleeting it is, how important it is for us to try and visit with our parents, to take this trip while we can, while they are still here, and even, while we are still here. Because all our futures are uncertain. We none of us know how long we have. So we are going. We are still new, together, and it's not cheap coming from way out here in Hawaii, but we are going. 

Our primary purpose is to visit with family. Secondary is a chance to rest. To take a break. To get off our rock of an island, to get away from the day-to-day that we've both been dealing with, to see the world a little, maybe to share each other's lives with each other a little more. To gain some perspective on it all.

All I am doing is living, day to day. It's all I can do. There are people out there, people dear to me, who are going through deeply painful losses as well - and I know, that's all they are doing too. Just scraping along. But I hope, little by little, we can all find a new rose now and then, amidst all the pain.

It's all we any of us can do.