Thursday, March 5, 2015

Blossom and Fade

I sit here at Mike’s old desk, a glass of wine by my elbow and the almost full moon shining brightly through the window, and wonder what I would be doing now were he still alive.

I pause for a moment and think of our other writers here and their lives; all of our struggles, changes, decisions and thoughts in the wake of our losses. And all the other widows and widowers out there, and how much pain and grief, support and commonality we share. I imagine we might all have that pit in our guts that stabs at us throughout our days, reminding us of the strange new world in which we now reside, that we didn’t ask for.

And aside from the commonalities, I think of our differences. Whether we had children, whether we have financial issues, whether we changed where we lived, changed careers…met people, lost others, as a result of our widowhood. How different our grief timetables can be. Whether we’ve managed to find a small light on our paths, or whether it is still very much dark.

In an odd way, I feel as if my life has sped up, somehow. I can only describe it as if I have been on this winding road which veers both up and down and around and around…as if I’m driving through patches of bright sunlight and then suddenly stuck in a traffic jam inside a long dark tunnel…only to come out the other side, perhaps in a dreary mist that soon fades into a bright starry night, with that glistening moon.

But the road doesn’t stop. There is no end to it, as far as I can see, and I can’t slow down, even though I’m the only one driving now. There is only the methodical plodding through, the automatic pilot sometimes, the shock of coming to in a world I don’t quite recognize blurring past me through the window. And yet I will admit, and feel grateful for this, that I have had a lot of nice moments too, that I didn’t expect. New and beautiful people around me. Things to look forward to, to plan for. I don’t know whether those things would be in my life were he still here.

Would I give them away to have him back? You know I would…and yet, I can honestly say I would miss a lot of what I find around myself now too. Maybe it’s like I’ve heard said, that life just finds a way. I think of the stories about what our coastline here in Kona used to look like before the lava flows of the 1800s covered the blanket of breadfruit trees that grew for miles and miles, the ancient sweet potato gardens, fish traps and sandy beaches. It will never be same again here, after the lava came; and yet, there are new plants and trees rising, seemingly impossibly, through the black volcanic stone. There is still life here; it’s just a different sort.

Like a flower pruned from its stem promoting another to blossom somewhere else on the vine. I guess that’s a good thing. It’s not all dark tunnels these days. I find my life fuller than I thought it ever could be without Mike, even as he alone was my fulfillment during our days together. The difference is I know nothing is permanent now. I am not fooled into thinking this flower can’t also fade. So I am both careful and throwing caution to the wind at the same time.

I miss him to the core of my being and know I always will. Him, and all the little things, all the bits of life we shared together, the adventures, philosophies, laughter and even the challenging moments. The way my world was with him in it. But I know it’s important to say that I’ve found some other bits that are actually quite nice and I'm doing my best to appreciate them while I can.

I suppose, this is the nature of life, the universe and everything.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015


This confusing, weird, strange, life as a widow.

I've stored PinkMagic for a couple of months while I'm here in Arizona, while I take a break from the road to write my book and rest a bit.  While I'm here, I'm staying with my son and his wife and family, which is wonderful and I know that they're happy to have me mind....oh, my mind and where it goes as I figure this crap out.

For 24 years my life was my husband.  I adored him, I was in love with him.  Together he and I lit our world on fire and I felt fulfilled and useful and our life was one of adventure and excitement in so many ways.  I loved being his wife.  I felt sensual with him.  There was a vibrancy and electricity as we moved and touched one another that energized me daily.  It was physical, it was emotional, it was spiritual.

Who the fuck am I now?  This image of myself that I see in the mirror lacks...everything that used to be and I don't/can't see what is there now.  I feel genderless, honestly.  My body was accustomed to his touch, his lovemaking, our bodies moving together in passion.  I miss that dreadfully.  My eyes oh my eyes where did the sparkle and flash go?  All I can see in them now is dreadful sorrow and stillness and confusion.  Such confusion.  What is my role now?  Where do I belong when home was a person and that person is dead?  I don't say any of this in self-pity (and I feel I have to add that because sometimes it seems that people make that judgement). It's more about shock, I think.

I still keep my right hand empty when I walk.  Old habit.  Maybe I'll feel him take it in his again one day.

Sometimes I turn on the music Chuck and I would dance to, and put my right hand out, and my left as if resting on his shoulder, and I dance with him again.  Ghost dancing I call it.

At night I reach out for him next to me.  I hate the emptiness that I find.

When will I again feel like a woman?  When will I figure any of this out?  Will I ever feel passion of any kind again?  Will a man ever kiss me again and, if that happens, will it kill me from wanting him to be Chuck?

Fucking widowhood~

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

"Until my dying day..."

"...until my last breath."  My wife Megan and I had those words tattooed onto our forearms on February 8th, 2014.  It was my suggestion, and she was completely taken aback by it.  Not because she wasn't sold on the idea of a little ink (she had sixteen tattoos already), but because I suggested it and came up with the whole plan.  I only had two tattoos at the time, so it wasn't my "thing", and she found it one of the most romantic gestures I had ever made.  Yeah, we were weird like that.  

Megan and her younger brother were born with Cystic Fibrosis.  I won't get into the details of it, but in summary, the symptoms are effectively like having permanent pneumonia.  Look it up if you're interested, but prepare to be depressed at what some people have to go through just to live.  Her brother Jason only made it to age 19.  I was at his bedside with Megan in 2005 when he passed.  I was 24 years old.  That is the very moment that I knew that I would be seeing this scene play out again, probably before I turned 40 years old, but it would be my wife lying in that bed.  Four days after her brother died, Megan and I were married, in the same church where Jason's funeral was to be conducted the next day.

Talk about sobering.  She was sick before I even met her in 2002, just after being honorably discharged from the Marine Corps.  She was sick when I proposed to her, at the hospital, no less, in 2004.  She was sick when we married, and she was sick in 2007, when our daughter Shelby was born.  She was sick until 2011, when she received a double lung transplant, and we finally got three healthy years where we maximized every moment we had, not worrying about when her time would come, but knowing in the back of our minds that it would come entirely too early.  She wasn't sick again until January 2014, when the "pop" was felt when we were at Crossfit together.  That "pop" was the first sign of those recycled lungs beginning to be rejected by her immune system.

On November 19th, 2014, at age 33, Megan took her last breath.  I held her hand and watched as her heart rate went from 90 beats per minute to 3, then zero.  The tattoo, after spending less than a year on her body, had just taken on its true meaning. 

So here I am, writing about my dead wife on the internet.  At age 34, with an eight year old daughter, I'm a widower.  I was gifted 12 years with an amazing woman.  My perspective is somewhat unique, because after the initial shock of losing her, I came to the realization that I don't feel "cheated" like many other widow(er)s justifiably do.  I made a deal with the devil, because I loved Megan "in sickness and in health, until death do us part.  There wasn't any fine print on that contract.  It was all there in big capital letters: IF YOU MARRY HER, SHE WILL BE DEAD BEFORE YOU'RE 40.  

I simply refuse to let something that I knew and accepted would happen someday destroy my life.  It's not too bad.  It's too soon.  Of course, I wanted more time with her, and would have sacrificed anything to grow old with her and never have to be here, where I am, right now.  She would have never let me do that though.  She was guiding me long before she died, and she's still doing it now.  I can't help but think that she actually lived, and gave her life, for Shelby and I, and I am eternally grateful.   

Did her death change my life?  Obviously, but it did not destroy me.  I still get mood swings or bad days like everyone else, full of rage and hate and pain and fear of self, but generally those days are followed by ambition and an intense need to scream out that I will not let life take me down.  Those bad days are the ones that let me know that I'm human, so I wipe the snot off of my face, get the hell off of the couch, and get shit done.  Feeling sorry for myself accomplishes nothing.  When that switch flips from suffering to determination, it is simply not possible to feel more powerful.     

All of my strength and love and fire went into Megan, involuntarily, for 12 years, and now that she's gone, I've got one hell of a surplus outside of Shelby.  I'm still trying to figure out what to do with it all, but I've got a pretty good idea that it shouldn't be left to collect dust.  The odd part, and the part I've still got to figure out, is that I don't get to just decide where that all of that fire gets applied.  She's somewhere, still stoking and handing out those flames to whomever she sees fit, and I have no choice in the matter but to awkwardly accept it.

Her smart-ass personality (and her brother's) will find it hilarious to watch me flounder around, but I know she only wants what right for Shelby and I.  I'm falling down life's staircase, and she's at the top, laughing her ass off at my misfortune as always, but still helping me crawl back up by bringing people and events into my life that even I don't understand yet.

Breathe easy babe.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Turning Back the Clock

Stan, age 10, circa 1960

I saw a grief post, recently, that resonated with me. It said "I wish I could turn back the clock: I'd find you sooner and love you longer."

When I read about other widows or widowers who lived with their spouses for decades, before they died, I feel sad for them. I think it must be so difficult to lose a partner with whom one has shared an entire lifetime. I think it must be very hard to learn how to be on one's own, after growing together, all those years. I feel for them.

But I must admit that underneath it all, there is a bit of envy, too. I met Stan in 2011, and he died three and a half years later. Barely enough time to settle in. They got to share young adulthood with one another, become parents, together, nurture each other through careers and middle age and perhaps even becoming grandparents. I had none of that with Stan. I only know the many parts of his life through the stories he told me, and through the memories his friends and family share with me, now that he is gone.

Stan led a colourful, varied life, with many incarnations. He never stopped changing and growing. There were people from all aspects of his life, at his funeral, from those who worked for him in the field of housing, to friends and neighbours who respected his volunteering in Glossop, to the close circle of friends that grew around bringing world music to our village, to the Buddhists who had become so close to him in recent years.

Most of those incarnations were lived before we met.

I wish I had known young Stanley, the boy, above, who excelled in scouts and had a paper route, who loved his four sisters, who cried when the snow melted into the ground. I wish I had met him when he was a teenager, riding his bicycle through the city of Manchester, picking up odd jobs, and dating pretty girls.

I wish I had known the Stan who was a young parent, taking his kids on holiday, traipsing up and down the hills of Derbyshire and the mountains in Wales, driving them down secret roads, entertaining them with his silly songs.

Or Stan, the gardener, who learned the names of all the flowers and shrubs in England, and how to nourish them, and make them grow.

Or the Stan who found reggae music, and fell in love with it, befriending the Jamaican community in their all night shebeens.

I wish I had known the fiery advocate who was a leader in the trade union movement, who organised and led a three week strike. I would have marched with him on the front lines, had I known him, then.

I used to tell him, often, that I wished we had met sooner, but he was not one to wish for things to be different than they were. He'd tell me that he was just so happy that we had found each other, when we did. He said that meeting me made him a lucky man.

I guess the Stan I knew was a combination of all those other Stans. He still remembered the names of all the flowers and shrubs. He taught me about the trade union movement, and the struggles of the working class. He shared his reggae and world music collection with me. He still drove down tiny 'secret' roads when his kids came to visit, and he still sang his silly songs.

I would have loved to witness the man he was becoming. He was delving deeper into the dharma and becoming more devoted to the Buddhist path. He had just begun to work as a part of the 'heart' team at the centre, and he was excited to use his management skills to help the centre grow. He was improving his diet, looking after himself, letting go of past indulgences, changing his life, yet again.

I like to think I had a little to do with his newfound transformation. I like to think that my love and support helped him to grow and blossom into the man he wanted to be.

I know that his love helped me grow. He helped me open to others. He helped me learn to be comfortable in my own skin. He taught me to treat myself with a gentle touch.

Meeting him made me a lucky woman.

I didn't get to share decades with my husband. I didn't get to know him in his youth, or grow with him through young adulthood and middle age. We didn't get to grow old together. But we shared a lifetime in our few short years.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

“It Isn't Fair”

I recently overheard a widowed woman sharing about her experience and of being still in a very painful place with it all after 4 long years. Granted in widowhood, that isn't an extremely unusual circumstance. But I do think sometimes we err on the side of being so careful with those grieving that we do not say some more blunt perspectives that could also be helpful to individuals. I don't know that they would be, but I'm willing put it out there and find out I guess. I could be entirely wrong, you all may let me know.

So this woman was expressing that she is still in so much deep pain, and wishing she wasn't. She obviously felt as if she was “behind” in some way with her grieving. And then she went on to say that one phrase that really bugs me... “It isn't fair!”

Well no, DUH, it's not fair. It isn't fair that you lost someone you love earlier than your wanted to. It isn't fair that I did either. None of this is FAIR. I'm not even sure why this feels so harsh to say – we've been telling five year olds this for decades. But somehow it doesn't seem to sink in. And it's entirely true... life isn't about fairness. It never has been. It never will be. I didn't make the rule… and I don't like it anymore than the next person. But there it is. It's been this way since the dawn of time. I don't know when we all started thinking it was supposed to be fair - probably always. But why? Who ever said that to have a happy life meant a life without pain? That a peaceful or fulfilling life was a life without unfairness? That the horrible stuff will always just happen to someone else? It doesn't work like that.

I learned this lesson pretty early in life. When my mom died, I was nine years old. My dad was a handicapped alcoholic widower that had no clue what to do with a 9 year old girl. That certainly wasn't fair to anyone in the situation, me or him. He worked very hard to provide a roof over my head, food for me to eat, clothes, and kept me in a good private school. He started going to AA meetings and even stopped drinking for a good while, too. But he was also an emotional mess. And he bottled up everything. And he sat around his entire life saying to himself “it's not fair”. I watched this statement eat away at him over all the years of my life, until he died from complications of heart and lung disease when I was 26. He never remarried. He never dated. He never really even made new friends hardly. I watched the mental and emotional anguish that comes from sitting inside of those three words "it's not fair" for too long. From being the victim of your circumstance for too long. Perhaps that is why I feel so strongly about this phrase and about owning it instead of letting it own ME. Naturally, I don't want to end up like him. 

This, being widowed, is NOT fair. Absolutely it is not. I would not wish this experience on my worst enemy. And while there is a certain amount of time – which can only be decided by us – that we do need to sit and gravel in that unfairness... there also comes a time to own that statement. There comes a time when we must grab hold of it and not let it take us down. A time when we must stand up and say that phrase in a different sort of way. “Life owes me nothing” is how I changed it up for me. It's harsh, and not flowery, but it's absolutely what I need to remind me that happiness isn't just going to show up on my doorstep after a certain amount of time. I am going to have to WORK.

This phrase reminds me that it's up to me to decide everything that happens from here on. It's up to me to make something out of the aftermath of his death, and find a way for his memory and his life to live on. It's up to me to create meaning from all this pain. To drag myself through the mud screaming if that is what it takes to work through it. And to reach out my hand to someone else and help pull them through the mud when they get stuck there... because I think that is where the most meaning can be made – in seeing just how much we can give and receive from each other. It is also where I am finding balance to the unfairness.

No, my story is not fair. But losing this one incredible man has brought into my life a string of other hearts which I have influenced and who have influenced me in ways I never imagined. It takes work to open up to that. Really fucking hard work. I want to close off and shut down and let his death ruin my life sometimes. It takes work every day still - even two and a half years later. Some days I am still crawling through the mud. But I'm beginning to see now that this idea that a happy life is one without pain is totally false. I'm beginning to see just how beautiful this unfair life can be if I work for it and keep my heart open. I'm beginning to see that maybe there are reasons that so much pain has happened to me… because I am someone who can do something with it. Change it into something else. Help another because of my experience. And that is not just me, but also you. We all have that capacity. 

Life does not owe me happiness. That means that I have choices every single day to move towards something or sit in the unfairness. Some days, I say no, and I sit in the unfairness of it all. Hell, I did that most of the morning today. Sometimes I need to. But eventually, I remember that phrase "life owes me nothing". And soon enough I get up and go looking for my happiness, or my peace, or some meaning and purpose. For something that is positive. It is up to me to work for it, to find it, to make it when I can't find it, and to give it to someone else who needs it once I've got it. I suppose that is why I am writing this to begin with, after all. It was a bad morning, and I decided to make something out of it. Hopefully it finds its way to someone who needs it. 

The Eternal Challenge of the Suicide Widow

Last night, after a tough week, a friend and I treated ourselves to a night out at a local comedy festival to have a few laughs and blow off some steam. We had tickets to see an up-and-coming Australian comedian who has acted in a couple of popular local TV shows and I was really looking forward to seeing her live. 

It was great... until she started joking about suicide. My stomach dropped, my face started burning, my throat tightened and my eyes were pricked with tears.  I couldn't believe it.  There I was trying to forget about being a suicide widow for a night and the topic was being shoved in my face. 

I tried really hard not to spiral into the grief, to just breathe and push it aside, but I just couldn't loosen up and laugh properly again after that.  At the end of her suicide bit she may have noticed a few blank looks in the audience (there were a few laughs too though) and finished it with 'come on people, lighten up, I'm joking!'.  Making me feel not only sad and self-conscious, but also like I was some kind of uptight downer who couldn't take a joke.

Driving home, I kept thinking about it.  I know it's not uncommon for comedians to push the limits of social decency for the sake of a joke. But is suicide EVER funny?!  Even for those who haven't been touched by it?  

Dan's suicide has been weighing heavily in my thoughts this week.  I don't usually focus on it, but have found myself heavily distracted with questions around why and how it could have happened to him.  

A few days ago I was searching for something on my computer and found a link to his wedding speech.  I'm going to share it here for anyone who might be interested.  We were married a little over six weeks before he died.  So this man, standing up in front of a room full of people who care about him, brimming with happiness, love and gratitude, was 45 days away from taking his life.  I want to track down people who say 'suicide is a choice' and show them my husband's wedding speech.

It's probably been a year or so since I've watched it.  Seeing him standing there, talking about how meeting me was like finding his home, brought on a wave of disbelief that hit me like a tsunami.  I didn't see depression in him that night.  

Looking back, I can see times throughout our relationship where he was a bit quieter than usual or seemed a bit withdrawn.  He never pulled away from me or held anything back between us, so I had made assumptions that it was his personality to sometimes be a bit detached from the hustle and bustle going on around him.  I had no way of knowing what he was battling.  Any silence or space in the months before he died was most likely filled by my own excitement about our wedding and starting our life together.  He was always fully there with me, never giving me reason for concern.  But what did I know?  I had no idea what to look for, I just didn't see it. 

In his speech my husband says: 'Our lives are just beginning and together there is nothing we can't do.  We can take on the world, it's me and you and nothing else matters.' 

These words have echoed around my mind and torn at my heart since I heard them again this week.  I want to feel angry.  I want to rage at the injustice of him dying like he did.  It's not supposed to happen like that.  How is this my story now?  What on earth happened?

It can be so easy for those of us left behind by suicide to get lost in that torment of what should have been. I have worked incredibly hard to find a place of acceptance in the way Dan died.  This is the only way I can move forward. There will never be answers to the questions that I deserve to ask.  No good can come from fixating on them, I have to let them go.  

This is my eternal challenge, because even though months can go past where I feel like I understand how depression took him and I'm at peace with it, they will never be resolved and I will always have to work at the 'letting go'.

It's so very difficult, this extra layer of grief that suicide hands us.  The stigma that it brings can cast a shadow on the memory of our loved ones that makes the burden slightly heavier to bear.  I never could have imagined that this might be part of my story, but it is.

I have to keep reminding myself that he died from a disease.  Looking at him standing there, in his beautiful wedding suit, the pride and happiness beaming from him, I can't see this disease.  This in itself is the problem.  It's invisible, tormenting and sneaky and would have caused him to doubt himself in the cruelest of ways.  I hate this disease. I am petrified of it and I hate it.  I think of it as the demon disease that fed lies to my wonderful husband until his brain was poisoned beyond his own recognition.

When I look back on photos from our time together I sometimes see a shadow here and there, a flatness in his eyes in some photos. And these break my heart.  But I'm glad I couldn't see it in him on our wedding day.

I hope he had some reprieve that day.  I believe he did.  And so I will carry these memories with me always, using them to bring comfort during the times that his depression attempts to torment me too.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

When Alone Becomes Your Normal

Three and a half years after the death of my beautiful husband Don, and I am still nowhere near ready to accept the concept of dating, relationships, or "someone else." Yes, the very idea terrifies me. Yes, I feel like I am still in love with my husband, who happens to be a dead guy, and I still don't know how to sort out those feelings. Yes, I still very much feel in my heart like a still-married person, even though I 100% realize on every level that I am not. And yes, I am scared beyond scared - not that I won't be able to fall in love again, but that I will fall in love again, and one of two things will happen:

A: The person I fall in love with will suddenly die, and I will have to go through this shit twice before I even reach the age of 45.

B: The person I fall in love with will not be in love with me.. I will put my heart out there again, and end up more hurt and vulnerable than ever.

All of these things are what have kept me from moving forward, even in thought, when it comes to the idea of a new relationship. But let's put all of those very frightening things aside for a minute, and talk about the other big reason (s) that I am hesitant on taking the risk my next great love ....

I'm overweight, and although I'm always attempting to get healthier, I just don't know if there will ever be a time when I'm not overweight on some level. 

I'm a writer, (and a professor, comedian, actor, director, speaker) which means there are some days I stay home for hours and hours, at my laptop, writing. There are times when I am involved in several writing projects at the same time. Right now, in addition to my teaching job, I write for this blog, I write for an entertainment blog, and I'm writing comedy sketches for 2 different local productions. All this while writing my first book, too. When I am in my writing mode, there are times when I might not leave my desk for days. I might get into a "zone" and not even get out of my pajamas, or skip a shower for a day. My breakfast may be cold lo-mein at my desk, and dinner might be some cheddar Sun-Chips and ginger-ale. There are other weeks where I have so many things going on at once that I will be out of my apartment from 7 am to midnight. My life is all over the place, and "routine" is not a word that enters into my world. 

I don't have nice clothes, or sexy shoes, or fancy underwear. Sometimes I wear sweatpants and a t-shirt and I don't really think about it much. I can't afford things. I live paycheck to paycheck. Some of my clothes are from Target or Kohl's. I am not a drinker, and I hate nightclubs and the bar scene. I would rather stay home with my cats alone, than have a night out where the entire purpose of going out is to "get wasted." I don't fit into the typical mold of a 43 year old "single" female, and I don't much care to. 

I fall asleep with the T.V. on in the background. I have two kitty cats and they mean the world to me. I have issues with intimacy because of a trauma I went through years ago. People tell me I snore loudly, although my husband never really mentioned it or seemed to mind. I don't exercise as much as I should, and I eat like crap.  I sleep with a stuffed animal named Bunny. The first thing I do when I get home from work is take off my bra and shoes. 

Before I met my husband, I lived on my own for years and years. I had my own apartment that he ended up moving into before we were engaged. Now that he is gone, I have become used to the way I do things again. After a long day out, I look forward to being home alone and shutting out the world. 

I don't want to be alone forever, but I am so damn scared that it's too late to get used to someone else's habits and energy again. The energy my husband and I had together was so good - we didn't ever have to think about it. I was me and he was him, and we were two very independent people, who loved spending time together. What if you only get that one time in life? What If I'm destined to be alone, grow old alone, die alone? What if it's simply too late to learn the rhythms of someone new? And what if I'm not sure I have the energy for it?

 And how does someone like me even go about finding someone anyway? I feel like the very few times I HAVE felt even a tiny connection with a human of the male species, (usually it was another widower that I would meet locally through support groups or at Camp Widow), I am automatically written off as the "funny friend' - immediately I end up in that "friend" zone with guys, because I am not skinny and hot and girly and all those other things that guys SAY they dont care about but actually, they do. These are all the same things I went through for YEARS before I finally met my husband. I hated dating back then, and I hate it now. I hate dating sites. I hate bars. I don't feel like my life fits into a simple box on a profile page. I don't know how to do this. I am terrified that not only am I too set in my ways post-loss to be able to live with another human male again, but that no human male would ever want to live with me. A huge part of me feels like what my husband and I had was SO rare , and that he accepted every ounce of me in a way that doesn't seem plausible to happen again for one person. Maybe it seems over-dramatic or pessimistic. I am not trying to be that way. To be honest, I just feel very lost when it come to future love. I wish that my attitude about it could be in a better place, but every time I think about it, my heart gets really sad and I feel overwhelmed, panicky, and exhausted before I even begin. 

Where do I go from here?