Thursday, October 2, 2014

Junk Mail

Today I grabbed the mail from the mailbox, saw it was mostly junk, and tossed it on the floor of my car as I sped off downtown for a few errands. Stopped at a stoplight I looked down and noticed a flyer from our local vision center which said brightly, we miss seeing you! Specials now...etc, etc.  

I thought for a moment...huh. They miss me? I just got new glasses a couple of months ago. Then with a pang I realized they meant Mike. I reached down to pick it up, my suspicions confirmed. Another piece of mail for him. Another business still unaware. Yeah. I miss seeing him too.

After someone dies, we are faced with the horrible chore of dealing with estates, banking, property, etc; transferring of names, canceling credit cards, sending death certificates and whatever else. Once the important pieces are taken care of there is a sense of relief, if we are so lucky. Sometimes, there are bits and pieces that still come up down the line that we hadn't realized we needed to deal with, and I know some people are faced with even more difficult circumstances. But I imagine nearly all of us are continually faced with the junk mail that still comes for our missing spouse. And it always comes with a little pang, a deep sigh, or maybe a few tears.

I could call the store and let them know I suppose. Maybe I will. Or maybe not. Because the other side of the coin is the thought that someday, I may never see anything else addressed to him. That is horrible in its own way too.

The same mixed emotions emerge when I'm faced with meeting people who are new to me, but knew Mike. It is a small town and for several years we ran a business together here and I just don't remember, or didn't know, everyone who came through our doors. This past week I've met two such people. It is, again, a small stinging pang when the connection is made and he enters a conversation with someone when I wasn't expecting it.  (Well, he always did take over a conversation anyway...ha.)

The other side of that sting is that I am grateful that people remember him and want to talk about him. It would be worse, I think, if they avoided saying something because they felt uncomfortable (which grief often tends to do.) But when it's an unexpected connection - a random, how weird is that thing? ...I don't know. It's hard...and also somehow comforting. They're not here anymore...but they did touch people while they were. 

One of the worst things is when you meet someone who doesn't know he's dead. The other day, someone who didn't know either of us personally asked a question in reference to some business matters that still bore his name. They asked, oh so what does he do now, is he retired? 

No. He died.

I gave a small, sad smile and waited to see how they would fumble around, because what am I supposed to say? He's dead. Yeah, he's dead. I kinda feel bad for the awkwardness of that moment but I also kinda don't. In the last situation it was pretty obvious from the word "estate" on the documents in question that he was passed...I'm betting that person won't make that mistake again with anyone else.

Another friend of mine, a widower whose wife has been gone several years, told me the other day he had a similar experience recently. Someone he hadn't seen for awhile came into his place of work and asked about his wife. My friend just shook his head slowly into his beer, and I sighed and put my hand on his arm knowingly. Because...that sucks and we all know it.

About two months after Mike died, some clients of his came up our driveway. I was downstairs doing laundry and I came out wondering who that could be. They were clearly upset because they'd been trying to get in touch with him but his phone was cut off. When I told them, they were shocked and then quite embarrassed about the way they'd acted at first. 

We can put obituaries in the paper, we can take care of all the details of a death we possibly can, we can make every effort to continue on with the business of living without them...and yet, their presence may always continue to linger in these strange and unexpected ways. The pangs are hard, when they come. And yet...somehow there would be a sad finality to it all if it stopped happening. Which, one day, I suppose it will.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Mission Accomplished~

My Odyssey of Love has brought me and my daughter to New Jersey, where my and Chuck's primary community lives.  We're here for a few weeks, catching up with friends.  It's tough being here; Chuck had his first cancer here and all the treatments and there is so much pain and grief.  And there is, also, so much love.

It has been my intent since Chuck died a year ago April to get a picture of my pink car under the wing of the static display of the C-141 at the base from where he served and retired-McGuire AFB.  I tried for it last year but was unable to find the people to give me the proper permission to get my car on the grass.  And I didn't want to do it without permission and bring the Security Police down on me.  I ran out of time last year but, as I've traveled in these last 9 months, the thought stayed prominent in my mind.  My car wasn't leaving Jersey this time without that picture.

Chuck would be proud of me.  I contacted his boss from years ago and told him what I wanted to do and asked him for contact names so that I could go about setting this up.  And he came through for me.  A couple of emails later, I had a date and time set up.  Along with a lunch date with the man in charge of the memorial and an interview with the base newspaper.  My daughter and I had a private tour of the interior and we ended up meeting a man who used to work with Chuck, who just happened to wander by as we stood in the belly of the plane.  Our daughter sat in the engineer's seat where he sat as the flight engineer.  
And then I drove my PinkMagic rig, car and T@b trailer both, right up onto the grass for the picture I wanted.  And drove it around under the tail of the plane to the other side so that we could snap a picture right next to the paver I placed for him on the walkway and under the engineer's window.  
I know Chuck would be so proud that I made this happen.  He'd be impressed, and he wouldn't be at all surprised because he knew what kind of woman he was married to.  On my part, I feel like I have done all I can to honor his time in service and now I can carry on with my Odyssey, scattering his cremains as I forge my way into this new life I have to create for myself.  Kicking and screaming all the way, but moving into.

Our son told me last year that such a picture would perfectly represent the strong relationship and marriage that Chuck and I had.  The 141 is so very Chuck.  The pink car and trailer is all me.  The wing of the plane folds protectively over my rig.

Take a look.  My pride and joy.  Mission accomplished.  I love you always, Chuck~

Tuesday, September 30, 2014


I'm sitting here incapacitated, writing my post while implementing the RICE acronym for injuries. 

On Saturday while working in the garden as John played under a sprinkler, I tripped over something I knew was in the lawn. Because I've not yet got to mowing, the stand for my sun shade has been hidden by the long grass.  Whilst trying to avoid the spray from the sprinkler, I leaped and landed awkwardly on the hidden umbrella stand, resulting in a very badly sprained ankle.  My initial fear was a broken foot or ankle because of the lovely sequence of crunches I heard/felt while going down.  My first thought was "SH*T - this isn't good".

I asked John to bring one of the phones to me, but he struggled to find one.  I was eventually able to crawl into the house and call my step-mother for help.  John meanwhile was back under the sprinkler because he's 3 and loves the water. 

While waiting for help to arrive, I was able to get John to take his wet top off, and I wrapped it around my rapidly swelling ankle which although not ice, was a decent alternative in the circumstances.

After being looked at in emergency, and having an x-ray that showed nothing was broken, I get released with instructions to 'rest'.

Ha! You've not met my kid.  The hospital staff began to get the picture when he came bouncing in saying 'sorry we're late' with my step-mom to collect me. 

John and I spent two nights camped out at my Dad's place to get over the initial pain, which was great because the pain meds kept putting me to sleep.  But I am now home, and have been be looking after John on my own.  Cooking, entertaining, bathing, tidying up his trail of trip-hazards. 

Being stranded because he's run off with my crutches. 

Because crutches are excellent as pretend guns from the perspective of a 3 year old. 

I really need to work with John on what to do in an emergency - teach him Papa and Nini's phone number and our address.  I need to find somewhere to put the phone so John can access it easily.   I don't want to put that load on him, he still needs to be a three year old kid, but it's probably time, anyway.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Constant Companion


I was listening to a Moth podcast tonight in which a funeral home director talked about his long history of burying people's loved ones.

 He said he believed that when we die, we go home. I thought that sounded so beautiful and comforting. 

I wonder, when I die, what Dave would think of me when I came home? What would that reunion be like? Would it be as if no time had passed between his death and mine? Would he he say he was glad I had found happiness after his death and that he was proud of me for pushing onward even when I didn't want to?

My favorite image of Dave is of him on the riding lawn mower, waving at me when I pulled into the driveway at the end of a workday. He had this ridiculous wave where he'd shake his whole forearm madly and give me a goofy grin. I was absolutely sure, in the pit of me, that he was thrilled for me to be home and that there was no one else on the planet he'd rather be with than me. 

That's how I hope he'll greet me when I see him again. I hope I'll see him again. I hope I get to see my mom and dad, too. I hope we all reunite, even if just for a moment before we go on our next journeys. 

It's an interesting experience, having your foundational loved ones on the other side, out of reach. Your life continues on this side, and you value it and have cultivated joy here, but there are those people you long for, out of reach. And being with them again, if that's possible, would mean leaving this life you love now, too, and the people you don't want to leave. 

So, I keep them with me and try to (frustratingly), experience them now in this new way. Their legacy, their memory, their love that lives within me now, the way their existence changed me fundamentally, and somehow learn to adjust to that reality, even though I'm earthbound and operate on a much more temporal and physical way. How do I maintain a relationship with someone I can't directly talk to and touch? It's one sided and I resent that. I feel as though I will always be missing out. 

But this is it. This is life and how it works. If it didn't end, we'd take our time here for granted even more than we already do. So, we live long enough and we will have to watch people go, one at a time. We grieve. We are sad. We are always missing someone, somewhere. It wouldn't be life without it. It is such an unequivocal fact. It's THE fact. And yet it's so hard to accept. 

Maybe only in dying do we actually understand and accept it. Maybe. I don't know. Maybe we do come home and we finally understand all that we couldn't quite make sense of on this side. 

It's hard to find peace with that, but I work on it daily because I have to. 

Saturday, September 27, 2014

And I Danced

It turns out I had a couple of big things happen last weekend. Aside from last week's post, I also met up with my three closest girlfriends halfway between Austin and Dallas to celebrate my birthday. We went out Saturday night to a country dance hall. Now this is the first time I've ever really gone to a dance hall since he died. He and I used to go often - and I'd never gone before I met him... So naturally it didn't occur to me that men would be asking me to dance. But within just a few minutes of being there - guys were walking up and asking all of my friends and I to dance.

I didn't even know how to process that. I said no, to each one that asked. I had NO intention of dancing with a boy. Ew. A few asked why, so I dropped the widow bomb. That's definitely the quickest way to keep men from coming back around! So for a while my girlfriends and I just went about our way on the dance floor together, laughing and having a great time.

After an hour or so of processing this totally freaky new situation I was in… I began to hear a little whisper in me though. It wasn't "no" - it was something else. It was the thought that Drew would really want me to get out there and dance with a boy that night. It was my birthday weekend after all… and he was a sensible man. I know, if HE couldn't be there to dance with me, then by God he would want some nice boy to show me a good time on the dance floor. Who knows, maybe that little whisper was actually him. Telling me to lean into it a little, telling me it was okay. All I know is that suddenly it started to feel more okay.

I turned down a few other guys, because I just didn't get the right feeling about them. And then…
All my girlfriends were out dancing and I was standing just on the edge of the dance floor, leaning over the bar and sipping on my beer. And this sweet boy with glasses came up next to me and asked me to dance. I'd seen him dance with my girlfriends and they all seemed to think he was nice. I thought so too. Still, I told him no at first, and that I'm an awful dancer (which is true!). He prodded me a little, ensuring me it was really easy and he'd keep it simple. Unlike any of the other guys, he didn't give up when I said no the first time. And unlike any of the others, there was a real genuine kindness about him. Even in his prodding.

It was the sort of kindness that reminded me of Drew… back when he was prodding me to go on a date with him. I was a year out of an abusive relationship back then and terrified to date. And he was never pushy or demanding in his request - a gentleness and respect in the way he tried to persuade me. I felt all these same things from this boy asking me to dance.

Before I knew it, I agreed, and we were out on the dance floor together. And my inner dialogue went something like this: "Holy cow… I am DANCING WITH A BOY. Look at ME!!! How is this happening? Is this for real? What the hell is going on? This feels….. so…. NICE! How does this NOT feel more weird?!? How is this not upsetting? He's quite a good dancer. And he feels safe. And warm. And look at me… I'm actually dancing and not falling all over the place! How the hell does this feel okay?!?! How on earth am I holding the love I have for Drew in my heart and also dancing with someone else and it feels perfectly wonderful?!"

Not only did we dance, but we danced 5 or 6 times the rest of the night. And apparently I'm such a serial monogamist that I even do it with dancing… because I still wouldn't dance with anyone else that night. lol. He kept his word too, went very slow and kept things easy for me. He tried to spin me a few times - most of which went horribly wrong and ended in brilliant laughter. I would not say there was a spark or anything like that… but we sure laughed. And it didn't feel wrong to laugh with him either. It felt good to allow myself that. It felt beautiful. and Free. And strangely okay.

And then came the last dance. The bar was closing up, and we had one final dance together. About halfway through, he moved my hands to his shoulders and both of his hands to my waist and moved just gently closer to me. At first I panicked a moment, half nervous about tripping over his feet and half unsure of having an emotional breakdown. But I didn't stop… I kept dancing. And I let go of the fear. I closed my eyes, brushed my cheek slightly against his arm and just let myself be carried away in the moment... feeling a closeness to a man that I haven't felt in over two years. I was - for that instant - a little bit less afraid of letting in someone new.

Sure it was just a few dances. And no, there were no phone numbers exchanged or anything of the sort. Heck we barely talked to each other really. But we laughed. And we shared a kindness between each other that was so wonderful. And for one very small moment in time - I got the tiniest glimpse of how one day, it will feel warm and safe and beautiful to take the other first steps again, like going on a date, kissing, saying "I love you"... making love. And how maybe, just maybe, it won't be as painful and scary and horrible as I imagine it will be.

It made me realize that one day I will meet another boy with that same kindness - and I will know how to recognize that sort of kindness because of Drew. Because he was the first one to do it right. And in doing so, he will come with me into every new beginning I take.

His widow and his wife

I was invited to a wedding this week, one of my husband Dan's good friends is marrying his long-time love.   They live in a different state and I only got to meet them a couple of times while Dan was alive, at our engagement party and our wedding.  Since his funeral I've also caught up with them at a fundraising event we held on his birthday, in March this year, and even though they are really nice people, we've never quite had the opportunity to form a friendship of our own.

I'm honoured that they invited me to join them on their special day, it's really thoughtful and lovely of them to include me in an event that I would most definitely have attended if Dan were still here.

When I thought about going to their wedding I felt so many different emotions.  For a start, most widowed people would agree that any wedding is going to be a tough ask, particularly in those first couple of years.  Three weeks after Dan's death I was faced with my first big hurdle when I attended my best friends' wedding as her bridesmaid.  It feels so surreal to me now that I did that.  She had been my bridesmaid only a couple of months earlier and was with me the night that the police told me that Dan had taken his own life (and by my side almost every day after).  I knew no one expected it of me and my friend and her fiancĂ© basically let me decide on every element of how I wanted to be involved.  It was difficult but I was driven by wanting to be there for my friend - even if it was just sitting quietly in a corner, I wanted to be present for her.  I actually think I was still in such deep shock that the reality of what I was doing didn't really sink in, enabling me to get through the day in my zombie-like armour.  This event would be very different.

I also felt some sense of duty to represent my husband by attending his friends' wedding.   I'm not sure why.  I mean, there's no way I could fill his shoes.  He was loved and admired by all of his friends for his wonderful, cheeky sense of humour, his positive outlook and his kind, caring nature.  He was like a big brother, the one they went to for advice. I could never be that for this couple - even if I had of been given the chance to grow closer to them before we lost our common denominator.

I wondered what they expected of me.  Did they genuinely hope I'd make the trip and maybe forge a stronger friendship that would carry us forward without Dan's presence to bond us?  Or were they being polite, assuming it would hurt my feelings to be overlooked and excluded (which it most likely would have) but not expecting my attendance.

Eventually I stopped wondering what I SHOULD do or guessing what people WANTED me to do and just looked at what felt right.  I sent them an RSVP thanking them for being so kind and thoughtful.  I told them that I thought they were beautiful people and was genuinely happy  that they were coming together to build a life.  I told them that I wished, so much, that Dan and I would have been able to join them in celebrating their love but that unfortunately it would just be too difficult for me to be there without him.

That's what it came down to.  Sitting there, amongst his friends, in a room filled with love and laughter - knowing he was meant to be by my side, holding my hand was just too much.  It wasn't a place that I belonged without him.  It's a celebration that I would have loved to attend as Dan's wife.  But just couldn't bring myself to go as his widow.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Rebirth on my Birthday

It is 12:40 a.m. east coast time, on Friday, September 26th, and I am writing this blog piece from the Marriott hotel in downtown Toronto, Canada. I am here for Camp Widow, getting set to give my comedy presentation for the 5th time in a row. Sitting in the lobby where the Wi-fi is free on my laptop, exhausted after an almost 12 hour train ride from NYC into Toronto, followed by a lovely dinner at the Old Spaghetti Factory with some of my widowed friends. And then, of course, in classic Kelley fashion - I was just about to snuggle up under my covers in the comfy Marriott bed, when I suddenly out of nowhere remembered: "SHIT!!! I HAVE TO WRITE THE BLOG!!!" So, down the elevator I went, to the Wi-fi hot spot area in the lobby, and here I sit, with no real idea what to say.

Did I mention that today is my birthday? Yup. I am now 43 years old. I was widowed at 39, just 3 months before my 40th birthday. Never in a million years would I have imagined on that 40th birthday, that I would be sitting here, in Canada, my first time ever, writing this blog. When I turned 40 without Don, it felt like I was being stabbed and beaten up. I had no desire to celebrate, and the very idea of being happy about having more life granted to me when my wonderful husband didn't get that choice ever again, made me feel sick to my stomach. It's been a long 3 years, and I have come a long way. Along with the gorgeous crisp fall air that has always been my favorite, I feel a return to excitement again. I am excited about this birthday. I am happy to be in Toronto, making people laugh through their pain and helping them to heal while also helping myself. I am anxious for things to come and people to meet. The thought of more new friends excites me, and the idea of still not knowing where my life will end up terrifies and wakes me up all at once.

When I turned 40, I felt like I had died. Now, at 43, I feel like I am somehow born again. Or, at the very least, slowly on the road to there. My husband is always on my mind and in my heart. That will never change. I miss him severely. Sometimes the pain is still so heavy, and sometimes I still feel like the intensity of that pain is too much to handle. But other times, the volume on that pain is turned down, and I am able to turn up the joy and the laughter and the newness and freshness of life. I wish I could explain to you, or to me, how I got here, to this place of more tranquility and calm. I don't quite know, but I know I cannot give you directions. You have to find it yourself. I know it was a lot of hard work, and I know I am nowhere near finished with that hard work. This is not a finish line by any means. No. It is a milestone. It is the day that my life was rebirthed to me, because I worked hard through the awful grief to make it so. And dammit, it's about time I gave myself some credit for that.

This is not the life I wanted, but it is the life I built and created, from the ashes and the pain and the death. I may never be a mother, but I have created life. My life. Somebody give me some goddamn cake already. It's time to blow out the candles and work my dreams into existence.