Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Eighteen Months

Today it has been eighteen months since Tom died.  It doesn't even seem possible that it has been both so long of a time and so short of a time.  That is 546 days, or 13,104 hours, or 786,240 minutes, or 47,174,400 seconds.  But who's counting?  Well, I am.  Not nearly as much as I used to, but I am a count-er.  Eighteen months is a milestone.  I'm not quite sure exactly how I feel, perhaps a bit numb.  Perhaps the tears and the sorrow will come later.  It has been such a growth process for me.  I found on Facebook Memories today, the post he made two years ago today:

"In a moment my life has taken an unexpected turn and shook me to the core. I have been diagnosed with appendix cancer. It feels surreal as if I am watching a movie outside myself. Moments pass and will never return and I wonder what is ahead. I say "how could this happen" but there is no answer. I know only how to move forward in spite of fear and that's what I will do. Having hope, faith and finding moments of peace and serenity."

Who knew that six months later he would be gone.  He did move forward in spite of fear, with hope and faith, finding moments of peace and serenity.  I admire his courage and strength as he fought so hard against the evil bastard that took his life.

There is a Facebook challenge these days posting photos of spouses and tributes to them.  It makes me glad to see happy married couples, while at the same time, it saddens me because my husband is no longer alive.  Tom was a wonderful husband and we had a great marriage--not always perfect--but great.  We had our happily ever after and stayed together until death parted us.  We were blessed.  I am blessed to have so many great memories of our lives together.  So here is my response to the FB challenge, from the occasion of my mom's 90th birthday photo shoot:


I talk about Tom, I post about Tom, not because I am stuck in the past or not moving forward.  I am rebuilding my life without him.  I talk and post about him because I want to remember him, that I want to keep his memory alive for me and for our family and friends.  He walked this earth for sixty-two years and he had a big impact on many lives.  His life mattered.  What he did with his life mattered.  The tragedy would be that he is forgotten, that his love and laughter and music and acts of kindness, and even his shenanigans, are not remembered and cherished. All of our lives are better because he lived.  This isn't just something that is said in the immediate aftermath of his death, but for the rest of our days on this earth.  We each carry a piece of his spirit with us.  I happen to carry a very big piece of it with me.  I have the "Tommy Aura" attached to me and I am proud to be the guardian of it.  So please, please talk about him, laugh about him, remember him, bring up his name.  Do not worry that it saddens me, because it doesn't.  It brightens my day and lightens my spirit, because I see that he lives on in the lives of those he knew and loved. I think that is what each of us we would want when we are gone--to be remembered.



As I move forward I carry him in my heart, and in the drum ash urn that hangs over my heart.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Stepping Out

I must say that I've felt, not stuck, but stagnant, lately.  I've been moving through death duties.  I've been selling some of Tom's things, giving others away to family and friends, and donating things.  I've been very good at living in the moment and not worrying too much about the future.  But here's the thing, I feel like I want to see some forward progress.  And recently I've thought that perhaps I should take some action to move forward.  The problem is, I don't know what it is I want to do, or should do, or am supposed to do.  Throw me a bone here, Universe!  How about a clue?  Its not like my brain is working at its regular capacity. 

Like many, I look for those big AWESOME signs, for big AWESOME direction.  Yeah, that's not happening.  But here is what does happen when you ask the Universe for some help.  Little tiny baby step clues.  So subtle that if you aren't paying attention you miss it.  And here's what happened.

Lately I've been thinking about Phoenix, our nan-sun conure that we brought home the year after we married.  I miss him.  I had donated his big cage last summer (almost a year after he was gone), but I kept forgetting to take his travel cage for donation.  And on Monday I had things to take for donation and remembered to put the cage in the car for donation.  Except when I got to Goodwill, the truck was full and I couldn't leave anything.  And that was also the case at the other donation sites.  Then yesterday I was scrolling through Facebook in the afternoon (not something I am usually doing in the afternoon) and there is post from the Marin Humane Society that they have a 20 year old conure who needs a new home.  His family is moving and can't take him with them.  And he is really unhappy and depressed.  The average life span of a conure is about 25 years.  Phoenix was 19 when he died from a cancerous tumor on his wing.  This bird, known as Big Bird now, is about a year younger than Feenie.  I had thought of getting another conure but wasn't sure a 25 year commitment is something I could face.  But this guy, I can do that.  So I went to see him immediately.  He seems sweet, but was withdrawn (as I would expect).  I came home and talked to Zora about it.  She was not Phoenix's biggest fan, mainly because he was so loud.  I expect that this guy will be too once he is settled in.  But his personality seems, as least at this early stage, similar to Zora's.  After sleeping on it, I decided to adopt him and he will be coming home within the next 24 hours. 

This is stepping out for me.  Opening my heart to another being that needs love and attention.  This guy is grieving the loss of his family and I most certainly understand grieving.  This is the first major decision I've made since Tom has been gone.  It is my first step into my new life.  And I have to say, I am a bit nervous about it.  I have a feeling that Phoenix and Tom had a hand in leading me to him.  Its a tiny little baby step, but it feels like a huge leap.

So Big Bird has a new home.  But first order of business is to get him a new name.  I just don't think Big Bird fits him. 
 

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Five Hundred Days

It has been 500 hundred days since Tom died.  When we started this cancer journey two years ago, we were told that the average survival time with his disease was 3 years (about 1000 days).  I remember thinking, as we were waiting for results of one test or another "we'll know in 10 days, oh--that's 1% of the time we have left together".  It puts each day into perspective when you have a countdown clock.  I don't count the days anymore  (well, with the exception of the ones that end in 00).  But I find the perspective of what a day is in a life to be profound. Alas, he did not have 1,000 days, he only had 200, just 20% of the time on the countdown clock.  I still feel like I waste days, just recovering from this loss, days that I will never get back.  But there is such value in those days too.  One might look at it as saying the further I get from the loss of Tom, the closer I get to being reunited with him.  Well, yes, that's true.  But there is going to be a whole lot of living going on between now and then.

This week I accepted an offer on one of Tom's drums kits.  It wasn't his favorite kit.  He had been talking about selling it before.  I've been trying to sell this kit for a six months.  I guess it wasn't to be.  Of course, its not a sale until the money is in my hot little hands.  It made me sad when I accepted the offer, even though I KNOW it is what needs to happen.  But his sound will go on.  I also signed and received all of the paperwork for my trust, along with a will, power of attorney, etc.  I now have about 15 more tasks added to my to do list.  This being a responsible adult is a lot of work.

So how am I doing at 500 days?  At some point during the first year I was asked to think about my emerging self.  (Emerging self, I thought.  What?)  After careful consideration, there were three things that I identified that I wanted in my life:
1. To lead a spirit-led and spirit-filled life
2. To be lean, fit, and healthy
3. To have love in my life.

1. Tom's death has led to a profound spiritual awakening for me.  I am just beginning to tap into things that I never thought possible for me.  I am redefining what higher power means to me.  I still can't explain it.  These are things that most likely would not have happened otherwise.  But I have come to live in the moment and not be fearful of the future (well, most of the time anyway).  I am more comfortable and secure in having faith.  My track record for surviving difficult things is 100%.  I'm pretty sure I will be surviving this also.  I am excited to see where this path will take me.

2.  I am making progress here, slow, slow progress.  But it is forward motion.  I've done a lot of self care over the last four months.  I've done all of the required wellness checks and endured a bit of a "scare".  I will be having eye surgery this summer.  Yes, I truly have my mother's eyes.  And I am seeing a naturopath since my allopathic physicians cannot explain or treat the fatigue that doesn't end.  I will get there, I am making the changes necessary, even when I don't want to.  Forward progress

3.  I have love in my life.  I have a loving family that I am spending more time with and growing closer to.  We are a blended family, but no one could tell that if they saw us together.  They are such a blessing.  I have a lot of loving friends, who have walked this journey with me.  And I have Zora--the epitome of unconditional love.  There is not a romantic love in my life.  I know that someday there will be, when the time is right.  When the very best of me is available to give.  Right now the very best of me is still mourning Tom and healing.  I waited a long time for Tom and he was worth every minute of the wait.  So I know that when it is time, it will be.  And I can wait.  And it will be worth it for whomever it is that is waiting for me.

Yes, I am making forward progress.  I still have much to figure out and make decisions about.  The future is mine to choose and create as I heal.  I am in a good head space today.  I'm going to enjoy it.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

The Waiting Room

I've heard this term before in regard to widowhood.  One meaning is that the surviving spouse is just waiting to die to be with their departed loved one.  For me it has a different meaning.  I feel like I am waiting to get better, to feel better, to start to live my life again.  I've made it through all of the firsts, and am into the second year.  But for everyone else around me, their lives have gone on.  They have new jobs, new homes, new relationships, adventures.  And me.  I am just waiting.  Waiting to feel better, to reclaim the energy and vitality that mourning has taken from me.  I have little extra energy to engage in life.

I am in an intensive recovery period.  Physically I am doing some of things that are necessary to recover--regular massage, acupuncture, getting enough sleep, but there is a lot more that I need to do--nutrition, exercise.  Emotionally I do what I can--regular meetings with my grief counselor, social meetings with other widows, I definitely feel my feelings.  I feel them all over the place.  They are generally not pretty.  I am seeing the beginnings of re-entry.  I am able to work, but not at the intensity that I've always been able to.  And I can at least engage in some sort of social life with my friends, limited though it may be.  I still have many death duties to complete, mainly dispersing of Tom's personal effects.  However, I fall short of doing what I think I need to be doing.  Some days the best I can do is just wait.

Last week I read about Sheryl Sandberg's commencement address.  She told the story of how her friend Phil stepped in to help with her children after her husband died.  When she cried that she wanted her husband, he said that wasn't an option and this was plan B.  And he said "Let's kick the shit out of Plan B".  I like that.

I plan to kick the shit out of Plan B.  As soon as I figure out what it is.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Secondary Losses

It's Mother's Day, a day when we all honor our mothers and those who have been like a mother to us. This is the fourth Mother's Day without my mom. I miss her, particularly these past two years as Tom waged his battle against cancer, and ultimately left this earth. I've longed to have her just tell me that it would be alright.

But this day also brings up secondary losses for me. You see, I am not a mother and this day is a reminder on how I fall short in our society. It isn't that we didn't want to be parents, we were unable to. It was a long, brutal painful process, going through fertility testing and treatment only to be unsuccessful. At the end of that portion of the journey (my father was dying during one of our unsuccessful attempts at IVF and I was unable to travel to be with him during his last days because of it). We ultimately decided not to adopt, after exploring our options. I came to terms (or so I thought) with the hand that we were dealt. We made our family with fur and feathers. The wound healed, but left a scar that still hurts when pressed upon.

When Tom first died I thought "thank goodness that we don't have children so I do not have to keep going to care for them. How difficult that would be." A very selfish thought, I admit. But I did keep going because of my little fur-ball Zora.

But now, it is another loss replayed. I do not have children in whom to see the best part of Tom live on. There is no one to carry on his legacy. No one to say about, "he's acting just like his father" or "your dad would be so proud of you". It is realizing that there is no one into whose eyes to peer and see the reflection of the man I loved. That is a loss to me, but I also think it is a loss to the world, for the very best of Tom was a blessing to those he touched.

I was very fortunate to be able to spend today with my brother, sister-in-law, and niece. We had a wonderful lunch and hung out. My oldest great-nephew's girlfriend made bath salts with a cheerful Happy Mother's Day tag to give to his grandmother (my sister-in-law), his aunt (my niece, who also does not have children) and me. It was the most touching single act of kindness I have ever received on this day. I am grateful.

Sometimes we do not see the secondary losses coming. I certainly wasn't expecting it today. I thought I had put this issue to rest years ago. Days like today remind me once more of the depth of my loss.

Friday, April 8, 2016

What I Didn't Expect

When my husband died there were things about mourning his loss that I was prepared for.  Well, as much as one can be prepared.  I expected to be sad, I expected to be anxious, I expected to be emotional and cry a lot, I expected that I would have grief bursts.  But there were a some things that I didn't expect.  Like the extreme physical pain of mourning.  My body hurt.  I would wake up in the morning and every part of my body ached.  I didn't expect the mind-numbing exhaustion.  Even now, fourteen months into this journey, I barely have enough energy to get through the day.  If I do manage to have two or three productive days in a row, they are usually followed by two or three days where I can barely get myself out of bed, dressed and accomplish one or two small things. Not only am I physically exhausted, I find myself mentally exhausted after a day of work. 

I don't know why but I really didn't expect the bone chilling loneliness.  Perhaps because we had always had such a connection that the idea of it not being there didn't even occur to me.  I was in my mid-thirties when we married and had already developed a self-identity.  I didn't feel like I "needed" a man to make me whole.  And I still don't feel that is the case.  But a funny thing happened after we married.  The first Christmas when I was trying to make decisions about Christmas gifts for my family, I felt totally unable to do so without Tom's input.  I mean, it was my family.  I found the whole thing rather amusing. But what I am noticing now is the day to day loneliness.  Having to make decisions about the little things.  Doing errands alone, cooking for one, making sure the bills get paid, having someone to share commentary with on American Idol or Dancing with the Starts.  No one cares about the little things in my day.  There is no one to laugh with me that I finally figured out it was a California Buckeye tree at the bottom of the hill, the one that each spring for 18 years we wondered what species it was.  There is no longer anyone to reminisce with about our shared memories together, like how the first major fight we had when we moved in together was about a mattress pad.  This is the part of me that I lost, the shared memories that belonged to just the two of us.  They only reside in my mind.  This is why my heart feels so cold and so empty, because I have lost a part of my history, a major part of my history, not just Tom's physical presence in my life.

I was watching the scene in Downton Abbey right before Lady Mary's wedding and Lady Edith returns to attend the nuptials.   Lady Mary wonders why Lady Edith would come back after the awful fight they had.  Lady Edith explains that they are sisters and the day will come that only the two of them will remember their mother, father, and sister.  Others will not have known them and they have common shared memories.  I so relate to this.  My mother and father are both gone.  All of my aunts and uncles are gone.  It is only my brother and I and since he is so much older than I, leaving home when I was just four, we have very few shared memories from our youth.  I have cousins, but most are my brother's age and we have little shared history.  Well, perhaps it is the fact that my memory isn't so great, I tend to forget things until other bring them up.  Perhaps this is just a byproduct of becoming older and having no children, no legacy.  Whatever it is, it is deep and hollow and painful and lonely.

I suppose this is one of the reasons that they say the second year is difficult, perhaps worse than the first.  Lucky for you there are only 295 more days in the second year.  Whine, whine, whine.  I know, I'm getting sick of it too.  But each month, each week, each day, I discover something else about this journey that is often enlightening, many times painful, but always necessary in order to move through this period. I know that one day it will be different.  I appreciate those that listen to me, or read and comment on my ramblings.  I am missing the one person in the world that was so totally into me that he thought everything I thought and said was amazing.  It is a big Tom-sized hole.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Concrete Boots

WARNING:  Some of the content is a little out there for some.  I usually do not talk about my spiritual beliefs, but they have been vital in my mourning process.  If you are not in agreement with them, or are possibly offended by them, scroll on by.  Nothing you will say will change how I feel or "enlighten" me.  This is my personal opinion, please respect that.

It seems that every time I visit with my grief counselor I whine about how much I hate this "phase" of grief recovery--the mind numbing exhaustion that I can not force myself out of no matter what I try, the feeling of just barely surviving the days, trying to wait it out until every step does not feel like trudging through quicksand with concrete boots, the fear that there will never be joy in my life again.  Its not pretty.  The second year is incredibly hard, but in a very different way.

I really hate this. What I hate so much about it is that I have no control over it.  I can't think my way out of it, I can't work my way out of it, I can't eat my way out of it, I can't spend my way out of it, I can't force my way out of it, I can't act my way out of it.  Every coping mechanism that I've ever used doesn't work.  Its not that I'm not doing all of the right thing to move through the mourning period.  I go to one-on-one grief counseling.  I've done spousal loss bereavement groups (more than one).  I ask for help, I talk with other widows.  I write.  I try to be a productive member of society.  I try to participate in the lives of others without it all being about my loss.  Sometimes its not possible. I feel my feelings.  I am doing the best that I can.  But I hate it.  And I am trying to embrace it, for only in embracing the process, can I move through it. I must now live the antithesis of my personality, I must just be and let the process work me.

Having said all of that, I have come to realize that Tom will forever be a part of me.  It is not about letting him go, or getting over it.  His spirit is forever mingled with mine.  Our years together on this side of the veil have shaped who I am and who I will be.  And our years apart, with each on the opposite side of the veil, will also continue to define me.  I find myself talking about him more and think others are judging me about it.  Perhaps they are, perhaps they are not.  Most likely I am judging myself.  It seems that while we are physically apart, our spirits are more entwined. In some ways it feels like a way of reclaiming myself.  When people lose their spouse they may say that they've lost half of themselves.  I always felt like my own individual self and that self was still whole when Tom died. But I lost something, I lost the "us" part of me.  And now I am trying to redefine that.  Every single day I realize what is gone just a little bit more. Some days it is overwhelming. Bottom line is that we are together forever.  I found this meme a while ago and it really resonated with me.
Now when I say 'together forever" that does not rule out the possibility that I will have another loving relationship in the future.  And I'm not talking about any of that kinky threesome stuff either. Just as a parent's heart expands to love each additional child, I believe that our hearts can expand to love another without diminishing the love that we had/have for our departed spouses.  I hope to remain open to the possibility when the time is right. Last week I heard the song "Wherever You May Go" by The Calling when I was telling my hair stylist about a widower friend who had recently fallen in love again.  I had heard the song before but never really drilled down on the lyrics, I found them full of meaning.  I thought the timing prophetic.

So lately, been wondering
Who will be there to take my place
When I'm gone, you'll need love
To light the shadows on your face
 
If a great wave shall fall
It'd fall upon us all
And between the sand and stone
Could you make it on your own?
 
If I could, then I would
I'll go wherever you will go
Way up high or down low
I'll go wherever you will go
 
When I hear this stanza I think of Tom wanting me to know that he wants me to be happy and to be open to a loving relationship, whenever that may be. And that he will be with me, wherever I will go.
 
And maybe, I'll find out
The way to make it back someday
To watch you, to guide you
Through the darkest of your days
 
If a great wave shall fall
It'd fall upon us all
Well I hope there's someone out there
Who can bring me back to you


If I could, then I would
I'll go wherever you will go
Way up high or down low
I'll go wherever you will go


Run away with my heart
Run away with my hope
Run away with my love
 
Tom has found several ways to let me know that he is still with me, that he is watching over me and guiding me through this time. He has been very persistent in making himself known.
 
I know now, just quite how
My life and love might still go on
In your heart, in your mind
I'll stay with you for all of time


If I could turn back time
I'll go wherever you will go
If I could make you mine
I'll go wherever you will go


I'll go wherever you will go

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z2xeaGFi2q0

Yes, his love and life will still go on, in my heart, in my mind,  he'll stay with me for all time.