Tuesday, February 14, 2017

The Third One: Food, Candles and Music

Today is that lovely day every year where everyone is supposed to declare their undying love and the world seems unnaturally full of couples.  If you're single, or divorced, or widowed and not in a romantic relationship, it can be a day of hell, that special day where you'd rather light yourself on fire than look around you.  Truth be told, there are lots of people that just don't care about the day.  I'm rather ambivalent about it.  I spent many years in one relationship or another.  I've also spent many years not in a relationship and wishing I was in one.  The last three years (or my first three of widowhood) have been a special sort of purgatory--I've had all sorts of emotions about it.

The first year, Valentine's Day fell just 18 short days after Tom died.  I was numb, barely functioning.  I had purchased a card early that year, it was a great card, one I knew he would love, but I don't remember what it said.  I put that card in with him when he was cremated.  My bestie and I went to the Veteran's Home to dance with the vets because Tom's friend and drum teacher had asked for ladies to visit.  I could barely function but my bestie danced some and it seemed like a good idea to reach out and give something back on such a day.

The second year, the members of my spousal loss bereavement support group planned our monthly potluck dinner for that day.  I brought cupcakes and made toppers that had the names of each of our spouses on them.  It was a gracious safe way to spend, what for most of us, was our second holiday without our spouses.  I felt grateful to have something to do which honored the day and the love.

The third year, this year, most people expect (as do I) that I would be "over it".  It is also a week day which changes the dynamic.  I decided last week that I wasn't going to make a big deal about the day, I wasn't going to focus on what others had and I no longer have.  (And truly I am very happy for those that are part of a loving relationship--shout your joy and happiness to the universe, love should always be celebrated).  I made a plan to have dinner with Tom.  Yes, I know that sounds creepy, but really it isn't.  So I bought two filets and planned to make a nice meal.  I lit all the candles in the house and put on music, specifically the play list of songs that relate directly to Tom, mainly songs that his band, RuMoRs, covered.  I wanted this evening to be spent focusing on our relationship, our marriage, and our love.  Even though he is no longer present, our love very much continues. 

So I turn on the music and hit the "Tom" playlist.  The first song up is "Crying" by Roy Orbison.  That should have been a clue of things to come.  That song wasn't even on the play list.  For that matter I didn't even know that song was on my phone.


I had dinner listening to his music, smiling and crying.  Big surprise, huh?  It was to me.  Every song that meant something to us was on that play list.  The tears flowed, but not ugly, snotty tears.  Different tears.  I was able to sit and be with my feelings--the happiness and the sadness and the gratitude.  It was cleansing.  As I sat at the dinner table, in my spot (which I no longer sit at, I've claimed Tom's spot), I enjoyed a good meal--you know that Tom would be all over that!  And I cried.  Before I knew it, I had a dog in my lap licking away my tears (or just trying to get closer to the steak, I'm not sure which).  And then this song played:


It was the music for our first dance at our wedding.  Whenever a song played that RuMoRs covered, I  would smile and sing along--I know them all so well having run the board for so many gigs.  And we played a few gigs on Valentine's Day too. One year at a Valentine's Day gig, each male member of the band sang a song dedicated to his wife.  Tom sang "Color My World."  It's impossible to be sad when there's a RuMoRs song in the air.  I can see him sitting on his throne behind the kit, with a smile on his face, be-bopping along to whatever he was playing.  He LOVED to play and it brought him such joy.  I jumped up and danced a few times too.

I was surprised by the emotion today.  I've done some really big stuff lately in my journey to move forward.  I've been forward focused.  So I didn't expect the tears.  One thing I've learned about mourning is to expect the unexpected.  It was important to me to have this Valentine's Day dinner with Tom.  As my grief counselor said, this may very well be the last Valentine's Day dinner with him.  Next year I may be with someone new.  From her mouth to god's ear.

And Tom did not disappoint.  He sent a Valentine my way today:



Sunday, January 1, 2017

Release--Restore--Rediscover--Rebuild

Goodbye 2016, Hello 2017--the year of "RE"!

My plans for a NYE celebration fell through when my loving family overshared their germs and I came down with the plague.  So I spent NYE home with Zora and Bubba and decided to finish the vision board that I started on a year and a half ago when I realized I needed to consider creating a life after Tom.  The process of creating the vision board was cathartic, in that it helped me to define the things that are important to me and what I want to include in my life.  When I had started contemplating my new life there were three pillars that were of primary importance:

  1. To live a spirit-led and spirit-filled life
  2. To be lean, fit and healthy.
  3. To have love in my life.

These three pillars still hold true, but there is a lot of things that fill out those pillars.


A few months ago I had the feeling of a tectonic shift in the offing.  This morning I awoke, after a long winter's nap, to sunshine, blue skies, a smile on my face and excitement in my heart--excitement that the next year would be much different and much more freeing than the last. 

As I was looking through my Facebook memories this morning, viewing the happy memories of New Year's Days past, I realized how much I have been holding onto those memories, living in them, so to speak, not necessarily in a bad way, because I think that is very much a part of the grieving process.  I have spent the last 23 months held down by the heaviness of mourning.  I am ready to crawl out from under that weight.  I want to make new, great memories in 2017, not just exist and/or survive my way through it.  It is time to move forward.

My theme for 2017 is Release--Restore--Rediscover--Rebuild

Release the past and the pain.  Hold on to the happiness, the lessons, the love and release the burden of grief.

Restore what has been lost, damaged or buried.  My health, my vitality, my love of life.

Rediscover that which brings me joy.  Photography, art, entertaining, and explore things that I've always wanted to, such as getting my motorcycle license.

Rebuild the things that have taken a back seat during the last three years.  My career, my bank account, my connection with Zora and Bubba, my energy and create a home that is mine and not ours.

"That's bold talk for a one-eyed fat man", you might say (True Grit, 1969).  Just because I've put it out there doesn't mean that I won't have days when I will back be in that head space, that I won't talk about Tom and my loss.  After all I loved him for almost half of my life.  Milestones, such as his birthday, his angelversary, our anniversary, etc., will still be significant and will be noted. But a year from now I want to be sharing new happy memories.  Its exciting, and scary. 

It is time, and I am ready, to move forward

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Thirty Years

December 12, 2016 is Tom's 30th clean and sober anniversary.  Twelve-Twelve.  Twelve was Tom's lucky number.  It was the number on his game jerseys as a kid.  His anniversary is 12-12.  It is an important day.

It is a really important day.  To those in the recovery community, the anniversary of the day one makes the decision to cease and desist from using all mood and mind altering substances is perhaps the biggest day of the year.  Bigger than a birthday.  It is the beginning of a new life. And so every year when one remains clean and sober, the day is a celebration.  That day is D-Day--decision day.  At the beginning, one takes it a day at a time.  But with commitment, perseverance, strength and humility, the years start to add up.  A life is reclaimed and rebuilt and built upon.  Yes it is a big day.

And because it is a big day in Tom's life, it is also a big day in my life.  Had he not made that decision thirty years ago, I most likely would not have known him, would not have loved him, would not have married him, would not have had so many happy years with him.  There are the many people that Tom touched in his work who would not have had the opportunity to make life-changing decisions that have led them to better lives.  Our family would not have had the years of his love and his laughter, his steady presence and his shenanigans. His musical family would not have had the pleasure of playing with him, making music with him, and entertaining with him--touching people with music and fun and laughter, for music is the sound of life.  The men that sponsored him would not have had the privilege of knowing him deeply and helping him through life's trials and tribulations.  The men that he sponsored would not have had his loving and unconditional support as they found their way into and through recovery.  His friends would not have known (or reclaimed) the exuberant, loving, humble, funny, joyful person that he was.  Had he not made that decision thirty years ago I would not have been loved so deeply and would not have loved so deeply.  Not everyone can look back on a life and remember the exact moment, the exact day, that everything changed.  Tom could.

So I will celebrate this day, every year, for the rest of my life.  Because it was the day that changed his world, and therefore, changed the world of many others, in big and small ways.  This day reminds me that he mattered.  His life mattered.  And he mattered to many others, not just to me.  Even though he is not with us in the physical, he is still with us. 

Two years ago, on his 28th, I had planned a small party.  I told him it was important to celebrate these things.  He asked me if I wanted to celebrate it because I thought it was going to be his last.  Of course I said no, but I feared that it would be.  Alas, it was.  That evening we had to cancel the party and I took him to the hospital.  Two days later he had another trip and was admitted for almost two weeks, being discharged on Christmas Eve.  It was the beginning of his very rapid decline. I have not forgotten, nor shall I, what this time of year was like.  Perhaps that is why I have been so weepy. I recently read a blog about grief and the holidays and I was reassured when I read that I didn't need to worry about healing during this time, I just had to get through it.  Well, I've gotten through this time of year before and I will again.  It is nice to know that getting through is all I HAVE to do.  This year is different than last, and I imagine it will be different next year.

So my love.  I celebrate you and thank you for making that decision thirty years ago.  My life is different because of it.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

The Honu and the Hibiscus

In less than 36 hours I will be on the plane back to the mainland.  This trip to Hawaii has been amazing and healing, full of memories and love and tears.  I have been accompanied by a sister widow who did not know Tom, as I did not know her husband.  What we have is common is vast, we have the experience of losing out husband to horrific diseases and then building a new life.  Well, truth be told, I haven't built a new life, but I am going through the grieving process and digging the foundation for that new life.

On the Big Island I released Tom's ashes in the places that he loved.  Tonight I will release more of him here on Maui, a place he had never visited.  I will release him at the spot where my sister widow's husband was also released--they can float together in the big beautiful ocean they both so loved.  There is only one more spot that I am planning on spreading his ashes, and that is on the ridge behind our house.  I will do that with his bestie when he is able to travel up north to take Tom's favorite gig kit into his care.  There may be other places in the future but I will have fulfilled Tom's wishes I believe.


Last night I finally got a memorial tattoo for Tom.  I had been contemplating what it should be for  a long time and nothing felt right at all.  When I arrived last week, my sister widow had said she wanted to get ink to represent her home of Hawaii.  At that moment a picture of a pink-red-orange hibiscus popped into my head.  When Tom and I first lived together we had a beautiful hibiscus tree of the same color in a container on our deck.  I loved that tree!  I've researched the meaning of hibiscus tattoos and the symbology is varied.  Most often it represents love, beauty and fragility, and the passing of a loved one.  For me it represents the beauty of the Islands and the deep love I have for Tom. 

As I thought more about the flower, the image of the honu (turtle) also came to mind.  We loved turtles.  I would stalk them with my camera.  They are such majestic creatures.  The hotel that we often stayed at raises baby turtles in the atrium and then sets them free into the ocean on July 4th.  Tom often used "honu" as a screen name.  In Hawaiian culture, the honu symbolizes immortality, strength, security and stability, endurance, perseverance, guidance, and faithfulness.  These are all qualities that I associate with Tom.  He also moved as slowly as a sea turtle on land when it came to making major decision, liking marrying me.  But once he made a decision, he was all in.  It was comical that we always moved at different speeds.  I was always much faster to get to a conclusion than he was, but we always made the right decisions together.

The final part of the image is "XII", the roman numeral of the number 12.  Twelve was Tom's lucky number.  This was the one thing I always knew I wanted to include.  12 was the number on his uniforms growing up.  His clean date is 12-12.  XII can also mean 10 times 2, which equals 20, the number of years we were married.

I love this tattoo.  It symbolizes to me the very things we loved most.  It is located over my heart, where I will forever carry him.  During the tattoo process I could hear Tom in my head saying "Damn, she's on my back again."  I can see the look on his face and the twinkle in his eye, with his lips pursed and a tilt of his head, with a slight eye roll.  And then I heard him say, "I will carry you on my back forever, you are never alone and you have all of my strength.  We will still swim the seas together and bask in the sun and the waves.  Come back to this place that we love and a piece of heart will be waiting for you."

Aloha my love.  We will come back here again.  Until then, mahalo.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Releasing

Last night was my last night on the Big Island.  Today we left for Maui, a place I have never been.  I started this trip with fear and trepidation about coming back to the place that we both loved so much and where we spent such incredibility happy times. I am so happy that I have come.  The first few days were spent in a frenzy of convention activity, but starting on Sunday evening I began one of the things that I came here to do--release Tom's ashes in the place that he loved.  Sunday at sunset was the first increment, letting the wind take his ashes over the lava next to the golf course--that very lava where we both lost and reclaimed golf balls.  I'd left a small portion on a piece of lava, expecting the wind to set it free.  Over 72 hours later, even with the howling Hawaii wind, the ashes remain.  I guess he is just really happy here.  This morning I left some Kona coffee in the hollow next to him--he loved him some Kona coffee.

 I made this journey with a sister widow who lived on Maui with her husband.  Yesterday was the 7th anniversary of his passing.  We started the day by going to the spa for a massage.  Tom and I spent a lot of time at this spa.  It has such a calm, peaceful and aloha vibe.  When I walked into the outdoor thatched hut where I was to have my massage, I realized there were two massage tables, this was a hale for couples massage.  My first thought was a wee bit of panic.  I told the therapist about my journey, and she hugged me and said, "He is right here with you."  The massage was wonderful,  Perfect temperature, perfect breeze, only the sound of the wind and the birds.  About half way through I realized that the second table was there for Tom.  He was there, enjoying the experience with me. 

After our massage we headed to the beach for some lunch and sun and water.  I wanted to release some of his ashes in the water, at the beach were we spent many hours.  I took the little container I had and swam (really, just kind of walked and floated) out into the water.  As I opened the container, the ashes surrounded me in the water and I was swimming with him again for one brief moment.  I came out of the water exhilarated, I hadn't expected that experience and it felt so very precious.

One of the things that Tom and I loved to do was golf together on vacation.  I thought it appropriate to leave some of him in another place that we loved.  I called the Golf Club and explained that my husband and I had golfed there many times and that he had died last year and that this was my first trip back since his death.  I asked if it would be possible for me to ride the course late in the afternoon.  They graciously agreed. So at the agreed upon time I arrived at the golf club, got in the cart and headed off to the first tee.  I had an hour and a half alone with my thoughts and my love and my camera, riding the course that we loved to play so very much.  I left a bit of Tom behind at tee boxes, in sand traps and water hazards (he did spend a lot of time there after all) and on the greens. 


On the lava next to the water hazard--we were not fond of this hole.  The water always claimed at least one ball.


At the tee box, at the white tees from which he played


At the hole.  He could only hope to get this close.


Stunning Views from the Course
When I reached the signature hole, I took him back to the black tees, from where he always wished he could play.  The view of the green is stunning.

The Black Tees at the Signature Hole
One of my favorite pictures from our many times on this course is Tom at this tee.  This first photo is from 2010.

Tom at the tee, hoping he doesn't lose it in the water.
I took another photo today, from the same perspective.  Knowing that Tom's spirit was right there.

The same tee box.
When I reached one of our favorite holes which is right next to the ocean, I released his ashes into the wind, the sea, the sun and the lava.  I took photos from that spot and it wasn't until I came home later that I noticed the green orb in several of the photos.  I later realized that I took those photos in "live" mode and I had three second videos that showed the orbs moving around.  If you listen with the sound, you can hear the thunk of a golf ball.  I am a photographer, I have been waiting 21 months to get an orb in a photograph.  I believe that Tom was letting me know that he was happy with my decision to set him free on his favorite golf course on his favorite island at sunset with his love.

video

It has been an incredibly healing trip.  I thought it might be my last trip to the Big Island, but as the plane took off this afternoon, I knew I would be back.  I believe that this trip is the beginning of a shift, another layer of healing, another layer of preparing to move forward.  Spirit has been strong on this trip.  I am grateful for the opportunity to make this pilgrimage with a sister widow who has walked this path with me and understands it in a way most can not.

Aloha my love.  We've taken a big step together, releasing you with love.  I know you are always with me, even if there are not green orbs bouncing around.








Thursday, October 27, 2016

Island Magic

I have been back on the Big Island all of 16 hours and I feel like I've come home.  That is how Tom and I always described our arrival, it was like coming home.  Perhaps we inhabited these islands in another life--this has always been our happy place.

To say that I had some fear and trepidation about making this trip, fear of being overcome with memories and feelings, would be an understatement,   I've certainly had memories come popping up left and right, and I've been a little teary eyed too.  I expect more of it in the coming days.  And its OK, because I have a hunch that this trip will be magical in its own way.  I both feel the presence of Tom's spirit and the absence of his being.  But the magic remains.

I arrived after dark last night, which was a really good thing.  I couldn't see the approach and landing.  We would always have our noses pressed to the airplane window, excited about being here and the days ahead of sand, sea, golf and spa.  We would take the early flight out of SFO and arrive on the Island before noon.  As soon as we arrived at the hotel, we told them to send our golf clubs on to the course.  When we had checked in, we'd head straight to the golf course, have lunch and tee off.  It was what we always did, except for the time that the airlines sent our clubs to Maui and we had to wait a day before we could play.  So last night I arrived after dark and drove to the condo that my friend and I are staying in, which is located right on that very golf course that we played every year.  When I awoke this morning I immediately opened the window to hear the sound of the island.  And the first memory that popped in my mind was how Tom would always go golf ball hunting in the lava, looking for those errant balls, preferably Pro-V1s.  It was a good day for him if he finished a round using the same ball he started with and found a few more.

This morning my travel companion had coffee made when I got up, which was so lovely.  Tom was a coffee snob.  We always had about 10 pounds of coffee in the house.  When we first started coming to the Island we would visit the coffee plantations.  As I was pouring a cup this morning two memories came popping back up.  We would always go to the local grocery store when we arrived for supplies.  And as soon as we hit the aisle where they sold the coffee, he would be like a kid in a candy shop.  He couldn't decide which one he wanted to buy.  It was fun to watch.  The second memory that my brain retrieved was about Tom and his play on words.  There is a coffee chain here called "Kimo's", with a shop at the Hilton where we were staying.  In the morning Tom would say, "It time for me to go get my Kimo-therapy".

The memories are so sweet, so rich with a life well lived and full of love.  Today is 21 months since Tom has been gone.  I've struggled mightily over these months, always holding out hope and a vision for the future, but always uncertain about how to get there.  The grief has weighed heavily on me and I've worked hard to work through it.  And while I've always had a vision for the future, I've not had any idea on how to actually get there, I just didn't see the path.  I have kept plugging along, doing the next right thing, trying to move forward.  But something has occurred in the last week.  I've a hint at a path forward, many things have come full circle, life has been a series of synchronicities.  I feel in my bones that a tectonic shift is going to occur.  And I have a feeling that this trip will be the beginning of it.

Whatever the outcome, I need to be able to reclaim this island for myself, and not just for the memories that Tom and I had here together, but for the magic that it is.  I may never return, or I may. 

I believe in Island Magic.

Monday, October 10, 2016

I'm Tired

Every time I say those words, in my head I hear Madeline Kahn singing the song in Blazing Saddles.  While the reasons why I am tired are very different than the reasons of which Ms. Kahn is warbling, I'm still kaput!

One of the things I did not expect from mourning is how physically and mentally draining it is.  I expected emotionally draining, but it has depleted me body, mind and soul.  My grief counselor has repeatedly told me that it takes all of our life force to mourn.  I easily accepted that at first.  But, come on, its been 20 months, that should no longer be the case.  Sadly it still is.

Feeling my feelings takes a lot of energy on any day.  Then throw in the hidden land mines that are unexpected, like cleaning out the kitchen cabinets and opening the cabinet with all of Tom's coffee.  Tom loved him some good coffee.  If we didn't have 10 pounds of coffee in the house something was wrong.

Now add in the self care.  Being so depleted meant that I really had to look deeply into my nutrition as well as stress management.  So there are regular grief counseling appointments, massage appointments, acupuncture appointments, naturopathic appointments.  And then there were the two eye surgeries with the myriad of appointments and four times daily eye drops for over two months.  I haven't even been able to think about getting back to the gym--soon I hope.

Did I mention all of the death duties?  Estate matters, paperwork.  Disposing of Tom's personal effects, which is both emotionally and mentally exhausting--decisions to be made and then the actual "letting go".  And then I must deal with all of my estate matters--trust, will, power of attorney, etc. 

How about a dash of daily living?  Shopping, cleaning, cooking, bill paying, pet care, laundry, auto maintenance, home maintenance.  I have made more trips to the hardware store in the last several months than I did in the last several years.  I swear that the light bulbs in my house have band together to go on strike and burn out!  I can't believe how many I've replaced this year.  I didn't know we had that many lights in the house.  I used to have someone to share all of these chores with and now I must do them all alone.

For grins, lets add in making a living.  Going to work, running a business.  I certainly haven't been able to apply the usual energy that I would to my career, the intensity that I would work.  But working is something that I must do, both financially and emotionally necessary.  So much of my self identity has been wrapped up in my career.

And then there is the energy that goes into relationships--maintaining the relationships that I have, and fortunately there are many.  There is very little left for cultivating new friendships, but there is still a void to fill and a future to rebuild. 

There is one thing that is really missing and that is FUN!  Not much left for fun.  But I have had some and I need to have some more.  I am looking forward to going to Hawaii at the end of the month.  It will be bittersweet since it was our happy place.  It was also a place we went for restoration and I'm hoping to have that again. 

And finally, there is the emotionally energy it takes to look forward, to remain hopeful for the future, and to remain optimistic.  No wonder I am tired.  I can't imagine what it must be like for those still raising children or caring for others.  They must have more reserves than I have to survive that.

I have beaten myself up over my "laziness" because I've not been able to force myself to do all the things that need to be done.  I've been expecting myself to do the impossible.  In reality I am not able to do so.  Job number one is to recover, and to re-engage with life.  It is going to take much longer than I thought and certainly much longer than I had hoped.