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


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.


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. 

Saturday, October 1, 2016


Missing doesn't really describe the big void that is in my life, but it will have to do.  At last month's dinner with my widow/er's group, we were talking about how the "missing" has set in.  And so it has.  I seem to miss Tom more than ever.  Even as I continue to recover from his loss, I miss him so much.  I miss him in our daily life.  I miss the partnership, the help with daily living, the laughter, the support, the sound of his voice, the reverberation of his snore, the warmth of his hugs and the tenderness of his kiss.  I miss him taking Zora on walks around the valley, the smell of his coffee in the morning, the silly word games, cooking for him.  I just miss being with him.  There is a depth to this emptiness that cannot be measured.  It is different than it was, perhaps because it feels so real and so very permanent. 

I am amazed at how the process of mourning the loss of my husband continues to unfold.  It is a constantly changing landscape.  It reminds me so much of the topography of the Big Island.  Tom and I would vacation there just about every year.  The first time we went there and drove out of the airport, I thought we had landed on the moon because the black lava created such desolate terrain for as far as one could see.  But then there would be a twig of green or white coral graffiti on the side of the road.  In the distance we could see the green of the mountainsides and the deep blue green of the ocean beyond the moonscape. 

Mourning is similar.  At first I felt like I had landed on the moon.  The terrain was rugged, desolate, and unfamiliar and went on forever.  Then I started to see little tufts of green, regrowth, show up--those moments of happiness, sometimes hope.  Then I started to see the lush green in the distance, abundant life.  Sometimes the road takes a turn and all I see is a field of lava, and then it turns again and there is green in the distance, the road starts to go uphill for a while and the going is harder, but the view is of the beauty of the sky and the clouds so I push on.  Then the road turns again and green valley and blue ocean are in view but I can't reach it yet.  But I see it, and I know that such abundance is in the future, but I have to get off the road to get to it.  That is where I am.  I see the green in the distance, its not as far away, but it isn't right here, although there are patches of green around me.

About three months after my dad died I remember the day when I said to myself "I don't want my dad's death to be what defines my life."  After my mom died, it took about nine months until I reached that point.  At twenty months since Tom died I am not yet ready to say that.  But what I can say is that I don't want the rest of my life to be defined by my loss.  I'm not ready to make that jump, but I see it in the future.  But until that time, I will continue on this twisting turning road through the rugged terrain of grieving, embracing as best I can experiences of this journey until I reach the portion of the road where joy and happiness is a part of the scenery.

Friday, August 12, 2016

The Canonization of St. Rado

Have you ever noticed that after someone dies, they suddenly become saintly?  People talk about how wonderful they are and no human person could ever live up to the exalted life of the one who has passed.

I said that I wasn't going to do that.  And yet I've found that perhaps I am.  We all know that Tom was less than perfect, there were things that drove me crazy.  However now some of those things are missed.  He had many shortcomings. He would be the first the tell you about them.  But.  But.  But.  I am finding that I really tend to focus on his goodness.  I don't want to be guilty of making a him a saint.  What I remember most though are his best qualities, the things that were really the essence of his soul.  His kindness.  His sense of humor.  His big open heart.  His ability to be present.  His protectiveness.  His humility.  His love. His care for others. His big booming laugh.  His hugs.  In some ways I feel like I am more in tune with his goodness, with his soul's essence since he has been gone because all of his messy human-ness is not constantly in my face. Tom would just laugh if people thought he was saint, he was far too humble for that.

So I think I now understand.  Perhaps I should build a shrine to St. Rado.  Of course it would have to have pizza on it.  And music.  And an eye-talian beef.  And a golf club.  And coffee.

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.