Thursday, May 28, 2015

Widow's Voice has a New Home

Dear Readers,

We are excited to share with you that our Widow's Voice blog has a new home!

We've moved our blog platform to our parent organization's (Soaring Spirits) website. You will find all the writers you love, as well as an archive of over 2,300 posts written by our team of widowed men and women, here:

Here's a few things we think you will love about our new home:

  • the ability to search our archives by topic, and by author 
  • the chance to get to know our past writers by viewing our author page
  • easy comment, share, tweet options at the end of every blog
  • immediate access to the many programs Soaring Spirits provides for widowed men and women
  • the photos on the new blog are vivid and beautiful!
We will still be writing every just click this link to find your Widow's Voice post for the day!

Thank you for reading, commenting, and sharing your hearts with us. We so appreciate the opportunity to create a community of support through our words...thank you for being a part of this community. 

Your Widow's Voice Writing Team

Where are you?

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again, because it never changes: Mike is ALWAYS on my mind. He doesn’t go away when I’m working, when I’m busy, when I’m cleaning or shopping, when I’m hanging out with friends old or new, when I’m listening to music or watching a movie…he doesn’t go away even when I’m thinking of my future that cannot include him. It’s like this little corner of my heart is, and always will be, reserved for him, and only him, and that awareness is constant, and eternal, at least as long as I shall live. 

BUT - at the same time - he is not here. He is never here. He is GONE. He is NEVER coming back. Sometimes I sit and concentrate on him - I call up my memory of him, how he looked, how he walked, what he wore, what it was like to be around him…I try and place him in my now, maybe as some kind of comfort, or maybe as some sort of reminder, hoping I will never forget all the little details. Trying somehow to keep him alive somewhere inside of me. In that sense I know he is truly gone, and over time it gets harder and harder to bring it all back.

Yesterday driving around town running errands I suddenly heard myself cry out loud, Mike, where are you?? as I pounded my hands on the steering wheel. No tears; just something more like frustrated disbelief. I just haven’t felt him around; I haven’t dreamed of him or seen any of the silly little signs I convince myself could be him poking me from beyond. (I am lucky I’ve had quite a few very incredible dreams of him since he died but none for a long time.) And I truly did wonder where he really WAS. Is he out there somewhere? Is he just gone? Despite my faith, I still wonder about it all.

So last night I had a dream and lo and behold, there he was. It was a silly dream; nothing earth-shaking. Just a silly little vignette that included him. He and I were in a parking lot of a local shopping area here in Kona; I could clearly see him standing there beside me, dressed in his favorite camouflage cap and t-shirt, holding a cup of Starbucks. He was clean shaven and not quite a gray as he was when he died; he looked somehow a little younger…very alive, and vibrant, and happy. He was going into the store and I was going to wait at the car for him. While he was gone I saw people coming out of a door behind the building so I went to investigate; sure enough I discovered a new little marketplace back there I hadn’t known existed before. A little drug store, a fruit market, and various food stands with various ethnic cuisines we simply don’t have here in our little town. I got really excited about my discovery and proceeded to try and call Mike to tell him.

My phone had no contact information for him, but I remembered his number so punched in the digits. When I connected it wasn’t him live; it was like I was listening in on a call or maybe a voicemail where he was talking to some friend of his about martial arts training, assuring him he could teach him what he wanted to learn. When I got back out to the parking lot he was also not to be found again. Then I woke up.

I lay there thinking - ok well thank you, THERE you are, Mike. It was good to see you. Then at the very same time - where the heck ARE you REALLY?? And the sad, sinking realization, for the millionth time, that I will never, ever see him again. At least, maybe, until I go where he is, wherever that is, if it is. Until then, I have only memories, pictures…a few of his camo caps…and the haunting embers of my dreamtime visions.


Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Total Mass Confusion~

Quite frequently these days, as I begin my 3rd year without him, I find this particular quote sent to me, or posted on my timeline. Grief is a stage through which we pass and not a place to linger.  Okay, I get that. I even agree with it.  But it doesn't help me a damn bit to read it.   

We are told that grief is an individual process with no timeline.'s a stage. Don't linger.  How do we know when we're lingering, is my question.  And even more so, when we're dealing with it in as many healthy ways as we can conceive, and the devastation remains present, how do we get from here to there? And anyways, aren't those two statements contradictory to each other?

I read a post today written by a woman offering life coaching, dealing specifically with widow support (the author is herself a widow), and she offered support in letting go of negative emotions such as sadness, loneliness, etc. Which sounds great on the surface but why are those necessarily negative emotions? Why are we as a culture so reluctant to give space to the darker emotions and recognize them as normal? Why must we march herd-like through life feeling only positive? Why are we pressured to move quickly through so-called negative emotions into the land of happy, happy, happy? Why must we always be tip-toeing through the fucking tulips? What about giving space to the darkness so that we can reach the fucking light?

You know what would be helpful in the midst of this confusion for me? If you're going to send me something about moving through grief, include step-by-step instructions as to how to do it. Don't just do a hit and run, along with a handy little tidbit about growing from grief or allowing it to destroy you.  Give me some solid shit I can hardwire into my brain and do. Because I will. I'll do whatever I need to do because I hate being this person I don't even recognize. Haven't recognized since the night my husband took his last breath.

This widowhood is the most confusing thing I've ever gone through. Ever.  I don't recommend it to anyone.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Tailor Made

Today, as I sit down to write with tired eyes, I must admit that although I miss Megan as much now as before, it has shifted over these past few months from an intense grief at the thought of her death to more of a longing for her to be present to witness where life has taken me since that time.

I have just returned from an extended weekend in Kentucky with an amazing woman named Sarah, who also happens to be the same Sarah the writes here on Widow's Voice every Sunday.  We met at Camp Widow East in February, completely by chance and/or fate, depending on your beliefs.  Neither of us had any intention of finding someone new at that time, but here we are. Three months after meeting, Sarah and I are a couple.  Not a day has passed since February 5th that we have not talked, and this past weekend, we were finally able to close the 1400 miles of distance, and bring our lives into the same physical space for a few days.  It was wonderful.  

 It's an odd thing, not only being a widower, but being with a widow.  Both Megan and Drew are eternally present in our lives and hearts, but now, after endless hours on the phone or Skype, I can almost feel Drew as a friend of mine.  It's as if I know him personally, and there are even moments where I mourn his loss.  There is no jealousy when Sarah speaks of him. In fact, I love that she gets that wide eyed, contented joy when describing an event or memory with him.  

Of course, there is always the thought that had Drew or Megan not died, neither of us would have met the other, but there is also the thought that had they not existed, it would have also prevented us from meeting.  The two of them made Sarah and I who we are.  I am thankful for Drew's love towards Sarah, and her love for him, because she would not be the same person without him.  I took Sarah to a restaurant on the Ohio river immediately after picking her up at the airport called "Drew's", simply because of the name.

Just as I feel a connection with Drew, I can feel the same connection between Sarah and Megan.  There is no competition between them.  They are not the same person, and although there is a multitude of similarities, there are just as many differences.  Megan would love her and her attitude (primarily because they both make fun of me).  That's how I knew that Sarah was not a "band-aid" or a "rebound".  I have not once looked at her and thought "well, Megan did it this way, and that means Sarah's way is wrong"

Although I am filled with happiness about Sarah, I am struggling to find a poignant, teachable moment.  I can't suggest that any widow or widower who is ready to date go out and find another widow, because not only are there good people outside of our "club" that could be just as compassionate and understanding, but there also remains the fact that I wasn't ready to date.  Fate happened.  She sat down at that table at Camp Widow, and we clicked.  I had no choice in the matter, and now we've fallen for each other.  We may have been tailor made for each other, but it's not because we're widowed.

I guess that the smartest thing I did was keep my eyes, and my heart open.  Just as I knew that I wasn't ready to go looking for someone else, I also knew that I shouldn't prevent a good thing from happening.

I hope that Sarah and I's relationship can give some hope to other widows and widowers, and inspire people to realize that although we may have lost the loves of our lives, that when they were lost, we were given a new life, and a chance to have a new love.  


Monday, May 25, 2015

This, Too, Shall Pass

Near the Retreat Centre, Adhisthana, in Herefordshire

When my husband and I were 'new', and so full of love for each other, he would caution me that this aspect of our relationship, the euphoria and the intensity, would change. "It won't always feel like this," he would say.  Extremist that I am, my heart opened and softened by his attentiveness, I did not believe it for a moment. I had found, finally, the love of my life, I thought, and the boundless love I felt for him would remain, and express itself, always, in exactly this way.

But, as with so many things, Stan was right. Our relationship shifted. We became more comfortable with each other, and able to focus on other parts of our lives. We grew to understand each other's rhythms and ways. We learned each other's triggers and soft spots. We shared past and present joys and sorrows. We learned how to live life, not gazing, constantly, into each other's eyes, but hand in hand, and facing the world. Together. Our relationship changed. It deepened. It grew, and developed, and got better, with the passage of time.

We didn't have enough time together. Only three and a half years. I so wanted to grow old with him by my side, to enrich our relationship as we aged. As the first anniversary of his death nears, I grieve, not only for him, but for us, and for all that we could have been.

This, too, shall pass. He would say that to me, often, in many different ways. He had a wisdom and a knowing that came from somewhere beyond this mundane existence. His wisdom came, not only from years of practise and formal study, although he did that, too. It came from his life experience, his willingness to be open to what that experience had to teach him, his ability to dig deep, and reflect. I appreciated all those aspects of him, when he was alive. But I see them more clearly, now, as I come to know him in a different light. 

Our relationships with our loved ones continue to shift and to grow, even after their deaths.

As my relationship with him changes, and I integrate him into the new life I am taking on, my relationship with the house that we shared has also begun to shift. When he first died, I was adamant that I would remain here, where he was, where we were, together, forever. I made all the arrangements to assume the mortgage, as a widow, as the house was only in his name, when he died. I couldn't imagine living anywhere else. I wanted to be surrounded by his things, in the midst of his community, comforted by his spirit. 

But recently, I have begun to notice a shift in my feelings. It is difficult for me, sometimes, to live where he was, where we were, together. It is so painful. I see him walking down the steps, one at a time, in the evenings, after his bath. When I come in from work, I still want to call for him, and tell him I'm home. I remember sitting with him, on this sofa, the last night of his life. I am immersed in him, every moment, when I am in this house. Sometimes I use the noise of the television and the distraction of internet to escape the constant onslaught of memories. Sometimes it is just too much.  And all that distraction is not healthy for me, either. Sometimes I feel imprisoned by this place. 

Yet the thought of letting go of it is also excruciatingly painful. What if I move somewhere else, and I lose him? What if I can't find him anymore? I tear up just thinking about it. 

This weekend, I gathered with my sangha at a retreat centre south of here. It was a beautiful setting, and the sun warmed my face as I walked amongst the fields of buttercups and dandelions. Away from the home we shared, freed, for a moment, from the visions and memories, I felt a sense of peace. 

He was present, too, at the retreat, with all of our sangha friends. We remembered him, and collected money for the fund set up in his name. People gave generously in tribute to him, and to carry on the work that he had begun to implement, at our centre. I felt his presence among us, and I knew that, had he been alive, we would have attended this retreat, together. But the memories were not so overwhelming, and constant. I was able to breathe, and relax, and reflect on how I am to carry on, in this life, on my own. And I began to consider the possibility of selling this house.

Yet, when I arrived home, I felt, too, a sense of comfort and peace. I was happy to be back. I made myself a warm drink and thought of him. I tidied up, and talked to him, as I often do, at night. Then I went to bed. Our bed.

I don't know, yet, what the future holds. I know that, if I am to stay here, I need to make some changes, and make it my own. It has been left virtually untouched since the morning we left here, together, for Gavin's funeral. I haven't had the heart to alter it. 

I am not going to make any rash decisions. There is so much to consider. But it feels good to be open to the possibility of change, to not hold hard and fast to my earlier, rigid stance. I am changing. My relationship with him, and with our house, is changing. 

All things change. And this, too, shall pass. 

Our living room

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Into A New Darkness

Well, here I am in the caves region of Kentucky. Last week I shared about the trip I would be on with my new guy - seeing each other in person for the first time since we met several months ago. As I write this, we're a few days into our trip. He is lying next to me now, munching away on donuts while I write. I'm finally ready to share a bit more about this person with you all... particularly because you may know him more than you think - or at least his writing. He is our very own Tuesday featured writer on Widow's Voice - Mike. 

We met at Camp Widow East back in February. I sat down beside this guy at the meet & greet on Thursday night, and for the entire rest of the weekend we were inseparable. We shared our whole stories with one another and laughed more than either of us had in ages. Something certainly clicked... although I had no clue then that it would end up meaning I would fall for someone new and be sitting here states away on some whole other adventure. 

I've been saying for three years now that Drew would give me a really obvious sign about someone new coming into my life. And Mike and I have had many, many obvious signs. One of my favorites was just a few days ago, within hours of arriving in Cincinnati for our trip. He surprised me with a short ferry ride across the Ohio river, and on the other side was a little restaurant he took me to... called Drew's. Imagine the delight on my face, and the love in my heart. Those are the moments I know that Drew will always be a part of us - just as his wife Megan will be. And speaking of Megan...

We walk inside and sit down by the window. It's dead in there, no one but us, as it's around 2pm in the afternoon. I said jokingly "Just watch... our waitress's name will be Megan". And sure enough, this very friendly waitress walks up and introduces herself as... you guess it... MEGAN. We both look right at each other in total disbelief. At the end of our lunch, we told her the whole story of us, including their names, and she was as amazed as we were. We chatted a while and there even ended up being other unreal similarities... so we had to get a picture with her for that first crazy memory of this new adventure.

Yesterday we made our way to Mammoth Cave National Park – the main reason for our trip here. We picked this place because it is something we could not have done with our loves that died. Drew was claustrophobic in small spaces, and Megan was unable to due to her medical condition and the bacteria in the air in caves. It's a hard pill to swallow... but the truth is there. We WILL do things with someone new... Things we never could have experienced had our loves not died. Maybe that's one of the gifts they leave us... the chance to discover new adventures in a way we couldn't have done with them. With new eyes and new hearts. I like to think it is.

We did a few tours yesterday of Mammoth Cave, the first cave either of us have explored in years. As we gazed out into the darkness of the tunnels underground, that feeling of wonder and childlike excitement about the unknown filled us both. As we hiked around some 300 feet below the surface of the earth, I couldn't help but think of the expansive metaphor before us.

Two people who have gone through unspeakable darknesses on our own in life, now walking willfully and quite literally into the darkness together – knowing full well that to love again will inevitably mean to endure pain again. Yet we are doing so with a sense of wonder, not dread. It's not easy to do. There have been moments on this trip when I have broken down crying because of how new love is reminding me of the love I lost, and also of the fears of losing someone else. But even with all of that, with all we have both endured, how amazing it is that each of us is still able to see wonder in the darkness.

I have thought this weekend about enduring the journey through my own darkness for the past three years. I've thought about all the pain and fear I have encountered in the dark, and also all the amazement and wonder I have found there. Treasures that cannot be found above ground, but only in the most hidden depths of ourselves. Perhaps that is what the darkness of grief can bring us... a different appreciation for the dark and the light.

One thing is for sure, today I am very grateful. After traversing the dark alone, it is beautiful to have someone to journey into the darkness with me. Someone with their own darkness who is not afraid of mine. I suppose that is the best kind of person to find – one with a galaxy much like our own inside their heart. One who looks into the dark with wonder.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Oh Happy Day

Something really awesome happened this week.  A very dear friend found out she was pregnant and rather than feel that expected pang of grief that had become standard when I hear of someone else’s ‘happy life announcement’, my first thought was how wonderfully excited I was for her.  This is huge you guys!  For 22 months now, I’ve had a horrible default reaction to the good news of others.  I hear of someone getting engaged; see one of those gushy ‘happy wedding anniversary my darling’ Facebook statuses; or God-forbid, catch wind of a baby announcement – then back comes that wave of grief.  

‘It could have been me’.  ‘Dan and I could have been pregnant by now’.  ‘We didn’t even get one wedding anniversary’ … all of the horrible, self-pitying thoughts that make you feel like a bad person and a really shitty friend. When this close friend told me, about a year ago, that they were going to start trying for a baby, I kept an encouraging smile on my face until I made it home and then let the tears flow.  My poor, broken heart just wasn’t able to feel joy at the thought of others taking those steps forward in life that were no longer available to me.  I wouldn’t wish my own situation on anyone and could never expect my friends to put their lives on hold, just because mine was – but I couldn’t help the emotions that came to the surface. I started to dread the day that my friend would eventually come to me with her happy news.  Would I be able to contain my own selfish reaction so that it wouldn’t take the shine off her announcement?  I was so nervous that this wonderful person, who has been such a support to me and shared my pain, would see through my smile and know that I wasn’t able to fully share in her happiness.  As the months passed, and no announcement came, instead I saw her disappointment and the early stages of worry that they weren’t getting their special miracle. My relief at not having to force my happiness for her started mixing with my sadness at her disappointment.  My friend was experiencing her own kind of loss and my heart hurt for hers.

So, this week, when she received her good news, I was so caught up in my joy for her that, at first, I didn't even realise that any feelings of my own envy were absent!  I was excited, so happy that a new life was coming in to our world.  I can't wait to see my friend go through this special experience and become a mother.  I'm ready to be by her side, every step of the way. And at the end of the nine months, a new 'niece' or 'nephew' will come in to my world and in to my growing circle of love.  

I am so grateful that this is a happy day.  It's funny, how things work out.  I actually wonder if the universe had a plan up it's sleeve when it decided to wait awhile before sending my friend her miracle.  Just long enough for her best friend (me) to get to a good place where my heart had healed enough to share in her happiness.  

Friday, May 22, 2015


This Monday at grief-counseling:
Caitlin: "Any changes lately on how you're feeling about the concept of "someone else?" Do you still feel like you have no interest in dating? Does the thought of someone else still make you feel sick to your stomach?"
Me: "Still no interest. I have zero desire to actively go out searching for love. I spent years dating before I met my husband, and it sucked and nothing came of any of it except heartbreak. I'm not going on any dating sites or going to bars or any of that. It's just NOT me. That's not what I feel comfortable doing. If I'm going to find love again, it will be through friends, or through just living my life and doing things I love and finding someone with similar interests, or the same way I met Don - through chance / fate. I'm open to that happening. I'm just not willing to go out and look for it. "

After my appointment, I was supposed to meet a friend for a light dinner in the city before heading home. Got to the restaurant and she texted that she had to cancel last minute due to an emergency. I was already seated there with an iced tea, so I figured I'd stay and get a light dinner and wait out the rush hour subway traffic going home. The waiter, a very cute Italian guy, said: "Who stood you up?" and winked at me. "My friend couldn't make it so I'm just gonna kill some time and get dinner anyway." He kept lightly flirting with me throughout my meal and we kept having a fun exchange, but I couldn't tell if it was actual flirting or just "server flirting" where he was being extra-nice in order to get a better tip. So I asked him.
"Are you flirting with me, or do you just want a nice tip?" I was shocked that I asked him that. I am never that open or at ease with men. But for some unknown reason, I just thought to myself "what the hell", and asked him. He laughed and said: "It's a little bit of both, to be honest. I'm definitely flirting, but I'd also love a nice tip!" When my bill arrived, he put a little mini-cupcake on top of it and brought it out to me. "Whats this? Does everyone get a cupcake or just me?" "Just you", he said. "Sometimes you just need a little cupcake in your life. Have a great night. " 
I opened my bill, and he wrote in pen at the bottom: "Dine with us again, Bellissima! " (which means 'lovely' or 'very pretty girl' in Italian, for anyone who doesn't know).
I left my pay, along with a nice tip, and my business card, which has my phone number and email address and all that, but also comes across as being "professional". Plus, this way he will know what he is dealing with if he did decide to contact me - as soon as he goes to my website, he will see that I'm a widow, grief coach, comedian, actor, writer, speaker, and did I mention widow??? That's a lot to take in. If he reads all that and STILL contacts me, then he deserves me meeting him for coffee at the very least. I'm quite sure nothing will happen with any of this, and to be honest, I actually don't really care. I mean that. Truly. This little story has absolutely nothing at all to do with me being ready to "date" again, or wondering if he will call me, or anything like that. It has to do with my reaction to having a total stranger flirt with me and be nice to me in "that way." 

I'm telling you all this story because for the first time since my husband died, a guy flirting with me didn't make me feel physically sick to my stomach or send me into hysterical fits of sobbing. It felt "okay", and that is a HUGE leap from how it felt, even just a few short months ago. 

When you are smack in the middle of grief and loss, it always feels as if the emotions that you have will last forever - that you will feel this way FOREVER. But it's not true. It's just not true. The feelings shift and change as you process through the loss. It takes a lot of time and a lot of work, but they do change. YOU change. I've changed.

 I never thought I would be "okay" with someone harmlessly flirting with me, ever again. It felt soooo awful, even just a few short months ago. It felt like I was cheating on my husband, because I still felt married. Sometimes I still do feel married, but I'm finally learning how to shift my relationship with my husband into something very different than what it was before. It is something that my grief counselor has been talking about for a long time - something called "continuing bonds". At first, I didn't know what the hell she meant by that term, but now I'm starting to get it. Now, I am starting to understand that the relationship I have with my dead husband is still a relationship, but it's a very different relationship than the one I had when he was alive. Here. On earth. 

 And now, suddenly, but also very gradually, a male person flirting with me no longer feels awful. It feels "okay". And that, my dear friends, is what they call healing. 

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Turning Corners

My friend Margaret just had her second angelversary the other day, on the 17th. I never knew her fit, beautiful husband Dave, who died unexpectedly of a stroke way to early, at age 50; I wish I had, but I am incredibly blessed now to know Margaret. It so happens that Mike also died on a 17th, so through the past two years we have made note of this date together many times, though as our lives have gotten busier again we’ve started to miss connecting on a few. But two years is a big one - we can’t help but remember what was happening on that date and that will probably never change. No matter what else is going on in our “after-lives”, those days still bring the grief roaring up.

I’m three months ahead of her so for me this past 17th was 27 months - or two years and three months. I’m not really sure how to count it now; do we measure time as if we’re telling the age of a toddler, in months? At what point do we start saying it in years? Years makes it sound long…but 27 months is 819 days. In days it doesn’t seem very long at all. After Mike died I figured out that we had been together for 5040 days. That didn’t seem very long at all either for an entire marriage, though I’m grateful for every single day we had, good or bad.

This past 17th at the shop where I work I was chatting with some customers who were from Mike’s home town. I found myself relating some of his memories of the place, and then of course the question came, what he’s doing now…well he passed away over two years ago now, I heard myself saying. After they left I pondered how I felt joy in passing on a few memories of his, as well as a bright description of my playful, special husband. And how I glazed over the timing of his death. In that moment, with those people, it didn’t seem necessary to be more specific but it was indeed exactly 27 months to the day.

After you lose someone close to you and people say things like, well, time will heal, you want to shoot them in the head. For me, time itself has not healed. It does change things - there is no way around that. But my grief now feels more like of like a see-saw of emotions…some days it seems easier, others are very much harder, even regardless of the day of the month or how long it’s been. I was talking to my stepdaughter the other day and we agreed that our discussions and mentions of Mike have changed as time has gone on. Sometimes we feel as if we’ve turned a corner in some sense in terms of coming to grips with the fact that he’s no longer with us. Then something else will happen that will drag us backwards again for awhile.

We are perhaps now forever embedded with certain triggers that can set off at any moment, without warning. I can work towards creating my “new normal” we all talk so much about, and then find myself sitting and staring into space, caught up in a memory or feeling I didn’t expect to land on me in that moment. Sometimes I’m surprised the tears don’t come; other times they arrive suddenly.

I can keep turning corners, so to speak, but after a few turns I often find myself standing somewhere that seems suspiciously familiar to the place where I started this journey. The changes I’ve gone through since Mike died have made it so I have other things in my head to think about; other tasks, thoughts, relationships, faces, plans…the grief is not alone in there anymore like it was those first dreadful months, so it does have to fight to be on top now. But it doesn’t go away. I feel as if it will always be lurking around that next corner, though I will try and keep turning them anyway.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Catching a Glimpse, I Think~

In the last few weeks I've caught a glimpse, I think, into the world of soldiers and Marines who return from the war zones, having defied death, seen their buddies die, who have had their hearts pierced with the tenuousness of life.

So often, I've read in numerous memoirs, they return to their so called normal lives but they go out and buy fast motorcycles, faster cars; they become thrill seekers.  And I think I have some understanding of what goes on in their heads and hearts as they look at life around them.  Just a glimpse, really, because their experiences are ever so much more than mine has been.

I don't think they're courting death so much as they're trying to find something...anything...that might make them feel again.  Something that will overcome the grief-filled apathy that comes along with numbness.  Something that will help them connect again to the living, maybe jump-start the very breath in their lungs.

That's where I am in these last few weeks.  I feel within me an urge to push, push, push beyond comfort zones, stretch outside of any and all boundaries.

As more time has passed since Chuck's death, the emptiness inside me grows.  Irrespective of my kids and grands and friends and other family, all of whom I love dearly, I feel completely alone.  Life goes on, as it should.  Yes, I know I'm loved by so many and I am so blessed with that, but those relationships don't replace being someone's someone, do they?

What is this growing sense of wanting to live on the edge?  Do I want to sky-dive? No.  Honestly, my first thought is to go out somewhere, anywhere, and go crazy with lovers.  Not in a one-night stand way but in a getting to know a man and then having wild and crazy sex with him.  And even as I write this, I realize that this crazy urge is the result of the distinct lack of intimacy in my life since Chuck died.  It has to do with the disconnect with my sense of female-ness and connecting with male energy so that I can (might) experience that again.  It has to do with wanting to be hugged and kissed and touched by a strong man.  Even though I want desperately for that man to be Chuck.

I'm so sad that Chuck died and I don't know anymore if it's sadness that is emptiness inside me or emptiness with sadness and there is a burning wish in my soul to force myself into some semblance of feeling again, of connectedness again.

I can't stand it that he died.  I can't stand it that I'm a widow.  I'm sad and it's overwhelming and it makes me think what the fuck I'm just going to find a decent guy and have wild and crazy sex and then maybe....maybe it will be enough of a distraction that I'll get a break and...breathe.

I don't know.  I don't know much of anything any longer.  Except the emptiness filled with his absence.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Fractured Relationships

In my extended family, there's another young widow, a suicide survivor. 

Yesterday, from a distance, I saw the effects of grief on her family and friends when all the disagreements, resentments, anger, frustrations, disappointments and grudges amongst each other exploded on social media.  The issues have popped up occasionally, but not to this extent nor this explosively.

Some are long-standing, obviously predating the loss and potentially have nothing to do with the loss per se.  Others seem to be a consequence of loss, either on the widow or those around her.  But they all came out.

But why yesterday with such force?

It was the anniversary that many of us in hindsight say was the hardest.

Not the first.

But the second. 

When you're not really expecting that sledgehammer.  

Here's the thing - she's been accessing mental health support from the start.  She may well have been expecting the harder hit of this anniversary.  But everyone else quite possibly wasn't.  Yesterday's events may not even be seen by them as founded in grief, but observing from a distance, being a year or so further into my journey, I wouldn't be surprised if at the absolute guts of it all, and for the timing in particular, is grief in all it's terrible 'glory'.

We get inundated with advice - where to find support, encouragement to seek counselling, access peer support groups face to face or on-line.  But our friends and family may not get that advice (or follow their own advice!!), seek that support and then experience similar reverberations of their grief at key dates that we do.

And we potentially have to deal with that fall-out, too.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Life Piles Up

Stan, Gavin, and me, at his daughter's 40th birthday.

It is the middle of May, now, and we are moving toward the anniversary of your death. Sunday, May 24th, is the day the police came to tell us they had found your son, dead, in his flat. I remember that moment as if it happened yesterday. It was a Saturday afternoon, and we had not long returned from our weekly shop. We were relaxing on the sofa, and watching a silly show. You put the show on pause to answer the doorbell. Our doorbell was set to the melody of "It's a Small World," an apt tune, for us.

I remember your face when you walked through the door, with the police officers trailing behind you. All the colour had drained out of it. They sat on one sofa, while we sat on the other. They asked you to tell them about Gavin. I remember you talked about him for a long time, about his struggles in his life, how he had been doing so much better, in the past year, but how it seemed that, recently, his life had again taken a downward turn.  Perhaps you were trying to stave off the inevitable. Then the words came: "Well, sir, there is no easy way to say this, but..."

I remember how your face fell. You took off your glasses, and the tears came, and you brushed them quickly away. The officers lingered for a few moments, while we poured over the details: where he was found, what they knew, which was nothing, where to find his body, now,  and when it could be released. I still have the card, in the drawer of the coffee table, that the kind officer gave us, with his name and contact details. Officer Leigh Carnally.  He put his hand upon your shoulder, as they stood and said goodbye. "I'm so sorry for your loss."

I sat beside you. We were both in shock. I had thought that perhaps they had come to tell us Gavin was in trouble, but you said no, the police here don't come round for that. You knew, the moment you opened the door, what they had come to tell you. You had been dreading this day for twenty years. 

Life has piled up without you. It is hard to recall all the things that have happened since that day, and the day, two and a half weeks later, of your death. I remember every detail of those days and weeks. But since then? It has been a blur. I have put one foot in front of the other, and I have swum through this cesspool of grief. I don't know how I have done it. I have managed to get to the shops, to purchase vegetables and bread. I have mopped the floors, hoovered the carpets, met with solicitors, changed the mortgage, conferred with creditors, paid the bills. I have taken care of all the little things I used to detest, the things you used to take care of, for us, when you were here. 

Meanwhile I have carried your memory around in my arms, like a basket of fruit, doling out pieces of you to anyone who cared to listen. I like to tell people about your ways. I like to reflect on how you were able to be present, with life, and how, in spite of all your childhood strife, and previous struggles, you were so content. I like to share funny stories about your eccentricities and quirks. It makes me feel closer to you, somehow. 

Your grandchildren have flourished, this year. One of them has passed her driver's test, on the first try, not an easy feat, here in England. She thought of you when she passed it. She knew you would be so proud of her. She and her cousin, your other grandchild, have been accepted at University, and will be going there, in the autumn. Your other grandson has grown, in inches and in maturity. Remember how you used to put him on your lap? It would not be so easy to do that, now. 

Your children miss you. There have been rivers of tears shed, for you and for Gavin, this year. They have tried to carry on without you, and to live in a way that would make you proud. They are such kind and compassionate and loving people, your kids. You raised them well. 

Me? I, too, have tried to live this life without you, this life I did not choose, in a way that would make you proud. I have had many wobbles along the way. I have had days where all I could do was curl up under the duvet and watch mindless telly. I have had days where I couldn't leave the house, because my face has been puffed and swollen and blotched with tears. But always I manage to move through it. I get up the next day and go out into the world. I read, I write, I hike, I meditate, I am even doing a bit of yoga, most days. 

Your beloved Sangha is now a big part of my life. They have welcomed me with their open, loving arms. This weekend, we are gathering down south, for a Sangha retreat. There will be about seventy of us, there. I know you'll be there, too. You will linger in the hearts and minds of those who loved you. We'll share memories and have a laugh. 

It has been almost a year since you left us, and life has piled up without you. I don't know how it happened. I don't know what to do with the time I have left. I wish you were here to guide me, with your gentle wisdom and support.  I've had to let go of your physical presence. I miss your embrace, your warmth, your touch. 

But as long as I walk this planet, your spirit will live.  I'll carry my basket of memories in my arms, and share parts of you with everyone I meet. I'll try to live in a way that will honour you. I'll step into this life I did not choose, and one day, perhaps, I will be able to embrace it. I know you would want that for me. I know you would want me to live.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Minefields & the Miles Ahead

Next week is a very big week in my world. Early Thursday morning, I will be hopping on a plane to see this new man that has come into my life. Yes, something I haven't shared yet is that we live pretty far away from each other. I'll be sharing more of the details next week, but it will be the first time seeing each other again since we met several months ago.

So yup... not only am I beginning again, but beginning with distance. Because apparently, the universe decided just being widowed and dating locally was not a huge enough challenge on its own. The distance has created a whole other set of challenges, but also a few benefits. It has created safety for me in this very scary and fragile world of trying to love again after death. I've had a buffer zone, allowing me to keep my life here the same for the most part while gradually opening the door of my heart, just a small bit at a time. It has been a beautiful experience, but not without difficulty.

Let me tell you, as soon as I began to open my heart again, oh how the triggers came flooding in. At every small step of the way... on every day that I choose to open that door of my heart just a millimeter more to this new man, the triggers are there waiting to rush in. At first this scared the shit out of me. At first, I was so terrified of having the triggers climb inside my heart that I was triggering myself ABOUT having triggers. I was in fight or flight mode about it. And then something began to happen... I realized this person was still here. Still listening, still supporting, still loving me. Doing everything he could from a thousand-plus miles away to comfort me and acknowledge my feelings. And I remembered, this is what Drew always did for me. At each turn, when I met a trigger, I shared it and it was heard. This was how he helped me to heal my old wounds. And this new person is doing the very same thing. With his patient love, I am finding there is so much room for healing.

This past week has been a grand buffet of triggers. On Thursday night, he announced excitedly that it is now just ONE week until we will see each other. And underneath my excitement the trigger swooped in. Within moments I was in tears... because Drew died exactly a week before I was supposed to go visit him up north where he was working. One week before seeing each other. It was a trigger I didn't even see coming... but one that seems obvious now. Instead of shutting down about it, I opened up. I cried to my new guy, and I told him what I was feeling, and how scary it was for me. And he just reminded me that he will be there. Just a few minutes of feeling deeply heard... it passed right through.

There have been many others splintering off from this as we get nearer to the date... like thinking about having to say goodbye at the end of our trip. Not knowing if it might be our final goodbye, because after all, I didn't have any idea the last time either. I hate that new love means new triggers... but, I'm deciding it is worth it.

We are days away from our trip now, and I am gradually learning how accept the new triggers surrounding this whole thing. I am excited beyond belief, but also emotional. I know seeing him in person again will be a trigger. The physical closeness will be a trigger. The goodbyes will be a trigger. And likely a dozen other micro-triggers I won't have even considered.

I am very aware that I am traveling into what may look like a minefield in the next week. And there is something actually very exciting about taking that risk. The thing is, I think most of the fields we travel in life may only have one or two actual mines. Yet our triggers are like signs telling us there are hundreds... telling us to turn back, not move, there is danger everywhere, be afraid. If there is one thing my life with Drew taught me, it is to question those signs. To not listen to the signs of my triggers telling me to turn back, but instead decide that love is worth walking through the minefield for. LIFE is worth walking through the minefield for.

Drew was worth the risk of having my heart blown to pieces when he died. And it is worth risking the chance that I may be blown to pieces again. It is worth it to feel the messy, uncertain, electric energy of living life fully. It is worth deciding to trust even though I have no clue whether I will be hurt... just to feel the cool rush of aliveness pumping in my veins. I know now, that I can put myself back together again. That is a gift his death has given me. And I also know, that some of the most beautiful parts of life are waiting just on the other side of my fear. I am walking ahead... into that so-called minefield with adventure - not fear - on my mind.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

A Day to Celebrate Love

When my husband died, I was still in the process of integrating in to his 'before life' and forming connections with his friends.  We lived in Brisbane and he was from Sydney, so most of his close friends weren't local and we therefore didn't get to hang out with them regularly.

I knew they were wonderful people though, lots of fun, loyal friends to Dan and the kind of people I was looking forward to having in my life too.

When he passed away unexpectedly, six weeks after our wedding, one of the many random thoughts that ran through my mind was 'now I will lose my connection to all of these people whom I was really looking forward to getting to know!' Luckily for me, I wasn't entirely correct.

Sure there are some whom I lost touch. Some of them have stayed in contact, checking in on important dates, liking my Facebook posts, etc.  And others have been more present throughout the past 22 months and I'm now blessed to call them friends of my own accord.

This was a great surprise to me. I wasn't expecting it but am so happy to not only have them in my life - to share my love for Dan and swap memories with - but to be making new memories together through our own genuine connection.

One in particular has been an incredible support.  She went to school with my husband and lived down the street from him. They'd formed a special life-long brother/sister connection that they'd both held dear.  She had also, many years earlier, experienced her own grief at the loss of a partner when her boyfriend died unexpectedly, and consequently, fought her own battle with severe depression.

After Dan's death, this friend called or text me at least once a week for a very long time.  Even thought she lived in another state, I started feeling like she was one of the few people I could talk to about what I was going through and rely on to listen to me and 'be there' with me in my darkest days.
This regular 'checking in' didn't stop at that point where most other people start to forget or drop off, it continued for well into the second year and we still talk regularly now.  I value and treasure both her friendship and the connection it gives me to my husband.

So when I heard that her long-term boyfriend had proposed and they were planning their wedding, I was over the moon for my friend and honoured to be invited to their wedding.  However, when the invitation arrived, I saw it would be held the week after Dan's death anniversary, on the same date of his funeral.

I knew that this friend would not only have no idea of the significance of this date for me (the funeral day is something that not many would think about), I also knew she'd be mortified if I told her the impact it had on me.

So, over the past couple of months, I've been thinking about what to do.  On one hand, I really want to be there to celebrate my friend's happy day.  A hopeless romantic, I have always loved weddings and was honoured to be invited.  But on the other hand, I knew this would be a difficult time for me. Possibly not the best day to be travelling interstate, to a 'love' themed event where I wouldn't know many people.

I was torn.  I didn't have to make a quick decision, it's still a couple of months away, so I let it sit and wait until the answer came to me.  We continued to speak regularly, my friend was very understanding and never put any pressure on me to attend but couldn't keep the excitement out of her voice when I enquired about her wedding plans.

As an example of what a wonderful person she is, they happy couple even asked my permission to incorporate Dan in to their day - choosing a reading from one of his favourite books and asking guests to consider making a donation to a charity that supports people with depression, in lieu of a wedding gift.

This week, I finally made my decision - and booked my flights to attend.  This was based on a range of factors.  Another friend offered to come with me as my 'plus one' and keep me company; the excitement that I felt for my engaged friend started feeling stronger than the dread I felt for my husband's pending anniversary; and I decided that the 1st of August didn't have to ONLY be about the day we said goodbye to Dan - but it could also be the day to celebrate something beautiful.

I chose to make it a day to celebrate love.  The love that my friend shares with her husband-to-be, and the love that brought me not only to Dan but to this special person he heralded into my life.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Things In Common

This might sound kind of silly or stupid or not at all important in the grand scheme of things related to losing one's life partner to death - but just bear with me, if you don't mind. It's how I've been feeling lately, and I feel the need to get these thoughts out.

There are a lot of things that my husband and I had in common. A lot of things. We connected through music, and met through music, so music was our biggest connector. We went to blues clubs and jazz clubs and rock concerts together, and would sit around our apartment playing CD's for each other and introducing one another to a new sound or a new band we had heard. My husband loved tennis. He almost went semi-pro in his younger days, but his mother didn't support his dreams to play, so he ended up joining the Air Force instead. Eventually, when he was done there, he became a paramedic, but tennis was always in his soul and he was playing right up until the day he suddenly died. He got me into tennis too. I became a huge tennis fan, and on our very first date (after almost 3 years of a long-distance relationship from Florida to NJ, where we hadn't yet met each other in person), I took him to the U.S. Open in New York, for 3 days in a row. We had a blast, and it became our annual tradition after he moved up here. We loved the Yankees together, and went to many games at both the old and the new Yankee stadium. We saw playoff games together, and he fell in love with baseball and the Yankees because of me and my love for the game. We were always doing that with and for one another - my dreams would become his dreams and his interests would become mine. Not out of any type of obligation or need to be together all the time (in fact, we were both extremely independent people and loved our time alone), but because there was always a genuine desire to find out more about what made the other tick. My husband Don was a smart man. He taught me things every single day. He loved history and science, and he loved solving puzzles and mysteries of any kind. We would watch shows like 48 Hours and he would always have it figured out in the first 5 minutes. "Oh yeah - the husband killed her. He wanted her life insurance money. And that cousin of his? He's in on it too. He looks shifty. I don't trust him." He was always right too.

And then there was the world of entertainment. When my husband moved his life out of Florida to come to New Jersey to be with me, he did not like New Jersey. At all. He hated the place actually, but he knew this is where I needed to be to live my dreams of being a performer, actor, comedian, writer. He believed in me and knew that Florida is not where I would find the most opportunity - New York was. And Don loved NYC. He loved that we lived minutes away from the city, and he loved it anytime we would go into the city and see a Broadway show or go to a concert or go to his favorite place, Central Park. I always thought it was the coolest thing having a husband who loved going to the theater with me. He loved musicals. I used to joke with him all the time: "You sure you're not gay?" (Being in the world of theater myself all my life, I rarely meet a straight man who isn't involved in the arts himself, who is into musical theater). He loved comedy. He came to most of my shows, but even more than that, we both had the same taste in comedy and what we found funny. He had a huge appreciation for the craft of comedy, and legends like Johny Carson, George Carlin, and Carol Burnett. And yet, he also loved today's comedy. We watched Conan and Letterman all the time together. He loved South Park, Modern Family, Curb Your Enthusiasm. There are so many things that we loved together and did together and watched together.

A lot of things, it seems, are coming to an end, or have come to their end lately. People retiring, shows going off the air, entertainers we loved dying or getting older - it is such a strange and lonely feeling to be nearing the end of these things, and to be doing it alone, instead of with my husband. When Derek Jeter retired last year, it felt to odd to be watching those last games and seeing all the hoopla and the tributes, without Don. One of our favorite shows to watch together, Mad Men, has it's series finale on Sunday. I will be watching it by myself, instead of having the commentary and the back and forth dialogue about what we thought, with my husband. David Letterman, my biggest late-night television comedy hero, has his last show ever Wednesday, May 20th. How can that be happening without Don seeing it? B.B. King died yesterday. We spent hours and hours in his club in NYC, seeing many different blues bands, and going to the Beatles Sunday Brunch, and more. It feels weird to lose important people and things in entertainment or sports or other things, and not have Don here to talk about those losses. Again, I know this might seem small in the scheme of things, but right now, lately - it is what I'm feeling. I miss all the things we had in common. Sure, I still do most of these things alone or with other friends, but it's just not the same. Watching a Yankee game alone is boring. Going out to a blues club by myself isn't the greatest either, nor is witnessing the end of an era in baseball or late-night TV - alone on my bedroom TV. It just feels lonely, and Im having a tough time getting used to it.

Surprisingly enough, my cats are not that much fun to watch Letterman with. They rarely laugh and they never say anything.

Holy shit, I miss my husband. But even more than that, right now, I miss my friend.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Time Spent

Seriously there are just not enough hours in the day. And then when I think about it, there aren’t enough days in the year, or years in a life.

There’s always so much to do…so much stuff to deal with, bills to be paid, shopping and work to do…I can’t remember being this busy when Mike was still alive, at least after we closed our school. Looking back I am so grateful we had what seemed like slow, happy days together before he left us, and after he’d retired. Maybe that’s not how it was; sometimes I panic that I can’t just quite remember how it was anymore. Am I starting to forget things about my previous life? Is this just how it’s going to be?

What I remember are mornings on our lanai drinking coffee, maybe an errand. Maybe time spend digging in the garden, which is dead and bare now, or a trip to the water where Mike loved to play in the waves. I don’t go much without him anymore. Then evenings on our lanai drinking wine, him playing the ukulele, watching the sun go down. After dark, cooking dinner, and an episode or two of our favorite show, or maybe a movie. Early to bed for him; me, maybe a couple of hours on the computer before I turned in. The next day: repeat.

I guess there was probably a lot I don’t specifically remember about all the little things we were dealing with or talking about at the time. Maybe that’s not a bad thing. Because these memories are good, and I find myself savoring them, as I sit on the lanai now so often by myself, in his rocker, thinking about how much that jade plant on the table there might be able to tell about all those conversations, if it could talk, and remember. That plant has been there for almost a decade now and has seen a lot, let me tell you.

Today has been busy, trying to cram in all kinds of errands and chores between work days…I still want to reorganize my office and clean out the garage; there are paintings that sit half-finished and a piano that doesn’t get played enough, and a book half written. Some days, just keeping up with the income-earning part of my life is about all I can handle…other than an evening or two out with my new guy, or having dinner with friends. Because making time for that seems more important than ever in this short life.

So another day nearing it’s end; another morning of busy appointments and work tomorrow; another week gone by, another month gone by…another year older and closer to my own death. Frankly, that’s just how it is. I wonder how much Mike thought about his death, during those last happy and lazy days we spent together. Whether he was conscious of spending that time doing things that made him happy…or whether he was just traipsing along one day to the next, never knowing or thinking much about the end.

I guess I’ll wonder forever, till it’s my time. But one this is for sure: having lived through the death of my beloved husband, I will never take any of it for granted. He is constantly on my mind as I run those errands, or do that laundry, that now doesn’t include anything he wants or needs. He is always in my heart when I spend time with friends. I will always, every day, be missing him, and yet also will always be thinking how much I want to squeeze every last drop out of it all, as I like to imagine he did.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015


Twisting.  Writhing.  Hurting.  Shrieking.

Vomit urge.  Nerves on skin.  Racing pulse.  Butterfly stomach.

Dislocated.  Disoriented.  Discombobulated.

Longing.  Yearning.  Starving.  Reaching.

Empty arms.  Full heart.  Meat-slicer in chest.

Passion with no place to go.  Love with no release.

Wandering.  Roaming.  Searching.  Wishing.

Eyes tightly closed Remembering.  Eyes wide open Tears.

Sleeping.  Waking.  Moving.  Memory.





Tuesday, May 12, 2015

The First Mother's Day

Two days ago, I experienced my first Mother's Day without Megan.  Had you asked me back in January how I would have handled it, I would have expressed sheer terror at the prospect.  At that time, just two months since losing her, all I could imagine was that I would be an emotional train wreck, and would probably have just called my mother and mother-in-law to wish them a happy day, and stayed holed up in my house.

That isn't what occurred, however.  Yesterday was "OK", for lack of a better term.

Our tradition for the past few years had been for Shelby and I to wake up early, go downstairs, make a mess of the kitchen preparing bacon, eggs, pancakes, and coffee, and bring it to Megan in bed, along with a card and a small gift.  Shelby would turn some cartoons on and we'd sit and talk, all three of us, until Megan was ready to get out of bed.  It was a simple acknowledgment of how special she was, and that we would do anything for her.  We would clean up the kitchen and get our day started, where we would be visiting our parents and probably going out to dinner in the evening.

I woke up Sunday at that same early time that I always do, fully aware that it was Mother's Day, and painfully acknowledging the fact that for the first time in eight years, Megan wasn't there to cook breakfast for.  The dogs, having woke me up, were fed and let outside, and I went back to bed.  The bacon stayed in the freezer, and the coffee pot sat there cold.

Sunday was, well, just Sunday.

After a few hours, I roused and went downstairs to find Shelby watching some cartoons, and the dogs, as per usual, passed out on the couch beside her.  I asked if she was hungry, she responded with a yes, and asked if we could cook.  This suggestion seemed completely foreign to me for some reason.  I think that I may have forgotten in that moment that cooking breakfast wasn't just for special occasions, and I casually suggested we just go to McDonald's.  Even Shelby was somewhat miffed at this, as it is very rare that we eat McDonald's period, let alone on a Sunday morning.

We returned home, greasy, bagged food in hand, and sat out on the deck to have breakfast.  I began to think about what Mother's Day would or should be in the future.  I don't want random Egg McMuffins at 10:00 AM to be our new tradition.  This was one of those times where it would just be nice to shoot a text to Megan and say "What do you think we should do?"

I felt incredibly "single" at that moment.  This started as neither a depressing nor contented feeling.  It was just present, acting as a catalyst to my thoughts.  I'm a single parent.  Within the four walls of our home, Mother's day has lost it's happy connotations.  Now, it only sharpens the focus on Megan's death.  It serves as a reminder that Shelby will never make breakfast in bed for her own mother, ever again.  At just 8 years old, Shelby is celebrating Mother's Day by sitting on a deck and eating fast food with her dad.  This is not what I had in mind.

This brought me to thinking about the woman I am now dating.  Shelby adores her.  She has no children of her own, but I know she is an incredible mother nonetheless, and she understands (and sympathizes with) how confusing this journey is for not only me, but also for Shelby.  I am indescribably lucky to have someone that I can at least bounce things off of, and not have it seen as "baggage".  Undeniably, the thought crossed my mind that she may be celebrating Mother's day with us in the future.

As I sat and let all of these thoughts manifest, Shelby began playing with the dogs and laughing.  It was one of her deep belly laughs, the one you hear when you know she doesn't have a care in the world.  It was then that I knew that it will be Shelby that dictates how we celebrate her mother.  If it means cooking breakfast, and eating it ourselves, then so be it.  If it means eating fast food, then we'll do that.  She is old enough now that she can make her own judgments, and I will support her in whatever she wants to do, just as I did Megan.  Mother's day will now be Shelby's day.

I may make suggestions to her, but ultimately, I still have my mother to celebrate.  Only Shelby truly understands what it's like to have lost hers.  Perhaps in this case, she should be my guide.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Nero's Cry

Jacob's Ridge/Pig Village

This week, on an animal sanctuary in Southern Spain, I am surrounded by rock, and the nude, bare earth echoes the inner emptiness I feel. In England, all that green and growing doesn't match my insides. Here, this rock, this heat, this rugged blend of pine and desert wildflower, poking up from parched earth, speaks to my spirit. Here, amongst this rock, my heart feels at ease.

 I awaken at early light and walk the dirt path to the pig run, and enter their space. Carmella comes to smell and nudge me with her snout, and I place my hand upon her coarse, bristled skin. I sit in the dirt and wait for her to realise that I will not hurt her, and, after a few moments, she lies down next to me. I stretch my legs around her so that I can rub her belly, and she rolls on her side so that I can get a better reach. She grunts her pleasure and closes her eyes. I breathe deep. I slow my breathing to match hers, in rhythm and depth, and I rub her until she's had enough, awakens from her brief slumber, and rises, moving on toward the back of the pen. Our encounter is a healing balm for us both.
In the morning hours, we stroke and feed and water the animals, or work in the garden. My skin bakes  in the sun, from pasty white to the brown shade of rock that encircles this vast landscape. Here, my ears have a rest from the noise of city life. Here, I listen to the call of the birds, the neighing of horses, the barking of dogs, the grunting of pigs. 
In the early afternoon, as the sun beats down hard upon the earth, we are summoned inside, to the cool of the dining room, where our generous host nourishes us with healthy and delicious vegan dishes. I gather with the other volunteers around the welcoming wooden table, and we eat and laugh and rest, together, with this family that has opened itself to strangers, and made us all friends. 
They asked me to write down my next of kin as an emergency contact. Next of kin? My next of kin are all gone. Not really. I do have family. But they are far away, in America, and wouldn't be of much help, should something happen to me, here. 
I am an orphan. Most of my family has passed before me. I have piled their deaths, one by one, like a pile of rocks, stretching up to this clear, clean, immense, blue sky. My father, my sister, my mother, and now. The love of my life, swept away from me in an instant, after it took me decades to find him.
 I am awash in death. 
I have friends in England. I have Stan's family, and I know they would be there for me. But I was only a part of their lives for a few years before Stan died. I wonder what they thought of me when I first came around. Perhaps they saw me as just another of his tenuous relationships, one of many he had had in his recent life, in his quest to find the one who understood him and loved him without condition. I like to think that I was that one.I like to think that he was able to settle in, a bit, when he met me, and realise that he had someone who would care for him and nurture his growth and spirit.  I hope his children recognised the love and affection that passed between us. I hope they know how much he meant to me. 
But next of kin? 
My next of kin is dead. Gone with the wind.
These are the thoughts I have, as I sit here, my body warmed by the scorching heat. In this space, among these kind people, I have found a bit of reprieve from the relentless grief. In this vast, wild landscape, I unfurl my sorrow, and let it rest. 
At night, I walk to my tent by the light of the full moon, to the song of the doves and nightingales. Some folks are bothered by their loud singing, and must close the flaps of their tents and plug their ears in order to sleep. But I keep the tent flaps open, shielded only by the screen. In the distance, the village church bells ring their signal every hour, on the hour. I count them. Twelve. It is midnight. The clanging bells are my only anchor to the time, here. I drift off to sleep with the sounds of the earth all around me.
There is a donkey here, named Nero. He is very social. He holds his head over the low fence so that I can stroke his forehead and ears. He loves to be touched. When I walk away from him, his bottom lip quivers, and he lets out a boisterous bray that echoes off these rugged rocks.
Every night, around three a.m., Nero awakens the world with his mournful wail. He calls out with all the strength he can muster. I'm alone, he says. He raises his brown face toward the moon. His cry is loud enough to startle the deepest sleepers. I'm alone. I'm alone. Come visit.
I find comfort in this donkey's wail. I love to hear it in the night. If I had the courage, I would rise, unzip the screen of my tent, and rush to his side. I would raise my face to the moon, open my vocal chords, and meet his wail with my own. I'd call out loud enough so that all those who have passed before me could hear it. My father. My sister. My mother. My love.

I'm alone. I'm alone. Come visit.