Summer is upon us.  June is one of “those months” … reminders.  The 9th will be 2-1/2 years that my husband took his last breath and the day I lost a huge piece of my heart .  The 16th will be 5 years that we renewed our vows at a surprise anniversary party.  The 18th will mark 5 years that we first stepped onto the Island of Oahu in what became our personal glimpse of heaven. The 22nd … we would have been married 23 years.

I am sad.  I am happy.  Some days I truly feel bipolar with the up and down emotions.  But most of all, I am so grateful for what was, for what always will be in my heart.  I am a survivor.  I am hopeful.  I am free from doubt.

Today I stand in front of the mirror and tell myself that I am strong.  I have overcome obstacles personally and spiritually that I shouldn’t have had to in my mid 50’s and I know that I am not alone in the space created by death.

I was asked recently “How do you like living alone?” The answer is complex.

I love it for the fact that I am able to do what I want when I want with no accountability to anyone but me.  If I want to stay up through the middle of the night and sleep in the next day, there is nothing stopping me.  I fix what I want to eat when I want to eat it.  There are no rules and I can make them up as I go along.  My memories sustain me every day.

The second part of that question is that more than anything, I wish my husband did not die.  I wish that appendix cancer did not ravage his body.  I wish that there were better treatments so that I could be sitting next to him and deciding together what we would eat, when we would go to bed and what we would do for the day.  So, the long and short of it, I love it and I hate it.  Once again, up and down in a very bipolar way.  Unfortunately there are no medications to help that part.  I do believe the future will hold hope for others when surgical cure is not possible.

My purpose in life changes often, but the changes are always purposeful.

My purpose this June is to enjoy my memories and remember the love that always will be.

 

 

It’s June.

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“The only thing constant is change.” – Heraclitus of Ephesus

Today is, for the most part a typical Sunday morning, the clouds are abundant and the streets damp with the rain that fell last night.  It’s early at 5:15 a.m. and I didn’t go to sleep until midnight.

What is this energy I feel that isn’t typical?  Ever-evolving I am.

The other day I was looking for something and ran across an ancient pedometer that I believe my husband had brought home from some golf outing he attended.  Like most things fitness, it either went into a corner, was given away or thrown into a drawer.  This is the most basic of pedometers that you can find.  It tracks your calories, kilometers and miles.  Not steps, but that is okay – any step forward is better than back.

I went to that pedometer which seriously has to be no less than eight years old and pulled the small piece of paper attached to it to see what type of battery it would take.  In doing so, I pushed a button and the display came on.  “Some battery” I thought to myself as I began pushing the buttons. 0000 meant I had an awful lot of work to do.  It’s a balmy 60 degrees Fahrenheit, a nice breeze.  I can do this.

Like my husband’s death, we planned for it.  We knew it was coming and it would change my life in ways I had only imagined.  But I could have never imagined how much it would change.  I’ve lifted the covers from my head to the point I can breathe a bit easier.  I no longer need that filter to embrace the daylight.

Last week I took the incredible challenge to change.  I began a weight loss program and this morning, I used that pedometer.  I promised myself when I moved last year that I was going to do this.  I need to get healthy again.  I did try but often met neighbors who walk their dogs and wanted to chat – once that happened, my walks never continued as I need to walk alone at a pace that is comfortable to me.  I need to do this, I want to do this.  I am 4 lbs. down … and today I logged 0.778 miles on that pedometer.  It is baby steps.  I have a long way to go but when I realize my grief began with my husband’s diagnosis, I’ve been living this heavy burden for six and a half years.  Indeed it is time for change – my habits, my health and my life are as important as the man I loved, cared and advocated for.  As I walked this morning, I imagined him telling me “honey, you can do this and I am with you every painful step of the way.”

I don’t care much for change, especially when it is out of my control, but hopefully, the tools of faith, hope and the desire for change, will bring me further into the light of joy.

On Friday evening, I was privileged to return to the site of the Beloved retreat that I attended in January.  This time I was able to carry the luggage of new retreat-ants and light their path in the darkness to knowing they are beloved.  As I came together in community with others I had met on my own retreat, others who had attended at different times and once again my daughter at my side, I was able to share with them just how much I grew from my own experience there and that I did in fact keep my promise to find joy.

We do not always know when we go about our own lives how we sometimes affect others.  Sometimes, out of the blue, you can be called upon and a split second decision to say yes or no can make or break a person or situation.  I used to be a constant yes.  Grief began to change that and that is not the person my husband fell in love with.  Yesterday I said yes again to someone, to help them sort their feelings, their fears and angst and talk them through a situation that otherwise may have ended differently.  We do not know when we will be called – either spiritually or literally, but if we open our hearts to the possibility that carrying the load for others when they are burdened with the weight of the world, we can become the change that another person is seeking.

A step outside of our own comfort zone does not need to be a heavy task.  I can say with a smile in my heart, I am beginning, truly beginning to find joy.

 

A short but sweet blog entry today…

IMG_4083

This morning I had an epiphany of sorts.

To make an analogy of this grief, so maybe one can understand more clearly, as time passes, it becomes chronic.  I happen to have fibromyalgia and having a small flare right now.  It’s chronic.  It comes and it goes (the flare ups) but mostly the pain is always there and somehow you learn to live with it and work through it and you don’t focus on it like in the beginning.  I also recently had a bad flare up of Achilles tendonitis which required an injection … in the beginning of it; I couldn’t put any weight on my foot and was on crutches for 5 days.  It was all I could think about because the pain was so bad.  Time, rest, ice and the injection made it better but the pain is still there and I can deal with it.  You can see, once the initial pain calms down, it is no longer your primary focus.

I believe very strongly that this is how the loss of my husband will be, for the rest of my life.  There will be flare ups, but it will settle down and I can live like this.  After all, this is all temporary, isn’t it?

Oh yes, grateful as always for the acknowledgement of pain –  it means I am alive and thriving!

My social media hiatus was a good one.  I found some joy.  I returned a few days ago and know how to take it is small doses.

An Epiphany

What I wouldn’t give for another dream of him holding me.  Memories flood my mind constantly.  I think this is a good thing but then I wonder if they wash me like a torrential downpour because I am living again.

My heart has the enormous vacancy that only the memories of my dear Keith can fill, but I’m truly finding joy in special moments.  I mean yes, there are often hours of enjoyment, but the moments are the ones that I treasure.  I cry a lot these days.  These are not tears of sadness (all of the time) but tears because a moment, a story, a song – has moved me.  What I feel so deep in my soul is the ache of those around me.  It’s like I have this intense sense that I am connected more than ever to others, my mind searches for these connections.   Compassion can empower you to dig deeper into yourself to forge a relationship with these connections like you’ve never realized.  What I mean is, yes, most of us feel compassion that another person is going through something, but I am talking about taking time out of your day to think about, talk with, smile at, lend a hand, and pray for them.  What added meaning to my life this is when I hone in on those connections that I just “feel”.  I cannot change what happened to my husband or change what others are going through but I can love others – and I do.

Transformations are obvious to everyone who has their eyes open.  I’m still in that process and with eyes fixated on the mountain that I’m climbing, I still have the ability to feel.  The pain of losing my husband is as deep as some of these cliffs and I often free-fall knowing that, by faith, I will be lifted right back up.  It is not easy to describe faith, but if you feel it, if you trust it, if you grasp it with all that you have, free-falls are not as painful as they might be.  What brings me to this mountain?  Self-discovery is limitless because as the clock rounds the day, tomorrow feelings may be different.  They often say to “sleep” on a decision.  Feelings often change or the intensity of them changes over time.

IMG_0521For those who have experienced this grief so heavy before me, I’ve heard it said that time heals all wounds.  I’m not sure my heart will ever heal, but I can say with certainty that the pain is different than it was 28 months ago when he died.  I don’t cry every day for him, but every day I miss him more.  I don’t feel the need to kiss his photo every night, but some nights I still do.  I don’t sit for hours and wonder if he is watching my every move, but I feel his presence at times.  I don’t feel that I’ve been given a life unbearable to live, but there are those free-fall moments that take my breath away.  I don’t look at his photos and cry anymore, but I look at them often and smile because he was such a gorgeous man (inside especially) and out.  With each rotten thing that happens like expensive plumbing repairs, I don’t break down like I did, but I do get reminded with memories of how he took care of everything.

It is now springtime, and the rain is in great supply reminding me of the new growth I see in the neighborhood.  The trees are budding and day-lilies and daffodils already in bloom – life is renewed.  My life, my love, and my hope for the future are renewed too.  Keith gave me that gift before he left this earth.  I was the very last person he said “I love you” to.  In life and death, it doesn’t get much better than that.  This was his gift to me for sure.

Moments

Twenty-Three Years Ago

That old-time feeling comes around again.  It could be the time of year.  We were introduced in March of 1994 at physical therapy.  We fell head over heels at an informal gathering of patients on April 8th a mere two or three weeks later.

I get that prickly sensation and my heart skips a beat when I think of our first evening.  We played darts and imbibed on seemingly endless bottles of beer.  The music blared and he whispered in my ear a few times. The more crowded it became, the closer he had to move toward me – there was electricity in the air.

After a failed attempt at a second marriage and going it alone for the two previous years, a relationship was the last thing on my mind.  What was it about this guy?  What a smile! What a laugh!  What a touch!  It may have been the gentleness of his voice.  It may have been that he asked questions about me, about my life and willingly shared his story.  Reciprocal respect with an eagerness to listen – what a novel approach toward never-ending love!  Above all, he was the kindest person I have ever met.

He was newly divorced with children and a grandchild on the way.  I was struggling to get the funds together for my own court proceedings.  My children were gone for the weekend and this was a Friday night.  It must have been about midnight and I did not want the night to end.  Our PT friends had all gone home and I knew that I needed to leave as well.  I had not felt like this in a long time.  Was he my knight in shining armor come to rescue the woman who only wanted someone to love and to be loved back with the same intensity?  We were married seventy-six days later in the most unceremonious of events at a court-house with our 5 children in tow.

 

April 1994

April 1994 – meeting my parents for the first time

As the goosebumps arrive at the memories of the beginning of our relationship, I smile.  Yes, it was the best time of my life and it continued to be the best love to the end.  Sometimes throwing caution to the wind can reap the most amazing of benefits.  In this case, it was the love of a lifetime.  My life is not over, but his ended too soon by a horrible disease called appendix cancer/pseudomyxoma peritonei.

When I think about the twist of fate, I am forever grateful that he chose to go out that night and that I threw caution to the wind and would not change a thing in our relationship.   Neither of us was perfect but there never a more perfect match for each other!

I am blessed and I will love him forever.

Valentine’s Day & My Promise

The promise was to me, to deactivate my social media (Facebook) account and to find joy.  This chronicles my first few days.

It’s  11:30 pm on February 9, 2017.  I just hit the deactivate button on my Facebook account.  I felt like a kid that wanted to grab another cookie while mom had her back turned.  Reach for it and then pull back – reach for it.  I made sure to download a copy of my Facebook (did you know you can do that?) so as to preserve private messages, friends lists and photos.

So now what?  I am going to bed.  I feel good.  I feel free.

February 10th – It’s amazing how my mind only went to wondering how things are going on social media once or twice an hour!

February 11th – Retail therapy instead of social media?  I’m finding the art of window shopping; something I was never able to do before but find that I actually can enjoy that!

February 12th – A day of remembrance in church and breaking bread with my son in-law and his family in honor of his dad.

February 13th – I’m learning the importance of organization and finding time to enjoy and be thankful for my blessings.  This organization thing may take some time.  I think my hiatus from social media is going to change a lot of things for me, in a very good way!

I promise not to chronicle my entire life in future posts with a daily record but I want those who are following to know that I am okay.  I am loved and beloved.  My peace within is growing exponentially.

Today is Valentine’s Day.  My beloved used to really put thought into the cards he purchased for me until he found the one that said exactly what he could not put into words himself – at least until he knew that he could no longer buy anymore – it was then that he became verbose.  He never was a man of many words, but “I love you” and “always and forever” and “I love you more” were the words that he spoke but followed with action.  Because after all words are only words.  There was never a moment in our married life that I did not feel loved and honored.  He made being his wife a privilege.  I feel confident today that somehow, somewhere, his spirit is surrounding me with that gift of his love.  It was a gift because I know that there are many people who don’t have love in their lives or the kind of love that transcends all time.  My heart is full of joy today for what was and what will always be, mine.

My Valentine was the cupid who pierced my heart with his kindness, his laughter, his strength and most assuredly his love.  Some of my greatest memories are those when we would gaze into each other’s eyes and just stay there – finding each other’s soul.  What a gift that was and one that I get to cherish for always and forever.

I end this with one of our Instant Message exchanges and how we dealt with our deep love for each other and the sorrow of what was to come … this is true love:

surgesT@: Can’t wait for another huge hug.

surgesK@: Me toooooooooooooooooo!!!!!

surgesK@: Love You

surgesT@: I looooovvvvveeee youuuuuuuuu

surgesK@ t: HUBA HUBA

surgesT@: :o)

surgesK: :((

surgesK@: you are beautiful!

surgesT@: Don’t cry – it will be ok … I hope I’m beautiful when I see you again for the first time.

surgesK@: I don’t have to hope I know you will be!!!

surgesT@: awwwww.

surgesK@: You are the most beautiful Woman in the world!  And you are all mine My Love

surgesT@: I will always be yours.

surgesK@: thank You That is one thing to be true!!!

surgesT@: you know it!

I hope each of you find your own Valentine; wherever he or she may be.

This is the story of a new adventure of clearing my mind and of finding joy.  I need clarity and one way in which to achieve this I believe, (at least for now) is for me to deactivate my social media status.  I may come back in a month, six months or never.  I only promise to be true to me.

Facebook is, and has been a beautiful tool for me to connect with others and to share the love and the sorrows that I have experienced during the marriage and illness and beyond measure, the death of my husband.  It has been beautiful to see photos of families and friends and to catch up on current events in each other lives.  It also can have other ramifications.  It has been difficult to disengage from that life of caregiver but I trust that for me, this will be a true testimony to my inner strength.  Facebook has been a place to reconnect with old friends and to make new friends and though I do not to like to talk on the phone unless it’s necessary, I do e-mail.  So if you would like my private e-mail, please send me a message before my deactivation.

Social media has become obstructive and exclusive – I need more inclusiveness in my life and the demeaning nature of so many political posts of political rivals is something I personally can no longer tolerate.  This is not because I have one opinion or another – I believe we are each entitled to our own.  However, I don’t see opinions as being shared without tearing down one another.  And since I have many friends on both sides of the spectrum, it is easier said than done to scroll by.  I have the ability to remove myself from the toxicity and find it is rather empowering now that I’ve made the decision.  Negativity feeds negativity in ways that are unhealthy to me.

It is also with personal sacrifice to disengage what I have come to know as my life.  The something I thought I needed to do in order to heal and find joy again that in the continual support of others in the appendix cancer community.  I care so deeply, and so strongly for each and every patient and their caregiver that they also become a part of me and each new loss, each new struggle, becomes mine as well.  When you are used to being the caretaker, there is no balance in this – you live it and breathe it 24/7 because this is all you know.  I have chosen February 10, 2017 as the day for my Facebook deactivation.  It is the day my birth mom was born, and also one of my aunts.  It will be 2,306 days that we first heard Keith had cancer. It will be 26 months and one day that I said goodbye to my soul mate.  It will also become the date that I am able to say hello to him again as I honor him by finding joy in my life as he wished for me.  I have my own caregiver now …   I am beloved.

Let the beauty we love be what we do.

– Rumi

st-mary-of-the-lake-universitySilence!  Do you hear that?  A month ago if someone had said “no, it’s silent, how could I hear anything?” my response would have been, “well my mind is overflowing with noise, my heart is beating entirely too fast for my body to keep up and if you can’t hear the silent sobs, you’re not listening to me.”  Of course that conversation would have never taken place anywhere, at any time, except for this “safe” blog space.

Around this time of such mental torment my daughter asked me if I wanted to join her on a Beloved retreat with her church in January.  My first instinct was to say “no, I couldn’t – no, I don’t have the money – no, I like being anti-social – no, let me live in my misery because after all, doesn’t everyone like to cry every day and be sad?  Is there something wrong with that?  I knew that it was and I had previously committed (in my last blog in fact as a declaration that 2017 is my year) time to take care of me.  I said yes – my first REAL effort in keeping my promise to myself.

After my last blog and the hope for 2017 and feeling like I could gain the momentum that I need to make change in my life, it quickly went by the wayside as more sadness crept in and the loss of my mother in law, at the tender age of 89 and 8 months.  What a blessing she was in my life and just another chisel away at the heart that was broken.  But I was and am thrilled for her.  She made it to the Promised Land.

I’d never been on a retreat before.  I was not sure what to expect.  For the most part I think it was what I envisioned, but I could never have imagined that I NEEDED this.  Well, maybe a little I did imagine it.  Last Spring I wrote about a 3-day talk that happened at my daughter’s church and how exhilarating and promising that it was.  Then life got messy again for me and then joyful when my daughter got married and then really, REALLY messy again when I moved.  Sometimes I would ask my daughter if she was going to mass on a Sunday and she didn’t know for sure if she was going to go where the children go to school or if they would make it to Holy Family, which for me would be 43 miles away.  She would always follow her response with “why, did you want to go”?  Mostly at that minute, when I would ask, I wanted to go – I wanted to make an effort to overcome what was happening to me.  Busy is as lame excuse as I could find I guess, and I just really never made the effort.  After all, I really hadn’t participated in the Catholic Church for many, many years – say, 1986?  There are a lot of reasons for this, perhaps for another time, but one reason was I had at one time joined the Lutheran Church.  Keith was also raised in the Lutheran faith but we weren’t Sunday church goers.  We were both believers and spiritual by nature, but we fulfilled each other on a different spiritual level.  We knew God loved us.  I have never doubted that for a minute.

Back to the retreat which was, by the way, offered to anyone regardless of religion, or having no faith at all, race, sexual orientation, and political views … it was inclusive.  Yes, the Catholic Church, embodied by scripture is inclusive.  The more I learned and read about this, the more interested I became.  I am definitely an inclusive person and for me, much of why I just didn’t attend services.  I have to say … one thing I learned and one thing I absolutely loved and will carry with me forward is that “you can church anywhere”.  If you gather together in community you can do “good church” without a building even!  Yes, this was the kind of retreat that I belonged at!  Spread love – beloved.

I cannot and will not say that this retreat healed me.  I will carry the heavy burden of grief with me through all the days of my life, but I intend to lose the heavy burden aspect.  I will bring it with me when I do GOOD CHURCH and bring it to the altar and leave it there, little by little.   My daughter hung pretty close to her mom during the entire experience, knowing that I’m really an introvert and it’s hard for me to start conversation.  Holy Moly!! I had to stand up and say my name several times and felt myself begin to sweat and voice crack and share what was heavy on my mind – but you know what?  I did it!  I listened to stories of people and what transformations were made in their lives by opening their hearts too.  I know not everyone is a believer in Him.  I love those people just the same.  But as for me, I know that I am never alone even in my loneliness.  I need community, I need “good church” and not just on Sundays.  I need to keep open my heart and truly listen in the silence to where I am being led.  No more conflicting noises that prohibit me from hearing what I need to hear.  My heart is wide open!

Miranda Lambert signs a song “The House That Built Me” and the first two lines are:

“I know they say you can’t go home again.  I just had to come back one last time” – oh yeah you can.  Right now, in this time, in this place, I am home again.

I won’t give many details of the retreat in this blog because there is something so precious and so monumental that was shared among 48 or 50 people and it is tucked into my heart so beautifully right now that I need to keep it there to continue to savor and digest.  But I promise you, no matter where you are in your spiritual journey, if you ever have the opportunity to attend a Beloved Retreat, do it because you will not regret it.

Having said that, The Seminary where the retreat was held had its beginnings in 1844, so you can imagine how old some of the buildings are.  One of the most incredible moments for me was an unseasonably warm January day into evening that created a pretty dense fog and we had a pilgrimage just from one building to the next.  The night air, illuminated by men and women holding lanterns in the fog to light our way (people who took time out of their Friday night to drive over an hour just to hold lanterns for us) created an atmosphere where I felt as though I were back in 1844 and the anticipation of embarking on this journey in the mist,among tall barren trees and the smell of old brick and mortar took me to a place I’ve never been before physically for sure, but spiritually.  As a believer, I was among disciples whose only wish was to be loved.  This pilgrimage of what was to come, down a stairway, into the darkness – into the light, I absolutely cannot describe what deep emotions were and are felt by me at this time.  My greatest desire is to keep this fullness in my heart going forward.  I want to continue to grow myself so that I may serve others with the hands I have been given.

I made a conscious decision, a vow, to try in earnest to let go of the sadness and to seek joy.  To remove myself as much as possible from the heaviness that weighs me down.  I have made the decision to make this blog more about gratitude, because I have so much to be thankful for.  I have a God and community who love me deeply even when I am a mess.  I learned I get do-overs on those days when I don’t get it right without judgment.  I have some ideas in my mind on how to give joy, how to receive joy and how to spread it.  My heart is open to wherever I am led.

I am so grateful that I was brought to this retreat by my daughter, as she herself blessed me with oil and sent me forth to give my light to others.  I am grateful to her Parish, Holy Family Catholic Community, for opening their hearts to me and to Old St. Pats in Chicago, who actually head these Beloved retreats, for teaching me how to do good church.

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Be-Loved