A short but sweet blog entry today…

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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

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Be still … let the tears fall.  A reminder of the years gone by brings sadness, but lots of good memories too.

Sometimes it is difficult to look into the past and not just remember the most recent holidays that we shared, because those seemed to have the most meaning for us.  We knew that time was limited.  We knew we had to savor every morsel of love, time and space that we possibly could.  And we did.  Even his last Christmas in 2013 where we were in the hospital when our family celebrated at our house without us there, we laughed and enjoyed the hospital atmosphere.  It seems that Keith could spread joy or Christmas cheer no matter where he was.  He did that year round.

In the late 90’s, early 2000’s wooden reindeer and wooden outdoor decorations were really big in our town.  We spent a lot of time and money purchasing the tools and supplies necessary to make our own and even shared some as gifts.  We started in the summer time, working in the garage alongside each other as was our favorite thing to do.  We couldn’t wait to share our talents come December.  Those were the days!  We always split the holidays.  Christmas was with Keith’s family.  A few years after we were married, I offered to take over Christmas for his mom … she was thrilled!  At that time, our house was small, but so filled with love and excitement, wall to wall presents and people and lots of food and cheer!  These are great memories.  I can reach back into the memory bank of my childhood and realize that, those too, are memories and my traditions changed once I left home.  New traditions begin this year.

This has been a year of incredible change in my life.  It is the first time ever that I have lived alone.  It’s not so bad, really – I just have to remember that with this change, I have to not hold on so tightly to the pain that brought me here.  I don’t know why things happened in my life the way that they have, but I have much to be thankful for.  It’s not always easy, but I do prefer to count my blessings rather than dwell on the things that are out of my control.  We are often victim to circumstance, not choice.  But the choices we make will forever frame the picture of our life.  I have a pretty amazing collage of memories to choose from on those days that make me weep.

I titled this post as the “Weeping Widow Willow” because that is what I have been.  I do have weeping days but find that I can bend with the wind just as a mighty willow.  I can spread my roots deeper into the crevice of grief but I know as I do that, I lose branches that are meant to stay close to the surface of my heart.   When I stand firm in the belief that pain is the only way to feel, I lose the ability to sway in the breeze to allow the sun to shine under the small leafs that make up my entire self.  A willow tree is monumental.  My family has a history of them, starting with one my dad planted as a small child.  Many of us in the family swung from that tree, which, as change would have it, was removed when my grandma passed away and her land sold.  So as I weep as a widow, I am ready to keep those roots toward the surface.  I will allow the rain to strengthen me and help me continue to grow.  I am ready to embrace the sunshine more and willing to start enjoying new traditions.

2017 may be the year to take care of me. I have taken care of others since I began babysitting at 12 years old.   I think I will plant a tree.

The Weeping Widow Willow

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Mostly there’s stuff.  You know, the kind of things that really only matter to you.  Or in this case me.  But I write because it’s helpful to me.  If people read and get something from this that makes me happy, but if not, that’s okay too.  This is the one place I get to be selfish when I am not a selfish person at all.  Here I get to say what I want to say about “stuff” and feel safe.

I just celebrated Thanksgiving with my family and though the day was wonderful and I was full of gratitude for all the wonderful things I do have, it ended early with people going home and I was left empty. There is nobody to share the highlights with.  There is nobody to eat an extra piece of pie before bedtime (I actually sent all left overs home with the family).  There is no more tradition in my life.  Zero tradition.  I’ve heard “so you start a new tradition.”  I’m here to say that traditions are great and when raising a family they are important.  But traditions can and do end and leave a gape as wide as the Grand Canyon on your heart when you are left without your best friend.  Again, this does not mean I am not grateful for the blessings in my life which are many.  Those blessings however plentiful, do not even temporarily bandage this broken heart.  I do not currently subscribe to the “time heals all wounds” theory.  The 2nd Thanksgiving may have resulted in a better outcome for me when all was said and done if this were true.  My husband may be surrounding me with his love, but right now, I’m just wishing the holidays going forward would fast-forward.

I remember one day that Keith was sitting in his chair across from me.  I was on my computer (shocking I know) and I could feel his intense stare.  I looked over at him and he had tears streaming down his face – I said, “Oh honey, what’s wrong?”  His reply was, “I just feel so sorry for you.”  I tried to soften the blow of his words with things like “… oh but I get to see the grandkids grow up and you will be in better place and will witness with me – I know you will be with me…”  He knew.  He knew he was my world and that I would struggle.  Sometimes I can turn my head a certain way and still see the sadness on his face that he felt for me.  He never felt sorry for himself and I try hard not to feel sorry for myself but I am not as amazing as he was.  I do have my days where I wallow in my sorrow – yesterday and today are perfect examples.  I wonder if he is still crying for me or if he is laughing because I’m writing about this.  My guess is a little of both.  At the end of our conversation that day, when we were both holding each other and crying, I pulled my arms from around him and held his hands, looked him straight in the eyes and said, “I feel sorry for me too.”  Oh how I long for those moments that were so intimate and sad and peaceful all in one.

Keith will be gone from this life two years on December 9th.  It will be my third Christmas without him.  When I put it this way it helps to remind me that I have survived it.

People ask how I like my new place and are the people nice?  I’m a hermit.  I have not ventured out and I hide from people if I know they are outside because I really don’t care at this point to engage.  Maybe 2017 will be different.  I’ve put in my application to sit with dying patients in a program called “No One Dies Alone” because that I believe is what is calling me.  The Chaplain in charge is happy to have me on board.  It, like my work with the ACPMP Research Foundation, is volunteer.  As awful as I feel in losing my husband, I am forever grateful to have been at his side, the side of my sister and the side of my grandmother as they took their last breaths.  I truly hope this leads to something more in my life and I will be working in the spiritual care department in this capacity.  God knows my heart and I believe He will lead me to where I need to be.

I am not sure if I will update on the anniversary of Keith’s passing – I have no idea what my thoughts will be on that day – if I will continue to be thankful that he no longer suffers with the horrible disease that took him from this life or if I will wake up and say I’m not getting out of bed today!  I am sincere when I say grief has a bi-polar component to it.

Should I not write before we embark on the next holiday, I wish you all a very blessed Christmas, Hanukkah, Yule or however you celebrate your beliefs.  Even through my grief, God has been my go-to to get me through and I am thankful for Him always.

 

 

 

Holidays and Stuff