Grief Mountain

These words, written and sung by Marty Robbins and made most popular by Elvis Presley are ones that I struggle with every day:

But this time, Lord you gave me a mountain
A mountain you know I may never climb
It isn’t just a hill any longer
You gave me a mountain this time.

I walk along the grassy knoll enjoying the lakes and streams, where the wildflowers brighten even the darkness. I delight in the sunshine glistening and even feel comforted at times by the massive mountain I’ve yet to climb. I try to see the beauty around me because I know it is plentiful.  I see it in the faces of my children and grandchildren.  I see the importance of love and kindness every day.  I just miss my one true love.  This climb; it seems daunting. I wonder if I really have the emotional equipment necessary to take on the task. I’ve not fancied myself weak, by any means; I’ve withstood a lot in my lifetime.

So yes, I now know this mountain to be the Grief Mountain. One cannot just put on their boots and say I am going to conquer you today. I am going to climb and reach the top so that I can shout, I made it. I’m on top of this world – look at me! Rather, I stare at it. I could tether myself but I would more likely feel chained to the emotions that keep me from putting the next foot forward. Isolation in this valley is real. Of course, I know I’m not alone, I see silhouettes in my mind of others climbing too and certainly, I’ve heard the echoes of the ones that have reached the top.

It may be that I’ve already begun the climb and I just don’t recognize it. Maybe, the top is only reached when I too am healed from the earthly pain of grief. What I do know is that the grief mountain is alive and well and it’s a mountain I may never fully climb.

Halloween

NERDS 1999

NERDS 1999

Before my husband died, he could have told you without looking at a calendar what day and date he received a phone call.  I know these dates because I have them written down and know the day of the week, but the actual dates have become fuzzy except that Halloween is now a reminder.

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7-years ago tomorrow, November 1, 2010 at 8am, my husband received a phone call from our primary doctor that he needed to be seen at 5pm in the gastroenterologist’s office to go over results of his CT scan and follow-up from the colonoscopy that preceded the CT.  It was a Monday and the CT was the previous Friday and the colonoscopy the day before that.  Right after that call, he called me at home.  I could tell immediately that there was something wrong.  He told me he would come home and pick me up to go with for his appointment.  Of course nobody would say what the issue was but we knew it wasn’t good because our test results were always given over the phone.  We were completely blindsided.  The gastroenterologist began by drawing pictures.  First was a piece of carpet with the padding and then carpet and carpet fibers on top.  He explained that 3 years prior when my husband had a polyp removed inside his colon that the polyp removed was in situ, so basically it sat in the top layers of the carpet fibers and did not penetrate to the pad.  He explained the likelihood of cells with the results of the CT scan, that likely cells penetrated through during that time because the CT showed a very large tumor in the very spot that polyp was removed; at the cecum and that it was likely cancer because he also had peritoneal carcinomatosis which meant that it had spread throughout his abdomen.  We were speechless.  I asked everything that I could think of, but my brain was so overcome with fear or more possibly shock, that I didn’t get too many thoughts out.  While in that office, the doctor immediately got on the phone and called an oncologist and made an appointment for us for two days later, first thing in the morning.    7 years of grief, life altering, life distinguishing news that he had cancer.  There’s no need to rehash the details here, they are written in journals for now.  By Friday of that week we had a definitive diagnosis from biopsy – appendix cancer.

I am a changed woman because of what my husband had to endure.  I hold no anger because he was ravaged by a rare disease, but I hold disappointment in my heart and sadness not only for myself and my family, but mostly for him because he embraced life and all it had to offer with such incredible zest.  He was an amazing patient, an incredibly strong human being both physically and emotionally to have lived with his cancer diagnosis for as long as he did, knowing each day that he would die from it.  I so wish this did not happen to him, but it did.  I’m glad God ended his suffering when the miracle of a cure was not possible.  I’m grateful that I was the one to love him and walk him home.

Maybe one day Halloween time won’t be a reminder of our lives being turned upside down.   I will concentrate today on the fun we always had and continue my gratitude for the laughter that was so prevalent in our lives.

“That Life”

IMG_0979Things I have thought, learned, or observed since becoming a widow, in no particular order:

It is not unusual to question my sanity and wake up some days and wonder if “that life” really happened.

It is difficult to forget “the end”.

Day-dreaming big dreams can be okay even if they never come to fruition.

I have observed that I love solitude even if it’s not very healthy.

I have become severely arachnophobic (fear of spiders).

I have accepted that no matter how much I care for some people, that their perceived memories cannot be changed.

I have removed people from my life without regret.

I have learned to walk away from people who have hidden agendas.

I have learned that first impressions are generally accurate impressions in the long-term.

I have recognized my own strength as being a good mom, evidenced in how my children behave and treat others.

I have observed that my intentions are always better in the moment – putting them into action is difficult.

I dream about sitting at the beach watching sunsets and sunrises, constantly.

I have learned, recognized and accepted that my basic need to keep moving forward is laughter.

It is ridiculous how difficult it is to make and keep a commitment when you question yourself constantly.

I can have a love/hate relationship with myself from hour to hour when good thoughts flow and dark thoughts creep in.

Memories rush in at inopportune times.

I see things and people differently than when I lived “that life”.

It’s easy to give in to an “I don’t care” attitude.

I believe I have peniaphobia (the fear of being poor).

It’s difficult to go through medical issues without someone holding your hand.

It is sad to realize that some decisions must be made because you no longer live “that life”.

It’s easy to get upset at people who complain about little things.

Sometimes I fall back on what I knew prior to “that life” – good or bad.

It’s all but impossible to imagine my future life because I live day by day.

I have found hope and laughter in places where I never thought I would find them.

I have a greater appreciation for old age and the privilege of getting there.

I still believe I had the best marriage a person could ask for and that love never dies.

 

Full Circle

MarkThis weekend has given me so much love in my heart and tears of joy beyond what I knew I could shed for that emotion.  Love – it lives on.

I listened intently to two of  my grandchildren as they spoke to me of their recent travels and how much they missed me and that next time, they are going to make sure I go with them because I just “need to” in their words.  As usual, the kids talked about their papa and how they miss him and even had questions about what did Papa’s hair look like before cancer?  I was more than happy to oblige with photos.

My husband’s legacy…he lives on through many, but he is so much a part of my son.  Not long after he died, my son came to me and said “mom, I want what you and dad had”.  To me there was no bigger compliment than to hear those words from a self-declared bachelor for all time.  We forget sometimes as our children become adults that what we say and do in relationships really does have a lasting impact.  For my son, my husband was not his biological father, but he was the dad, who taught him, scolded him, respected him and told him how proud  he was of him.  He was the dad that was there for him in troubled times and in times of triumph.  He was the dad who loved him as his own.  And this weekend, I witnessed my husband live on through his son.

My son and his girlfriend came over Saturday afternoon and shared that he had asked her to marry him.  At first, he was so nonchalant I wasn’t sure if he was joking or not, but you see, that’s how his dad was.  No pomp and circumstance, it just is – just love.  One thing that was mentioned was that on the day he asked for her hand in marriage, they both visited his dad at the cemetery.  Was this divine intervention?! So yes, I cried enormous tears of joy in watching him love this woman he will respect, love and protect, just as his dad always treated me.  As they left, I watched from the door as he went around to open her door I cried more tears of joy as I once again saw my husband standing there, helping me into the car.  My heart is full for the joy for my son and his intended.  She is a woman, much like I was as a single mom before meeting my husband.  She is loving and determined and her children are her world.  I love her and I am happy that she loves my son.  Life really does come full circle.

I can only imagine, wherever from the heavens my husband is watching from, that he is grinning from ear to ear and saying “that’s my son” and I so much feel his love for me as I get to witness this love of theirs.

 

 

 

When the unexpected happens

Can grief be put into repose as in laid to rest; the very reason for grief and the messy aftermath of death?
I wish I knew.  Today is 30 months and I’m not crying!
Yesterday I went to our favorite department store to find a few new articles of clothing (yeah for some weight loss) and I was thinking about how excited I was to purchase a couple of items when I looked up and saw a display of “Hawaiian Shirts” … these were Keith’s signature from retirement until death, along with his flannels of course.
So here I was, alone, tears streaming down my face and trying to hide from people.  There was nowhere to go, I needed to check out and stand in line.  I sent a text to my daughter and one of my sisters with this picture IMG_6727 (2)and said, I should not go shopping this time of year.  They knew.  It does help to have others who know the little idiosyncrasies and intimate details of what you’re talking about when you send a text like that.  Both took time to acknowledge my sadness and to make me laugh.  My go to people because Keith was the first to add humor to my life and I miss that so much.  I laughed out loud at something my sister sent me and then realized I really don’t care if someone saw tears – they are an emotion of sadness but can also fall with laughter.  There is something very powerful in owning your own feelings and not having to shelter others from them.  This is my journey and nobody else can feel what I feel!
I think that grief is a word that can’t truly be defined.  In the Oxford Dictionary it is in part described as …”intense sorrow, especially caused by someone’s death”.  But to me, you cannot describe intense sorrow because it is individualistic.  One could summarize my event at the department store as grief but my feelings were not embedded in intense sorrow.  I was momentarily caught off guard at not being able to buy him a new shirt and how much joy it brought him when I would come home to show him my bargains, because only when you have a certain percent off do you go shopping!  So it stung to know I don’t have that particular ability to create his happiness anymore.
Death of a spouse is not only difficult when that person was your world, but it changes the way you perceive yourself and sometimes, it takes a while to get there.  My world collapsed.  My world collapsed many times throughout my life and each time, there was some one or some thing to allow me to build a new foundation.  My husband’s death has given me a different type of foundation to build on.  This time it is me building me with no reason to look beyond myself for anyone or anything to help me build a beautiful future.  Because that man gave me the strength to believe in myself, the impermeable foundation is already there.
It’s actually a good day.  My husband does not have appendix cancer anymore!  He defied all odds in living as long as he did given his status and he did it with such vigor and always with a smile on his face.  What it in the world do I have to complain about?

It’s June.

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.

 

 

0.778

“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.