24 Years Ago Today

Hawaii

…and live our life to the very last sunset we did.

24-years ago today we walked into that court-house confident that our swift romance brought us the most joy either of us had ever known.  Some thought it was way too soon after only seventy-six days.  We’d both been down that road before, but there was never an ounce of doubt for either one of us.   We only had 20 earthly celebrations of this date, but I can assure you that today and every day I celebrate what was, and what always will be ours with the same deep love and gratefulness as if he were still here.

There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t pause to talk to him in some way, nor is there a day that has gone by that my heart doesn’t ache for his touch.  The hands which were twice the size of mine but gentle and always outstretched.  Still, there is not day that a tear is not shed.  They may be just a stinging of the eyes, but many days they still fill the tide pools of grief.

I don’t know how time has the ability to keep ticking forward without my husband in it, but it has.  My life and its purpose has changed so much.

The photo and quote above from Tiki Joes, pretty much depicts our life together and what we shared in Hawaii several times.  I long for that place often as we shared our hopes for a cure of his appendix cancer, prayed for more time and found acceptance of his terminal disease.  I think in retrospect, it took the removal of our everyday life to see the bigger picture and the reality of what was to come.  Oh how madly, deeply in love we were.  What I wouldn’t give to look into those eyes that loved me so much.   I wonder if someday I might go back to Waikiki and just sit and stare at the ocean on an ocean-front balcony like we did together,  if it would make me more sad or would it fill me with the peace that we both felt together there.  I hope to one day find out.  A trip that I would need to do alone and I do not like traveling alone.  Something in my mind continually draws me there.

Watching the last 10 months of his life dwindle to but a flame that resides in my heart, haunts me.  He fought so damned hard to be alive for our 20th anniversary.  He then fought to make his 59th birthday .. I hurt knowing how much he hurt.  Someone recently wrote that “it’s not over until you are tired of fighting” … no, that was not it at all for him; albeit a nice uplifting message to give I suppose.  That man never, ever got tired of fighting.  He wanted to live.  He wanted to be present.  He wanted so much more.  His body gave up, not him. I am forever grateful for the love, the determination, and the heavenly messages we both received, because I know that my time will come to be as one with him again as we were in our human bodies.

Keith, May your light, my ray of sunshine continue to breathe new life into me as I continue to miss you and endure this life without you.  Happy 24th Anniversary to the love of my life, my absolute soul mate.  I will be in love with you until my last breath.

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.

Love Remembered

It is Valentine’s Day today.  A “Hallmark Holiday” as I’ve often heard it called.  My husband always bought me the biggest card he could find and sometimes even, he would make his own.  Over the years we learned it wasn’t about Valentine’s Day – it was about every day.  Loving each other deeply and respectfully 365 days a year.

Valentines Day

Today my Facebook memories gave me a reminder of one of our Valentine’s Day from 6 years ago.  A day that I hated and loved but today it hurts more than ever that he had to endure the chemotherapy that poisoned him but did nothing to stop the growth of his aggressive, rare cancer, appendix cancer.  To this day, given his pathology and testing to ensure the drugs he was treated with would benefit him, I will never understand why it did not at least slow down its growth.

Love.  Valentine’s Day. Memories.  These are what remain.

Please love your partner, your soul mate – the one who completes you, every single day.  Life is fleeting.

Today I leave you with a love letter that my dear husband wrote to me as he was dying because This is Love:

Love Letter

Tonight I will be sleeping with my heart wide open.

 

 

3-Years

 

 

 

My dear departed husband,

I still get butterflies and my heart beats faster when I think of our life together.  It is 3 years today that you went to heaven, 3 years of soul-searching and 3 years of finding my way without you by my side.  Because of you, because our love was so incredibly strong, I am forever reminded that love does not die.

Many say that the second year is the most difficult with grief.  For me, it has definitely been year 3.  It is possible that this year I have settled down and had more time to reflect than the previous two years.  There were no major life changes for me this year and that in itself is progress.  But the grief often came pouring down like being caught in the rain without an umbrella.  There is nowhere to hide when these thunderous emotions come blazing through.  I have found it startling at times to realize I can go through weeks without feeling any emotion – good ones or bad ones.  And boom, just like that, I feel again.  I don’t find life better in three years – I find it tolerable.  I still laugh a lot and try to find something to make me laugh every day.  You used to make me laugh every day even under the worst of circumstances!  I try to carry that with me, even on those emotionless days.

You know honey; I told you I would be okay.  I am, but I want to be better than okay.  I hope that going into year-four, that I can step up my game.  I can almost hear you sometimes telling me it’s going to work out and that we will get through this together.  It’s how we always dealt with whatever came our way – together.  It’s been a year since I dreamed of you and I wonder if that is because your spirit is always with me in such a strong way.  If I get to choose, I will keep your daily presence with me even if that means you don’t visit me in my dreams.  You always told me that if there was a way for you to visit me, you’d be here in a heartbeat.  I’m listening.

This year your mom joined you and I bet that it was an amazing celebration for you!  And though today I am reminded of what I have lost, what our children have lost, I celebrate that you are in the best place waiting for me.  I miss you more.  3 years my love – I am 3 years closer to being with you again.

 

Happy Birthday, Keith.

Keith 62nd birthday

 

Dear Keith,

Today would have been your 62nd birthday.  Is it odd to for me to still celebrate?  How could I not?  Your birth date is important to me.  It means you were born, you lived, and most importantly, you loved – me.

Today I remember how we used to celebrate special dates like this.  Of course dinner out and some decadent dessert would have to happen.  Though we did these things often anyway, when we celebrated a special occasion, we spared no expense.  I love you for teaching me that it was okay and even good to go overboard sometimes.  We never worried how that bill would get paid, because it would .. if not sooner, definitely later!

It is hard not to feel sad that you are no longer here to celebrate this day together, but somehow I feel that maybe you are because of the energy you create around me.  This is your day always.  You have no idea (maybe you do) how much I love you.  I get to say without you telling me that I’m wrong, “I love you more.”

Happy birthday my love, until we meet again,

Therese

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.

 

 

Moments

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.

Choices, Consequences and Life

 

trust and faithI have started to blog several times because I have a lot to say (surprised, aren’t you?) and then have ended up deleting because it all sounded so whiny.

Choices – as a reasonably responsible adult I knew I would have to make a choice about my living situation.  It was becoming apparent that I was sinking deeper and deeper into a situation financially that was not going to have a good outcome.  Here I was, for the first time in my life, living alone in a big house in which I generally occupy 3 rooms – the kitchen, family room and my bedroom.  The rest of the house was taking up space in my pocketbook and in my head.  I had to move so I made the choice to call a realtor to get “an idea” of what I might sell the house for.  Things moved swiftly with the help of a few wonderful people and the house was put on the market in two weeks from first meeting and then subsequently sold 14-days later.  Okay – now what?  The new buyer wanted to close in a month and I had no clue where I was going to live!  To say that I became a crazed insomniac would be putting it mildly.  Day and night I was searching for the perfect home … somewhere close to where I used to live, about 40 minutes north of where I am now.   I would be closer to the grandkids.  I could find nothing in my price range that didn’t have 15 or more stairs (hey I’m “oldish” now).  For what I could find, my car wouldn’t even fit in the garage.  To know me is to know that my vehicle should always be protected from the environment … to make matters worse; it would cost me what I am currently paying.

Yeah, not all things in life work out the way we want them to work out, but they do work perhaps as they are intended.  In the meantime I needed to get a pre-approval for a new mortgage and submit the necessary documentation.  I have learned that I keep way too much “stuff” but I am organized in most of it.  That financial process, for the most part was easy and approval came two days later.  What I wasn’t expecting was an IRS issue.  Stress … when you open your mailbox and receive a letter from the IRS.  It happened to come on the day of our annual TEAM KEITH fund raising event.  That was a Saturday and I had to wait until Monday to contact both the new loan company and the IRS.  I needed to submit 3-years’ worth of tax returns.  I did that.  But as a normal course of business, the lenders will generally have you sign a document requesting IRS transcripts.  It’s sort of a double check that what you provided is actually what was filed.  This is a public service announcement: If you apply for a loan and you have previous filed a joint return with your spouse and request records and he/she was the primary on said taxes, the file will be flagged.  Dead people should not be applying for mortgages – period.  I learned that in fact, people will try to do that in an identity theft scenario so the IRS began doing this “flagging” upon final tax returns for the deceased.  All is well that ends well, and I was able to have the IRS fax me the 33 pages necessary after giving my crazed, manic-even, sob-story to the agent on the end of the phone line!

Back to the story, I was out with my Realtor looking for a home and becoming very discouraged.  On a whim, I had asked to see a home or homes within a 55 plus community – the opposite direction of where I wanted to go and about 10 minutes south of where I am now, but quite close (maybe too close for him) to my son.  I was not thrilled, but did not rule it out either.  On the last day of looking for a few hours, I sat in my Realtors car, put my hands over my face and cried “what have I done”?  I was second guessing myself … maybe I could have stretched the pennies a bit more and just stayed … now the house has a pending contract, a cash deal and I’m closing in 29 days … I have nowhere to go.  At that moment, the realtor’s phone rang and it was her office assistant.  The seller of the home I had not ruled out just lowered the sales price.  I asked my brother in-law to come and see it with me … and the next morning, he and my sister in law came and gave their blessing.  It’s got “good bones” he told me.  The kitchen though … it needs a major overhaul.  My brother in law said he would do the remodel … As my Realtor and they stood in the kitchen talking, I walked into the main living space which I will call my great room and I swear, I don’t know, out of nowhere, I heard my husband’s voice … “make it our home honey”.  I looked at my brother in law and gave him a dollar figure and said “tell me what you can do” … so things moved quickly – I made an offer and it was accepted.  My daughter and friends came and helped me pack one day I am almost completely done.  I will move on the 9th of September, and fortunately, was able to negotiate with the buyers of my current home a rent-back for these 9 days.  The new home will be painted on the interior this coming weekend.  Yes, I am a woman blessed.

The new home is not the home of my dreams; I am leaving that one behind.  My dreams were fulfilled in this home and it is a bittersweet move.  In reality, Keith and I knew that someday we would downsize and oh how I wish we were doing this move together, but I feel his love and presence every step of the way.  I had the pleasure of meeting the new owners on their final walk through last night and they have two small children.  This home needs life again, and I know they are the perfect buyer.  I told them that I hope they love the home as much as my husband and I did and they were so excited in saying, “we do”.  I am happy for them and I am happy to leave them with a home in pristine condition – a reflection of the best parts of Keith and me together.

Consequences – Everything we do in life provides a consequence, sometimes good and sometimes bad.  I truly believed in my heart I needed to be where Keith and I began further north; after all he is buried there.  There is 15 minutes added to my commute to get there (minus rush hour traffic) … I am not readily available on short notice for the grandkids being further away, but as it turns out, they don’t need me like they used to.  My daughter is happily married to the man of her dreams and they have their family dynamics worked out perfectly.  Being closer to my son is just an added bonus and he need not worry about me “dropping in” because that’s not my style.  The consequences of this move are positive ones so far … it was a very wise financial decision and my insomnia should lessen over this issue once settled in.  I am looking forward to living on one level, with two spare rooms for those grandma sleepovers and my essential office equipment.

Life – It continues to happen whether we want it to or not, so I have decided to be present in it.  I am looking forward to a big conference in Washington, DC in November with the ACPMP Research Foundation and I will be starting some volunteer work at my local hospital in the spiritual care department as well.  I hope to meet new people and engage with others again and not sit at my computer 24/7 like I have the past few years.  I want to be healthy of mind and body and the only way to do that is to make positive changes.  I think I just made my first step.  I am choosing life.  I am grateful for my faith to see me through.