November

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There is much I need to tell him, so much I want to share. I talk out loud to photos and I know that he’s not there.

There is so much he needs to know, so much he’s missing here. I cannot help the darkness that arrives this time of year.

Memories of the pain he felt, the deep heartache he felt inside, and the sleepless nights and his drug-filled body are all flooding back to me.

I’m haunted by the visions of the things that he endured, things people could never imagine, that were only shared with me, those nights when he fell, crumbled in my arms.

November is now a reminder of what happened in the end, the tears were never-ending and the worry consumed us both, but he never complained about his life or that it soon would end.

November brings such darkness in these forefront memories.  It’s hard to shake the bitter cold that I feel in my bones.  I want to just be grateful, but he left me here alone.

He knew that this would happen, he often told me so.  He knew better than anyone and still he had to go.

I’m trying so hard to remember all the good he gave to me, to help me through these next two months of heartache agony.

The life of a widow no matter how blessed, is a never ending battle of learning how not to drown when the wave of grief engulfs you.

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.

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.

 

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.

 

 

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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.

 

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.