2017 Was A Bipolar Year

“The worst type of crying wasn’t the kind everyone could see–the wailing on street corners, the tearing at clothes. No, the worst kind happened when your soul wept and no matter what you did, there was no way to comfort it.”
― Katie McGarry

It’s early morning on New Years Eve and the house is quiet. I am finished with all of the things that feel like responsibilities, finished with my to-do lists that seemed a mile-long last week, and sitting with my coffee reflecting on the past year. Part of me thinks that I should be contemplating on the year in front of me but my heart keeps pulling me back through this one that is passing.

As I opened my Word document I see that I haven’t written since June – my post about Father’s Day. No wonder… shortly after that, life went into bipolar mode. The brief synopsis for those of you who don’t know me personally is that H went into the hospital for pain management on Father’s Day and didn’t come out until a month later. While he was there, I followed through on plans to travel to France to see my first grandchild just weeks after his birth. When I came home, we were told that H’s cancer had advanced beyond the point of treatment and so with heavy hearts we signed up for Hospice care and he passed away on September 11th. The weeks in between were gut wrenching as I watched his body and his life evaporate.

I went into control mode and planned his care – calling in all the people who had offered along the way to help. I am deeply humbled by the love and care that was administered to H those last weeks. Not only from the Hospice people but by the friends and family that loved him so. There was barely a moment of alone time in our home as many who came, came for days on end to provide care while I worked. They took care of me too; and I am eternally grateful for the support. I still have meals in the freezer and I’ve come to depend on them. It will be hard (but necessary for more reasons than one) to go back to Lean Cuisines!

It was difficult to carry out H’s last wishes. Not physically difficult of course but because he was insistent on no service of any kind, closure was difficult for many. I am somewhat like minded, so I have been able to honor his life in other ways. #HarlansCampaign was established in his memory on Facebook as a reminder to live life in kindness. It’s a strange and perhaps unconventional thing but … so was H.

I don’t miss life with cancer. I don’t miss watching him struggle with pain. I don’t miss the conflict of eating well or the constant doctor visits but I desperately miss my friend.

People have fallen back now – it’s normal and it’s ok. Maybe it’s necessary so that I can begin my personal grief journey. I’m not one to publicly emote. I have control issues and if I am emoting – I am not in control. (I am able to explain this clearly to clients as I have much, much practice.)  I find that I must pull inward more tightly at times because some have disenfranchised my grief. It seems that our ten (almost) year relationship was less than because we didn’t officiate it with a ceremony or legal document. Funny – Rocky and I were only married two and a half years but because he was my ‘husband’ – I was entitled to be a ‘widow’. I am not receiving the same respect from some this time around. Oh well… perhaps those people don’t matter.

What does matter is remembering and honoring the life and love that H and I shared. Ten years ago, this weekend we spent most hours on the floor in front of the fireplace getting to know the deepest parts of our hearts. It shattered all perceptions I had about middle age. I’ll save you from TMI but suffice it to say the memory is vivid and happy. Even in this last year while he struggled to live, there were moments that brought those old memories alive again. Just holding his hand and running my thumb across his palm created the same electricity we had shared when he was healthy. Sigh… next thought.

I am reflecting today on the things that H taught me. He taught me about true kindness. I am a kind person (I think) but H reinforced that in me. He reminded me always that people were “just angels from God”. He taught me about acceptance. He was quirky and fun – just owning it. I admired that so. Many of us are challenged to get over what people think of us and I realized in the last ten years that it doesn’t matter… if quirky and fun is authentic then love is the result. It was more than just accepting myself – it was about accepting others. H tolerated – peacefully – all of my faults. “It’s just who your mom is” … he would say to my kids. And he loved me anyway. Those things… those lessons… are stamped on my heart and I work from them every day, or at least, I try to.

The truth is, life goes on. I am a realist and I’ve done this before… yet I find there is a strange dichotomy between acknowledging that life continues and keeping those memories alive and close. Some days I want to erase everything that generates sadness and yet the thought of erasing anything of H is unbearable. Some days I want to look forward and make plans and simultaneously I am sad and lonely because he won’t be doing them with me. As I watch other couples and realize that I am only one now, a gaping hole opens in my heart. Sometimes I sit in our home, running through all the things we talked about doing and I can’t breathe for the ‘aloneness’ it instigates. Those are the moments that I must “push on” – “go forward” but they instill a sense of erasing, of letting go… and that doesn’t feel good either.

Ahh… grief. There it is again. I am an expert. I was running a widows/widowers group a few years ago (I am also an academic expert) and someone asked me to just let him know “how long this will last” so he could know what to expect… it’s the not knowing that catches you. Those moments you think you are just fine and moving along and then, BAM… something dumb catches you – stops you – and takes your breath.

My life changed dramatically this year. My day-to-day life is now different than it was. There are good things though. I am a grandma now and those moments when I am holding my son’s son… they are magical. Rocky would be so very proud. (Wait… another grief moment – see how convoluted it really is). My grandson’s presence in my life is a vivid reminder of life itself – the circle; the cycle; the rhythm; the normalcy.

H and I talked a lot about life and death… I’ve been reflecting on those conversations and the lessons. Perhaps as this new year unfolds I will be compelled to write about them. In the meantime, I continue my grief journey, remember H, stay present, and enjoy the moments as they materialize.

May all the blessing of the universe be available to you in 2018. Happy New Year.


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Family of Four

I sat down to write the most difficult letter of my life.

“Many men can make a fortune but very few can build a family.”  – J.S. Bryan

We were sitting at the dinner table one evening discussing baby names; girl names, boy names, first names, middle names … we said the name and added the last name. One by one, we drifted through a selection trying in on for size. Suddenly, Francis looked up and asked with a very serious and sobering voice “Why does my last name have to be different?” Hubby and I looked at each other – oh boy. I didn’t see this coming. My heart leaped and hurt at the same time. What is the right answer here? What can I say to this precious boy about his name, about his new brother or sister and their name… What?

Hubby and I talked and talked about how to answer his question and facilitate a sense of belonging. I struggled. By now, Francis was calling Hubby ‘daddy’ and he had no memory of his father. Rocky’s parents lived in the Midwest and many of his siblings were in the Northwest; I only saw them the first few years after Rock’s death. In fact, after meeting Hubby, I hadn’t gone at all. I was terribly conflicted about having residual feelings for my dead husband and wanting a relationship with his family versus keeping my attention on the man in my current life and his family. It always felt as if I was being disrespectful to one of them if I was thinking of the other… I chose not to think. I focused on what was in front of me. Hubby was in front of me. I focused on him.

Francis went to visit every summer however, at least until Rocky’s parent’s health failed to the point where they required a caregiver. I recall the one time they came to visit us, Hubby wasn’t around at all. I’m not sure if it was because it was awkward or if he was simply giving us some space. I never felt he was very accepting of my prior life. He had never been married and therefore didn’t have a reference point from which to allow for me having feelings for or a relationship with another whole family. Rocky’s siblings were great people yet I hadn’t been ‘in’ the family for long and we never lived close. We were all raising our children, building careers, leading busy lives and while we did exchange Christmas Cards each year, it was generally the extent of our connection. Furthermore, I’m not sure that having meaningful relationships with them would even have been acceptable to Hubby, my perception was that he resented my enduring feelings toward the family-at-large. Although I don’t recall a confrontation, I distinctly remember feeling like I had to choose. It’s entirely possible that I was just too immature to process being a part of two families; the absence of connection wasn’t anyone’s fault.

Never-the-less, without his family in the picture on a regular basis, Francis didn’t have a compass from which he could experience his Rockefeller identity. Of course, a healthy child needs to feel as though he/she is a part of something larger than themselves and Hubby had a large family close in proximity. They were big on birthday’s and Holidays. There were a lot of them actually and it seemed as we were always celebrating something. They would be good surrogates.

The tug-of-war was constant – or seemed so at least. I sometimes dreamt of Rock. He was here – in real life, telling me it had been a huge mistake, that he hadn’t died – he had amnesia. (Remember, I never saw him in death … it makes one wonder.) It had taken him a long time to figure out who he was and to find us. He wasn’t the same as I remembered him. He was distant, happy that I had moved on and acting aloof with me. This dream would happen on and off for years and always I felt torn and devastated – wanting to go back to my life with him but realizing that I had a different one now, with someone else, and had committed to it. I always woke disappointed and emotionally exhausted.

Ultimately, we agreed on adoption – it seemed to be the only reasonable option. Francis and all of his siblings would have the same last name. I sat down to write the most difficult letter of my life. I wrote to Rocky’s parents to tell them that I was expecting and that my hope was to create a family for Francis – a mom, dad, and now a sibling…. And I explained how important it was for Francis to have a sense of belonging – to know that he was part of something big and special, part of this family. I shared that Hubby had a large and loving family also. I poured my heart out to them, told them how much I missed their son but that I was trying to move on – to live. I wished that we had lived closer and that we could somehow have established a more concrete sense of inclusion for Francis but I felt it was in his best interest to allow Hubby to adopt him. I promised to keep Rocky’s memory alive for him, to share stories, and photographs. I promised that they would always be a part of our lives, and that they could see Francis whenever it was possible. I cried through the entire process but I believed I was doing the right thing. They reached out in love and support – as they always did. It didn’t feel good, but I did feel settled. We set the wheels in motion.

My due date came and went – I walked and walked. (Someone told me walking would help with labor). Finally, on April 28th, I went to the hospital with some mild contractions and we agreed with the doctor that it was time to induce labor. In just under three hours our baby girl was born. Hubby was a trooper during the labor even though I didn’t know which end was up and Francis was able to hold her within the first hour. We named her after my childhood baby doll – the name I had always dreamed of for my daughter – Sara Elizabeth. Her big brother wouldn’t leave her side even when he was given the chance. I allowed the vision of our family to swell into something picturesque and I hoped.

The adoption had been approved and finalized just weeks before Sara’s birth and we celebrated both children on the day of Sara’s baptism. We were a family of four.

God Bless Best Friends

If I were a Lesbian, I could have married that girl!

“Everything that has happened in your life has happened perfectly in order for you—and all the souls involved with you—to grow in exactly the way you’ve needed and wanted to grow” -Neale Donald Walsch

Eventually I was promoted and scheduled to open a branch office in Fredericksburg, VA for the Investment Company I worked for. I took my son and a neighbor girl up there, lived in a hotel for a month while I attempted to make things happen, and focused on making a life for us. It did take root slowly so we moved. I got an apartment and Francis started Kindergarten. We were a team – he and I. We settled in to our routine as a mother/son pair. I was 28 and began making peace with life.

It was an interesting time. For me – being 28 was like a neon light flashing “30’s Coming” over and over inciting me to ‘hurry up’. My mental timeline for being married and completing my family was ending at 30. While I had had an epiphany some time back about reaching my goals in a different way, it was becoming more difficult to trust that process by the day with the absence of evidence that it may change. I became aware of my body aging. I was getting laugh lines around my eyes and more chin hair. I recall spending a solid weekend giving myself a facial and steam bath, caking on the moisturizer and then going to buy a bottle of wine; they carded me. YES!! It worked I thought. Whereas today -I find this memory quite hysterical – it was difficult to feel then. Not rationale given perspective but we don’t have future perspective – we don’t know what we don’t know!

Francis was my light. He was so incredibly gentle and innocent. A special memory for me is a day when I came home tired and perhaps a bit frustrated with work. I must have sighed really deeply because he asked me “what’s wrong mamma?”  “I had a bad day honey, it’ll be ok” I replied. “I’m sorry mom.” His little voice was gentle. “Oh honey, it’s not your fault”. I picked him up to sit in my lap. “Yes, it is” he says in a small voice. “I forgot to tell you to have a good day”.  I cried.

As adorable and endearing as he was, he gave me a really hard time staying with a sitter. I couldn’t blame him really. For most of his life he had been cared for by my mom or his sitter since infancy. There in Fredericksburg everyone was a stranger. Aside from that, I worked a ton. I would drop him off at school in the morning and then he would be bused to daycare afterwards. I was almost always one of the last to pick him up. One day he asked me “When am I going to get a new daddy?”

I had to explain that in order for me to find a new dad, I’d have to date people and get to know them and find out if they would work out which meant he would have to stay with a sitter. He starred off into space for a bit and then looked at me with very serious eyes and said with a resigned tone. “OK, I will.”

I tried dating again. Dating in 1988 wasn’t any easier than it is today. Let’s face it – dating kind of sucks. There is so much uncertainty; intense vulnerability. It highlights our insecurities. I met a guy who worked at a gas station I went to almost every day; not for gas but lunch or bread, milk, etc…. He worked there. He asked me out and then asked me if I liked seafood – I said yes to both questions and gave him my address. He picked me up on a Friday night and took me to Long John Silvers.

I used all of my good manners and worked really hard to be open and non-judgmental. It didn’t work. I was overwhelmed with the failed expectation. I swelled with aggravation that my life was panning out like this. That even though Prince Charming had found me, I was relegated to being there – with a gas station attendant – on a date at a fast food restaurant. No second date and I changed gas stations. And then, I felt guilty and snobby. I’m sure he was a good guy really. It wasn’t all about WHAT he was. It was so much more about who he wasn’t. I missed Rocky.

I remembered a dogma of the SAGE movement I had attended almost a decade earlier based on what many of us know now as ‘the Law of Attraction’, which postulated our ability to attract into our life those things we focus on. I created a list of my ‘perfect’ man. He would be tall, Catholic, unmarried, attractive, financially secure, etc… those were the key points. I read the list daily with an emphasis on believing that this person I was visualizing would appear in my life. The technique had worked for me years ago when I was searching for an apartment, why not try it again?

I was fortunate enough to have fantastic friends. That group of people who had become a surrogate family. The only problem was that after I moved they lived a solid 3 hours away. My bestie and I created a ‘schedule’ of events so that we always had something to look forward to. She was also a single mom and our children were buddies, which made it easier. They were Nintendo buds. Her daughter was a bit older and therefore much more practiced than my 5-year-old who didn’t have a system yet. He would sit crossed legged on the floor next to her with his lips slightly parted, intently watching the screen while she played. I always wondered what was happening in his mind as he watched her manipulate Mario and Luigi around the screen. It turns out that he got really, really good at playing video games.

In any regard, she was my ‘other’ for those months. We created a bucket list and then planned weekends to fulfill the items there. We went camping with the kids and created memories that we still talk about. We visited amusement parks that challenged our patience and equilibrium. We cooked, baked, and threw parties. We drank a lot. It was truly one of the happiest periods of my life. If I were a Lesbian, I could have married that girl!

Our lives mirrored one another’s in almost every way and we relished in our friendship because it made the commitment to abstinence we had made, bearable. We both had such negative experiences with men in recent history so many months before, we had committed to abstain from casual encounters of any form. We thought it would surely be the healthiest way to gather our wits, our strength, and our courage for an eventual relationship. She was responsible for bringing my spirit back to life. As it happens, we share a birthday – although I am the younger one ; ) – and the combination of shared experiences, love for one another, and deep, deep respect have fed our friendship for almost 30 years now.

Our company held an annual conference to educate us and reward us for the successes achieved throughout the year. It happened that this year, we both qualified to go and it was to occur over our birthday weekend in 1989 so she drove up to me and we traveled to Lancaster, PA together. Lancaster is a good sized town in the heart of Amish country in Southwestern Pennsylvania. It was familiar to us since the company arranged to have the same location year after year. It was a relaxing, beautiful drive on country roads. We were looking forward to sitting by the pool and seeing old friends who lived in other parts of the country. We always looked forward to this event.

Many of the people who attended the conference were young. Working for pure commission weeds out the weak really quickly. Lots of young people try so the population at these conferences was weighted with twenty-somethings. There was a nightclub at the conference center and as is typical at these things, it was packed after the dinner/speaker session ended. We were all dancing and drinking; having a great time with new and old friends. During one of my dance floor appearances I locked eyes with another guy across the dance floor. They were piercing. He smiled. I smiled back. He winked. I winked back.

And then my heart fluttered.

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My Heart at DEFCON 1

Holy crap… did God just talk to me? Was that my imagination? Who’s there?

I spent the end of my twenties as a single lady. In retrospect, it was a time of defense. I was in personal DEFCON 1. I was unwilling and unable to invest my emotional being in any type of intimate connection. I developed ‘control issues’. Ultimately, at any time that we feel unsafe – emotionally or otherwise – we attempt to gain control of our surroundings so that we can experience comfort. My intent was not to control any ‘person’ or really any ‘thing’ – simply create an environment in which I felt emotionally safe. It was much harder to do than one imagines.

In those years I did have a relationship with a guy who was really, really, comfortable. He was great. Non-confrontational and easy, really easy to be with. He was fun. He wasn’t a lot of other things that really mattered to me but I loved the ease with which we existed together. It was mostly a long distance relationship and when it became a REALLY long distance romance because he moved – he asked me to marry him. He called dad and I said yes. There was no ring – no real plans – it was a desperate proposal. We loved what we had together – we didn’t love each other!

He relocated and started building his life in a new town – I was setting things in motion to get there. It was really hard for us to connect when we couldn’t even spend weekends together (Ahhh… time before cell phones and Skype). He was lonely – I was distracted and busy with a preschooler and a 50 hour per week job. We started arguing and disagreeing about timing of my move, etc. One day he called and talked about an ‘attraction’ he had to a woman he was working with… he was reconsidering our engagement. I didn’t give him a chance. My reaction was at gut level and instinctive…. “I guess I’ll just have to get over you then.” That was me – controlling. I believed I was in control of the amount of emotion that I could allow in the experience. I shut down anything that was intense. I had developed a coping mechanism that was completely unhealthy. I was refusing to feel.

It was me – reacting to yet another loss in my life. I didn’t give him the benefit of the doubt – I didn’t let him explain or share feelings, insecurities, or fears. I shut him down before he could shut me out. He was done in my mind. I had reacted from a place of deep pain – a part of me that had lost love and had yet to be willing to experience the vulnerability of truly loving again.

Love – in any way – did not feel safe.  I had loved my mother and she left. I had loved Rocky and he died. I had loved another and he got sidetracked. Bam! Fuck love. I was now in control mode and making sure that love didn’t touch any part of my life. Defense … Defending … Protected. That was me.

I didn’t know that I had adopted those mechanisms. I was on auto pilot. I was dating and anticipating… excited to meet each new guy but every time, failed to make a connection that felt authentic or long lasting. I was holding everyone I met to the standard of how I loved Rocky and of how he loved me. Even though there were real moments in my marriage that humanized him, Rocky remained a superman in my mind. I had him on a pedestal of sorts. I knew that there were problems in our relationship that were real and typical of young love – it didn’t enter the equation when I associated men that came after him. No one compared.

I put a lot of focus on being a mom. I rented a room in my house to a guy that had been a really good friend of Rocky’s. He was in the area for work and was a great addition to our home. I wanted to love him. We weren’t romantic at all but I wanted to be with him – he was a connection to Rock. I couldn’t. I’m not sure he ever knew my thoughts and I’m still not completely sure if I was simply horny and trusted him or if I loved the idea of him from the perspective of the memories we shared. We had both loved the same guy – differently of course – but it was a connection that I didn’t have with anyone else. I lost track of him eventually.

I was a mom and a hard worker. I spent a ton of time working (a pure commission job) just to make ends meet. Rocky didn’t have life a life insurance policy. I distinctly remember a couple of guys from some Veteran’s group sitting at our kitchen table before he went overseas, trying to sell us a substantial policy but we were poor and young. We believed there was time. He had a small benefit from the Navy Reserves but it took me a long time to submit the paperwork. There was a finality about it. If I got the money it meant, he wasn’t coming back.

Our life (Francis’s and mine) was forging forward without much effort. I bought a house by assuming a mortgage. He started preschool and I kept working. I would drop him off at daycare in the morning – pick him up at night – take him home to eat dinner – and then wait for the babysitter to come so that I could go back out to work and yet… we were basically broke. I had never finished my degree so I felt stuck with the job I had – a sales job with an investment company. I was determined to make something of it.

I was lonely though. I still wanted a piece of that dream I had created all those years ago and I had become somewhat depressed and pessimistic – angry almost – about it coming to fruition. I recall a pivotal moment one evening when, after making a dead end sales call far away from home, I had started the return trip home – in tears – feeling completely and totally defeated. I was sure that none of my dreams would ever come true. In an instant – there was a voice – a male voice – deep and comforting – that said “stop being narrow minded – there are so many possibilities”. Holy crap… did God just talk to me? Was that my imagination? Who’s there? It’s hard to explain what a deep sense of ‘knowing’ I had immediately. It was so intense that I started laughing. Like a slide show on fast forward, dozens of potential life scenarios appeared in my mind. I went from sadness to exhilaration in a second (this experience is what I reference when I attempt to empathize with a psychotic break). I experienced an understanding that had not been there before. I would be OK.

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Making Sense of Nothing

After that conversation, I found myself looking DEEP into the eyes of every man I met – looking for Rocky.

“I believe that everything happens for a reason. People change so that you can learn to let go, things go wrong so that you appreciate them when they’re right, you believe lies so you eventually learn to trust no one but yourself, and sometimes good things fall apart so better things can fall together.”
— Marilyn Monroe

So there I was – turning 25 and the mom of an almost two-year-old. I vividly recall my birthday that year and a couple of friends from work took me to a disco. Everyone had this goal of getting me hooked up with a guy – I guess it was their way of helping me to see that life could go on.  I recall the bartender serving us shots of Peppermint Schnapps when he discovered we were celebrating and I recall some kind of ‘blue’ drink – perhaps Mediterranean Iced Tea? Well, I’m sure you can see this train wreck coming….  One of my friends (the smart one) went home early and unbeknownst to us, took the car keys. The only transportation option for the remaining two of us was to hitch a ride with the two dudes that had been grinding on the dance floor with us all night. These boys thought they were going to get lucky! It was 1985 – I’m not sure we had any thoughts about which one of us were too drunk to drive in fact, if Patty hadn’t taken the keys – one of us probably would have driven back to my place. I’m so glad we are more intellectually evolved these days

I distinctly recall getting in the house and my girlfriend headed upstairs – she must have been prepared to spend the night. I laid out on the Flokati rug that was in front of the fireplace. Oh man – I was in trouble. My stomach churned and swished and stirred as it tried like a geyser to spout up my throat… This was not going to be good. I recall this guy on his hands and knees over the top of me (we still had clothing on) attempting to kiss me and all I could say was “watch out, I’m going to puke”.  About that time, I hear yelling upstairs “who the hell are you?” and another guy runs down the stairs, saying “Let’s go” and they bolt out the door. It was a long night of puking. It was also the night that became a strong reminder to not abuse alcohol. I can count future hangovers on my hands – maybe even on one.

I had a really hard time redefining myself. I was a single mom. I had responsibilities that prevented me from engaging fully in the ‘single’ life. I didn’t really ‘belong’ anywhere. Eventually, the people I worked with became like family to me. They adopted Francis as a mascot of sorts. I recall a party or two where we took turns trying to get him to sleep while 80’s funk blasted in Dolby stereo. Weekdays were routine…. And emotionally manageable. It was the weekends that truly sucked.

Weekends are for families. They are for making things happen – for forging plans and dreams. For us, they were about cartoons and …. Well – laundry. I adopted a coping mechanism of leaving on Saturday morning. I would pack the car and drive somewhere – anywhere that didn’t remind me of what I ‘wasn’t’ doing. Francis was a trooper on those adventures. He hung out in his car seat and sang songs with me. He may not want to ever admit it but at one time he really moved to Madonna, Foreigner, and REO Speedwagon! We occasionally drove far enough that I would grab a hotel room and extend the escapade. I found some great little museums, parks, playgrounds, and beaches by doing this. It remains one of my favorite things to do – random exploring.

I wasn’t alone. I had a housemate who was great. He did all the ‘guy’ things – including the removal of a maggot infused bag of potatoes that had been forgotten in the pantry. I had family. My mom and stepdad, brother and twin sisters lived only 10 miles away. I saw them frequently. I had a lot of support from friends at work. I FELT alone. There is NO surrogate for the father of your child. No one cares as much as you and your partner when he has diarrhea or a fever. No one is able to experience the sweetness of peek-a-boo for the two-hundredth time like a parent. Sharing your child with others who love them is special but it does not replace the experience of sharing it with your partner. It is an obvious omission every day and difficult to get used to. I wish I had known more about gratitude back then.

I was trying to make sense of life. I was still pretty mad at God. I found more reasons than is logical for why Rocky died. I attempted to rationalize beyond a reasonable effort. I tried to convince myself that it had been ‘his time’ and that it didn’t matter that I had bought the kite that ultimately killed him; if we had gone into town, perhaps there would have been a car accident. I was using a concept I had learned as a teenager at a Youth for Christ conference I had attended with a Methodist friend. “Everything happens for a reason”.  It was a mantra that had a big impact then – I was attempting to use it now. What ‘reason’ could there possibly be for this tragedy in my life? I hit a void each time I searched for an answer. My aunt gave me a copy of the book When Bad Things Happen to Good People and while I knew that God didn’t make it happen, I needed a reason as to why it happened.

My brother was in high school at this point – remember that kid I dressed up? He was smart and we were close. Rocky had been a mentor to him, a true brother. This death had hit him hard – a turning point in his life too. I recall a particular esoteric conversation with him that bordered on unhinged in the way we discussed it. We began talking about God, heaven, hell, spirits, and reincarnation. We started thinking about Rocky’s death from the perspective that perhaps his soul had been called for another body. What if his only purpose here on Earth was to help me create Francis? What if he was only ‘supposed’ to be here for a while. We talked about that Warren Beatty movie Heaven Can Wait where the main character dies accidentally and his soul needed a new body. After that conversation, I found myself looking DEEP into the eyes of every man I met – looking for Rocky.

It was the beginning of a defining spiritual journey for me. It sparked a curiosity that brewed in my soul for many years. The seed had been planted and while it laid dormant for some time, it was (under my awareness) being fertilized and cared for.

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Letting Go

The sense of him was so strong. I knew in my heart that he was just outside my door.

Life as a widow was exceptionally awkward. I was still very much in the “we” mode. I was hesitant to make plans before I checked with Rocky. I would wonder what he wanted for dinner. I would buy his favorite cookies without thinking. Each time I remembered he wasn’t there I would quickly inhale and stop breathing for just a minute. I was just 24 years old with an 18 mo. old baby, learning to navigate widowhood.

We live in a “couple’s culture”. From a very early age we are exposed to the idea that we will eventually become ‘a couple’. We are led to find someone and share our life. Valentine’s Day, wedding season, two-parent family focus, date night reminders and the like are constant in our society – reminding us of the ultimate goal. When you ARE a couple you are part of the club and when you are NOT it’s painfully obvious that you no longer belong.  Married people we used to hang out with stopped inviting me to events (they didn’t want me to feel bad). When someone did invite me to a party or something, they were generally attempting to set me up with someone.

I was living in a Navy Mecca – Tidewater Virginia. Sailors were everywhere; in cars on the freeway, at 7-11 getting coffee, in grocery stores and banks. Every time I saw a tall blonde with broad shoulders wearing Navy whites I would experience tightness in my chest and feel my stomach begin to turn inside out. For that first six months I was in denial, choosing to believe that perhaps he was just doing another tour of duty, that he had somehow escaped the hospital and had amnesia. No matter what I did, there were triggers everywhere. Even doing something s simple as laundry could move me to an exhaustive crying fit as I realized (again) that there were no men’s briefs in the basket.  I tried to move on. I tried to ‘get over it’. I tried to be how everyone thought I should be. I didn’t know what grief was supposed to look like or how long it should last so I went with what others suggested was appropriate.

I attended a widow’s group at the urging of a neighbor. It was held her church and she offered to go with me although she was not yet widowed. I have to assume that the people in that room were well intended. I realize they were experiencing their own losses. They listened as I described my circumstances, my pain, and my fears. And then they dismissed it all. They told me that I should be glad to be young. They said that I had plenty of time to remarry, that I would find someone else. Another person suggested that I replace all of my underwear because ‘single’ ladies should have pretty panties. Some part of me knew these people meant well. I wanted to spit at them.

In MY mind, it didn’t matter if I had been married 4 years or 40. Perhaps we hadn’t yet accumulated the history but we HAD developed the dreams and anticipation of them. Every aspect of my future – every vision I had about it – included him.  He was automatically built into the mental picture of everything I had hoped for going forward. It was a constant ‘head shaking’ to realign or reconfigure day to day living. In terms of visualizing a future – it was as if someone had built a cinder block wall in front of me. I couldn’t see around it, over it, or through it, I had NO idea what was ahead of me and I had no energy to keep going.

On a particularly difficult night as I lay in bed, deeply feeling my loss and experiencing intense sorrow – I contemplated taking my own life. I didn’t want to be in a world without him. I wanted to be WITH him- no matter how that had to happen. I thought about how I could die without feeling pain. I thought about it a long time. Of course my first thought was Francis…. Who would take care of him? My mom and step dad lived close and my twin (half) sisters were only 7 … they would take excellent care of him; they would love him. He would really never remember us… would he be ok? I wondered if he would hate me. I wondered if Rocky would be happy to see me or mad that I had left Francis? And then… I remembered. I remembered the Catholic upbringing that taught me about suicide; they say it is the ONLY sin committed that one cannot ask forgiveness for… without forgiveness, I would go to hell. That’s what I thought about.

If I was in hell, and Rocky was in heaven – then the entire objective of dying to be with him didn’t make sense. It wouldn’t serve any purpose.


During these months there were a number of incidents that pointed to the idea that Rock was with us…

One evening I went to pick Francis up from the sitter – he’s about 20 mos. old. She explained that she was sitting on the couch folding clothes while Francis played with his truck on the floor. He started chatting and then suddenly got up, ran to the corner of the room and held his arms up chanting “Dadadadada…” then, went back to the center of his room, picked up the truck he had been playing with and took it over to the corner – lifting it high as if to show it off.

The babysitter was freaked out.

On another occasion a few months later after I had moved into a new place I heard Francis in his room playing and talking away… my housemate and I stood in the doorway as we watched and listened to him talk to his dad about his toys.

I was sitting in bed one evening reading. It was quiet in the house and I felt settled for a change. Suddenly I felt something – he was there – in the house. The sense of him was so strong. I knew in my heart that he was just outside my door. “Stop” I whispered. “Please, please don’t come in here.”  I knew that if by being ‘here’ – he could be ‘there’ – I would never be able to leave the ‘here’ space. I’d never be able to live in the world – to have a life.

My heart was beating so fast and hard that I could hear it and tears were building in my eyes. “I have to let you go and I can’t do it if I know that you are here with me.”

I was so very sad.

“Go see Francis – he needs you. I will never teach him that you aren’t really there – be with him but let me be babe.”  I sank into my pillows, eyes tightly closed, and refused him.

That night, I let go and made a conscious decision to keep moving.