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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Fading Into Fear

There is a fine line – perhaps an invisible line – between living each day with its offerings and preparing yourself for what is to come.

“You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment. Fools stand on their island of opportunities and look toward another land. There is no other land; there is no other life but this.” ― Henry David Thoreau

I’ve had a hard time getting motivated to write lately… I have several ‘irons in the fire’ so to speak and making the time to sit down and put my thoughts on paper has been more difficult than it has been for months. I wonder… have I said everything I have to say? Probably not. It’s just… life is getting  in my way.

I wrote about Plan B recently… it was on my mind because I have control ‘issues’ and having a plan B helps me to feel safe but it also challenged me to think about what our backup plan was. It promoted good conversation here and maybe offered some fuel to fire up our efforts in laying track so that alternatives could become possibilities. That can take time and organization.

How does one unemotionally plan for a time when your loved one isn’t here? I realize how pragmatic it is and I know the logical benefits of planning but there is a part of my heart that fails to detach from these conversations. Each time one of us says “in case you’re not here” or “In case I die… there is a shudder deep within my spirit. My lungs suddenly inflate and I find myself slowly exhaling in an effort to breathe normally.

We are mortal beings and yet when our mortality sits deliberately and stubbornly in our path; when it spits in our face – coping can be quite overwhelming. We want to make life normal and yet there is a ‘new normal’ – a way of being that we are not used to – to which we have yet to acclimate.

There is a fine line – perhaps an invisible line – between living each day with its offerings and preparing yourself for what is to come. I believe this to be true regardless of the health hurdles we individually face because we, as human entities, prescribe to the need to forward think, to forward plan, to forward seek.

Right now, our lives are filled with details… taxes, budgets, business planning, etc. We will be buying a new car soon. Harlan has one of the TDI Jetta’s that is being bought back by Volkswagen and there have been a dozen hoops to jump through – more paperwork! Trying to fit car shopping into our lives and planning for whatever our future may hold is also tough. Harlan can only walk for a short bit before he gets uncomfortable and he still tires easily.

Getting one’s “affairs in order” – not because it’s ‘that time’ necessarily, but because it’s the prudent thing to do – is more detail oriented than you think when all you do it talk about it. In the face of your mortality there are more particulars and minutiae than is comfortable and the information can only be coped with in parcels. And time passes.

Yesterday, we learned the Oncologist we’ve been working with since the initial diagnosis is leaving the practice because of his own health issues and while we are of course, compassionate toward his personal needs and grateful for the help and kindness he extended to us, we are devastated to be changing doctors midstream. It’s interesting to look at how much trust you develop in a person who is guiding your medical care and the feelings that arise when it must be reestablished with someone new.

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I realized throughout my life that the best part about going on vacation was the fact that we didn’t have to deal with real life for a while. We could just hang out and enjoy the company of people we love, relax and be in the moment – truly. That is when being ‘present’ is easily manifested, consistently. In real life – being present is more difficult. It takes constant concentration and focus. I realize that I am good at it – in spurts – I can take a deep breath and center myself where I can zero in on the experience of ‘now’. I often find myself smiling then; enjoying the sensation.

And then it is lost. I fade into details and fear and uncertainty. I feel anxious about the future. And then the process repeats.

Drift…

Come back…

Pay attention…

Drift again…

It doesn’t matter if I am working, cooking, cleaning (which, doesn’t happen all that often), walking, or just sitting and watching television. I am aware of how frequently this process repeats and I find the intensity is triggered by specific nuances. If Harlan is having a good day, I feel stable and secure. If he’s not, the fear creeps in between the ‘now’ moments I try to embrace. If there is a big decision to make I feel an urgency to make it happen now – without hesitation and any patience I have practiced – disappears. If we argue, I immediately berate myself for needing to be right, or needing to be validated – both entirely human experiences that I honor, but I certainly wish my ego would just back down and let my heart do the directing ALL the time!

Each day we wake up to the reality of life, of cancer, of responsibilities, and of relationships and remember that in all of it – we are doing the best that we know how to do on that day. We are both acutely aware of how blessed we are and we have the ability to forge our broken and fearful spirits together like trees that have fallen into one another yet they still stand; at least until one of them is too debilitated to hold the other. For now, we make it through each day – through each week; maybe a little bit in spite – but hey, whatever it takes.

I must acknowledge that we do not stand alone. Indeed, a thick and healthy forest of support surrounds us. It is the oxygen of their existence that I breathe deeply when the spirit of hopelessness tugs on my soul. And I am reminded of hope. And I do the best that I can.

Drift…

Come back…

More Letting Go

I had a small epiphany… for a lot of things, letting go isn’t a one and done thing!!

The requirements for our evolution have changed. Survival is no longer sufficient. Our evolution now requires us to develop spiritually – to become emotionally aware and make responsible choices. It requires us to align ourselves with the values of the soul – harmony, cooperation, sharing, and reverence for life. ~ Gary Zukav

As I wrote yesterday’s post I was emotional. That’s usually a sign that I need to stop writing, process the emotions that are there and then… go forward. I was emotional because it’ hard coping with this ‘new normal’. When I am reminded of the life that H and I ‘wanted’ to live – I get sad because it’s not the life we ‘are’ living and I know it must be very difficult for H if it’s hard for me.

In this year of Cancer, I’ve learned so much. I’ve learned a lot about H but more about myself. I’ve learned about my friends and family. I’ve learned more about people and thoughts and feelings. It’s been an education on so many different levels.

There are a lot of little hurts that happen and accumulate when life is hard. There are people who aren’t ‘there’ in the way you may have imagined. There are disappointments about plans that have to be changed or canceled. There are misunderstandings because we may not communicate well when stressed. There are hopes and dreams that move from vivid to blurry.

I was ironing some napkins (don’t be impressed – they are cotton and I left them in the dryer)… and thinking about letting go… I use a lot of techniques already to ‘let go’ of old stuff – techniques that work well but… what about the stuff that isn’t necessarily old?

I had a small epiphany… for a lot of things, letting go isn’t a one and done thing!! Some of you may have already acquired this knowledge and bless you… life must be easier for you since garnering this tidbit.

I realized that every morning when I wake up I need to LET GO of the things that are still there that day. It’s not like the dismay that I had to release regarding ex-Hubby or the anger I felt over the betrayal of Abee… H’s cancer is there EVERY DAY. It burdens him and affects our life every day. I realized that I need to practice letting go more religiously.

I thought of the sentiment ‘Let go and let God’… I think… let God what? Is God going to heal H? is God going to introduce me to someone else to grow old with? Is God going to give H more strength and comfort TODAY so that he has a quality of life? I know there aren’t any answers to these questions and even the devout Christians that I admire and love will tell me that God has a plan for this – jeez… I even believe that the Universe (God?) will help us find value in this experience. And so, without specific answers to these questions, I realized today that I need to practice – as in doing over and over again – the act of ‘letting go’.

When I think about what I am letting go of – I think it may be a couple of things….

A specific outcome

I want H to live, to retire with me, to travel with me, and comfort me. I hear the word “I” a lot when I think about how this ‘should’ play out and I feel guilty about that, although I know it’s quite normal. I have no idea what H’s journey is – what karmic agreement he has with the Universe and/or what God’s plan is for him. I get caught up in the things that we talked about – the things that ‘feel’ good to me and I want our story to have a theme very different than the one that is playing.

The need to control

Because I want all of those ‘things’ – I believe I can help them come to fruition if only I was in control of his health…

I use the analogy of fixing H a salad for dinner if I am going to be home late. I get home – see the salad still in the fridge and freak out because he didn’t eat. My mind does this … I see the salad – it means H didn’t eat – which means he didn’t get the nutrients his immune system needs – which means his immune system won’t work – meaning cancer will grow – which means he will die – leaving me alone and unloved.

Yup… that’s what my mind does in a manner of nanoseconds. H doesn’t stand a chance because I see the salad and go right to I’ll be alone and unloved. (hear all that abandonment??) And so – in an effort to prevent all those negative feelings – I try and control for them. I make a salad with lots of nutrients and ask him to eat. Sometimes, he doesn’t want the salad, sometimes, he just doesn’t want to eat.

I realize that I am trying to control his health – and can’t. Just that simple… I need to let go of my need to control his health.

My feelings

I need to let go of my feelings. I tell people all the time not to judge their feelings – I wrote about it the other day and yet on my walk today I realized that I feel guilty about having such strong feelings because I’m not the one who has cancer. I’m not the one struggling physically although I readily acknowledge that it has a dramatic effect on both of us because we are partners.

The realization that it isn’t a one and done venture is most important here. The feelings I had yesterday when I saw him struggling to get up, I worked at letting those go yesterday. But the feelings I had today when he complained of pain that is unexplainable… I need to ‘let go’ again. I need to be better about remembering to ‘let go’ – to imagine myself as a funnel – to detach from the fear and observe it moving in… and out… away…

My fear

Death is a bizarre thing for those of us who keep living… one minute you’re there… the next – you’re not. Sometimes, we experience the absence of the person who died in a physical way, a physiological pain. I’ve heard about it from parents who lost a child and from children who lost a parent, from spouses who lost their lovers and I remember the feeling acutely… a minute that never ends – only lessens in intensity. I’ve realized that I am afraid of having that experience again. It’s not here yet and maybe it won’t come. Hopefully, it won’t come… because I remember how intense it was and I realize how hard I am resisting its return.

My new mantra… “I am letting go of my fear, my feelings, my control and the outcome and I will trust that the lessons here have value”.  If you know me… remind me of this!

 

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Remembering Ruthie

She practiced appreciation in a way that we all can learn from.

In loving memory of Ruth Elaine Rought 11/30/1949 – 12/13/2016

He who praises another enriches himself far more than he does the one praised. To praise is an investment in happiness. The poorest human being has something to give that the richest could not buy”. ~ George M. Adams

Today, I am thinking about death and its impact on the living. The day before last, an angel was born of an earthly soul who was my Aunt. My mother’s youngest sister, a vibrant, sassy, stubborn, and gracious woman who was just eleven years my senior. One of my distinct memories of her was when she was pregnant with her first child, I would have been ten I think… she was standing in front of a large laundry basket that was in front of the television and she was ‘allowing me a treat’ to be in the room while ‘Love is a Many Splendid Thing’ – a popular soap opera from the late sixties / early seventies was airing. Back then, things were aired live and you had to watch it – or miss it, there was no in between. Consequently, I was abiding by the instructions of ‘be seen – not heard’.

Ruth drank coffee and smoked cigarettes most every day of her life and my memory of that day includes those smells. I idolized her. She was the big sister that inhabited my fantasies when I was lonely. We were blood sisters. A couple of years earlier, before she was married, she and her friend Tony included me in a ‘swapping of blood’ that we obtained via pinprick. While that may seem gross and quite unhealthy in today’s world, back then, it was a ‘rite of passage’ for me, meaning that I could be in the room while they talked about high school and boys. I, of course – now that I was a blood sister – was sworn to secrecy.

I recall times when she was babysitting us and she would settle us into a booth at a diner located across the street from a gas station where this special guy worked. She would go hang out with him, leaving our waitress with orders to feed us as much as and for as long as we wanted or at least until she returned. We couldn’t see her but we believed that she could see us and she warned us that everyone was watching so we behaved ourselves and waited patiently for her to finish her flirting. Sometimes, she was an ‘overnight’ babysitter and I remember one summer when she stayed with us for a week where she would let us get fudgesicles from the corner market. She would eat two and I wanted to grow up so that I could too.

She and Barry (the boyfriend from the Gas station) eventually got married and Ally and I were her flower girls. I thought she was the most beautiful bride I had ever seen. Her waist was Gone With The Wind small and I envied her petite frame and exotic look most of my life. Uncle Barry was a human teddy bear with a small round belly and a soft smile that enticed you to crawl up into his lap at a moment’s notice. Some of my fondest memories come from the weeks that I would stay with them in the summer. By the time she had several children, I was the perfect babysitter and it was time for karmic balance. My weeks with her entailed changing diapers and folding clothes while she did the other half of the daily chores, some of which included chatting with friends on the extremely long corded telephone while I ran around the yard chasing a bare naked two-year-old.

Ruth and Barry were young lovers and self-proclaimed soul mates. She loved love. She was passionate about him, about her children, family, and her beliefs. She would argue a point – if she believed it – until you were torn and tattered; not to tell you, you were wrong but to be sure you had heard that she thought she was right. I may have learned some of my talent as a result of that exposure. She taught me that I didn’t need a bra until I could hold a pencil under my breast and proceeded to demonstrate her point. By her standard, I was forty when a bra was finally necessary.

I moved away and began my own adult life but each time that I went back to ‘the farm’ to visit my grandparents, Ruth was there, wanting to know everything there was to know. We began to build a friendship that was based less on the big sister image and more as contemporaries. When I brought my son ‘home’ for everyone to meet, her daughter Renee took great interest in him – wanting to help me – picking up where her mom and I had left off.

Ruth moved to Cincinnati where my Dad and Stepmom lived with my little brothers – mom’s sister but family nonetheless. When I would go to visit, we ALL got together and my brothers grew to call her Great-ex-Aunt-Ruthie. She and my step-mom even developed a semblance of a friendship – you couldn’t resist the energy that Ruth extended.

Sadly, in 1990 her husband suddenly and without warning or cause, passed away. I will never forget the phone call. I imagine I was on her list because she had become a member of the ‘widow’ club and she needed console from someone else there. We commiserated together on the woes of widowhood, the pain, and the emptiness. I had remarried by then but she struggled to move away from the depth of heartbreak. For a time she lived life hard, I think to escape the anguish that overshadowed her spirit. She floundered for a while and then headed home to the comfort of what she knew and where she belonged. She returned to the home place and found comfort in being near her parents.

She met a guy – loved – and lost again. Not by death this time but it was equally difficult because the disappointment was deep and razor sharp. She wasn’t ready to cope with being alone and in the midst of that ache, she lost her parents and sister. Her adult life was also – filled with loss.

Her spirit was immensely strong though and she persevered. While I was settling my grandparent’ estate (she lived next door) we would often talk and she believed in positivity. She worked diligently to build upon and emit optimistic perspectives. Everything she knew was being challenged but she persisted and pushed. The stubborn stance that had proven maladaptive in historical moments now provided her courage and tenacity. She fought with a daily dose of affirmation and gratitude. Indeed, she became one of the most gracious women I’ve known – always offering words of praise and encouragement; expressions of hope and confidence.

A year ago, last summer I picked up the phone when she called to say hello. It was a foreboding conversation and I didn’t understand. She was emotional, loving, and supportive – asking for an update on my kids, work, Harlan… there was something in that phone call that sounded like she was saying goodbye but I didn’t question it until later.

Within a couple of days, her daughter Renee called to tell me that Ruth had been hospitalized and she was headed up to the farm. Long story short… Ruth had small cell lung cancer. After stabilizing her and understanding the diagnosis and prognosis better, the decision was made to move her to North Carolina so that she was close to premier medical facilities and family. She underwent treatment and responded well. She used the accumulated emotional resources she had acquired to adjust to this new space, a ‘new normal’ and adapted in an environment extraordinarily different from the rest of her life. It was a new world for her and yet, she captured the hearts of people everywhere she went because gratitude and love oozed from her no matter her condition or position.

November 30th, 2016 was her 67th birthday. I called several times but she didn’t pick up. Finally, I texted Renee and asked if they were together – figuring they might be having a birthday lunch. “I will be in 30 minutes”, Renee replied. “Great – please tell your mom Happy Birthday from me,” I said. “Give her a big hug”.

Through the years, Renee and I had become tremendously close, developing a relationship much more like sisters than cousins – carrying on the tradition of her mother and me– handing down the baton through the generations… “Will do” she texted me back.

I thought I’d try one more time though and with the next phone call, Ruth answered and listened patiently as I sang her my rendition of the ‘Happy Birthday’ song…. “Oh thank you honey, it’s a wonderful day,” she says.

She was full – overflowing really – with exuberance and gratitude for the blessings she had already received and was eagerly awaiting lunch and a short shopping expedition with Renee. She listed several people who had already called, remarking that even RZ had wished her a happy birthday and she was so very pleased. She exhibited, vocally at least, intense satisfaction with how her day started and sounded full of boundless appreciation for my short call, for all of the people who had remembered her.

The next day, for no apparent reason, she fell, collapsed. Over the subsequent twelve days, her body deteriorated to the point that it was no longer supporting her life on its own. Her decision to be removed from life support was honored and she passed peacefully into the space that is not here, into the space where her lover, her parents, and her sister had gone before her. God, how we will miss her.

I have thought about death today. I’ve thought about how much death hurts the living. No matter our beliefs, the idea that someone we love is no longer available to touch or to hear or to listen… it’s a sad thing. We weep for ourselves, for what we want and can’t have. I want to console Renee, Chris, and Julie but there is no consolation for losing your mother. None. I want to say something that is smart, funny, sassy, or profound to eliminate their pain but it doesn’t work; there is nothing to say.

I’ve been writing about life lessons, reasons for living, and what is it – HERE, right now – that I can learn to further my own life’s work. I know that I want to learn gratitude the way that Ruth used it. I want to be grateful – openly grateful – not just in my mind or in my prayer – but with my voice – All. The. Time. Like Ruth. No… she wasn’t perfect and she did occasionally allow her humanness and sorrow to sprout through the cracks but she learned to weed and to let gratitude grow. She practiced appreciation in a way that we all can learn from.

Perhaps Ruth was part of my family so that I could learn more about gratitude – I know about gratitude, I practice gratitude but not like that. I like how she did it. As I look at her life in the way that it crossed and impacted mine, I realize that I can learn from her. Ruth I am grateful for you. I appreciate you. I hope to experience another lifetime with your soul as it was always a gift to me in this one.

HUGS

Falling

I had to end the phone call and collect my thoughts. I couldn’t find any logic or rationale that correlated to my willingness to take the risk that yet another man I loved, would die on me.

Continued from And the Kissing Begins

“All love stories are tales of beginnings. When we talk about falling in love, we go to the beginning, to pinpoint the moment of freefall.” —Meghan O’Rourke
After only a few dates I knew I could easily love this man. We were able to talk about almost anything and we shared a number of important priorities. I could also tell that we were different in a lot of ways. I knew now that a good relationship is one where we celebrated the similarities between us while at the same time, embracing and respecting the differences.  When we weren’t hanging out with one another, we were talking on the phone; and still – the conversation flowed.

On the next kids weekend with their dad, Harlan came and stayed at my house. We built a fire in the fireplace, rented movies, opened a few bottles of wine and created a blanket / pillow heaven reminiscent of our childhoods. We slept there – in front of the fireplace – participating in an adult style sleepover as if we were in our twenties all over again. It was romantic and loving and relaxed. For approximately 48 hours, we ate, slept, and chatted at will… no schedule, no interruptions, no expectations. It was magical.

Eventually, we got into more nitty-gritty things, what had happened in our marriages, the imperfections of our extended families, the challenges that we grew from. One of the many things that really attracted me to Harlan though is his heart. He appeared to be intensely compassionate and considerate of others – an empath almost. I could tell that he would literally ‘feel’ the experience of others and sometimes, there was simply no benefit at all in that.

We talked about him meeting the girls. I had introduced them to Jay too soon but then, I had never felt this way about Jay. I felt something stronger and growing for this man. I wanted to see how he would be around the girls.

That desire made me think about myself as a mother… how many mistakes had I made? How many had I learned from? What had I learned exactly?

The girl’s father hadn’t been discriminate in his choice of partners and had no regard for the girls’ thoughts on the matter, telling them to ‘get over it’ and ‘it was his choice, not theirs’. Consequently, the girls certainly didn’t have the relationship with him that I had always envisioned. There was a strain on the father-daughter rapport almost constantly because of his relationship. I didn’t want the same outcome. I wanted to find a way to balance a personal romantic relationship with that of my role as a mother and I wasn’t willing to sacrifice the latter.

I knew from my own childhood that when moms and dads begin dating again, they can get too absorbed in the new partner – way before the kids have a chance to ‘catch up’ with their feelings and that, wasn’t the best scenario either. I wanted the girls to like Harlan and so, I invited him for dinner.

It wasn’t as smooth and as easy as when Jay came… even though Harlan had daughters, he wasn’t up on Gilmore Girls or Hanna Montana because he mostly watched sports or public broadcasting. He wasn’t a reader of Harry Potter or Nancy Drew. He attempted to connect with Swimming but eventually found that they like many of the same movies. Harlan likes practically any movie; chick flick, adventure, or animated. It didn’t’ matter too much, he had seen all of the trailers if he hadn’t seen the actual movie and so he was able to foster a conversation on that front, easily.

My oldest daughter Sara, being a bit more mature and perhaps more present and considerate of her surroundings – attended to Harlan like proper company by engaging him in conversation as she could. Erin seemed indifferent and Emily stuck to me like glue. I watched each of them carefully and at one point, noticed that they were watching me. This was a new thing for us and we were all in unchartered territory. No one knew the rules or how to play the game so we were just ‘winging’ it but it was going ok – at least for now. He didn’t stay long after dinner; I guess we were thinking we would ‘ease’ into having him around.

And that’s what we did. Harlan made it very clear to the girls that they needed to come first – he wanted them to know that if they didn’t like him or want him around – it would impact our relationship negatively. He knew- he realized that for US to be happy, they had to accept him in my life. It was his philosophy in that regard that opened the door for me to fall head over heels in love with him.

I told him one evening when we were at his house. We were standing outside, under his carport and I was attempting to leave but each time I took a step toward my car he would lean down and kiss me, stealing my breath and preventing me from moving further. I knew I had to go but it was so difficult sometimes – tearing myself away from him. I loved all that kissing. I reached my hand up to his chest to hold him back, keep him at bay for a minute… I had to breathe. “You know”, I said… “I am falling hard for you. No doubt. I am falling in love.” As if it was some kind of competition and he knew he had won – he replied “Oh yeah? I already fell. I love you.” He was one up and I was too weak to prevent an all out swoon. He caught me by placing his hand firmly and strongly on the small of my back as he pressed me to him again, for another kiss – this one full of love.

Later, I’m not sure if it was a week or a day in an austere conversation we were having for the sole purpose of filling in more details about our previous years of life, he mentioned that he thought he was going to die. He had been diagnosed with malignant melanoma and had a significant mole removed from his shin. It had been nine or ten years at that point and he said it in an unremarkable manner as if had been just another day. And yet, he spoke about it as if he had thought his life was over, the melanoma had been considerable enough that he somehow believed his life was in danger.

My heart lurched as memories of my step-dad and his slow, agonizing death from malignant melanoma inundated my mind. He too had found a mole and his life ended because of it. My thoughts also went right back to Rocky’s death and the excruciating emotional pain that I felt when he died. I felt as if I was on a merry-go-round, noticing all of the love and loss in my life as it went faster and faster while the seat I was on went up and down, creating a chaotic sensation so intense that I found it difficult to catch my breath. No way… I was not doing this again. Nope. Thank Goodness I found out early… while it was still easy to get out.

I had to end the phone call and collect my thoughts. I couldn’t find any logic or rationale that correlated to my willingness to take the risk that yet another man I loved, would die on me. At least it hadn’t gotten very far and it would be easy to end. Shit. I really fell for this one.

Finally Free

I clearly didn’t understand how or why people I loved drew a line in an area so obviously contrasted to where I would have drawn it

Continued from Escape Route

“Every woman that finally figured out her worth, has picked up her suitcases of pride and boarded a flight to freedom, which landed in the valley of change.” ~ Shannon L. Alder

Our aunt returned to Granddad’s house after mom’s funeral to find him in disarray. It appeared that he had had a stroke while everyone was away as his language was garbled and he was looping his thoughts. He refused to go to a doctor, though. She was going to stay with him for a week or so and stay in touch. So many things happening all at once in one family. He lost his wife of 66 years and a daughter within a week of one another and now, he was disoriented and unable to be understood.

I had been appointed his executrix, much to the chagrin of one of my Aunts who had taken my appointment as a slight to her position as the oldest child. As it turned out, it was a blessing. Who would have thought there would be so much grief all at once? A family can only take so much. He lived three hours away from me and as a single mom – for all intents and purposes – it wasn’t an easy feat to get a whole day free from immediate responsibility but my amazing support system was cooperating fully and so, I took the time.

It was heartbreaking to see this person who had been a strong, virile, Marlboro’esque man trying to communicate in loopy garble. He became extremely frustrated when we didn’t understand him and I’m sure he realized that he wasn’t making sense. He did allow me to help him pay bills and go through the mail, managing to communicate to me where things were and that it would fall into my hands soon enough. I drove up there every other week and each time, he was a bit worse but still refused medical care.

On June 1st, Mom’s birthday, we five siblings again gathered to honor her by committing her remains forever in Arlington National Cemetery. As a Veteran, she qualified for burial there and so we went to Washington, D.C. and for another segment of time, managed to act as if we were collectively united in our grief. I don’t specifically recall making eye contact with Abee but I remember not wanting to. It was specifically my love and respect for mom that kept me there in the presence of a sister who was emotionally dead to me.

The last couple of months had put the proverbial nail in the coffin for me. Hubby and I sat down with the girls while he told them that he was in love with their Aunt, and asked them if they would try and accept his decision. None of them reacted well, and for a time, they chose to avoid him altogether. Eventually, they established strong boundaries stating that they loved him but they weren’t willing to be tolerant of his choice in partners. They begged him to move on to Jane Doe or Mary Smith, anyone but a family member; their plea fell on deaf ears. Consequently, they stood strong on the line that said we accept a relationship with you, and you alone. It was a compromise that was exceptionally difficult for them and while I was remorseful that the kinship I had imagined between my children and their father would never exist – I was fundamentally proud of them for honoring their hearts.

Our divorce agreement was effective on that same day. While we memorialized Mom that day, Hubby was moving out of our home. I had signed all the paperwork a couple of days prior after negotiating final details that make it possible for the girls and me to stay in the house until our youngest graduated from high school; seven years into the future. It was unusual and I believe, highly opposed by Hubby’s attorney but I held out and refused to sign away my half of the company until conditions that guaranteed the girls best interest and comfort, were in writing and indisputable. I was rather unrelenting and in the end, Hubby wanted what was best for the girls to… at least in terms of their comfort and home life.

It was a bittersweet transition as I left the cemetery knowing that I was going home to the official ‘death’ of my marriage. On the way home from Washington, I stopped at the hardware store and bought new door locks. I knew that as soon as I got home, my priority would be to reprogram the garage doors and change the hardware on the front and back door. It was MY house now and Hubby wasn’t invited. It took a long, long time but I was free.

I wasn’t home long enough to unpack the bags before the phone rang to tell me that Grandad had passed away. Within three months, one-half of my mom’s family had died. Six had become three. The magnitude of their loss was overwhelming for my two Aunts and an Uncle, life is just completely unfair at times. There was still more sadness to get through and we were all – over it. We all needed a break from the deep, dark, drama that had overshadowed our lives for such a long period of time. It was simply… too much and I was surprised that none of us had ‘officially’ lost our mind.

It was the last time that I was in the same company as Abee. She came to Grandad’s funeral with Emma and they interacted some with other family members but left right after the service. I was too wrapped up in executrix duties and warding off the negative energy building among other family members to be too focused on my old baggage. We were barely tolerant of one another. I knew I just needed to move on. It was sad, though – all those years of ‘family’ down the drain. It was too easy to remember her as a little girl curled up in my lap reading, or the times I would help her with homework and school projects, the times she did the same with and for my children and then the adult relationship that we had enjoyed… twenty-five years of family – gone because she and Hubby wouldn’t deny themselves some kind of convoluted ‘love’ they claimed to have.

I’m not sure I believe that we are supposed to act upon all the feelings we have.  There are times I’m so angry that all I want to do is spit (the most disgusting and awful thing I can think of to do to someone) but that doesn’t mean I do it.  I’ve felt attracted to friend’s husbands but I would never act on that attraction. I’ve wanted to do lots of things that either weren’t socially or morally acceptable and so, I didn’t do them. Isn’t that what we teach our children?? Isn’t that what we expect from society at large? I suppose that somewhere in the principle I am describing is a line that each of us draws and it is obviously different for each of us. I clearly didn’t understand how or why people I loved drew a line in an area so obviously contrasted to where I would have drawn it… apparently, we weren’t like-minded at all.

Settling Granddad’s estate meant disposing of a herd of cows, a couple of horses, barns full of equipment and tools, as well as sixty plus years of marital accumulations. We found love letters that have the potential to be an entirely new book, utility bills from the 1960’s and photographs that were meant to be private. We were closing an era and the eccentricity of personalities that defined my mom’s siblings made it challenging from time to time but ultimately, considering they had lost exactly half of their family, it was all good. We got through it.

As a student of psychology, it was fascinating to experience, to watch. I observed extreme grief reactions inside a family dynamic that challenged everything I knew about bereavement and it formed the foundation for the rest of my academic work.

Armoured Up

The flight home was emotionally arduous as we considered the extent of our family’s losses.

Continued from Another Goodbye

“For what is it to die but to stand naked in the wind and to melt into the sun? And when the earth shall claim your limbs, then shall you truly dance.”  ~ Kahil Gibran

It is difficult to describe the sensation, the emotions, of walking out of a hospital or facility with only a bag of personal effects. I’m not sure we are ever prepared to walk out of a building as a person so different than the one who walked in. I had done this twice now, first my husband and now my mother and while death is a part of life, how can we ever be ready to lose either? It doesn’t matter how old you are – we only ever get one mother and now mine was gone.

We all – including Abee – went back to the condo that I had rented for the week we were there. It was a surreal time for us as siblings too. The one thing that had bonded us at all through the debacle of my marital drama was mom. Now that she was gone, what would be the motivation for us to ever stay connected? I was hopeful that we could start over here – allow the bonds of family to be stronger than betrayal or deceit and reconnect. We sat together and cried when the feeling overcame us but mostly spoke about the woman that we all loved. We shared funny stories and discussed quirks that we admired. We eulogized her with our hearts that night in a way that would have had her blushing but feeling proud that her intent had been accomplished. There was no doubt that regardless of the differences we had as adults, this woman had five children who revered their mother passionately. I hoped to be so lucky.

The emotional roller coaster I rode while in San Diego was exhausting. There were times I took a break from being in the room to walk outside to enjoy the California sunshine. My instinct was to talk with Hubby because other than my siblings who were here with me, he was the next closest confidant – or had been. Because it was an ingrained habit, I called him to vent my sadness and heartache over the impending and eventual loss of mom. I must have talked to him two or three times a day just because it had been the pattern over that last fifteen years of my life. There was a strange sense of comfort in talking to him, perhaps the familiarity, perhaps the memories of a better time for us… I’m not sure exactly but my instinct dialed the phone and I felt better afterward so it kept happening.

The truly crazy part of this whole thing was that I wasn’t the only one… Abee apparently was doing the same thing. There were times that I would be talking to him and call waiting would beep in to let him know that she was also calling to talk. That week, it was somehow tolerable or perhaps it was that my brain couldn’t process more than one loss at a time, or that the idea of losing mom far exceeded the idea of losing Hubby. As I sit here and recall those moments of recognition that we were each using the same man for emotional support – in the same way – the absurdity of it is staggering to my brain, but that’s what we did. The three of us formed an interactive triangle that would have made the Kardashians raise their eyebrows.

Abee and our brother had early flights but the rest of us were on a red-eye and had the whole day to get through. We had a memorial lunch overlooking the Pacific in honor of mom and probably drank too many mimosa’s in her honor before we bought a dozen yellow roses (her favorite) to throw into the sea at the point in La Jolla. Just standing there, listening to the surf hit the rocks forged memories of mom onto our hearts as the ocean was one of her most identifying interests. She loved, loved the ocean. She was known to wrap herself in a blanket or two as to ward off a fifty-degree wind so she could sit on the Kitty Hawk dunes and read. It never mattered to her how cold or hot it was as long as there was an ocean breeze and she could hear the waves crashing against the sand. We stood there, three of her daughters in solidarity, celebrating not only the woman that birthed us but the woman that had championed for us more often than not, for most of our lives. Even in her faults, she was Mom and we were going to desperately miss her.

Concurrently with our experience, Grandad and mom’s own siblings were making funeral arrangements for Grandmom. The service was scheduled for the day we arrived back on the East Coast and there just wasn’t any way for us to arrive on the red-eye and then – in our own severe grief – make it to her service. The flight home was emotionally arduous as we considered the extent of our family’s losses. It was barely believable that within eight days of one another, they had both simply ceased to exist in live form. Upon landing, I picked up the car and drove us all home; dropping Emma off at mom’s house so she could be with her twin who had gotten back late – the night before. I walked into the house where my family was still sleeping and went into the basement bedroom where Hubby was bunking, took off all my clothes, and got into bed with him.

In that moment, the only thing I needed was comfort and in some undeniably disturbed way, he was the source of that solace. For just a while, the ugly distorted reality that existed in the space between us melted away and we came together one last time. Grief disrupts emotional reason. It didn’t last long however and after a brief nap, I returned to my senses. I unpacked my resistance and reaffirmed my destiny to personal dignity by talking with E. She offered to come rescue me from myself but I was pledging sanity and knew that my extended family was about to transition from one grief to another, which would be chaotic at best. It was better for her to reserve time and energy for when the bubble eventually broke and my reserve was again tested.

The armor I embraced was iron clad. I drove over to Mom’s house – now Abee’s – where people had begun to assemble and sat there deep in an easy chair with a blanket over my lap as I watched a parade of well-wishers and allies move in and out of the room. It was another one of those times, etched securely onto a memory plate, where pragmatism prevailed and reality emerged only superficially. No matter the intensity of emotions only months ago, it was shelved – set aside – with the most interesting intention – so that we could work together and plan what was to happen next.

Hubby came over once to bring our children and the amplitude of awkwardness was immeasurable. We all felt it – he felt it. He didn’t come back. I’m pretty sure that if he had, my brother would have lost his mind and so it was good that he had the kids to keep him busy. We planned a funeral, held in an old Victorian mansion (another love of hers) and made a photo video that brought most family members to immediate tears as they visualized many of the amazing memories they had shared. I was barely cognizant through her service as the grief drowned me but with the love of so many people who together – embodied her, we got through. As we always do.

When everyone had left and gone back to whence they came, I knew Abee would be alone. Of all of us, this was going to hit her the hardest. She was the only one of us without an immediate family to lift her up. I called – believing that we could start over – and invited her to the house or stated that I would go there to be with her.  “Thanks, ” she said, “I just need to be alone”.

I wasn’t yet understanding how self-destructive expectations can be.