I feel fortified and open to the next set of lessons although I hate the idea of them coming.

Continued from Commitment

“A hard life is not a punishment, but rather an opportunity.” ― Brian L. Weiss

Harlan and I continue to love one another. In the eight years since we were in Vieques, we have shared incredible joys, learned more valuable lessons, and built modestly successful businesses; and we’ve done it together. We’ve been partners, lovers, and friends.

I finished grad school and opened a private counseling practice. It’s now funny to think that I started with one client – just one person sitting on my proverbial couch – and then two… and today I often have a waiting list of people who need to get in that week. I love what I do and find that I am happy to go to work most days. I work in the same building where the Print Shop is located and so Harlan and I get to see one another sporadically throughout the day – creating moments that we fill with a hug or a brief injection of love and appreciation although he is better at that than I am. When I get focused, I often have tunnel vision.

I do not believe that Harlan’s presence in my life is a coincidence. As we grew in our discoveries of one another we realized that throughout much of our adult life we had been dancing together in the Universe. His brother got married at the church where we (ex-Hubby and I) were members in the early nineties. He worked in the building across the street from the first house ex-Hubby and I owned together, although not at the same time. He and his ex-wife traveled across the country the same year that I traveled with my family – visiting many of the same national parks – only two months apart. And, when I road tripped with my mom and the kids, we stayed overnight in the town where he owned a business in New England. There were too many incidents to believe that it is all coincidence or happenstance. We were waiting for one another – for the time when our souls could come reunite and continue whatever journey had previously been started.

Harlan has become a bold presence in the life of my son and daughters, helping them to see a different perspective of masculine energy. They have grown to love and respect him not only as my partner but as a personal friend. In fact, they have all grown into incredible people. I don’t go one day without being in wonder at one of them; their work ethic, their commitment to success, their compassion, and their fearlessness. They inspire me to be a better person and they challenge me to learn the art of ‘letting go’. I could not be more proud. Frank got married a few years ago and I adopted another daughter as a result. Almost daily I count my blessings that he chose a woman I could so easily love. She embodies the spirit of our family and bolsters him in the way that a mother hopes for her son. Their partnering is a wonderful example for the girls.

I’ve continued to grow in my faith, my ability to be introspective, and in my esteem. I am stronger today than ever before and yet I don’t feel it is over. Indeed – it may be only beginning again. I think that perhaps we are allowed growth plateaus – times in our life that feel like we are coasting… nothing much happens – it feels comfortable and easy. And then, the learning begins anew.

When Emily left for college, Harlan and I were finally able to live together. We bought a home and moved into a perfectly downsized house that would allow us to comfortably grow old together. Late last year, just as we were settling into the long-awaited period of ‘empty-nesting’, Harlan began to feel sick. After months of frustrating and grueling testing and doctors’ visits, he was diagnosed with stage four colorectal cancer. We sat together in the small windowless office of our first oncology appointment and listened as the doctor said: “at some point, we will be discussing comfort care”. The prognosis was approximate – an average, they said – of two years.


This is where I must leave the story – the irony of his illness is not lost on us. In fact, we are each deeply challenged by it. We have taught one another so much… I have learned more about myself in the last eight years than perhaps in all the time prior and Harlan too. We know we came together to learn. This cancer is impacting both of us significantly. Obviously, Harlan is the body that is suffering from the disease – and the treatments. We both are afflicted with emotional challenges; not only the ones existing in the present but also the ones that have come washing over us from the past. We have noticed triggers we both thought were rusted and locked; renewing themselves with old – unwanted energy.

We arguably are doing the best that we can. Every day we confront the current hurdle and attempt to jump. Most of the time we make it. My imperfection is highlighted almost constantly and I have become accustomed to facing the fact that I am only human – although I don’t like it. The ugliness of cancer doesn’t always bring out the best in us and at other times it highlights everything good. The dichotomy of it can be exhausting.


I’m not sure where the words or energy for this story actually came from. It’s only been ninety days. They flowed easily each day as I sat with my laptop and opened the evolving word document. I can only imagine that they are a gift from God. That the Universe has allowed me to see myself in entirety so that I can use the accumulated knowledge now in perhaps the most difficult challenge yet. I feel fortified and open to the next set of lessons although I hate the idea of them coming. Perhaps there is another story unfolding.


I do believe that this amazing life – with all of the pain, lessons, joy, and exhilaration is worth living. Even though I get intensely tired from time to time, I am eager to walk the path that will lead me into pure love, into peace. I remind myself of that destination and it motivates me to take the next step. The existential veil that lies atop each experience does not go unnoticed and I am deeply grateful for each day as it draws to a close; regardless of its impact.

Thank you for walking with me as I dared greatly.

Such Diffidence

I backed away and threw on my invisibility cloak, walked back to my room and spent my night alone.

Continued from Going to the Mountain

“It’s not what you are that holds you back, it’s what you think you are
not.” ~Denis Waitley

The experience seeing one’s self, intrinsically knowing it is ‘you’, but not because you look like what you do in the mirror, but because there is a sense of familiarity that only comes from seeing your reflection, is surreal. There was no doubt in my mind that I was experiencing this vision in the first person. I sensed that the hands I was looking at were mine even though they were smaller and denser than the ones I was used to seeing. I was dark skinned, the color my mother would turn after a summer by the pool, a rich brown color. I was standing in the sand, outside, and the air was warm. I was wearing something rough in fiber but I couldn’t really identify what it was. There were small round buildings in the background with thatched looking roofs. In the distance, I could see a tall, dark-haired man and he was walking toward me. Again, I felt a sense of recognition, a realization that the large hunk walking toward me was my husband, my mate. He didn’t get close enough for me to look in his eyes but I knew that he protected me, that he loved me. I felt it. And then it was over.

In a group, large-scale regression you don’t get much more than short blips before the hypnotherapist is bringing everyone back to current time, to reality. There isn’t an opportunity to investigate the memory, only to experience it. It was the second time I had been regressed and I was absolutely amazed at the explicit cognizance it evoked. The vision in my mind was as genuinely real as the memory of what I had for dinner the night before. And yet, there was a part of me that was skeptical; a small part of my psyche that wondered about its validity. I stayed true to my self-promise that I remain open to all possibilities and allowed the doubting thought to pass by.

Dr. Weiss taught us that it wasn’t necessarily important whether or not our memories related to literal events, but to be open to what the memories were representative of… what insight they offered about our life here, now. Since we simply cannot prove their authenticity – or lack thereof – it is important to contemplate their relevance. I considered the short recollection I experienced and what was most dominant in that memory was how at peace I was. There was an overwhelming sentiment of comfort and of being loved. Why did that matter to me now? I couldn’t help but wonder and it set the stage for the rest of my week-long foray into regression work.

As I allude to in one of my very early posts Sand Castles, I grew up with relatively low self-esteem. It was masked by my need to please and my theatrical character, the one that believed it much safer to be in the world as someone else… pretending to embody the girl detective character Trixie Belden, the teen heroine of my favorite series of books when I was young. It was a huge oxymoron – I put myself ‘out there’ as confident and outgoing but inside my own mind, I was – always – fearful of judgment, of not being accepted, or more concisely… of being rejected. If I was the one to rule the room, then I could determine who I had eye contact with, who I paid attention to and when I should leave, and under what conditions. If I wasn’t ‘in charge’ or the focal point, then it was possible to be diminished or to be rebuked and that was my biggest fear. If I was leading the conversation or presenting, it appeared as if I could command the room but if I was just there – just present – then my preference was to blend in and go unnoticed. In that way, I could observe and find a safety net; perhaps a corner or a like-minded person, or a connection with the person in command. It is the one thing that most people truly don’t understand, believe, or know about me as I’ve spent fifty years now attempting to hide that insecurity. I am a wallflower inside. This feature about me was validated years ago by an Astrologist; my birth (sun) sign is a Leo (describes my ego) but my moon sign is Cancer (how I feel inside) and my rising sign is Libra (how others see me).  If you have any interest or knowledge in Astrology, and you know me – this will make sense.

With this information, it won’t come as a surprise that the minute we were released for lunch, I bolted out of the auditorium for the safety of open space and anonymity. I kept my eyes down and walked quickly whenever people were around although I do always smile and say hello when I occasionally meet someone’s eyes. The family style dining room was daring me to break through my shy – or avoidant – shell. I made my way quietly through the buffet line with Vegan options (way before I even knew what a Vegan was) searching futilely for something fried and greasy as I also quickly scanned the room for the least populated table. I was cornered into eating healthy or starve. And just so I’m clear… if the choice was tofu or starve… I would meditate through the hunger.

People were nice and I am not ignorant or rude, so if someone sat next to me or if someone was already at the table, then I would at least say hello. I, of course, would be happy to answer questions and keep a conversation going but I wasn’t going to be the originator. It just wasn’t in me and as soon as I finished eating, I’d smile, encourage them to enjoy the day, and leave to find a bench in the sun where I could daydream or read. If only they had served wine with meals…

The rest of that first day was Dr. Weiss taking volunteers and demonstrating full blown regressions. We watched two or three experiences that were completely debriefed afterward and I was almost spellbound. It was captivating and immensely interesting and I just wanted to know more and more. One of the volunteers was a guy that had sat next to me all day. I discovered that he was there for the second time, having attended a year ago. He was a therapist with an interest in using regression therapy in his practice. He seemed like a nice guy, tall and attractive, but wearing a gold wedding band. Oh well. After his demonstration, I was anxious to ask him a few questions but as soon as we broke, he was bombarded by other people. I was just one of a dozen who wanted to know more. Instead of standing my ground and listening as the ‘group’ formed, I backed away and threw on my invisibility cloak, walked back to my room and spent my night alone.

I reflected all evening on how absurd it was for me to be there, in the company of so many kindred spirits and not take full advantage of their curiosities and knowledge. I woke up Monday morning – my birthday – resolved to do something about this quirky ‘shyness’ that I was embodying. I began to be annoyed by it. With renewed commitment, I attended breakfast and asked to sit at a full table with only one open seat. “Is this seat taken?” I asked as I pulled out a chair… it seemed that everyone was involved in conversation intently enough that I was barely noticed. Ok, “it’s ok”, I said to myself. I looked up and kept a smile on my face attempting to make eye contact with people close enough in which to spark a conversation but no one else turned or acknowledged my presence. This wasn’t going to be easy.

Soulful Expedition

I was new at this – new at thinking of life as something that could teach me, help me even when I felt so much pain.

Continued from Splitting Delusions

“No one saves us but ourselves. No one can and no one may. We ourselves must walk the path.” ~ Buddha

Going back to school was only one of many decisions I made in the first couple of months’ post-decision day. I had to jump through a few hoops, gathering all the twenty-five-year-old transcripts from the five years I was in college as a young gal. I was told that anything with a C+ or better would transfer if there was a matching class. In total, 90 credits transferred which was amazing, leaving me to finish two years of psychology classes and French…  Since I was shooting for a Bachelor of Arts, I had to take four semesters of a foreign language. Ugh! I had taken French in High School and for two semesters way back when – in college so why not… maybe some of it would come back to me. I still remembered how to count.

Taking classes was a great idea – in theory. However, I wanted to make sure that I would succeed so to garner an appropriate measure of my ability to successfully navigate college in middle age, I opted to take Statistics first. I wanted to schedule it over a ‘May-mester” … three weeks of daily class between the Spring and Summer session. I figured if I could master Statistics (which I had dropped as a nineteen-year-old because I was certain I was failing) then I would keep going. I registered for the class and kept my fingers crossed.

In the meantime, the girls needed something to look forward to as it was feeling heavy and dark at home. We were all at dinner one evening… the three of them and me. I suggested that we plan a great vacation and they got excited. “Where do you want to go?” I asked.  “Disney!” “A cruise” “The Caribbean” … they shouted simultaneously and in non-agreement. Hmmm…. “what about a Disney Cruise?” I asked. Immediately there were smiles and hugs – a lifting of spirit that warmed my heart to an exquisite simmer of happiness. The temporary relief of change and uncertainty was welcomed by each one of us as we sat there and made plans to make it happen. We agreed that I would stop having the house cleaned once a week; the girls would take responsibility for clean bathrooms, dusting, vaccuming, etc., and we would redirect that money into our cruise fund. Their dad and I have always been strong proponents of fiscal accountability; also, believing that something earned is often more deeply appreciated. We agreed to create a special ‘envelope’ where we would accumulate funds and they were excited and eager to get home and decorate it. We sat together to research our options and set the date for January 2006 – we had twelve months to make it happen.


My extended family was in an uproar. It was no longer a secret that Hubby and Abee had been indiscriminate. Our poor mother was still disbelieving and after listening to everything else I had discovered, she decided that ‘hate’ was the only thing she could feel. I can’t imagine how she must have felt watching her children divide, take sides, and disconnect from one another. A mother has so many dreams for her children and we were definitely not fulfilling the fantasy she envisioned. For almost a year she had watched and attempted to console one daughter while trying to direct another. We had allowed her to accept a promise of remediation and now, it was done. I was unwilling to consider any direction that allowed for the possibility of more philandering and emotional upheaval in my life.

On what would have been my fifteenth wedding anniversary, mom and I spent the day together shopping and exploring a neighboring county that was full of farmland and quaint villages. We were doing one of her favorite things to do – driving and exploring as was I… spending time with mom. I had stopped working by then. Our company was the brainchild of Hubby and mine. It was the cumulation of a dream that we had manifested through the years via long, deep conversations, relentless pursuit, and grave concessions. I had learned to cook hamburger – literally – one hundred and one different ways as we poured our profits back into the business. I scoured yard sales and consignment shops for children’s clothing so that we could buy office furniture for new employees. It was as much my dream at that point as it was his but I couldn’t go there every day and see them together; he wouldn’t fire her. I gave him an ultimatum… she had to go – or I would.

Had it been a mistake last year when I first found out about them? Should I have just bit the bullet then and said ‘good riddance’?? Had I been a simplistic fool to think that we could have risen from such a calamity? I guess it didn’t matter – it was impossible to turn back the clock and it was bigger and so much more complicated than a familial trespass. I perceived that my only choice was to rely on the ideology that was cementing in my soul … that each of us has a journey to walk; our own path. I continued to allow myself comfort in reading.

Another significantly profound book, one that will forever be implanted in my memory is Messages from the Masters: Tapping Into the Power of Love by Dr. Brian Weiss. With practically every page turn I related to his words, reputedly words spoken by Master Souls while his patients were under hypnosis. Here again – the exact origin becomes unimportant, inconsequential to the substance that was presented.  I read “forgive the past, it is over. Learn from it and let go.” … like I had never heard that before…

This time, however, it had true meaning. I read “come from the heart, the true heart, not the head. When in doubt, choose the heart. …when the intuition rings clear and true, loving impulses are favored.” I realized that many of my recent actions had been driven by anger and disgust. When I did talk to Hubby, accusations and attacks dominated my communication. I needed to choose a different tactic, one more consistent with the person I wanted to be today… someone who could love through difficulty. This task was way, way harder than it sounds. I struggled almost hour by hour to stay in a ‘love’ place and frankly, I failed more often than not. I was new at this – new at thinking of life as something that could teach me, help me even when I felt so much pain.

In a strange way, it helped to have mom be angrier than me. She was incredibly ugly, spiteful, hateful and it was so contrary to her normal, true self that when she talked to me sometimes, I was taken aback. Mom was loving and gentle 99.99% of the time but in this case, the father of my children had behaved in a way that splintered her family – her children into a bazillion pieces… and as such, she was inconsolably fractured. I found myself defending him, not his behavior but him – as a person… I tried to share my new (to me) theories with her, speaking about loving people – all people – and understanding that they are each taking their own soulful expedition.

Basically, she told me it was bullshit.

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.

Catholic Guilt

I had lost faith in Catholicism and was embarrassed by the guilt / shame that it seemingly propagated.

It’s necessary for me to take a post and go back a bit. One of the fundamental pieces of me that I’ve yet to write about is faith. What I currently believe and practice is the consequence of a tremendous evolution through the years and integral in the way that I have viewed myself, the world, and the challenges that have presented in my life.

Like the post I wrote about my dad, it is impossible to truly know or understand me unless you have perspective about my faith. I’ll begin to draw the picture here and then attempt to integrate it more into the ongoing discussion.

I was baptized Catholic at the age of 5 or 6. My mother converted and I’m not quite in focus about the details but I know that my Grandmother’s great friend was the mother of a priest who rose through the ranks of the Scranton (PA) diocese and was present at all of the important events of my religious life growing up. I always felt special because he was there, even as a young Bishop.

Growing up Catholic – as any Catholic knows – generates guilt. It begins – I think – with confession at the age of 7. In order to receive your first communion, you must attend confession where you ‘confess’ your sin of the week. Now come on … We were taught about sins… sins were ‘bad’ things. It implies that every week you are bad – in some way. (No wonder we are all screwed up). Keep in mind – this is what I HEARD which, may be a bit different that what was said yet I am not the only Catholic child that received this message – I assure you. So – I grew up believing that I was innately bad. F*** original sin.

I was a fair weather Catholic. We went to church when it was convenient and then my parent’s   divorce really made it complicated because it made everything ‘bad’. My mom stopped going to church or practicing faith in any way for the rest of her life. My dad was more deeply connected to his Catholic roots and found a progressive church – some really progressive  Christian brothers – and received an annulment (even with three living children) so that he could marry my stepmom – an extremely devout Catholic. By the time I was 16 – I had lost faith in Catholicism and was embarrassed by the guilt / shame that it seemingly propagated.

However, I was still deeply entrenched in the mentality that in order to be loved and accepted by people who mattered to me, I had to be a ‘good’ Catholic girl. Basically this meant that I taught Sunday school, grabbed a bulletin so that I knew what the Homily was about and then sat at Denny’s and drand coffee until church was over – then told my parent’s that that I had gone to Mass. So, this “good Catholic girl” was lying about going to church and racking up the guilt/shame cards by the decks!!

I was caught by the way… one of Dad’s clients noticed me by a picture that my “proud Dad” had shared and the client was like “oh yea, she’s a beautiful girl…. I see her at Denny’s on Sunday mornings all the time!” … Busted! Liars always get caught.

At 19 I was a part of something called SAGE – a movement of self discovery and awareness, very “New Age” kind of stuff that was before the whole New Age movement. I can’t guarantee my memory is completely accurate here but the essence of the experience is key. It was about SELF AWARENESS and AUTHENTICITY.  About letting go of pains and wounds, forgiving others, and cultivating LOVE in daily life. I fell in love with the presentation of those principles in harmony. I wasn’t yet aware of my own abandonment wounds to truly reach any deep issues but it was really impressive for some of the older adults who shared. I felt honored to be a part of their experience. I became really close with some of the people who shared the SAGE experience – an entire family of loving individuals who were more of an impact on my life than they probably ever knew.

I also believe strongly in things that are considered paranormal; spirits, out-of-body experiences, etc. In my BR (before Rocky) life, a friend and I were sitting up late one night – cold stone sober – talking about possibilities and spiritual potentialities. Suddenly, there was a disturbance in the room environment and we both noticed a circulation that grew from barely noticeable to almost person size. I stared in disbelief and realized that I was NOT ready to experience anything significantly different than what I currently understand. I looked away and it went away. Really – it was the late 70’s but we were clear minded – completely.

Rocky and I were married in the Catholic Church. On the ‘wife’s application’ there was a question I had to answer and certify that I would “submit myself to my husband” – there was nothing on the husband’s application in like. I’m not sure it is like that today – in 2016 – but keep in mind I am accumulating attitudes about spirituality that I am using in consideration for how I ultimately construct my faith. The Catholic Church is beginning to wear on my tolerance.

In its defense, Rock and I went to a couple’s seminar at our home parish on sex and marriage. It was now 1982ish and as is perceivably customary of the West Coast, progressive ideology was presented. We were taught that what happened in the bedroom between a husband and wife that was consensual and experienced in love was acceptable by the church.  Oh. Thank. God. I was immediately relieved for all those times that the missionary position just didn’t cut it. Thank you Church – for approving of my sexuality.

This is the foundation that the rest of my spiritual development is based upon. Some might argue that it is flawed but ultimately, it was strong.


Only Darkness

Everyone went back to their own lives and I was left to face each sunrise and each sunset in a way that was unfamiliar to me; unwanted.

“Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness. It took me years to understand that this too, was a gift.”
― Mary Oliver

I was a widow.  Prior to this moment I was mostly untouched by death; the very old grandmother of a childhood friend and my own grandfather that I had barely known.  One day we were talking about more babies, going to school, buying a house, and our next vacation – two weeks later I was picking out a coffin and planning funeral music. It was the most surreal experience of my life. Please people…. Pick out your own coffin!! Make your own funeral arrangements!! Do NOT let your loved ones have to do it…

How does one coffin shop?? A funeral director ushers you into a room full of them and explains the benefits of one from another. This one is particle board covered in velvet – it’s the least expensive. This one is Brazilian Cherry and lined with satin. This one has 7 layers of steel with a lead core to survive a nuclear explosion. This one has a time capsule for DNA so the body will never have to be exhumed. Are you f***ing kidding me? I want my husband back!

I left my body. I was aware of sounds and people. I was aware of where I was but I became someone else. It was as if I was back in high school, on stage, playing a part. Rocky wasn’t the velvet type… maybe Cherry… it was warm looking. I wanted him to be warm.  I saw something with a flannel interior and chose that one.

Do you have a favorite reading? Do you want someone to sing? What kind of music? When? Where? How? Who? Holy shit… shut up people. Leave me alone! My soul was screaming but my voice was deciding. He loved Journey and Little River Band – play those songs. Yes, On Eagles Wings – that’s nice… Sure, she can sing it. I floated above it all remembering our wedding night when some fool packed the car air vents with flour so that we were blasted as soon as the car was started and looked like two old people checking into the hotel. It was apparently, not… a vision of our future. I was remembering our first kiss… it was some kiss! I was remembering the sight of him holding our son for the first time… such love. So many dreams, not enough memories.

My sister-in-laws took me shopping for something to wear. I wasn’t so concerned about being stylish or fashionably chic, nor did I care about how well my purchase would fit. My primary concern was finding something that I ‘felt’ beautiful in, not for me – for Rocky. I wanted to be beautiful. I was searching for something that felt calm and comfortable yet highlighted my best features, perhaps the color of my hair. It couldn’t say happy but I was adamant that it did not shout sad. It could not be black, navy, or brown. It shouldn’t be too short or too long; the fabric not too thick or too thin. I was not sure if it should be one piece or two, and I was undecided about the sleeve. We were in hunting mode, searching for just the right thing. Eventually, I settled on a light peach linen suit and an ivory blouse with satin buttons and a round collar. It was feminine, soft, and quite respectful. It worked with my strawberry blonde hair and most importantly, it didn’t scream funeral.

I dressed up and showed up at the funeral home on the night of the private viewing. It was for family only. I did not go into the room where he was on display. I was unwilling to see my husband as a dead man (ultimately a mistake). I was told that the funeral director did a fantastic job with makeup, etc…

That’s nice ~ with a southern slur**

I was still detached. Existing on another plane where I was safe and not alone and loved.  In reality, I was surrounded by so. many. people. Rocky’s large family had all flown in. My dad and step-mom drove in along with a few other relatives. His co-workers, mom’s friends and neighbors whom we had started to know. I don’t know where Francis was… I seem to remember making a decision to keep him away from the ceremonial affairs because I didn’t want him to be negatively impacted by all the emotions, but I can’t remember who had him. I logically know many of these people loved – and still love – me. It’s just that, well – they weren’t HIM.

I got through it. We all did. Indeed – there were lots of funny stories and laughter that goes with them. There were tears – lots.

I couldn’t go back to the house where we had been a family; it was too much for my spirit. His brothers went through things so that I didn’t have to. Someone moved our stuff into storage. I kept a pair of 501 Jeans (because his butt…well, it was so HOT in them!) and I kept his Navy whites. I don’t really remember making all of those decisions and I’m sure some of them were made on my behalf, out of compassion and concern. I’m not sure any were made out of understanding; even my own. How does one understand the death of a 23 year old whose whole life was yet to be lived – or the wishes of his widow – or the lonely cries from his child? How?

I know I was not the only one struggling with these impossible questions but I was so deeply immersed in my personal loss that I was unable to really consider the experience from the perspective of his parents or siblings. It took me years if not decades to be willing to look in that direction. At some point, everyone left. Everyone went back to their own lives and I was left to face each sunrise and each sunset in a way that was unfamiliar to me; unwanted.

A friend took me to her parent’s beach house for a week. We took the kids too.  Then a week later, I went back to work because there was nothing else to do. I didn’t know how to be a widow. I was so very pissed at the world. This was NOT supposed to be my life. I thought God and I had agreed that me – as a single parent – was off the table. Rocky and I had mapped out our lives…. there was going to be three children, a house, and a career by 30. It was planned. It was imagined. If that wasn’t going to happen – what was? What was in store for me?  For our son? What did the universe want from us?

Each morning when I opened my mind – there was only darkness.

**That’s nice ~ with a southern slur** – My mother told a story about a proper southern woman who believed it completely unladylike and immoral to curse. And so, from time to time you could hear her say “That’s nice” with a gentle smile and a slight nod of her head. When asked if she ‘really’ thought it was nice?? she replied “Why no darlin’ – that’s how us Southern women say “FUCK YOU”.

Photo credit: Infomastern via Foter.com / CC BY-SA