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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My Heart at DEFCON 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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