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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Growing & Going Deeper

He was modest, so modest in fact that I didn’t know how to behave.

Continued from Choosing Love

“If you want to have the kind of relationship that your heart yearns for, you have to create it. You can’t depend on somebody else creating it for you.” ― Gary Zukav

I found it fascinating how easy it was to have a man in the house again. Harlan was there a lot because as a single mom, it wasn’t all that easy for me to just leave. Sara was not yet driving and so I was generally required to take someone, somewhere. Harlan lived about fifteen miles away from me and had a different sleeping schedule so the hours we could steal for any alone time to build upon the budding romance were few. Most of the time, we shared our time with my girls.

We did love to take our drives, though. We were both on a Starbucks kick back then and so to sneak in a block of ‘us’ time, we would hop in the car after dinner and run up to where it all started… our local Starbucks and take a long way home while we ran through our days. It was on those drives that we created a vision of our life together. He knew that I couldn’t get married or live with anyone as a restriction of my divorce agreement unless I wanted to forgo a significant amount of alimony and so we talked about how to navigate a close relationship but within stringent boundaries. I wanted him to wait for me but there was still seven years until I had any real freedom without financial strings. It was a lot to ask, I thought. He said he would take it one day at a time.

When I met Harlan he claimed that he was but a minute away from hopping on a sailboat and escaping the town where he had been raised. Some of the memories there were dark and haunting – worthy of burying and escaping. I didn’t want him to go anywhere and meeting me – loving me – put a huge wrench in his long-term plan. I worked diligently to help him renegotiate a vision of his future; one that included me.

His work as a Graphic Artist in a small print shop was just a ‘fill in’ job until his house sold – that was the only thing keeping him local to me. My entrepreneurial energies kicked into high gear when I realized that the community in which I lived was void of the kind of services he currently offered where he was employed. We began to build a blueprint for developing a retail business in the community where I lived so that he would be right around the corner. I figured that if he could make money and build a foundation here, the motivation to stay would be much stronger.

One of the things people say about me is that I am a ‘doer’. When I get a thought in my head, it often leads to manifestation. Sometimes, it gets ‘almost there’ and other times it gets there and fizzles but most of the time, the things I try at least get started; and I’ve started a lot of things! This wasn’t my first array into building a business so I used all of the accumulated acumens to lay out our options.

The Universe heard me and I knew God was helping when the necessary components came perfectly into play. We found a location – it came with an apartment – but it had to be converted into retail space. Harlan had a year of recent experience (and a lifetime before that) of reconstruction and so we bought a building and began our first joint project. In reality, it was the second one… the first construction project we engaged in together was building a shoe rack for the laundry room at my house. It was a shoe cubby actually and held more than twenty pairs of shoes which are nothing when there are four females in one house. It was still early in our relationship and frankly, I was on my best behavior. If the shoe rack wasn’t perfect – no biggie… it was in my laundry room.

This project was a little bigger… we had to gut a residence down to the studs, tear out walls, put in beams, construct a forty foot ramp, include a handicap accessible bathroom and shore the flooring up to fit commercial building codes. It wasn’t an initiative for the faint of heart. All the while, I was still a single mom and a full-time grad student. “No problem,” Harlan says… “I’ve got two months of income set aside and I’ll do all the work”. Our budget was strict and we began the end of June with a deadline of August 25. We were all traveling to Puerto Rico for my little brother’s wedding over Labor Day and needed to open for business – to start making money – as soon as we got back.

This is the kind of thing people who have known and loved one another for decades don’t’ attempt for lack of temperamental discipline. We had only known one another for six months and our naiveté may have been our saving grace. We learned a lot about each other in that two months. We learned that we sometimes speak a different language. We learned that we are both always attempting to help. We learned that we have defenses and triggers.

Harlan and I are well into middle age at this point – each with histories rich in disappointment, rejection, and betrayal of some kind. Each experience having left a scar and a story. The end result is an array of defense mechanisms that become exposed at the most interesting times. We learned that I am a perfectionist (cough, cough, sigh) and we learned that he is too – in a different way and with different things. I could take a shoe and pound in a nail – as long as the nail goes into the wood. He, needed just the right hammer – the one designed for that type of nail – before pounding could begin. And saws… there are so many kinds of saws! Just give me a damn blade!

We sat on the front porch a time or two ironing out a misunderstanding, attempting to reconcile how we each felt and trying desperately hard not to repeat mistakes from relationships past. We mustered respect in our disagreements in a way that had never existed in my man/woman interactions before – it was so refreshing and enlightening to see and experience a difference of opinion that didn’t end up being a confrontation and all out fight. We learned that the way we use common language is sometimes different – our words have different meanings and we learned to navigate the differences.

As we continued to learn from one another – not just construction tidbits but also how to trust one another’s judgement and value our experience, we developed more and more emotional intimacy – our friendship grew in and around the love that we had proclaimed to feel toward one another. We easily laughed with each other and continuously found topics to fill our conversations. At the end of each day we were tired and spent but found energy to cuddle as we drifted off to sleep.

Harlan was a kind of man that was new to me. He was modest, so modest in fact that I didn’t know how to behave. He didn’t seem to have the same kind of ‘expectations’ that others had in my life… going to bed and cuddling didn’t need to lead to anything else. I literally was able to enjoy the experience of feeling his arms wrapped around me and know that I was loved even though we just laid there – drifting off to sleep – we were together and it was nice. My love grew deeper.