Tuesday, May 5, 2015

My vs Our


Driving to the supermarket last week I had the overwhelming feeling that this baby is very much an addition to our family. 

To Ian and I's family.

Although in no way is the baby a replacement for Ian, as the pregnancy progresses it feels like Ian is less distant now. There is a feeling of completeness, not end, not 'over it', but very much at peace. 

The sense of 'our' baby, 'our' family, 'our' boys is very, very strong. 

Talking to people after Ian died, when I found myself using 'my' son when talking about John or his needs I heard 'Just me.  No one else.  I'm on my own' every time I used the word 'my'.  Whomever I was talking to probably heard the usual every day use - I'm not with an adult who'd be assumed to be Dad, so 'my' is grammatically correct - if Dad was with us at the time, she'd have probably used 'our'. 

But that's not what I heard in my head. In my head, the fact Ian wasn't here was ringing with clanging bells -whether the listener knew Ian had died or not.

My/Our son is sick.

My/Our son lost an argument with the coffee table and has split his head open.

We/I would like to send Our/My son to this school.

I don't know if it's the posthumous circumstances of the pregnancy, but I'm finding with respect to the baby, I'm using 'our' more where 'my' may be equally as logical.

And the bells aren't clanging or even ringing quietly.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Reach Deep, Find Warmth

I have been nestled inside the winter for months, it seems.  It has been so cold and dark. Even today, at the end of April, spring struggles to gain a grip, the wind and rain overtaking its warm and promising breezes, painting the hilltops white, again, pouring pellets of icy hail onto the ground. This weekend, there are predictions of  frost.

Each day, I walk past the newly budding lilacs on my way to the train station, and I kiss them, and tell them to be strong, and reach deep, and find warmth. I so hope the cold will not kill them before they flower.

I have sat inside an inner winter, too. Some days, I am able to look around, and revel in the rainbow coloured tulips and the deep blues and violets of the evening sky. But other days, I cannot reach deep enough to overcome the cold, and the world feels frozen, the wind biting at my fingertips.

I am writing this post a few days early, as, on Friday, I am travelling to Spain, to spend a week on a farm animal sanctuary called Pig Village, where I will bask in the sun, and rub pigs' bellies, and feed the chickens and donkeys that roam the fields, there, free to live out their lives without fear of slaughter. My heart needs me to be with animals, to work, and to sweat. Perhaps I can store the heat in my bones to keep me warm through the unsettled days of this English spring.

I am treading slowly toward the anniversary of my husband's death. Last night I remembered how I left him, on the 2nd of May, at the Manchester Airport, to come to the US to visit my son. I left him. I went off to New York, to watch my son graduate from University, to see his final, solo performance, to visit friends and hike gorges and savour the beauty of the waterfalls.  All the while, my husband was here, in England, on his own.

And the countdown had begun.

17 days, we were apart. We spoke on FaceTime, but I was distracted. I knew we would be together very soon. I was in my own little world. It was the price he paid, I told myself, for marrying an ex-pat. I needed to visit folks in America, and we could not afford for both of us to travel there, each year. We'd work out ways to minimise this stress, I thought. We'd discuss it upon my return.

 Three weeks after I came back to my husband, he was dead.

How could I do it? How could I have left him, alone? Why didn't I pay more attention to him, when we spoke? How could I not somehow know that we were in the countdown of his life?

And how do I learn to forgive myself for something I could not possibly have predicted? How long will I pour over the details of our last days together, wishing it had been other than it was? When will I see that I can't change what happened? How do I let this go?

Oh. It is so easy to crawl back into the depths of winter. The colours of my life were just beginning to emerge. Not brilliant colours, not bright. No fiery reds and oranges with their passion for living. Just soft and flowing pastel hues. But colour, nonetheless. Light and hope against the darkness.

Yet, the weather has turned cold, again. I feel a freeze coming. My purple lilac buds might not make it. My colours may just fade away, carried along on the wind of these memories.

Be strong, I must tell myself. Reach deep. Find warmth.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Stumbling Proudly

I've been feeling the strains of beginning anew lately. Let's face it - starting to date someone is always messy. New person, new energy, new triggers and sensitivities. But being widowed makes it even trickier. After almost 3 years without a man by my side... I am a completely different person than who I was with Drew. I am far more independent. I don't even think of it as being alone these 3 years, but that I have been in a very deeply committed relationship to myself. I'm discovering this is making it hard for me to navigate the landscape of a relationship with someone new.

I found a rhythm there, in the space of my solitude. I have come to a place inside myself where I deeply and genuinely love being alone. Where - much of the time - I would prefer to share time only with myself rather than others. A place where my solitude leads me into creative worlds unlike any other... allows me to see the world in new ways and the focus to ponder deeply on subjects which I often write about or photograph in my work. Being alone has in fact become my very favorite place.

And so the question is... just how do I navigate bringing another heart into my sphere? How do I balance these two worlds? How do I do so in a way that doesn't push this person away - and does not make me feel like I am cheating on myself? How do I help him to see and know it isn't personal, but something far deeper and more spiritual for me? That ample, deep, rich, free times of solitude are what root me deeply enough in myself to be my happiest self and do my best creative work?

I don't have any answers right now... which I hate.

The hardest part is that this is a new part of me. I never dealt with this in my relationship with Drew. I had a 9-5 job like most folks. And when I was off, I spent majority of my time, gladly, with him. But being a working artist and being who I have become is a whole other ballgame. My work never stops. My work and my life have become one thing - and solitude is a very integral part of that. I have to make efforts daily to isolate from friends, family, media and all the rest of the world in order to keep my creativity flowing. It is a constant fight for balance - even before he came into my world.

Today I think, I will allow myself a break. This is the first time I am doing any of this. The first time I am setting out to create a business deeply tied to my emotional and spiritual self. The first time I am learning how to live again after losing the love of my life. The first time I am letting new love in and the first time I am learning how to carve out space to still be committed to myself. And I haven't a clue what I am doing. In any of those areas. And that's OKAY. All I can do is my best... to take care of me, and to keep my heart and my creative work a priority, and to make room for this new person in my world to the best of my ability. And I think I am trying really hard to do all of those things.

I guess the most important thing is to remember... I am learning. The new woman I am has different needs than the one I used to be. It's going to take time to get to know what she needs out of a relationship and out of life. Naturally, I am fumbling. I am falling. I am tripping all over myself. I am making mistakes. I am thrown totally off center. I am having freakouts. I am stressed, and confused, and feeling a bit lost... BUT, I am learning. I am loving and laughing. I am sharing and growing. I am enjoying this new person who brings me so much joy... who has been doing his own learning through all of this messiness. I am living life again.

Sure, it's messy. But often times it is the messiest parts of our life that teach us the most. Drew's death taught me that, and it's an important lesson I need to remember. Adventures are never without hardship. They are always filled with a level of uncertainty. The beautiful part is that - for the first time since he died - my mind is now preoccupied with the new ventures in life... not with grief and death. That alone tells me I've come a long, long way.

No matter how chaotic my world is right now, I am glad for all the reasons it is. I am glad to have work that matters to me. I am glad to have formed a bond with myself over these years that I now deeply cherish. I am glad there is a new person in my world that I want to make room for... even if I haven't figured out how to best do that just yet. I am glad I don't know what I am doing and it feels challenging and everything seems uncertain - because it means I am living life adventurously. And I know in my heart Drew would be so proud of how I am facing the challenges that all of these new adventures in my life are bringing. Let's do this.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Scared of the Anger

It's been a year, nine months, one week and two days since my husband took his life and I'm only now just starting to feeling angry. Even typing that, makes me ill.  I'm  very much NOT ok with feeling angry.  

When he first died, I had a fleeting moment of thinking 'how could he have made this decision for us, without consulting me!?' and then within a split second it was gone - replaced with 'well he was sick.  This wasn't my husband, this was his disease.  It robbed him of his logic, his understanding of consequences and his ability to make rational decisions. It also robbed him of his ability to ask for help. In that moment, he believed there was no other way.'  

Any hint of anger was replaced with sadness for how scared and lost he must have felt. That just broke my heart and overshadowed everything else.  I didn't want to yell at him, I wanted to hold him, comfort him, sooth him. 

I'm not a 'yelling' kind of person, never have been.  As a child, I was much more included to sulk rather than throw tantrums.  As an adult, I'm logical and sensitive, I want to find solutions and compromise rather than get lost in rage or lash out.  

My husband and I weren't fighters.  We didn't always agree, but we always communicated from a place of kindness - reluctant to hurt each other and always wanting to work towards a mutually-agreeable solution.  We never used harsh words or said things out of spite, which is why I'm totally freaking out at the harsh words that have been coming to mind now, when I think about his death. 

I have been putting off writing about this.  I can barely speak about it to my closest friends.  The words choke as they come out, I'm petrified of acknowledging this emotion. 

I don't want anyone to get confused and think that I'm blaming my husband for his death.  I've been a fierce and vocal campaigner of showing support to those suffering mental illness, and working to remove the stigma and blame around suicide.  I'm worried that by expressing anger in a public way, it may be misinterpreted. It is a very private, very intimate and very personal emotion and it's scary to be vulnerable.  It's also a temporary emotion, but something that I need to acknowledge and work through, in order to prevent it from settling in my stomach and making me unwell. 

I described it to my grief counsellor this week as though there is a child inside me wanting to throw the mother of all tantrums.  She wants to rage and scream and kick and break things.  She is so hurt and angry, she feels deceived and betrayed.  But, there's also the rational, loving adult who keeps silencing the child with soothing words such as 'but it wasn't him, he adored you - he would never consciously hurt you'.  As soon as the child starts to find her voice it is quickly shut down. But my rationality just needs to shut up for a moment so the anger can be heard and released before it suffocates me. 

I'm scared that my anger might hurt people, like those who love Dan and may not be ready for this emotion (which was me, up until now). 

I'm scared that I may be encouraging others to feel angry at him. The thought of that pains me greatly, which is very confusing and complicated.  Even in my own anger, I want to protect him from any wrath. 

And I'm scared that by acknowledging this in any way, including writing about it here, people will try to stifle or dissolve my anger by rationalising the situation.  Making it even harder for me to process it as a valid and important part of the grief journey. 

I know that while, right now, I may be very mad about his death, I still love my husband.  The anger doesn't change that.  I will continue to love him long after I've released this pain and I know that, where ever he may be, he will understand why I feel like this and forgive me.  He is probably actually wondering why it's taken me thing long in the first place.  

And again I'm reminded about the personal growth that grief leads us to.  I have learnt so much about myself since his death.  I've been faced with thoughts, emotions and ideas that I probably would never have had to consider if he were still here.  Learning to be comfortable with my anger is just the latest on this long list.  I know I will get through this one too, because my track record so far is pretty impressive. 

Friday, May 1, 2015

In the Night

Last week, some of you may have noticed that I did not write a post in here. I would like to apoligize for my lack of blog posting one week ago Friday. However, the reason I could not post in here is quite unique and different - I couldn't post because I spent the entire overnight in an empty building, alone, at the college campus I work at, sleeping in the theatre office without a soul around me anywhere. And let me tell you, if anything will make you feel completely, totally, and pathetically alone - it's that.

But let me back up a bit. Let me explain to you how I got to that very alone place in that very large and very quiet building last week. To fully understand, we have to go back to July 13, 2011. The morning of my husband's sudden death. He collapsed inside of a PetSmart, while working to help out with their adoption center for the cats and dogs. About an hour or two after arriving at work that morning, he would be dead from a massive heart-attack. My close friends came and got me at the local hospital, where I had taken a cab to the E.R. to find out why they had my husband there, not knowing at the time that he was taken there by ambulance, and that he was now dead. Not knowing anything at all, really, except that my beautiful and healthy, young husband got up, went to work, and never came home.

When my friends arrived at the hospital to pick me up, a couple hours after he died, we had to drive to the PetSmart so that I could get his shitty car and then drive it back to our shitty New Jersey apartment. Literally, everything in our life was held together by scotch tape and hope. His car was a 1997 Grand Prix, and it had given us a ton of problems that last year or so. About a month before he died, we took the car in for it's latest set of repairs, which totaled around $800. We left the power steering broken because we couldnt afford to have it fixed, and Don was really good with cars, so he felt comfortable driving his own car with no power steering. I will never forget trying to drive his car from that PetSmart to our apartment with no power-steering, and then driving it the 5 hours to Massachusetts a few months later, so that my brother could sell it for me. It had become unsafe, and it was time. That same awesome brother of mine then bought me another car - another used car that his friend was selling for a couple thousand dollars - a 2002 Grand Prix, same make and model as my husband's car. It felt like a sign of some kind. About 7 months later, that car also died, and we ended up having to sell that one too.

Then, about 14 months after my husband's death, I finally had to move out of our apartment, and go somewhere else with a roommate. I moved to out of New Jersey, and into Queens. Then, just 7 months later, I moved yet again (because my roomate turned out to be a not so nice person), to a different part of Queens, with a different roommate. No longer having a car, I was taking the local bus to the train to work, and it was a long and annoying commute. Then my roommate very nicely suggested that I could drive her car to work since she didnt really use it much during the week anyway. So I did. I have been directing a theatre show at the university I teach at, for the past couple weeks now. Rehearsals are grueling and have been 5 and 6 nights a week. Well, last Friday night, we got out of rehearsal around 10 p.m., and I walked out to my roommate's car in the theatre parking lot, and tried to open the door with the remote. Nothing happened. Uh-oh. So I opened the door manually, and then went to start the car. Car would not start. Totally dead. And then, to top it all off, the key was now stuck in the ignition and would not come out. Here's something else fun - it was randomly freezing cold on this night last week. Really, really cold. Oh, and the many many public safety vans that kept driving right past me as I tried to flag them all down to let them know "Hey Dumbass! I need help!" - were all going straight past insignificant little me, and right on into Kesha. Yes, the ONE night that the car Im using dies for no reason, is the same night that pop-star Kesha is in concert AT THE UNIVERSITY! I called public safety and told them I needed help. Finally, two older guys who looked like they couldnt figure their way out of a paper bag, came over and tried to jumpstart the car. Nothing happened. I called my roommate. She doesnt have AAA, it's now past 11 pm, and it's looking like I am not getting back to Queens on this night. I had to be back on campus the next morning for yet another rehearsal, and now the plan was for the tow truck to come get the car in the morning. So I put up a public post on Facebook, asking my long island friends if I could come to anyone's house and crash there just so I could have someplace to sleep.

Nobody responded. Wait. I take that back. Here's who responded. Douchebags that said stuff like: "Hey Im in California. It's sunny here and warm! Wish I could help! Stay safe!" Yeah, thanks a lot, dickbag. That is very helpful. Not one person who lives local to that area responded, so I got desperate the later it got into the night and the colder the temperatures got. They had locked up all the buildings on campus, and everyone was tending to Kesha and her people. The concert was just getting out, so hundreds of screaming fans were all over the place, and I was just trying to find a place to sleep or at least stay warm. I didnt have enough cash to take a cab all the way home, which would have been over $60 - and it was too late for me to do the train to bus combo, which is highly unsafe after about midnight. So, I started begging the security guys to please let me into the theatre building. "I work here", I said, showing them my I.D. One guy actually said to me with a straight face: "Well, you know the Garden City hotel has a special right now for only $225 a night!" Seriously???

So, after another hour of bullshit from several people who didnt want to help or just didnt care, I finally found one security guy who was concerned about me and got on his radio and explained my story, asking his boss if he could please unlock the theatre building for me so Id have a place to hang out for the night and maybe get some sleep. So he let me in. And then he left.

I was perfectly safe in there, basically locked inside the fortress of solitude. But it is a huge building - 3 floors - and lots of offices, rehearsal rooms, theatres, etc. It was dark in there. I sat in the performing arts offices, charging my phone and just sitting around. Eventually, I curled up on a very tiny and hard couch with no pillow or blanket or anything at all, and no toothbrush, no change of clothes, and no husband to come pick me up and rescue me - and I just sobbed. Then I sobbed some more. Yes, I was safe. But I felt sooooo alone. I felt abandoned. I felt like nobody cared about me. I felt like nobody's priority. I felt like a person who was left alone to sleep inside of an empty building, breathing in the sounds of her own echo.

Of course, the next morning, people came out of the woodwork. "Oh my god! Why didnt you call me? I live 10 minutes from there! You could have slept here!" "Oh! I was home last night! You should have come here!" - and on and on and on. Yes, it was nice to know I had friends who had my back. But it didnt take away how lonely and alone I felt the night before. How cold I was. How tired I was. How angry and frustrated I was - and how awful it feels to not be someone's priority. For nobody to say "Dont worry honey - I will come to you - and Ill bring you home - whatever it takes." It made me feel so forgotten, and so small, in that gigantic building. Just one lost soul, looking desperately and hopelessly for her eternal love.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Grey Days

I don’t have time to watch much television, but I do enjoy movies of all kinds, and there is some pretty great television out there these days too. I just have to pick and choose - there is so much, and I’m too busy living life these days to spend too much of it staring into the idiot box…but still, I do look forward to those down times, those few hours a week I take for myself, to zone out and tune into to the fictional lives I’ve allowed myself to become attached to. 

I watched more when Mike was alive. We were both huge geeks and never missed anything Star Wars or Lord of the Rings or Indiana Jones or Marvel comics…as an avid archer, he devoured the Hunting Game books and was looking forward to the two final movies in that series, but he died before they came out. I have yet to see them, or much else that has come out in our batch of favorites since he died. It’s just no fun without him, and when I see ads for them it makes my heart hurt. 

His favorite books were the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon…we read the entire series together (the second time for me) and turned a lot of other friends and family on to it. We speculated heavily on the casting for the TV series we knew was coming; alas, he didn’t make that one either (or her last book, for that matter). This series I have been watching though, with my dear friend Cheryl, who read the series at his excited recommendation. She happens to also be a widow, so she relates to everything going on with me quite a bit, and since she knew him she also gets how much Mike would have been geeking out at the whole thing. So I’m immensely grateful for that, but it’s still bittersweet.

Mike and I also loved watching a lot of classic films - it was he who introduced me to The Thin Man and the Marx brothers, among so many others, which became some of my all-time favorites. He did amazing impressions and was constantly entertaining me with his Cary Grant, Kathryn Hepburn, Arnold Schwarzenegger, you name it…his Paul Lynde had me in stitches almost from the day we met.

That all said, I still had my personal guilty pleasures…shows that were mine and mine alone, which he had no interest in and in fact refused to share. I get it. I do love me a good soap opera - always have. I still remember that tiny old black and white TV I had in my dorm room in the 80s, so glued to General Hospital in the days of Luke and Laura that I even scheduled my classes around it. So when Grey’s Anatomy started up over a decade ago now, I was hooked…and never left. I have seen every single episode, I must admit.

The night Mike died  we watched part of To Catch a Thief which happened to be on TV, one of his favorites. Then he had gone to bed early, as he usually did, and I stayed up to catch up on my Grey’s, as I often did. I remember watching two episodes, then putting the dog into his room with him before I turned in (we slept separately, due to his terrible snoring). I remember the dog jumping on his bed, and noticed briefly that he didn’t stir…but didn’t think much about it. I figured he was just sleeping hard; we’d had a long day, and I wasn’t really surprised. The next morning, when I found him still in that same position, after waking up to a dark and quiet house and no hot coffee…that moment was a shock that will live with me forever. He was already stiff and blue, so even though the coroner put his death for the 17th, I will always suspect he had that heart attack pretty soon after going to bed that night on the 16th…when I was blissfully unaware, watching my Grey’s Anatomy. So needless to say, this last episode made my heart hurt for a lot of reasons.

If you watch the show but are not caught up: Spoiler alert.

McDreamy is dead.

The writers killed off the character that I had grown to love…a character who had come to terms with his marriage and family; the character of his wife, Meredith, was a personal hero of mine…strong, smart…I watched their fictional relationship develop, ebb and flow for so long. So when this character died last week, I sat there, stunned, tears streaming down my face…

I know it’s silly. I know there is so much real horror and heartbreak out there in the world…but, these characters had just become dear to me, somehow. I always looked forward to spending an hour a week in this alternate universe…and now, he was gone.

For a few days after I vowed I’d never watch the show again. I felt devastated and abandoned by these writers. But now, I think, I will watch, to see how they write the newly widowed surgeon dealing with the loss. I wonder, if it will be relatable. I wonder, whether they will portray the grief in a way I can fathom. I wonder how this series will deal with the widowhood of its main character.

However unimportant it all may seem in the great scheme of things, I’ve been haunted by everything I’ve written here this week. The night Mike died; all the hours we spent together enjoying watching TV; all the things I can’t watch without him; if I hadn’t been watching Grey’s that night could I have found him earlier? Known there was something wrong? Could he have been saved?? Was it my fault somehow? Am I a bad person for still watching that show, and feeling sad that a fictional character is dead? Why does it bother me that much? And why can’t I stop thinking about it?

I have no final answers, this week. It’s just…it’s just another week on this planet, another one without Mike, but with all the bits and pieces that make up the experience I’m still living, all the good and the bad.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

This Point~

I reached a point in these last few days.

I need to stop looking (albeit unconsciously) for this sharp cutting edge of grief in my body to stop.  I need to stop looking for that elusive something that will take it away.  Cut it away as carefully as a surgeon's knife, leaving my body and heart as intact as it was for my 24 years with him.  There wouldn't even be any scarring because that then, in those old days that seem like another century and time, was the real, whole, me.

But, of course, the only thing that will remove it is if my beloved husband returns, and we all know he ain't gonna do that.  Which is unimaginable to me and probably always will be,but it's the ugly truth.

Our culture...many cultures, I suspect, are unforgiving of grief.  A certain, quantifiable time is allotted but then there's just that feeling in the air that society at large is whispering behind their hands oh she's depressed all she talks about is her husband she's always sad why doesn't she appreciate life. 

I'm tired of not allowing the totality of my grief to be present;  truly, it's exhausting to not show the depths of it.  I'm tired of continually striving to push my way through it.  Tired of holding myself together when, honestly, you know what I want to do?  I want to tear at my clothes, pull at my own hair, curl in a ball on the floor and become the pain that I am.  Allow myself to sob and grieve and shriek my madness at the Universe and dissolve into its' stars and the moon and the dark nothingness of what is too huge for my feeble human mind to grasp.

Where is he?  Why is he gone?  What happened to my life?  Where is the part of my soul that mattered most to me?  How the holy fuck hell am I supposed to care about life without him?  How do I do this?  How do I not die from the loneliness of my soul?  How can I live for god knows how many years of my life with this fucking meat-cutter in my chest?  How, how, how, how? 

This man....this man who was my husband, was the keeper of my heart.  I mattered to him more than anyone else in his life and the gone-ness of that knowing has left me dislocated and lacking any sense of direction.

I talk to people throughout my day, like everyone else, as life goes on, but the words in my mind are much different than the words on my lips.  What I'm really saying is I miss you I miss you i miss you I Miss you I miSS You I miss youimissyouimissyouimissyou....ad infinitum...