It’s been a rough week. I’m fighting fresh grief as I prepare for a trip to Chicago to say goodbye to Jon one last time. The ‘final ride’ so to speak with the last of his ashes. As I prepare for my own challenge, I needed some reminding and reflecting on what’s important, so I’m re-posting Primary Information. But first, a simple message for someone who may need it.
“What would life be if we had no courage to attempt anything?”~Vincent Van Gogh
Some challenges we seek, some are put upon us. If you are facing a challenge to you, whether it’s something like doing your first century bike ride, or finishing that new best-seller that just isn’t doing it for you, or even just getting out of bed, I have a few words to share with you. Some may say “well completing my challenge won’t change or really help anything,” and to that I say “whoa, stop right there.” How do you know the true outcome of something if you have yet to do it? Do you really know the result ahead of time? Do you need a guarantee of knowing some anticipated “if-then” in order to even begin? A stationary attitude of “nothing’s going to happen whether I do it or not,” is that really what you believe out of what’s right in front of you, let alone the bigger picture of life all around you?
I never thought of myself in terms of what would happen to me or who I would become after the death of my partner and our cancer struggles. Not a single clue of how it would change me into the “me” I am now, yet here I am. Definitely I am not “solved,” but changed: I’ve met so many new people, written what could be a book’s worth of experiences of it all so far, and I’ve biked 685 Stava-recorded miles this year and counting. I offer you tough love: I hope what ever you are facing, challenge big or small… I hope it kicks you in the ass. I think at some point, a person needs a good ass-kicking to help truly figure out and lead you to what’s next, see what you’re made of, and to value the lessons learned. The threat of failure also does wonders for character building if that’s what you need, too.
So do it, ride it, take it all in full-on. You may surprise yourself at what you can and cannot do, and better still, who you might become. ~P.
Below is a re-post. Original post date: June 24, 2017.
It’s All Relative
You give warmth, light, and survival.
Who are your planets that depend on you?
You hold life, death, and in between.
Who are your moons that orbit you?
You play with water, trees, and my heart.
Who are your eyes that see you?
You are my love, reason, and gravity.
Who are your stars now shining beside you?
In my re-entry into public life as a widow, there is a ton of social awkwardness for me to navigate. I often feel like that annoying and slightly ominous helium party balloon that is losing air and just kind of floating mid-way around the room. If I’m not careful, I could get stuck in some corner, or worse yet, hover by a bright light and I could pop. Technically, I’ve only been on social media for less than a year, so that has been its own learning curve, too. Twitter has been a bridge of sorts between my life pre-grief to now, I signed on last August 2016 to keep up with news when Jon was in the hospital. Since then, I have offended many people without meaning to, I have dipped in and out of the political fray, and now I’m happily something in between the endorphin-infused cycling and exercise world with a sprinkle of “I could get behind that social human cause”, and I receive daily inspirational quotes. A good day on social media is when I’m laughing at and participating in rampant childish tweets that make light of life and it’s peculiarities. Add to that now, a new door opening into my Glog (grief blog), a way for my tiny voice to vent on life with grief as I see it. I am inviting people to read it, another social risk that could cause people to love me or hate me. Even though I ask for no judgement, no fixing, only reading, people will still have their opinions. Thank you for reading, by the way.
In the spirit of diffusing my social anxieties, please allow me to clear some things up. Both existing family and friends and new friends are all at the same level of getting to know me. I confess that existing relationships were kept at a safe distance for several years as Jon and I managed our cancer struggles, before that our revolving door of job relocations, and all of the stress that went along with those choices. Has the death of my partner of over 20 years changed me? Absolutely. Will I be “myself again?” There lies the rub: “myself” says to me that somehow I am not acting as “me” now, and “again” implies that I will go back to some better knowing of “those were the good old days” mentality. So my honest answer is this: I am more myself today than I have ever been. The pre-death-of-Jon Paula was a version of me, best expressed in that relationship. We were two “wholes” that came together to make a bigger whole, and shaped ourselves around what became “us.” I acknowledge our two children are with me, who are the greatest joys of our union, but in this new reality, I am alone. My aloneness has allowed me to rediscover the core of me. Call it what makes me tick or how I’m hard-wired to “be,” but I know who I am, and every day a little more of this me comes out.
My first companion now is grief. What that means is that even though I’m alone, I have this Peter-Pan-like shadow with me all of the time. This shadow can be intimidating to some people. Some may think all I do is cry all day, maybe they don’t know what to say and are afraid of saying the wrong things, or they might feel sorry for me. The truth is, yes, sometimes I do cry too much on a given day. I believe a person saying something that acknowledges my loss is better than not saying anything at all, even if their comment is off-putting. There is no right or wrong way grieve, and the same goes for responses from others to my bereavement. Likewise, having empathy in the form of “feeling sorry” to others who grieve is okay, I’d rather see you show that you care than gloss over what has happened to me or others. In general, my life is now an open book of sorts, and I’m reading from it out loud, and I am happy to have people stop and listen to what I have to say, one page at a time.
Now for the tricky part: I don’t know what the hell I’m doing when I meet new people. Maybe others who grieve a loss of a partner can relate. My love for my partner was not taken away from me, only the life of the person it was for. In my case, my desire to give and have love remains. It feels like I’m a drug addict and I’m trying to find my fix, and I can’t help it that I’m a partner person. I’m not trying to find a replacement, but rather a new something with a someone at some point. I believe certain rules are now more grey than black or white though. Since I have been released from my bond of marriage, I don’t feel the need to get married again or to be with just with one person. That love thing aside, I’m all about finding friends that will accept me as I am, with my shadow and all, and I have been pretty fortunate so far. When I meet new people, I don’t want to know their life history right out of the gate, nor do you need to know mine. Widow or not, too much information is just that, too much. I think meeting new friends and getting to know them should take time, a person’s details are like a present that has many layers of wrapping paper. You don’t want to rip the paper off all at once, but rather look forward to peeling back the next sheet one at a time to reveal a new pattern or design. Who doesn’t like surprises?
What I do care to know up front is, the answer to this simple question: who are your primary people in your life? Not what you do for a living, not what brand of car you drive, and not what you had for breakfast. This is me trying to figure out where I fit in, in relationship to other people, kind of in a Rip Van Winkle sort of way. I just woke woke up after a 20 year nap, and I want to know what’s really going on around me! To understand this, I want to know: who are the people that matter most to you? It’s all about “your people.” Think of it like me needing to know who you see as your primary doctor. If you tell me who that is, I can better see what kind of insurance you have, who is in your network, who I could recommend as specialists for your specific needs. We can talk about almost anything, but that point of reference is crucial to making our relationship to one another better understood and relevant.
Since I can’t fix my grief, I’d like to fix my approach to meeting new people in this way. I want to cut through all of the bullshit pleasantries, without being rude. From the “primary people” point of reference, it is a glimpse of how you live in your world. Just because I’m curious if you have a significant other or others, does not mean I want to date you. It’s a good question that helps me understand who you are, and I’m interested to know. As I’ve been going along without asking specific questions, it has been surprising to me about what people communicate by what they don’t say about themselves. Sometimes those “holes” not filled tell you more of what you’d like to know, remember, I was the queen or privacy, so I know what’s up most of the time in what I don’t hear. By my knowing who your primary first relationships are, I see where your coming from, what motivates you, or what might be good points of conversation. Likewise, maybe there are topics and interests that would be no-nos, like if you were vegetarian I would not want to suggest my favorite restaurants for a good steak, right? It’s an unspoken language translator if I know what’s primary to you. Your “primaries” could be people alive or dead, present or absent, someone who inspires you, pets or a lifestyle. Have you heard that cyclists often create a deep bond with their bicycle? I can definitely understanding that, so I would not be surprised if someone would say their bicycle is a primary!
I never ask a question that I am not willing to answer in turn myself. So what and who are primary to me? Well, first is my grief, duh, if only it weren’t that obvious. Deep breath, it does take a few moments to give it proper thought. Okay, ready. I like things in threes, so here you go: my health, my two kids, and my grief. My world revolves around those things in that order, like a little peanut with three nuts inside all nestled comfortably together.* My life’s decisions are based on the best interests of those items, and all other things are subsets from them. Somehow I would like to find the courage to ask my question to the next new person I meet. I hope if they choose to answer, they find it feels good to get to the point. There are a few things I’ve learned in grief, they are: that life is short so live it to the fullest, it’s better to say what needs to be said than not, and the truth always comes out. Life to me is all about making meaningful connections with people. I’m sharing with you the opportunity to read my story, and I’m interested to read a bit of yours.~Paula
* Peanuts usually only have two nuts inside, but I have on occasion found three. It makes me happy to find what is more rare. I always crack open these shells very carefully, just because I like to see how the little nuts fit inside.~P.