The number five holds special meaning to me: it finds me when I need to pay attention, alerts me to change and the onset of discovery, and soothes my anxious thoughts. It is also the title of this Storyboard writing: No. 05.
March 23, 2020
Reminder first: I am grieving the loss of my husband-partner, and grief-time does not have an endpoint for me to grasp or see, now or in future. Infinite. Loss. Solo. Without. Love.
My losses began before he died from cancer in October 2016, his death was the rocket ship blasting off to another universe in warp drive to utter impossibilities made real. Am I on the USS Enterprise? Where are you, Captain Kirk? It’s complicated, I am not seeking to solve or end my grief, and to do so (I’ve already tried) is to apply force upon something that has a life of its own. Who tells another person or being how to live their life or what to feel or think? “Stop grieving now.” It doesn’t work like that, so save pleading and wishful thinking for more temporal things like hope for toilet paper on your store shelves or figuring how you and yours are getting on for the next few weeks in looming lockdown.
My determination to “be” in After, not fighting who and whatever I am now, is a journey of finding understanding with grief as my shadow, at my side. I am alive (which is an achievement in itself) and feel what I feel. It has become essential for me to express those feelings in safe actions and in descriptive writings that define my experience of loss.
Each person who grieves carries it in a different way, each loss spawns a unique flux of intensities, degrees of feeling, and vibrations of expression. I am a fractal: rolling and collapsing in my own stand-alone equation, in an ever-fluctuating scale. This writing is one view of a very small expression of the much larger number model of me. Me. Be.
Now, the updates: Since beginning the writing of my Storyboard series in 2017, it’s continuation in “No. 05” has waited over 2 years to be told. I’m so bothered by its delay, the waiting, from the mere inability to making time or forming words to reflect, face, and recall a precious family trip to Canada in 2017 for saying goodbye to Jon, one more time. One more time.
How many times will there be, of saying, “I love you, I miss you, I wish you were here.” Time slows and pauses for no one to give proper capture of often-fading memories: the essences of smells, words hoarsely and softly uttered while holding back tears, and wisps of fingertips that memorized fine lines on skin. When these memories come to me, when my emotions can bear it, I write down on paper or in my phone what I hear and see in my mind.
This is the ongoing story of permanent separation by death and an attempt to describe new-found meaning of space in between. Our world being in its current, virus-fueled state, has prompted this writing to come forth. Some may find refuge in these words, in our new, shared reality: social distancing. How far apart, is far enough?
The realities of parting by death and by physical, measured-space in between may occupy similar dimensions, a mashup of axioms and intersections, sometimes all is visible and orderly, and then suddenly nothing at all makes any sense, and is lost from view. You see what is on the water’s surface, but how much do you not see? What has released its buoyancy and is captured underneath at various depths, temperatures, and pressures?
Similarities, yes, meant as a term of likeness not as comparison, however the difference being separation by death is permanent, whereas current distancing may be restored in a future time. There is no end to grief and missing, just as, “there is no end to love.” That’s in a U2 song, ‘California,’ Bono even knows, of course, he does. Jon loved U2. Jon loves me. He died, but our love for each other, did not. As always, thankful for Jon’s playlists now and hearing him through lyrics that speak to my heart. Time. Distance. Wormholes.
In the efforts to find answers and definitions to my deepest questions, I’ve asked myself so many times, “how did we do it?” I’m talking about wondering how Jon and I found each other, loved each other like needing air to breathe, and how we weathered-all-storms that our life together threw at us? And now, I’m asking, “how do I do it all now, without him here?” How do I love, breathe, sail afloat in this life-ship I am on that writhes in uncharted seas? Adrift. Pointless.
Wind distorts my hearing of any answers. Home is nowhere, my anchor had been thrown overboard, snapped its chain of brittled, sickened-steel, and to the depths below it has sunk, now covered in seaweeds, lichens, and barnacles. Soon it will become one with the depths below and lose its form, reclaimed to nature and the passing of time.
Enter my musical playlist of this moment: Emerson, Lake, & Palmer. It begins, aptly so, with ‘From The Beginning’ followed by ‘Trilogy’ and ends with ‘C’est La Vie.’ Sound fills, echos, and bounces inside my brain and wets my mouth, these songs remind me of Jon, and bring him to me now as I am releasing myself to be fully-weighted in thoughts of the past: July 5, 2017.
That day was our day put to his Valhalla send-off, there were floating vessels of many sizes, and it was an aquatic processional bathed in sunlight. Over time, I have made endless notes on this happening, and rather than a tidying-up of it’s telling, I am allowing it to be “as written:” pieced together in haphazard tenses of time intermingling: a glimpse inside my timeless, fragile heart and mind. You are invited to join me on a trip down memory lane, all the way to Valhalla. ~P.
‘From The Beginning’ – You Were Meant To Be Here
In recent months, now immersed in this 41st month today, I am relishing in sleeping as much as I can, relieved when it’s time to go to bed at night, embracing sleep as a way to end one more day, without him here. My desire to sleep is like the sea being coaxed by the gravitational pull of a full moon, when it calls I must go to it, or else fight yawning and inertia of my thoughts and body. Simultaneously, the desire to have as many hours spent in a sleep-state is a split-decision-calling between a willingness to get to my own death sooner-than-later versus to an unknown, no-guaranteed-future of some form of happy. Can I ever be? Hurry-up. Wait.
Any debate tousled in my mind is a waste of precious energy, as the outcome of waking every morning is the same: the monotony continues into being one day older and one more day further in “future.” Chaotic future. Complicated grief. You are both here. Where are peace and calm? Defiance to monotony, I refuse to get out of bed and get on with another day, until my alarm tells me “it’s go time” and something absolutely needs to be done.
‘Trilogy’ – What I’m Really Feeling Deep Inside
Tenses of time: past, present, and future, are all in the same position of spacial analysis in my mind. One overlaps another like water currents incessantly lashing the hull of a boat, and much like steering the boat was in Canada, my days are sometimes working in opposites to get a positive result of moving forward. Efforts to stay in the moment are often bumped by thoughts of past or future, resulting in present knocked out of the way, entirely, like hitting an unforeseen pothole in a gravel bike race. My riding any bike seems to be about making small changes to its components to make it lighter, hopeful that speed will increase and my ride will endure or avoid those awful bumps. Bump. Recover. Steady. Go.
C’est La Vie – Out Of Tune And Out Of Time
The rapid culmination of years has surprised me most, this life of ‘After’ is being lived blindly, so many uncertainties and unexpected situations happening, and do I really want to look and see what truly lies ahead? Does this kind of knowledge inspire or freeze all momentum? Can any of us really see into the future, to see beyond any current, ugly circumstances? For me, I now know it is a matter of running towards and away, an ebb and flow at varying speeds and there are so many directions besides straight ahead, but still pressing “forward” is a reflex even, if only, in baby steps. My thoughts of more heartbreak and loss are not happenings I look forward to having, yet only those things may be certain.
Liar’s Bench at the island bait shop, Canada
What do I rely on to see beauty in each day and to lead me in positive directions? So much writing I have begun, but so little is actually finished or shared. Editing my thoughts to what you see here, because saying the unfiltered truth out loud is not always kind or positive. If you don’t see my words as positive, consider viewing them as proactive, a “doing something” about circumstances that cannot be reversed and answering “a calling” that will not be quiet.
It is most important to be true to being my authentic self, and not conform to some formulaic expectation. If I did “conform,” all you would read here would be lies and I’d rather choose to speak the truth, as myself, and risk the hurt of it. Lying hurts everyone more. And what’s there to lie about? Nothing. I won’t be sitting on the Liar’s Bench. Love is truth. There is only love expressed here. And my truth right now is: I may at times be “the asshole,” but certainly not “the liar.” C’est la vie.
July 5, 2017
Where is the beauty? Is it in these memorial pyre boats prepared yesterday afternoon before the storm? Jon’s remains of his physical body placed delicately in creased paper, nestled in lichen, twigs, and stones? My eyes squeezing tight-shut, silently screaming in my mind, “Oh, Jon, I know where you’ve been, I don’t know where you have gone!”
Each boat lit afire, smoke and flame stoked by sunlight, I watched the flames pop in and out of view. They reminded me of the tiny ember glowing and buried in my own heart. “My love, I know you have already been burnt to ash, but yet, I worry if this hurts you, or does it warm what surely is so cold without your beating heart and my laying upon it?” In each small vessel, you have no rudder, no engine, no oars. Does this mean you have not left me, cannot part from me, or that I will leave you to be here? “Must I leave you here? It’s a stunning, peaceful place. Please linger here, and I will return to you when I can.”
On this family trip, unable to have a bike ride, I found myself repeatedly walking away from my family for time to myself. It feels selfish, I’m ashamed at what seems such a conspicuous act. I feel this hurts my family members, but it is compulsory to my sadness and how alone I feel. Choosing to be alone with my own thoughts seems like I’m saving my family from seeing my pain, and gives them each space for theirs. On this island now, I see the perfect place to walk, seizing the opportunity now.
This is one more place where I chose to take you, in your new form. We are walking up the slope, you are holding my left hard, finding steps for our feet to make it to the lookout. My heart beats in rapid succession, this small climb has made me high. Here I breathe you in, imaging our laying together on this rock, my hair pressed against moss, arms outstretched, waiting to feel your embrace that only comes to inside my mind.
This picture is an homage to a photograph by Norman Mauskopf that hangs in our house. When Jon lived in California, he met and worked with this artist. His photography is rich with detail, and his imagery and subjects evoke conversation. How many times we talked about the hand petroglyphs of his photo and visiting New Mexico one day to see them! Here now, is surely a good substitute. I pressed my hands on to these rocks, spread my fingers wide taking in the sun’s rays, and thought of it all as giving a memory of my being here, and taking a few pictures to remind me of what I had left behind.
February 26, 2020 – One More Time
Today, it’s time to shovel the accumulated snow from overnight. I’ve been watching through mottled, unwashed windows as it continues to bluster and billow. If only moving my thoughts and mindset of being stuck in the bottoming-out of deep sadness were as easy as shoveling snow. Is there a bottom, an end, a scooping-out from my current state and mood? Like this snowfall, just when it is sufficiently cleared, white flakes fall silently to cover cleared paths all over again. How many snow markers are needed to remind me of the way and to guide digging out, one more time? One more time. Just a few more minutes to write one more memory, then I will close my eyes on this couch for a reset before going outside again. This snow is not melting anytime soon.
During this brief writing time is when it hits me hard, and brought back all memories of Canada in clear-focus. A few days ago, on a crisp, sunny Saturday in February, I had a bike ride along Hines Drive in Livonia, MI, and will never forget the picture that day, albeit seen-and-saved only in my mind. It was an out-and-back solo ride, and on the return route, as I was passing Nankin Lake on my right, suddenly the sun’s glittering on the water caught my eye, and was interrupted by the appearance of two swans. Each was a mirror-image of the other.
As I rode past, I see these large birds are facing each other and are many feet apart, but yet, so much they are together, connected by their watery tether. Necks sculpted, mirrored in gesture of the same high-arced, graceful curve, white-sueded feathers full-and-fluffed to combat the cold, a distinct contrast to the water’s dancing highlights of pure sunlight atop midnight, indigo-colored water.
I considered stopping at this very moment, seeing the picture I would take, already formed inside my mind. My bike, Auriel 💕, would be leaned-up and posed against the grey metal guard rail at road’s edge, framed by a swan on each side of her in the background. And, oh, the glints of the water are like mosaic diamonds!
My stubborn body did not cooperate with my pleading brain, and I pedaled on without stopping. Why? Because at the sighting of these majestic birds, I was instantly overwhelmed at feeling their connection, even with about 10-12 feet in between them, I could see they were a mated pair and belonged to each other. My imagined-picture was to place Auriel in the space that both separated them, and connected them, as if Auriel would become some type of conduit. And like a yin and yang symbol, I saw these birds could not be without the other to exist. My bike in between would only disrupt what was so obvious to me. As I’m riding on, tears are streaming down my cold cheeks, epiphany of memory from Canada, our two boats plainly seen in my mind, now overlapping and standing in place of the two swans.
Jon’s ashes were first divided among the paper ships, and then these were divided in the two boats for my family to launch in the island’s cove. Our two family boats, both filled with Jon’s ashes, all at once. I now clearly understand: our two boats on Jon’s Valhalla day were just like like two swans: we are inseparable, having a union of ashes onboard each and only distance of space in between. Changing scale of this realization, I felt his death divided us, but in this way united us all and cannot be parted from any of us. All the messages and care put to making his Valhalla fleet, it was love on board continuing in exponential, fractal form.
July 7, 2018 – One Year Later
Writing about my past events should be like reading a book aloud found in the library of my mind. Pull one book off of any shelf, turn to page one, and begin with a cheerful, sing-song tone, “Once upon at time,” and, as gracefully as the story begins, so at its end, the book is clapped shut with a simultaneous standing-at-attention position of me as its reader, and dutifully the book is then returned to the collection, a sharp nod of my head completes this story with a side-smile, indicating: that’s it, thank you very much for listening, “the end,” as the finished book is slid in between other hard-canvased tomes, confirming its replacement with a weighted-thud to a dust-laden, shadowed space.
I’ve found that my life with grief is not an opened-and-closed story. It’s open-ended at best, and memories read from even dusty pages are still fresh, and cause tears to flow. You’d think with the telling of a story over and over, it would get easier to bear, but that does not seem to be the case. Damnit, it’s like the movie ‘The Notebook.’ That movie always seems to be on, and when it is, I’m sucked in to watching part of it, if not the whole thing, and at the exact same scenes, my eyes well-up, so much I feel, from even seeing two people just holding hands. My at-the-ready heavy emotions, ready to burst at any moment. Yeesh.
Easier. Lighter. I want it to be that way, I really do. Grounded in the “present moment” having beginnings with endings and closures with resolve and peace. Smiling with others face-to-face. Emotions even keel, but laughing at the “appropriate times” and not falling apart and needing to leave the room. I see myself writing books about new experiences, better yet, completing and archiving the current mind-library and starting a brand new one in a new mind-library-wing dedicated to some new, interesting somethings.
These books of Before and After I have in my brain are more like prisms, and every time I have a look, I may see an extra color or vibration if observed from a new angle. It’s like exhaustive, scientific research and it may be the kind that outlives me, the scientist. Honestly, I don’t want anyone saying 60 years from now “continuing the Before research of Paula,” that seems so unfair. It needs to be completed under my leadership. The Before and After writings, all memories, must be completed.
So I’m trying to write out what I have experienced, what I know, specifically my life since the death of my husband 21 months ago. Little-baby-grief is almost two years old. I’m trying to nurture it, understand it, definitely not fighting it at this point. I’ve been wondering lately if the “terrible twos” like in human development will also apply to grief? Isn’t having grief about being human in the first place? The depths of love itself creating an even deeper well of grief? More exhausting thoughts, more scientific research needed.
Valhalla: The Beginning And The End
Today, July 5, 2017, is about the continuation of Jon’s ashes event in Canada, now one year ago. After the evening of the storms and the rainbow, my heart and mind are exhausted. One more time. Silently that night, behind the closed door of my bedroom, I drowned myself in tears, the alcohol could not dull the utter pain and there wasn’t near enough liquid to fill the emptiness I felt. I awoke early the next morning, smelling stale beer from two empty cans on the nightstand beside me. Drinking alcohol never does me any good. There will be “less” today, I decide.
Per my usual, a morning picture is taken to look myself in the eyes, for the purposes of proclaiming and verifying I am alive and this day is really here: one more ashes event. Will it be the last? “You can do this,” I tell myself. One more time. All I see here is a gaunt face, dehydration set in deep lines, dried tears have filled cracked skin, just barely. I’m thankful for soft sunlight though a simple, opened window, it warms me here, inside this small bedroom. Once I open the door, I will be outside and exposed. Yet again, there will be wind interrupting this warm feeling and no stopping another day from happening.
Instead of choosing booze as comfort, I am determined today to be sober and connect and find comfort with my family, after all, this is to be a family celebration. Unlike the other two previous ashes events in Central Park and at Northwestern, I did not write a program and special words for Canada. Here, I only want the paper boats to carry private messages to him, and as a family with his parents at the helm, all of us will be bearing witness.
On this trip, there had been few opportunities to write because we are collectively putting away our phones. If my phone is in my hand, it is being used to take pictures, my shorthand of taking notes. These images holding my feelings and words will be put to written descriptions later, what otherwise will be memories lost without some form of reference to recall. Is this all a very bad dream? If so, I hope to wake up from this loss nightmare, but what will be the same in my life and what will never have happened? When did this nightmare really begin?
A photograph captures a moment in time, it preserves a view, a happening, a face. It also saves a memory. To tell about it in the form of a caption, for me to say how I was feeling and give context, completes what is shown and releases the memory. It is also important to say, that images and feelings become part of history, of “what was,” and as time goes forward, can be compared to the knowledge of “what is” now.
March 23, 2020 – Surface Light
At this moment in this boat, I’m now seeing for the first time both death and space in between combined, and I see it as a symbol not of further distance apart and separation, but as a lifeline of how we are the most connected.
I was so sad to leave him in Canada, as I had thought then. Did I leave him? My answer now astounds me. I did not leave him there as I once thought: I took him with me there and gave his ashes away. Our family shared that together, all of us. AND I brought him back. He is both there and here, all at once. You are here, but I can’t see your physical body or touch your skin. Up to this point, this has been so difficult to see and, more so, to understand it’s meaning.
His body died and our life together ended, but our love still continues on. It is the same unseen connection that I felt as I watched the paired swans, it is also what I felt on July 5, but had no words to describe it. As I was sitting in the boat on his Valhalla day, my distraction was steering the boat and watching my family launch the ships. I took pictures of all of it, another distraction, but those pictures saved the memories for when I could understand and interpret them later.
Dear Jon, You were in both boats, you were laying with me on the moss rock overlooking the cove. You are in the water, you are smoke sent to the blue dome above us. You are in Valhalla: A great hall for those who die in combat, as heroes of war. You are my hero. You did all you could to deny Death it’s victory and waged war against an unmatched foe. You are always victorious in my mind and heart because of your bravery under stress, your optimism for healing, and never giving up on me and our kids. In the putting of your ashes everywhere you asked, giving all of you completely away, in that repeated act, I now realize you never left me. You are still here under my skin. Physical space and separation in between us does not mean I cannot, or should not, be without love. Love itself has no boundaries. Love crosses all timelines, reaches all distances, and will exist in a physical form or in your absence: our love surpasses death. I love you, I miss you, I wish you were here. It is time for me to sleep now, and give one more time to laying down what is most weary: my heart. One more time. Goodnight, my love. ~Puskie