Author: storyboardpzimapplez

Just Add A Splash Of Heart

As this is my 100th story posted to The Glog, it deserved a little more reflection and refinement. Thank you for reading, and hoping you enjoy the now-extended version of this story. ~P.

While filling a bowl at the kitchen sink with water to soak my little air plants, staring blankly out the window, I accidentally overfilled the bowl. When I moved the bowl away from the sink, pivoting towards the center island, the water gushed over-and-out in one sudden wave and onto the floor. Usually, I’m wearing socks because my feet are so cold all of the time, but my feet are bare this morning because the socks I wanted most to wear were still in the dryer from the night before, so, suddenly, I’m standing in puddles of cold water, seeping in between my toes.

I feel the air of my chilly house instantly cling to the wet all over my legs and feet, and as I peer to the floor to see what surely is water everywhere, it’s right there: reflected back to me amidst the droplets and puddles across the floor, is a raised blob of water in the perfect shape of a heart. ❤️ My story does not end there. I then ignored my wet feet, and dragging the wet with me, stepped over to the kitchen table to get my phone for necessary picture taking to document what I see.

Hurrying back to ground zero, I realize, “Oh, no, I think I just walked right through it, and it now must be gone!” So, carefully, I stepped back, bent over now, scanning all the wet islands for that special one I had hoped was still there. And, suddenly, beautifully, it comes into focus, beading in high-gloss wonder from the worn, wooden floor, highlighted softly by the daylight of late-morning.

Picture-taking accomplished, when reviewing my photos, the time they were taken pops from my screen: 11:11am. My noticing this special time, and gazing at this picture of “one more heart” appearing for no reason, sends a swell of warmth through my still-wet legs to my soggy toes and makes my heart beat a little faster, sighing with resolved confirmation that these occurrences just happen and are a part of me. These are now the many ways that love is shown to me, especially in times of doubt, sadness, or pauses in thought.

Towel now in hand, it’s time to dry my legs, paying special attention in between my toes. I’m trying to seal-in the warmth I now feel. Each foot is carefully cradled in the palm of one hand, swaddled in towel, and with the other hand, pressing every angle with a satisfactory squeeze. My feet dried, before this warmth escapes, to the laundry room I go, finding those pair of socks in the dryer I had in mind for wearing today.

Slipping socks on hurriedly, I stand still with eyes closed for just a long breath, taking in the calm which for a moment feels like I’m standing in sand, my toes curled in the depths of tiny grains warmed by sunlight. Thoughts of being on a shoreline somewhere in my mind are gone the moment I open my eyes.

Returning to my kitchen, reluctantly, I dry the floor, choosing not to look for the heart again, as this would be too much to see it being undone. So it’s a matter of bending over, a fresh towel in hand, and with wide, slow strokes along the length of the wood floor planking, the water is removed, methodically, mechanically, feelings now put aside.

As I tended to my terrarium garden in miniature, I reflected in quiet, deep thought. My air plants and mosses received some extra attention today. I lost track of time as I carefully finished with their delicate rearrangement, nestling them back together in their glass home. In doing this, an odd feeling comes to me: maybe some of the warmth I feel now, this memory, has been shared with this microcosm, put away for safe-keeping, and every time I look closely at their uniqueness and intricacies, they are now reminders to me of unexpected happenings and love itself. ~Paula

#heart #love #1111 #feet #airplants #grief #home

Concrete Information

There’s been a change of exercise and training strategy till further notice. No more outdoor cycling: instead I’ve begun indoor cycling on a Schwinn Airdyne Fanbike. More about that later.

Outdoor running and walks continue, but are now solo, and I try to choose routes that may have as few other people as possible. Passing others while putting enough space in between has become an art form. However, what I’m trying mostly to do, is not to pass up seeing beauty and positive encouragement from the universe. On my 10k run yesterday, it came in the form of a sidewalk heart and “signs” with new-found meaning. ❤️ ~Paula

Concrete heart, a small, but much appreciated find on my running route. I’m hoping to see it again.
This simple sign is juxtaposed in front of a memory care facility. It’s a brilliant reminder to offer kindness to others and remember to give it to myself, too.
Community has a whole new meaning for all. Wishing each of you safe and creative ways to reach out and connect with those you love and care for. ~P.

Storyboard – No. 05

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.

Now

‘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.

Then

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.

Moss rock

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

A Soap Story – Bar 3 of 3

February 10, 2020

Dear Reader,

I’ve lathered you up, Bar 3 pending for 10 months since Bar 1 was first published. Days, weeks, and these months have dripped, spilled, and gushed, so much has happened, but yet I can’t put my finger on a point to plug the spigot long enough to look deeply in this murky pool to closely reflect at how things have bubbled-over, and to dive in to so much that has gone down the drain.

Grief is the clog, the part that won’t ever get completely washed away, and “dirty water” doesn’t even get close to describe the type of wet or mystery-soup it can be. Like my little sewing decision to close a heart-shaped tear in my cycling pants, today is now the day I’ve chosen to step back in the shower to finish writing A Soap Story – Bar 3 of 3. As always, thank you for reading. “Don’t judge, don’t fix, just read.” ~P.

The soaps that were not my soap.

The Library

The only time of day I look in the mirror is before and after bathing. As I do so now, leaning forward against the cold sink’s edge, I scan my reflection from head to waist, and more than any other judgement I receive, the very most, I give to myself at this moment.

I question everything because every day I wake up and doubt this is all real. Out of order death has blown-up my rational thinking, caused me to not listen to others’ advice and hear only my point of view. And the irony of that, is that I’m struggling most with reassuring myself that “I matter” and it’s okay that “I am here” even though he is not, and listening to others means to me that my needs and wants are put aside for their sakes, not mine. It’s an identity crisis, a leadership contradiction of who’s in charge of my life. If I’m not in charge, who the hell is, or should be? Whatever happened to learning from mistakes and getting on, instead of not getting up from repeated failures?

I look at tired eyes, sadness behind irises which fluctuate from pine-green to storm-cloud-blue, and inside my pupils, I enter the library of my mind. I can go there whether my eyes are opened or closed, and I always know the way to a small, reading space, plainly situated in a corner. My body finds the same seated position, partly curled in a “Z-like” formation, and I effortlessly nestle myself in between large, soft pillows of stoney greys, soft-hued blues, and pale-greens. It’s there where I so often go, away from rows of word-jammed books crammed on shelf after shelf, to read the most difficult volumes about my life.

What is read here in my little corner are my invisible books, those which visible writing cannot contain, those that are the “unwritable” subjects and stories. I merely need to hold my hands palms-up in front of me on my lap: it’s a reading of my hands. It’s how I can safely look at the most difficult realities: my eyes scanning cracked, lined skin, sobbing quietly, tears wetting what is so dry, as I read my private stories that no one else is allowed to see.

That’s how it is most of the time, and it’s so hard to sort what is truly “shareable” and “writable.” My darkest thoughts and sad feelings are too-much and too-awful for public view, but it is important for me to bare my reality of loss and grief. If I were completely unfiltered, however, I could look no one in their eyes again. Call it a necessary keeping of some of my clothes on, reasoning that I don’t need to be completely naked and fully exposed. “Some skin” showing still gets my point across without needing an R-rating, it’s just “better” with a solid PG.

For all that I’ve lived in my 50 years and counting, as I think and review life’s pictures and happenings in my mind, I’m now asking from what point of view do I see? In telling and recalling, there is great fear that I may subconsciously rewrite my history, whether on purpose or by accident. Can I, or should I, put things in “a better light” or alter happenings as they occurred? Am I the protagonist in every story? Is it important that I am? Did you ever once think you could be seen as the “bad guy” in your own life or viewed as being on the “wrong side” of history? Feeling so right and certain and full of justifications for opinions and actions, but later discover it was frenzied, willful belief that only gave you confidence you were “right”?

I’m at that point of no matter how I got to here, this is where I’m at. I’m right here, so let’s take it from this point and go forward. Past has to be past. I’ve fallen on the trail, I’m in my worst nightmare of falling off of a precipice. I’ve tumbled, bumped, snagged, rolled downward, all the while earth and debris are sticking to me like tar and feathers. After hitting bottom (I question if I have), I’m wearing a suit of ice, mud, leaves, and hoping as I attempt to stand and begin to trudge on, carrying heavy weight that I can barely manage, the tiniest of pieces will fall and crumble with even the smallest effort.

I want to be lighter so I can walk faster, I want to be running and able to ride a bike and follow the a-line, not just the b-line. Somehow, it just may be the PZ-line, a route of my own, no matter how hard I try to follow along with the group.

The Gang

Last Saturday had been about putting my best optimism out there to have a good day, and resulted in repeatedly being shut down, corrected, to it not being what I’d hoped for, after all. I found myself screaming in my car, a burst of piecing fire, those siren-spewed seconds consuming and eating all available oxygen, meanwhile my foot did not flinch from the gas pedal, and I did not blink. There is no escaping days where I feel utterly ambushed and snapped out of positivity and sincere efforts to not be “griefy.”

If you think I’m going to turn this in to some kind of empowerment speech, I need to pause your reading further and point out: each and every day, there are speed wobbles, grief bombs, and pounding waves in my living this life without Jon, my husband-partner and the father of our children. The grief really does not end, and to get up and out of bed to “see what today brings” is most likely to be shit out of my control, or what is in my control, is just absolutely uncertain and undependable of how it will turn out. Failure. Anxiety. Redirection. Headaches. Screaming alone inside a moving car. Pointlessness.

This past week was exceptional, like a sucker-punch squarely to my nose, and afterwards as days progressed, I kept feeling the remaining swelling, and constant sensation of a drip coming on, and the need of a tissue to dab my nostrils for the return of blood. All week, my heart twisted and raced, unable find a steady beat. This can occur every day to some degree, but this past week I was highly aware of it because I hadn’t exercised the anxiety out of my system four days of it in a row. No release in my “healthy” habits of exercise, it bottled-up and the pressure built without real relief.

It was a week stuck in paperwork and appointments as part of the reason why, and I also had a follow-up radiation oncology appointment mid-week. August 2020 will put me at 5 years out from my breast cancer. As I told my all-too-peppy doctor, remission is a bad word to me, and cancer is like a gang: once you’re “in,” you’re never truly “out” until you die. He met my pessimism with continued optimism, mostly in the form of reminding me to be kind to myself because I took all the steps to zero-out my dealings with DCIS.

Appointment day, it was a tough morning of sitting in the waiting room with strangers, my fellow gang members, meanwhile hopeful pictures on the walls of compassionate medical staff at the side of patients getting care and everyone smiling about it in these images stressed me out. Each were reminders of Jon, the bad times, not the good ones. I’m not smiling back to those pictures, and I do not feel your compassionate care to this shit disease, thank you, though, for this positive PR effort. I chose instead to concentrate on the large prairie painting canvas, hung slightly at a tilt, and wondered if it was an actual place in Michigan.

Backing up just a bit, in 2015, after my lumpectomy, radiation was next for a total of 20 days. Each treatment session was short bursts of invisible rays, targeted to a large rectangular area over my left breast. My heart needed to be out of the way, so for each zap, I was told to hold my breath. I really don’t know if it worked, or if it was only a psychological game to make me think I was doing something besides laying in my molded-foam cradle, tits-out, listening to an awful music selection to distract me from pulsing machine hydraulics while shoes squeaked and hustled across the linoleum floor.

My heart may, or may not, have been spared from radiation, put out of harm’s way, but it has been in direct line of fire to loss. I can’t get loss out of the way, it’s unavoidable, and my heart can’t take much more from the zaps of grief-filled sadness, these new waves of loss, ongoing aloneness, and the madness of continued uncertainty. How long can I endure this pain? I feel it for myself and my kids. If only I could hold my breath, and all the hurt would bypass my heart and all of us, even for a short burst of time.

The Train

40 months. Last week also marked another month since he died. Let’s not rush, and say it’s 3-1/2 years, until it actually is. My mind has been trying to focus on what is to come, a forward-thinking idea of getting closer to something new and different, rather than getting further away from when my heart stopped beating when Jon died. His illness clouded his mind, trying any-and-everything to move toward getting well and stepping off the cancer-train, his best thoughts and efforts were like water through a sieve, despite more water-pressure added, it resulted in just more water gushing through a patterned-holed, polished-steel-handled bowl.

This is how I feel right now: just like Jon, I’m trying with all my will to get to some happier place in my life beyond pain and confusion, but everything I’ve tried and have done, doesn’t work or has made matters even worse. The rabbit-hole is a real place, and I’m deep below ground, and I desperately need air to breathe.

My soap connected me to a time when my life was at a much different pace, and when I was hopeful and optimistic about and feeling that certain “knowing” that Jon and I would be together and our two children were our greatest joys. We could see so much of a positive future for them, each of their ages under 10 in 2011. We looked forward to the promise of a happy future.

Then, suddenly and quite blindly, in January 2013, were we hit with his emergency bowel surgery, and cancer took over our lives. I asked for God to sustain me, to protect me from this path that lay ahead of us, into an abyss of unknown and darkness without end, especially because I can’t see in the dark, my night blindness flattens and obscures everything.

Our lives became shrouded by cancer, in this darkness my mind shifted focus, I saw life and people, and my family differently. Painful, because I believed and trusted without question Jon’s “plan” and watched helpless as his once-talkative self, morphed to quiet-determination, and in between his blips of frustration leaking out, it was nose-to-the-grindstone working and unspeakable thoughts of “what-ifs.” What if: he were to die? What if: I had to work again? What if: I was left alone, solo, with the kids? None of those questions was uttered, even thoughts were hidden, except in our nightmares.

All of the Before washed over me this past week, remembering as his illness silently progressed, I depended more on the simplicity of showering with my soap as that one reliable and comforting thing for my body. He was shrinking before my eyes, his mind focused either in full engagement, or on finite or minuscule things that only he could see. We were both losing sight of everything else around us.

My only other focus was on keeping our kids in a normal routine of school, how absurd that now seems: school was a false reality that once they came home, dissolved into finding their dad cozy in his certain comfortable places, his valiant attempts to be actively engaged so precious, then afterwards, pausing for a nap, gently closing his eyes.

I did anything he asked me to do, his every request and choice was met. I lost myself in his care. My reality was as he saw it, with his getting only better, returning to work, eating a full plate of food. Each day, I would go through the motions, but my emotions were put aside, hidden, all strength put to fueling his view of himself and his surroundings. As I was supporting him, what I needed most was support for me. All my expert-hiding and secret-keeping prevented anyone from seeing how deeply this was affecting me.

And I ask myself now, if someone had reached out to me from seeing just a glimpse of the real pain I was going through, and really understood, would I have let them in? What could someone have done to help, anyway? Would I be any different today, if I had just let my wounds be seen by others back then in real-time?

The Deep

The thing about hiding all those emotions by constantly wearing my many brave faces from that time, is that I used them all up then, I had few to none left after he died, and especially now. The face I wear is the one I let you see, yes, the smiling one, the one neither happy or sad, and the occasional awkwardly laughing way-too-loud one. It’s true, the years-honed-hiding continues on a certain level, but mostly Its an honest effort to persevere and be positive with grief at my side.

Grief and loss did not happen all at once. Like the cancer he fought, it was progressive, slowly debilitating, and both shattered and chipped away all-sense of self and mind. Absolutely nothing about my life as I knew it was spared, loss in Before and After took away everything I knew to be once real.

For so long, I have been in deep grief, often called complicated grief. What’s that like? I can’t say how many times I’ve awoken to feeling like it was “day one” of Jon’s death. A repeating loop of the worst fears realized right in front of me. My grief is like a compost heap that doesn’t get enough air, it’s stagnant and remains heavy, soaked, and clumped. More leaves and kitchen scraps are added anyway, the pile seems to only grow, no sign of all that “organic material” diminishing anytime soon.

There will be a point to come when I am not in so much pain, a time when it will be somehow less harsh, whether softened by listening friends, a bike ride, or a simple hug. I do not write about grief to espouse enjoyment of pain and suffering, and I certainly do not want to cause others pain. I believe there are people who relish in the suffering of others, and I’m all about not suffering.

Talking about difficult subjects in a candid and open way is important to being human, especially acknowledging and “seeing” others in all of life’s ups and downs. Plainly stated, sadness is just as important to talk about as happiness, both are parts included in a life that’s lived. To live a life as my true self, in an unashamed, unfiltered way, is to have a full-life.

The Race

This past December was a very low time. I had just re-homed my dog companions, and was reeling from other fresh loss realizations. How I wished I had my soap, to stand in the shower and let the steam soothe and surround me with my soap bar in hand. On a whim, December 10, I checked one more time online to see if it was back, and there it was: my soap! I was shocked, in disbelief, but production problems were apparently resolved and before it could be out of stock, I place an order that day for a pack of 3 bars: Kiss My Face, Fragrance-Free Pure Olive Oil Soap.

My soap has become a talisman, a protector, and a preserver. It’s being found again at this particular time was a critical lifeline. I was so grateful. Yes, finding my soap again did that for me: it gave me that one thing to look forward to each day, when otherwise I could not see the point. These past couple of months have been very challenging, a series of endings and beginnings, the holidays and year’s-end magnified everything.

Every loss and resulting grief is unique to that relationship and each heart is like a fingerprint. There are no road maps, no definitive ways to do or go, there is no wrong or right way to grieve and most who carry it, agree it’s not so much a getting over it, but a getting on with it. For me, Jon was my husband, and I get to decide now how I deal. It’s my choice, because I had no choice in Jon dying and his being gone away from me. Am I being ridiculous for trying to have some control in my life and this situation? Self-doubt, unfortunately, is ever-present without Jon here.

My heart aches constantly about all of it. My heart is so tired, it never seems to get enough rest, or enough peace. From the inside-out, it’s racing cannot be managed, but I found myself choosing one more angle: I’ve shifted my focus and energies instead to the outside-in. I’m talking about concentrating on the space outside of my heart, because, in fact, my heart is not the only thing in the way. It’s my house and everything in it, the very things surrounding me that are to support me, but most often make me sad, like those cancer treatment pictures at the oncologists, reminders of past, and not the good times.

The Joy

I don’t have to completely forget or turn away from my past, but now is the time for some much-needed reconciling and in doing so, separating what’s good and gives Joy to me from what, clearly, does not, and instead, makes me stuck in place and sad. Moving forward, I now know what feels good and what I need, without apology. Additional losses realized have added new perspectives, a readiness to now do difficult things I previously could not attempt doing.

And without apology I say, not having Jon now, means I get to “make” a present and future without him, and “decide” which things of the past to hold on to, those things that still make me “Happy.” Happy is such a shit-word, I’m still uncomfortable with it, it’s so full of false-hope, assumed semantic-equality in universal understanding, and it’s a state of being that cannot be ever maintained in my world. I’ve had some time to really wrap my head around Happy now, and it is just one more thing I fall short of most days. So goodbye Happy, and welcome home, Joy.

Compared to uppity, highest-achieving “Happy”, “Joy” is like its quirky-hipster, tree-hugging, free-love cousin. Not yet wildly overused, Joy is a three-letter, single-syllable word, it is a more relaxed option: it’s personal, unique for each person, and kinda has that-certain-something that says, “Joy is what you make it to be.” It’s not an obligatory word put in front of every good wish. It’s not implying that it’s my way or the highway. There is intention when one hears the word “joy” and like grief, when I feel it, I can be laughing and crying at the same time. I want to hug this word.

My daughter also uses it in text to me, a simple response to my telling her that we are having beef stew for dinner. Joy is sweet, simple, with just a touch of humor. When I hear the word Joy, there is an abundance of gentleness to this soft, yet powerful word and its meaning.

The Load

Even a willful decision to have a good day, can be met with random-stupid-shit that throws me off the trail, literally. So I acknowledge I’m actually in control of nothing, even with my purposeful efforts, there are things that come to blindside me. My only defense seems to be looking to and finding, Joy. To selectively lighten the physical load of what’s around me, bringing close those things that make life more bearable, so that the load of emotional weight can be carried. Geez. Maybe the emotional weight could be lightened, too, without all the stuff around me weighing me down further.

I struggle with what the point is of finding Joy in my space and things, because I’ve learned even if I may find things, then what? Will it really lead me to easing pain? There are no guarantees of really getting somewhere or being at a someplace, even with all the efforts of the past 40 months and “progress” made, and I’ve discovered that if I stop at any one point, it’s not a destination, just another crossroads or path to take: the never-ending journey. Can I, will I find strength and courage to do it? Will it makes the difference I am needing?

Goals and people slip away from me, I have no hold on anyone or any one thing, my life has become fluidity at a master class level, without consistency or expectation. It’s like a never-ending loop on a pump track, but a sudden pedal strike takes my bike out from under me and next thing I realize, I’m digging grit out of my elbow. Clouds of dust and grit are all around me. Am I really Pigpen with braids in a cloud of constant grief? “Good grief, Charlie Brown!” Peanuts by Schulz has just blown apart inside my mind.

The Wave

I wake up, I go, I ride the wave of today’s ocean, and weather is never a factor in this decision. I’m suddenly out on the water, paddling out, every day. Seen from high above, I’m a mottled speck of movement. I could be a dolphin, a rock jutted out of water in low tide, or just a piece of garbage doomed to float forever never making it back to land for recycling.

What you need to know, is last Saturday I said to myself at least a hundred times, “I’m not gonna make it.” And I will not, if the culmination from one bad week leading in to disappointments of one day gets me so low, and my response is to become lower still. There is great worry in baring those thoughts, because it is not an option to lose all hope, and I fear at times I do. Now you know.

It starts as a whisper of something being not quite right and thoughts of something I once had now slipped from my grasp. Living loss, loss by death, loss after death: this is exponential loss. I’m just now catching up to realizing it was, and is, in my Present. My mind can see what was once hidden before, the Past has come full-circle to the Present, and like matter crashing in a particle accelerator, there is now evidence of new dimensions and quarks to now be understood.

Grief is like an unfinished business, the business being love: the sudden and unexpected permanent-departure if it’s CEO and a deep missing of what is was, all that can be done is look at was accomplished, but now, forever unable to continue on, to complete its mission statement, and because the CEO has left this world and there is no other who can stand in the same place. All the employees are left to be adrift, perhaps finding separate ways to join another team, but that successful start-up business will never be found again. It was, in fact, a “one and done.”

It’s time to take a plunge into the depths of my full-grief conundrum and make some necessary course adjustments. How to do just that, when I know a “course correction” is not really possible when all directions include loss? I seem to be asking more questions than finding answers, lately. I will lead with the question of “does this bring me Joy?” If the things around me are not giving me Joy, then what are they giving me? Pain, disappointment, unfulfilled dreams?

Things and people. All swirled together in a pitiful stone soup, I will never be convinced it will taste good. As a result of cancer, eating is the most unsatisfying act to me. Perhaps the type of nourishment needed can be found from other things besides food. What those things are for me will be determined based on my search to finding and recognizing Joy, and what a relief to know at least one of those things included is my soap. ~Paula

Hole Heart

Before I update you of my current life’s happenings, it is important to share this very moment with you: the happening right now. I arrived home not too long ago this afternoon from a fun morning of fat biking with a very special group (and more on that later). I’m getting undressed out of my layers of biking clothes just now, and as I peeled off my “outer shell” black cycling pants, I decided today would be the day to sew a small hole near my left knee that occurred at about this same time last year.

I have not repaired it. I did not want to take the few minutes it would take to fix it out of sheer-protest of one more thing to do. This hole was added to an already very long list in my mind of broken and unfinished things. Now a whole year has passed, and in that time, it surprisingly didn’t seem to grow any larger. However, every time I wear these pants, I slip my finger in this hole, almost tempting it to blow-out completely.

Today is different. Today’s the day. I’m going to sew it, and just now I’ve sat on my bedroom floor in a state of half-undress, my back leaning-up against an unmade bed, my tiny sewing box opened next to me and needle and thread ready: it’s time to inspect this hole and decide how best to close it up.

I’ve turned the pants inside-out, my left hand, palm-up, slides inside the pant leg finding that familiar hole, which now seems to fit, perfectly-balanced, on the tip of my middle finger. I’m amazed at what I see: a beautiful, unexpected heart.

I find myself suddenly in tears, but smiling, thinking this is one more heart added to so many, amazed that these hearts just seem to keep coming in to my view. I’m not sure if I find them, or they find me, but I’m thankful for this one. This one today is particularly unique, knowing it’s been with me for an entire year. When I’m wearing these cycling pants, the hole is more of a stretched blob shape, conspicuous, but certainly not ever seen as heart-shaped.

Is this a reminder that love is always, in fact, with me? Or, is it more confirmation that I can’t see things as they are right in front of me? Could it be a simple matter of looking at something in a different or new way to understand or see clearly? Nothing is simple, and this is me I’m talking about, so nothing is really understood or clear, either. So many times, I’ve wondered and questioned about love itself: I had it fully with Jon, then he died, and love left when he did. I have no expectation of it ever truly returning to me in any form.

The only thing I expect right now, is finally mending the hole in these pants. A hot shower is also much-needed as soon as possible, so my incentive is on to get this sewing done. Even when I sew this hole shut and my finger can’t poke and stretch it open again, I’m sure my fingertips will instinctively find the raised, welted lines of my little sewing repair.

I like the idea of it becoming a repaired heart, even though I may not ever have one. After it’s sewn shut, it will be okay if others can’t see a “hole heart” or remember, or have knowledge, there was one torn in the first place. I’m not bothered if it’s not quite in the usual shape of what you’d call “a normal heart.” A repaired heart is something new and not the same as it once was, very few might recognize it. My knowing it’s there and I can feel it, whether my eyes are open or closed, is most important, “seeing it” just as it is. ~Paula ❤️

Looking Up

Today is not a special day. It’s like most: I wake up, get my kids out-the-door to school, and before getting knee-deep into endless paperwork management, I finally get to making coffee and toast with peanut butter and some kind of jam, and then sitting in this brief-quiet, crunching and sipping, watch a portion of some episode of an old television series, and currently, I’m in season 3 of Columbo.

Yeah, it’s just another ordinary day, those things happened today, but then, when driving home post-afternoon errands and a smallish-grocery shopping trip, a not-so-ordinary song comes on the car radio. Within the first three guitar notes, I know. I know it is the song that has silently guided me these past few months. I’m always grateful for beautiful lyrics, ones that describe so concisely and say in just the right amount of words, these are best-sung and need-heard repeating in an anthem-style refrain, all wrapped-up like a gift with a lovely-voice and guitar-strums as its pretty-smooth paper and curly-flowing ribbons.

And, to me, the best gifts are the unexpected ones. The ones that show up without prompting, and once noticed, eyes finding your name on the soft, cream-paper tag that you need to read three or five times to make sure what you’re seeing is really for you. This song, heard right here, right now, is a most-unexpected gift to an otherwise-ordinary day.

A song that reminds me to be patient, first with myself, then with everyone else. I hear Jon’s voice in these words now, I’ve turned up the volume to make sure I don’t miss a single breath, note or phrase. I feel a pulsing inside my skull, ears wide open to let this message be received without space in between. I need this message of perseverance today, to find my way though endless, ordinary days, just like this one. These are also painful days: unrelenting, unrewarding, and unbelievable. It is through this song, heard at this moment, giving me this message, so needed: I won’t give up.

Thank you, Jason Mraz and Michael Natter, for writing and delivering such a simple, yet rich, message. I feel these words in my soul, it awakens me, and reminds me to keep looking up. ❤️~P.

I Won’t Give Up by Jason Mraz

Hmmmm … Hmmmm … Hmmmm … Hmmm …

When I look into your eyes

It’s like watching the night sky

Or a beautiful sunrise

So much they hold

And just like them old stars

I see that you’ve come so far

To be right where you are

How old is your soul?

I won’t give up on us

Even if the skies get rough

I’m giving you all my love

I’m still looking up

And when you’re needing your space

To do some navigating

I’ll be here patiently waiting

To see what you find

Cos even the stars they burn

Some even fall to the earth

We got a lot to learn

God knows we’re worth it

No I won’t give up

I don’t wanna be someone who walks away so easily

I’m here to stay and make the difference that I can make

Our differences they do a lot to teach us how to use

the tools and gifts we’ve got yeah we got a lot at stake

And in the end, you’re still my friend at least we did intend

for us to work we didn’t break, we didn’t burn

We had to learn how to bend without the world caving in

I had to learn what I got, and what I’m not and who I am

I won’t give up on us

Even if the skies get rough

I’m giving you all my love

I’m still looking up

So easy is our life

What’s mine is yours and yours mine

Hardly do we ever find

We’d rather be kind

I won’t give up on us

Even if the skies get dark

I’m healing this broken heart

And I know I’m worthy

I won’t give up on us

God knows I’m tough, I am love

We got a lot to learn

God knows we’re worthy

No I won’t give up on us

God knows I’ve had enough

We got a lot to learn

And we’re, and we’re worthy

No I won’t give up

No I won’t give up

Source: Musixmatch

Songwriters: MRAZ JASON THOMAS / NATTER MICHAEL LEE

I Won’t Give Up lyrics © Great Hooks Music, A・k Company Limited, Goo Eyed Music, Bill Silva Management, SILVA TONE MUSIC OBO GREAT HOOKS MUSIC

Credit: google.com