Author: storyboardpzimapplez

Hearty Hello

Lake Michigan called me today and I answered. This is what the lake said to me. Not at first in words, but sounds of strong waves met and tickled my ears, so much so, that I had to pull up the hood of my sweatshirt.

For my eyes, the lake showed me heart shapes in the most unusual stone forms today. The water seemed to glisten and shift like liquid glass over everything it touched, in colors from inky-indigo to pale-moss-green. I wore my old gardening boots on the beach today, and while staring out to the horizon lost in looking, my boots took in some water from a surprise high-wave that gurgled at my feet. The water was not as cold as I expected it to be.

I turned from the water, stepping through deep sand towards the sunlit bank, and something small and red caught my attention. As I took a closer look at what this could be on a fall-flowering scrubby beach plant, little ladybugs alongside busy bees in abundance like Christmas lights all came into view. The lake then spoke directly to my heart, and said, “Come back soon, I like seeing you here.” ~P.

Bubble

All for you, for it is only for you, to whom I write today. ~P.

Looking into your bubble-shaped jar of keepsakes you had collected as a child.

“I don’t think of all the misery, but of the beauty that still remains.” ~Anne Frank

Mom and Dad saved this spherical-glass, time-capsule all these years, and it has been given to our home not more than a couple years ago. This basketball-sized globe is now softly illuminated by north-eastern light, residing centered, on top of a dark-stained, oak table, in my living room. I wonder how and where you found each of these special items, and think about your eyes and hands knowing intimately every one, then after placing each in your pocket for safe-keeping, until later, dropping with a flourished “plunk” into this time-terrarium.

I’m content with not touching and sorting through them, just looking through the glass will do, mostly from the top, as shown here in this little objects portraiture. With my own eyes now finding the colors, shapes, and textures that may have intrigued you, looking at these things often, always brings a smile to my face and a warm-knowing in my heart: you are connected to every story for each of these items, your young, hunter-brain thought these were special enough to collect and add to the lot, now captured and preserved, dust-free, inside glass-encased space.

It’s a welcomed treasure-trove to me of memories from decades ago, “pre-Paula.” In your absence now, this is a form of you, your beauty and character, still here with us. I am so thankful to be the caretaker of these precious objects. ~P.

October 6, 2020

Dear Jon,

4 years. I’m speechless. You were my one-true ally on this earth, my best friend, my protector, my soulmate, and you have been gone now for 4 years.

When you died, I died, too. I have been grieving your death, and I have been grieving my own death. All of my attempts to “move forward” in After, to live a life without you in it, have brought more pain, heartache, and sadness. I’m tired of “moving.” Moving, in any direction, gets me nowhere.

Where to now? I ask myself this question, meaning: what have I not yet tried, to find peace and some form of joy? Most may say, lemonade needs to be made out of these life-lemons in my basket, “so start squeezing, missy.”

Is it wrong of me to be not wanting “just” lemonade? There are endless treats that can be made with this sour, zingy fruit. I want my palette to say “wow!” with something new and not ordinary, and my stomach to be so satisfied with meaningful, filling comfort-food. And, funny, for the past 4 years, I’ve been eating a never-ending “shit” sandwich, so you’d think lemonade would be a welcomed upgrade and compliment to my diet. Maybe lemonade is what I need to wash down that sandwich I’ve been served. “Fuck, no” to all of it. I know you can appreciate my stubbornness on this matter.

I’m missing so much those delicious, rich meals you created from the recipe book in your imagination made-real or learned from special people you knew and places you’d been in your lifetime. You always knew what to prepare, and watching you cook and expertly bustling in the kitchen and “shooing-away” everyone from “the triangle” area in front of the stove domain is still something the kids and I often recall. We shout, “Out of the triangle!” in your honor, thinking of you and now knowing, it’s so true!

I have something important to share with you. Your death has brought me to a critical, difficult determination: if I’m going to live life without you, well, damnit, it better be fucking good. That’s been my inner-challenge I’ve been honing for the last 4 years and counting. I have resolved that life of After will be about fulfilling those dreams we once shared of Before and adding new ones of my own, finishing projects beginning-to-end, never being in a box of any kind, and everything will be done with gusto and full-ass-never-half-ass.

All our years together: I told you in the hospital, before your last surgery, that we had so many lifetimes together, always on an endless rollercoaster, and I would not have lived any other way with you. This was my “no regrets” stance on the raw deal we faced of your cancer and it’s interrupting the point in our lives where we thought we were finally due for having a quieter, happier family life. Instead, for all we achieved, cancer did not give a crap and gave all of us the middle finger.

Now, in After, I want more from “this” life. For all the extra effort it now takes as solo-me, I don’t want a life that is “just enough” to call it lived and mission complete. I want to “be more than enough” as a whole person when I look in the mirror. I don’t want to make choices from what is right in front of me or for granted. I want to make choices from what was never offered or thought possible, and I need to form a future never before imagined.

How can that happen when each day, I feel defeated even before I get out of bed? I wake up to the fact that you are not here with me to share this limited time I have left on earth. It would be easy for me to insert clichés of feeling as if I am a failure, to say that I wallow in failure, or that failure is the only constant. Failure sneers directly at me and wags a bony finger my way, scolding, “I told you that wouldn’t work out!”

After 4 years, I have learned I am not a failure. Failure itself can finger-point at me all it wants to, and I’m not deterred by it. Who I am, is a human being who brazenly attempts to get somewhere, bumbling and tumbling along, in my solo state. Many of my ideas and actions are seemingly poo-poo’d or questioned, and I’ve developed a thicker-skin and have come to expect doubting forces. Some of which, you know, are just expressions of legitimate concern, and I appreciate that, but please understand, only I fit into the shoes I wear. Sometimes, I’ll admit, I am thankful you are not here to witness these acts of random-doing or impulsive-spontaneity. You may be added as one more person to the list who just doesn’t “get me.” I don’t need your finger wagging at me, too.

You were my comforting “check and balance” and my “order” of Before. I don’t have order in my life now, and my conspicuous life on display makes little sense to those who know we would have made different decisions, if together. More so, I don’t look or behave like that person I was with you. I’ve disembarked off of our Jon-and Paula rollercoaster, and have now entered a brand new theme park. The ribbon-cutting ceremony was exactly 4 years ago.

All that said, means without you, most people don’t understand me, whether previously known to me or new. The cheese stands alone, and I am the cheese. Is that a cliché, too, or a metaphor? Perhaps both? I’m sounding awfully sarcastic, but the truth is, I’m alone and hurting, and I’m also beyond worrying if I offend you or anyone else. You know, if you were here, what I need most is to be soothed by your arms wrapped around me, and you would instantly calm my mind and heart. These days, sarcasm with chided, passive-aggressive anger is my response to life situations and how I get on with it.

In these 4 years, that’s a long enough time to have earned an undergraduate degree of something. Maybe I’ve only earned the knowledge to know there will never be another you. I’ve discontinued hoping there may be someone who resembles you. Most importantly, there will not be any more trust of people as if they were you. That’s a lot of pressure off of me now, but creates a wider circumference hole of nothingness I face, which feels like such a waste of my willingness to give.

Since you died, nearly every moment, I’ve spent openly giving my emotional and physical energies to others. Giving became compulsory to make my hurting stop, wanting all pain to abate and let up from a constant forcing of me downward by grief and all its unrelenting anguish. Unfortunately, there have been many results and instances of an unequal, larger-portion amount of taking from me as responses to my acts of giving, by some who were either aloof, intentionally disruptive, or more dissociated from being in reality than I am. Giving is just what I do, it is both my blunder and my blessing. I guess there is truth to “if you give, do not expect to receive in return.” Let’s add, “if you giveth, they shall taketh.” More effing clichés along with my poor grammar and pitiful rephrasing.

Oh, Jon, I know you never wanted all this for me. It was unthinkable of your not being here with the kids and me and all your family and friends you loved. One of our last conversations, you said, “I’m really gonna miss you.” I miss me, I miss you, I miss us together. I love you, so, so deeply, and if you entered the door at this very moment, I would be grateful to wake up from this endless grief nightmare and greet you with the biggest, longest hug!

And I know you’re wondering, why all this giving talk, again? I’m ready to get to the point. Well, I finally made the abrupt discovery that giving to other people first, had drained me of everything, and I had nothing left to give to myself. Announcement: The Age of Perpetual Giving has officially ended! And, of course, as my knowing partner, you understood so clearly that it was never going to be sustainable for long and when you were alive, had always protected me from becoming so depleted.

Without you, my love, I forgot to value myself enough and to pay myself first. And it needs said how I felt about those with their hands held out to receive what I had offered to give without understanding or acknowleding the actual cost to me: I view those times as my having paid in full, “Paula was here,” and I owe them nothing more.

“No one has ever become poor by giving.” ~Anne Frank

Starting now, I will remember my self-worth and pay myself first, regularly in kindness, patience, and love. And as a first payment to me, I am giving myself time to be away from social media, virtual everything, and anything routine. No excuses need be given, I’m just having time to myself, a brain and body break. Those kind of investments no one else can give to me, except me.

In that same spirit, I have also chosen to be in a supportive relationship with myself. I would not say this is me being antisocial, but rather, if I don’t prioritize the act of self-replenishment, then I will have nothing to give in future. Furthermore, the additional difference now will also be “giving as I choose to” not “giving because I have to.” No doing or giving anything out of obligation. Obligation is a very bad word.

My amazing, twinkle-eyed, apple-cheeked, rock-star-haired husband, I want to see you and feel you again. I want to hear your laughter, smell your intoxicating cologne, and see your hands on my body. In my dreams, I suddenly discover you are gazing intensely at me from across the room we are in together, our eyes meet and we read each other’s thoughts. You know all the things I miss the most.

Your stalwart unwillingness to let death have you, is what guides me now. I am unwilling to make “just lemonade” and I am more determined than ever to make this life of After be exactly what I want it to be, damnit. “Just be” will never be enough, and there is no “becoming” someone I was “meant to be” out of loss. Loss of you, equates to no gain in any form. Loss of you, was also the loss of me, as I once lived.

This lifetime now, somehow I need you to find a way to be here with me, even if only in a glass bubble full of baubles. I still need you. Please help me hold the confidence to go on and make this life without you be “my best life” I can give to myself and our kids. You’re the only one who understood me, who “got me.” I love you, I miss you, I wish you were here. Yours Always ❤️ ~Puskie xoxox

Wading In Home

Lake Michigan

Up to my knees is just not enough. I want to swim to the horizon, now, and be immersed in you. Waves roll to me, bringing your invitation stream to come further in. Life and death beckon me in equal measure.

Rocks under my feet bury my toes and root me in place. Face chilled by wind-pressed tears, my sand-speckled hand finds its way to wipe away this wet, exchanged for grit now left behind on chaffed skin. Bending forward to drag my hand through water on its return to churning lake, my tears will make their way to you. Sound drones-on in successive wave-beats, interrupted by a single bird’s call in flight.

My heart heaves, breath is found standing upright, lungs taking in as much air as they can hold. Loosening each foot, it’s time to turn away. Stepping carefully, methodically, out of water’s reach, now placing each foot into saturated sand, soft enough to leave an impression and firm enough to make each step count, I feel you behind me. I know you did not go away.

My attention now is on the sand, eyes scanning right-to-left for patterns, shapes, and pops of color. You have come-round to be in front of me. I see you in a feather-topped formation as Ikebana: Lake Michigan edition. All these items scattered about, I feel you placed each, just for me to find.

I would trade all these things to have you alive again and for us to be together. For as many rocks, feathers, and hearts that continue to appear, they are mere symbols of you, but not the “real” you.

Today is a cloudy day, and without the sun, I easily lose my sense of direction. The lake is my natural compass. Is finding you only a matter of turning towards what I love most, and then simply choosing to turn away from it when you are not where you should be? When and where will I see the “real” you again? Will Japanese-inspired beach arrangements and colorful rocks be enough? Just. Not. Enough.

I need the sun to come out from behind the clouds. I want to know where I am and confidently choose where I want to go. I know you are with me no matter which direction I turn. For now, the lake will be what I choose, the horizon my destination, and these will always point to home: to you, my love. Wading. In. Home. ~Paula

September 6, 2020

“Deep funk” doesn’t quite capture it, I’m talking about the mental state I am in. Today I am honoring what would have been my 23rd wedding anniversary with Jon. Today also marks 47 months since he died. None of this is right or fair. He should be here, but he is not.

23 objects counting 23 years, all one collection but divided into intimate groups and individual stories. Each of these can be held in my hand, looked at more closely with a magnified lens. Whether viewed at a microscopic level or from a distance with space in between, they all belong to the earth, and are one. ~P.

Lebkuchenhaus

There is no candy-coating for these kinds of concocted sweets often called missing, grief, and heartbroken. From a distance, it looks like a heavily-sugared gingerbread house, every part appears edible and dripping with frosting, plump gum drops and rainbow-swirled, spun-shaped delicacies on every surface. On the inside, however, what’s found is empty, hollow, the walls are rough and colorless causing eyes to squint, and uninviting sparse furniture has no softness, hue, or design.

There is no place to comfortably sit, and looking around to each corner of this interior, the light entering this space only finds its way through vertical cracks in the frosting mortar where cookie slabs meet. The soft streams of light point to crumbled candy bits and loosened nonpareils all-scattered across the floor, and any attempt at silent walking is met with loud echos of crunch and stabbing pops from each footstep. No one has lived here for quite some time.

Standing still, I look down to see a glinting sugar-bit-bobble, its iridescence taunts to be picked up from the floor. Hesitantly, carefully, pinched and plucked from the coldness below, rolling in between damp fingers to inspect its unique shape, I decide I want to taste it. Raising it to my dry lips, now parted to touch my tongue against its smooth side, my anticipation of sweet flavoring is immediately replaced with repulsive salt that shocks my tastebuds into reaction: an instant gush of saliva to this unwanted sensory overload, I’m suddenly bent-over, spitting and coughing out its residual remnants.

The realization of what this lebkuchenhaus is made of heaves breath out of my body and my ears are ringing so loudly that I’ve lost my balance. There is nothing sweet or delicious about this house. It is made entirely of salt. I wanted so much to find comfort and safety inside here, but there is none to see or taste. Knees buckle, body slumps to the pebbled floor, my mind needs time to reflect and rewire, so with eyes now closed and curled-up like a lost dog, I’m thinking about what this house is missing.

It is missing its heart, and all the tears and sweat from these several years have dried and crystallized into what I see around me. I don’t know if my heart alone, just a hidden ember, is enough to ever make this place beautifully aglow and spark invitation to the inside. More self-doubt, sadness, and tears, are not welcome here.

It is better to view it from its replica-salted exterior, and only imagine what should have been on the inside to at least match in style. Rather than a renovation, a new house instead may need to be made from scratch, realness-enriched with blind faith and hope that somehow it will become a home, both outside and in its bones.

Home

There is no form of positivity that can compensate or coverup for Jon’s absence. If people can espouse how great life is, whether in a summarized outlook or counting on fingers all their good things to be happy or blessed about, then I am equally able to say what my perspective is: for me, without Jon, it is all the opposite. It is awful, incurable, unfixable, sad, unsafe, isolating, and draining. That’s just how it is. He should be here, but he is not.

And I don’t feel the need to give you a further description here of my life without him, per se, but rather I will share that I am always waiting for him to come home. There is a space unfilled in any room or place where I am, because he should be here beside me, but he is not.

Today I celebrate him and us in my memories and reminders of life with Jon, these are with me (the list is actually endless) as he remains in my heart and mind: a key unlocking the door, his voice saying “yesssss” just like that, Tibet on his shoulders, our children’s faces, riding bikes and rollerblading, cooking without a recipe, playlists, driving, signing my name, wearing his socks, his handwriting, hot sauce and picking habaneros, smelling any kind of pasta dish and fresh-baked bread, polar bears, heart-shaped anything, shiny dress shoes and Timberland boots, Ansel Adams and Keith Haring, sawdust, candles, tiny rocks and keepsake objects, bottle caps, Zen gardens, Lake Michigan and Manhattan, artwork, lavender, French pressed coffee and loose tea, Matchbox cars, feathers, surfing, bubble baths, key lime and creme brûlée, whiskey breath, The Wall Street Journal, and always Lagerfeld Classic.

This week, I made tamales for the first time, ever. Making the masa, choosing fillings, and attempting to master my corn husk wrapping was all-new to me. I never thought to make my own, but it just sounded good to eat, and I wanted to try. How I wished he could have been in the kitchen with me to make these! At first I struggled with their assembly. Mid-making I had to watch a video to learn the official proper wrapping techniques, then it all made sense, and suddenly I became a tamale-making-machine. After cooking some of my creations for dinner that night, the remainder were put in the freezer for future comfort-food, when homemade goodness will be required.

I woke up today like most mornings with my arm wrapped around myself, and for one breath, it is him who is here lying next me. Sometimes I am okay with the discovery of it being just me, wrapped in sheets instead of his skin on mine, and at other times, my heart races like a struck match bursting with flame, feeling certain it is his arm and then sudden disappointment hits and the knowing sensation, it is not. The further away from his death, the missing of him grows more every day. Missing him deepens, widens. I’m still so in love with him, and long for him and for that life we had together. He should be here, but he is not.

My Dearest Jon, in your absence, prost, to you and to us, my love, to year 23. I love you, I miss you, I wish you were here. Tonight I may cook some tamales for an anniversary dinner. I promise to make something sweet for dessert, a chocolate something, and I will try not mix up the sugar and the salt. Come to me tonight in my dreams, and wake up with me in morning. Love is here for you, forever. ❤️~Puskie

Pause

Wishing every day was a beach day like this one. ❤️ Sand in between my toes, surf lapping at my ankles, and tiny object finds in my favorite earthen colors. Today was a day to press pause, choosing to play, instead. My brain and heart said, “Thank you.”

For the remainder of this day, the sensation of lake waves radiates on my legs like fingertips drawing invisible pictographs. It tickles, and yet I refuse to put my shoes back on, as doing so would interrupt the dancing, flowing lines of these soft caresses. Closing my eyes now, memories of the views to where water meets sky, and midday sunlight sparkles on wetted rocks and pops atop white foam bubbles in endless glitter designs are pure beauty, laughter, and lightness I crave. I am missing these in my life.

Time is moving too fast and too slow, all at once. My present timeline blanket is on a trajectory into unknown, darkened space. The weight and texture of grief-spun threads have been heavy to carry and have caused raw spots on my tender skin from gathering it’s bulkiness in my weary arms. My timeline does not protect me, it has snagged itself on sharp objects, pulling me along with it. Holes and irregular weaving are all-too evident.

Time disappears while I am at the beach and I’m thankful for this small reprieve. It is a choice to come back, to turn away from sand, sun, and surf, and pick up my timeline, again. Time waits for me to return while tapping its favorite hard-bottomed shoe that makes the most awful clicking sound. Now you know the truth: that ticking clock mechanisms are just reminders that time wears annoying footwear as a sign of its own pushy impatience.

Today, I am pacified by the simplicity of having a “beach day” and I am not wearing shoes. ~Paula

Minutiae

June 29, 2020

Dear Jon,

Today, a person we know saw my feelings I’ve been trying, so poorly, to hide. Does avoiding the truth count as keeping a secret? Does keeping the truth to myself mean I’m a liar to everyone else? While talking with this person, my face and mannerisms could not hide this excruciating, constant pain that, in that moment, was peeking out. I caved to their commenting that I appeared so stressed and angry, and in response, I reluctantly explained that I am stuck in the same mindset as when you were dying from cancer. It’s been 44 months, almost 4 years, and yet every day is like day-one without you. I want no one around me, I can’t bear others knowing and seeing this pain that grips me. I hurt, and I don’t want anyone else to hurt. I want to feel nothing. I want to not be so effing vulnerable to feelings and emotions.

I am doing way more than I should right now, filling every minute of each day till exhaustion takes me to bed. That is how I get shit done around here. I focus on the meaningless minutiae, I make mountains out of mole hills about things that don’t have sentiment or value. All the while, the emotional stuff piles higher, like a critical dune area, I refuse to touch it as I protect it and fear its loss, but feel it won’t matter what I do, in time it will be washed away when I least expect it.

This someone then asked me if I was ready to let you go, and told me I have a long future ahead. This is how people offer me help to not be so sad all the time, by suggesting to simply just let you go and look ahead to the future.

Jon, you are the love of my life. How can I let go of you? You are dead and not here, but the love I have for you remains. It has nowhere to go, but here, inside my heart. My heart that can’t find a steady beat, inside a body that refuses to be well without you. My long future terrifies me because you are not in it. Why the hell am I here without you? My love has no one to give it to, and I cannot receive it in return because you are the one who is not here to reciprocate. You are not here to wrap your arm around my chest as we lay together and pull me in to you. Our bodies can no longer tuck in to each other with no space in between. The space is empty around me as I lay in bed, with only cold air touching my skin, tears sting my cheeks and roll from my eyes to fill my ears, drowning-out sounds of my sobbing breaths. My life-lived is only half-over, but it feels all-over without you. I love you. I miss you. I wish you were here. ❤️~Puskie xoxo

Heart Burn

Spot-treatments for dandelions were necessary this spring, and it certainly did not help that watering the grass just has not happened as of late. With limited rain and summer temps climbing, the result is a mixture of speckled-green with dried, pale-tan blades seen across my little home landscape. This morning as I was walking through the grass to begin weeding the still shade-shrouded garden beds, crunch and crackle is heard with each step, and looking down, this burnt-to-crisp spot in the sun caught my eye. Almost the color of foam on a hot latte framed in a fairy-ring of green, appears the shape of a heart. ❤️ Seemingly, no life is in it. And as I am taking this picture, wondering: what will it take for new grass to grow here? I’ve already obliterated the offending dandelion with a weed-killer concoction, and it’s taken the surrounding grass with it. To heal this heart may require pulling out of what appears lifeless by loosening and scraping the hard, brittle-earth underneath, and then sprinkling new seeds like paprika added to paella. Thinking about these steps now, my bare shoulders are suddenly met with cold-pings of water droplets. It has begun to rain, and as this falling rain becomes like a loud applause, I’m realizing, there may be just a little help from above with the watering. ~Paula

Bruised Heart

Some hurts are obvious on the surface, others are deep within and cannot be seen from the outside. Love can find a way to show its resilience, especially when it is believed to be lost. Another heart-shape seen today, thinking that through all hurts, visible or not, love finds a way to show itself, a steadfast reminder to care for each other, and out of sight is not out of mind, or heart. It’s time to make some yummy banana bread with this bunch. ~Paula

Prost

This is how I remember you today: surrounded by beloved friends, loud laughter to told stories old and new, your smile and twinkle in your eyes blazing like the sun. Today is your birthday, or as it is now called, your angel birthday. I love you. I miss you. I wish you were here. All my love ❤️~Puskie

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

Listo, Paulita

This morning when I woke up, surfing was heavily on my mind and at the forefront of visualized thoughts. A positive vision, I wanted to be in the ocean, wishing for it’s coating of salt and wet, I saw myself paddling out toward white caps in the distance, plunking over those waves not yet tipped with white, now building their momentum on their way to shore, to home.

Suddenly, like getting smashed with an unexpected wave, my breath is taken away as my eyes snapped open in horrid shock: Would I remember how to get up on my board? Will I, can I, do it again? Would my muscles naturally recall the steps, and honor the commitment to ride the wave? “Listo, Paulita?” is repeating over and over in my mind, the voice of one of my surfing instructors from Costa Rica, literally translated, “Ready, Paula?” Today crashes over me, and I’m dumbfounded at my inner response: How can I be ready for something I did not ask for, plan for, or ever think possible?

This past week, I’ve come to realize that in a month’s time, I have had four significant losses in succession, and of course, all of this is heaped on top of the primary loss that remains through all of it: Jon is not here, he died 38 months ago. And, the most awful thought now, is my belief that if he were here and still alive, none of these other losses would have occurred. Yes, I’m blaming my current situations and problems over the past three years on a dead man.

I will even stretch that unforgivable insult further, by saying that my own cancer and health issues emerging while he had his cancer battle, were due in part to him. Stress did that to me, along side of Repression, Angst, and Worry, their depressing quartet played a song on continuous repeat, and every time Hope asked to join, the bossy-foursome only played louder, drowning out Hope’s chance of changing the tune. How can I love him still so completely, yet feel he is the cause and source for so much pain and heartbreak, then to now?

I’m saying it out loud, because I’m twisting pinky fingers now with Anger, and encouraged by Anger’s first cousin, Disappointment. It is much easier to blame a dead person than a living one or my living self. Am I alive? I wonder if I really am. How could I be alive without him here with me? At these lowest points of current circumstances, all I can do is scream out his name, and without Jon’s answer or appearance, only the reverberated ringing in my ears from my pierced shouts is a reply.

I refuse to believe that this is all I have remaining for me in this world: more loss, a perpetual broken heart, and the sense that none of this should, or can, be real. All I ask, is for this pain to stop, to somehow be minimized, and that when I wake up the next morning, it’s not to the rush and alarm of my pounding heartbeat, followed by gasps to contain hot tears.

Doing something over and over, and having the same pitiful result, is the “definition of Insanity,” and Insanity keeps peeking in to my windows late at night. This voyeurism must be stopped. I’m keeping my windows and doors locked. How much can a person take, before it is just too much? Sorry to those who believe that God gives you what you can carry, what I carry God would never give because I believe in a kind and loving God. This pain, weight, and suffering is not from God, it’s origins are not from anything good, and the sum of it will not make me better at anything.

What it is making me, is disoriented in my own mind and conspicuously misunderstood by everyone around me. Yet, no one knows the truths I have been breathing in 24/7, nor should they want to. It’s useless to fully tell my raw thoughts and misfortunes, no one wants to hear it with an open mind or heart. If something is shared, it could come out as too much to believe or bear listening to, and I catch the “glazed look” or the retracting, slight “turn of head” in response to what I do allow others to see, small vignettes, only a flash-portions of my larger realities.

It’s too much to share any more than that to those few, to whom I’m so grateful, who will hear. Big news: it’s too much for me, also, and surprise, I’m not the only one with emotional walls. Others raise theirs immediately, sometimes higher than mine, and on top of hurt feelings, there is pushback of repeated slaps of correction like “don’t be sad,” “Jon wouldn’t want this for you,” and distorted mirrored-thinking replies of “that’s not what I would feel” or “well, I would never choose that.”

And where is the “choosing” in any of this? I certainly did not choose for Jon to die, and most significantly, neither did he. Rather, he denied death as a response to his illness, until he could no longer speak to those he loved and protected at all-cost of life, and he literally ran out of life and time. It was too-late, too-soon, for him to give the gift of imparting a survival guide roadmap to me or my kids.

Dearest Regret entered my life upon his death, surrounding me with thoughts of what I should of blatantly and shamelessly asked him. When I look for Peace now, and see her ahead on any path, Regret forcefully pushes me into a tree along the edge, and my focus immediately becomes trying to stop the bleeding from scraped skin, my flesh imbedded into gnarled bark, and if I’ve fallen, lost in untangling myself from thorny vines as time stands still.

Denial. Regret. You are no friends of mine. While I laid next to Jon in his final days, only able to rest my hand on his shoulder, you both whispered to my husband-partner, and played grab-ass with your “bff,” Cancer. You conspired and succeeded at tearing me and my family apart, and for a long time, our pools of tears were the only things keeping us touching in the wake of our own griefs. Thankful for Grace stepping in to place us hand in hand, teaching us that growing our bond of shared grief is like tending a garden: it requires a working partnership, patience, and sighing together as we admire what’s blooming in each season.

But what do I do now? I am faced with the growing madness of freshly rippled loss. If there is no reprieve now in my view, how am I to move forward? Is that even a direction, and how many dimensions of this universe are there, for crying out loud?! My mind is trapped in sideways, and worse yet, I fear going backwards. I’m like a tiny mouse, discovered by the shrieking house owner who is swatting at me with a corn broom: I’m running back and forth along the baseboard, desperately seeking an opening leading to safety behind the wall. And it needs saying, if I were a mouse, I would much prefer a field with unmowed grasses, tall trees, and songbirds, just like Sander Farm Preserve.

Do you ever wonder why I’m so consumed with cycling, exercise, and the outdoors? Because each takes me somewhere, places in actual existence in this physical world where, otherwise, my mind cannot seem to go or imagine. I move forward many miles on a bike, my route is what I make it, and even if I’m only following along, it is the freedom I feel of full-immersion into what “going forward” is really like, and should be, all painted in a palette of the season or sculpted into bumpy or smooth terrain forms.

Unfortunately, my exercise has been at a bare minimum in the past couple of months. Ever since the Iceman Cometh Challenge race, and especially so in the past month. So many situations required my focus, energy, and time, I had none left just for me. Dog walking and dog care replaced my personal self-care. Last Thursday, eight days ago, I said goodbye to my chosen companions. I dearly miss those sweet dogs.

This past week has been a catching up and a slow integration back to activity with self-care as a priority. Tears flow when they need to, there are moments of feeling overwhelmed with sadness. It could be a memory, a song, talking with my kids. I’m needing to drink more water to stay hydrated. Monday included a 4-mile run in early evening. I knew I would need a flashlight of some sort, as I started just after 5pm, and chose to carry my bike light that is usually mounted to my bike handlebars.

Monday’s running route was the “4-corners,” just as it sounds: a big square, sidewalks only, and a bit over 4-miles. Even though I’m familiar with the path and there are street lights to guide most of the way, there are dark stretches of sidewalk and my night vision is abysmal at best. Still, I tried to wait until it was absolutely necessary to turn the light on. I seem to be stubborn at accepting help, even from a simple flashlight.

However, safety on any run is a must. So at first, when crossing intersections to make myself more visible to cars, I’m sweeping and shining the light across the ground like a paint brush on the pavement in the direction I’m going, and feeling like most everything else in my life, I’m attempting to “Bob Ross it,” but my trees aren’t happy ones, they’re just trees. After turning at the second corner, darkness falls and my light must remain on without my little on-off swishy, painting games.

Running at night requires a constant adjustment of balancing what I see versus what I feel: I see in front and below me flat, empty nothingness, my skin senses temperature and subtle changes in the wind causing goosebumps, meanwhile my feet have become a Hans Christian Anderson tale as twin Princesses, sensing every bit of grit or crack on the ground. Even in my heightened state, I don’t trust myself, it feels like I’m stepping off a lake dock sans moonlight, so my light is shown down to where I think it’s needed most: at my feet to help see my way.

As I continued this run, nearly at the third corner now, I found that pointing the light downward is bringing on a headache and not really helping me see what’s coming up. The light is too bright and harsh, it’s moving erratically in jerky back-and-forth spasms, and I can’t seem to hold it steady in either hand. I then raised the light, slightly to illuminate just a wee-bit further ahead, about 10 feet, and as I ran on to the fourth corner, found a more comfortable position to hold it.

Every stride, my arms swinging in pendulum form, I discovered myself testing how far ahead I could shine the light by raising it gradually, just a bit more. Was there such a thing as too far, and at what point seemed far enough? As my experiment continued, funny, the farther ahead it was directed, the light seemed to become softer, more gradated to include a wider view of the path, and the light was steady with no shaking.

In the final incline, the fourth corner and finish in sight, it suddenly hits me: because I’m looking at all of my current situations at once and so intensely, not giving myself time to heal or pause, it’s causing me to focus very deeply just on the overwhelming pain itself. If I at least try to look ahead, even just a bit, to soften pain and to seek kindness somewhere or someplace, all of this may be more bearable. That does not mean I can or will ignore what is right in front of me at my feet. It means that by looking up and torward an unknown future at any distance, near or far, while at the same time being exactly where I am, knowing this is where I’m at right now, but with each step to where I’m going, it will be different, and somehow, just a bit better.

So, is my dealing with new loss as easy as holding a flashlight just a little higher and looking farther ahead? The not so simple answer: maybe. Through all of this, Love is holding me together. And what is Love anyway, is it a kindness or a burden? I will always choose it as a kindness, and now I choose to add Forgiveness, Compassion, and Trust to our table for four. Together we will have a good conversation.

Surfing has, once again, popped into my mind. And again, I’m hearing my surf instructor’s voice mixed with the hum of breaking waves. This time, my body is laying on my surfboard, hands gripping each side, my eyes and board aimed at the shoreline. Turning my head behind to my right, I see it, and it’s coming. I know exactly what to do now, and my hands dig deep into the water, paddling with full intent, it’s time to match the speed of the coming wave.

It catches up to me, I feel the lift and rise underneath, prompting me to take this wave. I know it’s mine. Hands flat on waxed board, “Listo, Paulita?!” my toes are now gripped and set. “Lavántate ahora!” One movement, left foot pulled through and planted, the rest of me just flows to standing position. My weight and all I carry are with the wave now, gliding, beautiful surfing, riding to shore. Ready or not, I will get up now. ~P.

Into The Blue

A holiday-time primer or voice of positivity this writing is not, so for those who need that type of morale-boosting, turn on Hallmark Channel. For anyone else, thank you for reading, and as always, “Don’t judge. Don’t fix. Just read.” ~P.

December 6, 2019

I don’t feel the need to smile now for an indefinite length of time. There is no more purpose for it. For three years, 38 months to be exact as of today, I’ve been propelling myself in grief, alone into an unknown, unpredictable future: blindly, unwillingly, publicly, shamelessly. Full stop now. My heart can slow it’s beating, nearly go dormant, it only needs to keep me alive just enough to get through days, months, and years to come without foreseeable love in my life. Who can live without love?

My precious border collie puppies, Lennie and Suzie, born August 6, are four months old. Half of their lifetimes thus far, they have been with me as my chosen companions. This week, they are no longer part of my family. Full disclosure, this I now know: Lennie and Suzie were great dogs, but I was not great with them. Taking proper care of them left little time for anything else, and my fast-growing inability to balance everything on my own combined with my failure to become a “dog person,” meant I had to make the decision to re-home them. It’s done, each is now placed in their forever home.

My soul now feels like a lost dog. If you see my soul, please help it come home. Where is “home” anyway? My soul has nowhere to call home. The person who it lived with and who it was for, died three years ago. Now, it is wandering lost and has nowhere to be itself, to have rest, to be alive. Everything you see on the outside is facade, worthless, and devoid of meaning. I’m dead on the inside.

Yesterday morning, as I sadly walked with Suzie for the last time at wood’s edge in my backyard, I looked down and was surprised to see coming into focus short strips of brilliant blue color, all neatly arranged amidst dampened mulch and curled fallen leaves. My eyes adjusted to take in what was a grouping of blue jay feathers. Each one had distinctive, undeniable blue and black markings, many with white tips. In my life’s journey, feathers have been following me where I go, found mostly as “bike magic” along cycling routes of the past three years.

However, this day, as I felt the weight of my world crumbling on top of me, it was “life magic” as these unique feathers popped up at my feet, having had somehow found their way to me, and now, holding me together, just. At first, I hesitated from disturbing them, but then instinctively knew these were for me to collect.

Blue Jay feathers now added, displayed in my children’s pottery creations found in my kitchen on a corner shelf.

The rest of the day, I pondered and researched the symbolism of finding these particular feathers. Their description and meaning was complex, but what clearly spoke to me immediately was reading that blue jays represent a feeling of safety and protection. Since the day of Jon’s death, I have become completely unprotected, and rarely do I feel truly safe. These raw truths are now bared and revealed. His painful fight with cancer propelled him to his denial of death for so many reasons, and this very hurtful one, because he knew my children and I would be entirely exposed without his being here and without having his trusted mindfulness. Why am I shown this now in memory and present time? What is it that I require protection from anyway?

I know damn-well why, because of what has come into my life and happened over the past three years. Simply put, it has been uninvited guests, surnamed Trouble, appearing in a family lineup of forms. Trouble never comes as your enemy, rather, it arrives with a soft knock on your door and asks in a child-like voice if it can come in. It then proceeds methodically to play with your heart, distracts you from your work and goals, and puts blame solely on top of you for falter if you have any doubt of it’s helpfulness or glimpse it’s true nature. I know Trouble. I let it in.

Jon kept me safe for over 20 years from Trouble. I relied on him with my complete trust to keep our children and me safe, and I am learning now in my solo choices and decisions, painfully, through these repeated failures of attempts to find peace, calm, and clarity, that I do not have what it takes to prevent myself and kids from harm. Besides Trouble, what I also do keep finding are these feathers, and I’ll take what I’ve read about their discovery as a purposeful intervention to redirect my attention in one more adjustment to change and the continuation forward into the unknown. And I need to say, even though going forwards is a desired direction, so often sideways is a sad result, and that’s another topic entirely that has been weighing heavily on my mind.

What I decided this morning, mindful in the face of more loss, is as a “dog person,” I am not, but as a “blue jay person,” just, and maybe somewhere within the details of symbolic meaning and my now believing in what kind of person that is, there I will find my soul and home again. For today, 38 months and counting, I awoke to the sound of my voice pronouncing in the darkness, “Hi, my name is Paula, I ride bikes, sometimes clipped in.” ~P.

The Trials of A Broken Heart

Still. Sharing my writing from two years ago that resonates with me still. Touché FB, this is what I needed to be reminded of today. Don’t judge, don’t fix, just read. #grief #misshim #sharedamemory #facebook

Facebook post dated June 20, 2017

More writing, same request – no judgement, no fixing, just read. ~P.

The Trials of A Broken Heart

It is no secret that I have a broken heart. Death has taken my lover, partner, and best friend rolled into one. These dimensions of my life once overflowing are now bone dry, and dust is collecting on every surface. When I search for him in my mind, I can no longer see him, hear him, or feel his familiar warmth. His smell cannot be found on his clothing because his body has not been in his favorite sweatshirts and ripped jeans for almost a year. My brain contorts inside my skull, and the veins at my temples bulge because I have forgotten to breathe through the moments of trying, unsuccessfully, to remember these fading wisps of his soul. When I squeeze my eyes tight shut, behind my eyelids the colors of us have faded to pale, and are now barely-there blurry movements without defined shape. Lately, my cheeks have been tingling. I think it’s from the blood emptied from my heart that now runs cold through me and can’t find a place that is comfortable under my skin. Death is laughing at me because at the moment, he has all of the leverage, he has him, and I have nothing.

If I continue down this path, Death will have my heart. That single ember left in it will plucked by Death’s greedy claws, and I will completely shut down. I won’t go without a fight. I refuse to let Death win. After loving my partner so hard, and having been forced to release him, all that love is now buried inside of me. It is hidden from Death, but it is surrounded by Grief’s child, Agony. Agony whispers to my hidden love, teasing it to show itself, even just a peek. My love is not to be played with by this insolent child. Agony taunts and teases me with an unblinking stare that makes my body tremble, half out of anger, half out of exhaustion. Smiling, Agony has taken away my appetite for food, there is no plate that has what I want to eat. My mouth has become dry, and even though my voice wants to sing a song to him, words can only be mouthed and my breath cannot hold the right tune.

Stepping forward now is Compassion, but her gift is a cruel joke to me. She offers for me to see him in the opposite space: in feeling and seeing his absence, he is in fact here. The kids and I went out to breakfast for Father’s Day at the restaurant that we all used to go to, he usually ordered the same thing: ‘T D Special’ of 2 eggs basted, hash browns, whole wheat toast, and gyro meat. Next to my son opposite me is the empty place at our table for four, the table in the corner by the front window. The very same table we last ate all together in this place. I couldn’t help but look at the empty seat now, and I wanted to see him sitting there, healthy with that devilish grin, his eyes telling me he’s thinking about me being naked and wrapped around him. These unspoken thoughts, even in front of the kids, he and I shared. Compassion, is this all that remains? This is a seat that will never be filled, and my acknowledgement of that makes Death and Agony very happy.

So what am I to do with this void if “the seat cannot be filled?” I look inside myself, and I ask why this bothers me so much, and I want to see this problem in a different light. I am seeking Truth. I close my eyes and I am in Central Park, walking along a paved path. I see Truth is sitting next to the father of Grief, Existence, on a worn out but sturdy bench. There is a low humming murmur between them, and they keep glancing over at me, in a half inviting, other half ‘you stink’ face way. I approach to better understand what they’re saying, standing off to one side of the path. I’m really tempted to sit on this rock I see next to the bench, but standing feels good at the moment. I have nervous energy in my legs and sitting still for too long gives me a cramp in my left foot. Suddenly, Truth and Existence turn to me at the same time, and our eyes meet. It’s a good thing I’m writing down what was said now, I don’t want to forget it.

The most surprising part of our conversation was that they spoke as one voice, and even though they did not speak my language, I understood them. After our introductory “hellos”, this is what they told me: “Paula, know you are not done having love in your life, you deserve to be happy again. First, you must find a way to forgive yourself of thinking you did not love him enough, pushed him out, and that you did not deserve him. He loved you completely and you were meant for each other. Don’t be afraid of Death taking that spark in your heart, it can’t be taken from you, it is always yours to keep. Your heart is something that can be given again, to anyone you wish, and that spark will grow once again in time. We will be with you in the next part of your journey, and give you eyes to see what is hidden from others. The ember in your heart will not go out because we have sent the aura of Life to you. Life is with you now, bestowed upon you to give you strength and encouragement through this time. As you rediscover your purpose, Life will beckon those to you that need you, that want you. Your gifts to those worthy of you will be fragile, and need your trust and patience to grow. Please allow Life to help you with these new bonds, and to feel comfortable receiving praise. Listen to your own voice and when an answer comes to you after a long debate in your mind, know that we are all with you and you are never truly alone. Walk down the path now, do not look behind you for long, what is ahead needs your full attention.” I turned my head just for a split second, to look further down the path, and when I looked again toward Truth and Existence, they were no longer there on the bench.

Even though I am in Central Park, surrounded by so many people, I have that rush of aloneness come over me. My feet feel heavy, stuck to this spot where I’m standing. As I exhale, I feel the sun’s rays on my back, and realize it is quite warm today. Looking to the left of the bench where Truth and Existence were just moments ago, I see that rock again next to it, the sunlight revealing tiny glints of clear quartz shimmering in between layers of deep gray. I find myself sitting on the rock now, my fingers feel it’s gnarled texture. This rock is slightly warm, even though it is early in the day, half way between morning, half way to late afternoon. The sound of traffic from 5th Avenue seems a bit more quiet than usual today, the abrupt ring of a bicycle bell snaps me out of listening to it. Tears spill as I open my eyes, and a soft whimper escapes my lips, uncertainty of this all actually happening fuels more tears. As I continue to write, surprisingly I still feel the sun’s warmth on my back from my vision, this can’t be real I say to myself. Perhaps it could be the aura of Life giving me reassurance that she is here after all and I’m not really alone. Reality has a funny way of choosing to be noticed and better yet, felt. ~Paula

A Soap Story – Bar 2 of 3

Last year in June, as my then turned-pale, moss-green bar of my favorite soap was shrinking to a size smaller than a skipping stone, I began searching for the next bar in whichever grocery store I happened to be. They all carry it, albeit, depending on the store, found on a different shelf and order. With a couple months or so in between buying a bar, it usually requires a little exploration every time to find it, and when found, the obligatory “ah-ha” moment of “oh, it’s in that aisle here.” I never doubted and always relied on finding my soap when it was time for a new one, and like a reunion of old friends, it was always comforting to see, like no time had passed in between visits. By summer’s end though, it was clear it was not to be found.

You could say, “well, just order it online,” and resolve the problem, but that’s not my first, go-to choice or the point here. The point is, to answer questions like “where did it go?” and “is it coming back?” and “is it just me not finding it?” I needed answers to these questions, and sort out what’s real and not real. I can’t imagine this brand suddenly not being stocked by popular stores and definitely not a worst-case scenario of it no longer being made. Are other people, like me, wondering the same thoughts about not finding it? Even though valuable time and energy of every day is already divided into so many pieces, so often spread too thin, to me this is a mystery worth solving. I am compelled to add this one more thing to the to-do list: find my soap!

Before full-panic could set in, I turned my search to within my house. I found myself rummaging through bathroom drawers and closet shelves for some other acceptable substitute soap, and even hopeful for the possibility of finding a random surprise-bar of my favorite, somehow stashed away and deeply hidden under extra toothbrushes or behind a lineup of bottled toiletry tonics. No such luck. So, I chose from what I found: a gifted, handmade peppermint-herbal bar on to which I topped with a smallish, milled-lavender block from a hotel.

These bars stuck together with use, resembling a little, Zen stone stack neatly positioned at an angle on the built-in, shower corner-shelf. The creamy-white lavender bar sat atop the larger, chunky-beige peppermint bar on the bottom. Unexpectedly, the two distinctive bars combined fragrances and had taken on a cinnamon-red-hots, candy scent. The spicy smell mixes with steam and fills the shower, it’s pungent odor abruptly hits my nose and I try not to let it into my nostrils. I end up breathing through my mouth, but that, too, gives me a weird, candy-concoction taste on my tongue, and I don’t like that sensation either. It is not a smell that is appealing or wanted. I’d much rather be calmed by the non-aromatic bouquet smell of my simple, soothing olive soap bar. Without it, I feel like I am not getting clean, my comforting smell is not here, and I might as well be attempting to wash a body that is not mine. The one peaceful, important part of my day has become a time of hurriedly getting through it, avoidance, and it not being a time to relax.

One day in particular, my patience worn thin, I began a more direct investigation to find my soap by calling a couple stores, and unfortunately, received no straight answer of its expected arrival back in stock anytime soon. Those stores I called, were able to confirm that I’m not imagining it’s absence, and at least they were able to say, “no we don’t have it right now.” However, no one could say when it would definitely be back on the shelf. Humph.

My desperation masked behind hope finally came out in one shopping trip. I found myself interrogating an employee in an aisle where it should have been, explaining how there is no other soap quite like this one, how disappointed I am not to find it, and it is nowhere to be found. She agreed with me that she didn’t see it here on the shelf, and while glancing at the new, full arrangement of bar soaps, none-of-which-are-my-soap, she casually guessed, emphasized with a tilt of her head, that their store may have discontinued carrying it. What?!? No, no, no!

Meanwhile, this visual confirmation that no store has my soap, was compounded by the discovery that all of them have been quietly rearranging their soap product assortment as summer yielded to fall. In some cases, I observed the whole grouping of bar soaps having leaped to the other side of the “usual aisle” and placed down low. My sore legs from summer mountain biking accidents now creak and strain as I stoop down, cranking my neck and squinting my eyes to view the newly-sorted product lineup. Trying to read small type on colorful packaging, deciphering fragrance descriptions and ingredients lists, this only reminds me that I’m overdue for a new glasses prescription, and maybe I should be spending my time at the eye doctor, not chasing a rabbit that can’t be caught.

I was done with my exhaustive research on all of this, needing to save energy for other things that, quite frankly, are not getting done and require some attention, like the need to call my eye doctor for an appointment being just one “must-do” on a very long list. Then, a near-last resort of action came to mind, which probably should have been my near-first choice: go to the company website, and contact customer service and ask them directly what is going on. My long, soap-sob-story was finally put into an email. I was thankful to receive a reply back a couple days afterwards, with the reason that there was a “production problem,” but it is expected to be back in stores “by the end of October.” As fall began, my patience was somewhat restored with this reassurance, and as time passed, I chose to add, subtract, and mingle other soap bars to my substitute soap-stack, however not finding anything quite right. [This story continues in A Soap Story – Bar 3 of 3. Thank you, again, for reading.] ~Paula

A Soap Story – Bar 1 of 3

Potawatomi Trail, Pickney Recreation Area.

April 6, 2019, began the 30th month since my husband-partner, Jon, died from cancer. My life is so different now, beyond the “it’s not what I expected or hoped for” type of commentary or observation. What is different is magnified, conspicuous, and it is ongoing without end. I am different. Still no calm, and my attempt of adopting my one-word theme of “be” morphs and shifts in a continuous heavy haze of uncertainty. Brightness and relief remains infrequent, in between those blips on the radar is a lot of murky water.

I could be going along with every day things, and grief erupts and seeps out from inside. There is no washing it off, it is inside me, a part of me. It comes out as a low-hum vibration of sweat that beads at the back of my neck, then radiates to my face and tingles in my cheeks at various frequencies. This is not a mid-life hot-flash, but more like experiencing a sunburn that continues to evolve and fluctuate in it’s intensity, and there may not be enough aloe vera on the planet to soothe it. Today it is a hollow pain deep in the middle of my forehead and tears are welled up along the bottoms of my lower eye lids. I’m having a morning of wanting nothing, all these “things” around me are no substitute for “my person” who is no longer here. And so, even before breakfast, I give in to laying down for meditation and a short nap.

Time and pain only momentarily shifts and softens until a rush of ringing in my ears has me suddenly waking up. My eyes remain closed, I call his name into the empty room, sound reverberates inside my still aching head, and my hands instinctively reach to my forehead to press and smooth crinkled skin while my heart is racing in double-time, twisting, like I’m in the woods on my bike and needing to hold on tight through a double-switchback turn. Wishing I were on a bike ride right now, it would free me from this moment, but instead I am laying still, immersed in memories, missing, and full of anguish.

Since he died, I have been questioning “what is” and “what is not” real. With the passing of time, what is different is exponential, and nothing is the same. I’m just trying to keep up with it all on a daily basis. When I find slivers of things that resemble familiar comforts before loss and cancer became my world, I feel a mixture of nostalgia, missing, and a wanting to hold on to those fragments, no matter how small. Without warning, tears fill my eyes, and then, suspended seconds are counted in heartbeats until a blink and a deep sigh, and my temporary blindness and deafness to things around me lifts. I may see and hear clearly again, but if you were to ask me what was just said or what was going on around me, I would not be able to tell you. Like looking into a dense fog, to see what is both far away and right in front me, I’m concentrating and refocusing very hard to stay in the present moment. Focus yields to feeling out of sync, the gap between your “present” and mine feels like we’re riding on the same trail, but you are going much faster with less effort ahead of me, and I am way behind, pedaling harder, and just when I think I will make it up a steep climb, my tire abruptly gets caught on a root, all momentum is lost, and I need to walk my bike the rest of the way up to the top.

It’s not a struggle between distinguishing fantasy versus reality, I know damn-well that difference, but more of an expecting him to be where he should be, when, in fact, he is not here. I feel his not being here, that hole swallows me up sometimes, especially at night. The end of one more day without him, and then knowing another day will begin again without him feels so abnormal, so wrong. We are all going on with our lives, getting older, and he is not. The fact of his permanent absence collides with unexpected reminders that he is not where he used to be, where he should be. I still ask myself, “Is he really gone?” I come home with a surprise wave of anticipation expecting to find him cooking something wonderful in the kitchen, but all I see is empty space where he should be standing. No one else can, or will, fill this space.

What is normal now, what feels right? This life now feels so distorted and unrecognizable, like what the hell happened, where am I, who am I? I plod along, stumbling in to the future, so afraid of screwing up and making choices that could lead me to some ambiguous, irreversible place that has no emergency exit. Maybe I’m already there and don’t want to see or admit it to you or, worse yet, to myself? I’ve turned to simple human habits since he died to keep what’s real “in check.” From the basic act of methodology brushing my hair to eating toast with peanut butter and jelly, and making French-pressed coffee almost every day for breakfast, I rely on those little things to give me something to look forward to doing, to have an expectation fulfilled, and a tiny, but meaningful, accomplishment.

Bathing especially has become one of those things I do in order to feel “normal.” Inside my world that can feel so harsh, it’s the main anecdote for washing away my sweat, tears, and reminding my body that it exists and I should be taking care of it. While showering, it’s these precious minutes of kindness to myself in the day when I don’t have to respond to anyone or anything else, just concentrate on my own thoughts, or think of nothing. I pay close attention to feeling hot water soothe sore muscles, and, of course, get clean. Part of my showering routine has been using the same brand of olive oil soap since I moved to Michigan over seven years ago. It’s a large, half-brick-sized green block whose color reminds me of decaying grass clippings without the awful smell. It’s unscented, yet it does have a distinctive, soothing “olive” fragrance. It’s “my” fragrance. [This story continues in A Soap Story – Bar 2 of 3. Thank you for reading.] ~Paula

Eye of the Tiger

October 6, 2018

Today is in honor of my husband-partner Jon, who passed away 2 years ago on this day. Last night, I made a stop at a grocery store, and just after I had walked through the sliding doors and was passing by the check-out registers, I immediately heard the song, “Eye of the Tiger” by Survivor, loudly playing through the store speakers. For just a moment, I wondered if maybe I would find him picking out ice cream or trying to find a box of taco shells. Then I thought of all of the people Jon loved, who would know this song is his song, about “just a man and his will to survive.” While Jon fought cancer, these lyrics gave us all hope and strength, and spoke to how determined of a person Jon was, to face any challenge or rival, his special grin and twinkling eyes always present. I had the urge to say out loud, “this is his song!” At that moment in the grocery store, I found myself not only thinking of Jon, but also of our families and friends, each of us having memories of him. We share that connection, and I’m so comforted to have each of you come to mind when reminders of Jon suddenly appear. Though miles may keep us apart, family and friends, please know you are in my thoughts and memories, and most of all, know you are in my heart and are loved. Thank you for thinking of Jon, especially today. ❤️ ~Paula

The Unfortunate Incident

Saturday Night

Just when I thought it was safe again to go through a fast-food drivethru with my teenaged children, tonight happened. The ‘Previous Incident’ was some time last year at a Taco Bell drivethru and only my daughter was in the passenger seat. We decided to pick up food for her, and also for my son who was at home. I should preface by saying, I know nothing about this food, I don’t eat it, I tried it once. Once. My kids know this menu well, or so I thought. I also thought my son asked for the Cheesy Core, so now stopped at the ordering screen, I said loudly, “I’ll have one Cheesy Core.” And when the drivethru-guy asked, “a what?” I thought he couldn’t hear me, so even louder now with leaning my head out of the window for added emphasis, “Cheesy! Core!” (Please take a moment to say those two words to yourself three-times-fast out loud.) After a pause from the ordering screen, a woman’s voice comes on and says, “uh, we don’t have Cheesy Cores,” said with a bit of ‘WTF-is-this-lady’s-problem’ and annoyance in her voice, it’s obvious drivethru-guy and this annoyed-woman voice think I’m joking. I’m not. I’m just a mom trying to buy cheap, quickie food for my daughter and my now over six-foot son and get his order right in his absence. Apparently though, the only thing I was ordering for him was a Cheesy Whore, when, in fact, it was called a Quesarito. My daughter and I were laughing so hard, “Oh, mom, I love you,” she said through our impossibility to stop laughing at the banter and reaction at the drivethru-guy who had to be saved by annoyed-woman and with my lack to keep a straight face once we pulled up to the pick-up window.

Well tonight, I found myself in the car again to pick up my son and a couple of his friends from the movie theater, and on the way to home, they decided a stop at a McDonald’s drivethru would be a good idea. This time, my son is in the passenger seat, and his two friends are in the backseat. Now would be a good time to say, I do eat this kind of fast food, but not often, my choice usually is the Egg McMuffin. We pull up to the ordering screen, and after my son tells me he would like two cheeseburgers and a small fry, I immediately turn from him to the screen and repeat with confidence. Turning back towards his friends now, I ask, “What would you guys like?” The friend sitting behind him says, “I want a Happy Meal, please,” the other says “I’d like nuggets with buffalo sauce.” From there, this drivethru Unfortunate Incident begins.

To me, being a mom of two teenagers means that you now know answers to potential questions before asked, and *snaps* all those years of motherly experience will now pay off in this moment, this time thinking I know a bit about ordering a Happy Meal for my kids from numerous times when they were growing up. So I turn back to the screen and lean towards my car window and say, “I’d like a Happy Meal, with a boy toy, not a girl toy, please.” Maybe it was because I was tired from exercising today, or having three below-driving-age teenaged boys in my car tonight all taller than me, or the fact that the drivethru-dude sounded on the younger side himself, but it suddenly hit me what I had said. Drivethru-dude asks through a chuckle, “A what? We only have one kind, but I’ll check.” I continue to finish ordering, also getting hung up on the buffalo sauce request, because at this point my son and his friends are all laughing and offering commentary and bantering, and oh my, an answer to “which drink do you want with that Happy Meal” seems irrelevant, because I’m laughing so loud and I think my son is beyond mortified of his mom saying crazy crap. Again.

After clarifying wanting a 10-piece nuggets, a chocolate milk with an extra fry and finishing the order, while driving around to the pay window, I found myself explaining to them what they already knew about what a ‘boy toy’ is and offer my excuse for asking like that because when my son was little there was always a choice and it was a big deal which type of toy you got in the box. I’m just digging myself deeper in on this one, aren’t I? Pay-lady at the window does not seem amused by our car-full of laughing loudness, as the other friend was now telling that there are only two shapes of chicken nuggets, and this seems to only add to the ridiculous, silly level of this drivethru event. My change and a little side-eye is dutifully given. Thank you, pay-lady. On to the pick-up window.

Drivethru-dude is tallish and lanky, and as I peer inside the brightly lit, bustling space, he seems to be surrounded by a crew of three women. He makes a point to say through his smile, “I checked, and we definitely don’t have any of those.” I find myself laughing all over again, this joke just got even worse, now it appears to be on both me and him. “Thank you very much,” I say through my laughing. As drinks and bags are handed through his window to mine, my carload of hungry guys are opening as they are receiving each one. As I slowly pull away from the window, I ask everyone if we have everything, and after a quick chorus of “yup,” the friend who ordered the Happy Meal asks, “What’s this, Peter Rabbit?” and I’m genuinely thinking how much more worse can this get? How did we go from just ordering cheap, quickie food to a boy toy to nuggets to Peter Rabbit? What planet am I on? What? Surprised me says, “I thought it was supposed to be The Incredibles!?!” I’ll have more laughter, please, with a small side of swearing. ~Paula

Introducing Peter Rabbit.

Wave

Dear Reader,

Who knew opening a desk drawer would flood a whole room? 21 months since my partner and husband died from cancer, this is a typical day. I don’t fight these tears, they are with me on this ride, salt-watered and wet, stinging with missing and memories. ~P.

“Meadow, Trees and Snow, Winter Afternoon, Yosemite National Park, c. 1965” Photograph by Ansel Adams, Courtesy of the Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust. All rights reserved. Museum Graphics, Menlo Park, California.

“Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico c. 1941” Photograph by Ansel Adams. Courtesy of the Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust. All rights reserved. Museum Graphics, Menlo Park, California.

July 17, 2018

Life organization of After in progress. Tackling this daunting task, finding things tucked in desk drawers. It’s this type of stuff that brings on instant tears and a racing heartbeat. Shit. A moment’s pause, memories of this man and who he was wash over me, and suddenly in my mind I’m surfing again, paddling out, then having to hold on tightly to the board with both hands, tensing, as wave after wave takes my breath away, drenches and soaks my skin. Patiently waiting for the right wave, to be mine, to ride for my return to shore. Deep breath in, tears steam out. Come up for more air.

Ansel Adams was one of his favorite photographers. These small, 5” by 7” prints, holiday notecards by Museum Graphics, I can see through his eyes what he liked in each one, why he saved them in this drawer. He had a sense for knowing great design and loved looking at nature, better still, sought to be in places just like these. To be. ~Paula

#anseladams #photographbyanseladams #museumgraphics #yosemitenationalpark #newmexico #grief #widow #surfing #waves #nature #winter #moonrise #be

Storyboard – No. 04

July 6, 2018

Dear Reader,

It’s been just about three months since I’ve published something new. I’m calling this span of time a much needed brain-break, a rest-and-reset, or maybe just a falling off of the merry-go-round I am on with my-life-with-loss, a result of going a bit too fast and spinning in too many directions at once. My writing and the continuation of the telling of my story has now had this necessary, self-imposed pause, and as of today, this segment has gathered a lengthy, unexpected list of happenings involving people, possessions, and my evolving position on living this life. I keep thinking of my present life as one, big biking adventure, and when it veers off some perceived course and the brakes don’t seem to work, I’m shouting in my mind and sometimes out loud, “It’s my bike ride damnit!” which basically means “focus” to attempt taking control, “stop being distracted” to do what is needing the most attention, and most often “you have your own shit to do, stop doing everyone else’s shit.” This last thought may sound harsh, but for me, cancer and grief has put me on the defensive about the trajectory of time, and specifically the use of my emotional and physical energy in it, whether asleep or awake. It’s release comes at a high cost to me, and if I’m not careful with the speed and breadth of it, I fear I won’t have enough energy to make good decisions, or worse, really fuck something up or not be mentally-present when I’m needed most by my two teen-aged children. My fears and grief are intertwined, like tree roots and poison ivy on a mountain bike ride, no matter how I try avoid them, it seems like I steer directly at them regularly.

Today it has been 21 months since Jon died. At nearly a year and half without him, at that time, my own well-being and “just being” had hit a hard wall. It’s not easy to say, but I reached a total energy depletion. Days while my kids were at school, I found myself in the month of May sleeping extra hours, my brain felt utterly useless and my body refused to cooperate and felt weak. I think after putting on my “brave face” without real replenishment for so long both before and after Jon died, one day the whole of me literally expired with a capital “E” for Empty. Only very slowly, with giving in to all that extra sleep, crying about everything all over again well into June, and doing effectively what felt like a hiding-of-myself-away, had I finally begun to feel like I was able to function, think more clearly, and could exercise without needing a nap afterwards.

This pause had also, in-part, included and yielded some new writing, most is the kind that is too difficult to readily share, because the depths of my mind have been a messy place to be. There became my having more awareness and sharp delineations between what should be public versus private, those boundaries have resulted in some protective walls going up, needing time to reflect moreso in, than out. Sometimes, I chose to write only to myself, or privately to closest friends. I’m not a person who just spews out words to the public just for saying, so if ever those thoughts from that time end up here, it will be for good reason.

What needs saying now though, is that it has been a full year since our family trip to Canada, and the continuation of ‘Storyboard’ with more telling about that week, needs both a bringing forward to the present and a catching up from being one year ago in the past: like a boomerang, it’s gone a far ways-away, yet now it’s ready to come back to me. And just maybe, my current, evolved emotional state now will be able to handle where my mind was then, in what was in real-time, exactly one year ago. As I share with you now, and continue my story, I invite you read on and to be with me. Be. With. Me. ~P.

Storyboard – No. 04

Ontario, Canada – July 4, 2017

Valhalla

Being in Canada over the Independence Day holiday was a perfect excuse not to celebrate it. That matter of place in being outside of the U.S., or north of the wall as I think of it, and having no fireworks show or patriotic songs, easily put it all furthest from my mind. All of my family members and I are focused on just a few important activities here this week: fishing, family-time, and Jon’s ashes. Today we will be making preparations for his last official ashes celebration. We decided our event will be tomorrow, July 5th, fulfilling the last of his three requested locations. First on the agenda though, there will be fishing and a fantastic outing called a “shore lunch.” Afterwards, when we return to our island, event preparations will be in the form of making paper boats to be created by each family member. Then, tomorrow, there will be fire, and Valhalla will be welcoming him home. Will. Be.

Early morning at the dock, all on board for today’s fishing excursion. The lake is particularly smooth and glass-like. This calmness is what I seem to lack the most of in my mind today, so this picture will serve as a reminder for what I wish and wonder if ever I will be. Ever. Will. Be.

My kids and I bought large sheets of Canson paper, selected in colors of calming-blues, blood-red burgundy, and stone-greys. Mom taught us the paper boat folding method, and all together at the table we began to assemble a fine fleet in various sizes and designs, our own messages and symbols of love drawn on the sides and hulls. Our working together was mostly silent, but the sounds of paper-creasing, markers-squeaking, and the occasional musical melody of our voices, echoes in the sparsely furnished room. It blended all together to help us work along. I feel myself looking on, not so much in the middle of this process. I imagine making a boat will also make tears flow, and I don’t want more of that in front of everyone, so I look on and take pictures instead. This detachment I am feeling is not something I can snap out of, and I think I’m hiding it, but really, I’m that rabbit sitting perfectly still in a barren field, I hide nothing very well.

As we were going about our boat building business on this Tuesday evening, suddenly the light from outside seemed to darken, and looking out through the large, glass-sliding doors to the deck, we noticed a dramatic change in the weather. A storm was coming in fast, and reflective calm waters were now choppy and windswept. A dense, misty fog had descended on the water, shrouded our small island, and gusts of rain began dousing our cabin. Time seemed to stand still.

The storm and air pressure then shifted to a new phase. The fog cleared, and an odd-glow from gold-tinged, cloudy patches mixed with a steely-blue sky canvas revealed the most intense rainbow in the distance we had ever seen. We all took turns standing on our deck taking in what we were being shown: a full, high-arcing rainbow perfectly centered in the distance over the water outside of our cabin.

Ever since Jon died, I have chosen to show my face in pictures mostly with some form of smiling. It’s what I need people to see, an outer-image will be shared, and combined with my “natural instinct” to please others, dutifully I just do it, and in the process, reassure you and remind myself: I’m still alive, albeit grieving, but smiling anyway. However, there are other pictures I have taken of myself along this journey with no smiling. I’m talking about the crying ones, where at the moment I realize the need to document the sad state I feel, I take a picture of my distorted face to reflect later. It’s a way to privately acknowledge my range of emotions, despair to anger to fear, all of this, and I often look at these pictures as proof to myself that this loss is real and not imagined. To show you, the reader, my face with a sad expression, is to reveal how I’m feeling on the inside. Do you really want or need to see that? I don’t think so. Who chooses to see a sobbing mess, sagging skin, and a tear-streaked face? You or I can’t fix it, but I feel it, and my seeing it makes it real. So in that spirit, this sad picture, I choose to share now with you because one year after the fact, it’s okay for you to see, for you to know my reality. My whole being was lost in gazing at that rainbow. Looking at it from end-to-end, following its curved trail woven through the clouds, wishing I could reach out and touch it, I felt so certain he was there somewhere along its path. What I felt most at this moment was our separation, the time and distance between our souls. The pressing air and that surreal glow was connecting us now, and tiny raindrops where finding their way to my face like soft kisses. I now saw Jon as a part of the universe, in Valhalla, but I’m left behind in human form, standing in place and falling without him to catch me or hold me up. His life and his love for me are done and gone, so my life is effectively over without him here. In full disclosure, I felt that day, “I have nothing except a rainbow, and it too, will leave me.” While in Canada, even though I was in such close quarters with my family, at this moment especially, I feel so alone, so weighed down by thoughts that I will never be loved again. Will. Never. Be.

What came next that evening surprised everyone. In fact, the next day, we heard from others at the dock that they, too, never saw anything like it. Just as the rainbow faded, and the sky darkened to later evening, the wind had changed, and began blowing in from a completely opposite direction. It was another storm, this time with billowing, rolling silvery-clouds, a darkened, ash-grey sky, and bursts of lighting that flashed and popped. Again, our family watched in awe of what we were shown. And again, on the deck I stood, feeling alone, attempting to capture lightning in a picture, holding back tears.

Thank you for reading. The story will continue with ‘Storyboard – No. 05.’

~ Paula

Magnet

Spring Break 2018: The week in pictures – Number 01

The beach is like a magnet to my soul. It is here where I am compelled to walk, to say thoughts out loud because only the ocean and its depths can bear hearing them. My words and distorted sounds are claimed at the shoreline, rushing water and foam capture and float messages out to a ship only I can see. Tears spilled on my sun-kissed face from eyes hidden behind UV protective lenses are blotted dry by soft brush strokes of salted air. A blink held a moment too long to adjust my focus, and the ship has disappeared, broken into tiny speckles spread across watery miles. A smile tightens otherwise sagging skin, pulled by the weight of loss and missing the one who cannot be found. Despite my calling his name, there is no answer, only lapping waves and solitude today. ~Paula

Portfolio – Circa 2014

In 2014, Jon was alive and only one year in to his cancer diagnosis and chemotherapy treatments. He and I started to have conversations of my going back to work. I had been a graphic designer up until our daughter was born in March of 2002. Then, my role as a stay-at-home mom began, and still continues today.

My graphic design portfolio in its down-and-dirty video form above is a collection of my work from the era where you may not have a web site design project or space for social media information on a business card. What is the same from then to now though, is that good design is still about people wanting to share a visible message in some form, showing what is important to them, an open invitation hoping to make it important to you in some way.

I don’t expect you to think any of this is important. Truth: I see in my little life’s work review a person I don’t recognize today, so I would imagine you would not know who this person is either. I can’t even come to make the decision to update my LinkedIn page because I no longer fit in the role of graphic designer. That page, by the way, was created in 2013, when I was attempting to connect with my Carnegie Mellon design school alumni to somehow go back to where the birth of my career came about.

Who am I now? After being a mom, I am now a widow, 16 months in to being, and under the weight of grief, I have morphed to becoming a cyclist, surfer, triathlete-in-training, and grief blogger. I don’t think LinkedIn can quite “link” me to my community because of so many things that are outside of their expected algorithms, the simple one-sentence answer. LinkedIn, you and I will have a day of reckoning, and on that day, I will tell you who the hell I am, and you will just have to deal with all these parts of me for my description. ~Paula

Order

Right now, those familiar tears are finding their way to the outer corners of my eyes. They’re just kind of resting there, hovering on my lower rims, I feel a combination of sting and wetness made cold by stale, interior air of my car. I’m not really sure if they’ve made up their minds yet to fall down my dry checks or retreat back to gloss over my view of the road as I prepare to drive to my next stop. I’ve just dropped off my soon-to-be, 16-year-old daughter for her last driving school instruction class, and now after ending a phone call just made, here I sit, in silence, in thought.

Just before driving her here, at home my 14-year-old son and I agreed that I would pick up and bring back a pizza for dinner together while his sister had her 2-hour class. Normally, we order a certain pizza with garlic crust and pepperoni from a particular place close by for pick up. The reason goes beyond the fact that it’s tasty. Every time I need that meal I can rely on to be ready and correct in 15 minutes, I know it will be waiting for me within the time it takes to drive there. They are there for me, my little helper, to make things just a little easier. I’ve never mentioned about my husband passing to the pizza people, but I’m always saying how great it is that their pizza is always ready when I arrive to pick it up, and I really do appreciate them. We might share commentary on the weather, either too cold or too hot, and I always walk out the door smiling. That kind of customer service matters to me, especially now being a single parent and having little room for error in schedule planning.

This evening, however, is a different story. The driving school is within view of another pizza shop I am very familiar with, but because they are not as close to my house as the other reliable place, nor close to the usual kids-chauffeur and local-errands routes, I haven’t had their pizza in what feels like years. As I sit alone in my running car, just noticing the red-lit sign across the road, I spontaneously make the decision to go with what’s closest now. After a basic, quick text to my son of “hey, how about pizza from this other place?” He answers with what is a resounding “hell yes” type response. To myself thinking the what’s next, “I’ll call in the order and pick it up on my way home.” Great. Easy. It’s right here, it’s what’s most convenient now.

Calling from my car while still in the driving school parking lot, my Bluetooth connection carries the call in stereo around my ears. The pizza guy who picked up the phone seems to be having trouble hearing my answers, as I had to repeat my phone number several times. Maybe he was new at the ordering or maybe we had a bad cell phone connection. Once I confirmed “yes, that’s correct” there is a notable pause, then I hear “under Jon?” My heart bursts and empties with a rush of blood to all of my farthest extremities. The exhale of my breath brings clarity to my brain as I feel myself dropping my head and smiling at hearing his name while closing my eyes and saying “yes” in reply with the last push of air from my lungs. Nodding now to no one in the car but my aching heart and memories that have swelled to fill empty space, pizza guy happily asks what I would like, so I’m snapped out of the before, back to the present of IS: which is ordering a pizza in the shape of a square and trying to remember what they call it.

So in continuing my ordering, I find myself automatically envisioning what my memory of their pizza looks like in my mind, out-loud thinking with pizza guy “I’m not sure if it’s called a 4-corner or an 8-corner, what do you call it? The deep dish type?” To which he explains simply, “a 4-corner is one, an 8-corner is side by side.” I see it perfectly in my my mind now, two square pizzas with crispy cheese straight edges, each one cut into four square slices nestled in a rectangular box, side-by-side: the pizza always brought home by Jon on his way home from work. He would always look forward to this dinner treat, even though there was no pizza here in Michigan that quite measured up to the famous Roberto’s pizza from his childhood hometown in Illinois. But he made do, and liked this pizza here from this place.

Order for pick up completed, the call is ended, and all I feel now are these tears that still linger on the edge of a grief wave ready to curl and go beyond a swell formation. I have about a fifteen to twenty-minute wait, and these thoughts need to be written down immediately, so in to my phone I am typing it out. All the while, putting to the back of my mind envisioning what it may feel like going back to a place I know he stood in, at the counter, maybe Jon even talked to the same pizza guy as I did. I’m suddenly hyper-aware of my every breath, my eyes pop up to the time at the top of my phone, confirmed by a glance to my car dashboard, it’s time to pick up my pizza.

There is no usual music being played in my car as I drive less than two minutes across the road. This ordinary act of picking up a pizza will be accompanied by silence, in respect for the going back to a place once not out of the way, a different time playing in my mind, and thinking full-on about my partner and pizza-loving husband, when he could eat and enjoy it, before he was too sick and could not.

As I park in front of the narrow glass-enclosed space, I see nothing has changed here, and the door still sticks and scrapes as I pull it open to go inside the shop and step into the shiny, red-tiled, green and white-walled somewhat-uninviting space. It’s just a bit too bright in here, the fluorescence from the lights overhead cause my pupils to constrict, but that’s okay because it seems to help in holding those tears in place. My eyes become fixed on pizza guy, and I answer his question of, “Picking up?” with a soft, but firm “Yes, for Jon” as I plop my oversized, black-leather purse on the pizza-grease-smudged, slightly-too-high red counter to dig out my wallet. The next thing I know, I have paid, and my hands are feeling the slightly damp, hot pizza box held in my left hand, made heavier with my too-big purse hung over my forearm. My right hand finds the glass door handle and after a quick “have a good night” blurted out to whomever would hear, the door is pushed and scrapes open and suddenly cold air meets my face, and I lean into the night to press forward to my car. Once inside, a brief silence is now replaced with my car ignition and the smell of my pizza squarely positioned on the passenger seat. That smell, this particular pizza smell, is so distinctive. It’s a pungent sauce-smell, slightly sweet with a hint of bread crust and oregano. My drive home was all about taking in that smell, I can feel it adhering to the wet in my eyes, soaking in, finding its way to my memories of who I’d like to see when I get home, bringing what he would love to eat. The oven would be pre-heating now with our pizza stone inside waiting to make-hot what is now surely cooling in the box next to me.

Arriving back at home, I hesitate to go inside. Even though my son immediately greets me and is happy to have pizza for dinner, I feel the emptiness now in my kitchen as I place the box on the center island. Jon’s absence is felt without the pre-heated oven, and without his presence and smile to greet me here. There is nothing here that tells me I’m truly home. He was my home, my place, my food that filled me. I look at this pizza now, the smell of it wafting through my kitchen, carefully picking up a piece so my fingers don’t get too greasy, and it’s just not enough. Every bite swallowed does not bring me closer to him, only further into my reality that he will not be here where and when he is expected to be and that hearing his name by someone like pizza guy saying “under Jon” has to be a something for me to savor, to eat, to be a version of home. Sadly though, I feel I will always be hungry.

Time leaps ahead, and suddenly I need to pick up my daughter. I am happy to leave the kitchen behind, sad and feeling guilty though to leave my son alone in it, but he seems to be enjoying the pizza. Music is now played for the return trip: a U2 song “Raised by Wolves” fills my car, and somehow I find solace with these lyrics describing a horrific car bombing. As the song builds in its intensity, I am staring at the road ahead. Maybe it’s the lingering pizza-smell, or that I’ve begun to sing along at the top of my lungs, but the tears have finally broke like a wave on to my cheeks. The view of the road ahead is distorted, and water-filled. ~Paula

Wounded

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

I have to do this day ‘with gusto.’ In fact, that applies to every day of the whole year we are now in: 2018. My mind has been swirling with mixed feelings of resistance to write and ‘feel’ because the last month of December was about holding it together in mind and body to get through what remained of the holidays: the second Christmas and New Year without Jon. Where did he go? As of this January, he left this earth now 15 months ago, and despite my hand reaching out like into a dense fog expecting to touch him, then pulling him close with his suddenly being in my view, and wanting say, “there you are, I’ve missed you so much,” my hand instead only finds the empty chill and dampness wrapping around each of my fingers and heaviness from tired muscles straining hard just to feel something that is ‘him.’

I had another strange dream last night. Yes, he was there, in it, and it was all about him. Just to my left in the corner of my eye, tall, filled-out, I could not see him clearly, but I could tell by his shape he was wearing baggy jeans, work boots and had on some kind of coat. We were outside mowing a sprawling lawn somewhere together. Not just any lawn, the grass was such a bright, healthy green, the sun seemed to illuminate it from all angles, and it needed to be cut because it was flopped over like a continuous wave to one side. He is walking along using a regular lawn mower, making those patterned lines as he goes, but there is no sound to his work. My mower is like a an edging tool, and I’m going around the pine trees, finding the patches of grass that are outside of those patterned lines and with a sweeper-like motion, I’m brushing the grass, blending the green blades to be the same length, same color. We are together in silence. I feel him come up beside me, I am smiling at him, but keep looking ahead as he and I are working together. I can sense his gaze and it warms me to feel that familiar connection. I know he is smiling back at me. Even though I seem to be wearing baggy clothes too, with a hat, gloves, and my jacket sleeves are pushed up, I know he sees all that is underneath, that twinkle in his eyes set upon me. I don’t want to be in his way, so I turn to my right, and take a few steps over to an area that had mostly packed, bare dirt. There are pussy willow branches growing randomly with those fuzzy grey catkin buds on them coming up to about my waist’s height. I find myself now mowing both around and through them, but they don’t get cut with my tool.

As I go along, the dream shifted to my trying to remember what is buried under those sprouting branches, just below the moist ground. Something is under there, and I have forgotten, I know the plants are there to mark this special spot. With each step while continuing to use my mowing tool, frustration is building at being unable to think of what or who is there. I should just know, right? I am waiting for the memory to come to me. I just see wet, deep brown dirt in front of me now, the green grass appears like a frame around my view. I woke up at that moment, and the guilty feeling of not remembering something added to the realization of dreaming about Jon hits me. The rush of tears and my maybe not so quiet wailing from every part of me fills the darkness of my bedroom. I feel like a wounded animal unable to find shelter. There is no comfort within my reach, no dressing to stop the bleeding of my heart.

Memorial brick

A ‘wounded animal’ is probably the best summary description of my emotional state during the recent holidays. I’m still hurting, but by putting up some defensive walls a bit to not show it, it kept my pain from spilling out like a running faucet. Deep breaths, spending more time with my kids, and gym time somehow kept me grounded. Thanksgiving of late November in Chicago was the kick-off of me making a sincere effort to being present emotionally and physically with my other grieving family members. I remember sharing my excitement about plans that have just begun this past week, reassuring my parents that my kids and I are managing ‘okay,’ and listening hard to how others are doing. The Friday of our visit was a beautiful sun-filled day. I went out for a much-needed run on the Prairie Path. I found myself laying next to Jon’s memorial brick at Elmhurst College, lovingly dedicated to him by extended family. My heart was both pounding from my run and falling to pieces as the sun burned flowing tears deep into my face.

Christmas. Boston. We are all together. At my sister-in-law’s house, her family’s dining room wall immediately caught my attention. The photo wall with a large open space, one lonely nail, I knew without needing to ask what picture was missing, why it wasn’t there, and completely understood why it wasn’t hung back up. Every single meal in this room for nearly five days, I sat staring at this spot. Where is he? Show me. He is here somewhere, right? I kept wanting to take pictures of this wall. The light played with its opportunity to run uninterrupted by sharp-cornered frames here in different ways throughout the day. It seemed alive with movement nearly every time I looked. I wanted to take pictures so I could capture the dancing light and shadows I saw, preserve with me what I see and feel beyond this dining room, and to continue thinking about who is not here. I wanted to get up out of my chair several times during many meals together with my family to do this, but I needed to do it when no one else was looking. To do this privately, so as not to offend anyone, because I don’t want to send a wrong message. I don’t want my family to think I’ve really lost it by taking pictures of blank walls, or be perceived as this is somehow wrong or bad.

To me, this wall actually says what we all may have shared this Christmas: his absence being seen, felt and heard because we are all without, and that, in itself, made him the ‘most present’ person in these holidays. And I need to say, what ever you do my wonderful sister-in-law, please don’t hang the picture back up till you want or need to. Mom and Dad, thank you for bearing with me when you saw my mind and body stare at that empty space unable to be reached by the living and other sounds around me. When I allowed my eyes to focus on this space, my entire energy brought forward unexpected memories of random things, pieces of a good life had with the love of my life and father of my two children. The shadows that flickered on this wall were like tiny glimmers of who I want to have smiling back at me and I waited impatiently for some special message to appear. I had to take a short video, because the dancing light added with the music and voices was like watching a performance, I needed to see it again and again.

So now the New Year has begun, and my life seems to have taken a new turn on my route. Even if now I don’t see the point of it all, I’m going on and making choices and living whatever this life will be. I am hoping it’s not a lengthy-circuitous-type one, but somehow more of a purposeful-Ikigai-type one. You see, throughout 2017, I had practiced leaning in to my grief, and in doing so, I have removed fear of doing impossible things. I’m finding my way now by having let in what I fear most: all that sadness and aloneness of my loss, nearly nothing else could be more frightening to me. Words come out of my mouth that Before would not be spoken, actions I make now that Before would be overthought or delayed. The dark side of acknowledging any new accomplishments from any of this though, is saying that because he died, these things are happening and somehow I should now ‘count my blessings’ for ‘good things’ that might come. NEVER will I do that, or believe that good will come from this very bad thing of his death. If I could have Jon back from the dead instead, if I could go back to that Before a long time ago, before cancer entered my world, I would choose to be in that reality instead of all of whatever ‘this’ is. Fact: He was taken from me, Jon would have never, ever, left me otherwise.

THIS existence now After, is hard to describe. I have allowed myself to ‘let-in’ people and ‘make-real’ interesting things that result in my difficulty speaking in a concise sentence of saying exactly who I am and what I’m doing. I’m most like a rambling countryside that has a different horizon-line in each direction you look. So when asked a simple question, the answer that comes out of my mouth travels far and wide, whereas other people might just say a simple “yes” or “no.” What I do know, is that I’m not sitting in some comfortable chair of life looking at everyone passing me by. I have no fucking chair. I’m standing and constantly moving, in the form of cycling, running, surfing, thinking mercilessly in the attempt to figure out where I’m going now in After.

My kids gave me a book of poetry aptly titled “a beautiful composition of broken” by r.h. Sin, and I’ve been flipping through its pages. My eyes fell on this particular poem as having meaning to me in my current state. It also speaks to my past, and offers a glimpse of things to come.

be loud, no silence.

find your strength

find the courage

reclaim your voice

and say what you need

to say

do not be silent

be loud

be unapologetic

be entirely you

without regret

r.h. Sin

I want to offer you an invitation. Would you like to join me on my journey? As I go, would you choose to follow along with me and see where life takes me now? I make uncomfortable decisions every day, I’m putting myself at risk of failure at every turn. I have an unknown end-point and I don’t fit in some one-size, fits-all box. If you can deal with that, then continue to read my grief blog, The Glog, and find me wherever I am. Hopefully, more of my time will be spent on a bike, within reason of course because I’m a mom of two teenagers first. Now, for the next three months, I chose to be in Working Out Loud group to focus on some specific goals. I even chose one word to be my guiding sprit to embrace this year: Face. I will Face, overcome, and work through tasks I avoid or have not made time to do. I will be a Face representing the grief community, putting myself out there in the form of planning a bike ride to do the entire 3,000 miles of the East Coast Greenway over several years. And I will Face each of you, allowing you to see where my journey takes me. Thank you for being a part of it. ~Paula

Sedated

Paula and the sunset at Playa Guiones, Costa Rica – October 19, 2017

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Last night I dreamed of Costa Rica. In my dream, I was there again, but this time I was not alone. This is what happened. It felt like I lived there, like it was my home. I was riding in the front seat of a taxi cab. The driver to my left was smiling, he had lovely dark-toasted skin that was shiny and seemed to glow. I had twisted my body around on the overstuffed bench front-seat to face him. The ribbed, black-leather seating material felt warm under my left arm which was bent and hanging over the back of my seat, leaning in to see and talk with who is behind me. There are two people, both blonde, one is male, the other female. Their smiling faces seem familiar, I cannot say for certain who they are, but I find myself asking them, “Don’t you love it here?” and as I’m saying this, in my mind I’m thinking “I hope they don’t think it’s too hot, that’s what’s so great, I’m not cold here.” I’m smiling, sweating, and slightly sticking to the cab seat under my legs which are kind of side-curled on the large front seat. My left knee is wedged in the crack where the seat backing meets the bottom seat cushion. “You’ll love it, I’ll show where to go” is the next thing I say, emphasized with a big smile to our passengers. I shift my eyes back to our driver, who is still smiling because he and I share the same love of Costa Rica and somehow at this moment he widens his smile to me just a bit more, and I understand it to mean “I love it too, all we can do is show them, then they will understand.” At this point, I glance to the back seat again, and I still don’t recognize these people but I do like them, and I notice how small they look as the black leather seating kind of frames around their bodies. I glance out the back window behind them now, and I only see blurry, bright daylight and flashes of green as our car speeds along. Pivoting myself around now to look straight ahead, I adjust myself on the seat, helped by the sweat underneath my thighs. It’s gotten a bit slippery. As I look ahead, the road it seems we are driving on is like a large water park slide with deep, clear cerulean choppy-blue water along our “road” and there are red-molded high embankments dotted along the way. “We’re almost to what I really want you to see,” I say in an loud, upbeat tone, because I’m really excited to share this place that I love. We are going pretty fast, the car swivels a bit side-to-side, and I grip the edge of the front cushion seat with my left hand, and for added balance my right hand reaches up to grab the upper handle bar above the door frame. As we make a large arcing turn to the left, our car slows. I feel myself smiling like the cab driver now, just a little bit wider. I know we’re almost there. I’m still thinking about our passengers, wondering if they can see what I see from the roomy back seat. And then I woke up.

Waking up from this dream, I immediately knew it snowed last night without looking out of my bedroom window. The sound of a neighbor’s snowblower is buzzing away, yelling at me like an alarm without a snooze button. It was 7:48. That’s about a half hour too late to get to the 8:30am spin cycle class at my gym on time. I would have to be on my way by 8:15, a little too tight. I immediately called my gym anyway to attempt a last-minute reservation, and there was a wait list for the 8:30 class, confirmation that it wasn’t going to happen. “Okay, no worries, So when’s the next class this morning? 9:45, great, there are spots left? Yes, great, sign me up.” So now I had time to write about this dream, and squeeze in a rushed shower. Also great. Time moves faster when all I really want to do is slow it down, even for a few quiet moments. In my case, writing, social media, and self-care time pass too quickly before I need to pull my head out of the clouds. My “extra” time was more like a time warp, and I felt rushed this morning anyway. I expected there to be more snow, but when I opened the garage door, it was only what I’d call a “loaded donut:” just enough to coat everything in a nice even layer of white. If the grass where poking through, then I would call it “a donut with sprinkles.” Just before I get in the car, I grabbed my pretty blue cycling shoes without the clips from the shelf. It is a small goal of mine for this year’s indoor cycling season to start using cycling shoes in class. Last year at this time, I didn’t even own a pair of cycling shoes. I took my first spin class sometime in November of 2016, and I started outdoor cycling in late February.

I arrived at my gym and hurriedly did the locker room ritual of finding an unused space to lock up my coat and purse. The shoes will have to be changed in class. The class had already started. I picked an open bike, make the quick and comforting switch to my cycling shoes with the blue laces, then adjust the seat, handlebars, and toe cages, and finally hop on. This is a cardio cycle class, so I’m trying to figure out which gear is best for me to make my legs last the entire time, thinking about if he says “gear at 10,” am I good with 9 or 8? If he says “about 100 rpms,” do I go 85 to 90? Or, do I just do the exact thing he says to do and go for it? This instructor gets off of his bike a couple times to adjust this-or-that and the person that came in behind me didn’t close the room door completely, so it’s banging in the door jam, and the instructor gets up to fix the door, too. He expertly clips back in to his bike pedals with ease every time. I don’t really notice much of what’s going on around me, mostly because I’m listening to the music and doing the gear game in my head. “I Want To Be Sedated” by the Ramones is rattling my legs to wake up now. I think I need to be the opposite of ‘sedated’ if I’m going to kick some ass in this class for almost an hour. I’m also wondering about what I missed at the beginning of class. As I’m thinking about the minutes I missed and how many minutes to go, the instructor gets off of his bike one more time, but instead of heading to the stereo system or some other technical dilemma, he walks to my right, directly to a woman two rows diagonally behind me. My head turns and follows him. I see he pats her left shoulder, says some words of encouragement and gets to helping her with some bike adjustment, and I hear her say this is only her second class. She appears to be with the man biking to her right, they are smiling and look like they’re having a good time, and also giggling at their own scene which the sound of it echos off of the high ceiling in this glass-walled space. Bike adjusted, our instructor heads back to his own on the platform and it’s back to focusing on pedaling at 100rpm, which I’m at like 75-80rpm right now, so I’ve got some catching-up-pedaling to do. As I go along trying to follow if we are standing-up or gearing-up or pedaling-faster-up, they all sound like the same instruction to me, and I break my resting-biking-face to smile when I get what we are asked to do all wrong. I’m thinking about this woman, and her second cycling class comment. That was me last year. I see a bit of myself in her. Well, except for her riding partner, I did not have one then and I still don’t have one now. It’s now been over a year since I had begun indoor cycling, it was the only thing that really helped with the anxiety after my husband’s death. A lot has happened since then, time seems to pass in a blink or not at all. Either way, time messes with my mind. Now that the weather is cold and snowy again, I’m back to indoor cycling.

I now find myself really wanting to offer encouragement to that woman. I can think of a few people who shared words of encouragement to me about cycling, and still do, and I am so grateful to each of them for doing so. It requires a lot of patience from them with me and my learning process as I immersed myself in wanting to be a better cyclist. I will leave it up to you, now, to decide if I took a moment to talk with her after the class. What would you have done? Do you just reflect on your own self, stay quiet, or keep your eyes straight ahead? Or, do you reach out to others in some way and maybe share what you’ve learned or say a kind word? A simple comment or even the gesture of a smile could mean a lot to someone. Class continues and I cycle on, and the memory of those boys at Misquamicut State Park beach in Rhode Island playing on the lifeguard chair last summer pops into my head. After being at the ocean’s edge, I had walked back to get my bike that I had leaned against its white-painted posts. It was just after 6pm, and the empty guard’s chair had about six boys now climbing on it, playing some kind of game, laughing the whole time. As I gathered my things below them, I casually mentioned my opinion of what a great job lifeguarding is, and if you decide to be a lifeguard, you can help a lot of people and you can sit up on the chair. I walked away feeling like if only one of those kids even thought twice about what I had said, then I had somehow planted a seed of some sort that may someday grow later. I still believe in planting those seeds, however the situation presents itself, it’s those tiny random moments of opportunity. They flash by so quickly and unless you just do or say what comes to mind at that time, the chance leaves as quickly as it comes. My daydream thoughts are now interrupted by a huge droplet of sweat that has made its way through the fine hairs just above my upper lip. I don’t know where it started: from my forehead, eyes, or nose, but I can feel it trickling fast. As it crests over the edge of my lip, and right before it can fall, my jaw drops just enough to open my mouth, and my tongue meets and catches the droplet. A small burst of salt in liquid form spreads in my mouth. Not too briny. Kind of tastes like Costa Rica.~Paula

Greener – Pt 03

Pt 03 concludes this story.

November 1, 2017 – continued

The Before is sealed shut. So now what? Can any grass be found, and if so, be “greener” HERE in After, can it EVER possibly be? Am I torturing myself saying and thinking this for my life as it is now? These are honest questions I ask myself, adding these to a list of so many with no answers. I’m at the beginning of the second year since he died, 13 months ago as of November. Some would suggest, this time is still considered “early grief.” I suggest “grief is grief” and as Megan Devine says, “Grief cannot be fixed, it can only be carried.” Some would also suggest, I should not be so sad anymore, that I should be moving forward, and turn off the Grief Channel once in while. I suggest, that each person’s grief is different, and with all due respect, I am speaking as his spouse and partner of over 20 years, and this is how it is for me and what I feel. Others in my loss circle grieve him as their child, brother, father, nephew, cousin, and friend: each feeling his absence in their own way. I’ve often described where I am as a desert-like atmosphere with cracks and dust without relief. I’m bloodied and raw, and healing is an ongoing process. Sometimes I feel a little better, and then I cut myself on some unforeseen object and I’m back to bleeding all over again. If I lived in Ancient Greece or in the Middle Ages, I would be considered healthy from this constant cycle of blood-letting.

I close my eyes now and think that I gave everything I had to this man, to our life together, and yet it was not enough. Sometimes I think I killed him just by supporting his decisions in those final weeks of his life. The feeling of failure in Before and now in After is something I deal with every day. I needed and wanted to give more Before, but at its end, I was only able to help him die and to fulfill his wishes for HIS After. That’s all I could really do. Giving and receiving, wanting and needing: the timing and order in After is now all wrong, and it’s turned and skewed into a steady flow of taking from me and a constant being without. Life is at times now completely unsatisfying because he was the only one who crawled under my skin and who I truly trusted, and I have none of that in MY After. My “giving fully” died with him. What I fear most now is losing the desire of “giving” all-together subsequent of his death, and frankly, I feel more like “giving-up” and just saying “to hell with it all, I’m done.” I have moments and days like that when those very words escape my lips.

Inside dream-fueled thoughts is often where I find my escape to sort out what was Before and to cope with After, searching for visual ways in my mind to express my fears, frustration, sadness, and my wanting to feel a ‘happy’. I would like to be-and-feel happy, it’s in-part at the core of all of this writing. In My Reality, ‘happy’ isn’t here right now, and all my smiling and laughing is me trying to evoke it forward from muscle memory or out of thin air. My trip to Central America brought many realizations to me: mostly that anywhere I go, a grief bomb can and will happen. A sudden connection or memory that I can’t look away from pops up like an unexpected burp, or like a punch in the gut, take your pick. In these moments, if I hesitate or stand still, I feel things around me sadden, wither, and fade quickly like that transition from summer to fall when instead of the leaves slowly changing from green to vibrant fall colors for several weekends, in only a couple days time, the leaves just darken to muddy-browns, curl, and scatter in crispy, windswept swirls getting stuck in matted-wet piles. Whereas, If I keep in motion, things may stay a pale color, like on a cloudy day, but tiny growth happens wherever I step, however brief the moment. It is these steps that I am now trying to concentrate on, making each one as if it were my last.

Maybe now would be a good time to tell you why I seem so broken, so laden with extra weight. There are things about me that I haven’t yet talked about, but I will get some of it out now and “on the playing field.” In the summer of 2015, I was diagnosed with a form of breast cancer. This was a game-changer in my relationship with Jon. There were new challenges in supporting each other, more worry about our kids, and for me loads of guilt having to focus on myself more than him. Jon was originally diagnosed with cancer in January 2013, and had been treating its remnants after surgery with chemotherapy since that year. His actually being cured was unknown, but we stayed positive believing in “mind over matter.” He managed to be “stable” which in the cancer-world, is a win. The way we each dealt with our forms of cancer and outcomes had gashed a wide hole in between us and our children. Jon kept the knowing of his cancer from our kids until January of 2016. I was open in telling our kids and families about my diagnosis in real-time, partly because my cancer was seen as “curable.” I had a lumpectomy and radiation, but did not require chemotherapy. I’m still feeling the after-effects of radiation, and I take daily medication. The impact of these happenings and decisions is still rippling through our family. I couldn’t fix cancer then and I can’t fix grief now. I can go running, cycling, and surfing: going places and doing activities where my body can become physically strong to survive and to fill deep-emotional voids. Thoughts of more cancer, my own mortality, and hopes to rebuild the fragile trust with my kids, are mixed with and never far behind those grief bombs.

This time right now feels so empty. And the holiday season has only just begun. The ‘Season of Giving’ indeed: sorry-not-sorry I’m all out of my wanting to give to anyone right now. In many ways, I’m surrounded by dead things that are stuck, like the dust I see on this coffee table, or maybe more of a hard-frost that’s put things in a semi-frozen state, like what I see outside of my window. But all the while, I’m wanting something that just isn’t here in front of me — yet. Not yet. “Be patient” I reluctantly tell myself. For every step I take in this bleak landscape, I’m picking up those bits of growth at my feet, the somethings appearing out of nothing, and holding on to them. These micro-pieces I collect remind me of what I need to do now: stop fighting and be kind to myself and other people, focus on being present in the moment and looking to a new version of a future yet to take shape, and make peace with my body that needs special care if I’m going to be so active and in constant motion. My kids are grieving too, and I need to walk with them in life’s wreckage here and be their mom. If that means that they get all-day-crying mom, so be it, we will face this After together. I am that deep-green corduroy couch in pieces all over again. I’m determined now to pick up any small piece of green I find, some of the old-me, but a whole lot of new-me. I’m in the beginning of the making-of-me. I am figuring out how to be alone. Without him, after him. It’s a “building-up” that needs my hard work to stay focused. Not fixing, just doing. It’s time to be reconstructed, piece by piece, and I will fit just right in the space I choose to be. ~Paula

Recommended reading: It’s OK That You’re Not OK: Meeting Grief and Loss in a Culture That Doesn’t Understand by Megan Devine

Greener – Pt 02

November 1, 2017 – ‘Greener’ continued

Currently, it’s still early morning, overcast, damp, and in the near-freezing mid-30s. The morning light that fills this room now enhances the colors of darkened-oak Arts-and-Crafts-style furniture that is arranged to create conversations which rarely happen here. This is my favorite room to have a nap. I’m all tucked in on the medium-brown, tufted-fabric couch first delivered in Chicago 15 years ago with all of those throw pillows trimmed in fringed-welting: three line the back and two for each side. My pea-green, favorite wool blanket is like a Monarch’s cocoon around my legs now as I settle in to attempt some overdue writing, and I can hear the house furnace blowing heat, warming this room. It’s a background hum that fills my ears, only slightly drowning out my tinnitus that I’ve had my whole life. What’s having tinnitus like? It sounds like it’s always raining, at other times like bees, or the worst case is when the drone shifts in its tone to an out-of-tune whine and I just can’t ignore it. At times like that, it’s best to go outside, where sounds come from every direction to distract, sunlight can refocus my eyes, and the hearing of open space itself snaps me out of listening to sounds inside my head.

I drove my kids hurriedly to school first thing this morning. Last night was Halloween. 2017 was the first year neither of them went trick-or-treating and the second year that I did not hand out candy. Somehow we were all exhausted anyway getting up this morning, which seems to be our new usual. Now back home, I’m not yet ready to eat breakfast or even make coffee, and I will definitely not turn on the news. All I want to do is think right now. October had been a long, sad 31 days. The one-year anniversary of Jon’s death came at the beginning of the month. Then, I traveled to Costa Rica for over a week to take surfing lessons in search of a fresh start for my life. And now, I’m adjusting to being back as full-time mom and doing their school-week routine. Nothing changed in this house, everything is as I left it before my trip.

A lot happened while being basically in the jungle for seven days, some things expected and other things flat-out surprised me that occurred. Looking out into my backyard now at the wood’s edge, I surprisingly see it’s still mostly shades of emerald-green, but patches of golden-yellow leaves are popping through interrupted by greyish-brown, evenly-spaced tree trunks and their branches woven with dull-morning light. So as I my eyes find the patterns and attempt to make order of the outside view I see today, I’m thinking about the color green. ‘Green’ has blended with my inner thoughts about people, places, and things.

“The grass is always greener on the other side.”~Proverb

Is it? I’ve heard this so many times, or have used this saying myself in reply to someone wondering about an opposite circumstance being a better option, or fantasizing that a change in a current situation would be an improvement of the status quo. The “other side” is a tempting fix. It’s the brass ring to reach for with that damn word H-A-P-P-Y engraved on it. There are no absolute guarantees though of what’s exactly “on the other side,” just theories, and it’s the unknown and uncertainty that prevents most people from actually taking action to make changes to discover the “real” in an alternate reality. The creatures-of-habit-and-control out there ponder-and-weigh outcomes seemingly in analytical form before said-steps are taken: impressive. Good luck with all of that, especially to those who have this luxury in the first place to even “choose sides.” I think some may even conclude, if they go to the trouble of making the change and don’t like it, they’ll just go back to the former “original side.”

“Beggars can’t be choosers.”~Proverb

I’m shaking my head at this whole idea of having a “choice,” and I roll my eyes with the mere thought now. This reminds me of something I told my kids when they where little about candy received from trick-or-treating: “you get what you get, and you don’t throw a fit.” Translation: Be polite, say thank you, and don’t ask for Snickers if given Dum-Dums. I raised a couple of “beggars.” If I were to follow and apply this to myself now, I would not miss Jon, I would just accept my existence as-is, I wouldn’t think I have any opinions to speak of, and I would not feel the need to write. Well, here I am writing because I miss Jon, I’m trying to figure out life, and in doing so I have many opinions. So, I guess I’m a “chooser” who is throwing a fit about my choices and all of my circumstances. I’m asking for Snickers, a whole bag-full actually. More eyeball rolling.

I’ve skipped back in my mind, returning to this notion of “the grass is always greener on the other side.” My hands have found their way clasped behind my head now, and as I squint my eyes, making the backyard scene blurry, I’m wondering: where is my “green” now on this other supposed side? Is My Reality of loss even a SIDE? You might be thinking, why can’t I just find my “green” now and shut-up about all this grief, Grief, GRIEF! The reality of Jon having died, my view of loss, is that it is NOT a side, IT JUST IS: it is the AFTER and damnit, there is no “green.” His out-of-order death and our resulting griefs are kinds of change that happened here, the only “certainty” of them being, that there’s no going back to the “before” because death is final and grief does not, in fact, end. Death, even though anticipated from his cancer, was still a shock to be put in this “after” of now hating to live without him, and repeatedly asking myself “why” he died when there are no acceptable answers that can be given. At this moment now, I’m questioning my own existence. I’m carrying grief that I’m constantly trying to describe and understand. Why am I stuck in a Spongebob musical-doodle play-loop of suffering and in a painful rewind of Groundhog Days? What I know, is that the death of my partner was a door that slammed in my face, and no matter how hard I pound my fists against that door now or try to jiggle the handle, it will never open and of course there is no key. It’s a never-ending nightmare of “it’s over, done, and gone” not “the other side.”

In my mind, my back is now leaning up against a sealed door of “before.” I’ve broken out in a prolific sweat that consumes the whole of my body. The hardest part now is standing upright, away from the door. This I now do, bending at the waist, my body reluctantly obeys to the weight I carry, falling forward. Space is now in between me and the door which bears dents and scratches from where I once was stuck. My back is dripping with the wet, and the air that touches it has sent chills into my spine that somehow signal and push me to step forward. I have forced myself to open my eyes, to look at what is, and is not, around me. Steps, very small ones, are being made, but my feet cramp up from my hesitancy and the cold. Pressing the balls of my feet deeper into the ground with each step, stretches out what is so tight. I am outside, surrounded by light that is so bright, yet dim, and sound lifts the fine hairs on my arms. The wind is whistling softly in my ears and has blown my matted hair to one side, but a few strands are caught across my face and have become tangled in my eyelashes. [Greener – Pt 03 continues this story.] ~Paula

Greener – Pt 01

Costa Rica, atv tour day, arrival at the waterfall. I’m blending in with all of the green.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Dear Reader,

In recent weeks, a feeling of being utterly insignificant at times had caused me to lose motivation to write. Recent national tragedies and news media topics have been unavoidable, even though attempting to tune it out or traveling a distance away. I turn a corner and “Whoomp, there IT is”: others’ loss and suffering. Yes, I’m referencing THAT song by Tag Team circa 1993, and it’s on an endless play-loop in my mind. I’ve experienced blows to my own self-confidence, wondering if it even matters that I’m here, and feeling failure at my efforts to manage has “taken the wind out of my sails.” In my own world, My Reality is: he is not here on this planet – that is still what I wake up to every day. In my vulnerable and open state, the pain I see of others seems to have lessened the value of expressing my own. I have hesitated, halted in place, and now stacked on top of my head as if in a real-life game of Tetris, the blocks are falling too quickly, straining my neck and shoulders and I’m shrinking with added weight. In my mind, this self-doubt magnified by emotional awareness has diminished my own say. So much other loss screaming in the world, and I’m one very little voice. Who cares to hear it?

I thank you for your time to read these words that come from my heart describing what is the pencil-dot-of-me that can be erased and forgotten if I don’t put it out there. This is My Story and My Reality and I’m asking people to read it, to acknowledge it, and hopefully learn from it. If I work at it, my scribble may prove that this is how I lived, how I loved, and how I made sense of it all. The tenses of time: past, present, and future continue to mix and fold, and I choose to sort it out, to write it out, and let it out in this form. I have to convince myself at this point that my life matters, find my footing, and continue the climb up my mountain even though I can’t see its peak.

So, 27 days. Why do I care to point out that it’s taken so long to finish this particular writing post? There are other writings that I have “in progress” still to be finished telling of a specific event or happening, and meanwhile I had posted a couple of writings in between time. So, besides the self-doubt which could be enough excuse in itself, what’s the big deal, why the delay? The main reasons are that in the process of writing this, I felt the need to defend the very feelings I am writing about. That bothered me. At the same time, I did not want to pass judgement in opinions about others. It was equally important that I chose my words carefully, especially because I am describing a low point in my grief. People worry about me when I express these kinds of thoughts. I should not be having to defend talking about any of it, but it’s so easy to do. It’s almost expected.

I firmly believe that apologizing for feeling grief is just plain wrong. Should I just deny that I have at times hopeless thoughts and keep them to myself? Should my stories be sanitized of sadness and only be positive? Is there a “feelings timeline” to adhere to and if so, I’d like to know, who decided that anyway? Welcome to my awakening of “writing with a conscience” about my life with grief. I’m worrying way too much about saying the right or wrong thing! The Glog literally means “grief blog.” It is my journey and I will share my truths in writing and pictures about it with you. Sometimes, the truth is hard to hear. Sometimes, it is also hard to write. Don’t judge, don’t fix, just read. ~P.

Greener

November 1, 2017

Laying on my couch in my family room now, I’m able to look out through a large picture window into my backyard. This couch is just a few months older than my daughter, going on sixteen years. Jon and I bought it in Chicago, just before our first move out of the city in 2002 for his new job in Indiana after graduate school. It was delivered to our 1929 brick bungalow and was set right in the middle of our front living room, just days before the movers came. I took a picture of my daughter at barely six months old on it, plopped in the corner like one of its throw pillows. One of our two cats was laying close to her in full-Sphinx-cat-tuck position, eyeing her up seemingly contemplating her own claim on this new warm-luxury-landscape as only a cat can.

We had two other couches in that front room at the time, historical markers of combining our once-single lives. Jon’s infamous ‘oh-so-80s’ black-leather ‘bachelor couch’ which we agreed was the perfect napping couch and could fit the two of us comfortably. It has moved with us all these years, and now occupies my current home as the entertainment room couch in the basement. The other couch, was a deep-green corduroy, with huge-scrolled arms and oversized-cushions that I bought in 1993. It was my first adult-new-furniture purchase and represented the arrival of my modestly-successful graphic design career. It’s cumbersome size matched the over-padded fashion at the time perfectly. Placed under the front windows of our Chicago home, it nearly filled the entire width of that window-filled wall. I would play with my infant daughter on that couch and liked looking out to the other bungalows across the street. There were large trees that sprouted like crazy hair from behind the roof tops, and I liked watching the branches sway, often full of black crows chatting. I would wait for the sound of Jon’s car to turn on to our street. The sound of that car engine would stir a burst of energy inside of me knowing he soon would walk through the back porch door and into my arms. He was my comfort and my home in person-form.

My green couch would only survive one more move, then it was hacked, sawed, and broken-down in to several pieces to remove it rather than move it. No one could lift or maneuver it without losing their minds trying to fit it through doorways one more time. No one was willing to risk straining their back with its awkward weight. It had its good use, but now it was worn and time for a replacement. Thinking about it now, my green couch was so symbolic of the deconstruction of me in those years when Jon was traveling all of the time for work, both of my kids were like little ‘Irish twins’, and I was full-on embracing life as a stay-at-home-momager. That couch didn’t go without putting up a good fight, as I recall it had quite a sturdy frame that didn’t break easily. It seemed to match my attitude about those changes to my life at that time. History has a way of repeating itself. [Greener – Pt 02 will continue this story.] ~Paula

Cream

Fractal Art by Nicolas ArtPro http://www.nicolasartpro.com

Thank you @nicolasartpro for allowing me to share your art on The Glog.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Thanksgiving is tomorrow. There will be copious amounts of food, dollops of various alcoholic beverages, and a heaping amount of underlying grief mixed with family and friends. This will be the second year of holidays without my husband partner and my stepmom. My kids and I will be with my parents, aka my in-laws or as my kids call them GGZ, in Chicago. I haven’t seen them since I returned from my surfing trip in Costa Rica at the end of October. They had come and spent the week with my kids while I made another attempt at some sort of “life-after-loss reset.” Since that trip and my return, my life has evolved yet again in huge ways, those fractals of me are blooming and rescaling at a rapid pace. I’m just trying to keep up.

I have yet to write and post about my learning to surf. I have written several “parts” of various experiences, but I find myself in a writing log-jam. I’ve been writing one post titled “Greener” since the first of November, and I just can’t seem to wrap it up and most notably, I’m hesitating in saying some honest and private thoughts. How much should I really be “saying” in these writings anyway? Is there such a thing as “too much of a grief thing?” In just tying to “keep up” and be present with everyday life, I have realized that I have unfinished “threads” to be written and posted: one more bike ride for “Reunion” at Delaware Water Gap on the New Jersey/Pennsylvania border, the continuation of “Storyboard” currently telling about our family trip to Canada, and yet-to-be-titled various cycling adventures. I’ve got a lot to say about bumpy roads, rainbows, and diners.

Through all these goings-on, I have found grief support through my Writing Your Grief writer’s group, with Megan Devine and others who share their grief experiences through writing, to be an essential part of trying to make sense of something that can’t be fixed. I’m a problem-solver, and you can imagine my frustration at not being able to wrap my head around this whole loss situation and especially shock at discovering my lack of ability to identify and empathize with other people’s grief. I can now assure you, no two “griefs” are the same, and I have so much more to learn. I am also reading and reviewing It’s OK That You’re Not OK: Meeting Grief and Loss in a Culture That Doesn’t Understand by Megan Devine. Through reading her book, I am exploring and working toward how to better emotionally support not only myself, but others in my own grief circle and the grief community as a larger whole. I am on the ground floor of the “grief revolution” willing to not sugar-coat and write the truth about my grief. Hint: It sucks. It doesn’t really end.

In the further-out-expansion of fractal-me, this past couple of weeks has also introduced an opportunity and I have accepted an invitation to join a Working Out Loud peer circle group. A 12-week experience created by John Stepper begins in January to challenge me to figure out my “what’s next”: where do I really want to go in the new-book-of-me and my life, as if there is some point to discover. We’ll see, I’m hopeful at the prospect to possibly solve something when so many other things cannot. Just like the grief writers group, it’s a supportive “no judgement zone” environment, and I can always use more of that. In preparation, I had a marathon 2.5-hour video chat interview with our circle facilitator, Simon RJ Fogg, last Saturday. My knee-jerk response is to do a self-critique because watching myself on video is cathartic in itself: I discovered I have some quirky mannerisms, I never realized I talk with my eyes closed, and I prelude many statements with saying “this is really funny” like I need to send out a humor-alert or be humorous in the first place. I do enjoy a good laugh, and would rather see things from that perspective. Maybe I’m just a fan of the “power of suggestion.”

As I was getting ready early this morning for our road trip today, I had many thoughts about the next few days. Mostly, I’m trying hard not to freak-out about having a grief-freak-out. All that “everyone under the same roof” coming on, plus the going out to stores and those dreaded questions like “How are you?” can get me needing some kind of exercise, or finding refuge on my phone, or blocking out what I hear around me suddenly hearing only my own thoughts: all-and-any effort to deal with my anxiety of feeling sad, alone or misunderstood. I want so much to be truthful about my feelings, while at the same time, listen to others around me and be open to hearing their point of view. It’s a battle of checks-and-balances and wants-and-needs. There will be no cycling in Chicago, but an outdoor run is a possibility. I will try to brave the cold, unless there is snow.

As I’m thinking about this and drying off after my shower, it’s now time to pick out my face cream for today. I admit, I have a “collection” of face products. I don’t have gobs and gobs of makeup, but I do have special moisturizers, anti-wrinkle firming whips, and hydrating serums that are supposed to help my stressed skin look half-decent and especially to smooth out those thinking-lines on my forehead just above my nose. I tend to press that spot on my head with two fingers throughout my day for added resistance to these “crinkles.” This is me making an effort to take care of myself in the simplest and kindest of ways, a daily routine that has steps and I can count on doing it. I also like visiting my face-cream-lady, Mo, at the department store, and when I see her, we chat as she’s patting on cold blobs of this-or-that and I’m trying to pay attention to instructions. She gets me, pampers me, and she knows how to sell products to me without being too pushy.

Towel wrapped around me, my hair is still dripping wet as I run my fingers through it, raking my fingertips on my scalp to adjust it away from my face. I lean forward over the sink, blankly staring into my bathroom mirror, the overhead lights always make me look like I haven’t slept in days, causing bluish circles to come forward under my eyes. I look down on the sinktop below to the familiar line-up of jars and little bottles. It’s time to choose. First, I pat on an under-layer of my face-vitamins serum, like an artist applies gesso to a canvas. It soaks in, and it calms things down. Then, time for the main cream, and for today’s application, I’m feeling the need to go straight for the night cream: a thicker, more penetrating concoction. I’m all-in for extra crinkle-control today. First, I dip my right index finger into the glass jar, and I dot and distribute the light-pink tinted blob on to my other fingertips of both hands. I carefully press, press, press it all over my face, starting with my forehead, then corners of my eyes, cheeks and around my mouth. I decided to put the same amount on my neck, with the same dotting, patting, and pressing. Standing away from the mirror now, I take off my towel. Besides my hair still dripping, I’m mostly dry, and I quickly hang my towel on the long bar to my right. When I turn back to the mirror, my face looks slightly shiny, and I flash a full-grin to myself. Time to get dressed. Something is missing.

One more thing. Eyes back on the sink line-up, and I see it: a tiny clear-glass vial the size of a largish grape, it’s liquid contents a sunshine-yellow hue. Instead of picking it up, I gently slide it on the sink towards me, just close enough to pinch it in my left hand in between my thumb and index finger while with my right hand, I slowly unscrew the white bulb dropper. Tap, tap, tap, and keeping my eyes on the dropper, it comes to rest right on the middle of my forehead, and only a couple drops are quickly placed. Without looking down, my dropper hand finds the bottle, and it’s cap is secured. Both of my hands now are immediately raised and cover my now closed eyes while my fingertips spread and methodically swirl the smooth liquid across my forehead and moving to the delicate skin of my temples and pat, pat, pat under my eyes along the rims of my orbital sockets. Full palms now cover my face, press, press, press, touching every part of it, slightly sticking to the layer of night cream in place. Better. Found.

What did I find exactly? I found that moment where all I’m thinking about is what I’m feeling with my hands, inhaling an intoxicating fragrance I can’t even describe found in a tiny bottle, and in the “doing-and-enjoying” of it, all other things can wait until it’s done. I’m preparing myself for everything going on around me: this road trip, the Thanksgiving holiday and rest of the holidays around the corner, and for the next wave of changes in my life that are happening fast. A most simple thing, like applying face cream for a few moments, is a kindness to myself when everything else seems so, so, so, impossibly hard. When I can’t seem to breathe through difficult conversations, when sudden tears flow in response to realizations of being alone, and the rush of memories are the only places where I find what I’m looking for, and of course when I can’t get on my bike or to the gym to deal: face cream will be applied, as many times and as often as possible. ~Paula

Thursday, November 23 – an added note

This is really funny, but after having arrived in Chicago at my parents house in early afternoon yesterday, it only took a short couple of hours for my dad and I to get to having one one of those philosophical “life” discussions. He has once again presented me with new information, which I now will share with you: his belief in “The 3Gs” – Gratitude, Growth, and Giving. As we are talking, I say “I think we should add a fourth “G” – for Grief – and instead of one leading to the next like you’re saying, maybe it’s kind of all mixed up.” Powers of suggestion, please don’t fail me now. ~P.

Ginkgo

November 20, 2017

Our leaf, our symbol of New York City and a reminder of our bond. This is the second ginkgo leaf that has just shown up at my feet in the past few days.

The first one appeared after a late night at my gym. It was raining, and I was walking fast to my car with my head down avoiding small puddles and dodging cold, delicate raindrops. About halfway to my car, I almost stepped directly on something I first thought to be a wrapper of some kind, but I shortened my stride which then placed my foot right behind it like an arrow, now pointing directly at it. What snapped into my view was a single flattened ginkgo leaf. Its shape pressed perfectly flat with the weight of the wet, and it was cast with a soft bluish-white color reflecting the parking lot lights. It seemed to just pop-up, right off of the black-tarred parking lot surface on a dimension layer of its own. The rain was falling just hard enough to make a pattern of vibration around it in the black, but the edges of the leaf were defined and crisp, and it almost had a “heart” shape.

I found myself refocusing my eyes on it, asking myself if what I was seeing was real. I glance around, I do not see a single ginkgo tree here. You see, I was having one of those philosophical moments with myself as I was leaving the gym, and as I was walking to my car, I was thinking hard about my self-worth, that I have gifts to give, but I just don’t know what my purpose in life will be now shadowed by grief. Who am I really becoming? Exercising has a way of getting those kinds of thoughts going in me, besides getting a good workout and breaking a sweat. I’m back to including the stationary bike as part of my workout, still keeping up with running and of course the free-weights. The weather has not cooperated for an outdoor bike ride recently, and I’m just not ready to commit to the winter layers yet! Never too much of one thing at my gym, but the need to do those things: running, cycling, weights, is like a checklist of logical steps I must take. The fact that I had to bend over a bit now to take a closer look at the leaf, reminded me that I left my glasses in the car. I found myself feeling raindrops on my back, and suddenly I’m continuing to walk through the rain.

Just as I reached out to my car door handle, I stopped short and turned around to go back to the leaf. I don’t take a picture, instead I peeled it off of the ground, and carried it back to my car. My fingertips are coated in rain and have quickly become cold, but I don’t remember feeling the cold and wet anywhere else. I put the leaf on my dashboard, and there it remains, and today its edges are now slightly curling. I accepted it as a “sign” that my thoughts at the time I was walking to my car were positive, good things to think of, and to recognize when I feel “good” and remember what that feels like. The “bad” feelings I have pop in whenever, that’s just a fact, but this leaf is a reminder that good feelings also happen.

This leaf I saw today is a bit like “dejavu.” I was walking out of my dentist’s office building shortly after the noon time hour, and just like a couple of nights ago, my foot stops short, this time pointing to a lovely butter-yellow ginkgo leaf. My thoughts today were of absolutely nothing. That happens sometimes, too. As I take in the sighting of this leaf and felt myself smiling down at it, I decided to take a picture because these colors together make me feel happy and peaceful. As I continued to walk to my car, I look around, almost in doubt of this “lightening striking twice” and of course there isn’t a ginkgo tree anywhere in sight. ~Paula

Feeling

Feeling the naked truth about grief – reading It’s OK That You’re Not Okay: Meeting Grief and Loss in a Culture That Doesn’t Understand by #MeganDevine – a clean perspective about what’s really messy. #grief

“Some things in life cannot be fixed, they can only be carried.”~Megan Devine

#FridayFeeling #griefrevolution #itsOKthatyourenotOK #MeganDevine

Reunion – Rabbit Pt 02

October 6, 2017

Only the truth being told, I have delayed finishing the writing of this particular story about my reunion trip. “Rabbit” is about my last ride on the east coast in Maine, before I drove inland for my return trip west and back to Michigan. To recall this day, this meal, and this cycling experience is overwhelming to me. Why, you ask? Because like a life itself, it cannot be done again. What was pure “bike magic” that afternoon and now to recall it, is to miss it terribly that it is over and gone. I am choosing to write about it now because ‘now’ is the time to remember it, to savor in the joy of what I found at a simple country kitchen in Maine, now a part of my heart and a symbol of so many things. The tears I will cry in writing about it now, will be tears of longing, remembering sights, tastes, and smells, and my gratefulness to have had such a time. Such is the same of missing so very much and remembering my husband, who had died one year ago as of today.

In real-time, on July 25th, I had posted pictures and brief descriptions on my Facebook, Twitter, and Strava accounts of a condensed version of my lovely visit to The Spurwink Country Kitchen. I was so excited to share what had happened. Now, please read the full story, really the “full plate,” all about delicious food and meeting Chef Uncle Don. You are invited to the table. Bon appetit. ❤️ ~P.

July 25, 2017 (continued)< i>For the first half of this story, please read Reunion – Rabbit Pt 01.< a href=”https://storyboardpzimapplez.files.wordpress.com/2017/10/img_5369.jpg”&gt;<<<<
entering the Spurwink Country Kitchen, I am greeted by two hostesses. Both are casually dressed, and one of them I immediately notice is wearing an orange polo shirt under an orange zippered sweatshirt: orange! Not many people have the confidence to wear orange. Instantly, I connect with her, and as I’m walking in and looking at her, my left biking-gloved hand whips out and I’m doing this pointing back and forth gesture from her to me and back, and I say, “hey, nice color you’re wearing, we match!” referring to my bright orange vest I wear for cycling. This is instantly followed by our exchanging big smiles and then our conversation begins. I keep eye contact with her as my senses explore the quaint diner-like atmosphere around me.

We are talking as she is walking me now through the length of this homey space to my table, and medium warm-toned, pine wood-paneled walls seem to glow around me as natural light streams through windows like that of a tidy cabin in the woods. I am brought to a table that could seat four, I choose the seat putting my back against the wall, an oil painting of sailing ships in soft blue hues hangs behind me, and I set my backpack in the navy blue fabric and metal chair to my right. The wooden tables themselves here are unassuming and their nakedness matches the cheery wood glow of the walls. I suddenly notice the decor is quintessential country in all its glory, down to the plaid window valances, open shelving with glassware in a corner, and metal-detailed wall light sconces. I can’t stop smiling, I feel like I live here, and just like at my motel room, if I did not have responsibilities to return to, this place could be home.

Adjusting my chair at this table, I feel like I’m a kid who just came down the stairs to see that Santa had delivered gifts under a fully lit Christmas tree, complete with the smell of warm sweet treats. Even music is playing in the background. The music here is piano-only music, it doesn’t matter that I can’t quite recognize the tune and I can’t find the speakers where it’s coming from. There is a real piano across the room, someone must play for special occasions. I sigh, marveling at these comforts, and then I see on the menu it reads “comfort food in a country setting”: if ever there was truth in advertising, here it is, and I’m laughing to myself half in disbelief at this plain truth. The second hostess wearing a navy blue t-shirt comes now, snapping me out of my daydreaming, and she tells me about the specials and asks what I would like to drink. Of course the iced tea is brewed fresh here, no question, my father-in-law would be so proud to know. I order Uncle Don’s meatloaf lunch special, and of course an unsweetened iced tea.

Sitting here now and waiting for my meal to come, I realize I still have on all of my biking gear, so I remove my orange biking vest, helmet, and reluctantly my gloves. My gloves can be tricky to peel off, as they are now, but I think it would be considered bad table manners if I left them on here. My phone is out, put to the side of the table in front of the empty seat next to me, filled by my backpack. I carefully pull out my little black and white notebook for writing now, and I immediately start jotting down my thoughts about today’s adventure so far. The addition of a notebook to use on this reunion trip has been really nice, especially when the phone seems to take too long to retrieve, the immediacy of pen to paper helps my thoughts come to life more easily, and I’m less likely to lose a phrase or detail I want to remember in words. The memories and impressions just flow. I also have a fine point click-pen I bought to use also, and of course I have a back up pen just in case this one gets lost. Keeping track of my biking things is very important now, all part of the steps and things that I like to do, that I can rely on, to be there.

Right now there are less than ten people seated around me, maybe 60 people or so could fit in here at best, so I am especially intrigued by a group of four across the width of the room to my left, maybe fifteen feet away at most from my table. They seem to be family, all adults, and reminiscing about this-and-that, mostly about who was doing what in the 1950s. I am not lingering on details of their conversation, but it is the feeling heard in each of their voices that I find fascinating. The lightness and excitement as they each add to the back-and-forth discussion. I’m suddenly back at the TKE reunion in Pennsylvania from just a few days ago, having heard the same musical notes and patterns of shared stories sprinkled with laughter. The ‘knowing’ of one another, even if time and location has separated them for some time is clearly heard, and I am wondering how is that exactly? How can people be suddenly back together in the present moment, maybe now so different in appearance from the passing of time, but find that commonality and comfort in the shared reminiscing, each adding a layer to the story being told like the making of stone soup? Stone soup: the recipe where people in a village each contribute a bit of something to nothing, making a huge batch of everything that can be shared and enjoyed by all.

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ontinue to listen and think about all of this, my eyes are still wandering around the room, and I notice the movement of the second hostess who is briskly walking on her way over to me with my lunch in hand. What she sets before me is something that I can’t yet touch. It’s the most beautiful plate of food, I want to take it all in with my eyes first for just a few short minutes. I tell my hostess how wonderful this looks. She smiles and says “that’s Chef Uncle Don, he makes it himself,” and I immediately follow with “oh, please thank him, this looks amazing!” After her “thank you, he’d love to hear that,” we exchange smiles and I return my eyes to my plate. The temperature heat of the hot food comes up to meet my face as I gaze on perfectly plated slices of meatloaf piled high in a white baking dish. It needed to be served in something with high sides to nestle the slices in the rich, brown gravy. Set beside the dish is a small side bowl of shiny, fresh green peas. Both the meatloaf and peas are fitted on a blue-rimmed dinner plate which holds the whipped mashed potatoes topped with more of the molten gravy. Someone please pinch me. This man, Uncle Don, must be an artist, and his medium is food. What he created here is a comfort food masterpiece, and I am so honored now to have the pleasure of experiencing his work.

In the summer of 2016, when Jon was really having difficulty eating because of his cancer, I too, tried to be a food artist of sorts. Instead of heaping a large plate high with generous portions, I was creating tiny vignettes on a salad-sized plate several times a day to feed him. I tried to make the quarter of a sandwich look like a whole sandwich by cutting it diagonally then dressing each area of the plate with complementary flavors and colors, little bite-sized somethings, all in miniature. When he would take even one bite, it would appear as though he had eaten more than he had. I think he felt terrible about his inability to eat, so my job was to make him feel like he ate a whole plate, even if that meant his only eating with his eyes by seeing pretty colors and designs, with his nose by smelling the most appealing flavors, and with what did touch his tongue would be his absolute favorites. Since Jon died, food has been a painful reminder of his cancer struggle, and every bite now that I eat has to be for good reason, and sometimes it is difficult for me to swallow with the sadness I feel so often of my missing him. Hunger is something I now know too well, and having watched the life of the man I love waste away under its grip, his being more fearful of the pain of having eaten more-so than not having swallowed a single thing, broke my heart.

My food anxieties are put aside, out of my view now, because I’m focused on this lunch in front of me: comfort food and it’s called Uncle Don’s Meatloaf Special. I put my tiny notebook and pen aside and take a few pictures of the meal with my phone before picking up my fork. I don’t waste any time trying the meatloaf first, its flavor is so savory and beefy. Each of the flavors placed in my mouth tastes like a long time ago before all of life’s madness began, back to a time of being innocently happy and very content. The group next to me are also eating now, I wondered if any of them ordered the meatloaf, too. Somehow I feel we are all guests at the same table, our silverware and plates clinking merrily in a funny, unified melody. I continue to look down-and-up from my plate to other parts of the room, enjoying every bite. There is a small dessert menu on my table aptly titled ‘Uncle Don’s Desserts.’ I begin reading the full list of assorted pies, puddings, cakes, even an ice cream sundae is offered. Surprisingly, I’m thinking about ordering dessert, not even having finished my main lunch. As I’m imagining what dessert sounds best while reading the menu and deep into working on my meatloaf, I hear a man’s voice say “I can’t hear the music, is it on?” And the next thing I know as I look up, the server in the navy blue t-shirt is walking toward me with a man who has the nicest smile and kindest face behind her. She smiles brightly to me and says, “This is Chef Uncle Don,” and I’m simultaneously shaking his hand and almost jumping up from my seat to chat, first and foremost telling him that this is so delicious and the best meatloaf I have ever had. It needs to be noted that I should know a good meatloaf, because I grew up in Pittsburgh, and I have eaten my fair share of different meatloaf recipes. (Y’unz, truth!)

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t to be eye-to-eye with this man, I want to make sure I look straight in to his eyes and that he hears my compliments, so I speak slowly and lean a bit to his right ear to make sure he hears me. He has salt-and-pepper hair, a boyish grin, and a twinkle in his eyes. Our conversation is heart-warming to me, I’m saying how thankful I am for his food, and as he asks me questions, I tell him about my adventures of biking in Maine and on the coast. I feel comfortable to tell him the why: my husband died last year, so I’m doing these ashes events, biking, and I write about my grief and all of it. He takes my telling him of this in stride and keeps a wide smile, our chat moves along and back to the topic of his food, of course. I feel comfortable enough to ask if we could take a picture together, he smiles and says “well, sure!” and the hostess takes our picture with my phone. Memory captured, we shake hands, and it’s back to the kitchen for Chef Uncle Don, and for me, back to eating my lunch.

<<<<
inuing to read the dessert menu, I finally notice that the name ‘Uncle Don’ is on everything, and honestly, now having met him, I feel him everywhere here. Even his plaid shirt seemed to have matched the valance curtains! I’m heartily eating, nearly finishing everything in front of me. I take a picture just to remind myself of this feat and being so relaxed here. I can’t remember the last time I ate this much food at one sitting. Most of the time, my eyes are bigger than my stomach, or I’ll eat a few bites of what’s there, but it just loses its appeal very quickly. I also have found that I am a slow eater, because if I eat with someone, I’d rather do the talking or sit with fork in hand watching other people eat. Sometimes food just cannot be swallowed if the table conversation turns to subjects that rattle my emotions, and in my effort to hold it together, my throat tightens and feels paralyzed and I’m only able hold the food in my mouth.

<<<<
eerful hostess returns, and I have questions for her about the desserts, specifically asking “what is the pie of the day and the crisp of the day?” The funniest answer: strawberry rhubarb. Both the pie and the crisp are the same, and I think this is so humorous because Chef Uncle Don doesn’t do all fancy, just delicious and simple. Still a tough choice, but I decide on the crisp, and then I am asked if I would like whipped cream. Normally, I am not a fan of whipped cream, but I say “yes, please” because I know it’s going to be good and I think it will be homemade here. Soon after, a bowl of hot strawberry rhubarb crisp arrives with a large plop of whipped cream on top, almost equal in proportion as the crisp, and cream is melting and pooling around the edges in the bowl, and I can’t take time for a picture because it needs to be enjoyed right now. Every. Bite. Eaten.

I really don’t know how long I have been at the Spurwink Country Kitchen. I don’t feel rushed, but I know I should be getting back to my parked car at the trailhead. My original destination of Cape Elizabeth will not happen today, and I’m okay with that because of what I found here, plus I’m determined to come back to Maine in the future. I happily pay my bill, and it’s time to think about those biking steps again: bathroom, charge phone, put on biking gear. I forgot to charge my phone while eating, so I find an outlet next to the piano, and while I use the bathroom, I leave the phone tucked out of sight on the carpeted floor. A little too trusting under normal circumstances, but none of this seems normal, so I go with my gut. Phone charged a bit and my personal needs managed, I click and zip on my gear last and say goodbye to my hostesses, Chef Uncle Don does not make an appearance now, but I have my photo of us, so I’m good. Out the door I go, it’s creaking seems a little less harsh on my ears, and I carefully clack down the two steps to my bike.

As I’m unlocking my bike, I notice an suv in the corner of the parking lot and a couple hitching their two bikes to the back. As I ride out of the lot in their direction, I find myself talking to this couple, and I say “Good afternoon, have you eaten here before?” For the next several minutes, I come to learn they are from Pennsylvania, and are new at doing bicycle touring. Suddenly, even though I am a novice myself, I’m gushing about my own little adventure and we are talking about Pittsburgh, Maine, bikes, and packing for trips. I’m showing off my new, black-zippered pouch I added to my bike frame for this trip, and as I’m doing show-and-tell, I notice the lady has a little dog. She tells me her dog’s name is Stella, and I really wanted to ask if their dog rides on the bike too, but I did not want to extend our conversation for another hour. That can happen when you ask details about people’s beloved pets. What a nice couple, but I really need to be riding back, having spent quite a bit of the afternoon enjoying lunch. We wish each other well, and I part with saying that if they have a chance to eat here, see Chef Uncle Don because he makes the best food. As the lady is holding her dog and they are getting into their car, I hear her say, “well, we’ll have to get one of those packs like that, she knew a lot…” her voice trailed off as I cycled back on to the road. I’m literally humbled by the thought of someone thinking I knew something about biking, as I feel I’m still so new to it and learning new things myself every day. The cycling community as-a-whole has been so overwhelmingly welcoming, and there’s something special about passing on to others shared information that I think I have learned so far.

The first thing I notice once back on the road is that the clouds have really broken up and a medium blue sky now meets with most of the treetops and landscapes as I cycle past, it just feels brighter. Sights look familiar, I’m trying remember which spots I told myself I would stop on the return trip to take a picture. The marsh for sure, that was near the beginning of the ride out. As I cycle along now, I’m thinking about my conversation with the couple in the parking lot, and especially about my bike. I like telling people that I bought it used, I’m happy that it doesn’t have every-single-thing strapped to it. I feel so much like it is a form of me, we are the same in having more life to live, despite a few scratches, and new things are added only if-and-when needed for a purpose. There is a strength I feel from-and-with Auriel, my bike, knowing if I ride through rough road or have a fall, I will be able to go on or get up because she is with me and understands: it’s what I do, what we do.

At my first turn from Spurwink Road back onto 207, I’m feeling a brief moment of that elusive thing called ‘certainty’ about the ride back. After making this right turn, I know that the next one will be a while, so I can ride at a faster speed, focus on what’s right in front of me, and not worry about missing a street sign. Maybe I’ll even get clipped in! Most of the time on my bike routes, I feel ‘uncertainty’ of knowing there is a turn I need to make coming up, but not knowing quite when I will see it. I’m in a steady state of anticipation, afraid to miss that turn and as a result, lose my pace, have to turn around, or become lost entirely.

< a href=”https://storyboardpzimapplez.files.wordpress.com/2017/10/img_5378.jpg”&gt;<<<<
oncentrating on what I see, taking in the colors, and the wind is filling my ears, when I realize that I may have made a turn when I should have stayed straight. Maybe it’s my mind having been lulled by a full belly of comfort food or just a dumb mistake, but suddenly things looked unfamiliar, it just felt wrong. Grateful for this feeling now, I turn around and continue back on the correct road. I’m nervous about missing my next turn to the left coming up, so I slow down to methodically keep an eye out for Eastern Road Marsh on the left, which I also nearly missed. With great relief, the ‘certainty’ of knowing that this path now will take me straight to the trailhead and my car fills me with calm and energy at the same time. I’m pedaling along, but once again this path has multiple walkers spreading across its width. I am thankful to find my ‘marsh photo’ opportunity which when I stop to do this, returns a sense of calm to me. Taking photos during my bike rides has its own steps involved, and I am happy now to do the standard shots: biking selfie, down the road, and the traditional landscape. I love the rich greens here, and the sky reflects delicately on the water’s surface. Before I know it, I’m back to riding with the crunch of packed gravel under my tires and I see the trailhead where my adventure began.

As I load up my bike, I begin to feel compelled to change out of my biking clothes, in particular these biking shorts. After a week of riding with only two pairs and despite the daily airing of them and washing them out mid-week, they carry a week’s worth of sweat, the road, and adventures on them. And I don’t wear underwear, so yeah, it finally hit me, off with them! Impulsively now, after checking that no one else is here except the dead in the cemetery behind me, I find myself having stripped down only to my sports bra, and I unzip that too. I’m standing basically buck-naked in the parking lot with the sun kissing my ass and all other parts of me. There is a soft breeze that has slowed time for me to just be here now in this state, raw and open. As I keep an eye out for people, I really don’t care who sees me, I’m taking my time standing at my car with both driver’s side doors open, routing through my biking bag and choosing what to wear for the drive on to Boston.

I feel warm now not only from my lunch, but from the sunshine that seems to have melted away all those clouds from earlier. Blue sky and my bare butt, I could be here like this for the rest of the afternoon, but the drive needs to be done sooner than later, so I get dressed very slowly, having chosen the new white board shorts bought in the Poconos and a raspberry pink tank top. Slip on shoes with no socks is mandatory to complete my driving ensemble. Now behind the wheel, my gps is up and I’ve got the address for my sister-in-law’s house loading. Seeing her and her family was a spontaneous decision made earlier today, she is unknowingly now a part of my adventure of seeing what I see. As I pull out of the parking lot, I give one last glance to my driver’s side mirror and my eyes pause on the cemetery view behind. I quickly bring my eyes back forward to the road ahead, concentrating now on the living, the next turn coming up, and wondering about what I might find to eat for a late dinner. ~Paula<<<<
gt;

It’s OK That You’re Not OK

I am reading and recommending:


It’s OK That You’re Not OK: Meeting Grief and Loss in a Culture That Doesn’t Understand by Megan Devine



I’m on “Part II: What To Do With Your Grief” and it’s a helpful and welcomed addition to #writing #cycling and #bikingtanlines – Thank you Megan Devine for this essential guide to grief that does NOT suck. #ItsOKThatYoureNotOK #MeganDevine #grief

Reunion – Rabbit Pt. 01

Dear Reader, If I sanitized the telling of my story and did not reference grief, I would be lying to you and myself. Read on, enjoy every bite. ~P.



July 25, 2017


Old Orchard Beach



I’ve been awake since 5:20 a.m., and my last morning in Maine is here. Today it is overcast, but at least no rain. I’m looking forward to being able to ride my bike. As I pack my bags, I have my second floor motel room door fully open again, to feel the ocean breeze and to hear waves and birds droning a tune that dances in my ears. I’m craving to hear every detail and put it in my memory to take with me, a part of the packing. I’m still undressed as I sit on the corner of my bed, the doorway view is a portrait image full of some of my favorite colors: hushed-blues, soft greens, and those stony-greys. If I could live my life from this room now, if I didn’t have to be responsible for other people or need to return to my current life, I’d happily call this simple space home. It’s nearly 10:00 a.m. by the time I reluctantly dress and get to walking down the open wooden steps with tacked on utility carpet one more time to check-out and to put my small suitcase, biking duffle bag, and light-blue backpack in my car.


More of Old Orchard Beach

I’m wearing my cycling gear for my last coastal bike ride on this reunion trip, and I feel confident I will return to this lovely state in particular for more adventures sooner than later. It’s one of my first location choices for moving to in my future, yet to unfold. I hope to be back before then though, there are more roads and beaches I want to explore. I walked down to the little West Grand Market, barely two blocks away, to pick up a pre-ride coffee. Upon my return, I meandered in between buildings, then over the dune through what seemed like an organized processional with grasses on each side of the sandy aisle. Old Orchard Beach, even in the cloudy-overcast light of today, has a glossy, pristine feel to it. Clean, calm lines along its shoreline, I don’t even bother to take off my slip-on shoes to wade in to the surf. I like how the seaweed gets tangled in my toes, feet, and straps of my shoes. It feels like soft feathers wrapping themselves around my ankles and even an occasional cat’s tongue licking in between my toes. I make sure to take my customary pictures of looking up and down the beach, several straight-out shots paying attention to the horizon line, and of course my feet next to my coffee cup.

Per my usual of this trip so far, I don’t have set plans or reservations for the next thing, just an idea of what I’d like to do and a bit of confidence that it will all work out. I wish I could apply that relaxed attitude to the rest of my life, dare I evoke the “practice makes progress” saying now as an attempt to reassure myself to start trying. The pessimistic-skeptic in me says it’s such a stupid thing to say now about “things working out” when it comes to my long-term health, finding a place to call a forever home, and *gasp* a partner to share some version of happiness: all of this wrapped up in a fat grief ball. If there is one thing I have discovered about grief, it’s that planned logic and expected outcomes now make absolutely no sense, and the opposite in the form of a “knee-jerk response” or a “decision on the fly” is much more satisfying. The way I can explain how that is, is this: for me there was such an abruptness to when death and loss had come, even though anticipated, the logic and order-side of thought now holds little meaning anymore because it does not agree with what I have now experienced. There is no answer for “why” this all has happened, only that it has, my whole world has changed, and I need to somehow deal. My confidence in good things coming is fleeting at best, it just feels wrong to expect a good outcome, I’ve now been trained to think the result will be most likely not good or definitely not in my favor.

This is my new language now, and I’m learning it’s not easily understood by others too far outside of the loss circle. I’ve found that even between other grievers sharing a loss, there can be misunderstandings or an unequal balance, kind of like the difference between Spanish and Portuguese. More learning and more interpretation required for all of it. The calling of my own grief tells me what feels right to me, and I am compelled to do it. Label it “self preservation” or “personal needs,” when the mood or moment strikes me, I’m doing it, whatever “it” is to work through a wave of grief. Even if this doesn’t make sense to you, it does to me. It’s my way of balancing and holding on to a version of my own sanity. Remember, I will lean toward the things that give me a feeling of a “happy” and avoid other things that cause tears and more pain. Tears and pain come anyway, and “happy” is like looking for a lost dog: as I call for it, I can hear it’s chain jingling, but it remains out of sight, all the while teasing me with its distance. Sometimes sadness is the only thing that comes.

Today’s ride will begin at an entry point on the Eastern Trail, Maine’s segment of the East Coast Greenway. I drove to the trailhead on Old Blue Point Road with its much-needed adjacent parking lot, within a ten-minute drive from my motel. After my rain delay day-off, I am anxious to have a long, all-day-type ride, but will be happy to make it from Old Orchard Beach to Cape Elizabeth. I’m thinking anywhere from two to three hours round-trip total. After this ride, I will be driving from Maine to Boston, about two hours south, for a short stop to see my sister-in-law and her family before driving on another four hours west and ending up somewhere along the New Jersey/Pennsylvania border for the night. My next, and final bike ride of this trip will figured out once I get there.

After parking my car in the lot just off of Old Blue Point Road which happened to be adjacent to Scarborough Cemetery tucked in the background, I find myself doing those familiar, comforting steps preparing for my ride. I’m ready to start. My friend here in Maine told me about this route, the East Coast Greenway in its entirety stretches a total of 3,000 miles starting in Maine, connects 15 states, and goes all the way south to Florida. I was looking forward to experiencing it here, maybe future travels would involve cycling along more of it: a possible bucket list item. The path was mostly packed crushed gravel. It was funny to me that I felt like I was on my way to Watch Hill Lighthouse again, Lighthouse Road to be exact, where people walking were the obstacles and everyone forgot to share the road. I’m giving out my sing-song “on your left” as several different groups of people had stretched across the entire width of the path. To continue on towards Cape Elizabeth, it’s a right turn back out into paved road. No more extra people, I feel like I can breathe again, and I’m back to my private thoughts.

Pedaling along 207 Black Point Road, I am getting hungry and hopeful that a cafe or restaurant will come along somewhere. As I’m thinking about food, another cyclist suddenly comes up on my left, he’s going at a faster pace than me. He says “on your left, hi” to which in my shock, all I get out of my mouth is a “ehyeeeeee-eeeee” kind of like I’m Arthur Fonzarelli aka “The Fonz” from Happy Days. I think the most ridiculous part was as I was bearing down on an incline, both of my hands were busy squeezing my handle bars, so my head did the snap-up-head “hello” gesture to my left side at the same time that my Fonzie imitation erupted from my mouth. Idiot me, my social skills feel non-existent. Suddenly though, I see this cyclist as my ‘rabbit,’ convincing myself that I could catch up to him and match his pace. Maybe at the very moment I catch up, we would come upon a cafe and I could ask him to have lunch with me. I can’t help it that I’m a sucker for wanting companionship, my ever-hopeful fantasy-brain kicking in auto-pilot pushing out my idiot hello-move and subduing my grief thoughts. That’s okay, I need a break from what’s not here, and I would most certainly welcome an impromptu lunch date.

Focusing on my rabbit who is wearing a white shirt, I now round a curve to the right and head into a downhill. I start pedaling with renewed enthusiasm, plus I’m ready for lunch! I follow him as best I can, trying to match his pedaling rhythm. I’m thinking about my long-term goal to be a better cyclist: to ride farther, ride faster, and if I’m lucky “do epic shit” which I had read on a cool pair of biking socks. If he pauses his pace and I keep up with mine, I could meet up with him in under two minutes. One more blind curve of this road, and suddenly he is nowhere in sight. He must have made a turn, but there are a couple directions he could have taken. I’m willing to follow a rabbit, but not willing to go down a rabbit hole, so *sigh* I’ve lost him, boo. The first priority is still food, so onward I go, keeping to my route, and wondering about what may come up ahead. I arrive at an intersection that needs my full attention, and after checking the map on my phone, I finally figure to make a left turn here, and straight on will take me to my desired destination.

The sun seems to be finding its way out from behind mottled grey and white clouds. The blue sky blotches in between are a pleasant backdrop for deep green trees lining Spurwink Road, equally pretty but so unlike the more-fully overcast, soft-beach colors of earlier this morning. I’m wondering how much longer it will be until I arrive in downtown Cape Elizabeth. The road seems to open up and be wider now, and just as I notice this, I see on my left a cheerful yellow and white building surrounded by a paved parking lot. The building appears more like a double-wide trailer, just kind of plunked down out of nowhere, all very Wizard of Oz. The sign post at the road tells me all I need to know: Spurwink Country Kitchen with a red, white, and blue flag that reads ‘Open.’ Looks like I’ve found my lunch spot.

Adding to my checklist of travel necessities, first and foremost locating a public bathroom, a place to lock my bike gets mentally noted along side the need to not miss an outlet to charge my phone. These, I’m learning, are very important details to help my travels be more pleasant, just a part of those ‘steps.’ My bike now finds its hitch along rusted black-iron railing that flanks simple steps leading up to the doorway. There is a moment of uncertainty as I open the door, hearing it creak mercilessly and my bike shoes making that funny ‘clack’ sound on the step inside drowns out my fears. “Just go on in,” I tell myself, “whatever it’s like inside, all will be okay.” From the stark exterior of this place, I am instantly transported to the coziest home-away-from-home interior space. Suddenly, I’m in someone’s welcoming large living room, dining room all-in-one. This is what I like best about that diner experience: its personal because it’s like walking in as the unexpected ‘where-have-you-been-all-this-time’ guest, sitting at their casual dining room table and you feel like you know the people and the place so well. I want so much to feel the familiar, to feel welcomed. This place wrapped itself around me now, and eased my sense of my feeling like I’m falling off of some precipice. [Rabbit Pt. 02 to follow soon, thank you, again, for reading.] ~Paula

Dimension

September 20, 2017


Dear Reader, 


Grief is a wall I have crashed into, sending me in unexpected directions. How many directions I will go, have yet to be determined, I’m just trying to figure it out as I go. There are so many ways I have come to experience loss. I am just one person, this is just my point of view of telling it how it is for me. It has been hard to acknowledge my own thoughts and feelings, and even more difficult to take in those feelings of others who also share loss. Writing out the breadth of my highs and lows reminds me that this is my life, acknowledges I’m still alive, and this isn’t some messed up dream I’m in where I can’t wake up. I thank you for reading and for holding on through my journey. Need I remind you, this is a love story after all, and grief is a form of love itself. If you find anything here, I hope it is this love that you hear most through my words and stories.~P.



A poem of transformation. 


Fingertips

The former me has been burned away,

the blackened charred pieces of me,

torn in large crusts.

Underneath, my flesh is hot and pink,

blood flow has ceased,

only a tear-like fluid erupts, 

out of cracks in between. 

My fingernails with their shredded edges, have clawed and scraped,

at the burnt remnants, 

they are useless to me now.

What remains is a human being in the shape of former me,

but forever changed, 

but forever marked,

but forever scarred.

To see me now standing is quite a shock,

my head is lowered staring at my planted feet.

I can feel your gaze and sense the tension in your mind,

wondering how this happened to me.

You’ve already seen me naked, 

I no longer need clothes.

I hide nothing.

I feel nothing.

I am nothing.

From this spot, I take my first steps, 

finding footing in the crunch of ash and wisps of smoke in my path,

my hands that see very little reach out now, 

steadied only by my weakened state. 

It’s time for me to look with my eyes,

at what lies ahead of me,

I already know what’s behind me.

My head is too heavy.

My neck is too tight.

My back is too broken.

Only my eyes can do the work,

slowly opening and lifting them now,

to find the horizon,

focusing on somewhere in the distance.

The murmur of voices surrounds me,

my name sounds unfamiliar in the chatter,

but I know it is us about whom

they are talking,

they are worrying,

they are crying.

Rain drops come now,

stinging, cooling, and soothing what is raw and tender,

this sensation evokes a memory of fingertips,

that once knew every part of the former me.

I stumble as my legs give way to the wash of emotion buried,

now returning to the surface of my new skin, 

helpless to stop it, 

swollen from the pressure of too much to bear.

The others reach out to catch me, they take hold of

my shoulders,

my hands,

my waist. 

Breath is heaving from my lungs, 

sound escapes from lips, 

tense under taut skin.

I don’t know how, but I am now walking, 

hearing my feet scuffing the cinders and feeling the pricks of shards through my soles worn from too much heat,

from too much everything.

I am bare.

I am tattered.

I am scorched.

Wet hair now hangs in limp ropes, 

silently drips while clinging to my neck,

draping on my chest and arched back.

I feel cold from every direction,

ignited by a wind that has now come, 

to blow away remaining ash and char, 

sealing every surface, 

and pressing my face smooth. 

Who will I become? 

What will I do?

Where will I go?

I am somehow able to walk on,

heavy enough to brace the wind,

light enough to withstand the rain,

the others are losing their grip on me,

my new thickened skin is slippery and cannot be held,

they stand behind me now with squinted eyes, 

eyes that do not see what I see.

My own reflection is of what surrounds me, 

it has made me invisible to them,

but to know I am still here, just listen

for my heartbeat,

for my breath, 

for my footsteps. 
~Paula

Dimension




For almost a whole year now, I’ve been exercising nearly every day. In those early months after he died, I’d even work out three times in the same day if I really needed it: cycling, weight lifting, running, or occasional tennis. It’s how I’ve dealt with my racing heartbeat and all of this anxiety in the dimension that me and my family now live. And now today, I’m making it official, I’m adding another kind of exercise program: my house. For so much of this past year, it’s been put aside, the innocent bystander to loss, now one of the most neglected in this healing process to a new normal. Piles of paperwork to be filed, shelving not dusted, things in place for him who will no longer be coming home. It’s time to get this place in shape and in good working order.

So it has begun: nearly three weeks ago in my closet. No longer our closet, he is gone and now he has been moved out. Distributed, reclaimed, shifted to those who will take on new ownership of the things that were once his. There seems to be invisible deeds and titles that have been signed by all parties to make it official. It feels right. My master bedroom and bathroom are also now just that, mine. It’s been a lot of hard work to make this happen so far. I’m checking in with my parents, my kids, and of course me, saying “I’m thinking of doing this, I need to put him in a proper place, the time has come.” The consensus I received was that ready or not, change was needed, mostly for my own sanity. What I see around me needed to calm my mind, and find that visual order my eyes demand.

Some parts of grieving are an ever-writhing sea, up and down the waves never cease, if I did not make this space in which I live comfortable, I was going to continue slipping under the water’s surface more often than I could stand. I’m no longer continuously gasping for air, and my heartbeat is just a bit more steady. Do not think that this is some grand solution “one and done” deal. As I clean up tools and little vignettes of his unfinished projects and things he last touched, the hurt and his absence overtake me, and I’m sobbing and sometimes collapsing on the spot. It’s kind of like a badly sprained ankle: I have to rest it, but I also have to use it despite feeling pain, it’s not going to be re-sprained, I will only feel the swelling, and every time I walk on it, it may hurt just a little less. Maybe if I’m lucky in the future, it will hurt and twinge only as a sign when rain is coming. Ah, if grief itself could actually be managed: not.

So now my kids are back in school. It was a long, sad summer. My relationship with them continues to be very fragile, and we are taking things slowly. I’m not the only stubborn one who lives here, and our trust in one another is starting from zero. I am the sole-surviving parent, and for them to trust me and to love me now is taking a risk for more loss of losing me, too. Besides, they see I am not the same mom they grew up with, they are in many ways looking at a new person. They are still wondering and skeptical of where that other mom has gone, I sense so much of their uncertainty. The three of us are all growing up under this one roof. And under this roof, I’m now exercising the acts of cleaning up, reorganizing, and honestly catching up with where our lives are right now. Most days it’s like skipping rocks on a lake. I keep trying to find that perfect stone to toss. I’m whipping it out with hopes of two to three skips, but truthfully I’ll just be happy if it lands in the water. Belief and hope are half the part of trying, success in the attempt itself in the very least. There is such truth to the difference between living in a house versus making it feel and be a home. As me and my two teenagers attempt to find our own truths here, so I hope to continue to put in the work of finding the new dimension in this house: this house that will now be made into our home. ~Paula

IrmaCane

September 9, 2017

So many people loved him. At times I think they loved this man more than I did. They certainly knew him for longer than I did, so it actually makes sense that they would. Just tonight, I popped on to Facebook, to see that Boo Kitty had posted a video today about Hurricane Irma, or so I thought. Suddenly, it’s about Jon’s ashes and I’m watching Boo’s private, yet public video from a dock in Florida of his sprinkling him into Tampa Bay, all the while loud winds are whipping Boo’s hair and ominous clouds are not far off in the background. 

I keep receiving texts, emails, and Facebook posts of these tributes by his beloved friends who received ashes I delivered in small packets to the TKE reunion in July. They are each having their own ashes event, a place of their choosing where they can say “see you later” and visit often to remember him. Not only is Jon now located in the three places he requested, but now pieces of him are everywhere. 

What’s funny is, at this point, I have given all of Jon away, but he keeps coming back to me through these messages. I’m honored, often tearful, and grateful he had these amazing people in his life. Slowly over this past year, several of these bonds of brotherhood and friendship have been transferred over to me and my kids. It’s kind of like his things in the closet: what was once exclusively his, we’ve taken new ownership of, and now it’s people that we are claiming as ours that once seemed to be only belonging to him. These new bonds and connections are becoming complete, seemingly one ashes packet at a time. ~Paula

Storyboard – No. 03

Home



I have no home.

I am a guest anywhere I am. 

I want to go home. 

The place I seek, I can no longer find. 

I want to find 

my comfort, 

my heart, 

my sanity.

I float now in the dense air of darkness.

Gaps in between stars speak to me.

Their presence that calls to me is the without, it is the absence. 

My mind is only playing tricks on me. 

The pinpoint stars cast high-relief shadows on my skin. 

I squint because I cannot decide on their distance.

I close my eyes tight to their brightness. 

The cracks on my pained face are filled with my tears that do not dry.

Air stings and presses the salted wet, more tears spill out onto my burned cheeks.

I know I’m falling now, but when I open my eyes wide, I have not moved from this fixed space. 

My fingertips throb yet are numb, a pale reflection of what’s inside 

my skin,

my mind,

my soul.

My body is being twisted from the outside in, muscles torn under the strain.

The stillness has wrapped itself around me, no sound is allowed to escape.

I have no home.

I am a guest anywhere I am. 

I want to go home. 

The place I seek, I can no longer find. 

~Paula

Ontario, Canada – July 3, 2017



Stripped

We have arrived on our island, and it is much smaller than I expected. There will be no place to run, and of course I am without my bike. Walking up from the dock, it feels like I’m going back in time to something familiar, but I have not been here before. Cabins of different shapes and sizes dot along the sides of the cement and stone path. Many of the structures are painted a bright, medium yellow, masking age and wear. It reminds me so much of the yellow-painted foyer in our Minnesota home of years past. It’s that kind of bright. Our cabin is down by the water. It is still being built. As we approach, I see it does not yet have its siding completed. It stands unapologetically naked, stripped of its skin, and it’s pose says “look if you dare to see what I’m made of.” This cabin: it’s like I’m looking at myself in a mirror. Like me, it’s underneath is exposed, it can’t cover itself up. That’s exactly how I feel on this trip. All of my feelings that I’ve been able to hide from family to this point, will not be hidden this week. I am only thinking about myself. All I can think of is wanting to find refuge somewhere, in my own bedroom maybe, to lock the door when I need to so the others do not see my sadness and hear me cry. I am determined this cabin will be my skin, my clothing. It will protect me. 

Ontario, Canada – July 6, 2017
Dear Jon, 

Today is July 6, marking nine months since you died. We set sail your ashes yesterday, but you already know that. I feel the air around me now like a thick, invisible fog. Sunglasses today are a must to protect my swollen eyes. What is left here of me today is like an empty bird’s nest just like the ones we would find in nearly every Christmas tree we decorated. I’m dried up, brittle, and kind of falling apart. I took these pictures today. I was thinking about you and our family. I love you. ❤️ Puskie

Place

Everything seems to be washed clean through the night, colors seem brighter, the air smells fresh. We are down at the dock getting ready to resume our fishing today. We will be having another shore lunch, cooking what we catch. I look out on the water now and I’m trying to see you. All I see is calm water, a clear blue sky, and a bright sun… like nothing ever happened. I wish none of this had ever happened. Maybe I’m really dreaming right now? When I wake up, you’ll be next to me, all of these nine months washed away. Better still, rewind before cancer, when we could have changed that perfect storm that lead to your diagnosis. 


Together

Cancer has its own twisted logic: it can bring people together or break them apart. I’ve discovered grief can do the same. This family trip showed me many views of togetherness and separation. It’s the pain, anger, and sadness of losing you that have been so difficult to share with our family. I don’t want to hurt or offend our family, but yet I feel like I have, and do. I’m guilty of letting you go. I’m guilty of being angry about being alone. I’m guilty of turning to new people and going public about our once very private life as a way to deal with my new reality. I’m guilty of becoming a new person I feel my family does not recognize or like. The risk of causing more pain to those I love is unbearable, even excruciating just thinking about it, and yet right now I’m doing it. Add to that, I can’t take in listening to how they feel, taking in their pain, adding it to mine. I doubt I can do it. So much weight. How do I hold myself together while supporting others, when I can’t even support myself? Is it simply not wanting them to see me in such despair, knowing that nothing will change the fact that you are gone? I see two boats, so close, dragged to shore, waiting to be set out in the water again to be useful, to do what they were made to do. They do not touch, but yet they are very much together. Communication by sounds of the water lapping against their hulls. If only being here now were that easy. 


Separate

I’ve walked away from the group, lost in thoughts of you, the “who is not here,” not wanting to look at what’s in front of me, all reminders of “who is not here.” I can’t go away and I can’t stay, both states bring sadness to my heart and torture my mind. Looking through these trees, this is a special scene. They are perched on the edge of this rock, holding it in place with roots that find their way through cracks and sediment. At this moment, I see each tree trunk standing silently, separately. To look out straight through them is to see the in between and how they are apart from one another. This is like my family now, each of us carrying grief in their own way. I only later realized that if I had looked up, I would have seen how they were together, their branches intertwining, leaves chatting in the breeze. Separate but together, it is a balance. We are each grieving differently, separately, but yet together we all grieve over you, our shared loss. We all love and miss you so much. 


One

If you want to find me, this is where I am. I will be waiting for you. ~Paula

Re-post: Primary Information

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. 

Challenge 
“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.

Primary Information

It’s All Relative

Sun blazes, 
You give warmth, light, and survival.
Who are your planets that depend on you?
Planet spins,
You hold life, death, and in between.
Who are your moons that orbit you?
Moon rises,
You play with water, trees, and my heart.
Who are your eyes that see you?
You there,
You are my love, reason, and gravity.
Who are your stars now shining beside you?
~Paula

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.

Reunion – Stay

stay

/sta/

verb

1. remain in the same place.

2. remain in a specified state or position.
noun

1. a period of staying somewhere, in particular of living somewhere temporarily as a visitor or guest.

2. literary – a curb or check.

Stay

The ship that once carried me, has put me overboard;

I am moving through time without an anchor, my body stretches to reach what it cannot touch; 

Waves of memories tousle my hair, I cannot see what is in front of me;

The sun breaks over the horizon, stay with me to see what I become in the light of day.

~Paula

New Haven, Connecticut 

I’ve had this image as my wallpaper lock screen photo since I snapped it almost three weeks ago on a beach in West Haven, Connecticut. A stop during my ride, I had attached my bike to wooden fencing that lined the paved path, taken off my shoes and stripped off my orange vest, and walked straight to the water. I waded in only knee-deep, but I imagined myself swimming out among the fish. The bottom was sandy with no jagged rocks or broken shells. I looked up and down the the coastline, and I could see the pier where Jackie and Pam were still fishing. I came back to shore where my feet made perfect impressions, and watched the water as it tickled my toes. It was just the right temperature. I was Goldilocks enjoying it all. 

At the time, I really didn’t know why I wrote “stay” into the sand. I didn’t think about it, I just poked my finger into the wet somewhere between too soft and too hard and scratched the letters that came to mind. I liked the way the low-curling waves made a lacy-curtain foam-edging above it. Each wave kept creeping closer to my writing, threatening to take it all away, but yet coming just close enough to decorate my photograph with its effervescence. The bits of seaweed in vibrant green and rusty red were like confetti that stuck to my sandy canvas, making me think it was a kind of handmade paper. I’ve had some time to think about this word. ‘Stay’ is not a necessarily comforting word to me, but yet I have been looking at it on my phone now day-in and day-out. It intrigues me, like a puzzle or a primary number. I think I now know what ‘stay’ means to me, and what it does not.


New Haven

But before I tell you about these thoughts, you should know what lock screen image came before this one. In early January of this year, I was really struggling with who I was in that present time. I had selected the photo below then, for remembrance and reminding. Three months had passed since my partner had died, all the technical milestone aspects of post-death were being checked off of an endless list, and my emotional avalanche was just beginning. I had mechanically gotten through the holidays and was pushed into the new year, and the kids were back in school after their winter break. At this point, I felt pulverized, shattered, unable to find pieces of me I recognized. What I found made me sad, so much did not make sense, and this is when I began grieving the loss of myself in this mess. I was trying to fix my grief through fixing me first: attempting to solve “primary problem number one” in the living world because I could not do anything about what was gone, dead, and ash.

Jon and Paula 

This approach has proven to be a double-negative because I know today that I can’t fix my grief, and I cannot fix myself in this equation either. My thinking that the past held answers or was somehow a foundation for my future is like drinking water: I may need to do it, but it has no taste and doesn’t satisfy me. But in January, I was determined, and dug deep back in time to find who I “used to be,” as a start to figure out “something” of who I am now. I began to ask myself tough questions, and the answers were sometimes hard to hear, acceptance of those answers are a “maybe” at best. When was the last time I was truly happy? Where did I feel most comfortable in my own skin and with whom? Who and where am I now? This photograph taken at our engagement party captured a moment in time that gave me hope. Hope knowing that the people in this picture then, Jon and Paula, had something real, had a purpose, and a willingness to give unconditional love. I wanted to find those people, and most importantly, ask them how they did it. 

Meanwhile, I was trying to recognize “me” in the mirror. I saw only the tiredness, my weariness of too much, for too long. Our journey together has left scars, some can be seen, others are only felt. If I dared to let you in then, you might try to tell me it will all get better and my wanting to believe you would bring a response of my anger and frustration because you don’t really understand. I wish I could believe you, I wish someone or something could make it better, but it can’t, it can’t, it can’t get better because it just hurts too much! I turned to pictures for comfort, to seek for what no one could help me find except myself: a pictorial holy grail to be filled with shreds, pieces, and droplets of what and who I once was, that I now would forcefully gulp down to try and satisfy the emptiness inside. 

Every time I looked at this picture of us from 20 years ago, I saw a me that I now only remember faintly, and funny enough, I still have that rose-covered dress in a closet. Yes, it still fits, I just tried the damn thing on now. My body despite its highs and lows, probably looks the same if not better now due to rigorous exercise and little appetite dealing with my anxiety. My daughter told me the dress was “cute, but so 90s” as she test-squeezed my shoulder-padded frame. Yeah, it was 1996, so if course it looks of that era in this picture, and so does my high-hair! Jon had his “rock star” hair going on, he always looked like he should be heading down to a beach to catch some waves on a surf board. On the weekends, he used to wear untied Timberland boots and ripped jeans at the knees, and some loose-fitted sweatshirt with the sleeves pushed up. My favorite sweatshirt was made by Fatigues, a Chicago clothing company he worked with, it was a soft wheat color that made his eyes look a shade deeper of twinkling blue. At this very moment, tears have spilled out thinking about that, and honestly, most of our time on the weekends (and whenever) in those early years was spent together without clothes on, but I will keep that description to myself.

In July, it had been six months of having the engagement photo on my phone, it was going to take a lot for something to replace it, and the new photograph seemed right. I did the switch in my Connecticut motel room, a private moment between me and my photos. I feel the scrutiny when I make decisions like this, as if somehow I’m throwing him away, and it can be just too much for me sometimes, enough of it! The truth is, I simply out-grew the emotional need to see that picture every day. This is the first time in almost a year that an image of Jon is not front and center on my phone. It’s one incremental step of my putting things in a new perspective. This is a small step, but it is a step. Besides, if I want to see Jon, all I really have to do is look around me. I can point around any room in my house and rattle off how each thing relates back to him. I don’t live in my home, I live in our home, and I think these constant reminders of him in his absence are driving me nuts. I’m being shown what’s missing, constantly, and I can’t see who is actually here: me and my two kids. We need to come first now. Our two kids: another reminder, they are the physical, living evidence that everything was real. Admittedly, the relationship with my kids needs the most attention, and it’s so difficult to give that to them, everything is out of balance.

This is my grief story. Everyone deals with loss differently, there is no right or wrong way, so I remind you now not to judge me. Grief is caused by love, so don’t think that because I’m now saying reminders of him are “driving me nuts” that I don’t love him anymore or that I want to leave all of this behind to forget history and what was once reality. In my reality now, it is time to move forward with “the living,” so I feel called to put “the dead” in a place that allows me, the living, to continue breathing. I’m under ground now, I need air, I need a lifeline or two. When I returned from the reunion trip, this became a painful realization to me: there is no place or space in my house that does not have him in it. He is everywhere here, and I feel sad here. The things remind me of what and who is not here. I cannot have my reality now rooted in sad things or “in place” for someone who is not coming home. Many of these “things” just need to find a proper place, on a certain shelf or place of remembrance, just not in every room. Some things I definitely could do without, like his shoes that my son has already outgrown. Which brings me back to the meaning of ‘stay.’

“Stay” is what we tell pets to do with a hand raised and stiff and as a way of making them not move or be in a frozen state until the magic word of “come” is spoken and they are released from their first command. I would make a terrible pet, I would be the one that would never follow orders. My owners would attempt to correct me with structured training with no avail. Most likely, I would become a stray released to the countryside rather than handed to the shelter, my owners offering me pity knowing the confinement would cause pain and terrible howling. No one would adopt me.

“Stay” is also a word in the title of so many songs about love, loss, and longing. Most all of the lyrics are pleading to someone: stay with me, stay the night, or stay forever. When we find what we want, no matter how fleeting, we don’t want to let it go, and if we lose it, we want it back. The notion of ‘stay’ is elusive for so many people, it’s a desire that most often does not get fulfilled. We sing through lyrics of a song wanting to produce these perfect storms of people coming together to be happy, to love, to hold on to, but the truth is: it can’t last. Everything, in truth, is temporary. Life itself is fluid and in constant motion. The meaning of ‘stay’ is not a solution to my loss, and it will not hold me in a fixed state. I will only allow it to move me forward. So as I remember being on that beach and making the letters in the sand, standing alone, looking up and down the shore, I know now what I was beckoning myself to do: stay in this moment because it will pass all too soon, stay positive because my heart yearns for more love to come, stay on the path even though I don’t know where it might lead me. ~Paula

Storyboard – No. 02

August 6, 2017 

This past July, part of me was left in Ontario, Canada. I look at my photographs from this very important family trip almost every day, but writing more about it and sharing here will take an extra toll on my emotions. There is so much to say about this trip though, it challenged me in unexpected ways, and it changed me. Today I woke up having had just a few short hours of sleep. Some days don’t want to end for me, and putting my head down on the pillow and closing my eyes feels like I’m giving in to the turning off of my reality. To remind you, my reality is that my husband died from cancer exactly ten months ago as of today. That one-year anniversary is coming up fast. Next month, September 6, is our wedding anniversary and it would have been a celebration of our 20th. Now it’s also going to be a date marking eleven months since he died. I’m on a space-time continuum journey every day in my mind, and the fractal of my life itself continues to curl and uncurl in its patterns. I’m trying to keep up with all of it.

In my moment of calm in the present, I’m looking at the first group of pictures that start the beginning of my trip to Canada. Here they are now, captions will do for the writing. ~P.




Sunset – To Chicago We Go

My daughter is driving. This sunset is pulling us out of Michigan, a guiding star of sorts to begin our journey. The road construction never seems to end, no matter the season. There were endless trips to and from Chicago for his chemo treatments. Every bump in the road reminds me of this, and each one causes me to tense my muscles, trying to brace for the next one. There’s no going around them, only through.



Bemidgi, Minnesota – Lunch & Weather

There are few states that take their weather so seriously, Minnesota is near the top of that list. Beautiful wooden beams, taxidermy on display, and weather radar at a glance have brought back a wave of memories. We were all seated at a large round table here. It is difficult for me to swallow my food, my emotional state did not allow it, my napkin is scrunched up in my hand, at the ready for those tears that continue to spill out.



Rainy River – Border Crossing

I brought my husband’s death certificate and our marriage license in case there was any question of my traveling as a single parent. My children are constant reminders that my life with him was real, they are the “living proof” of it.



Dock – Lake of the Woods

I am here. I am smiling, only on the outside. Just keep moving, I tell myself. The car has been unloaded, the boat has been loaded. We will soon depart for our final island destination. 

Ontario, Canada – Kenora Thistles

I found this scene at the dock where I parked my car. Somehow this trailer looks more like a tombstone to me. I had never heard of the Thistles, so I took this picture for later research. The Kenora Thistles were an amateur team who won the Stanley Cup in 1907 verses the Montreal Wanderers. Kenora was the smallest town of a mere 4,000 people in 1907 to ever claim the Stanley Cup. It seems their legacy is in part now located at a boat dock in between a blue wooden trailer building and the beginnings of a scrap heap.
~Paula

Reunion – Shifting Pt. 04

This is the conclusion to Shifting. For this story in its entirety, please see previous posts of Reunion – Shifting Pt. 01, 02, & 03, plus see other posts about this biking adventure under the title Reunion. The Reunion stories will continue, there is more to be told. Thank you for reading. ~P.

Cycling centers me, it’s my first choice, the one thing that I can pick over doing so many other “have to dos” or “should dos” without resulting in a feeling of being stressed or anxious. There are steps involved and an order to the “doing” of cycling that I have noticed from this trip: packing my backpack, unloading my bike, putting on my gear and my helmet. Each step of the biking process gives me time to be myself as I am now, I go somewhere on the road and in my mind, and I am in control of how fast or slow I do it. Even though going down the road of my “grief moments” is ever-present, when I’m on my bike, I have to concentrate on my direction in real time: that’s the centering. Grief waves may come, but it’s all about the ride and doing the biking. I reminded myself of this over and over again on this reunion trip. That’s what I’m doing now as I ride up Lighthouse Road, focusing on the “all I need to do now” which is keep bearing to the right to get back to Watch Hill Road. From there, I decide to take Ninigret Avenue heading east. In considering my wanting to stay closest to the water for my route back, Ninigret will be the arc to the next part of my ride in this direction. It will be a different return route from the way I came.

Ninigret is an odd name. Since I am fascinated with street names, I am imagining now it’s some kind of bird or surname of a someone. It turns out Ninigret is the name of a sachem (chief) from the Niantic Native American Tribe who lived in New England in the 1600s. The honoring of the dead and the “in memoriam” history of this area surrounded me on this ride and others like it, and when I allow myself to look just under the surface and take in what others have lost or look at what has been, like those tiny sculpture magnets, these details are noticed and stick to me. Death may be all around me, but right now it’s taken me all the way to Ocean View Highway.

I’m in my favorite third gear now, but neither shoe is clipped in, and I tell myself over and over it just doesn’t matter right now. I’m thinking about being on Ocean View Highway which connects me back to Shore Road. Shore Road 1A has a “home base” feel of the familiar once there, it would be easy to keep on and ride back east to my motel now and call it a day, but this ride is far from over. I want to still be by the water, so at the next light, I turn right onto Maplewood Avenue to head south again, back to the coast, the beach. I need to be there, it’s part of the ride. I want to see it and feel it. I like this road because I know where it’s going to take me.


Just after my turn, I manage to clip in my left shoe, but before I can get my right to clip, something completely unusual comes up on the right side of the road. The right side does not have house-after-house like the left, what it does have is a special tree standing there. Have you ever wondered what possesses people not to take down their Christmas decorations? You know that house that leaves their icicle lights hanging all-year long from the gutter and every time you drive by, you find yourself looking at them and meanwhile it’s just what you don’t want to see in July? Well, this was a fully decorated Christmas tree upon first glance. I ride past and had to turn around to do the double-take. I’m glad I did. It was a magnificent real pine tree covered in plastic sand-toy shovels, molds, and buckets of all colors, sizes, and shapes. This was not just any decorated tree. There was a carefully crafted wooden sign that gave it its name: Rich’s Beach Tree. Small, kid-sized plastic beach chairs and other plastic toys dotted its base, it seemed to me anyone was invited to join in the fun. I parked Auriel next to it, she looked like a present herself, and I took a few pictures.
After enjoying this stop, I had a wave of something hit me just as I was walking my bike back on to the road, call it a vibration: why would someone have this here? It had to be a memorial of a special kind for Rich. My heart sank at the thought, but it seemed to make the most sense. The love and care put in to every toy hung on every branch, the chairs, the toys. It was beautiful and sad at the same time. Was I looking too deeply at this through my grief-filled eyes? Was it just a fun joke, a play on words, or an art installation? I see the loss in people who have it, their own grief shadows peeking out. I see other signs of remembrance in symbolic gestures like a piece of jewelry worn, a family lunch gathering, a simple bowing of someone’s head at a certain spot and that person being deep in introspective thought of their special someone. I decide no matter for what or for whom the meaning behind Rich’s Beach Tree stood for, I am thankful it made me stop and take a picture. I chose to see the happy side of Rich’s Beach Tree.

Lost in thought, suddenly I found myself at the end of Maplewood and had arrived at Atlantic Avenue. It was time to turn left, and I laughed to myself about how many other people think of the game Monopoly: “I would like to buy a house please, better yet a hotel, thank you very much.” Riding along I see again, people are in pairs or groups, all seeming to be doing something important. Am I doing something important? Does any of this really matter? I have self-doubt that eats away at me about if any good will come from me “mattering” at this point, after all, the one who I mattered most to is gone. I am beginning to form the word in my mind that best describes my situation: UNCERTAINTY. This word and it’s meaning is the f-word to me. It’s a curse word of the worst kind. It now hangs around my neck, and squeezes it with unyielding pressure whenever it wants to, causes me to have nightmares, and makes me doubt the sincerity and reliability especially of new people in my life with every breath.

The counter-balance word to the “U-word” is REASSURANCE. Like a small child in the back seat of a car, I’m constantly asking “are we there yet?” I need my driver and others in the car to tell me over and over, “we have about 30 more miles” or “we are where we’re supposed to be” or “you’re okay, I love you.” I need people with a specific degree of patience or willingness to be there like this for me. I’m finding that not many have the time, but the few who do, calm me down and make me genuinely smile. The “R-word” may seem needy to some, but it’s how I best get through each day. Right now my reassurance is found by stopping at a path that leads to the water of Block Island Sound. Without taking off my shoes, I carry my bike with me, looking slightly ridiculous tromping through the sand to the water’s edge. More people, doing important things. I focus on the sound of the waves, I look at the color of the wet sand after the waves wash and unwash it, over and over again.
Back on Atlantic Avenue, the sand that has collected at the road’s edge where I now ride makes a gritty sound under my tires. I hope I don’t have too much sand in my biking shoes, they just appear a bit dusty, a chalky version of black. The landscape changes quickly, and Misquamicut State Park on my right is a large parking lot area backed by a grassy mound that rises up hiding the view of the water. To my left is Winnepaug Pond, and this setting reminds me of Sandy Hook Beach in New Jersey. Rewind seven years ago and Jon was living and working just outside of Princeton. The kids and I would drive out from Indiana to visit and spend as much time as possible with him. Our family’s move to New Jersey was planned, but then didn’t happen, our lives were spinning and we were not finding solid ground. Jon never came with us to this beach, but my kids and I loved it there, you could see Coney Island on a clear enough day in the distance. I am sad about this bittersweet memory. I stop now to take a picture of the Rhode Island Parks ‘Thank you for visiting’ sign, and just as I was starting to go down that path in my mind that thinks about past things I wish I could have changed or done differently, reassurance comes. It comes in the form of a note to my phone from a friend, I see the time is 5:55 p.m. as I am reading it, and I am snapped back to the present moment, smiling. Now back to the biking.
A few short minutes later, the grass is replaced by beach homes on either side of the road. It’s a lovely little community. I find a parking lot and beach access path and just like earlier, I’m hauling my bike down to the beach. There are kids laughing and still full of energy, it feels late, people are mostly packing up from their day here. I lean my bike against an empty lifeguard chair tower, I read only in part the posted guard sign ‘on duty till 6:00 p.m.’, they are on time. I don’t feel the need to take off my shoes, just standing here looking up and down the shore is so nice. I walked back to the guard tower, and as I am picking up my bike, about five rambunctious boys storm the tower and are climbing to its top. I look up to them and say “Hey, are you guys gonna be lifeguards one day?” They are smiling and in the middle of some game, but I continue, “you know, it’s an awesome job, you could be in that chair all the time and help a lot of people. Have fun!” I give them the knowing-mom side-eye smile, they heard me. As I reach the wooden walkway to the parking lot, I’m wondering which one out of those five kids will really do it and become a lifeguard. Just one, my little seed of an idea of what could be may have a chance to grow.

Just as I plop my bike down to get back to my ride, I see this spunky grandma lady carrying a heaping plate of something covered in shiny aluminum foil. She is a tiny woman carrying this plate in one hand, and her large white purse hung over the same arm. She appears to be on a mission. Suddenly I ask her without even thinking “What’s so yummy in there?” to which she and I exchange smiles and she replies, “It’s pizza, would you like some?” How amazing that she would offer me, a stranger, a slice just like that, her hands full! I tell her how kind she is to offer and say no thank you because I need to get back to my ride, and I wish her a great evening. I have a feeling some of those boys from the lifeguard tower were her grandkids and she was coming up to be their hero with the pizza. She needed every slice for them. As I bike on, I am thinking about that lady and her joy and love of life that I saw shining through her. Her grandkids are so lucky to have her in their lives.

After I continue to ride along Atlantic Avenue, I watched one cyclist in front of me nearly crash as his wheels slipped in the roadside sand, I’m thankful for his catching himself. I am reminded that for a cyclist, innocent looking sand can become like black ice for cars. I move my bike now out of its range, just to be extra cautious. I feel the sun waning to my left, just slightly, as I merge on to Knowles Avenue, then find my way back up to 1A via Noyes Neck Road. As I turn right on to Shore Road, I begin to think of what a long ride this has been, so many different people and things to see along the way. Shore Road turns into Post Road Route 1 and continues to have its unique roadkill sightings of dead birds and single beach shoes every so often. Up ahead is a traffic light. I see E Beach Road, the original road I was planning to take from the start of this ride.

I may have a problem with being impulsive. E Beach Road will not be missed on this ride after all. I make the right turn, and down the hill I go. I have my left shoe clipped in, it’s time to go for the right again, and just like that, both shoes are clipped in! This residential road is my new jam at the moment. At the bottom another parking lot to ride through and to the path where the sand begins. I hoist my bike and get to the water. I had been taking pictures separately from my bike most of today, but this one at the beach is for the two of us. I don’t know what time it is, but it feels late, the sun is quite low, nearing the horizon filling it with warm tones of yellow. The ride back up E Beach Road did not include clipping in, but it was still a good jam. Post Road seemed to come all to quickly.

As I ride back to my motel now, I am replaying this day in my mind. I started with the utter frustration and sobbing at not being able to clip in. I can say I clipped in with both shoes on the one road where it felt like it mattered the most, even though it was brief. I had a really good lunch, and I found the lighthouse. I thought a lot about shifting on this ride: I like third gear best. I like the feel of the tension, having to work a little harder, I like a slower cadence. It feels both methodical and purposeful, unlike my mind which is bouncing all around with ten or more thoughts at once, often exchanging the three tenses of time: past, present, and future. The slower cadence at my feet helps my brain get organized, like those steps in getting ready for a ride, there’s an ordering and a doing that I prefer and works for me. Is there any right or wrong gear to be in anyway? Isn’t it up to me to decide what works best for each situation? I’ll take the position that shifting is more like suggestions or basic guidelines, and it’s really about what feels good to do at the time. Shifting gears is a lot like grief: there is no right or wrong way to do it, most of the time you just have to go with what feels good at the moment in response to the road ahead, and above all you have to keep pedaling through each gear change so you don’t get stuck. ~Paula

Reunion – Shifting Pt. 03

Why I did not see this conspicuous street called Lighthouse Road doesn’t surprise me. I realize now that I biked right past it earlier. Something so obvious can sometimes go unnoticed by me, simply because my mind may be really elsewhere. It’s my grief shadow: me being physically present without really being there mentally because I’m pondering or focusing on something grief-related: ironically in this case, I had been trying to push grief aside as I was riding down the hill preparing myself for possibly feeling grief. In trying to put effort to staying in the moment, I actually missed it in the form of Lighthouse Road. Chalk-up one more for the speed wobbles.

This sounds like the beginnings of a joke but it’s not: I have come to learn that when widows meet up at a restaurant for dinner neither is really there at various points of the conversation, but because we are widows, it’s okay not to be okay, so we get each other’s “ins and outs.” We are in good company, extra grief shadows welcomed. It’s us plus the ones we’ve lost. This is probably the only “acceptable social exception” to what for any other group, our occasional spacing-out may come off as rude, disingenuous, or others at the table would want us to just snap out of it. If you or someone you know is grieving a partner, I am here to gently tell you that there is no right or wrong way to feel and express loss and please don’t try to fix this grief, spacing-out and all. If you need those people to come back to the table, put your hand on theirs or brush an arm with your touch. We will come back grateful to see you. Speaking for myself, please understand there are so many sudden turns that lead me away, down the road of grief. I do my best not to get too lost.


Lighthouse Road

Now I’m staring down the curve of Lighthouse Road and again I can’t quite see things clearly beyond the deep green hedges that line both sides of it, and to that, add picturesque homes at the horizon that have probably appeared in one lifestyle magazine or another. Only local cars are allowed here, if everyone were permitted it would look like Lombard Street in San Francisco. I weave my way downhill, and I figure out quickly that worse than cars there are people standing in the road in groups or pairs plus there are speed bumps at various points, so it’s very slow going. I’m so glad to be on my bike, it’s the best way to navigate through. Finally the people and hedges clear, the road straightens out a bit, and I see it: Watch Hill Lighthouse. The lighthouse is perched on a gentle grassy mound, a green just a few shades lighter than those hedges. The overcast day suits it perfectly. It’s stark white form stands surrounded by strong hues of various rock types. It’s a lot of different textures, but it all works together to make a pleasing scene.

Watch Hill Lighthouse, Rhode Island




Paula at the lighthouse.



Auriel 



I rode to the lighthouse, and passed through the open chainlink gate. I walked my bike past the building to water’s edge, there was no going down to it though. I enjoyed being higher up to see out as far as my eyes could reach. There was something about the wind pressing against me that held me together here. With the lighthouse at my back, I felt protected, I could concentrate on looking ahead and didn’t have to worry about what was behind me. I’m in this moment, and it’s not about the lighthouse, then I automatically start taking pictures of myself using the self-timer. I’ve figured out that I can prop up my phone in the new pouch on my bike and with a lot of back and forth, something eventually turns out. I don’t know how long I was there, but I stood the whole time, it just felt ‘right’ to do so. As I am leaving, I notice that the rock walls are covered in a very distinctive deep-ochre lichen. This is a color I love because I am a fan of greys, browns, blues and especially yellows. I stop to take a picture of Auriel and her midnight blue frame against this lovely lichen wall backdrop. It’s nice to see two things go so well together.

Biking away now feels good, I have a smile on my face. I didn’t feel that rush like someone is missing while here. What does that feel like anyway, you ask? It’s like being out somewhere and you suddenly remember you left the bathtub water running. Sudden panic, heart beats through your chest and all blood shoots out of your brain as you’re trying to figure out how you’re going to get back home as soon as possible to shut it off. Only you can do it. All the while, you’re thinking about the water everywhere making a mess, and you’re wondering how it was in the first place that you left the house without noticing it was still running. With too much blood in your brain, the body feels empty and weak, muscles squeeze and contract calling the blood back, but their call goes unanswered for what feels like hours. While finding your way back, you pacify yourself by saying “sometimes things just happen,” but deep down you know it’s just your own stupidity, and the fact that you allowed those horrific thoughts to come forward causes your breath to be taken away. Lies and truths are often mixed together. It’s hard to tell what’s real and not real. [Reunion – Shifting Pt. 04 to follow. Thank you for your continued reading.] ~Paula

Reunion – Shifting Pt. 02


July 24 – continued

It’s Monday mid-afternoon, and I’ve just come to terms with the fact that the rain will not be letting up anytime soon. No biking for today. Having a day off after three straight days of adventures is a little disappointing, but I’m sitting in my second floor motel room with an ocean view, my door is wide open, and I am listening to the waves crash while hearing kids laugh in the pool below. Wet is wet for them, certainly makes no difference in the pool, plus it’s heated. The dreary steady rain heard dripping on the eaves just outside sounds like a fusion jazz tune. These sounds all together are my current playlist. I just got back from walking two streets down with umbrella in hand to a food market. I was glad to find they sold alcohol. Wine, not for me on this trip, beer, yes. I pick out four single one-pint cans with beach themed labels that if I were back in Michigan, I probably would not find. If I can’t have my sunshine outside, I will find it in a can of beer, no doubt with names like Shock Top and Big Cranky. This outing is about finding lunch that may just turn in to dinner tonight, so I also buy a Chobani strawberry yogurt, something called a Roltini (mozzarella stick wrapped in pepperoni), a box of Pepperidge Farm crackers, two large waters, and a Kind breakfast bar. 

The lineup.

Cracked open Landshark Island Style Lager in hand and crackers at the ready, I’m back on on my bike in my mind, writing about my journey to Watch Hill yesterday. Once the decision was made to continue past E Beach Road cycling on Post Road heading west, I felt better about not having both shoes clipped in. When something isn’t able to be solved at a certain time in my life or even a given day, I find it’s the little choices made at the moment that give me the biggest boosts of confidence and help me to keep on with the larger picture. Remember, I’m not a patient person. Traffic is fairly light, the bike lane is generous, and with skies overcast but bright, things are looking good for this ride. Clips be damned. After one stop at the intersection where Post Road now becomes Shore Road, I’m feeling “golden” pedaling through bearing left on to this road. ‘Golden’ to me means I’m going to follow along on Shore Road for a bit and I don’t need to think about a turn coming up, and especially no need to double-check my direction. I’m able to work on my speed, albeit with only my left shoe clipped in.

From Shore Road then left onto Watch Hill Road, the course did not disappoint. I love quaint Cape Cod-style architecture and there was plenty to admire along the route. When I downsize, if I don’t choose a condo, this is my future comfort-zone kind of house. I’m also picking up on a distinctive near-requirement level appearance of tall green hedges lining streets and properties and overflowing blue hydrangeas in peak-bloom marking driveways. Once I traversed to the peak of Watch Hill with its historic-looking large cottage inns lovingly cared for, I’m not sure where exactly to go from here. It’s those hedges in my way. I honestly did not research this area other than wanting to go all the way to the west-most tip of Rhode Island and to be as close to, if not in fact, in the water of Block Island Sound. I decide to a talk to one of the polo white-shirt-wearing security men in smart khaki-colored Panama-style shorts now seen at various points along my route. I ask him how to get to the water. He explained to just keep riding straight all the way to the bottom of the hill. “The lighthouse will be after the two pillars,” he says while gesturing with his arms in an ‘it’s good’ field goal formation. We smile at each other warmly, and he kind of looks at me with a “you have no idea what you’re getting into” smirk, mirrored sunglasses and all. Thank you for that information, smirk duly noted.

Top of Watch Hill.

I get my bike situated to start down the hill, and as I look ahead, I realize it’s like West Rock Ridge Park all over again: finding the lookout spot, and how emotion overtook me. I don’t want that to happen again. I don’t know what I’m going to find when I ride down this hill to the water, but I need to brace myself to deal with my being alone while doing it. I imagine myself just standing there, wherever I will be in the next ten minutes, and finding comfort somehow in just enjoying the moment, the present. I don’t want to think about what’s missing, just what’s here: me. Hopefully, it’s just not that impressive and I can avoid the potential grief wave entirely. Once at the bottom, a beach area is to the left, and people milling about are to the right. There are food and clothing shops with azure blue canvas awnings lining the street. Also, in the street is a steady steam of cars bumper to bumper and the sidewalks have people in pairs and groups all looking like they’re doing something important. I overhear a woman’s intense conversation retelling about her friend’s reaction to someone showing up uninvited at some gathering. I ride through this scene unrestricted, and resolve to get some food because I don’t see the lighthouse or the field goal pillars. 

Rhode Island style “natural broth ” clam chowder.

The root beer float cupcake.

I will avoid fried food and too-large plated servings of steaming whatever 99.0% of the time. Today was no exception. I found the Bay Street Deli to have exactly my kind of fare: sandwiches, soups, salads, and desserts. I zero-in on the clam chowder, and I decided to go for the Rhode Island ‘natural broth’ verses the New England ‘cream style’ – after all, I am in Rhode Island and I want to enjoy the preferred local favorites! Dessert is also purchased: a never-seen-before root beer float cupcake topped with a straw and a Maraschino cherry and a warm chocolate chip cookie. A Nantucket Nectar drink will work too, plus bottled water. I settle in to my lunchtime meal, sitting at a cafe table on the sidewalk. I can see where I’ve locked my bike about 15 feet away, it’s attached to a street sign pole in between one regular and one recycling garbage can. I’m smiling at the thought that no one would want to get too close to take my bike from there anyway, even if it wasn’t locked, the stench is too bad there to get too close. I continued eating, writing, listening… and wondering where that lighthouse is already?!

Looking for an outlet to charge my phone while on a bike ride is like being a pregnant woman always needing to know where the bathrooms are located. I made this realization after finishing lunch and getting ready to attempt to find the lighthouse. Since I’m using Strava, I want to make sure my phone doesn’t die en route and my ride becomes a fish story with a lost ending. I speak from experience. The beach house office worker was kind enough to let me plug in there, and I used the waiting time to sit and let my food digest and observe the carousel. The last time I saw a working carousel complete with organ music was at the Indianapolis Children’s Museum over 12 years ago. This one wasn’t nearly as large, but it set the mood for the little ones and people were doing their photo ops. 

Phone topped with an adequate charge, I ride up the hill in first gear now leaving the beach area behind, hoping to find one of those security people to ask about the lighthouse. I didn’t even think to ask the beach office group. I came to a ‘T’ intersection just past the hill’s crest, and a heavily-mustached man in the standard security outfit stood-out there. He reminded me of a walrus. He said the lighthouse was at the end of the road behind him, and as he’s saying this, I see the stacked stone pillars on either side of him and this high-hedged lined street. [Reunion – Shifting Pt. 03 will follow soon, continuing this adventure.] ~Paula

Reunion – Shifting Pt. 01

Old Orchard Beach, Maine – view from my balcony today.
It’s raining. It’s Monday. I’m on the beach in Maine. I drove nearly four hours last night to check-in to one of the most quaint motels I’ve ever stayed. It smells like some kind of floral-brewed tea mixed with fresh linen in my room, or maybe it’s Lysol? My hot water shower was much appreciated after the night before, and especially after a full afternoon into evening of cycling on Sunday. While getting my bike route figured out at my car yesterday for that ride, a woman in the parking lot and I briefly chatted. She asked where I was riding to and I told her up and down the coast. She suddenly, but nonchalantly, says when she does her rosary devotional later today, she’ll pray to Saint Sebastian, the patron saint of athletes for me. Leave it to the Catholics, there’s a saint for everything and everyone. I thank her, a little bewildered about her offer and wonder what she’s doing at this motel. I don’t ask people I meet those kind of questions, we just usually talk about what’s happening, information voluntarily given, and topics just pop up. I can add prayers to saints on the list of those topics. 

After my successful morning ride to Dave’s Coffee, I had returned to my room to gather my thoughts, check in to social media, and get to some writing. While writing, I am crying as often happens, and there seems to be a pattern to this part of my day. Just when I’m having that good cry or realization, a text or note comes to me that makes me laugh or feel not so alone in my little grief-filled world. The next time you reach out to someone, remember your timing is everything. No matter when, say it, send it: knowing when it is received, you will make someone smile and make life a bit brighter having those few mysterious moments of serendipity between people. It’s what makes us human. We are here on this shared earth to connect with others. My take on receiving a note from someone now makes this large world feel more intimate, distance erased, and gives me encouragement to keep on, especially through my tears now. 

Writing now done, tears dried, it’s time to concentrate on today’s route. I’ve come to learn Rhode Island is only 37 miles wide and the portion of the south-western coast end where I’m wanting to go is only about 25 miles of it. Since I’m starting out after 1:00 p.m., it’s possible to do it all, but I’m not sure how it will go because surprisingly there are hills to factor. Hills have been my welcome surprise of this trip: Pennsylvania, Connecticut, and now Rhode Island are what I would call “first gear” states. When in Michigan, most climbs for me have been achieved in some version of “second gear,” now I’m back to my roots of mountain biking from 25 years ago. Those steady unyielding climbs, feeling just the right tension to make it to the top, “first gear” does it and there is no stopping, only pedaling and mind over matter.

I plan a route south on Post Road to then turn left on E Beach Road which will take me to East Beach. Biking along the coast, it’s important to me to ride along the water as much as possible. I chose to wear my black clip-shoes, hoping to work on my speed and have something other than the leisurely ride from this morning. As I start out, I can’t clip in. These clips, I’m trying and it’s not happening. I thought it would get easier every time, but it’s not. I burst into tears as I’m pedaling because I just can’t do what I want to do. I want to write down this note and how I feel in a small notebook I bought just for this trip and moments like these. As I slow to a stop, and place my right foot on the pavement, directly beside me I see a dead female Cardinal. Now I’m full-on sobbing not only because I can’t get clipped in, but here is another dead bird! I’ve come to believe that Rhode Island has only two kinds of roadkill: dead songbirds and random beach footwear. I’m pathetic at this moment, and I just don’t understand what the universe is saying to me right now. 


Seeing this bird, I’m reminded of my Stockton to Plymouth ride and the Bullock’s Oriole found in a similar state. My first reaction after tears is to take a picture. (See my previous writing “Bike Magic is Alive and Well.”) I feel it unjust to describe what I did with this Cardinal, but know that it now rests in peace without being bothered anymore. I’m back on my bike, notebook tucked away in my new accessory bag, it’s time to go. I come to the intersection at E Beach Road and there is a green light, no stopping required. Instead of preparing for my left turn, I make an instant decision: continue on all the way to road’s end. You see, as I was deciding a route for today, I kept looking at the southern most tip of the state and instead of saving that for later, I said to myself, I’m doing it now. 

Pedaling through the intersection, I kept trying to clip in, and finally my left foot is somehow clipped, but the right clip remained elusive. So similar to my grief: I’m in a 50 percent or less success rate despite trying over and over again to manage some form of happy most days in this life. My life is my bike itself, and when I am clipped in to only one pedal, I’m dragging it around like a snowboard. It’s awkward, I feel like I’m going to tip over, and I feel the weight. Who’s attached to who anyway and is this a healthy relationship? Again and again, I come to the same conclusion: I want to be clipped in with both feet, me and my life now working together and happily pedaling along in that push-pull balance from both sides. I pedal on and hope it will come together at some point.~Paula [To be continued in Pt. 02, it’s time for lunch. It’s also much colder now and I’m putting on several layers. Still haven’t gotten out on my bike. I just noticed it’s started raining again.~P.]

Reunion – Reminders


Today is Sunday. I’ve been traveling since Thursday, and a lot has happened. I attended the TKE reunion on Thursday night into Friday, but I feel like I’m still there, in a continuing thread of being shown lessons of what it means to be a lifelong friend, a lover, and how to tell a good story. As I was preparing my bike for this morning’s ride to Dave’s Coffee, I had a wave of thinking none of this matters, this whole trip of mine changes nothing. Jon is gone, he can’t be brought back from the dead. I can ride all I want to, but I won’t find him anywhere, just my life through a pale lens because the color of everything seems less so. 

The guys at the reunion were wonderful to me. They have all known each other now for over 35 years. Some are regulars at their annual gathering, And I met others joining this weekend for the first time. Watching them greet each other, laugh, and hang out, it’s like no time has passed by. They embrace each other and just pick up stories and conversation as if they’re all 19 years old again. My husband’s absence is palpable. I look around and can see an empty space at the breakfast table where he should be. I know what special commentary or laughter he would add to a funny story being retold for the “unknownth” time. His closest friends here share my shadow of grief, I see we are all trying to be here without him, but our eyes meet and we know who we are missing at the bar and at poolside.

I gave his ashes to Toots, for safe keeping until they do what they’re going to do this weekend. I feel like I should have given more of him to them. I still have ashes left over in my pottery jar. The same jar that usually holds a flower he wore the day we were married which will be 20 years this September 6. It’s in perfect condition, albeit instead of a peach color, the rose is now a honey light brown. I am just like a caretaker at a lighthouse. I don’t own him, but I’m just wanting everyone to have the light they need from him to guide them now in their paths forward. 


Pam and Jackie 

I drove from Pennsylvania to West Haven, Connecticut on Friday evening. On my morning ride along the beach of Long Island Sound, there are several piers that jut out into the water. I randomly chose one, and I saw that there were two people at its end fishing. We start our conversation by their telling me they just finished cleaning up garbage that was strewn all over, almost apologetically to me. I’m fascinated by these two women. Jackie and Pam from Waterbury have been besties for over 24 years. They are wearing near identical-colored shirts and have similar haircuts. I’m watching them like a ballet performance as Pam reeled in a Red Robin and Jackie meets her catch with pliers to undo the hook to toss it back. Pam tells me the secret formula to their bait: beef bits marinated in mackerel juice. I feel like I’ve just received Jesus in fishing-lore form. 

As we continue our chatting about fishing, before you know it, the pole is offered to my hands to reel in what’s at the end of the line. This is Pam’s wanting me to see what it feels like. It was another Red Robin, it makes a funny clucking sound and it is quite heavy. I am so honored to be a part of their fishing day, this is such a treat, especially when I came out here just thinking I would be biking: cyclist-fisherman no problem! I was so happy to be with them, mostly because I miss what they share and they welcomed me to be a part of their world. This brief encounter meant so much to me. I felt their bond of love in unspoken words just in the form of synchronized movements, something I now long for, and I found it randomly at the end of a pier.

For my afternoon ride, I drove north a bit to New Haven. There was a large state park area that surely had some kind of trails. I parked at Pizza Heaven II, liking that name and thinking when I’m done pizza sounds good to eat. My adventure in to West Rock Ridge State Park began with a steady, large gravel road climb that didn’t stop. I literally hear the voice of Tyrion Lannister saying “You’re in the great game now,” as my ascent seems never-ending. Not really knowing where I’m going to end up, I’m looking around as I pass parking lookouts, mountain bike trails marked with stacked stones at the entry points, and then I see it: to my left as I round a bend, smooth rocks are at the crest of what could be a private look-out. I see the trail that leads up to it. I walked my bike to its peak, and I am brought to tears. In part, because of the view, but also because of what’s missing. This place is meant to be shared. My bike is a poor substitute (sorry Auriel) for what should be two people standing here. First, holding hands to steady each other from the climb up, then slipping into a knotted embrace, looking out at the scene, but then turning to each other to see the happiness on each other’s faces. Feeling the moment of these thoughts wash over me, I put them aside to figure out how to use my self-timer on my phone for a picture of just me. I think I’m turned a bit in the photo because I’m feeling a ghost of who should be here. I stay back from the rock’s edge. There is no one to catch me if I slip. 

My phone battery was dying quickly, mostly because of poor picture taking. I wanted to complete this recording on Strava and not have another Pleasant Lake experience. My phone died on that excursion in Michigan, and I never made it to Pleasant Lake despite estimating almost 50 miles of a trip. Heading back in a cautious decent, I found my trail just ended at one point, and I’m asking myself where did I lose it? I was able to correct myself, thankful for being first and foremost a mountain biker. I made it back to Pizza Heaven II and enjoyed a slice and a good chocolate milkshake. Onward to Charlestown, Rhode Island.  

There is no solution for loss and grief. I know that. Doing this road trip alone, the first of many to come, is helping me find something I need: visual order in the form of my seeing life as it is now. There is no visual order to grief, I’ve been responding to things as they come in to my view. It’s chaos, there is no certainty to every day, there are nightmares when I’m awake. I’m not a person who chooses to “let go” of myself, I’m choosing instead to “go to” myself. This trip has given me a chance to do things in “an order” that raw grief won’t allow. Grief can have me going all over the place in my mind, missing steps in thought or jumping around in attempting at getting tasks done at home without really finishing anything. 

Every day so far I feel like I’m accomplishing something important: Loading an unloading my bike, discovering a route, eating at a simple restaurant, finding at a motel without having a reservation. Insignificant things maybe to some, but to me these things require steps and an order and ways to do. I have to look at my surroundings, I focus on details that grief would otherwise like me to miss or ignore. As I meet people, I have told some that my husband died, about my biking, or some version of my story. The motel clerk lost his wife to cancer 12 years ago and still wears his wedding ring and a watch his wife gave him that has stopped working. We agree that grief cannot be fixed, and how ironic that his watch can but he chooses not to. It’s all a part of his grief, an extension of his personal story of loss.

It’s an overcast day today. I’ll be leaving my car at this motel for the afternoon as I ride. I want to be by the water: Block Island Sound. There are other things to do here involving nature, and as I rode to Dave’s Coffee this morning, I saw all the signs to turn left or right, but I reminded myself why I’m here. It’s about the biking, seeing what I see from the point of view of being on my bike. So I am starting off heading west and then south on E Beach Road. The hours of this day are moving just a little more slowly than the one before. Just enough time to see what I see, find good food, and after a full day locate my next place on the map and go onward. I’m thinking about New Hampshire or Maine to visit next.~Paula

Reunion – First Ride

A notebook, suncreen, and a bikini. These are the items I forgot to pack. I’m riding my bike to a beachwear store in a few minutes to pick these things up. Beachwear, in Pennsylvania? Yes, because nestled in along with dense tree-filled hills, golf courses, and winding roads are elaborately designed water parks and swimming pools. This is also a destination for lovers. The most important item, though, that nearly got left behind was his ashes. How could I forget, you ask? it’s the main reason for this trip.  Grief does this to me. It causes me to put sad thoughts or things I need to do out of my mind and replace them with those happier thoughts and things I’d like to do that make me smile. Plus, for this trip, I was not only packing myself, but also helping my two kids. My teenagers have their own trips while I am here. I was spread thin. I’m glad I remembered to put my bike on the roof carrier at least. Now on to the shop, it’s less than a three mile road ride away.~Paula

Reunion

Jon is the bald bearded guy (almost two years in to chemo treatments) in front row center. This picture is from the Tau Kappa Epsilon annual reunion in 2014. Jon died this past October 2016 from cancer after a nearly four-year battle.



I have no reservations and no set plan, I’ve finally figured out what this trip is about, just that. And being okay with it. Is this the one? The one trip without my kids that will clear my head, give me clarity that I am somehow missing right now? What am I looking for anyway? I know one thing, the need for simplicity in this ever-complicated life that I’m in seems to be always out of reach. Maybe that will be my mantra for the next few days: find the simplicity. You should hear me laughing at myself about that goal right now, so easy to say, harder to do, and most difficult to achieve. Fuck it, I’m doing it, my body will go forward and my brain just needs to catch up. I’ll be bringing my touring bike, my beloved Auriel, to share the journey.

The prompt for this road trip in the first place is to deliver packets of Jon’s ashes to his TKE brotherhood at their annual reunion this year in the Pocono area of Pennsylvania. This was a highlight of every year that Jon looked forward to, and the anticipation of getting together for golf or fishing, food, and endless story telling was built up in laugh-out-loud texting between them all in what felt like months in advance of this rambunctious weekend. Jon will attend this year, only in a different form. My eyes are burning now as tears well up about the meaning and importance of this. Jon would have wanted this, and I am doing it especially for those who could not attend his official memorial service last November. 

So Thursday into Friday, I will visit with these beloved people, and I am looking forward to their embraces, hearing stories, and having good laughs. I’m sure I’ll be crying too, but it all is the same to me anymore: raw emotion just spills out most of the time unannounced. I will not conduct some ashes service, I will leave that up to them in their own way and time. Friday afternoon, I will drive east, following along to the coast. There are a few state parks and landscapes that I hope to come upon, stopping where my sense of direction leads me in several states. Cycling through and around to see what I see. I’m trusting in a bit of bike magic to help me find my way, plus I love what I drive, so if the road feels good, I’ll be on it listening to playlists at a volume that syncs with my heartbeat. 

On the return trip to Michigan, I will visit my Dad back in Pennsylvania. We haven’t seen each other in several months. This past May, it was one year since my Mom died, a mere five months before Jon’s passing. My Dad is hanging in there, finding his own way. He sees white butterflies that comfort him, and I am grateful for their watching over him in my absence. Time is standing still for him in many ways now. Maybe that’s another reason why I can’t stop moving, and want so much to go somewhere: for me, but also for him. “Watch me, Dad, I’m living my life to its fullest despite my losses. I want you to be proud of the woman I am, know that our father-daughter bond of love we worked so hard to keep is irreplaceable, and that we both desperately miss the people we love.” 


I picked up my bike yesterday from my shop. I finally got around to getting my gears adjusted so I’m not pulling up so hard to get into third. I added two water bottle holders and bought a pouch to mount for easier access to my phone. While checking out, I met one of the owners, Dawn. Before I knew it, I was babbling to her about this trip, and my story of loss. She said, “It sounds like you’re going to have quite an adventure.” I told her that I’ve put in over 500 miles in cycling on the road as of this week this year, and that biking is a way that I deal with my grief. It’s just what I do. I look over at my bike, smiling at it like I’m gazing at a best friend, and also tell her how much this bike is like me: it’s used and has a few dents, but when I saw it, it was perfect for me. This bike still has plenty of life in it and many more miles to go, and so do I.  Let’s face it, this bike is me. Here we go, our first adventure together, together indeed. ~Paula

Storyboard – No. 01

One picture of me. From me. To you. Please read on, I have another gift to give to you. But first, let me tell you a little bit about my time spent in the past nearly three weeks. This post is meant to be a beginning of my story, I don’t think there is an ending to come for some time. Keep in mind, I will never do anything half-assed, nor am I quick about getting it all out all at once, so thanks in advance for being patient with me. Patience is something I have struggled with continuously at every turn of my loss, so I know from experience the effort it takes to do it. It’s a lot to ask for, especially if you are like me and want to just get to the point already. You are invited to listen, to read, there is so much more for me to share. Patience.

On June 30th, our family journey to Ontario, Canada, to fulfill Jon’s last of three ashes requests began. I took pictures over the next six days. Other than the drive up, I actually wrote very little while there. All words and thoughts were floating on the same choppy liquid-surface in my mind like those dead mayflies on the lake, some stuck together to make bigger forms, others floated away and disappeared under constant waves. My mind was numbed with a steady trickle of alcohol, the rocking sensation of the boat that followed me to dry land, and I was anxious being in close-quarters with fellow-grieving family members without being able to go for a run or a bike ride. I found a flight of steps that led to the docks to use for sprints, but I had an unfortunate fall while running up, so that didn’t last for long. Lesson learned: drinking a beer before stair-sprints is not advisable. Our island had really spotty wifi that would not connect in our cabin at most times when I found a quiet moment wanting to check up on the rest of the world. So in lieu, I took pictures, I spent time with family and resolved to be “present” as best I could, and I went fishing. I think I only caught four fish over the whole week, my only claim-to-fame is that I caught the first fish of the trip. A nice walleye. Other than that, I caught mostly rocks.

I found some refuge being in the boat when we would go at full-tilt to our fishing spots through the day. Driving the boat was also somewhat of a thrill. It was kind of like my skateboarding, but with a positive outcome of no wrecks. I need to feel speed, vibrate from sound, and have the rush of foreseeable risk-taking. It’s how I now know I’m alive. I will say, while I was following our other boat in front of me, I encountered speed wobbles in boating. It was hard at first for me to keep up, and I was trying not to get caught bouncing in the wake. I was concentrating on figuring out the hand-eye coordination of pulling the steering handle to my left toward me to go left, and then pushing it away from me to turn right. A lesson in opposites. I managed, but when there were times needed for reverse, those rules would be the opposite of opposite, and I would get them mixed up going forward again. If you’re confused about what I just described, now you see my point. 

I went for a run last night at my gym. While running, I thought about how best to organize all of the photos, which stories of my heart and mind mattered to share, and especially if any of it is worthy to take the time to write about. As I stared ahead in thought, I found myself seeing the running lanes on the track like it was for the first time. It’s funny to me because most things I relate to biking now, and I notice the four lanes look like my chainring, but instead of three gears, there are four. When I run, I usually use the third outside lane, kind of like using my third gear on my bike. Parallel disciplines, but it’s the same damn fractal of my life in a different scale all over again for me. I decided to run in the fourth outer lane for the rest of this workout, and I’m wondering what it’s like to have a fourth chainring on a bike, if that’s a thing even. I’m going to ask about that when I take my bike in to my shop this week for a little gear tune-up. 

So why only one photograph today, knowing that I have so many to share? To start, I love looking at faces: photographs of faces, artwork of faces, and especially real faces. I like looking deeply at all the little nuances that make up a person’s uniqueness. I feel in my mind that I can “know” a person by looking in their eyes, learn of their life’s journey by following clues in the lines on their skin, and see what’s in their heart by looking at the hidden corners and finding features that hold secrets and true feelings. Faces matter a lot to me right now, especially because I’m trying to understand new people that I meet and see in those I know what they are trying to say when words are not, or cannot, be spoken.

My life is all about “process” right now, my design education coming full circle. Did you know the best way to know you are experiencing good design is when you don’t notice it? Truly great design just “is” and it makes sense: you like what you see, feel, and experience, there are no glitches, stopping points, or frustrations. When designing, I may not be so concerned about the end-product or solution, but more about the journey of the process in getting there, to discover the set of something that explores possibilities, looks-at and lays-out things from as many angles as my mind can think up. So where am I in my “life’s process”: my re-entry after loss, you ask? I’ve met a few new friends, I’ve reconnected with old friends. Family is getting to know me now, we are all meeting each other on the side of grief and shaking hands, our emotions still sometimes raw. The upside is, as I’m adapting to seeing my life and other people with my new grief eyes, I’m also learning new things about myself as I am now. The “highs and lows” revealing what makes me laugh, what excites me, how my life works with or in contrast to others. New friends are helping to shape and see the “new me,” old friends and family are reminding me where I’ve been, who I was then, what’s similar, and especially what will never be the same.

I think a lot about love. Why not? If it weren’t for love, I would have never had something so precious to lose, I wouldn’t be in this predicament in the first place. In fact, today I had a new question on my mind: so what do you do if you’re not in a life fulfilled by love, a happy marriage or blissful partnership? More so, do you love fully, is this something you, yourself, need? Do you even want to love? Is your heart open for that? How do other people deal when their desire and openness for love goes unmet? There is no question concerning an answer for my own life — I want so much to live again with love: fully, completely, madly, as much if not more than before. Its form is unknown to me, and yet I am willing to take the risk, to hand over the keys when the time comes. This is a whole research project in my mind. One of many, actually. As I try to figure out “me,” I look to others and their examples of lifestyle and coping skills about love and many other topics. It’s been a while since I had to pay close attention to anything else besides my little world. I’m trying now to reach out. I’m trying to get some answers. Process.

So, back to my photograph, this one in a series since loss, the ever-evolving face of me. This one is special, taken on the 4th of July, one day after the official arrival to our island somewhere in Lake of the Woods, and the day before our ashes event. We all had just returned from a full day out on the connecting lakes and waterways. Our family of six and our two merry guides enjoyed a day of fishing including a legendary “shore lunch.” It was a beautiful sunny day, I had leaped out of the boat to swim, the water was the perfect temperature of cold with occasional warm currents swirling around and through me. After we all arrived back to our cabin, a short rest was had by all before dinner. My hair was made wavy from a lake-water wash and air-drying by the breezes that played with it. The sun had kissed my cheeks and nose, bringing out freckles and a rosy-glow. For the whole day, I was never still, my mind and body were in sync doing new things and had been equally active, now equally exhausted. I’m alone laying on my bed, the two pillows beneath my head are fluffy and brand new, the window to my right is bringing in light of early evening: still bright but the sun is waning in intensity ever so slightly, just starting to need rest. I still feel like I’m on the boat, but it’s a feeling that mixes well with my beer that I had just cracked open. I feel the day all over me as I lay here. I’m in no rush to get to dinner, I’m in the moment of it all. Present.

And in this moment now, I am ready to make my point, and share my gift to you, freely given with my sincerity and hoping you accept it with as much meaning as you have capacity to hold. I want to give you a version of the “Buddha’s smile.” To receive it, first lay down some place comfy for you. Next, look at my picture and concentrate on my expression. Notice my eyes are fully open, but relaxed, I am not only looking at you, but in to you. Can you look at me the way I’m looking at you? Let your mouth find a smile like mine, no tension to your lips, but a curve of a smile at each end that continues in to your cheeks. The weight of the air gently presses softly against my skin, smoothing out tension and keeping those lines that show the length of my life lived up to this point to come forward. Do you feel the air now on your face? Let it hold you, caress your forehead, sweep across the entirety of your cheeks, and find its way in to your hair. Hold this expression and feeling for as long as you can. Do you feel lighter, do you feel less of your weight that you carry?

As you continue to lay there now, I also have a wish to give just to you, to place in your heart if you’ll have it. First, I wish for you to take time to think about not exactly where you’re going, but just enjoying your life’s journey. Savoring every moment, being “in” the moment whether it’s a “high” or a “low,” either is part of the larger journey. There are lessons at each end, and in between when least expected. Next, I wish for you to find joy in your “process work” of the life you’re living. Let it emerge from inside of you like a candle’s slow burn. Don’t rush, design your life with thoughtfulness so that you may live it from every angle. Make your life count, worth all the pain of it, see through to the next day even though you’ve got so many hours left of the shitty one you might be in. A long time ago, when I was lost in my very early twenties, I found a saying for myself to see me through rough times: “every day has a beginning and an end, there are only 24 hours in a day, no two days in a row will be exactly the same.” I thought of this after our trip to Canada. I was reminded through these words that “now” is only a point in my longer journey, not the only point in which I stand fixed forever. I was overwhelmed with coming back to this house, back to my source of loss, my decisions, and the gaping hole filled with nothing. I had captured a positive moment in my portrait, my selfie above, to help me remember what “being present and at peace” looks like when I’m having a rough time. So I can remember to hold on, savor the burn just a little longer, while thinking of another angle. Now I pass it all on as my gifts to you: Patience. Process. Present. Peace. ~Paula

Hook

I’m trying to catch something. An unfortunate minnow is skewered on to the surgical finite tip, its body wriggles in protest by doing what nature gave it to do: fight for flight (or to swim in this case) for survival. This is the perfect lure for the most hungry, the most curious. The minnow is at its last rodeo now, as I cast it out in to the choppy lake waters, my jigging hook attached as a symbiotic twin has taken control of all movements of the other. These same waters that gave it life, now will bring it to its certain death. I imagine this minnow wishing to get it all over with and just make it quick. 

On the other end, my pole has begun a dance. Reeling in slowly, jerking to find the balance between too loose and too taut for the line. The blue-tinted line is in high relief against the tree-lined shore behind, at its transition to water, the view of it flickers in sync with the boat’s cradling and rocking like a song that can’t find a tune. My eyes fixate on the tip of the pole. The key is putting it in position with the sky as its background to create a sharp contrast, so my eyes will see an immediate change. The change I am looking for is a sudden bend, felt ever so slightly through the pole to my hands. My response must be a simultaneous flick at my wrists, pulling up to ensure that my tempting minnow morsel delivers its bite.

Fishing requires patience. It demands a willingness to put in hours of time with no guarantee of reward. It’s for those who can somehow find optimism through repeated failed attempts. You better like the people that share your boat. Not that there is a lot of talking, but because when something is being reeled in, an unspoken synchronized union must be made to help with a common goal. Even if you are successful, you might not be able to keep it because it may be too small or too large, or maybe it’s the kind with too many bones no one wants for eating. There are merits to sharing in someone’s fish story, and best repeated by people who generally like you. 

The boat’s movement has lulled me into a state of feeling buzzed. It might be a combination of the bright sun gaining height behind me, the boat itself, or maybe the alcohol not yet worn off from last night. I’m a bit dizzy and my head bobs slightly, all the same. I have found myself tucked in a ball at the bow. The waves lap against the boat’s metal frame, adding to the cacophony in my mind, now echoing a smacking sound like someone is being struck on their behind incessantly. I like sitting here because I get to see out without an obstructed view. Turning my head to the right, I see my boat-mates concentrating on their efforts, turning to the left is a calming picturesque landscape. Straight ahead is my pole, and suddenly I see it’s bending hard. Awakened from my droning respite, I jerk my pole in one quick motion, the line stiffens and pulls. 

All attention is given to my gripping the handle, after giving the hard jerk response, and carefully reeling in what will surely be a gift. My pole continues to arch sharply down, the boat rocks, and my crew looks up to join in my efforts in spirit. Everyone is perched to offer help, when something is drawn to the surface. I am lost in the reeling, it seems to be taking too long. I feel the pull, but not the movement deep below. I shift my rod from left to right, trying to find where it’s going. This creature is either pulling the boat and taking me somewhere or perhaps we are cancelling each other out with a push-pull inertia-type result. I can feel my face contort with that all-too-common wrinkling in my forehead and pursing of my dry lips. I push this tension down to my arms to hold on tighter. 

All at once, there is a spring-like release. The once stretched line has come away, if it weren’t for my ball formation with feet wedged, I surely would have fallen back and not caught myself. I can now freely reel my line in, and whatever was on it, is surely no longer there. I am now wondering about that minnow. Is it still at the end, still being offered to whoever will have it? My cranking takes a new pace wanting to have an answer. I’m leaning forward now, gazing over the side into the water, dead white mayfly carcasses are sprinkled on its surface like leftover cereal in milk. The line comes to me, the yellow-hued jigging hook suddenly breaks the surface. 

The minnow is still attached, its deep green skin drips with the tears of its long journey. Only it knows what happened out there, out of my view. What I could feel through the pole was like starlight, it was not received in real-time but a memory travelled to me, my hands now feeling stiff from exertion. I can see that it has lost its tail, it is no longer twitching with that fight for survival. Is this the only thing I will have caught? I can’t let it go to waste. Alive or dead, this minnow is still good bait on my hook, surely something will be curious enough to bite. I carefully prepare for my next cast. I stand now, facing straight off the bow like a ship’s figurehead, the pole’s handle in my right hand, I’m ready to cast again. As I swing my arm back and forward, my eyes keep track of the minnow. As the line whizzes out above the tree-lined horizon in to blue sky, I see the minnow in contrast to it, leading the way. It finishes with a “ploop” disappearing into the water. I decide not to sit for this one. As I feel and see the line unravel like a loose curl of hair and find a sweet spot for my rod’s tip, my eyes pick out a flash of movement in the tall pine tree background. A bald eagle has taken flight just to my left, I turn slightly to see its silhouette glide out of my view. Thinking now about where this bird may be going, a click of my reel has pulled me back to my task at hand, I have begun to reel in my line one more time.~Paula

Anguish

an•guish /aNGwiSH/

noun

1. severe mental or physical pain or suffering.

verb

1. be extremely distressed about something.

Dear Jon,

Anguish. Never was there a more perfect word to describe this state of mind I am in, this trip to deliver and fulfill the third and final request by you to spread your ashes at your family’s fishing retreat in Canada. Your parents, your sister’s son, your children and I will bear witness and share in this journey. 

Jon, did you ever imagine how much this would tear me apart to do this for you? Every time, each of three requests, feeling all of you wash all-over, all of me again, and again, and again? I’m not angry, only reminded in profound ways that you are no longer here every time I say goodbye like it was the first time. In many ways now, I am no longer here, the person you once called your wife, Puskie, and Paula. You never called me babe, or honey, or some stupid, generic cutsie name, and I loved you all the more for that, because you knew exactly who I was, who we were together, but you are no more. 

The ashes have been telling me what to do since you died. I don’t want anyone else to tell me what to do. As a write, every mile driven further north from your hometown is closer to what I have to do. My emotions are heavy, and add weight to everything. I cannot lift my packed bags, I cannot lift your ashes, I cannot lift my legs to get in and out of the car. But all of these burdens I must carry now. I try to fill waking hours with spots of things that make me some form of happy, to blot out those things that make me whimper and tears pour down my cheeks. Our children, Mom, and Dad are helpless bystanders of my anguish, but you are no more.

I am a passenger in this car, and so are you. It is our last ride together. Are you as sad as I am about this? You and I will no longer travel together. I always loved our car trips and travels, all of our adventures, but you are no more. 

Driving through the northern part of Minnesota, I saw a sign for Bemidgi, a town with a funny name I remember from living here, two of the most wonderful years together as a family. Minnesota was a refuge then and a beautiful memory now. We had stopped for gas, I’m suddenly overwhelmed with it all and fully sobbing, my tears made my cheeks raw, I can’t see what’s in front of me, I’m forgetting to breathe. I searched for your hand, but you are no more.

I want control. Not of anyone else, only me. I don’t want to be in this weakened, depleted state for much longer. I will lose the ability to be the person I am becoming, unable to fully transform and to evolve, to be who and where I need to be in my life now. I need to reserve all of the strength I have left in me to do this. I had given you everything I had in our life together, but you are no more. 

What life do I now live, you ask? I am living honestly, openly, not holding back my fears or thoughts of knowing what will make me happy in this new world. You were what brought me complete contentment and happiness. Now that you are dead and gone, you have given “death” to me, your person that was only for you. When you were alive, you had given that person I once was “life,” but both you and I are no more. 

All of my love to you, Jon, from your person you once knew, 
~Paula 

Solo Ride

I need to take my bike in to the shop for an adjustment to its gears. Maybe I will learn to do this by myself in the future, but for now, I’ll leave this job to the professionals. I’m just glad that when I’ve had these occasional chain slips while out on my rides, I know enough to put the chain back on to the chainring where it belongs. These bike gear problems have been on my mind. The next thing to figure out. Now that I will be clipped in to my pedals, a lock-up, or worse a sudden chain-slip, is something I dread. During my ride, the gears have got to work smoothly, and If I can’t resolve it quickly, or if I’m in a bad spot on a hill climb, I am at a higher risk to fall. I want to avoid falling as much as possible, don’t we all? 

On this last ride, I wore my regular shoes, the pretty blue ones, so I could concentrate on the gears, and figure out why my chain keeps locking up, and sometimes slipping off. I find that switching into third, actually “finding” third, is difficult and I have to pull up way too hard on my drop down lever. I hear the clicking of the gears struggling to make the change, they can’t quite make it. The sweet spot is elusive as I’m watching the chainring below, as I switch through each gear. I’m sure there’s a just a simple something to be done to fix it. Second gear will just have to do for this ride.

Even while out cycling, my mind is in a terrible place at this time. Solving these technical bike difficulties is just another distraction. Since I have been sleeping so little now, and for a culmination of years, my once active dreaming time is now part of my wakeful state. It’s outright dangerous. Images, words, and stories float to the front of my brain, calling for immediate attention, to be expressed and heard. Many of these don’t make sense, a blend of random pictures and incomplete conversations cause me to go into deeper thought wanting to turn inward for further reflection and reasoning. Sometimes I don’t hear what is being said by someone right next to me, my mind is focused elsewhere. I am thankful for writing, to put some of these thoughts on paper, to act some of them out would be a huge mistake. It is sometimes hard to distinguish between what is real and not real. I find myself needing to review the day’s events, re-read my own writings or texts with real people, just to distinguish what is, in fact, reality.

My biking takes up a large part of most days. If I’m not doing it, I’m planning my next ride, reading some advice article, or figuring a route and how many hours I can manage away without being missing for too long from my kids and responsibilities. The more I talk with other cyclists, I have noticed a particular theme about their riding habits amongst them. It seems most say that riding solo is the best type of ride they enjoy. I’ve thought a lot about this because I have no choice but to ride solo right now, and I fantasize about having a cycling partner or being in a riding group, as if it were an end-goal of all of these miles, technical adjustments, and Strava recordings. I’m hearing that there is a time that riding alongside someone else is good, but riding alone is when the real workout is done and true pleasure is fulfilled. The real escape. 

I’m not riding my bike as my “escape.” I think of it more of a “going somewhere.” I keep pushing myself to ride a bit further, to ride faster, and wanting to earn the name of being called a “cyclist.” Before I got back into biking, I began in October 2016 after Jon died with getting back to the gym and running. I had been a runner on-and-off since I was 13, and just like mountain biking: injuries, career, and my role as wife and mother took over as priorities. I’ve worked my way up to do about five miles for an average run. When I run, I think about the exact location of where I am on the track. It is a matter of perspective, and on a given run, I ask myself: am I running away, running towards something, or being exactly in a fixed position? Not only is it a question of my spacial relationship I wonder about, but also a time relationship of my thoughts: am I dwelling in the past, existing in the present, or projecting myself somewhere in the future? Every once in while, I catch myself running with my eyes closed for a few seconds, trying decide which state of space and time I feel most like in at that moment. Honestly, the borders blur together and there really is no balance, no separation from one state to the next. 

My daughter had her phone pick-pocketed while walking through a festival in Peru last week. I considered it our donation to the local Peruvian economy, “gracias, mis amigos, de nada.” She has since returned home, and while we wait for her phone replacement to arrive in the mail, she is using her Dad’s phone, which after he died, I had set aside with his other personal items. I still have his phone service up and running. It contains all of his contacts, texts, and pictures, and when he first died, it was a lifeline to him and his lifelong friends. I still haven’t read all of their messages sent to him from his last days, I’d like to think he received them by osmosis of being so connected to such an amazing group of people. Even though Jon has died, his friends still offer love and support to me and our little family. I have had to make room in my mind to fit all of their love, yes, my universe is expanding, everyone fits in. I plan on reading these texts, maybe sometime closer to the first year anniversary of his death, which is fast approaching. 

My kids and I are currently fulfilling the third of Jon’s requests for his ashes. It is a small family gathering, at a place where our children will be the fourth generation to experience and learn. Lead by his parents, there will be oral histories to pay attention to; water, earth and sky to feel the greater good of; and fish to catch and eat in honor of those who we love. As we make this journey, all of the timelines are overlapping. I have to concentrate to be present in the given moment, it is easy to be so many other places and times at once. We are staying at a hotel for a couple of nights before heading on to our destination. It’s now past 11 p.m., my kids are using up their energy in the workout facility downstairs after our drive in today. I’m back in the room, busy on my phone working on this writing, lost in thought. Suddenly, the usual text ding, followed next by a new text pop-up that said “A JZ cell” and read “I’m coming right up” – I felt my eyes widen and bulge as I read it. There he was, JZ, my husband. As I lay by myself in this room on the crisp white sheets, one light softly illuminating my hands grasping this phone, I had that sudden and familiar pull of my heart overtake me, “Oh, he’ll be back up to our room in a few minutes.” All of the past nine months erased, of course he’s coming right up, I’m here, ready to greet him, anxious to welcome him back after being away for so long. 

The truth is, Jon, my person, was my “total escape.” All things revolved around him. All the bullshit surrounding us would melt away when it was just us. If we were separated for any reason, and there were many, the goal was to get back to each other as soon as possible. Once together, we would close the door to the outside world. Our world together was the most important thing, no one else was allowed to see, only the two of us. So now that my one true escape is gone from physical reality, I am unable to soothe myself, my link to bliss and sanity taken from me by a horrible disease. I reach out for that rock to balance me, search for the only one would stare into my eyes and read my deepest thoughts, and crave that touch always given in just the right spot. With him was where I most wanted to be, to love, to breathe. Now nothing, no escape. He is not here. My escape that I relied on when I was falling, his wrapping me in his arms and telling me everything would be alright, is unable to be found on any bike ride, discovered in any words of writing, or even in time spent with friends and family. But still I do it, my distractions now on full display. I can’t really focus well on any one thing. I wake up every day on this path, a path that will never lead me to the destination I most seek, and If I stop moving, if my gears jam or my chain slips, I most surely will fall.~Paula 

Gone

All of the passion I had, I put into him. Since he is gone, there is no replacement now and anything new is just a mirage, just sand that slips between my fingers. My mouth is so dry, there is no water, no life in this desert in which I walk. I have no shoes, no clothes. The sun is scorching my skin, blisters on my body are its kisses. My legs are somehow still moving, every step I make is no longer felt, but the weight and effort of each vibrates my core. I know where I’ve been by the bloody footprints behind me. These stains are getting difficult to see, the wind has blown new sand over them, slowly swallowing up where I’ve been step by step. There is no path ahead of me, only a matrix pattern of cracks and sharp, small rocks. The sun does not set here. The horizon is out of focus, and the sky is a cloudless dove-grey. The only water to be found is in the form of my tears which cloud my vision. I wipe them now gently but greedily with my fingertips and put them to my mouth with weakened hands. They sting my cracked lips, every drop tastes of sadness, longing, and salted pain. There is no place to sit for rest, if I lay down, I will shrivel and die on the spot. I can only walk on, and with squinted eyes search for a real oasis to come into my view. How long must I wait and walk? I fear there will be nothing left of me soon. Like a lizard in camouflage, I am blending in to the desert itself.~Paula

Muse

Not many will appreciate what I have to say about my state of mind right now. I’m not writing to please any audience, even one that is quite small. If I piss you off and you’re done with me, so be it. Read on if you are curious, and remember – don’t judge, don’t fix, just read. Thank you.~P.

You are welcome to enter my world, but I will warn you, time moves differently here. I see things through a lens that is influenced by Grief. Let me remind you that Grief is at my side. May I also introduce you to Grief’s children: Failure, Compassion, Rage, Love, Persistence, Agony, Kindness, and Truth. I spend my time talking, cycling, and living with each of them. Existence is the father of Grief. While I was sleeping very briefly one night many months ago, Existence laid a new Timeline by my feet. I awoke to find it crumpled a bit and kind of hanging over the corner of my bed. 

This Timeline is a dark grayish blue, kind of like fresh, field-picked blueberries. I sat up and refocused my eyes to see it more clearly. It’s surface fluctuated between being smooth as glass and then would change to the fathomless depths of a starless sky. My hands instinctively reached for it, and I cradled and dragged it up, pulling it closer to me, smoothing out its form. I see there are a few frayed ends that are loose. This reminds me of my Timeline of my previous journey. The wispy threads make me nervous, I am trying to tuck them back into the simple weaving now, hoping they won’t keep popping out. In my impatience, I decide that the loosest of these threads won’t work, so I pull them out. I’m too tired to get out of bed just yet, so these I drop to the floor over the edge, and I see them float motionless in air for what is one of my deep breaths, before gravity took over. 

I remember that I stayed in bed that morning, a little longer than I should have, and I half-dreamed that I was stuck in a time-loop. Every day from here forward, I would wake to the same empty stomach, eyes wet with tears, and my body cold to the touch. No reprieve, and now this Timeline I hold is only adding weight to my situation. It does not embrace me or offer kind words, it is just there, in bed with me. Existence may of thought of it as a gift, but to me it is a burden. 

Every night is now the same. My Timeline takes me to bed, teases me with its possibilities and lets me think that I am in control. It feels light on top of me for brief moments, and then it squeezes my wrists and presses me against my sheets. At that point, I cannot get up, and I know any sound that escapes my mouth or body will make it feel even more real. The only thing I can do is close my eyes, and the darkness inside of my mind is interrupted with bursts of color from the pain of it all. 

In the daytime, my companions have been Persistence and Love. They are helping me find ways to heal myself and sort out my thoughts. Sometimes Rage joins us, but Persistence doesn’t let him stay for long. Yesterday, just the three of us had a long talk. I want to share with you what we talked about, what’s been weighing on my mind. 

First I turned to Persistence, and burst out, “I will never choose what is convenient or easy. I’m that person who picks the longer route to ride, maybe because it goes by an interesting rolling field or maybe it’s just because I fucking feel like it. I will attack any number of steps needed to achieve a goal. I’ll play it out like a game of chess, three moves ahead. You won’t see my face contort in pain if I’m trying to speed up on my last lap of a run at the gym, I’ll push that energy back inside me and straight to where my legs need that final push.” Love replied, “Do and be all these things, but remember to love yourself in the process, dear.” And then Persistence jumped in, “If you are all these things, then you are strong enough to push your Timeline away when you want to.”

I sighed deeply, and then I let out my next thought, “I can’t help it that I’m showing signs of my impatience with people and the world again. I’ve gotten to this point of feeling tired of being disappointed with meeting new people. Every time so far, it’s the same after I let them in. Initial interest, some life stories peek out, funny shared moments. Then, there is this wall that we run into, me being on one side wanting to ask some bigger questions that really matter about life, and how we fit together as friends or otherwise, and on the other side, that person seems to walk away to continue with their full-life pre-meeting-me. In the end of it, I feel left out, like I didn’t belong or fit into any equation in the first place.” Persistence calmly said, “You keep finding new people to reach out to, that’s a good thing, even if it doesn’t always work out. I’m proud of you for trying.” Love chimed in, “Exactly, and you felt that spark, and it was nice, right?” Me being me, I couldn’t help taking that in for only a second, then I had to ruin the moment and said, “The other person didn’t lose me, the fact is, they never had me and they never really wanted me in the first place.” 

I continued my rant full-on, “I need to be around people who can give me what I need and who make me happy. If someone makes me sad, I have enough of that, so I choose to put distance between us or let them go entirely. I can’t lead in a budding friendship, I just don’t and can’t do that. I know what I have to offer, it’s up to them to show me what they have to give me. Is it that hard to commit already to having someone like me in your life, is it that much of a chore? I am afraid of very little these days, but I see others’ fear or inability to open their capacity for more friendship, new ideas, and love, and it frustrates me. Is it something about age, me being 48, and those others out there are just set in their ways, with what’s easy and comfortable?” 

Love and Persistence knew I had more to say, so they both just smiled, and let me continue. “I am anything but comfortable. Every day I am doing things out of my comfort zone. This is my new normal. The hardest decision ever made was letting go of Jon in both mind and body. All decisions now are easier than that. I think people don’t get that about me. All of these decisions are black or white, it’s just the people in between that are all shades of fuzzy grey that I can’t see clearly and mess me up.” Love leaned in, “Only you know what you have been through and the loss you carry, there will be others who understand that. Not many, but those who do will love you more deeply, they will cherish your friendship and be there to wipe your tears.” Persistence gently took my hand and patted it, “Waiting is so hard for you, honey, when you see a path that feels right, trust your instincts and take it, no path is wrong, it will only lead you to the next one.” 

Tears are flowing down my cheeks now, dripping onto the hand of Persistence holding mine. I think out loud, “Maybe I’m putting the blame on other people, when it’s me with the problem. Nothing can contain me. I feel like my mind is a world traveler and I don’t have borders or a place that I lovingly call home. I think my lack of solid footing may be unsettling to people, I haven’t exactly lived life in a straight line. It’s back to the idea of those boxes, I don’t fit in any of them accept ‘widow,’ and not many want to touch that with a 10-foot pole. Maybe I’m just that person who is the perpetual muse, that inspiration for others to find their happy and reach their goals. I have nothing as my own accept that silent knowing that I helped another person I deeply care about when they needed someone to push them in the direction they needed to go.” Love said, “Yes, you have been a muse for many throughout your life. Please see this as your strength. Offering it to others will bring you great joy.” 

Persistence was now grabbing each of my shoulders, staring directly into my face, it was hard to look directly back. She said, “You were born to give to others, when you do, you will receive great gifts in return without expecting them. You are so much more than ‘widow’, and I will remind you every day to see yourself being all of the Paulas.” Love put her hand on my back and gently rubbed in small circles. She whispered in my ear and I felt her warm breath, “Not many people love the way you do. You need to show as many as possible, and keep giving, for the sum of all those you love will make a beautiful whole. Your life will be overflowing as you never imagined.”

I leaned my head back, my eyes squeezed tight shut, these words are hard to hear and more difficult to understand how it’s all supposed to work out. I exhaled, and as I did, I felt the hands of Persistence and Love release me. I think they did not go away, but rather lay softly now on my skin, like having a silk sweater on, they are just the right temperature and feel so soft to the touch. I found myself standing there, with my arms embracing myself, rubbing my arms and feeling this comfort. I only hope that in the near future, there are those who will want to touch me, so I can share how wonderful this actually feels. ~Paula

Bike Magic is Alive and Well

Monday, June 26, 2017

Yesterday, I achieved the longest distance bike ride to date: a whopping 81.8 miles. I would like to tell you about my round trip adventure in Michigan traveling from Stockton to Plymouth. To say that this was a little ambitious given that the previous longest cycling distance was 30 miles less at 51.4 miles, is actually accurate. I decided to just go for it. With a goal of figuring out these clip shoes and the hope that I wouldn’t get lost by staying on the same road to and from my destination, I started at The Double Deuce Diner in Stockton. 

The truth is, the next couple of weeks are going to be doozies, and I feel like I’m on my partner’s skateboard again. Something he did so well, me not so much and I’m heading into the downhill decent, somewhat prepared but I feel that speed wobble coming on. I remember all too well what the result was the last time that happened. This big bike ride was about taking time to accomplish something, put it in memory, so that when the bottom falls out, in my mind, I can be hauling some ass up one of my hills on N. Territorial Road again, having a coffee at the cafe while listening to a group of men speaking Italian, or riding past the horses with their new summer sleek coats glistening in the sun.

This round trip took almost seven hours to complete. I had a late start leaving my house, I was about an hour behind my ideal time. Time itself moves differently now, I seem to get caught up in more of a meandering through the day like a blood hound, I’m going from one interesting smell to the next, not following a straight line. This is what happens when your husband and partner of over 20 years dies and you’re sad about it, and doing things that make you happy so as not to think about the sad are so, so tempting. Time after time, I’ve been giving in to temptation, to laugh, to escape, and to feel everything besides my broken heart. 

The Double Deuce was the destination of the previous longest ride, and I felt right at home after I walked in that first time. It is the kind of place where people come because Sharon serves up comfort food, and people talk to each other from across the room without yelling. Clean and decorated with touches of classic cars and rock and roll, I feel like I’ve entered into a happy 1950s time warp. So today’s adventure begins here, and probably more will start from here in the future. I went in to grab a coffee to wake up, and Sharon remembered me from last weekend. I told her about my plans to ride to Plymouth today, and of course I was telling everyone else at once, too. After I finished my coffee, it was time to get on with this ride! Just as I got back out to my car to unload my bike from the roof top carrier, I realized that I needed to use the facilities. So back to inside the diner, and no more than two steps in, a man with a white beard seated at a laminate booth says with a grin “well that was a quick trip to Plymouth,” to which I replied with a smile, “yes, I’m that fast.” It wasn’t so much what we said to each other, as much as the lightness of this room that was felt by everyone, about eight people in all, each of us having a little smile on our faces and sharing a moment. After my other moment in the quaint restroom, it was officially time to start. I wished everyone to have a great day, and turned to Sharon and said “I’ll see you in about six hours or so.” Waving, smiling, nice.

Stockton is one of many small, quietly bustling towns in Michigan, connected by numbered state routes and rural roads with names I like to think about their meaning of as I ride past. I’m finding as I plan out these adventures, I’m getting better at recognizing on a map which roads may be bike friendly. Today’s route uses N. Territorial Road which is an east-west hills and curves road that passes through a few recreational parks and also has a generous amount of tree-lined canopy. I enjoyed sightings of the many “party stores” that seemed to pop up along the way, these must be a Michigan thing, plus the occasional greenhouse or farm. There could be many stops along the way if I had more time. 

This is technically my first season as a road cyclist, and I have already become accustomed to seeing roadkill. Honestly, it’s like a connect-the-dots of wildlife that once was, these poor creatures in various states of decay, and some are in the most unfortunate poses. Raccoons appearing like overturned tables with legs straight up, an opossum seeming to be taking a nap, and of course the mix of a beached man-o-war with last year’s Halloween wig which could have been anything. If someone would pay me, I would remove each one from the road and give them all a proper burial, the money could fund my cycling extras. For now, I just make sure not to run over their remains, for fear that something would get stuck on my bike wheel, and in general out of respect for the dead. 

In the first couple hours of my ride, somewhere in between Lyndon and Dexter, I noticed something unusual in the middle of the road. Each car that would pass made this smallish-oblong black and intense orange-colored shape roll one way or the other on the asphalt. Once I got close, I could see it was a bird, and I wasn’t quite sure if it was alive or dead. I stopped and was hoping that I could reach it before it was smashed to a pulp by the next passing car. I picked a large dandelion leaf and found a chubby stick, and when traffic was clear, scooped up this fragile being. It must have been struck by a car very recently, it was still warm, its head flopped to one side, and its tiny black caviar eyes were wet with tears. I have never seen a bird like this up close, its main body was an orange as bright as my safety vest, its head and wings black, with white specks sprinkled on the edges, finished with a long skinny beak. 

I took a few pictures of it lying in repose on the leaf. For those who wish to see, a picture of it is included at the end of this writing. It was time for me to continue on with my ride. Before laying it snugly in the grass beyond the reach of the road and its hazards, I did something very odd. This bird’s feathers were such a beautiful color, it did not feel right leaving it all there to rot, to become another connect-the-dot. I gently pulled seven tail feathers from its body, wanting to somehow to preserve it and hold on to its color and life. I was surprised that after the feathers were between my fingertips, they were suddenly not as brightly colored. I think the bird itself, in life and now even in death, held on to the color. It was not mine to have, hopefully my pictures will allow me preserve it accurately. I carefully put the feathers in my vest pocket, half-regretting that I had caused this bird further insult by taking something from it without its permission. 

All the while on the first half of this ride, I am working in figuring out how to properly clip in. Finally, by accident, I understand that my foot needs to be “toes down and push down” to clip, versus what I had been doing which was heel down. Now it’s just a matter of finding that sweet spot where shoe and pedal clip fit to snap in, almost like a reflex. I’m hopeful with this progress so far. I am also experimenting with which foot is best to clip in first, left or right? I found out the hard way, that for me, it is left first. I had tried to come to a stop unclipping my left first, and mistakenly leaned to the right. Suddenly, I was going down hard, and fell onto my right knee, still attached to my right clip. My bike and I are still getting to know one another, I hope it doesn’t mind a few extra scratches for us both. No less than a few seconds after my fall, as I’m trying to sit up to release my foot, two cars one from each direction stop to help me. One guy has his bike hitched on the back of his SUV, and the other car had a couple who looked like they were headed to church. It was the woman who jumped out of her car and was suddenly at my side lifting the bike off of me so I could release my foot. We were both glad for no broken bones or excessive bleeding. Thank you, kind Samaritan. I make a mental note to myself to add a simple first aid kit in my backpack next time for any future scrapes. 

Plymouth was a typical small town, but had a kind of Seattle-vibe to it. I locked my bike and headed across the street to the Plymouth Coffee Bean which had a little outdoor seating area in front. Inside, they are making crepes to order, that smell combined with the strong coffee aroma and old wood in this space is very inviting to me. I chose to sit outside though, the sunshine and the small rod iron cafe table had my name on it. I enjoyed my snack of a cappuccino, half an oatmeal raisin cookie, a dunker which is a donut wedge dipped in chocolate, and my banana from home. As I’m sitting there, I am eaves dropping in the conversations around me. There was a group of four men clearly speaking Italian of which I only understood molto poco, and a youngish couple appearing like they were newly acquainted and giving flirty eyes to each other. They could make a nice couple. 

I’m ready for my return trip to start, trying to remember if there were more downhills or uphills on the way, figuring if my time would increase or decrease. Damn it if the wind didn’t make any of that matter, it decided to blow against me the whole way back. As I’m going along doing my little Wizard of Oz Dorothy doot-to-do, I came to the conclusion that future rides should start heading west first, so I have the most energy to take on this wind. It would be much better to have the wind at my back at the end. 

The last 15 miles on the return trip were very sloggy. It felt like it was going to take forever to reach the turn where Territorial turns north onto M106. I see that a big hill is coming up, so it’s time to just get to it with a combination of head down staying in the moment and looking up to check the road ahead. As I’m prepping my gears and myself for this, out of the corner of my eye on my side of the road, a buff tanned guy without a shirt on and khaki shorts catches my attention. He has a camera in his hands photographing something in his front lawn, there are several large trees on the property. Hello, just passing through. I’m not one to stare, but he says “hey there, lookin’ good!” To which all I can reply is a side smile smirk and a half-salute, half-wave, looking good indeed. As I’m pressing on up this incline, I’m wondering if he’s changed his subject matter to be my behind. The thought of it is motivating me to pedal a little harder. 

Did you ever turn onto your street and suddenly feel “home”? Well, that’s what happened to me when I finally saw the city sign for Stockton. Once back to the diner, I see that it’s taken me almost an extra hour for the return trip. I had been texting my son about my progress, and I tell him I’m bringing home dinner. When I walk in to the diner, different faces, a little bigger crowd for the dinner hour, same lightness though. Sharon and I smile at each other, I announce that I did it and that Plymouth was very nice. She looks at me and asks if I’m training for something. Before I can catch myself, being comfortable in this space, I tell her that my husband died last fall, and that I ride my bike because it makes me feel good. I’m gushing about how nice people are in the cycling community and I’m trying to practice so I can ride with others. As I’m speaking to her at the cash register, I suddenly notice she has come around to my side. She looks at me knowingly, and says “I’m sorry to hear that, about your husband.” She saves me having to respond and asks what I would like to drink, while I wait for my order of broasted chicken dinner.

I felt for that moment that I let her in, to really see me and my situation, I felt guilty about having done that. Like the light in her happy diner flickered for a moment, but she let the moment pass, as did I, and we got on with it. My bike chain must have slipped off at least three times on this ride today, each time I stopped, looked to see which end needed a reset, and did my little “roadside fixie.” I worry about my chain locking up and slipping off when I need it to work, especially while being clipped in. Will I be able to respond in time? As my bike and I get to know each other, I figured out on this ride that when my chain first locks up, if I back pedal maybe half a turn then pedal forward again, suddenly it’s not locked anymore, like the gear just needed a bit more time to adjust, before going forward. 

Yummy comfort food in white styrofoam containers and crunchy brown bags, I said my goodbyes and started my drive home. It seemed to me like not that much time had passed, but yet so much had happened, so many miles. I was thinking about that bird again, and promised myself to look it up when I got home. After my son and I enjoyed our delicious meal, I got right to figuring out my bird mystery. It was a Bullock’s Oriole. This beauty is known for being a sign of the arrival of summer and it symbolizes positive changes and the renewed joy of possibilities. The Oriole is linked to the Archangel Auriel, who offers light to making good choices and shows us paths that lie ahead leading us to a higher state of being. 

I’ve always liked the saying “train with a bigger sword.” When I bought my used touring bike one month ago, that was my attitude about it. It has a steel frame and has some scratches and if you look closely it’s a bit worn. It makes funny metal sounds when I ride over bumps. Lifting it up to put on my roof top bike carrier takes balance and skill because it’s a bit awkward and heavy. This bike is perfect for me because it is not perfect, it has wear on it, life on it, just like me. Being a Game of Thrones fan, I understand the importance of naming a sword. So I will now apply that guideline to my bike. With all that has happened today, I feel the Universe has spoken to me in not so subtle ways. I have named my bike Auriel.~Paula

Pictures

For a long time now, I have not liked seeing myself in pictures. Those photos from the past fifteen years are reminders to me of my stress. I saw me smiling in them, but inside I was tired, not feeling well, or needed a break from my kids. I sound like a spoiled brat, but that is my reality as I saw it. I am a tough person, but the day-in-and-out of it all wore me down like water gushing between cracks in rocks, eventually it’s going to split them apart. Jon’s cancer diagnosis in January 2013 was a curse on my family. I remember shoveling snow in the driveway while he was in the hospital recovering from his first surgery and thinking, at least I know now why we weren’t getting along since this move. It was his cancer talking and it prevented him from understanding me. Now that it’s out of him, we can be together again, he will be under my skin again and we will feel each other’s heartbeats from across the room. 

Cancer held on and would not leave, and it brought all of our emotions to a head. It did not unite my family like it does for some to “fight together.” Cancer divided us, piece by piece, it did not have a voice, but its presence filled every room in my house. The timeline of our lives once intertwined started fraying at its end. Both of us were staring silently right at it, but neither of us had the tools to repair it. Cancer pulled and played with the loose strings like a little girl plays with her hair. 

I guess it was at Jon’s official funeral service in his home town, when I started actually looking at my pictures. Still uncomfortable with the old ones, but interested in new ones. I started to take selfies. I definitely saw the sadness, but somehow the stress part was changing. Like if Stress had younger brother called Little Stress, that little brother was still stress but just different kinds of stress, possibly on a slightly smaller scale. Taking a selfie for me is all about looking at myself in the present, and owning it. I began facing myself after not wanting to for so many years.

Please allow me to share some of my selfies with you. There is a good reason for you to see.

I have changed my social media “profile pic” many times as I see my face changing, evolving, in this past year. This picture was posted in late February 2017. My kids and I had just returned from a morning with family friends, we went to their church service with them. It was such a beautiful, crisp February day, the sun was very warming and the sky a Sleeping Beauty turquoise blue. I was inspired to get out my mountain bike. I wanted to go for a ride. Both of my tires were flat, and I couldn’t get the air compressor started in the cold. Looking at my bike in the sun made me so happy though. After taking spin classes since late 2016, this was the official day I decided to get back into mountain biking and it solidified my path in cycling. I took the picture to remind myself of my choice. 

This April 2017 NYC pic is from the morning of Jon’s ashes event in Central Park. I had been awake since 2:30 a.m. or so. I remember waking in a panic-fueled, heart-pounding frenzy, which happened often in the first few months after he died. Since I could not go back to sleep, I wrote through it, the writing it out calmed me down. After a shower to get ready for another long day, the actual day in Central Park, I laid back down to center myself, and took this photo. Just me, laying there, looking at me, being me. 

June 23, 2017. My daughter is still in Peru. She called last night from a friend’s phone to tell me that her phone was stolen from her while their group walked through a crowded festival. My amazing son came home from his week-long camping trip last night. I think he grew again and will be six feet tall before the end of summer. He went to see a movie with a friend this afternoon, so I found myself with about two hours alone. I had already been to my gym for a running workout earlier today, but back there I went to fulfill a promise I made to myself: I would relax poolside while wearing a bikini and have a beverage in my hand. I was so happy to be finally doing this! This activity will be repeated. Taking a photo of this occasion was mandatory. 

I’ve noticed that specifically at moments of being happy or content, I will most likely take a selfie. I need to remember those moments however brief. I need to see me in them. Somehow I think my pictures of me being in some form of “a happy” over time will connect those brief moments together or maybe serve as reminders that there is light in between the darkness of all this loss and grief. And speaking of light, I need you to take a closer look at both of the black and white photos. Maybe it’s just my phone camera, but it keeps happening. Out of the corner above my head, the rays of light, a halo effect of sorts. Do you see it? I’m beginning to think that at these tiny peaceful moments, I might be, in fact, sharing them with someone else. I don’t hear him or see him, but he might just be photobombing my selfies.~Paula 

Primary Information 

It’s All Relative
Sun blazes, 

You give warmth, light, and survival.

Who are your planets that depend on you?

Planet spins,

You hold life, death, and in between.

Who are your moons that orbit you?

Moon rises,

You play with water, trees, and my heart.

Who are your eyes that see you?

You there,

You are my love, reason, and gravity.

Who are your stars now shining beside you?

~Paula

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.

Is the Universe Speaking to Me?

Before kids, I had a career in graphic design. Visual order and symmetry are my must-haves, my color palette is earthen colors seen in rocks, water and sky. I love the Arts & Crafts era and Frank Lloyd Wright. My first real memories are of drawing. My Grandpap taught me how to draw a star by connecting five dots in a certain pattern before I could read. I remember thinking how cool I was when could draw both the dots AND the lines. 

When I was about eight, I would sign out books from the school library all about birds or horses and bring them home. The books were always over-sized and hard-covered, and they smelled like school and sour milk. Bird books were my favorite, I loved drawing “realism” and anything from nature. I would sit at our dining room table, and draw from these books for hours. At this time, I also noticed other illustrative stylings in Holly Hobby, Cricket magazine and Highlights – hey, it was the late-70s early-80s, this stuff was popular back then! They inspired me with their use of color and different drawing techniques. I would use pencil on any kind of paper, but I liked the water color paper the best because the pencil lead made a particular scratchy sound I liked as lines and shading flowed through my hand onto my page. 

My eyes have been trained through my art and design education to notice details, things come to my attention. Finding patterns, noticing when things go together, or when they most certainly do not, is now a reflex. Numbers are also a part of my visual perception. It could be a certain number of a certain something, like five perfect petals on a flower, or actual numbers that keep popping into my view. The same numbers when I look at a clock, a license plate, or an address. 

And so, not once, but three times today, a new number had popped into my view and caught my eye. This morning while hauling myself out of bed, my digital clock read 5:55 a.m., this grabbed my attention because of how the digital “5s” lined up with one another, like they were all spooning, fitted together in an “S waves” dance position. The black negative space in between the lime green numbers seemed to come forward. Cool, I got on with my day. 

I had an exceptional afternoon. It was a tough decision choosing between a bike ride or gym time, plus I had to pick up a package at the post office. So, I decided to combine it all and ride my bike around my little town, stopping at the post office first, then I would ride over to my gym to have a workout. In my almost six years of living here, I had never done this before, and it was great to be a “bike commuter” for what was about a 10 mile or so route to the gym. I rediscovered an old backpack in my hall closet to pack with gym items, a change of clothing, running shoes, and my wallet, so I was all set. I should note that I did not wear my cleats for this adventure, nor did I use Strava to record it. I opted to wear my other new biking shoes which are awesome hiking-type tie-shoes – the blue pretty ones. I chose to “go native,” not wanting to worry about falling over, my speed, or thinking about my exact location. 

Once at the gym and bike locked up outside, it was locker room time. After making the transformation from cyclist to gym rat, I locked up my belongings and it was at that moment I saw the number of my locker: 55. I associated that with Jon because he would have just turned 55 this June. I got to my workout which was a combination of free weights and machines, my favorite being the leg press right now only because I’ve gone up in weight a bit, and I’m proud of that. I finished with a two mile run on the indoor track. Each lap around, I glance at the time on the digital clock that sticks out like a brick-shaped brass ring from the side wall nearest to the door. This is where I start and where I count each lap. On one of my early laps, I see the lime-green angular numbers read 5:55, and I also am starting my fifth lap. So many “fives” today! 

Later after dinner, I decide to look up the meaning of the number 5. This is what I found on a web site that I have gone to before in my curiosity when numbers keep showing up like this:

“The 5555 number sequence is a message from the Universe that your life is about to go through some major changes, with new freedoms and living your inner-truths.”*

There was a lot of other information, but when I read the above, it brought me to tears because this is the journey I am now on. I am seeking my new life’s purpose, wanting to be the person I am now, my chrysalis is splitting open and I am emerging, becoming, a version of myself I never imagined. I especially desire living in passion, new growth, and making positive choices. In this process, I am trying desperately not to fuck it all up. Finding myself surrounded by all that has happened – death, grief, change, rediscovery – has challenged me to look at life in a whole new light. I am embraced by new opportunities and people that I otherwise would not be experiencing or have met if it weren’t for all this fucking tragedy. Yes, Universe speak to me, I am listening, and most of all, I think I am finally beginning to understand. ~Paula

*www.sacredscribesangelnumbers.blogspot.com

Peru-Bound

“Please look after this bear. Thank you.”
This is her time to have her space, that’s all she wants, it’s what she needs. She is that team player on the lacrosse field that can be put in any field position, and always knows who’s open. She sees a play before it happens. She is known for her wicked hard defense and her bursts of speed. This is now my world-traveller, and Peru is the just the start of her beautiful relationship with the world. She will never be defined by four walls around her, she will have the sun, moon, and stars as her everywhere companions. The world is now her lacrosse field, and she will learn every detail of it, explore every position, and live to play in it. Her father watches over her now, so much of him I see in her. Go now my daughter, find the places that speak to you and tell you stories, meet the people that embrace you, and live the life of your dreams. ~Mom (aka Paula)
Viajes seguros, mi hija, te amo. ❤️ 

The Trials of A Broken Heart

It is no secret that I have a broken heart. Death has taken my lover, partner, and best friend rolled into one. These dimensions of my life once overflowing are now bone dry, and dust is collecting on every surface. When I search for him in my mind, I can no longer see him, hear him, or feel his familiar warmth. His smell cannot be found on his clothing because his body has not been in his favorite sweatshirts and ripped jeans for almost a year. My brain contorts inside my skull, and the veins at my temples bulge because I have forgotten to breathe through the moments of trying, unsuccessfully, to remember these fading wisps of his soul. When I squeeze my eyes tight shut, behind my eyelids the colors of us have faded to pale, and are now barely-there blurry movements without defined shape. Lately, my cheeks have been tingling. I think it’s from the blood emptied from my heart that now runs cold through me and can’t find a place that is comfortable under my skin. Death is laughing at me because at the moment, he has all of the leverage, he has him, and I have nothing.

If I continue down this path, Death will have my heart. That single ember left in it will plucked by Death’s greedy claws, and I will completely shut down. I won’t go without a fight. I refuse to let Death win. After loving my partner so hard, and having been forced to release him, all that love is now buried inside of me. It is hidden from Death, but it is surrounded by Grief’s child, Agony. Agony whispers to my hidden love, teasing it to show itself, even just a peek. My love is not to be played with by this insolent child. Agony taunts and teases me with an unblinking stare that makes my body tremble, half out of anger, half out of exhaustion. Smiling, Agony has taken away my appetite for food, there is no plate that has what I want to eat. My mouth has become dry, and even though my voice wants to sing a song to him, words can only be mouthed and my breath cannot hold the right tune.

Stepping forward now is Compassion, but her gift is a cruel joke to me. She offers for me to see him in the opposite space: in feeling and seeing his absence, he is in fact here. The kids and I went out to breakfast for Father’s Day at the restaurant that we all used to go to, he usually ordered the same thing: ‘T D Special’ of 2 eggs basted, hash browns, whole wheat toast, and gyro meat. Next to my son opposite me is the empty place at our table for four, the table in the corner by the front window. The very same table we last ate all together in this place. I couldn’t help but look at the empty seat now, and I wanted to see him sitting there, healthy with that devilish grin, his eyes telling me he’s thinking about me being naked and wrapped around him. These unspoken thoughts, even in front of the kids, he and I shared. Compassion, is this all that remains? This is a seat that will never be filled, and my acknowledgement of that makes Death and Agony very happy.

So what am I to do with this void if “the seat cannot be filled?” I look inside myself, and I ask why this bothers me so much, and I want to see this problem in a different light. I am seeking Truth. I close my eyes and I am in Central Park, walking along a paved path. I see Truth is sitting next to the father of Grief, Existence, on a worn out but sturdy bench. There is a low humming murmur between them, and they keep glancing over at me, in a half inviting, other half ‘you stink’ face way. I approach to better understand what they’re saying, standing off to one side of the path. I’m really tempted to sit on this rock I see next to the bench, but standing feels good at the moment. I have nervous energy in my legs and sitting still for too long gives me a cramp in my left foot. Suddenly, Truth and Existence turn to me at the same time, and our eyes meet. It’s a good thing I’m writing down what was said now, I don’t want to forget it.

The most surprising part of our conversation was that they spoke as one voice, and even though they did not speak my language, I understood them. After our introductory “hellos”, this is what they told me: “Paula, know you are not done having love in your life, you deserve to be happy again. First, you must find a way to forgive yourself of thinking you did not love him enough, pushed him out, and that you did not deserve him. He loved you completely and you were meant for each other. Don’t be afraid of Death taking that spark in your heart, it can’t be taken from you, it is always yours to keep. Your heart is something that can be given again, to anyone you wish, and that spark will grow once again in time. We will be with you in the next part of your journey, and give you eyes to see what is hidden from others. The ember in your heart will not go out because we have sent the aura of Life to you. Life is with you now, bestowed upon you to give you strength and encouragement through this time. As you rediscover your purpose, Life will beckon those to you that need you, that want you. Your gifts to those worthy of you will be fragile, and need your trust and patience to grow. Please allow Life to help you with these new bonds, and to feel comfortable receiving praise. Listen to your own voice and when an answer comes to you after a long debate in your mind, know that we are all with you and you are never truly alone. Walk down the path now, do not look behind you for long, what is ahead needs your full attention.” I turned my head just for a split second, to look further down the path, and when I looked again toward Truth and Existence, they were no longer there on the bench.

Even though I am in Central Park, surrounded by so many people, I have that rush of aloneness come over me. My feet feel heavy, stuck to this spot where I’m standing. As I exhale, I feel the sun’s rays on my back, and realize it is quite warm today. Looking to the left of the bench where Truth and Existence were just moments ago, I see that rock again next to it, the sunlight revealing tiny glints of clear quartz shimmering in between layers of deep gray. I find myself sitting on the rock now, my fingers feel it’s gnarled texture. This rock is slightly warm, even though it is early in the day, half way between morning, half way to late afternoon. The sound of traffic from 5th Avenue seems a bit more quiet than usual today, the abrupt ring of a bicycle bell snaps me out of listening to it. Tears spill as I open my eyes, and a soft whimper escapes my lips, uncertainty of this all actually happening fuels more tears. As I continue to write, surprisingly I still feel the sun’s warmth on my back from my vision, this can’t be real I say to myself. Perhaps it could be the aura of Life giving me reassurance that she is here after all and I’m not really alone. Reality has a funny way of choosing to be noticed and better yet, felt. ~Paula

Need for Calm

Coneflowers are one of my favorites. I grew these plants in my garden from seeds two years ago. It’s a little chaotic right now, and this morning when I found this early bloomer, it was that little something I needed to see today. ~Paula 

Cycling Update: I’m Clipping In!

Getting to this point in cycling has been an awesome ride, pun intended. Cycling has saved me. It has brought back some passion and joy to a little room of my life. I’m living in a house of my grief, it’s with me all the time, but when I’m on my bike, my grief is less harsh. Cycling is the only thing that doesn’t push back, it’s my agreeable companion. My bike says “hey, where are we off to today?” And if I miss the turn on my scribbled map notes, bike says “that’s okay, we can go this way instead!” So nice. I do some deep thinking while riding and I write things in my mind. Sometimes I need to pull over to jot down in my phone a certain idea or phrase that I will get back to in-full later. I also have had tears flow down my face filling my eyewear, screamed and swore at all the incessant bumps in the road, and I’ve smiled with pure satisfaction of getting just the right gear for an upcoming climb. Cycling captures all of my emotions, and I’m out there with the wind hitting my face and whistling in my ears, all the while knowing that being “in the ride” is a gift of time to myself well spent that I desperately need to keep my sanity.

My riding days began over 25 years ago in Pennsylvania in the early 1990s, before I met Jon. I was into weight lifting, rollerblading, and running, but I was always looking for something else to do. I bought a mountain bike, and had a few friends to ride with and we also went to a races. I remember buying gloves because my hands were so sore, what an improvement! Everyone else I rode with was better than me, so typically I was the one who would fall or get stuck in the middle of the wet, but it was so much fun to challenge myself with getting up those hills! Bruised, dirty, sweaty: mountain biking gave me confidence and a rush unlike other activities. 
After Jon and I were engaged in 1996 and living in Chicago, we rode together throughout the city streets, traveled to Kettle Moraine State Forest in Wisconsin and rode through many parts of Illinois. Our mountain biking together and with friends made us both so happy, he also had been riding for years. In 2000, I had a freak biking accident. We were riding deep single track, and not even going that hard, when my pedal got caught and I couldn’t get my foot out of the toe cage. I collapsed forward into my bike handle bars and fell to my left, still stuck in my pedals. It was a slow motion-type fall, and I was able to get up, but for the rest of the afternoon, I had pain around my ribs when taking a breath. Another bruise I thought. Over the next few days, I couldn’t shake this pain, and I knew I needed to see a doctor when my whole hand went completely numb while I was at my desk at work. 
I had a compression fracture in my spine to my T7 vertebra. My left shoulder was also involved with some muscle and nerve issues. I spent the next year in physical therapy. I worked as a graphic designer in the Loop, and after work I would walk across town toward the lake to have various treatments. No more mountain biking. My gym time was all about my shoulder and pain management. Not what you want after you’ve just entered your 30s, I was not ready to feel this old! I promised myself that someday I would get back to enjoying biking. Soon after Jon’s grad school ended in 2001, we were propelled into becoming parents to the first of our two children and of course the endless moving began in 2002. Biking became a pipe dream. 
After Jon died last October 2016, my heart would beat through my chest even while standing still. I would wake in the night with hot tears pouring down my cheeks and my heart would be racing, every inch of me covered in sweat. My life was turned into mush, and the stress was crushing me from the inside out. In mid-November, I got back to the gym, wanting to control my crazy heart, needing to breathe hard about something other than crying. I started going every day without fail, but running and weights weren’t giving me the release that I craved. I was trying to think of something to add that would tire me out, and get the anxiety to go away or at least settle down. Ah, the miracle that is cardio-cycle! I took my first one-hour class and I was hooked. Two or three times a week, the cardio cycle class was giving me what I needed. Music playlists in class were a fun perk, I often heard Jon’s favorite tunes at just the right time. Bike magic. In late February, I couldn’t resist getting out my mountain bike. I had trouble with my air compressor working to fill my tires in the cold, so I took my son’s bike out for a spin instead. Shifting, seeing ahead, the wind, it all came back to me in a rush how much I loved biking.
After finally figuring out the air compressor, it was go time on my mountain bike in early March. I couldn’t see myself back on the trails, too squishy and I was not ready for those kind of maneuvers, so road cycling made better sense. I live in a mostly rural area in Michigan, so country roads are everywhere to explore, connected by little towns. My first recorded ride using the Strava app was a 22 miler! At the end of May, I realized that my mountain bike was not made for long distances, I needed the right tool for the job: a touring bike! It’s been so amazing. I bought a used bike, a 2015 Jamis Aurora steel frame in midnight blue with a Shimano Tiagra groupset. What I really like about it is the fact that it has some wear on it and it’s not fancy. 
My goal now is to train on this touring bike. To what end I actually haven’t figured out yet. I am going through each detail of it to make my ride more comfortable, and I am especially wanting to improve my speed. I like planning out my routes, and I am fascinated with street names. I think in the short term, I hope to ride with others that are better cyclists than me, and keep up! When I detailed my bike, I added pedals with clip ins on one side and a regular pedal on the other. And no toe cages. I’m ready to get shoes with cleats and clip in! This whole notion of clipping in is me taking my cycling to the next level, fulfilling the promise to myself that I would get back to biking one day. I can’t wait to compare my speed on the app for a route I did a few short days ago! Buying and working out the details on these shoes has not been easy. Here is my little update of how it’s going: 
Phase One

Picking the shoes. I was against getting a traditional cyclist shoe because I did not want to look like I’m trying to be professional or something. I choose a shoe that basically looks like a hiking shoe, laces up, and is very light. 


Phase Two

Trying the shoes with the clips. The cleats are the turn-out type, this is an important detail. Moved to the grass, I can’t get the release to happen. What I found with the hiking shoe style is that they are quite wide. They rub in to the crank, and my foot in the shoe has too much wiggle room. These shoes look happy, but I am not happy that they are not releasing. I had one fall in the grass, with a minor cut to my finger because I wasn’t wearing my gloves. 
Phase Three

Back to the bike shop today. I decided that I love my original shoes, but these will be worn for the regular pedal side. The cleats have been removed and added to a new pair of shoes purchased that are much narrower and are more fitted all around. Replacement is not pretty, though. Damn, these things look like trendy bowling shoes, or maybe make me look like a nun who needs pronation correction. But hey, they seem to be working with the turning out! Practice is needed, but if I can make it work, Sunday afternoon should be ride time! ~Paula

Categories, Boxes & Space

Today is Friday, June 16, 2017. This is day two of working on this writing below. I’m still coming down from my 30-day grief writing course crazy-high, of putting out so much emotion and taking in even more from other people in my writers’ group. What is bothering me is that several things have collided at the same time: end of writing course, end of school year, beginning of summer, and remembering that Jon was alive at this time last year but not for much longer. My kids each have the first of the summer trips coming up in a few short days: my daughter is traveling out of the country with her high school language class, and my son has time away with his Scouting troop. The three of us need to prep and plug in to pack for their traveling. My kids and I have to work together, and we are just so exhausted. The emotional cracks in our relationships are showing, and it really hurts to feel that we stress each other out so much. We are three teenagers living in this house, my parenting skills are just not cutting it. We are all at a new point in this grief process: we need to redefine ourselves without the constant anxiety of watching my husband fight death. All that went into that time last summer is no more, but we are still haunted by the fresh memories of it all. I hate the fact that I can’t just hug it out with my kids, instead I turn everything into a speed-wobble, and I can’t hold it much longer.~P.

The writing…
You can learn a lot from an American public middle school lunch room. It’s like the biggest, smelliest ball pit put you can imagine. Table seats are claimed, no one can sit over there, or some kids eat alone. It’s a fast-paced, loud environment, and you better keep up and watch out for cutting in the food line. Kids gravitate towards other kids who are most like them: plastic colored balls are sorted. They seem to judge each other merely by what they see and what is said and heard about others. When kids see a “new kid,” instantly they are sized-up and mirrored against themselves, needing to know what sport you play, what you’re wearing, where you come from, details about your race and ethnicity. Middle-schoolers are most comfortable by putting each other into certain cast-type categories, and the “popular” kids group is at the top of this pecking order. Many strive to be at the very top, but usually there is that one kid who outshines all the others. People feel most comfortable if they can say “oh yeah, she’s the lacrosse player” or “there’s that emo kid.” There doesn’t seem to be a lot of overlap between groupings, and if there is, well, that’s a group in and of itself, too. This thinking of needing to sort kids into identifiable boxes at such a young age baffles me and I’ve cringed when I heard stories from my kids about it. The ages of 11 to 14 are those young years when kids are just getting a sense of independence and their minds and bodies are changing on an hourly basis. For my kids, the fact that their Dad died has put them into a group outside of all other groups. Neither of my kids talked about his passing at school, but of course everybody knew their situation. Their sub-group is like a shadow that other kids can’t quite see unless they squint their eyes, but they know it’s there. I think school this year was a place where my kids could attempt to be grief and loss free, having to just get on with what everyone else was concerned about, not to mention learning a few things, I hope. 
I am afraid since we are now on the summer schedule, my kids will be without their grief-free zone of school, and I will not have time to myself. Since 2002, I’ve been a stay-at-home mom. We will now be sharing more time together than we have since before Jon died. The three of us are so stressed about it. My mom-skills of late have really sucked. The root of all of it is that I have a broken heart, and this loneliness thing is robbing me of my sleep most nights. I am cranky in the day because I’m not getting enough sleep, usually waking up as early as 3:00 a.m., and instead of going back to sleep, I get in to writing, reading or listening to music. I My kids absolutely pick up on my stress and it adds to theirs, and we’re going to have to figure it all out this summer. My kids and I have a weekly family meeting, but I think step-one to ease in to summer is having meetings any time we need them. I’m working on getting more sleep, in fact today I slept in till 6. 
I can say that grief doesn’t “resolve” so much as “evolve” kind of like a sun burn. One of the reasons why I took the writing course was to help me work through my own grief issues while the kids were in school, like “finals for the grieving.” I’ve made some progress, but some things seem to be leading to new problems and realizations, kind of like those Russian nesting dolls (matryoshka). I feel like my grief, having been taken out of one box, only reveals more boxes that I need to be mindful of or must figure out how to escape from. I’m using the word ‘escape’ purposefully, because repeatedly I have felt that in the last few weeks, I’m leaning toward adding things to do to get out of this house mentally or physically, and not doing any one thing well.
Here’s the thing about the boxes and categories: I am putting myself in my own categories and I don’t like it, so why the hell am I doing it!?! Good mom, happy friend, dutiful daughter– as I read my own writing out loud, I see wanting to be “something” in these “roles.” This has added pressure I’m putting on myself, driven mostly according to what others think of as acceptable, and my kids are getting the brunt of my frustration in not being really good at any one of those things. How can I and why don’t I just fucking “be”? I need space to think, or maybe it’s that I shouldn’t need to think at all. I somehow can’t do it in real time. When I keep adding activities and things to do, I am actually putting off what is most important… I need to let it all in and be me according to me. I want to leave my broken heart on the floor for a while, and get some sleep.~Paula

Hello & Welcome… Fishing Anyone?


Thank you for visiting my little Glog (grief blog.) I will be trying to post something every day. Some writing may be short, some things a bit longer. 

I’m grateful that you are taking the time to read. Remember… don’t judge, don’t fix, just read. 

I’m getting ready for a family fishing event in Canada. I’ll be writing more about that later. Today I picked up my tuned-up fishing rods from my really awesome bait & tackle store. Looks like we will be ready for Walleye and Muskie! 

Thank you! 

~Paula

Summer, Red Bull & Cycling

Today is June 14, 2017. It is the last day of school for this year, and it’s been the worst to get through to this point! I feel like this whole time I’ve been jacked-up on Red Bull: on a constant buzzy high, shaking, making erratic moves, my brain can focus one minute really well, and the next I’m doing something irrational just because it feels good. This is me at home while my two teenagers have had to continue on in their freshman and 7th grade school years after my partner and their Dad died in the beginning of October 2016. I don’t know how my kids managed to put in full days of school, homework, and their sports – they have my full admiration and respect. We have each been affected by his death so differently, and I’ve been trying to keep up with my kids feelings, all the while getting my own shit together in this new, raw existence. 

At this time last year, Jon had just celebrated his 54th birthday, and he was putting on a brave face managing his cancer treatments and still working full time. The man never stopped moving. He still considered himself to be getting better, all just a matter of waiting for that clinical trial or the next drug to be approved. His weight had just started to dip. In the cancer world, weight changes can signal many things. At 6’2″, it was always his goal to stay around 195-200 pounds in between chemo weekends that occurred every two weeks. With his wrestling background, it was a training schedule he could wrap his head around. Unfortunately, his right side was bothering him where his original 2013 surgery was located, and we refused to think it was more cancer, only a change in scarring. He was not able to eat as usual, and when he did eat his side would hurt. It was a vicious cycle of his wanting to do something good (eat), but then getting a bad result (pain.) Scans at doctors’ check ups could not identify any specific change, as scarring can mask cancer, and his insides were such a mess. He pressed on, and his weight began staying below 190. 
For the past 30 days, I have been taking a grief writing course called Refuge in Grief by Megan Devine. Every day is posted here in my Glog. This writing course kicked my ass with daily writing prompts, and lead me to take a hard look at where I’m at with my life and grief since Jon’s death last October. Just like my kids having finals at the end of their school year, I too, have been working on finishing my course and gaining some knowledge. I learned quite a lot, all the while, real life was going on around me. The writing and real life intertwined, of course, and I’ll summarize for now by saying a few words – I need to calm my tits already! There were times that I was super-stressed and sad all over again in reliving past events and feelings through this writing. It was overwhelming, and my family and friends got a bit worried about me. To all of you I say “it’s okay that I’m not okay!” My grief moments are a part of me, and I appreciate your reading and in general dealing with my highs and lows. Thank you! I hope that now that my kids are out of school and I’m back to posting my own writing prompts as they come to me, I will start feeling more settled. I want to be purposeful in several areas of being a good: mom, daughter, friend, and cyclist! Literally, the bike rides have helped better manage my anxiety, and I love the cycling community! Since we are not moving, the kids and I will start making this house a home together. And I’ve decided that I will just chill on “looking for that person”, but I think it’s funny that I keep “finding” good people out there. I am grateful for these new friendships, and I welcome the laughter and adventure that makes me smile. More of that, yes please! ~Paula

Refuge in Grief – Day 30

Can you offer yourself kindness, can and how do you offer yourself love?

PART ONE
The Shore 

My days, and especially my nights, have been so cold. Even wrapped with several blankets, the cold stays and seems to come from within. I am now a silhouetted tree without its leaves, and a night sky of starless inky-blue hovers in the background. There is no dawn, only hours of everlasting dark, mottled space.
There is a small speck of light, a dwindling ember, left from what once was a raging bonfire, it is deep in the chambers of my heart. The remains of this fire, smoke lingering, sit still inside of me. It was nearly extinguished after he died. This fire is love and desire in their purest forms. They need room to breathe, kindling to grow, and company to enjoy its light and warmth. This ember has none of these things now.
I love myself enough to know I can’t let this fire go out completely. I’m fighting for that one red spark to stay lit. It merely smolders in me now, and if it does goes out, I feel I will die. Family and friends cannot help me, the life of this fire is mine alone to kindle. They are the sand as I walk along the shore, providing warmth under my feet when the sun shines, and they support me when the waves crash and roll below at my ankles. As I walk along, the wind whips my hair against my face and I stare into the distance. The sun’s reflection has caused tiny heat-wave ripples to emanate from the sand. I see someone, a dark form, is approaching, but the distance is too great at the moment to see any detail. I continue to walk on, the familiar sound of a lone seagull calling for its mate rings out and gets lost in sounds of wind and waves.~Paula 

PART TWO
His life may have stopped, but the love I have for him continues on. The love he gave to me is in the form of a cat’s eye shooter marble now wrapped in a soft-spun, silk ball of all the love I have for him. I can’t let any of this love out. It is being kept safe, but not where my heart is though, it hurts too much. It is somewhere in the library of my mind. It is in a special glass display case. I visit to look at it. When I place my fingertips on the glass and lean in for a closer view, I feel zingy electric pulses through my hands. There is so much energy in there, and I see and feel a warm aura that has a gossamer shimmer to it. It is overwhelming to think about actually opening this case and holding love in my hands again and pressing it to my heart. Even more daunting, making what is bound, unbound, and somehow giving all of this love to someone new. But yet, I find myself unashamed in thinking about that, and being hopeful that I will find a someone, somewhere again. 
There are three places and times in my life where I had felt most like myself: my college days, the first few years together with Jon in Chicago, and then our two years in Minnesota with our kids. At each of these times, I was so happy because I was being social and had many friends, I felt healthy and was exercising, and I had the most open-minded thinking about possibilities. As I try to wrap by head around being in this aloneness I face, I draw on these times to motivate me to go forward in to my unknown future with these same attitudes. I just have to believe that if I’m doing what I love to do and “living out loud”, that life will continue in positive ways and good things must come from it. I have to go on and “just be.”
The plain truth is, I owe it to myself and to the legacy of the love I shared with Jon, to be as open as possible to the next firsts and chapters in my life. I will not hold back my feelings, I will be my true self, and I will continue my life despite its having been halted with the tragedy of death and loss. The problem with my efforts to restart and go forward, is that my openness is met with a sense that I am interrupting others’ lives in progress, I don’t feel I fit in, and I am having to learn new social graces. I am not a patient person. The frustration of waiting for people to catch up with me or for me to go along is something I work on every day. You could call it my struggle with being in the moment, oppositional defiance, or just needing to escape the present. I often have to remind myself that “the reed that does not bend, will break.” My mind wanders and wants to have a future figured out already. I’m relying on people who care for me to pull me in and not push me away as I sort these things out.
I have figured out that grief is at my side, and not to be put-aside or patched up and fixed as I once thought possible. And in that spirit, I consider myself to be in a version of an “open relationship” from here on. Jon will always be with me, and the kids and I will always include him in conversation. Any new friend or partner, will be added to our little group. I also think of myself as a “whole person”, not a half-in halfsies kind of anything. And I think of finding another whole person to make a larger whole. I also am not “looking” for love, but I have to think it will find me. That said, I protest this decision, as I have to constantly remind myself of this when I’ve met people who light that spark. It’s just so hard for me to control that love from leaking out too soon.
I was lucky enough to experience true love with my husband and partner. In our relationship, I did some things right, other things wrong. I have learned tough life lessons about what is really important. What I miss most about Jon, is our being fun and crazy together, I try to remember these things that I forgot when he was so sick. I always wanted to get back to our true happiness together, but he did not survive his cancer. It makes me so sad. I have a deep longing for that kind of relationship and getting a crazy deep love back in my life. Not to replace him, but to have something new, something different. If someone truly loves me, needs me, can’t live without me, they will be knocking down my door to be with me. That person will want no space between us, the air itself will need to be brushed aside so we can be connected. Love has two parts, first is the desire, the craving to have it, and then the actions, the requirement for it to be shown and expressed. I need both. I keep my heart open, and hope that in time this will come to me in some form, like the figure in the distance walking toward me on the shore, coming in to clear view. ~Paula 

Refuge in Grief – Day 29

How do I write as I am called to write, and bow with respect to the fact that DEATH is at the core of this story? What’s the “story of the story” I’m in?

After Jon died, I needed desperately to remember the man that I married, the one before: death, cancer, moving, jobs, kids… I needed to turn back the time machine and remember HIM, the reasons why we fell madly in love, what was the original “us”, and why we had children together. What motivated him and me then? Where did he go now? What the hell happened to me along this journey, and who am I anyway? The beginnings of Jon and I started as a long distance relationship in the 1990s. He lived in Chicago, I lived in Pittsburgh. There was AOL, IM and faxing. We would write long emails to each other sharing stories, revealing our deepest, dirtiest thoughts, and all the while falling in love. We did not realize this until after we were engaged and living together, but each of us printed out all of each others’ emails. We each had our own hanging file folder time-capsule of our private thoughts to each other. I saved plane ticket stubs and funny photo booth pictures, too. We were fueled by writing out our fantasies and dreams and a sharing a vision of the future yet to unfold. We did not have to reread them at the time, each letter was absorbed into our minds, just like the curves and contours of each of our bodies.

For Jon’s first of three requested ashes spreading events, I needed especially to reread these emails. Last February, I chose to do Northwestern University in Chicago first, where we were married and first lived together, to reconnect with how we began. Our lengthy diatribes spoke to the raw and intense nature of our relationship, a nature that lasted until his death. For his ashes ceremony, I found in one of the letters a paragraph to use where he spoke to what he saw happening after he dies. I was somehow not surprised to find something like this, no subject was off limits. I will only paraphrase here and tell you that he wanted the memories of his soul to be released to sparkle like the stars, free of their living bonds to roam, to build stronger, to gather energy. When I reread the whole thing just now, it is so him. I worry of only one thing: in my night blindness I cannot see stars at night like most people, only the North Star and the moon of course. Will this be another death of him if I cannot see him in the night sky?

I have talked about getting back to the essence of me, and my writing is everything to creating, holding, and making love. Every word I write, I write for him to read, to know, I am searching for him in my mind again. It is in my mind where he first took root. Since Northwestern, Jon’s voice has no longer been heard in my mind, which was a second death of him. I lost his voice and the feel of him entirely. I thought I could move forward. My old habits are hard to break. I confess I am trying to find what cannot be found. There is no substitute, and no understudy will stand in his place. I am trying to find him in my writing, but it’s just my voice alone, it’s just a fantasy not rooted in reality anymore.

Jon and I would joke that our emails could be read by our children someday, after we were both dead. My writing after his death is all a part of the same Fractal, different scale, it will be added to our “record” of us. It is important that our kids know their parents loved each other. After all of the hurts in recent years, this will be needed later when the time is right. A way for our kids to have knowledge and memories when their own brains may choose to put it all in cold storage. Our lives now only separated by death, our writing is the common thread transitioning from one state of being to the next. I am trying desperately to “take it all in” when everything right now is “without.” For me, I am also planting seeds for a future yet to come. If I have any hope of a someone, somewhere, at some point, it will be meaningful that these writings are available for new people to read — to understand where I’ve been, where I’m at, and imagine where I may be going. When asking outright about my grief and loss can be so elusive, the writings answer so many questions. It is so important that our story be told and heard because it is what was “real.” It is the story of my life and heart, and I am willing to share it, with those who wish to read about it.~Paula

Refuge in Grief – Day 27

Part two: Go through the same writings fused from Day 26.  This time highlight phrases that could be expanded, maybe they hint to something or it could be be written as it’s own story. 



Here are the results:

Day 01 –

– I think of myself in three parts: past, present, and future.

– Needing to assure myself what “is real” and “not real”

– His things still fill half of the closet we shared.

– I am okay with being nothing.

– It is a place of promises not kept, a life unfulfilled.

– Full-on with no holding back.

– ‘Working out’: It’s my release and how I deal with the anxiety of my grief.

– ‘Working’: managing this hollow life.

– Future, simplified, kids close, make room for things to come.

Day 11 –

– My brain follows paths around my grief, “no thank you!”

– “Taking it all in”.

– Reading or writing through tear-filled eyes.

– I am leaning in to the things that give me pleasure over pain.

– Choose happy or not “griefy”.

– Knee-jerk response “escape”.

– I often wonder if I now let go completely and lean in to these emotions, will I get better or worse? 

– I am afraid of being sad for too long!

– The essence of me.
What I really think…

In highlighting phrases that hint at a larger story to be told, I found these three from the above list to be the ones that made me upset:
– I am okay with being nothing. 

– I often wonder if I now let go completely and lean in to these emotions, will I get better or worse? 

– I am afraid of being sad for too long!
After 28 of 30 days in this writing course, I feel completely broken down, when and how will I be built back up, I just don’t know. I am my own worst enemy right now, and I’m done with all of my crying and not getting my shit together! I am good for no one, especially myself. What I want to do is to stand still in the dense forest of my life, and listen. I want to be alone, and push everyone out, so I can hear, so I can understand.
Earlier this evening, we had dinner out with another family, and then when we got home, my kids and I had our weekly family meeting. I sobbed at dinner as I shared updates with my good friend, and later more tears flowed at home with my kids as we talked. School ends this week, summer will officially begin, our calendar of events is just about near-full. I am completely depleted emotionally today. These tears are not so much about him, they are mostly about me. My nothingness, my letting go and finding there is no one there to catch me. I can’t hold back my endless tears because the entirety of my decision to not move and stay here for five more years for both kids to finish high school has sunk in, fully exposing my aloneness. 
After my meeting with my kids, I went for a bike ride. It was near dusk. Just a quick ride to rid myself of all the sadness and anxiety of today. Less than ten minutes in to my ride on country roads, a deer cuts across in front of me, barely 10 feet ahead. It was a flash from my right, a brown blur confirmed by the scuffing and clicking of its hooves on the pavement. I stayed my course, my heart skipped a beat, this is what I have come to expect. 
I’m pedaling as hard as my legs will allow now. I’m headed to Stillman Road. I find meaning in the roads I choose to ride on, and right now I’m thinking about what “Still Man” means tonight: a dead man, a content man, a listening man? The light is a shade duller, there are no cars. I hear a bullfrog begin its song, the distant hum of highway noise, my new bike making funny metallic rattles as I go over the occasional bump in the road. I’m at the section where trees create a canopy from both sides of the road. In the daytime, it is a welcome relief from the sun, now it is a dark abyss waiting to receive me. 
I have night blindness. That means that in the dark I lose my sense of depth, things go flat, blurry, shapes undefined. I see things differently in the dark. My other senses take over and “seeing” is helped by hearing and feeling both at higher registers. Riding on, into the canopied road, my special eyes are hard at work. As I adjust my gear to swim through this section, I look to what is ahead. There is a rise in elevation, and I’m focusing on the crest of the hill. The evening sky is the softest bird’s-egg blue, and as it falls to meet the silhouette of trees and road now, it transitions to a pink very much like me blushing when I drink wine. There is an intensity about the glow and as I stare into it, I feel it pulling me forward like a beacon. The road is losing its defined texture, I see fewer polka-dots and more grey monotone. I pedal onward. As I come full circle to tonight’s biking route, the lights of the streets now show me the way. Its a game of connect the dots, and I am imagining as I pass each light, I’m leaving behind a drawn line showing the path I have taken. I need help now more than ever, the sun has near completely set.~Paula

Refuge in Grief – Day 26

Choose one or more pieces of writing, print and cut apart the sentences, and put together a new writing. 

I combined two writings: 

Day 01 – Who was the person you used to be?

Day 11 – A response to an excerpt by May Sarton and these lines: “I suffer from these brief weekends, the tearing up of the roots of love, and from my own inability to behave better under the stress.” 


Here is the result. 

And what about those roots anyway? I need to be completely honest and now is a good time for me to share. I am afraid of being sad for too long! I find myself reviewing a day, a conversation, even a simple text, needing to assure myself what “is real” and “not real.” My grief, the buildup of emotions once below the surface, is now fully exposed and raging most days. At the moment, my brain follows paths around my grief. My brain says “no thank you!” It is a place of promises not kept, a life unfulfilled. No matter the scale, I’m the same pattern. The only difference is that at different times I have adjusted my focus and scale, it’s still me in there. If I ever get a tattoo, I would get a Fractal tattoo, a ‘Dragon Curve’ Fractal Object to be precise. I like the idea of owning nothing, I am okay with being nothing. I don’t want things, I don’t want to continue living in this house. It’s my release and how I deal with the anxiety of my grief. This grief that now stands beside me has brought me back to my center, full-on with no holding back. What they need to know is, this version of myself is getting back to the essence of me. I am either reading or writing through tear-filled eyes. I have to take breaks in between posts sometimes. I have been planted in a different soil as a result of my losses. I look different, I act different, people that have known me for a while are seeing someone they don’t recognize. Call it a reset or perhaps a “me” from 25 years ago now with wrinkles, but it is “me” nonetheless. A repeated pattern in infinite scale. I think of my life as its own Fractal.~Paula

Refuge in Grief – Day 28

(Day 26 & Day 27 are taking time to do, so its on to the current day. Sometimes my posting these writing course responses is like out of order death itself.)

How do we know the shape, the weight, the being, of the one you love, by what we see in you? How does who I am shed light on who he was?
Jon died providing for his family. His brilliant focus, his love of the hunt, and waging warfare in others minds, was an intoxicating experience for him, for me, for us. He and I agreed to everything that we did. We were in a vacuum of our big decisions, there were never any small consequences to these, only large ones to match. Most people would shy away from this way out of the box thinking and lifestyle, most are too busy being in the box and happy with that. Not us. Our demise was paying the most attention to the big picture, while important small stuff remained out of focus. If only we made time to see. 
We had a vision together, of being successful in the name of love and being that generation that did better than the last. We never let any opportunity go to waste. I think I understand what I did wrong now. Other people would have talked him down from the edge, I encouraged and supported his going there. We stood on the edge together, holding hands, always looking out to the horizon, planning the next big thing. There was room for very few other people. We held on to each other and if we let go sometimes, we knew that we were each others’ gravity and would return to that place called home, wherever it was that year.
Without him, I am standing on the edge, I don’t have him to hold me back from falling forward. I think about wading in to Lake Michigan this past February to release some of his ashes, and I wanted to completely submerge myself. The water’s temperature was just above freezing, and I imagined finding him just under its surface, then I wanted to swim out to the horizon because I felt he would be waiting for me there. My ears betrayed me when at thigh-high water level, I heard that strange woman on the shore saying I should take my pants off, and I was snapped out of my mission’s true intent. 
To see Jon now through me is to notice what I’m not doing at times, particularly when it comes to controlling my actions. Jon would have given me advice on how to handle certain situations differently, to be more patient. What I am doing like him is methodically planting seeds in my future and waiting to see what grows. I have now fully embraced his friends as my own, he is no longer the sole representative of us. Our circle of friends is growing and I’m able to make room for them all. His love of music I have embraced fully, but I chose to make my own playlists, I like leaving his collection in tact. ~Paula

The Agreement 

At this time in 2016, it was coming. The death spiral, the inevitable. Neither of us could imagine what was to come. There was always hope, but hope was never going to be enough. 

The Agreement 
You will not die in the hospital, I will get you out of there and bring you home.
You will have control over choosing palliative care over hospice care, I will have a witness at my side to make sure I am not putting my wants ahead of yours. 
You will be served anything you wish to eat, I will make each plate as beautiful and delicious as possible even though you will only eat with your eyes.
You will have all the morphine and good drugs you need, I will not let you be in pain or suffer.
You will not die without a fight, I will not live if I fight you’re going to leave me.
You will live on in memory and through our children, I will die a slow death in your absence without you to want me and love me here.
You will always be missed, I will always love you.
~Paula

Refuge in Grief – Day 25

Poem response —For Grief ~ John O’Donohue


“There are days when you wake up happy;

Again inside the fullness of life,

Until the moment breaks…

And you are thrown back Onto the black tide of loss.”

I may be somewhat of a novice now, but I am training to become an accomplished cyclist. That includes getting the right equipment for the job. A few short weeks ago, I bought a used but new-to-me touring bike, perfect for roads. Each time I ride, I concentrate on how to work the gears, grip the handles, increase my speed. I’m breaking down each thing that I can improve so I can eventually ride with better cyclists than myself and look like I know what I’m doing! It’s the most exciting thing I’ve done in a long time. 
I am currently using my old mountain biking gloves with this new bike. My mountain bike has a shock fork in the front, so it’s made to absorb vibration from bumps and rough ground. My new bike is totally different. It has no shock, just a steel frame with a solid fork. The old gloves are not working to cushion the vibration. Also, Michigan has some terrible roads and I feel every bump! This afternoon I went to my bike shop to buy a new pair of gloves. I chose a pair that had some dense cushioning on the areas of my hands that will need it most. They are very snug fitting, and kind of like a dog’s thunder sweater, they calmed me down when I put them on. 
My grief is very much like these biking gloves. Making the decision to buy a new pair was just like me choosing to take this writing course. I was going along before, but feeling every bump can be too painful and I am not that ‘in’ to torturing myself! Finding the right fit for carrying my loss is something I do constantly. There are some moments when I feel completely exposed to the harshness and vibration, and it can be unbearable at times. I seek out things and ways that can make me feel better. 
Not to mention the condition of the roads. I took a new route a couple days ago, and one road was freshly paved, I’d like to think I was the first cyclist to use it! But then, I turned right on to the next, and it was the worst! I would compare this to those frequent grief bombs: unexpected sudden triggers of pain and you just have to get through it. Patched holes and buckling cracks, there was no relief in sight on this road, except when I could finally make the next turn according to my map notes. I am finding that just going along on these rides without a map can be a disaster. I now plan out a specific route. However, the time factor usually kicks in mid-ride and I realize I was a little too ambitious, and I have to cut it short to get back to be on time for something else. I’m hoping to go on a full ride Saturday morning, no limits on time, my teenagers will be sleeping in. It’s this kind of moment I crave and need. Perhaps in my attempt to be a better cyclist, I may be learning how to ride with my loss, too, and course correct as I go. I can only hope.~Paula

Refuge in Grief – Day 24

Are there moments when the pain of your loss feels different, when you are more centered or aligned and have moments of peace?

Zero-Out
I carry an extra burden in addition to grief. The obvious one is that I am now a single parent. Without their father on this earth, my kids rely solely on me to be there for them as they grow up. My kids are my joy, my husband’s blood runs in their veins, the resemblance to him is undeniable. This is the upside in all of this mess. After I tell you the true weight which I carry in addition to my grief, I know you will think of me in a different light. Maybe you will think I’ve been lying to you for not telling, maybe you will feel sorry for me, or maybe you just won’t really care because your own shit is actually worse than mine. I won’t judge you, if you don’t judge me.
Over the course of Jon’s having cancer, my health became acutely affected. Up until his cancer was diagnosed, Jon was always the healthy one in our relationship, and he would always support me as I dealt with my annual case of some illness, knee surgery, hysterectomy, and the list goes on! One of the reasons we did not take as many vacations as we wanted to, was because of my recovery from whatever was going on with me at the time. The stress of our last move in 2011 to Michigan masked many underlying issues. For both of us: our upset stomachs, weight gain, mood swings — yeah, a good dose of job changing and moving will do that, right? We missed the bigger picture entirely as we plowed forward with getting our family under one roof, finding good schools for our kids, and Jon’s start at a new company.
By early 2015, I was struggling with pain in my side and a bad case of reflux, it was two years in to Jon’s cancer battle. I finally got to the doctor and had some tests, and was diagnosed with a nonfunctioning gallbladder — just get this out! My body continued to have other odd things happening, and at the pre-op visit a week before my gallbladder surgery, I mentioned to the doctor that I felt a lump in my left breast. The referral to have a mammogram to check this out was immediate that same day. It was a relief to have this grape-sized cyst drained (sorry, gross, I know), but the breast doctor saw something else on the scans in that same breast. A needle-core biopsy was taken, then I went home feeling like I had just been shot, a packed white gauze pad taped essentially over my heart. The lab would now review my sample, and I would hear about results in a few days, onward with my gallbladder removal surgery scheduled at hand. 
I was resting at home after my cholecystectomy, and the phone rang. In a half-daze, I answered. It was the breast doctor. I needed to get my pen and write this all down. I had Ductal Carcinoma In Situ (DCIS) stage 0, a form of breast cancer. Great, I know a thing or two about cancer, what do I do about mine? — just get this out! Finding out you have cancer in any form really messes with your mind. Besides having my life flash before my eyes, I reviewed all the talks that were going to be immediately necessary with my husband and kids. Then, it would be attack time, getting to the business of survival, which meant a lumpectomy and 20 days of radiation, followed by five years of drugs, and mammograms every 6 months. The goal is to zero-out the percentage possibility of reoccurrence in an exponential quantity.
(There is a middle part to this story that needs to be included here, but I will save it for another time. The middle part needs to stand on its own. This is enough for now, to answer the above question.)
In August 2016, I was one year out from radiation, and to date my scans are clear. But, my life is still heavily clouded by fucking cancer. (Hall-pass for appropriate use please.) My pain of losing Jon to cancer and the utter unexpected turn of facing a form of it myself at the same time, the gravity of that, has given birth to an inability to rationally deal with it all. So I’m constantly sourcing in my designer-trained brain for ways to process, diagram, compartmentalize, and quite frankly remember who I am. And for my kids, I am thankful for their teenage brains that help them forget details now and then, they need time to just be kids if only for a little bit longer. 
It’s 11:11 a.m. June 8, 2017 right now. Today is Jon’s birthday, he would be 55 years old if alive. This morning I drove from Michigan to Chicago, his hometown, for a genetic testing appointment to learn if I have the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes in my DNA. It is ironic to me as this appointment date was originally scheduled for August, but I was called just last month because they had a cancellation for today — today! My course of action on this whole breast cancer drama is to stay ahead of it. Since I am healthy now, I’m feverishly exercising, training, and strengthening my mind and body. I am creating space between me and fucking cancer because I am the only one who can do it. My time is truly limited for peace, mortality makes a terrible house guest, and it refuses to leave. Call it my justification for my modes of escape. If my results received in a few weeks are positive for any of the breast cancer genes, I will be having surgery for breast reconstruction. My children will have the gift of genetic testing, for better or worse, from both of their parents as knowledge of their future risks. This is a view of my past, present, and future; known and unknown, this is my extended burden.~Paula

Refuge in Grief – Day 23

How would you love me now? This is him talking…
My Puskie,

Watching you today, I realized this: I took the girl out of the wild, but I didn’t take the wild out of the girl. Your smile pulled me in, and I loved that plaid mini skirt! I told myself that I would never date a graphic designer, but you came along and were so different. The first time I met you, I knew I wanted to marry you. You always acted so coy, and I could see through your reserved, tough shell that you wore for everyone. When you said you could beat me in a race up those hills, I saw my future with you: I knew you would always challenge me and drive me crazy with your big ideas, and I would love you with all of my soul and need to crawl under your skin to be as close as possible to you. Together we could fill any room with good conversation and laughing. I loved watching you let go when we were dating, doing the things that made you happy. 
Later, I know that you tamed yourself out of the fear that I would leave you all those years ago. I would have never left you then, and I will never leave you now. Don’t be afraid anymore. You have nothing to fear, that serendipity of your bouncing off the walls thinking is what keeps you moving forward. You’re going to do things greater than we both imagined. You have my spirit added to yours, it’s a lot to hold in, I know. I’m watching you sort it all out, sometimes I’m frustrated because you choose to do things not in an order that makes sense to me. But I’m learning to see things through your eyes from where I am now. Just keep the kids close to you. I know the most difficult choice was putting their happiness before yours, but I believe when you see how happy they will be, it will lead you to more happiness for you.
Keep in touch with everyone. They need to hear your voice and see you, we all want you to succeed on every level. Talk to Paul especially, he will hear my voice through you. Many people are coming forward now to carry you and walk beside you, I love seeing you smile and laugh with them, feel good about it, you deserve to laugh like that again. I’ll take care of Mom and Dad, they need me more than you do sometimes. Make sure you call them often because you are like a second daughter to them. Just know that I hear you talking to me through your tears, and I never meant to make you and the kids so sad.
You are becoming stronger every day. You’ve done so much, you’ve found that version of you that got me from the beginning. Take hold of it, run with it! And, yes, that was me me flying above you on your last bike ride. I will always be watching over you! And I just have to say it again, date who you want, but please no douche bags with Corvettes. I see you with someone who will give you what you truly need, and he will have gifts to give you more important than money or status. Keep doing the things you love to do, be yourself, that’s who I always loved the most. Be patient, my love. Much love always, Jon
~Paula 

Refuge in Grief – Day 21

An ordinary memory…

I remember going to our son’s preschool music performance when he was four years old. The basement of the church had an expansive linoleum floor mottled with years of use from past social events, church fish fry’s, and the preschool trucks, push bikes, and scooters used for the kids on rainy days. As we walked through the hallway toward the main space, the smell of natural gas wafted ever so slightly out of the kitchen as we passed its doorway. This is always a sign of a great church kitchen. The massive industrial cast iron oven had no less than eight large burners from which the gas smell emitted from its pilot lights. I had the privilege of using it when I hosted a Thanksgiving luncheon here. I kept it simple and made chicken noodle soup in large aluminum vats on the stove top served with Saltine crackers, salad with Ranch dressing, fresh cut apples, and assorted cookies – small Indiana-town food-fare like this was well-appreciated. I really liked walking around wearing my little apron and making sure every one had enough to eat and I also enjoyed chit-chatting about our kids, while boxing up extra cookies for families to take home. 
This particular preschool performance was important because my husband was able to attend. Over the course of those early years with kids, it was usually just me armed with the video camera going to these things. When he would come home from business trips, he would watch the videos with our kids and catch up. As the four of us now walk in, my son joins his classmates and teachers while my husband, daughter and I find seats. Folding chairs in long rows face the simple platform stage. Wallah! It’s showtime! Even at age four, my son was both tall and barrel chested, just like the rest of the men in our families. When the kids marched out in a straight across the stage line up, he was nearest the center flanked with the other kids in descending height order. They each wore different brightly colored t-shirts with the preschool logo on them. The only song I remember was THEE song: The A, B, C Song. Every letter was sung like “‘A’ is for apple, shiny and red” and so on. It was a long alphabet song, sung with the proverbial piano slightly out of tune as accompaniment. The middle of the song, it happens… “‘O’ is for opera” and suddenly our son steps forward throws his arms out and belts out in his best Luciano Pavarotti, “Ah, ah, ahhhhhhhhhh!” Three notes, with vibrato, and he held that last note for what seemed like forever! His voice was powerful and he was amazing! I remember looking to my husband and daughter, and then back to my son, and we were all-eyes-wide-open and laughing knowingly that as such a loud kid, and he was made to do this. It was a beautiful family moment, and it was so nice that it was shared by all four of us together.~Paula

Refuge in Grief – Day 22

Today’s prompt is about writing in my loved one’s voice from his perspective, inspired by this verse:At the end of my suffering there is a door. “The Wild Iris,” by Louise Gluck
Before…

Let people help you. They will be here for you after I’m gone. I have committed you to my memory, and that will never go away. Stand right there so I can see you. I know you want to tell me something. You don’t have to say it out loud, where I’m going I will know everything. I know you need to be happy again. Be patient, as hard as it will be, don’t rush. They’ve come to see me. They told me that it won’t be much longer. Thank you for telling him it’s okay for me to go. I stayed as long as I could for you and the kids. It was all worth it, I would do it all again. The rain is coming, make sure you open the window so you can hear it with me. 
After…

I’m sorry you can’t sleep for too long. Let me help you, let’s dream together now. Let’s go for a walk. Do you see those moss covered rocks? I like to sit right there and watch beyond that slope. It’s always after the rain here. I take walks with everyone. I’ve been hearing stories from them that I haven’t heard in years! My side only hurts now from laughing too hard! Keep walking just a little further. Give me your hand, it’s a little rocky here. Wait, wait! Close your eyes, I’ll cover them for you. Turn this way, okay, now look. I come here every day and surf. Down that way there’s a little hut where I take naps once in while. And over there, beyond that tree is the best place to windsurf. Hey, don’t cry. I wanted to show this to you so that you know where I am. Take a deep breath. I love you. Let’s walk back, and next time I bring you here, we’ll go out on the water together, okay? Let me tuck you in. I’ll lay here with you for a few minutes, till you’re asleep. Goodnight, my love. 
~Paula

Refuge in Grief – Day 20

As time passes, what does a shift in your grief, even a tiny, momentary one, mean to you? What does it say about loss? Or love?

I consider losing someone to cancer as a horrifying experience. I am so sorry for those who share in this process of loss. To watch my 6’2″ partner literally shrink from his 235 pound solidness down to barely 130 pounds of a skeletal frame near the end was enough. The man could not eat, so his own body was his food source. The only thing that grew was the fucking cancer. (The F-word is appropriate, and I think of using it more often in these writings.) Once diagnosed with stage-4 cancer, after an emergency surgery for a bowel blockage in January 2013, his fight and decline began simultaneously. He always believed he could beat it, and we all believed that he could. His mental determination was so set, he even managed to work the whole time. It kept him active and his mind focused on something he could control.
Time is something none of us can control. During Jon’s cancer battle, I was held hostage by time. I was fighting every day just to keep the kids and house going in the present, while on a parallel existence I was terrified of his having a shortened life in the future. Neither place felt comfortable to be or go, I became numb to my own inertia of not wanting to be here, not wanting to go there. I was stuck. He was stuck too, until cancer made the decision for him to die. 
Death ended my inertia and began my race. I am in a race now against time to somehow get to a future I can only imagine. The grief rages when it wants to, I am not the best parent right now. My teenagers are often parenting me. At the end of the day, we are holding each other up as equals in solidarity going forward together in our brave new world. Our family of three, with the absence of their father, my husband, whose love for us was so intense as his life slipped through his fingers, now brings out in us an oppositional defiance to normal, structured family life. Call it an intermission like at an opera or maybe it’s more like a computer system reboot, but if we all could just get more sleep at night, we might be more pleasant to to deal with each other and have better parent-child boundaries and relations. Unfortunately, loss and grief makes that near impossible, so for those who think there’s a pick up, chin up and carry on type of solution out there, I appreciate your hopefulness, but it is what it is here. 
Eight months since his passing, we have now witnessed others losses. It’s always a family discussion of comparing our story to these others. We talk about those families and what they might be going though. It creates fresh grief for us. As time passes and our dates special to us come and go, that adds other layers of fresh grief. I have to wonder when will this cycle end, and then I know it just will not. My kids and I love the ocean, so did Jon. We liked to swim out and ride the waves together. As a mom, I was focused on my kids, the water, and surroundings, teaching them how to be safe and how to have fun at the same time while bobbing along with the waves. Seeing my kids having a great time while swimming in the ocean makes me happy, it’s like sharing a gift. I have found comfort in letting grief wash over me like the ocean’s waves. Wave after wave will keep coming now for my family, but I hope we will learn to be better swimmers and I am determined that we can do it together. ~Paula

An Open Letter To Trail Magic

In honor of, and in the true spirit of trail magic, I am posting this letter here, with the hope that the person to whom it is for will discover it almost by accident. 

Dear Trail Magic,

Thank you so much for your kind note. With your time at trail speed, I thought you might like a reply in my version of some light reading. Keep this to yourself, or share with others, that is completely up to you. This comes to you with well wishes of continued trail magic to you, as you continue your journey. I am giving you the Buddha’s smile: one which is given by expressing the entirety of one’s face. To receive it, all you have to do is smile back with the same intensity and wholeness. I want nothing in return, but these things I would like you to know. Hugs. 
(Sorry my gift of writing is so long, you and he can laugh about that, I am never short on the writing when it comes from my heart.)
For you…

I can name on one hand the people who have had a special influence in my life. He is now one of those people. Why him? You know him in intimate ways that I never will. You are a second mother to his children whom I probably won’t ever have the privilege of meeting. I have such respect for you and love for you, especially for loving him and his wonderful kids. I see you as his bridge between his utter desolation of having a dying wife and partner at a time that he wanted to be his best self. He now continues that desire and is able to fulfill it because of you. You kept each other afloat in the most challenging of times. Beautiful you, who have had your own unique journey to this point, you have had loss too. I am sorry for your losses. You are his special mojo, the person that connects him to all aspects of what is to be enjoyed and celebrated in yourselves and with others. 
I reached out to him this past March, it was at one of my lowest points for me. I was fighting against letting grief in my life, every day had new loss, and I desperately wanted to learn how others managed. I did a search for widows and widowers on social media, and there he was. I followed him, and I sent him a note that literally said, “I’m not hitting on you,” and that I wanted to ask him questions about his grief. He responded and understood my situation instantly and offered to talk, and I was so grateful. All this from him as he was still dealing with his own highs and lows. What he did for me was ignite a fire that had near been extinguished. He was my unexpected, a heart stone, and I found myself wanting to share with him what I could through my phone. My thoughts and emotions had been bottled up for so long, and he opened up my mind and tapped in to the “real Paula” through our texting. 
This was such a gift to me from him, given selflessly and freely. I don’t really know if he even realizes this, he was just being himself. I sent him my extended diatribes about grief things, and I enjoyed sending him my pictures. It helped me, and I think it helped him, too. I am writing nonstop now because of him and his inspiration, and I am taking a grief writing course. I am no longer fighting grief, it is by my side. I am practicing living a public life that once was so cautiously private. If you are reading my new Glog, please go back to the first entries. The 3-part posts are what I had texted to him. Please read them, you were thought about in writing some of them. 
I realized during my April NYC trip that you are the one he is meant to be with. It was not my place in his life, but he had a special place in mine. At that point, I turned to supporting him through my writing in silently beckoning him to “find” that he needed you completely. When he texted me that he was in love with you, it was like a fever had finally broke. I was at first relieved (finally, he’s ready!) then absolutely overjoyed that two deserving people had found each other. I think of myself in all this too, of course, and your love story you share with him gives me pure hope that after losing my husband and partner, a new partner will eventually emerge and “find me” and I may fall “in love.” Until then, I am concentrating on my family and staying on the path of becoming “me.”
You are a kind friend, and I see you taking big risks and being so open to life’s journey. I really admire you for that. Your taking the journey you are on has inspired me to take some risks of my own. I am finding my community in cycling. Biking, mountain biking and exercise were activities I enjoyed way before I was even married, it is in the “essence of me” so to speak. Also in my essence, is the joy of giving to others. It makes me happy when I can make others happy, I hope in some small way, I have made you smile. I have whole-heartedly been touched by watching your affection for one another unfold, and I have done my best to support you both along the way. You make a perfect pair! I hope we can all continue to be friends and offer each other support, it means a lot to me.  I am always here to give you encouragement, and I hope you now know why I wish to call you a friend.

Sincerely, ~Paula

Refuge in Grief – Day 19

What do you want to remember? What do you wish you could forget?

I remember the day after our first child, our daughter, was born. He drove from Chicago to Indianapolis for a job interview. Fueled only by the thrill of now being a new daddy, he must have been so exhausted on that drive! (It was worth it, he got the job.) I was left alone, just me and her. She had a cry that I recognized, I called her Big Bird because she was the biggest baby in the nursery at almost 9 pounds and wore a light yellow stocking hat. The first song I sang to her was Wheels on the Bus. I wanted her to know my voice. That one song led to countless others, sung to keep her gaze, to lull her to sleep, to fill the air with a melody. I now want to remember all of the songs that I wrote for my kids in their first years. There were over twenty. I made up a song about a toy inch worm, a seahorse, and each of my kids had their own name song. I wrote down all of them at one point, but I can’t remember where I filed it! The melodies and lyrics fade in and fade out in my mind.
Music was a central part of Jon’s life. His eclectic music collection was never far from him. In the car, the iPod; at home, the stereo system. I remember that for every move we made, always the first thing to be unpacked and set up was the stereo. I swear a requirement of a house was a perfect place and space for those speakers! Once hooked up, our home would be filled with a heavy dose of U2, Annie Lennox or Bob Marley. If you think of an artist, it’s probably in his collection of cds or iTunes! Music connected him to his life: history with friends, places he lived, and with his own heartbeat. When we were dating, I think part of his wooing me was through sharing his music with me. He always wanted me to hear a new album or cd that he had found. Music was like having a third partner in our relationship: we hung out with friends and family, made yummy food in the kitchen, and we made love with music setting the perfect mood. Our kids grew up in a home filled with his music. Weekend mornings only got started when a playlist was clicked and the coffee was being made to go with it. I’m proud to say that both of our kids know classic tunes by Led Zeppelin and AC/DC. 
I wish I could forget that Jon seemed to be searching for a cure to his cancer in his music. It held him together listening to his favorites. I could feel him concentrating very hard as if waiting to hear some message or jar some memory that would take it all away and restore him to full strength. As his mortality became more defined last June of 2016, with signs of his illness advancing, our third partner of music became more comforting to him than I could be. I want to forget my knowing there was nothing I could do to help him or soothe him, the fact was that his life was slipping away, and all I could do was bear witness. Music did not hold him the way I did, nor did it look into his eyes and see all the unspoken truths of our love. It could not physically touch him the way I did. But it gave him things I could not, and for that I was grateful. As he became smaller and his cancer became so large, the need for listening to his music waned. But I think he still heard his playlists in his mind, firmly rooted in a place cancer could not reach. The memory of all those songs echoes clearly in my mind, sometimes with a haunting sound like a car crash, sometimes it’s like the children’s songs I can’t quite seem to put my finger on.
This legacy of music that is left behind for us is precious. I know the songs that he loved best. I listen to his playlists. I have continued his love of music by making my own playlists. I laugh to myself when my teenagers are annoyed by me playing my music too loud or a song that I should be too old to listen to. “You should be listening to old people music!” they say. Fine, very well. Jon would be laughing at their protesting. I want them to remember and hear their Dad through the music he loved. I will remember his defiance over his disease, and I will forget that he lost against it by rather thinking he heard a calling that only he could hear.~Paula

Refuge in Grief – Day 17

Grief is everywhere. How can I soften in to my grief, and allow it to loosen a little bit?

Grief is everywhere. 
Grief IS everywhere, and I AM everywhere with my grief. I’m literally all over the place, and I’m not able to do one thing very well. I find myself trying to be a good mom, taking care of the house and bills, imagining a new social life, managing stress, exercising–it’s a hodge-podge all sprayed with a heavy dose of Axe-laden grief. Having a good night’s sleep is elusive, and this does me no good when everything in the day is magnified. Simple situations like attending one of my children’s lacrosse games becomes a kabuki theatre of keeping my chin up and my emotions in check. It takes extra effort and there are tears behind my sunglasses when I remember who is missing at these games.
My social skills with the people I know suck. Whether my tears spill out in conversation and I say “it’s okay that I’m not okay,” or I’m actually laughing at a simple story a little too hard, neither feels quite right. I send the wrong messages to new people I meet. Just call me Miss Inappropriate Timing. I’m either missing the joke or I’m unable to listen and understand what is being said. I would like to make new friends, but there is all kinds of awkward in my over-editing, over-sharing, or over-reacting. Everything comes out wrong when I speak and especially in texts. It’s like I’ve lived alone on an island and my return to civilization requires a full assimilation program to function properly. Where do I sign up?
I am learning some hard lessons. The hardest lesson being that I can’t seem to relate to others in grief. That is the honest truth why I am taking this writing course. Thinking that grief and all could be fixed and prayed through is what I offered to other people, and I learned quickly that there is no solution to this path I am on, WE are on. Yes, I believe and know now just being there and acknowledging others’ truths is a better way to relate. I have learned the importance of thanking someone for sharing their story. I am grateful to hear the words of others because they are helping me better understand myself. 
I wanted to put my grief in the corner and bring it out to talk to it when I felt like it. Instead, through listening to others in grief and how they deal, I have decided to build a house for it. Plant flowers around it, invite others over to visit and share company with me and my grief. But this living out loud which others seem to do with grace, is a raw reality opposite of my previous very private life. It’s new to me, so now I’m new to you. I’m trying to loosen up and go with it all, but I feel judgement at every turn. My hope is that those that have known me forever will have faith in me and my kids they we will be okay. Please hold us up, but just don’t squeeze us too hard. For new friends, I hope they see that I’m trying my best to live in my truth and be a good person. If they like what they see, I hope they stick around and grow with me. 
There is one time of day that is most important to me. When I first wake up, I lay there very still for a few minutes with my eyes open. I feel my heart beating. I can’t see anything in the dark, so I just “feel.” I have awoken to the very worst of feelings and okay feelings. I have even laughed out loud! But regardless, this is a moment for me. Sometimes I cry. Sometimes I listen to music if I just want to drown out all the feelings. Each day is different. I am willing to let each day in, and see where it takes me.~Paula

Refuge in Grief – Day 18

Honoring others who grieve, my wishes for you. 

In bodybuilding, it’s called the Front Double Biceps Pose. Both arms raised at the sides, arms curled, fists tight. Flexing biceps, tensing spread chest and abdominal muscles into a contoured symphony of personal human achievement, the bodybuilder stands on powerful legs that appear more as twin redwood trees than flesh. The facial expression unapologetically stares with a smile of confidence while making eye contact with each of the judges. There are a total of eight standard poses in competition, but this one is the most vulnerable. You have to completely own it, everything is exposed for the judges and audience to see. You’re in that tiny swimsuit for crying out loud! 
So for each of us who carries the load of grief, I ask you to think of yourself as a competitive bodybuilder. Wake up every day and train. Work on building your strength to carry your load. If you have a weak muscle, practice to improve its size and definition. Find other bodybuilders who inspire you to train harder and reach your goals. Surround yourself with motivational pictures and objects that remind you of where you’ve been and motivate you to where you want to go. Get to a gym that has good equipment to support you and people you like to workout with. Give yourself permission to take a day off to rest so that your muscles can recover. Feed your body with what it needs to be fully energized and healthy, but don’t feel guilty if you need a piece of chocolate cake once in a while. Look in the mirror and like what you see. I want you to stand on that stage and find your pose. ~Paula

Refuge in Grief – Day 16

What’s it like to see the condition of your heart?

Doctor Bruce Banner, please stand up. 
I will first share a couple secrets with you because they need to be told. What you see on the outside of me, is not the real me, it’s what I choose to let you believe and see as real. I color my hair because without a trip to the salon every six weeks, my honey-caramel all-one-length lovely locks would be more like salt-n-pepper including a Bride-of-Frankenstein white wavy-streak that now erupts from the top of my head. Thank you, Jon, for your lasting visual reminder of all the stress that has been pounding me like unrelenting waves – fully realized in my hair! After Jon’s death, the only thing I felt was my heartbeat. Everything else was mechanical, business-oriented and standard procedure. As replacement of focusing solely on Jon’s care, the natural transition to making sure every one had a mention in his memorial services was easy. It was all about others feelings, not mine. My heart would race, pound and torque through my chest, whether from waking up in a cold sweat to the nightmare of reality or from my thoughts about being alone and a single parent. At least I knew I was still alive, and sometimes I did not want to be.
I am Dr. Bruce Banner. I am respected, intelligent, innovative, but I now a carry a dark secret that has been caused by my own scientific experiments gone wrong. This secret is an angry, rage-filled, green beast that no one likes, understands or accepts. When the beast comes out, destruction ensues and large military vehicles are deployed to suppress and defeat it at all costs. I, Dr. Banner, have no choice but to accept this beast that now lives inside of me, knowing that neither can exist without the other. I want so much for people to see the good that both can do, and to lower their weapons against me.
The beast can’t be controlled or asked to wait. He can’t be bottled up because he wants to come out in the worst of ways. The beast has no patience for those that are not ready for him. When I feel the beast needing to come out at the most inappropriate of times, I choose to escape to let it be free. The freedom is short-lived and unsatisfying. Exhaustion is a welcome companion that sometimes shares my bed. Despite my courting efforts, Exhaustion is a cold lover, and gives nothing to me in return. So, with my eyes closed, I face Loneliness, to which I crawl to on my knees. Doctor Banner is tensing up again — sinew, muscles and veins are popping through skin. The beast is here, not to be tamed and will not obey. Me, my heart and mind, in the rawest of forms, all this beast wants is to be seen for who he is and loved back. ~Paula

Refuge in Grief – Day 15

Refuge in Grief – Day 15
15/30 days complete! Today review the writing you have done so far, and write about what you find. 
I had a comfort zone. Before this course, I was writing a little thing I called The Glog, a private grief blog which I started shortly before he died. I used it to write down thoughts, quotes or things I just didn’t want to forget. Time was moving so fast, I was losing track of days and hours. It was all about the morphine schedule. Jon’s care ruled my existence. It was important for me to get these things out of my head and on paper (in my phone) because when I was falling off the cliff, I could reread my Glog notes and see that I had already thought about so many things that worried me or needed a decision. I could pull myself away from the edge and calm myself from freaking out, and take a different direction or stay the course. As I kept writing into my Glog, I noticed entries kept getting longer. Something more deep was coming out of my brain, the memories, emotions were loosening from their knotted ropes. 
I have a thing with the number three. Three feels right, I can associate it with so many things that make sense to me. I use three to solve problems, process and solutions typically have three parts. It’s the only odd number that feels symmetrical, in a perfect balance. An example is Past, Present, Future – three tenses of time – and right there, three t’s to describe it, it goes on! My writing did too. The paragraphs and stories flowed best and when suddenly I gave each of the three paragraphs a one-word title pulled from somewhere inside the text, and even if the three stories did not speak to the same thing, three parts would relate to a larger arcing whole. I bled my soul into what seemed easy and like breathing. I even shared this writing with a friend, at the risk of being rejected. 
Enter this course: The Uncomfortable Zone. I started off doing my thing with three parts of the whole, but now have allowed myself to branch out, playing with a different part of the same Fractal but different scale. The prompt of Day 04 having to write a letter was a turning point. Yes, I still wrote about three smells, but the underlying structure relaxed into several paragraphs. This was a conscious decision, as my notes started out with the usual pattern, but then to really speak to him, it couldn’t flow as easy as 1-2-3. 
I write in a conversational style. I read it aloud as I write. In doing so, sometimes phrasing that I use on paper is structurally incorrect, or maybe has too many commas, because when you speak, you need to know when to pause for a breath, or dramatic effect. Sometimes I make an effort to be all Merriam-Webster, sometimes not. I love to try and draw in a reader by using a side anecdote or story to begin a paragraph. I think of it like: if I’m going to end up over there, first let’s compare it to what’s over here. People like what is familiar territory, to stay in the safe zone, but then what they don’t know is, I’m going to blow it all up with the bullshit in my mind. I am thankful that people are willing to read and listen to a little bullshit now and then.~Paula

Refuge in Grief – Day 14

Using a photo of “home” write a letter or poem to the one you’ve lost and describe it as it is now. See where it goes.

Roberto’s
Size small, sausage and green olive, extra crisp: your pizza order at Roberto’s. We didn’t get pizza on this trip, but I took a picture of the storefront for you to show you that I didn’t forget it.
All the years we visited your parents, we never walked or biked along the Prairie Path. You would be happy to know, I spent two days running all the way past Hamburger Heaven through Lombard! The crushed gravel under each step sounded a lot like trails we had biked on at other places together. 
Walking along the sidewalk back to Mom and Dad’s, I see this place through your eyes. You walked or rode your bike within a 30 mile radius when all’s said and done. The trees are a lot taller now, some are gone or have been replaced.
We invited Big John over for a campfire. He retold the funny stories about you and he having spitting contests when you were little kids. I guess that’s why you could spit out of the car window like a pro. That’s the only thing I would have changed about you – no spitting out the window! 
When we would drive though the neighborhood streets, I loved how you would point out every house and who lived there growing up. I miss our holding hands in the car and these special drives together, just talking. You could recall every detail of every friend or otherwise. I knew them through you. Our daughter has adopted your favorite pair of sunglasses you used to wear.
Some of the houses are torn down now, and replaced with embarrassing monstrosities that are ruining the quaint simplicity you once knew. I just heard that the school across the street may be razed and be replaced with something completely new.
I decided to take a nap in your old bedroom, in the very bed you slept in as a boy. I wanted to dream so much of you, to feel you on my skin. I awoke to the sound of the old clock in the living room with its incessant chiming that never gave you peace. 
As I lay awake, I listen closely to the birds chirping in the backyard, and I hear your Dad calling for your Mom to help him find his phone. My body can’t move quite yet, it’s not time to put my foot on the floor and get up. The soft blue light of the room gives me encouragement to close my eyes again for just a few more minutes. ~Paula

The Swing Dream – April 2017

Just a little fun story for you, a dream I had while in NYC. I dream all the time, sometimes very specific things – like this one. W 04/05/17 mid-week of my NYC trip. 

This was my Dream: I’m in what seems to be a large business office and gymnasium at the same time, natural light is coming in through a horizontal bank of windows from very high up and it’s daytime. I hear sounds of many conversations from the many people inhabiting this space made larger by the echo from the ceiling way up, yellowed wooden bleachers are across from my desk. I suddenly realize it’s time for a break. I have a very tall swing set over my desk, and there are two black nylon straps as the swing. I wrap one strap around each hand, I stand on the top of my desk and I push off towards the bleachers’ side of the office. I use my body to gain height and momentum, seemingly instinctively I know I can not only swing back and forth, but also in large arcs. As I am playing and enjoying my little swing time, people below me seem to not be aware of my doing this, and so it seems they are walking in front of me and I’m going to swing into them, I just kind of say in a pleasant sing-sing voice “out of the way, out of the way!” Reluctantly, my break is over and I’m suddenly in another part of the office talking to someone about a project, and then another coworker, a man in a lovely grey suit, approaches me and says something that pleases me. I can feel I’m smiling (I can’t remember what was said, but he had the nicest smile) and he comes in to hug me which I reciprocate. He brings it full in and as he presses against my pelvis, I can feel that he is “happy to see me” (and I know it’s because of me). I still feel his form on me after he releases me, he smiles warmly and turns around and walks away, I know I will see him later. 
[at this point, I woke up, and began writing it down.]

~Paula

Refuge in Grief – Day 13

Today I am writing into a fairy tale about the 13th Guest, the old witch, who I prefer to call Strega Nona. Strega Nona shows up uninvited, gives a short, respectful bow, eyeing her wary hosts. The 13th Guest is a gift, but not everyone sees it that way. 

Timely, neat, orderly – none of these words describes death or grief. Especially timeliness when the phone rings and you feel that sudden wash of certainty that it’s him calling. Out of the blue, that simple ring sends an instant synapse signal in my brain triggering the flutter of excitement that he is calling. But he is not, he is dead, he is not on this earth. My deceased husband is like the 13th dinner guest, he just shows up. It’s not that he is uninvited, it’s that he’s unexpected. There is no preparing for when something will bring him into the room I am standing in, he just pops in like he never left. 
There is a difference between when I am purposefully thinking about him and when suddenly he is there unannounced. My parents have a photo board in their kitchen. They update their photo collection often, and every time I visit there is always something new. This weekend was no exception. An older photo taken at the wedding of family friends from the early 1990s has been added. In the photo appears Jon’s stylish parents and the mother of the bride, who is a beautiful lifelong friend. Slightly off to the right side in the picture he stands, giving that unmistakeable side eye with a Cheshire grin which everyone that ever knew him talked about and would notice. His apple cheeks have a blushed glow. He is staring into my core, my heart is beating faster, reminding me that it was all real. Now the “real” is, he is gone. More tears, for the 1,000th time.
The grief I feel has trouble knowing what’s real and not real. Many times when I wake in the morning, I think I have awoken from a dream, like the past nearly 8 months since he died and before that, dealing with cancer for 4 years had never happened. He is going to come home from a very long business trip today and tell me intriguing stories about where he dined and funny conversations. He will crawl back in bed with me and we will get lost in each other and forget the time of day. Sometimes I think that waking up to the reality of his being gone is the nightmare, and sleep is the only reprieve.
As Jon makes his appearances to me, whether making me smile or at other times making me cry, it tells me one thing: I loved him truly and despite all of the challenges we faced, our love got us though it all. If his popping up now and then serves as a reminder to me that we loved each other like that, I can accept that. People who now see me cry and having sudden grief moments, especially my children, need to know that the love he and I shared is still inside me and it leaks out. Jon is gone, but our love has survived and he is still here in some form. It is this love that helps me get up every day, and have hope for my future. As with the uninvited dinner guest, Strega Nona, at least she cared enough to come to the party. You may not have expected to hear or see someone like her, but if you choose to let in the uninvited, that one may have the most surprising gifts and be the most fun of all.~Paula

Refuge in Grief – Day 12

What would it take? What would need to happen in order for you to feel safe or strong enough to soften in to your pain?

The vulnerability and exposure of truths to others can be bad enough, but for me, facing myself in the mirror has got to be the absolute worst. Seeing those two wrinkles on my forehead right in between my eyes is my telltale sign that I tried desperately to hold it in that day. When hit with anything from loneliness to fatigue, I squeeze my eyes shut as tears spill out and down my cheeks, while pressing fingers to my forehead to smooth it out with no success. 
Most of the time now I can see it in other people. Definitely in pictures, but more pronounced in real life: the broken. For the most part, we are a silent group sprinkled in to ordinary society who bears the scars of loss. I see those of us trying to put on the happy face when in reality the corner of our mouth, the pupils of our eyes or a tightened fist says quite the opposite. If the pain of our reality is unveiled, we often face the backlash of others wanting to fix what cannot be mended or their telling us to sweep up the mess in our hoarding house life and call it clean. 
The funny thing about my grief is that it has removed a thick layer of shyness. I am more confident to speak my mind, go public, and get to the point. “It is what it is,” I say. I have come to this conclusion: Instead of living my grief in a cycle of perpetual sadness, I am determined to live in a cycle of perpetual giving. I find that on my hardest days, that’s when I fight back with the biggest effort to do something for others. It takes the edge off of my stark reality to make someone else smile, because I find myself smiling back. 
To be an expert at something you have to practice. Learning a new skillset, you have to open yourself up for failure. To really pursue and understand perpetual giving, I need space first. Closed walls and familiar places need to be replaced with fresh air and a change of scenery. In total mindfulness, I see myself removed from my home and deposited somewhere on the open road. I am not alone. Someone is with me that I can trust. This someone would honor my body, be fascinated by my mind, and laugh with me. I want to give, so I can receive. The road that I am on leads to many destinations, but I am all about taking the journey, and in doing so, find myself.~Paula

Refuge in Grief – Day 11

A response to an excerpt by May Sarton and these lines: “I suffer from these brief weekends, the tearing up of the roots of love, and from my own inability to behave better under the stress.” 
Ant algorithms, first proposed in a PhD thesis by Marco Dorigo in a 1992, are based on ants finding the best paths from their colony to a food source: Think the shortest distance between two points. The algorithms translate those paths into mathematical formulas and graphs. It’s what FedEx uses to deliver 1.25 billion packages per year in seamless efficiency. At the moment, my brain follows paths around my grief. My brain says “no thank you!” 
I need to be completely honest and now is a good time for me to share. This writing course is kicking my ass. I am all about “getting it all out” as they say, but I am also “taking it all in.” When I read others posts, I want to give support and acknowledgement, however I find myself often bursting into tears by just one heart-wrenching phrase or stunning imagery that fills my mind by eloquent descriptions. I am either reading or writing through tear-filled eyes. I have to take breaks in between posts sometimes. And so I find the refuge in our small group of writers to actually be magnifying and sharpening a habit with which I struggle: I am leaning in to the things that give me pleasure over pain. I choose the thing that makes me happy or is not “griefy”. I think the phrase for it is “avoidance technique”, and often this knee-jerk response includes some form of “escape.” I am sorry that I have not been a better participant with you all, it is not without an effort of trying.
When Jon first died, I had to take care of all the “business” of his affairs, and I did not allow myself to fall apart in a heap. I needed to handle things, plan memorial services, and get the kids to school. And all of those phone calls! I think this robotic mode was just an extension of pre-death behavior. I shrouded my utter sorrow and horror behind a perfect wife exterior, and followed Jon’s mantra to uphold our privacy rules of keeping the cancer to ourselves and that also included our deepest feelings. There was limited crying, especially in front of our children. These roots of our last years together have now been completely ripped up from the dusty clay soil. My grief, the build up of emotions once below the surface, is now fully exposed and raging most days. As the business of his affairs winds-down, I often wonder if I now let go completely and lean into these emotions, will I get better or worse? I am afraid of being sad for too long! 
And what about those roots anyway? I have been planted in a different soil as a result of my losses. I look different, I act different, people that have known me for a while are seeing someone they don’t recognize. What they need to know is, this version of myself is getting back to the essence of me. Call it a reset or perhaps a “me” from 25 years ago now with wrinkles, but it is “me” nonetheless. We are all changed by life, it’s highs and lows. Grief is like the moon in its many phases, I am trying to handle each one, but not hurt my eyes as I stare into the night sky to see. ~Paula

New Insight from a Friend

I’m sharing a little note I sent to a friend, sometimes it just takes one person in your life to help you see things in a new way.
Dear Friend,

I babbled about my moving ideas the other day, and I now have a 4th option. I wanted to say thank you and tell you a few things… My losses have beaten me down so low, I know I can’t hear the universe talking to me, offering me ways to be happy. Even if you were joking about moving to Michigan yesterday in that tweet, your joke changed something in me. I heard you, and you made me think… All this pressure I put on myself, me fighting stupid cancer and everyone and everything for so long, it is very hard for me to stop my survival mode as I’m just plowing through each day doing what I think is best and making decisions. I have never allowed staying here in MI to be an option before, I saw it as choosing to stay stuck and to be alone. The reality is we’ve been here since 2011, and my kids are settled here, they have friends, sports, and like their school. They need stability now more than ever, and I did not see the truth in that until now. Moving takes their stability away, the unknown of where we would move to does not make them feel safe. But for me it’s been the opposite, staying here, possibly even in this same house, is my deepest fear because I see it as me accepting being alone indefinitely. Who would want to date me and come over to the house that I shared with my dead husband? Who would want to be here in Michigan with me and change their life to be with me? I’ve felt I don’t have walls or rules now since Jon died, but apparently I made the biggest limitation on myself by believing that no one will want me “here”. I had decided that I am the one that should be making a change “to go there” wherever that would be, to find a new beginning, to move forward. I now want to stop limiting myself and get over my fear of staying where I am. Joke or not about moving to Michigan, the possibility that you or someone like you is out there who would want to be “here” with me has given me a hope I did not have until now. It’s so important that my kids and I are all happy together, it just may be possible after all. I hope this is what the universe wants me to hear. Thank you for your friendship, you are a good egg, and I want to hear you too. ~P.

Refuge in Grief – Day 10

My own hands find themselves again. 

What I have loved I cannot hold.

Letting you go now.

Your shoulder being our last touch.

Did you fall or did you rise? 

You are released from our bond paid in full,

To the strong arms of the man in the doorway. 

You are no longer home,

Now at rest, be at peace, my love.
~Paula

Refuge in Grief – Day 08

These are the guiding stars inside my grief. 
Bubbles

Even if you have a dishwasher, there are still things that have to be hand washed. I am one of those people who wears gloves (non latex actually) while washing the never-ending line up of these items. When I squeeze dish soap on to my sponge, occasionally a burst of a bubble (or two) pops out of the bottle. I find that when I am thinking about my Mom Suzie that this bubble will most likely make an appearance. It always floats and lingers close to me. Maybe it’s the steam from the hot water holding it up, but I feel it is her kind of checking in on me, offering me silent commentary to the thoughts in my head. I’ve even kissed one just because it felt like the right thing to do. I really miss her. 
Birds

I often forget to bring in the mail from the mailbox. The day after Jon died, I suddenly remembered to check the mail. I was thinking about him, almost kind of wondering where he was in a spirit-like sense, when as I came up to the black mailbox, I could see the brownish prints of two bird feet that had perched on the mailbox. It really struck me because they were large prints, and I felt like the bird was there but not there, very much like Jon. Ever since that day, I find that I see a bird in flight at that moment of thought where I’m asking Jon for advice or having a memory of a time long since passed. Usually a hawk, solitary, floating, watching from up high. I was at my son’s lacrosse game this past weekend, thinking that Jon was alive and here at this tournament last year, and just then I look up in the sky and there is a hawk in acknowledgment.
Flight

Today is overcast and not a good day for a bike ride. It’s gym time. Running is something I’ve been doing since I was 13. It gave me control, it was my thinking time. The track surrounds a 12 court tennis emporium and it takes 5 laps around to do one mile. I usually run about 5 miles, and counting all those laps while in thought, I can sometimes lose count, so I carry a small towel and I switch hands as I go. Right hand odd numbers, left hand even, it’s better than nothing. As I begin to run today on the track, I notice a small house sparrow is trapped inside this space. It is desperately trying to find a way out. There are large windows along the back wall and with every lap I complete, the bird is trying almost every way it can to find an escape: flying high up, swooping down, approaching every window. I can hear its wings flapping over the drone of the tennis playing, and I feel like I can hear it’s fluttering heartbeat. I really want to help this bird because I fear it will die of exhaustion in a few short hours, and that just seems so cruel. As I round lap 13, this bird is flittering along the window sill in front of me, pausing for breath and to rest its wings now and then. I see my chance. Very gently, but with smooth follow through in one movement, I approach this bird with an open towel and laying it over top of it, I scoop it up and wrap it. I can feel it’s racing heart, it’s wings fighting then settling, probably it’s thinking this is the end. As I turn away from the window with my little bundle, I see the cute lady I saw earlier walking around the track approaching. She has silver white hair like my Mom Suzie, and smart-looking dark rimmed glasses. I noticed this lady earlier because she is wearing a light pink long sleeved shirt with a hot pink tennis skirt that reminds me of a drastically shorter version of a poodle skirt. She had a certain swing to her hips which carried through to the skirt and I found that fun to watch as I passed her. The pink poodle skirt reminded me of Jon’s Mom Carole, who wore these in high school. Pink lady is thrilled that I have the bird, it was on both of our minds, as she had set a cup of water on one of the sills to help it earlier. The emergency doors exit is right there, so she opens the door for me. This tiny creature in my hands has become calm. Bending down, I prepare for its release. Gently now pulling my cupped hands apart the sparrow emerges! Surprisingly it flies away seemingly to have spring-boarded off of the mulch on which it was placed. No hesitation, it just flies away, the fresh air under its wings. The little sparrow was stuck, but now it’s free. Pink lady and I thanked each other for helping one another, and I continued my run. ~Paula

Refuge in Grief – Day 09

Pick a color. Let your mind follow that color and write about it.
Universal Kahki. Neither completely grey or completely olive, it’s the most calming color. As the day moves from dawn to dusk into the nest of nighttime, this serene color on the walls in my house changes. In any light, I love it. This color described our relationship perfectly: always changing through the day but always felt familiar, inviting, and comforting.
We built a home in Minnesota. Jon didn’t travel as much. The kids and I made friends. We had playgroups and cooking club and book club. We lived on a bluff, and the night sky background of deep velvet blue hosted the most brilliant phases of the moon. Sleeping in our bed, we could hear the coyotes chirp, yip and howl in unison at the same time at night. I am listening to him next to me, curling myself around his body. I feel his chest rise and fall with slow even breaths. If I move just a little, he wakes up just enough to turn to me and kiss me on my forehead. Slowly now, drifting off to sleep with a smile of contentment, my dreams are filled with the events of the day. Life was good. Life was Universal Khaki. ~Paula

Refuge in Grief – Day 06

What would it mean to offer kindness to yourself in your grief? What would kindness look like?



I am but a small, mortal being. Others may never know my name, know the story of my life, or have the chance to love or hate me if they cared to know I exist. Grief is the ruler of my universe. Every day I wake and I am reminded of Grief’s presence and power over me. The gods Grief commands come to me. They keep me, part of the weak, at bay, beckoning me to heed their warnings, follow their rules, and give thanks for Grief’s grace. If I forget for a moment that Grief is my ruler, I am reminded swiftly by Grief’s wrath and chaos inflicted upon my soul. 
At this moment, as I bask in this field of green, the sun not quite directly overhead, the breeze lightly playing with my hair, my thoughts linger on Grief’s children that I know best: Failure, Compassion, Rage, Love, Persistence, Agony, Kindness, and Truth. You see, I’ve been uncontrollably sobbing and unable to catch my breath for the past few days, and I’m trying to get past this point. I think I’m stuck, though, because of Existence. Existence is the father of Grief. Existence has been messing with my ability to stay in the moment. I know I am here, on a certain day laying in this lush field watching the clouds dance across the sky, but Existence switches the channel in my brain to other days or years, some are in the past and some in the future. I forget where I am sometimes, and I can’t seem to listen to what is being said because my pop-up thoughts are clear and look the same as the present. All of these pictures are floating on the surface, swirling and overlapping at the same time. Im doing my best to sort it out.
Unexpectedly, pictures of Kindness percolate in my head. Maybe Compassion is showing me this pause, this rest, a moment to think of one thing. Kindness. Beautiful Kindness. Kindness is a diminutive god, often overlooked and looked-down upon by her siblings. Kindness is soft, and emits a warmth that makes the others jealous. Kindness has visited me when I needed her most. She has made delicious almond cookies for me, and whispered in my ear reminding me to take a bite. Kindness has brought new friends to my door, and lightly tapped me on the shoulder prompting me to let them in. She washed my hair for me in the shower giving me a much needed reprieve from lifting my own arms when I was too tired from carrying the weight of the day. Kindness is a welcomed friend of mine. ~Paula

Refuge in Grief – Day 05

[Allow me to introduce myself…]

It’s my favorite time of the day–night. I blend so easily with the shadows of your bedroom, my edges gradiate into the nothingness, and my movements around you are virtually undetectable, especially because of your night blindness. I always chuckle to myself about that, I enjoy using your weakness to my advantage. Oop, it’s just about that time! You look all too peaceful lying there. 

As usual, as I stare at you in the face, you have no idea I’m here hovering above you while you sleep. I am on top of you, do you feel me spilling over you? As I press against your skin, I feel you beginning to sweat under my pressure, the ringing in your ears squeezing you is announcing my arrival, your heart is beating faster. I can see into your mind now, and that feeling you have of falling backwards without a safe landing below thrills me, I can’t take my eyes off of you. Let the fun begin. 

Don’t move, and I can feel you trying, testing every muscle, every finger, every toe, but you’re in my full lock-down. I know you’re thinking if you could just lift a finger or get a cry out for help, all of this would stop! You’re not in control right now, I am feeding my deepest pleasure from you. Are you trying to see me, or can you not look away? Either way, all of your efforts will not be rewarded. In your mind, the vision of the most penetrating, blackest space is infinite all around you, I feel your paralyzed eyes straining to focus on me, but you can’t find the right depth of field. Oh, that racing heartbeat! The taste of your sweat and salt-laden tears quenches my mouth, you are a treat. I could do this for hours if I choose.

Which finger tonight? Oh, not that one, it burns me when I touch it, and I’m all about the pleasure. How about your little pinkie? I’ll lift it just a bit! Just a taste of movement and a release for you, I know you want more. Oh, what’s this? I wasn’t expecting this tonight! Agast! From behind me I sense something of light and good, it sickens me. Almost like moonlight, bluish and grey, a mist approaches you. Those who have passed are arriving in this space, filling your field of vision, their shimmering apparitions scraping me from your sides! What to do now! Their love for you is weakening my hold on you! All of them surrounding you, with THAT one making me the most anxious! HE’s looking at you, then to me, and looks more than a little bit pissed off at my presence. HE’s ruining my fun. As HE tells you not to worry and that they’re all together, I’m covering your ears, and wish you couldn’t hear HIS voice. No! My thoughts of despair will be heard and I will ignite and fuel your fears! You are under my will and my control! What is that HE is doing? HE is at your feet, this is not anticipated! 

[And then HE speaks…]

Paula, please let me do this for you, for us. Let me be under your skin, let’s be together there. I know you made room for me a long time ago. I will love you from the inside out, because now I can, and protect you from harm and this Grief. Your toes are so cold, do you feel me warming them? I feel your pain, but please know you’ll be okay. It will be different, but it will be better. I’m here with you, you look so beautiful, even now in your distress. Take me in. I love you. 

[Grief]

As HE envelopes you, I feel your love for HIM pushing me away. HE has begun at your toes and now legs, I am sensing my hold on you changing. You have let HIM in! I will not let go of you completely! All of my will is now inside your head! HE has reached through to your heart and chest! HIS warmth and love for you with those around you have disrupted my game! I am being pushed out! This is not fun for me anymore. You and HE have broken my seal upon you! HE has released you from me. When I find a way to get to you, and I will, the peace you feel now may not be yours to keep. My retreat back to the shadows will not go unnoticed, I will be that flicker out of the corner of your eye. The space between you and me will be felt on the back of your neck, you will feel my breath.

~Paula