Author: storyboardpzimapplez


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


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


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


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