Good morning, 51. ❤️~P.
February 10, 2020
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 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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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 ❤️
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
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
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.
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.
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