Greener – Pt 03

Pt 03 concludes this story.

November 1, 2017 – continued

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

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

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

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

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

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

Greener – Pt 02

November 1, 2017 – ‘Greener’ continued

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

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

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

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

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

“Beggars can’t be choosers.”~Proverb

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

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

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

Greener – Pt 01

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

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Dear Reader,

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

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

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

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

Greener

November 1, 2017

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

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

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

Cream

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

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

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 23 – an added note

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

Ginkgo

November 20, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

Feeling

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

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

#FridayFeeling #griefrevolution #itsOKthatyourenotOK #MeganDevine

Reunion – Rabbit Pt 02i

October 6, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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