The Swing Dream – April 2017

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

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

~Paula

Refuge in Grief – Day 13

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

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

Refuge in Grief – Day 12

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

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

Refuge in Grief – Day 11

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

New Insight from a Friend

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

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

Refuge in Grief – Day 10

My own hands find themselves again. 

What I have loved I cannot hold.

Letting you go now.

Your shoulder being our last touch.

Did you fall or did you rise? 

You are released from our bond paid in full,

To the strong arms of the man in the doorway. 

You are no longer home,

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

Refuge in Grief – Day 08

These are the guiding stars inside my grief. 
Bubbles

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

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

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

Refuge in Grief – Day 09

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

Refuge in Grief – Day 06

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



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

Refuge in Grief – Day 05

[Allow me to introduce myself…]

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

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

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

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

[And then HE speaks…]

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

[Grief]

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

~Paula

Refuge in Grief – Day 04

How do certain smells connect with your grief? 

A letter… 
Dear Jon, 

     When I smell the things that are us, the little girl in my brain runs after bubbles squealing and giggling. It’s like we are back on a beach in St. John, the hot sun is painting pictures on my body with its rays, and I’m digging my toes into the sand down to where it is cool. The gentle, rolling waves in front of me are inviting us to play and get wet. You are looking at me with that smirky, devilish grin of yours. 
     The smells that are here in your absence comfort me. They are reminders that it was all real. You will always be Lagerfeld Classic, with a hint of Clubman. When you would kiss me goodbye in the morning and I was still in bed, you would leave behind this scent in my hair and on my neck. I would fall back to sleep as if you were still holding me. I don’t sleep that well right now. 
     I miss our weekend coffee time together. You would be interested to know I have mastered the French press, even your Mom thinks I do an okay job at it. When the kids and I go to our Starbucks drive-thru, it’s like you’re with us. I still order a cafe mocha, out of habit. That burnt coffee smell always reminds me of when our daughter was born and your coffee breath was too horrible for me to bear! But I love you for doing everything I asked you to do to help. 
     Your lavender plants are huge this year. I forgot to cut them back last fall. Those plants have been so prolific. When I did a little weeding today, I brushed my hand through one of them. The rich, musky-sweet scent always makes me smile. It reminded me of the flowers you would bring me from the tiny floral shop in Bucktown, always just a few stems, but you knew what would intrigue me. If you were here, I would want to get naked with you right now. I’m cold, I need to go put a sweater on. 
I love you, I miss you. XOXO Puskie

Refuge In Grief – Day 03

Today’s prompt is about living in a changed world. How do you live in a landscape so vastly changed? 


“Happy to drink from the waters of sorrow, To kindle Love’s fire 

With the twigs of a simple life.”
Parthenon

In 1997, only a few short months after we were married, our first big purchase together was a 1929 historic brick bungalow in Chicago, in the same neighborhood where his parents and grandparents had once lived. A sunlit gem with glowing wood floors and natural stained floor-and-crown mouldings still unpainted. Our two cats would bathe themselves on the south-facing dining room sun-filled floor, this being the only thing they agreed on. We lived our most happy years together in this home, five happy years of bliss. We made a baby there, we hosted large parties, we grew almost ten kinds of hot peppers in our cherished garden. Jon and his Dad built an awesome Parthenon-of-a-deck which was the crowning achievement of owning this home. It still stands in all its glory today. I know because I drive by when I visit Chicago. I talked to the new owner just this past February 2017, who was out on the front steps with his two little boys. Unlike the deck where something was built from literally the ground up, there existed a ‘B Side’ to our home ownership projects. Our bathroom had a cast iron white tub with ‘updated’ plastic tiles: swirly grey with black trim probably from the 1960s. The shower tiles leaked water into the wall. Instead of fixing it with an HGTV-style makeover (which didn’t exist at the time) we taped thick, clear plastic on the walls of the shower to prevent further damage. This particular fix, or lack thereof, was the beginning of our pattern of house repair for every house we were to own in our future. It is important to note that the shower only got fixed so we could sell our home. Then we moved five times in the next fifteen years. We were relocated with Jon’s work, and we kept buying houses with more space, to fit more things. We weren’t trying to keep up with the Joneses, we were trying to keep up with ourselves. There would always be projects like painting rooms, an unfinished basement, or a broken kitchen faucet that would require attention, but instead of a fix, it would exist as an inconspicuous ‘white elephant’ in the house. Typically, I would be the one who most noticed it’s annoyance, especially when I would need to use the laundry room sink to wash pots and pans. Eventually, most of the projects would get done, but some were left for the next owners.
Ripstyk

Almost a month ago, I decided that Jon’s shoes on the rack in the garage needed to be moved. Every time I pulled the car in, there on the top two shelves were his cycling shoes, tennis shoes, sandals, and hiking shoes all waiting for this man to wear for enjoying the things he loved to do, this man who is now not coming home. Finally action: just me cleaning the garage on a sunny Monday early afternoon. A little sweeping, a little putting in order things on the work table, and of course moving the shoes. I put them in a garage cabinet. I can’t seem to put the cycling shoes away though, they’re still on the shelf. The funny thing is my son, at age 13, wears a larger shoe size than Jon. I don’t know what to do with Jon’s shoes, I wish someone who knew him could take them and wear them. (And right now I’m thinking about all of his dress shoes in our closet, more decisions, but not today.) While tidying up, there, leaning against the cabinet, standing upright behind a folding chair, I see it. Jon’s Ripstyk wooden skateboard with well-worn wheels. He’s had it forever. He could ride it really well, and when he wasn’t surfing all those years ago, I’m sure he was on his skateboard. I say I am going to ride this. Now. Helmet required. I just knew I could do it. It made me think of surfing, and I love watching surfing videos on YouTube. Surfing defines my grief: I’m in the pipeline, it’s going to crush me, I am being propelled forward without consent, I might not come out, I’m trying to control what can’t be controlled. There could be sharks or sharp rocks just below the surface, I could ride the top of the wave. Surfing is the most thrilling and all-consuming thing I can imagine doing in my life. When my son got home from school, I asked him to take a video of me skateboarding down a hill in our neighborhood. It was awesome, until I realized my speed and the board began shaking and I could not shift my front foot to curve into the next turn to slow down. I decided to bail and jumped up and off thinking I could land on solid footing but no, it became a face-plant instead. Apparently this is called a speed-wobble, which also describes my day today. I had hoped to hold the day steady, but suddenly I was unable to hold it together. I am all over the place in thoughts, actions, and emotions. I can’t get to the gym right now, or leave for a bike ride. I am worried the need to bail is becoming an automatic reflex.
Pipeline 

Both of my kids still go to the orthodontist and had appointments this morning. My daughter will need her wisdom teeth removed this summer, sometime in August. As my son was still in mid-appointment, my daughter and I got in the car to drop her off at school – then it hit me. August. The future. It was no longer today, May 17, but sometime in August. Thoughts of all that will be happening in the next few months filled my mind, and I was seeing the calendar of events: June: Jon’s birthday, July: a trip to Canada to have the last of three ashes events and then a biking tour in Iowa, all of this and more flashing in my head, and I feel the loneliness even though I will be with others. I’m crying beside my daughter, I’m gushing to her how I feel no matter how much I put into myself there is no one to share me with right now, and time is moving so fast, it makes me so sad. I feel invisible to people, like no matter who I am or how I present myself, I am interrupting other people’s conversations and lives and things in progress and I don’t fit in. Everyone else is in mid-something with someone and I don’t belong in anyone’s group, old friends or new. I am no one’s go-to person for dinner out, biking, or texting. I am the most open I have ever been to new people, ideas and adventure, and I think I am the only one who is not in a box held shut by invisible rules. I am rewriting my life like I just rewrote today’s response, and no one can see my true intentions or understand the effort it took to make rewrites to get to this point. I am slipping into a new pipeline and my feet are not in the right position on the board. I want so much to ride the wave.~Paula

Refuge In Grief – Day 02

What you don’t know or see about my grief, love and loss: the truth behind closed doors.



Eye 

Jon did not marry me for my cooking skills or house cleaning abilities. It was me, us together, each other’s perfect fit. He always said I flipped his switch. Our kids would catch us playing grab-ass or smooching on a regular basis. And those family videos! Jon would always zoom in on my parts he liked best, we all laugh now at his “eye” for things when we watch them. For so long, he and I were a very private couple, we relied on each other to share intricate details of our lives. Since our beginnings in Chicago, we were on a rollercoaster. Year to year, there were job changes, life changes, that only we felt we could keep up with being ever-responsible for ourselves and protecting those we loved from getting sucked in to our happy chaos. We never wanted to worry our families or close friends with too much information. 
Bandaids 

Jon was always the healthy one in our relationship. It was one of our jokes, “What will happen to Paula this summer? Gee, last year it was a knee operation.” Jon endured the constant stress of his job, at one time it was normal for him to travel three weeks out of four. His emergency surgery for a bowel blockage in January 2013 resulted in his stage 4 cancer diagnosis. It was devastating, but at the same time, I finally knew why my partner was not himself. We had moved to Michigan at the end of 2011, and our family life had not settled in well. I was losing my mind trying to get the kids school situation right, struggling to make family time a priority, and failing at myself being happy on the inside even though from the outside we should have had nothing to complain about. With cancer added to our family drama as the lead antagonist character, our habits to seal and protect our family went in to full-effect and lock-down. Jon chose not to tell our children that he, in fact, had cancer, and only very few family members and friends were told of our situation. I was the lead secret keeper and had to run constant interference to support Jon’s choice for three years. That is our harsh truth, and right now I can’t add any more about that time, without ripping off large bandaids in my mind that are keeping the past on its shelf and the present in tact. 
Cortex 

There are now three teenagers living in our house – my two kids and me. Yes, I’m the third at age 48, this is not a joke. I am convinced that my brain has detached its frontal lobe cortex just like a normal teenager’s brain due to all of the stress and anxiety caused by grief and years of withholding my truest feelings. I am now letting it all out and not holding back a single thing. Please don’t try to fix me or get me back to normal, this is my normal. I am crying in front of my kids, I am connecting with people and making new friends, I’m getting Brazilian wax treatments. If I do something that triggers an unpleasant memory, makes me go into a grief zone, or just for no reason at all, as soon as possible I will choose a release – usually exercise, sometimes social media, something that leans to the opposite of sad or can vent my frustration. Some might say I’m in denial: I say it’s survival, finding ways to feel good, to laugh, to FEEL when I would rather not. My teen-brain makes sure these things are extreme, appear reckless, or gets my heart pumping hard because when I’m sucking wind biking uphill to its crest, driving over the speed limit on country roads, or listening to music that has big-bass beats to vibrate my core – I am ALIVE and AWAKE. I want to stay awake, wide awake. The kids and I have the rest of our lives to live without Jon, and we will brace ourselves for each day, live in our reality rebuilding trust with each other, and establishing honest truths. We are not okay, and that’s okay – our lives altered by Jon’s death are continuing and they will do so full-steam ahead.~Paula

Refuge in Grief – Day 01

Who was the person you used to be?
Tense 

Why do I feel like I should be an iPhone or some operating system to properly and definitively answer the question of who was the person I used to be? If I were one of those things, it would be so much easier to give a concise answer, at least who I was then to who I am now would contain bug fixes, have better security and a fancy dot-something number. I think of myself in three parts: past, present, and future. Most days, these tenses of my state of mind overlap and often one is fighting for dominance at the wrong time. I find myself reviewing a day, a conversation, even a simple text, needing to assure myself what “is real” and “not real.” 

Nothing 

What is definitely “real” and something I wake to the realization of every day, is that my partner had died in October of 2016. Twenty years to the day that he asked me to marry him. His things still fill half of the closet we shared. When I do my taxes in years to come, I will be filing as a widow and single head of household. As a mom of two teenagers, I am trying not to miss anything in their care. I think of the will I created that gives them everything when I’m gone. I think of his possessions and this will, and I am perfectly content with having absolutely nothing, it’s all for our kids. I like the idea of owning nothing, I am okay with being nothing. I don’t want things, I don’t want to continue living in this house. It is a place of promises not kept, a life unfulfilled. Yes, we are moving next summer 2018, our final destination yet to be determined. My kids and I agree, it’s time to downsize.

Dragon

 I love fractals: geometric figures in which each part has the same statistical character as the whole. A repeated pattern in infinite scale. If I ever get a tattoo, I would get a Fractal tattoo, a ‘Dragon Curve’ Fractal Object to be precise. I love watching Fractal art videos on YouTube, they calm be down. I think of my life as its own Fractal. No matter the scale, I’m the same pattern. The only difference is that at different times I have adjusted my focus and scale, it’s still me in there. Before I met Jon, I was happily doing two things: working and working out, and just like Romeo and Juliet, neither could survive without the other. My future husband brought a new dimension to my passions, someone who could relate to things that were important to me, and it was great having a partner to do the things I liked to do. As we grew together, wife and full-time mom replaced my career, and exercise was put aside due to my own health issues over these crazy years. This grief that now stands beside me has brought me back to my center, full-on with no holding back. The ‘working out’ is back and I consider it my job to be as healthy as possible for myself and my kids. It’s my release and how I deal with the anxiety of my grief. ‘Working’ is managing this hollow life trying to fill it with a future that is simplified, keeps my kids close, and will make room for things to come.~Paula 

The Great Lawn – April 2017

Night 
It’s happened almost every night of this trip. I wake up feeling like I’m in the most familiar of places, warm and secure, when suddenly my eyes focus as best they can on something out of place in the dark of the room, or a part of my body feels like it’s being touched in a wrong way. This shift in sight or touch, suddenly pulls all feelings of safety and serenity out of my body, like I’m on the Mega Drop at that moment when the chairs are released from the locked position. I’m falling, hard, and I feel like I’m going to miss the safety net catch of hydraulics below. That original sense of ultimate comfort is now replaced with my heart beating out of my chest. I can feel my heart torquing trying to get all of the blood in and out of itself as quickly as possible. My eyes are now hot with my tears which have welled over onto my cheeks without my even blinking. These sensory realizations now give way to the whole of my body tensing up, instinctively knowing the next thing to come: my brain in its weakened state, is flooded with the entire history of my past 6 months, which this short time alone, in and of itself, is enough to put me in this state. The words summarizing my situation are spoken in my head “Jon died, you are alone now in this bed, you have to get up in a few short hours and get shit done.” No solace, no reprieve. Only more tears.
Dawn 

About two months in to my starting a cardio cycling class, I had an epiphany about why I loved it so much. Not only was it able to make me sweat to the level that I needed to feel my exercise, but it went much deeper. My one hour release of someone else telling me what to do and when to do it, and I being the ever-eager student to please my instructors is intoxicating. This is my dirty secret of pleasure, and it’s helping me deal with my grief. The whole of my life outside of this cycling class has and is spent being in charge of other people and managing often unthinkable family situations. No matter my wants, it’s been the needs of others that I have chosen to give my attention and my all. I have had little relief, it’s been all on me, and Jon’s spiraling death roll broke me. I say this with full acknowledgement in that I know everyone has problems, but the fact is that the specific trajectory of Jon and I in our past 15 of our 22 years together had nearly killed me, and it did kill Jon. Since his death, my kids and I remain depleted and have shifted into a phase of oppositional defiance to those years. Jon, Audra, Cole, and I had moved 5 times together for his work relocations. Jon’s chemo-brain and his constant awareness of his mortality had engrained skewed life lessons in my kids for an expectation not to fail and to do things only the right way. The largest of the open wounds with my kids involves the breaking of their trust by Jon and I, having kept his cancer a secret from them for three years until he chose to tell them in January 2016. Up front or delayed, the truth comes out. It always does.
Day 

I love New York. It’s an easy city to fall in love with because there is something for everyone. Frank Sinatra’s song “New York, New York” rings true in my mind. Being here this week for the second of Jon’s three ashes events has humbled me. Here I am surrounded by family and friends that have shown me and my kids unconditional love. This is an inheritance from Jon that means more to me than money or possessions. I am amazed at how my “family” keeps growing as reassurances from each person is received and reinforced by their actions. I have embraced them all and know Jon would be happy for us having this consolation. However, as I walked in the City yesterday, without my Jon as the knowing guide, I was scared because nothing was making any sense. I don’t have a feel for direction here, and I am afraid of getting lost. My kids, meanwhile, walk ahead of me like true New Yorkers and seem like they know their way around. I watch in awe of their persistence and resilience. ~Paula

Hill One

Tether 
The last time I had sex was with my dying husband. It was sometime in September 2016, about a month before he died. It was easy to see past his deteriorating state, as we always knew exactly how to please each other, and we still fit together perfectly. Instinct took over with the synchronized movements of our bodies and an unspoken “this is probably the last time” whispered in the back of my head all at once. Everything about Jon was shrinking and wasting away. Ironically, his manhood did not. Throughout the last weeks of his care, my gaze would bounce between his eyes that bore into my soul, to his most familiar parts seemingly untouched by his disease. I had committed these things to memory a long time ago, but now they were my last tethers to the man I first fell in love with. The man who told me time and time again that he wanted to crawl under my skin so he could be as close as possible to me. The desire and passion we shared are the things I miss the most. I need to be wanted like that, it’s what makes me whole.
In 

Love itself has many expressions and forms. I can say “I love my life, I love ice cream, I love my kids,” you get the idea. But there are new love lessons from the death of your committed partner that are only revealed to you, the one left behind. This is the result of love interrupted by death. The love didn’t stop, but the life it was for did. My most prominent love lesson after Jon’s death is having learned the difference between ‘love’ and being ‘in love’. Jon was my only mind fuck (in a good way) for over 20 years, and now that he’s gone, it is in my mind without him that has taken me to this new place of being. My new insight causes me to evaluate people differently, and I worry that others do not understand what I see or get my point of view. I clearly see limits and rules of other people about what they love, how much and who they love. My designer-brain thinking has me outlining solutions to other people’s love problems that they may not even know they have. It saddens me to see their walls, and I see most people are in a box they alone have placed themselves in most times. I do not have these limitations. I do not have walls, corners, obstacles, and I am definitely not in a box. My universe is ever expanding. And so I float weightless, and a beacon of love calls to me, seranading it’s wanting me to be ‘in love.’ Like in my dreams, I’m swimming in air, but I can’t go fast enough, and I feel like I’m not getting anywhere.
Pusher 

As a part of their Spring Carnival, Carnegie Mellon University has a most unusual tradition. It’s called Buggy — Buggy Races to be exact. Probably thousands of hours are dedicated by each team to the engineering and building of small one-person-steered go carts, which are propelled by ‘pushers’ throughout the hilly course to hopeful victory and eternal bragging rights. Being in Pittsburgh, there are some seriously steep hills on that course! I was the relay pusher for Hill One. This was the starting point, the most difficult, because Hill One is an all-up-hill-from-zero attempt. My role was to receive the Buggy mid-hill and at full sprint, push through to the hill’s crest, and at the right moment propel the Buggy with a huge release to the first downhill. There was lots of past-midnight course training, weight-lifting, and visualization to prepare for race day. A music major friend and I even formulated a palindrome pace needed to achieve my max running speed. Race day. All went as a planned, it was perfect. What we did not expect was the fact that my tremendous push placed our Buggy in line with another which was cutting across the lanes. The buggies had a mild collision followed by skillful course correction of our driver. Our team was able to finish the race, but victory was not ours that day. Even after all my preparation, I learned there are some things I couldn’t prepare for, and what happens after I let go is sometimes not in my control. Things out of my control be damned, I will never give up my preparation and attempts to achieve victory (and bragging rights) in anything I do. ~Paula

The Last Becomes the First

Kryptonite 

Before and after Jon died it was only him that I was connected to physically and mentally. Since his death last October, I have been solo now for some time, dare I use the word “independent “, relying on myself to get through each day. I stuffed my love for Jon and his that he had gifted to me deeply inside my core, and there it remains. I am standing on my own. I continue to think of this love as my kryptonite. It is crushing me implosion-style to keep it inside, but yet if I let it out too soon to someone new, it may be too much to give to said new recipient. The last thing I want is to have to put that love back inside once it’s out again. 
Osmosis 

Around December, I had a taste of what it might be like to have an ‘other’ emerge into my life, but this turned out to be a fantasy played out entirely in my head. A misinterpretation of someone attractive being nice to me, and I too eager to think it was flirtation. Nonetheless, it was almost too easy to project myself in to someone else’s world, all the usual life moments in tow. I found my ‘other’ (even in its fantasy form in my mind) to be in conflict with my grief process. Only three months in, I was not hearing Jon’s voice in my mind as clearly. This part of him leaving me (a second death) was coming fast. I refused to replace his voice with another, as if the powers of osmosis could balance out a loss for a gain so easily. There will be no replacement for Jon, and I especially did not want a new partner to feel as if they were the understudy. 
Horizon 

In February for my birthday weekend, I gifted myself with spreading his ashes at Northwestern as he requested. This location was originally to be the last, saved for October 2017. In the despair of one of my lowest grief points, I decided to make the death of him in my mind complete as soon as possible. Another mini-funeral, including wading into Lake Michigan to release him. That water was cold! As is many things for me now, I needed to feel in an extreme way that I was alive, and it was perfect. As the water’s temperature gripped my legs, the less I felt every step further in, almost as if floating above the water itself. I kept my eyes on the point of the horizon where sky and water trade places. I am now at peace with Jon’s voice being gone from my mind. There is now a clear path for an ‘other’ that is separate from the one Jon and I walked on. I am ready for a new adventure. ~Paula

Back In Time

(Gravity+Mojo)=(Jon+Paula)

There once was this hot graphic designer in Pittsburgh and she wore short skirts, high heels and pearls. It was 1995 and, yes, she had the high hair, too, and smelled like tangerine body wash. Enter the print rep from the Windy City, a young man who is dashing in his suit with a colorful tie and dazzling rock star hair and apple cheeks when he smiles. The girl, ever to control the situation, chooses to flirt but is conflicted about breaking client/supplier lines. She designs an annual report he is printing. She learns he surfs, runs, likes mountain biking and rollerblading and at one time lived in New York City. All of this intrigued the girl, but she is too busy to give him her full attention. Meanwhile, the office is chatting. The young man, ever the social butterfly, has been asking about this girl, learns she is dating someone no one likes and they agree this new young man would be perfect for this girl instead. So begins the calculated courtship: A client hosts a suite at a Pirates game, and real conversation begins between the hot designer and dashing print rep. The office keeps him near her. The conversation continues into AOL, with plenty of IM. As these two people share emails with stories, life realizations and ‘major PPI’… they are falling in love. The question is asked, “your city or mine?” Chicago it is! A girl walks off a plane and into the arms of this young man, their first embrace is like two puzzles pieces fitting together as easy as breathing.
Her

I think what Jon loved most about me was that I was his perfect fit. He saw every detail of my body (committed to memory of course) and with one look at each other (if I was trying to explain some conundrum), I would know he was listening but also imagining me naked and wanting to cause trouble and his having that moment when I pause my diatribe and smile back as a yes was everything. When I would be intense about my own work, being a mom or immersing myself to learn a new something, he would always give me that smirky smile letting me know I should relax and see the humor in the situation. Life was meant to be enjoyed first and foremost, together of course.
Him

Jon had life-long friendships, an intense work ethic and never did anything half-assed. He had a work-hard, play-harder attitude that drove him to succeed in anything he chose to do. After grad school, his work travel took him away from home for periods of time, but I always knew he would return to me. I was always excited to hear the door unlock and the sound of his dress shoes on the wood floor. When at home, he gave me and our kids his full focus. He always had a twinkle in his eyes, a big laugh and a memory for intricate detail. I loved hearing his funny stories or discussing work issues and especially relished in his description of what he had enjoyed for dinner out with coworkers. We understood what made each other happy and he always woo’d me with exotic flowers, his amazing cooking skills, touching me in just the right spot, and played the best music to set the mood. ~Paula

Welcome

“Without you, everything has a flatness, I feel as if I’m waiting for something all the time.”~Charles Renee MacIntosh

This is a no-judgement zone. I will be writing about my grief from my point of view. You are welcome to read, comment and share, but please do so with an open mind and open heart. I trust my words to follow will be in good hands. 

~Paula