An Open Letter To Trail Magic

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

Dear Trail Magic,

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

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

Sincerely, ~Paula

Refuge in Grief – Day 19

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

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

Refuge in Grief – Day 17

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

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

Refuge in Grief – Day 18

Honoring others who grieve, my wishes for you. 

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

Refuge in Grief – Day 16

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

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

Refuge in Grief – Day 15

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

Refuge in Grief – Day 14

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

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

The Swing Dream – April 2017

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

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


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.

Refuge in Grief – Day 08

These are the guiding stars inside my grief. 

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. 

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.

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. 


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.


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.”

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.

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.

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.


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. 

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. 

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?

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.” 


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.


 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

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.

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.

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

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.

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.

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


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. 

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. 

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


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.

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.

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


“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.