Wednesday, January 10, 2018

I have to do this day ‘with gusto.’ In fact, that applies to every day of the whole year we are now in: 2018. My mind has been swirling with mixed feelings of resistance to write and ‘feel’ because the last month of December was about holding it together in mind and body to get through what remained of the holidays: the second Christmas and New Year without Jon. Where did he go? As of this January, he left this earth now 15 months ago, and despite my hand reaching out like into a dense fog expecting to touch him, then pulling him close with his suddenly being in my view, and wanting say, “there you are, I’ve missed you so much,” my hand instead only finds the empty chill and dampness wrapping around each of my fingers and heaviness from tired muscles straining hard just to feel something that is ‘him.’

I had another strange dream last night. Yes, he was there, in it, and it was all about him. Just to my left in the corner of my eye, tall, filled-out, I could not see him clearly, but I could tell by his shape he was wearing baggy jeans, work boots and had on some kind of coat. We were outside mowing a sprawling lawn somewhere together. Not just any lawn, the grass was such a bright, healthy green, the sun seemed to illuminate it from all angles, and it needed to be cut because it was flopped over like a continuous wave to one side. He is walking along using a regular lawn mower, making those patterned lines as he goes, but there is no sound to his work. My mower is like a an edging tool, and I’m going around the pine trees, finding the patches of grass that are outside of those patterned lines and with a sweeper-like motion, I’m brushing the grass, blending the green blades to be the same length, same color. We are together in silence. I feel him come up beside me, I am smiling at him, but keep looking ahead as he and I are working together. I can sense his gaze and it warms me to feel that familiar connection. I know he is smiling back at me. Even though I seem to be wearing baggy clothes too, with a hat, gloves, and my jacket sleeves are pushed up, I know he sees all that is underneath, that twinkle in his eyes set upon me. I don’t want to be in his way, so I turn to my right, and take a few steps over to an area that had mostly packed, bare dirt. There are pussy willow branches growing randomly with those fuzzy grey catkin buds on them coming up to about my waist’s height. I find myself now mowing both around and through them, but they don’t get cut with my tool.

As I go along, the dream shifted to my trying to remember what is buried under those sprouting branches, just below the moist ground. Something is under there, and I have forgotten, I know the plants are there to mark this special spot. With each step while continuing to use my mowing tool, frustration is building at being unable to think of what or who is there. I should just know, right? I am waiting for the memory to come to me. I just see wet, deep brown dirt in front of me now, the green grass appears like a frame around my view. I woke up at that moment, and the guilty feeling of not remembering something added to the realization of dreaming about Jon hits me. The rush of tears and my maybe not so quiet wailing from every part of me fills the darkness of my bedroom. I feel like a wounded animal unable to find shelter. There is no comfort within my reach, no dressing to stop the bleeding of my heart.

Memorial brick

A ‘wounded animal’ is probably the best summary description of my emotional state during the recent holidays. I’m still hurting, but by putting up some defensive walls a bit to not show it, it kept my pain from spilling out like a running faucet. Deep breaths, spending more time with my kids, and gym time somehow kept me grounded. Thanksgiving of late November in Chicago was the kick-off of me making a sincere effort to being present emotionally and physically with my other grieving family members. I remember sharing my excitement about plans that have just begun this past week, reassuring my parents that my kids and I are managing ‘okay,’ and listening hard to how others are doing. The Friday of our visit was a beautiful sun-filled day. I went out for a much-needed run on the Prairie Path. I found myself laying next to Jon’s memorial brick at Elmhurst College, lovingly dedicated to him by extended family. My heart was both pounding from my run and falling to pieces as the sun burned flowing tears deep into my face.

Christmas. Boston. We are all together. At my sister-in-law’s house, her family’s dining room wall immediately caught my attention. The photo wall with a large open space, one lonely nail, I knew without needing to ask what picture was missing, why it wasn’t there, and completely understood why it wasn’t hung back up. Every single meal in this room for nearly five days, I sat staring at this spot. Where is he? Show me. He is here somewhere, right? I kept wanting to take pictures of this wall. The light played with its opportunity to run uninterrupted by sharp-cornered frames here in different ways throughout the day. It seemed alive with movement nearly every time I looked. I wanted to take pictures so I could capture the dancing light and shadows I saw, preserve with me what I see and feel beyond this dining room, and to continue thinking about who is not here. I wanted to get up out of my chair several times during many meals together with my family to do this, but I needed to do it when no one else was looking. To do this privately, so as not to offend anyone, because I don’t want to send a wrong message. I don’t want my family to think I’ve really lost it by taking pictures of blank walls, or be perceived as this is somehow wrong or bad.

To me, this wall actually says what we all may have shared this Christmas: his absence being seen, felt and heard because we are all without, and that, in itself, made him the ‘most present’ person in these holidays. And I need to say, what ever you do my wonderful sister-in-law, please don’t hang the picture back up till you want or need to. Mom and Dad, thank you for bearing with me when you saw my mind and body stare at that empty space unable to be reached by the living and other sounds around me. When I allowed my eyes to focus on this space, my entire energy brought forward unexpected memories of random things, pieces of a good life had with the love of my life and father of my two children. The shadows that flickered on this wall were like tiny glimmers of who I want to have smiling back at me and I waited impatiently for some special message to appear. I had to take a short video, because the dancing light added with the music and voices was like watching a performance, I needed to see it again and again.

So now the New Year has begun, and my life seems to have taken a new turn on my route. Even if now I don’t see the point of it all, I’m going on and making choices and living whatever this life will be. I am hoping it’s not a lengthy-circuitous-type one, but somehow more of a purposeful-Ikigai-type one. You see, throughout 2017, I had practiced leaning in to my grief, and in doing so, I have removed fear of doing impossible things. I’m finding my way now by having let in what I fear most: all that sadness and aloneness of my loss, nearly nothing else could be more frightening to me. Words come out of my mouth that Before would not be spoken, actions I make now that Before would be overthought or delayed. The dark side of acknowledging any new accomplishments from any of this though, is saying that because he died, these things are happening and somehow I should now ‘count my blessings’ for ‘good things’ that might come. NEVER will I do that, or believe that good will come from this very bad thing of his death. If I could have Jon back from the dead instead, if I could go back to that Before a long time ago, before cancer entered my world, I would choose to be in that reality instead of all of whatever ‘this’ is. Fact: He was taken from me, Jon would have never, ever, left me otherwise.

THIS existence now After, is hard to describe. I have allowed myself to ‘let-in’ people and ‘make-real’ interesting things that result in my difficulty speaking in a concise sentence of saying exactly who I am and what I’m doing. I’m most like a rambling countryside that has a different horizon-line in each direction you look. So when asked a simple question, the answer that comes out of my mouth travels far and wide, whereas other people might just say a simple “yes” or “no.” What I do know, is that I’m not sitting in some comfortable chair of life looking at everyone passing me by. I have no fucking chair. I’m standing and constantly moving, in the form of cycling, running, surfing, thinking mercilessly in the attempt to figure out where I’m going now in After.

My kids gave me a book of poetry aptly titled “a beautiful composition of broken” by r.h. Sin, and I’ve been flipping through its pages. My eyes fell on this particular poem as having meaning to me in my current state. It also speaks to my past, and offers a glimpse of things to come.

be loud, no silence.

find your strength

find the courage

reclaim your voice

and say what you need

to say

do not be silent

be loud

be unapologetic

be entirely you

without regret

r.h. Sin

I want to offer you an invitation. Would you like to join me on my journey? As I go, would you choose to follow along with me and see where life takes me now? I make uncomfortable decisions every day, I’m putting myself at risk of failure at every turn. I have an unknown end-point and I don’t fit in some one-size, fits-all box. If you can deal with that, then continue to read my grief blog, The Glog, and find me wherever I am. Hopefully, more of my time will be spent on a bike, within reason of course because I’m a mom of two teenagers first. Now, for the next three months, I chose to be in Working Out Loud group to focus on some specific goals. I even chose one word to be my guiding sprit to embrace this year: Face. I will Face, overcome, and work through tasks I avoid or have not made time to do. I will be a Face representing the grief community, putting myself out there in the form of planning a bike ride to do the entire 3,000 miles of the East Coast Greenway over several years. And I will Face each of you, allowing you to see where my journey takes me. Thank you for being a part of it. ~Paula


Paula and the sunset at Playa Guiones, Costa Rica – October 19, 2017

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Last night I dreamed of Costa Rica. In my dream, I was there again, but this time I was not alone. This is what happened. It felt like I lived there, like it was my home. I was riding in the front seat of a taxi cab. The driver to my left was smiling, he had lovely dark-toasted skin that was shiny and seemed to glow. I had twisted my body around on the overstuffed bench front-seat to face him. The ribbed, black-leather seating material felt warm under my left arm which was bent and hanging over the back of my seat, leaning in to see and talk with who is behind me. There are two people, both blonde, one is male, the other female. Their smiling faces seem familiar, I cannot say for certain who they are, but I find myself asking them, “Don’t you love it here?” and as I’m saying this, in my mind I’m thinking “I hope they don’t think it’s too hot, that’s what’s so great, I’m not cold here.” I’m smiling, sweating, and slightly sticking to the cab seat under my legs which are kind of side-curled on the large front seat. My left knee is wedged in the crack where the seat backing meets the bottom seat cushion. “You’ll love it, I’ll show where to go” is the next thing I say, emphasized with a big smile to our passengers. I shift my eyes back to our driver, who is still smiling because he and I share the same love of Costa Rica and somehow at this moment he widens his smile to me just a bit more, and I understand it to mean “I love it too, all we can do is show them, then they will understand.” At this point, I glance to the back seat again, and I still don’t recognize these people but I do like them, and I notice how small they look as the black leather seating kind of frames around their bodies. I glance out the back window behind them now, and I only see blurry, bright daylight and flashes of green as our car speeds along. Pivoting myself around now to look straight ahead, I adjust myself on the seat, helped by the sweat underneath my thighs. It’s gotten a bit slippery. As I look ahead, the road it seems we are driving on is like a large water park slide with deep, clear cerulean choppy-blue water along our “road” and there are red-molded high embankments dotted along the way. “We’re almost to what I really want you to see,” I say in an loud, upbeat tone, because I’m really excited to share this place that I love. We are going pretty fast, the car swivels a bit side-to-side, and I grip the edge of the front cushion seat with my left hand, and for added balance my right hand reaches up to grab the upper handle bar above the door frame. As we make a large arcing turn to the left, our car slows. I feel myself smiling like the cab driver now, just a little bit wider. I know we’re almost there. I’m still thinking about our passengers, wondering if they can see what I see from the roomy back seat. And then I woke up.

Waking up from this dream, I immediately knew it snowed last night without looking out of my bedroom window. The sound of a neighbor’s snowblower is buzzing away, yelling at me like an alarm without a snooze button. It was 7:48. That’s about a half hour too late to get to the 8:30am spin cycle class at my gym on time. I would have to be on my way by 8:15, a little too tight. I immediately called my gym anyway to attempt a last-minute reservation, and there was a wait list for the 8:30 class, confirmation that it wasn’t going to happen. “Okay, no worries, So when’s the next class this morning? 9:45, great, there are spots left? Yes, great, sign me up.” So now I had time to write about this dream, and squeeze in a rushed shower. Also great. Time moves faster when all I really want to do is slow it down, even for a few quiet moments. In my case, writing, social media, and self-care time pass too quickly before I need to pull my head out of the clouds. My “extra” time was more like a time warp, and I felt rushed this morning anyway. I expected there to be more snow, but when I opened the garage door, it was only what I’d call a “loaded donut:” just enough to coat everything in a nice even layer of white. If the grass where poking through, then I would call it “a donut with sprinkles.” Just before I get in the car, I grabbed my pretty blue cycling shoes without the clips from the shelf. It is a small goal of mine for this year’s indoor cycling season to start using cycling shoes in class. Last year at this time, I didn’t even own a pair of cycling shoes. I took my first spin class sometime in November of 2016, and I started outdoor cycling in late February.

I arrived at my gym and hurriedly did the locker room ritual of finding an unused space to lock up my coat and purse. The shoes will have to be changed in class. The class had already started. I picked an open bike, make the quick and comforting switch to my cycling shoes with the blue laces, then adjust the seat, handlebars, and toe cages, and finally hop on. This is a cardio cycle class, so I’m trying to figure out which gear is best for me to make my legs last the entire time, thinking about if he says “gear at 10,” am I good with 9 or 8? If he says “about 100 rpms,” do I go 85 to 90? Or, do I just do the exact thing he says to do and go for it? This instructor gets off of his bike a couple times to adjust this-or-that and the person that came in behind me didn’t close the room door completely, so it’s banging in the door jam, and the instructor gets up to fix the door, too. He expertly clips back in to his bike pedals with ease every time. I don’t really notice much of what’s going on around me, mostly because I’m listening to the music and doing the gear game in my head. “I Want To Be Sedated” by the Ramones is rattling my legs to wake up now. I think I need to be the opposite of ‘sedated’ if I’m going to kick some ass in this class for almost an hour. I’m also wondering about what I missed at the beginning of class. As I’m thinking about the minutes I missed and how many minutes to go, the instructor gets off of his bike one more time, but instead of heading to the stereo system or some other technical dilemma, he walks to my right, directly to a woman two rows diagonally behind me. My head turns and follows him. I see he pats her left shoulder, says some words of encouragement and gets to helping her with some bike adjustment, and I hear her say this is only her second class. She appears to be with the man biking to her right, they are smiling and look like they’re having a good time, and also giggling at their own scene which the sound of it echos off of the high ceiling in this glass-walled space. Bike adjusted, our instructor heads back to his own on the platform and it’s back to focusing on pedaling at 100rpm, which I’m at like 75-80rpm right now, so I’ve got some catching-up-pedaling to do. As I go along trying to follow if we are standing-up or gearing-up or pedaling-faster-up, they all sound like the same instruction to me, and I break my resting-biking-face to smile when I get what we are asked to do all wrong. I’m thinking about this woman, and her second cycling class comment. That was me last year. I see a bit of myself in her. Well, except for her riding partner, I did not have one then and I still don’t have one now. It’s now been over a year since I had begun indoor cycling, it was the only thing that really helped with the anxiety after my husband’s death. A lot has happened since then, time seems to pass in a blink or not at all. Either way, time messes with my mind. Now that the weather is cold and snowy again, I’m back to indoor cycling.

I now find myself really wanting to offer encouragement to that woman. I can think of a few people who shared words of encouragement to me about cycling, and still do, and I am so grateful to each of them for doing so. It requires a lot of patience from them with me and my learning process as I immersed myself in wanting to be a better cyclist. I will leave it up to you, now, to decide if I took a moment to talk with her after the class. What would you have done? Do you just reflect on your own self, stay quiet, or keep your eyes straight ahead? Or, do you reach out to others in some way and maybe share what you’ve learned or say a kind word? A simple comment or even the gesture of a smile could mean a lot to someone. Class continues and I cycle on, and the memory of those boys at Misquamicut State Park beach in Rhode Island playing on the lifeguard chair last summer pops into my head. After being at the ocean’s edge, I had walked back to get my bike that I had leaned against its white-painted posts. It was just after 6pm, and the empty guard’s chair had about six boys now climbing on it, playing some kind of game, laughing the whole time. As I gathered my things below them, I casually mentioned my opinion of what a great job lifeguarding is, and if you decide to be a lifeguard, you can help a lot of people and you can sit up on the chair. I walked away feeling like if only one of those kids even thought twice about what I had said, then I had somehow planted a seed of some sort that may someday grow later. I still believe in planting those seeds, however the situation presents itself, it’s those tiny random moments of opportunity. They flash by so quickly and unless you just do or say what comes to mind at that time, the chance leaves as quickly as it comes. My daydream thoughts are now interrupted by a huge droplet of sweat that has made its way through the fine hairs just above my upper lip. I don’t know where it started: from my forehead, eyes, or nose, but I can feel it trickling fast. As it crests over the edge of my lip, and right before it can fall, my jaw drops just enough to open my mouth, and my tongue meets and catches the droplet. A small burst of salt in liquid form spreads in my mouth. Not too briny. Kind of tastes like Costa Rica.~Paula

Greener – Pt 03

Pt 03 concludes this story.

November 1, 2017 – continued

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

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

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

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

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

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

Greener – Pt 02

November 1, 2017 – ‘Greener’ continued

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

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

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

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

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

“Beggars can’t be choosers.”~Proverb

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

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

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

Greener – Pt 01

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

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Dear Reader,

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

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

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

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


November 1, 2017

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

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

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


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

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

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 23 – an added note

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


November 20, 2017

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

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

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

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

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