Saturday, August 09, 2008


In 2006 I posted a blog about facing my reality. Excerpt: "I know that his life has made others reflect and desire change within their own life. Is this why the young and the good die before what appears to be their time, so we who remain are forced to examine ourselves? I wonder. Rarely do I consider my trajectory when a 90-yr old with Alzheimer's passes away."

Today I face losing a dear friend, a neighbor, a woman who has treated me like a daughter for the last 11 years. We discovered that she has cancer about 5 weeks ago. I've spent the last few weeks helping with doctor visits and Internet research. Yesterday, the doctors told us that the cancer is very aggressive and that there is no treatment that can help her. Hospice begins on Monday. She has been given anywhere from a few days to a few weeks to live as her liver shuts down. She has turned yellow in just a matter of days, and looks like a shadow of the woman who has loved me like the daughter she never had. Truth is, she really treats everyone like her son or daughter. She's not an artist, except in how she loves other people.

I need this to slow down. I feel like I can't do this--can't face her loss so soon after losing Bill. But, if she were suffering through chemo, I would want it to speed up. We just don't get to choose. And compared to what she is facing, I've got it easy. I can't imagine being told my life is measured in days, and then have to watch my family grieve.

I think about her life, a long life, a painful life, sometimes a good life, a life she spent taking care of everyone else. Now we take care of her, and once again I am forced to examine the trajectory of my life. I wonder about the balance between self-sacrifice, which she has done so artfully, and taking care of one's own needs, something she never learned. It is her self-sacrifice that bleeds our love for her to the surface, overflowing. She can't possibly drink it all in. As I stand back and watch her family around her, I appreciate the beauty of love. I can almost touch it. Maybe it's the fear that makes it so touchable. The fear of the loss.

As her mean husband continues to be self-absorbed in his own problems, I feel so angry that she stayed with him. I feel sad that she spent her whole life taking care of everyone else without doing anything for herself. What a waste that she didn't live the life she wanted, that she didn't follow her dreams. Or did she? I hope to ask her in the next few days.

Jeanne McDeid, 70 years old--she is a beautiful, beautiful human being. She is my friend, and I don't know how to lose her without losing a huge part of myself.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

The Farrier

Her Appaloosa, 17 hands tall, stands still, like granite
Slowly, she lifts his leg and drapes it like a ribbon across her worn, leather chaps,
Her arms and hands are prepared for a fight.
Her body ready to dodge one deadly blow that never happens because he trusts her.

Carefully, she cleans and files with a watchmaker’s precision
Each movement a memory reminding her to be ready for a fight that never happens because he trusts her.

From the shadows I watch morning light fall from above, tumbling over her bandana-covered head, and then across her shoulder where long blond hair once rested.
Her chaps shine like blemished gold.
Her tools reflect their aged usefulness.

I reflect on last night, how after we argued her calloused fingers brushed away tears I shed over something more powerful than a 17-hand horse--over something neither of us can control.

It was nothing like the fights we had not so long ago,
The fights about cleaning stalls, or my room, or what time I had to be home,
The fights when someone had to win.

Now, in this morning’s light, I watch her from a safe distance with respect, wishing I had let her teach me her skill, her art—
An art passed to her from her father and her father’s father, and now, to no one.

Reluctantly, I interrupt her rhythm, “It’s time to go.” She nods.

In her usual, methodical finishing, she releases his leg
Pats his hindquarters to say, “We’re done,”
Stretches her back, accustomed to years of discomfort
Puts away her tools, just as her father kept them,
And leads the Appaloosa back into his stall.
He goes willingly because he trusts her.

One hour and two doctors later, midday sun falls from a window above us, tumbling quietly between IVs in her arms and over her shoulder where long blond hair once rested.
For three hours, her body drinks in chemo
Like coffee--
She asks me mother questions.
I ask her daughter questions.

In the afternoon,
After a rest she never used to take,
I find her mending fences
20 acres out
Where she fights something I cannot see
Where she trusts in her own strength
Where she tries not to need me.

Among these fallen fences and this afternoon light
Where I watch her mind and body fight something more complicated than tangled barbed wire
We work side-by-side in a comfortable silence
I brush away silent tears, like sweat,
And I wish that I had learned to trust her long before now
Before the calluses
And especially before the day she left her fingerprints on my face gently, a face wet with fear, and said,
“Daughter, I can beat this. Trust me.”

*A poem I wrote in 2006 after meeting a woman farrier in Colorado.

Coping or Healing?

I talked online with a widow my age today. Her husband died ten years ago. She says that healing is a myth. She says that all we can do is find new strategies for coping with the loss, but she doesn’t believe there is any such thing as healing. She sounded bitter as if she had been lied to about how she would feel ten years down the road. I had to think hard about whether or not healing really exists. Am I experiencing healing or am I just coping? What is healing compared to coping? If I admit that I’ve experienced some healing, am I saying that my loss isn’t so great? Did I misunderstand all the books about grief? Are they lying to me? One of Jesus’ main purposes on earth was to heal. A significant reason for prayer and for believing in God is for healing. Is death the only thing from which we are not allowed healing? I don’t think so. I look back over the last year and nine months and know that, yes, I have experienced some level of healing so far. My sister of widowhood is wrong. I decided not to talk with her anymore because I don’t think she wants to heal. She is content with coping. I am not.

To me coping implies burden, like the burden of an amputated arm. Now maybe an amputee can say that she doesn’t feel burdened by the loss of her arm after years of coping, accepting, healing. I don’t know. I haven’t asked, but for me, I can’t imagine that the loss of an arm could ever not be a burden. I can understand that I would find strategies to cope, but two arms, in my eyes, would always be less burdensome than just one, no matter the level of acceptance. But healing from loss, loss of a spouse, is it forever a burden? Honestly, I feel like I’ve lost an arm. It is impossible to juggle life with just one arm, and I will never grow a new one, so to speak, so the healing does not come in forming a new arm. It comes from within. I must find a different way of looking at life. A way of coping. But what about healing? Am I healing or am I just coping?

I certainly don’t think Bill would want me to be burdened with the heaviness of his loss forever, although sometimes it feels better to carry that burden than to envision laying it down. To lay it down would reveal that, yes, I truly have lost an arm, as opposed to erroneously thinking that arm is just busy carrying something else right now. Sometimes it feels like that stuff, that burden, is all I have left of him. Realistically, the heaviness of his loss has nothing to do with who he was or our life together. The burden is about what it feels like now that he is gone. It’s about the trauma and figuring out how to cope. Someday I want to lay that down, if I actually have a choice.

I do believe in healing of some sort. I don’t know what it looks like or feels like, exactly, and I think it is as imperceptible as the aging of our skin. One day in our 40s we look at ourselves closely in a mirror and realize that the skin of our youth is gone. So as my inner skin heals from the loss of Bill, forever I will look different, changed. Hopefully, I will have lines not from frowning or bitterness, but rather from smiling and laughing and remembering…..and from tears that have etched themselves on a slate meant for all types of memories and emotions.

So maybe healing is in the aging, not the coping, and in how much we allow ourselves to laugh, and to cry. The crying is the laying down of the burden, the letting go. The laughing is the lightness we feel afterward—it is the healing. That is my guess.

Unlike my sister widow, I believe that healing happens in moments between moments between moments every day, as imperceptible as the aging of my skin. Someday I will see lines of wisdom and healing among the lines of my grief, and I will know that the wisdom and healing came from a willingness to lay down my burden of loss, moment between moment, memory by memory, even when it felt like I had to cut off my arm to do so.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

A Journey to Remember--long

Here is my 2007 Christmas letter for Bill's and my family...

What a year! I’ve made it through one year. We all have, and I feel that Bill’s spirit has been with me every step of the way. He told me that first night after he died that I would be okay, and I believe him. You have also been with me through your phone calls, help around the house, cards, and prayers. Thank you so much for your support. It is impossible for me to express how much it has meant to me.

This past year has been about survival, grief, and remembrance. I had the privilege of remembering and honoring Bill in a special way. I traced paths he took when he felt most alive—paths he rode, walked, hiked, and drove. It was in visiting these places that my grief found places to cry, to be angry, to remember, to question, to seek answers, to surrender, to rest, and…to heal.

Before Bill died, he gave me a beautiful gift. Not knowing his fate the next day, he told me where he wanted his ashes to be scattered. In the past we had discussed places such as Mendocino, CA and Ouray, CO. That night he said, “I know exactly where I want my ashes. I want them wedged between two rocks above Torrey, Utah.” And so one of my goals this last year was to make that happen.

Before I made it to Torrey, though, I needed to take a journey of my own. This first year without Bill has been a journey to remember…a journey to remember a person, a husband, a friend, a cyclist, a son, a brother, an uncle, a nephew whose life had more impact than he could ever have imagined. It has been a search for healing. With each place I visited, I realized as I left, “He’s not here, either,” as if I really expected to find him. Early on I learned that logically knowing he is gone is not the same as accepting the finality of him being gone. I will never understand it completely. I don’t catch myself thinking that he’s just on a ride and he’ll be home soon anymore, but every day I wish it were true.

My first challenges after the memorial included facing the “firsts” nearby such as Trader Joes, REI, the dog park, bike rides and my own backyard, which many of you have helped me to deal with in some way or another. Laying Kenu to rest next to Yana felt like more than I could bear. I felt very angry and alone when I realized that the family I nurtured and cared for the last 15 years were all gone. All of them.

Next came finances and other administrative tasks, which still bog me down. In March, I went to Vancouver, and then to San Diego and Thousand Oaks—all places laden with memories of Bill and me as a couple. Among the most difficult were visiting our first home and walking the trail by the beach in Del Mar. While on the trail, I suddenly realized that in that very spot was where we met our first Ridgeback. I cried an ocean. I remembered how we called a few breeders that night and finally found one that had puppies available. And then the landslide of memories began….bringing home the puppies, vomit in the Jeep, accidents in the house, and thousands of dollars worth of destruction and vet bills. It was all so worth it.

Chico has been a revolving challenge. I look forward to family, but the memories are raw and jolting since I am not living with them every day. Watching the children remember Bill as they deal with their own grief has given me a lot of strength. Each time I visit I find another memory to confront. Eventually, it will become a softer place for me.

In June, I decided that I needed to drive the Terrible Two course the day of the ride. To my surprise, the ride organizer talked about Bill for a while before the ride began at 5:30am. Three riders rode in Bill’s honor: Rob from Berkeley; Bryce from Chico, and Brett from Scottsdale. They all carried one of Bill’s old numbers from previous rides and a small vial of ashes. Rob scattered Bill’s ashes at the top of Ft. Ross, the most difficult climb of the day. He sent me a moving email of what it meant to remember Bill in that way. I was told by an organizer that many riders were inspired by seeing my car on the route with Bill’s number on the back. If Bill had ridden that day, he would’ve held the record of 15 consecutive rides. Several riders came up to me throughout the day to extend their condolences, which felt really good because most people I came into contact with avoided the topic at this point.

On the route of the Terrible Two, I scattered some of Bill’s ashes for the first time. I chose an area overlooking the ocean near the base of the Ft. Ross climb. I wanted to yell at everybody to stop whatever they were doing, including the drivers whizzing by, so that they could take part in the moment. But I have learned that grief is not a group activity. Tears stung my eyes for the remaining 50 miles. The ride organizer gave me a coveted t-shirt—something I will always treasure. At the end of the day I was emotionally spent, but I earned a strength that has carried me through many challenges since then.

By September, I had given up the idea of going to Torrey because no one in the family was able to go with me, but then I realized it was essential to my grieving process. It ended up being a blessing that I went with just one person. My friend, Carla, a nurse in San Diego, was able to go with me at the last minute. She drove for me a couple of times over the few days we were there when the emotional load became too heavy. She was there from a distance and for hugs. She listened and cried with me. Bill was her friend, too. We also enjoyed the scenery, laughed a lot and enjoyed delicious dinners at CafĂ© Diablo. Even though I rarely eat beef, I ordered Bill’s favorite dish, the flank steak with pomme frites, all presented artistically as if we were at a fine restaurant in San Francisco. Below is an excerpt from my journal about preparing for the trip.

Suddenly, I realize that I have to pack ashes. In what? How much? I reach for the burgundy plastic container containing an entire person. Forgetting how heavy it was, I almost drop it. I look for something to carry the ashes in and finally settle on the wooden box that Bill made for me with the “life is a journey” character engraved on it. As I scoop his ashes into a Ziploc baggie with a measuring cup, I cannot help but think that he would approve of my using a baking utensil to scoop his ashes. But then I realize that I am scooping ashes, a person, a life. No, not a life. Just bones, remains. His life lives on in his legacy, in our memories. But still, I am sad that I am scooping my husband into a baggie. I put just enough in the baggie so that it still fits in the box, and then I place a guitar pick into the box, which I will leave at the site. I know exactly where I am going—the place where he talked about being “wedged between two rocks.”

Actually, I chose to scatter ashes in two places near Torrey. Even though the vista I chose along Chimney Rock Trail is not overlooking Torrey, it is the first place that came to mind when Bill told me where he wanted his ashes to be scattered. As if a foreshadowing, the previous summer, I took a few pictures of Bill taking in the awesome view, and another of him sitting on two rocks with the view in the background. I had no idea how significant that place would become. This time the view was the same, but my experience was very different. As I cried, took pictures, scattered ashes, and cried some more I tried to reconcile the conflict inside between logic and longing, fear and hope, anger and acceptance, pain and healing. I still have not found the words to aptly describe that moment. Surreal is overused and understates my experience, so I hope the pictures convey some of the meaning to you. Below is an excerpt from my journal about that moment….

I hike toward the vista with purpose, yet pause to take pictures as I go—a documentation of the journey, proof that I did it, a story all its own. Taking the pictures is somewhat meditative for me and distracts me from some of the crushing emotions that surface every few minutes. I need to feel, but I also need to function. The camera is a barrier between me and the landscape, the memories, and the last time I visited here with Bill without completely disconnecting me from my emotions. As I approach the place I had in my mind as the perfect place to scatter his ashes everything begins to feel like it is in slow motion. All is quiet—not because of my mind shutting out reality, but because it is really just so very quiet and still. We haven’t seen anyone else on the trail so far. It is just like I remembered—an expansive view—a view that overwhelmed Bill as he stood on the edge, hands clasped behind his head. That day I could almost feel his thoughts about how beautiful it was, how awesome, how it moved him to want a different life away from the city. It was sadness and awe and understanding all at once. It was joy and gratitude that we could experience this sacred place together. Soon the exact spot where I want to scatter his ashes comes into view. I see the weather-beaten tree jutting out between two rectangular-shaped rocks as red as their surroundings. As I approach, I feel like everything I have been protecting myself from emotionally up to this point on the trail is now a boulder between me and the two rocks. I climb the boulder in my mind, and as I reach out to touch the rocks where he once sat, my body collapses into a heap of tears. I kneel at this altar created just for this moment—my only offering my grief. I cling to the rocks as if I expect them to come alive or to quench my thirst for missing him, but this is the desert, and no one chooses where to get their water. No one chooses grief, either. Water, rain, it all comes from where it will, when it will. Right now, my only water is this view and this tree between these two rocks. I guard them as if they are precious stones. I continue to kneel in silence, in anger, in sadness, in hope that someday I will be stronger than the sum of my loss. Patiently, I wait and listen for my heart to tell me what to do next.

I had a similar, but less intense, experience the next day when I scattered Bill’s ashes “between two rocks above Torrey.” Sketchy directions from townspeople to the Velvet Ridge put us on a very rutted dirt road/wash, which had been miserable on a mountain bike due to the sand last summer. It was doable in the SUV I was renting (no offroading allowed) until a creek crossing dashed my confidence. Bill’s safety sirens went off in my head and I pulled to the side of the wash. We got out of the car and surveyed the bluff directly above us. I was pretty sure that we would be able to get a view of Torrey from the other side, but there was no visible trail. It was late in the afternoon and our options were narrowing, so we decided to traverse the side of the bluff. There were enough boulders and footholds among the shale-like rock so that it appeared to be fairly safe. When we reached the plateau, we paid little attention to the breathtaking scenery. We hiked in the direction of Torrey for about 15 minutes, and finally reached a vista overlooking the valley and Torrey. Below is my journal entry of this experience.

Relief gently washes through me as we emerge onto a clearing with a vista overlooking Torrey. Afraid the moment will pass by too quickly, I stop to take it all in for a few minutes. From here, Torrey looks so small, so insignificant, yet made significant to me by one man’s experience and his last wish. The deepening shadows on the adjacent cliffs remind me that my time is limited. I walk to the edge of the bluff, look down at my feet, and I see “two rocks.” Tears blur my vision as I snap dozens of pictures, once again using my camera lens to distance me from the surfacing emotions. My tears fall more quietly this time as I let the ashes be carried by the wind, and then reluctantly I place a handful of his life “between two rocks above Torrey,” just as he had asked. Here on the Velvet Ridge, I feel a stronger sense of peace than I did the day before. With nightfall approaching, we descend from the plateau as quickly as we can. My eyes are dry, but my thirst for meaning is quenched, if only for a moment. My body shivers from the chilly, autumn air as my reason for coming to Torrey fades among the red rocks glowing in the distance. My journey to remember Bill in this place has come to an end for now. He will always be here.

I have carried the peace I received in Torrey with me every day through the anniversary of his death, through Thanksgiving, through our wedding anniversary, and finally, through Christmas. I have learned, though, that peace does not numb the pain.

Just before the anniversary of Bill’s death, Anne, Sheilia and the twins visited me for a few days. I asked them if they wanted to scatter some ashes at the Marin Headlands where Bill proposed to me. I was very pleased when they agreed to it. It was a different experience in that I felt like I had done my most important task already. I felt like I was there to help his family experience their love and their grief in a different way. We sat on the bench where Bill asked me to spend the rest of my life with him, and then walked the scenic trail for a view of the Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco. Journal…

Next, we drive the windy, steep road to the top of the hill and walk on a trail for a while to find a spot without any tourists. Erin and Sean pick yellow flowers along the way and scatter the petals on a tree stump overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Anne, Sheilia and I sprinkle ashes on top of the flower petals. We all just take in the view for a while. I think about the dozens of times Bill and I brought friends here, the bike rides up the steep hill, picnic lunches overlooking the bridge for no special reason, and the question, “Why?” interrupts my thoughts for the millionth time. My emotions travel from sadness to anger to acceptance in a few heartbeats, and then back to sadness. I feel the heavy burden of a mother who has lost her son, of a sister who has lost her brother, and of two children who have lost a vibrant, caring uncle. I wonder what they are feeling. I wonder what the children will remember about today. And I wonder for how long my acceptance will be measured in heartbeats.

A few weeks later, my parents came to visit and I took them to the Headlands to scatter some ashes as well. Again, I felt somewhat removed this time. It was their turn to do what they needed to do to honor Bill and to remember what he meant to them. I have learned that observing others heal is healing in itself.

Thanksgiving and our anniversary were particularly difficult for me, but once again, the children were so instrumental in helping me to cope with my reality. I went to Mendocino with Anne and Sheilia the day after Thanksgiving. I wasn’t prepared for the flood of emotions that hit me about 15 miles south of town. Anne drove the rest of the way as Bill’s and my life together replayed itself with every turn along the familiar, rugged coastline. Memories flashed before me everywhere I looked. Everywhere. I just wanted them to stop, but I knew that I had to face Mendocino. I had to face the life I had, the memories, before I could face whatever hurdle came next. I knew it would make me stronger.

After we got into town, I took some time alone with Willow to visit the church where Bill and I were married. The church attendant let both of us inside with a polite, “I’m sorry for your loss. Take your time.” I sat motionless on the hard, wooden pew in the front row as memories overwhelmed my senses. Last time I was there I had tears of joy. I couldn’t stay for long. I felt angry, grateful, sad, and tired—tired of grief. Below is an excerpt from my journal about our time on the beach.

We leave the church and wander aimlessly for a while before walking along the bluffs toward the beach. I walk. Willow spins, skips, sniffs, gallops, and looks back at me with her goofy face, the one that makes me smile even in the most serious of moments. God knew I would need a silly dog when she came to us! Carefully, the two of us make our way down the muddy trail to the beach where locals and tourists are enjoying a perfect autumn day with their families. I head for the far end of the beach where there are fewer people. At the end, I watch the tide rise and fall, waves splashing onto the rock that guards the far end of the cove. As I take in the scene, I think to myself, “It’s just another day for everybody else.” For me, it’s another day to remember. While children play and laugh a dozen yards away, I sink my fingers into something that feels like sand but isn’t. I hold his ashes in my hand for a moment, then quietly release into the incoming wave a little bit more of Bill, literally and figuratively—and a little bit of me. A part of me died that tragic day, too. I watch as the tide pulls away from me and I feel my life, the one I thought I would have, going out with it. I let the cold salt water rinse my hands. I am numb as Willow and I make our way across what seems like a beach twice as long as before. We hike back to the top of the bluff where I am overcome with disbelief at what I am doing here. I scatter a few more ashes facing west, knowing that I won’t be letting go of anymore ashes for a while. Or, maybe, I’ve let as much of him go as I can for now.

I have two more places to scatter ashes. One is Mt. Diablo, a 10-mile climb and a 90-mile round trip ride from home. Bill trained on that climb dozens of times every year. Some of his cycling friends may choose to join me. The other place is Ouray, Colorado, which is in the San Juan Mountains. We spent a few days in Ouray after we were in Torrey. I’ve included some pictures of both locations. Yes, I still have ashes left. I am reserving some for family who decide to go to Torrey, and I will reserve some to keep with me at home.

Few people understand why Bill chose Torrey. You have to visit it to understand. It doesn’t have the jaw-dropping sites of Zion and Bryce, but the sites are awesome in their vastness, varied hues, and rugged terrain. Some know that Bill preferred quiet places away from the pressures and expectations of city life. He fell prey to the seduction of solitude most strongly during his first visit to Torrey. It was in this solitude that he began a search to understand himself, who he was meant to be, and to find meaning in everyday life. This year, it was my mission to let him rest in that place of contemplation where he felt so at peace while he was still alive. In the solitude of my grief, while overlooking this sacred place called Torrey, I found a little understanding and a lot of healing. The pictures I took remind me that I have moved forward through some very difficult emotions, that I have been on a journey to heal, a journey to feel, a journey to remember—and I want others to remember, too.

Such a Simple Word

Some of you mentioned that it's been a long time since I posted anything. Yep. I just have a hard time writing much that is upbeat right now, so I stopped posting. Below is an abbreviated version of something i wrote four months after Bill died. It will be published in "Living with Loss" magazine next month. I had to cut out a lot so they could fit it into the magazine, but this is the longer version.

Such a Simple Word

Speeding down the freeway and rushing toward the ER’s revolving door did not speed up the moment
The waiting
The knowing
The dread of learning that you were dead.
Learning--as if I had to be taught what it meant that you were gone.
As if I needed a dictionary to comprehend the words, “He’s dead.”
As if I didn’t have the intelligence to understand that you were dead.

Nonetheless, I learned that you were dead on a sunny, autumn day from a pretty doctor with bloodshot eyes and a gentle voice that said,
“He’s dead.”

Class dismissed--
As if I learned what I needed to know about you being dead from those two words.

The doctor, the nurse, the officer--
They kept telling me
Explaining to me
Describing to me
How you died.

I listened while watching from above
My body shivering in a chair below
Rocking, questioning, crying, and then, nothing.
Nothing but the glow of the stained glass window blurred in the corner of the chapel--
I dried my own tears with my trembling hand
I called the family, one by one, my hand shaking like I was playing a tambourine as I said, over and over,
“He’s dead.”
I listened dry-eyed to their sobs so far away, wishing I, too, could cry--
Not understanding why the tears had stopped,
Not knowing it was normal.

I felt strong, composed, when they took me to you down the hallway to a small, sterile room--
“Take as much time as you need,” she said.
How much time do people need?

First, I saw your boots in a bag and envisioned you climbing poles.
I saw your computer on the floor and thought of you working at the table after dinner.
I saw your jeans cut open
Gown over your chest
Minor abrasions on your arms
Tube in your mouth, just as she had warned--
Tube in your mouth.
You looked so strong
So healthy
So alive,
Except for the tube in your mouth.

Avoiding the tube in your mouth
I touched you as if you were alive
I felt your curls between my fingers
The contours of your chest met my face as I collapsed from sobs patiently waiting behind my composure.
I caressed your arms and your face with the back of my hand, trying to soothe away your gone-ness.
I slid your rings, one by one, onto my fingers, remembering the moments that made each one special.
Around my wrist I fastened your watch still ticking, the weight of its largeness a reminder of your touch—
Your touch for sixteen years.
As I took these things, methodically, I realized I didn’t understand that small word even a child can say…


Such a simple word…
With so many complications.
Easy to say.
Hard to hear.
An explosion
An indefinable sound
An echo that singes the brain—a sting and then numbness, no feeling, no pain.

“I need you to sign some forms,” she said.
My tambourine hand met pen to paper with syncopated rhythm, but no sound— not even I could recognize the signature as my own. But my hand kept on
playing as I sat next to you.
It tried to find a rhythm for days.
I'm still trying to find a rhythm without you.

“He’s dead,” someone else said, again.

Almost four months later
I’m still trying to believe it--
After funeral
After Thanksgiving
After Anniversary
After Christmas
After New Year’s
After Valentine’s Day.

You’re dead. I know that.

I never knew being alone could be so crowded with
Things to do
People to please
Places to go
Revisions of everything that once was.

“He’s dead,” I said.

I said it to your friends
I said it to your family
I said it to the mail carrier
To the vet, the pharmacist, and your co-workers.
I said it to dozens of people.

You’re dead.

I know that.
I read it on forms, in reports, in my journal—yet I feel as if you’re still alive, you’re just not here.
You’re alive in pictures, in sounds, in thoughts, in dreams—until I remember…

“He’s dead,” the pretty doctor said.

It is easy to say.
But I’m still learning what it means for you to be gone, passed away,
For you to be dead.
I’m still learning after all this time.

If only you were here to explain it to me.

I really don’t understand what it means when I say, “He’s dead.”
Maybe if I could touch you just one last time
Maybe I would understand.
I don’t understand ashes
Or memorials
Or silence…
I don’t understand that you’re gone forever--
Not even after 120 days of knowing.

My brother-in-law who is a doctor turned me on (can't finish the sentence here) to a great website:

SOOOOOO, worth it! I was a little, ok a lot, unmotivated to check it out, but it is very cool. The first one you should watch is "A Stroke of Insight." It is about a neuroscientist's experience of having a stroke. Once she realizes she's having a stroke, she realizes how incredibly cool it is that she is experiencing what she researches. Trust me. It is 20 min well-spent. And there are so many more to watch, and not enough time!


Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Life within a Life

Here is a recent journal entry about my experience with this ongoing grief process. I've heard grief described as a parallel life. This is my take on it.

journal: They don’t want to hear it. They don’t really want to know what I’m going thru. If they really knew they would not know what to do, and they would feel more helpless than they already feel, more inadequate, more tongue-tied. But not knowing what to say is okay. Really. If only they would just acknowledge the fire, that it’s burning, that it’s hot, that they can see me in the middle of it, barely protected, almost consumed. I can only imagine that this is something like childbirth, or what I think it would be like—a pain that cannot be endured except for the fact that not to feel it would ensure death.

Would I die if I didn’t feel this pain? No, but to die, sometimes it seems better, not because of a reunion, or an eternity, or an incarnation, but because it would stop. It. The pain, the emptiness, would stop. It is a constant ache that attacks so many sides I cannot defend myself.
Where are my friends? They call and ask me how I am doing, sometimes. They talk about their lives, their problems, and don’t even mention him, as if I don’t want to talk about him anymore. I want to be a good friend, so I listen, but they are watching my life from at least the same distance that I am watching theirs, a distance that protects them from the fire almost consuming me. A distance that allows them to keep living their own lives, like they are supposed to do. At the end of the day, I respect whatever they need to do to keep on living, even if it doesn’t include me.

Where are his friends? They are working, parenting, and riding their bikes, challenging themselves to be better, faster, stronger for their next race or event. They are living, and maybe even grieving still, in their own way. At the end of the day, I respect whatever they need to do to keep on living, even if it doesn’t include me.

But for me, at the end of the day, even after an exhilarating bike ride or time with friends, often I find myself on the couch with a plate of fattening foods and a glass of wine to cushion my thoughts, my memories, as they fall randomly through my fingers like grains of sand. Struggling to catch every grain, every memory, every thought, every anger, every love, every touch, every everything, tears fall impatiently, angrily, sadly, yearningly. I don’t know if I cry because of what I do catch or because of what falls between my fingers. There is so much to catch. There is so much that falls. I guess I should be thankful that there is so much to catch, and that I even notice that which falls. But there is no one to see it or appreciate it. No one but me. It’s in this moment of what is caught and not caught, this moment when the sand rests on my fingers or falls below, that only I appreciate the value our life together. It is a moment crowded with aloneness.

Is this a gift? Is it a curse?

This life within a life that only I can live, is it something I should beg others to share, or just relinquish my hope of others joining me and understand that this grief is mine alone? No one else can bare it. No one else can own it. No one else can understand it, or experience it like I experience it.

I don’t want this specialness, where only I can understand my pain, my emptiness. I don’t want this aloneness where it feels like only I can be my friend. I am too weak for that, but even in this weakness my strength seems to be enough to get me out of bed each day, enough to smile, to do at least a little exercise, paperwork, yardwork, or housework, and to look okay. I look okay and say that I’m okay to everyone who asks. Sometimes I say that it’s hard, but I’m okay. They look relieved, as if I just said that everything is back to normal.

So, at what point do I admit to drowning in this sorrow? To drowning in grief? To drowning in memories? Would anyone even hear my confession? I don’t admit these thoughts to others because they might think I’m weak, pitiful. Logically, I know that it only feels like I am drowning. It only feels like grief will kill me. I am well acquainted with depression and its oceans of desert, and I have learned that the cycles of feeling nothing and then everything at once does not have to overcome me or control me, even when it feels like it. So, if I cling to what I know, I must believe that this grief will not suffocate me, even when the weight of his body in memories rests upon my chest.

In spite of this drowning feeling, at the end of the day, I want to gasp for air and find air. I want to breathe and find another breath, no matter how painful it might be, because breath is life and life is purpose. Life, alone, must be enough reason for me to live, whether I’m walking through depression or through grief, or both. I want there to be a special reason why I am still here, even if I never understand why he is not. Just finding air every few seconds is my opportunity to find reason in spite of the loss, in spite of the pain. Even if I never understand why he died, and I probably won’t, I know many reasons why he lived, one of them being his gift of love to me.

This life within a life….it is different. It is ugly and very confusing right now, but I must consider the possibility, just the possibility, that all life has value, even the life of grief. I must protect it, nurture it, and seek to understand its wisdom.

This life within a life is my life, and everything is growing around it exponentially in comparison, yet this grief, this life within a life, is growing, too, a growth only I can see. A life only I can experience at my own pace. And at the end of the day, when my living room is crowded with my grief and me, how blessed am I to have the privilege of drowning in an ocean of beautiful memories—memories that are mine, alone, as long as I live.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007


Have you ever become weary of someone who keeps doing something they've promised not to do, and then they say that they are sorry every time? It puts us in an awkward place because most of us want to be forgiving, but sometimes the routine can be tiresome and the sorry becomes meaningless. The poem below is a result of a number of people who seem to have a lot of drama in their life right now. A theme seems to be one person's inability to stay with the program and repeatedly saying sorry, thinking that it makes up for everything. So after listening to the drama from the other friend for the last two days, I wrote this piece, probably still in progress as the drama continues...sorry Bryan, a little on the serious side, so sorry, really, I'm sorry.

Sorry Among Sorries

Your sorries lay scattered like gravel among gravel
Where kindness blends with harshness
Where “I’m sorry,” means little to nothing anymore.

Your sorries form a heap at the bottom of a landslide
Boulders among boulders
Falling randomly regardless of appearance or weight.

Your sorries are an avalanche hiding and sliding
Past contours and views
A trail of snow among snow
A blank slate upon which to write more sorries--
But this time I’m gone.

I’m seeking a place where respect overshadows regret
Where ambiguity is given the benefit of the doubt
Where open minds do not close doors to change
A place where sorries can be held in one hand
A place where sorries are unique
Not an action following routine reactions
That assume forgiveness.

I’m seeking a place where sorries are so few
And so perfectly set that they become
Precious stones.
For now, your sorries continue to lay scattered
Like gravel among gravel
Boulders among boulders
Snow among snow.

Consequently, you wander alone
Inside a fortress of sorries
A fortress filled with sand
Where you sift with a closed hand
Your reasons among reasons among reasons
To say, “I’m sorry.”

Friday, March 02, 2007

What We Do When Nobody is Watching

Now that I live alone and there's no one to question my daily decisions, I wonder if the same rules apply as before. For example, the other day I wondered if it would really be that big of a deal not to shower after an evening workout. What would be the point when I would be going to bed in a few hours just to workout again right after I get up the next morning? Granted I might get up late and then get bogged down with work around the house and then it’s lunch time, so I can’t exercise before I eat because I’m too hungry, which means I delay exercise at least an hour after I eat in order to digest my food. But I get busy again after lunch, then realize that I really should go to the bank and the vet before it gets too late. By the time I get home it’s almost 4pm. Time to workout because if I don’t do it now, it’ll be time for dinner, and then I’ll have to wait another hour before I workout. God forbid I get busy again and then realize that it’s 8pm and time for my favorite show. Before I know it, it’s 10pm and I haven't worked out, or showered. So why shower when I’m just going to workout first thing in the morning? Not that I’ve ever done this, but if I did who would know?

How about eating? I am very health conscious but every once-in-awhile, okay, maybe a little more often, I take a walk on the wild side and eat a donut or drink a chocolate shake. Actually, every Thursday is brownie day, which is a story all its own, but suffice to say, I look forward to it all week. My favorite brownies are at a special bakery that I pass every Thursday. They are huge, very moist, and are covered with thick, chocolate icing. In short, they are crack, and I am addicted. Sometimes I buy two with the intention of having one today and one tomorrow. That rarely works. So the other day, instead of buying one to keep myself from eating two, I bought three, knowing full well that I would eat two that evening, saving the third one for Friday. Can you imagine how sick you would feel if you ate all three in one night? Not that I did this, but if I did, who would know?

How about kitchen utensils? For instance, I took cookies off the cookie sheet, but they stuck to the sheet, so a little bit of cookie and chocolate stuck stubbornly to the spatula. I thought to myself, wouldn’t it be easier just to lick the cookie and chocolate off the spatula and put it back in the drawer than to scrub it clean with soap and water when I’m the only one who is going to use it next? Not that I did this, but if I did, who would know?

What’s your story?

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Happy Valentine's Day

I debated on whether or not to acknowledge this Hallmark holiday this year, then realized I really didn’t have a choice. Mom called to say, “I don’t know whether to say Happy Valentine’s Day or just I love you?” Was it a statement or a question? I really had no idea what to say, but put a stop to her sending me roses. A friend called and said, “You’re going to receive a practical Valentine’s Day gift on Thursday. Just wanted to warn you. Please don’t be mad at me.” I really had no idea what to say. What could I say but, “Thanks, I’ll be looking forward to it.” Another friend called and said, “I guess you’d just rather forget about Valentine’s Day.” Again, statement or question? Too late for me to forget about it now that he’s reminded me. I really had no idea what to say other than, “Thanks for thinking of me.” A neighbor said to me as I returned from a walk, “Stay here. I’ll be right back. I have something for you.” This is my 50-yr old-Vietnam vet neighbor with bleached blonde hair and John Lennon sunglasses-who has a few substance abuse issues-living with mom (not sure which came first)-looks kind of scary sometimes, but is really very, very sweet. In all sincerity he said, “Happy Valentine’s Day,” as he gave me a big hug and something that looked like the cousin to the lava lamp—distant cousin. It is a quartzite the size of a nerf football, hollowed out with a bulb inside that rests on a synthetic wooden base. “It only uses four watts so you can leave it on all the time,” he says with a bright smile, “especially when you go out of town.” Well there you go. I really had no idea what to say at first, other than “thank you,” but now, instead of setting the light timer, I have a light that I can leave on 24hrs a day without running up my electric bill when I'm gone. Truth be told, I was very touched by his thoughtfulness, and I’m sure it will look pretty cool all lit up at night. It’s kind of a nightlight on steroids. A 4-watt bulb lamp is much safer than forgetting to blow out candles anyway, and I have a few candles to light, especially today, not that it’s a special day or anything. It’s just another day. It’s just another day to say, “I love you.” It’s just another day to feel loved. I feel loved and it isn’t even afternoon yet.