Saturday, March 3, 2012

When Mourning Ends

This morning, I guess. At least that's when I noticed it. Yesterday was a tough day for me. It was the anniversary of my mom and dad's death. They didn't die together in the literal sense, but they did die on the same day within the same hour, within the same quarter hour...only it was 15 years apart.

I wasn't at my father's bedside. There were legitimate reasons. But I had always regretted it, although I am quite sure my father knew I was there for him when I could be, whatever it took to get there. Once, the last time I was with him, that meant 48 straight hours on military hops (and to be totally transparent, six of those hours were in a truly sleazy motel outside Scott AFB in Illinois, where I dozed on top of a bed stripped to the top sheet with the lights and TV on because I was so totally creeped out by the place) between Andrews AFB in Maryland and Norton AFB in Riverside CA, not far from my parents home in Hemet.

It was Thanksgiving weekend. My father had taken himself off of dialysis. He'd lost both of his legs. His eyesight was gone. His ability to use language, one of his most treasured gifts, was now a tormenting memory. He was done. The doctors advised him that he would probably live no more than 10-21 days. I went home on emergency leave, leaving my young family in the weeks before Christmas. When my leave had been used up, and Christmas was imminent, I caught a commercial flight back to Washington DC to spend the holidays with my family and get back to work.

Yesterday, in a flood of grief that caught me by surprise, I realized that I had held on to the guilt I felt for not being there when my father finally left his body behind on March 2, 1993. In releasing that guilt, and forgiving myself for the damage I had done to myself, I became aware of some of the other "stuff" I was carrying around that I could let go of, including some of the more recent stuff.

And then, this morning, one more revelation. I was in the middle of acknowledging to myself that, in many ways, this second year post-Bill has been harder than the first when I noticed the ache was gone. The almost physical ache that like a python had been tightly wrapped around my throat and chest from morning til night for so long that I had grown accustomed to its presence. In resolving the conflict I had with guilt and grief, I didn't notice how loose Grief had become until it had gone, slithering away to join its friends: anger and fear.

And that's when mourning ends.

Please join me on my new blog at Staying Vertical: Surviving and Thriving Amid the Chaos

Friday, September 9, 2011

It's A Start

I know that to sing will let my spirit free
but three years of constant grieving
have stilled my song
and when I try to let it out
it comes in croaks and squeaks
and frightens the dogs
and makes my throat scratchy and sore.

I know that to dance will lighten my load,
but years of shuffling under the burdens
have left my joints stiff and my muscles shortened
and when I try to shake my bootie
it tries to fall off the side and take me with it
and I want no trips to the hospital today.

It all makes me laugh a little --
Thank goodness.
At least that's a start.
One spiritual muscle that hasn't totally atrophied
or ruptured.

The sabbatical is over.
And now the year of reconditioning begins.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Year of the Sabbatical Ends

It's already the end of August. It is also the end my sabbatical year. I set out to write something everyday and find out who Sharon was after Bill and after all the loss incurred during the past five years. I didn't do so well insofar as writing everyday was concerned. Frequently I had other things to do and just as frequently I didn't but just didn't feel the spirit moving me to write.

I'm pretty sure I have a better sense of Sharon now. Indeed, probably a better understanding than I have ever had. It didn't come without some awkward and even painful moments; however, mostly it has been accompanied by a sense of wonder at the life all around me and at how far I have come and excitement about what is next. I have been surrounded by the love of friends and family, even when I was all alone. I enjoyed trips to Maryland, Texas, Mississippi, Nebraska, and Hawaii this year and look forward to doing some additional travel in the year ahead (maybe Alaska!).

This particular blog has reached its natural end. I will leave it in hopes that it provides some helpful bread crumbs for some other lost traveler through the scape of grief and loss. There is no question that it is a painful journey, but great cost brings great reward.

As for what is next, my preference is that I would like to keep writing, as long as there is someone willing to keep reading.  I started half a dozen articles for this blog that I never finished and would like to revisit as perhaps a starting off point for something else. Additionally, I am working on the electronic version of my grandmother and great aunt's book Hurrah for My New Free Country, currently out of print. I have lists of ideas for other articles, the scope of which almost demands a deeper blog-site and a more complex design.

Over the next few weeks, I will be working with a consultant to design a new blog page that incorporates this vision. Look for an announcement here when that site is ready to go public. In the meantime, thank you. All of you. For your support and your encouragement and for helping me help myself get through this year. On to the next!

(By the way, we still have a few of those chairs, if you're interested...)

Friday, July 22, 2011

Somewhat Daily Dose of Wow! 22 July 2011

This is one of the many reasons I love Colorado.

One of my favorite things in the world is watching the sun set behind the Rockies from my front yard. Tonight was especially beautiful, accompanied by birdsong and cooling breezes.

Friday, July 1, 2011

A Year Later

For me it is important to take time now and then to reflect back on the growth of this past year. One year ago today our friends from Rusk, Texas drove up to support me and Bill as he faced his second biopsy, the first having been somehow inconclusive. Bill was surprised to see them because we had been at their home only weeks earlier. It was no surprise to me. I asked them to come. It was pretty clear to the three of us that Bill's situation was grave in May, and they had made me promise to call if I needed them, and I needed them. This is a chit you only use once, and this was that one time.

One year ago today I began the grieving process (a word by the way that joins journey -- as in "my journey" or "my weight loss journey" or fill in the blank journey -- among the terms that give me palsied seizures). Grieving is a state of being that continues to today, though with much less intensity at times, and deeper at others. For me, it has been the opening of the shell that encloses my understanding (Gibran). Sometimes those shells are pretty doggone thick and require quite a bit of pain to break them open. Moving through that pain can get tricky. Running away from it is pointless; it will always outlast and outrun you and be waiting for you. Staying or living in it would be like dying a slow and painful death over and over and over. So I have been moving through the pain, and using it to teach me. When I feel the pain, I ask it where it is coming from and why is it here. Sometimes the pain is anger, sometimes guilt, sometimes regret; but always loss. When I've dealt with all the others, there will always be the loss.

When you lose a spouse, you lose that person and grieve that person and who they were in your life. Everyone knows and acknowledges this reality. But you also lose your identity as spouse with all the rights, privileges, and responsibilities that come with it. That role is done. For me, as for many, this happened right after my job as mother was done. Arguments to the contrary, my children are grown and are wonderfully competent to take care of themselves and the best part is that they choose to do so! So that's two jobs I've lost, and that doesn't count the career I retired from in 2007 to take care of Bill. So, there I am. What am I? That has been the point of this sabbatical, after all.

I do acknowledge that I have a better sense of wholeness than I did a year ago, or even three months ago. I was pretty broken, and more pieces of me breaking off with every anniversary/birthday/holiday. The camping trip to Cripple Creek brought with it the healing revelation that the bittersweet conjugation of my daughter's birthday with our first Father's Day without Bill could be acknowledged and sweetly honored without falling into the pit and breaking off more pieces. 

I also acknowledge the importance of this breakage in becoming Sharon. Not only has it broken open the shell of my own understanding, allowing me to live anxiety-free for the first time in decades. It is clearly also the work of the Great Sculptor, chiseling away the stone to reveal the glorious sculpture beneath if only the material holds up to the pressure. How am I doing, Boss?

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Somewhat Daily Dose of Wow! 19 Jun 2011

Today I took a little train ride here in Cripple Creek.

And this is what I saw:

Tripping to Cripple Creek

I have the camper back again and we are away for the weekend. The camper's little boo-boos from the long trip to Texas and Florida and back and then back to Texas again and back again required a little trip to the camper hospital for a short stay and some repairs. But I have her back, almost as good as new (although truthfully, she could use a bath and a coat of wax). She was all ready to go, and then the thunderstorm rolled in. So we waited it out while I put together some groceries for the trip.

My first stop on my way out of town was to Elk Mountain Brewery to refill my Growler. I like a dark beer, so I ordered the Amber Brown. It wasn't until I had reached Cripple Creek, unhitched and set up the camper, and reach for the growler for some liquid refreshment that I realized the bartender had written Amber on the lid. I had to laugh. Sometimes Maxwell is just too damn obvious.

I didn't get out of town without incident. The camper will have to go back to the repairman for a little fix:

In case you don't see it, this side is supposed to look like the other side:

You should see the other guy.

It was actually an inanimate object. One of those heavy reinforced concrete pillars to protect the ATMs from terrorists.  I cut it just a little close. Was really glad I didn't have a passenger in the car giving me hell. I pretty much took care of that myself.

I picked the first RV camp that sounded like it was off the highway and off the beaten track. Cripple Creek Hospitality House & RV Park is all of that, and comes with a story or two. The Hospitality House is the old Teller County Hospital. It is just up B Street from Teller County Junior and Senior High School and was built at the height of the gold rush in this area, 1901.
The RV park is better than some I have been in, but is not for the usual KOA camper. It comes with full hookups and wifi and, fortunately, no cable TV. The wifi allows me to entertain myself when the weather gets a little iffy. For instance, as I write this the wind is howling around outside, and it is nippy.  

There aren’t many other campers here. Perhaps it is because it’s so early in the season. I’m not complaining. I pretty much have a nice little area all to myself with good views all around, and less people is less stimulating for the dogs (we’re working on the whole territorial barking thing – it isn’t going well).

I took them, the dogs that is, out for a long walk this morning. Up and down the hill and back and forth on the grid of streets that go down the mountain from the Hospitality House. At 10,000 plus feet, the exertion got my cardio-respiratory system cranking, but did very little to calm the dogs down. So many smells! So many unfamiliar critters! And, “OMG Jack, do you see THAT! Is that horse shit? OMG it’s my FAVORITE!” Inevitably, the most exciting smells and sites have to occur when I am fighting my way to breathe and keep my feet moving on the uphill portions of the walk.

We came across the Cripple Creek volunteer firefighting and rescue squad doing some training on a Saturday morning. As we stopped to watch, the trainers were emphasizing the need to communicate loudly and clearly that the ladder was going up, coming down, or coming through. Each of the trainees had to be able to handle the ladder independently: carry it to the wall, get it up against the wall, and then get it down and carry it back – all without injuring themselves or others. No wonder firemen are in such good shape!

It was lunch time when we returned to the camper from our walk. Some ground beef seasoned with fresh onion, garlic, basil, oregano, and parsley. Followed by a pint of Amber Brown, a half pint of blue-berries and a nap. The nap was also delicious, by the way.

When this summer thunderstorm passes there will be another long walk up and down the mountain followed by leftover seasoned beef with some rice for dinner and a salad of fresh things from the garden. Not my garden, but somebody’s organic garden.

If I am lucky, and the free wifi internet connection connects, I will be able to post this at some point and then play some word games with my word-game pals in Canada, Omaha, San Francisco, Texas, and Hawaii while I finish the last glass of Amber Brown. Cheers!

Note: It's Sunday and the internet is back up and I have decided to stay another night here on the mountain. It feels like home.