Friday, April 8, 2016

What I Didn't Expect

When my husband died there were things about mourning his loss that I was prepared for.  Well, as much as one can be prepared.  I expected to be sad, I expected to be anxious, I expected to be emotional and cry a lot, I expected that I would have grief bursts.  But there were a some things that I didn't expect.  Like the extreme physical pain of mourning.  My body hurt.  I would wake up in the morning and every part of my body ached.  I didn't expect the mind-numbing exhaustion.  Even now, fourteen months into this journey, I barely have enough energy to get through the day.  If I do manage to have two or three productive days in a row, they are usually followed by two or three days where I can barely get myself out of bed, dressed and accomplish one or two small things. Not only am I physically exhausted, I find myself mentally exhausted after a day of work. 

I don't know why but I really didn't expect the bone chilling loneliness.  Perhaps because we had always had such a connection that the idea of it not being there didn't even occur to me.  I was in my mid-thirties when we married and had already developed a self-identity.  I didn't feel like I "needed" a man to make me whole.  And I still don't feel that is the case.  But a funny thing happened after we married.  The first Christmas when I was trying to make decisions about Christmas gifts for my family, I felt totally unable to do so without Tom's input.  I mean, it was my family.  I found the whole thing rather amusing. But what I am noticing now is the day to day loneliness.  Having to make decisions about the little things.  Doing errands alone, cooking for one, making sure the bills get paid, having someone to share commentary with on American Idol or Dancing with the Starts.  No one cares about the little things in my day.  There is no one to laugh with me that I finally figured out it was a California Buckeye tree at the bottom of the hill, the one that each spring for 18 years we wondered what species it was.  There is no longer anyone to reminisce with about our shared memories together, like how the first major fight we had when we moved in together was about a mattress pad.  This is the part of me that I lost, the shared memories that belonged to just the two of us.  They only reside in my mind.  This is why my heart feels so cold and so empty, because I have lost a part of my history, a major part of my history, not just Tom's physical presence in my life.

I was watching the scene in Downton Abbey right before Lady Mary's wedding and Lady Edith returns to attend the nuptials.   Lady Mary wonders why Lady Edith would come back after the awful fight they had.  Lady Edith explains that they are sisters and the day will come that only the two of them will remember their mother, father, and sister.  Others will not have known them and they have common shared memories.  I so relate to this.  My mother and father are both gone.  All of my aunts and uncles are gone.  It is only my brother and I and since he is so much older than I, leaving home when I was just four, we have very few shared memories from our youth.  I have cousins, but most are my brother's age and we have little shared history.  Well, perhaps it is the fact that my memory isn't so great, I tend to forget things until other bring them up.  Perhaps this is just a byproduct of becoming older and having no children, no legacy.  Whatever it is, it is deep and hollow and painful and lonely.

I suppose this is one of the reasons that they say the second year is difficult, perhaps worse than the first.  Lucky for you there are only 295 more days in the second year.  Whine, whine, whine.  I know, I'm getting sick of it too.  But each month, each week, each day, I discover something else about this journey that is often enlightening, many times painful, but always necessary in order to move through this period. I know that one day it will be different.  I appreciate those that listen to me, or read and comment on my ramblings.  I am missing the one person in the world that was so totally into me that he thought everything I thought and said was amazing.  It is a big Tom-sized hole.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Concrete Boots

WARNING:  Some of the content is a little out there for some.  I usually do not talk about my spiritual beliefs, but they have been vital in my mourning process.  If you are not in agreement with them, or are possibly offended by them, scroll on by.  Nothing you will say will change how I feel or "enlighten" me.  This is my personal opinion, please respect that.

It seems that every time I visit with my grief counselor I whine about how much I hate this "phase" of grief recovery--the mind numbing exhaustion that I can not force myself out of no matter what I try, the feeling of just barely surviving the days, trying to wait it out until every step does not feel like trudging through quicksand with concrete boots, the fear that there will never be joy in my life again.  Its not pretty.  The second year is incredibly hard, but in a very different way.

I really hate this. What I hate so much about it is that I have no control over it.  I can't think my way out of it, I can't work my way out of it, I can't eat my way out of it, I can't spend my way out of it, I can't force my way out of it, I can't act my way out of it.  Every coping mechanism that I've ever used doesn't work.  Its not that I'm not doing all of the right thing to move through the mourning period.  I go to one-on-one grief counseling.  I've done spousal loss bereavement groups (more than one).  I ask for help, I talk with other widows.  I write.  I try to be a productive member of society.  I try to participate in the lives of others without it all being about my loss.  Sometimes its not possible. I feel my feelings.  I am doing the best that I can.  But I hate it.  And I am trying to embrace it, for only in embracing the process, can I move through it. I must now live the antithesis of my personality, I must just be and let the process work me.

Having said all of that, I have come to realize that Tom will forever be a part of me.  It is not about letting him go, or getting over it.  His spirit is forever mingled with mine.  Our years together on this side of the veil have shaped who I am and who I will be.  And our years apart, with each on the opposite side of the veil, will also continue to define me.  I find myself talking about him more and think others are judging me about it.  Perhaps they are, perhaps they are not.  Most likely I am judging myself.  It seems that while we are physically apart, our spirits are more entwined. In some ways it feels like a way of reclaiming myself.  When people lose their spouse they may say that they've lost half of themselves.  I always felt like my own individual self and that self was still whole when Tom died. But I lost something, I lost the "us" part of me.  And now I am trying to redefine that.  Every single day I realize what is gone just a little bit more. Some days it is overwhelming. Bottom line is that we are together forever.  I found this meme a while ago and it really resonated with me.
Now when I say 'together forever" that does not rule out the possibility that I will have another loving relationship in the future.  And I'm not talking about any of that kinky threesome stuff either. Just as a parent's heart expands to love each additional child, I believe that our hearts can expand to love another without diminishing the love that we had/have for our departed spouses.  I hope to remain open to the possibility when the time is right. Last week I heard the song "Wherever You May Go" by The Calling when I was telling my hair stylist about a widower friend who had recently fallen in love again.  I had heard the song before but never really drilled down on the lyrics, I found them full of meaning.  I thought the timing prophetic.

So lately, been wondering
Who will be there to take my place
When I'm gone, you'll need love
To light the shadows on your face
If a great wave shall fall
It'd fall upon us all
And between the sand and stone
Could you make it on your own?
If I could, then I would
I'll go wherever you will go
Way up high or down low
I'll go wherever you will go
When I hear this stanza I think of Tom wanting me to know that he wants me to be happy and to be open to a loving relationship, whenever that may be. And that he will be with me, wherever I will go.
And maybe, I'll find out
The way to make it back someday
To watch you, to guide you
Through the darkest of your days
If a great wave shall fall
It'd fall upon us all
Well I hope there's someone out there
Who can bring me back to you

If I could, then I would
I'll go wherever you will go
Way up high or down low
I'll go wherever you will go

Run away with my heart
Run away with my hope
Run away with my love
Tom has found several ways to let me know that he is still with me, that he is watching over me and guiding me through this time. He has been very persistent in making himself known.
I know now, just quite how
My life and love might still go on
In your heart, in your mind
I'll stay with you for all of time

If I could turn back time
I'll go wherever you will go
If I could make you mine
I'll go wherever you will go

I'll go wherever you will go

Yes, his love and life will still go on, in my heart, in my mind,  he'll stay with me for all time.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

What's in a word?

My spousal loss bereavement support group met this week and I hosted it at my house.  I love these people.  They are all so courageous and kind and, well, supportive.  I realize that I do love entertaining and I plan on doing it more often.  On that evening we noted that it had been 52 weeks to the day since we met at our first meeting at Hospice. So we felt we should each share about the last year.  I shared with the group how the home equity line of credit that Tom and I had taken out 15 years ago came due and I was given no notice, just 21 days to pay off the balance.  I then applied for another line with a different bank and had signed the paperwork the day before.  What I found so distressing was twofold.  First, I had to have Tom's name removed from the title.  Our home meant so much to us and it almost felt like I was erasing him.  But more disturbing was seeing myself described as "an unmarried woman".  I wanted to cross it out and write in widow.  The members of the group then discussed the meaning of the word and how each felt about it.

Some stated they did not like the word, feeling that it was dated.  And truly, it does give off some connotations that may be considered less than flattering.  I, however, prefer the label of widow.  In reality I would rather be married, but even the IRS doesn't consider me married any longer--that ended on the last day of the year that Tom died in 2015.  The term single (or even unmarried) implies that one has never married and for a woman, spinsterhood.  Now I really dislike that term.  We married in our 30s, I was already considered a spinster by the legal definition and it felt like a personal failure.  I am not divorced. A divorce is a decision to end a marriage.  We did not decide to end our marriage.  It ended because Tom died.  The term widow tells a lot of my story in one word.  To me, wrapped in that word is the 20 years of a happy marriage and the devastating loss that will forever be a part of me.  Wrapped in that one word is the courage and fortitude to keep living despite the pain, to try to build a new life without my beloved.  To move forward, I must let go a little at a time.  Not the love.  I will never let go of the love, for it transcends death.  If my genes are any prediction of the length of my life, then I have several more decades to live and I intend to live life to its fullest.

But I still struggle.  I still feel a lot of pain.  I am still experiencing the body and mind numbing exhaustion.  I still can't force myself to power through things like I used to and it frustrates me to no end.  I am finding it difficult not to berate myself for my lack of action.  I am not depressed.  I am mourning, those are different things.  I was prepared for the emotional symptoms of grief and some of the mental one.  But the physicality of the process I was not expecting.  It continues to surprise me. 

Now that I am in the second year, I have found that what other widows(ers) have told me is true.  The second year is just as hard, perhaps even harder, but in a different way.  It is all so real now.  I am having a harder time being positive as I realize that I now am living a life that I did not want to have.  And while I know that it is up to me, and only me, to build a new life, I have no idea what that is, or how to do it.  And I have no energy at all to do it.  And I'm tired of whining but I also know that not dealing with it leads to isolation.  And that is not good for me.  I have been doing a good job of isolating the last few months.  Work and rainy weather have made that easy. 

Today is the first day of spring, my favorite season.  It is the season of new beginnings and growth.  I can only hope that is also true for me.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Rain and Tears and Memories

It has been a rainy few weeks and I've been hunkered down inside with no energy except to watch TV.  I've found reruns of NYPD Blue and have been binge watching them.  I find it interesting the ones that have been aired recently.  NYPD Blue is close to my heart for a few reasons.  First, it was one of the programs that was popular during our early years together.  The second is that Dennis Franz (Andy Sipowicz character) is Tom's doppleganger.  They look so much alike that people would yell out of cars when we were walking down the street. 

The first episode that I caught was where Andy is hiding the fact that he has prostate cancer from his wife.  She confronts him and he breaks down, saying that the thought of not being with her and their son was too much to bear.  Right after Tom was diagnosed he said to me that he didn't want to leave me and Zora.  That particular episode touched my heart.  The next episode I caught is when Andy's partner Bobby is in the hospital after a raging infection caused his heart to fail which necessitate a heart transplant.  He then acquires another infection from which he cannot recover.  The feel of being in the hospital room, the look of fear and desperation on his wife's face as each hope is dashed and she has to face the fact that he is dying was like watching myself, trying to be strong and present while crumbling inside, wanting to do the best by him.  The last episode that I watched was when Andy had a bad reaction to the dye necessary for a CT scan and they had to give him some medication.  He then became very goofy.  It reminded me of when Tom had a severe GI bleed and they had to do an endoscopy to find out what was bleeding.  I walked into his room right after he got back to his room and he still had some of the anesthesia in his system and he said to me "I feel like the guy in the Jack-in-the-Box commercial".  It made us both laugh.  He didn't remember saying it later. 

I don't want to be the widow who is lost in the past, not living in the present, and not looking forward to the future.  But I am at that point where it can seem that happy memories are in the past, the present is very painful and the future is unknown and it is difficult to imagine happiness.  I can believe it to be true and hope for it.  I am right in the middle of a different kind of "hard part", the 18th mile of the marathon, far from the start line but the finish line isn't in sight.  It is a tortuous place to be.  The raw grief of the early days are gone. Some people think that since its been a year I should be all better (actually I used to think that too), but this is still really difficult. My ability to power through things is not what it used to be.  The last few days I've had the thought that if I am still going to be here, then I want to live life, not just exist.  Every day that I can't get out of the chair, do the things that I want and need to do to move forward, is a day in my life that I can't get back.  And yet I feel unable to change that. 

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

How to Start Over?

The tune and lyrics of the song by the BeeGees--How Do You Mend a Broken Heart--have been running through my head today.  My heart was shattered the day that Tom died.  In actuality, my life was turned upside down on June 30, 2014, the day that Tom was diagnosed.  I have been thinking lately about how to rebuild my life, a life without Tom in it.  He was an integral part of my daily life for about half of my life.  How do I start over?  The last thirteen months I have been processing his loss, I have been dealing with death duties (although there are still many to finish). 

Recently it occurred to me that I have to start over--that a major part of grieving the loss of my husband is also in grieving who I was, what our life was, the future we had planned.  I know this is not news to many, but it seemed like an epiphany.  Dealing with the sadness of Tom's death has been the focus of the last year.  Now I have to figure out where to go from here.  I'm not a wife anymore.  When my parents died, I was still a daughter, but I am no longer a wife.  I loved being a wife, Tom's wife.  I've just started to try out the words "late husband" when talking to people who do not know the story.  I'm not sure I like it much.  Tom was never late, so it seems rather ironic that the "correct" description for him is "late".  I never considered this part of the story.  I wish I didn't have to.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Lessons Learned

Today is Valentine's Day.  It is the second one since Tom died.  Last year, a mere 18 days had passed and I was well ensconced in numbness.  Valentine's Day (or VD as we would call it), was not our holiday.  We didn't usually make a big deal of it, although we would always mark the occasion with cards and generally flowers or some other trinket.  It wasn't over the top for us.  We always said being married to each other was like Valentine's Day every day.  So for me, this isn't a heart wrenching day of remembrance.  What I am feeling is not the sadness of it being such a supposedly romantic holiday and Tom's not here.  What I am feeling is the absence of him (the physical Tom) in my life everyday, as well as on this day.  His spirit, however, is safely held in my heart, my soul and my life.

When I was young, in the years before Tom, during all those "dating" years or dead-end relationship years, this holiday held a lot of expectation, what grand romantic gesture would be made, what declarations of love and devotion would I receive.  blah blah blah . . .   And the very early years of our relationship did hold some of those expectations as we navigated the beginnings of a friendship that turned to romance that turned to love that turned to commitment that became a strong and loving marriage.  This holiday sometimes felt like an obligation to be romantic, when in reality there was romance in our lives on a daily basis.  In 2009 I made a photo book to serve as a Valentine's Day card.  It was titled "100 Reasons Why I Love You Tom". I included photos of our life to illustrate each quality.  I read it this morning and remembered how true each of those reasons are/were.

Last night I attended a comedy show with our friends.  I laughed my butt off--it was so much fun.  But when I returned home I remembered Valentine's Day 2006.  We had won a dinner from the grocery delivery service that we used and Tom was going to prepare dinner for us that evening.  I was stuck at working, focused on a deadline for a client.  Everything took longer than expected and I was at the office until after midnight.  Tom was so upset with me.  I didn't really understand why (yes I could be clueless) since me working late was not unusual and my client and work commitments often took priority.  Truth be told, they always took priority until the last year of Tom's life.  I felt nauseous when I remembered that night, how I had let him down.  Because the reality is that the client didn't care about the extra effort and my firm sure as hell didn't care that I gave up an evening with my husband to make money for them.  I was more focused on trying to get approval and do a good job than I was on what my love wanted.  This was a gut wrenching realization and I am quite ashamed of it.  Should I ever have the privilege of having another love in my life, I will not make this mistake again.  Hindsight is 20/20 and I have learned that nothing, NOTHING, is more important than love.  If you don't have your priorities straight, get them straight.  Money is just a tool.  Love is life.

So today I am having dinner with the members of my spousal loss bereavement group.  We meet on a monthly basis.  I am bringing cupcakes and have handmade toppers--hearts with the names of our spouses.
 Spending the evening with  these people who I have had the honor to share this journey with is going to be wonderful.  We each know the heartache, we have bared our souls to each other and born witness to each other's process.  We get it.  I am certain that we will not be alone, but joined by the spirit of those we each hold most dear.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Letting Go, Inch by Inch

This week I removed my wedding and engagement ring.  Well, full disclosure, I moved my wedding band to my right hand.  We will see how long this lasts, but I think it may stick, except for an occasional "relapse".  I tried to do it once before, at about six months or so, but I just couldn't do it. Having a naked ring finger just seems too, well, naked.  I plan on wearing the ring that Tom bought me for our 20th wedding anniversary on my left hand.  He had ordered it one month to the day before he died, and I didn't receive it until after his death.

When we became engaged we were so broke that we had little money for rings and decided to  use stones that we already had for my wedding set.  My engagement ring holds the diamond that was in my mom's engagement ring (she had lost the diamond out of the setting while digging in the garden and found it about a week later) and the side stones are my birthstone (garnets) given to me in a ring by my childhood babysitter when I was very young.  The diamonds in my wedding band are also from my mom's wedding set and one is from a ring that my grandmother wore and later gave to me.  There is a lot of history in the rings and therefore I will continue to wear them on my right hand since there is so much of my life and story in them.

Since removing my ring, I have fiddled with my left ring finger almost as much as I did when I first began to wear my engagement ring.  I remember being so enamored with it that I constantly was looking at it.  When I would get in the elevator at work, the lights made it sparkle like the sun and I would be mesmerized by it.  It wasn't the first engagement ring I ever had, but it was the perfect one.

Since moving past the one year anniversary of Tom's death, I feel like a weight has started to lift.  I am ready to let go of some of the heaviness of the grief.  I am not done mourning, not by any means, but I am willing to move forward.  I know this next year will be equally hard, albeit in another way, as I come to terms with the reality that my heart is learning what my head already knows.  I do not know what to expect.  I feel his presence in my life and in my heart.  It is true that love never dies.  I thought that was just a saying, but it isn't.  I still have many death duties to complete, and I will do them this year, as I am ready.  There are some things that still seem way too overwhelming to consider, like changing my FB status from married to Tom Radovanovich to widowed.  Or removing some of the many pictures of us together from the walls.  Nope.  Not ready. 

I seem to have fallen off a cliff at about nine months after Tom's death.  There were three months of the first Thanksgiving, the first Christmas, the first New Year's Eve, the first anniversary.  And then my milestone birthday.  It all took so much energy and was so incredibly hard.  There were some beautiful moments during those three months, but it was probably some of my hardest months.  I let myself feel and experience all of it.  Other things fell by the wayside during that time.  But now it is time to focus forward while remembering back and enjoying today.  For the next three months I am going to focus on the things that I couldn't focus on before--work and self care.  Head down, focus.  I know there will be moments and perhaps days that I will be swept away by a grief burst.  It will be OK.  To borrow a phrase from the Best Marigold Hotel "Everything will be all right in the end... if it's not all right then it's not yet the end."

Another inch of letting go.