Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Milestones--Part Two

The second major milestone last week was my birthday.  It was a big birthday.  The kind of birthday that when my parents turned that age I thought they were really old.  I don't feel really old.  I feel really beaten up by the last year and a half.  Several months ago I started to wonder what I would do to mark this milestone, coming three days after the first anniversary of Tom's death.  There was no one to throw a party for me, so if I thought I wanted one, then it was going to be up to me.  But that sort of thing isn't done, is it?  And really, I'm not one to put myself out there for that kind of attention, just not my style.  But I did know that I wanted to honor Tom's first angelversary.  And I really wanted to show my gratitude to those people who have been there for me over the last year.  So with those three reasons for a party, I asked for Tom's guidance.  And all I kept "hearing" from him was, "Do it.  You deserve it."  So I planned an elegant celebration.

Of course, I asked Tom's band to play.  How could I have a party without my RuMoRs family?  I learned a few weeks beforehand that the regular drummer would not be available and the band had asked Tom's friend, mentor and drum teacher to sit in.  I was thrilled.  And then the thought popped into my head, perhaps he would consider playing Tom's favorite drum kit that night.  I hadn't heard it in over a year and it would be the last time I would be able to hear it before it moved to its new home. Tracy agreed to play them, and I had one last chance to be the roadie and hump equipment to a gig.  It was so wonderful to have them there, to hear them.  It meant a lot to the band. It was a wonderful way to honor Tom.

I invited a range of people to the event.  Those invited were those who were particularly supportive over the last year.  My family.  My friends.  Many had known Tom.  But there were also people who have only come to know Tom through my memories of him.  I wanted to be able to thank them all for their support, let them know how grateful I am and to remind them all that the job was not yet done.  The second year can be harder than the first.  Or so I've been told.  And so I believe.

And finally, if I have to get older, why not have a party? A party at the end of January is always a welcome distraction.  The big night arrived, and there was no rain in sight.  The guests arrived, the food was eaten, the toasts were made, the band played and those with rhythm (or suspected rhythm) danced.  And danced.  And you know what?  I had a fabulous time.  It was the best birthday EVER! I even wore a tiara (my bestie wanted me to wear one and I refused, but then another friend brought one as a gift and insisted--it was quite lovely.)

The theme for the evening was Remember, Appreciate, Celebrate.  Words that we should all live by every day.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Milestones--Part One

A week ago tomorrow was the one year anniversary of Tom's passing.  It was a date I both dreaded and anticipated.  It is one of those milestones.  "Can I make it through the first year?"  And on the other hand, "Has it already been a year?"  I feel like I was holding my breath throughout the last year.  Enduring, waiting for it to get better, living through the worst year of my life, most of it numb from deep feelings.  I have said before that it felt like the first year was all about mourning losing Tom.  And this next year about beginning to rebuild my life.  Not sure exactly what that will be. It feels strange to say that I feel a sense of relief, of having a weight lifted off of my shoulders.  On the other hand, I feel incredibly sad.  A year has gone by without him physically by my side.  His spirit is always close, but I miss him.  I've come so far, but I have so far to go.  I really don't like this new life, at all. But I must move forward.  That is what he would want.

To honor the day, I did two things.  In the afternoon, at the exact moment of his transition, I was at the beach, the last one that we visited together.  I spread his ashes in the sand, along with some flowers, and waited for the surf to carry him to sea.  I wrote his name in the sand and saw the waves smooth it out.  Zora, her second visit to the beach ever (the first about three months before Tom died), had a great time running in the sand.  Something about the ocean energy, so soothing and healing!

I have survived the year and all of the "firsts", this major milestone.  I am not done mourning.  I am not done with dispersing his worldly goods.  There are more, and probably difficult times ahead.  That is what I've been told by others who have walked this path.  I look forward to the time when my life is not totally defined by the loss of my husband, but I am not yet ready to make that declaration.  Perhaps at some point.  I can not yet let totally go. 

The adventure continues.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Staying in the Love

This morning I was thinking about what was happening a year ago today.  Tom was in the last 30 hours of his life, although we were both still hoping that the last chemo treatment would bring him some relief and he would start to improve.  The day before we had a hospital bed delivered to our living room.  Tom did not want it.  But I told him that I wanted to keep our bedroom sacred, a special place that was our refuge.  He could no longer manage the stairs and I told him that I did not want a lot of strangers intruding upon our sanctuary.  He understood and agreed.  I do not regret that decision at all, because our bedroom is still my sanctuary.

The first night with a hospital bed in our living room, I slept on the couch next to Tom, getting up every 45 minutes to assist him because he was so ill.  I was tired and cranky.  And then I remembered what a dear friend had shared with me.  She had lost her husband five years prior and said that she wished she had remembered to stay in the love.  That thought changed how I was feeling, because that is what I wanted to do.  So on that Monday morning, I lovingly gave Tom a bath, a shave (which I'd never done before) and changed his clothes and bedding.  Every single moment was with loving intent.  Later that day Devon and Nancy came to visit.  Tom looked so much better after his shave (he really was pretty scruffy).  Tom's brother was going to be arriving the next day.  There was much to do.

But what I remember about those last hours most is not the anguish and sadness (although I have not forgotten about them).  What I remember most is the love.  That I stayed in the love.  That our last hours together were about the love.  That is what I hold in my heart while I face this significant milestone tomorrow.  We were all about the love.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Random Acts of Kindness and Painful Memories

A year ago Tom was in the last week of his life.  We didn't know it at the time.  We kept hoping that the last chemo treatment would extend his life and help him feel better.  That was not to be.  During that last week, Tom had uncontrollable nausea and vomiting--every 45 minutes.  On Wednesday night, and also last week, Zora woke up in the middle of the night vomiting.  I don't know why, she seems to otherwise feel and act OK.  I wonder if she is having her own emotional/physical reaction to the upcoming anniversary.  I know that human bodies never forget traumas, and perhaps that is also true for animals, for it was very traumatic for her to lose her beloved poppa and walking partner. Because of her tummy, I replaced her normal food with rice and chicken.  And since I was out of rice, I had to make a quick run to Trader Joe's last night.

Which brings me to the second part of the story, the amazing experience I had.  After picking up the things I needed I headed to the check out line.  The checker noticed my necklace, the drum ash urn I had made to hold Tom's ashes, inspired by his favorite snare drum.  I told her the story behind the necklace and she told me she was about to cry.  I then told her that next week will be one year since he died.  She asked me what my favorite color was and told me to wait for just a moment and walked away.  She came back with flowers and said she wanted me to have them, saying that Trader Joe's cares.  It was such a kind thing to do.  When I got in the car, the song, "Heaven Must Be Missing an Angel" was playing.  I think one of those angels was at TJ's last night.  (I just realized as I typed the initials of Trader Joe's that they are the same as Tom's). 

The day before I was at the florist to arrange flowers for the party at the end of the month.  This is the same florist that did the floral arrangements for Tom's memorial.  The florist remembered me and as I left she gave me a beautiful yellow rose in memory of my husband for his memorial table at home.  I have one rose bush which seems to keep surviving its constant pruning by the deer.  It is a yellow rose bush.

There is a lot of good in the world, even in the midst of anguish.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Letting Go and Holding On

With just ten days until the one year anniversary of Tom's death, I finally began to clean out the closet.  It was something that I attempted several months ago and could only let go of a few things, it was too painful. Interestingly what stopped me the first time was when I got to his socks and underwear. Today I was able to get through "his" closet and only one shelf and five hangers of our closet. It was very difficult to see an empty shelf in our closet, the one that held his sweaters, his nice soft, warm sweaters.  Of course, the cranberry sweater, of the complimentary Mr. Pants and Mr. Sweater fame, is not going anywhere.  I spent the afternoon touching each item, running my hand over the cashmere sweaters, inhaling the scent of each piece, folding his gym shorts and sweatpants, matching his socks and thinking of him putting each one on.  It is time to do this.  Time to let the fabric and the thread that clothed his physical presence move on to keep someone else warm, comforted and stylish.  I managed to stay fairly focused on the task, without any tears, until . . . until in an effort to spread my things around so the closet and drawers did not seem so empty, I sorted my pajamas, separating the summer and the winter ones.  But at the bottom of that drawer is my special lingerie, the things that Tom loved (no, there is not any leather and whips in all of that).  My nightgown from our wedding night, the pieces that I will never wear again.  The things that carry a special connection to our relationship, the things that hold memories of love and life and hope and the future--the future that is no more.  That was the hard part. I did not expect that some of my things would bring such pain.  No one told me about that. I think there are more of those things to come as I move through this part of the process.

Now there are boxes and piles, of the items to be sorted through by friends, the items to be donated to different organizations, the items to sell, the items to keep, the items to be repurposed into special remembrances.  I am not done, I've only done about half.  I must still tackle his shoes (oh how he loved shoes) and shirts and pants and tee-shirts and jackets and coats.  There are so many.  But it is a labor of love.  He no longer needs them.  His energy remains in a few things and those I will keep and hold close to me.  But it is time.  It is time to let go a little bit more, even though I do not want to.  But to move forward and build a new life, I need to allow room for that to happen, which means that I must let a few things go to create that room.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Invisible Growth and Healing

Three hundred fifty.  Three hundred and fifty days since Tom died.  It feels like yesterday but almost an entire year has gone by.  A year ago he was in the hospital with pulmonary embolisms.  It was his last hospitalization.  It was an agonizing time.  But interestingly, whenever I would walk into his hospital room, a calmness would come over me.  It felt as if spirit infused his room, and looking back I believe that indeed that was the case, I just didn't realize it at the time.

I've worked hard to move through this grieving process.  I have come a very long way but I have a very very long way to go.  I'm tired of this.  I had a great respite over the holidays but I still I am tired.  I am struggling with things that I was struggling with months ago.  I made progress but I feel like I am going backwards.  I guess that is just the way it goes.  I have to remember "baby steps" but right now I feel like I'm wearing concrete boots.  My body is processing something--I know because my memory is not good and my body is really tired.  It is a pattern I've come to know this last year.

But there is one thing that I haven't lost, and that is hope.  Hope for a happy future.  Hope for a time when I don't feel so terribly weighted down.  Last evening I met my spousal loss bereavement group for our monthly dinner.  It is amazing that this group of people has continued to come together over the last 10 months and support each other through this.  As we sat around the dinner table talking about dating (one member has jumped back in that pool, the rest of us are not there) one member remarked that we should look how far we have come.  Ten months ago we couldn't even consider this conversation.  I look forward to continuing to share my process with these very special people, none of whom I would have ever met had I not become a widow.  And we have scheduled our February get together on Valentines Day.  It is an absolutely brilliant idea.  I can not think of a better way to spend it!

So there is growth, and healing over the last three hundred and fifty days, but most of it feels invisible to me.  It is only in hindsight that one can truly see and measure the changes.  I know that the next few weeks will be really difficult.  I cannot force myself to do the things that I know I need to do and it frustrates me.  Baby steps, again.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Survival and Endurance

The holidays are behind us, thank goodness.  Surprisingly I had a very good holiday.  I felt as if I was in a safe haven with my family and my pup, who had her first cross-country road trip.  I shared many of Tom's things with my family and it was gratifying to see the love and gratitude (and sometimes shock) on their faces as they opened their gifts.  My oldest nephew is a fan of Led Zeppelin and I gave him Tom's vintage vinyl, Led Zeppelin 1.  My sister-in-law asked him what his favorite LZ song was and he started to sing Black Dog.  The whole family joined in, bopping their heads (think Wayne's World) and for a moment it seemed to me that a wormhole opened and Tom was right there, like he was watching through my eyes.  It was the coolest thing.  We had done something similar many years ago at the Thanksgiving table with Bohemian Rhapsody.  I felt so connected.  It was magical in it own way. I sometimes forget that others are missing Tom too, perhaps not as intensely as I am, but missing him.  My tribe is not the same since he has been gone, but his imprint remains with the family unit.  I spent NYE with friends in Arizona.  It was the right thing place to be and felt good. The two weeks away felt like a wonderful respite from the daily heaviness of mourning.  It was good to come home, to the place where we shared our lives together.  His presence is here, as is the love.  People who have come into our home remark on it.  But I really feel his physical absence.  So now I am back to the reality of life.

Yesterday I met with an attorney to take care of my estate planning, something that I really haven't wanted to face.  I am also finishing up the last of the legal matters regarding his estate, something that I have been putting off.  I am ready.  We are rapidly approaching the one year anniversary of his passing at the end of the month and I am feeling the need to wrap things up, finish the legal things and finally clean out his closet.  For some reason, the one year anniversary feels like a watershed milestone to me.  I know I will not be all better (which is what I thought would happen in the early days of my bereavement).  I have been told the second year is harder than the first, but in a different way.  I was hoping that was not the case, but I believe it will be.  But, to me, the first year was about mourning his loss (which I will continue to do, perhaps for the rest of my life) and the second year is about beginning to rebuild my life.  It will not happen magically.  I've felt as if I having been living in survival mode, just enduring life and not living it.  At some point I hope to go from just enduring life to actively embracing it and enjoying it.  I know that is what Tom would want for me.  It is only in hindsight that I can begin to realize the depth of pain and loss and to see how far I've come.  But I have so very far to go.  It will come.  In time.  I will continue on this healing journey.  It is very very hard work.