Fall and Rise

Since Paul’s cancer diagnosis on February 1, 2018, our world turned upside down. Everything we new and shared as a couple changed in the blink of an eye. After the initial shock, I “pulled up my bootstraps” and went to work with the business of caregiving. I was a powerhouse, reading every doctors’ note and scan result with a fine toothed comb, doing research, asking appropriate questions, preparing the appropriate nutritional foods and medicines, ordering and buying the needed supplies, coordinating appointments, driving in and out of Boston to Dana Farber, preparing endless protein smoothies, living through emergency room and ICU close calls and so on and so on.

While making it my purpose in life to be there for Paul, I put up a firm and strong barrier around me to protect my feelings so I could tend to the business of cancer. I only let them out when the reality and potential outcome of Paul’s prognosis was blatantly obvious and hope waned. It was with great love and care that I walked beside Paul in his last years and although my heart was breaking from the weight of watching him diminish in every way, I was a warrior for him. Hope came and went, and came and went again until he finally succumbed to the beast we all know as cancer.

My amazing friend and husband Paul died a year ago on November 12th. It was then that my barrier cracked wide open and I stumbled, fell down with a bang and got thrown into an empty hole. It was dark down there; dreary, uncomfortable, lonely, unfamiliar and extremely painful. No matter who I had around to comfort me, I was alone with my thoughts and negated dreams. I felt that my purpose was through. The pain I encountered during the fall rolled over, onto and into me like a continuous storm, and left me a mess in its wake. For months I was untethered and confused by the excruciating absence of the man I loved and looked to with my whole heart. I was knocked down and dragged out again and again and again. He slipped through my wanting hands like grains of sand and I fell helpless. This is grief. Love with nowhere to go.

As time went on, I learned to wear my grief like protective armor, so close to my heart it was gut wrenching. I wrapped myself inside of it and felt the coldness trying to further penetrate what was left of me, but I fought it with what little strength I had. It was enough already and it was mine. It was my love for Paul with nowhere to go. Sometimes it completely consumed me and other times I was able to push it back and down. It was consistent and it jarred and shook me from every direction. I wore my “mask” so no one around me could sense what I was really feeling inside. Time and again it seeped out, but I muscled through every day with the business of living, even though I didn’t want to be alive. I. didn’t. want. to. be. alive. I lifted myself for my family, whom I knew needed the best of me in their lives and were going through their own grief. I lifted myself up for my friends who tried so hard to ease my pain with their care. I hid it from the customers at the store I worked in and shoved it down into deep pockets as best as I could for my coworkers when at work. It was difficult and it was exhausting. On top of it, Covid-19 loomed, which changed everything in my world once again. “The world turned upside down.”

It was in the moments when I finally lay spent from a wave of grief that I felt a sense of calm; exhausted and depleted. I had gone far enough for that grief session. I couldn’t go any lower. It was in those quiet moments when I realized why I was in so much pain. I knew that our love was real, special, unique and it was ours. I had no way to express that kind of love anymore because the receiver was gone. My love for him turned into pain, grief, tears, and utter depletion. Paul and I had shared something very personal and special. During those still moments, when the inconsolable keening and sobbing subsided ever so slightly, I could peer into the veil and see what was and remember that we had been so fortunate to have found each other in the first place. I believe this was the beginning of the healing process. After several long and arduous months, I found that I no longer cried continuously, but learned to smile again at the memory of him and our beautiful life together.

I still see him everywhere now. I can sense him in the eyes, words, gestures, thoughts and humor of our children and grandchildren, and it is in these moments that I see him rise. He is on the tip of our tongues, in the way one of them enters a room, cracks a joke, laughs out loud, talks about life, turns or looks a certain way, repeats innate gestures, turns a phrase, sings out a tune, or smiles a certain way, that he lives on again and again and again. This comforts me because I can see him in all of us. He is still here. He is always in the room. Most of all, he is always in all of our hearts.

This last year, since Paul’s passing, I liken my plight to that of Sisyphus, pushing that proverbial rock up the hill, and how it kept falling backward and overtaking me. Just as I began making some small strides forward and moving one small step out of myself and my grief, the rock finally edging upward towards the top, Covid-19 reared its ugly head turning my world upside down yet again. Then, adding insult to injury, I suffered the loss of a beautiful friend from the same disease and weathered her departure in anguish. In addition, I lost an old friend from high school who I tried to see before she passed, hurrying off Cape to see her, but receiving a call that it was too late. I had missed the opportunity to say goodbye. The chance was gone. My heart was aching. Suddenly my protective armor was cracking and I needed to tighten it up or I would not survive any of it. With my armor splitting, and the best of me hidden away, I had yet another wave of turmoil, which was unexpected, disturbing and almost happened simultaneously. Somehow or other I was failing two people in my life that I care about and I still don’t understand it all. I asked forgiveness and received it from one, but not the other. These two entirely different situations, were gut wrenching and painful. It was the straw for me. I was working on only one burner and it was dying out. I couldn’t give my best self to anyone. One can only hold oneself up so long with cracking armor, so I hit an all time low. I walked around in a daze and felt absolutely nothing for days. Again, as with Paul, I felt like I had failed everyone. As one of my sons told me, my mood was “flat” during that period. I had no feelings. Even though I sensed my son’s concern, I couldn’t get out of the deep and very dark hole I was in. I had thoughts…which frightened me. They lasted too long. I guess I had flatlined. I was done. I had two choices. Go…or stay and fight the good fight.

I needed to crawl out of the depths but was in a fog and didn’t know how. I saw no end in sight. Little did I know that I had the strength within myself to rise up all along. It just took some time and some hard work. And maybe divine inspiration. It was the thump on the head I needed to help me reboot. The universe spoke and I listened. So, when I thought all was lost, a stream of healing light drew me out of my darkness. I picked myself up, threw away the broken armor, brushed myself off and saw someone I hadn’t seen in awhile. Me! Not the me I was but a new version of myself. Before this, I didn’t recognize the person in the mirror. The one thought in my mind was that Paul would not want to see me curled up inside of this darkness. I started taking care of myself with that thought at the forefront of my mind. I started exercising more, eating well, I left my job, stopped drinking so much at night, started paying attention around me and little by little I took back my life…albeit a new one, but this new life that I’ve been granted. It may not be what I had planned…it never is…and it may not have been what others saw for me, but it was mine and I had to take care of myself and heal before moving forward for anyone else. Paul would want me to be happy. So, I’m working on that now. I’m working on being a better version of myself. Lynne 2.0. I sense Paul is with me, rooting me on. After all, he is my person, and I have a whole lot of people in my life whom I cherish and deserve the best me I can give them. I want my children, grandchildren and whole family to be able to look to me for love and support as they navigate the waters of their lives. I want to be there for my friends as they go through their own journeys. I want to be here for the future and build a new life jumping off of the amazing and wonderful foundation Paul and I built together.

Suddenly, I have begun “talking” to Paul in a whole new way. It’s as if he is standing right next to me and I can almost guess his response. I knew him well enough to know what he’d say. He still makes me laugh. This is the balm I need. I feel like he has my back again, which he always has had…always. He is my biggest cheerleader.

Looking back at this last year, I can now see how much I’ve actually accomplished on my own. I am blessed to have beautiful, loving and caring children and an amazingly generous extended family; good, sweet, loyal friends who care about my well being, and I have so much to be grateful for. I have recognized who my real people are and those who aren’t. I have learned some new skills, taken over the things Paul always took care of, I’m maintaining a household in every sense and most of all, I’m still standing. I’ve taken some creative writing and art classes to help stir the creativity that once fed my soul. I’ve actually done very well taking care of business and dealing with everything that has come my way. I’ve asked for help when needed and surprised myself along the way. These are no small things. When you are steeped in grief, and living inside a shroud of darkness, to accomplish even the smallest task takes some strength. I’m finding that I have that strength. I’m stronger than I ever imagined. I thank God for the real people in my life that have been there for me. My siblings, my children, and my friends.

I have had a shot of energy and light recently. It feels good to feel this way again. My creativity has come back. I thought it was lost. I am singing, smiling, dancing and feeling healthy. I haven’t felt this way in about three years. Recently I told one of my sons that I was sure that there had always been a force from somewhere outside of myself all of my life which has always pushed me on and guided me in the moments I needed to step up, survive and move forward. I was sure it was someone or something other worldly which lifts me up to where I need to be and cheers me on in the process. I get this feeling that I’m driven in a particular direction and there’s no stopping me. These feelings have always been decisive and so strong, that the clarity is startling. What he said to me made me wonder. He told me that maybe it wasn’t anyone or anything outside of me that made me feel this way…but that it was me all along. He said that I was the one with the strength and courage to take on the world when I needed to. I was the one who found the strength within myself to move forward.

I had never looked at it that way before, but now it makes me think that as human beings we are chartered on a course through this life with all of its trials. If we falter in any way, our inner guide…ourself, picks us up and moves us forward forever sustaining our resiliency. Like the trees who shed their beautiful rich leaves in the fall, and lie dormant until the spring when new growth appears, we, over and over again, renew ourselves and create new experiences to learn from and grow. As I said to someone recently, we are part of a great story with a plot of twists and turns and it’s how we deal with them that matters.

I know that my relationship with Paul has a lot to do with who I am today. It is through our love for each other that I made many discoveries about myself. Today I am ready to face the challenges which lie ahead. It took plunging into the depths for me to rise again. I am leaping off of our beautiful foundation into new and uncharted waters, and I am ready to live again. I want to be the person Paul loved. Paul is right by my side every step of the way. This I know for a fact. He is and will always be my everlasting love.

Side Note: For anyone reading this blog, I write for the purpose of healing. My own healing and for anyone else who can relate to what I’m writing about. Writing, for me, is full of discovery. Words flow out of me quickly and I can articulate how I feel better on paper than I can verbally. I find that this is a blessing and always has been for me. It’s very, very personal, I know…what I write in this blog, and I’m not looking for anyone’s sympathy. It is what it is. It’s authentic and it’s real. Everyone in the world will experience these feelings of both love and grief which go hand in hand. There is no way around it. If I can help someone else who is going through a similar experience, hopefully it makes them feel like they are not alone. If you know someone who is suffering, but they look like they are doing okay…they most likely are not. Sometimes grief is unprecedented for them and they are spiraling in every direction. Check in with them and show them you care. They may not reach out when they need to. Just sayin’…

Cancer Friend

This month… THIS month has been particularly difficult. Cancer wrestled another member of our tribe…out of our hands…kicking and screaming. She was a beautiful, empowered, intelligent, humorous and all around powerhouse of a friend of mine. I had taken the cancer journey with her over the last three years and in her second year, Paul was diagnosed with cancer as well. We bonded over many things in our time together as friends, but sharing our cancer stories, hers as a patient and mine as Pauls’ caregiver sealed our friendship forever. We shared the blessings and the challenges, the laughter and the sobs.

Nancy fought the best fight and lived the last years of her life with more purpose than anyone I have ever met. She was a warrior, a steadfast soldier fighting battle after battle kicking Cancer to the curb until the last and final days when she knew she had won many battles, but was about to lose the war.

She called me a couple of weeks before she died to tell me so. She was weak in voice, but strong in content and our conversation was one I will never, ever forget. Nancy was at peace with her mortality but it had been a long time coming. Weirdly, I believe the Coronavirus, in its attempt to ground us all, helped her to fit some puzzle pieces together that had not been quite fitting into place. It allowed her time with her family 24/7/. The puzzle finally come together in such a peaceful and profound way that Nancy could breathe her last breath knowing that her puzzle was finished and it was beautiful.

Our conversation was heart wrenching, to say the very least, and was a call I knew would come someday, in some way, but Nancy was more worried about me during the call. That’s the kind of person she was. She knew that I was suffering with the loss of Paul and another loss intertwined in our private cancer network, would come as a blow to me. It has. I knew this was going to be “it” for her, but not due to her weakened state, but more due to her sense of completion of a life well lived and a job fantastically done. She didn’t give up, leaned in, satisfied that her time was through.

I was fortunate enough to be able to make it to see her in Hospice care in her home just a few days before her last breath was drawn. I will be forever grateful for the opportunity to have written her a note which her husband read to her after I left, kissed her on the forehead, tell her I loved her and quietly to myself wish her a beautiful journey. When I hugged her husband and daughter, knowing what was coming for them in the next days, I wanted to hold them in my arms so tightly so they would not have to endure the pain that comes with losing someone you love so profoundly.

I held myself together tightly during the visit. I did not want my fear and sadness be the last gift I left to Nancy. I was warm, loving and present until I left the house and then I lost all of myself. The first person I wanted to talk to was Paul, to share this experience with him so he could comfort me in my hour of despair. I drove the quarter mile to the cemetery where we had buried some of his ashes on his birthday in June. I sat by his graveside and poured myself on him, with the heart wrenching sobs of a lost child. I searched for him, prayed for Nancy to God that her last hours would be beautiful and peaceful and that He would hold her in his arms.

In my conversation with Nancy, just a week earlier, she promised to meet up with Paul and watch out for me. I believe her. If anyone would find a way to be part of someone’s life even after death, Nancy would be the one to do it. I prayed to him to look for her because I knew she would certainly be coming soon.

Not five days after her death, myself, my children and grandchildren sprinkled the rest of Paul’s ashes in Cape Cod Bay near our house. The very next day, Nancy was cremated at 10:30 am. This profound sense of loss has me reeling all over again. Two of my favorite people are gone. Three years of my life was filled with cancer conversation, worry, research, pain for those I love had come to an end and I have no sense of purpose now. I’m not sure what I’m supposed to do with the next part of my life.

Mask of Grief

We mask up to cover what lurks inside

They joke, we laugh,

They visit, we welcome them

They give, we accept

They love us, we love them

yet…no one can penetrate this veil of sorrow

there is no solace…none

We are numb in this world

taking our steps, moving along on our daily conveyor belt like an assembly line of parts and pieces

Shower taken – check

Hair combed – check

Teeth brushed – check

Clothes on – check

Food eaten – check…and so on and then…

Mask on … mask on…I said “Mask On!” – check!

Over and over and over and over and over and over and over again

our eyes open to reality upon awakening and our day begins without desire

We mask up

donning our mask of smiles to stifle grief’s gut wrenching grimace

We mask over the pain with our smile masks

for everyone else…all of them

Seldom, but sometimes, we inch our mask down at the corner, letting our grief peek out so it can breathe a little

we share what we need, but abruptly mask up again when they begin to flinch, avert their eyes, clear their throats, glance downward

Have we said too much? Gone too far?

we lift our mask back onto our faces…holding back our tears…adjusting…fixing…hiding…grieving

alone

To remove the mask completely would mean bringing them into our world…a place we need to and don’t want to share with its aching walls, numbing rooms, and altered mirrors

it is not a place for guests

we don’t want to let anyone feel what we feel, thereby doubling the grief

With mask on we are whole again…normal…the person they hope us to be, the person they recognize from before…

they relax…and we…we…shut down…for them

We don’t enjoy this masquerade

with its insincerity and dishonesty. It’s a lie

To peek behind our mask fully they would see what we see…

we see death…only death

death of a beautiful love

death of a life together

death of a future

the death of purpose

We mask up to cover what lurks inside

Man, Grief is Something Else

Man, grief is something else. I don’t think, at least for me, that I have in my entire sixty years of living ever experienced so profoundly…a loss such as this one. Losing Paul, my person, my best friend and the only person I could really talk to about anything… my constant companion for over 34 years is truly heart wrenching. There is such a vast hole in my life now.

My observation, in this moment as I sit here, trying to do something, anything to release the pain I’m feeling, is that there are so many other kinds of grief embroiled within the grief of losing Paul…layers upon layers of grief. It piles on me so heavily sometimes (like right now) that I cannot breathe. I don’t know what to do with it. I long and yearn for all of the ways we lived together. The tiny little insignificant, somewhat minute details that made up our life together…they are all of sudden magnified. I look back and realize that every millisecond of my relationship with Paul was so much more a part of a beautiful bigger picture. It’s spectacular, really. To think about it. To absorb the parts. All together at once. This is why grief devastates. It’s too enormous to understand.

It takes all of the tiny sinews and vessels which linked us together and splatters them up against the wall all at once for my viewing. Here I remain, just standing here, alone, facing this large screen which is flashing still and moving pictures of our entire life together over and over and over again. Frame after frame of moments…from the tiniest brush of a hand, to the large; a longed for wedding, magical births, special dinners, smiles and laughter, and a tear before a profession of love. Suddenly it shifts to a child’s laughter, a game played, a song or two sung in harmony, a moment of caring…there it all is, swirling around me like a familiar melody. I want so much to languish in it, pick up its rhythm with my entire being, moving to the tempo which used to be our life, and be able to touch all sides of it, falling into it…in reverie.

Somethings stops me. Truth, I guess. Reality. Suddenly I am pulled out of the misty world of love and happiness and into the dark, stirring around in my emptiness. Alone…holding audience to my previous life with no way to rewind. A gut wrenching evisceration of an entire experience I can never, ever have back. There it is on a full screen…my hands, heart, mind and soul reach out for something wonderful and it is gone…forever. I have no control. I have all of the memories of Paul in my heart forever…YES…but sometimes it all feels like a dream. I can’t seem to get past this sadness and this unique depression. I try to find solace in new things, painting…writing…whatever I can grab hold of, but NONE of it takes me to where I want to be. I am at war with myself. I don’t know what to do next or where to go. I know this, I don’t want to be where I am. Sometimes I worry that I will never be over this. It’s been ten months and I’m sure there are those that think that is a long time, but I cannot start over. We were together since 1985 and it will never be long enough to unwind our love. I am stuck here. How does one get past an experience of a lifetime with the perfect person for me? I can’t seem to move on. I don’t want to and yet I want to because I can’t feel like this forever. I thought I was a strong person…resilient, but I was wrong.

I don’t want to be audience to my old life. I want to be on the screen holding his beautiful heart in mine and mine in his. That’s what I want. I don’t want to feel lost. It’s not who I am. Was.

A TALE OF TWO ANGELS

By Lynne Johnson

Two angels…each sat upon my weary shoulders

Whispering in my ears

One with a seemingly passive aura, 

Neither moving nor bending to either way

Letting his past 

Wash over him like a thick, slow cloud

Carrying him down the dark stairs to silence

The other charged forward like a phoenix, rising up and 

Out of the flames, time and time again before the fire was too hot to be contained

One… quiet, patterned, reserved, accepting, cautious, waiting… frightened

The other pushing, pulling, manipulating and tearing at the flesh of sickness..frightened 

Two angels I held up beside me

Listening to their whispers and their shouting

Hoping to be strong enough to endure the loss…

as they slipped away like grains of sand through my yearning, longing, outstretched hands…

Both…rose up and left the earth in a swirl of air

Loved beyond compare

Nothing any of us would do could help to keep them here

We thought we would be able to ward off the devil who was constantly scratching at the

surface with his draining, weary, gripping contagion, but…who do we think we are? 

We are nothing. 

We are only left with the ashes of their brilliant, blazing, glorious, burning fires.

In loving memory of

Paul R. Johnson June 28, 1947 ~ November 12, 2019 (age 72)

Nancy Girard February 19, 1959 ~ August 11, 2020 (age 61)

The Grief Code

“If words could be the very thing which cracks the grief code, I’d write every moment of every day until I could put an end to my pain”. LJ

Dear Paul,

I would write for an eternity and still not be able to adequately express how much your absence in my life effects me. I feel, after eight seemingly short months, as if there is an enormous part of my soul and my heart missing. Everything my senses experience, has your essence all over it and yet, you don’t exist in this world; this complex life, anymore. This is a fact based on logic, but I am having a difficult and painful experience trying to comprehend this logic. Perhaps I am a tad behind now, but I cannot get it through my head that you’re no longer here by my side. I keep wondering where you are. How could it be?

We had a kind of love and respect for each other that most people only dream about. We were always glad that we found each other when we did. We cobbled together a sweet life full of family, love, laughter and gentle comfort. I will always appreciate and cherish that and know that I had the best experience and more than I could have imagined with you. Now, with you gone, all of that is muted for me somehow and it seems like I am looking through a different lens; a lens that skews the visual. It seems dreamlike and I can’t seem to focus. It’s like I’m looking at the watery reflection of our life and no matter what I do to pull it clearly into view, it gets blurry and misty.

As I try to navigate through these uncharted and hazy waters, I am stymied, perplexed, lonely, sad and unforgiving for losing the best part of my everyday living. You and I. Paul and Lynne, Lynne and Skip, Grammy and Papa. I’m half of a whole now. There is not a person in my world, an inanimate object, a living creature or plant that doesn’t make me think of you and … us somehow.

I am at the stage of my grief now where mostly everyone has stopped talking about you consistently. I’m not ready for that. I understand that everyone grieves in their own way, but I’m not ready to remove you from my every day cadence and I want to bring your name and memory up at every turn. No one knows how much I hold back doing just that. It’s as if I want you part of every conversation as if you are still here in the room. You are still here in the room for me. I’m not sure that it is the same for everyone else or at least as consistently. It could be but they don’t express themselves like I do here in this blog or personally in conversation. It is too painful for them? Perhaps it is, and so they don’t talk about it as openly as I would like them to. Selfishly, I want you constantly in everyone’s thoughts. This way you aren’t really gone…you remain part of the journey moving forward. Sometimes I feel like in my desire to sing about you, I am singing solo. I am not ready to move on. I may never move on…it’s difficult to say. How am I ever going to be able to move from this space where you exist? How can I? My heart is so profoundly connected to you , I fear that I will never let go nor do I want to. Honestly, I still feel as if joining you is the only answer. Yet, the part of my heart which holds up our amazing family grounds me to here, because I love them so.

I know that they love and care about me but sometimes I feel as if I’m on the outside looking in. If you were here with me, we’d have each other to look to. I feel alone and it’s not anyone’s fault, it’s just how it is. Our family has a full life and they are navigating through their own waters building their own happily ever afters. I am a small part of that journey and that is understandable of course. You and I were each others worlds. Now I must navigate this by myself with you inside my heart, not walking physically beside me. It’s so different, and so unnerving for me now. I miss your smile and your touch. It’s not enough to have you in my heart and it never will be. I need you so much more.

I’m currently sitting in the early morning sun at Coast Guard Beach while I write this. I have a hot cup of coffee and am sitting in my sandy beach chair. A solo beach chair. No more part of a duet. This pilgrimage to the beach this early morning was supposed to be a reminder of something we both loved to do together and this is the first time this summer I have allowed myself to take the plunge, so to speak. I had a small and exciting thought that maybe I might find you here and we could sit and enjoy the beach together as we once had, sipping on our coffee, watching the early morning waves and watery activity.

Everything at the beach is still as it was and should be here, but you are not. I want to feel your presence as I stare out at the sea, but it only reminds me of how many tears I have shed since you passed through this world into another. The waves still curl and grab onto the beach only to slip back into the water again. The gulls still squawk and eyeball me looking for food, then pass when they realize their mission is futile. The black flies still nibble at my ankles and the seals perform their watery ballet in front of me which makes me wonder. But for me, today, alone on this beach it feels more sad than beautiful. The beauty is blurred by my tears and even as I write they spill onto the white lined paper, staining the sad words I am putting here; ink splayed out in every direction.

Yet, the coastline is also different, as its erosion level has grown more intensely in the last years. It reminds me now of how everything always changes and continues to move while I feel like I am standing still with hope that you will return to me and our hearts will be mingled once again. I envision a cinematic feature where I am in the middle of the frame unmoved while the light, time, movement and scenery around me change in a flurry of everyday patterns sped up around me. But, I remain still, unmoving and stagnant. This is where I am. This is where I am today and it is not who I am or where I want to be, but this is how I feel. This is what I’m experiencing in my grief. Hopefully this too will change, but for now…I stand still with no desire to move a step forward… losing you yet again.

Healing Place(s)

“Comfort” and “solace”.  Now there are two words I can’t seem to get a grasp on lately.  “Joy” is the third word.  I seem to reach out for all of these things, as I always have, yet they slip through my heart like plasma flowing, and randomly flooding my insides as if through a faulty valve.  

I’ve always considered myself a happy human.  I have a positive outlook on life and I have always sought and found joy in so many different experiences and with so many different people.  Lately I am having difficulty wrapping my head around my new life; the one I didn’t ask for; the life that has me in the depths of despair almost daily.  Oh, I can smile through it…as you know, I’m an actress…I’ve mastered the smile, but  it’s hard to find comfort, solace and joy when your heart is broken into little pieces on the ground. The smile is to give others comfort and solace.

So…here is my writing class homework prompt…”When I am in my healing place I…

Hmmmm…

When I am in my healing place I…

Well, that is a difficult entry point for me.  I seek healing in various places.  I can’t find just one place to achieve what I need to do. I keep treading water searching for that safe harbor. After all,  I am an ocean girl, and have been lucky enough to find my dream house on Cape Cod so close to the healing waters of the bay I can almost taste it.  It was here that Paul and I fulfilled a lifelong dream, only to be short lived.  We were so happy here together.  Moving here side by \

\side  into the beautiful house we were fortunate to have found with our family, and never thought possible,  was more than we had ever hoped for.  What were we looking for after years of hard work?  Comfort, solace and joy.  We had all three.  Truly.  We were luckier than most and we never took it for granted.  This house, this town, the bay only steps away…it is/was our idea of heaven.  This is where we came to find those three things.   We sat looking at the bay for hours upon hours, pinching ourselves in disbelief that we had realized our dream. Before we lived here, we would travel down as many weekends as we could, almost giddy when we hit the final stretch to our house.  It was a beautiful thing. The warm and comforting fireplace we sat in front of on those winter nights with our Cosmos…seems lonely  and cold now.  The hammock under the tree in the front yard we napped in,  intertwined in love after doing yard work with the sweet smell of spring and the birds singing their songs all around us is a lonely spot now. It swings empty and  I can’t seem to put my body into that emptiness, swinging in the breeze or sitting in front of that fireplace which now holds his beautiful picture on the mantel. 

Now, when I drive down that final stretch to our house, or stare at the bay I am barely scratching at the surface while I ache to feel those feelings again.  I inhale the salt air, hoping it will mend my broken heart with its healing powers, but it reaches my heart only to fall away again with the flow of the tide.   Sometimes I will find beauty and sadness all in one moment.  The beauty of the bay reminds me of  what we had together. It is painful to miss. The despair haunts me everywhere I go, so to find a place that grounds me, heals me, and gives me solace, is difficult right now.  Around the house I have found myself sitting in different chairs inside and out because comfort is not found in the habitual haunts I shared with himl.  The rockers of the front porch where Paul and I spent hours watching the birds, only make me feel sad.  Two rockers…one person.  The empty chair is a constant reminder that he is gone. The twin striped chairs we had coffee in on the cold mornings when we couldn’t go outside stare at me with their open arms inviting me in and when I sit on one, I reach for the hand that was always just an arms length away and I cannot feel his loving grasp any longer.  It is ghostlike now. Two sinks in the bathroom side by side with matching mirrors, lights and towels remain divided. The only reflection in the mirror is mine.  I don’t always recognize myself.  I look so different.  I’ve aged since Paul’s illness and decline.  My eyes look sadder, my mouth down on each side of my lips.  Who is that woman I see there?  I don’t know her.  Where is Lynne?

Comfort and solace elude me now, but I hope and pray that a time will come again when I can feel comfortable in this new skin, joy in my everyday life and solace with Paul’s passing and my living.  I go anywhere I can to try to heal, but nothing satisfies me. I don’t fit anywhere.   My new skin doesn’t feel right.  I can’t seem to relax in it.  I don’t want to.  I don’t want it.  What can I do?  I have no choice but to keep living and seeking comfort and solace.  Right now it doesn’t feel possible, but I will keep moving towards it until it finds me again. So my old friends, comfort, solace and joy…till we meet again, I will keep searching in any way I can. Perhaps I will look for my healing within instead of on the outside.  Maybe I’ll find myself there. Comfort, solace and joy may be somewhere in there.

Puzzled

When I was little, there was one puzzle my grandmother kept under a little table in her apartment. It may be my first memory of doing a puzzle. Every time I went to my grandparents house, this was the thing that kept me entertained. If I close my eyes right now, I can almost picture the paper frayed box, cracked and worn from many children’s hands. I can almost smell the memory, and see myself opening the box and dumping the interlocking jigsaw shaped pieces onto the carpet. I can see my chubby little hands, trying to weave those pieces together to complete the picture. I remember the satisfaction of completing it.

To my memory, I believe it was a puzzle of “King Leonardo”, a popular comic at the time. I remember that several of the puzzle pieces included King Leonardo’s ermine trimmed robe and his pointy crown. He had a mane of brown fur outlined in black and a black nose shaped like an inverted triangle. He always looked a little snooty as I recall. I remember the excitement of getting that puzzle out of its special place under the table, and doing it over and over and over again. It was the only toy I remember being at my grandparents house. It was probably the only one my grandfather would allow. He wasn’t someone you would associate with the word “fun. Kids were to be seen and not heard. But I digress…

Puzzles are satisfying to me, as they are to many people. I love “puzzling” because the act of doing a puzzle is a project with a beginning, a middle and an end. You can spend hours or days doing a puzzle. You can leave it out and come back to it whenever you want and for me, the only true satisfaction is in the placement of the final piece. The feeling of completing a project and seeing the entire picture fit together before your eyes is satisfying. Unless…unless there is a piece missing. Only then is the work, the effort, the satisfaction of completing something you’ve given so much of yourself to is cut short by the missing piece. In my eyes, the whole puzzle now seems broken and it has a hole in it where balance and contentment were supposed to live. It is incomplete and there is nothing you can do to satisfy filling that empty space. Nothing.

This is what grief is like to me. I can sit with all of my beautiful puzzle pieces for hours and hours fitting them all together but without the one piece that brings the pieces of the puzzle to a whole, it feels broken and leaves an empty space where balance and contentment used to live. The puzzle is forever incomplete and there is nothing…absolutely nothing, you can do to satisfy that empty space. Nothing.

“When my heart falls to pieces on the ground like a difficult puzzle which I will never put back together”

Going Through It

“You can’t go over it. You can’t got under it. You can’t go around it. You have to go through it” stated the grief counselor knowingly. It’s sage advice, I suppose. I’ve been better able to understand and deal with my grief process because of these simple words. I am definitely going through it. Over and over and over and over again. Letting the grief wash over me as if bathing in sadness will be the force which heals me. I accept it. I wear it for a time like a new pair of jeans that don’t fit quite comfortably, but they are mine so I must make them work. Then, just when I think I’m feeling pretty good and finding that I am surviving, it hits me again. Those damn jeans, feeling tight and restrictive, making me feel uncomfortable with every step. Too tight! Too rigid! Too unfamiliar! I want to return them, but there are no returns from this.

Some mornings I wake up innocently. I open my eyes and look beside me. I am alone, except for the breathing of my furry companion at the bottom of the bed. I am alerted, once again, to the reality and the permanency of it all. “There is no coming back from this” I told a friend the other day. “I am not going to every see Paul again. How do I pick up and move on from here? I don’t even know who I am anymore.”

I know that I’m in here somewhere, but I can’t seem to find myself. This is not because I was in a life that consumed me and I lost myself in him, but because I was in a life that was beautiful and I found myself with him. We discovered love together. Real unconditional love. I loved our life together. We were extremely happy and we were living a life which we built together with our hearts and our love. We had a connection that some people never get to experience. We cared deeply for each other and we synced perfectly. Now…like vapor…all of that is gone. Poof! The memories are amazing, but the absence of Paul/Dad/Papa/Skip has left an empty space where happy once lived. I miss happy.

Somewhere inside of this body in pain, is a human being who has a lot to contribute to the world, but right now I just can’t seem to find her. She is stifled, stymied, hidden and numb. She wants so much to hit her stride again, find ways to be creative, get on with living, but she is still broken and has no energy to start anew.

I mean, honestly, who would choose this ending to their fairytale? I wasn’t ready to change my life and lose the one person who has made me feel complete and happy. The partner I dreamed of in my girlhood and the person who I could talk to about everything and anything. The one person who I felt truly comfortable with. The only person I felt truly comfortable with.

I am missing that special part of me which we developed together as a pair. I miss the very air we breathed together. I miss the patterns we formed, the methods we used, and the rhythm and tempo we made. I miss the playful banter, the smiles we shared and the talk of the kids and grandkids. I miss our whole family unit…the most eclectic and beautiful dozen! I miss the extended family holiday desserts. I miss the familiar scents, the comforting hugs, and the shoulders we offered each other. The hands we held. The tender kisses. I miss the food we grew to love, the friends we had together and the music we shared. I miss the familiar. I miss the comfort. I miss everything we shared together for such a long time. What I am doing is forging ahead with the pace of a snail and that is the part the plagues me the most. I can’t seem to ignite any fires inside or pick up any speed. The pandemic only adds more stress, fear and confusion to the journey.

I didn’t ask for this life change and sometimes I am so angry with the way life is playing out. I feel like I’ve been a good girl and yet I’m suffering with a loss that I cannot fathom. I worry about my children and grandchildren. How are they navigating this change in their lives? I can only relate by scaring up my past and the loss of my father. It devastated me at the time. It shifts your compass and everything seems to have a pall over it for a long, long time. Then it becomes part of living. Dying is part of living. I learned the most beautiful thing when my father died in 1984. It taught me the most valuable lesson of all…that life is short and you have to live it fully and beautifully. I have done that. My eyes were opened to my worth. That’s why and how I met Paul.

Oh, what a play this is! A drama, no… a romantic comedy, no… a tragedy, no all three rolled into one with a surprise ending! I never saw this coming! I never even thought it possible that our love story would end this way. Not like this. It’s not how it played out in my head. It’s not how it played out at all. What a lot to I have to learn when I wasn’t even looking to be educated.

Maybe I have to embrace the lesson that I am needing to learn here, as I did when my father passed. I will peel back the layers until I figure out what it is that I am supposed to learn, that has me enduring one of the greatest tragedies of my life.

So, I will move forward, following the path, and seeking the positives to this short life we are allowed to live. I will learn the big lesson. Again. I will not figure it out for awhile, this I know is true. It will move into my body in a subtle manner, and slowly and steadily become part of who I am. Suddenly, one day, I’ll look back in hindsight and realize that all that has gone before has led me to who I am in that moment. I will look back with a nod, and turn to go ahead, moving through the rest of my journey. What else can I do? I will go through it with strength and wonder. I will pay attention to how I feel and what I want moving forward. I will take care of myself, my family and all of people that I care about. I will keep my eyes open for the signs of new life and change. I will willingly search for the person I need to become, thanking Paul for giving me a love that has brought me to now. I will jump off of that love and raise myself even higher. I will be educated and I will educate. I will allow the grief to wash over me, but along with it will be a cleansing of epic proportions. Bathing in sadness will be the force that will heal me. There is nowhere to go but up now. I will move up. I will.

Two Truths and a Lie

I used to love playing this theatre game with my students over the many years. Unfortunately, the game has changed and we are playing it in real time. On a daily basis, we are all trying to weed through the colossal pile of information spewing out of our screens to sift through the truths and the lies. It’s mind altering and I’m sure like me, your head is about to explode.

I am a bit of a Pollyanna who likes to look for the good in human beings before I can see the bad. I have this unbelievable hope that people are innately good on the inside and that their hearts were filled with purity and beauty upon arrival on this earth. What has happened to them on their journey is what colors their choices and creates the monsters that we sometimes see before us.

This pandemic has knocked us all off of our platforms, no matter what our platforms have been. All is different now and we have fully come to the realization that we are profoundly connected as a species. This is truly evident in the spread of this contagion we now know as Covid-19 or the Coronavirus. The vastness of the spread is so great we cannot control it. It is out of our grasps. We are frightened, jarred, off-center and we all share the same potential fate if we don’t control it. I truly believe that.

What I cannot wrap my mind around is who is lying and who is telling the truth. I want to believe the medical and scientific experts first, because they have spent their professional lives studying these infectious diseases and have a better handle on what is happening than anyone else. I want to believe that our government has our best interest in mind while dealing with this, but they seem to butt heads with the experts and that insecure banter creates the fear that we now face and feel so viscerally.

Who are we to believe? Who are we to trust? After all, when it comes to it, we are faced with our worst enemy and an even worse pandemic. Greed. The Apostle Paul said “money is the root of all evil”. This pandemic and all that is attached to it has the smell and taste of money all over it.

I don’t consider myself a politically minded person, but over the last few years, I have been forced to look more clearly at the hand we’ve been dealt as a nation. Not news to anyone, but we shouldn’t feel safe in this political environment. It feels like a ticking time bomb. What happened to “of the people, by the people and for the people? “

Our democracy was crafted to make sure there are checks and balances in place when decisions are being made that affect our country and its people. Our democracy is being shaken to its very core with this pandemic. This is an understatement. The decisions being made by the administration, I don’t feel are in our best interest. There is greed and egomania at our helm. There is narcissism which in itself is an illness of epic proportions. This leaves us with a leader who makes us feel we are under a dictatorship instead of a democracy. What I don’t understand is how this travesty is still in place. How does this controversial “democracy” continue to go on amidst one of our darkest hours? The wishy washy way the government is doling out information to its people is abhorrent. The constant fighting and bickering about PPE and ventilators needed for the states to survive this crisis , bucking the governors who say they need them and making them “play nice” with the president to get what they need to save lives is beyond all sanity. It feels like someone doesn’t want to part with their toys.

I’ll agree that this is unprecedented territory, but we are an advanced species with the wherewithal to understand the possibilities of something of this magnitude happening in our lifetime. There should have been plans in place. According to some sources, there were plans in place at the beginning of this administration, but the program was cut for whatever reason I don’t know.

I feel for all of us, particularly the many who have given over to this virus along with their families who could not be with them. My heart goes out to the caregivers and all essential personnel who have a hand in trying to save human lives and make sense of the botched system that has left then without a life preserver.

If you are reading this, I hope you are safe and well in a place that you call home. If you are essential personnel and are out working to make a difference during this pandemic, I hope you continue to be guided by a loving hand which will ease your burden as you put your life on the line for your fellow humans. May you know truth and be safe from lies that plague us all .

Two truths and a lie…how do we know which is which?