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?

But…THIS!

My husband was always a great worrier. A “worrier warrior” we used to call him. He was pretty darn good at it. If the worry was over about one thing, he’d find the next thing to worry about. Large or small. Even though his face would light up when he smiled, he also could be caught with a furrowed brow, as he would quietly go into his own head and his “worry space”. I was the one who always worked at easing his mind. I’m not a worrier, usually. I am the type who likes to dive in and fix the problem. I am quick to find options and solutions. I can swiftly make a decision and then get it done. Got a worry? Let’s fix it!

Well, that’s who I used to be anyway. Cancer changed all of that.

But THIS…THIS! This virus is too much. It has the whole world upended. How selfish of me to be personalizing my own grief when the whole world is grieving for everything we new just a few short weeks ago. I can’t imagine what Paul would have done with this worry even if he had not been sick, but I cringe at what life would have been for all of our family if he had been sick when this virus exploded into our everyday lives. He would have been severely “at risk” and the hell we were already living through would have been greatly exacerbated by this virus which is eating up the world one bite at a time.

I am still grieving for the love of my life and the life we once shared. Yet, I still can’t help but feel selfish in my own grief. Who am I? It’s only been four and a half months since Paul left this world for another. I can’t seem to get a grip on who I am now, and I realize the whole world is going through the same thing. Who are we now? For me, it was already overwhelming to be experiencing such a profound loss in my life, but THIS! How dare I think that my grief is more important than those who are suffering right now and can’t see their family members? What about the heartbreaking thought of having your loved one die alone in an over burdened hospital without the benefit of holding the hand of a family member. How do families deal without the closure and what a beautiful send-off for their loved one would give to them? I can’t wrap my head around the thought that all of those incredible numbers that flash across the screen every damn day are human beings with loved ones who remain helpless. It’s completely overwhelming and utterly heart wrenching.

I can’t help but parallel this helplessness to my own experience with Paul. I stood by his side and did every damn thing I possibly could to help him through his cancer, but I couldn’t save his life. Every day life fell away from his body in a slow digression. I could do nothing to stop it no matter what I did. It was like trying to nail Jello to a tree. I was consistently waiting for “the other shoe to drop.” Of course, it did drop over and over again. But worse than that would have been not being able to be with him when he drew his last glorious breath on this earth. My heart pains to think of it. My grief would have been even more unspeakable than it already is. Imagine how the medical personnel feel trying to save all of these sick people without the proper equipment and supplies knowing that their attempts are futile for so many? To be trained to save lives and have them slip through your own fingers hour after hour, day after day must be unbearable. I can feel their pain.

My heart has felt broken for myself and for my beautiful family with the loss of Paul. This will go on forever. There is no coming back from this loss. Ever. I feel it is going to take a long time to feel “right” again…if ever. This is astronomical for me alone, but what is going to happen to our planet?

To add to an already burdened heart, I also ache for our entire planet. I am again waiting for the other shoe to drop. When will this virus touch our family? Friends? So far we have been outliers from this disease, but I truly feel that it is only a matter of time. So now, I’ve picked up the mantle Paul left behind and have become a “worrier warrior”. Not a legacy I asked for or wanted. Piled on top of the concern for our world, I worry that I am being selfish with my own grief. How crazy is that? Perhaps I feel I have no right to it when the entire world is grieving.

But you see, in the grand scheme of things, Paul was my world.

Unprecedented

Words are presenting themselves to me, even though I don’t know how to grasp what is happening around me/us.  In November I underwent the deepest form of despair I’ve ever experienced as an adult and now the world has been turned on its side, twisted by both ends and is being squeezed to death by a relentless virus.  I don’t even know how to process another layer of this journey which now includes the entire world, literally, on top of what my heart and my body have already been experiencing on its own within my personal grief.

There is this insistent feeling around me which presents itself in what I would call a smoky shadow or heavy veil. I know this may sound dark and dramatic, but my brain is my brain and it has a mind of its own. (a little humor there?) There is no other way to describe it. Without notice, it surrounds me, and pulls me down so low I think that I can barely breathe, let alone make a step forward. Then, in a whisper, the veil disappears and I feel temporarily free from all thought, worry, and despair. My beautiful mothers’ consistent words “rise above it” envelops me and helps me to gain the strength I need to keep on going. In the dark moments, I can barely lift my arms. I don’t want to move. I’m numb from head to toe. During the rise, I feel energetic, light, full of energy to engage in life again and I write, cook, clean, read, play, walk, communicate with my people etc. I bask in the rise in its entirety when it comes upon me, and miss its airy spirit when it dissipates and all the world turns into a mystical dense fog and I can no longer find my way through it. I can express myself through writing which helps me to make sense of it and I’ve found it helps others as well. If I didn’t have a way to express my feelings, (writing, exercise, music, art, theatre) I would be not long for this world. I believe it.

This virus added yet another major level to the many emotional layers I was already in the throes of.  I am not myself, Lynne without the “e” as my children would say, grasping at the unknown of my new world and all of it’s changes. I’m actually more like Lynne without the “ynne” most days.  I move around and do the things I was accustomed to in the past, but they have little meaning now and some days they take all I have to give. But I “rise above it”.

This virus has dug its claws into our very core as human beings, and the vastness of it is mind blowing. The ripple effect is so far reaching it is unprecedented.   I had to limit my visits to CNN so I wouldn’t go down that dark “rabbit hole” of despair. I can’t take on the frightening position of our world in the same breath as my own grief which is already overpowering and mind altering in of itself.  It’s just too much.  

If you are one of the many people out there who are dealing with a recent death of a loved one, I urge you to not try to take on this overwhelming, breath taking, life stealing new contagion while you are already on a major life altering journey of your own. I find that keeping busy with household projects, taking long walks, eating healthy meals, keeping your mind occupied with intellectual and humorous things is helpful. I urge you to feel what you need to for yourself, and your grief, but try desparately to hold onto your sanity and your heart through this. Don’t get obsessed with it. Don’t allow yourself to go down the dark path, unless you have someone with you to help you find your way back and offer some light. We can NEVER understand another’s grief, but we can sympathize with the excrutiating pain it causes and the unending waves that crash over us periodically every day. We all know how to cry, to scream, to fall apart. We also know how to get back up on the horse for the people who need us and for the love we lost who would not want us to suffer for them.

A pandemic is a global outbreak of disease. Pandemics happen when a new virus emerges to infect people and can spread between people sustainably. Because there is little to no pre-existing immunity against the new virus, it spreads worldwide.

Imagine if love, kindness and empathy were to spread that fast without a cure. Oh what a world that would be!

Breathing

Such a natural instinct, breathing, a physical and essential need and yet we forget to engage in it deeply and viscerally. With all that is currently plaguing our world, we have yet another reason to hold our breaths and stop taking in the air we need to survive.

Paul was a classically trained singer. Breathing was his life’s work while he trained others to find their natural breath and expand it into song. The first time I saw Paul, he was sitting at a read through for the musical Oklahoma! I hadn’t been involved in a play or musical since high school and it was an exciting new phase for me. I was intently observant as we sat to watch and listen to the leads of the musical read their lines and sing the music. Paul, playing the role of Curly, struck me immediately as he stood up to share his voice. He took a large sweeping breath and his beautiful tenor voice filled the auditorium. At that point in my life, I hadn’t been in the presence of a trained singer and I was amazed at the power and vibrancy of his voice. He took my breath away as I watched him use his breath to give wing to the words and notes on the page.

Now that he is gone, I think about that moment quite often. I think about that initial gorgeous, luxurious breath and what it did to fill the room with glorious sound that day. I also recall the many, many times breathing came into our conversations and our teachings together. He taught music, and I taught theatre and breathing was the natural element needed to be successful in both. Training younger singers and actors about diaphragmatic breathing and phrasing was an integral part of our work together. Paul prepared singers for performance and taught voice lessons to all ages. I prepared young actors for Shakespeare competitions and theatrical performances and we simultaneously engaged our students in a deep and deliberate form of breathing. Breathing exercises ranged from the silly to the profound, and all of them enhanced the lives and skills for our students who were learning their beloved craft.

When Paul was diagnosed with Poorly Differentiated Thyroid Cancer, what a cruel twist of fate it was. My gorgeous tenor who had spent nearly fifty years of his life dedicated to breathing life into his voice and that of his students was suddenly silenced. His natural voice deteriorated quickly. With his sudden and incredibly fast weight loss due to cancer and the treatment, his vocal chords lost their life, and atrophied. His voice was sometimes hoarse and he strained to speak. Sometimes his voice became just above a whisper. Soon, the man who everyone knew as the “music man”, and one of the best people to have a stimulating conversation with, grew fairly silent. He didn’t want to see friends or family because he couldn’t engage in a full conversation with them and it tired him out so quickly. Very early on in the process he only had small windows of time during the day when he had any energy at all. I think that is what I missed most about him in the beginning. His vibrant energy was pulled from him in a silent and quick manner. I couldn’t seem to hold onto him. He just kept slipping away. Before then, we never had a break in our conversations. We would sit together and talk about everything under the sun. Suddenly the conversations became one-sided as Paul’s voice retracted and his fatigue became overwhelming. Cancer stripped this wonderful person of two of his most beautiful gifts; his ability to speak and to sing. His “swan song” was an incredible version of the “Ave Maria” sung for our beloved niece and her boyfriend as they became husband and wife. His voice filled the church to the rafters and he was in superior voice that day. It would be his last public solo.

During the last week of his life, he was in hospice care and sleeping in a hospital bed right next to the bed we had shared for years. So close, but yet so far away from me. One night I awoke to the sound of singing. It stirred me awake and before I could make out what was happening I said “Paul, what are you doing?” He said, “I’m singing”. Bleary eyed after my own restless night, I regret that I hadn’t been awake to hear his twilight solo concert fully. I do know that he was happy and he was in his element. Whether amidst a dream or not, I love knowing that his heart was singing just before he died.

A day or two later, on his last minutes on this earth, I had the extreme fortune/misfortune of being in his presence and holding his hand while he breathed his last breath. Paul had a powerful instrument and when I thought he had already passed and his life had gone, he took the biggest most incredible breath I have ever heard from any human being in my life. Knowing him, he was engaging his diaphragm, to ready his voice for the solo of a lifetime. I knew that even though I wanted so much to be a part of his ethereal performance, I was going to have to wait until my time comes to join him.

Maybe, just maybe, we will be singing duets together again someday. I will breathe alone until we breathe the same air again and ready ourselves for our next performance together.

Here is a poem I wrote for him when he passed on November 12, 2019

His Song

                       by Lynne Johnson

He was…beautifully written

A charming, sweet melody

encircling the hearts and souls 

of all who heard him

From his intricate prelude to a resounding finale

He sang his song

Reaching the ethereal highs of a gifted tenor

To the rich and resonant breadth of a bass

He sang his song

Varying dynamics added more color

 fueled by his infinite passion

His phrasing as soft as a whisper

or as vibrant and powerful as 

thunderous ocean waves

His song was melodious,

 dancing sweetly into the ears 

of those who heard 

Forever written on the hearts of

those who listened

His gentle aria grew to

 a lyrical and harmonious trio 

of his own creation

His voice was heard by a 

tender and loving soloist

joining him in an everlasting duet

creating the rich and loving sounds of 

two more voices

Each voice added more  harmony creating

a vibrant and colorful sextet

His opus then strengthened with the

 warmth and tenderness 

of an adoring children’s choir   

His song rose to a powerful crescendo

Blending together with passion and flare

 the staff filled with gorgeous and brilliant tones

and then…unexpectedly…diminuendo

tight harmonies rang softly 

Underscoring a gentle and gorgeous finale

Every note…breathtaking

When his song was complete

  a peaceful silence filled the air

His beautiful melody lingering in 

The hearts of all who love him…

Begin…

Dear Lynne,

Today I want to talk to you about a serious topic. You. You have been in the depths and your healing needs to begin. You are important. You worry about being “enough”. You are more than enough. Give yourself that gift. The gift of realizing you are more than enough. Begin…

You’ve held some anxiety surrounding issues regarding your incredible loss. It’s time to let these things go. There are things and people in this world you have no control over. These things that nag at you fall into that category. So, let them go. They are not important anymore. Nothing will bring Paul back. Forgive and forget. Begin…

You have been struggling greatly with your grief and have been self reflective of late. You feel guilty about this. Forgive yourself. You have a right to contemplate your life as it is now. You have been derailed and it’s going to take a lot from your soul to get back on track. You have lost a sense of who you are and for this you must forgive yourself for not tending to your own needs while you tended others. It’s time for you to truly take a hard look at all you have accomplished in your life, gather up all that speaks to your heart and work on getting a sense of yourself back. It won’t be easy. You will be going it alone now. You know what you want for yourself. You know what makes you happiest. You always have. It’s time for you to bring the part of you that has been put aside for sometime now into the light. I believe this is what you need to move into your new self. It’s going to take everything you have to make this happen. Begin. Take the step. Just one step outside of your grief. This will open up the path to other things. Do it. Begin to heal. Paul would want you to. He would not want you to be withered on the vine, stagnant or shut down; Stymied. He loved that you were so creatively active and he was proud of your accomplishments. Make him prouder now. Begin…

You are going to stumble, question, feel guilt for moving forward. He would want you to keep moving forward while holding him in your heart. You’ve built a huge wonderful life together as a team and you have also built some pretty amazing things by yourself. Remember that. You have made a mark too. Even though you feel like half of you is gone forever, remember that you are a whole person. You have a lot to give, still, and you have creative love to share. Begin…

Lynne, you have some skills that you have developed over the years. You worked hard to develop those skills. Hours and hours of loving dedicated labor to making a change and to build up others through your art. Paul was a vibrant part of your development, but it was you who also made things happen. You pushed the buttons and you moved the levers to create so many wonderful experiences to be proud of. Don’t forget that. You are a whole person. Begin…

Accept the love that surrounds you. Give it back tenfold. You are blessed. You have an amazing family whom you adore and who lift you up. You have beautiful friends who care for your well being as you do theirs. These are gifts. Keep them close. Closer still. Focus on these blessings. They are rare in this world, but you know that and never, ever do you take this for granted. Begin…

Walk your dog, sing your song, play your music, perform, direct, teach, enjoy the weather, make things happen, create, meet people, enjoy living, hold memories, move forward, eat well, exercise fiercely, clean your house, smile broadly, laugh loudly, sit in the sun, listen to the birds, love Paul, love yourself, go to the ocean, sit by the bay, love your blessings, be kind, be thankful, be strong, take chances, take steps, dance, write, invite friends over, your world has changed, change with it, evolve, begin…

She and I

It was three months ago yesterday. How do I feel? I feel like I’ve been on a bloody battlefield, inside a ripping tidal wave, in the eye of a relentless storm, on a frightening non-stop roller coaster ride, yet here I am. There is something to be said for that. I’m still here.

People say to me “you look good” as if the outside of me is supposed to reflect something entirely morose. Am I not supposed to take care of myself so I look like I am suffering? Because I won’t do that. I will write about how I feel in my core, but you will never see it reflected up front on my face. Not truly. Why would I want to put someone through the same thing I’m going through upon my sight? I won’t. I still get up in the morning and try to be who I was every day. I stress “who I was”. I shower, dry my hair, put on my makeup and my clothes so I can feel like “her”. Looking in the mirror, I see someone I don’t entirely recognize, so I work towards finding “her”. Let me tell you about “her”.

Yesterday, she had her hair cut shorter to see if it would help her to remember. She used to wear short hair back in the day. Maybe this will help uncover what she used to be. Maybe it won’t. Perhaps she has to emerge at her own pace and no matter what I do to help guide her, she has to rise up when the time is right.

I try so hard to soothe her, but she has difficult times where there is no consoling. She contorts her face, holds her heart, bares her soul and seems like she will never be right again. I take her out for walks on the bay, and I let her have time to herself, but she still doesn’t fully understand why or how the person she held so close to her is gone. I try to explain that this is part of life, but she won’t take this as an answer. She thinks it is vastly unfair to have lost so great a friend. So great a love; the love of her life. A love story for the ages. Why him? Why now? Why? Why? Why? I do not have the answer for her.

I thought I saw a glimmer of her the other day. She was laughing and smiling with some dear “old” friends over the weekend. She emerged now and again, but held a lot in. I could sense that she was uneasy in her grief but grateful her friends were there. She and her friends were in mourning for another friend who had passed the week before. Another victim to Cancer. So they mourned, cried, laughed and had a wonderful time being there for each other. She cried as they left her driveway because the wave came crashing in just as they were driving out of sight. It happens that fast. She didn’t want the weekend to end. But “all good things come to an end” right?

She hates to think that everything happening around her on a daily basis is just a distraction from the real matter at hand. She is not one for solemness or sadness. Wearing this cloak of suffering; this weighted blanket does not suit her at all. She is a positive person with a heart she loves to share. How is it that she is now meant for sadness? She has tried to achieve happiness at every turn and now her delighted heart suffers.

She is trying so hard to find out who she is now. Yes, she gets up every morning and does the usual things one does to start their day. It feels like a lonely start for her now. She thinks “what’s the point”? Who is she now? Who really knows her now? Why has her heart been severed? Who does she have to talk about the children with? She misses the daily banter, the laughter, the meals together, walking on the bay together, hand holding and watching the birds. The hugs and goodnight kisses. She misses every minute she had with him. Every. Minute.

I want to help her pick up the pieces of her crying heart and put it back together. I want to remind her that she was one of the lucky ones; so fortunate to have him for as long as she did and that their relationship was a beautiful one. She needs to remember that she is strong, resilient and creative. She needs to know that she will find happiness again someday because she seeks it always. It won’t be the same, this happiness, but she will be content with her life someday. She will struggle with her relentless grief but will strive to achieve peace in her heart. I want to help her see herself again. She needs to know who she is becoming now. She isn’t the same person she was, but she has all of the same qualities. This cloak of despair wrapped around her and sprinkled with a dash of anguish and pain, is nothing but that; a cloak. It needs to be removed slowly and when the time is right, hung in a closet somewhere.

I will do my best to find her again. She won’t be the same. She will be stronger. She will be creative. She will be kind. She will be loving. She will see the best in others and seek to find the best in herself. She will be happy again…someday. For she is alive. There is something to be said for that. She is still here.