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.

you are everywhere and nowhere

Dear Paul,

  Maybe it was too early, but I took a trip to Jesse and Claire’s house with Eryn for a few days.  I was apprehensive about leaving the house and the Cape so soon, because it just didn’t feel quite right yet.  I wasn’t ready to be away from “you”, but of course you are so infused in my heart I will never be away from you, nor do I ever want to be.  From the moment I set off for Somerville to meet up with Eryn, you were everywhere. I stopped to wait for her and see the kids, and there you were. You were standing outside on the sidewalk.  You walked up the stairs with me and we were greeted lovingly by Isis. And then that burning question reared its ugly head again. Will I be enough without you? For Isis? Zeke? Eryn? Our family???

It was glaringly obvious as I walked up the stairs to Eryn’s apartment that you were everywhere and yet you were nowhere. Zeke and Eryn arrived home from an appointment and although I didn’t see it, I wondered if there was a sense of disappointment for Zeke to see me arrive at the house alone.  You and Zeke were always “as thick as thieves” and such great pals. I respected and could never penetrate the bond you two shared. He was sweet to me in his greeting.

Andrea came out from downstairs and drove Eryn and I to the airport with the kids along for the ride. At least that felt new. Not many people would understand how your first wife would be driving me to the airport to see her son with her daughter.  But then, we were always an unconventional family which is what I love about us all.  

Arriving at the airport brought back a flood of memories of trips to California and beyond.  Bumbling nervously at the airline check-in machines, checking luggage and worrying about their weight, reaching security check-in with you, grabbing coffee and snacks, making a restroom stop and then taking a seat at the gate are things I remember so well. Boarding the plane, getting settled in our seats and sitting next to you as we traveled together, two peas in a pod.  We moved in harmony as always, because we knew each other so well. You would stash the carry-on, I would carry your headphones and snacks, in my bag and no matter where we were going we always brought items we both meant to work on while in flight, but ended up talking, watching movies and sleeping instead. Yet, we lugged all this stuff with us anyway. We moved together like a well-oiled machine during our travels. Well, we were like that wherever we were together.  

I felt you on the plane.  You were everywhere and nowhere.  I saw you get up to go to the restroom.  I saw you listening to music on your new Bose headphones.  I saw you sleeping with your neck pillow. I saw you look at me and smile across the aisle and grab my hand for a soft loving moment of comfort when we were seated across from each other.  You were there. Everywhere. I wanted to leave you on the plane so I could experience the visit with Jesse, Eryn and our family with a new eye, but it didn’t happen.  You were in the San Francisco airport worrying about getting our luggage. You were there when Jesse picked us up in his beautiful new car. You admired it so much. You were in the front seat, because you deserve a place of honor near your eldest son.  

Getting to the house was also a reminder that we hadn’t actually been there for a few years because of your health.  The last time we ventured to California we had driven there, a beautiful ending to a long dreamed about cross country trip.  It was one of the happiest times of our lives. Just you and I traveling across our beautiful country with not a care in the world, totally immersed in a beautiful, fun and eye opening experience.  Seeing the grandchildren and helping them decorate for Halloween before flying back home to Boston was such a fitting end to an already tremendous experience. Driving up to the house and walking in the door brought it all back for me.  You were everywhere and you were nowhere. It was devastating.

When we got to the house Jesse led me up to the guest bedroom where we always stayed together.  The room looked the same as always. There you were again. “We” placed our things in the familiar spots and your presence caught me off guard.  I was trying to be so brave, but I was unable to manage it. We had stayed together in that room so many times before. I could barely catch my breath sitting on the edge of the bed, once “we” had settled in.  

The biggest wave of grief hit me at bedtime on the first night.   I was absolutely sick from the grief. The grief I was trying so hard to restrain.  I had to hold it back so as not to wake up the family. It enveloped my entire mind and body.  I have never felt anything like it. I could not stop the pain in my heart nor the tears streaming, no not streaming, teeming down my contorted and misshapen face. For a second I thought that I would never get a grip on it, that it would continue on and on and I would die from it.  In fact, I wanted to die. I truly did. I wanted to have you come and take me with you, a feeling I have had all too often since you left. I was gripped by the permanency of your death. My chest and throat were closed off and the weight of your death felt heavy on my heart.   I have never felt so out of control of my own emotions. The agony of your absence fractured me to pieces. I wanted to gather the pieces and whatever else I could of myself and run outside to scream at the top of my lungs. “Where are you?” “Why can’t I see you?” “Show yourself!”  But somewhere deep inside my soul, I knew you weren’t able to. I knew that although you were everywhere, you were nowhere too. The realization of that is what makes me stagger and fall. Every time. The heaviness of losing you has been far too great a burden to carry.  

Over the days spent in California, we had some great times too.  I was glad to be there with our beautiful family and enjoyed the weekend tempo of the household. We took some hikes and enjoyed the beautiful vistas of Silicon Valley and Stanford from above.  The weather was beautiful and we were able to enjoy the fresh air. We talked about you and about life, ate well as always, and I managed to carve in some alone time for myself. I did not want to drag anyone down the rabbit hole I had unwillingly climbed into.  I was careful to keep most of my agony to myself. Once in awhile, it was hard to contain, so a few times it seeped out without my consent. 

You were so present in the house.  We played Michigan Rummy one night and I felt your presence again.  It was a game I remember playing when all of the kids were young and we were at your  mother’s house. You always made us laugh with your antics as dealer during the last poker hand.  Jesse has taken up the mantle. It made me smile to see him take over your role.

On Monday we got to see Chloe in a play at her school.  I saw you there too. You were in the bleachers watching.  I could see how proud you were of her. She seemed so mature all of a sudden and she was sharing the one thing we may have helped to ignite in her.  Theatre. In these precious moments you will live on forever. 

Our trip seemed to end just as quickly as it began. It was time to go home and I had a bittersweet feeling as we left the house. Among the many “firsts” I have to muddle through without you, this one seemed very difficult for me. Thankfully, our family is who they are and I love them for it. They were right there with me helping to put my pieces back together, even with their own struggles. 

Jesse dropped Eryn and I off at the airport and we boarded the plane. There you were again, hugging Jesse goodbye and sitting between us in the seats on the plane. I had a never ending urge to curl myself up next to you and lean my head on your shoulder.  I tried to distract myself with other things. I watched a movie, did a crossword puzzle and eventually took out my computer to write this. When I got to the end of the second paragraph, I fell apart. Because I was on the plane I had to restrain myself and the physical pain from trying to hold it in was torture.  Eryn sweetly offered me comfort and helped me to come back around. I was fine for the rest of the flight and in Somerville when we said our goodbyes. Then, as if I hadn’t had enough tears, I headed out on the road and into rush hour traffic. It was yet another reminder of you. How many times did we drive home in rush hour traffic on Rte 93 and 3 after leaving Dana Farber for your doctors appointments heading back to the Cape? Many many times. There I was sobbing uncontrollably while trying to drive the Jeep back to the Cape. I thought I might have to pull over to the side of the road because I could barely see through the tears. Fortunately Zack called and talked to me for about forty-five minutes which was a blessing. We discussed our sadness and the empty part of us that you filled.

When I finally rounded the corner by the Superette onto Samoset in Eastham, I was hit once again. Samoset Road is the road to our dream house. The childlike excitement we used to feel driving down that road to our getaway beach house never got old for us.  It was the homestretch to happiness and we had to keep pinching ourselves to believe that it had come true. When I drive down that street alone now, I am reminded of those times we arrived on a Friday night to stay for the weekend. Fire in the fireplace, and end of the week cosmos. We were so incredibly happy. We never wanted to leave. Eventually we moved here so we didn’t have to. Tonight I drove down the road alone again and was reminded of the life we worked so hard to achieve. The homestretch to happiness has now become a pathway to pain. Help me remedy that. Please. I will seek happiness once again, but in no way will it ever match what I had with you by my side. I don’t like being a sad person. It is not who I am. I was never made to be morose or blue. I don’t like wearing my grief on my sleeve. I have always sought the best of life and will continue to do so. It will take some time, however.

Paul? You are everywhere I turn. You are so much a part of who I am in this life that I may never recover. Nor do I want to…recover from you. You are the best part of me. Our connection made us both better people in the world. How do I continue without my life partner? I guess I have no choice but to find out. 

Stay with me. I will listen for you. I will hear your song through my heart.  I will keep you with me for as long as I live and beyond and we will sing together again someday. This I know to be true.

Decorating for Halloween 2017 in California
California Dreaming
On our way back to Massachusetts from California 2017

two years ago today

Dear Cancer,

February 1st. Two years ago today, our lives became all about YOU. You are horrible, life threatening, incorrigible, breath taking, dream stealing, shameless, mind altering, body depleting, and a happiness stomping disease. CANCER. I always use a capital “C” for you because you demand attention! You raped us and dragged us out. You took all that we had and threw it away without hesitation or our permission. I HATE you Cancer. I will never ever forgive you for what you did to the best man I know. I will hold a grudge and hate you until the end of my days.

It was February 1st and I had had enough with the worry, curiosity and concern of how Paul seemed so strange looking. His face swollen, his breathing odd, his energy depleting. The doctor, a new doctor for Paul, was treating him for a sinus infection. Somehow I knew it couldn’t be that. Three times to the doctors and still no relief. In addition he had developed all kinds of purple blotches on his chest and upper torso, as well as purple shaded ears and his nose upon awakening in the mornings.

I was going crazy. I asked questions to nurses I knew. I thought maybe it was a weird allergy. I was so frustrated, because I knew something else was brewing. So I did the best way I know how to find things out without a doctor. I went to Google. Thank God I did. It was there I found the seed that lead to the unbearable journey of tears I am experiencing now. It was that day when, two years ago, I took Paul to Urgent Care to get an X-ray which revealed “a large mass sitting atop his right lung”. Those words held me captive for days. I was stunned into numbness until I was able to rise above those words and move into action to take care of the person who was and still is a part of who I am. I have a vision of that ugly word, CANCER, hanging in the air above our heads in such an all encompassing threatening manner. That tremendously devastating word followed us around for a year and nine months like a weighted chain, until it finally came down to earth, fully embodied Paul and stole the best from us.

February 1st? I hate you too. You are not welcome for me anymore.

My Mother’s Grief…and Mine

For the last couple of days I have been thinking a lot about my beautiful mother. She was close to my age when my father was killed in a motorcycle accident rocking the very ground on which my family stood. I remember it as if it happened yesterday.

Up to that point, we had a great life. We were raised well by loving parents in a close knit neighborhood where we all thrived. All four of us, my three siblings and I, at the time were navigating through the world at our own paces. My oldest brother was married, working as a teacher and raising two children. My sister was married and at home raising three children, my other brother was figuring out his life and moving forward and I was married to my first husband and working in banking. I had not figured it all out yet. Life was pretty good for us all. No major problems. We were doing what everyone does. We were building a life for ourselves and had a great foundation on which to start.

It was May of 1984 and my father, an avid motorcycle rider, was out for a joy ride with a friend on a beautiful Memorial Day weekend. He had ridden through the countryside atop his favorite toy. He was on his way home to play tennis with his friend across the street. My mother was waiting for him to come home to plan dinner. He was a pretty active guy and always had something going on. He had retired two years earlier and was enjoying the life he had worked so hard to make for himself and for us. I always said, my father worked to live and not the other way around. I sometimes wondered if his stint overseas in World War II had something to do with this philosophy. He loved to “play”. He loved gadgets and photography and riding his motorcycle, which was a touring bike. He hang glided, skied, played racketball and tennis. He loved country music and dancing. He was funny, beautiful, and bigger than life. He even had an eight track player on his bike so he could listen to polka music while riding around. It made him happy. I have to add here that one time he took me for a ride on the back of his bike and we went through the city of Leominster. The eight track player was in full volume blaring that “lovely” polka music and I remember burying my face in his back, the rest of me hidden by my helmet, in case anyone I knew would see me. The music gets pretty loud when you are riding slowly through a town. At the time I was mortified. I was young then and not quite sure of myself, but if he were here now and had me on the back of his bike blaring polka music, you can be sure I’d be proud as hell and would probably be singing along with the eight track just as loudly if not louder.

So it is on this gorgeous day in May of 1984 that my father was riding his bike on his way home to play tennis that he came to a stop at a stop sign. Feet down. Bike steady. After looking both ways I am sure, for he was a cautious fellow, he launched his bike a little too slowly and was hit from the back by a speeding car. Someone who witnessed the accident reported that he was thrown off of his motorcycle across the entire street and landed head first onto the pavement. I won’t, nor can I, go into the details which followed. It is still raw and real for me all of these years later and bringing it up right now is too painful. I remember it as if it were yesterday. It will be forever etched in my mind. I will say that he died two days later from his head injuries and my life, and the lives of that of my family were never the same. It changed us. It changed me. The foundation under my feet had crumbled dramatically and left me unsteady and grasping for something to hold onto. My life had changed forever on that beautiful spring day.

But this story is really not about me. As I began to say, for the last couple of days I have been thinking a lot about my mother. My father was her world. They had been married for forty-two years. They were a set, a pair, like peas and carrots, salt and pepper, Al and San, Mom and Dad. Two beautiful souls moving through life’s dance with all of the ups and downs, and all of the love too. They were a wonderful pair.

She never saw it coming. Neither did we. No one ever does. My mother was lost for a long time.

I have been thinking about her a lot lately because it was not until I lost Paul that I realized what she had been going through. At the time I could only imagine what it might have felt like, but how could I truly know what she was experiencing in losing her lifelong partner? She was suddenly without the person she shared every day and every night with. This beautiful man whom she had met during war time and fell in love with and married. The partner she had raised four children with. He was gone. Plucked off the earth. Just like that.

I remember sleeping with her the first night she had to go home without him because I didn’t want her to feel alone. She was in shock. We all were. I remember wondering what she would do without him in her life, but I was dealing with my own grief at the time and didn’t fully understand what she was feeling. Nor could I. I was young. I didn’t even know who I was yet.

After all was said and done; the wake, the funeral, our family all around her, there was silence. She was alone. We all went back to our busy lives as we should, checking in frequently, but for the most part she was alone in the home they so lovingly built together. Alone with her grief. Alone with her thoughts. Alone with her loneliness. Alone. Had I known then what I know now, maybe I might have done things differently for her. Maybe not. I don’t really know. How could I? So, I ask myself these questions over and over. Did I give her what she needed? Did I help her enough. Did I check in often enough? Would any of that have mattered? What she really needed was for my father to come home that day. What she truly needed was my father to come up those familiar house stairs as he always did, give her a kiss and come into the house so they could live their lives out together until they grew old. I couldn’t have given her that. No one could have.

One thing I learned from my father’s death was that the words you speak to someone when they walk out of your house or leave you even for a short time are so important. You never know what is around the corner. The night before he died I had locked my keys in my car while out shopping with my mother. He came to save us and for some reason I didn’t get out of their car right away. We chatted for a bit and he made us laugh as always. As I got out of their car I turned back and said “thanks for everything”. Little did I know that I would never see him again and those words would cradle me for years.

I love my mother so much and I wish I could see her again just to tell her that I understand better now. I want her to know that she has a kindred spirit who finally and unfortunately knows what she was going through all those years ago and beyond. The difference is, and this is so overwhelmingly important, she didn’t have a chance to say “goodbye”. That to me, is most unbearable. I had that chance with Paul. Closure is a necessity. Unfortunately, grief is too.

My parents circa 1940

My family circa 1966
I’m the one showing off my new Sleeping Beauty watch

Feeding My Soul

Fortunately, I had a couple of good days following a couple of bad ones. I guess this is the ride I’m on. I never asked to be on this particular ride. Didn’t purchase a ticket. But here I am. I am hopeful that more good days will come my way.

Last night taking down the Christmas tree, it was the ornaments we bought together that gripped me. Choked me. I had been in a great mood only moments before. Suddenly I’m slipping down that slope and I can’t seem to hold onto anything to curtail my decent. So I slip into the dark and wait to break through the surface. The break came later in the evening but left me exhausted. Just thinking about it in this moment, I feel the heaviness welling up in my chest. It’s physical. So I breathe.

I head into each day with hope for the future. I really do. Some days I keep myself busy and productive with matters of the house, writing, exercise, snuggling Daisy and seeking ways to feed my soul. At sixty, I know myself well enough to understand that being idle will only lead to a path of overwhelming sadness. I don’t want that for myself. Paul wouldn’t want that for me. He was worried about me before he died. I told him I’d be alright and I must be. So I am looking for ways to be “alright”. Writing helps.

Last week I signed up for a writing class at the Cultural Center of Cape Cod. It’s a memoir writing class. I had never planned on writing a memoir, but the class sounded like something I needed right now. So I headed out yesterday morning and met a nice group of people who shared of themselves. I am quite social, so being in a group of writers was perfect for me. It was just the motivation I needed to channel my energy.

The very first assignment was to pick a decade in my life and write two pages about it. The stipulation was that every sentence had to be made up of only three words. Not two, not four, but three. It was very specific. I left the class wondering how that would work out. Particularly for me, since I tend to write very quickly and a lot comes out of me at once. .

I headed out to a nearby coffee shop with my laptop and joined the technological trend of “laptopping while coffeeing ” with the hipsters and it was thoroughly enjoyable. I was able to do the assignment quite easily and realized right away that the exercise was perfect for my writing style. I tend to want to say too much and this was a great way of harnessing my tangents and sticking to what is really important. I wrote for two hours.

I chose the decade which was the biggest decade of change for me in my adult life. 1985 – 1995. This is the decade I met Paul, Jesse and Eryn, married them, began a career in theatre, became a certified aerobics teacher, began directing plays and musicals, gave birth to Josh and Zack, performed every chance I got and worked with Paul side by side making theatre with youth. A lot happened in that decade. My life changed immensely and formed who I am as a person.

The assignment has left me thinking about the early days of our relationship and it has left me both wistful and melancholy. A lot of beautiful moments have been brought to the surface and although I love going down that road, when I get to the end of the thought, I miss him so much more. We had a great life together. We never took it for granted. I can’t believe that it is over. Done. He won’t be walking in the room any minute. Never again. That truly is what I can’t seem to wrap my head around. I don’t think I ever will.

Here is a sample from my assignment. I thought it would be interesting to see how writing three word sentences works. It reminded me of a Shakespeare exercise I used to teach where you would take a Shakespearean monologue and remove all the words that were not necessary to understand what was happening in the text. It helps you get to the meat of the meaning.

Here is an excerpt from my assignment. This is based on 1995.

We teamed well. We never argued.  We led people. I was fit. I felt great.  Education was important. I taught classes.  I taught theatre. I volunteered nearby. In the schools. I brought theatre. The Pied Piper.  Life was full. We respected us. I loved Paul. Paul loved me. I loved children. Paul loved children. We loved completely.  We built foundations. We built programs. Summer Drama Workshop. Summers spent teaching. Summers spent learning. Summers spent loving. We were happy. We taught youth. We worked hard. Our moms aged. We helped them.  We loved them. We were helpful. We served community. We performed theatre. We sang music. We vacationed together. We loved beaches. Cape Cod dreaming. Kids loved school. Jesse finished college. He is intelligent. He is serious. Eryn in college. She is creative.  She is driven. Josh loved school. He is persistent. He is clever. Zack loved playing. He is animated. He is funny. He is two. We strengthened foundations. We loved endlessly. We liked us. We loved us. We were giving. We were unified.  We were beautiful. Paul and Lynne. Eryn and Jesse. Josh and Zack. We are family. Hopes were high. We never settled. We worked hard. We gave out. We accepted all. We loved endlessly. We built more. We lived life. We loved us. We built foundations.

I loved the exercise and will continue working on it. In the next part of the exercise I have to find one sentence from that whole piece that jumps out at me and write two pages about that. I am looking forward to the challenge.

I am proud of myself for taking this step out of my “grief space” to do something constructive. My hope is to keep writing and keep building new foundations for myself. I cannot sit by idly and deteriorate after all that we built together. I must keep moving and use our life together as a jumping off point. Oh, it won’t be easy, but I need to keep going. I have so much yet to do.

Paul and I enjoying life together

Tidal Wave

Dear Paul,

Today I woke up feeling fairly normal and started my day with a positive attitude. I kept busy with the usual things; coffee, a crossword puzzle, worked on a jigsaw puzzle with Zack, a cuddle or two with Daisy, a healthy breakfast and I surrounded myself with music. Josh and Zack were both off of work today. What a blessing. Things were going pretty well for a good part of the morning and then, like a huge tidal wave, it came at me from out of nowhere. It began with a small ripple of longing, picked up strength and entered my heart with such force I was nearly knocked down and dragged out. I picked myself up after the first wave hit and decided it would be a good idea to go for a long walk to escape grief’s wrath. I “saddled up” Daisy and began my trek, hoping the feel of sunshine on my face and salty wind in my hair would help me to retrieve myself from the onslaught of sadness.

I headed into the wind with strength and confidence, knowing that the air and exercise would feed my soul. We took a long walk in the neighborhood, our old walk, and then as usual, headed for the beach where I talk to you. I was looking for some peace. The last time I called out your name on the bay, I was lucky enough to find seven…SEVEN heart shaped rocks on the short stretch of beach I covered. My call was answered and I felt a sense of peace and love that day. Thank you!

Today, as I approached the beach and let Daisy run free, my joy in the moment turned to a darkened sadness as the next tidal wave approached me. As in the many nightmares I had as a child about tidal waves, this one came full force and there was nowhere for me to run. I was hit broadside and it smashed me against the rocks with such force, my chest and my throat were choking from the impact. I could not outrun the wave even if I had the energy and spirit to try.

I never saw this one coming. Once up for air, the pain and agony left in my soul was unbearable.

Grief is a tricky entity. It comes when you least expect it and yanks you out of your foothold. This morning I had a strong and somewhat confident stance and by this afternoon, I had been tossed around and broken into a million little pieces. I lay there like a limp piece of dead seaweed sprawled over the sand.

By evening, exhausted, I had mellowed and spent time with the boys playing Rummy. Anything to take my mind off of the afternoons’ incident. I didn’t share all that happened to me today with them, but it felt like the end of your life had happened today. I felt as battered and bruised as I did the morning of November 12th when you left this world and my life changed forever. That’s how powerful this wave was.

So, here I am picking myself up off of the ground again and putting one foot in front of the other. I imagine the waves will keep coming for a long time. As you know, I am a fighter, and it will take a lot to break me completely…I think…I hope. Today’s wave was insurmountable. I fear what tomorrow will bring. I have a need for hope, but today any hopes for recovery were dashed amongst the rocks on our favorite place to be. I will return to the bay to search for hope tomorrow, and will see whether I have headwinds or tailwinds in store. I’m seeking a calmer sea, soft smooth sand, and a small gentle ripple of peace. And perhaps a heart rock or two. That is all I ask. Can you help me??

With everlasting love for you,

Lynne

Happy New Year

Happy New Year Everyone. My wish for you is that you find all the happiness and love you are seeking this year and always. I also ask that you please take a bit of advice from me. If you have a dream in your heart and you are keeping it at bay until the “time is right”, I urge you to shift your gaze to the near future and focus on what’s important to you and go for it NOW. Don’t wait! Make the move now, even if it means unrest and a bit of turmoil to get there. No-one ever realizes their dreams and full potential by standing still in the same place. Time will eventually run out and what will you have accomplished? Will your dream be just that? A dream? A mental film reel that plays over and over again in your mind but then you wake up to reality? Is your dream a job or career change? Do you dream of starting your own business? Maybe you have always dreamed of driving across the country or moving to your favorite place? Maybe you want to go back to school or travel to Europe? Maybe you want to learn to paint or write? Whatever it is, no matter how big or small…do it! We have one life to live and we have to live our best life. If I learned anything from Paul’s passing, it’s that time is precious. Give it everything you’ve got. Paul and I made a lot of choices together that I will never regret. Moving to Cape Cod was huge for us, but we did it four years ago and it took all we had to do it. It was a dream of ours for years and years and fortunately we had at least two great years together living in a place we love. The last two years were very difficult and I can’t imagine what it would have been like if we hadn’t realized our dream. We were living our best life.


I want to thank all of you who have reached out to me and my family over the last year or more. The love and support I’ve/we’ve received from our extended family and friends, as well as some people whom I don’t know very well, has been tremendous. In a world where there is so much suffering and unrest, I found that love prevails and the human heart is giving and beautiful. The last two years have been such a test for me as a human being and I have been able to stand on my two feet with a strong backbone because of love. Both the love that I/we received and the love we have/had to give.


I am facing a new year with half of my heart, but I still have love for so much and so many. Paul is with me in everything I do and even though sometimes I want to curl up into a ball and hide, I won’t let that happen. I am here and I will do whatever I am able to live my best life. It will be challenging, but I believe that I have the strength to carve out a new path for myself. I don’t know what that looks like yet, and it may take a long, long time to figure it out, but I will focus on positivity and passion for the people and things I love. I am still taking things an hour at a time and the grieving process is monumental some days, but I hold the time I had with Paul in my heart very closely. Sometimes I smile instead of cry and that makes me think it’s possible to heal. The human spirit is an amazing thing. I know so many who have suffered losses and even in pain we move on.

To those of you who have suffered a loss recently, my heart hurts for you and I know what it feels like. I also know that you are stronger than you realize and with time and love you will survive. So 2020, here we are. For 34 years I passed through New Years celebrations with Paul by my side. This year I passed through it without him and it felt empty for me. He was the first kiss of the year. I really missed it but I have no choice but to continue on without him. I never saw this coming. I really didn’t, but I think God has a plan for me and I will do my best to live up to it, whatever that may be.

Peace and love to you all as you approach the year 2020. Live your best life and realize your dreams. Don’t put it off any longer. What are you waiting for?