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A Broadway Show

Last weekend I went to New York to see my youngest son, Jason. He received tickets to a Broadway show for Christmas, and, lovely surprise, wanted Mom to be his date.  I love spending time with this young man. We have wonderful conversations about books, friends, life. We sit on the couch in his Upper East Side apartment, sharing a whiskey, talking into the wee hours of the morning. One of the joys of my life. I was looking forward to seeing a show with him. If I had remembered what he had told me about the story line of the musical, however, I wouldn’t have gone.

The show was Dear Evan Hanson. A musical that has won six Tony awards and a Grammy award. The music was wonderful, the dancing terrific, the staging unique. And the story line heart wrenching, for me triggering. You see, it is a story about a socially  awkward young man (Evan) who invents a friendship with a young man (Connor) who kills himself in the first few minutes of the show. Evan’s lies comfort Connor’s family, and it all sparks a movement about suicide. It is an important conversation that is often hidden in today’s society.  We try to sweep suicides under the rug. We feel shame that our loved one decided to end their own lives. We believe that it is our fault. We don’t speak of them, as if their death negates their lives. We grieve in silence, pretend to have moved on, for to do otherwise is to invite judgement by society. Unless someone has experienced it, they don’t understand that suicide causes a grief like no other. We have guilt like no other. If someone dies of cancer, do we blame ourselves? No. We believe it is fate, or God’s will, or it was because they smoked.  If someone dies by suicide, the survivors will always believe there was something they could have done to prevent their loved one’s death. We have failed, in our love, in our roles of loved ones. In the show, Connor’s parents feel like they have failed in their roles as parents.  I failed in my role as wife. I should have seen the anguish he was in, and been able to stop him.

In the beautiful Music Box Theater, I cried through half the show. My hand clutched by my son, my head on his shoulder, tears falling unfettered down my cheeks and onto my blouse. Thank goodness we were in the back.  This musical, no matter how difficult, was an important one for Jason and I to see together. An important step in our healing. One song in particular pierced my heart. And gave me hope. Hope that someone, somewhere would hear this song and put down the gun they had aimed at their head, or flush the bottle of pills down the toilet instead of down their throat, or drop the razor in the trash.  Evan’s lies created a movement. An awareness of suicide.  A powerful prayer. I hope it translates from the stage into the world.

“You Will Be Found”
(from “Dear Evan Hansen” soundtrack)

[EVAN:]
Have you ever felt like nobody was there?
Have you ever felt forgotten in the middle of nowhere?
Have you ever felt like you could disappear?
Like you could fall, and no one would hear?

Well, let that lonely feeling wash away
Maybe there’s a reason to believe you’ll be okay
‘Cause when you don’t feel strong enough to stand
You can reach, reach out your hand

And oh, someone will come running
And I know, they’ll take you home

Even when the dark comes crashing through
When you need a friend to carry you
And when you’re broken on the ground
You will be found

So let the sun come streaming in
‘Cause you’ll reach up and you’ll rise again
Lift your head and look around
You will be found
You will be found
You will be found
You will be found
If you are in the depths of despair, as I have been several times since Tim’s suicide, reach out your hand. Someone will come. Someone will find you.  I will come, as others have come for me. If you want to listen to the song, here it is:
https://youtu.be/mSfH2AuhXfw

A widow’s progress

Footprints

In this new world of mine, there are so many things that I miss, so many things that I am trying to adjust to. The haze of absolute grief that has shadowed my world this last year is beginning to lighten a bit, becoming dark grey instead of complete black. Sometimes there is even sunshine.  Yet, there are still so many things that I don’t understand, and I’m realizing I will never understand them. Why he didn’t talk to me? Why didn’t I see it? Why did he do it where he knew I would be the one to find him? I know I will never have these answers. I know I have to try and go on.

But there are so many things that I miss. I miss having someone to talk to at the end of the day. Someone to celebrate my triumphs, and sympathize with my defeats. Someone who encourages me each and every day. The dogs listen with cocked heads, but they don’t talk back. They just want another cookie. I miss human touch. A hug, a kiss, holding someone’s hand, just the presence of someone else in the room with me. I miss shared meals, and laughter, conversations over whiskey and dancing in the living room.  Hearing a good morning, and being wished a good day. A good night and sweet dreams.

For the first time since I was 22 years old, I am living by myself. Sometimes the emptiness of the house is overwhelming. Even when I was a single mother, and my sons were with their dad, I knew they were coming back. Their things were in their rooms, toys in the living room, their books were on the shelves. It wasn’t like I was truly alone, because their essence filled the house. Now it is just me. No one has ever lived in this house with me before. There is no other human’s  presence here but mine.

Being a widow is a lonely journey. Becoming a widow by suicide is even lonelier. Yes, I have some terrific friends in my life, but they can’t truly understand. And they get tired of hearing about it. No one can understand unless they have experienced it themselves. Suicide causes a different kind of grief. Not worse, but different. Knowing that the person who pledged to love you till death do you part, chose death instead of spending more time with you creates questions that no other kind of death does. Questions I will never have the answer to.  And yet, I try to move forward. Still one day, one step, one breath at a time.

 

 

 

The Empty Boat

The Empty Boat

In the dusk of the evening, the haunting wail of a loon searching for it’s mate drifts over the lake, and an empty boat waits. There is no one at the helm, no fishing line in the water. It waits for a pilot who is no longer here. You have left us, with no explanation, no understanding. My grief is as deep as the lake, as dark as the approaching night. Did you take this boat to the other side? Did you drift upon the crystal clear surface of the lake to somewhere you felt no pain? I see you in the evening light, the skies purple, pink and blue, your hand on the trolling motor, a grin on your face. Why have you drifted away from me?

A year ago today, you decided for some reason known only to you, that you could no longer stay in this world. Did you know that you would destroy my heart? Did you know that my world would end when that bullet struck your brain? It may have ended what pain you were feeling, but it exploded mine. Charon has carried me across the river Acheron into my own personal Hades but left my body here.

This has been a year of unending grief. Will things change now that all the firsts are done? The  first holidays, the first birthday, our anniversary, and now, the first angel anniversary? I don’t think there is any magic to the first year being over. My grief hasn’t ended. Every day is still a challenge to move forward, to live, to have a life not framed in sorrow. But move forward I do. One step, one breath at a time.

As Maya Angelou wrote, “I answer the heroic question ‘death where is thy sting?’ with ‘it is here in my heart and mind and memories’. “. My heart and mind are full of you today. The memories are overwhelming.

 

Gratitude

It’s been four months since that terrible, awful day. Four months of pain, disbelief, anger, loneliness.  The pain is as sharp today as it was the day I found him. My grief knows no boundaries. But I am trying to find positives in my life. The biggest one is gratitude. I am so grateful for all the people in my life who are concerned, who care, who keep me going.

I am grateful for my sons. They are truly wonderful men, all four of them. My John, Tim’s Jon, Ben and Jason. Without them, I would simply follow Tim. Their love, support and concern help keep me going.

I am grateful for my family. My mother and father, who support me through all of this. My sister Micki, her husband Kevin, my nephew Kodi, brother Dan and his wife Jean, who care so much about how I am doing. Tim’s mom Deannie,  and brothers Mike and Todd.

I am grateful for my friends. I have some really good ones. Gina, Don, Dean, Gloria, Bob, Cindy, Tracey, Deb, Anne, Rich, Don, Cathy.  I am grateful for all of those who loved Tim, and reach out to me in his memory.

I know I am blessed to have all these beautiful souls around me. I try to remember that everyday. But as I sit here, wrapped in Tim’s jean jacket, I still can’t see a way forward. Is gratitude a strong enough emotion to sustain a life? How do I move forward in a world that doesn’t have him in it?

I don’t understand why he did what he did. I don’t think I ever will. I don’t understand why he didn’t’ take me with him. He destroyed my life, why didn’t he just finish the job? There must be a reason that I am still here, but I don’t know what it is. And I don’t know why I shouldn’t follow him.

The funeral home made me a necklace with his fingerprint. On the back, it says I will find you. How long do I have to wait, before I can go find him?

If you read this, give me a positive. Give me a reason I should go on. Tim took my heart, my love, and all my plans for the future with him. Where do I go from here?

Nightmares of the soul

Once again, I sit outside in the dawn light, computer on my lap, trying to write. The sun is coming up, highlighting the oranges, reds and yellows of the trees across the lake. But through my tears I don’t see their beauty. A month ago, I sat outside on the front porch at home, staring out at the dimming darkness, trying to write the hardest thing I have ever written in my life – my husband’s obituary.  Now, I sit on the deck at the lake, Lobo at my feet attempting to make sense of it all, wondering how I can go on without him.

I call this nightmares of the soul, because I no longer have any daydreams. He took those with him when he decided to leave. I only have nightmares. Nightmares of finding him, covered in blood. Nightmares of guilt. Why didn’t I, the person closest to him, see how much pain he was in? You see, my husband didn’t just die – he chose to die. Suicide is an ugly word, an ugly act. It leaves those left behind with a hole in their lives that can never be filled. Death of all kinds leaves a hole, but suicide consumes you with questions of why. It leaves you with no time to prepare for the grief, no sense that death is a natural progression of life. It’s a life abruptly ended with a single gunshot. A single gunshot that took not only his life, but mine as I knew it as well.

We were supposed to grow old together. It took us so long to find each other in this life, and  we had so many plans. Plans for travel, to beaches, to return to Ireland. Plans for dinners, and parties, and walks in the woods. Why couldn’t he tell me of his despair? Everyone tells me how wonderful it was to see how much he loved me, but if he did, how could he do this? The grief of his loss is unbearable. It eats at me day and night, each day I miss him more.

I sit in this place that he loved, in a place where he always found peace, and wonder why didn’t he come here and ground himself again? Feel the leaves crunch under his feet, smell the forest, stare into a fire burning brightly in the fireplace? I have no answers, I have no why.

There are so many that miss him. Our boys, our grandchildren, brothers, sister, mother, my parents and siblings, nieces and nephews, friends. I grieve for their loss, as well as mine. But the nightmare is mine alone. And I’m afraid I will never wake up from it.Tim with flowers

Giggle, a light silly laugh. Laugh, lively amusement. Guffaw, a loud and boisterous laugh.  It’s a progression. Sometimes you have to start at the beginning, and work your way up.

After a very hard year, I’m working my way up from giggle to guffaw. Some days I can giggle, some days I can laugh. I haven’t reached guffaw yet, but I feel I’m on the verge.  There are many things that make me giggle or laugh these days. Listening to my fourteen-year old granddaughter talk about a book she’s reading makes me giggle. It’s so good to know that she loves books as much as I do.  I watch her, walking with her nose in a book, much as I used to (okay, I still do).  I laugh when my six year old grandson and I blow a stream of bubbles and then try to catch them.  Or when the goofballs we call dogs have a romp in the backyard.  It is pretty silly looking to see the 20 pound Westie chasing the 180 pound Pyrenean Mastiff.

There are loud laughs, quiet laughs, and laughs that just won’t stop.  Giggles at breakfast, and in the middle of the night. Laughter of any kind brings relief, excitement, joy. Laugh, and you can literally feel the tension leaving your body.  It just melts away.  Sometimes it is hard to find something to laugh at. Sometimes, the world just seems to dark and dreary. But if you can find something to make you giggle, or laugh, or heaven help you, guffaw, you’ll find the world just a little bit lighter, a little less dreary. Go ahead, try it.  If it seems too hard, start with a smile.  That’s where all laughs start. With a gentle upturn of the corners of your mouth.

What things make you giggle and laugh?  When’s the last time you’ve had a good old fashioned, belly aching,  guffaw? Tell me about them, and I’ll have a laugh with you too.

Family Quilt

Just recently my mother-in-law gave me a very special gift.  A quilt, hand made by her, fabrics chosen with care to reflect things that I care about – fabric with letters because of my writing, with books because I love to read, with wine, well, because I like to drink wine, and with a cabin in the woods, to show where my heart is at peace.  There is a hand quilted border of hearts, stitched by the lovely ladies of a quilting society – average age of 90 I believe.  It is a beautiful piece of work that I was so honored to receive.  As I sat and looked at it the other day, I realized that while the pieces of the quilt are pretty, it is putting them all together that makes them beautiful.  It occurred to me that our family is like that too.  Our family is a quilt of many pieces that make up a beautiful whole.

There are different names for quilt patterns.  There is the bears paw, or the birds in the air.  There is the double square and grandmother’s cross.  There’s the wheel of fortune and the wedding knot.  While each pattern is beautiful on it’s own, they are just pretty squares of fabric until they are sewn together, backed with fabric, and quilted in place.  When I look at my family, I see us more as a crazy quilt – made up of irregular pieces, exotic fabrics and embellished in different ways.   Individually, we are all unique.   There is my sister, beautiful like my mother.  She is a teacher at heart, lover of all the things in the forest, at times insecure, at times fearless, always full of faith.  There is my younger brother, who creates masterpieces with his video camera, so assured and certain and the grin of a little boy.   There is my older brother, troubled, anxious, fearful but caring beyond words for all pieces of this quilt.  There is my brother-in-law, hardworking, with an engineer’s mind and logic, determined to provide safety and comfort for his family.  My sister-in-law is another creator – with her camera she shows the beauty of the world around us.   Three nephews – the warrior, the dreamer and the curious. Two grandchildren – the actress and the imp.  My sons, handsome and strong, one a scholar, one a man who creates with his hands.  My husband, loving and patient with us all.  We are all the pieces of this crazy quilt called family.  And the backing?  The stitching?  That would be my mother and my father.  The fabric and thread that holds us and binds us.

We are not a new quilt, fresh and clean like the one I just got.  We have been worn and torn, washed and mended.  At times the quilt seems too heavy, too warm, like a heavy wool blanket on a hot summer night.  We push it off, fold it down at the end of the bed.  At others, it is the warmth that is needed to sustain us through the cold and we reach for it with gratitude.

There is a label on the inside of my quilt, with a blessing.  It says:

“May green be the grass you walk on,

May blue be the sky above you,

May pure be the joy that surrounds you,

May true be the hearts that love you.”

Our grass has not always been green, nor have our skies always been blue.  We have not always been surrounded in joy, we have had our share of heartache, sadness and worry.  But the hearts that love us are true, and they are the warmth of our family quilt.

Shonas

DSC02349The afternoon sun is filtering through the leaves, green to light green as the breeze rustles through.  I sit in my tower and listen as an oriole sings.  Wheet…wheet wheet….wheeta wheeta wheeta.  I’m surrounded by windows up here, high in the treetops of what we call the eagles nest.  Aristotle said “Happiness is the settling of the soul into its most appropriate spot”.  And I am in my most appropriate spot.  My soul is happy.

As Dad and I drove to the north woods this morning, as each mile passed, I could feel myself becoming lighter.  It was as if little pieces of worries were just falling off with each turn of the wheels.  For the next week or so, there will be peace and quiet here.  Time to write, time to read, time to sit and breathe the forest.  In a couple of weeks, the woods will ring with shouts, there will be laughter and splashes on the lake, as my brothers and sisters, nephews, and grandchildren all make an appearance in this blessed place.  And it is a blessed place.

We call it Shonas, which means a piece of heaven, and for our family, it is a piece of heaven.  Not just the cabin, which is lovely and unique, but the entire property, the lakes, the woods, the trails, even the swamps.  There is magic here.  When you are quiet, when you listen closely, you can hear the footsteps of deer as they make their way down to the shore to get a drink.  As the sun begins to set, you hear the mournful cry of the loons.  In the early morning light an eagle will perch on a branch 30 feet away.  When you are tired, or troubled, the woods will bring you peace.

There is the magic of a child’s wonder, as you watch them watch a fish swim under the pier.  There is the magic in  their shrieks as they take their first jump into the cool waters of the lake.  In the awe in their eyes as they watch a fawn cross the path no more than a hundred feet in front of them.

There is the magic of conversations with siblings that I see far too seldom.  Of shared tasks and silly jokes.  Of quiet talks with my dad, and tales told by my mom.  Shonas is a place where time can, for a bit, stand still.  And that is magic.  It is why my soul feels that it is in the “most appropriate spot” and I am happy.

To be 5

His face is bright and shining as he meets us at the door, blue eyes sparkling as he hops from one foot to the other in excitement.  Pizza with pineapple and Canadian bacon is on its way, Grandpa has gift bags in his  hands and Gramma has balloons.  One balloon has a monkey on it, one has Ninja turtles and one has a cake with candles.  Oh, birthdays are soooo exciting when you are 5!

“Gramma , Gramma, look at the cake!  I helped decorate it!  Can I open my presents now?  Can I?  Pleeeaase?  Look what Mommy and Daddy got me!  An airplane that drives on the ground with a remote!  And a bulldozer!  Look, it can pick up the Legos!  You brought root beer! I LOVE root beer!! ”  Hardly stopping to take a breath, he darts from one thing to another, proudly showing off what he can do with his new toys.

Laughing, Grandpa sets the gift bags on the table.  “EJ, let us get our coats off!  Happy birthday, buddy.  That’s a pretty cool airplane!”  “I picked it out all by myself.  See, it can go forward and it can turn.  Watch out for the propellers, Grandpa, they might hurt you.  Can I open my presents now?” “Ok, Ok.  let’s take them over here.  Let Gramma sit down by you.”

I sit cross legged on the floor next to the big gift bags decorated with Mickey Mouse.  Tissue paper starts flying.  Out of one comes a small train set.  Out of the other comes packages with more train cars.  There were circus cars, and flatbed cars carrying tanks, and passenger cars, and more engines.  Oh, and at the bottom of the bag a shirt and a pair of pants.  Those just get tossed to Mom.

“Open this, open this”, he hands each of us a set of train parts.  Sissy gets the circus train, Gramma gets the tracks.  Daddy gets the screwdriver so he can put the batteries in the engines.  Once the tracks are open, EJ grabs them from my hands and takes them to his Daddy.  Down on hands and knees, on the kitchen floor, the two of them start to build the track.  Dark heads together, deciding which piece goes where.  For a moment, I see two 5 year-olds.  They look almost exactly the same.  Same blue eyes, same long eyelashes, same dark hair, same infectious grin.  They could have been twins.  Then I blink my eyes and see that one is really almost 32 years old.  Sigh, somedays I wish he really was 5 again.

The track is together, batteries are in the engines and in the railroad crossing.  Excitement as the cars are hooked up and set on track.  Laughter as they derail.  Wait, wait!  A dragon has to be set up next to the tracks to guard them.  Wait, wait!  The bucket of the back hoe has to be filled with Legos to dump on the train.  Pizza, just put it there Mom.  I’m busy right now.

Finally, he wants cake.  White cake, with white frosting and sprinkles on top.  Mommy makes good cake.  The lights are dimmed, the candles lit and a chorus of Happy Birthday sung.  EJ's 5th birthdayMake a wish, blow out the candles.  Two bites of cake, and it’s back to the train.

It’s time for Gramma and Grandpa to go.  He reaches to be picked up.  Arms around my neck, a great big squeeze, and then, he lays his head on my shoulder.  I love you, monkey boy.  I love you too, Gramma.

A New Year

The Christmas decorations are down and put away for another year. The Christmas tree stands out in the backyard, needles still green against the snow, a shelter against winter storms for the birds my dad loves to watch.  We are now in the second month of the new year, and if you have made a New Year’s resolution, chances are it has already been broken.  Not because you haven’t tried, but so often life gets in the way of those noble ideas that we have on the dawn of a new year.  I don’t usually make New Year’s resolutions anymore.  Yes, I want to lose weight.  Yes, I want to exercise more.  Of course I want to eat healthier.  Don’t we all? But I’ve made and broken those resolutions more times than I can count.  So, I didn’t make a resolution this year, but I did make a promise to myself.  This year, no matter what, I will rediscover joy.  For you see, somewhere over the last year and a half, I lost it.

This last year has been a difficult one.  There have been many changes in my life.  Some of them have been good, some of them have been bittersweet, and some of them have been downright painful.  On the good side, we completed the move back to my childhood home, to be here for my parents.  I love that we are here, in the same home.  I love to hear them talk, to know that I am here if they need me.  My youngest son graduated from high school with honors, received academic scholarships to college, and is thriving there. I’ve reconnected with friends that I grew up with, and discovered that they are pretty fascinating women.

We’ve had 2 dogs cross over to the rainbow bridge.  My dad’s sweet Maqua and our happy little sweater dog Lucky.  Their loss was and is still painful.  But a new clown joined our circus and Lobo entertains us daily.  Most painful of all have been the struggles of my oldest.  He lost his way, tried to find solace in a bottle, which has only lead to legal troubles and heartache.  I have felt the weight of his mistakes around my shoulders.  I want so badly to “fix” everything for him, and know that I cannot.

And so, while navigating through all the changes, the joy I’ve had in life seems to have gotten away from me.  It’s not in one of the boxes I haven’t unpacked from the move (I looked, there’s nothing labeled joy).  I didn’t leave it in Indiana.  I’m sure it’s here somewhere, but like the box of dress clothes I couldn’t find, I think it will take some looking to find it again.

The promise I made to myself was to find one thing, everyday, that gives me joy.  Whether it’s the sight of a cardinal, red against the falling snow, taking shelter in that old Christmas tree, or a 120 pound puppy chasing his tail, or being ordered around by my 5-year-old grandson, or my husband wrapping his arms around me each day when he comes home, there are things to find joy in.  I just need to look for them. We are meant to have joy in our lives.  I think that there is always some little thing that can give us joy everyday, if only we look for it.  What are ways that you find joy?  When life seems hard, and as gray as a winter’s day, where do you look to find a smile? Leave me a comment – I’d like to know.