I Believe

Alan Stark wrote I Believe.

On page 128, Stark wrote:
“I believe the definition of a friend is someone you call when you have really great news or really sad news.”

On page 111, Stark wrote: “I believe couples should hold hands at least three minutes every day.”

On page 156, Stark wrote: “I believe that memories are treasures worth more than gold.”

Three is that good number, the one that can mesh the unrelated and find a new truth. So I have an addendum to Alan’s beliefs, my big three for today.

I check myself off the definition of a friend. Today has been one of the saddest days of the last 11 months. There is no one I will phone to share the sadness. There is no one with whom I have that kind of comfort. There is no one to whom I could even begin that conversation, share that deep and penetrating loss.

Holding hands is vital, an intimacy to be cherished. Going out alone today, I did a virtual hand holding via four area wide garage sale events. Bob loved them. We trudged up the driveways as he searched for his bargain of the day and until he was too worn to continue. I bought three things just so the experience would be true, a book, a light switch, a leather purse. Three dollars ventured and a memory gained.

That brings me to those memories worth more than gold. My brain is odd. My memories are rarely specific in detail but definitely specific in feelings. Bob and I had two love stories, one in youth and the second in middle age and onto his last years. Between those chapters, I had another love story with a good man, the father of my children.

Today is not really an empty day. It is a day of far too many memories, far too much emotion, far too heavy with a sadness I cannot shake. I feel ashamed, weak, to be as I am today. Wonder why the amazing goodness that is so much a part of my life cannot handle the overflow of memories?

I believe that time as healer is a ruse. What really happens is that we get really good at covering over, pretending and doing make-believe. Today is my birthday and I want what I cannot have. I miss him.


The Cough Drop

Finding this new blog rhythm has been difficult. It wasn’t always so. Months to years I wrote most days, often trivial, sometimes touching a heart. Early morning hours prior to this “After Bob” passage were good for finding voice. Much of the voice died with him.

Don’t was a scribbled list started as I walked to the car for an early appointment. Don’t Cry Today. Don’t Think Sad Thoughts. Don’t BE Sad. Don’t Remember. Don’t Make Any Mistakes. Don’t Notice The Empty Spot At Your Side.
Don’t. I can be so impossibly annoying….so add that to the Don’t List. Don’t Be Annoying. A blog was forming.

A blog was forming, a blog destined to be felled by a cough drop, an exquisite cough drop shared by a friend via email.

Don is a talented friend, a man who trusts his emotions and cherishes his family both in the present and in collected memory.

Some years ago, Don visited his Aunt Ljubica . A survivor of a Fascist Concentration Camp, Ljubica was living in France. Don remembers her as a gentle soul with the soft edges honed in a life of kindness despite hardship.

As was the custom, the Ljubica’s family lined up to present gifts, shared an embrace and experience leave-taking. Ljubica, slowed by age and the injuries of the camp, had no gift. Her face, beautiful in its capture of time and experience suddenly remembered that she did have a gift. Painfully, slowly she struggled up the stairs, hobbled into her room and descended with the precious gift clutched in her hand.

With joy, with a flourish, Aunt Ljubica handed her love to Don, a box of her favorite cough drops. The power and the simplicity of love is astounding.

Private, Inescapable, Ubiquitous

Grief. Sorrow. Sadness. Loss.
Every life tastes the bitter; serious health threats, death, loss, feeling trapped by circumstance.

Every life stumbles on the communication that might heal with understanding. Every life must find the safest way to dismantle anger.

One of the worst days is the day when awareness folds down, enveloping the belief that wholeness can ever happen, the belief that time has any power to heal. The trap suffocates.

Grief festers contaminated, cluttered with wrong assumptions, with feeling ripped raw, with a loneliness that diminishes light, leaves physical and emotional exhaustion.

Experience allows no deception–people don’t like tears. Some dismiss the need for memories, discount the search for the comfort of answers when there are none. Friends hurry past tossing out a caring pretense, choosing to ignore, wondering at the weakness that takes so long to heal. They tire of the unraveling. They tire quickly.

Those who might have shared worship question the depth of sorrow and loneliness. Some want to patch with platitude and scoff at sorrow that reduces platitudes to emptiness.

A few professional mourners constantly play one-up-man-ship, as in “My life’s sadder than your life…let me pour it out”. Their lives scorched, locked on hold, never able to give.

Getting over grief is not the point, not even a possibility.

Getting though grief is the only way round, the only way to understanding. Time cannot be the measure. Touchstones are the measure.

Touchstones, many so brief that the power comes later, are the only measure.

Sons are a Touchstone, phoning when there is little to say but much to communicate…checking in, making contact, holding a long distance hand. Sons who come to work, and stay to comfort. Sons who tiptoe away from judgment yet always respond to any request. Sons are responsible for most of the good days.

Grandchildren who smile, who comfort with their youth, who let me love them as they are, stand firm as Touchstones.

There are friends who do not let you down. Old friends who offer a rare Thursday off to do whatever, who give perfect gifts of time and thoughtfulness are Touchstones. Friends who understand depression and know when to step in and when to stay on hold are Touchstones. Friends who phone or email, so the thread is unbroken, are Touchstones. Friends who share exclusive time and attention are a rare gift in a multi-tasking world.

Neighbors who mean every nuance of “Let me know if there is anything we can do” are Touchstones.

Healing, surviving, is a private process and becoming one’s personal Touchstone is required. Be easy. Offer the care you need, for body, emotional and spiritual. You are the only one capable of doing it exactly right. You are the one person who understands. Ask for what you need. Give way your anger and helplessness. Find your Touchstones.


Rest? Peace? Odd Words Paired With Death

By his choice and his hand, Clay Hunt died on March 31, 2011.

During tours in Iraq and Afghanistan Hunt watched his buddies die, mourned these closest of friends.

After being wounded, Clay Hunt returned to the United States  determined to serve fellow veterans through lobbying efforts and through participation in Ride 2 Recovery.   He  reached farther into healing activities by including  humanitarian efforts in Haiti and Chile.

John Wordin, the founder of Ride 2 Recovery recognized that Clay Hunt was despondent with survivor’s guilt.  Family members talked of Hunts’s depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.  His life after combat continued to be haunted by his experiences.  Hunt’s marriage ended and he dropped out of school.   VA counseling followed.
Recovery looked genuine.  Hunt got a job, an apartment and was making a life with friends and new activities.  His life had a future including a Ride 2 Recovery event the first weekend in April.

By his choice and his hand, Clay Hunt died on March 31, 2011.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is real.  It takes the lives of young people damaged by destructive pain that allows no rest, no peace.

I offer my sincere sympathy to Clay Hunt’s family, friends and fellow veterans.  May each of you find some measure of rest and peace as you struggle to accept the tragic ending of this young man’s life.


An unintentional hiatus but a hiatus just the same…

You are an amazing group, Gentle Readers.  Some of you, noticing the dearth of blogs, have contacted me asking the why of the dry spell.  I appreciate you more than I have words to express that appreciation.

My calendar has little respect for anything but the passage of time so that cluttered life-map cannot be excuse or  reason.

Some rearranging of family schedules has encroached on my version of disciplined writing, but adjustment should never be that difficult.  Union Station on the occasional Thursday rather than the standard Friday visit is simply a tweak that will eventually be realigned.  (Hi, De.)

Taking on a few extra commitments isn’t overwhelming, though some have been more time-consuming than expected.  In addition, I have spent hours writing two short stories depicting life changing events.  The stories processed important pieces of my history and I value the time and thought spent writing them.

Stutter steps while learning to handle the chores of this place should be just that–stutter steps–and nothing more.  Still, I continue to stutter.

The litany could get longer, but the point isn’t that chiseled and truly doesn’t matter.  My mind has gone underground, sort of like the moles building a city under the top soil of my yard.  Some of me has disappeared.

Hiatus is a brief stoppage, a thing to end on schedule.  I will find what is missing and look forward to tomorrow.

A Sunday Kind of Love

What is gone is absolutely irreplaceable, ambling Sunday drives to nowhere with the destination of passing time, quiet together, always aware of one another.  Sometimes the pretense would be hardware from the tractor store, but we owned enough hardware stuff to start our own store.  Other times a check of the river level pretended to be important.

Of course, I want to go back to the world that no longer exists.  How does one imagine that–the demise of a world in which existence was so taken for granted?  Grief is a watershed extinguishing the light from that other world, the world one wants to remember as idyllic.  Of course, it wasn’t idyllic at all.  Rather it had the comfort of familiarity.   Even the hard times were predictable and, in their way, comforting.

What is gone is irreplaceable, will never be supplanted by anything new, no matter how beautiful.  We might continue to try remembering, wishing, regretting –but eventually we will know;  what is gone is truly irreplaceable.    A Sunday kind of love simply isn’t on the landscape no matter how long or how far one searches.

Maybe, bit by bit, we can learn to go forward, form a new life, new relationships.   Maybe it is possible to leave the mistakes and regrets behind, forgiving wherever forgiveness is needed.  Maybe even the forgiveness of self will  be part of this new world territory.  Maybe?

The Empty Forest

Clichés become trite from overuse because their truth is clear and concise.  Efforts to find a different way to convey the message are lame precisely because the cliché is right-on.

“She cannot see the forest for the trees.”   Absolutely.

If you know someone wading through the reams of conventional wisdom surrounding grief, searching for meaning in why any wisdom could give understanding at the moment, remember that an empty forest has no trees.  All the markers are gone.

Again, that imagery is cliché.  Specificity comes at too great a price, a moment of opening the soul and absolutely knowing that time will mean regret for the effort.  Silence is the only safe place.

During the last few months, I have made mistakes, some in a manic effort to escape.  Recognizable and safe markers were gone.  I rushed.  I ran.  I made mistakes.  The balancing was high and tight.  One moment of confidence fell into days of this strange new emptiness.

My immediate family stayed, always available, always careful of advice and supportive of my mania.  No one mentioned my responses off subject or the heaviness of spiritual inertia.  I absolutely know they would do anything in this transition time.  I also knew that I was the elephant in the room, big awkward, blocking the sun.

During the last storm, a neighbor said, “You know, Pat, we have more confidence in you than do.”  Backup.  Always  covered by my triad of neighbors.  Always.

This blog provided the opportunity to write about the generosity and caring of specific friends and neighbors.  That kindness is an anchor.  Each of these people meant it when they said,   “Is there anything we can do?  Just ask?  Let me know what you need.”

Some weeks ago, I resolved to avoid blogs about grief and the process.  Seemed so weak and self-serving to write about a universal life event.  The problem is that, to be universal, an event has to be specific and specific is my life of these days, weeks and months.   Death of a spouse is a consuming event even though I am adept at the facade stuff, going through the motions.

I read the paper and wonder what it said.  Pick up news magazines and later  find them as a surprise.  I forget they arrived.  NPR reports on Egypt horrify at the moment and a few hours later I think I ought to know more.

The point is that the conventional wisdom is not a cliché.  Family and friends are the anchor.  Offers of help and support are vital to finding the way through the forest.  Requests for any help would not be made if the need didn’t feel crushing.  Understanding long silences, blankness, inability to connect will end.  Until they do end, the cliché is “Keep on keeping on…”, right?