Tag Archives: grief

You Can’t Always Get What You Want

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It’s been a long time since I have written.  I have been struggling with getting my thoughts together. Hell, I have been struggling to get myself together! Sometimes life just gets away from me and I get lost in the shuffle.  Lately I have been running 90 to nothing and feeling like I haven’t been getting anything done.  Is that a grief thing?  A life thing?  An ADD thing? A depression thing?  An age thing?  I don’t know for sure, but I’m certain that it’s definitely a thing.

The 9 months since Brian died has been a total roller coaster.  Just when things seem to get easier, something comes up and knocks us all back down.  Not as far down as we have been, of course, but it’s still a fall. I can say with all honesty and without a doubt that this experience has been the most powerful and educational experience of my life.  I have learned so much about life, about death, about other people, but mostly about myself.  The biggest lesson I have learned is this: I am not Superwoman.

I have been fiercely independent my entire adult life.  I still am.  I am the woman who will fix her own plumbing, carry in all the groceries in one trip, work on my own household projects, open my own doors, pay my own way, etc.  Asking for help is almost impossible for me – it’s just not in my makeup.  My parents tell the story of taking me out on a boat with friends when I was three years old.  The adults were waterskiing and, at one point, I attempted to jump into the water screaming, “MY TURN!” When I was 8 months pregnant with my oldest child, my husband came home to find that I had not only assembled all of the nursery furniture, but had also rearranged our bedroom by myself.  I have painted houses, built fences, moved furniture, held a breastfeeding baby with one hand while plunging a clogged toilet with the other, and superglued my finger back together after I cut it to the bone, but I’ve learned that, as much as I wish I could, there are some things I cannot do.

I cannot process grief or love by myself.

I cannot heal my depression, anxiety, panic, or lack of focus by myself.

I cannot be both mother and father by myself.

I cannot pretend that I’m not a nervous wreck every moment of the day by myself.

I cannot pretend.  Period.

I cannot take care of my children and myself 24/7/365 completely by myself.

I need help.  I hate that I need help.  I mean, I really hate it.  It goes against everything I have ever believed about myself, but it’s my truth now.  I need friends and family to help me with the kids.  I need therapy and medication and meditation to help with my emotional and mental health.  I need to be heard and understood as I process this new life I’m trying to create.  I don’t want any of these things, but I need them and I have learned how to ask for them. Okay, it’s more accurate to say that I am learning how to ask for them.   When I do ask, I am given what I need.  It’s a whole new kind of DIY lesson, but I’m trying. 

Who is this bitch, anyway?

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The Power of White

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When I was a kid in school, I was in special classes for “gifted” kids.  I always have hated that term.  Aren’t we all gifted?  Anyway, in these courses, I was given the opportunity to do incredible things.  I wrote two “books” before I was in Jr High School, attended court cases, took trips to botanical gardens, got out of regular classes to do hands on learning, and was able to meet some wonderful professionals.  When I was in 7th grade, I had an experienced that changed my life.  At the time, I had no idea how powerful it would be (who knows these things when they are 13?) but I have never forgotten it.  One spring Saturday, my “gifted” group and the similar groups from other schools piled into the auditorium and listened to an author speak about the writing process.  He spoke at length and answered questions and, honestly, I don’t remember very much except the one thing that has guided my life: “You must conquer the power of white.”

Before you go getting all steamed in your bloomers, this has nothing to do with race or color or anything other than writing.  You have to remember, I’m older than dirt.  When this event happened, people didn’t write on computers.  Most folks wrote on a word processor or even, gasp, on paper with a pencil or pen!  What the author was talking about was the terror, the complete and total block that comes when you sit down in front of a white sheet of paper and suddenly cannot think of a single word to write.  The whiteness, the purity, the blank sheet is too overwhelming and everything that you might think about writing starts to seem wildly inane and insignificant, so you sit there drooling on yourself like an idiot and get nothing done.  The white has won.

His suggestion? Get the paper dirty.  Scribble on it.  Spill something on it.  Smudge it.  Do anything – ANYTHING – to destroy the power of white.  When it’s not so blank, things start to happen.  It’s the same as waking up in the morning to a blanket of pure white thick fresh fallen snow.  You want to go out and play in it (okay, I never do, but I hear that most people want to,) and yet you don’t want to ruin the perfectness of it.  A perfectly frosted cake.  A pristinely made bed. A perfectly wonderful life, a perfectly profound grief.  They all can become all you see and the fear of changing it, even a tiny bit, is horrifying.  Adding humanity to it, adding life to it, adding (or subtracting)  ANYTHING to it risks fucking it up irreparably.

It’s been quite awhile since I have written and I couldn’t find out why I was struggling to get words onto the page.  I stated something along those lines on my FB status and got some insightful responses.  The one that struck me most profoundly, however, came in the form of a private message from a friend who suggested that maybe I am not sure what to write about now, how much of my own life to include in the story, is because I have been so very bold and open with my grief and my process and, now that it is taking on a different color, I’m feeling the need to protect it.  My life now has it’s own power of white.

Last time I wrote, I mentioned that I am now in a relationship with a wonderful man.  The feedback from that has been interesting, to say the least.  Most people who say anything at all to me about it are INCREDIBLY supportive and excited.  Many of my friends and family members have met him and it’s clear to them that this is a good thing.  It’s very clear to us that this is a good thing.  That said, there are several people out there (quite likely more than I know,) who are not so thrilled with this turn of events, who feel that it is disrespectful of Brian or of our marriage or whatever.  I realize that, for a long time, I was more terrified of what other people would say or think than how I would feel.  That, my dears, is utter bullshit.   Their feelings are their story.  My feelings are mine.  I’m the one who gets to scribble on my page so I can overcome the fear of writing a new story.  I took a breath, took a chance, and scribbled like mad and, guess what?  My story has a new plot, a wonderful, exciting, sincere, honest, compassionate plot that doesn’t dismiss my story with Brian, but has added onto it.  My story is still being written.  Had I not taken the chance, had I not scribbled, I’d still be dying daily while sitting on my couch.  I did that for months and months and months.  Brian wouldn’t have wanted that.  My kids didn’t want that.  *I* didn’t want that, but it was happening.  I messed up that perfectly blank sheet of grief and somehow, a story of life started to unfold.  I stopped dying on the couch and started, slowly, to live again.

I have been picking up additional yoga classes as the other teachers at Yoga Sol are vacationing.  Getting back into a more active teaching role has helped me scribble on my yoga page as well.  After Brian died, everything I did was colored by my loss.  It is absolutely impossible to avoid that.  Fortunately, it worked well for me and it made my teaching more … profound?  Intense? Real?  I don’t know what to call it, but for a long time it was even more of an extension of me as it has always been.  As I began to heal (and I’ll be healing for the rest of my life,) however, it started to feel like I was stuck.  Again, the power of white was blocking me.  I was too comfortable with the blanket of grief teaching and it became all I could see, even though it didn’t fit anymore.  One day, I did something I hadn’t done since Brian died: I ended the class with the singing bowl and a chant.  I scribbled on my class and, oh how the story started to pour out!  I have been doing yoga for more than half of my life and I have taken just about every kind of class you can imagine, but it was suddenly like I was a beginner again.  Beginner’s mind, yo.  Everything was new and wonderful and exciting and vibrant.  The grief hadn’t gone away, but suddenly there was the opportunity for much more than grief!  I think the same thing applies to all yoga students.  It might not be grief they are experiencing, it might just be complacency, or even incredible bliss, but if nothing ever changes, nothing ever changes.  I have had the pleasure of having new students in my class recently.  Yesterday, a lovely yogini arrived to my Flying Friday class and confessed that she had attempted to come the week prior, but got scared before she walked in and left without taking the class.  White white white white white.  Yesterday, she stayed, she took the class, scribbled al over her mat, and started to bloom into a million colors.

We can get blinded and paralyzed by extreme joy, extreme grief, extreme pain, extreme ambivalence.  It doesn’t matter what anyone thinks – it’s their story they are writing, not yours.  Only you can write your story, but you have to write it.  You have to take a chance, mess up the page, conquer the power of white, and get it out there. You never know how wonderful it will be unless you start letting it pour out onto your own page. Let it have colors.  Let it have adventure.  Let it have flavor and texture. Let it have music (I’m fond of the mandolin.) Let it be bold or timid, but let it be.  Don’t hide behind the power of white, get out there and start scribbling and be amazed at your own brilliance!

Perfect

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They sit in his man cave, the room that has been his for over 11 years.  Beer and bud flow smoothly between them and the music plays as they look at each other, but words are nil, until she speaks up.

“Goddamn it, what is this place?  Look at it!”

She mentions the clutter, calls it out piece by piece.

“I see 5 pair of boots here.  What is up with the broken radio controlled truck? Do you really need that broken down scooter?  It’s been here for 5 years!  Why do you have 11 curvy rum bottles?  What do you plan to do with the 3 broken blenders?  Do you really need 6 tackle boxes?

He doesn’t say a word.

Well, the first days are the hardest days.

She looks around again.  Takes it all in.

“Do you know that, at one swift glance, I see 3 very expensive hats in here? 8 outrageously priced fishing poles?  2 space heaters? $2000 worth of framing equipment that hasn’t been used in years?  An untouched table saw?”

Again, he says nothing.

What I want to know, is are you kind?

“Those paint cans have been here since we bought this house 11 years ago.  WHY are they still here?”

She looks up and sees the crates he has suspended from the ceiling.  She has no idea what in the world he has stored up there.

“Baby, honestly, you have 3 strobe lights in here.  We’ve never used them once.  I thought I told you to recycle those pots and pans?  Do you REALLY need 8 radio speakers?

You know all the rules by now and the fire from the ice.  Will you come with me?  Won’t you come with me? 

“The air cannon I get, baby, I really do.  But do you honestly need to keep all the parts you discarded after you built it?  WHY ARE YOUR DIRTY SOCKS STILL ON THE FLOOR?”

He’s silent, letting her rant away.

“I know, darling, that WD-40 is the answer to everything that duct tape is not, but do you really need 12 cans?   Why are there 11 plastic shot cups?  And did you REALLY dig those bottles of my nail polish out of the trash to paint your fishing lures?  REALLY?”

Their motto is, “Don’t tread on me.” 

“I see your drafting kit.  Those pens are 20+ years old.  Yes, I know they still work.  Yes, I know they matter, but can’t you put them in a drawer?  And what about the oil filters and bottles of antifreeze and the 3 weedeaters and SERIOUSLY???  You honestly NEED 3 boxes of steel wool?”

Again, he utters not a word.

Come with me or go alone…

“Sweetheart, I love you.  I respect that you have a need for everything, but truly? We live in tornado alley.  That work bench could kill an entire city.  42 open containers of nuts, bolts, screws, and nails, NOT TO MENTION the 5 open faced tool boxes and the 200lb steel Craftsman box.   Baby, this is a death trap!”

She looks at him.  She pleads with him.  She begs him to give her an answer.

Not a word does she hear.

Ain’t no time to hate.  Barely time to wait. 

She looks at him and she softens.  The love for him overwhelms her and suddenly things disappear.  She stands before him and slowly reaches out to touch him.

First is the box that holds the steel bottle of cheap vodka and water, the last thing to touch his lips.  And his phone, the last contact he had with her, now crushed, burned and ruined.

She kisses them both.

Whoa, what I want to know, is where does the time go?

She reaches down and puts her hands into him.  This part of him, in the second box, is in paint cans.  The remains of his clothes, the steel toes of his boots, the pockets of his insulated jeans.  Once upon a time, she used to put her hands in these same pockets to playfully grab his ass.

I can hear your voice. Oh, what I want to know, how does the song go?

She moves her hands down further.  There is his wallet. Three hundred and 2 ruined dollars.  Burned credit cards.  A singed fishing license.  A picture of her, burned so that only her eyes show.  His license to drive, leather seared onto the edges.  A stocking cap.  A pack of smokes.  A lighter.  2 quarters. 3 grocery store receipts.  An ashy paycheck.

“Oh, my love,” she says, ” I don’t give a shit about the clutter.  I love you endlessly, regardless of anything else.  As long as we’re together, we’re okay.”

Come on along or go alone, he’s come to take his children home.

And she slowly stands and takes off her clothes and opens the last box. She removes the heavy black parcel and opens it up once again.  And then, as the song ends, she zips up the body bag to her shoulders to lay with him one more time.

Come hear Uncle John’s band by the river side.  Got some things to talk about here beside the rising tide. 

The waves wash over her and carry her to a new shore. She loves him more than ever. She gets up.  Puts him back in his boxes, his new home, and turns the light off, leaving the clutter untouched.

It’s perfect.

Ball and Chain

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6 months ago, Brian left home and never came back.  6 months.  How is that even possible?  I can’t wrap my brain around it.

I used to listen to this song all the time and joke about how he was my ball and chain and I was his.  While we never truly felt like that (we loved each other tremendously,) we were a real married couple.  We argued, we disagreed, we got frustrated with each other, and, admittedly, sometimes we intentionally pushed each other’s buttons.  That said, I don’t think either of us ever dragged each other down.

As time has passed and it’s been half of a year since Brian left his body, I’m starting to see this song differently.  My amazingly wonderful husband finally ditched his ball and chain.  I’m still weighted down here on this earth, weighted down by insignificant things like dinner, bills, taxes, misunderstandings, illness, but Brian… Brian is completely and totally free.  He doesn’t have to take any more pain.  Someone took away his ball and chain and, while I’d do anything to have him back, I am finding moments of pure joy in knowing how completely free my beloved is now.

Fly free, MoonRunner.  No more ball and chain for you.

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The End

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If you have 17 minutes, it’s worth your time to watch that.

Brian finally came home yesterday.  Around 9:30am, I got a call from the lead investigator that he was ready to release the final two pieces of evidence to me.  I had been waiting for 5.5 months for the remains of his phone and the water bottle he was drinking from the night he died.  A friend of mine drove me to meet the investigator at 11:30 and, in a matter of a few short minutes, it was the end.  Two signatures and a handshake.  The end.

The metal water bottle is still 1/2 way full with the last thing he drank while still alive.  I was very tempted to open it up and drink from it, just to have one more moment of contact with his lips. And, frankly, it was a very tense moment and I really could have used the drink.  I didn’t do it.

I am rather conflicted in my feelings about this.  On one hand, I’m grateful that the state no longer has possession of anything of Brian’s.  For those of you who knew him, you know how much he would have hated having his personal belongings in the hands of any law enforcement. I’m also glad that this means that I won’t have to continually be anxious when my phone rings, I won’t have to worry about the police showing up at my door anymore, I won’t have to wonder what happened to his things.  On the other hand, this also means that they are done hunting, done searching, done investigating and I still have more questions than answers.  I will never have the answers.  I guess that’s just the way life is.  Apparently, death can be that way, too.

While none of this has been easy, it’s traumatic to have no answers.  It’s agonizing that I didn’t get to see him, I don’t know what he looked like.  I don’t know what his last words were.  I don’t know what happened to cause my husband’s death.  I know HOW he died, but I don’t know why or what started it.  I hoped and hoped and hoped that there would be answers and maybe someday there will be, but right now it’s not looking like it.  I wanted the investigators and the crime lab techs and the medical examiners to keep digging, keep searching, keep hunting until they found answers.  I guess I don’t know what I wanted them to find.  It’s another catch-22.  Knowing someone hurt him would be horrific, but knowing it was an accident leaves me no one to blame and no hope for justice.

In the end, no one wins.

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Seasons Change

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It’s the first day of Spring, although you wouldn’t know it here.  It’s freaking cold and windy, but at least the sun is out.  As is the moon.  I love days where I can see both mid-day.

I haven’t written in a long time.  So much has been going on and I just didn’t know how to find the words.  Brian died late in the Fall.  It is now Spring.  I have made it through an entire season.  Unimaginable.  While the world goes through it’s seasons, I have been turning my own.  It has been almost 4 months (impossible,) and while people say that things get better with time, it’s almost harder now than ever.  Much of the shock has worn off.  Now it’s just daily life and the understanding that daily life sucks ass without Brian.  This is the time of year that was the best for us.  Things come alive and we started to run like wild children in the wind.  OH how we played! Now the playground seems all rusted and full of sharp edges and my legs have forgotten how or where to go.

I don’t even know what Spring looks like without him by my side.  So much needs to be done.  Last week I chopped off a 100lb tree limb that broke off during the snow and ice storm a month ago.  I pounded stakes through the fence and into the ground to deter Zeus from escaping.  I have fixed plumbing and electrical issues and have pulled weeds and checked gutters and made arrangements for car maintenance.  I have almost caught up with the laundry for the first time since Brian died.  I have changed the sheets, I have spent time in the sun, I have grilled steaks.  And all of it, ALL of it, is empty because there is someone missing.

Photo by Anastasia Pottinger Photography

Photo by Anastasia Pottinger Photography

I have also done really hard things, important things.  I have now gotten almost all of Brian’s property back from the state.  I have gone through almost all of it.  I got his wallet and his driver license this past Monday, his 39th birthday.  I have taken his mother to the place where he died.  Sunday, I will take his brother.  I have taken our children.  I have taken myself.

Some days are much harder than others.  There are days when I barely do anything at all except watch countless episodes of Law & Order: SVU on Netflix all day.  People ask me why I do this.  I do it because, for 42 minutes at a time, I can escape and live in a world where police aren’t incompetent, where investigations are taken seriously, where there is always a big strong guy to get the truth out of the bad dudes (I will stop watching when I hit the season where Stabler leaves.)  I watch it because it doesn’t always turn out pretty, the good guys don’t always win, and I watch it because I relate so much to the victims in these stories.  No, I am not suffering the trauma of sexual abuse, but I do feel like I have been violated by this entire event and process and I want Benson and Stabler to put the whole damn thing back together again.  And I want to see Christopher Meloni take his shirt off.  Come on, I’m still human!

There are also days when I get myself up, dust myself off, and get shit done.  TCB Sarah comes out and kicks ass.  Those days are highly productive, but I’m not foolish enough to see them as days of healing.  I see them for exactly what they are: days of escaping and coping in a different way.  Go go go, run run run, do do do.

It doesn’t matter.  I still go to bed alone every night, regardless of my daily actions.

When Brian and I got married, we were Ramen Noodle poor.  We didn’t have two dimes to rub together, but we had an abundance of love.  We were the richest people in the world.  Our rings cost less than $175 combined.  About a year ago, Brian told me that he wanted to get me a diamond solitaire, an actual engagement ring.  I believed he was going to give it to me for Christmas or for our anniversary.  He was going to use a diamond that his mother had given him – a beautiful marquis cut stone.  He died before he could get it made.  Brian’s mother never forgot the conversations he had with her about using that stone, however, and so a few weeks ago we met with Brian’s personal jeweler and, as I sit here typing this, I am wearing the engagement ring Brian had in mind.  12 years after we married, almost 4 months after he died.  It’s stunningly beautiful, but there is a part of me that looks at it with pain in my heart because he wasn’t here to put it on my finger.

Concert season is approaching.  I bought tickets to the MoonRunners Festival on November first.  We were supposed to go together and have a weekend in Chicago.  My heart breaks to think of a concert without him.  I am blessed with the best girlfriends in the world and I will be going with 2 of them and it will be a wonderful weekend, but it will be my first show since Brian died and I will find myself looking for his hat in the crowd.  I have three more concerts lined up and then it’s more festivals.  How will I do this when I’m not even sure how the sun will rise?

I wake up every day.  I go to bed every day.  I do what is needed to be done and I carry on, but most of the time I have no idea what day it is.  I just get up and go through.  It is a new season.  The season of painful change.

Photo by Shea McJagger

Photo by Shea McJagger

Light

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A couple of days ago, I wrote about the darkness.  Interesting thing, darkness.  You can’t appreciate darkness without having seen light, you cannot appreciate light without the dark.  It’s all a balancing act on a deceptively thin wire under which there seems to be no net, and yet I walk forward.

Having been snowed in now for 2 days, it is easy to be myopic about things.  I tend to focus intently on very small things that, at the moment, seem HUGE.  Yesterday I completely lost my shit over – get this – a meat thermometer.  I had roasted a chicken and was looking for the thermometer to make sure I wouldn’t be poisoning my children and, when I found it, I held it in my hands and fell to the floor.  The last time I used it was Thanksgiving.  Brian died Thanksgiving weekend.  Therefore, that meat meat thermometer was like a knife to the heart.  Stupid meat thermometer, so damn dark and hateful.  And then I also realized Brian gave me the meat thermometer and had given me 90% of the things I had to dig through in order to find said thermometer, and then I started looking around and realizing that he is in every square inch of this house.  Gah.  Overwhelming.

Triggers are everywhere for me.  Everywhere.  It could be a shirt, a button, a certain glass, a smell, or the bottle of Men’s daily multi-vitamins.  It could be the bracelet I bought Brian in Sayulita that I found hiding on the kitchen counter, the can of shaving cream that is still in the bathroom closet even though he hadn’t used it since September and we have no use for it at all now.  Often, the triggers are horrible.  They bring scary thoughts and feelings and ideas and visions and panic.  Darkness.

Sometimes, however, they bring light.  The boys bundled all up in their snow gear to go play in the yard with the dogs.  My youngest son’s snow boots decided to not play nice, so I suggested he wear his brother’s and I would let his brother wear mine.  As I put my snow boots on my oldest son and laced them up, I was triggered.  I remembered that Brian gave me those snow boots for Christmas a few years ago.  They are incredibly warm and nearly indestructible, and he bought them for me so that I could hike and play and be warm and safe.  I felt so loved and cherished and taken care of when he gave them to me and I felt that same love pass from Brian through me to my son as I laced up the boots.

After they came in and had their traditional post snow play  hot chocolate and toast, the kids did the dishes.  I was sitting in the living room catching up with a friend via chat and I heard them start singing.  Both boys doing the dishes and singing “The Highwayman” together, beginning to end, word for word, beautifully.  It took my breath away and triggered me.  For all the years that Brian and I were together, we would immediately get silent when we heard that song.  No matter where we were, what we were doing, we just shut up and stopped moving and listened.  It’s an incredibly powerful song and I have always associated it with Brian, even more so now that he is gone.  Hearing our children sing it – especially when Dakota took over and sang, “I’ll fly a starship across the universe divide…” I almost fell over.  I took a breath and peeked around the corner and was amazed.  There were not 2 Kohl boys doing the dishes, there were 3.  I couldn’t see Brian, but the eyes that see what isn’t there, the eyes of the heart, saw him standing right behind them and beaming.  Sometimes he shines so brightly through our kids that it is blinding.  Light.

I must remember that, even in the deepest darkness, there is light.  It comes in flashes, in waves, in surprising places and surprising times.  Let go and ride the tide.  I will hang on to hope, lay back, and look for the light of the moon.

Rooftop Moon Gazing, Summer 2012

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