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Nine Years and a Day After Thanksgiving

Ah-Musing Starts Here

Nine years ago, I penned my first personal journal entry that was published as Grief Reflection and evolved into Navigating Grief. It was titled Thanksgiving Morning. The words arose from my pain and heart and gathering of story as I faced the diagnostic reality of my husband Dave’s terminal cancer.

One of the most important questions for me after his death, and I recognize today for a survivor, for a widow, is Who am I, Now? This often formulates loudly in year two or three, post death. The profound loneliness, the emptiness, turns inward for the long proverbial labyrinth walk to come to terms of Self, health, meaning and consciousness. Well, that’s my story. And a story of many women I’ve met in their widow’s journey. It is a story of people in general as well: Facing emptiness into Who am I, now? after the death of a loved one who helped define the sense of who one has been. It is the story of emptiness which is confronted in other griefs as well without regard for what might appear on the other side of loss. 

Nine Years

Four deaths – Significant deaths. Husband. Mother. Step-father. Brother. In that chronological order.

Two moves – Downsizing. Three years living in a “55+” rental community. Now I am mortgaged into an urban single-family home – single-person home. Ongoing revisions and major remodel, decluttering, purging, shifting, resizing, hanging on and letting go… An aging woman with two aging cats!

One business – Multiple evolutions as I opened and closed opportunities and methodologies to connect and grow individually, together and through my own development that is a life and business of Navigating Grief.

Four surgeries – A patch to cover the hole of a bone in my head; Replaced both hips with titanium; Medically endorsed eye lift so I can see more easily what is in right in front of me. Four times under the knife in nine years, confronting the will-I-wake-up anesthesia, and releasing control to the surgeon to help me make life feel better.

Countless studies –Certifications, workshops, books, retreats, travel, teaching, vulnerable calls with friends, tears—oh my all the tears, and learning anger. Pushing, pulling and stopping. Shaping, molding and reconfiguring. Questioning, doubting, trusting.

One incredible birth. A grandson.

Who am I, now? Who am I?

Evolving the Lessons

The ultimate lesson, message and inquiry is How do I love myself? And, then what? What does it matter — literally, matter? In between, I always ask my favorite lifetime question: What’s the point?

I see the connecting dots in this short list for what I am here to offer nine years and a day later after that Thanksgiving morning in 2010. This is my Model for Whole Being, illustrated in the common three circle picture of balance.

The Body (surgeries and physical care), and the Mind (educational activities) seek alignment in the intersection of environmental surrounding (home and health).

The Beliefs (Why do I still exist?) and the Mind (consciousness) seek alignment in the intersection of language via questioning the state of human and spiritual worlds. Who or what is real? Trying on truth (at least, someone’s truth). Overcoming the fear to have an opinion and saying it aloud.

The Beliefs (I know who I am) and the Body (actions) seek alignment in the intersection of energy to manifest results into creation for change, as the response to an event of change.

At its center, the Heart. Whole Being is by design to know, feel and think through a universal abundance into the heart’s resonance of life itself.    

For me this model inspires my walk forward with open eyes, in consciousness for what I believe might help change the environment for the betterment of humanity!  I know deeply in every cell that I am not alone on this path seeking whole being and being well and doing good. Which in design, means neither are you.

Beyond to a New Readiness

Nine years later on this Day after Thanks-Giving, I ready myself to talk the walk to Who I am, now, and who I might continue to discover. Its inception was profound and significant loss. I offer my Self in what manifests through conscious meaningful and purposeful action. I dare me to share my story for how the initiating death of my husband is the “breaking of the shell which encloses my understanding” for choosing life (Gibran). In this outward musing I share my understanding that we all, each of us, are here to seek and share the many messages of love.

I tell you that understanding must begin with focus on you first as you heal your personal inner wounds of your own pain and hurt when death, grief and loss forces your wake-up to familial connection and societal inequality. I invite you to walk your own path of healing with the understating and hope that it also heals me. 

This is a parallel moment from a Thanksgiving Grief Reflection nine years ago into some Ah-Musing notes, light-hearted reflections on being in life after significant loss. Surfacing henceforth is my latest evolution, Joan 2.0, coined as my brother and I fought for healing conversations through tiny text messaging and icons during the waning weeks prior to his death.

Navigating Grief Christmas 2017 breakfastmorning

Afterwords to Christmas Grief

We are almost through the always tough holiday season that begins at Halloween into a New Year.

I’m sharing my Christmas morning breakfast table… Leftover sushi and fried eggs. Empty chairs. My Charlie Brown Christmas Tree is the only decoration in the house, finally brought off the shelf a few days earlier, two branches fallen to wear and age. My daughter Leah and I purchased it for the master bedroom the last Christmas of Dave’s life in 2011. The little brown paper gift bag seems to spill its dark emptiness, the exchanged packaging for my annual donation to Dave’s legacy in scholarship endowment and bench at the The Evergreen State College. The snow not seen outside the window – the White Christmas – is not my dream, nor is it particularly delightful to me! Read more

Thanksgiving Doorway

Looking Backward

Nothing like an annual event to bring out the reminders of loss! Holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, and personally special dates are notorious for setting up a grief reaction from melancholy to grief tsunami.

My husband Dave was an historian. He was a professor at The Evergreen State College. One of his programs was named Looking Backward. Traditions are carried forth through looking backward.

Read more

Greif Reflection Hawaii sunset

Grief Connected to Lint!

When someone dies, they are never really gone. Dave appears to me in odd ways. Occasionally, in dreams (much less frequently now). Sometimes in unexpected short bursts of crying over releasing one more thing – emotionally or physically. And, most often in those funny little stories that pop up.

I was moving the load of laundry from washer to drier and there he was. In the mess of Kleenex left in a pocket of my jeans. You know, those fuzzy bits and pieces that cling to the denim or sweatshirt? And it is always in the “dark” wash load. Oh, yeah. reminders of past.  Back to school, Teacherman! Fall. Colds. Germy students. Wads of lint.

Damn. I forget to check the pockets! Back through the seasonal cycle of life, and, yep, loss.

But this time it was me. I was sick with that respiratory virus going around here for the last couple of weeks. I stuffed tissues in my pockets. And I forgot to check my clothes before I started the wash. Just me. I was the only one who could have done this now.

But there he was, in my memory of doing his laundry. And I had to laugh. Because what I remember is he always carried a paper towel for his wipes, not tissue. Who does that? Dave did! How painful on my delicate features to even think about, but clearly he was a tough man! LOL. In the torn up shreds dotting my lint catcher are moments of my past life. And a silly little quirk of Dave.

I don’t forget because this is in my cellular make up now. He is in my being. My pleasure and pain centers of the brain. My “I am” of today. I don’t forget – from Princess, the dog of my childhood, to Buckaroo and Lucky, or my grandparents, my dad, or the even tragic loss of a schoolmate. So why would I try to deny these funny little stories that gave my husband life? I cherish them. I don’t have to be drawn backwards into them. I acknowledge the ways they are within me today. I carry it all forward on this continued path.

A year and two ago the laundry story may, well, would have, brought tears along with the laughter. Today, I can measure the separation of living in the “we” of past into “me” of present mind through my current responses. I am very comfortable and comforted these days in my memories.  This sense of well-being and memory is a sign of being on the other side from grief without denying my loss.

Yet, I too, still have some work to do. I am ready to complete another step of separation and give Dave a resting pace of his own. There are still most of his cremains here at home. I am finally getting around to place his remains in a memorial garden for visitations by family, friends and students. This isn’t anything I was really putting off or feeling big concern to do. It is just easy to not do! I wasn’t in a hurry, and I am not particularly now. It will still take a bit of time to get all the logistics taken care of. I just know this is the right time for me and maybe importantly for others.  I know he’ll like this. He6’ll still appear in my  stories and memories of lint, but in this step I can also go visit as I feel the need.

Ok, here come a few tears…

 

Widow not an anniversary

Not The Anniversary

September 11.

Remembered by most for the tragic terrorist attacks on the US World Trade Center and Pentagon. Ugh.

Remembered by me as my wedding anniversary. Read more

Top Ten Steps for Grief

Ten Actionable Steps Through Grief

Grief is work. Moving through grief means taking the necessary steps to reclaim your changed life in its new formation.

I didn’t wake up the day after my husband Dave died and know which way to go, who I was or what the next days, weeks and months would bring. I was sick, tired and broken. I was alone. Because I was knowledgeable about grief, hospice, and all the theories, the outside world could see me as strong and able. Ironically, that may have made me feel even more alone. But I was strong. I am strong. And it was difficult still. Read more

Grief Reflection Year 2 Oahu

Widow Year Two: “Deathaversary”

The days are past me now, Valentines and Dave’s date of death (February 15). The second. Counting. Widowed.

I am breathing freely, feeling relieved in some ways, yet heavy in another. Not a burden of heaviness, a heart of heaviness, But it is all OK. It is not as heavy as an outsider might want to assign to me “because I am a widow, and therefore I must suffer.” No, this is not a suffering moment,  but a heavy heart.

This morning on the windward side of Oahu, it is calm. The past nights since arrival have been increasingly noisy and blowing, with a stormy awakening on Saturday, February 15. I’ve had several small sleeps each night, with curtains blowing, doors rattling and surf pounding. As I lie in bed it is hard to tell if there is rainfall or just rustling of palm trees. But I like the windows open or the air would stagnate and the humidity dampen even more.

What a difference a year makes. Choosing to travel during Dave’s death week is right for me. I am challenging so much about who I am, where I’ve come from and what’s ahead. I do this from a context of our love, marriage, relationship and growing up. Because that’s what we did together really – grow up. 

I am a changed person. Or perhaps I am a more defined person.  I like this: a more defined person. Because over the past two years this has my grief work – to define me. The transformation through loss is the accepting not simply of Dave forever gone but the deep accepting of who I am on my own. The we-to-me is a powerful revelation. The opinions and influence of every day originate with me now. I am required to make and own my personal world. I recognize this is not a challenge everyone is willing to take on a a way through grief. For me it is working.

Traveling during the week of Valentine’s and Dave’s death date is to make and own my personal world.  The week is especially exciting as I am here to help plan our daughter’s wedding.  To spend time with her in looking at her future, our future, what we’ve learned since out time separated by an ocean… in the vernacular of travel credit cards: priceless.

To be able to measure the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual changes in my life first from year one and then years two to three is an exercise in tremendous gratitude. To do so as a measure of change which reflects deep satisfaction and confidence in life was unpredictable.

On Saturday, we took a predawn walk up Makapu’u Point Lighthouse trail to watch the sun rise. We were the first to arrive; no cars, no people. The winds were blowing. Rain threatened. There were no disposable ponchos to be bought at 5:30 in the morning! The Valentine’s Day full moon to light our way was hidden behind cloud cover. The hike the day before made my arthritic hips ache, and the leftover of my vestibular disorder added a feeling of drunken hangover. Balance in the dark is still difficult. I began with a limp, a sway and a determination.

Not far into the walk, the wind thinned the clouds and uncovered a beam of natural light enough to see the path in front of each step. The rock we wandered around was protection from the winds for the lower part of the ascension. We stopped briefly as needed. Time. Step by step.

At the top we were rewarded with a changing skyscape of color and cloud formations. I had forgotten the awakening and renewal that accompanies the light of day. The unspoken promise. A new day.

Afterwards, one more task awaited: to send Dave body surfing in the Pacific. I carried a small pouch of Dave’s ashes with us.

Dave loved his time in Australia probably most of all in life. As an college athletic swimmer, the ocean called him out to play. He spoke lovingly of being in the waves and body surfing. It seemed only proper to return him symbolically and physically in the only way we can for now. At Sandy Beach, a renowned body surfing area, Leah and I, witnessed by her fiancee Scott, sent Dave to catch the currents around the oceanic world. In a gesture that feels right and good, I am left with the bittersweet knowing of loss and release. On a second anniversary of his death, this is a time to give him back.

The birds are singing louder today. The air is the calmest of my days here. Geckos change with their surroundings. Sand crabs run from stick to hole, scurrying from the ocean foam. There is a rhythm on the beach that is timeless in the moment. Paradise is overcast, yet plenty warm to a Pacific Northwesterner. (And good enough to sport my vacationer’s sunburn!)

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911. A different anniversary of loss

911. A Different Anniversary of Loss

September 11, 2013. 911.

Not my usual habit but I have lit a candle this morning while I waited for the computer to boot up. It doesn’t even usually sit on my desk, but I moved it there yesterday unwittingly. My special spiral tear drop candle, made of pure organic honey-colored bee’s wax. The flame is bringing calm. The longer I explore this phase of my life the more I appreciate ritual, symbolism and spirit.

It’s my 30th wedding anniversary today. Read more