How Do I Do This?

Hey Everyone,

I’ve been trying to figure out how to do this life of mine that now comes with more freedom than I have ever had. Ever. I’ve always been fiercely independent, but that independence was always rooted in the secure foundations of my life. Those foundations included my parents. My siblings. My husband. Since my husband’s death I feel like I’ve been tossed to and fro. My parents, though divorced, encouraged me to be independent. My dad died in 2000, my mom in 2005. My siblings are grandparents and have their own lives to manage. Some of the tossing is of my own making, some comes as a result of being pushed too hard to “make” decisions. Some comes from my reaction to the most inappropriate question women are asked after their husbands die; “Will you ever get married again?” WTF!!! Like I have a back-up mate hiding in the closet of my room? Since the closet I have is a modular one I bought through Amazon, perhaps I should send it back and ask for a new one that includes a mature man (60+) with tattoos, broad shoulders, a bit of a Santa belly, a hairy chest? Please, add hands that are rough and calloused by hard work. a goatee and a heart that beats for me and my quirkiness… Every time some casual acquaintance asks me about my future plans, I roll my eyes. I grimace. I have to laugh at the lack of thinking that comes with this question, otherwise I’ll go completely mad and probably live to regret my reaction. So, here’s your answer. No. I am not getting married again, at least not today. My husband has been dead 44 days, and to entertain the idea that I could even consider marriage is both comical and cruel.

I don’t know how to incorporate the feeling that something is constantly missing in my life into my everyday existence. I started grieving when my husband was admitted to the hospital in October 2019 and though he is now gone, I find myself trying to figure it all out. All. There is no more all in many ways, and then there is more. There is also less. Just this week my three year old grandson asked to see “Poppy.” Can you even begin to imagine the pain that question caused? Such an innocent question from a little boy that loves his Poppy. I crave the “magical thinking” that children possess, it would be wonderful to so easily accept the answers to questions such as my grandson asked me. I know I have no choice but to accept the reality of my situation, and I do, but the ease with which my grandson accepted my reply to him is something I wish was part of being an adult. I’ve mentioned before that a wise, retired Navy Master Chief suggested I learn how to “Embrace the Suck” and I actually cling to those three words now. I have to. Sometimes suck is all I have and I choose to let it make me more resilient. I am grateful that my husband no longer suffers, but the crater left in my heart is where it feels like all his suffering lives now. 10X over. Time, patience, grace and love are the band-aids applied to the wounds this suffering brings, and though I feel like I should be able to remove the band-aids, I cannot. I don’t know how. Yet.

I listened to a TED talk this week about moving on from grief and moving forward with grief. I happened upon it while scrolling through Facebook. I’m including the link at the end of this blog post for those who wish to listen. It brought to light many things I’ve been feeling. And fearing. I’ve often said that grieving the way I am is harder. And it is. In some aspects. In other aspects, it’s been much easier. The sudden death of a spouse brings a spirit crushing desperation. Long term illness such as my husband suffered brings desperation for death. After my beloved was admitted to hospice, I prayed for his end to be peaceful, comfortable and soon. Soon was 5 months. Of those 5 months, I got to spend 2 of them with him. At the end, I was there for the last week. As we all know, Covid-19, and the restrictions imposed at all levels of Government, have taken away so much time from patients in long term care facilities. I ached for my husband, he was alone. His brain injury made it so he couldn’t understand why. So many people, all around the world, feeling abandoned. So much grief…

How do I do this? How do I write about my grief? My sadness? My pain? The question shouldn’t be “How do I?” it should be “Why wouldn’t I?” I love to write and have been saddened to be less active in my writing life these past few months. I want my blog to help someone else, even if it’s only one person, realize that they are not alone. The old saying that “it takes a village” is so very true. We humans are not meant to walk through this life alone. Nor are we meant to hide from our life. Life brings chaos, and chaos can be so loud. I don’t like chaos. Or loud. In sharing my chaos, I find that I can turn down the volume of the loudness that usually accompanies it. I’m a neat freak, I like things organized and planned. Grief doesn’t care that I’d like to live a quiet, simple, minimalist life. Grief brings uncertainty, and pain. Anger. Desolation. And though grief brings many unwanted gifts, there is a silver lining. Grief can shape us into someone new. It can deepen our sense of compassion. It can open our eyes to the plight of others. We can take our grief out into the world around us and lend a hand to someone just beginning on their journey. We can help shine light into the darkness of someone else’s grief by being kind By listening. How I wish people would listen more. No one but me can “fix” my grief, and I’m smart enough to know that fixing grief is not possible. Moving forward with grief is possible, and I’m doing that with every step I take. I’m doing that with every word I write. I’m moving forward every time I make my bed, every time I decide to do something and every time I go somewhere new. My life isn’t over, and the spirit of the man I loved more than my own life is with me. Always.

In closing, I’d like to thank all of you that read my musings. May you all be safe, and remember always to be kind…

A Long Goodbye…

Hello all,

Yes, it’s been a long time since I’ve written, and if you’ve followed my blog you know that I’ve been caring for my beloved husband since his catastrophic stroke on October 30, 2019. Unfortunately for me and the rest of our family, he passed away on February 10, 2021. For him, he’s finally at peace after a 16+ month struggle. No more pain, no more suffering, no more continuously long separations because of Covid-19 and visitation restrictions. He’s gone on to be re-united with his Heavenly Father, his earthly father, his sister and one of his brothers, playing cribbage somewhere in the heavens, probably laughing and smiling and enjoying the after-life free of pain.

I was called by the hospice unit on February 2nd, after not seeing him for almost three months, and they asked me to come see him. He had been crying without ceasing, and no matter what the staff did for him, he just wouldn’t stop. I drove the 30 minutes to the hospice unit and when I got into my husband’s room, and took his hand, he stopped crying. I asked him if he knew who I was and he said “you’re my beautiful wife.” Hearing that helped my heart heal, but there was more shattering to come. As I got comfortable sitting with him, he asked me “Will you give me permission to die?” Talk about pain… By now I am trying my best not to sob, and of course I told him yes. He also asked me to tell our girls he loved them, and that their husbands take care of them. Lastly he said “don’t let our grand-babies forget me.” I promised him I wouldn’t, and he rested off and on for the remainder of the two hours I was allowed to be with him. He would rouse from time to time and I would tell him I loved him, never letting go of his hand. At the end of our visit, I had to literally pry myself away from him, not knowing at that moment when, or if, I would ever see him alive again.

I drove back home after crying for a while in my car, and was beyond broken. After all that time of not seeing him, I was grateful to see him, but heartbroken by the words spoken. Little did I know that I would come to believe that he knew deep within his spirit that he would be taking a turn for the worse that very night…

On the morning of February 3rd, the Nurse Manager from hospice called me and asked me to come back. My husband had spent most of the night and early morning hours vomiting. He was now lethargic and mostly unresponsive. I packed a few things in a bag and flew down the highway, praying for a safe arrival. When I got to his room, he didn’t even look like the man I had just seen 22 hours before. He was skeletal, and grey. I took his hand again and stayed by his side for the next week, leaving him only when asked by staff or to shower. I told him over and over and over again that he was loved, that he could go and that we would always be together, our bond was beyond the physical. I asked his oldest brother to come that night, and he did. He sat with us for several hours and it was a blessing. When his brother asked him what he was doing, my husband replied “I’m sleeping.” I also heard him say I love you two times to me and the last word he said was “what.”

On Friday evening our youngest daughter flew into Boston. My brother picked her up at the airport and brought her to hospice. She was shattered by what she saw, and so brave. We watched her father’s body begin to be ravaged by fevers, and while Tylenol suppositories helped initially to manage the fevers, it wasn’t long before the beast of fever took hold and never let go. We would sit by his bed, play soft music, read to him, talk to him and hold his hand. We would watch the snow fall outside the windows of his room and talk about how her young children would have to grow up without their “Poppy.” It did then, it does now, and it always will make me incredibly sad that my husband is gone and that our two youngest grandchildren will only know him through memories and pictures. My husband was created to be a grandfather, and he relished the role. Our daughter flew home on February 8th, knowing she would never see her Daddy again. She and I both prayed for God’s mercy, begging Him to take our beloved husband and daddy home.

After our daughter left, I had my bother come and see my husband on Tuesday, February 9th. By now the fevers were not abating, they were raging. He was burning up and each minute he was fading. At this point he was completely unresponsive. He was bathed many times a day as the fevers made him soaked with sweat. I never left his side except to use the restroom, and when asked by staff. Every morning the doctor would look for the “mottling” of his feet and hands, and it began to appear more prominently by Tuesday afternoon. When my brother left, I sat by his side, no noise or music or talking, just holding his hand. Everything we needed to say had been said. Now we were just waiting…

On Wednesday morning, when I looked at my husband’s feet, I knew he would die that day. It was snowing out. Again. I texted my sister-in-love who only lived about 20 minutes away and asked her to bring me hot chocolate from Panera Bread. She did, but I never drank it. By the time she got to his room, he had started to turn yellow, from jaundice. He was beyond emaciated. He reminded me of Skeletor from He-man. We both held a hand, we talked to him and we called our sister-in-love in NH so she could say good-bye. As I was on the phone with her, my other sister-in-love said my name twice, I looked at my husband, hung up the phone and he took his final breath. It was 12:25pm and I felt a part of myself die with him. I sobbed in my sister-in-love’s arms, she sobbed in mine, and we said goodbye. My husband’s oldest brother was on his way to hospice from work, but he arrived after my husband died. It broke my heart to have to meet him at the elevator, knowing when those doors opened, I wouldn’t have to say anything. He would know. He did. We embraced in the hallway and then went back to my husband’s room. His older brother was shocked at the physical changes the last few days had brought his baby brother, and was relieved for my husband that his suffering was now over. My husband’s pain ended, finally, but now our family had to learn to cope with a new and everlasting pain.

I have spent the days since February 10, 2021 learning how to become a different version of the woman married to the man that was my husband. He has been laid to rest in the National Cemetery of Massachusetts, on Cape Cod. He lives on in the blue eyes of our grandchildren. He lives on in the hearts of his three remaining brothers. He lives on in the music I listen to on the radio in the car. He lives on… My life will never be the same, I accept that. What I won’t, and can’t accept is that my life will not be good again. It is good. I have wonderful connections with people that I never would have met had it not been for my husband. I have a confidence and determination that my husband helped encourage over the many years we were together, and I intend to keep being both confident and determined. I will keep his memory alive for our grandchildren. I will carry his name in my heart and share our love story with those willing to listen. I said goodbye to the body that carried the spirit of the man I love, but not to the spirit of the man who loved me. We will always be connected, and knowing this brings comfort. Much comfort…

A long goodbye? Yes. In many ways. A permanent goodbye? Never…

Never Letting Go, photo by Barb Enos

Sometimes…

Hi all,

I know it’s been a while since I’ve written, and while I wish I could come up with an amazing reason why, I’ll just tell the truth. Life has been happening and I’ve been going along for the ride. Sometimes willingly, sometimes not. Life has a way of making us stay on the train, even when it runs off the tracks.

Sometimes I wish that I could be exactly what everyone wants me to be, and sometimes I wish I were brave enough to tell the people with those unreasonable wants to just F off. As time continues to pass and my beloved suffers, I find that I care less and less about what people want me to be. Or what they want from me. I lie awake at night and sometimes let my mind just go where it will. Sometimes I take a specific train of thought to its destination and drop it off. To the people that try and steer me in a different direction? Just don’t. I’m making my own way the best way I know how and I’m the only one responsible for the consequences of whatever decision(s) I make. How about this? Sometimes, just sometimes, try steering your own train, on its own track, to its specific destination and stay out of the way of mine. Got it? Thanks! If who I am now, who I have been and who I am becoming is not who you think I should be, it’s okay. I’m learning to be okay with the me I am becoming and I am definitely okay with the me I have been, even when that me was sad and broken. I’m still sad and still broken, but the sunlight that reflects off my broken pieces is warm and beautiful and wholly welcome.

Sometimes you have a day where, when it’s over, you look back and are amazed by what you see. As a person with a deep, planning nature, I sometimes miss the wonderful gifts that spontaneity brings. Not today. Yesterday was an amazingly wonderful day and I went with my gut on decisions being made about my future as a widow. While I am not a widow yet, I know it’s coming. I know I’ll need to be prepared, or at least as prepared as I think I can be. I set out yesterday to have a recall done on my car, had it completed and drove away. The recall was one of the things I had planned on doing to get this car ready to sell. I had planned on selling it in March of this year, but instead let the spontaneous nature of an unexpected phone call guide my decision. The phone call was from the dealership where I’d had the recall done; they were interested in buying my car! Um, OK. I drove back to the dealership and ended up selling them my car. It was easy, the offer sound, and since I can only drive one car at a time, I knew I’d be okay. I bought my dream car last spring, had been renting a parking space for it and using it infrequently. Now I am saving more than 1K a year on insurance, 1200 bucks a year for parking and will spend less on gas, since my 2nd car is small. I’ve been striving to adopt a minimalist life style, and letting go of that car fits in with my quest. It was the last car my husband and I bought together, but it’s a car. My memories of trips taken, of driving it for work, of driving home to him after work don’t disappear because the car is gone. It’s just a car after all. I am at peace with letting it go…

Sometimes I wish I could see into the future, but I fully admit that I believe that there are many reasons why we can’t see what’s ahead in our lives. How many of us would have married our spouses if we knew ahead of time how hard marriage could be at times? How many of us would have taken chances in situations where the outcome had been less than desirable? How many people would decide not to believe in themselves if they could have seen that a decision made could end up crushing the spirit of adventure that lives deep within all of us? There are so many lessons to be learned by accepting what is, and those lessons help us keep striving to move forward. I’ve made decisions since my husband’s stroke that have resulted in second-guessing, regret and self-turmoil, but those same decisions have also made me stronger, more determined and more self-aware. I believe that the lessons we learn the hardest are the ones we learn the best. Has someone hurt you so badly that you were continually blinded by the pain? This has happened to me more than once. More then twice. It’s happened over and over and over again, and the pain is so hot and so shattering that I’ve thought I couldn’t survive. Guess what? I did, and am surviving. I’m doing more than that in many ways. In many ways I am thriving! It takes a lot of self work, self discovery and self determination to pick yourself back up after you’ve been crushed, but you can. I haven’t always been able to pick myself back up without help, and letting someone help isn’t weakness. It takes a great deal of strength to show someone else all your brokenness, to cry out for help, and to actually accept that help. The future still holds many secrets from me. It holds many challenges. I do know that when my husband passes I will need help getting back on my feet emotionally, and I will seek it. I am not afraid of what’s coming, but I am sad. And, as weird as this sounds, I’m ready. I’ve been witness to his recoveries. His declines. What he’s going through now is not living. Pain, endless physical pain. Loneliness that never seems to abate. He can’t walk, he can’t see well, and he can’t even pee on his own anymore. I am ready for his healing to occur, knowing full well that it won’t be in life, but in death. He’s ready, too. Not knowing when in the future this is coming is incredibly hard to face, but none of us knows our last breath will be taken.

Sometimes I could keep on writing, but not today. I’m going to end here for now and will come back soon. I appreciate you reading this and hope that it encourages you in some small way to keep moving forward. We are all part of a world that is noisy, chaotic and seemingly at times, out of control. We are also part of a world that is beautiful, full of adventure and exciting. Remember to be kind, stay safe and love freely…

The Unexpected…

Hi All,

Today started off like any other day has as of late. I got up at 6:30, wandered on in to the kitchen, made my coffee and emptied the dishwasher. Started laundry. Ate cereal with a banana. Tried to solve a daily word puzzle. Headed upstairs and took a shower. All very routine and almost taken for granted. Almost…

The first unexpected thing happened when I was in the shower. I always listen to The Message on Sirius/XM while in the shower and my phone sits on the little stool by the radiator. I knew someone had texted me when I was in the shower by the loss of volume in the music. It irritated me. Three times it irritated me before I was done. Seems excessive, doesn’t it? To get irritated by something I couldn’t control… When I finally got out of the shower and looked at the phone, it was my work that texted me to tell me there was no work for PVD’s with UPS today. Not a big deal, but the first hiccup of the days plan. After drying my hair and brushing my teeth, I came downstairs and got dressed in comfy sweats and my favorite Jim Brickman hoodie. Warm socks completed my ensemble. Not a fashionista by any stretch of anyone’s imagination. Actually, I never am and I’m so okay with that. The older I get the more I realize that I am exactly who I need to be. For me. For my family. And for my friends. Being more is not necessary.

After getting dressed I talked with one of my friend’s for a while and then wandered into the quiet living room to watch Breaking Dawn parts 1 and 2, but didn’t. Another unexpected opportunity presented itself. I switched gears from Vampires, to God. Yes, that God. I watched the movie about Jeremy and Melissa Camp and Jeremy’s song “I Still Believe.” The beginning of the film was easy, but not 30 minutes in, it became very painful to watch. What wasn’t painful? As I watched I began to realize that I have been so stuck inside my own pain that my prayers have become almost remote. Push a button, pray. Blink your eyes, pray. Walk down memory lane, pray. I could feel the pain that both Jeremy and Melissa experienced because of the circumstances of their life, but more than that, I was encouraged by the strength of faith possessed by them. I was reminded in a most personal and powerful way that the struggles and pain I face every day are insurmountable when facing them in the human sense. I am not alone. I know this and I’ve said it many times throughout the past 14+ months. My heartbreak is real, raw and seems to never end. My faith can be weak, scattered and seem not enough, but it is. I am loved.

The movie touched me deep inside, and knowing the story of Jeremy and Melissa Camp going into watching the movie didn’t make it any easier to come to terms with what is happening in my life. Or in the life of my husband. The movie affected me in an unexpected way. The movie brought me introspection. I’ve been thinking since the movie ended about how I can pray differently for my husband. How I can pray in a more meaningful, authentic way. I wish the movie could’ve brought me relief from the never ending streams of tears that seem to seep from my eyes all the time. Today it’s been 48 days since I’ve seen him in person and I think this forced period of isolation is much harder on me than I have been willing to admit. The movie made me see this. No matter how old or young we are, when the person that we love the most is suffering, we suffer, too. I have been trying to “manage” my pain, but it’s been managing me. I have no idea how much longer my husband has here, or if I’ll ever see him again, but I still believe…

I never expected to be where I am at this point in my life. I thought that we would be living in our little 1970’s ranch home in the rural Berkeley county area of SC. I thought we would playing with our grandchildren, having meals as a family unit with their parents. I thought we would be going to church together and raising our hands, and hearts, the the Lord in thanks. I still thank Him, but it doesn’t always make sense to me. I’m human, and selfish, and hurting. I want to hug my husband, I want to see my daughter, I want to have a margarita with my friends. I want… but can’t have. This season of pain and uncertainty has given me pause to examine my life in a very critical and almost too harsh way. Almost being the key word. What’s unexpected about that? The examination has brought me to a place of understanding and surrender. Both extremely difficult things to accept. I understand that my husband had a stroke and that he lived a hard life by choice. I don’t understand the amount of suffering and pain he’s living in right now. I know I never will. So I say welcome, to surrender. I have to surrender him and his pain to a higher power. I have to surrender my heartache and my tears to the God I believe in. I have to believe that the greater plan in all of this will be healing, just not in the sense of earthly healing. I have to believe that there will be unexpected gifts of love, compassion and peace somewhere down the proverbial road. If I lose my belief in what is coming, I may as well just give up. Not. Gonna. Happen.

I am no theologian. I am not, by any means, an expert in prayer, surrender or the ways of God. I do not claim to have any answers, never mind all the answers. What I can tell you… God, as I know Him, loves me. Me. The kid who was abused as a child, the teenager that was defiant, the woman that was treated with disdain and hatred by her own flesh and blood. I am still loved. Me. He loves me. He knows my name and I am worthy of His love. Because God loves me I know I will make it through this and whatever unexpected things happen in the future. As a child I believed the way I was taught, now I believe in the way that has brought me home, much like the Prodigal son in the Bible. I know that there are people out there that believe I am still not a “true” believer, but I don’t worry about all that. My relationship with God is mine, not theirs, and I don’t need their approval. Nor do I need their permission to believe the way I do. God loves me. Me. That has to enough… And it is…

If you need to be prayed for, please reach out to me. We are not meant to do life alone and I would be honored to add you and your prayer needs to my prayer journal. If you don’t believe in God, that’s okay, you still might want to connect with someone in this vast and lonely world. You’re not alone. Whatever unexpected things you’re facing, you are NOT alone…

Still here… And Still Hurting…

Hi All,

I’m still here and still hurting, but am managing to still look towards a brighter day. It takes so much effort that there are days I simply want to give up, but being as determined as I am to be okay again makes giving up impossible.

My beloved husband is still alive, and alone. Again. I haven’t been allowed to see him since November 18th and the days drag on. Imagine if you can; having a brain that doesn’t work the way it should, not being able to use sound reasoning, and being afraid. All of this and more is how my husband lives. He’s well taken care of by the staff at the Hospice Unit he’s in, but mentally he’s tortured by his own brain. The stroke took away his ability to understand things, it took away his reasoning skills and it made him fearful, childlike and distrusting. To know he lies in a bed 24/7 with no one that loves him like his family does nearby breaks my heart. Every single second that makes up every minute that makes every hour that makes every day, I think of him. Every. Damn. Second… And I’m not the only one. He has a large family and friends around the world praying for him, but because of his injured brain, he can’t comprehend this. It’s not living.

I had hoped to be allowed back into the hospice unit by now to at least visit for 2 hours a day as I was before the current Covid surges, but there is no end in sight to this present ban. I’ve begged with his doctors, and the Veteran’s Administration to explain how I am more of threat to him, or the other patients on his unit, than all the staff members that come in and out on a daily basis and the answer is always the same… “It’s a national mandate.” Well, your national mandate is killing all of your patients via loneliness, and it’s cruel. And nonsensical. And don’t even let me get started on people denying the virus or not wearing masks. Public health is a public responsibility and as a public, we’ve failed. Because people don’t care enough about others, I cannot visit my dying husband. My feelings about irresponsibility would make for another post, but suffice it to say that I no longer feel confident I will see my husband alive again. In fact, if he should pass soon, I would be grateful on one hand, shattered on the other. No one should have to be alone because of all the naysayers and irresponsible choices other people make. No one.

I’ve been working for UPS as a seasonal PVD (private vehicle driver) and have 10 days left until I am no longer employed. I took the job as a way to pass time and not sit home alone and all up in my own head. That’s a scary place to be sometimes. The job is physically demanding on this almost 60 year old, but I’m determined to finish. I almost quit when my BFF advised me to stick it out for earnest money on a new home somewhere down the road. She was right. Every box, bag and tube I deliver is another front door closer to my own again. It’s been hard, but I committed to it and I will see it through to the end. Over the past 14+ months since the stroke changed our lives, I have come to realize that nothing is easy, and that easy is overrated. Working hard has its own rewards and I see exactly where I want to go with what I’ve earned. Patience… Something else I’ve been forced to learn that doesn’t come easy. Ever. Someday when I look back on what we’ve been through since that fateful day in October of 2019, I’m sure I’ll see one set of footprints in the sand, and know that God, my family and my friends carried me, and my husband through the most difficult journey ever. Easy, like I said, is overrated.

The beginning of a New Year usually comes with the hope of something “better.” I’m not looking for better, nor do I expect it. I’m looking for the peace that seems to elude each and every one of us from time to time. I know it’s out there, I’ve experienced it, and I am hopeful that I will again. I don’t make resolutions, I believe they set us up for failure. I set goals, and make a map for myself on how to make it from point A to point B to point C. You get the picture. In 2021 I pray I remain as strong as possible for the dark days that lie ahead. I pray I will feel the warm, southern sun shine on me again. I pray that my husband is granted mercy, peace and healing. I know that with those things I am facing more heartache, but joy comes in the morning, right? I know he wants me to be happy, and I am determined to honor him by finding happiness again. One breath, one step, and one day at a time.

In closing I would like to wish whoever reads this a Happy New Year. May you find happiness along the journey of your life and may you share and experience kindness. We all deserve that…

Photo by Barb Enos

Seven…

Three years ago, in 2017, I was driving the 1000 miles from Boston to Asheville. After a very painful, 7 week spilt from my husband, we comitted to try and put our marriage back together. We. As in two.

I left because I thought if I could just make my husband see how mean he was, maybe he could find a way out of the misery he was in. Without me. By the third day of separation, I started to realize that I was so verbally abused, and abusive, that changes had to happen for both of us. As individuals and as a couple.

I hurt so many people when I left, and some of them will probably never truly forgive me. It’s okay. My husband forgave me. I’ve forgiven myself. After three years time, I no longer seek, nor need forgiveness from those who won’t give it. My husband forgave me, our families forgave me, and most importantly, God forgives me.

Six months after returning to Asheville, our lives were upended again. We were vilified as parents, thrown away, and forbidden to see our oldest grandson. I’ve often wondered if the reasons given for the estrangement weren’t made up, and was the estrangement a form of retaliation? Retaliation for the pain I caused when I left my husband? The reasons for us being thrown away don’t matter anymore, we were able to stand against the pain together. My husband held my hand, I held his. My husband let me cry in his arms, he cried in mine. We stood up for one another, determined to keep moving forward.

Seven weeks later, (seems there might be a commonality going on) I spent a weekend in Charleston, SC, loving on, and being loved by, the daughter and grandkids we were allowed to love. That trip was the application of stitches that started to sew back together my shattered heart. When I got home, my husband was gazing into the backyard and didn’t know I was there. When he realized I was standing behind him, he turned to me and said “I think we should sell the house.” I asked why before considering what he’d said, and he answered with “my Poppy heart is lonely and I want to love our grandkids.” I said yes to selling without hesitation.

After the decision was made, we spent the next seven weeks getting ready to list the house. Cleaning, purging, updating smaller things like doorknobs, hinges, painting, and replaced the roof. Busy times. Very busy times.

We listed our house on August 3rd, had a full price offer within 24 hours and closed on August 30th. We packed up a large POD, a storage unit, and headed north, to Boston. Again… Just for a visit, though. I had found a smaller house on a quick weekend trip back to Charleston, but our close on that property wasn’t until Sept. 28th. We took our time driving to New England, stopping often to enjoy the beauty of the Shenandoah Valley, the Pocono Mountains, and the changing colors of fall in New England.

We had been in New Hampshire about 7 days when my beloved mother-in-love tripped over a threshold and fell. She broke her femur and I am so glad my husband and I were there when it happened. I called 911 and by the time my husband came down to the garage, we could hear the sirens. Off she went to Manchester, later to have surgery and go to rehab. She did well and went home after we left.

I write all this to let you all know that life happens. Sometimes we determine our own course, at other times we are pushed along the road of life, even if we don’t want to make the drive. Since moving into what should have been our last home, we have sold that home, purged again, driven thousands of miles and settled in New England. My husband’s stroke in October of 2019 has been the determining factor in all decisions made since, and we are both exhausted by life now. Yet it seems there is more to do…

Not being able to see my husband in hospice is slowly killing me, and he is incredibly lonely. How could he not be? I’ve been trying to make sense of the non-visitation rules, but I can’t. I’ve been trying to keep myself from falling apart, I fail. What I can do is remember that my husband and I rebuilt the foundation of our marriage on the Rock that is Christ, we put ourselves and our marriage first in a non selfish way and that we choose love.

This part of my life hurts. There are no words out there to describe how hard it is to watch your spouse die. Now I can’t even do that. I call every day to check on him, but not being able to hold his hand, kiss his face or just sit quietly with him is beyond comprehension. He’s dying. Alone. Physically. My husband never walked away from his faith like I did, and the promises we depend on to keep us strong are just that… strong promises. We share an unbreakable bond, and that bond is what will keep me going after he’s gone.

Darkness comes. Often. More often than I would like. I spend my days praying for the man I love more than my own life. I pray that the peace and rest he so richly deserves finds him. And finds him soon. I pray that I will be strong enough to let myself fall apart and just be. I pray that the broken hearts that have already shattered because of my husband’s stroke be healed with love, and time, and grace.

Thank you for reading this, and please know that there is a day, somewhere down the road, that light will shine upon you again. On me. On my family. And friends. The storms don’t last forever… right? They just feel like they do…

Photo by Barb Enos

It’s been a while…

It’s been a while since I’ve written, and that extends across all the ways I write. My journal, my blog, letters, my book. I have been so caught up in surviving the visits to hospice every day that I haven’t taken much time for myself lately. I did, however, take time today to walk the Cape Cod Canal this afternoon after visiting with my husband, and it was well worth the drive. I’d almost forgotten about the beauty my home state offers, even with the winter approaching…

It’s been a while since I’ve felt good, both mentally and physically. I’d gotten used to walking the campus of the VA Hospital where my husband is every day after our visit, and then that freak snow storm hit the area on October 30th. A dusting was predicted. We got 6 inches here in the greater Boston area! I drove in the snow for the first time in many years and did fine. Just kept it slow. I also drove to NH to spend the weekend with family and it was nice. Even nicer? I didn’t have to drive to and from hospice for two days as my brother-in-love did all the driving. Such a relief…

It’s been a while since I’ve felt whole. A long while. We passed the one year mark for my husband’s stroke on October 30th. He had his craniotomy on Nov. 2, 2019 and it’s been more than a year since he looked like someone beat the crap out of him the day after the surgery. In the long year since he had fought so hard to recover and he did so well. Until Covid came. The forced isolation took its toll on him physically, mentally and emotionally. Spiritually he has become stronger, and the closer he gets to death, the stronger his faith becomes. I wish I could say the same. I’m broken, not strong, and when I tell people that, they’re usually surprised.

Have you ever watched someone you love more than your own life die a long, slow, agonizing death? I hope not, but if you have, than you know what I feel like. I feel like this: When our daughter estranged herself from the family and forbid us to see our grandson, I was shattered, As time went on, I began to pick up the larger pieces of my life and tried to put them back together. Light would shine through the cracks and while the light refraction’s looked different, there was still beauty. Then came the stroke, 18 months later. I was shattered into smaller pieces, and again learned to put the small pieces back together. Light again shone through the smaller pieces and larger cracks. Then came selling our home. Moving. Being banned from visiting my husband. Discharging and moving. Again. Still no visitation. Almost seven months without being allowed to touch my husband, hug him or even hold his hand. In that 7 months, the pieces of glass kept breaking. They turned to dust. Dust that cannot be put back together again. My spirit became dust. Glass dust is beautiful in its own right, but it’s impossible to keep together. I also feel like a jigsaw puzzle. Every day that I get to see my husband, for two hours, I feel like I leave another piece of the puzzle behind me when I have to leave him. I don’t even bother to look for the missing pieces. I will. Later. I AM determined to be okay. I am determined to face the storms I’m in with every broken piece of me. And, when I get to the other side of the storm on the horizon, when I get my feet under me and my mind clears from the fog of grieving, I will begin to look for the lost pieces of myself. It’s the getting from here to there that is taking a while…

I do want you all to know that I’ll continue to try to do some self-care, hence the walking of the canal today. I dream of the day I can travel to SC to see my beloved daughter and her family. I miss my grands so very much. I dream of going to Northern California to visit family and heal. I long to walk the beaches of Northeastern Florida and spend time with family there. I know that these desires will have to wait until it’s safe to travel again, but these are some of the things I will do when I can. Until then I will see my husband every time I am able and try to remember to be grateful for the time we have. He is declining every day and I pray for him to find relief from the terrible pain he lives with 24/7/365 now. He is heavily medicated for pain and anxiety, but the pain always seems to find a way to break through the morphine and fentanyl.

In closing, please remember to be kind to one another and try not to take your life for granted. Hug someone you love, pay it forward and smile. The trials of this life may seem insurmountable, but with support and love, we can all find moments of joy. Until next time, I am always thankful for you…

Cape Cod Canal Photo by Barb Enos

What if…?

Hi all. I find myself thinking “what if” a lot right now… Let me fill you in.

What if you knew the last time you hugged your spouse was just that, the last time? I’m talking full on front to front hugging, feeling the warmth of your loved one encompassing you and feeling their breath on your neck. Would you hug tighter? Longer? Would you try and commit to memory just how they smelled, like soap and water, or fresh cut grass? I had my last full on hug with my husband on October 3rd of 2019 and I can remember almost everything about that hug. I didn’t know then that it would be the last time those strong arms would wrap fully around me, or that the timbre of his voice was going to be forever altered just 27 days later… We were on our front porch in the early part of dusk and he was getting ready to drive from our home in South Carolina to see his family in New England. I stayed behind because of my job, not knowing that we would never be the same couple that hugged and kissed goodbye that evening. With almost a year between then and now, I wish I had gone with him, but I had only been working at UPS for 4 months, so taking almost a month off wouldn’t have been possible. Hindsight…

What if my husband had gone to the doctor when he called me that day complaining of a headache? Would he have had the same type of catastrophic stroke? Would he have been able to have medications administered that may have broken down the massive clot that formed in his neck and caused so much damage? What if seems like an innocent enough question, but in my reality it’s a fully loaded, assault style weapon. What if I had flown up to New England and dragged him, kicking and screaming, to an emergency room? Or a doctor? What if? What if? What if? I don’t blame myself, nor do I blame him, I just wish I had been able to see the future. I know there’s a reason why we can’t see into our futures, and looking back on the past 11 months has shown me exactly why we don’t get to see ahead.

What if I hadn’t agreed to move back to New England and had stayed in Richmond? What if we went back to South Carolina? Because of Coronavirus and it’s vast reaching destruction, I have no idea what our lives would look like right now. I know that being home in New England, and back in the city of Boston, has been exactly what we’ve needed it to be. I hate that my beloved is dying, I fucking hate it, but I am so glad to not be alone. I have been able to spend time with him this past month and am ever grateful for that. I’m with him every day and will be with him when the end comes. I am not sure when that will be, but it can’t be too much longer for him. He doesn’t eat, he barely drinks anything and is being kept comfortable. He deserves peace. And rest.

What if I knew that I would become a widow before I turned 60? Would I marry him again? I would. I wouldn’t trade my life with him except for the past year. All the turmoil and chaos, all the strife, all the loneliness? I’d do it all again to have my husband in my life. Love is a great feeling, but it’s a decision. A hard one at that. I have messed things up, I’ve been mean and hurtful and cruel to him over the years, as he has to me. But… We have stuck together and decided time after time after time to love one another and I am so glad we have. We don’t have, nor have we had, a storybook romance. Our romance is more like a suspense novel, with some shade thrown in, and the two of us are both aggressively trying to figure things out. We have always said that our relationship is aggresive/aggresive, not give and take. We have always been this. I will miss him so…

What if? A question that begs to be answered by all of us, but very rarely do the answers make any sense…

Photo by Jack Gittoes on Pexels.com

Wondering…?

Wondering? Why? Wondering why…?

I’m sitting here on the deck of a friend’s house where I am house/dog sitting and enjoying the quiet sounds of nature all around me. On occasion the quiet is interrupted by the aforementioned dog(s) practicing their vocal skills, but it’s still a beautiful evening. A light rain is falling, I’m sitting under the umbrella of the table on the deck and I am appreciating the earth and all it gives us. I think about the darkness that surrounds us all, but am choosing to focus on the light instead. The soft evening light, the soft, gentle rain and the crickets singing are the music of my life at this very moment, and I am not wondering why. Simple things to be appreciated are not always easy to find, but they are out there if we seek them.

Wondering? I do that. A lot. I wonder why did my beloved husband have such a debilitating stroke at such a young age? He was 57. 57. We had a happy, simple life and now all that is gone. It’s different. I am no longer the wife and mom and MiMi I was just 10 months ago. I am broken, battered and bruised, but I go on. I wonder why. Why should I go on and try to salvage what life is left when my husband can’t join me for the adventure? Wondering can lead me to some very somber places, places I don’t need to visit. The human spirit is so resilient, but there are times when resilience is the last thing I want. Or need. Sometimes I want to hide. I want to deny the pain in my heart. I want to stop wondering why.

Wondering is not for the faint of heart. Wandering is not for the faint of heart. I’ve always had a place inside my heart that has both wondered and wandered. It’s the changing of one letter that changes the meaning of both words so profoundly. Is it possible to wander without wondering? I wonder “where does that road lead?” So I wander down that road… Sometimes it leads to a place of breathtaking beauty. Other times it leads to a dead end. The spirit that lives within me has never been afraid of wandering to seek wonders. Nor of wondering to find that the wandering was worth it. Wandering to the edge of the shore is to see my happy place. Wondering what lies across the ocean stirs the urge to wander in the deepest parts of my spirit. I have always had both a wanderlust and wonderment for life. My heart has never been tamed and I pray it never is. It has been shattered because I trusted someone else with it. Or because I put myself out there and broke my own heart. It really doesn’t matter. With every breaking and/or shattering of my heart, beauty is revealed in the ashes. It may take me days, weeks or even years to see the beauty, but it is ALWAYS revealed. ALWAYS.

Wondering… I wonder how it’s possible that I can look back over the past 3 years and see beauty in the ashes. I’ll tell you. Three years ago I was making plans to leave my husband and our marriage. I was halfway through those plans in mid August 2017 and working hard to get out. The why of those plans no longer matter, but they did then. Are you wondering why? Suffice it to say that my husbnad couldn’t “see” me anymore. He couldn’t hear me. Even though I was right there, I was invisible. I’d had enough of being so, so I laid out a plan to leave. It took me twelve weeks to get out, but only seven weeks to go home. I broke him, but in the process of that breaking, I broke myself as well. I had no idea that I needed to broken, I was so hurt about being invisible that I never wondered what would happen if my plan actually worked. I wondered what would happen to my husband, but I had become invisible to myself as well. Let’s just say that in OUR brokenness, the beauty of our long term marriage was revealed. I wandered 1000 miles away from my husband, only to find that he was always wandering with me in my heart. We rebuilt the foundation of our marriage from the ashes of the burning house I’d left behind me and we were happy. And strong. And that strength sustains me still.

Wondering… can take you places in your mind that you probably shouldn’t go. When you start to wander down the dark, recessed roads inside your head, you need to be ready to face whatever is revealed. Revelations that come out of wondering and wandering can have some pretty heavy consequences and those consequences are not going to disappear. Sure, you can shove them down, ignore them, or pretend they don’t exist, but they’ll always find a way back to the forefront of your wondering/wandering mind. My heart and mind are always burdened now with the weight of my husband’s condition, but I am learning new ways to let my wanderlust and wonderment find their way along as well. It’s impossible to be “strong” every damn day. It’s impossible to not feel guilt or despair or defeat on a daily basis. It’s not impossible to pick yourself up and start over. It’s exhausting, not impossible. Wondering how to do that? Wondering why you should even bother? You should wonder why and you should bother because you ARE worth the effort. You. Are. Worth. The. Struggle. I am worth the struggle.

Wondering… What does it take to move forward when the wandering spirit you know so well seems to vacate the space inside your heart that it had so comfortably occupied? Take it from me, I’ve learned over these past 10 months since my husband’s stroke that moving forward is not something you can do alone. Your pride may tell you differently, but don’t put much stock in the voices inside your head. My pride was my constant companion during the plan making process to leave my husband, but I threw it out the window when driving back to him on I-81 in November of 2017. I haven’t reached for it since. I was shattered in May of 2018 when our oldest daughter left our life and took our beloved grandson away from us. I learned that no matter how much you love someone else, it’s never enough. I learned again in October of 2019 that I couldn’t stop the re-shattering of my barely healed heart when my husband had his stroke. I have reached far outside of my pride for help and I have found it. There is strength in numbers, and it has served me well to remember that. Wondering if you have the strength to make it through your darkest moments? Don’t. Save yourself the wondering. Reach out and ask for help. And keep reaching until you find it. Wander the fields of your friendships and familial relationships until you find what you need.

In closing tonight, I hope that the struggles, pain and honest feelings I share here help you in some small way. I don’t have the answers that you are wondering about, I can only offer encouragement. Don’t give up, and know that somewhere in New England there is a broken woman that wonders why. She wanders when she can and she is proof that both wondering and wandering is not as scary as it can seem.

Until next time…

Remember to be kind, know that you matter and know that life is beautiful, even with the pain.

The Eastern Shore of Northeast North Carolina
Photo by Barb Enos

The Man Without Us…

Hi all, I hope this entry finds you all well and staying safe…

I write a lot about how I feel because it makes sense to me to write what I know. I know how “I” feel. I woke up this morning feeling like I usually do. I wake with the light and since the light comes early on the East Coast, I wake early. Not a big deal. This morning I woke and my first thoughts were of my husband as they always are now. This morning I woke thinking how each day passes and how alone he must feel without us. How alone he must feel without his brothers, his mom, his daughter, his sons-in-love and his grandchildren. How alone he must feel without all of the people that love him being allowed to see him everyday.

The man without us is a man of broad shoulder, barrel chested, sports a military buzz cut, and has blue eyes that shine. My husband stood at 5’11” and carried himself with the discipline and pride instilled deep within by the many years of service to our nation. He was a larger man, with a solidness that made his hugs the best ever. A Teddy Bear in private; a fiercely loyal and protective man all around. He served 24.5 years in the military and it was an honor to serve beside him. It wasn’t easy then and it’s not easy now, but we made it through all those years, surprisingly intact, and I am grateful for the opportunity we had to make a life together.

As I sit in the kitchen of my oldest brother-in-law’s kitchen, I find myself feeling way too much to be able to share everything in my head about this subject in one blog post. Can you imagine what any patient in a skilled care facility must feel on a daily basis because of the restrictions of visitation due to Covid-19? Granted, the restrictions are in place to protect the health of patients and employees, but when you’re dealing with compromised patients, they aren’t always able to process rules and regulations. They see limitations as cruel, and hurtful, and beyond their comprehension. My husband was a smart, logical man before his TBI, but now he’s like a little boy that just “doesn’t get it.” He cries, he rages and he aches for the loving touch of a hug, a hand held, and a kiss on the cheek. He deserves that. We all do. Imagine having that taken away from yourself with no warning, no comprehension, and no end in sight? This is the plight of hundreds of thousands of people across the country. We are being told that we can visit our loved ones by appointment only, but that we can’t touch them, we can’t approach them, and we can’t hug them. It’s torturous from no matter how we look at it. People mean well when they say things like “you should be grateful that you can see him.” They tell me to be patient, that “this too shall pass.” Or, “You should…” You need to…” “I want you to…”

The man without us doesn’t care that other people “think” those of us that love him “should.” He doesn’t care that the reasons for the limitations on visiting are in place to try to protect the most vulnerable among us against a silent virus that spreads like wildfire. He cares that he’s lonely, that he feels abandoned and that he thinks no one cares. I love my husband beyond my own life, I would take the TBI onto myself and set him free of all the pain and loss and loneliness. I can’t. What I can do? I can carry my share of his heaviness and do it with as much grace, fortitude and determination as I can muster on a daily basis. Some days it’s easy, some not, and then there are the in-between days. The days that start with tears, but end with smiles. The days that rain without ceasing and you swear that you’ll never see the sun again. The days where the weather is the stuff of dreams… I know the man I married all those years ago is gone, but he’s not at the same time. Until you experience the challenges of an event like the one that changed our lives, and the lives of so many around us, you’ll never quite understand the struggle. I pray you never have to understand the struggle.

The man without us is safe, he’s being well cared for and he is loved. At my darkest times I cry out to God for the strength to make it through another day. I cry out in my pain and beg the universe for peace, and sometimes I find it. I think back on the happiest times we had as a couple and relish the feel of my husband’s arms around me. I can hear his voice saying “baby, take your glasses off, you’ve fallen asleep reading.” I can picture him playing Matchbox cars with our two youngest grandchildren. Or fishing with our oldest grandson. I can see him encouraging our oldest granddaughter to hit the softball. The man without us is not without us, he is always with us. In our hearts, in our minds, in our every day lives.

The man without us would want those of us that love him to continue pressing onward toward that which brings us joy. He wants us to live, and love ,and never forget that he loves us. He is a Poppy, Opa, Daddy and Dad to so many. An uncle, brother, brother-in-love, and friend. He is strong even in his weakness and he is loved beyond measure. He is my person and I am not without him, no matter what happens. I hope that his life and the trials we face together and separately help others know that life after a TBI is possible. It’s very different, but it’s possible. The love shown to me by the man I married in 1982 is pure of heart and simple in nature. That everyone would know that such love exists is possible, and seeking it is worth the effort. When you wake up each day, I pray that you find joy in greeting the new day, even if the struggles you know you will face seem unbearable. If you cry each day, don’t despair. Learn what you can from your pain and sorrow, and give the gift of yourself to someone else.

The man without us is not alone in spirit and for this I am beyond thankful. He prays, he sings and he talks to his Lord in his own way. I am comforted by this. I believe differently than he does, and that’s okay. Knowing that we’re not alone is sometimes all we get, and learning how to be grateful in the small moments makes the larger ones less scary. I miss the man that was, I love the man that is, and I pray for continued safety for us all.

Until next time…

Stay safe, be well, and remember to always be kind…

Photo by alexandre saraiva carniato on Pexels.com