Archive for February, 2008

Tuesday, February 26th, 2008

About a year after my husband died I began feeling extremely restless. My mind seemed to be skittering from one thing to another. In a way, this was welcome relief from the heaviness of deep sadness and depression.

But something was missing. Of course, something was missing. Floyd was missing. I was missing Floyd in a new way.

Somehow, from this agitated state of displaced energy, I decided to try internet dating. A couple of well-meaning friends had suggested it.

It took me some time to figure out the mechanics, since I knew little about computers at that time. I spent time organizing my profile information and coming up with a catchy tagline. I posted my profile and waited for responses. Well, I didn’t really wait. I was out there looking for my perfect companion in cyberspace.

I boldly responded to profiles of men that sounded like interesting dating prospects. At one time I was corresponding with eight men at the same time.

I was 51 and hadn’t dated in a very long time. The emails led to some actual dates. Let’s just say the experience was less than satisfying.

Reflecting back on this time, I see that my restlessness was but another phase of my grief process. My decision to date came from a place of missing Floyd’s physical companionship.

I wasn’t looking for another man. I was looking for Floyd in other men. I believe this was evident to these potential dating companions. But I was blinded by grief masked as dating energy.

I realized that my skittering mind was really fulfilling the role of a protective disconnection from my heart and body. I was still lost in grief. It just had a different package.

The pain of feeling my grieving body was so overwhelming that I believe my mind was searching for a way to disengage and somehow feel ‘normal’ again.

I realize I didn’t want to look—no—I didn’t want to feel the ache of missing his tender hugs, his kisses, his soothing and loving gazes into my eyes.

Is This Menopause or Depression?
Tuesday, February 26th, 2008

Soon after Floyd’s death I felt myself descending deeper and deeper into a dark, lethargic place. My body felt sluggish. My mind felt like it was stuffed with cotton balls. I ate little, but seemed to be gaining weight.

I decided to visit my naturopathic doctor. She reminded me that I was beginning my transition through menopause. Somehow I had forgotten that my body was moving into this new physical place.

Her conclusion was that the menopausal symptoms were affected by my grief and the life stress of having to move soon after my husband’s death.

The stress in my life was intensifying the hormonal shifts going on within my body. In turn, the hormonal shifts were pulling my grieving heart to very dark and extremely painful emotional places.

Homeopathic remedies, carefully chosen herbal blends and acupuncture took the edge off my cloud of multilayered discomfort.

Reflecting on this extremely uncomfortable period of time, I think that I was feeling abandoned by my body as well as by my husband. My body was changing, and I didn’t seem to have anything to say about it, just as I had nothing to say about my husband dying.

Who am I without my husband? Who am I now as a menopausal woman?

My Death Wish
Monday, February 4th, 2008

It is an odd and frightening sensation to wish you were dead. After my husband died I fervently wished I could die, too. The first time I read that grieving people sometimes fantasize about death, I was relieved. My entire life I had appreciated the gift of life, to suddenly and frequently wish it away was a disconcerting and lonely experience.

When my husband, Phil, was hit by a car, the initial shock provided a buffer to the complicated emotions that would gather to haunt me in the days and months to come. As the buffer of shock wore off, I was struck daily by the realization that Phil wasn’t coming home. It felt like Groundhog Day—everyday I woke up with the expectation that the day would somehow go differently, and I would discover that Phil wasn’t really gone. Day by day the reality of his death ate away at my desire to live. There is a difference between wishing to be dead and being suicidal.

My death wish did not come from a desire to stop living. It didn’t even come from a desire to stop hurting—though the pain was so intense at times I hoped it would kill me. My death wish came from a desire to be with Phil again. His physical absence was like a phantom pain in a limb that was no longer attached. My death wish became a part of my daydreams. Jogging up a street, I would mentally challenge cars to run me over. On a plane, I would imagine a fiery crash that I didn’t survive. Hiking in the mountains I looked for wild animals that might want to make a meal of me. Driving alone in the car, I visualized my car flying over any ledge I passed. Every brush with imagined death was followed by the disappointing result of still being alive; continuing to jog down the street, landing as expected at my destination, a safe return from hiking adventures, and no crash over the nearest ledge.

The longing I felt to be with him was a constant ache; the only cure I could imagine was joining him wherever he was.As time marched on, the call to live gradually grew stronger. In the early part of my grieving I desperately held on to two reasons to live; my kids needed me, our family and friends would be so sad if I was gone, too. All my reasons for wanting to live were about someone else; if it were up to me….beam my up Lord! There was not one personal reason that I could think of to continue living—but healing has a way of sneaking up on you.

Eventually I recognized that my husband lived his life fully, every moment. He had an awareness of the value of life that influenced his daily choices. Reflecting on how he lived his life reminded me of the gift that life is, and he became a role model for me. As I have begun the process of creating a life for myself without him, I have had to find reasons to live that are my own. I want to be a mother to my children. I want to make a difference in my community. I want to weave my husband’s spirit into the fabric of the person I am becoming. I want to bask in the joy of being in love again. I want to experience the adventure that life still holds for me.

The woman my husband married died with him. Grief has changed me, but I am proud of the woman that is emerging from the ashes of loss.

Life is a gift to me in a way it never was before. The nuisances of life don’t bother me as much as they once did. Age old adages like, “Take time to smell the roses,” actually mean something to me now. The world can’t be the same place it was two years ago, because Phil isn’t in it—somehow that comforts me. What I am learning is that though many things around me are radically different, I can still be a whole, happy, grateful person. Ironically, my death wish has become a steely will to truly live. Phil would be glad to hear that.

The Memory Keepers
Monday, February 4th, 2008

My husband had a shoe fetish. Phillip owned shoes for all occasions and athletic events—some were kept only for their sentimental value. To him, each pair either served a purpose or told a story, so there was no getting rid of them. This caused a serious storage issue. In addition to his side of the closet, he claimed the entire space under our bed. According to my husband, shoes could not be stacked, which meant the entire perimeter of the bed was lined with shoes. My shoes were piled in the closet in order to make more room for his.

When Phillip died, each pair of shoes became a reminder of something about him or about us that I missed. His favorite pair of trail shoes, still covered with dust from his last run, recalled the happy hours we shared running together on mountain trails. I missed the time we spent exercising together, and enjoying the beauty of the outdoors. Racing flats brought memories of him crossing one of many finish lines, sometimes with a smile of triumph, other times with a look of disbelief, always with the determination of a person who loved to run.

I missed his competitive spirit, and the surprising heights of physical endurance to which he regularly pushed me. A pair of vintage Nikes were a particular favorite of his—causing more than one heated discussion when he pulled them out with his party attire. The despised dress shoes always made me smile, because they required dusting before being worn. Still, they were a necessity, and they had their place in the line up under our bed.

How could I part with all those shoes? I knew it had to be done, but just moving them to a new location required baby steps. Each time I picked up a pair, I relived the story they told and put them right back where they were with tears in my eyes. This dilemma felt like an unsolvable puzzle: to not only let go of the shoes, but to do it in a way that would exemplify my husband’s love for them. How could I look into what was once our shared closet, and not see his beloved collection stored neatly in their assigned location?

The shoes became memory keepers and I feared that letting go of the shoes would also mean letting go of the memories. As the holidays approached, the answer to my problem finally became clear. Phillip’s parents were born in Mexico City. A few months before he died, he took a long awaited trip to visit relatives who still live there. He returned with a renewed sense of how fortunate we are here in the United States; speaking for weeks of the poverty and despair he witnessed in his parents’ homeland. Yet, he also noticed that blended with the despair was a generosity of spirit and an unwavering faith that he truly admired. As a result of his trip, we planned to join our church group in December, when they traveled to a small Mexican town to bring the people there much needed food and clothing.

After my husband’s death, my daughter and I decided to make the trip to Mexico in his memory. As we planned for the trip, it occurred to me that the people in the village could really use his shoes. They wouldn’t be someone’s extra pair—they might be their only pair. His large assortment of footwear could provide the opportunity for a group of people he deeply cared about to work and travel in well-covered feet, rather than completing the necessary tasks of daily life barefoot. This act of kindness would transform those shoes from memory-keepers back into shoes once again.

As I stood in the courtyard of the small Mexican Church on a sunny afternoon, I watched people evaluate his shoes. Each pair was measured not for sentimental value, but for their size and practicality, with the benefits of one being weighed against another. Some shoes were left on the tables as a possibility for the next person who came along—others were scooped up right away, like found treasure.

The shoes that didn’t make the cut that day were added to the church’s store for future use. As I watched the people of that town walk away with shoes in hand, I realized that it was never the shoes that held my beloved memories. My heart held those memories, and it always would. I felt a moment of peace as his shoes were carried away. I knew that somewhere he was smiling. I have to admit that there are still a few pairs I haven’t parted with, but I figure I’m entitled to hang onto some…just for sentimental reasons.