Finding My Stride
March 17th, 2008 by

It was a perfect day for running. The morning was a bit cloudy, cool enough to wish for another layer, and there was a hint of fall crispness in the air—unusual weather for Austin in October. I was heading to a race start-line for the first time in over a year. For once there were no pre-race jitters or time expectations, just a lot of memories and a different kind of determination.

On August 31ST of 2005, my husband Phillip was killed when he was hit by a car while out for his evening bike ride. Phil was not only an avid cyclist; he was also a dedicated runner. He began his running career as a high school track athlete. Continuing his love of the sport as a devoted community track coach, he volunteered long after his own kids had outgrown the program. Running beside the kids at practice was one of his favorite things to do. Phil was a regular at all the local races; a towering pile of race bibs had a place of honor on his dresser. At 39, he was at the top end of a competitive age group. He was counting the days to his age group change, looking forward to racing as one of the youngsters in his field. But Phil never got to race in the next age group—he died three months before his fortieth birthday.

Before we met, I was an occasional runner. Through our courtship and marriage, my husband introduced me to the joy of running. Vacations were planned around running, track season caused the cessation of all other activities, and date nights usually began in running shoes. My love of running developed as our relationship did. After Phil died, my world looked different from every angle. The lines that distinguished what he loved and what I loved became blurred. I didn’t know if I loved running or if I only loved running with him. In the darkness of loss, I could not find the drive to put on my shoes, and run out the door without him, I quit running. Each morning I woke up in the haze of grief, with only the thought of how to make it through the day. After months of feeling lost without my husband, it finally occurred to me that I might feel more connected to him on a run. So, with some trepidation I laced up my shoes. For months I ran away; away from the heartache, away from the shock, away from the inevitable reality that he was gone. When I ran, I felt close to him in my soul and in my stride. Each breathless moment was a testament to all I had learned from running beside the man I loved. On my runs Phil was still my partner. Those runs left me spent and sad, but I needed them. Running became my way of saying good-bye to the man who was my husband and my friend.

The act of running was freeing. It reminded me that I was capable of putting one foot in front of the other—in forward motion. The destination was not as important as the journey. As time passed, my heart slowly began to heal. Eventually the nature of my runs changed, and I noticed that my step was lighter. I realized that my purpose in heading out for a jog was no longer exclusively a desire to feel close to Phil. Slowly, I stopped expecting to see him at every turn of our favorite route. Running did not always reduce me to tears. With every step I took, I began to remember the joy of running. Gradually, I ran just because I wanted to.

On that brisk October day, I faced my first finish line without my husband. A dear friend of mine, who lost her husband to cancer, lined up beside me at the start—we were there to run in honor of the men we had loved and lost, but not forgotten. Passing each mile marker, I marveled at the power of running. As we traveled the course, we shared stories about our husbands, we talked about the lives that were still ahead of us, and we celebrated the fact that we could run. Crossing the finish line I felt Phil’s absence, but I also felt his presence. Running had taken me across more than a literal finish line. As I crossed the line with cheering supporters in the background and my friend at my side, I realized that I wasn’t running just for Phil, I was running for myself, too.

Dating
February 26th, 2008 by

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?
February 26th, 2008 by

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
February 4th, 2008 by

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
February 4th, 2008 by

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.

The Only Person I Really Want Right Now, by Ann Suther
September 5th, 2007 by

I am a new widow – 5 weeks. People ask “How are you?” and I don’t know how to answer. “Sometimes OK, mostly NOT OK,” I respond. Many of them really don’t want to hear that answer and I know it, so I try to pretend I’m better than I really am.I keep thinking somehow life will change back to what it was, yet I know it won’t. This new life feels so strange . . . so empty . . . will my life ever feel normal again?His death was unnecessary – an undetected surgical error. This surgery was supposed to improve his health, and it killed him. I’m just starting to feel anger amid my numbness.Tears come unpredictably – sometimes I can tell this story without them, other times a quick and fleeting memory of something we shared brings on a flood.Why are there so many decisions to make and details to take care of when I feel least able? There are too many questions in my mind about how I will navigate through all that lies ahead. I know I have to give myself time, yet financial woes may not allow me the time I need.I pray for patience and for strength . . . . and thank God for loving adult children, and countless supportive friends and neighbors who are only a phone call away. Still, the only person I really want right now is the one who is gone.

Just Pretending, by Sally James
August 30th, 2007 by

Just Pretending

In the hall his anorak lurks
with sleeves that wrap around
the waist of mine.

Once he had things in his pockets,
crumpled receipts from the petrol station,
battered wage slips, scraps of paper with
mobile numbers scribbled in pencil
and other things men like to have,
just in case. A couple of nails
for the gate he never mended,
small parts for his Landrover,
coins that had seen better days,
a damp box of used matches,
and in the front pocket with the zip
there was a compass on a cord,
and a ragged map of Wales.

His scent lurked in the seams,
under the arms, around the neck,
and traces of his beard nestled
in the hood, wiry, ginger
and curled like a question mark.

The odour has faded now, disappeared
like the colour of my hair and the glitter
in my eyes, but the curve of my mouth
is still the same as I cook the evening meal,
listen for an engine rattle,
a cheerful whistle, the familiar
squeak of the front door and the sound
of footsteps in the hall.

sally james

Untitled.
July 9th, 2007 by

I bear many strange scars
Some visible
Arms
Knees
And Ink
Some invisible
Heart
Soul
Blackened and Charred.

The biggest scar
Is the wall
That’s under construction
Around my Body.
Scar Tissue Inaccessibility
Means no more Wounds.

On rejoining the world of the living
July 9th, 2007 by

This post is about sex, or more accurately, my lack thereof and all of my emotional baggage surrounding that fact.

Well, not just about sex, more so dating, interest, relationships, and how the hell a young widow is supposed to make sense of all of this shit and deal with incredible feelings of guilt at the same time.

The new town that I’ve moved to is wonderful. There are people here whom actually have some of the same interests as me. After years of being the only young, slightly-lefty, college-educated chick in a crowd of sorta-righty, career military folk, it is downright refreshing to no longer be the “freak” in the crowd. On a military base, I might have well been coated with neon pink paint and wearing a suit made out of tinfoil. Here, I fit in. I had forgotten what a simple pleasure “fitting in” is.

And so while in the process of building new friendships, my mind has occasionally wandered into the future: what will happen if I meet someone here who I like? What if I decide that I might like a boyfriend sometime in the future? Those questions might seem mundane, trite nothings—I try to be a “grab life by the horns” kind of chick, and really, how much stress can be caused by the mere thought of a future suitor? But I have to be completely honest—I sit here in tears as I put these thoughts that have plagued me for weeks into record.

During my last session of grief counseling back in March, the issue of relationships came up, and I asked for a professional opinion. The therapist’s response? “You’ll know when you are ready.” Thanks for that $65/hour advice there, Doc!!!

I mean, really, what the heck? I have scoured the internet, books on widowhood, sought professional guidance, and I am still completely and absolutely lost. Part of this utter confusion, no doubt, lies within my realm of dating inexperience as a whole. My former husband and I started dating very, very young; he was my only real boyfriend in fact. Actually, we were officially a couple before either of us had our driver’s license. And so, my memories of dating, falling in love, and sex originate from a completely outmoded frame of reference. I can’t approach this strange new world using the same rules that applied back in high school—namely, I can’t initiate a relationship by asking someone to share a seat on the school bus with me. Making out in the back of my parent’s van won’t constitute a “date.” Guys won’t be willing to date me for years before we have sex. One of my worst fears is that my return to the dating scene will be an epic tragi-comedy on par with The 40 Year Old Virgin: sweet, yet hapless girl desperately wants to love and be loved; she unknowingly breaks almost every rule in the book, and hilarity (at her expense) ensues.

And I know it seems easy—if you’re not sure about things, then you’re not ready; but in reality, relationships and sexuality seep into so many aspects of our lives that they are akin to eating and sleeping. Soon, I plan to make appointments for both a family doctor and an OB/GYN. My personal, baseline, preventive health measures have been neglected ever since my husband’s leukemia relapse date of February 19, 2005. The OB/GYN visit is necessary—I don’t think that I’ve had any of my cancer screenings for three years now—but is also a great source of stress. The issue, of course, is birth control. I haven’t been on anything since we found out that my former husband’s chemotherapy treatment had resulted in sterility, and I am obviously not planning on sleeping with anyone at all in any sort of near future—but OB-GYN appointments are an annual thing. What if I meet someone in the next year? I don’t want to have to go to the trouble of going to another doctor’s appointment just to get a prescription—so should I go ahead and get a script written in the off chance that I’ll need it in the next year? Am I a really horrible person for even thinking about the possibility that I might eventually sleep with someone else? I mean—I know that I’m not, really, but that knowledge does nothing to assuage the intense feelings of guilt. I can’t be a nun for the rest of my life, but I don’t want to feel like I’m cheating on my former husband either.

Ironically, the inward stress has shifted outwards as I work towards decorating my apartment. I find myself actively avoiding displays and photos of Eric in areas of the new place that a guest might see. I don’t want the place to seem like a mausoleum to someone who never knew my former husband, and I don’t want to bombard a poor unsuspecting guest with a wall-sized display of him—but at the same time, I want to hang onto the happy memories attached to those pictures and drawings.

And so, I actively avoid it all by sitting at home with my knitting, and going out with my (all-female) knitting group. Can you tell that I’ve been knitting a lot lately? It’s so soothing, and when there’s a mistake, you simply rip the mistake out and reknit. If only real life was that easy.

Inappropriate
July 9th, 2007 by

in love with death,

part of me was buried in that casket too.

fucking terrified

of everyday situations,

only running on 3 cylinders,

one more blow

might be irreparable.

attracted to the bony visage,

no man can compare.

i only want the one thing that i can never have.

not to much to ask for, huh?