Thursday, April 03, 2008

To TnFishers Wife

I didn't know how else to contact you, so I hope this reaches you.

I received the following message from TnFishers Wife:

Thank you for sharing your feelings, for I'm a new widow. My Husband passed away 1/14/08. Your feelings are my feelings. You write about the separation...friends & family stop calling, etc.. What do I do at this time? My husband battled a rare & deadly cancer for 10.5 months. During that time our phone rang off the hook, visitors constantly...I wanted them to all go away & give us our time together. When people would ask what can we do for "you", I'd answer - "nothing". When I will need you most is when this is all said & done. When my beloved Jim is gone is when I'll need you most. Well, now that time has come and the phone doesn't ring. Family and friends don't call to ask what do I need nor to they come to see me or invite me to family gatherings. Mine is a different situation - Jim & I were only married 12 days when he was dx w/cancer. So I understand that I don't count...I felt like I was more of a buren to the family, then a welcomed member,'cause it was always all about Jim - not about us as a couple. So how do I deal with this rejection or separation? How do I tell his family that I need help? I've never been one to ask for help before, but now I need it and it's no where to be found. Thank you for any advice you can throw my way.

Jim's Wife

Dear Jim's Wife,
Don't ever feel that you don't count. Everyone who misses Jim and mourns his death counts, and especially you. You were the person Jim chose to spend his life with, and maybe that means you count the most to him. In a way, you've lost more: you not only lost someone you loved, but you've lost your future, too. You've lost all your hopes and dreams for the future, for the life you and Jim had planned to build together. All of Jim's friends and families have lost something very precious and irreplaceable, but they still have the rest of their lives to build on and return to. Your road to healing will be more painful and take more time if only because you've got to rebuild everything from the ground up... it's like they had a break-in to their home while you lost everything in the fire. Both are horrible and painful, but it's easier to heal for them. A lot of the people who said they'd be there and aren't, they don't mean to harm you. They just don't know what to do. Your pain is so complete that it is probably overwhelming to them. In time, if they were good friends to begin with, they will come around again. I know that doesn't make the abandonment and isolation any better. But the truth is that a lot of grief is a battle fought on one's own... all those hours in the night when you can't sleep, the drive to the supermarket that seems to take days, the mornings in the shower. All of that time alone where you confront grief on your home turf, that's where and how the fight is won. Right now, you're in the very most difficult period for most people. The four to eight month is incredibly difficult, and for me was the darkest part of the journey. I want you to know that you will be OK. I know, I didn't believe it either until it started to happen, but it did help to have someone say it. The pain does ease, but it does so in it's own time; not mine or yours or anyone else's. Grief is a selfish, sneaky bastard, but in time you will be OK. Life has a way of healing itself. The best thing you can do is to accept that it will take time, and be gentle with yourself... be willing to let yourself grieve.

In 1988 Yellowstone National Park endured the largest forest fire in recorded history, destroying nearly 800,000 acres of land. Have you ever seen a forest after a fire? The ground stands blackened as far as the eye can see, the trees break off at a certain height, leaving burned husks broken and jagged at the top, pointing toward a sky so thick with smoke that you can barely see the sun. There are no birds, no mice, no insects... nothing but the charred out skeleton of what was there before. When you're standing there looking at the remains of what was just days ago vibrant and alive, you can't imagine that the forest will ever recover. But, as it turns out, forest fires very rarely damage the deeper roots of the plants; the main core of the forest is still alive underneath the devastation. And the burned foliage provides a nutrient rich environment for new growth: the year after the fires, wildflowers bloomed prolifically everywhere that had burned, and the year after that. The trees that had been most prominent in the forest, the lodgepole pines, have yet to recover, and the trunks of the dead trees still stand in memory of the fire. However, the graceful Aspen tree has begun to grow in greater abundance, changing the face of the forest, but still a beautiful tree. The new growth has made the forest stronger and more prone to survive future fires. It is still painfully obvious and evident that the fire destroyed huge sections of life in Yellowstone park, the forest will never forget the damage that has been done. But life has gone on, new trees and plants are thriving, creating a different forest than the one that was there before, but no less beautiful, no less worthy, no less vibrant. Life finds a way, life heals... but it definitely takes time to turn that kind of devastation into a forest that you want to walk through or have a picnic in.

I pray that you find moments of peace on your journey, I know the road is long and hard. Just give it time. Find joy in the small things that you loved before you even met Jim: mint ice cream in a cone, wildflowers on the side of the road, I Love Lucy. And get a dog or a cat... we all need to love and be loved, and it's SO comforting to have someone to share your dinner and the bed with... even if they shed and drool =]. Light be with you.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Time to change...

A very smart woman once told me that when making value or ethical choices, it is far better to err on the side of caution. So, anytime we are unsure of the facts of a situation, it is better to act in the most ethical way to ensure the best outcome. So, is global warming as dire as some say? I don't know. But, I do think we are better to err on the side of caution, especially when the worst scenario is so horrible. Even if you can't change everyone else's behavior, you can always change your own. World change happens, one heart, one mind at a time. Here are some further things for your consideration.

Educate yourself. And if you care, than make a change.

If you can't feed the world, feed one person -- Mother Theresa
If you can't change the world, change yourself.

A mother once brought her child to see Ghandi. She asked Ghandi to tell the child to stop eating sugar. Ghandi told the mother to bring the child back in two weeks. Two weeks later, when the mother came with her child, Ghandi looked at the kid and said sternly, "Stop eating sugar!". The perplexed mother said, "how come you couldn't have told him that two weeks ago when we were here?!?". Ghandi looked at her and replied, "Two weeks ago, I was still eating sugar...". So, I won't lecture as a hypocrite =]. I have signed up for the recurring payment to carbon fund to offset my carbon footprint. $99 dollars is a lot of money to most people. But I dare you to look back at your bank or credit card statement for the past year and see if you didn't waste $99 dollars somewhere else along the way... Hey, at least this is tax deductible.


Sunday, March 04, 2007

Home is where...(?)

You know, it's funny. I've always hated Oklahoma. Every time I've been here, I couldn't wait to leave. I wanted to go home, back to where I came from, back to my life. I loved my mom and dad, of course. Loved seeing them and spending a bit of time with them. But in the end, I was always relieved and happy to go back to my little niche in the world. So, now, as most of you know, I've been in Oklahoma again for almost a month. Same routine as when my mom died, I guess. Living out of a suitcase in a hospital, occasional nights in the rural mecca that is Cushing. Fulfilling my day job by taking care of the details and maintaining the festive atmosphere. Yet, for the first time, of all the time I've spent in this state, I don't feel the usual unbearable pressure to go home. I feel almost the same here as I did in Vegas, and really it's all the same. Same damn song, just a different damn tune. If anything, it's better here; because here I don't have to wade through the waters of memory that make up what remains of my marriage every hour of the blessed day.

It took me awhile to figure it out, but I think I know why I don't hate Oklahoma anymore. It's because I don't have a home anymore. I have a place where I live, live with people I love even, which makes me all the more lucksome. But it's not really my home. You see, home is where the heart is (quaint cliche alert goes haywire); and if your heart doesn't belong to anyone but you, then you don't belong anywhere either. If pain is lessened by it's division between partners and joy is doubled in it's sharing, then those who belong to no one find themselves at a loss in the sea of connections that tie this world together. I don't really belong here in Oklahoma any more than I really belong in Vegas. Dad has a new love in his life, so I find that I feel more like excessive baggage than usual. I know, I know. I have friends, I have family. And you are all wonderful people, and I love you dearly. But that doesn't change the fact that I am auxiliary to your lives. See, I used to be somebodys somebody. I used to be the center of someones world, and he used to be the center of mine. I guess a couple makes for a small family unit, but we were one anyway. So without a place to hang my heart, there is no place that holds meaning for me. At the end of the day, when you go home, you probably think of yourself going to a place, not to a person. But if that person were gone, would it still feel like home? And if home were just a place, just another suburban box with colored walls and cable TV and a couch, then you could never move, you could never rebuild.

I keep saying that I'll pick a new direction, that I'll make a new life once the world stops spinning. But the world doesn't stop spinning, does it? The world didn't stop turning just because my world came to an end. Everyone else still has their jobs to attend to, they have to head home at the end of the day. They have to talk to their parents and their significant others on the cell phone. If you are no one's significant other, does that render you insignificant? For months now, whenever I have a crying jag, I'll find myself sobbing that I want to go home. In my case, this is just another way of saying I want my husband, that I want to be with him, and asking God to make that happen in a more timely fashion. I have no home now, and I am unsure how to go about making a new one. If the concept of home is based on the premise of belonging, of being one of many, then how does a person create that alone? There must be a way; there are millions upon millions of single people in the world, and I'm sure they all mean it when they say they're headed home. What is the element that I seem to be missing here? Besides him, I mean.

When you were a kid and went to summer camp, did you get homesick? What did that mean exactly? Did you miss your room? The living room carpet? Running water? I bet what you really missed was your mom and dad, the dog... security... belonging. You didn't miss your home, you missed Home; the concept, the idea. Not the place. I think maybe that's what grieving is. Intensive homesickness, debilitating homesickness, terminal homesickness.

Of course, there is an upside to all this newfound personal freedom. Family, home, love, life... these things bind us to our circumstances, and often time one must sever ties if one is to change circumstance. So, the benefit to belonging to nowhere but yourself... I'm sorry, I mean to no one but yourself, is that you're free to wander where you would. An unfettered life is an unlimited one. I guess there are a lot of people in the world who wish for a bit more choice in their lives, choice to make bolder decisions, to not be burdened by their obligations to others. But my guess is that by that time those people finally let go of Home, they've already been gone for awhile. They may have been looking for a change of scenery for quite some time, so it doesn't hurt them to go looking for Home somewhere else. Kind of like relocating from Seattle to Miami. I guess that we're more like Katrina survivors trying to relocate. We survived the storm to find our Homes washed away. Now we're living in the FEMA trailer with our water-logged possessions trying to figure out where in the hell we're supposed to go now.

It's very important to grieving people to try to fill up the voids. We often try to go out and find new people to replace the roles of the person we've lost, or we try to find activities that make us happy or bring us meaning and purpose. Anything to stabilize our hearts, to find somewhere to say, this is where my heart is. This is where I belong. It's just our way of re-anchoring a ship that's been pulled off course by the ever-changing tides. I guess, mostly, I just hope that you folks that have a place where you are Home, realize what a gift that is. We all take things for granted I guess. But you have much to be grateful for. So live like it.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Joy: No Longer Just for Dishsoap

My father is one of the happiest guys you've ever met. He's the man of eternal sunshine. I don't think I've ever met anyone who didn't just take to him right off the bat. He practically emits little rays of smiley-face essence from his pores, much like a jolly Buddha. He finds the good in every situation, every person and every broken-down, thrown-away piece of junk that's ever existed. I've never known him to be judgemental or unkind. To some extent, his affability makes him gullible, but this just adds to the aura of lovableness that follows him around. My dad has been diagnosed with Leukemia, and has been lying in the hospital taking chemo for a month now. Yet he smiled at me yesterday and said, "life doesn't get much better than this, Sis." That's the kind of man my Dad is.

So I ask you: what makes you happy? Careful, this is a trick question. Know why? Because nothing makes you happy. Now, I know I sound like a man having a fight with his wife, but bear with me here. It's an issue of semantics. Let's suppose that I say puppies make me happy. See it's not really about the puppies. It's that the puppy produces a sensation inside me that is pleasurable. Let's say that I tell you money makes me happy. But it doesn't really. If I was stranded on a desert island a bajillion miles from civilization, all the money in the world wouldn't make me nearly as happy as a crate of Skippy peanut butter. It is not about the money, it's about what I do with the money and how that makes me feel on the inside. What if I say it's my spouse or having great sex that makes me happy. Well, they don't really do that either. If I found out my spouse was having sex with my best friend, then I wouldn't be very happy (especially since my best friend is a guy...). What makes me happy is how I feel in response to him, within a very narrowly defined set of parameters. Marriages end all the time because people change, and because what makes us happy is completely impermanent. Same with sex. Even though it might make me really happy to have sex right now, if I was stuck in a burning building, I could probably care less whether or not I was going to get laid in the next fifteen minutes. Or if I had pneumonia. Sex probably wouldn't make me nearly as happy as a bottle of Nyquil.

So you see, this teaches us two very important lessons about joy and happiness:

1) It is a futile endeavor to expect our external property and experiences to fulfill our internal needs. Happiness is not produced out there, it's produced in the mind, in the soul - on the inside. This is why there are some people who are never happy, no matter what's going on, and then there are people who can be just as happy while they're dieing of Leukemia in the hospital as they are when they're doing anything else. It's all in your head, man. Beauty can be found in the ugliest setting. Happiness is a choice, maybe even a habit, of seeing things in one light rather than another, and that is all it is. Of course, there are circumstances that make us unhappy: life is full of tragedy. But I mean in a general sense, a day-to-day sense. Grief is a part of everyone's life at some stage, but you choose whether or not it becomes a permanent part of your everyday life.

2) Joy is momentary. Now, this may sound like the cliche about happiness is fleeting, but it's a little bit different concept. What I mean is that happiness occurs from moment to moment. This is another reason that nothing outside of you can make you happy. What seems to bring you happiness right now will not make you happy forever. A puppy that makes you happy right now can make you very unhappy if he attacks your mailman or eats your favorite pair of pumps or digs up the bushes you spent all day yesterday planting. Money can make you very unhappy if you get sued or divorced or have to work through your children's school plays. The thing that seems to make you happy right now gives no guarantee of making you happy tomorrow.

This is the secret. Happiness is an internal process, and the harder you try to make it an external one, the more you're setting yourself up for disappointment. This means that it is completely possible to be happy no matter what your circumstances are. Read that again. How many of you really believe that? Those few that do are the ones that will be happy; the rest of you will always find something lacking, something missing. You will spend your whole life thinking, "just over that next ridge I will find my happiness. Once I find that thing or fix this thing, or get rid of that person, or make more money... then I will be happy." Your happiness will always be fleeting and you will grow old and bitter wondering why. Joy lives in the moment - joy IS a moment - and it asks nothing more of the moment than what's already there. Can you do the same?

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

First Date

So, I've finally crossed a threshold. For so long, the very thought of going out with someone new, with the express purpose of "meeting someone new", has made me sick with guilt. I'm so afraid that it's an insult to his memory, to his family and his friends for me to try to build something new with what remains of my life. But I'm finally coming to the point where I'm ok with it. I think CJ would be ok with it, too. At first I kept thinking that he might feel betrayed if I found someone to go out with, but you know what? I feel betrayed, too. I'm the one who's still here, damn it. I'm the one here making it alone. But, even more than alone, I'm lonely. And believe me, there is a big difference between those two states of being. I don't mind, and in fact rather enjoy, being alone. Being lonely fucking sucks though. So, I decided it was time for me to get out there and meet some new peeps. (Yes, I just used peeps in sentence).

I'm not seeking anything permanent or serious, mind you. Just to, you know, meet some new people. People that don't know I'm a 26 year old widow who's never been on a date. See? There's a distinct advantage to meeting New Friends. You can edit yourself and your life however you want to with New Friends. New Friends don't have to know that I'm a huge Star Trek geek, or that I can't eat a meal (ever) without dumping some portion of it on myself or the table. New Friends don't have to know about that embarrassing time I tripped on the carpet and gave myself a black eye and a concussion on the corner of the TV, or about that disgusting habit I have of leaving half glasses of milk sitting out for days. New Friends only get the parts of me I want to tell them about, and I've got to tell you, there's great allure to that. It's safe. If they don't know any of the things about me that make me me, then I can feel perfectly ok about severing ties at a moments notice should it suddenly become too hard to make New Friends. I don't have to get hurt, I don't have to be attached, I am in complete control: those who control the information control the world (evil laugh).

With this mindset in place, I began mentioning casually to friends that I was interested in making "New Friends". Within a very short period of time, one of my friends at work told me that a guy she knew was in town for CES. Apparently we had a lot in common, and he looked pretty cute from the pictures on his MySpace page. So she invited him out to meet me, and the three of us all agreed to go out to dinner after work. So far, so good. The night before the Big Event, I spent three hours trying on practically every piece of clothing in my closet. I spent THREE goddamn hours trying to figure out what to freaking wear on an outing that didn't even qualify as a real date, with some guy I would likely not really ever see again. None of my sexy clothes fit like I remembered... I have been wearing pajama bottoms and Star Wars t-shirts and my husbands sweaters for a year now. I'd packed away the thongs and the push-up bras because - really - no woman in her right mind would wear these things without a male incentive. As a result of my personal carelessness, I found that my sexy jeans wouldn't go over my hips, my cute t-shirts showed the bulges around my tummy, and most of the skirts showed the expansion of my thighs. Well, shit. Finally settling on a skirt that looked ok, I realized that I hadn't shaved my legs since I got a pedicure nearly two months ago... another one of those things no woman in her right mind does unless she has to. With winter being here, I can wear long pants everyday and save myself lots of cash on razors. So, at eight thirty in the evening, I find myself in a panic driving to Wal-Mart to buy razors for my not-a-real date. On the bright side, my new efforts to look presentable are noticed by almost all of my co-workers (making me realize how dreadful I must actually look on a daily basis... I quickly realize how far I've let myself go from not really caring about this shit for over a year and from placating my depression with Ghiradelli chocolate and Hagen Daz... mental note: it's cheaper to start working out than it is to buy a new wardrobe...).

After work we head over to the MGM to meet up with Dave. He'd done well on the slot machines, so apparently he's buying dinner. I normally would have felt a bit uncomfortable with this, but since my other girlfriend was there I figured it was ok. We had a great dinner at an Italian restaurant and I managed to keep from dumping any of it on myself, though the table didn't fare so well. I don't think he saw that though... or when I tipped my glass up too fast and poured wine down my chin. Thank God there were three of us, so his attention wasn't all on me. He seemed like a really interesting guy. We had a lot in common, and he seemed to appreciate my geeky side. After dinner we all headed to one of the bars to have a drink. After a little while, my friend has to leave. While this worries me a bit, to be on my own in this new situation, he seems pretty nice and everything so I decide to stay for a while. He lives in LA and I'm thinking, hey this guys isn't so bad, maybe next time I come down to see my sister, I'll give him a call and we can go out to dinner or something... It's about this time, about fifteen minutes after my friend has left, that he leans towards me and says "I don't know about you, but I'd like to go back to my room and make-out...". My first thought was "Wait... with me?". Then it sinks in that he's just propositioned me. I manage to keep my cool though, rather than choking on my drink and panicking, I laugh and say, "No offense, but I just met you. I'm not going to go make out with you...". I figure if I keep it light, he at least has the ability to still recover. He can say "Oh, no problem, I wouldn't want to do anything to make you feel uncomfortable." Or "Oh no, no, no! I said 'I don't know about you, but I think it's really cool to get take-out...'". Say something, you know? He says "Well... this is awkward." Well shit... there's no recovering from that.

"I'm sorry, I just never really connected with someone like this," Dave tells me. So your solution to that is, Hey Baby, let's go make out?!? I think. But that's not what I say, because I actually feel really bad for the guy. Suddenly I'm thinking that it's my fault. Maybe I'm some kind of weird prude who has unwieldy expectations. Maybe I was giving him some sort come-on signs without even realizing it. Though based upon how my friends tell me I act, I really don't think that was the case. I mean, where do you draw the line between trying to indicate you're enjoying someone's company and indicating that you'd like to go dance the mattress mambo? I mean, there's got to be standard codes of behavior on this listed somewhere...

Anyway, the evening ended amicably enough. Obviously, I think it was pretty clear that our expectations for the evening were vastly different. It's kind of sad, because he seemed like an interesting person with interesting stories. But I'm not about to let someone else push the boundaries on what I'm comfortable with. No matter how much of a prude he thinks I am. But actually, I'm glad it happened because I realized a number of things. First, that I am worth going out with. I'm funny, I'm smart and I'm pretty so I shouldn't let this whole meeting New Friends thing make me so nervous that I start doubting myself and what I have to offer. Second, I'm glad it happened because now I know exactly how to handle it if someone wants me to do things that I'm not ready to do. I was afraid I would feel bad, or feel pressured, and instead I can laugh at the whole thing and know that there is nothing wrong with my standards or my expectations.

So, dear friends, stay tuned. Same channel, same time for next weeks thrilling installment in the on-going adventure of Tamsen's sex life!

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

A Reflection on Year One: A Study in Four Acts


Dear CJ,
Well, here we are. One whole year around the track, been there and back. You're still gone, and I'm still here. I guess that doesn't really surprise you; it doesn't really surprise me, either. But it is disappointing. I'd really kind of hoped one of those two things would have changed by now, but they haven't. I guess I've mostly gotten used to the changes: the sleeping by myself, the being alone in a crowd, the stiff upper lip, the roller coaster (baby, baby). I've tried to take care of your family and your friends as best I could. I've done the best I could to pick up the pieces you left behind and put things back together. I never was very good at fixing things that were broke (that was your job, remember?), but I guess we're limping along. I know I sound kind of angry, and I guess I am. I'm angry that you left me here to do this by myself. I'm angry that you left me just when things were getting better. I'm angry that you were supposed to be my best friend and my soul mate, but left anyway. I'm angry that you hurt your parents and your friends like this. I'm angry that you're not here so we can have a real fight about this.

Besides angry, I'm tired. I'm tired of being the exception to the rule. I'm tired of having nobody understand that it still hurts and it always will. I'm tired of reliving the same moments over and over, the one when Skate said "There was an accident, and CJ didn't make it." The one where the coroner gave me your wedding ring. The dinner last August when I gave you the key to the bike and saw your heart heal before my very eyes. The first time we... well you know. I'm tired of seeing all the happy couples and families. I'm tired of standing back up and leaning into the pain when I'd rather lay down and die. I'm tired of talking to you and having no replies. I'm tired of trying to make it better and tired of trying to comfort myself.

When I try to explain our relationship to people, I tell them that you were the soul and I was the heart and we shared a body. So it feels like my soul's been ripped out and my heart is all broken, and I've paid an arm and a leg. I guess duct tape doesn't fix everything. I think about you all the time. I feel so unprepared for this. I feel like I'm choking to death on my own loneliness. I feel like a broken puzzle piece, like I don't belong here anymore; I don't fit in anywhere. You were everything, and you still are.

I have good days, good weeks and bad ones. Eventually it will be ok again. That's what they say anyway. But there are times when I look at the pictures of us and I can't breathe. I will always love you, and the pain of your death will always be with me. I've learned that grief is not about learning to "let go" of the pain or "get over" the loss. Grief is about learning to live with the pain, how to find joy and peace and love despite the dark stains on our souls. You will always be one of my best friends, even if our conversations are pretty much one way now. I carry with me the memory of your smile, your touch and all the things you taught me. Those things are eternal, and live on in me. Small consolation, but I'll take what I can get. When you can do nothing else, you just do the best you can. And I'm proud to say that I have honestly done the best I could. I still don't really know what comes next, but I will do my very best to make the most of everything. I'll try my best to remember the lessons I've learned this year, and to live my life accordingly. I promise.

I want you to know that I'm not really angry at you. I believe in a grander plan, and I accept my small place in it with wonder, hope and faith. I thank you, for everything. I hope I haven't let you down. I hope you still remember me when next we meet. I hope you know how much you were loved, how much you meant. I hope this is a better year, for everyone. I hope... and maybe that's enough. For all that you were, with all that I had, I loved you.

Between now and then,
Until I see you again,
I'll Be loving you.
Love, Me.

Dear Creator of all that is and is not, all that ever was and ever will be,

A very wise parent once told me that, "'Why not?' is a perfectly appropriate response to a child's constant question of 'why?'". So I suppose Your response to my constant question of 'why did this happen?' May very well be "why not?". In the book of Isaiah, in the Bible, there is an emphasized theme that we are doomed to failure if we ever try to comprehend Your world or Your intentions. Apparently, Your existence is so completely different from our own that it is completely incomprehensible, and actually an insult to You when we try to understand. This is because trying to understand You on our terms limits what You can be, because our own understandings are so limited. Not really sure where I was going with that. But that's ok... God's world is supposedly eternal, so I guess You have the time. I'm not angry at You, either - I want You to know that. I know I said I was... and that I kind of stopped talking to You for awhile. Really though, I was more confused and disappointed and hurt than angry. It seemed awful unfair that CJ died like that, when he did. But I guess you could say that I've cooled down a bit. But like all couples that go through a bad time and come out on the other side, I feel that we're closer now than ever before. I know I can lean on You when the going gets rough and You won't let me down. I've come to realize that faith in the system, in the method, in the madness will see me through almost any storm. Hard to keep the faith, sometimes, though. But I guess You know that too... do I at least get points for trying? Like I told Siege, I'm doing the best I can. I hope that we can become closer in the future. I'm still not sure what to think about you. You're kind of a mysterious guy, You know? I bet You get that a lot. I want to thank You for all the little signs, the little conincidences You sent me to keep me going. LOL, I guess coincidences are how You help when You wish to remain anonymous and miracles are how You help when You want to shine. So what are the tragedies, then, I wonder? When You want to be remembered, when You feel forgotten? Sorry... I guess that scorning the Grand Almighty is probably not a good idea. Especially since I really am trying to be positive here. I guess my point is that I came pretty close to checking out of this game a few times this year and that one of the things that kept me here was faith that things will turn out as they're meant. I believe in You, and I don't think it's even possible for You to create an imperfect system. As such, all things must end well. So, for now at least, I'll assume that if it's not well then it hasn't ended, and I'll play a little longer. It's a wonder-full, beauty-full world, My Lord. I have so many things to be ridiculously grateful for, that I'm sure it's baffled You to hear my laments over this one thing. But really, Dude? This one thing has pretty much sucked. However, this one thing has also helped me to appreciate so much more the things of this world, and how fleeting this world can be. So, anyways... sorry about all the bad feelings I've been putting out there. I really am grateful for this life, and all the good stuff and the color purple. I'll keep in touch. I look forward to meeting you in person.

Sincerly, in perfect love and perfect trust,

As you know already, there are no words. No words to describe it. No words to heal it. No words to explain it. I wish I had some. But the trick of it all is that, even if I did have words for you, they would be words born from my own experience, and thus of little use to you. You have been wounded in the most horrible way a human can be, from the heart. They say that time will heal it, and to a certain extent that's true. But it will never heal completely... it will never not hurt to think of. It may hurt less someday than it does now, but it will never completely be ok. Some may find it cruel of me to say so, but I will not lie to you. I won't tell you lies, but I will tell you this. It does get better. There will come a day when light shines once again into that black hole where your heart used sit, beating out the moments of your before-life one by one. There will be moments when it doesn't hurt to laugh, when you remember how to be happy, even if it is just for moment. There will be days and even weeks when it hurts even more than it does now. But those times don't last forever, honest they don't. Eventually you will smile more and more, and cry less and less and your heart will heal. Having gone through so much this year, I know that I'm nowhere near the end of my grieving journey; I'm not sure I ever will be. But, I do know enough that I can give you some idea of what you're in for.

In the beginning is shock and denial. It's real, but it is not real. You may even feel early on that you are ok with things, that you're doing ok with the whole shebang. Or, you may worry that you're not grieving enough, feeling enough. Neither of these is true. It just hasn't hit you yet. How will you know when it sinks in? You'll know. This is the numb phase. You probably don't think of yourself as feeling numb, but compared to a few months from now... A few months from now is generally the hardest for most of us - months 4-6 were the hardest for me. Things always go up and down within these time frames, but those months in particular were horrific. The problem is that almost everyone else will have returned to their daily lives by this time, right when you are going to need them the most. Expect others to feel uncomfortable with you, your ghosts and your grief. They won't understand, and many of them will leave you. They don't mean any harm, they just don't know how to help or what to say. Be careful not to punish them for failing to make it better, they just Don't Get It. The sense of isolation, loss and physical pain wrought by the mental anguish are hardest here. But endure, lean into the pain and, I promise, you will come out on the other side. Month 7-8 was when things started to get a teensy bit better. Keep in mind that all time frames are generalities, some people will heal faster, some much, much slower and that however you heal is just right and fine for you. Don't let anyone tell you different. Don't let anyone tell you that what you're feeling isn't right, or that you should be doing better. How in the fuck would they know? Just take it one breath at a time (because, believe me, there will be times when it hurts so much that you forget to breathe). Take one step, one day at a time. Forget to take it one step at at time and you'll fall on your face, look too far ahead of one day and you'll start to panic. Baby steps. Things will be better someday... you will want to live again, you will find joy in the simple things, you will find peace at night, you will meet new people and make new friends, and it will be the hardest thing you've ever done in your life. But there are many of us that have gone before you, and many that will come after. And if we all made it through, so can you... I promise. You have a long road ahead of you, but it is not a road without end. Your life will never be the same. You will never be the same. But, to quote the remarkable Pentha, we are forever changed but not forever broken. Make it through the forest, and we'll see you on the other side.

I know it's hard, isn't it? To want to help so badly, to fix something so much and not be able to? We don't mean to alienate you, but there really is no way for you to understand. But here are some things you can do to help. Most of all, be there. Be there for the long haul. Our pain gets a lot worse before it gets better. So, you need to checking up on us just as much in month six (if not more) as you were the first couple of weeks. But, here are some other things, mostly compiled from various grief books and posts on the YWBB.

1. Please talk about my loved one, even though he is gone. It is more comforting to cry than to pretend that he never existed. I need to talk about him, and I need to do it over and over.

2. Be patient with my agitation. Nothing feels secure in my world. Get comfortable with my crying. Sadness hits me in waves, and I never know when my tears may flow. Just sit with me in silence and hold my hand.

3. Don't abandon me with the excuse that you don't want to upset me. You can't catch my grief. My world is painful, and when you are too afraid to call me or visit or say anything, you isolate me at a time when I most need to be cared about. If you don't know what to say, just come over, give me a hug or touch my arm, and gently say, "I'm sorry." You can even say, "I just don't know what to say, but I care, and want you to know that."

4. Just because I look good does not mean that I feel good. Ask me how I feel only if you really have time to find out.

5. I will not recover. This is not a cold or the flu. I'm not sick. I'm grieving and that's different. My grieving may only begin 6 months after my loved one's death. Don't think that I will be over it in a year. For I am not only grieving his death, but also the person I was when I was with him, the life that we shared, the plans we had for watching our children grow, the places we will never get to go together, and the hopes and dreams that will never come true. My whole world has crumbled and I will never be the same.

6. I will not always be grieving as intensely, but I will never forget my loved one and rather than recover, I want to incorporate his life and love into the rest of my life. He is a part of me and always will be, and sometimes I will remember him with joy and other times with a tear. Both are okay.

7. I don't have to accept the death. Yes, I have to understand that it has happened and it is real, but there are some things in life that are just not acceptable.

8. When you tell me what I should be doing, then I feel even more lost and alone. I feel badly enough that my loved one is dead, so please don't make it worse by telling me I'm not doing this right.

9. Please don't tell me I can find someone else or that I need to start dating again. I'm not ready. And maybe I don't want to. And besides, what makes you think people are replaceable? They aren't. Whoever comes after will always be someone different.

10. I don't even understand what you mean when you say, "You've got to get on with your life." My life is going on, I've been forced to take on many new responsibilities and roles. It may not look the way you think it should. This will take time and I will never be my old self again. So please, just love me as I am today, and know that with your love and support, the joy will slowly return to my life. But I will never forget and there will always be times that I cry.

11. I need to know that you care about me. I need to feel your touch, your hugs. I need you just to be with me, and I need to be with you. I need to know you believe in me and in my ability to get through my grief in my own way, and in my own time.

12. Please don't say, "Call me if you need anything." I'll never call you because I have no idea what I need. Trying to figure out what you could do for me takes more energy than I have. So, in advance, let me give you some ideas:
(a) Bring food or a movie over to watch together - avoid love stories.
(b) Send me a card on special holidays, his birthday, and the anniversary of his death, and be sure to mention his name. You can't make me cry. The tears are here and I will love you for giving me the opportunity to shed them because someone cared enough about me to reach out on this difficult day.
(c) Ask me more than once to join you at a movie or lunch or dinner. I may so no at first or even for a while, but please don't give up on me because somewhere down the line, I may be ready, and if you've given up then I really will be alone.
(d) Understand how difficult it is for me to be surrounded by couples, to walk into events alone, to go home alone, to feel out of place in the same situations where I used to feel so comfortable.
(e) If you're thinking of me, call me and let me know. I've lost my family and my best friend all in one, and when you don't call it makes me feel that I've lost everything. If you don't know what to say, simply say, "I was thinking of you, I still care, I'm still here." Believe me, that sentence will mean more to me than you know.
(f) In the beginning I may completely give up on life. If you come over, don't ask me how you can help, but look for something to do. Are there dirty dishes in the sink? Weeds that need to be pulled? If you really want to help, find ways that you can.

12. Please don't judge me now - or think that I'm behaving strangely. Remember I'm grieving. I may even be in shock. I am afraid. I may feel deep rage. I may even feel guilty. But above all, I hurt. I'm experiencing a pain unlike any I've ever felt before and one that can't be imagined by anyone who has not walked in my shoes.

13. Don't worry if you think I'm getting better and then suddenly I seem to slip backward. Grief makes me behave this way at times. And please don't tell me you know how I feel, or that it's time for me to get on with my life. What I need now is time to grieve.

14. Please don't call to complain about your husband, your wife, or your children. Please don't relate the loss of a pet, the estrangement of your children or a divorce to my grief. Right now, I'd be delighted to have my loved one here no matter what they were doing or how much we were fighting.

15. Don't tell me what your beliefs about the afterlife or God unless I ask, and don't criticize any beliefs I profess. I'm closer to dealing with God, death and life right now than you can possibly imagine, and I don't need to be criticized for what I'm feeling while I work through this pain. Whether I say something offensive or talk about experiences that you don't believe in (signs or psychics) you need to support me without doubt or criticism while I figure out what I believe. Sometimes, more than anything, we need these small signs to keep going, and it is wrong for you to rob us of that with your doubts. Conversely, chastising me for a loss of faith is not appropriate, and assuring me that it's all in God's plan will only piss me off.

15. Most of all thank you for being my friend. Thank you for your patience. Thank you for caring. Thank you for helping, for understanding. Thank you for praying for me.And remember in the days or years ahead, after your loss - when you need me as I have needed you - I will understand. And then I will come and be with you.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Happy New Year

I've always found Halloween to be an entertaining holiday. It's an excuse holiday, like Valentine's day. It's about buying candy and dressing up funny and fueling the US economy. That is the only modern purpose to be given to Halloween. Not very meaningful or significant is it? But that's alright. The origins of our modern Hallow's Eve traditions are descended largely from the pagan/pre-Christian religions. In Celtic paganism, Halloween is often known as Samhain. Samhain (November in Gaelic) was meant to celebrate the end of the growing and harvesting seasons, and the slumber of winter that would bring rebirth and growth the following Spring. It was the ancient Celtic New Year's eve. This idea resonates with me. I feel like I'll never be able to celebrate January First again. Never will it be a light-hearted day for me, nor a festival of renewal. But it makes sense to celebrate the beginning of a new year right after the fall harvest, I think. Better weather, anyway. It was also a holiday meant to honor those friends and loved ones who had passed away. Places were often set for them at the table, and stories about them were shared to keep their memory alive for those who live on.

So, from now on, I will be celebrating my New Year on the Pagan holiday of Samhain. As such... here are my New Years resolutions:

  • I resolve that while I may sometimes have a right to be angry, I don't have the right to be mean. I have been far to judgmental and critical of people I've been unhappy with. Taking out my unhappiness on other people and their reputations no longer reflects who I am or who I want to be.
  • I resolve that I will not take the easy out. Every lesson I've learned that mattered and every good habit I have were learned the hard way. The easy road is for pussies. (Pardon the language, Kim).
  • I resolve to be more patient. Life happens on it's own schedule. Once you accept that now can be just as enjoyable as later and that later never matters more than now, life get's a lot more fun and a lot more easy.
  • I resolve to be more grateful and more forgiving. I've always been able to forgive others, but I have a hard time forgiving myself. However (to quote Aldous Huxley), rolling around in the muck is not the best way of getting clean. Regarding gratitude, it's hard to pay attention to what you lack when you pay a lot of attention to what you have.

So, my dear friends, Happy New Year. I hope the coming year is better for all of us. I love you all, and I sincerely thank you for standing by me these past ten months. If you feel that January First will be difficult for you too, please feel free to join in with me in forming a new tradition. Anyone else have a New Year's resolution?

Blessed Be and love to all.


Thursday, October 19, 2006

Life After Death

Well, October's almost over, Halloween will be here soon. Then Thanksgiving and Christmas. November first will be ten months. TEN MONTHS. How in the hell can it be ten months? I wonder if I'll be asking that questions years from now. Five years? How can it be five years?!? There was a movie I saw once as a kid, I think it was called Hello Again, with Shelly Long. Anyway, she dies very early in the movie (by choking on a chicken ball). Her sister owns an occult shop and is heavy into the "magical arts", shall we say. So, it shows time passing, her family adjusting to her death as the days and weeks pass by. Then in one scene the sister finds this ancient spell book that has a spell for bringing a person back from the dead, on the full moon if it's the one year anniversary of the person's death. So she brings her back, and wacky hi-jinks ensue. But the thing that strikes me lately are those scenes of her son, jerk-off husband and sister adapting to their newfound circumstances. When she comes back, her husband has married the ex-best friend, her son is newly married with a baby on the way and a new career. Their house has been sold and the husband/best friend live in a high-rise NY flat. Everything has changed, all the people she loved are different.

I wonder, if CJ were to miraculously come back this coming New Year's eve, what he'd make of it all. I have a new car. I've moved. I bought two pairs of skis. I got a puppy. But those are just material changes. I wonder, have we changed? I think so. I can't speak for the rest of you, but I feel like a different person. I'm not afraid of death or injury anymore. I'm not afraid of failing or looking stupid. I don't take my career goals, money or my possessions as seriously, and I don't take the people I love for granted. I figured out that life is not about doing. It's about what you're being while you're doing. It doesn't matter what I do anymore, it just matters if I'm happy while I'm doing it. I've lost some friends and gained others. I've gotten new hobbies, interests I never would have had the guts to explore while CJ was here. I've learned that contrary to popular belief I can be alone in this life and still be happy. I've learned that I'm a lot stronger than I ever gave myself credit for.

One of the most prominent questions on the mind of every widower is, When does it get better? This is, of course, assuming that they have an answer to Does it get better?. Grief takes its toll, and grief takes its time. The one thing, more than any other, that you "normal" people need to realize is that life is changed. We are not the same people we were before. We will never be the same, and our lives will never "go back" to normal. We have to make up a new normal. If you are sitting around, waiting until the "old" us comes back again, you're wasting your time. The old us is never coming back, just like our spouses are never coming back. What you're doing, if you're a good friend that is, is waiting for us to decide who we are now.

So, you want to know when it gets better? It gets better when you make the transition. This is the pivotal moment when you stand on the breach between the old and the new, the familiar and the unknown. You've walked all these lonely miles, and you stand on the precipice. Behind you is that dark scary forest you've been calling home for months now. In there, you're alone and you're afraid. But you've spent enough time there that you have a familiarity with the area. You know all the monsters that play in 'dem 'dere woods. The danger, you see, is that we've become comfortable with our grief. We had a role, as a spouse. We were a husband, a wife, a lover, the guy who lifted heavy stuff and fixed things, the nag... whatever. Now we've become "the widow/er". We're still being defined by our spouses, but in a different way. People now identify us by our grief, our isolation, all that pain that "they can't imagine what we're going through."

I believe things get better when you start to redefine yourself. You recognize the loss, and it's weight, but you begin to make stakes to reclaim your life. It's the point when you say, this event will no longer define who I am. Did I mention that I bought new skis? (Summit Nomads, aw yeah =). I LOVE to ski. But I've never done it very much because CJ didn't like the cold too well. So we did other things instead. But this season, I'm going to be a skiing fool! And I'm really excited about the prospect. I have to deal with the pain, though. You see, it hurts to take those steps. These new things in our lives that don't involve our spouse. It hurts because you're actively letting go, you're acknowledging that you want to move on someday. You're acknowledging that you're still here, hanging on, alive. And you're acknowledging that they are not. That's a very painful choice.

But still, slowly you let go of the pain without losing the love. You learn new habits, make new ties, get new hobbies, but retain the memories. So... tell me. Do you believe in life after death? I do. I'm proof.

Blessed be,

Friday, September 29, 2006


So, a close friend left me a message on my cell phone yesterday. In a serious sounding voice she says "Tamsen. You have to call me." then hangs up. When she doesn't answer her phone, I begin to worry. By the time she calls me back, I'm a nervous wreck. I've convinced myself that her boyfriend or a member of her family has died. I feel nauseous, and I've already planned out the phone message I'm going to leave for work, telling them that I had to go to LA to be there for her. In the end, all she wanted to tell me was that she'd run into one of our old friends at work.

I just want to be normal. I want to be care-free and young and stupid and drunk, like your twenties are supposed to be. I don't want to be 26 and feel 48 anymore. I don't want to feel like all the important parts of me are dead before I ever really got a chance to live. I want to go to bed at night and not spend three hours staring at the ceiling wishing my dead husband was there to tell me not to cry. I want to meet new people and not think, "you have no idea, do you? Just you wait... just wait until that long black train comes to pick up someone you love... then you'll know..." I want to go out to dinner with friends and not feel compelled to talk about life and death. I want the trivial to seem important again. I want my family to not be broken and hurt. I want to have somewhere to go on the weekends and not hate Sunday. I want to go to the movies or out to eat and not resent being there. I want to feel like life has meaning again.

No, you know what? I want to start over with a whole new life, a whole different set of choices and memories. Or I want my old life back, in the month between Thanksgiving and New Years, when things were the best they'd ever been. Or I want to die, to go Home and be with him, where I'm supposed to be. I want something, anything other than this! I JUST WANT MY GODDAMNED HUSBAND BACK! But you can't start over, can you? There are no brand new beginnings. But I hear everyone can start today and write a brand new ending. I guess that means asking how you want the story to end from here... where do you hope the future goes? I don't fucking know. I don't fucking care. All I know is that I wish I was like all the other people my age, the ones who feel like the world is theirs for the taking, the ones who are full of hope and optimism and blind faith that they'll get everything they ever wanted and never lose it. I just want to be normal.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Of Snails, Ink and Monty

I got this tattoo about two weeks ago at the SkinFactory in Las Vegas, courtesy of the wonderful NickHole. I know the picture looks a little crooked, but that's just because I was trying to take the picture myself - behind my back. I think if you click on the picture you can get a bigger version of it to show up...

I got a snail, because CJ's always kind of been referenced with snails in our group. When we were first going out he'd make up stories all the time about this friend of his, who happened to be a secret agent snail. I would laugh until I cried as we made up stories about this snails James Bondesque adventures (I'd tell you the agent snail's name, but then I'd have to kill you...) CJ always used to draw snails when he was doodling, God only knows why. Over the years I came to associate snails with him so much that I always had to stop and save them if they were in the sidewalk so they wouldn't get stepped on. I also bought a tiffany glass-style night light in the shape of a snail. During the phases of our life when CJ and I were living apart it brought me comfort. And now it still serves that purpose, I guess. Interesting factoid of the day: the number phi (not pi, but phi) is considered the "divine ratio" or "golden ratio" because of the perfection of it's properties, and it is often represented by a nautilus (snails) shell.

NickHole put the blue flower on my left, because that's my married side. I've heard of widows who put tattoos on their right side because their spouse was "always right there" or was their "right hand guy". Some get them on the left because they "left" us or because we wear our rings on the left. I got mine where it is because I know CJ's always got my back... no matter how far apart we may be.

I think she did a great job on the tattoo, but I made the mistake of having it a bit too high - it should actually sit about three inches lower than where it is. But it's not like you can return a tattoo, you know? "Excuse me... can we just move this down a little?" I was kind of beating myself up about the whole thing after I got home. I was just a bit depressed in general, thinking about how I messed it up and how CJ probably would have thought it was stupid... So I was going to check my comics before I went to bed, and this was the first one I came across. It's from a strip called 9 Chickweed Lane. The old guy in the photo is this crazy old farmer who calls himself Thorax. He believes he's a higher being from another planet and that he talks to God. According to Thorax, God's real name is Monty.

I think it was CJ's way of telling me he liked the tattoo. And his way of saying that he's always got my back. And of course, reminding everyone that he's a God (cocky bastard =]). I have another small tattoo of a ladybug. I named the ladybug Sid after Sidhartha (Buddha's real name for you trivia buffs ;-). So, I've decided to name the snail Monty.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Intimate Details

This is kind of an awkward and embarrassing topic for me, very personal... so please bear with me if this makes you uncomfortable.

The worst thing about being a widow/er is the loss of love. Of course you miss friendship, companionship, someone to take up the other half of the bed, all the extra clothes and dishes to wash. Someone to take care of and someone to take care of you. But mostly you miss the intimacy. When you have a great marriage, it becomes something that goes far beyond friendship. It's having someone who knows you. Knows what kind of food you like and don't like. Knows that you're just going to love a certain movie or book. Knows all your dirty little secrets and harbored wishes. Knows exactly what you're thinking when you raise your eyebrows like that. Knows not only how to make you feel better when you're down, but also knows how to make you livid in zero to sixty. Knows what it means when you put on that little black dress (and probably can guess exactly what you have on under it =P). When your spouse dies, it's not only traumatic, it's extremely disorienting. You've had this constant, intense connection for so long, and it's almost impossible to function without it. Suddenly no one knows you anymore. No one understands you, and no one understands what you're going through.

I remember that whenever CJ and I would go out somewhere, if I took too long to get ready or was getting worried that what I was wearing looked bad, he'd look at me and say "Who are you trying to impress?". If I only really cared about what he thought, and he thought I was pretty, then who cared about the rest? That boy was incredibly good for my self esteem, because he always accepted me for me, and even liked me if I wasn't wearing make-up or hadn't shaved my legs that week. He wouldn't let me say bad things about myself (like calling myself fat or stupid or incapable). He thought I was amazing, and wouldn't let me or anyone else say otherwise about his wife.

The problem is, without our lovers constant acceptance and affection, it's a bit harder to maintain self esteem. (It's very difficult to keep momentum if it's you that you are following). For the first time in ten years, I feel like I really have to worry about how everyone else sees me or thinks about me. Being widowed young is a very unique experience. The person you thought you were going to spend the rest of your life with is gone. It's as if you had your date for the prom all set months in advance. Then they call you the night of and cancel, leaving you to decide if you'll stay at home alone feeling sorry for yourself , or try to be brave and go to the dance alone anyway. Either way, it's a horrible choice compared to the one you had. You don't want anyone else, you certainly don't want the trouble of having to find anyone else... but you don't want to spend the next fifty years eating Rice-a-Roni alone with your cat, either. It's a horrible Catch 22.

Even worse than the general feeling of loneliness and outsider-ness is the desire for physical contact. We have a phrase for it in the widow/er community. It's called skin hunger. Let me be clear: you don't want anyone else to touch you, you certainly don't want to date or be single. But you've gotten so used to having someone there all the time; for hugs, for kisses, for sex, for hand-holding, for movie-snuggling and ear-nibbling. Suddenly, you can't be close to anybody. There's no one to turn to, lean on, make love to. You are truly severed - mind, body and soul. You come to yearn for simple human contact: a connection of minds, a moment of understanding, the brush of hands. But the yearning makes you feel like a bad person: a cup of weak and a handful of pathetic with a dash of guilty and unfaithful for seasoning.

We lose so many things, as young widows. But, being young, it's assumed we have so much life left. It is a common complaint among my fellows that people, trying to be supportive, will say, "Look on the bright side! You're young, you're attractive! You'll find someone else, no problem!". Yeah. Screw you and the optimism train you rode in on. They just don't understand that from our perspective, we had everything. Then we lost it before we even got to enjoy it. While it's true (it has to be true) that life goes on, it's very difficult to see that from our tortured and short-sighted perspective.

In large part, being a widow is a multi-year process of redefinition. Regarding sex, this is a very tricky process. I don't' know what it means to be sexy without CJ. I don't know what it means to be a woman without him there to counterpoint the alternative. I know what it means to be a wife, a role and a definition I loved; but now I'm not a wife anymore. So now I have to learn what it means to be a woman in a vacuum. How in the world am I supposed to learn that? I don't know how to date... more important, I don't know how to be datable. I don't know how to read other men, I don't know the rituals for flirting, I don't know what colors are in this Fall, I don't know at what length a skirt goes from stodgy to sexy to slutty... I don't know anything. And that's just the beginning! What happens if I make it through all that!?! I don't know how to be with another guy, if you know what I mean (wink, wink; nudge, nudge). We had a great sex life. And really? I don't care how "lonely" it gets, I don't think I really want to go through all the trouble of learning someone else's style or teaching them mine. (Just another one of those little side benefits of being with someone who really knows you... wink, wink; nudge, nudge; knowhatImean?) I never dated anybody but CJ. People say they don't know how "the game is played" nowadays, but I never learned it in the first place. Even more than that, I'm afraid to learn.

I hate being lonely, I hate being without my CJ. And between the guilt of even thinking about ever being with someone else and the incredible terror at having to undergo the process of dating - the rice-a-roni option doesn't look that bad. Yeah... yeah, you know, I do pretty well alone. I read a lot, and I have all the South Park and Star Trek: Next Generation episodes on DVD. And I really like rice-a-roni... especially the cheese and broccoli one. Rice-a-roni's cheap, too. For variety I can switch to ramen. God damn it... why the hell does life have to be so damn complicated? *sigh*

Blessed Be,

Monday, August 28, 2006

Back From Hell

I'd like to share another song with you. It's had me thinking alot lately about the process of grief. It's called Back From Hell, and it's also by Gary Allen. It's country, so forgive me if it's a bit simplistic and redundant.

I just got back from Hell
and I'm standing here alive.
I know it's really hard to tell,
Don't know how I survived.
I can't say that I'm doin' great,
But I think I'm doin' well.
That Devil's gonna have to wait
'Cause I just got back from Hell

Well, I just got back from Hell
And I guess to tell the truth
I've been mad at everyone,
including God and you.
When you can't find no one to blame,
You just blame yourself.
And I know I'll never be the same
I just got back from Hell

Forgive me if I had any part
If I ever broke your heart in two
Forgive me for what I didnt know,
For what I didnt say or do.
And, God, forgive me as well
'Cause I just got back from Hell

Well, I just got back from Hell
And I need to make some plans.
It's the last thing that I wanna do
But I'll do the best I can.
I'm gonna learn to live again,
But I think I'll sit a spell.
Tell the world that I'm alive
and I just got back from Hell.
I can't say that I'm doin' great
But I think I'm getting well
Gonna let the world know I'm alive
And I just got back from Hell

It's especially the last stanza that I want to talk about today.

I'm very afraid of the end of the year. All the way from Thanksgiving through New Years I expect to really, really suck. Sometimes all I can think is that I wish I were through this year already. Other times, all I can think is "I can't believe it's September...". I feel like I'm stuck in fast forward and reverse at the same time.

I feel like I've been living in a scary, dark hole. I'm afraid to come out, though, because the world out there is even scarier. Many people have been telling me that things don't get better in the second year. They just get different; but I have it on good authority that things won't get easier. I've started to have these flashes where I look around and realize the world is still moving on without me... without him. This causes me great distress, since my personal theory of relativity said that that wasn't possible. It violates the laws of nature that the (my) world still turns without him here to stabilize it.

I'm finding grief at this point to be alot like giving birth (well.... what I imagine giving birth is like). I'll be ok for a short bit of time, and then the pain comes out of nowhere. You grit your teeth and scream and breathe until it passes. Then you wait with relief and apprehension until another wave comes. The moments of peace in between the waves of pain are where life continues. I'll start to think about life after this... and the idea repels me. I'll start to have hope that maybe things will be ok, but this thought racks me with a guilt that is indescribable. You see, things can't ever be ok again, because I made a promise. If "CJ and Tamsen" was the most important thing that ever was, how can anything "only Tamsen" does ever be worthwhile? If he was the only thing that really mattered, how in the hell am I supposed to find something else that matters at all? I feel like I'm being torn apart from the inside: half of me desperately needs hope that I'll come out of this alright, the other half of me feels like anything resembling a normal life would be evidence that CJ wasn't necessary.

But the moments of clarity are there, and they're becoming more frequent. Like someone who's been lost at sea that starts to see signs of land - a bird in the sky or a floating tree branch. For eight months now, I've been living within the shadow of CJ's death. It's always there, lurking in the corners waiting to jump out and grab me. But a few months ago I went away for the weekend with a friend. For two whole days, I felt like a normal person. The love I have for CJ, my adoration of him, my respect for him, my gratitude for him were all still there - but the pain wasn't. And I didn't feel guilty - which is usually what I feel whenever happiness sneaks up on me. It was the first time since the day he died that I felt - that I believed - that life without CJ was possible. (See? Even writing that last line still inspires a sense of guilt...)

Even so, I feel that that weekend was a break-through of sorts for me, emotionally speaking. For so long now I've been getting by on just hoping that things would work out, that I'd find a way to get better, a way to be content, if not happy. But that one brief, shining moment where I really knew that I will be alright, and that there will come a day where my life will be worth the trouble again has helped me to move forward another step in the process of grief. It's easier to deal with the pain today if you really believe (instead of just hope) that things will get better, that the pain will ease as the years go by. Like the last stanza of that song, I feel like I'm at a place where things can start to change. I may not have come all the way through Hell yet, but I'm finally through one level of it, I think. I'm ready to start thinking about the possibilites - without guilt, if not without pain. I need to make some plans. It's the last thing that I wanted, but I'll do the best I can. So, I'm gonna try to learn to live again, but first I think I'll sit a spell. I just wanted you all to know I think I'm getting well. See you on the other side of Hell.

Blessed Be,

Friday, August 18, 2006

Anger Management

I can't believe how angry I've felt lately. I didn't really notice it at first. Then I began having these dreams - all these angry, violent dreams. Dreams where I get in fights with people and beat them up. Dreams where I run down pedestrians with my car. Dreams where other people who would ordinararily never be anrgy or violent are. Dreams with lots of punishment, blood, beatings and rage. I find I've been grinding my teeth and biting the insides of my cheek while I sleep, too. In general, I've just been running on a short fuse, quick to anger and quicker to annoyance.

The problem is that it's an elusive anger. I'm not mad at anyone in particular, not really. I think I've been a bit cranky, a bit edgy of late. Maybe even (a little =D) bitchiness will I admit to. But I'm not really angry at any one person or event. I wasn't even going to bother posting about this, but as I've talked to others in our social group, I've found a common thread in our resentment and anger towards the outside world. And towards each other, truth be told. All along this road, I've harbored anger at those I felt weren't towing the line, weren't doing their fair bit to keep up with the rest of us, if you know what I mean. Things that had been small differences and minor annoyances before CJ's death became an outlet for my negative emotions, allowing me a funnel to get the incredible rage over my own misfortune out of my heart, off my chest and out into the world. As time has passed, these directed tirades have subsided to be replaced by a general sense of discontent.

The worst is the anger I feel towards people whose lives are going well. I got an email today from an old and somewhat distant friend of mine. He just had a baby boy, and was emailing out pictures to all of his friends and family, as any proud father would. It just makes me so sad when I see other people happy with their new lives, starting new families. And I hate to be sad, so I suppose I translate that emotion into an undefined bitterness instead. But just the same, what kind of terrible person must I be to hate others for their happiness? What right on earth do I have to be angry because other people get to be happy? What kind of intolerance is that, when you are mad that others have the gall to be happy in your presence. It makes me wonder if, in the before time, CJ and I made others unhappy with our friendship, our relationship. Are there those who resented us, who were angry because we were happy in a way they weren't?

We all seem more hardened, in our own way. You deal with the hurt and the loss and the grief as best you can, but it leaves little calluses on your heart. Hard spots that may not have been there before. I find that I can't handle people's minor grievances anymore. Anytime someone starts to trip out over the small things, I just want to bitch slap them. Sit down! Shut up! Get a fucking grip! You have no idea what a real problem is! But just the same, such incredible anger is unjustified. In their own limited range of life experience, maybe this minor crisis does seem life threatening. Maybe they just aren't aware how small and insignificant their complaints are to others because in their world it's the biggest possible existing problem they can see. I'm pretty sure that my life was like that before. All the minor, petty things that drive us crazy - I used to have all those complaints, too. I think they just withered up and died like weeds in the ever present shadow of mom and CJ's deaths. I hope they don't come back; I'm better off without them, I think.

The third and final vein of this anger is the worst, though. It's when you meet people you don't like for whatever reason and think, why are you still here and CJ isn't? Or even worse than that, why am I still here and CJ isn't? It's the presumption that the loss of your beloved was unjustified enough by itself, compounded when you meet others who are - you ready for this one? - less worthy of life. Yeah, I know how atrocious that sounds to those who aren't bereaved. But it's there, it's true. Sometimes you pass judgement on other peoples right to life based on the life that was lost, it's potential, it's importance in your own life. The good may die young, but that doesn't make it alright. And that alone is enough to piss you off when you come face-to-face with those you might find lacking... even when that person is yourself.

There's not any real resolution to this type of anger. Not for me anyway, not yet. I just hope the heat of my anger and resentment doesn't wind up burning down all the bridges I've built over the last decade. They say that anger is one of the bedrock emotions of grieving. I think it's the most destructive one, though. Anger doesn't really serve anyone in the long run. It's a very satisfying emotion, though. Feeling lost, hopeless, sad - you can't do anything with those, you can't fix them. But anger... anger feels constructive. You can find outlets for that. You can do things with anger and hatred. (Disclaimer: I'm about to geek out here, so bear with me). In Star Wars Mythology, a dark jedi gains ability far faster than a regular jedi and is usually more powerful. That's because they funnel anger as leverage, as a tool. Of course, the lesson, the moral, if you will, is that doing so will destroy you in the end. And I believe that. I think that anger is a healthy part of grieving, a necessary part. But don't let it consume you. Eventually, in order to move on, you have to let go of it; let go of the resentment and the feelings of injustice. If you can't move past anger, then you'll never move past grief. Like everything else, that may be simple, but it's not easy.

Thursday, August 03, 2006


In the beginning of this journey I had the constant fear that I'd forget. Forget his face, his smile, the shape of his hands, the sound of his voice, his sense of humor, the way his dimples showed up whenever he was trying too hard to be serious. I was afraid I'd forget everything. This is not an unnecessarily unfounded concern. I've forgotten most of the people I went to High School with, and don't even remember the time period before that - the hazy first fifteen years of my life are depicted in my mind as bright flashes of sunlight and senses of lingering emotion more than as real memories. I was so afraid that CJ would become that: a set of out-of-focus pictures dancing around in the background of my mind.

I needn't have worried. Now, I'm drowning in my memories. I see him everywhere I look, both right in front of my face when I'm sitting alone and out of the corner of my eye when I'm with others. I hear his voice in my dreams right after I wake up, and everytime I answer the phone. Everytime I come home and call out, I hear him answer. I hear his running commentary on the inside of my head. I feel him breathing beside me when I sleep at night. I'm haunted by him, but not in the romantic Ghost way. More in the tortured Scott Summers way. His being gone just makes the voids where he used to be pronounced enough that they've become entities in and of themselves.

You know in the movies, when they show someone standing in an empty room, and then some section of the room lights up and a flashback scene happens while they look on? Usually in a soft focus lens, in slightly slowed motion with a bright filter on - you know, for atmosphere. It's like that. I walk down the driveway every morning, and there we are in our first kiss. I walk in our old room and he's sitting there at the computer, knee bopping up and down to keep the rhythm of his thoughts. I'll be cooking in the kitchen, and he'll come up and put his arms around me, tell me how he loves me and how glad he his that I'm his wife. He passes me on his bike at least once a day. I'll be at the movies with friends and see the two of us one row down, holding hands with my head on his shoulder. He's everywhere he's not. He's with me always except I can't touch him or talk to him.

I remember everything, but there are days when I wished I didn't. Remembrance is a double edged sword: reminding us why we loved in the first place, but also why it hurts so much when that love is gone. This is Shakespeare's ancient quandary: better to have loved and lost? Somedays the loss hurts enough to make you wonder... there was a book I read once - long enough ago that I can't remember the title or author (see? there's my awesome memory at work yet again!). In the story, the man is coping with the death of his wife sometime in the near future. He runs a business where people can plug themselves into virtual realities (like the holodeck on Star Trek, kind of). Anyway, the machine can also download a person's thoughts and memories onto a program, erasing them forever from our minds. Towards the end of the story, the man winds up downloading all of his life from the time he met his wife forward into the computer. He "wakes up" bewildered to find a hand-written note that goes something like this pinned on his chest: You are a good man. You've had a good life and nothing bad ever happened to you. Go out and live the rest of it in the same fashion...

Makes me wonder. Not worth it, I figure. I don't imagine the pain of loss ever gets bad enough that you'd rather not have danced at all (to misquote Garth Brooks). But just the same, I sincerely look forward to the day where the past isn't more real than the present, when my memories are sweet and kind friends instead of harsh and painful masters. Experience makes us, in large part, who we are. And it's what we've gone through, survived or done before that defines who we are today. If you like who you are, then it stands to reason that you have to appreciate all the thorns that brought you here. Like Kirk, in the Final Frontier: I need my pain! (Wow... two Star Trek references in one blog... I am such a loser...) In many ways my previous hurts are what define me, and I wouldn't be who I am without the lessons learned. While none of us want the bad hands that get dealt, in the end I hope I can appreciate the changes wrought by them. At least I don't have to worry anymore that I'll forget - I suppose that's a gift in and of itself.

Love to all, blessed be.


Monday, July 24, 2006

Grief and God

Warning: Just about any discussion of faith is bound to offend someone.

There is nothing that calls into question your spiritual beliefs more than death. In life, it's easy to ignore God. He's up there, we're down here... you know how it is. Most people give some passing thought to their belief structures, but very few sit down and really have a heart to heart with God until they have to. Grief forces that experience on us. One of the things I've realized is that when the world that exists beyond this one becomes personal, than the whole life/death/afterlife thing becomes a lot more central to daily existance. I imagine it's a lot like how a child views the IRS: you may hear of it, you hear old people talk about it with fear, frustration and awe, you may glean the impression that it is an incredibly complicated issue rife with monetary tribute and yearly rituals, but you don't have any real relationship with the IRS until life forces you into it. The death of our loved ones requires us to re-evaluate what we really think, because suddenly it actually applies to those we care about and ourselves. I'm not sure, but I bet the terminally ill also know what I mean. Well, the terminally and any child whose parents lost their house to the demi-God that is the IRS.

What concerns me is that I find this experience - this coming to terms with ones own faith, if you will - to be a personal journey. One that every person has to figure out on their own. Maybe they run out of gas halfway through. Maybe they want to stop and ask others for directions. Maybe they stop and buy some Cheetos. The point is that the only person that can drive that road is you, and in the end we all wind up in different places. Even if you're the same faith as someone else, there are always elements of faith and religion that remain open to debate and varying interpretation, which means there isn't a single person on this earth that holds the exact same views as any other. It's part of what makes us incredible, part of what makes us human and part of why the divine is a mystery. Nobody has all the answers, not even you. All you've got is what you believe to be true based on what made the most sense out of all the stuff you've been told by those who went before you. Yeah, the road to faith is a personal one; but there seem to be an awful lot of backseat drivers.

Now, I understand as well as anyone that the grieving experience can wreak havoc with our faith, whatever it is we have faith in (be it God, Allah, Buddha or asparagus). It is natural to reach out to others in pain by offering them a sampling of your own beliefs: if it comforts you, then it may comfort them as well. It's usually a gesture made out of kindess and a wish to ease the pain others feel in the way your own pain is eased. Especially if a person has yet to come to any conclusions about what they believe, they may reach out to others, asking for other peoples opinions about what goes on with that Man behind the curtain. I can respect that, just as I can respect your unfettered right to believe whatever it is that strikes you as truth.

But so help me God, don't preach to me. Now before you lay into me for that last line, let me clarify. What I mean is don't look down on me because what I think is different than what you think (feel sorry for me if you must, but don't hold me in contempt; Jesus didn't). Don't tell me the consequences of not following your religion. Don't lecture me, don't chastise me and don't tell me what to believe without a reason to believe it (btw, "because it's God's word" is not a reason). Most of all, don't expect me to listen to your opinion if you're not willing to let me sell you mine with equal respect. It's one thing to offer ones beliefs when asked, one thing to offer your opinion respectfully as no more than that: a personal truth that means a lot to you. It's another thing entirely to pass judgement on my life, my beliefs or my faith because they don't line up with your personal truths. I'm perfectly willing to hear your truth and why you believe it to be so. I welcome that discussion, for we can't make informed opinions unless we have a lot of information to draw from in the first place. But that discussion needs to be taken with an I belive __x__ stance, and not a Believe this or else stance or a Believe this for it is the only truth stance. Do Not assume that just because a person's faith is different from yours that they have no faith at all. I respect you and your right to believe in whatever God brings you peace and meaning. But I think even God Asparagus would agree that I deserve that same respect in return.

I'm sorry in advance if this is offensive to anyone, but my experience of late has shown me that it needed to be said. I welcome and respect your point of view even if I don't agree with it, and I hope - expect - that you'll do the same.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Six Month Slump

July 1st was the six-month anniversary of my widowhood. From the many resources on grief I've explored, many of them identify landmark months that are difficult for many people - especially prominent are the fourth, sixth, eighth and twelfth months. So, I pretty much take this to mean that you spend the first four months walking around in a fog thinking "this can't be happening." Then you spend four months in an on-again off-again relationship with pain. I'm ok... wait a minute, no I'm not... no, no wait... yeah, I am ok... wait... no I'm not. Then you spend four months thinking ok, I can live through this... this sucks, but I'll be alright. Or maybe the previous four-month roller coaster is just so exhausting that you're numb for four months after that. But then one day you wake up and think... holy shit, it's been a year since my life was destroyed?

For myself, I'm finding this past month (month six) particularly difficult. As many of you know, I was blessed to have the opportunity to go on a trip to Ireland with my beautiful and amazing sister for two weeks. The country was incredible, I was ridiculously grateful to have the opportunity to become closer to Trace, and it was a chance to take a trip many people only dream of. But, to be honest, it was one of the hardest periods I've gone through since CJ died. I was so often reminded of him, of how life was before, of what it's like to be young and happy and in love. What should have been the trip of a lifetime was painful for me because in the end it didn't change my circumstances. Several times in the past six months I've thought about how much I just want to go away and start over. But that's not it, not really. More than wanting a change of scenery what I really want is a change of circumstance.

This month I have been so angry and cynical, far more so then before. The hope I was harboring that it was all for a purpose, or that it was all just a bad dream or whatever... that sense of "hang on, things will be alright" just never panned out. I've described before how I felt this driving sense of anxiety or anticipation, like I was waiting for change or waiting for answers. But at some point in the last month I've realized that I wasn't looking for anything new, I was searching for what I'd lost. Like my dog if you hide his toys from him. I've spent this past six months walking around looking for the missing piece of my puzzle, the one that used to fill this hole that consumes me. Realizing that has in some way reinforced the reality that he's not coming back, that I won't ever see him or touch him or talk to him ever again. And it is that realization that has preyed so heavily on my well-being this month.

My fourth wedding anniversary is this week. I guess that got me thinking about the idea of anniversaries in general. If you look at other young women in their twenties, their anniversaries are a bit different than mine, aren't they? They're six months pregnant, they've been with their fiance for 8 months, they've been out of college for three months, their baby girl is seven months old. All I've got to look forward to is counting months since he's been gone, counting the number of years we would have been married if he'd been here, his birthday next month would have been his 25th. I'm so dreading our birthdays, and don't get me started on the holidays. The first Thanksgiving, the first Christmas... all the New Year's. When you lose someone like this, you begin to count your milestones in reverse instead of forward. Instead of "someday we'll" you think "we used to". Instead of "two months until" you think "six months since". It's hard to focus positively on the future when you're living life marking time in "sinces" instead of "untils".

The widow support groups I participate in all assure me that the "six-month slump" is normal. I'm not even sure that's what this is. All I know is that the last month as seen me change into an angry, bitter, old, lonely and devastated woman. Before, I felt him. I thought I got signs from him... but now I don't feel him there at all. Me and what remains of my life are all that's left, and frankly, that's not amounting to a whole lot this month. Maybe it gets better. But in all honesty, my give-a-damn's busted. With that, let me also add a sincere apology to anyone who's been subject to my anger or my malaise of late. Apparently if you talk to me again in November, I'll be better. Maybe this drop is part of the healing process; what goes down must go up?

While I usually try to end these conversations of ours with a message of hope for all my fellow widders, I'm afraid I just can't make it work today. Everything I've tried to write comes out fake and forced. All I can tell you is that sometimes, you need to sit down and cry. Sometimes you need to yell at God and break things. Sometimes you need to drive ninety on the open road without a seatbelt on and dare fate to do something about it. Sometimes you need to eat a pint of Ben and Jerry's by yourself and to hell with the fat count. Sometimes you NEED to grieve.

The following song is by Gary Allan, a country singer whose young wife committed suicide last October. His new album, Tough All Over, has several songs dealing with widowhood and grief, especially Just Back From Hell and this one, which I've been playing all week.

Life Ain't Always Beautiful

Life aint always beautiful
Sometimes it's just plain hard
Life can knock you down, it can break your heart

Life aint always beautiful
You think you're on your way
And it's just a dead end road at the end of the day

But the struggles make you stronger
And the changes make you wise
And happiness has its own way of takin it's sweet time

No, life aint always beautiful
Tears will fall sometimes
Life aint always beautiful
But it's a beautiful ride

Life aint always beautiful
Some days I miss your smile
I get tired of walkin all these lonely miles

And I wish for just one minute
I could see your pretty face
Guess I can dream, but life don’t work that way

But the struggles make me stronger
And the changes make me wise
And happiness has its own way of takin it's sweet time

No, life aint always beautiful
But i know i'll be fine
Hey, life aint always beautiful
But it's a beautiful ride
What a beautiful ride

-- Gary Allan

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Roadside Cross

We put CJ's roadside cross up last weekend. I'd like to take the opportunity to thank everyone who came out on the day we put it up. Toby went to a lot of effort to have it made and painted for us, and our gratitude is inexpressable. Special thanks to all those who helped us dig the hole and lay the concrete, and to Skate for bringing the shade. I must admit, I was surprised that so many people came. For those of you who would like to visit the cross, you'll find it on Lake Mead Road, at mile marker 36, just after the 40 mph left curve. You'll find it on the south side of the road, across a ditch. There is also another cross close by, for the motorcycle rider that died in the same spot the month before CJ's accident. We have also placed several orange cones out there to warn of the ditch that CJ didn't see. Maybe it will help save someone elses life... We encourage you all to visit as often as you like.

The brass plates were given to the family by an incredibly kind woman. Even though her business only takes commercial clients, she took the time out of her schedule to personally make the brass plates for us, and then refused payment. I mention this only because it seems sad that we're so touched and surprised by simple human kindness and compassion. I've always thought celtic knots were beautiful, but do you know what they represent? No ancient symbol is merely decorative. The trinity knot (three points in a never ending line) represents the eternal nature of life, and the divine mystery. A quote I like (from one yogi or another - do those guys even have names?) says this philosophy better. It goes "Aren't you enjoying your chocolate? You should, for I tell you this: you have nothing to fear and you should not worry. For birth is not a beginning and death is not an end..."

Kim read a beautiful Irish Funeral Prayer that i would also like to share with you:

Death is nothing at all.
It does not count.
I have only slipped away into the next room.
Everything remains as it was.
The old life that we lived so fondly together is untouched, unchanged.
Whatever we were to each other, that we are still.
Call me by the old familiar name.
Speak of me in the easy way which you always used.
Put no sorrow in your tone.
Laugh as we always laughed at the little jokes that we enjoyed together.
Play, smile, think of me, pray for me.
Let my name be ever the household word that it always was.
Let it be spoken without effort
Life means all that it ever meant. It is the same as it ever was.
There is unbroken continuity.
Why should I be out of mind because I am out of sight?
I am but waiting for you, for an interval, somewhere very near, just around the corner.
All is well. Nothing is hurt; nothing is lost.
One brief moment and all will be as it was before.
How we shall laugh at the trouble of parting, when we meet again.

The cross is beautiful. But Toby should have never have had to have it made. Kim and Jerry should never have had to put their sons name on it. I should have never have had to look at it. None of us should have had to do this. But if we had to, I'm glad we did it right. All we can do is the best we can, and I think that this cross is the best tribute we could have put up there.
Oh, and if you do stop by, feel free to bring a little Captain Morgan Private stock to share with him... I'm sure he'd appreciate it. When I go, I'll drink a toast the good old times, the friends we should never lose and the things that we don't want to do but do anyway, because sometimes there's nothing else to do.

Blessed be.