Five Far From Home

I originally created this blog in 2006 so that our family and friends could keep up with us as we lived abroad with the Air Force, now we will use it to keep you all updated on our journey forward. As we step out where the sidewalk ends after our dear father and husband's untimely death after a brief, but fierce battle with a rare form of cancer. You can read about his 10 month fight on his caring bridge page -

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

a ghost story

When something comes to a terrifying, abrupt halt your mind keeps moving forward as if some sort of cruel mental inertia is at play.  What do you do with all that residual momentum?  The information still in your brain that keeps taking you in a direction other than the brick wall you’ve just hit?  There are leftovers that linger.
We have ghosts that live in our Yahtzee game-box who like to prey on those leftovers.  I don’t mean ghosts like actual entities haunting us, more like an unwelcome knot in the pit of your stomach brought on by a sudden, unexpected reminder of a future that was supposed to be.  The unforeseen wave of nostalgia hits so hard; it is like a tangible manifestation and its presence grips you with hands you can feel.  Seeing those names at the top of old scorecards is shocking and heartbreaking.  They taunt and tease, shrieking and mocking your discomfort.  Just when you’ve stopped checking the other lane of traffic, hoping and yet dreading a glimpse, just when you’ve deleted all the pictures and messages off your phone.  Just when you’ve begun to accept, to move on, to heal.  You let your guard down only for a moment.  And BOO!  Those damn ghosts. 
Games go on and eventually, someday, new names will be scribbled on a fresh pad of scorecards.  We leave some of those beings in the box because we can ultimately find comfort in their presence.  Reminders of a happier time when games were played and memories of smiles gone by, before cancer, before loss.  Those are ghosts that become a lot less scary.
Certain papers we crumple and tearfully discard, knowing that some things just won’t ever be okay.  Some ghosts are meant to haunt. 

Thursday, November 19, 2015

to my kids

     I recently saw a touching interview on the Stephan Colbert show where he spoke with Joe Biden, two men I admire very much. One of the topics they discussed was the tragic loss of Biden’s son, Beau.  Vice President Biden talked about his reluctance to run for President in the face of his ongoing, overwhelming grief.  This also brought up the story of how Colbert lost his Dad and two of his brothers at the age of ten.  The men discussed their shared experience of grief. Biden talked about his incredible support system in family and faith when he lost his first-wife and daughter in a car accident many years ago and then the recent loss of Beau. When Biden related his grief to Colbert’s Mom, wondering how people get up and put one foot in front of the other after facing such a tragic loss, Colbert was honest and said that she did it because she had other kids to care for.  But, also, that they were there for each other, it was a mutual dependency and in many ways, he had to “raise his mom” as she learned to face the new normal.  Biden said that his boys did the same for him after losing their mom in the years of grief that followed. 
   It was an incredibly emotional interview for me to watch as I related so much to what these men were saying.  Colbert said that his mother was "non compos mentis" for years after her loss.  It selfishly validated my grief by knowing that it isn't just me who cannot get over things or let them go.   But more importantly, it left me feeling that I had no choice but to stop everything that I am doing this instant and take time recognize the sacrifice and bravery that it takes for my kids to “raise” me in the aftermath of their father’s death.  This blog post isn't enough, nothing is enough, but I need to take this time and admit that they are truly everything that's 'right' about me in this moment.  I was so lost, and I still very much am, in who I am supposed to be now.  I’m needy and angry like I never was before.  And so sad, I'm still so very sad.  My kids go out of their way to make sure that I am okay, many times taking on responsibilities and roles well beyond their years and often times giving up much of their time as kids to adjust to this new and scary role they have had thrust upon them.  Often times, though I know they are sad, they put those emotions aside to first make sure that I am okay.  And though caregiving is not every minute of everyday, the effort that they put in takes a toll on them.  It wears on their emotions and their own relationships.  This isn’t how it's supposed to be for them and I wish we weren’t mutually parenting one another.  Sarah, who took on the role of my greatest confidant, has definitely risen above, especially in the loss of her recent engagement, as a key player in keeping our family running smoothly.  I am sure that it wasn’t ALL to do with me, but I know that taking on this new expanded role just as she’s coming of age definitely hindered her relationship and probably contributed to its downfall.  Noah, who became man of the house at the age of 13 can’t even be a normal, angsty teenager because I am not emotionally stable enough to deal with anything, and while he could push - he absolutely does not.  He is a steadfast source of strength and comfort.  He also works very hard to learn, mostly from his Grandpa, how to take care of our house and yard taking on many of the traditional 'Dad' roles.  Micah, who has not only had to deal with the loss of his Dad, but also have me completely preoccupied with my own grief and full-time schooling at an age when I should be volunteering to go on field trips with his class – or better yet still homeschooling him -  tries to take it all in stride.  He is so good about keeping track of all our schedules, permission slips, and reminders of items needed. He is also so kind when my scattered brain forgets something, yet again.
    All three kids do very well in school and work so hard to help around the house as well as all their many, many extra-curricular activities. No one really has a road map as to how this is supposed to work for us.  Every time we think we've got it figured out there's a new hurdle, another conflict, more chaos.... but the kids balance things out and help me carry the weight instead of adding to it.  Sure, sure, they've each had their moments to freak out and give-in to madness, but it is never as bad as I make it out to be and often they're the ones who right themselves first and calm me down in the wake of any misbehavior.  
   During the interview, Joe Biden mentioned an expression his father used to say, ‘A Father knows he’s a success when he turns and looks at his son or daughter and knows that they turned out better than he did’.  Biden said he knew he was a hell’ve a success because of who his kids were. 
      I couldn’t agree more, and so, even though I feel like a failure at almost every turn, I watch my kids in all that they do, in the kindness they show everyone, in the care that they take to look after me, and in the effort they put into all they’re involved in and I know that I am successful. 
   I love you kids.  Thank you.  I would be incapable of anything without you.

And I’m sorry for your loss.     

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

the Maple tree

There is an enormous Maple tree in my backyard.  It's branches reach up to the sky as wide as they are tall, a sort of grandfather protecting and observing everything we do.  In spring the blooms appeared early as if in expectant anticipation of the positive changes that were happening and the promise of the year to come.  But, as the thick and strong leaves shaded summer celebrations the tree looked on with sadness as plans came to a standstill and were replaced with shock and heartache.  The foliage reluctantly changed in late autumn, as though it was hesitant to admit time was moving on.  Now the tree stands empty, devoid, the branches bare and wanting.  All its covering bagged up and carted away, the last remaining witnesses to a year almost over.  How delicate a balance  between the time that moves on and the memories that remain.  

Friday, November 6, 2015

truth behind a cliché

"So forget this cruel world where I belong.  I'll just sit and wait and sing my song.  And, if one day you should see me in the crowd, lend a hand and lift me to your place in the cloud"  - Nick Drake "Cello Song"

       I do not put any stock in the supernatural - except for the occasional entertainment value it provides in different FICTIONAL mediums.  I don't believe in ghosts, or that Rob is sitting up in heaven looking down (that's just not Biblically accurate), or that people become guardian angels. This being the case, I'm not one to read too much into dreams either. 
       But, I had this dream the other night about some leftover issues I am having surrounding the anger and hurt I feel over what my daughter is going through.  It was one of those dreams from which you wake and have to spend the first few minutes of foggy wakefulness assuring yourself that it didn't really happen. I 've had a hard time shaking the ugliness that went along with that dream.  I started thinking about dreams and how weird and random they are.  I was wondering why, why, why I had that dream and why I never dream about Rob, for good or bad.  I've taken my generals and learned from psych 101 that most often you dream where your mind was before you went to sleep.  Well, not lying, my mind is constantly on Rob - and not just the tragic ending, but on all the pieces that intertwined our life of more than 20 years together. I don't think that theory holds much truth.  In some small way I guess I've thought the lack of dreams might be God protecting me, because I dwell enough already - if I had to have vivid dreams that stayed with me for days I don't know if I could function.  But, this haunting dream from a few days ago got me wondering.  
   I *think* (in my uneducated opinion) it might have something to do with the whole "unresolvedness" surrounding certain situations for me. There was nothing left unsaid between my husband and me.  Sure, there are things I wish I could tell him now, things I'd like to ask his opinion about, or just hear his voice on the other end of the phone line.   Sure.  But, it's different than having a nagging sensation of things left unfinished.  I don't need any answers, and that peace is priceless.  I've seen - all my life - so many, many, many of those meant-to-be uplifting sayings that encourage you to tell those around you that you love them because tomorrow is not promised.  'Say your sorry, express your concern, don't wait' ...  so-much-so that we become desensitized to the real benefit behind such statements. 
    I'd like nothing more than to tell Rob that I love him one more time and to hear his voice reciprocate.  But, the truth is, I don't really need that because I know that he knew and in return I know that I was so loved.  We got to say things before it was too late.  We weren't always so expressive, but Cancer makes you stare those things down.  
And I can tell you that it matters. 
 It matters that my kids know, beyond anything, how loved they were by him.  It matters they heard it in their father's voice and each have a letter that he wrote to them - it matters that it's not me assuring them.  It makes a difference that I have a conclusion and no unanswered questions.  I'm still messed up, but it could be worse - 
 It matters - those things we say to one another to help each other understand.  Speaking love, or apologizing. It makes a difference - the comfort or the hurt that we can be.  Those things matter.  And, as cliche as you might think it is - tomorrow isn't promised.  

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

my word's but a whisper, your deafness a shout

·  Grief doesn’t change who you are, it becomes who you are
· •There’s no wrong way to grieve
· There’s no time limit to your grief    

These are the mantras that play over and over daily in my head as I cope.  These are the things I tell myself so that I know I’m okay, even if I am still so lost in sadness.
   But, now I think I have to add one more.

   Grief changes the way you grieve.

   Because becoming one with your grief changes the way you are able to process emotion for everything else that follows
           – maybe forever, I don’t know, I’m only 1,112 days into this.  There’s a lot I don’t know.-   

But, what I do know is that it doesn’t matter how you arrive at this point – my grief isn’t “more” or “longer” because I lost a spouse.  It is what it is because of how it affected me and how my brain processes it.  You can’t tell me to get over it any quicker than you can tell someone who’s had a fight with their best friend, lost a pet, or lost a child.  I know that grief comes in all shapes and sizes and some people can process and accept – and some times the loss of your favorite pencil might send you off the deep end.  Grief has broken people just as often as it’s made them crusaders for a cause.  I don’t claim to be an expert, but what I have learned is that loss is loss, and it becomes a part of you. 
    Becoming this person of grief, I have already experienced how it effects daily life and witnessed the survivor’s guilt that numbs any joy and happiness.  Grief mars the simplest of pleasures. I’ve had good moments, but even then…. I am different and they are muted. 
  Recently, my family went through another loss of a sort and it’s only after experiencing those events that I’ve come to realize the next page I have to add to my grief textbook:  Grief changes the way you grieve. 
This is huge to know.  Let me explain.
     When my kids do something “stupid’ (like forget an assignment that was due, lose something important, etc.) I always tell them to stop getting so upset over the ‘why did this have to happen’ and focus on the ‘what can I do about it now’.  They work themselves up because they are so upset with themselves it ends up making the situation all the more stressful. 
“Stop making yourself sick over the fact that this happened, learn from it, do what you can to fix it, and them move on,” I tell them. 
      It is the same for me with sadness in watching my daughter hurt.  I should be there with a cup of tea, a fuzzy blanket, and a horror movie.  I should be the one nodding as she rants or hugging her as she cries.  AND, I have done all those things – but I’ve also felt her pain and her sadness much more than I should.  I’ve dwelt and nearly made myself crazy with vial thoughts and unforgiveness.  Then, realizing that I was spending far too much time and effort being upset over this, I made myself sick with thoughts like, “what is WRONG with me that I can’t let this go?”  “Why am I letting this effect me to the point of obsession?”  (okay, maybe obsessed is a bit strong, but I felt a bit insane at the time)
       I started to write.  I started to make lists.  I talked to my trusted confidants.  They said things I didn’t want to listen to – things like, if Rob were still here I wouldn’t have been able to work myself up into this much of a tizzy.  And, they’re right –but through writing and praying, I’ve come to realize that it’s more than that.  Being a person of grief and having a brain that isn’t totally recovered, I can’t just get over things.  I can’t stop that I turn everything into another reason why Rob should still be here.  (and yes, I have gone to pieces over losing my favorite pencil since Rob died, that was me). 
     So, my first step is to take my own advice and stop making a hard situation harder by reprimanding myself for being sad.  I can be sad, I SHOULD be – it was a heartbreaking situation and my poor daughter is still trying to pick up the pieces.  Should I be this damaged by it? 
No, absolutely not.  I should have been an appropriate amount of dignified anger/sadness and then the model of forgiveness and recovery, I suppose. 
But, honey, that just isn’t who I am anymore.  Grief is messy.  And it messes with your head.
I’m going to give myself that freedom and start from there.  Maybe tomorrow will be better. 

Sunday, October 25, 2015

the change jar

How do you let go of hurt and anger toward someone who has so completely misused your child? 
     Every day it’s like my daughter comes home with another handful of coins in her pocket, it is the change made up of the remainders of hurt, anger, and unresolvedness that she’s picked up throughout the day.  She carries it around and takes it all on herself.  She has not lashed out, been vengeful, or vindictive, but just carries the weight of each new burden until she can come home.  And then I listen, pray, and cry - picking up the handfuls as she lays them down.  
But, each day she picks up more, and my pockets are getting full. 
This is a different knot in my stomach than the grief we’ve all shared.  Though that grief is deeper, it is a shared grief.  It is a sadness that we all participate in and help each other through.  This is my daughter’s grief alone and I am helpless on the sidelines with nothing comforting to share except that dreaded word, “time”.  I do not wish to give this person power over me any longer by dwelling on unanswered questions and unresolved anger. So, while I will continue to hold my daughter’s hand, to buy more tissues, and to patiently wait for her to be ready to heal, I am also going to speak my piece on this blog, I'm going to empty my pockets. Because this is my space and I owe no apologies. 

An Open Letter to that boy
          Tucked away in a corner of my basement amongst boxes of unused picture frames and toys long since outgrown sits a box of Christmas lights.  When we bought the lights last year, I was apprehensive.  You reassured me that you would help hang them along the outside of my house and take them down when the season was over.  You promised that you would come back for as many holidays to hang them up again.
          The lights won’t get hung this year.  They will stay in the box, untouched, just another broken promise. 
            Not too long ago I spent the morning at the seamstresses while ______ had her last fitting on the wedding dress she picked out.  When you unapologetically walked away from the wedding, the dress had already been purchased and cuts had been made to the fabric in order to alter it into her dream dress. The only way to complete the project was to have the bride-not-to-be try on the dress since it was being designed to perfectly contour her shape.  She had to stand, still and stuck, in that dress, in a room full of mirrors while adjustments were made.  So, while you have moved on with a brand new Facebook that completely erases any sort of involvement you had with our family and you have gone on to a new relationship (when you swore up and down that there was no one else. It’s a small town, voices carry), things have not been so easy for ______.
        With the recent announcement of your brothers’ engagement, your family gets to plan and prepare for a different wedding. It's almost as though these last two years didn't have to exist for you. 
But, for _____, it's not so easy.
          There was a registry at a department store that she forgot the two of you created which sent her a reminder saying a while back saying, "your wedding is one month away, time to update your registry" or there were the decorations for the tables that arrived a couple days after you disappeared without explanation, just more souvenirs of your disregard. These are just moments of the called-off wedding, but the hurt and anger that lingers is strengthened with each different reminder.  It tosses her back into the inexplicable loss making it nearly impossible for her to go forward. It hasn't been easy.   Not easy at all.  
           I saw you the other day, your truck followed me to a grocery store parking lot, you didn’t recognize the different car I’m driving now and so, you did not see me.  It was the Monday after the wedding date came and went, and I was so angry at you in that moment.  Angry that you’re still in this town and that you looked just fine.  I suppose you’re allowed to go on, your reasons your own.  I suppose you’re allowed to shop and drive and exist. To date and to have a life.  To present yourself as healthy, whole, and a democrat. I suppose you can just think yourself blameless (even though ______ is not the first you’ve abandoned like this.  She’s, sadly, not even the second).  I suppose.  I just needed you to know – it hasn’t been as easy for ______.  Not easy at all. 

Friday, October 9, 2015

an assignment for school

Ms. Lisa
Creative Writing Nonfiction
October 9, 2015
Word Count: 1117
To Name The Day
A personal essay
“I was left to my own devices
Many days fell away with nothing to show
And the walls kept tumbling down
In the city that we love
Great clouds roll over the hills
Bringing darkness from above
But if you close your eyes,
Does it almost feel like
Nothing changed at all?
And if you close your eyes,
Does it almost feel like
You've been here before?
How am I gonna be an optimist about this?
How am I gonna be an optimist about this?”
                                    -Pompeii, by Bastielle

I haven’t put pen to paper in over a year.
     It feels dishonest to NOT be writing, almost like lying by omission.  And I think maybe I am a little ashamed that I am still so sad because it would seem disrespectful to be honest and admit that on paper anytime I would try.  Almost as if owning up to the darkness I face every day discounts the enormous amount of love and help I know that I have from those that still surround me.  Everything hasn’t been awful all of the time.
And yet,
as time carries on, the amount of gloom that is still here seems disproportionate to some of the ‘good things’ present now.  But, that’s the thing about time.  It does NOT heal all.  It just doesn’t.  All time can do is change the perspective, or the distance, from which you are able to view an event.  Time just measures.  It cannot heal.
 And yet,
and yet.  It is all I have.
    Because a grief as deep as this is like a sticky, hot vat of wax that you initially sink into until it covers everything in a suffocating, immobilizing, thick blanket of impenetrable armor.  The only way to breathe is to claw out from the inside, and the measure of time provides the only tool that allows someone to gradually scrape away enough of the cocoon to even just take a breath.  But the shell still surrounds, constricting the lungs and limiting movement.  It is a slow, painful process to peel away the tiers that have stuck themselves to you like a glue, sometimes it’s necessary to rip the flesh off just to scrape an inch away.  It takes time.  Time.  But just because enough time has gone by to allow you peel away the coating it doesn’t mean you’re healing; even if you’re able to remove all the layers and layers of grief to reveal yourself, it is too late.  Grief can soak through your skin, permeating every last bit of your being, infecting your blood, and wrecking havoc on your internal functions.  It has not just changed who you are, but it has BECOME who you are.  It has polluted every fiber of what knits you together.  They say the only antidote is time, but all time can do is measure and the disease rages ahead of the cure. 
And yet
     You still have to get up every day.  You still have to go through the motions.  You recognize the need to care for yourself and function.  Time can breed familiarity, but not healing.    There’s comfort in a routine, but don’t mistake that for getting passed things.  There is a sacrifice in each heavy step forward that comes with giving up the past and trying to accept the future.  And the thing about time is, no matter what happens, good or bad, time doesn’t erase the haunting images of tragedy witnessed, the things you wish you could forget.  Time can’t erase the fantasy images in your head of the future you thought you’d have or the memories of the past you don’t want to forget. 
   Perhaps this is why I choose not to mark the day it happened.  I do nothing to publically acknowledge the anniversary of the day that he died.  A day is only as important as the significance I give to it, and I choose not to give it any recognition.  All that day does is mark the passage of time.  A tally mark in my mind’s eye.  It merely shows the distance at which I can view the past and reminds me how very long there still is to go, without him.  It does not remind me to think about him.  It does not remind me to honor him.   I do not miss him any more on that particular day.  It was a miserable day.  Awful.  The worst that I’ve faced.  It plays over and over in my head on a never-ending loop like a bad horror movie.  I watched him take his last breath and then had to look into my kids’ much-too-young faces and tell them that their father was dead.  And I don’t need a day to remind me how long it’s been.  I count each week.  Each hour.  Each breath since he died.   Maybe it feels like a day that should be set aside to reflect and to honor his memory.  But that doesn’t make any sense either, because he was so much more than the miserable way he died.  And giving this particular day a name or setting it aside seems like giving in to everything the cancer took from him.  We talk about him constantly in our home and we honor him every day in the way that we remember him and tell his stories.   It’s not that I don’t want to hear from anyone.  I appreciate the thoughts and connections.  I love that some of you understand that I can’t get passed this.  It just means more to me when you reach out on an average Tuesday when a song comes on the radio and you remember how he loved Led Zeppelin or you beat your personal best in a run and that reminded you of his passion for running.   You don’t need to set aside a day to remember that.   And no amount of time will change that.  

I am adding a caveat to the ending because I want to acknowledge the irony, or perhaps the hypocriticalness, of turning in a paper on the anniversary of my husband’s death saying that I don’t want to acknowledge the day.  This assignment coming due on this day was pure coincidence, but it got me thinking about why I hadn’t written on my blog and what I would want to say.  I have taken posts from others off my Facebook wall and asked people not to tag me in things regarding that day because of my refusal to give the day significance, and this seemed like a good opportunity to say why.  I’m just going through the motions and I have to do whatever helps.