Passed Port

I decided to thin out my filing cabinet this weekend and came across my husband’s passport.

It was a wrench, I’m not gonna lie.  After years of declaring no want or need to travel outside the country, he had decided out of the blue the year before he died, that he was open to the idea of taking an overseas vacation.

The passport is pristine.  No stamps. Sadly, we never had a chance to wander the beaches of Cozumel or whatever destination on the world map that we may have stuck a pin in (likely a beach locale or maybe Ireland).

photo (33)James
Photo courtesy of my friend, Laura

My husband was not very flexible.  The idea of an uncharted adventure scared him.  But he had been changing in small ways, becoming more open to dipping his toes into the water of the unfamiliar.  If we had more time I am sure we would have embarked on an adventure or two that would have carried us beyond the beaches of Maine and Rhode Island.

I took the passport with his smiling photo, and those oh-so rosy cheeks, and threw it into the garbage can next to my desk.  I cried.  It was like throwing away a part of our dream, discarding the more adventurous man he would have become.

You stumble across these inanimate time bombs time and time again in your domestic travels.  A notebook scribbled with a list of items to buy at Home Depot.  A wallet and assorted pens kept in a front pocket – still on his dresser.  I was dusting our bedroom recently and came across a large box on a shelf that holds all of our wedding cards.

So hard to let go, since it seems like a betrayal to do so. But such a painful land to revisit.



Freshness date

I was standing in front of the refrigerator holding a jar of salsa that I am sure, had been purchased sometime during the Eisenhower administration.

(Ok, so they didn't have salsa back then.)

Keeping the fridge clean and up to date is I admit, not a strong suit of mine. I have hotdogs in the freezer that were purchased two years ago, and condiments? Don't even get me started! This concept of when is the time to let go should be easy when it comes to food: just check the expiration date, right?

Intangible concepts, such as emotional issues are more complex.  I had posted previously about a butterfly release ceremony  I attended a year ago this month.  I had asked an older woman at that ceremony who had lost her husband three years prior, if it gets easier and her gut reaction was "no."  It shocked me at the time but now I understand.

There is no black and white freshness date to let you know when things will be better after a loss.  I am a year and 4 months in and still have many days when it feels dewy fresh and raw.  However, I'm thankful for other days I find moments of joy and blessed distraction.

On a recent business trip to Miami, I was traveling back to our hotel with some colleagues after consuming a gorgeous gourmet meal and many glasses of wine.  During the ride one of my colleagues, a nice woman in her 40's who has been married for 20 years, took it upon herself to lecture me about being alone.

"Martha, you're young, you'll meet someone else.  It's time for you to try," she urged me, in what I had wished was a stage whisper, since everyone, including our silent and courteous driver Julio, could hear her loud and clear.

I tried to get her to stop, but alcohol and an all-knowing attitude would not be squelched. I find it offensive that anyone would tell me that my time of mourning should be over.  It may never be over.  Or it may be better tomorrow.  I may never want to engage with another partner at this stage and am totally fine with that.  Shouldn't everyone else be then too?

The lesson here is don't stamp people's feelings and actions with your own freshness date.  If you know someone struggling emotionally whatever it is, let them evolve on their own schedule.  Offer help, but give them space to adjust, grieve, make decisions about what to do next – and when.

"Eh…" I placed the salsa back on the refrigerator shelf and closed the door.

Maiden vs Crone

I am well into my second year since my husband’s passing, and alternate between thinking it’s getting better with days of blinding, debilitating despair.

It’s like that famous drawing – you look one way and see a fresh young maiden, tilt your gaze ever so slightly, a crone.  Now that a year of firsts have passed and some of the disbelief and numbness has dissipated, I find myself struggling with the reality of my new world order.  “So this is my life now,” I think as I drag myself out of bed each morning.

I’ve been trying to stay busy and so make a conscious effort to make plans with friends, which helps a lot. I even embarked on a 12-day British Isles cruise.  It was a mistake in hindsight.  I committed to it last year when my emotional wounds were fresh, and I assumed I’d be better by now.  I’ve spent too much time alone this past year to give up my solitude for such a long stretch.  Making small talk with a boatload of strangers on the open sea every day all day, was a lot more work than I had anticipated.

I did accomplish one cool thing, though.  While in Cobh, Ireland, I scattered some of James’ ashes into the water.  He loved being Irish, and loved the ocean.

James’s ashes at the Titanic Memorial Park in Cobh, Ireland

But once I returned to dry land and was again faced with my singleness, pent up despair took a huge hit upside my head.  I am struggling to get back into my work routine, and make the days seem as though they matter.  They don’t really.  But maybe, if I tilt my head, ever so slightly, I can fool myself into thinking they do.

The first worst year

After almost a full year of horrible firsts, I now face the most daunting of all.

Over these past 11 months time has held absolutely no meaning, and evinced no hold on me.  I made it through holidays, birthdays, and a uncelebrated wedding anniversary. I fractured my ankle, dealt with the ravages of ,,,  the flu without the “there, there” support of my beloved, and took countless solitary plane trips, landing with no greeting heralding my return. I even took my first trip back to the vet’s office where James died so unceremoniously on March 14th.

It dawned on me with almost an electric shock a few weeks ago, that it has been almost a year since he died. Where did a year go? How is that possible? It still feels so fresh, so recent. It can’t be! I say to myself. Time truly has had no meaning. It’s been one painful, foggy slog to get through the next “first” in a seemingly endless laundry list of painful milestones.

It’s like a constant rollercoaster ride with no time’s up. You don’t disembark, so no opportunity to gain firm footing. Back up the slow and steady incline – clack clack clack, all the way to the top with no view of what’s below. Then whoosh! Your stomach is left far behind as you hang on for dear life, while outwardly trying so hard not to look like you’re scared.

My favorite scene in the movie Parenthood with Steve Martin, comes near the end and is uttered by the unnoticed grandmother who often gets left behind by her large, self-absorbed family.

“You know, when I was nineteen, grampa took me on a rollercoaster ride…it was just so interesting to me that a ride could make me so frightened, so scared, so sick, so excited and so thrilled altogether! Some didn’t like it. They went on the merry-go-round. That just goes around. Nothing. I like the rollercoaster.”

James liked the steady and expected pace of the merry-go-round. I knew it wasn’t representative of real life. Shit happens. Up, down. Up, down.

We don’t have to like it, we just endure it.

The lukewarm psychic hotline

Mary Lincoln, so overcome with grief by the horseless carriage-load of tragedies in her life, was said to hold seances in the White House and so was a firm believer in the afterlife.

I know most refer to her as Mary Todd Lincoln, but she never signed her name that way and so I am setting the record straight.

Who could blame her for reaching out to lost loved ones? She buried three out of four sons, a husband who was shot right before her eyes, and her remaining son later in life, had her committed to an asylum. Talk about a crappy life! I’d want to reach out to the hereafter too. Oh, wait, I have.

Even before losing my husband, I would reach out to mediums and psychics in an attempt to contact my mom, who had died about 20 years ago.  I admit I had spotty success. I certainly don’t believe everything I hear, or that all reputed psychics are genuine. But I’ve had enough spot-on feedback from some to make me be open-minded about it.

Probably my worst experience was fairly recently.  A few months after James died, I made an appointment with a “psychic” whom I found on-line. (Should have been my first warning bell. It’s best to go by recommendations from friends and family.)

stocksnap_8pws9yv4cuAfter arriving at her place and amidst the smell of sage, we started to chat a bit. She immediately started to channel a woman, but I told her I was really only interested in getting in touch with my husband.

“He wants you to know that he is glad you buried him with his wedding ring,” she proclaimed.

I waggled my fingers at her. ” I’m wearing his wedding ring and he was cremated,” I said, trying not to be curt about it. I mean, these visits are not cheap. The typical hour appointment can be $120 or more. I don’t want to waste time on having her shotgun a bunch of disparate feedback.

Another misstep on her part: “He says he is worried about the children.”

I looked at her puzzled and with a sinking feeling in my stomach. “What children? We don’t have any children.”

It continued with the same amount of success (I say, sarcastically). I think she took one look at me, a middle-aged woman, and made some basic assumptions. We had been married a long time (not!). We had children (none!).

Now, not all psychics are charlatans. I made a more recent visit to another medium who has had some local acclaim and has even assisted in police investigations. She made some good assumptions about my husband in her attempt to talk to him. He had a beard (yes), he had blue eyes (yes) he loved cars (oh, yes).

But at the end of the session, perhaps sensing that I was not totally satisfied with the reading (I guess I thought I would have a direct line to James and he would say something to her that only the two of us could know) she launched into what I can only term as personal growth advice.

I hadn’t asked for it. I realize that a lot of people come to her seeking life advice – Should I take that job? Will I find love? Kinda like a bartender dispensing advice to the drunk, but in this case, to the dissatisfied.

“It’s a dog eat dog world, and I’m wearing  Milk-Bone underwear.” Norm, Cheers.

I was not interested in her comments about how “lightning can strike twice,” and that I still have a long life to live (that does not give me comfort these days) and may find another love. It made me mad. I don’t want anyone else. Not now, and likely not ever. (If she was a good medium she should have sensed that, right?!)

I mean Mary Lincoln, a troubled woman for sure even without all of the personal tragedies, mourned the loss of her husband her entire life. And she was short! Not sure what that has to do with it, but anyway.

These spiritual sessions are really about confirmation and comfort. Confirmation that our loved ones are still with us, albeit in another dimension. I believe that, but still wish that man of mine would get off his fat, heavenly cloud and give me a more tangible sign that he is still with me.

Join the resolution revolution

Just when it seems darkest, one of my tribe reaches out with a Coleman lantern and waves it in front of my face.

I am fortunate to have a family I get along with. But since they have always lived an airplane ride away, I have formed wonderful relationships over the last several decades with many friends who I will now refer to as my tribe members, since the line drawn between friends and family has become so blurred.

Today, sitting drinking my morning coffee, I get a text message from one of the tribe elders, Pam.

“Call me when you are up. I have ideas!”

Many people besides myself were impacted by the loss of my husband. Pam has found it to be especially tough, coming on the heels of a year when she helped her husband through a bout with cancer (he is now fine) and other events which have made her question her life’s purpose at this juncture. It was a tough year for all, indeedy-do, in Pam’s lingo (and as I may have mentioned ever so tactfully, in a previous blog).

This is not us but could have been (except for the gal holding the cell phone, as they were not invented yet when we were attending JFK Junior High School).

But Pam has already been trying to pull herself back up by her boot straps. We are part of a core group of friends who met in junior high school and camped together a lot. We gals thought nothing of packing a cooler and tent and heading for nearby Vermont for the weekend. We still see each other. Most of us went for a walk on New Year’s Day at a local park. We have more shared experiences than we could ever hope to remember. That’s why I know my friends were happy when I met James and married. At last I had found my mate as my friends had decades before me.

In either case, back to the text message. I immediately picked up the phone and without preamble, asked Pam for a run down.

“Here’s what we’re going to do. I’m calling it six in six!”

“Like a lottery scratch off game?” I responded.

“Well, yeah…OK,” she said, used to my offbeat quips.

Pam’s idea takes the New Year’s resolution to a different level.  We would each commit to plan something to do together. It could be read a book, take a day trip, sneak into the movies, steal a car (haha) –  something we have either never done or want to revisit with fresh eyes, she explained.  She takes six months of the year and I take six months and we plan one event per month.

We are all familiar with the typical type of singular resolution. The gyms are full of them come January. This idea appealed to me. A new twist that could inject some life back into our lives. Something we both needed desperately. It recalibrates the stale idea of making a resolution. Create a roadmap of experiences to look forward to throughout the year and share them with a friend.

I could already feel a small ember in my core, starting to be fanned ever brighter by a light breeze. It was not a giant plan, we would never conquer Everest, but maybe it could inspire us on to bigger and better?

“I love the idea!” I said to her, already starting to think of what we could do as the year unfolds.

The wheels are starting to turn, a bit resistant due to recent rust formations but moving all the same. So I dare you – go ahead – foment your own kind of revolution in 2017.