Half Life

Half a lifetime ago, it was esprit de corps.  It was smoking breakfast, sleeping through lunch, and drinking dinner.  It was hard working weekdays, and lazy weekends. It was little pay and long hours, and not caring about either.  

Half a lifetime ago, days went by as years.  The soundtrack was Blink-182 and Korn. The beer was warm and cheap, and almost all “home-cooked meals” consisted of some form of noodles or junk food.  The only feelings were that of morning humidity and skinned knuckles. My brothers and sisters “in-arms” all shared in this routine eagerly. We’d all been through the same things, in the same places, around the same time.  

Half a lifetime ago, 15 people would pile into 3 cars on a Saturday drive to the beach.  Seven would return in a state best described not as “wasted”, but “happy”. The remaining eight would have stories to tell.  There were no real bills and our biggest concerns were being on time and in uniform for Monday morning’s 5 mile run.

It was, simply put, fun.  I miss it. Those were some of the best days of my life.  Before I was a widower. Before I was a father. Before I had even met Megan, or even cared about meeting anyone.  It was carefree routine, peppered with deployments to some far off land for a few months, again with the same brothers and sisters. Sure, there were arguments.  There were times when we had to suffer through trying to sleep in 100+ degree desert heat, because we pulled the night shift. There were times when we had to wait for hours in line at the base barber shop, because every single Marine gets a haircut, every Sunday.   There were times when we blew our car payment money on that cheap beer, and the Monday morning run was done with a hangover. But it was all worth it.

Or was it?

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Come Undone

Most of the time I feel empty inside.  The landscape of my Soul is barren since he died.  However, most people can only see the vibrant life I have.  At first glance, my life appears fairly enviable.  With the exception of Mike's death, I have all the trappings of a good life.  I have the kids, the house, the car, and the career.  I have managed to achieve a lot of success in Suburbia.  The boxes are checked.  My life does not appear to be barren.  Not surprisingly, for those looking from the outside in, it is not comprehensible that I still feel empty.  To them everything looks like it is returning back to "normal" without Mike.  They think I am "strong".  They tell me that I am "the strongest person they know".  They tell me that they "can't imagine" how I do it.  When my ears hear their statements I just kind of stare at them and watch their lips move.  I don't say much in response because  I know the truth.  Yes, I am 'strong', because I do not have a choice.  I have to stay the course for my kids, and for myself.  

I do not feel bitter towards people who make these proclamations about me and my life.  They simply do not understand the depth and breadth of my loss.  I understand that they can not understand.  And, I know that they are so lucky that they "can't imagine" my situation.  I think that people need to believe that things return to normal after a person dies. They need to believe that I am okay now because if I am okay, that means - if and when this happens to them - they will recover and be okay too.  But, as people who have outlived our spouses, we know differently.  We are aware that there is nothing normal about our changed lives.  We know that there is no backing up.  We can not return to days gone by no matter how desperately we want to.  There is nothing to return to.  Our lives can not be as they were before.  That life is over.  It's gone.  It's done.  Period.  And, yeah, we are 'strong' despite our blunt reality.

 

 

To me, the phrase "new normal" is ridiculous. 

I HATE that idiom.

  There is nothing normal about my new life. 

It is the exact opposite of what I am used to.

I am different since Mike died, and - this is normal.   

The hollowness and emptiness that I feel  - is normal. 

My grief - is normal. 

My life is not normal anymore.

 

 

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I spend a lot of time feeling disconnected from the world and from those around me.  It feels like my thoughts are wrapped in cotton candy.  My deepest thoughts are tightly spun like the sugar crystals that become the dense pink candy fluff.  Most days, I can barely make sense of what I feel because my thoughts are hidden from me.  I don't always know them, but, I feel my thoughts.  My deepest thoughts live inside my heart, not my head.  Everything is buried far away inside my Soul.  Since Mike died, I feel like I am hidden in wad of airy blue fluff.  All of me is insulated in this bulky, baby blue cotton candy cocoon because I need to be swaddled.  I need time.  I need things to be quiet while I come undone...  

 

 

 

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Home & The Heart

I’ve written about it quite a few times these past few years, but moving across the country really did a number on me. I don’t think - scratch that - I KNOW I was in no way prepared for how difficult it would be to leave Texas. I have a love affair with my state that runs very deep. I have gone through some of the hardest but most meaningful experiences in my life in that state. As well as some of the most beautiful.

The resting places for both of my parents and Drew are there. The friends that became family to me after Drew died, are mostly scattered all around that beautiful state. And the culture… once you’ve fallen in love with the Texas hill country culture, there is really no way to ever separate it from your heart. And no reason you’d ever want to.

So when I decided to take a chance on new love, and do this super brave thing like uprooting my life to Ohio, I really had no idea the level of new grief I was signing up for. Everything up north is very different. The houses. The yards. The language. The attitude. The lack of chicken fried steaks. The accents. Hell even the Dairy Queens... (they do not have steak fingers - and don't get me started on that!)

I guess I didn’t expect a new place to feel SO different. Or for change to feel so hard. Clearly I did not realize, I lived in TEXAS of all places - which is pretty different in its own right from a lot of the country. Most of all, I didn’t realize - as it common with loss - what I had until it was gone. Or until I was gone...

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Vacation

Next week is March Break for me. I’m going on a cruise with a good friend. I know, I am fortunate to be able to go on a cruise. I’ll be in the sun and heat and it will be fun. I am excited! I am also not though. It seems that I can’t just experience the normal one emotion of excitement for a trip. That in itself is frustrating. There always has to be something else mixed in there complicating things for me. A little bit of nervousness, memories, sadness, and guilt complicate my happiness.

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This Still Beating Heart~

An interesting question was posted in a widow group earlier today.
When was the moment you realized you would survive this?
Your person’s death…this new life…
I never doubted for a moment that I could and would survive this.
From the time Chuck was told that the cancer was everywhere.
My fear was that I would indeed and unfortunately survive this,
And live the rest of my life without him.

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A Mindful Conversation

It’s been far too long since I felt the sting of an icy wind hitting my face.  Months have passed since I lazily stared into a campfire of my own creation, with nobody but my own self to discuss it with.  I haven’t dunked into a mountain creek after a long march, and I haven’t been woken up by annoying crows, rather than an annoying alarm clock.  

I have every opportunity to walk off into the woods for a day or two.  It doesn’t cost much, other than the gas to get there. Winter has never stopped me either, in fact, I favor the winter when I’m out in the “back-of-beyond”.  There are no insects, no stifling humidity, and most of all, no people. I can be truly alone with my thoughts, my triggers, and my memories. I can process the self-pity and pessimism that rears its ugly head every so often, without a facebook notification, ringing phone, or a TV interrupting me.  

I don’t have any real excuses as to why I haven’t at least taken a day or two to be alone in nature in the past 4 months.  But oh, do I sure try to find them. I have slowly been becoming grumpier. Angrier at minutia. Pessimistic and spiteful at the situation that I was thrust into.  It’s a negative feedback loop...the more I NEED to be in those woods, the less I have the ambition to get up and go.

I’m using all of the tricks to talk myself out of it and avoid.  I think it’s time to have a discussion of these finer points with myself.  A “heart-to-heart”, if you will, with my own. It’s a time where, as I wrote over three years ago not long after Megan’s death, I need to flip the switch from suffering to determination.  To dust myself off, climb out of my fighting hole, and just friggin’ DO IT.

Let’s talk, self.  Have a seat and lets discuss the reasons your ambition is all but gone.

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Malbec Part 2

Like a good vintage wine, last weeks blog, Malbec, requires a second harvest.  Over the last seven days, I have changed my mind about a few things and, now, I am offering up another tasting - this tasting is paired with hindsight. 

 

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A week ago, I shared my ritual of holding out my hands, searching and reaching for him.  In my own words I said, "it is awkward because I do not know where to place my fingers.  I clumsily grasp at the air around me.  Then, I just drop my hands to my side because there is nothing for me to hold.  Where he should be, now there is nothing.  So, I stand and ask myself again and again, how could someone so big and bold be gone?  How can Mike be gone - into nothing?  How can he no longer exist?  I don't have the answers to these big questions. (But, I'm working on it...)"

When I wrote this, I had no way of knowing if I would ever know the answers to these big questions.  I thought maybe it would take me a lifetime to figure out.  I thought Grief would hold me captive for a long, long time before I came to any conclusions.  But, by writing my questions down, I think I sub-consciously set the intention to discover the answers.   At this point, I still have more questions than answers, but I did come to a pretty big realization. One thing I know is that I was wrong...

 

 

 

 

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New Directions Fueled by the Past

Today an exciting milestone has happened for me. One that runs deep, and is stitched with so many remnants of a past life and of every day since that I've fought for. Today I was accepted to be a contributor for a major photography agency that works in the book publishing industry. They work with publishing houses all over the world to help them find the perfect photograph or artwork for a particular book cover. I am now one of the photographers that helps to provide those perfect photographs to their clients. In the near future, I may just be able to visit the nearest Barnes and Noble and find my photographs on the cover of beautiful books.

This milestone means so many things to me. I’ve wandered around trying to find a sense of direction ever since Drew died. I’ve tried countless directions with my art… and each one has had a feeling like it just didn’t quite “fit” for me. As I’ve learned, there are about as many different ways to be an artist as their are types of people. But this one - which marries my love of photography and storytelling - feels like a perfect match.

I can’t help but think back… I’ve been picking up a camera and capturing the world as I see it for almost ten years now. The first of those years, was the year Drew and I began dating. It was the year that he bought me my first DSLR camera, excited to see what I would create. In the three short years we had together, he continued to support and foster this direction in my life… buying me nearly all of the lenses and gear that I still use today. He was my photo assistant when I needed a helping hand or some strong arms for carrying ladders and lighting. And sometimes he was just there to observe. I still recall mornings at sunrise on the beach in my hometown when he would just sit back and watch me while I got lost behind the lens, capturing the sun-kissed waves. He loved to watch me seeing the world that way… to see how it lit me up inside. 

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All Paths Lead Somewhere

Some days I just lay there.

 

Or sit there.

 

Or stand there.

 

In silence.

 

I get lost in feeling numb.

 

Patience was never my strong suit. And it’s a difficult thing to be patient when everything has felt so empty for so long and all you desire is to fill whole again.

 

I can see that light at the end of the tunnel. It’s a very long tunnel however.

 

Sometimes I get tired of walking in the dark.

 

Sometimes I have to be still for a moment and realize that I’m still moving forward, despite the fact that I can see nothing in front of me.

 

It can be discouraging when you can’t see the destination.

 

But it’s important to remember one thing: all paths lead somewhere.

 

So if you have to stop for a moment. It’s okay. Just don’t stop indefinitely, because there is a destination to be reached.

 

All paths lead somewhere.

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Its Your Birthday, My Heart and Back Know

Its amazing to me, how powerful grief can be. How it can take over. How it can make you feel things you havent felt in years. How it can bring you right back to that day, or those weeks, where you lived in darkness, and where you were just trying to comprehend that the person you married just 4 years ago, was really, actually, truly, dead.

Most days now, 6 years later, I am okay. I am more than okay. I am creating and building a life for myself that includes new passions, helping others through life-changing loss, and a new and beautiful love in my world. My life is filled with purpose and meaning and joy - and I have worked very hard through my grief and my traumas - to get to this place where I feel very good and very differently happy. Most days.

But then, out of the blue sometimes, at random, grief decides it wants to play. It comes out from the shadows and reveals itself, to show you once again who is boss. And you find yourself feeling like you are right back in those early days of darkness, hopelessness, trauma, guilt, and unbelievable sadness.

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