It actually was 3 days before Christmas and for the first time since Larry passed away I had inner peace with the holiday.
I had “made it” through Thanksgiving and my birthday and those were the most important for me to move through. I did it with the help of several friends. When December arrived I knew I was ready to open the bins in my garage and bring out the holiday decor.
We all have our own ways to grieve, we all have things that trigger memories and tears, and in my world I cannot decorate my tree with ornaments we had collected for 20+ years.
For years I had put a tree up in our bedroom. Larry called it my fancy tree because it was butterflies, and glittery gold ornaments, shiny turquoise balls, and yes, it is fancy. It is in my living room now, a perfect chick tree and I like it a lot.
I have no problem with the table top decor we had together, it is just the ornaments we collected, and the special ornaments for our 3 dogs who all sit at Larry’s feet in heaven.
Music fills my house too. I choose wisely as there are just some groups I cannot listen to, and probably never will hear again. I stick to smooth jazz musicians and Johnny Mathis.
All of this is okay. We all grieve in different ways. There are no rules. Follow your heart, it won’t steer you wrong. Only do what feels right in your gut. Follow your gut, it won’t lie to you.
I am blessed with a huge amount of supportive friends. My phone rings all the time, and this is where I am going to state you get back what you put out there. I have created a friendship base of loyal friends. These are people who would never take a swipe at me. True friends do not do that and I am surrounded by true friends.
Friendships often change when grief walks in the door. I had it happen to me several times however in moving forward from people who just are born mean made such a difference.
Twas several days before Christmas and I am blessed. I have inner peace. I will be alone on Christmas Day and it doesn’t bother me at all. I am even making a big dinner for 1 person-me. Rosie will benefit from it and as I look back over the past 14 months I can say with certainty moving to the Upstate of South Carolina was a very good decision.
I woke this morning knowing I needed to do some writing. My magazine editor is asking for an article and my brain wants to write, but it seems to be frozen in time.
Worse yet I hear the band Genesis playing their song “Land of Confusion” in my head and I cannot turn it off.
This is not how I wanted to spend my Saturday morning, yet there I sat, a cup of coffee at my side and a dog wandering in and out to see if I am ready to stop whatever it is I am doing and feed her.
Not yet, Rosie, it is too early.
Many people would have flicked any confusion they felt into oblivion by now. It doesn’t work that way when you have ADHD. Hell to the no. Everyone who has ADHD knows we don’t flick. We ruminate. We chew our cud(s) like cows do. We chew and chew and chew not really swallowing or digesting whatever it is to move on to the next topic at hand.
That topic keeps waving at us trying to capture our attention and we ignore it and keep on chewing.
ADHD – so many of us have it, try having it when you have grief in your life. This is where it gets bad. This is where it becomes cumbersome. This is where we carry something so heavy in our hearts and on our backs that one or the other will break.
I cried every day this week. Not boo-hoo sobs but just tears trickling out of my eyes and down my cheeks. My life was a confusing mess, and I didn’t have my person to help me sort through it and put things into the file folders in my brain where they belong.
I was in overwhelm and all I can say is thank goodness I had a hypnotherapy session where I obtained relief from some of my anxieties in life because otherwise I would be commiting myself for care.
I walked around my house channeling my inner Ruth from “Ozark” dropping F bombs in almost every sentence. Thank goodness for Ruth, I can blame my salty language on a character many people embrace because fiction or not she says it like it is.
It will be better soon, I am guessing in about 4-5 days. I look at my calendar on the wall in gratitude of not having a crazy busy week coming of running here and there. I actually have me time. Time to slow the confusion down and bring it to a stop. Answers will come and by mid-week I should be back in control again.
Grief is a monster at times. You know it, and I know it, and there are days when I just kick it in the ass and say “not today grief.”
Grief and fear go hand in hand and yesterday was a prime example of how fear lives within the boundaries of grief. I was thrown into a land of confusion. I allowed myself to go down the rabbit hole. It was dark and brambly and I got tangled up in this mess.
Thorny branches were tearing my skin. My eyes could not adjust to the darkness. Then there was the unbreathable air filled with the smell of dampness and mold, rot and other undetectable things.
It was frightening.The more I looked for a way out, the deeper I went until all I could do was sit down, hug my knees and weep.
Voices in my head were asking me why I had allowed myself to follow the path down to this putrid darkness.
The answer is simple. I allowed fear to take over my rational thinking and it plucked at me like a vulture ripping open a dead animal on the road. I felt like a child who is terrified of the dark and sees monsters under her bed who would surely snatch her away if she put her hand off the mattress.
Monsters of fear, vultures tearing away at my heart, dark putrid dampness, and a flashing sign warning me if I continued on this path I might never be able to turn back or return to earth again.
Those hard days happen and will always happen until we no longer walk on top of the ground ourselves.
I write about them publicly on social media as a reminder to all who read me tomorrow is never promised and many times the end comes with no damn warning.
This past week I realized it was 2 1/2 years since the night my love had his stroke and left me behind. I look at his photos and ask him how he could leave such a great marriage. I wish he could answer.
If you know me, if you know our story, if you read my book then you know I caught Larry in my arms and held him close as he became unconscious. I ask God all the time if he knew I held him as he left me. Perfect love story ending, right? Wrong.
Yes, I believe Larry deserved to die this way over being alone somewhere, or driving his car and hitting a tree or another car or worse. We all deserve to die in someone’s arms after all we hit this world and are immediately cradled in the arms of someone.
I am pretty sure this won’t be the way I leave. Yes, Larry did deserve to be cradled and held. He did not deserve the screams that came out of my body, or the panic in my voice, or the small slap I gave him to see if I could wake him up.
Those hard days will happen over and over and we cannot hide from them, all we can do is ride the waves as they wash over us and eventually we find peace again.
We know we cannot change what happened, we cannot re-write our happy endings because in reality the happiness exists while we exist. This is what we must spend time covering ourselves with daily. One more time, tomorrow is never promised.
I recently attended a meeting where the speaker is well-known on the topic of widows and grief. To all the men who read what I write, this group is beginning a section for widowers too. Grief is universal and non-sexual in it’s nature and I know men grieve too.
Death of a spouse is 100. A new baby is 39. The stress test clearly states if anything on the list happened in the last year, you could be at risk of a serious illness depending on what your total is.
I looked at the list over and over. I wrote about it in my daily Facebook writing and someone asked me if the level of 100 goes away. I thought about that before answering. I answered that it can until something sets us off again and we go right back to the moment our lives came crashing down and our hearts splintered into over 1000 pieces.
Within days of learning this I had to deal with extremely upsetting situations and that was when I truly knew I was back to being a perfect 10×10. I found myself standing in front of my favorite photo of my husband, I was yelling at his photo and telling him how angry I am that he left me to deal with the shit that he always took care of for me. After I yelled things began to get better as they always do as time passes.
It has been 2 1/2 years and while good days greatly outnumber the bad days, I still miss him with all my heart. I miss how he took care of asshat people, how he protected me, how he always had my back, how he held me in his arms, and how he made love to me.
These feelings do not go away, they do stay in the recesses of my heart more often as I move forward, but whenever I feel my stress level hit 100 again, I curl up on my favorite chair and allow the tears to flow.
I have a dear friend whose husband died right after having a cardiac stress test. He left the doctor’s office, had a massive heart attack and died in the street he was crossing.
While we were talking the other day she asked me why I have never written about the guilt that follows us after someone dies without warning. One minute they are here, the next they are gone. Did we miss something?
After this phone call I thought back and reminded myself hindsight is 20/20. We see everything much more clearly after an event. All those little things we may have pushed aside stare us in the face now and we catch ourselves wondering why we did not see them as bigger things.
My husband asked me one day in late 2018 if I had noticed he was acting differently or doing strange things. I had to stop and think about his questions because he was always a creature of habit, and what I saw as strange was normal for him.
I told him maybe there were some things but I couldn’t put my finger directly on what they were. I promised though to make note of anything and talk to him about it.
In December of that year we attended a family wedding, and several people commented later he had been acting differently. He was quiet and being quiet is the opposite of his nature. I wonder now if he was having trouble putting his thoughts into words.
Yes, when I look back I did see some confusion, but it wasn’t until he died and I took his office apart that I really saw what he had been asking about.
He was a stubborn man. If he had chest pain he would mention it as if it was no big deal. Those no big deal moments landed him in the ER and in the Cardiac ICU after having stents placed twice.
When the last stent procedure happened we were told open heart surgery was probably in the near future, and he found a cardiovascular surgeon and made the appointment.
He recovered like a beast. In fact I gave him that nickname because on Day 2 after 2 surgeries he was off all pain medications and never took another one.
I watched him like a hawk, but I saw nothing really unusual during his recovery.
What I did see two years later was that he started to put off physical work. I didn’t question it, we lived in Florida, year round hot and humid weather happens there. I figured he was just waiting for those months when the weather was actually lovely which happens at the beginning of the new year.
Every doctor visit brought us good news. He was recovering well for someone who had been through two big surgeries in less than 24 hours.
February of 2019 brought us sadness as one of our pet birds died of kidney failure, and he buried it out with the other 2 we had owned. I had follow up care with a doctor over a procedure I had, and he had his annual echocardiogram and Cardiologist visit. Everything was fine until it wasn’t.
When the paramedics arrived at our house they found his Nitroglycerine on the floor, he had evidently pulled it out of his pocket when he knew something was wrong. He assumed it was his heart, but it wasn’t. I dug deep into research after he died looking to see if people who have massive strokes are in pain. Pain is not likely yet I needed to know because he became unconscious immediately.
Fast forward to late March and early April when I began to go through his office, and found many things that surprised me. I had married an engineer, a focused engineer, one who had his fingers on the pulse of everything he did.
I found so much that puzzled me. Stacks of articles, magazines, and pieces of paper all with something written on them. This was not the man I knew, but we did not share an office and I didn’t wander in there much where I might have seen these before his stroke and questioned him about it all. I considered he might have been having transischemic attacks.
In looking back any guilt I feel is because I did not ask him more questions, I did not press him to tell me more, I did not prod him to call the doctor.
Two years later after talking to many different doctors and doing volumes of research I remembered what the interventional neurosurgeon had told us after he performed a thrombectomy to remove the clot and that is when I knew this stroke could not have been prevented. That was when any guilt that remained dissolved because I realized what was at the root cause of his stroke and no one was aware of this issue until it was too late.
Yes, many times we shrug off things we are asked about, or we don’t nag enough to get something taken care of, or we just don’t want to believe something could possibly be very wrong.
Guilt and regret are two things I try to leave at the curb mostly because I cannot change anything and neither can anyone else.
Over the past month I allowed something to eat at me. It kept taking little bites out of me and one day I just asked someone a question I already knew the answer to and I was spot on in knowing.
Receiving confirmation of something you already know or suspect won’t resolve anything. In most cases it just makes you sadder or madder or both, throw in disappointment too.
On the flip side though we all need to know the truth, and then we can decide how it makes us feel and what we want to do about it.
In my book I spoke twice about asking. I was referring more to asking to be included, or asking to have coffee or a glass of wine, or asking to do something together.
Asking gives answers, some are delightful, some are not.
I was very disappointed for reasons I don’t intend to write about, but suffice it to say I am not over being disappointed.
We who grieve will grieve the rest of our lives. We go through all the stages and many of us do start to feel differently. We don’t cry as much or as often, we may even laugh more. We leave the house and join things – this is a very big step. We start to do things we were not able to do for a long time.
There are timeslots we cannot avoid though.
When Larry first died I couldn’t handle 630p on Tuesdays because that was when he suffered the stroke that would render him unconscious and unable to recover. I had a really tough time every Tuesday, but it did get better. I moved forward through this with therapy.
Now it’s the weekends that hover over me in dark and damp ways. I write that I am going to pack Rosie up and we will head out. So far the biggest weekend outing has been the pet store.
The weekends hurt. I stopped working on weekends recently meaning I do no marketing of my businesses, I do not design any photo messages, and I do not listen to webinars (much). I do write. I also record my podcasts episodes, I just don’t call that work.
The weekends for Larry and I were always very special even if he was digging up our irrigation system. This was our time together, and I cherished it.
Errands were run, yard work was done, shopping together happened, spectacular dinners for Saturday date nights were prepped, dancing on the lanai, making love, waking early to the dogs asking to go out, hot coffee on the lanai, rinse and repeat.
Saturdays and Sundays are the two days when talking with friends and family mean the most to me. Yes, weekends trigger grief for me in a sad way. I miss those days the most.
What else triggers me? Weddings. I just watched a friend’s wedding and she was a widow who fell in love a second time and I am so happy for her.
My wedding day is the happiest memory I have. It was a perfect day filled with family, friends and love. In therapy I spoke about it often because I trained myself to go back to that day whenever I was triggered. There are many triggers, but there are two that really start the tears.
The other one is when someone’s pet dies. I grieve hard to this day over having to let go of darling Willie. Her photo is still my screensaver. I still get heart heaviness when I think about Willie.
Circling back to my purpose in writing today is the fact it doesn’t matter if 20 years have passed I deal with grief everyday. When/if someone disappoints me it is also a trigger. They might not realize it, but it is my trigger, I own it, and I won’t apologize for it. Just understand that when you trigger someone with your thoughts, words or deeds that as Maya Angelou said “…..people will never forget how you made them feel.”
I recently wrote on Facebook about ideas that appear and perch on your monitor, or the edge of your desk or in my case on my bookcase across the room.
Grief acts that way too, only instead of perching gently it arrives with thunder and lightning and has the power to knock us down. It doesn’t frighten me; it is a reminder to me that it will always be here. It is sneaky. It just shows up with no warning flashing its lightning and booming its thunder.
I have reached the point where I don’t allow it to hang around for hours, no I accept that it is here, I breathe through it. Then I tell it to leave because I have things to do and things to get back to that I was doing before it interrupted me. The sun comes out and chases it away.
Larry was a good man, and I often think of the saying only the good die young, but that’s not true. It didn’t happen because he was too young to die. A blood clot didn’t form that day and say “Larry, I am tired of hanging around in this lower artery, I want the big time, I want to travel up to the heights of your brain and set off a firework display so big that when you lose consciousness you will go out with a bang but don’t worry Carole will catch you in her arms.” Thank you blood clot for your consideration. Piss on you blood clot.
Larry did nothing wrong. He did nothing to deserve that stroke. It just happened.
Grief is misunderstood or not understood by many, maybe by most. We need to change that because until we do there will be many more people like me who at times have grief that arrives more like a tornado or a hurricane.
I feel judged as if people think I am stuck. I recently wrote that if I were stuck you would find me still in my pajamas, in a dark room, surrounded by crumbled up tissues, my hair a mess, and unable to get up, get dressed and get away from being stuck.
I miss Larry every day all day.
There are many days when grief storms do not happen. There are many days when I curse at his photo and say he should still be here. Where is here though?
Grief doesn’t dehumanize me.
It changed me, it reminds me to tell more people they are loved and to hope that people who love me stop to remember I am alone. I don’t have someone to put their arms around me or shelter me from the grief storms. Alone sucks big time.
Guess what? This will never end. Larry is a part of me, he lives inside me, in my heart, in my brain, in my gut and there are times when I feel him holding my hand especially when I am sad.
Larry will be here until the last person who knew him is gone.
As a matter of fact, we will always be here until the last person who knew us is gone.
We have all been weaving our way through the wilderness of brambles and branches that have caused us to isolate and wrap ourselves in blankets of greyness due to the potential for a known virus to not only invade our lives but to possibly take our lives away from us.
We have spent over a year trying to navigate our way out of this wilderness and in all the writing I have done, all the talking I have done, all the help I have given others I have reached a point where I need help in return. It is not to say people have not supported me, that people have not reached out, because they have. I have Covid depressing days and these days punch me in the gut.
Loneliness is as hell AF. When I read an article this morning from one of my favorite grief writers, Megan Devine, it struck such a resonating chord in me. I knew I would sit down and write my feelings because I do not think many people truly see me.
Devine wrote “Loneliness is its own special region of hell, and being single – by choice or by circumstance – is tough in a coupled-up, locked-down world.”
I have had days of absolute despair wondering why I am still here without my loving husband at my side. It wasn’t supposed to be over yet. We had plans, years of plans.
I have to cheer myself up every day. I have to remind myself I am here for a reason, and then I look at the photo of us hanging on my bedroom wall and I curse at it because I no longer live in a coupled-up world.
I have never been this lonely without someone who cared about me for this long and Devine is right, this is a very special region of hell.
In complete honesty I need to spend time with my son, in my house, no distractions of his responsibilities. I need to see him and take care of him as much as I want him to take care of me.
The audacity of grief. The fucking audacity of grief to come into my world and turn it upside down and inside out and then slap me across the face with a pandemic. Oh, I know there are other people who feel the same way, however for one moment in time I am only writing about me.
Every single one of us needs other people. I have said that out loud hoping that my words would carry across time and space and come to rest into the part of our brains that give us that moment when we realize “Carole needs me.”
I won’t apologize for sharing my feelings to anyone, I own them, and there are a handful of friends who do understand, who do reach out to me, who do virtually take care of me.
This is how grief works and I wish to heaven I wasn’t it’s victim.
Spring arrived recently in South Carolina with all the flowering trees, the Daffodils, the Iris, and so many other beautiful flowering shrubs.
I had forgotten how much I delighted over the years in plants we could not have in Florida and memories that go back to my grandmother’s garden – she had amazing Tulips and as a child I couldn’t understand how anything so pretty did not have a scent.
Throughout the years I planted and worked in many gardens. I had vegetable gardens when my children were little. When we moved to a house with an inground swimming pool we had a magnificent backyard with roses, and lilacs, and more with a deck that was the envy of the neighborhood. There wasn’t one square inch that was not planted or decorated.
Our family fell apart, the children’s father died, and I sold the house. My children with the exception of my daughter, were old enough to be on their own and for the next several years it was apartment living and hanging plants.
Time passed and there were more gardens and a move to Costa Rica where the foliage and the plants were eye candy.
Fast forward to meeting my sweet Larry. He and I planted down the side of our house and into the back yard of our home in Indiana and when the first warm days came we would be out there looking for new shoots, new growth, new buds.
When we decided to move to Florida it was a tropical delight for us. For over 15 years we had a beautiful yard filled with flowers in the ground and in large pots. The backyard was a tropical escape from reality and something was in bloom every month of the year.
After Larry had his open heart surgery we planted the rest of the yard and turned it into his healing garden. He tended that patch of land as if he were a professional landscape artist. We had over 30 trees of various different sizes, and everything was Florida friendly. Bouquets of fresh flowers filled vases indoors, and the house was filled with beauty.
The last Saturday of his life he trimmed all the bushes to encourage new growth and promised me he would clean every thing up – that never happened, and I had to hire someone to do it because Larry was not ever going to be gardening again.
I gave up on gardens after Larry died. My heart wasn’t in it, and today when I was actually thinking about how this yard needs some color I came across his watering can. It was what he used to fertilize the rose bushes he planted just for me.
The last words Larry ever said to me were: “I am going out to feed the roses and when I come back in I will have another glass of wine with you.”
When he walked back in he set that watering can down on a table, he tried to speak to me, he couldn’t and I flew to catch him as he slipped into unconsciousness and I knew this was a critical stroke.
After he died I ripped out the rose bushes. I couldn’t even look at them, and I would never plant roses again.
I left that watering can on the table until I moved from that house. Today when I looked at it I saw it was damaged, and it had been lying in the dirt in the back yard and I picked it up and took it to the recycling can. I put it in there and continued to clean up the yard when suddenly I burst into tears and ran to reclaim it, you see it is the last thing Larry touched, it was his and his energy was on the handle of that can.
I am going to plant some wildflowers in it and put it on my front porch, damaged and all.
There must be gardens in heaven and I am sure Larry is tending one with love and to honor our love I will plant a garden.