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.
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.
I did, I waited 30 years and I kissed a lot of toads and married a couple too.
This morning a friend sent me a text and it touched my heart because she has known me for that same amount of time and she really liked Larry.
This is what she wrote:
Just finished your wonderful book. Most people in life will never experience the love you had with Larry, may his memories warm your heart and lead you through. I am so proud of you. I love you and please keep writing.
Here I am writing and yes, there are more books. What she doesn’t know, what most people do not know is that it was 2 years ago today that I honored Larry’s advanced directives and had him removed from the ventilator and moved to hospice.
In the greater scheme of things, I don’t know if the day he stroked was the worst day of my life or if going with him to hospice was. We had carried hope in our hearts for 10 days and removing him from the ventilator meant all hope was gone.
I wrote in my book about those 30 years I looked for deep and abiding loyal love.
Chapter 24 is titled “Superlove” and begins with this quote:
“And then my soul saw you and it kind of went, ‘Oh, there
you are. I’ve been looking all over for you.’ ”
To explain it I am sharing part of that chapter here today to honor Larry and the depth of his love for me.
When we met, I was intrigued. I liked him. I could tell he was one of the good guys, white hat, white bandana, and a white horse. However, a spark was missing.
The truth is that I wasn’t allowing the spark to light the fire that would result in smoldering embers of true love because along the way I had been damaged enough to believe I did not deserve what was standing right in front of me.
I was broken. I felt unworthy.
Then one day it hit me that Larry was everything I had been looking for in a life partner. I had asked God to send me the gift of a man I could rely on, a man I could trust with my heart, a man who would always take care of me, and there he was.
I had been having problems making the leap from hoping I would find someone to believing I had found someone. I had a duel going on inside my heart and my head between the words hope and faith.
I had been hoping all those years, and hoping led me right to Larry. I almost did not see that hope and become faith until I heard my therapist’s words from five years ago. That was the kick in the ass I needed.
Hope when you reduce it down to its simplest definition is a feeling of expectation. We all say that we hope something will happen.
Faith, though, is different; it is belief and trust that it will happen.
There is a difference. Once I learned it, I could see how it physically manifested itself in my life. Hope would make me think Oh please,oh please, oh please, and I could see myself popping a sweat. Faith is a way of believing that something can happen in the future.
Faith whispered in my ear, It is here now. Faith gives you relief because you realize everything happened just the way you had hoped. Faith cannot exist without hope.
I had hoped for years that a man of Larry’s caliber would fall into my life, and through the miracle of technology and online dating services, it all came together.
Thirty years. It took 30 years, and we only had 20 years to explore every nuance of what made us both so special to each other.
Thirty years of mistakes.
Thirty years of unhappiness.
Thirty years of loneliness.
Thirty years of tears.
I was done, despite those who wanted to make me all undone for one night, or one week, and leave me in a crumpled mess on the floor.
My energy was gone, spent by those who did not want to stay, and just when I felt used up, the man I called a beast found me. He was captivated, mystified, and intrigued, as if I were the finest wine he had ever brought to his lips and had until now, never tasted.
He got down on the floor with me. All the love he had longed for encircled him like a ring of fire, and eventually that ring of fire surrounded me, and we could see forever in each other’s eyes.
Loving each other was better than anything or anyone who had come before. His forever ended, leaving me to lie on the floor where the rings of fire had once burned extinguished by my tears.
My beloved husband, Lawrence F. Sanek.
5/14/46—3/3/19 he lived his dash very well.
As I read these words today I know in my heart he was worth waiting for, and we had 20+ wonderful years and I am so grateful he loved me. I am so grateful we found each other. I miss him with every beat of my heart and I love him more than ever with every day.
2 years feel like 20 is where I am when I travel back in time to 2019. Why does it feel like 20? Why? Why? Why?
How can it be this long already?
Just the other day I put a post on “Mourning Thoughts” my new daily thoughts about grief and not just the grief from a husband or wife dying. There are many other reasons people grieve and I wrote about those reasons for a magazine this month that can be found here soon: http://www.brainzmagazine.com/
I am also working on the outline for the next book and most of it has already been written. It will be tedious at first for me to work on because I have to go back through 2 years of morning posts I wrote on Facebook and organize them into a book about strength.
A friend suggested it recently and I smiled because I already had the idea and it will be implemented soon.
2 years. 2 years ago doctors were not being honest with us. They were telling us he was making improvements. They built our hopes up daily until one day they just signed off his case without saying a GD word to me. They walked off and explained nothing. I hated them then, I still hate what they did to this day.
When I talk about moving from Florida to SC I say it was due to all the memories. That is not 100% true. It is also because I couldn’t stand to see TV ads for that hospital. I couldn’t stand to drive past that hospital. I changed doctors because my doctor’s office was across the street from that hospital.
4 years ago a surgical error changed Larry’s heart and his life. I am glad I left Tampa.
My wonderful loving husband’s life was changed and shortened and the surgeon who made the mistake admitted it to me. He whispered it in my ear that he was to blame after he repaired the mistake.
One of the most difficult things I have found here in the wilderness of my grief is when a grief bomb explodes and scatters shards of desperation in every direction.
There is nowhere to hide, nowhere to take cover and no warning that this is about to happen, it just happens.
When Larry first died I changed my Facebook settings to disallow memories to show up because those photos are always going to cause a cascade of reactions that no one can just wish away.
No, we are hit with them and many times we feel we have nowhere to turn for help. It is so difficult to call a friend or family member (again) and ask them to listen to what just happened.
It is a conundrum.
Our friends and family may not even pick up the phone because we may have tired them out. In my world, I don’t want to bother anyone. Sharing my emotional pain may make me feel better but I just made someone else feel frustrated.
This is when we need to become our own best friends. You can do it, I have done it.
When the bomb explodes concentrate on your breathing and slow it down. Follow this with affirmative statements about how far you have come. I tell myself “Carole, you’ve got this.” It works almost all the time.
I was interviewed for a podcast show today and the topic of dogs came up in our discussion and the host could hear the tears in my voice as I spoke about the day I took my precious little Willie to the vet clinic knowing I would be coming home alone. There are so many photos of her on my phone, on social media, and in frames throughout my home. Some people would think it is just a dog, but no. Willie was the last anchor to Larry. She was my adorable little Bichon with one eye. My heart is still broken over her death.
Grief is the opposite of love so yes seeing photos of her always hurt and probably always will.
I look at her photos and remind myself how much she was loved and she knew it. Then I tell myself she is sitting on Larry’s lap and they are eating ice cream together just like they always did, and I smile.
With this pandemic we are called upon even more to be our own best friends. It is not easy, I know, but we can do it.