I’ve Been Grieving All Wrong!!!

grief-comic

Just kidding!  There is no right or wrong. Everyone grieves in their own way and in their own amount of time.  And this truly depends on the depth of the relationship one had with the deceased.  The one thing that we the grieving have to monitor is our resolution to the pain and grief.  This does not mean we will ever “get over” the loss of someone very close to us such as our spouses, child, parent or other person significant to our lives.  But we can learn to live with these losses in a healthy manner, which often means gaining the help of a therapist or being part of a grief group where we share and learn from one another, or having someone to lean on who has walked the walk and survived, or needs someone as bad as you do to talk to.  And there is nothing wrong with this.

Believe me, I  know.  As I’ve mentioned from the beginning of my blog posts, my now late husband and I suffered the death of our oldest son, Sgt Patrick Tainsh, in Iraq, February 11, 2004.  Who would have thought 10 years later I’d be pulling out my grief books from a box in the closet to re-read how to deal with grief, but now because my husband has died.

One of my favorite books is “How to Go On Living When Someone You Love Dies” by Therese A. Rando, Ph.D.  According to Ms. Rando, in order to adapt to the reality of our loss and striving to live healthy in our “New Norm” without our loved one, we must “complete three sets of processes:”

  1.  Acknowledging and understanding the loss:  I have certainly acknowledged the reality of my husband’s death. I watched him take his last breath on a bed in hospice.  I also understand why he died.  A combination of years of heavy smoking causing COPD and emphysema, along with service in Vietnam that brought on agent orange related stage 4 lung and brain cancer.  To watch his decline from a strong man who served 28 proud years in the Marines, to a shell of a man leaves me with a heaviness that is difficult to remove from my heart and memory.  The grief of this I will carry to my grave, but also must not dwell on, because there are the memories of his youth, strength, leadership, provider, protector, husband and father that are part of everyone whose life he touched.  On the flip side, our son was in the Middle-East when he died in an ambush on a road outside of Baghdad.  We weren’t there.  Patrick had left for Iraq on April 1, 2003 and died February 11, 2004, near the time the unit was to return home.  Acknowledging and understanding our son’s death was difficult because we didn’t see what happened. We could only understand our loss based on what was written on some forms, a death certificate, and word of mouth from those he served with. We refused to see the flag draped casket that was brought to the funeral home.  We couldn’t accept he was gone. We wanted to remember him the way he left us, on two strong legs.  We only had an urn of ashes at the Memorial Service, no more phone calls, and an empty seat at all future holiday gatherings.

2.  Experiencing the Pain & Reacting to the Separation:  Oh the pain after my husband’s death! The grief. The being alone. Remembering his one in a million smile.  His voice and a song he would sing to me.  I just couldn’t out run it.  I tried.  I planned trips, cruises, moving, volunteer work, anything to distract me from the daily nausea of heartbreak that my protector, my supporter, the man who validated me and loved me like no one ever had in my life, the man I adored, admired, respected, and loved for all he had made possible for me was gone.  The man who had been the reason I grew as a person in ways that wouldn’t have been possible without him. No, we were not a perfect couple. Folks who heard us argue sometimes wondered why we were together. But we were perfect for each other.  And on December 23, 2014, my entire world was upside down with a new path to follow called “readjustment.”  Readjusting slowly to the fact that David was no longer in my life to fulfill any further dreams, hopes, feelings, or needs.

How was I suppose to do this readjusting for my 2nd most critical New Norm?  No one gave me a manual to follow after the death of a husband, no more than a manual was given after a son’s death.  So, as I did after Patrick’s death, I screamed and cried alone, (after Patrick’s death I threw old dishes against trees and broke them, or screamed and cried while I dug holes in red Georgia clay where where we lived at the time, then afterwards I planted flowers in the holes) or sometimes I cried with a girlfriend or two who personally knew Dave, and I slept on the sofa so its back gave mine something to touch.  I stayed awake (still do)  with thoughts of “Where do I go from here?”

My one other son lived 4 hours away. I had no grandchildren to visit and offer to care for.  I tried volunteer work at a Senior center with alzheimers’ patients, but that made me sad.  I was restless and lost (still am to a degree).  With David gone, I didn’t have the energy to continue with the non-profit organization we started together to provide support to families of the fallen and veterans.  We had been a two-some.  We had not been a part of groups or organizations for gatherings or parties.  We had not belonged to a church group.  (David was mad at God after Patrick died.)   My two best girlfriends in our community had families and obligations of their own.  If I wasn’t on the road traveling, which I couldn’t afford forever, I had no anchor.  My anchor was gone, dead.

I knew I had to let go of the dead and get used to a new life without him.  But how long was this suppose to take?  And what was this new life suppose to look like?  I had loved being a wife, a part of two in our own private world.

In Victorian times a widow was to wear black for 2 years and stay out of public view for the first year. This was the designated time to honor her grief and her lost loved one.  I’m glad for the symbolism of honoring the widow and the dead, but I know I couldn’t wear black for 2 years.  I didn’t wear black to my husband’s memorial service and I couldn’t remain in the house for a year!  For me, being alone after marriage for 30 plus years just didn’t feel right.  I didn’t like it!

Two months after Dave’s death, a friend and  military veteran who spoke at David’s Memorial Service, called to check on me and offered to take me to dinner.  Then he offered his thoughts on how he had cared for me from afar.  Yes, he caught me in a very vulnerable, lonely stage and I fell for his admiration hook, line and sinker.  No, he didn’t mean a word he said and hence, I learned a great lesson at the age of 60, and I’ll admit, there have been a couple more since this one!  But I’ve gotten a lot smarter.  Oh, and by the way, part of society still likes to view a widow from the Victorian Rules of Grieving as to what is right after “Becoming a Widow.”   Yes, a couple of folks thought I was dishonoring David.  But David was/is gone.  I’m still very much in the here and now!  And I’m still readjusting!  I’m not suppose to act the same way I did when I had a husband.  I’m in a new world aka new norm, and as a widower friend said, feeling like a piece of driftwood floating around, but with hope it will  soon wash to a solid shore.

So, back to more regarding my path to readjusting after becoming a widow. It takes time.  And that is a problem for me because heaven knows my Creator did not fill me with patience.  I want to know where my life is going and I want to know NOW!  But it just ain’t happening!  So here I sit writing…I suppose this is part of my new journey.  Tell my story.  Maybe it will help at least one!

One of the greatest loses I feel, and I’m sure other widows/widowers will agree is that we had so much emotional and love energy with our loved one, and now we have no one to give that to and no one to give it to us.  My doctor told me that what she hears from her older patients who have suffered the death of a partner is that they miss “touch”, not sex, but simple touch.  Well, I have to agree with that one.  We no longer have that satisfaction and fulfillment of holding hands or stroking their back, or vice versa.

On page 231 of Dr. Rando’s book, “How to Go on Living…” she states: “The most crucial task in grief is this change in relationship with the person who died.  It is the untying of the ties that bind you to your lost loved one…it must be stressed that this does not mean that the deceased is forgotten or not loved.  Rather it means that the emotional energy you had invested in the deceased is readjusted to allow you to direct it towards others who can reciprocate it in an ongoing fashion for your emotional satisfaction.”

Loosening this tie takes time.  Not falling apart at the sound of a song, the view of a place once visited, and so many personal things takes time.  The last home my husband and I built together one mile from the beach is ten miles from where I now live.  We moved into that new home on Thanksgiving Day, 2008.  He became ill and made his last trip to hospice from that home in December, 2014. I couldn’t live there any longer and moved to our small cottage.  I couldn’t afford the upkeep as a widow nor could I deal with the memories of his illness that filled each room.  My heart hurts each time I pass the cross streets that lead to that home we were so proud of and planned to share many years together.  A friend recently invited me to their home to watch a football game.  I had to turn them down because they live in the same neighborhood where my dream home was that I shared with my husband for the last six years of his life.  I may never be able to go into that neighborhood again, I don’t know yet, because I’m still readjusting.

Dr. Rando does give us some clues to show we are becoming successful in readjusting and resolving our grief:

  1.  Remembering our loved one without pain
  2. Talk about them without falling apart
  3. Express regrets without undue guilt (I’m still working on this one)
  4. Loving others without feeling we are betraying our loved one(mmmmm not sure)
  5. Writing the word widow without feeling abandoned (mmmm hate that word)

The third set of processes Dr. Rando talks about is

3.  Moving adaptively into the new life without forgetting the old:   

Well, number 1 for this is to create a new relationship with our deceased spouse, (or other loved one) in symbolic ways.  Yes, I talk to David and Patrick.  Especially if I’ve lost something, I actually ask their help to find it.  I refer to them as my guardian angels.  I also comment on what they would think about a loss or win of a ball game they would be watching if at home.  After Patrick’s death in Iraq, it took me a long time to not feel sad when I went to the beach because he loved it so and he loved to surf.  With every surfer I saw with long blonde hair I would think of Patrick and wish I could see him surf one more time.  Or I”ll see wind surfers and say, “Man, Patrick would love doing that.” But the heaviness in my chest isn’t as bad now as almost 13 years ago.

Regarding my David, he’s been gone only 2 years.  I miss his touch, his kiss, the way he dressed up or down, and so many more things I can’t count. The way he look in Marine Corps dress blues, a tux or in shorts and t-shirt.  I see couples our age on the beach and a twist comes to my heart, but I know it will get easier.  And he will always be the hero in my heart who helped make me the strong woman I became (although I’m getting a bit tired of being strong).  He will always be a symbol of strength to me because, for a story I will tell later,  he grew up from foster care and abuse to becoming a leader of young men in the U.S. Marines where he served for 28 years.

So, my new relationship with my two deceased loved ones is to keep them tucked in my heart, knowing they blessed me and everyone whose lives they touched while living in the physical.

Number 2 in this matter of adapting to this new norm is the question of how to keep our loved one(s) alive appropriately.  Well for me, there is a quote: “They are not dead as long as someone calls their name.”  My other way is to visit the grave site and place silk flower arrangements several times a year at Fort Benning, Georgia where I placed the ashes of both David and Patrick with a military headstone with Patrick’s name on one side and his father’s name on the other.  I also placed the paw prints of our two golden retrievers with them!  I also keep a photo of the two of them side by side in their military uniforms.  Because of their military service to our country I keep the flags I received for each of them on my desk.  Sometimes the flags make me want to cry, but it is also a cry of pride!

Then there is number 3.  Maybe the most difficult for me and others.  I have to create a new identity as one.  I’m not a wife any longer.  I’m a widow, and I don’t like being that.  But who am I?  I know I”m a writer.  I’ve have several books published.  I’m still Phillip’s mom.  But I’m not David’s wife, because David is gone.  I mentioned in part of my writing above that David and I were a twosome.  We didn’t hang in groups or organizations, or a church.  So what was I going to do when the travel stopped?  Stay at home and read and write to myself?  Something had to change to help me create a new me.  And along the way unexpected people came into my life.  Just goes to show if we look up instead of down,  things can change a bit at a time.

A part of the new me began in the year after Dave’s death when a couple (both widowed) who I barely knew invited me to start attending local music shows and karaoke with them here in Panama City Beach.  This lovely couple, Dolores and Ken, introduced me to others along the way.  I often cried because I felt alone in the crowd of couples.  But as time moved bit by bit, I became comfortable in going to the music venues alone because I recognized people and they recognized me.  I also began singing karaoke.  Through this with the help of others, I’ve become a part of a caring group of individuals who enjoy music, laughter, and giving hugs. It’s not always easy, but I’m making some progress in forming a new identity for my new norm.  I also meet with a group of lovely ladies for lunch each month called “The Blue Water Mermaids.”  Although by no means am I an artist, I began drawing mermaids on canvas and offering them at the luncheon as a raffle gift.  I have a group of acquaintances on facebook who when I feel alone at home, I just write something that I hope falls on listening ears and receive a note back to let me know they are there.

How to go on living when someone you love dies is the toughest road we humans, since the dawn of time, can travel with all the ups, downs, twisting turns, and near the edge layout.  Its a struggle, it can be lonely, it can be frightening, it can be frustrating, it can seem endless, but we can get to the other side with a lighter heart and hope if we all hold on together and continue seeking our purpose in honor of the ones we loved and who have died, that I’m sure want us to love and be loved again. And as for me, I’m not giving up on love, to give love, and to receive love once again.

 

Missing 4 P’s

Sgt Patrick Tainsh, USA Sgt Major David Tainsh, USMC

When our son. Sgt Patrick Tainsh, was killed in action in Iraq, February 11, 2004, media came out of the woodwork to interview me and my husband.  Of course they wanted comments about Patrick and where we stood with the war. But the dumbest question they asked us was, “What do you miss most about your son?”

Well Duh!!  And Yes annoying, but at least we could call Patrick’s name out loud and remember him from reckless surfer dude to a Silver Star recipient soldier.

And what did we miss?  My heavens, he was his father’s progeny. We wouldn’t be able to watch him continue to grow as a man and soldier, get married and have children. Or hear his laid back surfer dude comment, “Whatever.”  Or see him and his step-brother return from a golf game together and make us laugh while they told their stories of the day.  I could no longer buy him birthday or Christmas presents.  Yes, I could go on and on, just as we could have with media.

So, what does talking about a deceased son have to do with “Becoming a Widow?” Well, it has to do with a new question, “What do I miss most about my husband?”   And the question has been answered for me with some defining words, thanks to Steve Harvey, the host of Family Feud and Steve Harvey’s Happy Wife, Happy Life program.

Recently I watched the Happy Wife, Happy Life show.  Steve’s lesson about the 4 P’s to husbands that night became my clarity on why immediately after my husband’s death I felt totally lost, alone, and without an anchor to secure me, and still, with 2 years under my belt, I’m still wobbling a bit.  It has to do with those 4 P’s that my husband blessed me with in the chapters of life we wrote together.

4 P’s that at the age of 62 I can talk about having been blessed with in my past life, and pretty confident that they will not make a repeat appearance.  And this is where I have to accept that if a relationship at age 60 plus comes along in my future, it will look totally different from that one built over a 30 year time span that began after Dave and I met and started from the ground up at ages 28 and 38, even though we had each been married before.

So what are these 4 P’s that I miss so much in the present, and have to talk about in past tense?The 4 P’s I’ll probably never experience again and that possibly other widows can now put a name to for what they greatly miss about their spouses.

    • P-  Pedestal–  I was my husband’s queen.  He placed me on a pedestal so high even with my flaws, temperment, idiosyncracies, highs and lows, and bi-polar depression that I often had to remind him that I was human, just a woman, and if I fell I would surely break into shards at his feet!  But he was my king with all his flaws, yet possessing the other 3 P’s.   (I doubt that I can ever count on anyone else feeling this way about me!)
    • P-Profess – Professing his love!  Oh how I miss hearing those words, “I love you, baby.”  Or special cards with words, “I love you, Punkin” which was his nickname for me. Those unexpected kisses and hugs, foot and back rubs. And the silent professing like having coffee ready for me in the mornings, washing my car, filling up the gas tank, on and on, he professed his love in so many small ways.    (Would Someone else? Maybe, probably not.)
    • P- Provide – My husband was a wonderful provider for our class in life.  Although his last years of 28 with the Marine Corps made him irritable, and sometimes unpleasant to be around, he went to work on days he was sick and in pain, or under a commanding officer he couldn’t stand while never missing a beat.  He worked another job after his Marine Corps life. He made sure I would be provided for in the event of his death before me.  He made sure his queen lacked for nothing within reason.  Because of my late husband, the great provider, I as a widow, have a roof over my head, a car to drive, and an income.    (Someone else?  I doubt it.  What they earned belongs to their children.)
    • P- Protector – Without doubt my late husband would have laid down his life for me.  I do not consider his protection that of just standing between me and danger, but of being beside me when I was sick, bringing chicken soup, making sure I had medication, or rushing me to the emergency room like he did when my appendix was about to burst. And worry if I didn’t arrive at home in a reasonable amount of time from an event or shopping.
    • (Would someone else? MMMM…maybe… I hope so)

IN the new remaining chapters of my life, I really don’t expect to be placed on a pedestal again by a man, or possibly never again hear the words “I love you” and made to feel deeply loved, protected, or provided for, but I’ve been one blessed woman to have experienced the 4 P’s, although I have to admit, I appreciate these 4 P’s now more than before my husband’s death, because I never thought he could die and leave me, and I more than likely took them all for granted.

I believe the 4 P’s sometime enhance my grief and feeling alone at times for these things are part of what helped me feel secure and stable in this life with the man who completed me, even as an imperfect couple with our ups and downs, issues, and flaws, squabbles and arguments and sometimes the slamming of doors.

At my age now, I expect that if anyone new comes into my life in the near future, they will be the same or a couple of years older.  That would hopefully give us at least 20 to 25 good years to share companionship and build our own new kind of love.  At 60 plus, a new relationship for me will not mean giving up my home to live in another’s home, or have another leave their home to live in mine.  What I own is my son’s inheritance.  What a new partner owns is their children’s inheritance. A new relationship for me will be sharing in the cost of travel and fun.  If the relationship is truly meaningful, I will make and bring the chicken soup when needed, but I would expect the same consideration.

My late husband, my Marine, will remain forever in a special place in my heart and never forgotten as I look forward with hope in my future and a new chapter offering a mutual new and different, but special love with or without the 4 P’s.

A prayer:

Father, in every marriage there is opportunity to show and give the love, support, respect and adoration that every man and woman deserves.  Although it does come with difficulties and hard work to overcome them, just as Dave and I experienced.

But in every marriage one of the partners will leave this earth before the other and it is the greatest heartache as is the loss of a child.  Just as some couples don’t survive marriages with the loss of a child, there are widows and widowers who struggle with themselves to survive their grief, emptiness, loneliness, and other issues.  It is so difficult to be “one” when we’ve been “two” for a long time, and we as “one” get sick, lose income, a home, or other things.  We want to give up  because we’ve lost our 4 P’s and believe that no one else will ever really care again.

Give us all strength to move forward at our own pace with grief and to a healthy place.  Send angels to help us along the way.  Amen

Locate my books:  Heart of a Hawk: One family’s sacrifice & journey toward healing  AND Surviving the Folded Flag: Parents of war share stories of coping, courage, and faith at  www.militaryfamilybooks.com  or Amazon.com

Love’s Return @ Amazon.com

Dear Lord, Remove the Concrete…

Today is January 13, 2017. Friday the 13th of all things.  But I’m being positive.  Yesterday I was having what I call a “low ebb day.”   I forced myself to the gym for a work out where my routine is repetitions with weight machines for upper and lower body, then 15 minutes on a treadmill and 15 on a stationary bike.  This covers about an hour and a half.  My spirits were lifted a bit when a lady ask me if I could show her how to adjust and use one of the leg machines.  I felt needed.  And it always feels good to help someone anywhere, anytime.  And since I’ve been a gym rat for over 30 years and health magazine reader, I could offer a few tips that brought both the lady and me a smile.

The gym I go to is Planet Fitness which has the most reasonable rates in gym life creation, and it is also colorful with its purple and yellow decor from walls to exercise equipment.  They also have water massage beds, massage chairs, and tanning beds, nice locker room and showers.

So what has this got to do with “Becoming a Widow? or Widower?”  (I don’t want to leave the men out who are living with grief and lonliness.)

Well, although I experience days when I feel that concrete is running through my veins, and I don’t want to move outside the doors of the house, and my life and being seems to have lost all its personal meaning with the death of my spouse, I’M STILL HERE ON EARTH, like it or not.  If the good Lord has me here, sometimes against my will, for some plan He/She has for me in the big picture of creation, then I might as well accept the fact that on days I really don’t want to, I have to talk my way out of the heaviness that I get caught in.  I have to take care of myself, my mind, body, and spirit.  So exercise is VERY important, and proper foods, and positive input to the mind and spirit.

I talk often with God, and to my late husband David and son Patrick, who watch from where ever their spirits exist in this universe.  I have to call on them to give me the strength to do whatever it is I need to do to keep on keeping on in the here and now.  I even write letters to them!   And because they love me, I can tell them, including God, how angry I am that I’m here without them.  They understand, I’m sure.  But somewhere in all the feeling of being weighted down as though concrete is in my veins, and anger that my spouse and son are gone,  after seeking help from ‘above’, little by little, like yesterday, I find myself pulling out of my “heavy” place.

Yesterday I also noticed on facebook that it was an acquaintance’s 74th birthday.  Although he, too, carries the weight of being widowed, he is a smiling face and cheerful spirit to all who know him.  He and I also attend karaoke singing in our area.  So I gave him a phone call to personally say, “Happy Birthday.”  I believe a voice is better than just typed words on FB!

Later in the evening, although the gym workout still didn’t have me running on all high emotional cylinders, I attended the evenings karaoke venue where I knew this acquaintance would be.  I had made a plan earlier in the day with my karaoke facilitator friend to do something fun and lighthearted to celebrate Ed’s birthday.   Although I’m 62 years old, (and the older I get I’m less worrisome about some things, ) I dressed up in a costume with a “big butt”, “big boobs” , leopard leotards, and gold high heels, and with a song and dance, I entertained birthday boy Ed, who couldn’t keep the smile from his face, while the audience laughed.

Then and there, my heavy day suddenly disappeared.  I was with acquaintances in a room where others like Ed and I were widows and widowers, and even divorcees who have their own grief and lonliness. Of course “couples” were there, which often reminds us “singles” that we were once “two.”  When the show I performed was done, I laughed and felt good that I had the ability to make others laugh, and I felt especially good when others told me I had done a good job, and how fun it was.

eds-birthday-jan-12-2017
Miss Sassy and Ed

And this morning I’m still smiling even though my house is quiet except for the sound of my fingers on the keyboard of this computer.

With my spouse and oldest of 2 sons not with me in the physical, and life being nothing for me as I had imagined it would be (see my blog post: If you want to make God laugh),  I know I have to continually seek and strive to move beyond my own “low ebb days” like the beginning of yesterday to be able to stretch myself to get to the gym for my own personal health and well being, and to bring help, smiles and laughter to others with the reward being for myself. This is important as I continue building on the belief that my life still has purpose, no matter how simple my purpose may be if only for just a moment, few minutes, or the balance of my lifetime for strangers, acquaintances, friends, cousins, or my one and only child left in my life.

God isn’t finished with me yet.

The prayer I wrote for today:

“Father, I am on earth for only as long as your plan for me entails.  The journey is one where although I forget to stay steadfast in following your guidance, I know that for your plan for me in the big picture of your creation, you will never fail to bring me back to where you want and need me to be.  I am protected because I exist here and now and until my earth journey is complete, to contribute, toward your purpose, no matter how small or large that contribution is at any given time.  Amen”

Locate my books:  Heart of a Hawk: One family’s sacrifice & journey toward healing  AND Surviving the Folded Flag: Parents of war share stories of coping, courage, and faith at  www.militaryfamilybooks.com  or Amazon.com

Love’s Return @ Amazon.com

 

 

The church building didn’t explode!

It’s a new year, 2017.  I do believe in God, my creator, the Creator of the universe, and have my own personal relationship with Him/Her.  I couldn’t be without some type of relationship since I was raised in the Georgia Bible Belt  going to Sunday school and church and learning all the Bible stories, and hearing all the rhetoric from behind pulpits. I was a country girl from a family on my grandmother’s side that came from Appalachian roots. My church history covers being born into the old fashioned hell fire brimstone (no snake handling) spirit filled holy roller Pentecostal with baptisms in  muddy river waters, to being married the first time into the Methodist,  visiting the Baptist across the street, and later in life visiting the Catholic, Episcopalian,  Presbyterian and non-denominational.

What’s this got to do with “Becoming a Widow?”  Well the point is, not belonging to a group like a church family leaves a person without one more type of life support system.

At a point in life I stopped going to church.  Too much confusion for me in all the different teachings and rhetoric.  I also read a lot, and not just the Bible which I can quote as well as anyone.  The issue is that reading a lot gives alternative insights into the history of all religions, and after a lot of historical reading and researching, I found myself talking directly to God to find my path and understanding.  I talked to God in my house,  on the beach, in the car, in the woods, but stayed away from a church building where I feel guilty going if I don’t want to put money in a plate to support its expenses and causes. I prefer to know where my money is going.  I like handing it out myself to whoever I’m led to give it to, or give it directly to whatever needy program I personally support.

So, anyone can see from that, I’m not good church group material. But, to begin the new year on a positive note, because my heart wanted to, I asked a friend if I could attend church with her.  She was thrilled.  She and I are very different in some of our spiritual beliefs, but we respect those differences and love each other unconditionally.

In the church service, I missed holding a hymnal with the traditional songs.  I didn’t fill out the card so anyone could call me or knock on my door (which a woman did from another church in the past). I don’t know what class 101 means or what a small group is.  But the pastor’s message was one I needed to hear to begin 2017.  God doesn’t want me to drag the past pain and disappointments into this new year.  He/She wants me to look forward with what He/She has prepared for the new chapter of my future.

So, I have written this personal prayer: “Lord help me go forward living without sadness filling my heart because my husband David and son Patrick are not here with me in the flesh, but now live back with you in that place where they were before they ever were born to earth in the first place. I’m happy they are with you, for it has beauty and peace with no comprehension.  I’m just sad for myself because I miss my family so and all we had.  They were my life, but that was a past chapter in the book already written for my life.  Help me now to accept the past with joy that two great men of my life blessed me greatly but now live well, healed, whole, and at peace as my guardian angels, while I move forward into a future just waiting on me to give me fullness of joy and blessings.  And with that, Lord, provide me with gentleness, humility, and patience to make this new year the best for me and those whose lives I touch. And, one more thought, I’m sure  you probably do have a church home where my talents and beliefs can be of use. Than you for listening. Amen”

So, the church building didn’t explode when I entered its doors because I was meant to be there to receive a message to help begin my new year on a very positive note, and share time with my special girl friend, my soul sister who loves me as I am as she also travels her new path of “Becoming a widow.”

Locate my books:  Heart of a Hawk: One family’s sacrifice & journey toward healing  AND Surviving the Folded Flag: Parents of war share stories of coping, courage, and faith at  www.militaryfamilybooks.com  or Amazon.com

Love’s Return @ Amazon.com

If you want to make God Laugh…

The best line ever is from Forrest Gump. “Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get.”  And of course I have my own, “If you want to make God laugh, just tell him your plans.”

I was going to be married into old age with two sons, their wives, and children. Enjoy their visits around the holiday table or whatever time could be given to me and Dave. Laugh and make memories like others do with grandchildren.  Dave and I would hold hands and move into sunset years together. We had always been pretty much a couple who stayed to ourselves with our lives revolving around one another, our kids, and home.  It had been that way except during the time he was a 1st Sergeant in the Marine Corps. I loved inviting some of his troops to our home who didn’t go to visit their families during holidays and helping provide support to other wives and their children when the unit deployed to Japan or the Philippines.

But God didn’t see things the way I had hoped he would. With time, the path led far away from my hopes, dreams, and plans to that of something so far removed from my thoughts, that I still believe I’m trying to awake from a terrible dream.  First we suffer Patrick’s death in Iraq in 2004 and wrap our lives into all we can do to live through and with that, including creating our own not-for profit organization to help other grieving military families and veterans.  And two weeks after Patrick’s memorial service we learn that Dave has a 4.2 abdominal aortal aneurysm, and his cigarette smoking only increases, which only increases my stress and fears.  But we struggle along until that final blow comes ten years later and my plan to be married into those sunset years comes to an end.  For God does have the last say in all things.    NO, I don’t believe he’s laughing.  But all I can say is, “I’m weary,” and now ask  “Where do you want me to go from here?”

Locate my books:  Heart of a Hawk: One family’s sacrifice & journey toward healing  AND Surviving the Folded Flag: Parents of war share stories of coping, courage, and faith at  www.militaryfamilybooks.com  or Amazon.com

Love’s Return @ Amazon.com

 

Where Do I Go From Here?

I’m writing this two years after my husband’s death.  It’s been a difficult, emotional, roller coaster ride along with questioning myself about what “Becoming a Widow” is supposed to look like to myself, family, friends, and acquaintances.  And does it really matter to anyone but me, myself and I!  Each individual will make decisions or not based on their own personal feelings regarding their situation, the input they gain from family, friends, clergy, or therapists.  It is documented that no IMPORTANT decisions should be made in the first year after the death of a spouse, child or other important person. However, I know from personal experience after the deaths of both a son and husband that emotions can and will be the engine that drives decision making.

There are those things we have to do in a short amount of time. I had government paperwork to get through for my benefits due as the widow of a retired U.S. Marine who had been 100% disabled and died from cancer associated with Agent Orange from his tour in Vietnam and the insurance to settle funeral home expenses. Then I immediately set out with the help of a girlfriend to clear things from the last beautiful home my husband and I built together one mile from the world’s most beautiful beaches in Panama City Beach, Florida.  I couldn’t live in the home where he had become so ill and ambulances had been called to at least 3 times before his death, plus the upkeep was more than I wanted to handle alone.  Thank goodness we owned another much smaller property 2 miles from the beach, but 10 miles from the large home.

I was in shock and zombie mode, letting go of furniture to family and friends. Donating certain pieces to non-profits. And placing things I couldn’t let go of in a storage rental. My closest girlfriend who had given Dave his last shave as he lay unconscious in hospice helped me fold his clothes to be donated to men who lived in a 55 plus apartment complex and needed clothes shoes and underwear. Of course I saved a few things, even a pair of his underwear that I folded and placed in my panty drawer.  And his Marine Corps Dress Blues still hang next to our deceased son’s Army dress green’s.

Then with remaining insurance funds, I set out to travel.  But no matter where I went and who I visited, I returned to an empty home where my husband’s presence would never greet me again, his laughter, kisses, and hugs were only a memory. And that morning cup of coffee waiting by the bed for me was gone forever along with his morning greeting, “good morning beautiful,” no matter how bad my hair was tossed or how swollen my eyes appeared from allergies.   All I  could do was cry in private and appear strong in public.  And oh how I came to dislike being told what a strong woman I was for carrying on after the death of both a son and husband.

 

 

It’s Stage 4 Cancer

We like to believe that the tragedies of life come to others. The neighbors across the street or others in our communities, but not to us.  I suppose that thought is a mechanism to help keep us from being totally paranoid about living in a world where none of us are immune from the most unexpected heart breaking experiences.  And with that comes the question of faith, the purpose of life, the questions to God (if we are believers): “Okay, what do you want me to do with this basket of lemons?  How do I fill this emptiness and find solid ground again?  What do you have in store to help me stop fluttering around with no sense of direction?  When will this pain stop?”

Yes, I know all the quotes and cliches like, “If He brings you to it, He’ll bring you through it.  Or “You’re not alone, He is always with you.  David and Patrick are with you.”   People don’t get that lines like that aren’t the most helpful words. Hell I’m human!  Don’t treat me like I’m above being human!  Don’t tell me I’m strong! Those who say such words haven’t walked around their home with the thundering silence  brought on by being the survivor of a child who died and also a husband. They don’t know what it’s like to not be able to touch them in the flesh, or not hear those words or phrases that only they said in a ways like no one else could, or to not observe a certain way they moved while you watched in silence and smiled with an overpowering love.

All I can say now in the aftermath of that October night and those that followed AND all those that came before regarding Patrick is that I’m cut, torn, battered, and bruised as a human, but my spirit keeps searching to fulfill my continued journey, although, with honesty, there are days I say enough is enough.  And wish I could fade away into the clouds where I could leave behind the pain of hearing that February morning that Patrick was dead in Iraq, and that October night that not only were a couple of ribs cracked, but there were several spots on my husband’s left lung, and most likely the ribs were already weakened from suspicion that those spots meant the big C word.  An oncologist was being called in.  …………………….

I met my husband, a lean mean fighting machine, a U.S. Marine, Devil Dog, in June, 1983.  He was 38 and I was 28.  And our meeting is definite proof that destiny strikes out of the blue, because no timid, insecure, Georgia country girl like I once was would ever have it on their radar to meet and marry a man who had already been in the Marines for eighteen years, traveled the world, and served in Vietnam.  I didn’t know one military rank from the other.  I knew that Fort Benning, Georgia, Home of the Infantry at the time, was within 30 miles of where I lived, but I knew nothing about military from any branch.  I grew up in a low class family of cotton mill workers, carpenters, waitresses, moonshiners, drunks and fighters. Only by the grace of God and His journey for me did I take a different path, although that journey included getting married the first time too young and for all the wrong reasons.

After completing high school, I was too scared to go out on my own, but didn’t want to stay in an environment where alcohol and other family dysfunction was more than I wanted to live in.  If I lived with my maternal grandparents who I had spent much of my life with after my mother, an only child, got pregnant with me at sixteen, my grandparents would always treat me like a child and have strict rules, plus I never knew when they would want to throw a drunk and lay around that way for weeks.  If I stayed with my mother and stepdad she would require a majority of my paycheck which was less than a $80.00 a week for 40 hours working as a receptionist at the Medical Center Emergency room after high school.  So a few months afterward completing school, I married the brother of a friend who was almost seven years older than me.  He had been sweet on me for a while and came from a good family.  The small town gossip passed around that I must have been pregnant.  But I wasn’t. That came six months after I married.  Although Jack was a great guy, he was more like my big brother, and I had not even turned eighteen.  I knew the day I walked down the aisle in the $18.00 dress that I  bought from J.C. Penney’s, that I was not doing the right thing.  But I didn’t know how to stop it.  I didn’t want to hurt anyone.  So I was married and over a year later gave birth to my son, Phillip.  So in small town America where no stop light existed and the Baptist Church sat across the street from the Methodist Church and the main two lane Highway 85 ran through the center of what was called town with its two gas stations and post office, I was set to live down Hog Waller Rd in a mobile home on a lot shaded by towering pecan trees.

Then ten years passed and I found myself needing to escape the small town cage where “everyone knows your name” and nothing changed except the seasons, who had died, who the new owner of the local gas station was, or the name of the new Methodist or Baptist Church ministers.  And yes, I changed, and wanted a divorce.  I was going to Texas where my half sister lived.  Then on a June day at a ball field in Pine Mountain, 20 miles from my small Georgia town, I was with my son Phillip who was about to turn ten. He played on the Little League Team from our part of Harris County with two youngsters that were his best friends. While I was seated at a small table in the shade of a canopy of tall trees surrounding the ball field, and keeping the score book for the game, the dad of my son’s friends walked to me with a man he introduced as his foster brother, Larry Tainsh.  I said, “hello,” and turned my attention back to the ball game.  I didn’t find a bald man very attractive!  But at that very moment, a new turn in my life’s journey was set with chapters that would cover the next thirty-one years.  But If you want to make God laugh, make a plan!

Before October,2014 arrived with trips to the emergency room, my husband and I agreed to renew our wedding vows in December for our 31st anniversary.  We wanted a special event to share with friends we had grown close to over the past several years and with our son Phillip.  After all we were married on Decembeer 22, 1983 at the Vista, California court house.  Dave’s best man and a witness was his Sergeant Major and my maid of honor and second witness was the Sergeant Major’s girlfriend.  It was a memorable day.  Later that evening with Dave in his Marine Corps Dress Blues we went to what was then the Flying Bridge restaurant and bar in Oceanside. Because it was the holiday season, there were a lot of people in for dinner and celebration, even a group of Marines from Camp Pendleton, the key military base of the area, who kept champagne flowing for us.  We slow danced to Anne Murray’s “Could I Have This Dance for the Rest of My Life.”  We called that our song from that moment on.

But I could never have imagined journeying down a road that not only included the death of a son, but also led to sitting in an Oncologist’s office with my husband just a couple months from our 31st wedding anniversary and learning he had stage 4 lung and brain cancer.

Locate my books:  Heart of a Hawk: One family’s sacrifice & journey toward healing  AND Surviving the Folded Flag: Parents of war share stories of coping, courage, and faith at  www.militaryfamilybooks.com  or Amazon.com

Love’s Return @ Amazon.com

Emergency Room Oct 2014

I should have kept a day to day journal beginning in October, 2014, following that night in the emergency room.  But I suppose the overwhelming shock of it all froze my ability to accept the reality by writing about it.

He thought he had a broken rib from my placing too much pressure when he asked me to crack his back.  I had done this often over the years of our marriage.  He would lay face down on the floor and I would straddle his hips then place one of my hands on top of the other as he took a deep breath in, then as he exhaled I would press quickly on one vertebrae and then another. We knew the adjustment was working with each “snap”, “crackle”, and “pop”.  But something went wrong that day.  With my third press, he yelped.

“Whoa, stop!” he winced.  “I think you broke a rib!  Damn that hurt!”

All I could do was apologize and roll from his hips with worry.  In pain, he slowly pressed himself up to his knees.

I can’t even remember how many days it was from that when late one evening he said he couldn’t take the pain any longer.  We needed to go to the emergency room.  And not only because of the unbearable pain in the rib cage, but also because his shortness of breath had increased from the usual.

“I’m in pain and I can’t breathe,” he said sternly and with a wild look in his eyes.

I wish I could say I was calm and cool under pressure and fear.  But I’m not and I wasn’t.  I was scared.  But I managed to drive to the emergency room without incident.

With David’s shortness of breath and rib pain bringing him near to collapsing, he was taken immediately to a patient room and attached to oxygen.  Test and X-rays were ordered, and so began the second nightmare of my life.

Locate my books:  Heart of a Hawk: One family’s sacrifice & journey toward healing  AND Surviving the Folded Flag: Parents of war share stories of coping, courage, and faith at  www.militaryfamilybooks.com  or Amazon.com

Love’s Return @ Amazon.com