May 5th, 2018

I’ve been watching this weekend approach for, well, a year I guess. But it wasn’t until about 2 months ago that I really started to feel the ‘anticipatory grief’…  that’s the technical term for it.  Knowing that the anniversary of Warren’s death was so close felt like I was stuck on the tracks and I could see the headlight of the train in the distance.

On Wednesday I went to see my grief therapist, told her how I was feeling, wept on her couch for an hour and a half.  When I left she said ‘you’re doing better than you realize’.  I guess I am.  I guess my life is going on, just as it should. But that doesn’t feel better.  I keep bumping up against the shock and denial – how can he still not be here?  I think there was some weird part of me that thought that once I got through this first year, it would be over and then… I don’t know… he’d be back?  No.  But that it wouldn’t have happened or… I have no idea. It’s some sort of weird magical thinking.

One of the biggest things that I realized last week, is that – and I’m sorry if this is too blunt – he’s not dying again.  It will never be as horrible or hard as it was on May 5th of 2017.  It is still horrible.  It still makes no sense that he isn’t here.  But it will never hurt as much as it did that morning, or the morning after.  Waking up without him was a shock I was sure I would never get used to.

I will never forget the relief I felt when my sister Linda and her husband Chris came to Idaho falls and gave me a safe place to fall apart.  They cared for me, let me cry and cry and cry.  Made sure I ate and drank.  Helped me pack.  Spoke to the crematory and arranged when we were to pick up his ashes.  Drove me back to Canada and didn’t blink an eye when I got angry or rude on the drive.  Our relationship is now bonded, sealed: I will never be able to think of this time and not feel gratitude for their love and gentle support.  They are both the most incredible humans.

This week I got to experience more of that support – not just Linda and Chris checking in on me each day, making sure I wasn’t sinking too deep.  All of my family, near and far, were keeping an eye on me. I received messages of love of support from all over: my cousin Kirsten in Oregon, my best friend Roslyn (who is going through her own difficulties right now). Peggy, Brenda, David, Jennifer, Kathy, Eileen – they all found ways to connect this weekend.

My work family has been fantastic – I got a bouquet and a message of ‘hogs and kisses’ from my two besties at work – and my boss and his bosses were gentle and respectful of my time away from work right now. Steve, my boss, has been very supportive – making sure I knew he was available if I needed him.

It hasn’t been the year I expected.

I, of course, anticipated a much longer time with my Warren.  But since this is the way it went, I am grateful – that’s not even the right word.  Is there a word that means grateful, amazed, thankful, in awe? Whatever that word is, insert it here.  I am grateful for the people in my life.  Grateful for the way this year has unfolded – so gently, with such support and love.

Warren Allen McLeod, you are deeply missed.  You have been in my thoughts every day – you are always with me. I love you.  I miss you.  You are my heart, my Bear.

S

One more week…

One week before Warren died, Willie Nelson released his album God’s Problem Child and had an immediate hit with ‘He will Never be Gone’. This song was, of course, about Merle Haggard, but the sentiment rang true for me a week later when my Bear died – no matter what, he would always be with me.

Today, with one week to go before the anniversary of Warren’s death, Willie has released a new song called ‘Something you get through’.  It’s a song about what happens when someone you love dies… “it’s not something you get over, but it’s something you get through’.  I like that Willie and Warren and I are in sync this way.

I can’t even begin to tell you how hard this week is already shaping up to be.  Tonight I had planned to go buy a rake to clean out my flower beds, and maybe get a barbecue so I could start grilling my suppers.  But I got home and the empty house got me again.

All I can do is sink into the sadness for a bit.  I tried to explain to someone that this week that it feels like I’m watching a train approaching and I’m stuck on the track.  I find myself thinking about April 27th last year, when Warren and I were sunning ourselves poolside in Yuma:  enjoying the quiet companionship, trying to identify the birds in the trees by the pool, giggling about things that would certainly have had our children raising their eyebrows if they heard… it was just like a honeymoon. The remembered happiness is bittersweet.

When I was at work today I tried to keep focused, but I looked at his picture and couldn’t stop myself thinking about shopping in Mexico last year. About how we had no idea that there were only 7 days left.  And it makes me want to just run away – I don’t want to think about how those days were the happiest days, innocent of the fact that this time was coming to an end.

I’m surviving.  Thriving maybe. I’m making a life for myself, putting things back in order, making friends, enjoying my work – adjusting to a life that has all my love with no Warren to give it to.  I feel him here – in my heart – and that gives me comfort.  He shows up in my dreams, and I’m always glad to see him: tall and strong and looking good –  it gives me peace the day after I’ve dreamt about him; it gives me respite from the grief.

I’ve taken next Friday off, and the week after – I’m giving myself space to just be in whatever emotional place I’m going to be on the anniversary of his death.  I’ll probably do a lot of driving, listening to our music, crying.  It’s what I do now. And I’ll reflect on what a tremendous gift this man was to my life, and how he will never be gone.

Warren Allen McLeod. I love you and I miss you my Bear.

S

Musings on ending 2017 with a healing heart

The New Year is fast approaching, and I greet it, as I have done for years, with a hopeful heart. This year, I am even more hopeful than years gone by. I know that might sound odd – I lost half of my heart in 2017 and that’s not an easy thing to get through. But the half of my heart that remains is starting to realize that Warren, my Bear, would have done anything to have one more day.

So while I still mourn for him, I am starting to feel gratitude for a few things:
Gratitude that I had that time with him.
Gratitude that I am still here.
Gratitude that I had the opportunity to learn from this experience; to feel that incredible joy that comes from being loved unconditionally and exactly as you are.

I learned that I am a pretty neat person. I’m strong; I’m capable of taking on the most difficult thing and still coming out the other side. I’m not going to say I managed to do this unscathed, my heart is still only half a heart. But I am able to look at life and sort of smile again. Despite his death, and honestly maybe because of it, I am grateful for the gift that each and every day is right now.

I like who I am.

I have flaws – we all have flaws. There are people I don’t spend my time with because it doesn’t seem like a good way to spend my precious days. But most people amaze me. We are each a giant ball of imperfections and quirks, but most of us don’t want anything but to be loved for who we are. How can that not be the most heart warming and hopeful thing?

I love my little house. I love my little dog. I wish Warren was here with me, but he is in spirit. And I accept that too. I find myself reaching out in a way I hadn’t before – accepting people as they are, living my life the way I want to live it. Dropping the notion that there is one way and one way only to live.

Do I have goals for 2018?

I do. But I have learned to live in WST (Warren Standard Time) and know that while I have things I want to get accomplished, I do not need to attach them to a timeline. As my Bear used to tell me

‘Things do not have pesky labels in WST – they happen when they happen. It’s  far less stressful’

He is so right about that.

I want to travel more in 2018. I’m talking with my kids about taking a trip somewhere together. We’ve tossed about driving to the maritimes, or going south to Salem to visit the Witch Museum (my people!), and maybe taking a trip at Christmas next year – head somewhere warm!

I am going to go to Cuba in June with my niece and her husband. Warren and I had talked about going to Cuba. So this seems like the right place to go first.

I need to get to Oregon! I have a cousin who is waiting very patiently for me to visit!

And I’m going to write more. I have set up a beautiful little writing space in my house (I’m in it right now!) and the sun streams in through the sliding doors to the deck – makes it seem like it’s not -11c right now.  Chester is curled in his pup-cup at my feet.  It’s a cozy space for both of us. I need a rug and a better chair, but I love it already!

And those are my goals. No burden of weight loss, self improvement, stopping this habit, starting that habit. Gentle self acceptance and an enriching of the life I’ve been granted – That is my goal for 2018.

I would LOVE to hear what you are thinking of doing this year…

‘We’ve got a full tank of gas, sunglasses, and half a pack of cigarettes!’

On to the next adventure!

Still missing you, my Bear.

S

 

Singing you back home.

Rolling in the undertow of a huge grief tsunami.

I was browsing youtube for videos of songs I might want to sing at my recital, trying to ignore that today is December 1st, and the 5th is once again upon me.  And I happened upon a video of Keith Richards performing at the Merle Haggard Tribute Concert that Warren and I went to on April 6th.  I smiled, remembering how much fun we had that night and I pushed play anticipating the good memories the song would bring…

‘Best concert I have ever seen!’ my Bear crowed as we left the Bridgestone Arena that night with 17,000 of our new closest friends.  We stopped to admire the tour buses – recognized Loretta Lynn’s by the coal miner emblem on the front,  parked not far from Willie Nelson’s.  Security wouldn’t let us get close but we took some dark and blurry pictures anyway.  Stopped again half-way up the hill to the parking lot where we had stowed Ursula before the concert to let Warren’s legs rest for a few moments.  He leaned back on a street lamp pulled me to him and we kissed, giggling like kids, our hearts full of happiness. A truck honked, Warren just kissed me more – like a couple of old teenagers.

When we got to the truck, he greeted her as he always did:  ‘Hello Ursula’ but tonight added ‘my, you missed a wonderful concert’  He groaned as he climbed in behind the steering wheel, then grinned at me and took my hand.

‘We did it!  You bought us the tickets, we got in the truck and here we are – we just did it.’  he kissed my knuckles.

‘God I’m tired’ he laughed quietly.

‘Me too Bear…’ I smiled back ‘me too’

He started the truck and we pulled out onto upper broadway, wound our way through the traffic, and slowly rode through Nashville’s downtown core – the lights, the people, the music. I looked over and could see the smile still on his face – it echoed the happiness in my own heart.

When we got to the hotel we shucked off our clothes and crawled into bed, tv on, him with the pillows piled against the headboard, arm out for me to slip under and rest my head on his shoulder.  Our ritual every night.

For 45 nights.

Tonight as I watched the video – Keith Richards singing ‘Sing me back home’- I realized that we are there, right there, in the audience.  I can see us. Our seats were right in front of the lighting pit – centre of the floor.  We were in seats 24 and 25.  When the lights pan the audience, there he is – you wouldn’t know who it was if your broken heart wasn’t looking intently for it – but the tall pale blob, standing beside the short black blob with light hair?  That’s us. Captured there forever.

The shock hits me right in the heart.  I burst into tears and I want nothing more than to be there again.  Every memory of that night comes flooding back – him standing with the camera in his hand, focused intently on the stage. He looked so handsome and I was so proud to be there with him.  And amazed.  Amazed that after all these years we were finally together. My Bear and me.

We didn’t know that we had only 29 days left.

I keep thinking that I’m getting through this.  I have this coach in the back of my head who is encouraging me to keep going, keep living.  I know that it’s Warren who is helping me –  I know that he would have done anything to still be here with me.  And I am trying so hard to carve a life out for myself : Job, House, Singing lessons – I want him to be proud of me. See that I’m carrying on as he would want me to.  He couldn’t bear it when I was sad.

But there are days when this life is just meaningless.  I would give any of these things up to have one more day with him. Trite isn’t it?  Just like all the platitudes in all those sad songs… And I remind myself that Warren would give anything to be here – even for one of my worst days – and so I try to be grateful.  Grateful for each day I wake up and that I have these memories of him. Of us. Of that excellent trip.

I try to be grateful.

But when the grief hits me from out of nowhere – when I think that I might have a handle on the fact that half of my heart is just gone… gratitude is the last thing I can find.

I miss you so much my Bear…

 

A Brand New Day

On the morning of May 5th I did not let myself imagine that there could possibly be a ‘6 months’ from that day.  I could not think about even the next minute, the next hour…  I didn’t believe that the rest of the day just would not happen for Warren.

It still makes no sense.

But, it has indeed been 6 months.  And looking back through those months to that morning, I still can’t really believe that life went on.  I spent the first 2 months crying, shaking my fists at the universe, trying to figure out if there was a way to pull him forward into this future with me. There wasn’t: Dead is, after all, the final thing.

I found a place to live. I had been staying with my sister who graciously opened her house to me, but mourning needs space.  Not physical space, but emotional space – the emotional equivalent of a rock stadium.  It has to be a space where you can be with people, but also not ‘with’ people, you know?  It is hard to get that distance with family: they want to help, they want to make you feel better. But as painful as it is for them to see my grief, I really needed to be able to be in that grief without worry that I was hurting them. No one likes to see someone you love in such emotional distress.  So I relocated, one more time, to my friend Eileen’s house.  I had the whole upstairs – a bedroom, a washroom, a living room with a tv.  I could separate myself without having her worry, and when I needed people time, I just parked myself on her couch downstairs and she would go about her business, chatting away and bringing me tea and treats.  I could put my grief down for a few moments, then when I needed to, I would pick it up and take it back upstairs again.

As I healed I needed to bring more normal things back into my life – I needed routine. My motto has always been: When in chaos, impose your own structure.  So I needed structure.  I started looking for a job.  Oddly, while I had not had any luck trying to find work before my trip with Warren, this time it was easy – the universe had clearly decided I needed a break.  So I started working for an insurance company in Kitchener. The drive from Guelph was therapeutic – lots of time to transition from home to work.  I had lots of time to sing with the radio and re-live the trip, but not enough time to get completely lost in the past. Working again made me feel useful and happy.  I met new friends.  I was able to pull all my knowledge out of mothballs and start being Insurance Sandy again.  

I no longer worry about office politics or what should/shouldn’t be said. Nope, I voice my opinion, fight for what is right, accept when I am wrong, move on. Then I go home at the end of the day and focus on the rest of my life.  I find that I’m no longer afraid of, well, anything. Nothing can hurt me more than losing half of my heart did.  Nothing.  And the full happy heart that May 5th broke is starting to allow a little bit of room for a hope to emerge.  Life really does go on for those of us who did not die.

I bought a house.  I take possession of it 10 days from today.  While I was viewing houses and trying to decide where to live and what I needed, I could hear my Bear’s voice ‘Sweetie, that one needs too many repairs. That yard is horrible!  The bedroom, my girl, needs to be much bigger…’  I finally found a house where we both said ‘Yes.  This is the one’.  I fell in love with the lime green kitchen, the robin’s egg blue bathroom, the purple master bedroom. All the colours are exactly what I need.  My Bear grumbled – he likes a colour coordinated house, you see – But we will be happy.  He loved me with all the colours of his heart.

So 410 days since my son and I drove out of the driveway on my farm, setting out into what we thought would be our biggest adventure, I will be using my new key to open the door on my own little home. I know better than to imagine what this adventure will be like – I’ve learned that trying to see too far into the future is futile. Warren taught me this. When we were travelling, and I inevitably started to fret about something – the move, what the kids were doing, what was happening in Guelph – Warren always reminded me to stay in the present: 

‘Where are we?’ he’d ask.

‘In (Nashville, Memphis, Phoenix, Yuma…)’ I’d answer. 

‘Then why are you worrying about anything else than what’s right here?’

He’d wrap me in those strong arms. ‘Where ever we are is the only place we             need to worry about’.  I can still feel my cheek against his shirt, the rumble of           his voice through his chest, his lips softly kissing my hair.

Warren was a very wise man and I am committed to living the rest of my life one day at a time: What if tomorrow never comes?

I miss you my Bear.