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.

Circle of Fifths

Today is the fifth of August.  3 months since half of my heart died.  90 days since I last spoke to my very best friend. A sad milestone.

These fifths surround me as I move forward,  I can hear them, a progression of 12 tones, one of them for each month.  Each month with its associated major and minor key.  Some days I exist in harmony with his death; I understand that what has happened is a circumstance of life – people die.  But other days things take a minor key; nothing seems right without my Bear.  This was not how I expected my future to be.

I’m taking singing lessons.

In April, while we were crossing the Texas panhandle we were talking about fear and what fear had stopped us from doing in our lives. I confided to Warren that I wished I had taken up singing when I was younger. Singing makes me feel free – it revs me up, makes me happy!  But I’ve always been reluctant to sing in front of anyone, I told him, I didn’t think my voice was very good.

‘Fear shouldn’t stop you from doing what makes you happy.  Look at us. If we had let fear stop us, we would not be here’ He took my hand and held if for a few seconds while I thought about this.

He shook his head, then turned the radio off. We drove in silence for a moment, then he took a big breath and he started to sing.  In his wonderful, gruff, off-key voice, he belted out – acapella – John Hiatt’s song ‘Drive South’ – one of our favourites.  When he was finished, he looked at me.

I did not know what to say…

‘Are you offended by my voice?’

I shook my head, a little stunned, ‘No Bear…’

He raised his eyebrow.

‘Do you think I’d be offended by your voice?’

I stared at him – suddenly understanding what he was doing

‘No, but…’

He nodded.

‘Then sing. For me. I want to hear how happy you are’.

I sang.

After a few moments, he nodded again, then reached for my hand and started singing too…

When he died, I couldn’t sing anymore.  I just could not stand the idea of doing anything that distracted me from my grief. And when I tried to sing I usually ended up crying.

But after a few weeks I realized that I had to keep singing – for him.  I needed to find that happy again.  I still cry when I sing certain songs: The Dance by Garth Brooks does me in every time.  But he is right – no fear should stop me from doing what makes me happy.

I miss him every single day. Every one. I can’t even imagine what my life would be like right now if I had not had him in my life.  He really helped me find my bravery.  And helped me to realize that life, this life, is all we have.

So I sing.  I practice my Circle of Fifths and love him with every note that comes out of my mouth.

I love you my Bear….

Adventures of the Heart

Yesterday my second oldest sister and her heart twin left for another adventure at sea.

These sailors were the ones who scooped me up in Idaho Falls when my own heart twin died. Linda held me and let me fall apart, tempted me with bits of food and things to drink, helped me decide what to wear when I was unable to even look at the clothes Warren and I had bought on vacation.  Chris took on the practical and necessary as well as comforting a broken sister-in-law: dealing with the funeral home, packing the truck, dealing with the hotel. They both made me walk (‘Walking is life’ I hear Warren say), and listened to me talk, and encouraged me to cry when the grief was still so acute.

Sailors are the best people to have around when things go wrong.  Although they always have a plan – I mean, it would be silly to hop on a boat without planning the food and water and route – they are prepared to change direction at any moment.  I guess that’s what happens when you agree to live a life that is based, literally, on where the wind takes you.

I spent a week or so up at the cabin with Linda and Chris, just hanging out and healing.  Although things are getting… better? I have a finite capacity to be sociable – interacting with people is exhausting right now. Linda has a warm and generous heart and let me just be in silence or chatter on when I needed to. Chris, a quiet man, also has a warm and generous heart. He listens to my endless chatter, always with an interesting perspective and often excellent advice: ‘You have a million tears to shed for Warren,’ Chris told me when we were in Idaho Falls, ‘that’s your job right now. You need to get at it’.  And I did.

I arrived to pick them up yesterday around 11:30 and take them to the hotel in Toronto where they would spend their last night as land lubbers before a ridiculously early flight to Quebec. They were zipping around attending to final details at the house, packing and discussing what needed to be done. They were excited and happy to be on their way to their next adventure together and the love they have for each other was clearly evident. It made me think of when Warren and I were waiting impatiently for him to finish his last job so he could come get me and we could head out on our Epic Road Trip.

A brief grief squall – Then gratitude for the memory.

We got on the road and wended our way through the traffic to Toronto. When I dropped them off at the airport we hugged and they told me to be strong and I’d see them in December. Well, Chris said he hoped he WOULDN’T see me in December but he just says that to hide his warm and generous heart. Also he’s a little bit of an ass. But I love that about him too 🙂  As I headed back to Guelph I had another brief grief squall – these sailors bring all kinds of unpredictable emotional weather when they leave.

And now it’s time for my own adventure.  I’m waiting for the results of two job interviews – I may end up in Alberta again, or I might stay in Ontario. One of the gifts I got from Warren was the gift of travel – I can go anywhere now – and I don’t fear anything anymore. So now where I land is less important than where I can go. I do miss those blue eyes and that hand to hold as I travel though.

I got a text from Linda this morning, saying they made it to Gaspé just fine and soon will be reunited with their beloved MonArk.  If you would like to follow their adventures, Linda also has a blog called liveaboard four seasons on a sailboat.  If you follow that link you can watch as she and Chris sail across the sea again.

It’s amazing where life can take us.

 

 

Singing Solo

I’m sitting in the sunshine, feeling the familiar warmth on my skin, and remembering our days in Yuma. I distract myself from the spike of sorrow by wondering what to do with the rest of today.  I have washed the truck and bought dog food – all good responsible Sandy activities.  I also organized the truck inside – didn’t vacuum it but wtf, it’s some progress anyway.  I don’t know what it is that is pushing me today – I feel restless? No. But I want to do something.  Maybe I’ll go into Fergus tonight and watch the live music at the Brew House.  Or maybe not.

I feel like I’m starting to emerge from under the tsunami of grief and sadness that has consumed me for days.  I miss him.  I miss having his hand to hold and his warm smile and his excellent advice. But if I listen to my inner voice he’s there.  He’s still with me.  And as much as that makes me sad and frustrated – I want to see him! – it is also becoming a comfort.  There is a tribe (which tribe? I hear him prompt me – I don’t know Warren, I can’t remember…) that says that no one is really dead until the last day that their name is spoken.

Warren Allen McLeod.

I say his name each morning when I wake up and each night as I fall asleep.  No forgetting on my watch. With that in mind, knowing that he’s still here in one way or another, I feel stronger.  I am starting to pick up the the notes of my life, starting to compose the sound of the each day.  Never more than a day ahead though – I know now that fretting about the future, trying to compose an aria to carry me through – is futile.  We only have the notes for today.  Cherish whatever melody that brings you.

Today I’m composing a solo: my melody is bright and warm with an undertone of melancholy. And  that’s ok.  It fits me right now.