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…

 

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.

 

 

And now: the Thank Yous

This is the final entry in the Exercising Ursula blog of my and Warren’s travels.  I’m back with my family in Guelph and my travels are over.  And it would have been Warren’s 56th birthday today – and that somehow seems like a fitting place to end this blog as well.

Thank you to all of you who have been following along – Warren and I both loved creating each entry and through our day would talk about what the title of the blog would be that night or what we’d like to capture.  He had never blogged before so it was fascinating for him to watch the views and likes that we got, and he was amazed at how many parts of the world our blog was being seen. Thank you for helping to make him happy and for being a witness to the story that unfolded.

Thank you to my friends and family who reached out and scooped me up  when I fell apart in Idaho Falls.  And Thank you to Warren’s friends who sent their condolences and shared good memories about a lovely and well respected man. He certainly is missed by many.

I will be continuing to add my writing and life stories on this site, but not to this particular blog. This journey is over: my suitcase is unpacked, souvenirs stored, memories treasured. My heart? Well, I’m trying to let it mend.  But part of it is missing. I don’t know how I’ll get used to not having the comfort of the man who played such a part in my life for the last 13 years… but I will never forget the spring we two 55 year olds ran away and had the most Epic Road Trip ever.

The quote from the Blues Brothers below is what Warren said every morning when we started out – he was delightfully predictable in this regard:

… we’ve got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it’s dark out, and we’re wearing sunglasses.

He certainly knew how to make me smile.

Goodnight Mr McLeod.  I’m going to miss you, my Bear.

S

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Sudbury, Ontario

 After leaving Duluth this morning, through sheer stubbornness we decided to tack another 3 hours of driving onto the day and push on to Sudbury instead of stopping in Sault Ste Marie. 

Before we crossed into Canada though, we did stop at Marquette on Lake Superior so I could dip my toe in the lake – it’s a tradition that I’ve carried out the previous 3 times I’ve gone around the lake. 

We parked at a rest stop and I started down the bank to the lake. The scrubby grass quickly turned into very soft sand, and I had to take my sandals off to navigate it.  I flailed a wee bit but finally managed to get down to the beach. I pulled up my pant legs and stepped bravely into the Very cold water and stood shivering while I waited for Roz to snap a picture. 

Finally, photo shoot done, I started back up the bank towards the truck. Uh oh. The sand that had been soft going down was super soft on my way back up. Almost impossible to get through, but not quite. I ended up on feet and hands, unceremoniously hauling myself up the bank. Roz, who had come down on the beach behind me was laughing at my difficulty and snapping a ton of pictures. Well, Karma got her in the end as she also wiped out and landed on her back in the sand. Ha!

I’m glad to be back in Canada and glad to be almost back in Guelph. Driving is a double edged sword now: on one hand it keeps me busy and focused on my task; on the other hand I can’t believe he’s not with me in that truck.  So many adventures with Mr McLeod…

You know, once you wiggle that butt of yours down to the passport office, we can go to the states and you can dip that toe in the other side of Lake Superior”

It hurt my heart to be doing it without him, but it had to be done. My life got bigger by having him in it: I can’t let it get small again… 

Tomorrow I drop Roslyn off in Madoc and then continue the last few hours on my own. The last leg of my trip will be me alone and so different from where I was on March 19th when this whole crazy adventure started. Alone physically, but not in spirit. 

I miss you my Bear. 

S&W

13,928 Km of Happiness

Idaho Falls will always be a place of darkness in my heart.

My Bear had trouble sleeping that night and when at 3 am I pulled him to me and asked him what was wrong, he told me not to fret and hugged me and told me to go back to sleep.  We both were awake for awhile while he tossed and turned…

When we woke up that morning he said he was feeling better.  We cuddled in bed for a while enjoying each others company and giggling a bit as he tried to warm his feet on my legs.  Finally he swatted my bum and told me ‘Go shower Woman!’.

I was sitting at the dressing table, putting on my make up when he came out of his shower and stood for a moment.  I turned to him, ‘What’s the matter Bear?’  He shook his head ‘I don’t feel well’.

On May 5th Warren Allen McLeod, my Bear, suddenly ended his journey in Idaho Falls.

I hold the love of this dear man tight in my heart.  He was the best travelling companion and was never more happy than when we were holding hands and driving to our next adventure. The little travelling rituals: putting on our sunglasses; making sure there were drinks in the Refreshment Boots; him taking my hand and saying ‘We cats are ready to go’ – these are imbedded in my memories. And always, the radio tuned to his favourite Country and Western station. There was never a day when he didn’t tell me how much he loved me.

The last 5 weeks? That was just our season.  We ran together like two happy dogs and explored everything that caught our noses.  And he has been spared the slow inevitable death that diabetes brings. So although it devastates my heart, it is the best end for our run.

I learned so much from this kind and gentle man. And my heart is more full of love for him now than it has been for the last 13 years. Our time together was meant to be and I know that of all of it, the last 5 weeks were the happiest I have ever seen him.

Soon the acute phase of grief will pass. This first week was the hardest.  Then it will be the first month. The first year. And soon he will be the smile on my face and the courage in my step. My life will be better having known him, but first I need to find my way out from under this tsunami of grief.

I’ve added a slideshow of Warren and a song by Alison Krauss that speaks to my heart.  Warren wasn’t a religious man, but I know he will appreciate the sentiment of the song.

I miss you my Bear.  Safe travels on your long journey.

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