It has been over a year since I have posted a blog. You might be wondering what happened? How or why does one disappear?
I could wax poetic and say I have emerged from the long, dark night that grieving can bring about. Or, I could point out that it has been a crazy three years. But if I was pressured to come up with a simple reason or bring it down to a single word, I would have to simply say, OVERWHELMED.
After my husband passed, I spent a year lost. Then a year re-engaging in life. Then there was the year of getting married again, cleaning out the house, putting it up for sale and rearranging my entire life schedule.
Now things seem to have settled a little, I have found the characters from the last book I wrote demanding to be released into the world by publishing their story. Being so rusty and out of touch with all that it takes to do that, I hired a Life Coach to get me back into shape. So I’m working into the area of marketing, production, social media and just plain organizing.
Interestingly enough, the desire to write has come back as well. I feel like a hermit coming back out into the light of day! Gosh, it’s bright out here!
I hope you will join me as I continue to journey again in the world of the written word.
A month had passed since the funeral. I had stayed strong on the outside for all to see and succeeded in getting through it. Now, each morning when I arose, the reality seeped in a little more each day and the shock receded, leaving me raw and vulnerable.
I went from wanting someone to mention him or console me, to wanting to hurt in silence and avoid everyone. In this stormy sea, the squalls frequently came with drenching tears or became the doldrums of not feeling anything.
There was no direction. No goals. No plans for the future. I was adrift with no forward movement. The only constant was the ache and the knowledge it would never be the same. I was bitter that life marched on, dragging me with it.
This stage, or whatever you want to call it, differs for everyone. I know this after spending hours talking with others who, like me, have gone through it. I wanted to hurry up this stage, get it over quickly, thinking the sooner I did; I could capture some normalcy again. Now all I can do is record my journey and know that no two are alike.
Before Darrell passed, I had ample warning he would go before I would. We talked. I thought we covered it all. Finances, kids, what I would do after he passed. But no amount of planning or talking helps you prepare for the actual journey and the tidal wave of confusing emotions.
I thought it would go this way. I would grieve, hurt and then rebound. I would become a missionary in Africa or serve the homeless at a local soup kitchen. I would devote my life to my Lord. I would be a pillar of strength and guidance to my family. I would go on living because I thought I could handle being alone. I would be a good widow in everyone’s eyes, holding my love for him like a beacon. I would be the example of true love that never dies.
Then one night in the ER when I was deathly ill, it all came crashing down around me. I finally admitted to myself there is a difference between alone and being lonely.
I was depressed. I had isolated myself in our winter home in Yuma. I had lost weight due to not eating and sleeping. I couldn’t see a way forward because I was so wrapped up in my grief. Ending up in the same emergency room Darrell had on the same day a year later was a wake-up call. A stern ER doctor lectured me on what I needed to do to get myself healthy. I listened.
I reconnected with friends. Joined chat sites. Came home to the kids and started working on the house. I picked up writing again. Went out into the community and found volunteer work at the local cancer clinic. And ran into someone I wasn’t looking for.
At first, we just chatted. Then I tried to pushing him away in a panic because I didn’t want anything more than a friend. He firmly explained it was just an offer of friendship. Since he was four years out from his loss, I wanted to know about his journey in hopes I could glean from it some kernel of wisdom, a vision of hope.
So began a wonderful friendship and the year passed. On the anniversary of my husband’s death, family and friends helped light Chinese lanterns to remember the man who loved us all. The one I released hovered over the house as if he was saying he missed me. I was gaining more peace every day, moving forward sluggishly, but still not wanting to release the life I had shared with him entirely.
His clothes still hung in the closet. I felt I lost more of him with each change, with each item of his that slipped away. But I also knew it was healthy and to heal I needed to move on with life.
My husband and I had blended a family. Three of his kids and two of mine from previous marriages had bonded well. In fact, the kids had done far better than I had. Still, I worried about them going forward. So I tried to be a good example.
Except then, my new friend proposed. We had slowly begun to date, even though we didn’t think of it that way. We met for coffee, had lunch, even a few dinners. All the while talking about our former spouses and growing closer.
What should I do? Darrell and I had never talked about having someone else in our lives if one of us passed on. I loved him so much I never entertained the idea there would be anyone else. What would happen now? How could I replace the love I felt for one man with another? Where was my narrative of carrying my love for my husband until the day I died? What would the kids think? What would my friends think? What did I think?
It seemed a widow’s conundrum. It is not that I will ever love Darrell less, nor can I. And I could never, ever replace him. In fact, I struggled with the idea I could even love another man. But I had this same panic before my second child was born. I remember watching my daughter sleep one night while her sister stirred in my belly. I was worried. How could I ever love another baby as much as I had loved my first? Yet, when the second daughter was born, I fell in love immediately. Not with the same love, but a love that was hers and hers alone.
I had forgotten the heart is inflatable. It can stretch to love many. The thing is – each love is different – because each person is different.
How could I explain to those who were still grieving the loss of their father or friend, that I could still love Darrell? That the love I felt for him was there and it would never go away. It left a permanent scar that would ache every time there was a family gathering, and he wasn’t there. Or I visited a place that we had shared, and I remembered our past life together. Every holiday, every memory that crossed my mind would have a bittersweet twinge of melancholy.
Yet, I needed to move on. Continue to experience life. New loves would come in. Not to replace, but to reside alongside all the other loves that were already there.
It is lonely to live without your soul mate, the love of your life. But there are still people I love left in my life. The love that grew and was shared by two souls, who became one, now overflows, fills and touches all who are still in it. I realize I can choose to honor that love until we meet again, by living alone and always in its shadow. Or I can go out and experience continued growth to my heart and spread the love I have received.
I decided to honor my love for my husband by giving more love to another lonely heart. There are those who may think less of me or feel I didn’t love my husband enough to stay a grieving widow. I can say I totally understand.
I understand because I once thought that way. I have learned that until you travel the road, you don’t know how the trip is going play out. I remember what I thought it would be like to go to Africa and when I did, it was nothing like the journey itself.
So it is with grief. It is the most singularly, loneliest path we will travel in life. No one can walk it with us, and you never know where the path might lead, or what emotions you will experience.
Love those in your life who are grieving. Understand their choices may not always make sense to you. And remember one day you too will experience this path. There is no way to prepare for it except watching how others travel it.
Know that love continues to expand. It grows and flourishes when it is fed and understood. It is not meant to be locked away to die, never to be gifted again.
Last night, my friend stopped over and asked me to look something up for her on my computer. As my screen saver popped up, one of my favorite pictures of Darrell appeared. His eyes were crinkled in one of my favorite grins.
She looked sadly at me and asked, “Do you really think that helps?”
I didn’t have to ask what she was referring to; I knew it was about my grief over his passing. They say anger is part of the process of grieving. I had been fortunate that there hasn’t been really anything to be angry about. Yes, I missed him, yes, it had been hard to lose him, but really his final days had been peaceful and our relationship up to the last minute, had been so good.
Yet, a comment like this, even eleven months out, had a way of worming under my skin and setting off a bigger spark of anger each time I was questioned on how I was handling my grief.
Aren’t we all different? Isn’t it refreshing we aren’t all the same? Each of us sees through different eyes and perceives the world in so many wonderful ways around us. This is why I have always respected how differently each person handles things in their lives. Sometimes I worry their coping methods are destructive to their health or way of life, but still they have the freedom of choice to do this.
I had so many people who were wonderfully supportive. My favorites were the ones who just listen. Or ask me how I’m coping and really wanted to hear how I was doing it. My least favorites were those who had a preconceived idea of how I should be doing it.
I’ve been questioned about such silly things. Why are his clothes still in our closet? Why haven’t I spread his ashes and why do I wear my wedding ring? To them, there is a rule somewhere about this. I respect that through the years there have been some common customs developed to help people move on, but they aren’t set in stone.
I still have need of feeling some normalcy in my life, so the clothes remain until that need passes. We had wanted our ashes spread together, so I must wait to add mine to his. The wedding ring was my version of wearing black. I needed that support, that closeness to my husband, to the way of life I had. It also helped keep away others and not have the dreaded question asked, “So are you married?”
Whatever my reasons, they should be respected. Pictures of my loved one should be a normal thing. As my granddaughter pointed out, I could have asked if she had pictures of her grandchildren on her phone. They live in another state, so why wouldn’t she want to have pictures of them when she couldn’t be with them. She still loves them even though she doesn’t see them every day and wants a reminder of them. Why wouldn’t I continue to have pictures of Darrell decorate my living space? Just because he has passed, doesn’t mean he never existed. I can’t wipe my memory clean. Starting over is hard enough, but I need the foundation my married relationship created for me to continue on.
Grieving people are just touchy, each in a different way. No wonder people avoid friends who have lost loved ones. It is hard to determine what will and won’t offend or hurt them. I was on that side once. I had never lost a loved one and felt a deep agony over what to say to someone who had.
But don’t worry, no matter what you say or do, we understand you are trying to help and just overlook the unintentional mistakes. Just don’t be surprised at tears, a growl or a blank look. Just keep being there for us. We will heal; it is just going to take a little time.
You can almost touch the feelings in an ICU waiting room. It can be one of the loneliest places in the world or one of most miraculous. Either way, it changes your life.
This was my first time in one. I looked around. There was a man standing at the glass window that looked out into the hall. His eyes stared unseeing, worry drawn in every crevice and line in his face. Over in a corner, a mother sat with two quiet children. That was enough to draw my attention. No scampering about or babbling in their own language. Just two sets of large eyes, staring at a foreign world.
Then there was the little old lady. She sat hunched in her chair, arms wrapped around her as if trying to hold everything in. Red-rimmed eyes showed tears were at the ready. I was drawn to her. Is it true misery loves company?
She nodded as I sat down, then like a dog waiting for its master, her gaze riveted back to the stark doors of the ICU. For a few minutes, I argued with myself. Say something. She needs comforting. Can’t you see that? Talk to her!
My voice sounded out of place in this room of waiting. “Are you okay?”
Her shoulders stiffened, her head lowered, and I was about to get up and move to another seat, embarrassed I had intruded when she spoke softly.
“My husband could be dead right now.”
Now it was my turn to rivet all my attention on those two doors.
She looked at me, and I was drawn back to meet her gaze. I was surprised by the calm I could see in her eyes. She opened up, pouring out the story of her husband’s years of heart disease. How, right now, after another heart attack, they were trying to revive him. She wondered, out loud, her fears. Should she tell them to stop? Was he ready to go? Was he already gone?
Turning back to stare at the doors, tears falling from those reddened eyes, she said, “I just wish they would tell me what is going on.”
I’ve never spoken about my faith unless asked. Always felt it was a private thing. I could never be a good evangelist. But at this moment, a wave of impulse took over. I grabbed her hand, squeezed and words I had never spoken before tumbled from my mouth. “Would you like me to pray with you?”
My inner voice went into a panic, screaming, what are you thinking? My heart argued back; she needs this.
Her countenance changed into the loveliest dawn I have ever seen. Her eyes widened, a smile tipped up aging skin to reveal beautiful white teeth and her tears stopped. Age spotted hands eagerly found mine, and she bowed her head.
There seemed to be an eternity of silence before my brain engaged my voice. Words I will never remember came out in a mumble. She added a few of her own, and then with a mighty squeeze, we went back to before.
Now she questioned me about why I was there. I told her about my husband’s cancer. For a moment, she looked wistful before she said, “All disease is terrible, but I wish my husband had cancer instead. It would be so much easier for them to be able just to cut out what is killing him.”
From where I was sitting, I would have liked to disagree, but I understood. To her, in the valley of the shadow of death that she walked in, all other valleys looked greener.
The doors silently opened, and a very professional nurse came out and called to the lady beside me. “Your husband is doing well; he is asking for you.”
Her veined hand squeezed mine. “Answered prayer! God bless you and your husband too.” Then she disappeared behind the forbidding doors.
Another hour passed by before finally it was my turn to hear that Mr. Gabel was doing fine, and I could see him.
Even though I worked in a hospital and was no stranger to an ICU unit, I was shaken when I saw him. Until it is one of your loved ones hooked up to all that tubing and beeping monitors with flowing alien-green lines, you really can’t understand the fear you feel.
His nurse had obviously seen that look before. Funny how I knew many male nurses, but I had never seen them as the nurturing type. Only female nurses fit that description in my book. I was having a lot of firsts.
To this day, this male nurse remains vividly in my mind as one of the most caring, tender, nurturing human beings I have ever met. “Don’t be afraid. I know it looks scary, but he is doing well.” Staring at my strong husband, all I could see was a mound of cotton blankets, his bruised arm with several IV lines and a plastic protrusion coming out of his mouth. He was as white as the blankets he was under. His chest rose in an odd mechanical way, and I knew, sensed, he was not conscious.
The nurse’s rich baritone stood out against the beeping. “Right now, he is in a medically induced coma because of the trauma of the surgery and on a ventilator. The doctors will start bringing him up tomorrow. You can touch his hand; he hears you. He may not remember it, but he knows you are here. Talk to him. “
I slid my hand into his cold one, swollen from the fluids being pushed into him. Gently I rubbed the only spot free on the back of his hand, murmuring, “I love you,” over and over. Tears of exhaustion slid out. Finally, I sat in a tiny corner of the very equipment-crowded room and felt grateful. Darrell stirred, fighting the ventilator, his arm moving towards his face.
I jumped up, grabbing his hand, noting his eyes half opened, a vacant stare meeting my own. The heart monitor beeped, and Darrell groaned.
“It’s okay Mr. Gabel. You are in the ICU. You are doing well. Everything is okay,” the nurse said soothingly.
I squeezed his hand, once again murmuring “I love you”. My heart rejoiced when I got a gentle squeeze back and he rolled his head towards me, not seeing me, but sensing my presence. The heart monitor leveled out.
For the next hour, this was my routine as the nurse bustled around, taking notes, checking fluids, watching monitors and reassuring his comatose patient.
“Mrs. Gabel, where are you staying?” the nurse asked.
I still couldn’t get over being called Mrs. Gabel. That was Darrell’s mother, not me.
“I planned on staying here.”
The nurse’s assessing gaze was now turned upon me. “I can’t tell you no, but I was just curious, do you trust me?”
I was taken back for a moment. “Well, yes. Why do you ask?”
A boy-next-door smile of warmth appeared. “Your husband is in the safest place on earth. Surrounded by all these machines, and my capable skills, even if he had a problem, which he isn’t, you couldn’t ask for him to be in a better place. I bet you haven’t had a good night’s sleep in weeks. Call the relatives, take care of yourself. Do it now while you can, because you will be taking care of him soon enough. It is my turn to have the night watch, and no offense, but there’s nothing you can do for him. Trust me, he’s in good hands.”
He was right, I was exhausted. I watched him carefully lift my husband’s shoulders to slide a plumper pillow under his head. My mind was made up. Gently I leaned over and kissed Darrell on the cheek and squeezed his hand, saying my customary, “Goodnight Darrell, I love you most.”
The morning of the surgery arrived. Everyone was in place. After a quick kiss and a squeeze of his hand I watched as they wheeled him down the long white hall towards surgery. I was adrift in a sea of restless feelings. My lungs restricted as the panic began to rise.
I followed his parents to the waiting room where the Doctor had told us it would be about a two-hour wait. The staff was positive and upbeat, his parents quietly hopeful, and I was a wreck. Nothing held my attention as my mind tossed around scenario after scenario.
It was 10:00 AM and I began to pray…..
Time is not constant. Sometimes it speeds by in a flash, at other times, it slows to a mush of a crawl. Right now, I had a good idea of what eternity felt. At the two hour mark, I found there was less oxygen in the room as my lungs struggled for air and tears threatened to fall. The elderly lady at the information desk informed me that everything was okay. She encouraged me to go have lunch, they would call me. Sometimes surgery took a little longer……
Food sounded terrible. His mother and father decided to find the cafeteria. I continued my vigil. I had the room memorized. Every tiny crack, flaw and dust mote. And another hour stretched out as I wandered the waiting room, looking out the one small window to the dreary, drenched world outside….
Then the surgeon appeared. His young face etched with left over lines of concentration. A smile lifted them away. “He’s doing well. It took a little longer than we anticipated. The tumor had eaten through the bowel wall and it was ruptured. He is a very lucky man. There was a lot of infection, and we couldn’t tell if we got all the cancer. During the process we also had to take out his spleen. In trying to get out all possible cancer it was nicked and we couldn’t stop the bleeding. He has metal marker clips in so they can do radiation for prevention. We removed several lymph nodes and those will be tested to see if the cancer has spread into the lymphatic system. Right now we are moving him to the ICU to make sure he is stable through the night. Give it about another hour for them to get him set up and you can see him.”
I stammered out my thanks as his parents stoically asked a few more questions. Even if Darrell hadn’t seemed to need them, I was grateful they had waited with me. They were staying with his sister and they decided to leave now that he was in the ICU. They asked if I wanted to go with them. I don’t remember what I told them, but it was convincing enough they left me alone. I held it together long enough to say my goodbyes then I fled to the chapel before the panic attack came on.
I was lucky enough to have the place to myself. The storm hit. Tears poured. My thoughts jumbled. The guarantees, the words I needed to hear, had not been forthcoming. I had wanted to hear they got it all. There was nothing to worry about. It was over. He would be fine. The cancer was gone. Instead, it seemed we faced more procedures and still no guarantee he would survive this.
Would I be able to care for him? What if this was going to be a lingering downhill slide? Was I up to caring for a bed-ridden husband? Could I go through the slow process of watching him die in inches? I thought of my great-aunt whose husband had been partially paralyzed by a stroke six years before. She was his constant caregiver. Bathing, dressing and feeding him was a 24-hour job. I remembered her gaunt features and tired smile. Could I do this for Darrell? My heart screamed yes, my mind said no.
I still had young children at home. A movie theatre business to run. Plus my own job at the hospital. My mind scurried to make plans, try to cover all the details. Exhaustion crept over me. I just wanted to go to sleep and wake up to a time before cancer.
A huge Bible lay open on the simple podium. I looked at it in anger. I didn’t want to read it. I wanted things to be okay, not a cloudy future of uncertainty. I found my legs moved on their own accord and I was standing in front of it. It was open to the book of Job. The voice in my head snorted. I didn’t need to read about Job’s life, I was living the life of Job.
It lay open to Job 33. Line 23 caught my – If there is a messenger for him, a mediator, one among a thousand….. I backed up, to line 16, hungrily reading to line 33. Tears fell. I needed to pray, the Lord in His mercy, could and would pull a person from the edge of the pit of death, so that this person could be enlightened and healed.
I looked up at the jewel tone stain glass in front of me. A simple Cal-lily framed in blue. If even one person prays. I pleaded for his health, for more time, for healing. A peace stole over me. The tears ceased. I wiped my nose. I went looking for the ICU unit.