Thursday, February 11, 2016

They Send Gifts!

There are only a few more days to the third anniversary of Eric's death.  My good friend Julie calls it my Brave Day.  I'm doing really well, and I expect status quo progress.  Perhaps 2016 is the year I finally embrace February 15.  This February 15, perhaps, will be uneventful and regular as a, say, Taco Tuesday.  And that I no longer feel a stigma  - self-imposed or not - carrying his life or his death wherever I go, whatever I do.  Perhaps Eric's death is slowly and permanently becoming my fiber.  Like the peppered strands of gray beneath my black coiffure.  I'm definitely maturing with his death. 

I have always felt strongly that I must create an active purpose, not merely accept a passive reason, for my husband's death.  It would eventually become my path to emerge victoriously.  It takes time.

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In the last few months I have received random handwritten cards and emails from parents, grandparents, and friends of students who have taken the Handwrite Thank You Notes with me at PSCS, a progressive school in Seattle where I teach as a volunteer teacher.  The message to me was always one of positive, encouraging, and thankful that the younglings had, at some point in the last year, hand wrote them a warm and sincere thank you note.  They wanted me to know how wonderful it felt to have received something in the mail from the youngsters.  How important this class was.  How much they are inspired, and that they, the adults, began to take time out of their busy schedules and express gratitude to others. The younglings have done the wonder of giving an unexpected gift to the recipients - the exact purpose of my class.  We surprise them with gifts!     

The Butterfly Effect:  A scientific theory that a single occurrence, no matter how small, can change the course of the universe forever.  

I don't usually discuss the genesis of this class, until last week, while I was casually speaking with one of the parents at school.  Her son loved writing thank you notes every week with me.  Needless to say, I was overjoyed to hear that he learned something in class in addition to enjoying the brownies I occasionally brought!  The parent is a professional therapist, and she asked how I came up with this idea.  So I told her my story.  

After Eric's suicide, I was relentless and determined to surround my 15th of each month with nothing but positivity, no matter how hard or impossible.  I sat at the dining table and I stared at a stack of blank thank you cards for what seemed to be eternity.  Sometimes with disdain.  Others with dread.  I always wept while I wrote, but I made certain to remember the charmed life I live, and the good fortune I enjoy.  I took my exercise seriously, deliberately, intentionally.  I knew it was my only ticket.  Nobody else could help me.  Remembering and expressing gratitude became my way to create and experience light and positivity.  The side benefit was an unexpected gift to friends.  I was able to recover as healthily and quickly as I had, and now live a happier and fuller life than I have ever lived, in no small part, was due to this focused exercise of Gratitude.  I constantly wrote thank you cards for a full year.  

I wanted an unique and useful way to connect with the younglings at school.  Last winter, I experimented facilitating a Handwrite Thank You Notes in a one-time block class.  Since, I facilitated a similar class for two full terms.  It's my way to be useful.    

The marvel of the Butterfly Effect.  

I don't have any grandiose goals of what this might lead to, nor am I attached to a specific outcome.  The class simply enables a few folks and service organizations to randomly receive an unexpected gift in the mail in the form of a handwritten card. Surprise and delight; that's what my students do.  They send gifts!

I have finally created an active purpose for my husband's death.  It's my way to continue to honor his life in any small ways.  


Wednesday, December 30, 2015

2015: The lessons

Facebook has a feature that conveniently publishes my "Year in Review" with pictures.  I didn't follow instructions, not willing to concede to the algorithm that randomly picks pictures supposedly important.  The feature did prompt me to examine my year, although not in pictures, but in lessons.    

Much has happened, yet nothing seemed truly significant in the grand scheme of things. I'm not sure what is in the "grand scheme" but it seems commonly referred to and understood.  Sadly I've lost a few (more) good friends.  I really hate losing smart friends.  It appears morbid that the first thing came to my mind in reviewing 2015 is mortality.  Losing good friends makes me pretty grateful that I get to wake up on the right side of the grass for another day.  I learned to be more grateful today than I was yesterday.  

I made a pretty good move in January.  After 14 years, I left Starbucks and finally retired from corporate America.  At 47, it seemed entirely too young and too early to utter the "R" word.  But, my desire to create a different kind of joy has simply outweighed a career in corporate America.  Besides, that path was no long relevant.  I am proud and grateful for all that I have "accomplished" - whatever that means.  But, I am more proud and more grateful that I stopped expecting myself to continue down an irrelevant path.  Of apathy.  I began to understand and appreciate not just who, but what I am becoming, and the courage it takes to live a life that matters to me.  I learned how to say "fuck off" more often.  

I released Eric's ashes in August, another good move.  The moment I released his ashes, my heart was at complete peace.  I felt nothing but love and gratitude.  I was all at once joyful, grateful.  I knew I did something for Eric that NOBODY else could do.  The moment was mine.  I learned that I had never been more proud of myself.  

True to my words, I traveled extensively.  I visited family, saw good friends and met new ones.  Two international trips and nearly a dozen domestic excursions later, I learned that I am a fantastic solo traveler, and an equally fantastic companion.   

I played many rounds of golf - the most I've played in twenty years.  I learned that using color golf balls, especially orange ones, makes a better game.  Every-single-time.  

As a volunteer teacher at PSCS, I learned more than I taught, and reaped more than I sowed. I laughed heartily with my students, staff, and fellow board members.  I learned that kids teach me stuff that I don't learn from adults, and they tell me stories that keep me curious.  I learned that I cannot possibly fail if I do things out of love.      

I don't feel that I have created anything extraordinary in 2015.  I have, however, lived another extraordinary year.  I woke up every morning, had coffee, and my heart went on beating for 24 hours without skipping a beat.  That, itself, was rather extraordinary.  Perhaps the ability to find the amazement in those mundane minutes is what makes life, extraordinary.        

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

My husband was a Pisces

About a month ago, it dawned on me that I forgot to write an obituary about Eric. It was probably a good thing.  I did not know how to write an obituary, but I would have insisted on doing it myself - doesn't seem like it's a task one would outsource. I would have to Google an example, but struggled incessantly that Eric would cringe on the formality.  I would bite more than I could chew.  When I told my dear friend Kevin about my miss, he said, "your blog and your posts were his obituary."  It was serendipity.  

I released some of Eric's ashes in Gig Harbor, Washington, from a sea kayak.  I picked a quiet spot facing the Puget Sound.  The sunny morning was peppered with lightning, thunder, and hail.  Maybe it was his excitement.  It started to drizzle as I released the ashes, as if it were a sign of his approval.  "'Tis a good spot."  The Pisces' ashes sank slowly with gravity, traveled with the current in clean, clear water.  Freely.  Gracefully.  "Finally," I smiled, "unconfined."  He had always admired and loved graceful movements.  I searched for the mental file where I keep pictures of him climbing, each step calculated, deliberate, unhurried.  It was dance-like, although the man honestly couldn't dance to save his life.  I had never seen Eric did anything in a hurried, uncontrolled manner.  Never.  It was maddening.  

That night, Eric came to my dream.  This was only the second time I had ever dreamed about him.  The first time being two months after his death, when he said he was flying me to Dallas for that month-long bad ass business trip.  I was certain he came to announce he was no longer in pain, that he was free to move.  And that I could rest assured.  This time, we were invited to lunch at our friend Judy's.  She made us Japanese ramen noodles - the real stuff, not the packaged crap - with Chinese preserved vegetables.  It was some seriously good eats.  He looked exactly the same.  Relaxed.  Dressed in his customary uniform: T-shirt and jeans.  And we slurped ramen at Judy's.  Unhurriedly.  It was good.  

I felt peaceful.  I was proud.  Of myself and my husband.  Grateful.  I felt brave and courageous, but with much humility and gratitude.  I reminded myself again that I live a charmed life with unexplainably good fortune.  

"It's good.  It's all good.  Keep on living."  He said.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Birthday Wishes

When I blow out the birthday candles on my cake this year, I wouldn't know what to wish for. I want nothing and I certainly don't need more stuff, except maybe an extra set of measuring spoons or a heat-proof rubber spatula.  Other than that, I truly need nothing. I wish I would get excited about some trendy Italian handbags or expensive jewelries or even a fancy dinner.  Or a puppy.       But I don't.  

I still love my birthday.  

Bryan died a few days after I last saw him at the hospital.  His memorial service, a celebration of his life, was the 8th memorial service I attended in two years.  B and I were not very close, but his wife and I are.  We have been buddies for fifteen years.  Of all my friends who passed in the last two years, Jeff's loss feels the most like Eric's death.  I have tears every time I think about Jeff.  It reminds me of what Eric had left behind.  It makes me angry my good friend has to go through this shit.

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I think it's time to release Eric's ashes this summer.  I am not ready, because I would tear up every time I think about it.  Every single time, without fail.  But I do not believe there is such a thing as ever being ready to release your spouse's ashes.  I reason with myself that it's not about me being ready; it's about Eric's ashes.  My husband was never meant to be confined in a box, so why should his ashes?  I reason that if I wait until I am ready, I would never do it.  I reason with myself that life doesn't wait.  

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I wish for peace and healing for Jeff.  I wish for familiarity.  I wish for tears, but that they would stop after a while.  I wish for gratitude.  That's what I wish for.  I wish for him new normals soon.  

I already made my wishes.  I don't need candles; please let's just eat cake.   

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Seven In Two Years

On the eve of my four months retirement from corporate America, it happens to be the eve of the wedding of my two good friends, B and J.  B is very very ill, and will likely pass very soon.  Every fiber in J's body will then hurt.  Today, in my head, I said my goodbye at the hospital.  I felt dull and sad; I couldn't fake a smile.  And I listened to Mozart Requiem all day while I sent crab grass and dandelions to their demise.  

I counted.  Seven in two years.  I went to seven memorial services in two years. That's three times of funerals as weddings I attended.  I don't know what is the average number, but seven in two years seems a bit excessive. Some, I was very close to, including Eric and Julian.  Some, acquaintances.  The rest, somewhere in-between.  One would think it's somewhat natural to start attending funerals once you hit a certain golden age.  The problem is I hardly consider 47 that "golden age." I feel morbid.  

Inspirational posters often remind us to live life to the fullest because we don't know when we would, well, die.  That's why some genius made up a thing called the Bucket List.  "Before I die, I want to see or do these 85 things on this list." Faithfully, a check mark was ticked when an item was accomplished.  Like a grocery list.  

I realized, it's all wrong.  We go on with our days hoping and assuming "they" - others in our lives - will be around tomorrow.  Then the next day.  And the next. The "they" is unspecific - it can be anyone.  

I don't know when "they" will leave.  I suppose "leave" can mean anything outside the status quo.  Of course, it also means death.  When it happens, that leaves me. The one who didn't yet die.  With holes of various sizes.  Wishing to have asked "them" to tell me more stories.  Wishing to have kept that lunch date instead of finishing some "critical steps" in a project.  Wishing to have gone to that baseball game instead of making up some lame excuses to not.  Wishing to have baked "them" more bread.  Or pies.  It could be anything.    

A purposeful life is not about self-preservation so that there is no hole.  A purposeful life is about creating meaningful holes.  You constantly move forward to create a new life, and more holes.  Stopping is dying. 

"Living life to the fullest" is never about my last breath.  Its about "their" last breath.   

I never bother to keep a Bucket List.  I don't need to see the Leaning Tower of Pisa that badly.  A postcard will do.  I would rather be spending time and doing things with "them", and if it happens to be at Pisa, let's pack a picnic.  

Friday, February 27, 2015

Costa Rica Sunset + Catamaran Cruise = Medusa Moment

We've enjoyed hundreds, perhaps thousands, of sunsets.  It's the same yellow fireball that goes up and down every 24 hours, for millions and millions of years. Yet, we snap pictures of it as if it were the first sunset.  Or the last.  Sunsets are mesmerizing and mysterious, like Medusa's crazy hair.  I had a Medusa Moment in Costa Rica.  

The sunset I saw while on the catamaran cruise was both mesmerizing and mysterious. Yet, defining.  The defining moment gave me this message, "thanks for all the adventures.  Now start your next one."  

Life adventures come in all shapes and forms, and obviously not limited to tropical vacations.  The defining message had more to do with "who" and not "what." 

Sunsets used to be simply beautiful to me until the last two years.  Now, sunsets become "meaningful" as if they carry special messages from my husband.  I say "as if" because they *don't* actually carry messages; I just make belief they do.  In time, I have become increasingly aware and grateful to my acceptance of a few facts of life.  One, I have become very aware that not only I am alive, but that I FEEL incredibly alive.  Two, I never felt the need to lament "why" or "why me" despite my husband's death.  The answer(s) to these questions did not and do not exist.  I have cognitively refused to trap myself in such fruitless agony.  Three, I have come to full acceptance that my husband's decision to die was his, and his alone.  It was NEVER my right or my place to take on any guilt or blame, nor is it my or anyone's right to cast guilt or blame on him.  I have come to realize that I will fiercely defend his decision until the last cow comes home.  Lastly, and probably the most important fact, was that I have unequivocal certainty that Eric loved me deeply when he was alive.  And without bounds.  These "simple" facts of life propelled me to live a determinately full life no matter the circumstance.    

So what do all these have to do with anything?  Or a Medusa Moment?  The moment that was mesmerizing and mysterious, yet defining?  I'll get to that.  

I went to Costa Rica with my boyfriend Ken, who is one of the most considerate and solid human beings I have the good fortune of dating.  We come from two distinctly opposite - not opposing, but opposite - worlds.  Yet, we couldn't be more compatible despite our polar differences, complemented by many similar values and viewpoints about the world.  I believe Psychology 101 has a layman term called "opposite attracts."  Frankly, "why" we complement each other is irrelevant.  What's relevant is ridiculously simple:  We are good to each other, and good for each other.  Together, we are happy.  Isn't that enough?  

But that's what I struggled with internally and battled fruitlessly:  My current adventures and my past adventures.  I need to reconcile the two.  The Facts of Life I've accumulated should have prepared me for my next stage of life.  And the next stage of life is obviously here.  Within reach.  It's right in front.  

I just needed a little bit something.  Like a small bite of brownie after a good meal...  

And there it was.  The Medusa Moment.  The mesmerizing sunset gave me the message:  Thanks for all the (life) adventures.  Start your next one now - it is here! There and then, the sunset gave me permission to make my new life with Ken official.  I felt at once incredible and free.  

Like a chrysalis just morphed into a butterfly, I fly.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Sensible Ramble

I have been staring at the computer screen for 30 minutes.  Nothing.  I feel hypocritical.  On one hand saying I don't want to treat February 15 differently than any other day; on the other hand, I force myself to remember all the details about Eric's death.  I'm no dummy.  I know February 15 can never be "just another day."  

Somebody called me a widow earlier this week.  I almost kicked him in the knee, but then I realized, that would be like spitting at somebody who calls me Chinese. Hey, I didn't say I am a sensible person.  Pragmatic, maybe.

(Speaking of being pragmatic, I then wondered if I am supposed to file my taxes as a single or as a widow this year.  Is there such a thing, filing as a widow?  I protest silently that I should be at least 78 to qualify as a widow.  I feel ripped off.)  

The thing about keeping a blog is that I can go back (and I often do) and read my entries to appreciate how much I used to ramble in my writing, how much I used to ache and hurt, how stubborn I became to not be coddled, how determined I was to emerge victoriously.  I had so much pride in me.  My blog was my path to heal. Tonight, I re-read the entry Acceptance, written just a few days shy of the first anniversary of my "widowship."  I wrote about the many fresh perspectives I gained in the first year - especially the perspectives on honoring the way Eric lived, on accepting his decision to die, and my wicked determination to emerge bravely and victoriously.  

Soon, the second full year of Eric's death will come and go.  I have learned to never hide or lie about my emotions, or his death.  I think about my husband everyday in things big and small.  I miss his presence, and feel his absence in everything I do. Everyday, I will remember something about him or us that causes me to shed tears. However, one's life must not be defined by another's death.  My life has moved well beyond.  

I think I have accepted my new normal.