Monday, November 30, 2009

Body Language, Lost in Translation


Trying to find tonight's inspiration. I think it is the lack of sleep, for several days now, that has hindered my creativity, any clear thought process. Last night I had every intent on getting caught up on my sleep. I got into bed by 11:30pm, turned out the light, then remembered one thing that I wanted to take care of on this computer. That was all it took, like an addict who takes that one sip, my thoughts were racing a mile a minute, and before I knew it, I was up until 1:30am.

Of course the real reason that I constantly find myself wide awake throughout the night, is there is a longing that will not be satisfied. Last night was not a significantly emotional night, yet present was my deep longing to have Michael resting there beside me. My mind tells my body he is gone, that I must learn to find comfort in this bed without him. My mind tells my body to envision him there beside me. It gives me ideas such as laying his pillows all around me, put on one of his t-shirts, spray a bit of his cologne, stare up at his picture, etc.

Sometimes my body is able to take temporary satisfaction, or make due, with one or two of these attempts at comfort. Other times, like that past few days, my body is not buying it. My body is still waiting for Michael to return. Maybe he is off traveling, but will soon return. My arms and legs have changed over the years. They have learned to shift and bend to make room for his. My torso took on the outer shape of a spoon, which fit perfectly around Michael's back. My skin became the most vocal part of my body, as it would communicate throughout the night with that of his. Always alert to temperature changes, muscle spasms, slight tremors, or calm movement. My face was often at ease as Michael's warm breath gently travelled across it and down to the nape of my neck, where it spoke of love, passion and comfort. My right arm was always charged with the care of cradling Michael's head. My left arm was responsible for creating a drape that reached around him often settling on his chest, or held by Michael's free hand.

My body is a creature of habit. It is completely non-verbal. The messages that my mind keep sending, "he is gone," appear to be getting lost in the translation. They end up circling around the room, finding no place to rest. Throughout this process my heart weighs heavy, I breathe a deep sigh, at times tears begin forming, at other times they are pushed back. I look up at Michael's picture which brightens the room from it's electronic frame. I get out of bed, light a candle, caress the urn which holds his remains, look out the window at the garden, then return my gaze to our bed. I slip back under the covers, tell Michael how much I love and miss him. I say goodnight to his picture, I ask God to help me get through the night, or to wake me up from this two month unpleasant dream.

I take a big deep breath in, hold it, then slowly release it. I turn out the light, my body once again tries to find it's place. It is lost once again. It shifts, it turns. I breathe deep into my pillow, run my fingers across the sheets, allow my hand to trace what I remember as the outline of Michael's body. I know his dimensions well. I adjust his pillows to best fit his proportions, close my eyes, and attempt sleep once again.

The Gay Agenda









I was pleased to find out that my blog was featured on the Gay Agenda recently. You can find it here.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

My Big UnFabulous Gay Life


Yawning Raccoon,
originally uploaded by Alan Vernon..

Last night I attempted to get some sleep, but I was surrounded by domesticated, and undomesticated critters. Up on my bed was our cat, and underneath the covers to my right was our dog. This is not a common occurrence, and why they thought I would let them sleep there the whole night I don't know. But, since they were there, and both looking so cozy, I thought...how bad could it be?

I live in the city of San Francisco, in a small row house on a hill. For many years we have been visited each winter by a very large raccoon. My suspicion is that he lives under our back deck by day, and causes complete pandemonium among the many feral cats fed by my next door neighbor by night. Our raccoon visitor is mostly harmless, yet I remember one night coming home from dinner out with Michael and the kids. As we approached the stairs leading to our front door, we realized the raccoon was on the roof, glaring down at us. As we would take a step forward, he would lean forward. Once we were on to his game we all stopped in our tracks, looked at each other, and somehow decided Michael would be the guy for the job. With with fear tossed by the way side, and to look like the big tough guy in front of the kids, Michael stormed up the stairs. It was a classic game of chicken, and this time Michael won.

Anyway, back to the present, the raccoon has been back for a couple of weeks now. Last night he kept trying to get into our basement by way of the back door. When he couldn't get in he would try to peer into my bedroom window. Of course our "huge" 10 lb. poodle-mix dog was barking up a storm. Our resident squatter, the raccoon, would make a horrible squealing sound, then return to his pestering of the nearby cats. This went on about every hour on the hour last night. Not exactly what you would expect here in the big city, but kind of funny none the less.

By dawn's early light, I'm sure I was looking a bit worse for the wear as I emerged from my bedroom. But, today was the last day of the kids' five day holiday. I had put off cooking for several days now, and had a refrigerator full of the makings for a Thanksgiving meal. Since we ended up at a friends house on Thursday, I was able to put off cooking this meal until now. Today was the last possible day to devote so much time to creating our feast. In between cooking the various dishes I managed to wash, dry and fold 5 loads of laundry, give my 15 year old lessons in how to fold his clothes, and help my youngest son with a large homework assignment that we forgot was due on Monday. Well, at least I forgot. It's now 9:30pm, the boys are asleep, I think, and I'm keeping watch to be sure all is well. My 11 year old's bedtime feedback tonight was that I am in serious need of a shave. "Sure son, I'll get right to it."

As I walked across the living room, through the dining area, on my way to the kitchen, I look across the room to the large wall mirror. My vision is not that clear, given my lack of sleep, and my ever decreasing with age night vision. I strain to see an image staring back at me with two very dark circled eyes, a head of brassy salt and pepper hair, and increasingly white facial whiskers.

Is that damn raccoon back already?

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Grief of Seismic Proportions


There is nothing like a good disaster movie to put your life in perspective.

Today I decided that the boys and I were going to get out of this house to see a film, and knowing my boys, it had to be about crashing cars, martial arts or cosmic sized disaster. Well, we went to see 2012. This is not a review of the film, just using it as a metaphor for the past 24 hours of my life.

Yesterday started out okay, actually it started out very nicely. Nobody was arguing, nobody was making unrealistic demands, and I was able to take my time in waking up for a change. Yet as the day moved forward I began to feel a familiar pull of the gravitational forces known as grief. I began preparing for the onslaught of symptoms so as to try and gage what my needs would be. And as in every disaster movie, what I didn't prepare for was the unexpected.

Grief can sometimes hit us in small waves. While these waves can throw us off course at times, we can at least see the shore ahead, and ride it out. Yet at other times grief can build up like a tsunami due to the many unforeseen undercurrents. It is times like this, for me last night, that we need to properly gage what we are feeling, and responding to. Sometimes we are grieving more than the physical loss of our loved one. Sometimes we are grieving the lack of progress in longstanding concerns for our family. Sometimes we are grieving for other people's pain. Sometimes we are grieving due to the ongoing challenges of parenthood without our spouse beside us.

In today's disaster movie, the loss and destruction was beyond the scope of earth's inhabitants to appropriately respond. As one would expect, they were left with more casualties than survivors. And so was my evening. I thought I was prepared for the grief that I somehow kept at bay on Thanksgiving. I it would be difficult to weather, but that I could get through it. Yet as the sun went down, many of my life's undercurrents began to rattle within me. Most of these undercurrents are ongoing concerns I have with my children. Before I knew what hit me I was engulfed with anger and grief. Like a volcano, I erupted with torrents of misery's venom. The victims, initially my children. The culprits, okay maybe they had something to do with it. The epicenter, me. It was my response to all the undercurrents that was seismically out of proportion. And in turn, the tsunami of emotion was more than I felt equipped for.

There are times when life feels like one disaster after another. There are times when the difficult reality of our life comes crashing down all around us. There are nights when grief gets it's grip on us so deeply that we fear that we may not survive. Sometimes we feel like we may not want to survive. Sometimes getting through it takes more than what we think we have.

As formula as it is, in all disaster movies we are left with an image of the sun rising once the storm du jour has ended. Peace and calm settles in around us. Peace and calm is what I awoke to as well. As the day continued on I needed to make sure I tended to each of the kid's needs. I needed to give some explanations, and I needed to make some repairs. Tonight I am once again reminded that even when I think my heart and soul can take no more, something is there to make sure I can. In the course of grief we can't always divert these difficult experiences, but remembering our individual history with grief, we can help ourselves get through it. And while we may not get through it unscathed, we will get through it.

Friday, November 27, 2009

The Next Day



The day after / El dia despu├ęs,
originally uploaded by Manuel Atienzar.

I'm finding that what has been recommended as a survival plan for significant anniversary days works. You must look ahead, plan ahead and incorporate your loved one in the day. This "technique" has worked both on our one year wedding anniversary, which was one month after Michael's death. And has also been very effective on Thanksgiving Day. By anticipating my emotions, and needs, ahead of time, I was able to plan each day with quiet time to honor Michael, to sit with him, and then proceed through the day without a major break down. What I haven't been able to plan well is the day after!

I've been wisely told by many that the first year of grief will be the "year of firsts." There will be many occasions that will be the "first time" without Michael. In a short span of two months, I have already had the first wedding anniversary without...the first Halloween without...and now the first Thanksgiving without Michael. And while it helps to get through each of these occasions easier, I'm feeling like I'm only doing it for the benefit of others. In my situation it is clearly for the benefit of my children. While they are now used to seeing their dad sitting on the couch in tears, in his bedroom in tears, or driving the car in tears, they shouldn't have to spend each holiday seeing me in tears. I think it is hard enough on kids who are grieving, so for this reason I am making a concerted effort. Yet it is not without a cost. There are many days that I wake up to that to others would not recognize as a significant anniversary. Sometimes I don't even register why I am feeling as I am until I reach for my Blackberry and look back to the previous year.

In this year of firsts, part of me desires to fully indulge in my grief. In a way I am envious of those whose children are already grown up, so they are less restricted, or apprehensive, about expressing themselves. It may just be me, my personality, codependency, or whatever you want to call it. I feel that I have a responsibility to not bring the room down, especially for my kids. Yet there is definitely a learning curve with any new experience, and grief is no different. So far my experience is telling me that what I put off today, I will experience tomorrow, sometimes two-fold. I use the word "balance" quite often, as it is something I strive for. By my attempts to over plan, over control, these significant days, I am waking up the next day with migraines, deep depression and more tears. I suppose I wanted so badly to survive these days with less fall-out, that I didn't fully understand what I was supposed to be doing. The benefit is not to get through these emotional mine fields unscathed, the benefit is to be mindful of what I am feeling.

It will continue to be a challenge to balance my own emotional needs with those of my children. I won't always get it right, but I will attempt to do this with less of a personal toll. Perhaps with practice I will suffer less by this Next Day syndrome.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thankful


originally uploaded by newlywoodwards.


For a peaceful day.

For my family and friends.

For the love of Michael.

For each of my kids, and their unique ways.

For the richness of life.

For having this forum to express myself.

For people reaching out each other for support.

For new life.

For the honor of caring for my beloved.

For hospice and all oncology staff.

For artists, and the creative process.

For words.

For knowing true love and passion.

For new friends.

For the beauty of flowers.

For rainy days.

For music.

For dark chocolate.

For blue irises.

For the love of my children.

For happy memories.

For the opportunity to live my life free and open.

For tight embraces.

For Michael's smile.

For tears of joy and sorrow.

For God's love.

Appreciation & Comfort

I'm not quite sure how to approach my post today. I started out with a Thanksgiving list, then nixed the idea. Perhaps I'll go back to the list later in the day, as in a concerto, this day will have many movements.

I got up somewhat early today, made a pot of coffee, then returned to our bedroom. I put on some instrumental music that Michael loved to hear. It is what I played for him over and over in his last days. I hadn't been able to listen to it since then, but felt like today would be the right time. As I read others' posts, and begin writing my own, I am comforted by the soothing music.

I love being in our bedroom. It is something that Michael and I planned, and created together. The colors are very monochromatic gray, and the furniture a dark espresso brown. Our windows look out over the garden filled with quite a variety of flowering plants. Taking center stage is our Buddha, and off to the side is the fountain that provides relaxing sound of gurgling water. Our bedroom is in what is considered the basement, so it is cool and calm. On our walls are inspiring images, a drawing of Jesus as shepherd, a strong masculine angel, black and white photos of walkways in cities around the world, and an engagement picture of me holding Michael with a very pensive look on our faces. On the bookshelves are the books we read, binders filled with the business of our lives, CD's, photo albums with our memories together, and others of his life before. In the upper shelves are mementos from our wedding, and the pocket watch he gave me for my 50th birthday. In the middle shelf, which feels cradled by all of this richness, is Michael's urn, where his ashes sit in testament to the the life he lived.

Our bedroom feels like church to me. It invites me in. It contains a richness of history, yet gives the promise of new life. There is a presence in church that it undeniable. I can go there to be comforted when in pain, and I can also be there is celebration. Within those walls, within these walls, I know that I am never alone.

Appreciation.

Comfort.





Here is a beautiful song that touched my heart today.

James Blunt- "Cry"

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Message to Michael



Kingdom of God, Shambhala, Pure Land,
originally uploaded by Fe 108Aums.

Dear Michael,

Tomorrow is another Thanksgiving, but my first without you. Today was a busy one, taking Remy to the orthodontist, going into the office for a few hours, grocery shopping, coming home to hang with the boys, dropping Remy off at a friend's house, grocery shopping again, then home with Dante. During my first shopping trip I bought you some beautiful fuchsia orchids. They are in a vase on our window sill. Later at Trader Joe's I found what I really was looking for, your blue irises. I hope you don't mind that I combined them with a bouquet of white calla lilies. I know that calla lilies are not your favorite, but I do love them for their simple elegance. Your irises have not yet opened, but I expect them to fully reveal themselves by morning.

There is a votive candle, actually two, providing a warm glow next to your urn. I initially put on some soft music for us tonight, but quickly found it was disrupting my thoughts. As soon as I finish here I will play one of your favorite CD's.

I have been racking my brain trying to remember how we spent Thanksgiving last year. I looked at the calendar as saw the we had gone for your MRI appointment on this day. The news was concerning, but we were optimistic that about a positive change due to your returned treatments. We chose not to mention it to anyone until we had more information. Now I remember, Remy spent the night at Max's house. Well, tonight he is spending the night with Sterling, who flew into SF to stay with his grandparents for the holiday. Remy is quite the social butterfly, isn't he? Anyway, Dante and I will be joining them tomorrow for dinner. Sterling's mother and grandmother kindly invited us to join them, and they didn't take my initial "thanks, but no thanks" for an answer. I'm glad they persisted with the request, I'm actually looking forward to spending the holiday meal with a neutral crowd. Okay, so it's all coming back to me now. We had your mother, brother and his kids over for Thanksgiving last year. I remember we made way to much food. I remember looking across the table at your mother, and having an unspoken understanding between us that this could likely be the last Thanksgiving meal shared with you whole family.

I won't be with you mother, and the rest of your clan, tomorrow. The distance is just too far, and since I still don't sleep much, I don't think it would be safe to make the drive. I remember two years ago when we all gathered at your cousin's home for the holiday. It was so nice to be with all of your relatives. They are all so loving and special. I will certainly miss them this year. Your mother came by for a visit this past Saturday. She brought me some harvest colored flowers, and I also had bought her a vase filled with beautiful flowers. I will give your mother a call tomorrow, and wish her a happy holiday from both of us. I'm going to tell her how wonderful it was having her by our side this summer, and taking such loving care of you. I'm going to thank her for the gift you were to me. I think she needs to hear this often, as she is hurting so much due to your having to leave us.

I also called in an order of flowers for my parents. I won't be seeing them during the holiday, as they live too far from here. When I called to order the flowers I struggled with the details of the message card. I used the same florist I have used for over twenty years, and the ladies there know my voice. When she asked how I want the card to read, I half expected her to ask if it should say from Danny, Mike and kids, as usual. Instead I just took a deep breath, and said "love Danny and kids." It hurt so much to omit your name to the card. It took me back to the numerous years prior to meeting you, and how I had been single for so long. I know that my parents will likely shed a tear when they read the card and are reminded that you are no longer here.

Michael, I can feel that these days ahead are going to be very difficult for me. I am going to do my best to bring some joy into the holidays. I have discussed this with the kids, and they have agreed that we would do something special to include you in each celebration. They also understand that I need to make these holidays very low key, quiet, yet joyous. Okay, so I'll be crying a lot, but I promise to let joy into my heart at times. On Monday I was shopping at Target, running in quickly to get some of the staples that allow our home to function correctly. Of course the store was filled with Christmas decorations, and the music was a bit stifling. I wanted to politely ask if they could turn it down, but of course didn't. As I walked by all the Christmas ornaments and things I told myself to just get in their and buy something. It felt like speed shopping, but that is what I did. I figured that the kids deserve some holiday spirit at home, but I knew I don't want to get out all of our usual decorations. So I started grabbing new lights, ornaments, ribbons and paper. Everything is in white and gray. I hope you like it, as I'm thinking it will be beautiful, yet calming. Arianne hasn't been home for several days now, but I'm sure she will turn up soon. I also know that she will be the one who will ask where are all our usual decorations. This weekend I also plan to get on this computer and get most of our gift shopping done. The kids agree to make it simple, which the boys interpret as one big-ticket item. You know, I would buy them the moon this year if it could bring us all some happiness.

Of course what I want is you. Right now I'm being very selfish, and unrealistic, and saying that I want you here, physically here with me. I know that's not going to happen, but it's what I want. I also want to keep moving forward so that I can feel like I am handling my life better. I need you to help me find the balance. I keep telling myself this mantra, "be open, be open, be open." I know that for me to continue healing through this grieving process, I need to be open to the unexpected. It is so hard to imagine not feeling the way I do today, for the rest of my life. And yet I counsel people on this almost every day. I hear myself telling them to take it one day at a time.

One day at a time. This is such a simple concept. I just reached over to a book on my night stand to look at the Serenity Prayer. When I opened the book a photo dropped out. It was the picture taken of us when we bought our wedding rings in Provincetown. Remy had gone with us on that trip, and he is standing there between us. We all look so happy. I remember how we both were so pleased with the selection we made. I also remember us hiking through the sand dunes the next day, and how I ended up covered in welts from all the insect bites. It serves as a reminder, that you take the good with the bad. And in the end, I have to say, it was all good.

Well Michael, I'll close this message. Two candles continue to burn next to your ashes. The urn I chose for you is called "A walk through the Woods." It has such earthy texture. Each time I walk by it I find my hands naturally gravitate toward it. It helps me feel like I am holding part of you. I never realized how comforting it would be to have your ashes here in our bedroom, and I thank you for requesting it. You knew ahead of time what I would need, and I love you so much for that.

Michael, I think of you in God's kingdom. I have no idea what that looks like, or what it really means. I won't truly understand where you are at until I get there myself. But whenever God/the universe decides it's my time, I will rejoice in being back with you.

I love you with all my heart.

Your husband, Dan


The Serenity Prayer

God grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.





Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Give and Take



Give&take,
originally uploaded by Sin92.

On my mind today is the old saying "it is better to give, than to receive." I couple this phrase with another familiar one, "there is always give and take."

I have never been in the position to be given the diagnosis of a terminal illness. Yet in walking the journey with my husband Michael, I was clearly able to observe that being on the receiving end of this news is definitely not where you want to be. I think all of us understand that when someone is given such bad news a typical question to ask is "why me?" For a couple having to face such challenges the logical question is "why us?" I know that for Michael it was difficult to not personalize that he was somehow chosen to have this cancer. Some people believe that there are no accidents. Some say God doesn't give us more than we can handle, or that there is some kind of blue print for our lives, in which case nothing is random. For Michael this came down to feeling that somehow he didn't always appreciate what life had to offer, so his life was being taken away. No matter how many times I tried to persuade him that this couldn't be true, that we are not punished for our uncensored thoughts and feelings, I'm not quite sure he believed me.

When I think of my own personal response to Michael's illness, and ultimately his death, I too ask "why me." Today my therapist commented on how agreeable I always am to his requests to try out various ways to illicit feelings. My thought was well, I am always trying to do what I believe is best for me, best for my kids, best for Michael, best for my friends and family, best for humanity. If there is a best way to handle a tough situation, then that is what I should be doing. I feel like I am the type of person that tries very hard to do what is right, to be a good person, and to take the lemons that life gives me, and make lemonade. Well, I feel like I have had to make more than my share of lemonade. Where is the balance in life? I keep on giving, so why does feel like life keeps on taking?

I'm not going to try to answer my own questions. I don't know the true answers, only the common catch phrases to such questions. What I do know is that I will keep on asking these questions, and will be open to the answers. They may never come to me directly, but hopefully they will come to me through my experience of life.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Lessons From My Children


Family walk,
originally uploaded by Jos Mecklenfeld.

Sometimes we find renewed strength, or encouragement, from those who are wise from experience. Sometimes we find it from those who have walked, or who are walking, a similar path. And sometimes we find it in our children.

Today's strength to keep moving forward comes from my two sons. They are 11 and 15 years of age. I started out the day with a therapy session with my older son, and ended the afternoon with one with my youngest. Each exhibited a remarkable effort to face their, and our, challenges with a new found self-awareness. Each were able to express their needs with honesty, and their feelings with vulnerability. And each were able to individually engage me in discussions about what they need and want from our relationship.

It did not so much surprise me, as much as confirm, that as a family, we are in the midst of a transformative time. Throughout this past weekend I was feeling very depressed, and having trouble lifting myself up to remain present to my children. Even though we were often in the same room, I felt so distant. By last night I wondered how I, or we, would get through all of this. Losing my husband, Michael, was a big blow to our sense of stability as a family. For many years I was a single parent to my three children. I often worried that not only was I not missing out on experiencing the joy of a loving relationship, my children were missing out on the lessons that this type of relationship could provide. When I met Michael all this began to change.

Initially my children were so happy that their dad finally found someone to love, and was loved in return. What they didn't expect was that they would also be loved by, and reciprocate their love to, him. This process was not a simple matter. For children to attach, they must build trust. This takes time. They must trust that this person will accept them with all of their blemishes. For children who are adopted, as are my own, they often struggle to trust this acceptance due to a fear of rejection. They want to know if this person will always be there for them, unconditionally.

In the evolution of our family, Michael had just been a part of our lives for a year and a half when he was diagnosed with a brain tumor. My kids, and Michael, had just hit their stride in this developing relationship. With Michael's diagnosis their fear of rejection likely morphed into a fear of abandonment. For all of us are faced with the likelihood of losing someone, there is an inclination to disengage. I believe this is a natural response for many people as a way to protect their heart. In time we were all able to work through this, and the kids were able to continue engaging in a parent-child relationship with Michael. He began referring to them as his children, and they to him as their other dad. This was beautifully reinforced during our wedding. Before Michael and I exchanged our vows of commitment to each other, we each exchanged vows of commitment to our newly formed family.

The past two years of Michael's illness was filled with unconditional love and commitment. When the time came for treatment to end, we chose hospice as our plan of care. Michael remained here at home throughout his journey. In the last weeks of his life the kids were able to participate in his care, and be present with him. Michael died here at home. And while painful to see, my children were able to participate in something very special and beautiful. We had to say goodbye to Michael. They had to say goodbye to daddy Mike. For now we are sharing in our grief, each trying to make sense of it all. I know that they, and I, will be changed by this experience.

When I look in the mirror I see an aged, and suffering, person staring back at me. It is hard for me to believe that I will ever know joy again. It is hard for me to see how I could possibly be transformed by this. When I look my children, I also see grief, yet already I see a developing compassion and transformation. It is so clear to me. Maybe it is because they are young that they are able to look ahead differently. Maybe it's because they found in Michael's love, that they would not be abandoned, even in death. I believe it is clear to them that his love for us continues. Perhaps they are comforted by this understanding.

Now I haven't mentioned my eldest child, my beautiful daughter. My daughter is struggling at the moment. I believe she experiences her emotions very deeply. Life is not easy when your emotions feel stronger than you can manage. I now understand what that feels like, as I am struggling too. All I can do is trust that she will find her way. Actually, I know that she will. I just need to let her do that, find her way.

As a parent we expect to impart many lessons to our children. What we are surprised by is how much they teach us. Today I offer my thanks to my three children. I am thankful for their willingness to fully engage in love, life and grief. I will take inspiration from their transformation.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Until Death Do Us Part?



separation,
originally uploaded by barbera*.

My head hurts tonight. Tension has been building all day. I can't seem to relax or find comfort in anything I do. I wrote a post earlier about comfort in the familiar, then somehow lost half of what I wrote. I thought of rewriting it, but didn't feel that connected to what I had written. It is so indicative on how I am doing these days.

Not too much is pleasurable. Not too much seems all that important, and not too much connects me to this earth. I don't mean to discount all that I do have. I love my children, am grateful for my family and friends, and I suppose there are other things I could add to this list. But the invisible man that I am, continues to haunt me.

I feel as though I have lost a complete sense of myself. Without that what am I? Who am I? And how am I connected to the life I once had? In the marriage vows we are told that the two shall be as one. Then just as we are becoming familiar with this concept, we are reminded that this until death do us part. Easier said than done.

I really bought into the concept of unity. When Michael was dealt the heavy blow of his illness, I too was hit. But we got up, we continued forward. We fought with all our might to beat this disease, and we cherished every moment that we had. What ever came our way, good or bad, we faced it together.

What now? Death did us part, but I still long to be as one! How does that change? How does my heart make sense of it all? If two heart beat as one, what the hell happens when the one stops beating? Half of my life source is gone.

I am a mere shadow of my former self. I am a ghost, one foot in this world, one foot in next. Does Michael feel this way too?

How will I...

When will I..

Will I ever feel whole again?

Saturday, November 21, 2009

The Invisible Man


I walk around most days feeling utterly cut off from this world, like an outsider who doesn't fit in.

A simple task like shopping for groceries becomes a painful and depressing chore. Not that I loved shopping before, but then it was about rushing home to prepare meals together with my husband, Mike. We would occasionally invite friends over on the weekend. The whole day Saturday Michael would be in the kitchen creating some beautiful and delicious dessert. He would have me cutting up vegetables, setting the table, anything to assist him creating something fabulous. But my main contribution was to run out to buy all that we needed for these meals. What was then also a chore, was done with love. It was done in anticipation of evening hosting a gathering with the man I loved. These days the shopping carts weigh a ton. I am made to push it through a maze of couples doing their shopping together. I am made to see the smiles on their faces, or hear the conversations with their spouse on the other end of their phones. This experience causes my heart to sink further into my chest. This experience causes my spirit to fade away.

As a widower I go through my day with a significant piece of me missing. I can pass by people with little notice. I feel invisible. Some may sense that a person is there, some might even catch a glimpse of the former me. On occasion someone will speak to me, but it is in a language I don't easily communicate in. They may not realize that I only truly recognize the language of grief. Everything else sounds very foreign to me. I may nod, or return a vague smile, but it is only my way of being polite. For me to really feel recognized I need for my reality to be recognized.

I think we are not taught to recognize grief. When someone has lost a significant loved one, for me my husband, the grieving does not end at the memorial. It continues on through the night, and stays for months and years. It's hue colors all that we see. Our rose colored glasses are forever lost. We are astonished then when other's are unable to recognize it. How can this be? How is it that others are not concerned that our vision of the world is now so diminished? Don't they see that the sun has lost much of it's shine? People may think they see me, but they don't. I am an invisible man. To see me is to recognize my grief. To recognize my grief is to take a step toward my darkness. How scary is that? What if you should step on one of my feelings, causing my healing wound to reopen and bleed?

We are not very well versed in the language which the grieving hear and understand. Before losing Michael I had a limited understanding of the language. I had lost relatives who meant a lot to me, whose lives were significant. But I didn't quite understand how the loss was felt by those who expected them home for dinner, or by those who now had someone missing from their bed. The language of the grieving speaks in the present, but is at it's core, tied to the past. None of our words escape the nuance of loss and pain. Although my outer shell appears unchanged, or looks familiar, it is not. I am forever a changed man. If you can't see that I am still grieving then what you see is a one dimensional illusion. This illusion works to get me, and you, through the day. Yet when spoken to by those truly versed in grief, the illusion goes away. Standing before you, I will become present, no longer far away.

We have all had the experience of travel, with the challenge of being in an place where a different language is spoken. We might attempt to learn the language, or just remind ourselves of our general knowledge from past experiences. What we often find is a welcoming response to our feeble attempts. The people being visited usually appreciate that we are trying to communicate, and don't worry about mistakes. The grieving are the same.

Don't worry about making me feel bad, it can't get any worse. If you see tears in my eyes, you didn't cause them. Don't try to cheer me up, I need to feel this. Don't be afraid to mention Michael's name, I still need to hear and say it more than you know. Our life together ended, but it hasn't disappeared. It is worth a few tears to be able to walk through it with you. Sometimes the best way to convey your concern is through a gentle touch or a hug. You don't have to invest a lot of time. Sometimes a quick sound-bite like "love you," or "thinking of you," is all I need.

Remember, if you are thinking of my loss, then likely so am I. If you want to help me along, to make me visible, an attempt to speak my language will pull me out of where ever I am. What the grieving are familiar with is isolation. While life must go on for everyone else, recognize that the life I had did not.

For now, I am the invisible man.

Desire



IRIS DETAIL

originally uploaded by jon fobes.


Can't sleep, missing him.

His skin is smooth, his chest full of hair.

The broadness of his shoulders, I trace with my hand.

The curve of his back, sturdy and strong.

I reach for his face, cradle it with care.


He smiles so gently, his breath fills the air.

I brush against his lips, as they curve with desire.

He looks at me, pulls me close,

Michael, you make me feel so alive.


His eyes are alluring, gentle, yet bright.

His voice like poetry, "I love you too my dear."

The warmth of his body, it fits against mine.

Such joy, such beauty,

I surrender control.


His fragrance fresh, like the ocean breeze.

I sensed it just now.


You're here Michael, I feel you with me.

Thank you honey, you know what I need.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Giving Our Memories New Life




This heart of mine,
originally uploaded by SalaBoli.


When you have lost someone very close to you, someone you loved without limits, a darkness moves in around your heart. It feels like the color of your blood suddenly becomes a much deeper color, and as it moves through your body, everything becomes tainted with pain. Grief then becomes a process circulating the blood so that it continuously passes through your heart. With each cycle the blood flows through your liver, your kidneys and up through your brain. Throughout this process your body is absorbing and disposing of toxins.

The pain of my loss has made my heart at times feel tough and dark, yet at the same time raw and tender. Throughout the day my blood flows through this cycle, at times I can feel the toxins building up in one particular area of my body. Perhaps it is a tightness in my chest or a strain in my upper back. Most days it has my head in a vice grip, then later it settles in my abdomen. It can be a slight annoyance, or it can be a gut wrenching experience.

In these early days, for me two months, the darkness that surrounds and infects my heart has created a barrier between it and my brain. Where I used to think about a pleasant or loving memory, and be filled with joy, these days there is a disconnect. My mind keeps telling my heart that there were so many wonderful times, and please remember the feelings and sensations that use to flow so easily. But the darkness that engulfs my heart prevents it from seeing these truths. The experience ends up being like a silent picture, with so soundtrack to move me.

I know that with each cycle there will begin to be some clarity. I know that at times the toxicity levels of pain will vary. I don't expect that my heart and mind will ever be completely healed, or ever the same. But perhaps in time my memories will be given new life. Perhaps as they flow through the blood in my body, I will begin to experience them in new ways. That will be the time when my memories become an agent of comfort. That is when I will begin to feel a warmth in my heart. The blood that flows through my body will begin to feel a lighter, or brighter, shade of red.

What currently feels cold, dark or broken, will one day feel renewed.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Gay Widower or The not so Widowed Gay


widower,
originally uploaded by koderitsch.
Facebook does not want to make me a Widower. I tell them I won't hold them accountable for what ever transpires as a result. Hey, I'm already crying a river each night, sometimes enough for three rivers. Recently I learned that Facebook had responded to an avalanche of request from widows about the availability of this designation. Their point being that they have a new identity that has been either placed upon them by circumstance, or one that they prefer which best clearly identifies them. I can see their point. As I move along in my short journey with widowhood, I am beginning to take on this identity myself.

When your husband, wife, partner, lover, etc. has died, you suddenly find yourself quite alone. There will be good friends to come to your aid with support, but at some point, sooner than later, you have to face being alone. You will find that the least complicated way of introducing yourself is as a widow, or widower. Other responses bring on more questions, one's you may not feel like responding to at that given moment. Our relationships didn't end by choice. Our relationship didn't go sour, although there is definitely some bitterness that comes along with this. I have chosen to not go with the traditional black attire during this period, so there is little else that would tip off a new acquaintance to my current state of being...grief stricken me.

For now, I don't want to be thought of as suddenly single. I wasn't a big fan of single hood, I did that scene for far too long. Meeting Michael was the best thing to come my way in a long time. I found him utterly adorable, funny, playful, and sweet on my eyes. He was smart, politically correct in all the right ways. He was well intentioned, and a bit adventurous with his affections. He was the total package for me, and I fell hard. I believe I was the first one who made that awkward initial statement, Love's proclamation. It is rarely a moment that is thought out, and with Michael it burst forth from me in a moment of humor and laughter. I just couldn't keep it in any longer, and like the ol' song says "and then I go and spoiled it all by saying something stupid like I love you." (our song)

So, yes, I loved being in a relationship with Michael. We had our ups, we had our downs, we had some drama (me), and we had some stubborn silence (him). It was a full and happy relationship that eventually led to marriage, with the story book wedding. Oh, and yes, we are also gay!

Any way...I digress. I was talking about Facebook. I recently went to the personal details page, and thought I would test drive what it felt like to select 'widowed' as best describing me. But for some reason it kept defaulting to 'single.' This began to frustrate me to no end. I tried again, selected 'widowed,' it said 'single.' I decided I would see what it thought of me as 'In an Open Relationship,' it said fine. I tried 'it's complicated,' and once again it said fine. I even tried 'divorced,' Facebook said okay already, commit to one!

Then it had me wondering, is Facebook telling me that I cannot possibly be widowed because I am gay? Or is Facebook telling me that I cannot possibly be widowed because I am a young man of 50, who was married to a young man of 47, who thought their future together was limitless, with many wonderful adventures ahead, who pictured themselves in the future as old men sitting on the porch enjoying the late afternoon sun.

We had many dreams, he filled many of those in our short time together. I loved being married to Michael. So in defiance of his being taken from me too soon. I will take Facebook's suggestion, and stick to 'married' for now. I stuck to married in good times and in bad. I stuck to married in sickness and in health. And I stuck to married with Michael until death us did part. I am sticking to married.

'widow married me!'

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Sun/Son breaks through the clouds.


Father and Son on the hillside,
originally uploaded by Dragon Weaver.

Last night a storm swept through San Francisco. Out my window it poured rain. Inside my home, just the same.

Some days grief hits me like a ton of bricks. Yesterday was one of them. There were so many facets to my day that just kept prodding me like a dagger into my heart. These were not necessarily negative things, most were actually positive. I could spend some time here describing them in detail, but when I think it through I realize that in some ways the events or interactions are not that significant. On days like yesterday I am just completely vulnerable, like a warrior sent into battle without a shield. In times like that I am finding that it is best to just surrender to the grief. It is only with gut wrenching sobbing do I feel relief.

Today the sun came out. With the day came a knowing that grief could be a more tolerable companion.

This evening my 11 year old son and I attending a grief support group for children. The kids meet to process, to share, their experience with other kids. There is an equal ratio of adult facilitators who guide the kids through activities that help them express their grief. During this time, we parents meet in a separate room to offer each other support through our own process. I must say, it was a good evening. What comfort it gave me knowing that as I am feeling supported in one room, my son was being given the same in another. At the end of the evening both groups came back together so that we end with a sense of connectedness.

Once in our car I was able to check in with my son. He said, "you know dad, I think this group is going to be very good for me." What a joy to hear. My son had such a beautiful peacefulness about him while he expressed himself. One of the biggest challenges in my grieving process so far has been how to meet my kids needs while I am struggling to stay afloat. The loss of Michael has been significant to our children. I can only imagine that this is magnified when they see their other parent falling apart. This has been my worry, as while I'm keenly aware of this dynamic, I have at times felt unable to address it. Having this group is a wonderful way to meet each of our needs.

Today was a gift.

Today I felt held by Michael's loving arms.

Today I didn't feel so alone.

Today the sun broke through the clouds.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Monday, November 16, 2009

Gay Grief


History of Us,
originally uploaded by just.Luc (just.Censored).
For those who are new to this site, I am a gay man, mourning the death of my husband. My husband, Michael, was diagnosed with a brain tumor two years ago. During those two years I looked for support, and found it in many ways. There were friends, family members, and professionals who were able to offer me various forms of emotional and practical support in my role as a caregiver. When the chemotherapy began failing Michael, he began to need more care taking, and I began to need more specific support. I initially looked online for other men who were in a care taking role. I couldn't find them. I'm sure they were out there, but they were definitely not looking for support the way women do. I eventually found a brain tumor caregivers support group, which was perhaps 95% women. They were wonderful to each other, and they were wonderful to me.

When Michael passed away I once again looked for my male counterparts. I went online searching for information, guidance or stories of other gay men who were grieving like I was. I found a single book on the subject, but little else. The hospice program we used for Michael's care offered me their support group, which I utilized for a short time. There were also the women in my online caregivers group, many of whom had become widows during my time with the group. Once again, what I didn't find were very many men, and no gay men, any where in sight. Eventually I did find that another local hospice was going to have an eight-week Lesbian and Gay Bereavement Group. I quickly signed up, looking forward to the day that it would begin.

Why is it that in the midst of all these wonderfully supportive heterosexual women was I still needing more? Was their grief any different than mine? In many ways, no. Yet I had to be honest with myself, and acknowledge that what I really needed was to see as complete a reflection of myself, of my grief, in those that were around me. Growing up gay in a straight society, well, we all know the challenges. We don't see our lives reflected much. We look at advertising, and most of the general media, and even in 2009, we are still pretty much missing in action. When we "gays" were told by the California Supreme Court that we could legally marry, Michael and I took them up on their offer. We had a fairly traditional wedding, and while we found excellent vendors, most told us they didn't have much, or any, exposure to gay couples. Well, that was no surprise. Up until my 30's, neither had I.

And what is it about not finding many "widowers" around? Now I've heard that men often die younger than women, so it stands to reason that there might be a higher percentage of "widows" to "widowers." And why is it that I have an immediate image in my head when I think of the word "widow." Yet, a clear image does not come to mind when I think of a "widower." Somehow this is a role that is more clearly attributed to women, or an identity that women have more clearly defined for themselves. Once again, what is with us men? Can we not say to the world that we are by definition changed by our loss?

And now, to the subject at hand, what about us gay widowers? 15 to 20 years ago, if you were gay, you knew many gay widowers. It was everywhere we looked, that's if we were looking into our own community. Even then, we didn't see a reflection of our experience in the mass media. There were definitely the movies of the week, which told stories of young gay men returning home to their families when they found that they were dying of AIDS. But where were the stories about the mass onset of gay widowers? Where were the images of men who cared for their sick and dying partners, only to be left alone, lost and in pain? And for that matter, where are the images of lesbian partners left behind after their loss?

Well, I'll tell you. I started my lesbian and gay bereavement group a few weeks ago, and every Thursday night we gather to tell our stories. We share of our history with our partners, lovers, husbands and wives. We share of the trauma of losing the most central person in our lives. We tell of our difficult goodbyes, and of the daily anguish that we must now endure. We talk about being left behind, of feeling lost, of struggling with a new identity. We talk of people's well intended, but missing the mark, words. We cry, we laugh, we listen.

Is our pain any different from our straight friends? Maybe, maybe not. What is certainly different for me is that I have clear role models before me now. They testify to the loving journey they had with their spouses, they testify to the significant loss they have experienced, and they testify about their changed identity.

I am a gay widower. I am not single. I am perhaps no longer married. I am a gay man in grief. I am two months into this new identity. This is who I am today. This is who I'll be tomorrow.

I am still not clear how to move about my world with this new identity, or with this considerable pain. I continue to seek guidance in my grief by the looking to others. Their image may not be immediately clear, but they are becoming clearer to me every day. With each day my own reflection will become clearer. I will see myself emerge from this, changed.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Grief-video

video

This is a video montage combining personal photos with images I've used in prior posts. I put this together a couple of weeks ago, but was having problems uploading it.

Music; Sia-Breathe Me

Message to Michael


love letter,
originally uploaded by Negar Daneshfar.
Dear Michael.

I had lunch with a new friend today. It was sunny out, so it gave us the opportunity to walk and chat in this beautiful city of ours. You would have enjoyed the restaurant, Italian cuisine. We shared a nice bottle of red wine, and had pasta with clams. What a nice treat. All through our meal I had the opportunity to introduce my friend to you, and I got introduced to his husband as well. We talked about how we met each of you, and the things we enjoyed doing as a couple. Funny, we both met our partner/husband in a gay bar. We shared with each other our stories of meeting each of you, was it love at first sight, and were there hurdles to overcome. We talked about how soon we moved in together, how we all became home-bodies, and where we vacationed as a couple.

I think we would have enjoyed knowing this couple. You and my friend's husband were both bright, and very computer savvy. We talked about how we were in awe of our husband's intelligence, open heart and ability to love.

It felt so good to spend an afternoon that included you. I felt so happy to be saying your name out loud. It felt great to have someone asking questions about you, about us. It felt equally satisfying to ask questions about his husband, to hear of their many years together, and to picture the life they created as a couple.

After lunch I stopped in for a cup of coffee, and to see the beautiful view they have from their balcony. Again, you would have loved this. Once in their home I recognized something very familiar to ours. I recognized a home filled with memories, filled with love, and filled with mementos collected from their life together. I also recognized a quiet stillness.

What I didn't find there was my friend's husband, as he also recently left this world. Maybe wherever you are, you can look for him and introduce yourself. Maybe you can share with him that you were both terribly missed today. When you meet him, both of you can smile, and share your stories. Both of you can say that you had husbands who totally adored you. Both of you can say how good it is to find support with other's that have had similar experiences. Maybe both of you can reach out to us, and remind us that we wouldn't be experiencing such grief unless we had experienced such love.

Remind me Michael. Remind me of the happy times. Remind me what joy feels like. Remind me that you will somehow always be there for me. Remind me that I won't always feel like this.

You said that if there was a way to come back and tell me these things, that you would. I know that. I know that you meant it when you said these words. I am waiting. I am waiting to hear these words whispered into my ear. This must be why I lie awake each night. I am waiting.

I love you Michael.

You still have my heart.

-Dan

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Longing


without you
Originally uploaded by *Aemaeth*


It's Saturday night, and I'm sitting here watching "Nights in Rodanthe." This is exactly the type of movie that Michael would quickly lose interest in. He would try to appear interested, but would soon be getting out a Sudoku puzzle, or wander downstairs to see what was on the Sci-Fi Channel. It's one of the things the kids caught onto very early in our relationship. They would walk into the room, where I would be sitting next to Michael "enjoying" an action or science fiction movie. The first thing out of their mouths would be, "obviously you picked this movie Mike, my dad would never watch this on his own."

Funny the things we do for love.

These days I don't watch too much television at all. Or, if I do, it's on without the sound. My mind is always too occupied with thoughts of absence, Michael's absence. During these past two months this laptop has become a permanent fixture on my lap. It's like a part of my body. I sometimes worry that it is becoming my surrogate for Michael. I can talk to it, talk through it. It gives me an immediate tactile response as I type my thoughts and feelings. If only it could grow arms, put them around me at night, and breathe softly against my face.

Some nights my 11 year old can't sleep, and comes down to crawl into my bed. He asked me one night why I have pillows stretched out beside me at night. Before I could respond he answered his own question. "It's to help you sleep without Mike, isn't it." Yes, I've tried everything. I've sprayed his cologne in the room, put on his favorite music, worn his favorite t-shirts, held the pocket-watch he gave me next to my ear, re-read cards and notes, lit votive candles by his urn, breathed deep into our comforter and stroked his side of the bed. Like this laptop, each of these give me minimal sensory responses.

I know that as I sit here with this movie playing in the background, that I am going to be left with a sense of longing. The storyline is centered around romance, pain and loss. The alternative is a "Mike" movie, which will distract me for the same period of time, but will also leave me longing for him. This is what keeps me up at night. No matter what I do, no matter how I occupy my day, I end each night the same.

I end each night without Michael.

I brush my teeth without Michael. I get into bed without Michael. I warm the sheets without Michael. I lie awake without Michael. I eventually fall asleep without Michael. I wake up without Michael. I eat breakfast without Michael. I parent the kids without Michael. I take out the trash without Michael. I play with the dog and cat without Michael. I go through the mail without Michael. I cook dinner without Michael. I eat at the table without Michael. I watch television without Michael. I eat ice-cream without Michael, I brush my teeth without Michael.

I get into bed without Michael.

I end the night without Michael.

I just remembered how this movie is going to end. I should have picked a Mike movie.

Friday, November 13, 2009

A Mother's Love



Mother and Son,
originally uploaded by INTVGene.

Today I am having a difficult time concentrating at work. My thoughts have been on Michael, his final days, and his final hours. Michael had not only my devotion, but that of his mother.

Michael's mother lives almost three hours north of our home, yet she was there whenever he was in need. This summer she spent every other week in our home, carefully balancing Michael's needs with those of her grandchildren. As Michael's condition became more complicated, she was there full time.

During the past 60 days Michael's mother and I have shared in our grief for him. Our grief is not the same, we both loved him, but I understand that she has loved and supported him for 47 years. She had dreams for him, many of which he has certainly surpassed. Yet I also know there are many dreams that she has had to let go, and take flight along with him.

In reflecting back on the adventurous life of Michael, I can see that his mother had to say goodbye to him many times. In high school he applied to the foreign exchange program, and went to live with family in France. After college Michael left for two years with the Peace Corp in Senegal. From there was Washington DC, Latvia, Estonia, and Norway. I'm sure it was a point of pride for his mother to see him achieving his dreams of being part of that larger world. As a parent myself, I know it wasn't easy to see him off, knowing that it would be a considerable amount of time until she saw him again.

I don't know if Michael completely understood that his earthly life was coming to an end, or that his new journey was about to begin. What I do know is that he was comforted to know that his mother was once again there to see him off. This was a very difficult thing for her to do. This was her baby boy, and he wouldn't be coming back from this journey.

I believe she will one day see him again. I believe Michael will welcome her when that day comes. Until that day I hope she will hold Michael's love and gratitude close to her heart. I hope that he is able to reach out and comfort her along the way. I know that he loved her very much.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Two Months


University College, Oxford (Shelley Memorial),
originally uploaded by Martin Beek.

Tomorrow will be the two-month anniversary of my husband Michael's death.

Why does it feel like it has been so much longer?

Why does it feel like it was just yesterday?

I believe that these questions are understood by all of us who grieve. I don't claim to be an authority on grief and loss. I can only speak from my own authentic experience. My experience is from losing my spouse.

The pain, the emptiness that is left by losing Michael, has been enormous. Each day, each hour, I experience intense loss. I carry my grief as if walking up a very steep mountain. At times I can stop and take a breather. At times I can put on a smile. But this kind of loss is all consuming. I am constantly reminded that "time will heal," and while I believe this is true, times like this move very slowly. The aching for Michael does not end when the sun goes down. It is with me all through the night. I have yet to have a full night's sleep. Some nights I don't sleep at all. What makes matters worse, is that this early period of grief has cast a shadow on the years of happiness with Michael. The time I had with him feels like the blink of an eye at the moment. Yes, "time" will change this. In time I will feel comforted by my memories, but don't expect me to feel comforted by them quite yet.

When I think of the time I had with Michael, if you think of the time you have had with your loved one, two months is a significantly short period. I loved this man for three and a half years. Throughout those years he laid right here beside me. Throughout those years he wrapped his arms around me. Throughout those years he kissed me each day and told me how much he loved me. Throughout those years I did the same. To expect that I could possibly not wake up and want, need, or expect the same is beyond my heart's understanding.

I feel as though I am caught in a time warp. I know that we don't like to see each other in pain. I know that we cannot fully comprehend someone else's grief unless we have experienced the same loss. I look back on those I have known who have lost their partner or spouse. I now understand the loneliness that they experience. I now understand that while the rest of the world must continue on, their experience of loss remains ever present.

I write these thoughts, these feelings, for all of us who sit alone in our homes or bedrooms tonight. I will be present with you, and you can be present with me. Our grief is not within our control. My grief is not within my control. I don't want to control it. Rather, I choose to be present to it. I choose to experience it, to share it, and to not apologize for it. I know this may be uncomfortable to some, or even worrisome for those who care about me. Just know, this is what I must do, this is what I must say, this is what I must feel.


....a few minutes ago my 11 year old son woke up and was calling out to me. I could hear him through the heating vents even though his bedroom and mine are on separate floors. When I entered his room he sat up, reached out with his arms and said I miss you dad. He then held me tight, and said "I really miss Mike."


Two months,

an eternity,

just yesterday.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Missing Michael


Tonight I am missing Michael terribly. I yearn for his touch, to hear his voice, to see his eyes sparkle when he smiles. I miss his humor, I miss his annoying habits, I miss him sitting here next to me working on his Sudoku.

Michael was my husband. I loved being married to him. I knew the night I met him that he would steal my heart. He was sweet, charming, cute and insecure. I had not been in a long term relationship for many years, yet always knew that it was what I desired most. Michael gave me the opportunity to lean on another man. A man I could share my love with, and share my life with. He rounded out my family in such a positive way. He supported me and the kids through many challenges, and gave us the opportunity to give back.

I always felt like I was missing out on one of life's most cherished blessings, which was to be committed in mind, heart and body to another individual. He fed my passion. I loved finding that right blend of sexual desire and deep emotional intimacy. He was an intellect with a heart of gold. Together we continuously worked on finding compromise in our relationship. We had different ways of dealing with conflict, and yet we learned to respect our differences. Michael liked to "sleep on it," and I liked to process things all night long.

I loved sleeping beside this man every night. I loved the comfort of his warmth, and the tenderness of his touch. I loved watching him sleep, and waking up with my legs tangled with his.

We had a marriage, we had a family.

We had our community, we had our life.

I miss Michael every day.

I miss him terribly tonight.

Dan

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

A Year of Mourning


Young Man Mourning #1

originally uploaded by just.Luc (just.Censored).


What ever happened to the various traditions around mourning. In many cultures there is a mourning period that usually extends out to a year. During that time the widows would primarily wear black to symbolized their grief. It was an outward symbol to the community of their loss, and of their new station in life. By witnessing this, others would automatically know that the individual was in mourning. I sometimes wish that this was still part of our tradition.

As I returned to work many people knew of my loss. Many extended their condolences, yet others probably wondered why they hadn't seen me around the office for several months. Also, when out shopping, or participating in day to day life, I often feel like I am walking around with a dark cloud over me. A dark cloud that only I can see. Other's may wonder why I look so down, hey, "did someone die?" Well, yes, someone did die.

For awhile I was wearing Michael's wedding ring, but it kept slipping off my finger, as his hands were bigger than mine. There are times that I would like people to know that I have been through such a significant trauma. I would like to be asked once in awhile about Michael. I don't want him to just fade away. I want people to notice that I wear a wedding ring. I want to be able to tell them of what a godsend he was, and how my life is forever changed because of him. I want people to see that I am different because he is gone.

As I move about my day I feel changed, sad, lost and empty. There is a sense of disinterest in everything I do. When I look at my reflection in the mirror, I see sorrow in the dark circles around my eyes. I see less animation in my facial expressions. I feel less strength in my posture. There is no spring in my step.

Are each of these adequate indicators to the outside world that I am in mourning? I doubt it. In fact, I believe most of these indicators go unnoticed. I suppose I could wear all black, yet in San Francisco it would be considered either urban chic, or middle age goth.

As you may have noticed in my recent pictures I do have my tattoos. They are an outward symbol of my grief. They are a committed symbol of my grief. My most recent, and largest tattoo is the Tree of Life. This was done less than two weeks after Michael's death. I have tattoos of my most important commitments in life. I have tattoos with symbols, and names, of each of my children. I have a tattoo that is the symbol of "My Body" to remind me to take care of this vessel. I have a mixed tattoo of my birth month in the Mayan Calendar, with am Aztec design overlay. This is to remind me of my ancestral history. I have my lotus flower and symbol of hope, complete with Michael's initials which I got a couple of Valentine's Days ago.

My Tree of Life was done on a large scale as a visual commitment to growing through this grieving process. The Tree of Life has roots that go deep underground, where life can get dark and murky. Yet it's branches can reach high up to the heavens. And is it only in bitter waters can we find that the Tree of Life is of value to us. In bitter times faith will spring eternal. I was raised to believe this. And even though I am too deep into the bitterness of life at this time, I will remain steadfast in my commitment to make this a time of faith and growth.

Above my Tree of Life is a beautiful bird, which has just fed off the tree, and is flying high into the heavens. The bird flies up high into the sky without a second thought, for he now understands his destiny. He is headed off to somewhere bigger, and better, than this world. His faith is no longer being tested, for he now knows his truth.

My experiences are permanently drawn on my body. I wear them proudly. On my back I wear these symbols of love and mourning. They tell the story of these past few years, and are an outward sign that I am forever changed. I am in mourning.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Mindful Evolution


Yesterday I spent a good part of the afternoon putting together a video of images and pictures I have taken to express my grief. I decided that I should delve into other ways to express myself, beyond words. I was pleased with the outcome, but for some reason have been unable to upload it to this blog. Hopefully I will be able to share it with all of you at some point.

What I can do is describe the process, and what it meant to me. I wanted to see what my body language looked like when I grieve. I set the camera on a timer, then put myself in positions that I find myself in when alone and feeling the intensity of my grief. It was a very interesting experience. Usually I am lost in emotion, then find myself lying on my bed in a pattern of positions. For this experience, I was calm, but put my body into the positions for the camera. By looking at the pictures I am able to tap into these emotions quickly. I can see how my body responds to feelings of loneliness, sorrow, pain, and mindfulness.

I hope that this experience will help me in better identifying what I am feeling, by observing my body language. Too often I feel as though I have but one emotion left, which is pain. But looking at the images I can see nuance. I can see how at times I am in a fetal position, needing to be nurtured by Michael's spirit, or perhaps by God. At times I flat on my back, experiencing the full weight of my sorrow upon my body. This position causes me to see, and experience, my grief head on, without turning away from it. Some images were of me meditating in my garden. For these I chose to disrobe, so that I could better observe my body, my muscles, my skin, every detail when I am in mindful meditation.
What I see is raw emotion. What I see is a peacefulness that comes over me when I am unburdened by physical and emotional influence. I am reminded of what I need during this time. I need more quiet, stillness and serenity. I need to listen to my body. I need to get out of my head, and fully experience my raw emotions without the burden of making judgements about how I "should be doing."

Sometimes we need to be willing to stand naked in front of ourselves. We need to observe ourselves without judgement. Observe and learn. This period of grief is so profound and life-altering. We are changed by our loss. I will never be the same, so I must be mindful of my own evolution. It is only then that I can benefit from this painful process.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

No sleep for me


So tired, but too restless to sleep. Most nights I sit here, busy myself on this computer, or find other things to occupy my mind. I have always suffered from insomnia, but this is different. With my insomnia it's about having trouble falling asleep, or staying asleep. With grief it feels more like a subconscious unwillingness to sleep. I know that if I lay down, turn out the lights, and relax, I will have to face my loneliness, being alone, without Michael.

Everything around me reminds me that he isn't here. I find myself getting out of bed, looking for something that will temporarily ease my loss. Sometimes it is reading a card he gave to me. Some days it is listening to music that he loved, wearing one of his shirts, piling pillows on his side of the bed. Most nights it leads me to the urn that holds his ashes, reaching out to caress it with my hands. A candle to keep vigil, glowing in the dark, giving me a sense of his presence. Some nights it is spraying the air with his cologne, keeping his scent floating around me.

I know that what I yearn for, I will not find.
He is gone.
My mind knows what my heart will not accept.
He is gone.
Logic does not factor in.





He is gone.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Heavy Heart


heart of stone,
originally uploaded by _McConnell_.


Heavy heart.

I know my heart has been changed, as it weighs heavier in my body. I sometimes struggle to carry it. I imagine it darker in color, hardened, occupying more space. It pushes against my chest, bruising me from within.

I know it is hurt. I know that it has been stretched beyond belief.

In time it will heal. I don't picture my heart ever looking, or feeling, the same. I pray that it will one day soften in texture, that it will warm to the touch of others.

I need to believe that my heart will have a greater capacity to love. That new life will flow through it.

For now I will hold it, listen to it, learn to accept it's change.

It now beats for two.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Acute Grief


I'm not okay (I promise),
originally uploaded by Lacking Focus.
Today I felt my grief bubbling up within in me. Throughout my work day I was having to take deep breaths, as if there was not enough oxygen getting into my lungs. I suppose what I was feeling was a bit of a panic attack. At times I was able to shed a few tears, knowing that they would help lessen the pain in my chest. Once getting into my car I was able to give in, to succumb to the flood.

Grief can be so acute at times. I don't always see it coming, and I don't always know why this moment is different from the last. There was no desire on my part to fight it. The pain within becomes far stronger than I, and it can be such a relief to unleash it. I arrived at my son's school, to pick him up, complete with sunglasses. I know it made no sense, it was already getting dark, and the school yard was being engulfed by fog. Yet I didn't want to solicit too much concern with my red and swollen eyes. My son, and his teacher, quickly saw that I was having a tough time, and gave me some supportive words.

Tonight has been much the same. Michael's best friend, Craig, came over for an "Ugly Betty" marathon. We had a fun evening, yet before he arrived, and immediately afterward, I once again found myself sobbing. I guess it is just "one of those days." These intense type of days happen less frequently, yet they are so familiar.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Walk a mile in my shoes.

originally uploaded by flint knits.
Tonight was week four of my LGBT Bereavement Group. We are building quite a camaraderie, as we continue to gather, and share with each other our common experiences with grief. We are each at somewhat different places along this journey, yet each knows the pain of losing that primary person in our lives.

There is so much comfort in just being in room with this group of people. In this one area of life, we have all walked a mile in each other's shoes. I look around the room as see the knowing nods from others as I speak. When one cries, we all seem to get quiet, and allow that person to feel held by us collectively. Sometimes I derive so much healing from the silent pauses, which eventually lead to our taking a deep breath before moving to the next subject.

There are also tender moments where we share a memory that is humorous in retrospect. I love these moments. I see them as hope inspiring. They show me that with the right person/group of people I can find fleeting moments of joy, and laughter, that needs to rise out from under all the gloom.

I've walked a mile in you shoes.

You've walked a mile in my shoes.

Let's to walk together.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Remembering Our Honeymoon


One year ago today, Michael and I left for our delayed honeymoon. Our destination was sunny, and at times stormy, Puerto Vallarta. We stayed at a beautiful hacienda style villa which caters to gay men. Being that it wasn't high season we often had full run of the place, which included the clothing optional pool. As Michael's days were quite unpredictable, we spent most of our time swimming in the pool, or walking to the local beach for sun, drinks and more swimming. We ate out at many of the highly recommended restaurants, and were in hog heaven.


One of our funniest experiences with meals was stumbling into a Brazilian BBQ restaurant. We didn't quite understand the concept prior to being seated at our table, but it was an all you can eat meat menu. The waiters were constantly walking from table to table with huge metal skewers of meat! Michael was just loving it, and all he seemed capable of saying was "yes" to each selection. His plate was being piled higher and higher. As for me, the waiters kept looking at me with distrust, or maybe an air offense. I don't eat much meat! I would only say yes to chicken, which wasn't what they were peddling. So with each visit to our table the waiters would get a "yes!", and a "no gracias." Michael and I laughed so much through that meal.


Another wonderful memory was taking a late walk around old Puerto Vallarta. We stopped by many of the businesses, stopped for a drink, ice cream, whatever tempted us. It was a very warm evening, and eventually we ended up at the gay beach. Unfortunately neither one of us were dressed for swimming, and nude swimming is definitely not okay in Puerto. But just off the main beach were two bathing suit boutiques, which were both about to close. I had a brilliant idea. We could each run into a separate shop and buy a new bathing suit. We would then surprise each other with our new suits, and have a romantic swim in the moonlight. We both ran in, and within minutes, exited the shops with sexy, and skimpy, speedos. We were both just beaming with joy, and had a wonderful "From Here to Eternity" moment in the waves of the beach. It is one of the most carefree, romantic, and happy times I can recall..


In the end, our honeymoon was all that we expected, and needed it to be. There were definitely times where Michael's illness gave us a scare or two, but we didn't let them restrict our enjoyment. The weather was hot, our time together was hot, and we were happy.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

My Grief

Angel of Grief 1When grief takes a hold of you there is no choice but to submit. If we choose to put it aside, to not fully acknowledge it's presence, then it will only engulf us at a later time.

My truth is that grief has entered my heart. When Michael left this world I was left with a void that cannot be filled. That is my reality today. What tomorrow brings I do not know. To act as though I am not in pain is of no service to me. I, like others who have lost their spouse, find that acceptance of the finality is not as simple as "moving on with my life." When I invited Michael into my heart, it was not a time limited invitation. My love for Michael is eternal, he will always occupy at place in my heart, and a place in my life. I start my day with the reality that he is not lying next to me. I acknowledge his absence, take a deep breath and move forward. I end each night in sorrow, and let the tears flow as I tell him I love and miss him.

I pray each night that in the hours that I sleep, he will be with me.