Love and Mourning

What a difference a year makes. This time last year, I was slipping down the rabbit hole, consumed by grief again. I knew I would survive, I knew I’d be whole again, but I knew there was a lot of rocks on the road between then and now.

In the past year, I’ve gained a better perspective, I think, on what Dustin was and was not, what he was capable of giving, and what he was not. I was convinced he was my soulmate. I had just come from a devastatingly awful 3-year relationship, abusive in every sense of the word, and I was not removed from that experience enough to be able to objectively judge this new man who’d come into my life. But he was kind and sweet and caring and very protective of me, all of which were things I craved. I didn’t realize he was an addict at first, didn’t realize how troublesome his past was and how it would come back to haunt us, didn’t realize way too much until it was way too late.

I have a confession: I thought about leaving. All the time. I couldn’t abandon him–but I needed to. We were both drowning in his pain, and while I was sitting atop my fence, I went to bed one night with goals for a shared future, to get him the professional help he so desperately needed…and when I woke up the next morning, all those dreams and goals were ashes and dust. ‘Devastated’ doesn’t even come close to covering it. The guilt. Could I have tried harder? Did I give him enough? I rolled it around and finally let it slip through my fingers. What was done was done. Nothing would change that now.

So. Flash forward to August 2013 when the man who would teach me what it really meant to have and be a soulmate walked through the door of an anonymous barbecue joint. And from that moment on, it was pretty much all over.

And so. Now we’re planning a wedding. Yes, a wedding. Me, the woman who would never be a bride. Me, the erstwhile widow. Never saw that one coming.

The Newlydead Salt and Pepper shakes, and our future wedding cake toppers.

The Newlydead Salt and Pepper shakers, and our future wedding cake toppers.

I love this man with everything I’ve got, would do absolutely anything for him. He is also kind and sweet and caring and very protective, but he is also stable and mature and smart as hell. He is everything Dustin was and more, the happily-ever-after to the original Grimm’s fairy tale, the Disney instead of the Shakespeare.

It took meeting Adam to put my relationship with Dustin in proper perspective: a great, but ultimately flawed, love. It took meeting and loving someone like Dustin to make me fully open to loving Adam, because Dustin taught me how to love wholly: without fear, without reservation, and how to survive the consequences of loving that way. Dustin took my broken spirit and shattered it so thoroughly I had to rebuild from scratch, instead of patching holes and covering up cracks.

Now I’m in a bit of an odd position. I still love Dustin, of course. A part of me always will. Adam not only knows that, his own experiences with grief allowed him to anticipate and understand it. As he puts it, “How can you be jealous of a dead man?”

Adam was the man I was meant to be with, inasmuch as I believe in things like ‘meant to be,’ but I never would have been able to love or appreciate him the way I do if it hadn’t been for Dustin. So, in a way, I owe the success of this relationship to the spectacular loss of the previous one.

I told Adam early on that Dustin and I were a bit of a package deal. I could no longer separate who I am from that experience, because who I am now owes so much to it. In a way, it feels like I’m about to marry them both, which makes my head warp just a bit.

I don’t talk about this much…actually, not at all. I am expected to give up the old love in favor of the new. It doesn’t work that way. I have always believed that you carry a piece of everyone you ever loved with you, and they, a piece of you. In this case, more than a tiny piece.

Although I’ve accepted this as pretty much inevitable, I can’t help but feel ambivalent about it. Isn’t this a strange position to be in? I guess I’ll put it down to yet one more fucked up consequence of love and loss and grief, but I am really looking forward to not have this rolling around in my head and heart like a spilled bag full of broken marbles.

Epilogue

holding hands

In another life did I do something right?
For you to finally find me and carry me home
You give me a world, where my heart is filled
There’s no room for sadness, for anything else

….

When I felt so lost, so alone and wandering
Through my deepest sorrow you reached though the dark
I look for your light, I try not to worry
‘Cause I know you’ll always carry me home

~”What If I” by Kirsty Thirsk

Just when I had given up hope of finding it, happiness dropped out of the sky, got comfortable, and announced an intention to stay as long as I wanted it to.

I spent most of the last year and a few months so far gone in the depths of grief that I never looked beyond the next day. I went to school, to work, made art, took care of myself and my cats. That was it. I dabbled in dating but my hope, faint to begin with, was quickly waning. I didn’t want to deal with the whole mess: getting dressed up, makeup and lipstick, putting myself out there for judgement, looked over like merchandise on a shelf. I wanted what I had hoped to find with Dustin: an unconditionally loving equal partner. Someone I could understand and relate to, someone who would do the same with me.

Failed date after mediocre date. Already being lied to and taken advantage of again. I was so over the entire process. I didn’t want this game playing bullshit. I was becoming convinced trust and honesty and mutual respect were too much to ask for. When I thought of my future, I thought of a comfortable sunny apartment with studio space and cats, and that was it. Love was going to be for other people. I’d had my shot, and I’d lost it.

To be honest, a part of me was frightened. Happiness and love aren’t free, and the price tag of losing them was staggering. I was not going to risk that level of pain and tearing grief for just anyone.

So I set up one last date. I’d actually scheduled three dates for one weekend; figured I’d wipe out the dangling possibilities so I could get back to making art for my semester break. The second I cancelled as the suitor proved to be an inconsiderate jackass before we’d even met, the third cancelled for health reasons.

It wouldn’t have mattered, because the first was destined to be the last.

We had talked every night for the four days leading up to this date. I already knew he was intelligent, with sweetness in his voice. I wasn’t prepared for the kindness of his brown eyes, the empathy of his soul. I wasn’t prepared for someone like him at all.

Lunch date became a walk in the park, became drinks in a cafe, became dinner, became hours of conversation in the parking lot. Conversation just flowed between us as we became aware exactly how much we had in common.

He sometimes says talking to me is like talking to himself in a mirror.

As the date rolled on, I became aware of a powerful physical attraction, one that ate at my self control and completely wiped out my sense of propriety, such as it was. What kept my hands to myself in fist-knotting tests of my self control was his stated wish to take things slowly, saying he didn’t kiss on the first date because it’s presumptuous. I didn’t want to kiss him on our first date because I knew as soon as our lips met, it would be all over and we’d wake up in a hotel the next morning. I didn’t leave our first date as much as I fled, trying desperately not to make a fool of myself in a restaurant parking lot.

When his sister asked how our date went, he said, “This one could be trouble.”

Oh, honey, he had no idea.

Saturday dates became weekends spent together, wrapping ourselves around each other, taking long walks and short hikes, sitting together watching the stars wheel overhead, telling stories of constellations and history.

Weeks have become months, hours spent on the phone every night as we’re separated by time and distance and obligations. We have yet to run out of things to talk about. I know the contours of his soul as I do my own, as he has come to know mine.

I am more in love than I ever have been before, and given my history, that’s saying something.

This is it. We have found our home.

Interlude #11

Dustin~

This is not goodbye.

How could it be, ever? You live on: fueling my heart, shining my eyes, whispering in my head and warming my soul. There is no longer any separation between us.

Your death still weighs on me, but not as much as it did. For all the mistakes you made, for all your missed opportunities, all your regrets, I have forgiven you. For all the things I should have done, should have said, should have seen, I forgive myself.

I can hear you in my head still, telling me I’m worth it when I wonder that I’m not, telling me I’m not alone when I’m cold in the night, telling me not to be so hard on myself when I make a mistake.

I know you heard the conversation he and I had about whether or not I’m a ‘good’ person, as opposed to a decent one. I could feel your anger at my answer, the one that sold myself short, the one that was too harsh.

You are right. I am a good person, after all. My inherent ability to divorce emotion from a situation makes me think I am harder, am colder, than I really am. You knew better, felt the heat of my heart and the warmth of my soul, felt my fears and my pain. You are the one who taught me to love on that grand scale, who took my scarred and beaten heart and broke it wide open.

I have promised you that I won’t date assholes anymore, the ones who use and abuse. I have promised you to only allow those people into my life who are good to me and for me, who give as much as they take. You taught me that I deserve better, and I will honor your dreams for me. 

Now the time has come to try to sort out how we move on together, as two made one. How to rejoin life, how to love again. How to be brave.

Come, love. The road is clear, the light is green. Let’s go.

Alchemy

Enigma ~ “La Puerta Del Cielo”

I am unfolding, collapsing like a house of cards designed by M. C. Escher, endlessly falling. I stroke the pillow where his head used to lay, whispering. Through a fall of tears like a grey morning’s rain, my lips still shape his name. I listen to the whispers, brush of edge against edge, fingers against fabric, disappearing in a silence that stretches through the horizon, trying to find the we that was in the spaces left between.

Oh, love…oh, my very dear. Baby….

I hear the calls of the night birds, feel the tidal pull of gravity. I am going under, eyes closed, hands open and empty. There is no fight left in me now. I am not giving up, I am just giving in.

Come to me…

I am adrift here, aching but unaware, lost in the reaches of time and hope, traveling the endless spaces left between. My lips make a mantra of his name. I am waiting, calling, conjuring.

There is only you and here…

No end to this, to what we were, what we still are. No beginning. Arcing above and below, filling the night sky, infinite. All my stars fall and collide.

Fill me. Make me whole again…

From behind my eyes, he sees again. My lungs fill with his breath, my heart with his blood. Thrill and pulse, nerves stretching to feel once more. Bones shudder and twist.

Oh ache, oh beautiful…

Love, endless. Seamless. Whole.

Come, love, we were meant to fly.

Cosmic Rewiring

A falling star fell from your heart and landed in my eyes
I screamed aloud as it tore through them, and now it’s left me blind

The stars, the moon, they have all been blown out
You left me in the dark
No dawn, no day, I’m always in this twilight
In the shadow of your heart

And in the dark, I can hear your heartbeat
I tried to find the sound
But then it stopped, and I was in the darkness,
So darkness I became
~ “Cosmic Love” by Florence + The Machine, from “Lungs”

Darkness, like light, like love, has no end.

Grief is an infinite experience; I think I’ve mentioned this before. I was just coming to terms with how much I loved Dustin, just getting a grip on what a soul-expanding experience being in love with him was, and still is. Then, over the course of a night and a detox gone wrong, I lost him and discovered that grief is every bit as soul expanding, and not nearly as nice about it.

The varied facets of pain and anger and all the other weltering emotions are limitless, and the initial planet-busting impact of loss and grief took my spirit and blasted it apart. The spirit that had barely begun to stretch enough to hold that love was forced, too fast, to expand enough to encompass the grief that was the flip side of that love, its cost. My conscious self began to unravel, too much for the mind to take. In a very profound way, I died that morning, too.

The sun came up each morning and poured down fire. It didn’t matter. It burned up the trees and the crops and the grass, too, and it didn’t matter. It dried up the lakes and the rivers, and it didn’t matter. My light had gone out, no sun rising in my eyes, no moon to light the nights in wonder and in joy. I had come undone.

Like any great explosion, each new rupture was preceded by an intense compression. Arms wrapped around the midsection, curled up small or on my knees on the floor, struggling to breathe, I’d struggle to keep my insides from quite literally tearing themselves apart. Muscles moving and locking into place, heart ramming into my ribs, lungs seizing, back spasming, fists knotted, nails digging into palms.

Breathe, dammit. Breathe!

Since the expression of the grief had no other outlet than tears, all that force was driven inward, the bulk of the damage done to consciousness and spirit.

On the surface, of course, I looked like a wounded animal in pain. Inside, I looked like a galaxy torn asunder. Pinpoints of light, love and trust and happiness and hope, scattered thin across a dark and airless sky. But the center had held, that deep mass of love and loss where we had been us.

And it hurt every bit as much as it sounds like it would. It still does.

But for all that, grief is still a valuable lesson and powerful tool for growth. How many of us spend our lives locked up inside our own minds and bodies, never knowing a world beyond our own noses? How many of us live small, and love small, because we’re afraid? Afraid of shame, of being seen as we truly are? Afraid of being left, being alone, of being lied to, of being hurt? How many of us spend our lives scuttling under the useless umbrella of self-protection?

How many of us never learn we are infinite, with endless capacity for love and trust? How many of us never learn how to be brave enough to open ourselves to it, to encompass it?

I am not talking about God and religion. Regular church-goers have been some of the smallest people I’ve ever known, in every sense of the word. Religion has been particularly insidious at instilling a deep sense of shame and fear, and humans have a lamentable tendency to cling to anything that makes them feel superior to someone else. I don’t particularly care how anyone chooses to walk their particular spiritual path, but no one has got it figured out, and no one can claim dominion.

It comes down to surrender, as most acts of great bravery tend to do. To see that endless expanse and to enter it willingly requires sacrifice of both the ego and control, and a distillation of self into something else, something both more concentrated and yet diffuse. It requires seeing yourself as you truly are: not only the good and noble parts, but the ugly parts, the anger and the fear and the pettiness. It requires seeing it, forgiving it, accepting it.

It requires letting yourself off your own hook.

Grief is a particularly violent way to make that transition, but in the stripping away of self and illusions to the bare bones of who I am and was, I found an elasticity of soul that I might not have had otherwise. Our love was and is something extraordinary, but the day-to-day struggles with his addictions and mental illness could very easily have clogged the gears and eroded that capacity for the infinite.

Love and bravery aren’t vows you make one day and that’s it. You have to make them again and again, at every crossroads, at every temptation, at every opportunity to give up.

We were facing a lot of very hard crossroads, but we loved each other and we were willing to work and to try. Until one night he tipped the balance a little too far. He lost his life but gained his rest, and I was left with a staggering emotional price to pay, and pay, and pay.

I guess one way or another I had signed onto a lifetime sentence: love paid for by struggle with mental illness and addiction; or love paid for by astronomical loss. It seems like a pretty raw deal when I put it that way, but I will say this and mean it with every fiber of a being that has stretched to fold stars within:

He was worth it.

nebuleuse-de-la-carene astronoo com

My Old, My Familiar Friend

A clouded dream on an earthly night
Hangs upon the crescent moon
A voiceless song in an ageless light
Sings at the coming dawn
Birds in flight are calling there
Where the heart moves the stones
It’s there that my heart is longing for
All for, for the love of you

And so it’s there my homage due
Clutched by the still of the night
And now I feel, feel you move
And every breath, breath is full
So it’s there my homage due
Clutched by the still of the night
Even the distance feels so near
All for, for the love of you.

~”The Mystic’s Dream,” by Loreena McKennitt,
from The Mask and the Mirror

Grief is a damn slippery process.

I went on my getting-to-know-you thing, and it was pretty much perfect, all things considered. He is no more ready or able to date than I am, and that came as a relief. A built-in safety net. He’s a nice guy, smart as hell, a genuinely decent human being, understanding and mature. All great things. A little too great, maybe.

Breathe, woman, breathe.

I spent tonight’s ride home from work feeling loss curl through me like sharpened smoke, sliding around muscle and bone, circling the heart, burning.

I love you. I always will.

This possibility came up on me fast, and now my unprepared inner landscape is shuffling around to make room for it. Some of the broken edges are still sharp, and the rearrangement cuts. It reawakens the ache made dormant by the demands on my time, and now I have come back for another round of the grieving process, another orbit around the black hole where we used to be us.

I wish I could talk to you, one more time.

So here I am, staring at my bottle of sleepy-time medicine, wondering what’s waiting for me in the dream time. Will he come to tell me it’ll be all right? Will it be another nightmare? Soup’s on, subconscious, what’ll it be?

Moonlit Path, by Elyon Freya, via Deviant Art

‘Moonlit Path’ by Elyon Freya, via Deviant Art

Ascendant

Full MoonWomanRisingFromTheOcean

Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage.
~Lao Tzu

After months of grueling mourning, after months of anger and pain and sadness, after months of struggle and heartbreak and endless loneliness…I cobbled myself together, went back to school, picked up a paintbrush.

After weeks of sleep deprivation and juggling of school and work and assignments and artwork, of nary a moment to myself to just breathe, I slid sideways into Spring Break and inhaled deeply.

And in the midst of all of this, all this fuss and bother and rushing here and there, when I finally came to a moment to breathe, I found a new woman waiting there for me. A bolder, stronger version; broken but whole, the cracks welded together with gold and silver. Still hurting, but my star is rising; I have become ascendant. I am finally rising above Dustin’s loss.

I still miss him, his warmth in the dark. I miss his insights and his sense of humor, his kindness.

I don’t miss his love, because I never lost it. And the strength and courage born of the love we shared has given me everything I needed to not only survive, but relearn how to thrive.

I have opened two online stores recently to sell my artwork, I am doing well in both my classes, I am eating better and losing weight. I found myself taken by surprise when someone asked me for a coffee date. A just-getting-to-know-you, pressure-free thing. And when I didn’t immediately shoot the idea down, I realized that somewhere in all my busyness, I had come a very long way indeed. So I accepted, all bewildered at myself.

I am not to the point where I can deal with things like expectations or hope for more. I am going and I will be open-minded, and those two things are so monumental that they’re more than enough.

This life is enough.