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.

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.

Interlude #10

Dustin~

Oh, baby, here I go again. Nine months gone. I thought it would be better, less painful this time. I should have known better. 

I feel like someone is pulling glass-covered strings out of me, one at a time, a thin slivering pain. I am running out of ways to say I miss you. Still, and always.

I felt so strong today, so alive. My life is moving in the right direction, I am finally happy. I thought of how you loved me, how that set my soul alight. How I glowed with it, how I still do. How I did the same for you.

But such light creates shadows, creates the spaces for the loss to move and breathe and curl. To be reminded, once again, that this is an endless process. Yin and yang, balance. Joy and pain, love and loss. 

There is a part of me that isn’t ready to hope for more than what I have. Six months ago, I couldn’t even imagine being where I am now. Isn’t that enough? When did I become afraid of hope?

The loneliness has come back tonight, as deep as it ever was, swelling like still water suffering dropped stones. It’s been so long since you held me last…since anyone has. 

But I know I have to walk this road alone. No one can do this for me, take this pain and carry it in my stead. I know you would have spared me this if you could have. I know, baby. It’s all right.

Even after all that’s passed, how hard it’s been, it was worth it. You were worth it, forever and always. 

I miss you. I love you. 

The Spectator’s Guide To Grieving

I just had a lively discussion with some people about grieving and some of the awful platitudes we’ve gotten. “Everything happens for a reason” and “It’ll be okay” being the two that seemed to trigger the most scarlet-eyed anger. And that got me thinking, when Dustin died, what did I need and want the most from those around me?

Here’s my list:

  • Say you’re sorry. If you don’t have experience of your own with traumatic loss, stop there.
  • Don’t try to explain it or put it into perspective. That will only come with time, and in the beginning, perspective is the last thing a grieving person is capable of seeing.
  • Don’t tell them their lost loved one is better off now. That is cold damn comfort when your heart’s just been ripped out. Let them come to that conclusion on their own.
  • If you offer help, mean it. Don’t make promises you don’t intend to keep. If you say he or she can call anytime, be prepared for that to mean 3 a.m.
  • Don’t push them to get better faster-it doesn’t work that way.
  • Don’t offer religion unless you’re damn sure that person shares your views.
  • Don’t offer to listen if you’re going to get exhausted by it-certain grieving people need to talk a LOT, and will repeat themselves quite a bit. If that isn’t your thing, don’t offer.
  • Be prepared for the process to take a hell of a lot longer than you think it should.
  • When they get angry (and they will), don’t take it personally. If they need to throw things, hit up Goodwill for some old plates and let them break every damn one.
  • Educate yourself on the grieving process, and how it changes depending on the type of loss and the level of trauma associated with it.
  • Be prepared for the anniversaries (birthdays, date of death, date of burial, installation of the headstone, holidays, marriage/dating anniversaries) to be absolutely awful.
  • Be patient. Let me say that again: Be patient.

It will get better. Eventually. Grief happens on its own timeline, not anyone else’s. Keep in mind that in your zeal to help, you could be causing more harm than good, so try to keep the grief-stricken person first in your thoughts. Sometimes a person may need professional help and you may not know how to broach that subject; I would contact a local grief support group or center to get advice on how to proceed.

*I do not expect this is the end of the list. This was a spur-of-the-moment post, so I will be adding to it as I’ve had time to consider the issue.

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.

 

Walking Wounded

Ghost-like Nebula Revealed by Hubble

Here we are
You’ve moved on
In my heart I know you’re not gone
Gotta find ways to shed this old skin

Where were you, were you in that room?
Were you watching as I wept for you?
Curled up next to your body so still

Wanna let go, don’t wanna lose
Wanna let go, don’t wanna lose
Wanna let go, but I don’t wanna lose
Anymore

~”Let Go” by Hank Dogs

I fake it so well, most of the time. So well, in fact, I occasionally fool myself.

Today was one of the days I didn’t do so well. I was fine while laughing and chatting with others, but a poem written by a friend sent me on a full-body flashback, and I was living it again:

The way your breath stirred the dark…hands stroking, voice holding me up, tethering me to the earth, losing even that last tenuous connection as the world exploded in my head, in my heart, in my soul…

And that was the end of any illusion of calm, any semblance of peace. Need and longing and searing pain traced the length of every nerve as his voice filled my mind…

“We’re going to be old people together, I promise…”

“I don’t know how anyone could mistreat you, Angie, I really don’t…”

“Oh, I love you, I do, never like this, never anyone like you…”

“I didn’t know, oh, didn’t know I could feel this way without being high…”

Oh, gods. In the back of my mind, thudding up from the base of my skull, come the pounding strains of Placebo’s cover of “Running Up That Hill,” burning with all the frozen horror of an empty future; vacant-hearted, hollow-eyed, bargaining with gods who aren’t listening:

Tell me we both matter, don’t we?
You, you and me
You and me won’t be unhappy

And if I only could, I’d make deal with God
And get him to swap our places…

This pain is bottomless.

I pulled myself together for a while. Laughed, chatted, talked. For a while. Then one by one the voices stilled until the only one left was the one in my head. Echoing.

I made dinner. Ate it, standing at the counter. Didn’t taste it.

I could pick up the phone. I could call someone. Save me from myself, from my memories…

But I won’t. Sometimes I just have to be sad. The only way over it is through it, after all. Which is damn cold comfort when I’m looking at a long day tomorrow and a cold bed tonight.

Gold and silver line my heart
But burned into my brain are these stolen images
Stolen images, baby, stolen images
Can you picture it, babe, the life we could have lived?

~”Without You” by Lana Del Rey

I can. All the time. I just can’t picture the life that doesn’t include him. So I go from day to day. I don’t really plan ahead. I’ve made some long range plans for my future as far as education and career goes, but that’s almost it. I start to picture the new cozy apartment, the furniture just so, this color, that fabric. And then, my heart turns to the one who should be there to share it and he vanishes like smoke, sad crooked smile hanging in the air.

Are you proud of me? Are you watching me weep for you? Can you see how I struggle, see what I create in your name, in your honor? Are you finally at peace? Are you waiting for me? Tell me! Something, anything, dammit! Let me know you’re still with me, that you haven’t left me so alone…

It roils and bursts; it’s viscous and thick, this grief. It clings to the soul, coating the bones, freezing the heart into place, leaving it to thump and twist in its new prison of darkness and cooling stone.

:it’snotfairit’snotfairit’snotfairit’snotfair:

And it isn’t. So what? What does that change? A temper tantrum over the unfairness of it all doesn’t bring him back to me. Nothing will bring him back to me. I am serving a life sentence, after all; I knew how this was going to go the moment I knew he was gone. When something blows a hole through a life, it tends to stay open.

I miss talking to him. Miss the sound of his voice, his insights, his warped sense of humor, his open and unabashed expression of feeling, of desire and hope and love. I miss his companionship, the way we fit together.

I’m afraid. Afraid no one will see me the way he did. That no one else will love me the way he did, feel so lucky to even have known me. That no one else will feel that thrill of want and desire that he did for me. The same things I felt for him.

I’m afraid I won’t be able to feel those things for someone else. I just turned 36 and have no desire to date. Sometimes I feel as if my best years have already gotten away from me, that by the time I get my life together and I have the financial security to be equal in a relationship, I’ll be into my 40s and most of my life will be behind me. Sometimes I feel like he was my last shot at lifelong love and true connection.

I know that’s mostly bullshit, but that doesn’t change the way I feel about it.

Seems like some days, not much of anything changes the way I feel. Some days, it seems like this is just the way it’s going to be.

Maybe tomorrow won’t be one of those days.