Looking for Love? Maybe You Need to Change Your Point of View

What you find is up to you

Photo by Samantha Gades on Unsplash

Tucked in the upper right corner of my garage rafters lies a box containing an enormous vase. It has earned that spot because it is simply too large for any indoor closet. Scarlet and urn-shaped (an omen, perhaps?) it was a gift from my late husband on a bygone Valentine’s Day. He promised to fill it with roses each year after that. He made it to three.

Guiding like a beacon, it is the first thing I notice when pulling into my home. Sometimes, all I observe is the tattered, dusty edges of the box — how empty that picture of the crimson glass vessel appears. Most of the time, however, I recognize it as it truly is: A loving cup brimming with memories. It all depends on my point of view.


Now here I am, a dozen Valentines since my husband’s passing, without a holiday mandated significant other. Lavish bouquets will not be exhibited on my Facebook feed. No one is sending me sweet love notes this year.

But here’s the kicker — I am teeming with loves just as significant, if not more so, than the adoration of a spouse or partner. And, I bet, my fellow non-plus-oners, you are, too. You just have to recognize them and, most importantly, resolve to take heed of their beauty.

Only in the eyes of love can you find infinity
-Sorin Cerin

The Greeks defined eight types of love. Why eight? I’d like to think it’s because eight is the number of infinity. Universal love can’t be comprehended in a single construct.

My favorite synopsis of this Grecian octet is a blog post on the FTD website. I know, cheesy, but good content is good content. Plus, this is a Valentine’s piece, so what the heck.

Here they are, with a little commentary thrown in:

  • Philia: Brotherly Love. Kindred Spirits. The kind of person who understands that pineapple has no business being anywhere near a pizza, but completely understands why ketchup on tacos is the bomb.
  • Pragma: Enduring, mature love. A cultivated, shared history that has withstood the tests of time.
  • Storge: Natural, instinctual love. The instant love a parent has for their child or the immediate affection felt between childhood friends. BFs forever and all that.
  • Eros: Romantic, physical love. Hot, sultry hormones pulsating. Bounding with lustful energy. Soft caresses leading to wild abandon. Whew! Ok, I digress… Get a grip woman!
  • Ludos: Playful, flirty love. Infatuation. Frisky behavior that makes everyone else in the room gag just a bit.
  • Mania: Obsessive love. Jealous and possessive. Sheer madness.
  • Philautia: Self-compassion. Revering, accepting, and honoring yourself. Choosing love that builds you up.
  • Agape: Selfless love. Putting others above yourself. Recognizing and respecting the humanity in all of us. Sadly, there hasn’t been much of this going around as of late.

“To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow.”
-Audrey Hepburn

The Greeks never intended for these loves to be mutually exclusive. Like features in a luxurious landscape, they are to be planted together; complementing and highlighting what is sown alongside.

Love is never monochromatic. It can be dappled with a few complementary hues or bursting with psychedelic shades. Your preferences, your environment, help to select the flora.

So Cupid be damned! This Valentine’s I am going to shift my focus to the loves that presently adorn my life, instead of longing for those of seasons past. Like any landscape artist, I am working with the abundance of botanicals presented to me. Hopefully, you find it as breathtaking as I do.

But first, the fertilizer

Ever since my husband’s original cancer diagnosis (on the eve of 9/11 — another omen), one could say my life has been a reoccurring shit show. An endless carnival of freak occurrences and rarities that would amaze even Ripley.

Contrary to the old adage, my shit does stink. Big chunks of putrid stank bobbing in a viscous cesspool. That aroma, believe it or not, is peculiarly intoxicating and addictive. The compulsion to anoint oneself with sorrow’s perfume overwhelming.

But, to my surprise, it is within these piles that my loves have sprouted. Instead of prompting repulsion, these predicaments have fertilized my blessings. They laid the groundwork for my bountiful garden.

Mia famiglia: Storge-Agape-Philia

I used to take for granted my strong, extended family. I’m sure it’s partly due to my Italian heritage, but, to me, it was a given that everyone had one. Only recently, have I recognized my privilege.

My family is voracious in their appetite to make it all better and I admit, I lap up every morsel of their compassion. There is my mother, who bursts in with a month’s worth of homemade ragu and biscotti; her arms laden with bags of herbals and vitamins. Whether the ailment is physical or emotional, she has a supplement for it.

Her maternal might set to 11, my mother will nestle in for days or sometimes weeks to tend to her firstborn. Three square meals a day (always organic) her manna from heaven.

My father, in turn, will drive to the ends of the earth — and Costco — to gather provisions. Tucked within his bags of supplies will invariably be a surprise luxury item (jumbo shrimp, baby lamb chops, juicy rib-eyes) that he and I both adore. It’s a wink and a silent, “I’ve got you covered, honey,” that rings loud and clear in my heart.

Each of my siblings is steadfast as a succulent. A variegated array of devotion, their loyalty never waivers.

Then there is my cousin, who has made it his mission to make me feel attractive even though lately I feel about as appealing as a corpse lily. I know he is at the ready to beat down any dude he feels has done me wrong.

Treasured old friends: Philia-Pragma-Storge

Fortune smiled upon me when it granted me a fellowship of life-long friends. Most budded in elementary school with one germinating in our infancy. Beloved companions for 50 years, they are my roots. We have grown, matured, and endured alongside each other like a redwood forest.

We have experienced the trials and joys of all that life has to offer from youthful shenanigans to the frolics of middle age. Boyfriends, careers, marriages, and births have been our summer solstice. The biting frost of illness and death’s devastation our frigid winters. We have a symbiotic history that grounds and nourishes us. They know and cherish me to my core.

The Posse: Philia-Philautia-Agape

My posse, along with their spouses and children, is my trellis — my backbone. Interwoven with strength and radiance, this sisterhood+ rallies like a fire brigade as soon as a distress call pings our group text. Ever ready for the rescue, they’ve arrived within minutes whenever I needed a lift to an appointment, a toilet unclogged, or gallons of libations to drown my sorrows.

These families have cheered on my children, coaching and stepping in as surrogate parents when my capacity was waning. Even more glorious, they have always included me in their social gatherings. I’m not weeded out as the solo attendee or tolerated as the pity invite. Within this lattice, I am welcomed.

The greenery

No landscape is complete without a bit of foliage providing an anchor or a touch of flourish. There is the former coworker who has become a dear companion and priceless dispenser of wisdom, the countless clients who unknowingly offered inspiration when I was desperate for validation, and, of course, my two sons who supply me with abounding purpose, pride, and hope.

“There are always flowers for those who want to see them.” –Henri Matisse

I’ll admit, I still pine for a season of roses. It’s easier to be content with discontent. When the next storm arrives, I have no doubt I’ll find myself, once again, slathering sadness like a warm blanket.

But when that happens, I am equally assured that one of my loves will sprout anew and tenderly wipe the tears from my eyes. My focus cleared, I’ll soon notice the grandeur blossoming around me.

So what is blooming in your garden? Which of the eight loves decorate your landscape? Are you dazzled by their brilliance? Or are you struggling to see splendor amidst some desolation? Are you basking in a verdant meadow or shriveling in a barren desert?

The view is up to you.


Orginally featured in P.S. I Love You @ Medium.com

After the Storm

A poem of survival

Photo by CHUTTERSNAP on Unsplash

Thunder heralds
the tempest’s arrival
There is no eluding
the impending turmoil

Lightning shots snap
Glaring x-rays blaze
illuminating the scourges
of storms gone by

Currents caught in a perpetual loop
Static sparks sizzle and singe
The needling cocoon
your only shelter

Bellowing winds howl
Bringing you to your knees
Cat o’ nine tails gusts
flail at your sins

Wildly biting
Frost relentlessly nips
Staccato hail pelts
hammer your heart

With cold, callous blood
the icy assault persists
numbing you to the bone
begetting amnesia

Flashbacks surge
Contentment is forgotten
Comfort hushed
to nebulous whispers


Grifters of tranquility
tempests are transient
Abandoning their onslaught
once depleted

Fragile and fatigued
Will your wounds take root?
Lesions hemorrhage and
nourish stagnation?

Or will your scars stoke resilience?
Cultivate your resolve?
Deem yourself worthy
To endure
To survive


Drained of their tears
Their grey weight dispersed
Clouds adorn the indigo sky

Alabaster luster glistens
the promise of hope


Previously published in Being Known @Medium.com

Damming Love

Photo by Garon Piceli from Pexels

We shared a lifetime
a lifetime ago

Flawed, yet unbroken
Beautifully blemished
Burnished to a luster
reflecting devotion

Eager archaeologists
we examined tenderly
Ardently unearthing
our unique treasures

Intimately excavating
Discovering
Learning
until love was clairvoyant

We knew Us
by heart

Youthful — Innocent
We had commenced
only to be aged
beyond our years

Invaded — Tormented
Cancer corrupted
Our perfect union
prematurely extinct

Nearly a decade required
to cast aside mourning
Shed my shroud
Discard my armor

Unaware of my naiveté
I auctioned my affections
Inept as an ingenue
Headed for slaughter

At first, I sought
lightening in a bottle
but flashy liaisons
promptly implode

Still desperately seeking
I mistook
desire for romance
Fleeting attention
for adoration

I settled for inadequacy
Forged perfection
Alluring courtships
proved to be counterfeit

Am I greedy?
A relationship glutton
trying to echo
our marital harmony?

Or am I an addict?
Craving the fix
of holding someone dear?

Earnestly yearning
to be cherished once more

Now a wary skeptic
disquiet compels retreat
to lick my wounds
Safeguard my heart

But my soul pours out
The floodgates have opened
How does one dam (damn?)
the desire to love?


Originally published in P.S. I Love You @Medium.com

Shipwrecked

A sequel to Into the Deep

Photo by Biorock Indonesia on Unsplash

Tears welling in azure eyes
you recited your amorous soliloquy
I bathed in the water of your emotion
permitted myself to rest
to be soothed

At long last
be content

You proclaimed my imperfections endearing
My scars — badges of honor
You aspired to be my person
To travel — to battle — alongside

But when the veil of infatuation lifted
and love’s bounty could truly be discovered
You cowered — deserted
too feeble to exert the effort

Starstruck by serendipity
I had envisioned the beauty in our future
Surmounting struggles
a path to strengthen our union

Did you not trust our relationship to withstand?
Or did you simply become apathetic?
At what point did admiration fall to disregard?

I showered you with tokens of affection
My first
now my last
poetic declaration

You sang my praises
Lulled me with sweet nothings
And I
the enchanted fool
was enthralled by your music

Captivated by your siren’s song
I lowered my shields
Allowed you to see the wounds
residing in my soul’s abyss
immersed for a decade
concealed from view
by warrior’s armor

When did our treasure begin to tarnish?
Why carelessly lay waste my self-respect?
Or are you oblivious to your actions’ aftermath?

Masquerading as my beloved
you celebrated with my family
Camouflaging your discontent
with flattery and lies

Buoyed by false affirmation
I sailed hope’s waters
Swept up on a promise
A doomed flight of fancy

Was I always your dirty little secret?
You couldn’t admit
even to yourself?

Once again battered and broken
submerged by my own tears
The suffocating weight plummets me
shipwrecked
into the deep


Originally published in P.S. I Love You @Medium.com

How Do You Confront an Identity Crisis During a Pandemic?

2020 has prompted me to question everything.

Image by klimkin from Pixabay

No death, no doom, no anguish can arouse the surpassing despair which flows from a loss of identity.
― H.P. Lovecraft

To my family, friends, and acquaintances: please read the following at face value. It is not a cry for help, a play for sympathy, or a prompt to initiate bringing me back into the fold. It simply is a reflection upon the uncertainties I, along with many others, are feeling at this time.

Truth be told, I have been feeling tenuous for a while now. Many of the ideologies I have woven into my identity have become threadbare. The events of 2020 have prompted me to take stock of my mental wardrobe: Are my convictions valuable or vintage? Can they continue to spark joy or do they provoke dismay? Do they fit me any more?

The modern definition of identity was proposed by Erik Erikson as his fifth stage of psychosocial development. While our primary personality is established during adolescence, he postulated that our sense of self develops throughout our entire lifespan. Our “ego identity,” according to Erikson, is constantly being shaped by our interactions and experiences with others. A challenge to your ego identity can occur at any time, most likely when one experiences a major life stressor such as losing a loved one, loss of employment, confronting health issues, or experiencing a traumatic event such as — I don’t know — a global pandemic.

Developmental psychologist James Marcia further elaborated on Erikson’s theory. He proposed identity is based on the exploration of a variety of life domains including intimate relationships, religion, politics, and occupation. The status of your identity is either in crisis — “a time of upheaval where old values or choices are being reexamined” — or committed to a role within these domains.

Fear of commitment

Welcome to my 2020. Or should I say, 5150? Except my current detention is looking more like 72 weeks instead of hours — perhaps even longer.

Full disclosure: This is not my first identity crisis rodeo. That occurred a dozen years ago when I became a widow. I envision identity like a lasso — twisted of multiple strands and used to secure yourself to someone or some ideal. When I lost my role as a wife, I clung to the other fibers of my life for strength. I was able to keep the rope somewhat intact until recent events have caused it to further unravel.

The first thread to break loose was with my church. Don’t misunderstand me, my core faith is as strong as ever, if not stronger. It’s just the man-made constructs that have disappointed me. When I was initially widowed, there were the standard outpourings of support and they were much appreciated. But once the dust settled, things took a turn. Slowly, steadily, (and I’m sure unintentionally) I was isolated. No longer included in couples’ events, I was relegated to coffee meetups and the occasional ladies’ lunch. Dinner party invites became nonexistent. I looked into the widows’ support group, but at 44, I was significantly younger than the rest of the members. There was no place I felt I belonged — or noticed for that matter. I would sit in the pew by myself, missing my husband more than ever. Feeling lonelier each time, I eventually stopped attending.

The next thread tattered by disillusion was my political affiliation. A lifelong Republican and Californian, I will never forget the feeling of being 18, newly registered, and attending a local Ronald Reagan reelection rally. I was thrilled to see a sitting president in person and proud to cast my first presidential vote for a man I felt possessed honor and character.

I wish I could generate anywhere near the same feeling of admiration for our current candidate. When did buddying up with our adversaries become a GOP construct? Putting policies aside, I wish my president to be a person of integrity. I continued to be baffled by how many Christian leaders (and friends) can support him as a man of God. They somehow excuse or refuse to acknowledge his consistent name-calling and slander of opponents, mocking of the disabled and women, and utter lack of humility. This list can go on and on, but suffice it to say, I feel like I’m in an alternate universe where right is wrong and up is down.

So now I’m left, or rather, was left, with my occupation. I had finally settled into my dream career: travel event planning. COVID-19 not only unraveled that thread, it chopped it with an ax and seared the ends. I’m a 56-year-old woman with a convoluted resume looking to reinvent my career yet again. California has more than 2.5 million unemployed workers. How do you like those odds?

Compounding matters, I suffer from an autoimmune disorder that has flared and left me at limited capacity these past few months. I’m not sure if it’s safe for me to return to work, let alone be physically up for it. As an added bonus, my current medication has caused me to gain 20 pounds and completely altered my appearance. Not only do I not feel like myself, but I don’t even recognize the woman in the mirror.

Temporary Restraining Order or Stay of Execution?

Marcia would most likely conclude I am residing in the moratorium identity status: in the midst of a crisis but seeking alternative identities. Working through the explorations leads to a commitment or “identity achievement.” Major life events — such as the death of a spouse — can create instability which triggers a MAMA cycle: moratorium-achievement-moratorium-achievement. I went through such cycles when I lost my husband, working through the identities of the widow, single mother, and middle-aged single woman.

Healthy adults will go through many MAMA cycles in their lifetime. It’s the natural progression of aging and growth. Some may term these events as reaching a “new normal” or acceptance of whatever stressor has been thrown in their way. Here’s the thing: most will encounter one upheaval at a time. What’s one to do, as in my case (and I’m sure many others) when you doubt multiple affiliations (religion, politics) and experience more than one loss (occupation, health) simultaneously? When a global crisis has disrupted society so much you’re constantly on guard, wondering what tomorrow’s shit show will be.

Do we hide, locking the world away? Do we appeal to God or fate to give us more time to sort this all out and/or complete our penance? Is there a remedy for this dilemma? Or vaccine to prevent it from happening again?

At the end of my rope, but not alone

I may be feeling unstable, but I’m not the only one. 2020 has taken its toll on everyone. A recent government survey reported 41% of U.S. respondents felt symptoms of anxiety and depression, compared to just 11% in 2019. As the year drags on, uncertainty continues to litter our collective psyche. We try to discard it, but our dumpsters are overflowing.

In a Popular Science article discussing mental health and the pandemic, Dr. Mary Alvord, a psychologist in Rockville, Maryland, states:

Humans look to have a known universe. That is how we keep ourselves safe,” he says. “It’s frightening to feel out of control. Sadness, hopelessness, fear — those will wear you down.

I honestly don’t know if these statistics make me feel better or worse.

What I do know is a few strands of my rope have remained intact and will be no matter what my revised identity turns out to be: My two sons, who not only support but motivate me to keep it together. My parents and siblings, who continually encourage and assist in any way they can. And my posse — my closest friends — who are always available to provide a listening ear, words of wisdom, and a glass(who am I kidding — a bottle) of wine when needed. These are my lifelines.

Eventually, with some introspection, exploration, and a little luck, I’ll channel my inner Wonder Woman and reconstruct the lasso of my truth. Surprisingly, I have found a gentleman who doesn’t view me as frayed and fragile, but as a woman of substance and strength. He wants to join me on the journey to discover a more suitable church to grow our faith. From now on, I’ll let my conscience — not my political party — be my guide when voting. As for health and occupation, I will keep praying and hoping that good news is just around the corner.

It has to be, doesn’t it?

Hope’s Revival

Sadness slithers within your psychehissing gossip of false consolationsWith cynical sympathy, he whispers persuasionspromising solace in isolation Lulled by the illusion of tranquilityIt’s easy to trust the ease of his eulogynestle into his assurance of serenityand acquiesce to dismay But, there is no peace in his offeringHe leads astray — betraysthose who fall prey to … Continue reading Hope’s Revival

Tribulation

Tormented by prose,
there is no repose until composed
Stowaway brainchildren shoplifting daydreams
pilfering notions and whims
Tinkering with mental trinkets to keep themselves amused

Looking for Love? Maybe You Need to Change Your Point of View

Tucked in the upper right corner of my garage rafters lies a box containing an enormous vase. It has earned that spot because it is simply too large for any indoor closet. Scarlet and urn-shaped (an omen, perhaps?) it was a gift from my late husband on a bygone Valentine’s Day. He promised to fill it with roses each year after that. He made it to three.

From Dread to Hope: Making Peace With Father’s Day

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Photo by Mockaroon on Unsplash a caption

As a Widowed Mother, the Day Kinda Sucked

When you’re newly widowed, family celebrations often trigger waves of grief-laden anxiety. Eventually, you progress to tolerance. At some point, you’re able to rediscover the joy in such occasions. But for the widow and a mother  -  for me  -  the third Sunday in June was an entirely different ballgame. Father’s Day took my sons’ loss and ruthlessly thrust it into the limelight. Worst of all, there was little, if anything, I could do about it.

Not that I didn’t make an effort. I spent countless hours trying to fill the void created by their father’s death. But my attempts were largely in vain. My persistence was futile. I simply didn’t have the tools. I wasn’t him. It was like plugging a deep chasm with a shallow cork. Sure, it may have sealed it for a moment, but it was always an imperfect fit. It settled and slipped, leaving gaps and exposing cavities.

I blame my late husband.
He didn’t make it easy - not by a long shot.

My husband, Matt, was meant to be a father. It was an integral part of his soul and, quite honestly, one of the reasons I married him. From the get-go, he was intricately involved in our boys’ upbringing. When they were infants, he requested to take the midnight feeding so he could have some bonding time (and I could get some extra sleep.) He coached every sport they participated in from the age of three. On Father’s Day, he bought them presents.

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Typical Father’s Day Haul

When Matt realized time with his boys was not to be a marathon but a sprint, he strove to make each step count. He aspired to impart a lifetime’s worth of mentoring as swiftly as possible. Initiating what he dubbed “Daddy Breakfasts,” just the three of them would go out about once a month. The date wasn’t announced ahead of time; it was always spur of the moment. I was invited, but invariably declined. (What mother of two young boys would pass up a quiet morning all to herself?) During the meal, they would talk about whatever was on their minds. It was a safe zone where nothing was off-limits. Their father’s insight seasoned the conversation and his compassion was the syrup on top. What they discussed was never disclosed to me, but they always brought me back a treat.

Leukemia may have stripped away Matt’s vitality, but it never robbed him of his spirit. He spent every hour of his last seven years in some degree of pain, yet each morning he would wake thankful to have “another day above ground.” Our sons were ages six and eight when he received his initial diagnosis. My greatest heartache is that they have few recollections of him well. Doctors’ appointments, treatments, and fatigue governed our daily agendas. They don’t remember life without these overbearing dictators. But even as cancer therapies and their side effects corroded his physique, his exuberance for life - for us - remained and flourished.

After Matt was gone, I daydreamed that some man or men would come alongside my sons to mentor them. Like a beloved Lifetime movie, a gentleman - perhaps an uncle, neighbor, teacher, or coach - would recognize the “missing piece” in their life and do his best to compensate. Whatever crisis that might be looming would be adverted, their souls would be soothed and the credits would roll. In reality, a few men made attempts, but only for a short time. These were temporary positions. No one developed into a lifelong father-figure for either one of them. I never was a fan of tear-jerkers anyway.

We muddled through the first Father’s Days without Matt as best we could. At first, I thought about purchasing presents for my sons, but it felt off  -  like I’d be adding fuel to their continual smolder of loss. I rejected the common single mother’s mantra of being both a father and a mother. They had a father  –  a damn good one  -  I could never take his place.

Nothing is holier, nothing is more exemplary than a beautiful, strong tree. When a tree is cut down and reveals its naked death-wound to the sun, one can read its whole history in the luminous, inscribed disk of its trunk: in the rings of its years, its scars, all the struggle, all the suffering, all the sickness, all the happiness and prosperity stand truly written… Herman Hesse

It’s been over a decade of fatherless Father’s Days. The wounds of mourning have been assimilated into our history. Like tree trunks integrating the scars of fire, we have endured. The rings of struggle bear witness to our survival, rather than constricting our growth. We have matured and become resilient. My boys are adults. It is no longer up to me to tend to their grief.

The festivities of the holiday that once seared and stung now invoke comforting remembrances of a fatherhood well lived. Memories have ceased highlighting his absence, but serve as guideposts for our sons to become men of character. Perhaps, God willing, continue the legacy of exceptional parenting. It’s time to delight in Father’s Day once again.


This post previously published on Illumination | @Medium

The Worst Gets Better: A 30th Anniversary Love Letter to My Dead Husband

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May 5, 1990

It’s Cinco de Mayo, 2020. Five years since I wrote my first letter to you. Thirty years since our wedding day. Eleven and a half years since I lost you.

 

So much has transpired since those monumental dates in 1990, 2008. I am no longer the girl you married, nor the same woman you left behind. I wonder if you would even recognize me. Half a generation has passed. Very little in the world appears the same.

 

Your parents have both made their pilgrimage back to you. I wish I could have witnessed those reunions. The void that shadowed them after you left spilling over with joy. The pride in seeing their only son bursting in celestial technicolor.

 

Our two teenage boys have become adults. Complete opposites in looks, personality, and temperament. Yet, each one is a perfect reflection of you. My DNA fills in gaps here and there. You coached them on how to be men. They are your living history.

 

No more talk of darkness
Forget these wide-eyed fears*

Although we knew your time with us would be abbreviated, we were still caught off guard. Ill-equipped for the abruptness and finality of it all. It took all three of us some time to regain our bearings, reset our compasses. Each of us veered off course, sometimes plunging to the depths of despair. Thankfully, our squalls and tempests didn’t occur simultaneously. The other two were able to shore up the one faltering   – holding the tethers tight until we could stand on our own feet again. Still, it took nearly a decade for our quartet minus one to complete the journey.

 

I’ve long since sold the house. Most people nodded in approval. “Too many memories,” is what I’m sure they supposed. But they would have been wrong in that assumption. It was our house, but our foundation was in us. You taught me that. Counseled me to view our abode as an asset, not a mausoleum. When it became too monumental to manage, we moved on  – the memoir of our life together tenderly stored in our hearts.

 

When seeking our next home, I set my heart on an area that common sense  –  and my realtor  –  told me was out of budget. I was determined not to compromise, somehow secure in the conviction that I had located my new neighborhood. Your years of faith in me had instilled a confidence just beginning to bloom. My perseverance was rewarded, the market took a dip, and I found a lovely townhome. I knew you would have commended my triumph.

 

You’d appreciate where we settled. Compact and cozy, yet not too confining. No cumbersome yard to tend to  –  that was always your domain, but a small patio shaded by magnolias and adorned by a few low-maintenance flowers. I do miss our rose garden  –  our quests to discover uncommon varietals that caught our fancy. “No humdrum track home shrubs for us,” was our landscaping motto.

 

It was more than a relocation. It was the beginning of a rebirth  –  a life conducted by a soloist, no longer a duet. Downsizing was cathartic. I took very few furnishings with me. Only those cherished deeply transplanted to the new home: The photo albums you meticulously curated. The bedroom furniture you said we couldn’t afford  –  until I negotiated a deal too good to let pass. (My refusal to pay retail for anything was one of the traits you found most endearing.) Almost everything else was sold to finance the move, except for a trio of toolboxes. Each filled with implements and gizmos carefully selected from your considerable collection – one crimson case for each of us  –  to help us tend to our domicile in your absence.

 

Promise me that all you say is true*

As much as I protested during our wee hour “what if” conversations, you were correct in asserting the benefits of companionship – of reopening my heart to love. I was in danger of becoming too comfortable in the inertia of loneliness. So, I started dating. My first few experiences were like the spits and spats of an old jalopy restarting after a decade in storage: cobwebs clogging the valves, a couple backfires, and the groanings of a “mature” engine resisting movement.

 

It took me more time than most to regain my momentum, but I did end up having my first real boyfriend since you at sixteen. He was a good man. He honored my parents, our boys, even you. He would light up at my smile, but it began to flicker. We were mismatched puzzle pieces trying desperately to force the connection – only able to bend so far before the relationship snapped apart.

 

All I want is freedom
A world with no more night*

Next year, the scales will tip. I will have more years of my life spent without you than with you by my side. I can feel them teetering. At times I feel quite precarious, unbalanced. More often, however, I feel the rush of anticipation. Looking ahead with hope instead of dread. I used to feel unprepared about what is to come. Perhaps, I am ready now.

 

Happy Anniversary!

Loving you always, 

Lisa

 


 

 

*All I Ask of You – Andrew Lloyd Webber
Sung at our wedding. May 5, 1990


This post previously published at Hello Love | The Good Men Project | @Medium

Breaking up During a Pandemic

How wine, chocolate, Fritos and the tenacity of good friend can still comfort a broken heart.

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Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash a caption

 

The text went out to the posse at 2:23 pm:

So…
Today sucks
We just broke up 😦

 

Responses from the rest of our sextet came almost immediately:

OMG Noooo!
Wait, what?
What happened?
I’m so sorry!

This was out the blue for them. Not entirely unexpected on my part.

Consolation calls came next. My attorney friend had the swiftest speed dial. Swamped with work — her job might kill her before the viral load ever reaches her house — she made the time for a consoling chat. The first, “Take care. I love you, my friend,” of the day.

Then Karen called. “Screw the quarantine!” she proclaimed. “Meet me on your patio in 20 minutes. I’m bringing supplies.” I knew alcohol and junk food were en route.

Without delay, I prepared for our safely distanced playdate. Chairs were positioned six feet apart. (Yes, I measured — fearful that my tears would cause me to under calculate the state-mandated range.) Side tables stacked with paper plates, napkins, disinfectant wipes, and a vitally important wine glass were placed by each. I unlocked the gate and impatiently waited.

Karen is a former gymnast — current personal trainer to an elite LA clientele. She’s Mighty Mouse in both stature and personality. “Here she comes to save the day!” echoed in my head as I anticipated her arrival. A huge plant with lavender spires and bronzed, spring-loaded legs soon bounded around the corner. Karen placed the lumbering foliage on my garden table and her sunny face was revealed. “I’ve got no idea what the hell this is, but it looked cheery,” she explained. “Sit tight. I’ll be back with the rest.”

Bags and bags of provisions were carted in: Prosecco, Fritos, Cheetos, gummy bears, red wine, chocolates and a slab of cake slathered in fudge. A perfect smorgasbord for a dejected spirit. We started with the sparkling wine. I threw in some fresh orange juice to “keep things healthy.” The salty snacks were our main course. We determined the wine and chocolate should be reserved for dessert.

My sorrows spilled out as the libations and carbs flowed in. We went over the particulars of the breakup; surveyed the peaks and valleys of my year-long relationship. I catalogued his shortcomings and acknowledged mine. Karen listened as I reminisced over the days of splendor, contemplating if settling was better than life without a plus one. She commiserated over each detail, seasoning my emotional stew with alternating “That bastard!” and “He treated you well.”

I sniffled and cried. Got indignant and fumed. Laughed at both his expense and mine. The Prosecco was soon depleted. The vino was uncorked.

We dove into the final course of our therapeutic feast. Gooey frosting was the icing on the cake for our forlorn conclusion: Imperfect love can’t last forever.

As she began to leave, Karen lamented she couldn’t reach out and hug me. She didn’t comprehend the potency of her visit. Effervescent bubbles were the tender kisses of friendship. Decadent chocolate was the embrace that soothed my broken heart. She braved a pandemic to let me know I was going to be ok — to remind me I was still loved.

Dazed and Confused: Enduring an Emotional Concussion

Grief by Sarah Gath

A little while back I was having a heart-to-heart with a close friend.  Within a period of six months, he had lost both his stepfather and his mother. Dealing with his grief was becoming increasingly difficult. “It’s like I’m in a constant haze,” he explained. “I can’t seem to comprehend or complete the most basic of tasks.” “Makes perfect sense to me,” I replied. “You’ve been emotionally concussed.”

As a dedicated football mom, I am quite familiar with the physical ramifications of a brain bouncing inside a skull like a pinball. For four years, I ran the high school sidelines. I knew the signs of a concussion and subsequent protocol. It was my task to make the calls to 911 and/or an unsuspecting parents more times than I would have preferred. There were the instances when the brightest kids on the team had no idea what day it was. Sometimes, the athlete would drift in and out of consciousness, complaining of an intense headache when he was briefly coherent. Then there was the kid who acting as if he was happy drunk. We needed to assign him a babysitter to keep him from frolicking back onto the field.

When my own son had his first concussion, I witnessed the day-in and day-outs of such an injury. A designated “math kid,” he couldn’t add 2+2 for nearly three weeks.

The NFL, FIFA, International Olympic Committee, and other sports organizations look for numerous symptoms when assessing a possible concussion. Besides a persistent headache, these include:

  • Feeling slowed down
  • Nausea / vomiting
  • Sleep difficulties
  • Confusion
  • Fatigue / low energy
  • Sadness
  • Nervous or anxious
  • Feeling “in a fog”
  • Feeling more emotional
  • Difficulty remembering and/or concentrating
  • Irritability

Due to the recent outcries (and lawsuits) over the long-term damage of repeated concussions, both the NCAA and NFL have revised their guidelines regarding possible brain injuries suffered either during practice or competition. With the general medical consensus being that the more severe damage occurs when an athlete returns to play too soon (before the brain has had adequate time to heal) many injured professional and collegiate athletes are now mandated to refrain from competition until he or she has demonstrated satisfactory cognitive function. A secondary concussion suffered by an athlete who resumed competition too early can result in catastrophic brain injury.

Putting aside the debate on whether or not the sports community is doing too little too late to prevent brain injuries – what are the correlations between concussions and emotional trauma? Or overwhelming grief? In my own personal experience, and in the lives of those whom I’ve consulted on the matter – plenty.

Photo by Kevin Dooley-Originally in Color

Photo by Kevin Dooley-Originally in Color

Some say I’ve had more to “deal with” in my life that most. I might take issue with that conclusion, but I can’t dispute the facts: My son was diagnosed with type-1 diabetes at age 2 and a half. He was in and out of the hospital for nearly a month. My father-in-law was stricken by colon cancer and was forced to go on dialysis due to a tainted batch of chemotherapy. My husband donated one of his kidneys to save his father’s life. Some years later, my husband was diagnosed with leukemia, underwent a stem cell transplant, almost lost his eyesight, and eventually went into cardiac arrest and died a few years later. Personally, I have been affected by debilitating endometriosis, infertility issues, rheumatoid arthritis, and breast cancer to name a few. I guess my plate has been full for quite a while.

In many of these instances and others, my emotional circuitry was fried. Most of the time, when I needed to function despite of my circumstances; any and all sentiment was suppressed. I went numb. Other times, I sparked like an overloaded transformer, singeing those closest to me with blistering words and scalding outbursts. With my sideline sports history, you think I would have recognized the signs of something a little more serious than “feeling down” or being “overly sensitive.”

It’s been said that emotional trauma is stress run amuck. According to the American Psychological Association and the National Center for P.T.S.D., the symptoms of emotional trauma include:

  • Detachment
  • Sleep difficulties
  • Fatigue / low energy
  • Extreme sadness
  • Anxiety
  • Feeling “in a fog”
  • Feeling out of control
  • Having trouble concentrating or making decisions
  • Loss of intimacy
  • Eating disturbances
  • Memory lapses
  • Irritability
  • Feeling distracted

When you compare the symptoms of emotional trauma to those of a brain injury, they are almost identical.
Hence – emotionally concussed.

While scientists continue to debate the sequence of physiological events that produce emotion, the central nervous system is still considered to be the mastermind behind whatever we are feeling on any given day. When your CPU (your brain) has been strained to the upper reaches of its capacity, there are bound to be ramifications; much like the recently-documented cases of broken-heart syndrome, where excess amounts of stress hormones damage the heart. If the traumatic events happen in succession, the damage can be devastating.

Severe emotional distress can make you feel like you’ve been hit upside the head with a 2×4. Stunned and dazed for a moment, it might take you a moment to regain your bearings. If you are stuck repeatedly, or if the blow hits you just right, that “moment” can take days, months, or years.

Cool Texture by Ryan Houston

Cool Texture by Ryan Houston

Sports enthusiasts and ER personnel are frequent users of instant ice packs. These portable plastic packets are filled with a powdered chemical. Inside that is another pouch filled with a liquid chemical or water. When you squeeze and/or shake the packet, the inside pouch pops and the two chemicals react. As you are holding it, you can feel the reaction progress through the packet as it slowly turns completely cold.

Your brain can act the same way under extreme stress. Too much and Kapow!, your inner composure is burst, oozing into your surrounding grey matter. Soon, your synapses are cooled and your temperament is frozen into a mechanical and barely functioning tranquility. Your cognizance is in “Safe” mode.

As with an athlete, those who grieve run the risk of returning to life’s playing field too soon. Jobs, family, and friends may expect you to bounce back faster than you are ready. You, yourself, might be overly ambitious and presume you are prepared to get back in the game when you are far from it. Resuming strenuous, or even normal, activity before you are recuperated can be highly detrimental.

There is no pharmaceutical quick fix for a concussion — or grief. In reality, giving a brain injury patient certain analgesics can cause more harm than good. Aspirin or ibuprofen can thin the blood and exacerbate a brain bleed.  The best prescription is physical rest, mental relaxation, and time. Unfortunately, in the era of instant gratification, we are loathe to allot ourselves suitable amounts of any of them.

When my husband passed away, I was offered numerous agents to help me “cope:” one pill to help me sleep, another to boost my spirits, still another to help me get through the day. I declined them all.  I was wary of becoming dependent on any type of mood enhancer. More importantly, I didn’t want any agent to either dilute or dull the experienced trauma. To me, doing so would only delay the inevitable. I needed to experience the rawness – the full brunt of anguish – in order to get through it.

This is not to say that I always followed my own “sage advice”—far from it. I suppressed a lot of the grieving process, telling myself there were things that needed to get done, kids to take care of, other family and friends who needed to witness my composure so they could get on with their own lives. In my warped opinion, time was too precious and not worth the expense.

It's time to relax and unwind: Vinoth Chandar

It’s time to relax and unwind: Vinoth Chandar

Recently, I have had to go on short-term disability due to a persistent illness. I have to wonder: Is my body finally saying enough is enough and forcing me to slow down? Have I ever taken the time or done the work to truly rehabilitate? In the past few months, I have been able to experience quiet and search my soul, expand my creative writing, and enjoy more time with immediate and extended family.

If I had continued to be deemed physically fit, would I ever be emotionally well?

I am unsure if Emotional Concussion is listed in the American Psychiatric Association’s Manual of Mental Disorders. I doubt if I am the first one to coin the term.  I only know it accurately encompasses the symptoms of grief my friends and I have confronted. It helps to realize that we are not alone in this condition. We are not suffering from a rare, orphan disease.

We are not losing our minds.

With over 2.5 million deaths occurring each year in the U.S. alone; there are tens of millions of left-behind loved ones who currently and will continue to grieve for years to come. Acknowledging that we have been battered and bruised – that we need a breather – is the first step. It is crucial to heal our minds and our hearts, create our new normal – restore our sense of self.

Rest is not a dirty word.

Fairy Tale Restoration: Pondering my Compulsion to Write

She waited a little longer than usual to ask the question:

“Are you… OK?”

The question was laden with parental concern. She desperately wanted to understand, to help. But the hurts were not for a mother’s hug and kiss to fix.

It happens each time I publish a story. The first time it was almost immediate, accusatory. How could I leave her out of my recovery process? Why couldn’t I confide in her? I recognized the maternal urgency to enact a quick remedy.

Garnering the courage to publish was excruciating, but the words played through my thoughts on an endless loop. Like relentless children pestering their mother for attention, they wouldn’t cease until I acknowledged them.

The night before I posted my first story, I tossed and turned with apprehension and nausea. What if it was received with disdain? Thought of as hackneyed? What if no one read it at all?

The expected troupe of friends and family gave their accolades. When it comes to my writing, they view me through a thick lens of empathy and thus their assessment is skewed. But then there were the recommendations of strangers, known only by their avatars. Each one is intensely validating and rehabilitative. I wonder if they recognize their curative powers.

I find it easier to reveal my troubles through the written word, rather than face-to-face. The blank page reflects what I tell it and nothing more. People, on the other hand, are compassionate; their faces exhibit the emotional nerve ignited when you disclose your troubles. I end up comforting their distress and stifling my own. Every countenance is permanently lithographed into my memory.

I’m selfish and spent. I can’t take those faces anymore.

And so I made the leap. My first two pieces did fairly well, but the third burst through thanks to a tweet from Medium. Still in twitter infancy, I was enthralled by the endless streams of alerts in my inbox. It was the closest I’ve come to viral and I was burning with fever. I checked and rechecked the Referrers page to investigate where my readers (MY READERS!) were coming from: Sweden, Zimbabwe, Australia, Greece. I was punch drunk by the global locales. To be honest, I keep a list of every country on my desk. It’s becoming dogeared and smudged, but to me it’s the Stanley Cup.

I’ve now become dually addicted to self-expression and avatar validation. The necessity to quench both has made me manic. It’s a fair trade for lament, I suppose. But there are colorful strands of addiction and mental illness in my family pattern that have me worried. Like snags in a delicate fabric, will tugging at my threads smooth out the imperfection? Or cause the entire cloth to unravel? Perhaps I should just snip it away. Or will that enlarge the defect?

Are my words simply letting off steam or producing a tidal wave of angst that will eventually drag me back to the abyss? I only know that the gratification of writing is a soothing balm for the aches in my persona. Personal transcription has become my cerebral masseuse—easing the tensions of turmoil.

Is the euphoria of writing only a temporary placation? Should I really care? Putting pen to paper (or text to screen) has given me a separate identity. I’m not regarded as a mother, a daughter, a friend—a widow. To the avatar collective, I am a writer. Nothing more. Nothing less.

At the risk of being repetitive, I have referred to my rediscovered enthusiasm in prior posts. I’m like a new convert, attempting to explain an indescribable fervor. Can you comprehend the magnitude of release? Can you feel its vibration? Some will never truly understand unless they experience the turbulence of a life-altering upheaval. I hope no one will reach that level of chaos — or the resulting compulsion to expel their clusterfuck of emotions. A few are already there.

Sometimes, I feel my collection of essays resemble an episode of Concentration. I choose which fragments of my personality to expose, and contestants (Readers? Family? Friends? Me?) unlock the secrets of my identity by deciphering the revealed rebus puzzle. Other times, I liken them to squares on a Rubik’s Cube – continually manipulating the segments of my life in search of a pattern. As a teen, I became frustrated with the length of time it took to unscramble the toy. Impatient for perfection, I removed the jumbled stickers, replacing them back in their “proper” location. It initially looked appealing, but soon the colors began to peel and drop off. My cheating had only led to temporary symmetry.

With each written piece, I leach out a bit of the distress that grieves my soul. It is the paint for my self-portraits. Some still life — some abstract — an occasional cartoon. Many have been benevolently curated and displayed alongside other personal canvases in an internet gallery of human emotion. I feel unworthy to be included among such masterpieces and fear the moment when I might be discovered and discarded.

I wonder if I will ever be able to honestly answer my mother’s question. She wanted the happily ever after for her daughter. She still does. It’s just different now. The magic mirror reflecting an unspoiled fairy tale has shattered, but the shards are slowly coming back into place. The emerging mosaic is creating its own rhyme, a new reason. Some of the pieces still shimmer and sparkle. Others are clouded and chipped. A few are gone forever, leaving a hypnotically black void that I must be careful not to gaze into for too long.

My story is still unfinished; the so-called perfect ending may or may not be composed. For now, my writing grants me permission to wail, bitch, laugh, ponder, and cry through my heart’s discontent. It coerces me to chronicle the chapters of my spirit — the episodes of my humanity.

Staying silent just doesn’t work anymore.


Originally published @Medium.com