Monday, December 31, 2012

Time to Make a Difference

The last day of the year was always when I'd take a look at our finances to see what donations we were able to do for the year. That all stopped while Vern was sick. No time, no extra dollars. I believe it's important to "pay it forward", to "make a difference" if we're able ... so I'm once again spending New Year's Eve deciding where I can give. There are many worthwhile non-profits out there, but Soaring Spirits Loss Foundation/Camp Widow/Widowed Village are at the top of my list. They were there for me when I was at my lowest point. 24 hours a day, 7 days a week I could log into Widowed Village and find someone who "got it", someone to chat with, someone who listened, someone I could encourage. Priceless. Thank you, Robin.  Camp Widow helped me to grow, to learn that I could step outside my comfort zone by going somewhere that I knew no one. They provided me with the resources I needed to move forward, and they provided an opportunity for me to meet some of the wonderful folks I had gotten to know online. Soaring Spirits is the mother organization of both Widowed Village and Camp Widow. Michele's vision of providing peer-based support for those who are grieving is focused on hope and healing. If you're able to help, please consider a donation to this amazing organization.

Widowed Village Donation  This link is to Robin's Widville-specific donation page

Soaring Spirits Loss Foundation Donation  Soaring Spirits is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization

So this is my third New Year's Eve without Vern.  In our younger years, back in Michigan, we used to go out with several other couples to a fun celebration with a band and dancing and party hats and horns (and alcohol). Seems like a lifetime ago. I guess it really was.  After we moved to Las Vegas, we settled into a quieter routine (yes, there's some irony there, I know). Just us, together. Sweet times. Tonight will bring a quiet entry into the new year. Alone physically, but not really. He's always right here with me. In my heart.  Wherever I happen to be.

I had this photo put on a 16x20 canvas last year and it's up on the fireplace where I can see it from where my laptop sits (I admit that I spend most of my at-home hours in this spot). Vern's a little scruffy, but it was a perfect day. He was able to get into his Mustang and we took a drive on a beautiful April day in 2010. When we got home, I asked if he felt up to letting me take some pictures. He was tired and he had to use his walker, but he managed to make it up to his rose garden. I ran into the house to ask Jer to come out so I could snap this photo. I had no idea that my love would be gone just 5 short months later. Make the best use of the time you have ... there are no guarantees how many days any of us have left.

Speaking of making a difference ... this year Brave Girls Club sure did it for me!  They're not a non-profit, so no donations to give (well, I have been known to gift a class or two to special people) ... but they have just announced something we can all do to make a real difference in this world.  Please click on this link, watch the video, and make some Truth Cards. They've provided a pdf that has everything you need to do that. And just think about how those brave sisters in Manila will feel when they see your card.  What a way to bring in the new year!

Brave Girl Truth Card Exchange

P.S.  And just so you know ... I have slept better and longer since clearing off the bed. Who knew?

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Word for the Year

I've never been very successful with my New Year resolutions; stopped doing them years ago. But earlier this year I selected a word for the year ... just one word to keep in mind as a sort of intention for the year. My word for 2012 was Brave ... and it really was a brave year for me. Perhaps not risky brave, but I did things that were hard for me, things that I had put off, things way outside my comfort zone. Here's my list:
  • Emptied storage shed full of memories
  • Went alone to a show at the Smith Center when a friend cancelled at the last moment
  • Flew to Charleston, stayed at a B&B for first time, toured the city alone
  • Drove from Charleston to Myrtle Beach for Camp Widow East
  • Drove Vern's Mustang to San Diego for Camp Widow West
  • Visited our special Crystal Pier (this one wasn't too successful, but at least I did it)
  • Attended Brave Girl Camp!
  • Went to Dr. Gollard's office
  • Drove to Big Bear for a widow's retreat and ziplined while there
  • Decorated my Christmas tree
  • And today ... I finally cleared off Vern's side of the bed
The bed thing might take some explaining. I slept in Vern's hospital bed or his recliner out in the family room for 2 months after he died. And when I finally decided I could venture into our big king-size bed, I had to pile stuff up on his side in order to stay in there. Yep ... that stuff has stayed there for over 2 years.Tonight will be my first time sleeping in that big bed without something alongside me to hold on to. Now that's brave.

Think I need to add another bullet to my list:
  • I've survived another year without my love
So I'm thinking my word for 2013 is going to be Believe. I do believe that next year will be a good one for me. I believe that I will finally get this house cleared out and create the space I need and deserve to live in. I believe that I will begin to eat healthy, start walking, lose weight, get more sleep. I believe that I will make a difference. That's a pretty good start, don't ya think?

Tuesday, December 25, 2012


Oh yes!  The sparkles have returned! I honestly did not even think about them this year. No expectations at all.  But when I opened the door at 4:30 this morning there they were in all their splendor. I cannot tell you what those things mean to me. Yes, it's the connection to Vern - to the first time I saw the sparkles just days after he died; how they made me feel they were a message from him that all was well. But now they also remind me that I'm not as alone as I sometimes feel. That someone out there cares enough about me to do this each Christmas. It is a beautiful Christmas gift and one that I cherish.

This is my third Christmas without Vern. The first one was a blur, just 3 months after his passing. Last year was rough, but this year I was able to decorate the tree. Progress. Not sure I'll ever get back to how I used to feel about the holidays, but I'm now able to hope that may come eventually.

People who haven't experienced the loss of their spouse tend to expect that as time passes we will return to our 'before' selves and everything will be just fine. Ah, if only that were true. The missing doesn't end no matter the passage of time. And it's just not possible to ever go back to our 'before' selves. This experience changes you. Dramatically. No way to get around it.

But in the midst of all the grief and tears and aloneness and change ... little miracles find their way. The gift of sparkles is my miracle. Thank you, bless you, my dear anonymous friend.

The "sparkles" story:
Last year's blog post
December 25, 2010 blog post
CaringBridge post October 1, 2010 (last paragraph)

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

I did it!

As promised ... here's the photo of my decorated tree! I posted it over on Facebook, but know I have a couple of people who check in here that don't do FB.  I need to get a new tree skirt, as my red & green one just won't work with this beautiful new color scheme - so I'll do that this weekend.

The photo does not do it justice. It sparkles all over.  Ah, sparkles. Those of you who have read my blog from the beginning (or followed my Caring Bridge journal) know how very special sparkles are to me. They represent Vern and love ...

... and this tree just radiates LOVE. Big, huge hugs and kisses to Kathy & Melody of Brave Girls Club for their gift of love that gave me back my Christmas joy.

Here's a close-up and yet it still doesn't capture the beauty.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Oh Christmas Tree ....

Well ... I really did think I was going to get the tree up this past weekend. I was out and about on Friday, meeting a friend for breakfast and joining my Brave Girl campmate in the afternoon for some art and conversation (oh, and a little wine, too).  I felt good ... energized, ready to face all that the holiday does to me. I actually even thought about putting up TWO trees! I asked Jer to bring in our old tree and ornaments, and I planned to head out Saturday to purchase a new clear light tree for the Brave Girl ornaments.

And then the stomach flu hit and I didn't leave the house until returning to work Monday morning.I felt physically ill and then added some emotional illness to that by spending Saturday reading through my CaringBridge journal. Sometimes you just need to let the tears flow.  And I decided I was being a bit overzealous with the idea of two trees. What on earth was I thinking? My old tree and box of memories remain in the storage shed.

I had posted in here that I would put up a tree. And I added a comment about it on my Facebook page, too. Oh the pressure!  Well, the flu was my excuse for not getting it done over the weekend, but now I needed to face this challenge. I had to stop by Big Lots on the way home from work to purchase some ornaments for our office tree and I decided to pick up one of those cheap trees with white lights so I could just get this done. I pulled the $25 tree out of the box when I got home and started laughing. Oh boy. This is a very sad looking thing, isn't it?

I nearly put it back in the box to return it, but decided to try fluffing up the branches and it has started to look a little better. And I have some garland to add and those wonderful Brave Girl ornaments, so maybe this will turn out ok after all. And working on the tree isn't making me sad. Perhaps buying this sad little tree was the right thing to do. It has given me something to care about.

It's now 11pm and time for me to head to bed, so I'll finish it up tomorrow. I'll post a photo of the finished product, I promise. It's a step forward, regardless of how sad or happy the tree ends up looking. 

Monday, December 3, 2012

It's time

The holiday season has been difficult for me since Vern died. I expect it and admit that I've pretty much tried to ignore it - feeling that was the best possible way to make it through until January 2nd. No shopping, no decorations, no gifts, no Christmas music. Just keep ripping those pages off the calendar to get through it, while putting on that ol' happy face for everyone to be reassured that I'm doing just fine, thank you.  Looking back at it now, I realize handling it this way was probably not the smartest thing for me to do. Pushing all the holiday festivities aside was just one more thing to add to my loss column. 

While at Brave Girl Camp in August I decided I was strong enough, brave enough, to put the tree up AND to decorate it this year. It is time. And it just might bring me some unexpected joy to deal with the memories during this hard season.   But now it's December and the tree still  hasn't made it out of the storage shed. My resolve to do this was beginning to wane ... and what did I receive? 

A surprise package from my amazing Brave Girls ... beautiful, sparkly snowflake ornaments for my tree. Full of memories, yes ... but those memories remind me that I am loved, that I am strong, that I can do this. So the tree will be going up this week, and the nativity set is coming out of the box, too. I may even make a batch of my pecan tarts.

Friday, October 19, 2012

An overdue visit

Dr. Gollard and the wonderful people at Cancer & Blood Specialists of Nevada were a major part of our lives from May 2006 to September 2010. During the last 2 years, we were there every week for Vern's chemo treatments. I wanted to stop by after Vern died ... to thank them for their care, their compassion, for what they do every single day for those of us who walk the cancer journey as either a patient or a caregiver. But I just could not do it.  I drove by several times. I even drove into the parking lot. But fear kept me from getting out of the car. Could I enter those doors without Vern and not fall apart? What if no one there even remembered me? I just was not strong enough to take that chance.

A couple of weeks ago a dear friend asked me if I could take her to her chemo appointment today. She sees Dr. Gollard and goes to the same office we did. I never hesitated ... of course I would do this. I can do this. But I'll admit that I've been doing a lot of talking to myself about it. It's ok if they don't remember me ... how could they with the hundreds and hundreds of patients they see?  And it's been two years since I was there. So I'll be ok. And then when I learned they had moved to a new location, I thanked God for that blessing. I won't be walking through that same door. I won't be sitting in that same waiting room. I won't have to see that same chemo room. 

So I'm heading out now to pick up my friend.  It's time to put this fear to rest.
- - - - - - -
I did it!  ... and it was good. I enjoyed seeing familiar faces - and I enjoyed spending a few hours with my friend. I am so very grateful they moved into their new offices this week. There were no memories for me in this new office. No flashbacks. No visions of Vern in there. And the nurses did remember me. Vern's favorites, Radka & Janet, are still the Friday chemo nurses. Their hugs felt so good. And I do believe some much-needed closure took place in there today.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Be Brave

Life has been busy. And mostly good. I signed up for an online newsletter this morning and it asked if I had a blog ... which reminded me that I haven't written anything in here in quite awhile.  I decided to take today off work to get some things done around the house. And yet here I sit at my laptop - a habit I have not been very successful in breaking. But since it's an unusually rainy day in Vegas I have an excuse for not doing any of the much-needed yard cleanup work (I'll come up with another excuse for delaying the also much-needed inside the house cleanup for awhile). Guess this is a good time to write an update.  Ah, where to begin?

Well ... the absolutely most important change in my life has been finding Brave Girls Club. I do believe it was a 'God-moment' when I just happened to see the BGC badge on another widow's blog.The site spoke to me immediately. I signed up for their Daily Truths and then noticed they have a Camp. Since Camp Widow has been a wonderful part of my life for the past year-and-a-half I had to click on that link ... and I physically felt the pull that this was something I was supposed to do. But it was very much out of my comfort zone: 4 days in Idaho with complete strangers; a roommate; life lessons; creating art; a significant amount of money. So I closed the page. But I just could not get it out of my mind. I went back in to see when the Camps were held and saw they had 2 openings for their August 21-24 Camp. Another God-moment. The 22nd has been a rather tough day for me as that is the day of the month Vern died ... and August 23 would have been our 43rd wedding anniversary. I have spent those important days alone during these past 2 years. Perhaps I needed to be with others ... in Idaho. So I asked my boss if I could have the time off work and when he said yes I signed up before I could change my mind. This was July 5, so I didn't have a lot of time to second-guess my decision ... but second-guess I sure did. I was nervous, wondering if I'd be way older than everyone there, concerned I wouldn't fit in, worried I had no ability to create art, scared to confront the life lessons I knew I had been ignoring. But I did it ... and it was amazing and wonderful and life-changing. And I now have a group of women who are my sisters, who love me, who think I am wonderful and beautiful and creative ... and enough. What an incredible blessing.

I also attended Camp Widow in San Diego in early August and it was wonderful. I drove Vern's Mustang there for the first time alone and made a stop at our special Crystal Pier - and I was honored during Camp to be one of the recipients of the Soaring Spirits Service Award for my volunteer work in Widowed Village. I'm headed to Big Bear in early November for a weekend widow's retreat that my Widowed Village friend Lisa has developed, and I have another trip planned for later this year that I am very excited about. I'm also taking a couple of Brave Girl online courses - and one of my Camp-mates actually lives in Vegas and we get together on Fridays to create art and talk.

While there are times I think about retiring, my job helps me to be able to afford to do the things that are helping me find my way ... forcing myself to step outside the box, to try things I never would have in the past, to stop waiting for others to fill the void, to get comfortable doing things by myself. People have come into and out of my life this year. Change isn't easy - and it's hard to be "just" Dianne, but I'm getting there.  I miss Vern every day, but I am making the choice to honor his memory by being all I can be with the time I have left.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Fathers Day Thoughts

Vern was such a fabulous father, and on this day set aside to honor fathers, I'm recalling so many special times we had over the years. I know this day is very hard for my widow sisters with young children, children who did not have the opportunity to get to know their wonderful fathers. I hurt deeply for them.

But, honestly, I can assure you there is never a right time to lose someone you love. I was 59 and had 41 years with Vern when he died. Believe me ... it was not enough time. We had a lot of life left to live. So many plans and dreams for our future. And Jer deserved to be able to show Vern all that he will become ... will he marry? ... will there be grandchildren? 

My parents are gone, so are Vern's ... oh my goodness ... I just looked at the dates and realized that Vern, Jer and I were each 33 years old when our Dads died.  I wonder if that is meaningful ....?

I've been spending some time with introspection since my birthday last month. What is my purpose? What do I have to offer to this world?  It feels like what I need to be doing at this point in my life. And along the way I've learned to appreciate those very long and difficult cancer years. Not only did they allow me to truly live our marriage vows, they showed me how strong I am ... because of Vern. I hate that he had to suffer so. I do not have the answer to that big question of 'WHY'?  But I know that Vern does ... now ... and that is good enough for me until I join him.

"The truth is you and I are in control of only two things, how we prepare for what might happen, and how we respond to what just happened. The moment when things actually do happen belongs to God."  ... from "Produced by Faith" by DeVon Franklin

Sunday, June 10, 2012

I'm still here ....

I'm rather amazed that it's been over 3 months since I've written here. Time marches on. I've had things I've wanted to write about, but just never took the time to do it. Kind of like those boxes from the storage unit that are still stacked in the garage. There have been great times and not-so-great times in these past months. But this has been a rather tough few days so I decided to take the time to write about it now that I've gotten through it.

Bad news just keeps coming ... and by bad I mean C.A.N.C.E.R.  How I hate that word. A dear friend was diagnosed this week, a special online friend lost her battle with myeloma this morning, an old friend has a brain tumor, other online myeloma friends are struggling with their latest results.  And with each new piece of cancer news I'm transported back to Vern's struggle and all of the heartache that was packed into those years. Just when I had finally gotten to where I could put those very difficult memories in their own special place that wasn't always in the front of my mind.

So I've embraced them. I really had no choice. I re-read some of my CaringBridge journal entries, looked back here at some old blog posts, looked through photos. And shed some tears. Tears for Vern and tears for me. Tears for Paula, tears for R & W, too.

I drew this in the sand at Myrtle Beach during Camp Widow.

But I know tomorrow will be a better day. (I really DO know that. It's just hard to live it each day.)

Here's a highlight of some of the things that have occurred this spring ...
  • My trip to South Carolina in April was amazing. I loved the history in Charleston and my first B&B experience. Those two days showed me that I can travel alone and be ok. Although I will definitely learn how to travel lighter next time. 
  • Camp Widow in Myrtle Beach. Not sure whether it was being further out from Vern's passing or being right on the beach ... but it was life-changing. I felt I had turned an important corner in my grief after this special weekend.
  • But ... there was a let-down after Camp that extended to my birthday and lingers still, although not as strongly now. I did write a blog in Widowed Village about it ( and I'm working on doing what I need to do. It's a challenge.
  • I'm attending events at our new performing arts center, forcing myself out the door for concerts and Broadway shows. Not easy, but once I get there I'm enjoying myself.
  • I've been able to meet in person some of the widows I've met online ... both here in Vegas and at Camp Widow. And I'm headed to San Diego in August for another Camp. Plan to drive Vern's Mustang there - another first.
  • Jeremy graduated from the Master Bodywork program and is awaiting taking his national licensing exam to get started in his new career.
  • Work is going well. I feel energized there ... and needed (I really miss being needed by Vern). I can now see me actually making it to my full 30 years before retirement.
  • I'm thinking of other trips I'd like to take. I've wanted to return to Hana but know that will be a difficult trip. It is such a special, sacred place of memories for me but I'm beginning to feel I could be ready to schedule that trip. I'm also thinking I need to make the Florida trip to decide if that's where I'd like to go when I retire.
I feel better 'in my head' most days but still many, many things I need to work on. I'm shocked that it's already June and I have not made any dents in my long to-do list. I'll get there ... eventually.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

I'm ready to fight hard for myself

No matter how hard I try, I just can't let these '22nds' pass without notice. I see the date and immediately do the count. September to February = 5 months + one year = 17 months. How is that even possible? I still feel like a 'recent' widow, but I probably don't qualify to use that term any longer. Who decides those things?  The same folks who say 'young' widows can't be 50 or older?  Gee thanks. I do so hate labels.

At times it feels like 9/22/10 was only yesterday. I can be transported back to exact moments and conversations in the blink of an eye ... and then other times it feels like forever since I held his hand in mine. I know I will survive this. I know I will find my way. I will do this for him, and my faith will carry me through.  But make no mistake - this is not easy. There is no master widow calendar that calculates when our grieving is finished. And our minds work against us constantly. Guilt on those days when we hear ourselves laughing and then someone says the wrong thing (good to see you have moved on ... what? no i have not!). Regrets for things we wished we had said or done when they were alive. The loneliness ... the quiet ... missing him.

Sue, a dear online caregiver/widow friend, wrote today:  "Help me God to fight as hard for myself as I did for him."  Her words really made me think. There wasn't a thing I wouldn't have done for Vern - there wasn't a thing I didn't do for him - during those long 4+ years fighting cancer. I got up each day thinking positive thoughts and took whatever the day threw at us. I always put on the happy face for Vern .. always. No matter what news we were given, I found a positive way to spin it for him. I talked him back from the edge. It made a real difference in his attitude; his medical team even noted it. And I believe it gave us those extra years the docs weren't expecting. So why can't I accept that it's ok to fight hard for myself?  I deserve it. He would want me to not just survive ... but to thrive. So I will make that effort. I will be aware of the beauty all around me. I will carve out time to do special things I enjoy. I will try to resurrect those creative juices I once had. I'm ready to fight hard for myself.

I did take a really big step forward last weekend by emptying the storage shed we have been paying for - and having a dumpster delivered to my house to toss what I could. It was not easy and I did not finish this task ... yet. Lots of memories in there. A lot of things to toss, too. And even more boxes I haven't sorted through yet that are now in my garage. So while I feel very happy that the shed is empty, my house is even more of a disaster zone right now. I caught a bug over the weekend and wasn't able to get everything done, but I can keep the dumpster over this next weekend to finish things up. I know it will feel good to finally reclaim our home from all of this 'stuff'. I'm ready to fight hard for myself.

As difficult as that "empty the shed" day was emotionally, it ended on a wonderful note. A myeloma caregiver/widow friend I met online back in 2006 was in town for a conference and we shared a wonderful evening together. There is a very special bond created through sharing these difficult life experiences. I've had the privilege of meeting several of my online widow friends in person - either here in Vegas when they were visiting or at Camp Widow. I cannot imagine how much more difficult this grieving was in the days before the internet.

And speaking of Camp Widow ... I finally booked my flight to Myrtle Beach in April where I will meet even more of my special Widowed Village friends. I plan to push myself to be more outgoing at this year's camp - to not be afraid to approach others if I find myself alone. I'm ready to fight hard for myself.

Sunday, January 15, 2012


The new year always seems to bring reflection - and I'm at a place in my life right now where I think I will benefit from that. I'm still not doing the things I think I should be doing, but I do feel I've made some progress and just need to start 'doing' rather than 'thinking' about all of it. I guess recognizing that is an important step.

I watched the premiere of Tom Shadyac's documentary "I am" New Year's morning on Oprah's Super Soul Sunday. It helped to show me where I want to go, what I want to be in this world, what is important.  Simplicity. Love. Kindness. Connection. Happiness.  Quite inspirational.

And he also asked the question: How much is enough and what do we need to live a purposeful life? It's something I've been thinking about lately and I'm trying to use this question as a way to get started with cleaning out some of the stuff I've accumulated over the years. And I also need to use this as a push to finally pass along some of Vern's things, the medical supplies and remnants of his illness that still occupy space in our bedroom, his clothes, the wheelchair van. I know it's not healthy to be holding on to those things. I can't tell you why they are still there. It's not like I pull them out or even spend any time looking at them. They are just there. Perhaps it's my fear that getting rid of those things will mean I'm letting Vern go. Even typing those words brings tears to my eyes. No - I'm not ready for that. But I think I can convince myself that those physical things are in no way related to my connection to Vern.

St. Augustine said,
"Determine what God has given you, and take from it what you need; 
the remainder is needed by others."

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Kindness makes all the difference

The days leading up to Christmas were not my best. Tears very close to the surface constantly. Not sure whether it was because I had pretty much ignored the holidays last year or just that I had passed the one year mark and expected more of myself than I was able to give. I thought I could decorate. I put up the tree but just could not put the ornaments on it. I was able to bring in some of my decorations for our department holiday gathering but they came home and went right back into the box. I didn't do any shopping, didn't purchase any gifts, didn't even go into the mall or any stores other than the grocery store.  I ended up accepting what I couldn't do and hope that next year will be better.

And then it was Christmas morning. My new boss wanted to deliver donuts to our security staff who had to work that day (isn't he fabulous?) and asked if I'd like to join him. Sounded like a great idea, so I said yes. I must admit I had second thoughts when I went out to my car that cold, dark morning at 4:45 a.m. to pick up the donuts ... but then ... as I backed out of the driveway and my lights hit the street ... there they were!  Sparkles!!  If you've been following my blog, you know what those mean to me. I honestly had completely forgotten about them and they took my breath away. Someone ...someone ... remembered and thought enough of me to do this wonderful kindness once again.

My Christmas spirit returned at that moment.