Sunday, September 25, 2011

Onward ....

I made it through the one year mark ... I don't really like calling it an 'anniversary'.  Anniversaries are good things, wonderful events that we want to celebrate. September 22, 2010 certainly was not that. While I am very grateful that Vern's passing was peaceful, it is not a day I wish to honor with a celebration. It marks a monumental loss and a drastic change in my life. It is a point that I needed as a compass this first year, but I am hopeful that I can place that date off in a private place. Let me instead celebrate the many special occasions we enjoyed during our 41 years, and use his birthday and our wedding anniversary as my special dates of remembrance.

Today I purchased tickets to upcoming events at the new Smith Center for Performing Arts that will open in March 2012. It felt like an investment in my future - and a push to get me out of the house for more than just work. I'll be seeing Straight No Chaser, Sweet Honey in the Rock, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, and 4 Broadway shows:  The Color Purple, Mary Poppins, Million Dollar Quartet and Memphis.  And I can't wait to see Wicked when it arrives later in the year. The song "For Good" from that show speaks so very deeply to me of the impact Vern had on my life. (I have that song linked over on the right-hand side under "Special You Tube Videos" if you haven't heard it.)

And then there's Camp Widow in Myrtle Beach in April plus the add-on trip to DC afterward with my extra special Widowed Village pal, Tracy - and the trip to see her in Calgary in July for the Stampede, and a visit to Lake Louise and Banff - and then Camp Widow in San Diego in August.  Whew ... I'm going to be busy! I guess I'm going to need to keep working in order to afford to do all of these things!  Thank goodness for the 4-day work weeks that give me long weekends and for my good number of vacation hours on the books.

Yesterday I purchased a CD package called "The Re-Entry to Life" program from Second Firsts, an online company that helps others deal with grief. I think it will be helpful to make the steps forward I need to make. And since I was one of the first 10 to make the purchase, I'll also get a private phone consultation with the author. I've never done any one-on-one counseling so this will be another growth opportunity.

So today feels like a start. There were tears as I listened to the songs I had placed over in the You Tube video file, but they helped to remind me that how I live the rest of my life is a reflection upon Vern and so I must do this right. He was such a very, very special man ... and "because I knew him, I have been changed for good."

Friday, September 23, 2011

My year of 'firsts' is over

There were days I didn't think it would be possible, but I have survived a year without Vern and all of the 'firsts' that came with it:
  • Halloween ... I put a 'sorry, no candy' note on the door
  • Thanksgiving ... very non-traditional - went to a local Mexican restaurant with Jer
  • Christmas ... no tree, no holiday parties, no decorations, no gifts
  • New Year's Eve ... no fireworks
  • His birthday ....
  • Valentine's Day ....
  • My birthday ... the big 6-0
  • Our anniversary ... it would have been #42
  • The one year anniversary of his death ...
I didn't do anything special to mark these 'firsts' ... the most common denominator was that I spent them alone. I have no family here, other than our single adult son. There were 1 or 2 offers to join others on special days, but being with couples or families enjoying each other just was not something I felt I could do well. 

There were many special moments of kindness shown to me throughout the year that I am very grateful for, but there are two 'events' that occurred that will stay with me forever. 

One was a gift I gave to myself - an early December trip to the Florida Keys. I knew I couldn't be at work for all of the holiday festivities and decided that a trip to somewhere that didn't hold memories would be helpful. Those days in that beautiful spot started a healing in my soul and provided me with a possible link to my future retirement days.

And the very biggest remembrance of this first year was the anonymous gift of 'sparkles' on Christmas Eve. I felt very alone and forgotten most of this year and that gift demonstrated that someone out there was thinking of me, was reading my blog, had paid attention to something special that had occurred 3 months earlier and took the time to do this wonderful thing ... it warmed my heart in so many ways and will never, ever be forgotten.

So today is Day 1 of my resolve to make some changes, to grow, to figure out who I am and what I need to do.  Think I'll start by making a list that I will post on the bathroom mirror so I see it every morning. I can do this.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

One Year Ago

My life changed forever on September 22, 2010 at 5:08 a.m. as my dear husband slipped from this life and went to Heaven. While I couldn't possibly have wanted him to continue to suffer any longer, letting him go was the hardest thing I've ever done in my life.

So here I am one year later. One year. How can that be?

I'm not where I think I should be at this point. Emotionally ... well, maybe. I have my good and bad days, I don't feel depressed ... just sad. I miss him. He was my one true love and my very best friend for 41 years. I miss being able to talk to him about the little things every day. Tears have been heavy during these past several days, but I guess that was to be expected. There have been other issues, too, that have burdened my heart this past week. Just a big ol' dark cloud hanging over my head.

While I am proud of how I cared for Vern during his cancer battle, I am not proud of how I've let everything else in my personal life go since he left. The house is a wreck, I'm not taking care of things like I should, Vern's things are still in the closet, medical stuff is still stacked in a corner of my bedroom, I'm still leaving mail unopened in stacks on the table, the yard would be a jungle if not for my oh-so-special neighbor Nancy, the wheelchair van still sits undriveable in the driveway. And yet at work I'm organized, efficient, smiling, handling a really huge load right now that keeps me jumping the entire time I'm there. Who the heck am I?  How do I make these two very separate people merge into one?

I'm not sure what the answer is to that, but I am going to finally get started trying to figure it out. For Vern AND for me. Just like I faced each day of Vern's cancer journey with the 'one day at a time' mantra ... I will face this personal mountain one 'bite' at a time. I will follow my special widow friend Crystal's lead and start my "in search of Dianne West" journey with a list of realistic short term goals to accomplish in the next 30 days.

Today is for grieving ... tomorrow begins Day 1 of discovering who I am.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Our last day together

I knew time was very short this day a year ago. I had asked the nurse to come into the room when he began making a strange sound. That was when I learned about the death rattle - and while it was rather disturbing, I was assured that he was not experiencing any discomfort. I squeezed myself into his bed without disturbing him, wrapped my arm around his head and stayed there, speaking softly to him throughout the night.

I had asked God to send an angel to carry my Vern home and I have no doubt at all that my prayers was answered. Earlier, I shared my wish with Vern and asked if he had seen any angels. He nodded and whispered 'one' and pointed over to the corner of his room. He later asked me how many angels he needed and said "I'm ready to go."  He would stay with me for another day.

"In the night of death, hope sees a star,
and listening love can hear the rustle of a wing."
~Robert Ingersoll

As hard as it is to recall all that happened a year ago, remembering all of these moments brings me some peace and I think it will help me to move forward. I am proud of how I cared for Vern, how I loved him, how I let him go when it was time.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Peaceful Days

A year ago we were half-way through our hospice experience. Our days there were peaceful and quiet. A time of reflection for me - to appreciate the wonderful life we shared, to recall special times and to share those precious memories with Vern. I did not use that time to prepare for his leaving; I did not ask him questions about what I needed to do after he was gone ... where the safety deposit key was hidden, how to work the pool pump or operate the landscape equipment. That time was all about LOVE, only love.

The courtyard at Nathan Adelson Hospice - September 2010

He only spoke a few words while there. A couple of visitors earned sincerely whispered "thank  you's" and that special eye twinkle for taking the time to stop by to see him. And he repeated loving words over and over again to me that will bless me forever.

I held his hand throughout the days and nights. It was important to me that he not ever feel he was there alone. Throughout his cancer battle I massaged his hands and feet daily with lotion to help ease the neuropathy pain and they were so smooth and soft. I miss those special times of tenderness.

"I dropped a tear in the ocean. 
The day you find it is the day I will stop missing you."
~Author Unknown

A year later, I'm hoping for the return of those peaceful days. Days that will heal my heart and help me find my future. It is time for me to get on with living. To take some good solid steps into this new life of mine. To set some goals for myself - and to make a real effort to reach those goals.

But first I must get through this tough week. I think it's important that I look back to one year ago. To appreciate all that those days brought to me - the love, the tenderness, the closeness, the tears, the heartache, the despair.  This past weekend was not at all peaceful but I am hopeful that I will soon find my way with the help of my faith, my God, and the friends who remain.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

How could it be time for hospice?

Hospice arrived in our life a year ago today and I honestly did not see it coming. I've reread my Caring Bridge journal from that day and it has brought out so many memories and emotions. I started that morning out thinking there had to be some way I could get him home from the hospital and ended the day following an ambulance to Nathan Adelson Hospice.

I'm grateful that I had those final days with him. We were together and I knew the time was short. I was able to say the things I wanted to say, even though he wasn't able to communicate with me much. I know in my heart he heard every single word and that does give me peace. Other widows have told me I'm lucky to have had those days with him, but it's really hard to feel 'lucky'.  I lost the love of my life ... the man I had spent over 41 years married to ... he completed me ... he supported me ... how can I possibly be much of anything without him?

"You can only come to the morning through the shadows"
J.R.R. Tolkien

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The beginning of the end

I woke up this morning feeling strange. I had gone to bed early and slept fairly well (for me). I awoke well before my 4:30 alarm went off and decided to just get up and start my day. My tummy was feeling a bit unsettled - but I figured that was because my dinner had consisted of ice cream just before retiring. I turned on my Kindle and played a couple of word searches and then decided to start reading one of the many books I've purchased. Open to Hope, Inspirational Stories of Healing After Loss caught my eye ... and while reading of a wife who with every downturn in her husband's cancer battle feared he would not recover, it hit me.

I never once felt that ... not during the initial hospitalization and surgery ... not when he started bleeding out 4 days later and was given the wrong blood on the operating table ... not with the stage 4 pressure ulcer and colostomy ... not with the kidney failure ... not with that awful open back wound that would not heal ... not with the abdominal aortic pseudoaneurysm ... not during any of the many, many hospitalizations over those 4.5 years ... and not on that morning one year ago when I called 911. I never once thought that it would be the end. Not once.  HOPE ... it was always there ... always.

But then I looked at today's date and now I understand why today feels different. One year ago I made that call. And I know now where that call took us and how it ended. It was a day that changed my life and I didn't even realize it at the time.

Those wonderfully kind Henderson Fire Department paramedics arrived and were able to gently lift my dear Vern up out of the recliner and onto the gurney.  We arrived at St. Rose Siena and I learned we had more issues than I anticipated, but we had been in this spot so many times before. We'd get through this crisis, too.

The hospital was packed and we waited for a bed to open ... with his feet hanging off the ER gurney.

After 8 hours, we opted for a transfer to St. Rose San Martin and he was finally settled in a real bed. He was comfortable, sedated, tests and dialysis ordered.  Day 1 of the final 9 days of Vern's life ended with hope once again.

Monday, September 5, 2011

"...or you can let it strengthen you."

I've had a change take place at work that I'm quite excited about. A manager I deeply respect has received a well-deserved promotion to director of a new department and has asked me to help him get it off the ground. I'm very flattered by the things he's said and look forward to helping him do this right. It's the spark I've needed. I enjoy my current job managing our employee recognition programs, but the struggle to get the buy-in needed for it to be fully successful has been wearing on me. The lure of retirement was sounding better each day. But now that I have these new responsibilities, I'm energized again. I'm splitting my time between this new job and my current work which keeps me hopping, so a benefit is that I'm finally able to sleep straight through the night on my work nights. 

I've been enjoying breakfasts on the weekends with special friends, and I had a great time Saturday night with Deb at dinner and the Sade/John Legend concert. It has gotten easier for me to do these social things, but I do still find that I need my down time afterward. I continue to find myself picking up my cell phone to call Vern or making a mental note to share something with him when I get home, but those slips no longer bring me to my knees.

When something bad happens you have three choices. 
You can either let it define you, 
let it destroy you, 
or you can let it strengthen you.

I've fought hearing those "you're strong" words, but I can do that no longer ... especially after reading  the above quote.  I certainly will not let Vern's death define or destroy me ... that would not honor the years we had together and all that our love meant. So allowing the loss of the love of my life to strengthen me is a good thing. And I see evidence of this strength nearly every day.  Oh I still have a long way to go to become who I need to be, but I can now see the possibilities.