Saturday, November 4, 2017

Tear's At Dawn...

Tears at Dawn...


I was beginning to wonder if it'd ever happen but for a couple of days this past week, there were no tears for my girl. It lasted two days and returned with a vengeance that's left me hollow and numb...the minds a funny thing. We can rationalize a thing, KNOW the reality of it and accept the logic but our hearts will still give not one damn for any of it.
Once again, it's O'Dark thirty....and the ache of my heart seems to leave a gap in my soul that erodes my ability to feel things normally. I'm either raw and on the ragged edge of tears or closed down completely, shutting out everyone and everything. I try very hard not to default to the latter...but I realize that I've failed miserably at that recently. If I've hurt feelings in that regard, my apologies.

In five days my first knee replacement will take place, followed by the second seven days later. Everything is in place in terms of logistics...food, physical therapy and sufficient distractions to keep me from going stir crazy (I hope) for the first 5-6 weeks of isolation. After that, I should be able to drive and I hope to spend some time with my family both in South Dakota and Tennessee. My targeted return date for work is February 16th. Three months....which will complete a promise I made to my sweet honey. Beyond that? I just don't know. I have some long term goals and like most people, I'll be bound to my place of employment for the foreseeable future. I'll be 5 hours from family in one direction and 11 in the other...it is what it is. Four months past that and I'll be 54 and nearly a year without the love of my life....how is that even possible?

It hammers home the simple truths we all know but tend to ignore. The world will continue without you...time will march forward, relentless and uncaring no matter how much we rage against it. I understand now how so many people simply give up...what's the point, right? It's something I've wrestled with these past months daily. If God is the answer and everything happens for a reason, then was my honey's suffering for a higher purpose? If so, Gabriel is going to have his hands full when my time comes...

My honey was the spiritual rock in our household. I'm not talking about organized religion, which has failed miserably in my experience but there ARE people who; like my dear girl, exemplify both the example and the intent of all religions. They are compassionate, caring and selfless....they help strangers because they want to make a difference. It's these few that give me hope that there is a bigger purpose in our existence. They're spiritual but not necessarily religious in the conventional sense. They believe (as my honey did) they have faith. I truly wish I did...I've been reading her much marked and highlighted bible lately. I've read it (and most other spiritual books) many times over the years. As a soldier and police officer, I've seen the atrocities people of all nationalities can inflict on one another...the price of free will? Maybe. She believed in the goodness of people...of the ability of almost anyone to become a better person if given a chance. It's one of the things I loved about her...and something I've always struggled with. Trust. Mostly, I don't...

I can almost hear her chuckle and repeat the mantra she whispered so often into my ear... “Love and encourage, boy.” She did teach this knuckle dragger to do that, albeit with one hand figuratively still firmly placed on the butt of a handgun. SO....as the sun comes up this morning, it reflects off the tears that stain my face...I see her beauty there...her heart and her desires for me to embrace another day.

I'm trying baby...but oh how I miss you and your loving embrace....I hope and I pray that you're in a better place. Beyond the pain and the hurt...I love you Tammy Jean.







Thursday, October 26, 2017

An Update and Admission

An Update and Admission....

First a word of thanks for all who have taken the time to let me know that they're thinking of me and dropping by with a kind word of encouragement. It means more than I can possible tell you...greatly appreciated.

My doctors appointment for my finger went well and I'm cleared for surgery on the 9th and 16th of November. I do still have to see the surgeon this coming Monday (30th) and do another pre-op physical. Baring the unexpected, everything should be green lighted. So...seven more working days with my 12 hour schedule. Avoiding boo-boo's will be my top priority! :o)
For those whom have never done industrial maintenance...easier said than done! There's ALWAYS something to stick, poke, cut or burn you...a slip of the wrench, brush the wrong piping...instant oowee! Mostly minor nicks and the like but when the doc says NO open wounds...challenging. Even with rolled down sleeves and gloves. Nature of the beast and all that....it'll work out.

I've been asked by a few folks what my plans are and to be honest, I don't know. I've got some rather long term goals but no specific plans beyond the upcoming knee surgery and the recovery, which the doctor optimistically hopes will have me returned to work by mid February. He said complete recovery, i.e. no swelling, pain or stiffness generally takes about 18 months. Terrific...I think!

A wise friend told me I needed to try and let go of the why (of my honey's death) and focus on the what now and when...sage indeed. This is also what my girl told me...repeatedly. I have no earthly idea of how to do any of that but it has made me think more deeply of late on what I want...eventually.

I know that if and when my heart is ready, I will not settle. I want what I lost...balance. Some people can be happy alone and I was once very much a loner. My honey gave me a different perspective on life and people. I still don't trust easily but I am much more open and willing to listen than I was. Some people can feel happy alone. I don't know if you can feel complete that way...I used to think I was but I know better now. For me there is a special joy in sharing an experience with someone...in the simplicity of pleasing another with a touch or a gesture.
The act of looking into another's eyes and feeling them touch your soul...of KNOWING that you're touching theirs...that's completion. Its joy. It's living and its love.

That's what I've lost...that connection...and it's what some never find. It's certainly something worth looking for but I'm not certain I have the patience or the ability to do so anymore. We are each unique but unified in our desires to live a life worthy of remembering. Of leaving our mark in this world. Empires fall, trends fade but memories are eternal. They can be passed on for generations. We should all strive to make remarkable impressions on those we love and those we can help in our own way. My honey did...

With her I learned that intimacy transcends the purely physical...without that soulful connection it's just sex. I'm not saying that's a bad thing but to me, holding her in my arms or laying together and running my fingers through her hair and massaging her scalp as she drifted off on my chest...heavenly. Those simple things...hearing her sing happily unaware I was home...stolen kisses at inappropriate moments...a pat or passing touch...all of THAT and more...that's what I want. Can lightning strike twice? I don't know...but that's some of the what.

As to the when...SIGH...someone said God would tell me when my heart was ready. Since we're not exactly on speaking terms at the moment, I won't hold my breath...but it's not now. All I can offer is this...
Find what makes you happy and gives you balance. Hold on to it and cherish that person...be vocal and make the time. Make memories...they needed be extravagant. Just heartfelt. Dance in the rain...in the store or the parking lot. Steal kisses...hold hands...chase each other naked! Whatever makes you laugh or smile... be silly and real.

We each get one day at a time...don't waste a single one.




Monday, October 23, 2017

The Brilliance of Fall...

The Brilliance of Fall....

I spent this past weekend trying to enjoy the vibrant colors of the season. The radiant hues of reds, oranges and yellows are in full display. Honey always loved the colors if not the season. She was a sunshine person...as many folks are. I like the crisp air and the change of season...usually.

I'm coming to the realization that this year is going to be a season of many first...bittersweet and painful. I drove around the Iowa countryside, alternating between awestruck and melancholy. I missed having her hand in mine...in looking over to see her smile. Honey loved Thanksgiving and both preparing the meal and the gathering of family. There will be neither this year...I also learned that my eldest son's six year relationship actually ended last year. They both kept this from us to spare our feelings and were quite mature about everything.

I feel bad about not noticing and that he shouldered this burden alone...but I understand their decision. I do wonder where he learned to be so hard headed? :o)

A dear friend bought me a journal and I've been writing in it. Venting and random thoughts that I could never post publicly. It's helping...another introduced a new variety of music and this too has been a blessing. So many kind words of encouragement and sentiments of caring...from people both near and far. All of which keep me moving forward, however grudgingly that may be.

Thank you. Each and every one of you...for sharing your strength and light.

There is a season for all things...we all pass through them regardless of our wishes or desires. The timing is almost never of our choosing and even when it is, there are no perfect transitions. There will be pain and sorrow, regrets and dreams unrealized. Nature strives for balance...as should we. Take the time to make those memories and fulfill those dreams, because tomorrow isn't promised for any of us. Find that balance. Worry less about the stuff and more about the time spent with those you hold dear.

It doesn't take money, for I would give all I have for five more minutes...to hold her...kiss her and run my fingers through her hair. The simplest of things...the shared laughter, the hugs. Lazy mornings and stolen moments...those are the colors of life. The brilliance of balance...of living with a lover and best friend. Whatever your joy is, embrace it and pursue those adventures you desire, hand in hand. Be silly, be vocal and never leave room for doubt...enjoy each and every season as if it were your last. Only the memories will endure in the end.

As for myself, I will take these next months day by day. I have nine working days until my first surgery, which will be November the 9th. The second is scheduled for the 16th. I see the finger doctor this Wednesday and should be released for surgery. My surgeon wants to do his own inspection the 30th along with another pre-op physical. Baring the unforeseen, I'll begin the prep work two days after that...my original plans of driving to see the kids for Christmas won't be doable. Hopefully after the first of the year, I'll be released for travel...six weeks is the target number. It will be challenging both physically and mentally but it'll also fulfill the first of my promises dear.

I've no idea what 2018 has in store... I can only hope to keep my heart open to the changing of the seasons.


Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Anniversaries and Adversities....

Anniversaries and Adversities....

This for me has been a week of sleepless nights and bone deep sorrow....not on the pot but close enough to stare at it longingly. Tomorrow marks the anniversary of the day I married my sweet honey. We would have marked 18 years of marriage and very near twenty years together...I consider it the single greatest accomplishment of my life.

We weren't perfect but we were very good for each other. We always strove to put the other first and be honest to a fault. It was painful and exhilarating....we had trails that would've destroyed most couples but we held on and endured. We taught each other how to love...unashamedly and unconditionally. She made me a better man and a more complete person.
She taught me that joy comes from the simplest things and that even our darkest moments can be embraced and learned from....if we just change our perspective. It is this loving lesson that I cling to now. Desperately.

On our wedding day, those many years ago, we'd planned a simple outdoor service. At a friends house that had a beautiful backyard in the county. It wasn't extravagant in any fashion...financially our divorces had left both of us starting over but she was beautiful in a simple white gown and I had on the only suit I owned. At the time we lived 80+ miles from the place we'd chosen to be married and we traveled there because it was close to where my best friend (who was very sick with cancer) lived.

Amazingly, a large number of our martial arts outreach families made the trip that day...we started outside but before the service could be completed, the Tennessee skies opened up and the entire group was quickly drenched in a down pour. Our friend had a converted outbuilding that was his dojo (martial arts studio) and the entire group retreated inside...to say it was packed was like saying a sardine can was roomy! Many in attendance were professional soldiers and they quickly rigged a makeshift covering for the grills set up outside...grinningly cooking, drenched in the blowing rain...tarps were thrown on the floor to protect the mats. Hardly the romantic ceremony I'd hoped for...and yet, there she stood...damp...smiling and as beautiful as the morning sun. We exchanged vows and simple bands...my girl sang for me...her voice quavering and angelic...eyes brimming with happy tears. We danced...slowly and locked into each others eyes. I fed her cake...nicely...my best friend encouraged her to smash my piece into my face...which she did for him, giggling madly.

People applauded...many in tears for our union. Best day ever...and one that we each celebrated every year. No matter the circumstances. Be it before or after work...most times in simple intimate ways...I once filled her SUV with balloons, each having a scrap of paper with an endearment of my love. We spent an evening on our deck in the moonlight...dancing to a tape of love songs she'd made for me...whispering the words in my ear as we swayed together.

For those that don't know me...I have two dancing styles...Fonzie slow dance and a version of being tazered while remaining upright! Honey was the dancer...she could literally dance to anything and tolerated my ineptness with humor and grace. We loved each other daily...holding hands and stealing kisses. A thousand tiny gestures that strung together are a love and a life lived and shared, always together...which is why I am so lost without you babe.

You sweet Tammy Jean were my world...my hopes...and my dreams...always included you. You asked me to keep dreaming...to cherish each day. I am trying. Truly. Your memory and selflessness encourage me and give me strength...most days. But I miss you...and I miss us. I think a part of me always will. It's that corner of my heart that keeps me going...makes me face another day. If not with joy, then at least with a stubborn determination to fulfill my promises to you. Yes dear...still hard-headed...despite your best efforts.

I don't know if I can ever love again...I know that was your hope. Your wish for me...but for now at least, it's beyond my ability to do. I love my family...I cherish my friendships but beyond that? I just don't know. I once told you that anything was possible as long as you kept pushing no matter how many doors were closed on you...I believed that and in you...as long as it was desired, right?

Maybe I was wrong...in life, some things are closed forever...beyond our reach. It's the reality...but does that mean our dreams become less meaningful? Our desires diminished and our drives forever crushed? I know what my girl would say...she'd say, “Follow your heart boy...it's a good one.”


If that was ever true, it's a broken one now...but I hear you honey. Happy anniversary baby....I love you. 

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Walls and Wishes...

Walls and Wishes.....

As I sit sipping coffee this morning, I reflect on the stillness of my environment. It's more than just the predawn quiet, it's the absence of presence and the knowledge of loss that makes what should be a simple time of recharging; instead an uncomfortable reminder of the hollowness in my heart....
It's a testament to the depth of my love for my sweetest honey and a true example of how very much she enriched my life. I know that there are people that enjoy being single and truth be told, I've never been bothered by being alone...but I miss my soulmate. That feeling of completeness that comes with the certainty of a safe harbor...of a place and a person that truly accepts and loves who and what you are...flawed as that may be.

As children our experiences teach each of us to build walls. Defensible places that we can shelter parts of ourselves from harm. As we become adults, these walls become multi-layered mechanisms for interacting with others. It's natural and a commonality all humans share...we expose only those aspects that we feel comfortable with and that can be quickly withdrawn when we perceive a possible threat. It's a survival mechanism hardwired into each of us. Those things which we hold most dear...our dreams and wishes of the heart are some of the most tightly held. We learn from hard experience to heavily shield that which can hurt us most deeply.

When we love, we slowly learn to allow each other to see all of those sanctums. Our fears, weaknesses and dreams reside here and when used against us or judged irrelevant, the damage can be catastrophic; resulting in walls so thick that we deny access even to ourselves. Honey and I spent years carefully learning how to share and truly know each other fully...in each of us lies greatness and sorrow. Learning to embrace and encourage such dynamically different parts of another is both challenging and ultimately rewarding that it defies description.

It's what makes each of us special and unique...

It was my honey's wish that I not rebuild those walls that she so lovingly created doors too. In some cases, into places I had kept locked even to myself. I'm not a braggart but even in my diminished physical condition, there isn't a man on the planet that I fear...I know I can more than hold my own...and yet I can feel some of those bricks being layered once more. Closing off things and places that I'm no longer sure I can go.
I know some of this is grief but as of late I've also found myself isolating large parts of my life simply because they're painful. I'm writing less...ignoring lines of communication and becoming less social. I've never been very dynamic in that arena but I it's becoming more strained as I struggle to stay minimally connected. For those of you that I hadn't responded to, my apologies...I do sincerely appreciate your efforts.

So...my wish and my hope is that I'll keep journaling my experiences and in doing so maybe scribble something that is relatable and relevant. My fear is that this is an exercise in futility, that my random ramblings are just that....meaningless rants. So be it... for the moment, this is an effort for me to unscramble and sort through the mess I've become.

In my heart I know that this mattered to her and in this way I can rationalize that I tried...for both of us.

If you're still reading, all I know is this...even Superman in his fortress of solitude needed Lois...if you have someone in your life that you hold dear, let them in...work on it together. All things of greatness require risk...and encouragement. Embrace the differences fully...enjoy the simple act of being free to lower your defenses and be who you are. Share your desires and pursue your dreams...hand in hand, for as long as you can...we get one shot and settling is a path to defeat.

And if you're alone? Do what you can...in whatever form that looks like to offer a glimpse behind those parapets. Try...as I am, to share some of your own light. Maybe...just maybe, it'll light another's way. It's a worthy wish from a famous quote...

Worthy are the broken...that rise again and again.

I hear you babe...softly whispering my dear honey.





Saturday, October 7, 2017

The Honey Rule...

The Honey Rule...

Shortly after honey and I first became a couple, I realized that she struggled with depression and low self esteem. It was something that she really tried very hard to hide from the world but those few she got close too saw it. She could become withdrawn and sullen, at times those feelings of worthlessness would overwhelm her and bring her too tears.

Her way of counteracting this was exercise and throwing herself fully into a cause that had a high probability of failure...and I would watch in amazement as she tilted against the windmills of her heart while loving and sharing herself with strangers. It was this undaunted spirit that I feel hopelessly in love with...at the time, it was also that vulnerability that called to me....and spoke to my soul.

We are all shaped by our experiences and by our reactions (or lack thereof) to those circumstances. We are driven by complexities that we cannot always explain...but we do feel it. Honey and I shared many of the same traits, we just executed them in dynamically different ways. Where she would embrace and encourage the broken and the lost, I would charge in looking to confront the cause...she once asked me if I'd always run towards the sound of gunfire. She called it, “White Knight Syndrome.” My response was a shrug and a grunt...to which she'd rolled her eyes. Like all couples, it took us time to learn about each other and breach the walls that we all build to shelter our innermost self's.

We all harbor pain and scars...the causes are as different and unique as the individual but the intensity is universal. It's when we trust another enough to share these that true love begins...my sweet girl taught me (painstakingly) that to make peace with some things, you had to first embrace it. I taught her that you also had to also let it go. As flawed people, this is often easier said than done. So...long ago, honey and I made a rule. It sounds simple but it took us a few years to both figure it out and implement it faithfully. The rule was this...

No matter the circumstance or reason, you are allowed just ONE pity pot day in any given week. No exceptions...no excuses. On that day you could cry, vent, sulk or be pissed at the world and bemoan the injustice of it all. As partners, on that day you could be as supportive or as distant as required. What you could NOT do was try to fix or rationalize the other's feelings or dismiss the validity of that feeling. Period. As a man, this was especially difficult for me...I wanted to FIX it! It took time to realize that fixing some things isn't possible...no matter what.

We held each other to that standard...usually with good humor and love. Even throughout her worst trials and illness. We came to this agreement with the mutual understanding that life is short and uncertain and that it was counterproductive to waste precious days not enjoying each other and living. It led to some odd conversations when one or the other would exhibit blue behaviors beyond a day... this is from when she was very sick.

Coming home from work and coming to the top of the stairs, I'd found her staring out the sliding glass doors at the rain drenched morning. Knowing she'd been depressed and angry the day before, I'd kissed her lightly on her head, asking how she was doing. Sullen, she'd replied.

Same as everyday...like shit.”

My heart breaking, I'd sat next to her and taken her hand. Replying softly.

Yeah...I know. Can I get you anything?” Shaking her head she'd sighed, answering. “I think God's forgotten me.”
As most of you know, honey was the more faithful one of us...blinking tears, I'd slide off the couch and knelt in front of her. Taking both hands, I'd gently tugged her forward until our foreheads touched. Kissing her nose, I'd said hoarsely.

Not possible. I bug the shit out'a him several times an hour.”

Shaking her head, a smile ghosting her mouth, she'd said.

I'm gonna have to apologize for you everywhere I go, aren't I?”

Kissing her and tracing her arms with my fingertips, I'd swallowed hard and whispered. “Yup!”

Wiping each other's tears, she'd added. “I gotta get off the pot, huh.”

Wrapping my arms around her and burying me head in her neck, she'd held me while I sobbed. Stroking my head she'd softly chided me. “One day a week boy...you already had yours...”

I remember telling her that sometimes this rule really sucks...and at that we'd both sniffed and chuckled. Squeezing each other hard...

But it works...” she whispered. It did...it does. For us anyway way.

Yesterday marked three months without you my honey. I slept very little...four hours in the last 36...even with Xanax, which I detest. I've had my day honey...I hear you...But I miss your smile, your touch and laughter...but more than that...your heart. Your faith in me and in us...I knew without asking that you'd be there. Unflinchingly at my back when I rushed in...as I was for you.

I miss our frank conversations and the moments of comfortable silence when we could just be...the tiny things. Smelling your hair as I held you from behind while you were at the stove or waiting for coffee. Holding your hand...dancing with you in the store...at the mailbox...the way you always woke me with a kiss. So many happy moments in time...it's the tiny details that stand out and I realize it was because of that silly rule...the one were we made each other accountable for the other's happiness.

So...for you my darling, I keep trying. Trying to see the world as you did...as a place to be explored and enjoyed at every opportunity. I try...to hope and believe...to share as I can. I don't know if it really matters to anyone but it does to me. It's here that I feel you the most...were the pain is bearable.

I don't know what's next...if there is a time or a place when I can get beyond daydreaming, wishing and lounging too fulfilling those promises. I know so few things these days...except that I'm thankful for the time we had. I'm trying hard to not be resentful of it not being more...I love you babe.

Now and always, Tammy Jean...










Saturday, September 23, 2017

The First Time...



The First Time
A honey-ism...
I promised to add these as I can and this is a fulfillment of that. Though she's gone, I am forever thankful for all she gave me. My honey and I had a very non traditional courtship. It was a slow fuse burning from two very different perceptions.
That first year I slowly fell in love as I watched this incredibly challenged person give so freely of herself to others. Her enthusiasm was infectious and when she smiled it was with genuine feeling. From her perspective, she saw a man with an iron will (read stubborn) that loved his students and truly wanted only to see them become the best people they could be.
Much later honey would tell me the only time she ever saw me smile was when I was encouraging a student, wether it was an adult or a child....
She said it made her wonder what was hidden behind that gruff exterior...and why it was kept so tightly controlled. After our ride in the rain, I was hopelessly hooked. My sweet girl however, was not. Her divorce was only just beginning and she battled with the feelings of guilt and self recrimination that are a part of that process. She tried to adhere to a strictly teacher and student protocol and I knew that pressing her would only drive her away....and so it went for many weeks. Polite conversation in passing, a touch on my arm or that brilliant smile when she was crusading for one cause or another. 
I'd tried to casually invite her to lunch a few weekends to no avail...it was late summer and in Tennessee that means hot and muggy. I'd noticed that she'd starting wearing simple, lightweight pullover dresses instead of jeans or workout attire. She was quite simply, gorgeous. I'd all but given up our relationship (if you could call it that) moving past that one incident. 
So imagine my surprise when on another Sunday afternoon, she again came to the school knocking on the door. I still remember the dress...a brilliant purple, run through with an array of yellow, silver and golds in a random pattern. Long, about mid calf and simple open toed sandals. I must have stood gawking because I remember her laughing and asking me if I was gonna let her in anytime soon. 
Fumbling with the glass industrial doors latch, I'd opened it and as she passed, I could smell the light perfume she wore. My heart fluttered and I reverted to a sixteen year old boy again...nervous and unsure of myself. Locking the door, I retreated to my office mumbling about paperwork and she followed. Sitting on the front edge of my desk, I'd asked what I could do for her. Stopping in front of me, honey had smiled and said that she'd been praying about me. My first thought was.
“Oh shit.”
Stepping closer, she'd whispered. “Actually I've been praying for you my entire life.” Wrapping her arms around my neck, she'd kissed me. Softly, tenderly at first but with an increasing passion that soon had me on my feet, pressing her into the nearest wall. Busy hands soon left us both breathless, panting with lust and need...but strange as it sounds, I didn't want our first physical encounter to be in such a setting. I'd wanted it to be special...I truly wanted her to know that she could trust me. 
I remember looking deep into those blue eyes and knowing that she was the one...her nails were lightly scratching my back and I knew she wore nothing under that thin dress. Honey rarely did...but with trembling hands, I'd held her sweet face and promised that we'd do this...( My body was screaming NOW!) but that I wanted to get us a room. I was living with friends at the time, so there was no “my place.” I recall the intensity of her eyes as they locked onto mine...searching, beseeching. Finally, she'd giggled, shaking her head and replying. 
“You are a very different man, Jim.” 
Being as I was already internally kicking myself, I'd grinned and said. “Is that good or bad?”
Kissing my nose, she'd said simply. “We'll see.” 
After she left a short time later I reserved a room (for the next weekend) in an upscale hotel with all the trimmings. Hot tub in the room, indoor pool, ect. The day before I bought flower's and wine along with several scented candles...it was very cliché but in my defense, I was fairly young! On the early evening of that fateful day, I meet honey in the parking lot. We were both nervous but she was absolutely stunning. A pale yellow sundress...tiny earrings and very little makeup. Bright red lipstick. I took her hand and led her up to our room. 
Opening the door, she'd been a little taken aback by the burning candles and the flowers in a vase. Closing the door, I'd turned to her and asked if it was ok. Honey had only nodded, throwing herself into my arms, kissing me passionately. We made love as all strangers do...overwhelmed, yet insistently. Sated, I looked down into her eyes and was shocked to find her crying! My initial thought was,
“Oh my God! I must really SUCK at this!” 
Not very romantic, I know. Wiping away at her tears, I'd tried to ask what I'd done wrong and in response she'd just pulled me closer and held on tightly while she sobbed. As you might imagine, every single thing going through my head was self criticism. 
“Idiot!” “She realized you're nothing but a mistake!” “Was I THAT bad??!!” 
As honey settled down, I was stammering apologies....mortified. Taking my ears in her hands, she'd gently tugged me forward again, kissing me softly, she'd explained that those were tears of joy...that'd she'd never experienced anything that had touched her that way. She'd said...
“I felt your heart and your soul. I was a part of you...” 
My turn for tears...both then and now. On that day I learned that the physical aspect of making love was just the tiniest part of what's possible. I learned about greatness and touched divinity...My love now and forever, my sweetest honey.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Between Love And Hope

Between Love And Hope

I've spent a lot of time lately wondering about this place that sooner or later we all experience. This hollow place between love and hope...I think we define this as grief. It's like standing in the middle of a tunnel through the mountains.
You can clearly see two distinct pinpoints of light...you know what they are and where they lead and yet you're frozen. Unable to move in either direction...because you know, each step forward is painful...searingly so. Much better than to remain here...numb and immobile.

It's said that grief is a passage and that is truth but the passage also has many stops and the occasional derailment along the way. It is here that I ponder...where can I possibly hope to go? Worse still...why would I? That which I most desire is irretrievably lost and beyond my reach.
Forever...I don't know. Oh, my sweet girl...I just don't know!

I'm not new to loss. Grand-parents, siblings and comrades, even my mother but this seems to tear at my soul. Does that mean I loved those people less or you more...does an answer to that question have some meaningful application? I wish I knew. I only know that for me, losing you was akin to amputating the best parts of who I am....or was.

Through this void a steady winds blows, sometimes as gentle as a summers breeze rustling the leaves at sunset or without warning, the shrieking howl of sudden decompression at high altitude. My reactions range from misty eyed sorrow to gut wrenching bawling...I mourn not only your loss but all of the unfulfilled dreams we'd held...is this selfish? Probably. Intellectually I understand all of this but my heart gives not one damn about logic or reason...it only wants you.

I am fortunate that many people, friends and strangers alike have not only offered but DO take my hand and try to help guide me forward. A kind word, a call or even a video or picture (technology is sometimes genuinely useful.) and I am deeply grateful and thankful to all of you for each of these acts of kindness. I'm quite sure that from their perspectives, it's akin to dealing with a petulant child...each step forward is often accompanied by being dragged back three. For your patience, I am humbled...and for those whom have remained steadfast, I beg your forgiveness. I am trying...

With my upcoming surgeries, a co-worked recently asked if I was afraid of dying. I replied as I have in the past. (due to my career choices) No. I've never been afraid of dying...I've been afraid of many other things in my life but never my own death.

The impending death of my beloved honey terrified me...it was beyond my ability to control or influence. I could only react to each new affront on her body...each day was like walking blindly through a minefield. You pray for the miraculous, dreading the eventual explosion. Anyone who has been a caregiver knows this state of extended anxiety and dread. Then there's the guilt...could I have done some things sooner? Was I present enough...real or imagined failings, the intensity is the same.

These past months have been the most difficult in my life...before now, I've never felt lost. She grounded me and gave me purpose...for those that know me well, the thing I fear most some days is simple. Another day in this new reality. I'm not suicidal...I'm not wired that way but it's difficult to paste on a smile and pretend everything is ok. It's not.

I often use humor and goal setting as a coping mechanism. I also write things out... it's my process. I've made some long range plans...I set into to motion the goal of replacing my knees. A promise to my honey...things happen. An infected finger has put those scheduled procedures back weeks now...maybe a month or more. Ordinarily, I adapt and roll with it but I'm just...weary and uncommonly blue.

For those unfamiliar with type A personalities, let's just say that accepting anything as unchangeable through force of will and just plain stubbornness is challenging. My sweet girl used to tell me,

You can't change the universe to meet your demands.” I'd typically grin, replying. “Wanna bet?!”

She'd roll her eyes and shake her head but it usually worked out. I don't like losing...or failing...and this somehow feels like both. I feel like I let her down...irrational as that may sound, it's what my heart tells me. Dammit. All. To. Hell.

Ok...so, I've vented, had my pity pot day...actually two. I can almost feel the head smack...the rule is ONE! Today, I'll dust myself off and get up...life doesn't wait for anyone. It just continues, with or without you. I guess it's a lot like jumping into the middle of a pair of blurring jump ropes...you can participate or watch. Jumping in you risk being tripped up and maybe even falling...but watching isn't living...it's existing.

I'd promised...live my life...yes dear. Even when I suck at skipping...and have no rhythm. Bring on the whelps and bruises!




Monday, September 4, 2017

A Labor Da Honey-ism

A honey-ism...On this long weekend most of us try to get in that last camping trip or other favorite outdoor activity. The weather can be contrary this time of year as true summer begins to ebb and fall isn't yet fully upon us. The night are cooler and it's the perfect time to leave the windows open at night...my sweet girl was always wistful this time of year. Being a sun bunny, she loved being outdoors but enjoyed the brilliant colors of fall too.

Our small deck was where she'd spent most of her final time here on earth...and since her passing, I've not been able to cross that threshold...until yesterday. Saturday was spent furiously cleaning the upper level of our condo. I deep cleaned everything in preparation for my upcoming surgeries. I even managed to uncover her elliptical machine (where I'd draped all her coats and light jacket's) and put her clean and folded clothes into the dresser downstairs, along with the assorted foot wear, left scattered in our bedroom and laundry room. These small task took an inordinate amount of time to complete...it was a tearful and heart wrenching experience...and I still cannot bring myself to take down her bathroom robes or the numerous cooking aprons hanging as they always have...it took most of the day and left me in a funk...but honey and I had a rule...you are allowed ONE day on the pity pot...only ONE in any given week, no matter the circumstances.

So...Sunday morning, with her stern whisper in my heart, I set out to complete some of the task I'd been putting off (mending some pant's) and was determined to use our grill to make steaks and chicken for the upcoming week. Returning from the store, I'd prepped the meat and then turned my attention to the pack of needles and thread I'd bought. I couldn't find honey's kit and truthfully just couldn't make myself look very hard. A word here....as a young man, my father had taught us the basics of sewing. Simple stuff...but I'd not actually done any sewing in DECADES. I had a pair of tactical pants that needed a button put back on and a pair of jeans with a broken belt loop. Easy right? I'd certainly thought so....

First off, threading the damn needle itself proved to an exercise in patience worthy of a saint! I didn't remember the holes being that small! After muttering oaths under my breath for nearly twenty minutes...success! I pushed the needle effortlessly through the material and plopped the button right over it...easy peasy...EXCEPT for when I tried to repeat the process....for the next half hour, I poked my damn finger TWICE, broke the thread once and ended up with a fishing spool looking snarl on the backside that I managed to tie down and secure...who's gonna see it, right? The belt loop??? Holy frick'n, mother pucker!!!! :o( Two bent needles, three poked finger's AND a thigh!!! The pant's very nearly went to the grill...I was seriously considering setting them on FIRE! All the while, I swear I could hear faint snickering...my honey would've been rolling. I know she'd have rescued me after the first (maybe the second) blood letting... but she'd have giggled the whole time!

I knew there was a reason I'd outsourced this sorta thing....

So after bandaging my sore fingers, I had two completed (albeit bloodstained) pair of pants repaired...FYI...anybody asks and you can bet there'll be a better tale for the bloodstains than the truth! ;o)

Grilling and the making of the sides (Fried potatoes with onions and garlic sweet peas) was a bittersweet experience. We'd always done these things together...and while I'd enjoyed the meal (I have TON'S of left overs!) it left me melancholy. I'm not much of a drinker...two “girlie” beer's and I've usually had enough...but sipping one as the sun went down, I'd watched the contrails of a high altitude jet and thought of my girl...yes, there where a few tears...but they where mostly from good memories...lot's of them...of similar evenings shared together. Lying on lawn chairs or a blanket on the ground, hand in hand and just...being.
As the stars came out; I realized I'd been staring upwards for some time. The jet was long gone and my tears had dried but the memories of my sweet girl left a warmth in my heart and a wisp of a smile on my face...I feel you baby. Alway and forever my honey...



Tuesday, August 29, 2017

What Would Honey Do?

What Would Honey Do?

I reached for you this morning...as I have every morning for these past eighteen years. In all that time, you've never disappointed me...even when you where already up...I could feel you...smell the faint scent on your pillow or the lingering aroma of coffee, wafting through the cracked door.

How I miss your morning smile and the “Hey baby!” greeting so often used when I'd stumbled from our bedroom door, usually headed to the bathroom. With rare exception, my coffee would be waiting when I emerged along with a kiss and a touch of greeting....fifty four days...1320 hours...79,200 minutes since you've been gone... Lord how I miss you!

The routines we all take for granted...those little things are the ones that cause the biggest aches. I freely admit to being spoiled. Rotten. My lunches were always made, dinner ready (even when you worked) and I was greeted at the door with a hug and a kiss...always. These things we did for each other...I too, packed your snacks, checked your bag or gear and loved on you coming and going. It wasn't a chore or a task...we wanted to take care of each other! Your vehicle was always gassed and clean and we shared in all of the daily details of living together...well, except the laundry...you'd banned me from that! I realize now that we never argued over these things or made task list. We each just did whatever need to be done...gladly and when possible, together.
Grocery shopping, cooking and cleaning...I can still see you holding that expensive and shrunken to a child's sized sweater...rolling your eyes and declaring the laundry room off limits...I STILL swear it was an honest mistake! :o)

My greatest joys where taking you on new adventures...in fulfilling your wants and dreams. We weren't rich...far from it but it doesn't take money...just time...that most precious commodity of all. You encouraged and believed in me without question and I in you. I was so proud of my sweet and loving girl...even when you gave away our cookware or my bicycle and God knows what else to strangers in need...I couldn't help but love you. It's who you were...

You my love, taught me to be kinder and more forgiving...to see the world and those in it not necessarily as they were but as they could be...with a helping hand and a little care. Common sense and color blindness dictated your actions...you always tried to simply do what was right..not what was politically correct. There were no special groups, everyone was equal...excepting children...any and all of those held your heart. The world could use more of that...a lot more of that actually. You taught me that there is a greatness in the smallest of actions...you believed, even when at times you doubted yourself. I'm trying to match your enthusiasm...your zeal for life and those around you...no easy task my dearest honey. Sometimes in that moment between sleep and wakefulness I can hear you, whispering to my heart...I try then to hold you...to freeze that fraction of time forever. If only I could...just a bit longer... but of course each time I fail no matter how hard I try.

It hurts...this life without you. In all of our preparations even now a part of my denies the reality...clings stubbornly to that thread of hope...even though I know it's a lie. I so badly want it to be true! This is the undying part of love...the memories that live on. For all that they hurt, I cherish them darling...now and always my honey.

I've yet to have a day without tears...most are from sorrow...selfishly wanting MORE...just one more minute to hold you...to take your hand and again bask in your beautiful soul...but some are from joy...the gladness that the agony you were suffering has ended and too from a guilt that I kept you too long. I know that many of the things you tried, those treatments were for me...because I couldn't bear the thought of letting you go...I'm sorry baby...truly. I'm trying to make peace with that...to forgive myself for such selfishness...but you know me...it will take time.

I'm coming to realize that you are and will always be an inseparable part of me. You my dearest honey, changed me without trying, without demanding but through your shining example into a better man and a more complete human being. SO...now and forever I will ask...WWHD? What Would Honey Do?


One step at a time my love...forward...one step at a time. 

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Real Love



I was going through honey's computer today...making sure I got pictures that I didn't have, ect. This was the machine she used for college, so there TONS of documents on it but I came across a bunch of titles that I thought were odd and sure enough, there is a (to me) treasure trove of little things she jotted down but never showed me...this is one of them. Yup....I cried...a lot. 

 This is a family poem. I am writing about the love that my husband shows me. It is about me running my first marathon.
 Real Love 
 My day has started it’s 4am The coffee is brewing my bag is packed I’m running in circles and there he calmly stands The love of my life picking up my slack
 Without question he will get me going Thinking of all the little things I forgot He takes such care of me without even knowing Never given to himself a single thought 
 The race has started and he waits patiently to the end Taking pictures and yelling you’ve got this doll My wonderful husband my greatest fan Meets me at the finish line standing proud and tall
 True love he shows is so many ways The test of time has come and gone I cherish the way he loves me every day And my love for him will forever be strong

Sunday, August 6, 2017

A Month Without...

This morning I woke up and for the briefest of moments, I had a thought that felt normal. Before I was fully awake my mind was in the process of planning to celebrate one of the few traditional holidays that I've always insisted on. My Honey's birthday...which is tomorrow.
Of course when my eyes opened, my new reality came crashing down with a intensity that took my breath away...today, August the 6th 2017 marks the first full month without my girl. Cancer took her from me, one month and one day before her 51st birthday. Call it premonition or whatever you will; my sweet girl told me a little over a year ago that she had dreamed of this fact...she knew she would not live to see this birthday.
At the time I'd dismissed it as a manifestation of fear. A normal reaction to someone battling such a disease. We'd cuddled together in our bed and she'd drifted off as I ran my fingers softly through her hair, massaging her scalp...but I remember staring at the ceiling for a very long time...listening to the light buzz of her snore and breathing in her scent. Every man, every couple knows that unique feeling...breathing in the mix of smells that belongs only to your soulmate. It can excite or calm and it is forever intoxicating...I would give all that I have for just one more minute of holding her on my chest.
They say that grief never ends...that it changes into something more bearable. I believe that...I cling to it...some moments in desperation. Like now. I miss you babe...and I know that I always will...but you asked me to make some promises to you and I will honor them as best I can.
Some of them I'll share here...but many I won't. Simply because I haven't a clue as to how, when or if I'll be capable of honoring her request. As always, my dearest honey put my needs and happiness before her own...I returned it whole heartedly...it's what you do when you truly love each other. It creates balance...stability...trust...and the ability to face and overcome unfathomable adversity. Because you do it together...because you KNOW that all that matters is that you have each other on the other side of whatever it is that you're facing. We did that...always...but I'm struggling to do it alone...she completed me and made me a better man. She taught me to look for the goodness in all things and situations. Her loving beacon made it easy to hope and dream...
So...what did the love of my life want for her birthday? The one she felt certain she wouldn't see...she wanted me to attend to my health. Primarily, to have my knee joints replaced. It's something I've put off for a very long time and one of the few contentions we've had the past few years. I see a surgeon the 28th and I suspect the actual surgery will be in early September. I had new scans a week ago confirming what I already knew...total replacement is the only option and recovery is 3-4 months (per knee) which is why I'll be having them both done at once or at least within a few days of another.
Can I afford it? Not really but I found a way...not one I like but a way. Is it painful? Yes. Very...but pain and I are old comrades. They've (my knees) hurt for years, steadily getting worse. As usual, my girl's gotten her wish...I'm not sure how rehab's going to work yet as I live in a condo with LOTS of stairs but I'll figure it out...yes dear.
She wanted me to stay close to family and our boys...to mourn and move forward. I'm trying babe. Really, I am. To get back to work on my writing...to create the stories that she so loved reading and encouraging me to work on. Hence this piece today, when all I really want to do is pull the covers back over my head.
I hear you dear...whispering to my heart. It's what keeps me going...as I look back and flip through the photo albums we accumulated over the years. In nearly every shot you're smiling and happy....as am I. Was it perfect? God no...I made so many mistakes...but we got through them together. We loved hard and trusted in each other...we were real and goofy. We danced in the rain and in the middle of Walmart...I held you often and stole kisses every chance I got, sometimes to your annoyance and embarrassment.
We laughed at life and each other...we lived in the moment and focused on what we had and dreamed forward, never dwelling long on the "YaBut's." You taught me what love is...what it CAN and SHOULD be!
I promised that I would pay that forward eventually and share that beacon with another...I don't know if that's possible. I think that if you're VERY lucky, we find a soulmate once in life. My honey believed in the best of people...in the capacity of love and of the importance of a helping hand and a loving heart and the ripples it caused...changing lives in ways you might never see. I've seen it...and of late been the recipient of it, so I know it's true.
All I can say for now is that I will strive to help others and restrain my more cynical nature. I love you my sweet Tammy Jean...now and always...forever in my heart. I will celebrate tomorrow silently...but eternally because on this day, whatever powers there may be, blessed me with the time I had with you.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Honey's Last Days...

A honey-ism of a different sort...this is my attempt to both honor her courage and spirit, yet also purge some of the darkness from her last days. I may never share this...but if I do, be forewarned there will be tears and sorrow....there is no happy ending. It's very much about human suffering and the remarkable capacities our bodies have to not only endure it but defy it.
It's about the love that binds us and allows us to make great sacrifices for each other...to bear helpless witness to the atrocities of disease...of age and of the realities that we will all one day face...death. In the end all of the things we accumulate, the degrees and honors we've earned are not what we will be remembered by. What remains is how you lived...who's life's did you touch and make better? Did you make a difference? 
These are the questions that my honey asked often...and with rare exception, she doubted her contributions. Doubt or no, she firmly believed that if you planted a seed; however small that it would blossom and in so doing cause a ripple effect impacting others that you would never meet. Her optimism was just one of the things that I loved about her. She always gave more than she took...at times to my annoyance. 
I've written of our last camping trip which we took a mere two weeks before her final day. Even then we both assumed we had many weeks, perhaps even months left. She was weak, only able to shuffle ten or fifteen feet at a time but still eating and drinking. A few days into our trip, she started to noticeably slur her words sometimes...we both knew this was trouble but she was determined to enjoy this time. We spoke of it late one evening and she told me bluntly.
“If I'm to die, then here is ok. I'm surrounded by my family and doing what I want.”
She'd held me while I'd sobbed...soothing me as best she could. When the tears tapered off, she'd handed me a Kleenex and kissed me very softly, telling me.
“It's ok boy.” 
It wasn't...not really but what else could we do? With few exceptions (she would vomit without warning) we had a great week. It was cool for her (75 degrees) so she kept her jacket on and had a blanket handy. I know it annoyed her...my honey has always loved being outside and in the sun. She pushed HARD and by Saturday morning she was exhausted. After eating lightly, it didn't take a lot of convincing to get her to lay down and take a nap, under one condition. I'd wake her up to help prepare dinner for my brother and his wife's anniversary dinner. 
My brother Joe and his wife Lisa are extraordinary people...twenty nine years together...under some of the most trying conditions. An amazing network of family...parents, grown children and life long friends...they all loved my girl and she them in return. My honey's exact words where, 
“I'll be DAMNED if Lisa is going to cook her own anniversary dinner!” I've been with my girl a while, so I saluted and said smartly. “YES MA'AM!” And so, with the help of Lisa's Mom, Tj and I cooked the majority of their dinner. Nobody left for McDonalds, so it must'a been ok. 
We went to bed early and said our goodbyes the next morning. She slept most of the way home (it's about five hours) but after a rest stop, which of course necessitated getting out her wheelchair and O2 tank, she asked me.
“Would you like me to drive a while?” She was quite serious. 
Smiling, I told her thank you but I'd be alright. After getting her back into the car and the gear stowed, I was sliding into the drivers seat and she taken my hand, squeezing it as hard as she was able to. When I'd looked at her, she'd smiled a little sadly before saying softly.
“I'm so sorry you're having to do everything.”
Gently returning her squeeze, I kissed her forehead and told her not to worry about such nonsense. My honey just nodded and sighed. As we pulled back onto the highway, she asked again.
“You want me to drive for a while?” Fighting tears, I'd squeezed her leg and told her I'd be ok. A few minutes later she was sound asleep...
Getting back home and unloading all of the equipment took some time, when everything was setup and ready I went and got my girl and we prepared to walk up the fourteen steps to the main living level. With my bad knees, (no cartilage in either one) the passage is painful more often than not. I'd offered to carry her up and of course she refused but it was apparent every step she took was a monumental effort for her. It took several rest breaks and about ten minutes or so but we went up, with me holding her waist from behind to steady her. At the top, she relented and let me get her wheeled walker so she could set on it and I could push her to the couch. 
Once I got her settled and had her some water and the assorted paraphernalia she kept on her little TV table, I plopped down in our big chair and as tired as I was, my girl was completely exhausted. Even so, she'd chided me about getting my knees fixed. It was an old argument but it brought a smile to my face which annoyed her. She'd said, “What's so funny?”
Chuckling, I got up and kissed her answering. “You are! My focus is YOU! My knee's will keep.”
Becoming whimsical, she'd stated. “I think that's the last time I'll beat you up those stairs.” 
I'd sat by her and we'd talked about our trip and the boy's upcoming arrival, then only four days away. I had no idea then of how quickly things would change...I believe my girl did or that she at least had a feeling of it. I didn't know that she'd elicited a promise from my sister in law...to make sure I wasn't alone when she passed.
She'd gotten several promises from me during our week away as well. One was that if it was possible, her boys not be there until the very end. She didn't want that to be their last memory of her. I think she hung on until she got that wish...stubborn until the end. 
I went to work that Monday and Tuesday evening but by Wednesday afternoon it was clear she needed a hospital style bed, so our hospice team made it happen. I cancelled her regular doctors appointment which was scheduled for Thursday morning over her protest. She wasn't upset over stopping the big shots she'd been getting once a month but she truly loved her physician and the staff and wanted to visit with them. I knew she'd be unable to make it back up the stairs....at least not without the real risk of her falling. Even as sick as she was, having my honey pissed at you wasn't any fun! 
I finally got her to relent by telling her I'd reschedule it after our oldest son arrived so he could help me. That calmed her down and I picked our son (David) up later that morning. Our youngest would arrive two days later, along with my brother, his wife and their daughter and her boyfriend. Since the plant I worked for was starting it's planned shutdown, I'd been scheduled to go to dayshift and stay until the 9th of July. Honey and I had a plan in place for this...it just didn't work out that way. 
Since there was family present, I worked that three day weekend..Friday, Saturday, Sunday. Each evening when I came home after my 12 hour shift, the changes were drastic. That evening, July the 2nd my honey seemed to be quickly fading. Her breathing was labored and she dozed in and out of consciousness. I called the hospice nurse and while we waited for them to arrive, both of our grown boys poured their hearts out to their mom...it was heart breaking and meaningful at the same time. When they had finished, I knelt down and tearfully began to whisper my own goodbyes...I'd barely started when she opened her eyes and looked at me directly, very clearly saying. “That'll be enough of that stuff!”
My mouth clicked shut with an audible snap. About that time the nurse showed up and my honey wanted to know what all the fuss was about...REALLY??
After taking her vitals and reassuring us that this was fairly normal but warning us that my girl could go at any time. The nurse left and we all sat around both stunned and bemused...while it might be normal medically, it was certainly not what we had been expecting. Our original plan was that I work until our boys flew out (the 4th & 5th ) and that we'd do a hospice transfer until I returned to nights. I cancelled all of that. Fortunately, my work was more than understanding when I told them Monday morning that I couldn't leave her anymore. 
Both of our boys wanted to extend their stays but my honey nixed that. She told them to get back to their fiance's. Each morning for the next two days my girl would ask who was still here...it was a checklist for her. My brother and his wife stayed. As did their daughter and her boyfriend until they were forced to leave on the fourth, along with our youngest son. Those two days were both difficult and amazing. Even though her speech was slurred and her body was failing (she could no longer sit up unassisted) the conversations she had with those that loved her are something I will always cherish. 
Her oncology doctor called her at home and spoke at length with her. She'd missed not seeing her at her scheduled appointment! When asked how she was doing, my girl had replied.
“I'm fine. How are YOU doing? Did you enjoy your vacation?” She'd remembered that her physician had told her she'd be on vacation for the two weeks before her appointment...incredible. When she was finished, honey said. “I love you too Amy.”
Taking the phone I could tell that her doctor was trying very hard to be professional but that she too was quite emotional. We spoke a few minutes and she told me she'd be conferring with her hospice physician first thing in the morning. 
My girl did a quite a few things that were in my opinion, pretty fantastic in hindsight. She would remember things that I or even all of us had forgotten. She made only one demand during this ordeal...she wanted a slushie. Cherry. Right now. This was later on Monday evening and while I was scratching my head trying to figure out WHERE to get a plain cherry slushie from (along with everyone else!) my girl shook her head in disbelief, telling us all.
“They have them in the movie theater.”
DUH! She was right! My wonderful niece, Alyssa went with her boyfriend Dan and got her one. To my delight and surprise, honey drank about a quarter of it. Sipping happily, she'd thanked them and questioned where they'd got it from. Bittersweet. 
I know that the hardest part (one of them anyway) was when she'd wake up and not remember what was wrong with her. She'd realize how weak she was and look at her arms and legs, panicking she'd exclaim. “What's WRONG with me?!” It would take me snuggling close and whispering lies to calm her....”You're ok babe...ssh....it's alright...I'm right here.” Eventually she'd drift back off...but it kept me awake for nearly three days.
After our youngest son had left along with our niece, late on the fourth. She'd asked again about who was still here and specifically when our oldest, David was leaving. I'd told her and she'd nodded, asking. “Where's Lisa.”
I replied. “She's here babe.” Another nod and she said “That's good then.” she'd drifted off mid nod and all I could do was weep. Lisa had pushed our big, overstuffed chair next to the bed and with few exceptions, I hadn't left it. Very early on the morning of the 5th, sometime between three and four, I remember my girls eyes opening abruptly and as they locked with mine she said very clearly.
“I apologize.” Moving inches from her face I'd asked her what she thought she had to apologize for and she'd replied. “For leaving you.” I'd kissed her softly and cried as she drifted away. It was the last thing she'd say to me. Our oldest son left late that day and he'd thought she was completely gone because she wasn't responsive...but I knew she was still there...deep inside herself, away from the pain and humiliation of her body. I could feel her...
I dozed off in the early morning hours of the 6th and I startled awake, jerking upright in my chair. Lisa was asleep in the recliner and my honey's breathing was irregular but steady...but I knew even before I smelled the urine that my dear baby had gone. She was home. I held her hand as the tears flowed...her body was still breathing, but that presence... her beacon...was gone. I don't know how long I sat there quietly sobbing but as the room got lighter I gained enough control to blow my nose and wake my dear sister in law. She knew...by my face...and because I think she too couldn't feel my girl's light any more. 
I called her nurse, who said she'd be on her way and then told Lisa that I had to clean her up and change the bedding. Being the strong woman she is, she refused to let me do that alone. It was the hardest thing I've ever had to do...we both sobbed the entire time...that's love. That's sacrifice. She and her entire family have made so many of them for honey and I this past two years...it's something I can never repay but it won't be for lack of trying. Anyone who's gone through something like this knows the details and the reality. Bed sores. Changing and cleaning the one that you love most of all...
Shortly, her nurse arrived and took her vitals gently telling us that while we were most likely right in our feelings, that Tj's heart was still beating strong and while she hoped it wouldn't be a long struggle, it could be simply because of her relative youth and strength. I truly believe that hospice workers and the nurses in particular are among the most special and loving people you'll ever find. 
Around noon, my sweet sister-in-law along with my brother insisted I take a nap....I'd been up for quite a while and agreed under the premise that they'd wake me in four hours. I'd just laid down when Lisa knocked on the door and my heart leapt into my throat...cursing myself mentally, I flung the covers back as she entered the room and said. “It's not that...but I know you'd want to see this.”
We live in a condo. When you come up the stairs, there's the living room which is open to the kitchen. A short hallway has two bedrooms on the right and a bath on the left with a laundry room in between. Standing in the kitchen where three women I hadn't expected to see again. It was Tj's oncologist, her P.A and her head nurse...(not her hospice team) they were all tearfully there to say goodbye to my dear honey. I don't mention them by name on purpose...I wouldn't want any of them to get reprimanded. They came because they loved my girl...these dedicated professionals shed tears and hugged us all because they had come to love my sweet girl as she had loved and respected each of them. I'm still awed by it. I cried and of course thanked them for all that they had done...for all of their effort and heart. More evidence of those ripples my honey talked about so often.
They stayed much longer than I would've thought and when they'd gone my heart was lighter. It was a little after one when I laid back down...it seemed like my head had just touched the pillow when I heard the door open. It was Lisa and her face told me what I'd both dreaded and hoped for...it was a little after two pm. I came and stroked her face and kissed her forehead. I sat in my chair...taking her hand and waiting for her chest to rise. It never did. I thought I was cried out but I was wrong...after a while, I tearfully called her hospice nurse back and she came fairly quickly. Official time of death...2:35pm. 
More tears after the funeral home team arrived a short time later. They'd told me I might not want to watch and that they'd be as gentle as they could...I'd nodded and stayed. Until the end...even though it was late in the afternoon, our hospice team rushed to clear out all of the equipment and reminders. I called our boys and some relatives and friends. My sister in law was in overdrive...moving furniture...cleaning, anything to distract herself and stay busy. 
Within hours, those ripples my honey spoke of started returning in ways I'd never imagined. A young man (it would end up being TWO) that Tj and I had trained with but not seen in years, called from San Diego where he's station as a Marine SGT and told me he'd gotten approval for emergency leave. He'd be flying in Saturday morning. Even though he'd just returned from a 9 month deployment and had a family of his own...
Unknown even to him, his younger brother was making the 10+ hour drive and would arrive late Saturday evening...he too has a young family. They both planned on staying the week until I returned to work. They brokered no argument...they were coming. Period. 
Tj and I knew their father and mother and all the siblings trained with us. They'd lost their father (my best friend) to cancer 13 years ago. So...after having stayed much longer than we'd originally planned for, my brother and his wife returned to SD Friday afternoon under protest. I'd held them and thanked them but not only did they have a small business to run but a 12 year old son that needed them too. 
Jared (the first to arrive Saturday) accompanied me to pick up honeys cremated remains late that evening. As a veteran, honey also received a folded flag. She'd have been so very proud of the ramrod straight Marine that took it for her...the same young man that shed tears and held me as I sobbed at our vehicle...lost for long minutes in agony. I quite simply could not have done it without him. 
When his brother arrived some time later, the reunion was again tearful but I was also overwhelmed with joy at the simple and honest love being shown to me and my dear honey. For four days we shared stories, caught up with each other and grieved openly. Although they'd planned to stay the entire week, I was able to convince them to ride home (TN) together and surprise their mother. It would give the two of them some much needed brother time and allow Jared to fly back to his family and spend a few precious days recouping before returning to the grind of inspections that all units endure when returning from a deployment. 
While all of this was going on, three wonderful ladies that Tj was friends with sprang into action to setup and execute her memorial. Honey had been adamant about not having a traditional service. She wanted an outdoor gathering to celebrate her life in a casual manner. No dress clothes. Snacks and drinks, preferably a park so the kids could play. These terrific folks made that all happen. To Donna, Diane and Kim...thank you. 
She got want she wanted....as my honey usually did. Her passing drove home (to me) a point she'd always tried to lead me too...that if you love others and give of yourself without expecting or demanding in return, simply do it because its the right thing to do...then the right people will reciprocate. Maybe not to you but to another person in need, then that's a life worth living...
You were right babe...it's just the tiniest piece of why everybody loved my girl. Almost as much as me.