riding bitch

The life of a writer and survivor of loss.


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Your Only Job Right Now… Keep Breathing

(This post is dedicated to the reader who recently lost her husband and left me a comment a few days ago.)

Not long after Kaz died, a friend sent me a message quoting Dr. Seuss, “Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.” It made me want to scream.

At the time, cards, flowers and food were arriving every day. People sent me Facebook messages, called me, texted me, came over to visit or took me out to eat. It felt really good to have so much support. It felt less good to keep hearing certain phrases. Phrases like: “He’s in a better place” “He’ll always be with you” “Remember the good times” “Time will make it better” and “At least you’ve experienced love.”

No, no, no, no, no, NO, NO.

In those days, I was walking around feeling like someone had literally reached into my chest and yanked out my still-beating heart (Aztec style), leaving a gaping, bloody hole. If someone reached into your chest and yanked YOUR heart out, would “Remember the good times” make you feel better? No, it would not. You’d be like “fuck you, I want my heart back.”

On my first day back at work – three weeks after Kaz died – people practically lined up outside my cubicle to give their condolences and hugs. I nodded and thanked them and fake-smiled, but by the end of the day I was hiding in the bathroom. I didn’t want sympathy. I didn’t want to be touched. I didn’t want to be seen.

I would have much preferred to just been dropped off on an island somewhere with some food and water, and a writing pad, and left alone for a year. I didn’t know how to respond or what to say or how to function. Nothing was okay. Nothing was going to be okay. Everything was totally and utterly fucked. And the more people tried to make me feel better, the more I wanted to run for the hills.

That was in the beginning.

In the beginning, when loss is still fresh, the pain is so acute that it’s actually real physical pain. Often, it’s also mixed with feelings of guilt, which manifests in a swirling cycle of moments, decisions, expressions, thoughts, actions and words – like a looping reel of nightmares that plays constantly every moment of the day and night. Everything “bad” is dissected, reviewed, analyzed, and re-lived. Any “good” memory is kicked aside by the nightmarish swirl, like a tornado flings cars and trees like matchsticks. The result is intense mental flagellation… the “shoulda, woulda, coulda” routine, over and over.

In the beginning, the pain is also often mixed with anger.

I was PISSED… at myself, the universe, the doctors, even a little bit at Kaz. People who encouraged me to accept and “make peace” with the situation seemed alien to me. I couldn’t accept or make peace with it. There was absolutely no justice in the world if Kaz was the one to get sick and die, and I was the one to survive. I remember thinking, “How dare I still be alive and breathe air and still walk through this world when he can not, and more over, when he suffered so?”

All of the phrases and Hallmark cards and well-meaning gestures of support made me feel less alone, but did little to ease the actual agony… pain so intense that, I admit, there were moments when I considered leaving this world (and hopefully joining Kaz).

There were three things that saved me.

The first was Kaz. His memory, his spirit, however you want to interpret it. I felt his presence in those first few months as strongly as a physical touch.

At night, when I was racked with sobs, feeling as if I might actually die of tears and heartache – or asphyxiation because crying that hard feels like choking – I would feel his body pressed against mine in the bed, his right arm under my pillow, his face in my hair, his left arm around my stomach, and his belly against my back. I could feel his warmth and hear his voice and I knew it was him. Every time I was at the precipice looking down into the abyss and contemplating its infinite depth and comforting blackness, I would feel his presence and his desire for me to live.

The second thing that saved me was writing.

I wrote every day… mostly letters to Kaz, but also memories. I was so scared of forgetting things that I was literally in a panic to document everything I could remember about him and us as soon as possible, even bad memories. I typed while sobbing, but somehow the typing always calmed me down. It was almost like going back in time… I would hear his voice, remember his expression, remember where we were… and re-live the moment.

The third thing that that saved me was something that a friend who had experienced loss told me. He said, “Just keep breathing. That’s your only job right now.”

It was so simple, yet so true. And I knew Kaz would have told me the same.

So, that’s what I did. I focused on breathing… another minute, another hour, another day. Kaz had been so incredibly brave and had persevered even when he felt like giving up. I owed it to him to do the same. To not give up. To keep breathing. To do the things that he could no longer do. To live for both of us.

Later… much later, I did think of the good times, time did make it easier, and I was able to feel gratitude more than anything else. I did experience a great love, the greatest love of my life, and it forever changed me, and I will always feel lucky to have known, loved and been loved by this man.

But in the beginning, it was all I could do to just keep breathing.

I hope you keep breathing, too.


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Dealing With a Loved One’s Things

In anticipation of the big move, I’ve begun to sell some of my stuff. Smaller items so far: DVDs, CDs, books, shoes, clothes, etc. Soon I will sell the larger items: bed, couch, entertainment unit, etc. I want to travel as light as possible, and I don’t have any emotional attachment to things. I never have actually, with a few exceptions: my mother’s watercolors, a ceramic mug she made, a wooden cutting board (shaped like a pig) that my brother made when he was 11, a wooden step stool that he made when he was 14, and a small piece of art by my sister.

Other than those few sentimental items, my computer, journals, clothes and several books, I couldn’t care less about much else in the apartment — unless it belonged to my late husband.

Kaz was very attached to his things and, not surprisingly, had a lot of really interesting stuff. His things represented who he was — or rather what his interests were. If you didn’t know him personally, you could tell a lot about him just from his collection of books, music, clothes and artwork. For example, you could tell that he liked heavy metal and rap music, tattoos, graphic novels and comic books. You could tell that he loved Pam Grier, the blaxploitation era, certain television shows, science fiction and chess. You could also tell that he had an appreciation for voluptuous women and alcohol (he collected shot glasses and flasks).

When I redecorated the apartment shortly after he died (because I wanted to stay here but not have it look exactly the same), I kept most of these things around to both represent and remind me of him.

I also gave some of his things away to his family and friends almost immediately. I had this overwhelming urge for people to have a ‘piece’ of him, as represented by a belt, a pair of his beloved Nike sneakers (he had dozens), a t-shirt, a sweatshirt, a DVD he loved, or his favorite hat. I gave his small collection of toy cars to my brother to give to his two little boys, who were 5 and 3 at the time. My brother later told me that before he gave them the cars, he explained to them where the toy cars came from, and why they were receiving them. The boys were so moved by the story of the man who had gotten sick and died young that they cried.

But what I gave away was only a small fraction of what Kaz owned. Now, three years later, on the eve of leaving the apartment and starting anew, I am facing the dilemma of what to do with the remaining items.

Do I pack and ship everything to his family? That would be extremely time-consuming and expensive (but I probably will end up doing with certain things).

Do I give stuff away to his friends and/or Goodwill?

Do I sell things? This feels like the most practical and fastest, but also the most controversial.

There are some things I know for sure I’ll take with me, mostly artwork, books, a bicycle, his motorcycle gear, two heavy glass tumblers (for drinking scotch) –  and, yes, maybe the shot glass collection. Everything else, I’m not sure.

Like I said, I have never been one to place much importance on things. But dealing with someone else’s things is different, especially if those things were important to them. I just don’t know how long to hang onto stuff. I also worry that if I get rid of too much, I’ll have nothing left of him. It’s a tough call all around.

Have you dealt with this issue? How did you handle your loved one’s things?

What would you want your surviving spouse to do with your things?

 


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The Solidarity of Widows

This past weekend M came to visit. Some of you may recall M from last year (I wrote about her here and here). M and I were friends before she lost her husband, but since then we’ve grown much closer. We speak on the phone every week or two. I’ve been to visit her once, and now she’s been to visit me. On her last day here, we went for a hike with L, another widow friend of mine from my old job. Then the three of us went to brunch. It was a lovely time, full of laughter and good food. Though M and L had just met, they got along like old friends.

There’s something to be said for the solidarity amongst widows. M and I discussed it on the ride to the airport. When you’re a widow, it doesn’t matter how young or old you are, what your cultural or ethnic background is, if you’re rich or poor — you can usually relate to another widow.

It’s more than just sharing a unique and powerful loss. We all come to the loss in different ways, some by illness, prolonged or sudden, others by freak accidents or crimes. Still others by suicide. We share the loss, but we also share what happens after that. We know about the guilt: caregiving decisions, life decisions, the “shoulda-coulda-wouldas”.

We know about the madness of grief, the swirling of thoughts, the sleepless nights, the constant questioning and unsatisfying answers. We know about the crazy things people say to us, the financial issues, the burden and emotional complexity of dealing with all of our loved one’s things.

We recognize and respect (and never question) widows who still wear their wedding rings, even if we don’t choose to do so ourselves. The same with widows who decide not to date, and those who do. We don’t judge each other like others so often judge us.

We understand how life changes for a widow, how it’s never ever the same. Even if a widow remarries, she will never see her new husband in the same way she saw the one she lost. It’s not a matter of “better” or “worse” — it’s an awareness that will permeate her existence forever. An awareness that might make her less prone to anger, irritability, pettiness, or might prompt her to quit her job and pursue her dreams, or to help others in need.

Her outlook on life and her priorities change. She might cut off certain people in her life simply because they do nothing for her anymore. Though grief makes her foggy, certain aspects of life become crystal clear.

No matter how young she is, she will be more mature.

M said to me this weekend, “That girl is gone. And she’s never coming back.”

I told M that I see loss like a natural disaster of the heart. Hurricanes, tornados, fires, earthquakes, tsunamis… are all an unfortunate part of nature. They strike randomly, leave great devastation in their wake and, in some cases, actually change the landscape of the earth. But afterwards, life springs anew. People rebuild. Plants grow. Animals return. Everyone adapts to the new reality, while never forgetting the past.

And widows are their own unique group of survivors.

It pains me that M had to endure what she did at such a young age (more than ten years younger than I am). We still cry over the men we can no longer hold dear, the mistakes we feel we made, all of the wasted time and silly arguments. If only we knew then what we know now. But we can both agree that there’s no going back to what was. There is only now.

There is only now.


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New Essay on Modern Loss

Friends,

I’m happy to announce that my essay is up on Modern Loss. Please check it out: http://modernloss.com/forever-girls

Thanks for the support, as always.

Niva


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Demeter and The Seasons of Grief

The thing about grief that most people don’t understand (unless they’ve experienced it) is that it never goes away. Time allows new experiences and relationships to naturally fall over old ones, causing grief to recede deeper and deeper within. But it never leaves us completely. And like with events that happen in nature that cause the earth’s inner core to come bubbling to the surface, so do things happen in our emotional lives that trigger grief – however old it may be – to the surface.

The irony here is that I’m constantly underestimating grief and being caught by surprise.

This past May 3 marked the 3rd anniversary of my husband’s death. It was also the first year that I didn’t do anything specific. The first year, I honored the day by going to Joshua Tree National Park, a place where we’d shared many good times. The second year, I went to the mountains where we’d dispersed his ashes. Both times I took the day off from work.

This year May 3 was on a Saturday. I told myself I wasn’t a fan of this day and therefore wasn’t going to give it any energy. I went to the horse races with my good friend T. Only at the end of the day did I remind T that it was May 3rd, at which point she apologized profusely for not remembering.

“I know yesterday was tough for you,” she texted me the next day “We should have done something in Kaz’s honor. ”

“I’m not a fan of May 3,” I responded. “I rather be out with you and not thinking about it too much.”

A week later I fell into a deep depression, deeper than I’d felt in months. I didn’t discuss it on the blog in part because I’d just written about not complaining. Plus I wasn’t sure if it was directly related to the 3rd anniversary because it didn’t feel like typical grief.

Though I was crying and moping about, I wasn’t always thinking specifically of Kaz. Rather, I was thinking about life in general. I wrote to my sister: “Generally feeling like my life has amounted to nothing. No career, no kids, no husband. Lots of ideas and unfinished work, but nothing major to speak of. It’s killing me that I’m still an assistant at 43, and have been for the past 4 years. Filmmaking feels like a far off distant memory, something I used to love and now…”

I was also feeling frustrated because I couldn’t get anyone on the phone. It might be my imagination but it seems like phone calls are getting rarer and rarer. Letters are almost extinct. Are we getting more disconnected, or is everyone simply busy with their own families and lives? Either way, not being able to talk to someone simply drove home the fact that I am alone. I was missing my mother and my husband, and nothing seemed to have any purpose.

One friend I finally managed to get on the phone asked me what had changed in the last few weeks to bring on this bad mood. I admitted that I had fallen off my diet wagon, and this seemed to have a domino effect on the rest of my life. Also, the 3rd anniversary had came and went but with little fanfare

“Grief is a sneaky, wandering thing,” my therapist told me later. Then she reminded me of the Demeter and Persiphone myth.

In ancient Greek religion and myth, Demeter was goddess of the harvest, who presided over grains and the fertility of the earth.

Demeter’s virgin daughter Persephone was abducted to the underworld by Hades. Demeter searched for her ceaselessly, preoccupied with her loss and her grief. The seasons halted; living things ceased their growth, then began to die. Faced with the extinction of all life on earth, Zeus sent his messenger Hermes to the underworld to bring Persephone back. Hades agreed to release her, but gave her a pomegranate. When she ate the pomegranate seeds, she was bound to him for one third of the year… There are several variations on the basic myth… In all versions, Persephone’s time in the underworld corresponds with the unfruitful seasons of the ancient Greek calendar, and her return to the upper world with springtime. [Wikipedia]

I related to so many aspects of this story: the wandering, searching, preoccupied phase of grief; the madness that comes with no longer being able to place the lost loved one; the unfruitfulness of loss vs. the harvest and fertility of love; the seasons of grief.

What pulled me out of the slump was (once again) writing. I had to deliver a personal essay by the end of the week, and was forced to concentrate on that. The topic of the essay was the Memorial Day weekend a few weeks after Kaz died when two childhood friends came to visit me.

Though it was a bittersweet memory, writing about it felt good. I suppose writing is my fruitfulness.

"Persephone and Demeter" by Susan Seddon-Boulet

“Persephone and Demeter” by Susan Seddon-Boulet

 

 


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Words To Remember: Lights, Camera, Action!

Ironic that today’s Daily Post is about filmmaking. If you were involved in a movie, would you rather be the director, the producer, or the lead performer? (Note: you can’t be the writer!). I actually AM a director, or at least I was. I haven’t directed anything since 2010, which seems like a distant memory.  My last project – a music video – was completed the day before my late husband Kaz discovered he had a brain tumor. Since then, I’ve been writing, but not directing. What’s the difference?

For starters, writing is solitary. Most of us write alone, or rather with the voices in our head to keep us company. Directing is something you must do with others. Like the captain of a ship or a general at war, directing requires not only interacting with real people, but also leading them. It also means “acting” like a director. 

A well-known director once told me, “Directing is at least 75% performance.” Writers usually only have to perform before they write (when they’re pitching), or after they write (when they’re on a press junket for their work), but rarely while they’re actually writing. Directors, on the other hand, are almost always “on,” whether with investors, agents, actors, the crew, producers, studio executives, festival audiences, reporters, and so on. The same director who said directing was performance also once remarked, “How in the world does one do this job without alcohol or drugs?”

Secondly, writing costs nothing. All you need is time, a computer or typewriter, or pen and paper. If you can’t afford a pen and paper, you could write on a free computer at the library and use email to save your work. Or I suppose you could whittle a stick and use blackberry juice as ink like Solomon Northup‘s character in 12 Years a Slave. The point is you can write with absolutely no money.  

You cannot, however, direct a film with no money – even if everything is donated, you’re shooting in your own home and not paying anyone,  money will be spent. There have been cases of people making films with as little as $7,000 (Robert Rodriguez’s first film El Mariachi), but still… that’s $7,000 and a WHOLE LOT of energy to call in all the favors you need to complete the film, favors worth tens (if not hundreds) of thousands of dollars.  As a former professor once said, “The cheapest way to make a movie is to write one.”

Third, the writing process affords flexibility, in the sense that you can change things. Your changes will have ripple effects, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make them. Directing, on the other hand, requires commitment to the blueprint (i.e. the script) and laser focus to keep all the moving parts together in your head (especially when shooting out-of-order). You can change things here and there, but you can’t veer too far, especially once you’ve started filming. For example, you can’t change the sex of a character, or the tone of a movie, mid-way through production (unless that’s part of the story). You have to be flexible in other ways, but not in the same ways as the writer.

So, directing requires communication, performance, money, focus, and massive amounts of creative, mental and physical energy, none of which I’ve had much of in the past few years. I’ve gone from being a caregiver to a grieving widow, and now find myself in the process of redefining myself, both personally and professionally. I’m not the same person I was before Kaz. I’m not the same person I was when he was alive, or shortly after he died. I’m a combination of all of the above and something more, something new.

I’ve been re-editing my director’s reel over the last few months, and it’s been a great exercise in reflection, like a mirror to my past. Reviewing the films I wrote, directed and obsessed over for long periods. Remembering those moments and projects about which I felt such passion. As I’ve mentioned before, it’s been challenging to feel that kind of white-hot passion again. Though I do feel myself slowly being drawn to it, like to a distant fire on the horizon of a very long night.

To answer the original question, if I were involved – when I am involved in a movie again – I will definitely be the director. Even though I haven’t done it in years, I know I still have it. I love telling stories with images and sounds. I love working with actors and other professionals, each department providing its own unique, delicious ingredient to the overall piece. I adore the editing process, which feels most like the writing progress, solitary (save for your editor), flexible, and terribly creative. There’s a reason why so many of us say, “I’ll fix it in post.”

When I get nervous about my hiatus I remember that Stanley Kubrick took 7 years between The Shining (1980) and Full Metal Jacket (1987), and even longer between the latter and Eyes Wide Shut (1999). Terrence Malick took 20 years between Days of Heaven (1978) and The Thin Red Line (1998)his second and third films respectively. They certainly didn’t stop being directors just because they weren’t actively directing.  No doubt when they returned to the director’s chair, their life experiences made them better directors.

I look forward to testing that theory. The chair awaits.

skd283023sdc


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Loss: From Nightmare to Normal

Today a friend posted on Facebook a NYT article entitled No Husband, No Friends by Charlotte Brozek with the caption “Wow. This is scary.” In the article, Ms. Brozek, a widow of one year, explains that because she and her late husband had no single friends, and because her married friends now avoid her, she feels isolated, confused and understandably depressed.

My friends headed for the hills. In the last years of my husband’s life, we had come to rely on two or three couples for entertainment, but they disappeared after he died. Were they afraid to face their own mortality, or was it that the dynamics we presented as a duo were lost with me as a widow?

This statement made me recall what another friend recently said to me: “No offense, but you’re my worst nightmare.” She was referring to my being a widow, and I took no offense at all. In fact, I totally understood what she meant. I used to be my own nightmare too, in the same way parents who lose their children personify other parents’ worst nightmares.

In his memoir A Grief Observed, C.S. Lewis describes the inevitability of death (i.e. separation) that we’re all aware of when we enter into romantic relationships, whether we’re conscious of it or not:

… this separation, I suppose, waits for all. I have been thinking of H. and myself as peculiarly unfortunate in being torn apart. But presumably all lovers are. She once said to me, ‘Even if we both died at exactly the same moment, as we lie here side by side, it would be just as much a separation as the one you’re so afraid of.’

We all know that one day our lives and our loved ones’ lives will end. Some say the words “till death do us part” when they marry, but really those words could be said upon the birth of a child or the beginning of any committed relationship where the understanding is “we will be together until one or the other of us dies.” Yet, when death actually happens, even if it’s expected, it is both shocking and agonizing to the ones left behind.
Another friend once said to me that death (nothing from something), like birth (something from nothing), is incomprehensible. Intellectually, we know that it happens and what it means. But when faced with the reality (no matter how much we have “prepared” for it), our minds cannot fully understand how it’s possible that someone can be alive one moment and the next moment not alive, and never to return. The power of this total and complete finality is what shocks the system, and it’s that finality that we hate to think about.
C.S. Lewis describes the discomfort that his widower status produced in others:
At work, at the club, in the street, I see people, as they approach me, trying to make up their minds whether they’ll ‘say something about it’ or not. I hate it if they do, and if they don’t. Some funk it altogether. R. has been avoiding me for a week. I like best the well brought-up young men, almost boys, who walk up to me as if I were a dentist, turn very red, get it over, and then edge away to the bar as quickly as they decently can. Perhaps the bereaved ought to be isolated in special settlements like lepers.
Ms. Brozek uses the analogy of Noah’s ark, where only coupled animals were saved, to describe the inherant isolation a widow can feel:
I understand Noah’s plan — the world needed two to tango in the face of an annihilating flood. But he should have designated a section on the ark for us.
Two and a half years after Kaz’s death, I’m still experiencing the awkward encounters, less so the isolation. For one thing, I have a diverse pool of friends, including couples (unmarried, married, gay, straight, with/without children) and singles. I also have no qualms doing things alone, and time has helped to reestablish my equilibrium. Ms. Brozek also writes:
Someone once said that being a widow is like living in a country where nobody speaks your language. In my case, it’s only my friends, family and acquaintances who all now speak Urdu — it’s not the whole country. I discovered strangers possess more compassion than my own friends and family. 
One of the main reasons I cherish this blog so much is that I can discuss things here that I cannot comfortably discuss with most people. This has made me feel less isolated and continues to help me heal.
So, while loss is inevitable, time and expression can help us transition from nightmare to normal. It’s hard to remember when we’re in the thick of it, but life is cyclical… nothing from something, something from nothing… in finitum.


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Birthdays, Milestones and Peacocks

Anyone who’s lost someone knows how bittersweet birthdays can be. One often feels guilty for having a birthday at all, while our loved one will never have another. Friends and family go out of their way to shower us with attention and make sure we have plans, lest we end up alone. Of course, more often than not, that’s all we really want… to be left alone. 

But then we feel guilty about denying everyone the opportunity to show their love. We might even feel guilty because we know our loved one wouldn’t want us to be alone and moping about. We know he/she would want us to do something special, if not for us then for them.

Today is my birthday. I am now 43 years old, the same age as Kaz when he died (technically, he was 43 years and 6 months old). Soon I will be older than him, which seems very strange indeed. I always thought of him as older and wiser. Actually, no matter how many more birthdays I have, I will always think of him as older and wiser.

Three years ago we had a big party for my 40th. I wore a very tight, red dress and invited all of our closest friends, not just for me, but to see Kaz. He was still doing fairly well then. It was an incredible night, forever immortalized in the many photos that people took. For some, it was the last time they saw him looking like himself.

The next two birthdays (without him) were more subdued. I turned 41 six months after he passed, while sitting in the rain at Occupy Oakland with a friend. The event had started only the day before (October 10, 2011). We sat on the plastic-covered steps of  Frank H. Ogawa Plaza while my friend’s 4 year-old daughter stomped nearby puddles in her red rubber boots. Something about the wet, serious, anonymous yet congenial atmosphere felt appropriate. I was surrounded by people but not required to talk. Tears blended with the rain.

I don’t even remember what I did for 42. I just remember thinking, “This is how old he was when diagnosed.” 

This year I feel stronger, more hopeful and grateful than before. Not coincidentally, the blog is almost 1 year old (on October 18) and my dog’s adoption date is a week after that. When I reflect on this past year, it was a year well-lived, a year of getting my “sea legs” back, so to speak.

The puppy and I lived for a month in Vermont. I made significant progress with the memoir. The blog was Freshly Pressed, and I’ve made many new blogging friends since then. I bought a new car, and drove my father’s Porsche. I got back in the kitchen after almost two years of not cooking. I interviewed for a writer’s gig, and even though I didn’t get it, the interview taught me a lot. I have steadily trained my puppy and hope we can take the Canine Good Citizen test before the end of the year.

The future looks bright as well. I just started a Television Pilot writing class. I’ve hired an editor to cut a new director’s reel. I’m updating my resume and making plans to possibly (finally) move out of Los Angeles. I’m also planning on taking a few months off to finish the memoir. All in all, life is good at the moment. I couldn’t have said that last year, or even six months ago. But life is like that, ever changing, moving and molding, like water.

A friend gave me a birthday card with a peacock on the cover. I’ve been so drawn to this image that I had to look up its symbolism. In doing so, I found this blog post that lists several meanings and their origin.

From The Meaning of Symbols.com: The peacock is a symbol of immortality because the ancients believed that the peacock had flesh that did not decay after death… The peacock naturally replaces his feathers annually; as such, the peacock is also a symbol of renewal.

Renewal. That is what I’m feeling these days. May this year be the Year of the Peacock.

my friend's card

my friend’s card


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The Sweet Gift of Grief

Recently, I have felt a growing distance from my grief, and it’s been bumming me out. It’s as if I’m losing the sense of being Kaz’s widow. Even more disconcerting, of being his wife. The healing seems to have replaced something intangible in addition to the grief. Or perhaps it has become a thing in itself, like a scar that replaces a wound and then becomes a permanent fixture of the body.

I’ve actually found myself yearning for the earlier days of grief. The days when it felt like my heart was splitting in two, every waking moment an excruciating reminder of his permanent absence. Yet I could still feel and remember him vividly, and we were still together, still part of a union. So there was sweetness mixed in with the pain. Now the pain has subsided taking the sweetness with it, and I’m left feeling empty, longing for one or the other, or both.

Then three triggers happened this weekend.

The first – a dear friend got upset with me about something on Friday night (details irrelevant to this post). When I finally left work at 7:45pm, I drove home knowing this friend was disappointed in me and basically feeling like shit. I remembered similar times before when I had come home upset and Kaz had put things in perspective.

“Don’t beat yourself up,” he would have told me Friday night. “You apologized. There’s nothing more you can do.” He would have diverted my attention to the positive. “Hey, at least today was pay-day, and tomorrow Angelina is coming over, and Sunday is football, and you’re going to cook us dinner.” At that point, I would have nudged him and laughed.

Angelina is the new cleaning lady I’ve hired to come every other week. She is reasonably priced and sorely needed, but still a splurge. The last time I had a cleaning lady was when Kaz was sick. One of my former bosses had very generously donated several months of cleaning service. Kaz immediately dubbed these nice ladies “the help” (a year before the film came out), and mumbled about them moving his stuff around. But we both appreciated them very much. 

This new lady, Angelina, did a wonderful job. She also emanated a certain energy that I haven’t felt in a long time. It’s comforting to know she’ll be back every two weeks, and not just because of the cleanliness she leaves behind.

The second trigger was a dream on Saturday night, in which I visited Kaz in a hospital. I hate to see him sick in my dreams, but it was still good to see him in general.  We spent the time lying on the grass in the shade of a large tree outside his hospital room, just listening to the wind rustling through the leaves. 

Sunday I slept in and captured this classic moment:

Ruby in the morning

Then it was off to Agility class with Ruby, where she got to do the course off-leash for the first time, and see her pal Louie, the grey poodle I wrote about here. They’re both in Obedience and Agility together and quite an item now, play-wrestling before and after class to everyone’s amusement. Louie shows his affection by chewing on Ruby’s ears, and she shows hers by nibbling on his ankles. “He has a thing for female pitbulls,” Louie’s dad told me with a smile.

The third trigger happened when we stopped to look at motorcycles at a Honda dealership on the way home. “My late husband owned an RC51,” I told the rep as he showed me around. I could almost feel Kaz walking around with us.

Not surprisingly, I cried harder this weekend than I have in the past several months. But it was a good cry, familiar and somewhat comforting. I had been missing my man, and this weekend he came back briefly. His sweet presence in turn triggered the painful grief. But despite – or perhaps because of – the tears, I felt grateful.


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Sweet Dreams

People have varying opinions on the origins and meanings of dreams. This post isn’t meant to be a discussion of either, rather an observation on the emotional power dreams can carry. For those of us who have lost loved ones, it can be quite an experience to encounter the person(s) in our dreams. It can feel as if the person has just “visited” or like they’re trying to tell us something. In some cases, it can feel mysterious, jolting, even upsetting.

For years after my mother died, whenever I would see her in my dreams she ignored me – the opposite of how she behaved in life. She had always been the emotional anchor of our family. After my parents split up and my father moved away, in many respects she became the center of my world. Yet, to this day, she has never spoken to me in my dreams. 

The last time I dreamt of her, she was the special guest at a party and when she entered the room, everyone applauded. I felt thrilled, curious and proud to see her looking so beautiful and radiantly happy, almost like a movie star. Of course I still wish one day she would look at me or say something (what I wouldn’t give for a hug), but I have learned to simply be grateful in her presence and respect her independence, for in my dreams she always comes across as a strong, independent woman, comfortable in her own skin and not defined by motherhood.

With Kaz it’s been different. For one, I have dreamt of him more often in the past two years than I have dreamt of my mother in the past twenty. Second, we do interact in my dreams, both physically and verbally. Some of my dreams have been “R” rated. Some have been upsetting, others odd, but most have been good.

In the first few months after he passed, we were definitely still a married couple in my dreams. His body was healthy and strong, the way it had been when we first met and, though we never discussed it, there was a shared awareness that he had been sick and was no longer alive in my waking life.  The combination of these elements gave those early dreams a heightened sense of urgency, like “these few moments are all we have, let’s make them good!” 

After a while, the nature of our relationship in my dreams changed, as if he was evolving with time, or I was, or both. Once I dreamt that he was living with another woman. I felt happy to see him again, especially looking so happy and healthy, but found it difficult to contain my jealousy. That dream ended with me leaving to take a walk around the block because I couldn’t take seeing them together anymore (and pretending to be okay with it).

Last night I dreamt of him again. I only remember the end. We had just finished having dinner with a bunch of friends in a strange city, perhaps Europe, and Kaz had to leave. He walked towards a waiting vehicle, like a van or small SUV. I actually felt shy about following him. Were we still together? Was I still his wife? What was I to him now?  

I finally did follow him, and he turned around to hug me. “I’ll see you later,” he said and smiled. Then he got into the back of the vehicle, and it drove way. My questions hadn’t been answered, but I felt elated and woke up laughing, “I just saw Kaz!”

No matter what the situation, any time I see him (or my mother) in a dream, it always feels like a gift.