Valentine’s Day 5 Years Later

Renewing our VowsFive years ago today we were preparing for renewing our wedding vows with friends in the evening while making the rounds of doctors to recreate care after hospice kicked us out.  Six weeks later, Larry took his last breath  A heartbeat ago and an eternity.

There’s something about five years that carries significance in a way that four or six doesn’t, with no reasonable explanation.   It’s just what I feel and if there is one thing I’ve learned these last five years it’s that feelings matter and you can’t just push them away.

In some ways I’ve come full circle this last year.  Mostly since Larry died I’ve been grieving him, intensely at first, then learning to live with it as an ache that comes and goes, sort of like an old injury that hurts when it rains.

This year I’ve found enough stability and equanimity to be able to finally allow myself to fully feel the crushing blows of caregiving.  I spent months “oozing” the trauma.  It wasn’t like there were flashback memories, it was all physical.  I called them dread attacks and they came during the nights and early mornings, sometimes one at a time, sometimes like endless waves crashing over me.  I fought them, looking for how to “fix” them with things like journaling, meditation, drugs, and therapy,  It was only in accepting and allowing them that they started to abate.

Next came grief for me, for the years of regular life I’d lost, for the career I gave up at its high point, for the hopes I lost.

This Valentine’s Day I’m back to grieving for Larry.  I feel like I’m losing him, losing memories.  A friend suggested maybe I’m not losing him, I’m letting him go.  When we celebrated five years ago, we included a sand ceremony, taking it from ancient traditions where parties would each mix sand to seal a contract – once the sand was mixed it could never be separated.  Larry (with my help) and I each poured sand from our favorite local beach in a turquoise  decanter, added sand our kids had mailed from their home beaches, and invited our neighbors who’d been so supportive to us  to each add a small cup of sand. I’ve moved that sand in that decanter from Florida to California, and from houseboat to houseboat to houseboat.

Original pastel of one set of footsteps in the sand

I’ve been thinking about loss and letting go all week.  I decided it was time to let go of that sand, let go of holding onto the pain, the grief and yes, even some of the love.  There’s plenty of love still to keep but I don’t want to keep the rest of the pain and grief that got so tied up in it.

Yesterday I separated out a small amount of sand to take with me to Florida next week when I make my first visit back to the area where we used to live, where we celebrated that last Valentine’s Day.  I’ll leave it there on the beach it came from, perhaps at sunset because Larry loved the beach at sunset.

Today I took the decanter out on my deck and slowly scattered the sand into the water below, to the sounds of James Taylor (his favorite) in the background playing “You’ve Got a Friend.”  The past life scattered at the base of my present life. I’ve washed the decanter and will give it away.  The sand, the decanter, they’ve served their purpose.  I don’t need them anymore.  I remember saying at his funeral that Larry taught me how to let go of people I loved.  I meant the kids, but I think it applies now.

I like the person I’ve become over these last five years.  I’m strong, I’m happy.  I’ve made lots of friends of all ages.  I like the people around me and I know they like me.  I’m enjoying life.

There’s lots of kinds of love and today I feel well-loved, by those alive and those who’ve left me.  By Larry, by my parents and my stepdad, by my kids, by my grandkids, siblings, dear friends.  I’m so fortunate!  I know how to live open-heartedly and I know how to give love and receive love.  I’m not afraid of what will come because I know whatever it is, I’ll figure out how to manage.  Not just manage – I’ll figure out how to thrive.  You can do that when you know about love.



Starting a New Chapter – Emerging from the Cocoon

Image of the butterfly saying that we may need to cocoon before we grow
Cocoon Before Emerging

I haven’t posted for a long time.  It’s been two years this month since my husband died, and I’ve just started a new chapter.

Because of COVID, I spent 380 days mostly alone.   Since nothing much was happening externally, I figured I had nothing much to write about.

Having moved to Florida only 5 years ago with no family nearby, I had no “pod” with whom to shelter in place with. I had a friend I walked with a few evenings a week.  Lots of people I Zoomed with, both friends and clients.  But I ate almost all those 1140 meals alone.  Filled all those many many hours alone.

But as I’ve started to emerge from my cocoon, I realize it helped me to learn a lot about taking care of myself.  The first year without Larry the neighbors rallied round, inviting me to lunches, dinners, parties.  I was living our couples’ life, just alone.  I did a lot of things to fill time without thinking whether I wanted to do them or no.  And some things I did to allow others to feel they were helping me.  I wasn’t spending much time figuring out who I was or what I wanted.

This last year I had plenty of time to think.  To meander through past memories, both good and bad.  To ponder the future.  To explore and experiment with what made ME happy, what foods I liked to eat, what I wanted to do and when.  I had no excuses to make about why I didn’t want to go out.  I didn’t even have the responsibility of deciding whether or not to go out and about.

I started to learn Spanish, played the piano more than I’d had in years, swam laps every day, did hula hoop fitness in the back yard, and did a lot of writing and painting.  I took on a healthcare client who wanted to provide stress relief to their staff and did lots of research on resilience and mindfulness.  I meditated and journaled a lot!  For the first time I joined my art and writing and work with weekly resilience messages coupled with a painting.

I finally decided it was time to move.  I’d known I wouldn’t keep the large house for myself from the beginning but it was lovely to have so much space while I was house bound.  With no family around, the work and cost to maintain it didn’t seem to make sense and Florida was never a forever destination for me.

The problem was I didn’t know where I wanted to move TO.  The 15 months without family made moving close to family seem so much more important than ever before but my kids live in the most expensive cities in the country on the opposite coast!!  I think grief hampers decision making for some of us – everything compared to care giving should feel easy but for some reason making decisions alone seemed hard (even though I had been making decisions alone for years – but with a sounding board that was now gone.)

The work of getting the house ready to sell, choosing how and when to sell, and starting the process of shedding so many possessions was incredibly daunting and had me procrastinating out of fear for many months.  Fear is so sticky – I couldn’t move in any direction.  Finally I decided that if I could find the strength and skills to support my husband while he was deteriorating daily and still find joy for us in each day, then I could support myself through this next big thing!  And I have.  I moved 3 weeks ago.

When feeling fear we have to look at how we’ve come through difficult things in the past, look for our strengths, look for courage to continue to face difficult things.  Without self-pity.  Without carrying a list of all the bad or tough things we’ve had to go through.   But we also have to be compassionate and gentle with the scars we carry.  It’s a fine balance, but the only way to move forward.