Monday, August 31, 2015

Out and About, But Oh, So Painful!

Great Smoky Mountains National Park - August 4, 2015

I find myself wanting to write, but when I sit down to do so, the words just simply will not come.  Amazing how I compose these fabulous posts while out walking, but when sitting at my laptop, those words have simply vanished.  There is no logical explanation for anything going in my head these days.  There is no logic to grief!

Five and a half months have passed.  The inability to take a deep breath has, for the most part, passed.  The ability to go about my daily routine has, for the most part, returned.  The business aspect of Bill’s death is, for the most part, complete and things are functioning as they should.  As for the tears, there is no, “for the most part,” to it.  They flow every day.  Multiple times every day.  Sometimes, it’s just a eyeful of tears when a memory crosses my mind or I hear his laughter in my head.  Other times, it’s tears flowing down my face because I open a drawer and there lie the jade necklace and earrings he brought me from China and presented to me in the wee hours of the morning he returned because it was our anniversary and he couldn’t wait.  Or one of his students posts yet another picture on Facebook that I haven’t seen along with an amazing tribute to the influence he had on their life.  And sometimes, there is no trigger at all.  The reality just hits anew that he is gone and without him in them, the days seem empty.

But I try.  Part of that trying includes efforts, feeble though they may be, to resume the activities I most love.  Being outdoors, traveling and hiking.  Our weather during June, July and the first part of August was simply miserably hot and humid, so there hasn’t been much hiking, but I have taken full advantage of my early morning body clock and walked regularly often before it is fully light.  (Another perfect time for shedding tears!)

I have taken several short trips to visit friends and have attended a couple of conferences at The Cove.  I wrote about one of those adventures in my last post.  When you read this, I will be on my way to another destination with new friends that aren’t really new at all.  It will be a week of seeing new things and deepening a friendship that already exists.  I promise to write all about it.

My support system here at home continues to humble and amaze me.  My fear that it would go away as time passed has not materialized.  My schedule remains full and is a delightful mixture of time with folks who have been part of my (our) life all along and others, who have moved to the forefront and caused me to wonder how I managed to live life without them in it regularly before.

The "gypsy" in me seems to be changing.  That's a whole post in itself, but I am learning that the independent Sharon who once sought solitude for weeks at a time, really wasn't so independent at all.  There was ALWAYS a certain someone waiting to hear from me, calling to see where I was on my journey, wanting to know when I'd be home and of course, in later years, constantly texting from his office begging for pictures or being curious about what hike or road I was on.  His favorite way to end a conversation when I was traveling or hiking with friends was, "ok, it's time for you to come home!"  Even if I was only two hours into a week long adventure, that was a special communication between us and is the way conversations always ended.  Then he'd laugh and say, "I love you - have fun," and be gone to his next class or rehearsal.  

So, without that centering presence always "there," no matter where I was, I find myself being much more content here at home among the support system that is a constant source of encouragement.  Once September arrives, I have made some commitments which will keep me closer to home and that is ok.  There is still plenty of room for adventure and plenty to write about.

So, as the saying goes, time does march on.  Time is a gift.  It is also a miracle.  Never take it for granted or assume there will always be another opportunity to do or say what needs to be done or said NOW.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Some Time Away

Pearson's Falls - Tryon, North Carolina
July 24, 2015

There’s no way to sugar coat the fact that grief is indescribable to those who are in the midst of it.  It is incomprehensible to those who are trying to understand it.  The most frustrating part in both circumstances is the sheer unpredictability of it.  My family and friends, although patient to the utmost, have to believe that I am losing my mind.  One minute I am clear, calm and focused.  The next, I am practically unable to function.  Trying to anticipate either circumstance is a waste of time, yet it would be so helpful if I knew which day was going to be calm and peaceful as there is so much I could accomplish on those days. 
                                                                                                        
The thought of traveling even to a “safe” place for a few days has been overwhelming as even getting my mind to focus on packing a travel bag seems impossible.  I know you find that hard to believe since travel, hike or just get in the car and GO has been my mantra since the beginning of this blog in 2010. But the time came to try and the “safe” place was the home of dear friends from college days.  We’ve shared joys, sorrow, trials, grief and every other life event for more than 40 years.  We graduated from college together, the guys went through grad school together, we married within three weeks of each other and have lived 2 ½ hours apart since 1981.


January, 2014 - The last picture we have of a 40 year friendship!
It was a wonderful day.
(Sadly, no one thought to take a picture at our last time together in February)
The four of us spent an afternoon together at The Sweet Onion, in Waynesville, North Carolina, on February 9.  Bill felt good and it was a day of shared friendship that NONE of us suspected would be the last we would ever have on this earth.  They were in my driveway within hours after Bill’s death and knowing their jobs well, I have yet to be given an adequate explanation of how they both managed to get three days off from work to be here, but they did.


Although Tony likes taking care of me, it is difficult and emotional for him to comprehend being around me without Bill, so it seemed natural that it was to their house I would go on a week when he was out of town.  It was just us girls and was a salve to my weary, aching, grieving heart. 


They call it their mid-life “toy,” but Becky and I meandered around the foothills of North Carolina in their convertible, enjoyed some delicious meals, shed a lot of tears, walked a lot of miles, spent some comfortably quiet hours on their screened in back porch and simply relaxed in the comfort of friendship.


My "ride" for the week! - Forest City, North Carolina
 
I wish I could tell you that I came home better than I left, but I can’t.  Those crazy mixed-up emotions won’t let me.  When I was packing to go, I kept thinking I didn’t want to do this.  It was just too hard.  At times while there, I yearned to be at home.  At other times, I wouldn’t have wanted to be anywhere else.  As I approached home last Friday afternoon, the sadness and dread returned with a vengeance making me wonder before I ever got home if I’d made a mistake in going. 

I can tell you that it was NOT a mistake.  I can also tell you that I write this to try and help those reading who might be grieving know they ARE NOT ALONE in their fears they might be going crazy.  I also write it to tell those of you who love someone who is grieving and want to help that the most loving thing you can do is LISTEN.  Or simply be present. 


Nothing feels right.  Nothing feels natural.  Nothing feels normal.  I am told this will become gentler over time and the most important thing for me to do is acknowledge that this is awful, take it one day at a time (sometimes one breath at a time) and trust that I am doing everything I can to work through the pain.

All of the pictures in this post were taken at Pearson’s Falls in Tryon, North Carolina.  It is a privately owned, but beautiful waterfall requiring only a short walk through a picturesque area.  For those who might be traveling I-26 toward Myrtle Beach, Charleston or Savannah, it is an excellent leg stretcher just off the interstate with an amazing payoff and a lovely picnic area.  I highly recommend it.

Thanks so much for your kind thoughts and comments.  They do encourage me and I am grateful.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Flowers…It’s The Little Things (or Maybe They Are BIG Things!)

Did we love Flowers?  Azalea from Backyard of our old house.
April, 2013


I love flowers.  Bill loved flowers.  We had flowers everywhere.  We visited any garden or sought out any festival that boasted an abundance of flowers.  Flowers have brought me huge doses of comfort.   Flowers have also been the catalyst for some of my most painful (not to mention embarrassing) meltdowns! 

Many decades ago when Bill was a struggling graduate school student and I was in the early stages of a career that could barely support us, we would dream about the little luxuries we would choose if the day ever came that we had “discretionary” income!  We just loved saying that word.  It sounded so fancy and we would just laugh!  His top choice would always be that he would have his shirts professionally laundered and pressed.  My top choice was that I’d always have fresh flowers in my house!   I am happy to say that the day came when BOTH of those things happened.  Bill kept our yard full of flowers, sent me flowers often and most of the time, we did have fresh flowers in the house.
                                                   
I wanted to share some of the ways in which friends and flowers are loving me through this most horrible period in my life!

Bill died early on a Wednesday morning.  Beginning the following week, someone left a bouquet of fresh flowers on my front porch every Wednesday morning.  When I opened the front door, there they would be!  Beautiful, gorgeous flowers.  Something different every week.  At first I had no idea who it was and it took a few weeks to catch her in the act, but I finally did.  She tells me that “someday,” it will stop, but to this day, I still receive fresh flowers every Wednesday.  I cannot begin to tell you how special this is and what it has meant to me.

Although virtually impossible for me to choose a favorite flower, tulips rank right up there.  Bill knew very well how much I loved PURPLE tulips.  He died on March 18 and the tulips began blooming very soon afterwards.  I took a walk one day near our condo and came upon what is always a bed of beautiful tulips.  Only two were blooming that day – two perfect purple ones!  I literally fell to the ground in a puddle of tears.  It was awful, yet cleansing.


Purple Tulips - March 30, 2015

Getting through the tulip blooming season was difficult and I am grateful to a dear friend who made the annual pilgrimage with me to see the tulips at Biltmore.  It you’ve read this blog for any length of time, you’ve seen many pictures of Bill and I in the gardens at Biltmore with the tulips.  You also saw pictures of us in the Biltmore gardens with the mums (mums and iris were HIS favorites) in the fall!  Thankfully, Bill was able to make both trips in 2014 and I am grateful for the last pictures I have that he took in the gardens at Biltmore.

Biltmore Gardens - April 26, 2014



 Bill's last trip to Biltmore - October 12, 2014
He took this picture of the mums he loved so much!

Unfortunately, my meltdowns in public places over the memories brought on by flowers were not over!  Another of my favorites is Gerbera Daisies.  Shortly after the tulip incident, I was with my mother in Walmart and we happened upon some beautiful planters of Gerbera Daisies.  Deciding they would make me smile, I chose one and made it to the checkout line, but when the clerk looked at me and said, “how beautiful,” I burst into tears.  It scared the poor lady to death.  I am so grateful that my mom was there to explain.  Needless to say, we got out of there quickly, but my Gerbera has thrived!

Early spring at our old house!
See the tulips and gerberas? - April, 2013

There is an amazing grower of Daylilies not far from our home.  They primarily sell via the internet, but have a festival each year near the end of June.  The same friend (she’s a real trooper) went with me to the Daylily Festival this year and we came away with our “free” daylily.  She gave me hers and I planted both in what I’ve decided will be Bill’s Daylilly Garden in my front yard!  He had nurtured a gorgeous garden of Daylillys at our old home and I now regret not bringing some of them along.  But I can still hear Bill’s sweet voice saying, “no, we will start a new one!”  So that’s exactly what I have done.


Oakes Daylily Farm - Corryton, TN
June 26, 2015

And then last, but certainly not least, I made a new memory last Thursday.  My new friend (see my last post), Tami, and I learned almost simultaneously via Facebook of huge fields of sunflowers in the Forks of The River Wildlife Management Area near our homes.  This is actually an area near my OLD home that I’ve walked hundreds of times and of which you’ve seen many pictures through the years.  Since I am not often around during the heat of the summer, I was not aware of the planting and growth of these fields of sunflowers.  Just look and judge for yourself!  What joy this brought me and what pleasure to share a new memory with yet another friend.
 
 Sunflowers at Forks of the River WMA

Flowers and friends.
One is a little thing.
The other is a HUGE thing.
Putting the two together bring me joy.

July 7, 2015

 

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

The Days Go By...In A Daze of Grief

Middle Prong Trail - Great Smoky Mountain National Park
July 6, 2015
(all pictures in this post were taken yesterday on Middle Prong Trail)
 
There is no rhyme or reason to this thing called grief.  And certainly no way to prepare for it.  Bill and I tried to be present and helpful to those around us that were grieving.  We never tried to pretend that we knew how they felt or what they were experiencing because we didn’t.  Until 2010, we had never even suffered the death of a parent.  To say I was not ready is an understatement.  But then, are we ever ready?  I think not. 
 

I am closing in on 3 ½ months that Bill has been gone.  The ability to draw a deep breath is beginning to return, but the depth of emotion surrounding my moments just remains so tentative.  One moment, I feel strong and able to cope.  The next, I may very well be on the living room floor sobbing. 

I am becoming better able to contain my emotions in public places and have either learned which places to avoid or have come to terms with others and are able to go there, conduct my business and get out.  For example, I truly began to believe I was going to have to change grocery stores.  I spent HOURS scouring the aisles for things Bill might be able to eat plus our pharmacy is also located within the grocery store.  Just entering that store reduced me to tears and I can’t tell you how many times I simply had to turn around and walk out.  But it is a prototype store with all sorts of options that the others in our town don’t have and I was determined.  It was worth persevering and I finally conquered it.  I just know to stay away from the aisle where the Ramen Noodles are located.  Nasty, I know, but one of the few things he could eat consistently and probably the last year of his life, he ate at least one daily!  I could give other examples of places we go on a daily basis that we never think twice about until we associate it with grief or pain.


I want to continue sharing this journey of mine with you for this reason.  Do not feel sorry for me (although I’ll certainly take your warm thoughts and prayers), but use my words to help you walk with others through their own struggles.  Most of you are not physically able to put your arms around me and cry with me, but you CAN do that for people near you.  Pay attention every moment of every day.  Someone beside you in the grocery store may desperately need a smile or just eye contact that says, “I care.” 


Blogging came home to me once again in a very personal way today.  I don’t remember who found whom first, but I have been reading Tami’s Blog, Hiking To the Heights, for some time now.  She has been so kind to keep up with me even during those long periods I went without posting to the blog.  We knew we lived in the same general area near the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  But get this…….through a picture I posted on Facebook, Tami put two and two together and we realized we live less than ½ mile from each other. 

We met yesterday for the first time and enjoyed a beautiful walk in the woods together.  She is well into a quest to complete all the trails in the park and her hiking ability right now is way out of my league, but that didn’t matter.  We sauntered up Middle Prong Trail and had a great time getting to know each other while gazing at the gorgeous water running wildly after the torrential rains we’ve been having.  As has been the case with each Blog friend I’ve met, the conversation flowed freely and comfortably.  I believe there is a friendship there that began when she reached out from the pages of her blog and said, “I care.”


One week ago, I spent a relaxing day on the back deck of another Blog friend, Betsy from Tennessee, whom I first met in person some time ago.  Betsy is retired, but spent many years ministering to people in a church setting and although she probably wouldn’t refer to herself as a “counselor,” her words and demeanor (not to mention her ability to allow me to shed copious amounts of tears) have been therapeutic.  Last week, I actually invited myself to spend the day with her which shows the level of comfort I feel.

Don’t ever imagine that friendships forged through blogging aren’t “real!”