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!” 

Monday, June 29, 2015

The Foundation - Faith, Family and Friends!

Clingmans Dome - Great Smoky Mountain National Park
May 8, 2015

I wish I could meet each of you individually to hug and thank you for the precious feedback to my last post.  It wasn’t easy to write or to post, but you are important to me and I am so grateful that you have stuck with me through well over a year now of very sporadic posting.  The spirit is willing and wants to write, but the act of sitting down and doing it remains overwhelming.  I often write posts in my head while I walk each day, but then simply can’t find the motivation to put it on paper once I’m back at home. 

Three months have come and gone.  I wake up, I breathe, I do the next thing, I cry, I conduct business, I help my mother, I try to take care of myself, I pray (A LOT!) and I wonder how it is remotely possible that I can ever be “OK” again. 

One thing is for sure…..without the firm foundation of faith, family and friends, I cannot imagine how anyone survives the horror of losing their spouse. 

FAITH – You cannot have read my blog long without knowing that my Faith is the foundation on which my life is built.  I don’t talk it about all the time and certainly don’t try to push my beliefs on anyone else without first establishing a relationship in which we share together with mutual respect.  But without my certainty that there is an eternity beyond this mortal life, that I will spend it with my Creator on a recreated Earth the way it was originally meant to be and that Bill, my dad, my grandparents and others are waiting for me, I cannot imagine surviving this grief. 

FAMILY – Our family is small, but we are strong.  My mom, Bill’s mom and I all now share the bond of being widowed and we lean on each other heavily.  My sister is two hours away and comes as often as she can. 

FRIENDS – What can I say about this amazing support system of friends that I have?  To this very day, it is my choice to eat a meal alone or spend an evening alone.  There is always an invitation to be with someone.  For the first eight weeks after Bill died, this was truly what saved me.  I could not bear to be alone and did not have the mental ability to plan where to go.  My friends took over and did it for me.   I had a calendar that simply told me where to go for lunch, with whom I was spending the afternoon  and where to go for dinner. There are still two people who text every morning to make sure I'm up and every evening to ask how my day has been and if I'm ok.  It has been an incredible act of sacrifice on the part of a huge network of people that brings tears to my eyes to even think about now.  Gradually the day came when I would decide I wanted to spend a few hours alone, but there was always (and still is) a backup place to go or number to call. 

So yes, three months have come and gone.  Because of my faith, my family and my friends, I can laugh, I can sing, I can hike, I can be alone in my condo without falling apart, I can take short trips to do something I find pleasurable, I can read, I can play.

But even more important are the things I can give away or share with others…..my time, my story, my experience, my money, my ability to care on a level deeper than I could ever imagine, my compassion for those who are hurting or suffering, my hope for the future, my desire to love others as they have loved me.

I would love for you to share a time in your life

When friends came through for you in a

Way you didn’t expect!

Monday, May 25, 2015

In Memory Of.....................

 Little Bottoms Trail - Great Smoky Mountains National Park
May, 2015

To those of you who may still have me on your Blog Roll or in your Reader, this post will come as a complete shock and for that I truly apologize.  Since I last posted on December 8, 2014, my life has taken a total turn in a direction I never would have anticipated and even now, can’t believe has happened to me.
But it did. 

Bill, Me, My Mom and My Dad

October 10, 2014 – McCloud Mountain

Jellico, Tennessee

On February 18, my sweet daddy, died of a brain hemorrhage after five agonizing days in the Neuro Critical Care Unit of UT Hospital.  He died peacefully with my mother’s arms around him, his granddaughter, my sister and I beside him.  He was 83 years old.  He was in declining health, but his quick death was unexpected.  Thankfully, all words had been said many times.  He knew we loved him and we knew he loved us.  I so miss his quiet manner, sweet smile and timid hugs.

 Little did I know that the greater shock was yet to come.  On March 18 (yes, one month to the day), I lost my sweet Bill to the horror that is cancer.  We had learned on December 23, that although his original cancer had been cured, new cancer had appeared in other parts of his body.  Despite more treatment, the cancer continued to spread quickly and in three short months, he was gone.  He died peacefully in his sleep. He was 59 years old and we had been married 37 years and 9 months. 

Bill and Me – Colorado Springs, Colorado
One of My Favorite Pictures of Us

Any reader of this blog knows that Bill was my life partner, my rock and my best friend.   His death was a complete and total shock as we both fully believed until the very end that he would beat the cancer.   He faced his illness and ultimately his death with a courage and determination that I can’t begin to describe. 

His Celebration of Life Service was attended by hundreds of people and only then did I even begin to realize the scope of his influence in our community and at the school where he taught.  His legacy will live on forever in the lives of many people. 

Why didn’t I know just how far-reaching his life had become?  Because when he came home, he was mine.  We lived life fully, we loved deeply and we had no regrets.  I miss him more than there are words in the English language to express and wonder each day if I will survive the pain.  To have lost my father and my husband in the span of one month is still simply incomprehensible to me. 

But thanks to an unbelievable community of support who have surrounded me with love and kindness, I am beginning to see glimpses of what life might be without Bill in it and I am finding my mind more open to discovering what God might have in mind for me to do and accomplish. 

One thing I know for sure is that I will write.  When I began this blog, five years ago this month, I began with the words, “I love to write, I always have.”  That has not changed and it gives me hope for my future that the words I had lost are beginning to come back.  How little I knew when the title of the blog came to me, that writing about the gains and losses of my life would only become more and more fitting as the years went by. 

So that is what I will do.  The blog will be totally and completely different.  But I hope you will stay with me as I attempt to move forward.   

Monday, December 8, 2014

How About An Update?

Whittleton Arch Trail - Red River Gorge, KY
December 2, 2014
(I have much more dramatic pictures to share, but the simplicity of this makes it one of my favorites from our trip.)

Don’t worry!  I’m still here.  Gains and Losses is very much alive and well!  For a season, I’ve just not been into writing.  I don’t know why and I know the joy will return, but in the meantime, I’m allowing myself the freedom to write only when I choose to and not stress it over when I don’t!  So here’s an update catching you up on what’s been happening in my life over the past month.
BILL – For those who might be new, just over a year ago, my husband was diagnosed with an unusual form of cancer.  The cancer was advanced and harsh treatment was required.  He endured nine chemotherapy treatments of what his oncologist called “one of the harshest chemo cocktails known” and 34 radiation treatments.  This occurred between October, 2013 and March, 2014.  The side effects were as difficult as you’ve always heard (I pray you’ve never been through it yourself or watched a loved one suffer through it) and recovery will take a long time.  The good news is that his post treatment scan revealed that the treatments had been successful and the cancer was gone.  He will be scanned again on December 15 and although we don’t anticipate any reoccurrence, this is cancer after all and one never knows.  His most difficult lingering problems are unmanageable fatigue, problems with eating and peripheral neuropathy in his fingertips.  He is very grateful for the progress made in each of those areas, but still often discouraged because the process is so slow and he just wants to feel “normal” again. 

HIKING/TRAVEL – As I write this, I have just returned from what has been another wonderful girl’s getaway with Pam (Nomadic Newfies) at Red River Gorge, Kentucky.  We hiked and enjoyed each other’s company for four days.  Who would’ve ever have thought that the subject of hiking and travel in an update would be the LEAST about which I had to say, but obviously my (our) life changed dramatically when Bill became ill and I became his caretaker.   My hiking log shows that I have hiked just barely over 100 miles this year (compared to 300+ in past years) and we have done very little traveling.  But that is beginning to change as Bill recovers.  I am once again comfortable leaving him for a few days for solo trips and he is slowly becoming comfortable enough with finding food that works and being away from home.  We are so excited that we have our next “big” trip planned in late December while he is out of school.  My mountains (the Smokies) have been calling and are welcoming me back with open arms.  I am also discovering new places to hike closer to our condo.  Bill became ill shortly after we moved last August and I am just now having the freedom to get out and find new places nearby! 

MY WEIGHT – Since this blog was begun as a healthy eating/weight loss blog, it is only fair that I address this in an update.  While Bill was ill, I actually lost a lot of weight and in those long dark days/nights when he was so sick from the chemo, I spent a lot of time thinking about the whole weight thing and how my entire life/emotional state/way I viewed myself/etc. was dependent upon (and always had been) how much I weighed.  For the first time ever, eating became something I HAD TO DO in order to live.  I didn’t want food, nothing tasted good and I truly was able to experience what people feel like who just don’t enjoy eating, but do it only because they have to.  I vowed food would never be the source/focus of my life or self-esteem again.  When Bill began recovering and transitioning from a 100% liquid diet back to real food, I ate along with him and we cried together from the joy of watching him go from destroyed taste buds/salivary glands to the delight in his eyes when something once again tasted like it was supposed to.  And yes, I gained weight.  And I have no regrets!  It’s hard to explain and some bloggers will swear this would never happen to them.  But when coaxing the person whom you love most in this world and whom you have almost lost to please try and just taste something and this person says, “if I can’t eat it, will you finish it, I can’t bear to waste it,” yes, you will compromise and if you don’t, well then, I feel sorry for you as your life is very self-absorbed!   (I realize that’s a grammatically horrible sentence, but the point is important) And don't judge or give me all of the ways you would have done this differently.  What HE needed for me to do was what mattered most and you can't know how that felt unless you've walked in those shoes.  The good news is that when two people have loved each other as long as we have, eventually, the tide turns again and although taste and eating are still quite an issue for Bill, he is now saying, “how can I help you/us get back to the way we were eating before I got sick?”  And I am very grateful to say we have done just that.  Just moving back to eating at home as opposed to mostly restaurant dining has made a huge difference and I already have lost a good deal of the few pounds I had gained.  And needless to say, I feel much better.  But again, I wouldn’t change a thing. 

If anyone is still reading after this lengthy update, I appreciate it.  I am reading your blogs faithfully and even though I don’t always comment, please know that I am interested in your lives and think about you a lot.

Approaching a new year always brings new goals, new adventures and new things to write about.  2015 is a huge year for me, yet I think it will bring some new challenges.  Aging parents with increasing health problems are becoming an issue for us and I expect there to be changes in that area likely requiring more of our time.  2015 also brings a significant birthday for me.  As Bill continues to recover, we hope to resume our travels, yet the things we’ve learned through his illness and recovery about life, love and relationships compel us to become ever more involved in what is happening around us here at home.

Please tell me what is happening in your life!

Exciting things as well as challenges!