What to do Next

Have you ever read a seemingly light fiction book, only to discover it is exactly what you needed to read? I have just finished “The Undomestic Goddess”. It is a delightful little read, a great summer book.

“Sometimes you don’t need a goal in life. I reply, lifting my chin. You don’t need to know the big picture. You just need to know what you are going to do next.”                                                                  The Undomestic Goddess, Sophie Kinsella

For close to five years I have been trying to figure “it” out. When I was finished with the treatment for breast cancer, I tried to figure out how this changed my life and what I should do next. When Jim was diagnosed with cancer, I wondered why this happened. What do I do with this information? After he was diagnosed with metastasis from the original cancer, I started to plan what my life would look like without him. What if the worse happened? What do I do then?

After Jim’s death over five and a half years ago, I once again asked myself “What do I do next?”. What is the plan? How do I figure this out? Grief took over for a while, then I realized hard grief is not a place to stay for very long. It is overwhelming and all consuming and not much fun. There is no reward in grief.

Once the first couple of years was done I began to ask myself, what is next. What do I do now? I have been waiting for someone or something to come along and say this is it. This is next. I have been waiting for the great “Aha Moment”. So far that has not happened. My goal of “figuring it out” is still an illusion or a distant desire, yet to be fulfilled.

When I read the quote above, on some level, I got it. I don’t have to figure everything out. I just need to know what I am going to do next. That is it, no more-no less. I know, many of my friends and some strangers, as well, have been saying things like this to me for quite some time. Until I read that quote, I didn’t get it. I kept waiting for my life to fall into order, like magic.

Why I feel like my life should fall into order now, is beyond me. My life has never fallen into order. I have made my life happen. We all make our lives happen. Sometimes I trip and stumble and that is where friends and family come into play. They listen and sometimes advise and continue to support me, no matter what. Then I pick myself up and go off to explore the next adventure. The next edition of my life.

So for now I am going to work on what I am going to do next. And I know, that the big picture will fall into place. I don’t know when or where and that is OK. It will fall into place. In the meanwhile I hope I can catch the magic of the small moments and not be just waiting for the “Aha Moment”

My Adventure Two Weeks Ago. Rafting in Montanna

to happen.

Bearing Witness

For twelve years I was an attendee of the local San Diego Society of Friends, more commonly referred to as the Quakers. Bearing Witness is an important part of their belief and practice.

“Bearing witness is largely nonverbal. It is being a compassionate observer to the unfolding of another person’s life or a particular moment or event.” The Power of Bearing Witness”-Judith Johnson

We, all of us, at some point or another in our lives come upon crisis, large or small, good or not so good, it really makes no difference. When crisis or trauma unfolds I believe that it is helpful to have those around us who can bear witness for each other. Sometimes we help each other sort through our feelings. More often we become someone who listens and observes while the other person speaks freely from their heart. Some times it is a quiet role of helping to hold the space so the other person can take care of the business at hand.

Guests at a wedding are bearing witness. Any time any of us gather in small or large groups we bear witness to that event in time. 

“When we bear witness, we lovingly give our attention to the other without judgment. We comfort without smothering. We play a supporting role — powerfully upholding the other starring in his or her life. It is not about us. It is about them. Yet, we make a profound decision when we do not try to fix their pain and suffering or share in their experience by telling how we had a similar experience. Bearing witness says, “You are not alone. I see you. I witness what you are experiencing. What you are experiencing matters to me. I surround you with my love.” The Power of Bearing Witness-Judith Johnson

Recently I was reminded again of the importance of bearing witness. A good and dear friend of mine received some painful news. Most of the day was spent on the phone and speaking with others. I began during this process to become aware of my role, bearing witness. Being in the immediate environment, as a witness to this time, I held the space so that she could make the phone calls she needed to. It felt important to let her know she was in a kind and loving space and she could take care of business. When and if she was ready, I was there for her to talk with. I was bearing witness.

One of my favorite quotes is “We are just walking each other home”. I believe we bear witness or honor the other person and know we are each on the same path, even though we may have different directions to get there. There is nothing more honorable and special in my heart than to help each other through all the different times in our lives.

 

Many have born witness for me over the past four and half years since my husband, Jim’s death. My community of friends has grown stronger. I am only now, beginning to recognize the importance that their role was for me in those first few years after he died. Most of these friends began to bear witness for me and Jim together when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I appreciate now, how much each person has offered to me. Some gave me space to talk and cry. Others kept me distracted, playing games, going to the movies, seeing an art exhibit. All of this support offered me space to grieve and begin to heal. We do this for each other. Sometimes it is all any of us can do.

There are many sides to bearing witness. I have become more conscious of this roll as I have matured. Although Jim’s death was hard, I still see that time as something I am so grateful for. We were all right there in the moment. It was special, unique, sad, loving and every other emotion the world. All of us that were with him until the moment of his death were bearing witness to a very special moment in time.  I may not always be happy with the outcome yet I am so thankful for the moment.

Lately I have been having these flashes of the events of the day he died.  They arrive, quite unexpectedly and then within seconds they are gone. I am left sitting at a stoplight in wonder. I feel that I am finally able to sift through that day, those events, without pain. The fact that these moments come quickly and leave quickly is important. I feel that these moments have been creating space for me to consider such topics as “Bearing Witness”.

Today I am thankful for those who have actively and not so actively held the space for me. I am thankful for the times I have held the space for others. I am thankful for Bearing Witness.

Into the Desert

img_7051Last Wednesday, Miss Elsie the Cat, the Roadtrek and I left San Diego for points southeast. The desert was calling my name. The dentist gave me a reprieve and so we departed into the vast Sonoran Desert.

It is winter here. It is chilly at night, if not down right cold. It is wonderful hiking weather during the day and after the rains the desert is alive and the color green is showing up everywhere. The Octotillo are already blooming here at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument.

Why the desert? The desert is the place I go to seek solitude, solace, to think and sort and grow. There is something about the wind and the animals and the vastness of the desert that is wonderfully healing for me. I slow down and really observe my surroundings.

Roadtreking Together

Roadtreking Together

I am not alone. I met up with Mary, a friend of mine. She has a Roadtrek too. We are exploring the desert together. We get along well. One of the nice things about having our own vehicles is that when we need time to ourselves we can retreat to our tiny home on wheels. I appreciate the fact that we both are respectful of our need for our own space.

I enjoy sharing my life with others. Mary asked me if I felt that things were getting easier for me, regarding Jim’s death. This is a very interesting question to ponder. I don’t always take the time to gauge where I have been, what I have achieved, and where I am going regarding Jim. Now the question has been asked I will take some time to bring this into my awareness.

Before I left my friend Nancy mentioned she was having a hard time remembering what I was like before Jim. And there it is. I will never return to who I was before Jim. Who I was before him, during our relationship and who I am now is a cumulative effect of all that has preceded this day, this moment in time.

Years ago Jim and I rafted the Grand Canyon. It was a life altering event. After the trip was over, we often would mention before Grand Canyon and after Grand Canyon. I notice there are times where I regard my life as “before Jim’s death and after Jim’s death”. How have the past four plus years affected who I am today? Well that could be a loaded question. I mean over six years ago I was entangled in the the whole breast cancer issue, that led right into Jim’s diagnosis and his death a year and a half later.

Most of the time I see those times as a hard exercise in growing. I had always heard of others who went through periods of trauma (all kinds-you pick it) and then life smoothed out again. I am hoping that my time of trauma is smoothing out. There are issues still to address but for the most part I would like the smoothing to start.

I miss Jim. It is not often that I feel that overwhelming raw grief that carried me through the first few years. I am thankful for that. I was reminded of it, once again, after the National election results this year, and although the grief was strong I knew to step beyond it quickly. Raw grief is not somewhere I want to stay. I find I like to carry him with me, in the stories I tell and the photos I look at. I guess I feel he is here and I can still advance forward in my life.

Janet, Hiking Alamo Canyon

Janet, Hiking Alamo Canyon

Most days I feel I am doing much better and am working towards sorting out my own life. Grief has no timeline. I am not even sure it ever truly goes away, it softens over time. I would like to consider the possibility that grief is softening for me. I am doing better at meeting people I don’t know well and enjoying their company. I have needed to re-teach myself how to reach out to others and know I will be accepted. Being alone most of the time is not good for me. I am enjoying the moments of meeting others and feeling valued as a person. One positive experience leads to the next.

While this all goes on within, I find I am enjoying each day, sometimes a little and sometimes much more. I am enjoying the desert. It was time to leave San Diego. I did not know that when I left and yet it only took one look at the Anza Borrego Desert, as I was coming down the mountain, that I knew I was where I needed to be.

Gila Woodpecker

Gila Woodpecker

Even in an organized campground, with people around the quietness of the desert is everywhere. I wake each morning to a Gila Woodpecker on the cactus next to my campsite. It is good to get up early to greet the dawn and enjoy the wildlife before they disappear in the warmer part of the day.

Elsie is slowly adapting to life on the road again. Thanks to the calming flower essences my friend Beth gave me, she is quietly and shyly coming out to explore. I appreciate my steady little companion on this journey of mine. At night she curls up on the bed with me. Like I said, a good companion.

I will be returning to San Diego, late in March-one more dental surgery to go. I know some of you have been waiting for an update. It is because of all of you out there in the world, known and unknown to me, that I can continue forward with the adventure of life.

Each day, I am getting ready to hike and explore this marvelous country.

My Inner Child, The Dentist & Jim

images-1I have been in San Diego for a little over a month. All scans, x-rays, and doctors appointments have been completed and the news is good. Well, almost all of the appointments have been completed. The only outstanding appointments at this time is the dentist. Yep, I arrived in San Diego with pain in my jaw (which of course I was sure was head & neck cancer). Day one was an appointment with my dentist, day two was an appointment with the periodontist, and day three was surgery to remove one of my back teeth and have a bone graft completed. Since then I have been through another gum surgery. I have one more to complete after I return from Christmas.

Have I told you that I really, really dread going to the dentist? All these dentists are very nice people but I have had very few good experiences with the dentist. It started when I was in fifth grade and continues to this day. Just in case you are not aware yet, dentists make me very uncomfortable.

No matter how hard I try to be adult and rational about all this, my little girl pops to the foreground and once again I am a mass of little girl feelings. I try to be an adult but often when I get to the dentist office and the news is not the best, I have found myself crying in the dental chair. I know I am not alone in these feelings. All I have to do is bring up the subject of the dentist and the person I am speaking with shares their own feelings of fear and dental dread.

13285233_143979346015699_1388150816_nAll of us have an inner child. I have read books about this. I have gone to workshops about this. I have, through meditation had conversations with my inner child. I think I acknowledge her existence but then, well, just mention the dentist and here she is again, taking over my present day existence.

It is bad enough I become a small girl at the mention of the dentist. This time, when I arrived for my first appointment with the periodontist, I discovered the office was in the same medical building that I took Jim to, three times a week for the last four months of his life. He received IV nutritional therapy to help him better tolerate his chemotherapy. People with head and neck cancer often receive feeding tubes because they cannot tolerate eating. This therapy also helped him live without the feeding tube.

Not only did I have to deal with all my dental fears, I also had to confront some issues around grief. Boy does that subject continue to pop up at interesting times. Once again I sat down in the dental chair, the tech came in and I started crying. Was this fear, was this grief, was this everything all mixed together? I will never know completely. It was hard to walk to elevator and return, once again to this building.

As I review these last several weeks and my visit to this dentist and building, in some ways I find this has been a bit healing for me. I have had time to reflect the moments Jim and I shared in our visits to the doctor who treated him. Jim and I always functioned well as a team. We shared everything. Some of those visits were fraught with anxiousness but we always were very good at supporting each other through our lives together. Sometimes he would sleep and I would go for a walk. Other times we sat and read. Yet other times we shared our thoughts and feelings with each other. It has made me miss him more. It has made me recognize how important those moments were in our relationship. It has made me realize how important all moments are in my relationship to all others.

images-3

It is OK to acknowledge and accept my inner child. That little girl gives me the opportunity to laugh and play and look at the world with excitement and wonder. It is a little harder to acknowledge her when I am sobbing in the dental chair. I guess that is the time to acknowledge her most of all. At times like this I need to tell all of my selves “it’s OK”. If I need to cry, then cry. Usually after my sob session is over I can handle my time at the dentist better and I feel more adult.

Later this morning all of me is off to the dentist for a follow-up.

My Inner Child, The Dentist & Jim

images-1I have been in San Diego for a little over a month. All scans, x-rays, and doctors appointments have been completed and the news is good. Well, almost all of the appointments have been completed. The only outstanding appointments at this time is the dentist. Yep, I arrived in San Diego with pain in my jaw (which of course I was sure was head & neck cancer). Day one was an appointment with my dentist, day two was an appointment with the periodontist, and day three was surgery to remove one of my back teeth and have a bone graft completed. Since then I have been through another gum surgery. I have one more to complete after I return from Christmas.

Have I told you that I really, really dread going to the dentist? All these dentists are very nice people but I have had very few good experiences with the dentist. It started when I was in fifth grade and continues to this day. Just in case you are not aware yet, dentists make me very uncomfortable.

No matter how hard I try to be adult and rational about all this, my little girl pops to the foreground and once again I am a mass of little girl feelings. I try to be an adult but often when I get to the dentist office and the news is not the best, I have found myself crying in the dental chair. I know I am not alone in these feelings. All I have to do is bring up the subject of the dentist and the person I am speaking with shares their own feelings of fear and dental dread.

13285233_143979346015699_1388150816_nAll of us have an inner child. I have read books about this. I have gone to workshops about this. I have, through meditation had conversations with my inner child. I think I acknowledge her existence but then, well, just mention the dentist and here she is again, taking over my present day existence.

It is bad enough I become a small girl at the mention of the dentist. This time, when I arrived for my first appointment with the periodontist, I discovered the office was in the same medical building that I took Jim to, three times a week for the last four months of his life. He received IV nutritional therapy to help him better tolerate his chemotherapy. People with head and neck cancer often receive feeding tubes because they cannot tolerate eating. This therapy also helped him live without the feeding tube.

Not only did I have to deal with all my dental fears, I also had to confront some issues around grief. Boy does that subject continue to pop up at interesting times. Once again I sat down in the dental chair, the tech came in and I started crying. Was this fear, was this grief, was this everything all mixed together? I will never know completely. It was hard to walk to elevator and return, once again to this building.

As I review these last several weeks and my visit to this dentist and building, in some ways I find this has been a bit healing for me. I have had time to reflect the moments Jim and I shared in our visits to the doctor who treated him. Jim and I always functioned well as a team. We shared everything. Some of those visits were fraught with anxiousness but we always were very good at supporting each other through our lives together. Sometimes he would sleep and I would go for a walk. Other times we sat and read. Yet other times we shared our thoughts and feelings with each other. It has made me miss him more. It has made me recognize how important those moments were in our relationship. It has made me realize how important all moments are in my relationship to all others.

images-3

It is OK to acknowledge and accept my inner child. That little girl gives me the opportunity to laugh and play and look at the world with excitement and wonder. It is a little harder to acknowledge her when I am sobbing in the dental chair. I guess that is the time to acknowledge her most of all. At times like this I need to tell all of my selves “it’s OK”. If I need to cry, then cry. Usually after my sob session is over I can handle my time at the dentist better and I feel more adult.

Later this morning all of me is off to the dentist for a follow-up.

Year Four-How Are You Doing?

Jim and me on our last travel adventure together, Peru

Jim and me on our last travel adventure together, Peru

October 17th was the fourth year anniversary of Jim’s death. He was and still is (in a way) my husband. He died from metastasis of salivary gland cancer. We had a really good relationship. I miss him still.

Each year at this time I have people call me and ask how I am doing. It always baffles me, a little,when this happens. I don’t miss him more on the day of his death. I miss him every day in little and big ways. Does it mean I think of him all the time? Well no. I might find myself doing something and then think, Jim would have loved this or he would not have. I know my friends are being kind and thoughtful and I appreciate that. I am just not always sure how to answer that question. At the time they ask, I might be doing fine or more than fine. Usually I am busy.

Big Waves

Big Waves

This year I was bicycling from Monterey to Pacific Grove and back, seeing a chiropractor (I slipped on the step to my RV & thought it might be a good idea to get an adjustment) and enjoying the day outside.

While biking, I stopped to watch the waves for a while. You may have guessed by now, I love the ocean and the bigger the waves, the better. I met a woman, Phyllis who was sharing the same bench with me. I am a strong believer that not much happens by accident. Phyllis has been divorced, widowed and now married for a third time.

I have found, since Jim’s death, if I want to ask a question of someone, I just do. If they want to answer, it is greatly appreciated. If not that is OK too. I asked Phyllis about her experience through grief. I really wanted to know someone else’s take on this.  I follow a couple blogs of women who have lost a partner, yet it is not often I get to talk to someone in person about this topic.

Grief is personal, yet I have found that some experiences are common to many. My question to her was about fear. I am not usually a fearful person. Since Jim’s death, fear has become a close ally. When people say to me how brave I am, selling my home and traveling, I marvel at the comment. If only they knew how fear is usually present in everything I do. I don’t get it. I didn’t used to be this way. Phyllis works with hospice as a volunteer. She said that fear appears to be a part of the grieving process for many. It was for her. Whew what a relief, I thought it was just me.

I am curious why fear? There could be a lot of emotions but why is fear mine. I will not claim ownership, yet fear is certainly close, much of time. I don’t have an answer to that question. Fear does not have to be negative. It is a good thing when it stops me from doing something stupid. It can also be good if it increases my awareness of my surroundings. Fear, though can also stop me from trying something new or different or reaching out to others. That is not good.

imagesEach day I walk through fear, to other side and open my eyes to the world as it is right now. I step into my RV, thank Elsie for her presence, have faith that all is well with the day and move on. On the days I stay still, I read and contemplate and enjoy the quietness of the ocean and the forest and for the next few nights a view of Hearst Castle.

I refuse to let fear control me. Since fear seems to remain present in my life, I will consider it an ally. It will teach me and then one day,  I truly believe it will not be present in my daily life. As an ally I can call for fear when I need it, thank it and then put it back in it’s place until I need it again.

Moving on through my life.img_4873

 

Friendship

unknownThis month, October is always a marker month for me. First, it was when I was born. The real marker for me, however, is this is the month that Jim, best friend and husband for twenty one years died from cancer.

As I approach the date of his last admission to the hospital and then his death, I think it will get easier as time passes, yet, each year as this month rolls around, I find myself once again thinking of Jim and the events that came to pass. I know it has changed my life, yet I am not always certain how. There are the basic real life changes.

  • I am single, widowed, or something in that range.
  • I have to figure out how to do everything on my own or at least contact the right people to help.
  • I sold my house in July and currently, am full timing it in my Roadtrek.
  • I don’t have someone to talk to whenever I want. It has made me reach out to my friends more yet I miss the easy companionship we had.
  • Learning to cook and eat for one has been an interesting challenge for me. It is not as much fun for me to create a meal for one.

There are many other challenges that could be included here. I think you get the gist of it.

I have been thinking about Jim’s and my friends as this month has rolled in. I am so thankful to so many of them. Without their help and kind, loving support my walk through grief would be very different.

I have been thinking a lot of a good friend of Jim’s, Doug. For the entire time I have known Jim, Doug was a presence in our lives. I heard many Doug and Jim stories from Jim over the years. When we got married Doug and his former wife paid for our honeymoon to San Francisco. We had wonderful personalized tour of San Francisco with Doug and Lisa. They met us at the San Fransisco airport with a car rental and off we went into the city for four days. It was a delightful time.

At our important events Doug was there. The event I remember the most was around Jim’s death. Four days before he died, the phone rang in the hospital room and it was Doug. I thought he was still in the Los Angeles area. He asked if we wanted company and we both said, of course. Then he announced he was in the hospital lobby and up he came.

Doug spent the final four days of Jim’s life with me and him. There was nothing that was too little that he wouldn’t do for Jim. There was nothing he wouldn’t do for me. Doug was a firm presence for me to hold onto as we progressed through those four days. When I wasn’t there, Doug was. He and Jim talked and laughed and remembered times. They also caught up one more time on each other’s lives. When Jim died, Doug was there in the room as a witness to this important event as well. There could not have been a better friend and I want to honor that in this posting.

He remained in San Diego for a few days to make sure that I had my feet underneath me. When he drove back to LA and his life it was with the final words, “if you need anything, just call”.

After Jim died the Doug and Jim stories continue. I received an e-mail from Doug about a year or so ago, sharing with me the phone call Jim and Doug had the day that Space Shuttle blew up. It was a very intimate moment between two good friends. I have no doubt that this deepened and secured their friendship. I was going to share the e-mail with you, here but I cannot find it. Of course.

This is what friendship is about. We can laugh and share the good times, yet it is the sharing of the intimate and in your face painful times that marks those special and meaningful friendships in ones life. It is not often you find that friend who you can laugh, cry and share with over many years. Some may never find the depth of friendship that was shared by Jim and Doug.

Jim was fortunate, very fortunate  to have such a friend as Doug. Doug, I think would reciprocate that thought and feeling.

I have never needed to call but I do stay in touch by e-mail and Facebook. Doug travels the world with Nancy, his partner of many years. He leads a full and diverse life. I am glad that I continue to be a part of it even on the periphery.

Today I am thankful for the presence of Doug in Jim’s life and in mine. I benefit from their friendship. It helps keep Jim alive to me and reminds me, once again, how special our relationship was.

Today I am grateful for Doug. Doug-Thank you.