Learning to be Alone

It has been over two weeks since Miss Elsie the Cat took a walk. I try to remain hopeful. It is hard to do.

Since before Jim died over seven years ago, Elsie was a part of our life. She arrived as a wee kitty that could fit into the palm of one hand. She snuck her way into our hearts. She liked me and adored Jim. After Jim died, Elsie waited for five months before she decided that I was up to be part of the primary team.

Elsie was a remaining connection to Jim and my life together. The first week after she disappeared, I felt like I dove deep into grief again, similar to after Jim initially died. Grief for the loss of Miss Elsie. Grief for the loss of Jim. Grief for the loss of our life together. This kind of grief is not a good place to stay. I have been using my resources, friends and more to get me back out of that spot. It is OK to visit. It is not OK to stay long.

I am learning how to be alone. When Jim died, Elsie the cat was still with me and I could rely on her for good purry company. I love her companionship. I love how she would talk to me and look at me with those adoring eyes. Now that she is on an adventure, wherever that may-be, I need to learn to be alone. After having some type of companionship for close to thirty years, it is not an easy lesson to learn. I thought it would be easy, yet I find it difficult. I have been talking to her and Jim in absentia a lot lately.

How do I learn to be comfortable being alone? That is a loaded question and the answers are not clear as they seem to change by the minute, hour and day. It is hard to figure out the alone part when I dive into moments of sadness. I come back out and things look a little brighter and then, poof, there is another one that pops up. Sigh.

I am not looking forward to Thanksgiving or Christmas. They are holidays of celebration, joy, and fun. Being single and alone is not always fun. I decided this past week to stretch myself and ask for help. Well, actually it is asking to be included. Today I decided to ask my San Diego friends to think about including me in their holiday fun. I sent out an email to a few close friends asking them to consider including me, if not for the event, maybe for a walk or a few hours of their time. Now I want to extend that to the broader San Diego Community. I promise not to be maudlin or sad. If anything I think I will be joyous, just to be around others and enjoying the companionship and fun.

I know I could volunteer, yet this year it feels like I want to be included with those I love or those who love me or both. All you local San Diegans, if I did not email you and you want to respond to my plea of inclusion, it would be welcomed with open arms and an open heart.

I am grateful for my friends and family today. I am grateful for all those people out there in the cyberworld who are helping me look for a lost kitty. I am thankful for my time with Miss Elsie the Cat.

I remain optimistically hopeful.

 

 

Anniversary Time

Today is my Birthday. Tomorrow Jim died seven years ago. My October tends to be action packed with events of significance in my life. One more is coming up in another week, when I have thyroid surgery for cancer.

Every year at this time I give myself some time to reflect, on my year, on past events, on events yet to be and I try to place where I want to be in my life at this moment in time.

Grief and the loss of someone dear, is an interesting event. Sometimes it feels like it happened many years ago and it did. Sometimes it feels like yesterday. I can relive the events of the last two weeks of Jim’s life like it was yesterday. It was certainly a significant event in his life, in mine and those who were close and dear to him. Yet the significant memories change when they arrive, usually unexpectedly in my life.

The other day I saw a Tesla (a dream car of mine) and there was an instant recall of the time when I left the hospital to get in my car, and a Tesla was following me. I didn’t even know it was there. The darn things are so quiet it scared me and made me jump.

That memory drew me back into the hospital and being with Jim each day in his room. A few days before he died my sister, Ginny was flying to San Diego to help out. I knew how much she liked our hot tub and it had not been cleaned. I went home to clean the hot tub with Jim on the phone giving me instructions on how to drain it. It gave us something to focus on, but really???? the hot tub??? It reminds me of how we were a team until the very end.

I remember his good and long time friend, Doug, showing up at the hospital and staying until after Jim’s death. He didn’t leave San Diego until he knew I was OK. And then there were his long time running buddies who showed up the afternoon he died to let him know they were there for him.

And the memories go on.

I have been listening to an audio book while driving titled Resilient Grieving. It has been reaffirming for me to hear someone else who is more of an expert than I am, speak of taking hold of your grief and helping it to shape your existence, at the moment and what to do to help, as time moves on. One of the things she mentions is that these moments of memory are helpful as they may remind me that during that time of my life I lived in the moment. Each moment was precious and valuable and I was right there and nowhere else. It didn’t matter about the past and it didn’t matter about the future and I was alive and so was Jim in that moment of time.

I find those moments to be extremely positive in shaping my life since his death. Some people have told me “it is time to move on” with the implication that I need to put this behind me and live today. All our memories and experience continue to shape who we are today. So why not this one? Why should I forget it or put it behind me. If it was a good experience, although painful and heart rending, then I believe I can bring it forward with me and shape who I am today.

I hope it has made me more understanding and kind and present. It certainly has made me thankful. I have been given gifts by the Universe or God or whoever you believe in, over the course of my lifetime. Learning the “in the moment” presence is one that has shaped me more than any other. Being married to a life partner for twenty one years has certainly shaped who I am today. I hope never to forget the laughter, adventure, deep and loving conversation and more that the two of us shared. And now I want to begin to reach out more and share this with others.

I tend to get lonely out here on the road and that is my own doing. I don’t reach out to people often and I think that has to change. I find when I take Lyft or Uber I relish the conversations with the drivers. I learn and share and find it fun. I want to do this more with other’s in my life. So maybe that is a goal for this year to come.

I do know that I have been loved and cherished in my partnership with Jim. I want to do that for others. I am feeling extremely blessed to have good friends wherever I go. I hope I have carried this forward in my life with friends near and far.

Today I am thankful for my memories and for experiencing “in the moment” points of time. Today and every day I remain thankful for those twenty-one years I had Jim in my life. I miss him and I will carry him forward for the rest of my life, even as I make new friends and experience new things.

Roadtreking & Grief

“Grief is a multifaceted response to loss, particularly to the loss of someone or something that has died, to which a bond or affection was formed.”

“Grief is a natural response to loss. It is the emotional suffering one feels when something or someone the individual loves is taken away. The grief associated with death is familiar to most people, but individuals grieve in connection with a variety of losses throughout their lives, such as unemployment, ill health or the end of a relationship.”

There has been an on-going story out of Kitchener, Ontario over the past several weeks. To make a long story very short, Roadtrek, the company who manufactured my RV, due to some issues that have yet to be revealed, is closed. This fine vehicle no longer has a mother ship to return to. And…I am feeling sad.

This company always welcomed me to it’s factory. I was welcomed as if I were family. When I had an issue I could chat with them on line or call them. Names such as Leo, Deron, Sean and others were my go to guys with all things Roadtrek. Now these people and nine hundred others have lost their jobs and are trying to figure out what to do with the rest of their lives. For some this was the only job they had ever known. It is a hard reality they have to face.

It is a hard reality I have to face, too. I no longer have a mothership to go to. Who do I turn to when no one else is able to solve my issue? Although I do have other resources out there, currently I feel like I am at a loss.

I started this post with two quotes from Wikipedia. I know grief, personally. My husband, Jim died over six years ago. Whew talk about grief. Many things are now better in my life yet this issue of loss still raises it’s tentacles and wraps around many parts of my life. Often I don’t see it coming until it is present and I have to cope and understand these issues all over again. 

I am grieving for the loss of this company. I have lost friends, I have lost the Company. I feel sad and a bit melancholy. And yes I am grieving. Thankfully this is not the strong unrepentant grieving of Jim’s death, but make no mistake about it I am certainly grieving. 

Like many of us who own these wonderful machines we are trying to figure out what is next. I am thankful I am no longer in warranty. I have resources. I know there are people out there who can help. I don’t have the easy fix of calling the factory. I am going to have to learn even more about how to take care of my home. 

I also understand that it is important to give myself this time to grieve. It is OK to feel sad or angry or melancholy or whatever other emotion I feel over this loss. 

And then….I will get in my Roadtrek, EmmyLou and go off on another adventure.

Struggling Through Winter

I have struggled, emotionally, this winter. I am not whining, I am not maudlin, I am not anything other than appearing normal on the outside. Inside my brain, my heart and my being has been in overdrive.

From the outside, everything looks fine. I exercise, I eat (well some), I talk nice to others and I feel compassionate and kind. Inside, I am confused, alone and worried that there might really be something wrong with me.

Three months before Jim died, my counselor strongly urged me to try antidepressants. After three and half years of the whirlwind of cancer for both Jim and myself, she and the psychiatrist who recommended the medicine felt that I was emotionally overloaded and depressed. Well, you think? I agreed to try an antidepressant to help get me through a difficult time. The dose started low but we had to adjust it upwards until I reached a dose that was acceptable for me. I come from a buck it up,  grin and bear it kind of family. Weakness is not in our thought process. It took a bit of encouragement to try the medicine.

Five years later I began to talk to the psychiatrist about coming off of the medicine. I mean how do I know that I really need it now that five years has gone by and I am much more together than right after Jim died? How do I know? Last June I began a slow weaning protocol. I did well until September and then I had to go back up on the dose a little. I remained there until I arrived back in San Diego.

Fall and winter are not my best times. I don’t like the shorter sunlit days, and I fight against coming inward and looking around in those quiet and sometimes shadow sides of myself. Winter is a classic time of being inward. I am glad I am at the beach because that has helped with this unguided annual review. Unguided means that I don’t actively seek out the coming within, it just seems to occur.

Did you know that depression is cyclical? I learned this from the psychiatrist. When people come off antidepressants, if a person is in an upswing they usually do well initially until depression once again raises it’s cyclical self. When I tried to take the final plunge to remove the medicine from my body I was in a more depressive cycle so I knew right away that this wasn’t good. My acupuncturist, Gayle, also relayed to me that she does not recommend for a person to come off these types of medicine as we roll into fall and winter.

So here I am, somewhat disappointed in myself that I could not take the final step to stop this medicine. I know it is not a sign of failure but it kind of feels that way, just a little bit.

Depression is nothing to take lightly. I have known others in my life who battle it in a way more severe form than what I am dealing with. It is easy to tell someone to get over it or deal with it or be positive, yet for those dealing with depression, these kinds of statements are painful and unsupportive. What would be a much better response, I think, is to say I am sorry you are going through this, what can I do to help? Or even better call them once in a while just to talk. Or even better, invite them to dinner, go to a movie, guide them gently in a different direction. No one wants to be sad or lonely or depressed.

Day at the tidepools-4

My therapist has given me some assignments. So I am trying these while I wait for spring and the longer happier days of that time of the year.

  • Set up a phone date once a week with someone I love and know loves and supports me.
  • Read up on the “Stages of Life”. I guess when you reach my age it is not unusual to review all of your life thus far and try to figure out what comes next.
  • Take my passion and do something with it. I have already been working on this with my photography and creating my web site.
  • Each month pick one thing that brings happiness or contentment into my life. Last month I started a photo a day project. It not only fuels my artistic side but it also gets me outside. this month, I am attempting to finally sit in meditation for five minutes a day.
  • Look for groups that have common interest and join in.
  • The worse thing I can do is to hole up. Each day I try to get out to walk, bike-be in nature. I do it alone and with others.
  • I have also decided to start a journal and write one thing I am grateful for every day.

This is just a sample yet I believe you get the idea.

As I write this Miss Elsie the Cat and I are in Idyllwild, CA visiting a good friend, Mary. This has been the best thing I could have done. I have been able to casually visit with Mary over the past few days. I am out and away and in the mountains. Each day I have been here I have felt better, emotionally. Mary and I are embracing each other’s company, sharing our woes and all our good and interesting times since we last saw each other. It is a marvelous catharsis for us both.

It is hard to admit this type of stuff to yourself. It is hard to admit it to the broader world. I have sat on this post for over a week, wondering if I should reveal this much of myself to the rest of the unknown world. I reviewed some of my other posts and some of them have been just as raw and revealing. Why hesitate here. I believe that depression has a stigma that surrounds it. What if I admit that I am not strong. Well everyone is suppose to be strong all the time, right? Well guess what?  That is not true.

I see this as a continuing part of who I am and dealing with grief. This too shall pass. Maybe, just maybe by sharing this someone else may not feel alone or the odd person out. Well here is a fact so no one has to feel alone, over 350 million people in the world suffer from some form of depression.

I continue to embrace each day with as much fervor as I can muster. Some days that is easy and some days my embrace is just on a tinier scale.  And…I keep telling myself, spring is coming, it is just around the corner.

 

 

Another Year-Reflections

Tomorrow is my birthday.

The day after tomorrow will mark the sixth anniversary of Jim’s death. Time stands still. Time flies. It is amazing that it is six years since I last saw him. It is amazing that it has been six years since I last heard his voice. Well this whole process is pretty amazing and not always much fun.

I grieved when my mom died. I grieved when my dad died. I have grieved over the loss of friends and over the loss of others in tragedy, which we have seen so much of this year. The loss of Jim was different. I lost my life partner, my friend and my companion in mischief and dance. I describe the three and a half years leading to his departure, like a deck of cards thrown in the air. Just as they started to come down and I was picking them up, something else happened and the cards were thrown back up in the air again.

I am still picking up cards from six years ago. I didn’t know there were so many cards. Yet I have accomplished a bit along the way and each day I attempt to live life to its fullest. Some days it is a wee, tiny bit and other days are big a luscious and overflowing with awe and beauty.

I am beginning to realize that I may never have an answer to the question “What’s Next?” At my best I look for the large and small around me and find some marvel in it all. At my worst, I still find I can treasure my current surroundings and who I am.

  • I am not homeless.
  • I have this lovely little Roadtrek to call home.
  • My home is heated, which feels good on these chilly fall nights.
  • Elsie is always my faithful companion, in adventure and silence.
  • I know, oh how I know, I have many out there that support me daily, mostly in thought and prayer. Yet I know you are out there.
  • There are many books to read. On days where I don’t have much energy, I sit and read.
  • When I was younger I went through a short, period where everything was gray. I appreciate that I have never gone back to that place. I still can see and marvel at the loveliness of the places I visit and the people I meet. Color is a wonderful medium.
  • I have a family, sisters and nieces, that though not often heard from love me and support me.
  • And there is always my camera-I love taking pics even at my lowest.

There is always hope. In this coming year I am going to attempt to not be so hard on myself. I really don’t need to make far reaching decisions about anything. I want to focus on what is best for me at this moment in time, in this day and in this year. I want to experience a little more joy, wherever I can find it. And, although I am not sure I may want to settle down. I shall see on that statement.

I now understand a bit more of the statement from others that “you can move forward, while treasuring the moments Jim and you had”. I know that I can do both. And, ever since Jim’s passing he has been very good at helping me find my car keys. I have called on him more than once. This is one of the important reasons to keep him nearby as I adventure forth into life.

If you look on this site you will see a Go Fund Me tag. I have been raising money for the Jim Fenningham Memorial Scholarship for 6 years. I am close to my goal of $25,ooo to make this a perpetual scholarship. I have about $8,000 more to go. I have been constant and steady in trying to raise this amount. If you would like to donate, small or large, some student out there at Grossmont Community College will thank you for your efforts.  I treasure each donation because I know about the thought and caring behind it. If you would prefer to donate directly to the college, here is their information.

Mail your donation to:

Scholarship Specialist
Financial Aid Office
8800 Grossmont College Dr
El Cajon, CA 92020-1799
Contributions are tax deductible

On to another year of discovery. Who knows what it will bring. I will continue to follow my own path, carrying the memories of my time with Jim forward. This year I pray that it will be just a wee bit easier. Each year seems to be getting that way. I am thankful for this.

I am thankful for 21 years of love, caring and relationship. I am thankful for being able to have those memories to help me move forward with my life, no matter what direction it takes.

Today I am thankful.

 

 

 

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.