“With and Without Her: My Year Alone”

          Sitting on this bench in Battery Park today, in the stifling heat; my mind flashed back to a year ago. Sharol and I trying to get some time together before her operation. Before she wouldn’t able to walk long distances and dance or sit for long periods of time. Before, months of physical therapy and Recovery. Before, internet grocery shopping. Before, waiting for me to come home and cook and clean. Before boredom creeped up on her…

   I texted her the menu from the cafeteria next door. She texted when she got there, I met her at the front desk… even though I thought the dress she had on was an ugly print, I wholeheartedly appropriated her in a dress. And it fit her form well and she looked good too. I left the house before her so I didn’t see what she was wearing. Wouldn’t you know it, we matched! That’s not the first time we did. In 19 years, it happened quite often. I sat on the very same bench today. That was a beautiful but hot day and a great night. That was on Monday, 8 days later, she was gone….

     It’s almost midnight up here at Rodgers Rock Campground , on Memorial day weekend. The kid is snoring, reminding of her mother. There’s a tiny bug crawling on my lantern casting a giant shadow along the tent wall. I forgot the blankets so we’re  a little cold. I left my book; a collection of Sherlock Holmes novels, at home so there’s nothing to do and the fire has gone out. So I decided I’ll write this…

What I’ve learned over the past year is this. Like love, you can’t hide from pain or more to the point. You can’t hide from grief nor the losing of someone. It’s something you must feel, you must go through, you must experience. If you fight it or better yet, try to fight it you will exhaust a lot of energy and eventually you’ll lose. Running away from the feeling of losing a spouse (or love one) is as futile as a hamster running in a wheel. Trust me, I’ve spent most of this time fighting one pain in particular;loneliness.  It is a hell I have never liked. We’ll talk about that later…

       My daughter and I went to visit my other daughter and her husband. They happened to be camping at the same camp ground. They, like I, were booking sites for the long weekends of the camping season.  I’d planned to be closer to home but my equipment had taken nearly 2 months to arrive (warehouse issues) so I stopped looking. When the company contacted me and worked out a deal, I begin my search again. But the season had already started. The only available campground was 5 hours away. A day before leaving my daughter texted me that they had found a place for the weekend too. It was the same place. Their site wasn’t too far from us. But it was a good walk, over steep hills!

    After our visit we went back to our homestead and found our fire buring nicely. This, after several failed attempts.  The kid went inside and I set in front of the fire. The warm glow of yellow and orange flames were beautiful. I looked over at the empty chair next to me and whispered. “You would have loved this…” my heart smiled, because I imagined Sharol sitting next to me. We had gone away once and had the opportunity to sit in front of a fireplace. It was awesome! We were eating Chinese take-out, Mongolian beef. That was the night we planned to write our autobiography. We actually started thinking and writing out themes on a legal pad. Whether it’s a fireplace or camp fire,warm dancing flames are a magical thing.

In the daylight our little homestead over looked the river surrounded by lush green mountains with nothing but open sky above us. Indeed, Sharol would have loved it. Much like Chris Stapleton’s song, “Whiskey And You” I allowed myself to feel. To feel the absence of my bride. 

“I’ve got a problem but it ain’t like what you think. I drink because I’m lonesome and I’m lonesome ’cause I drink. But if I don’t break down and bring it on myself it’ll hit out of the blue” – Whiskey And You.

     It felt good to just let it happen. Sad but good. I was able to enjoy the moment. And in that it felt as if Sharol was enjoying it with me, not because she was there but because I didn’t fight the pain that she wasn’t.  Fighting it would only serve to make me more lonely without her. The guy in Stapleton’s song,  drinks to feel… to avoid the sadness creeping up on him.  That, dear reader, is where I’m at right now. Creating the atmosphere, space or time where I can feel rather than not feel. I work all day, come home, cook and care for our youngest. Juggle appointments, bills, school events, daddy daughter date night and so on. There’s little time to mourn or reflect. So quiet moments away from the city or lunch time walks give me the time to feel. Different times bring different feelings. For example, a week ago the kid went on her school trip. It was an overnight trip… I  woke up at 5am made her breakfast and lunch then drove her to school at 6:30am. It wasn’t a particular good morning. When I got home, the stress of working at an unfulfilling job where I feel trapped, being without Sharol’s input… And! I’d be alone, hit me. I laid down and couldn’t get back up. I looked up at Sharol’s picture and “it‘s you and me…” 

     Frequency

 I grabbed a ton of snacks turned on the Xbox and TV.  I finished the series Turn and looked for something new. I couldn’t concentrate, so I mopped the kitchen floor and made some  calendar reminders… then started watching Frequency. Halfway through the first episode the tears started to flow. By the end, I begin to ask God, out loud, “Why can’t life be like life this show?” Seriously, it would awesome if I could pick up my cell, send a text and the message crosses time and eternity. Then in an instant see My Wife Sharol flash across the screen. “Where are you hon? She says. “I’m sitting in your chair, where are you?” I ask. “Umon the boardwalk waiting for you” and it hits me! “Wait. Who is this!?” I text back. “Its Sharolyour wife, silly man. Hurry up“… after some back and forth. I realize It’s  2012, she’s in Atlanta  City. We were going for a walk but I told her to go ahead downstairs. It’s 4 years before her death. After some time… I’d reveal the truth. She’d be heartbroken that I was alone and in such a state without her. Then the questions would begin. The kids…? Oh my goodness, Tyrone, Hannah..?! 
     Dear reader, it would a simpler life, if life were like a TV show. I’d be able to get advice on what to do about my job and other important decisions. But life isn’t like that, we tend to drown real life things out with whatever we can. For as long as we can… then when tragedy comes, we’re unprepared for it. We are all guilty of it on some level. I guess; the best way to look at  and live life, is as if it’s your last day every day. In real life, no matter how far you run away it will catch up. If life were like Frequency, I’d tell Sharol “You weren’t alone. You weren’t violently attacked like you always feared. I held you, breathed into you…Hannah was there…” And that, dear reader, would have started a paradox. It would have effected the future. It would have explained the last few years of married life. Where we lived each day like we wouldn’t see the other again. It would explain “always kiss good night”. It would explain my alarm, that was set at 10pm… to Kiss Sharol. And I did so, even when we were mad at each other. It would most definitely explain, her holding my face and saying “I love you, Tyrone”…

   Running…

Okay… I said I’d get back to my particular issue I’ve been fighting, this past year. If you’ve kept up, you’d see I have been on a very public, emotional roller coaster. I did so purposely because as I have stated before, as an author I am both a public and a private figure. My writing buddies urge me to write because it would have helped me deal with the loss of my wife. I didn’t believe them but being a creative type person, I know that if we do not engage in our creative abilities we go bananas. So I use that as my process over the past year… though it has seemed to be a rollercoaster ride. There has been one running theme, loneliness. I have tried everything I could think of to escape the inescapable. I continued our date night, it’s morphed into a date night with our youngest. It is now our own thing. For our weekly time, marriage Mondays, I’d  often tried watching something we watched… it didn’t work well. Our Friday night ritual Remains the Same. A movie and wine… after work,it’s  all I can do. But I still missed the companionship of a woman. It took me some months but I couldn’t take the silence of my wife’s daily text, lunchtime text, photos of her at lunch or walking… or our usual banter(*my children will be modified by the following picture I will spare you all her response).

 I joined some online dating sites just to talk to someone. Boy, was that a mistake! Just when I thought I met a pen pal… poof they were gone or nuts. Dude, one said she love Jesus, told me the church she went to then ask for my astrological sign. I’m like, what…?!  Well, apparently it wasn’t going to work out when I told her I was born in May. Lol. I wasn’t looking for it to work out. I was looking for a conversation. That was during a phone call, the first day, the first time! Nothing I did changed the empty silence. There were nights when, I skipped pass the two glasses of wine, finish the bottle, had a great night’s sleep and woke up to the void. Because you can’t hide. It took me 11 months to learn to stop running. To embrace the feeling… I  was a lone wolf most of my life. Never thinking I’d be happy much less find love. I did. It’s gone. It hurts… I didn’t think I would make it through the night a year ago. I didn’t want to either… by God’s grace, I made it through a year. Most of the sting is gone. Most of the sting. I was reminded two day ago that everything isn’t over. The kid was making salad for dinner and sliced through her thumb. The walked into the kitchen and saw blood everywhere. Why? Because she panicked. Sharol always prided me for my calmness in the midst of a disaster. It really was just on the outside, inside I was always a nervous wreck. I talked my daughter through it, “okay, run some water on it. How deep is it..? Put the paper towel on it and squeeze tight to stop the bleeding…” while she was calming down. I had to think fast! This was going to a hospital trip… “okay, pick up the pepper and whipe off the table. Good she was something to occupy her mind. I quickly changed clothes and got to the hospital. I was fine until… the realization. I was in the same ER with her mother a year ago. My daughter laid her head on. When the doctor called us in, I started to have a small panic attack, my trouble breathing turned into me crawling up the walls. I can’t do this again. This can only be seen by me. So I thought. “Dad your doing fine“… She ended up getting 5 stitches. When we were done and about to leave, the kid said “You did goodand Im alive” then stuck out her hand for a high five…

      She fell asleep on the couch. Like her mom, I couldn’t help but watch her sleep, keep watch.  Monday reminded me, dear reader, you can’t, I can’t, we can’t, run away. Things are going to happen to us… for me, the adjustment of loss and living life, like many of you, it is a process. Though tedious at times, nevertheless it is a process that must happen. 

       I leave you with(click) these encouraging words from Sharol that she spoke to our daughter who was turning 13 at he time. I won’t be writing about this again, unless perhaps it ends up in one of my books. I thank you, my dear readers, for following and reading along with this season of my life. Thank you for your encouraging comments. I pray that at the very least, one of you were encouraged, felt normal. Being the surviving spouse is no easy task but we can get to the other side of grief.

Until next time…

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