“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…

“Without Her: 9 Months Later, I’m Not Okay”

    I was sitting down watching Nashville the TV show the other week. I was so happy that it returned. Since ABC cancelled it, Country Music Television picked it up. I can’t say I’m anywhere close to liking the writing this season. First off, they are screwing up every relationship on the show, everyone is breaking up or going through drama that doesn’t make since. Well, at least to me. See when you change too much too fast you lose the audience. I’m a die hard fan so, I would stick it out. I learned that  the show runners are from ThirtySomething. Do you remember the show? The characters spent most of the time wining. So understandably I’m concerned about the writing and direction of one of  my favorite shows…
     Out of nowhere, they killed  Rayna Jaymes

 I’m like “what the heck!?” What made things worse was that the hospital scene mirrored my conversation with Sharol. I knew Deacon Claybourne’s pain. Like Deacon, my loss was sudden and unexpected. Like Deacon, my life has been a series of twists and turns down dark roads. Conquering addiction depression, assaults, bigotry and fear. We both found a confidence and strength that came from the relationship with the women in our lives. Who also happened to be the absolute love of our lives. 

Deacon and Rayna we’re working on an album of duets together. It was the story of their life together. It was a pretty adventurous task which brought up old feelings and anxieties as they tried to write together. So at one point they decided to write separately and meet to put the songs together. Coincidentally, it was the same formula I came up with when we decided to write our own  autobiography about lives before we met and then our life together as a couple, the struggles of parenting and becoming One. That was about 5 years ago. We were up in Albany for a weekend because Sharol had to take a class. It started on a vacation, then when that weekend trip came we decided to spend some more time writing…. we never finished it. We didn’t get pass the outline of the chapters. Only God knows where Sharol’s notes are. Like me they were scattered all over the place, a notebook here a piece of paper there…

    I fell apart when Deacon did. I couldn’t imagine him living life without Rayna. Raising the two girls alone, the unfinished album, the business up in the air, a custody battle, a music career that was halted, teenage daughter dating an older guy that’s bipolar… and the only way Highway 65 was going to survive, is for him to finish the album that everybody’s waiting for…

      I once told someone “how am I supposed to be Papa without Nana?” They responded with “Aww”. Someone hit the buzzer please. “Aww…” is the wrong response! “I don’t know”, would have been better. I think what followed was something like “you’ll be okay” …in the words of President Trump “Wrong!” I won’t be okay, heck I’m not okay. My life was and in some small ways, but less with each day; intertwined with Sharol’s. Thankfully, I did not die with her emotionally; as so many surviving spouses do. Things would have been far worse for our two youngest that I still have to raise. So, how am I supposed to be Papa without Nana? How can I  finish the book we were working on, much less consider an autobiography without her? How will I lead this nation(6 children  and 4 grand) of ours forward without her by my side?.. a month ago I woke up to a runny nose. I thought it was a runny nose, it was blood. It took me a bit to figure it out until I saw the bright red on the pillow. I tried not to panic, but this is the thing I was most concerned about over the months. What happens if I get sick? Ill be alone. Usually, we’d wake up, one would  stay with the other just to make sure everything was fine. One would pray with and for the other. But my prayer partner is gone. Who will take care of me…? I thought, thinking of the future. I didn’t want to go back to sleep. The kids can’t loose both of us within the same 12 months I thought as I laid back down…

      So, you see, dear reader. When the car ran into Rayna, when she laid in the bed promising Deacon that she’d come back to him and when he said “don’t you die on me” as they ushered him out of the room…it was all too familiar with me. Some years ago, probably within our first two years of marriage. We looked at each other and I said “Dag, why didn’t you wait for me?”  I was referring to all the stuff we had gone through in our past relationships. If we had just waited for the one God had for us. We agreed it would have been fun to have had more time together. Like Deacon and Rayna we struggled but the love was real and genuine. They were arguably one of our favorite characters/couples  of the show. Now, Sharol  wasn’t a great big country music fan but she did like a good drama and watched the show with me from time to time. It’s one of the few shows that I can stomach watching without her, probably because I started watching it before she did. 

   Okay, back to Decon; facing finishing a work they started together with everyone pushing and pulling on him. But of the crowd came a voice of reason, Avery Barkley, who reminded them that the man just lost his wife. Avery later came up with a brilliant idea of how to finish the record. I have been fine for months moving forward, getting done what needed to be done. Until I woke in the middle of the night. Followed by the past few episodes of Nashville…

     But don’t you worry none, dear reader, became my hope and trust is in God and I have seen him move mountains for me these past few months. Friends have come and gone but Jesus has remain. Like that poem Foot Prints, I have only seen one set of boot prints in the snow of NYC. But I know he was with me before, so why not be with me now? If the Lord said he would be closer than a brother, as close as the mention of his name, if he gives birds food and I am more valuable to him than them, then why not take care of my needs in this dark hour? 

    Of course, that does not change our human feelings and the need for human to human contact. That need to be held. Isn’t that the reason for Eve? After seeing Adam alone, with no one like him; God decided that it was not good for him to be alone. Then by God’s grace he gave Adam someone to walk through life with. So, in this too I must trust him. I don’t just say this to encourage you but also to encourage myself. As Fred Hammond  once said sometimes we just have to encourage ourselves. By the way, Decon and the girls are doing much better. I suspect the rest of the season will focus on the continuing life, after Rayna Jaymes. I know that feeling too.

Until next time…

“Without Her: Friday Night Booze and Bluez”

Atlanta, Ga in my Sandy Springs apartment. With friend and neighbor, Cat; I was 23 years old.

   It started with one glass then another then another and another…

    Like a fisherman I casted out my text to see who would bite. I was in the mood to talk. There was a lot on my mind and I needed someone. It was a long  day. I just wanted to go home and  commence with the Friday night ritual…two glasses of wine and a movie. The text from the therapist earlier to confirm our appointment, set the blue mood I was now in. The thought of finally talking about Sharol and the loss, unfortunately just depressed me. I wasn’t nervous, just unsure about opening up a can of worms. I told my daughter I didn’t feel like sitting outside, I wanted to be alone for a bit. Maybe I’d come out and watch a movie later. Perhaps I should have just watched a movie. What followed was nowhere near anything good, at least for me anyway.

    I waited, but no one texted me back. I finished the first glass and laid down on the bed and started watching Chicago PD  on my phone. I poured the second glass…now my mind was calm. My usual eradicate thoughts were in a single focus…

    The first text ring in…then the next and then another. I was watching PD and having three conversations at once. Then a fourth! The therapist cancelled our appointment! First, I find out that the church that Sharol and I started to attend just closed its doors. Some other silliness happened earlier and now, a cancelled appointment, after opening up a crappy can of “feelings” worms. Are you kidding me!?!! The second glass was done…the texting continued. Unfortunately, the more relaxed I became, the more I felt. Lost…alone… missing the woman whose picture I was staring at. The bedroom door was closed and my pajamas on…the text went on. One conversation was encouraging, the other made me laugh and I needed that, the other was familiar…it took me back to a place I hadn’t been in a while. I liked that feeling. I waited to hear from the other two. But the last one, that was nice. I was compromising myself, my integrity, my faith and my heart. It felt great. Doesn’t sin always feel good?  

Text one, was about business, well the business I’m in. Text two, continued to make laugh and smile…as hard as its been, I enjoyed laughing. Text three, continued to take me down a dark path… 

   Sharol used to jokingly say”I’m glad I didn’t know you when you were younger”… she was right and I don’t think we would have attracted one another. I was a little free spirited, lack massive confidence, filled with pain and constantly battling depression and had many ambitious plans. Oh…I forgot to mention, always drinking, all day and many times high on something…

   I have survived many things this year, but the cancelled appointment was the proverbial straw. I poured another glass of wine exceeding, me and Sharol’s agreedupon two glass limit. I drink with malice. There was nothing I cared about at that moment. I wasn’t trying to wash away my pain, in fact I wanted to feel; feel the lost, feel the abandonment, feel the shock of that Tuesday night when she slipped into eternity in my hands. I’m not a person that can easily relax. My mind runs millions of miles a second. So I’m always in a constant forward motion. Years ago when I suffered from severe anxiety attacks, the medication that I was given help me to relax and for the first time in my life, my mind was quiet with a single Focus. Well I discovered, by accident, a glass of wine with my wife has the same effect. But relaxation was not what I was going for. I wanted complete and utter abandonment of my barriers.

    As the text conversation went on, my mind drifted away. I could smell the Old Spice and other cheap cologne in the air.

I was taking back and saw a guy I hadn’t seen in over 30 years. All the years it took to bury him. The mountains I climbed, to distance myself from him. The man I’d become, under God’s love and Sharol’s care, was gone. I was that guy posing for a picture with a 40 once bottle of Old English 800 malt liquor under my foot. One next to me and me drinking the other. I called it “King of Beers” today I might call him prince of fools. As I continued to slip backwards in time. So did my thought process, I’d forgotten who I had become; the man so full of faith and strength that Sharol wanted to marry. I became the dead man of the past, that texter  knew and wanted.  The first two conversations ended but the third continued…the pit was deep.

   I had always seen the devil’s attacks miles away. It would start with me and fail. Then my kids…then my wife…then back to me. Attacking my wife and kids would just piss me off and make me pray more, fight harder. But his victory that Friday was the result of a thousand tiny cuts. My tendons, that I needed to stand and fight with were slashed. Kind of like shooting Achilles in his heel.  A slow weakening of my defense. I kinda saw it coming, but hadn’t the strength or will to fight…

 Saturday morning…

My mouth felt like an aspirin bottle cotton ball. I felt dehydrated. The guilt from the night before didn’t come…but anger and disappointment did! “You’re a really nice man” one person said. “You know, you’re a stand up guy” another said. One person, over heard me calling home to check in on my daughter’s homework. “You’re a good dad” she said. “You’re a good guy…people are responding to that, they want to help” still another said. “I love you Ty…” Sharol would say, especially when I was going through something. All of the words folks had been saying to me started flooding my mind. How could I have let them down. I thought. How could I let my troubles get to me, get me to the point that I was so weak.  I’d determined that I couldn’t do anything about the night before or my past. But I had full control of the present and the future. This was not the hill in which I was going to die on!  Sunday morning, I was at my computer watching a church service online. I was reminded of who I was, of whose I was. I was reminded that years ago a good work was started in me. I was reminded of Sharol’s words, that God had her with me so that I would be the man he wanted me to become… clearly, that old dead guy wasn’t it! I determined, at that moment; however arduous this journey to the end of my life is, I will continue to beat down and bury the old man. This is not The Walking Dead.  That which is of the past and from the past will remain in the past. What has been risen like the Phoenix from the ashes of my old life is something entirely new…

    It is the thing, that encouraged the maintenance man in a hotel room, listening to me talk to my 13 year old daughter. It is the thing, that blessed my boss when he came Sharol’s funeral! It is the thing, that encourages and blesses my Co workers and bosses, when they see me working diligently! It is the thing, that, shapes generations to come simply because I gained new wisdom! It is the thing, that makes me stand and fight… and tell that hellish old man from the 20th century, he has no place in the 21St century!

     I don’t know, dear reader, how I’m going to continue to navigate through this strange time I’m in. I assure you I didn’t intend on writing about it. Heck, I thought I’d be in the forth chapter of my book by now. But life has taken me along the scenic route. Crazy, people keep telling me to continue to write. Really? Are you all crazy? Have you any idea what this subject is like for me…? But, apparently, there are some reading this and being blessed by it. That, my dear reader, was the reason I started writing in the first place. Now, I’m going do as The Afters said and have the time of my life.

Until next time….