With And Without Her: “Abandoned”

A few days away

Hello dear reader, it’s been a while since I’ve spoken to you. I tend to wait until I have something to say. And when it comes to this subject, grief that is, I thought I was done writing about it. Though it is the backdrop today it isn’t the main subject…

I spent the past few days away on a self imposed retreat. I needed time away to pray and hear what God had to say. I’ve been out of work since January 4th, it wasn’t stunning. But it has left me with quite a dilemma… loss of income, health insurance and so on. So there has been a lot on my mind. So much so, that the stress has caused me to have somewhat of a scatter brain. Lack of focus and forgetfulness, the lack of a daily routine hasn’t helped much either. So… I escaped New York in search of quietness. I found it and an answer to a question I didn’t ask. Sometimes the Lord drives me crazy with that. I pray about something, don’t get an answer and he answers something I wasn’t thinking about. Or at least I don’t think I was.

I threw on some quiet piano worship music, I set for a while, then laid back on the loveseat. Fully immersed in the melody flowing throughout the house, I suddenly drifted away. A sobering worship, I felt tears of joy forming but then stopped. One word came to mind, Abandoned. It went from my mind to my heart. So I started to pray “lord… speak, I’m listening” then I read a few verses, pray some more and continued to wait. Once more abandoned can to mind. Mind you, dear reader, I was asking for direction in the many things I need to do. So now I had to ask why “abandoned”. There was no audible voice, no hand writing on the wall, no scroll from heaven. Nope, just a flood of emotions, images and instances of feeling and being abandoned.

The beginning

Now, believe it or not, I’m not talking about me waning “Why is everyone leaving me”. It’s something far deeper. I suspect some of you know what I mean.

I was about 7 when my grandmother died. It was an odd time, she died around the age of 55 or so. Pretty young. I strangely believed, because little kids believe a lot of things, that my family was plagued to die early. A few other family members died in succession after she did, naturally the clan splintered. We moved to the Bronx after that. I was raised by a single mother and a dad that visited on the weekends. It was a really rough time,I didn’t know we were poor (because schools didn’t tell us like they do now) but I knew something was odd and my embarrassment while shopping with plastic money proved it. Yes! In those days public assistance “welfare”, didn’t come in the form of bank like, debit card. It was plastic coins and monopoly like, paper money. But food was always on the table and in our bellies. Clothes on our backs… even if it was borrowed. If there was no more toilet paper and no money, we sometimes used my mother’s Pattern paper,it was made of tissuepaper. She made clothes.

Most mornings she was there when I left for school but not there when got home because she worked. So there was no checking or helping me with my homework. Fast forward… I was about 11 or 12 when my sister left home. Meaning I was now an only child. It also meant there was no buffer when the stress of single motherhood, came home to roost. In my mind my sister left me behind. The flip side was, I stayed. I took it! She was off living the adventure(not true it was hard for her too) and I was stuck dealing with my mother, project and school bullies, massive failing grades, no one to talk to and what I would later come to realize, were panic attacks during my high school years.

Later years

Many things happened to me between child and adulthood, including a failed marriage. I believed marriage was forever and no matter how hard it was, I would stick it out. In other words, I stayed. The other party came and went and I gave chase to work it out. Eventually, like my retreat, I was in the house alone and heard a still voice…”leave this place” just like that. Just like Abraham! It came with a price, shortly before I was seeing a therapist because I suddenly developed Anxiety Attacks. Apparently the stress of the relationship was too much for me or should I say, my body to handle. And my body was fighting back to survive the blows I was unaware I was taking. I would later learn the seriousness of not taking care of yourself…

Dear reader, I developed a very bad habit, of holding things in, fighting back anger. And when I did push back I’d explode with frustration. Kind of like, I needed to be a “good boy” and not start trouble.

Sharol

When Sharol and I got married there was a lot of love, that was evident to all who knew us. But there was also marital stressors. We would battle like two proud and stubborn Klingon Warriors. Our biggest augments were over the kids, see we had a blended family, though we raised them as Christians we made the mistake of not choosing one system of discipline early on. The tension between us in the early years took a toll on me mentally and emotionally. Apparently. I thought it was normal… just like the high stress job I had. What wasn’t normal was my aforementioned way of handling things. Not only did I suffer from severe anxiety attacks I became an agoraphobic. Eventually I couldn’t go out, get to work or ride the train. Nothing! My wife couldn’t hug me, simple tasks like brushing my teeth were agonizing, sitting at the table with all the kids was unbearable. I would have panic attacks a few times a day, sometimes multiples in an hour. As I’ve written before, I lost a year and a half of my life to them.

So what does this have to do with abandoned? Well, it’s not as simple as I thought. But as set on the loveseat I had an urge to kneel so I did. That’s when all this came to mind. The feeling that I have always “stayed” while others found freedom to leave or let their emotions go or take over. I’ve never felt such freedom. I was left to “hold the bag”. That’s when anger crept in during prayer… “when do I get to say ef you?!” When do I have the chance or freedom to say this or that pisses me off, without feeling guilty or the need to apologize for my actions… this sort of abandonment Is more like betrayal or dissertion. When Sharol died I didn’t want to get angry at God. How could I? Death is part of life, right?. But there was a day…I was on a street corner talking on the phone. I started crying then got really mad. I was mad that my wife left me alone. Alone to bury her… it was a strange feeling. I forgot I was on the phone. I can’t remember what I told the person but I hung up then went upstairs. I wanted to run as far and fast as I could after her passing. I never did I stayed to picked up the pieces as best I could. Immediately going back to work to keep my sanity. Wouldn’t know…? As deaths does… the family split down the middle. The kids are older with families. Each moved on and away. But I stayed, at the same job, in the same apartment, looking at her clothes and so on. Never angry… but apparently my heart had been speaking to God, what my mind and mouth failed to realize. Or was willing to say. Like the panic attacks were my body’s way of recognizing what I didn’t. Weird huh…?

A few months short of the one year anniversary of my wife’s passing, I purchased a Nissan Murano. It was intended for more than just two people but as I mentioned earlier, life does it’s thing. My youngest daughter and I have taking to the road. Camping, short east coast roadtrip and last year we add hiking to our adventures. Yes, it’s time spent together before she starts her own life…but more than that, it’s my chance and time to leave. To go anywhere and everywhere. It’s a bit late in life and I don’t expect anyone to understand. But I feel alive and free out there, unrestricted. No sir, I’m not dragging the kid along she’s the one that suggested we drive across country. “Let’s go to the states no one else goes to… all the places no one else heard of”. It is entirely possible that, wanderers and outdoor enthusiast are running from death, pain, life changing events, but we are all running towards something too. Life! We are enjoying life as much as possible, with as little strings attached to us like puppets. Healing is also part of the process and adventure. I know many who have become healthier because of the great outdoors. If I didn’t subconsciously feel abandoned I would have never left, nor saw the beauty of God’s hand in nature. The beauty that draws me closer to him and what I needed to help in my process of grief. If Sharol didn’t live, I would have never written a book. If she didn’t die… let’s just say, her death changed me as much as her life with me did.

You see, dear reader, God didn’t answer my pray about a job or at least not at that moment. He answered the cry of my heart. I was left with, “I haven’t abandoned you” the other thought…”come to me and I will give you rest” Still in need of a job, but I’ll take a God answer in any form any day. What about you, dear reader, anything you haven’t realized about yourself?

Until next time…

“Without Her: Sacred Dust”

The infamous Box. Next to a can of chicken, she was hiding from our eating machine son; for my lunch.

       I have picked up my pen several times, placed the pad in front of me and yet, I haven’t been able to finish anything. Is it because my muse is missing? Is it laziness? Is it grief? Or perhaps a combination of all of the above…

      Last time, dear reader; I spoke briefly about “the past two months” when I was done I thought, you know; I have another topic I wanted to touch on. So, here we go… put your feet up and relax. 

      There is a show my 14 year old daughter and I like to watch called This Is Us. About two or three months ago we watch an episode where the doctor; that delivered the babies had to deal with loneliness  and his inability to move on/ more forward, after losing his wife. His adult children were concerned about his lack of joy with life and how the house remained the same since his wife died. Kind of like my 14 year old, “daddy, you need to have fun. You should go out” I did. I went to two birthday parties… I think I told you about one of them. The first was with coworkers, I was out of place and uncomfortable. Clubs, are just not my thing. I don’t like crowds, I’m more a an intimate small gathering guy. The second party was just that, small is something I can deal with. Yet, of course I was uncomfortable. My oldest son is a master of working the room, something he inherited from my dad. In these situations, I tend to slip in and out unnoticed. My coworker calls it an Irish wake. More on the party later, I’m going off road…

     Anyway, there’s a scene where the doctor is talking to his wife but she’s not at the table. He fills her in on the latest happenings with the grand kids. To the ordinary viewer or anyone else, he probably looks like he’s losing his mind. But the truth is and many of you reading may have experienced this; that he was continuing the routine in his life. It was keeping him sane. Her medicine was still in the bathroom cabinet and on the dresser. Her things were all in the places where she left them…

      I shook my head in agreement because Sharol’s t-shirt, yoga pants and bra are still on the hook behind our bedroom door. Her towel is on the hook next to it and my towel on the left hook beside it. Her shoes spread across the bedroom floor. I stop tripping over them though, I’ve learn to navigate around them now(it’s okay you can laugh). Her clothes still on hangers, bleeding over to my side of the closet. Yep, still taking over the closet. Mostly everything the way it was. Even the silly empty cough medicine box… well,actually I put that on her bookshelf months ago and laughed at her when I did it.

    Okay, let me explain, for years we have been pulling simple pranks on one another. Every so often we get a good run,the box happened to be one of them. Once while she was asleep I wrote my name on her arm. She returned the favor. I don’t remember who started the nail polish thing, it was probably me. Painting her nail an odd color. Well, I woke up one morning with my big toe chocolate brown. After the initial freakout, because obviously I thought something was wrong; I laughed and we went about our day. So, there was no time for payback. I forgot about the toe nail until  I had a podiatry appointment a few days later. The doctor looked at my feet then up at me. Yes, go ahead; dear reader and laugh. We would put notes in each other’s bags from time to time or leave it where it would be discovered later. Not all can be discussed with you. There was this one time I wrote in a book that she would read to the baby… it didn’t get discovered until the baby was a preteen. Lol. 

     So, the box started with throwing something at each other, playfully  of course. Our bedtime could turn into a kindergarten class at times. I can’t recall if it was a piece of paper or a sock. Anyway, Sharol was falling asleep and I retaliated. I slipped the box under the blanket. She opened her eyes… I walked around the bed and a flash of green and white whipped by me and bounced off the wall. This meant war! I busted(don’t be a grammar nazi) out laughing. We laughed and went to sleep. The box eventually ended up; tucked into her underwear she was planning to wear that was out on the bed, in my shoe which I didn’t find until 2 days later, in her bag where her keys goes, the hood of a coat, on my pillow one night and so on. Lastly, after packing clothes to bring her home from the hospital, I slipped it in with the clothes. When she saw it in the hospital, she sucked her teeth. If you’ve been around people from the Caribbean you know the sound. She gave me that I got you look. It was in the bag when she came home, no doubt planning her next attack. Not sure if she got me back but I had the last laugh. I put it on the her bookshelf…

        Out of habit, like the doctor I sometimes look over at her picture and say goodnight. Last summer  I bought a wall decal that reads Always kiss me good night.  Something we’d do most nights. Many years ago; because you realize you’re getting older, we purposed do that just in case. So, you know what happens after being married for a billion years, right? You start by kissing lips, then it’s the forehead, the hands, the shoulders, elbows; hey sometimes you’re just too tired to turn and reach the lips. Lol. Some of you know what I mean. There were nights when the only thing we could do was reach out in the middle of the bed and hold hands. That was followed by snoring. 

    Sacred dust…      Not only is that silly box there but there are other things still in its place. Perfumes, pennies and the hospital basin that came home. All collecting sacred dust. You know, I didn’t even think about it until my grandson came for a visit. Where’s Nana? He often ask me. Then he runs off before he gets an answer. So, he picked up a plastic container that has an accordion plastic tube connected to it. If know someone with asthma you’ll recognize the device. Sharol had blow into it. He touched it and my brow furled. My first instinct was to grab it but I didn’t. He asked what it was and like usual the ants in his pants, had him dancing around the room. 

    I didn’t know it then but that plastic piece of nothing had become a Sacred Relic …something we should be very careful not to let happen. When the revelation slapped me, I was reminded of a conversation we had about Facebook. About not leaving messages to one another when the other dies. Because neither could read it. She and I were adamant about not doing it. We’ve seen others do it but thought we should focus on other things. It was always a strange thing to us. For me personally, it’s like lighting a candle for the dead. Dear reader, you may do this as a practice, that’s cool for you and most likely is part of your faith. It’s not part of mine so please don’t be terribly offended. Do your thing. I was told a long time ago that I didn’t have to get rid of her things right away. Take as long as you want. Take years if you need to. He said. The latter is is bit impractical… 

     I had gotten to the point when it was time but didn’t have time to do so. My reaction to my grandson, signaled to me that day, that I was in a dangerous place. I had made sacred that which was not. Not a good head space, like those in a time bubble or an endless loop. I’ve seen and heard many people over the past few months stuck in a loop. This came about as well meaning folks wished to comfort me…by trading death stories.  The lord knows and Sharol few that, that’s not a head space I need to be in. The horror some folks live with. They replay the endless loop of an argument or telling someone they wished they would die, some disappointment. It is hard enough living with regrets when the people is alive. But when they’re gone some people are stuck with their  finger on replay. I have no idea how to advise or help them. Except as I have said before, seek out grief counseling.

    Anyway, back to what I was saying. Like the doctor on the show. We are men a little out of step from another time. There was a neighbor and friend that didn’t live to far from him. She’d seen the doctor in the store and greeted with a smile. She even invited him over and offered to make him lunch. He said “Hi” then carried on. Well, his children mentioned her to him and he waved it off. Basically saying the woman wasn’t interested in him. Even though she did offer to cook for him. The doctor got frustrated with his children. Telling them not to tell him what to feel. They had been married for over 20 years… He was right but so were they. He later started clearing out the cabinets and had that lunch.

        *(I’d written most of this a month ago. Which is why I  thought I told about the party. I hadn’t typed it) 

The party… so I got invited and the kid says “So…are you going?” I eventually answered the nagging child, with “I don’t know. It’s not my thing, I haven’t been to a club in nearly 30 years” I went. Like any single parent I texted a thousand times. “I’m here” “Are you okay?, what are you doing?”  Her text, “So how is it?” At about 9pm I text her “I’m  ready to go to sleep” Lol. I didn’t even know any of the music either. See, a man of step and time. As mentioned earlier, the second party was more intimate. Oh, and with music I knew! Lol. But like the first one I was oddly out of step. I eventually warmed up and talked to people I knew. Then… someone I didn’t know came in. I found myself wanting to talk, but was way out of practice on how to strike up a conversation. Well, it started somehow and I was intrigued. She had a great sense of humor and timing. When I got home of course that child of mine grilled me. When did I become the child? Shh… don’t tell her, but I’ve wondered if there would another time when I’d run into that lady again. 

     Like the doctor, dear reader; I know the things I need to do and they’re  getting done. Again, I don’t sit around moping and crying for days. But there are things that trigger memories and this episode was one of them. I thought you’d find it interesting. Some of you are like me, you have businesses to run and children to raise. So, like in Nehemiah, building a wall with and sword on their side and a tool in their hands. So, we mourn and work. Laugh and remember fondly while continuing to live life. Hey, by the way, before we go. I did get to those clothes, some big girl in a shelter or in need will be blessed. As always, our life as a living witness of God’s love. However, we were ready to leave the house and all of the sudden out of nowhere, I couldn’t breath. A mad rush of emotions flooded me. It lasted about 10 minutes. I reached out in prayer to the lord and found him there as always. For a moment I envied my coworker who’d just lost her husband a few weeks ago and others who donated clothes and things immediately. But, that wasn’t how it was meant to be for me…

     Back to my opening statement, which I know you forgot and I don’t want to leave sitting there in tears. It is a combination of all of the above.  The joy of writing has returned but my muse is missing. I often wrote for an audience of one, Sharol. Now, I’m learning to do it alone without my in-house cheering squad and it started with you. The only thing I could write for a long time was this blog about this strange new season of my life. Good news, I’ve been  writing a New short story for the past month.  Thank you, dear reader and my author buddies for convincing me to continue writing. 

Ripley’s on 42nd Street

Until next time…

“Without Her: 7 Months Later”

Walking home across the Willis Avenue bridge. We went to dinner at a local restaurant (Perkins)and decided to walk home. 2015

  Hello, dear readers, a lot has happened since I last wrote to you. I started a “6 Months Later” but never posted it, I didn’t feel it and thought it’s better to write honest feelings, rather than write  something I forced out. Hey, if I’m gonna write about this stuff, that I really don’t want to do publicly, it should be truthful…

  6 months later…  I was sitting at my desk at work , checking my bank statement when I noticed a deposit. I Looked at the date and suddenly felt sick, it was the 14th.! The reason for the deposit was for a the loss of another’s life. And if you have loss your spouse to death, then you know  the feeling I’m talking about. It’s NOT a happy one. Some spiral into depression. I, slipped into deep blue mood. I immediately text my youngest child and told her we would be ordering the mattress she needed…it didn’t matter what we did with that little bit of change, it still came with a sickening feeling. It’s like coming late to work and your boss says  “I understand you’re going through a lot right now”. All I (or you too) could think of is, I got a pass because my wife died. People excuse you and give you an excuse. For some, they’ll milk it forever. Me? I’m not built like that. I was raised to stand on my own feet. Sure, today I’ll take the pass but I’m smart enough to know it won’t last forever. I reached for my blue pen and started filling out the withdrawal slip…I heard my coworker talking. The tears started. I was running late and stopped for breakfast, so I was eating and fighting the tears that wanted to fall at the same time. I walked in, and my boss said we were having a meeting. She was going away for the holidays and would be gone for 2 weeks…

So, my coworker turned to me and said we’re going back to the Bronx office. “Oh,@$%#$ no!!!” I thought. That place was horrible! Sharol had to literally lift me from the bed to get me to work. I was so depressed working there. I think I was more upset about going back there than anything else. I’d just spent 3 weeks there!!! I was so downcasted and didn’t have my counterbalance to help me through it. Dear reader, it was not a good morning. Uncharacteristic, I took to Facebook to complain! Many came to my aid with words of encouragement. My co worker said there was “nothing we could do” I said “I could and would quit!”…I meant it. I think he knew it too. We’d been working 9 to 9 for 7 days a week since November 9th. I had enough and hadn’t seen my daughter. I begin to plan our escape from the city…

 I went to the bathroom and cried, then begged God not to send me back there. When I returned to my desk , I was told that I was staying in my office. But many of my other coworkers were deployed elsewhere. Some I hadn’t seen in two months, more on that later. 

Escape from NY! Our first Christmas without Sharol.

I kept to myself for the rest of the day and It was an emotional lunch! 

Dec 14, 2016

Lunchtime at the Freedom Tower. Dec 14th 2016

Dec. 14th 2016 lunch at gound zero reflective footprint.

   I took a walk down to where the World Trade Towers used to stand. It was cold!!! But I wasn’t the only one dealing with loss that day… After my Facebook post, I learned some of my kids were having the same sort of day. I called Amtrak, our travel plans were set…

   The first Christmas without my wife was odd. My older children made plans to be away with their own family. I totally understood that and didn’t force the issue of us being together for the holidays. Thanksgiving was quiet, we met for brunch then parted ways. For Christmas we basically just went our own way. Guess what,its not uncommon for families to so after such a loss. This gives everyone and the family as a whole the opportunity to create  new traditions for the holidays. As for me, I took the two youngest to Washington D.C for the long weekend. It was odd without Sharol, but not too strange because the 4 of us had been traveling together for the past 4 or 5 years. So, we were just down one. I didn’t have Sharol by my side but… I had my two running bodies. We didn’t do much but it was a good time to be away from home and relax. 

Just Because… it’s what we do now. Amtrak bathroom, Selfie. Dec. 23, 2016

 7 months later:

       One day, when I was home alone, shortly before we left for the Christmas break. I signed up for Internet dating, no I didn’t tell my kids…but they know now. In short, this is not for me, I’m far too old school to find this form of meeting people useful or endearing. Within 48 hours I ran into 3 crazies! And blocked them all! One asked me for money to get her back to the U.S., she was in Ghana taking care of her 😉sick mother. That first experience set the stage for me. I don’t trust people to begin with, so this was NOT good. The second person to contact me 24 hrs later, had the same air about her… why would a beautiful 36 year old white woman  be interested in me I thought. Yeah…about that. Next! The third was the same. One week later, I gave up!. I miss talking to and dining with a woman and hearing laughter, after talking to a coworker he told me about another website, he was right it was better. I met someone…everything was fine for a week. She was kind, at times she reminded me of my wife.She laughed easily, had a brilliant smile, easy on the eyes too. She was totally compatible! But by the second week something broke. I left the city again for New year’s. I discovered something, a coworker told me once, that “you don’t want to either ” she was right. The subject was about me being a writer and needing the time to do it… what I’ve learned, is that I live a crazy, hectic life right now. I work for the state but I’m employed by the ciry. My job at times comes with a high level of stress. My world is communications , politics to be exact. And  as much as I want to be normal or live a normal life. The truth is, I don’t want to. My wife is with Jesus and I have nothing to (pleasantly) distract me from writing. Something I really want to do and I’m also fascinated by the world I work in. I don’t have the time, nor do I wish to give the time it takes to build a relationship from the ground up. Something that requires me to spend hours on a phone or video chat. I will be far too consumed by words over the coming months. Sharol understood this,but we were also married for 19 years. It took time for us to become what we were. That means starting all over again… It would be incredibly hard for a woman to deal with my lifestyle and artist moods. 

    Yes, I long to hold hands but… there’s so much I want to do. I once wrote that I didn’t know who I was without Sharol.I know now. I am a single dad, a single man…free to do whatever my God has for me. Free to enjoy life. I enjoy hanging out with and having lunch with my coworkers. One such lunch buddy I hadn’t seen for nearly 2 months, we were deployed to different locations. On New Year’s eve morning we had breakfast together. I said “hey, you wanna have  breakfast with me to say goodbye to 2016” the answer was “yes“, we had a nice time talking and eating. Then we parted. Would I like more? Absolutely!, but it’s  all I have to give  right now. This discovery, was hard to swallow. I don’t want to be alone, but I didn’t pick Sharol, God did, I can’t trust my heart. So, for now I’m going to trust Jesus to once again open my eyes to the one he has for me. If, like her, it’s someone I already know, someone right under my nose… Someone willing to come along side of me, love me, go where I go and eventually  send me home to the Father, Sharol and all those who went before me. Then that would be awesome. 

Dec. 26, 2016 teaching the kids how to play pool. In D.C.

D.C. Metro station. 2016

Show off our rings. Dec 24, 2016 dinner at a China Town, Washington DC.

Christmas dinner at Legal Seafood. Washington DC Dec. 25, 2016

  At the moment dear reader, I’m enjoying time with my two youngest children, looking for a new place to live  and still opened to whomever the lord my have for me. But I am also going to focus on my book right now. Who knows…maybe next week I’ll change my mind. But for now, my relationship plane is a holding pattern. This widower’s  life is an odd one. Wait. I failed to mention that we who have lost our spouse, not only feel guilty for living but often feel as though we’re cheating on our spouse. It’s crazy, right? Yep. But like I said, it’s an odd life for us.

Until next time…