Moving On With New Purpose

Last month this blog was five years old. It has survived.

It has survived the test of time. I started First Draft in order to share writing experiences, books, opportunities, tips, and text with other writers – literally, the first draft of some personal essays. Then life got in the way. First, the tragedies of death, two of them, my husband and mother. And then the joys of birth, two of them, my grandson and granddaughter. And the blog reflects it all.

From “Life and Not and Lilies” in early July 2008:

The house is quiet now. The kids have gone home — son, daughter-in-law, son, girlfriend. I couldn’t have made it without them the past week. Besides silence, the house is filled with the sweet, sweet scent of lilies. I must do something about that before it overwhelms me. I thought my husband had a stomach virus — or maybe salmonella — and went out for saltines and ginger ale. But that wasn’t it, and after teams of doctors and surgeons in two hospitals worked to save his life over a 39-hour period, he died one week ago of an aortic dissection, a catastrophic event. And so…

To “It’s A Girl! And A Boy!” from November 2008:

We just finished an ultrasound on this the day before Thanksgiving. I say “we” because I got to be there via conference call and witness the event with my son and daughter-in-law. Baby A is a girl…no doubt about it. Baby B is a boy. “Unmistakable” came the comment from the one holding the wand. Baby B was kicking Baby A, and she was swatting him back.

Thanksgiving 2006

From a business merger to the births of babies, through the many firsts, such as the first Thanksgiving without him and then the first Christmas, first anniversary, to the disposal of the ashes, to the funeral of my mother, to the first birthdays of babies, to the decision to sell “our house,” and the purchase of “my house” and the move, and all the trips and journeys…it’s all on this blog.

That includes a representation of the journey of grief. Grief is not something we “get over.” Or even heal from. It’s a journey to a new stage of life. We enter a “new normal.” There’s no forgetting. There’s no resolving. There is, however, reconciliation with life – an ability to live again, to move forward, to scale the hills, to walk through the valleys, to remember, to laugh again. There comes a balance of holding on and letting go.

Until one loses a spouse, one hasn’t a clue what I’m talking about. We, those of us who have lost, each cry in agony and suffer from pain so deep it cannot be touched or soothed and grope for comfort and understanding and deal with the “four walls” of loneliness and total aloneness until we can literally claw our way through the worst of it. We live in hell, and the blog even reflects that. From July 2008:

A sign on a church on Franklin Road, the route I take to the office, says, “You think this is hot? Try hell.” I’d been thinking recently about hell, that hell doesn’t scare me any more. I’ve lived in it for four weeks now.

At this point I shift my blog to the journey of writing a memoir about losing Charlie, about grief, about building a brand new life.

Others have done it and written about it. My experience, of course, will be different. So will my approach. I will begin by saying that I have not reached the final assumed stage of grief, according to Elisabeth Kubler-Ross: acceptance. (She actually wrote these stages for a person who was dying himself, not for those left behind, but her stages are manipulated and applied to all experiencing grief.) I will never accept my husband’s death. It is not a valid stage for someone in my place. Acceptance seems too much like approval. It is not okay that he died. It will never be okay that he suffered a catastrophic event and died. I acknowledge it. I have learned to move forward without him. I have [unintentionally, but assuredly] built a whole new life without him. That’s good enough.

July 1, 2008

And others like me find community in hearing and talking about living with loss and learning to put one foot in front of the other and lumber ahead. We are the only ones that know what we are talking about, and it feels good to understand each other and to know we are not alone and to share our feelings and needs with those who have yet to experience what we have.


Sunday morning I turned to the crossword puzzle in the newspaper. I thought I would never attempt one again. That was something we did together. He was the one who could sit down and fill out the whole thing in a few moments. I can sit down and fill in eight or ten words. We kept about five puzzles going, leaving them in strategic places around the house. “I corrected all your mistakes,” he’d tell me. A few times I got to correct his, and those were gold medal moments.

So Sunday morning, I started filling in answers. I kept going — somehow — and in half an hour I filled in the whole thing. Then I tossed my pencil across the newsprint, said humph, and chuckled. His presence. He was working it for me, putting the answers in my mind.

The shock started wearing off last Friday, and by the weekend full reality set in — crippling grief, anger, and guilt, along with devastating loneliness. I didn’t think Saturday would ever end, and then I knew Sunday would come.

My heart pounds in my chest and throat. I cannot swallow air, I cannot breathe. At times my legs are too heavy and I cannot lift one foot to put it in front of the other to walk across the room. I am numb all over. The dog keeps watching the back door, still expecting him, wondering why he doesn’t come. It breaks my spirit to tell her that Daddy is gone and he will never walk in that door.

People have been wonderful, but I feel as though I am a reminder of pain, of what horrific, catastrophic things can and do happen in life, and I feel as though I should be shunned so people don’t have to think about it and deal with what if it happens to them.

So I walk the dog and keep my back curled, my shoulders caved, my face down as close to the concrete as I can get it, because that is all I can do now. And I try to get used to being alone. Because that’s all there is.

And then he comes and it eases for a while and I think maybe we can get through this together.