how did i get here?

my husband, my beautiful Dragon, died suddenly at 12:03 AM on 9 February 2009. there was a cold, lovely full moon and 3 feet of snow on the ground. i "slept" for the following 10 months and "woke" to the physical and emotional pain and torments of deep grief. i "woke" to find i had moved the day of his funeral and that i am lost. i am looking for me while i figure out the abstract, unanswerable questions that follow behind any death. my art has evolved. his death changed that as well because i am forever changed and will forever bear the mark of losing the only man i can ever love.
there is alive and there is dead and there is a place in between. i am here wholly in my heart for my children, but i feel empty inside at this time. i miss him. i have not gotten very far in my grief journey. i make no apologies for this.
this is my place, my blog, where i write to tell the universe that i am still here.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

the Dragon speaks

"I read her words in my mind. I hear her thoughts in my heart. Every tear she sheds I am there for and I wish I could tell her that I am. She doesn’t know where I am or how I am because it isn’t her time to know. I am her Dragon and I was called to go ahead. I died and she lived. And even though I know peace here, relief from all the physical pain my body suffered because of my years in service to my country, I would take all the pain back to be with her again.

But all I can do is watch her and wait.

Apart. Such a small word for the impact it has on those who mourn. I never lost my wife and yet I mourn. She lives. It was I who left her; who went through the agony of dying. Her voice came through to me. I could hear her panic. My heart tore in two but there was nothing I could do. I was being taken from this life for reasons I understand now but certainly did not then. And I know she does not understand. But one day she will. And I will be waiting for her.

All I can do is watch over her and wait with her.

I also heard her voice after I died. I could hear it in my thoughts. Her voice was hollow, soft, in shock. She told me she’d never love anyone else. She said she’d stay my wife. She still wears the rings I gave her. She’ll never take them off. I know her. She makes up her mind and folks, that’s it. She’s quiet but a more determined, bull-headed person you’ll be hard to find. I love her for it though. I hear her talking to the puppies. I hear her on the phone or when someone drops by. Her voice is still hollow. It doesn’t have the life in it that I know is there.

And all I can do is just sit with her and look at her.

I know, of the two of us, it was best that I died first. I told her once that it had to be me because I was always point man. And besides, I could not be left alone back there. I could not do it without her. She was the one who gave me life again, love. She hero-worships me and I don’t know why but I was always so grateful for it. I was always so grateful for her. I told her I was a heathen but truth is I did start talking to God after I met her. I thanked Him for her. She heard me, I think. She was so sick one time and I was terrified. I told God to give her back to me. I told Him I couldn’t live without her. I don’t have that kind of strength. She’d smiled at me and called me “silly.” She told me I was the strongest man in the world. I am a Marine and I know I can do anything. I also know that I could not live without her. And now I have to watch her live without me.

And all I can do is watch her suffer.

She still doesn’t really know how deep my love for her is. She is everything to me, my breath, my life, my heart, my soul, and my conscious. I told her all the time. I wrote her notes and said all of that and more. She heard my stories of what I did. She knew what I was capable of and yet, all I saw in her eyes was a love so deep that I jumped. I jumped off that cliff and fell into her arms. And I never left. Even though I have died, I have never left her arms. I just wish she could feel my arms around her.

But all I can do is stay with her and not talk to her like I used to.

We did talk though, when I was alive. She used to be afraid to say what was on her mind. But I got it out of her. I’m the Dragon. One of my many specialties was communications. I got people to talk. And I got her to open up to me. I used trust and love and tenderness. She was starved for it. I don’t think she’d ever really been touched in a kind way or hugged, even as a child. So I made up for it. I touched her all the time. I got her to smile, to get used to laughing. I got her used to being held. God, I loved it, seeing her relax. I’d been seeing her for four months before she relaxed enough to let her head lie on my shoulder and fall asleep while we watched a movie at her house. Her daughter was sitting in a chair watching with us and she saw her mother sleeping. Her remark would have brought me to my knees if I’d been standing.

“Mom must trust you. She’s fallen asleep. She never fell asleep first when dad was here.”

I am not the type of man to get tears in my eyes but to feel the tenseness gone from her body, to feel her steady even breathing, and know that she trusted me inside her house with herself and her children, to fall asleep like that, I will never forget that moment.

Yet now all I can do is wait for her to get through with this pain she’s feeling so she can remember it with joy and not this intense sorrow.

We love each other. Oh, God, the bond we have. It was immediate for me. I had to work on her a bit. But when she fell in love with me, she was all in. Hero-worship. It was the most amazing feeling to be looked at by her. I could see how shy she was with me, always was. She thought I was handsome. I thought she was crazy. She would sneak pictures of me with that camera of hers. I never could figure it out but I didn’t try too hard. Seeing the joy in her face, the adoration she feels for me light her eyes was enough for me to put up with all the pictures. And now that I’m dead, she stares at them. She talks to me looking at them while I'm standing right behind her. They are all over that little apartment she’s living in. God help me, I wish we were there together. And we are, in a way. I can’t leave her all alone. I have to keep watch. Nothing can keep me away from her….

as you can see. Here I am. Watching over her.

She cries in her sleep. It breaks my heart. She finally gets to sleep and then I see tears. I’ve heard her call my name and I reach for her but she doesn’t feel my touch.

All I can do is watch over her.

I told her all the time how beautiful I think she was but she had a hard time accepting it. She had been so beaten down for decades. Her self-esteem is so low, and now that I’m not exactly there to tell her these things, she doubts herself. I did not get the chance to finish healing her. That is my greatest regret.

So I watch over her. I watch her write. I watch her sew. I watch her cry. I don’t get to see her laugh much, or smile.

One day, I don’t know when, the vicious sharpness of this pain will subside. She’ll find that place between living and existing that people who mourn forever find. It’s a place of sweet memories, a half dream. She’ll be of your world, living and enjoying life again, but there will always be a part of her no one can reach. That’s the part that will always be with me. I know it. She knows it, too. Deep down under the ache she knows she’ll get there. We have this bond, you see.

Then she’ll know I’m watching over her. She’ll sense me close. She’ll know that even death could not keep me from growing old with her.

Excuse me now. She’s set her sewing aside. She’s going to try to sleep some. I need to be there with her, you understand, in case she cries in her sleep."

i've gone through a bunch of letters, both hand-written and email, just to read his words to me again. this is what i imagine he'd be doing and saying. i knew him really well. no, that's wrong. i know him really well. he hasn't changed inside where it counts. i can predict what he'd say and do in pretty much any situation. see, we have this bond.

1:30 am

i can't sleep. my eyes are burning and my stomach is growling. i sent off my "pre-first of the month supplicant to the master letter" yesterday morning and there has been no reply. typical but with it being between Christmas and New Year's, my panic is rising. he's going to his third family Christmas gift exchange tomorrow. i hope he checks his email before he goes. all i can do is hope. he's never not done it. it's just the issue wanting to eat, of being able to get food and not waiting to eat eggs and toast until Monday. my daughter said she hopes she gets her paycheck on Thursday so she can get it cashed at the bank. if she does, she'll get a few things at the grocery store for me and i can pay her back. i hope one of us gets some money. my stomach hurts, but panic is not the only reason i'm awake.

2010 is coming. i'll be moving into a new year. a new number. it won't be the same numeral as the year he died. i can't make it sound right.

New Year's Eve will be the full moon. mine and his full moon. it will be the end of the year in which he died. it will be a different number. for some insane reason this had me falling apart earlier. i'm moving further away from the day he died. in two and a half months, it will be a full year since he died. Valentine's Day will be the anniversary of his funeral. (expletive deleted). no one was thinking, least of all me. to sit in a church and look at his flag, his ugly black plastic box that we got from the funeral home on Valentine's Day and to forever associate that day with ........

i can't sleep. another full moon. a new year. same me. same fears. same anguish. same cold, cold, cold life.

he'd be cooking the bed now with his body heat. i'd be plastered up against him. his right arm around me. my hand on his chest. his left hand on my hip. my cold feet and legs intertwined with his. like the second Dragon handkerchief. if we'd died together like that, they would have had to untangle us, like a pretzel, like a Celtic knot.

it's now 1:55 am. i'm not a slow typist. the photos took longer for some reason. silly puppies. my constant companions. our lives are so upside down.

maybe i'll go make toast. and drink some tea. and draw. i'll have to turn the light on. but it doesn't matter. i'm the only one here and the puppies love toast. i'll have to ration the bread though. i only have a quarter of a loaf left. (expletive deleted)

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

blowing like stink and the Dragon's laugh

i hope my uploaded video works for all of you.

on the day i made this short video there was a storm out at sea that forced these waves past the Dog Bar and into Gloucester where we were walking that day. the water temperature was 38 degrees. right off i am far too close to the edge of the seawall, and i get nailed. the laughter you hear is my Dragon.

{i love his laugh. it was always given with his whole heart and soul. as a warrior for his country, he did a lot of things that brought darkness to his soul. there were times he did not know if he would survive what he was asked to do. so when he got to laugh, he did it big. he felt it all the way through his body. i love that about him. he allowed me to laugh like that. i was safe to be myself with him. when i am too lonely for him, i watch this video and listen to that laugh. and if you listen closely, you can hear him finish my sentence. we did that with each other. we lived in each other's hearts but also in each other's minds. we have a "true marriage" as Shakespeare would put it.}

i checked the weather this morning up in Cape Ann. it's blowing like stink and it's 20 degrees. the wind is clocked at 54 miles per hour. i miss that rawness of nature. we would be out there today. walking. hot chocolate in a thermos. gloves. hats. Yaktrax on our thickest mountain boots. heavy coast with layers underneath. our eyes would be stinging from the cold.

then we'd go back inside and get warm. if you listen to his laugh again, you know how we got warm.

being outside with my Dragon is one of the things i miss greatly. getting warm is what i miss most of all.

"hello, Dragon. it's gusting outside on Cape Ann and i miss you something terrible. are you up there today? have you spread your huge dragon's wings to ride the wild, cold wind? come home to me tonight. come to me in my dreams and we'll make each other warm. it's so cold without you."

Monday, December 28, 2009

Dragon handkerchiefs

hic illic exsisto extraho. "here there be dragons." work progressing on handkerchief number tertius. (Latin seemed appropriate.)my Dragon. bold, fierce, watching over me.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

stained glass

After a day of hurting deeply, avoiding life altogether, sewing without break, womanNshadows finally moves. She gets up to sit at the compter. She draws the keyboard closer:

“We are told that our bodies are our temples. Our eyes are the windows to our souls. I know how my Dragon saw me, but I try not to let myself wonder what he would think if he saw me now.

I built the temple inside me of ancient stones. It is one story but has lofty ceilings. It is filled with photographs and tapestries that I’ve made. The pews are covered with comfortably old, soft, and faded cushions of burgundy velvet and the kneelers are well worn. Crocheted throws and quilts are tossed here and there. Scarves cover tables and on them are old wine bottles with drippy candles, the wax built up all around, stones from beaches I will never get to see again are collected in bowls and pots, driftwood, and shells are everywhere.

Everywhere I lived was like that in reality. My apartment is like that now. It is in my mind and my heart to trust old things that have endured and to bring softness and respect to them with all the things I’ve made. It is in my heart and my mind to save the things I find like rocks, shells, and driftwood. Since my insides are like this, I bring it outside to the world my temple resides in. My temple was once warmed, first by my youthful dreams that life quickly taught me were unrealistic, then by my children whom I cherished and protected from the evils outside and the evil that lived inside our lives, and finally by my Dragon. I was safest and warmest during his reign. Light shone brightly through my eyes and I smiled and laughed.

I have stained glass. I’ve been designing and making it for years. I love that it is the opposite of everything soft that I also work with, fabrics, threads, and smooth, smelly oil paints. Glass is hard, brittle, colorful and has to be coaxed and cajoled into designs. You have to treat it with care and understanding of the elements that created it. I draw a design out on paper and then sharpen it. Glass can only be cut on a curve so far and then it has to stop. For example, you cannot draw a heart and cut it out of glass like you can on paper or fabric. It breaks. You’ll break your heart. The symbolism should not be lost in the simplicity. There is power there. There is a marriage of sorts when you choose to work with glass.

The walls of my temple are metaphorically lined with stained glass that tell the story of my life. Childhood. Teenage years. Young adult. Married and raising children. Divorce. My Dragon. His death. And my life now.

By the time my Dragon found me and married me, all my windows had cracks in them or had huge pieces broken out. It would be uninteresting to you for me to tell you how each one got broken. I patched and soldered as fast as I could but the stones kept being thrown at me. I could not dodge each blow that came. No one can. We all bear the scars of our lives. My scars came from flying glass. And now that my Dragon has died, I feel the rain of stones on the remaining shards of colored glass that somehow managed to hang on to the mortar of the window frame. My roof also is in need of repair. It has holes in it and I’ve placed buckets to catch the drips falling inside me, falling from my eyes, the windows to my soul. There is no break in the clouds outside though and I am tired of the rain.

I am leaving the shock of my Dragon’s death. I am on the edge of the fog that I’ve been living in. I wish I were further back in. I am getting hurt quite often now by careless remarks that are dismissed as coming from the unthinking grief of others, or I “am sensitive and took it the wrong way.”

“I wish I could find the time to be alone like you are. You are so quiet, such a good listener. You are the eye of the storm. My dear, you are positively stoic.” {Yes, word for word.} “I know that has to come from living such a solitary life. I need to be more like that, but I just hate being alone. I envy you being alone so much. My life is so busy with friends and family. I stress so much. I have so many friends that worry about me. I talk, talk, talk all the time and I never do the self-examining thing. Maybe if I did, I’d be further along with my grief. It’s been 3 years though, oh, I bet that scares the hell out of you. It hasn’t even been a year yet for you.” And then she laughed. “Oh, well, you can handle it. You’re strong enough to do everything they tell you not to do the first year you are grieving. You are alone for days on end.” {Yes, word for word.} “Well, thanks for listening. I’ll give you a call in a month or two, you know, check in and let you know how I’m doing. You’re always the last one I call since you don’t have a car but you’re my faithful friend. I always know you’re going to be there.”

One widow whom I’ve seen at the group only once but she calls periodically gifted me with the end of a piece of soap she cut off. She’d unwrapped a new bar for her shower and cut the end off for me. She also took three cookies out of a sack, wrapped them in wax paper and said, “Everyone likes chocolate chip.” One gifted me with a book and told me to ignore the inscription to her friend inside. “I bought it for her but she already has a copy and I know you read.” Another something happened that I find I am simply too hurt to describe. At first, when she stopped by, I was so humbled, grateful, and vulnerablely happy, but then she said something that hit me in the back of the knees. I was stunned and had no idea what to say. It was her tone and her expression. I wanted to go look in the mirror to try to see what it is about me that people feel almost compelled to say these things. I simply froze a smile so it wouldn’t slip and thanked her. I thank everyone. Every thing that is done “for” me, I say, “Thank you.” Thank you, thank you, thank you. I cannot thank you enough for these bits and pieces thrown my way. Smooth stones that supposedly have no sharp edges but hit me with the same pain as per their weight and velocity. {It’s science. I don’t make the rules. It is what it is.} Pieces of glass litter the floor inside me and in the yard just outside me. Thank you for thinking of me. I honestly don’t know what to make of it. Let me say that again. I honestly don’t know what to make of it.

I have decided that I can never go back to the group. I cannot go back and stress waiting to see if this widow or that widow will walk in and look at me. I do not want to look at their faces and wonder what they are thinking. I am too alone. I am too vulnerable. I am far too exhausted existing without the Dragon. I do not understand this inability to hear themselves say these things to me, give me these things, and not see that it is devastating.

For me, these gifts can be compared to someone building me a fire and then picking up the hottest, brightest coals with tongs and putting them in my bare hands to take back to the apartment. It burns, but what can I say to, “There, now you will be warm.” It appears that each and every one of them fully believe they have done me a great service.

In the 10 months since my Dragon died, November was my busiest month for human contact. Fifty-two hours. I got to be with another human being for fifty-two hours that month. Thirty days. Twenty-four hours in a day. Fifty-two hours out of seven hundred, twenty hours. It was nice. The least amount of time spent with another human being so far was October. Fifteen hours. I won’t do the math, but out of thirty-one days, the Lord of Social Behavior and Human Contact allotted me fifteen hours. There is nothing I can do about it. There is nothing anyone who reads this can do about it. You cannot throw a stone at it.

I have two windows left in my temple. A window that is the angel I posted in a previous writing that is my

Dragon’s favorite. It shows hope. The other one is this one.

The rough, anguished hands are mine. The rose is my life slowly dropping its petals. Beauty and the Beast redefined. My Dragon knew what it represented, and what it still represents.

My Dragon has died. He no longer prowls to protect my temple. The echoes of his snarls have long since faded. If he paces and snarls now, no one hears. I try but I don’t know if it’s hidden behind the anguished cries from my soul or the fact that he is no longer close to me, but off exploring his new domain, that keeps me cut off from his spiritual self. His life , his job, was one of secrets. He couldn’t even tell me all that he kept deep inside. If he is off in a body that no longer aches, if he has the freedom to be all over Heaven, then he trusts me to make my way without him. Besides, a year is but a moment in Heaven, a decade but a morning. He probably doesn’t know how much I hurt. He doesn’t know that I am more alone than I’ve ever been in my entire life. It is an existence that I speak to but there are no words to paint the picture of what it’s like hour after hour, day after day. Six days and then I get two, maybe three hours with someone. My daughter. Then another six days goes by. If I desperately need something she is there. But she is newly married, her work schedule has changed, and I will not burden her without some heavy cause. She needs her time, too.

“You are lucky that you are alone so much. You don’t have to put on the face.” “I wish I had some time alone.” “You’re lucky your kids are grown and you can be alone so much.” I have not suffered a catastrophic loss while raising children. I can only imagine. My first child died at 19 weeks. There was no one to put on “the face” for. Now my Dragon has died and again, there is no one to put on the face for. I am as alone as a person can be who has not committed herself to a cloister or taken a vow of silence.

But after experiencing this Christmas, this first one without my Dragon, I think that I will have to stop being so desperate for company that I let myself be treated like I have been. I will not even try to explain. I will simply fade from view. I know no one here will truly care. Well, maybe one. But the end of a bar of soap and three cookies wrapped in wax paper as a gift; that she thought I would be so grateful for that, that I will answer the phone when she has the time to call me again in a month or two? No, I will not always be there for her. There are only so many petals on a rose.

In my temple, the stones still stand. There are quilts and tapestries on the walls. Driftwood and stones,

drippy candles that I make and shells are littered about.

Afghans and pillows litter the chairs and sofa. Books are everywhere, and my sewing. I have two stained glass windows left. One is of an angel that symbolizes the hope for a life after this one when I can be reunited with my Dragon in a Heaven that recognizes the sacrament of marriage. The other is of hands that show a life of pain striving to protect its soul housed in a single rose. These are the last two stories of my life.

In my temple there is room for the few souls who come sincerely, reverently, and respectfully. I cannot take any more stones thrown at me. I will not tolerate it. I’d rather be alone.

If you approach my temple, if you look inside, you’ll see a solitary woman whose hands hurt. They are sewing. There is no one else there with her. Two little dogs lay quietly beside her, and there are dragons. Everyone you look, there are dragons. Pewter ones, one she carved from wood, painted dragons, and embroidered ones. Dragons in every medium you can imagine. Their shadows flicker in the candlelight, huge on the stone walls, towering over the woman. Looking down on her from the lofty ceilings. Sometimes they seem to be moving, but it’s only the flicker of the dancing candle flames. There is no real dragon in the temple any longer. And that’s why she sits and waits and sews to pass the time. She’s waiting for him to come back for her. She is waiting for her time to leave this temple for another one in another place, one she cannot imagine.

But right now, during this time in her life, her art is all she has. The art of grief.”

womanNshadows pushes back from the keyboard and goes back to her sewing.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Christmas Night ~ The Kiss

i've read others having a good Christmas. lovely meals. friends. family. i've hesitated being the odd man out.


plans go awry. nobody's fault. it happens. it happened today. something came up. Christmas day did not go as planned. que sara sara. i keep that song in the back of my mind. it helps during all the hours i spend alone. i'm home with my dogs. my daughter is safe and snuggy warm at her home with her husband. my son is safe up north visiting. safe and healthy are all that matter. don't have to be sitting next to each other to be grateful.

maybe next Christmas i'll have longer with family. i'm hoping i can make it more like i got Thanksgiving to be. i have 365 days to think about it. plans to lightly pencil in. after all, it will be my second one without the Dragon. maybe it was my destiny to spend this first one mostly alone. but a couple of hours is a couple of hours.


i got a wonderful surprise gift from my daughter. a Gift of the Magi kind of gift. a photo cube. she found negatives. yeah, from way back when. and she got prints and put then in a cube. here are two. they are blurry since i will not take them out of the safety of the cube. the others are for me alone. but these two had me in tears. tears of joy. tears of sorrow. intense pain and stricken with longing. on my knees thanking God i had had him for the brief time i was allowed to. so two gifts. my Dragon and these photos.

she called it "The Kiss." i remember this day. she was a photography student. we were her subjects. the assignment was called, "Marriage." she got an A. we had each other. so briefly. so intensely. flash paper. a streak across the sky. a falling star.

"how could it be so?"

"it came without ribbons! it came without tags!
it came without packages, boxes, or bags!" ~ the Grinch

it came here at midnight; like a thief in the night.
it came without Dragon and it doesn't feel right.

it's here and he's not. he didn't come back.
there was no Christmas miracle in Santa's pack.

so i sit and i think. i sit all alone.
i think of my Dragon and wish we were back home.

my Dragon died of a sudden, catastrophic heart attack on the night of February 8th. they called it just after midnight. if i can't sleep, if i'm still up, the time of midnight until after 1 am is very hard for me. still.

i will never forget his face from that night. i will never forget my efforts to save him that failed. i will never forget. i was with him when he died. i will be with him forever. he is my joy. he is my love. he is my life. he is gone and i cannot find joy, love, or any kind of life without him. i subsist on memories and a half life where i make things for others, get the vibe of their solace in what i make.

it sounds sad. i know it sounds like i'm not doing well. i'm doing the best i can. it's Christmas 2009. i am alone. i don't feel him. i haven't since he died. i've been told by so many others, read about it, that they have felt the presence of their deceased loved ones. i don't know if i should be jealous or relieved that i haven't. i tell myself that he didn't hesitate to go straight to Heaven. he deserves the rest it offers. he deserves all the joy and peace that is promised.

i just miss him. he was too much of everything. my warmth. my laughter. my safety. he was my mirror. i know i will laugh again. i'll just never be in love again. i'll never be loved again.

"stay by my side as my light grows dim
as my blood slows down
and my nerves shatter with stabbing pain
as my heart grows weak
and the wheels of my being turn slowly.

stay by my side as my fragile body is racked by pain
which verges on truth
and manic time
continues scattering dust
and furious life bursts out in scattering flames.

stay by my side as i fade
so you can point to the end of my struggle
and the twilight of eternal days
at the low dark edge of life." ~ The Devil's Backbone