The long dark night of my soul

Some rainy night musings on love and loss.

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If we’re lucky, we get the opportunity to love a lot of different people in our lives. Parents, children, one or more spouses, lots of friends. And then there are the romantic liaisons that for one reason or another just don’t quite end up happily ever after.

Some end clearly. There’s a moment of “we need to talk”, possibly a complete surprise to one party, but it at least puts everything out in the open. A conversation follows and decision is made. The relationship becomes part of each person’s past. There’s pain, but it’s like ripping a band-aid off, sharp and startling but it’s usually over fairly quickly.

Then there’s the loss from death. I loved my wife. Like I will never love another in this lifetime. But when she died, the relationship came to a natural end. An end that is clear and delineated. There’s closure. I’ll always miss her in my life but moving on is like pulling away from a stoplight. Everything has changed, but the past is behind me. The pain is unique and long lasting (likely life long) but you at least know why it ended.

Some aren’t quite so cut and dried.

I walked down the street from the bar with the rain beading up on my glasses. And I pondered, as I have several times over the past few months, why it was that I still couldn’t quite get over her. Just as I will always love that beautiful dark haired Italian woman from thirty years ago.

I realized it was because the relationships never came to a coherent conclusion. There was no point in time where there was a clear signal that this was over. And I think it’s because the love didn’t really end. The relationship just didn’t work in the context of each partner’s lives. Maybe the timing was wrong. Or maybe there just wasn’t a way to rationalize each person’s values with the other’s. Despite the love, two people sometimes just don’t fit together.

I think most of us have one or more relationships that end in this fashion. I suspect it’s how most marriages that end in divorce come to their final conclusion. The love doesn’t actually go away. Someone cheats, or finds they just don’t feel that same passion. Maybe the kids grow up and that glue that held everything together just sort of dissolves. There are as many reasons as there are couples who split up. But there was love there once. And I suspect it’s still there. The relationship just can’t survive the new reality.

This pain fades slowly. In fact it’s actually grief. But a different form of grief, because the party that is central to the pain is is still alive. Often, I think, the grief morphs into anger. Possibly, for some, it runs through all five of the stages of grief, although that hasn’t been my experience. For me, there’s always just been a profound sense of disappointment. It’s a failure. And I don’t deal well with failure at all.

I guess what I’m really getting at is, it sucks. Sometimes life just doesn’t give us the answers that we seek. Nowhere is that more plain than in relationships between people.

One day I’ll undoubtedly find myself with another love interest. But those two relationships will always be behind a door in my heart that I can’t quite close.

Ode to a sleepless night

A Poem

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Photo by Gregory Pappas on Unsplash

in the hours after midnight
wraiths of long lost love
torture my sleep

deep in the psyche
emotions engage in warfare
and set siege to the heart

soul deep injuries
hastily triaged
only to return to battle

demons slither amongst the wounded
and approach the ramparts en masse
with weapons of promise

if only the gates are opened
all manner of riches
can fill the keep

but empty dreams
and broken oaths
bar the entryway

thou shall not pass
you are not welcome here
disturbing my slumber

allow me my repose
tomorrow is another day
and love is far, far away

Rock On

A couple of reflections from a long ride

Two thousand miles is a damn long motorcycle ride! Thirty years ago it was an adventure in overcoming physical limits, both for me and for a motorcycle built to race on a dirt track, not fly down the super slab with the throttle pinned to the stops. The bike and I both made it. And the memories are etched in my DNA. Sadly, that bike went to flat track heaven almost twenty years ago. I’m not easy on equipment. Horse people would derisively say that I ride ’em hard and put ’em away wet. And they wouldn’t be wrong. Bikes are tools, not living beings. I use stuff, and love people. People who get that backwards make me uncomfortable and not a little sad. Unfortunately, like almost everyone, I’ve known way too many.

Anyway, to celebrate my fifty-fourth birthday (and my impending retirement) I made a similar trip. The route was different. The timetable was different. Most of the people I set out to visit this time around weren’t even even born the last time I rolled through. The limits I had to face were more mental than physical. The bike, although also a dirt tracker (I guess I have a “type” when it comes to bikes too, who knew?), is much bigger, much faster and benefits by virtue of thirty years of technological advancement. Unlike that old Honda, which wore out both a chain and a rear tire on that first trip, I’m still riding this Harley every day as if last summer’s trip was a quick run to the grocery store.

One of my favorite activities is riding motorcycles. But, I think, the most significant insight I gained from this trip had nothing to do with bikes. It didn’t have anything to do with travel either. It came to me on the second day of the trip, when my eldest daughter took me and my granddaughter out for my birthday dinner. There was a saxophone player in the restaurant bar and we could hear him clearly from our table. Every time he’d start a riff, my granddaughter would would start shaking her shoulders and dancing in her seat. I would join her and we’d both break out in huge grins just feeling the freedom of the moment expressed in that wailing sax.

Music is creation’s universal language of life and love. The whales in the ocean, the birds in the trees, children, even before they can talk, make music. Every culture expresses itself through music. We bind ourselves together with it and often choose “our” song when we commit to another person. It can make a one year old come to know this old man sitting next to her in a restaurant as someone who loves her. Even if she only sees him once or twice a year.

A couple days later I would attend a little outdoor concert with a new friend. Coincidentally, much of the music played at that concert was written and first performed right around the time of that first motorcycle adventure. Life coming full circle? I don’t know, we both grew up with those sounds and today they help to make me feel like I still belong to the same culture. Even if so much of the world has changed, generations are still listening to the music of my youth. There’s a certain comfort in that. That first bike is gone, but the music remains. Like love, you can’t grab a handful of music and trade it for some other object. It’s ethereal and yet timeless. Long after all the “stuff” is gone, music and love will remain.

Sing a song (or write a poem) to those grandchildren. Leave them with something much more valuable than things. And change the world we live in, one kid at a time.

Thank you for reading.

When the trees sing to me

photo of milky way at night
Photo by Nathan Anderson on Unsplash

When the trees sing to me
the centuries fall away
I’m a nameless, formless being
weaving through the forest
as I was when we first met
as I will be when I see you again

When the trees sing to me
I can almost forget
the eons that have passed since you left
years of empty silence
aching for your touch, your voice, your presence
the loss drifts away in the breeze

When the trees sing to me
they remind me
that this is but a chord of sorrow
in an endless melody of hope
with a chorus of joy
and a symphony composed on the strings of time

When the trees sing to me
they mix the sorrow, the pain, and the bliss
in a song only I can hear
and I understand once again
that nothing was taken from me
It was all a gift

If You Were Still Here

I wouldn’t be half the man I’ve become

Today is our 30th wedding anniversary.

It seems a bit strange to write that, since you’ve been dead for over ten years. But, just because death separates us, doesn’t mean I’m not married anymore. Or not still deeply in love with you.
Yeah sure, I’ve tried to move on. I’ve even fallen in love a couple times and skipped down the path towards something new and potentially wonderful. But I keep tripping on the rocks and ruts of my history. Of what we had.

No, it wasn’t perfect. But neither is a favorite sweater, or the gloves that fit like a second skin. It’s not perfection that builds a successful relationship. It’s the way you stretch and shape into each other. The ability to grow as a team while still maintaining full autonomy and security as two separate individuals. Truly, a great relationship brings a whole that is so much larger than the sum of its parts.

That’s what we had. Something more than either of us could ever have been as individuals. The reason I know this is because of the holes I’ve had to fill since you went home. 
I’ve had to become the mom, as well as dad. To pick up the mantle of bad cop, as well as that of the good cop. Four kids need four different kinds of parents. Even two would be barely enough. And yet I had to try to be all of them. I failed, in myriad ways that I’ll probably never even begin to understand. I could never fill the emptiness but somehow we kept ourselves from falling into the abyss created by your death. Together, the five of us found a way to draw the strength and resources from each other to get to this place and time. You left some really, really big empty shoes. And it took all of us to fill them just enough to keep taking forward steps.

The truth is, I would never have made it this far if it weren’t for the kids. Parenting these humans to adulthood is the only thing that kept me here. When you died the foundation of my world crumbled away leaving only those four pillars to hold me up while I slowly and methodically built a life without you.

I’ve also learned how to care about people that aren’t family members. It wasn’t until long after you were gone that I found out there was an empath buried deep inside of me. Yeah, funny eh? The stoic man you married has trouble keeping dry eyes when a sad song plays or he reads a post about immigrant children in cages on our southern border. As the world I live in has grown harder and colder, I’ve become softer and more emotional.

And just look at this! I write blog posts and share them with the world. I even get responses to some of my posts. I’ve been told that I offer hope for a better tomorrow. I don’t know if it’s true or not. I do it because I feel like I was called to it. I’ve become a sensitive man. Or maybe that’s what losing you has done, broken me open and let out what was in there all the time. Culturally conditioned and socially inept, I showed the world a cold, stoic, seemingly heartless man. Until you died and my heart and soul were cast into the hellfire of grief and loss. I’ve since learned how to express that in my own unique way. If it helps other people find a way out of the darkness, I’m more than happy to light the candle.

Even as I sit here today marveling at all the ways I’ve grown and how different my life has become I still struggle with questions of why. What kind of karma am I working off that I should spend a fifth of my life in mourning? And even now, after I’ve clawed my way through hell and come out on the other side into a sunny and warm existence, I think I’d still give it all up for just one more day with you.


Sunrise

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Photo by Andrey Câmara on Unsplash

One day I woke up on the beach
Having spent all my life in the forest
The horizon stretched before me
A strange and unnatural sight to my eyes

When the sun rose, she spoke to me
A question, so deep and unexpected
Are you so certain you know what love is
That you cannot see her in this guise?

You are so enamored of the mountains
That you shun her love when she turns her head?
Right here before you
Is the very essence of love you’ve longed for

Wake up little man
And embrace that which is freely given
Just because you weren’t expecting her in this form
Doesn’t make the love any less pure

The Citadel

A stranger in a strange land

Photo by Sandra Frey on Unsplash

 

I’ve always been prone to darkness. Friends would say I was moody or even in some cases, morose. I had very few friends growing up. And although I have five sisters, none of them had much time for an annoying brother. Almost all of my early memories are of me doing things alone. I had snowball fights with snowmen I’d built on the other side of the road. I read A LOT. I roamed the woods, hunting, fishing, exploring. I was drawn to solitary adventure. What’s on the other side of that hill? Where does that path lead? What’s new, what’s different, what’s unknown? I constructed elaborate fantasy worlds in my mind. I still do it. Someday, I may take to writing novels. I’ve got hundreds of fully formed stories still in my head.

This morning I read a story by Iva Ursano. And it sent me into a world I have been very reluctant to visit. Mostly because it’s a painful place to go. And therein lies the reason I must make this trip. There’s a disrespectfulness about much of the self-help, “live in the now” culture that is incessantly preached to all of us. But particularly to those with traumatic history. It glosses over the fact that there is deep pain that, at the very least, needs to be recognized and honored. Yes, there is only NOW, but everyone’s NOW is informed by all the moments that came before. We are the people we are, not because of now, but because of what happened before this moment in time.


I had about seventeen really great years with my wife. That’s what it turns out to be when I do the math. A couple of years in which we lived together before we got married. Then fifteen years before the beginning of the end. There were three tense years after that. Two people absorbing the news that everything they’ve built together is being taken away from them. Not because of the choices they made, not of their own choosing, but because, in the end, none of us really have any power over the future at all. We didn’t know how to deal with this knowledge. I’m not sure anyone ever really does. That final year had a little more tenderness than might otherwise be expected given the stress and strain of the previous three. Maybe we’d figured it out a little bit by then, but the last five months were consumed by impending death.

We had four children together. We bought a house in 1999. We attended school plays and took the kids to the town pool. We had giant piles of Christmas presents under the tree every year. And a basketball hoop outside by the mailbox. We played with the kids, changed diapers, and talked about our work lives. We made love almost every Friday night. I know we did these things. There are shadows in my mind that hint at the love we once shared. And photos in boxes and on the computer that prove there was joy at one time in my life. But I can’t remember any of the details anymore.

I spent three years impotently watching while the love of my life lost, cell by cell, the ability to move or control any part of her body. As the disease took her physical capacity away it built a towering stone castle in my psyche. Memories of what came before she died are locked away on the other side of those walls. And I don’t seem to be able to access them from the universe I live in now.

So, what do I have left? I mostly see her, sitting in an electric wheelchair, head slumped over. She died a mere silhouette of the beautiful, vibrant warrior goddess she personified for so many years. The last three years of her life did nothing but take; life, love, hopes, memories. I lost way more than the love of my life when she died. I lost our history, the family we created and the future we had dreamt about. I still have four wonderful children, even a grandchild, but the family we are now is a family with a gaping hole in the center.

I can’t even properly honor the good times we had. They’re ghosts flitting amongst the shadows in my mind. Behind me is a fortress where my past and my memories are locked away. I stride forward into a future that’s unknown, unknowable and I don’t even have access to my history to help guide me on my way. There was a battle fought in my past. I’m standing in an empty field with a bloody sword in my hand. I don’t know who I am, where I come from or which road leads home.


I’ve struggled for a long time to find a way to tell this story. I’ve talked with a lot of people with a history of trauma. Most of it was inflicted upon them by someone else. It seems to me that they all carry shields, and often swords, around with them. Understandably so. But nobody inflicted this pain upon me. And, unlike the phrase “everything that happens to you is a result of your own decisions” this isn’t a result of anything I chose. Neither is the trauma most people survive at the hands of another. It’s platitudes like that, that blame the victims. We don’t all control everything that ever happens to us. Life happens. It’s terminal. And if you think otherwise, go ahead and make the choice to live forever and never get sick. Let me know how that turns out for you.

Yes, I own my response to what happened. Insofar as I did what love, honor and the promise I made dictated that response. I’d do it again, without even a second thought. But I suspect the construction of that giant citadel behind me is to protect me. From memories that would make creating a new life much more difficult. I remember echos. Of a life that was easy. Nothing that has come since that world ended has been easy. If I remembered more, I suspect the road to a new, rich life would be impossible to find. No, the universe is protecting me by requiring me to take a different path through the wilderness that lies before me. One that can be filled with unforeseen triumphs from entirely unexpected directions. There is a path out there. Despite the darkness of many of my days, I know it’s there. I don’t have a map and I don’t have a compass. But I don’t have a past to hold me back either. All I get for this trip is my imagination and my fearlessness. And they are all I need. They’re all any of us really need. And THAT is the power of living in the NOW.

Thank you for reading.