The long dark night of my soul

Some rainy night musings on love and loss.

Image for post

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.

Lest We Forget

This is no accident

Image for post
Photo by Seth Doyle on Unsplash

We are all here on a sacred spiritual journey. We didn’t come here to get rich, or to command armies, or to die with the most toys. We came here for a reason. The beauty of the adventure is that we don’t get to know why we chose this life. Not while we’re still here anyway.

I had a dream last night that my late wife and I had a baby. A little boy. Scrawny and dark with a complexion and face that held none of the features of either myself or my wife. At three months old he was standing in his crib and telling me who I was. He spoke clear sentences. He was mischievous, funny and full of love. As I changed his diaper he looked in my eyes and joked with me. As we walked down the street he greeted everyone and ran around playing hide and seek with me in wanton joy. He brought bright smiles to all the faces in the crowd.

This short dream triggered a vague sense of deja vu. As if I were being given a little hint of those memories I’d left behind me. In my headlong pursuit of “what I was supposed to do” I seem to have misplaced what I actually came here to do. For what does a tiny child know of life in this world? They know love, they know kindness, they know vulnerability. They know fun, and how to live a life as if tomorrow wasn’t something to dread. They don’t think about tomorrow at all. Today is all that exists to them. And today is enough.

There are big things that need doing in this world. And more reasons than one can imagine for dreading tomorrow. But if we all lived life as if we were little children, would that be so bad? Love everyone, be kind, show your vulnerable side. Bring smiles to the faces of everyone you meet. Make them laugh and pass along some joy.

I think we could heal the world. One lost soul at a time.

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.

The Greatest Gift

Is one we give to ourselves

I was chatting with an old friend today. A comrade in arms, so to speak, on the long road to widowhood I made over ten years ago. That trip was a painful, soul searing life tragedy I’m sure I’ll never completely reconcile emotionally. We shared the process because her husband was dying of the same disease at almost the same time as my wife.

The conversation led down some paths of reflection that I hadn’t sat with in a long time. Those days were difficult. A million things to do. But what I most remembered was the overwhelming sense of abandonment I experienced. I hadn’t examined those feelings because I let them all go a long time ago.

People fail us, when we most need them. Friends don’t show up to help when their presence would lift worlds from our shoulders. Family members just go on living their lives as if nothing is wrong.
We have expectations of the people in our lives. Expectations that they will be there when we need them. That they will love us as we love them. That they will hear us when we call out in the darkness. And yet they fail us. Over and over again.

But guess what? We fail them too. Because the things we need from other people are tied to our own perceptions. Even when we give what we most think someone needs, we often fail.

The measure of a person isn’t if they’re there when needed. Sometimes you will be and sometimes you won’t. You’ll often fail to provide that which is most needed in the moment even when you think you’re giving your all. Unless you’re just an asshole, you’re likely to try to help those you love as often as you can. But you’re still going to fail. Often.

The measure of a person is displayed in their ability to forgive. When others fail them. And when they fail others. To be able to accept the imperfections of all the people in our lives. To overlook the perceived slights and misunderstandings. To accept that we’re all weak in some ways and unable to give even when the demand is great.



Some things you don’t so much get over as you just sort of move beyond. The death of a loved one. The ending of what you thought was going to be forever. Life will never be quite the same. Hanging on to the failures you experience in life, whether those of a loved one, or your own, is a zero sum game. No one benefits and everyone stands to lose that most precious of all possessions — love. We’re here for a remarkably short ride and you never really know what pain other people are bearing. Give them the benefit of the doubt.

Forgiveness. We may forgive other people but the release is ours to celebrate.

Sunrise

Image for post
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

Empath

Image for post
Photo by Zoltan Tasi on Unsplash

If only you could feel
the overwhelming love
of the mother for her newborn

If only you could feel
the disappointment of the child
when they hear “not right now”

If only you could feel
the kiss of the sun
on newly emerged spring leaves

If only you could feel
the agony of the chainsaw
as it tears through the bark

If only you could feel
the weight of the shoe
as it crushes the spider

If only you could feel
the joy of prancing through the fields
as a newborn fawn

If only you could feel
the heat of the bullet
as it tears through the lungs

If only you could feel
the gentle lift of the thermals
as the eagle soars high above

If only you could feel
the sting of the hook
as it pierces the lip

If only you could feel
the kiss of a snowflake
on the nose of the walrus

If only you could feel
the intensity of the flame
as it races through the forest

If only you could feel
the caress of the water
as it flows over the stone

If only you could feel
the burn of the chemicals
as they fill the waterways

If only you could feel
the power of the wave
as is crashes against the cliff

If only you could feel
the agony of suffocation
as pollution fills the atmosphere

If only you could feel
the ripple in space-time
as a new star is born

If only you could feel
the helplessness of the oppressed
when no one listens

If only you could feel
the triumph of the runner
as she finishes her first marathon

If only you could feel
the shame of the homeless person
as they beg for help

If only you could feel
the outrage of the privileged
when they are called out

If only you could feel
the withering sadness of the nurse
as another one slips away

If only you could feel
the release of the tether
as the soul crosses the veil

If only you could feel
all of eternity
dissolving into nothingness

Maybe then you would understand
how all things
are tied together

Be Not Afraid

You are never alone

Image for post
Photo by Tonik on Unsplash

I don’t remember the last time I died. But I sure as hell remember the last time I attended a death.

She could no longer speak. But I sensed her need. Even though I was asleep in the bedroom and she was in her power wheelchair in the living room. She needed to go to the bathroom.

Subconsciously, I had become attuned to her needs. It was something beyond words or sounds. To this day I’m not quite sure when she lost her voice. I remember our interactions as clear conversations even though she had completely lost the ability to speak months before.

Sometime between midnight and three in the morning I woke up. She needed help. I know it was in this time window because by five she was gone. And I had slept even after wheeling her into the bathroom and back out. I remember quietly whispering into her ear as I pushed her along: “You can go now, your father will be there. We’ll be okay.”

It was all she needed to hear. I know I slept for awhile afterwards but I have no recollection of where nor do I remember how I came to be on the telephone with her doctor asking if I could give her another dose of morphine. I know her mother was there because she had urged me to call and she would be there for the rest of her daughter’s life. She was a nurse and she understood these things. Even if she had never in a million years imagined she’d witness her own daughter’s passing.

I can’t tell you how I know. But I can tell you when I came to understand. I was thirteen years old. I don’t know what happened to bring it on but I remember laying in bed and imploring the power that is: “Please don’t make me come back here again.” And I understood, at the core of my being, that life is not what it seems.

There is pain here. And soul searing indifference. Why is that, I wonder? And I realize it’s because people are scared. Of losing what they have. So scared that they will destroy anything and anyone in order to hold on to it. And yet, in the end, we lose it all anyway. The only thing that has any lasting value at all, is love.

Just like I don’t know how my wife communicated her needs to me, I don’t know how I know this truth. But I know it as if the Universe itself whispered it in my ear.

To fear death is like fearing the sunset. We have no control over either. And to pretend that we do is to live our lives in a state of delusion.

My wife was afraid of death. But not for the reasons stated above. She had no ties to the material world. She had two driving forces in her life. The work she did and the children we raised.

She spent her entire working life as a helper. She ran community residence programs for the mentally ill. She advocated for, and made the lives of, so many disenfranchised souls, less tortuous. She understood these people and the difficult lives they were living. Not because she was one of them, but because her father was clinically depressed himself. She was raised in the chaos of mental illness and spent her life trying to improve the lives of people like her father.

If there’s a lesson in all of that for me, and most of us in the world, it’s this: People are NOT fully responsible for the life situation in which they find themselves. It’s a lie we tell ourselves to avoid taking any responsibility for our fellow human beings.

It’s also a lie my wife had no intention of telling herself. Like nurses called to the occupation, she came here to serve. And, like one who is doing what she came here for, she loved life and she didn’t want to leave. Which makes me wonder why she had to suffer such a horrifying death herself?

I can come to no other conclusion than that of unveiling to me the interconnection of all of our lives. And the impulse to write about it. To whisper it into the ears of as many other humans as possible.

Be not afraid. There are helpers. We are all helpers. Each in our own subtle and unique way. All we need to do is to discover and embrace our destiny.

Thank you for sharing your time with me.

Oh, to be loved like that!

Are you sure you mean it?

Image for post
Photo by Joshua Earle on Unsplash

I was chatting with my friend and fellow Medium writer Ann Litts last night, right after she wrote this piece. She told me the situation had reminded her of me and the love I had for my late wife, as I’ve written about before.

As these kinds of conversations often do, it led me into a place of quiet reflection. And another sleepless night.

Hi, I’m Dick and I fall in love too fast, too deep and I give way too much. Or, at least I once did.

The person I love has always come first. My family has always been next in line. Only after I was certain they were all getting what I thought they needed did I look after my own interests. I’m certain some of those people would argue the point, but remember I clearly stated: “what I thought they needed”. I’m sure I was wrong, on many occasions. That doesn’t negate the fact that I was doing what I thought was the “right thing”.

I turned down promotions. I often took unnecessary risks to get home late at night instead of staying over in a hotel. All because my family meant more to me than any career. And, as most ambitious women have known for decades, putting your family first doesn’t bode well for advancement opportunities in business. It cost me. I martyred myself in many ways. But I really don’t regret any of that at all. At least not when it comes to “career” aspirations. I’ve never seen what I did for money as much more than a job.

The lesson I needed to learn came when my wife was dying. When she left the choice of her or the family’s future in my lap. ALS was stealing her breath away, slowly and inexorably suffocating her. There was the option of going on a vent. Extending her life for an indefinite period of time. And she wanted that. She wanted more than anything to see her children grow up, make their way in the world and have her grandchildren. I think you can probably see where this is going.

I contacted her doctor and requested information about the procedure. I asked about follow-up care. I learned that committing to this course of action would likely cost in the neighborhood of $30,000 per month. For as long as she lived. Insurance would cover it. But this was ten years ago. My insurance had a lifetime cap of one million dollars. We’d already gone through something on the order of a hundred thousand and there really was no hope for a cure on the horizon. Even the doctor recommended against going down this road.

I loved my wife. And I love my kids. But here I was, having to decide between keeping my wife alive and being able to provide some sort of future for my four kids. I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t make the decision. I told her I would do whatever she wanted but that she would have to make the decision herself. And as a mother, she couldn’t do it either.

I often struggle with this memory. Did I take the coward’s way out by forcing her to choose? Or did I actually choose myself and my kids over her? Was it fair of her to even ask such a thing of me? I don’t have quite the same tenacious grip on life that my wife possessed. If I had been faced with the same decision for myself, it would have been easy for me to choose her and the kids. But I think I knew that I was making her decide, almost certainly against her greatest hope. And in that moment, I didn’t feel like the husband I had always believed myself to be. I felt defeated. By something out of both of our hands. I think, in retrospect, that’s the very moment I realized that any sense of control we believe ourselves to have is fleeting and illusory.

In the grand scheme of things, I believe we’re just along for the ride. And depending on your belief system, fate, the gods, God or even random chance will always have the last word. We’re asked only to choose love. But even that choice can rip us apart if the circumstances are just so. I wouldn’t wish the circumstances we found ourselves in on anyone. But I’ve come to believe that it was the price extracted for the opportunity to love so completely.

Or maybe I’m just a romantic old fool.

Thank you for your time.