Do It For Dani: A Gentle Soul Who Left Too Soon…

Danielle Marie Long October 8, 1984 - May 26, 2014

Danielle Marie Long
October 8, 1984 – May 26, 2014

So take the photographs and still frames in your mind
Hang it on a shelf in good health and good time…
Tattoos and memories and dead skin on trial
For what it’s worth it was worth all the while…
It’s something unpredictable, but in the end it’s right
I hope you had the time of your life. ~ Green Day, Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)

July 2003: We didn’t like each other too much, to say the least.
Not terribly unusual, though: after I all, I was the estranged wife; she, the new (younger) girlfriend.

That’s when I first met Danielle, my estranged Cancer hubby’s first new girlfriend after our separation. And, being an Aries who needs to be Numero Uno with everyone (I know, totally unrealistic), I was not a happy camper.

Nevermind the fact that I was in a new relationship with my current Gemini/Cancer cusp man — the happiest relationship I had known in my life! Nevermind that he treated me like a princess; better than anyone before ever had.

No. All of the above was irrelevant. I had grown accustomed to my estranged Crab calling me umpteen times a day, tearfully begging me to give us “one more chance.” To let him come home. He cried, he pleaded, he told me he would do anything if we could just work things out. He promised to change, that “it’ll be different this time, you’ll see!” And it was the hardest thing in the world for me to have to repeatedly, yet gently, turn him down, only for him to plead with me all the more. I thought it would kill me. I sobbed as I apologized to him and explained that it was just too late. I also encouraged him to get out and meet someone new, reassuring him that he’d likely find someone so perfect for him that he would wonder how he had lived without her all this time.

Well, as they say, be careful what you wish for…

Dani

Dani

After four solid months of these pitiful, daily depressing pleas for a reconciliation, one morning in April 2003 my Crab called to announce he was about to head to work but just had one quick question for me: were we, or were we not going to work things out; was I going to take him back? I sighed and told him I was sorry, and although I would always love him, I had moved on. His voice didn’t break a bit as he accepted my response and informed me that was all he needed to know and would talk to me later.

Little did I know the reason behind that question.

He had met someone new.

Danielle — or Dani, as many knew her — was an 18 year-old coworker who had caught the attention of my ex-Crab; twelve years younger than me, eight years younger than him. Not only was I crushed that he had met someone new (which I had naively encouraged him to do in order to move on, silly me!), I felt old, ugly, and decrepit — she was twelve years younger than me! I didn’t want or need to know anything else about her: I didn’t like her. Not even a little bit. All I knew was her name, her age, and where she worked…and I hated her with every fiber of my being. We had it out via Yahoo! IM and email more than once. I wanted her to die. Literally. I wanted to kill myself and take her with me. I was beyond infuriated, filled with rage and hurt. After all, he was my husband (estranged or not) and regardless of the fact that I had moved on and was happier than ever before, he shouldn’t be healing: he should be pining over me for the remainder of his days! How dare he find happiness with someone other than me! Ridiculous, I know. A total double standard, I know. And I knew it then. I also didn’t care. I wanted to move on and be happy but I didn’t want my ex-Cancer to do the same!

But as the months passed and summer turned to autumn, the anger began to fade and Dani & I spent a lot of time on the phone talking over our differences, each making a genuine effort to empathize with the other. We acknowledged both of our roles in our ongoing dispute, identified ways to avoid problems, cleared the air, and agreed to be friends.

Dani & my young Taurus son, summer 2006, on a rollercoaster at Kennywood

Dani & my young Taurus son, summer 2006, on a rollercoaster at Kennywood

For the most part, from that day forward, Dani and I rarely had an issue. There were a few bumps in the road that cropped up from time to time, but for the most part it was a smooth ride, particularly as the years passed. My three children spent summers in West Virginia with my former Cancer hubby and Dani, a gentle Libra for whom conflict was truly uncomfortable. My Scorpio teenage daughter in particular became very close to her “stepmother” (which we referred to Dani as, although she and my ex-Crab never actually married), spending lots of time with her and because of only a seven year age difference between them, Dani was almost like a big sister to her as they shared secrets and hung out, scrapbooking, becoming fast friends. Over time as I came to know her better, I began to see in Dani the beautiful soul which had drawn my former husband to fall in love with her…and I told her so.

In late November 2004, Dani gave birth to a beautiful Sagittarius daughter, giving my progeny a new baby stepsister. And they adored the feisty little Archer as they continued spending summers in West Virginia with them, at least until 2008 when, sadly, the relationship between my former hubby and Dani came to an end.

My Taurus son with his lil Sadge stepsister, summer 2007

My Taurus son with his lil Sadge stepsister, summer 2007

My Sadge son with his Sadge stepsister, summer 2007

My Sadge son with his Sadge stepsister, summer 2007

My boys and Dani at Kennywood, summer 2006

My boys and Dani at Kennywood, summer 2006

Fast-forward, 2010: Dani married a new man and although everyone was moving on, including my ex-husband, my kiddos stayed in touch with her and with their stepsister as well, watching the ornery little Sadge grow like a weed via Facebook and occasional pictures Dani would send to the kids in a “thinking of you” card. Even Dani and I were Facebook friends, and I was truly glad for her and the new life she had begun. She was glowing in her wedding pictures; she radiated happiness. As Facebook “friends,” I “liked” and commented on the pictures she frequently posted of her new little family. She, in turn, regularly “liked” and commented on my photos and status updates. One time in particular, while I don’t recall the nature of the status I had posted, I remember vividly what Dani commented; not verbatim, but something to the effect of, “Jen, you told me something years ago that I never forgot: that every single person we cross paths with in this lifetime, no matter how brief,  is for a reason; maybe they have something to teach us or we have something to teach them, or both. I’ve never forgotten that and it’s changed the way I look at things.” I remembered having told her that at least five years prior, and it meant a lot to me that what I said had made a positive difference in her life.

Fast-forward again, October 2011: I lived in Hot Springs, Arkansas and was single. My former Crab hubby and I decided to attempt a reconciliation, nearly nine years after separating, and he relocated from West Virginia down to Arkansas and moved in with my teen Taurus son and me. Sensing a conflict of interest — nothing more — I went into my Facebook account and quietly unfriended Dani. I knew she and my newly-reunited Cancer husband were not on the best of terms, and I only wanted to be Switzerland, not caught in the middle of any disputes involving their then 7 year-old Sadge daughter.

Late January 2012: Realizing our reconciliation was ultimately not doable, my Crab returned to West Virginia on good terms. We remained close friends, and with the exception of one falling out soon after our separation, during which time we didn’t communicate for about three months, we talked and texted often. By this time, I had moved back to Oklahoma and my ex-Cancer expressed his desire to also move back to Oklahoma, as it represented a seven-year period of his life during which he had been truly happy. But his father had recently passed away, his sister was battling a severe chronic autoimmune disease, and he felt he couldn’t leave his stepmother to deal with it on her own, which kept him from following through with his wish to return to Oklahoma.

January 1, 2013: My former Cancer husband was killed in a single vehicle accident less than one mile from home, leaving behind a grief-stricken 8 year-old

My Cancer ex-hubby with his daughter, shortly before his untimely death...

My Cancer ex-hubby with his daughter, shortly before his untimely death…

daughter and Dani — to whom I could absolutely relate, as my three children’s father had passed away from cancer almost 12 years earlier to the day. I told Dani, “I wish I couldn’t say that I truly know how you feel…but I do.” (That was the second time I had experienced such a death.)

Spring 2013: Some very disturbing information came to light, and her seemingly idyllic life was turned upside down once again, prompting a devastated Dani to quickly divorced her husband of nearly three years. I couldn’t begin to imagine the emotional hell she was living, especially in addition to still grieving the loss of her 8 year-old daughter’s father only a few months earlier. I wanted to reach out to her, but wasn’t quite sure how to do it…I never did.

February 2014: Dani, who had found love again — even stating “I’m so glad I didn’t give up on love!” — was now pregnant with her second child and, as she put it, “ecstatic.” Her Facebook posts were once again full of joy and hope, as she was engaged to the father of her child, a man with whom she was deeply in love, looking forward to giving birth to another child in August, and proudly boasting about her soon-to-be stepson’s and her now-9 year-old daughter’s achievements in school, proclaiming “you always make Momma proud!” She stated on one occasion that she knew she wasn’t perfect, and she had been through a lot of trials and tribulations in her life, but overall she was “proud of the woman [she’d] grown to be.” Life was beautiful again, full of promise.

Dani & her fiance Mike, proud parents to be...

Dani & her fiance Mike, proud parents to be…

Then one day early in her second trimester, Dani collapsed.

Dani & her fiance, Mike

Dani & her fiance, Mike

She was subsequently diagnosed with advanced cardiac liposarcoma. A cancer so exceedingly rare that the Mayo Clinic sees, on average, one case per year. Let me repeat that: ONE case per YEAR. Dani underwent open-heart surgery to remove the tumor but the surgeons were unable to completely remove it. The prognosis was grim. If she underwent treatment immediately, she could survive from five months up to perhaps a year. But this would have required her to terminate her pregnancy, as her baby was not yet at a viable age in its development, and the recommended treatment Dani desperately needed would most certainly kill the developing fetus.

Instead, Dani opted to continue her pregnancy as long as possible so that her unborn child might survive, and she would begin treatment after giving birth.

Heart cancer survival rate is nearly 8.3 % in the early stages and in the medium and advanced stages it is nearly about 3% and 0.9 % respectively. When the patient reaches the third and the fourth stage, it becomes extremely difficult as the tumor has already damaged the surrounding areas and other parts of the body. If it is detected before the tumour reaches the spinal cord and the brain then heart cancer survival rate is around11 to 14%. Once the other parts of the body including the brain and the spinal cord are affected, the chances of survival from this tumor are less and hence the survival rate may be zero. ~ “What Is The Survival Rate For Heart Cancer?” http://www.cancer8.com

Tiny Noella Justine, the unborn child whom Dani was determined survive...even if she herself did not...

Tiny Noella Justine, the unborn child whom Dani was determined survive…even if she herself did not…

Sunday, May 18, 2014: With her condition rapidly deteriorating, Dani’s doctors made the decision to deliver the 28-week fetus, a 3 pound little girl she had already named Noella Justine. Thankfully, although Noella survived and is thriving, although she won’t be able to leave the NICU until around the time of her original August due date, Dani began to fade. She was placed on life support, occasionally breathing somewhat on her own, although sadly taking a general downward turn. She was not conscious, and had not yet held or seen her tiny baby girl…though at one point, little Noella was brought to her mother, lain across her chest, and her tiny hand reached up and touched her mother’s face. Whether or not Dani was conscious of this is unclear…

Sunday, May 25, 2014: As the cancer continued ravaging Dani’s weakened body, she began experiencing multiple organ failure. The decision was made to remove her from life support later that evening…and in an update I was told she was “breathing on her own and fighting.” I was racing northeast, desperately trying to get there, pleading with the Universe for a miracle; or at least to let me get to see her just one last time so that I could not only thank her for making such a positive impact in the lives of my three children, who still referred to her as their stepmother, but to also let her know that while I might have taught her something at one time, I had learned more about strength, grace, and perseverance in the wake of tragedy from her than she could possibly imagine.

Monday, May 26, 2014, Memorial Day, 4:30am EDT: Danielle Marie Long, age 29, passed peacefully into eternity, surrounded by family, friends, and her 9 year-old daughter…who had now tragically lost both of her parents in less than a year and a half.

I arrived in town at 9:30am EDT, where I literally ran from my truck down the driveway and up the sidewalk to the front door, tears streaming down my face, and into the arms of my late Cancer ex-husband’s sobbing stepmother.

Mother & daughter in happier times...

Mother & daughter in happier times…

When my mom was really sick just before she died, we asked her if she was ready to go to Heaven and be with Jesus. She [nodded her head yes.] And then she died. ~ as told to me by Dani’s 9 year-old daughter

During my week-long stay in Weirton with my late ex-husband’s family, I was blessed to be able to spend a great deal of time with my ex-Crab & Dani’s 9 year-old Sadge daughter. She became quite attached to me during my stay, and vice versa. I feel we actually helped each other. I never brought up anything about her mom, but when she initiated a conversation about Dani, I gave her my undivided attention: listening, commenting when appropriate, empathizing. And when she changed the topic, I followed her lead. This precious little fourth grader has experienced in the first nine years of life what many adults never experience in an entire lifetime.

My mom couldn’t talk but when I said ‘I love you,’ she started to cry. ~ Dani’s 9 year-old daughter

This precocious little Archer and I played games for hours: Simpsons’ Clue, Sorry!, Go Fish, War. She would say, “Jen, come here, I wanna tell you a secret!” and when I would bend down to her level, she cupped her little hands around my ear and whispered things such as “Y-O-U A-R-E T-H-E B-E-S-T,” “I ‘heart’ you,” “Will you stay up with me all night and play games?” and “Will you cuddle with me?” My heart melted, and of course I indulged her every request. When my 8 year-old fiery Leo niece, her cousin, came to stay the night with us, we even played “school.” I enjoyed and cherished every minute I got to spend with those little girls. It was therapeutic for all of us, in my opinion. I was fortunate enough to be able to somehow, albeit in a small way, repay Dani — as well as my late ex-husband — for being there for my three kids for so many years, and Dani’s daughter, aware that I “used to be married to her dad before he met her mom,” perhaps viewed me as a parental figure that wasn’t an aunt, uncle, or grandparent…and she seemed to desperately crave that. She cried her eyes out Saturday night when she knew I had to leave the next morning, and asked if she could cuddle with me and sleep with me, which she did. She was possessive of me as well: when my sister in-law or mother in-law expressed a desire to spend some time with me talking, this little girl angrily accused them of being “Jen hogs!” and demanded that they “stop hogging Jen!”

The girlies havin' a whipped cream fight after eating their ice cream sundaes

The girlies havin’ a whipped cream fight after eating their ice cream sundaes

Hanging with the girlies at a local frozen yogurt shop...

Hanging with the girlies at a local frozen yogurt shop…

The Aries author and a precious 9 year-old Sadge being silly, finding comfort in one another...

The Aries author and a precious 9 year-old Sadge being silly, finding comfort in one another…

At one point, I called my Scorpio daughter and Taurus son in Arizona so that she could talk to her “sissy” and one of her brothers, which she was thrilled about. When her Leo cousin asked who she was talking to, this little Archer proudly smiled and told her, “My brother and sissy!” It seemed to give her a sense of normalcy; a connection to a time when things were as they should be; when both of her parents were alive and well.

It did the same for me as well.

At this point, I would love to move up to West Virginia not only to be closer to the girlies, but to the rest of the family as well. My current Gemini-Cancer cusp man isn’t against it; but the Gemini in him (sigh…) means he must take the time to analyze every possible aspect of such a move, where my spontaneous, let’s-do-it-right-now! Aries nature would already be there were it up to me alone. I feel a duty, a call, a need and a desire to be around for Dani and my ex-husband’s daughter. I truly believe she found comfort in being around me and that she needs me…because she told me she did.

And strange as it might seem, I feel like I need her just as much.

The bracelet which hasn't left my wrist since it was given to me...

The bracelet which hasn’t left my wrist since it was given to me…

T-shirt from a benefit held for Dani before her death, which I wear with pride, honored to have known such a beautiful soul in my lifetime...

T-shirt from a benefit held for Dani before her death, which I wear with pride, honored to have known such a beautiful soul in my lifetime…

Suicide Solution: Friends To The End

depressionShe eyes me like a Pisces when I am weak…
I’ve been locked inside your heart-shaped box for weeks…
I’ve been drawn into your magnet tar pit trap…
I wish I could eat your cancer when you turn black. ~ Nirvana, Heart-Shaped Box

It’s no secret that I frequently lament being saddled with a depressive Pisces Ascendant, particularly on the occasions when it rears its moody head and I find myself wallowing in actual or perceived misery. That said, it would be ludicrous of me to blame every bout of melancholy solely on having a watery rising sign. But hey, it’s my pity party and I’ll cry if I want to.

Even so, I stand by my previous assertion that the zodiac sign most likely to struggle with suicidal ideations is none other than the Fishes. Furthermore, this is the sign that is one of the more susceptible to depression (obviously) as well as substance abuse. Pisces is the sign of the dreamer, the sign of shoulda – woulda – coulda, the sentimental poet, forever wishing things to be as they once were, or at least different from the way they perceive things to currently be.

I should probably point out here that I am not saying every poor bastard on the planet who has a Pisces Sun, Ascendant, or Moon is doomed to a miserable existence. What I am saying is that the rose-colored glasses through which many of these folks view the world certainly can and frequently does predispose them to issues with depressive disorders. The all-too-true story that follows is a personal example. It is also one I desperately wish had never happened for me to be able to tell it.

My younger son, a 17 year-old Taurus-Gemini cusp, was always…well…different, right from the get-go. He wasn’t reaching certain developmental milestones as expected, such as rolling over, crawling, becoming more mobile. After several months of physical exams and neurological evaluations, along with weekly in-home sessions with a pediatric physical therapist, his doctor finally declared that there was nothing physically wrong with my baby boy and “he could do these things if he wanted to, but for some reason, he doesn’t want to.” As predicted, it was as if he simply decided he wanted to one day when, a few months shy of his second birthday, he took off walking like a pro.

Over the next fourteen years, he exhibited other unusual traits as well as some turbulent emotional issues, and was at one time or another diagnosed with ADD, ADHD, ODD, IED, OCD, major childhood depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder, among a plethora of additional emotional disorders identified by their initials. It wasn’t until my Taurus cusp son was approaching his sixteenth birthday that he was properly diagnosed as having Asperger syndrome (AS), which is a high functioning form of autism, and which in hindsight explained everything perfectly, right down to the developmental delays in infancy and toddlerhood. He was also re-evaluated for the conditions he’d previously been diagnosed as having…and was found not to meet the diagnostic criteria for any of them. Because there are no “blanket” medications for Asperger’s as a whole (only for individual issues that may arise because of it), for the first time in nearly eleven years, his doctor ordered him to stop all of his medications. Almost immediately, there was a significant improvement in every aspect of his life with which he had previously struggled. Although I felt vindicated and relieved that he had finally received a correct diagnosis, I was — and still am — extremely angry that because it took so long to obtain the diagnosis, my son suffered needlessly for years when he could have been being properly treated with, for example, occupational therapy. But I digress… (and this is definitely the subject of a future post.)

imagesCAM1A5WLI wish I was like you
Easily amused…
Find my nest of salt
Everything’s my fault. ~ Nirvana, All Apologies

Anywho, “Aspies,” as they are sometimes called, are often extremely intelligent with well-above average IQs (my son’s IQ is nearly 140), possess extensive vocabulary skills, and have an uncanny ability to commit things to memory. For those of you who are unfamiliar with AS, let me try to paint you at least part of a picture. If you are a fan of the CBS sitcom The Big Bang Theory, you no doubt know the eccentric character Sheldon Cooper (flawlessly and hilariously portrayed by Jim Parsons). Sheldon is a Nobel prize-aspiring theoretical physicist, a socially inept genius with a memory like a steel trap who constantly reminds others of his superior intelligence. And although the show’s creators deny the character has it, Sheldon Cooper exhibits some of the textbook features of AS. Even Jim Parsons has stated he believes Sheldon has AS, and other Aspies frequently recognize themselves in Sheldon as well.

During the time my Aspie son and I lived in Arkansas, he met and became instant best friends with Kevin, a Pisces not quite three months older than he, and who had shared many of the same struggles. Although my young Bull tells me he always suspected Kevin was an Aspie, in addition to Kevin “liking” some autism pages on Facebook, it was something that they never talked about; furthermore, my son never mentioned that he himself was an Aspie because “[he] didn’t feel like it was important.” And I suppose it really wasn’t. What mattered was that they each recognized a kindred spirit in the other, whatever the reason.

From Kevin's Facebook page...ironically, posted as a joke several months prior to his death

From Kevin’s Facebook page…ironically, posted as a joke several months prior to his death

Again last night I had that strange dream
Where everything was exactly how it seemed
Where concerns about the world getting warmer
The people thought they were just being rewarded
For treating others as they’d like to be treated
For obeying stop signs and curing diseases
For mailing letters with the address of the sender
Now we can swim any day in November
Don’t wake me, I plan on sleeping in. ~ The Postal Service, Sleeping In

Have you ever met someone and just clicked immediately, as though you had known each other forever? Well, that was how it was with these two. When they weren’t together in school, they were laughing and chatting via headsets as they played Xbox Live, texting or talking on the phone, Facebooking, or hanging out on weekends, almost exclusively at the house in which Kevin lived with his aunt. And when we moved out-of-state last summer, the miles that now separated these kindred spirits mattered not; they remained every bit as close as they had been since day one. The all-night Xbox Live marathons continued, as did the texting, the phone calls, and the Facebooking, literally on a daily basis. More recently, they had begun to discuss the idea of becoming roommates after their eighteenth birthdays next year. They considered relocating to Oklahoma or Kansas to do the roomie thing, or perhaps the possibility of Kevin heading out to Arizona where my teenage Bull currently resides.

This 17 year-old Piscean, in my opinion, was probably somewhat misunderstood by those who hadn’t taken the time to really know him. Not unlike my own son, he had a wicked, albeit dark sense of humor, which many people weren’t always sure how to take. He was also extraordinarily intelligent with a well-above average IQ. On the few occasions I met him, he struck me as being remarkably similar to my own son, which is probably why I liked him. Kevin thrived on attention, even if it was for something negative. Like my teenage Bull, he too had had a few skirmishes with the law and subsequently found himself on probation. Additionally, like my son, he clearly enjoyed saying things for shock value, to get a reaction.

Tragically, I can’t help but wonder if this was at least partly the reason that no one responded — and one person actually “liked” it — when this young Pisces posted a suicide note on his Facebook page.

imagesCA5V4B8KFuck critics, fuck your review
Even if you like me, fuck you;
Fuck your mom, fuck your mom’s mama
Fuck the Beastie Boys and the Dalai Lama. ~ Insane Clown Posse, Fuck The World

A chilling status update, less than 24 hours prior to his death

A disturbing status update, less than 24 hours prior to his death

If there’s anything I am capable of understanding, it’s how someone can get into the mindframe where dying sounds like a great idea. I’m no stranger to suicidal ideations; I’ve been there myself…many times. Fortunately, it’s been quite some time since I last seriously considered or even flirted with the notion of closing my eyes in eternal slumber. What I can’t seem to grasp, however, is how or why someone would deliberately choose a painful, prolonged, agonizing method in which to exit their life. Intense hatred of oneself? Seems obvious, but surely there’s more to it than that…right?

Or, maybe there isn’t. Maybe the reason really is that simple…so deceptively simple we look right past it.

A look through this troubled teenage Piscean’s Facebook timeline reveals a glimpse into at least a snippet of what was going through his

Truly, a thousand words...posted several months prior to his death

Truly, a thousand words…posted several months prior to his death

head in the months, days, hours, even minutes before he took deliberate action to bring about his own demise. There are posts, pictures, and videos (mostly shared, not original) that are thought-provoking, nonsensical, hilarious, spot-on observant, disgusting, intelligent, offensive, laugh-out-loud funny, and somewhat disturbing, yet they are all intriguing when you consider the frame of mind of the individual who posted them.

Yeah, it's funny. But I suspect Kevin was less like "Tim" than he realized...

Yeah, it’s funny. I believe Kevin wanted to be like “Tim” and probably even thought he was. But I suspect he was more like “everyone” than he realized, or would care to admit…

Jace is my teenage Bull. And best friends, they definitely were.

Jace is my teenage Bull. And best friends, they definitely were.

1175700_617537378286689_1330557955_n

Ha! Great advice. I do it all the time.

There are so many more. Entirely too many to even think about sharing all of them, or even most of them. But this is just a sampling. This sharp, quick-witted Piscean definitely had a sense of humor.

kevinleaving8am04sept2013One of the last images Kevin uploaded to his timeline is one that hopefully won’t haunt my grieving Taurus son for the rest of his days. It is a screenshot of an undated chat conversation between the two of them, in which he tagged my Aspie Bull, posted at 8am CDT on the day of his death. As you can see, Kevin states, “I’m leaving.” And…he did. But not before crafting at least two suicide notes: a wistful, heartfelt yet brief message which he sent privately to my son, wishing him all the best in life and telling my son he loved him, and a more angst-filled second one announcing his intentions to Facebook.

Capture9

This horrific declaration was posted on Wednesday, September 4, 2013 at 12:22pm CDT.

Sadly, this time it wasn’t solely for shock value. After posting this bitter letter to the world at large, 17 year-old Kevin did exactly what he stated he would do. He doused himself with gasoline and set himself on fire outside his grandmother’s home. He was rushed to the children’s burn center, with burns covering 99% of his body.

imagesCAW7ACN0Nothing is real but pain now…
Hold my breath as I wish for death;
Oh please God, wake me… ~ Metallica, One

Kevin passed away at 11:20pm CDT that evening, surrounded by his devastated family including his father, stepmother, stepsister and stepbrother in-law, and the grief-stricken grandmother at whose home it all took place.

Why was this sweet little Pisces such a tortured soul?

What kind of inner turmoil eventually drove this happy little boy to take his own life…and in such a horrific way?

Suicides by burning, or self-immolation, while common in countries such as India and Afghanistan, account for less than one percent of all suicides in the U.S. How does someone get to the point of such sheer desperation? What has to take place in a person’s life that is so unbearable that they find not just death, but a fiery, violent, excruciatingly painful death preferable? Why would anyone purposely choose such a torturous manner of death? Was it a big “fuck you” to the world on his way out? One final statement for shock value? A protest against what he viewed as all the wrongs in the world, as he mentioned in his post about self-immolation? To punish the folks in his life he resented? Did he simply hate himself that much? All of the above? None of the above?

By all accounts, Kevin had a loving, caring family. He frequently claimed that no one cared, that no one wanted him around…but this was certainly not the case, evidenced by the unimaginable grief, the tears shed by so many who can’t understand why he didn’t, couldn’t, or wouldn’t believe he was truly loved and wanted. Why couldn’t, or didn’t he believe this?

Soooo not true.

Maybe Kevin hated himself so much that he didn’t believe it was possible for anyone to love or care about him, and/or perhaps he didn’t feel that he was worthy of anyone’s love. His chosen method of suicide is certainly steeped in intense self-hatred. Although the rest of us can see quite clearly that was absolutely not true, that he was worthy and he was loved, it doesn’t matter because at the end of the day, whatever the reason, it was Kevin’s reality. Our perceptions are our reality.

And, just maybe, it’s not for anyone else to understand the goings-on inside the exceptional mind of this tortured Piscean soul. We can wax philosophical all day long and never will we know with 100 percent certainty why this young man with the potential to be anything, to do anything, chose to exit this life when and in the way he did.

The last song Kevin listened to was this cover of Cheap Trick's classic "I Want You to Want Me" by Gary Jules

The last song Kevin listened to was this cover of Cheap Trick’s classic “I Want You to Want Me” by Gary Jules

Feelin’ all alone without a friend, you know you feel like dyin’…
Oh, didn’t I, didn’t I, didn’t I see you cryin’?
I want you to want me…
I need you to need me…
I’d love you to love me. ~ Cheap Trick (covered by Gary Jules), I Want You To Want Me

I hope and pray that he has found the peace in death which evidently eluded him during his way too brief lifetime.

Rest well, sweetie. We’ll see you on the Other Side.

Rest well, sweet Kevin... February 26, 1996 - September 4, 2013

Rest well, sweet Kevin…
February 26, 1996 – September 4, 2013

I have lost the will to live…
Simply nothing more to give
There is nothing more for me…
Need the end to set me free
Things not what they used to be…
Missing one inside of me
Deathly lost, this can’t be real…
Cannot stand this hell I feel. ~ Metallica, Fade to Black


NOTE: I will be participating on behalf of Team Kevin in the 2013 Little Rock Out of the Darkness Walk for Suicide Prevention on November 2. If you would like to take part, or simply make a donation (no matter how small), please visit Team Kevin’s AFSP fundraising page.

Postcards From The Other Side

postcardFew things will cause others to call into question your sanity (or lack thereof) or your level of gullibility more quickly than announcing that you have received a message from a dearly departed loved one. More often than not, they’ll explain it away — and maybe even try and convince you — that it’s just your imagination or perhaps some wishful thinking at work. But if you are the one experiencing these communications from spirit, you know what it was, you know what you heard/saw/felt, and furthermore, there isn’t a naysayer on the planet who could convince you it was anything but the very tangible, real experience you know it to be.

I personally have always believed in an afterlife. Certainly, it’s a much more comforting concept than the thought of there being only a deep, dreamless sleep after we leave this world. But that in and of itself is not what made me a believer. To me, it’s inconceivable that our essence, consciousness, essentially, what makes us, us, simply ceases to exist when our physical bodies are no longer compatible with life. Our bodies are merely the vehicles in which we travel through this lifetime. I once read an interesting analogy that was something along the lines of, “if you are driving your car and the engine blows up, rendering it useless, what do you do? You get out of your car and move on. Just as you are not your car, you are not your body.” We are energy…and it is a proven fact that energy cannot be destroyed. It can only change form.

After the death of my freedom-loving Sagittarius first ex-husband more than 12 years ago, which was also the first experience I had ever had of losing someone very close to me, I was strolling through the city library, searching the shelves high and low, yet not knowing what I was looking for. All I knew was I desperately needed guidance, something, anything to help me cope with the excruciatingly painful grief which was unlike anything I had ever before felt. Sure enough, after several minutes of winding my way through the aisles, a title seemed to jump out at me. It was called Talking to Heaven: A Medium’s Message of Life and Death by James Van Praagh. I took it home and read it cover to cover. I then began frequenting bookstores for more of the same and found, among others, One Last Time: A Psychic Medium Speaks to Those We Have Loved and Lost by John Edward. And I pored over these books for hours at a time, reading and re-reading them, as they gave me a glimmer of hope in the darkest hours of my life up to that point. Upon reading these books, I came to realize that I had already experienced a few of my own messages from spirit and, little did I know at the time, I would continue to receive many more over the weeks, months, and years to come. Here are some of those experiences:

My now-deceased Sadge ex-hubby playing with our then-baby boy Bull

My now-deceased Sadge ex-hubby playing with our then-baby boy Bull

Be A Good Boy
One night, about two weeks after my Sadge ex-husband passed, I woke up in the middle of the night after having fallen asleep on the couch with my then-four and a half year-old Taurus son. I laid awake for just a minute or two, and then I listened intently as my little Bull started talking in his sleep:

“I know, dad…okay…uh huh…but what about your BB gun, dad?…uh huh…uh huh…okay…I will…I love you too…”

The only way I can describe this would be to say that it was as though I were listening to one end of a telephone conversation. There is no doubt in my mind that what I was listening to was my Taurean preschooler as he received a visit from his dad.

Here’s Your Sign
Several weeks later, one bright, crisp winter afternoon on my way home from work, I stopped at the cemetery as I did every week to leave a single red rose on my ex’s gravesite. I began to “talk” to him, asking him to please show me something, a sign, anything to know that when I told our children their daddy was still with them that I was telling them the truth. Trying to think of something specific to ask for, something that would let me know without question that it was from him, I made the tongue-in-cheek suggestion that he “show” me an elephant, reasoning that if I were to see a random elephant walking around, there would be no way I could write it off. I chuckled out loud at the thought, acknowledging that an elephant walking down the street would probably not be doable (ya think?) I then stressed that whatever he chose to show me, just let it be something that I couldn’t shoot down or dismiss as wishful thinking. With that, I left the cemetery and headed home.

A little more than two weeks later, I stopped by my ex’s widow’s place on my way home from work to pick up the Valentine’s Day goody bags she had made for my three kids. When I got home, I passed out the bags and went about my usual routine. My young Bull excitedly ran up to me. “Mom, look what she put in my bag!”

He proudly held up a small stuffed elephant with a plastic picture frame on its tummy…which held a picture of my wee Taurus with his dad.

This Is How It’s Supposed To Be
Shortly after my former Cancer hubby was killed in a car accident in January 2013, I was driving and came to an intersection when I realized

The makeshift roadside memorial at the crash site

The makeshift roadside memorial at the crash site

I had forgotten to put on my seat belt. As I clicked it into place, tears began welling up in my eyes. I spoke aloud, “why couldn’t you have been wearing your seat belt? You’d still be here if you’d just worn your seat belt.” Suddenly, the following thought was impressed upon me:

“If I had survived, I would’ve wished I hadn’t. This is the way it’s supposed to be.”

This is another experience that is difficult to explain. I heard it in the same way one “hears” their own thoughts, except it wasn’t my thought: it was as though I were “hearing” someone else’s thought. Like, as I previously mentioned, the thought was impressed upon me rather than originating in my own mind.

When I “heard” this, my jaw dropped and I was pretty much just frozen in shock. The hair on my arms stood on end. On one hand, it made perfect sense and to my surprise, I realized I had never considered that point of view. Knowing my ex-Crab as well as I did, I could totally see the logic in that statement. He was already prone to bouts of deep depression, anxiety, and moodiness. If he had survived, but with injuries severe enough to be life-altering, compounded with the (relatively trivial) fact that he would have lost his truck and probably his job in the wake of the accident, I could absolutely imagine him spiraling even further downward, cursing the fact that he hadn’t been killed. But on the other hand, from what I had heard, if he had only been wearing his seat belt that night, he very likely could have walked away from the wreckage rather than it killing him instantly. This was confusing because there was no doubt in my mind that the “thought” I had “heard” was from my recently-deceased ex.

It came full circle earlier this week, nearly eight months after my Cancer ex was killed. I was at the police department in the town where he died, speaking face to face with the first responding police officer to the scene of the accident. I asked several questions about what transpired that horrible night. Through tears, I asked one last question:

“If he had worn his seat belt, would he have survived?”

The officer hesitated and thought hard before responding. “Well…maybe,” he relented. He then added, “I hate to say yes or no.”

“That bad?” I asked.

He nodded. “Yeah. Really bad.”

With those statements, the officer had unknowingly validated the message I received from spirit so many months earlier. The accident was so horrific, the damage to his vehicle so extensive, that even if my ex-Crab had worn his seat belt, there is a significant chance that he still wouldn’t have survived and if he had, he wouldn’t have simply walked away.

Looking down several feet into the drainage culvert where my ex-Crab lost his life in the early morning hours of New Year's Day 2013

Looking down several feet into the drainage culvert where my ex-Crab lost his life in the early morning hours of New Year’s Day 2013

A Deer In Headlights
While visiting the town last weekend where my now-deceased Cancer ex was killed, my current Cancer man and I decided to head over to the scene of the crash. It was exactly 0.5 miles and a two-minute drive from his home. Because it was a single vehicle accident and in the very early morning hours, there were — at least, as far as anyone knows for certain — no witnesses; therefore, whatever happened to cause his truck to leave the roadway and tumble down into a drainage culvert is pure speculation at this point. Now, I’m all too cognizant of the fact that we will probably never know exactly what transpired to set the accident in motion. But as we drove to the crash site, I silently pleaded with him to please, point me in a direction, give me a clue, just help me try to make sense of what happened.

My current Cancer and I parked in the parking lot adjacent to the site where the wreck occurred and walked the twenty or so feet down the grass so we could look down into the culvert where my ex-Crab’s truck ended up on its roof. Standing on the very ground where he went off the road and lost his life, it was unbelievably surreal; difficult to wrap my mind around the fact that it really happened right there. As we stood at the fence his truck barreled through, which had by then been replaced, we visually surveyed the area below. My current Cancer broke the silence by bringing to my attention the sound of leaves crunching.

“Look, check it out, there’s a big buck down there.” I looked just in time to catch a brief glimpse of a massive buck as he darted off and up into some thick brush, quickly disappearing from sight.

We continued to look around, taking note of the curb he would have had to go up to leave the road where he did, the curve and grade of the road itself , thinking out loud, bouncing possible scenarios off each other as to what could have ultimately led to him losing control of the truck and crashing. It still didn’t seem to add up.

A short time later, back at the home of my ex’s stepmother and younger sister at which we stayed during our visit — and also where my

What happened, Tom...why did you have to go...

What happened, Tom…why did you have to go…

ex had lived at the time of his death — my current Cancer and I sat on the front porch sharing a cigarette and rehashing our hypotheses. He mentioned the deer we had seen milling around for a few brief moments at the spot where my ex took his last breath.

And that’s when it hit me.

“Oh my god,” I told him incredulously. “I know what happened. I know why he went off the road. I can’t believe I didn’t see it while we were there!”

I then proceeded to tell my current Cancer how I had silently asked my ex-Crab for a clue or a sign that would explain what caused the wreck. “And then that huge buck was down there! Right where he died! The roads that night were wet. His tires were bad. He’s got no weight in the bed of his truck. He’s coming up that hill, around that curve, and a deer is in the road so he reflexively brakes or swerves to avoid it, or both…and he goes into a spin, sliding back down the hill and at this point, he’s now basically just become a passenger and there’s nothing he can do…and it’s up the curb, through the fence…and down into the drainage culvert.”

A feeling of peace and contentment washed over me. What I was saying didn’t feel at all like a theory or a guess. It felt like my ex had actually told me what happened. Speaking with the first responding police officer the following day and running the scenario by him, he confirmed everything I said, except for the presence of the deer in the road, which obviously can never be proven.

What are the odds that a random deer would be in that culvert, in the exact spot where my ex’s truck crashed, at the exact time we got there? I have no idea…but what I do know is that I had received the clue I had asked for.

A typical manifestation of the number 33 showing up

A typical manifestation of the number 33 showing up

Lucky Numbers
Shortly after my first ex-hubby passed away in January 2001, I began noticing something unusual. Looking back, I’m not entirely sure at what point I noticed a pattern and began recognizing it as a nod from spirit, but I do know that by April of that year I was quite aware of it. I started seeing a lot of instances of the number 33. Everywhere I turned, I saw the number 33: on receipts, digital clocks, license plates, road signs, phone numbers, you name it. I’d be driving and glance down at the clock, or my odometer, and there would be a 33. In the grocery store checkout, my total would have a 33 in it, or the change I was due would have a 33 in it. I’d pull up to a stop light and the license plate on the car ahead of me would have a 33 in it. I’d go to adjust the volume on the TV and the volume level number would be at 33. I could go on and on.

Granted, I can see how those could be easily dismissed. But then those 33s began to

Hello from David: A sticker with the number "33" which I found in a random dryer's lint trap at our Laundromat. Still think it's just coincidence? I NEVER did.

Hello from David: A sticker with the number “33” which I found in a random dryer’s lint trap at our Laundromat. Still think it’s just coincidence? I NEVER did.

pop up in places/situations that weren’t as easily explained. There was the time I stopped by the tanning salon after work only to discover their computer had crashed, so as customers showed up they were being assigned new member ID numbers, starting with 1. When it was my turn in line, the new member ID number assigned to me was — you guessed it — 33. I couldn’t have timed that to happen if I’d tried. When I began dating my current Cancer man in early 2003, I discovered that he was born at 8:33am. The first time I took a road trip up to visit him, the exit number was 33 and as we sat outside having a cigarette in his garage, there was a can sitting on a shelf with a giant number 33 emblazoned across the label. Now, the 33s that are connected somehow to my current Cancer man, I feel, is my Sadge ex-hubby’s way of indicating to me that the two of us being together is a good thing. A hat tip, if you will. In fact, my late Sadge ex and my current Cancer love were friends. And my ex-Sadge always thought really highly of my Cancer. I absolutely believe that were he alive today or had still been with us when my Cancer and I took our friendship up a notch to the romantic level, knowing himself what a stand-up, honorable guy my Cancer man is, he would have been more than pleased because he would’ve known without question that his children and I would be loved and protected.

These are just a few examples. The appearance of the number 33 continues to be pretty frequent to this day.

So, what’s the significance of the number 33? That was how old my Sadge ex-hubby was when he succumbed to cancer.

I can’t seem to see you baby…
Although my eyes are open wide
But I know I’ll see you once more…
When I see you, I’ll see you on the Other Side. ~ Ozzy Osbourne, See You on the Other Side

Thank You
As you might have already read in my post Suicide Solution: Friends To The End, my teen Taurus son’s best friend, an angst-ridden 17 year-old Piscean, committed suicide on September 4, 2013. His chosen method? Self-immolation. And in his suicide note, he instructed “P.S. Don’t bury me. Finish the cremation.” His devastated family did as Kevin requested, and a memorial service will be held for him on Saturday, September 14, 2013. Because my grief-stricken young Bull lives in Arizona, nearly 1,500 miles away from where the service will be held, he is unable to be there. Fortunately, I live much closer and it’s only a 350 mile drive for me. So I volunteered to go on my son’s behalf. This is particularly important because Kevin’s family has graciously offered to give my son some of his late best friend’s ashes, and I don’t think I need to tell you how honored and moved we are that his family thinks so much of my Taurus teen and his friendship with their beloved Kevin.

Marilyn Manson

Marilyn Manson

Last night, I decided to burn some new CDs in preparation for tomorrow’s road trip. I downloaded some new music and created a few new playlists. This was all pretty uneventful until I tried to play one of the playlists. Regardless of which song or artist I selected, what I heard instead were random tunes by Marilyn Manson. It’s true, I am a fan of The Manson and I do have several of his songs downloaded to my laptop. But none of those tunes were on that playlist. In fact, I don’t happen to have a playlist with any Manson on it whatsoever.

You're welcome, sweetie...

You’re welcome, sweetie…

Obviously, this was pretty annoying. As I was cursing aloud to myself several times over the course of trying to figure out what was going on, it dawned on me. Kevin was a huge Marilyn Manson fan. Was he acknowledging the fact that I will be traveling to his memorial service on my son’s behalf and bringing some of his ashes home with me to give to him? Was this his way of “thanking” me? I honestly don’t know. But what I do know is what happened next.

“You’re welcome, Kevin,” I spoke aloud, smiling.

And my playlist immediately began to play…normally.

All that lives, lives forever. Only the shell, the perishable passes away. The spirit is without end. Eternal. Deathless. ~ Nate AlexandriaLA1999Fisher, from the HBO original series Six Feet Under

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not one who is quick to attribute every woo-woo thing that happens to me as being a sign or message from spirit. To the contrary, I am more likely to dismiss my own experiences as being figments of a wishful imagination than I am to dismiss the experiences of others. That said, however, there are several instances along with the ones I have just shared with you that I have been unable to discount or chalk up to an overactive imagination. I am convinced that death is not the end of our existence, but rather a transformation to a different level of consciousness.

A Tale Of Two Cancers…And An Aries

I finally see the dawn arrivin’
I see beyond the road I’m drivin’…
Far away and left behind
Left behind. ~ Boston, Don’t Look Back

The three water Sun signs – Cancer, Scorpio, and Pisces – are just about the most sensitive, wistful folks you will ever meet in Zodiac Land. They endlessly yearn for what once was, as well as what coulda-woulda-shoulda been. And as someone with a Pisces Ascendant, I can assure you that although it’s a pretty sweet concept, leaving the past in the past and forging ahead with tunnel vision is much more easily said than done.

This is in no way meant to imply that these highly emotional Sun signs (or the poor, unfortunate bastards like myself who are cursed with a water Ascendant or Moon) are totally incapable of appreciating today or looking forward to whatever the future has in store: we most certainly can, and we do. The thing is, we just tend to hang on a little more tightly to yesteryear than most folks.

Whether you are a follower of my blog or know me personally (lucky you!) you are no doubt aware that I am currently on my third

My current Cancer man & me on a weekend getaway to the casino... we look drunk cuz we WERE drunk... ;)

My current Cancer man & me on a weekend getaway to the casino… we look drunk cuz we WERE drunk… 😉

marriage/long-term relationship. Although my first two marriages obviously came to an end, I remained friends with both of my ex-husbands. Granted, I have three children with the slightly restless Sagittarius who was my first husband so staying in contact was a given, but being friends was definitely optional. And we were friends…until the day he died more than twelve years ago. However, my second husband — who was a hypersensitive Cancer — and I had no children together and we were under no obligation to speak to or see one another again, let alone remain friends. But we did. He helped me raise my three sprites, each of whom he loved as if they were his very own progeny and, although he lived a thousand miles away from us in the years following our divorce, he continued to have the kiddos up for visits for a month or two every summer. And over time, he also grew to become friends with my current Cancer love, which most people could never seem to understand.

And once again, if you are a friend or follower, you already know my former Cancer husband was killed on New Year’s Day 2013.

In the seven and a half months since the death of my ex, I have yet to visit the city where he was born and ultimately died. As excruciating as the grief has been while struggling with it from a distance, the whole experience has been somewhat abstract for me. I haven’t yet stood on the grass where his truck, for reasons which we’ve only been able to speculate, veered off the road, partially ejecting him and killing him instantly. I haven’t hugged his devastated stepmother, his siblings, or any of his other family. Nor have I received satisfactory explanations from police reports, which have only served to leave me asking more questions as to why his truck left the road in the first place. I need to be able to fully accept what has happened so that I’m able to heal more completely. I feel like, to do those things, I need to see and touch where he died…to find out why he died…and to hug the grieving family he left behind. To physically be there, to experience the tangible and confront the painful reality of it all.

closure

My current Cancer love wholeheartedly agrees and supports me in my desire to gain some measure of closure. So much so, in fact, that he and I will soon be taking a thousand-mile road trip in my quest for solace. I don’t have any illusions or expectations regarding how I will feel when I return home. I don’t believe that I will stand where he took his last breath or meet face to face with the investigating officer and experience a sudden epiphany, a moment of clarity where everything will come together like a jigsaw puzzle and make sense. Nope. Not for one second do I believe that. But I do feel that the simple, yet significant act of actually being there could be just the catharsis I need to be able to grieve — and in turn, heal — more fully.

Contrary to how this might sound, this need isn’t something that is being driven by my I-can’t-let-go Pisces Ascendant. It’s true that is usually the case, and it may in fact play a significant role in the reason I tend to stay in touch with people from my past, be it an old friend, a distant cousin, a former teacher…or an ex-husband. But the need for closure is an innate human desire, perhaps driven to some extent by my stubborn, pushy Aries Sun.

I feel incredibly lucky to have such an amazing, generous, supportive partner in my current Cancer man. I am well aware that a lot of men out there — and women too, for that matter, especially ones with a water Sun — would never be on board with something like this. They would probably feel threatened or insecure, feeling like their significant other shouldn’t be this torn up about the death of a former spouse, and would likely question the depth of those feelings, wondering and perhaps even accusing them of still being in love with their ex.

But not my Cancer cusp man. He is 100% secure in the fact that he alone is the only man with whom I am in love, the only man I can imagine spending the rest of my life with, the only man I want to spend the rest of my life with. I am truly blessed to have him and I never take that for granted. There is literally not a single day that passes where at some point I don’t think about how thankful I am for him, and I wouldn’t trade him for the world. However, the fact remains that a lot of people don’t understand any of this. They think that for me to be so crushed by my ex-husband’s death, I surely must still be in love with him and furthermore, they can’t believe my current Cancer man supports me in any of this…and not in a “wow-you’re-so-lucky-to-have-such-an-awesome-man” way, but rather in a “wow-he-must-be-a-complete-idiot-not-to-see-you’re-still-in-love-with-your-ex” way.

Several days ago, I posted a Facebook status about our upcoming trip, writing about how I need to do it to get some peace of mind, that I was looking forward to spending time with the family, how amazing my current Cancer man is to support me in my endeavor, how much I love him, and how very lucky I feel to have him. One of the responses to my status was from a pompous, know-it-all Leo whom I’ve known for 28 years. His comment?

“Lucky indeed. Your whole heart obviously still belongs to Tom.”

Wow. What a prick.

My wedding to my now-deceased former Cancer hubby

My wedding to my now-deceased former Cancer hubby

I was married to Tom, my late Cancer ex-hubby, for nearly seven years. We went through a lot together during that time, including the death of my Sadge first husband which was indescribably painful, not just for my three children but for me as well. And my Cancer ex loved my babies as much as I did. While he was driving my first ex-hubby to chemotherapy one autumn afternoon, my first ex elicited a promise from him that he would always be there for the kids, no matter what (that’s right: First Husband and Second Husband also came to be friends.) And you know what? He was. Until the day he died, my ex Crab kept that promise, even though he lived halfway across the country. He was never a candidate for Husband of the Year, but he was a phenomenal, hands-on father who truly had a heart of gold and a loving soul. And although there was simply too little compatibility for the husband-and-wife thing to succeed, we were great friends who deeply loved and cared for one another. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that if it had been me who was killed, he would have been just as devastated by my death as I am by his. It has zero to do with being in love with him or even wishing we had stayed married. It has everything to do with the love I had and always will have for him as the caring, decent human being he was…as a father figure to my children…as someone who will always be an important part of my life story…

…and as my treasured friend.

I realize that oftentimes, the “norm” is to carry around anger and bitterness toward an ex as if it’s the socially acceptable, or even the expected thing to do. However, I chose — as did both of my ex-husbands — not to do that (a point of interest here is the fact that both of my now-deceased ex-husbands as well as myself all have Aquarius Moons…and a Water Bearer values friendships like no other. But I digress…) Hating on an ex isn’t mandatory, yet so many people treat it as if it were, like we’re supposed to harbor grudges or a thirst for vengeance. And –gasp! — a current spouse/significant other actually liking and being friends with their partner’s former spouse/significant other? The repercussions could be catastrophic! We must alert the church elders!

Be careful what you think you know about someone; you’re probably wrong. ~ Dexter Morgan, from the Showtime original series Dexter

Why is it so difficult for folks to grasp the concept of former spouses not only getting along, but being friends? Where is it written that if someone cares that much about what happens to an ex, they must still be in love with them? Why is it such a big deal that we didn’t all vehemently hate each other? Is there a law somewhere stating that we are required to hold an ex in contempt and/or sever all contact with them, even without a legitimate reason to do so? Why is it so unfathomable that my former spouses actually liked and became friends with my current spouse, rather than wanting to beat each other’s asses to a bloody pulp? Why is it so unbelievable that two people who love one another are unable to have a successful marriage, but it just so happens they make great friends? Certainly it’s possible: the platonic, yet close friendships I shared with both of my former husbands are living proof. In addition, my current man was friends with both of my previous husbands. He has grieved both of their deaths, and furthermore, he too would like some answers as to what specifically caused my ex’s truck to bail off a two-lane, in-town road, down several feet into a drainage culvert, crushing him.  Just because such friendships might not be possible with some used-to-be couples doesn’t mean there’s an ulterior motive with those for whom it does work. And just because it might be wrong for their situation doesn’t make it wrong.

You know what I find difficult to understand? Those who reflexively harbor animosity toward an ex or a partner’s ex not because they did something to warrant such bitterness, but because that’s what they’re “supposed” to do.

Demi & Bruce & Ashton did it...why is it so weird that we did too?

Demi & Bruce & Ashton did it…why is it so weird that we did too?

Like I mentioned before, the arrogant Leo* douchebag who made the snarky comment implying that my current Cancer man is some kind of chump who I’m playing like a fiddle is someone I met when I was only thirteen. Prior to him finding me on Facebook a few years ago, I hadn’t even seen or spoken to him in nearly 25 years. And since then we’ve only had sporadic contact, primarily via an occasional comment on one another’s Facebook statuses. Additionally, we have never so much as exchanged a single private message. Yet, even with so little information on which to draw such a bold conclusion, he evidently feels qualified not only to profess his (albeit thinly-veiled) judgment of the situation involving two men he’s never even met, but to also tell me how I feel. And he couldn’t have been more wrong. Clearly, he is one of those people who simply don’t get it because he could probably never imagine himself being so open-minded with his wife. It’s okay if he — or anyone else — doesn’t get it. We do. And that’s what matters.

Besides, maybe it’s not for anyone else to get.

*The words “arrogant” and “douchebag” used to describe the Leo in question are not intended to be all-inclusive or apply to my feelings toward every Leo. Generally, I love Leos. This particular Leo…eh…not so much.

Six Of One…

“Every now and then I cry

Tom and my younger son sleeping in on a lazy Saturday, 2001

Tom and my younger son sleeping in on a lazy Saturday, 2001

Every night…
You keep staying on my mind
All my friends say I’ll survive
It just takes time…
But I don’t think time is gonna heal this broken heart…
No, I don’t see how it can if it’s broken all apart
A million miracles could never stop the pain…
Or put all the pieces together again.” ~ Anne Murray, “Broken Hearted Me”

Wednesday, January 3rd, 2001 was a bright winter morning. It almost seemed too bright, probably because we’d recently had an unusually harsh winter storm blow through, leaving nearly a foot of snow and ice blanketing the landscape, reflecting the sunlight. It was a particularly frigid day as well.

The call from my sister in-law Shannon, a free spirited Sagittarius with whom I’d been best friends for nearly twenty years, came around 10:30am.

“Well, he’s gone,” she told me, sighing. “He died at 9:16.”

I slid down the kitchen cabinet against which I’d been leaning, and dissolved into tears on the floor, burying my head between my knees, still holding the phone to my ear.

“How are we going to get through this?” I sobbed.

“We have each other,” Shannon reminded me gently. “And I love you.”

“I love you too.”

“So take the photograph and still frames in your mind…
Hang it on a shelf in good health and good time…
Take tears and memory and dead skin on trial…
For what it’s worth, it was worth all the while…
It’s something unpredictable, but in the end it’s right…
I hope you had the time of your life.” ~ Green Day, “Good Riddance (Time Of Your Life)”

Although much of the remainder of that day, along with the next several days, are a blur to me, I’ll never forget that moment as long as I live. The phone call wasn’t a surprise. I’d been expecting it, dreading it, waiting for it all morning.

That was the phone call that brought me the news that my first husband, David, a strong, healthy (or so we always believed), tall, handsome Sagittarius who was the father of my three children and who had celebrated his 33rd birthday just four weeks earlier, had succumbed to the lung cancer with which he had been diagnosed six and a half months earlier, over Father’s Day weekend in June 2000. We had ended our relationship several years prior and at the time of his death we had both remarried. But we had always remained close.

David holding our younger son, 1996

David holding our younger son, 1996

In hindsight, my grieving process began the day of his diagnosis. It seemed to come out of nowhere. David had always been active and healthy, a hard worker, who loved bodybuilding and boxing. Then out of the clear blue on a Friday in June 2000, I got a call from Shannon telling me that David had been rushed to the ER because he was having difficulty breathing and was in the ICU. That in itself was shocking. David? My David, who rarely took a sick day during our nine years together, let alone ever experienced any frightening symptoms that would have sent him racing to the emergency room? What the…

But it was true. David had been experiencing a sore throat for a few days, but was otherwise okay until he began having trouble breathing. He thought his throat might be closing up. But when he arrived in the emergency room, they discovered his shortness of breath was due to congestive heart failure…which was in turn due to what turned out to be a stage IV adenocarcinoma of the right lung. Advanced, late-stage, inoperable lung cancer. But he was only 32 years old, how could this be? David’s oncologist explained that although it’s true that the average age of someone diagnosed with this cancer was 60, it was unusual but not unheard of in someone David’s age. I thought surely his youth and otherwise good health would be on his side, allowing him to tolerate treatments much better and give him more of a fighting chance.

But the oncologist gently disagreed. Although David was young and his general health was good, probably allowing him to withstand the effects of chemotherapy more easily, the doctor sadly informed me that even with treatment, the most likely scenario would be that David would not survive another year.

“Are you telling me that he might not live to see our four year-old son start kindergarten next year?” I cried in disbelief.

The doctor shook his had sadly. “I’m sorry,” he told me, genuine empathy in his eyes.

David Lynn Fleming, Jr 12/06/1967 - 01/03/2001

David Lynn Fleming, Jr 12/06/1967 – 01/03/2001

In the end, his oncologist was right on target. David survived six and a half months, and he actually did really well up until right after Thanksgiving. So well, in fact, that we were cautiously optimistic. The only side effect of the chemo that had affected him was hair loss. But although he’d always been very vain, a not-a-hair-out-of-place kind of guy, David was totally fine with that; he just shaved his head and blended right in. Anyone who didn’t know him would never have known he was so ill. He stood out like a sore thumb at his chemo sessions because he appeared to be the picture of health. He was energetic. Sure, he had some shortness of breath and a chronic cough but that wasn’t anything new; David was a smoker (although he quit cold turkey after his diagnosis).

Meanwhile, during those months, we had the gift of knowing what was to come. It didn’t feel much like a gift at the time, but it definitely was. Nothing was taken for granted. Things that needed to be said were said. Things that needed to happen, happened. Everyone had the opportunity to finish any unfinished business. In fact, one of our deepest conversations occurred on December 14, 2000, three weeks before his death. David told me the best thing he’d ever done in his life was to be a father to our three kids. He said he just wanted me to be happy. He fought hard, more for our kids than for himself, but cancer beat him…though definitely not for a lack of fighting.

Still, when the call came that January morning, it brought me to my knees. As hard as you imagine getting that news will be, you end up wishing it had been that easy. It was excruciatingly painful. My life and the lives of our children had been dramatically altered and would never be the same again. We got through it, and it was an emotional rollercoaster of bad days and good days, gradually turning into more good days than bad, but it has been a process that literally has taken years. This past January marked the twelfth anniversary of David’s death. Our children are now grown, our then-four year-old son who went off to kindergarten seven months after his father passed away will be 17 this spring. Our 21 year-old daughter has a husband and a son of her own who turns six next fall: David is now a grandpa. Our older son is 23 years old and stands four inches taller than six-foot tall David stood. To this day, when one of our children celebrates a birthday or another significant life event occurs, I mourn for what David has missed in their lives. I wish I could call him or visit with him and just catch up with him about all that life has brought our way since he’s been gone. I wish I could see his reaction to our five year-old grandson…to him being four inches shorter than our older son…to everything. But I can’t. Although time does indeed numb the pain somewhat, it still hurts. But have I gotten over it? Nope, and I never will. I have simply learned how to live with it. It’s the new normal.

At the time of his death, I always reminded myself how fortunate we had been to have had those six and a half months to prepare. It could have been so much worse, I reasoned, because at least we had the warning of what was to come instead of David having been suddenly ripped away from us, such as if he had been killed in a car accident or suffered a massive heart attack. Looking back, I’m especially grateful for that time. We knew what was coming. We didn’t know when, but still, we knew. In many ways, that is such an advantage. But did that make his death any easier when he did finally pass away?

crying“And now, I’m glad I didn’t know
The way it all would end, the way it all would go…
Our lives are better left to chance
I could have missed the pain…
But I’d have had to miss the dance.” ~ Garth Brooks, “The Dance”

New Years Day 2013. Primarily because 2012 had been wrought with a startling amount of death and loss – beginning with my sister and brother in-law experiencing a stillbirth just before New Years Day 2012…to the unexpected death of my lifelong best friend, David’s sister Shannon, in February at barely 41 years-old…to the loss of my former father in-law “Big Tom” Montgomery to cancer in late summer…to the sudden, tragic death of Mike’s friend and coworker in a car accident just before Christmas less than two weeks earlier…just to name a few – I was readier than ever for the promise of a new beginning that a new year traditionally symbolizes.

However, within less than half an hour of waking on New Year’s Day, I received the news that sucked the air right out of my lungs and shook me to my very core.

Tom with my younger son at Mickey D's...he kept his word to David

Tom with my younger son at Mickey D’s…he kept his word to David

My phone rang.

Tom died!” my daughter cried, harder than I could ever before remember.

Tom, a family-devoted, sensitive-yet-moody Cancer, was my second husband. He was killed in the early morning hours of New Year’s Day 2013 as a result of injuries sustained in a car accident. Tom was just 36 years old.

I felt as though my heart had been ripped right out of my chest. Through my tears, I saw others looking at me quizzically, seemingly questioning my sadness, as if to say, “But he was your ex-husband. Why are you having such a hard time coping with his death?” While it’s true that Tom and I were divorced, our relationship over the years was much deeper than it appeared to the casual observer.

My wedding day to Tom, December 29, 2000

My wedding day to Tom, December 29, 2000

I met Tom in October 1996 and we became romantically involved just under a month later. We began living together in April 1997 and were married in December 2000. Although we had some great times, the clash between my fiery, impulsive Aries Sun and his watery, sensitive Cancer Sun proved too much for either of us to handle and we separated two years later; our divorce finalized in July 2005. During those years together, we went through so much including David’s illness and subsequent death, during which Tom was not only a huge source of comfort and emotional support to my children and me, but he had also promised David – at David’s request – that when and if The Time came, he would absolutely step in and be a father to my kids. He kept his word. Tom was never not there for my three children for the rest of his life. Even during the early days of our separation, while we certainly experienced the textbook anger and hurt feelings a couple endures when going through a breakup, we gradually came to the realization that we would always have love for one another, even if we were no longer in love, and we remained close friends. Shortly after Tom and I separated, I moved forward with a new man – Mike, the Cancer cusp man who I am in a relationship with today – and my Cancerian former husband began a new relationship of his own in the spring of 2003 with a young Libra woman who subsequently gave birth to their daughter, an adorable, bright-eyed Sadge, in late 2004.  His relationship ended in 2008, mine went on hiatus in early 2011, and I relocated to Hot Springs, AR that same year. After some discussion, Tom followed suit, moving to Hot Springs in late 2011 and we attempted to reconcile. Although it was ultimately unsuccessful, lasting just under three months, this time our separation was as pleasant as one could hope for. We understood that we “made better friends than married folk” (Tom’s words), Tom returned home to West Virginia, I moved back to Oklahoma, and we continued on our respective life paths. I suppose our friendship was a bit unorthodox, to say the least, and we remained as such, keeping in touch with one another…although in hindsight, I can now see that after I told Tom that Mike and I had reunited in August, the frequency of our communication decreased sharply, practically overnight.

“When the blues come calling at the break of dawnimagesCAWBGWSB
Rain keeps falling, but the rainbow’s gone…
When you feel like crying but the tears won’t come
When your dreams are dying, when you’re on the run
Just remember I love you and it’ll be all right…
Just remember I love you more than I can say.” ~ Firefall, “Just Remember I Love You”

In early December, thanks to my employment with a major cell service provider, I obtained a new cell phone and along with it, a new phone number. I texted Tom one Saturday morning to give him my new number. He replied back to me, “Got it.”

That was the last time we would ever communicate. He passed away three weeks later.

“Got it.” The last words Tom would ever speak to me. Of course, if we had known that only a few short weeks later his time on Earth would be violently abbreviated, there is no doubt our final words to one another would have been far more meaningful, and our final conversation would have been much lengthier. There was much more left to say than “got it.”

But we didn’t know, and how could we have known? Unlike David, with whom there had been the opportunity to finish any unfinished business and say the words we felt needed to be said, I was completely blindsided by Tom’s death, as was everyone who knew and loved him. He was here…and in the blink of an eye, he wasn’t. We were robbed of any last chances to do those things. And I am here to tell you, I have grieved for and missed David since his completely expected passing every bit as much as I have Tom since his totally unexpected departure. I’ve shed a similar number of tears, felt the same ache of anguish, the same longing to hug each of them just once more, and the same intense desire to share things with them.

The Aries and the Cancer, Christmas Eve 1998

The Aries and the Cancer, Christmas Eve 1998

The Universe is our teacher and we are the students. And not unlike a schoolteacher who sharply bangs on the desk of a lazy student who is resting their head after falling asleep in class, the Universe tends to startle us awake from time to time when we’ve gotten too comfortable in our lives, keeping us on our toes, with the sobering reminder to take nothing for granted, because the only guarantee we have in this life is that one day, it will end. Treasure it and those with whom you share it while you can. It’s easy to assume that because we were alive and well yesterday and today, we will probably be alive and well tomorrow…and next week…and next year. And most of the time, I’m happy to report, we’re absolutely correct. Unfortunately, there will come a day when we couldn’t be more wrong. And many times, we will never have seen it coming.

I’ve found great solace in the fact that Tom knew I loved him…and I know he loved me too. He knew that he mattered to me, that I cared a great deal about what was going on in his life and how he was doing. Likewise, I know without a doubt he felt the same way about me. Had it been me who was killed and Tom had been left to cope with my death, I also know he would be having an equally difficult time dealing with it. Furthermore, these very same statements apply to David. The point is, whether death is anticipated or unexpected is irrelevant, at least in the grand scheme of things. The end result is the same: your loved one is gone. And when all is said and done, whether you knew what was coming as we did with David’s death, or you’re completely blindsided as we were with Tom’s death, you’re still going to wish you had one more opportunity to hold them, to let them know how much you love them, to share your joys and heartaches with them. It’s still going to hurt every bit as much.

As the saying goes, six of one, half-dozen of another.

imagesCAV9RAYV“Love can touch us one time and last for a lifetime…
And never let go till we’re gone
Love was when I loved you, one true time I hold to…
In my life we’ll always go on
Near, far, wherever you are
I believe that the heart does go on
Once more you open the door
And you’re here in my heart, and my heart will go on and on.” ~ Celine Dion, “My Heart Will Go On”

Behind Every Accident Lies An Intentional Act

worrying“Like tomorrow was a gift
And you got eternity to think about what you’d do with it…
An’ what did you do with it?
An’ what can I do with it?
An’ what would I do with it?
Skydiving, I went Rocky Mountain climbing…
I went two point seven seconds on a bull named Fu Man Chu…
And then I loved deeper and I spoke sweeter
And I watched Blue Eagle as it was flyin’…
An’ he said someday, I hope you get the chance
To live like you were dyin’.” ~ Tim McGraw, “Live Like You Were Dyin'”

I’m a worrier. That’s just what I do, who I am, and always have been. No doubt due — at least in part — to a watery, depressive Pisces Ascendant and an overactive imagination brought to you in part by an Aquarius Moon. I remember one time in particular when I was just eight years old, my mom and stepdad hadn’t returned to pick me up from a relative’s house on time and there I was, a third grader, pacing the floor, convinced that they had succumbed to a fiery vehicular death. I wondered who would take care of me if they died? Needless to say, I was wrong. But when they finally arrived, I overheard my great-aunt chuckle to my mom, “I’ll tell you what, that little girl is something else. What a worry wart…she’s gonna give herself an ulcer!” That was the first time I’d ever heard the phrase “worry wart.”

And that’s just one example. In fact, I don’t remember a time in my life when I didn’t suffer from anxiety, to one degree or another. I don’t remember when, how, or why it began; I just know I’ve always been that way. Maybe it’s in my DNA. I have a very vivid memory of being three years old and having a tummy ache…and anxiously thinking, “I hope it’s not cancer!” Yes, you read that correctly: at the age of THREE. At that age, I hadn’t yet known anyone who had ever had cancer, let alone should I have known what cancer even was. But I had enough grasp of the concept to know it wasn’t good, and that it could kill you. An angst-ridden, hypochondriac toddler. Oh, I must have been a joy to be around.

Every human being on the planet worries, at least occasionally, and some more so than others. And usually, our fears are unfounded. When someone is running late, as I described in the example above, or we can’t reach them, we might begin to play out horrible possible scenarios in our minds that tragedy has befallen them. But about 99 percent of the time, we’re relieved when we learn everything is okay. The chest pains turn out to be muscular and not due to a massive heart attack; your child didn’t make it home from school not because he fell prey to a shady stranger luring him with candy from a windowless van, but because he stopped off at a friend’s house and forgot to call you; your excruciating headache is “only” a migraine, not a ruptured aneurysm…you get the idea. We’ve all had these or similar experiences.

So what about that remaining one percent of the time…when you’re worried something terrible has happened…except this time, your worst-case imagined scenario turns out to be very real?

“Mama put my guns in the ground…worry
I can’t shoot them anymore
That cold black cloud is comin’ down…
Feels like I’m knockin’ on heaven’s door.” ~ Guns N Roses, “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door”

I am in a long-term live-in relationship with a wonderful Cancer-Gemini cusp named Mike who is my polar opposite when it comes to worrying. Where I am wringing my hands, pacing the floor, imagining the worst, Mike is the rational, level-headed one who reassures me that whatever it is I’m freaking out about is going to be fine. In fact, at that point he’s likely going to offer me a beer and encourage me to relax. This is intriguing to me because Mike was born within four and a half hours after the Sun entered Cancer, but close enough to the Cancer-Gemini cusp that he tends to exhibit more Geminian traits than Cancer traits…although astrologically speaking, he has a Cancer Sun and because the Sun always shines, it’s a little unusual that many of his behaviors and tendencies are more Twin-influenced than Crab-influenced. That’s the long way of saying Cancers tend to be worriers, yet my Cancer man doesn’t seem to be one. However, I was married for several years to an easily stressed, somewhat-hypochondriac Cancer man who was born nowhere near the cusp, and he managed to singlehandedly turn worrying into a sport. I can’t count the number of times I remember him proclaiming “oh my God, I’m dying!”  I would dismiss him, saying, “No you’re not!” and he would become agitated, accusing me of not caring. He was a champion worrier. If worrying was an Olympic event, the man could have won the gold. Everything was an emergency, he always just “knew” something would go wrong, and although many times he was wrong, often he was right — though I always chalked it up to the intense worrying itself which had influenced his self-fulfilling prophecies, while he disagreed, insisting that no, he knew whatever it was he was stressing about would happen.

worry quote

Wednesday, December 19, 2012: Though he is scheduled to work until 6pm, Mike worked until around 10pm that evening because his good friend and coworker in the auto paint & body shop where he works, a Virgo workaholic named Jimmy, needed to get home to wrap up painting on an urgent side job he had going. Jimmy stuck his head in the door of the paint booth in which Mike was working and said, “Okay, you got this?” Mike told him he did, and added, “I’ll see ya in the mornin’, fucker” to which Jimmy replied, “Aite, see ya, fucker.” With that, Jimmy left the shop at 6:38pm, heading home in a 1933 Ford that had been converted into a hot rod which belonged to his banker, and which was scheduled to be his next side job.

Mike arrived home that evening around 10:25pm. He kissed me hello and headed to the fridge. As he grabbed a beer, popped it open, walked back into the living room and sat down in his chair, he told me, “So I guess Jimmy never made it home after work.” “Really?” I asked incredulously. He nodded. “Yeah, I know…it was the weirdest thing; I was locking up and when I went outside, his woman was sitting out there in her car and she honked…so I went over there and she asked me where Jimmy was. I was like, ‘uh, he left around 6:35-6:40…he’s not home yet?'” She replied that no, he hadn’t come home and he wasn’t answering his cell phone either. She was growing even more concerned now, upon learning that Jimmy had left over three and half hours earlier for what was routinely a 12 minute drive home.

Now, at this point even I knew something wasn’t right. From everything I’d heard about Jimmy, this was completely out of character for him, a totally devoted, hardworking Virgo who constantly touched base with his fiancee, Carla, throughout the day, every day. She was his life, his world, his everything. He had met her when they were five year-olds living in the same neighborhood, literally his childhood sweetheart, and he couldn’t wait to marry her.

I had a foreboding feeling in the pit of my stomach. “Wow, that’s not like him at all,” I shook my head. “Damn…I hope he’s okay…”

Mike agreed. “I know, right? He would never just not go home without letting her know what he was doing. That’s just not him. He’s never once said anything about going anywhere other than home; he doesn’t go hang out at buddys’ houses, he doesn’t go to bars. That just ain’t who he is. I hope nothing happened to him…” I could tell that my usually-rational Cancer cusp was somewhat unnerved by this.

Dismissing my own ominous feeling, rationalizing that surely Jimmy was fine and surely this must have been caused by something trivial, I chuckled, “I can’t wait to hear what happened tomorrow…she is gonna be pissed!” Mike laughed and agreed. “Oh yeah, me too.”

The next morning, Mike left for work before I woke up. I had an appointment with my eye doctor and was putting my shoes on, getting ready to leave. I had forgotten all about our conversation the night before when, at 8:15am, my cell phone rang. It was Mike.

“Hey, whassup?” I asked cheerfully.

“Hey, babe,” he responded solemnly. I then heard him take a deep breath. “Jimmy was killed last night.”

I felt the blood drain from my face. I couldn’t believe what I’d heard. My hands began shaking. I sat down on the edge of the bed, in shock. “Oh my God…what happened?”

“Well, he was driving that 1933 Ford he was about to paint for his banker…it’s got a 900 horsepower motor…it’s a race car. He was heading south on highway 4 on his way home and I guess he just couldn’t stand it…he had to push it…the cops said they think he was doing at least a hundred and maybe even 130…you know, those old cars aren’t aerodynamic like the ones today…I guess he lost control and rolled it…the thing was practically made out of glass… it just disintegrated…he was ejected…he was gone before 7:00…” That meant more than three hours had passed since the accident when Jimmy’s fiancee came looking for him at the shop, and nearly four hours by the time Mike and I were talking about it at home, hoping he was okay. Witnesses put the time of the accident at 6:46pm. Mike had been the last person to see him alive, just eight minutes earlier. Another witness who had been driving behind him stated they had seen his taillights ahead of them when suddenly the tail lights disappeared and then all they saw was “headlights over taillights over headlights over taillights” as the car rolled repeatedly.

Such a senseless death. A terrible waste. So unnecessary. Dammit! If he just would’ve resisted the urge to test this car’s limits the way he did; after all, he knew better than that! If he’d just stayed at work instead of going home early to work on that side job…yet behind this tragic accident, there was a single intentional act: a guy who lived and breathed race cars who found the temptation to see what this hot rod could do on a rural Oklahoma highway simply too irresistible to ignore. And that single intentional act led to an unintentional and unthinkable outcome, leaving in its wake a shattered fiancee and nine year-old daughter, not to mention numerous devastated family and friends.

Jimmy Dale Richardson   09/16/1972 - 12/19/2012

Jimmy Dale Richardson 09/16/1972 – 12/19/2012

Though I went to high school with Jimmy for a semester in ninth grade, I didn’t know him. I remember him, and he “kind of” remembered me. I kind of felt like I knew him vicariously through all of Mike’s work stories, which is why I was immediately concerned when I heard he hadn’t made it home; I knew enough to know that just wasn’t like him. But even not actually having known him, his death still hit me like a punch in the face. Not only because of the tragedy itself and knowing how deeply Mike was grieving the loss of his friend and coworker, but because it was a massive jolt to everything I’d always believed to be true. Here’s what I mean. As I said earlier, even when we worry about people or events and picture horrible outcomes, it’s safe to say that everything (almost) always turns out okay, and we come to rely on that. Although we might still worry, in the back of our minds, we’re reassured that statistically, everything is probably just fine.

This time was different. It was the first time in my 40 years that I could recall ever having been worried that something awful had happened…and been right. Not only was I right, it was the absolute worst possible scenario. Jimmy hadn’t just had a fender bender and suffered a few minor injuries, or been hauled off to jail for doing 130 mph down that road. It’s like we just skipped all of those unpleasant yet lesser of the evil scenarios and went straight to the worst outcome imaginable. It seemed so unfair, like the Universe had somehow cheated him. He couldn’t have just been a little banged up and ended up in the hospital, or pulled over and taken to jail for driving like that; he’s just dead? Just like that?

worry2

As a consequence of these events, my anxiety level immediately skyrocketed. I was reminded of the harsh reality that we are all but mere mortals and when our time is up, life can be ripped away in an instant without warning. None of us are infallible. What happened to Jimmy could happen to anyone, including the people I love, and including me. We truly never know when an innocent intentional act of ours, which might be so trivial that we wouldn’t think twice about it, could lead to something completely unintentional happening.  Something totally life-altering…or life-ending. Additionally, when I find myself worrying now, the feeling is much more frightening…because of the one time I worried…and the outcome I feared had happened, had happened.

It certainly didn’t help when just 13 days later, my Cancer ex-husband was killed…also in a single vehicle accident…also due to a single innocent, yet intentional act.

This Is The Way The World Ends: Volume II

“Grieving, I hate to say goodbye otherside
Dust and ash forever, yeah…
Though I know we must be parted
As sure as stars are in the sky…
I’m gonna see when it comes to glory
And I’ll see you, I’ll see you on the other side…
Yes I’ll see you, I’ll see you on the other side.” ~ Ozzy Osbourne, “See You On The Other Side”

I know most people truly do mean well. I know they have only the utmost good intentions at heart. I also know that sometimes, others simply don’t know what to say to a bereaved person. I’ve been on the other side of this experience…so believe me, I get it.

That said, if one more person attempts to console me by gently reminding me that Tom “is in a better place,” they just might find themselves joining him there quicker than they’d hoped…

I don’t want to come across as ungrateful toward folks who are merely trying to be comforting. I very much appreciate the condolences and sympathy shown by so many people who care about what has happened and want to say something, anything, to try and ease the pain. I’m eternally grateful for the friends and family who only want to help me feel better.

However, regardless of your personal religious or spiritual beliefs, whether or not you believe in a heaven or a hell or a God, an afterlife of any kind, or even if you believe that after death, we cease to exist at all,  please enlighten me on this: in what way is Tom in a “better place”?

Is this the "better place" people speak of?

Is this the “better place” people speak of?

I seriously doubt that had Tom been given an option  between being able to live his life for many more years with his daughter, his stepchildren, his family, and his friends or going to this “better place,” that he would’ve chosen the latter. He was just 36 years old when his time was suddenly up, with absolutely no warning. There was so much more left for him to do in this world. His daughter is barely eight years old and because he’s gone onto this proverbial “better place,” he won’t be here to see her become a teenager, graduate from high school, walk her down the aisle on her wedding day, or to one day see her become a wife and mother with a family of her own. He never got to hold his brother’s firstborn child, a beautiful baby girl named Kylie Paige, because he went to this “better place” just sixteen days before her arrival into this world. She’ll only know him through photos and stories as her Uncle Tommy who died just weeks before she was born. He won’t see his niece Edie grow into young womanhood. And he won’t be here to walk his stepdaughter down the aisle on her wedding day either, which he had planned to do because her own father passed away when she was just nine years old. He won’t see either of his stepsons’ wedding days…or their future wives and children.

Tom & Brian, 4th of July 2001, Lake Eufaula, OK

Tom & Brian, 4th of July 2001, Lake Eufaula, OK

“’cause now you’ve got to fly, fly high, fly to the angels
Heaven awaits your heart
And flowers bloom in your name…
Ohhh you’ve got to fly, fly high
Fly to the angels
All the stars in the night shine in your name.”

~ Slaughter, “Fly To The Angels”

I’d like to take this opportunity to point out that I absolutely believe in an afterlife; I believe the spirit lives on, as the spirit — or soul — is made of pure energy and it is a scientific fact that energy cannot be destroyed, only transformed. If your car breaks down while you’re in it, what do you do? You get out of the car. You are in your car, but at the same time, you are not your car, the same way “you” are not your body. Your body breaks down, your spirit leaves it.  So while I am certain that Tom’s spirit lives on, and in fact, is definitely still around (specific examples of which I’ll touch on at another time), and what was once his physical body– the shell which houses the soul — is now reduced to ashes which rest  in a beautiful urn, regardless of any of that, there is no way I can passively sit back and accept the explanation that he’s now in a “better place,” whatever or wherever that might be. I fail to see how this “better place” people so often speak of is…well, better.

So without further ado, here are some suggestions for what to say to the bereaved…and perhaps more importantly, what not to say:

  • “He/she is in a better place.”  Was there any question whatsoever this would be my first suggestion of what not to say? This is not — I repeat, not — a comforting statement. A grief-stricken loved one does not want to hear this. To the bereaved, the “better place” for their departed loved one is right here, alive and well in the physical realm. Not to mention the phrase itself is such an overused cliche that it’s all but lost its meaning over time.
  • “Everything happens for a reason.”  The hell you say. But whatever the elusive reason may be that has ripped our loved one away from us matters not, because the fact remains that they are still gone and no big-picture, grand-scheme-of-things reason is going to make our loss any less painful…even if we’re lucky enough to one day discover what that reason is,  and most of us probably never will. A similar statement to avoid is “It’s God’s will, even if we don’t understand His reasons for it.” *rolls eyes* Unless you are the Lord Almighty incarnate, please refrain from using that line in a misguided attempt at consoling someone.
  • “God/the Universe never gives us more than we can handle.” Wanna bet? If that were true, there would be no such thing as suicide. Far too often, many people have way more than their fair share of painful events and tragic losses thrust upon them.
  • “I know how you feel.” Oh, really now? Do you? Unless you have been through the exact same experience or loss yourself, you have no way to even begin to imagine how we are feeling or what we are going through.
  • Saying nothing at all; not bringing up the loss. Huge mistake. It’s almost better to say the wrong thing than to say nothing  and avoid the topic altogether. When you don’t acknowledge the person’s loss, your silence on the matter screams that you don’t care about them or what they’re going through…even if the only reason you aren’t bringing it up is out of fear of upsetting or reminding the grieving person of their loss or potentially causing yourself to feel uncomfortable (which is selfish). You will not — I repeat, will not — upset someone by bringing up the topic of their lost loved one. You aren’t “reminding” them of anything. Trust me, they are already thinking about it.  This actually happened to me. I received an instant message from a “friend” the same day Tom was killed who periodically hits me up for no other reason than to pimp her “fabulous home business opportunity” on me. I replied back to her that I was sorry, but I couldn’t even think about that right now “because Tom was killed last night.” Her reply? Absolute silence. Nothing. Not even a “k.” In all fairness, maybe she just didn’t know how to respond. But I’ve been friends with this woman for nine years…and she couldn’t even take 30 seconds to muster an “I’m sorry” or “what happened?” In any event, I no longer consider her my friend. She hasn’t attempted to contact me since that day. Not to mention the plentiful opportunities she had to respond to any one of my Facebook statuses about Tom’s death to which numerous other people replied with simple yet meaningful comments such as “I’m sorry for your loss.” She couldn’t even get a clue about what to say from reading their replies? Yeah. She’s no friend. It’s not like I’m a sympathy whore, fishing for condolences. But common courtesy dictates some kind of response…especially from a friend.
  • “I don’t know what to say.” This is perfect for when words escape you. It’s really okay to admit that you can’t imagine how they are feeling and that you simply don’t know what to say. Other suggestions along these lines would be asking them specifically what you can do to help, even if it’s offering your shoulder to cry on or someone to talk to. Most people want to talk about their lost loved one. Follow their lead. Let them talk, let them cry, let them be angry. Don’t offer advice unless you’re asked. Just shut up and listen to them without throwing in your own opinions or regaling them with your own experience; it’s not about you right now; this is their story. It’s amazing how incredibly helpful that can be for someone going through the grieving process. Shut up, be there, and just listen. Ask if they need help with anything — taking care of the kids if they have any, preparing and/or bringing meals to the house, running errands, making phone calls, sorting through paperwork, anything…even the seemingly most trivial acts of kindness can make a world of difference because it’s one less thing  they have to worry about during an already emotionally chaotic time.
  • Don’t hit on the widow(er). Really. I have a friend whom I’ve known since I was thirteen years old. We connected again on Facebook about three years ago. He knew I was in a relationship and had previously expressed disappointment at that fact… and evidently, upon reading my statuses about Tom’s death, incorrectly assumed I was grieving the loss of my current husband. About four days after Tom’s death, he sent me a private message gently reminding me that if I needed a shoulder to cry on, he would be happy to meet me somewhere and suggested that perhaps we could “go out to the lake and just talk.” I thanked him but declined his offer, telling him I didn’t think my man – who has been wonderfully supportive – would appreciate that very much. This guy’s response? “No. You don’t have to be alone. He would want you to be happy. It’s okay to be with someone again.” That’s when it hit me: he thinks Tom was my current husband! I was nauseated and beyond offended when I realized his motivations. I responded to him, informing him that Tom was my ex-husband, my current man was very much alive and well, thank you very much, and “you are seriously coming onto me four days after you thought I was widowed? WTF is wrong with you??” He didn’t respond for a long time but finally replied that he hadn’t been hitting on me, and lamented the fact that he’s “always misunderstood.” I call bullshit…and told him so, pointing out that “he would want you to be happy” and “it’s okay to be with someone again” didn’t seem to allude to my living and breathing current man. Not only that, but I also reminded him that he didn’t even know Tom, let alone my current man, Mike, so who was he to presume “he would want [me] to be happy”? I never heard another peep out of him. And good riddance. Opportunistic bastard.
  • Don’t say “Let me know if you need anything.” Although you might really mean it, unfortunately this sounds trite and scripted, the same way it sounds when the cashier at your supermarket says “have a nice day.” More often than not, this is an empty sentiment, or at least sounds like one, that is ridiculously overused to the point that it is all but meaningless, regardless of how good your intentions are, and chances are, they’re not going to actually get a hold of you later and let you know if there’s something you can do. Not even to mention that it just goes without saying that they are going to need help with something. Don’t throw out a generic offer.  Do say “Tell me what I can do to help you; what do you need me to do for you?” Or if they specifically mention things they are going to have to deal with or face, say “I can do that for you; how do you want me to handle that?” This is much more sincere and will prompt them to actually think about what they need help with and also provides them an opportunity to take you up on your generous offer.
  • “Don’t worry, you’ll meet someone and get married again/have another child someday.” I find it more than a little disturbing that this, which by the way, is just about the worst thing you can possibly say to someone who has lost a spouse or child, even has to be mentioned. Do you really think someone who has just been widowed or experienced the death of a child cares even a little bit about finding a new spouse or having another child right now, you well-intentioned idiot? Would you? A grieving parent or spouse is not looking to replace their child or their husband/wife. This statement implies those treasured lost loved ones are expendable and replaceable.  Never say this, or anything remotely similar. Please. If you do say something like this to a grieving spouse or parent, I hope they punch you in the throat. Seriously.
  • Everyone grieves differently; respect that and don’t judge them for it. And by differently, I mean for cryingdifferent lengths of time and to varying degrees. About two weeks after Tom’s death, I was overcome one evening by a wave of intense grief.  Through tears, I posted a Facebook status stating I couldn’t believe this was really happening. A friend commented, “Why are you having such a hard time accepting this?” I felt as though he was implying that because Tom was my ex-husband, I should’ve long ago dried my eyes and carried on with the rest of my life…two weeks later. I felt like he was minimizing what had happened and that my grief wasn’t valid; or at least, not valid anymore, as though a bereavement period has an expiration date or deadline by which one should stop feeling sadness about the loss. I’m not saying that is what he meant, but that is certainly how his comment came across. Instead of offering condolences, he evidently felt the need to analyze my grief instead of simply respecting my feelings about the loss.  Everyone is different. The same person can grieve very differently for different deaths. No two grieving experiences are alike…even for the same individual.
  • Think twice before you speak; or even three times if you have to. And when in doubt, don’t say it. My first husband, who was also the father of  my three children and an active, always previously healthy Sagittarian, passed away from cancer in 2001 at the age of 33. When Tom, who was my second husband, was killed, a longtime close friend called me to express her condolences. She obviously cared about what had happened and having known Tom through me, she was concerned and also in shock about his death. She then blurted out with jaw-dropping insensitivity, “Wow; well, it’s a good thing you and Mike [my current Cancer cusp man] never got married or he’d probably be next.” Seriously? I was literally speechless when I heard those words (which is very unusual for a mouthy Aries such as myself). What has to transpire in someone’s brain to convince them that saying something like that is actually a good idea? (For the record, Mike let her have it. “Way to console your friend, you idiot,” he angrily texted her. She honestly didn’t understand what she had said that upset me. To her credit, when he spelled it out for her, she immediately texted an apology to me. But still…I can’t even begin to fathom how it entered her mind in the first place to think that, let alone actually speak it, as if it was some sort of backhanded implication that I’m a jinxed black widow and marrying me would be tantamount to a death sentence for any man.)
  • Check on the grieving person from time to time. Often, after the funeral or memorial service is over and the flowers have wilted, a bereaved person’s support network of friends and extended family begins to dwindle and the person is ultimately left alone to grieve. I’m not suggesting that you call them every hour on the hour to check on their well-being. What I am saying is just shoot them a quick text or phone call every week or so just to let them know you’re thinking of them or ask them how they’re doing. This lets them know you care and demonstrates your continued support during this difficult time and trust me, it makes a huge difference for them to know they’re in your thoughts and/or prayers.

Again, I’d like to reiterate that we the bereaved do understand you have only the best intentions, even if you say all the wrong things in your attempt to console us. There is nothing you can say that will ever make the pain go away, but that doesn’t mean you should stay silent. If you don’t know what to say, just tell them you don’t know what to say, but you’re thinking of them and are sorry for their loss. The important thing here is, don’t just say nothing.

The inscription on the top of Tom's urn. Truer words were never before spoken.

The inscription on the top of Tom’s urn. Truer words were never before spoken.

“Would you hold my hand
If I saw you in heaven?
Would you help me stand
If I saw you in heaven?
I’ll find my way
Through night and day
‘Cause I know I just can’t stay
Here in heaven.”

~ Eric Clapton, “Tears In Heaven”

This Is The Way The World Ends: Volume I

Tom, January 2003

Tom, January 2003

“People say I’m crazy doing what I’m doing
Well they give me all kinds of warnings to save me from ruin…
When I say that I’m okay well they look at me kind of strange
Surely you’re not happy now you no longer play the game…
People say I’m lazy dreaming my life away
Well they give me all kinds of advice designed to enlighten me…
When I tell them that I’m doing fine watching shadows on the wall
Don’t you miss the big time boy; you’re no longer on the ball
I’m just sitting here watching the wheels go round and round
I really love to watch them roll…
No longer riding on the merry-go-round
I just had to let it go.” ~ John Lennon, “Watching the Wheels”

This is the first post I’ve written in nearly six months! Aw, and I missed all of you too… *sniff*… Make no mistake about it: it’s not that there hasn’t been much to report; on the contrary, I have plenty of musings and anecdotes which I’ve been dying to share; therefore, we have a lot of catching up to do, my fellow bloggers/followers/friends! For the sake of this particular post however, I’ll nutshell it for you: my beloved Cancer cusp and I officially reunited in a living-together capacity in late October after a two and a half month “getting-to-know-you-again” journey. Things have been amazing and I’m hard pressed to remember being happier before in my life. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine I’d actually be saying (typing?) these words. But here I am and there’s nowhere else I’d rather be. Happiness is abundant and life is — and has been — beautiful. But for this post, I will be focusing on one of the most painful events of my life thus far, occurring during my extended blogging hiatus. As the “Volume I” in the title indicates, there is much more to come regarding this tragic turn of events. It sucked the breath right out of me like a full-on punch to the stomach or, perhaps more accurately, like a dagger plunged through my very heart and soul.

Monday evening, December 31, 2012. I worked until 9pm. My Cancer cusp love was home waiting for me and we planned a quiet, just-the-two-of-us evening to ring in the New Year…complete with homemade loaded baked potato soup, other snacks, and of course an abundance of alcoholic beverages: beer, wine, margaritas…you name it. We were both off work New Year’s Day so we genuinely looked forward with great anticipation and excitement of doing next to nothing the following day, perhaps with the exception of noshing on our traditional black eyed peas, which we planned to slow cook along with a meaty ham hock in the crock pot. Just after the stroke of midnight, I sent text messages wishing each of my children a “happy, happy new year!” and each one of them had responded in kind shortly thereafter. And around 3 or 4am on New Year’s morning, we fell into bed…exhausted but thrilled to be back together and beginning a brand new year of possibilities.

Around 1:30pm on New Year’s Day afternoon, I slowly began to rouse. That’s some serious sleeping in but I didn’t care; my agenda for the day included…well, nothing! I rubbed my eyes, stretched, turned my head to the left and watched as my wonderful Cancer man continued sleeping next to me. I leaned over and gave him a kiss, which didn’t wake him, but that was okay; that hadn’t been my intention. I got up, threw on a T-shirt, and shuffled to the bathroom. I then went into the kitchen, poured the dried black eyed peas into the crock pot, added the water and the delicious, salty ham hock, and set the slow cooker on low. I then plopped myself down on the living room couch and turned on the TV.

I yawned and lit a cigarette. What to do, what to do, I silently pondered. After all, for this one day I wasn’t at the mercy of any schedule whatsoever and it just doesn’t get much better than that. Bliss.

Suddenly inspired, I got up and put Tiger Woods 2005 in our Xbox 360 and thought it sounded like fun to just chill on the couch, wearing only an oversized T-shirt, playing golf while I waited for my love to wake up and join me in the living room, probably with a “mornin’ babe” kiss and a cup of coffee. I powered on the console and waited as it began to load.

While the game was loading, the song “Little Suzi” by Tesla pierced the silence in the apartment as it began to loudly play from my cell phone on the kitchen table, indicating my 21 year-old Scorpio daughter, Suzanne, was calling. I smiled as I got up and grabbed my phone from the charger, assuming she was simply calling to wish us a happy new year, perhaps planning to let us talk to her Libra son, our awesome five year-old grandson Brendan (a.k.a. “Lil B”).

I swiped the touchscreen to answer her call. “Hey sweetie, what’s up?” I smiled, surprised at the call. Scorpio Suz rarely just calls out of the blue; she usually texts.

“Mom!” my daughter sobbed, trying to catch her breath.

Instantly, my smile vanished and I felt the blood drain from my face as my excitement turned to terror. What was wrong? What was she going to tell me? In the space of what in hindsight was probably no more than one or two seconds, all kinds of horrible scenarios filled my head. Had something happened to my grandson? To my Taurus son, who is now living with them in Arizona? Was my son in-law okay? “What?! What is it!?” I almost shouted, begging for an answer that I wasn’t even sure I wanted to hear. “What happened?!” I repeated loudly, seemingly in an effort to drown out whatever her response would be…

She then choked out the words in between sobs as she tried to catch her breath. The words that have replayed in my mind every day of my life ever since.

Tom died!”

Tom & my Scorpio daughter Suzanne, May 2001

Tom & my Scorpio daughter Suzanne, May 2001

I felt disoriented, confused, as if I’d heard her wrong. I heard her say “Tom” but I couldn’t wrap my mind around the words…or his name being used in that context.

I shouted in a panic as my heart and mind began to race. “Who??” Surely I’d misunderstood her. “Tom who?!”

But I knew.

Tom!” she continued, crying about as hard as I’d ever heard her cry in her 21 years.

“What?! What happened?” I asked loudly, still hoping maybe she was wrong; maybe it wasn’t true. It couldn’t be true.

“I don’t know,” Suz sniffed, trying to catch her breath again. “Jace just talked to Danielle [Tom’s ex] and she told him…do you want to talk to Jace?”

“Yes!” I told her adamantly. “Let me talk to him!”

My 16 year-old Taurus son took the phone. “Hey…” he said solemnly.

“What happened to Tom!?” I angrily demanded as I paced the living room floor so fast and furiously that it could have worn a path in the carpet.

“I don’t know, mom…Danielle just told me he died last night…” my son said quietly

At this point, I was filled with such a potpourri of mixed emotions that even now I’m not sure if I could identify them all individually. But the one at the forefront during that moment was rage. Tom? My Cancer ex-husband? The man from whom I inherited my current surname when we were married on December 29, 2000? The man with whom I had briefly reconciled when I was living in Hot Springs, AR after he moved down there to be with me in 2011 & 2012 ? The man who took my children’s dying father to chemotherapy sessions and whom he promised to fill in as their father should the unthinkable happen (which it did in January 2001)? No. No! No, Tom, you don’t get to die! Who the hell do you think you are? You don’t get to die and leave these kids, leave your daughter, leave your family…and leave me! I don’t think so!

My Taurus son Jace, Tom, and my Sadge son Brian, 2008

My Taurus son Jace, Tom, and my Sadge son Brian, 2008

“That motherfucker!” I snapped angrily. I looked around the room. I felt like breaking something. But I didn’t.  “That stupid son of a bitch! What the fuck did he do!?”

“Don’t…,” my uncharacteristically placid Taurus-cusp son urged me, “don’t dishonor his name like that…” I could hear him fighting back tears.

But I was infuriated. “No!” I argued. “I guaranfuckintee you, however this happened, it was not natural! Whatever killed him was because of something, probably something fucking stupid, that he did!” I believe I then told my son I loved him – I’m not absolutely sure; I think a bit of self-protective amnesia set in around this time, causing me to lose some of the details – but I did ask him to put his sister back on the phone.

When she said “hello?” I was still in such shock, such disbelief, and feeling such utter rage about what had happened, I told my daughter, “I’m gonna get off here and see what I can find out…I’ll let you know…and let me know if you hear anything, okay?” Still crying, she told me she would and that she loved me.

At this point, evidently roused from sleep by my emotional tirade in the living room, my Cancer cusp man came walking out of the bedroom and with genuine concern in his eyes, he asked, “What’s goin’ on?”

I took a deep breath. I hadn’t yet cried. I blurted out, “Tom died last night.”

Tom & his daughter Lindsey, 2012

Tom & his daughter Lindsey, 2012

“Hey, I ain’t never coming home…
Hey, I’ll just wander my own road
Hey, I can’t meet you here tomorrow…
Say goodbye, don’t follow
Misery so hollow…”

~ Alice In Chains, “Don’t Follow”

Oh my God. Did I really just say those words? I wondered. Is this really happening?

Without hesitation, he walked over to me and held me in his arms, stroking my hair, trying to comfort me. “Oh baby. Oh, baby. I’m so sorry…” For a moment I felt safe, protected, comforted. At the same time, I felt confused…why was he consoling me? Tom was my ex-husband. I felt like a fraud, like I didn’t deserve any sympathy. Then, speaking into his shoulder, I said, “I have to find out what happened…”

I hadn’t spoken to Tom since early December, about three weeks prior to his death, but I  knew he had been living at home in Weirton, WV with his stepmother, a forty-something Libra named Leisa, the kind of person who knocks herself out taking care of others before tending to herself. Tom’s father, a fun-loving Leo known as “Big Tom” (a misnomer, as “big” Tom was actually smaller than his son) had passed away from a long battle with cancer only four and a half months prior. At that very moment it suddenly occurred to me that although I had been quite upset to learn of Big Tom’s passing, I was now overcome with an intense feeling of relief that at least he hadn’t survived long enough to suffer every parent’s worst nightmare: the loss of a child. So what if Tom was 36 years old? He could have been 86 years old and it wouldn’t have mattered: your child is still, always and forever, your baby.

Not knowing Leisa’s phone number, I logged onto Facebook and was immediately greeted with an inbox message from Tom’s cousin Dan’s wife, Jenny, whom I’d gotten to know somewhat via Facebook over the previous year. And as I read her words – possibly aloud, I don’t really remember – I had to re-read them…and re-read them…and re-read them yet again because they just weren’t sinking in. This couldn’t be reality; this happens to other faceless, nameless people, not to us! It was like an out-of-body experience reading Jenny’s words:crying eye

“Tommy was killed in a car accident last night. The family is keeping this closed-lipped for a while but I thought you should know. I’ll let you know when arrangements are set so you can contact whomever you like. […] so please just keep this between us for a day or so. So sorry for your loss.”

Reading that message, repeatedly, it still felt unbelievably surreal. This can’t be true. I had no doubt whatsoever that any second now, I would wake up in a heart-pounding cold sweat, crying, but simultaneously relieved that it had all only been an, albeit very realistic, nightmare…

I never did wake up.

And then I began to cry. And I don’t mean shed a few tears. I wailed. I sobbed uncontrollably. I dropped to my hands and knees and screamed like a wounded animal. I shouted, “why is this happening? Why?!” over and over again, as though I might actually get an answer. I thought I’d never stop. My heart literally ached with sadness. It was torturous.

crying girl

Tom is really, truly gone. He’s never coming back. Never again will I hear his voice on the phone, or receive a text from him, or be able to give him a hug, or tell him I love him. I won’t be able to share things with him…news/updates about the kids…and never again will we have one of our haven’t-talked-to-ya-in a-while-how-have-you-been phone calls where we catch up on each other’s lives. So much has been lost. Gone forever. And that’s just on my end. I haven’t even begun to touch on the life-altering impact this loss has had and will continue to have on Tom’s beloved eight year-old daughter, my three children whom we raised together, Danielle, the mother of his daughter Lindsey (I’ve been in her shoes when my children lost their biological father to cancer in early 2001 so I truly do know what she’s experiencing and feeling), along with the rest of his family, especially his stepmother Leisa, his younger sister Jamie and younger brother Justin, and everyone else who loved and cared about him…which there were and are many.

And so it appears the Universe has decided I need a refresher course in Grief 101 as I embark on another  journey through life’s inevitable, excruciatingly painful grieving process. There’s no escape; therefore, my only option is to deal with it. Some days it’s just making it through one day at a time; on the worst days the goal is to make it through one minute at a time, like a toddler learning to walk. The bottom line, however, is that I will survive this…somehow. It won’t be easy; in fact, it’s one of the worst experiences one can ever face.

To be continued…

“And I’ll take with me the memories to be my sunshine after the rain…
It’s so hard to say goodbye to yesterday.” ~Boyz II Men, “It’s So Hard To Say Goodbye To Yesterday”

Tom and Brian, May 2001
Tom and Brian, May 2001

All he ever wanted was to teach you, to reach you
Death is the cousin of sleep
Just close your eyes, count sheep and breathe deep…
Think about the sound of relief that surrounds you.

~ Atmosphere, “Bleed Slow”

It’s Complicated…

“I’m only happy when it rains
I’m only happy when it’s complicated
And though I know you can’t appreciate it
I’m only happy when it rains
You know I love it when the news is bad
Why it feels so good to feel so sad
I’m only happy when it rains.” ~ Garbage, “I’m Only Happy When It Rains”

Oh, how I abhor drama. Not just drama; also drama queens, attention whores, and people who say they hate drama. A bit ironic and hypocritical, right? I thought so too.

All I wanted was to get over my estranged Cancer cusp ex. Because we can never go back to what we had, it’s a closed chapter in the stranger-than-fiction novel that is my life, my only option is to muddle through the grief and the pain that I initially postponed feeling until I emerge on the other side of it, hopefully at peace, hopefully wiser.

Two weeks ago, we had a two-hour phone conversation to “clear the air,” as he put it. We said things that needed to be said, put a lot of unfinished business to bed, after which my beloved pointedly told me, “If by ‘being friends’ you mean you want to be buddies, talk all the time, and hang out? No, not happening. But if by ‘being friends’ you mean we don’t hate each other, we don’t want anything bad to happen to the other, if we have to communicate we can do it without cussing, then yeah, I want that. I’m not trying to sound like an asshole about it; I just want to be left alone, I want to live my life.” Ouch. But I agreed. I didn’t like it, not one bit. But I knew he was right. The past should stay in the past. I tried to focus on the fact that at least we were speaking again after more than 14 months of absolutely zero contact, and to be grateful for small favors.

Late the following evening, I was surprised and overjoyed to receive a text from my Cancer cusp. A drunk text, but hey, that’s okay; it obviously meant he was thinking of me…which is good, right? It stated something along the lines of, “I’m a douchebag because I’m doing what I said I wasn’t going to do [communicating with me unnecessarily] but I don’t care; I’m feelin’ good.” Upon receiving that, just basking in the glow of knowing I was on his mind in any capacity, I too was feelin’ good. The next weekend, it was my turn to drunk text the ex. I told him I must be a douchebag too and because he drunk texted me the week prior, I owed him one. He seemed to think it was amusing, and he texted me the next day to let me know I could feel free to drunk text him again anytime. But the drunken, uninhibited messages were the only contact we had. After all, I reminded myself, he made it painfully crystal clear that he didn’t want to be “buddies,” he wanted to live his life and be left alone.

“Happiness one step behind
This inner peace I’ve yet to find
Rivers flow into the sea
Yet even the sea is not so full of me
If I’m not blind why can’t I see
That a circle can’t fit where a square should be
There’s a hole in my heart that can only be filled by you
And this hole in my heart can’t be filled with the things I do.”
~ Extreme, “Hole Hearted”

Fast-forward one week later: Late Sunday evening, my phone vibrated. I opened the message and was again surprised to discover it was from my Cancer cusp. He told me he was “a bit worn out” from having spent a weekend at the river with his cousins. Now, what is this? I wondered. Don’t get me wrong; I was thrilled to receive an unexpected text from my love. It made my day, my night, my weekend. But he didn’t have to tell me about his river adventure. That would fall into the category of “unnecessary communication,” would it not? But I played it cool. Easy breezy. I asked him questions about his cousins, how they were doing these days, etc.; after all, they were once my family too. We exchanged a few more messages and called it a night.

Three nights later around 10:30pm, I was minding my own business, playing the addictive-as-all-hell game SongPop on Facebook with The Big Bang Theory in the DVD player for background noise, when my phone vibrated. Once again, a surprise text message from the Cancer cusp.  It started with a few generic “what’s up?” type messages, which eventually led to him asking, “We b cool these dayz, rite?” [sic] I responded that I had absolutely no hard feelings toward him and in fact, I had hoped we could hang out and talk more but I respected his desire to be left alone, and that I was just glad we were on good terms. He replied, “K. Im at neils. He gon 4 da nite.” [sic] He asked me where I was, and I told him. I asked if that was a backhanded way of trying to, wink wink, you know, invite me over. He told me it was.

Say no more! I probably broke the landspeed record as I raced out the door, jumped in the car, and sped off in his direction.

Seventeen minutes later, I was knocking on the door of my Cancer cusp’s uncle’s house. I was shaking in my flipflops waiting for what felt like an eternity before he opened the door. Next thing I knew, I was standing face to face with the love of my life for the first time since April 29, 2011. He opened his arms and we hugged for several seconds. I don’t even know if there is a single word in the English language to accurately convey how I felt in that moment. Bliss. Contentment. Peace. Love. Safe. Whole. It was what I felt for the eight years we were together, all flooding back. It felt right, exactly as it did when we first got together nine years earlier. Like a homecoming. Like this is how it’s supposed to be.

We sat outside for over an hour, drank a few beers, talked, laughed, reminisced, caught up on where life had taken each of us in the previous 14 months. Some of the events he recalled to me stung, in particular when he revealed that, last summer, he had started to fall for a girl 21 years his junior. I could not care less who or how many people he had slept with during that period of time, but it cut me like a knife when he mentioned having had feelings for this girl. Although it only lasted a few months, tops, and it’s long over and done – in fact, they haven’t spoken in well over a year – it still hurt. I didn’t show it though. I put on my best poker face and let him continue sharing. After all, I wasn’t exactly celibate during that year and two months in Arkansas. But still, I hadn’t had feelings for anyone I slept with during that time either.

When he told me how he ended up moving from Kansas to Oklahoma, he mentioned that he had arrived on June 15th. My jaw dropped and I stated incredulously, “I got here on June 16th.” He was as blown away by that revelation as I was. But the facts remain: we hadn’t communicated at all between May 10, 2011 and July 31, 2012. Yet, on literally almost the exact same day, we were both unknowingly coming from two totally different directions to set up house a mere 15 miles apart in the same city. Coincidence? No way. There are no accidents, no coincidences. The Universe is a place of organized chaos. I don’t care what anyone thinks: that was the Universe serendipitously winking at us as if to say, “Trust me. I know what I’m doing.”

We finally headed inside and proceeded once again, after more than a year apart, to have the Best Sex Ever. Sex between us had always been amazing. And we didn’t miss a beat; it was as if not a single day had passed. Afterward, we went back outside and sat talking a little longer. He confessed that he had been a little concerned things might get “weird” if we “went there” but he was relieved to discover that wasn’t the case at all; it felt perfectly natural; familiar; comfortable. Ditto for me. After a total of three and a half hours, I needed to head home and he needed to get to bed. We hugged and parted ways…only this time, knowing we would see each other soon rather than another year later.

If I die tomorrow, I am fine with that. I couldn’t have hoped for this; I never would have dreamed that night would happen. And I was on top of the world as I drove home.

I can’t help but wonder, though, what will happen from here. I know I can’t properly grieve the loss of our relationship under these circumstances.  Sex definitely complicates matters. By hooking up when we have both acknowledged still having feelings for one another, regardless of whether or not they would eventually lead to anything more, have we opened up that proverbial can of worms? Will it put me back to square one in the grieving process? What if he suddenly realizes we’ve become too close so he backs off out of fear and ceases all communication with me again? Is this only going to incite drama? The same drama I profess to hate? I don’t know. I certainly hope not. What I do know is, right now, I’m so grateful that he’s back in my life and that he has at least warmed up to the idea of being friends. The definition of “friends” that I had hoped we would be from the start. My feelings for him run far too deep for me not to do this, for me to not take this chance.

I suppose time will answer my burning questions soon enough. Stay tuned…

In Unloving Memory

“Make-believing we’re together,
That I’m sheltered by your heart.
But in and outside I’ve turned to water
Like a teardrop in your palm
And it’s a hard winter’s day, I dream away…
It must have been love, but it’s over now
It was all that I wanted, now I’m living without
It must have been love, but it’s over now
It’s where the water flows…it’s where the wind blows.” ~Roxette, “It Must Have Been Love”

It was definitely love. And it was everything I had ever hoped to have in a relationship…and more.

The relationship might be over now, but the love remains. At least it does for me. I can’t speak for him.

Of course, no relationship is perfect. We had great times, we had horrible times, and every shade of gray in between. I could ramble on for hours about all the fun we had and the dreams we shared. And when I reflect on what once was, that’s right where my mind goes: the good. Selective memory kicks in and I conveniently forget the bad and the ugly.

Why is it that we tend to focus solely on the happy memories after a breakup? Or, we do remember the bad, but play it down; after all, it wasn’t that terrible, right? (Is that my Pisces Ascendant putting the rose-colored glasses on me again?) It would be infinitely less painful to cope with the loss and get to the other side of the grieving process if our selective memories only recalled the negative. When I think of my eight-year relationship, I remember things like watching Animation Domination on Sunday nights, the way he’d bring home scratch-off crosswords for me just because, playing 9-ball on our pool table, cooking together and preparing “assembly line” dinners when the kids still lived at home, lying together in bed taking turn scratching one another’s backs, spontaneous weekend breakfasts at our local mom and pop restaurant…and believe you me, I could go on and on. But if you asked me about the dark side of life with Mr. Wonderful, it’s not so easy. Let’s see…he drank way too much which made him a hateful douche, but that was only because he was feeling neglected by me and that didn’t even become a problem until the last few months we were together…oh, and he could be really aloof which frustrated the bejesus out of me, but that wasn’t too often. (See, there I go again, rationalizing and downplaying. Drat!)

Maybe it’s because it somehow soothes us to recollect the positive. In fact, just now, as I recalled the good times, I found myself smiling. Conversely, as I thought about the bad aspects, I felt uncomfortable. It literally made me antsy to remember him stumbling around drunk after knocking out about a case of Natural Light. I could even hear the sound of the pop-top cans opening, one after another, and I felt the same dread; that oh-goody-here-we-go-again feeling I had when it was actually happening. Is it possible that blocking out the bad is some sort of primitive self-protection mechanism?

It’s akin to remembering a deceased friend or loved one. Think about it: when someone we care for passes away, we say things like, “I’ll miss Aunt Betty so much; she made the best apple pie” or “I can’t believe Uncle Fred is gone; he always made us laugh.” Nobody bothers to mention that Aunt Betty, with all her culinary talents, was a hateful bitch, and good ol’ Uncle Fred was so funny because he was a decrepit drunk. The fact that a person is dead in no way erases the reality of who they were or how they lived. We had no problem overlooking their uglier traits when they were alive; why does – or should – it change when they die? Like a departed friend, we seem to prefer to remember our dead relationships in a more flattering light.

I’m not sure if this is a good thing or a bad thing. In any event, it’s evident that it’s what we are inclined to do. I have read countless “how to get over your ex” articles that recommend replacing our loving memories with ones that remind us why we’re no longer a couple in the first place. In the early weeks and months of our separation, I wasn’t as much sad (at least outwardly) as I was angry. For me, it was simply less painful to be mad at my estranged love than it was to acknowledge the hurt and properly mourn my loss (whatever that means). I would tell anyone who would listen what a worthless, miserable s.o.b. my ex was, and I was never at a loss for detailed examples to justify my feelings. It’s as if it was an attempt on my part to reinforce the anger so I could avoid feeling the sadness. Especially early on, I was a master of denial, always looking for a distraction so that I wouldn’t have to feel. But by doing so, I only delayed the inevitable…and I’m paying dearly for it now.

“I don’t need your loving arms around me
All I need is to be free
That’s what I keep telling myself
And I tell you, you don’t need me
I don’t need children in my old age
No more cluttered leaves around  the trees
And I don’t need you, baby
And I know you don’t need  me
We don’t need each other baby…we don’t need each other baby…
…or do we?” ~ Kenny Rogers, “I Don’t Need You”