Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Castaway Part V... Off the Island and a little bit about the Whale

Chuck Noland was stranded on a desert island - stripped down, leaned out by isolation, cut off from the life he knew and its daily rhythms.  That's what widowhood after 33 years of wedlock feels like at first. Once you lived in a marriage, suddenly you were a adrift and washed up on an unknown shore. It feels like you may never get off that island. You have moments where you almost resign yourself to the idea that you will forever mourn the loss of your old life and scratch out a barren, joyless existence. Chuck Noland, face with the formidable barrier of the reef and the lack of materials to devise a sail felt trapped as well. He couldn't reasonably imagine rescuing himself with the materials he had available.Without intervention, he could see no way off.

Noland was trapped four years. Four long years.  I've met people trapped in grief for that long and longer. They fail to get find or accept the resources to get off the island. They remain preoccupied with the loss, crippled by longing for the loved one who is no longer there, unable to find purpose or meaning. I believe that the loss of a spouse if very different from the loss of a parent or a child -- and that each of these losses have their own nuances. None is worse than the other. I've experience all and I can say that the loss of a spouse, to me,  is more like the loss of my life and my identity than any thing else.  Parents raise us up to set us free; we raise up children, not expecting to keep them forever. We experience little deaths when we move away from our parents, when our nest is emptied. In no way is the physical death of either "less" than the death of a spouse, but it is different.  A spouse is someone we commit share life with "until death do us part."  We become one. And as C.S. Lewis wrote, losing a spouse is much like an amputation. In order to not remain trapped on the island of grief-stricken widowhood, you must hold out hope that there IS LIFE out there, just beyond that barrier reef. You need to dream; you need to patiently (gulp, I said the word) believe that escape is possible with the right tools.

"And one day my logic was proven all wrong because the tide came in, and gave me a sail. And now, here I am. I'm back." The island changed him, but at the core Chuck was still Chuck. Parts of who "he" was came back to serve him rather than to control him. Once he was a slave to the clock and to the calendar, now he used his knowledge of these things to purposefully plan his escape. Where the old Chuck was constantly trying to race against minutes, he was now working with the slow, steady reliability and timeliness of the forces of nature. As you find your way off the island of your grief, you will find that you learned a lot being married and you learned a lot as you were thrust into life on your own. Putting the best of the old with the new resiliency and it is a matter of waiting upon Providence to send in the key to escape with the tide. He knows what we need better than we do and Philippians 4:19  tells us "... my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus."

Watching Chuck launch his rickety raft off the island and row headlong into those terrifying waves makes me tense up every time. I'm still impressed by how that rickety thing that didn't look safe and didn't look pretty made it over such an overwhelming obstacle. It took faith to depart from that island. Four years before he was flying above the clouds, his life on course, finding himself in a horrifying struggle against the power of the ocean which spit him out on that rocky shore. Now we see him bravely turning his back on that island and venturing forth with faith into the same ocean. That's faith. Belief in action that there *is* something better out there, that sitting on that island and rotting is not "life."  For me, the knowledge that Pat loved the Lord and that his death wasn't some grim finality made a huge difference in my attitude and my unwillingness to set up camp on the island for the long haul. I also completely believe that God has plans for me, good plans, plans that are not mean to harm me but to see me prosper (Jeremiah 29:11). I have faith that all things work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose. Just because there is a season where I'm blinded by tears or facing rocky uphill climbs, I have known all along that I can't lose heart because one day I'll see what He was doing and I know it's going to be for good greater than I can imagine.

This is where I have to mention about the whale - this is getting too long for one sharing opportunity - but that whale represents to me God's presence. (I've got much more to write about this that I probably will at a later time). When Chuck gets past that barrier, past his long,dark night of the soul (four years worth), in the dead of night he encounters the peaceful presence of that huge whale. The whale, with all its majesty,bellows, exhales, submerges and reappears on the other side of that rickety raft, casting its peaceful, benevolent eye on Chuck. One flip of a fin or turn of the tail and that whale could crush Chuck, instead it is on one side, then the other, a protective guardian. It vanishes below the surface and yet you know it is there. There is a wonderful song by Mark Heard, a man who also died young of a heart attack and is with the Lord today.  The song talks about how we so often do not realize the "strong Hand of love hidden in the shadows."

I'm on that rickety raft like Chuck.I'm out on the sea on the way to living this new life as whoever He has planned for me to be.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Castaway (Part III)...

And now time for part III of the comparison of my past 10 months with Castaway. It's apparent to me now that this will not be done in three parts. I'm verbose and a lot has happened, a lot has changed in me and around me. REMEMBER, please, that this is not necessarily where I am right now. This is a lot of "hindsight is 20/20" reflection. With that.....One thing Chuck couldn't do was get off that island. He could not get past the barrier reef. He would try but the huge waves would send him crashing back. My barrier reef has less physical than it has been emotional/spiritual; my barrier reef has been my loss of identity and the ability to see myself in a new light. For most of my life my identify has been as part of a union, a very strong union that had survived some very big storms but could not withstand the division of death. Coming to terms with "aloneness" and accepting myself as a singularity, recreating myself as "me" instead of part of "us," this has been my hurdle.

Chuck had purpose in his old life - loving Kelly with plans to marry her and keeping things smoothly oiled at FedEx. That purpose helped him to focus on staying alive on that island and gave him hope.  The thought of Kelly back in his arms kept him alive. The intent to deliver the one package that he chose not to open gave him a sense of continuity of purpose that helped him hang on to his identity. The barrier reef defeated his purpose - but only temporarily.  Temporarily can be a short time, but it can also be longer than we like. The key is that it is not permanent. Chuck had a purpose which enabled him to work toward the hope that the island was not his final residence.

A portion of my purpose was buried with Pat. After all, unlike Chuck's desire to reunite with Kelly, I knew from the get go that reuniting with Pat in this lifetime would never be an option. Therefore, I've had to pull from other parts of my identity in order to give me a reason to hang on to some semblance of sanity. I've  also had to dig and untangle the knotted purpose of my life and extricate the single cord of my own purpose as "Glynis," the stand-alone entity/

Faced with that barrier reef and a seeming inability to make it over that reef, Chuck had to come to terms with life on the island. He said, ""I had power over *nothing*. And that's when this feeling came over me like a warm blanket. I knew, somehow, that I had to stay alive. Somehow. I had to keep breathing. Even though there was no reason to hope."  He had to look around that island and find resources that would enable him to survive. Action had to be taken and often it was painful and exhausting.

Sometimes the tide brought in useful items from the plane crash that greatly aided Chuck in his survival. Lessons learned in my marriage have surfaced, as well, to help me survive this unexpected life.  Chuck was able to use those blessings as tools to scratch out a life on that island.

When Chuck made it back to civilization, he was faced with loss all over again. Kelly was gone - she had a new life, one that he was not part of.  He was faced with loss but he was also faced with possibility.

"I had power over *nothing*. And that's when this feeling came over me like a warm blanket. I knew, somehow, that I had to stay alive. Somehow. I had to keep breathing. Even though there was no reason to hope. And all my logic said that I would never see this place again. So that's what I did. I stayed alive. I kept breathing. And one day my logic was proven all wrong because the tide came in, and gave me a sail. And now, here I am. I'm back."

Castaway Part IV

Part IV. It seems to be the proclivity of man to not appreciate things properly until they are gone. Continuing to compare my first ten months of widowhood with Castaway, Chuck became keenly aware of the things that he once assumed were always going to be part of his life like ice, fire, knives, dentists around the corner, companionship... I also became keenly aware of the things that were no longer present in my life.

There are things in a marriage that one truly takes for granted. Waking up next to someone every morning. Having someone who says, "Are you ok?" when you sigh, groan, scream, or perhaps make a loud bang as you wipe out.There is someone there to laugh with you and cry with you. There are so many pleasant things that you don't truly appreciate until they are gone. I was blessed to have a husband who loved to give me back/neck rubs. Driving in the car, if I was at the wheel, I'd get a neck rub. Sitting in church. Watching TV. My neck has been so tight since he left this orb because the daily ministrations are gone.  Twirling my hair - wherever we were, particularly sitting in church, Pat always had his arm around me twirly my hair. Sometimes it would even hurt because he'd be so absentmindedly doing it that he wouldn't realize it was too much. He also would really muss it up and shrug if I got annoyed, then go back to twirling.  I can't remember a day that went past that he didn't compliment me, tell me how beautiful he thought I was, or let me know in some way that he still had the hots for me even after all the years. Women always complain about toilet seats left up, trails of laundry, misplaced items, the last piece of something eaten. Lose your spouse of 33 years and I'll guarantee you that you would jump for joy if you fell in the toilet at night because that meant he was there.The passive aggressive battles over which way the toilet paper should be placed on the roller, waking up to dishes from his midnight snacks.

You miss what you no longer have; strangely enough, this means the bad with the good, the "meh" with the wonderful. You think you have time, therefore, you gripe, you forget to be thankful, Marriage is an amazing opportunity to come to terms with your own humanity and someone else's. It is a time to exercise forgiveness and humility, to learn to put another's needs before your own. You learn about specks in someone else's eye and planks in your own, up close and personal. Iron sharpens iron, if you don't kill each other, you will be stronger in the end.

In the beginning of the story, Chuck extols the virtues of the clock - "We live or die by the clock." Chuck lives in a world where time is of the essence. As for me, one of my life mottoes has been from "IF--" by Rudyard Kipling: "If you can fill the unforgiving minute with 60 seconds worth of distance run..." Time is relentless and as Chuck says, "Relentless is our goal." Suddenly, days marked by the ticking of the clock were gone. Used to time broken down in seconds, minutes, hours, with must-dos and the all-powerful schedule to comply with, Chuck now finds that time can be relentless in a completely different way. He also must build a new personal of relentlessness that includes patience, something heretofore not a part of the equation. Not that my time now is as unrelentingly slow and focused as Chuck's became on that island, but I deeply regret the constant motion, the time spent meeting goals and conquering to-do lists. This is not to say that those goals that I met haven't served me well - in fact, I thank God for the foresight to do some of the things I did. However, I wish that more time had been filled with the simplicity of enjoying our life together. The clock stopped on our marriage far earlier than I ever had imagined it would. Job 1:21 - "The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.” Let this be a cautionary tale.

Psalm 90:12 says "Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom."  In James 4:14 we are reminded, "Yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes."

Next up: The Whale. What the Tide Brings In. Facing other losses.  Not necessarily in the same post. :)






Sunday, April 23, 2017

All is not lost, so it seems...


Yep, I'm the kind of girl who makes Venn diagrams. I've read several things about how one can tend to lose one's self in a relationship. I figured that a 34 year relationship, 33 of that in the 24/7 state that is marriage, that quite possibly I could have lost a lot. No, I did not.  Considering that marriage is designed by God and that I have found no shame, only honor, in being a helpmate to my spouse, I can look at my diagram and soundly say that I am still who I was. I'm just being forced to operate in a different gear.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Castaway...(Part II)

And back to comparing this past year of my life to Tom Hanks adventures in Castaway. The first part was probably close to two weeks ago because my life has been so crazy busy.  If you wanted to reread it, its on my blog: http://glynis-p.blogspot.com/  In Castaway, Chuck Noland found himself on a deserted island with one main focus: keep breathing. I found myself in the same place after Pat died. Purpose itself becomes confusing, so it must be simplified to what once was automatic.Every day becomes a matter of inhale, exhale.

One thing Pat was always saying throughout our marriage was "We are One." We were a unit with a joint purpose. He would get so annoyed if a business would insist on only speaking to him and not me. He'd say, "She's MY wife. We are One." As that "one" unit, we divided up the tasks of life and each did what was required to keep the life that we shared on course. Chuck's travels on the plane were like our marriage - we had a destination and purpose. For 34 years together we headed there.

As unexpectedly as Chuck's plane broke apart mid-air and plunged into the sea, so the life that we had came crashing down when Pat died at 55. Chuck could not fly through the air and complete his business without that plane. Without Pat, our marriage was no longer a vehicle to carry me further on my journey in this life.  Just as Chuck was forced to cling to his raft while being tossed on the tumultuous sea with no clue where he was or what would become of him, I, also had to cling to something to keep me afloat. My something was my faith in Christ. It's a buoyancy outside of ourselves which kept Chuck and I afloat.

In  2 Corinthians 11:25, Paul lays out the perils he has endured which included, "three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea," Prosperity preachers like to treat itching ears to the idea that nothing scary will happen to you once you are a believer. That is far from the truth - Paul goes on to say, "I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren; I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure."  He certainly didn't escape hardship but he did discover something marvelous and uplifting through it.  In Romans 8 he proclaims this wonderful truth, "For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord." On my island, I've been learning this, too.

As "one" unit, Pat and I had divided up duties. He had his jobs; I had mine. Suddenly last July, I was faced with all the jobs and doing them underscored his absence.  I was so deep in grief it was hard to keep afloat, much less figure out how to do his jobs. The Pool Fiasco illustrates that (look back to last summer's images of my deep green pool and the toxic concoction I created in that giant cauldron trying to kill it). In Castaway, we see Chuck trying to provide for himself - his clumsy struggles to crack coconuts, his comical spear fishing attempts, forcing himself to eat things that are gross simply in order to survive. He was also doing things he had never done because he *had* to, similarly I found myself doing many things because I *had* to. I'm sure that I've looked just as hilarious as I have tried to take on Pat's tasks in order to keep my life and house going. Learning to laugh at myself and to let go of perfectionist expectations has been key. Try, try again. Through it all, though separated from Pat by death, I was never separated from the love of Christ.

With every success there is the satisfaction of, "Hey, I *did* this!" even if you don't want to actually be doing it anyway. Unclogging a drain. Changing a very high ceiling light (that he was always sure I'd break the glass globe of or fall off of something trying to do). Killing big spiders. Making minor repairs.  I love when Chuck finally makes fire, he dances around it, beating his chest, so filled with relief and joy - I have definitely had my moments like that.

The reality of the matter is that Chuck was stuck - by circumstances out of his control - on an island that he didn't want to be on. This past ten months has been a Philippians 4 learning experience for me. The Apostle Paul say in verses 12 and 13: "I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength." I can't say with truthfulness that I've "learned the secret of being content" but I'm getting there.

And again, this is too long to finish my comparison - some of the rest is already written in another piece and I'll wait a few days to share it. God bless. :)

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Castaway...(Part I)

If I were to liken my experiences over the past eight-and-a-half months to anything, I think elements of the movie Castaway are a pretty decent fit. I very much identify with feeling like my life as I knew it was ripped apart by turbulence and went hurtling into the deepest, darkest ocean. I also feel like I've had to engage in a battle of wits with myself in order to survive this ordeal. Mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually I've had to conquer a slew of challenges. Like Chuck Noland, I've also been working my way back to "home" and yet, unlike the protagonist of Castaway, I have been finding out I must have a brand new life a whole lot sooner than he did. The old one is irrevocably gone.

Chuck Noland is a very busy man with a very busy life. He has an agenda and goals he must meet. That's how I was - I was very much consumed by the things that needed doing and I valued the scheduled down time we had very zealously. Just like Chuck and Kelly had a romantic moment before he took off on the ill-fated flight, Pat and I had had a wonderful weekend - moments of relative peace, contentment and promise which belied the coming storm. Chuck was on board a jet, scurrying to solve a business problem in Malaysia, flying over the ocean when danger struck. I was cleaning up from a nice barbeque in the comfort of my home.

Pat's pain was like the initial turbulence. Suddenly it grew alarming. The next 8 days were akin to Chuck's experiences on that plane until it crashed and plunged him into the sea - ready to take him down to a watery grave with it. The life raft tied to his wrist that inflated and pulled him to the surface - that was my faith in the One Who will always rescue me and cause me to rise above the waters. When the emergency supplies snagged (goods which Chuck could have utilized to survive), they ripped off with a tug and he had to rely on the raft alone - or like me, on faith alone. All the "emergency supplies" that are a marriage sank with Pat's death. In one tragic catastrophe, it seemed like it was me against the ocean. (And yet, the Strong Hand of love was always there).

The struggle to the surface is real. Will you be under and stay under? Will the weight of the plane (aka the lost life) drag you down to the watery depths with it? Would it be easier to just relax into grief and despondency, to let the wreckage and sea overwhelm you? I'm a fighter, sinking without a fight was not part of "me." It's instinctual to fight, to engage in the struggle to rise to the surface - but useless to flail around just looking at all the dangers in terror. One must choose to unleash that raft, allow it to inflate and pull you, albeit choking and gasping, to the top and seek the next step once you get there.

Coming to the surface, the ocean looked like mayhem. An inferno was ensuing, Chuck almost got sucked into an engine... he *had* to THINK and paddle away. He survives to find himself in the middle of the South Pacific, deep dark depths of the ocean below him, nothing but waves surrounding him. I rose to the surface of the eight day ordeal of Pat's death to find myself in the middle of a dark ocean, too. Chuck lost consciousness overnight and washed ashore on an island - I shock-walked my way through a week of preparations and found myself washing ashore on an unknown land, a rocky, desolate place called Widowhood.

Chuck begins to explore his surroundings with one main priority guiding him: survival. Maslow's Hierarchy of Need says that we instinctively seek to fulfill basic physiological needs and safety needs on the lower levels. This is where we diverge a bit because sleep/food were not on my agenda during the first tumultuous weeks. Some people eat their way through grief - not I. So while Chuck was worried about food/water, I did join him in the shelter and safety hunt. I sought out info on what to do about our mortgage, title, etc, etc. I was VERY concerned about safety and within a month after Pat's death had my Conceal Carry Weapon's license. I also absolutely had to finish my Master's Degree - my husband dying in the middle of my last class was at once a curse and a blessing. I had to on some level hold myself together in order to 1) complete my degree and 2) maintain my 4.0 GPA. My new job was starting two months after his funeral - so like Chuck, I was occupying myself gleaning things I could use from whatever washed onto the shore of my island.

I don't recall ever hearing Chuck express denial over what happened to him. He accepted the plane crash and his situation with an active desire to survive and to turn things around. One of the stages of grief is supposedly denial. From the get-go, I knew that I knew that I knew that Pat was gone, that he was never coming back and that my life would never be the same. I could cry a river and it would never bring him back. Oh, cry I did (and do), but it is emotional release more than it is despondency.
The motive of survival is a place where Chuck and I diverge - he was actively trying to survive in order to return to his old life. I was actively trying to survive to do what? To discover who I would now be and what God had in store. Chuck had a deep desire to return to his "normal" - I knew that a return to my "normal" would never be possible. However, I did have a goal of finding parts of the integral parts of the "old" me and to see them incorporated into whatever the future had to hold...

This is Part I - there is more coming. It was just getting far too long for one posting. So, don't worry, lol, I'll get into the differences regarding the ever-present company of God (definitely more powerful than Wilson!), companionship, challenges faced, etc.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

I'll take this heart break and tuck it away...

An Irish headstone says this:  "Death leaves a heartache/no one can heal/love leaves a memory/no one can steal."  In the midst of my crazy, busy life, heartache often stops me in my tracks. I often find myself in a place where I need to just suck it up and keep a stiff upper lip or else I will not be able to stifle the flood the wants to cascade forth. As I've often said, I refuse to succumb to despondency. I do my best to bite my lip and force myself to save the tears for later. If I turn my thoughts to the memories of love and the things that make me smile instead of fixating on the loss, this works well. I do my best to live my life, each day enjoying the happiness that God grants me; in the midst of this, I make my visits to his grave, knowing he is not in it, but using that time I've specifically allotted to let out the anger or sorrow, whichever emotion chooses to rise up. Sometimes it is just poignant nostalgia and a sobbing, "Why?"

Last night I had a dream that included - for the first time appearing together in one of my dreams - both Pat and my mother.  I thought this was great because they always enjoyed each other so much. Seeing them together was so fun. In my dream, I forgot a bag on top a refrigerator at a store because I left due to a stomachache (one actually woke me out of the dream). Pat offered to go back to the store and pick it up for me before it closed. This made me smile because that was how he was -- if I ran out of contact lens solution, he would offer to run out and get it, even if it was late. No matter what it was - now he most likely used the time to sneak a sneaky cigarette. At some point in the dream, I was buckling my grandson, Zane, in a carseat while talking to Wendy when I realized that Zane was born after my mother had passed and she couldn't really be there. As Pat headed off to get my bag, I realized he couldn't be there either. The dream faded and I woke up with the very real stomachache.

Kenny Chesney sings, "I'll take this heart break and tuck it away and save it for a rainy day."  I think there are some that think it is cold or heartless to adopt this perspective. I don't. I call it grit. I call it survival of the fittest.  It's the drive to DO THIS that has kept me afloat and kept me sane during this awful eight and a half months since his life ended and mine changed irrevocably.

It's no secret that lately there ain't no escape
And that I've been waking up alone
Just me and the TV and a sinking feeling
That you ain't ever coming home

But today,
The tears ain't gonna hit the floor
'Cause the boat's in the bay
And it's calling my name
So I'm heading on out the door

'Cause the sun's too bright,
The sky's too blue
Beer's too cold to be thinking about you
Gonna take this heartbreak and tuck it away
Save it for a rainy day

Death - I used a word up there - irrevocable. Irreversible, unalterable, unchangeable, immutable, final, binding, permanent. He's on the other side of that and until I join him, this change in this life cannot be changed. My love for him will never change. My memories of our life together are always with me. This is comforting and I can lean on that whenever need be. But the sun is too bright, and the sky is too blue...