Taking An Opportunity To Give Thanks

Giving thanks has been something that I have been thinking a lot about today.  Where would I be if it were not for people close to me, and even complete strangers who have helped shaped the events of the past 12 months.  There have been many moments of sadness interspersed with moments of great joy.  Becoming a widower is not something that you plan for, it just happens.  Life is a journey, never promised to be an easy path.

I’m thankful to my band of brothers, Scott, Chris and Kevin for remaining with me into the wee hours of the night that last night before Lori passed away that Tuesday morning.  I’m thankful to Scott’s wife Darla, having experience in long term care, to see the signs and allow for Scott to be there with me at the hospital for those last 15 hours.

I’m thankful for my friend Stephanie for getting Lori to laugh for one final time, telling her that she would kick my butt if I didn’t behave after she was gone.

I’m thankful for my parents, my brother Carl and his wife Courtney and Lori’s Aunt Eugenia for coming to my house after I left the hospital and just being there with me for a few hours when the pain was the most raw.  The last thing I needed at that time was to go home to an empty house.

I’m thankful that my brother Carl, 11 years my junior, suddenly became by biggest defender and protector during those first days.

I’m thankful that my brother Clark was able to make the trip to California and sitting in my family room, quiet at times, talking at times. Even in those dark moments, we managed to laugh at times up until 3 AM to Betty White’s Off Their Rockers.  Ours was a relationship that had gone stagnant and was reborn during the time of loss.

I’m thankful for my brother Clay, who actually approached Lori’s casket at the funeral home with his son.  When both of our grandmothers passed away, he never did that.

I’m thankful that Lori’s funeral director was a friend and didn’t treat it as a business transaction.  

I’m thankful for the words that Lori’s Aunt Paula shared with me after the funeral service that Lori’s father had shared with his brother Dennis that I had done a good job of taking care of Lori.  Those were words I needed to hear.

I’m thankful for Tom and Coleeta Cash, who helped craft my first getaway after the funeral.  My new love for the outdoors was born on that trip to the Soo, along with a reborn love for strawberry rhubarb pie.

I’m thankful for strangers in the hotel bar at the Ramada Inn in Grayling, Michigan.  I met a widow and widower in the hotel bar that had just gotten married four months prior, giving me hope for the future.

I’m thankful for pool parties at my house last summer.  Nieces and nephews make life more tolerable.

I’m thankful for time in Tahoe with my brother’s family and building relationships with my brother’s family.  Added bonus, I climbed a mountain.

I’m thankful for time spent with my friend Becky in San Diego.  We had an instant connection back when we worked for Sunrise.  There were many tears shared on that visit.  I’m even more thankful for that friendship.

I’m thankful for friends far and wide from California to Washington to Georgia to Texas to British Columbia to Michigan and even down the street.  You have made a difference.  Your encouragement has been invaluable.

I’m thankful for complete strangers, whom I’ve never met in person, who have discovered me through Facebook, who have talked about me inspiring them.  Thank you for interacting with me and sharing your experiences.  I’m richer because of it.

I’m thankful that I have become a “go-to” babysitter for my brother Clay and wife Erin.  It’s been exhausting and rewarding.  When you have kids sleeping overnight at your house, I don’t think one ever really sleeps.

I’m thankful for ladies I’ve known since childhood, Stephanie, Dawn and Amy, who have lost spouses, and have been incredible sources of encouragement.

I’m thankful for the Hodson/Collier clan for officially adopting me and inviting me to family events.  You make me feel like family.

I’m thankful for relationships that have started forming with Vandeventer cousins.  Growing up, our family dynamic did not allow for this. Sadly one of these relationships started because of loss similar to mine.  That cousin and I are planning a trip to Colorado in the fall.  I think Grandma and Grandpa would be proud.

I’m thankful for Lori’s memory.  She may have left this earth, she never left my heart.

I’m thankful for tears.

I’m thankful for life.

Live your life giving thanks.

Sex Does Not Equal Love

The idea of this post has been on my mind for some time.  I’m actually a little uncomfortable writing it.  Most of my posts are rated “G” and at most “PG,” but I believe the message holds a significant amount of importance.  As I work on my book, I’ve been having to touch uncomfortable subjects.  Sex is one of subjects I don’t like to discuss, my opinion being, those who talk about it a lot probably don’t do it that much.

In 2011, I reached out to my friend Stephen Johnson.  There was one aspect of Lori’s illness that had taken something away from me, something that I guess was taken for granted.  As Stephen sat with me in my living room, I struggled to come up with the words to express what was going through my mind.  I mean, Lori was just two rooms away lying in bed completing her dialysis treatment.  I shared at that moment that I was struggling with the acceptance that my sexual relationship was over.  It was not for lack of desire or love for one another.  It simply just wasn’t medically possible.

At the time I was thinking, I’m 37 years old, I just cannot accept that this part of my life is over.

Stephen had a feeling that this is what I was reaching out to him to discuss.  I have no idea how he knew, lucky for me he was prepared.

Many other men in my situation would have sought out that “pleasure” elsewhere.  I’m not wired that way.  Call me old school, but sexual relations belong within the bounds of marriage, and on top of that, sex is dangerous, people die.

And then I learned a lot about intimacy over the next three years.

Sex does not equal love, and through the ending of a sexual relationship, it was then that I learned what love really is.  I Corinthians Chapter 13 gives up a good manual for what love is.  Love is patient, love is kind.  It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices in the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.  Love never fails.”

That sounds like a really good blueprint for marriage and it takes you to the road of intimacy.  During those final three years of our lives together, that Chapter became the blueprint for the love between us.  You gain intimacy just by being close to one another.  I’ve learned that there is nothing more special that someone lying their head on your should as she goes to sleep.  There’s nothing more special than holding each other’s hand as your driving down the road.  

Many people were surprised to learn that we slept in the same bed up until the time she went to the hospital for the last time.  It was about intimacy, about being close to one another.  It was about being there if she needed me, whether it be for addressing the alarms on the dialysis machine, or if she got sick in the night, or needed help getting to and from the bathroom.  I don’t think I got a good night of sleep in over three years.  But I was always ready.

Intimacy also brings healing.

It has been shared with very few people the burden that Lori carried with her for years.  Lori was a victim of something that no person should ever have to endure.  Lori was repeatedly sexually abused over a period of years by a person that was supposed to be in a position of trust. She immediately told someone who should have been able to have been trusted and she was not believed. It wasn’t until that she was in her 20’s that she had the courage to speak up again and let it be known what had happened to her. I was that person she shared that she trusted to share that “dirty” little secret.

There are select others that know what took place all those years ago. Even though she did nothing wrong, it was her badge of shame and it skewed her view on sex her entire life. She was able to come to terms with it, she became strong and stood up to her perpetrator and let it be known what he did to her in those final weeks she lived. She forgave her abuser, even though he never admitted to her what he did. I so badly wanted for him to admit what had happened, what he had done, and for him to ask her forgiveness. Lori didn’t need his admission. She had forgiven him. I believe I wanted that admission more for me than for her.

Lori learned what love us. We learned what love was. We learned what intimacy was. We lived it. I struggle writing of what happened to Lori. It is part of our story. It is part of our relationship. It is part of what made us strong.

Sex does not equal love, nor does love equal sex. Got intimacy?

Making Plans For Another Transition

For the better part of the last ten months, I have been a man in mourning.  Not a place that I pictured myself 20 years ago when I was a college student and you are making plans to fulfill your hopes and dreams.  For four and a half years, I was my wife’s primary caregiver, the hardest and most humbling job I’ve ever had.  It can be overwhelming having someone depend on you for every need.  You learn to sleep with one eye open.  The last year was the hardest.  Lori was never the same after her medical episode in June of 2012.  She was weaker, she was more dependent.  

I have lost myself these past five years.  My hopes, my dreams were all put on hold.  I was okay with that.  Many people would people in my position would have walked away, many men (and women) have walked away from the scenario I lived.

It may be strange to some, but I began thinking about my future early on.  Maybe it was because I had to do something as I had been running non-stop by four and a half years.  My brother Clark, tells the story of us talking about the future much better than I can during those early moments after Lori’s passing.  He talks about it in his blog and you can read about it here.  http://www.familytrek.org/when-death-brings-you-home

I’m going to move.

Not next week, not next month, not even this year.  I’m setting up an 18 month plan to enable myself to live the life that I want to be able to live, without regrets.

I have wanted to move to the San Diego area since last summer.  I’m constantly looking at real estate and rental listings for places like Vista, San Marcos, Carlsbad, Encinitas, and when I’m really dreaming, La Jolla.

As I make plans to make this life change, I also have to consider what I am leaving behind.  I live in the same town that I have lived in since I was five years old.  Some of these people I have known since I was in kindergarten.  I treasure those friendships.  There is something comfortable about their being people in your life who have known you practically forever.

Most of my family lives in Indiana.  My parents are here and two of my brothers and their families are here.  

I’ve also thought about the fact that my parents are getting older.  They are in reasonably good health.  I’m sure they won’t be thrilled about my plans, but one thing that I can say about my parents is that they have never discouraged us from following our dreams.  They may offer their advice, but they don’t try to dictate.  As I think about it, I really do not see them often anyway.  Part of my 18 month plan is ensuring that I block time out for travel to Indiana annually.

Since Lori passed away, I have been closer to all my brothers and their families than when she was alive.  I have spent more time with them in the last ten months than I have in the last ten years.  While I have enjoyed that time, I cannot live vicariously through them.  It is not fair to them and is certainly not fair to me.

I’ve gotten lots of good advice over the last several months.  A good friend told me that if I was going to move away, he’d miss me, but to make sure that I was running to something and not away from something.  I am chasing my dream.

My therapist has taught me it’s okay to not apologize for feeling a certain way and to not apologize for having dreams.

And support is coming from unexpected places.  I’m hearing from complete strangers who now follow this blog and give encouragement.  Lori’s sister has told me that Lori would want me to do this.  Friends of my generation who have lost spouses have encouraged me.  Even a cousin that I had not spoken to in 25 years has become a big support.  I reached out to her after she lost her husband to offer my support, but in many ways, she has probably helped me more than I’ve helped her.

This transition is a little scarier, I knew the Lori was going to pass, I just did not know when.

I control the timetable on this transition.

I am chasing a dream.

I am living life on my terms.

Lori would be my biggest cheerleader.

 

How We Became Mr. & Mrs. V

Sixteen years ago tonight, I went to work for the last time as a single man. Lori and I were leaving town to get married. Many people may not know the story of how we became Mr. & Mrs. V. Here is our story.

It was January, 1996. I was attempting to start my life new. I had made some wrong turns along the way and I was taking the time to right the ship. I had no idea at the time that righting the ship of my life that had fallen terribly off course would involve meeting the person who would love me for who I was, despite my many flaws. For the first time in my life, I was pursued and not the pursuer, and I was completely oblivious to it. Lori told others that the first time she saw me, she knew that she was going to marry me. Who knew that romance could bloom among two twenty-somethings at a nursing home in Lyons, Indiana.

Fast forward 18 months, and it was clear that our relationship was progressing toward marriage. Lori’s family had made it clear that they did not approve of our relationship. Lori’s father thought I was a bum. Some bum, I was working two jobs, trying to save money. I was not the bum in this scenario, but I have moved on from my anger as it relates to Lori’s parents and I may tell that story another day.

I remember when I asked Lori to marry me, it was October 4, 1997 and we were sitting in her apartment. We had talked about getting married before, but just casual conversation, and if we did get married, it would have to be our way and on our terms, because her father would never allow it to happen. There was no ring, I had very little money, but I knew that I wanted to marry Lori and she wanted to marry me. I promised Lori when I asked her to marry me that we would go places and do things that she would never expect. That was a pretty bold statement coming from a man who was making less than 20,000 and was working two jobs. We quietly went about making plans for our wedding that would occur on February 28, 1998.

On February 26, 1998, we left town for Tennessee. Our original plan was to be married by a Justice of the Peace in Bowling Green, Kentucky on February 27. As we traveled, as was typical early on in our relationship, we changed our plans. Before the days of smart phones and easily accessible internet, Lori got out all of the travel brochures, we stopped at a pay phone and made plans to be married at Chapel in the Village in Gatlinburg on February 28.

We continued our drive south and as we approached Nashville, a raging thunderstorm came across and we abandoned our plans to get to Crossville, Tennessee and found a hotel in Lebanon, Tennessee. It was a pit and it became the joke of our entire marriage that Lori was to never, ever pick out a hotel. I had worked all night the night before and I was asleep at 7:00 PM and we headed out the next morning.

We arrived in Gatlinburg, a town that became ours. It was a town the symbolized our beginning and we always thought of it fondly. We got our marriage license and were enjoying the town, we paid for our ceremony, $250. That was a lot of money to us back then.

At 11:00 AM on Saturday, February 28, 1998, we became husband and wife. I never will forget what I was thinking as we walked down the street afterward. I was thinking to myself, what have I done, this is forever. As Lori and I were walking, there was a man in his mid-50’s walking with his family talking about all the crazy people who come to this town to get married and then he sees us, walking down the street, married all of 30 minutes. That man told us were in the for the ride of our lives. He was right.

Our wedding, February 28, 1998

Our wedding, February 28, 1998

Because of the way we got married, we had to make our rounds when we got home, tell her family, tell my family, tell each of our grandmothers. I remember when we got to my parents house, my parents weren’t home. My brother Clark, who was 18 at the time wanted to know what was up. I told him Lori and I got married. I never will forget his response, “oh wow.” My brother Carl, who was only 13 wanted to know what that made him.

For as much as Lori’s parents didn’t acknowledge my existence, my parents made up for how they embraced their first daughter. They treated her as my equal. I don’t think there was ever a cross word between Lori and my parents. Just about anyone who ever came into contact with Lori loved her. I don’t think she had any enemies.

I think back and I did keep my promise to Lori. I promised her that she would see and do things that she had never done before. My sweet wife had never been farther west than Effingham, Illinois until we were married. She went to California twice, Las Vegas, Arizona, just about every state in the midwest and points south.

While Lori experienced seeing and going to places she never imagined, she also got to see salvation. Lori didn’t have a relationship with Jesus until after we got married. She was baptized three months after we got married. I helped to lead her to that relationship. Because of that, Lori is getting to experience that everlasting life that is promised to those that believe. It makes me tear up just thinking about it.

As I approach our anniversary this year, I feel such a sense of emptiness. This event means more to me than anyone else living. I think about the life we had and the love we shared. When hospice was called for us last April, things were getting tough taking care of her. Lori was starting to lose control of functions that most of us take for granted. On that Thursday before she went into the hospital on Tuesday after breaking her hip, she was in an awful mess because of that loss of function. I told Lori that she needed to get in the tub. Lori had become so tiny and frail and she begged me not to have her do that. I remember saying to her that to please let me help her do that because I may not have many more chances. . I carried her into the bathroom and lowered her down into the tub. I helped her clean up. I allowed her to soak in the tube for a while and I went to another room and just cried. I knew that my days as Lori’s husband were numbered.

I don’t wish Lori back. I wouldn’t want her back the way she was.

It’s this week that I’m missing her more than ever.

Happy Anniversary Lori. I love you.

It’s Time To Broaden The Circle

I was married for 15 years.

Most of the time, in my mind, I am still married, until I am jolted back into reality.  Someone recently asked me if I had applied for my $255 Social Security death benefit.  I did that very early on in the process as I needed to ensure that Lori’s Social Security Disability payments would stop.  When I received the transcript of the interview, one of those jolts came.  The transcript read, “the marriage began on February 28, 1998 in Sevier County, Tennessee and ended on May 21, 2013 in Indianapolis, Indiana.

When you are married for 15 years, in some respects, you lose some individual identity.  Biblically, this is what is supposed to happen.  Ephesians 5:31 tells us, For This Reason A Man Shall Leave His Father And Mother And Shall Be Joined To His Wife, And The Two Shall Become One Flesh.”  I don’t begrudge the identity of being part of a couple.  There is something special being fifty percent of Chris and Lori.

But now there is a problem and this is not intended to a knock to my current batch of friends.  Most of you are part of a couple, and I am a single.  One of the things that we had in common, we no longer have in common anymore.  I value and appreciate our friendships, but most of you are focused on enriching your marriages, raising your children and balancing that with spending time with your extended families.  These are all great tings.  I’ve enjoyed all the fun times we’ve had together.

I need to make new friends.

No, I’m not saying good-bye to current friendships.  I value those relationships and the time we do get to spend together.

Why do I need to make new friends?  I’ve spent most every weekend at home alone since October.  When I leave work on Friday afternoon, there are some weekends that I don’t speak to another human being until I go back to work on Monday.

It’s time to find friends who share some of my new interests.

Friends to hit the trails with on a spectacular hike through the woods.

Friends who embrace a sense of adventure and want to go kayaking for the weekend

Friends who want to take that weekend trip to Vegas, or New Orleans, or Chicago or the beach.

Friends that on the spur of the moment, go catch some live music.

From this day forward, I refuse to stay home all weekend and not interact with other people unless that is what I choose to do.

Friends are friends forever.  I’m broadening my circle because one cannot have too many friends.

Another Transition

There will come a point in my life when the 20th and 21st of the month will not have the stark significance they possess in present time.  The 20th of the month marks the final night of horror that would begin a transition I was never ready to face.  Lori and I had our final conversation where she would not make it this time.  I, being the ever optimist, told her she had beaten so many things that she would beat this as well.  She was weak and couldn’t speak much, but that one statement was clear, “I’m afraid I’m not going to make it this time.” 

Lori and I had made all kinds of preparations for the end, powers of attorney in place, assets in order, her final instructions for after she passed in sealed envelope on a bookshelf in our family room.  I was not prepared for that moment that Lori’s parents finally arrived at the hospital, and at the very moment Lori’s mother spoke to her, it happened; Lori coded, and it was just me and my dad for those 15 minutes they worked to revive here.  The one thing that Lori never did do was sign a living will.  She left those decisions in my hands.  Sometimes, I wish she didn’t, but at times, I’m glad she did.

Lori’s greatest worry was what would happen to me and how I would cope.  I have since found out that she confided in many people that she wouldn’t live to see summer.  She even confided this to my mother when I was on a business trip in February.  She never told me.  Lori wanted for me to move forward, she didn’t want for me to forget, but she wanted for me to live.  Lori’s illness stole the best years of our lives.  We never got to experience many of the things we dreamed of, visit places we talked about going.  My life had become that of a caregiver.  I embraced it, it was my life. 

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I’ve hit another transition.  I still have days of sadness.  I still have days that I feel hopeless.  While snowbound due to a weather emergency and when the temperatures bottomed out, I had to see something that I never really noticed being home for five straight days. 

My house had become a museum. 

It was not intentional, but over the last several months, it had happened.  My living room had become a shrine, a room filled with photos of Lori, prominent items that belonged to Lori on display for others to see.  This is not how one is supposed to live.  I started taking some of the things down, but then started thinking, what do I do with all of this stuff, I just can’t toss it.

And that’s when one guest bedroom got a purge.  That room has become Lori’s room.  I don’t know that it will be Lori’s room forever, but that is what it is for now, for this season.  One of our favorite scripture passages talks about this, Ecclesiastes Chapter 3, There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens.

I’m entering a new season.

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I’m not forgetting the past season.  I’m fondly remembering it.

I’m embracing the new season.

In this year of the “firsts” post Lori’s passing, I’m also thinking about the things that were firsts that I had never before done.  I explored peace and tranquility on the shores of Lake Superior in late June and began to discover the things I used to love to do “before the illness,” I climbed a mountain in the Sierra Nevada in July and toasted it with my brother in July, I went to San Francisco, I caught up with an old friend in San Diego, I jumped off the Stratosphere in Las Vegas, I hiked the Narrows at Zion National Park, I kayaked the Colorado River. 

I’ve had a lot of firsts.

Here’s to new season. 

Tradition

This first Christmas of being on my own has made me think about tradition.

What traditions do you and your spouse have at Christmas?

What gift do you have from your spouse has special meaning to you?

For many years, Lori and I had the tradition of putting up our tree the day after Thanksgiving.  When we lived in our little house on Jackson Street, we would put up as many as three Christmas trees. 

We would always go to 10 PM Christmas Eve service after getting home from celebrating Christmas with her parents.  We weren’t able to go the last few years due to ill health and a regimented treatment schedule.  Maybe I will find a 10 PM service this year?

A tradition that was all ours, was after we would get home from Christmas Eve service was the making of frozen strawberry daiquirí, sitting on the sofa, and listening to Christmas music into the wee hours of the morning.  Due to medical reasons, we had to eliminate the strawberry daiquirí.  Maybe I’ll revive that tradition this year?

As I think about Christmas gifts, I look to my pea coat that Lori got for me 5 years ago.  I love that coat.  On these cold days, I think of her when I wear it.  The fireplace in the living room was a Christmas present to ourselves two years ago.  The warm glow of the light of the flame is a reminder she is still here with me.

My house is filled with reminders this Christmas.  I got the tree out.  I’m glad I did.  It gave me an opportunity to look at the ornaments and decorations we had accumulated over the last 16 years. 

We came from families that had different traditions.  These were traditions of our own.