Monday, April 1, 2019

Life Happens

Ok....I’m not writing this for my friends or anyone else who might see this. I’m sort of venting and memorializing at the same time. As some of you may know, my beautiful wife and partner of 45 years, Dianna, passed away on September 24th, 2018. It was sudden and quite unexpected. She was 62 years old and though she had some medical issues, none would lead anyone to suspect her death was imminent. As her Doctor put it, “If we had put her through a body scan 20 minutes before this happened, we wouldn’t have seen it coming.” A brain aneurysm struck her down and led to her untimely death.

What I need to say is this, I had always been told that Life is short and not to squander the time you have with those you love. Truer words have never been spoken and, like many, I did not heed them until it was too late. I was fortunate in that I did have a chance to say goodbye before the event took her away. I was preparing to leave and take our Grandson to a park on what was to be a typical Saturday outing since our Grandson began to walk (or rather, run). We met in the kitchen and kissed goodbye in anticipation of my return with dinner and a movie that evening.

Thirty minutes later, I received a call from my daughter that her mother was in trouble and I needed to come home. That began a crazy series of events which only spanned two days until I had to decide my wife’s fate. An unreal moment I had never expected to have nor do I recommend anyone having to experience. With everyone looking on and hanging on my every word, I had to reach deep down and ask they discontinue her care. It was made clear to me she was never going to roll off that bed, walk out of there and return to her family. The flat lines of brain activity were glaring back at me with the ventilator and the beeping of her heart monitor the only other sounds beside my cracking voice. Her words just a couple of weeks before sustained me when I made the decision.

Inexplicably, we had discussed this very same thing over the news about another friend who was on life support in similar circumstances. Dianna said she was vehemently opposed to being a vegetable on a machine. She wanted me to end her suffering with the real possibility of her being that way for days, months or years. She had me promise. I did as she asked.

So understand how that affected me. Imagine watching the staff turn off life sustaining machines and resetting alarms screaming at me to turn things back on. It was all I could do to turn my head and leave her behind, my wife, my best friend and mother to our children. I felt, and still do, that I failed her, to protect her, to make things better. After all, that was my job, what I promised her when we wed. I felt very lost and suddenly alone.

She wanted to be cremated not buried under tons of dirt wasting away for some archeologists to find and analyze. She wanted to be part of the Earth she came from. We were never religious but Dianna was very spiritual and recognized she was part of something bigger. She wanted to return to the star dust we came from and would return to. She was an organ donor and was able to provide some hope for others through her donations. She would be comforted in the knowledge that her death meant something other than well wishes, her legacy preserved in others.

In deciding how and when to distribute her cremains (no, ashes are not the appropriate term it turns out), I thought a burial at sea was a good idea and my daughter, Nicole, suggested we do it on her birthday. I felt returning her to her place of birth on her birthday was a perfect idea so we organized some friends and a boat to deliver her home to San Diego, California.

It was a strange but comforting day as we made our way just outside San Diego Bay to send her on her way. The day began as cold and rainy. Southern California had been beset with turbulent weather that winter of 2018 and even as Spring beckoned in the new year, they had just had a layer of snow in late February dropped onto the County somewhat unexpectedly from a Pacific Storm (she would have liked that too).

We made our way to the boat a little dismayed we might not have fair weather for our two hours at sea but as we left the dock, the sky opened up and we were blessed with clear skies, bright sunlight and calm waters all the way into the ocean. Even the crew commented it was the first time they had seen Sun since December. The very next day, the sky closed up and returned to the cold and rain we had the day we arrived. We made our way passed the North Island breakwater and halted about a mile and a half south of the bay with a wonderful view of the city and Point Loma where her Mom, Audrey, is buried in the National Cemetery.

Finally Home
After a brief poem and prayer, we let her go into the ocean (LAT 39 degrees 39.754 N and 117 degrees 12.807 W, put it in Google Maps) she loved so much. When we met, she told me she had always wanted to be an Oceanographer. Her life took a turn after High School and she couldn’t afford to go to college to make that come true. But, on our trips together, she always preferred Aquariums to Museums and water-sports to bus tours. She would sit for hours (inevitably without sufficient sunscreen) at poolside reading or stroking her way around that pool. She loved the water and preferred the balcony of a cruise ship to an inside cabin so she could watch the ocean pass beneath her feet. I wanted her to have that in her afterlife as well.

Some have questioned our decision to cremate and distribute the remains. I realize the more traditional burial of remains is a more comforting thought. Here's my take, considering tidal flow, evaporation and rain, no matter where you go, there she is. It would please her no end to help irrigate a pretty flower or garden.

Returning to the harbor and enjoying a great lunch/memory meeting with our friends, I enlisted Nicole to help me with another secret mission. On almost every date, whenever we had some parent alone time after kids or whenever we could make it back to San Diego, Dianna and I would ride up La Jolla Scenic Drive to the  Mt. Soledad Cross and coolest Veterans Memorial on the planet and just sit and look out to sea. Up the coast was the iconic Scripps Pier she loved so much. I had retained a small amount of Dianna’s cremains and, while Nicole kept watch, I distributed them on the west face overlooking La Jolla Shores and the Pier. She now can sit and watch the world from her favorite vantage point forever.

Image result for scripps pierReturning home was rather anticlimactic and I must say, life has not been the same. Of course, there are still Grandson sitting days, breakfast, lunch, dinner and movies with friends and family but its not the same as before. I find myself regaling her photo with my exploits and observations of people and things I have seen and done that day. But no retort (yeah, it would be weird if she answered).

I might mention, I have several regrets in my life with Dianna, I did not tell her I loved her enough, kissed her enough, hugged her enough, held her hand enough or told her how beautiful she was enough. I hold that as one of my failures in life…my advice, don’t make the same mistake with your loved ones. Make the change now. It’s never to late to start.

Frisco Home
When friends ask me to reflect on those terrible times, I tell them that I have gone through some major changes in the last six months that I never would never have anticipated. Though losing my wife has to be at the top of the list, it caused an avalanche of other life changing events as well.

Before all this, we had been seriously working on down-sizing. We were looking to retire when Dianna retired at 65 so we had put our ginormous 5 bedroom house in Frisco, Texas up for sale that July. After she passed, in the middle of December, I got a cash offer on the home but they stipulated I had to be out by the last day of December.

So the Grandson’s birthday and Christmas flew by without notice as Nicole and I scurried around looking for a replacement home for me. I found one in a new development just northwest of Frisco at the right price and willing to close by the end of December as I closed on my Frisco house. That led to another flurry of activity as I had to pack, store and move the contents of our home and set up the new place. I look back at that time and still don’t know how I was able to get it all done. I can only assume I had Devine intervention from somewhere (or someone). So many critical decisions, both financial and physical, made on the fly....I can only hope they ultimately prove to be good ones.

Life for the last six months has proven to be a series of highs and lows. I am now alone in my daily activities. Now, I know some of you out there may be alone by choice or circumstances and I'm not attempting to make light of that but being alone is not for me. I find myself alone in a crowd. I am a Class A people watcher and without a foil to make fun of some of the people I see, it really loses its impact.

Aubrey House
I have spent an inordinate amount of time tweaking and making subtle but substantive changes to my new house (I am told the devil finds work for idle hands to do). I spend time walking and talking to our two dogs, Marley and Jenna, and they too seem to be more attentive to me as well. I think my relationship with my house is not as it should be. After all, it was supposed to be Dianna’s house.

In our 45 years together, she had never lived in a brand new house and I wanted that for her. Thus, everything I do now, reflects what I believe she would have wanted done to make her home a nest. Yes, I enjoy the changes but, unlike every other new home owner, I haven’t come to terms with that new house smell and feel that one gets when you get handed the keys, enter, then close the door behind you. It’s not the same if you have no one to share it with.

The other constant you learn about when you’ve become recently widowed, is being single. I don’t mean in the romantic way but no longer being part of a couple. You learn quickly that the world is made for couples. It can be subtle or outright discriminatory but its always there. When you go to a restaurant, once they realize you’re by yourself, you get relegated to the counter seats or banished to the rear tables by the kitchen. After all, we are a pair-bonding species...I get that. Whether in advertising (“Hey little lady, you could be getting a massage while your husband is in the Casino gambling”) or even pricing for a cruise (there are only Double Occupancy rates, single people pay double if they go alone) single people are put on the back burner. Don’t get me started on the suggestion I check out the Seniors Only dating websites. Waaayyyy too soon for that.

Sleeping has become a problem as well. I have slept with an adult person just about every night for 45 years. Again, I’m not talking about the romantic stuff, I mean just having a reassuring presence there next to you. It provides a sense of not being alone. And conversation…. I have always come home to somebody since I was born. I lived with my parents until I met Dianna and lived with her almost two years before marrying her and for the next 43 years, I could say, “Hey, I’m home!” and someone would respond. Strangely, I tried this with Alexa who belted out three different welcoming responses (that is a sad commentary on life we face today, reassurance by a computer), who knew someone developed a “skill” for that. The dogs are still there, but other than their unflagging devotion, they haven’t mastered speech yet (and I’m not sure I’m ready for that either).

To show you how out of practice I am, (“touch” maybe a better term), the other day, I was waiting to enter a movie theatre when a mature woman (pretty sure she was ring) walked up and asked me my opinion of a “Captain Marvel” (strong female role, not the original male character) T-shirt she was thinking about buying. I thought it was over-priced but nice. She asked what movie I was seeing, I told her (Wonder Park) and she thought that was a good movie too. Normally, I might have engaged her in the intricacies of my decision making for movie selection (basically anything I haven’t seen before, including remakes), but this time I just stopped talking. After an awkward silence, she just wandered off. On reflection, I’m not sure if she was hitting on me or just being nice to an old guy with a large popcorn and Coke (I could see her making that assumption....I was wearing one of my “Old Guys Rule” T-shirts). This is the state of affairs I find myself in. There is clearly no quick fix for this.

So I find myself trying to re-integrate myself into society. Dianna was famous for telling me, in bad times, to find my “happy place”….I’m just not sure where to look for it without her guidance. I have been told Baby Steps are the best approach, I have to think “Long Game” (why do people always make Sports references to serious personal issues?). After all, this could be me for a very long time. Let’s see what happens, shall we?