Moving Forward Doesn’t Mean Moving Away

I’ve been working really hard the past few weeks on recognizing and “re-pathing” my grief when I get hit with the waves of “sad”.

This is all part of cognitive therapy. Re-training your thoughts and trying to reroute them to different places so you can process and analyze.

It’s hard to describe to someone that hasn’t been through it…but when you lose someone your sense of “them” becomes magnified to a crazy extent. At least for me it has.

I’ll be cruising along and kinda in a good place…and then…

One of her favorite songs will pop up on the radio…a flash of happy and then the sadness creeps in…

Something on TV will remind me of her…

Miriya will pop up wearing one of her favorite shirts…

Etc. Etc.

You don’t feel or notice these things to the extent when that person is still alive. And if you do notice it, you can make a call and say

“Hey…remember that song you really loved…”

Sometimes it feels like the world is just a set of boobytraps that’s trying to “trigger” me (and I HATE that word Trigger..ugh).

So I do things like not play songs on the radio or avoid TV…but there’s ALWAYS a trap and always a pitfall there. That’s what happens when you intertwine your life with someone else’s to a great extent. To a TRUE extent.

And so now I’m realizing that it’s really about finding out who the heck I am now.

I honestly don’t know. I mean there are certain core things about me that I know to be true. But as far as “who” I am now without Mona as my confidant, that is a complete mystery to me.

One of the things that has come out of my grief group is that all of us who have lost a spouse are realizing that it’s OUR decision now. There’s no immediate person to bounce decisions off of or to shoulder some of the direct load. It’s on you. When you’re used to having that “team” or “partner” dynamic, it’s insane to get thrown into “this decision is all you”. ALL the time.

It’s something I now realize I definitely took for granted.

And these little revelations help to find and rebuild, or maybe even just flat out BUILD this new identity and new person you have to become if you’re going to make it.

For a long time I felt I had to stay in place. I had to stay anchored to the point of grief because that’s “Where Mona was”. She was there. Stuck somehow. Pinned to those final moments.

At least that’s what I thought.

And now as I continue to go through this I realize she’s really the one that is FREE. She’s not stuck anywhere. She’s beyond being stuck. Beyond dealing with these feelings and longings.

She is not orbiting those last moments or caught in the black hole of sadness that was created when she passed. She escaped it and was able to be everywhere at once.

It’s ME that’s been stuck in that orbit. Gradually being pulled into it with an occasional push away just enough so I wasn’t sucked in completely.

I’ve been stuck in that orbit out of a sense of loyalty. Out of a sense of that’s the ONLY way for me to remember Mona and honor her.

To suffer and live in the grief because that’s all that’s left.

I haven’t until recently been able to see how twisted that is. And how my grief has changed my vision.

Mona FOUGHT to be here and REFUSED to be caught in an orbit of sadness.

She made it a point to not let herself be reduced and defined by her illness.

She wanted me to burn her remains after she passed so SHE would have the last word against it. HER choice. HER last will. HER decision was to free herself and decouple herself from the disease. It didn’t get to live within her anymore.

And now I’m starting to see..that to truly honor Mona…I have to do the same.

I have to refuse to get stuck in the orbit of sadness and grief.

I have to FIGHT to be here.

I have to refuse to be defined by her illness.

And that moving forward with my life is not moving away from her memory, but towards it.

 

Currency

 

I’ve been trying to nail down exactly what seems to pull me back every time I feel like I’m making progress.

I have this notion in my head that if I can figure out the force, I can figure out how to get through this pain and be able to live the life I know Mona would want me to have.

But that force or “thing” is elusive.

One time it will  be a song on the radio…like the one that I played for Mona the day we got her her amazing hearing aids and she looked over at me and said “Honey…honey…I can hear the music!”. That song was a favorite and a victory song for those 18 months or so that we were able to give her the gift of hearing back. Even though it was dimished. Mona was a creature of music. It drove so much of her existence.

Anyone that knew her knew of her uncanny ability to recall music and song lyrics from the ether. She also had this knack of being able to repeat a song after she had heard it once…lyrics memorized…and even was able to guess where songs were going in real-time. It was amazing and always brought a smile to my face when she would do this. I always though that she was somehow gaming me….tricking me…but no….it was a genuine ability of hers.

Other times it will be a particular food. For instance tonight I made Miriya Turkey Tacos today…something that for whatever reason Mona would LOVE when I made them. The simplest of dishes..it’s just heating up meat and shells and putting condiments together…but it was always treated like I had slaved for hours over this thing and it always made her smile. Miriya gets that same smile on her face when I make it for her.

And other times it will be just a place….somewhere tied to a memory. It can be distinct or indistinct, the result is the same. A brief flashing moment of recall and happiness of that memory and then the crushing wave that follows that flash. Turning into a reminder that she’s gone…that memory isn’t shared anymore. It’s mine alone.

And that’s where I had my slight breakthrough. I’m not going to call it an epiphany because it isn’t revealing any truth or massive insight. It’s just me being able to put a label to one of the core underlying elements of this grief of mine.

I call it the “currency”.

You see, when you are in love with someone and look them in the eye and make those promises that you’re going to tackle this fucked up world together…you start a compact. And in that compact there’s things that drive it.

You have ups and downs…if you’re meant to last you fight through them…even if it’s painful. Everything is a lesson. Everything is getting you to where you need to be. In every case those things that drove Mona and I apart, made us come back closer together every time. People didn’t understand it. We didn’t either.

As time goes by you create these moments and memories. They are shared by you. They have “value” because they are shared with someone else. They are inside jokes, and memories of places, or crazy things you’ve done. They are what drives any great relationship…WANTING to share those moments and WANTING to create more of that “currency”.

You bank it up. As time goes on you accumulate more and more of that currency.

Your wedding, your fight to have a child , and then HAVING that child. Your dismay of a grim diagnosis. The battles afterward. The stress. The love. The victories. The admiration. The moments in between those victories where more currency and memories were made.

You’ve got this mound of “worth” that has been accumulated and invested in this relationship.

The cost was TIME.

Time was converted to currency that was shared.

Memories.

Moments.

And then…

She was gone.

And I was bankrupt.

I was one of the richest men on the planet with that currency. A nest egg of a hard-fought life that we had put together against tremendous odds…and that in a way made the currency even more precious. It was compressed by pressure the weight of waiting between scans and chemo sessions. So much pressure that it turned those memories into shining gems…and things for us to look at and say

“This is all worth it…this has all been worth it.”

The gems are now ash. Chunks of carbon in my heart and mind. Stuck inside and their worth voided because the subtleties of that currency can only be truly shared with the one that you created them with.

You can try to share them…but they only bring frustration because there are only so many ways to describe in words the details and emotion of moments.

I spent more of my life building that currency with Mona than not.

And it hurts so bad knowing that I can’t create more with her.

Landmine

 

I haven’t been writing here as much lately.

Mostly due to the fact that my energy reserves are already diminished.

Grief does that to you. One of the folks in my group therapy made a great analogy….when you’re running with grief it’s like you have a bad app on your phone that just sucks your battery dead.

You get tired faster. You’ve got this “thing” running in the background of your brain that just depletes your reserves.

I also have had a lot to say, but I also know that the “world” at large has expectations that I’ve got to move on and push forward..rah rah rah.

Well, that ain’t happening. I’ve got a ton of stuff I need to work through..it’s a daily battle.

I can finally “hear” Mona regularly now. Which as much as it can affect me emotionally has been an incredibly welcome development. She’s helped me get through some exceptionally rough days the past few weeks. Especially when I’m soul searching and trying to figure out what my “next steps” are in this life.

It’s a funny thing when the universe takes your “plan” and rips it apart like tissue paper.

All the things you were working towards and for…vanish.

Some things may still be there…but they aren’t the same…and at least in my case half the goal was to be doing these things WITH Mona and don’t seem nearly as important or desirable without her.

So now I focus on what I can while I figure out which way to steer this ship towards.

I’ve had the desire to start painting again and as part of this, I’ve been reassembling my creative space at home.

I’ve found a lot of my stuff but my airbrush (an amazing present from Mona) has gone missing. Can’t find it. Looked everywhere.

It seems to have gone missing during the shuffle after Mona passed where I was moving things around along with my mother and father in law.

A lot of my (really damn nice) brushes have gone missing too…as well as some of my paints. So I know they are all lurking somewhere together. Just haven’t been able to find them.

As I was looking (again) today…I came across a box that I got excited looking at.

“Might be in here!” I thought excitedly to myself.

No such luck.

There were some odds and ends of my old desk setup and also of Monas (we’d sit side by side before she got too ill to sit at the desk) and there also was something sitting there that I knew I shouldn’t touch or look at…

Mona’s glasses case.

It was just sitting there.

A landmine ready to go off. Only I could see it. It wasn’t hidden. It was right there in plain sight.

And like an idiot, I opened it up and was immediately hit with the blast of emotions I knew was going to come.

I saw the crack in the upper part of the frame that I fixed for her…and recalled how she resisted getting new glasses because she loved these frames so much that a “little crack didn’t bother her..it gave them character”.

I saw her eyes behind those lenses.

And I just lost it.

After a good few minutes of sobbing….I closed the case and put it back in the box.

A landmine buried again…but maybe some time in the future I will get to a point where I can handle opening it up and instead of pain..it will bring a smile…

(I’m also going to buy a new airbrush…I don’t think I want to be poking around the mine field anymore than I need to be right now)

Pageantry

The “MO” set in honor of Mona from this years show that I wrote for Lynbrook High School.

Most people who know me in the real world know that I have an incredible love for Pageantry and the Marching Arts.

That’s “Marching Band” to anyone who doesn’t live and breathe pageantry.

The funny thing is…this love was basically a very very small ember after college. I had moved away from that part of my life.

My fondest memories of high school are of Marching Band and the same goes for College.

But after that time, there seemed to be no path forward with it…and as with most of my friends from High School and College now…those days of being on the field were becoming a fond set of memories.

Mona, however, continued on and marched and taught Drum Corps (essentially “professional” marching arts) and through that, I gained many new friends…who also inspired me greatly.

I never marched corps. I auditioned…I made it two times.

The first time I was young and overwhelmed (I know that’s probably a huge surprise to those that were used to seeing my external WAY TOO CONFIDENT (at that time!) persona) and didn’t keep on with it. The second time I didn’t march because I worked over the summer so Mona COULD march what she called her “age out” year (even though it was a year before that actual year).

After Mona “aged out” she went on to teach corps and also was instructing for high schools.

Out of the blue one day she asked me to come along with her just to hang out and see what was going on.

I went with her to Santa Clara high school…talked to the kids…and hung out. But it was just a guard practice to I felt DEFINITELY out of place (which is incredibly funny now considering that it’s the place I feel MOST comfortable now).

Then she went to Independence a bit later and that was the full band. I sat in the stands and got introduced to the band director there. Mike Kambeitz. Who asked me,

“Why are you wasting your time sitting in the stands? Come down here on the field and get to work!”

And that was essentially the re-kindling of my love for the Marching Arts.

A few years later one of my best friends in the world became the director at Independence when Mike retired. Ken Ponticelli.

He fostered my insanity and desire to push the limits. He gave me the immense gift of being able to tell stories through his students and performers and I became his “assistant-director” (his words not mine).

I had another great friend show me the ropes of drill writing. Mike Zerbini. I learned a ton through teaching his drill…and his approach to the design process still threads through my own.

And all the while, Mona stood beside me. Encouraging my love for design and the art. Lots of mistakes were made and a lot of over-zealousness. She tempered my visions to help make them real and achievable.

I never really FULLY understood just how much she encouraged and motivated me until this past season….when she was physically gone from my presence. I always KNEW she was a huge influence…but it wasn’t until she was gone physically that I realized just how much I relied on her.

She taught me critical things about the integration of the elements of the ensemble…and I soaked up as much information as I could from her. Being a “horn” guy, I knew essentially nothing about color guard staging or the intricacies of timing and movement of that particular part of the ensemble.

She did it in a way that was invisible to me. She just passed the knowledge along and it was effortless for her to do so.

I missed so much this past season the ability to have her come stand over my shoulder and look at a sequence on the computer as I wrote.  That extra confidence I would have with her assurance was gone.  I had to evolve and find that confidence in myself. I was forced to grow and mature and to push forward without second-guessing.

I have other friends that I run things off of, and I trust their input 100%. They provide insight and guidance and assurance which gives me the confidence to actually say “ok…that will work”.

But it was always different with Mona because of how we worked in sort of a symbiotic way.

I felt this “guilt” over the course of the season as I got to still create and Mona wasn’t. Her works were finished and I still get to go on and expand mine. It just seemed incredibly unfair and wrong to me.

She was the one that started this…in my mind, it’s only fair that she be the one that still gets to keep going. But that’s obviously not possible.

I realized though…that her voice is still there.  It was a massive factor in my writing this season…I just had to listen in a different way. In fact, it’s louder than it ever has been.

One of the things that pops into my head quite often nowadays is that once our physical presence is gone…we are just memories in peoples minds. Our assets, our physical things are of no consequence. They are just “things”. Who we are is what we have done and created. Who we’ve affected and how we have done so.

I thank Mona every day in my mind (and sometimes even vocally) for the gift she gave me. This passion and love. She’s with me, creating, and living through the arts.

And while I miss her, I see her in my writing.  I see her in spinning silks and evolving forms.

I hear her in the loud impacts when rifles hit palms.

And I feel her in those few stirring moments of silence on the field.

For those few minutes. She’s with me again. And it’s magical.

 

Haze

It’s been roughly 5 months.

The past couple of weeks have been really hard. Draining. Challenging.

The “haze” that came after the shock of Monas loss has begun to clear and it’s really making it clear just how much work I have to do to get back to any sense of “normalcy”.

To be honest, I don’t even think “normalcy” is a possibility now.

People keep telling me “it takes time”.

I get it. It’s a natural thing to say. When you get injured physically, the body goes to work and cells do their thing and wounds heal. Maybe you’re left with a scar to remind you, but in most cases, unless it’s something grievous you’re going to be OK in the long run.

I wish the brain worked that way.

I wish the heart worked that way.

It’s wishful thinking at best to think that somehow after some “time” I’m going to somehow miraculously be able to accept and be “OK” with Mona being gone.

The new “Normal” is pretty bleak.

I’m afraid of being happy right now. Afraid of feeling happiness because the CRASH of coming down from that happiness is incredibly painful.

The “haze” blunted that up and down cycle. It was a numbing agent that just kinda normalized everything into being neither too happy or too sad.

Now I’m faced with moments of “normal” when I’m busy working on something and my brain is dedicated to that task.

I’ve been burning the candle at both ends to keep my brain engaged in that mode because it’s in the moments of downtime and silence now that the haze is gone that I find myself intensely missing Mona and even more intensely doubting how I am able to continue this cycle moving forward.

Doubts and lots and lots of second-guessing.

Insane thoughts creep in. Thoughts that have no place or basis in reality.

I know we made all the right choices yet my brain wants to hold SOMETHING accountable for Mona being gone.

Cancer is a foe that I can SAY I blame…but for some reason, my mind and heart won’t accept that blame as good enough.

It wants to blame someone. It’s mad at someone.

That someone is me.

Even though we made the choices that led to her  miracle of survival for so long.

Even though I did everything in my power to find solutions, make her comfortable, and to give her a life while cancer was robbing her of her time with us.

I blame me.

There’s nowhere else for this anger to go to.

The worst part is I know that’s insane, but it doesn’t stop it from happening.

And that’s coupled with the looks on our friend’s faces when they see me now. I remind them of Mona. Which triggers them grieving. I’m the harbinger of sadness.  It’s a completely natural human reaction, and I never get mad or angry at this.

Now that the haze is gone, I feel this more acutely.

It’s not getting better.

It’s getting more painful.

And I know as the holidays and her birthday approach….as much as I can tell myself it’s “just another day”…that’s not going to work.

This road is twisty…and with the haze gone I can see just how terrifying the road is…cliffs on either side and no idea what’s around the next curve.

And I’m getting pretty tired behind the wheel…

Out of Nowhere

September 18 is our anniversary date. That carries back to the actual day Mona and I became a couple for the first time.

We were touch and go in our youth…not knowing what the hell we wanted. Who does really at that age? And if you think you do…you’re almost certainly wrong.

It worked out that that day fell on a Saturday and we thought it would be cool to make that date the official date as well. I mean, when opportunity knocks, you’re a fool to not open the door.

I was having a pretty great evening last night.

Finished off a productive work week and shifted into drill writer mode in the evening. The daughter was hanging out with me in the room reading some new Manga she is super excited about and I caught a good creative writing groove.

And out of nowhere my brain says

“Monday is your anniversary. Mona’s not gonna be here for this one. Are you ready for that?”

Thanks, brain.

Up until this point, I’ve only heard about the dreaded “firsts” from fellow widows. First birthday. First Thanksgiving. First Christmas. First Anniversary….without….them.

To be honest, I’m an OVERLY sentimental person. I want to infuse memory and love and light into everything I’m involved in because I believe that those intangible things are what truly matter on this planet…this perhaps is my direct opposition of those who feel that the accumulation of wealth and tangible physical things is what truly matters.

But despite this, I haven’t feared the firsts.

Dates don’t really make me sentimental because I’m ALWAYS sentimental. I don’t need a particular day or time to trigger my sentimentality….it’s always on.

This can be a blessing but is almost always a curse.

I’m dreading the holidays because that TIME of the year is filled with memories and memory making…and not being able to share that with Mona is going to be tough…but a particular date or day isn’t going to make it better or worse. It’s all going to be tough.

So whatever neuron connection that decided to ping me while I’m in a very focused and relaxed state

(Side note…I’ve been recovering from kidney stone surgery, had a minor infection so had fever and chills the past few days before this one but had the stent removed after having to have it for three weeks and was FINALLY feeling physically COMFORTABLE in my body for the first time in almost 6 weeks)

well….whatever neuron that was …for lack of a better term…it messed my shit up.

I was fine at first. Because quite frankly, Mona and I’s wedding was epic.

Filipinos celebrate life in a way that is just amazing and at weddings, this gets amped up to 11.

We had our marching band community there, lifelong friends, new friends, a random comedian that appeared on the Filipino Channel  impersonating Arnold Schwarzenegger saying some highly inappropriate sexual jokes in a toast to us (no joke..and apparently he’s a super famous guy…holy crap I don’t get embarrassed easily but WOW), FULL families including my relatives from back east, Moms, Dads, kids, co-workers, former students, current students, I’m pretty sure at least 15 complete stranger wedding crashers and by the end of the reception we were rocking at least 400 people…lots of people think way more than that.

It was quite simply MY dream wedding. My entire family united for one moment in time dancing and music and good food and great times.

A marvelous day.

And as I’m sitting there recalling that day…before cancer was a thought in Mona or I’s mind…before the battles began….it just got me thinking about all the other amazing things we had done.

We took FOREVER to get married. We lost and found each other several times during that period. But we always found each other.

And the trap was sprung.

I got angry at the world.

You can’t make more memories like that with Mona anymore. (This is “the voice” or “noise” from my last post talking).

“You’re not going to EVER be that happy again.

EVER!”

And I just crumbled.

Maybe it was because I’d been so focused on my physical discomfort for the past few weeks that I had been distracted from my emotional discomfort.

Maybe this had just been storing up for a while.

But I just completely caved and dissolved into a sobbing wreck.

I didn’t want to talk to anyone.

I didn’t want to hear words of encouragement.

I didn’t want to hear “It’s going to be OK”.

I just wanted to sit in this pool of accumulated sadness and fester in it.

And at the peak of this..when I was reveling in this pit of misery…another voice says

“Why are you doing this to yourself? Why are you doing this to US? Why are you letting THAT voice RUIN this memory that means so much?”

It was like being punched in the face.

You see, for me, the worst part about grief is that if you let it, it CAN become cancerous to your soul.

It CAN grow and use your own memories and thoughts and emotions against you.

It CAN be incredibly malignant and destroy.

But it also can remind you that those memories are things that cannot be tainted or taken away.

They happened.

They were real.

They need to be protected.

Those memories cannot be allowed to be perverted into something BAD…they need to be a wellspring of happiness and a source of strength.

If that happens. Well….I don’t know.

What I do know is I’m going to do my best to honor Mona…honor US…and absolutely NOT let one of the happiest days of my life become one of the strongest sources of grief in mine in the now.

I REFUSE to let this happen.

Grief may take some other days because in any war there’s going to be strategic losses and collateral damage.

But this is one beachhead of a memory it will not be taking from me.

Another place “The Room of Gold”

This entry is probably going to startle those that know me well.

Those that know me know that I’m a spiritual person, but a logical one at the same time. I carry a certain amount of cynicism about religion and “faith”. There are many many reasons for this…all of which would be an interesting entry in itself, but I’m not going to go into those now.

I never hold “faith” against anyone, in fact I admire those with it despite all the challenges this world throws at them.

I’m also always EXTREMELY skeptical of people who claim they’ve “been to the other side” or had “near death experiences” etc. It’s just my nature.

That being said, I had an “interesting” experience during my last surgery.

Taking a step back here, about a month ago I purged a tiny kidney stone over the course of a couple of days. It was about 1mm large .

Now, anyone that has had a kidney stone knows that what I just typed is laughable. ANY sized stone feels like a boulder and is pain incarnate. But I was able to pass that one and having had a stone about 15 years ago I QUICKLY flashed back in to “Oh yeah, this pain!” mode and knew what was going on. I went to my doctor and he said let’s see if you can pass it.

I went to my doctor and he said “Let’s see if you can pass it. ”

Mona would have been proud…I went to my doctor.

So I passed it and I thought I was in the clear.

Well, as it turns out, the “little stone” was part of a much larger Mothership stone soon to be dubbed as Kidney  Stone Rick (after Rick and Morty fame).

Flash forward about 4 days and I was in the emergency room in even MORE pain that I had experienced before and after a few hours and a CT Scan I find out that I’ve got a 10mm (1cm) stone PLUS two additional 6mm stones hanging out waiting for their exit times as well.

Not good.

Spent the night in the hospital for fluids and pain meds and saw my doctor / surgeon in the morning. Good news

“We’ve got the best center on the West Coast in Los Gatos for this procedure. The latest machines, the best tech.”

Bad news?

“There are two techs at this center…one retired last week and the other is on vacation for two more. And I really prefer using a tech I am familiar with, especially for a stone of this size.”

So I was looking at 3 weeks before removal.

Plan A was to grin and bear it to the surgery date. I felt ok now..maybe the stone had settled..etc. It was too large to pass so it couldn’t enter the urethra.

12 hours later I was back in the emergency room discussing Plan B.

Plan B involved going under and getting a temporary stent put in to keep the stone from causing me pain.

So a few days later I went in to get the stent in. The emotions of that day are another entry all together…but the detail from this day that is important to THIS one is that I went under, fade to black, felt like 30 seconds, wake up and was done.

Your typical anesthesia story if all goes well, and all did go well.

Fast forward a couple weeks to my next surgery and it was almost like a replay.

Get to the center, get prepped for surgery, answer 10,000 questions again, get rolled back to the actual operating room, the mask goes on, fade to black, and wake up.

Except this time. It was very different.

This time it didn’t go to black…it went to another…well…place…

The only way I can describe this place is it was a “Room of Gold”…and by gold I don’t mean the element…I mean…the “color”.

It wasn’t shiny. It wasn’t gaudy. It was just a space….like gold mist.

And in this place…I could feel Mona.

And then I could “see” her…only it wasn’t really seeing her because she wasn’t present in a typical form…I could “see” her in my minds eye here and the combination of that minds eye and the “presence” of her combined to make me recognize her instantly. In my minds eye she was radiant…like the days when she was happiest right after Miriya was born.  No cancer. No worries other than what we were going to do to raise this new life we had brought into the world together.

There were no words in this place. But I could understand her. She was letting me know it was ok. It was all ok. Everything was ok.  The reassurance was for lack of a better word ..magical.

There was no smile or look on her face. She was just there. At peace. And bringing it to me.

All my life I’ve had this dialogue in my head…noise in my head…a “processing” sound if you will…noise that fills my head as I move thought to thought. Sometimes that noise turns to anxiety (a lot of times actually). Sometimes worry. Sometimes it allows me to focus and I can harness that noise to fuel my creative side or buckle down for a project at work to get it done….but it’s always there.

Without fail.

And in this place it wasn’t there. The noise was gone. It was silent.  Muted.

No worry. No anxiety. Absolute and total peace.

I think of this and it makes me cry.

I’ve never experienced this feeling. I can’t convey in words just how this place just completely relieved me of sadness, worry, anger…any of the toxic stuff that this world has brewed up in me.

I cant put into words how absolutely paradigm changing experiencing this was for me.

And Mona was there.

And my sister Kristen was there.

And my Nana was there.

I felt them. And others. Lots of others. So many others that in retropect I think maybe the golden “fog” that comprised this place was actually these others. Each little spec of “fog” a presence.

I absolutely felt them around and in me, letting me know that everything was OK. It was all OK.

I felt nothing but gratitude and love. All around me, like the “gold” was the embodiment of these feelings. A soft warm blanket all around me that felt like it does when you hug someone you love so much you never want to let go.

That feeling was the entirety of this place.

There was no time in this place. It wasn’t a factor. So I can’t describe how long I was there because it felt like the blink of an eye and eternity at the same time. This has perplexed me since that day to be honest…all the paradoxes this place has challenged me with back here in this existence.

I was sitting yet there was no chair. But I “felt” like I was sitting…but there weren’t “things” in this place. Just being. Just presence and love and peace.

I’ve never experienced anything even remotely close to this.

I began to pull away from the place, and yet there was no sadness, no fear, no longing for a good bye…there was just love…trailing me as I pulled back and away…

There was no good bye, there was just this feeling of reassurance and love coming from Mona and the others I was moving away from. Their radiance never wavered even as I got further and further away. Like the warm sun on my face.

And then I was lying on a hospital gurney…tears in my eyes.

My nurse asked me who I was talking to. I was groggy and my mouth wouldn’t work. She figured this out and gave me a few moments. She asked if I was in pain after a short wait and I managed to say

“No…why?”

And she said you kept saying “I’m OK, I’m OK” and I saw you were crying  so I thought you might be in pain.

I was absolutely the opposite.

I had been with Mona again. This wasn’t a dream. This wasn’t fading from my memory. This happened. The details…the feeling….the sheer POWER of this in my head.

I was with her. And my sister….and my Nana…and others who came to let me know it was OK. They were OK.

I know just how crazy this sounds…I’ve been debating writing this entry because I think it might make people think I’ve completely gone the plaid.

I’m sure there are a million explanations for this. Scientific ones. Mystical and faith based ones. A combination of the two. If I hadn’t been the one experiencing this I’d probably be offering up one of those explanations.

All I know is I felt so much love and peace in this place that it has given me strength to get through the past few weeks. Maybe longer.

So I’m going to just let it ride and not question or try to analyze…I’m going to try and squelch that dialogue and force it to let me have this one thing without cynicism or self judgement.

I was there. And so was she.

Someday I may be there again.

With all of them.

Maybe that’s too much to wish for.

But it’s something.

 

Vulnerability

The past few weeks have been tumultuous, to say the least.

On top of the usual emotional struggle that I’m learning to cope with every day after losing Mona, I’ve been dealing with a physical issue as well.

Basically, a couple weeks ago I passed a small kidney stone.

I had one a long time ago (right before I was going to get on a plane to Japan!) and knew the symptoms. I had Mona in my head saying…

“Don’t wait..go to the doctor.”

I listened and went. And he thought that my diagnosis was accurate as well.

He went about setting up a CT scan and told me that if the pain got to be too much, head to the emergency room.

Well, I was able to pass that guy a day later and was out of pain.

I thought that was the end of the saga and boy was I wrong.

Fast forward about 5 days and I got hit with the same pain again..only this time it didn’t back off…it went full blown “Mike Tyson body shotting me continuously” level of pain.

I diverted on the way home with Miriya in the car to the emergency room.

A few hours and a CT Scan later I found out I had a 10mm or 1cm kidney stone chilling just outside my kidney.

As far as stones go..thats HUGE. By comparison, the other one I passed was about 1.5mm wide.  And that was almost blackout level pain.

This guy wasn’t going to be passing on his own.

So I’m in the ER with Miriya. Monas Mom and Dad come and pick her up and I definitely don’t want her (or them) suffering with me overnight as it sounds like they are going to admit me when a room is available to get me some fluids and make sure that there’s no infection.

Another couple hours pass after Monas parents leave. I get transferred up to a room….

And another blindside hits me.

Mona’s not coming with me to the room.

She’s not going to be there to tell me it’s ok…and to chill my anxiety about being in a hospital.

This is a total role reversal. I’m the one that’s usually on the chair by the hospital bed…not the other way around.  Only there’s no other role. It’s just me.

I’m in completely unfamiliar territory without the number 1 person who “should” be there to do it.

It hurt. Very much.

So much I cried.

And the nurses came thinking it was pain from the stone…and I told them no it wasn’t. It was something else. They asked.

I told them the story. Or a piece of it just so they could understand. They understood. They see it every day.

Luckily an amazing friend came and brought me a battery backup and a blanket and other stuff to make the short stay more comfy.

I was hanging by a thread…they got me through it.

Now don’t get me wrong. I could have called Monas parents again..or even my Mom (who would make the drive down at a moments notice), but that wasn’t the pain.

The pain was knowing that I got Mona to her finish line. I stood by her side through years of chemo…countless doctors appointments…tons of procedures. I know how important it was to her for her to keep going and fighting…

And that wingman wasn’t there. Not through any fault of her own. Through the fault of the universe. Fate. Or “the plan”, or whatever it is you subscribe to.

It was the emptiest feeling I’ve ever experienced. It simultaneously made me elated I was there for Mona when she needed me…and absolutely dismayed she wasn’t there for me. And I know more than anything she’d want to be….by my side..caring for me…it was in her nature. It was how I learned to do what I did for her.

She was never alone. She always had someone with her. Me 98% of the time and family the other percentage…through the whole journey. I’m grateful we could do that for her.

I felt betrayed.  And that made me even sadder because this wasn’t a choice Mona made. She hadn’t made this decision. Why did I feel like I was betrayed? Angry?

Angry at the world. Angry and alone. Angry at the whole damned thing. Tons and tons of guilt just washing over me mixed with sadness.

In a hospital room.

I felt vulnerable and exposed at a level I’ve never experienced.

I still haven’t shaken that feeling.

I’m not sure I ever will.

The age-old adage of “You don’t know what you have until it’s gone.”

I know all too well.

It’s overwhelming.

I’m not wired to go it alone.

Never have been…

 

 

 

Her gift to me

It’s been a rough few weeks for me.

I miss Mona tremendously. It hasn’t got any better…in fact it’s amplified. The loss has somehow become “larger” as the numbness of the loss wears off and life moves on.

I started several posts but was unable to finish most as they just kinda meandered and went nowhere.  And while that might be therapeutic in a way, it just seems like just a venting of random  things, not meaningful, and not really worth the time to put into a written form.

So it’s been quiet here. Not because of lack of thought, just because I haven’t been able to sort things out in my head to put things in writing.

Right now I’m in the middle of the “writing season” for me. Where I get to feed my artistic side and somewhat recharge my battery (while simultaneously depleting it…it’s complicated…maybe I’ll explain it sometime) through creation.

And it struck me…

I wouldn’t be doing any of this if it wasn’t for Mona.

She dragged me (LITERALLY) to a marching band practice almost 20 years ago now to just come hang out with her and watch her teach the colorguard and Independence High School.

Fast forward a few years and I was running the box and working with some of the best people I’ve ever met in my life.

I got to flex my creative side and learn how to write drill and then eventually staging for guard and have been exposed to so many amazing perfomers and fellow instructors, judges, and truly fine human beings through this thing.

And it was because she saw and KNEW it was something that I would truly love. She saw the passion there.

And now she’s gone.

It feels unfair to me. Like she bought the lottery ticket but somehow I’m the one that gets to  keep the money after winning.

It’s been a very hard challenge for me this season because I second guess EVERYTHING I write, and marching band is HARD because you have to temper the ability level and keep things POSSIBLE for the performers with your creativity.

Everything is measured and weighted.

Mona used to be my second set of eyes reassuring me that things would work. That a certain moment was really cool and had lots of potential…or wouldn’t work because of an equipment change….or reminding me of some idea I had casually mentioned to her on a car ride 2 years ago and she was actually listening to me babble…

“Remember that idea you had? I think that would work in this part don’t you?”

A true partner who had my back. And made me feel like I could actually DO this thing and not screw it up for everyone.

I miss that extra voice being constantly there. Being able to call over to the other room and have her roll her eyes and say…

“YES RYAN, it’s FINE..it looks GREAT….”

Or when I really got something right…

“Wow hon that’s really cool.”

I miss it very very much. It highlights the loss of Mona in yet another way that I wasn’t expecting.

And then I realize that this is just a small sliver of how she did that for me in everyday life. How her words of encouragement extended far beyond just pageantry, but to me as a dad, as a caregiver, as a man.

I feel I might have taken that for granted. And it crushes me to think of that.

Did she know how much I appreciate that?

Did she know that she gave me that gift of confidence?

I like to think she did.

I’m pretty sure she did.

I’d give anything to be able to hug her and tell her “thank you” for that gift right this moment.

So I try to sit here in silence and visualize Mona telling me these things. I don’t know if it’s healthy. I don’t care.

It helps.

I’ll take anything that does at this point.

I saw her face clearly today

It’s been a weird thing for me that since the day that Mona passed I haven’t been able to really see her face in my mind.

I get glimpses of it…like something you see out of the corner of your eye…but not clear. Like a will-o-wisp that taunts you and makes you think you’re seeing things.

It’s actually been quite frustrating and a point of sadness for me because it’s one of those old tropes you read in books and hear in movies about not being able to hear loved one’s voices, or forgetting their faces over time.

Pictures are one thing, but memories are another…and even my memories have had Monas face blurred and unclear.

I’ve tried to figure out what this is. Is it my mind protecting me? Or my heart?

Today that changed for me in the oddest way.

Miriya has this water toy that she got at a friends birthday party. It’s a simple device…you pull a knob back and it sucks water into a chamber and you push it and it shoots water out. Fun times.

Well, Miriya has had it in my car for weeks and on our way home from the dance concert tonight she had it pressed under her chin and was pulling back on the knob making it suck on her face.

I told her…

“If you keep doing that it’s going to give you a hickie!”

I then had to explain to my 11-year-old daughter what a hickie was.

I just went for it and told her the truth.

Hickies come from lying to your dad and not going to bed on time.

She didn’t go for that so I told her a neutered down version of the truth and warned her that I could see hickies through clothing. It’s a special power that dads have.

She might have bought that.

Anyways, Miriya pulled the toy off of her face and as I thought there was a small purple welt under her chin where it had created the tiny little bruise from the suction.

I told her “SEE LOOK!” ..and she saw it in the mirror in the car and promptly started to freak out. So much that when we went to Chipotle for dinner she was covering it with her hair.

Over the course of the evening apparently, she forgot about it (and so did I).

She came into my room to ask me a question about something and I immediately noticed it had quadrupled in size (now about the size of a quarter from the size of a pea) and started laughing…

And that’s when it hit me…

A huge flash of Monas face…clear…healthy….laughing….and her voice saying

“Oh my god girl…what did you do to your face???!?!?”

Followed by the huge laugh that Mona would have when something truly amused her…her eyes wrinkling and her smile…so clear…

And I just laughed with Miriya and told her how much I wish her Mom was here because she would have laughed so hard at this…we both would have….

And then out of my hilarious laughter, the sadness came. A different strength and angle from the laughter…maybe not as strong…but it tried to ruin that moment for me.  Trying to sucker punch me as I was distracted.

And Miri laughed with me.

It tried to taint that true moment of joy.

And it lost for a moment. I dodged the full punch initially.

I’ve never felt such intense emotions so close to each other in such a short period of time.

I pushed back and just kept laughing and seeing Monas face through my tears. Laughing and thinking of how funny it would be to be able to tell her…

“Remember that time that Miriya put the water toy on her chin?”

But that Memory won’t be shared with her. It was just between Miri and I.

When she left, the sadness lingered after the joy was gone.

The punch had landed after all, I just didn’t feel it until after.

Mona’s face has become blurry again as I try to recall it, as it has been.
But it was clear for those few moments.

A gift.

A shred of hope.

I gladly pay the price with the tears I have in my eyes as I write this. With the ache in my heart. With the doubt I continue to hold as to how I do this. How I continue.

A memory I will treasure.