Sunday, December 13, 2015

Last Post

I've decided to stop posting on the Rudy and Denise Facebook page and blog.  Writing here started as something to pass along info on Rudy's progress quickly and efficiently.  Later, writing here became a cathartic process.  Now, it just makes me sad.  I need to figure out my new life and I don't really want to do that online.  I'll leave my posts open for awhile in case they can be helpful to others going through something similar.

By the way, these pages have been a gift in that they connected me with so many people who supported me in the worst of times.  The comments, prayers, best wishes and more helped me more than anyone will ever know.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Seven Months - My Reflections

There are many days when I can be thankful for what I once had and thankful for what I still have and determined to make the best of what I have.  This isn't one of those days.  Tomorrow at 9:15am, Rudy will have been gone for 7 months.

Most days this month, I have done what needs to be done.  I've managed to deal with Thanksgiving without resentment.  Now, I seem to have hit a bit of a slump in my determination to stay positive.  I haven't completely lost it, I really am determined, but I'm struggling.  I've been easy on myself for not always being a shining example of how to get on with life.  I know occasional slumps are to be expected.  Holidays probably make slumps worse.  I'm at peace with my slump.  That's sounds a bit funny.

I worked today on a little project with photos of Rudy.  I thought I was up for it and actually am quite pleased with what I accomplished.  When it was done, I went for a walk with the dogs, still thinking I was just fine.  My mind wandered.  I wasn't braced or careful with my thoughts. Pandora's grief box opened just enough to knock me for a loop.

Grief isn't just emotional.  It's physical.  These last 7 months, make that 13 months, have shown me the physical side.  It's probably different for others, but when a wave of grief hits me, first I can't breathe.  It feels like someone large is sitting on my chest. My lungs seem to stop working and my airway narrows all the way up through my neck. I feel it slowly narrowing. Next, I feel a pain in my chest.  I feel sure it's a piece of my heart chipping off.  Then come the tears.  Sometimes one.  Sometimes many. The number of tears don't always equal the amount of sadness.  There have been some mighty bad moments with no tears at all. When it's over, it takes about ten minutes or so to breathe normally and for my heart to feel right again.  It's not imagined.  These are actual physical symptoms.  If I were hooked up to monitors, they'd set off warning alarms, for sure.  I wonder if a grief wave is similar to incidents where people have panic attacks that mimic heart attacks.

Speaking of physical, there's one other thing that has been bothering me and I don't see anyone mentioning it in grief discussions.  I miss hugs.  Rudy was a champion hugger.  You can only hug a friend or relative for so long before it becomes awkward.  If you have kids or grandkids, you can hug them longer - long enough to keep you from going nutty.  If you don't have a long-hug candidate nearby, then it's a slow form of torture.  I remember a study about baby monkeys kept from motherly contact.  They all started rocking themselves as they slowly went crazy.  Am I on the fast track to crazy?  I'm rocking more these days.  Next thing you know, I may start grabbing strangers.  You'll hear them frantically screaming calling out, "She's hugging me and won't let go!"  If you have someone nearby who gives good hugs, don't take them or their hugs for granted.  By the way, my longing for a good hug does not translate to me being desperate to start dating.  I'm still damaged goods and don't plan to latch onto somebody who might "save me". Anyway, I think it must take a special kind of person to be willing to take on a widow.

There are several things that seem to be making a positive difference in my life -

Most importantly, I am surrounded by people who love me.  I have a wonderful family - both my side and Rudy's side.  I hate describing Rudy's side of the family that way, because they are MY family, too.  I have many, many friends who watch out for me.  I even have a few people new to my life who have taken me on and become important.  Our connection to people is what life is all about, right?  In the end, it's what really matters.

My 6 dogs and 2 cats have been both a curse and a blessing.  Mostly a blessing.  They run me ragged.  They cost a fortune.  They keep me from running off to  exotic locations.  Several of them have issues.  But they love me and I love them.  They are my family.  They make me laugh.  They love to snuggle.  They keep me from going off the deep end.

Getting outside is my equivalent of getting on a life raft.  I go on daily walks and I've been hiking, as well.  My dad and/or my dogs are my daily walking partners.  We walk around our property - it's about a mile all the way around.  It's always beautiful.  We have a pond, woods, pastures, and plenty of wildlife to watch.  It never gets old. As much as I dream of simplifying and downsizing, I love this place.  My friend, Susan, is my hiking partner.  We've been mostly going to state parks.  We prefer ones with water features - creeks, rivers, falls.  They'll all been just challenging enough to keep us focused.  Best of all, they've all been beautiful and sooooo worth the challenges.

An old book has become my new friend.  The book is Simple Abundance: A Daybook of Comfort and Joy by Sarah Ban Breathnach.  At one time, Oprah was promoting it as the best thing since sliced bread.  I bought it when it first came out (1995-ish) with the best of intentions, but it sat unread for years til I finally donated it to Goodwill.  A few months after Rudy died, I bought a used copy from Goodwill. Maybe the one I donated came full circle!  This time I started reading it daily (it's a daily journal).  Soon, I started underlining and writing notes in the margins.  Some days the message is nice, but nothing major.  Many days, the message seems to be written just for me.  This book has helped me along.  It's not a book for widows.  It's a book I'd recommend to any woman.

Even with all the positives in my life, lately this slump has been getting the best of me too often.  Maybe I will go through this struggling phase because it needs to be gone through.  Maybe I can't skip over or minimize any parts of the grief process without them eventually popping up.  Maybe I need to let my guard down for awhile.  Or maybe I'm having a really bad day and tomorrow I'll wake up with some newfound determination.  One thing is certain, I'm no longer certain of anything.  Ha! I think I'm channeling Yogi Berra.

Decorating for the holidays has been a joke. I pulled things out and put them back away, over and over.  I finally gave up.  I stubbornly thought for a bit that I could be OK with putting a few Christmas-y things on my dining table.  I'm packing those back up tomorrow.  I've decided to be tongue in cheek about it and put out a bowl of lemons.  When I go to the grocery store, if my attitude has improved, I might also get some oranges and cinnamon sticks to add to the bowl.  We'll see.  I doubt it.  I'm feeling a bit mad at life right now, so lemons seem fitting.  Sour grapes seem fitting as well, but they aren't very attractive and would probably smell bad, too.

I'll end on a nicer note with a photo of Rudy.  This is one of my favorite photos of him.   I haven't actually ranked his photos, but I'd be willing to bet if I did, this would be in the top five. Possibly THE favorite. The photo is old and faded.  It was taken in 1978.  He's a mess.  He's just come from a fishing trip and he's holding his catch.  I've never been a fan of fishing and I've definitely never been a fan of proudly holding up an animal you've just killed.  (Full disclaimer:  I eat meat and am completely aware that I am a big hypocrite.)   Despite all this, I love this photo.  This is the guy I fell in love with.  He's so happy!  Even filthy and holding a dead fish, he could charm me.  This is the guy who is causing me to lose my mind right now.

Monday, November 30, 2015

The Ring In-Between

There's a part of being a new widow that had never occurred to me before.  It's a state of in-between.  Neither here nor there.  Afterloss Purgatory.

The first time the in-between-ness hit me was when filling out some paperwork and having to check a box for either single or married.  This was a test I hadn't studied for.  I really didn't know what to check and didn't like that I had to declare myself one way or the other.  Neither choice seemed correct.  I still feel married, but officially, I guess I'm not and that stupid form was making me say I was something I wasn't ready for.  There should be a box for UNCERTAIN or OTHER or IN-BETWEEN.

Strange.  I guess I'm single, but it feels wrong to check that box. Single sounds flirty, footloose, and fancy free.  It sounds like I should be out on the town on Saturday nights.  I'm not single like that.  But then, if there is no living spouse, I can't actually claim to be married either, can I?  I'm something in-between.

It occurred to me there might be an unofficial symbol of being in-between. If a widow still wears her wedding ring, she is somewhere in-between.

How the ring ties in to the in-between life of a widow came to me after reading a new post from a widow asking advice about when to take off her wedding ring.  How long to wear the wedding ring tends to be a hot topic on many widow blogs.   I come across new discussions on the topic at least every week or two.  The accepted answer from "professionals" is to take it off when you feel ready.  Some widows participating in these discussions can be VERY opinionated and passionate on the topic.  When do you take it off?  Do you ever take it off?  Many widows (especially those in over 50) vow to never take it off and a few of them word their opinion so strongly that you get the impression that anyone who does less obviously didn't love their husbands.  They don't come out and say that, but their message is annoyingly clear.
FYI - This is NOT my ring.

Is taking off the wedding ring a betrayal?  I read on one post, "Your wedding ring is a symbol of your love and commitment to your spouse."  Well, damn.  That sentence alone would pressure a widow to keep her rings on forever if she cared anything at all for her husband.  Sadly, there's an incredible amount of fear and guilt associated with taking off the wedding ring.  It's a symbol to some of dismissing your deceased spouse and is almost like a divorce.  Let that thought sink in.  Removing the ring is like divorcing the beloved wife or husband who died.  That's a really ugly thought, isn't it?  But, there it is.  I hope when I take my ring off, which I WILL do at some point, that no one thinks I'm over Rudy.  You never get over someone you loved.  I don't think any of the people who love me will feel that way.  I guess, if someone I know thinks that, then clearly, they don't know me very well.

Taking the ring off is also seen by some as announcing you're ready to be on the market. I don't like that thought, either. That's turning what should be a gradual transition from A to Z into one abrupt change, skipping all the baby steps in-between.   There are often many stages and emotions between Grieving Widow and Dating Widow.  Removing the ring might be one of those in-between stages.

I have decided to associate removing the ring with something less weighty.  Maybe it will mean I've decided to come to terms with the fact that I'm on my own and brave enough to handle it.  I've been trying to do that all along.  Some people think I've done it pretty well already.  I try to present a good on-my-own front and am proud of how I've handled myself, but, truthfully, I'm not there yet.
Removing the ring shouldn't be seen as a coming out party for widows.  No symbol is needed for that transition.  It's likely something that just happens when the time is right.   I have a feeling most widows don't enter that stage on their own. Most are probably coaxed out by concerned friends or wooed out by a very charming suitor.  If George Clooney came to my door, said he and Amal had realized they weren't right for each other and after reading my blogs, he knew we were soul mates, I feel pretty sure I'd start dating.  In fact, I'd probably be willing to marry him on the spot.  My blog posts would get way more interesting after that!

There are reasons other than devotion that widows wear their wedding rings for so long. One is the safety factor.  There's a safety in being thought to be married.  A single woman is vulnerable. That makes me furious, but most women know it's the truth.  A married woman gets treated a little differently.  Usually.  More importantly, strangers assume there is someone at home waiting for a woman wearing a ring.  A single woman can seem like an easy target. When I'm out in public, I always imply I'm married to strangers.  When I think of the safety issue, I'm tempted to wear my ring forever.

I suspect there's another, more controversial reason a few widows plan to never remove their ring. It may be less about the love of their deceased husband and more about the fact that they are just fine with their freedom.  They don't want a man in their life to mess things up.  I imagine if you've had a domineering husband or a high-maintenance husband, even if he was fairly lovable, it would be easier to only have to answer to yourself.  If you suspect that is the reason a widow you know continues to wear their ring, I don't advise pointing it out. Few widows would own up to it, especially if they've built up a nice facade of, "I loved my husband so much I could never in a million years move on."  A ticked off widow can go off on you like no other!  :-D

The very idea that there is so much drama and guilt and judgment associated with a widow removing their ring makes me want to take mine off right now in protest.  A ring doesn't tell my story.  Things like rings should not be given so much power.

Despite my annoyance, I am reluctant to take mine off right now.  I suppose I could plan to do it on some future special date, like New Year's or the anniversary of Rudy's death, but that would give the removal too much importance and could turn the whole process into a major grief meltdown, which I fear more than removing the ring.

Maybe one day - one random, insignificant day - I'll just take it off, put it away, say nothing about it and go on my way.  I would try not to make the removal mean anything at all.  It would probably be sensible to do it sooner rather than later.  I imagine the longer I wait, the harder it will be.

OR, I could slowly wean myself from it by wearing it some days and not others.  That wouldn't seem so scary.  Taking it off for a day or so knowing I would be putting it back on wouldn't feel so dramatic. The fact is, I'm not ready to remove my ring yet.  Why am I reluctant? What's holding me back? Honestly, I have no idea.  I can't figure it out at all.  I've become a person I don't know very well.

On a positive note, at least we no longer honor the more obvious tradition of widows dressing in black.  "Widows were expected to wear special clothes to indicate that they were in mourning for up to four years after the death, although a widow could choose to wear such attire for the rest of her life. To change the costume earlier was considered disrespectful to the deceased and, if the widow was still young and attractive, suggestive of potential sexual promiscuity."

Interestingly, that tradition gave widows a chance to gradually transition. "Those subject to the rules were slowly allowed to re-introduce conventional clothing at specific time periods; such stages were known by such terms as "full mourning", "half mourning", and similar descriptions. For half mourning, muted colours such as lilac, grey and lavender could be introduced."  Source    I find it interesting that they had  an in-between stage --- half-mourning!

Scarlett O'Hara certainly isn't a role model for widows who actually loved their husbands, but you have to admit she got around the rules of the day.  She even managed to dump her ring without a second thought by donating it to the cause. But then, Scarlett never loved Mr. Kennedy, did she?  For widows who had real love, it's so much more complicated.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

One Year Ago

I sometimes think about what was happening a year ago from whatever day it is.  For the next few months, that's probably not wise.  But today, I gave in to temptation and looked back on last year's calendar.

Nov 21, 2014 was Rudy's first chemo.  It was at Piedmont, before we transferred to CTCA.  We thought it would be a treatment that might extend Rudy's life.  It turned out to be the treatment that would make his life a living hell.  He would spend the next week sick as a dog, unable to keep anything down and weak beyond belief.  He would go to Piedmont over and over during the next week to get fluids.  No doctor would see him.  The nurses did the best they could.  He would be over-medicated to the point that he thought he was installing glass, even though he was sitting in a chair getting fluids.

At this same time, our dog Teddy was losing his hair and scratching like mad.  They first thought he might have mange.  He did not.  Life was a rollercoaster of cancer doctors and vets and worry and misery, with a dash of hope that this was all temporary and things would improve.

If I could go back in time, even if it meant seeing Rudy once more, I would not go back to November 21, 2014.  Thank God, Rudy isn't going through that hell anymore.

Back to the present - I find I am not dreading Thanksgiving (or Christmas) quite as much as I was a month or so ago.  I've been working on focusing on the positives and playing around with how I think of the day.

My dread of these first holidays without Rudy is all in my head, as is all dread.  I'm pretty good at head games.  I can master this.  I will not be the widow crying at Thanksgiving dinner over what she's lost.  I will be the widow who is grateful for what she had (and for so many years of having it) and thankful for all the loved ones she still has.  I will have a genuine smile on my face. I will enjoy all the people I'm with.  Seriously.  I will master this.

PS - To all my family reading this - Please stay positive and happy and funny.  If anyone starts talking sad things or giving me sorrowful looks, my head game positive attitude may completely dissolve. I'm looking forward to lots of hugs, but please let them be happy hugs rather than sorrowful ones. Please, let's find the joy in the day and fully enjoy those still with us.  We are not promised tomorrow with any of the people still here.  Make the most of it!  Let's have some laughs and make some memories!  I sure hope I can do it.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Six Months - My Reflections

Rudy has been gone six months.  I've written this post over and over and deleted it over and over.  I don't want to keep writing the really sad stuff. It makes people worry about me and they don't need to.

I'm continuing to change.  I have no idea how I'll turn out, but I know I'll never be the same.  Many things I used to like no longer have my interest.  I am no longer involved in selling antiques.  I don't have a booth.  I don't promote any stores. That chapter is over.  New interests are filling up my time.  I've become obsessed with hiking.  My friend, Susan, is a willing partner in this activity, but we hope others will join us.  A few friends have expressed interest.  Susan and I need to figure out how to coordinate it.

I love this quote, but the meaning  of wild for me is different from what it might have been in the past.  I had some wild days in my youth.  My daddy can attest to that and he's no doubt mighty glad I'm no longer that kind of wild.

These days wild is more about not being tamed by expectations.  I am refusing to do things that don't feel right, even if it goes against the norm.  It affects me in ways that are shallow - like letting my hair go absolutely crazy - and ways that are deep - like grieving in solitude because it feels more sacred. I'm sure some people think I'm having far too much fun than is respectable for a widow of six months.  Those people are ignorant.  I hope they stay blissfully ignorant as long as possible.  One day, they'll get it.  Meanwhile, it's not my problem and I don't worry about it... because I've gone wild.

Losses keep coming.  Three people have died since Rudy and truthfully, those losses left me reeling in very different ways.  Rudy's cousin, Vicki, is the most recent.  She died this past week.  Rudy was close to her, especially when they were young.  We haven't seen as much of her these last years.  She moved to Alabama.  When we did see her, the time gone by didn't seem to matter.  My memories of Vicki all include her laughing and joking and lighting up the room.  When I got the news of her passing, I felt sure Rudy had been one of the people there to greet her.  Rudy and Jimmy are no doubt teaching her how to make funny things happen here on earth so those of us still here will always be reminded that they are looking out for us.  Jimmy, Rudy, and Vicki all have a wicked sense of fun and are very creative when it comes to pranks, so I imagine those of us they plan to "communicate" with, will be very entertained.  I can feel them laughing about it right now, which oddly makes me cry.

The losses have made me a bit obsessed with thinking about how important it is to appreciate our friends and family while they are here.  I have a bit more fear about it than I should.  I keep wondering when I see someone if I will see them again or if some crazy thing will happen and they will die. I even wonder if I will be the one to go and if my last visits with people will have been good.  I need to stop dwelling on death, but I hope when I do, I will remember to be fully in the moment while I am with my friends and family.

I'm also finding myself less judgemental about people's crazy sides.  I don't have to agree with what anyone is doing with their life.  It's their path, not mine.  The crazy parts are what makes our lives most interesting.  In fact, maybe it's better to love  and enjoy the crazy parts - they always make good stories.  If the story is a cautionary tale, then I figure they are learning a life lesson and just love them all the while.  Lord knows, when it comes to crazy life lessons, I've learned some doozies myself and I was loved through those.

I am trying to spend more time with people I care about.  I don't turn down many opportunities to get together with loved ones.  You can take one look at my house and know that I haven't been spending quite enough time here.   Life is short and what matters most is connecting with people we care about.

As Forest Gump would say, "That's all I have to say about that."

Here are a few random photos that bring back happier days.  These were taken when people were truly in the moment and feeling joy.  These little moments were all so much more important than we realized at the time.  I'm so thankful I live in the age of easy photography.

This was taken out at the barn.  I'm up in the loft.
I think I was supposed to be handing something to Rudy.

Daniel and Rudy - so serious

Carly and Rudy

Rudy and Kelly

Rudy and Nancy

Rudy with Annie and Sadie soon after they came to us.

Rudy with Lucy - the once-in-a-lifetime dog

Saturday, October 31, 2015

The Grief Box

Sometimes I feel like the lack of emotion I show publicly is puzzling to others.  To tell the truth, I didn't understand it myself at first.   It's probably not so surprising to other widows.   I think I've come up with a way to explain it.  I call it The Grief Box.

All of my grief and touching memories and meaningful emotions associated with Rudy are kept in The Grief Box.  The box is something I carry with me everywhere I go. 

When I go out, I guard that box carefully. It's like Pandora's Box.  I don't want it opened when I'm out and vulnerable. The box can be accessed from all sides and it's not all that strong.  Sometimes I'm guarding one side of the box and something sneaks up and pulls a memory out from the other side.  Every time the box is compromised, the pain is raw.  It takes time to recover from a surprise leak.  

As time goes on, I'm getting better at guarding the box.  The box is thicker and tougher and harder to puncture by surprise, but it's not at all invincible.  If I know something is coming up, I can brace for it.  When I'm braced, The Grief Box is difficult to sneak open.  On the other hand, when I'm home and by myself, the box is fairly unprotected.  Memories and emotions spring forth rather freely.  I don't push those back so much.  I am able to feel what I feel without need for explanation and without making anyone else sad or uncomfortable.  All my friends and family would be more than happy to be a shoulder for me to cry on, but I do better sorting through these emotions on my own. 

Widows whose husbands die suddenly and unexpectedly are usually much more emotionally demonstrative (or they are in a complete state of shock).  They haven't had time to build their grief box. 

Widows whose husbands die after a long illness usually appear to be holding up well.  

For me, I began building my grief box the day the doctor said "Stage IV,  Not Curable".  That was pretty much the worst day of my life.  It was even harder than the day Rudy died because I didn't expect that diagnosis.  I had no protection. I felt like I turned to stone, but looking back, I'm sure I was in shock. By the time he died, I was a tougher, different person.  I had even reached the point where I was thankful for Rudy's release from suffering.  

I've been a widow for nearly six months now, but in some ways I think I've been widowed for a year.  The day of that diagnosis is the day I started losing him.  That was the day I began building my Grief Box.

Those of us who carry around a grief box are not able to be free and easy emotionally.  I have no idea how long it will take me to feel free and easy again.  I sometimes wonder if I ever will. Will I have to guard my grief box always?  I do talk about Rudy often and I hope one day memories of him will only bring smiles.  For now, I'm just one of those widows who is holding up well...  I'm holding up a Grief Box.  

I should end there.  That last bit would make a good ending.  Still, I feel compelled to let the people I love know that I really am doing well.  I'm functioning and figuring out how to get on.  I'm getting out there and finding ways to have fun. I am constantly looking for good things.  I find it's true, when you look for good, you will find it. Hiking is my newest thing.  I most enjoy being around friends I see often.  With them, I don't feel like the elephant in the room that everyone has to be careful around.  In other words, nobody needs to worry about me.  But, I want to make it perfectly clear... widows you meet who are holding up well are dealing with lots of pain whether you see it or not.

 This post was written after hearing a comment about how another widow was "holding up well" and I thought to myself that only another widow understands what it means to be holding up well.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Uncle Clyne

The 1965 Ford truck often mentioned in this blog originally belonged to Rudy's uncle, Clyne Veal.  Clyne recently turned 95.  He's an amazing man.  He's also a WWII vet with some very remarkable war experiences.

Clyne Veal served in the Navy during World War II aboard the USS Clemmons, a destroyer which was converted to a high-speed minesweeper deployed to the waters off the coast of Okinawa.

He has been interviewed several times and there's a great article AND VIDEO at the Gainesville Times site.

Since online posts have a way of eventually disappearing and this one is already 5 years old, I am copying the article here.  Hopefully, those in the family who are archiving important family information will copy it as well.  Also - Does anyone know how to copy the video???  It's priceless.

Hall Man Escaped from Sinking Ship
By Jeff Gill
POSTED: August 15, 2010

Clyne Veal and his wife of 61 years, Lorene, recall Veal's days in the Navy during World War II from their Gwinnett County home.

BUFORD — Clyne Veal survived months in the Atlantic Theater aboard the Navy destroyer USS Emmons, including the D-Day invasion at Normandy.

After the Germans were defeated and nearly two weeks after being sent to the Pacific to fight the Japanese, Veal was caught in a desperate sea struggle and didn't think he was going to make it home.

Clyne Veal served on the USS Emmons, a Gleaves-class destroyer, named for Rear Adm. George F. Emmons.

The Emmons, converted to a high-speed minesweeper, had gone from patrolling for submarines in the Arctic Circle to clearing dangerous explosives from the waters off the coast of Okinawa. Her mission: Pave the way for assault ships as part of a looming U.S. invasion.

"Them boys didn't want their channels swept," Veal said of the Japanese military, "and they sicced the kamikaze planes on us."

There were 11 suicide planes in all.

"The boys shot down six of them and five of them hit us," Veal said, speaking at his home near the Hall-Gwinnett County line last week. "That was one time I thought I was going to die."

At one point during the attack, the ship's captain "came floating down by the side of the ship," he recalled. "I reached over and grabbed him by the hands ... then turned him around and got hold of his life jacket and pulled him up on the ship and propped him up against a bulkhead."

Assigned to fire and rescue, Veal went to the other side of the ship to tend to a crew member whose legs had been shot off.

"We started back to the first aid station with him and he died on the way (to it)," he said.

The ship eventually sunk and Veal was the next to last crew member to leave it.

"As far as I know ... we got this small ship that was operating with us to come alongside and we put what wounded guys we had left on there that hadn't been put on a lifeboat," he said.

The ship had about 260 people aboard, with about 60 killed or declared missing in action and another 75 wounded.

Veal escaped unscathed, but the memories lingered for awhile.

"It doesn't bother me," he said. "I had one nightmare about (it) after I got back — I woke up fighting the battle — but I don't ever worry about."

After the attack on April 6, 1945, he was shipped back to the U.S. and was stationed for a while at an air base in California. He was discharged on Dec. 3, 1945.

The war had been over since the Japanese surrendered on Aug. 15.

Veal has no particular memories of that day.

"I believe I was on an old tanker coming back home," he said. "...It was nice to know we didn't have to fight anymore."

Clyne Veal's Navy portrait.

Veal, a Forsyth County native who grew up in Hall County, settled in the 1950s off what is now known as Sandy Hill Road, which is off Bogan Road, just south of the Hall line. Rural then, the land surrounding his home - built in 1963 - is dotted by subdivisions.

Through the years, he has farmed, tending to cattle and chickens. He worked for a time with General Motors and retired after 18 years with Georgia-Pacific.

He and his wife, Lorene, have been married 61 years.

Ten years ago, the Japanese Coast Guard discovered the USS Emmons buried at sea. Veal has a copy of a book about the ship's history and a framed black-and-white photo of the ship when it was a destroyer.

Now nearly 90 and reflecting on the 65 years since the war ended, he said, "I tell you one thing - I believe I'm awful lucky to still be around talking about it."

Friday, October 9, 2015

Memory of Joy

I was reading on one of my favorite widow blogs today and her post absolutely nailed the source of my grief.  She said the memory of joy was the most painful.  That's it!  That's what turns on my faucet of tears every time - a memory of something wonderful.

Today, I was thinking about how Rudy always said I was easy to please.  He would get me something small on a whim and it tickled him at how thrilled I would be.  A million little things he gave me over the years popped into my head.  Just the thought of them still makes me happy... and so, so sad.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Five Months - My Reflections

As of 9:15 this morning, Rudy will have been gone 5 months.  I just read over what I wrote after four months and it seems to describe about the way I'm feeling now.  I still miss him like crazy.  I still think I hear him coming in from work.  I still imagine what he'd have to say about everything.  I still can't believe he's gone.

Not much has changed except my need to write publicly about how I'm feeling.

When I write on this blog, I am mostly thinking about whether what I'm saying might be helpful to other widows.  Then, I think about whether what I'm saying might make my friends and family worry about me.  Then I wonder if what I'm writing truly reflects how I'm feeling after all the editing.

I have switched over to journaling more for myself.  It's easier.  I don't have to think so much as I write.  I just put down my feelings and get it out of my system.  Then I get back to reality.

This is how I think of Rudy.
He was hilarious and laughed a lot.  That's what made me fall for him.

I like this photo a lot, despite the poor focus and color.  That expression is how he looked just as something funny was occurring to him.    He could say something halfway insulting in a way that made you  know you were loved and enjoy being zinged. He only did this with people he was close to. I heard a quote recently about somebody famous and of course, I can't remember who.  It said this person could tell you to go to hell in a way that made you look forward to the trip. For Rudy, that would be changed to he could insult you in a way that made you proud to be so enjoyably flawed.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Treadaway Reunion

I made it through the first family reunion without Rudy today.  This reunion was for my dad's side of the family.  My grandmother, who I always called by her name, Ruth, adored these reunions.  Ruth had lots of brothers and sisters.  They loved the reunions, too, but they are all gone now.  I have wonderful memories of reunions when they were all alive.  They were all smart and lively and fun to be around.  Rudy loved those reunions, too.  He especially loved being around Ruth and her sister, Mary.  Rudy would tease them and flirt and they would become positively giddy around him.    Ruth's brothers were wonderful, too.  Rudy and I loved hearing the great stories of things they did long ago.

Sisters - Ruth, Verna, and Mary
Aren't the flapper shoes great?

Being at this reunion without Rudy was sad, but I was braced for it.  I knew he would be remembered.  I knew people would offer condolences.  Being braced helps tremendously.  It's the unexpected things that are hardest.

I enjoyed seeing the people who were there, but, I really missed the many who were not.  I don't know how heaven works, but if loved ones do get to hang around occasionally and see things that are happening here, I'll bet it was really crowded at the reunion today.  Ruth's brother Grady was probably the proudest one of all.  His great granddaughter just received her doctorate in Forensic Toxicology.   Her degrees came from GA Tech and UGA.  I'm proud to say, I share some of her genes.  :-D

My wonderful grandparents - Joe and Ruth

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Fall Sadness, Holidays, and a New Wardrobe

I'm loving the fall weather, but fall is bringing up some unpleasant memories.  These last 4+ months, I've worked hard to squash memories of Rudy being sick and instead, have tried to train my mind to switch to memories of happy times.  I'm having less success now and I suppose it's inevitable that the next few months will be pretty much a minefield.

I suppose I need to start reading lots of articles like this.

October is the month that Rudy first thought he had bronchitis.  He went to the doctor and had x-rays.  They found a tumor.  November was the grim diagnosis and the beginning of the merry-go-round of tests and chemo.  Every holiday has a memory of sickness.  Every holiday will also have a memory of happy times in past years.  Rudy loved the holidays.  Will I ever be able to love them again?  I'm so mad at myself for feeling this way.  I've been brilliant at controlling how I look at things and now I'm losing my control.  I'm absolutely dreading Thanksgiving and Christmas.  I swear, if it weren't for all my pet craziness, I'd leave town.  I want to run away.

Seriously, I do NOT want to ruin gatherings
for everyone by acting like this!
This little crying girl cracks me up.
See how I'm able to have fun even while being pitiful?

Also, in the fall are two family reunions.  Rudy loved those even more than holidays.  I don't know why, but I think I'll be able to handle those a little better than the holidays.  I keep wondering why and just have no idea.  They'll be sad, but I don't feel like I could have a meltdown.  Just the thought of Thanksgiving and Christmas makes me feel panicky.  There is a tiny little doubt in my head about these reunions.  What if I just think I'll be OK, but get there and lose it?  Darn it.  Where has my mind control gone?  I'm doing exactly the things I know not to do.

Another weird thing I'm having trouble with is my wardrobe.  So many of my fall clothes have memories attached to them.  How shallow is that?  I wore this sweater when Rudy was told he was going to die and there was nothing they could do.  I might as well toss that sweater if I can't get myself under control.  I wore that outfit to his first meeting at CTCA.  Every fall and winter thing I have is associated with chemo and doctor visits and scans and emergency room visits.

I've been buying new clothes like crazy.  You may think I've suddenly become a style maven, but there's a bit more to it than that.  I'm trying to make the buying process fun and I'm trying to find things I can love wearing, but it's not exactly a happy fashion transformation.  It's a necessary fashion transformation.  Last year's clothes make me cry.

I really believe that after I get through the rest of this year I might be able to turn a corner and focus on joy again.  I'd like to turn a corner before then.  I'd like to figure out how I can be present at holiday gatherings without ruining them for everyone else.  I can't believe it's only September and I'm worried about that.  That's stupid!  I don't like doing stupid things.  I need to snap out of it, right?

Here's something that occurs to me, showing that karma's a bitch.  I can remember seeing widows throughout my life who suddenly spruced themselves up and/or suddenly began redecorating or moving to a new home or going on trips or doing happy things.  All sorts of things occurred to me - they must not have loved their husbands all that much, they must have inherited a bunch of money, they must be thinking about getting another man... the judgmental list goes on. (I will say that I was more judgmental about it when I was young and had gotten a bit more understanding in the last few years.  Still I racked up a good bit of widow-judgment karma in my twenties, thirties, and forties.) Well, here I am, right smack in the middle of the things I judged.  I get it now.  I understand ALL the reasons now.  Lesson learned.  Don't judge me. I personally care very little if you do, but for your own sake, just remember... karma's a bitch.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Monday, September 7, 2015

Four Months - My Reflections

I've been doing a lot of reflecting the last few days.   I've been thinking about two things - how much I miss Rudy and what the heck am I supposed to do without him.

I believe in Heaven.  I believe Rudy is there and that he's happy.  I believe he is often with me and others he loves.  There's still a connection. I believe at the end of my life, I'll join him on the other side.

I think there's a possibility that before we are born we may get to choose a few things about our life in order to put ourselves in situations where we will do what we're supposed to do and learn what we're supposed to learn.  I can even imagine Rudy being given a choice - he could have chosen a longer, safer, more sedate life.  Instead, he chose a slightly shorter life lived doing exactly as he pleased, saying exactly what he wanted to say and having a heck of a time all along the way.  That sounds like a pretty great way to live, actually.  It can ruffle feathers, but it certainly simplifies things more than beating around the bush or avoiding talking about things.  He had great health with hardly any trouble at all up until 7 months before he died.  I can see him choosing that, too.  So, he had a good life.  62 years isn't long enough, but it's more than many get.

1978 - this was my first trip to his family's yearly reunion.
It was the summer before we were married.

If I truly believe Rudy is happy in Heaven and that Rudy had a good life on earth, then it follows that much of my grief is because I'm feeling awfully sorry for myself.  That's true.  What do I do without him?  When I pictured my future, I pictured it with him.  We would grow old together.  We might even "check out" together in a car crash. He was a very talented driver and had incredible reflexes, but he went way too fast for me.  I could even picture us going through the "after-death tunnel" together. As we would be pulled towards the bright light,  I would be fussing at him all the way, saying, "I TOLD YOU your driving was going to kill us!"

It ALSO follows that I am still here because my journey is not over.  The question is, what is my journey?  I have been reading lots of online sites for widows.  The posts are often inspiring and the comments by other widows are often enlightening and/or thought-provoking.  If I thought about it long enough, I could probably come up with 5 or 6 highly generalized categories for how  widows deal with their grief.  One category would be for widows who desperately want to find another person to love.  I don't begrudge them, but I'm definitely not in that category. I've never been the type of person to get bored alone. I can have just as much fun by myself as with someone.  Another category would be for widows who pretty much give up.  Just today I read a great post inspiring widows to stop picturing themselves as one day old and alone (I have to admit that scenario scares the heck out of me) and start visualizing themselves living a full and happy life.  Then I read the comments and there were MANY from widows who said they were too old to start a new life.  The surprising part?  They were in their 50's or 60's.  Not a single one of those comments were from ladies over 65.  If those widows were in front of me, I'd be tempted to shake them til their teeth rattled.  So clearly, that's not my category.

So what widow category is mine?  I'm pretty sure I'm in the category of widows who despite being devastated, pick themselves up and figure out how to spend whatever time is left on earth being a good person, living fully, and seeking joy.  I have no idea how that's going to look.  I can't imagine what the future may bring.  I can't imagine the path I might take, but you can bet I'm going to keep moving.  I'm going to stay connected to family and friends and life.  I'm going to make new friends along the way.  I'm going to be open to possibilities... new hobbies, new things to learn, maybe I'll even live on a lake or on the coast one day.  When my ride is over and Rudy meets me on the other side, he'll be grinning and he'll say, "Well done".

That all sounds very brave, doesn't it?  Here's a little widow truth...  I won't be able to go out bravely into the world with that attitude every day.  Today, for instance, I'm overwhelmed with memories of Rudy. It's been exactly four months since he died (May 7th at 9:15 am).  I'm going to stick around the house and give in to the grief.   I really miss him. And no, I don't want to be rescued.  I've had offers to go out today.  I just want need to stay home and be free to feel sad.

This is the May 7th heading in the Simple Abundance journal by Sarah Ban Breathnach. The title is amazing, but so is the quote.  The last day or two before Rudy died, he kept trying to get up, saying "THEY told me I could go home."  I thought he was confused.  He wasn't.  I didn't ask the right question.  I didn't ask who THEY were.  I'll always regret that.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Doggy Boot Camp

Rudy was the dog whisperer in our family.  He was the alpha dog in charge.  I was happily second in command and my role was mostly sweet talking.  I benefited from his discipline.  He was good at keeping the dogs in line.  He was firm, but fun, and they all loved him dearly.  They towed the line because they wanted to please him.

With Rudy gone, I'm sure there's been uncertainty in our pack.  Six dogs.  Three males.  Two young ones who didn't get to spend enough time with Rudy to clearly understand the rules.  And me?  Grieving and lost, I've  mostly wanted to snuggle with them all.

George, one of the young ones, has been showing signs of possessiveness and aggression.  His last incident got my full attention and I'm happy to say I'm stepping up and letting them all know I'm in charge.

The six dogs and I are in the midst of what I'm calling doggy boot camp.  I need retraining as much as they do.  I'm reading articles and spending time reinforcing our new rules.  I'm amazed at how well it's going.  I think Rudy may be helping me somehow.

I don't know how well I can get them trained or how far I might take this, but I consider this phase one.  Phase one includes basics.

1 - I'm boss.  Today when I told the family about my new system, my sister-in-law, Nancy, said I was the Alpha Bitch (which could be taken as referring to a female dog or a very assertive female).  The family cracked up over that one and sweet Nancy tried four different ways to make that not sound bad.  It was finally decided that she's been living with her hubby, Mike Alford, for way too long and his craziness has influenced her.  It really was funny.  But, on a deeper level,  it's sort of sad that just when I've become a fairly mellow person, I am having to step up in all areas of my life to become strong, independent and assertive even though I was really happy with being mellow.  (Sigh)  It is what it is.  I guess I'll have to claim my new title.

This is Nancy while she tried to back track and make my new title sound nicer.
Nancy - never, ever insult someone with a blog.  LOL
Truthfully, I thought it was quick-witted and funny as all get-out.
2 - Nothing is free.  Since I'm boss, everything belongs to me - food, treats, toys, etc.  If they want any of it, they have to do something to earn it.  Mostly, they have to come to me and sit.  Sitting first is making treat time and meal time much calmer.

George sits and waits for his turn to get a treat.

3 - No means no.  Most of the dogs respond decently to me saying no.  I am occasionally reinforcing my NO with a quick squirt from a water bottle.  George is the main one who needed that to start with.  This is just day three of boot camp and I only had to squirt George once.  Just one quick squirt quickly redirected him.

I'm going for long walks with them twice a day right now.  That's been a great opportunity for training.  I take doggy treats and my squirt bottle.  We've been walking for about 35-40 minutes at a time. I stop about 10 times to hand out little treats.  They have to come to me and sit calmly to earn that treat.  They are doing a great job. Annie has always been the hardest to hand feed - she gets excited and sometimes it seems fingers might be at risk.  I've been getting stricter with her on this and demanding more calmness.  She's really done well.

We're going on training walks twice a day - rain or shine.
Today was rainy.
I'm having to work on my behavior just as much as theirs.  I'm learning to be firm and consistent.  I'm learning to promote calmness.  I'm learning to be loving and full of praise without relinquishing my alpha role. I don't want these dogs to be fearful or anxious.  I want them to feel secure and loved and to understand what's expected.  I'm determined to make it work. I'll bet Rudy is proud of me.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Lost in Translation

Once again, I've been interacting with other widows online.  It seems to be exactly the therapy I need.  The posts can be inspiring, but I seem to find the real jewels in the comments.

Yesterday, I read a post advising widows to not wait to go out and do the things they are passionate about.  It was very upbeat and positive and though I tried to feel upbeat and inspired while reading it, I just didn't.

Then I scrolled the comments.  Here are three that caught my attention -
What if you are lost in translation... I don't know what I'm passionate about anymore... How do you rediscover yourself after a loss?
I've been trying to do the same things my husband and I both enjoyed, but I find I no longer enjoy with his absence. I too am stuck in limbo. I have a few goals but they're so sketchy. 
I needed this tonight...have recently felt that there's "something more" I should be doing...almost like when you forget something really know you're supposed to do something, just can't put your finger on it...
Oh my.  I know just how these ladies are feeling.  I've lost my mojo.  I can't seem to get fired up about things I used to enjoy.  I can't get fired up about what the future may hold.  The fire is out. The embers aren't even warm.  I'm going thru the motions and that's about the best I can do.

Today, I gave myself a pep talk about this whole lost in translation feeling.

I need to remember that this grief is fresh. Rudy has been gone less than 4 months.  It's been an incredibly long 4 months, but still doesn't feel like he's truly gone.  I hear his voice in my head.  I see him coming around the corner.  I think I hear him coming home.  He's in my head every time I do something we'd typically discuss. I can almost feel his fabulous hugs.

I need to give myself a break and not worry that I feel so lost.  I'll be lost for as long as it takes, but I won't be still.  I'll keep going through the motions - seeing friends, decorating my house, playing with the dogs, going places and telling everyone, "I'm OK".  One of these days I might actually feel something other than grief.

I have a feeling I'll be writing many grief-related posts as I go through this process. For some reason, I am able to write how I'm feeling, even though I can't seem to talk about it much.  That doesn't make sense, but I can't get fired up about making sense either. :-P

Thursday, August 20, 2015

1,000 Years Older than Everyone Around Me

I've been reading The Cat Widow blog again.  Her husband died a year before Rudy and I have been reading her posts from last August when she was a 3 month widow.

The post I read today had a bit that hit home -
I didn't feel like the lonely widow out of place in the crowd. I didn't feel like an impostor of a woman trying to have fun. I didn't feel like I was 1,000 years older than everyone around me due to grief. I felt normal.
She had gone out with friends that day and felt somewhat normal.  I haven't felt all that normal yet..  I still feel like I'm too often putting on an act - in her words, I feel like "an imposter".

The part of the post that really jumped out was the part about feeling 1000 years older than everyone else.  I don't feel old in a wise, mature kind of way.  I feel old as in I've seen too much.

I'm so changed I hardly recognize myself.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Just a Shell?

I have been reading some blogs by other widows.  One (The Cat Widow) is from a rather young (just 30 years old) widow.  When I find one of these blogs, I like to find the posts they wrote when they were as far along into widowhood as I am.  For me, it was 3 months yesterday.  I was busy most of the day, but the times I was on my own, I had a harder time than expected.  At one point I was in my car crying and really missing Rudy and then, dammit, I hit a racoon.  I'm such an animal lover, so that was pretty horrific.  Instead of crying worse, I shut down.  Just went numb.  I drove the rest of the way home in a state of nothingness.

Today, I read a post from The Cat Widow that made me think about that numbness.  First, she explained the difference between grief and mourning.  I had never heard there was a difference.

Grief is an internal process. Lots of emotions come into play and the process is different for everyone. Mourning, however, is grief that is expressed to the world. Mourning is how a person works through her grief by outwardly expressing the things she is feeling inside.
I have plenty of grief, but I avoid mourning.  I work really hard to hide my sadness.  I work hard to be cheerful and make sure others are comfortable around me.  I don't want to cry in front of other people.  I prefer to be alone with my sadness.

Then, her post went on to say this -
In grad school and during my time doing a graduate internship with hospice, I was taught that grief without mourning is frightening and destructive. Grief without mourning is how people become shells of their former selves. How people succumb to demons and emotional pain. How people get stuck and cannot move forward. 
 That got my attention, especially because of the part about becoming shells of their former selves.  That struck home because I often feel like a shell.  All empty inside.  I shut down often - just like I did with the racoon.  The shutting down is scarier than feeling sad.  I can't even explain it.

This is not my drawing, but it
sort of fit how I feel sometimes.
If I believe the grad school logic in her post, then it would be prudent for me to try to open up more.  Unfortunately, I don't think I can do that.  I don't even want to do that.  You won't see me breaking down in front of others, but maybe my writing can count as my mourning.  I can write some of what I'm feeling.

I'm not going to worry too much about being a shell. I don't think I'll get stuck in this state.  I know I'm not going to succumb to demons or not be able to move forward.  I don't know how long it will take to get a little real life back in me, but I feel sure it'll happen.  I'll just continue faking it 'til I make it. Sometimes faking it feels real.

Anyway, maybe it's best to look at this shell thing another way - a shell is a protective covering.  I'll use it as long as I need it.

By the way, grief is different for everyone.  Even though I am not in total agreement with the point of view in The Cat Widow's aforementioned post, I really do like her blog.  Her posts could be really helpful to other widows.  Her husband committed suicide due to ongoing pain.  I think that adds a whole extra level of pain to the grieving process.  She's dealing with it gracefully.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Not Sweating the Small Stuff

I know I've changed.  That's a fact.  But some of the changes have surprised even me.  I'm just not sweating the small stuff so much these days.

The other day I was in a bit of a hurry and while refilling the cat food bowl, the whole thing dropped and food went everywhere.  Those little morsels can really slide across the floor, too!  Instead of getting upset, it seemed like a photo op.  Ha!  The mess you see is the main pile, but I would have had to take many shots to show the extent of the mess.

It occurred to me that I was taking the whole "big-mess-when-in-a-hurry" thing very well, but I didn't think about it much more.  After all, who cries over spilt cat food, right?

But today, I reacted calmly in a situation that would have previously sent me into a full-blown hissy fit.  My bookmarks disappeared.  As in GONE.  No, I hadn't turned off my bookmarks toolbar or something simple like that.  They were there one moment and gone the next.  I tried all the tricks I could find, searching through "bak" files and more.  The bookmarks could not be retrieved.  Years of carefully culled bookmarks were lost in the great internet void.  I did experience some mild shock, but there was no hissy fit.  There were no tears.  There was no panic.  After the mild shock, I thought it through and realized that I would be able to find most anything I needed and they needed cleaning out anyway.

I think my biggest shock is that I didn't have a melt down.  Frankly, I'm a little worried.  Do you think it's possible that aliens abducted me and removed all the hissy fit cells from my brain?  Or is someone putting Prozac in my almond milk?  Who am I?  If Rudy is looking down on me, I'll bet he's even confused.

By the way - I'm knocking on wood.  Every time I gloat about doing well with anything, it seems I eat my words soon after.  I wouldn't be surprised if a hissy fit comes along soon.  Probably in public for maximum humiliation.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Lost Keys

No.  I didn't misplace my car or house keys.  I came across this quote on Facebook and it sent my mind into a swirl of contemplation -

My first thought was that I had lost these three "keys".  Then I thought about it some more and realized I am getting by with temporary keys.

My something to do is not something of great purpose, but I stay pretty busy.  I have grass to cut and dogs to take care of.  I have bills to pay and so many things to figure out.  Most importantly, I make time for fun with friends and family. I have very little time to get bored or dwell too long on things I'm sad about.

My someone to love is not technically with me, but he feels close by.  I usually knew what he would say about most anything, so I can still have a complete conversation with him.  Plus, it feels like he's with me, watching over me and helping me find my way.  It's not the same as having him by my side, but "it is what it is".  I use that phrase a lot.  It reminds me to stop thinking I'll wake up to find this whole thing has been a bad dream.  Meanwhile, even though I may not have my special someone with me, I have a huge group of friends and family to love.

I haven't figured out my something to hope for yet.  I can't for the life of me picture what I want to do with the rest of my life or how it might look down the road.  When I think of the future, it's just a big blank.  On the other hand, I think one day I'll figure it out.  In other words, my something to hope for is that one day I'll come up with something to hope for.

See?  I no longer have the keys I have used for so long, but I do have some temporary keys. Eventually, I'll replace these keys with better keys.  Meanwhile, I'm going to be happy with the keys I have.

Seriously, my life kind of stinks right now without Rudy, but there is still so much in this world to be grateful for.  In order to survive, I have to focus on that.  It's not always easy, but I know with all my being that it's what I need to do. Lost keys can turn up in the darnedest places.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

A Very Cool Ride

Daniel has made amazing progress on the '65 truck in the last two weeks, thanks to a little help from friends and family.  Luis and Carl (Daniel's dad) have been especially helpful.

Last, but not least... Wanna go for a ride?

Friday, July 10, 2015

Wow. Teddy is Looking GOOD!

I have no idea how things will go long term, but Teddy has made sort of a miraculous turn-around!

Whatever his issue is, it's being helped by either antibiotics and/or steroids.  He's walking almost normally and he's not stumbling or falling at all.

I can't tell you how good that feels.  I was really getting down at the thought of having to watch him go downhill.  I know better than to think that it still might no happen at a later date, but at least for now, he and I both are really happy.

Here's a video that shows him in action -

UPDATE: Teddy doesn't have a tumor or anything so serious.  It all seems to be allergy related (something outside).  He's now on allergy medication and doing great!