Thursday, May 28, 2015


It's been a tough few weeks. My father has been in the hospital for almost a month. I've been shuttling back and forth from my home to the city of my birth, a 1500 mile one-way commute, so I can accompany both of my parents in this stage of their journey. It's been a challenge in so many ways (exhaustion, flashbacks, moving, juggling too many things...) but I'm glad I'm here. It's giving us a chance to have the conversations we might not have otherwise. There is nothing like looming mortality to make you say the things you might have held onto.

My parents have been married 48 years. Kevin and I had 15 and I am still struggling to understand the world without him; my mother is looking at losing her beloved and is justifiably terrified. We were talking the other day and she said, "I know I am a complete person without your father, but I think about him not being here and I feel incomplete, like there is a part of me missing." She nailed it. I am a complete person without Kevin - I'm sure part of what he loved/s about me is that I am my own self - but without him I am incomplete.

There are the practical matters. Kevin took over our electronics and networking; I cooked and managed the house. We both were capable of doing these chores on our own but we delegated to one another and we trusted each other enough to just let the other manage things. It's as though we each took over a part of the practical matters of life, so we each let various skills atrophy. I no longer really know how to network my new apartment. I am figuring it out and I am getting help, but it's not the same. It's Kevin's job. Or it was.

There are the intangible matters. Kevin knew me like no one else ever has or ever will. He understood me in a visceral way. This isn't to say other people don't know me or to imply I am some kind of conundrum, I'm not, but there is a level of understanding between soul mates that just doesn't exist elsewhere. He knew me in my sleep as I knew him. No one else does. He would understand better than anyone else what my father's illness means to me.

And there are the other things, too. Kevin was my safe place. I was thinking I want to go home, but then realized home has become a less meaningful word, because what I really want is Kevin. Which brings me back to visiting my father when he is ill and trying to support my mother as she supports him. I never imagined I would have to face this without Kevin. I am, and I am finding the things I learned from his death are again useful. It's knowledge I wish I didn't have.

Kevin filled in my weak spots. Together we were greater than the sum of our parts. Alone I find I am unbalanced, missing parts, for all that I am a functional, able person.

That's one of the risks of loving, I guess. We depend on someone else and when they are gone, really gone, we have to rely on ourselves again and, no matter how able we are, it is a dance for two performed by one. Incomplete.

(c)2015 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

Friday, May 22, 2015

Celebration, grief and paradox

My life goes on. Even when I want desperately for time to stand still, it doesn't stop. I resent each second that takes me further away from Kevin's life and yet I embrace them. Healing is a looping, wandering path.

Because life goes on and (I suppose) because it is my nature, I keep forging ahead as best I can. Things are happening. I've moved, I'm working more, I'm getting good gigs and so on. Each time one of these things happens I want nothing more than to tell Kevin. To see him grin and say, "That's great!" all the while looking as though he expected nothing less and knows more great stuff is on its way.

I still tell him, but the delight I hear in his voice is in my head. I feel the warmth of his grin as a beloved memory, still alive in my heart, and maybe, hopefully, a bit of connection to the beyond.

The person I most want to celebrate these small victories with is gone, and this is the reason the smallest of victories requires celebration. I got out of bed today, hurrah! I secured a great gig, yippee! Were Kevin here I would still tell him, still be thrilled with his joy, but the need to tell him and the the need to feel his pleasure is so much greater with him gone.

This is so much of my experience of grief. It is a paradox. The thing and person I need most in the world is the thing and person I most cannot have. The person who would understand the best were I to tell him, "Hey, I got up today! I didn't cry for you today. I even laughed a little," is the person who cannot respond in ways I understand.

I find myself celebrating these small victories for us both. I tell him anyway, even if I cannot hear his response. I toast the air with my glass of wine and "clink" for us both. I hold onto the paradox because is better than only pain. Because in this confusion and uncertainty I can at least remind myself that there are glimpses of light in the dark. That the sound of his laughter is still in the universe, that the photons that touched his face are still touching mine. That even in the cold and dark the memory of his warmth and light and life is better than never having had it to lose in the first place.

(c)2015 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

Friday, May 15, 2015


Trigger warning: This post is about having flashbacks. It includes descriptions of hospitals and illness. If that would be difficult for you then please pass this one by,

I am in a hospital room, keeping my parents company while my father waits for heart surgery. As heart surgery goes it's not too bad and I wouldn't be anywhere else but, as you can imagine, it's complex.

The new images of my father in the hospital bed (doing quite well at the moment) overlay the images of my husband in his hospital bed. Each sound I hear in this cardiac critical care unit sends me back to another critical care room. Each time I hold my father's hand I feel another. I watch his monitor and remember another. I remember when we shut it off.

As I sit here waiting, listening to his airbed inflate and deflate I slow my breath and close my eyes so I am not overwhelmed with the feelings and memories of my beloved in his last days. I want to be present with my parents in this moment, though the pull of the other moments is strong.

Grief is multi-faceted. There is sorrow and guilt and unexpected light. There is the struggle for connection and the ever-changing understanding of what "loss" means. There is the trauma of Kevin's illness and of his death. And there are flashbacks.

Just about everyone I know who has experienced a significant loss has had flashbacks. Those sharp, intrusive memories triggered by a sight or a smell or nothing at all. For months after Kevin died I couldn't walk by a hospital without starting to shake. I would lie in bed and be sent back to the uncomfortable bed in the hospital, to waking in the middle of the night to see if he was still breathing. Now, in another hospital for another loved one, everything sends me back. If I blink it smells and sounds the same; I half-expect to open my eyes and see Kevin, in pain and dying, in front of me. I kiss my father good morning and remember the scrape of Kevin's beard on my cheek. I remember helping him shift. I remember the smell of disinfectant and sweat and oxygen. It is all in front of me again. I'm lucky in that the flashbacks are not overwhelming for the most part. But they are demanding and a challenge to balance while I want to be present in this moment.

I am grateful that I at least understand what's going on. These triggers are big and obvious, not like the ones that send me back to a hard moment and I scarcely understand why. This circumstance is manageable, thought it will have a cost. I expect rough nights and some turbulent days once I am in a situation where I have the leisure to react. It's an acceptable cost to being here now, with my parents when they need me.

I wish it were different. I wish I didn't know these smells and sounds so intimately. I wish there were no associations and I could call Kevin on his cell, tell his about this day and know I was returning to his comfort. As it is, I will tell him in my own way. I will take what comfort I can. And when the images become overwhelming I close my eyes, breath, and remind myself that, while I would undo his illness if I could, these flashbacks are an acceptable cost to loving him so well.

(c)2015 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

Friday, May 8, 2015

Chaos, stuff and a momentary lull

As you know, I'm moving. Strictly speaking I have moved; yesterday the movers came, put pretty much everything Kevin and I have owned into a truck and carted it to the new apartment. It's utter chaos.

It's so chaotic I've not been able to think clearly into a blog post.

The move is churning up all kinds of things; I've been going through Kevin's things. It feels really invasive. I want to respect his privacy, even now. I've put a lot of his stuff into storage because I just can't cope with sorting it yet. And it's making me look at all the stuff in my life. I'm thinking a lot about the relationship between self and stuff, grief and stuff, stuff (the physical kind) and stuff (the emotional kind).

Right now? Right now this minute I'm okay. I need to keep moving because sooner or later I won't be able to move anymore. I'll have to stop and let the feelings overwhelm me. But in this moment I'm okay. I'm sitting at my desk in my new office listening to the birds.

I need to keep going. Please forgive me for sacrificing this week's post to the alter of unpacking. If you've ever moved you know this feeling. If you've ever grieved you know what a relief it is to be, in just this moment, alright.

More soon. Thank you.

(c)2015 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

Friday, May 1, 2015

Moving and matter

For the last two weeks I've been packing to move. I'm leaving the last place Kevin and I called home. I'm moving for some very good reasons: I found a nice, far more affordable apartment in a neighborhood I like and I don't need or use all of this space. I need to be more frugal. None of that makes this easy or desired.

Packing has been difficult, as you can imagine. Touching the things his hands touched, removing them from the places he put them, all of that is hard. I'm not going to do anything with the clothes in his closet until I am no longer living in this space; I can't bear to see it empty. It hurts, knowing that the very air I breath in this place has some of his cellular matter in it. The new place will have only mine and that of the people who lived there before. Strangers.

Every bit of this feels like a violation. I am dismantling a life I loved so I can move into something uncertain and murky. I can't bear to throw away anything with his handwriting. I have pictures and mementos of his life long before I was a part of it, before his kids were born, before he was anything like the man he came, but I am saving them. I have a storage unit, full of things I will slowly sort through, as I can bear it. I want to do it with care and attention, so I don't hurt myself or dispose of anything his kids value.

It sucks. I don't want to violate his privacy like this, I don't want to take our life apart like this, but I don't know what else to do. Damn it.

All of this being said, I expect it will eventually be a useful change. I don't want to call it a good change because I don't want this new life; I just don't have a choice in the matter. I'm sure, wherever he is, he's pleased that I'm doing this. He would like the new space, it's his kind of place with high ceilings and big rooms. That's part of why I chose it.

I am planning to include Kevin in my new home. To put some of his things into the space so it isn't just mine, it will remain ours. His matter remains mixed with mine. His heart intermeshed with my heart. All of the things we used to build a home still present. Couch cushions dense with his cells. My life dense with us. It matters, maintaining this connection, and I will move mountains to do so for as long as I need.

(As a footnote, please don't tell me that moving will help me move on. I am moving the physical matter of my life. I will move forward at my own pace and no one else has the right or authority to tell me otherwise. Someone tried to recently. That was a mistake. It is also a whole other blog post.)

(c)2015 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License
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