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Archive for the ‘Loss’ Category

If I’ve learned one lesson in the last 15 years since I graduated from college and set out on my own, was married and then divorced, and am now on the path to middle age, I have learned that being alone and being lonely are two VERY different concepts.

I struck out for Maryland soon after I graduated from college in upstate New York. I was alone and didn’t know a soul in Maryland but my sense of youthful adventure told me I wouldn’t need anyone, that I had to go live my own story. Of course, a month after moving into my first apartment and starting a job in which I worked almost exclusively with strangers in their 60s, I discovered what it meant to be lonely. I sat on the floor of said apartment and cried for the friends and family that I had left behind – and then I went to the shelter and adopted a rescue cat (who, by the way, lived and loved with me for the next 14 years so I highly recommend those adopted furry friends as a means of combating the blues). I wasn’t mature enough to realize that those times of standing on my own two feet was teaching me how to be independent and strong.

Then I got married – and made the mistake of marrying a man who didn’t share many interests with me. We didn’t spend much time doing things together – except the fire department. We led very separate lives – and I naively congratulated myself that we were one of those amazing modern couples that didn’t need to live in each others’ back pockets. I didn’t know that while I was rounding out my skills in home improvement and gardening, visiting museums and attending cultural events, he was screwing every woman he could find. Eh, life lesson learned on that one. I was often alone and doing things I wanted to be doing and yes, often regretted that he didn’t share any time with me which left me lonely and wanting more.  But I did learn that I don’t need a man to do the things I want to do in this life and I don’t need a man to complete me.

So now, after the divorce and the dating, the readjustment of my whole world view, I spend a lot of time 23131990_10212609777497457_8541975570164519984_nalone. I travel alone, I go to those museums alone, I read and study alone. I can pitch a tent and build a campfire alone – I can fix a toilet or hang a new light fixture alone – I can cook chicken nuggets or a fancy French pastry alone – I can drive 8 hours to see my family alone and I can run a 5K alone. I spend that time alone and quite content with my own company. It’s a vast difference from that lonely girl that moved down here and was so sad and so lost. I now choose to push my own boundaries and discover what I can do by myself. 

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Christmas Eve is by far my favorite moment in the year, a time when my family has always gathered together to celebrate our faith and our traditions. Tonight is the blessed moment in my calendar year when I can reconnect to my beliefs, to celebrate that humble baby in the manger, to look forward to a wonderful New Year while looking back on the blessings of the past year.

It’s the moment when, at the end of our worship service, the candles are lit and the strains of “Silent Night” ring out through the church. Christian voices, young and old, candlelightaround the world are joining in song to invite the magic of Christmas into their lives. I sit in my pew in the silent night to quiet my mind, to allow God back in, to give myself peace, to allow His voice to be heard. That moment in time is so beautiful that I am usually brought to tears – sometimes in sadness for the things that have been lost, sometimes in hope that better things are coming, sometimes with a profound joy for the blessings in my life. I pray in that moment for quiet, for peace, for forgiveness, for happiness.

Merry Christmas to all of my Christian friends on this most sacred of nights. To all of my friends of other beliefs, I wish you a warm winter’s night with your families. And to ALL of my friends, near and far, may your night be filled with magic and peace and love.

“Silent Night, Holy Night. All is calm, all is bright.”

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Last weekend was my once-yearly trek to the EMS conference in the boondocks. Last year I learned to birth a robotic baby, this year’s highlight was watching my good friend Jay, who 6 years ago was battling cancer, stand up strong and confident and present on professionalism in fire and EMS services.

Let me tell you a little bit about my friend Jay. He is my ex-husband’s best friend (they grew up together and have the war stories to prove it) and I met Jay and his family about 10 years ago. He is now a paid firefighter/paramedic in Fort Myers, Florida and teaches at the local fire academy and the high school votech program. He was diagnosed in October 2005 with Burkitt’s type non-Hodgkins Lymphoma, a blood disease so rare that only about 100 people are diagnosed each year. Jay, his loving wife Rhonda, and their six wonderful children fought the disease for over a year.  I have learned a lot from Jay – how to deal with the hand that your dealt no matter how unfair it is, how your attitude can effect the way your battle goes, how important it is to be courageous, how good people will receive good support. Quiet dignity and courage are the two best ways I can think of to describe Jay – and I struggle every day to live up to that example.

Jay and Rhonda both have been wonderful to me through the course of our friendship and my divorce. Despite what could be expected in terms of loyalty, they have not walked away from being my friend – like so many others have. They are at the end of the phone line or the Facebook message when I need them. I am grateful for that.

This EMS conference is now one of the most difficult events for me in my post-marriage life. I have to gird my emotional loins [on a side note, what a greatly colorful phrase, just saying] to attend. This conference is one of the few things my ex-husband and I ever did together. The fire service (along with baseball) was one of the few shared interests we had – and so we did things like this as a couple. And this particular conference was and is always filled with our mutual friends and fellow fire/EMS providers. For those of you who aren’t in the fire service, it can tend to be a very tight knit, close community. Which, when the shit hits the fan, is the best thing in the world – you know that it is your friends and pseudo-family members who are going to come to your aid. But, when your life has fallen apart, it also means that they are ALL going to know about it – and when your ex is also a beloved member of that same pseudo-family, it creates an abondanza of awkard moments. None of your mutual friends want to refer to The Breakup, yet they all know (or think they know) what really happened.

The flashbacks are staggering, those moments when you time travel back to happier days, when you can forget that things have changed. When you run into an old friend who doesn’t know you’ve divorced or you come out of a class and want to share your new knowledge with your life partner. When you go through your skills evaluations and want to celebrate your successes with your husband like you used to. I know that I’m not the first to experience this – those moments of forgetfulness are probably pretty common for anyone who has suffered a loss – but they still twist the knife of grief. I am haunted by the ghosts of lost friends, sad memories, and a firm place in the support system of the local EMS community – no longer can I consider myself a full member of the team because I have lost half of who I was. And the ghost of the Ex lurks around every corner, waiting to slam into me – will he be there? Will he come to the conference and will he bring his new woman? Rationally, you ask yourself – why do you worry if he appears or what he does? Yet emotionally you worry at every moment about the ghosts of him will come out to haunt your present.

So this year’s conference, with Jay as one of the keynote speakers, was one of the most difficult yet. I adore Jay – see the above description – but I also can’t ignore the fact that he is one of my ex-husband’s best friends and has been for over 30 years. How to greet a good friend who, understandably, has loyalties to the man who destroyed my life? How to face a friend who has probably heard every bad thing that my ex can construct about me? How to look in that friend’s eyes and not beg for forgiveness for not having been good enough for his buddy?

The good news is that I learned a lot at the conference. Not just the practical skills-based knowledge on pharmacology and airway management or the new technology for battling ‘dirty war’, not just the steps for a good radio consult with the trauma center or about the protocol updates in Maryland EMS. I learned that I am truly a different person now than I was before. I am damaged goods, yes, but I am also able to stand straight and hold my head high. to ignore the whispers of gossip and to make jokes about the bumpy road I’ve travelled. I am not better for the experiences of the last 2 years – but at least I am stronger.

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Why should a woman who is healthy and strong
Blubber like a baby if her man’s goes away?
A weepin’ an’ a wailin’ that he’s done her wrong
That’s one thing you’ll never hear me say!
Never gonna think that the man I lose is the only man among men!
I’ll snap my fingers to show I don’t care
I’ll buy me a brand new dress to wear
I’ll scrub my neck and I’ll brush my hair
And start all over again!

Many a new face will please my eye
Many a new love will find me
Never have I once looked back to sigh
Over the romance behind me
Many a new day will dawn before I do!

Many a like lad may kiss and fly
A kiss gone by is bygone.
Never have I asked an August sky
“Where has last July gone?”
Never have I wandered through the rye
Wondering “where has some guy gone?”
Many a new day will dawn before I do.

Never have I chased the honeybee
Who carelessly cajoled me
Somebody jist as sweet as he
Cheered me and consoled me.
Never have I wept into my tea
Over the deal someone doled me

Many a red sun will set
Many a blue moon will shine
Before I do!

I know that I frequently highlight songs and lyrics – I can’t help it, I live in a musical universe. My dad is a professional musician now that he has retired from teaching and I was raised in a very music-inclined household. At one point, I enjoyed a life on the stage, just a’singin’ my heart out or tootling my flute. Music speaks to me in ways that only true musicians will understand. So, while I apologize for boring you with my songs, I also make no apologies that the cosmos speak to me through country ballads, rock anthems, and Broadway ditties.

Anyway, this song popped up on my iPod today while I was out walking the dog. Per my surgeon’s instructions, I have to walk daily for the next several months until all my incisions have healed – at which point I can graduate to running, aerobics, dancing or whatever else my heart desires. So the dog and I have a daily dose of iPod shuffling. This song came on and even the dog was cheering…

Any of you out there who have had your hearts broken or who have been wronged, who’ve been abandoned or treated like garbage? Am I the only one to feel that she does NOT need a man to complete her? Is there anyone else out there who is struggling to put on her big girl panties and get on with her life? I’m guessing I’m not alone….

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My good friend and coworker, Mandy, is leaving us tomorrow, off to spend 5 years in vet school in New Zealand. I am so happy for her – what a phenomenal opportunity – but I am also going to miss her terribly. She was the only other one of my coworkers that voluntarily worked the Sunday shift with me; she is a ray of sunshine when I walk into work; and I learned a lot from her on how to deal with feisty animals, worried owners, and errant toenails.

Her departure (along with my friend Steve’s recently) has gotten me to thinking – what am I staying here for? Why don’t I just go?

Truckin’, like the do-dah man / Once told me “You’ve got to play your hand” / Sometimes your cards ain’t worth a dime / If you don’t lay’em down.

I took a long drive around the county last week, to test the emotional waters to see if I would miss this area. While I do admit that it is a beautiful place with lots of history and interesting little spots, I also had to face the ghosts of a lot of painful memories and shared moments. There was almost no road I could turn onto that didn’t hold a shadow of some part of the last 10 years – and so many of them reminded me of things that I had lost. Not just my husband but some good friends, some interesting jobs, and yes even some parts of my self. I think that in some ways in might be better to just get away from those shadows that are haunting me, to leave and start fresh somewhere else.

Busted, down on Bourbon Street / Set up, like a bowlin’ pin / Knocked down, it get’s to wearin’ thin / They just won’t let you be, oh no.

But then, in the same breath, I realized that I would truly miss some of the people that have made this part of my life journey so enjoyable. I have a wonderful group of friends that watches out for me, cares for me, and treats me right. I have a fire department pseudo-family that is there for support when I need it (and frustration when I don’t) – just like a real family. These people are the treasures that I have found in Maryland – and I’m not sure I can leave them. How will I watch my godkids grow up? How will I keep the connection to my fire department brothers and sisters? How will my circle of friends stay intact if I’m somewhere else? How will I feel if I have no roots again?

You’re sick of hangin’ around and you’d like to travel / Get tired of travelin’ and you want to settle down.

I am, in total honesty, lured by the thought of just running away from my problems. A new area with new people offers me the temptation of forgetting. Maybe I can escape those unpleasant memories if I just have a new location? Forget for a minute that the psychological and emotional damage of the last 10 years (both self-imposed and inflicted by others) will travel with me, like some really ugly Louis Vuitton baggage. Forget for a minute that it is damn hard to start over in a new place where you don’t know anyone and are trying to get used to a new job, a new home, and a new locale. Forget for a moment that there are days that I’m not sure I have the energy or courage to get out of bed, let alone move halfway across the country. The lure of a NEW PLACE beckons me like a kid to a candy store.

I guess they can’t revoke your soul for tryin’ / Get out of the door and light out and look all around.

A NEW PLACE where no one knows anything about my personal life, where the sordid details of my marriage weren’t ground in the gossip grist mill for everyone’s enjoyment. Where I can live in a home that doesn’t mock me with its memories. Where I can go out to dinner with a man and no one gives a hoot – let alone have passed it on down the gossip chain with amusing little embellishments. Where I can live anonymously without worry that my ex will recognize my car in a parking lot and cause damage to it or me. Where I am just a nameless face in the crowd and not worried about running into any of my former in-laws. Where no one will remember that I used to be fat or married. Ahhh, the lure of that mythical NEW PLACE.

Sometimes the light’s all shinin’ on me / Other times I can barely see / Lately it occurres to me / What a long, strange trip it’s been.

Mandy is lucky – she isn’t running from anything. She doesn’t leave behind the bitter and sad memories that I do; she gets a fresh start without all the emotional baggage. Granted, that is mostly due to the fact that she has been smart enough NOT to get married. But, regardless, she isn’t running away from the past – she’s running to an exciting new future. She is truly off on a new adventure – and she better realize I’m going to come visit her Down Under! Good luck, Mandy, and safe and happy travels!

Truckin’, up to Buffalo / Been thinkin’, you got to mellow slow / Takes time, you pick a place to go / and just keep truckin’ on.

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There are very few times any more that I truly miss being married. Let’s face it – I didn’t have the ideal marital situation. Neither of us was really in it with the right expectations and its a part of my history that I usually try to put aside, to forget as best I can. Yet there are times when, like brief flashes of lightning that jolt my world and cause an almost physical pain, that I realize what I am missing. I feel, more and more as time passes, that I have past my expiration date, that I had my one chance to be married and I screwed it up. And that makes me really sad. Not sad for the man that I lost (because, let’s face it, he has definitely turned into an A-1 dillweed!) but sad for the fact that I may never have a marriage, that lifelong connection to a loved one, again.

I was raised in a home with 2 happily married parents – an oddity even in my growing up years. More and more of my friends’ parents divorced as I got older and, by the time I was in high school, I began to realize how special a lasting marriage truly is. My mom and dad are partners in ever sense of the word. I’m sure they suffer through the rough times and the typical spousal frustrations of any marriage – but they have stuck together for over 40 years. If one forgets something, the other will remember – if one falls down, the other one picks them up and helps them keep going – if one has a tough time, the other one is there to hold their hand and promise to support them. I envy them their marriage, their partnership, their team.

There was a movie on tv today that I hadn’t seen in years – “Shall We Dance?” – with Richard Gere and J-Lo. This movie, which centers around a man frustrated with his humdrum life and looking for something to challenge him, has one of the best definitions of marriage I think I’ve ever heard:

”We need a witness to our lives. There’s a billion people on the planet, what does any one life really mean? But in a marriage, you’re promising to care about everything. The good things, the bad things, the terrible things, the mundane things, all of it, all of the time, every day. You’re saying ‘Your life will not go unnoticed because I will notice it. Your life will not go unwitnessed because I will be your witness’.”

It’s funny, I liked this quote so much that I had it printed in our bulletins for our wedding way back in the day. We all know that I love my quotes – been stealing other peoples’ wisdom for years – and I really liked this one from the moment I heard it. Back then, I was so naively optimistic about being married and being in love. Now this quote seems to ring with a certain irony.

I’ve lost my witness, the only person that could testify to my life, so now I wonder if that was it for me, my one chance. I know that I have friends and family that love me – but they all have their own spouses and children whose lives need witnessing. Who will be a witness to my life, to love me unconditionally through good days and bad? Who will help me pass the time on this planet, into old age and into the grave? Why has God chosen for me to go through life without a partner? Who will be the witness to my life…?

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If you look at the top of almost any Christmas tree, you’ll probably see either a star or an angel. Both are important, integral, and co-mingled elements of the nativity story – both are needed to signal the tremendous miracle that occurred 2,000 years ago. And yet I find the angels are among us every day…

The star atop the tree symbolizes the Star of Bethlehem, leading shepherds and kings alike to the Baby Jesus. How wonderful it is that a bright blazing symbol still sits atop our trees, reminding us of the way back to Jesus. My parents’ tree has had the same blue and silver foil star for at least the last 30 years so, when I started my own tree tradition here in Maryland, I selected a star to sit atop the tree.

But, now that I have gotten older, I am going to add an angel to sit prominently near the top. I don’t know why but I have always been fascinated most by the angelic element of the Christmas story.

I’d like to believe that I have angels all around me, guiding me through this tricky world. I know some of you out there must be thinking I’ve lost my mind and will next be talking about ghosts and voodoo priestesses – but I absolutely believe in angels! I think that the people we’ve lost, loved ones and friends, keep an eye on us and help to protect and shield us. And, I am SURE that someone up there is helping me navigate.

One of my all-time favorite Christmas movies is It’s A Wonderful Life. George Bailey’s guardian angel, Clarence, shows him how valuable he is to the world, to his family, to his friends, and to his town. How amazing is a God that can send an emissary to prove our worth to ourselves!

So many of us have lost someone we truly loved – and I ‘d like to believe that God simply needed them in heaven more than we do. He needs their help as friends for those in heaven and as angels for us on earth.

So, I will add an angel to my Christmas tree, as a tip of the hat to my angels up there who are guiding me!

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