Home is a strange concept. It appears to have a different meaning to everyone. For most of us, it's something we take for granted. For myself, home is the place I can relax. The place I feel I belong. A soft place to land. I've spent what seems like forever, but it's actually closer to five years, looking for home. Many times I have said that I feel like a guest in my own life since it quite literally imploded. I could be in a crowd of 500 people and feel alone. I could be in a bedroom that I paid rent to be inside, still I am a guest. In my own bed, in the hotel of my own head, I did not feel at home. I could not be small enough, in my mind, to not be in someones way. To say I am, or have been, misplaced is a terrible understatement. For lack of a better term I felt like a refugee from some war torn county that only I and Richard inhabited. My home was gone.
Home in Tennessee no longer exists. The huge family of my memories has passed into the dust of history. They live in my mind’s eye. My aunts are in their kitchens making something tasty and my uncles are sitting on their porches chewing the fat. But the death of my father in August closed the book on that place for me forever. I have no urge to revisit an empty land that would only remind me that the home I knew is gone. The love and laughter. My roots are sunk deep in the bedrock of that land. It is as much a part of me as the DNA that ties me to my family. Somewhere within me is the girl who climbed trees and chased the cattle with my Daddy. Yet I am far from the girl who sat barefoot underneath that big oak tree atop the hill and traveled the world in a book. But who I am does not erode in the sands of time or the flood of tears. We on the widows walk know, not everyone who is with you when the storm begins, will be there when the sun comes out again. Most of my remaining family have fallen into this category. There was a manufactured distance put into place to remove themselves from my palatable pain. I chose not to beat my grief into a manageable form to stick into some kind of iron box and make those around me comfortable. I could not straitjacket my emotions to make myself less painful to come into contact with at any given time. I faced it head on, regardless if I was on my knees or my feet, in private or in public. You must understand that it is unseemly in the south for one to not have on her "everything is okay face." Like the song says, "Go and hide your crazy. Start acting like a lady." I was incapable of doing so when the storm began to swirl around me. I tried to grieve with grace but I did not always succeed. I bear no ill will nor bitterness, but the need for them has lessened over time as well. The blood and bone do not call to me anymore. I can love you in the distance. I am comfortable there. I have discovered that my family are the people I choose, not necessarily the ones who share my biology. I grieved those relationships long ago. I grieved my past life and the home of my yesterdays. Most people assume that family is forever and that it always stands. I am not a proponent of the blood and bone family. Loyalty and love makes family.
I needed away from the ghost town of Charlotte. Everywhere I turned shards of my old life were there to wound me. All the years and memories flooded about me because everywhere I went there we were. Thousands of adventures and laughter haunted my mind. Traumatic memories of eleven years of a chronic illness ripped at the fabric of my belief in forever. It was as if I could smell his cologne on the wind. The embers of my life still threw off smoke that permeated everything around me. I was existing in the cemetery of the hopes and dreams of my former self. Grief swallowed me whole as I sank into depression. Once one’s eyes adjust to the darkness, even things in the shadows become clear. I spent years in the half light betwixt and between. I saw the demons faces even while I confronted my own. I moved though my journey, sometimes crawling, sometimes staggering to my feet and once in a great while I was in a dead run. But I was moving. I had an almost maniacal need to survive. I wanted to heal. But I was breathless to the pain. I needed to disappear and that is exactly what I did. I ran. I cannot say what I did was for a healthy purpose. I had to escape it all. I was not of this mindset at the time but, I understand now that things don't heal without oxygen. I ran for my sanity. I embraced becoming a refugee, faced my fears, and moved 7 hours from Charlotte.
In the Metro, I learned more about myself than anyone surrounding me. I reentered life on my own terms where no one knew my name or my history. There were no whispers or questions. There were no explanations. I had to learn to live again. Making the smallest decisions was a project that kept me awake at night. Paying my bills, buying my groceries, being to work on time, even entertaining myself became lessons that no one but me could grade. It was as if I had entered a foreign country where I did not speak the language. I could blame this one or that one for situations I found myself within, but the choices and mistakes were mine alone. That being said, I was in a very dangerous city and for all intensive purposes, I was alone. I could depend on no one. A couple of good illnesses and a hurricane bearing my very own name showed me just how alone in the world I was at that point. Could I survive it? Was I worth the effort to myself? The lioness inside me reared her head. The fight within me returned and took up the cause of not just my sanity, but my happiness. She will walk on when she is too tired and injured to move. She will not show her soft underbelly and make herself vulnerable. She will give you a steady gaze and discern if you are prey or predator. I found my roar. My laughter and my love of life. One good friend, neigh a sister, was what I gained. If the price to have her in my life was that sojourn in hell, then cash my check. But, the sheer passive aggressive nature of the human race at large, keep that to yourself. I see no reason for such behavior, but that could be due to the fact that I have lost enough to know to conserve hate speech. Regret is a high dollar debt to the dead. I will chew my tongue off rather than to engage in something that has no positive outcome on the horizon. That is not to say that I am perfect. But as my Daddy always taught me, "Measure twice and cut once."
I have done a lot of forgiving. I have forgiven thoughtless people who thought they were my friends. I have forgiven heartless people who thought they were my enemies. I have forgiven hurting people who thought they were my family. I have forgiven Richard for leaving me. I have forgiven myself for surviving. I released everything that was poisoning my heart. I did not do this for anyone else. This I did to free me. A life filled with bitterness served nothing and no one. Choking the light from my life with vines of hatred only took me deeper into the dark. It was a hard fought battle. I wanted to hold a grudge. I wanted to stand up and scream about how they hurt me. I wanted to slug it out and be right, because I thought I deserved validation. I wanted to be their victim and a victim of life. But pride is a terrible thing. Smugness is a flaw. To be someone’s victim is to be a slave. To bow to their will. To submit. My arrogance would not allow me to let someone else control me. I am no one’s victim. It is better to live one day as a lion than a hundred years as a sheep. I stand or fall on my say so alone.
I came to Minnesota to live in June. Yes Minnesota. I found a big viking man with dancing blue eyes and a smile that sets my heart a flutter. A hand that holds mine completely. A common goal and an uncommon life. I would never say I will ever be completely healed. No one who survives what we have will ever be healed. Our souls are scared. But there are no ghosts in our home. Our children, mine and his, are intimately connected to our pasts. Our lives were interwoven with both of our lost spouses for many, many years. They will remain so forever. We discuss and remember. There is no insecurity or jealousy. We apply what we have learned in the long winter months of our grief. We were whole before we tried to be half of anything. Truly we are greater than the sum of our parts. We work every day to build and grow. We are considerate because we remember what is it to be taken for granted. We are humble because we know that tomorrow is promised to no one. We are gloriously in love.
I would never say my life is perfect. Perfection is a hellish illusion we project upon the world. I will say that I am happy and I am healthy. I am healed. I have thrown off my widow's weeds and have embraced life. The stench of death and loss have left my spirit. I do not believe that to grieve is to leave your loss behind. I believe that to grieve is to leave the old you behind. To shed the person you once were and embrace whom you are at this point is the largest part of the grief process. You will carry it with you the rest of your days but only you can determine if it is a blessing or a curse. Life is change. The hardest changes to make and adjust to are the ones that are forced upon you. We always rebel when we have no choices. It is not fair to judge anyone else’s journey nor should one advise they have the only way to traverse this terrain. Whatever it takes to walk out the other side is what it takes. As for me, magnolias grow in many climates. When I got off the plane at the airport in Minneapolis, I saw one and I smiled. She is different than what I have known, but she is here. I survived what was ripped away from me and the loss of my footing. I survived the subzero temperatures of grief and the fiery temperatures of judgement, the worst of which was mine toward myself. I am blooming here in the great white north. I am home.