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This blog started as a record of my move from Baltimore, MD to Portland, OR, all for the sake of true love.

It ended up being a memoir of losing my partner to metastatic colon cancer, and my journey through grief after he died.

Now it’s a journal of my life, through grief and beyond.

If you are interested in reading only my grief posts, they are tagged “grief”. If you are going through a grief journey of your own, I hope my words help you.  

Welcome.

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Stranger things surely have happened to women I will not become

So this marks the third anniversary of Jay’s death. His 53rd birthday is coming shortly, and what would have been our fifth anniversary. He’s now been gone a year longer than we were together.

I feel like I should have something profound and meaningful to say about this anniversary, about grief. But instead I have a story of how grief sometimes goes in a way that you didn’t expect.

As you might remember from this post, my romantic relationship with Jay was kind of sputtering as we went into the clinical trial. Neither of us was particularly happy with the other for reasons that I won’t go into in detail here mostly because there were other people involved and that part of it isn’t mine to tell. But the whole thing left me with a bad taste in my mouth, and even while I was deeply grieving the loss of Jay after his death, I was also just righteously pissed off at him for the things that happened in the latter part of 2013.

After the anniversary of his death in 2016, I was feeling really hung up on that aspect of my grief. I couldn’t let go of how injured and done-to I felt. This feeling really came to a head while I was working on the first draft of his cancer book. All the glowing things that he’d publicly said about other girlfriends and other lovers wore on me as I read through his blogging. There was no parallel glow for me, mostly just a feeling that he’d taken me for granted, and that just fueled the fire of my anger and hurt.

So I spent this fall and winter breaking up with Jay.

Let me tell you, there are few things weirder in this world than breaking up with a dead person. For one thing, they can’t argue back, or at least not in any real way. I surely heard him fight back in my head, but that’s me being him, not him being him. For another thing, you’ll never have closure, because the one person who has the answers to all your questions is beyond your asking. That makes it both easier and harder. You can walk away from things without having to worry about one more argument with the person in question, but if you’re like me and you overanalyze and overthink every little thing, it can be difficult to know when you’ve reached enough of a balance of acceptance between what you wanted and what you got to be able to call the thing closed.

So now I find myself out of sync with the rest of you who loved and still love Jay so much. I’m not the grieving widow – I’m the not-really-grieving ex-girlfriend who walked away by her own choice after the fact. I dumped a dead man who is very dear to you all. I no longer share your deep pain at his loss.

It would all make me feel callous and uncaring, except for my sure knowledge that my actions saved my sanity and allowed me to more completely move into my next life.

This doesn’t mean I’m not still grieving – it’s just a different quality of grief than before, or than I might otherwise expect at this point in the process. Nor is this to say that I don’t miss Jay. I do, sometimes painfully. What I miss more often than not, though, is what we had at the start of our relationship or maybe what I thought we had that turned out not to be the case. Like many other people coming out of a failed relationship, I miss the illusion I had of how our relationship worked, of what I thought we meant to each other.

Right now, I’m listening a lot to the mix tape I made for him at the beginning of our relationship. It’s giving me a sense of power and forward momentum and joy that I need right now. I would have expected that it would make me feel sad, but it reminds me of how I felt like I could take on the world at the start of my relationship with Jay.

So here I go, once again, to try and take on the world.

Autumn blues

Fall is usually the time when my energy is highest. My body remembers it being back to school time, which always excited me. New clothes, new notebooks, new books to read, cooler weather, the joy of learning. This in many ways has always been the beginning of my year.

This year, this September, has been quite different.

I’m working through the emotional fallout of having my heart comprehensively broken two Septembers in a row.

The first September, I was so twitterpated that I didn’t even realize at the time that my heart was being broken. It was early on in my relationship with Jay, and there were promises that he’d made outside our relationship that he came to me to make good on. It didn’t occur to me until much later that what I was feeling beyond the thrill of being with him was the pain of the promises he’d made to *me* being broken.

The second September, I knew my heart was being broken, but I was so physically and emotionally exhausted that I didn’t have the energy to do anything about it other than being angry.

Now, right at this moment, I’m reliving the anxiety of getting ready to move to Portland. Brains being the wicked weird things they are, mine is warning me NOT to move to Portland four years ago, because the fallout will be so awful.

Thanks, brain. It’s just a little bit late to be giving me *that* advice. And the anxiety that goes with it.

This is trauma that I consciously chose not to work on in my recent stint in therapy, because I knew I wasn’t done processing it yet.

In the end, it boils down to this: this fall, I’ve been completely blocked from the wonderful energy that usually makes this my true new year. I can’t start a new year, because I’m stuck in an emotional stew some of which is four years old.

The only bright light in all of this is a weekend spent in Vancouver, WA that brought me back to my love of indexing, which has inspired me to start seriously marketing my indexing business and finding new clients.

Other than that, I’m really stuck and suffering.

Hoping for better from October.

I, for one, welcome my feline overlords

One of the things I love about where I live is the cats I share living space with. Here they are:

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They are brothers from the same litter, and a truly bonded pair. Let me tell you about each of them:

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Rebo, AKA Bully, Rebolocity (when he’s moving fast), Viceroy, Rebolicious, Princess, Rebopotamus

Rebo is the alpha of the pair. He’s a big brute, long and heavy. He loves to sleep with Roy, tucked up against Roy’s side or leaning on his hip.

He loves to be brushed and begs to be petted. He loves to play with the feather toy on the bed with me. I love making him do doughnuts and big leaps in the air.

He hates it when we both go out of the house; it makes him anxious, and he expresses his displeasure in no uncertain terms by yelling and whining.

He’s a physicist, always trying to figure out how things work, which includes trying desperately to get out the sliding door on the side of the house. He’s figured out how to open that screen door, and managed to let his brother get out for most of day and night one time.

He loves to bully his little brother, chasing him out of the prime sunny spots, or just chasing him for no reason other than to assert his authority.

He can be a royal pain, but he’s really a sweetie at heart. He’s totally won my heart.

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Zooty, AKA Zoomy (when he’s moving fast), Trip Hazard, Murderbutton, Murder Mittens

Zooty is the more obviously sweet cat of the pair. He’s dainty and gentle, unless you’re a catnip mouse. He always rubs against my leg in the morning to say hi. He’s a little shyer and a little quieter, unless he thinks there’s cat nip coming or if he wants to go outside, then he can yell pretty loud. (He can whine all he wants about going outside – the boys are indoor cats, and will stay that way.)

He loves to sleep on Roy’s chest, and will purr himself senseless and drooling doing that. He considers me an adequate substitute for that sleeping behavior when Roy is not here.

He’s a hunter. He loves to chase toys around the house, and can keep himself occupied for a long time with a mouse toy, tossing it in the air, and chasing it down the hall. He’s constantly on the lookout for things outside to hunt: birds, bugs, the neighborhood dogs as they pass by being walked.

He loves to sleep on my bed in my office, curling up on the cat quilt.

Roy carries him around the house sometimes, and he’ll even let me carry him once in a while, for a very short time.

They bring such joy to my life. The two of them make this house a wonderful place to live, and I’m grateful for them every day, even when I’m dodging tumbleweeds of cat hair and trying not to trip over a fast-moving feline body.

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This work by Lisa A. Costello is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

And you may fight or you may run, for what was fast is now undone

After I arrived in Portland, all the issues around Jay’s illness drove me to seek therapy for the first time in my life. I’d known for a long time that I needed therapy, but it wasn’t until the daily routine of loving a dying man drove me nearly around the bend that I found the courage to actually seek it out.

I had been hoping to work through some of my long-standing psychological issues during these sessions. I am a survivor of childhood emotional abuse and suffer from PTSD. But as it turned out, we spent most of our time talking about the things that were going on in my life day-to day. It was helpful to my immediate emotional state, but left a lot of older things unprocessed.

After Jay died, and thus all the cancer-related day-to-day fell away, I decided to stop therapy, and instead experience my grief rather than talking it to death (pun completely intended) every week.

What most people don’t know is that toward the end of 2013, Jay’s and my relationship had deteriorated to the point where he did not speak to me on our last Christmas together. By that point, our romantic relationship felt like it was nearing its end, even though my devotion to and support of him never waned.

Obviously, this added to my sense of loss. On top of that, after his death, letters were distributed that he had written before his first cancer surgery (long before I knew him), but he had left no parting words for me. This was a crushing blow – I know that he simply ran out of time, but it felt like he had forgotten me. This left me with no way to know how he felt about me or us at the end of all things.

All of this combined to make my grief harder and more complicated. A lot of my PTSD triggers had been activated during our time together, and especially during the clinical trial. This left me with a load of emotional processing that grew heavier and harder to deal with as I moved through my grief process.

This all came to a head at the end of March this year when I was suffering from crippling anxiety. I found a therapist, and we set to work doing EMDR to help me process all manner of things, from childhood trauma right through Jay’s clinical trial.

The therapeutic process went remarkably well. We processed things I had despaired of ever being able to work through and let go of. And in an interesting stroke of timing on the part of the universe, we finished our work just before I would have had to leave this therapist because my insurance company went out of business and I couldn’t afford to either pay the therapist myself or to buy the only other insurance plan they accepted.

I have no idea how well  the work we did together will stick. As I said to my therapist, we’ll see what happens in the spring when the anniversaries around the clinical trial come up again.

But for now, I’m feeling spectacular. I have more energy than I can remember having since, well, forever. My head is clearer. The world seems brighter. I’m happier.

And while I’m still grieving Jay, and still processing some of what went on between us, my memories of us are normal memories, not traumatic memories.

I feel blessed, and free.

Coming home

A year ago yesterday, I moved out of the southern Portland suburbs and into the far northern reaches of what I guess could be called Portland’s ruburbia (does anyone still use that term?).

It was quite a change for me, and one that I was hesitant to make.

I grew up in suburbia, and grew less and less enchanted with it as I got older. My ex-husband and I moved to Baltimore in 2005? 2007? Somewhere in there, anyway. That was the moment I realized I really am a city girl at heart.

From that aspect, moving to Portland was an easy choice. I fell in love with the city, and it’s a small enough city that I don’t feel intimidated like I do in larger cities. Even DC is too big for me.

And even though I was living in the Portland suburbs, we were close enough to Portland proper that the city felt like it was home.

What I am not and never had been was a small-town girl, a country girl. That, plus the distance from Portland, from my friends, made me hesitant to make this move.

But a year later, I am oh so glad I did.

The area I live in is beautiful. We have a view of the Columbia River out our back windows. It’s quiet and peaceful, and in this year I’ve needed that quiet and peace to heal from a lifetime of struggle.

I was particularly hesitant to make this move because Roy & I had been together for so short a time. It was putting a lot on a relatively new relationship for me to uproot and move in.

But I am oh so glad I did.

I’m adjusting to being far away from everything – well, except for St Helens and Scappoose. I’m getting used to small town life. I’m getting used to driving for a long time to get to Portland.

And as the city I love goes through some severe growing pains, it’s kind of nice to have some distance between it and me.  This small town feels safer, more comfortable.

This is home now.

Olympic National Park

I’m so far behind on posting about things that have been going on, so I’m going to start with a trip we took in June.

I was having such bad anxiety leading up to the anniversary of Jay’s death that I said to Roy one evening that it would be nice to be out of town between 6/1 and 6/6 (between death day and birthday). We’d been watching the Ken Burns National Parks series, which had inspired us to want to travel to more of them. So bless him – he set up a trip to Olympic National Park, which was a park neither of us had been to.

We started our road trip on June 1st, driving up I-5 and eventually onto 101, which road eventually led us through the hamlet of Humptulips, which led to a lot of giggling.

We stayed in Quinault, WA at the Lake Quinault Lodge. Ironically, that was right down the road from where Jay had spent so much time at the Rain Forest Writers Retreat, which made it all a little bittersweet. But that was OK.

On 6/2, our first full day there, we drove on South Shore Road, which led around the southern perimeter of Lake Quinault and long the Quinault River.

On the second day, we drove up 101 to the Hoh Rain Forest (link to Google Maps), which we didn’t hike in because we timed things badly and were both ready for lunch when we got there (and there was no place to eat). So we kept driving until we go to the town of Forks, where we had lunch and wandered around a bit.

The coast along that piece of 101 is very wild – by that I mean, it’s natural and not built-up like the east coast beaches I grew up with. A lot of it looked like this:

We also stopped along the way to see the biggest spruce, which had been mowed down by lightning on Roy’s & my birthday in 2014 (yes, we share a birthday – aren’t we just too cute?), as well as the biggest cedar.

On 6/4, it was beastly hot, so we drove up to Ocean Shores to enjoy the cool ocean air. We parked for a little while on the beach itself, where I was lucky that the dead sea lion on the sands wasn’t visible to me, although the guy that came up and took a tooth from the corpse certainly was. People make me wonder …

One the way back from the beach, we stopped in Aberdeen to visit the Aberdeen Museum of History, which is an eclectic little museum, but fascinating. Of course, it had an exhibit about Kurt Cobain, but most of the contents were about the founding and development of the town. This is my favorite picture of the ones we took there:

Never let it be said that I don’t want to undermine the government and wreck the nation.

I also introduced Roy to the experience that is the Star Wars Shop, which is a can’t-miss stop in Aberdeen.

Our last day there was so hot, we didn’t do much more than admire the view from the back of the lodge.

A good trip, all the way around.