Gail Patricia Caldwell
October 04, 1953 - June 10, 2017
The Christmas etc. that wasn't !
The Christmas etc. that wasn't !
Boxing Day, and I can say only that I survived. Christmas without Gail, my first, was a small nightmare in the midst of an even bigger one.
Shopping for myself, listening to the endless carols and syrupy songs was a trial by fire. At times I could feel myself coming apart at the seams inside a Safeway store. Tears were my companion every time I ventured out in public. The constant ache of abandonment, of solitude and isolation were monumental. Not just from Gail being physically absent, but from what I have discovered.
We are a death and grief avoidant culture. We push away from these topics or anyone actively involved in them. Up to the point of a service the outpouring of support is gratifying. But, as soon as the curtain comes down tumbleweeds blow through your life. You're on your own.
For the most part, it doesn't matter whether it's friend or family, their degree of discomfort in your situation is entirely personal. You may be surprised at what you see and hear.
There are those who suddenly "know what you're going through!" or "know how you feel!" There are also omniscient psychobabblers who will invoke the name of the deceased. "She(__) wouldn't want you to be unhappy." , "She(__) would want you to move on with your life." , "What would she/he think of you doing that?", "She would roll over in her grave if she knew what you were doing."
This is a prime example of what I call K.I.A. syndrome. This is not Killed In Action, but Know-It-All. Suddenly surrounded by them, I have heard, "but they mean well!" Don't believe it for a second. These aforementioned remarks are stoppers. They want you to stop. They are uncomfortable with you, the way you talk, look, feel. You are in grief. You are mourning. They don't like it and they want you to stop. Under the guise of sagely advice.
Many years ago I heard Dr. Alan Wolfelt speak. He is probably the premiere grief counsellor in North America. He suggested that handing a tissue to a person who is crying is a covert message telling the person to stop. The tissue becomes a stopper. Stop the crying!
Lord knows I've done it. I've handed the tissue. But no longer.
And Know-it-all-itis is just that. Nothing more, nothing less. Stop!
But they have your best interests at heart!
If that were true, then,
Say nothing and just listen to me!! Just listen to me talk about my pain. Listen to me in the misery that I feel over how my life has been torn apart. LIsten to me reminisce about the love that I have lost. Just listen. No advice. No cajoling. No fixing. No tissues. It's just pain, on a horrendous scale, but it is still just pain.
It will not last. Nothing ever does. But today, for now, it is here. As am I.
All bets are off. Everything I've known, been certain about, is gone.
This is my life. Pushing for me to shape up and fly right won't work. This is where I live. I will change. I will live through this. But in this moment I cannot see the end.
Having anyone tell me about "the light at the end of the tunnel" only adds insult to an already injured and shattered heart.
Started by Robert Flowers on December 26, 2017
As I have mentioned previously Gail and I met during our tenure with The Toronto Distress Centre.
The Centre is a phone hotline. At its inception in 1962 it was relatively unique. A call centre where people in crisis could phone in, and for the most part, someone would just listen to them, without telling them what they needed to do.
(Not all call centres of this nature work in this way. Some are quite directive, being faith-based, or policy based on fixing people.)
Listening was a major skill that was taught along with other aspects of crisis intervention.
But listening and hearing are two distinctly different phenomena.
I remember being taught to listen for "what is not being said, for what is being left out."
My late father used to tell me that "You can find out anything about anybody any time you want. Stop talking. Just listen."
Listening, real listening, requires that you put yourself on hold, your wants, your needs, your desire to impart sagely advice, your desire to help and correct someone's errant ways. All of these things no longer count at the point of deciding to really listen. What is going on for the listener, in any way, shape or form, just doesn't matter. The person who is speaking, the one you are listening to has the only information that counts.
Most people hear your words when you are speaking, but only so much that they detect a blank space, a pause in the conversation as their cue to jump in. And they jump in with what they were thinking about saying while you were not quite finished talking. The segue could be " Well that's just like........" or "The same thing happened to me when...." And so the conversation focus gets shifted to something or someone else.
This is not a give and take normal conversation where one talks, then the other jumps in, and the flow goes back and forth like a ping pong ball.
Listening is a focus on one person, giving them your complete and undivided attention.
Listening requires effort, and some determination to keep your thoughts to yourself so that you can be completely present to the other. Being completely present you can let their words, their story impact you, and help you understand where they are coming from, and what they are facing.
Listening demands that you keep your worldly experience and wisdom silent. You are not helping when you try to fix someone's problems or difficulties with what worked for you, or what you've "read recently that made a lot of sense".
Listening is a rare commodity.
And in the community of the bereaved, of which I am now a lifetime member, it is exactly what we want.
Started by Robert Flowers on October 15, 2017
Hummingbirds from Gail
Hummingbirds from Gail
Many of you know that Gail did Totem Animal readings. The cards that she used were by Jamie Sams, in the first edition. Gail did almost 100 readings over the years.
For a basic life reading 9 cards are chosen from the deck of 70+ cards. These make up your totem animals that are with you for life. This kind of reading is always only done once. It is, at times, not unusual to have a few similar cards when comparing readings, usual 1, 2, or 3 out of the 9.
Gail and I had 5 of 9 cards the same. This reading was done for us by the minister who officiated our wedding service. His sentiment was "no wonder you're compatible!"
Hummingbird is one of Gail's totem.
On June 10, after those awful moments, 2 hummingbirds flew past the side of the deck, stopping mid-air only long enough to get me to see them. Yet they had not been around to our feeder, by that time, for some months.
In the afternoons and early evenings now it is my habit to sit on the deck and watch the sunset. One afternoon this summer, I was feeling particularly broken, and was about to descend into a darker place than I already was. Just as I felt my tears surfacing, a hummingbird flew under the deck umbrella, and hovered about 2- 3 feet from my face at eye level. It was nowhere near the feeder. But it did turn away from me and look at it several times, turning back to face me each time before it flew off. I knew immediately that I needed to change the food. That evening it returned.
Ever since then, the M.O. of the birds that come onto the deck is this. They endeavour, it seems, to make me see them and look at them before they go to the feeder. Last week, in one of my darker moments, one of them flew directly into my line of sight as I sat, and spoke with me for a few chirps and then flew off. There was no mistaking that the little bird was facing me and looking directly at me. It was that close. I always say Thank You.
Humminbirds, though, are usually very skittish. They will make a quick exit when they sense movement of any sort. These ones around me don't seem to mind.
No question that Gail is sending them. She would know that I would get this, that I would recognize this activity for what it is. As I have said previously, to us there was/is no such thing as coincidence, ever. There are layers and layers of meaning, and absolutely everything has meaning.
This is not happenstance.
These hummingbirds are a reminder, and they are from Gail!
And I am grateful!
Started by Robert Flowers on October 11, 2017
Cry in the shower
I wrote this poem recently in response to a very bad day. I could not stop crying. Inside I felt like I was coming apart at the seams. Abandonment by significant others was/is an issue. At times the solitude and silence is overwhelming.
Cry in the shower
It’s best if you cry
in the shower,
so no one will hear your tears.
If you only cry in the
you won’t disturb
When you cry in the shower
you leave no trace,
We want you to cry in the shower,
your tears are your own,
Please……..not on the phone,
but not much;
or to hear;
clichés are better
when everyone believes.
You really should cry
in the shower;
Your words mean nothing
that sobbing won’t fill;
No need for discussions
of your own private hell.
But do not scream
in the shower,
water is hot or cold,
cares not what you’re feeling
or from what
better when you scream on your own.
If you don’t cry
in the shower;
make the rest of us
share in your grief,
you do so alone
your home is your place
We will give you space.
it’s best if you cry
in the shower.
Started by Robert Flowers on October 06, 2017
A club no one wants to join
A club no one ever wanted to join
In May and early June it was comforting to hear from the myriad of Gail's colleagues and friends. When she could no longer speak I took all of the calls.
By June 20, the day of the memorial service, the number of callers began dwindling. By the 24th, they had disappeared almost entirely.
Some of Gail's closest friends have avoided me like the plague. I have mentioned this in conversation and have been told that they have their own lives to live, and I should not expect that they will think of me. In fact I was told that talking about my feelings this way, on an internet site, was tantamount to vomiting on the public. So I should just keep it to myself.
On the other hand, other grieving spouses have informed me that this is an almost universal occurence. My experience, it seems, is not unique. Bereavement and grief is the pariah of our culture. Most will go to great lengths to avoid thinking of them. Conversation can be about anything except death and the after effects, the debilitating sense of heartache and loss that seems to go on endlessly.
People want to hear that you're getting better, or that you're OK, you're "toughing it out" and that would be their segue to add " It just takes time!" or "Time heals all wounds" . They don't want to hear about your continuing pain of separation and loss. They believe that activity and distraction is better for you because "it gets your mind off of the depressing parts of your life."
The problem is that the preceeding is a lie. Engaging in various activities does nothing except give you exercise. Your mind is still on what has been taken from you. You can work wholeheartedly, mindlessly on any number of things, but your relief from constant emotional pain is minimal at best.
I am seeing that this path that has been forced on me is very discomforting to the majority of others who are not currently on it. I have been told to "move on!", once on FB, and once by a bereaved spouse. This club has an upcoming membership for everyone, but those who are only witnesses currently do not want much to do with anyone who will bring this front and centre to them. It is inevitable that membership will claim us all. And nobody likes it.
When Gail and I spoke of death, and we talked about it often, the contemplation alone was enough to shock us into holding each other a little tighter, saying our love for one another out loud and often, while pushing away the thoughts of consumate loneliness that would surround the idea of not being together. There was nothing more abhorent to us than the thought of not being together.
That thought is still with me, even though I have joined this club whose membership is multitude and whose members don't want to be here.
Started by Robert Flowers on September 21, 2017
Bought a bike. Gail set it up!
Bought a bike. Gail set it up!
Early this year, Gail and I spoke of purchasing a new motorcycle for me, for us, so that we could get back to riding, something we both thoroughly enjoyed while I had my last bike in Toronto, in the early '80's.
I was also intent on Gail getting her license and eventually her own bike. She handled my '71 Honda CB500-4 fairly easily. Medium sized bike, but powerful. She knew exactly what to do, the same as she did with photography.
Gail was a ringer!
Of course, at the beginning of 2017 Gail's prognosis looked promising. There was a lot of enthusisam back then.
By the time she was home from her brief stay at Mt. St. Joseph's Hospital, in the last week of May, we both knew our world had collapsed around us. She told me that I should probably continue to look for a bike.
I found a used one at a dealership web site. She asked to see it, and I showed her the picture on my tablet. Immediately I regretted doing that. She looked at the photos, and knew that she would never sit on it, would never even see it. I saw her look of disappointment. I saw her hurt. I saw her defeat. It was crushing. I have that memory now and it's horrible.
By June 10th, and thereafter, riding was the last thing on my mind. I gave it little or no thought.
But apparently it was not about to be put to rest.
This summer, friends of ours suggested that it might be a good idea, since it would get me out of the house to possibly join groups of like-minded bikers my own age, and generally help me to feel better, if only a little. This was in early August. As I was leaving, we had this brief discussion at their door.
And that is where things get very, very interesting.
I left their home, near the Granville Island area of Vancouver, around 9:30 in the evening. The distance to my house was around 16 - 17 kms. As I began the drive home, I noticed that the first few traffic lights that I encountered were all green. This is a pleasant experience. Two or three green lights in a row is very cool. By the time the number was up to 6 consecutive lights I began to take serious notice.
At 12 + I gave up counting. My only comment at every new green light was Holy S__t! This continued, repeating itself at every intersection both major and minor, as I travelled through the city to South Van. My route was not in direct straight lines. Main streets and side streets were my usual mode.
My first full and complete stop was at a stop sign two blocks from my house. I was blown away. There were at least 22 traffic lights (I went back and counted) between the friend's apartment and my place. So, after the discussion about the benefits of buying a bike, every single traffic light was green, for me. There were no full stops, or red lights even for a few seconds.
By the time I pulled into my driveway, the message was obvious. Gail would know that I would notice this, and get it, get the meaning behind it. Neither of us believed in coincidence ever.
The next morning, very early, I woke up still feeling like I had stepped into the Twilght Zone. So I did an I Ching reading on the potential purchase. The reading was very, very positive about taking action.
It was only 6:15 AM so I got ready very quickly, and headed to the Tswassen ferry terminal, about 45 minutes away. The dealership was on Vancouver island. I was prepared for a one or two sailing wait when I got in line, but I got waved onto the departing ship. I was the last one on. Still no "stop signs".
The purchase from the dealership was seamless.
But that's not all.
A week later, I asked a friend to accompany me to pick the bike up. He agreed to drive it back to the mainland for me. I followed in the car. It had been 35 years since I had driven on 2 wheels and I was quite nervous about the highway.
But once the bike and I were at home I could not stop crying. The only thing I could think of was Gail's disappointment. That look on her face haunted me then, and does still. For several days I could barely look at the machine parked in my backyard.
I took it out a couple of times but my nervousness about driving didn't diminsh at all. I knew a refesher course on riding would help.
I signed up for a training program with Pacific Riding School in Surrey.
On day 2, after the class, our instructor asked how I was doing. I was the oldest student, and the only one with a motorcycle endorsement.
I fell apart. Crying, I told him my story. He shared his own with me. His wife of 16 years, his high school sweetheart, had passed away from cancer in 2012, and left him with three young children to raise. He was well-acquainted with grief and loss. I felt a lot less alone.
Day 6 was a 100km+ highway/city ride into Vancouver from South Surrey. I wondered what I would do if my anxiety got the best of me during that day. I had not driven my bike for more than hour at a time, and only around South Van and Burnaby.
The off-road training was on small 250cc machines. The all-day road trip was to be quite different.
The machines we used were all in the 650cc class. Several were relatively new Kawasaki Vulcan cruisers. I had one of them.
At 9:15 AM, we set off. Our group leader took us around urban areas close by to make sure we maintianed formation and had good radio contact. Then it was out to the highway through Richmond and into Vancouver. A couple of hours later we stopped for lunch in Kitsilano.
By lunch I knew that Vulcan cruiser was the right bike for me. I was astonished. The other students, my riding classmates, thought that my dilemna was as funny as hell.
Within two days of completing the riding school I had made a deal to trade in my new "used" bike for a Kawasaki Vulcan S cruiser.
On the road it is an altogether different experience riding it than the Honda 750.
This begs the question, why buy a bike if there was the potential that I might not like it?
First, I had road tested the Honda three years earlier and liked it. This time there were no demos available to take out, so I relied on my memory of the first ride.
Second. If I had not gone to that dealership on Vancouver Island to make the purchase right at that time, I would have easily talked myself out of it. Even as I signed the papers, and returned a week later to pick it up, I was consumed with pain, feeling so uncomfortable, so distraught, that it was as if I was buying a pizza for dinner. Really no big deal. I asked my friend, "Why am I not excited?"
Third. Once I got the bike home I was even more upset. I cried uncontrollably for a long time. I began thinking about selling it quickly.
However, I knew that if I didn't give the activity a chance I would most likely regret it later. So I signed up for the course.
And that changed everything. Although I paid a penalty in the trade-in, I now have motorcycle that is very enjoyable to ride.
I will have a passenger seat and seatback installed (it is a single seater; I would not have given it a second look) so that Gail can ride with me. I know she will. I have already experienced "passengers" of Gail's stature on other bikes. I know what that is like.
Gail set this all up. The 22 green lights, the I Ching readings,
(there were 2 readings actually. The first one, several weeks earlier, indicated that I was in a very dark place, stagnant energy, and that any action was better than where I was standing right then),
the passage on the ferry, the teacher whose wife had died similarly, all of it. Gail's signature is all over this.
She keeps her promises.
I can't wait to take her out.
Started by Robert Flowers on September 06, 2017
Why time won't heal
Why time won't heal
Thank you everyone, who has sent me condolences, kind thoughts, and/or who have included me in their prayers. Your sentiments have been received and felt.
In my eulogy during the service I told of how Gail and I began communicating telepathically right at the beginning of our relationship. This was not due to Gail simply wanting cigarettes or the like, and then putting the thought out to me. There was a lot more than that.
In fact, our communication was more of a two-way thought transfer as our time together increased. We not only finished each other's thoughts and sentences, we answered questions before they were asked. We felt each other's feelings and moods. Mind reading would be an appropriate phrase. With us, it felt natural, so matter-of-fact. Reading a book at bedtime usually meant that Gail would incorporate the plot of my story into her dreams. Or that we would share our dreams, as we were dreaming them. This wasn't by choice. It happened whether we wanted it to or not. And that is what made us take notice of our intensity, emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually. If we were anything together, we were intense, in every nuance of the word.
There were certain aspects of our character, our personalities, that gave each of us a unique definition of who we were with the world and with ourselves. There were things that each of us could do, and did do, that were key points of differing from most people that we knew. They were things that we shared very sparingly.
I knew, and trusted Gail's intuitive ability. If Gail said that something or someone was coming, it always did. Gail could read people and situations very quickly. It took her no time at all to discern more complete pictures than what others wanted to reveal. She was also a dream weaver. Others would come to her in dreams, showing her parts of their lives, of what was happening currently, or was about to come down. Upon checking in with those involved, her visions were always right on the money. She did not go searching this out. These messages came to her unasked, unrequested.
When this ability focused on us, I didn't always like her predictions. Her accuracy, however, was off the charts. I never questioned it. For professional reasons Gail kept this talent very private. Few could understand or even grasp its true nature.
In the fall of 2015, she told me that 2016 was going to be a year of monumental change for us. How I wish she hadn't said that!
For my part, Gail knew that I have an ability to read people and situations as well, that I have a built-in lie-detector in me. I can always tell when I am being told the truth or a lie. It has been this way for me for as long as I can remember. Sometimes I use psychometry, reading energy from personal objects. Gail knew all of this, and trusted me, my intuition, without reservation, even bragging about it to certain close friends.
She respected and trusted my judgement, as much as I did hers. There was such a bond and depth of love between us that no matter what the issue or concern might be, we both knew that the support from the other was without conditions. Indeed, we thought and acted more as one individual than two. That level of intimacy is rare, but it was ours.
Many well-meaning people have tried to console me in my grief over the last few weeks with the platitude, (I will probably scream if I hear it one more time) "Time heals all wounds" or "It will take time".
That cliché/opinion is open to debate, and to me, is dead wrong.
Gail and I felt each other's deepest thoughts and feelings because we were so connected emotionally and spiritually. We were completely on the same page in every respect. We were open books for one another, and we both reveled in it. It brought us incredible joy.
It is what makes this part of my life so horrendously difficult.
Recently I had to describe to someone, why they did not, and could not, possibly understand my catastrophic sense of loss.
Gail was to me, as I was to her, the most beautiful, intimate friend, the most loving confidant that I could have hoped for. There was nothing that we would not do for one another. There were no special considerations, or secrets that exempted either of us from the other's love and adoration. The way we communicated was our hallmark. Our words and actions constantly verbalized our enduring love for one another. Spiritually, we were one.
For me, that deeply held connection, to the part of me that was Gail, is gone. Half of my life has been torn away and shredded. I will never get it back.
That incredibly intimate communication that we had is history. I am confronted with this whenever I feel the most despairing. It is then that I feel myself standing in a black hole of complete and utter emotional devastation. It is then that I feel the most alone.
For anyone to infer that their relationship with Gail was the same as mine, or that they knew Gail's wishes better than I, or that they now know what Gail would want, or that Gail would be upset with me for doing things my own way, I would say, respectfully, you have no idea what you're talking about. You're dreaming!
The idea that "Blood is thicker than water" is a myth. There was no one who knew Gail more intimately than I did, or who knew me like she did. There was no one who held me in as high esteem as she did. She trusted me implicitly. The same was true for me about her. We had a love and respect that could not be altered by anyone or anything outside of the two of us. Certainly not by anyone's present opinion.
To me, this is a loss of such magnitude that I will take it with me to the grave. There will be no healing from this.
I may recover………somewhat;
Started by Robert Flowers on July 20, 2017
Emotional dysfuntion runs high
Emotional dysfunction runs high
In times of extreme crisis, for almost everyone, emotions run very high. People feel like they are walking on eggshells, or that they're like a balloon about to burst with the slightest touch of a pin.
Often, at the death of a loved one, some will shut down their feelings entirely. It is too much turmoil for them to handle. They feel that they will lose control. They may acknowledge that the event took place. They may even admit to being upset, but their internal mechanism will not allow the overt expression of strong feelings.
Instead, a substitute will be focused on. Something related to the event, but not the actual thing itself, will generate out of proportion reactions. Details that are, at best, insignificant in the entire scheme of things, will be the cause of much larger than life emotional distress, that gets spread around as if it were the real cause. And it isn't. It never is.
It's called deflecting. It allows someone to say that this thing or that is behind their reaction. Then they don't have to deal with the actual cause, which is the death and separation from their loved one and all of their suppressed/repressed feelings
Getting bent out of shape because of not getting certain considerations, such as items that were not immediately forthcoming from the deceased, or their survivors, or being excluded from the will, gives the impression of righteous indignation, as if it were the truth.
But it is a false flag. Nothing is ever as it seems, as it appears. There is always something else going on in the background, usually layer upon layer of meaning, particularly when emotions run very high.
And at a death they always do. Always!
Gaining property at the expense of real relationships is a red herring 100 per cent of the time.
Unfortunately, with more and more emotional volatility, real reasons, real feelings seldom get addresssed, and real grief gets deflected, so dysfuntion remains.
Started by Robert Flowers on July 19, 2017
Some days everything is a reminder
There are days that begin well, then deteriorate late in the evening before sleep can dull the senses. And then there days that disappear right away into the darkness that encompasses my life.
I have been told, ad infinitum..."Time will heal" . If I hear the phrase one more time I may go stark raving mad.
Activities, tv shows, even shopping, are all reminders. Today, at supper at my brother's house, it was caesar salad & tomatoes, two of Gail's favourite foods. I was a mess. I had to leave the table.
Enjoyable pastimes are mostly a thing of the past. And music, so much a part of my previous life, does not live at my house any more. Because....it is a reminder.
Started by Robert Flowers on July 13, 2017
The inevitable dysfuntion
The inevitable dysfuntion....
Expect the unexpected....can be a note about life, generally speaking.
Certainly Gail and I did not expect this. She even wrote to me, during her voiceless last few days. "Bet you didn't expect this" I did not. Neither did she. The utter, devestating shock lives on and on in me. My tears never stop.
But after a little of the dust had settled, tones of vindictiveness came into play. A relative wants some property back that was given to Gail upon the death of her mother, Jean, in May of 2016.
Two days after the service the return of the property, a ring, was not requested. It was demanded. I was told to give it back.
At this point I am slow to let go of any of Gail's belongings. I have not even moved her clothes from the last resting place in our bedroom or elsewhere.
I am in a black pit of despair. I have sought grief counselling, as well as a "Widower's" group. Most of the time I feel like an unthinking zombie in a well of sadness and disbelief.
When I stated my reluctance to return anything I was immediately accused of not following Gail's wishes outlined in her will.
The ultimate accusation is that I only care about myself, and always have. I'm in the wrong, end of story. And then came the Facebook post telling everyone what a despicable person/husband I was.
It does not matter that my life has been shredded. Money and possesions are the important considerations to this part of Gail's family. This is not a particular surprise, but it is shocking. There are two generations who have joined in a chorus of indignation about me. They have informed me that I am not part of their family and that the property belongs strictly to them.
I would be lying if I said that these accusations were not hurtful. They were supposed to be. It's why they were made; to make me behave and put me in my place. I cannot fathom the shallowness, the callousness with which this has happened. Extreme value on money and things, but not personal relationships, a real psychological field day.
I have heard of and seen this sort of behavior in other families, at times like this. I have been told that every family experiences it. Dysfunctional right to the end.
Up close and personal, it takes on an ugly, and disgusting persona.
Started by Robert Flowers on July 08, 2017