<![CDATA[Annie B. Wilson, PhD. - Blog]]>Fri, 15 Dec 2017 04:05:56 -0700Weebly<![CDATA[Can You Put Some Self-Love In There?]]>Thu, 14 Dec 2017 13:34:55 GMThttp://opennessworks.com/1/post/2017/12/put-some-self-love-in-it.htmlPicture
In November 2016, a few days after arriving at Benefis Peace Hospice in Great Falls, Montana, my wonderful husband, Doug, became confused and agitated.  He’d been living with penile cancer for thirteen months and was near the end of a very painful journey, yet until that evening he had maintained his usual jovial demeanor.  I quickly pressed the call button and then reassured him until the nurse arrived, thankful to be among competent and loving caregivers at such a scary moment.  

After helping Doug settle, the nurse rubbed medicine onto Doug’s skin to help him relax.  He quietly watched her hand gliding across his forearm and then, with hopeful curiosity in his voice, asked, “Can you put some self-love in there?”  The nurse and I looked at each other, wondering if we’d heard what we thought we’d heard, and then he asked again.

                                                                              ***

Ever since he’d lost his penis to cancer, Doug and I had wondered and talked about self-love very often.  Doug worried about whether he was enough - for me, for his daughters, for the world - and I wondered what it would take for both of us to embrace our new reality. We believed that self-love was essential, and we helped each other remember that self-love was an option on those days when despair or self-loathing seemed the only appropriate response to our circumstances.  I was amazed and delighted that self-love was on Doug’s mind, even as his body declined.

                                                                              ***

Ever since that day in hospice, I’ve repeated Doug’s question as often as possible:  What should I make for breakfast today?...can you put some self-love in there?  My performance evaluation’s due…can you put some self-love in there?  I need to shop for new clothes…can you put some self-love in there?  That simple question changes my perspective on absolutely everything! 

As much as I wish we could, we can’t rub self-love into ourselves like the medicine that was rubbed onto Doug’s arm.  But we can be kinder to ourselves when we look in the mirror, we can nurture ourselves with naps, and laughter, and tears.  In honor of the man who inspired the question, I ask you now, Can you put some self-love in your life today?  Doug and I will be cheering you on when you do.

With sincere affection,
Annie

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<![CDATA[What's In A Name? (Why my 6th name change will be my last.)]]>Fri, 06 Oct 2017 03:19:09 GMThttp://opennessworks.com/1/post/2017/10/whats-in-a-name-why-my-6th-name-change-will-be-my-last.htmlWhen Doug and I married it meant a lot to him that I take his last name, and so I did it to please him even though I had finally found peace in being myself, Annie Barron.  I’d been married and divorced before, and also had changed my name to make my childhood nickname, “Annie”, become my legal first name (Public Service Announcement: please, for the sanity of kids everywhere, if you are going to call your children by nicknames, put those nicknames on their birth certificates...I thank you). Five name changes later, I now anticipate name change number six, which I am determined will be my last.

What’s in a name?  Identity, belonging, acceptance, community…confusion, isolation, disorientation, longing…a name is a declaration of personal qualities and a pronunciation of membership to an exclusive group called “family.”
Last year at this time my name was Annie Wilson, part of a sacred union signified by matching last names.  Last year at this time my days (and nights) were consumed by love, and suffering, and adoration.  Doug and I intentionally cherished every moment together, knowing that the cancer was spreading and our life would be cut short, much shorter than we’d even imagined.  We cried openly together, watched silly TV shows to make ourselves laugh, drank malted milkshakes, looked lovingly into each other’s eyes and held each other’s hand constantly.  My heart swelled with pride when anyone called me “Mrs. Wilson.”

Then, on November 5th my reason for being called Annie Wilson died when my beloved took his last breath.  “Who am I now?” I’ve wondered since then. “Who do I want to be?” I’ve asked myself.

Without my beloved, being called Annie Wilson didn’t feel quite right, but neither did letting go of Doug’s last name.  Being Doug Wilson’s wife made me feel proud and having Doug’s last name reminded me of his joy in being my partner, his profound love for me, and his wonderfully large and nurturing presence embracing me.  

However, I sense that it’s time to establish healthy independence, to rediscover my footing as Annie Barron, a woman who has survived the unthinkable, who is doing her very best to clear a path through the dense jungle of her life, who understands that Doug cannot return to hold her hand or proclaim that she is his cherished wife.  Today I am not a wife.  Today I am simply a “me.”

Today I filed a petition to change my name to Annie Saida Barron, and even though I’m crying as I type, I know this change will be good for me.  Saida is the name given to me by my Sufi guide many years ago.  It means “One who carries the happiness of God’s love”…my guide said that the name he gave symbolized the quality a person carried for the world and also the quality they most needed to experience.  At the time I certainly needed to experience the happiness of God’s love, and today I can’t think of anything more healing for my wounded heart.  

As Annie Wilson I relaxed for the first time in my entire life.  And then one day I no longer knew my own name.  And then I named myself.  

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<![CDATA[Self-Love and My First Birthday without Doug]]>Sun, 06 Aug 2017 18:25:21 GMThttp://opennessworks.com/1/post/2017/08/self-love-and-my-first-birthday-without-doug.htmlPicture
Today is my birthday.  It also is the eighth month-i-versary of the day my beloved took his last breath.  If you've been following our journey, you know that Doug and I wondered and talked about self-love very often after he lost his penis to cancer.  Doug wondered whether he was enough - for me, for the world - and I wondered what it would take for both of us to embrace our new reality.

We believed that self-love was essential and, both of us being writers, we wanted to find an adjective that conveyed not only the relief that self-love would bring, but also the struggle that would be required if we were going to overcome the painful, negative, fearful thoughts that ran amok in our minds. We decided that nothing short of Absolute Self-Love would get us through, and we helped each other remember that self-love was an option on those days when despair or self-loathing seemed the only appropriate response to our circumstances.

So, today is my birthday...actually every day since Doug left me (physically) has been a birth day because I have chosen to continue living.  I have rebirthed myself over and over and over, and it has not been an easy choice.  Today I want to share some of the ways that I have shown absolute self-love to myself, some of which definitely do not match with a Google search on "self-love" but they have been essential to my survival.  

I'm sharing because honesty and openness about my journey helps me, not only to release painful energy but also to welcome loving energy and kinship with readers and friends who message me to let me know how my story touched them.  This first year without Doug is dedicated to my personal healing, and, as I heal I wish to help others heal as well.  So, on to my list.

Dr. Annie's Top 3 Acts of Absolute Self-Love

1.  I Gave Myself Permission To End My Life.

During Doug's illness, and especially when he was in at-home hospice care, I relished in every opportunity to shower him with affection and receive affection from him.  We were very open with each other about our thoughts and emotions, and although we tried our best to be present in each moment and not focus on his death, we both knew what was coming and we both grieved for me, knowing that I would have to continue on without him.

One evening, after a very long and taxing day, I fell down the stairs when Doug was in the bathroom.  I remember uncontrollably sliding down the stairs, jamming my finger against a bookcase, and crying, "Ouch, ouch ouch!" with every step.  Through my tears, I called out "I'm okay!" because I didn't want Doug to hurt himself while trying to come help me.  He came anyway (of course he did), sat behind me on the top stair and held me while I let out wracking, devastated sobs.  

Sitting there with my dying husband holding me, knowing that his perfect blend of strength and tenderness would soon be gone, I honestly could envision ending my life after Doug died.  After a few moments, Doug stood up, helped me rise and took me into the bathroom where he dressed the bloody scrapes on my arms.  

Later, after Doug had fallen asleep, I took out my journal and gave myself permission, in writing, to end my life if I wanted to.  I promised to wait at least six months after he died, because if I did end my life I didn't want it to be a rash decision.   

How can permission for suicide be an act of self-love?  I considered it loving because by doing it I released myself from any sense of obligation to other people, or even to my sweet dog. I affirmed that I was only truly responsible for myself.  In other words, I freed myself from the illusion that I am responsible for other people's emotions, actions, and personal development, and I gave my attention to myself. 

I even saved three bottles of Doug's strong pain medications, just in case I chose to use them.  Giving myself permission to think about using them helped me be more attentive to myself on those agonizing days when I wanted to die.  Knowing I didn't "have" to live, didn't "have" to do anything to satisfy or please anyone else, made me bolder about asking for help.  

Rather than increasing my desire to die, this action brought ease and openness to living.   Choosing to live became another act of self-love, not an obligation.

Even as I write about this it doesn't seem logical, but nonetheless it's been essential to my survival.  Three days ago I dropped Doug's prescriptions into the bin at Walgreens, letting go of that security blanket, once more choosing to live.


2.  I Let Go Of My Diet

Right after Doug died I signed up for a very strict, medically supervised weight loss program.  I'd gained about 80lbs and wanted to release them as quickly as possible.  The structure and weekly check-ins required by the program also felt comforting to me at a time when everything else in my life was in chaos.

I lost 15lbs in the first two weeks!  Yay!  I also got sores in my nose and mouth, a reaction to the medication.  Not yay!  

Although I wanted to continue with the program, I had to admit that it was harming me more than helping, so I stopped it.  For a while I was able to choose healthier food and beverages, but I noticed that when I did that, when I avoided sugar and processed food & drinks without taking any medication to affect my appetite, my emotions not only rose to the surface, they overwhelmed me.  Even with counseling sessions, I could not function in my day-to-day life without numbing my emotions.  

I really did want to choose to live, and I wanted to avoid numbing out with drugs or alcohol, so I gave myself permission to "medicate" with crappy food and sugary drinks.  Did I enjoy it?  Not really.  Did it enable me to sleep and to make it through most days without sobbing uncontrollably?  Yes. 

Progress is progress.


3.  I Invested In My Own Healing

Soon after I received Doug's life insurance payment last January, I scheduled and paid for two immersive, week-long healing retreats.  One will begin a week from today and the other will occur over the anniversary of Doug's passing, in November.  I chose these retreats because they met these criteria:  1) I will not have to make any decisions.  Lodging, meals and activities will be planned by someone else; 2) Meals will be organic, lovingly prepared and considerate of my food sensitivities (to help me become more considerate of them once I return home); and 3) The environment will be deeply nurturing and calm.

I scheduled these retreats in August and November because I sensed that I wouldn't be ready right after Doug passed, and I was right.  With the help of loving friends and family I have made SO much progress over the past eight months!  And I know that I will make much more progress with the help of the professionals who will guide me on these retreats.

Back in January when I purchased my airline tickets, I hesitated about buying extra leg room.  My mind wavered between my old way of thinking, (pre-Doug), "You're spending so much money on yourself already, the economy seats will be good enough," and imagining Doug's voice saying, "You deserve the best!  Buy the extra leg room!  It isn't even a question; of course you should have it."  Doug had said similar things to me so many times that I silently thanked him and smiled as I clicked on the "add" button and imagined stretching out in my seat on the plane.

Today is my birthday.  Today I choose to LIVE.



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<![CDATA[Top 3 Ways Seniors Can Stay Healthy While Grieving]]>Wed, 07 Jun 2017 02:01:39 GMThttp://opennessworks.com/1/post/2017/06/top-3-ways-seniors-stay-healthy-while-grieving.htmlPicturePhoto Credit: Pixabay.com
Guest Blog:  Losing a spouse at any point in life can seem unbearable, but for seniors who have been with their spouse for decades, it can be unfathomable.  During this time, it is essential to do everything you can to keep yourself healthy - it really is possible, even though it might not seem like it right now. Below are three proven tips that will help. 

1. Focus On The Three Pillars Of Good Health
It’s hard to be a completely healthy person - mentally, emotionally and physically - without these three things: a good diet, a moderate exercise routine, and a good sleep system. These things affect one another, so do your best to give attention to each one, even while you are grieving. 

Regarding your diet, include plenty of lean protein and fish.  Eat as many fruits and vegetables as you can, and load up on olive oil, nuts, and berries for good brain health. Try to limit - hard as it may be - excessive caffeine, alcohol, sugar and nicotine.  All of these have negative effects on sleep, emotional well-being, mental health and physical health. Check here for some good tips on senior nutrition. 


When it comes to exercise, even 15 minutes a day will help; 30 to 45 minutes a day of moderate physical activity would be an excellent goal to work toward. Taking the dog for a walk, gardening, or gentle yoga are all low-stress options. The most important thing is to choose foods and activities that you enjoy.

2. Give Yourself Ways To Relieve Daily Stress
Dealing with life’s stresses is hard for anyone, but following the loss of a spouse it can become overwhelming.  Consider asking friends and family for help or hiring someone to help occasionally around the house - perhaps a housekeeper or bi-weekly personal chef for when preparing meals seems too daunting.

Learn how to say “no” to friends, family, and colleagues. If you are a senior, you might have  spent years as the matriarch or patriarch of a family and people have depended on you for everything.  Maybe you have been willing to drop everything and help at any time, but now give yourself permission to say no to people and take some time for yourself.  Check here for ways to learn how to say no without feeling guilty.

3. Find Comfort In A Hobby
There are so many benefits of throwing yourself into a hobby following any traumatic event. First, and most obviously, it’s an enjoyable distraction.  People who suffer from all kinds of mental, emotional and physical ailments know that one of the best ways to cope is to focus on a hobby. Overwhelming grief is no different.

“When you are busy creating something new – and it can be anything from art to music, cooking to sewing, drawing to photography – you can become so completely absorbed in whatever it is that nothing else will matter,” notes Amoils.com.

The other thing that a hobby can provide is connection to the outside world, specifically other people. Grief often comes with a lot of self-imposed isolation, and this can become unhealthy. Getting out of the house and socializing - forming new connections with other people - is one of the best ways to help yourself overcome grief.

It Will Get Better, Eventually
Grief is a normal experience after loss, and there is no time limit on how long you will grieve over someone you loved.  While your own physical and mental well-being may slip immediately following the loss of your spouse, it is vital that you make it a priority as soon as you can.  Overcoming grief will be easier when you are healthy, and you deserve to feel better. 


About the author - Jackie Waters is a mother of three who devotes her time to her family, home and farm.  She most recently lost her mother-in-law to cancer and is inspired to help seniors, like her father-in-law, find hope and health in the midst of their grief.
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<![CDATA[A Letter of Gratitude to Benefis Health System]]>Sun, 19 Mar 2017 20:34:19 GMThttp://opennessworks.com/1/post/2017/03/a-letter-of-gratitude-to-benefis-health-system.htmlPicture
In the four and a half months since my beloved Doug died, I have begun to heal, emotionally, mentally, and physically.  Unwillingly at first, I've begun to weave myself together as a new person, knowing very well that my experience as "Annie" will never be exactly as it was before.  

This selfie shows me that light is returning to my eyes, and although I would drop everything and run into Doug's arms if he suddenly appeared, I now, once again, recognize my light, the light that exists as Annie, despite everything.

Every day I allow myself plenty of room to feel and express my honest emotions, and I also repeatedly focus my attention on the best of what was, to help me move forward.  Today I want to publicly give attention to the best of Doug's medical team, the wonderful caregivers at Benefis Health System in Great Falls, Montana, USA, people who cared for Doug - and me - not only clinically but also emotionally and communally.  

During the thirteen months of Doug's illness, dozens of caregivers and coworkers at Benefis did their best to help Doug beat penile cancer and later, to let go while feeling loved, respected, and accepted just as he was.  They gave the same depth of care to me, his constant companion and advocate, and today I am glad to share with you a letter of gratitude I wrote shortly after Doug passed.  

I wrote this letter to John Goodnow, CEO of Benefis Health System, to recognize the highlights of Doug's care.  If I were to document every moment of compassion we received, meal that was delivered or clinical excellence that occurred, this post would be dozens of pages long. My sincere wish for you is that if you are ever a patient (anywhere in the world), you and those who love you will receive equally excellent, loving care.

John Goodnow, CEO
Benefis Health System
Great Falls, Montana

November 28, 2016

Dear John,

I want to express my gratitude to you and the Benefis family for the many ways you all supported my late husband, Doug, and me during the past year.  Doug and I were both employees of Benefis (Doug was in ITS and I’m in the Human Resources Division).  Before he was diagnosed with penile cancer in October of last year, Doug and I agreed that Benefis was by far the best organization we’d ever worked for.  We were proud to represent Benefis, even though we had only been here for a few months.  Little did we know then how many opportunities we would have to reinforce that pride.

Doug passed away on November 5, 2016 at Benefis Peace Hospice.  In memory of him, and to honor the many people who served both him and me, I want to describe for you some of the highlights we experienced in the past year.  This is a long letter so I’ve organized the information by group and in reverse chronological order.  Feel free to use part or all of the letter in any way that might serve Benefis Health System.

Life Insurance Benefit

I want to thank you for providing life insurance to all employees at no cost to us.  Even though this is a standard benefit in larger organizations I want you to know that I do not take it for granted.  The life insurance that Benefis provided to my husband is going to enable me to buy a small house and cover our shared expenses while I figure out how to live on one salary again. 

If it weren’t for this benefit I would be in great distress because we did not carry our own life insurance policy. Pam Blackwell in HR has been very responsive to all of my questions and very efficient in processing my claim paperwork. She is wonderful to work with.

ITS, HR and Accounting Staff

Shortly after Doug passed, the staff from these three departments held their quarterly get-together.  This time, however, they made it into a fund raiser for me, as a surprise.  How amazing these people are, who had already give us so much in the form of donated PTO, visits to our home and hospice room, encouraging words and coverage for us when we were away from work.  In one evening they generated nearly $2,000 in donations!

Another huge gift I received from the ITS staff is that they all gathered together and video recorded themselves singing Happy Birthday to Doug.  Doug had been determined to make it to his 52nd birthday, November 7, but I knew he was suffering and I asked my friends to help encourage him to let go.  Tears ran down my cheeks as I played the video of Doug’s coworkers singing to him. It was such a compassionate act from a wonderful group of people whom Doug loved.  Even though Doug wasn’t responsive, I know he heard their singing because he passed a couple of hours later, seconds after hearing his daughters sing Happy Birthday over the phone. 

My family in the HR Division have been a powerful source of support for me from the very beginning.  As I prepare to return to work in a few days I know that I will be welcomed with warmth, compassion and understanding, which I truly need in order to heal and do my best work.

Benefis Peace Hospice

Doug arrived at Hospice just 10 days before he passed and he was cared for in our home for four weeks before that.  Amanda Court was his primary nurse. Her friendly, kind demeanor and excellent nursing skills put both of us at ease and I think she helped Doug to feel proud of who he was, even though he wasn’t able to provide for me in the ways he used to.

The staff who cared for Doug at Peace Hospice were kind, respectful and responsive to his needs.  His arrival was distressing but the staff, as well as Audrey and Vickie, came together to hear him and respond.  Even though it came so late in his young life, for Doug to clearly express his feelings and wishes and then to have those respected was life-changing for him and I will forever be grateful to have witnessed those interactions.

After he passed the staff sent me handwritten cards with special memories of Doug’s fun personality and our uniquely powerful love.  Knowing that they considered me to be a good caregiver for Doug and reading their observations of our love meant the world to me.

Benefis Executive Team PTO Donations

I don’t know who on the executive team donated PTO to me. I wish I did so I could thank them individually. Their generosity made it possible for me to spend the last five weeks of Doug’s life with him, right by his side where we both wanted me to be.  I will never be able to express what that gift gave to us, and to me especially since I now have to live without him; the memories of that time we had together are precious to me. 

The Ladies in Administration

After Doug passed I received a beautiful arrangement of plants from “The ladies in administration.”  I have an idea but don’t know exactly who was included in that group and I don’t know any of them very well, yet they went out of their way to give me a gift and let me know they were thinking of me. 

Benefis Emergency Department

For months before Doug went into hospice care he needed emergency care at least weekly to address dehydration and other issues.  No matter the time of day or night, Kevin Langkiet responded to my texts to answer my questions and then call ahead so the ED staff would be ready for our arrival. At each visit we were treated with respect and kindness, two qualities that were particularly important for a man who had lost his penis to cancer and was quite overweight.  Doug and I always thanked each person who cared for him, and we meant it.

When Doug was receiving at-home hospice care Kevin called to let us know that the Mercy Flight team wanted to take us on a tour of the fall foliage and they’d approached your executive team themselves for permission.  We were so surprised and touched!  Even though Doug wasn’t able to fly, he radiated with joy knowing that people he barely knew were thinking of him and wanted to give him this very special gift.

Benefis Spectrum Durable Medical Equipment

The day we decided to stop chemotherapy and enter into at-home hospice care was one of the worst days of our lives.  Audrey from Hospice made the enrollment process as easy as possible; she even came to Sletten to sit with us while Doug received fluids. 

One immediate benefit of this change in care was that we would now receive a hospital bed at home. Doug had been sleeping in a recliner for eight months!  We were eager for him to get into a real bed but it was Friday afternoon and we figured we’d have to wait until Monday.  I called Spectrum around 3pm that day and asked when they could deliver the bed. “How about in 30 minutes?” was the reply.  Talk about excellent service! 

They did not have a bariatric bed in stock but they delivered a bed that worked just fine, knowing they’d have to come back in a few days to remove it and bring in a bariatric bed.  We were so grateful they were willing to go to that trouble.  Amanda from Hospice provided a wonderful foam mattress pad that made the bed very comfortable for Doug. 

He had never complained about sleeping in the recliner, but I realized how uncomfortable it must have been when he kept saying how much better the bed felt.  I was, and still am, grateful that Doug received that measure of comfort when he’d been suffering from such intense physical pain for so long.

Benefis Sletten Cancer Institute

Doug received care in both Radiation Oncology and Medical Oncology.  Jazmyn was our favorite person at the registration desk.  She always had a bright smile for us and often had Doug’s paperwork ready before we even reached her counter.  And Kevin Evensen often would stop to check-in with us, asking how we were and whether we needed anything.

The staff who cared for Doug during his radiation treatments matched his playful energy and made those visits as comfortable as possible.  Just before the treatments began I had delivered a presentation, available to all staff, titled “Self-Care in Healthcare: How to Recharge Your Energy and Renew Your Passion,” which most of the Sletten staff had attended. I appreciated hearing their positive comments about the presentation and Doug beamed with pride when they told him what they thought of his wife; that actually reduced his stress and put him at ease regarding his treatment.

Dr. Bryan Martin, Sue, Amanda, Maureen, Paula and others in Medical Oncology helped us navigate the long and painful process of chemotherapy treatments.  They were kind, compassionate, responsive to questions and quick to offer help when we needed it.

Bryan and Doug quickly developed a friendly rapport, which put Doug at ease and helped him to feel “normal” again.  Other than remission, that truly was the most valuable gift he could have received.

Bryan and the staff sent me a card after Doug passed and, once again, I was comforted by the ways in which Doug (and we) had touched others.

Nursing Leaders

Late in the summer I reached the point where I could no longer manage all of my responsibilities, at least not without suffering a nervous breakdown! I posted on Facebook a request for help with meals and many friends jumped into action. Then Liz Coates sent me a message telling me that the nursing leaders wanted to help. 

They had already surprised me with a beautiful gift basket, gift cards and money, yet they wanted to do more!  I told Liz what Doug liked and within days she arrived at my door with enough meals to last us for several weeks.  Not only did I feel relieved not to have to cook, I also felt deeply cared for and supported. 

Dr. Bearss

Dr. Roland Bearss was Doug’s urologist.  It was he who performed a biopsy and diagnosed Doug’s cancer in 2015, and he who quickly found a surgeon in Seattle who had experience with penile cancer.  Dr. Bearss continued to care for Doug after surgery to address an on-going issue and he and his staff sent me a card after Doug passed.  Doug told me many times how much he appreciated Dr. Bearss’ calm demeanor and sincere kindness.  I will forever be grateful to Casey Buckingham for coordinating Doug’s first appointment with Dr. Bearss.

Surgery

I’ve lost count of how many surgeries Doug endured. But I haven’t lost the memory of how well cared for he was by all of the staff in surgical services.  I appreciated their consistency with hand hygiene, something I watched for, and their confident reassurance that everything would go well.  They took excellent care of Doug and respectfully included me in his care.

Conclusion

I can’t tell you how many times I heard someone tell Doug that he was one of their favorite patients, and I know why they felt that way.  Doug Wilson was an exceptional man, a man with a sharp, creative mind; a strong, tattooed body; a huge heart and a sparkling personality.  I will forever be grateful to have been loved by him.  And, I will forever be grateful to have watched him receive the quality of care that he deserved. 

If I ever become a millionaire, Benefis Health System will be the first to receive a donation!  In the meantime, I’ll do my best to help us become the best health system in Montana, and beyond.

Sincerely,
Annie

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<![CDATA[Doug's Love Letter: My Favorite Christmas Gift]]>Fri, 23 Dec 2016 15:24:53 GMThttp://opennessworks.com/1/post/2016/12/dougs-love-letter-my-favorite-christmas-gift.htmlJust before moving into in-patient hospice care Doug surprised me one morning with a love letter he'd written for me.  A couple of days later he read the letter aloud so I could record this video. I am so glad we did that!  Hearing my beloved's voice and seeing the love in his eyes reminds me of how truly adored I felt, every single day of our life together.  
For me, there is no gift more valuable than that.  If you are reading this and yearning for true love, know that I am seeing you fully adored, first by yourself and then by the one who will become your favorite. You (we all) deserve such happiness!
Here is the letter, for those who prefer to read such beautiful words:

My Beloved Angel,

Words cannot express how I feel about you (and it seems like my fingers can’t find the proper spots on the keyboard either. I’ve never had to type so many backspaces in my life).

In any case, my heart fills with joy at the thought that one day I will be rejoined with you in another dimension and we will be able to fully share the depth and breadth of all creation together.

I thank you for so many (yet so few) years of passionate, deliberate and empowered 
love that we have embraced together. With you, I have found reason and joy. I have found love and perspective and everything I could have wished to find in life. You have led me to the four corners of the earth, to the farthest reaches of the universe and to the ends of space and time. And all of that was just this morning when I thought about you stepping into the shower.

Do I really need to say how your beauty rivals that of the great master sculptors of 
all time? Or that the greatest painters of all time could never capture an iota of your 
glory? Somehow, I think that if I did manage to capture all those things I would 
make a fissure in the universal time stream and all of the universe would collapse in 
on itself. And that could screw up what happens after I transition, so I don’t want to do that.

What I really want to do is express my love for you. I’m not clear on how to do to that.

I will try to be as succinct as I possibly can:

You are my everything.

Without you there would be nothing and I would have no reason to be here.
I am trying to debate whether I should share this with you this morning or
have you wait until I pass. I believe I will share it with you now, because
it will be nice to see your reaction with my own eyes.
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<![CDATA[The Body Also Loves. And Remembers. And Grieves.]]>Fri, 09 Dec 2016 15:59:21 GMThttp://opennessworks.com/1/post/2016/12/the-body-also-loves-and-remembers-and-grieves.htmlPicture
Each time I share a post about my grief process, I receive well-meaning comments encouraging me to trust that Doug is with me, is proud of me or is okay.  The thing is, I already “know” that.  Very often I can sense Doug’s nearness and I’ve received messages from him, which I cherish.  

What feels the most painful to me in this moment is not my mind’s understanding of where or how Doug is, but rather something that I don’t think most people talk about, or maybe even think about – it is my body’s experience of loss, the profound absence of my body’s favorite companion.  

When Doug and I first lay beside each other, I actually “felt” every cell in my body release a sigh of contentment.  I had never experienced anything like it before.  It felt as if my skin recognized Doug’s skin and the subtle pressure of our sides leaning against each other inspired a sensation of, “Ah, there you are.” 

Each of us had been single, intentionally, for more than five years.  We’d focused on our personal healing and imagined we were preparing to meet someone with whom we would enjoy the quality of love that we had yearned for in previous relationships.  This meant that each of us had experienced a derth of physical affection and the accompanying yearning for touch that only those who enjoy sharing physical affection and find themselves living alone for long periods of time can understand.

For me, someone who’d had a very contentious relationship with her body over the years, that sensation of “Ah, there you are,” was incredibly healing.  My body felt seen, loved, respected, appreciated, empowered and safe as I lay beside Doug that first night.  And those sensations never waned.

Doug and I enjoyed each other’s physical presence so much that, from the very beginning of our relationship, we rarely left each other’s side except to work.  Even at work we would meet up in the hallway for a smooch and a hug, and we always held hands when walking from one place to the next, because it felt good.  Occasionally someone would “catch” us smooching or hugging, expecting us to be embarrassed, but I always felt happy when that occurred because I believed that our joy could be contagious (and, from the emails, notes & messages I’ve received, I know that was true).

One of my coworkers told me that shortly after Doug’s cancer diagnosis she had seen us walking hand-in-hand in the parking lot and when Doug opened my door for me and we shared a kiss, she’d said to herself, “They’re going to be all right.”  She could see and sense the warmth and love, (what I call “The Yummy”), between us and perceive its power.
PictureOur first usie.
                                                                           * * *
Maybe my soul knew that Doug’s body would leave mine much sooner than we ever expected.  At every opportunity, and for no reason other than it felt good, I focused my attention on the sensations of Doug’s lips against mine, our hands clasped loosely yet securely, my hands massaging his feet and his massaging mine (something we did every evening, just because), or my cheek resting on his strong, tattooed shoulder.  

Such profound presence made it easy for me to remember how it felt when Doug touched me, when he spoke sincere, loving words to me, and when I gazed into his large, auburn-colored eyes, seeing in them a depth of appreciation I can scarcely describe. All of those sensations, and more, enliven my memory right now, as I type.

In the remembrance I feel a mixture of peaceful comfort in my heart, quiet in my mind and cold loneliness on my skin.  My body remembers, in its own unique way.  And it cries out, longing for its best friend and dearest lover. 

* * *

A few months ago, when Doug and I were talking about how different
our life had become from what we had dreamed, Doug said this:

“Happiness also exists in the space between having and wanting.”


I sure hope he’s right.
A playful end note: A day or two before Doug became unresponsive in Hospice, his nurse was taking care of some task when Doug asked me to come next to him, boldly announcing, “I want to touch your butt!” I happily giggled as I made my way around Doug’s nurse and moved his bedside table in order to make room for myself, or rather, my butt.  For the rest of the time Doug's nurse was in the room, talking to him, Doug's hand rested on my big, fat, gorgeous booty. :) I love that memory.

Update: After I shared this post on my Facebook page, Doug's nurse, the wonderful Amanda Court, let me know it was she who was in Doug's room that day and she remembered Doug telling her, "Close your eyes or turn around. I'm going to touch my wife's butt now." :-D

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<![CDATA[Doug's Final Moments & Annie's New Reality]]>Wed, 07 Dec 2016 14:04:02 GMThttp://opennessworks.com/1/post/2016/12/dougs-final-moments-annies-new-reality.html“Stop it!”… “Stop it!” Those are the last words I heard my beloved say.

Even though he was receiving a steady and very high dose of Dilauded through his pain pump, the day before he died Doug awoke in a panic about every 90 minutes, grabbing wildly for the pump so he could get an extra dose. And even though the extra dose was immediately dispensed, it was too slow to protect Doug from the intense pain that the ever-growing cancer inflicted throughout his body, from his thighs all the way up to his chin.
I had thought about clicking the pain pump pre-emptively, to protect him from these attacks, but I’d been concerned about harming him in some way.  However, when he awoke for the third time, trembling and panicked yet not fully awake, a mama bear spirit arose inside of me and I decided that nothing would prevent me from clicking that pump as frequently as allowed, for as long as necessary. I knew that this meant I would never hear my true love’s voice again.

Each time I clicked the pump, I reset my phone’s 15 minute timer.  For 24 hours straight that timer was, in a sense, a lifeline. It allowed me to finally do something to help the man I loved so dearly, the man who had shown me what it feels like to be adored and cherished and completely loved.  

My cot was next to Doug’s bed and I stretched my leg over so my foot could touch his leg. If I dozed during the night, the timer’s alarm awoke me so I could click that button on the pump, sometimes with a vengeance.  “Fuck you, cancer!  You will NOT win this final battle!  You will not pass by me to reignite terror in my beloved. FUCK YOU!!!!” 

The next day, November 5, 2016, my Love was peaceful.  I continued to administer extra doses for him throughout the day. I caressed his arm, held his hand, and noticed how hot his skin felt. When I asked a nurse to take his vitals, we learned that Doug’s temperature had risen to nearly 104 degrees.

Doug had been determined to make it to his 52nd birthday, November 7th, but I knew he was suffering and so I posted a public request on Facebook asking everyone who saw it to please help Doug let go.  I sang him Happy Birthday and then I received two videos of others singing to him, one from his entire department at Benefis Health System (Doug was an IT guy) and the other from his dear friend, Jake Rose & family. 

Throughout the day I played those videos and talked to Doug, trusting that he could hear me.  I had called Doug’s parents that morning to let them know this could be Doug’s last day.  They arrived around 4pm and his mother declared, “I’m here for the duration!”  The determination in her voice told me the mama bear spirit had arisen in her too.  I was so relieved to have her company that I slept deeply for several hours.

At about 8:25pm Doug’s daughters, Zena and Olivia, texted me saying they would like to sing to their dad. I put them on speaker phone after telling Doug what was happening and they sang the most beautiful rendition of Happy Birthday I’ll ever hear.  After their song the girls cheerfully said, “We love you, Daddy!” and we ended the call.  Immediately, Doug’s breathing changed.  His mother jumped up from the couch and went to his right side while I stayed on his left side, grasping his forearm and hand, gently assuring him through my tears, “It’s okay, Beloved. It’s okay to go.”  Doug took three long, deep breaths.  He exhaled fully.  His body lay still.  My beloved was free. 

Doug has been free for four weeks now.  And I have traded places with him. 

My grief sometimes feels like a heavy, dark overcoat, pushing my head beneath the waterline.  I returned to work this week and am using an alarm to wake me up every morning. Even though the chime is different from my timer’s alarm, each time I am awoken, my eyes bolt open and I reach for that pump, then I slowly realize that I am not beside my beloved in Hospice, I am alone, in our bed, with no pump to ease my pain.

“Stop it!”… “Stop it!” Those are the last words I heard my beloved say.  And they are the words I find myself saying, internally, now.

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<![CDATA[Unlimited Love Is All Around Us]]>Thu, 27 Oct 2016 14:29:24 GMThttp://opennessworks.com/1/post/2016/10/unlimited-love-is-all-around-us.htmlI am so grateful to myself for opening up to unlimited love, first toward myself, then with Doug, and now with a community I never thought existed; one I can relax into and bond with and trust and, eventually, play with.  I choose to believe I will eventually be okay.  Because not only am I surrounded by Doug's unlimited love, we are both exquisitely embraced by the unlimited love of our community of friends, coworkers, family and healers.  Cancer might be beating Doug's body, but Unlimited Love can never be beaten.]]><![CDATA[Doug and Annie: A Love Story]]>Fri, 07 Oct 2016 17:35:01 GMThttp://opennessworks.com/1/post/2016/10/doug-and-annie-a-love-story.htmlPicture
"You two really love each other!" ~ says someone nearly every day, whether Doug and I are shopping at an outlet mall, walking hand-in-hand to our car, smooching in the corridor at work, or visiting with his hospice nurse.  And it's true; we really, really love each other.  And now he's really, really dying.  

How can those last two sentences be in the same paragraph, in the same life, in my life?  

The picture above was taken at Lone Mountain Ranch in Big Sky, Montana one year before Doug's penile cancer diagnosis.  His parents had given us a sleigh ride dinner to celebrate Doug's 50th birthday and we'd just returned from the beautiful - and freezing cold - ride feeling grateful for our love and the life we were sharing (unlike our sleigh-mates who'd been bickering and snappy with each other).  

We never could have predicted that just two years later Doug would be too weak to shower, too tired to leave the house, and too sick to eat or drink much of anything as his body began to shut down.  We could not have predicted that the long life together we'd envisioned would be dramatically cut short or that we would look adoringly into each other's eyes, tears streaming down our cheeks, wishing he could stay.

When I gave my communication book the subtitle, Opening to Unlimited Love, it was because I had invested six years in developing my own understanding of what that meant and beginning to say YES! to unlimited love in my life.  I had come to believe that unlimited love existed, in even the bleakest circumstance, and I was committed to being open to it in every way, including a romantic relationship.  I am so glad I made that commitment, because it led to me being loved more purely, more playfully, and more adoringly than I had ever thought to wish for.  

Doug Wilson loves me.  And I love Doug Wilson.  Our six short years together feel like only six deep breaths.  But in these six years we have both experienced a quality of love, of loving and being loved, that I don't think most people ever do.  I wish he could stay, that we could fulfill the dreams we've woven together.  And, I choose to believe that his soul will be with me, that I will find a way to heal and grieve and talk with him in spirit, even though he'll be partying with the angels. I know he'll be kissing my face and rooting me on just the same.
Many years before meeting Doug, I asked a psychic why I had chosen to be born into such a painful life.  Her answer was that I wanted to learn about extreme compassion.  At the time, the lesson was for me to demonstrate extreme compassion toward someone who had harmed me as a child, but today I see that I am a recipient of extreme compassion as well, and so is my beloved.  We are surrounded by people who care for us, who will care for me.

Yes, Doug and I really, really love each other.  And yes, his body is dying.
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