Thursday, January 28, 2010

Another widow speaks

I read this and needed to post.

"I can still feel his hand in mine"
Marc Royce

For the first time since her husband Patrick Swayze lost his battle with cancer, Lisa Niemi talks about their poignant last two years together and the amazing lifetime of love they shared.

I always knew Patrick was a tough guy, but I don't think I ever really saw the depth of his strength until he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. He should have been dead after five weeks, but he fought for 22 months. He was still shooting his new TV series, The Beast, working 12- to 15-hour days 11 months into his illness. He was going through chemotherapy but refused to take any pain medication that would interfere with his performance. He was one tough critter, and the way he handled the illness and the discomfort from it was unbelievable and amazed even me.

I was a socially awkward 15-year-old when I first met Patrick at his mother's dance studio in Houston. I was a bit of a hippie, part of this outsider crowd. Patrick was the opposite, the quintessential all-American jock. He was the golden boy ? an acclaimed football player, gymnast, and dancer ? but I wasn't too impressed with that stuff. He always seemed like a show-off to me, a little too full of himself.

But the first time we danced together, it was like magic. And actually it was at that moment, when we looked into each other's eyes, that I knew he was special. I used to think I would get married in my 30s. But I was fresh out of high school when Patrick proposed to me ? I couldn't believe it. And he wouldn't take no for an answer. You have to know Patrick, but he is relentless with everything he does and goes after. And truthfully, there was a part of me that felt, Okay, I'll do this now, but if it doesn't work, I can get divorced later. But little did I know that even then, he knew me better than I knew myself, and it was only a short time later that I remember thanking him for making me marry him.

"We never gave up"

I have this wonderful memory from last year of being with Patrick in the apartment we were renting that overlooked the lake in Chicago, where The Beast was being shot. Patrick had just finished another round of chemo and a 15-hour workday. There was this beautiful music playing, and Patrick took me in his arms and we just started dancing. It was a simple, delicious moment of being in each other's arms and feeling how wonderful it was to be alive. It was one of the best dances I've ever had in my life with Patrick.

When The Beast finished shooting and we came back to Los Angeles, our primary focus became his treatments. I had schedules and doctor visits and chemo treatments and pills to administer several times a day. He occasionally had those "why me?" moments, but he never complained or felt sorry for himself. He was a very spiritual person and into Eastern philosophy, but it wasn't any of this, "I'm going to heaven to sing on a cloud." He's extremely willful and always has done that mind-over-matter thing. It's one of the reasons I believe he survived advanced cancer for as long as he did.

I never wanted to cry around him, but he caught me a few times. He knew how I was feeling. We didn't talk that much about dying or how I was feeling, because to acknowledge that was to acknowledge the end. I'm sure there was a part of Patrick that worried he was letting me down by leaving and that he wasn't going to be around to protect me. Patrick was fighting for his life and working so hard at it, and I just wanted the love I could give him to be perfect. I can look back at our whole relationship and wish I'd been perfect ? but I'm not. That doesn't stop me from wishing. But the beauty of our marriage was that it wasn't about being perfect; it was about the imperfections.

People have always asked me, "What's your secret to this long and happy Hollywood marriage?" which I know is unusual. Someone recently asked me why we even mentioned our separation in the book. [While Patrick worked to recover from alcohol addiction, he and Lisa separated briefly, which they talk about in their book, The Time of My Life .] And we did because it was real and that was part of our figuring things out and getting to a new place together. We worked very hard at our relationship. But the fact is, anyone can work hard at a relationship, but if it's not meant to be, it's not meant to be. I do think if two people really love each other, which we did, you can work things out. And even though we were different as individuals, we were also very much the same. We had a lot of common interests ? horses, flying, the ranch, and the lifestyle we led. We also were both the kind of people who never, ever gave up on anything we had set our minds on doing, and most important, we never gave up on each other.

"Healing will happen in time"

I thought I had been preparing those last 22 months for Patrick's passing, but looking back, all the sadness and grief that had come before he passed away now looks like an intellectual concept. Honestly, the kind of grief I experienced after Patrick was gone was literally on a cellular level. It's something deep inside your body that you have no control over. I can still feel the contour of his hand in mine. Sometimes when I'm driving on the freeway, I feel like I can just look over and see him sitting beside me like he did when I would take him to his chemo treatments. I'd put the pedal to the metal in our car and he'd break out into this big, mischievous grin. And I'd reach over and grab his hand and it was wonderful. Even though we'd be on our way to chemo, we both savored those moments.

What I would most like is to hear Patrick's voice again. I recently went to a birthday party for a dear friend, and it was my first outing alone. When I got home that night and Patrick wasn't there, I kept telling myself, He's on location; that's why he's not here to greet me. I wanted to pick up the phone, like I've done so many times before, and call him so I could hear his voice. Or I'll just be going about my life and want to tell him something, or I expect him to be in the stable and I realize he's not here. It's still very difficult.

There are a lot of firsts these days that I am experiencing without Patrick, and those make me miss him the most. The smallest things can trigger it ? coming home to the house for the first time alone, the first rain, the holidays, or just going onto a freeway entrance without him for the first time. It's going to take time to adjust to every one.

My friends have made all the difference in the world; they give me strength. One night recently, I was going into a full-blown panic attack in the middle of the night, and just dialing one friend's number helped calm me down. I can't imagine what it's like for people who have lost a loved one and have no one to talk to. People cannot just walk around with these types of feelings and not share them or they will implode. Sometimes I think the pain is beginning to pass, and I'll marvel at that and say, Wow, I'm really doing great, only to remember that two hours earlier I was dissolved in tears on the floor.

I would like to believe that if I were really, really courageous, I would find a way to go on and be better than before ? even without Patrick. That would take tremendous courage, because in a strange way, I feel like that would be a betrayal to him. When I've mentioned this to my friends, they've said, "Now, wait a minute. Do you really think that's what Patrick would want?" Patrick was always very proud of my strength, and I think he would want me to prove that he was right about me.

I'm a type A personality; I get things done and I put high expectations on myself, on an emotional level as well. But in this case, I've come to realize that the healing is going to happen in its own time. I've lowered my self-expectations for the time being. If I feel I should be doing something, I will try and do it, but if I run out of steam, it's okay to stop.

Life is not fair, death is not fair, but it's not personal in either case. I saw death coming a week away. It was just standing there waiting. I could rant and rave, but it doesn't matter. So I say we should do the things that will make our lives fuller and happier. We have to make our own ride.

I finally convinced myself to go to our New Mexico ranch recently, which has always been a very special place for the two of us, and I had a completely different reaction to it than I thought I would. The moment I set foot inside the house, it was like I was seeing it with new eyes. I realized it was still our home, and there was an unexpected comfort there for me. It felt so beautiful, serene and peaceful, and I remember sitting on our porch and saying to myself, See, there's nothing to be afraid of. I saw Patrick there in the most loving and positive way. And it was like he was sitting on my shoulder saying, "Look at what we built together here."

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Isn't it ironic?

This will be an odd memory blog today. I got reminded of some things when a friend was talking to me and I don't think she understood just how much I miss Jim, even the things that used to drive me crazy. She was asked, "But aren't you pleased you don't have to put up with ___ any more?" and a question like that, well it made me feel worse, not better. She didn't mean in harm, I think it was more trying to understand why certain things affect me the way they do.

There were lots of things that Jim would do that would annoy me. Oh god I miss them. His arm over my ribs as we sleep and I would swear I couldn't breathe. I would push it off and then it would creep back. I would lay there and try to stand it as long as I could, knowing it was there in love and comfort...but I couldn't breathe...and now I laugh and cry at myself for ever thinking it was annoying.

He would do this really creepy voice from that evil guy in silence of the lambs "clareese..." with that inflection the actor had and it would freak me out and then he would laugh. And I would punch his shoulder. I miss punching his shoulder. /sigh/ My niece has taken over the role of freaking me out with this now. I called her the other day and she said it to me. I got both goose bumps and chills. And wet eyes thinking about Jim.

Jim had his own spot on the couch. If I sat there then he came in, well, I would have to move. Or if he sat somewhere else he would just be waiting for me to get up and he would jump in the spot. When I came back he would just look at me like "what?".

Then there was the butt crack deal. This is way too much information, but I am going to get it out anyway. So we are spooning in bed. He snuggles up to my back and things are pressed against my butt. Not in an erotic way, but more just a snuggle way. And, for some reason, this would make me need to fart. Just a quick one. I guess it was kind of like the arm over the ribs. My body wouldn't ignore it. Once I got the gas that I didn't even know was there out, it was fine. After I first lost Jim and even occasionally still when I am depressed I will push his pillow up against me. Not the same affect, but still a bit comforting.

And something I thought was annoying but now really miss, was his OCD'ing about clothes. Clean clothes and putting them away and ironing them and the like. It came from his time spent in the Navy and how they had to have everything neat and tidy. We learned very quickly that he was the ironer and such. My closet shows my lack of his tidiness now. Oh and the iron? I think it has been used once in the last 2 1/2 years. And that was by my friend Thomas to help me with a costume. As annoying as it was, if I could now, I would love to see Jim setting up the ironing board right now.

Isn't it ironic?

The things we take for granted. The things that even though they annoy us, they come with the package of the man. I know I have written about the things like this that I loved about Jim and endeared me to him. And god knows there are things that I did to annoy him. But we were a team. Together we filled what was missing in the other.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Once more

There with you

Keep my memory with you,
For memories never die;
I will be there with you,

When you look across the sky.
I will be there in the clouds,
In the birds that fill the air;
In the beauty of a fragrant rose,
You will find my memory there.

You'll feel me in the tenderness,
Of a tiny baby's touch;
You will hear me if you listen,
In the twilight's gentle hush.

When your heart is heavy,
And you feel that you're alone;
Just reach down deep inside of you
For your heart is now my home.

I will always be with you,
I will never go away;
For I will live on in your heart,
Forever and a day.

~ author unknown

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Malcolm in the Middle

Everytime I watch Malcolm in the Middle I ache a lttle. You know that silly sitcom from a few years ago that you can watch 3 times in one day now. Well, Jim was Hal to my Lois. We didn't have the kids but we had the problems, the love, the fights and the resolutions.

I have a mini-crush on the Hal guy. I mean, it's because he reminds me of Jim. Older trying to be younger and recapture youth. He's a do it yourselfer that never quite does it right. Struggling with work and getting so caught up in the process of trying to pay bills and keep it together. Keeping his LP's instead of giving them up for the cd's or teaching his sons how to roller skate and getting into his old costume.

And his love for Lois. I love that whenever they can, they are wanting to make love. They look at each other and I get shivers. That is how it should be. Marriage I mean. A touch, a glance and you are tossing clothes off to merge as one. Sure there are arguments and disagreements on what to do with that piece of furniture or the shrubbery in the yard or even whether to pay the mortgage or the electric bills. But the love is there. As it was for us. I am happy without the added drama of 5 boys, the sitcom can keep them. But the love is worth it.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

A Jim Thing

I have tried to do some particularly "Jim" things this week.

Simple things like giving some change to the guy at the redlight that has the 'homeless vet' cardboard sign, putting up the storm windows in the screen doors (and cussing as I did it), and eating some of his favorite foods.

One thing that I was happy to be able to do was help a friend - a friend from a messageboard online I visit everyday, but have only met her once, anyway she lives in georgia and her home got decimated by the floods a few weeks back. She was mentioning how she was computerless and using her sisters just sporatically. I have Jim's old laptop that I haven't used since he died. I decided to help someone else, like he would have, and sent it down to her.

It was something he would have done. He was always helping others in need. He would grumble about it but he never thought to not help. In little ways like giving some money, or finding clothes or furniture, or just helping someone move something and most importantly, he would help if someone was feeling down and just need a boost, a friend to talk to, or such. He helped others get jobs when he was able to hire them and often I don't think he even realized he was doing it, it was just his nature.

So my friend was basically clotheless, living in her sisters basement and had just started a new job. Some of the messageboard people (the ones that, like me are there all the time) well, we all helped her in various ways. I sent her my laptop, another friend sent her a camera to document damage and another sent her a box of clothing....little by little the whole message board helped her and one guy set up a paypal donation spot and in a month we had almost 2500.00 for her. Even nicer, several of them lived near enough to go visit. It made me feel good to be a part of it.

It is what friends do for each other. In real life and in the internet world.

And Jim would have liked it.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Sky blue and black

I watched a movie called Reign over Me. With Adam Sandler.

Omg. I spent a lot of time crying because I didn't know that the movie was about what it was about. Grief. Reconnecting. Friendship. Sorrow.

Sandlers characters wife and 2 daughters had been killed in the plane that flew into the Twin Towers on 9/11. They were on the plane. Sandler couldn't handle the grief and he slipped in to an earlier time. He became the person he was back in college before meeting his wife.

The movie went thru the process of him meeting an old college friend and little by little they reconnected. Sandler is brought back to reality. A reality that he really never escaped from, just tried to hide away in a corner.

One scene in particular struck me. Adam Sandler was facing his in laws. It was just after an emotional court room battle. For years they had been trying to get him to admit and talk about his families death.

They wanted him to admit his wife was dead and move on. He looked at them, and in a perfectly rational voice said "You don't understand. I am alone. I am ALONE." the camera cuts to the in laws and then back to Sandler. He continues. "Yes, you lost a daughter, but at least you have each other, at least you have each other."

I had to pause the movie while I cried because that is something that most people just don't understand. Unless they have lost a love, one never to be replaced, you don't get how truely lonely it is.

We have to know that if we need them, we can feel/reach/hear them.

Sky Blue and Black
Jackson Browne

In the calling out to one another
Of the lovers up and down the strand
In the sound of the waves and the cries
Of the seagulls circling the sand
In the fragments of the songs
Carried down the wind from some radio
In the murmuring of the city in the distance
Ominous and low

I hear the sound of the world where we played
And the far too simple beauty
Of the promises we made

If you ever need holding
Call my name, I'll be there
If you ever need holding
And no holding back, I'll see you through
Sky blue and black

Where the touch of the lover ends
And the soul of the friend begins
There's a need to be separate and a need to be one
And a struggle neither wins
Where you gave me the world I was in
And a place I could make a stand
I could never see how you doubted me
When I'd let go of your hand

Yeah, and I was much younger then
And I must have thought that I would know
If things were going to end

And the heavens were rolling
Like a wheel on a track
And our sky was unfolding
And it'll never fold back
Sky blue and black

And I'd have fought the world for you
If I thought that you wanted me to
Or put aside what was true or untrue
If I'd known that's what you needed
What you needed me to do

But the moment has passed by me now
To have put away my pride
And just come through for you somehow

If you ever need holding
Call my name, I'll be there
If you ever need holding
And no holding back, I'll see you through

You're the color of the sky
Reflected in each store-front window pane
You're the whispering and the sighing
Of my tires
in the rain
You're the hidden cost and the thing that's lost
In everything I do
Yeah and I'll never stop looking for you
In the sunlight and the shadows
And the faces on the avenue
That's the way love is
That's the way love is
That's the way love is
Sky blue and black

Friday, January 1, 2010

A new decade

Read this morning in my hometown paper:

And let us learn that the best way to remember is not by continually dwelling on tragedy, but by living our own lives to the fullest every day, as living memorials to those beautiful souls whose own lives were cut way, way too short.