I have loved living small full time since the beginning, nearly 5 years ago. Jeff & I have traveled & parked in unpleasant settings & weather, but overall, sharing the adventures with Jeff was the best time of my whole life. And we made lots of friends, learned lots of things, made plenty of mistakes, & have been blown away by the helpfulness of strangers & new friends. Overall, it’s almost been one of those “had to be there” kinds of journey. The RVing saying is “We’re all friends – who haven’t met yet.” Until after his death.
I’m not sure I have enough words to describe just how many TOTALLY AMAZING people I’ve met since becoming a widow – or maybe I’ve just noticed & appreciated all those special people more. Helpful, funny, protective, gentle & patient. Almost as surprising, sometimes I’m actually the one helping & teaching someone else. All creating fulfilling emtoions of gratitude & humility.
In all frankness though, grieving hurts like hell. The random memories assault my brain when I least expect (trying to go to sleep, playing solitaire, driving, even listening to someone else talk), reducing me to a sniffling, paralized baby. The ironies & contradictions make me crazy with ?guilt? or ?fear? or ?I’m a horrible person? I’ve learned it’s normal & actually OK to breathlessly, intensely miss someone -- but not actually want them back again in your life. Geez, that just hurts to type the words. I’ve practiced A LOT of distraction in the months since Jeff died – usually (& totally not like me) cleaning & straightening but also reading a lot of ebooks. I seem to have boundless energy (where has THAT been hiding for the past 20 years? Saved for a rainy day [like now?]) to the point of not going to sleep easily & waking up full of spit & vinegar in the wee hours of the morning, plus no need or desire for an afternoon nap. I’ve quite smoking without ripping anyone’s head off (OK, so now I’m addicted [maybe] to my coffee & cream e-cigarette juice) & still managed to actually loose excess fat. The weight loss is probably due more to lack of eating (or interest). Geez, I’d just rather go hungry than have to even open a cup of yogurt. But I have contributed to Quartzsite’s resturants quite nicely this winter. Why does food almost always taste better when someone else prepares it?
I’ve learned so much about mechanical & electrical stuff this winter – & I’m remembering it all (I think). I enjoy my alone time in the trailer, sitting outside, or driving somewhere. I LIKE making my own decisions & not waiting for a concensous or compromise. I’m not scared or fearful because I’m never hesitant to ask someone, anyone, for help. I’ve come close to crying in frustation a few times (like when the pickup won’t start cause the battery cables have collected too much dust, or when the sewer hose didn’t attach tighter & created a mess) – but those times when no one else is around to help, you just do your best, even when it’s wrong again. Mistakes can be a really great thing – as long as you LEARN from them & never repeat them (make new ones).
While in Quartzsite, & specificially after the record-breaking-attendance Fiberglass Rally, I have met (yes, I sought them out) & become good friends with at least 10 solo female Casita gals, of which several are widows & most are full time. I’m not totally out of my mind or some kind of a freak to be continuing this full timing lifestyle ALONE. Different circumstances have lead these women to embark on thieir piece of freedom, but the I CAN DO THIS BY MYSELF gumption is in all of us. We’re all within 10 years or so of the same age, & grew up during the feminist movement of the 60s. One of my few hot buttons is telling me I can’t or shouldn’t do something simply based on being female. (A male commenter said on a forum, I can do this BECAUSE I’m a female. LOVE that.) I know my liminitations based on physical size & strength, but for intelligence & determination, I have no doubts I can manage this lifestyle! And the relief is HUGE finding out I’m just a drop in the barrel of women with the same desires & confidence. AND, I’m way closer to conventionality than I’ve ever been.
I imagine this widowhood is somehow similar to being an adult orphan (when your elderly parents are gone), & grief is grief, whether for a spouse, sibling, parent, pet, or a long-time friend. Several of my new awesome friends have lost a parent in the recent past & express almost more sadness from that than lose of a spouse. Maybe that’s because you’ve known your parents all your life, (usually) only have one set, & spouses come & go & can be replaced to some degree. And then there’s the age – wait, maturity. Observing the world over decades gives a much better perspective of reality & life.
I still miss Jeff’s smile & laughter most, but this group of fantastic, gutsy women is helping me SOOOOO much to learn how to keep putting one foot in front of the other to redesign my life. And I’m OK with venturing out on the road with the trailer all by myself finally. I’ve learned that I can trust other people’s advise as much as I ever did Jeff’s & that I can share feelings, concerns, & experiences with other multiple people instead of bascially just with Jeff. I’m not replacing him exactly, but at least filling needs with various people instead one person being everything. And I’ve realized too that I want to DO something more than just hang out being retired (I think), so I’m going to be a volunteer at the Wild Spirit Wolf Sanctuary in northwest New Mexico, starting in early March. I’ll be there – working in the office (no cleaning toilets, changing beds, waiting tables, or standing for hour on painful hour) – until returning to my class reunion in Missouri in late July. I’m happy to miss the worst of tornado season, violent Spring storms, & as much of the heat, humidity, & bugs as possible in Missouri. I feel sad & guilty for not returning to my elderly parents sooner, but those daily phone calls let me know how they’re doing (OK so far) & assure them I’m thinking of them & that I’m safe. Between my breast cancer, my brother’s death 4 years ago, & Jeff’s decline, suffering, & death, I just can’t not follow my heart & dreams for anyone else’s sake. And I like to think it was Jeff who popped the idea of working at the wolf sanctuary into my mind suddeny (as I was playing solitairre not really thinking about much). We visited the Sanctuary last Spring on our way back to Missouri, so at least I know what it looks like. And I’m expecting to make a whole bunch of new friends there.
My new friend Wendy over the past month went with me to a campground near Yuma so we could both visit a Mexican dentist in Los Algodones. She got fillings & I got a crown. Unfortunatey, she headed east for Florida & returned to Quartzsite to pick up mail before heading north & up. The early warm weather is bringing out the snakes, so that’s my que to head out. The first night after Wendy left, it felt pretty lonelly. I realized I’d only spent 7 nights since Jeff’s death without having a known friend nearby -- but I’m not feeling scared or alone. After three months of dry camping, plugging in for endless television & air conditioning in Yuma was fabulous tho. Guess I’m just getting antsy to follow the weather.
Working my way to northwestern NM to the Wolf Sanctuary took me north of Phoenix to a small, quiet campground near Page Springs AZ (between Sedona & Cottonwood). My campsite backed up to a gorgeous little river (or big creek) but I had very little cell fon service. A trip to Walmart in Cottonwood provided 4G service at least. I met 3 other solo ladies at the campground too. And I survived my first wedding anniversary without Jeff without too much discomfort.
After a week of intense book reading & endless television, I headed up (& I mean seriously UP) I-15 to Flagstaff, then east on I-40 to Winslow AZ. That’s the last Walmart in AZ until Gallup NM so I need to shop carefully before finally getting to the Wolf Sanctuary (an hour south of Gallup). I managed to find the statue of the girl on the corner in Winslow AZ too.
I stayed at McHood City Park, south of Winslow, free boondocking. Super fast cell service too. I met several neighboring RVers, walked Kira, watched the coots on the lake, & marveled at the eroded sandstrone formations around.
Not sure if I’ll stop another night before arriving at the Wolf Sanctuary or not – depends on the where the approaching cold front is worse. Even out here in the alone space, I feel SO connected to family & friends (new & old) via phone calls, Facebook, email, & blogs. It’s an amazing world out here.