On May 20, 2012, the universe was preparing an unknowing me for a life that would pull the rug out from under me and then roll me up in it. The universe made me a widow. I was gifted the opportunity to write the obituary of my best friend, my life partner, my world and plan her celebration of life on her 33 birthday. I consider this opportunity a gift because I was blessed to know her, love her and be loved by her. Carlleena was my world for 16 years. I often think about all that I experienced during her immediate passing and compared those emotions to where I am in the Now. This comparison makes me appreciative of my growth and strength. I am thankful that I have chosen to live in my strength.
Imagine for a moment that you are engulfed in a state of complete happiness. Whoever this person is that is giving you complete happiness, embrace them and feel the utter bliss and love and longing and the warmth. Now blink. This person is slowly fading off into the distance in front of you and you are reaching and reaching and reaching and reaching, trying with all your might to catch up to that person…you feel as if you are being physically held down with the strength of an army and your heart, arms, legs, head, toes, stomach are flailing around like a fish out of water. And then you are overcome with a shiver of coldness and then extreme heat from momentary anger. My soul screamed and echoed in my hallowed being, sending tidal waves of disbelief through my body. I was sure that everyone could hear my pain. My heart felt like it was being strangled with a cord attached to memories and future dreams. That is only the beginning of what I physically felt like when the doctor and nurse came to tell me …”I’m sorry, Carlleena didn’t make it. We did all we could do.”
My heart stopped, literally. That next heartbeat I knew would never have quite the same beat again. That next heart beat was deep and hollow…It physically felt like how a kick drum sounds. I clenched my heart and I remember shaking my head hoping I was in a dream and I said “what?”…and the doctor repeated what I heard correctly the first time. What I remember after that are random and I’m pretty sure out of order moments. I am lucky to have had Uncle Kevin and my cousin, Andre, there with me when I got the news. They are forever my teddy bears. The phone calls I made… I remember most of them but some I don’t recall. Her mom was the first call I made. No words will ever be able to describe that moment. The wails, screams and no’s from the other end of the phone calls were devastating and to this day they are extremely vivid in my mind. My tears were constant and in denial. I needed to see her to know it was real. It was real. I’ve read somewhere that when someone passes away, their hearing is the last sense to fade away…all I could whisper in her left ear was something we said to each other many times a day for the past 16 years…”I love you, I love you, I love you.”I would occasionally look around the room at people coming in thinking that I was in a dream and feeling numb. Once I saw Carlleena and knew what happened, it was like I was in a momentary deafness to life. It was like I literally heard nothing for hours…Just faces and slow motion movement. I held her hand until the hospital staff told me that it was time to leave only letting go when I felt strong enough to stand to give someone a hug. The stillness. The momentary deafness to my life.
I questioned every move I made from the date of her accident to her death. I wondered if there was something I could have done better and had guilt for a very long time for it being Carlleena that passed away and not me, even though I wasn’t even in the accident with her. I retraced my steps everyday but I didn’t miss a step. I slept on the floor beside her for 19 nights (minus a couple when family visited and made me sleep upstairs) to help her up off of the couch or be there for whatever she might need. Every night she told me to go sleep upstairs, but I refused. Her studio was temporarily set up at our kitchen table until she was comfortable navigating into The ColorLab (our garage) by herself. I remember returning from the hospital and walking in the house for the first time without her. I vividly remember looking at the door knob acknowledging that this was the first of many emotionally torturous days ahead. This was the first of many firsts without her.
When I arose from that silence, shaking off the negativity that wanted to linger, the world seemed so much bigger. As odd as it may sound, I remember feeling more alive than ever before. I carried her spirit within me and this energy aided in my journey. This aliveness was from the understanding that my future dreams with her were universally depleted. Our story (the whole book in my mind) within the book was already written but the last half of the book now had the pages ripped out! Thoughts of “what am I supposed to do now” crossed my mind and I remember having feelings of confusion, disbelief and a complete aching in my heart. I felt like I didn’t know who I was without her by my side. Even with so many beautiful family and friends around me, I felt so alone.
The momentary deafness to life continued until I realized that I had to move, move forward, move around, move on with life and I had to start stepping out of the comfort of the sanctuary that was our home. I had to stop coming home from work and walking into the studio to see what she was painting. I repeated that motion everyday for over 6 months to open the door to an empty studio. I remember the day that I walked to the studio door, had my hand on the knob and I said no to myself and told myself out loud that Carlleena is not in there, she is only in my heart now. I hit the door in anger, turned around and let my back and the door guide me to the floor. I broke down but I did not open the door that day. I had to live in my strength. I had to move on. In some ways I felt like I was the only one that had to move on in a sense of loving again. No one was going to try to fill the void of losing Carlleena by finding another friend, sister, aunt, daughter, cousin, granddaughter, but I had to find love again. That was a terrifying thought.
It was my task now to mindfully participate in life and add new pages to that book. I’ll admit, there were many days when I literally did not feel like getting out of bed, but I always did. I could hear Carlleena’s voice and her “can do” attitude kicking my booty out of the bed and back into life. Plus, I’m a foodie, so I knew my chances of surviving too many hours with out food were slim lol. To say I am grateful to have loved and been loved by such an amazing person is a grandiose understatement! I still think of her everyday and I don’t think that will ever change. To sit here five years after her passing I can honestly say that I know she is proud of the woman I’ve become and the life I’ve created. What she and I created as we coexisted in this world together, will be carried with me always, as it is the foundation of so much love. That love I now share with Philip and I am blessed that he is just as excited to honor Carlleena.
Live in your strength. Be Resilient!