Until death do us part

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Beth and I were married, until her death, when we parted.

It was a shocking and abrupt moment that will remain burned into my being until the day of my own death. There is no “sweet sorrow” in parting. It’s bitter sorrow. It’s brutal, it’s crushing, it’s earth-shattering, and at times, it’s been overwhelming and downright traumatizing.

On July 22nd, our wedding anniversary, I posted an image of me and Beth. The day before, I posted a different cropping of this photo, above.

Many of the posts for the last several months were scheduled in advance. This image, for example, I set to post last summer, but rescheduled for early November because I hadn’t yet written anything for it. Today, I am finally posting the image.

Even as I declare the blog “finished,” it’s possible I might post a few things at some point next year. For example, I was never able to capture a specific Colorado image, and I can’t take that until next summer, when the road reopens to the public. Still, I’ll refer to this as the final post, since it essentially marks the end of this process – this journey – I’ve been on. At least, it marks the end of publicly sharing my process. I suppose it will ultimately go on the rest of my days.

There are no more posts planned for the foreseeable future.

I was never certain what date this final post would ultimately occur. Back in early 2016, I thought I would end this blog after about a year. That seemed clean and simple. But, I’ve learned grief isn’t clean or simple, nor does it work on a timeline. I didn’t know when I would run out of images, but I hoped I’d be ready to let go after the first year. I later thought it might end around the second “anniversary” of her death (I’ve discussed how much I loathe that word in this context).

I was going to end with a “fading away” image, but it looks like this is how it will conclude. I keep running across images that I love, but never used. The image below is a good example. I had forgotten about it, but I saw this photo at her parents’ home, and I love it so much I want to include it on this blog.

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I don’t know when the photo was taken, but it was certainly taken long ago, not too long before I met first her.

All I know is, I can’t believe it has been more than two years since Beth left us. Something broke in me that morning. Shattered. I’ve never been able to articulate it, but people sometimes mistake it for simple sadness. It’s something worse. I’ve rarely been able to think very clearly. I’m always tired, but even in my continual exhaustion, sleep has been nearly impossible, and my eating habits have been abysmal. My brain is in a fog, most of the time. I’ve been unmotivated, with the exception of the journey I’ve documented here. As long as I’ve been able to do something for, or about, Beth, I’ve felt a little like my old self. I’ve been more focused and driven with this process than I have with anything else.

Each time I think I’ve completed something relating to it – the film, spreading her ashes, or even this blog – I spiral back into a depression because I realize I will no longer have this one thing that’s kept me motivated; given me a reason to live. In fact, I think that’s a significant reason I’ve continued this for as long as I have.

I’ll never know the grief of losing a child. I can’t imagine. My love for Beth is the only thing that even comes close to what I imagine that might feel like. It’s the kind of loss that is physically crippling on so many levels.

It hurts my brain to think about it. I mean that literally. I feel a heat and dull pain inside my skull. Just typing this, my head is pounding. I can feel blood pumping through my brain. I actually feel a lump in my throat that constricts my breathing. I feel a tightening in my chest. It is a physical reaction. It’s not mere sadness; it is more devastation than simple sorrow. In my world, the loss is more complete desolation than a singular absence.

That loss led to all of what you find on this blog, and although I wish with every atom of my being that she were here, so none of this ever had a reason to exist, this process ultimately helped me through the worst loss of my life, so I have no regrets about this blog.

Now, this also ends.

Even though it was meant only for me, as well as close friends and family, I hope it has helped someone out there. I want her life to be remembered, but more, I want to believe something good can be born from these ashes.

And so, I type this, with shaky fingers – the last foreseeable entry on this blog.

For Beth, whom I miss with every fiber of my being, and with all my shattered heart:

May you dwell in safety.
May you rest in peace.
May you be free from suffering.
May you know my gratitude and love.

For the rest of you, also with my entire heart:

May you be happy.
May you be healthy.
May you be safe.
May you know my gratitude and love.

I hope you have a blessed life. I mean that with all sincerity.

With so much love, and so much gratitude, especially for those that stayed by my side these past couple of years.

Love,

Tim

 


 

Some favorite photos (mostly for personal reasons) I’ve posted over the past couple years:

 

 

Missing Piece vs. Fading Away

On May 29th, 2016, I posted the first of these “fading away” images. I knew I would take more of them, but I stopped posting them soon after I posted those initial images. I decided this is how the blog would end, with a series of “fading away” images.

I want to be clear I do not plan to repost every image from this past year and a half. That would be both unnecessary and daunting. It would also be impossible, because I am not revisiting all the places just to take these “fading away” photos.

The process I went through, revisiting places we traveled to with her ashes, was what was truly important to me. The photos were almost an afterthought – something I started just because it made sense. The “fading away” images you will see are simply places I was revisiting, anyway, and I could easily take because they were so convenient (I’ve spent weeks at Lake Tahoe over the past year, for example).

I only have a couple dozen, or so, of these images. If these are of no interest, you can think of the blog as finished, at this point. I plan to close the blog at the end of the month.

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The original missing piece image

Here are the first and last versions of this image.

The second to last image was taken on a very smoky day (fires in California) and you couldn’t see the mountain range on the other side of the lake.

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The fading away version of the missing piece. Five photos in one.

Actually, I say “the last image” but I can see myself taking more of these, even if I stop posting in the next couple months.

Below is the current “final image” taken in June of 2017.

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Beth sleeping, again

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Poor Beth. I seem to have taken lots of photos of her sleeping. It must have been annoying living with me.

Today is Nov 7th. This evening, I will screen the “full cut” of my film at Film Streams, in Omaha. I may never show this version at other venues. Time will tell. Film Streams scheduled an encore screening for tomorrow night (Wed, Nov 8th) since the Tuesday night screening sold out.

On a side note, Film Steams is currently renovating the Dundee Theater in Omaha. It’s a classic theater which had, unfortunately, been abandoned and hasn’t shown films in many years. The renovations will be done by the end of the year and it will reopen, soon.

What makes this remarkable is I will be showing my film at Film Streams, and they are renovating the location where Beth and I went on our first date, and the remodeled theater will open only weeks after screening the film. Everything is coming full circle. We saw Akira Kurosawa’s “Dreams” there. It would have been really emotional to screen the film in the Dundee Theater.

Anyone that follows this blog knows it’s an emotional challenge for me to watch the film with other people. I prefer to leave the theater and return later. I’ve seen every imaginable clip, anyway, so I certainly don’t need to watch it, again. I don’t know if I’ll watch tonight, although I wish I could since I’ve never witnessed an audience’s reaction to this long cut. Still, I’d guess I’ll leave the theater for the majority of it.

In essence, this was the original film, or rather, the original idea for the film. It even contains the reason I essentially made the film in the first place. However, since that reason was so hard for me to deal with, I took out the majority of that story, and cut something short, instead. I’m always trying to find a way to make things shorter, and it horrified me when the first cut was an hour long. So, I simply chopped it in half. It felt like I was taking out the heart of the film, even though I knew the real heart and soul was Beth. The art felt more about me, really. One thing I love about the long cut is it actually has video of Beth.

Ted Roach, a filmmaker in Washington, DC, and Edgar Barens, in Chicago (an Oscar nominated director), both said they’d love to see the longer cut. That was back in February, or so. I kept trying to convince myself to do it, but I kept procrastinating. I think Edgar prefers the short cut, I don’t know if Ted has had time to watch the long cut, but Vasco Elola, my filmmaker friend in Uruguay, says, “Don’t change a frame” of the long cut. A shorter cut is more concise and digestible, but the long cut shows so much more. I’m rarely in a position like this, where I can’t decide if I like one cut more than the other.

“Just do it for you. Get it out of your system. You don’t ever have to show it if you don’t want to.” Ted told me. “But I hope you share it with me. I’d love to see it.”

The long cut was intended to be less about the “missing piece” photos, and more about Beth as my muse; Beth as my inspiration. It goes deeper into the missing piece photos. I wanted to put the photos in the context of my art, and her into the context of my life. But the thing is, back when I first attempted the long cut nine months ago, I hated to go into my studio (I still do), so I didn’t want to go back to art. The ending of the film was impossible to resolve. The cut I abandoned was rough and felt impossible, unnecessary, and didn’t focus enough on Beth.

I guess I needed the next nine months to process everything, and to get back to a space where I could think about returning to the studio. Last Spring, I didn’t think I’d ever return to my studio (it’s been nearly five years). But now, it feels like she’s led me back to  art, again, and I honestly didn’t think that was possible.

It’s hard to explain. It’ll also be hard to explain to an audience. My guess is the people who saw the short version might wonder why I bothered with a long version, while the people that never saw the short film might be able to better appreciate the longer cut.

We’ll see.

There’s also a panel after the film. Several grief experts will be there. They want me on the panel, but I’m not sure what kind of shape I’ll be in. I mean, it’s been two years, and I feel like I’ve made so much progress, and I can talk more easily about things, but a night that intense could be a bigger challenge than I anticipate.

As always, I just wish I had Beth to share all my thoughts with. I wish the film never existed, not because I regret making it, but because I wish there had never been a reason for it to be made in the first place. I’d give anything for that to be the case.

Regardless, I’ll keep sharing it; sharing her by showing the film.

It gets classified as a documentary at film festivals. It’s not a mere documentary, to me, though.

It’s my love letter to Beth.

Anthropomorphizing Gozer

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The other day, I said I sometimes anthropomorphized Gozer because he seemed to understand what was going on, even though it’s pretty much impossible for him to understand. This is a good example. It looks like he’s looking at the younger version of himself, and missing Beth. In reality, he’s probably looking at the door and thinking of going downstairs, but doesn’t want to leave without a treat.

That’s not to say he doesn’t remember Beth. I would bet he does. He just doesn’t know she’s never coming back, or why. I would bet he even misses her.

I sure as hell do.

I thought I had written up something about this particular date, but I must not have saved it. So, instead of trying to do it all, again, I’ll just link to last year’s post, which in turn links to the 2015 post, which explains why this is a tougher day than most. I have basically lived three more years than Beth did, even though it’s been two years now, since she left us.

And every day, I wonder, what do I have to show for it?

My life still revolves around her


 

“Beth’s birthday was one month before mine, on April 11th. I was born nearly a year earlier, on May 11th. Until she died, I was always exactly 11 months older than she was.”

Old beautiful photo

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I’m not sure when the original photo was taken. I no longer have the shirt she is wearing (she’s wearing my shirt. I miss her wearing my shirts).

Regardless, I love the photo of her, so I snapped this version in our bedroom, looking out the back window.

 


Two years ago, I posted the following on Facebook:

Today is Oct 21st, and I miss Beth so much right now. While most people will be talking about the significance of this date as it relates to Back to the Future, I will be thinking of one thing, over and over: Today was Beth’s scheduled hospital day. This week is my Fall Break, and I was going to spend the week with her, and 24 hours in the hospital with her. It gave me a small amount of hope.

What gave me a glimmer of optimism, however, gave her pessimism and fear. They were going to take her off all of her medications and monitor her for a 24 hour hospital stay. One goal was to try and figure out how much of her dyskinesia was caused by the dystonia and how much, if any, might have been caused by the medication. It angers me that so many medications aggravate the exact things they are supposed to alleviate, but I’ll try and stay on topic. Another goal was to see if she was a candidate for surgery.

I fear people are getting fatigued by my public grieving, but today is hard. Bear with me.

I actually worry that encouraging her to explore these options, which may have ultimately led to brain surgery, which naturally is a scary thing, scared her to death. I mean that quite literally, and it guts me to understand that. I thought we could get past the fear if I were simply strong enough for both of us. I wanted good things for her. I thought this was one of them. I thought exploring options, however invasive, gave us a touch of optimism. To me, it’s always better to have difficult options than have none at all. Her diseases were aggressively progressive, and options were few and far between. She was always getting worse. I wanted to pounce on anything that gave us even a trace of hope that something… anything… could be improved.

I’m so sorry, Beth. I’m sorry today scared you. I’m sorry I didn’t take that fear seriously enough. I thought my job was to be the strong and stoic one. I thought I was being tough and supportive. But, today, I fear I was simply wrong. About everything. And I’m not strong. It turns out I’m the fragile and frightened one.

And I miss the hell out of you today, Bethie.

Beth watching TV

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This might seem like the most boring image I’ve posted, but there is so much more to this image than I could probably ever convey.

When Beth would start to have a “dystonic attack,” she would begin to move to the edge of the chair (or couch, or bed) and bend her legs and arms, trying to keep her limbs as loose as she could.

I would eventually start to massage her muscles, in her legs, her arms, her neck, her back, and so on. They were very painful for her, and it was difficult to watch her go through so much pain, so many times a day.

I can’t say why I took this photo. I really don’t know. It might have been that I was just testing a new iPhone or camera, and I was experimenting with new equipment. I did that a lot.

Regardless, I’m glad I have this image.

It’s important to me.

Beth at her desk – “58” – at Union Pacific

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Once, again, here is an image I did not take. I’d never visited Beth’s desk at the Harriman Dispatching Center. I wish I had. She really enjoyed working there.

One of her colleagues, Brian, took a photo of her desk, for me. I wasn’t allowed into the secured area. So, this is one of those rare photos where I had to combine them in Photoshop. I hate doing that, but on very rare occasions, I will resort to it. It’s sloppy and imperfect and certainly less than optimal, but it had to do.

It was still nice to visit.

It’s impossible to see, but I used my iPhone and took this photo through the glass while Brian went and took a photo of the desk for me. “58” is near the far left in this image, in the row closest to the large screens on the wall. Her desk is approximately between the final two wall screens near the far left.

There are also glass panels listing the “Guardian Award” winners for each year. I believe it’s a list of all the dispatchers who didn’t have any safety violations, if I recall. I’m pretty sure Beth won one every year she was a dispatcher at the Union Pacific. She was proud of that.

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The great Solar Eclipse of August 21, 2017

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This version is edited to show how far the corona (aureole) extended from the edge. Even though it starts with my original photo, I’d call this an illustration since I altered as much as possible to mimic what we actually saw. Photos almost always look way too dark, like when a camera reinterprets a sunset.
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A layered version of several of my photos, and slight manipulation of the sky to try and mimic a bit of the blue that we actually saw, even though the photos usually don’t capture it.
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A raw, unedited version the way the camera captured it moments before the other photos.

 

Part 1: A quick description of the experience (Part 2, below, is my reflection. Also, see the comments for an additional story)

I was so freaked out by grim weather forecasts that I drove much, much farther than was necessary. Hindsight is 20/20. I wasn’t about to rely on luck, though. My brother Kevin, and his wife Ruth, joined me in Casper, Wyoming, and thanks to many hours of driving, we experienced a clear sky. It made me happy they were both with me.

I didn’t really saw any stars, like I was hoping. I think I only saw one planet (Venus?), for certain, but maybe a second. Like millions of others witnessing the same event, I was focused on totality and the corona of the Sun. I couldn’t be bothered to spend time looking at planets or stars.

What really struck me was the sky wasn’t very dark, which is sort-of what I expected after the annular eclipse I saw years ago. It felt like twilight, where the only “stars” you see are actually planets. In fact, usually the first “star” most people see at dusk is Venus or Jupiter. Basically, if you “wish upon a star,” you are likely wishing upon a planet.

To the West, it suddenly looked like a dark storm on the horizon, and maybe 30 seconds later, we were under the shadow of the Moon.

As the eclipse entered totality, the sky remained twilight-blue near where the sun had been only moments before, and the only thing that was actually black was the dark side of the Moon. It really did look like a hole was punched out of the sky. It was stunning and surreal.

There was a 360° sunset all around us. Everywhere you looked at the horizon, it was a dull orange glow as if the sun was just below the horizon. The light was eerie in a way that’s difficult to articulate. It reminded me of that unique and foreboding light you see just before the kind of thunderstorm that births tornadoes. Rather than a wall of green, like accompanies a really nasty thunderstorm, it was an peculiar orange. It was like looking through the heat rising above a desert, or being underwater.

The “diamond ring” you hear about and see in photos was actually minor compared to the massive full corona, which overall, was easily three times the width of the sun. It was bright and much larger than I anticipated, and much larger than even in my corrected photo, above. Photographs, mine included, really don’t do it justice. Photos make the corona seem thin, like the atmosphere around the Earth. Yet, the corona stretched well beyond the width of the Moon. I was hoping for a solar flare, but I didn’t see anything like that. It looked like long wavy bright white lines – the wild mane of an albino lion.

You’ve probably read plenty of descriptions and you’ve seen thousands of photos online.

Naturally, I thought a lot about Beth, and that’s really why I’m writing this.

 


 

Part 2:

Just a few days after my wife’s death, a full lunar eclipse occurred.

At her wake, before the Lunar Eclipse, I asked everyone gathered to honor Beth by looking up at the blood-red moon and thinking fondly of her. A lunar eclipse is nothing compared to a solar eclipse, as a celestial event. I think Beth found it funny and peculiar how I obsessively tracked the planets and stars, so she might have enjoyed it.

It’s now been almost two years since Beth left this world.

As everyone knows, on August 21, 2017, totality occurred from coast-to-coast for a thin swath across the United States, at least, for those in the path, who were also lucky enough to experience clear skies.

There’s a wonderful article you might have read, which compares partial and total solar eclipses to kissing someone versus marrying them, as well as flying in a plane, versus jumping out of one. I encourage you to read it later.

I’d been waiting for this particular eclipse since I was a child. As boy-Tim looked forward to that day, he/I barely gave a second thought to what life I’d lead, just that the year seemed an eternity away. The future-solar-eclipse-day seemed so impossibly far away.

It’s been an indescribably and simultaneously wonderful, yet tragic, ride, and I just wish one specific person were here to have shared the eclipse with.

I’m lucky that my oldest brother, Kevin, and his wife Ruth, stepped up in ways I never would have anticipated. It’s somehow cosmically appropriate that they were with me for totality that afternoon. I was so grateful they were there.

The Sun reappeared after only 2 1/2 minutes, which felt like only 30 seconds, and I wished Beth could so easily and magically appear. The two years since her death has felt like an eternity.

It’s been almost two trips around the Sun since I last held Beth.

The hole in my heart is still as profound, astounding, and empty as the hole which appeared in the sky.

 

Old studio, new home, brick wall

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I am hopeful I can take photos in the old studio, soon. I mean, it is no longer a studio, but I found out which business occupies that space now, and I was able to contact a person that might let me onto the roof to take some photos. Fingers crossed.

One thing I did learn is the space is radically different than it was when I rented studio space there, and this photo really wouldn’t have been possible there. So, I took it in a different location. This is the brick wall on the patio at the back of our house.

If all goes well, I will post the images from my old studio in the next month, or so. They are some of my favorite images I ever took of her. We had only been dating for a short while. The love was still new. We were still so young. Her mom once said, “She became more beautiful after she started dating you.” It was such a nice compliment for her to make, as if I had anything to do with her beauty.

I mean, look at this one.

She is beautiful in this image.

 

You Didn’t Deserve To Die, by Holly Riordan

I am sharing something Holly Riordan wrote. I’ll go back to posting images tomorrow. Here is a link to the original post. It hit me in the gut and I know most people don’t click on links, so I’ve copy/pasted it, below. I hope she wouldn’t mind.


 

Most of the time, I can deal with your death. I can hold back the tears and accept that you’re gone.

I force myself to believe the cliche words that get thrown around, about how only the good die young and how God takes His favorites first. About how it was your time and how everything happens for a reason.

But sometimes, that silver linings attitude fades away and all I can feel is anger. Hurt. Betrayal.

I’m sorry that I can’t be strong all the time. That there are days when I question my faith. Days when I hate the world and every person inside of it. Days when I’m bitter about the way life turned out.

I’m sorry that I can’t walk around with unflinching hope when I know how shitty this world is. I’m sorry I’m not perfect. I’m sorry I carry so much anger inside.

I’m pissed, because you left your family behind. You left people who still needed your love, your voice, your hugs, your kisses. People who cared about you more than they cared about themselves. People who would do anything to have one more minute with you.

I’m pissed, because I keep seeing these shitty people running around without a care in the world, living for decades longer than you had the chance to. Because the goodness in your heart should have earned you more days, months, years.

I’m pissed, because you deserved better. You deserved to celebrate more milestones. You deserved to see the people around you grow up. You deserved to grow old yourself and pass away peacefully in your sleep after ninety years of living your best life.

I’m pissed, because it’s not fair. That sounds whiny to say, childish, but it’s the truth. What happened to you wasn’t fair. What happened to your family wasn’t fair. Nothing about your death was fair.

I miss you. And I hate that I miss you, because I shouldn’t have to. I should be able to call you up. I should be able to knock on your door. I should be able to see you face-to-face anytime I want.

You should still be here, right now, sending me texts to ask how I’ve been doing. You should still be here, right now, giving me a reason to laugh instead of cry. You should still be here, right now, alive and well.

No matter how many cliches are thrown at me about how only the good die young, no matter how many of those sayings I choose to believe to find some semblance of comfort, I will always believe that your death was bullshit.

I will always believe that there was some sort of mistake, that you didn’t deserve it. 

I will always believe that you deserved so much more.