Uuzilo, BMW & Arai

About a month ago my friend Shauna put a post up on Facebook looking for participants to take part in a newly formed nonprofit called Uuzilo.

Its mission is to take people who are suffering from trauma and grief on a motorcycle to South Africa. The two creators are Andrew and Laura. Andrew suffered his own trauma and he escaped to the place that he had always wanted to see, South Africa. He was there for months. Just riding, exploring and letting the people he met along the way help him. The kindness of complete strangers let him release a lot of his pain.

While visiting Victoria Falls he met a woman named Laura. They spent the next two days together then she left to go back to the US. Only to return to him months later and the two of them continued the journey on the bike together. They just got married about two weeks ago. One night, like a lightning bolt, the idea struck Andrew that they could start a nonprofit and let others experience the healing that same way that South Africa helped him. Through time, connecting with people and seeing new and exciting experiences.

While still overseas and working with terrible Wi-Fi connection, they started the non profit application process. They started reaching out to hospital, colleges, motorcycle shops and anyone else to try and find help on how to accomplish the mission and to find people in need. Which led them to Shauna, who is on the board for Warrior Expeditions, a non profit that uses long distance hiking as well as canoeing and biking to allow veterans a chance to deal with their issues and who has been in my life since I hiked the Appalachian Trail with them on their first year. Shauna tracked our progress from a psychologist point of view to study the effects of wilderness therapy and how it is healing our veterans.

Now Shauna is on Uuzilo’s board and lead them to me.

I emailed Andrew and basically gave him a word vomit email. I’m talking past history to now so he could understand me and who he was considering. I wasn’t sure if he was ready for this level of crazy. They decided to drive down a week later from DC and we had dinner at my home. It was very emotional and we decided that I would be their first participant.

Since their application with still pending, their lawyer suggested a go fund me to help with the cost of the bike, travel and logistics. Right now we are about a third of the way to the goal amount. Anything we don’t raise, is being paid out of Andrew and Laura’s pocket. They are fully funding my trip and will be by my side the entire way as my guides.

They are the most giving people I have ever met and also the ballziest (I have no idea how to spell that and I’m tired). They have been writing letters and emails to anyone and everyone for support and sponsorship.

Andrew walked into BMW and spoke with Gary Hardin, the head instructor at the BMW US Rider Performance courses. Gary was so touched by the mission that he offered to teach me to ride off-road in one of his courses. I just finished it yesterday.

His brother Michael and Melinda were the class instructors. Their patience was astounding as I was so nervous.

1. I have never ridden off-road.

2. I have never ridden a BMW motorcycle

3. It had been years since I actually rode a motorcycle since I had sold mine when we left Florida.

There were people from all over the US attending and flew in specifically to take the class. Michael and Melinda explained each task thoroughly, showed us how to do it and then we took turns doing the task. Getting directions and feedback as necessary.

Did I mention that we had to stand up on the footpegs the whole time. I almost shit myself when I heard that but it’s crazy how simple it was. We learned to sit side saddle, S turns, avoiding obstacles, driving in ruts, over washboards, small hills and emergency stopping in loose gravel. Plus so much more. I dropped my bike 3 times. Twice in ruts (the bane of my existence)

I got really good at bailing off the bike.

The third time I wrecked, my front tire hit a massive root and I washed out into the brush. I broke the side stand switch on a rock so the bike wouldn’t go into gear since it thought the stand was still down. So they towed it out and brought me another bike.

It was so hot and humid. We were all pouring sweat most of the time since we were going under 10 mph with zero airflow. Mcfatty was dying.

The last thing that we learned was the emergency breaking in loose gravel and it was so tough since I was so tired and just completely wiped out from the day. We all managed to do it and we went on a celebratory adventure ride around the complex to complete the end of the course.

We all got a certificate for completing the course and a sweet swag bag.

Speaking of swag.

Remember when I said that Andrew was ballsie. He somehow met Brian Pangelinan at Tucker Rocky and Brian Weston at Arai who have helped us out with helmets and gear.

I chose a white helmet with pink piping and butterflies. It’s very feminine and it makes me smile since it’s very tongue-in-cheek. I’m not really that feminine in general.

Things are moving very quickly now. We will be leaving in July for about six weeks. I’m excited, scared, and nervous but ready. I’m ready to leave this place and confront my grief head on. I haven’t had time to fall apart, there have been to many things that I needed to handle at work and for his estate. I have gotten really great at pretending to be OK. But I’m not…..I’m far from it.

I know that leaving the world I know behind will help me to heal and get myself to a place where I can be more than OK. I can take his keepsake and keep him with me, share this adventure.

I still need someone to watch my cat though. He’s very needy and needs a lot of attention all the time.

My family and civilian friends who I have told that I am leaving, thinks I’m crazy for wanting to do this. About how dangerous it is and wants to know why I don’t just tour the US. My military friends just get it.

There is danger everywhere and if Frank’s death has taught me anything, there is no time to hold back. To be timid and afraid of what might happen. Cause I know first hand how it feels when your worst fear is your reality.

Precautions and preparation is always key but I can’t explain the desire to disappear to someone who has never felt the need. To disconnect from the familiar and learn more about yourself in the process.

If I could afford it, I would leave and travel forever. Always searching for something new and feeling the pull to somewhere greater than myself.

I received a gift for Christmas of a map of the world with gold leafing covering the different countries and cities. The point is to scratch off and show the bold color underneath the gold. Frank and I took turns scratching off where we had both been in the world and we have been a lot of places but when you step back and look….we had barely made a dent. We decided then to start traveling more. To visit all states in the US and then start knocking out countries and cities.

It’s up to me now to finish our plan. To honor his love of travel and adventure that matched mine.

If you want to read more about Uuzilo, check out the website at https://uuzilo.org/

You can also check out our go fund me page at

https://www.gofundme.com/uuzilo

Appointments, Passports and Urn

I had left early from work so I could make it on time to my probate appointment. I had about 30 minutes to spare before I had to pick up his mom so I grabbed my travel paperwork and headed to the post office next to my house.

The same woman who helped me send out Frank’s ashes were there again. She answered all my questions and help me to expedite my passport paperwork since I’m going overseas in July. I’ll explain about it in a different post.

At the probate office the original woman who had helped us was out sick, so a coworker stepped in. She was very confused initially with who I was and why Susan was turning over his estate to me.

She was actually a very kind lady, who took the time to help me fill out portions of the inventory that I have to mail back in. I have to list a monetary value for all of his belongings. Basically she said, what I would sell them at a yard sale for. She explained how I needed to set up an estate account at the bank and I couldn’t touch it or sell anything of his until the estate is closed. She set my closing date and guess what… It’s the day after Valentine’s Day, next year. Awesome. Great. I’d love an appointment 2 days before the first anniversary of his death. Why not. Apparently you have to give the creditors eight months to submit paperwork to get paid from his estate.

Yeah… About that.

I closed his bank account and let me tell you, ain’t nobody getting paid back…..

Not even me.

Actually had to get a tax number from the IRS in order to create the estate account. I felt so embarrassed since I couldn’t stop the tears from falling as I had to explain the situation over and over.

I closed his gym membership, bank accounts, grunt style T-shirt membership and his phone. I went to the register of deeds and updated the house as well as the tax office.

When I got home, there was a box waiting for me at my doorstep. His urn has arrived.

There was also a note from Mike as well, letting me know that the keepsake would be coming soon too. I just wept as I took it out of the box. I didn’t cut into the bag since it’s made from salt and the instructions say to limit how much you move or touch it. I just put it back in the box and on the shelf under his picture. It is so much heavier than I thought it would be. I still have his ashes in the temporary all black container. I like to put my hand on it most days when I tell him how much I love him before I leave the house.

I also had my first VA appointment for counseling. It was very strange. The woman wasn’t going to actually be my counselor. Apparently, she was only was going to talk to me for 30 minutes and then pass me along to someone else or figure out what I would need for medication.

It was real shitty in the very beginning since my primary Doctor who had referred me to her didn’t bother to put why I had actually requested to see her.

So I had to tell the story again.

It was rough. That was the worst emotionally that I had gotten with anybody. She gave me some handouts and said that I should go to the VA clinic in Greenville since they deal with younger vets. At that location, she mostly just deals with older veterans and gives out medication to solve problems.

So now in order for me to talk to somebody, I have to take a day off of work during the week to go down there with my DD 214 and identify myself as a veteran in need of help. I couldn’t believe that she couldn’t refer me or set up an appointment and basically couldn’t do anything for me. It was very disheartening. I don’t want to bounce around from person to person. I’m just trying to get help from somebody outside of the situation that will give me a non-biased view because they didn’t know me or Frank or how we were together.

After that visit I was just emotionally raw all week. I just tucked inside myself and didn’t reach out to anyone. I could barely hold it together at work so I did a lot of inventory and spreadsheets so that way I could avoid people, even my own staff. Work has slowed down so that has been a blessing.

I went to the gym and saw my neighbor there even though I wasn’t 100% sure it was her at the time. We talked on messenger and decided that we are going to start going to the gym together after work. She is a former Marine (I know there is no such thing) but either way, I think that it will be a good motivating-relationship.

I have to start giving a damn about my health again.

Probate

Tomorrow is the appointment.

I had gone through all of our paperwork and had found almost all his accounts and information for them. I had it all together with me when Susan and I initially went to the probate court a week or so after his service.

I was ready to give them all the information and be able to handle all of it at that date.

Apparently that is not how it is handled.

His mom agreed to turn over power of attorney of his estate to me, but I would have to wait until the next appointment for them to give me the official paperwork. I could tell that she was hesitant to do it but it just made more sense, since we had been together for so long and our lives were tangled up including our finances.

The first date that the court worker had was May 14. Almost 3 months after his death. The lady was really nice but I could tell that she was tired. She just kept flipping the pages on her calendar and every single day had some families’ name on it. Her desk and entire office was covered in files. We were just one more walk in family to deal with.

She also told me that after tomorrow’s appointment, I have three months to fill out the paperwork that she’ll give me, then nine months after that I will come back and do an audit of his estate.

They are seriously over estimating what he has in his bank account, Frank was terrible with money. Come to find out after his death, I started going through his mail and accounts were not getting paid and were overdue severely. I took over paying all of his bills so that way they would stop being overdue and I could close them out easier when I get the paper tomorrow.

So the odds of me misusing his estate, are extremely low.

Susan is coming with me tomorrow since I don’t wanna go through this alone. She has experience with the process, having gone through it when Frank’s dad passed, also suddenly.

I went to see her today after I got off of work. I brought her a Mother’s Day card and a keepsake heart that has angel wings on it and an inscription that says always and forever.

I really miss him and I’m nervous about tomorrow. I don’t want to drag this out or have to keep making appointment after appointment.

I stopped by his old Work at the motorcycle shop. They have been holding his bike since I had to do a damage estimate on it. It’s totaled but I couldn’t finish the process with insurance company until I get the POA letter. I asked them if I could get them to deliver it to the house since insurance claim will be finished.

That’s gonna be a rough day. Physically and emotionally since the bike is so messed up, moving it is extremely difficult.

I have my first appointment for counseling on Thursday at the VA. I don’t know what to expect but I know that I need it. It was helping Frank when he went so I hope that they can help me.

Kindness

I planned to leave right from work and go to the funeral home to talk to them about his ashes, but Work had other plans. Babies were sick so I was asked to go cover one of our other locations after I was supposed to be off at the main location.

I explained that I needed to take care of something before the business closed at 5pm. I was trying to avoid talking about the situation but I had to explain everything. So instead, they let me go early so I could get it done and then go right back to work afterwards. Great. Awesome…..

So I get there and again Wayne, the funeral director isn’t there. I have Daniel call him and I could hear him on the phone talking to Daniel about it. He was just so callous and had blatant disregard for me and my situation. He basically said “they lost the ashes, there is nothing we can do….just give her a refund, sorry”.

So Daniel is completely at a loss on what to do or what to tell me, or even how to do the refund. They settle on just writing me a check. Daniel tells me to look at my credit card statement and get the total that I paid. I start looking back into the history and I’m not seeing any charges other than the cost for the funeral service. I checked my other credit card….no charges.

Now I start to question, Since I placed the order on the phone with him and gave him all my credit card information a few days after the service. So in all actuality, he never did anything at all for my order and Franks ashes had been sitting there since the 1st of March.

So in my head, because he didn’t charge me for anything, he didn’t place an order and he didn’t place any ashes in the mail like he told me when he was on the phone with me. He flat out lied to me. Which may not be bad, since no order means no missing ashes.

I get all the information for the company that they use for all of the urns and keepsakes, called Crescent Memorials in Mississippi. I call them while I was on my way back to work.

It took going through a couple of people before I was able to talk to the Chief Operating Officer, Mike about the situation. I explained what the funeral home had said about his company losing my order and that I didn’t think it was true but I needed to get my ducks in a row and figure out who screwed up. I gave him all the information for the funeral home and my contact Daniel, who he called and spoke to after he hung up with me since Wayne was not available.

So Mike called me back about an hour later and had looked into the company records. He assures me that no such order had ever been placed from the funeral home. He had another man, a higher up of the company on speaker phone while we were talking.

Mike told me that they never work personally with individuals and they always are just business to business but he offered to create the keepsake for me since the funeral home messed up. I tell them that I had the ashes with me and I could hear the other man ask if I wanted two keepsakes, I joked that I couldn’t afford two. That’s when they dropped the bomb that they are going to create the keepsake for free for me.

They are also sending me the biodegradable urn too.

I was just overwhelmed, started to cry and struggled to speak and tell them how thankful I was since they did absolutely nothing wrong.

I got all the information to send it to them and got off the phone and just lost it. Later that night I wrote a long thank you note and I included a picture of Frank and I. I wanted them to know who they were helping and what having a piece of him with me meant to me. I then had to mentally prepare myself to portion out the ashes. I had a ziplock bag and a tablespoon that was going to be thrown away immediately after.

I took the temporary container to the counter, took a deep breath, gave myself a mental shake and said “you can do this”…… and opened the lid.

I was very surprised by the ashes. In my head I was thinking they would be more like ashes left over from a fire burning….very white/gray and powdery but instead his ashes are a peachy coral and gritty like sand. I go to take the bag out and I realize that there’s a smaller sandwich size bag inside that looks like it already has about a tablespoon of ashes portioned out with his name on it.

I realize that they had portioned out his ashes to send them out and never did anything with them. I didn’t have to do anything but take that bag and put it with the note and picture and drop it in the mail the next morning.

When I explained to the mail lady that I was sending cremated remains, she was very professional with me, which I appreciated. I just sat there with tears rolling down my face as she got all the information and processed my payment. She didn’t ask any questions and I didn’t have to explain anything, which was a blessing.

I headed up to a friends house after that to talk to her. I knew that she had lost her first husband when she was younger and has since remarried, had one baby and was now pregnant with her second. We never talked about her first husband before now but she told me that anytime I wanted to talk that she would help me. So I drove up and had breakfast with her and we just sat at her kitchen table and she told me the story about what happened to her husband, how she reacted and what she did to cope.

It was very hard to hear her story especially since all I could do was cry and listen.

She was so young when it happened, she is still young now. You would never even think that this young happy girl went through so much and had suffered so much loss with her husband dying and her father a year later.

Because all you see from the outside is a happy, beautiful family, soon to be a family of four.

She really help me to understand that I don’t have to hide him away and that there may come a time when the right person comes into my life, who will understand what happened and won’t force me to pretend like Frank was never a part of my life.

I can never thank her enough for sharing her story and for being willing to open old wounds.

I took the long way home from her house, stopping by a covered bridge and listened to the water and the wind.

I felt more at peace than I have for a long time.

Missing Ashes

Been over two months now. For weeks I’ve been calling and leaving messages for the funeral director for an update about Frank’s urn and the glass keepsake I ordered.

Every time that I have had a day off during the week, I go there personally. The only one that is ever there to talk to, is an office manager Daniel, that is new and clueless. They have been holding his ashes for a while now, as his mom also ordered an urn and keepsake and they needed to portion out everything.

Daniel finally called about 3 weeks ago and said the order was there but it turned out to be his moms order and they had no idea what happened to my order. I told his mom that her pieces were ready when she could drive and get them.

She ordered a wooden box with a 8×10 picture in the front and a glass butterfly necklace. Turns out she actually ordered two but only one came in.

After another week goes by without a word, I go down there and there is still no word about my order. Since I was there anyway, I picked up his moms order since the funeral home is not close to either of us.

I picked up the box to leave and it was heavier that I anticipated it to be. Daniel, the office manager tells me he will get to the bottom of where my order is and I barely hold it together and just bawl on the drive to his moms house.

I waited another week with no word then I called and talked to Daniel last Thursday and it turns out that they think that the company they sent his ashes to, have lost the order. I.e. they lost the portion of his ashes that were sent to be created in the keepsake.

I am just sick.

I don’t understand how there isn’t a paper trail to follow, especially with certain procedures that have to be followed for shipping cremated remains.

I understand that in all actuality, it’s a small portion of ashes. Maybe only a tablespoon, but that is not the point. I trusted them with the most sacred of duties. Handling the cremated remains of my lover. I don’t care if it was a teaspoon, it was a person. That was my person. You don’t disrespect someone like that.

What if a tablespoon was all I had of him, and they lost it. Would they give a shit then?

I’m leaving work early tomorrow to pick up his ashes and get a full refund. I’m just sick that there’s no way to find the ashes that they sent. I’ve been waiting so long for the keepsake to come in so I can carry him with me and now I have to find a different company and wait until they can create it and send it back.

This has been the worst experience with customer service and treatment for a family going through a terrible loss. We can’t be the only family that is being treated this badly and it’s not right.

What can I even do at this point? Hope they find his ashes and ship them back? It’s been tough trying to find another company that looks legit and who is in the US or Canada. I think I found one but I have to get refunded before I can purchase anything since it’s all so expensive.

It’s just one blow after another and I could really just use a break.

I have an appointment with the probate court in two weeks to get authorization to be in charge of his estate and start that process.

I told my boss on Thursday after I got the news, that I needed to take a sabbatical this summer. I need to disappear and take time to grieve. I need his keepsake to be done and back to me on time so I can bring him with me.

I just never thought I would be in this situation and I could really use something to go right.

Like An Ocean

My grief is like the ocean…..

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It starts like a sunny day on the beach. I’ll be laughing and having fun, then something will happen…

Sometimes it’s as simple as a friend stopping to see me and asking me how I’m really doing or a song that plays on the radio.

Then a few clouds will start to roll in and block the sun. I’m still doing good but I know the clouds are there. Air changes, winds pick up, the waves start lapping at my feet.

Then something else will happen.

I’ll hear his ringtone or have to help a client send flowers for a funeral service. Hear them tell me how hard it is. Not knowing that I know exactly how it feels.

Now the clouds are covering the sky, slowly turning gray. I can see the horizon start to darken and turn black, the wind start whipping my hair and the waves are crashing into me. The smell of rain is now in the air.

Most days I can stop at here. I can hold it back by literally saying the word “stop” out loud. I change my focus, my thoughts and the storm stays back.

When I can’t stop it. I can see the rain in the distance. Thunder booms and lightning crackles around me. Waves slam into me, knocking my feet from under me. I stumble blindly. The tears start then. Slowly, softly, like a summer rain until I lose control and give myself over to the storm. I let the waves crash over and over, dragging me into the riptide. I can’t breathe, I can’t see, my breath comes in ragged heart wrenching gasps and I just rage with the storm.

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I let it go until I feel like there’s nothing left.

After it has run its course. I looked back and watch the clouds receed into the horizon. Leaving echoes of thunder and misting rain.

The Intense storms are not as frequent but I feel like they’re always there. Coiled up inside me, begging to be released, to rage and drag me under again.

His And Her Sinks

When we started looking at a house to buy, we were like all other couples with a must have list. Of course my list was longer than franks.

His:

  1. Garage with automatic door
  2. Backyard 
  3. Space for a fire pit

Mine:

  1. Garden style bath tub
  2. His and her sinks
  3. Kitchen island
  4. Open floor plan with lots of wall space
  5. Lots of Natural lighting

I found the style of house that fit all our needs and we got lucky and got a huge backyard too. Unfortunately it was two stories but I put my foot down and got to hear him complain about the stairs each time he had to go upstairs for anything. Small sacrifices I thought.

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The master and guest bathrooms both have his and her sinks. They are wonderful because I have so much stuff that it always overflowed on sink. We had it parted right down the middle and all my mess stayed on my half. 

3 different lotions, 2 different perfumes, jewelry everywhere, 5 different hair products, tooth paste and brush, candles and so much more. His only has the few items he used. Tooth paste, toothbrush, beard brush with those damn grey hairs stuck in it, comb, beard oil, hair gel and medication. The only item that could breach the centerline was Q-tips. The one item we shared, besides an economy style bottle of men’s body wash in the shower. 

Every time I go into our bathroom, I look at his things and I haven’t moved them an inch since he put them down for the last time. 

I spent most of the day deep cleaning the downstairs and kept delaying going upstairs to clean our bathroom. Making excuses to myself, then I realized why that was. When I clean the sinks, I take everything off then place them back on later. Now I’m faced with the dilemma. What do I do about his things? Do I put them back in the position they were? Do I throw stuff away that I can’t use?  Is this the first step towards accepting that he won’t ever be coming home? 

I know that I have been partitioning my mind to  protect myself even though I know he is gone. I’ve been avoiding throwing anything away or separating his clothes. I have his picture on the bar counter downstairs with two electronic tea lights that I leave on 24/7. I don’t want him in the dark. I also leave a strong shot of whiskey there. It’s the first thing I see when I walk through the front door and I kiss my finger tips and press them to his picture when I tell him “I love you”, when I leave the house. 

I know it’s depressing. I know it’s a memorial that I won’t keep there all the time. I will eventually take it upstairs to the loft. To be in my library. My sanctuary space. So other people don’t have to feel uncomfortable when they see it.  

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But I need it. I need to see him and remember his face, his eyes, his smile. I miss him almost more than I can bear.  

Most days, I’m barely holding on by the skin of my fingernails. I’m one hug or kind word away from breaking down. I’ve been keeping a journal, reading books on grief, talking with a select few and today I asked my primary care doctor to set me up an appointment with a therapist at the VA. I’m doing everything I can to keep moving forward. To heal, to stay open and leave my heart vulnerable. 

I still have to put everything back on the counter before I go to bed tonight. I still don’t know what I will do.

Those stupid fucking his and her sinks.