Posted by: carolyn / through a widow's eyes | February 13, 2021

for Mom, one year gone today

Warning: “I cried when I wrote this song; sue me if I play too long.” (-Walter Becker & Donald Fagen, Steely Dan)

Mom was 81 when she was diagnosed with lung cancer. Cancer didn’t care that she had quit smoking sometime in the previous century, some 30-odd years before. Well, she had quit a couple of times. The first time was easy, she said. But she had taken up the habit again after two years cigarette-free. She explained that she couldn’t stand to be around “the smell of your father”, steeped for decades in Chesterfield Kings, so she had started smoking again.

“Oh, well, I’ve had a good life,” she sighed, upon hearing the cancer diagnosis. “HOLD UP!” the oncologist protested, raising one hand like a very well-educated crossing guard. “There are treatments…” he went on, and there were, and she did. Hold up, that is. She lived almost four more years with lung cancer, her activities somewhat diminished, but mostly free of pain and cancer’s other troubling symptoms. She did often comment that she felt uneasy about using up valuable resources that could more rightly benefit others who were more “useful to society”, but her doctors and her children were having none of that nonsense.

“You’re matriarching your ass off!” David admiringly told her, at the first Thanksgiving he witnessed her in action, er, inaction. She relaxed in her favorite chair with a cocktail and some “nibbles” as her grown children labored nearby, carving turkey, making gravy, lighting candles. She had set the table days before, arranged the flowers, set out the heirloom silver serving dishes, each one just so as tradition required. “I’m getting better at it!” she replied, and they clinked glasses, or I like to think they did.

“I’ve got to meet this woman!” David had said, months before, when we were first getting to know each other and I had told him some story about my mom. “You’d better hurry up!” I retorted bitterly. She had just received the cancer diagnosis and I wasn’t ready to let her go. As if being “ready” has anything to do with anything.
I had spent years avoiding even the Cancer Center exit of the highway, having spent far too much time there already, years before. Yet here we were, back there again. She knew how it pained me to be going back there, with Mom this time. She hated that I had to drive her there, but I did. Macular degeneration (BOTH kinds!) was robbing her of her sight and her independence, but it could not rob her of her spirit, nor of her lifetime caring for other people.

When we got bad news at the Cancer Center, she hated that it hurt us. Once, when we got good news – “You’re in remission!” – we found ourselves free of the planned treatment regimen and back in her car with a suddenly open afternoon. “Where should we go?” I asked her. “Just drive,” she said. As I steered the car out onto the road, she said softly, “Carrie, I’m sorry that you and Jeff and Anna couldn’t have had this good news.”
“Jaysus, Mom, I’m driving here!” I cried, suddenly blind with tears.

Bad news or good news, what mattered more to her was, “Where would we like to have lunch?” Steamers and chowder on a deck overlooking the harbor? A juicy cheeseburger at a crowded greasy counter? Spicy tacos and an icy margarita? What is it going to be today? Somewhere new? “Oh, goody!”

I was on vacation in Jamaica when I got the phone call. Hospice. I flew home through an epic Eastern-seaboard-wide snowstorm of which I had been blissfully unaware. Through the seven unintended hours in MBJ airport, then the long sleepless night in ATL, through the many delayed and canceled flights, the strung-together itinerary that finally landed me back home in PWM, I hoped and prayed I would get there in time.

But we were to have a bit more time together. ALL together – she had requested all five of her living children to be with her for her last few days. It had been a decade or more since all five of us had been in the same room – and never without the distraction of our spouses, our significant others, our children. For her last days, she brought us together. She, who never asked for anything, asked for that, so oblige her we did, and gladly, gratefully. I was one day into a tropical vacation, a welcome and intricately-planned break from the “cancer caregiver” routine. One sister was about to embark on a long-awaited conference in which she was a presenter, several time zones away. A brother, head of the English department, was preparing for exam week. Did she know, when she asked, what a gift of togetherness she was bestowing on us?

After her own mother had died, kicking and screaming, as well as decrepit, blind, and disagreeable as ever, my mother had a little bit of her “own money”, for the first time in a long time. She decided to take a trip: a guided tour of English flower gardens. She arrived home from the travel agent with a handful of brochures, all bubbly and excited about her plans. My father, a stoic loner and homebody who traveled widely for work, was dubious.
“Am I invited?” he asked politely.
“God, NO! This is MY trip!” said my mother.
“Oh, thank God!” my father breathed a sigh of relief. “The only thing I can imagine I would enjoy less would be a guided tour of–” with a sweeping arm gesture, “–Fabric Stores of The World!”

And so began my mother’s solo exploration of the world. She traveled widely in her later years – most corners of the United States, including Alaska and Hawaii; much of Europe; Costa Rica, Africa; Russia. She traveled to visit her far-flung offspring, or generously took us with her, one at a time, when she could pry us away from our own commitments. Even with terminal cancer, she was still talking about where to go next, and which of her children would accompany her. A couple of those trips are still un-taken. Maybe someday we will be able to honor her legacy. The Cape Cod beaches of her childhood? The Montana Bison Range? Another Alaska glacier cruise? Maybe another swim-up bar in Costa Rica like that one she couldn’t stop talking about? Or to the pyramids of Egypt, where she brought home the unwelcome and durable souvenir known as “Cairo Cough”. On her deathbed, she regaled the hospice chaplain with her story of the chimpanzee who climbed in her hotel window in Africa. She was lying on her bed reading while the rest of her party had gone on an afternoon safari. Who had the bigger adventure?

She did love traveling, but her truest love was her family. “It’s all I ever wanted,” she told the chaplain, while we five fifty-something-year-old children sat weeping around her hospital bed in the living room. She was intrigued with Maine’s new Death with Dignity act, which helps people with fewer than six months to live plan their own exit. There are, rightly, several hoops a patient must jump through to qualify for the program. We made an appointment to discuss her Death with Dignity with the required two independent doctors, but when the time came, we couldn’t go through with it. She was too weak; we couldn’t manage the newly-acquired oxygen tank, the transfer from bed to wheelchair to car to another chair to an office, and back. We canceled the appointment. She expressed her disappointment.
“Are you afraid you will regret canceling, three weeks from now?” we asked her. “No, I’m afraid YOU all will regret it!” was her tart reply.

Cancer didn’t kill her. In truth, I don’t know what took her. She had decided, “This isn’t fun anymore,” and a week later she was gone, like I Dream of Jeannie, determinedly crossing her arms, blinking, and making it so.

“If there’s such a thing as A Good Death, she had one,” David keeps saying, and he is right. That last week she let us parent her, finally, after all the parenting – and grandparenting – she did for all those decades. We spooned tiny bites of her favorite lemon sorbet into her dry mouth that waited, poised and ready as a baby bird’s. We gently took the glass from her sleepy hand before it spilled. We read out loud to her and to our siblings gathered there: Julia Child’s My Life in France, Charlotte’s Web, Winnie the Pooh. We rubbed lotion on her parched old skin; we held her hand. “This is one of your kids. It hardly matters which one,” I murmured to her, as she lay with her eyes closed while I softly stroked the back of her hand.

“I know which one,” she murmured back.

Posted by: carolyn / through a widow's eyes | February 9, 2021

good boy goodbye

We were talking about the heartbreakingly finite life of dogs. You can probably guess why.

Our hearts are always broken when they go. Sometimes we can see it coming from a long way away. Sometimes…they just go. They are here, and then they are not. No matter how they go, we are left behind, bereft, with a dog-shaped hole in our heart. Only bigger. Much, much bigger.

I’ve sworn again and again: “I am not doing this again. It hurts too much.” We know, when we choose a pet, that we are just setting ourselves up for heartbreak down the road. But that is the price we pay for all that love, all that joy. The joy an animal brings is ALWAYS bigger than the hole. ALWAYS. The joy is bigger than the chewed shoes, the ransacked trash cans, the traumatic and expensive vet visits. Even that last one.

My father taught me to drive extra-attentively around veterinarian offices. Why, Dad? Because people often leave there incoherent with grief, and blinded by their tears, that’s why.

David said, “Dogs should live longer than us; they’re better than us.”
“But then THEY’d have to miss US when WE go,” I countered, and that missing is the worst. Having seen it happen, I know that this is true. I watched our last dog search and search, and question, and search some more. For years. Even though he must have known damn well: master is not coming back.

David and I were talking about heaven. (We two are nonbelievers; please don’t @ me.) But what if heaven is, when you get there, all your dogs are waiting for you?

Posted by: carolyn / through a widow's eyes | December 25, 2020

gifted/giving

Regrettably, I’ve no stockings to fill this year. It is still several hours until dawn on Christmas morning in this, the strangest of years, but I am already up drinking coffee with the cat, listening to the rattle of the wind and rain, waiting for birds to arrive at the birdfeeder like any other day. The birds have no idea it’s Christmas – they don’t know or care that I thought of them and filled their feeders yesterday so they’d have their favorite expensive black oil sunflower seeds for the duration of this storm.

My coffee cup rests on a pretty handmade felt coaster designed and stitched by my sister some years ago, and mailed, along with other riches, from several time zones away to arrive in time for Christmas. I am cozy in a lacy pink camisole and my faithful fleece sweatpants gifted me by my Jimmy Jeff, who’s been gone eleven years and counting, so obviously I’ve been wearing these lovingly-chosen items at least as long. I’m wrapped in a gorgeous jewel-toned throw, a Christmas present from my dear old friend and erstwhile bakery employee C.

The bakery’s been gone even longer than my first husband has. This lovely gift which now has pride of place on my new husband David’s couch has accompanied me from house to house for well over a decade, but still I think of C. thoughtfully selecting it each time I wrap myself in its kitten-soft fringe.

So who are we to assume the gifts we give mean nothing? How are we to know that what we say and do and give won’t be remembered – for better or for worse – long after the saying and the doing and the giving?

Sure, it is the thought that counts, and I’ve often been amazed at how the random pile of thrift-store junk I’ve chosen becomes transformed with pretty paper and ribbon. If there is any joy to Christmas at all, for me it’s because of the gifts I get to bestow on my beloveds rather than what I might receive. There is a lot missing this Christmas, a lot I would wish to change. But here again is another chance to Do Love, Be Love. I will take it, and thank you, and Merry Christmas.

Posted by: carolyn / through a widow's eyes | November 24, 2020

blessing

Struggling with Thanksgiving? Me too. Hard times are hard. Approaching holidays always kick my ass up and down the block. It is ever thus, has always been so, even in The Before Times, let alone now, when so many loved ones are missing from our table.

I try, always, to focus on what I DO have to be grateful for, rather than what I WISH I had. I am not always successful at managing my expectations.

~

Dad had been chronically ill (although good-naturedly so) for a decade or more. In September of his final year, he had an “episode” that sent him suddenly, by ambulance, to the hospital. The doctors said that more of the same could be expected, and diagnosed end-stage emphysema/COPD. They recommended home hospice, as medically nothing more could be done for him. This was a shock to all of us who were there in the room, or maybe just to me, who always hopes things will just keep going on the same as they ever were. Haha, nope.

Dad was almost pathologically anxious, and claimed that smoking “relaxed” him. The fifty-plus years of unfiltered Chesterfield Kings – of which he declared he enjoyed every puff – killed him in the end, no surprise. After a harrowing first few weeks of home hospice, he recovered enough to make peace with most of what concerned him, I guess, in that roundabout Stephens way.

We had many a fine lunch of turkey clubs, crispy fries, and heartfelt conversation in the ensuing autumn months. At one such lunch, I remember, he did not want me to park in the handicapped space in front of The Foreside Tavern because “someone might need it”. (DAD, you are in HOSPICE! I THINK IT’S OKAY FOR YOU TO PARK HERE!)

He knew that Thanksgiving would be his last. He stood at the head of the table to bestow this blessing he had composed to the throngs gathered there. We found his hand-written drafts in his wallet the next week, after he died.

I’m not much for blessings. But I do know that love is all there is; just love, love is the only answer to any question you may have (except for maybe Just Keep Swimming). Every year since, fifteen years without him now and counting, I say this blessing, too.


“Fill our hearts with thankfulness;
fill our souls with grace.
Smile on our celebrations,
and then bless us on our way.”


-Horace Donaldson Stephens, 11-25-2005


Posted by: carolyn / through a widow's eyes | November 17, 2020

On Sucky Holidays That Are Not What We Wanted

My baby (a fully grown woman) thought she had to work Thanksgiving but when it turned out no, my immediate Pavlovian response was YAYYYY BABY’S COMING HOME FOR THANKSGIVING!!!! accompanied by a jubilant little happy dance. But it is 2020 and we do not share a household, so of course she is not.

It is the first Thanksgiving without my mom which would be hard enough. (It is.) In normal times a large gang of my siblings and extended family would be contributing to a spectacular kaleidoscopic feast and raising a glass or several to our best beloved missing matriarch, but it is 2020, so of course we are not.

Once upon a time when I was young I had nowhere to go for Christmas. My family was all very far away (I was a very mature 18 haha). My boyfriend had fled to the tropics – he had been offered a free ticket so he took it, as anyone would – and my best friend/roommate was traveling in Europe. I was alone in our Portland apartment which had gleaming hardwood floors, glorious sunny bay windows that looked out upon the Time/Temp clock in Monument Square, but no furniture, no food, and no heat as we were moving out January 1 and also we were poor.

An extremely handsome and sexy “friend” who I liked very much invited me to a deluxe Christmas dinner party, which I joyfully accepted. I carefully dressed to impress him and his friends, in my best fancy red thrift-store party dress which fit like it was custom-made just for me, accented by my lacy black stockings with an enticing seam up the back. I waited and waited all day for this friend to pick me up but he either forgot or thought I was kidding because the hours ticked by and he never, ever came.

So Christmas Day consisted of me waiting in my dress-up clothes for a party that never happened, sprawled hungry and alone in a busted dumpster-bound beanbag chair in a frigid empty apartment, gazing out the window as the sky grew dark, staring at the clock as it displayed the temperature falling falling falling to -27ºF.

I told a friend this sad tale of woe and she said “I can beat that; one year we didn’t have a Christmas tree because my mother’s hospital bed took up the space the tree went.”

So bring it 2020.
Whataya got.
It is possible (and fully human) to be at the very same time grateful for what you do have and wistful, or indeed heartbroken – or very, very angry – for what is missing.
What is the sad holiday story you have lived through?
We can do hard things.
And we will.

Posted by: carolyn / through a widow's eyes | July 14, 2020

touchstone

My crappy countdown to July 17th (Death Day) has begun and continues apace. There’s something in the body that remembers old trauma, even when my brain does not quite get it yet. “Why do I feel like this? Why am I sad when my life is good? Why can I not get out of my own way?” Typical symptoms arise that would be worrisome except that by now, so many years in, these feelings are so familiar that I’m just like: “Oh, right, it’s July. This is grief. Breathe, girl.”

I don’t feel great, but it’s merely a general malaise: I’m clammy, sweaty, clumsy, overly aggravated by nothing much, ravenous, insatiable, unsatisfied. I am exhausted all the time. I want to do nothing but sleep. Except at sleeping time. A conundrum I have not solved through years of trying.

I can’t work productively, I can’t concentrate enough to read, and I can’t get anything crossed off my endless silly to-do list. I spend a lot of time staring into space – not actively grieving, but not NOT, either. I try to drown out the roar inside my head by drinking too much, too often. Guess what – this strategy has never worked and doesn’t now. God knows I’ve tried. I know this and still I persist in the very definition of insanity. Duh.

For me, the only thing that helps mitigate this timely dis-ease even a little bit is jumping into water. The effervescent bubbly buoyancy of salt waves and the tannic coolth of fresh do at least help tame the heat of the brain-containing hard heavy skull and all its overly-febrile THINKING all the time. Letting the weight of my spinal column hang from the brainpan down into gravity’s effects of a fathom of deep water unkinks more than mere vertebrae: not actual bones or sinew, but something equally durable and a lot weightier. Grief and pain and all those tears shed and un-shed hang heavily inside this carapace. Letting it loose has got to be a good thing. Feeling this way isn’t sustainable – not if I’m to have any fun, or be any use to anyone at all.

Sometimes driving helps: far and fast, alone in the car or with a tolerant beloved, with music blasting far too loud, or utter silence. A certain slant of light, the impossible boundless openness of a sky, a reflection of green trees in a winding quiet river, a sudden squall can break me wide open, and then stitch me back together again. I don’t know why this is true, but for myself, I know that it is. Maybe it is something else that eases you. What is it? Find out and do that.

I am eleven years widowed. I have built a whole new life from the ruins. It is rare that I actively grieve, now, a few days a year, but I carry this wistful missing around with me like a rock in a pocket. It is my touchstone – it often helps me appreciate what I do have rather than focus on what is missing. I continue to talk of my own losses because a lot of people won’t talk of theirs, and I think that is a poor reflection of our society. Everyone grieves, and to act like that isn’t so is unhelpful, misguided, and dangerous.

“Your absence has gone through me.
Like thread through a needle.
Everything I do is stitched with its color.” -W. S. Merwin.

I still think of my JimmyJeff, my grown babygirl’s papa, every single day, and I am sure I always will. He was such a part of me, for so long. It still feels breathtakingly audacious, some days, that instead of that large familiar physical presence there remain only photographs and stories. Keep telling your stories, please.

My friends in “the grief community” sometimes speak of The Grief Monster, as if it is a tangible entity, lying in wait for the unsuspecting widow or orphan. When I know through hard experience that I cannot outrun this so-called monster’s ugly reared head and bloodthirsty talons, sometimes it is better to quit uselessly struggling, abide, sit with it, allow it to overtake me, and eventually pass by. This is something I have grappled with all my life – how to know when it is better to pull back and rest, or redouble my efforts and push on through whatever is troubling me.

I almost quietly left home, early this morning: drove away armed with only a notebook and a flowing pen, a bathing suit, and a large coffee, and headed north on 1, but then I didn’t. But it is not too late. It is still July.

secret beach

 

Posted by: carolyn / through a widow's eyes | April 26, 2020

a whole new Q

🎶🎶🎶 It was twenty years ago today…
No? Only five?
So this happened. A sad tale of woe.

a whole new Q

Some of my more recently widowed friends are starting to consider what it might feel like to have someone new in their lives. These very strange times we are in now notwithstanding – skin hunger is a real thing; we do miss being close to our person. They are gone but we are still here. We work to build a new life we never wanted – in fits and starts, with dead ends and rabbit holes, grave errors and wishful thinking. I’m remarried now, for better or for worse, but when this happened we had not yet met. At the time I was not brave enough to tell this story. My mom used to read my blog back then. She already knew more than enough about my personal life! She didn’t need to see this. She would have worried.

Sending out love and empathy to my fellow lonely hearts who have to cobble together a whole new life from the wreckage of their old one. None of this is easy; none of it is simple. Hard things are hard. Love is no exception.

~~~
April 24, 2015
Dear Diary,

Last night I went home with Q. Since the day we met some years ago, I could have told you this day would come. There has always been a strong physical magnetism between us, but more than that, we understand each other. Or, I understand him, anyway, which to many men is the same thing.

I had had rather a lot to drink (and no dinner, never a good move on my part), but my decision to follow him home was well-reasoned and insightful. Ha! He mentioned hashish and suddenly we were in a cab.

The evening at his place was pleasant enough: more drinks from his well-stocked bar; lots of sweet, sweet kissing; much mutual admiration of the naked skin; a bit of nude rolling around on white wall-to-wall carpet (yuck); very cozy cuddling on his comfy couch in matching bathrobes (( ! )<—not HIS first rodeo, obviously); big-screen high-def TV golf (WTF? srsly bruh? is this how you entertain the ladies?); and then up the many stairs to his big antique four-poster bed, with its clean-smelling, heavy, good quality, monogrammed sheets.

His body was more slender, smaller than he looks in clothes, very furry and nice. From his confident not to say “cocky” attitude, I might have expected more from him. But it’s fine. He felt good.

In his finely-made bed, I did not sleep well. But sunrise over the waterfront was lovely from his aerie. He sleepily called me his “future girlfriend”. I didn’t answer; I already knew that would never be. Sometimes “No” is a complete sentence; sometimes silence is your answer. He pulled me to him in the early morning light. Afterward, he slept. I dressed, stepped into dawn birdsong, and walked downtown to where I had left my car. I drove home through empty streets for the morning evacuation, a pot of coffee, a hothot shower, and then, a bout of gasping sobs. As one does.

I don’t regret this for a minute. I am still here and have to live my life on my own terms. But this interlude only made me miss my dead husband more. At home, after all my rituals meant to comfort, I found myself doubled over on a stool in the kitchen, forehead on the butcher-block cabinet that he built before he got sick, moaning “WHYWHYWHY? Why aren’t you here?”

This is so not me. I know that the only real answer to “Why me?” is “Why NOT me?”.

I cried long enough and hard enough to worry the cat, who turned and twisted between my feet, twining his tail, rubbing on me with his cat-ly concern. This cat never met Jeff – how could he know how deeply I miss him? Plus: he’s a cat. I didn’t have any good answer to give him, or myself.

This is the second man I’ve been with since Jeff died, almost six years ago. The first man fell out of a clear blue sky. It felt so good to laugh again! And to be appreciated – I think that’s what I fell for more than anything. We both thought he would be my new love, but it just could not sustain.

The words of love and appreciation from these two men are eerily similar. Both men come into me like they have found their home. But I am not home.

“There is only one place in this world I call home, and it’s because you’re there.” -Robin Williams, to his beloved, Nathan Lane, in ‘The Birdcage’.

If my love is not in this world, and he is my home, then where is my home now?

I don’t need a man to be happy or complete. I’m not in the market to replace my dead husband. I very much enjoy living alone. I have never been lonely when alone, only when with the wrong person. My fatherless child is grown; she doesn’t need a new dad. She has a full, rich life. I do, too; I love my family, love my friends. I thoroughly enjoy that my time is my own. I don’t even know if I would be happy now, in the marriage we used to have. But god DAMN it, I miss him.

Holding someone new should not make me miss him more.
But it does.

Posted by: carolyn / through a widow's eyes | January 3, 2020

PLEASE OBEY

Q: “Will you marry me?”
A: “Yes! Yes! How many times do you want me to say Yes?”

“As many times as I ask you!”

All David wanted was for his daughter Kelly to perform the ceremony, and for his son Matt, daughter-in-law Lorie, and two small grandchildren to witness. All I wanted was for my daughter Anna to be there, and for my mother to live long enough to see me wear her (much altered) circa 1957 wedding dress. Oh, and I thought maybe I’d make us a cake.

Somehow all these wishes were granted – a serious illness, crazy school and work schedules, holidays, a family cross-country move, and an ill-timed fast-moving nationwide blizzard notwithstanding. We even had cake.

There were only nine of us in attendance, but we still needed scheduling software to make it happen. Our children are busy people: January 3rd, 2018 was the ONLY possible day everyone could be there.

The two of us agreed on the simplicity of our vows: “no God stuff” and my further stipulation “no death stuff”. We agreed to “love, honor, and cherish”. My dearly beloved innocently asked, “What about obey?” I disabused him of that fanciful outdated notion with a wide sweep of the arm and a hearty “NOPE!”

I had a few further conditions, one of which was NO FEBREZE (a single man’s entire cleaning arsenal). Once long ago, I got into his car; there was a Febreze air freshener hanging from the rearview mirror. I said, “YOU KNOW FEBREZE IS A DEALBREAKER FOR ME.” He immediately pitched the offending article out the open window. Hey baby. No littering either. (I know. What a load.)

From our first chance meeting – at a bar, of all places – we knew we had something special. “I’ve met the most amazing woman!” David confessed to a friend shortly afterward. Okay, fine, but so far we’d been talking mostly about grammar.

The day we met, everyone else at the pub was engrossed in football, so I sidled up to my friend Bob and some guy – a regular with whom I’d never spoken – and insinuated myself into their conversation regarding the extreme grammatical hoops through which one must necessarily jump in order not to end a sentence with a preposition (or split an infinitive).

Thanks (and sorry) to our pub family who watched our romance blossom, joked about “Geary’s private tasting room” and “Carrie Geary” (<—it does have a nice ring to it), and averted their eyes, that first winter, from two people of a certain age making out in the frozen parking lot.

While planning our first night together, very early on, I texted him, “In the morning I require coffee, or I need to go out to get it.”
D: “I have French Roast.”
me: “Dream date! I also require half & half.”
D: “Light cream?”
me: “Will you marry me? Lol, too soon?”

Turned out it was only a little too soon. Getting married again was not on my radar screen AT ALL, or on his, until it was.

The audacity of hope: it is said that marriage is the triumph of imagination over intelligence, and subsequent marriages are the triumph of hope over experience. We both have some imagination, some intelligence, a LOT of experience, and no small measure of hope.

Happy anniversary, sweetheart. Do you have any idea how much I love you?

Posted by: carolyn / through a widow's eyes | June 2, 2019

“How long does it take?”

Yesterday I overheard a conversation while I was waiting to get a haircut. I wasn’t really listening, but in the small salon I heard the two women talking about the client’s house. I heard the client say

“They say you’re not supposed to make any big changes for a year.”

Oh, man, I know all too well what this is about.
When her haircut was complete, the client turned around while dabbing her eyes. We made eye contact over her damp tissue. She said, “I just lost my husband. Six weeks ago.”

I said “I am so sorry. It is so hard. I’ve been there.”
She looked surprised. “You’re a widow?” she asked.

“It’ll be ten years this summer. ”

I am out in the normal world, living my life, paging through magazines, getting a haircut. I am wearing a wedding ring. So is she. She also has a large men’s gold ring strung on a chain around her neck. I’ve been there, too.

We talked a little about the cancers that took our beloveds away. Then she asked me, “How long did it take?”
At first I thought she meant “How long did it take for him to die?”

Not a road I really felt like going down with a stranger on a sunny Saturday morning. But then I realized she meant “How long until you are over it? How long until you are “better”? ‘Til you are back to your old self?”

I did not know how to answer her. Whether it is kinder to lie or to tell the truth. But I don’t lie.

There is no over it. There is only assimilating it. There is no better. There is only different. There is no old self anymore, and she will not be back. She is just as gone as her husband is. Six weeks is SO, so early, and it will likely be a lot worse for a long, long time before there is a dim glimmer of “better”. Who wants to hear that? Who wants to say it?

My life is so very different now than it was ten years ago. It is so different from what it might have been. From the five year plan I used to have, back when I made such plans.

Hers will be too. She will need to find her tribe. She will need to learn to live alone again. She will need to teach herself to live at all. Maybe she will again be happy someday, however offensive the idea of happiness may seem to her right now. But is hard, hard work to get there, and some people don’t.

“Oh well, it is what it is,” she sighed, trying not to cry in public in front of a stranger. I opened my shirt to show her those dumb, banal, ironic words tattooed on my chest, the words with which I honored having survived the first grim horrible year. I did not explain the private joke between my terminally ill husband and me that induced my desire for such a tattoo. I did not tell her that when a friend remarked “But doesn’t it hurt to get a tattoo there, so close to the bone?” my answer was “Compared to what?”

She looked shocked to see the widow cliche´ right there in permanent ink. Our rallying cry. It is what it is. If we keep saying it long enough maybe we start to believe it.

Lady, I am so sorry you are here. You are among friends.

Posted by: carolyn / through a widow's eyes | March 17, 2019

“when you get too maudlin”

Are there Irish Handcuffs in Heaven? If there are, Bob Colby will be too pissed that there is indeed a heaven to report back to us here still on the other side.

Our friend Bob Colby died March 13. Bob had cancer, endured horrible treatment, worse side effects, myriad complications, then even more cancer, and died anyway. Fucking cancer don’t care. His sister Kathleen wrote that even while very ill, “he wanted his cable channels, his chair, his weed, and his beer. When he couldn’t enjoy those things, we knew it was time [for hospice]”, where he died a few days later surrounded by his family.

Bob was so smart, so funny, so well read, so opinionated. Anne Lamott’s advice for writers is: “Have one honest, tough, loving friend who will read and mark up your work for you, and bust you on your overwrought bullshit.” Bob Colby was mine. Bob was probably that for lots of people.

You know how to have a rich full life, people have home, have work, and have a third place? Bob is the reason I have my third place, the Brian Boru pub. Brian Boru is a true Irish pub, where all are welcome: along with visitations from the occasional dog or baby, bow-tied wealth managers and lawyers dressed for court clink glasses and talk politics, the stock market, or baseball with aging hippies in paint-spattered Carhartts and the rainbow coalition, the robust, notorious group to which I am proud to belong: The Women of Boru.

In 2011 I was still recently widowed and grieving, an empty-nester alone in the house, just barely starting to peer out from under that looming dark monolith to elicit tendrils of human interaction. I had gone to a funeral, the mom of school friends, and there reconnected with A and her partner, S. I knew they frequented the pub, and on the way home from work I would sometimes stop in, drift through the throngs to see if my friends were there. If so, I stayed to visit on the sunny brick patio. If not, I went on home for another night alone.

One evening I was floating anonymously through the happy hour hubbub of strangers, and some scruffy dude in a jean jacket and baseball hat said, “Hey, aren’t you S & A’s friend?” I allowed that I was. That dude was Bob Colby. He generously introduced me to the gang of regulars that are now my close compatriots and dearest friends. Bob and I started talking, a conversation that lasted the next several years. Bob had strong, expert opinions on many subjects. He was not shy to share his positions loudly and definitively, and if necessary, to debate them with such force of logic that minds were changed. Not his.

Bob Colby also introduced me to the man who would become my new husband. The night I met my future beloved, everyone I knew at the pub was discussing football. Everyone, that is, except my good friend Bob and a man I did not know. I could overhear them having a lively discussion about grammar, of all things. In particular, they were discussing the fine points of ending a sentence with a preposition – a folly up with which I will not put <— a line I lifted from Bob Colby, and I suppose, Winston Churchill. I am always happy to discuss grammar with anyone who will listen, and improper use of the propositional phrase is one of my favorite pet peeves. When editing my work I always go back through and take out half the prepositional phrases, and there are still too many. That night I cocked an ear, sidled up next to Bob, insinuated myself into their conversation, met David, and changed the course of my life.

Bob paid me the best compliment ever, when he commented on my wordy Facebook posts: “When it says Read More, I always click.” Then he ruined it by saying “Except when you get too maudlin.” He followed that with “I always read the whole thing, then decide if it is the M word.”

I looked up the definition to be sure. “Maudlin: self-pityingly or tearfully sentimental, often through drunkenness.” Which makes it ten times funnier that I was writing about our bar.

Maudlin:maud·lin/ˈmôdlən/adjective:
self-pityingly or tearfully sentimental, often through drunkenness.”the drink made her maudlin” synonyms: sentimental, over-sentimental, emotional, over-emotional, tearful, lachrymose; informal weepy “a bout of maudlin self-pity” — Google dictionary


Maudlin

It’s been a week more trying than most. It’s been a week of fear and pain and sadness and worry, and it’s not over yet. Last night I went down to my local watering hole for a taste of the milk of human kindness, and maybe just a wee dram of that 12 year old Irish whiskey that goes down so smooth and makes the world seem kinder than it is.

I go to the pub to see my friends, have a little spirited after-work conversation, some human contact before going home alone to the cat. I can drink at home – and have! – so when I go to the pub it’s for the people in it. I’m proud to be a regular, and not because of what’s being poured. I spoke just a sentence about my week, my family’s troubles. I was instantly enveloped in hugs. Kisses. Pats and rubs of back and shoulders. Followup texts in the night.

I counted afterwards, because that’s the kind of geek I am, and because it was so amazing to be cared for that way. I got fourteen hugs, from people who really meant it. Who GETS that, in the course of a day? There was more than one “I love you”, reassuring commentary from a nurse who knows, nose nuzzles, kisses on lips and cheeks and forehead, a bit of teasing. Kind questions from someone I dearly love, so kind I had to say “Don’t be so nice to me or I might cry.” He has seen this to be true, so he (kindly) refrained. A hug sandwich, with me in the middle, a girlfriend on either side holding me tight. Who would even ask for such a thing? And yet, I got it. What a gift. It changes the situation not at all, but it surely changes me.

Love and connection. That really is all there is. Scratch the surface of any one of these people and you’ll find their own stories of sadness and pain. There are stories I know and ones too private to share in any bar. Yet there they all were for me, giving the only thing they could, the only thing there is. I am so grateful. Maudlin, yet grateful.

Okay, Bob was right, that is maudlin. That’s what friends are for.

I had been trying unsuccessfully to summon up the courage to visit Bob in hospice. I know all too well it’s important to show up if you can. But every time I thought about it, I couldn’t stop crying, was waiting to feel stronger. Ha. That’s not what strong is. Strong is showing up anyway. For me, the later stages of Bob’s illness brought up a lot of emotions from the last few days and weeks of my late husband Jeff’s life, some of which was very precious, all of which was very, very hard. I had the nerve to text a friend all my supposed reasons I couldn’t go to visit Bob in hospice – many valid, to be sure, but also including, shamefully, “busy week”. It was a busy week, but no. No. We make time for the things that matter – the things we have to do or the things we want to do. The truth was, I wasn’t brave enough to go see Bob in time, and now it’s too late. That part doesn’t matter, or matters only to me; I’m in the outer periphery of Bob’s people. There are many who are more profoundly affected by his death. I don’t need a “sorry for your loss”. I just want to honor my friend by remembering him.

Now of course I regret not showing up to thank him, to talk about all this and more. He would have taunted me, called me maudlin. He would have been right. But there are worse things to be accused of.

You are well loved, Bob Colby. The day you died, we clinked in your honor a tall, clear, nut-brown pint that stood on the bar sweating and untouched. We all cried. All the friends you helped me make at the pub will mourn your loss, tell your stories, lift a glass. You will be long remembered here.

Rest easy, my friend. Or EASILY, as you would doubtless correct me.

 

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