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.

 

Posted by: carolyn / through a widow's eyes | February 25, 2019

never more gone

At a memoir writing workshop, we each (of course) had to go around the room and tell our story, why we were there.
Workshop teacher to me: “So your only child left home for college six weeks after your husband died? Do you ever write about that?”
Me: “Not really. It turns out people who are alive don’t necessarily like to be written
about.”’

 

Writing Prompt: The hard story you’re contemplating writing, that painful moment. Before or after – find something funny. Also look for a shift in perspective. Act of mercy? Diversionary detail? Write without editing yourself for 10 minutes.

He’s gone. He’s really gone. As unacceptable as this fact may be to his daughter and his widow, he stays gone – he’s not coming back. As a friend wryly notes about her own dearly departed husband: “Not only did he die, but then he had the nerve to stay dead.”
After all this time – nearly a decade – I am getting used to the idea that Jeff is really and truly dead, but he is never more gone, never further away than when Anna is moving. She’s moved dare I say dozens of times since he died: into and out of college dorm rooms, up and down countless flights of stairs. By now, years past college, she also has inhabited half a dozen apartments and houses. She and I are experts at this. To make it all fit we pack the car like the Tetris wizards we are.
We didn’t have this car when he was here.
For ten years we have carried her clothes her books her heavy boxes for kitchen and office up the winding staircase to the third floor in fall and down again in spring. We are a good team. We work well together. We are two grown women, strong and capable, practical and helpful. We make a verbal plan to tackle the project. We each hoist an end, watch the walls, carry her furniture through narrow doorways, around tight corners. Although she and I are a well-oiled machine, practiced at this task, I recall how her father and I would end up fighting, thin-lipped and grim-faced, every single time we had to move furniture, anything that required two people. He would assume his obviously correct unspoken plan was the same as mine – it never was. I’d be thinking right as he’d be going left. “Use your words,” I would helpfully hiss at him; he would only become more silent.
Capricorns!
I’ll never know how she did it (I could barely feed myself in those days), but somehow my fatherless girl had the successful first year of college under her belt. She was coming home for summer break that first hard year he was gone. We were emptying her dorm room,  loading the car to ferry Jeff’s girl and all her possessions back home. It was a glorious warm spring day, with those gentle pale greens of newly unfurled leaves, birds chirping and flitting in the pine trees outside her dorm, all fresh good smells in the soft June air. She had gone back inside for another armful. I was halfway inside the car trying to make something fit, flip-flopped feet widely planted in the rough gravel driveway. All at once, out of nowhere, I felt his presence there with me as clearly as if he had tapped me on the shoulder or called my name out loud. I shook my head to clear it, looked down at the pine needles on the ground. There between my feet was a heart shaped rock – among the first of the many hundreds I have found since then. Back then I didn’t know I would continue to find them all my days.
Anna the scientist is a skeptic – the natural world is indeed full of heart shaped rocks, shells, shadows, flowers, food. But sometimes their material, placement, or timing can seem like a message just for me. She worries for my sanity. I try to reassure her.
“Sweetheart, it’s not like I truly believe that Daddy is up in heaven pelting us with heart shaped objects.”
“You sure act like you do.”
After all these years, all these hearts, I have come to believe that the many, many hearts I find are perhaps a reward for being open, for paying attention, for slowing down enough to see. (All he ever wanted for me was to just. slow. down.)
It isn’t Anna’s heavenly Daddy sending daily Valentine missives.
There are those people who say “He is always with you.”
(It’s never anyone who has suffered a similar loss who presumes to say such things.)
To those people my answer is always
Maybe in your world this is true. In my world, he is no help at all when it is time to lug his baby’s stuff up and down the stairs.
Posted by: carolyn / through a widow's eyes | December 24, 2018

big black truck

Yesterday, out of the blue, I got a private message from S, a local woman I know only a little. As is so typical in a town this size, we have known each other for years, have many friends in common, have gone to the same parties, worked or hung out in the same local dives. We are friendly but not exactly friends. Because of S, her partner M bought my husband Jeff’s truck from me when I was selling it after Jeff died. Jeff died in 2009, coming up on ten long years ago. Several lifetimes ago.

I probably sold the truck a year or so after he died – as you may know, in deep grief, details escape, become fuzzy, morph, or disappear altogether. I barely remember those early days except for what I wrote down at the time, and even so I can read my old journal entries and think, That poor family! How terrible! The base details of his illness, the tragic circumstances, the peripheral damage! That poor man, that poor woman, their poor child! How can the loved ones left behind ever survive a cut so deep? Yet somehow, eventually, maybe we do.

Perhaps mercifully, lots of memories from those days are lost. But I remember pulling into our driveway many, many times in those early days, seeing that big black truck, and thinking, “Yay, he’s home!”

He wasn’t home.

I’m sure I have told the story of the day a year or so after Jeff died. I had finally sold the truck; it was gone from the driveway. I was in our yard with our  (Jeff’s) dog Wilbur when he took off running joyfully across the yard towards our neighbor, who had just driven into his driveway. This was so unlike Wilbur; he was quite accustomed to the neighbor. But that day the neighbor was driving, instead of his little beige sedan, a big black truck like Jeff’s. Oh man.

That big black truck was an albatross around my neck for a long time. It was way too big for me, a beast on gas mileage, intimidating to drive, impossible to park, had expensive mechanical issues that I was too poor and broken to address. I was happy (?) when it finally left my driveway. The paltry sum I got for it came in very handy in those days when I was too debilitated to work. I used to see the (unmistakable) truck around town afterwards sometimes – weirdly, I often saw it at uncanny times, like when our song was playing on the radio or when I was already driving around crying, or –well, you know, like that. It was years before I could see it parked somewhere and not think, Huh, what is Jeff doing at Buckdancer’s?

Oh, right. It wasn’t Jeff.

So, anyway, what is my acquaintance sending me out of the blue? It is a link to her her beloved M’s obituary. He died this week following “a short illness”. I am not close enough with S to know any more details, although perhaps I will learn them eventually. He was only 59, about the same age as Jeff when he had to go, to leave his beloved, devastate his offspring, implode his family.

Now S is in the very early days as she starts down this dark road some of us know so well and wish on no one. There aren’t any words even the most gifted wordsmith could craft as a ladder to rescue her from this black hole. Her friends gather around her helplessly to mourn M and all that has been lost. They may not yet know that she will never be the same. The old S is gone as surely as is her beloved. Now it is her job to unload that truck. That detail destroys me.

Please let it help me remember how it feels to be where she is now.
Please let it help me be kind.

Posted by: carolyn / through a widow's eyes | July 13, 2018

beautiful hot perfect summer day

Posted by: carolyn / through a widow's eyes | April 11, 2018

trigger warning, present tense

My husband Jeff is unwell. For weeks or months or years, I can’t remember; it seems he has always been exhausted, lethargic, snappish, unable to work much, unwilling to rally for family events. I know this isn’t true, it hasn’t always been forever, but sometimes it feels like it.
He gets a bad cold and it lasts all winter. When I can’t find him he is always asleep, dozing in a chair somewhere, head hanging, mouth agape, hands open by his sides, a pose of utter weariness. His symptoms are vague and intermittent. We suspect a food allergy, a lingering infection, a vitamin deficiency. The tasks he used to take upon himself are somehow now mine. The chores he used to do go undone, or done poorly, or halfway. I am tired of it. I secretly feel that he is malingering, settling comfortably into a world in which I do all the work. I work all day, come home and work some more. I am a beast of burden, pulling a dead weight up a lonely hill, earning all the money, doing almost all the labor of family and home and marriage. He doesn’t even seem to notice, let alone appreciate my efforts.
He is older than I am and tells me I am unsympathetic to his simple age-related fatigue. It is true; I am unsympathetic. I am bitchy, mean to him. Snide remarks spring unbidden to my lips, into his ears. I can’t unsay them. I am so tired and annoyed I don’t care. He doesn’t seem to care either. He just turns away and closes his eyes, unwilling to engage, eager for rest, for silence, for oblivion.
I feel he is in a small boat, untethered, drifting out into a still, foggy sea, ebbing away from me. He can’t or won’t make the effort to come back; I can’t reach him to pull him closer to me, back to the shore of our life.
Finally he has agreed to see a doctor. There has been blood work, an ultrasound, a tentative, unclear diagnosis of “lesions”. I look up “lesions” on the internet and see that there are dozens of possible causes, most of which are unremarkable. All we have to do now is get a clear diagnosis, figure out a plan, get some treatment, antibiotics or probiotics or vitamins or SOMETHING, and I will get my husband back. Maybe I will forgive him for being such a negligent slacker. Maybe he will forgive me for being such an unrelenting bitch.
I am with Jeff at the hospital. A CT scan is ordered to look more closely at what the ultrasound has revealed. The doctor has sent him to the ER because it is a fast way to get a CT scan instead of scheduling it weeks out. We have been here for many hours. We have spent the day paging idly through magazines in waiting rooms, more bored than concerned. He dozes on the gurney; I click through channels on the television.
It is getting late. Our daughter, a high school junior, is at some school thing, a play rehearsal or a meeting. She doesn’t know we are here. I want to call my mom and ask her to pick up the kid at school so I can stay with Jeff at the hospital until we get the results of the scan. He does not want to alarm our girl by changing her routine. (This is so Jeff! He does cherish routine, so much more than I do.)
I leave him alone in the small, uncomfortable curtained cubicle with the buzzing flickering florescent light. I pick up Anna at school, drive home with her, and wait. Jeff is alone when he gets the news.
It is after ten.
I am still waiting for his call.
Finally it comes.
I say “What’s up?”
He is oddly reticent.
On the way home he doesn’t want to discuss it. I think this means it is an simple fix, not worth a long discussion. What it really means is he wants to say it only once.
We drive home silently through quiet streets. Clutching the cold steering wheel with both hands, I glance sideways at him, trying to intuit his thoughts through sheer marital osmosis. His eyes shine in the dark car cocoon, inscrutable, staring straight ahead. The white streetlights, the green and red traffic lights reflect in his eyes, scroll over his big glasses. He never speaks until he has fully prepared what he wants to say. He has been my best friend for thirty years, my husband for nearly twenty; I am used to this. I know better than to push him: it annoys us both and it does not work.
At home, Anna is doing homework upstairs in her room. He calls her downstairs, gathers us in the family room. Anna and I are on the couch, Jeff is in the walnut rocking chair, facing us.

“Well, they found out what is wrong with me.”

I lean toward him, hands on my knees, smile encouragingly.
He speaks flatly, no expression in his voice or on his face.

“I have cancer.
Colon. Liver. Lungs.”

Anna starts to cry. Jeff starts to cry. I cover my gaping mouth with both hands like some parody of a woman receiving terrible news. Even my alter ego Worst Case Scenario Girl has not considered this outcome.

Anna immediately, instinctively, silently goes to her father in the rocking chair, climbs into his lap, curls up like a tiny kitten there even though she is already 5’10”. She is big; he is bigger. She nestles herself into a ball on his lap, rests her head on his wide flat chest. She draws her strong sturdy athlete’s legs up into his lap like a toddler would, but her long legs spill over the arms of the chair. Her bare feet graze the floor. His big hands hold her close. They rock together.

All three of us are crying. We cry for hours, we cry all night, we cry forever. It doesn’t help. It changes nothing. Finally we go to bed because what else is there to do. I suppose eventually we sleep.

Years later, I can’t remember my own phone number or what I came into the room for, but this night I remember vividly, all of it.

Jeff has been gone almost nine years now.
Our girl is a grown woman now.
He would be so proud of all she has done, who she has become.
(He knew it all along.)
I have taught myself how to be mostly happy now.
He would be proud of that, too.

I like to think we forgave each other for our human frailties, our imperfections.

This night is always right close by.
It never goes away.
It is all still present tense.

Posted by: carolyn / through a widow's eyes | November 26, 2017

“Goodbye, baby.”

For better or for worse, holidays do have a way of bringing back memories of holidays gone by, throwing those memories into stark relief. Joy and love hold hands with loss as we think of those moved on from here, whether they left long ago or yesterday.
A while back, my mother and I were discussing the birthday of her youngest granddaughter, my smallest niece. Neither one of us was quite sure of the date. Mom said, “Well, it’s no wonder I can’t remember the date. It was such an odd fall that year. Your father was hanging around…”
My father had been in declining health for many years. His grandchildren never knew him hale and healthy, if they knew him at all. In September of 2005, his last year, he had an alarming “episode” – an emergency room visit followed all too swiftly by a stunning recommendation for home hospice care. He was brought home from the hospital on a stretcher, carried into the house and placed onto a rented hospital bed in his Chinese red-painted study lined with jammed, sturdy built-in bookshelves. He curled up under a thin blanket, facing the wall. We all, himself included, prepared for him to die. Except he didn’t.
Some days later he sat up, blearily blinked at all his nurses and somber-faced well-wishers, and asked for a bacon sandwich on buttered white toast. A few days after that he was walking, talking, and advising us on all the usual subjects. The hundred foot plastic tube that tethered him to an oxygen generator did not limit his ability to make terrible puns, or gleefully tell dreadful shaggy-dog stories to the unsuspecting. These lifelong occupations of his agile mind became even more prevalent as his body atrophied.
My brother and his wife were expecting a baby to be born late that October. My mother recalls my dad wistfully wondering if he would be able to live long enough to know if the baby was a boy or a girl. The baby came, a sweet little girl with rosebud lips and a shock of dark hair.
My father decided that since he had already lived longer than anyone expected, he would like to continue to live long enough to meet this baby. Several weeks after the baby’s birth, the family gathered at my parents’ home for Thanksgiving. We had a lovely long weekend full of family, love, and laughter. Hospice be damned. Sunday afternoon came, and it was time to take that baby back home, hours away. Her grandfather held the new baby while her parents gathered up all the baby gear and loaded the car. Her grandfather was overheard to say, ever so softly, while chucking the infant under her tiny chin, looking deep into her dark eyes, “Goodbye, baby”.
Dad was tired from all the commotion. The days after Thanksgiving were hard for him. He rested all that week, a gentle slow decline. He barely gave me any advice at all, that week! He did tell me he was proud of me. I told him I was proud of him, too.
He died the following Tuesday. My father was hanging around. Then he wasn’t. Thanksgivings aren’t the same now. Says everyone, always. Our family has grown and shrunk, morphed, as families do. Members have been added and subtracted. Memories keep piling up, as they are wont to do.
The baby is pretty great, though. She only met her grandfather that one time. She is twelve now, a skilled gymnast. She spent Thanksgiving weekend with us again this year, quietly doing complicated flips in the living room, landing gently as a cat.
Dad, son of a Presbyterian minister, wrote a blessing for our Thanksgiving that last year. He recited it at the dinner table to all those assembled. While cleaning out his closet a few weeks after his death, we found the notes for it in his jacket pocket.
(Aaannd cleaning out the closet was abruptly over for that day.)
I don’t always say it out loud, but every year, near Thanksgiving, I always breathe it softly to myself, as many times as necessary.
“Fill our hearts with thankfulness;
fill our souls with grace.
Smile on our celebrations,
and then bless us on our way.”
Thanks for everything, Dad. Thanks for “hanging around”. Thanks for your legacy. Although you dearly loved your toys, your tools, you taught us that the best things in life aren’t things. Goodbye, baby.

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