Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Death double-dips

I arrived at the widow board today to learn that we'd lost one of our own, a new widow.  It is not clear whether it was a suicide, broken heart syndrome, or she just went to bed and refused to get out again.  I remember that last option seeming so appealing in those early days, seeing as the first option was impossible to me, and the second seemingly wasn't going to happen.  But I had E; I had no choice but to heal, though I remember telling E that should he leave me widowed again, that's what I would do:  crawl into bed and never get out again.  I figured that fatal dehydration probably wouldn't take more than a week.  I hurt so terribly that I was sure I couldn't survive it happening again, because I wasn't sure at that time that I'd survive it the first time.

Obviously, I have, and now I'm not so certain about the fatality of a second widowhood.  Would it damage me incredibly?  Without question.  Would it kill me?  I don't know now.  I would just as soon never find out.

I have been thinking about this poor dead widow all day, and I find myself angry at her for some reason.  I know she was in terrible pain.  I know she said she wanted to die.  I've felt that pain myself, and I feel for her.  Lots of widows say they want to die, and every time they do, I wince.  I wince for the survivors of suicide who have to read that.  I wince for all those other widows who may be too close to the edge already and are just waiting for that kind of reinforcement to check themselves out of this life.  It always seems irresponsible to me, like yelling "Fire!" in a crowded theatre.

Honestly, I'm really not sure what my objection is to suicide, active or passive.  I don't believe there's a hell she'll go to for it.  I do believe that we come to this life with free will, and that we have the right to exercise that free will even in how long we choose to be here.  So on principal, I don't believe that people should force themselves to live through crushing pain, physical or mental.  And yet it still seems so very wrong to me.  Is it cultural conditioning that says that giving up is not an option that is so deeply ingrained in me?  Or is it something more petty:  if the rest of us have to stay here and fight it out, why does she get to choose the "get out of jail free" card?  Is that why it bothers me?  That if I had been widowed and left with no one who loved and relied on me, I would've done the same?  Is she my living (and now dead) shadow that I'm forced to confront?  I don't know; I just know how I feel. 

And yet how can I be angry at someone who hurt so bad, and was hopeless?  How can I expect the hopeless to have faith that there is reason to hope?  That's not even logical.  I guess it's because I really don't believe that people who will themselves dead really want to be dead.  What they want is for the pain to stop, and to be with their loved one like they used to be.  I understand that, and the pain will stop (mostly).  But there is no cure for death; their loved one can't come back the way it was.  And there's no getting around that.  What hope do we really have to offer to new widows, then?  Life will get better, you will get stronger, but some days you're still going to cry out of the blue, and that's how it is?  How is that going to lift anyone up?  I know a lot of widows who have learned to enjoy life again, to be happy.  I'd like to think I AM one of those widows.  But I have to say, I've yet to meet one who is just ecstatic about life.  All of us have that quiet knowing behind our eyes that can be seen by any pair of eyes who shares it.  Is a "pretty good" life all we have to offer each other?  Is that enough to make the difference for a person on the edge?

She had no children, but she had other family, and they will now have to feel that horrible, soul-gutting pain, and I am sad for them as much as for her.  I am sorry she couldn't hold on long enough to find a tiny shred of hope that this would get better.  And I am sorry that I know that the widow road is such that there are few enough shreds for even us veterans to offer her; even those of us who know life gets better still struggle.

I worry for the other noobs, too.  My hope is that this death will shake them out of their death wish; my fear is that it will make that death wish seem slightly more reasonable.  And I can't really think of anything to dissuade them, other than "You shouldn't."  If I am asked why, I've got nothin'.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Swiss cheese

As part of our Christmas weekend, E and I decided to rewatch all of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. (Last year it was the LOTR trilogy.) We watched the first one Christmas night, and the last two last night. We had originally seen them all in the theatre. As the second film began and played on, I kept thinking, "I don't remember any of this." There were minor bits and pieces that seemed vaguely familiar, but overall, it was as if I'd never seen the film before.

Only I had. I had seen it the afternoon of July 16, 2006. It was a Sunday afternoon. The Sunday afternoon after the Saturday I didn't hear from A all day, and he missed our chat time. The Sunday afternoon after the morning where I called him again and again, and didn't get ahold of him, nor did he answer my e-mails. The Sunday afternoon after I'd called his apartment complex office and asked them to check for his truck, or knock on his door, and they refused to help me. The Sunday afternoon I was frantic, but still had a tiny bit of hope that maybe he'd been in some kind of accident and wasn't yet able to contact me. So E asked if I wanted to go to a movie to try and distract myself from my increasing panic, and we went to see POTC: Dead Man's Chest (until just now I didn't appreciate the foreshadowing, and I have to say, I don't much like it), and I left my phone on in case A called. When the phone rang, I was overcome with relief as I sprinted out into the lobby, only to see that it was my cousin calling me. My heart sank. She wanted to talk to me about her wedding a month hence, and I told her I was in the middle of a movie and would call her back. I didn't really care about the movie; I wanted the line open in case A called.

I think that was then I really started to suspect the worst. I was upset, and E was angry at A for being so inconsiderate and putting me through this. I told him A was never inconsiderate, and that this was bad. Really bad. Despite that feeling, I still waited for A to show up on chat that night, as always. He didn't show, and as I went to bed that night, I knew that as bad as that day had been, tomorrow was going to be worse. Tomorrow I was going to have to put our emergency plan into action and contact his family, who had no idea who I was. Tomorrow would be the day I called the police to check on him. Tomorrow would be the day my life changed forever.

Given the panic I was in during the film, and the daze I was in once "tomorrow" became "today," I guess it's not surprising that I would've blocked out that movie. But I didn't know until almost 3 1/2 years later that that had happened. It is so weird, this onion I am peeling. What else have I forgotten that I've forgotten?

Monday, December 21, 2009

Reading is dangerous

I've been trying to limit my computer usage when I'm not at work so that I don't cripple myself right into unemployment, so I've been reading a lot more lately, curling up with the dogs and a hot drink by the glow of the Christmas tree. I'm afraid literacy has been kind of tough on me lately, though. I was given a book as an early Christmas gift by a friend, so I decided to start that one immediately the next night. It's a wonderfully written book that kept me turning pages; however, it's also a book that not only has a dead spouse, but also a dead dog. Awesome!

I love the friend who gave it to me, and I know she loved the book herself, but more than once since I finished it, I've had to wonder what she was thinking. I mean, honestly.

As hard as the book was to finish, and as hard as I cried at the end for my little dog who died nine months after A did, that wasn't really the remarkable moment for me.

Rather, that was the point late in the book where I turned the page and at the top of the next was my sweetie's name, shared by a minor character in the book who was never to be mentioned again after that. But it kind of stopped me in my tracks. I couldn't stop staring at those five letters, though I wasn't aware of it until I shook myself out of my reverie, kind of stunned that it had that effect on me. And my eyes kept drifting back to his name as I finished that page, the next, and even after I turned the page I found myself flipping back to it. I'd been hypnotized, it seemed.

I think it was because I was desperately thirsty to have someone say his name other than I. I mention him daily, I'm sure--I don't keep track, but his name crops up in a thousand stories or experiences. But I am the only one in my life who speaks of him by name, who tells those stories, because, his family and friends having drifted away, I am the only one who has stories of him. And he will never write his name on a post-it note and send it to me again.

Obviously, the author didn't know my A. The writer didn't put that there for me, but nevertheless, I drank my fill of A's name on the page as if he had, reading and rereading it, as if it were some kind of marker that he was here. I have no other. I have the carpet of ferns that cover the floor of the redwood forest where his ashes were scattered by others, and the rain there that mixed with my tears, and the fallen tree burgeoning with a million other lifeforms that I tried very hard to make a symbol for my fallen self, a reminder that much life comes from death...all life, really.

I don't need a gravestone. I don't need his family and friends who have gone on without me, forcing me to do likewise. But I didn't know until that very moment how much I needed to hear and see his name, not his pseudonym, not even the nickname I called him out of love. But him before he even knew me; him as a living, breathing person who walked this earth and mattered in his own right.

It's funny, how I can still be surprised at how grief works on me, and through me, and I through it. Just when you think you've seen it all, you find out otherwise.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

No Escape

**Spoiler Alert**  If you're planning to read or watch Nights in Rodanthe, you probably don't want to read this post.
I've been trying to slog my way through this book for a few weeks now, and it's not been going well.  It's a fascinating topic, but the writing is so dense and so heavy on 50-cent words that one needs a machete to get through it.  I'm not averse to a challenging non-fiction book, but when a book is good, you can't bear to put it down.  This one, I can't bear to pick it up. 
I tend to buy and read a lot of non-fiction, so when I went to my "unread book" shelf (okay, shelves,) to find something a little easier, a little lighter, something I could breeze through, there wasn't much.  And then I found Nights in Rodanthe, a book given to me by a friend who had developed an allergy and was divesting herself of all her paper books.  It's probably been in my possession for several years now, maybe even pre-widowhood.  All I knew about the book was that it was a romance novel, and that they'd made a movie of it.
A few pages into it, and I already knew it was typical romantic schmaltz that is a lot like potato chips:  no nutritional value, but you can't stop eating them.  It wasn't much further, though, when it became clear that the daughter of the main female character, Adrienne, had been recently widowed and, after 8 months, was "still" a wreck, and not adequately taking care of her kids, by the lights of the rest of the family.  So mother invites the daughter over for a come-to-Jesus meeting, opens a bottle of wine, and tells her daughter of a weekend romance she had once upon a time with an older man, Paul, with whom she found the true love she always dreamed of and never thought she'd have.  He feels the same, of course, but has some unfinished business with his son in Ecuador that he has to deal with, and he vows that he will return to her in a year.
I was seated in my recliner in the library last night, reading and planning to finish the book before bedtime.  The Christmas tree was lit, the pine-scented candle, too, and I had Christmas tunes playing.  I had a lapful of dogs; all three of them were snuggled in as I read, keeping me warm.  It all struck me as perfect, and I stopped to take it all in and appreciate it.  I was, in that moment, really and truly content, and counting my blessings.  I marveled that I felt that way; I remain amazed that those moments are even possible for me.  I cannot quantify the amount of healing that has taken place to allow me to have them, but I know it's staggering, because I remember how desperate and empty I felt.  How did I get from there to here?  I couldn't tell you, honestly.  I meet such moments with grateful surprise.
I can't say exactly when I knew this romance novel would have an unhappy ending.  Maybe around p.180 it occurred to me that there weren't enough pages in this relatively slim volume to have one, and the clues had started to add up.  As I got closer and closer to the end, it became clearer and clearer that Paul was not going to make it back after a year, and that, in fact, he wasn't going to make it back at all.
My perfect moment of contentedness kind of fell apart when he died, heroically (natch).  Against my will and intent, I could feel my face start to crumple in that tearless pre-crying stage, until the page blurred in front of my eyes.  An older man.  An unexpected, whirlwind romance that packed so much feeling into a short time.  A connection like none other.  And a widowhood she went through silently, because she couldn't share it with anyone.
Let's just say, I could relate.
It didn't really wreck my night; it just made me pensive, at least once I dried my eyes and blew my nose.  I am no longer surprised or much derailed by my tears; they come easily and go quickly now; I may have reached professional cryer status.  But I had to laugh, chagrined that my efforts to find something light, fun, and entertaining on my bookshelf were not only completely thwarted, but thwarted by unexpected widows.  I read their story, but I feel my own.  Even when you think you're avoiding the tiger pit of grief, even when you think you're being careful, you can misjudge.
I am put in mind of the archetypal little old Sicilian widows who wear black for the rest of their lives.  I suppose until just now, I always imagined them with pity as professional widows, defined by their loss, souls buried with their husbands though their bodies continue with the business of living.  But perhaps their apparel is there as a visual reminder to everyone else that they are, and will remain, different.  Losing a great love changes you on a fundamental level, and I think it may be in the unprecedented empathy (for better and worse) you can access now that you've been ripped open, flayed alive, and put back together slowly and painfully by your own cold, fumbling hands.  When you lose a partner and live, eat, and breathe with Death at your side for an extended period, you gain a knowing of the kind ascribed to mystics who understand things on a totally different level.  I could never explain what I mean to someone who has not been there.  And I would never have to explain to those who have.  I cannot count the number of times I have wished that I was oblivious, that I didn't know what I'm talking about, that crappy romance novels couldn't reach into my history, grab my heart, and wring it out.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

It's not him, it's me

I was brushing my teeth the other night, and thinking about A, and how much I wish I could share with him, how much he's missing in my life. And then I thought, "he isn't missing anything." That's my belief—that he knows what he needs/wants to know about what I'm up to.

I'M the one who's missing out, on him, and what he's doing. I'm missing out on the events of his life, his stories, his adventures, some of which I would've been sharing if he were here rather than wherever he is. I don't get any hints. No postcards. Right or not, I feel sorrier for me than for him. He was such a great person. I am missing out big.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Double-edged Swords

As I mentioned in a previous post, I kind of started going downhill in October. I thought maybe it was grief, or a true, clinical depression. A chance encounter with an internet article made me reevaluate, and my current self-diagnosis is actually Seasonal Affective Disorder, appropriately acronymed as S.A.D. I know I'm prone to seasonal depression. Have been for years, and moving to the sunny desert made such a difference in my life, which only confirmed it. My mom has it. My cousin has it. I've even blogged about it elsewhere, years ago. I posted how I was always vigilant about it come fall, and A sent me a sweet note telling me that he would've never guessed that bubbly ol' me would ever have a problem with periodic depression. He vowed he would do all he could to help me avoid the darkness, and I have to admit, he did a damn fine job of it.

That is, until he died.

And that's the complicating factor. It didn't even occur to me that S.A.D. was what was going on with me, because for the last 3 autumns, grief HAS been the overriding emotional theme. I really didn't wonder why I felt down, depressed, wanting to hide out and avoid the world. I knew, clear as day. I was grieving, and I was taking my own not-so-sweet time about it. So when the shadows crept into my life this fall, I had long since forgotten about S.A.D., because it never had a chance against the other emotional darkness I was grappling with. When I figured it out, it was kind of a slap-your-head realization: Oh. Of course.

I've been making a point to sit out in the sun at lunch every day since (with the exception of yesterday, when it was dark and cold), and stripping down to minimal decency to work on my Vitamin D production out in the sun, and I am pleased to find that it seems to be helping. I have felt less hopeless, and have had an easier time prying myself out of my bed each morning. And I can see what else is going on with me now that the fog has lifted a bit.

I realized lately that I haven't really had much to say, to think, to do about A's absence. There hasn't been a lot of grief. There hasn't been a lot of self-talk, which is odd for me--my head is a busy place most of the time. At most, there's kind of been a regular acknowledgment that he is not far from my thoughts, but no actual thinking about him in many cases. It doesn't feel like there's nothing there, though--it feels like it's locked behind a door, and I'm not opening it. Like I'm pretending it's not there, even though I know it is. I feel like I'm holding him, and his constant absence, at arm's length. Maybe because there's nothing I can do about it. Maybe because I've done all I can. Maybe because it seems futile to gnaw on it anymore. I feel like I'm self-protecting by not engaging in those thoughts. Maybe because they are so bittersweet. The bad memories of when he died and the aftermath of that make me sick to my stomach. The wonderful memories make me cry. So, 3 1/2 years out, I'm finally practicing active denial. Awesome!

I don't really like it; it feels like I'm being fake with myself, somehow. But as I've advised others, a person's got to feel what they feel when they feel it; grief has its own wisdom, and the wise griever just follows it, trusting it'll take her where she needs to be. Ah, if only I would attend my own lectures.

I realized the other day, as I was busily decorating for Christmas and wrapping gifts, that this Christmas, my 4th without A, I haven't stumbled across a gift for him yet. The last 3 years--or maybe just 2; I really can't remember that first year so well--something in a catalog has presented itself to me as the perfect gift for him, and I cut out the picture and put it in my journal to "give" it to him. It satisfied that urge. But this year, it hasn't happened yet. So I guess I don't need to do that anymore? Or this year, anyway. So many of these survival rituals I put into place, only to slowly let go of them over time. And every time I do, I am sad to be letting something else go, while at the same time recognizing that it heralds healing, and should be celebrated. But I never really feel like celebrating it. It's more of, "Well, I suppose that's a good thing. Carry on."

I miss him. But I'm tired of missing him, I think. It's exhausting, and made more so by the fact that there's no relief in sight. I will miss him until I die, which could be a very long time from now. I can't always deal with that truth, so I just am setting it aside, even though I'm not really. I'm watching the scary movie of my own mind through my fingers--not watching, but still looking.

Friday, November 20, 2009


So my parents are coming into town tomorrow, which means that sometime before I leave to pick them up at the airport, I have to put away some of my pictures of A.  I have a lot in my office, and one on the dresser in our bedroom.  E's never said a word about them, and I'm grateful that he understands that I need them, even if he doesn't understand why I have to have so damn many.  (He may not have ever given it a second thought, but I wonder sometimes.  I try to avoid crossing the line of "too much A," much as I did when he was alive, and I did the same with A in regards to E.  E is understanding and supportive, but I have no desire to abuse that understanding and support through insensitivity.)  I had a single picture of A in the house when he was alive, but after he died and we couldn't chat every night on webcams, I still needed to see him, and suddenly, I had a bunch of pictures of him framed and displayed.  There are the 3 pictures amongst the guitars, the one on what amounts to an altar, the one with my family pictures in my photoscreen, the 3 little ones on my desk, and 3 more on a picture rail across the room, and then there's the digital frame, when it's on, though that one includes pictures of E as well, and all the dogs.
It is enough pictures to make anyone wonder.  Why so many pictures of one man in one room?  Why so many pictures of a man who is not E?  I don't want to have to answer those kinds of questions, even unspoken, so I will put away about 6 of them in the office, and maybe the one in the bedroom, as I did the last time they visited.  I resent doing it, and I feel disloyal to A doing it.  But I tell myself I'm doing it in anticipatory self-defense, and that A never had a picture of me up anywhere in his apartment or office.  That he wouldn't disapprove of me doing what I feel I have to do to keep my own peace, because he did the same.  I wonder sometimes if he wishes he'd gone another way.  Would it have made this easier?  Or just hard in a different way?  I suspect the latter, honestly.  But maybe we would've felt braver in our honesty, and that would've made up for it.
When new people come over to my house, I always ask myself if I should put some of the photos away, for the same reasons I put them away when my family comes.  I don't generally bother, counting on people's hoped-for manners keeping them from giving voice to whatever nosy questions that they might be thinking.  I can't blame people for being curious; I am curious about a lot of things, too.  But if they're rude enough to to interrogate me about it, then they'll get whatever answer I feel like giving them at the moment.  So far it hasn't been a problem, fortunately.
But family, at least my family, is rarely bound by such conventions, so best to avoid encouraging them to ask questions they really don't want the answers to.  And at this point, I am long over the fantasy that sharing the details of the death of a loved one is likely to lead to great support and greater closeness with anyone other than other widows.  People get bored with it so fast as it is.
For the most part, it doesn't come up anymore.  Everyone who needs to know does.  The people I worried most about telling, I'm no longer in contact with.  But still, I have to keep this secret, and I hate it as much now as I ever did.  It's the practical thing to do, of course, when you don't know how someone's going to react (or you do, and you know it won't be good).  It was practical of me to stop hoping his family would be kinder than they were.  It was practical of me to stop reading his horoscope.  It was practical of me not to go to camp only for sentimental reasons related to him.  I am practical, but I'm not practical enough to feel these things as actions that don't really matter, that don't really comment on how I truly feel about A and how he felt about me, and that they are simply actions taken to minimize potential problems.  Not and believe it, anyway.  I get it in my head, which is why I do it.  But my heart doesn't like it.  So often, being practical seems like a betrayal of my own soul.  A small and temporary one, but they add up nonetheless.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Excuse me while I ramble

It is my 38th birthday today, and I couldn't be less interested. I mean, it's a given that birthdays stop being the big deal they once were starting at about 25. You get to a certain point, and nothing new happens just because you get older; or rather, nothing new that's good happens; nobody really looks forward to aching bones and menopause and death. But this is different. Deeper. Approaching this week, I thought of a hundred things I had to do, and kept forgetting that my birthday fell among them. It wasn't important and I didn't care.

I'm not in a good place, and I haven't been for about 2 weeks. I have no idea if it's related to this birthday (though I don't generally have birthday/aging angst), to grief, to life, to Seasonal Affective Disorder, to the physical pain I again find myself in more often than not, or perhaps just plain old depression. Of these, the latter scares me most, because I've been there and done that, and it was pure misery. Maybe it's all of the above, or none.

But I don't know what's going on with me. I don't know why I am exhausted, and yet am having a hard time falling asleep. Why all I want to do is watch TV and not think, because thinking only has me mentally running in circles. I am seized by a cold apathy, and I just don't give a damn. About anything. I had a birthday dinner with friends last night, and basically faked my way through it (because it was too late to cancel it and stay home and eat a peanut butter sandwich, which is what I wanted to do). I don't want to talk to anyone, and spend a lot of time just staring into space. I have even less motivation to get my tasks done at work than usual, which is to say, my motivation can only be detected by electron microscope at the moment. At best right now, I'm going through the motions. All of them. The only time I feel at peace is when I'm curled up in my beanbag and a blanket, watching TV. I prefer watching other people's fake lives to living my own. I keep waiting for someone to notice, to notice my dropped hints, to hug me, and ask me what's wrong. But it doesn't happen. And I don't know what I would say even if they did.

It's not the numbness or emptiness I felt in the early days of widowhood. It's kind of a resignation that this is it. This is life, and I've lost hope that if any surprises remain, they're likely to be good ones. It's an overwhelming neutrality, a giant shrug and sigh, but instead of feeling the joy the Zen monks do of accepting that things are exactly as they should be, my acceptance of that merely leaves me asking, "Got it. Now what am I supposed to do with all my free time?"

I am not feeling any overt grief, nothing that I can identify as having set me off, but I am irritable as hell, and there are only two reasons I get like that: PMS and grief, and I am definitely not PMSing. The trigger and target for my irritability is most often E, and it's been pretty difficult for us lately. And as much as I hate to admit it, sometimes I think I get double-angry at something he does because a) he did it, and b) A would've never done such a thing.

Now, I never lived with A, and intellectually, I know that if we had lived together, day in, day out, irritating things would've cropped up between him and me, too. That's how it is. But the reality is that we didn't, and we never had to deal with that dynamic. I'm not romanticizing the relationship overmuch; that's how it was. He and I never bickered. That's how it is when love is new. I totally get that it's an unfair comparison, but it's there, nonetheless.

Maybe it IS the birthday. Maybe it's because now there are 17 years between me and my sweetie, instead of the 20 there should be. Maybe it's because when I met him, I was 32 years old and I felt young and invincible, so young that sometimes I felt like a big dork and wondered why he'd put up with me, and now 6 years have passed and I don't feel young. Not at all. My friends, so many of them older than I, mock me when I comment on how old I feel, like I'm being overdramatic. But I'm not; I feel ancient and weary in my soul. I understand what "world-weary" means, and I am there. I look at the future, and all I can see is me slogging through it day after day. Sheer endurance trial.

I have achieved every dream I ever had, and I don't know how to dream up any new ones. And I don't know how to protect my wonder from the mundane erosion of days and weeks and years. I can still see the things that have inspired me. I can see the love that surrounds me. But it's not getting in; it's not touching me; it's not setting anything aflame within me. I've got a big ol' "that's nice dear" to offer the world right now, and not much else.

God, I need something really good to happen. I need it like air.

Thursday, November 12, 2009


I got my flyer for guitar camp in the mail today. Ordinarily by this time I would've had mine filled out, sent in, and my flight reservation made, but B and I decided after last year that if the camp were held in the usual venue, we wouldn't be going. Camp is held in Northern California in an antiquated farmhouse that is so cold that you can see your breath indoors, thanks to a single inadequate woodstove meant to heat the whole place. There is also something in the house, some combination of age and the ever-present dampness, that has made the place into a sick building. Several of us suffered severe allergy attacks last year, including myself, and it was bad enough that a couple people actually had to leave.

The place was quaint the first and third year; the second year I spent cozied up in a B&B in town with A. The fourth year camp was cancelled, and B and I were comfortably ensconced in a hotel in The City, and last year, though I loved camp and my fellow campers, I was really over the quaint, and the cold, and the tricky toilets, and the allergies.

But although our presence at camp was debated between us, I really wasn't ready to NOT go last year. I wasn't ready to NOT make that pilgrimage to the roads A and I had wandered together. I wasn't ready to give up my only reason for going to northern California anymore. I'm not sure I'm ready now, but I do know, at least, that practical considerations are outweighing the nostalgia. All told, it costs me about a grand to make the trip. I don't want to spend that kind of money to find myself wheezing and freezing.

I knew before I left last year that was the case, and I made a point to say my goodbyes to the place. B was a dear, and walked through all the shops A and I had peeked into, and ate at the restaurant he'd said was good with me. Some places I had to do on my own, like the B&B. I can still remember how the rain sounded on the street outside our window as we cuddled in the yellow flannel sheets.

There are ghosts of memory there, and in some ways, I think it might not be such a bad thing to not keep going back and stirring them up. I had hoped that camp would be moved, as it was discussed after people left camp early because of getting sick, and then I'd still get to go to Northern California, but in a new context. But that plan seems to have evaporated.

The flyer arriving sharpened the point of my awareness of what is NOT happening this year, and I have to admit, I'm a bit wistful. One more thing I'm letting go. I've felt so much anguish over being forced to let go of all kinds of things beyond just A himself, but there's a quieter angst, a resignation, to those things I have let go voluntarily because it's no longer sensible to hold on to them. It's easier, because those things I've tended to do in their time, but it's not exactly easy.

B and I have plans for that weekend anyway, involving a little road trip up the interstate and music, and I'm looking forward to that. Still, it will be different, and I will feel it. It's a sigh and a shrug and another step. So far, I'm not regretting not going; I'm regretting that things just don't stay the same. I suppose that it was foolish to ever think they would, but I can't help but notice that there are a lot of things in my life, mostly annoying things, that seem to have unbelievable endurance. I suppose its some kind of blessing that I'm one of them.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

In My Dreams

In the beginning of October 2008, I started keeping a dream journal, in the hopes of becoming a more lucid dreamer, and remembering more of my dreams.  But the real reason I wanted to remember my dreams better is that I don't, and haven't, dreamed much about A since he died, and I feared that perhaps I WAS dreaming about him, but forgetting those dreams.  And I hoped that if I was more aware in my dreams, perhaps I could talk to him more, instead of just fondling the frayed bits and pieces of memory of the dream the next morning.
I dutifully wrote down every dream I could remember, even if it was just part of it.  In over a year of recording these dreams, I have had maybe 4 dreams about A, a couple of which felt more like a visitation, and less like a dream, and a few others that had symbols connected to him, always hummingbirds.  Despite my being a diligent secretary of my dreamscape minutes, it hasn't really resulted in any increased or improved contact with my love, which was really my hope when I started the whole project.  Instead, I have pages and pages of whacked out dreams (the only kind I ever seem to have), and the feeling that he is indeed more distant from me now.  Not so far that I feel he's completely gone, but far enough that I know I'm not going to get the kind of contact I got, and needed, early on.  He has never done command performances in my dreams; I have gone to bed asking, begging, wishing, hoping for him to show up, and 999 out of a 1000 cases, he's been nowhere to be found.
Stubborn, he is.  I tell myself that he doesn't come because he can't for some reason.  Or because he can see that I'm strong enough to handle even the low times now on my own (regardless of how I feel about it).  Or that I'm supposed to rely on the living for my support now, and tend to those relationships more.  I tell myself a lot of things to excuse his absence.  But I suppose that I wouldn't have to do that if I accepted his real and valid excuse:  he's dead.  And whatever that means on a cosmic level, it does mean that I don't get to talk to him all the time, and I don't get any choice or appeal in the matter.  If I could just solve the "dead" part, there'd be no problem.  I guess I'm still looking for a loophole, however tiny, that would make "dead" a little less final, a little more fluid.  I want to reach through the veil to the other side and hold his hand, and I keep looking for ways to do that.  I don't really know how much of that is spiritual and how much of that is just a continuing bit of denial.  Regardless of what else it means, I know it means I miss him.  I miss him so damn much.
A lot of folks don't believe in any of that, that the dead can reach us here, in this world.  I wasn't sure I believed it either, and some days I still have my doubts, but I know what I've experienced.  And I know how it's changed; it is the change, the withdrawing of that, that seems the clearest proof that it ever existed at all.
In any case, I've been having some weird, somewhat disturbing dreams lately, and I've written a couple down.  But the most recent one, I didn't bother.  I started a dream journal with a goal in mind, and a year's worth of practice didn't lead to my achieving it, so for me, the experiment is over, and it was a failure, though I will admit to being far more aware that I'm dreaming WHILE I'm dreaming, and usually able to wake myself up if the dream goes bad.  But I don't dream of him more, and that's what I wanted.  The dreams I had were interesting, to a point, but many of them are scary, at least while I'm in the dream.  I have always, always been prone to nightmares.  I used to tell myself that my waking life was so good, I had to have all my crap in my dreams.  And then I lived a waking nightmare when A died, and I STILL didn't get more good dreams to even it out, so I had no choice but to deem myself (or at least that theory) full of shit.

I don't dream of him.  I don't have sweet dreams.  I don't even really have dreams for the future. 

Somehow, that seems wrong.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

On cynicism, new widows, and being old

Alicia's comment about being touched through her cynicism on occasion by the plight of a new widow's pain struck a chord for me. I feel that cynicism, and frustration, too. Part of it is being a widow further out. Part of it is being a woman further out in life. Part of the problem I have with some of those folks is that they were obviously a mess BEFORE widowhood; the disaster area has only broadened with the introduction of widowhood, which is a nightmare even for people who are pretty together in their lives when it happens to them.

I was a pretty together person, in my own estimation, prior to widowhood. But when A died, I was leveled to crumbly bits. I had never felt so weak, so lost, so unsure of everything, in my life, including that miserable stretch known as puberty. My intellect of which I have always been so proud was useless to me, and I had no idea where the strong woman I thought I was had gone.

As time wore on and I healed slowly, I came to realize that I WAS still strong; if I hadn't been, I probably wouldn't have made it. And all the things that had contributed to my pre-widowhood strength were still in play; it's just that the task I was applying them to was so monumentally huge, it didn't seem that way. It was true that my coping ability wasn't equal to the task of grieving, but it wasn't the lack of ability that was the problem as much as it was the staggering power of the grief. It's hard, if not impossible, at this point to voluntarily conjure up that pain fully again, even in memory, and I suppose that's to the good, but I do remember that it was bigger and worse than anything I've ever known, and I had no idea what to do or where to begin.

But where I was lucky, if it can be called lucky, is that I'd done a lot of personal development over the years that put me in a place where, eventually, I could put most of my energies into dealing with the grief. Not everyone has that place to start from, and it's no wonder they have what appears, to me, to be an even tougher time.

I read posts where people have no sense of boundaries, either in protecting their own or not encroaching on others'. I see low self-esteem that causes folks to habitually accept behavior they shouldn't tolerate, and low self-control that causes people to habitually engage in behavior that is counterproductive at best and self-destructive at worst. I see people seemingly trapped by conventions and various matrices of external control, with no idea that they have the ability and the right to overthrow them to their own greater good and that of everyone who deals with them. And this whole mess is swimming in a sea of grief, which only makes things a million times worse for the aggrieved, as it must.

But I read those posts and it is often clear that grief is only a fraction of their problem of the moment. But they can't parse that, because they haven't ever bothered to parse their emotions and behaviors in the past to see what was what, and whether it was serving them. All they know is that they hurt, and hurt bad. So the elder widow who desires to be helpful has a couple of options, neither very good: to parse it for them, give them a little tough love, and come off as unsympathetic, or to give them a hug, telling them it'll get better, knowing that, for this one, it very well might not. I suppose erring on the side of comfort is probably best, but then you wonder if it would be a greater kindness to help them see how some of this pain is self-inflicted and unnecessary. Kind of like, "give a man a hug, comfort them for a day; give a man a different perspective, maybe comfort them for a lifetime." We can't avoid all pain, but there'll be plenty of that no matter what, so I tend to think it's a good idea to avoid the pain we can, and help others do the same. But maybe where I'm wrong is in thinking that's my job, or even if it is, that I've been doing the job right.

Am I judging? Sure. But what I'm judging more than the people I observe is my own adequacy to the task of doing my little bit to help them, and lately, I find it wanting. It isn't that I don't believe their pain is real and deeply felt. It isn't that I don't feel for them, and with them. It's that I look at what I have to offer them, and lately, I come up with nothing. I do think part of that is self-protective. When I'm vulnerable in my own grief and my own life competency, as I have been recently, I cannot wade into the rising waters of someone else's flood. Sometimes I'm only treading water myself. If I reach out to someone who is thrashing about wildly in fear and panic, we're both likely to drown.

Sometimes it's just the impatience of the experienced with those who don't know thinking they know better. This is part of my personality, increasing the older I get and the more I learn, and I know that. I fight this a lot, not just when it comes to other widows, but in my life in general; it's easy for me to swap compassion for curmudgeonliness when dealing with people who lack self-knowledge and perspective, and (and this is the crux of it, really) seem entirely unwilling to do what's necessary to gain either. I have to be vigilant against arrogance, because it's a little too easy for me to go there, and I really don't want to be an ass. But I'm often overcome with a feeling of "You can't tell these kids nothin'" when I've read at the board. When I was a new widow, people told me it would get better, and while in my deepest, darkest heart (or what was left of it), I feared that they might be wrong, I HAD to believe they were right. I HAD to recognize my own cluelessness in the face of this catastrophe, and my weakness and the very real temporary insanity that goes hand-in-hand with grief, and put my heart and my hopes in the hands and words of those who had regained their strength, their sanity, and had seen the future that I could only fear in my pain and understandable ignorance. I HAD to do it to survive, because the despair of the alternative was frightening. It's one thing to say, "I don't know how I'll ever feel better; it seems impossible," and quite another to assert that "I will never feel better; it's impossible" anytime anyone dared to tell me otherwise. And when I run up against that anywhere, I just withdraw. Damn kids'll figure it out eventually, same as the rest of us, I reckon. I only care to talk when people are actually listening; when it becomes clear that that isn't happening, I tend to just shut my mouth. I hate to waste my breath. And when I've gotten into that mindset, my offering "words of wisdom" to anyone is ill-advised; they'll be sharp and likely to do more damage instead of mitigating any. I've lost count of the times I've started responding to a thread, stopped to reread what I've written, and thought, "Well, that's not going to make anyone feel better!" and closed the window entirely, lest I be tempted to go ahead and shoot from the hip.

I really don't know. I guess the pertinent question is, what is our responsibility to our fellow humans? Are we obligated to do what we can, even when it's not enough, quite possibly futile, and we know that going in, because every little bit helps? Philosophically, I would agree with that. And yet, is there a point where you can safely say you've done your part, knowing that every day, you're going to run across another wounded soul? I love to talk about boundaries, but am having trouble finding this one. It's a moving target, if it exists at all.

These are existential and self-evaluative questions more than grief questions, I realize. It's just that they've come up again and again in the drama-filled crucible that is the widow board, and I'm still mulling them, despite withdrawing there. I feel like I'm going to have to figure out an answer for myself if I hope to have any peace. And I guess that's where I am now in this grief journey. A's death is no longer an "event" I am directly responding to; that part is largely done. However, it is an omnipresent influence that informs everything I do and think and try in my life. Maybe I'm in the lesson-learning portion of this course, where I'm in a position to start taking what I've learned and synthesizing it with everything else I've ever learned and applying it to my life looking backward and going forward. Every time we have an epiphany that changes our perspective and our understanding, we tend to review everything that has passed so far through that new lens, and reimagine what is yet to come through same. So the existentialism and the grief are inextricably tied together now for me. I suppose that's what happens when you have to face mortality as reality instead of theory. Does it happen to all of us?

Monday, November 2, 2009

Dia de los Muertos

Today is the Day of the Dead.  Every day is now, to greater or lesser degrees.  I really hate that that's the case.
And that's all I have to say about that right now.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Guess it won't cost me that much after all

So the VCR we've owned since before there was a “we” has finally proven to be kaput, despite my best efforts at head-cleaning. We haven't used it much in recent years because everything has been on DVD, but we still have a small collection of beloved VHS movies that I'd like to play. And now I can't.

I sent E a text message tonight that the VCR was dead, and wondered if he'd like to replace the machine, or just replace the tapes with DVDs, which might actually end up being cheaper. Out of curiosity, I went through the titles and pulled out the ones I was sure I'd want replaced. It was a smaller number than I expected, but what was interesting were the ones I had loved, but that I didn't think I would watch again. Or rather, I didn't think I could watch again.

  • Untamed Heart—Christian Slater dies, living his girlfriend Marisa Tomei behind.
  • City of Angels—Meg Ryan dies spectacularly awfully at the end, leaving her love Nicolas Cage behind.
  • Heathers—Wanton murder
  • Fargo—Gory wanton murder
  • Sommersby—Richard Gere is hanged on principle, leaving Jody Foster behind.
  • Dead Poets Society—Suicide of sensitive young man.
  • La Bamba—Untimely death of Richie Valens
  • Fried Green Tomatoes—Mary Louis Parker dies, leaving her partner Mary Louise Masterson behind.
  • Somewhere in Time—Christopher Reeve wills himself back in time for love, only to be forced back to his own time, where he wills himself dead in his grief.

That last one I've probably seen 50 times, maybe more, since it came out in 1981 and I was just a child of 10. I have long loved that movie, and thought often of Christopher Reeve's character sitting unmoving in a chair, staring blankly out the window after losing his love, until he finally died of grief, in the early days of my own grief. But I have not watched the movie since well before A died. I haven't dared. At some point, your grief becomes largely under your control, and you become reluctant to create your own ambushes. You cannot avoid all the triggers, all the tiger pits, but you can be smart enough to avoid the ones that announce themselves with big flashing neon signs. Which is why I haven't watched Titanic in years, either.

I saw most of these movies as a much younger woman, before I was ever married, long before I ever met A, before I ever knew that people I loved could die far too young, and I cried through them then. I was sobbing so hard at the end of Sommersby that my chest hurt, and I couldn't see through the tears and my swollen eyes. I was a mess. And I was just a 22-year-old college kid, happily engaged, not a care in the world. Now I'm a 37-year-old widow, and I don't even think I could get through any of them without falling apart. It's just too much. It's just too close.

I have found that my sensitivity to death and violence in my entertainment has increased a lot since A died, even though he didn't die a violent death; he just slipped away, as far as I know. But the senselessness of it was—and remains—so hard to wrap my mind around. I can find no entertainment value in death now, and I wonder how I ever did.

I used to be really into vampires. Loved vampire shows and movies. For many of the same reasons, I loved mafia movies, too. Mobsters and vampires seemed to operate by similar codes, and maybe that's why I liked them. But since being widowed, I just have no taste for either. Empty, meaningless death inflicted by selfish animals is how it comes across to me now; there is no romance in death. Not now that I've suffered the death of a romance.

It's not that I avoid, or can avoid, death in everything I watch. But I feel it so sharply now. I comment on the violence, the gratuitous gore, of what some people refer to as “murdertainment.” And in storylines where someone just dies of an accident or a disease, I just cry through it all. Because even for a fictional body, I imagine a fictional family to go with it, one who feels the horrendous pain of losing someone they love, and I wonder, “This is entertaining?” I've spent years now trying to recover from such a pain; I haven't found a moment of it entertaining in the least. Death isn't funny; it isn't amusing; it isn't diverting; it isn't glamorous or glorious. It is, for the survivors, nothing but sheer misery for a long time, and then a pain that never entirely goes away thereafter.

I understand that the stories we tell are the lessons we as a culture must teach, and learn; we must confront death in our art, because it is the scariest unknown we face. It's not really that that I object to; it's the exploitation of it, the numb, unthinking acceptance of its commonality with no consideration for the toll it takes in so many ways, that bothers me.

Maybe I'm just hypersensitive now. Maybe there's no maybe about it. And maybe that's the natural result of being touched by death, and I couldn't avoid it if I tried. I don't know. I know my mother has been the same way since she lost her mother and her sister over 25 years ago now. But it's a change I've only recently recognized in myself, as I questioned why I wasn't interested in the latest vampire craze. I am just now beginning to recognize the seismic shifts that have caused permanent changes in me. Previously, my emotions changed so constantly as I grieved, that I soon realized that to assume any feeling or observation or thought I had should not be taken for the new status quo. And as that all swirled through and around me, I couldn't see that my foundation was settling in new and very different ways. I assumed it was, but I couldn't see the topography of it until the dust settled. There are cracks, to be sure, and whole sections of me have shifted.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

It’s funny, the things that get you.

Today, it was Brad Pitt and Sarah Vaughan.

If you haven’t seen Brad Pitt lately, you might not know that he’s sporting a longish goatee that is far grayer than the hair on his head. As a junkie, I’ve seen a lot of pictures of him like this lately, and it’s always been striking to me. But it wasn’t until today that it became clear why. His goatee looks like A’s when he’d let it go shaggy and it needed a trim. That earned a silent “Aha.” Not much of a reaction; just a mental acknowledgement.

Not so the Sarah Vaughan song, “Make Yourself Comfortable.” It triggered a flashback where A and I were sitting at his dinner table eating, like normal couples do every day, except that we weren’t a normal couple; or rather, we were, but our circumstances weren’t. When you live in two different states, you don’t get to sit down to dinner every night. So when we did get the chance, it was magical. To me, anyway. He was far less likely to gush about things, including dinner at the same table, so I don’t know what he thought about that. But because we only got to do it every few months or so, I tried to soak in every minute of being close to him, to memorize him for the times in between when we were apart.

I guess it worked, because the flashback wasn’t just a memory I was having here; I was also there simultaneously, sitting in that chair, with him within arm’s reach, steaks cooling on our plates. And then my eyes felt hot and prickly. It’s not the loss of it that hurts me; I cannot lose that dinner. It’s remembering how good we were together and cannot be anymore that is the knife’s edge. It’s the good stuff that gets me most often.

I’m long past the point where everything is a trigger for tears and hurt, but I guess I’ll never be to the point where nothing is a trigger. And I whined in my journal about the unfairness of it—again. Still. 50 years of missing someone seems cruel and unusual punishment for the offense of loving him. I’m just 3 years into a life sentence, with no chance for parole. What do I do with that?

Thursday, October 15, 2009

About the title of this blog (with respect to Roger Daltrey)

What’s it like when your sweetie dies?

It’s like this:

This is a picture of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire, and it is more than a little apt. When you’re widowed, everything you thought you knew is now a smoldering ruin. Like the people in the street above, you’re still there, still breathing, but you cannot even begin to comprehend the devastation. You cannot begin to guess the thousand things beyond the obvious that were lost in the fire, one of which, you come to understand in time, is yourself. And you have no idea what to do next, let alone where to start rebuilding. Your eyes are red and your lungs hurt, and all you can do is hold your hand to your mouth and whisper “Oh my god. Oh my god. Oh my god.”

You do that for a long time, taking tentative steps through streets littered with obstacles and emotional hazards. You sift through the wreckage and see what can be saved. You recriminate about the past and mourn the future. You have days where you can carry the usable bricks from your life before he died to a fresh pile intended to make a new shelter, and days where it hits you again and knocks you to the ground.

Oh my god. Oh my god.

The aftershocks are never-ending and sneaky, the wobble in your step seemingly permanent as a response to the shaky ground you realize you’ve been living on all along. There are no guarantees. Safety is an illusion. You can live right and decently your whole life, and all it gets you is the same roll of the dice each day that any loser or criminal gets.

It’s a long hard slog, one I’ve amply described elsewhere, to get to a place where you can see through the smoke, where you can start to rebuild. You do it a little at a time. 3 years out, I can look back and see where it happened, gradually, and the quantum leaps of healing I took at various points along the way. I am grateful to be alive, to have survived. In the early days, I wasn’t sure if I would ever make it out on the other side of the fire of grief. And I didn’t know who I’d be if I did…or didn’t. That was probably the scariest part of all.

But despite the loads of perspective I now have on life, on love, on death, on planning, on priorities, the marks of that fire are still on me. The flames have long since subsided, but in my mind and in my soul, that fire still burns. And that is what I deal with now. Because he’s not going to stop being dead; best-case scenario from a reunion standpoint is that one day, I’ll be dead, too. I know it’s better for me not to think so much about all of this; but how do you not? How do you forget things you never wanted to know?

The city of San Francisco has been rebuilt. It’s a beautiful, strong, thriving city. And no one who lives there can forget what can happen. No one who lives there can forget that they are vulnerable; that a tremor can bring it all to the ground again; that life is a precarious business and every castle we build is upon sand and rubble, destined to fall in its time, whether we’re ready for it or not.

I have a deep love for San Francisco, and maybe it's in part because its story is my own. I do not fear the unknown; I fear the intimately known coming to pass again. It's easy enough to dismiss the former fear as wild imagination; not so the latter, which I know is real. I am widowed again two, three times a week when my husband is home later than I think he should be; I live whole miserable lifetimes in those waiting minutes. I know I do it to myself, but I don't know how not to. I know too much now.

I have been through the fire. I have rebuilt my city. But I am ever on guard now, and that brings its own troubles.

3 years, 3 months

I really thought I had nothing left to say on the subject of surviving the death of my sweetheart. I thought I was done blogging about it, because what more could be said that I hadn't said a hundred times already in print, and a million times in my head? But I find myself isolated lately, both in that the passing years have made the reality of my continuing grief, such as it is now, seem, I would guess, stubborn to those who have to put up with hearing about it still, and in the fact that I have disengaged with previous sources of support, namely, the widow bulletin board. And I find I am still struggling on some level, still trying to make sense, to make peace, with this bit of reality that is never going to leave me. And so I turn once again to words, because I do need to talk about this thing that doesn't go away. Ever.

Regarding the bulletin board, I was an active participant there up until a week ago, when a young new widow was broadcasting suicide threats across the internet. I tried to help. A lot of people did; and she brushed all suggestions and offerings aside. And I struggled with the conflicting ideas that here was a true tragedy about to happen that all of us were helpless to stop, and here was a manipulative, dramatic kid who thought this is how you get attention. And while I knew her pain was real, I wanted to shake her, regardless of whichever was true, because you just can't just choose to die. Well, yeah, you can, but it's a bad, wrong, sick choice, which is to say, it's no choice at all. Even at the worst of my grief, I never made a plan to kill myself, no matter how many times I thought it wouldn't be so bad if I just didn't wake up the next day.

Life is hard, and you just don't get to give up, dammit. That being my feeling, and the constant drama of the board suddenly becoming too much for me, I've pulled back. I peek in once a day or so, but it is more of the same, and right now, I just can't deal with it. It was this girl who was crying out for help, but refusing to hear the answering cries, that was the last straw, I think.

I kind of feel like a jerk for walking away, even though I think I have given back to that community. But you can't give what you don't have, and right now, I don't have much. I'm pulling my energies inward and trying to cope with my own stuff. It's not overwhelming, but it is October, and I'm feeling it. October was when my sweetie came to visit my town; we'd hoped to make it an annual event but didn't have time. October was when I traditionally started planning for my January trip to his place; now there is no trip to plan. October is when the days get shorter, and the darkness lengthens until it can reach in and touch your heart. It is a time of melancholy and memories, at least for me, though I doubt I'm alone in this. I guess we'll see.