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.