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.