Tuesday, December 28, 2010
But this week, I'm failing.
My dog, my little furry baby boy, is dying. My friend, his vet, says that if his behavior hasn't changed, then we should still only be thinking along treatment lines, because I broached the subject of this being the beginning of the end with her. He is peeing blood, and it isn't stopping; it's getting worse despite antibiotics. It's not just a UTI; we've known he's had a bladder mass since August, but he wasn't healthy enough to have the surgery then, as he has multiple health issues, including a possible adrenal tumor. We chose palliative care until the inevitable end. But I had really hoped the end would be further down the line, and now that I'm seeing the results of our thoughtful, informed decision, I'm second-guessing it. But it is probably too late. No one is telling me that he's dying; not yet. But I know this is the endgame. I know it is. And that'll bring my tally of dead beloveds to one man and two dogs in 4 1/2 years. Thanks, Universe. Thanks for killing the nascent bit of enthusiasm for life I had manage to cobble together, finally. And fuck you, too.
My health, at least on the orthopedic side, is little better than it's been in the last 5 years, which is to say, pretty shitty. I manage to stay mobile and reasonably upright through weekly chiropractic and massage treatments, but I honestly cannot remember a pain-free day. Not one. It's been years and years. The best I am able to manage is to make the pain tolerable, and it is probably only manageable because by now I have a pretty high pain tolerance. I am tired, and there is no help to be had. The only things I haven't tried are Reiki and illegal steroids. And believe me, I've considered both quite seriously.
And eating has become a problem; it seems like it makes me ill most of the time, even though I'm not eating any more or differently than ever. When you can't even enjoy a meal, or even a cookie, anymore, you start to wonder what's left.
And I hardly need to mention that I'm still a widow. Which isn't particularly pertinent to my current bout of exhaustion (though it does seem to flare when I am worn out, no doubt contributing to the previous post), and the self-pity it breeds, except in this: I worked so hard to heal; to bring myself back to life; to regain some semblance of myself to be a decent woman, daughter, friend, wife and engage in my world again; to have a sense of humor again; to not be so dangerously fragile in my feelings. And the question I keep asking myself is, "For what? For this?" Not that it's all so bad; it's just not that good, most of the time, and it just seems to be more of the same, day after day, for all of us. How does one keep herself going? I've had enough of the stick; I need some more fucking carrots. God, I need the whole damn salad bar.
Anybody got a crouton?
Sunday, December 26, 2010
I should be asleep, but I can't sleep, because that was me until I got up a few minutes ago, in the hopes that if I emptied my head, I could fall asleep eventually.
I remember some things so clearly that I can almost feel him in my arms, feel his lips on my cheek, hear his laughter. I go back to those moments like a safehouse, where for a minute I can just be there again, where it was all so good, and he was HERE, beautiful and strong and loving me, and I had no reason to cry in my bed once the lights went out. But I am not safe for long; it always backfires. Because what it comes down to, what it has always come down to since he died, is this:
I wanted more. I wanted more of him. I wanted more of who he was, and who I was with him, and the marvel of the two of us finding each other and it being so very good. I wanted so much more of him.
And the truth is, I still do. And that is why I suffer.
Because I still do not understand how a person can just disappear like he did. I understand that it happens, but I cannot comprehend this violent interruption of his and my conversation. I cannot stop wanting to talk to him and hold him and love him. And I know I'm absolutely powerless to change it. I cannot will the conversation to resume beyond the symbolic. All my wanting, and all my aching need, is entirely, stupidly futile against this reality. And I want to hurt this reality. I want to beat it with my fists and scratch it and make it bleed, because when I'm really and truly frustrated, that's the only impulse left. I cannot understand it, I cannot change it, and so I want to lash out physically.
And I can't even do that. I can't punch reality in its stupid nose, or kick it in its gut, (although it can do it to me, evidently). I can't do anything but be here and accept that he's dead. So I cry. I cry quietly in the dark so no one ever hears or knows. I cry because the immutable truths of the survivor never change. My life has changed around them, my soul and my self as well, and thank goodness, but after all the struggling, all the healing, all the time, at bedrock...I wanted more of him. I want more. And I can't have him. And that, all by itself, is enough to make a grown woman weep.
Tuesday, December 14, 2010
Sunday, December 12, 2010
I can only laugh now, and pity that poor woman that was me. She was clearly out of her mind.
I suppose that after 4 months, things had already started changing, that I had already started healing compared to the shock and confusion I felt when it first happened. But I had no idea how long and hard the road would be; I had no idea what I was in for yet.
This is why I burned my journals; I don't want to know how bad it really was. I don't want to remember; 4 1/2 years have wrapped it in protective paper and put it safely away, and that is a blessing. I remember corresponding with author and poet Mark Doty after reading his book. He lost his partner some years ago, and he told me, widower to widow, that he couldn't really remember the pain itself; he can remember that it was horrible, but couldn't really conjure up the full horror of it now. When he told me that, I was sure it was impossible, because my pain then was so acute, I couldn't believe it. But I wanted to.
But as it turns out, he was right. We widows talk about how the pain of losing our beloveds is so terrible and terrifying that one's mind will not allow one to imagine it in advance; and it seems that the mind's protective instincts eventually come back again, and we cannot fully put ourselves back into the worst of it, even though we were there and don't really need to imagine it. Sometimes, I think I try just to test myself, to push the limits of my emotional muscles and see just how healed I might be, like someone testing a broken leg after the cast has been removed. When I do it, I have this vague feeling like remembering a nightmare...I remember the feelings I had at the time but I don't FEEL them anew in the remembering. And that, too, is a blessing. The healing is real. It really does happen.
Wednesday, December 1, 2010
I put up the Christmas tree the day after Thanksgiving this year, a little earlier than usual. I guess I was feeling a little Christmas. It's a little 4-foot pre-lit tree that I picked up (I think) the 3rd Christmas after A died. The first year, just 6 months after his death, I had no Christmas spirit. I bought a wreath from a co-worker whose kid was selling them for a fundraiser, stuck a candle in the middle of it, and called it good. In fact, I was impressed I'd managed that much. It was a depressing display, perfectly suited to a depressing holiday season. Christmas shopping was miserable as I passed up gift after gift that would've been perfect for A. I managed to do for E and the rest of my family, but mostly I just wanted it to be over.
The second year, I was amazed to discover I wanted to put up the tree, so I did. It was an artificial one we'd had for some years, pretty, but putzy in that you had to fluff each branch and stick it in the trunk, and it always took a couple hours to get it from box to beautiful. E has never been one for Christmas, so it was always my task alone to do. I never really minded putting the tree up, and always enjoyed it once the work was done, but taking it down was another matter. I've always, even before being widowed, hated taking down the tree, the decorations, the post-holiday letdown…taking down the tree meant it was well and truly over, and, when I was still living in the Upper Midwest, that there was nothing to look forward to but miserable, dark cold for another 4 months. Grief was still a constant companion that year, especially given the holidays, and putting up the tree only reminded me of Christmas 2004, when I put up the tree while talking to A on the phone the entire time, and taking it down just brought me further down when I still wasn't really that far up.
Last year, I decided I wanted all the joy of a Christmas tree and none of the hassle, so I picked up a two-piece pre-lit tree that took 5 minutes to set up, and was only half the size of the original tree, so it took no time at all to decorate. I only put my favorite ornaments on it, because that's all that fit, and left the rest in the boxes. It was so cute, and not the chore it had been in the past, but where I got really brilliant was at the end of the season: I realized that with such a small tree, I could put a Hefty bag over the top of the whole works and put the tree away, still decorated, until next year.
When I pulled it out this year and carefully eased the bag off, only 3 ornaments came loose, and I was pleased to see that the pack rat population that has been taking over the garage (despite all our best trapping efforts) had left it alone. Voila! Instant Christmas. I'm still congratulating myself on my awesome problem-solving on this one.
There was just one thing missing. The second Christmas after A died ended a year where I had been teaching myself to do pearl inlay, and along the way, I decided to make a memorial Christmas ornament for A. It was quite the project, and somewhat more important because it was really the last thing I could do for him. I didn't realize it at the time, but once I finished it, I knew it was the truth because I felt at loose ends, but also settled in my mind that there was nothing left to do but trudge forward down the grief road that, at that point, was still dark, riddled with bumps, detours, and blind alleys that I was still stumbling through.
It was my habit at the end of the holidays to take his ornament and hang it from his picture in my office at home the rest of the year until Christmas came around again. But sometime in the last year, I had jostled the picture, the ornament had fallen behind the cabinet it sat on, and I left it where it had fallen, because I wasn't in the mood to move furniture when it fell. That's how I remembered it, anyway. Time wore on, and I didn't really think that much about it until I got the tree out this year, and remembered that I had to fetch it out of there.
So once the tree was up, I went to my office to retrieve the ornament, which required my moving all the stuff that constitutes the ofrenda for A that I've created there off the cabinet first. I dusted things as I pulled them off. I sniffed the box of Irish Spring that I keep there, wiped down the first inlay projects I made and put there, moved the photos of him and my dog who died 9 months after he did, and other mementos, and pulled out the cabinet, only to find there was nothing behind it but dust.
I distinctly remembered the ornament falling. Where was it? Long story short, I ended up tearing apart the room, pulling all the furniture along it away from the wall, feeling under it, emptying cubbies to see if somehow it could be there, but I didn't find it. I looked at the tree again, examining it a few times, just in case I'd left it on after all last year, and couldn't find it.
I was not a happy camper. Those of you have read me for a long time know that losing things that belonged to A, or were touched by him, or merely symbolized him (or us), have been a painful recurring theme in my journey. I just couldn't believe I'd lost yet another.
I was upset, but not undone. I was stressed that it was missing, but not sick. I wanted that ornament on my tree, and had no idea where it could be, but in the end, I knew I could live without it if I had to; I've learned to live without him because I have to. I kind of marveled at my own reaction. This was so different from the "Missing Bookmark Panic of Early 2007" that left me in tears. This time, unhappy about it as I was, I was able to accept that it would probably turn up eventually if I cared to ransack all the Christmas boxes in the garage, and if it didn't, well, it sucks, but there wasn't much I could do about it. I wasn't going to be able to recreate it even if I was inclined to, and I wasn't really inclined to. There is something about the alchemy of a moment that gives rise to action and ritual that cannot be reproduced later. A different person made that ornament; the person I am now wouldn't be able to; it would seem inauthentic…hollow, somehow.
It's amazing how so many "crises" are met by me without much more than a shrug now. Perspective. I haz it.
I sent up a little prayer to A and said, "If you can help me find it, I'd really appreciate it."
I was sitting around reading last night, in view of the tree. At some point I decided to check the tree one more time, very carefully and methodically, to see if I'd missed the ornament somehow. This time, I didn't look for the ornament, though; I looked for the red ribbon it hung from, as very few of my ornaments hang from ribbon at all. And I found it almost immediately, half-way from the top of the tree, and tucked in deep, and I can't tell you how relieved I was that it was no longer lost, and that it was where it should be.
Did A help me find it? Maybe. On this one I'm inclined to think I just missed it, but one never knows. All I can guess is that I dropped it behind the cabinet two years ago, and fished it out last year after all, because I haven't touched that tree since. But memory is a funny thing, especially when grief is involved, and while I'm chagrined that my memory messed up the timeline like that, I am not terribly surprised. I remember so little of those first two years after he died, and what I do remember is long periods of feeling wooden and dead inside, punctuated by hazy fragments of painful memory. It's happened before; I suppose it may happen again.
The whole experience, though, was like a microscopic (and less emotionally fraught) slice of my entire widow journey: Something is lost, and not where I was sure it was and would remain; I am baffled and panicked and sad; eventually, I accept that I will have to live without it, and go on with my life; and even though I cannot see or find it, turns out it's been there all along, and not really lost at all, despite all appearances to the contrary. I suppose the fact that I can even see it that way is meaningful.
Monday, November 22, 2010
I have been away from the widow board for 6 months now, so I was surprised yesterday when I received a PM from a member there that I had talked to in PMs and via various threads when I was still active. Apparently, I was missed by one person, but my absence from the board had exactly the effect there that I imagined it would: none. It WAS the right time for me to leave, and these 6 months have proven to me the correctness of that choice for my mental and emotional well-being.
After I responded to her, I took a look at the main board and saw a few of the old names, and a lot of new ones. This wasn't surprising, but sad nonetheless: there are always new widows. I saw all the same kinds of topics—the thread titles with the swearing in the new widow section, the calmer ones in the BAG section. Same old shit-stirrers up to their usual antics. Same majority of people who really just want to help each other and themselves get through the horror. It was like walking into someone else's family reunion: all the same dynamics, even if the names and faces are different.
I realized, as I slipped back into widow mode in talking to my sister widow, that I had indeed managed to slip out of it in these 6 months. I think of myself more as a bereaved person than a widow at this point; this is probably in large part due to the fact that the role of Widow was largely denied to me. The emotional loss was, and is, the same, but the way I navigated through my days, and society, in my grief was necessarily very different. In hindsight, I can see that there were good and bad aspects to that. I don't think if I traded my experiences for a more conventional widowhood that I would've come out ahead; neither would the person I traded with. It is what it is, and for the most part, I'm able to accept that now.
In any case, being at the widow board reinforced my being a widow every day for me, and being away allowed it to evaporate to a large extent, and make room for me to be more present to the rest of my life. And yet, I realized as I wrote back and forth with my former boardmate, that my widowhood—the feelings, the experiences, the hurts, the outrages, the empathy—was easily accessible at will after all. The distance between me and it can be bridged in a heartbeat, if I choose. No adjustment, no awkwardness, and, for the most part, no particular pain. I suppose that means that I have integrated this…that what was an experience to get through has now become a state of being, or one aspect of it, anyway. That is a good thing, I think. I have more than once wondered if I'd run out of compassion, and maybe I have not.
The widow who contacted me is facing her one year milestone soon. I was kind of shocked, as I guess I hadn't realized she was so early out; I was nearly 4 years out when I left, and I'm half-way to 5 now. So strange. She said she may be coming to the end of her run at the board already…she's starting to feel it. I said that that's the way it is…a good support is one that allows you to eventually walk without it, or is flexible enough to morph into something else that is more appropriate for your needs. There will always be 10-year and 4-year and 1-year and new widows, and each "class" will graduate into helping the one behind it, while others graduate to not having, or needing, to be active participants anymore. And some bodhisattvas will stay and stay until everyone is healed, as much as is possible. Those people have touched more lives and done more good than they even suspect. I'm certain of it.
I did read all of one thread, on the BAG forum, where someone asked if people still thought of their beloveds every day, and how that manifested for them. The answered varied, as did the number of months and years out each respondent was. For me, the answer is "yes," and that is by choice. I suppose if I put away all the pictures, the answer might well become different, but I don't want that. I don't force myself to think about him, and I don't force myself not to. It comes as it does, with whatever emotional cargo, and I deal with it.
I recently have been made aware of a word that describes perfectly (in Portuguese, if not English) the feeling that so often accompanies me in regards to A now. It's a word that I had seen for years in music…Brazilian music, actually, that A himself gave me: Saudade
"Saudade" is a longing for something or someone that is gone, that may return some day in the distant future, but it is a future so very distant, and so uncertain, as to make virtually no difference to the present.
I miss him. I long for him. I really do believe that we will be reunited on the same plane at some point, once I die, though what that existence will be like, I haven't even the beginning of a clue. And while that belief has given me hope and strength to survive and heal, I have to say at this point that it isn't much sustenance for the long haul. It will be true (or not) regardless of how I get through the rest of my days—whether I do so healed and whole, or broken and bitter. I don't think I am the latter, and I don't think I'm in danger of becoming it, at least not at this point. But still, the longing remains because he remains absent and out of reach. I do not grieve for him every day, but I miss him every day. When you've had the pleasure of the best company in the world in someone, there's really no way around that.
Saudade. The wiki article linked above said that one researcher deemed the word the 7th hardest expression to translate into English. I find that so apropos, as the experience, especially the emotional experience of significant bereavement like widowhood, is equally hard to translate to people who have not yet had the opportunity to learn the language.
Saturday, November 13, 2010
I remembered the dream when I woke up, and as awful as it was, I still had this odd sense that I was glad I dreamed about him, even if it was this. That I would've rather have been panicked and terrified with him in a dreamworld ER than not to have been with him at all. And 12 hours later, that feeling is still with me.
That's how much I miss him. I miss him so much that a nightmare with him is better than the reality without him.
Wednesday, October 20, 2010
As I have mentioned here before, right after A died, I felt like I got a lot of communication from him; lots and lots of signs, and a couple actual visits where his presence was undeniable. And I've talked about how much that helped me heal, because I realized that he wasn't gone forever, that he just hadn't ceased to exist, and that we'd probably run into each other somehow once I shuffled off this mortal coil. And I've lamented how, as time has worn on, the signs have become less frequent, dreams of him rare, and the visits? Those disappeared within the first year.
On an intellectual and metaphysical level, all that makes sense to me. I have healed; if life goes on, we have to assume it doesn't involve our loved ones who have crossed over sitting around twiddling their ghost thumbs waiting for us to show up. Life goes on for us and for them.
But I have been sad to feel him slipping away. I have so little of him now, that to lose even the wisps of him that remain to me seems like insult to injury. But I realized yesterday that sad isn't all I'm feeling about it. I realized that I'm angry, too. Because yet another level of what death means to me, on this side of it, is sinking in: When people die, they leave you. And they leave you again and again beyond the first hit.
This may seem self-evident, and something I should've dealt with in the early years of my grief (which, I could argue, is still now; I mean earliest years). And you know, I did, but that doesn't mean it's a once-and-done kind of thing.
Because sometimes in the dark of night, in the quiet of my own mind, I speak to him and say, "You know, if you wanted to come by in dreams, I'd really love to see you." And he doesn't come. He almost never comes. And the next morning, I am hurt, and sad, and angry. "HOW DARE YOU LEAVE ME FOR GOOD?" "HOW DARE YOU TAKE WHAT LITTLE I HAD LEFT OF YOU AWAY FROM ME?" "HOW DARE YOU WITHHOLD YOURSELF FROM ME LIKE THAT?"
I don't care about the rules of the universe. I don't care about logic. I don't care if it's absolutely nuts to expect to communicate across the veil. What I care about is that I am calling for him and he isn't answering.
If he had never done it, I guess I wouldn't miss it. (And if he hadn't, I don't know what I would've become, or how crooked or hopeless my path to healing would've been.) But because he did, and because I know it in my bones that he did, and could, then I have to wonder why he can't, or won't, now. And I don't get those answers; there's no explanation yet again for his disappearance, just like there wasn't when he died. This echoes that, and I wonder yet again why I received such gifts, of the man, of the messages once the man died, only to have them taken away without warning or justification.
And it pisses me off. I am angry. He left his baby. Twice. And he couldn't be arsed to even let me know he was going, either time.
They leave you again and again. They leave you as their bodies go into the ground or into the flame. They leave you when you can finally move their books. They leave you when their stuff goes to Goodwill and the dump. They leave you as their families fall away. They leave you as memories fade, and you can't quite remember the sound of their voice. They leave you when you stop feeling their presence in your day and in your dreams. And with each leaving, you sink into a new, deeper understanding of what "dead" really means, what "for the rest of your life" really means.
What it means for me is that I cannot hold tight forever to the life preserver he threw me after he died. I thought I could, but evidently, someone, maybe him, has gently pried my arms from it and walked away with it, leaving me on the deck to figure out what they meant by that. I thought I would have it with me every day going forward; I thought it, that he, would be my secret companion, that death didn't count for me quite as much because we had this connection that transcended death; that I had a back-channel I could rely on when the missing him became too much, as it does from time to time.
And maybe we do. And maybe it's true. But what is also true is that I don't have my life preserver near to hand anymore, and while I do know how to swim, while I may not be drowning and don't strictly need it, I want it…just in case. Because nobody tells me nothin' about how this life and death business works, and I want all possible resources at my disposal to deal with it. And more than that, I want him, or whatever part of him I can still have. And memories are all I seem to be allowed, after all.
Monday, October 4, 2010
Nothing surprises me about widowhood anymore, other than that I am still so often surprised at how I'm not surprised anymore.
Parse that, will ya?
At lunch today, I was packing up my guitar and accoutrements because I have my lesson right after work. As is my habit, I kissed my fingers and touched them to the glass of the picture frame that holds one of my favorite (and somewhat visually prescient) photos of A. And as I walked out of the room, I shook my head at how normal that had become. That it didn't even have much emotional content beyond "Hi, sweetie, I love ya!"
This is normal: I am in love with a dead man whom I kiss by proxy through glass, and that's just how it is.
I suppose this is where I tell myself I think too much. This is where I remind myself that this is what I suffered so much for, what I worked so hard for—to create a new kind of relationship with my sweetie under our new circumstances so that I could bear to keep breathing without a pain in my chest, an ache in my heart, and guilt in my soul.
I've done it. I kiss his picture on my way out the door, with a breezy mental "I love you," in contrast to those teary 5-10-minute goodbyes every night in the early days after he died where I stared at his picture through flooded eyes and asked for the umpteenth time "Why?" It's so strange.
Don't get me wrong—I'm not complaining. I wouldn't go back to that pain again for anything; a less acute version of it finds me often enough as it is. But I can't help but be astonished at what I've gotten used to, and sometimes the surreality of it just smacks me between the eyes. In those moments, I am startled again that this story is not just any story, it's MY story. This all really happened. To me! It's still happening to me, because I'm still happening. I wonder if there's a part of me that will always stand back from my life and say "no way…no fucking way" in total disbelief.
Life, for all its mundanity and habit and sheer endurance, blows my mind on a regular basis.
Tuesday, September 28, 2010
Monday, September 27, 2010
Yesterday was A's granddaughter's 6th birthday, and while I knew it was coming, I hadn't given it much thought. A's daughter chose to have no contact with me beyond the initial phone call confirming what I already feared was true. I haven't been in contact with the rest of the family for probably two years now, maybe more, and I don't expect that to change. I've become an expert at not thinking about things that I know are going to hurt.
I was out shopping with a friend that day, when my cellphone rang. It was A, telling me that he was speeding south for his daughter's induction to hang out with the waiting room with other family, and that he'd washed his truck for the occasion. A and I had known each other just a few months at that point, but our friendship had recently turned into something more. I felt special at the time that I was the one he wanted to call and tell his good news. I still feel special that he did.
He was smitten with his new granddaughter, and delighted to be grandpa. He sent me all the new pictures of the baby that he got from his daughter. Some of my favorite ones of him are pictures of him and her playing, including the one on my desk at work; his face, and hers, are pure joy. I was used to getting frequent grandfatherly updates, but that all stopped once he died. And a little girl I had come to love through him just disappeared from my life. And the grandson that was on the way when A passed never was a part of my life; I was lucky to find out from A's friend when the boy was born.
Each year, I acknowledge her birthday, sending out love and a silent "happy birthday" to her. She was almost 2 when he died, a happy toddler. He had spent the weekend before he died with her and her folks; they'd gone to the zoo and had a great time, and he regaled me with stories of monkey imitations, as well as Elmo video marathons and tea parties, when he returned. She had a grandpa who loved her fiercely; I wonder if she even remembers him. I sure hope so, but I have to wonder.
And now she's 6, and probably started 1st grade this year, and it blows my mind. While I've changed a lot on the inside in the last 4 years, my life as it appears on the outside is much the same at 38 as it was at 32. We just don't change that much when we get older. But the life changes between 2 and 6 are vast; A's granddaughter has gone from toddler to schoolgirl, a baby to a real person. And that growth seems to underline just how long he's been gone in a way that numbers cannot.
I imagine that's an additional pain that widows with children deal with all the time. Their kids change so much, doing so many new things, that it can only emphasize the passage of time. It's easy enough to see the subtle signs of the years in your own face in the mirror—the new lines, the new grays, the new aches and pains—but they are not as drastic, not as surprising, I would guess, as seeing that your child has grown up by a quantum leap every time you turn around.
I suppose this is the nature of things. Grandfathers die and little girls grow up. But sometimes you live enough, and long enough, that academic truths like these become achingly poignant realities.
Wednesday, September 15, 2010
E and I were talking the other night, discussing the future, finances, and what the possibilities might be. I suggested to him that if we really wanted to cut costs, we could sell the house down the road and live in a tiny apartment. He responded that that would be impossible with 4 dogs, and I commented that 6 years from now, we'd have 3 dogs at most, because our eldest is very ill. He's been dealing with diabetes for almost 2 years now, and despite our vigilant treatment, the complications are getting worse. Beyond that, he has 2 likely malignant tumors, one of which would be inoperable and largely untreatable. We've decided on palliative care and enjoying what time we have with him. It is highly unlikely he will make it another 2 years, let alone 6.
But it started a bit of a fight.
"Why do you have to say that to me?" E asked. He is upset by any commentary indicating that our dogs will not live forever.
"Well, it's not like you don't know, right?"
"Yes, I know, but I don't want to hear it. Not everyone lives under a spectre of death, you know."
It came across as criticism to me, the "like you do" implied, which is how I believe it was intended.
"Yes, everyone does, because everyone and everything will die. What varies is people's willingness to acknowledge that reality."
"I know that everything does. It doesn't bother me; I don't think about it; I don't want to think about it; I can't do anything about it anyway, so I see no point in thinking about it. And you don't have to say it."
I thought to point out that if it didn't bother him, talking about it shouldn't bother him, either, but I didn't want to continue the argument, and my feelings were a little hurt. Hurt enough that I'm still thinking about it 2 days later, and writing it out.
Do live under a spectre of death? I didn't think so, but honestly, I don't know. And if I do, doesn't he have any sympathy for the circumstances that made that so?
To me, "living under the spectre of death" implies that I live in constant fear of death, see danger around every corner, and worry about dying. I don't think that's true. I don't fear death, but I do recognize that it is everywhere, that it is inevitable, and there's no sense running from it, in life or in conversation. I live in resolute acceptance that death will touch me again and again, as long as live. I never wanted to talk about death with A; turns out, avoidance of the topic provides no prophylactic benefit whatsoever.
I didn't have any choice in the matter; Death visited me in a personally devastating way when A died. Death could no longer be something that happened to other people. Of course, E didn't have the relationship with A that I did, and therefore, while he was sorry for me, he didn't grieve; he didn't have to. And he didn't embark upon the intimate relationship with the concept of death and the reality of being a survivor and a universe that cracked open when A left that I did. To him, I live under the spectre of death. To me, he is an innocent, and lacking in empathy and patience with my perspective, as innocents often are.
It is true that death is on my mind a lot. (They say that's true of Scorpios, but I honestly cannot remember how often death figured into my thoughts before A died; I have no basis for comparison anymore, it's been so long.) A's death, still, certainly. The possibility of death among the ill and aged people I love. Death in the world. The seeming randomness of it all. Sometimes it's my own, in those moments when I just feel so tired out by and bored with this life. Lately I keep thinking that it was the worst thing possible for me to discover that I was an eternal being; when I was an atheist with no expectation of continuing beyond my three score and ten, every moment mattered. No moments here matter all that much if life is infinite and ongoing, especially when the bad or neutral moments vastly outweigh the great ones. There's no rush when eternity is yours. My ability to appreciate the mundane (in all senses of the word) waxes and wanes, and although I am thoroughly delighted to sniff the roses in the pots in front of my house, somehow, that moment of delight is no match for the drudgery of the rest of the day. If that's a sample of life, you can do the emotional math.
In any case, if death is merely a doorway (and even if it isn't), if it is a natural part of life as much as birth is, then we should be able to talk about it as openly as we do birth. For Pete's sake, pregnant ladies are habitual oversharers, and they are encouraged to be; I see baby pictures taken in utero, and the whole world, for better and worse, discusses this particular passage, in gory detail, right down to how many stitches the episiotomy took. But if you matter-of-factly discuss the inevitable death of your dog, or anyone else, well, the world gets angry at you for being so ill-mannered, like you just took a dump on their best Persian rug.
I guess that while I learned pretty quickly that no one wanted to hear about my grief and my loss and my sweetie after whatever they determined was a decent interval, I didn't realize that the moratorium extended to death in general. I should have, because I remember not wanting to talk about it either. But my death filter was shattered when I was widowed, and I'll talk about it without a thought. I'll talk about death, and heart disease, and prognoses, and life insurance, and wills. And this makes uninitiated people immensely squeamish and fidgety.
But it doesn't bother them.
What to do, then? I can't unknow what I know, can't stop feeling what I feel. E cannot know what he's never experienced, and he's pretty typically male when it comes to dealing with feelings, anyway. Am I obsessed with death, or just through my experiences, totally in touch with it, unable to keep it at a safe distance anymore? I think of what Octavio Paz said about Mexicans' experience of la muerte, and that, unlike most of the world, they don't fear it, but rather, the Mexican "chases after it, mocks it, courts it, hugs it, sleeps with it; it is his favorite plaything and his most lasting love." I don't love death, but I love someone who died, and I am constantly considering it in many lights. The alternative was to pretend, to avoid, to fear it. And I think some bereaved folks choose that path. Maybe it works for them, but I have my doubts, and I know it wouldn't work for me. I know, because I tried it time and again, and it failed me time and again.
I don't have a lot of patience with a world (or a husband) who wants to put its fingers in its collective ears and say "LA LA LA LA I CAN'T HEAR YOU"; my response to that is to think, "Don't be an idiot." And maybe it's because not only are they being silly, because reality is reality, but also because in doing so, they deny my experience, deny my perspective, and basically tell me who I've become and what I have to say about it is unwelcome in society. In doing so, they tell me to shut up and go away. Is my frank acknowledgement of the death's existence any less valid than their denial of it? I don't think so.
I'd like to ask some of the widows who are further out how death figures into their thoughts now. Not just the death of the person you loved, but Death, in all its forms and side-effects. Am I obsessed? Or am I just a widow?
Wednesday, August 25, 2010
Sometimes I wake up feeling like A has been near me somehow. I've come to learn that that feeling means that I have probably dreamed about him. It's not always easy for me to recall those dreams (or any dreams), though, so when I have that feeling, I try to stay in that quiet half-awake place to see if it'll come to me. I have so few dreams of A that I don't want to miss a one; I kept a dream journal over a year to see if it would help me remember my dreams better. I don't know if it helped or not. I am well into middle-age and all the joys it brings these days; I forget a lot of things, dreams included.
I woke up this morning feeling like he'd been close, and it took me awhile to tease the circumstances out of my foggy brain. It was most definitely a dream; I've had a few that I believe were visitations, but those mostly happened in the first year after he died. He has made himself pretty scarce; so scarce that even my own mind, full of wishes and frustrated desires for him to be there, doesn't seem to conjure him up.
In my dream, a man who looked just like A, although a little fuller in the face, was hanging out with a coworker of mine in the corner office near my cubicle at work. For some reason, he was sitting on the floor instead of in a chair. Every time I had to go talk to her, I saw this man, and I surreptitiously stared. He was polite, but we were strangers, and we didn't really speak beyond greetings. I would go back to my desk and muse on how uncanny the resemblance was, and how weird it was that he wasn't my A.
As the dream came back to me in pieces, lyrics for a possible song drifted through my mind, something about "I can't touch you, I can't reach you," because even though the man in the dream looked just like A, it wasn't him. I couldn't just reach out and touch him; it wouldn't be right.
It was this I pondered as I chewed my raisin bran before work this morning, and it all kind of came together: this is my reality. I have images of him, and I have memories, and they are so close—always right there—but I cannot touch him; I cannot reach him. He is so real in my head and my heart, but he is completely beyond contact.
This is what I find maddening.
And I guess my subconscious self is struggling with it, too. It has defined the problem for me, but, as usual, hasn't offered any solutions. Solutions are thin on the ground on Planet Survivor.
I can point precisely to the place in my chest, just above the solar plexus, that feels weird when I think about him, when I think about losing him, or rather, having lost him, when I think about how much I miss him. It just never goes away. The missing him never goes away, and lately, I've been feeling it palpably. I've been awash in random, startlingly clear memories and fantasies of him doing everyday things. I've been thinking strange A-related things apropos of nothing, like the other day when I was looking at his picture and I thought, "Oh my god…you were cremated!" Like I had forgotten, and then suddenly remembered what all this being dead meant, all the little creepy details.
I fell asleep the other night asking him, asking myself, asking the universe, "What else can I do? What else can I do to heal that I haven't yet done? What am I missing?" I'm better…but I can't help but feel like I'm not better ENOUGH. Not by anyone else's standards, but by my own. It just seems to me that if there is nothing I can do about his being dead, then I should at least be allowed a greater peace in his absence than I am managing.
Where's the grace?
Friday, August 20, 2010
Monday, August 16, 2010
Thursday, July 29, 2010
Tuesday, July 27, 2010
Thursday, July 15, 2010
Wednesday, July 14, 2010
I found out tonight that one of my best friends is moving across the country. Like next week. I knew it was coming this year, but had no idea it was happening so soon. I've been awake pondering my widow entitlement issues...the ones where I think that I shouldn't have to lose anything or anyone else in any way because I lost A, and that's more than enough for one lifetime. I know it sounds ridiculous when I say it. Nonetheless, my inner widow is, evidently, 5 years old and is stamping her little foot and saying, “No, dang it! No more.”
My 38-year-old self would use stronger language.
It's what's best for my friend, and what she's wanted for a long time, and for that, I want to be happy for her. But I've cried a little, what I'm sure will not be the last tears on this subject. I will see her Saturday before she leaves on Wednesday, and then who knows when I'll see her. She hasn't even met my new dog! How can she leave now? Or rather, the real question is, "How can she leave me, too?"
So I'm awake and feeling sorry for myself. My mind is running on two tracks, though, as it often has in the last 4 years. The one track is the emotional “I hate this” track, and pity-party central. The other track is the one where I've learned that I can be faced with unpleasantness (often in the unimaginable extreme) and shrug, because, hey, shit happens and there's not a damn thing I can do about it.
I am pleasantly surprised to realize that I'm in pretty good shape so far this week. I am totally aware of Thursday's milestone; it doesn't stray far from my thoughts and hasn't all month, but I'm feeling reasonably strong, even if my emotions are easily stirred. It doesn't help that I'm hormonal and I've been sweating in an 85-degree house for 2 weeks now; tends to make me cranky under the best of circumstances. I was talking to E about it tonight, and he mentioned those things, and I reminded him that it was the anniversary of A's death, too, and seriously, what else could be piled on this week?
Then I got the e-mail from my friend who's moving; why do I tempt the Fates in this manner? What the hell is wrong with me???
Where am I at at 4 years? Let's see... I finally weaned myself from the widow board in recent months. I've only been back twice in the last 3-4 months, and both of those were me testing myself to see if I would get sucked back in. I did not. Prior to insisting to myself that I walk away (for good, this time—I've tried before and always went back), I spent a lot of time there, out of habit and boredom, especially at work (see the aforementioned boredom), but I started realizing that being there, even when I was trying to help others, I wasn't helping me. Every visit yanked me right back into grief central, and even though I didn't break down in it, it had a definite effect of depressing my mood, and taking me out of the present moment, and my present life. And I had the sense that if I was going to make this life work, I had to focus on it, not just this one aspect of my life, which was becoming a scab I was reopening myself every time I logged in. The support of other widows is invaluable, even now; the raw hash of drama, demons, and death that is the board no longer serves me, nor I it, I think.
I'm not sure that I've gotten over the existential crisis that was a long epilogue to active grieving. It's not that I've lost the sense that most things in life are pointless (at least unto themselves); I still think that, but it's in a more benign way, in that I think it's supposed to be. It's that I've found a way (most days) to see that the value isn't necessarily obvious, or discernible beyond there being a value to any and all experiences. I'm trying to accept the idea that, as far as my purposes as an earthling are concerned, sorrow is as valuable as joy, even if it's not as pleasurable. It's a hard sell, but I'm working on it. My mind on that second track accepts that intellectually, but I know I don't really understand it in my bones, in a way that allows me to rejoice in it all, without a trace of self-pity. My current incarnation just isn't that evolved. Yet.
I think a lot about my potential next life. I joke about not coming back unless I have a strong, healthy athletic body that doesn't plague me, and also I want to be rich, and still play music. But more often, in the quiet of my own head, I think that I would not come back. I cannot imagine why I'd ever give up getting it, understanding it all, to come back here and muddle through life again, blind and ignorant; hell, I can't imagine why I did it this time. What was I thinking? I wish I knew.
I have had 4 years to get used to A's absence...the fact of his death. (I needed to use the word “death” at least once here...I tend to avoid it even now.) And in terms of the day-to-day, I am used to it. Even so, the other morning I woke up with that thought again, about how I sure don't talk to him like I used to...why is that?...oh yeah... I don't talk to him as much as I used to because HE'S BEEN DEAD FOR 4 YEARS. Jesus, what is that?
That's my soul speaking; it hasn't gotten used to A's absence one bit. My brain gets it, and soldiers on, but my heart....for my heart, it happened yesterday. And when my heart and my brain try to get it straight once again, and my head says “You know this...” and my heart says “Seriously? He's dead? How the fuck did that happen? That's not supposed to happen! Doesn't he know that I need him and love him as much as ever, possibly more, and he's supposed to be here?”
Because that's the truth. I've got my life all back together. I'm not wandering about in abject nihilism. I'm creating and living and my relationship with E is strong. But it doesn't matter; the missing him hits me so hard sometimes. I miss him terribly, and still have so much I want to share with him, to talk over with him; I miss his company so much, and his unconditional support, and his wit. My only defense at this point (and I'm grateful to have the strength to be able to do it) is to not let myself go there, not too deeply, anyway. But sometimes, it comes upon me so fast, I don't even have that.
It goes just as quickly, and I know that it probably will. After 4 years, I have no doubts about my ability to survive a grief wave. And I suppose that's given me the confidence in my ability to survive just about anything this life throws at me; the only question is whether I want to. I'm still tired, if I am honest with myself. Sometimes I wonder if the good parts of life ARE enough to outweigh the bad ones. It won't make the difference as to whether I live or die; it'll just make the difference as to whether I skip through my remaining years, enjoying and marveling at my experiences, or slog through wondering when I can be excused from the table. I still have these moments, these thoughts, that amount to “Sure, I'll play your little game (for the next 60 years)...what else am I gonna do? But I see that you're jerking me around; don't think for a second that I don't, and I don't appreciate it!”
After 4 years, my thoughts still tend to go instantly to the worst-case scenario. Tonight, E and I had to go get some paperwork notarized, and I ended up at the place a good 10 minutes before he did, because of how we hit traffic, though we left at the same time. By minute 3 of waiting for him, he was already dead in a terrible car accident and I wondered how I'd find out and what was I going to do about the A/C? And then his car finally rolled into the parking lot, and I nonchalantly asked “What happened to you?” Nonchalant my ass; I'm just dialing back the panic and hoping no one can see. This can happen to me several times a day, with everyone I know, and I hate it. It's the dark side of “The cup is already broken.” Everyone I know is already dead; I'm just waiting for the call. That's what it comes down to, and I hate it. I hate the scenarios I create. They are creepy as hell, and I have this deep, barely acknowledged fear (thanks to The Secret, and thousands of other guru-types that have permeated my consciousness) that by imagining them, I will manifest them in some way. I don't really believe that, but I'll be the first to admit I don't have the universe all figured out. What if I'm wrong? It's fucking neurotic, and I wish I could stop, but I can't seem to. My parents are on a 3-day roadtrip, and I start imagining them (in a bit of maternal irony) dead in the ditch somewhere across 10 states, and have to cut myself off. All I can do is try to stop the scenario in progress from moving forward by distracting myself. I suspect this is going to be a life-long battle, too. When someone you love dies suddenly, you know that anyone else can as well.
I guess the good news at 4 years is that I'm not freaking out about this sadiversary (so far), I am able to examine my feelings without being overwhelmed by them, I am reasonably content in my life, and I know I've come a long, long way in positive directions despite the stuff that still plagues me. And I keep doing it the way I've been doing it since that day 4 years ago: breathe in, breathe out, one foot in front of the other. There is no other way. I guess I've learned that, too.
I love you, Sweetie; I miss you. Stop by if you're around, wouldja, please?
Friday, July 9, 2010
Wednesday, June 30, 2010
Tuesday, June 15, 2010
It's not that I'm not fine. I'm pretty darn fine, actually. Surprisingly. And I'm glad about that. Glad I can function well and that I accept my life as it is and live it. That I've largely shed that nihilistic existential crisis that dogged me for so long and am just doing my thing without constantly questioning the point of it. Of any of it.
But still, my thought processes and pathways have been fundamentally changed in losing A and trying to revive myself in the aftermath, in ways I think would scare civilians if they were privy to them. I think they wouldn't understand that I can look them in the eye and be listening while having a mental conversation with A on another channel, or understand that I talk to him at all, let alone regularly. Maybe I underestimate people. But experience has indicated that I probably don't.
I don't know what I'm trying to say here. I guess it's that while I share anecdotes about A frequently even now, I don't much share my feelings about him and his death with anyone, except those who read this blog. I don't even know if it's as if I feel I can't, but rather, I don't want to. I don't want to be judged. I don't want to be doubted. I don't want to be wondered or worried about. I don't want to be pitied, either as the woman who lost or the woman who can't let go. Even if some of those reactions might not be entirely unwarranted. I guess what I don't want is any response that will not perfectly ease my heart and mind regarding A's dying, and since by now I've learned that that perfect response doesn't exist, I just don't want anyone to try and fail. Again.
Anyway, I am in the home stretch of this third year, and am on low-level alert for any emotional difficulties that arise in anticipation of this milestone. I don't want to conjure any up, but I don't want to be ambushed, either. But with this milestone, he will be gone twice as long as I was with him. Twice as long. And once again, I am shocked at how time can pass like this. I knew it was coming, but even so, it makes me shake my head. Seems like that's all I've ever been able to do about all of this.
Tuesday, June 1, 2010
She came back to work on Thursday after four days away. I heard her voice first, and it was flat and devoid of the liveliness it usually had. When I saw her later, she had that look on her face: the eyes empty and seemingly turned inward, and the rest of her face arranged in an expression that seemed pissed and defensive and shocked. I recognized it as soon as I saw it, even though my own face hasn't looked that way for a long time (thank goodness). It is unmistakable.
I talked to E about it over the weekend, and I called bullshit on no one saying a damn thing to her about her brother's death. Where the hell was our "family company" when one of the family members had suffered a great loss? Had he talked to her then, Thursday, when she came back? No. Had he seen her face Thursday, how hollow she looked? Yes, he had. She was not doing well, which was totally to be expected only a week out, but no one was there for her. If she wasn't going to talk about it, we were free to pretend she was fine? She's not fine, and no one even cares? Or no one wants to, because they secretly judge her brother for killing himself, and they secretly wonder, like many folks who have no clue, why his family couldn't stop him.
I used to be one of those people. I had all kinds of answers about the strong and the weak, the observant and the clueless. And then I read at the widow board and learned a lot about suicide, and the lot of the survivors and what they had to go through, and what they were put through by other people as ignorant as I was. Changed my entire perception, and I realized I didn't know a damn thing about it, despite my judgments from afar. I know better now; but most don't, I guess. And they don't want to, because like any death, they want to believe suicide won't happen in their family, can't happen, and is totally preventable because they are clearly superior human beings who wouldn't allow that to happen on their watch; if they admit otherwise, they are vulnerable, and vulnerability is scary. So they just don't admit it.
Fuck that, I told E. Screw silence. Screw "allowing her her privacy" when what we really mean is, "it's all too icky and unpleasant, so she gets to mourn without even token sympathy from the people she spends 40 hours a week with." It's one thing to give someone space when they ask for it. Giving people so much unrequested space that we refuse to acknowledge that their life has just been irrevocably and painfully changed by death is plain cowardice. It pisses me off, frankly. As if grieving isn't the loneliest road a human being ever walks, we have to make it lonelier by avoiding the subject, or the person, touched by a death? THAT is what's shameful.
I was adamant about getting her a sympathy card, at the very least. She had told the secretary that her brother had passed. That made it officially "known," and it didn't matter how (though of course, the secretary had asked). E was uncomfortable with it; he's still uncomfortable with the idea of death, with the idea of grief, with the idea of reaching out to someone in it, despite all we've been through. I wanted to send a picture of his aunt, who's been widowed a number of years now, and her husband, that we'd found to her; he said no. He frequently says he doesn't want to mention this or that to someone so as not to remind them of their loss; sometimes I'm that someone. I tell him that they (we) never forget it, and would appreciate someone else remembering with them (us), but he doesn't get it. And bless his heart, as frustrating as it can be sometimes, I'd just as soon he not. But he agreed that a card would be okay.
As I was filling out the card last night, I mentioned that I was going to lend her the first (and probably most useful) grief book I'd read. He got really uncomfortable then, like I was overstepping imaginary bounds. "Don't you think you should wait until she asks for help?" I said she wasn't going to ask, and probably wouldn't know what to ask for if she did. I asked him if his house is on fire, should his neighbor wait until he asks her to call 911, or should she just make the call? It wasn't like I was going to force her to do a book report. I was offering her a book that she could read or not, if she felt like it. And that's what I said in the note I attached to the book.
What I didn't say is that I know she's lost right now, and that I know in a month no one will think to ask her about it (if they're barely asking now), and that most of her friends will not have lost a brother at such a young age, nor one to suicide, and that most everyone she knows is so fucking afraid of death that she will start faking being all right in order for more of them not to fade out of her life in fear. I did say that while our losses were not the same, I have walked the grief road, and I was there for her, now or later. I know there is nothing else I can say, and nothing more I can do unless she takes me up on it.
I got an e-mail back thanking me, telling me she'd considered finding a grief book but didn't know where to start.
Fuck silence; we owe it to each other to be there for each other. We owe it to each other to try to help; we might not get it right, but we are absolutely guaranteed to get it wrong if we wimp out and don't try at all.