Thursday, January 14, 2010

Excavating, at 3.5 years today

I think I might've written about this before, but I had decided to give Proactiv a try for my skin not long before A died.  The package arrived a couple days after I found out he'd passed and sat on my desk for awhile.  I don't know how long; my sense of time during that period is slippery, if not nonexistent.  I started using it eventually.  My skin started looking pretty good, but I didn't know if it was the stuff I was putting on it, or the fact that no other chemicals beyond soap were touching my face--no hair goop, no makeup, nothing.  I was lucky to be showered and dressed most days.

Time passed, and I stopped using the stuff, because it had not only stopped working, but seemed to be making my skin worse.  So I tossed most of it out, but kept one open bottle of cleanser.  Just in case I changed my mind.

Long after A had died maybe a year, or even's all so foggy now...I decided to use that bottle.  As soon as I had the cleanser on my face, I knew it had been a mistake:  the scent of it brought me right back to those early days of grief, the days when I cried until I couldn't breathe in the shower, a place where privacy and the running water protected both me and E from my endless, body-wracking tears.  It was like a physical blow, and I reeled.  Once I was almost steady, I washed the stuff off my face and literally threw the bottle in the trash from the shower. 

There were still a couple of sealed boxes in the cabinet, and I knew then I would never use them again, so I brought them to work and left them there for anyone who wanted them to have.  And that was the end of it, I thought.

And then tonight, I decided I was finally going to straighten out my cabinet in the bathroom, spurred by my efforts to put together some travel stuff for my run up north tomorrow.  Apparently, I had not thrown all the Proactiv stuff away; there was one bottle of the zit cream still in there.  And just seeing it nearly launched me into a panic attack:  my chest tightened, and my breathing was shallow, and I just wanted to get away from it.  I threw it into the garbage bag quickly, and now I know that there isn't any more to surprise me down the line.

Sometimes it's a scent; sometimes it's the weather; recently it was being in my mom's new apartment building.  Bodies have their own memories, tied viscerally into our consciousness.  If I could be totally academic about it, it would be fascinating that the sight of a small plastic bottle I had long since forgotten I had could have that kind of effect on me.  And I guess it is.  But it is also shocking to realize how much I am at the mercy of such small things, deceptively dangerous as they are.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Imperative vs. Subjunctive

I haven't done a scientific study or anything, but having observed the well-wishing of friends for a fellow widow today on an important date for her family, I suspect you can tell who is a widow and who is not by the way they frame their notes. 
The non-widowed command:  "Remember the good times."  Implicit in the command is the idea that you shouldn't remember the darker matter of life, as well as a complete lack of understanding that it is often the memory of the good times that brings on the most tears.  It is the tone that annoys me most.  It's bossy, and I don't dig people commanding others' feelings.  "Remember the good times!"  As if you don't?  It's easy enough to remember good times--they are ephemeral by their very nature, and were always meant to be fond memories.  But people aren't supposed to be, and when they starred in those good times and aren't here to reminisce with you about them, it's going to hurt.  When you know you won't get to make any more good memories with them, no matter how much you'd like to, it's going to hurt.  I'm not sure how that piece escapes people.
The widowed, though, if they offer anything at all beyond love and hugs, wish:  "I hope your day is filled with good memories."  Implicit in that hope is acknowledgement of all the difficult memories that are now attached to a loved one that has passed on, memories that are hard to avoid when you think of them:  days, or weeks, or months in a hospital watching their loved one slip away, often in pain; or for those of us who lost our loves suddenly, the hours and steps leading up to finding out the worst, out of the blue.  These are our last memories of them.  Those who wish know to hope that the good memories outweigh the bad ones, because they hope the same for themselves.
I remember the last day of my last trip to visit A.  As was my habit, I was quickly packing my suitcase as soon as I got dressed so I didn't have to think about leaving for a few hours until it was time to leave for the airport.  I was always sad to leave him, and would get teary.  He hated to see me cry, so I would do my best to hold it together, but the fact is, I have no poker face at all, and wasn't fooling anybody.  He knew that morning; a few tears had already leaked out.  He told me that there was no need to be sad; we'd see each other again soon.  (Ha.)
I was sitting on the floor of his bedroom putting things in my bag when I saw something flash, out of the corner of my eye.  When I looked to see what it was, I found the red face of a Buddha statue peeking at me sideways around the doorjamb, and a deep voice saying "Buuuudha" as the statue wagged.  Then the Buddha disappeared, only to reappear a few moments later lower in the door frame.  "Buuuuuuuuudha."  This went on for a minute, until Buddha and his puppetmaster came in to harass me directly.  By that point, I was laughing instead of crying.  Mission accomplished.
And as I sniffled on the plane, the thought of that Buddha cheered me.  But now, even as I smile remembering what a great guy he was, how he cheered me up that time and so many times, the smile turns to a smile with brimming eyes remembering what a great guy he was.  Because I miss him.  Because love is forever.

Monday, January 11, 2010

25 years later

Saturday marked the 25th anniversary of my maternal grandmother's passing.  We were living on the opposite side of the state from her then.  I was 13 years old, and just home from school when the phone rang; it was my grandma's county sheriff.  He asked for my mom, who wasn't home yet, and when I told him that, he asked me how old I was.  When I told him I was 13, he said to have my mother call when she got in and had me take down the number.  When I hung up the phone, I went into a quiet panic, (a panic I realize only now is "my way."  I recognize it now.)  Young as I was, I knew that a call from the sheriff wasn't going to be a good thing.  And it wasn't.  My grandma's death was not the first for me, but it was, until A died, the most significant, and the one that left a deep mark.  I still remember the winter light coming in the window, and where I stood as I answered the phone, and how I hid out in my bedroom until my mother came home, locked in that terrible knowing that something was very wrong, but not yet knowing what. 

My grandma's was a sudden death, though she was 75.  We'd just seen her at Christmas, and she'd had a cold, but otherwise seemed fine.  A heart attack took her.  I worked myself into a tizzy every night for months after she died, fearful that my parents would die, too, and leave me and my brother alone.  One night, after lying in bed, scaring myself into tears thinking about it, I finally got up and went out into the living room to talk to my parents about it.  They swore to me that they weren't going anywhere.  And eventually I came to believe them.  Thank goodness, they're still here.

I started worrying about my parents again after A died.  He was a year younger than my mom, two years younger than my dad.  Sudden death had stolen from me again, and I was too old to believe my parents, or myself, or anyone else, had any kind of immunity to death.  Anytime the phone rings unexpectedly, I brace myself.  Such are the continuing dividends of sudden death.

I still miss my grandma.  I miss all the good times we didn't have.  I mourn all the conversations we didn't have as I grew old enough to get to know her story better, to ask questions.  I wish she could've known me as an adult.  25 years later, when I talk or write about her, I get misty-eyed.  I still love her with the unquestioning love of a child who thinks her grandma is the greatest, because we didn't have the time for me to ever know otherwise.  And because she was the greatest.

Sometimes, new widows will panic, worrying that they will forget their loves.  I've worried about that, too--how can I know what I'll remember in the future?  But then I think about my grandma, and how a quarter of a century has passed, and I still remember all the little things she did for us, and all the love she showed us, and I still love her so very much.  And I know that where there is love, there can be no forgetting.  And though there may be tears, I find that comforting in regards to A.  He isn't going anywhere either.

I had a dream awhile back where my mom, my grandma, and I were having lunch.  At some point in the dream, my mother left the table, and my grandma and I were left to talk.  During the conversation, I looked into her face, and her eyes were not her own; they were A's--startling, intelligent, blue-green hazel.  It was a gift, no doubt from the two of them.  The loss of them both has carved deep lines and valleys into my soul, and for that, they are intertwined:  my experiences of loss and grief.  By the time I've spent 25 years missing A, I'll be 60 years old, and probably have lost others I love.  I have no idea who I'll be then.  Hell, I'm not sure I know who I am now.

This life; my life; I can only shake my head at it, because I sure don't understand it.