Tuesday, December 28, 2010

I've been trying

You know, I've been trying. I've been trying for so long to wade out of the ennui, to shake off the feeling that it's all so futile. I've tried not to focus on the daily mountains of evidence that life is just a long, slow, disappointing slog to the blessed, welcoming grave, harder than it ought to be and punctuated only by the rarest, briefest moments of joy and beauty that are, as I'm feeling today, wholly inadequate to balance the hardship, pain, terror, grief, and bullshit that makes up so much of life, because, frankly, if I do, I've got nothin'. As I tell E, who is Captain Pessimism, bad shit is gonna happen whether I focus on it or not; at least if I focus on the good stuff, I have some light in the darkness. And you know, I thought I had it licked, or at least adequately back-burnered that I could go about my life and enjoy it to a reasonable degree.

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?
"Is That All There Is?" by Sandra Bernhard

Sunday, December 26, 2010

All you can do

You know, sometimes, all you can do is cry.  And I'm not talking about the body-wracking sobs that could go on for half an hour or more at a stretch of early grief, although it's true of those as well.  I seem to be past that (though of course I never say never anymore.)  I'm talking about the silent tears that slide out of the corners of your eyes as you remember, once the lights are out and the house is quiet and there is no protection from your mind, or your memories.  I have yet to be able to determine which hurts more:  the regrets of things unsaid or undone (or unsaid or undone enough), or the memories of the moments that were really, really good.  It's the really, really good moments that make me cry most often.

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


I found out today, through an e-mailed newsletter of all things, that a man I knew through the local music scene died last Friday.  We weren't close; I wouldn't even say we were friends.  But we were friendly acquaintances, and he always seemed to appreciate my music.  He was a hugger, and he did a lot for musicians in our community, of which he was one, too.  He was a nice man, with a nice wife, and just like that, he is gone.  I don't know the how of it.  What I do know is that I am unexpectedly affected today by his passing; goosebumps and a heavy heart.   I think that's because it was so unexpected (at least to me), and because he seemed to be of an age with A, which, in my estimation, remains too young.  (I'm of the mind that anyone under the age of 75 is unjustly young to die.)  I am reminded again of what I know only too well:  That people just die sometimes.  No warning; no appeal; no sense to it.  It happens every damn day.

Sunday, December 12, 2010


Looking for something else entirely tonight, I found an e-mail I'd sent to a friend of A's in November of 2006, just 4 months after he died.  In it, I'm talking to her about how I was having some better days, and that I was hoping that the worst was over.

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

Lost time and misty memory

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.