Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Mixed feelings

Among the many things I didn't receive when A died were a bunch of things of my own, including several books.  We had swapped a bunch of our favorites that we thought the other would like, and I'm glad we did, because if I hadn't had the books he brought me all the way from California ten months before he died, I would've had nothing of his.  I haven't read a single one of those books yet.  I don't know what I'm saving them for.  But it brings me some comfort to know his fingers touched every single page of them.

But this isn't about his books; it's about mine.  Particularly the first two books of a series I love that were among his belongings that no doubt ended up at the charity thrift store, it never occurring to anyone to ask me if there was anything of mine, or anything I wanted, at the home of my lover of two years.  But I'm not bitter.

(Hell yes, I am.)

I recently checked up on that author, and downloaded her latest book to my Kindle, and along with it, a short story that told of the meeting of the two main characters through the eyes of the man (who happens to be Sherlock Holmes); the original novel told it from the girl's (she was a girl when the books started, anyway) perspective.  And that made me want to go back and reread the whole series, which I haven't done since the Little House books a million years ago.  But of course, I couldn't, because I don't have the books.  The completist in me had often thought about replacing them, but somehow, I couldn't, or didn't.  I can't even tell you why I never did.  Maybe it was a tiny cross I was hanging myself upon, a reminder of how I'd been wronged by his family, and worse, his ex who evidently took charge of the disposition of his things--she had the legal right, if not the ethical right; I think it may be worse that I don't think it was malicious; I don't think they gave me a thought one way or the other.

In any case, tonight, 5 years, 4 months, and 2 weeks after his death, I bought the books again and downloaded them to my Kindle as well.  My main impulse was that I wanted to read those books again, but it brings up a whole bunch of other stuff, of course.  If he hadn't died, I'd have them, or know who did.  If his family could've found it within themselves to care a little more about my feelings, I might have them.  I am looking forward to rereading the books (and the story of their May-December romance between people of uncannily like minds), and resentful that I had to buy them twice, and sad because they were the least of what I lost, but they are the tip of that whole iceberg and it all comes back.  They just can't be two books that went missing.  I'm a widow, and too many damn things in my life are fraught with subtext that only I see and can read. 

On the surface, it's no big deal.  I had to replace two paperbacks.  But there's an emotional kick that I can't avoid.  I can anticipate it, and I can survive it, but I cannot avoid it.  And frankly, I think that's a bitch.  Even when you're mostly free of the pain, and the heartache, you're never free and clear.  There's always something that can pull it front and center, where it mocks you in your helplessness.  You can't fix it any more now than you ever could.  And you know that only too well, with more clarity then you had way back in the beginning.  Grief and loss?  They're emotional herpes:  something that won't kill you, but certainly has the power to cause you pain, inconvenience, and to cramp your style.  It just pisses me off sometimes. 

Monday, October 24, 2011


The coworker I mentioned in this post has been back to work a couple weeks now. I sent him a condolence e-mail when the news came that his wife had passed, and we've swapped a couple e-mails sharing pertinent poems since he's been back, alluding to his situation, but not really talking about it. I talked more about it than he did, which I suppose is how it always is. I assume people want to talk, want to process; over and over again, because I did, but I find a lot of people really don't. When I was still e-mailing with A's family, I would spill my guts (carefully...I would carefully pour my guts out), and their responses, even in e-mail, seemed to have this palpable feeling of "Whoa there, lady...way too much information/emotion." It's always a sharing mismatch with me. He seems much like he always did, and is walking around, joking and laughing when he isn't hiding out in his office. It may well be that he's relieved to be in a context where the expectations are clear, and not so heart-rending as those he's been in all these months. But I swear I catch him staring blankly at his monitor a lot. I am not surprised. I did a lot of that for almost 2 years.

It's been weird, and I've felt frustrated, because my instinct is to reach out to him. I am, to my knowledge, the only other person at the company who's been widowed. I have grief books to share. I have experience. I have the URL of a sometimes wacky, but overall helpful, support website I could give him. I have an open heart and a listening ear. I could, and would, be there for him but for two things: we are only friendly, not actually friends, and he has no reason to confide in me, or to imagine he could; and I am not out as a widow to the world at large, just select segments of it. And I don't see any point in coming out 5 years after the fact to someone at work. Too risky.

But I have to say, it was bad enough when my being a closeted poly person interfered with my own grieving; now it's interfering with my ability to be compassionate. Or rather, my ability to demonstrate that compassion. And that sucks. The suckage of that never seems to end. I think about that sometimes, as my parents and my friends and I all grow older. How many times will my ability to empathize be constrained and stifled because it still seems prudent to keep my love of A on a need-to-know basis? How many times will I bite back, "I do know how you feel," because they don't know that I do. Sometimes, I think "fuck it," I'm tired of keeping that secret, and that I'll let the chips fall where they may. But I never do; somehow, beyond the imagined risk, it seems disloyal and cowardly; if I wasn't going to 'fess up when it was happening and he was here and it could've mattered, why would I do it now, when that particular reality is long gone, and only the meanest souls would think less of me for it?

So I do what I can, but mostly, I feel I stupid because it ain't much. I don't ask him how he is. I ignore the subject, just like everyone else seems to around the office, and maybe that is, in fact, what he'd prefer. A lot of widows I know have expressed how they got really tired of people asking "How ARE you?" with that look. And it's not like I can ask him. So basically, I'm behaving like any other DGI--Let's all pretend M's wife didn't die, and that it's business as usual for him. I cringed when a coworker ran into him outside my cube, and chirped brightly, "Welcome back!" like he'd been on vacation or something; he spent the last 5 months watching his wife die. Jesus.

I guess, if I'm honest, I'm projecting the feelings that arise from my old wounds onto him, and he may be feeling none of that himself. But it's not about me. And maybe that's what I need to remember in my frustration; I have to guess he has other means of support. It is no doubt pure ego to think that he needs what I have to contribute. That makes sense to me; there's just that bit of doubt that nags at me, as I remember how many rats fled my sinking ship, and worry for him: what if I were the one person who might've supported him, but didn't?

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Reality smacks me again

My friend had a bowel resection today for the cancer they found during a routine colonoscopy a few weeks ago. At the time, the doc removed a polyp and was sure it was nothing...until the biopsy came back. Now she's down 7" of colon and will be in the hospital for 3-5 days, (forever in insurance time), and will be recovering for weeks. I want to be supportive, and I try, but the one thing I can't bring myself to say is that everything will be all right. Because I don't know that, and I don't believe that anymore as a default, and I don't want to be a liar.

Another widow thing; it makes us socially uncooperative in so many ways.

I am hoping for the very best, for my friend's sake, of course, but also my own; I can't lose another best friend. But at the same time, I know it's totally out of my hands, as most things are. So I find myself in the limbo between unreasonable-yet-comforting optimism and fatalism. The die is probably already cast. She came through the surgery well, but now there's a waiting game. Did they get it all? Will it come back? Will she have to do chemo or radiation after all? Will she, and those who love her, ever be able to relax again?

It may all be fine; but I have plenty of reasons to know that it isn't always. I no longer believe I wouldn't survive another great loss of a loved one; I just don't want to, you know?

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Who is allowed to remember?

I don't take anything away from those who lost family and friends in the 9/11 attacks. They are, for me, a kind of family, like all the widows I know, all the bereaved people I know who have suffered. I want to say that right up front. Their pain, their grief, is as valid as mine, even a decade later.

That is not my issue.

What keeps running through my head is this: We have been reminded, exhorted, and otherwise encouraged to never forget that day, to keep the wound fresh, seemingly so it can be exploited by any number of people for whatever self-serving reasons they may have, most likely control and commerce. People who are passionately angry can be riled up and swayed. People who are afraid can be influenced and coerced. However cynical that may be, the fact of the matter is, as a nation we have been in mourning, actively grieving, for a full decade. And it's been encouraged everywhere you look. Even people who were not personally affected by the 9/11 attacks are encouraged to wear widow's weeds for a nation that died that day and was reborn as something different, something vulnerable, something afraid.

As someone who got a month, tops, before people were bored and uncomfortable with my widowhood and explaining to me that I needed to grieve better, faster, and more correctly, I really don't understand the patience and passion it takes to keep an entire nation, the majority of which was only affected emotionally and intellectually, not personally, by the tragedies and the loss of so many lives, in mourning for 10 full years and counting. Did the 9/11 widows and widowers get 10 years of compassion, of genuine empathy, of listening, as they tried to put their lives back together? Maybe in New York, where the scar of the attack burned and smoldered for so long, where the skyline had changed so dramatically, where there was no way anyone there could forget...maybe there was more compassion for longer. But what about the families of the people on those planes from other parts of the country? Did their neighbors and coworkers and friends soon get tired of their grief? I've read the stories, because they've abounded in the last week, of people who HAVE rebuilt their lives. They have moved forward, and healed. It's a good thing; it's just that their nation hasn't followed suit. If the USA were another widow in this emotional place after 10 years, we'd say she was stuck. Really stuck. But we're not saying it.

I don't know. I really don't. But I suspect that the patience for individual grief, even for those who lost loved ones through this heinous act of murder, was still too brief than it seems to be for national grief. Where grief-stricken individuals are pushed to "get better" and "move on" and heal as soon as is convenient for their observers, the level of pathos, of anger, of vowed retribution seems unabated in all this time, and the scab is regularly pulled off the wound wherever it seems useful to do so. Why is the general impatience with grieving suspended in this case?

I guess I feel some anger and confusion that at 5 years out, I'm supposed to be well over having been widowed, and I certainly should not be still talking about it, but as an American, I'm never supposed to get over 9/11. In fact, I feel like the message being broadcast is that it's my patriotic duty to never move forward from it; I'm supposed to be just as hurt and angry and torn up about it as I was the day it happened.

What is that about?

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Can't go home again

I spent last weekend attending a guitar festival in northern California with a couple of my girlfriends. It was beautiful up there. We had fun and laughed a lot. We drooled over guitars. We shopped. We ate at great restaurants. It was a good time.

But at the same time, it was hard for me to be there. For me, the Bay Area will always mean A to me. I loved it there, because I loved him there, and we explored a lot of it together. And up until now, I've looked for excuses to go back there, to revisit places we visited together, as if I could revisit our life together, like some kind of historical reenactor, I guess. I hadn't been back for 3 years because I haven't been back to guitar camp, so was looking forward to this trip. But the melancholy hit me as we descended into San Francisco and remained as an undercurrent for the rest of the weekend.

In the past, flying over that vast green landscape was a time of excitement and anticipation; I consciously remembered that as we neared San Francisco, though I've only flown into San Francisco once before; it was always San Jose. But from 35,000 feet, at 700 mph, it's much the same view. I would be nervous and jittery with anticipation of holding A in my arms again, seeing him smile, talking with him, kissing him. And that just wasn't going to happen this time around.

A and I had discussed going to this very event, but hadn't had a chance to do so, because it only happens every 2 years. I wasn't ready in 2007, or in 2009, but I thought I was ready to do it without him this year. And I was, but it was more challenging emotionally than I had anticipated, because honestly, I didn't anticipate it being challenging at all. Maybe that was naïve.

In quiet moments, I felt it was all wrong. I wasn't supposed to be there with my girlfriends. If A were alive, I would've flown to him and driven up and met them there, with him at my side. To be there without him just opens up a chasm in my heart in a way being at home does not. The land, the light, it all conspires against me in California, highlighting what is not there. It isn't comforting like I thought it would be; it's actually painful, and I know it affected my mood on and off all weekend. I missed A terribly. And I was homesick, missing E and the dogs in a way I never have before.

It got worse as the weekend wore on, and by the last day, as we headed for home, I was pretty much silent and solitary whenever I could get away with it. I was in my own head, and terse when I did speak; I was irritable, the most consistent indicator of unvoiced grief I have now. I don't know how much of that my traveling companions noticed, but they didn't ask, and I didn't volunteer, because the weekend wasn't about me and my widowhood and I doubt it occurred to anyone that any trip I happily volunteered to take might be bittersweet nonetheless. They wouldn't have understood anyway. 

At one point, I took a break from all the guitar stuff and sat out on the lawn, listening to music, enjoying the feeling of cool, damp grass on my hands and legs. As I sat there, soaking up a different kind of sun, the kind that kisses you instead of burns you, feeling the cool breeze, and luxuriating in the change of scenery, an idea for a song came to mind. But it gave voice to what I'd end up feeling all weekend:

There's something about coming back to a place
where love used to live
and finding no one home
and finding your key doesn't fit in the door
and finding it's not home anymore

It may be too sad a song to write; I'll have to sit with it for awhile.

In any case, the feeling I'm left with is that I'm not sure that I want to go back again.  I mean, it's entirely possible that life circumstances might make it necessary, but I don't know that I'll be looking for reasons to go anymore.  Because the reason I always went to California is gone, and it's just too hard to reckon with that again and again.  It brings up so much stuff, stuff I still can't do anything about, will never be able to do anything about, and I don't know that I need to do that to myself.  In the early days of grief, there is wisdom and healing in feeling it all, processing it all, however painful; but now, five years later, it seems to me avoidance of known triggers, especially the totally optional ones, may be the wiser choice, the emotional version of "Doctor, it hurts when I do this!"  "Then stop doing it."

Monday, July 18, 2011

Dreaming of him

I had a series of bad dreams last night, and as I remembered them this morning, I realized they were all pretty obviously triggered by various stressors in my waking life.  There was the recurring dream I have about driving my car off an embankment into a lake (sometimes it's a bridge); I've never quite figured out what that one's about.  There's the one immediately following that where I survived, got out of the car, and walked out of the lake, only to be barely able to walk and ending up in a clinic talking to someone about my pain and being unable to move, and asking my brother to go back and get my shoes and socks.  That's about the chronic pain I have that has been worse this past week than it has been in a long time.

And then I dreamed about A, which I almost never do.  And it wasn't a happy reunion dream.  It was sad and desolate.  It was like one of my trips out to visit him, and we were doing things we always did, but he barely spoke to me, and when he did, it was like he was out of it...nothing he was saying seemed like him, or made any sense.  He barely seemed to notice or care that I was there.  I remember being worried about him in the dream, that he was going senile or some such, and what was I going to do?   It was all so sad.

The interpretation of that one seems clear enough:  he is far away from me, and I can't reach him, and he won't reach me.  I can't get through to him now.  And he either can't or won't get through to me.  I kind of hoped for an irrefutable sign this weekend; I didn't get one.  The dream I got is not one I would've hoped for--one where we could be together and happy for a little bit of dream time; instead, it manifested the insurmountable, depressing distance between us now.  If nothingness can be palpable, that's what I feel--a totally one-sided love.  I want to believe he loves me still, wherever he is.  And I think that I do; but it's a hope I think about, not a fact I can believe.  Sometimes I get angry at him, and think, "Well, if you're going to ignore me, I'm going to ignore you, too."  And then I wonder if that's exactly what is supposed to happen so that we can get on with getting on with it. 

Where's the handbook on all this?  He's dead and I'm alive, but I'm in limbo when I try to reconcile those two facts with the love I still feel for him.  I don't know what to do with all these loose ends that I thought were tied to him, but no matter how I pull on them, I can't get him any closer to me.  Do I tie them off in a knot and hang them up somewhere? 

Friday, July 15, 2011

5 years

My sweetie died 5 years ago today. But 5 years ago today, I didn’t know that. I didn’t even start to worry until 5 years ago tonight, didn’t panic until 5 years ago tomorrow, and didn’t know for sure that he was gone until the day after that. In the aftermath of A’s death, and all these years later, there are 2 things I still have anger about, when I let myself think about them: 1) the stupid apartment manager who wouldn’t be the least bit helpful in finding out whether A was home, or if his truck was in the lot, when I called 5 years ago tomorrow, and 2) his family’s seemingly cold dismissal of my feelings, needs, and their own promises, in the end. I can almost forgive his family; they probably did as well as they could under the circumstances, even if it wasn’t nearly as good as it should’ve been. The apartment manager I can’t forgive. The combination of stupidity and laziness (she said that despite my concerns that he might actually be hurt or dead, she couldn’t tell me anything because of policy, and she said she couldn’t check for awhile because she was going to lunch) added up to a cruelness that meant my sweetie lay dead in his apartment for 3 days. If she could’ve been a thinking human being for five minutes, she could’ve helped me spare him 2 of those days. It’s unkind, but I hope it haunted her after the fact, because it haunts me. I hope she realized her mistake and vowed never to be so stupid, thoughtless, and lazy again in an emergency; however, my faith in humanity is not so robust as to believe that happened.

But I try not to think about it.

I’ve spent the entire week waiting to fall apart, and it hasn’t happened yet. I’ve been in considerable physical pain since last weekend because of my stupid back, and I suppose that has been a pretty significant distraction. Any whimpering and whining this past week (and there hasn’t been much) has been about that. My back is worse than usual due to some random mechanical factor I can’t put my finger on (as usual), but it also gets worse in the damp and when I’m PMSing, and I’m doing the latter while we’re full into monsoon season; it also occurs to me that while I’m not feeling consciously stressed about this impending milestone, perhaps it is subconscious, and contributing to my back problems. My body fell apart completely in the year after A died, and I’ve never really gotten it all back together. It’s not impossible that I’m revisiting the physical as well as the emotional this week.

I have plans for every day of this ugly weekend. The usual Friday night hang-out with the girls. Concert of a favorite artist Saturday night with a pal. Usual Sunday night dinner with the girls and E. And my back is what I’m most worried about ruining my good time Saturday night; it’s general admission. A would like it that I’m at a concert, rather than home moping.

It’s trite, but “it is what it is” is mostly my feeling regarding this stage of my widowhood. I accept that missing him is what I do now. It isn’t at the forefront of my thoughts most of the time, but it is never entirely gone, either. Nothing I can do about it but shrug, in any case. Not because I don't care; not because I don't miss him. But because I can't do a thing to fix it, or feel differently about it, and this is my new normal.

You can get used to anything. Anything at all.

Then again, there's also the possibility that it's all just roiling under the surface. I found myself particularly easy to enrage after work today; that kind of irritability is usually a subtle sign that grief is at work on me, even if I think otherwise.

There are 2 As now: the one in my head, and the one he really was. Sometimes I get a clear memory, or reread an e-mail he sent me, or a chat transcript, and I remember exactly who he was when he was alive, in astonishing, unadulterated vibrancy. But a lot of the time, it’s the construct of him that sticks with me, one that is necessarily informed in every part by my perceptions, my loss of him, my grief, my feelings about his absence. There's a bit of distance to that one, too, and perhaps that's why it's my more constant companion: it's safer. They are similar, of course, but the real one is better; and it's the real stuff that, in remembering, that makes my mouth smile, my eyes tear up, and my heart ache. The real man provokes the real feelings that I can't afford to feel constantly every day.

I often feel like I want to tell people all about him, because he was such an awesome, amazing person, but every time I try to sketch his character in words, I fail, because there was so much to him, and I can’t convey that totality with any justice. And even if I tried, it wouldn't matter to them because they didn't know him. They didn't love him, like I do. In the end, I fall silent, because in remembering who he was, all of it, I am forced again to reckon with how much I go without because he’s not here.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011


A note went around at work today about a coworker's wife; a couple of months ago, she had horrible back pain that wouldn't go away, and now she's in hospice, and her stay there isn't expected to be a long one.  This is a coworker I'm friendly with, though I wouldn't call us friends; but he's a nice man, and they've been in love for 34 years, and I feel terrible for both of them, for the end she is facing, and for the widowhood he is.
Granted, I've only experienced a long fatal illness with my dogs (who are my kids), because my sweetie died suddenly, but even that experience taught me that the time you spend waiting when there is no time left is miserable, a special kind of hopeless.  When my A died, I imagined I wished I'd had more time, time to say things that needed to be said, time to say goodbye, time to say "I love you" a hundred more times before the last time in his presence.  And maybe, in fact, I would prefer that.  Maybe there is some peace to be found within the dread.  I don't know.   I pray I never have to find out.
In some ways, I know what he's going to go through.  In other ways, I know I don't have the first clue.  All I know is that another family is hurting, and is going to be for a long time, and there's nothing to be done for it.  Mostly, my heart breaks for them, and this empathy probably couldn't have come at a worse time; then again, it probably couldn't have come at a better one, either.
It's that time of year again.  Basically, when I flipped the calendar to June, I started to feel the dread, and more and more, I curse clocks and calendars.  If there were no calendars, no named and numbered days to tick off, I would no doubt recognize that another year was about to pass, but there wouldn't be this relentless feeling of movement toward a specific day, the build-up to which is an emotional burden as I'm constantly taking my temperature.  How am I feeling?  Am I sinking?  Am I not, and if not, is it going to hit me further down the line?  When?  How?  And what does it mean if it never does?
Without this "anniversary" date, I would remember that he died in high summer, and there wouldn't be this funnel of time sucking me down to a specific point where despite having no conscious plan to do so, I seem to have expectations about my feelings.  Without that date, without labeled time in sequence, I would merely recognize that the day formerly known as July 15th is probably going to be no different than the ones before and after it in terms of how I'm feeling about A, and his absence.  I seem to have settled in to a manageable missing him; it's pretty much the same day to day.  Sometimes it brings a tear to my eye; mostly it doesn't.  I'm done wishing.  I'm done begging.  I'm done blaming, myself and him.  I've given up all hope for a different past.  I just miss him.  Quietly; consistently; every day.
As it is, the thing that bothers me most is that nearly 5 years have passed.  5 years has always seemed like such a long time to me; I've seen my life change again and again in the span of 6 months; 5 years is an age in one person's lifetime.  For almost 5 years, I've been getting along without him, when for the 2 years prior, there was rarely a day when I didn't talk to him multiple times.  It still sounds like a long time to me, and while I'm fine now, if I could measure time emotionally, it doesn't feel like nearly that long.  I don't know how long it feels, other than "not that long ago."  I've been around the sun 5 times since he died, hurtling 2,934,600,000 miles through space.  Shouldn't it feel like longer?
It makes me wonder if I hold him too close, if I would be better off hiding the pictures and the keepsakes and putting away the candles.   Because wherever he may be, I don't feel like he's holding me that close, not like right after he died.  I can't hold on to him; I feel he's gone.  So what am I holding on to?  Where is the line between keeping space for a true love that I still feel, and keeping one foot in the past to my own detriment?  Does that line actually exist, or am I thinking too much?  I had something brilliant and wonderful with my A, and I don't anymore.  But that doesn't keep me from still wanting it.  And wanting an impossible thing is as sure a recipe for heartache as I know. 
If there is a healing task that remains to me, it must be this:  figuring out a way to stop wanting and missing what was.  Figuring out how to cross over from wanting what I can't have to appreciating what I had with true acceptance of its impermanence.  Figuring out how to have the love without the yearning.  It is the difference between begrudgingly accepting that I can't have him here anymore because I have no choice, and being Zen about it, and cutting the ties that continually bind me to that past where I was, admittedly, happier, healthier, more loved and more loving.  I guess what I'm saying is that I am not living my inner life in constant grief anymore, but I do think there's a pretty constant undercurrent of regret when my thoughts find him.  You can only regret the things you accept as having happened.
I have to think it's possible.  (And if it isn't, I'd sure like someone to let me know, so I can let myself off the hook.)  But I don't have the vaguest idea of how to make that move.  I've never done this before. 

Monday, June 6, 2011

It gets different, and sometimes that's better, too

Today, I found myself in the bathroom at the office wiping away tears.  I was trying to pull myself together because I was laughing so hard reading this site at work, that if I didn't excuse myself, I was going to get busted.  I could barely control my laughter; there was some snorting and other strange noises, too, as the laughter exploded out in spite of my best efforts.  As I sat there, repeatedly breaking out in giggles as I remembered some of the posts and wiping my eyes, I thought of how many times during the summer of 2006 I'd been in the bathroom at work wiping away tears, crying my shattered heart out as silently as possible for one who is sobbing uncontrollably.  And I was grateful to be in there today, shaking with laughter as I cracked up again and again.  There was a time where that seemed impossible.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

"He was born on a summer's day, 1951."

Because I have a lot of musical "friends" on FB, I received the news today that Andrew Gold had died. I didn't recognize his name, but I did recognize his hits. There are a lot of musicians like that, I think--people you don't realize you know until something puts it together for you. Like a eulogy. It was only today that I found out he'd died at 59, of a sudden heart attack.

Even though I wouldn't have been able to pick Andrew Gold out of a lineup, and didn't know him by name until today, news of his death has hit me hard, because it echoes A's death. A was born on a spring day in 1951; they were born the same year. And A died, also too young, of a sudden heart attack.

My feelings are a jumble: frustration that men of a certain age are so vulnerable to deadly heart attacks; sadness that I seem to be moving into a stage of life where the actuarial tables showing that the mortality rate quadruples once you're in your 40s are illustrated daily among friends, family, and acquaintances; and also envy, that Andrew Gold and his loved ones got an extra 5 years that my sweetie didn't.

It's selfish, I know, to find in someone else's death, some other family's misfortune, an occasion to think about my own loss and my own pain, but I am not immune to triggers; it'd be more surprising if, given the parallels of the cases, if I didn't make those connections.

I learned Friday that the wife of a coworker has most likely received a death sentence, via metastatic cancer that was just found. They're probably in their sixties, but still relatively young, to me. Maybe they will have a miracle happen; but miracles are always a bit thin on the ground.

That's the thing about death. It's easy enough to accept intellectually as something that happens, and something that happens to every living thing. But it's difficult to accept the mighty upheaval it causes in your life and the lives of all who are left behind. Death in the abstract is simple enough; death, concrete and immediate, is complex, and takes years and years to unravel. How many years? I don't know; I'm still unraveling it. Obviously.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Hello darkness, my old friend

I had death on the brain yesterday, considerations I'll not detail lest anyone reading this panic for me, because they didn't really reflect how I was feeling, personally--it was all very detached and theoretical, if graphic. But it was still an unpleasant train of thought, and I tried to shake it off as I drove across town for band practice, even as I was puzzled as to where it was coming from.

It wasn't until later last night that it hit me; it was Memorial Day. The last day I kissed and touched A; the last time I saw him without two computers between us. Consciously, I was thinking about other things, more current things, but my subconscious was busy dancing with the Reaper, dredging up all kinds of creepy scenarios and thoughts. Even when you forget for awhile, or for a minute, you never really forget.

I had a long telepathic talk with A once I went to bed, and talked about the stuff I never talk to anyone about regarding his death and the circumstances of his being found and how much that bothers and baffles me, still. His best friend identified him, having arrived about the same time as his sister and the cops I called. The friend told me he'd been found in his bathroom, and that he looked peaceful. I accepted that at the time, and never asked for more details, because I didn't want them, even if I sometimes wonder about them. Better to not know; better to speculate wildly than to have a clear vision of the truth to torment myself with. I talked about how awful it was that he might've been taking a shower or brushing his teeth or combing his remaining hair and just collapsed, with no warning on a Saturday morning. How awful it was for him to be there, waiting to be found; and how he probably wasn't waiting at all, and maybe I could eventually get my head around that enough for it to be a comfort. He was probably gone quickly, because why would he stick around when his spirit was free? How it was just really awful for me, for all of us who loved him, because we only knew him in his body, and so we'd have to be forgiven for confusing his body for his being, and hurting about it.

I talked about how the Mystery itself causes people to deny there's any mystery at all, and how it would be easier, and really not so painful, to believe that this IS all there is, that when we die, that's it, and there's nothing to hope for beyond that, because that's what I believed for a long time and it didn't bother me at all back then. I had no evidence otherwise, so it made sense. I talked about how it would be easier to disbelieve in a future when he and I would cross paths again, once I died, and that it was worthwhile to keep the one-way line of communication open in the meantime, even if it was sometimes painful, and just walk on and not ever look back. Except that I've had evidence otherwise since A died. But it all happened soon after he died, and after awhile, you're on your own, and doubts creep in. Some people manage that inner conflict through faith. I don't have faith; I have reason and experience...and hope. And sometimes, that's just not enough to keep your spirit bright and moving forward. It's like knowing the sun will come up tomorrow, because it always has. But if it didn't for a few days or weeks or years in a row, no matter how many times you saw it happen before, you'd start to wonder if it ever did.

I don't talk about those things, even in my head to the man they happened to, very often, because they hurt like hell to revisit. But I guess they needed an airing for that very reason. In articulating it, I allowed it, and in allowing it, I was a bit more free, a bit more whole. Over and over again, I've felt that grieving and healing are a process of integrating the experience into who and what I am. If I can't even talk about it to myself, then it will continue to plague me. If I can't talk about it to A, if I can't take advantage of the heightened intimacy of death, where all cards are laid on the table and honesty rises to new levels because you can't possibly hurt each other more than the pain the separation of death causes, then I am an obstacle to my own healing that continues even now. You've got to process this stuff; if you just stuff it down, it'll come back to bite you. Maybe even 5 years later.

This morning a song came up on shuffle on my iPod that I will take as a sign, because I needed to hear what the song had to say, and the people saying it was a sign in and of itself. I need to believe it; I need to hope.




(Makes no difference, girl, with love)




Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Happy anniversary, Sweetie

"Postsecret.com is a website where people can anonymously reveal their deep, dark feelings. I came across one entry that I think would be perfect for you to use as your own in the coming weeks. "I don't want to cover up my scar," it read. "It's a good conversation starter and it makes me look bad-ass. But thank you anyway!" To further inspire what I hope will be your fearless effort to claim the power inherent in your wounds, I also offer this spur from musician and author Henry Rollins: "Scar tissue is stronger than regular tissue. Realize the strength, move on."

This was my horoscope today, for the next week. Been thinking a lot about my scars...or rather, the scar.

In a strange twist of fate, my anniversary of meeting A falls three days after my anniversary of marrying E, which makes for an especially fraught week as it leads into Memorial Day weekend every year, the last weekend A and I were in the same place at the same time. (If you don't count my walking through the redwood forest where his ashes were scattered.  Which I only count when I'm engaging in dark widow humor to myself.) Even though I talked to him every night between then and when he died, when I think of our last goodbye, it is always the one where we hugged and kissed and said "I love you," my eyes filled with tears as I went through airport security.

The attempt to balance the celebration of one relationship with the mourning of the loss of another is something that generally leaves me feeling entirely unbalanced. I find I alternate, swinging between them: I celebrated during the day; I cried at night.

When I am really missing him, I remember a hug we had in his kitchen that last morning before I left. He was wearing a red shirt, and he felt so big and strong. My sweetie was 6'2"; he made me feel safe and protected; it's such a rare, surprisingly sweet thing, my being smaller than anyone. In remembering that hug, I can feel the solidness of his chest and the strength in his arms holding me close, and the muscles in his back as I ran my hands over them. It's one of the strongest physical memories of him I have, and I try to keep it evergreen, because it means so much to me, and does so much to calm me when the ache threatens to tear me apart.  I feel like I have lost as many memories as I've managed to keep. I cannot remember his voice now.

I cannot remember his voice.

It's been nearly 5 years, and mostly, when I hear his words in my head, they're in my own voice, and it feels like an exceptionally grave loss. There are one or two phrases I can almost hear in his voice, but even that I doubt the accuracy of. I went to sleep the other night, on my wedding anniversary, thinking about that, crying a little, begging both him and my own memory banks to conjure up his voice in my dreams so that I wouldn't lose that, too, but as usual, my dreams did not cooperate.

I tried to tell myself that perhaps I heard my own voice in my head because he and I were so truly connected that it was one and the same. But while I considered the possibility that it might be true, I didn't really believe it.

I remember reading my first grief book a couple weeks after he died, and seeing the chapters that dealt with beyond the first year, going out to the fifth, and I couldn't imagine what that meant. Would I still be grieving 5 years out? That terrified me. Would I be better 5 years out? I couldn't imagine how that could be true.

The answer to both questions turns out to be "yes." Time has passed, and I've grown accustomed to the duality, accepting that while there may be momentary confusion in the comparison, it really isn't so impossible to live in seeming emotional contradiction. Our hearts are not linear, feeling one thing at a time, in its turn. I wonder, now, why I ever thought mine was.

I suppose this is true for many, if not most, widows, but I can't "celebrate" these anniversaries. I met A 7 years ago; I've celebrated 5 of these anniversaries without him. The day passes each year without failing to give me a blithely malicious kick. There are few days on the calendar sadder than birthdays never attained and anniversaries celebrated by only one person.

At every step of this journey, I've wondered if whatever stage of healing I was at was as good as it was going to get, and then I've ended up finding out it wasn't. But it's been the same for a really long time now, and I think maybe this IS it. And what does it look like for me? It means missing him a little every day, and terribly some nights; it means a few quiet tears in memoriam here and there; it means sighing and carrying on, because there's nothing else to do.  It means appreciating every little good thing that comes my way.  It means realizing the strength, and moving. On. Forward. Sideways.  Sometimes backwards. But moving.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

No joy, again

I am, even as I type this, listening in to a live web broadcast from a young woman who styles herself a "joyologist," who has found her calling in helping other people live joyous lives. I first heard about her because she's worked for a musical artist I'm a fan of, and he seemed pretty jazzed about who she is and what she does. And she's gone into business as a life-coach-type person, working with other bands and now doing seminars and one-on-one sessions. I was simultaneously skeptical and intrigued. I've never thought I needed a life coach. I tend to think I do pretty well on my own.

But at the same time, I know (as anyone who reads this page regularly knows), I still don't feel like I'm doing this life thing with an optimal attitude. And I think it IS my attitude, formed by my experiences, because intellectually I get that life is what it is, and probably isn't persecuting me or anyone else personally. Life is life; I have no control over that. I only have control over how I navigate it.

So while I've always been a little smirky-snorty-eye-rolly about the whole life coach concept, I fully admit the possibility that someone else might have a different piece to this puzzle that I do not currently have, and that I can use. How can I know unless I check it out for myself? I signed up when I found out she was doing a seminar for what basically amounts to tips...you could donate whatever you felt like donating, because, frankly, I could use a little more joy in my life, a little more contentedness as a baseline, rather than the pendulum swinging, rather speedily, between "I'm fine, life is pretty groovy" and "Jesus, is this all there is?"

She's adorable, and young, and she's got a lot of good ideas that, if you've never considered them before (and it's entirely possible that you haven't in a culture that is constantly judging you as deficient in a thousand ways, urging you to judge others as harshly, and that runs on dissatisfaction and competition rather than peace), could be revolutionary. The commentary on the running chat that accompanies the broadcast indicates that for some folks, it is, and good for them. I am, regardless of my own personal growth agenda, thrilled that young people are reaching out to other young people to share these new, counterculture messages that they are awesome, right here, right now, always were, always will be, even as they continue growing and learning.

She talks about feeling your feelings, but choosing your attitude, giving examples like being pissed off because it's raining or because you're stuck in traffic. And as I know people who tend to blow piddly crap all out of emotional proportion, I'm aware that plenty of folks need guidance on even that level. She says shit happens, life happens, and you just have to choose to deal with it head on. She talks about loving yourself. She talks about negative, neurotic self talk and how destructive it is. And how "should" is limiting. She shares a lot of important messages, exciting ones if you haven't heard them before.

But the stuff that is the lead weight to my balloon of joy is a little more serious than a rainy day and old biddies driving 15 mph in a 40 zone. It's missing my beloved. It's a world where people treat each other in stupid, abominable, inhumane ways and don't seem to notice or care they're doing it, and my frustration with that. I'm kind of beyond this Self-Actualization 101 stuff. I was looking for, hoping for, more. More wisdom. More depth. More than I have.

Because I keep looking for sages with answers, even just tidbits, that will light my way further than I can manage myself, and what I keep finding is that other people are equally benighted as I am, or worse. (Much worse, in some cases.) And while I guess it's neat that I've managed to figure some things out in this life, I want good answers from someone wiser than I as much as anyone else does. But I just can't seem to find that someone.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Circles or spirals

Last night I was driving over to my friend's for a massage, listening to music and pretty pleased with myself as I thought about an e-mail from an acquaintance I'm negotiating with to start a musical duo (with the hopes of finding a drummer and becoming a trio at some point). She'd told me that she'd shared some of my tracks with some of her friends, and they were "quite impressed," and that she's excited to get started. I am, too.

The thought popped into my head that this might well have been where my life was heading before I met A. My unique circumstances mean that, unlike for most widows, my life now looks very much like it did for years before I was widowed, and before A came into my life. It took me aback, the idea that the last 7 years has basically been a detour of 2 years of a gorgeous, wonderful dream and nearly 5 years of slowly receding hell, just to drop me back where I was: Married to E, with dogs, in the same house, at the same job, making my way into some kind of amateur music career.

Granted, I am not at all convinced (though A was) that I would be a musician today without his influence and encouragement. But in any case, it's weird and more than a little disconcerting as I think about it. Is that what's happened?

On the one hand, getting back to normal is the dream of the bereaved isn't it? Even when we know it's impossible. On the other hand, I cannot pretend the last 7 years didn't happen, either; it wasn't a detour—it's been my life. I just don't know what to make of it. My life, on the outside, may look very much as it did, and was going to, before A, but my life, lived from the inside, feels so very different from then. So it's weird that the comparison would've occurred to me at all.

Perhaps the conflict is in the constant tension between past and present. Sometimes I think, "If I had no past, if all I had and all I knew were what's going on in my life today, I'd be pretty happy." But there is a burden of prologue, and we must carry our joy and our pain and our lessons with us. I don't think there's any avoiding that, unless you trade it for the burden of iron-willed denial; either way, it's heavy, and there seems to be no option to set it down, short of amnesia.

I fantasize about that kind of amnesia sometimes, about forgetting the events of recent years, and even the idea of not remembering A, not remembering how we loved each other, not remembering everything he taught me, nauseates me.

The best I seem to be able to do is to decide when and how much I will let the past influence my current choices and actions. But the awareness of his absence and my sadness whenever I consciously confront that fact again, that doesn't go anywhere. It may not be flowing unchecked over the bar, but it's always on tap.

As I sit here in my cubicle at the same job I've been complaining about for nigh on a decade, and consider last night's epiphany, I have to wonder if the fact that my life now so resembles my life before is my fault…that I haven't done as much as I might've with the time, and rather than the universe playing a nasty joke on me, to put me through all that and drop me back right where I was in the end, that it is some kind of stagnation on my part.

Or possibly, what I'm looking at is a personal victory, in that I have managed to steer out of the rocks and get back on course. Because if I consider only the present, it's all pretty good. I'm pretty good. It's not a bad life at all. The problem, as always, is in knowing what you're missing.

In early grief, the signs that you're improving are pretty obvious: less crying; an occasional smile; being able to tell the story without a meltdown; feeling like you don't have to tell the story to everyone you run across. As you get further out, and you integrate the loss, it necessarily becomes more difficult to separate the widow experience from the life experience, and evaluate how you're progressing.

Maybe the answer is not in evaluating it at all.


How do I (not) do that again?

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Happy birthday, Sweetie

You're supposed to be 60 today.  Do you care?  Or are you reveling in your infinite self?  I hope you're reveling, for your sake.  I was just thinking the other day that I wish we could talk across this space between us, but then I wondered if what you can see and do and experience now is ineffable; could you even share your "day" with me now?  Would I understand?  Or is it one of those "you had to be there" things?  I can tell you about the dogs and what I'm up to, and you'd have to try to explain what it's like to be a supernova, because you get that now.  And I'd be dumbfounded, and Google would be no help.
Still, I wouldn't mind giving it a try.
As tempted as I have been to just take some time to mope tonight, I'll be going to open mic to honor you instead, singing songs for you.  You know the ones.  I always sing for you, of course, but this is expressly in your honor.  I figure you'd prefer that to moping.  I'm doing my moping on the clock instead, in my cubicle.  I'm a multi-tasker like that, as well you know.  A few tears today, when I wrote S to tell him it was your birthday.  He's the only one in my life who knew you, too, and had a relationship with you of his own, and cares, and I needed that connection today.  I'm sure your family and your other friends are thinking of you today, too, but...well, you know how that goes.
Anyway, there's nothing to say now that I haven't said a million times.  I just wanted to tell you that I wish you were having a birthday today, and that I love you so very much, and miss you an equal amount.
Tu J, siempre xxooxx<3

Monday, March 14, 2011

Ageless, timeless, endless

Tomorrow would have been...should be...A's 60th birthday.  He's missed 5 birthdays now.  He only got to be 55 for a few months before he passed, though we (and by "we," I probably mean "I") had great fun teasing him about his official senior citizenship.  Now that he was 55, we were going to enjoy that nice 5% discount at Jack in the Box when next I visited, among who knows what other untold discounts he might be eligible for.  We were going to be on high times, me and my senior discount sugardaddy. 
I never got to take advantage of that, though, because my next visit was scheduled for 2 weeks after he died. 
Yes, I still feel cheated.
While I'm always a little sad around his birthday, this one has loomed in my mind for a few weeks now.  I think it may be because it's a milestone birthday.  60.  While I felt like 55 was still firmly in middle age, even if it was at the tail end of it, 60, to my mind, seems to be the gateway to actually being old.  It's at the youngest end of old, but it's old nonetheless, and it's kind of a big deal.  I would like to be giving him crap about that now; when we addressed our age difference at all, it was mostly to tease each other about our age and youth, respectively, although he tended to comment on how old I was.  He would've had a field day when I hit 40 this fall.  And I would've reminded him he was still a helluva lot older than I, and a grandpa, and then there was the matter of his bifocals.  Game, set, and match to moi.
Only he's not as much older than I as he used to be.  The gap has narrowed, from 20 to 15 years now, and it will only get smaller.  I may well surpass him, albeit later than a lot of my other young widowed friends and acquaintances who have already dealt with that personal milestone.  And I don't like this.  All these markers of time passing just remind me of what I'm (still) missing, what he's missing, what isn't happening.
I have been particularly annoyed by these new American Cancer Society "Happy Birthday" commercials, where they style themselves the "proud sponsors of more birthdays."  A didn't die from cancer, and I certainly don't begrudge anyone more birthdays if they can manage them.  It's just that someone I love isn't having anymore birthdays, and that fact is especially front-and-center for me at the moment, and dammit, I just don't need Celine Dion (who is oddly creepy to me, anyway) reminding me of what I don't have.  It's a little of that early grief tenderness and self-focus on the emotional side, even if I know better on the intellectual side.  I KNOW the American Cancer Society isn't doing anything on purpose with the intention of hurting me.  However, as far as I'm concerned, they and the statin commercials can do me a favor and go far away from my TV set.
I'm not even that upset...it's just this heavy, poignant awareness that, shit, he's still dead.  I'm still at it without him.  I still miss him.  Situation normal...for whatever that's worth.
It occurs to me that, had he not died when he did, his heart disease might've gone undiagnosed throughout these 5 years, and he could've had that fatal heart attack anytime.  I could've lost him any minute; there is no guarantee I would've had these 5 years; clearly, the odds were against it.  And though it wouldn't have saved me one minute of widow pain to have one more year, one more week, one more day, one more hour with him before he died, I still wish I'd had it.  It'd never be enough, but it'd be more.  And while I'm almost certain that being able to let go of that impossible desire for more of him is what could end this ache in my heart, this longing for what can't be, I don't have the first notion of how I would do that, or what it would cost me if I did.

Friday, February 25, 2011

You're only as old as you feel

I was chatting with my guitar teacher the other day about yoga, and he was lamenting his lack of flexibility at the tender age of 29. I mentioned that he should get started now, or he'd been in rough shape by the time he was as old as I.

Evidently, that was the final "old" comment that tipped the scales, because he called me on it "Do you mind if I ask...you make comments all the time about being old...how old ARE you?" I told him I was 39, and he commented on how that was not so old, only 10 years older than himself. I told him I was older than I look..."I'm like Yoda...I'm 800 years old." I laughed as I said it, but I meant it. I feel that way often.

We moved on from there, on to actual guitar-related discussion, but the conversation stuck with me. First of all, it held up a mirror to me, pointing out that I probably make far too many age-related remarks to people (and it probably annoys both those older and younger than I). But what I've really been pondering is, why? Why is that a recurring motif with me?

The fact is, I don't feel 39, although I fully admit that having never been 39 before, this may well be what 39 feels like and I just don't know it. I feel so much older. If I had to put a number on it, I would say that widowhood added 10 years to my age, physically and mentally.

People sometimes are surprised when I tell them my age. I guess I look younger than the number (one of the benefits of being fat--it keeps your skin filled out), and I think older than most people expect of a thirtysomething, but since I'm me every day of my life, I know that I look and feel much older than I did, more than the actual years can account for. I was a dyed redhead when A died, having moved beyond the "pluckable grays" in my mid-twenties. When I finally stopped dyeing my hair for good in the year after he died, it was at least twice as gray as the roots had shown before he died, and the grays seem to be multiplying all the time since. And then there is the chronic pain, a problem that flared to crippling proportions within 6 months of A's death and which I'm still dealing with 4 1/2 years later, and may be for the rest of my days. On my best days, I am stiff and sore, and tired because of it. I never imagined there being such a physical response to grief; I knew I would hurt in my heart; I didn't realize the rest of my body would be affected as well, though I've since learned that that's common to the bereaved.

As for the mental aging, widowhood took a lot out of me, primarily patience for foolishness (not that I had much in the first place), and ignorance and naivete due to lack of experience. This leads to a bit of curmudgeonly reverse ageism where I'm pretty quick to dismiss or condescend to those younger than myself. It's a bad, presumptuous, uncompassionate habit, but one I'm not always aware I'm engaging in until the words have left my lips, which indicates to me that it's solidified into a life view to some extent; it's just too ready, too thoughtless, to be otherwise. I feel older than my peers, not only because I've been widowed (although that experience is a large part of it), but also because I've been with my partner twice as long as any of them have been with their own, bought 4 houses, had 2 careers, and have been living the life of an empty-nester for years now. And I've always been an introspective personal problem-solver, and have identified and worked through (or at least made peace with) a lot of my "stuff" when a lot of folks I know seemingly have yet to recognize they may have "stuff." I find myself expressing world-weary sighs and mentally washing my hands of young, inexperienced, or unenlightened hopeless causes on a regular basis.

I have become an old crank, it seems to me. But, to others, I'm still a youngish woman.

People want to argue with me when I comment on my "oldness," especially since so many of my friends are older than I. "You're just a baby!" they say. And while it's true that I am relatively young, it always feels dismissive to me, because I'm not. (Which is probably why the youngsters whose youth I comment on are annoyed, too. Maybe I should start by not calling them "youngsters.") I've lived through a hell of a lot (emphasis on the "hell") in the last several years, and it's taken a toll I can barely articulate. I'm struggling, even here, to string together the words that will describe what all the widows reading this will probably understand implicitly, but I couldn't for the life of me explain to someone who hadn't had similar experiences.

Perhaps the best comparison would be Westley's experience on the rack in the pit of despair in The Princess Bride. Count Rugen puts him on a machine that extracts years of life from its victims; he puts it on the lowest setting, 1 year, and it just about kills Westley. It takes a miracle for him to recover, and even so, though he looks mostly the same from the outside, he is weak. When A died and left me behind, it took 10 years of my life, I swear, or rather, fast-forwarded me 10 years. I feel it, quite literally, in my bones. It took my youth and my playfulness, my strength and my resilience, my innocence, and my patience, my hopefulness and my defenses against a world that is often puzzling, cruel, or wicked, to a degree I'm only now beginning to recognize and seek a remedy for. I have little hope of regaining my innocence; the nature of innocence precludes that. You cannot unring a bell, cannot unsee what you've seen. What I'm left wondering about, and praying for, is whether I can somehow rebuild the others in spite of that.

I often wonder who I would've been if I'd not been widowed at 34. Sometimes I think back, and that woman was enthusiastic about life and certain of her efficacy and a little insecure, despite outward appearances. She was fun, and carefree. Now I'm actually pretty secure in myself, but only situationally enthusiastic, and not certain about much, other than that my efficacy counts for very little in the grand scheme of things. I'm not entirely sure I know how to be fun anymore, and "carefree" has become "couldn't care less." In some ways, there is a settledness about my new mindset, a peace in acceptance...or resignation--maybe it's both--and that's not the worst thing in the world. But it does take a bit of the sparkle off life, in a lot of ways. If I haven't seen it all, I've seen more of it than I wanted to, and it has worn me out.

It occurs to me that perhaps the reason I make so many "old" comments at my own expense, or "young" comments at others', is because on some level, I want people to understand the change that has taken place within me. I want people to understand what life has cost me. I want to be acknowledged as a veteran in this battle from cradle to grave. I, like anyone, want to be seen. And while I cannot explain exactly what widowhood and other difficulties have done to me, to my life, to my relationships, "old," has become a sort of shorthand to describe the end results of the events in life that tend to make us tired and embittered and ready to be done, like some truly old people we've all known. I know life scars us all; I don't think I'm special in that regard. But I only have to live with me, and I'm trying hard to find a way to do that better, rather than bitter.

When I meet octogenerians who are still enjoying themselves and savoring life in general, despite having experienced all the things that drag me down today and more, I find myself envious and eager to know their secret to living with gusto still. Because I feel like a wimp compared to them. By the time you're 80, you've lost so much and so many; maybe more than one spouse; maybe children; friends for sure; you've had health problems. What have they learned that makes them still want to go out and dance through life, even if they need a cane or a walker to do it?

I need to know that. And my ignorance on that count is the one thing that reminds me that I am not truly old. Because if I were, maybe I'd have learned it, too. I'm half their age, and most days I feel indifferent at best (and worst) about throwing in the towel. Clearly, I'm missing something.

I suspect A would be disappointed in me, feeling this way. He had 20 years of life's ups and downs on me, had lost both his parents, many friends, and his marriage. And while he got down sometimes, he generally greeted the day happy to be alive. I loved that about him, and it rubbed off on me. I need that energy of his to keep me from slipping into in cynicism, apathy, and negativity, and I don't have it in anyone else. It's an ugly bit of irony that the man who was so integral to and nurturing of my positivity about life is, through his death, the reason I no longer have it. I'd like to honor him, and who he was, better, and in doing so, appreciate the miracle of being alive better for my own sake. I'm working on it, but the way is not clear to me at all.

What does a person do when she is too old to be young, and too young to be old? Too old to be deluded as to the reality of things, too young to be wise about same?

Monday, February 7, 2011

Worlds collide

I do a lot of reading in the so-called "Fatosphere," a group of body acceptance blogs. There's a new one on the feed, from a young widow. I posted at her site, offering my condolences and directing her towards the ywbb. She hadn't posted much since, but today she posted that she's put up a dating profile, received quite a few replies, and been on two dates in the last week or so.

She is two months out.

I thought about leaving a comment warning her to be cautious; warning her that the worst is yet to come grief-wise; warning her that while interpersonal miracles do happen, they are rare and she needs to be careful of her heart, lest she hurt it even worse. At best, her odds are pretty bad.

But I think back to all the ugly back and forth on similar posts at the board, and wonder if it would make a difference; it never seemed to with all those other folks. I think about where I was at two months; I was IN a relationship, and still wasn't a fit partner or companion--I was a mess. And I think about how there are no hard fast rules...she could be the one that beats the house on this; she could have extraordinary spiritual steadiness and amazing coping skills and only need two months to move forward. I don't know her. And I'm the first to say that "people may be, but individuals aren't," about just about anything.

On the one hand, I feel the desire that all experienced folks have to spare those who come after them some of the pain they earned learning things the hard way. On the other hand, less and less do I feel like I want to advise others, or share my opinions. It's a combination of feeling like it's intrusive, condescending, and the realization that it most often falls on deaf ears anyway. That is, in part, why I finally walked away from the board.

I hope she'll be okay. I think she's probably headed for a crash. But in the end, she didn't ask me, and our mistakes are the only things we can truly call our own. Indeed, they are often our best teachers.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011


The pharmacy just called.  "We filled a prescription for M last week, and were wondering how he was doing?"
I stumbled over the words in my head before I came out with, "We had to put him...let him go...on the 1st." 
I could've done without that phone call, even though the lady on the other end was sympathetic.
I got rid of the medicines the day after he died.  I almost did it the same day, but once I had them in my hands, I started bawling, so I put them back.  They were staring at me from the counter, each and every one of them screaming failure.  That was so different from A, where I wanted (and still want) to keep everything I had that was remotely connected to him, little though there was.  But all those medicines, including the one from last week, all the trips to the doctor, all the procedures, and still I couldn't keep him here.  I got rid of the usable stuff by sending it home with my friend the vet to give to a client who could use it, and the rest went into the trash because I couldn't stand to see it.  You open up the fridge to grab a soda, and there's the insulin that won't be used, and the dozen bags of Pill Pockets that just arrived right before he died that have no purpose now.  E says we can use them as treats for the other dogs, and he's right, but part of me just wants them gone because until they are, they will be a reminder of what we're not doing.
We're not doing meds and eye drops three times a day.  We're not cutting up hot dogs to make sure M ate enough before getting his insulin.  We're not guiding our little blind dog through doorways, and around furniture, and past rocks in the yard.  There is so much time; our remaining dogs don't require special care--we let them out, and make sure their food and water bowls are full.  That hasn't been the case for us for years now.  It's weird. 
Last night I came home to mail from the vet clinic.  I suspected what it was, but half hoped for a moment that it was a note of condolence instead.  But no; it was the bill for M's cremation.  We don't even have his ashes back yet, but they were Johnny-on-the-spot with the bill.  It's revolting.  I haven't even moved his dog bed from next to ours yet;  he spent his last night there, a night where we still had a shred of hope that he'd wake up doing better, and while it doesn't give me any comfort to see it, I recall how trying to move or change things too early really stung after A died.  Eventually it will go into the wash, and then be given to the Shih Tzus for their own, but not yet.  Maybe not until he's home again.
So many times, in blog posts and in conversations and in my own head, I lamented the suddenness of A's death, how I wasn't there at the bitterest end, how I was kept out of the aftermath of cleaning up and paying bills and settling the estate.  Dogs don't have an estate, but there is settling up to do nonetheless, and it sucks.  I always knew it wasn't easier on those widows who had nursed their loved one through a fatal illness...or rather, I imagined and suspected; I couldn't know.  But I get it now.  Would that I could've been spared the basis for comparison.
What's weird is that after all the crying on the day M died, I seem to have skipped over the middle part, the confusion, the outbursts of uncontrollable tears, and moved right to the resignation and the quiet sadness stage.  I think it's maybe because I know all that pulling of hair, gnashing of teeth, and rending of garments doesn't actually change anything.  He was a little dog, nearly 12 years old, with multiple serious health problems.  There was no surprise this time; we saw it coming miles away.  I am sad, but far more functional than I was after A died, and I guess that's not too surprising, given the circumstances.  But it's launched me right back into the pit of existential angst I had really only recently pulled myself out of.  And I could've done without that, too.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

He's gone, and I am heartbroken

Today, we had to let our little boy go.  That's how I say it, because I don't want to say that I killed him.  I can't say "put to sleep," because he's not sleeping.  I can't say "put down," because it makes him sound like some wild, dangerous animal that no one cares for or loves.  We set him free from his pain and suffering, because to prolong it for our sakes would be cruel and wrong.  And yet the whole thing feels so very wrong.  I miss him so much, and hate that it came to this.

We had to make the decision that we never wanted to make, the one that of course we would make for ourselves if we could, but making it for anyone else...that's a whole other thing.  And it doesn't matter how right it was, or how much my baby isn't suffering anymore, or that it was inevitable, or that we did all we could for him, more, my vet tells me, than most would've.  It wasn't enough, and it's just unquestionably horrible.  And I have learned once again that getting the chance to say goodbye doesn't making letting go one tiny bit easier.  Watching the whole process doesn't make it make any more sense.  I keep thinking that life is just merciless.  People may be merciful, but life is not.

When we let our eldest dogter go, just 9 months after A died, I was still such a wreck from A's death, that there wasn't far to go in grieving for her, as well.  I was already grieving; it hurt a whole hell of a lot to lose her, but I was already hurting so bad that it didn't hit me quite as hard.  You can't fall down when you've been on the ground for months.

This has hit me really hard, probably, in part, because I have recovered.  I spent most of the day in a stupor, or in bed, or in a stupor in bed.  There's this numb place I can (evidently) go to where, like how you can make your eyes let go of focus and blur everything, I can let my mind blur it just enough that it isn't hammering me with its awful truth.  I know it's there, but I'm not looking directly at it and I can breathe.  And between those numb spaces, I cry until my chest hurts and my face aches, and I remember that this was how it was.  I had managed to forget, to a certain extent, exactly how it felt.  But grief has come back into my life again, and I know it so well.  So well that I know that this is normal, that I will heal eventually, that the pain can be overcome, and that, in this moment, knowing that doesn't help a bit.  It just keeps me from being scared that I will never be right again.

And yet I can't help but wonder...how many times can a heart break, before it is broken irreparably?