April (used to be) The Cruelest Month

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“April is the cruelest month, breeding

Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing

Memory and desire, stirring

Dull roots with spring rain.”

                                           – “The Waste Land,” T.S. Eliot (1922)

A lifelong fan of T.S. Eliot, the irony that both of my parents died in the month of April did not escape my notice.  Mom died on April 4 and, six years later, Dad died on April 18.  I was on my honeymoon when my mother passed away. My beloved Joe and I were at Cape Cod, for all of one full day, when the call came through that we needed to return home … immediately. I had never moved as quickly as I did that day. We made it to the hospital before she passed, but she was already in and out of consciousness. We never returned to Cape Cod. I cannot even remember the name of the town or the condo. It’s all a very dark, very sketchy memory.

I was eight months pregnant with my parents’ first grandchild when my father passed away. I was at work, in all my radiant pregnant glory, when my brother called. Another instance of “don’t wait – get here.” I picked up my purse and left as quickly as my expanded belly and swollen ankles would allow. I made it to the hospital. He was still conscious but, within hours, the swelling around his brain from the fall he took on the icy path to his mailbox, undermined his lucidity. We watched his brilliant, sharp, funny mental prowess slip away with each tick of the clock. I could feel the life in me jumping and kicking … as I watched the life seep out of my father’s body. He never met his granddaughter. He missed meeting her, seeing her, holding her,  by six weeks.

The first section of Eliot’s brilliance, in “The Wasteland,” was (of course) “The Burial of the Dead.” Ann Patricia and Edward Murray Francis were both buried in April. Ah, Eliot, I thought, how could you have been more right?

That is, of course, until October of 2011. More specifically, October 17, 2011. Again, at work. Again, the phone rings. Again, I need to immediately make it to the hospital. The same hospital I rushed to on April 4, 1988. The same hospital I rushed to on April 18, 1994. But it wasn’t April, so the horror that was about to be cast in front of me, and my (then) 17 year old daughter, was not apparent. Yes, the EMS operator had said Joe was having trouble breathing. And yes, he did say I should quickly get to the hospital, but for some strange reason, the thought that April was about to be usurped by October had not entered my mind. An hour later it sure did.

As I stood there, looking at my husband’s lifeless body, October became the cruelest month. Forever.

Shantih shantih shantih

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All Dressed Up and No Place To Go

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It’s Saturday night. Date night. I’m sitting on my couch. Adorned in sweatpants and a most comfortable t-shirt. Hair up in a messy pony. Laundry rolling around in the machines. Kittens ripping up the joint. But before I settled in to write this blog, I was looking pretty good (if I say so myself).

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Why oh why the glamour shot? Well, it’s kind of a long story. But, as usual, it’s Saturday night and I have time….

When Joe died, I was a freaking mess. I was going through the motions to complete the business of dying but, in between meetings with funeral directors, florists, cemetery staff, insurance reps and accountants, I was trying to understand what the hell was happening? Really. The whole situation was so surreal it was a waking nightmare. I kept shaking my head hoping, and praying, I would snap out of it. How could I be talking to him on the phone and no more than two hours later be rushing to the hospital? I couldn’t understand how this happened or why this happened.

You know the current fascination with zombies? Well I am fairly confident it began when somebody caught a glimpse of me during this time – except that the cast of the Walking Dead looks much livelier.

During one of these moments, I found myself in the parking lot of a strip mall close to my accountant’s office. I was early for our appointment and it occured to me that I didn’t have appropriate funeral attire. I love that special little phrase – “appropriate funeral attire.” Like you don’t have enough to deal with at a time like this, there is some societal expectation that you also have the foresight to go shopping and purchase the latest in widow vogue. “Widow Vogue” – I have to remember that one.

I snapped out of my stupor long enough to walk into a little women’s boutique but then I just stood there. A young woman, named Jen, approached me and asked if I needed help.  I looked at her. I looked around. Out of my mouth, for the first time, came the words “My husband died.” And  then I started sobbing as I tried to explain that I needed clothes for the wake and the funeral. I was folding right there in the front door of this little boutique.

Young Jen and one of her associates jumped into action. I was escorted into the dressing room, made comfortable, and they started running around pulling outfits together for me. They dressed me, from head to toe, for the wake and the funeral and any other in-between event. They carefully packaged all the clothes, gave me all kinds of discounts (a MASSIVE help as this funeral business is a major expense), and made certain I was ok to drive.

It was October 19, 2011. Only two days after Joe’s death. I have never forgotten the kindness shown to me at that shop. In fact, young Jen and I became rather close. She became my version of a personal shopper. All I had to do was call the store and she would have clothes waiting for me in “my” dressing room. And at some point in our relationship, she introduced me to her sister, Lauren, a make-up artist at the local store of a nationally known cosmetics company.

Lauren was as kind as her sister. She bolstered my spirits by making me look less zombie-like. Time spent in Lauren’s chair was girl time. No talk about my loss or my lot in life – just colors and textures and products to brighten one’s complexion and, in my case, my day. I didn’t have anyone to get all spiffed up for – but me.  Never fail, before leaving the shop, somebody would ask “So, special date tonight?”

Nope. No date. Usually no plans. That time in the make-up shop was my plan. That time in the chair might have been the only thing I planned to do that day. Kind of like my time at the nail tech. But that story (it involves me learning Vietnamese) is for another day. You see, while friends and family would ask about my plans and invite me to join them in their plans, I felt better with strangers. Isn’t that odd? And it wasn’t just when Joe died. It’s been almost three years, and I still find myself spending more time with strangers than with friends and family.

Seriously – my weeks are regularly filled with a significant number of conversations with people who really don’t fall into the friends and family category – so, in effect, they are strangers. On Sundays I go to church, by myself, then off to a little Cuban café. I sit at the counter and one of the owners, Jim, makes me a special Cortado latte to go with my Cuban eggs, rice, beans and plantains. I know Jim’s wife’s name is Carmen (she also works there) and he knows I come there after church and he knows that I don’t eat meat. That’s about it. But there’s always something to chit-chat about. On Monday’s I stop at the local corner store to pick up my Lottery tickets (the extent of my gambling – I have a dream that I will hit the big one some day) from EJ. EJ is a Pakistani. He and his family first lived in NYC when they came to the states. He drove a taxi until he could save up enough money to buy this store, and a home, in our little town. I don’t have a clue what “EJ” stands for, nor do I know his last name. But we spend many moments chuckling over my enthusiasm at checking my numbers, certain this might be “the one.” He doesn’t even ask if I want more tickets … he just prints them out when the last ticket I check pops up with the message “Sorry. Not a winner.”

There are others … the Subway salad guy, the ladies at the juice bar, the kids at the pool and definitely the folks at the nail spa. And, of course, Lauren and Jen. Unfortunately Lauren and Jen both moved away. Jen had a divorce and then a promotional opportunity to move to Florida. She took it. Lauren found the man she thought was the love of her life and moved west to be with him.  I was so horribly sad to lose these two. Really? Sad? It’s not like they were family or friends but, well, they were important and kind and… well, a big part of my new normal. The stores that these two sisters worked at just weren’t the same after they left. They could not be replaced.

But then last week I had a text from Jen. She was still in Florida but things hadn’t worked out for Lauren and she was back in this area and working at the Trish McEvoy counter in a new store (to the big mall in our area). A few days later, I had a text from Lauren. She was indeed back and they were having their grand opening. She was hoping I might come to check out her new line of cosmetics.

And that’s how I came to have a glamour puss today. I had such a great time. I spent WAY too much money. But it was worth every penny. Lauren was back! Of course, the national rep that was there for the big opening had to add, before I left, “So, special date tonight?”

So I was all dressed up with no place to go (again) — but that’s ok — because tomorrow I’ll go to church looking all popping fresh and Jim and Carmen at the Cuban café may notice I look a little more sparkly. Stranger-friends are good like that. They seem to notice these sort of things. And sometimes it’s nice to be noticed – just because you made an aesthetics change. So much easier than commentary on one’s emotional state.  Skin-deep conversation – that’s a winning ticket. For now.

Wilbur and Aidan – Pouncing into My Life

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I was staying true to my goal of writing at least one post a day until “they” came. “They” being two kittens – one black (named Wilbur) the other grey and white (named Aidan). Don’t blame me for the names – they came with them. As these are rescue kitties, I didn’t want to further confuse the poor boys with more change than they had already experienced in their (approximately)four or five months on this earth. Losing their mothers, their siblings, and their homes, I thought the least I could do is retain their shelter-given names. About a month apart in age (they are not brothers although they act like it), they are full of piss and vinegar and have turned my home upside down – not to mention being a massive distraction from my writing.

But that’s ok – they’re a welcome addition to this quiet house. When I get home from work, there they are … adorable and waiting for their dishes to be filled and making a God-awful noise akin to screaming (is meowing something they learn?). As a friend noted, they bring life to this house. And Lord knows this house needed some life. On the other hand, I have heard more than my fair share of jokes about turning into a crazy cat lady.

They are here now and ready to pounce so I must signoff. As soon as they get a little older, and a little calmer, I think I’ll be able to get back to the blog. In the meantime, be well friends. Time to chase the kitties.

One last quick note — there is a special place in heaven for people who rescue animals. A very special place.

Widowhood Sucks – but people don’t (always)

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Writing this blog has provided me with an avenue to express myself – whether it be on those very dark days when I felt so all alone I could drown in my own tears or on the days of light when laughter crept into my otherwise solitary existence. For a long time I didn’t tell many of my friends about “The W-Card.” I just kept writing and keeping it between myself and a few folks who stumbled over this blog. I’m not sure why the secrecy.

That’s a lie. I know why — I didn’t want to be judged or, worse than judged, pitied. I hate that. I know people feel compelled to tell you how sorry they are for your lot in life but every time I see it coming — and don’t you see it coming, widow friends? Someone will be talking and inadvertently use a word they think might be offensive to a widow…. you know, like “husband” and they get that pitying look on their face and there it goes “Oh, I am so sorry.” Flashback to the 80’s … “Gag me with a spoon.” I detest pity.

Unless, of course, it gets me something as I described in my original premise for “The W-Card.” But that’s different. That’s not just looking sad and uttering “I’m sorry.” That’s doing something about it. Big difference.

Anyway, so I have been telling more people and getting more feedback. It’s been very encouraging. I have heard from friends but, even more exciting, I have heard from other widows. I have heard that all this writing has not been for naught. The other night I had a note from a widow who told me how helpful it was to read that some of the thoughts she had might not be so crazy … because those were thoughts very much like the thoughts and feelings I was writing about. I cannot begin to tell you how incredible that felt. I don’t know this woman but I do know what it’s like. I know how much it hurts. Big time. Down to the very core of your being. But I also know there are moments, many moments actually, over the past two years when I have been the recipient of great kindness. Kindness I never imagined truly existed. Kindness that makes it possible to get out of bed in the morning.

So yes, widowhood does suck. But people don’t (always). And kittens? Well, kittens never suck …. (yes, I am still on the kitten kick, these two are coming to live with me …. alone no more! )….

Me and My soon-to-be New Roomies

Plenty of Fish

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It’s been a rough week. Very rough week. There was more than the usual amount of work agita but that agita paled in comparison to the impact of the daily death and dying reports. From celebrities like Robin Williams and Lauren Bacall to the parents of friends, not one single day went by without some sort of morbid notice driving me to tears. Well, the week is over and I have had about enough. I woke up this morning, went to the Farmers’ Market, had a great breakfast at a Cuban café, had a meet and greet with two adorable kitties that will (shortly) be my new roommates, and then off to my favorite salon for a mani-pedi. And now I am lounging in the lovely quiet of my living room, typing and listening to some tunes. I am good.

So it seems like the right time for a lighter story, maybe with a sillier tone, than any I have employed all week. So, kids, tonight’s story is called “Plenty of Fish.”

One of my very dearest friends was diagnosed with cancer shortly after my husband passed away. She was very, very, very sick. She needed a bone marrow transplant. Thank God, her sister was a match. It was a harrowing, horrifying, experience, but she survived it and has been slowly recovering. It’s been over a year now so she was finally given the green light to do some traveling. She and her husband have been visiting various parts of the States including a house rental this spring in Pinehurst, NC. Unfortunately, during their planned time in Pinehurst, her husband was needed for a business commitment back in NY. Fortunately, I was ready, willing and more than able to make the trip so he was able to make his trip north while I flew south.

I was only going to be there for a few days so dear friend and I had to make the most out of the available time. Some shopping, some touring, and, of course, dining. And what’s a great meal without some great wine? Well, we had some great wine arighty. While we are knuckleheads neither of us was interested in meeting up with North Carolina’s finest, so after the perfunctory two glasses of Californian cabernet, we made our way back to the house, settled in, and cracked open another bottle. It was during this time that our conversation turned to my marital status and, more specifically, when it might be appropriate to consider dating.

Dating. Oh Jesus. Even the sound of it makes me take a really, long, deep breath. Well, usually it made me take a really, long, deep breath. Apparently after a few more sips of vino, my breathing was normal and I was totally open to the idea. But what to do? We were in a rental house in a small town in North Carolina, and we certainly were not going to step foot outside of that beautiful house. Too bad there wasn’t some manner to reach out to single men somewhere else in the world who might be interested in meeting a merry middle-aged widow.

WAIT A MINUTE …. I’m not sure which one of us had the brainstorm to break out the laptop, but break it out we did. Back in my misguided youth we used to have something call “drunk dialing.” I’m here to tell you there is something worse — at least with drunk dialing you might only be in contact with one person. With the availability of technology that can connect you to the world wide web, discretion is out the window.  But it gets worse. We were not just sending out email or posting to Facebook …. oh no… that wasn’t enough. We needed to get to a dating site.

Yup. My brother, a single fellow, told me about a dating site called Plenty of Fish (as in, “plenty of fish in the sea” – clever group of Canadians, eh?).  Of all the times for anything my brother told me to pop into my wine-addled brain, why now? (I wondered this later. At the moment, it seemed quite brilliant.). Why did it seem so brilliant? Well, Plate of Fish is a free dating site. So there was no fiscal commitment. Then there was the added benefit of anonymity. And finally, did I mention we were drunk? Oh yeah, nothing like a couple of drunk middle-aged broads with a laptop, a bottle of good wine, and a need to prove there was someone out there who might find one of the drunks interesting enough to consider dating.

So, dear old friend powered up the laptop. We poured another taste of wine and she typed my answers to the Plenty of Fish questionnaire into the site. The questions were pretty simple – general sense of age, physical description, geographic location, likes/dislikes, and deal-breakers. We laughed and laughed as we built my dream date and transmitted it to the Plenty of Fish universe. Dear Friend is convinced that I am a hot ticket item so she insisted we use an age range fifteen years younger, and older, than my current age. She went on to insist Dream Date should be about six feet tall, athletically built, and something akin to a rocket scientist. We went on and on for quite some time until the bottle was empty and we both really needed to pack it in. She dotted the i’s, crossed the t’s, and shut down the machine.

The next morning I awoke to quite a headache, and a phone buzzing off the table. What the heck? Well, it seemed our little foray into cyber dating was a massive success. I couldn’t believe how many responses I had to our post. “Wow, I guess dear friend is right” – I thought as I headed for the bottle of Tylenol. I started reading the replies and was wincing as I read some of the replies. “Hey Beautiful” sort of openings were not what I expected. Reply after reply … what the heck? Why were these men all so focus’ld on physicality?

And then it occurred to me to look at our creative writing from the previous evening. Oh my. I saw it. Dear Friend had typed our incredible list of requirements for Dream Date into the information about ME. It looked to the men of Plenty of Fish world that I was a six foot tall, athletically built woman who … well, I’ll spare you the rest. Let’s just say, much to my dismay, I now understood why I had an electronic mailbox filled with notes from interested parties. They thought a Brigitte Nielsen was on the hook (rather than a Melissa McCarthy).

I wrote a note on the site, to all those poor souls thinking they had hit the jackpot, saying I wasn’t ready to start dating after all and wishing them all the best … and I then promptly deleted the account. Egads.

It’s been quite a few months since that episode. I still snicker when I think of it. Still dateless – and that’s ok – as I have heard there are Plenty of Fish ….

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Kittens Always Make You Feel Better

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You know when you’re just feeling a bit down what helps? KITTENS …. or puppies. Puppies are oodles of fun, too, but I have kittens on the mind as two kittens are being transported to my house on Saturday for a meet and greet. They are rescue kittens so while they meet my need for other beings in the house, I can meet some of their needs (like food, shelter and a lot of love). My niece is quite concerned that I will turn into a crazy cat lady — you know, being taken out by the po-po followed by hundreds of cats? She doesn’t want to see me on the news. I had to promise her I would stop at two – oh she of little faith. Crazy cat lady indeed……..

Get Over It

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Since Monday I have been consumed by the news surrounding Robin Williams’ death. By today, reading the news that his eldest daughter has fled social media due to some hateful posts, I knew I had to refocus and “get over it.”  At least from the perspective of how much time I have been spending reading all the posts and watching all the clips. Enough. The news media has turned his death into a circus … one that is attacking his family. We have to look away. They have to grieve.

I hate the phrase “get over it.” While I don’t recall anyone specifically using it (to my face), there have been many versions of it swirling about me with each passing day, week, month, and year since my husband’s death. As recently as last week, a long-time friend seemed shocked that I was upset at her disregard for the grief I still struggle with every single day. You see, I made the egregious mistake of admitting my sadness. She said, and I think this is a quote “I don’t know what to do for you. It’s been over two years!”

You see – I think she wants the old me back. The me that could be counted on to do anything for laughs and didn’t take many things too seriously. The me that didn’t stand up and walk away when conversations became upsetting (I have actually done this. Honest to Pete — the first time I did this, stood up and walked out of a room because I didn’t like a conversation, I don’t know who was more shocked … the people left in the room or me. And I didn’t just walk out of the room, I left the house!  Now that I have done it more than once, it’s not quite so shocking, to me at least. Odd bit, that.) . Old friend wanted to hang out with the me with the marital status of married, or even single …. but not this widow status me. This widow status me is a horse of a different color.

This new me – this widow … well, she can be somewhat of a damp rag. Not all the time but enough of the time that it’s a noticeable difference.  The widow doesn’t want to go out. She doesn’t want to have people over. She doesn’t want to do much with the “old gang.”  In fact, due to an unfortunate, ugly email “walk out,” I haven’t spoken to one of the “old gang” in two years. Before Joe’s death, I never would have gotten into it with her on email,  much less let it go on for this long. I just cannot be bothered any more. That probably sounds harsh. Tough. Some might say “Didn’t you learn the importance of friends through this experience.” Yes, yes I did. I learned the importance of real friends and also, equally important, the importance of time.

Time is such a precious commodity.

It just occurred to me this morning that there are days that go by, often several in a row, where I don’t speak with anyone outside of work. Like tonight. I left work, came home, did more work, ate some dinner, and am now writing. I could have been with other people. I was invited to join some of the “old gang” out at trivia tonight (local bar has Wednesday night trivia contest) but I declined. Back in the day I would have been there in a NY minute. Those days seem to be gone. Now I’m more likely to make reservations to head across the country than across town.

And I am not ready to get over “it” — the big “it” that is felt at my very core. The “it” that can make me well up just sitting here writing about “it.” The ‘it” that kept me warm and safe and laughing for over a quarter century.

I love you, Joe … my big ole’ “it.”