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.

Obsessing Over Robin

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I cannot stop thinking about him. I cannot stop tearing up. My heart hurts. How can this be? I never met this man but I am so deeply sad at his passing. I keep thinking of his kids. When my husband died, my daughter was only 17 years old. It was hard. Very hard. But my daughter’s dad died from an illness that nobody questioned. Ultimately, it was a heart attack. Robin Williams also died of an illness, two actually – addiction and depression. Ultimately, reports today indicate he hung himself with a belt. He hung himself. What? What? I cannot process this. I am absolutely stunned. I just don’t understand how a man who brought such great joy to millions and millions of people and who, by all accounts, was incredibly kind and generous, can come to an end like this. And if I, a middle-aged widow from upstate New York, cannot make sense of this, what must be happening with Robin’s kids? His youngest son is only 19 years old. His name is Cody. How can Cody, and his two siblings, Zelda and Zach, come to terms with reports of their father’s death at his own hands?

How could a father do this to his kids? How could a husband do this to his wife? How could a man do this to himself?

I probably sound so incredibly naïve. A friend in L.A., sober for thirteen years, and a friend in N.Y., sober for one year, two weeks and five days, have both written of the hope that his life, and also his death, can serve to help others. I fervently pray that it does – that if there is someone out there thinking that he or she has no other option than suicide that maybe they will see there are other options. I fervently pray that Robin Williams’ death, and life, will help people like me who don’t understand this (now), but will take the time to learn so that maybe we could help … or at least recognize when someone needs help. And I fervently pray that Cody and Zelda and Zach are surrounded by loving friends and family who, in Zelda’s words, will remind them to look up.

Nothing Better Than A Sunday Like Today

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I know so many people who dread Sunday as it signals the end of the weekend and the return to the workweek. I am not one of those people. Raised in a Roman Catholic family, Sunday was ALWAYS a day of rest. We would get up and get ready for church… having gone to Confession the night before — yes, every week. You haven’t lived unless you have experienced the rites of the Roman Catholic sacrament of penance (aka, confession) on a weekly basis. And think about it. Seriously, as little kids, what “sins” could you have possibly committed that were so heinous that a weekly trip to the confessional was required? It seems someone in the church hierarchy, and our parents, thought us little monsters needed a weekly dose of whoop-ass, RC style.

I still snicker when I think of part of that ritual. You see, we attended a church where the confessional was WAY up the very long aisle and in the sacristy (behind the altar). We would wait in line for each new sinner to go up, start the prayer “Forgive me Father for I have sinned,” admit how long since their last confession (on the off chance you missed a week), and then launch into the list of sins for that week. At the end, one more prayer and then the verdict … usually a series of prayers including, for some reason I still don’t understand, a large number of “Hail Marys.”

My brother, Ned, was a tiny fellow. And something about confession scared the crud out of him. I suspect it’s because he was quite the sinner. I know this as every Saturday, little, tiny Ned would walk WAY up that aisle to the sacristy, and assume the position (that sounds horrible, doesn’t it? If you’re Catholic, you know what I mean. If you’re not Catholic, as you went into the confessional you knelt down in front of a screen, separating you from the priest and, allegedly, shading your face, as well as the priest’s). Having assumed the position, Ned then launched into the prayers and his litany of sins. Unfortunately for Ned, he was so nervous that rather than the traditional low, almost whispered, rendition, he would speak loudly. Very loudly. So loudly that we heard each and every one of his transgressions – as did my mother.

It was hysterical. The poor kid could be heard admitting to the number of times he lied and the number of times he swore. Apparently my brother had quite the potty mouth. I don’t remember hearing it directly but I sure heard him telling the priest. My mother tried to help the kid out, not wanting to embarrass him, by strongly suggesting he lower his voice. But no matter the warnings, nerves always won out and he would fold like a cheap suit — reciting LOUDLY his sins. Tough luck for him but it made our Saturdays more amusing.

Anyway, that was Saturday night prep for Sunday morning torture. But the torture only lasted about an hour and then there was the stop at the “Variety Store” for the newspapers and, if we had behaved in church, donuts from the bakery. Quite the treat. Once we were home, the race was on to get out of church clothes and into play clothes. Play clothes were essential as the next activity was watching wrestling on tv while Mom put the finishing touches on Sunday (noon) dinner.

I have to wonder what network wizard thought to schedule WWF on Sunday mornings, but it was brilliant. Nothing like enormous men jumping around a ring to erase the church doldrums. Of course, my brothers inevitably got into re-enactments which lead to even more hijinks. I still remember getting “clothes-lined” trying to walk through the living room. It was harmless. It was fun. And it was followed by a big dinner and then an afternoon free from any chores. Sundays were heavenly.

I am thinking of all of this as today was another heavenly Sunday. I did get up with a list of things I probably should have accomplished but, instead, I had a day of things I wanted to do. I went to church. I took myself out to a lovely brunch. I did some marketing. I started a great soup in the slow cooker. When that was all done I decided to take a little nap (my very favorite Sunday activity). I was awakened by my brother (the loud sinner) and his son stopping by to visit. We decided to head out for Sunday night dinner and an ice cream treat. We had laughs and, did I mention, ice cream? They went there way and I came home and watched the movie “Saving Mr. Banks.” And now I’m writing. Could it possibly get any better than this?

What a great day! Have a wonderful week, friends.

Dream Date

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I hate alarm clocks. Something so disturbing about being awakened by a technological noise. Beep, beep, beep, beep. When my brother moved in with me, my biggest complaint was his alarm clock. He would go away for the weekend, neglecting to turn the alarm off before he left so my Saturday mornings started with me racing up the stairs to turn the darned thing off.

I hate alarms so much I wake up, every day, before the alarm goes off. I’m not sure how my addled brain pulls this off but my alarm is set for 6 a.m. yet I regularly start stirring by 5:45 a.m. – just in time to turn the clock off. One might think a resolution would be as easy as tossing the clock in the trash but I worry that would result in a daily tardiness issue at work.

I think this is all Joe’s fault. He always woke up before me. He liked being the first one in the shower. He even liked being the first one at work. Weirdo. Anyway, his alarm was always set for 5:30. He would also wake up before the alarm, roll over, and turn it off. I would then wake up, but not open my eyes. I couldn’t help but wake up – Joe was 6’4″ tall. Tough to miss that much man stretching and making man noises in the bed next to you. I didn’t mind though as I would roll over and we would have a few snuggle moments before taking on the day. God I miss those moments.

Sometimes in those snuggle moments we would share our dreams. Well, frankly, I would share mine. He rarely dreamt or, if he did, he didn’t tell me about them. He wasn’t a great dream interpreter but I liked telling him about the dreams as something about telling them out loud would help me remember them. My friend, Vicky, is a really good dream interpreter. I think I am going to have to speak with her today.

I’ll have to do that as I finally… finally…. had a dream about Joe. It’s been two years and nine months and he finally showed up in my dreams. I read so many books and blogs of widows and so many of them describe how their husbands make these sort of appearances. Not my Joe. He was absent from my dreams. In fact, I cannot remember many, if any, dreams since he died. At least, not until last night.

We were at a cabin on a big, beautiful lake. I want to think it’s in the Adirondacks but I don’t think so – too populated. Joe looked great. Smiling, relaxed, even tan. He had purchased a cabin! The cabin was lovely. It was fully furnished and had a lot of rooms. And out on the lake there was a motor boat. Joe’s motor boat (apparently he was in quite the buying frenzy). In the quarter century Joe and I were together I don’t believe I ever saw him drive a motor boat — frankly, I don’t think I ever saw him in a motor boat- but last night he wasn’t just in the boat, he was driving it like a pro. And I wanted to go out on the lake with him so I asked him to hold on – I would be right out and we could go.

But when I went into the cabin I was distracted by two yellow cabins, smaller than our cabin but right across the yard. And there was my sister-in-law and her family, including Joe’s mother, moving into one of the cabins. I didn’t see his mom but I knew she was there as I was yelling for my daughter (who I also didn’t see) to run over and say “hi” to her Babci.

I was taking forever to get ready to go out on the boat with Joe but, unlike the live version, this Joe was patient and not concerned whatsoever by my fussing. It was taking so long as I had to find sun screen (I am possibly the whitest person on the planet – sun screen is essential to my existence) but I couldn’t find it. No worries. Joe said he would wait. And he did. Joe was smiling, relaxed, tan, stretched out on the boat as it rocked on the lake …. he was waiting for me. No worries. No hurry. He was going to wait for me.

Smiling. I take on the day. Late, as I lost the first draft of this, and had to start all over …. but that’s ok. Maybe it’s time to slow down a bit. Is that what this was about? Best call Vicky.

She’ll know.

Change, Change, Change – Part Two

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Tempus fugit.

Scroll forward eight years …. years filled with all the emotion of raising a bright, beautiful young daughter. It was her – always her – that kept us grounded; that kept us moving forward; that filled our lives with joy and pride and brought us to our knees in prayers for her health and happiness. We were so focused on her that we forgot to pay much attention to ourselves. Oops.

The next change started out slowly. While I cannot remember the exact date when we took that first trip to the hospital, I do remember being scared, so very scared. My big strong husband was a quiet man but that night he was not just quiet – he was still. He was stretched out on the couch, his hand on his heart. He called me over, ever so quietly, and told me that he needed me to drive him to the hospital. I tried to ask questions but he waved me away. In hindsight, it seems odd that it never even occurred to me to call an ambulance. He wanted to get in the car and go to the hospital. So off we went. Our daughter was at a friend’s house. Before leaving,  I called the friend’s parents and asked them to hold onto her until I knew what was going on.

He wouldn’t talk. He just sat quietly, staring ahead, wincing every time I hit a bump in the road. Our local hospital is only about twenty minutes away from our house but it seemed an eternity to get there. But we did get there and he was taken right into the emergency room. The medical professionals were not fooling around. We all thought he was having a heart attack.

But it wasn’t a heart attack – it was angina. And this wasn’t the last time I would go through this particular drama. It happened over and over again until the doctors finally got the meds right and Joe learned to manage his anxiety. The late night trips to the hospital finally stopped. I thought we were in the clear. HA! Continue reading

Change, Change, Change – Part One

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I am a technology training project manager primarily working on assignments for government agencies. There are a number of reasons I like my job, not the least of which is the constantly changing nature of technology. There is always something new to learn; something new to discover; something new to consider as my team designs, develops and delivers training to the end users of these new systems. It’s all about change.

But, until 2001, I liked keeping that change factor in the office. While the whirl of technology kept things interesting during the day, I loved returning home to the same ole, same ole. Joe coming in the door; emptying his pockets of coins into the jars he kept on his dresser; a quick change into casual clothes followed by a bee line to his jug wine. Yes, my dear husband was a lover of the cheapest red wine found in most local liquor stores. It’s called Paisano and made by the fine folks at Carlo Rossi. I still have the bottle he never had the chance to finish stored down in our basement. One of my favorite memories involving Paisano involves Joe and his brother, Stephen. Joe and Stephen loved hanging out on their parents’ porch sipping their Paisano out of little jelly jars that their mother had saved for such occasions. I think everyone has seen these glasses – often decorated with cartoons, especially Flintstones (why was that anyway?). It was quite a sight. Two very large men of Slovak/Polish heritage, planted in rocking chairs, laughing at God-only-knows-what, enjoying that cheap jug wine well into the night.

Those were great times. Stephen and his wife were raising their two daughters. Joe and I had our daughter. We would go on vacations together. The girls jumping in and out of hotel pools. The adults catching up and just enjoying each others’ company. We were all doing well. Or so I thought. Like the rest of the world, our first indication that change was happening came on 9/11/01. The day everything changed. As the reports of the attacks in NYC, DC, and PA were coming in, Joe and I left our offices and raced to get our daughter, get home, and make sure the rest of our family and friends were ok. We stared in silence at the tv as the coverage lasted for hours and hours. We stared in silence as the networks showed the photos of the towers falling, over and over. We stared until our daughter begged us to turn off the tv. We were incredulous. We were in shock. We were traumatized. We knew our world would never be the same – but we had no idea that the universal change brought about by terrorists was about to be followed by personal change brought about by age and disease.

Continue reading