A Word Bigger Than Love

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It is the eve of Super Bowl LXIX.  Tomorrow, at 6:30 pm, the New England Patriots and the Seattle Seahawks will take the field while millions of fans watch, rooting for their faves  as they consume mass quantities of pizza, chicken wings, and vast amounts of beer. For decades, the Super Bowl was akin to a religious holiday in our house. My husband loved football. Come to think of it, “loved” is probably not the right word. Is there a word to express a feeling bigger than love? Nothing comes to mind – at least nothing that adequately captures the passion, zeal and devotion my Joe had for the game of football.

Typically a quiet man, something about football brought out a side of Joe that was the antithesis of quiet. On any given Sunday, Joe was perched on his favorite chair – prepared to root on his team, call the plays and loudly chastise the calls he considered unfair, misguided or just plain wrong. Screaming, jumping out of his chair, and swearing (loudly), it was not uncommon to hear, repeatedly, “WHAT THE (expletive) ARE YOU (expletive expletive) DOOOIIINNNGGGG?” That man had quite the colorful vocabulary on game days.

Things changed in 1994. You see, in 1994, our daughter was born. Unfortunately, 1994 was also the year Giants’ fans remember as the beginning of a dark time for the team. 1994 was the year that Phil SImms and Lawrence Taylor retired and things went seriously south.  But our girl was born in May, months before the darkness descended over the Meadowlands. Joe bought her a tiny little NY Giants’ shirt that she could wear on game days. There he was, all 6’4″ of him curled up on the floor next to his tiny little baby girl clad in Giants’ blue.

But he wasn’t curled up for long. It was a train wreck of a season – well, as history will note, it was more than one season. As the team spiraled downward, that poor man was near apoplexy. And, as our daughter matured, it became clear that it was in the best interest of her developing language skills that game day might best double as movie day – or even shopping day – for us gals. You see, my daughter attended parochial schools. While I might not be the sharpest knife in the tool drawer, I was fairly confident that Sister Elizabeth or Father Anthony would not find game day verbiage appropriate, or even mildly entertaining, for our little Catholic angels.

Eventually the team broke through the darkness (thanks to Tom Coughlin and a kid called Eli) and posted some pretty major wins. Joe’s vocabulary didn’t change much but the winning seasons made the depth of his despair less painful to witness – and the need to make movie or shopping plans less necessary.

Tomorrow night will be the fourth Super Bowl since that screaming, blustery ÜberFan was silenced. However his little girl is now twenty and, of course, she is a massive fan of the NY Giants. Although Eli and the guys are not in tomorrow’s game, she tells me that she will be bellied up to a bar in London (she is studying abroad this semester) so she can watch the big game and scream, jump up and down and, yes, hurl some expletives at those darn Patriots, the nemesis of her beloved father. I think I will stay home to watch the game. Maybe sit here, in his favorite chair, and try out a few expletives of my own. 🙂

 

Seasonal Sorrow

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I haven’t written a worthy word since my last post. Oh yes, the daily bon mot on Facebook about the weather or somebody’s new grandbaby or political hijinks. But none of that counts.

Late Autumn sucks the very creative life out of me. This artistic  death slide starts in October with the anniversary of my husband’s passing; spirals downward through holidays designed for gratitude and joy and wonder but realized in tears and the hollowness that only solitude amongst other people’s families can bring. Finally crashing into the New Year, my birthday, and an opportunity to start all over. Again.

So, I wait … for this season to pass … so I can think, so I can write, so I can feel something other than sadness, and self-pity… and the darkness of winter is finally lifted by the songs of spring.

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

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.

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

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.”

Patience is Not my Virtue

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I wish I was more patient. But it seems that whether it’s something small (like waiting for the appliance delivery as I am doing right now), to something big (like medical test results), I am equally impatient.

This morning’s impatience stems from another death in the family – my refrigerator. There is nothing quite like returning from the annual trip to the beach to discover a freezer full of mush and slop. How’s that for a tag line … “Time for a new refrigerator? Much and slop got you down?”

Anyway, what a freaking mess. There’s good news however. It did make it necessary to clear out the fridge. You see, since the husband passed and the daughter drove off to school, I haven’t truly conquered cooking for one. Back it up. I haven’t conquered shopping for one. Somewhere in all that education, and years on this planet, the ability to do the necessary math to reduce a family recipe enough to make just one dinner has eluded me. I have tried all kinds of tricks from daily trips to the market to the weekly trip to the Farmer’s Market to cooking the entire recipe then freezing smaller portions. The last one seemed to make the most sense except that my freezer was WAY overstocked … well, geez, you can’t eat the same thing day in/day out so, of course, brilliant one that I am, not, I would cook more and freeze more.

And naturally I needed bags and bags of frozen fruit for my morning smoothie so those piled up on top of the portion-controlled meals and then of course all the freezer blocks to stick in my lunch to keep the goods cold until noon. Gosh golly, not a lot of room in there for circulation. Possibly might have done this (breaking the fridge) to myself. Nah. Regardless, where is that appliance guy???

How come delivery people and cable people and yes, DOCTORS, don’t have to live by the rules imposed on the rest of us? If my boss told me she wanted a report by a certain time, you can be darn skippy I would have it there to meet her deadline (if not earlier). But the delivery guys and the cable guy they have a window of hours that they may, or may not, provide the service you paid dearly for. And don’t get me going on doctors. When my husband was going through his medical screening, it was not uncommon to have to wait for long, extended periods of time to speak with the doctor. I would rationalize this as he was a great doctor, an oncologist, and he took a lot of time with each patient. That’s nice when you’re the patient but when you’re cooling your heels out in the waiting room, not so nice. Especially when you are waiting for the news of a cancer test. It was agonizing.

I would watch people sitting, patiently, alongside us in the waiting room of the oncologist. I couldn’t understand how they could be so calm – so peaceful-looking. Of course, in hindsight I think I get it … after Joe’s diagnosis I found myself imitating that same look. An observer might think I was calm, peaceful-looking but the truth? Inside I was making deals with God. How was this happening? Maybe today the results will be better. Maybe today we would have that nice long talk with the wonderful doctor and it would be all about recovery. Please, God? Please. I’ll do anything. Make this go away.

Well, it didn’t. And my vain attempts at patience were for naught. But I didn’t return to the uber-impatient person I was pre-oncologist. I can actually sit here, in the quiet home, savoring this time to write a little story while waiting, quasi-patiently, for the appliance guy. Breathe in, breathe out. OK OK, still not a person who can claim patience as a virtue … but I’m getting there.