Cluttered

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Fifteen months since my last post and all I have to say is that my life has become “cluttered.” That word came to me in response to a simple inquiry from an old friend.”How are you?”  My reply?

Cluttered.

So, how did things get so messy? How is it possible that it’s been over five years since I last picked up the phone and heard my husband’s voice?  Where did the time go? Well, to give you a quick recap … when last I wrote, my daughter was in her senior year of college, my two rescue kitties were settling in, and I was feeling quite … well, I believe the word was “happy.” Nod to Pharrell Williams intended. And then the wheels came off.

My daughter, Jules, graduated with honors (yay!) but then came graduate school. She has a very clear sense of what she wants to do, unlike her mother who is still pondering the age old question of what to do when she grows up. But the road to Jules’ goal required graduate school – a 2 1/2 year program in the most expensive city she could find … New York City … Manhattan… The Big Apple.

You may not have heard, but Manhattan is a tad pricey. Just a tad. She was able to get housing through the school. A room in a well-appointed hotel. 24/7 security. Restaurants. Fitness center. Kitchen facilities. All for the low, low price of $2700.A MONTH!!! Now for you big rollers that probably sounds like a walk in the (Central) park. To this widow living in a small house in the country, that amount is painful on the ears as well as  other anatomical parts. But it was the best solution we could find for the first year in the Big City so hi ho, hi ho, further in debt we go.

Oh yeah, debt. Lots of it. When Joe and I were making our plans for the future before he, well, took a powder, we were working with two incomes; two sets of health/dental/optical insurance; two retirement plans; two of everything. October 17, 2011 changed all of that. Funny, I can barely remember my own birthday but the date of his passing is hard-wired into my brain.

Whilst it wasn’t quite time to take on the second job as a Walmart greeter, it seemed obvious that it was time to seek professional help. A shrink? Yeah, well that’s always been a consideration. Nope, a financial planner was going to be the answer to all of my woes. Except, true fact, they ask the hard-hitting probing questions like “What is the interest rate on your mortgage?” and “Are you staying within your monthly budget?” and then this nugget … “What is your retirement plan?”

Well, geez, Louise, if I knew those answers, why the heck would I need a financial planner? Of course, that’s the sort of ill-considered questioning that got me into hot water as a youth and seems to have prevailed into my maturity. Sigh, I hate it when people ask questions that you SHOULD know the answer but haven’t a clue as to the response.

The good news, well kind of good news, is that I am not alone. It seems that “widow spending” is a thing. You see, in many, many cases, when a loved one dies, they leave behind resources. Those resources are intended to help make up the gap … or, as in the case of many widows, they are to fill in the gap (left by the loss). “Make up” and “fill in” become two diametrically opposed concepts. “Make up” is a fiscally savvy approach to secure the future for you and your family. “Fill in” is an emotional, knee-jerk reaction comprised of impulse-buying like major house renovations, trips to Europe, erecting a new edifice in your loved one’s name. Guess which route this author took? Yup, numbskull.

So, today is President’s Day. While others are out enjoying a three day weekend, I am gathering financial info. Bank statements, credit cards statements, tax form … My dining room table looks like a paper bomb exploded. But, and here’s that eternal optimist speaking, the financial guys didn’t seem all that disturbed and actually quite empathetic. I am either being lulled into a false sense of security or my money fears were misplaced. I’m rooting for the latter but skeptical enough to consider the former.

Well, I say I am doing all of that forensic accounting when what I am actually doing is catching up on this blog. My adult onset of OCD is not helping matters! Must get a calculator and hit the spreadsheets. Until later, God speed, friends. I am back and getting de-cluttered!

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Pharrell Williams

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I haven’t written in a long time. I’ve been busy. Really busy. Even better than busy …. singing along with Pharrell Williams on a daily basis. Yes, dear friends, turns out I am “happy.”

My daughter is healthy, happy and a senior in college. My work life seems to be stable. My home life is full and happy. Even the cats are on track.

Do I still miss Joe? Damn skippy I miss him. I think of him every single day. I still feel him with me – and some days, seriously, he comes to visit. Recently I was leaving a friend’s house and the passenger side air bag light came on (like somebody was sitting there). This has never happened before. Ever. Seemed odd but I kept driving home. When I arrived at home, I jumped out of the truck to run into the house and grab some things before heading back out. I gathered up the sought-after materials to complete my errands and jumped back into the truck. I turned the key to start the engine –  only to get the alarm that the passenger side door was now open. Almost like somebody had exited the vehicle. I shut the door and all alarms/warning/lights stopped going off.

No doubt in my mind – he came along for the ride that morning. Some might think it spooky. Maybe even weird. I was, again, at peace and really happy as I like to believe he is thinking about me as much as I am thinking about him. How much?

To the moon and back.

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. 🙂

 

Enough Already

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When I started this blog, a little over a year ago,  my goal was to look at “the lighter side of widowhood.” Ha! Talk about an epic fail. For three years, since my husband’s death, I have done a lot of crying and not enough laughing. The events of days like today – another unbelievable atrocity – certainly don’t help stop the tears – but enough with the excuses …. Maybe events like those that happened today should be a rallying cry not to take life for granted; not to waste the precious time we have on this earth. WTF???? You would think I would have learned that lesson on October 17, 2011.

Anyway, I am wiping my eyes, putting on my big girl panties, and snapping out of it. Time to look to the light … no, not “go into the light” … It’s time I “lightened” up (wow, talk about overworking an analogy). It’s a new year … watch out.

 

fighting irish

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.