Monday, August 30, 2010

Looks Can Be Deceiving

If one more person tells me how well I am doing after the death of my husband, and how strong I’ve been, I’m going to scream.

Because along with this wrongly perceived strength and well being, comes the comments that are for the strong woman, the “cold hard truths” and frankly, I don’t want to hear the “cold hard truth”. I’m living it every day so I have no need to have it pointed out to me, especially if I am having one of those extremely rare moments when I am not thinking about it. A friend once said to me, “Well, the cold hard truth is he is gone, and you don’t have to worry about what he has to say about it.” I wanted to say, "Thank you for making me feel more crappy than I already do."

I’m not doing well. But when people ask me how I am doing, they expect to hear something like “I’m doing well”, or, at the very least “I’m doing OK...hanging in there”. Both of these answers must be accompanied by a smile, lest they think there is something seriously wrong with me. What I really want to tell them is that my world feels like it is falling apart at the seams and there are actually times where I want to throw myself in front of a moving bus. I would love to say to someone when asked how I am, “Well, I feel like crap. I walk around like there is a black cloud over my head, and even when I am laughing, I am crying inside. I’m almost positive that I’ll never be genuinely happy again and that I’ve been sentenced to a long life of loneliness without my soulmate, but I’m muddling through life with this fake smile plastered on my face because I have two kids that I love and I owe it to them to give them a good life, considering they no longer have a father.”

Society has this I-Am-Woman-Hear-Me-Roar ideal that after any kind of tragedy, a woman is supposed to bounce back almost immediately or she is seen as weak, co-dependent and an embarrassment to the female species. According to that ideal, what I’m really “supposed” to do is put all his pictures away, get a makeover, sign up on eHarmony and tell everyone that I am doing well. HA! Never going to happen my friends. And now you know the truth, so you can stop asking me that ridiculous question, and expecting that even more ridiculous answer.

Friday, August 27, 2010

A Season of Firsts - It's Not Just the Holidays

When you become a widow, it is common knowledge that the first year is going to, in a nutshell, suck. The first Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Christmas or Hanukkah, New Year’s, Valentine’s Day, anniversaries and birthdays, all fall into this category.

But then there are the firsts which are not as defined, but they hurt just as much or maybe even more depending on your family traditions. For example, I was in Cape May last week, and it was the first time I had been to Cape May as an adult without Bobby. I wasn’t even thinking about it or dreading going; instead I was focused on taking a friend of mine who had never been there. But once I got there, I got a horrible pain that hit me in the stomach the way a baseball hits you in the back of the head...very unexpected and extremely painful. I was in Cape May without Bobby. I was in the quaint little shopping district without Bobby. I was going to walk in the Five and Dime without Bobby. I was going to admire the town's beautiful architecture, which Bobby loved, without him. I became sad and introspective, and my poor friend was stuck with me. She gets lots of points for patience.

This experience stuck with me, and today while I was putting our family activities on the new school calendar, I realized that our annual apple-picking trip will no longer include Bobby. The annual hospital picnic that we attend every year will no longer include Bobby. Our holiday trips into NYC will no longer include Bobby. My first day back at church after the funeral was ridiculously tough, and even though I’ve been back to services several times since then, I cannot even get through a service without crying.

Even something as simple as buying concert tickets for a Beatles Tribute Band was sad...I only had to order three tickets instead of the normal four. When is three ever going to be normal? Four is normal for our family, dammit, not three!! I guess we have to use that new normal number for our family. God, how I hate that phrase, ‘new normal’.

I wonder now how many more unexpected firsts I’m going to be hit with over this next year. Maybe even the second year. Whether it is picking apples or Christmas Day, it’s going to be very tough. I hope I can get through it with grace, but if I can’t, I hope my friends and family will be patient with me and understand!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

"Life on Mars"

I was watching DVD reruns of a show from 2008 called “Life on Mars”. In a nutshell, it’s about a cop named Sam from 2008 that ends up back in time, to 1973, working as a cop. He says in the beginning of the show, “...I don’t know how or why I’m here, but it’s like I’ve landed on a different planet...

Like Sam, I don’t know why I’m here in Widowhood, but I do know how (damn cancer). And it really is like living on another planet.

It’s a whole other life. Sure, I have the same job, same house and the same kids, but it’s completely different. As I’ve said before, my husband and I worked at the same place, so my workplace is completely different. He is not there for me to bounce things off of, the one person I could trust completely, without reservation, to talk to about work openly, honestly, and humorously. I could say what was really on my mind without having to worry about being politically correct. He would also send me emails throughout the day, just to say he loved me. I miss that the most.

It goes without saying that my home life is completely different, too. From learning how to use a weed-whacker to worrying about car inspection...that was all part of his domain, and now they are in mine. I’m not very mechanical, so I find it somewhat difficult.

Then there is the single parenting. There is no longer anyone for me to discuss with what is best for the kids; are we doing this right? Should we let the 14-year-old do this, or the 12-year-old do that? What if I make a wrong decision? And how the heck am I supposed to teach a teenage boy how to shave his face? I’m guessing it’s a lot different than shaving my legs.

Lastly are the dreaded social situations. For the last nineteen years, I was part of a couple. Now I am a single. God, I hate being a single. I went from dropping my kids off at the water park and walking hand-in-hand with Bobby on the boardwalk to dropping my kids off at the water park and sitting on a bench reading a magazine. Feeling completely pathetic, even though one of my friends with four kids pointed out that if she saw a woman sitting on a bench peacefully reading a magazine she would be jealous. I see her point, but it doesn’t make me feel any better.

So yes, I am living on Mars as far as I am concerned. And it is a really lonely planet.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

"...I Want to Marvel at Something"

I went to see the movie “Eat Pray Love” last night. I read the book a few years ago, and really enjoyed it, so I figured I might as well see the movie. I really like Julia Roberts, and the movie was good, but not as good as the book. For those of you not familiar with the story, it is the memoir of Liz Gilbert, who after a string of unsatisfying and bad relationships, decides to go on a journey around the world to learn to live with just herself, without a man. (She does find love in the end, even though she is not looking for it. Luckily for her, it is the healthy love that everybody really wants, not a dependent dysfunctional love. But that is not my point.)

I think Liz’s idea could really work for widows, too. Of course, I can’t imagine a jaunt around the world with my two boys in tow. I’m sure they would be all for the eating part in Italy, but ripping them away from their friends and activities for praying at an ashram in India and meditating with an old guy that looks like Yoda in Bali would not be their first choice of fun things to do. I’m sure it is not even in their top hundred. Given the choice, I’m sure they’d rather watch paint dry on a wall.

In the story, Liz loses her ability to savor life. Her line,I used to have this appetite for food, for my life. And it’s just gone. I wanna go someplace where I can marvel at something” really resonates with me. But just like she lost her appetite from being in bad relationships, I’ve lost my appetite because I’ve lost my great relationship. My life is very empty; except for the shuffling around that I do to get my kids to and from activities and friends’ houses in order to keep their lives normal. My appetite for MY life is gone. There is really nothing that I WANT to do with it anymore.

My husband and I had plans. We were going to travel. We were going to live on a houseboat. We were going to get a dog. Hell, we were even going to watch all the reruns of The Sopranos together, since we hadn’t seen every episode. And now my appetite for doing these things is gone.

Like Liz, I want to marvel at something, like I used to. No, I never got to marvel at the Taj Mahal or the Great Wall of China, but together, we marveled at simple things, like a rainbow or a beautiful flower, even something simple as a joke, each other’s laughter, or our house after just cleaning it. But all this has been taken away from me along with my husband. My son pointed out a rainbow the other day and I found it so hard to really care, even though I was able to fake it for him. (And I used to really like rainbows.) Now I go from day to day, doing the things that have to be done, and not getting any real enjoyment out of anything. I may laugh and smile at times, but there is always a black cloud looming over my head, ready to envelop me at any given time without warning.

So what can I do about it? Taking a trip around the world to find myself like Liz did is out of the question, given my job and my kids. So where is a widow to go to marvel at something again?

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

I'm Not a Marine Biologist

Disclaimer: It is not my intention to offend anyone with this post, and I want to apologize in advance if I do. I certainly mean NO lack of respect to anyone, but I feel the need to be honest while posting in order for this blog to remain genuine.

Due to my recent widowhood, I’ve recently joined the ranks as a single mom. I’m just getting used to having mail come from the school, addressed only to me (not Mr. & Mrs.), and having all the bills only in my name now.

However, I do not feel very comfortable with this label because most people who didn’t know me before will automatically assume that I am divorced. I mean no disrespect to women who are divorced. I know many divorced women who I consider friends. However, I want there to be a way to distinguish myself as a widow and not a divorcée.

This is not because I think divorcées are failures or less of a person. But now, just like I don’t want anyone to think I am a divorcée, I don’t want anyone to think I am a Marine Biologist, either. When I present myself, I want to present myself as who I my case, a widow who was in a wonderful marriage and misses her husband immensely, not someone who kicked their loser ex-husband to the curb (and we all know that some husbands do deserve to be kicked to the curb).

It is just that my husband was not one of them.

My mom told me many years ago that widows traditionally removed their wedding bands and moved their engagement rings to their right finger to signify that they are a widow. That is fine, but my problem with that is two-fold – first, I haven’t yet removed my wedding band. I just do not feel comfortable without it. (Let’s save that tidbit for whole other post). Second, it is such an old custom, I’m sure most people in my age group (and younger) wouldn’t have any clue what the engagement ring on the right hand even meant. Truthfully, I feel most people would just think that I got my right and left confused.

Introducing myself to people as a widow just doesn’t sit right, either. It would just make me look as though I am looking for sympathy. And a scarlet “W” just doesn’t match with all my clothing. So how do I distinguish myself from the divorcees? There doesn’t seem to be a clear answer to that question. Luckily, it isn’t pressing either, since as far as I’m concerned, my wedding band is still where it belongs – on my left ring finger where he placed it on our wedding day many years ago.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Lookin' for Bobby in All the Wrong Places

About once every summer, my cousins with the great backyard have a party of some sort. We’ve been going to these parties for years, and I’ve always had a good time. Every party is set up the on a table in the kitchen, and depending on how hot the weather is, there are either tents set up with picnic tables outside or snack tables in the family room and extra chairs in the dining room so everyone has a place to sit. Whenever the weather was too hot to sit outside, Bobby and I would gravitate to the dining room.

So this summer, at my cousins’ almost-annual party, I filled my plate with food, and instinctively looked around the house to see where Bobby was sitting so that I could go and sit next to him. I caught myself a half second later and went and sat in the dining room without him. It was an odd feeling.

A few hours later, everybody decided to change into their bathing suits and go in the pool. I took my turn in the bathroom and changed into my bathing suit, too. I got into the pool and started floating around, watching my kids play with their cousins in the pool. Again, for a split second, I looked around the pool, looking for Bobby, so that I could float over to be by his side. Again, I caught myself. He wasn’t there.

Then last night, I dropped my son off at the 4-H fair, and on the way back to the car, I saw a dog that looked like the kind of dog he wanted to get when we retired. Without thinking, I almost actually turned around and said, “Look at that dog! That’s the kind we want to get!” Luckily I caught myself before I actually turned around, because that would have been even more depressing.

My most recent example was tonight. I was picking my son up from the 4H Fair again, and while we were walking out, 3 girls walked by and said hello. They said it in that cute, almost-but-not-quite flirty way that 12-year-olds can muster. My son is only 12, too, and I'm not used to this girl stuff with him. My first reaction was to go home and tell Bobby about it. Another split second later, I was sad again because I couldn't share it with him when I got home. Will this gut reaction ever stop?

These were all sad, yet surreal experiences. It’s the same feeling that I get when I see or hear something funny, and I cannot wait to tell him, or I want to confirm a piece of gossip I may have heard at work. It’s a split second of what I consider normalcy, how our life used to be, before I was thrust into the navigation of this unfamiliar territory on my own. I miss the old normal, and I miss the familiarity of what my life used to be. I know I’m supposed to create this “new normal” but my subconscious may not be letting me. Instead it gives me split second glimpses of how it used to be. I hope this is a part of the so-called “process”. So far, the “process” sucks.

Monday, August 9, 2010

The Old Couple

I was at church a few weeks back, sitting with my friends Donna and Peter and their children. Sitting in front of us was an old couple...well into their 80s at least. You could tell that the man has had some health issues, but the woman seemed to be in better health, alternating between sitting, standing and kneeling without much effort, while the poor man had to be helped by his wife into every position.

The man also had a cane with him. He must have dropped that cane into the aisle at least five times during the service. My friend Peter (sitting on the aisle) kindly picked it up for him every time, as it was obvious that man was having difficulties.

What bothered me about this couple was that every time the man dropped his cane, or whenever he had to change positions, the woman would get angry, roll her eyes, and scold him (especially when he dropped his cane). What was the big deal? Its not like she had to pick it up, Peter picked it up every time.

I’m sure it was difficult for her, but to tell you the truth I wanted to slap her upside the back of her head and scream at her, “DO YOU KNOW HOW LUCKY YOU ARE TO HAVE THIS MAN BY YOUR SIDE? WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU? AND STOP ROLLING YOUR EYES AT HIM!!!” Here they were, in church, together, and barring any unusual circumstances, had probably been together for at least 60 years. Yes, 60 years. I barely get 19 years with the love of my life, and this lady looks like she is wishing her poor husband would drop dead. It made me angry to see how ungrateful she looked.

I would give anything, yes anything, to have Bobby back. Even if it meant caring for him for the rest of my life. I miss him so much, I even miss all the caring for him. I’m not saying that caring for him was easy, either. It was strenuous, tiring and time consuming. I had to give up myself for those months, it was like I didn’t even exist. My life was all about him. But I miss every single second.

I wish this lady realized what she had and how lucky she actually was. She’s lucky we were in church, because truthfully, I do not know if I could’ve kept my mouth shut otherwise.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

Several months ago, before Bobby's illness got to the "there-is-nothing-more-we-can-do-you-need-to-go-into-hospice" phase, we promised the kids we would take them to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland over Spring Break in April. Well, that didn't happen because over Spring Break, Bobby was in Hospice care at home, and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum was the last thing on my mind.

Fast forward to a few weeks ago and the kids asked me, "Can we go to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum this summer?" So I said I would take them. So I drove seven hours (with my sister also in tow) to Cleveland. We spent all day Friday at the Museum.

What does this have to do with Bobby? Well, I cannot tell you how many times I would read a fact or see an object on display and want to turn around and say to him, "Look at this!" or "Did you read this?" It was the first "vacation" I took without him and in some ways, even though I thoroughly enjoyed the Museum, I was so sad because I was not sharing it with him. Which leads me to this next thought....

I'm having trouble moving on without him. (Big surprise?) I "catch" myself enjoying whatever I am doing and I feel immediately sad. I cannot live like this, and I don't know how to stop without feeling completely guilty about it. I feel like there is a part of me that should never have fun, because to have any sort of fun is like a betrayal. I'm supposed to be the person in the world who loved him the most, so why would that person (me) have any kind of fun when the love of her life is gone?

Many well-meaning friends and family have pointed out to me that I should be able to have fun because despite the fact that he is gone, I am still alive (well, duh!) but that is not the simple answer. I cannot picture him saying to me, "Well, I'm gone now, so you need to go on and have fun without me." In all fairness, I also cannot picture him telling me, "You need to mourn in the house forever and never have any fun." We never talked about that sort of thing, so I do not know his thoughts in this case. I'm the person who knew him the best, and I could, in any given situation, answer for him because I knew what he would say in almost all situations. Yet ironically the ONE question that I really need answered, I cannot answer for him. Oh, the frustration!

Monday, August 2, 2010

All Widows are Not Built the Same

Every so often I will look on the Internet for information about being a young widow. It's sort of like looking for the one website, the one person, (most likely a widow) that will have the magic words that I've been waiting for, the words that will take all my pain away once and for all.

It never happens.

What I find instead are an interesting mix...and none of them seem to have the magic words. On FB, I find that the widows there are very understanding an supportive. When they don't know what to say, they just post {{HUGS}} which can be comforting, too. I like knowing that others understand my pain. And I don't mean that in a Schadenfreude way, either.

But there are young widows that I can't say I have a lot in common with. Yes, we've shared the loss of our husbands, and we are raising children on our own. But one widow insists that if we had a love so great and so rare with our deceased husband, that we will find it again. I think she is dead wrong, with the operative word in the previous sentence being "rare". There is no man in this world that could live up to the man my husband was. Not only did he love and cherish me, but he respected me in a way that even my friends in good marriages don't have. He never once, in almost nineteen years, chose TV over me. Never did he ever obviously and outright admire another woman in my presence even though I'm sure he did, being a red-blooded-American-male. All his co-workers have told me on multiple occasions, even before he was sick, that his face would light up whenever he mentioned my name. He loved to see me smile, so he would do whatever it took to see me smile. And he had an uncanny way of making me feel "pretty". Not just "attractive", you know, the word we use when someone is not pretty, but not ugly, either. He made me feel genuinely pretty, even after gaining the second-child-C-section-muffin-top.

I've also read other widows writing about how they've changed so much, that maybe their once-beloved no longer would date them if they met today! I find that a bit absurd. Yes, this can be true if the marriage was not a good one. But my husband and I brought out the best in each other, so anybody that I may become in the future will certainly be someone that he would love. I've already become the best person that I can be, thanks to him. (And vice-versa) I would never change so much that he would no longer "fit into" my life if he were here.

Then they talk about dating. Dating?!?! I cannot imagine dating. Like I said earlier, what we had was so rare, nobody could ever make me feel the way he did. I just feel like if I were to go out and date someone that I would be telling Bobby, my beloved, "Well, dude, you left so I'm moving on. Your loss. Adios." I would never say that to him, either explicitly nor implicitly. I like keeping my house the way it was when he was here (except for the absolute necessities, like replacing a garage door that could've fallen on someone's head and killed them). I've moved his clothing around a little bit with the change of the seasons, but not any more than I would have if he were still here. And through the funeral home, I was able to get a charm for a necklace that has engraved on it his fingerprint from his left ring finger, the finger where he wore his wedding band, which has since taken up residence around my neck on another chain. My wedding band hasn't moved. It is still exactly where it belongs since 11/6/99...on my left ring finger. I'm even considering a tattoo with his name or initials on it, and ask any of my friends...I would never before even consider a tattoo!

Some people may believe that I am one Brady short of a bunch to become a walking monument to Bobby, but this is what makes me feel "OK". (I never feel "good".) Many people have pointed out to me that my wedding vows said, "...until death do us part." I'm by no means an overly religious person, but didn't Jesus say, "He who believes in me never dies"? Well, Bobby was not overly religious, either, but we are Christian (we called ourselves Christian-Lite), and he did believe in Jesus, so doesn't that mean he hasn't died either?

Food for thought.....