Thursday, October 29, 2009

A Good Day

B has a book called "A Good Day" by Kevin Henkes. It was one of a handful of books we took on our trip to Mexico in April 2008, the trip where T died less than a week after our return. It has a great story line, in which four little animals each suffer (suffers?) a disappointment, and each overcomes to turn a bad day into a good day. Even before T died, my favorite was Little Brown Squirrel's experience: she dropped her nut, but then found the biggest nut ever. Sometimes you have to let go of something good to make room for something even better.

I loved T with all my heart, but he wasn't always the easiest to live with. In the words of my grief support group counselor, our marriage was sometimes like a really cute shoe that was about 1/2 size too small. Over time, it's just not completely comfortable. T had a hard time letting go of control of things, and was very skilled at subtle techniques that kept me a little off balance. I would wonder if he really loved me. I would strive to please him so he wouldn't roll his eyes, interrupt me, or give me "the look". I experienced him as not always appreciating the parts of me that felt the most me: singing to the radio, working to understand myself better, trying to be compassionate toward others.

A silver lining in this terrible storm cloud I'm living under is that I am no longer wearing that really cute, slightly too small shoe. I can stretch out, relax, breath, and totally be myself without fear of censure or the pain of feeling diminished. Of course, there were so many good parts to our marriage -- the companionship on all our great adventure traveling, the partnership of loving and caring for children together, the comfort in sharing a home and a future. He was a truly good man, and he truly loved me.

But the nut of our marriage was snatched out of my hands. (Does that analogy work?) Now I have the opportunity to find "the biggest nut ever", a man and a marriage that fits me, especially the me I am becoming, better. It won't necessarily be easy, and it certainly isn't a certainty, but it is a possibility. I hold on to that promise and think of Little Brown Squirrel, and how you have to let go to turn a bad day into a good day.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009


Last weekend was my 25th college reunion. I live right down the street from the school, and find myself on campus often, so it was easy to attend. I signed up for the whole program, from dinner on the quad Thursday night through the football tailgater Saturday evening. My goal in committing so much time was two-fold: I wanted to reconnect with old friends and acquaintances, and I thought maybe I would meet someone interesting.

The first goal was easy; all I had to do when asked "What have you been up to all these years?" was to say "Well, I've been going through a tough time lately. I lost my husband last year." That immediately took the conversation to a much more intimate level than might otherwise have resulted: people shared their own losses with me, we talked about the meaning of life and the amazing joys of children, about making a difference in your job and enjoying every moment. I probably said those words "I lost my husband last year" at least 50 times. Depending on the listener's response, I shed a few tears or not, and it didn't matter too much to me either way. I definitely talked with more women, especially those from my freshman dorm, but I also shared my story with some thoughtful and compassionate men (alas, all married).

I confess to a certain sense of pride regarding the tragic nature of my story, and almost a pleasure in shocking and impressing my listener with the magnitude of my loss and my strength, bravery and resilience. I was there, after all, talking about it candidly and insightfully. Or at least that's how I saw myself; there is every likelihood that I was in fact a bit boorish and boring. It is intoxicating, having a story that trumps anything anyone else might tell; intoxicating to imagine myself the subject of discussion later on and back home. I finally achieved popularity!

There was a class panel one afternoon, where the theme was transition and change. I very much enjoyed hearing the stories of the five panelists, describing how close or far they landed from their graduation dreams, and how they approached transition and change. When polled, about half the audience indicated they were in a pretty stable place in their lives currently, and the other half admitted to being in transition. I certainly feel like I'm in transition, or rather in a limbo state that may precede major change. Being comfortable just sitting in that place, and trusting that when the time is right the path will open up, is what I'm working on right now.

Looking back on past reunions, I was in transition, or challenged in some way, at each one, it seems. At the 20th, I was all about infertility. At the time of the 15th, which I didn't attend, I was preparing to break up with my live-in boyfriend. (Receiving the invitation earlier that summer, I wondered if I would have executed my break-up plan by then, so I could go and possibly meet someone new. I dragged my feet too long and didn't actually do the deed until perhaps the weekend of the reunion itself.) Where will I be at the 30th? I hope to have my grief resolved, be at peace with my loss, and be content with my life. Oh, and I hope to be married, too. I keep trying to focus on inner peace and contentment, being happy by myself and not dependent on a relationship for wholeness, but the truth right now is that I really want a life partner to share love, companionship, and parenting.

That brings me to the second goal of the weekend, my desire to meet someone interesting. It was not achieved. I did go to a singles event, but there were not many eligible men, it seemed, though I did enjoy talking with some nice women (as always!). Ah well, I'm not at all certain I'm ready right now to invest emotional energy in a new relationship. And I did put out the idea, to many of the people I talked with, that I would like to be married again. Who knows what will appear when the time is right?

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Happy Birthday Honey

Today you would have been 50. I miss you so much, and still can't believe that you are not here with me.

I didn't do anything special to celebrate your birthday. I feel guilty about that. I didn't go to the cemetery, or do anything ceremonial with B (or D); I didn't light a candle or make a donation or even say a prayer. Several friends called, and I called Papa. I went to a Young Widow and Widowers Meetup dinner, talked about you and my grieving, wondered when I'll start coming out of this all-consuming haze of loss.

If you were still here, we would have gone to dinner with F and E. We might have taken a weekend trip, probably taking B with us. We would have had a lovely meal, two glasses of champagne and a bottle of wine, delicious dessert, and good togetherness afterwards. I would have bought you some sort of gift -- possibly lame-ass, but maybe inspired.

But you are not here. You are "in nature", "in the little animals that run around". You are in my thoughts and in my heart, and will always stay there, always 48, always safe.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Alone in my sad little bubble

Today I took B to a Bar Mitzvah hosted by an old friend. I have so little exposure to Jewish traditions, but I appreciated the community and spirituality of the event. B wasn't interested in staying with the other kids and babysitters in the play area, so she promised to be quiet and stay with me in the sanctuary. She did very well, throughout the 2 1/2 hour service. And my friend's twin sons did beautifully, too.

But I felt like I was traveling in an isolation chamber. No one spoke to me, and I spoke to no one. A few people smiled at B, and one or two people asked how old she was. My friend stopped briefly at our table as we were eating lunch, and I got to say "Mazel Tov" to the boys when we first arrived. Otherwise, we were observers, looking in on normal family lives from the outside.

The only other Bar Mitzvah I've attended was in the spring, for the oldest son of T's oldest friend. At that service I felt very included and a part of the community, and I cried through the entire event. There was a slide show of photos of the family, and extended family, and T's smiling face appeared several times. The siblings of T's friend were all in attendance, and all made a point to spend some time with me. We even stayed at our friend's mother's house.

But in a fundamental way, the pain I felt today, and the pain of last spring, was the same. Bar Mitzvahs celebrate family, and highlight for me the gaping hole in ours. Whether the people around me knew anything about me and my story or not, I couldn't help but constantly reflect on my loss. Add to that the 2 hour drive each way, alone with a three-year-old who didn't sleep going or coming, and I am exhausted tonight. And stuck in my sadness, feeling very lonely and sorry for myself.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Feeling My Broken Heart

The other morning, as I was sitting in silence, eyes closed on my bed, practicing meditation, I did a body scan. How did each part of my body feel, and what was it trying to tell me? I didn't get further than my heart. Oh, it
ached. It felt like it was sliced to shreds, pierced with arrows, broken open and bleeding all over. (All those cliches about how a broken heart feels? Tritely, embarrassingly true.) And it was telling me that the pain was necessary, that it was important to feel, to honor what T and I had and what I lost. It was reminding me that the pain and sorrow are there constantly, and I just distract myself to avoid feeling it. "Hello," I said to the pain. "I recognize you. I appreciate that you are telling me how important T was to me." Unfortunately, the pain didn't magically melt away. Maybe I felt more comfortable with it, more accepting of it. But I still wished it were gone, dammit. I'm tired of this phase of active grieving.

One thing that may help me move through this phase is to complete the "Mourning and Mitzvah" journaling exercises. I've been taking a break from them, as various daytime and evening events have engaged my energies and/or time. Perhaps because in the chronology of the journal exercises, I'm still early in processing the loss, my emotional state is stuck there too. This weekend I'll get back to it, and see how that feels.

I have been thinking about taking the last batch of T's ashes with me to my next solitude retreat, scheduled for early November. I'll be gone for two nights, mid-week, staying at a Zen Buddhist center near the ocean. My plan was to scatter T's ashes on the east coast (done), western mountains (done), and west coast (pending). The center is about 20 minutes walk from the beach, and I'd like to have a more spiritual experience scattering that the first two were. Scattering on public land is of course illegal, so I feel uncomfortable about being seen or caught doing it, but not in having done it. T belongs in nature, and it feels so right to return his essence there. So I guess I will take him with me, and look for an opportunity to cast him upon the waters, or spread him among the redwoods, or scatter him along the bluffs. He would like that. And maybe the experience of completing laying him to rest will help me move forward, too, and ease the pain of my broken heart.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Daddy In Real Life

Do not stand at my grave and weep;
I am not there, I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow,
I am the diamond glints on snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain,
I am the gentle autumn rain.

When you awaken in the morning's hush,
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry.
I am not there, I did not die.
- Robert Hepburn

B occasionally asks "Is Daddy in real life?" "No," I say. "When someone dies, they aren't in real life anymore. Daddy is in pictures, in our memories, and in our hearts." One day recently she asked for a little more information, and I waxed poetic, remembering the Robert Hepburn poem above, and the great comfort I feel knowing T's scattered ashes are nourishing plants and animals in his favorite beautiful places. "When someone dies, they go back to nature. Daddy is in the breezes that blow, the sun that shines, the rain that falls, the plants that grow, the little animals that run around." Today after nap, she said "Daddy isn't here in real life. But he's in the animals that run around." "Yes," I said. "And he is always in our hearts."

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Living As If No One Were Missing

I have a new friend, a single mom by choice, whose daughter is the same age as B. My friend has certainly suffered and had difficulties in her life -- giving up on finding a parenting partner before her biological clock ran out and working for 3 years to conceive both come to mind. But I was impressed when I visited her home. If the blending of toys and decor is any gauge, she has integrated her daughter's life and hers seamlessly and beautifully. She is Jewish, and she invited B and me over for Friday night (shabbat) dinner. I got to thinking about how she and her daughter have challah and light candles for the sabbath, just the two of them. As if no one were missing. When that realization struck me, I burst into tears. Because of course, I live every day as if someone where missing. T is missing, and will be missing forever.

No one is missing in their lives. She chose the path of single parenthood, and though it is unquestionably a very difficult path to walk, and she could very well acutely miss the company of a partner in the experience, she also went into it with the expectation of being on her own. I, on the other hand, was never really sure I wanted to have children, and only decided to try after it was abundantly clear that T really wanted another, and would be an equal partner in the endeavor. Once I started down the path to parenthood, though, I because passionately committed to the idea, and had to go, it turned out, to extraordinary measures. (That's a story for another post.)

So having the relationship disappear that was the basis and foundation for having the child makes the parenting part just that much more overwhelming. Being on my own with B is just wrong, and I can't and don't want to get my head around it. But fighting against the reality of things never seems to lead to much success or happiness, does it. I feel I could learn a lot from my new friend about how to set things up and live a life as a whole, complete person and parent, living as if no one were missing.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

A Long Way to Go

At almost eighteen months out, I feel like I've only just begun the hard work of grieving. The first nine months were shock, numbness, putting one foot in front of the other. After the new year I felt good for quite a while -- six months of the calm before the storm. I stretched out my grief peer counselor visits to every two weeks; I stopped seeing my therapist. Then coming back from a trip to visit T's extended family in July, I hit a wall and felt pretty crummy for much of the summer. The reality was sinking in, and I was trying to figure out what it really meant.

I went back to weekly visits with my grief counselor, and I spent a weekend in September at "Grief and Growing", a wonderful program for people dealing with loss. I've been working my way through the exercises in "Mourning and Mitzvah", a guided journal for walking the mourner's path. I am actively searching for ways to process my grief, to let the pain and sadness, loneliness and longing, surface and be recognized. I believe in the idea that by feeling your feelings, you release them and they evolve into something else. I fear that I have a lot of feelings to feel, and it's going to be a while before I've got the emotional energy or heart space to focus on anything else. But it is what it is. Time spent now is necessary, important, and well-invested.


I am starting this blog as an outlet for my thoughts and feelings, and as a record for my daughter, as I continue down the road of surviving the loss of a spouse. My husband T died suddenly and unexpectedly in his sleep at 48. Our daughter B was 21 months at the time, and T's son D from a previous relationship was eight. It has been nearly eighteen months, and I am ... what am I? Not destroyed -- I can function normally most of the time. But most definitely not whole either. My loss is a lens that colors everything I see, feel, do. My life partner is gone, and I am only half of what I was and expected to be. I know that wholeness is possible, that integrating a profound loss is achievable, even if "healing" or "recovery" is not.

And so this blog will be a record of my work to return to wholeness.