Monday, November 30, 2009

Post-Holiday Letdown

My in-laws left this morning, after a ten-day visit. They are wonderful people, and I really enjoyed hosting them. Besides, my mother-in-law empties the dishwasher every morning, cleans up the kitchen every evening while I'm putting B to bed, and generally makes my life easier while they're here. They drove out from Phoenix, and she brought a rice dish for Thanksgiving. What could be better?

My father and his wife, along with one of her sons and his family, joined us for the Big Day. We had a Sunset Magazine Thanksgiving -- all but two items (including my mother-in-law's rice dish) came from this year's November issue. Brined turkey with sage butter, sweet potatoes and apples, green beans, cranberry sauce with pomegranate seeds -- all was delicious! And I followed the suggestion of a friend and hired a party helper, someone to come in and clean up the kitchen while we were dining and desserting. Oh, what a great thing that was!

Really, everything went very smoothly, and I have nothing significant to complain about. Except I am exhausted. I was a basket case at work today, barely able to function at the lowest level of capability. It was a long ten days of having other adults in my house, morning, noon and night. I realize how much I've come to appreciate the quiet of the evening, after B (and D when he's staying with me) is in bed, to relax and decompress. To be myself, not having to entertain or put on a happy face. Even with family, I appear to believe that being a good host requires being "on", regardless of whether I felt like crying because T wasn't here to enjoy the day, or escaping into a book to avoid the pain, or reading the paper with breakfast because that what I do every morning.

There is much to be thankful for in my life. Even in the terrible early days and weeks after losing T, I recognized that things could be much worse. T didn't suffer; his son wasn't staying with us the night T died; T wasn't driving a car when it happened; we were at a good place in our relationship with no real unfinished business. But on this Thanksgiving, like all major holidays so far, T's absence is just still to big and raw. There is no room on this day for heartfelt thanks, for counting my blessings and feeling grateful. There is only deep, deep sadness and loss. On other, less emotionally-loaded days, I can and do genuinely give thanks. I feel hope for the future, and even look forward with interest and excitement. Just not right now.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Communing with the spirit(s) of T

My husband T was not a conspicuous consumer. While we did both have well-paying jobs in the Silicon Valley, neither of us were big shoppers. He drove a practical, inexpensive car, he wasn't into video games, DVDs or electronics, and he wore khakis and polo shirts exclusively. I once bought him a beautiful cashmere sport jacket that never even left the closet. (I took it back to Nordstrom after he died, five years after I bought it, and they accepted it as a return. I heart Nordstrom.)

But T was a wine collector. And wow, you can sink a lot of money into wine if you even halfway try. We have a very large wine refrigerator in the garage, and off-site storage for many more cases as well. Some of the wine he bought is quite expensive, and none of it will last forever. Whatever am I going to do with somewhere around 500 bottles?

Last weekend I spent time at the off-site wine locker, sorting cases, handling bottles T was the last one to touch, deciphering his almost illegible handwriting, and communing with his spirit (pun intended). I was able to bring home many cases and move the rest into a much smaller locker, saving me a tidy sum in storage fees. My in-laws helped me load 19 cases into the refrigerator in the garage. I thought of T with every bottle I handled, every label I read, every winery visit I recalled. Oh, I have some wonderful memories of tasting trips we took to Napa and Sonoma. I was pleased to realize that the recollections brought smiles more than tears -- another sign of having moved forward with my grieving.

So what will I do with all these cases? I will continue to give wine to my in-laws, as they appreciate it as much as T and I did. I will continue to donate wine to fund-raising auctions for causes I support. I'll sell what I can via consignment. I'll drink a little, though not nearly at the pace that T and I were on while he was here to help with the mood and the consumption. And I'll toast to his memory with every glass.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Loneliness Continued

I've been thinking more about loneliness, and realizing that sometimes I miss T specifically, like when watching beautiful sunset or contemplating entertaining our friends. Our nanny has a clip from a Darius Rucker song as her cell phone ring tone, and I acutely miss T when I hear "It won't be like this for long / One day soon we'll look back laughing at the week we brought her home / This phase is gonna fly by, so baby just hold on / Cause it won't be like this for long." No one but me remembers the wonderful and terrible days after we brought B home. I might be able to provide a father figure for B in the future, and a life partner for myself, but I can't replace the loss of the other person in that most life-altering shared experience.

At other times I just miss having someone belong to me; someone to drop me off when my car is in the shop, or be a listening ear when I want to talk about work, or try out a new restaurant with. This kind of loneliness is the generic "I wish I had a mate" brand, presumably resolved when in the fullness of time I find myself in a new relationship. Will the specific loneliness fade over time, and the generic loneliness remain or even increase? I strive to be peaceful, whole and content by myself as well as in a relationship. Goodness knows it's often hard to be peaceful when in a relationship with another person as imperfect in his own way as I. And it sure is easier to get things done when I'm the only one making in the decisions. But right now, I feel that I want to give and receive love, to face the future with a partner to share life with. I strive to stay hopeful that when the time is right, there will be the right relationship too.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Accepting Happiness

On Friday I had lunch with a close friend. I drove to meet her with a very light heart and an almost unreasonable feeling of joy. "It's almost Thanksgiving! My lovely in-laws are arriving tonight! It's my day off, and I have the whole weekend ahead of me!" Whatever crossed my mind, I effortlessly turned into something positive. Oh, if I could hold on to that ability and use it consistently! But at least I have episodes of joy. I am healing.

Tonight's fortune cookie: "Soon someone new coming into your life will become a very good friend."

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Taking Care of Myself

I flew to San Diego for work yesterday, leaving in the morning and returning in the late afternoon. It's only a little over an hour's flight, and it was a smooth trip and a productive day, but I was still pretty tired at the end of it. My pattern has always been to pack as much into a day as possible; when I was young and single I often had
something every night, and occasionally two things in the same night (volleyball
practice followed by a movie, for example). After T died, I dramatically cut back on my commitments first by necessity, and then to consciously allow myself plenty of unstructured downtime. As I have come out of active grieving, I've slipped back into the always-busy mode, trying to squeeze the most out of every day. Yesterday was no exception, as I planned to go to a yoga and meditation class directly from the airport. If my flight was on time, I could just make it, and I packed my yoga clothes and mat in the car the night before.

But watching the incredibly beautiful sunset and sliver of a moon from the airplane window as we descended, I realized I was having trouble mustering the energy to go to a yoga class where mental and physical discipline were required. Was I being lazy, or avoiding my grief? Yeah, maybe, but I am learning to tune into my gut reactions and take them seriously. Maybe I would miss an opportunity, but there is always another chance, and taking it at my own pace is really important. And I hadn't seen B much in the last few days, being out late the night before and up and gone early that day. I missed her, and thought she might be missing me.

But it was uncomfortable making the decision to change my plans and go home. I took some time to think about what was at the root of the discomfort, and I realized I was afraid to disappoint the yoga teacher, and disappoint the babysitter who was expecting 3 hours of work. I had made a commitment, and I always feel the need to follow through on my commitments. I had to pause and let go of that need this time. They probably don't care, and if they do, it's their thing, not mine. I had warned the yoga teacher I might miss class, given my travel plans, so she was prepared, and I paid the sitter for an hour of her time, even though she was only there for half an hour. (Was that enough?) It was uncomfortable to change plans like that, but it felt good to listen and respond to my own internal needs. To take care of myself. And B and I were happy to see each other!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009


My dad and step-mom took me and B out for dinner on Sunday night, and we had a very nice time. As some point during dinner, my step-mom asked me if I was lonesome in the evenings. It's a question I've considered before, and the answer is surprisingly, no. I actually enjoy my quiet, unstructured evenings. I often read or work on the computer, sometimes write in my journal, and start getting ready for bed around 9:30. And T and I didn't have much of a togetherness routine in the evenings, either. He would watch TV or read his Economist, and because I hated his channel surfing style, I would often disappear in the office or ignore the TV and read on the couch. So I don't find I miss him especially acutely in the evenings.

When I do really long for his presence is during meals, when we always ate together as a family and he always did the clean-up, and when in family-focused crowds. Yesterday was B's preschool Thanksgiving celebration, and like the Bar Mitzvah we attended in October, I felt like I was in my own private bubble. I don't know many of the families at preschool, because I'm a working mom and not very good at mingling, I guess. B isn't quite at the point of having close preschool friends, and the crowd was a little disconcerting to her, so she clung to me and limited the amount of grown-up socializing I could do. And I just didn't feel the spirit; I was envious of the happy families of mom, dad, a kid or two, making T's absence so big. There is no guarantee that T would have attended with me, though he would certainly have tried. I might have been annoyed if he didn't attend, as I sometimes felt that B got the short straw compared to her half-brother when T prioritized his time. But I would have been more relaxed, more comfortable in the environment, feeling like I was just another mom with preschooler, rather than the wounded freak of nature I realize I sometimes feel like. The invisible "W" emblazoned on my forehead is both something I feel compelled to talk about, and also wish with all my heart were not there.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Musings After Yoga

What is life, living? How can I be alive, and you be dead? How can my heart beat and my breath fill my body, and your heart and body be ashes? One moment you were alive, the next you were gone. Dead, elsewhere, not here with us. Where are you? Do you see me, watch B as she grows? I don't very often feel you directly, but every once in a while your memory is so strong. Your big laugh, your big hands, your energy and warmth and heartbeat.

I remember how upset I was with the idea of your open heart surgery, how your beautiful chest would be forever marred by a big scar. But it healed so well, and became a part of you, neither good nor bad. Perhaps that is what your death is becoming in me. At first it was a huge, raging, gaping wound, my lifeblood pouring out as I grasped the truth and reality of you being gone forever. As time has passed and I have walked with the truth, the wound has begun to heal. There is a big, tender, red scar that mars my existence, but I can now see that with time and gentle acceptance, it will fade to become a part of me, neither good nor bad, just there.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Turning a Corner

Every few months I try to get away for a night or two, completely on my own, for some solitude and grief processing time. The first time I went to a resort in the southwest near my in-laws, and it was just what I wanted except for the wedding reception occurring in the restaurant as I went to have dinner. (Being a lone observer at someone else's wedding when you're grieving the loss of your spouse was not my idea of a good time.) But I sat at the bar and had a nice meal, as I recall, and the view from the room was almost worth the emotional pain. (T was a connoisseur of views, and would have very much appreciated that spot.)

The second time, I tried a bed and breakfast near home owned by a friend. That was a good experience also, though having a relationship with the host did perhaps constrain me a little in feeling like I could completely let go.

This time, my grief counselor recommended a guest house at a Zen Buddhist farm and conference center about 50 miles away. I went up on Wednesday afternoon, and stayed two nights. With meals included, it was a mere $90 a night. And more than that, the atmosphere was much more conducive to introspection and spiritual reflection. I had several good conversations with fellow guest house visitors, went on a long walk to the beach, cried a lot, read and wrote a lot, and felt like I perhaps turned a bit of a corner in my grieving.

Reading one of the workbooks my grief counselor loaned me from a grief group she attended, I came upon a list of possible accomplishments. "Wow", I thought. "I have accomplished a lot. I've come a long way!"

I have:
  • Acknowledged that I am in pain
  • Faced my loss
  • Understood why the world views me as it does
  • Recognized that grief returns again and again
  • Remembered my past losses
  • Looked forward at the future
  • Decided to let change happen in my life, to embrace it
  • Understood the grieving process

And I am:
  • Beginning to let go of T
  • Saying good-bye in the midst of remembering
  • Discovering new roles
  • Integrating my past with my future
  • Beginning to feel back in balance
  • Beginning to move beyond loss

It feels really good to recognize my progress. Like climbing a long, slow ascent on my bike, I feel as if I've come to a little vista point and can look out and see how far up I'm come from the valley floor. I know that grieving is a spiral staircase (see point 4 on the first list above!), and I may be back in the hard work of the climb again sooner or later, but for now I'm enjoying the view.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009


Until very recently, I hadn't set an alarm since the morning T died. Those first many months, I wasn't sleeping well enough to need to -- I was always awake long before 6:30. Even when taking sleeping pills the first two weeks or so, I couldn't stay asleep for more than about 4 or 5 hours, and though I would fall back asleep for a while, it wasn't good quality sleep and I had no trouble getting up, showered, and ready for B's morning routine at 7:00 or 7:15.

In the last few months I had better luck occasionally sleeping until 6:30 or so, especially as fall arrived and the sun rose incrementally later each morning. But I still resisted setting an alarm. Somehow it represents losing an important concession I've insisted on as a widow -- I get to sleep as long as I can, putting my own needs for good rest above the commitments of the day. And T died between going to bed at night and when the alarm went off in the morning, so the alarm clock represents something more ominous to me, I guess.

But a few weeks ago I had to be somewhere by 8:00 AM for a class I was taking, and the mornings leading up to the class, after waking at 4:30 and having trouble falling back asleep, I actually slept past 7:00. I didn't want to risk being late, so I bit the bullet and set an alarm. And of course I woke early.

But then I had the thought that not setting the alarm might be making me unconsciously worry about oversleeping, now that I'm back in a normal routine of commitments and schedules. Maybe setting the alarm will enable me to sleep longer, because I will trust that the alarm will get me up in time.

Didn't make a difference. I still wake up at 5:30 or 5:45, whether the alarm is set or not.

I don't quite know why I'm so obsessed with sleep. I don't feel especially tired, most days, and have enough energy to get through a day intact. I've always been this way though, from college days when I would quit studying at midnight so I could get 7 1/2 hours sleep before I had to get up at 8:00 for class. When B was born, I worked very hard to get her on a generous sleep schedule, even putting myself to bed when she went down at 8:00 or 8:30 so that the fractured nights of breastfeeding were survivable.

I guess I equate sleeping 8+ hours a night with mental health, spiritual peace and emotional contentment. Or maybe it represents healing to me; like babies' brains grow while they sleep, my heart will eventually mend overnight.

So on that note, I am tucking in. But I plan to buy the tea that Abigail recommends. I can use all the help I can get.