Driving down the road the other day, thinking about nothing in particular, it suddenly hit me that T was dead. "Wow", I thought, "How could that be? How can a person be there one day, and then suddenly gone the next? How can I be living this life of a widow, without him?" There was even body language involved -- I noticed myself blinking my eyes, shaking my head, snorting a little. No tears, no big wave of sadness, just ... disbelief.
I find that I'm having a hard time keeping from spinning elaborate what-if scenarios about a rosy, perfect future now that there's a man in my life. "I can do more evening activities, like book club meetings, because He will stay home and be with B," I think. I think about my summer vacation plans, and what to do about them. I wonder how much money we'll save by combining households, and converting two homes into one. How big a place would we want? Where would we live? Stop! It will all unfold as in due time, and obsessing about it now, building up my expectations, will only make me more likely to hold on if and when it's time to let go, or take it harder than necessary if he ends it.
And yet, I'm inconsistent about my feelings for Guy. After our Friday Valentine's celebration, I felt great about him. I couldn't wait until his mid-week visit on Wednesday. Thursday morning, perhaps because of lack of sleep in specific and fear of intimacy in general, I was not so high on him. Saturday's date was (dare I say) pleasant, but the sizzle may be fizzling. A mini-grief bomb went off when he clicked off the bathroom light, just like T did every night of our married life. Same sound, same situation, wrong person, my heart said. Again, I have to remind myself that we're not planning our wedding. We're just having a nice time together, seeing where things lead. If I'm slow to move down the path, that's OK. Pausing to take in the view is perfectly acceptable and appropriate.
I find it interesting that a lot of the widow/widower bloggers I follow have recently posted about dating and the presence of a new person in their lives. I think it's mostly because I'm following a cohort; we all lost our spouses around the same time, two years ago plus or minus, and that seems to be a common time to come up for air, romance-wise. Not everyone, though, because each grief journey is unique. "That's why there's chocolate and vanilla", an old friend used to say. I can't describe how helpful it has been to follow the journey of others ahead and alongside me, letting me know that my feelings and issues are common, that I'm not alone. Thank you, fellow bloggers!
Happy Valentine's Day, T! You and I never made a big deal of the day, but we always went out to dinner (any excuse to visit a nice restaurant!) and exchanged cards. I still have the card I gave you for what was our last Valentine's Day together, in 2008: "It's the same shopping struggle every year... What can you get for the man who has me?"
I so remember our first Valentine's Day, 2000. We had been friends for five or six years, so we knew each other very well. On a ski trip in early February with some friends, when we were finally both single and unattached, a spark was struck. Huh, I thought. And, wow. A week later, the day before Valentine's Day, I was leaving on a work trip, and you brought over a single red rose. Each month following, you brought me more roses: two for our second month, three for our third... In those early months, I walked a foot off the ground everywhere I went.
Thank you for your love, your name, and the wonderful memories of our time together. I love you, T, and you are always in my heart.
Looking Forward Happy Valentine's Day, Guy! No matter what happens with us in the future, I will always remember with great fondness this Valentine's Day, 2010. Your sweetness and attention has reminded me that the sun does rise again, that goodness returns, that there is the possibility of new love on the horizon.
Here's how our the day unfolded: Because I had an overnight babysitter for Friday night, we marked the event a couple days early. We met in the city for a stroll around China Town, a cocktail at a little French Bistro, and a great Italian dinner in the Financial District. I saw your place for the first time, which gave me so much more information about who you are than just talking on the phone or meeting for a walk or dinner. I enjoyed getting to know you through your aptitude as a host, your cooking skills, and just being with you for a more extended period than we've had to date. And so far, I like what I see. Very much. It was a lovely Valentine's celebration with a lovely man, one I look forward to spending more time with.
I've always enjoyed singing. As a kid, I was in choruses and musicals; I've sung in college jazz choirs and mass choruses; I took voice lessons for a while when I was single and had free time. I love Christmas carols and the hymns we sing in church ("Let There Be Peace On Earth..."), and I know the words to thousands of popular and classic songs. I stay away from Karaoke like the child of an alcoholic avoids whiskey -- I'm afraid I'd love it too much for my own good, embarrassing myself and whatever friends I would have roped into joining me.
Most of all, I love singing along to the radio or CDs. Lifting my voice with Bob Dylan or Natalie Merchant, Nat King Cole or Lyle Lovett, brings me great joy and feeds my need for creative expression, without requiring the time commitment of rehearsals. Unfortunately, T didn't like it when I sang along. He said he wanted to hear Diana Krall, not me channeling Diana Krall. Driving anywhere with the radio on, his disapproval was enough to silence me every time, and that hurt my heart. I felt like he was disapproving of the core of who I was, attempting to silence my essential voice. I'm sure he had no idea how deeply he wounded me, though I did try to tell him on more than one occasion. A stronger person could have probably braved his disapproval and blithely lifted her voice, but I am so uncomfortable with discord, it just always seemed easier to just bite my tongue.
Imagine my joy and release when, as Guy and I were walking through China Town last night, he sang to me. And asked me to sing to him. I felt so rusty I had a hard time thinking of things to sing, but driving home, I belted out this favorite, and possibly apropos song:
Ah, Internet access! My modem broke last Thursday and I felt crippled. Turns out it wasn't the modem per se, but its power cord. So glad to be back up and connected!
Coincidentally, right at the same time the tendons at the base of my left hand began to really hurt. I'd had a low level of something going on there since early January, and saw a doctor on The Day The Modem Stopped Working. A brace, an ice pack and a bottle of Ibuprofen later, I thought I was set. But by the weekend, I was in excruciating pain, unable to do the simplest two-handed tasks. I couldn't open a jar, cut with a knife, even wash my hair. My hand was swollen and throbbing, and I was miserable. At least it wasn't my dominant hand, so I could still write and eat. Odd, though; it's not like I mouse with my left hand.
A different brace on Monday has helped, though I'm typing this one-handed to avoid aggravating the problem. Why now, do you suppose? Could it be grief-related, or dating-related? The problem did begin right when I started dating, after all. As an exercise in self-discovery, I took myself off to a quiet place and asked my hand what it was trying to tell me. Immediately the answer came back: I want to touch T, and I can't. He is gone. The pain in my hand reflects the pain in my heart, missing T.
Guy is a lovely person, a balm to my sore heart and a pleasure to be with, but he can't replace T. I am perhaps being reminded by my body to go slow, to not take on more than one hand can manage. And so I comfort my hand, and remind myself to Lighten Up.
I spent the day yesterday at a work off-site in San Francisco, as part of a team planning an annual internal conference. I've been involved in this conference for a number of years, as an organizer or committee member or participant. This year my role is to manage a piece separate from the main event, so much of what we talked about yesterday wasn't all that interesting or necessary for me, but the dinner following was quite nice. Great Italian food in The City is never a bad thing!
The conference alternates locations between San Francisco and San Diego. This year it will be in San Francisco, in the same place it was two years ago. And two years ago, on the second day of the event, T died.
I've got a long post written describing everything that happened on that terrible day, and perhaps I'll publish it on the second anniversary. But in short, I had been feeling ill on the first day of the conference, so I stayed home. The second day, I woke feeling much better, so I got up (quietly since T hadn't stirred when the alarm went off) and showered and dressed, planning to drive up to The City. When I went to see why T hadn't gotten up, I found him still and cold in our bed. I never made it to the conference that year.
Last year the conference was in San Diego, and I was happy to participate on the periphery. It was a week or two after the death anniversary, and much of the time leading up to the conference was dedicated to planning and nervously anticipating the interment event I organized. This year, I don't really know how I'll feel, but I do know I was a bit stirred up yesterday. During the social part of the day, I had an overwhelming urge to talk about what had happened -- remind those who had been around two years ago, or tell one of the newbies. I managed to keep myself in check until I was carpooling home with a good work acquaintance. I just really needed to talk about it, and he was a good listener. He shared his experience of painful loss also, so it didn't feel like I was completely dumping on him. I felt better after having shared, and it was a reminder of how helpful it is to talk, to be heard. Thank you, Justin, for listening.
We always had a lot of pictures of the family scattered around the house: T and the kids on the mantle, our engagement picture in the entry, wedding pictures in the living room and our bedroom, me and B in the hall, T and me in the kitchen. I put the poster we made for T's memorial service in the bedroom, propped up on the end table next to my old side of the bed. (I sleep on T's side now.) It never bothered me to have T's image everywhere; rather, it was comforting to have tangible proof that we shared a normal, happy life together. I know that's not the case with everyone, as I think it bothered my father-in-law, for example, to be constantly reminded of T's absence through photos. But I wanted to hold T close, to hang on to the memories of him and the family we were, so I left them up.
In preparation for Guy's visit on Saturday, though, on the advice of my mother-in-law, I went around the house and put most of them away. Gone is the memorial service poster, the picture of the two of us at Big Sky in Montana, our engagement photo, our wedding invitation. I left the ones of T with the kids, so they have that tangible proof of his existence with them. But almost all of the photos of the two of us together are tucked away in a careful stack in a corner of the office, frames to be recycled and pictures to be stored in memory boxes for posterity. And it occurred to me as I was doing it that it was a symbolic act, too. Sometimes you have to clear away the old to make room for the new.