Most mornings I sit at the table and watch the daybreak. It’s not sunrise here in the northeast. There is no brilliant burst of color as the sun breaks over the horizon. Instead, it’s a gradual lightening of the sky from black to gray. Occasionally there are streaks of pale blue and pink, but that’s not the norm.
This morning I thought about normal and what it means. People use the expression ‘a new normal’ and that’s not really right. There is nothing remotely normal about life now. I wanted to find a way, an analogy, to explain the way it feels to someone who has not been in my shoes and decided the closest I could come is coffee. Yeah, I know, but it works for me.
Coffee is an intrinsic part of our lives whether we realize it or not. Most people don’t give it much thought, unless they happen to wake up and find they are out of it.
We think we are a big deal when we drink our first cup, usually as a teenager It’s a milestone, a signal to others we’re grown up, becoming worldly. Our friends invite us to ‘meet for coffee’, ‘grab a coffee’. Sometimes our first date as an adult involves meeting someone for ‘coffee’ as a noncommittal way to sort of size each other up. Bill actually proposed to me in a cheesy diner shaped like a silver train car as we drank coffee from heavy, chipped mugs. It’s one of my best memories.
The aroma of coffee lures us from under our warm covers on a cold winter day. We depend on it, take it for granted. It’s readily available. Make a pot, pop in a k-cup or run by the drive through at a Dunkin or Starbucks. No big deal.
Coffee wakes us up. It makes things seem normal. We reach for it at work when we’re feeling tired or pressured. It helps us get through the day. At the end of a meal we savor it, or sometimes it is the meal when there’s no time in our busy lives to grab something else. Inevitably, during times of great distress or tragedy, someone will put a cup in our hands. We hold it, letting the warmth seep into our hands, the steam rises. We may not drink it, but it’s a comfort nonetheless, a small piece of normal.
Coffee is usually the first thing you offer a guest in your home. I used to brew pot after pot while hordes of firemen sat around our kitchen table discussing every topic under the sun. We gather around the table and drink it when times are good, and bad, but we don’t really think about it, or appreciate it.
Now suppose tomorrow morning you wake up and there is no coffee. There’s no coffee because it no longer exists. Period! You can’t run to the store to buy some. There are no coffee shops. It’s just gone, forever.
Never again will you smell that aroma, although you remember it oh so well. You’ll never hold that warm cup in your hands; never close your eyes before taking that first sip. You’ll never softly blow across the top to cool it and never sigh in satisfaction as your mouth holds it for a second before swallowing. You won’t sink back into your chair and relax with this simple, normal act.
It will not be there to comfort you, reminding you that some things never change. Nor will it be there to pick you up when you’re dragging and think you can’t get through another minute of the day. It will not sooth your frazzled nerves as you add just the right amount of sugar and the perfect portion of cream making it the warm, golden color you love. You will not stare into it while you make small talk, as though it holds the secrets of the universe. You will not pull over at a truck stop, where they have the best coffee in the world, and take a break from your travels.
Coffee no longer exists. (You’re horrified, I know you are. Don’t try to deny it.)
Would you be sad? Angry? Feel cheated? Would you be like, ‘what the fuck’? This is bullshit! “I want my damn coffee, and I want it now!”
Now multiply that feeling by a million. That is sort of what it feels like to be a widow. I’ve been told there are no words to describe the pain and it’s true. Of course, being who I am, I have to at least attempt it.
We take our loved ones for granted. I think it’s human nature. They are such a part of our lives we often overlook all the things they do for us, all the tiny kindnesses that make life ‘normal’, a touch, a kiss, a whispered, I love you. Then suddenly, without warning, they no longer exist.
We remember every detail, right down to their scent. We smell their clothes still hanging in the closet, their pillow. We open their aftershave and sniff or spray their deodorant into the air. We touch the things they touched daily, trying to keep the connection. I still have the last cigarette Bill smoked sitting in an ashtray in my office. It was minutes before he died and I pity the one who ever foolishly throws it away. It was the last thing his lips touched, and yes, in case you’re wondering, I have put my lips on it. He swore he’d smoke until the day he died and he did. For some this would be a problem, for me it’s not. He went out on his terms, his way, quick and after having smoked a cigarette. It’s the way he would have wanted it.
I’m seeing a grief counselor now. I don’t know how much she can help me, but I’m open-minded. There are things no one can help me with. They can’t help me stop missing him. They can’t help me feel ‘normal’. There is no normal. Everything is different.
Stupid things annoy me. Yesterday I cleaned out the fridge and threw out a container of spaghetti sauce with big links of hot sausage still in it. That would never happen if Bill were alive. At the casino the other day I bought a sausage with peppers and onions. It was fabulous and I felt guilty for eating it, even though I grabbed it on the way out from a cart as I hadn’t eaten since…well I actually don’t remember.
We don’t really cook here anymore. I can’t bring myself to make chili or other things Bill loved and most of what we eat is already prepared or sandwiches. Breakfast is a six pack of peanut butter crackers, three for me and three for Max, my black lab.
Our daughter had surgery the other day. It was tough not having Bill with me. Just his presence was always reassuring. Nothing bad could happen as long as he was with me. I find myself nervous when I’m out alone, but I force myself to go anyway. I used to talk to everyone, now I avoid looking at people and go about my business. I hope this is not part of the ‘new normal’.
Talking on the phone is difficult. Invariably whoever took the time to call wants to know ‘how I am’. This is a double edged sword. Do they really want to know? Am I supposed to say fine? Should I tell the truth, that I am a shattered, broken woman who has no idea who she is anymore? I’ve never been alone, not for any of my life. I’m scared and waiting for the next horrendous wave of grief to swallow me whole.
One part of me is thankful that they took the time to call, thought about me today. Another part of me wants to say, thanks for reminding me that my life sucks and that I’m so full of sorrow I can hardly breathe. One of the reasons I agreed to see the counselor is that I’m no comfort to anyone. I have family who are grieving terribly. Children and grandchildren who need me to be able to console them and I can’t. I can’t even comfort myself. I hope she can help me with that.
So, if you’ve read this uplifting post, (not!) I will say a few positive things. I don’t cry every day anymore, at least not all day long. I laugh. This is a huge deal! I am able to talk about him and the things we did that brought us joy. There is always a certain amount of sadness associated with this, but in the end it helps to remember the good times, and there were many.
I sleep. Not great, but at this point any sleep is a good thing. Last night I watched the last five minutes of the Seahawks and Lions game. It’s the first part of any game I’ve watched all season, which is a big deal considering we have NFL Sunday ticket. We were big football fans and usually have a Superbowl party. I won’t do that, but there’s a chance I may quietly watch the game, maybe.
Many people have reached out to me, family, friends, authors, fans and even some who have never read my books. I want you all to know that I appreciate it and love you for it, even though I’m sure I seem like an ungrateful bitch wallowing in self-pity. My counselor says this is one time I don’t have to ‘suck it up’ or put on my ‘big girl panties’. That was good to hear.