As I slowly come to accept Bill’s death, the loss of his presence in my life, I find I am still tormented by two words, words I spoke.
There are so very many things that have happened in the last year I can’t remember, important things, events that should have left a lasting impression, yet I can’t recall any of the details.
The flip side is that I recall in nearly perfect detail everything that happened the day Bill died. It’s like watching a movie over and over in my mind, praying the ending will be different. I’m still mesmerized by the beauty of the day, the color of the sky, the sounds of the birds outside at the feeders, the sense of peace we felt as we sat at the table having our coffee.
For the first time in a very long time we were looking ahead, planning for a future we hadn’t been sure we had.
I won’t bore you with a moment by moment version of what happened that day. I’m pretty sure I’ve already done that, probably several times as I’ve poured my heart out on this blog. I’ve relived that day so many times I could probably recite every conversation, like a book you’ve read so many times you know it by heart.
It has gotten better. When I wake in the morning and see the empty side of the bed I think of him, of course I do, how can I not? Late in the night before I fall asleep I’m conscious of the solitude of my room, our room. I miss him, everything about him, but I know it’s not going away and I’ve come to find ways to get through it.
I have a pillow I hug and this might sound odd but a little stuffed animal I call Toby. It’s a Border Collie, black and white and I won him at bingo. My daughter asked for him and normally I would have given him over in a second, but for some strange reason I said no. Soon Toby was sleeping on Bill’s pillows. He has really soft dark fur/hair and in my sleep I reach over and stroke him. I find it comforting. I always touched Bill in the night. We always touched each other. Our bed is memory foam, so a lot of the time neither of us could sense the movement of the other. A simple pat, the touch of a hand assured him I was beside him. I slept with my hand on his pillow. I could stroke his hair and feel the movement if he got up.
Anyway, once again I’ve strayed from the point of this post. I wanted to talk about Health Care Proxies.
Most of us have them. Hospital’s make that a priority. Who is going to make your health care decisions if you’re unable to? We sign away, appointing our husband, wife, child, sister, friend, whoever we trust and it does imply trust. What we don’t think about is the responsibility we’re putting on our loved ones.
Chances are if they find themselves in the position to make your decisions something catastrophic has happened. If they love you, and most likely you would choose someone who does, they will be under an enormous amount of stress. They may be in shock as I was, or running on auto-pilot, again as I was.
Things happened very quickly for us. In fact when I received the death certificate and noted the time I death I couldn’t believe it. I was convinced it was wrong, by several hours. Such a horrific and monumental event could not have occurred in that short amount of time.
That was when I began to question my judgement. That was when those two little words began to torment me.
Rationally I know I did the right thing. I knew he was gone when I watched the light fade from his eyes, yet several things stick in my mind.
“We have some heart activity. It’s not enough to sustain life.”
Would it have been if I’d said ‘keep working on him’? Was there yet another miracle around the corner but I didn’t have the faith to wait for it? Why didn’t I bring someone into that room with me?
I know it was my responsibility. I was the only one who could make the decision, but I’ve second guessed myself a million times. Did I give up to early?
That day he was in Trauma Room 1, the same room my dad was in when he had the massive stroke that took his life. I was alone with Bill as I was with my dad, but for Bill I didn’t have to be. There was a room across the hall filled with my children, his family, and my family. I could have called someone else in and asked, “What should I do?”
But I didn’t. Instead I asked the doctor, “What is the outcome of this?” I watched them working on him, heard the no pulse, no pulse, no pulse over and over. I touched him. He felt cold. He did not squeeze my hand. I looked into his eyes. They were empty. Not like my dad’s. He looked at me as I stroked his head and sang to him, lying through my teeth about how everything was going to be all right when the doctor had already told me he wasn’t going to survive.
Had Bill shown any sign of life, had there been any flicker of hope in my heart I might have answered differently. When that doctor sadly shook his head in answer to my question I felt I had no choice. Could I in good conscience stand there and continue to watch them torture his body and do nothing? Would I want that if it were me? If they managed to keep him alive, would he have any quality of life, this man who’d already been through so much pain losing much more than just his leg, but his independence as well?
“Then stop,” I whispered.
Those two little words, two tiny little words will haunt me for the rest of my life.
There are times I know with absolute certainty I did the right thing, but there are times the ‘what if’ game torments me. There are even times I wonder if I said those words for me, because I couldn’t stand one more moment of seeing him like that. Did I say them because his heart had stopped beating or because mine was shattering? Was it me being strong or me being weak at the most crucial moment of my life?
I’ll never know. I realize that now. I do know that had Bill eventually woken up on a ventilator unable to talk and being kept alive with machines he would have looked at me with accusing eyes. That would have been a blow neither of us would have recovered from, but I will always wonder if I could have done something differently.
Maybe if I’d asked for his heart doctor to be called in and he said there was no hope I would feel differently, but ER doctors don’t know you. They don’t know how incredibly important your presence is to those around you. They see an older man, already missing one leg with the other one in peril. They see a man with an artificial aortic valve, COPD and vascular disease.
They don’t see the husband, father, brother, uncle and friend who’s death is going to create a tremendous void that nothing will ever fill. They don’t see the dozens of lives that will never be the same. They are medical personnel, looking at the situation from a purely medical perspective. They deal with death every day.
We do not. For us it is a crushing blow, an extremely painful event from which we may or may not recover, if it’s possible to recover from such a loss.
I may change my health care proxy. Right now it is my oldest daughter. I know in my heart she loves me and will make the best decision, but I think at the very least I should add someone else. That way she will not have to carry the burden alone. If the worst happens and she has to make a life or death decision at least she will have someone to discuss it with, someone she must discuss it with. It will not fall on her shoulders alone and maybe she would not spend the rest of her life second guessing herself. One can only hope.
So, this will be my last post of 2017. I feel a little better for having written my thoughts down. If there are other widows out there feeling what I’m feeling, wondering if the choices you made were the right ones, know that you are not alone. You are not crazy and while you may not have the outlet I have by being able to post on this blog, others share your uncertainty, your regrets and your pain.
When I pray I do not ask God to help me ‘get through this’ for I don’t believe we are ever ‘though’, as in done. I thank him for having had a man like Bill in my life for so many years and I ask for strength, courage and faith to ‘carry on’, for that’s all I can do, all any of us can do.
Wishing you all a happy, healthy and prosperous year in 2018. If you’re celebrating I hope you have a good time. Be safe.
A year ago I thought things couldn't get any worse. Clearly, I was mistaken. I'd always been told if a widow/widower could 'make it through' the first year, chances were good they would survive, not that I particularly cared to survive. When I started seeing a grief counselor last January I expressed some relief that I somehow lived through the holidays. She gently informed me that often the second year is worse.
I will tell you at the time I found it hard to believe, but she was definitely correct.
People, she said, expect you to be better by the second year. They are less sympathetic, more likely to feel you should just get over it and move on, unless of course they are themselves widowed, then they may or may not understand. I nodded and listened, but didn't really believe it.
In my mind once I got past the day of Bill's death in September 2017 I should be over the hump. I would have survived our anniversary, Thanksgiving,(my favorite holiday), Christmas, New Years, my birthday, Easter, his birthday and a slew of other days that would remind me of what I'd lost. There were the birthday's of our children and grandchildren, graduations, the anniversaries of the deaths of those we loved dearly and so many ordinary days that triggered memories of happier times.
What an idiot!
Things began to go quickly downhill as September 6th approached. I got through his birthday in July with a three day casino binge with the girls. We ate, laughed, cried and gambled and the time passed. In August my youngest daughter sort of crashed and burned, becoming suicidal. All of us were extremely distressed and riddled with anxiety wondering what the 6th would bring. In the end it passed relatively quietly. I painted my bathroom.
I admit that night I heaved a small sigh of relief. Okay, you've got this I told myself. You, who have never spent more than three nights away from him in all these years, have slept alone in this big bed for 364 nights. Granted, each and every night was pure hell, but I still woke up each morning whether I wanted to or not.
Then, on September 11th, my middle son suffered a near fatal heart attack at 32, his third, actually. He was supposed to be at my house that day. Instead he was at his brother's. It saved his life, for here, where I live, help is much too far away.
Things began to spiral rapidly downhill. He did okay, recovering as only the young can and threw himself into caring for his year old son, but for me I was once again sucked into the abyss.
I did not understand this. Each day became sadder, darker and longer. My son was doing well. I'd made it through the first year. Why was I going backward? I tried to think of all the possible reasons.
I am estranged from my youngest son and have been for nearly a year. It's painful, but becoming more of an annoyance and his ex-wife makes sure we get to see the grandchildren. Every now and then something he's said or done gets back to me, but mostly I ignore it. We all make our own beds. I hope he finds comfort in his. I think losing Bill was the most crushing blow I could have been dealt. The rest seem like small bumps and bruises. Does that sound cold? It probably does, but I am and I'm not sure any sort of warmth will ever return.
When our anniversary came round on November 1st I was a wreck. I dreaded Thanksgiving, which also coincided with the death of my father in 2013. I wanted to cancel the whole day but didn't. We only had fourteen for dinner instead of our usual 20+ and that was fine with me.
Now Christmas is coming. It's gift cards all round as I'm not shopping. In fact, I haven't been doing anything. I barely touch my computer, have not been able to write much of anything, and never, never pick up the phone to call anyone. Each and every day is misery. About the only thing I do is go to the casino for some mind-numbing one on one with a slot machine. Even that has gotten boring and I feel listless and unfocused. In fact last night I was there with my daughter. She is having problems with her foot so I left her in the back and went to get my car from valet. Here's the thing, I got in the car and drove away, forgetting to pick her up! Now that's freaking nuts! I don't know where my head is. I was thinking, looking at the Christmas lights and just drove away. Thank God I didn't get far, but still, who does that shit?
I was laughing so hard by the time I got back to her I couldn't even talk. Grief, Widow's Brain, whatever the hell it is will make you crazy.
This morning, sitting at the table watching the birds it came to me. Last year I was numb. I was in shock. I was still believing it was all a nightmare I would eventually wake from. Maybe that's God's way of keeping you from driving off a cliff, I don't know. I was also sick, really sick, several ambulance rides sick. I could not eat. I could not sleep and I became dehydrated over and over again. Last year I got through all these sad days in a fog.
This year it's all too real. This year I don't have the luxury of disbelief. So, in my opinion, the second year is really the first, at least for me. I am in my right mind, or what's left of it, I mean expect for that thing last night which was bizarre to say the least. This year I feel everything to the 10th degree and it will be the real test for me.
Oh, one more thing I wanted to tell you. I went to a physic! She wasn't worth a nickle of what I paid her but I felt desperate, so deeply depressed I was willing to try anything. I did send off a request for an appointment to Theresa Caputo from her website months ago, but never heard a word back. Not even an acknowledgement or a reply saying she's too booked up. It was a disappointment as I do believe she's the real deal.
I don't know when I will post again and I don't know if these posts are helping anyone who is going through the same struggles.
For me it helps to get what's on my heart down somewhere.
The casino I go to far to often, gives me things. Lots of thing, for free. I take them, even though most of them I don't use. I've gotten an electric wine bottle opener, a patio heater, huge high-end bed pillows, and most recently a turkey roaster. There have been many times I've dragged my butt over there to pick up items I have absolutely no desire to have, but my son assures me if I stop taking their gifts, they will stop offering and on the off chance that someday I might really want one of their gifts, I keep going.
Most the the time it's pretty low key. Take a shower, do my hair and make-up, throw on something decent and drive the twenty miles or so. I show my card, my license, get my little ticket and present it too the people handing out presents. Easy enough, but at times annoying,especially to pick up a wax warmer of something like that, which I actually passed on.
Last week it was an expensive turkey roaster. I was not in the greatest of moods.
I stood in line for a couple of minutes, then handed my cards to a man who printed me out a ticket.
"Here you go, Sweetheart," he said.
For a moment, I couldn't speak, not even to say thank-you. I felt gut-punched. My eyes started to travel upward. He was older, tall, and had a full head of beautiful white hair, but I looked quickly down without making eye contact.
That simple word, 'Sweetheart' took me completely off-guard and basically knocked the wind out of me. Of course I knew it didn't mean anything. In situations like that it's a casual endearment, but still I began to shake.
For the majority of my life I had hundreds of endearments replacing my name. Sweetheart, sweetie, babe, baby, baby-doll, girly-girl, honey, little girl, love-bug, sweet cheeks, well I could go on and on, but the point is no one calls me those things anymore and hasn't in over a year.
I didn't answer. I took the ticket from his hand and walked mindlessly away, picked up the stupid roaster I didn't need and left immediately. It occurred to me as I walked to my car that, with Bill gone, no one would every call me those sweet names again, and mean them. Probably not as long as I live, and certainly not with the same emotions behind them.
That's kind of a sad thing, knowing you could live another, well, however many years and never inspire that kind of love and devotion in another living soul. Knowing you will never again be anyone's priority, never be their reason for being, never be the reason they smile when they get up.
I'm not complaining, it was just sort of a rude awakening and once again I'm wondering what I'm still doing here.
Widowhood, Day 377 - A Grateful Day
I write on this blog when, for whatever reason, I feel compelled to do so. Most of the time not even I am sure what will come spilling out. Today is a bit of a surprise to me and most likely to those who will read it, for today I am full of gratitude.
Believe me, it is a strange feeling for someone who is bereft, lonely and I admit slightly angry most of the time. This feeling of peace caught me off guard so I have to assume there is a a reason and I'm pretty sure that reason is coming from a higher source.
Today I am grateful.
The world is a dark and lonely place. People can be cruel, judgemental and downright hurtful at times. We don't know what is in the hearts of others. We have no clue what motivates them nor what kind of demons they are dealing with, and they often see our actions as less than perfect. This is painful and may make us question our own values, in fact our own existence at times. Why are we, the left behinds, the grieving and heartbroken still here? What's the plan, Lord?
As I was struggling with these thoughts this morning, some things became perfectly clear and I know them to be true because my husband told me so.
I am and was loved. Of course we all are in some way by someone, but not all love is the "I couldn't live without you. You are the most important person in my life and I will cherish and protect you until my last breath," way. I had that. It's rare and I had it. In fact I know that wherever his spirit, his heart, resides he still loves me.
I am grateful.
I was valued. He was proud of me, amazed at how we managed so much with so little when the kids were small. He loved that I wrote books and people actually bought them. The fact that I had more education than he did was not intimidating to him. He was secure in his his own worth as a man, husband, father and human being. It was substantial.
In Bill's eyes I was beautiful and he never stopped telling me that. I would roll my eyes and snort. He would scowl and shake his head, but I got it. He aged along with me. He was still strong. His beard had gone gray and he had some streaks at his temples. His Native American heritage gave him a weathered look, and yes he did have wrinkles, but to me he was the most attractive man in the world and I still wanted him, still loved it when he touched me. Loving him as I did, how can I not believe he saw in me the same pretty young girl he married? So, for today at least, I will believe I am beautiful.
I am grateful.
He thought I was a great mother and grandmother. He thought I was generous financially, in spirit and with my time. He loved my sense of humor and delighted in teasing me. He never walked faster than I could keep up with, even though his legs were much longer than mine. He always opened doors for me and held my hand or guided me with a hand on the small of my back.
I am grateful.
I had his undying love, and trust me, it did not die with his body.
So for today, I will treasure this feeling of peace and gratitude as I treasured him in life and still treasure my memories. It does not matter who is angry with me, or who insults me with untruths because they are feeling low or in a bad mood. It does not matter who looks at me and thinks, boy she's not what she used to be. You will not hurt me today. It's not possible because today I know who I am. I am a woman who was loved so well, for so long, that nothing will shake me.
I was given a rare and precious gift today for I feel his love and support. I hear his words telling me to be proud of the woman I am and not let others rain on my parade.
Maybe this feeling won't last long, but for today I will remember how crazy we were about each other, how blessed we were and are.
It's a good thing I didn't expect to feel a sense of accomplishment or even relief as I passed the first year mark. The dread leading up to that day was crippling. I tossed around all sorts of scenarios trying to come up with a plan to make the day easier to bear. I considered getting drunk. I thought about going to the casino and taking my family out to dinner. For a while I settled on packing up some sandwiches and snacks and going to the beach to sit and watch the waves. I monitored the weather report daily and realized that was not going to work. It was calling for rain.
I was pleased September 6th was going to be a rainy day. I like the rain, in fact I like storms. They suite me. I didn't want to sit at the table and see an azure sky or listen to the birds sing. It would have been too much like last year.
I considered working on the garden which has lain untended all year. I could have planted tulips, crocus and hyacinth bulbs and topped them with colorful fall mums.
Going to the cemetery was another option. Of course Bill is not there, he sits on my dresser, but my mother is there and my grandparents. As a rule I am the one who tends the graves, well me and my girls.
I usually go on Mother's Day and again on Memorial day as well as July 3rd, the anniversary of her death. We clean the stones and on Father's Day I put flowers on my grandfather's grave and go to the cemetery where my dad is buried. I try to get there on his birthday in August as well, but not in November when he died. The weather does not permit it.
I've been terrible this year. They are all probably up there thinking, "what the hell! Where is she?" I haven't been there once since I went there the day Bill died. Apparently I'm now a crappy daughter and granddaughter.
So anyway, on September 6th we painted the bathroom. I've been meaning to. I've had the paint for weeks but couldn't seem to work up any enthusiasm even though every time I went in there I thought to myself, I can't believe I picked this paint! It was called Fire Ant, if you can believe that and it must have been during a brain fart. I've hated it since the day it went on the walls, but the shower curtain matched and the new towels. Well, you know how it goes. You buy one thing, then the accessories and pretty soon you're sort of stuck with it. Now it's a color called Sturdy Bronze. I like it. The new shower curtain is cream and has birds embroidered on it with browns, touches of teal and burnt orange. Of course I had to buy the matching hooks and towels. I couldn't decide between three rugs, so I bought them all, cream, turquoise and peach. Bill would have loved the birds.
I'm not in there much, only to shower and I do that as quickly as I can. For more than two years I showered him in there. It's a handicapped shower with the built in seat as he could not stand for long. I always got in with him. It was easier than trying to bend over and not get a ton of water on the floor. Besides it was nice to be naked together, even though he liked the water cooler than me.
He always felt bad about my having to do that for him, but it never bothered me. It was kind of nice actually. We had privacy. You close the curtain and shut the world out. We got to touch each other and even though it wasn't going anywhere the intimacy was worth treasuring.
But, I digress...Now I'm quick like a bunny. I don't look at that seat and never use it myself but I have noticed I no longer have the water so hot I look like a lobster when I get out. Guess I got used to the cooler temperature.
Okay, Widow's Brain got me again. My point was that as I approached the anniversary of his death I sort of went a little crazy. Busy, busy, busy my brain said, so I tried to stay busy.
We painted the bathroom, moved on to the dining room and then the kitchen. For the last two weeks I've been in hyper-mode. What I've learned is that you can't outrun, outspend or outsmart grief. It's going to get you, one way or another.
A little over a week ago my daughter-in-law lost her birth mother. They only found each other a few years ago so it was especially hard on her and the children. Last month I went to Emily's birthday party and Janet was there. We sat together and talked and she seemed well, although I knew she had health problems. Her death at 52 years old was shocking. They found her in her apartment the next day when she didn't respond to any of the texts and phone calls. That happened on September 2nd.
Around that same Aislinn, the youngest of the two granddaughters who live with me decided to move out and go live with her mother. I was not shocked. It was almost a year since she watched her grandfather die in the dining room. It's a sad house, at times oppressive which is why we've been trying to make some changes. She stuck it out for a year, and I'm sort of proud of her for realizing she needed a change and going for it. This has been her home for a very long time, but without Grampa it's not the same and never will be.
I was pretty proud of myself for getting through the 6th without a major meltdown. When we got done painting that day we went to the casino. I stayed until the clock told me it was the 7th.
Bill's sister Ruth invited us to a family picnic on the 10th. I didn't want to go. We used to get together all the time but I've avoided them like the plague since Bill's death. This time she wasn't going to take no for an answer, so I made my signature baked beans and went, knowing that I could not stay long as we had to go to Julie's mother's calling hours, another dreaded commitment.
It seemed like things were piling on. I hadn't turned my pc on for over a week, hadn't written a thing, which is my normal escape and felt exhausted. I forced myself to get ready and go. While we were there our niece Kelly brought out a whole handful of silver, star-shaped helium balloons.
"We've had a lot of loss over the past couple of years," she said, "and these balloons are going to carry some messages to heaven." Handing out markers she gave each of us a balloon. My heart was breaking. I wrote a message to Bill and asked the kids if they wanted to add anything. I shouldn't have read them before I let it go sailing off into the heavens, but I did and when I saw Aislinn's message to her Grampa I lost it.
"Sorry about the kiss," she wrote. "Love, Toad."
I knew then she'd made the right decision. There is a story behind her words. Just before he died she asked for a Northface backpack for school. It cost almost a hundred dollars and I said no. Bill overruled me.
"I'll buy you the backpack, Toad," he told her, "but everyday before you get on the bus you have to kiss me, right here," he said tapping his cheek, "and tell me you love me." Of course he was teasing her. He did buy the backpack and died the day before school started. Everyday that poor kid had to walk by his chair to go out to the bus. For a year she'd been carrying the weight of knowing she never got to kiss him and tell him she loved him.
I didn't read anymore, just let the balloon rise into the sky. When I was leaving the picnic Bill's sisters said to me, "we want the old Stevie back." I hugged them and felt sadder than ever. The old Stevie is no more. She's not coming back because she no longer exists.
Death is hard. Loss is hard. Grief is hard. There are no answers. Each of us handles it differently. I wish I had a magic formula or words of wisdom for others going through this, but I don't.
I went to the calling hours, broken. Janet was in a beautiful casket, handcrafted by her family. It was lined with Tye-dyed fabric and the glossy oak coffin was decorated with bears. I was stunned at the workmanship and wondered if any of them had slept since her death. Love and grief comes in all shapes and sizes. We all do what we can to soften the pain. This was her family's way of coping, a last gift for their sister, mother, grandmother. I hope her family finds comfort and peace. I hope Aislinn's message to her Grampa in heaven releases her from a promise she was unable to keep. I hope year two is easier to bear.
P.S. This is a picture of Bill and his little toad taken years ago. She is now 15.
I feel it coming for me, like a massive swirling vortex waiting to suck me in. I know I can’t avoid it, but I try, oh how I try. The days blur together, often I don’t recall what day it truly is.
I wrack my brain, trying to come up with answers. What should I do? Where should I go? Who should I call? But there are no answers, no relief, no peace.
My mind offers suggestions, get your hair done, you’ll feel better. Go to the casino, which will kill the day and possibly much of the night. Watch a movie. Write. Blog. Facebook. Read. Pay your damn bills. It’s not that I don’t have the money in the bank to do so, but for some reason everything seems to requires tremendous effort on my part.
Take a fucking shower - why I’m not going anywhere? Change your sheets – why, they are almost virginal, those lovely white sheets. Nothing goes on in that bed but for soggy tissues and possibly drooling when I finally manage to pass out. I have many colors, the burnt orange Bill preferred, sage green, yellow, a gray and yellow print, tan, and new teal blue ones I haven’t opened. The white match my A-sexual nightgowns, cotton, floor-length, covering everything. The same kind of nightgowns I wore as a little girl when I would hurry to the kitchen to stand over the register on cold frosty mornings, letting the heat blow up my nightie and send it billowing around me. How could I have ever imagined that I would still be wearing them? How could I have imagined the turns my life would take as my sisters tried to shove me off so they could have their time on the heater?
I couldn’t have, of course. Life was perfect, or so I thought at the time. Strangely the youngest of five children didn’t have abandonment issues when her father walked out. How could I? I never knew him. I was much too young to realize when my parents divorced, six months.
By the time I had need of a man in my life, I had my grandfather. It was he who taught me how to tie my shoe, ride my bike, mow the lawn, water the grass. He was the one who pushed me on the swing in the backyard and watched me learn to roller skate.
I didn’t meet my father until I was eleven. I may have been slightly impressed. He was an attractive man with a brash, bold sense of humor, but he didn’t stay around long before he disappeared again. This was the same time my grandparents moved into Senior Housing, my first experience with what I considered abandonment.
Looking back I can see that they were tired. They’d raised their daughters, buried a son and raised their grandchildren. They deserved to have some time without children and at eleven I was the youngest. The rest were teenage girls, no easy task. Before my parents divorced my grandparents went to Florida every winter. I don’t think they ever went again after they came back that first year I was born and took us all in.
I however, felt bitterly abandoned, like my parents had moved away. I walked several miles to their apartment thousands of times. Life at home was never the same.
My grandfather died when I was seventeen, a child really, although I considered myself all grown up. I felt abandoned, grief stricken, but Bill was with me by then. He’d lost his father the year before. We had much in common and many, many differences.
Many things happened between the time my grandparents moved out and Bill came into my life. Most of them were not good things. I don’t talk about them and try not to think about them. If I could paint them out of my life, I would.
I was twenty-five when my grandmother died, forty-three when I lost my mother, fifty-eight when my father died, who I did have a relationship with by then, and sixty-one when I lost Bill.
Am I obsessed with death? Am I nursing abandonment issues even though I know it was not their choice to leave me? There are times I look at Bill’s urn and think “How could you?” Times I look up at the sky and say the same thing to God.
In a little less than three weeks Bill will be gone a year. I can’t even fathom it. How can it be and why am I still here? Am I a survivor or the walking dead?
I’m trying to be better to my children, trying to offer them more comfort and get outside my own pain once in a while. I think I am moderately successful and completely useless, depending on the vortex.
Today is a useless day. I am dreading each day that brings me closer and closer to THAT day. It’s pretty stupid when you think about it. What difference does the date make? It changes nothing. He will still be gone. I will still be alone and heartbroken. It will come and go as each day has for more than three hundred and forty-five days. I cannot stop the clock, cannot turn back time and I cannot wake-up. This is not a bad dream. I cannot turn to Bill for comfort. He cannot hold me in the night and whisper that everything will be all right as he rubs my back.
I don’t know what to do. I don’t know what I’m supposed to be doing.
Tomorrow I will get up and pay bills. I have to before something is late and they hit me with a late fee. I will write, escaping into lives that are not my own. I don’t even care if it’s crap as long as the hands on the clock move to get me thorough another day.
I will call and make an appointment to get my hair cut. My girls tell me I look like Shelly Long playing Carol Brady. This is not good unless ‘the flip’ comes back overnight. I’m pretty sure that’s not going to happen.
If it turns out tomorrow is not too bad I will call my sisters. I need to talk to them before I can’t, before the vortex sucks me under.
Surprisingly enough, this makes me feel better. I don't know if it's true, but I chose to believe it is.
Widow Brain is as good a term as any for why I'm so disconnected, often disoriented and forget what I'm supposed to be doing, what I'm supposed to care about.
You see my mind is not present all the time. I can't say exactly where it is, but most of the time it's in the past.
A simple thing, making a turn while I'm driving, will trigger a memory and suddenly I'm there, back in the day, another day, another time, another trip.
There is a turn I make almost every time I drive home from the city. Invariably each time I make it I am drawn into a memory.
We moved up here on the hill, snow country, The Tug Hill Plateau, in August of 1991. It was the most isolated area we'd ever lived in, but we loved it. Things were good. Life was good. Then Bill got sick.
That November he was diagnosed with Aortic Stenosis. Without surgery he would have two years to live, and they wouldn't be good ones.
I was terrified, he was too, although he hid his fears from me. We did everything we were supposed to and made arrangements for his surgery. It was scheduled for February 3rd 1992 in Syracuse, one of the best heart hospitals in the area. The surgery was serious. It wasn't a by-pass. He did not have coronary artery disease. It was a genetic defect and his Aortic Valve would have to be replaced by a mechanical one. He would tick, like a watch.
A week before the surgery we were involved in a head-on crash. Bill was driving, but it was not his fault. The kid who swerved into our lane left him little choice on icy roads. Take the hit or hit a stand of huge old Maple trees that likely would have killed us all. Bill took the hit. Two of our children were in the back seat.
The kids and I were taken to the hospital by ambulance with injuries. Bill would not go. He insisted he was all right. I think he didn't want to enter a hospital any sooner than he had too. I hit the windshield.( In case you didn't know, your body always, always goes in the direction of impact. If you're hit head on, your body will go forward, if you're hit from the side, that is the way your body will be tossed. A crash at 30 miles an hours has the same impact as jumping from a third story building and so on. The faster the speed at the time of the crash, the higher the jump.)
Our kids sustained knee and back injuries, as well as trauma.
The young man who hit us had no insurance. Our vehicle was a total loss, in fact I don't know how we all walked away. Could things get any worse?
Thankfully our insurance agent was fabulous. She badgered until she got us a rental car. It was a small wagon of some kind, I don't remember what, but I never drove it.
On the day he was to be admitted Bill drove to the hospital and parked the car in the garage. It sat there for 7 days. I never touched it, never left the hospital.
The surgery went well. They expected the valve to last for twenty years. He did tick. I could hear him from across the room and for a while it drove me a bit crazy. Later I learned it was a lovely sound. It meant he was still alive.
I drove home the day he was released. Bill was strapped into the passenger seat with his heart pillow clutched to his chest. In those days they sawed your entire chest opened, pried it apart, put it back together with metal clamps, then stitched the skin. While is surgeon was excellent, a seamstress he was not. His scars were horrific. Neither of us cared. He'd survived.
The weather was brutal. One lane of the Thruway was completely closed. A good deal of the time I was plowing snow in a car I'd never driven that wasn't 4WD. I was terrified. All I could think of was after all this, the crash, the surgery, I was going to kill us on the way home.
The hour drive took three, at least. I came to the part of the road I mentioned earlier. This was my turn. This meant we only had six more miles to go and even thought the back roads would be worse I could creep along. Well, I missed it! Slid right by it barely able to keep the car on the road. I could not stop.
I don't know how far the car traveled on the icy road before it did stop. Visibility was nil and I had to back up blind praying we didn't get hit by a plow.
Obviously, I did get back to the turn and we got home, but I guess my point is that each and every time I make that turn, even now, more than twenty-six years later, my mind goes back to that day.
This is Widow Brain for me. Random things, a view, a song, a comment will trigger something inside me and I'm lost in a memory. I become distant, distracted. The conversation goes on around me, but I don't hear it. I try to play catch-up when I snap out of it. Most times I can't, so I nod and smile as though I know what's going on, but I don't.
People probably think I'm rude, inattentive, but I don't mean to be. I'm just thinking of Bill and my life for the past forty-five years. There are so many things I want to tell him, discuss with him, but I can't.
I want to be held and kissed. I want him to make me laugh again. I want him to hold me and promise everything will be all right, even if he's lying, which he did to make me feel better.
I'd like to forget the bad memories and remember only the good, but I'm afraid if I push them out of my mind, stuff them deeper I will forget more than I want to. I will forget the times we laughed and danced, the times we made love, the special days like this one on his fiftieth birthday with our oldest grandchild.
So I guess you take the bad to keep the good. I don't want to lose this one either.
Maybe someday I will my mind will completely go and I won't remember anything. I would find that very sad, for I never want to forget how it felt to be loved by this remarkable man. I don't want to forget the sound of his voice or his deep rugged laugh. I don't want to forget his scent or how soothing those huge, work hardened hands felt when he rubbed my back or held my hand. I don't want to forget his beautiful, blue Irish eyes twinkling with humor when he teased me. Basically, I don't want to forget one moment of our lives together!
So, with that being said, how do you go on? I guess Widow Brain is not such a bad thing. It provides a bit of insulation from the world around you, the world you don't want to face alone.
I knew July was going to be bad, I just didn’t expect it to be quite so bad. Our dearest friend was taken to the hospital by ambulance. It was unnerving and frightening. He’s sort of my back-up, he and his lovely wife Joann. Papa Chuck had pneumonia. I was terrified. I stay on the hill because of them. I couldn’t ask for better friends and neighbors.
I didn’t go to the hospital, I can’t make myself. I know it’s selfish and self-indulgent but Bill died there and I can’t force myself to go, but I worried myself sick. Jo Jo kept me informed and by the second day I was able to speak to him on this phone. He was his usual ‘tease the hell out of me jerk’, and if his voice sounded breathy and strained I could handle that. Thankfully he’s home after several days and feeling better.
Bill’s birthday is the 18th. It was always a big deal. Not like my birthday which could come and go with little fanfare. We were different in that way. His birthday always inspired a big picnic or party. It seemed important to him, therefore it meant something to the kids. Mine is in February. Even if we planned something, you can never trust the weather up here on the hill and a house can only hold so many people. Besides that, I didn’t care. After the death of my mother on July 3rd, nineteen years ago today, it lost its appeal. Normally I would go to the cemetery today. It would be one of my many trips throughout the nice weather. In the last year I’ve been there once, the day Bill died. I went there as soon as I left the hospital that day. For some reason it was imperative to let her know he was on his way and to ask her to take care of him until I get there.
On the 6th he will be gone 10 months. I’m always apprehensive as that day rolls around each month. How bad will it be? How long will it last? Will I be sad that day, shed a few tears, or will I fall into the abyss? If so, how long will it take me to climb out?
Saturday was our granddaughter’s graduation party. The weather was horrible and it was at the lake. They were not able to get a pavilion, only a tent. I don’t mind the rain; in fact it’s always suited me. The sun is not my friend. Still, I was nervous. I don’t like crowds and the rain was constant, at times torrential. I set out alone with my baked beans.
The roads were ones I’d traveled many times in my younger years. Bill and I were fans of the lake. We had friends who lived across from the boat livery and spent many wonderful times there. As I drove I recalled some of the silly/dangerous things we’d done when we were still young enough to think we were immortal. Bill couldn’t swim a stroke. He almost drowned as a teenager in a friend’s pool, but he was not afraid of the water. Once he canoed down the Mohawk River with the firemen, a fast moving, white-water nightmare. I remember I raced from bridge to bridge making sure he was still with them, my heart in my throat. He had a great time. I aged ten years.
I knew there might be flooding as I headed toward the lake. Friday there were two tornadoes not far away and the rain had never stopped. When I was almost to a spot by the river where we’d once gone mudding, spinning and sliding in the GTO until I screamed my head off, convinced we would end up in the swiftly flowing water, the road was closed. There were no options. Turn left.
I kept driving, my wipers fighting to keep the windshield clear. I had no idea where I would come out. Finally I ended up several miles north of the lake and turned right. There were fire trucks along the way, lights flashing, but I kept going.
Eventually I arrived and found the area. It was pouring, the mud ruining my sneakers in a few steps. I found ‘K’ first and gave her my card and a hug. I wandered inside the tent for a few minutes not sure what to do. My youngest grandson would not come to me. There were too many distractions. I moved to the edge of the tent looking in.
On one side were tables with my daughter-in-law’s family. Many I’d never met, despite the fact that she and my son have been together 17 years. No one introduced us. Her mother did not speak to me, but then I didn’t speak either. She recently friend requested me on Facebook and I accepted, yet we never speak. I don’t dislike her, I don’t know her even after all this time.
I looked at the people at the other table. This was mostly my family, some of my kids and grand-kids, an ex daughter-in-law and her husband; I think I got custody of her in the divorce. She’s the one who makes sure I see the granddaughters she and my son produced. Bless her.
Two of my sons were under a smaller tent talking quietly as my proxy son-in-law grilled the meat.
I found myself inching back further and further. It seemed as though I’d stumbled into the wrong graduation party. I was completely and utterly alone. I imagined I was somehow an uninvited guest. Had Bill been with me, we would have been right in the middle of things, talking, laughing, and enjoying the food. In fact my daughter would have fixed his plate and brought it to him as soon as the meal was ready. I had no appetite, not for food, nor conversation.
In a very short amount of time I knew with certainty I did not belong there. I felt an epic meltdown approaching and panic set in. I went to ‘K’ and told her that I loved her and was very proud of her and Grandpa would have been proud too, but I had to leave. With tears in her eyes she nodded and hugged me. I was back in my car in minutes.
I didn’t feel the need or the inclination to say good-bye to anyone else. My arrival and departure was not likely to be noted by many. I drove away from the lake using a different route, thankfully one that was not flooded. In the city I went to J.C. Penny’s and bought new sneakers, then drove to the casino.
I played for hours, my phone on silent. I like that, like that I can push a button and never hear a call or text. It’s almost like the glorious days of the past when people had privacy, when you could actually be unavailable for a time. I didn’t have that luxury when Bill was alive. His life’s work was to make sure I was okay and safe. While others might have found that annoying, I found it comforting. His voice was always the touch of a button away.
I played until I was exhausted and shaky from not eating all day. I drove the long drive home, made a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and went to bed.
They say it’s the mother who holds the family together. This is not true in our case. It was always Bill. He was the one who held the key. He was the sun and I was comfortable in his huge shadow.
Now I am disconnected.
This morning I picked up the phone to call Bill’s sister. It’s her birthday. As I was scrolling through the recent calls to find her number I saw that she called me yesterday. I really should change the message on my answering machine. I never listen to them, never even notice if the light is blinking. It should say something like, “Go ahead and leave a message if you want, but she won’t call you back and will probably never even hear it. It would be better to just try again later and maybe someone will pick up.”
This weekend I have another graduation party for my great-nephew. Again with the baked beans, but I don’t mind. They are sort of my signature dish. I have to go. I would never, never hurt my sister-in-law by not showing up at her grandson’s party. How long I will stay, I don’t know? As long as I can without crying I guess.
I think I will get a room at the casino for a couple of days around Bill’s birthday if I can. It’s something he would want to do if he were still with me and it will give me a place to grieve his loss in private. I know I’m useless as a mother. When I should be offering support and comfort to my children and grandchildren I find I have nothing to give. I regret that.
All I can say is if this does not get better I am going to be a very lonely woman for a very long time.
Photo Copyright: <a href='https://www.123rf.com/profile_vicspacewalker'>vicspacewalker / 123RF Stock Photo</a>
Every now and then I find myself breathing a little prayer, “Please let me wake up, please let me wake up.”
This page is now my blog/journal about Widowhood. I'm not qualified to give advice. I'm new at this. I don't want to be qualified. I don't want to be a widow, but no one asked me. These are my thoughts, fears and feelings. Please don't equate them as anything but that.