A Very Good Friday

I got my second Pfizer COVID-19 shot today. I hadn’t gotten an appointment for Angelic Daughter yet because, like an idiot, I didn’t start looking as soon as she was eligible. I was waiting to hear from our health care system about when they’d vaccinate us.

So I began checking our local pharmacy’s parent website hourly. Nothing. “No appointments available within 25 miles of your location for the next 5 days” it kept saying. Five days never ticked down 4 or 3 days.

So my elation at receiving my second shot was dampened by my concern about Angelic Daughter still waiting. I kept trying.

A notification on my phone distracted me, and I missed the turn of the hour, when appointments are supposed to refresh. At 8 minutes after 9 a.m., I tried again, expecting the red “no appointments available” banner–but I got the green “appointments available!” Hallelujah!

I tried to stay calm as I worked through the eligibility screening. I entered our zip code, and closed my eyes while I took a deep breath. When I opened them, I was looking at a screen filled with appointments for a day very soon next week.

Eureka!

Took the first available time slot that day, and received confirmation.

Then about a half an hour later, I got the email from our health system telling me Angelic Daughter was now eligible for an appointment. I checked, but they had none available. All advice is to take the first appointment you can get. OK, Annie. Tell your OCD brain to stop freaking out about the type of vaccine she’s getting. I will not let worry ruin this.

I was already worried about getting my second dose on Good Friday, because possible side effects could last several days. I love Easter, and have planned a good Easter Sunday dinner.

But even if I start to feel lousy, I’m still cooking a feast and enjoying the day with Angelic Daughter. We’ll attend church on Facebook, and sing my all time favorite hymn (“Christ the Lord is risen today-ay, ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-lay-ay-lu-ee-ah!”) and use the Good China.

The pastor of the church where Mike and I were married once preached an Easter sermon where he fantasized about putting up a sign at the door that said, “no one gets in who wasn’t here on Friday.” He was musing about “Christmas and Easter” churchgoers. If they’re only in the pews twice a year, how do you get them to think deeply about the meaning and the magnitude of Good Friday? He didn’t want to let the crowd get away with glossing over the dark, agonizing aspects of the week that leads up to Easter morning. Jesus knew what was coming, and he rode into Jerusalem anyway.

I think about personal experiences of Christ’s presence in my life. Really personal. But I don’t proclaim a “personal relationship with Jesus,” because I struggle with a sense of unworthiness about having any such relationship at all.

And then there’s a day like this. Sunshine, spring flowers, my second shot, and an appointment for Angelic Daughter, who is the model of the person I struggle to be. She is compassionate, empathetic, resilient, cheerful, helpful, and capable of unconditional love for every human she meets. It’s easy for her.

It’s not easy for me, or for a lot of flawed, anxious, OCD types.

The New York Times ran an opinion column today about “The Unsettling Power of Easter.” It’s joyful, but scary.

Scary? Bunny rabbits and chocolate eggs?

Erm, that’s not the Easter we’re talking about here.

We’re talking about Maundy Thursday, when He washed the disciples’ feet, and said, ‘now go do the same for others.’

Right. That’s where I screw up. I have difficulty choosing “to be a source of God’s light and God’s love in this lifetime,” as the benediction that closes our church’s services always says.

For me, it’s more an exertion of discipline that I often forget to impose.

Angelic Daughter doesn’t have to choose to be a source of love. She just IS.

The last paragraph of Professor McCauly’s take on Easter in that NYT piece refers to the “weight of the work.” It’s stunning–paralyzing, even, to think what it will take to begin to heal this battered world once we emerge from the COVID cave.

But I have to believe that a million little kindnesses add up to something. A smile, a “thank you,” or even an apology–like the one I gave after I snapped at the nice lady who asked me to take off my double-mask ensemble to put the hospital’s mask on underneath–can add a little light and love to this world, before we discorporate and become beings of light and love in the next.

Fully vaccinated two weeks from today, I remain,

Your hoping-to-hang-around-a-few-more-decades-and-get-this-love-and-light-thing-right-in-this-world-before-it-gets-easier-in-the-next,

Ridiculouswoman

Just as I was finishing this post, a headline came through that one of two Capitol Police officers hit by a car that drove through a security fence has died. So did the suspect, who, according to the report, was shot when he got out of the car and came at police with a knife. Seems like “the weight of the work” gets weightier by the minute. I have to keep believing in the power of love, because what else can I do?

The Widow Rules

I make lists of arbitrary “rules,” for holidays, or for living as a middle-aged woman, or for taking fall excursions.

But haven’t made the obvious list for this blog: The Widow Rules.

Angelic Daughter and I are rounding the bases of the fifth set of holidays and anniversaries without Mike, the calendar shoving us toward August, and the fifth anniversary of his death. I’ve written about how I think ritualizing these milestones is probably unhealthy.

But five years feels significant. From the frantic activity of the first year, to the breakdown toward the end of the second, to the slow healing of the third, Angelic Daughter and I have been through a lot together.

Then in year 4, the pandemic hit. I’d go out only for groceries, prescriptions, or essential medical appointments. I’d watch helplessly as the isolation took its toll on my daughter. Crawling along, day by day, issuing the same reassurances, that it will end, it will be over, eventually.  We will get to see our friends and family again. Sometime.

But the dream of a life beyond grief and loneliness is fading. Retirement, travel, meeting new people, finding a new man, even wanting or desiring a new man at all, seem lost or unattainable to me now.

But losing hope is against the rules (that rule is implied by the others).

So here’s what I’ve got, for a nearly 5-years widow:

1. Clean it when you notice it.

Little tasks add up and aren’t overwhelming, like taking on an entire room. I don’t pressure myself to maintain a pristine household. I shoot for a reasonably healthy one. No one’s coming over now, anyway, and they may not, ever, even “when COVID is over.”

2. Enjoy what you see in the mirror.

I have naturally curly hair. Deal with it. I’m not blow-drying it for anyone, anymore. I gave Angelic Daughter and myself do-it-yourself haircuts when we couldn’t take the shagginess of nearly a year without a visit to the salon anymore. We turned out looking pretty good. Cute, even. But I don’t care if you don’t think so. I like it, and that’s what counts, now. Besides, the Bulgarian is the only man I have ever known, including male relatives and my late husband, who ever noticed a haircut of mine within 72 hours, if ever, anyway. And he was getting paid to work on the house, so being nice was in his best interest.

I’m still using my “skin care for the apocalypse,” exercising regularly, drinking more water daily, and cutting down (or completely abstaining, at least until two weeks after my next vaccine shot and I’m as immune as I’ll get) on certain liquid comforts (used for ‘medicinal purposes,’ as my Dad used to say, on his way back to the bar cart), which has done wonders for my skin. I’ve always enjoyed my face in the mirror, and I still do, when it’s rested, eye-creamed, made-up, and most importantly, lipsticked. But I do that for me. Nobody else ever notices anyway.

3. Forgive yourself.

I can’t change the past. All I can do is change how I think about it, or just let it go. I can try to create a better “past” for my future by reminding myself to live with compassion, humility, forgiveness, and gentleness. When I fail, as I regularly do, I try to forgive myself, and get right back on that horse.

4. Keep learning.

Since starting my job a year and a half ago, I’ve learned how to use about 7 new types of software, plus 4 online tools relevant to my work. I communicate in gifs with my colleagues, as they like to do. Learning new things keeps the mind nimble, it’s fun, and it makes me feel like life is still moving forward–not stuck in stop-time, COVID time, grief time, loneliness time.

5. After you’ve done what you must, do what you love.

I’ve spent most of my adult life doing what I thought was my duty: trying to please my parents, taking care of my husband and child, trying not to screw up. I still have important duties, like staying employed and covered by health insurance, and helping Angelic Daughter learn independent living skills, even if she is too stressed out by loss and isolation to even discuss an independent future. But I refuse to feel guilty about doing what I love, like writing, and, “when COVID is over,” singing, even if it drives my daughter nuts, once I’ve done what I must. Life is happening now, not after I finish the next chore.

I don’t know if these “rules” will help any other widows. I hope they do. Maybe have your own rules to share. Please do. Until then, I remain,

your one-day-at-a-time, enjoy-the-sun-while-it-shines, fail-and-get-up-again,

Ridiculouswoman

Image by Piyapong Saydaung from Pixabay

Thinking Thematically

I got a notification that my stats had experienced a surge yesterday, January 18, 2021, when this blog post was at the top of my home page.

I can’t explain it, other than maybe some weird, misguided attraction to the word “revolution,” which, used here, is just another way of saying “resolution.” As in New Year’s.

The phrase that contains the word links back to a post I wrote a few years ago, about changing things as a way to keep going after my husband died of cancer. So if anyone came looking for something darker, I hope they were very, very disappointed. And I hope they never come back.

I used to make a list of New Year’s “Revolutions.” The idea of changing something that I can’t change back has helped me keep moving ahead, in these years without Mike.

We just passed our 5th New Year’s Even without him. It was weird. Angelic Daughter went to bed early and slept through the sounds of fireworks from somewhere close by. I was surprised they even had them this year.

I finally turned on the TV to watch the last 45 minutes or so of the odd, empty Times Square celebrations, flipping back and forth until I settled on CNN as the most entertaining. I was lucky to land there just in time to see Andra Day sing a stunningly beautiful rendition of “Imagine.”

The recorded music that played after the ball drop included Ray Charles’ version of “America,” which made me cry, thinking that we sure could use some more of God’s grace shed on us right now.

I waited until it was midnight in Chicago to open the Veuve Clicquot. We tried it years ago, before it cost $40 a bottle, and liked it. Made it a tradition for New Year’s Eve. When Mike was here, I remember describing the flavor as “like drinking liquid gold glitter.” This year, it tasted too dry to me.

I’ve always been vaguely aware that the Veuve Clicquot brand was run by a widow, taking over for her husband in the late 1700s. But I wasn’t thinking about Madame Clicquot when I bought the bottle – I was just thinking of remembering Mike on New Year’s Eve.

When I got the bottle out of the fridge, I noticed something on the back label that I hadn’t before: there’s a line across the bottom that says, “La Veuve The Widow Die Witwe La Viuda La Viuva.”

Wow. Rub it in, much? “Widow,” in 5 languages!

I’ve never felt more widow-y than in 2020. Being responsible for Angelic Daughter’s safety this year has been nerve wracking. “Don’t take your mask off!” “Wash your hands for two Happy Birthdays!” DON’T TOUCH YOUR FACE!”

I hope my bouts of hysterical maternal protection haven’t made things harder for Angelic Daughter. She’s been so resilient and patient, but the loneliness is getting to her. She misses her friends. She reaches out with texts and calls, but half are never answered. She sends greeting cards. Of the twenty or so friends she has sent cards to, five have responded. Yet she doesn’t lose hope.

“Almost to the New Year!” “Almost Martin Luther King Day!” “We’ll have meet-ups again soon!”

I guess I can be excused for not building a business empire of my own, like Madame Clicquot did, this past year. But that line on her champagne label made me look back on those past New Year’s Eves with Mike with a chill – that portent, a warning, staring us right in the face. I didn’t notice it then, but I’ll never forget it now.

Recently, I found out about a different way to look at aspirations for a new year: choosing one word to guide your actions, instead of making a list of resolutions. Apparently this is something Melinda Gates popularized.

I’ve been trying to come up with my word for 2021. Gates has used “grace,” “shine,” “spacious,” and “gentle.”

I want a word that helps me focus on what’s truly important. I want a word that filters out the noise, and helps me live with love and laughter. This past year has been a tough test for both of those.

I thought of “purpose,” but that’s not quite it. “Meaning” doesn’t seem quite right, either. I want a word that evokes an appreciation for the preciousness of time–that every second matters, and I should live that way.

Intentionality? Nah, too new-agey-trendy. Savor? Makes me think of food. What one word would encapsulate the desire to make every minute count?

“Urgency” sounds too desperate. I’m trying to stay calm here, but focus on what’s important. “Clarity” is good, but I think Ms. Gates has used that one, and I don’t want to be a copycat.

How about “lucid?” The synonyms for that one get into bright, gleaming, luminous, etc. I checked for synonyms for “present,” as in “I’m here,” but I was looking for a word that implies being present-mindfully, lovingly, present.

That brought me back to “now.” Why didn’t I think of that? Actually, I did think of that, a few years ago, in much the same way.

So, I think I’ve got it. My word for 2021 will be “now.” That’s a word that will help me attend to how I’m spending my time, each moment of each day, without before and after.

Happy I spent “now” writing this for you, I remain,

your flawed, anxious, trying to stay calm and attentive,

Ridiculouswoman