Just Get Past This…Then That…Then That

Climb the hill. And see the next one, and the next one…

The first year was filled with ritualized “first withouts” – birthdays, excursions, holidays –  around the calendar to the first anniversary of his death. Attending sporting events and concerts I thought he would have enjoyed, as if the experience could invoke his presence;  finishing work on the house and yard I had hoped he’d live to see. A much-too-soon attempt at finding someone new in the absurdity of online dating, before his stone was even laid.

Displacement activity. Avoidance. Failure to yield to the grief and let it have its head.

The second year was filled with blogging, writing the book and redecorating, as if a coat of paint and some rearranged furniture could fairy-godmother us into a life beyond mourning. Kidding myself that our daughter was finding comfort in activity, new skills, greater independence.

And then Father’s Day – Fatherless Day – the awkwardness of people who asked us what we’d be doing in observance, resisting the temptation to tell them we’d be visiting his grave, and watch the shock and embarassment –  those came anyway when Angelic Daughter answered the only way she knew how – “Dad’s in heaven.”

That day, all the busy-ness of the previous year and a half hit the wall, and demanded a do-over.

We quit, came home, and sat with it. Our “days without Dad,” our house without “his” chair, “his” room, his cooking, his man-presence.

Weeks of dark winter nights filled with tears, then silence. Then restlessness.  I felt my broken-open heart closing again. Retreating into routine, bleakness instead of gratitude, loneliness instead of love. Not much laughter.

This was not the plan – not the “don’t waste another minute” life I thought I learned, from losing Mike, to live.

I want to fix it, but what I have ended up with, right now at least, feels like a never-ending procession of milestones to be got past.

“I can take care of that, once I get past this…”

Just get through it – the holidays again, the wisdom teeth, the job search, the doctor’s appointments.

What then? Just another hill to climb? Another hurdle, another hoop?

I’ve told my daughter the necessary – that we are always going to miss Dad, that every day for the rest of our lives with be a day without Dad – but never without his love – and that we must find a way to carry grief with us without letting it weigh us down.

Do as I say, not as I do.

Because it does weigh me down.

Every time I do a half-assed job of cleaning the Bulgarian-built  kitchen, still lovely, but not longer new.

Every time I try to make a meal that he used to make for her, and do an adequate job, but never an identical job.

Every time I have to make a decision by myself without him here to bounce it off of, even if I know he would have said it didn’t matter either way.

It takes me way too long to finish a book these days.

I’m watching too much television, in my “boudoir” for one.

Not getting enough sleep.

I keep thinking, if I get that job, things will normalize. It will be more like it used to be.

We’ll hire a wonderful new person to stay with her, to get her out more, expand her range and just help her have more fun. Something I’ve never been very good at.

But Mike was an expert at it. A really fun Dad.

So of course it won’t “normalize” things. It will never be like it used to be. Because it won’t be Mike taking care of her, taking her places, listening to music with her, goofing around.

And now, Memorial Day is coming.

Just get past it.

Then medical screenings – routine, but requiring anesthesia.

I’ll update the emergency information – part of the deal, now – and send it out to the brothers, and this time, the sisters-in-law. If by some mischance it’s not me, she’ll need another woman to understand her needs.

Just get past it. I’ll be so relieved, when I wake up.

But then, Father’s Day again.

Then the Fourth of July.

Occasions for visits to his grave. A picnic on the Fourth.

Just get past it.

No trip to Maine this year – can’t afford it. Maybe that will give us a break, from the next one and the next one, this endless pummeling by rituals and reminders of grief, gotten through, only to see the next one coming.

The writer’s conference was good, encouraging – and then I get home and feel like I’m losing my nerve, like I want to curl up in a little fetal ball and hide.

I regard counseling as a form of self-indulgence.

Maybe I should just get past that.

Spinning my emotional wheels, I remain,

Your sad, skeptical, stuck,

Ridiculouswoman

Image by Gordon Johnson from Pixabay

Sophie’s Empty Sunny Spot

Sophie the Christmas Miracle Cat ran out of miracles on Mother’s Day morning, and we had to say goodbye.

There’s a special kind of loneliness in letting go of a pet you shared with a spouse who has died.

Sophie’s warm fur was a lingering, physical manifestation of specific memories of Mike – how she’d sit on his left leg, crossed ankle to knee over the other, so his left knee was elevated a bit; he’d stroke her as she settled herself there in the triangular cradle his legs made, to stare over that knee and watch the hockey game with him, intensely following the movement of the puck, as if it were a mouse she wanted to devour.

There was the time he called to me to come see how, as he lay on his bed reading, she had demanded his attention by arranging herself with her butt at his chin and her tail extended straight up his face.

Months after he was diagnosed, we remembered how, months before, she’d daintily walk up from her end of the couch to his, to lay lengthwise on his torso, facing him, gazing at him with concern. It was as if she knew before we did – as if she could sense the disease that lay beneath: as if she was trying to warn us, or commiserate, or tell him that she cared, or ask him if there was anything she could do. As if she was preparing to miss him.

Saturday afternoon, I bought 36 cans of cat food (coupon) and a new green jug of cat litter. Sunday morning I carried them back to the car, sobbing and streaming snot, trying to think of where I could donate them.

The cat bed – her too-small, clam-shaped tiny Hollywood bowl of a cat bed, coated with her fur, went straight to the garbage. I couldn’t look at it for another moment.

When night came, I was overcome with a loneliness so intense it nearly made me sick. Sophie was our substitute third “person” in this house, and now, it was genuinely, really only the two of us, here with far too much hollow space around us, especially in the darkness of the night.

I asked the vet to take Sophie, and not to bring us the ashes.

If Mike had been here to make that decision with me, would it have been the same?

Since Sunday morning, every time daughter sighs and says, “I miss Dad,” (which she has been saying daily for nearly three years, and probably will say daily for decades to come), she adds, “and I miss Sophie.”

I do too, sweetheart. I do too.

Maybe it wasn’t fair to tell her we’d get a sign from Sophie, to tell us she had found her sunny spot in heaven, with Dad. More abstraction for an autistic person to try to process.

Late Sunday night, in the midst of that nearly-sick-making smackdown of loneliness, I had a sudden impulse to start watching a cable comedy that I’m a few seasons behind on.

Halfway or so into the pilot episode, the Mom gets a phone call. It is brief and when it’s done, the daughter asks who it was.

“Sophie’s Dad.”

In the scene, the Mom didn’t want to talk to Sophie’s Dad, who seemed like an awfully nice guy in the few seconds he had on screen. If we think of Mike as Sophie’s Dad, I damn sure would want to talk to him. But maybe our Sophie was just doing the best she could, to find some available, if slightly awkward, way to send a signal through.

Monday evening, sitting on the twin chaises on the deck, enjoying the late afternoon sun and the green of the lawn and the birds swooshing around the yard, I noticed a grey bird landing on one of the neighbor’s fence posts, right across from us, looking at us.

It made a loud, meow-y kind of sound.

Is that a cat bird?

“Sophie? If that’s you, come to the bird bath!”

The bird flew closer, but was headed off by the male cardinal, protecting his turf.

I Googled for a YouTube video or recording of the call of a cat bird. Cornell’s library of bird sounds.

Yep, that was it, exactly.

I googled the territory of the grey cat bird. Cornell again.

Yep, could be here, this time of year.

Oh, Soph. Thanks for calling. Thanks for telling us, as daughter says, that “you have arrived at your destination.”

Now climb up on Dad’s lap and watch some hockey. We’ll be thinking of you both.

Sending love and gratitude to pets past Lucky, Buddy, Barbita, Rocky, Phantom and now Sophie too, I remain,

Your sobby, snot-smeared, Sophie-missing but certain she’s found her forever sunny spot,

Ridiculouswoman

Twenty-nine Years

The snow will melt tomorrow. But my heart melted tonight.

“April is in my mistress’ face,
And July in her eyes hath place;
Within her bosom is September,
But in her heart a cold December…”

madrigal by Thomas Morely, 1594

Mike and I met twenty-nine years ago today, on a warm April evening.

I was wearing a pink spring dress, no jacket necessary.

Twenty-nine years later, here I sit, under a winter storm warning, wearing a flannel shirt and Mike’s winter scarf.

Ironically, we met at a meeting of a ski club, held at a then quite new, but now very well established, brewpub. The event purportedly was to showcase the next season’s planned trips, but it was actually a thinly-disguised singles thing.

Mike didn’t ski. Neither did his buddy, who dragged him along as his wingman.

I didn’t know that then.

The girl pal I dragged along didn’t ski, either. Bad back.

Turned out I was the only one of the four of us who had a legitimate excuse to be there.

It’s been a very long time since I’ve gone skiing. It’s on my bucket list, if my knees can take it. Maybe next year.

As for today, I can feel my ritualizing of anniversaries fading. This is the third without him, and he never made much of them anyway.

So today I’m thinking more about whether my just-emerging snow peas will live up to their name.

I’m not sure the lettuce, spinach, chard and beets I planted two weeks ago, in a burst of April-faced gardening enthusiasm (“this year, I’ll finally get them in the ground early enough!!”) will make it.

When the snow started, I ran out and cut several small bunches of hyacinth and daffodils and brought them in the house to enjoy.

IMG_20190427_182841415.jpgIMG_20190427_200812283.jpg

But I left that snow-shrouded bunch pictured up there, and a few of the daffodils, to fend for themselves. I think they’ll make it.

As for the spring flowering trees, and the trees in general, this snowstorm brings a whole new meaning to “nip it in the bud.”

From the height of them, though, most of the trees around my house have been there for much longer than I’ve been here. On this planet, I mean.  Definitely “old growth” trees.

They might lose a branch or two in this heavy, wet, spring snow, but clearly, if they’ve been here that long, they’ve been through this before. They can get through this now.

It’s all supposed to melt tomorrow, anyway.

Annually, I remind people I meet in grocery or garden stores, people who couldn’t resist wearing shorts and flip-flops on the very first warm day in March, that it always snows again in April.

How sweet of me.

Cold December heart.

Obviously, I called the last storm too early this year.

I should have known better. Like the trees, I’ve been through this before. I have a distinct memory of myself on a June afternoon, sitting on the screen porch my father built, wearing shorts and a sleeveless shirt (hey, I was fat, but I was 5), coloring, when a sudden whoosh of wind swept the warmth away in a nanosecond and blew snow flurries through the screens.

And I should have known better than to think that Mike wouldn’t send some kind of  recognition of this anniversary to me in this world, from his timeless place in the next, as a little rejoinder to that remark about him not making much of anniversaries.

Because, just now, as I am writing this, an ad came on the radio.

For the brewpub where we met.

The snow hasn’t melted yet, but the December in my heart just did.

Missing Mike and grateful for a good, carthartic cry, I remain,

Your broken-open-hearted,

Ridiculouswoman

Solace in Spring Snow

Winter can’t come if it never leaves.

APRIL is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
Winter kept us warm, covering
Earth in forgetful snow…

-TS Eliot, The Wasteland

Palm Sunday. A parade toward betrayal, pain, despair, and death.

Crocuses muffled in sudden spring snow, heavy and wet.

Cars off the road.

How could you forget how to drive in winter, so soon?

It always snows again in April, I said.

I was right.

Budding trees and flowering shrubs – freeze frame.

The cedars and arborvitae, which had just begun to lift,

bent now under a burden of white.

I wasn’t quite ready, anyway.

I heard his voice yesterday, so clear,

quoting Sara Teasdale’s “I am not yours,”

the voice that he left on my answering machine,

nearly thirty years ago.

“For yours is a spirit, beautiful and bright…”

just as I was feeling unworthy as mother to our daughter

whose spirit is more beautiful and bright than mine can ever be,

again.

Winter can’t come if it never leaves.

Sun and spring flowers, up from bulbs planted just before winter was coming.

“Mixing memory and desire, stirring dull roots with spring rain…”

Today I am grateful for the warmth of winter

and the forgetful snow.

 

The Wearin’ O’ the Grief

Sometimes a hat is more than a hat….

I look terrible in green. I’ll wear it in a Campbell plaid, offset by enough navy to keep my face from turning sallow.

I’ve been wearing Mike’s Campbell plaid scarf all winter. I’m sure it originally was mine, but he wore it as his sole neck-warmer through all the blizzards and vortexes we endured together. He also took my little black Russian-looking hat, which I have also been wearing all winter.

Green everywhere today, not only because it is St. Patrick’s Day in Chicagoland, where more than one river has been dyed green, but because the annual miracle of spring has begun. Perhaps slightly more miraculous than usual, because this has been one bitch of a winter – grey, snow, thaw, rain, freeze, vortex, snow, snow, snow, ice, slush, grey, rain – until you are going mad and believe you may never see the sun, or a blue sky, or green grass, ever again.

And then, there they are. The sun, the sky, the grass.

The immortal snowpiles that won’t melt until June are still blocking views in parking lots, but still.

In spring, Chicago’s headwear changes. Even though the nut cases who will actually sit in the stands at Wrigley in early April will freeze their ears off, they’ll be wearing baseball caps.

So, despite my habit of not getting green too close to my face, today, I put away the little black Russian looking hat, and  put on Mike’s green, be-shamrocked Cubs hat.

Not just because it is the only completely green article of clothing I have, but because it was Mike’s.

It still smells like him.

Mike’s middle name was Patrick (derived from the Latin for “father:” appropriate, because Mike was a great Dad). He was only one quarter Irish and he never made much of St. Patrick’s day, but in Chicago, you can’t avoid it. Green river, green beer – one year my Dad’s train-commuting seat-mate gave him a green bagel and a green yarmulke. I was relieved when my brother’s genealogical research turned up an Irish great-great grandmother. OK! I surrender. Kiss me, I’m Irish.

But I’m not sure still wearing Mike’s scarf and hat is all that healthy.

Spring is bringing some kind of emotional, as well as physical, thaw, and grief keeps busting out unexpectedly, suddenly, like bulbs I forgot I planted, or last summer’s un-pulled weeds emerging overnight from under the melting snow. It startles me like a smack of spring thunder when you were still expecting the silence of snow.

Driving aimlessly down the road last night, looking for, and oddly not finding, anyplace featuring live Irish music, even in the two close-by towns-full-of-bars, and listening to the radio, just because I had some me-time available, wearing Mike’s hat, I passed the lane that leads into the small industrial area, back to the odd little crematorium – I thought I had put that out of my mind, but last night? Oomph – like a punch in the gut.

This morning, on the way to church, “Landslide” came on the radio – the mature, more recent one recorded by the older Stevie Nicks:

“Can the child within my heart rise above?
Can I sail through the changing ocean tides?
Can I handle the seasons of my life?
I don’t know…

Well I’ve been ‘fraid of changin’
Cause I built my life around you
But time makes you bolder
Children get older
I’m getting older too…”

Tears, under sunglasses. Grateful for the sunglasses. Don’t cry in front of her, our child, anymore. She’s getting through it.

Better than me.

I still haven’t figured out how to sell his game collection.

Or his telescope.

Or the tandem.

Maybe all the redecorating I’ve been doing (or attempting) lately has just been a frantic effort to suppress grief. Push it way down, keep it down, don’t let it surface.

But, I wear the scarf and the hat, not just for the green, but as present, physical symbols of his absence, worn with love and remembrance, giving form to my shadowy, inner void.

Time passes. I get older. If I give myself the time to really wear the grief, put it on like a coat with the hat and the scarf, I fear I will run out of time to take it off enough to really live what’s left of my life.

You can’t do something significant for others, or feel gratitude and joy to their fullest, if you are a shrouded, diminished, half-empty version of yourself.

If I must wear a coat of grief, let’s make it a lighter, spring coat.

Our next forecast for sun is Thursday, and highs in the 50’s (F) Friday.

No need for a scarf or hat.

Until then, I remain,

Your unpredictably weepy but going with it until it passes, and it does,

Ridiculouswoman

 

 

 

 

The Sideways Hourglass

How’d my hourglass fall over?

Back when Mike would drive me to the train station for my commute to my high-stress job, we’d sometimes arrive early enough to see the train before mine go by – it was an express, and our daughter loved the thrill of watching it blast through the station (from the safety of the car, of course.)

We came to call these express trains “whoosh” trains, because they’d “whoosh” by.

Every once in a while, she still asks to drive over to the station, to see a whoosh train.

Whoosh trains define my relationship to time, now – time that is whooshing by like a train I’m not on.

I feel like I should be “better” by now. It’s been over two years and we’re coming up on our third Christmas season without Mike. I finished my book and I’m working up the courage to start sending out my query letters about it. I’ve painted rooms, given away almost all his clothes, including, finally, the barn coat and boots. I’m still working on figuring out what to do with his collection of war games, and the telescope and the tandem are still in the garage. But still.

I’ve had days when I felt happy. Days when I didn’t think about Mike, and then felt guilty about it. I’m surprised by this new wave of grief that has hit me, now, at the start of the season of joy.

The train whooshes by. I’m supposed to be trying to live with love and laughter, and right now, I suck at it. I’m doing OK with the love part, I guess, except it feels like it is coming from a still, quiet place that just sits there – it isn’t an active kind of love. It’s an, “OK, get up, one foot in front of the other, let’s try to be a decent person today” kind of love, and I still fail at it regularly.

I feel an odd sort of responsibility to “make progress,” and I feel like I haven’t made any. I keep getting older and I’m every bit as alone. I keep losing and regaining the same three pounds.

The panicky anxiety is back. Mike could fix that. One hug from him and I was OK. I felt safe.

I don’t feel safe. I feel exposed. Unlocked. Threatened and afraid.

I sure as hell don’t feel like I’m “making progress.”

I feel like someone knocked the my hourglass over sideways.

Everyone else’s hourglass is efficiently sifting its sand, and when it is just about done, they’ll just “strike the bell and turn the glass” and start a new day.

I feel stuck in a place where time passes, I get older, but things don’t get better. Just dustier, greyer, yellowed. Old. Dried up.

chess and hourglass still life

I kept one of his many chessboards, the one he won as an elementary school champion. I still have his hats, though the smell of him is fading from them. I have too many dried up roses around the house. Feng shui, or something like it, says not to keep those, and to throw away the chipped dishes and cracked glassware. Working on it.

I haven’t been reading anything other than the deluge of catalogs that come this time of year, which I find oppressive. Maybe this year I’ll just do one of those, “Anne has made a donation in your name to…(insert laudable charitable organization doing the good in the world that I don’t seem to have the will or gumption or energy or courage to do.)

From darkness riseth light, right? Right?

Each year my church has a “longest night” service for people like me – people who need comfort because they feel left out of the joy.

That’s the message, though, isn’t it? He came in our darkest hour – never mind that we appropriated a pagan midwinter festival designed to address fears that the dark of winter would last forever and light would not come again. He came to bring hope to the hopeless and light to the darkness.

And to unburden us of our sins.

I feel like failing to be happy is a sin. I feel like I shouldn’t have to work so hard to feel grateful for the life I have and I don’t understand why I keep thinking about the life I never had instead of the one I do have, now. I don’t understand why I keep making the same mistakes, over and over again.

I’ve been slipping in my observation of the Middle Aged Woman rules. I’m in danger of giving up, drying up, sinking into a cronehood made up of joint pain and thinning hair and sagging spirit…well, let’s be honest here, sagging everything.

I have to go wash my hair, put on some lipstick, and take my daughter to see the holiday model train display. I’ll try to be quiet, and let her just enjoy it.

And maybe when they start sprinkling the fake snow from the ceiling, I’ll look out the window at the specks of real snow that is falling, and remember that spring will come.

From darkness riseth light.

In the bleak midwinter.

Time to buy a tree, and smell the piney-ness of it, and find the joy, even if it is small, and deeply buried.

Until then I remain,

Your humble, flawed, struggling, hanging on to hope by a thread,

Ridiculouswoman

Fantasy Island

He could show up…in my fantasy…

Tonight through Friday, I choose to dwell in an alternate, fantasy universe.

In this place, flying horses are gently anchored at sunset, docile, innocent, faithful – certain of a safe night and a sweet sunrise, when they will be freed to soar again.

And in this place, I cook an enormous Thanksgiving meal, with appetizers of paté on brioche with cornichons and mustard, smoked salmon and cream cheese with capers, marinated shrimp, cheese and grapes, strawberries with creme fraiche and brown sugar, a perfect, moist turkey with crisp skin (I’ll try spatchcocking it, for the first time, which is sure to turn out magnificently, because this is my FANTASY, remember?), mashed potatoes and gravy, whole berry cranberry sauce (not the abomination of the canned stuff, cylindrical, jiggling – we  have RULES here) sweet potato and carrot puree, peas and onions, brussels sprouts with bacon and a salad with dried cranberries, pecans and blue cheese crumble with raspberry vinaigrette, dinner rolls with butter, pumpkin and apple pie and wine, a meal that will last all weekend, with many, many platefuls to be assembled, warmed and served to …..

my imaginary gentleman caller.

Not Mike – that wouldn’t be fair, to call him back – but someone new that he’s approved of, or sent, even.

Someone to prop up this two-legged stool our lives have become, in this manless house.

I’ll wear my Thanksgiving dress all day, because you never know when a man on a flying white horse will show up. Could happen, here on my fantasy island.

I am in the process of cooking that enormous meal, preparing everything that can be done ahead of time, for our second Thanksgiving on Friday, after the first on Thursday at the brother’s in-laws, the first large family Thanksgiving my daughter will have ever experienced.

Then we’ll do our meal-just-for-two, with vats of hopeful leftovers waiting for my imaginary new man: leftovers that will last beyond Friday night, when I’ll hang up the dress; leftovers, uneaten by any man, that will sustain us through the weekend, when, back in the real world, I will bring out out the drop cloth and take on the big project, painting the front room.

Hilarity (and multiple additional trips to the hardware store) will no doubt ensue.

Happy Thanksgiving, and may your fondest fantasies come true.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a flying horse to catch.

When my equine flight lands, you may find me in the kitchen.

Stirring, pureeing, peeling, mashing and basting, I remain,

your loyal, lonely, faithful, hopeful,

Ridiculouswoman