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

“Used Fictitiously”: A Non-toxic Love Challenge

(I’ve been roiling around with this for six weeks, writing, rewriting, ranting, editing – cutting, restoring, cutting again – alternately feeling angry and bold, then timid and scared, and finally, resigned. I just want to just get this off my chest so I can get back to being stressed out about the far more important stuff happening next week and then get back to regular blogging).

Bestselling author Sue Miller’s recently released novel, Monogamy, is about a widow named Annie from Chicago (but living in Cambridge, Massachusetts), who discovers her late husband had been unfaithful to her. The husband, Graham, is described as a big man with a deep voice, who is, as the character Annie says, “more than a foot taller than she was … Ridiculous, really.”

Reviewers loved Monogamy.

I hated it.

But maybe that’s because I’m a widow named Anne from the northern suburbs of Chicago, who knew her husband had been unfaithful to her, and who fell in love with a big man with a deep voice, partly because of the way he called me “Annie.”

I’ve been blogging about that since October 2017. In January 2018, in an earlier version of a post called, “The Bulgarian,” I described him (the man I fell in love with) as “at least a foot taller” than me. I’ve got a screen shot of it (thanks, WordPress), but I’ll skip it here.

I named my blog “Ridiculouswoman” in part because of the absurdity of my attraction to the Bulgarian. I blogged about writing a memoir telling the story of falling for him while caring for my terminally ill husband. My book was finished in the fall of 2018. I began sending out queries on it in December of that year.

I found Monogamy by accident, when the New York Times book review caught my eye. I had never heard of Sue Miller before I bought Monogamy and read it (with a screaming yellow highlighter in my hand) because I felt I had to. I was shocked, chilled, and pissed off. I made a nine-page, two column document listing side-by-side all the names, scenes, descriptions and phrases in Monogamy that seemed very like, and in some cases were identical, to things in my blog, my memoir, my home and my life.

A snippet of a Los Angeles Times review quoted on the book jacket of Monogamy says, “reading it is like experiencing a passage in our own lives.”

No shit.

I’ll spare you any further recitation of details from my nine-pager. There’s no point. Monogamy has the usual disclaimer:

“Names, characters, places and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.”

Plus, the coincidental details I recognize are woven into a story that is very different than mine, with many more characters and relationships. Some, like that Los Angeles Times reviewer, would argue that Miller’s ability to make me recognize my real life in her fictional book is what makes Miller a great writer.

I beg to differ.

There are many reasons I hate Miller’s book that have nothing to do with its similarities to my writing and my life, but a lot to do with the dissimilarities between Miller’s fictional depiction of love and widowhood and my actual experience of them.  

When my husband Mike died, this real Annie tried to close his eyes, and asked the hospice nurse to help get him dressed. I kept Mike’s cancer hats, and pressed them to my face because they still smelled like him.

Miller’s fictional Annie decided not to try to get her husband dressed after he dies in his sleep (not after 20 months of pain and struggle and heartbreak and caregiving), because she thought it didn’t matter. At one point, she presses one of his shirts to her face to take in her dead husband’s smell, while simultaneously thinking to herself what a cliché it was, “how many times she had read it and seen it in films.”

How kind, to describe that genuine gesture of aching grief, as a “cliché.” (It’s also surprising, because Miller wrote a memoir about losing her father to Alzheimer’s disease. She knows something about caregiving and loss. I’d expect more compassion).

The theme of my blog and memoir, and, seemingly, of Monogamy, is forgiveness, self-awareness, and the rediscovery of love. But how Miller handles that theme toward the end of the book is cringeworthy.

Spoiler alert

After her husband’s death, on her way home from a disillusioning encounter with a man she had flirted with in her past, the fictional Annie slips on an icy street, bangs her head, and when she comes to in the hospital, ta-da! Presto change-o! She suddenly remembers she loved her husband!

I found that scene insulting to me and to other widows who lived and worked through long and difficult marriages, finding ways to keep loving and forgiving, for decades. Mike and I did the hard work of forgiving each other, and we rediscovered enduring love, through the unfolding tragedy of Mike’s decline and death. Real widows don’t need the absurd, desperate, damn-I-need-to-figure-out-a-way-to-end-this-novel device of a slip-n-fall to knock them into remembering they loved their husbands.

So how do I react to all this in the spirit of this blog, with love and laughter?

I’m opting for gratitude. Yep, I’m grateful. Monogamy has made me hate my memoir. Seriously, I’m relieved. My story is true, sad, and funny, but I have doubts now about whether it needs to be told. It feels like 300 pages of “too much information.”

Yet even if I didn’t have doubts about my book, I have no doubts whatsoever that, because of Monogamy, there’s no hope in pitching and querying my memoir anymore. In this case, fiction outruns truth, especially because the fiction is by a longstanding, bestselling author. Lesson learned.

It’s time for me to start writing my next book. Maybe I’ll try a novel. I’ll use this lesson -use it fictitiously, of course – as inspiration.

Ready to move on, but wanting the 23 bucks back that I spent to read Miller’s damn book, I remain,

Your real widow Annie from the suburbs of Chicago who fell in love with a big man with a deep voice who was “at least a foot taller” than she, who didn’t need a head injury to remember she loved her husband,  

Ridiculouswoman

Image by skeeze from Pixabay