Big News

Nothing like a little external validation – for my writing.

A piece of mine was featured yesterday on wowblog.me; “wow” stands for “Women’s Older Wisdom.”

Here’s a direct link:

http://wowblog.me/this-isnt-exactly-what-we-had-planned/

I will be paid for it.

Let’s let that land for a minute.

I have been writing since I was a pre-schooler. This is the first time I can remember where I will be paid for writing something that wasn’t to serve or promote an organization I worked for as an employee, or to win a prize in school by writing about someone else’s writing.

This is me getting paid for writing as me, A WRITER.

Hot damn.

Validation, thy name is “the check’s in the mail.”

And delightfully, validation out of serendipity: this opportunity came about because my cousin forwarded a link to “On Dying Heroically” to Pat Taub, who runs wowblog.me. An invitation to submit a guest post resulted. So thanks, Cos! And thanks, Pat, for the opportunity.

I chose an image of fireworks against a dark sky for this announcement, because this accomplishment is a bit bittersweet: I was asked to produce a piece on widowhood in middle age. But that’s what I’m living and writing about, so that was fine with me.

For those of you looking for guest post opportunities, Wowblog.me is interested: the blog wants to reflect diverse opinions and experiences. If you want to submit, your piece should be 550-650 words and you should include a short bio (100 words or less) and a thumbnail head shot. Take a look at the blog to get an idea of the kinds of articles published there.

When I looked at my stats, I realized that readers who came over from wowblog.me to check out Ridiculouswoman were looking at pages I hadn’t updated in a while, like my about page, and my books and music page. So that gave me a nudge to tidy those up a bit.

I did recently add a few new entries to the Snark Tank – check out “Whipped,” “Meat is Gluten Free!” and a new, top entry under “Shit Doctors Say.”

That this happened, getting published on somebody else’s blog and getting paid for it,  finally pushed me to add “freelance blogger” to my resume and even to my LinkedIn profile. Not that I’d quit a day job, if I had one! Still looking, there. But I’m looking for a day job (or a part-time job or any kind of a job that will bring in some money to pay for silly things like health insurance and electricity) to support my brand new, long-postponed, writing “career” and related (hoped-for) speaking engagements.

If you’re new here, please sign up to follow either through WordPress or by email (there are links on the right) and do share your comments – you don’t have to have an account to do that. (If you run into any snags trying to post a comment, please let me know and I’ll look into it.)

Thanks for reading and for your support. Readers of and commenters on this blog are my online community, and I love you. I really do. Curses, no tissues handy, again…

Sore from newly adopted devotion to working out spurred by alarming weight gain, and trying to get up the gumption to paint another room, I remain,

Your actually published by someone other than myself,

Ridiculouswoman

Tandem and Telescope: A Father’s Day Lament

The things you buy at garage sales or online just might be sacred objects.

The tandem is gone. I finally sold it, at a garage sale, for a tenth of what it originally cost.

The telescope, too. Sold on Letgo, for a third of a tenth of what it originally cost. It sat in the garage for more than 15 years; he stopped using it when something went awry with the star-finder thing; IMG_20190602_133923769_HDR~3.jpghe wasn’t much for spending time trying to figure out how to fix things, even if it was just how to recharge or replace a battery. He lost his astronomical mo.

Or maybe it was just that I had chosen the wrong kind of scope, or didn’t get the right filters or something, and he didn’t want to hurt my feelings so he used it for a little while and then retired it to the garage, where it stayed gathering dust for years. I was glad to see it go.

The tandem is another story. That was hard. It went to someone down the street and around the corner, but I’m guessing it isn’t going to stay there – probably will get resold for more than I got for it.  So though I told the buyer I was happy it would stay in the neighborhood, I cried when it was rolled away.

Mike transported our daughter all over the place on that thing, from the time she was in elementary school through half of high school, when she had gotten big enough to make her difficulty with pedaling with any force, a problem.

The diagnosis came a year or so after that.

So off to a corner by the wall in the garage it went, to gather dust itself, forlorn.the tandem

People in town who never met or spoke to Mike, knew him by that bike. They saw him riding her to school, then home by himself (a total distance of 5 miles), then back to school to pick her up and home again.

They saw them riding together on the bike paths, through the forest preserves and to the pool in the summer.

The bike, and how Mike used it to get her from place to place, become a sort of living “meme” of  fatherly devotion around here. Mike simultaneously got our daughter some fresh air and exercise (her legs had to go up an down, even if she couldn’t pedal very hard) while also giving her a view beyond the boundaries of our home and her school. Kids with developmental differences are often isolated, kept in their “special” classrooms for more than half the day, then transported to some kind of program filled with more kids with differences, to spend time until a parent could pick them up.

Mike didn’t let that happen to her.

Even though he chose to spend a lot of time alone, imposing a lot of isolation on himself, and by extension on our daughter, they were a very happy team, and under his protection, on the back of that bike, she got a broader view of the world and its possibilities.

Mike also got time away from the routine – the frequent drudgery – of being the stay-at-home parent.

But he made sure we knew that he loved his job.

And the bike was very much a symbol of that. Not just to me.

So if you happen to come across a big blue tandem on E-bay or some other online marketplace, please show it some respect. It might have been ridden by a World’s Greatest Dad.

I never got him that t-shirt. He wouldn’t have worn it, anyway, and he didn’t need a t-shirt for everyone to see what a great Dad he was. All he had to do was get on that bike.

There are two women, myself and our daughter, who have shed more tears today over that bike, and the Dad who rode it with such strength, love and devotion.

May happy memories, and maybe a good bike ride, comfort those who are missing their Dads today, and strengthen bereaved Moms who have to tell their kids that it is OK to cry.

And listen, helpless, when they do.

Trying to decide whether today’s cold drizzly mist is a blessing or an excuse, I remain,

Your thinking of buying a “World’s Greatest Dad” balloon to tie to the shepherd’s crook at Mike’s gravesite,

Ridiculouswoman

On Dying Heroically

Facing death quietly and privately is heroic, too.

Facing a terminal diagnosis is heroic, no matter how a person chooses to react.

But in the end, dying heroically is still dying.

Some people respond to a terminal diagnosis by doing something unbelievably difficult – accomplishing some spectacular feat of physical endurance or creating a final artistic magnum opus. I admire them. They will leave an extraordinary legacy of courage that inspires those who never knew them, and comforts those who did.

But I simultaneously want to acknowledge those who react to a terminal diagnosis quietly and privately, and face the inevitable for what it is – inevitable. Because even if some miraculous force of will or faith or lifestyle change pulls a person back from the brink to health and longer life, still, in the end, they have not cheated death – simply delayed it.

If you don’t believe that grief and humor can intersect, don’t click on the link below (and don’t let little kids watch it). But if you can tolerate a spot of dark humor, here’s a little ditty my eldest brother composed for the theater company he works with (the show this song preceded was called “Serial Killers” because the audience got to vote on which short play it wanted to see serialized, with the next episode performed the next week, and which would not return). This song was actually written for Halloween, but in it’s way it makes a point about the inevitable:

My late husband Mike wouldn’t read the books I got him about food as medicine or meditation as a way to combat cancer. He didn’t want the little Zen painting kit I got him, thinking it would provide calming distraction from chemo and pain. He didn’t decide to spend his last ounces of energy biking across the country (which he had wanted to do when we first met) or touring the world to see spectacular places he hadn’t had the chance to visit.

He decided to stay home, with us. He calmly and bemusedly tolerated my lapse into temporary insanity, my mad and desperate decision to remodel the kitchen and finish the basement and replace the windows and rebuild the fence and the deck while ridiculously falling in love with the man in charge of the whole project, as if improving our home would help him live longer in it and as if falling in love again would give me a some kind of do-over – make me younger and less inevitably widowed.

Mike used his last ounce of strength to hold our daughter’s hand and say to her, “Remember, Dad’s love never ends.”

This from a stay-at-home-Dad, two days before he died, facing the excruciating pain of having to leave behind the exceptional, non-neurotypical child he had raised from infancy to the threshold of adulthood.

That was heroic.

And we will, and we do, remember.

If you have lost a loved one who had chosen to face a terminal diagnosis privately, accepting the inevitable calmly and with quiet dignity, or who received that diagnosis beyond the time they would have had the physical or mental strength to choose any other way, I’m sure you understand, and I want to acknowledge, their courage.

Mike said something else to me that has helped me cope.

When I asked him if he wanted both of us to be with him when it happened, he said it didn’t matter.

He said, “everyone dies alone.”

He was right. Even if a person departs “surrounded by their loved ones,” the final trip is always a solo flight.

We had a deal – he promised to “call me when you get there” – based on past experiences of hearing from departed loved ones, in unusual but unmistakable ways, in the two or three days immediately following their passing. Messages in music, or in electronics behaving strangely, or in the appearance of symbolic animals, or through experiences of visitation.

He kept his promise. He called when he got there. He did his best to let me know he made it, that he “arrived to his destination,” and that he was free and at peace.

That was heroic, too.

When grief washes over me, or bursts unexpectedly inside my chest, I try to remember those little messages he has sent and continues to send, and maintain faith in eventual reunion, when my time comes.

Which it will (“but not yet, not yet…”), even if, between now and then, I manage to write a bestseller, survive another Polar Vortex or achieve EGOT (win an Emmy, a Grammy, a Tony and an Oscar).

Wishing you the comfort of happy memories in the face of loss, and confidence in eventual reunion, I remain,

Your trying-not-to-think-about-the-inevitable-too-much-and-enjoy-the-now,

Ridiculouswoman

Image by Yolanda Coervers from Pixabay

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

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.

 

Meta…for?

Surviving without a center…

Split down the middle, but surviving.

New branches growing independently on either side.

“Things fall apart; the center cannot hold….”

I thought of myself as the center of our little family; I was the breadwinner, the Toilet-Unplugger, The Parent-Teacher Conferencer, the Finder of Doctors and Dentists, the Internet Impresariess and the Did-You-Brush-Your-Teeth Reminderer.

When not at work, my attention was split down the middle between Mike and our daughter, halfway between them in the house, trying to respond to each of them simultaneously.

I’d get home from work and play picture-card games with her until we’d eat the meal that Mike had prepared, ready hours earlier, when they’d get home from school, because he knew she’d be hungry.

After, he would wearily retreat to his room upstairs, to read, play over his chess games and wind down after what was typically more than a 12 hour day caring for, entertaining, feeding, cleaning up after, chauffeuring and comforting an autistic child.

He never complained (although he would rage if I tried to make her something different for dinner, something that included a green vegetable, since she had already eaten whatever he made right after school. His style was to make vats full of spaghetti and meatballs or chicken soup, and then expect us to eat them for three days running, until they were gone. Inexpensive, but not exactly variety-packed.)

He said he liked his job, taking care of her. He was really good at it, exhausting as it could frequently be.

He was Fun Dad. Director of Entertainment. Leader of “excursions,” usually with no cost other than gas for the car. He was a genius at finding fun things them to do, for free. He pedaled her along on the tandem bike. They visited parks and playgrounds. They often took drives just to listen to music in the car. He introduced her to bands and singer songwriters I had never heard of, and they listened to the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s station: she knows all the songs from our high school years through the early years of our marriage.

We hear them now and remember.

If you are a young adult who has lost a parent, what are you going to remember? Doctors’ offices and tooth brushing? Or rockin’ out in the car?

I thought I was the center?

Like that tree – at first I just thought, cool, split down the middle and still growing.

That must mean something. Take a pic.

Now, looking at the photo, I see the magnitude of the emptiness in the middle.  Not like an “I lost myself for years in marriage and mothering- I don’t who I am anymore! Woe is me!” crap metaphor.  I’ve always known who I am and I’ve always had a habit of being who I am quite a bit more forcefully than most people can tolerate.

Mike tolerated it. At first, he loved it.  For years he just put up with it. Then for a long time, he ignored it.  At the end, he came to love it again, when the finality of his illness dissolved the hard shell around me and revealed the innocent heart he first fell in love with, battered and patched, but still there. The heart now permanently exposed, worn on my sleeve. I couldn’t generate that shell again if I tried. I’m an open wound.

The metaphor is, of course, about the branches with no connecting trunk at the center.

The two of us trying to forge new lives without him, parallel lives, still growing, but disconnected from a center.

We look at each other across that gap and wonder, how could this have happened?

She keeps going over the day he died, as if repeating what happened could explain it, or make it hurt less.

It doesn’t.

I tell her we will miss him for the rest of our lives, but that he wouldn’t want us to be sad all the time – when we miss him, think about the happy times and it will feel like he is with us.

She doesn’t believe me.

Neither do I.

Things fall apart.

I tell her that we will still cry sometimes, that it is normal, that it is OK. It will pass.

Until it happens again.

Car crying, suddenly, on the way home after a good chorus rehearsal. Two pieces about the mysteries of death, but only one of them includes hope of resurrection – “de morte transire ad vitam.”

Sometimes I feel held together with twist-ties and tape, or made of wire, like an old-fashioned dress form – the vacant outline of a woman.

Wind goes right through me.

I’m always cold.

Kyrie eleison.

I’m so, so damn tired of being cold.

The sun is out, but our backyard rabbit won’t leave the shade.

nos ad lucem

-Ridiculouswoman