Snark Tank

Nice is nice. But Nice ain’t funny.

“If you can’t say somethin’ nice, don’t say nothing’s at all.”

-Thumper

Did you catch the double negative, there?

Thumper, go over there and sit on Alice Roosevelt Longworth’s needlepoint pillow (“If you haven’t got anything nice to say about anyone, come sit next to me.”)

Nice is nice.

But nice ain’t funny. Not usually, anyway.

If you’ve been a trouper and you’ve read this blog from the bottom up, first to latest, you’ll see that I’m a widow, and I’m trying to live the lessons I learned from loss, primarily that love is what matters, and a little laughter, too, and every person has their stuff, and anyone you run into or sit next to on the bus could be in the midst of their own tragedy, and everyone deserves respect and compassion.

And that behaving that way all the time is exhausting and really difficult for me (see, “The Briefcase Maneuver“).  I have confessed to being someone too full of judgment, impatience and an ugly sense of superiority (see, “And What Do We Learn from This?)

But sometimes I just can’t help myself, especially if something strikes me as stupid.

And nothing is more irritating than avoidable stupidity. And it is often funny, too.

And in such situations, I tend to lead with my big mouth, not my big heart.

I’ll say something that makes people laugh.

And then I’ll go home and feel really bad about it.

I own a T-shirt that says, “I’ll try to be nicer if you’ll try to be smarter.” Snark. Which was basically my theory of management for a long time. Yeah, so, that didn’t work out so well.

I have another T-shirt that says, “Pretending I’m a pleasant person all day is exhausting.”

I will reveal both of these during my talk on “Confessions of a Toxic Boss,” if I ever get that one written.

Not nice. But honest.  Nice is not often funny,  but honesty often is, which is why improvisers are taught to go for the emotional truth on stage, because most of the time, nothing is funnier than the truth.

So far, I’ve written honestly about loss and grief and a little about some coping strategies (Middle Aged Woman Rules).  But when do we get to the funny part?

Well, I have a plan. When I feel the snark surfacing, and I can’t resist the temptation to think or even say something that is kind of mean but also kind of funny, I’m going to dump it right over there in the Snark Tank.

Yes, I’m going to make a whole separate page on this blog where I can dump all my little pet peeves, my moments of self-righteous superiority, my little rants, and just get them out of my system so I can get back to the love part.

No politics, though – we all get plenty of that on Facebook or Twitter.

And as the parent of a developmentally different young adult, I’m definitely not a fan of making fun of others just for being who they are (although my love of accents has gotten me in trouble that way – I hear an accent and impulsively imitate it, often right in front of the person with the accent. Oh, nice. I’ve embarrassed my family and literally made children cry, when all I thought I was doing was joining the fun and expressing delight in the music of a different way of speaking. Oddly enough, the people whose accents I “joined in on” didn’t find it amusing.)

But people who have all their intellectual faculties and physical abilities, neurotypical and physically able people, who are ungifted with and unchallenged by differently wired brains or physically different bodies, often do or say stupid or funny or illogical things, and they misuse words a lot, which either drives me nuts or makes me laugh hysterically, so I may take the opportunity to point a few of those things out. And if it happens in the middle of a blog post about something entirely different, well, I’ll just link over to the Snark Tank and dump it in there.

My additions to the Snark Tank will likely be short and unrelated to each other, unless I really get on a roll and unleash. And I’ll just keep on editing that page by adding new stuff on top.

And if you are so moved, you can jump right in through the comments, and we’ll all just get it out of our systems, and the world will be a better place, because we will have done a service in pointing out errors and inanities that are avoidable, preventable and therefore needn’t be repeated. Won’t everyone be so grateful! So let’s dive in!

Good China or, the Thanksgiving Rules

We’ll use the Good China anytime we want.

We brought it out at Thanksgiving and created a resplendent table with it, and the silver, and the stemware. Once a year.

Although I am a child at Christmas, full of anticipation and wonder and the magic of the tree lights sparkling in the dark, Thanksgiving is really my favorite holiday.

All I have to do is cook, drink, eat. Not necessarily in that order.

At the end of the meal, after the coffee and pie, and the signature mashed potatoes that only Mike could make, we shared a marathon session of dish washing, by hand (in the dishwasherless days before the remodel) and then the plates would go back into the round, plastic, zippered bags with the quilted floral pattern, separated by those little foam circles that were supposed to keep the plates from chipping.

And the stemware went back in its box, each glass with its own little cardboard compartment, stowed carefully on the shelves in the cubbyhole at the top of the basement stairs.

But when Mike got sick, and we knew that each upcoming Big Holiday would likely be his last, we decided, fuck it, let’s use the good stuff now.  Any time we want.

And we wondered, why did we keep it all packed away all year anyway?

The whole idea of bridal “china patterns” now seems sort of quaint, or twee, or adorable in that way that brides are allowed to be adorably annoying, observing the rituals that really belong in the nineteenth century and before.

We have ten place settings. Ten. And we never had more than four family members over for dinner, and that, very rarely (long story, book, I’m working on it).

But really, who uses ten formal place settings anymore, in their home? Most homes now without formal dining rooms? (although I hear they started making a comeback with builders and their clients a few years ago. Sounds good to me. Invite me as a companion for your extra man – I’m a lively conversationalist and I never miss a chance to overdress!)

But now our child and I continue to use that fancy china regularly, two place settings at a time.

And I try to use the Good China as a reminder to be thankful, not once a year, but daily.

Another widow has “gratitude Fridays” so I’m going to try “thankful Thursdays” – and one of the exercises I want to commit to observing is writing a thank-you note a week to someone. Just to express gratitude in a concrete way, and maybe to share those here.

Recipients of thank-you notes I’ve written tell me I’m pretty good at it. I’ve even thought of turning that into a side business – to help those hapless, adorable brides who’ve gotten themselves in too deep and can’t come up with a single original thing to say to the gifter of the tenth full place setting. I can help her with that.

(I’ve also written a few thank-you notes that I never sent, on the order of, “Dear Mrs. Moneybags: How gracious of you to respond to my phone call with a letter, informing me that the organization I had hoped you’d support deserved its demise for its silly habit of asking poor families to pay only what they could, and instructing me that such foolishness should be abandoned posthaste, and good riddance to those poor folks. Right here in our town! The nerve!” Or something like that.)

But since we have The Big Holiday in the area of thankfulness coming up, I think I’ll save the weekly notes for after the holidays, when people aren’t expecting them.

In the meantime though, there are some Thanksgiving rules, which, unlike the practice of using the Good China only once a year, cannot be abandoned.  To wit:

  1. No Christmas stuff, especially NO CHRISTMAS MUSIC, until the day after Thanksgiving. We will not bury Thanksgiving in tinsel, or wreaths or red bows, or early-bird Black Friday deals, nor will we deafen ourselves to it by subjecting ourselves to Mariah Carey screeching, “All I want for Christmas is You” or Michael Buble crooning, “I’ll be Home for Christmas.” Puh-leeeze.  (We will address the subject of acceptable and unacceptable Christmas music on THE DAY AFTER THANKSGIVING. Which will not be spent standing in line outside a WalMart fighting over who gets the biggest big screen TV).
  2. Cranberry sauce must be homemade, from whole berries. No can-shaped gelatinous blobs on a plate, for God’s sake. Have some RESPECT, dammit. It’s EASY. Seriously, just read the package instructions on your Ocean Spray. Water, sugar, boil, berries, pop, pop, pop, chill. Done, yummy.
  3. Although I do not require anyone else at my table to perform this allegedly death-defying feat, I will make and consume stuffing that is ACTUALLY COOKED INSIDE THE TURKEY. Pepperidge Farm is the only acceptable stuffing mix. Non-negotiable.
  4. NO TURDUCKENS. See, “Have some respect,” in number 2, above. This goes triple for deep frying on the deck outside. Are you out of your mind? Haven’t you seen the Allstate ad about how many people burned their houses down committing this gastronomic atrocity?
  5. Mimosas. Mimosas are required. See “cook, drink, eat, not necessarily in that order” above. Rockettes, lip-synching broadway stars, marching bands and giant balloons are actually fun when viewed through the gentle mist of a Mimosa. Just don’t say the other Thanksgiving “M” word (the one that comes before “Thanksgiving Day Parade”) when channel surfing over to the the Chicago parade, because that big store they march past will ever and always be Field’s. Dammit.

I better start making a grocery list and polishing the silver, for our second round of Big Holiday with just the two of us, our child and me.

I’ll continue using the Good China every day, as a sign of gratitude for our memories of Mike, and faith that more Good stuff is coming, for just the two of us, our child and me.

The Presence of Absence – or, Bookends of BoDeans

…absence is a thing – a weighted blank thing that lurks … where he should be.

UPDATE

Well, it turns out there will probably never, ever be any reunion of Sam Llanas with the BoDeans, and it appears there’s a real good reason on top of the ones originally given – how sad – and how creepy, since this band once recorded a song with the lyric, “sweet little Mary was just 13, walking down the street she’d make a good man mean…”

Eeeeeewwww. I debated taking this post down when I heard about this, but the post reflects my experience before I heard of these accusations. Yet I didn’t think it would be right to leave this post as it is without acknowledging that I now know these accusations have been made. I wish I could unknow about them, but I can’t.

______________________________________________________________

Even if you knew it was coming, the death of a spouse or other family member creates an absence that feels physical; that heavy blank space over there is where he is not.

And it feels like that absence is a thing – a weighted blank thing that lurks in chairs where he should be sitting, over there on the rug where his hospital bed used to be, by the stove in the kitchen where he should be cooking.

I spent the last fourteen months managing that thing, first raging at it, crying and sobbing and panicked by it, hating it, feeling attacked by it, as if it would erase me or reduce me to a shadowy thing myself, some kind of half-being, ghosting around aimlessly. “I’m just a ghost in this house.”

Then I decided to engage it. I started talking to it, taking it out places with me. I created a sort of “memory tour,” attending concerts and events Mike would have enjoyed, trying and many times succeeding in feeling him with me in the car, in the box at the opera or the too-expensive seats at the hockey game.

And I went to see the BoDeans.

Years into our marriage, Mike and I discovered, in casual conversation, that before we met, we had been at the same BoDeans concert at the Riviera Theater in Chicago. I was there alone, he with whoever his then current girlfriend had been.

And Sam was there.

If you haven’t heard this band, go back in time to their earliest albums – Love and Hope and Sex and Dreams, Outside Looking In, Black and White, Home.

But you really should listen to their live compilation album, Joe Dirt Car.  The BoDeans are a kick-ass live band and put on a great live show.

And the lead vocal you hear on almost every song is Sammy – Sam Llanas.

I remember that show at the Riv as just that –  kick-ass rock’n’roll fun – singalongs, clapping, stomping, great time.

That was a long time ago – 1989.

I had put the albums (yes, vinyl) and CDs away years ago, and hadn’t thought about them until last year when I saw a poster around town announcing a BoDeans show – they were playing at a benefit at a community center very close by, and I couldn’t believe my luck at getting a chance to hear them again, and to take Mike’s “present absence” with me, and remember with the memory of Mike what fun it was, to dance and stomp and sing along with this band.

And I went and they put on a full-blown, burn-the-house-down rock-n-roll show with lights and fog and great sound at this recently rehabbed little theater that started life as an elementary school auditorium.

I had a great time there by myself with the crowd, as I had done so many years before.

But Sam wasn’t there.

Because something happened, years before, as often does in marriages, and in bands that have been together for a long time – Disagreement? Jealousy? Misunderstanding? Resentment? Exhaustion? Who knows.

But Sammy wasn’t there – Sam’s voice wasn’t there.

It didn’t really register with me too much last year at that event – the band seemed to stay away from the songs that really had to have Sam’s voice to make them what they were. Or maybe it was the crowd – a liquored-up, wealthy, charity-event attending crowd that knew how to party and was on their feet, dancing and singing along the whole show (so this is how rich people party? Oh, OK. Pretty cool. And for a good cause.)

And then this year, by accident again, I found that the BoDeans were playing within reasonable driving distance, almost exactly a year (less one day) from that show I went to in memory of Mike.

So I went, and this time I knew that Sam wouldn’t be there.

And his absence was very present for me this time.

Maybe it was the geriatric nature of the crowd – they just wouldn’t get up and dance, even with the bar open, until after the break, when several women of a certain age, dressed as if in memory of their younger years, got up to shake and bounce what they had, groupie-dancing down by the stage.

And I was shakin’ it in the aisle, dressed in my own recently-achieved too-tight jeans and shirt, trying to remember the fun, but hearing that live album, Joe Dirt Car, in my head, and missing Mike, and missing Sam.

There were some fun moments – a Tom Petty tribute inserted in the middle of the show, some amusing musical quotes of other artists, and the sing-along songs that depended more on the crowd than on Sammy’s voice. And although geriatric, the crowd at least managed some singing along.

And then the band did a song called “Naked.”

I can think of a lot of BoDeans songs, “Black, White and Blood Red” or “Going Home,” or “Far, Far Away from My Heart” or “Misery” that require Sammy’s voice, but none more than “Naked.”

It’s about sharing your secrets, committing to not holding back in a relationship – at least that’s what I hear in it – “I’ll stand naked with you, you’ll stand naked with me too.”

And when Sammy sang it, there was a raw, raspy desperation in the sound, like he really was tearing himself open.

You just can’t sing it without that – without Sam.

So you have a choice – don’t sing it.

Or forgive, forget and ask Sammy to come back.

Because he can. He’s right there in Wisconsin. It would have been a few hours drive, no more.

Mike can’t come back.  He can’t come with me to a BoDeans concert, ever. In fact, after our child was born, we never went to a rock show together. He’d go to shows he wanted to go to, and I’d go to mine, and whoever wasn’t going was staying home with our child because we didn’t use sitters, not with our special needs child – our beautiful, vulnerable amazing child.

So we switched off, took turns – called it a “shift change,” when I got home from work, and he, exhausted from a day of cooking, cleaning, playing, shopping and chauffeuring, retreated upstairs to read and relax.

No shift changes for me anymore. Adult child is far less vulnerable now, and I’m doing the best I can at my job of enabling greater independence, but each day there’s still, “A day without Dad. You ok Mom? You’re here in this world, the first world, with me? Right? You’re not going, you’re here. You’re good.”

Yes, my lovies, for as long as I possibly can be. I’m here right now, for you.

But Mike can’t be here for me, or for our child, anymore.

Life is short. Forgiveness is worth it.

I have to wait until the end of my life for a reunion, but you guys don’t.

And I find now that the presence of Sam’s absence in that band means I just can’t see them again. And listening to Joe Dirt Car just makes me sad now, thinking about the permanent presence of absence.

Because Mike’s not here for me, and he can’t be, and he can’t be here for our adult child either, and the best I can say is “remember what Dad told you? Dad’s love never ends.”

And it doesn’t, but it is so hard even for a neurotypical person to understand that, and to feel the abstraction of love from the next world.  How can I help an autistic person understand that?

My year of dating Mike’s shadow, his present absence, is over, and I’ll have to find something new, a new band to follow or maybe a new person to love, to be a presence for the two of us, now.

But I’ve been honest with our child – we’re never going to stop missing Mike, or stop feeling incomplete, without him. That is a present absence we will just have to absorb, and carry, within and around us, every day. We can’t add anything or anyone that will take that absence away. We can only try to love what we carry – memory and hope and whispers of love in songs we hear in this world as Mike’s messages from the next.

Middle-aged Woman Rules

I do not intend to act my age. Not until I have squeezed everything out of what’s left of this life…and put as much love as I can back into it.

There is nothing like widowhood to make you feel your age.

But I am determined to “defy it,” as that make-up ad with Melanie Griffith from a few decades ago – “don’t lie about your age, DEFY IT!”

I noticed that ad a few DECADES ago. So much for lying about my age!

But the “defying” thing suddenly became important to me when Mike got sick.

I wanted him to see me at my best, or at least the best I could be, before he went. So I started the “defying” thing. And it amused him, and we laughed about it before he died, and I like to think that he did see in me again the younger woman he had pursued years before, when all he had to do was hug me and I would glow – “I’m all shiny!” I would say – and though he didn’t have the strength to hug me anymore, I wanted him to see he could still make me shine.

After he died, after all the widow duties were done, after the stone was finally laid and the cold empty absence of him became so present all the time, I panicked, and then I got mad, and then I got determined.

I don’t have very many good woman years left, I thought, and dammit I refuse to believe that they are all already gone. Mike wouldn’t want me to mope around alone, I’m sure. (Although when one of the last two of our wedding-present stemware broke, flew out of the cupboard as if someone had grabbed it and flung it down, he did observe, “that means there’s only one left now,” as if he thought that was right – there will be only you to use those glasses now. But I still don’t think he’d want me to be alone. He fell in love with me, he said, partly because he could see how badly I needed to be loved, and how easily my heart could sing, or cry.)

So I am going to make the most what I have left. Life is short. Love matters.

And so does lipstick.

Allow me to explain.

The Middle Aged Woman Rules began before Mike died, but intensified after. I took a good look in the mirror, began the heavy use of skin products, and established these Rules, which are as follows, in reverse order of importance (and I reserve the right to add to this list, ad infinitum if necessary!:

  • dress like you are expecting someone and waft perfume lightly
  • manage hair wherever it occurs
  • floss
  • smile, and
  • NEVER BE SEEN WITHOUT LIPSTICK

Because the first thing I noticed when I looked in that mirror was how washed out and ghastly I look without lipstick.

So I wear lipstick even when the only person who is going to see me is me. (See, “dress like you’re expecting someone, etc., above.)

Now, on the “dress like you’re expecting someone” rule?

Did I buy nice middle-aged lady clothes, with high shawl collars to cover my neck? And below-the-knee middle-aged librarian looking wool skirts?

Um, no.

The first thing I did (ridiculous woman, remember?) was buy a black peignoir set. Yep, sexy nightie. As if I was expecting someone. Ha!

Then I bought tight jeans, v-neck t-shirts and sweaters and five or six really cute 1950’s style dresses with tight bodices and flared skirts that you wear a crinoline under.

And related infrastructure of naughty underwear.

And I started going out, on a sort of “memory tour” of things Mike and I would have done together if he was still here.

And the first time I wore one of those crinoline dresses out? Several burly, very short-haired women remarked on how attractive it was, that I wore it well.

Oh well. Sorry, ladies, I play for the other team, but I appreciate the compliment, I really do!

And when I took adult child downtown for our annual holiday excursion, I didn’t notice until I headed to the ladies’ that the lipstick I required myself to wear had formed two little “Chuckie” lines (you know, Chuckie? That creepy horror movie doll?) on either side of my mouth, probably as a result of residue on a glass from a too-hasty pre-game snootful of something because I had splurged on a limo and wouldn’t be driving. Uncharacteristically I didn’t check my look in the car, so I was “Chuckie” all the way to the table in the restaurant.

But the kicker was when I went out to an event, smiling!! really trying to smile! and noticed a very tall, nice looking man staring at me, near the bar. I mean staring.

So I’m thinking, this pencil skirt and silk blouse are really working for me! OK!

And he kept staring so I just said, hello, I’m Anne. And he told me his name but I forgot. If adult child was with me I would never forget names, or birthdays, for that matter.

So I went and sat next to someone I knew and tall guy comes and sits on the other side of the someone I knew, and I hear him saying to his wife, “Doesn’t she remind you of Jill?”

And I’m curious so I say, “is Jill a good thing to be reminded of?”

And he turns to me and says, “Oh, yes! Jill was…Jill was brilliant! She was my best friend from high school’s mother! She passed away….”

So after all the skin products, hair management and the accurate application of lipstick, I end up being compared to a middle-aged man’s best friend’s dead mother.

So much for defying my age.

But I still do not intend to act it. My age, I mean. Not until I have squeezed everything out of what’s left of this life that I can and have done my best to put as much love as I can back into it.

Ha! Just call me Mame. Or Vera Simpson.

Or defiantly ridiculous woman.

A Journey with Journey: Fall Excursion, Part 3

Steve Perry had an unmatched set of pipes. We will not hear his like again. Except, for us, in our memory of Mike.

Unexpectedly, the forecast is for some sun, one last time before Halloween.

Carpe this freakin’ diem, for sure.

We didn’t have a trail ride scheduled, so we got going early, and I had actually planned a route that could intersect with several “rustic roads,” and a few more days had passed for more leaves to turn, so this, I was sure, would finally be the day for the perfect fall excursion.

And the rustic roads did not disappoint. Out by Lake Geneva, then west and north, back east and north, hills, ponds, bowers of boughs over strips of smooth asphalt, like ribbons through the moraine. Hawks circling, big red barns, horses, cows and the occasional llama.

We stumbled upon a pristine local park right when we needed a bathroom, and although as usual the “bathroom” was an outhouse, it was the cleanest, freshest outhouse I’d ever had to use.

And the road signs were there, this way and that, to lead us down those rustic lanes and give me what I needed from October’s bright blue weather – a stress-free, no-anger, no-pain, no-yelling fall excursion.

And I want to believe he was with us, enjoying it along with us, this time, free from pain.

Our child has taken to repeating wistfully, “a day without Dad.” He’s been gone 14 months, but on the spectrum, processing time is individual, and often long.

And I say, “every day for the rest of our lives on this earth will be a day without Dad, sweetie, but never without his love. You remember what he said to you?”

“Dad’s love never ends.”

“That’s right. And I believe he’s here with us and he sends us little messages from the next world – the monarch butterflies, the Journey songs.”

Yes, Journey songs. Mike could sing just like Steve Perry – Really, high notes and all.  And it was mostly a running joke for us three, whenever it came on the radio – “just a small town boy, livin’ in South Detroit….” But it was damn fun to sing along with, and they’re actually really good songs. And despite the haircut (c’mon, it was the ’70s), Steve Perry had an unmatched set of pipes. We will not hear his like again.

Except, for us, in our memory of Mike.

And our child has an uncanny knack of changing the radio station to land directly on a Journey song, repeatedly, during the day.

I know, I know, Journey has been resurfacing constantly since “Don’t Stop Believin'” but who cares why? To us, the impulse to change the radio station right now is a little signal from him, from the next world – change it now, you’ll get a little hello from me.

Faithfully. Separate Ways. Open Arms. “O-pen Ah-AHHH-Ahms!”

“It’s Dad!”

Yes, sweetie – a little message from Dad from the next world.

Up toward Waukesha, found the road with the farms. Pumpkins, corn stalks, gourds.

And this time, we ate at Taco Bell.

And it was good. Back on the road in plenty of time to enjoy the last of October’s bright blue weather, singing along to Journey, and with Mike.

Fall Excursion, Part 2

…hopes for some local cafe with soups and sandwiches and pie. I end up with grey, greasy burgers and torn barstools erupting with ancient, stained foam.

It started out great – a beautiful trail ride in a state park I didn’t even know existed until a few months ago. We rode through a savanah with a marsh in the middle of it, saw and heard (incredibly loud!) sandhill cranes, I think, and wended our way up and down ravine-like terrain populated with huge, beautiful old, gnarled burr oaks. The sun was shining, the dappled leaves were changing, and adult child was happy.

Next goal, winding roads, pumpkins and lunch.

We found an odd, small little farm that billed itself as a winery, mostly, but sold decent looking pumpkins and what’s called “Indian corn,” which I like to hang on my door this time of year. Pumpkins accomplished.

Winding roads of fall color? A little, and following my nose and the compass embedded in the mirror of my car, found the town with the store that has the chicken feed we needed.

But first, lunch.

A likely place, menu looked OK, even a bit sophisticated for a rural town. The place is mostly empty, which I put down to the hour of the day, not the quality of the food or service. Which was my first mistake.

So, I thought, OK, not crowded, great! Will get adult child fed and happy and be on our way in a jif.

Not.

I should know by now, through years of fall excursions, that I am particularly cursed at choosing lunch places. I always harbor hopes for some quaint out-of-the-way find, a local cafe with great soups and sandwiches and maybe some pie.

I usually end up with grey, greasy burgers and persons with whom I dare not converse lest the subject turn to politics, arrayed on torn barstools erupting with ancient, stained foam.

But this place looked much more promising.  Tin ceiling, nice old bar, highboys and regular tables, tile floor, interesting historic thingamabobs all over.

Adult child was very hungry, so I thought, OK, bruschetta – how hard can that be? Essentially some toast with tomatoes, basil and a little cheese.  That will be fast and take the edge off.

Ten minutes. Fifteen. Breathe. Head in hands, pulling at my hair. One waitress, only two other parties in the place.

Breathe.

Mom, are you OK?

Yes, sweetie, just trying to stay calm.

Thirty minutes, at last, the bruschetta.  Ice cold. As if it had been defrosting. And coated with something that was supposed to be balsamic but looked more like chocolate sauce.

Thirty minutes for a COLD appetizer.

Breathe, head in hands, Mom, are you OK?

Yes, sweetheart, just trying to stay calm.

Thank God the burger and fries came immediately after, as if the lone inexperienced waitress figured out that I was about to lose it if my child didn’t get something edible RIGHT NOW. Adult child likes the fries, at least, but tells me the burger was fried. As in, fried in oil, or worse, butter, which adult child on the spectrum can’t stand.

My salmon salad was pretty good, but I realized it too had been fried, not broiled.

OK, whatever, we ate. I admit to myself that I have zero skill in stumbling upon the one cute “supper club” or diner in town that actually might be worth trying, where they actually might have some retro comfort thing for my child to eat (big old shake in one of those tall, heavy ice cream glasses? No whipped cream, that is even worse than butter. Mac and cheese? Too many carbs. Tomato soup! Why can’t I just find a damn bowl of tomato soup and a grilled cheese sandwich? In friggin’  WISCONSIN???)

So what do we learn from this? Fast food next time. Don’t even try. Go somewhere generic, cookie cutter, where you know exactly what to expect, and quit trying to make lunch any significant part of fall excursion.

On to feed store. No time for any more winding roads.

Will there be any more of October’s bright blue weather? Please?

Ah, God is great. Yes, yes there will. And the third time’s a charm.

Grief and Grace

Grief consumes memories … And in Grace lies the hope to be, or to become, free of regret.

“Happy families are all alike. Every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

-Leo Tolstoy

Mike actually read Tolstoy. War and Peace, long before we were married. After he got sick he asked me to buy him several classic books, things he could read through the hours of infusions.  Anna Karenina was one of them, along with Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past. He made it through five of the six volumes of the latter before he lost the strength to read anymore. I haven’t yet tried to take up either or any of those.

He was an exceptional reader – but he very rarely dove into novels like those classics. If he wasn’t reading chess books or poetry, he was reading literary criticism, or politics or history. Dense tomes that I found, at best, uninteresting; at worst, impossible – I was exhausted just looking at some of the books he read.

There are so many things I admired about Mike, and so few times I told him that. He didn’t like expressions of gratitude or appreciation. No matter how genuine or heartfelt, he seemed to believe these offerings were fundamentally insincere. I don’t know why.

Substitute the word “marriage” in the Tolstoy quote above, and you will reveal a truth that grief consumes – the memories of the petty battles and the major ruptures that occur in any long marriage that are unique to that marriage. But in grief, the weight of those things evaporates to reveal the longstanding love beneath. And in grace lies the hope to be, or to become, free of regret.

In the large and varied autism community there is a saying: “if you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism.” Every individual on the spectrum is different from every other. Unique. There is no “generic” way to understand an autistic person.

Likewise widows. I’ve started reading other widows’ blogs, and the thing that hits me of the few I’ve seen so far is how very different each experience of widowhood is from mine. Not just the widow’s age, or the manner in which the spouse was lost, or the length of the marriage, but the many ways a widow’s life changes and the new challenges she faces.

One wrote about having to do things she hadn’t had to cope with before – buying a car, fixing things around the house, etc. Nope, I always had that role. Mike was a stay-at-home Dad, and a fantastic one; just the right guy to raise a child with autism. He was a great cook, a genius at finding free, entertaining things to do with a child who needed special care, and a music lover always discovering new, interesting bands and artists and sharing that music with a child who never forgets a lyric or who sings it.

But he was not what you’d call a “handy” guy.  If it required set-up, assembly or repair it was usually me who handled that, unless brute strength was called for (with the notable exception of an incredibly complicated model roller coaster I bought years ago for our child for Christmas – he set that thing up in a marathon session, and when he was done and it worked, he said, with triumph and glee, “didn’t think I could do it, did ya?” He also took charge of the Christmas train at the base of the tree. I haven’t tried to set that up without him). I set up the computers and the router, fixed the toilets and figured out how to program the remote. Maintenance Mom. He was Fun Dad.

And Fun Husband, too. We laughed together a lot – sitting together in our little library room listening to Mozart or Bach, we’d read aloud to each other, passages we thought were hilarious. I’d read snippets of Patrick O’Brian to him, he’d read John Ashbery poems to me.

Another widow wrote about coping with family members or friends who had objections to how the widow was performing her widowhood. There are Expectations and people who feel entitled to impose them on the widow.

Not for me. It was, pretty much, all on me. There were four people at the burial – myself, our adult child, the hospice chaplain and my regular pastor. I made all the arrangements and all the decisions, alone.

That’s a long story – too long for a blog and wrong for a blog that is about learning to live a daily life of love and laughter. I’m working on telling that long story in a book. A book that I hope will inspire laughter with the pain. A book that will certainly establish my bona fides as a ridiculous woman.

But when I write about my Mike here, I want to remember and honor the Mike I knew at the beginning of our relationship and the end – both before we were married and when the weight of years of marriage evaporated – on the day he decided to accept hospice care.

That day happened to be my birthday.

And the hospice care was at home. Visiting nurses.

The doctor told him he had three to six months. Mike optimistically chose to hear the six month part.

The nurse told me that based on her experience and how he looked, he had, maybe, six weeks.

He died at home just short of eight weeks later.

But those eight weeks were the best eight weeks of our marriage, where, as he described it when he had the energy to write, the bubble of tension between us burst, and the love was there, revealed, still glowing, and we knew that even though it was weird to believe this, the cancer was at least in this way, a gift.

On my side, our relationship and my return to church, started as an expression of gratitude. I went back to church because I was grateful that I had met Mike. That there was, it turned out, finally going to be a guy for me.

And our relationship ended in gratitude, for the chance to remember how we loved each other, out from under all the crap that builds up over the years, all the day-to-day squabbles and the year-to-year strains. Gratitude, forgiveness and love.

It shouldn’t have taken losing Mike to bring these back to the surface of who I am. And it shouldn’t take so much work to keep them there. But that’s what grace is for. I’m counting on that.