Grief Is A Time Machine

Grieving in a grievous world

Grief alters time, eradicating now with then. It flares up, prompted by insignificant things.

Except for the significance the insignificant things invoke.

Grief doesn’t recognize magnitude relative to other, more recent, shocking and violent horrors, affecting many more people, all at once.

Should I be ashamed of my grief? Of writing about grief, today? Is it small, selfish? When grief bursts inside my chest, brought on by a radio ad for some long forgotten music venue we visited only once, stealing my breath, and I blink and flutter and try to control my voice, is that trivial, comparatively?

It happens at the intersection I can’t avoid when driving Angelic Daughter home from her once-a-month fast-food indulgence: grabs me by the throat and transports me to the merciful end of Mike’s final fall excursion, five years ago. It was way too long a drive, longer than I thought it would be. We didn’t know about the cancer yet, but he was uncomfortable, he was angry, he just wanted to get home.

I was tense, because I knew he was on the brink of exploding, close to raging at me for choosing the wrong road, the wrong destination, that everything I had done that day was wrong, that I was crazy. He did that when he was in pain, physically or emotionally.

I drifted left too soon and bumped up over the rumble-stripped median, before the turn lane began. A jolt. A bad ending to a bad day.

There’s the place near the grocery store where he finally got pulled over, after driving on an expired license for ten years. He had failed the written test and stomped out, refusing to wait any longer for another chance. He got caught because I had forgotten to renew the sticker on the license plate. He thought I did that deliberately.

The spice jars I gave him: one of his few, final Christmas presents, to use in the new kitchen, hoping he would find them inspiring, cheering, life-extending.

I can’t seem to keep them organized the way he did. But I see him arranging them.

The long-lost chess piece from his little magnetic traveling set, deep in the bottom of a box in the closet. How?

The rugless, blank place on the living room floor where the hospital bed had been.

“Missing Dad with love. Dad can’t come back. We have to live without him because he can’t come back.”

She has stopped repeating how things went the night he died. Now it’s “Dad used to…” Used to take her there, feed her that, play.

Basketball, tag, hide and seek.

The red shed is gone now, where he kept the large riding mower he bought just days after we moved in, twenty years ago. He would put it in neutral while it was off, and push her around on it. I still see it, right there at the edge of the yard, when I look out the windows by my desk. I see the tractor and her on it, him pushing.

Summer was his time. I see him sun-browned in his tennis whites, serving, volleying, hitting passing shots, my Dad gleefully niggling his tennis buddies – Mike was his ringer.

The lamp I bought, afraid he’d hate it.

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I bought it because I liked the shade, the color, and especially the shape. I thought it looked a bit like me.

He said he loved the lamp, and I loved him for that.

These things hold memories, but they don’t blindside me with intense flashbacks, like the radio ad, or the fall excursion intersection, or when I look up at the clock and find that the time reads as the date we met, or his birthday.

They don’t draw sudden tears, like the monarch butterfly that flitted by my desk windows, very close, for several seconds, just as I was writing about the bad end to the bad fall day.

She waits for me, to be as entertaining as he was.

I’m not.

I don’t cook like he did. I don’t shoot baskets or play tag. I couldn’t ride the tandem and finally sold it.

But I took her horseback riding, in a state park an hour away.

The horses were ornery, reluctant. They wanted to graze on the grass. They wanted to turn around and go home, like Mike did that fall excursion day.

But they responded when I spoke to them gently, and when we sang to them.

We saw more monarch butterflies along the trail than we have seen all summer.

She said, “Dad rode Jesse.” In Arizona, on vacation, more than ten years ago.

Then she said, “I really enjoyed going horseback riding with you, Mom.”

Anticipating our next trail ride, I remain, your time-traveling, tearful,

Ridiculouswoman

Image by Pete Linforth from Pixabay

Too Old and Too Expensive

The door closed. So where’s that open window?

“… at this time we are moving forward with other candidates that more closely fit our needs.”

This email came ten minutes after I finished screaming at reprimanding Angelic Daughter for WRITING ON MY NEWLY PAINTED WALL and then removing every privilege, excursion and cherished food I could think of from her foreseeable future, replacing them with cleaning bathrooms, vacuuming and REPAINTING SAID WALL.

Well, karma’s a bitch, ain’t it?

The bullshit factor just rubs it in, because this is what they say when their lawyers have instructed them never to tell you the truth, to wit,  “you’re too old and too expensive.”

This was the second time in as many months this has happened to me – the callback interview went really well: I really thought I had this one in the bag. And just as I was thinking it would be another week or so before I heard, WHAMMO, the buzzer sounds.

Thank you for playing, NEXT!

The clock has also run out on me with the two agents I pitched at the Midwestern Writer’s Agent Fest – one who requested the full manuscript of my book right there at the pitch, the other who said she’d look at my query.

Pocket vetos, both.

So on a day when I screwed up badly as a Mom and feel horrible about it, I was rejected from a job I thought I had for sure, my confidence in my writing has sunk to a new low.

I know the problem with the book – in a very crowded market, a memoir has to be about something greater than the mere experience of the writer – they want grand social themes – Hillbilly Elegy, or Educated – from “marginalized voices.”

I’m a straight, suburban white woman. About as non-marginalized as it gets.

Except for one thing:

My age.

If there is one universally marginalized group of people on this planet, it is older women.

So much for “yippee! I’m sixty and invisible!”

That has quickly become, “Oh shit, I’m sixty and unemployable.”

And unpublishable too,  apparently.

They see my book as a “me-moir.”  It has to have more universality or social impact than is readily apparent. It can’t just be both heartwrenching and funny.  It has to connect to some broader social theme.

Really? Well, how about this:

There are nearly 12 million widows in the US.

And (pulled directly from the Family Caregiver Alliance website):

  • Approximately 43.5 million caregivers have provided unpaid care to an adult or child in the last 12 months. [National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP. (2015). Caregiving in the U.S.]
  • Upwards of 75% of all caregivers are female, and may spend as much as 50% more time providing care than males. [Institute on Aging. (2016). Read How IOA Views Aging in America.]
  • Older caregivers are more likely to care for a spouse or partner. The average age of spousal caregivers is 62.3. [National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP. (2015). Caregiving in the U.S.]

And the American Cancer Society predicts:

1,762,450 new cancer cases and 606,880 cancer deaths in 2019.

I want to believe that my story could help caregivers feel less invisible, and less alone. Caregiving can be terrifying, exhausting, fulfilling and heartbreaking.

It can drive you crazy. It did me, and made me do ridiculous things, to avoid facing the certainty of my husband’s premature death at just 54.

I don’t feel crazy anymore, just defeated. If I couldn’t land this job, a job for which I simply cannot believe another candidate could have been better qualified, then I give up.

And today I feel like giving up on my writing, too.

It’s going to be 95 tomorrow, 98 on Friday, and no air conditioning. We’ve been through it before, but sitting immobile in a damp bathing suit, periodically hosing oneself down, isn’t conducive to sparkling query letter writing.

And what if, even with my spot-on experience, I was rejected from the job because I blew the interview? How could that be? The interviewer said I was first on her list to contact, and started the interview by just asking me if I had questions. Kept me there meeting volunteers for half an hour longer than I planned.

Did I ask too  many questions? Give too much information? Was it because I explained my need for a little time to find a caregiver for Angelic Daughter?

If it was that, then, I wouldn’t want to work for you anyway.  Feh.

After my previous rejection, my sweet brother sent me this:

“Everytime I thought I was being REJECTED from something good, I was actually being REDIRECTED to something better.” – Steve Maraboli

I’ll hang on to that, and try to believe it, while I clean the bathroom and vacuum the floors.

But Angelic Daughter is going to repaint that wall.

Trying to find my redirection, I remain,

Your disappointed, self-doubting, wanting to find a way to keep trying,

Ridiculouswoman