Thaw Gets Raw

You thought I was joking, about that snow pile, didn’t you.

Well, there it is. Coffee cup, plastic bottle and all, having begun its transformation into – a big, nasty, filthy pile of crap.

It has been well above freezing for three days running, and it has been raining most of the day.

And there it sits, getting filthier and gathering more crap.

How did something once so pristine get so nasty so fast?

And how did I go back to being a quivering blob of nerves, a self-doubting, fearful, pull-the-covers-over-my-head-and-hide, weak, weepy wimp?

I wasn’t expecting this. I thought I had snapped out of it.

Was it that my daughter decided it was time to “graduate” from her weekly art therapy session? She’d been going for at 7 or 8 years.  Suddenly decided she was done. (I asked her and she said it was OK if I wrote about that.)

OK, fine. That’s a mature, adult decision. You’ve gotten all you could out of it, so time to move on.

So why, after weeks where I thought the waterworks were finally shut off,  did I break down, just by saying thanks and good-bye to the art therapist? It’s not like we won’t see her around.

Was it the sense that something was exhausted? Empty? That my daughter had talked as much as she could and made as much art as was in her about her grief?

I don’t know and I still can’t say – but tears are coming as I write about it.

To top it off, we got in the car to head home and “Wind Beneath My Wings” came on the radio when the car started.

My late mother-in-law, whom we hadn’t seen in more than a decade, and whose death Mike learned of a year after the fact by Googling (long story) used to say, “I don’t want anyone crying at my funeral. Just play that Wind Beneath My Wings song.”

Yeah, right, Rose. That one won’t send anyone to the tissue box.

So blubbering turned into sobs, right there in the car, right in front of my sweet, angelic daughter.  Car crying used to be private, so I could get it out while neither of them could see me. But now she’s right next to me, digging around for tissues, handing them to me.

When the blubbering started,  I was thinking about Mike, and how our daughter had been talking herself through living each day without him, trying so hard not to be sad but to remember the happy times. I’m so proud of her.

Me? Not so much. I was thinking about how inadequate I felt and all the things I could have done better and about how much I miss him, too. And something about our daughter taking this step, away from one form of help, ending a routine that started when Mike was still with us, just hit me hard.

And then that song –

“Thank you, thank you, thank God for you….”

Was Rose thanking me?

I hadn’t thought of that.

Did I need to be thanked? For sticking with him and taking care of him? Not just when he was sick, but for our entire marriage?

Decades ago, she thanked me for that, when she came to help during one of the several occasions he “ran away from home.”

Did I need to be acknowledged for how hard it was then and and is now? “Single parenting” in the most extreme possible way?

“When people go to spirit heaven, they can’t come back.”

“No, sweetheart, they can’t. But their love is always with us.”

Grief doesn’t end. It resides. It is the house guest who never leaves, slouching on the couch, barely picking up its feet when you vacuum around it.

I have tried to freeze it over as much as I can. Bury it in projects, activity, busywork.

But the wind will blow, the rain will fall, the thaw will come, and expose all the crap. The raw, untidy baggage – pain, need, loneliness, inadequacy, weakness.

Despair. Bleakness. Gray days passing, one after the other, where my greatest accomplishment is not backing into the five-foot snow pile at the end of the driveway.

I heard this Leonard Bernstein song on the radio for the first time ever a few days ago: (the video might start with an ad, sorry, but the soprano is so good, it’s worth it):

“Still, we know that someday soon, spring will come again.
Summer has to follow.
Birds will come again, nesting in the hollow.
Once again, we’ll know all we know, that after winter, comes spring.”

Counting on it, and hanging on, I remain,

Your cracked, broken, hoping for kintsukuroi,

Ridiculouswoman

My Side of the Bed

A bed for one person doesn’t need two sides.

Our little family had symmetry, like the lamp and candles – we were balanced, with me in the middle, constantly pulled in two directions by the competing needs of the two great lights of my life – my husband and our daughter.

Now we are two.

There isn’t really a “middle” with just two.

I feel myself shifting out of that middle-that-is-no-more, drifting over to where he isn’t. As two, we measure the distance between one another, trying to stay close enough, but not so close as to crowd out our separate experiences of grief, and of learning how to carry that grief forward into whatever our lives will be.

Beside each other, with empty space between.

Sophie the cat does her best to fill that space, but still. She thinks she’s a person, and she thinks she’s the most important person here. But she’s a cat.

A cat who still meows loudly when she crosses the rug that was under his hospital bed.

Since late July, we’ve been sitting together in this house, defining our days by how we will spend our time together, what time I’ll drive her to work and what time I’ll pick her up, and what we will eat for dinner at our table for two. But after the holidays, our lives will change. I will have to get a job again, and she will have to re-learn the busses to and from work, the checklists (phone? keys? bus fare?) and maybe get used to a new companion/caregiver.

And get used to a lot more time without me beside her.

That scares her. Of course it does.

I have my annual “body and soul” cold, that turns my first soprano into a tenor, but let’s me sing “Body and Soul” in the right key, way down low – unfortunately, it’s the high notes I need right now. The cold ran its usual course, into my aching joints and down my throat, landing in an annoying, frustrating cough-with-throat-tickle, just as the choral concert is coming – the concert I really want to sing, because the music is so beautiful.

Tea, steam.

It’s helping.

But I still cough, and she says, nervously, “you alright, Mom? Getting back to 100%?”

“I’m fine, sweetheart. Getting better each day.”

Am I?

I bought new mattresses for us both. Bye-bye saggy old mattress with the cozy me-shaped trough in it.

The trough on “my” side of the bed.

Because over all the years we slept separately, I still stayed on “my” side of the bed. Occasionally he’d climb in beside me to spoon, to warm up on a cold winter night.

But not often.

When she was a toddler, as most toddlers do, she would sometimes climb in between us. Then back to her own beddiehouse.

I started on “my” side with the new mattress.

But without really noticing, I’ve drifted – into the middle.

It feels like an acknowledgment that, even though it was pretty much just me anyway all those years, it now definitely will be just me – in the middle of the bed.

A bed for one person doesn’t need two sides.

And she, an adult now, will be in her room down the (short) hall at the other side of our small house. What had been his room on the opposite side of her wall is now her “computer lounge.” He’s not in there to tap on the wall and laugh with her, goofing around like kids until they fell asleep, on either side of that wall.

She put his stocking up on the middle hook in front of the fireplace, but I put it away.  A little one that says “meow” on it, for Sophie the cat, hangs there in the middle now.

I explained that Dad doesn’t need a stocking in heaven, and that I don’t think it is good for us to pretend that he ever could be here with us again. But remember, …

“Dad’s love never ends.”

“That’s rights, sweets. We carry that love with us always, and Dad wants us to move forward and to have the best lives we can, knowing that his love is with us.”

“Dad is free from pain, free from anger, and he wants me to have a happy life.”

“That’s right, sweetheart.”

These conversations often happen during our evening “music time,” when we listen to one Christmas CD she has selected and then turn it off and sit, with the lights off, except for the Christmas tree.

Sitting quietly together in the dim glow of the tree, she in the “Grandpa” chair and me in the “Grandma” rocker, (because they were their chairs), until she needs to say it again.

“When people go to heaven, they can’t come back. Dad’s love never ends. He wants me to have a happy, independent, adult life.”

Yes sweetheart, we’re working on it.

From opposite ends of the hall.

In the middle of our beds.

At our table for two.

Wishing you balance, light and peace,

I remain,

Your faithful, trying-not-to-let-the-space-between-feel-so-empty-or-the-lights-feel-so-dim,

Ridiculouswoman

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

First Snow

Muffle my fears, please…not my heart…

Late this year. Usually comes before Halloween.

Heavy, wet, sticky – the whipped-cream, white-frosting kind, that will likely melt away by tomorrow, I hope without taking a few branches down with it, when the wind blows.

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I love the muffled, muting effect of snow. Calming.

I need that today.

Yesterday, the early dark seemed menacing. More than two years on, there are still times when Mike’s absence, and the accompanying not-having-a-man-in-the-house feeling, gives me the creeps. Don’t get me wrong, I am a strong, independent woman and always have been. I can handle things, and pretty much have handled them for myself since I was 18 – and for my late husband from the day we were married until all the arrangements were finished after he died, and for my daughter since she was born.

But knowing I can handle it doesn’t keep me from sometimes doubting I can handle it, especially when I’m feeling inadequate – the too-frequent, bleak feeling of being only half, and the lesser half at that, of what our daughter needs.

She misses him so much. Two years and she only now has begun to repeat, “when a person goes to heaven, they can’t come back. Dad’s not coming back.”

And the only response I can offer is the same as I have been saying all along, that while he can’t be here with us in a way where we can hug him and talk to him, we can always feel his love with us

“Dad’s love never ends.”

I remind her of those times when we’re driving somewhere, and she suddenly changes the radio station and the song that she lands on is one that was special to us, or better, one that was special to just the two of them.

They used to drive around listening to music, sometimes just to drive around, listening to music.

I’ve invited her to bring her CD’s into the car with me, but it is not the same car and he’s not driving it. She just relies on the radio, now.

I keep thinking we’re getting better, that we’re learning how to move on, and then I’ll have a night like last night and a morning like today, where each moment of hope is countered by a moment of fear, guilt, shame or anger. The four horsemen of “this-is-not-who-I-want-to-be.”

There is no love without forgiveness. Why can’t I forgive myself? Why do I magnify every lapse of parental patience into a major, soul-crushing crisis of inadequacy?

Because Mike’s not here to tell me to snap out of it and stop being such a drama queen?

She gets over it before I do.

Way to go, Mom. Some Mom.

BAD MOM.

Am I doing anything right?

This third Thanksgiving without him, I agreed to take our daughter to dinner at my brother’s in-laws. They eat much earlier in the day than we usually do, but it is a chance for my daughter to finally have a family holiday with a lot more family – I’m nostalgic for the big family holiday meals we had when I was a child, with grandpa and the uncle or the cousins. She’s never really had one like that. Grandpa died long before she was born, the cousins moved away, and Mike wouldn’t go, so for years it was just the two of us and my parents. Then just the three of us, at home. Now just the two of us, alone – but I keep the empty third chair at the table. That’s probably not healthy, anymore.

I hope the change will be good for her — she’ll get to meet some cousins-in-law that have only been mythical to her so far.

And I hope it will be good for me, to be around more people – other adults – and to be forced by social convention and good manners to get out of my own head for a while.

By the end of today, my daughter will have new carpeting in her room. Carpeting called “party” from a series called “joy.” Appropriate for her beautiful, joyful, resilient spirit.

The new carpeting for my room and the hall won’t come until January, but I don’t mind waiting. Next year, 2019, is a Big One for me, birthday-wise. Might as well start with new carpet and go from there.

For today, though, I’m just going to look at the snow, eat some soup, be still, and try to “get back to just right,” as we say in our house.

Hoping that the muffling effect of the snow will muffle my fears and my self-doubt, but not my heart, I remain,

Your jittery, inadequate, unexpectedly blue but believing

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the sun will come out soon,

Ridiculouswoman

How Not To Paint A Room

Admire with premature satisfaction….Return to hardware store….three times.

Allow enthusiastic daughter to begin painting walls before drop cloth fully spread. No harm, no foul, the carpet is going anyway.

Attempt to paint intersection of wall and ceiling.

Observe blue streaks on white ceiling. Remember you should have taped the intersection of wall and ceiling.

Tape ceiling at top of wall with half-inch tape purchased at hardware store. Find and apply two-year-old, one-and-a-half-inch blue tape over half-inch tape.

Observe more blue streaks on white ceiling.

Return to hardware store. Purchase wider, green tape. Apply wider tape over two layers of narrower tape.

Complete walls. Step back and gaze with premature self-satisfaction.

Look up. Notice blue streaks and spatters on white ceiling just beyond tape.

Locate two-year-old white interior paint in basement closet.

Stab meaty part of hand while prying open with screwdriver.

Wash and dress wound. Finish prying open old can of white paint. Watch rusty bits fall into paint. Stir anyway.

Use three-inch wide roller to cover blue streaks and splatters on white ceiling with old paint containing rusty bits. Attempt to create neat, squared-off border of not-quite-matching-white-paint-with-rusty-bits.

Fail.

Realize another coat is necessary to cover blue streaks. Exhausted, pledge to do in the morning, before carpet guys come.

Awaken to call at 8:40 am. Carpet guys will be here in 20 minutes. Oops.

Thrill to installation of new carpet. Looks great.

Look up.

Notice visibly uneven white paint streaks, not matching rest of ceiling, veering off from the edges of the ceiling into horse-tail wisps moving toward light fixture at center of ceiling.

Take old white paint with rusty bits downstairs, use up all kitty litter absorbing it, and toss it in garbage in frustration.

Return to hardware store. Purchase ceiling paint, new rollers and thicker drop cloth to protect new carpet.

Realize you threw away paint tray and disposable liner along with kitty-litter filled rusty-bits old white paint.

Return to hardware store. Purchase new tray and new liner. Add new brush and small roller too, just in case. Ha.

Also purchase long roller extender pole.

Spread new drop cloth. Use long pole extender to complete ceiling. Look up with premature self-satisfaction.

Look down at walls. Notice white streaks and white drip splatters on blue walls.

Frantically attempt to wipe of white streaks and spatters with damp paper towels, with mixed success.

Retrieve small amount of leftover blue paint from basement. Remove new paint liner with not-quite-dry ceiling paint residue from paint tray.  Pour blue paint directly into metal tray.

Paint over white streaks and spatters on blue wall. Step back to admire with premature self-satisfaction. Done.

Carefully fold slightly too-small drop cloth.

What are those two semi-circle marks new carpet? Flaws in carpet, right? Not? Drop cloth not as absorbent as claimed? Decide new chair and ottoman will cover vague semi-circle-shaped, possible-paint-stains on new carpet.

Sigh. Peel three layers of tape from top of wall. Miraculously, all come off easily and together. Walls look good.

Sweating, frizzy and lipstickless, in violation of every middle-aged woman rule imaginable, help FedEx guy who is delivering new chair, ottoman and desk.

Solve physics problem of getting large new chair and ottoman up narrow stairs and through narrow door.

Praise daughter lavishly for very effective help in getting masses of cardboard, plastic and Styrofoam outside for recycling.

Retrieve bits of Styrofoam blowing over neighbors’ yard. Cram into garbage bin. Collection tomorrow morning, no harm, no foul.

Next, solve weight-lifting problem of heavy box-o-desk.

Realize box must be lifted up the stairs one step at a time, as it will not slide up.

Miraculously, get heavy box upstairs, not pulling anything or otherwise injuring self.  Apparently. (See how it feels tomorrow.)

Open box containing desk.

Hold back tears upon observing level of assembly required: number of desk pieces, screws, pegs, and little cam-lock thingees that come with every Chinese-made piece of furniture, along with yet another Allen wrench.

Look on bright side. Still only 3 p.m.  This sucker WILL be built before dinner.

Plod mechanically through desk assembly using inadequate diagram.

Miraculously, assemble correctly first try.

Except, what was the glue for? Was I supposed to glue the wood pegs in? Feh. Humidity will take care of that.

Place desk. Admire with premature satisfaction.

Realize the one electrical outlet in room is on the wall opposite the only logical place to place the desk.

Discover the only extension cord you own is 1) brown, and sticks out against lovely grey and white new carpet and 2) two-pronged, not three-pronged, which won’t work for daughter’s new laptop.

Return to hardware store. Hardware store is closed. Give up, shower, go to dinner with happy, excited daughter. Promise to set up her laptop when we get home.

Inadvertently cause meltdown at dinner by reminding daughter not to use table as plate. Curse waitress for failing to bring plate. Demand plate.

Drive home insisting we listen to my classical station all the way, rather than channel-surfing pop stations.

Utterly innocent daughter apologizes.

Duh. Autism.

Bad mother.

Tell her it’s ok. We’ll both do better next time.

VERY BAD MOTHER.

Hold back tears.

Set up daughter’s new laptop with cord plugged in to outlet in bedroom, while she waits patiently, recovered from meltdown, enjoying new chair and ottoman in newly painted computer room.

And says she LOVES it.

“We did a pretty good job, didn’t we?”

“We did an AWESOME job. I LOVE my new computer lounge. I love watching this (new computer).”

“I’m so glad, sweetie. You were an awesome helper.”

Smile, with satisfaction.

And love.

Hold back tears.

 

Recovering,  while planning the next project,

I remain,

Your loyal, devoted, flawed but hopeful,

Ridiculouswoman

Fatherless Days

Exhaustion, like grief and panic, comes in waves.

Days like today, sunny, not too hot, I’ll pop out of bed, get breakfasts and lunches ready, do necessary chauffeuring, and then head into the yard to get dirty.

Generally I’m of the opinion that there is no bout of sadness a good round of yard work and gardening can’t cure, or lessen, at least, and today is the day of the week the yard waste bin must be filled, to make it worth having at all. So dig, prune, divide, transplant, mulch, weed and…..collapse.

Father’s Day hit us both hard – it’s nearly six weeks ago now, but somehow this second one without him seems to have magnified the impact of his absence.

Our daughter (I’m dropping the pretense of referring to her in a genderless way, because I think it must be blindingly obvious to any reader that the only reason I’d try to protect “our child” by doing that is because “our child” is female, therefore blowing that cover anyway) began to act out in rare ways around Father’s Day, and developed a severe case of “Mommyitis,” as my sister-in-law used to call it. Calling me far too often when I was at work (and you can’t really safely talk on the phone while driving a forklift – in fact there’s really nothing safe about driving a forklift at all); needing me to sit by her for hours at night, when she used to be able to amuse herself just fine with music, TV and drawing.

It is not for the neurotypical among us to know or understand how an autistic mind conceives, or tries to conceive, of something as abstract as death, nor how long the autistic mind will need to process the permanence of the absence of the missing person. Where’s heaven? Why can’t Dad come back? I know his love never ends, but how do I feel it with me? You’re here, right? You and I, we are here on this earth, right? You’re fine? We’re living our lives, days without Dad. Sigh. BIG sigh.

Dad used to (insert “cook this,” “take me there,” “play this CD,” etc.)

Which I hear as, “do I really have to be here with just you, Mom? Just us two? Because you’re not him. And you’re not enough.”

Yes, hon. I’m what you’ve got. Yes, you’ve got uncles and aunts and cousins, but they are occasional visitors (or visitees). I’m the one who is with you most of the time.  I know I’m not enough. And I miss him too. But I think he would want us to find a way to be happy, here on this earth, without him.

I’m honest with her, though, because she’s an adult and I think I owe her that, the stark truth: there is nothing that will ever fill his absence, for either of us. You only get one Daddy. And even if I find another man, I will always be Mike’s widow. We will have to carry the presence of his absence around with us for the rest of our days. I try to help her imagine putting the weight of it in a beautiful decorated box, keeping it somewhere special in her heart, visiting the sadness when she needs to, and then putting it back in the box, and turning to a happy box of memories that make her smile.

We still try to find some joy in the Steve Perry songs she seems uncannily able to tune in to every time she plays the radio in the car; I tell her that I think of monarch butterflies as little “hellos” from him from the next world, because the first poem I remember him reciting to me was a Robert Duncan poem that begins, “Sail, Monarchs….”

I planted that garden up there, with the two chairs from our first tiny townhouse patio, now on the new bluestone patio he never got to see, as a sort of memory garden, with flowers and shrubs that are supposed to attract butterflies. And look who showed up:

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He liked hummingbirds, too, which is why I buy the fuschia every year, and though I couldn’t catch a photo of it, the hummingbirds he loved visit it occasionally:

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But it still seems so lonely for us both to be in this house, on the deck, or looking at that fuschia, without him.

I quit my job. Because even though I’m not enough and never will be, the Mommyitis says to me that I still haven’t given our daughter enough of my time and attention. We haven’t gotten to the bottom of it yet, all the way down through the fear and the grief and the anger and the bargaining to the acceptance – and she needs me with her to help her get down there, and to climb back up.

I need to get there, too.

I have a plan for that. But that’s enough for today. I’ll tell you about my next move in my next post.