Continued from previous blog (November 2011 - June 2012)
Last weekend, This Old House almost sold to a lovely couple. Friends and family were all rooting for me, but it was not to be.
I was so hoping nice people would buy it. People who would love it as much as we did, and who would make a good addition to the neighborhood. Instead they chose another house.
I was surprised at how devastated I was, as I have such mixed feelings about selling. I think my reaction stemmed from a couple of things.
"...raising expectations, some research shows, can have great costs. It builds dopamine, for one thing, which can lead to happy feelings. But if expectations aren't met...dopamine levels fall. "This feeling is not pleasant," said David Rock, director of the NeuroLeadership Institute. "It feels a lot like pain." Mr. Rock, who uses the principles of brain science to consult with organizations about management and leadership, advises keeping those expectations in check. "Not getting what you expect," he said, "Can create a funk that lasts for days."
So much for positive thinking! The bottle of champagne that we planned to celebrate with continues to cool its heels in the refrigerator. And more sleepless nights await.
I think I used to be a perky, fun person, but I'm not sure. It's so long ago that I can't remember. Now I am just cranky and weary. Especially today.
I made the mistake of going on a five mile walk with friends before I had to mow several acres with a reel (hand) mower. Now I am completely exhausted.
My riding mower is broken because I forgot to winterize it, so fuel gummed up the carburetor. Doug used to take care of that stuff. The person who used to help me mow is too busy. The kids I hire to help sometimes are unreliable, and want to do things at their convenience. I needed the lawn mowed today because there is a showing. So I did it myself. There is no one else I can count on.
It was at least 1000 degrees out, and humid to boot. It took me hours. While I was mowing, I was stewing about the people I know who have stopped paying their mortgage but are currently vacationing in Disneyland. Meanwhile I am working three jobs, and trying to scrimp as I maintain a 170 year old house on four acres by myself, knocking myself out to keep it "show-ready" for someone else while it is on the market.
I thought about Doug a lot while I was mowing. He spoiled me so. He would never let me do the hard sweaty jobs, even when I was willing. I felt like a princess. That's over.
I think about my neighbors who are mad at me because I put the house up for sale. But they don't have to mow the lawn or pay the mortgage. Besides, I wouldn't be moving if Doug had not died. We had planned to stay in the house for at least another 20 years. After that point we figured we'd be too worn out to take care of an old house. So much for plans.
I get angry about my situation sometimes. But I never get angry at Doug. It's so not his fault.
I am faced with some challenging decisions about what to do with the house. An offer came in, but I could also rent it to friends who love it and are in a jam.... And it struck me again how much easier life would be if I believed there was some Great God-Parent up there who had it all figured out, knew what was best for everyody, and was going to make that happen - and all I had to do was LET it happen. It removes responsibility and worry.
I certainly don't want to offend people who have faith - I respect them, and even envy them in some regards. I have a wonderful friend who is full of faith, and it brings her peace and joy and freedom. But for me, choosing to "believe" BECAUSE it would make my life esaier would be a fantasy and a crutch. I could also be happy all day long if I took drugs. But I would be removed from reality. Although, sometimes reality really DOES suck....
I think about continuing to maintain the house. With Doug, it was hard, but FUN. Now it is just hard. And often sad. Which also kind of describes my life now. But that is slowly changing....I think.
My house was on the market for 100 days. Per standard realtor advice, I had staged it for buyers. That meant erasing "us" from it so someone else could picture themselves there.
An offer finally came in, but it was loaded with contingencies. So I am renting it instead, to friends whose house was just sold, but who desperately wanted to stay in our amazing neighborhood.
Still, I had expected it to be extremely difficult to let go of the house - along the lines of going through Doug's clothes, or giving away his climbing gear.
I had also dreaded selling our home to someone who didn't appreciate it, who might remuddle the historic character we so lovingly worked to maintain, or who would not be a good neighbor.
However, I knew I needed to move on - not from Doug - but from being anchored in the past that the house represents. I have been slowly trying to detach myself from the place. Yet it was still painful every time I drove out of the driveway.
But when the day came..and it was all good! Our friends moved in. Their lovely possessions look charming, yet completely different from the way we had it set up, so it looks like their place. BG said she is finding pennies everywhere (which the H family says are sent from beyond by our lost loved ones.) Each time she comes across one, she says "hello" to Doug (I expect she will be finding lots of Molson beer caps too.) When I stopped in to say hi, she pulled several from her pocket.
They are over the moon in love with the place, just as we were.
Once again, the house is filled with happiness, possibilities and life.
After two long years, someone is LIVING there again.
It feels remarkably good.
I ALMOST made it through a whole week without crying. But while unpacking, I came across some really sappy anniversary, birthday and Christmas cards from Doug, about how much he loved me, how great I was, how lucky he was. In reality, I was the lucky one.
The new residents of our house were moving a heavy mirror I left hanging over the fireplace. They couldn't get it off the wall. Finally they realized it was connected to the hook with a carabiner. Classic Doug. They got a good laugh out out of it.
In their first day in the house, the toilet handle on the new low-flow toilet got stuck running. It's funny that one of the newest things in a place that is 170 years old was the first thing to break on their watch.
Over the past two years, there have only been a few nights when I slept well. Last night was one, mostly because I was exhausted from moving, but perhaps also because the house situation is decided for now. It is a relief.
However, there was a tremendous thunderstorm. PS's dog Matic came over to the bed and was standing on the edge. I figured he needed to go to the bathroom. This morning PS told me that Matic is afraid of thunder and was trying to get me to let him come up on the bed. Poor thing, I did just the opposite, throwing him outside in the middle of of the storm! It was a excellent example of miscommunication. I only speak cat. It's just another part of building a new life I guess.
LifeChoice, Connecticut's organ and tissue donation organization, offers this advice to the bereaved:
1. Allow yourself sufficient time to let grieving take its natural course, and insist that others allow you this time as well.
2. Learn to accept people as they are, and not as you would like them to be.
3. Forget about becoming your "old self" again. Renewed faith in yourself will make you capable of both living and loving again.
4. As one who has come through the grief of bereavement, share your strength, faith, hope and experience with others who are still struggling with their grief.
I guess I keep forgetting #3. I keep expecting to be the way I was, instead of being a zombie. To be happy again.
I stumbled across another widow's blog today - http://whenthebubbleburst.blogspot.com/. It was a link to the American Widow Project, for widows of military men. Her husband was killed in action in Iraq in 2007.
Her writing is raw, insightful, eloquent and clearly heartfelt. A lot of what she writes sounds eerily similar to what I wrote about during the first year and into of the second year. (I sometimes forget I am not the only widow on the planet.)
Except that she is writing five years after her husband died.
It made me sad to see her still be in the place she is in. Sometimes I feel that I am moving too slowly through grief. But maybe I have moved faster than this woman because I am older, or because of what has happened in my life since. I don't know. But I do wish her, and all widows and widowers, peace and healing.
When I was first widowed, I freaked out about a lot of things, including finances. It was quite an adjustment to have our household income drop by 75% overnight, while having to hire 8 people to do all the things Doug used to do was quite. But I have managed, in large part because of Doug's partial pension.
However, that is not the case for all widows. Consider this:
"The transition from marriage into widowhood may be accompanied by a sizable financial shock. Holden and Zick (2000) show that upon becoming widowed, 17 percent of their sample of women, drawn from the 1990, 1991, and 1992 SIPP [ Survey of Income and Program Participation], moved into poverty. Compared to the general population, widows are far more likely to live below the poverty line. The percentage of widows ages 55 and older living in poverty is 15.7 percent, which is three times that for their married counterparts " (Source: Widowed Before Retirement: Social Security Benefit Claiming Strategies)
I feel for men and women who have to worry about feeding their families or being able to keep their home on top of dealing with death.
I was going through more papers, and found a letter I had written to Doug in 1999. It was in a sealed envelope, marked "To be opened by Doug Zimmerman in the event of my death." (Long ago, I knew that things like this were a good idea - see more under "Advice for the To Be Bereaved") I thought it would help him if he was the one left behind.
Here is an excerpt of what I wrote back then.
Dear Doug, I love you. You're the most wonderful, sweet, fun, loving, kind, understanding person I have ever knwon. You've been so patient with me - I'm sorry it took me as long as it did to figure out how right we are together. I will miss your arms around me, ... goofing around, blabbing in bed, your crooked face. No one in my life has ever been as good to me as you have been. I have no regrets about our life together other than being apart too much. I do not want you to be sad when I am gone (although it's okay to miss me :-) I want you to remember the good times (and forget my mistakes and crankiness) and have a long, happy, healthy life (i.e., no potato sticks.) I love you!
I took the letter outside, and lit it on fire. Asian cultures believe that when incense burns it carries wishes to heaven. I figured it might work with a letter too. Now maybe I should try to do what I recommended that he do.
I kind of wish I had such a letter from him. Luckily for me, he said all this and showed me his love every day.
In today's NYT, the Modern Love column (by Lucy Schulte Danzinger) was by a woman whose 82 year old father drowned on Father's Day.
Her mother told her "He went into the lake for a swim, went down to touch the bottom and never came up." She cried three, gut-wrenching sobs, and that was it. She didn't cry again. This struck the people around her as odd. But she felt he had lived a good life, and died doing something he enjoyed.
She concluded that the universe was "kind because death can come in nonviolent ways that spare the dying any long suffering.... It doesn't have to be all sadness, this thing called death. It can be warm and loving...It can be anything you want it to be. When I think of my father, with his hands over his head in the lake, the image of him stretched out, his fingertips reaching for the surface, it's like an inverted dive. He was diving upward, toward the sky. Some people might say it was tragic. I think it was exactly as he would have chosen to say goodbye."
Hmmmm...."It can be anything you want it to be."
I have been away from home - and from PS - for 9 days. It is the longest we have been apart since we met. It is always hard to part, because I fear I will never see him again. I know that you can kiss someone goodbye, and it can be for the last time.
Oddly, while apart, we both had two dreams about our spouses. Probably the space created between us by separation allowed other feelings and issues to resurface.
PS dreamed that his wife came back, but was not interested in him anymore. She returned some gifts he had given her. He felt sad that she had moved on. But he thinks it was really about him moving on.
I had a common dream that many people have of the dead. In it, I learned it had all been a mistake, and that Doug was not really dead. (Obvious wishful thinking.) In this case, he had fallen into a crevasse while mountain climbing, but got out and came back. However, he no longer seemed to want to re-engage with me. And PS was in my life. I was very confused about what to do, and felt guilty. There were a lot of other people around, and I wanted them to all go away so I could be alone with Doug. I was holding him so tight, but then as I woke up he evaporated from my embrace.
I guess I am still struggling with allowing myself to be in another relationship. Part of me still balks at accepting reality. Another part of me knows that it is senseless to feel guilt over this. Doug is gone. He is never coming back.
In Joan Didion's book, My Year of Magical Thinking, she didn't want to dispose of her husband's clothes or shoes because she kept thinking he would come back and need them. I don't think that. In fact, I was ready, willing and able to comply with Doug's wishes to donate his corneas, tissue, bones and skin within an hour of hearing the news in the ER. I knew he didn't need his body anymore, but somewhere, someone else desperately did.
I used to go to the local agricultural fair every year with Doug. We typically started off by volunteering at the Historical Society booth. Armed with tasty beverages, we passed the time goofing around. We watched people, counting tattoos or exposed bellies. When people asked us questions we didn't know the answer to, we made things up. Friends stopped by to chat, and we made new acquaintances. Afterwards, we wandered about for hours, looking at farm animals, eating greasy food, practically puking on the rides, and losing at carnival games.
I couldn't bring myself to attend the first fair after Doug died.
The following year, I did go. It the first time I had ever been without Doug. It was very painful. Parallel memories came rushing back. I was too sad to enjoy myself.
PS went the year his wife died. He lasted about 10 minutes, and left. He said it just made no sense to be there.
This year, PS and I went together. It was a totally new experience. Yes, there were many parts where memories came back for both of us. But they were more pleasant than sad. PS and I had fun this time. We laughed when we saw a calf grab a young boy's show ribbon from his pocket. I tried fried dough for the first time. We marvelled at the bizarre chickens.
I still missed Doug, but I was also glad to be there with PS. I was almost totally present. I was grateful. As we walked arm in arm to the car, we agreed that this has got to be the good life.
What a difference a year makes.
I have a lousy cold. Whenever Doug got a cold, he would drive me crazy whining and watching Jerry Springer Trash TV. It seems like such a distant memory - as it were decades since I last saw Doug, even though it was just two years. My perception of the passage of time seems very distorted now.
I remember reading a study where people who were ill lost their sense of time. When asked how much time had passed, they gauged minutes as hours.
"Einstein's theory of relativity. Grab hold of a hot pan, a second can seem like an hour. Put your hands on a hot woman, an hour can seem like a second. It's all relative." (from the movie Deep Blue Sea.)
Drugs, schizophrenia, age, Alzheimer's, etc. are capable of altering our perception of time. Why not grief?
It was pouring raining out this afternoon. I was cooking a dish Doug used to love, and this song came on the radio. I had not heard it before. I think it speaks to all of us who have lost someone we love.You can listen to it here (after a brief intro).
LOOK TO THE SKY by Train
When it rains it pours and opens doors
And floods the floors we thought would always keep us safe and dry
And in the midst of sailing ships we sink our lips into the ones we love
That have to say goodbye
And as I float along this ocean
I can feel you like a notion that won't seem to let me go
Cause when I look to the sky something tells me you're here with me
And you make everything alright
And when I feel like I'm lost something tells me you're here with me
And I can always find my way when you are here
And every word I didn't say that caught up in some busy day
And every dance on the kitchen floor we didn't have before
And every sunset that we'll miss I'll wrap them all up in a kiss
And pick you up in all of this when I sail away
And as I float along this ocean
I can feel you like a notion that I hope will never leave
Whether I am up or down or in or out or just plain overhead
Instead it just feels like it is impossible to fly
But with you I can spread my wings to see me over everything that life may send me
When I am hoping it won't pass me by
And when I feel like there is no one that will ever know me
there you are to show me
When I look to the sky something tells me you're here with me
And you make everything alright
when I feel like I'm lost something tells me that you're right here next to me
And I can always find my way when you are here
I can always find my way
I had a weird experience today. I occasionally go on Facebook to see what is up with friends. They have a new spot at the top of each user's home page where you can upload a banner photo - something that defines you. I figured I would do so, but then I got stuck. What picture should I use? Who am I now?
Most of my photos are associated with my life and identity "before." Pictures of Doug, the two of us, places we went, things we saw that we found funny or beautiful, our house, etc.
That isn't me anymore.
Doug is gone. I am not a wife anymore. I have moved. I changed jobs. I have given away or thrown out many of my things. I am disconnected from much of that past.
But I haven't filled in the blanks yet. I am still in the process of forming a "new" identity. I am in metamorphosis, and feel two dimensional.
I guess it will take a bit more time before something in my present qualifies as banner-worthy.
Heard this on the radio this morning. It sure makes sense!
"If you're going through hell, keep going."
~ Winston Churchill
I watched "Changed Up"- a comedy about two men who accidentally switch bodies and lives. It was stupid and puerile, but it did remind me of what my situation feels like sometimes. As if I am living someone else's life. In someone else's house, with someone else's partner. I'm supposed to be in our home with Doug. But it didn't work out that way.
Last night, PS and I did remark on how good our lives are now, especially compared to those difficult first years of widowhood. But we know too much. It can't last. Fortunately, we realize how important it is to appreciate what we do have while we have it.
Today the weather is stellar. It feels good to be alive.
If I could wish for something a year from now, it would be for both PS and I to be alive and healthy.
I'm trying hard to be present and be happy, and not to spend too much of today worrying about losing tomorrow.
In the midst of researching PS's family tree, I found a photograph of a gravestone with a symbol I didn't recognize (the letters "M and A intertwined on the bottom of the stone. I think the three links of chain under the Freemason icon are symbols of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, with the letters F, L and T for Friendship, Love and Truth.) I thought it might contain a clue to the identity of his great great grandfather.
While trying to uncover its meaning, I stumbled across a site on grave markers - http://gravelyspeaking.com/. The blog has some amazing photographs, tales and mysteries. It reminded me that every family has a story about loss.
But not every body has a grave marker. Nowadays, more remains are cremated. In the U.S., in 1960 the cremation rate was 3.56%, but by 2010 it was 40.62%. For some reason (culture? religion?) cremation is highest in the West (e.g., 68.4% in Nevada) and lowest in the South (e.g., 9.5% in Mississippi.) (Statistics from 2006.)
Ashes don't always end up in a cemetery with a marker. That made me wonder whether, in the future, family ancestry will become harder to unravel.. (Although of course the Internet provides access to plenty of information.)
Documenting a family tree for our descendants could help prevent such loss of knowledge. The process of assembling a family scrapbook or tree also gives us a sense of place and history, and function as a healing ritual. In addition, it can connect family members in a constructive way during a time of loss.
To top it off, family history research is often interesting and revealing. Medical history (e.g., a history of heart disease) can help the living. You may also discover some surprises about travels, occupations, military service, immigration, religious affiliation, tragedies, and talents. You may even find a few black sheep.
In PS's case, it is harder to develop his family tree because his father, who was an only child, is deceased. His dad was the only one who knew a lot of the details. This motivated me to work NOW with my mom - who is 83 - on our family history. That way, my nephews will have access to our history one day, if they are ever interested.
Here's a little story I read online - I'm not sure of the source. (I've changed it a bit.)
A little wave is bobbing along in the midst of the ocean, having a fine time.
Suddenly, he notices that he is headed towards shore.
He realizes that shortly he will be annihilated.
"Oh no! What's to become of me?" he thinks,and he falls into deep despair.
Another wave comes bobbing along, having a fine time.
She says to the first wave, "Why do you look so glum and afraid?" "
"Don't you know?" he says, "You're going to crash into that shore and then you'll be nothing!" "Don't you know?" she says, "You're not just a wave; you're part of the ocean."
PS and his wife C used to mock death on Halloween. They decorated the house with dancing skeletons and singing corpses in coffins. For one party, they dressed as a zombie bride and groom. They were young, and death was not real to them. It felt triumphant to poke fun at it.
That changed the year C was diagnosed with Stage IV cancer. Death didn't seem so funny anymore. They didn't put the decorations out that year, or the next....
Five years after C died, I encouraged PS to go through the boxes of decorations that had lain idle in the basement. I found the ornaments far too ghoulish. Now, more than ever, I don't feel comfortable making fun of death.
PS argued that the history of Halloween is associated with death. However, during my childhood (in the 1950's and 1960's), parents were urged to understate the gruesome aspects of the holiday. For me, it was just an opportunity to dress up like a princess or a bunny rabbit and get lots of free candy.
Perhaps it is immature, but I think I'll stick with the Happy side of Halloween.
There really is such a thing as a broken heart, which can be experienced after a traumatic experience like learning that a love one has died suddenly. It mimics a heart attack, although it usually resolves within two months. Read more about broken heart syndrome, also known as stress or Takotsubo cardiomyopathy.
Death of a loved one can cause more than heartache. Actuaries have noticed that losing a spouse increases the likelihood that the bereaved will also die.Two researchers at the Cass Business School did an analysis and observed that within a year after a loved one died, widows were twice as likely to die, and widowers were six times as likely to die than normal. (Spreeuw J, Owadally, M.I. (2012 Forthcoming), 'Investigating the broken-heart effect: a model for short-term dependence between the remaining lifetimes of joint lives', Annals of Actuarial Science)
The odds are clearly worse for men than women. PS thinks this is because women are stronger - psychologically, emotionally and socially. I wonder if the women have better support systems. Or maybe men are more dependent on their wives than they realize.
Sometimes people get a second chance.
In the wee hours of the morning on Sunday, my mother's partner, WD, felt ill. He was vomiting. His chest felt heavy. He took a baby aspirin and woke up my mom. She wanted to call an ambulance. He refused, so she gave up arguing and started to drive him to the hospital.
He vomited again on the way. She pulled into a fire station, knowing this one had an ambulance and EMTs. They packed him inside, and told her to follow them to the hospital (not realizing that she thought "follow" meant drive 80-90 mph like they were.)
On the way, his heart stopped. They shocked it back into beating. Then he started to seize, and his heart stopped a second time. They started it up, arrived at the hospital, and a stent was inserted.
He will be back to work by Thursday, just four days after being "dead."
The cardiologist informed him that he had 100% blockage in one of his arteries. Days earlier, WD had undergone a nuclear stress test with cardiac imaging, after which they told him everything was fine. (This isn't the first time I've heard that story regarding stress tests. Many people do not realize how limited they are as a diagnostic tool. They think passing a stress test means a clean bill of health. It clearly does not. Doug had one too, and was told all was well. He died.)
Only about five percent of people survive cardiac arrest. WD was one of the lucky ones, and he knows it. We are all very grateful that he has been given a second chance.
It's been more than two years, but part of me inside still feels dead. I wonder if it is really dead, or just dormant or paralyzed.
I am still much more absent-minded than I was before Doug died. I wonder if this is a symptom of not being totally in the present - lacking in mindfulness - i.e., living in the present on purpose. I think this can be a particular challenge when mourning someone who now only exists in the past.
"Left to itself the mind wanders through all kinds of thoughts — including thoughts expressing anger, craving, depression, revenge, self-pity, etc. As we indulge in these kinds of thoughts we reinforce those emotions in our hearts and cause ourselves to suffer. Mostly these thoughts are about the past or future. The past no longer exists. The future is just a fantasy until it happens. The one moment we actually can experience — the present moment — is the one we seem most to avoid....By purposefully directing our awareness away from such thoughts and towards the “anchor” or our present moment experience, we decrease their effect on our lives and we create instead a space of freedom where calmness and contentment can grow." (From Wild Mind.)
Mourners are told that as time goes by, the waves of grief will get smaller and farther apart. I have found this to be true. After crying every day for almost two years, I have not cried for weeks. But for some reason, waves of missing Doug have been hitting me again on a regular basis. I am not sure why - maybe because it is fall, and he and I often went hiking and camping on these lovely Indian Summer Days.
I still look at pictures of him and just cannot believe he is no longer here. It just seems impossible.
We went to a wedding this weekend. PS and I both noticed that the couple glossed over the "in sickness and in health" vow in a perfunctory manner - as if it would never come to that. They are too young to think about that I guess.
There was one part where I wept. "Grow Old Along with Me" was sung. That was our wedding song. We didn't get our wish. I hope they do.
I loved the bridesmaid's toast to them - "Let's drink to love - which is nothing, unless it's divided by two."
I worry about my next relationship ending early in death. I keep thinking history will repeat itself. I do try to remember this quote - "History isn't destiny" (Christina D. Romer.) To assume that the future will be like the past would be akin to driving a car while only looking in the rear view mirror,
Married men tend to live longer than single men. Maybe it is some consolation to widows to know that maybe their husband might have lived longer because he was married. I think the theory is that married men pay more attention to their health, diet and lifestyle than single men. And I think being loved is good for you.
For some reason, single women live longer than married women. But women are more likely than men to survive their spouse, and I don't know how that figures into the statistics.
I know I take better care of my health now because I have a partner. For example, today, PS encouraged me to go to the opthamologist because I was seeing flashing lights and a big honking floater showed up in my eyeball. (This can be an indication of retinal detachment, which can result in blindness if not treated in 24-48 hours.) The doctor concluded I was fine, but after getting my eyes dilated, PS said I look like a Big-Eye Tuna.
Today I reviewed the details of what happened to Doug with someone new. Afterwards, I was emotionally wrung out. I felt about 1000 years old.
The degree of sadness that descended on me afterwards was surprising, even though I know (on an intellectual level) that it is to be expected. I was also surprised at the degree of guilt and embarrassment I still feel about being involved with someone else, even though it has more than two years since Doug died. Alas, the emotional and rational do not appear to occupy the same part of the psyche.
We lost power for 5 days due to Superstorm Sandy. It was like camping at home. (I do miss real camping....but that is no longer part of my life. One of many ways of life left behind.)
PS is not a believer in what he calls "comparative deliverance" - i.e., it could be worse, thus my situation is not so bad. He says it doesn't diminish one's own problems. However, I am very grateful that our area was not as devastated as New York or New Jersey. That we could haul water up from the lake to flush toilets. That PS was here to run the generator and keep us safe and warm.
I am having trouble talking. I mean to say one word yet speak another. Sometimes I notice it, sometimes I don't. I think it is mostly about not being present. I am still far too disconnected and distracted. I simply fail to pay attention to what comes out of my mouth.
On a comedy show,Louie C.K. was complaining to Joan Rivers about how much it stunk to work in a lousy lounge in a casino. She told him to quite whining, and then said:
"I wish I could tell you it gets better.
It doesn't get better.
YOU get better."
What happens to your in-laws after you are widowed? Do they become Outlaws?
I have heard horror stories about people being "deleted" from their spouse's family upon death.
Fortunately, my relationship with Doug's parents is strong. I was very worried that our connection would be lost after Doug died, and that they would no longer want me in their life. I'm so glad that didn't happen. They mean so much to me. Even in the midst of their own terrible grief, they were incredibly supportive of my loss.
Once I started dating, holidays did get a bit challenging. Juggling is involved, since I want to spend time with Doug's family, my own family, and PS's.
I know another widow in her 50's who is ready to start dating. Her husband suffered a degenerative illness for several years before he died. He has been gone a year.
She plans to check out internet dating sites geared towards baby boomers. She wants to tell her children about her readiness to start living again, but is afraid. One person suggested that she keep it secret. But that is a burden in itself. Plus, she does have a right to live her life. Her husband is dead - she is not.
I wish her luck and happiness.
The holidays make it easy to get sucked into the sadness of loss.
Yesterday, PS was working, so I decorated the house for Christmas by myself. Then I sat down to write an annual letter. I haven't done this since Doug died. Doug and I used to craft our silly letters together. We had a blast revisiting the year's adventures, accomplishments and fiascos.
As I mentally reviewed my life in the past 2.5 years since the last letter, it was disturbing to realize how boring it (and I) have become.
Even the cat thinks I'm boring. When I was busy and the cat wanted to play, I used to threaten to get a Christmas Kitten playmate unless Doug took over feline entertainment (which he was much better at than I.) Now the cat wants to play but I don't.
I miss Doug. I miss our life. I seem to just be going through the motions....
However, I do realize that if I'm not happy now, it is up to me. It's my responsibility. Doug is not here to lift me up. As I was mulling this over, "our song" came on the radio. It made me smile.
"Our song" was not the typical fare. It started to play on the radio as we were driving back from one of our first dates, We simultaneously reached for the dial to crank it up, shouting "I love this song!" We belted it out together. We even played it for our first wedding dance.
The lyrics are ridiculously stupid. (They still make me laugh, even though I'm not a drinker.)
"I DRINK ALONE" by George Thoroughgood
I drink alone, yeah
With nobody else
I drink alone, yeah
With nobody else
You know when I drink alone
I prefer to be by myself
Every morning just before breakfast
I don't want no coffee or tea
Just me and good buddy Wiser
That's all I ever need
'Cause I drink alone, yeah
With nobody else
Yeah, you know when I drink alone
I prefer to be by myself
The other night I lay sleeping
And I woke from a terrible dream
So I called up my pal Jack Daniel's
And his partner Jimmy Beam
And we drank alone, yeah
With nobody else
Yeah, you know when I drink alone
I prefer to be by myself
The other day I got invited to a party
But I stayed home instead
Just me and my pal Johnny Walker
And his brothers Black and Red
And we drank alone
Yeah, with nobody else
Yeah, you know when I drink alone
I prefer to be by myself
Yeah, my whole family done give up on me
And it makes me feel oh so bad
The only one who will hang out with me
Is my dear Old Grand-Dad
And we drink alone, yeah
With nobody else
Yeah, you know when I drink alone
I prefer to be by myself.
Occasionally I watch "Go On," a comedy series about a widower. I was interested in it because there is not much on TV about widowhood.
In my opinion, it's not very good. It's also not very realistic. Especially the part where he has bereavement hallucinations. Such hallucinations are common. The part that struck me as uncommon was that when his dead wife visits, he runs away from her.
I think most widows and widowers long to be reunited with their beloved, even if only in dreams. A dream that is like a visit is relished. (Of course the nightmare versions are not so welcome.)
On the other hand, I do know of widows and widowers who want to be released - to "let go" and separate themselves, to be free of the kind of pain and love that holds them back from living life again.
I went to a seminar during which the person spoke about loss. Her sister had died at age 46 of cancer, only a few months after diagnosis.
Someone commented that her sister had "died suddenly." I beg to differ. Sudden is not when you have months of notice, time to seek treatment, to prepare, to say goodbye.
This is not meant to diminish her loss in any way. It does not mean that there was "enough" time. I just think true sudden death is different - the person is alive and seemingly healthy one moment, and dead the next..
A friend sent this article to me. I have found that some degree of healing is possible. But each person's experience with loss is unique. This is an interesting perspective.
—Adapted from "This Is How: Proven Aid in Overcoming Shyness, Molestation, Fatness, Spinsterhood, Grief, Disease, Lushery, Decrepitude & More. For Young and Old Alike," by Augusten Burroughs. by St. Martin's
"A corollary to the idea that we must all be happy and positive all the time is that we must all be "healed." When I was 32, somebody I loved died on a plastic-covered twin mattress at a Manhattan hospital. His death was not unexpected and I had prepared myself years in advance, as though studying for a degree. When he died, I was as stunned as if he had been killed by a grand piano falling from the top of a building. I was fully unprepared.
I did not know what to do with my physical self. It took me about a year to stop thinking, madly, I might somehow meet him in my sleep. Once I finally believed he was gone, I began the next stage: waiting. Waiting to heal. This lasted several years.
The truth about healing is that heal is a television word. Someone close to you dies? You will never heal. What will happen is, for the first few days, the people around you will touch your shoulder and this will startle you and remind you to breathe. You will feel as though you will soon be dead from natural causes; the weight of the grief will be physical and very nearly unbearable.
Eventually, you will shower and leave the house. Maybe in a year you will see a movie. And one day somebody will say something and it will cause you to laugh. And you will clamp your hand over your mouth because you laughed and that laugh will break your heart, it will feel like a betrayal. How can you laugh?
In time, to your friends, you will appear to have recovered from your loss. All that really happened, you'll think, is that the hole in the center of your life has narrowed just enough to be concealed by a laugh. And yet, you might feel a pressure for it to be true. You might feel that "enough" time has passed now, that the hole at the center of you should not be there at all.
But holes are interesting things. As it happens, we human beings are able to live just fine with many holes of many sizes and shapes. Pleasure, love, compassion, fulfillment; these things do not leak out of holes of any size. So we can be filled with holes and loss and wide expanses of unhealed geography—and we can also be excited by life and in love and content at the exact same moment.
This is among the oldest, deepest, most primal truths: The facts of life may be, at times, unbearably painful. But the core, the bones of life are generous beyond all reason or belief. Those things which ought to kill us do not. This should be taken as encouragement to continue.
The truth about healing is that you don't need to heal to be whole. And by whole, I mean damaged, missing pieces of who you were, your heart—missing what feels like some of your most important parts. And yet, not missing any part of you at all. Being, in truth, larger than you were before.
Human experience weighs more than human tissue."
"The future really is uncertain, after all, and things really do go wrong as well as right. We are too often motivated by a craving to put an end to the inevitable surprises in our lives. This is especially true of the biggest "negative" of all. Might we benefit from contemplating mortality more regularly than we do? As Steve Jobs famously declared, "Remembering that you are going to die is the best way that I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose." However tempted we may be to agree with Woody Allen's position on death—"I'm strongly against it"—there's much to be said for confronting it rather than denying it. There are some facts that even the most powerful positive thinking can't alter."
—Adapted from Mr. Burkeman's book "The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can't Stand Positive Thinking," published in November by Faber & Faber.
Last night, PS and I were talking about the good life we now lead. As widowers, we have both come so far. But I reminded him that each of us is just a phone call away from a life forever changed.
This morning,a 911 phone call reported shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, CT. In an incomprehensible tragedy, 26 children and adults lives were cut short as a result of one man's madness. There will be no Christmas for them this year. No anything ever again.
"When we bury the old, we bury the known past, the past we imagine sometimes better than it was, but the past all the same, a portion of which we inhabited. Memory is the overwhelming theme, the eventual comfort.
But burying infants, we bury the future, unwieldy and unknown, full of promise and possibilities, outcomes punctuated by our rosy hopes. The grief has no borders, no limits, no known ends, and the little infant graves that edge the corners and fencerows of every cemetery are never quite big enough to contain that grief."
~ Thomas Lynch, The Undertaking
Our hearts ache for the victims, although they will know no more sadness. Our hearts ache too for their families, their friends, and the first responders, as they begin their journey. I wish them healing some day.
As adults, we struggle to deal with loss, even though we supposedly have the intellectual knowledge and maturity to realize that it is inevitable. However, dealing with sudden death that is preventable poses special challenges for us. I cannot imagine how a young child can cope with this situation.
The Institute for Trauma and Stress developed a guide after 9/11 with information and guidance on various topics to help parents and professionals deal with this challenge." The manual offers practical tips on dealing with disaster, trauma and death, and has a special section on working with children with developmental disabilities.
Caring for Kids after Trauma and Death: A guide for parents and professionals
The authors recognized the "need for prevention, attention to critical needs in the midst of the crisis and reasoned research-based intervention over a longer period of time. We know that adults and children alike may go through periods of shock, have physical complaints and be angry, sad and scared. Children may also be more irritable or regress in their behavior and worry about the safety of those who care for them. Most children will rebound, but some will still continue to have problems as time passes, and some may develop problems months after the event."
"Especially in times of stress, children’s reactions are influenced by the adults around them. Being available, open and honest with children is important, as is providing them with a sense of normalcy and routine while limiting their exposure to news events and monitoring their reactions over time..... While everyone feels at a loss for explanations, it is important to cope with tasks of living rather than seek to place blame or express anger at groups of people. Individuals must offer comfort to each other and search for strength in themselves.
In a poem entitled "Leave a Message," Bob Hicok writes
"The dead have no ears,
no answering machines that we know of,
still we call."
Most people probably talk to the departed at one point or another, or even on a regular basis. Sending love, asking for guidance or forgiveness.
A father of one of the children murdered in Sandy Hook said something that struck me. Robbie Parker, father of six year old Emilie, said "as we move on from what happened here, what happened to so many people, let us not let it turn into something that defines us, but something that inspires us to be better, to be more compassionate and more humble people."
I think there is a danger of being defined by loss. See The Raisin Widows for an example of what we can become.
"According to Michael D. Zentman, associate clinical professor of psychology at Adelphi University, "Men tend to want to fix what's broken, which translates into diminishing their painful feelings and intolerable experiences of vulnerability. Distraction is often the treatment of choice." (NY Times, The Feel-Good Exit, 12/16/2012)
Zentman was talking about dealing with a different form of loss - divorce - but I think this observation also applies to loss through death, and to women. People who have been dealt a blow may choose to be distracted by something like endless activity, alcohol or drugs. This is not a bad approach for short-term relief. But in the end, I do believe the only way out of it is through it.
People will be searching for answers and meaning for a long time after the Sandy Hook tragedy. How could this happen? Why did it happen? What does it mean? I posed these questions to PS. He said "I'll tell you what it means. It means they are dead." No more. No less.
WHY? Why did 20 children and adults have to die? Unfortunately, I don't think there is an answer.
HOW? there may be an answer on HOW to prevent a similar tragedy in the future.
WHAT? What can we do now to help? I have written up some do's and don't based on my experience after the sudden death of my husband. For example, I don't think you should ever say to a grief stricken person that "it was for the best." And I definitely wanted to smack the people who informed me that "God needed him more than I did."
So WHAT can you do for the dead?
In The Undertaking, Life Studies from the Dismal Trade, Thomas Lynch writes:
Once you are dead, there is nothing "that can be done to you or for you or with you or about you that will do you any good or any harm; ... any damage or decency we do accrues to the living, to whom your death happens, if it really happens to anyone. The living have to live with it. You don't. Theirs is the grief or gladness your death brings. Theirs is the loss or gain of it. Theirs is the pain and the pleasure of memory."
This means we can only help the living. The ones who mourn their loss. If we honor the memory of those who have died, it is for the living that we do so. We can also help the ones who might die in the future if something doesn't change.
I think this also means we don't have to feel guilty - or at least it does no GOOD to feel guilty. If we do something after they die that we think they might not have approved of, or that might not have made sense if they were still alive, feeling guilty doesn't change a thing. For example, you may feel guilty if you give away their things. But in reality, they simply don't need them anymore.
On our last Christmas together...
We visited the C house the day after Christmas. Post-eggnog, Doug was invited to try out the kids' new Wii bowling game. Unfortunately, Doug put "a little too much English" on his throw and ended up spiraling out of control. In an attempt to sidestep toys and other holiday debris, Doug crashed into the Christmas tree, then diverted into the window and yanked down the venetian blinds.
It was a proud moment.
I've decided on my New Year's Resolution.
I'm going to say "It is what it is" on a daily basis, because PS thinks it's crap on a crayfish. I don't know what I think that saying is, I'm just doing it to annoy him.
More coming if you can stand it. Might want to have some Prozac handy.
Blog Continued... January 2013 - December 2013.
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