What I mean when I say that grief never ends

It’s been two and a half years since I became a widow.  I still grieve.  I always will.

That’s not to say that my life has stopped.  I have friends, I keep busy; I’ve even dated a little.  My life has moved on, and I look forward more than I look back.  Still, Rick remains a presence.  I miss the little things, like being handed a cup of coffee every morning.  Mostly what I miss is knowing there was that one person who really, truly cared about me.  I miss him.

That entire first year, my grief was immersive and all-encompassing, infusing every facet of my life.  As simple an act as buying groceries became a harsh reminder of what had happened.  Every day was a series of events with the same theme: look, you’re alone now, what you had is irretrievably gone.

Time heals.  I became used to buying only the groceries I wanted.  I created new rituals for mornings and evenings, and the silence at home no longer bothered me.    The 2nd bedroom has almost completed its transition from his studio and office to my work room.   I’m now comfortable removing items of his that have no use or value for me. 

Yet, he stays with me, each and every day.  I talk with him as I walk to work.  I daydream about a world where everything turned out differently, and we are planning a celebration of our 10th wedding anniversary.  I still question how much he knew, what he choose to keep from me, and why. 

This is what grief is after two and a half years. It recedes into the background, but it does not disappear.   I am a widow. That term is a description of what I have been through and what I carry forward.  Grief doesn’t end; it doesn’t fade away, or wash off.   It has become a part of me on a molecular level, the same as the tattoo I had done in his memory.  The person I am now and will forever be is that person because of what I have gone through. That is what I mean when I say that grief never ends. 

A year in review – the honest way

I really meant to create an end of year post for 2014.  It would have gone over the highs and lows of the year, capturing what I’d learned and giving an overall sense of the year.  And, of course, it would been so well written as to seem universal, with anyone reading it smiling and nodding in appreciation.

Instead, as the temperatures plummeted and the amount of sunlight shrank, I spent my time drinking Tom & Jerry’s and binge watching TV.  January, on the other hand, is the perfect month for deep introspection.  January exists as  the hangover to December, the Jiminy Cricket of months when you face up to everything wrong that needs to be fixed. 

Therefore, I am going to do my 2015 year in review now.  Why wait?  This will ensure me of completing it, and I can smugly sit back in realization that I will be the first person to have completed it. 

January 

This year I resolve to fix up my house and myself.  Joined a gym and spent $300 dollars on a gym bag, shoes and clothes.  The first week I went 4 times, proving what a good idea it was to buy all those clothes.  Since I’ll be looking great in just a few months, I signed up for a 6-month membership to an online dating site; I fully expect to meet someone wonderful within the first month or two, but 6 months was a better deal. I’ve also cleaned and vacuumed the entire house and brought 3 bags to Goodwill. 

2015 will be my year!

February

Going to the gym 2 – 3 times a week; 4 times a week was just nuts.   I plan on waking up at 5am to do yoga; spent $200 on yoga pants and DVDs.     I’m bringing healthy lunches to work every day.  Have been busy contacting likely looking single men from the dating site – 4 meet and greets this month!

This is my year!

 March

Decided it was too hard to get to the gym after work, so am going on weekends only, when I can spend a lot  longer exercising.  Also, it turned out that  the cat thought Yoga was an invitation to jump on my back, and 5am is way too early to do anything but sleep.  But that’s Okay, because I’m still exercising once or twice a week.  The dating site meets were a disappointment.  All the men I met were kind of blah, except for one – I really liked him.  He didn’t like me. 

I hope this will be my year. 

April

Something smelled weird in the fridge, realized all the vegetables I bought  had turned to green slime. Made it to the gym twice this month, yay for me!  Stopped bringing lunches to work, instead I’m just eating chips from the vending machines –only 220 calories per bag, so having 1 or 2 per day is fine.   House is a mess, but there is no point cleaning until winter is finally over.

May

Warm weather finally arrives!  No reason to go to the gym because I can exercise outside.  Signed up for a tennis class and plan to go jogging on the days when I don’t play tennis.  Spent $300 on a tennis racket, clothes and shoes for these new activities.    Really excited about this, I plan on playing nightly after work and weekends.  

June

Tennis is hard, and it hurts my knees.  I need at least 2 days rest after playing a game.  Jogging is okay, but so far I haven’t gone more than a few blocks. Have given up on eating healthy lunches at work – the job is stressful enough without having to obsess over lunch. 

July

Remembered I had joined the stupid dating web site when I saw the automated renewal on my credit card bill.  All the men who look good to me want to find women 10 – 20 years younger than they are.  The house is a mess.  

August

Too hot to do anything outside.  Went to try yoga again, but couldn’t find the DVDs anywhere.  The cat had ripped a hole in my yoga pants.  Went to a farmer’s market and spent a lot of money on health, fresh vegetables.    

September

Decided to start going back to the gym, but couldn’t find my clothes.  I spent another $300 on a new gym bags, shoes and clothes.  Went once, but it was crowded.   House looks dusty and dirty, did some cleaning.  Found the old gym bag, shoes and clothes.  Cleaned out the refrigerator; more slimy vegetables.

October

Bought 10 pounds of candy for Halloween.  Ate 10 pounds of candy.  Bought 10 more.   Went to the gym twice, but didn’t see any weight loss. 

November

Ate the 9 pounds of candy left over after Halloween.  Thought about going to the gym, but was too depressed because it now gets dark at 5pm.  This year sucks.

December

What a shitty year this has been.  Next year will be different.  Next year I will exercise on a regular basis, learn yoga, meet a nice guy and keep my house looking gorgeous. 

I can’t wait for 2016.

Chapter 5 – Dropping the Veil

victorian widow

Congratulation, Ms. Widow; you’ve made it through the first year and then some! In the 19th century, this would be the big moment to switch from heavy, concealing black dresses to heavy, concealing navy blue dresses.  Of course, if it were the 19th century and you were me, you’d be stuck somewhere in Czarist Russia worrying about Cossacks coming to rape and pillage your schtetl, and choosing the right clothes would be the last thing on your mind.  However, I digress.  It’s been over a year, and time for the widow’s guide to provide that gentle push to the next stage of your life.

It’s now time to drop that grieving attitude and march smartly into YOUR NEW LIFE.  Perhaps you are unsure what to do next, or how to act.  Never fear, I, your guide to all things widow, am here to help.  While you’ve spent the past year grieving, I’ve been busy researching the vast multitude of culturally acceptable archetypes for widows. 

After exhaustive research I’ve determined there are very few categories :  Sexy, Not-sexy, and Stuck.  However, don’t despair!  Whichever archetype you select, it’s still up to you to personalize it and make it your own.  Just like those paint sample cards, you can create a whole world of different shades of the same color.  I’ll review the 3 archetypes and even provide a few subtypes for each. 

Sexy Widows

black widow person

Choosing a sexy widow persona means you will still be wearing black, but in a whole new way. 

The sexy widow has been a staple of male imaginations for ages. She’s part of the time-honored misogynistic myth that women fall into three roles: mother, virgin, or whore. The genesis of this role is that once married and introduced to the arts of love by a manly man, some women become so unhinged when their man goes away they still have to have that manly love.   

Black Widow

black widow

No, not that kind – this kind!

dangerous widow

Closely related to the Sexy Widow, the Black Widow is her darker, more dangerous sister.   The Black Widow feeds off men and then destroys them, much as her arachnid namesake does.     

If you want to be a sexy widow, the most important thing is your age.  Don’t even consider this archetype if you are over 50 years of age.  Do not indulge in ice cream and pizza for months on end, as the sexy widow needs to conform to standard ideas of female beauty.

Perhaps becoming a Sexy Widow seems to difficult, or perhaps you have interests in things that don’t involve fulfilling standard stereotypes about women.  If that is the case, you might be interested in the next archetype…

Not-Sexy Widows

Not-sexy is mandatory for anyone over the age of 60.  Of course, this only applies to women; as we all know, the attractiveness of men over 60 is calculable by the equation of income times power, minus age divided by 2.  As a simple check of any media outlet will prove, the outlook for women is considerably grimmer.  Hugh Hefner, who looks more and more like a horror film extra, is married to a 20-something woman; but a woman dating a man 5 years younger is considered a “cougar”. 

If you decide to go the not-sexy route, Grandma or Dowager are both good role models.

Grandma 

Satisfied senior woman with eyeglasses

Adopting the grandma persona frees you from ever having to think about weight.  Think Mrs. Claus, but in in more comfortable clothing.   Grandma-widows get to wear fleece every day, and dressing up means choosing the outfit with a row of small ducks across the front.  Your focus will be on family, and you’ll devote the rest of your life to doting on them. 

Your life will be filled with such exciting hobbies as baking cookies and re-posting treacly bits of homespun wisdom and cat videos on Facebook.

For those without grandkids, a “favorite Aunt” version can be used with relatives and neighbors.

Matron

dowager

Similar to grandma but with sharper edges, the matron becomes the guardian of all that is correct and proper.   Matrons share a lack of any romantic life with Grandmas, but their clothes are less comfortable, which may be why they tend to be cranky. Perhaps the strongest aspect of the Matron role is a general dissatisfaction with anything that occurred since becoming a widow.

Still shopping for an acceptable archetype?  There is only one left, and that is…

The Stuck Widow

stuck

She is the saddest of all.  The stuck widow never progresses.  She remains forever anchored to the past, unwilling or unable to resume a normal life.  Being stuck starts off as the easiest widow persona to adopt.  The gist of it is to never, ever change.  Keep everything in your life exactly the way it was.   Make sure you keep doing the same things over and over again, so the impact of having lost your spouse never goes away.  Focus only on the negative, never on the positive.

Though not technically a widow, Miss Haversham is a great role model for this archetype.

So, there you have the results of my research.   As mentioned, there aren’t a lot of good role models out there.  Personally, I hope to create a new archetype: The Wise Widow.  I want to be someone conversant with the dark side, but who chooses not to live there.  A fully functioning human being capable of being sexy and nurturing, good or bad.  I want the freedom to be any or all of these archetypes but not to be bound by any one of them.  Mostly, I hope to create my own path forward, not adopt one created by someone else.   And I hope you select the same.

Weekly Challenge: My Greatest Regret – Nursing Home Guilt

Hindsight is 20-20
I can still conjure up the smell of the place: a mix of stale air and antiseptic, faint tinge of urine and body odor, with a light dusting of air freshener.  During my high school years I worked in the kitchen of a nursing home.

Elder care and rehabilitation were different then, with the latter scarcely existing and the former not yet carved into distinct niches.  My parents, now in their late 80s, reside in a senior living community.  They live in a 2-bedroom apartment.  The building has two dining facilities, both run like restaurants, for when they don’t want to cook.  A full slate of activities is offered, including concerts, discussion groups, field trips, and classes.  If needed, rehabilitation and assisted living care are available.  I like going there for dinner; the dining room has a top notch chef and the meals are the equal of a fine restaurant.

The nursing home I worked in was an institution, and not a nice one.  Rooms had tile floors and were furnished with beds, dressers and a chair.  They looked like temporary rooms, but for most of the people there this was their permanent and final living space. 

Within those small, sad rooms were a mixture of people.  There were bed-ridden individuals no longer cognizant of whom or where they were, simply waiting to die.  Some people were deep into dementia, wandering around in worlds of their own making.  A surprisingly large number seemed fine, and I couldn’t figure out why they had to live there.  I learned, later, than some had been institutionalized for years in the large mental hospitals that still existed then. Others were physically frail and just needed a bit of help.  A few people were there temporarily, recovering from strokes or other ailments.

Pictures still live in my mind: a woman there for rehabilitation after a massive stroke, eating dinner in the dining room with her husband, breaking down in tears; a man who would spend hours in the empty dining room playing  jazz tunes on the piano and smoking cigarettes; the Swiss truck driver, missing both legs from an accident, telling me to be grateful for having a family as he had none; the frail older woman with dementia who would ask us for extra food for her family, who she was convinced were being held hostage by Nazis. 

I would sit and talk with them, coming in early some days, even visiting when I wasn’t scheduled to work.  The food we served them was terrible; bad even for institutional, cheap as possible and designed to make a profit.  When I graduated high school several of the residents gave me a small party; I still have the card, signed with shakily written names.  I went home and cried that night.

I am now closer in age to those residents than to that young girl serving dinner and washing dishes.  I worked there 40 years ago; there are not 40 more years in my future.  At some point, perhaps sooner than I expect, I will be that older person needing help.  I don’t want to live to the point where I end up helpless, dependent on the good will of others and the luck of being in the right place or having enough money to ensure decent care.  My nightmares have changed; where they used to focus on my time working in that nursing home, they now feature me as a resident. 

I wish I’d acted differently.  I wish I exposed the terrible conditions, taken pictures, called the newspapers, arranged for a film crew to come in.  I could have provided a voice to these people; brought in a tape recorder and captured their stories.  Instead, I did nothing.   I followed the rules.  The rules of conduct for a part-time, high school age employee to just do as I was told. The rules for girls that stressed being supportive and kind, but never confrontational.   Back then, my 15 year old self lacked the courage to break those rules.  The lesson I learned (apart from the one to not live longer than your money, health or mind) was that there are times when rules should be broken, when the right decision is to do what the rules say is the wrong thing. 

Daily Prompt – Lament of the Failed Murderer

Trio No. 3 Create a post that mentions a dark night, your fridge, and tears

Nights are the worst. Darkness shrinks my world to the circle of light shining from the neighbor’s garage. Sometimes I see an animal trotting across the lawn, darkened in shadow.  In summer the most prevalent noise is the deep thrumming sound of insects; night time is theirs, not ours.

I’m not a morning person, never was, so I’m up late almost every evening. I don’t like the switch away from daylight savings time.   More time to think. I do like the early twilight that starts around 4pm, that time of purple shadows and cold breezes.

Cooking is a solace for me, a way to shape my world and create something of value. The fridge is starting to fill up with containers of soup and stews. There’s an apple pie cooling on the counter; I’ll have a piece of it later on, in the darkness, its sweetness providing a counterpoint to whatever grim crime show I’m watching on TV.

I thought that house arrest would be easy, a slap on the wrist, a way to evade real punishment. I was wrong. Sitting here, alone, day after day, I have to face what I did. The conditions are strict: I am allowed out once a week for 2 hours, with an escort.   Some weeks I just go for a walk, other weeks I run errands. Most of what I need can be ordered online and delivered, but I still prefer to pick out vegetables and fruits myself.

The fridge is the guide to my life. Before all this happened, back when things were normal, its contents showed a busy and productive life. There was always at least one container of spoiled food shoved in the back, forgotten and alone. Restaurant leftovers were everywhere. These days, my fridge is spotless, gleaming inside and out. The shelves are stocked with fresh, homemade foods.

No almonds, of course. Too close in flavor to the arsenic-laced cake that resulted in my confinement. I thought I’d get away with it and that no one would notice. Now I weep bitter tears each night, as bitter as that cake. My problem was not adjusting the recipe. Had I added more sugar… well… my life might have been different.

I realize, now, what a fool I was. Our relationship was awful, but there were better avenues I should have pursued than the one I did. I hate to lose: that was the root of the problem. Filing for divorce, moving out; all the normal signs of a failed marriage, seemed undoable to me. I was too proud to admit my friends and family were right, that I’d married too soon, for the wrong reasons, to the wrong man. I couldn’t face up to letting go of my pride, to admitting I’d been wrong.

My plan was for a quick and simple death. My tears would be interpreted as those of a grieving widow, when in fact they would have been tears of joy. It didn’t work; he noticed and I was caught. I did get out of the marriage, but not the way I’d hoped.

And that is why I sit here, in the dark of night, with tears of grief and loss running down my face, and only the fridge for company.

Weekly Writing Challenge: Nighthawks

Untitled1You’ve seen the picture; everyone has. It shows a diner almost empty but for a couple leaning on one end of the counter and a lone man with his back to the viewer. Both appear to be watching the soda jerk behind the counter, the only subject in the picture moving.

What didn’t show up in the picture was me. I’m sitting on the bar stool just to the right of where the picture starts, invisible from the angle Hopper used. I didn’t make the cut. It’s the story of my life. I’m the guy who checks out 2 people ahead of the millionth customer, the sap who watches the winning home run ball bounce over his seat; just close enough to see something great, but never able to be a part of it.

Working behind the counter is Stan.   Back then he was the night manager. That’s not as impressive as it might sound; he was also the night cook, the night dishwasher, and the night cashier.  He’d grown up in the city, the oldest son of an immigrant family. When this picture was painted Stan was at City College, working nights and going to school during the day.   In a few years he’d be back at the diner, but as its owner.

The guy sitting with his back to the window was Jim, one of the regulars. Jim was a lush, what we used to call a booze-hound and now, in far less poetic language, an alcoholic. He was sobering up before heading home and to bed. This was back when Jim was still hanging on the perception of being in control of his life, still with a wife waiting for him at home and a job he’d show up to late the next morning. It wouldn’t last; within a few years he’d lose both, and the ability to blend in with everyone else. No matter how low Jim got, and he got plenty low, the night staff had standing orders from Stan to let him have coffee and a sandwich.

The couple were relative newcomers, young marrieds that had moved to the neighborhood just a few weeks earlier. They were theater people, used to having dinner long after most folks had gone to bed, and were ordering a meal from Stan. They’d just reached the point where their names were known; soon they’d be regulars, sitting down at the counter and more comfortable eating there than in their own dining room.

Edward Hopper, the artist, was another regular. He and his wife lived in the neighborhood, and came in often. Nice folks, not pretentious or “arty” in the least.

As for me, well, I was the one who, a few nights earlier, had suggested to Ed that this place would make a swell night picture. I was right, but I still didn’t get a chance to be in it. But then, as I said earlier, that’s just the story of my life.

Kitten Chronicles Continued

DSCN4182

I’ve learned much since my first missive. While my mental capabilities are far superior, I’ve come to realize the few advantages she has allow her to believe she holds the upper hand in our little pas de deux. Actually, there are only two advantages she has, but they are major.

The first is size. She can easily scoop me up in one of her massive paws. This is not mere hypothesis; it happens to me multiple times on a daily basis. Just when I find a cozy nook in the closet I’ll look up to see one of them coming at me. I can’t figure her out. When I attempt to include her in my games (I adore many of her dangly earrings and other jewelry), she picks me up and moves me to the couch. Okay, I can stay away; there is a nest of wonderfully pliant wires behind the TV set, and I can have just as good as a time playing there. That should be perfect, right? Nope, as soon as I start having fun there she is, bending down, picking me up and tossing me off to somewhere else. It’s clear her size is vastly out of proportion to her intelligence.

The second area where she has been blessed with a physical advantage is located right on those aforementioned meaty paws. I’m talking, of course, of her opposable thumbs. Sure, I have marvelously dexterous claws that allow me to pick up a single grain of rice one minute and eviscerate a vole the next; but I can’t turn the door knob to go outside, or open a can of that delectable food I get only sporadically. Oh, the cruel irony of fate and evolution. Were that I were her size, and with even one opposable thumb!

Still, I’m not one to dwell on the negative. I’ve been working on a few tricks, and while her ability to learn is painfully slow, there is some progress. The game I’ve been working on the most is one I call “Hallway escape”. It’s very simple, and deliberately so; to date I’ve caught only the faintest glimmers of cognitive abilities from her. Here is how the game works: when I hear her approaching the front door, I lie in wait and then dart out into the hallway.

At first, to help her learn, I would stop right outside the door. I can’t tell you how proud I was the first time I tried this game. She went to the front door, and I ran and hid on a chair located next to it. As soon as she opened the door I darted outside and then waited. Would she notice I was out? Would she know what to do? I held my breath waiting. She got it! Right off the bat, she noticed me and let me spend a little time enjoying the carpet before she picked me up and brought me back inside. It was a big moment. She’s picked up this game far better than I thought she would. Now we play it from either side of the door. I race up and down the hallway while she follows behind me, waiting until I’m ready to go back in the house. It’s one of our most fun times of day.

So, I have hope. I think that with time she may end up being fairly useful. If you don’t believe me, just come over one evening around the time she gets home from work. Watch me race out the door and down the hallway, with her dutifully following behind, letting me enjoy the delightfully scratchy carpeting before we go back in house, where she will immediately give me more food. That didn’t just happen; it’s the result of months of work on my part. They say you can’t train humans, but I know that’s not true. It just takes patience.

Daily Prompt: Truth Serum – I can’t handle it

You’ve come into possession of one vial of truth serum. Who would you give it to (with the person’s consent, of course) — and what questions would you ask?

trth

Truth is dangerous.

Each of us creates the story of our life, one day at a time.

We experience, react and then process, often within seconds. We do this all the time, usually without even being aware of it. A car merges in a little too close, resulting in the need to use the brakes.  “That driver almost caused an accident” we think. “What a maniac”. The experience has now been turned into a story that can be told later.

What would happen to our big moments if there was absolute candor, complete honesty, no overlay of reaction to the action?

I’ve been through trauma and experienced the worst I ever thought would happen. Peace and acceptance came only when I could put those experiences into a story that I could repeat, even if only to myself. A story that answered questions, provided closure, made sense of what had seemed senseless. Would a truth serum be of any value? Would it be like the scalpel of a skilled surgeon, carefully excising diseased tissues while saving the rest, or would it be more like an IED, planted ahead of time, blowing up with no warning and indiscriminately destroying everything it touches? I hope the former, but fear the latter.

So, in summation, I gracefully decline the offer.  Like Jack says, I just can’t handle it.

Kitten Chronicles

DSCN3924I’m sure you’ve seen those ads, where pathetic sniveling dogs express gratefulness to their new owners. Well, those are dogs: disgusting, noisy creatures with no sense of self-respect.   I remember dogs from my time at the pet store; they groveled and begged at every person who came in. How stupid. We cats know better; let the humans come groveling and begging for our attention, not the other way around.

Several weeks ago, I was still living there with some of my litter mates. We had been rescued from the cold and fostered by a kind woman who realized that the greatest good she could do in this life was to take in feral kittens. I am learning that such devotion and intelligence is rare among humans. After I reached the age of reason, my brothers and sisters and I were brought to a new location. Some painful and humiliating things were done to me there, and the less said about them the better. Still, I enjoyed my time there. There were many toys to play with and best of all we were mostly kept apart from the annoying people. Oh, an occasional hand would poke through the bars of our home, but it was easy to avoid them when privacy was wanted.

Until the afternoon she showed up. I was in a good mood that day, and was more than willing to snuggle and play with her. While at the store, she showed the appropriate amount of worshipful attention to me. I realize now that she was pretending in an attempt to fool me. One minute I was enjoying myself, chasing after a toy and racing around her skirt, and then suddenly I was locked into a small box and subjected to a car ride. That was the first indication of her evil, treacherous nature.

I now live with the woman. At one time there was another cat here: I can smell her clearly but she is nowhere to be seen. This concerns me greatly, and I wonder if perhaps I will meet the same fate that must have befallen the missing cat. There are a number of really fun things to play with, but the stupid woman gets upset whenever I attempt to enjoy myself. For example, I was just having the best time rolling around and tugging at some wires. I was able to pull a number of items down from a taller shelf, giving me even more things to play with. Sure enough, she ran over and ruined all the fun. She hissed at me and pushed me away. Hissing! Really? Who the hell does she think she is – my mother? Or perhaps she thinks I am as stupid as she is and will not know the difference between a human woman and the cat that birthed me.

That is just one example of how much my life now sucks. The other night I was having a grand time. I started on her dresser, jumped onto a rocking chair, raced around on the floor, jumped up to go back and forth on the bed, then over to the headboard where I ran across it back to the dresser and started my second lap. I was considerate enough to include her in the game, making sure that when I ran up and down on the bed it was right over her. It would have been a lot easier to run just anywhere on the bed, but that’s the kind of kitten I am. Well, you’d expect that she would have been thrilled with this game, or at least thank me for including her. Instead, she let out a yell, turned on the light, and shot a stream of water at me. What a bitch.DSCN3937

To be fair, she is not totally evil. I eat well, and there are times when she is willing to play and provide me with the proper devotion. Still, she seems intent on prohibiting me from doing much of what I want to do, and for that she must pay.

She isn’t here right now, which is why I am able to use the laptop. In yet another example of her idiocy she doesn’t use a password, so I hop on the computer whenever she isn’t around. What a maroon.   I’ve placed an order for 10 pounds of cat treats and the largest, fanciest cat tree I could find. It’s got a perch way up at the top that will let me jump on top of her head anytime she’s near it. That should be fun!

Wait; I hear her at the door. Time to save this document, close the laptop and pretend I’m just hanging out on the table. She is so stupid…