The pounding of the conundrums is getting closer…

During that long month of August when Rick was hospitalized I didn’t eat anything at home.  My meals consisted of macaroni & cheese or a slice of pizza grabbed in the hospital cafeteria, with a little fruit for variety.  After his death I couldn’t bring myself to cook; it brought back too many memories and just didn’t seem right.  My heart wasn’t in it, and for a long time my appetite was gone.  I’d go to the grocery store and come back with frozen pizza, frozen lasagna, frozen macaroni & cheese.  The most cooking I’ve done at home is to stuff a tortilla with cheese and place in the oven.

There’s a pattern with my new diet, and it was one I realized early on; the only foods I was comfortable eating were those that we never ate together.  He didn’t like cheese, so pizza has no memories attached, no feelings of being disloyal.  Making a meal, just for myself, felt wrong because sitting down  to a nicely cooked dinner would be a sign of a normal life, and I couldn’t do that.  Not in August, after coming home each night from the hospital wondering what would happen next; not in September when the shock of his death was so palpably fresh it hit me every time I opened the front door; not in October when I felt numb and empty, and not even through most of November, when I wasn’t feeling anything at all.

Thanksgiving finally broke through and left me able to cook and eat.  Thanksgiving is the day that separates the cooks from non-cooks.  Those of us who daydream soups and sauces look forward to preparing the meal, hoping more people show up so we can add that new side dish that looked interesting, or bake another pie. This year, for the first time in almost 15 years, I was just a guest.  I did manage to insert myself into the kitchen for the final flurry of activity, and as I was mashing potatoes I realized how much I’ve missed the act of preparing food (no, microwaving doesn’t count).

Friday evening I made dinner.  I roasted brussels sprouts with a little olive oil and seasoning, made a blue cheese compound butter, baked a potato and cooked a small steak that was topped with the compound butter.  The meal was served with an Oktoberfest beer.   It was quite tasty and I enjoyed every bite.  I realized how much I dislike frozen food, and how sick I am of eating it, and how enjoyable and soul-satisfying cooking is for me.  I felt whole and content in a way I haven’t felt in months as I ate that meal…

And that was the problem.  Shame and guilt descended on me; how can I create a new life without betraying the one I had?  Every step forward means moving a step away from where I started. Other major life changes require similar activities: the ability to believe what has happened; letting yourself feel regret and sadness over what is being lost; wishing there was a way to keep what was good; and finally acceptance.  However, all other changes contain some promise, however faint, of being able to go back.  Every other life change, even something as hard and painful as divorce, has a component of eagerness and anticipation for the future that can balance fear or hesitation.

There’s no “do-over” with death, and it’s not a choice made after a review of options.  Death happens to you, and we have little power over it. When I was divorced, every step forward was a victory and a cause for celebration.  Progress and healing were unequivocal markers on the road to the future.  This is different.   Each step forward is a step away from a life that had meaning and that I didn’t want to end.  That life wasn’t perfect, far from it, but I resent the lack of choice I had in its ending.

As I ate dinner on Friday night, I felt good about my progress, and proud of myself for making this small step back to normalcy.  But that same step made me turn around and look back, over my shoulder, at the life Rick & I had together.  Moving closer to healing also takes me further from that other life.  That’s the conundrum of grief.  Becoming healed, becoming whole means that I have to break the person I was and remake myself into someone new.  I’m starting to break; I’m waiting to heal.


Snapshot movie reviews

I’ve seen a lot of movies in the last 11 weeks. It helps fill the time on weekends, and there are times when getting out of my life for a few hours is a good thing.

Matinees are my favorite time to see a movie. Fewer people in the audience and a cheaper ticket price for the exact same movie seem like a deal to me. Plus, I’ve always loved the feeling of coming out of a movie all dazed and still in that other world and then hitting the bright sunlight.

A movie is one the few social events where attending alone is perfectly acceptable. Even when Rick was alive, I often went to movies solo; while our tastes mostly aligned, the Venn diagram of our life would put Coen Brothers films solely in my circle.

Wonderful, great movie and well worth seeing. It’s a rare movie that can be both funny and thrilling, but Argo does both and succeeds. John Goodman & Alan Arkin supply the comic relief, but never in a way that cheapens the story or seems out of place.

The actual story line was fascinating for me personally. I remember those events of 1979, including the story of the 6 who were spirited out by the Canadians (as we thought at the time). It was meaningful to me in 1979 partially as these were people my age, and it was moving to relive that story a generation later.

The costumers hit it right on everything from eye makeup to shoes. There was nothing incongruous in how characters looked or acted. I could swear I saw some of my old clothes being worn; a few skirts looked really familiar.

Stick around for the credits; pictures of the actual people are shown next to the actors, and newsreels of the events depicted are shown split screen with the movie’s depictions. Most interesting is the narrated postscript from President Carter, in which he ruefully states how much he would like to have been able to tell the true story back when it happened.

Cloud Atlas
A hot mess. I went to see this movie because of the trailers, despite seeing tepid reviews on What I was hoping for was a movie that would provide me with some confirmation that relationships persist, that the important people in your life never really go away, that there are ties between people that can’t be broken; you know, the perfect movie for a new widow.

What I got was a confusing series of vignettes with no real connection other than the same actors appearing in each. Most disappointing was that the ‘big truths’ revealed by the characters are bit on the banal side, more suited to fortune cookies or a newspaper horoscope.  A sampling:

“from womb to tomb, our lives are not our own.”

“We cross and re-cross our old paths like figure-skaters.”

“Fear, belief, love phenomena that determined the course of our lives.These forces begin long before we are born and continue after we perish.”

Paired with a more evocative script and a plot that was, well, follow-able, it might been a good movie; but in this version nothing ever jelled. The editing went back and forth between the six different plot lines, which made it impossible to develop a connection to any of the individual stories. If the editing had resulted in a single macro-story line it would have worked, but that never happened. I spent much of the 3 hour run time trying to identify the lead actors under the makeup donned for each new role.

The sad thing is that this was such an ambitious movie. So many movies are cynically made, with writing and character development taking a back seat to special effects, glorified violence and an pathetically unrealistic portrayal of women. This movie aimed high and spent a lot of money trying to do something extraordinary. They failed, but I’d rather have seen this failure than a Transformer movie.

Moonrise Kingdom
Fantastic, transcendent, delightful. Another great movie from Wes Anderson. The plot focuses on the young teen daughter of a quirky family living on an island off the New England coast. She and a young boy attending what has to be oddest quasi-boy scout camp ever fall in love and decide to run away together.

The plot description doesn’t do justice to a movie that is a sheer delight to watch and experience. The movie is extremely funny in the small details while compelling and rather sweet in the larger story line. Francis McDormand, Bruce Willis, Bill Murray, Ed Norton; all are wonderful. See this movie. Now. You won’t regret it.

Pleasant, but eminently forgettable; I actually forgot it within a week.  Nifty idea, that in 2075 the mob uses an illegal time portal to send people back to 2035 for execution and disposal (apparently 2075 forensics are too advanced). The individuals from 2035 who perform this function are called “Loopers”. They are paid for each execution, but realize that at some point in the 2075 future they will end up as a victim. The story focuses on a Looper played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a young man and Bruce Willis as the older man. They pull this off by using a prothetic nose and contact lenses; when the nose and eyes look the same, you can forgive the rest.

The movie does a great job in setting the scene. They avoid the trap of bad set design where every building looks brand new. The city scenes show a realistic looking mix of old and new. Flying scooters share the road with old beaters retrofitted with solar panels and external fuel systems. This is a world where global warming has come true. The farm scenes look so realistic, and then you realize that the crop drying in the fields isn’t corn; it’s sugar cane. All of this is well done, and best yet is that they don’t fall for the obvious and have the characters provide the explanations through a conversation no one would ever have. They show it, you see it, that’s it.

The one flaw is that somehow the role of women has returned to the 1950s. There are no Loopers who are female. No cops. The only women you see in this movie are decorative, with the exception of the lone main female character, cast in the classic hot-mom role. With the level of attention paid to the rest of the movie, this flaw stuck out like a sore thumb and ruined the movie for me.

Just got back from this movie. Caught it on the tale end of its multiplex run. First off, a big shout out to the 2 older ladies who companionably chatted with each other throughout the movie; thanks for reminding me why I try never to attend this particular theater.

The movie is good; really good. It’s a truly adult movie, a welcome rarity. Denzel Washington’s character is a complex man. There’s no easy explanation for his problems, and the movie doesn’t simplify the situation or the characters. There are no starkly drawn good guys or bad guys. His character is an alcoholic with a drug problem, but also a damn good pilot whose actions saved many lives. The lawyer assigned to represent him starts off with barely hidden contempt for him, but ends up reluctantly admiring the man.
The scenes of the airplane ride are harrowing to watch; it’s a guarantee this movie will never be an on-board choice of any airline, so rent it and watch at home. Oh, and John Goodman totally steals the picture playing the larger-than-life drug dealer friend of the main character.

I’m thankful for my anger

I’m filled with a mixture of despair and anger. I prefer anger.   Anger is active, engaged, focused.  I don’t know why anger gets such a bad rap; I think it can be very positive.   Anger is at the core of all great liberation movements.  In its purest form, anger is simply the recognition that an existing situation is not right, and an unwillingness to accept that situation.  There is no better motivator than anger, no greater impetus for change.

What I find worse, far worse, is despair.  Despair is the opposite of anger; it starts with the same recognition that something is wrong, but fizzles out.  Despair is the person who says, “There’s nothing I can do” and then walks away.  Left alone, allowed to continue for too long, despair ends up as either an abrogation of any sense of responsibility, or becomes a cynical ability to accept what is wrong and just not care.  Me, I’ll opt for anger.

Right now I’m angry at a multitude of people and situations.  I’m angry at having had so few years with Rick, and that many of those few years were marred by sickness and problems.  I’m angry that intractable insurance rules eliminated the slim hope that existed for him.  I’m angry with Rick for the mess I was left, both physical and financial.  I’m angry at myself for having wasted so much of the few precious years we had with disagreements and issues that seemed important at the time, but I now realize were trivial.  I’m angry at all the myriad ways that his death might have been prevented; at him, for what had to be an almost willful ignoring of an increasing illness; at his doctor, for not pressing the issue with him and confronting what was going on; and at me, for thinking there was a problem but not insisting on facing it.

I need that anger, I crave that anger, because when I’m not angry I’m in despair, a deep, dark depression.   On angry days I can move; I leave the house, I get things done, I see people, I go places.  Eventually the activity and interaction with other people makes me forget the anger; I’m engaged and involved in the world.  I can laugh, and talk and even enjoy myself.  There are moments when I remember and feel bad; today grocery shopping I pass by a product he likes and suddenly I’m back in a dark place.  But the anger keeps me moving.

When the anger goes away there is only despair, and those are the really bad days. Those are the days where it’s hard to move, to engage, to do anything other than relive the same memories and mental pictures over and over again.  Despair is inactive; there is no movement associated with it.  The mental picture of an angry person moves; you imagine the person yelling, waving their arms, spinning about.  Despair brings up a picture of a figure sitting, head down, face in hands, still and unmoving.

People are afraid of anger because it can lead to unpredictability, losing control.  When there is control and anger, plans are made and progress is made.  Anger cuts through sadness, grief, despair, and allows movement to occur.  Anger can be dangerous, but so can despair.  Anger is more obvious and violent in its danger, but unchecked despair leads to a complete shutdown.  Not as dramatic, but just as dangerous.

So, for now, I’ll choose anger whenever I can.  I won’t get stuck, not in permanent anger, but also not in despair.

There’s always something to be thankful for

This Thursday is my absolute favorite holiday of the year, Thanksgiving.  Growing up Jewish, Thanksgiving was our big holiday. Of course, the fact that it focuses on food helped too.  I’m from a foodie family; everyone is either a good cook or, if they don’t cook, they know good food and they like it.  I’ve done our family feast for a while; my Mom is a little too old to manage the meal, and I love doing it.

I’m a fresh turkey girl; fresh seems to cook more quickly and tastes a lot better.  And, that stuffing had better be just that – stuffing – not dressing baked separately.  In fact, my opinion is that the turkey exists for 2 main purposes, to generate gravy and to act as a stuffing incubator.  That it also produces some mighty tasty meat is a bonus.  In addition to the turkey, I love each and every one of the side dishes.  Mashed potatoes?  Yes, please, with extra butter.  Sweet potatoes?  You bet, just so long as they aren’t sweetened.  Generally I just bake them, and serve with maple cinnamon butter.  For a vegetable, I go with seasonal and fresh; some years brussel sprouts baked with bacon, other years sliced parsnips, rutabaga and carrots sautéed in olive oil with garlic and fresh herbs.  Then there’s dessert, the star of the meal.  Pies; pumpkin, apple, and usually one more just for fun, all served with fresh whipped cream and ice cream.  During the meal there’s a selection of good microbrews and wine to drink.

Yeah, Thanksgiving rocks.  When Rick and I started dating he fit right in with my family.  My parents and he started a mutual adoration society on their first meeting.  Every year he would pick them up and bring them over before dinner, and I’d bring them back after dinner. This let me keep cooking before the meal, and let him handle the cleanup after.  Gradually we ended up adding his family to the group, and often a few friends as well.

This year will be different.  Rick won’t be here.  It’s funny, because before I met him we had perfectly fine Thanksgivings; but it’s not the same anymore.  He fit in so well with my folks, and it seemed like he had always been there.

There won’t be any family Thanksgiving this year.  My parents feel the same way; none of us could stand the idea of doing dinner without Rick.  I’ve been invited to dine with friends; I may go, I may not; it will depend on my mood that day.  My folks are just staying alone.  We’ll go out for breakfast, but that’s it.

I’m starting to face those “firsts”.  The initial one was last week; my birthday.  We always made a big deal about birthdays, making up a rule that you needed to celebrate 1 day for each decade.  In our case, that led to some fun multi-day celebrations.  It was never about spending money on things, it was always little, fun things.  The best gift Rick ever gave me was a song he wrote.  Back when we first me he gave me a CD he’d recorded years earlier and told me how one of the love songs on it was written for the person he was hoping to meet someday; and how that person was me.  That was nice, but having him write a song just for me was even better and was the best gift I’ve ever received.

Facing my birthday this year just wasn’t possible.  I canceled it.  Went on facebook, told people I wasn’t even acknowledging it this year.  Didn’t bring donuts to work, didn’t go out with friends, pretended it just wasn’t happening.  The day was bad, a lot worse than I would ever have guessed.  I ended up crying the bathroom at work, something that hasn’t happened in weeks.   But, I made it through the day.

And, I’ll make it through Thanksgiving, and Christmas, and his birthday, and our anniversary, and the anniversary of when we first met, and every other day that has importance as a holiday, and every day that’s just, well, another day.

In the end, that’s what I’m thankful for.  For family and friends who have been there for me when I’ve needed them; for having a decent job that means I haven’t had to worry about paying bills, for the cat who’s been extra affectionate ever since Rick got sick, for the incredible response to this blog I started as a way to help me sort through my feelings, and most of all for having had the chance to know Rick and be with him.  Even though it didn’t work out the way we hoped, I’d rather have had the years we did have, even with all the pain and sorrow I’m going through now, than to have never met him.

DP Challenge: Moments of our life together

The Goodbye

It was time.  I walked in, your wife, your best friend, your lover.  You had been cleaned up, tubes removed, hair combed, fresh gown.  I was able to hold you and kiss you, to say goodbye.  To ask your forgiveness for letting you go.  To tell you how much I loved you and always would.  To tell you about everything good and wonderful we had together, and to talk of all we had done, and what we had meant to each other.  I did all the talking; I don’t know if you were aware of my voice or were able to hear what I said, or even know I was there and feel my arms around you and be aware of my presence.  Were you present or were you already gone to whatever next plane of existence does, or does not, exist?  An hour went by, the longest and worst hour of my life.  At the end of that hour, I walked out, your widow.

This is the core, the key moment that changed my life, but it cannot stand alone.  Other moments in the chain of our life need to be told.

The Kiss

You turned toward me and grinned; a rakish, sexy grin, as you suddenly leaned in and kissed me.  We were walking to my car on the way to a ballgame.  It was our third date, and you had not yet made a move.  I had, giving you a big hug after our first date, holding hands on date two and even trying for a kiss you adroitly, suavely, managed to elude.  I had resigned myself to being just friends until you gave me that sweet, unexpected first kiss.

The Proposal

Mid-December; a time of year I would come to realize was your low point.  Memories of family members who were gone, of disappointments and failures haunted you every year at this time.  We stood in my kitchen.  You were depressed and feeling low.  I was giving you a hug.  You turned toward me and said something to the effect of how I really did care, and how we were good for each other.  I agreed, saying we were a team, a unit, a partnership.  You said to me “Who knows how much time we’ll have.  Let’s be together, always, for whatever time we do have.”

The Realization

It was spring, the sun was shining, and we sat on the couch making plans for the day.  The sun shone through the window and I realized that you were glowing in the light; glowing yellow; glowing a color that was not right, that no healthy person should be.  You had been acting oddly, feeling poorly for some time, going to the doctor for the last 2 years, having tests, being checked for different things, but never with any real diagnosis.  You were tired all the time, less active and not as interested in doing things.  That morning, I realized that there was something seriously wrong with you, and that our lives were going to be massively changed.

The Premonition

Late May, early in the morning as we were getting dressed, I saw you in profile.  You were gaunt and skeletal.  Your legs had lost their musculature, and skin was hanging loose where only a few months ago there had been sleek and shapely muscles.  You had to lean on the wall to put your pants on.  You looked like a ghost, 20 years older than your age, like a man who was fast approaching death.  I had a sudden chill and the hair on my arms rose up; I had a premonition, not a guess, but a moment of sure clarity, and I knew with absolute certainty that you were dying.

The Phone Call

You were in the hospital, having arrived there a week earlier via ambulance.  Don’t worry, the doctors said.  This happens, it’s treatable, and we can adjust medications so it’s less likely to happen again.  The physical therapist came by every day to work with you on standing up, walking, balance, things that had been normal 2 weeks ago.  Recovery, release, rehabilitation; those were our new words.  I had just gotten home after spending all afternoon with you.  The phone rang.  It was the nurse:  “there’s been an accident,” she said; you had been found on the floor, unresponsive.  That night you were moved to Intensive Care; there was evidence of a small stroke, and you were far less responsive than you had been earlier that day.

That was the first time the phrase “circling the drain” started repeating itself in my head.  That was when the conversations with doctors started to shift.  There was no more talk of rehabilitation, recovery, release; I started hearing about transplants and timelines.  There was no more inevitability regarding your getting better.

The Decision

I knew the answer before they said a word, before they entered the room, from 10 feet back.  The grim faces, the apprehensive look, the hesitation; I knew.  The transplant committee had met, and their decision was to turn you down.  There was no other option; you were dying.  No deus ex machina would rescue us; no 11th hour reprieve was possible.  You were going to die.  I would be a widow.  It would be soon.

Random observations on a cold and rainy election day

It’s a gray, dark rainy November election day.  I’m staring out the window on my lunch break at work, wishing I could call you, thinking how my life feels like the day looks.   This is not going to be a good day; but I do come up with some random observations I’d like to share with you.

Random observation #1

Like apartment carpeting, my finger still shows the imprint from where the ring sat for 7 years.  It’s around my neck now (the ring, not my finger), worn on a gold chain along with yours.  I remember the exact moment in the hospital when they gave me your ring.  It was mid-August, around the 14th, and they were going start you on dialysis.  This was still when there was an expectation of your getting onto the transplant list.  The nurse mentioned that with dialysis your fingers would swell, so I asked for the ring.  You’d been wearing it on your middle finger for the last year because you’d lost so much weight, just another ignored sign of the disease that ultimately killed you.

I took the ring and put it on my middle finger.  Now I had a wedding ring on each hand.  I looked at both rings a lot; they gave me hope.  I waited for the day when you’d wake up and be cognizant of where you were and what was happening, when I could lean over and tell you how sick you’d been, but that everything was going to be fine now, and then hand it back to you.

Your ring was a little too big for me; after a few days, I left it at home, sitting on the bathroom counter on top of your wallet.  It sat there far longer than I thought it would.  A few weeks after the memorial service, I started thinking about what to do with your and my rings.  How long should I keep wearing mine?  What do I do with your ring?  We didn’t have any children so there’s no one to save them for, and there’s nothing of great interest in them as jewelry, just two simple gold bands.  What’s more, while your ring was getting too loose, mine was getting too tight.  My arthritis has gotten worse and the ring that fit nicely when we were married was becoming a struggle to remove.

What finally decided it for me was that every time I looked down at my left hand it was a smack-in-the-face reminder of what had happened.  I took off my ring five weeks after you died.  The next day I got a gold chain and put your ring and mine on it, and slipped the chain around my neck.  Wearing the two rings, together, feels appropriate.  It’s an honor to your memory and a tribute to our marriage, while still letting me move forward.  It was the right decision.

Random observation #2

Today is Election Day, and I’ve been missing you, missing us.  I remember when we met, and I told you that politics for me was like religion is for some people; I cared passionately and couldn’t do a “mixed marriage.”  Luckily, we shared similar views.  Election Day was always fun; we’d drive to the polling place together and visit with neighbors while we waited in line, vote and then you’d drop me off at work.  In the evening, we’d watch returns together.  This year, like everything else since you died the fun is gone.  I voted early because I didn’t want to greet old neighbors and get expressions of condolences or, worse, have to explain why you’re not there.

Yesterday there was a last minute campaign rally right across the street from where I work, and there were so many times when I wanted to call you, or thought about how much fun it would be when I told you about this after work.  Each time I had to stop and remember that I can’t call you, and you won’t be there when I get home from work.  I hadn’t had too many of those “I can’t wait to talk with Rick about this” moments lately, and now I’m right back to being surprised that the door is locked and the house is empty when I get home, and that no one calls me mid-afternoon to ask if I want a ride home.  I had a good weekend, but I’m back to gray again.  I miss you, Rick; I miss you every day.

Random observation #3

It happened again: a new email in your in-basket.  It’s from a friend who moved across country a few years ago.  He wrote a quick, casual note giving an update on what he’s doing, asking what you’re doing, and sending a greeting to me. I didn’t want to, but I had to write the “I’m so sorry to have to tell you but…” note.  Explained what had happened.  Sent him the link to your obituary, said how much I miss you, and send it off.

I feel so bad when this happens: for the person who was just contacting an old friend and now has to get this terrible, unexpected news, and for me; every time this occurs it brings me right back to August and re-experiencing the terrible, terrible summer.

I try to be detached and analytical, and guess who will respond and who will not.  I’m a good analyst and so far, I haven’t guessed wrong.  This friend, as expected, sent back a heartbreakingly kind and personal response on how much help Rick and I had been during a hard time in his life; how compassionate Rick was as a human being; how sad he was for what had happened, and how much he would miss the friendship they shared.  It was eloquent and lovely and I sat there this morning crying while I read it.

Random observation #4

Widows used to wear veils to block their view of the world; I’m wearing an invisible one.  Everything is fuzzy, the world is out of focus, and the edges blurred.  The color scheme of my life has changed to gray.  Everything is gray.  The knife-sharp blue brightness of the first few weeks is gone.  I’m more in control, less likely to break down without warning.  Our wedding picture still sits on my shelf at work, but I can look at it now without crying or even tearing up.  I have very little emotion now, about anything.  Mostly I just float through the day, a few laughs, a few smiles, none of it really meaning much.

This is not me.  I’m an emotional person, a terrible poker player, someone who can’t hide joy, pain, anger.  I need these emotions.  They are fuel for my life.  I’m running more slowly, everything dulled.  Friends compliment me on how strong I am, how capable, what a great job I’m doing.

I know this is not good, it is dangerous and unhealthy and a trap.  Feeling nothing is suppressing what I need to do, which is to feel everything: grief at your loss, anger at why it wasn’t prevented, sadness at the loss of our marriage, guilt at what I could have done better, joy for the fact that we did find each other, even if for less time than we had hoped.

So often, I was angry with you, for the way you choked back your emotions, for that unwillingness to face things that might be unpleasant or hard. I watched you turn anger into inaction, grief into depression and tried to get you engaged and moving and feeling.  You only trusted the good and happy emotions, never realizing that emotions, just like food, need to be balanced.

Now, here I am, perhaps doing an unwitting homage to you through my new inability to feel much of anything.  I really, really don’t like this.  I’m terribly afraid of being stuck in this state of eternal fall grayness.  I’d prefer anything else; winter with its sharp, cold brightness, spring full of wet, messy starts, summer’s lush, almost overwhelming ripeness.  Anything other than this gray, dull, fuzz.

Of friends and friendships

I wanted to write about friends, and friendship, and what it’s meant to me over the last 2 months.  There’s a lot swirling inside my head on this idea.  Some friends have just disappeared, while others have been amazing.

There’s the reaction of his friends.  Rick was the kind of person who was easy to talk with, and he was very compassionate.  Early on when we started dating he told me that a friend had jokingly nicknamed him “Father” because so many people told him their problems and asked for guidance.  It was true.  As I spent more time with him, I thought that some of the people whom he considered very close friends were not; that they were always after him to listen to their problems, but never returned the favor.  I wanted to talk about how these people never attended the memorial, never sent a card, never called or even emailed condolences.  Then there’s the opposite; friends of his who have been extremely supportive, either by listening or, in one case, by helping clear out his house.

All of these experiences have made me think, a lot, about friendships.  English is a paltry language for describing relationships; the word “friend” has a lot of ground to cover, all the way from someone you encounter a few times a year to a life-partner.  Even before all this happened I’ve wondered why English has so few words to describe personal relationships that we have to make them up; frenemy, BFF, friends with benefits; and I wonder if that lack of specificity in defining a relationship is a sign that, to our culture, those relationships are not important.

I’ve been wondering why it’s so hard for some people to acknowledge that people die, and why they react in ways that are so disheartening to those of us suffering through a loss.  I think part of it is that death is so much more foreign to us here in the first world.  We’re so very, very lucky; a simple walk though an old cemetery or even a look at current events in other parts of the world bears that out.  We expect to lose our parents and grandparents, but the idea of losing a child or a friend or spouse who is under 70 has become strange and unusual.  I’ve read enough first-person historical accounts to know that the grief felt by the persons who sustained the loss hasn’t changed any over the last few hundred years; but the acceptance and recognition of death by society has.

Then there’s the positive side; the amazing, amazing reaction of some people.  A work friend, someone with whom I’d go out to lunch or get coffee has become a close friend.  She listens, and somehow knows what to say, and when to say nothing.  It’s a talent, and I’m so grateful to her.  A friend of Rick’s who has become a good friend of mine; he’s showed up when I needed help getting the house ready to sell, and spent a full day with me clearing out items.  He continues to help with selling items from the house, but even more with listening and talking.

Becoming a widow has taught me what it means to be a friend, and about how important friendship is.  More than anything else, I need a chance to be with people.  It’s lonely; terribly, achingly lonely.  Every minute I spend home is a minute spent alone, quiet, in an empty house.  There’s no one when I get home; no one when I wake up; no on to hand me coffee in the morning, no one to eat with whom to eat dinner.  Weekends are great yawning caverns of emptiness, and I would love for the phone to ring and someone to ask me over, or to go somewhere.  I’m strong and capable; when it’s too hard to handle I’ll call someone or go see a movie or even just walk around downtown to see other people, but it would sure be great to have someone seek me out.  There are a few friends who seem to get this, but not many.  People ask me “what can I do” and I tell them, call me.  Few do.

I’ve learned from this experience.  People need contact.  They need to feel wanted, connected.  The next time someone I know suffers a loss, whether spouse or parent or child, I’ll do more than send a card.  I’ll call them, not just week after, but several weeks after, and more than once.  I’ll suggest a movie, or meeting for a drink, or going out to dinner.  And I’ll understand if they turn me down, and I’ll ask more than once, because I’ll realize that sometimes being alone is what’s needed, and sometimes being with friends is important.  And when I spend time with them, I’ll let them direct the conversation.  If they want to talk about what happened, I’ll listen; I won’t be uncomfortable and try and change the subject.  If they need to talk about how mad or sad or bad they feel, I’ll listen, and I won’t offer meaningless platitudes about what I think they’ll feel at some later point in time, or how the awful thing that happened to them is a part of some higher plan.  I’ll understand mood swings, and realize that one day they may just want to laugh and have fun, but another day they just want a chance to reminisce and shed a few tears.

I’ve lucky to have a few, good friends, who are doing exactly this for me.  If there’s ever a need, and I sincerely wish not, I hope I can do as good a job for whoever needs it as my friends have been doing for me.