What’s the opposite of an Elvis year?

An Elvis year is that rare convergence of events where everything goes right and you can do no wrong.  So what about the year where everything goes horribly awry?  I think that’s what I had in 2012. The superstitious peasant buried deep within me quivers at the idea of actually stating, out loud, that this was the worst year I could have; what if saying that tempts fate to bring on something worse?

In a way it’s freeing to believe that the worst that could happen is over.  I can move forward with no fear. I survived.  I’m not happy right now, and I’m still trying to figure out what’s next, but I’m here.

Of course, it’s not really that bad.  Yes, I had a terrible and unexpected loss; but it could have been worse.  I’m not going through the unfathomable horror that 20 families in Connecticut are facing.  I’m not one of many people out of work, wondering if I’ll ever find a job, or stuck in a low paying job that doesn’t provide enough money to make ends meet.  I have a job, a house, a car; my parents remain in good health, and my adult child is living a good life that doesn’t require me providing a bedroom or financial support.

As I reflect on the year I’ve had, I can be grateful for what is good.  But I am also still reeling from the unexpected and the bad.  Twelve months ago I did not expect that New Year’s Eve would also be my 4-month anniversary of widowhood.

This is a sad New Years Eve, even for a holiday I’ve always felt was more melancholy reminisces than bacchanalian revel.  The weather is gorgeous outside, bright sun bouncing off the snow and that intense shade of blue that only appears when it’s truly cold.  I’ll probably go for a walk later.  Right now I’m sitting here at the table, trying to make some narrative sense of my life.

It’s no longer impossible to believe what has happened; now I can’t stop reliving that last month day-by-day, hour-by-hour.  The analyst in me is working hard trying to understand the how and why of what happened.  Were there signs I missed or misinterpreted?  I remember how, during low periods, Rick would say to me “I hope you remember me fondly when I’m gone”.   That remark never failed to infuriate me.  It spoke to his maudlin, depressed side, and to his seeming unwillingness to fight back against obstacles. I took it as a personal insult; didn’t he want to be with me?  I’m still obsessed with what happened, when it started.  I examine our life together with a magnifying glass trying to find the clues.

Realistically I know that life doesn’t have a satisfying final scene where all the loose ends are wrapped up.  I’ll never fully know the man I loved and married, no more than he fully knew me.  Our relationship was messy and complicated.

And, maybe, that’s the best conclusion to reach; that it’s up to each of us to just accept the other people in our life as they are, without trying to fix everything.  That while we’ll never be able to find the script, we can create the narrative of what things meant.  I can focus on the negatives and where we failed as a couple, or on what was good and strong about our relationship. That doesn’t mean turning him into a saint or creating a fantasy of the world’s greatest relationship.  I remember everything, good and bad, but I choose to remember what was best to hold close to me.  I want to move forward; I can’t yet, but it will happen.  When it does, I want to have clear and realistic memories of what Rick and I had and were to each other, positive and negative, but I want the conclusion to be that it was good and worthwhile and of value.

At midnight on Monday I will bid a farewell to 2012, a year that was not a good one for me, and I will welcome 2013.  I hope for a year of healing and health, of moving forward to a new life while holding close the memories and all that was good of my life before.

Maybe the Grinch had a point; or why I’m in a bad mood

I’ve tried to stay positive; to use this space to examine what has happened, but never as a soapbox to vent.  Well… it’s time.  It’s time for me to be all snarly and non-PC and mean-spirited; time to reach out to my inner Grinch and just rant for a bit about the things that have really bothered me over the last few months.  To show that I’m not a negative person, instead of a top 10 list, it’s only 9 items.

Here goes:

  1. All of Rick’s so-called friends who never bothered to acknowledge his death.  I realized that not everyone could attend the memorial; in fact, I was blown away by how many people did.  No, this rant is directed at the all the people who just ignored the fact that he died.   A few people really stand out on this list.  One is a long-time friend of Ricks, a person with whom he spent a great deal of time through the years.  Person number 2 is a former close friend who had a falling out with Rick a few years ago.  Prior to that, they had been close professionally and personally for over 40 years.  I thought that the many years of friendship would have trumped the few years of fighting; again, I was wrong. The final person on this list is the one that hurts the most.  This person was a friend of mine before I met Rick, then a friend of us both, so his lack of acknowledgement is a rejection of me as much as Rick.
  2. Starting at his memorial, I was being pushed by people who wanted his items.  Let me repeat that – AT HIS FREAKING MEMORIAL SERVICE I had people approaching me who wanted some of his professional items.  This is beyond tasteless.  The onslaught continued for several weeks, with phone calls that started with “I’m so sorry” and then proceeded to “have you thought about what you’re going to do with…”. As Tiny Tim would have said, “Fuck them all, every one”.
  3. People on his side of the family who have done only the most cursory, formally polite job of keeping touch, not once asking a simple “how are you” to me.
  4. Any and everyone who has compared what I’m going through with getting a divorce.  I’ve been divorced, and trust me; this is not the same thing.  I’m okay with someone telling me that they have no idea what this is like, and saying that their closest reference point is a divorce; but don’t tell me that you know what this is like because you don’t know.
  5. The person at work who asks me how I’m doing and then always has an anecdote about someone else to top whatever I’ve said, or to subtly show where I’m wrong.   We used to be close work friends; I avoid her now.
  6. People who seem surprised that I’m still affected by the death of my husband now that four whole months have gone by since his death (insert sarcasm emoticon here).
  7. Rick.  Yes, that’s right, the very person who died.  He willfully ignored his ongoing health issues and never followed through on tests his doctor ordered.  He told me once that he hated going to the doctor because he didn’t want bad news; that delightful bit of illogic hastened his death.
  8. Me.  I’m so filled with regrets for every harsh word or bad thought I had during our marriage, and guilt for all I didn’t do that I should have.  I’d give anything for a do-over.
  9. The searing UNFAIRNESS of what’s happened.  I realize that sounds like a little snot-nosed kid, but dammit that’s how I feel.  It’s not fair.  We didn’t even have 10 years.

Purple tube tops and other holiday memories

With the holiday season in full swing, it’s time to focus on giving.  Some people have a real knack for picking out that perfect gift.  Then there’s my Mom.  Now, I love my mom dearly and am very grateful that she’s still alive and doing well in her mid-80s.

However, the holidays bring out a side of my mother that is strange and somewhat horrible.  She becomes a bizarro world holiday elf who somehow always manages to select just the wrong gift, but presents it with so much joy and love that it almost – almost – makes up for its innate oddness.

What’s that you say?  I’m a terrible, ungrateful daughter?  I should be thankful to get anything, it’s the thought that counts, there are starving children who would be grateful.  All true, but still….

There was the year, way back in the 1970s, when I unwrapped a box containing a tube top; not just any tube top, but a bright purple one with gold and purple spangles.  Understand, I was not a tube top sort of girl.  I was a bit overweight at the time, and small busted enough that any stretchy top without straps tended to just slide down and off.  Also, it wasn’t exactly my style; at that time I was more into jeans and t-shirts or vintage dresses.  I unwrapped the gift, thinking at first it was a scarf, and then realizing what it was.  “Uh, thanks… I guess”.

Whatever Mom lacks in the ability to choose the right gift is more than made up for in her enthusiasm.  My mom loves any chance to give or receive gifts, and approaches celebrations with all the joy of a young child.  She would secretly unwrap gifts to see what they were and then rewrap them.  A typical conversation with Mom this time of year goes something like:

                  Mom: “ I got you the greatest gift!  Just wait, you’ll love it.”

                  Me:  “Mom, don’t tell me – I want it to be a secret.”

                  “Don’t worry, I’m not telling you;, but it matches your winter coat perfectly”.

                  “I don’t want to know, stop talking about it”

                  “I’m not giving away any secrets – but it will sure keep you warm on cold days”.

                  “It’s a scarf, right”

                  “Well, I thought you wanted it to be a surprise, but since you’ve guessed, yes”.

Among Mom’s other hall of fame gifts were the years when I got a cheese gift package every year from one of the larger catalog mailers.  Not a bad gift, but a bit odd considering I live in Wisconsin and can easily get what I was being sent for a much better price.  Mom’s a great knitter, but somehow every sweater she’s made for me is several sizes too large.  Nothing helps the old ego more than realizing that in your mother’s eyes you weigh 200 pounds.

When my daughter was 10, she opened her Chanukah gift to find a large felt Hebrew alphabet board, an item meant clearly (to everyone but my mom) for a preschooler.  She reacted beautifully, a wide smile and heartfelt thanks to Grandma and Grandpa for the gift.  Later, in private she came to me.   “Does Grandma think I’m a baby?” she asked with some trepidation.  No, I explained; Grandma meant well, but sometimes goofed in choosing gifts.  Still worried, she asked if I was going to hang the alphabet board in her bedroom.   I assured her that she could put in her closet, and that we’d find a more suitable home for it next year.

Mom’s greatest moment in gift giving occurred many years ago.  All 3 of us kids, plus spouses, were gathered at home for a Chanukah dinner.   My mom passed around wrapped gifts that were clearly books, one to each couple.  Before we could unwrap them, she excitedly told us what a great gift this was, how she had one herself, and how much it had changed her life (as I said earlier, Mom gets way too enthusiastic to wait for gifts to be unwrapped).   Brother number 1 unwraps his gift to find a book titled “How to Get Organized”.   He opens the cover and there, inscribed on the first page, is “Happy Chanukah to Jim & Diane”.  Only, he’s not Jim.  We all laugh, and Mom once again exclaims what a great book this is and how it has made her more organized.  I open my gift; same book.  The inscription reads “Happy Chanukah to John & Stacy”; only thing is, I’m not Stacy.  By this time, we’re laughing so hard that the third and final copy never was opened.  So much for the organizational skills espoused by the book.

Now that we’re all older and spread across the country, we no longer gather together at Thanksgiving and Chanukah.  A few years ago we started giving food as gifts.   Instead of a hand wrapped gift, we order interesting items from regional producers; things like organic honeys and jams, cheeses, smoked meats.  We also do charitable donations.

Our new style of gift giving is more efficient and makes sense, but I miss the surprises we used to get every year.  Luckily – or not – there’s the Home Shopping Network, so even with less mobility Mom can still find those “perfect” gifts for me.  They are often bizarrely off, but now I look forward to them.  I know that at some point, most likely sooner than I want, I won’t be getting any more.  So, bring it on Mom; whether it’s a giant serving platter I don’t need and will never use, or a  year’s supply of skin care products for someone with an entirely different complexion than I have, or a 3 pound hook I’m supposed to carry in my purse to make it easier to hang on the edge of a table; whatever it is, I’m eager to open it.

Daily Prompt: Blogging forward 1 day and perspective at a time

Dear Rick,

I started this blog as a way to talk with you.  We always communicated best via the written word, going back to our initial meeting through an online web site.  I still remember the wonderful emails you sent me when we were dating, the best of which you helpfully labeled “Don’t open at work” to avoid embarrassment.  We mostly stopped emailing after we moved in together, but still used it on those occasions when there were issues too difficult to speak out loud.

A lot of the posts I’ve written have been addressed to you, in epistolary format,  as though we were having a conversation.  I doubt that you have read these, but it makes me feel better.  There was so much we never had a chance to finish, or even to start.  I’ve tried talking to you when I visit your grave, but writing you a letter seems more natural.  It makes me feel close to you, as thought you’re still here.  I wish you were.

Love,

Me

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The last few months have been the hardest of my life.  There are no real “up” periods, only days that have been bearable and where, maybe, I can envision a future. That’s as good as it gets, right now.  On the bad days, I’m stuck in negative feelings; anger, despair sadness, guilt.   Often I feel cheated; why did this have to happen to me?  Will I even find that happily ever after?

This blog has been very helpful.  It lets me work through the maelstrom in my head.   I can grab a hold of an idea or thought and work it through from start to finish.  I started this on a whim, thinking I’d write 2 or 3 entries and then be done.  Instead, writing these posts has become one of the only things I look forward to doing at home.   I’ve found it helpful and healing.

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And, so, she kept writing.  There were days when she sat at her desk at work unable to concentrate, feeling so low that the only options were to open the word processor and start writing, or to go sit in the bathroom and cry.   She much preferred the former.   Evenings at home were so quiet and lonely she couldn’t stand it.  Writing a blog post, speaking it out loud, made her feel less alone.   She noticed that the posts written at home tended to be the letters written directly to her deceased husband or 2nd person entries, whereas the entries written during her lunch break at work were mostly first person.

As the weeks went by and the hurt became less raw, her writing changed.  It became more introspective, more concerned with trying to tease out meaning from what had happened and less with documenting the events.   These later blog entries were more difficult to write, unlike the earlier entries that burst out quickly, almost writing themselves.

In time her point of view changed.  It became possible to stand apart from herself and to view the events of her life in perspective, as though from a distance.  These thoughts were best expressed using third person narrative as it provided a less emotional and calmer tone.

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You have a role in this, too, everyone of you who reads this post.   That’s what makes a blog different from a book.  You’re not just a passive reader, but an active participant by dint of comments, likes, and deciding to follow a blog.  Maybe you saw a post title and thought it looked interesting, or maybe the blog’s name was one you could relate to; regardless, your input is why this blog continues.

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Dear Rick,

I’m ending this post the way I started, in the epistolary format.  It’s been just about 100 days since I said goodbye to you.  I don’t cry that much anymore, but I don’t feel any joy.  My life has dulled around the edges.  I think I’m healing, I’m pretty sure I’m doing Okay and will make it through, but right now it’s still hard.

You’d be happy to know I’m doing a lot of writing. You always encouraged me to write more, and wanted us to collaborate on something.  Maybe this is our collaboration.  It’s as much yours as mine; without your inspiration I wouldn’t be writing it.
I miss you babe; a lot.  Wish you were here with me.

Love,

Me

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She read over what she’d written and wiped away a few tears.  It would do.  Now she’d wait and see; how many views, how many likes, how many comments.