I Miss — Having a Mister

solitudeBeachIf you think I need to be a wife to feel validated, the answer would be a no. I’ve been married and divorced; remarried and now widowed. But, no matter what place I am in life, I’M still there. I don’t need to be possessed by someone, but to be a true partner, a loving mate? Ah, that’s the winning powerball ticket. It’s a role I’ve cherished in life.

That being said, I kept the boat upright this last year without my partner, albeit listing a bit to one side at times. I’ve paddled my own canoe through in both home and work. With a home office for more than more than 15 years, days alone in that home are a given.

It’s the nights that bug me.

Last week, despite my reluctance to pull that trigger, I ended up in the ER — at 2am. Groan. My rebellious bad belly had been particularly spiteful these past weeks but it was nausea and a heart racing out of control that woke me from a sound sleep. Not able to put the brakes on it, I shakily called 911. My friends know well that my fresh-out-of-bed, no make up look would normally have made me want to rethink that call but wee hours lightheadedness, in a house where death already visited, does not make for a cool head — or an attractive one.

More important than my pounding heart that night was the ache in it as I sat in my ER bed and looked over at the empty chair that sat alongside.  It was the same chair I filled in that and other hospital ER’s, waiting rooms and recovery rooms for so many years. It was a chair that I sat in as wife, business partner, medical advocate and pit bull. It was a chair that I sprang out of to chase doctors down when my husband was having an issue or to harass nurses to check for xray results. It was also the chair, in another hospital, at another time, where I sat only 3 days before he died.

I hate that empty chair. Continue reading

Good Ol’ Summertime

DSC_0330.JPGFull disclosure — summer not my favorite season. I’m not a hater; I’m just not feelin’ it. Oh, I feel the heat alright. As temps rise, I melt and it’s not pretty. (think Wicked Witch of the West) My husband, however, loved everything about summer. Despite my dire warnings about skin cancer (duh), he basked au soleil whenever he could. Neatly positioning himself wherever rays beamed, he thrived on getting ‘color’, which he hardly needed given his robust black Irish coloring. Bright blue eyes and full head of thick, wavy grey hair made him sufficiently handsome without another cancer to worry about. He never saw it that way.

Still, even now I can envision every freckle, crinkle of skin and strand of hair in startling detail. That in itself is kind of ironic knowing these days I can’t remember where I put my glasses or what I had for dinner the night before. Loss creates a really annoying photographic memory.

“I’ll be seeing you
In every lovely summer’s day
In everything that’s light and gay
I’ll always think of you that way”

The light and gay part kind of escapes me, but I remember well how that man thrived in summer warmth. (That made one of us) As I baked, he bloomed. Even days when side effects weighed heavily on him, he wanted to be on the move. Despite soaring temps, he’d be ready to rock. Well, maybe not quite that energetic but you get the gist. To me, summer just meant pressure to DO stuff. When the sun lights all the trees and you can smell the freshness of grass before you see it, what reasonable excuse can you give for staying inside? You’re absolutely obligated to take a day trip, walk, anything but curling up in your house. Yet, though I still often crave a nice comfy, rainy day, I admit the memories of those summer moments with my hot weather boy remain.

This summer, I’m not quite sure how I feel. Two thirds done already, the weeks have been pretty uneventful. Not that I’m complaining, mind you. I’ve had quite enough life changing ‘events’, thank you very much. Still, I don’t foresee a trek abroad, a palm tree packed island cruise or even a visit to my favorite place – Cape Cod. (more about that another time.) It’s now the second summer without the guy who loved this season and I haven’t yet gotten my sea legs. Summer is still — meh. Continue reading

Hello, Darkness, my old friend.

DarknessOldFriend

Ah, the dark. We can’t ignore or outrun it. We can only walk, tentatively, nervously or purposefully through it. Pretty good spiel from someone who turns to TV for sound in a silent house and flips my lights on through an app, assuring me that life is visibly still present. Yet, I still remember, back when there was an abundance of life and noise in my house. I wince now remembering how I would make the occasional nonsensical wish that I’d have “just five minutes without someone arguing, or calling mom, mommy, ma.” I guess that’s not abnormal in a life with three active kids, right? Now I hear those same kids, whose babes today populate their homes, make that same joking wish sometimes. However inadvertent, my unvoiced wishes for the occasional quiet were answered to the max last year — and , boy, does that ever suck.

They say ‘Be careful what you wish for because you might get it.” Hey, universe, I never wished for THIS! Yet, all of us humans yearn for the greener grass, never really contemplating that it might be overrun with dandelions. Try telling a kid, who can’t wait for a grownup’s clothes, and privileges, that it ain’t all that, and you’ll get a withering look. How about newlyweds who wish they could take a short cut through all the trips and falls on the trip to real oneness? The one thing none of us wish is darkness, the kind that illness, loss of love, loss of dreams and of course the mother load that scary dark  brings — death. Yet, dark is the flip side of all the good stuff. We can’t avoid it, we have to find our way through it.

No one is comfortable with funerals or wakes. I used to shake each time I entered a funeral home, wishing with all my might, I could just phone it in. Maybe it had something to do with my Italian grandmother’s hysterical wailing as she threw herself, pulling her hair as she went, on my grandfather’s coffin. Yeah, that might do it. Or the earth-swallowing experience of standing in the pouring rain while they lowered my young brother into the ground. I’ve always been plain terrified of even the mere mention of death. It’s never been the topic of chatty conversation and it’s only as years go by that the obits seem like a good place to start your day. (that was a joke).  Yet, death pays the occasional visit to everyone in some way. The night it slithered up the stairs in my own home, gloating over my husband, it forced me to look straight into its eyes and changed me forever. Continue reading

Carpe Diem

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Emily, the young mother of Thornton Wilder’s ‘Our Town’ died in childbirth.  She returned, in spirit, to relive just one day, her 12th birthday.  Watching her family, moving with such familiarity, she muses painfully about the fragility of the moment. Wistfully she says “Does anyone ever realize life while they live it…every every minute?”

No, Emily, we don’t.

We live in a world of constant to-do’s, so we do – too much. We fill every moment and, at the end of the day, sometimes we can’t remember where the minutes went.
Well, they went to the grocery store, to work, to social media, and cleaning the closet. They went to anxiety, annoyance, and anger. Moments keep disappearing. The clock never slows. The calendar is relentless. We can’t control the speed or ultimate loss of minutes but we can try to savor what we can of them.

These days, reminders of time’s speeding train is evident in my growing grandboys, one who starts high school next year. Yikes! And how many minutes have passed since my only granddaughter was a sassy/smart little munchkin to the gorgeous grown woman version she is today — with a wedding to plan. Time waits for no man – or woman. Continue reading

Chicken Little Grows Up

Fearful

It was just a text; an invite from a friend. It was an invitation that should have been a slam dunk for someone else. But in this old kid’s alternate universe, this simple text set my hair on fire because it was invite for dinner — in the city. Uh oh.

Excuses racing through my brain, my fingers hesitated over the letters that would spell out my regrets. Considering my options, including perhaps an unforeseen natural disaster, the full force of guilt was also upon me. This sweet lady who had often driven many miles just to visit me deserved better than a dumb excuse and any excuse would be just a smoke screen for the real problem. I was a chickenshit. Just the thought of traveling solo to the Big Apple invoked a world of panic in me and that was the unvarnished, embarrassing truth.

So, there I sat, minutes ticking away, staring at the computer. Houston, we have a problem.

I never lived or worked in the city. Any exploration of Manhattan was as the sidekick of friends or husband, not in driver’s seat. (competitive races with taxi drivers were not my wheelhouse). My only lone trip on the commuter train was as a much younger version of myself and the last (and second time) time I took the bus was with my husband the year before he died. Yet, I live in a commuter town, well serviced by public transit and here I was having apoplexy about using it.

I pondered my options. I could decline this loving woman’s plan for what sounded like a nice night with her and her savvy, accomplished ‘gal pals’. Or, I could say ‘yes’; then dial-a-friend. I knew my neighbor buddy was also solo travel-shy but hey, two crazy chicks were always better than one. Problem solved.

That’s how I ended up in New York City last night, enjoying a delicious, entertaining and inspiring night with savvy new friends I never would have otherwise met. Neither I nor my sweet travel pal were abducted. We didn’t get lost in the bus terminal maze or suffer anything but bouts of insane laughter. The night was more than a success; it might have been a much needed facepalm. Though it would have been exceedingly easy to decline the dinner invite, it wouldn’t have been right – on many levels. The time had come to finally make the leap to ‘yes’. Continue reading

Pick A Number

kiciPq8jLo1zC-qI3lyNCKi6Css-gWqyIo2U_s2KH2lqlzawKXmtqkD962y4E3aYV_iLT4VeagOkJYAbATo=s640-l65Hah! If age was just a number, how about we pick one we like, say a single digit one, and stuck with it? It might be really cool to be 7 again. Picture running barefoot in the summer grass (minus wasps and ticks) with an orange popsicle dripping down your arm. Who doesn’t remember the Pavlov’s dog call of the Good Humor truck, or halter tops minus bras (we didn’t need them at 7), lazy afternoons with paper dolls and Nancy Drew books?

Well, stop dreaming; that’s not going to happen. The truth is, knowing all the good and not so good that’s happened along the way to where we are now, would we be content at any age forever? I don’t think so.

When I thought of getting older, I set pretty low bars. I yearned to ditch the Saturday morning weeding chores.  I couldn’t wait to wear the makeup I saw teen girls artfully apply and even thought, that once I grew up, my younger brothers would stop trying to get me in trouble. Well, the weeding was traded in for an entire house a mom of three needed to keep clean. Makeup became a must not a dreamy thought and, at least one of my brothers doesn’t ever tease me anymore. He died before he ever really got to live.

So much for setting goals high.

As a kid who always loved to draw, I thought I’d go to art school and become a passionate artist. Oops, I totally forgot Women’s Lib had yet to visit my house. My big idea being the next Norman Rockwell took a backseat to making sure my brother went to college. Like many households back in the day, women became teachers, nurses and/or wives instead. So, I sidestepped plans of a paintbrush in my hand and tested out my father’s theory that I should instead become a dental assistant. That idea barely lasted through one part-time job in an interminably quiet dental office.

But I digress. Continue reading

After the After

AFTERPublic service announcement: There’s no room for BS in the ‘after’. Drama isn’t welcome either. A crash course in death makes it pretty clear that all you can do is wrap your arms around the now. That’s all you have. The idea that in a nanosecond you can go from wife to widow brutally teaches the importance of focusing on things that matter. Death makes life too real not to reconsider how you’re living it.

Oh, I certainly don’t have everything figured out. In fact, most days, I fly by the seat of my pajamajeans. (I seriously love those things) But, living after —the after, I have a greater appreciation for the right now. I’m hardly always Zen. Like everyone else, I have moments that catch me up angst. My kids can assure you that my worry meter is even more often than usual on high alert and my poor grandkids are stuck with helicopter gramma. Oh, well.

Kierkagard once said “The most painful state of being is remembering the future.” Well, that pretty much sums up the grief of loss, doesn’t it. We’ll never NOT remember that our futures would have been better, fuller, hurt less with our loved ones in it. We had no say in what happened  to them but we do for ourselves. We get to do is say ‘yes’ to now and will figure the rest as we go along

These days my priorities have shifted; my emotional to-do list is lighter. As business partners, my husband and I were more entwined than many; his cancer sewed us even more tightly together.  To be suddenly operating solo is real paradigm shift, one that we have no choice but to make. The ‘how’ is up to us. Though Death gives us no choice and no reprieve, life does. Even when the daily living of it feels inconsequential and meaningless, we can still try to make the rest of our lives the best they can be.

Today, time with family is even riper with meaning and memories. My friends and all they are to me, have never been more treasured. And there’s never a day I could say “I’m bored”, thank goodness! Don’t get me wrong, there are still ‘moments’. There are many times missing my husband gets the best of me. Memories can kneecap me yet, there are other days now and thoughts of life still to be despite the one that isn’t.

Death doesn’t end a relationship. All we do is emotionally relocate the people taken from us. It’s not an instant process but one that continues throughout the rest of our lives. After the hell of the first year, I’m seeing daylight, more appreciative of the ‘small things’, and certainly try not to sweat the big ones as much. I want to love more, laugh more, help more, and hold the hands of both the hurting and the happy more.

The After is tough but so are we. There’s no playbook for it so we just go through it the best we can, with the most grace we can muster (tears are still allowed). It doesn’t matter if all you can manage is to whistle in the dark, or are brave enough to forge ahead.

Whatever’s good for your soul — do that.