An Accident . . . of Fate

MyCarRingI don’t know who she was. I don’t know her name, age or where she was going that sunny Saturday noon. But a few nights ago I was told that she, an unsuspecting passenger in the car that hit mine that Saturday — died. I had wondered, in the days since, if she and the driver, not much older than I, were alright given the force of the crash. The truth did not set me free, if indeed I had needed it. Instead, her death hit hard and I grieved for a woman I never knew, who was merely a bit player in a sad, now deadly scenario.

I should be used to life’s wayward swings, its errant pendulum. How else could I explain the crazy things that happen in mine and everyone’s life? Could there another explanation for why, leaving my husband for just an hour, I came home to find him dead of an embolism? Was it his crazy luck of the draw or mine; God’s ‘plan’ or the universe blinking? Whichever way we toss the cards, we’ll never get to hold a full house for long. Even if we get a straight flush in our grasp, none of us hold on to it forever.

Accidents don’t come with a bell around its neck.

When I envision that fateful day, just 3 weeks ago, I wonder what might have changed the trajectory of each of our fates. Maybe I could have browsed longer for gifts or took another route home. The mom driving the car behind me, could have taken the kids that usually sat in the empty car seats instead of likely leaving them with her husband so she could run some quick errands. And the car barreling toward both of us? What put them on that road, in the wrong lane and speeding without slowing down. Were they going to visit friends, grandchildren, even an early movie? All I know is that something went terribly wrong that noon hour and a woman is dead because of it. The driver? I have to think a spirit is broken, and a heart is heavier than the weight of all three of the cars.

Just one moment can change everything. A momentary lapse in judgment or ability can happen and, in a blink of an eye, something irrevocable happens. That kind of realization can cause a mighty kick in the gut.

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Velveteen Human

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To love at all is to be vulnerable.   C.S. Lewis

From the time we emerge, wrinkled, red and screaming our heads off in the delivery room, we begin to grow. We bravely take first steps, say first words and train daily for life as a fully realized human. We get skinned knees, scrapes, spills and tears along the way to all the good stuff and then we realize – it might not be all good stuff.

Pinocchio got a crash course in what it means to be ‘real’ when he became a human boy. Suddenly, he had all the best and worst of being real.  He also had to choose not to lie, not only to everyone else, but also to himself. We’re all a little like that wooden boy.  As we grow, we learn to embrace true selves including all the splintered, broken pieces because it’s in those pieces we learn to be kind, genuinely, and sincerely kind. We learn to say what we mean and mean what we say, trying not to hurt others but empower them. We learn, we learn, we learn. . . if we’re lucky, if we’re aware, we become ‘real’.

Part of being real is being authentic, broken parts and all. It can be really tough to dive deep inside ourselves for our truest feelings but those are the only ones that count. We all get broken in different ways in this thing we call life and need to be mindful of what we experience to stay connected to ourselves. Maybe we could take a page from The Velveteen Rabbit’s playbook; as plush toys go, those guys were pretty evolved. “You become. It takes a long time.” the Skin Horse explained to the Velveteen Rabbit. Real “doesn’t happen often to people who break easily or have sharp edges or have to be carefully kept.”
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I Miss . . . Me

Screen Shot 2016-05-20 at 11.37.56 PMThe girl I used to be (okay, ‘girl’ might be a bit generous) has been AWOL for some time. The kid who sang, not perfectly but at least on key, and loved to dance could be a lot of fun. Divorce, single motherhood, and a lot of tough times shaped her appreciation for every and all moments of joy. As she slowly discovered her true self, she kinda liked what she found but she also uncovered a healthy dose of protective skepticism. That skepticism might have precluded the urgency to get married again — but one guy blew all her fears out of the water. And despite her best efforts, she became a wife again.

Even with the boatload of medical challenges that came with our “I do’s”, I was suddenly, unequivocally and authentically happy. That is until the one night the man whose unconditional, profound love made me a believer — died in a heartbeat. The love boat I had neatly packed with all I had become — capsized. And I’ve pounded the treadmill of ‘what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger’ ever since.

Yet, if I had to take my emotional temperature right now, I’m not sure I could decipher the results. I’ve never been here before. But, as Lewis Carroll said “I can’t go back to yesterday because I was a different person then”. Duh. Since that terrible October night, Pollyanna has been in full makeover mode and it’s not always pretty. That’s not to say I don’t grudgingly appreciate the woman I’ve been slowly becoming; she’s actually not all that bad, sometimes even bordering on cool. Her head is a little messy sometimes (I don’t mean just my hair; my war with that is legendary) and at moments, she can get a little off-track and teary. But with no Fodor’s guide for grief, she’s doing the best she can. She may not be crushing it but she’s doing pretty damn good at practicing.

Married life is never static — for anyone. It doesn’t hold steady at one temperature every single day. The changing weather of just being human makes sure life isn’t a constant fluffy bliss ball. Sometimes you have to pinch yourself for the profound happiness right next to you; other times the pinch is more like ‘what was I thinking’. In the end, the right marriage to the right person is a ride you never want to end. That’s why it sucks the big one when it does. Continue reading

To Group – Or Not To Group.

Health-Life-Preserver-1024x710“I don’t want to belong to any club that wants me as a member.” Good ol’ Groucho Marx pretty much hit the nail on the head about my reluctance to join groups. Just ask my hefty posse of friends who know me all too well. They’ll tell you I’m just not much of a joiner type. It has nothing to do with the groups. Maybe I’m just allergic to meeting minutes, or having to commit to regular times on the calendar. That being said, though, I have made exceptions.

After my husband died, my church’s pastor suggested I jump into my parish grief support group, so I went – once. To be fair, it was a good idea in theory and there were lovely people there. They also seemed a lot older and their memories longer since their entire adult lives were spent with one partner. Still, I could have worked with that, since grief is always a common denominator. No, the deal breaker was the fact that the meeting was held in the same exact room my husband and I sat for 9 years when we ran a cancer support group. Fidgeting a few spots away from the very same couch we sat on, month after month as facilitators, I kept glancing at the now empty space. I couldn’t help envision my husband, animated, always gracious and thinking to myself ‘what the hell am I doing here?’.

I couldn’t leave fast enough.

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Live the Dash

DASHBorn. Died. He was here – and then he wasn’t. For every name in the cemetery, what separates the dates of birth and death — is a dash, a line that connects all the living in between. A dash not only separates a whole bunch of years but also connects all we were meant to be. At least that’s what we hope for anyway.

A dash says ‘you were here’. You toddle around in diapers, go to school, run headlong into becoming an adult. And then what?  Dates of graduation, wedding, children born are markers that all fall into the living. Jobs are listed on resumes, annotated with a succession of start and end dates. Even vacations are hyphenated periods of time we set aside to explore and relax.

How about marriage? The years spent with the person we marry carry their own dash. Sometimes they stretch far into the horizon; other times years can only be the length of an eyelash. However long or short, the dash attaches pieces of our all parts of our lives. Fortunately, even though my husband and I didn’t get much mileage out of the dash that strung our marriage years together, we had a small but pretty cool chunk of the ‘before’. Now the dash is in my court.  And, at the moment, I can’t predict what it will say about me. Continue reading

Beyond Words

WORDSYour memoir – in six words. What a concept! When I read “Not Quite What I Was Planning” a few years ago, I thought it was genius. The clever little nuggets spilling from that book were profound, odd, funny and powerful. I knew that those who wrote them, both famous and not-so-famous, were really onto something. Just imagine, an entire life compressed in succinct 6-word verbiage. I began to think of everything in the smallest set of words possible. Waiting on the phone through 10 degrees of voicemail, or sitting in traffic, I thought of everything in 6 word increments.

Condensing words to a powerful, precious few is hardly new. Centuries ago, Confucius, said, “One joy dispels a hundred cares” and people through the ages recognized that verbosity isn’t a requisite for memorable statements. As a copywriter, I’m used to compacting messages. I can stuff ten pounds of thought into a clever five-pound bag and transform a stiff company mission statement into a sharp tagline. But reading this book gave the process a whole new meaning. While more than a few of the ingenious memoirs made me laugh out loud, I realized that they were also terrific creative self-analysis. Super cool. Continue reading

Black. White . . . Technicolor.

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Life is a mess of contrasts, isn’t it?  Few things are strictly black or white. Sometimes the same thing that makes you supremely happy can also be bittersweet, even really sad. You know, the kind of thing that makes you feel like your foot is on the gas and the brake at the same time. That pretty much sums up how we feel remembering holidays, birthdays, and yes, anniversaries after the person who was central to that day is gone. It’s also EXACTLY how I feel this week.

There’s a ton of stuff swimming in my head as my second wedding anniversary— without the groom—rolls in this week. There are some fun memories to be sure, like when my son whispered to me as he walked me down the aisle “Mom, what’s the rush?”. I had no idea I was practically racing to the altar but I had seen my guy’s adoring face and couldn’t wait to get there. (Sorry, my sweet son, you know I love you endlessly!) Now remembering my rush to get to my bridegroom I can’t help but wonder if, even then, I knew subconsciously that our years together were numbered. But blissfully ignorant, we still managed to wring every happy we could from the years we had.

Funny how memories barge in when you least expect it. Often, some of the most telling are ones that seemed insignificant at the time but years have raised their place in memory. Grey moments sandwiched between the black and white bookends take on a technicolor tinge. One of those moments was the morning of the wedding. Both sitting at the kitchen table, my youngest daughter teased the groom-to-be about needing to change into his tux somewhere else. She jokingly insisted that he uphold the tradition to ensure not bringing ‘bad luck’. Hah! Given our medically challenged life from that day forward, admonition had to be the most ironic turn of phrase!

Last year this time, I dreaded that once incredibly happy date. My daughters and granddaughter took me to dinner and a movie in the hopes we could all somehow just get through it together. We each were basically whistling in the dark but did pretty well on balance. At least I didn’t, like the Wicked Witch of the West, melt into a puddle of tears – but then I came home. Walking into the empty house, I had the perfectly masochistic idea to pop our wedding video into the TV. Brilliant. Seeing my husband so vibrant, healthy-looking, happy and in living color was a stellar way of kicking off a major pity party. Yet, I continued to watch. (No one ever accused me of being a quitter) I saw all our friends in their excitement for us, our kids so glad for our happiness and me, the radiant bride, totally clueless of the speeding train just around the proverbial corner.

They say love is being stupid together. If that’s true, we had honed it to perfection.  Remember the rubber ducks in the margarita fountain I told you about? The hot dogs that rotated above elegant canapes in a theater snack bar rotisserie?  We prided ourselves on silly fun and that wedding wingding we threw was a total hoot! But just like lovers being stupid together, as C.S.Lewis knew well, love is also being vulnerable together and we were that, too. When cancer has the first wedding dance, vulnerability is part of the package. But that package can also weave you together in ways that stitch more depth and knowing than the years you are given.

I’m not at all nonchalant about the anniversary rolling in this week. Even though it most likely won’t knock the wind out of me like it did last year, I still won’t be popping champagne either. The reason for that kind of celebration left when he did but I can still toast what we had because we had a lot. Maybe I’ll even drop that wedding video in again, but hopefully I’ll watch it differently this time. As the scenes of that day roll by, yes, I’ll be reminded of how blissfully unaware those two people were of what they would lose. But this time, I might also smile, even laugh, at the crazy couple who, despite all they lost through the years, kept and grew the love they began with. Contrasts, right?

Like one of the songs we danced to on that wedding night, sometimes what we don’t know, is a good thing. Life is not black or white but all the feelings, colors and hues in between. Good or bad, healthy or not, happy or sad, we loved each other like there was no tomorrow – until the day there wasn’t.

 

“And now I’m glad I didn’t know

The way it all would end, the way it all would go.

Our lives are better left to chance; I could have missed the pain

. . . But I’d have had to miss the dance.”

Garth Brooks, The Dance