Saturday, November 16, 2013

You'd Think I'd Be Better

I am very fortunate that, so far, I have yet to have one person say to me, "Shouldn't you be over this by now?"  They might think it, but so far, no one has had the balls to say it to my face.

But the truth is, that probably no one is more judgmental about their grief than a widow(er).  We don't need someone to make that comment to us because when we wake up every morning with that feeling that something irreplaceable is missing - which does lessen over the years, but is present all the same - a lot of us think, "Ugh.  Shouldn't I be over this by now?"

It's been six years and I know I do.

I always hate writing about this stuff because I know that there is someone out there reading this who is on her second month of widowhood, looking at her computer, mouth open in horror, thinking, "She's been at this for six years?  Is this what I have to look forward to?"  And my answer is...yes and no.  Because what those of us years into widowhood have figured out is that most days we're able to live with our grief.  But it is still there.

Of course, there could be a widow out there reading this who is years away from her loss and thinking, "Thank God it's not just me."

Nope.  It's not just you.

I'm so damn hard on myself and this is why most people have no idea when I'm going through a tough time. And if I actually break down and let someone in on what's going through my head, it is peppered with hundreds of teary"I'm sorrys" throughout the conversation.  Because, even though I keep telling the rest of the widowed world that there is no time limit on grief...sometimes I have a hard time believing it myself.

I'm so impatient.  I want to be better and I want to be better now.  I may have 330 days of living life to the fullest, but it's those pesky bad days that get me so frustrated.  Even this year, as my husband's birthday approaches (which has always been one of my hardest days), I thought I was doing so well and I actually (stupidly) thought I could control my grief.

But, as we all know, that's impossible.  Because as I steered my mind toward getting everything done that I needed to , my body said, "Nope.  Sorry." 

And I started to shake.  And get dizzy.  Although I'm going to bed when my kids do, I'm so tired I can barely put one foot in front of the other.  I stoically held back my tears during my daughter's Honor Roll ceremony last week...and then went to a business meeting where I thought I was going to throw up the entire time.

I told my mother this week at lunch, "You'd think I'd be better by now."

She didn't say anything, her eyes tearing up, feeling my pain as only a mother can.  And then it hit me.  She doesn't think I should be better by now.  I do.  And I don't know why I'm putting that pressure on myself.  Why I can't just let people into my life and my emotions without feeling so apologetic about it?  I mean really...the support system I have created for myself can take it. 

It's hard to just let it all go, isn't it?  To have those conversations with people about how difficult things can be.  Because it makes it so real.  When it's living in my head, it's just mine.  But when I tell others and see the effect it becomes part of them, too.  And that's a piece of this that I can't stand - that a part of my life makes the people I love sad.

Because that's not me.  I'm the fun one (I think).  The funny one (I hope).  I don't want to be the one with the Indian name She Who Makes Man Cry.  But I guess at this point in my life, to know me is to love me - all of me.

The people around me seem to get that.

Why can't I?


I had a dream about my husband last night - no big surprise since he's been on my mind constantly this last week.  It was like I had gone back in time and gotten the phone call for the first time.  So, when I got to the hospital, I knew what was going to happen, but no one else did and, given the fact that my husband seemed injured but fine right after his accident (which is what happened in real life), no one could understand how emotional I was.

I hesitated before I turned the doorknob to enter his room.  I knew that I was about to see him for the first time in over six years and I can't describe the feeling I had - it was like elation and dread all at the same time because I couldn't wait to see him, but I knew this would throw me back to the beginning of widowhood.  And I would have to do it all over again.

I've never seen my husband so vividly in a dream.  Usually he's kind of blurry but in this one I could make out every feature.  I was actually able to lean down and kiss him and I truly felt it.  It was so strange.

The doctors wanted to take him in for knee surgery for his dislocated knee (something that did not happen at the time), and I kept saying to them over and over, "His brain is going to start swelling in about 24 hours.  Can't you do something about that now?"  The doctors looked at me as if I was crazy and wheeled him away into surgery.

I knew he was gone.  I started scrambling around, trying to find my purse so that I could call my present-day widow friends because I needed them.  I knew what I was about to face and I knew I couldn't do it alone.  But I woke up before I could talk to them.

I sent a few of them an email this morning, trying to explain the dream so that I wouldn't forget it and how it was the best and worst I'd ever had.  I woke up feeling like a part of me was back at the beginning, but on the other hand...I got to touch my husband.  Something I have never been able to do in a dream before.

One of my friends replied, "Isn't it odd how our subconscious tries to weave together the timelines of present-day us with the reality of 5 years ago - and plays out all the fears and feelings we have as we try to avoid the same fate.  Almost like a jigsaw puzzle, our brains trying to orchestrate a better outcome."

 But, as we all know, the outcome is not ours to control.  The only thing we can do is move forward the best we can with this life that we've been given.  And I think I'm doing okay with that, even if I do have hard days.  After all, even though in the dream I knew I had been thrust back into the beginning stages of widowhood...

...I also knew I had my widdas to get me through.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

The Upcoming Holidays and the Table for Five

"Are you okay?"

As a widow, you know there are about fifty different ways to answer that question. 

The nice I-don't-want-you-to-worry-about-me way:  Of course I am!  Why wouldn't I be?  The I'm-so-tired-I-don't-have-the-energy-to-bullshit way:  No.  I'm not.  But don't ask me why because I just don't want to explain it AGAIN.  Then there is the I'm-bitter-and-I'm-not-going-to-hide-it way:

Hell, no.  Would you be okay if you were me?

But the people around us aren't mind-readers and most of the people we love are actually asking because they care.  And when my mother asked me that question this week, I couldn't help but be honest.

"Not really.  I'm pretty tired."

And then she asked a very intuitive question.

"Are you lonely?"

Now, for many of us...this is a no-brainer.  Of COURSE we're lonely.  But, the truth is, that so many of us do such a great job of masking it that the people around us have no clue how truly painful our situations are.  I gave my parents a glimpse of that this summer when my basement flooded and in tears I said to them, "You guys have no idea how lucky you are to have each other."

Even though I have been widowed for six years and feel that I lead a very full life, there are definite moments of loneliness.  I recently had one widow email me and explain in detail how much she missed the comforting touch of her husband, something that I completely understood.  Because even though I know I have friends I can call to come over and hang out with's not the same.

Not by a long shot.

I think I get this way every year.  I know it's because the holidays are looming before me and that's a lonely time for a lot of people.  I keep busy and there are many things that I find joy in during the months of November and December.  But there are specific moments when...well...

I HATE IT.  Like, "take my widowhood outside and want to beat the shit out of it" hate it.

"Yes, Mom.  I am lonely."

And then I said something that surprised her.  And I was kind of surprised that she was surprised.

"I hate being the fifth person in everything that we do."

I have a very close family - both of my parents live near me as well as my sister and her family.  And believe one could be more grateful for the support that they have.  I know that when I wake up in the morning, if my world should come to a crashing halt, they will be there for me.

Because they've already proven that.

But I hate being the odd man out.  I hate being that extra seat.  I hate not being part of a twosome.  I hate packing my kids up alone after a family meal at my parents' house and heading home.  I hate that I don't have someone squeezing my hand under the table every once in a while.  And, to be honest, I hate that my sister's husband doesn't have the buddy he once did to hang with him and watch football while the women gossip in the kitchen and cook.

My mother was mortified when I said it.  "Oh, Catherine.  We don't make you feel that way, do we?"

"No one makes me feel that way," I said tearing up.  "It's not an emotion.  It's just a fact.  I'm the extra."

It's sometimes amazing to me, how well I've masked my emotions.  When I asked my dad what he thought of my book, the first thing he said was, "I can't believe how much you went through.  I mean, I knew most of it, but I had no idea the depth of all you were feeling."  His response surprised me a little because I thought they knew everything.

But I guess there's a lot that I keep to myself.

It's funny how I didn't realize that my mom thought I was perfectly comfortable at all of these family functions.  But I guess if I don't tell her and show up is she supposed to know?  There is no quick fix for this and - to use my least favorite phrase - "it is what it is."  It's been six years and do you know what I've realized?

It's okay to be sad.

It's okay to let people in on it.

And it's okay to miss what was.  Because maybe that will help me find what could be.