Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Hurricanes, Rosecolored Glasses and the Vapors

When a catastrophic life event happens, it is a landmark on the map of ones life. Sadly, most of the people from your life before this event are not going to make it into the life you lead afterward. As I am coming out of this hellish season of my life, I am shedding most of the people who knew me before the storm began. Some left immediately and others left when it got a bit too cold or the flood waters got a tad too deep. Not all relationships are strong enough to bend when hurricane force winds blow though ones life. Granny always told me, “People come into your life for a reason, a season or a lifetime.“ During these 18 months I have seen all three come to fruition. I am only now learning some things about me and the people I keep around me, as well as who I was before and who I am now. The panicked silence of my grief is lifting and I can actually hear what people who genuinely care about me have to say. My logical thinking has returned and I can examine things in an objective manner that is unclouded by things that were said and done in the fog of grief.

One of my friends, whom is also a widow, and I have talked extensively about our late husbands. When we speak of our lives before and after, the information we glean from one another can be an absolute revelation. The most important thing that I have learned from our conversations is that we must remove our rose colored glasses and look at whom we actually lost. Both of us are southern girls and were raised to “never speak ill of the dead.” Yes, I said the word. Not passed on, not gone home, not even lost, but dead. For all of the polite words used for what happened to them and the lives we knew, both are in fact, dead. They were human beings, and as such, as flawed as any one that remains here on Earth. Our relationships were living, breathing things that died the day one of us took our last breaths. We cannot truly grieve until we put these canonized ghosts that haunt our pasts to rest and look at them, as well as our lives, in the cold light of day. The details are lost in the thousands of words that make up the conversations with a good friend that change the way one sees the world. But the ultimate truth that remains is one of the truest statements I have ever made in my life. The heart cannot grieve a lie. The truth is, we loved them then for who they were. The lie is that we love them now for who we wish they had been. Unless and until we come to grips with the realities of the relationship, there is no way to heal. When the cracks in the lie begin to show, it rips us open anew.

Another dear friend and I have talked extensively about other things. He is the father of grown children and sees things through eyes I do not yet possess. He gently walked me through one of the hardest things I will ever do as a parent. Learning that I have to transition from my sons Mommy into his Mother. In my panic that my place with my son was shrinking, I was making myself obsolete in his life. Mommy binds up the wounds, cuts and scrapes that life deals our children. She forces her will upon her children because she simply knows what is best. Decisions a child doesn’t understand are met with the simple answer “because I said so” and the problem ends right there. What I couldn’t see is that my son is an adult and I was trying to remain his Mommy to make everything better. When I made the transition into letting him make his own decisions, right or wrong, I became his Mother. By letting him go I have drawn him closer to me. I am his confidant. I learned to say “How can I help?” rather than “This is what we will do.”  In doing this I became unafraid to say “I don’t know.” The difference is that now I stand behind him rather than in front of him. While I have made my transition, he has made sound decisions and great strides to secure his future. When the pressure of one of us disappointing the other was removed, we could proceed into an adult relationship. I am not responsible for his life and it is his to live.

I was speaking with yet another friend and the topic turned to people who try to drag us into the drama that surrounds them. Our views on these people are very similar. Everyone has an issue every now and then, but if the nexus for your life is always in disarray, then the common denominator is you. If you are constantly looking for validation by causing conflict around you, perhaps the question should be, “What is missing within you that causes you to look for that attention?” I have, for the most part, extricated myself from the drama queens  who were around me. I simply stopped answering their cries of wolf. I have made a conscious decision to be happy. I try to look at each day as a shiny new thing that will bring me to something good. The people I am keeping around me these days are positive and want good things for me. The last friend noticed a marked difference in my countenance. In his words, I am lighter and much easier in day to day conversation. He noted that I am a loving, supportive and gentle soul who loves the people around me right where they are in life. I accepted his compliment without a qualification from me.  That is not something I would normally do but I am learning.

When I first started writing I stated that I could not crack the code on this widow thing. I am getting there. The correct combination is coming to me and now I can see the path I must follow. What I have discovered is that if I spend less time looking at what is gone, I can accurately see what is here. In order to reach for the solid things I want in my future, I must release my grasp on the vapor that is my past. I was always fascinated by storms as a child. My cousins would run to Granny crying but she had to call me inside. I was always standing fearless in the rain trying to watch the show. It was then Granny told me to remember when it was the coldest and the darkest during a storm, others would run from the thunder and lightening. She told me to always remember the louder the sound the further the danger and that flash of light was to remind me that daylight was just on the other side. This long night is almost over. Daybreak is coming.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Sand, A Good Book and A New Perfume

So all week I have been in dread of this day. One of my best friends and I actually took off for the coast of the Carolina's to get me away from everything last Sunday afternoon. A lazy place that was made famous by the likes of Robert Mitchum and Robert DeNiro. Its called the Cape Fear area. A quiet and sleepy place on the coast. No plans and no hurry. When we got in the car we told no one when we would return.

I walked the beach and looked at the water. I felt small like one must beside something so big and powerful as the Atlantic. The sun was setting and the moon rising at the same time. Shells in the sand left by the tide and footprints that are taken. One must find peace in such a place. I did just that with a good book and a pack of smokes. No internet access or cable television. In the quiet of my head, I was alone with myself.

The next day we got up and moved through the town. Methodically looking at souvenirs and antiques. Nothing to do and no where to be. We went down and sat on the benches of the river between the ocean and the intercoastal waterway. I watched the birds and the people. A big pair of sunglasses, a black ball cap and some 50 SPF.  When we got back I crashed and slept for a fitful few hours and then up for the evening. Dinner at a nice but casual place. Laughter on the pier watching some unknown fireworks.

When we decided to come home on Wednesday, we took our time before leaving. Singing in the car.  A wonderful lunch and some driving around looking at things we want to return to see again. Some hot sauce for D’s collection. A fruitless search for t shirts and flip-flops. Nothing to stress. A happy road-trip home.

I walked into the apartment and thought that the heaviness would greet me at the door like a forgotten house-guest. That the stench of grief would be on my bed linens when I pillowed my head that night. When the sun rose I awoke with an unfamiliar expression. I found myself humming as I made my coffee and stepped out in the sun for a smoke. There was a new fragrance surrounding me though just a whiff. It was so unfamiliar to me that it took me until today to decipher its perfume.

You see, today is my birthday. My second as a widow. But I am healing. I am reaching. Last week I walked outside and noticed a Magnolia in bloom. I thought, well damn, that’s late. But a veil on my heart lifted in that moment. I am more than certain she thought she would never find it. She was roughly handled by the gardeners shears and suffered the loss of parts of herself. I know that she thought she would die from her wounds. But she is beautiful at this moment and the spotlight is on her because she is the only of her kind in bloom. She has found her spring. I, like that magnolia am late, but I am slowly coming out of my wounds and the cold winter of my grief. The unfamiliar perfume is that of the Magnolia and what it smells of is hope. 

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

A Magnolia by any other name

I have been largely silent for the last two months as far as the blog is concerned. I came out of a situation and was in what I thought by and large was a state of stasis. Sort of like suspended animation. What has transpired in those 7 weeks has been nothing that anyone could see, but on the inside, a lot has changed.

I was speaking to my friend, whom we shall call The Madhatter. She sees things thru different eyes than I as she sees the picture from the outside while I am living within the frame. Strangely enough the conversation hinged on some towels for my bathroom. I had been in a mad search for a shower curtain I could see in my head but could not lay my hands upon.  Under such circumstances, I am never satisfied until I find what I am looking for and have it in my possession. The Madhatter is familiar with my obsession with such things and takes it as a part of my personality. On this day, I had found my shower curtain and was moving forward onto the other pieces of my vision. Bathrooms say a lot about people to me as it is a sanctuary much like a bedroom. It is where we care for the most intimate details of our person and as such should speak the loudest in my opinion. Nevertheless, the conversation turned to towels and I mentioned that I would like to find someone to do a nice monogram for me. We progressed thru our conversation and I never thought about it again until I was looking for these towels. I needed a deep crimson red,  a rich chocolate brown and a handsome burnished gold. A gold letter upon the red and brown with red upon the gold. They must be thick and thirsty as well as elegant looking hanging on the rack. It was at that point that an odd question reared its head that I have been examining since. What letter would I use?

All of my life I have been called something besides my name. My father is the youngest of 11 and my mother the youngest of 9. As their youngest child I am known as “Sissy” which has been shortened to “Sis” as I have aged. The entirety of both sides of the family call me by that name. My beloved brother was older than I so when I entered high school I was known as “John’s little sister.” Then I met and married Richard and became “Mrs. Richard.”  He called me “babe” and later “Hunibuni.” My son was born and I became “Drew’s Mom.”  In Richard’s illness I answered to “The patient’s wife” and as his father is a pastor with his deaconship the name became either “The Pastor’s daughter-in-law” or “The Deacon’s wife.” Lastly I became “Richard’s widow.”  I have been cut and trimmed, broken and beaten, as well as crammed and slammed into someone else’s box all of my damned life. So now, as I take my tentative steps into a foreign world, what am I to call myself? Now that I haven’t a box what shall I do?

One would think this an easy question since I write my name everyday.  In high school, I was one of those girls who wrote my boyfriends name with mine and daydreamed of who I was to be when I grew up. Because of the culture I came out of my identity was tied to whom I married. I would be “Mrs. MyHusbandsName.” If you have daughters, this is a dangerous proposition. Because, if she is widowed early or divorced, her identity is something she will struggle with her entire life. I’ve always had issue standing up and introducing myself to people. Now, I have balls the size that roll behind Indiana Jones in the movies, but my own name doesn’t ring true in my mouth. Probably because I have never put any stock in that it meant anything. I have answered to anything anyone cared to call me because that’s just the way it was for me. But, what do I prefer to be called?

While I wrestled this conversation in my head, I decided to call The Madhatter back and finished what we had started. I needed to hash this mess out. She sees me as strong when all I can smell is weakness on my skin. She is my vision when I am blind to the world around me.  She made a very simple declaration that cleared my confusion. I have walked a long road to be who that I am today. The fates and this hateful world has bent, pressured and tested me. Many things have been taken from me but the one thing that remains is my name. Not what everyone calls me, in most instances she calls me “The Belle” as it invokes my strength in her eyes. But the name I sign. I will never relinquish Richard’s last name because it also belongs to my son. I wear it with honor because it was given to me in love. I have worn his longer than I wore my father’s surname, although I was hyphenated long before it was fashionable. But as my form recovers from the shape of the boxes I have been made to fit into all my life, so must my spirit. I must recover and reclaim what is mine. 

It has been said that I am a self made woman. My family is not sophisticated in their life nor in their manners. My sainted Grandmother taught me to be a lady in the way I thought and in the old way of how I carry myself. But I looked at the females in the cities I traveled to and here in Charlotte to determine how I would appear. I studied their mannerisms and customs. I shed my Appalachian appearance and manners years ago. I traded them for a classic look and an elegant countenance. I stripped off my closed mind and my judgmental mindset. I created a strong female who owns her mind and self-worth. Someone who can love you where you are and never ask you to change who you are fundamentally. I made a 180 degree turn from the small minded and dependant people who arise out of that culture. We live in a world of choices and mine is to be who I am today rather than whom someone else said I should grow up to be.

I ordered my towels today and the letter I chose is an “S.” So let me stand up in front of you all and introduce myself.  My name is Sandra and I am the Real Deal Steel Magnolia. I am very pleased to meet me.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Still, I rise

Well, I did it.  I have successfully done what I had to do in order to move on with my life. It was ugly and it was painful. But I did it. Those 48 hours have changed my life forever.

Packing was very difficult. I was ripping the world apart that I had used for sanctuary since Richards death. It was much like tearing the wound open again. As I packed his suits, ties, and clothes I was surrounded by his smell. His cologne permeated my soul but I could not wrap myself in it. It was impossible to convince myself that everything was to be okay. As painful as it was for me to do, I am certain it was even more painful to watch. People who had sworn their allegiance turned their backs rather than to see my angst. I opened my late brother’s suitcase and found the spare shotgun shells that were brought to end his life in July of 2003. I sat alone in the floor of my living room and cried for the men I have lost. For the life I had before. For the plans and promises that will go unfulfilled because they left me here.

When we began to load the truck, I switched to business mode with my soul screaming. My head said, “We must pack it safely and make sure everything is okay.” My heart was telling me that “nothing will ever be okay again. But I had to keep moving,  quite literally. I had to get this done. One cannot get up off the table and leave a surgery.

I was dealing with people talking about “how hard Richard worked for this and that.” Finally, when I had swallowed all that I could I replied “he didn’t do this alone.” The wheels flew off then and my frayed nerves turned into fury. I had to defend myself against a canonized ghost. I had to stand alone against someone never thought I would never have to engage in this type of battle. All of my defenders were sitting back watching while we slugged it out. My will against his anger. My steel against his might. My love against his seething hatred. He retreated and I did not. I stood my ground. In doing so I destroyed my past. The lies and innuendos came to the light in way that I should have seen coming in the distance. The people who had sworn I was family forever now lay in a pile of smoke and ash. They believed outrageous things and of course they reverberated through the entire family like a church bell. It was as though they had been waiting for confirmation of grievous sin that explained Richards death. Something they could use to blame me. They judged my marriage and my life without evidence or debate. The ugliness underneath almost a quarter century came to light and what I thought was a foundation turned into quicksand. I decided rather than to dishonor my life and Richards memory, I would simply walk away. As I closed the door I held my head high and faced my own future with as much grace and humility as I could locate.

The cost was the safe haven I was to have within Richards family. I had said that this would be like having all of my skin ripped away in one sitting. I did not realize that I would have to bleed for the future I deserve. I was unaware that people I thought loved me were waiting for me to fall. That the quiet reserve I so carefully crafted was to be seen as coldness. I was shocked to find out that they viewed me as aloof and unreachable because I grieved in private rather than in public. I was trying to be strong for others who see me as mercenary. I have landed and the people who really love me are around me. The others will eventually turn around to see what has become of my life and I will still be standing. I will tell you that I am a survivor. What ever may come at me will not destroy me. I have taken these peoples best shot and yet I stand. Just as a phoenix rises after the flame, I begin anew. Still, I rise.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Labels in my closet.

I have been paying a lot of attention these days to how I identify myself. “Ms. Buni Whatsherface?” “Mrs Richard Whatshisface?” “D’s Mom?” “That Bitch Downthestreet?” “The Widow Ifeelsosorryforher‘ “The Real Deal Steel Magnolia?” This is probably because I am so desperately searching for who I am in this world that labels me. How do I label myself? I am examining what is most important to me regarding how I am perceived and what I am learning is that it is more important how I see myself.

Being my son’s mom is an important part of who I am but it does not define me. Perhaps the fact that he was born right before I turned 22 just makes it another facet of who I am. I have never been a woman who talked incessantly about daycare, diapers and the cuteness of babies. Even when he was small I never went to a shower, Tupperware party or just out for dinner with the girls and prattled on about such things. He is the most important human being on the Earth to me, but he has never defined me as a person. I have had issues with widows support groups in my age group because all they appear to have to define them is motherhood. I went to talk about and learn about processing grief, not about potty training and how cute someone’s dirt covered child was in some pictures. To me, however callus it may appear, being a mother is a gift, not a badge of honor. I am not one who allowed my child to rule my house. I did not run around and kowtow to all his wishes. I loved him unmercifully. That’s it. Mom? You betcha. Are you hungry? Is your underwear clean?

I have worn the title Bitch all my life. When I was younger it was fighting words, now I embrace it with a smile. It means you are so insecure that I intimidate you. I am ambitious and creative. I am decisive and plain spoken. I am elegant of manner and graceful under pressure. I have a firm handshake and will look you directly in the eye when I say hello. I am the match for any human on this earth. No one is better than me and no one is beneath me. You put your pants on just like I did this morning doll. And yes when I say it in that tone it does mean I see you as a mindless plaything.  We all came in this world naked and in the end that’s how we leave. Someone not liking me is not something that troubles me very much these days. I am comfortable in my own skin. I am very perceptive, trust and believe, I see you. I have a bullshit meter that is as sensitive as any earthquake sensor on earth. I like genuine people. Good, bad or indifferent, if you will be you, I will be me, and we should be just fine.  But calling me a name doesn’t demean me, it shows your lack of imagination and vocabulary skills. Why don’t you go read a book? The library is free. Bitch? Yep, your estimation of the situation is correct. Woof.

Then there is this widow title I am wearing. Someone said the other day, “You will always be a widow.” As I thought about that statement I clarified it for the person who is not widowed. “I will always be Richard’s widow, but I will not always be a widow.” I have had a life defining moment but it will not define me.  I will choose how the world sees me.  Why would I let one tragic event determine who I am for the next 40 years? Life may never be the same for me but I will not remain on a soapbox, waving my widow flag when I am in fact someone else. Widow? Yes. But not forever.

The moniker I embrace at this moment is that of the Real Deal Steel Magnolia. The Steel Magnolia part comes from my beastie’s son  who introduced me as one to some FDNY firefighters. He explained saying it meant that I am funny, smart, sharp tongued with a wicked wit. Life has made me strong but the struggle made me beautiful. That for me to love you, was like having a quiet place to rest. He made me all misty eyed. I got up and kissed his cheek and he said “See! I told you.“ One of the giant Irish fellas pulled up a chair and said “A Steel Magnolia huh?’ and I said “Yes sir, the genuine article.” For the rest of the night I was called “The Real Deal Steel Magnolia.” As I read up on Magnolia’s I was amazed at what makes them thrive and I compared a lot of it to my life. So I took that one and made it my own. Real Deal Steel Magnolia? Yep, pull up a chair and sit a spell.

Just as I am the daughter of a faithless mother and a philandering father, the sister of a completed suicide, the grand daughter of a cancer victim, the widow of a good man who died far too soon, the mother of a beautiful son, the aunt of several, the friend of many and the nemesis of quite a few more, none of these things define me. I am a diamond and all of these facets cause the light to bounce through me and different colors to show.  I define who I am and who I will be in the future. Today I wear one label, tomorrow I wear another. In the closet of my life, one never knows what may be on my back from one day to another. But trust me folks, I never get dressed in the dark.

Friday, March 26, 2010

I love you enough to tell you the truth. Really.

Well Spring has sprung in the south. I know that I am an opinionated person and this blog will be no different. I see things everyday that cause me to shake my head and here I will address these issues. There are fashion trends and just faux pas everywhere and it must be said that I am more than disgusted by them. You will ask without a doubt, who is she to make these judgments? I was a bridal consultant for 9.5 years. I am a stylish southern female. I was blessed by my sainted Granny who, as we say here, “raised me right.” I grew up in the Appalachian mountains. All of these things have been and are being done by people who are related to me. It is one of the only entertainments afforded me when I step back in time going home. I am a catty bitch. However, I feel that fair warning must be given before I begin to make fun anyone. So here goes.

First, just because Easter is around the corner, that is no excuse for hideous white dress shoes. If you are over the age of 7, you should never, ever have white dress shoes anywhere for any purpose. They should be outlawed unless they are designed for some sports purpose. There is nothing tackier on the planet. Say this word with me ladies, “Taupe” or “Bone.” Yes, that’s it! You can do it! While we are discussing the subject, white tights are also for small children. They make your legs look like tree trunks even if you weigh 12 lbs. There is also no such thing as nude panty hose. Suntan is orange. Yes I said it. They are orange. Unless you are an Umpaloopa, bitch that ain’t nude. If you must wear hose, please invest a little time and energy in finding something at least close to the color you are in real life. They have them, I swear to God they really do! Let us summarize by saying this, if you don’t have ruffled panties on with your Easter Dress, white shoes and white tights are not acceptable for public consumption. Bone, taupe or some other form of neutral blend into the leg and make you look leaner and taller. And in what world is that not a good idea??

And while on the subject of white, the benchmark for wearing white clothes is actually Memorial Day, not Easter. White pants on Easter Monday will draw cackles from the peanut gallery. For the love of the children, when you do break them out, under no circumstances do you wear white panties under them. Underwear issues are addressed later in the blog.  

Second, open toed shoes with hose is an amateur move. Period. I don’t care what your grandmother does or what some celebrity does, this is uncalled for under any circumstances. No one wants to see your toes all smashed up in them. You have opened the door to the jail cell and made them stay inside. Free your mind and your feet! Also, in this day and age, there is no excuse for ugly feet.  Support the economy and go see a professional to straighten up the damage you did during the winter. You can do upkeep yourself. A little polish and a nail file does wonders. If your feet look like a Hobbit, its disgusting. As far as footwear goes, please buy shoes that fit. If you have big feet everyone knows it. Its not a secret. There are no smaller size that will minimize like bras. Furthermore, they cause your ugly feet by making those god awful corns. Your big feet in tiny shoes look like you are baking bread and furthermore they make you mean because your feet hurt. Be proud of your big feet, they just mean you have a firm foundation. Along the same train of thought,  your toes hanging over the front of your shoes make you look like a gorilla, specifically if you have on a flip-flop style and are grasping at the floor with your toes. That’s just nasty. Also ladies, if you cannot gracefully walk around your house in some sky-high hooker heels, then walking into a restaurant or other public event is a recipe for disaster. There is no shame in not being able to walk in them, practice in private before you embarrass yourself in public. You are not sexy stumbling like you are drunk or falling on some cobblestones. I will be crying with laughter as I help you get up.  To summarize this lets all say together, if you are to set your toes free, don’t just show them daylight and make sure they are pretty. Be proud of your firm foundation. If you can’t find the cute shoes in your size, be well aware there are other cute shoes. Ain’t just everything for everybody. Take your ass to another store and find something that fits because my ribs hurt from making fun of you. Practice makes perfect in stripper shoes.

Third, I have no urge to see your bra straps hanging out from under your sleeveless shirts. I have no idea who it was that conceived this was fashionable, but they lied. Yes, they lied. Somewhere they are laughing at you for having black bras straps hanging out of your pink tank top. This is why God made racer back bras! Myself, I am pointing while I am laughing. Its as bad as your thong sticking out the top of your damned jeans. You are not Brittney Spears. Looking at parts of your underwear hanging out of your clothes is gauche. Furthermore, don’t wear a white bra with a sheer white shirt. That’s why they make nude. Darker girls, under no circumstances put black under a light colored thin shirt. You might as well not have on a shirt and a bitch will go to jail for that shit. Again, find something closer to what you are in real life. Also, industrial strength undergarments are fine, but ain’t nobody thinks they are sexy. I have my own things to keep jiggle to a minimum, but they are supposed to be a secret. To summarize this, underwear means it goes under your outerwear. If it were supposed to stick out, it would be called “sticking out wear.”

Lastly, if you have to ask someone, “Is this too short?” or “Is this too tight?” then you know the answer is yes. If you bend over and all of your business is hanging out, bitch that’s not a dress, it’s a shirt. A camel toe is not attractive, that’s why they make fun of them on the internet. There is nothing more unattractive than watching someone fight their clothes all day or all night. Your discomfort and your lack of confidence shows. We know, that you know, that its wrong. Unless you live in a cave, you have a mirror. Use it.

I am not saying “run out and buy a new wardrobe.” I am not saying everything you touch is wrong and you should stay inside. I am saying that if I see you in any of these situations I will stop point and laugh. But it doesn’t make me love you any less. I just love you enough to tell you the truth.

Monday, March 15, 2010

I didn't die

Well, I made it. I passed the one year anniversary and I didn’t actually die of this grief. Last February I thought I would die. I did not think I could survive this emptiness. I did not think I could survive being alone. I have some things I need to say and someone needs to hear.

My first night in this bed was hell. It was so big and empty. I thought it was my bed, but it was my heart. It was this giant emptiness in my soul. I will tell you truthfully, I tried lots of things to fill it, but alas there is nothing. Then I went to bed for almost two months. I wish that were a joke but it is not. I was safe closed up in my room in this big empty bed. I could find peace in my sleep. I could find peace in solitude. I curled up in my hole and lay there. I went four weeks without washing or brushing my hair. I tried to literally lay down and die. Guess what? That didn’t work either. Is the hole closing? No. I would love to tell you it is closing, but it’s not. Sometimes I have a hole, and sometimes it has me.

I do not dwell on those 24 hours. I know that I did the best for Richard. I know that I did the best for my son. I know that I did the best for everyone involved. But I am stuck in that hospital room because I went into business mode. I took care of everyone and everything to the best of my ability but me. I should have screamed and cried they say. I should have begged him not to go they say. They say a lot of shit. They have never been where I have been, seen what I have seen nor made the decisions I have made. They have never chosen the best thing for the love of their life and let him go with the  grace and dignity befitting the man he was to me. They have never walked up the isle of that church on the arm of a man child who was trying to be strong. They have never held an entire family together by a sheer force of will to hold my head high through the hardest days of my life. They do not have the strength to be me. “I would have” or “You should have” are terms that cause me to stop listening.

I have changed. I am opinionated but I am measured. I do not judge with the same eyes. I am harsher in what I think and I must control my tongue. I am less understanding of peoples faults. I am less tolerant of oversights and excuses. I really and truly do not care what people think anymore. I no longer believe what people say but I believe what people do everyday. Don’t tell me that you will be there for me, I don’t believe you. Show up even if its just a “Hello.” Don’t tell me you care, I don’t believe you. Ask me how I am and then don’t buy that I am okay. Don’t tell me I am welcome in your world, I don’t believe you. Invite me to dinner and don’t glance at me sideways when I speak to your husband.

I am looking at a future that frightens me. I did not plan to do this right now. I plan things for other people. I am in control. Today I am not in control. I was unprepared for this turn of events. I do not function well when I am unprepared.

I have crawled through the depths of hell in this almost thirteen months. I can tell you about a depression so dark I thought I would suffocate. I never broached suicidal thoughts because I am not put together that way. But I can tell you I just wanted everything to stop. I disengaged from everything so badly that my true friends were scared and my fair weather friends were relieved. To a certain extent I am still isolating. I like my own company these days. I reach out but not to much of anyone real. I can go a week without stepping my foot outside my door. They say it isn’t healthy. I say its doing the best I can right now. Learning to live without him is learning to live with myself.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Casey Johnson

The recent death and announcement of the cause of Casey Johnson's passing this week really hit some nerves with me. According to published reports, she died as a result of untreated Diabetes and an overdose of the over the counter cold medication "Nyquil." As I look at the facts it angers me. This woman was the heir to the Johnson & Johnson fortune and chose, yes I said she chose, to not take care of herself. She could and should have had the best medical care, but all of the medical care in the world could not save her from herself. If she didn't do her part, the disease would most certainly do it's job. In my mind's eye and in the heart of a woman who was made a widow by this beast, she participated in her own demise.

This reminds me of a conversation that Richard and I had very early in our relationship. It was August after we began dating in May. I had just turned 20 and he would be 21 in October. The only knowledge I had of diabetes was my mother's first cousin who lost her husband, a diabetic and alcoholic. She sat by his bedside for 3.5 years while it slowly killed him in a diabetic coma. He drank until he passed out and never, ever woke up again. I had no idea of the beast inside Richard's body, until he called me one morning and said they were admitting him to the University of Virginia at Charlottesville because his "sugar was out of whack." He spent a week there and when he came home he handed me a giant, black binder. He said "Read this tonight and we will talk tomorrow. I am okay and I love you."

The binder contained everything that the medical community knew, at that time, about Diabetes. Highlighted portions had regard to Richard's illness and everything that was highlighted appeared to be the worst that it could be. I did not sleep that night. The words, blindness, kidney failure, heart attack, amputations and coma ran through my mind. It was that night that I knew in my heart that I loved Richard. I had told him in a teenager mentality that I loved him. But looking at what was staring me in the face showed me my heart. I walked the floor with one question wrestling in my very soul. "Can I do this?"

The next morning I went to his apartment early and awoke him from his slumber. He was a 20 year old college student and it was the weekend before school started back on Monday for him. There were liquor bottles and passed out friends littering the apartment. Pizza boxes and beer cans. Before I had always taken these things in stride. After my night of reading and soul searching, I saw things in a different light.

The first question I asked Richard was "What was your sugar level when they admitted you?" He blinked his eyes and knew that I had read the material. "680" he replied. I knew enough that a blood sugar reading of 800 is comatose. I also knew that 80 to 120 was normal. The next question I asked was "What did the doctor's say?" He looked at the floor and began to cry. He said "If I don't take care of myself, I will be dead in a year." As he looked up at me, that was the first time I ever saw fear in his eyes. It was then that I gave him the only ultimatum I ever gave. I had practiced and practiced it in the car on the drive over. I needed to say this without tears, but with resolve. I was so scared because if he would not do as I asked, everything would end. "You need to tell me what you want. I love you. I am invested. But, if you are not going to do what you need to do in order to be on this Earth, I will walk away. I can break my own heart right now and it will be easier than watching this kill you. Either participate in life with me, or participate in dying alone." With that I turned and walked from the room.

I heard the shower start and I woke the other fellas. Bleary eyed and hungover, I asked them to leave. I started to pick up the mess and put the dishes in the dishwasher. When he came downstairs, still wet from the shower, he still had tears in his eyes. With a dishtowel in my hand, I asked "What are you going to do?" He said, "I want to be with you." With those words, I made the educated decision to love this man and fight this disease. I was not blindsided, there was no diagnosis in a room with a doctor. There was just he and I in the livingroom of a tiny townhouse. Two kids who decided to face the world together.

Why would Casey Johnson choose not to fight for her life? Why would she ignore medical advice? Why would she choose to leave this world? According to reports, she lay dead for four days before she was found. Where were her parents with their money and influence? I cannot understand any ones actions in this entire debacle. But, the responsibility lies squarely on Casey Johnson's shoulders. She was not ignorant of the consequences of letting her blood sugar over take her. She was not ignorant of the fact that "Nyquil" is not safe for diabetics. According to the information involved, she in fact abused it. The sad part of this is that she was a young woman with a life that most of us could only dream of living. She had everything but love for herself and a love of life.

The doctors and forensic pathologists can state what they believe to be the cause of death. For my part, she died of self loathing. She participated in her death as surely as if she had taken a gun and ended her life. Diabetes is not a life choice, it's not a life style. You will learn to live with it like a lion in a cage, or it will end you. But in the end, it is your choice. Fight or die.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Laundry List

Well, I have walked through my year of firsts. I would not dare say that I am finished with my grieving process. I harbor no illusions. The good news is that now I am to face nothing that I have not faced before therefore I am better equipped to do what I must. The one thing that hangs over my head is reentry into the dating world. Before I go any further let me explain why this is such a daunting task. The last time I had a first date was May 14, 1987. Yes, almost 23 years ago. The world has changed into a place that though I am familiar with, but I am more than a foreigner, I am an alien.

The last time I looked about for male companionship, and it is not bragging to say that I have never actually looked, it always found me. At that time one actually had to stop at a payphone to call someone from the road. We met people in person before we actually spoke to them. I was also 19 years old. Nevertheless, my friends have begun asking “What are you looking for in a man?” So I have complied somewhat of a “Laundry List.” I have no doubt that it will be offensive to some, outrageous to others and unattainable to the rest. But since you asked, here goes.

First, I need a man who is 6’0 or over. I am 5’7 without shoes. With them I end up somewhere between 5”11 and 6’1. I will not give up my shoes for any mans vanity. They are as much a part of me as my nose. Wouldn’t want me to give that up now would you? Second, I like a good sized man. I am not talking about Sumo wrestler size, but he needs some meat on his bones. Fit is fine but he needn’t chase me about with a pair track shoes expecting me to run along beside him. I wouldn’t run if a bear were chasing me. Why would I salt and warm his food? I somehow think I might be mauled but not eaten if I were in the fetal position with a fecal matter sauce. But warm and salty I am a goner. He can run and jump and do as he pleases, I will be in the house with my Wii Fit. As long as I can outrun the last person in line in a horror movie, it’s all good.

In the area of age, there can be no one under the age of 35. If you have no idea where you were when Ronald Regan was shot or who Bad Company was then I haven’t the time to explain. Furthermore, no one over the age of 50 is acceptable either. If you have issues understanding of the abbreviations, IDK, NP or WTF in a message or dating me would have been a crime when I was 16, again, I haven’t the time to educate you either. There can be no small children bearing your DNA anywhere on Earth. Small to me is under the age of 15. I cannot have curtain crawlers or yard monkeys about me that I cannot kill and claim insanity. I do not like children. I will say this again, I do not like children. I don’t find them cute or endearing. I find them messy and cootie filled like a Krispy Kreme donut. If the said gentleman has children, I prefer that the maternal unit not be either needy or insane. Take crazy somewhere else, my container is full.

I suppose that the last thing is that I need an Alpha male. If you don’t know what one is, you aren’t one so that leaves you out of the running. If I can run over this man, I will. I cannot help it. It will also render me incapable of respecting the specimen. I need a strong individual who knows exactly who he is in this world and is secure within himself. Now I am not speaking of a Grade A, USDA stamped asshole. There is a balance. If he is an asshole and I am a heartless bitch, we will end up on the news rather than living happily ever after. I don’t look good in orange, therefore, prison is not really an option for me. Those flip-flops with socks are hideous. Kill me now.

Does this list seen a bit difficult to fill? Good. It’s supposed to be. I designed it that way with a purpose in mind. There is not a man on Earth that can fill Richard’s shoes. He cannot be replaced. The manner in which he loved me was a once in a lifetime kind of thing and can never be duplicated. He loved me from the age of 19 until he closed his eyes forever. He saw me mature and change and loved me because of it not inspite of it. He knew every bump, bruise and scar. He knew my likes and dislikes. He knew me. He treated me like a Queen. Richard once told me that when he fell in love with me it frightened him because I possessed his soul. He fully believed in his heart that he could not live without me. I have often mused in my mind what he would have done had it been me that had left this world far too early. There is nothing I would not do to spare him this pain. I will never find what I had with him again. There is a tale in Jewish mythology that says when God creates a soul, he splits in half and sends it into the world. These two halves search for one another relentlessly often never finding each other. When they do it is said that they are “Beshert.” We were such a pair so there was but one.

I am not saying I will not find love again. I am saying I am older and wiser. That rush, that panic, that euphoria will never be what it once was because I am not who I was when it found me the first time. When the time is right someone will appear who wants his own place in my life and in my heart. Someone who won’t want to compete with Richard because he won’t want to be a replacement. He also will know me well enough to know that with all of the Louis Vuitton in my closet, I would never accept a cheap imitation of an original.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Verbally Executing the Stupid as Sport

As I close in on the year anniversary of my husband’s death, people say more and more stupid things to me. I am truly not fit for human consumption right now. Not because of sadness, but because I can be really, really mean. If you have read more of my blog than just this one post, you know that I am a raging smartass. However, if you have actually ever spoken to me, you know that I have a really dry sense of humor and a quick wit. If one combines these things with pressure and grief, the acid that drips from my lips makes that Alien bitch look like she just needs to brush her teeth. I have begun to verbally execute the stupid without a second thought as to what happens after I swing the sword. I am done with censoring myself and allowing the emotional suckerpunches that the inconsiderate throw to go unpunished. If you can't keep an intelligent tongue in your head, that's your ass.

The first stupid thing that was said to inspire me to take my badass out for a walk was in the bank that my mother in law runs. The stupid person made small talk and then uttered, “Well, maybe things will be better when everything gets back to normal.” I looked at this idiot, whom is small of both stature and mind, whilst unsheathing my sword and replied “Just what the hell is normal?” As the socially retarded individual stared at me as though I had suddenly sprouted a second head, I put her on her knees with “It’s not like Rich is on vacation. Bitch, he died. Life as I knew it ended, it is not on pause. Normal doesn’t exist anymore.” As this person put her mouth back together, I heard that audible pop that one hears when someone is about to utter what they think is a really witty retort. I swung hard and sure as I said “Unless and until you have buried that slob of yours that lays on your couch, spends your money, and sleeps with your sister, don’t ever speak to me about normal.” The bank hushed and I swear to god I heard crickets. Then my mother in law began to laugh that nervous "what the hell is gonna happen now" laugh while my victim began to cry. The socially retarded individual, who goes to her church, has not changed anything at home. She has had no light bulb moment. I guess working two jobs, while her husband lays on her sofa, unless he gets up to have sex with her sister, is her normal. Fear makes the ridiculous normal. She has no idea who she is without that situation because she is secure in her position in her normal. I, evidently, had my own lightbulb moment. She goes to my father in law's church and I am considered a preacher's kid, my husband was a deacon. My long years of swallowing my anger has given me a belly full. (Big clue folks, preacher's kids know most everything that the preacher does, but deacon's wives know more. Being both, I can get the dirt on anyone that darkens the door.) A bitch is all outta nice and I don't know when the next truck will deliver my order.

The second instance of my acidic, verbal, bitchslapping of an idiot happened when someone literally said to me “Oh I understand, my brother’s, wives‘, best friend’s, sister died 4 years ago,” Now, I understand that all widow’s have stupid things said to them. To the people to utter these idiotic phrases, sometimes the best thing that anyone can say is “I’m sorry” and leave it at that. Do not try to relate. I served him a nice, tasty cup of Shut-the-fuck-up as I actually said to this man, “Had she been in your bed for 21 years? Had you constructed your life as a pair and are now a single? How did you find a way to sleep?” He didn't see me draw the sword in his arrogance. Yes, I consider it arrogance. To compare one to another is utterly ludicrous. He was very quiet as I handled my business and walked away. I discount no ones grief, but there are levels of hurt in my mind. Trying to relate one to another is like comparing apples to landmines. Someone's mother, father, brother, sister, spouse or child outranks the loss of anyone else in your life. Period. This is not a debate. My hurt outranked what ever he thought he was feeling. At this point, I expect no quarter and I give none.

The reasons for my nastiness is that in the coming 7 days I must face my first Valentine’s day with out Rich in 23 years. It was also the last holiday that we celebrated together. There will be no flowers and no card. I will not be at Waffle House. Then on Monday morning I have jury duty. Now a widow on a 4 day countdown to the anniversary of the event that shattered my life as I know it may not be the best thing that can happen to someone on trial. But unless I actually know someone related to the case, I don’t have an excuse not to serve. I will not split my chest open and show my grieving heart to strangers. However, I am hoping that the attorneys during jury selection don’t make the mistake of stepping onto the landmine field that is my emotional state.  If one must engage in verbal combat, I figure I could do worse than disemboweling a lawyer in public.

A week from today I truly have no idea what I will be feeling. My husband collapsed on February 19 and life support was disconnected on February 20. It's two day event. Will I be curled in the fetal position sobbing like it’s all brand new? Will I stay up through the night and drink for 48 hours? Self medication anyone? What I can say is that I am looking at it as just get me to the other side. This year has tested everything within me, and I have survived it. I have no excuse because I need none. I have earned my anger and my grief. When people ask me about my “Real Deal Steel Magnolia” moniker is about all I can actually say is this, “If you don’t know, you damned sure better ask somefuckingbody, else.” 

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Battle and The War

There are a lot of times these days that I walk away shaking my head. Things that confuse and confound me happen daily it seems. I think that maybe my long years of marriage or the fact that I actually believed the words “for better or worse” made me a rather sheltered soul. The illness and stress that went with it caused me to have rather a razor sharp  focus in crisis. I really wasn’t capable of panic. It was life as I knew it and I soldiered on through everything. What I think I really thought was that anyone with a catastrophic illness in a marriage, did what I had to do everyday. More often than not, I did not then realize the extraordinary amount of  love, honor and respect that it took for my marriage to survive the struggle. As I am reminded by people who were present and some who were not this was certainly not a marriage of convenience. 

I was in that God forsaken Wal-Mart the other day just to pick up some dog food and sinus medicine. (Yeah, that’s why I was there.) Actually it was about 2am so the store was almost deserted. I went there specifically in the middle of the night to avoid the happy greeter  at the front door and all those damned people that congregate there during the waking hours. Now the disadvantage is that the good sinus meds are now kept by the pharmacist and he was at home snug as a bug in bed. Therefore I was actually looking at the ingredients when I heard a discussion across the isle. A man that looked to be in his 50’s was berating his wife for losing her glasses earlier that day. He told her she was careless and ungrateful for the things he does for her. I was so very embarrassed for her. So I quietly rolled my cart away so hopefully she wouldn’t know I heard what he said. When I got to the check out they were in front of me and I saw that she was in a wheelchair. Mr. Man is a caregiver to a chronically ill spouse.  As I went across the parking lot I saw him lift her in his arms and lovingly put her in the car, tucking a blanket around her legs and kissing her before he shut the door. He loves her. I thought about the argument and I thought, that’s really not about those glasses. He didn’t say “the things I buy for you” he said, “the things I do for you.” That made me wonder if she had ever truly uttered the words “Thank you” to her husband.

If you have ever been the caregiver to a chronically ill spouse or family member, you know that somewhere within you, there is a feeling of being taken for granted. I am not too proud to say, that Richard’s illness wore me down emotionally. It exhausted me fighting everyday to have another day. If the catastrophic illness is of the nature of cancer or another terminal beast, I would assume the panic and the fright would override the fight or flee instincts. I have lost family members to cancer but they were long and horrid battles that did not span my 10 years. I cannot speak to how that feels. My experience is that of a war rather than a battle. We always had to fight another minute, another hour, another day and another year. There were days I did not think I could take another step. But I did. Day after day, week after week, year after year, crisis after crisis. I never allowed myself the illusion that it would be okay or that it would ever stop.  It was my life. But, I also never thought that I would lose. I am not put together to lose. The professionals actually say that in living in and learning to function under extreme stress for an extended period of time can cause Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I was on call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for a little over 10 years. I would call that an extended period of time. I developed TMJ in my jaw and cracked the molars in my mouth from clenching my teeth during the 10 weeks in 2002 while we dealt with the failed pancreatic transplants. I know more about diabetes than anyone who isn’t a endocrinologist or a diabetic. I can actually identify the smell high blood sugar. I know that if you pass out and your vision goes black, it’s blood pressure, and if it goes white, it’s blood sugar.  I informed Richard’s doctors of this phenomenon and they use it with their patients and primary caregivers now.  I know the major hospital in Charlotte, NC better than the doctor’s do as I have given many an escort to a lost doctor at 3am who was a rat in the maze that couldn’t find the cheese.

I remember a lot of peanut butter sandwiches and Sunny D at 3am. I remember being scared so bad that my insides shook but holding myself steady and never letting him, my son or the people who depended on me see fear in my eyes. I remember looking into those beautiful green eyes and saying “It’s going to be okay baby” when I was certain of nothing but that whatever was coming was bigger and badder than me and that I had to stop it dead in it’s tracks. For lack of a better term, I strapped up for war everyday. I would never tell you that I did not have a sharp tongue or a short temper. I am human and flawed as a result. But I have censored myself when it was warranted and I raised hell like it was my job when the situation required a force of nature. It has effected every facet of my life and twisted my personality in such a manner that survival is just instinct. His family still relies on my calm and quick thinking when anything within the family is not right. His mother’s struggles with pancreatitis, his father’s lung cancer, his stepfather’s issues with diabetes and resulting kidney failure, my brother in laws two kids that had H1N1 last fall, and a Christmas where we were all lost. Family issues, legal issues and financial issues are brought to me. They are not gentle with me because I have always been gentle with them and had a strength that they could rely on. They love and respect me. They believe me to be of uncommon strength and unflinching vision. The mantle of matriarch has been bestowed on me by this family by love and respect, not through true kinship. But I am uneasy beneath this mantle because I am not blood related. What right do I have to have any say in the way this family runs or the decisions that it makes? Selfishly I sometimes think, if they look to me, where am I to lean? His parents, in their own way, have even told me that they understand that I must live. That I must find my way and build anew. For the first time in my life I can say that I am looking toward more than just one more day and it is overwhelming.

I have insulated myself from much of the things that go on around me but that gentleman’s words rang in my head. The times that it took everything I had to keep a civil tongue in my head echo behind it. I wondered if he had ever thought about going to talk to someone regarding his stress over the situation? Do their children help him? What must his days and nights be like? Does she understand what her illness is doing to him? All of those questions have danced in my head with the partners of my experience. Rich’s illness spanned from the ages of  31 to 41 for me. It took the bloom of my youth and left me with gray hair that I am far to vain for the world to see. It took my innocence and left me with a twisted view of the world that calculates how long battles and wars are made to last. As a result, I no longer believe in happy ever after and I am no one's damsel in distress. I am incapable of asking for help. From diagnosis to cure or death I can measure these things and never say what I know to be true. I can preach hope when I know that deaths cold breath is at your neck. It's just the cost of doing business in my psyche. In my mind’s eye, I always knew that I would lose my husband. But I thought it would be a long drawn out battle, not a swift event that leveled my life like Hiroshima ended World War II. I had no help with Richard through the years because to him and those around us, I was invincible. I would not fail because I am incapable of losing. I did not cry and I could not crack. These are the things that I wrestle with everyday now. I won every battle, but I lost the war.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Holding Hands

I have written a few things in 2009 regarding how the year went in events and revelations as they have lit my cluttered psyche. I seldom breech my emotional doorway and discuss a lot of feelings about this year that has torn my life as I knew it limb from limb with no remorse for what it would do to me and those that I love. Many of these feelings I had carefully wrapped in tissue and put away into the dusty and darker corners of my mind. Not so much as one would package something to keep it from getting hurt, but so that the shards of this year might not injure my psyche anymore. I sealed them away because in truth, survival dictates it. I am not privy to a family that I can lean on for shelter so I must handle things in small doses. I keep telling myself a few more steps and this will be over. As I walk toward the date on the calendar that will mark my first year of widowhood I choose to peek in the boxes and tell you about the feelings that I have put away from me. In less than one month all of the firsts will be behind me. The pain will no longer be fresh and new and perhaps I can seal away parts of this forever.

Last January life was really good. I had a job that I chased three and a half years and I loved being there. I was in training and was shining in all the right places. I was looking at a bright future earmarked for bigger things by those who make such decisions. I was excited as I looked forward into life. When I watched the ball drop I was holding Richard’s hand.

In February, I had to stand tall and strong for a family I was not born into, in a place I earned as I did the hardest thing I have done thus far in life. I walked where angels fear to tread with grace and dignity as this family fed off my demeanor. I had to lead where I have always followed. The ground was rocky and very uneven as I made my way into uncharted territory. In my darkest hour, I held my son’s hand.

In April, I was summoned to West Virginia by a man who loves me. I drove there for the first time alone and had to have a GPS to find his house. I sat amongst family but I was alone. I asked about design and color and all those things because I was entrusted with this man‘s tribute to his son. I held his hand as he proved his trust in my strength and intelligence.

In May, I went to New York for sanctuary. I flew alone on a cool morning and arrived to see my best friend on the planet. I had never actually been in the same state never mind the same room as she. I was greeted with open arms and an open heart. I laughed in fabulous restaurants and bars with fabulous friends that I learned were family. I slept as I haven’t been able to sleep since, in peace. I cried at the World Trade Center. I tried out my widow’s legs in the city that never sleeps and I held her hand.

In July, I celebrated my birthday. I planned a party because never in my life had I ever indulged in a party for myself. I cooked and I cleaned for my friends. I celebrated with people from all walks of life who have always been around me but not each other. As I looked around myself that night before I cut the cake, I thanked them for being with me. I was surrounded by people who loved me. I watched the sunrise on my 42nd year with two very good, but very different friends and they held my hands.

In October, I had to make an appearance at the place of worship we not only attended but parented together. I went straight to my other mother and I stayed with her. I poked at food and made polite conversations. I accepted the past and looked toward the future. I let my other mother lean on me and feed from my strength because she needed me. Together we shielded our hearts from the nonsense at hand as they spoke the lies they tell themselves and I held her hand.

In December, the holidays were upon me like a black cloak. I avoided everything having to do with a celebration. I attended the family’s Christmas. I took his brothers, their wives and his grandmother to the cemetery to see his memorial. They were huddled together in the cold and I stood alone. While they opened the presents and took their pictures, I sat alone and held no ones hand.

On New Years Eve, I sat in my bedroom and read a good book. At around 11:45pm I went outside into the backyard, to see the moon. As I stood there looking at the wonder that is God’s heavens, tears rolled down my cheeks. I watched the last moments of this seemingly unforgivable, unsurvivable year bleed away. At midnight I embraced the new year and stepped forward, holding my own hand.