Sunday, December 25, 2011

The Owl, The Exorcist and The Ghost of Christmas Past

As I sit here on my quiet tiny Christmas, my third as a widow, I am surprisingly not melancholy or drenched in tears. I ate a hotdog, some chips, drank a pot of coffee and am watching "Mildred Pierce." Last night, my son and his friend were here and we laughed, truly laughed over stupid things. Nothing from the past. We laughed in the here and now. It makes me smile.

Our Christmas times were always a struggle. Being the parents of a first grandchild, of families that by and large did not get along well, we were always on the road. This caused great stress and issues between my hubs and me because they were making us crazy trying to make them happy. But things happened, as they always do, so that we could find the levity in any situation. We had to be at my father in laws for Christmas Eve. We had to be with my mother in law for Christmas morning. We had to be at my parents for Christmas night. Now, that doesn't sound bad until I tell you that the first house was in West Virgina. The Second house was in Virgina. The third house was in Tennessee. We live in North Carolina. Ahhh.. now it's all coming into focus huh? My son never opened a present in my house on Christmas morning until he was 18. Go ahead, say it. "I would never have done all of that! My children have always had Christmas at home." Shut up. We were young kids. We had a kid. We made our parents happy. We went through 4 states in, if we were blessed with either Christmas eve or the day after Christmas off, in about 36 hours. I don't care who you are, that just sucks.

However, because we financially struggled, we never knew what might come out from a Christmas tree at any given house with either our names on it as givers or receivers. When Mawmaw wanted to hide she had spent more money on someone than someone else, we were the givers. When Pawpaw decided we needed something for the house that we couldn't afford Santa would deliver a package. However, sometimes this meant that we gave strange things to people we hardly knew as we only saw them once a year. Rich got his first cousin's new wife underwear one year. I bought his brother a jockstrap. Drew bought his aunt her first bra. On and on it went. Year after year. Until it became quite the game for us. Santa on the other hand showed up with washing machines, vacuum cleaners, hydraulic jacks, or pots and pans. One year he bought a transmission for my car and the next, tires for Rich's truck. Santa was very practical.

Our road trips however lacked organization. We woke one Christmas morning at Pawpaws, very hung over from a night of rummy with the family. There were 7 inches of snow on the ground. We had to go, NOW. So we packed up like the traveling pack of gypsies we were at that time of year and off we went to the next place. Now to say there was a disparity in the families would be a misnomer. Dad's side drank the holidays into oblivion. Mom's side are holy rollers. My parents are hillbillies. So hung over as we could be, we bowed our heads for Christmas dinner. They prayed so long that we dozed off. I eventually awoke to the sound of Rich's snoring and the entire dinner table howling with laughter. Every prayer from then forward started with, "Are y'all awake?"

The next year we were driving on the interstate and an owl hit the windshield of the car tearing the wipers off. I thought we had been attacked by the Taliban. We stopped at a truck-stop and Rich rigged up some tractor trailer blades to flop about so that we might be able to see something of the road. Due to the late hour when we arrived we spent the night at my parents home. I awoke at about 9 and staggered to the kitchen for a cup of coffee. One sip and I had to run outside. I was standing in 8 inches of snow reenacting scenes from "The Exorcist." Food poisoning. Frozen pipes in the house. Need I elaborate?

Two of my favorite things concerned Rich and his dad but on separate occasions. The first was an Emory & Henry ballcap that made him drop Dallas Cowboy tickets into the tornado of wrapping paper that caused a near family riot. He cried and so did I over a simple part of his past. He wore it until it fell apart. Our last Christmas we bought Pawpaw tickets to the Daytona 500. I packed them into a half eaten box of Cheezits. (a private joke between rich and him) When he opened the package and it was a box of crackers he laughed that laugh that only family knows. I was so anxious, that I had to tell him to open the box. Inside was a card that read "You've watched it on the couch 100 times, get out in the sunshine for once." He found the tickets and was so awestruck that the room went silent. We rendered him speechless.

Rich would pull out Drew's toy's and play with them. Firetrucks that made noise or video games. Then he would put them back. His green eyes would dance when they were opened. Drew thought his Daddy knew everything because he knew how everything worked. They would play deep into the night on the floor while I curled up with a new book I wanted to finish. The world was right.

I remember these things without pain. I remember them with a smile. Drew and I are making our own memories now. But now it's not about presents. We might be alone, but we know that together we are stronger. We might have hot dogs on Christmas eve with some Doritos, but we do so with a light heart. We might be forgotten by the world we used to know, but in our new reality, we are a family. We choose who we allow to be family. Family is not blood and bone. Family is laughter and tears. Family is smiles and jokes. Family is a hand on your shoulder as you watch the family you thought you knew turn their backs and walk away. Family is knowing that in the heart of another you always have a place to call home.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Tomcats, Tobacco and A Clean Plow.

I have not lived this long, nor survived what I have, to not learn a few things here and there about this world. I am the answer woman. I have a working knowledge of a lot of subjects and I tend to retain most of what I read, hear or watch. Don't ask me why, I have simply always been this way. The other thing I have retained is what my Daddy refers to as "good old fashioned horse sense." My beloved Granny instilled information in my head that comes to the forefront of my brain when dealing with different situations. My heritage is that of a resourceful people who learned at the knee of their elders and passed that knowledge on to those of us who would listen.

Some things come from being raised on a farm with lots of animals and lots of different things going wrong. For instance, a calico cat, that has more than three colors, is a female. We learned this when our cat Tom, had a litter of kittens under the bathtub. My Uncle had a belly laugh and said "Ain't no tomcat that has ever had more than three colors." I crawled under the tub and retrieved the kitties. Then Tom promptly stashed them under the stairs in the can closet and ran to the road finding a car tire at 3am. I crawled into the closet again retrieving the kitties. We raised them on a bottle. To this day, I have never seen a calico that did not fit this rule and I can raise any orphaned pet without its mommy. I have the formula in my head, if you need it, email me. I also know that doing a self medication of any cat is a bad idea. Again, it's a bad idea. Daddy and I decided to give an injection of antibiotics as advised by our large animal vet. Yes, I now know a cat is not a large animal. I have scars. It's a bad idea. I know that burnt motor oil kills the mange on dogs that don't bite, (make your own joke there please) and that the ball of fur on a cows tail will in fact come off at the worst possible time during a surgery (don't ask don't tell.) If you are from PETA, please do not email me. Horses love cold biscuits and will try to come into ones house for garden fresh corn. Chickens actually do come home to roost and a pig raised for food should be named Porkchop. A mouse can be killed with a hairbrush but won't die of fright from a hammer. A bat won't get out of your house if all the lights are on but you will break all the pictures on the wall with a broom. A blacksnake found in the bathtub at 4am will die a horrible death and maybe who brought it into the house as well. A bird will go to sleep if you cover the cage and won't wake up to fly on demand if you grab it out to toss it into the air for an Easter play. Not even for Jesus and John the Baptist.

Then there are the Mama things I have learned through the years. My first serious home remedy that I remember was when I was assaulted by a bumblebee the size of Mothra. (It was huge. I swear Granny. A MONASTER!! I was 4.) My beloved Granny grabbed a cigarette and crushed it. She took the tobacco from the paper and added it to a small amount of water. Voila! Miracle monaster bumblebee paste! She put it on the sting and within a little bit the swelling and pain were gone. I've used it 100 times in different situations. Still works. Any kind of tobacco product. If you burn yourself use vanilla extract to take the burn out. High blood pressure can be treated with vinegar and fresh garlic. (Again email me for that recipe.) Bleach kills a bug or fire ant bite. Kraut juice will kill a stomach virus. Cut a tiny notch in the middle of an ingrowing toenail and it will pull it out in a day or so. Socks stop the colic in a baby. (True story. Proven. Again email.) Visine will take the red out of a pimple. Preparation H really does shrink the bags under your eyes. Brandy on a toothache will dull the pain before you swallow it and smoke blown in an ear helps with an earache . Migraine meds with coffee and then a hot bath to make it work faster. But if Mama has a migraine, leave her the hell alone or you could suffer a near death experience.

The Farmers Almanac calendar (google it if you don't know what it is) also dictated alot of timing on things as well. Don't have teeth pulled when the signs are in the head because you will have a dry socket. However you do plant cabbage in the garden at that time. Plant potatoes when the signs are in the feet and they will be all toes. (those little growths on them sticking out all over.) Taking a baby bottle is easiest to take when the signs are in the knees. (I did this and it worked with my son.) A woman on her menstral cycle cannot enter the garden because she will kill the cucumbers and squash. (I know it happens. I can't explain it.) A close group of females cycles will also pull them together so there is generally only one week of hell per month. Allowing someone to sweep under your feet means you will never marry and if you get the front of your shirt wet while washing dishes you will marry a drunkard. A purse sitting in the floor is always empty of money and a man who is disrespectful of his mama is useless. Never give a friend anything sharp like knives or scissors as it will sever the friendship.(Lend it to them instead.) If you thank someone for a gifted houseplant it will die. A wild bird in the house means there is to be a death affecting the household but dreaming of a death means there is a baby on the way. (Very nearly lost my mind with that one. Now two nights of death in my dreams means everyone gets a pregnancy test!) You carry a girl in front when you're pregnant and a boy you carry allover.

My Appalachian heritage made me resourceful in many aspects of my life with simple common sense and remembering what I over heard as a child. I learned a lot about people and what causes certain behaviors to be displayed. Sayings that they used I remembered and I use them to this day. "A hit dog will hollar" states that the person who told your business will be the first to contact you. (Don't contact anyone when you've been betrayed. First one to contact you is the Judas.) "When you sling shit, you always get some on you" says that when you're talking trash behind someones back, you're the one who smells like garbage. If someone says to you "I'm going to clean that there boy's plow" call the police because there is going to be a fight. (A plow is actually cleaned with a hammer.) "Well bless your heart." translates into "Well aren't you stupid." (Regardless of what you think, that's what it means.) "A hard head makes a soft ass" fits someone who does the same stupid stuff and gets bit in the ass again and again. "Pot meet kettle." is used when someone is bitching about someone doing exactly what they themselves are doing. The best phrase I ever heard was "You can't save face and your ass at the same time" which means you can't have your pride and your ass when you've made a mistake. One will always pay for the other. You need to decide which is most important to you.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Hellidays and Some Oil of Okay

With the "Helliday Season" upon us, I am quiet. This is number three since I became a widow. It doesn't hurt quite as badly but the loneliness is setting in for a long winters rest. I am alone. It would be nice to say that I am doing well but I most certainly not out of the woods yet. The day after Thanksgiving, I got a call from one of my old friends and this person said perhaps the most ignorant thing I have heard uttered from a human tongue. "You okay now though right?" What in the hell does that mean? Define "okay" for me is what I should have said, but this person did not deserve to see my pain. So I said "I'm as okay as I'm going to be this year."

This year has brought many challenges and some I have conquered and some I have not quite mastered yet. I am learning to be alone. I met my husband at quite an early age so alone is not something I have ever really done before in this life. When I am sick, there is no one to make the chicken soup or to aggravate me on the phone every time I fall asleep by calling to ask if I am feeling better. I don't have that hand to hold in the emergency room or to tell me they are going to the sofa because they don't want to be sick as well. People say "Why didn't you call me?" "Because I look like the wrath of God and don't want to see you" is what I'd like to say. Instead I mutter something polite as I rush off the phone with something about needing to sleep.

I'm learning to value my true friends. The ones who get angry if I haven't been in touch. Lately I am bad about returning calls or even text messages. I am self isolating but it's for my own sanity. I cannot solve your problems today. I cannot hear you whine about your relationship today. I cannot hear that one more person is unwell or that you don't care what someone thinks about some petty issue. I have always been the problem solver among my friends. I am the strong one who is an adult. They turn to me for answers or just a sounding board. It's not that I don't care, but that the noise in my head will not allow me to hear you.

My relationship with my son has never been on more solid ground in his life. But, this year he has seen me vulnerable. He has seen me cry in the night and asked me what was wrong. I did not give him the standard "Nothing baby" mama answer. That is probably what I am most grateful for in this entire year. I've watched my son become one helluva man. I have actually patted myself on the back and said I did a good job. I let him comfort me. I let him tell me everything would be okay and I actually believed him. We got on a human level more than a parental child level and are so much stronger for the effort. I don't have to be a tower of strength in front of him anymore. I can be scared and its okay.

Right now, more than anything I am looking for something solid. I am unteatherd from things that keep me grounded. I've always put my worth in my family. Now I am without family. I am looking for true north it seems. The star that will always lead me home. I am not okay. But the truth is I don't know what okay looks like at this point. So bear with me as I travel up and down the isles looking for this mythical thing. What is okay to you may not be okay to me. Everyone gets a custom made piece. But what is home is the question now.

A while back one of my widowed friends was tweeting from her I-Phone and the auto correct sent "Oil of Okay." We laughed about it then but it was prophetic. This time of year I need some to rub into my emotional legs that are tired from this widows walk. Some days I take 10 or 12 steps forward on these platform heels, others I can not make it a single step and I must be content to stand. But that's the point, I'm still standing.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Victims and Volunteers

I am told, that at this point in my life, I have great clarity in the way that I see things. Issues in my life are becoming more clear as I dig within myself in order to create a healthier me. I have an intimate knowledge of what has made me any unhealthy companion for myself. However, doing this work on myself has been a two edged sword as it opens my eyes to seeing mistakes others have made, are making or will be making in the future. I would rather shine the light on the things I have done with a bit of levity so that I can laugh and learn simultaneously.

As I said earlier, I have ventured a tad into the dating world. These are people I have never mentioned and there will only be thumbnails here as the names have been changed to protect the not so innocent. These appear to be archetypes that visit everyone in the journey through widowhood. If you see a man here you think you may know, you might, but that's alright. He's who you think he is.

First was a horrible mistake that took forever to extricate myself from it seems. This is the dreaded FWB. For those of you who live under a rock, this is a "friend with benefits," or as I prefer to call it, a MBP. My term means "Mistake Bearing a Penis." I kept him at arms length emotionally. I was trying to fill an emotional hole by plugging a physical one. Except this plug had a voice and personality, neither of which were compatible with my own. Getting out of that situation taught me quickly that being detached emotionally from the physicality that I craved was more damaging to me than starving for affection. Lesson number one learned. I cannot separate my heart from my body and be healthy. One needs the other to live. Was I a victim? No. I was a volunteer. I set it in motion myself and it was up to me to end it.

Second was an older man. He was 15 years my senior. We had a kinetic energy. We talked for hours. He could calm me. Married unsuccessfully three times, he was strong, wise and honorable. But we had never been in the same state never-mind the same room. He found me smart and funny. He said I was strong and honorable. Then he ripped my heart out of my chest. "I'm not what you need." That's what he said. I made excuses for him. "He is honorable and doesn't want to hurt me" was code for "He's selfish and doesn't have room for me." Second lesson learned, I had no boundaries at that time. Being your companion does not give you access to my soul. Was I a victim? No. I was a volunteer. I let him dictate the tone and pace of the relationship. My mind carried me the rest of the way.

Then there was the dreaded married man. We entertained each other on the phone. I conducted, for all intensive purposes, a daylight emotional affair. There were all day texting marathons that lasted from 8am until 7pm. I was a stress free female who always looked perfect and always said the right things in his mind. For me I could flirt and emotionally connect with someone without risking really getting hurt. Although the relationship was never physically consummated, many was the time he met my emotional needs as only a lover can. I never questioned his situation at home. But I would never say I didn't endanger it either. Third lesson learned, emotional fulfillment doesn't mean infidelity is acceptable. Was I a victim? No. I was a volunteer. I participated fully with the knowledge he was unavailable and never would be.

Forth was another older gentleman who sold me a bill of goods in many ways. All I will say about this is, I cannot do sick again. Lap band surgery, brain tumors, drug addiction, and rampant ADHD are things that should be disclosed. I did the walk of shame off a fucking airplane. Fourth lesson learned, all that glitters is neither hard nor satisfying. Was I a victim? No. I was a volunteer. I saw what I wanted to see and reality smacked me on the ass for my ignorance.

Next into the batters box was the younger man. 10 years younger is not quite cougar country but its too close for comfort for me. He and I remain fast friends. But he lives in far too high of a gear for me. His past lives in his home and I cannot, strike that, I will not compete. I am much more valuable to him on his shoulder than in his lap. Fifth lesson learned, I am 44 years old. Was I a victim? No. I was a volunteer. I saw a beautiful man and forgot why I loved being a grown woman.

The accumulation of these lessons is at hand. I am slowly building a relationship. Day by day. Week by week. Month by month. This one will last me until I take my last breath. I am not lost with this person and it grows stronger everyday. I am in a relationship with myself. I need to love me. What I don't love, I need to either change or accept. That's the long and the short of the thing. In order for me to be part of something bigger, I must first be whole.

The lessons have taught me the following regarding myself. A man deserves for me to be open emotionally as well as physically. I must be present in the relationship. A man deserves for me to tell him what I need. If I don't know myself, then how is he supposed to meet my needs. A man deserves my emotional fidelity. My heart must be open in order for him to build a home. A man deserves my full disclosure. I must be honest with where I have been and who I am. The last one is the hardest. A man deserves for me to leave my past behind me. There are of course souvenirs, but one need not wear the t-shirt every fucking day.

See, the issues I saw were not theirs, but symptoms of the sickness of my self esteem. I had to treat them one at a time to cure my illness. It would be easy for me to say "They all took advantage of my grieving and were insensitive jackasses." But that is simply not true. We all come into these things with baggage and expectations. I no longer look at what Mr Soandso did wrong. The more important lesson is what drew them to me. When I am healthy, I will draw healthy to me. There are no victims here. We were all volunteers at one time or another.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Flashes in a Fog..

Some time ago, I was invited to write a guest post regarding surviving a suicide. A friend of mine who helps me with my posting from time to time, made me promise that I would publish it here. Mudgie, this one is for you.

I have just passed the eighth anniversary of that day. The day the world stopped the first time. When who I was ceased to exist. When the future I saw in my minds eye faded to black like a television screen. When I was no longer capable of believing that everything would be okay. A single shot gun shell ripped my life apart just as it tore thru my beloved brother’s chest.

Truthfully, the first 24 hours are more than foggy in my recollection. I quite simply don’t know much of what happened. I have bits and pieces of a shattered picture. I remember hearing a sound that was absolutely gut wrenching and thinking “Holy God, someone should help who ever that is.” Then I took a breath and it stopped. That howl of agony was coming from me. I couldn’t make it stop. Gradually it moved from an audible sound to my soul screaming to the heavens. There were police officers holding a letter and telling me I couldn’t touch it and they would read it to me. As they read I told my husband to call my relatives and to find my parents. Someone offered me water and a friend gave me a big cup of coffee and lit a cigarette for me.

Rich said “Your Mom is there. You have to talk to her.” I took the phone and told her to sit down. She questioned me. She was so happy. Laughing. I said “Sit down Mom. Now.” I was three hours from home with the worst news a mother can ever hear. I couldn’t find gentle words. I couldn’t form them in my mouth that would make this easier. “Mom, John shot himself in my backyard. He’s dead.”

She had a hundred questions and I had no answers. I simply hung up without another word. The police continued to read. I began to shake. They gave me drugs. Everything simply faded into noise as I searched my memory for a hint, a sign, a clue. There was nothing. I was simply empty.

The circumstances and what caused this cataclysmic event in my life at that point were really not even within my scope of thinking. What I knew was the letter to the family was type written 13 days before hand.. He wrote to me in longhand on the back of their letter that day. He could not find a way to say goodbye to me. He simply said “It is finished.” Three days later, before they closed the book on his life forever, I stood in a funeral home alone with him for the last time. I told him, “Rest now brother dear, I will take it from here.”

When I returned home, the silence was deafening. I couldn’t sleep. I couldn't eat. I couldn’t cry. I couldn’t function. There was no rest. I was hollow as I said polite words and accepted condolences. The world went on like it never happened. As though he never existed. I had a husband and a son who needed me. My brother’s son needed me. All I needed was what I couldn’t have. I needed to hear John laugh. I needed to see him smile.

I was so angry with God. It was a seething, black, empty anger. How dare he take him from me. How dare he take my best friend and closest confidant. How dare he. One night as I drove home from work it began to audibly spill out of me in the car. I screamed. I yelled. I cried. I had to pull over because I almost had an accident. Then there was a lock that clicked and released in my head. My anger turned to gratitude.

People look a lifetime for an unconditional love. For a heart that will love you regardless of what you have done. It can’t divorce you or leave you. It doesn’t judge or condemn you or your choices. It supports you. Makes you secure. I had that. He and I had not even had so much as a disagreement in more than 12 years. We held an unedited conversation in writing for the last year or so of his life. We poured out the secrets of our hearts. For 35 years I knew this love. Why must I focus on the 35 years or so I will spend without him when I can remember the 35 years I had with him?

I would never tell you that I was then, or am now over the loss of my brother to a completed suicide. What I will say is that you can survive it. There will come a time when you can let the anger go. When you stop making excuses for their decision. When you can look at your loved ones realistically, When you will stop hiding the flaws that you saw in fear of disgracing their memory. The tears will not stop, but they will change as they lessen. When you might not understand the choice they made, but you will come to accept the experience it created.

Once the fog of grief has lifted, something wonderful will give you tears of a different sort. Some time after John’s death, I was sitting in the kitchen talking to my son. He laughed. I heard John. I could think of nothing but to make it happen again. I noticed his hands. John was there. The same long fingers. Later, I helped him get ready for Prom and he looked so handsome in his tux. He smiled at me. Laughing welsh eyes and there was John. I see him in his son as well. In his measured countenance. In his sense of humor. In his reasoning. In his quietness. In his caring manner. John lives on in our boys. He’s there in bits and flashes. When I looked beyond my grief, I could actually see. He has not left me.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Gorillas and Grace

Sometime ago, there was a commercial about a gorilla and a Samsonite suit case. The commercial was to illustrate the toughness of the merchandise. My sainted grandmother used it to teach me something about how we deal with things in this life. She said that our issues were in that suitcase and the gorilla would smack us around from time to time with that weapon. It's a weapon we formed. The best scenario is when that gorilla is bored of playing, that we unlock that case and pull as much as we can from the baggage to process. Handle and put away everything we can in the time we have to do it before he wants his toy back. Then the bag is lighter and the hurt is less.

As we all know, I have been dealing with some nightmare issues, quite literally. I have also been doing some intensive work on what is wrong. My friend and I have been wrestling this issue from the boxes in the attic of my mind. The first thing you have to understand is that every person in your dreams are you. Something this emotionally painful has nothing to do with outside forces but with damage inflicted upon your psyche. In my case, it is a defense mechanism that I employed to not break. My psyche did what was necessary for me to survive.

I have to go back. Back to that day. When he collapsed I went into business mode. Just as I had done a hundred times. My business was making sure my husband lived to fight another day. To make sure that my son was alright. To hold my family together at all cost. However, my business had never been to make sure that I was taking care of me. The explosion happened and I locked away the part of me that believed. That could panic. That could fall apart. My husband, my son and my husband's family were looking to me for strength. For guidance. For wisdom. They were feeding their emotional states from me. I emotionally locked her in a dark room as surely as if I had slammed a door on a house. I had to survive what was happening to me and I had to carry them with me. I held my head, my heart and my tongue when I walked that aisle on my son's arm. I hid my eyes behind dark glasses so that I could hide my shattered soul from the world. Yet she was screaming in that room. Lost and alone. Afraid.

This was the price of a private grief. I only cried alone. I lay in the darkness of my grief alone. I had no comforting hands nor hugs of condolence. When I walked into my home the day of the funeral I shut myself away. In an effort to hold his legacy together, I very nearly destroyed mine. I closed myself off because everything that touched me hurt. The strong arms that had held me together through the death of my brother, the ones that banged down the door when I had shut down emotionally, were gone. Without them, I could not break down the walls I built to protect myself.

In my dream I am asleep. A state of childlike innocence. That part of me that could not believe that he could actually die. The part that won every fight for his life. The part that thought I had forever. In truth the catastrophic event that ended his life ripped me in two pieces. A part to handle the business and the everyday survival that was necessary. A part to lie dormant and wait for me to allow her to grieve. To do so in my way. Privately. Honorably. Gracefully. But the price was very nearly my sanity. "I'm sorry baby. I didn't know." Is me admitting that I didn't know he could actually die. I didn't know.

So at the moment, I have my suitcase and the gorilla is at the gym. He gets stronger everyday. But I am unpacking the bastards bag. I am lightening the blow. At least now I understand what it is that I have to unpack. But I will do this on my terms. I understand the issues now. I clearly see what it is I have done and what I must do. I have dealt with my relationship with my son. We are closer than we have ever been in our lives. I am on speaking terms with my husband's family. I have walked away from the fakes and the drama queens. Cleaned the trash out of my friends and attracted quality people into my life.

For everyone else I have fought. My husband. My son. A family that was unappreciative and needed someone to blame. A group of friends that waited for me to fall. People who wanted me to ask for help. Now I'm in the fight of my life. Because this fight is for me. This fight is literally for the life and happiness I have earned. I have cried, bled and quite literally tried to die. This fight I cannot lose. Because it is for the future I deserve. The only person that I have not settled this debt with is myself. But I'm coming for you baby girl. It will take a hell of a lot more than some juiced up gorilla on a 'roid rage to keep me away.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Nightmares and Dreamscapes

Tears. Absolute floods of tears. Silent and wet running down my face when I least expect them. Inopportune and in senseless places. What in the hell is wrong with me? Sleep is not even a sanctuary now. I cannot escape. My psyche is kicking my ass for something. Horrid nightmares. Not those anxiety inducing ones that come every now and then. I have adjusted to those and can actually go back to sleep. The panic passes and I am okay. These are making me cry even in my sleep.

It's the same dream every time. I hear him, yelling at me to get up. It's dark in the room and all I can hear is him progressively getting more and more angry but he won't come in the room. When I drag myself from the bed, moving like I'm planted in molasses, he tells me, "You didn't pack? We have to be gone today." Suddenly I am in the kitchen of my home, packing seemingly endless dishes, glasses, pots and pans. He's behind me yelling again, "How could you wait this long?" The only words I can utter through my tears come out choked, "I'm sorry baby. I didn't know."

I wake up on a wet pillow every time. I am actually crying in my sleep. My son has heard my sobbing. He has awoken me from naps and from a dead sleep in the middle of the night. We have discussed that day at length. Gone over it minute by minute. Put all the pieces together and hashed out everything. All of it is on the table. We love each other. He says it's time for me to lean on him. He says I did everything I could do. He says I have to let it all go. That my time of strength is at an end. But if I let it go, who will remember him? Is there a time when ones strength reservoir is simply exhausted?

I have been researching what's wrong. All of the dream interpretations say that the yelling is repressed anger within me. I have never allowed myself to be angry. I've never screamed at his headstone, "How could you leave me like this?" I've never thrown things in a fit of rage at him. I have grieved privately and alone. I have kept my dignity out of respect for his memory. I have borne the scorn and whispers. I have never responded. Simply because I know the truth. Simply because it is beneath me to address such things. Simply because it is not in my character. Leaving me was not his choice. It's not something he would have ever done willingly. My son says he would never have survived losing me. He loved me with everything in his being. So whom is it exactly that I should be angry with about being alone?

According to the research I've been doing, the packing is change. There is some great change happening in my life. I need to pack up my past and put it behind me. I need to move through my life, not just knock around in the space I used to inhabit. But how do I do this in a life that is not of my own making? The life I constructed with my own two hands no longer exists. I am not who I was when that day dawned. Everything I dreamed of and planned is gone. Is this where the anger comes in? Well don't cue the violins because I'm not buying it. Wallowing in misery is over for me.

Maybe I have held my grief a little too close to my chest. My pain has and will remain private. I will not bleed on command. For as much as I have shed my Appalachian heritage, somethings remain ingrained in me. A strength. An honor. Those are the qualities I chose to keep. But evidently my psyche thinks I need to share. That I need to vent. If I won't participate in my recovery, it will drag me to hell until I do as it asks. I simply cannot wage war with myself any longer it seems. So I am working on the anger issue. I must do something constructive with it. I must not have done all of this in vain.

As much as the dream-scape I am inhabiting is only in my head. The results are very much not there. The stress is quite literally manifesting physically. I really don't know how this is going to play out in real life. I have a friend who has a degree in psychology who is helping me. We are going to sift through my feelings until we find this baseball bat of a problem that I evidently can't even see. She tells me that it's there but I just have to dig deep enough in the dusty boxes of my broken life to locate the damned thing. So I'm heading upstairs now to look through the rubble. I have on my protective goggles and my yellow playtex gloves. Maybe a flame thrower and a whip. But whatever is in my head will not beat me any longer. If I don't come down in a reasonable amount of time, call the marines. Tell me to come rescue me in my nightmares and dream-scapes.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Perspective is all that matters.

People have been classed all throughout history, those who consider themselves better than or worse because of many different factors.  Sex, race, finances and religion are classifications that are normally the measure that the uneducated or indoctrinated use. I am always very surprised when I am conversing with another wanderer in this widows world who still classes people. In my 27 months on this journey, it never ceases to amaze me that someone always needs to be more hurt than someone else to validate their grief. Death is the great equalizer.

First are the ones who, regardless of the circumstance, will always think what happened to them is worse than someone else. The ones who lost quickly tell ones who fought a long battle, "Well at least you got to say goodbye. I didn't even get that." The ones who strapped up everyday for war tell the ones who's world ended in the blink of an eye, "At least you didn't have to watch them die everyday, a piece at a time." In truth no way is better or easier than the other because the end result was the same. No one is more valid in their grief than anyone else. I have begun to actually stop answering the questions. If I want you to know what happened, I will tell you, but in my time and not on demand. There is no reason to press me for answers unless you simply have no manners. When I have to say the words "I am a widow" I try to say it without inflection or indication that I want to discuss it further. When the person presses further and says "What happened?" I simply reply, "He died." That should be enough of an answer for anyone. Somehow them prying into my life is seen as okay. It simply exhausts me. Why can we not simply say "I am so sorry for your loss. You have my deepest condolences." and leave it there? Why must one qualify their loss? Cancer, heart attacks, car accidents, HIV, suicides, old age, drug and alcohol addiction, or anything else that took your spouse is a vicious beast that ripped your life apart. Maybe you fought Godzilla and I had a nuclear explosion, nevertheless we are both on the same road. 

The second qualifier that drives me to distraction is the children. Let me explain something to you ladies and gentlemen, the fact that my son is 22 and your son is 2 makes me no less a single parent than you. My problems with the situation may be different than yours, but they are still issues addressed as a single mother. You have dance class and chicken pox. I have car insurance and job interviews. But, I still face these things alone. While you are upset that the deceased parent won't see all the home-runs, perfect pirouettes, straight A grade-cards and Christmas mornings, I am wrestling that my son's father will never see him get married, settled in a good job, hold his first grandchild, or teach him to hang a blind  in his first house. Simply because he doesn't live under my roof doesn't mean I don't worry that he is clean, well fed, safe and healthy. I know what you're doing alone, and I know it's hard, but don't look at someone else and say "At least the children are grown."  Don't say "Those children will never know that parent" and not think about the ones who remember the last seconds of their parents lives. Although the damage is different its still damage. Just because my issue is something with a different skill set, doesn't mean I don't cry myself to sleep at night, sick with worry of what tomorrow will bring. We are all single parents. Why must your parenting issues be worse than mine? The simple answer is because your perspective is inside your life and mine is from inside my life. If we stop looking to be more important or our loss more significant than the next ones, we just might be able to help one another and not be quite so alone.  Yes, I successfully raised a teenager. I've been where you are standing. I might know a little something to assist with your problem. You're closer to my son's age than I and your perspective on a situation might just shed new light for me as well. Others look at a surviving spouse without children and say "At least there are no children involved." which is a fallacy as well. They can look at you and say "You have part of your loved one living on in your child." Perspective is all that matters. 

Then there are the people who do well with support groups and the ones who can not abide them. I have heard "You need to find a good group to support you." I have also heard "Those groups are the worst thing because you cannot heal by tearing the wound open again and again." For myself, I simply don't get much out of the experience. I am somewhat self contained. Walking into a group of strangers with all those different agendas is simply not conducive to my sanity. I am a very private person. I don't rip myself open and bleed for just anyone. For many others they are real life savers. They glean insight and gain support in that arena. They flourish in that structure. I am always happy for someone who finds a place to lean. But because it doesn't work for me, doesn't mean there is something wrong with me. It simply means I don't do well with that program.

What works for you may not work for me. The one thing that holds true for all of us is that if we don't work our grief, it will work us. Lean into it and feel it all. There is no way around it. There is no way over it or under it. We must walk through it. Shoulder to shoulder. Some will hold hands and some will not. The major component is that when one does reach out, there is a hand to hold rather than a finger to point. There is an answer to be found to every question. There is also something to be said for "I don't know but lets find out together."

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Cold Rolled and Comfortable

This time of year I get a little quiet. I’m taking stock of my life. Where I have been and where I want to go. The plans I made a year ago in relation to the progress I’ve made throughout the year. Some things I have passed with flying colors, others were mediocre and a few were complete failures. Birthdays used to be a time of celebration for me. Now it’s a bit different. I used to mark time in the years I have been on earth. Now I mark time by how long I have been here in the widow’s world. I am sure it will change at some point but I tend to be a realist and live where I am at the moment.

Since my birthday is in July, it was never anything big with my friends. My family celebrated it every year. Because I grew up in such a rural area, I never had friends there from school and we didn’t live in a neighborhood. In fact I actually never had a party until my 42nd birthday. It was five months after his death and my son threw the party for me. His is 2 weeks before mine and I actually think we celebrated together to keep from going insane. His friends and mine meshed together in one night. They stayed until dawn and it was okay. The darkness did not swallow me that night as it did many others and still does from time to time.

Last year I ran. I went to the coast and pretty much hid for the week. This year I’m going to face it flat footed. That is simply my personality. I don’t really have a fight or flight reflex. I have a “well it really can’t kill me” reflex. I’ve always been that way. Monsters in the basement? Let me go down there in the dark. A friend of mine told me today they are going to a family reunion with someone they aren’t related to because “they uncomfortable driving that far alone.” I simply don’t understand that mentality. I live in uncomfortable. If it makes me uncomfortable, I will do it or die. I’m not necessarily as much fearless as foolish I think.

My late husband was a manufacturing engineer who worked with metal. I learned a lot about the processes that were involved in his work. Then I look at my moniker of the real deal steel magnolia. All steel is made through fire. Forged in the flame the impurities burn off. Yes, I have walked through some fire. Granny always said “It takes an awful hot fire to make steel.” What she neglected to tell me is that steel is a raw material and it has to be made into something to be valuable.

That is the process that I am living through at the moment. It would be easier if it were a hot process. It would be comfortable. I understand fire. I have often said I vacation in hell. The best, most pure, strongest steel is cold rolled. Hellish pressure. At 50 degrees versus over 1000 degrees. It takes time. It hurts. I don’t understand the cold. I don’t remember life outside the fire.

I am learning to live in the cold. Outside the heated stares of people. Outside the flames of whispers and rumor. The fire I can do in my sleep. The cold is much harder for me. Cold is a cup of coffee on the steps with my morning cigarette with no one watching. Being forgotten in the world I used to inhabit. Cold is not speaking verbally to anyone for an entire weekend at times. Looking up at 11 pm from a book and realizing I haven’t eaten all day because I didn’t remember.

In some form or another I have always lived for other people. Worked hard to make someone proud. Lived in the sunlight of someone’s love and approval. I could have run right out and found another someone to live for I suppose. I would have still been steel but the hot rolled product. The cold rolled process is harder but it is best. The finished process carries less imperfections and impurities. In this method I am learning to live for me. To get my own approval. I am quite the perfectionist, so for myself I will be the best me and made out of the best materials available in heaven and hell. I have been through both and I desire to return to neither. The magnolia will be finished in cold rolled steel.

Friday, May 6, 2011

The Weight of Guilt and Grief

Sometimes I feel like Ross Perot's running mate Jim Stockdale when he was in the vice presidential debate. "Who am I and what am I doing here?" I get asked a lot "Where have you been and what are you doing?" The easy answer is "Oh I am around, just sort of quiet these days." The truth is a tad more complicated. I am working hard to progress out of my dark place and to find the light. I laugh and smile a lot more these days. I am trying to learn to embrace my new self. Yet at times I feel guilty. Guilty that I want to move on. Guilty that I want to be happy. Guilty that someone might think that I have forgotten. I am guilty of many things, but these are not among them.

I have reentered the dating world. Sometimes successfully and sometimes not so much. I've opened my heart. It was so much  easier to be cold and unfeeling because everything hurt. I still have some cleaning up to do as I am still dealing with some cobwebs and some peeling paint from the remodel after the storm. Trust me FEMA ain't got an insurance policy for a demolished heart. So I packed it away in its many pieces and have slowly began to reassemble that part of me. Now I have to be watchful and not allow it to be injured as the newly rebuilt heart settles into position. I have to be willing to lose someone in order for me to even get a glimpse at what the future could hold with them. How much I am willing to be hurt depends on how much I value the person I suppose. I am into self preservation these days. If that is a crime then I am guilty.

I have put men on the friend list for many reasons. I am learning to be selfish. It's not that I cannot share, its that I simply don't want to share. I take up some room in a man's life and he needs to be able to accommodate me. I am unwilling to sit in the backseat of some one's life because of other obligations that were there before me. Needy children, neurotic parents, psychotic exes, unreasonable paranoia over passed illnesses or just plain baggage made up of crazy are not things that I am willing to step back for in my love life. I don't blame the fellas for having lives before me, but when those things bleed into my relationship with him, that's when I will pick up my keys and walk away. I have been told that I date like a man. So be it. I date like a woman who will not settle. I have raised my son and am ready to have a man to myself. If that is a crime, then I am guilty.

I am ready to shed my formal widow's title. I am tired of being either villanized or canonised because of my loss. I am tired of people judging me or my life because of the loss of my husband. I have grown tired of explaining color to the blind. I have my own identity and I want a life that is mine. People will always judge me. I understand that completely. However, I said long ago I would not wave my flag forever. I think it would be most unfair to a new man in my life to lament and forever be identified as a widow. I want to be the new me. A little older, a little wiser and a whole lot more myself. Although I spent well over 20 years in that one relationship, it will not define me. I cannot, nor should I be expected, to grieve myself to death. If that is a crime, then I am most certainly guilty.

I will always write about my journey through grief for I will always be on that road. The losses in my life have been many but none of the wounds to my soul were mortal. I will not always lament what could or in my mind should have been. I want to progress through this and grow.  I have spoken to many widows who feel the same and yet are afraid to voice it to their peers because they fear they will be judged. They want to be happy mothers and girlfriends and yes even happy wives. It doesn't make them or me any less than the ones who will judge, nor their grief more valid. It simply means we are working our grief rather than being a slave to the pain. Our children, family and friends need us. They need to feed from our strength and watch us bloom again. Even if you and yours aren't ready, me and mine are. So, if that is a crime, once more, I am guilty.

Lastly, the weight of grief is relative. The weight you give mine is relative to the weight I will give yours. My loss is no more profound than yours. Your loss is no more profound than his.  I get really tired of seeing people climb up on the rooftop of their lives and shout to hear the sound of their own voice. You're yelling to hear yourself above the noise in your own head. To me that is a symptom having no idea who the hell you are and not a result of losing a spouse. You built your life around someone or something, I did the same thing. But never doubt that before I knew I was a widow, I knew who I was as a person. I was lost in the mix for a minute, but I can stand flatfooted and say I know who I am. You have suffered a grievous loss. You are on a rough road. We hear you. The fact that you have small children, you have grown children, that you have no children, that you are a female, that you are male, that you are young or old, has no weight in this conversation. We are all in this hellish club that we didn't want to join and if listening to you yell is the price of being your friend, let me off this bus now. Because I am healing and if that is a crime, yes ma'am I am guilty as charged.

If you want to talk to me about your journey, grief, or recovery, I am here. If you need to vent, laugh, cry, question, measure or try to understand something, I am here. But if you come to me with issues that show that your grief out weighs mine because of the circumstances of your life, I will have no time for you. I want to move forward, learn, live, laugh and yes love. If that is a crime, I am guilty.

Monday, February 7, 2011

The Sacred and The Profane

As I am hurled closer and closer to the two year anniversary of his death, I am learning things about myself. Things that are neither good nor bad but different than what they were before that day dawned. What I thought of the world and what I think of the world. One can not survive not one, but two, catastrophic life events and not be forever changed. The aftershocks continue long afterward and spill into every corner of ones life.

The first event was the suicide of my brother. It is a subject that I seldom broach but one that I suppose I should cover at some point. My brother and I were only siblings and the best of friends. In fact, our last Christmas, we actually bought each other identical clocks. We started a correspondence years before his passing with the understanding that when a letter was finished it was to be mailed with misspellings and all of the mistakes. An unedited conversation that went on for a long time. Those letters are sacred to me. When he left this world, I was as broken as I thought I would ever be in this life. I was cold inside and angry with God. Then God and I had a knock down, drag out, fist fight concerning the taking of him from me. A light bulb came on in my head. I came to the conclusion that I should be thankful for the 35 years I had with him rather than to count the 35 or so I will spend without him.

The changes around me were not as severe but they were a foreshadowing of things to come. I distanced myself from my family. I found their response to his death profane. It was hushed and silent as though it had never happened. As though he had never existed. Yet here I stood screaming in my heart. His belongings that were not in my possession were simply sold in yard sales or given to charities. Shirts were made into cleaning cloths with which he was wiped from the face of the earth it seemed. When he wrote his last letter, he burned every card and letter from me. Those ashes scattered across my hometown but the secrets of my heart were taken to the grave with him. 

The second catastrophic event is the one everyone knows about. But I am learning in grief. What is sacred to me are things that no one else would see. The sacred is who we were. What we did. The son we produced. The profane is the loss of him. The loss of his family to me and my son. The loss the future I had planned. As much as I have ever grieved Richard, I grieve my hopes and dreams. I grieve the pictures in my minds eye that will never see the exposure of real life. I grieve my belief in forever. It is profane to me that I cannot yet look at people and not think “Do you not even remember that he ever existed?”

The tears that I have shed since the first event have now bled into the tears from the second. I would love to say that the torrent has slowed but it has simply retreated into the darkness. I refuse to grieve in public. The people around me before have simply faded into the background noise that I now ignore. In trying to reenter this strange planet, widows walk a strange road. We never know what to say to make the other inhabitants feel comfortable. When I am asked “Are you single?” I should be able to answer “I am a widow” without the obligatory “It’s okay” to make them more at ease. When in a group conversation, I should be able to share my sacred memories with a light in my eyes rather than casting them to the floor as though I have said something profane to silence the entire room. The sacred is that I can remember now. The profane is that I am not allowed to forget. 

Today I wandered to a place of peace in a little grove of trees. I sat down on the bench and looked at the beautiful black granite and read his name through my tears for a while. Then a magic thing happened, I saw myself reflected there. The headstone did exactly what I wanted when I designed it. I wanted our son, his family and friends to look past the words of his death and to see themselves. We must remember that as profane it is how much of us as he took with him, that there is much of him left in us that is sacred.