Friday, November 9, 2012

I Kept Myself Alive

“Of the widow’s countless death-duties, there is really just one that matters: on the first anniversary of her husband’s death, the widow should think, 'I kept myself alive.'” Joyce Carol Oates  “A Widow’s Story: A Memoir”

It’s been a week since the one-year anniversary of my husband, Mason’s, death. The actual day of the anniversary was hell, but having gotten through it, I seem to be in a better place now. It was like I needed that day to come and go, a milestone of sorts, where I then could allow myself to think about actually changing the world of “us” –  letting go of the house, moving away from our friends and neighbors, maybe meeting someone new – and then baby step by baby step, begin to evolve into “Just Jane.” Mason would, could, never leave my thoughts. I just think I’m ready to shed the safety blanket of memories, the ones that held me together at times, and face the world by myself. I’m too young to let it all fall apart. And too strong, so I’m told. And after all, so far, “I’ve kept myself alive.”

I started this new leaf ceremony back in September, when I realized that emotional eating had gotten the better of me and I had to do something about it. So I got a personal trainer and started going to aerobics classes. To date, I’m down 15 pounds. I started writing again, which had all but ceased because my concentration was shot for some time. Now I’m back on a semi-regular schedule and hope to keep improving on that. You can never write too many stories for an Internet employer, it seems.

And the big one for me is that I’ve started getting out and about again. For my birthday last month, I went to Las Vegas and had more fun than I’ve had in, well, at least a year. I’m already planning another trip back. This week I had lunch with a friend I haven’t seen in years. I’m meeting another friend for lunch on Sunday, going to a concert next week with another friend, and have up-in-the-air plans for dinner with yet another friend. And, purely by chance, when I mentioned that I wanted to start skiing again this winter, I instantly collected three or four people who wanted to join me. I felt like I really had made the effort and it was paying off.

Somehow though, things just didn’t seem right. I was angry. Angry at people, who, upon this one-year anniversary’s arrival kept telling me that it didn’t seem like I’d grieved enough. They made me doubt myself. Should I have gone around crying for an entire year, shrouded in black? How does one grieve? I’m an emotional person, but not a big crier. Mine was a “Pull up your socks and get on with it,” kind of family, so crying didn’t really get you anywhere. I once was put to bed with a broken arm, being told I’d feel better in the morning. When I broke my foot, my sister told me to put some lipstick on and I’d feel better. If you dialed 9-1-1 on any of our phones, the call probably wouldn’t have gone through. Not that I wasn’t loved and completely cared for, I just learned early in life that crying gets you nowhere. It just makes other people wish you would stop.

Then I realized, though I’d had my crying fits, upon my return from Las Vegas, one of my sisters said she hadn’t heard me that happy in a long time. A year perhaps? It occurred to me that, while I hadn’t been crying for everyone to see, I’d been overwhelmingly sad every day for the past 365 days. For months and months I hadn’t been able to figure out why I’d been dragging around aimlessly, so unbelievably tired all the time, with no explanation at all. Then one day it finally made sense.

I was letting go. Maybe Mason was letting me go. Whatever it was, I was starting to become “Just Jane” and my energy came back, my desire to do what I liked came back – all those things. But what I’m most happy of all that came back was my smile, and the feeling that came with it. Because, although you may never have any intention of acting on it, there is that thought that crosses your mind many, many times during that first year. But through it all, I’m glad, “I kept myself alive.”

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Eclectic Electric

Sometimes the smallest act of kindness can beg immeasurable appreciation. I have had two lamp fixtures gathering dust in my bedroom for three months, waiting to replace the ugly ones in my bathroom. A friend had said he could put them in for me, but he got busy at work. Since the other lights worked I was willing to wait until he had more time. That time came at about 9am on a Sunday morning.

Still in my pajamas, with the Sunday paper and a cup of coffee in front of me when he called, I didn’t dare lose the opportunity so I said come on down. Ten minutes later, he was at my door, raring to go. I was still in my pajamas. If he didn’t care about my “who-did-it-and-ran” hairdo, then neither did I. Guys are great that way.

About 15 minutes later, the new lights were in and I was ecstatic. I just wanted to stand there and flip the light switch on and off the whole day. He was like, “big deal.” Little did either of us know, the big deal was yet to come.

Lucky for me, he chose this particular day to come over. The day before, I had bought a hanging swag light that required an additional “kit” containing the necessary attachments to make it work. The salesman was very casual about my questions concerning the need for this kit.

“Can I put this together myself?” I asked. “Sure, sure,” he said. “I bought the same lamp for my parents,” as if this response answered my question. He handed me a package that I took on faith was the kit I needed, with all the necessary parts inside. I bought the lamp and its kit, and headed home to assemble it.

Put it together myself? Yeah maybe, if I had an electrical engineering degree. All I was able to do was thread the cord through the chain. Then there were all these wires and orange screw caps, and screws with no thingies on the end for a screwdriver. There was also some hardware I couldn’t even identify. The instructions basically said, “Install the light,” and then repeated it in French. I sat down and tried to remember what I had done with the receipt.

Enter my friend, who came over to do me a favor and quickly install the bathroom lights. “While you’re here,” I said, and explained my plight concerning this “easy to install” light. He said sure, he could do that. Forty-five minutes later, while completely ignoring my recitation of the instructions and not even using half the parts in the stupid kit, he finally conquered the not-to-be-conquered-light.

I was so thrilled I hugged him, with him pulling away to get out of the house before I came up with any more “little” projects for him. As he left the house he reinstated my self-worth, assuring me that I would never have been able to assemble that by myself. Then the idea of flipping the light switch on and off all day came back to mind as an activity that would result in endless pleasure, and I ran upstairs to do so. Now I need a new light bulb.

Thank you, God, for not-so-small favors, like a friend who knows how sort out a bunch of wires and screws and turn them into something that looks like the box they came in.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Football Season - Yay?

Football is my favorite sport, college or pro. My husband was an even bigger fan. He would get visibly upset or happy when his team was on the screen, screaming advice or admonishments as if the coach could hear him. And he always told his friends how happy he was that he had a “football wife,” because there I was, watching the games right along with him, and putting up with his shenanigans. Mostly.

I watched my first season opener today - Northwestern vs. Syracuse. Having gone to Northwestern for graduate school, it was obvious who I was for. Because of that, and the fact that he had a team where one of us went to school and the game was actually being televised, Mason was thrilled to get excited about watching the historically worst football team in the Big Ten.

Oddly enough, the year I went to Northwestern, they ended up in the Rose Bowl. Sadly, that was the height of Northwestern’s days on top. Still, we always watched the Northwestern games, or whichever game was on, because after all, football season only lasted six months, not including preseason.

Like everyone, Mason had a favorite team – the NY Giants. He had wearable paraphernalia from an old-fashioned leather-type football helmet to Giants slipper socks, and he wore it all for every Giants game. He would get so worked up, it became my job to talk him down from believing that he was on the field. And if the Giants lost, it would be a miserable Monday.

But back to Northwestern. The game was great. Northwestern scored 28 unanswered points, and then Syracuse did the same, bringing the game down to two minutes with Northwestern down by a touchdown. SCORE! Northwestern tied the game at 41-41 and only needed the extra point to walk away with the game. What a game!

They scored the extra point and walked away the victors. Yeah for my side. When I turned to Mason to share my glee over a heated game where our team won, he wasn’t sitting there, where he always was when a game was on. He died last year, mid-season. I kept on doing his picks for him in the family football pool anyway, and wouldn’t you know, he ended up winning the whole thing.

Watching the Super Bowl alone last year, when Mason’s NY Giants won, was hard. But today I realized that he wouldn’t be sitting in his football chair at all this season. No drama. No Mason. Just me.

When someone dies, people always talk about going through first holidays and other events without your spouse, child, parent… I’ve been through his birthday and Christmas with nary a tear, but today, when I looked for him to help me celebrate our victory and he wasn’t there, I can’t say the same. This is a first I hadn’t anticipated having to go through without him, and it isn’t just for a day.

The NFL season opener is next week. It’s the NY Giants vs. the Dallas Cowboys, the team that Mason hated the most, so it’s a big game in our family. That game is going to be a hard first, and it’s only the first game of the season.

Football will always be my favorite sport. But I think this will be the first year that I’ll wish the season wasn’t so long.

Monday, August 20, 2012

My husband died

My husband died. One night he went to bed and just didn’t wake up the next morning. He was 51.

I miss him everywhere I go and in every thing I do, but I try to look for silver linings and smile when I find them. He died peacefully in his sleep – a silver lining. My family came to my aid and rallied like I’ve never seen them do before – a silver lining. I can finally throw away that ratty t-shirt of his that should have been forcibly taken away by the government years ago – a silver lining. Except now I want that shirt. And, of course, the seat is always down now – a silver lining.

My husband was the proverbial gentle giant. Standing six-foot-three with a belly like Santa’s, he never once raised his voice about anything. He looked like he could take a tree out with his bare hands if he wanted, but he never got mad. There was always the daily morning rant about the idiots on the ‘Opinions’  page in the paper, but even then he never got mad enough to write back with his own opinions.

And he had charm. Mason could charm a snake charmer. It would be hard to find a person who didn’t get along with him. He turned that charm into a career as a big-time ad guy on Madison Avenue, and was a man with more friends than you can imagine. At his memorial service, we had 150 programs made up, just to be safe. We ran out of them. The cathedral was packed. There wasn’t a person who knew Mason who didn’t come from far and wide to be there.


I still share a laugh with him now and then. When an inside joke between the two of us pops up, I actually look around for him, wanting to share that knowing smirk. I talk out loud to him all the time. I point out stories in the paper that I think might get him riled. I let him know when bands he likes are coming to town. Then I eventually realize there is no one there. And I stop laughing.

So now our too-big king-sized bed has become a desk, with mail, magazines and even a table fan, on Mason’s side – things that stay there from day to day, depending on if I need to change the sheets. I still hear him rattling around the house, typing on his computer, squeaking the upstairs floorboards, letting me know he’s there. For a while, his name even used to show up on my Facebook contact list, as having just signed off. I missed him every time. I used to think he was coming back to play Farmville, his favorite Facebook game.

I’ve been through most of the horrid paperwork and other unpleasantries of losing him, but there is still much more to go. Much more than I can face right now. I’m living alone in a 5-bedroom home that gets bigger and more lonely every day. People keep asking me if I’m going to move, when I’m going to move, where I’m going to move, what kind of job do I think I can get. These are all important questions, but not ones that I can answer right now. I couldn’t if I tried. I don’t want to.

I recently read a book by a famous psychiatrist, Kay Redfield Jamison, who lost her husband. She wrote that “there is a time between times,” the time between losing your spouse and the time when you feel you are ready, or need, to face reality. That time between times, when you’re just allowed to grieve, is so necessary. For the inconsolable sadness it contains, there is something comfortable about it. It’s a time when no one makes you feel embarrassed when you cry, no one expects you to be back to work, no one expects much of you. They just let you be. And it just makes things so much easier, when the weight of the world is temporarily off your shoulders, that you never want it to change. I’m still clinging to that time between times with all my might, because I can’t face a world without Mason by my side.

Monday, October 3, 2011

20-Yr-Old Dog Avoids Papparazzi


So I just spent a three-day weekend babysitting two dogs. Delilah is 14 years old and Cuda is 20, and they are both quite fragile. They have very specific diets, needs for frequent walks and basic 24/7 on-call care.  They are, however, quite lovable, and since I live only two doors away, I didn’t exactly feel put out by the request from neighbors who have certainly done their all for my dog.
The first morning I woke up there, I opened an eye and there were two dark brown eyes, inches from face. It was Cuda, letting me know that it was dawn and they needed to go out. It was more like 7:30am, but when you’re a freelance writer, time is relative. So we got up and did the go outside thing. Then we made the involved breakfast concoctions, which included pulverizing different amounts of prescription Deramaxx for each dog for arthritis, and mixing it in with Iams specialized kibble, Iams specialized wet food and a little warm water. Seven in the morning not being my best time of the day, I amazed myself each time I was able to accomplish this task.


Then I went upstairs to make the bed so I wouldn’t get back in and fall asleep all day. When I shook out the covers and blankets, to my surprise, a little gray cat named Mandy went flying out of the sheets and across the room. I felt horrible, but she looked at me like, “Oh, it happens all the time,” and went about grooming what fur she had, having had all but her head and the tip of her tail shaved for the hot summer months.
I brought my camera along so I could make a quick slideshow of what we did while Mom and Dad were away, but Cuda would have none of it. Every time I lifted the camera to snap a shot, Cuda would, literally, turn tail and run off.  So I have pictures of Deliah, a shot or two of the humorously shaven Mandy, all cuddled up in the new dog bed, and Cuda’s butt.

Cuda's butt

The big concern about the dogs was if they were going to have messy accidents in the house, but I was lucky. Not a one. Though there was the walk we took to my house where I ran upstairs for less than a minute to do something before we walked back. Sure enough, when I came downstairs, there was a nice little gift for me in the middle of the TV room floor. Both dogs looked up at me as if to say, “I didn’t do it.” C’est la vie.
Then there was the groggy-eyed morning when I got to the bottom of the stairs and stepped in it. Literally. So I cleaned myself up, cleaned the rug up, moved over a few inches and stepped in it. Again. It was one of those dark patterned rugs that are all the more confusing at 7am. Like I said before, luckily, there were no messy clean-ups.
On my final morning on duty, it was mid-morning and Delilah came to visit me while I sat on the couch. I petted her and then she headed for the front door. Like a shot I got there at the same time she did, but not before a small trail of “bread crumbs” had been left on the living room floor. At least most of it got outside that time.
And now it’s time for me to leave, which I find bittersweet. Realizing what it takes to keep these dogs going, I am afraid to leave for the three hours before the owners get home. And they’ve grown on me even more. Even that silly-looking cat, who is totally lovable. But I will gladly say good-bye to the poops on parade, and thank the newspaper guy for delivering the paper in a plastic bag.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

H-O-T Spells HOT, HOT, HOT!

Lately it has been hot. Really hot. Pukin’ hot. I don’t ever remember it being this hot. There have been health hazards issued in the past because of the heat, but this is the first time I ever thought they might actually apply to me. Just a mile away, an entire shopping plaza lost power due to all the extra power it was drawing by cranking up the air conditioning at all of its locations.

At our house, my husband claimed heat exhaustion and sequestered himself in the one air-conditioned room in our house for two days, emerging only to ferret out some food or take a quick trip to the bathroom. When I asked him to help me put in another air conditioner, he immediately cited the health hazards and ran back to the already air-conditioned room. I thought for a minute about the irony of the relief the second air conditioner would bring versus the 10 minutes of activity it would take to throw it in the window, and then I moved on. The edict had been issued - there would be no second air conditioner in the near future.

Then came the weather teaser. Two glorious, sunny low humidity days. One could actually function without a fan, or that still un-installed second air conditioner. No more spending money at random locations just to soak up their air conditioning. The sprinkler was actually being used for the garden. The pool was no fun though, because the water had gotten so hot from the prior scorching days that it wasn’t any relief to go swimming.

Boom! Boom! Boom! The following days brought lightning and thunderstorms, fierce at times, but fleeting. Then the sun would come out and it was if it had never rained at all. At least that muggy, post-storm air didn’t hang around to give everyone upper respiratory problems. I’m convinced the only reason it started raining was because I had decided to keep cool one day by hand washing my car with ice cold water and using my last water-ionizing filter to rinse off the car so it would dry spotless and I wouldn’t have to stand around in the scorching heat to dry it. It poured that night, and rained every day for three days afterwards. And now I’m out of ionized water filters.

So far, the only good to come out of this horrifically hot weather is that the dog got a bath. I stuck her in her doggie pool, and wet her down with the cold water from the hose and she didn’t move a muscle. I soaped her up and she didn’t shake it all over me, which is usually part of the ritual. And then I rinsed her off with the same cold water, and she let me. One little shake and that was it. I think if the pool weren’t filled with soap, she would have curled right up in the ice cold water. Now that told me how hot it really was.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Meet the Doldrums

What to do, what to do? I am wandering around the house today, unable to decide what I would like to do, or even what I don’t want to do that needs doing. But I am at a loss. It’s raining, so I decided to give myself permission to start a new book. I tried three and gave up on every one. There isn’t even anything on TV worth watching. And I have to be in the right mood to do nothing.

Anyone who has seen my house knows that virtually everything, inside and out, needs cleaning, decluttering or just putting away. I tried to tackle a particularly dusty task, but lost interest halfway, so now there are just piles of dusty things all over the floor. And sometime during the week, I picked up contact dermatitis from gardening, so now I’m afraid to go near my plants.

There is just this vacuous presence around me, keeping me from being interested in doing anything. Motivation seems to have left for the 4th of July weekend. But what’s this? In the act of flipping through the dictionary to make sure I was using the word “vacuous” properly, the book fell open to the word “watercolor,” and now I’m thinking of that bag of watercolor supplies, and special, expensive, paper I had for the watercolor classes I’d taken last year. The bag is on a hook in the hall closet, where it’s been hanging ever since my last watercolor class.

Maybe I’ll dig out my supplies and work on my technique. I painted two pieces that were worth framing, so I know it’s not a lost cause to keep going. Who knows? Maybe I’ll crank out another “suitable for framing” piece.

How about that? My old friend, the printed word, just flops down in front of me and solves the doldrums of my day. Well, I’d better get to it. I’m actually looking forward to this project.