Just when you feel that your life may be on track, fate, the gods, or happenstance steps in front of you and waves its fat, jiggly arms.

I posted last week about tackling some of my late husband’s belongings in the bedroom. It was a mistake. I did not realize until my week started to unravel that the repercussions of doing so now would extract a heavy price. I thought enough time had gone by, but grief has no clock.

Part of my unraveling week was also due to a health scare that ended up being no biggie. However, my state of  mind was surely rattled by so unceremoniously throwing out clothes that had lain dormant in his dresser for almost two years.

The morning after I took on that task, I woke up with a lot of pain in the left side of my chest. “Hhhhmmm… that’s interesting,” I thought. I replayed the day before to deduce when I had overexerted myself enough to pull a chest muscle, but could not recall anything that strenuous. Sure, I suffered greatly from a broken heart every day, but the physical pain near my heart was something I could not put a finger on.

After the second day of chest pain, I started to wonder if I should be concerned. My husband had died of a massive heart attack. He had ignored warning signs – not wanting to be a bother. (If only he knew what a bother he was now, the big dope!)

A day wasted in the ER revealed my heart was physically fine and I was only suffering from a minor viral infection. What a boob! I thought, as I sat in the very same emergency room at the very same hospital where my very same husband had been pronounced officially dead. While l  sat perched on the edge of a gurney waiting for a doctor to release me, patients with real medical problems were wheeled past with some urgency.  I tried not to think of the last time I was there, that most awful of days. On that day, I am sure my uncontrolled keening was heard by everyone – maybe even some of the same doctors and nurses here now.

Approaching the two-year mark has been my emotional undoing. I don’t know why, when I seemed to be making such great progress getting on with things as it were, but there it is.

The trees that have it in their pent-up buds
To darken nature and be summer woods –
~Robert Frost

Last night I dreamt that we were in a car together and James was driving (as he always insisted on doing). We were traveling through city streets during a major storm – a hurricane as it were. Uprooted trees flew by the car window as we escaped several near misses. But as is true in dreams that make no sense, we just kept driving instead of pulling over and finding a nice safe basement to hide in.

It doesn’t take Freud to figure that one out, for sure. I’ve had a heightened feeling of restlessness and aimlessness as of late. This feeling of being uprooted won’t let go of my spirit, and infects every part of my life. I struggle to focus on my job, which I know from a practical standpoint, is not good. But emotionally, it has no importance. Trips to the gym that have provided somewhat of an anchor, have been sporadic, further exacerbating my mental unmooring. Friends and family are certainly important to me, I remind myself, but I don’t feel pulled to connect with anyone right now.

There is no where I want to go, nothing that I want to do. I pace around the living room in the evenings, not really seeing anything around me, fretting over I don’t know what. The cold March rain outside my window reminds me of another spritzy day when I had rushed to the hospital to find out my life had been changed forever.

Empty drawers

Today’s the day I will muster my courage and empty my husband’s dresser.

As I approach the much dreaded two-year mark of his passing, I know I have made great progress “getting on with my life” as it were. But ridding my bedroom of his presence has not been a part of that yet. His closet stands untouched and his clothes which still smell faintly of him, sit sentinel in his drawers.

In part, this seemingly small project is based on practicality. I admit to being a bit of a clothes monger, and so find myself stuffing my dresser drawers to the brim with workout togs, assorted socks and sundries.

James never had that issue. He basically wore the same uniform every day as it were: a one pocket, short-sleeved collared shirt and Carhartt jeans. Although his dress was simple he was incredibly particular about it. Only certain brands and styles – no deviations!

He hung his shirts in the closet, so his large dresser with all of its drawers were never full. They hold items he rarely used such as thermal shirts, swimming trunks,  heavier socks.

One of the selling points of the house we live in was this large master bedroom with its double closets and ample room for a king-sized bed, and his and hers dressers. Before we moved, we made do with his parents bedroom furniture. I was at first, a bit creeped out to be sleeping in the same bedroom with the same furniture as his deceased parents, but understood the financial necessity of it at the time.

Once we moved though, we splurged on very fancy furniture with faux marble-topped end tables, a bed frame with a large padded head-board – the works!

It seems silly now, to have this very ornate set of bedroom furniture with its large expanse of a bed occupied only by myself. Oh well.

And so, it being a rainy day, and my need to keep moving forward in small albeit emotionally charged ways, I am going to tackle emptying his chest of drawers. Such an odd name for a piece of furniture when you think about it – certainly English in origin.

Other names include dresser or tallboy. The very Southern classic, “To Kill A Mockingbird” refers to it as a chifforobe in the most action-packed courtroom scene ever.

His glasses, wallet and contents of his pockets on his last day still sit on the fake marble top. What to do with these articles? Do I throw them away? The corners of my eyes are starting to burn and throat constricts just thinking about it.

I know intellectually that getting rid of my late husband’s clothes is a necessity. There is no hurry to do so, but I am trying hard not to be so stuck in the past. However, the irrational side of me thinks that it is a betrayal in some way, to offload his stuff from my life.

Food of life

When my sister Anna died, I sent a text shout-out to my friends asking that they not send flowers.

I am going to sound like a total ingrate in this post, but honestly, that is not my intention.

For me, having already lost my husband the year before, the arrival of a bouquet on my doorstep was the harbinger of something sad. I knew my friends wanted to do something for me in my time of sorrow (and they did in a spectacular fashion), but I’d had it with the plants.

To be fair I’ve faced the same dilemma: What do you do for the aggrieved to let them know in a tangible way, that you are thinking of them and to show your respect? I had also subscribed to the “let’s send a plant, it lasts longer than a bouquet” school of thought. But if you think about it, it’s as much about the giver as the receiver. After all, it will be a more constant reminder of your thoughtfulness.

I still have some of the plants that were sent to me right after James died. At first, it was a bit of a chore to keep them watered and alive, and seemed to be too much responsibility for me to handle. Now I’m almost afraid to let them die as it will signify the passage of another loss and break a link to that monumental event in my life. So if someone is deeply grieving, perhaps it best not to pile on an additional chore – even an easy one like watering a plant?

But that leaves the givers in a conundrum. What to do for their family member, colleague or friend. It really is up to the individual, and what you feel would be helpful. I’m not suggesting we dispense with sending floral tributes (just not to me!). One of the more practical gestures after James died was made by a group of friends who had a package of pre-made frozen meals sent to my house. It gave me the relief of not having to think about such mundane tasks as what to eat, and I certainly had no intention of preparing myself hot meals those first few months.

Since James died around St. Patrick’s Day, the Martin’s dropped off corned beef and cabbage. My brother-in-law (the one married to my sister Anna) remarked at the time what a great meal that was. I had a house full of people at that time and so it was incredibly thoughtful and practical. One gesture in a long line of generosity extended to me by friends and neighbors during that critical time.finn-gross-maurer-436517Photo by Finn Gross Maurer on Unsplash

Many cultures have a way better way to commemorate loss than Americans do. My hat’s off to Mexico, with its Day of the Dead celebration, which is about more than cool-looking sugar skull makeup, but is a way to show respect and joy for those we have lost via a two-day celebration.

Americans tend to keep grief on the down low. We leave flowers and casseroles on doorsteps. Grief is handled privately behind closed doors, boxed away and tied with a sloppy bow too soon after a loss.

The reality is everyone impacted by a tragedy has a sugar skull mask. We keep stumbling across them kept in that box from time to time, too fearful to bring them to light.

Widow ‘hood

I am surrounded by widows.

Not in the metaphorical sense or by friends or family, but physically in my neighborhood.

The elderly lady to the right of me in the big blue house is a widow, having lost her husband a few decades ago. The gentleman in the rambling white house to the left which underwent a lot of add-ons in past years, lost his wife a few years ago. Across the street is my neighbor Tom, who not only lost a wife but then a girlfriend and a few months later, hooked up with a woman he invariably refers to as “the widow Barbara,” his latest paramour. (The same Tom who incidentally, tried to pick up one of the funeral directors at my husband James’ funeral. Hey, any port in a storm!)

In our small lake community, Tom is viewed as the neighborhood curmudgeon. The one everyone shouts at to sit down at the annual community meetings, since he always seems to have a bone to pick with someone or something.

However, I have seen the creamy nougat center of Tom. The neighbor who helped dig me out of my driveway after a snowstorm, and who stops over on occasion to “make sure I’m not dead,” as he so elegantly puts it.

Apparently, he also looked after the widow woman who owned my house before me, so maybe it’s in the water. They had a signal worked out, wherein she would raise her kitchen blinds every morning to let him know she was still among the living.

It makes me sad of course, to be part of this club of widows and widowers. But then, they did not ask for membership either. Some TV show or movie I saw recently featured a character who bemoaned the term “widow” since it connotes spiders and black clothing. Another dark definition in the grammatical sense is “a last word or short last line of a paragraph falling at the top of a page or column and considered undesirable.”

Undesirable. I don’t have Tom’s resilience to always be on the lookout for the next relationship, or to be the word that would never stand alone at the top of an otherwise blank page. I know he is simply someone who can’t be by himself, and there is nothing wrong with that. There are many people who share that trait.

peter-lewicki-411599 (1)
Photo by Peter Lewicki on Unsplash

While most Americans prepped chicken wings in advance of the Super Bowl yesterday, I went to the movies by myself. I actually like to go by myself sometimes. After all, everyone is there to just stare silently (hopefully) at a large screen – it’s not like you have to make small talk or anything. I know many people would never consider going to the movies by themselves. But I say, try it!  Think about it: you don’t have to share your snacks, or your arm rests for that matter.

I love the feeling of being totally immersed in the actions and story line that unfold on the large screen, which is like no experience in real life. Escapism at its best for sure. Who couldn’t use a two-hour break from life’s cares, woes, and unending responsibilities?

Widowhood may be the undercurrent of my life’s theme now. But I do have some script control. For instance, I plan to keep my kitchen shades up all the time.

Dead batteries

Who among you likes to take down and put away holiday decorations? I didn’t think so.

I had thought the second Christmas of widowhood would be easier, but I was dead wrong. In many ways it was worse, since the shock had started to wear off and feelings and memories flamed more brightly.

I still could not bring myself to put up a tree last month, but did give it a lot of thought. My compromise was putting James’ candles in the windows and some lighted garland along the fireplace. I decided to wait until the candle batteries were dead and then put them away.

James certainly was not a typical male, if there is actually such a thing. He had stated several Christmases ago that he wanted candles for the windows for his Christmas present. I complied, and every year, I would carefully take them out of their bubble wrapping and load them with fresh D and C batteries and place them in the various windows.

As I pulled into the driveway in the evenings this past month, I noted the progress of which candles had bit the dust and stopped flickering. When it got down to the last one, I decided to put them away.

As I wrapped them up, my throat constricted. I cried over what I no longer had. I had these damn candles, but I no longer had the man who had wanted them. Although I am better most days, the ability of “things” to blindside us into a messy heap of sadness is humbling. The inability to extinguish the flame of memory and what once was is daunting and maddening, frustrating and aggravating. Like these fake candles, it brings no warmth.

I don’t want to grieve. I didn’t ask for it. I want it to leave, but I have the fear it will continue to overstay it’s unwelcome.

So I have made a pact with myself to work harder this year to focus on the many important consistencies in my life that recharge my soul: friends, family, a nice boss. The warm glow of positive and uplifting relationships.

Stag nation

One study reveals that almost two-thirds of people who resolve to get healthy and fit in the new year give it up.

I’m not surprised by that at all. Following the excesses of the holidays, there is a certain “buyer’s remorse” over all of the bacchanal behavior we gave no thought to while immersed in the season of oversharing, overeating and overspending.

Continue reading “Stag nation”