Sunday, October 16, 2011

Ashes to Ashes

Today we scattered EG's ashes. We waited until now because Nita announced that this would be the month. I set the date with a minister friend of my sister's, who came to do the simple ceremony.

Last spring, I stood at my kitchen sink and looked out over the far back yard, and I thought, "I'd like to see yellow out there." The morning he died, EG and I again discussed our wishes for our remains. I had always wanted to be scattered out in the "far back" with our pets from over the years, and he had recently decided he wanted to be out there, too. He said, "This is home."

Earlier in the afternoon, my sister came, and in the rain, we planted fifteen forsythia, and we put in over fifty Prince Alfred daffodil bulbs. I should see some yellow out there this spring, and the plants should gradually spread. I would like to put a garden in the entire quarter acre, doing it gradually, over time, with maybe a bench so I can go and sit with him and the dogs and cats and rabbits. I might as well get used to being out there.

The scattering ceremony was nicer and easier than I expected. The girls each did a reading. I had put ashes in seven paper cups, so each person distributed part of him. Once I spread my cup, I knew this was right. I took the rest of the ashes and tossed them high, watching them soar, and knew then that he was soaring, too.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Mary Library

My mother, even though she didn't finish high school, was a well-read person. She loved books and loved learning. I remember her teaching me to read before I went to school, and she passed her love for books down to me.

Mom wanted to be around kids, so when we were in school, she got a part-time job in the school cafeteria, and went back to earn her General Equivalency Diploma at night. Math was her greatest challenge, and I vividly remember standing in the kitchen, holding the phone, and listening to her share her pride with me that she had passed her test and earned her diploma so many years after leaving high school. She had actually called from a payphone rather than wait to get home to tell us, and she told me she wasn't sure while she was taking the test if she had passed that math part.

I think this was a great lesson for a young person, witnessing someone face a subject which was difficult and work at it.

Mom had a plan. She applied for, interviewed for, and got a job as a teacher's aide at another school in the system, eventually working her way back to the school in our neighborhood. Then the library aide position opened up, and she applied for that; much to her delight, she was hired.

The library was pretty sad when Mom took over. Some of the books which were on the shelves had last been checked out by me, and I was by then in my later years of high school. The room was plain and dreary. Mom had book sales and fund raisers, Buying new shelving and carpeting the space. She added to the collection, replacing John F. Kennedy's Profiles of Courage with books on dinosaurs and monsters, replacing the dusty collections of poems by Joyce Kilmer with Shel Silverstein and Maurice Sendak. He theory was that, if you could get kids to read, they would discover how wonderful it was and gradually move on to the more serious stuff, but few kids would willingly start with the droner books. Those she culled mercilessly, giving them away to rummage sales or wherever else she could send them.

While in art class in high school, my sister made a huge paper mache stork-like bird wearing crew socks and red tennis shoes. Mom took the bird to school, christened him "Word Bird," and hung him over the dictionary. Every week, she would hang a new word around Word Bird's neck, and open the dictionary to that page, and the kids would read the definition and learn to use a dictionary.

Mom's eye doctor had her trifocals special made so she could comfortably read the numbers on the books to shelve them. Her days were spent doing what she loved, working around children and books. My sister said, "She hated Fridays and loved Monday mornings." She was useful and energized and enjoyed every aspect of her job.

Dad retired, and mom would most likely still be in her library if it hadn't been for the attempt to computerize her. She retired after ten happy years, and the library was dedicated in her honor, with a plaque on the wall outside in the hall. When Mom passed away, we requested memorials be made to the school library, the place where she was most happy.

In the past year, the library was moved to a new space in the new addition to the school; it is a big room with lots of light, laminate flooring, and a computer lab. Mom would have been delighted. The current librarian (my mother would approve of her, to be sure) held on to the memorial money to use in the new space.

Last night, the school had an open house in honor of its fiftieth anniversary. It was a nice celebration. My sister and I received a special invitation from the current school librarian to view the items which were selected from Mom's memorial. There is now a welcoming corner with a pretty red and blue rug and red and blue beanbag chairs, a place for kids to relax and enjoy books. There are some new books. On the table there, was a sign describing where these items came from; Mrs. K described my mom as a "past librarian." In reality, Mom's job title was "library aide," as she did not have the paper credentials to be a librarian. However, in her heart, she was a librarian, and we appreciated her being referred to that way.

At the entrance to the library is a big rug which reads, "Welcome to our library." I like the use of "our," as Mom will always be a part of the library. But even more important, I like that a little part of Mom will be welcoming all those children to her wonderful world of books. She would be pleased.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

TMI and the Single Girl

Not too long ago, I was at the dentist's office with Kiki, and a woman who knows someone I know was there, and she asked me about dating again. Let me be clear: she did not ask me out; she simply mentioned that I would have to think about dating again.

Let me be even more clear: I would rather tear my own leg off and beat myself in the head with it. A lot. First of all, two months is a bit soon for that. Second, the guys who are my age are interested in women in their thirties, and the guys who are ten years older are also interested in women in their thirties. I guess I would have to start cruising the retirement centers to meet someone.

I have too much to process and attend to, so there is no way I want the drama and emotional chaos attached to dating right now.

I was on a widow website tonight, and there was a post by a woman advertising her book which chronicled her love (and love life) with her husband, and then addressed how she met her physical needs once he as gone. Whoa. We are talking waaayyyy too much information, here, not to mention the sheer creepiness of reading soft porn about someone who is dead. The worst part,though, was that the writing was grammatically incorrect and choppy and could have used some serious editorial intervention.

Perhaps the editor could have tossed it into the dumpster.

It was just a thought.

It Makes Me Wonder

One thing about the physical symptoms of grief is that they make you wonder if it's grief or if you're getting sick.

Or maybe you're getting sick because of grief.

I have been waking in the night and crying. I think now that it is for two reasons. First, Rocky's court issues are more or less resolved, so my energy is not devoted to worrying about the worst possible outcome. Oh, and the neighbors involved in all this are gone on a vacation, so we have some peace; I didn't realize how invasive their presence really is. But mainly my renewed grief is because this weekend we will be scattering EG's ashes out back where he wanted them, with the buried pets.

It is where I want to be put, too.

The Catholic church (or a representative in the form of a priest), informed me EG needed to be placed in one place on consecrated ground. Consequently, I found a Methodist minister who will come out and bless the ground--and I can justify him being in one place by pointing out that he is in the back quarter-acre here and not scattered throughout the neighborhood or in Lake Erie (although I could argue that Lake Erie is one place).

We will plant 15 forsythia and put in over 50 daffodils to naturalize, and we have already planted some black-eyed Susans around the pine trees out there. I have some daylilies, and I will add yellow sunflowers, which he liked, too. When I look out my kitchen window, I will see yellow, and I will put a bench out there, with some solar lighting, so I can go out there and sit.

However, it is cold comfort compared to having the real thing.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Benadryl or Not, Here I Come

Last night, I took a Benadryl, and Harry woke me at 3:30 a.m. to be let out. Of course, I didn't get to sleep again right away, so when 5:20 and the alarm came around, I had a difficult time waking up. I finally turned the light on and forced myself to a sitting position, hoping that would propel me into the day.

Unfortunately, the propulsion was too low level to leave the gravitational pull of the bed. I mentally orbited there all day, all during work, vetting an injured chicken, cooking food, and driving the taxi and all else that I did.

Sunday, October 9, 2011


Yesterday morning I ran Rocky over to the fire station--he was volunteering at the fundraising lunch booth for the fire department's craft fair. Then I took Kii to get her temps, ran to the store for milk, and took cider and donuts to my sisters for a visit. Or, rather, we visited, and the cider and donuts were refreshments.

On the way home, my lovely neighbor behind me called and asked if he could come over and weed whack my side of the fence at the back of his property. I, of course, said yes. When he showed up, he said he wanted to mow back there, too, and he would just use my tractor. However, we discovered that the tire on the mower had popped its seal, most likely by me smooshing into it with the bumper of the car. So, my sweet neighbor started to remove the tire, but it was stuck. I had to run kids to music lessons, so I left him there in the garage with a two-by-four and a rubber mallet, and drove off.

It turns out that he took the tire home, which is about a half mile, as he has to go by the road. Then he finagled a new seal and blew the tire up with his compressor, brought it back, put it back on the tractor, and then proceeded to, ahem, "test it out" by mowing most of the acre of lawn. He then weed whacked while I finished mowing, including every tree, flower bed, and fence on the place. The yard looks gorgeous.

While I was at the music lessons, Kiki's violin teacher told me her instrument was too big for her, and that she needed a three-quarters size violin. I priced them and nearly fainted. However, the owner of the music store (which is where EG worked), gave me a deal on the rental, extending their advertised special out indefinitely for us.

Today Nita went with her friend and his family to a fall festival, and the older two and I went on the fall foliage tour here in the county, which had been a tradition with their dad and me for the past twenty years. It was hard, as I missed their dad today and felt lonely despite the kindnesses I had experienced, and to add to the bittersweet mood, we toured the County Home, where my mother had worked before she married my father. I had never been there until today. I was pensive as we walked to the door, focusing on keeping my feelings under control. Rocky poked me several times with his finger. "Mom," he said, and nodded toward an older man in a very small pair of curve-hugging flesh-toned shorts, reclined on his stomach on the lawn, apparently sunbathing.

I stopped dead and stared, not certain what I was seeing. "Waughk," I finally croaked out. Rocky, pleased with himself at getting this reaction, smirked and said, "Well, at least he isn't on his back." I shuddered. At that point, Kiki lost it and literally choked on her own laughter. Once we were safely back in the car, the two of them hooted with laughter at my reaction to Shorts Man.

Tonight I took the kids out to eat at a Chinese restaurant. The food was mediocre, but we all sat in the booth and talked comfortably with one another, and I felt less lonely. I realized that I really do like my children, and I think they like me, too.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Milestone number two

Today Kiki passed the written test for her temporary learner's driver's license.

Another thing her daddy missed witnessing.

Friday, October 7, 2011

He is only away

One of my least favorite expressions about grief is "he is only away."

Yeah, like in another dimension? This is supposed to give me comfort? Apparently, this maudlin expression was written by some sap who didn't have a clue about loss.

Kiki has been struggling the most with the loss. She alternates between screaming and being hateful and lecturing all of us in the nicey-nice, insincere tone of voice used by my neighbor who professes to be Christian but lied outright to my face. Three times.

Anyway, either mode is accompanied by incessant, head pounding chatter.

Last night, she exploded again just as I was leaving for yoga with her staying home to be in charge. I told the younger two that I would take Kiki with me, but if they did ANYTHING they weren't supposed to do, I would leave there alone with them the next time she was like this.

They were amazingly good.

While we were in the car, once Kiki stopped shrieking at me, I had a revelation. "You have been in denial about Dad being dead, haven't you," I asked.

She told me she had been telling herself that he was just away on a long trip, and he would be coming home eventually. We talked about how that was harmful, and she cried and cried. I told her about how she had to move through the grief, no matter how much it hurt, but that she could control the rate and intensity. This morning, she woke up bleary eyed and puffy faced, but I think she feels more hopeful about her journey.

Thursday, October 6, 2011


According to the experts, I am doing everything right, I have the right perspective, and I have found outlets for this grief.

However, it is like a feral creature, apparently domesticated, but still skulking around the house. Instead of it learning to live in the presence of humans, we have learned to live with it.

I know it can't kill me, but it has left scars. Right now, though, I fear for my children.

One sleeps a lot, staying where it is safe and denying the creature is out there; one talks incessantly to keep the creature at bay; and one becomes aggressive out of defense.

Everyone is still vigilant about the next attack.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Um, now that you mention it...

Now I am getting the thoughtless comments.

A friend called me and complained about her husband for twenty minutes. After she had wound down, I said, "To put things in perspective, I am sitting in the parking lot of the funeral home; I have just finished making a payment on EG's cremation."


The woman who talks incessantly about her husband found out that I sleep in the same room and in the same bed EG and I shared. "Oh," she said, "I don't think I could do that after all that has happened. I'd have to find somewhere different to sleep."

Like where? The dog's bed? The neighbors' house? Some other man? Seriously?

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The door

Rocky's grief counselor gave him an assignment last week to take a picture of a doorway.

I kind of like the message of a door, opening to another place or dimension, one where we can find those we have lost.

Tonight, I was washing my face, when one of the bunnies started banging around in his cage. From where I was, the noise was exactly like EG unlocking the door at the end of the day, coming home. It was about the time he would normally be coming home, too. Harry must have agreed, as his ears pricked up, and he trotted toward the sound. For just the slightest portion of a nanosecond, I believed it really was EG coming through that door, and all this had just never happened. I was not alone to take care of the house and the kids, Rocky's situation with the neighbors and court never happened, and it would all be as it was.

But of course the feeling passed. Harry started sniffing the floor, the rabbits started moving around again, and I started brushing my teeth. Maybe, just maybe though, the door had opened to another dimension.

Grief plunge

For me, grieving is like I am one of those cartoon characters who went off a cliff.

First, I padded the air with my feet, thinking I was going to be fine and this was all a bad dream. When I realized that I really was going to have to plunge to the ground below, I began grabbing at branches, rocks, large blades of grass, whatever I could get.

I periodically can find a branch which will hold me for a while, and while it gives me respite from the terrifying plunge I am taking, it also delays the inevitable. Sometimes people will reach out to me, too, and I grasp their hands, relieved to feel safe or protected but also loathe to wear them out or, worse yet, pull them down with me. Of course, they don't want to take that plunge either, so they pull away. While it is understandable, I feel deserted and less safe.

So I bounce from rock to rock, becoming more battered as I continue down to the inevitable. I am getting used to the wounds, but they still happen.

Monday, October 3, 2011

The New Normal

I love words, love crafting them into sentences and thoughts, making people think or laugh.

However, some words or expressions simply annoy me. For example, this weekend, Kiki was babbling, which she does when she has something on her mind which she is processing or trying to suppress. We were in the store, and she was looking at snowpants. She kept talking about the snowpants, and I tuned her out, but the word snowpants kept drilling itself into my subconscious. It went like this, "Blah blah blah blah snowpants. Blah snowpants blah blah blah blah, and snowpants blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah, snowpants blah. Blah, snowpants, blah, blah, and blah." I said, "If you say snowpants one more time, I think I will cry." Of course, she didn't hear me.

Nita turned to her and said, "Say snowpants."

"Snowpants," Kiki said. "Blah blah blah blah blah."

I pretended to sob, much to Nita's amusement.

When it comes to annoying expressions, "we are praying for you" can have a double intent. Some people, graciously, have told me that in an effort to make me stronger by having God really paying attention to my situation. Please let me add that I have been demanding so much from God lately that perhaps praying for those whom I have shoved to the intervention sidelines might be better for those who are praying. What annoys me about the "we are praying for you" statement is when it is used in an effort to make a person see the errors of their ways. My neighbor, one evening, told me, "My entire family prays for you every night." Visions of cult-like behavior notwithstanding, I think I dumbfounded her by saying, "Thank you. We can use all the prayers we can get."

I then added, "We pray for you every night, too." She was offended. I think that she would have been more offended to know that we didn't pray FOR her, but instead prayed ABOUT her--more specifically, that she would move away. I figured while I will likely have double penance for double lying about prayer, it was totally worth it.

And, before I leave this subject, let me add that, in my opinion, the most gracious way to handle this is to simply pray for people and not advertise it.

Anyway, my latest detested expression is "the new normal." Around here, with adopted kids and their issues, my parent's sequential battles with Alzheimer's, and my brother-in-law's grace-filled fight with a terminal illness and subsequent death, there was never any "old normal." We have had an ever-evolving normal. And I am tired of adjusting, adjusting, adjusting. It would be really sad but also a relief if this "new normal" stayed consistent, but somehow I have the feeling that we're not done here.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Hard to be around me

I imagine it is hard to be around me.

Some people feel like they need to tiptoe, probably, for saying the wrong thing and causing me pain.

Some people feel like they need to be kind, to make sure I'm okay, to say the right thing to make me feel better. (News flash--there is no right thing to make me feel better. It's okay. It's not your job to take care of that pain for me.)

Some people don't want to be around me because this makes them aware of the potential for their own pain.

Some people don't want to be around pain because they just want nothing to do with it. (That would be my choice right now, too.)

Sometimes this loss seems so unreal. I think that I'm going to wake up and it will be a bad dream, and I'll tell EG all about it, and he'll commiserate and maybe comment that he feels like I'm trying to kill him off and get up and let the dogs out and make me coffee like he used to do.

Yesterday was a hard day. First, it was so incredibly dreary. Then, it rained, just a steady, dumping, ground saturating rain so insistent that I never let the chickens out into their run. Nita had spent the night with a friend, Rocky was hiding out in his room, Kiki did homework, and I made 20 pounds of apples (which had been unsprayed and therefored needed to be trimmed) into a big pot of applesauce. We ran over to music lessons, I stopped for dog food and groceries, and then I came home to thoroughly clean the refrigerator and prepare a big spaghetti dinner, complete with meatballs.

Just as I was preparing to serve, Rocky, who was pretty droopy, showed up and parked himself at the table, waiting to be served. I said, OH, NO, and sent him to feed the dogs. This became a ten-minute production of the Frantic Barking Dog Chorus while Rocky blundered around with the container while looking for food bowls. He then spilled five pounds of dog food all over the kitchen, including into the refrigerator and freezer. I had him clean counters, wipe the stove, and sweep up the food on the floor and pick through it to remove the floor debris. Meanwhile, Kiki "accidentally" glanced into Nita's purse to discover a lip gloss which the two girls proceeded to argue belonged to each of them. Kiki started screaming, slamming kitchen chairs, and flinging her textbooks. I sent her to bed without supper. That left Nita and Rocky and I with the spaghetti dinner. I told Nita that she needed to return the lip gloss and apologize, and she backtalked me, so off she went, too. Rocky started to gobble his food, noodles flapping on his chin; I guess he figured the odds were against him. In five minutes, he left the table, putting a food covered plate into the fresh dishwater and not asking to be excused. Kiki reappeared, saying that she needed a Pamprin (I wisely refrained from suggesting she take the rest of the bottle) and muttered about her sister until I told her to stop and go upstairs. She voiced her opinion of my parenting (sotto voce, but, from what I could/was supposed to glean from her comments, apparently she has the meanest, least understanding mom of anyone she knows and she hates me) and stormed back to her room, where she did a forte reprise of the past few minutes. I changed the dishwater, cleaned the kitchen while drinking a glass of wine, and mopped the floor. It was then 7:30, and everyone was in bed, asleep.

Or so I thought. I fed the rabbits, got them and the dogs water, cleaned the bathroom, and then went into my room, and finally started to relax. About nine, Kiki, who doesn't know how to turn a doorknob, began prowling around upstairs, opening and closing the closet, her bedroom, and bathroom doors. Repeatedly. I hollered at her to settle, and she came down and reported to me that she was missing six of the candy bars which she was selling for orchestra and had hidden in her drawer. After a loud dissertation about how there was a thief in this house, and my cross examination of her sister, Kiki explained her bookkeeping system, which was so convoluted that I finally just told her that she had to suck it up and pay the missing funds, as who could tell how much she should have had. Of course, that went over well and she graciously acquiesced and apologized. Not.

When Rocky came home from the hospital, his psychiatrist gave him a prognosis of "fair." My sister pointed out that "fair" would be a pretty accurate diagnosis for most teens, as many parents consider killing them. I would say after last night, that the prognosis for all of us would be fair.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

A Primal Wound

Having raised other mothers' kids, I understand the primal wound of being ripped from the one who carried you, to know that this person didn't/couldn't love you enough to care for herself and/or you well enough that you could stay, and to realize that you weren't really, truly loved or protected because of the mother's issues--in fact, sometimes mothers chose themselves or their boyfriends over a child.

To know that your "real" mother wasn't your real mother after all is an awful way to start a life.

This wound is more subtle than what we experienced here this summer. It seems funny to look at EG's sudden death in the past, but that is where it is slowly sliding. What the kids and I (and EG) had happen was so sudden, so intense, that it left us raw.

And we reacted to that trauma. There's the word I wanted--trauma. I never realized how that shock, that trauma, could affect people. However, time and space are giving me a little perspective, so I can see where I was.

Nash is a funny dog. He has a thing for chairs and prefers to sit in them over the sofa or floor or even a bed. He sits in lawn chairs, folding chairs, even kitchen chairs. When he was a pup, he loved to sit in one of the Adirondack chairs in the back yard. One afternoon, he got his paw stuck between the slats of the chair and screamed. I went to rescue him, and he bit me, operating from that place of pain and sheer terror at what had suddenly happened to him. I took a bath towel, put it over his head, and pulled his foot loose. He shook for the rest of the day and cried in his sleep that night. The next week, he avoided the chair.

This morning, I woke up to the realization that I have been in that place of terror and pain. I was worried about our finances, and I was terrified about raising these kids alone: would I have enough time, resources, and wisdom to get them to adulthood. I also didn't want to go on without my partner--after having the richness of his companionship, support, love, and protection, I had a huge, gaping wound in me. Like Nash, I was coming from a place of fear and agony.

People mean well, but those who have not experienced this primal wound cannot understand the mental state of someone who has. Even though I have had this experience, I cannot speak for others who have lost their spouse, as each situation is different. What I can do is realize that I can't relate and not try. Even our priest doesn't get it--I went to him for guidance about an insipid letter which was sent to my children, and he said, "That's the one thing about mail. You can throw it away." He didn't understand that I wanted these people to know that they were behaving thoughtlessly and that they shouldn't do it again to anyone and to tell them that they did not have all the answers where they were in their safe lives, intact marriage, safe kids.

In fact, they had no clue that there were questions. I have come to the conclusion that these people have so removed themselves from the possibility that this might happen to them that they can't even begin to entertain how they might feel or react.

What impresses me are the people who do understand. I have a co-worker who is a very, very nice woman. I am training her for her new job, and this woman talks incessantly about her husband. Initially, it hurt, but I have become numb to it. Thursday, a male co-worker, who is single and not even thirty yet, mentioned to me that he noticed that this woman does this. He said, "I want to say to her, 'Hey! She's just lost her own husband. Don't you think talking about your husband all the time might hurt her?'" I told him that I wanted to say something, too, but I didn't want this woman to apologize for two hours. It was easier to shut down emotionally and get through it. I did add that I was so touched and impressed: this man accepts he doesn't have any answers, knows he doesn't know all the questions, and is willing to see the pain someone else is feeling.

That can't be easy. I can see that now.