Posts Tagged ‘widow’

Long-term Goals

The question came up in a 1:1 meeting with my manager today: What are your long-term goals? Where do you see yourself in three or five years?

I’ve been at this job for just over three years. I was hired shortly before my one-year anniversary as a widow. Taking the job was a big deal for me. It was an acknowledgement that I couldn’t linger on the island of grief forever, that it was time to get back to real life and try to be a responsible adult again. It was hard. Just making myself get out of bed every morning when the alarm rang took a Herculean effort for a while.

I took this job because I had decided I wasn’t ready to give up and die, and I needed money to live on. There really was no plan beyond that. Long-term goals? Are you kidding me? Every plan I had for my life died with my husband. Every dream was gone beyond recalling. My goals were things like getting through the day without crying at my desk and sleeping through the night without doping myself into oblivion. The furthest I would allow myself to look into the future was a few months. I could look forward to specific plans I’d made with friends, to taking some vacation days to visit my mom for the holidays, things like that. I couldn’t bear to contemplate a long-term future that didn’t include the only man I had ever loved.

If someone had asked me that question — where did I see myself in three or five years? — back then, I would have laughed. Or cried.

When my manager asked me today, I still didn’t know how to answer her. (I don’t think “I see myself winning the lottery and never having to work again” would have gone over very well.) I’ve drifted through these last three years, taking it pretty much one day at a time, with no particular direction — just letting the current carry me where it would. But in the last year I’ve started taking steps to pay down some of the debt that my dear departed husband left me with (and, by the way, if it turns out there is an afterlife, we’re going to have a chat about that someday), which is sort-of a plan, right? And I’ve realized that I do want to stay with this company and maybe, just maybe, I don’t want to be an admin assistant for the rest of my working life.  So perhaps it IS time to start thinking about long-term goals again.

And as I mull this over, I find that contemplating a long-term future on my own is not the problematic part anymore. The thing is, I have changed SO much in the four years since I lost my husband, I’m no longer the same person I was before he died. And I know I’m not done healing and growing and changing. So who the hell knows who I’m going to be five years from now or what that person will want to do for her career? Ah, if only I had a working crystal ball.





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In two weeks I’ll be having surgery. Every day I struggle with the fatigue caused by my anemia. This week I start receiving iron infusions to treat this, and I hope I can feel a difference soon. It takes everything I have to get through the work day and I arrive home depleted. I’m so tired of feeling this way. I just want it to be over. I want to feel like myself again. I want to feel normal.

It’s been so long since I’ve felt “normal,” I don’t even know what that is anymore. I don’t know if I’d recognize normal if I tripped over it. Everything about my life has been about as abnormal as it can get for the last year and a half. First my husband kills himself, and while I’m still struggling to cope with that trauma my body grows this alien thing inside me that saps my strength and leaves me exhausted and depressed.

I remember a few months after my father died, sobbing to my husband, “I just want to feel normal again!” And I remember knowing, with a certainty I could feel in my bones, that when my husband took his life nothing would ever be normal again.

Recently I watched the season premiere of “Rescue Me,” a show about New York City firefighters. These words, spoken by the character Tommy Gavin (played by Denis Leary) about dealing with the loss of his brothers in 9/11, hit me like a punch in the gut, knocking the wind out of me:

“I’ve got news for you, there’s no getting over it. Normal is dead and buried… I’m just trying to make sense of what’s left above ground.”

I was just starting to make sense out of what was left for me, beginning to rebuild my life, finally able to relate to my friends as one of them again, not always The Poor Widow who needed their sympathy and comfort. I was just starting to feel like I was coping… and now, because my body betrayed me, I’m back to feeling different, alien. Once again, all my energy is (and has to be) focused on just trying to heal myself… on trying to make sense of what’s left.

I’ll  heal from the surgery. My body will get strong again. I’ll get my health back. But I don’t know that I’ll ever feel normal again. Normal is dead and buried. And I’ve got news for you: there’s no getting over that.

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I had a lovely day yesterday. Brunch with friends, followed by lounging around in the hot tub drinking mimosas. After they left I put a 70s music station on the TV for background noise while I did the dishes, and I got blindsided by a sappy old love song.

“I’m lost without your love. Life without you isn’t worth the trouble of. All I want is just the way it used to be…”

Those words hit me like a knife in the gut, and without warning I was sobbing uncontrollably. I miss my love. I miss the life we had together, and despite all my efforts to create a new life for myself and maintain a positive outlook, there are still times life without him feels pretty fucking pointless. I feel utterly overwhelmed with my life right now. Even taking care of my new kitten feels like more than I can deal with, and I wonder whether I was foolish to take on the responsibility of a pet when I’m barely holding myself together some days.

I’m supposed to be going away this weekend with a friend. I need a getaway, a change of scenery in the worst way – and we have all sorts of fun things planned – but right now it’s the last thing I want to do. I just want to stay home and hide from the world. It took everything I had to get out of bed this morning and drag myself in to work. On top of everything else, I found out that the ONE medication I’ve ever found that helps my migraines and doesn’t knock me out has been discontinued. FML.

I was thinking of canceling my therapy session this week because I have so much to do to get ready for this trip… but when I’m spending big chunks of my work day hiding in the bathroom crying, I think I need to make therapy a priority.

 Sigh. This sucks.

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My love came to visit me in my dreams last night. This doesn’t happen often. In fact, the last time was in October, over seven months ago, and I was beginning to think it might never happen again. There’s a certain amount of irony in his timing, since just last night I was thinking (in re: The Time Traveler’s Wife) that maybe he’s stopped visiting my dreams because he doesn’t want me waiting for a visit from him; he wants me to get on with living my life.

I wasn’t feeling well when I woke up this morning, so I called in sick and went back to bed. Following a very active dream about scientists on an island who were being attacked by zombies and the Navy SEALs being sent in to kill the zombies, I thought I woke up and opened the bedroom door.

I heard someone in the kitchen and I knew it was him, but I was almost afraid to look. I walked slowly around the corner of my breakfast bar, saying silently, “Please don’t be a zombie. Please don’t be a zombie.” He was half hidden by the open refrigerator door and I couldn’t see his face, but I recognized the dark blue t-shirt he was wearing (I still have it and sleep in it sometimes). Something about his posture looked rigid and unnatural, and I started to freak out. “I can’t do this,” I said, out loud.

Then he closed the fridge and looked at me, and he was just himself, my beloved just as I remember him, looking down at me with eyes full of love. He enfolded me in his arms and said softly against my ear, “Don’t give up on me yet.” I promised him that I won’t ever, and I wrapped my arms around his waist. It felt so good to be held in his arms, my cheek against his chest — safe, comforting, like coming home.

I woke to the sounds of the roofers beginning their day — dull, muffled pounding that was, thankfully, not immediately above my head. I took some Advil for my headache, reset the alarm, and dozed off again. Again, I dreamed that my love was here, in my apartment. This time he was waiting for me just outside the bedroom door, wearing a bright colored tunic like the ones he used to favor. He looked suntanned and healthy, and I suddenly felt self conscious about my grubby pajamas and the fact that I hadn’t brushed my teeth. I mumbled something about that, and he laughed and said “Look at my hair!” I did, noticing for the first time that it was shorter than I’d ever seen it and that it looked like he’d just chopped it off himself and hadn’t washed it for days. I just smiled and wrapped my arms around him. He held me for a long time, and then he started trying to take off my nightgown (which had magically replaced the grubby pajamas, in the way of dreams), but my arms got all tangled up in the straps and he couldn’t get it over my head. And then I woke up to very insistent banging and jack hammering right above my head, and there was no going back to dreamland. Sorry, baby.

All day I’ve had the memory, the feeling of having been with him. I feel very close to him right now, and I’m so thankful for that. At the same time, it’s hard. This apartment is neutral space, a place empty of memories of us together, which has been a good thing. As my mother said, when she moved into her own apartment a year after my father passed away, “He was never here, so I don’t expect him to be here. It doesn’t always feel like something’s missing.” It makes it easier to go on with the business of living. But now I have this memory — this crystal clear memory of my husband rooting through the fridge in my new kitchen and of standing not three feet from where I’m sitting now — and suddenly the place feels empty and lonely without him.

He was here. He should be here now.

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I finally got around to reading The Time Traveler’s Wife. It was a good, engrossing story from start to finish, and I enjoyed it. But the last few pages of the book really pissed me off. At the end Clare is an old woman, 82 — and Henry died when she was 35, and she’s still sitting around waiting to see him again. Despite all the poetic stuff he said in his final letter to her about going out into the world and living, some of which I quoted in my very first post on this blog, she doesn’t do it.

That kind of romanticism of a martyred widowhood pisses me off. I feel like stories of this kind are saying, “This is what true love is. If you really loved him, you’d spend every day for the rest of your life waiting to be reunited with him.” Well, I call bullshit. My husband wouldn’t want me to grieve forever, to give up on life. Henry didn’t want Clare to waste the rest of her life waiting for him. “Stop waiting and be free,” he tells her, but she doesn’t listen.

Maybe she doesn’t listen because the author thought it was more romantic this way — after all, because Henry time travels, he’s not GONE gone, and they can be reunited, however briefly. Or maybe Clare doesn’t go out in the world and live because grief beats her down, and she’s too tired to care about anything anymore, and it’s easier to just pass the days staring out the window and waiting to see Henry again. Believe me, I know what that’s like.

Henry wrote to Clare: “Our love has been the thread through the labyrinth, the net under the high-wire walker, the only real thing in this strange life of mine that I could ever trust.” It takes real strength to keep on going when you’ve lost that thread, to shakily get back on your feet and try again after the net has been pulled away, with full knowledge of how hard you can fall and how much it can hurt.

Friends tell me that they’re impressed with my strength, and I always tell them that I don’t feel strong. And I don’t. Most of the time I just feel tired and a little beaten up, and I wish there was someone to hold me and massage the tension from my shoulders the way my husband did. I’m already tired of doing this alone, and I don’t even want to think about the possibility that it could go on like this for a long time. I wish I had a time traveler in my life, someone who could just take a peek into my future and tell me, “Don’t worry. When you’re 55 you’ll be happily married to a wonderful man who adores you.” Then I could just relax into this business of living. I wouldn’t worry about when or how I would find this man; I’d just trust that it would happen when the time is right. But real life holds no such promises. There’s no way to know for certain that I won’t be a white-haired old woman, sitting in my rocking chair, trying to hold onto a fading memory of how I was loved, once upon a time. But there’s one way to guarantee that this is exactly what will happen, and that’s to give up, to shrink from life, to become a martyred widow who believes that all the good in her life is past.

My husband would be so disappointed in me if I did that. He wanted me to be happy, to find love again. I honor his memory, and I honor the love we shared, by embracing whatever life still has to offer me. If there is any possibility of an afterlife, any chance that I might one day see my love again, I want to have amazing stories to share with him when I get there.

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Monday night, very soon after I finished writing my last post, I got hit with a big wave of grief. I closed down my laptop, did the dishes, and then curled up in bed with a book, a mystery novel by Christopher Rice called Light Before Day. I finished the book and was sitting in bed with my journal when the grief just washed over me. I allowed myself to really feel how much I miss my husband, how empty and lost I feel without him. I cried because the memories have already started to fade and I no longer have the visceral recall of what it felt like to make love with him, or even exactly how his voice sounded when he said my name. To help myself remember, I played a couple of short video clips of him that I have on my computer. I laughed through my tears, and when I turned out the light I lay in the dark for a long while talking to him and then cried myself to sleep. I haven’t cried that hard, or for that long, in months. It’s like peeling an onion, and here comes the next layer.

I’ve cried a lot the last two days, and I don’t feel like I’m done crying yet. I had a good session with my therapist tonight, and she told me that it’s the nature of grief to sneak up on us like this, to wash over us just when we least expect it. She said it may still be happening to me another year down the road, or three years, or five. And then she pointed out that it’s not all grief all the time now, the way it was when I first came to see her. She asked me if I can let the grief come, embrace it, and not be afraid of what I feel. I think I can.

I’m not awash on the sea of grief as I was the first few months after he died. For the most part I feel like I’ve found my footing in my new life. I’ve got a good job, a nice apartment, a wonderful circle of friends. There’s a lot that I enjoy about my life. The grief is always there, just below the surface, and sometimes it hits me hard. But I know now that even if a giant wave sweeps me away for a while, eventually I’ll find my way back to shore.

For right now, I’m just drifting on this tide and letting the memories come up… I remember the way he looked at me when we said our wedding vows, the tenderness in his voice when he called me “baby,” that time after we’d had a fight when we went to the amusement park and raced each other in go-karts. I remember how safe I felt in his arms, how I felt that I’d come home, that finally I *belonged* somewhere. He gave me a sense of my place in the world. When I lost him, I was cut adrift. I’m still finding my way back, trying to find my place in the world without him.  It’s hard.  It’s lonely. I miss him something awful.

Driving home from therapy tonight, a Beatles song came on my iPod. “Hey Jude, don’t make it bad. Take a sad song and make it better… You’re waiting for someone to perform with. But don’t you know that it’s just you. Hey Jude, you’ll do.”

And I guess it comes down to that. It’s just me. And I’ll do. I can do this on my own. I’ve proved that to myself over and over these last fourteen months. Tonight it’s hard. Maybe tomorrow it will be easier.

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Fairy stories

My husband was in my dreams last night, for the first time in many months. It was similar to other dreams I’ve had about him, where he had failed in his suicide attempt and was still with me, but I was watching him like a hawk, afraid he would try it again. There was something about sleeping pills… but I woke from this dream in the deepest part of the night, fell back asleep, and didn’t recall any details by the time the alarm rang in the morning.

When I logged into my computer today, the top story on my Yahoo home page was about scientist Stephen Hawking, who was quoted as saying that the afterlife “is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark.” My husband, a scientist himself and an avowed atheist when he was alive, would absolutely have agreed with that.  I sat at my desk and wondered, is it foolish for me to want to believe that some part of him still exists somewhere? My dream last night, and most of my dreams about him, can be explained as just my brain trying to process his loss. Even the two dreams I have had that felt like something more, something real, could just be wishful thinking.

But I keep going back to the feeling that I had the first time I stood in the place where he took his life… the overwhelming sense of peace. I don’t think that was just wishful thinking, just wanting to feel something, because until that moment I wasn’t expecting to feel a thing. I wasn’t like some of his family, desperate for a sign that he was in heaven. Until that moment, I believed he was just gone, had entirely ceased to exist. The sense of peace that flowed over me didn’t come from me, not from my brain that was warped with shock and grief. I don’t know where it came from, but it made me question everything…

I’m still questioning. I still don’t have any answers. And maybe I am just telling myself fairy stories to make the darkness a little more bearable. Regardless, it felt good to see him last night.

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