Loss of Consort
Once upon a time, this blog was about academia, dissertations, teaching, motherhood. Now, it seems to be all widowhood, all the time. I guess I should change my tag-line, but I hold out hope of returning to other topics one day.
Losing a spouse is also losing the self--the self I was with him. These days, I'm feeling my self-loss particularly acutely. I was and am a somewhat solitary person by nature (so was he, yet somehow mutual solitude suited us); that is, I like to be among friends, but find it very difficult to reach out to them. And my hideous new status has made this even harder. As dearly as I love them, it's hard to be around my "family" friends, because I am filled with intense sadness for what my daughter and I have lost. This weekend, we had a lovely beach outing with two other families. Watching my friend's children with their father, seeing him locate and hold sea creatures for them to touch and look at, was so tangible a reminder of what we've lost. My husband would have loved this outing--he was a great one for grubbing around in seaweed on the shore, and was fascinated by the inner and outer workings of God's tiny creatures. He would have been such a great Papa in that exploratory regard, and so good at teaching our little girl not to be squeamish and girly (as I am). Once, after our cat killed a vole, my husband spent nearly an hour examining it, looking for signs of trauma, manipulating its odd, hand-like feet, before burying it with sweet ceremony in our back yard.
I've learned not to go out for dinner on Saturdays; that's family night in our world, and seeing all those "normal" families, intact families, is just too awful. (And as always, I'm not trying to denigrate the variety of families there are out there, many of which are not the heterosexual couple type whose loss I am specifically mourning.)
Even my "couple" friends are hard to take; it's difficult to spend a lovely evening, knowing that at the end of it, I will go home alone, with no one there to pour over the details of the conversation, or count the glasses of wine I had, or rhapsodize over the exquisite culinary gifts of our hosts.
Lately I find it easier to spend time with my "single" friends (some of whom are not
single, but whom I tend to encounter by themselves). They are all childless, though, and I can't, by conscience or by finance, come up with the kind of endlessly available child-free time it takes to be "single" and solely in charge of my time. My daughter needs picking up from school, dinner at a certain time, bed at a certain time, and a lot of time with her Mama.
When I was married, I was loved; being loved, I felt loveable. I don't feel that way now. I feel crabby, worn out, reticent, and old. I long for the sweet daily companionship, but can't imagine anything more time-sucking and exhausting than some "new" relationship. And I can't imagine having the energy to make myself presentable in the way that a new relationship would require. I want that same old sloppy sweatpants love, the kind that already knew what was wrong with me, and had decided to stick around anyway. To me, that kind of acceptance is pretty much as romantic as it gets. It takes a long time and a lot of work to achieve, and its loss is enormous.
How Life Is
This morning, I looked over at the car parked beside ours at the preschool parking lot. In it was a woman applying her make-up. I know this woman; I am this woman. Single motherhood means, among other things, that I no longer have time in the morning to apply my makeup before leaving the house (nor do I have time to wash my hair on a discouraging number of days). I can't keep my toenail polish even remotely acceptable (and I have ugly, ugly toes, so it's not a mere affectation on my part). These trivial things indicate the real lack: time for myself. All these experts and well-meaning friends (usually those who are a) childless and/or b) wealthy enough to employ nannies or armies of sitters) talk about how important it is to keep some time aside for oneself. I have plenty of "me-time"; it's just that it unilaterally occurs in the course of other essential functions. Time for reflecting as I empty the clean dishes from the dishwasher? Check. Time to grieve while I take out the garbage? Got it. A little haiku composing? Sure--while I roll the recycling bins back up the driveway and water the scraggly shrubs that pass for a "garden." Time for that inspirational pep-talk I've been meaning to give myself? Why of course--between miles 12 and 14 of the drive to dance class! Thus the time for those small personal chores that make me feel remotely human and more remotely feminine (eyebrow plucking, mascara application, toenail touch-ups) now happen in parking lots. I turn up the music, roll down the windows, and revel in self-indulgence. Really, I spoil myself.
Best served cold
Remember these folks
? And I haven't even told you about the entire evening they spent shouting the following exchange over and over:
She-neighbor: "I don't wanna kiss your ass!"
He-neighbor: "You can kiss my ass! C'mon! Kiss my ass!"
She-neighbor: "You can't make me! I'm not gonna kiss your ass! I don't wanna kiss your ass!"
Really, I'm sure they are lovely, classy folks—at least before the sun goes down.
Tonight, however, my daughter announced--unprecedentedly, and just after being tucked in and lights out--that she needed to use the potty. She did, in fact.
Our bathroom is directly opposite their patio, where if I didn't avert my eyes, I could have seen them smoking, relaxing at the end of a hot day, sipping beers.
That is, until my daughter produced a refrain of her own (imagine this crowed loudly and repeatedly, with the glee and satisfaction that only a 2-3 year old feels in bodily productions of such kinds):
"That was a BIIIIIGGGG Poop, huh mommy! A big, big, big poop! That's a big smelly poop. Poop is smelly, Mama? Stinky. I had a biiiiiiiiiig, stinky POOOOOOOOP in my butt! And now I'm peeing on that BIIIIIIIIIIIGGGG STINKY POOP! Can you smell my poop? Does it smell bad? Is it stinky? That's a big, big, big, big BIIIIIIIIIIIIGGGG STINKY POOP!!!"
Life goes on.
May it continue long and happily for this beautiful family.
A shout out to ABDMom
--soon to be PHDMom, who has just finished writing the diss.
In her honor, I'm gonna go see what the last word of my dissertation is...
The last word on
my dissertation is, presumably, "suck."Edited to add:
The last word of my dissertation is "answer."
Time off for Bad Behavior
Driven away by my neighbors and their noisy fornication, my daughter and I are off for an extended session of family vacationing amidst the Dorcasinettes (some of whom are male)--that is, my family of origin. Okay, we really had it planned all along. My article is drafted, my summer school texts are (mostly) ordered, and the pets like the housesitter more than they like us.
While we're gone, keep our small and unfortunate circle of cancer friends and family in your hearts: here
, and here
; and now, dammit, here
Be good to yourselves, and each other.Au revoir
The Top of My List
What's item number one on my personal List of Things No (sort of young and fairly recent) Widow Should Have to Hear
?Her neighbors having noisy athletic sex on their patio, which is mere yards from her open bedroom window.
I know how weird it is to write to you online. Not to flatter myself, but there are at least a couple of other people who will read this. Weird. And I don't know why I think that somehow the ether is the way to reach you. Weird. Maybe I am kidding myself, like I am about a lot of other things. In scary ways, I have felt like I was losing you lately. Your face is less clear to me, and instead of the gaunt "cancer chic" look you had for your last years of life, I'm seeing you full-faced in your dress shirts and your tailored to order pants. You always looked good to me, but I worry about you becoming a Memory. When it hurts, at least you feel "real."
I read this article today: it says that doctors are treating their cancer patients too aggressively at the end of life, and not allowing them time to come to terms with death. I worry that we did that with you, although it was all you ever said you wanted. And damn it, whatever effing odds the doctors gave us, I always thought you would pull off a miracle. It was just the way you were--not powerful, perhaps, but indestructable. Todd called you "elemental" in an email to me; I think you'd like that. To me, you were elemental--fundamental, essential, omnipresent. And that final, desperate chemo was working, wasn't it? If only the other treatments hadn't hit you so hard, or if we hadn't used up our good luck so early on, when we thought we had caught it in time.
And all the terrible things G-Doc told me about the final days--the dementia, the dehydration, the anxiety; well, they were pretty short, weren't they? I hope you knew that everyone who loved you most was there in those final days. They were there for you, and they were there for me. You have some awesome friends, and their love for you is simply amazing. But I still worry that you didn't have time to say goodbye. I have that nutty file you left on your laptop called "Hereafter Notes." It makes me laugh and cry every time I see it, which is every time I open the laptop. I know I need to get someone to overhaul the computer and sort the files, but I like logging in with your name and password, and seeing your folders with all the files you did for me. You know I would never have gotten a job, or a PhD, without you, right? I know you thought I could do it without you, but that's just because you loved me. I miss that kind of love: the one that knows the other person is a finer human being than they can possibly understand.
I hope you recognized the strength in yourself in those last months. I hope you understood that a lesser man would not have managed to be as loving, as grateful, as stoic, and as FUNNY, goddamit, as you were. I laugh in the middle of the night, sometimes, thinking of your response to that scary, scary fall down the steps: "And he goes DOWN!" you said, when I rushed to your side. We laughed all the way to what, in retrospect, was probably your final, final treatment run. You were a class act all your life, my love, and I hope you could focus on those of us who knew it, instead of those who overlooked your tremendous gifts.
Your daughter is everything you wanted: funny, smart, sassy, and very much her own person. I hope you can see her, or sense her. Maybe I could post a photo? But without you, I don't know how. Hell, I can't even get the photos off the camera. Or format my own CV. You spoiled me, love.
We're going to see the "good relatives" tonight. We love them, and not least because they let us talk about you. They want to talk about you. I try to talk to your dad; not only because this must be agony for him, but because he knows what it's like to lose your spouse so early, and so tragically. He's mostly doing his stoic thing, but some days I think I get through. I'm not thrilled to have inherited your repressed family, but I'm doing my best. And I really, really wish I had known you earlier, so you didn't have to spend so many years alone among them. But then, I probably would have been too young and too stupid to realize that you were the first perfect gift life would give me (our daughter, of course, is the second).
I know we said we had done everything we could; we were smart enough, despite our optimism/denial, to say the things we needed to say to each other. But I wonder again and again if it was enough--if anything could be. I miss you.