Thursday, May 28, 2009

Lily Alan

Today when I was holding Lily I thought I saw Alan looking up at me. It was such a serene moment and such a contemplative look. It lasted only a few moments but it felt so good to see him in her eyes. She's her own little person and I find myself looking at her and seeing bits of Alan and bits of me but mostly Lily ~ I still marvel at the fact that she came out of me and that she is the product of the two of us and yet, this morning, her gaze into my eyes was almost like seeing Alan in a dream. I believe in signs and I'd like to think that that was one of them. Because when you lose someone so special to you, you ache to see them again and the longing is torturous. I think that's where the suicidal thoughts that some have, come from. It's not necessarily that you want to end your life, but the desire to see them again is a force that's ever present and a powerful draw. And one hopes that in death, you'll see those you miss so much - once again. You'll be together again. Together. And until then, I do believe that people no longer here can send signals to those who are.
When I'm outdoors with Lily I tell her that her dad is everywhere - in all the nature that surrounds her. And when we were lying together in the grass last weekend, looking up at the trees, a leaf floated down and landed on her face. She didn't flinch or seem surprised - she just let it happen. It was Alan kissing her - I know it was. And I think she knew too. What she felt on her cheek wasn't scratchy or dry, it was soft, it was graceful, it was a gentle nudge from him.
My widowed friends and I sometimes talk about dreams and we're all hungry to see our "other halves" in them. It was so long before Alan appeared to me in my dreams - months went by and friends would share with me that he had been in theirs. I was desperate to know how he seemed, what he was doing. He was always fine, he was joking, he was Alan in the truest sense. It was good to hear that. But his absence from my dreams was frustrating, in fact, that's often where I felt most abandoned. The few times he first appeared, months ago, he wasn't well. They were almost flashbacks. But in recent months I have seen him. And he is beautiful. He looks healthy, tanned, toned and happy. In the last dream he was even laughing at me, and that felt good. He could always make me smile, his humor was unparalleled, his temperament even-keeled, his presence calm. I think that's what I saw in Lily this morning - there was an openness in her eyes, an understanding and not an ounce of sadness - it was just an all-knowing connection that the two of us shared. And Alan was right there with us.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

The Two of Us

Now that it's warm out, Lily and I head to the parks as frequently as possible. It is liberating for me to get out, and special for us both to enjoy the outdoors together. I love to watch her look up at the trees, see her fall asleep on a blanket, and sleep soundly after a day in the open air. But yet another hurdle for me now is seeing the many families out doing the very same thing. And by that I mean moms and dads - dads running along side their kids still shaky on their bicycles, families spread out on the grass with bats and gloves and a pizza, parents zigzagging behind a wobbly toddler as they discover all that's around them. Unfortunately for me, the beauty of our experiences together serves as a constant reminder of who's not here. At Whole Foods today I found myself looking at "new baby" cards and of course gravitated to one that said on the cover "Two's Company" - I immediately thought, how perfect for the single parent - and was so comforted that someone had actually thought to create a card with that sentiment. And then I opened it up and it said "Three's a family". I felt like an idiot having fallen for the thought. Yesterday a woman was commenting on how beautiful Lily is and she said to her, "Yes, you're so pretty, you have to go home and tell your dad that!" And that's what I encounter on a daily basis. The reality that our family is different. Having each other is enough, and we are our own family - but seeing conventional, nuclear families, everywhere I turn, and hearing first hand how friends are spending the weekend with their families or planning excursions for the summer months is painful. It's natural to hear it and if Alan were here, we'd be doing the same thing - planning an outing, a getaway or just relishing in parenthood at home in the city. But without him here on days like this, the loneliness feels even more profound. When I walk along the Hudson River, pushing a stroller with the most amazing little being kicking and cooing below, the guilt I feel is gut wrenching, and Alan's absence, still shocking. He should be here, with us. Sailboats glide by, and I hear and see Alan scanning the water for sails belonging to his club. Everywhere is a memory. And Lily, for now, is oblivious to it all.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Not By Choice

Desperate to meet other single moms/parents (I've just about given up on the widowed faction) a few have mentioned "Single Mothers by Choice", a group formed by women who started families just that way - by choice. I cannot articulate how envious I am of their network. I discovered them on line months ago, early on in my pregnancy, but factored them out as an option as that just wasn't my situation. Yet recently I almost attended a group meeting with the hope of just connecting with "mothers who happen to be single". But I didn't, as it was obvious that it wasn't the club for me. And I get it. Their issues are different. And my situation is different. And that, too, is isolating.
What was beyond hard to endure when I told people that I was pregnant, were the responses that expressed joy for me - but in an off-putting way - because many of the congratulatory statements neglected to acknowledge the circumstance. "How wonderful that you now have a part of him", "at least you'll have a new life to love" - those comments are all true and I was equally grateful. But it was hard for me to relish in the news and I feared that to others I appeared unappreciative or even resentful of the blessing. Yet I wasn't. What I longed for was the acknowledgement that yes it was the ultimate blessing but it wasn't bestowed upon me as we had planned. And that was all I really wanted to hear. I remember in my birth class the instructor warned us of what we might experience if we had to have a C-Section when we had hoped for a "normal delivery". "People will say 'who cares how it was delivered - you had a healthy baby' but what you'll want people to understand is 'yes, I have a healthy baby, I had always only wanted a healthy baby - but having the C-Section was not as we had planned' ". When I heard her offer up that response to help us articulate the disappointment we might feel, a light went on inside my head. That was it - that was all I had wanted people to understand - that I was never not appreciative to have this being, this... legacy, inside of me, but that the wish was manifesting itself in a very different way. . I was overjoyed at the thought of this combination of the two of us – to have this dream we so longed for, but it was and is difficult to embrace the joy without the one who so deserves to be here with me to embrace it. And many on the outside, the periphery of our lives, could not grasp that. They felt that a baby carried Alan’s presence on, and that I will ‘get him back’ in one way and have happiness to replace the sorrow in another way. Yes those were/are both true, but people failed to recognize that this was not the way either of us had planned it. We planned and dreamt of a baby of our own – and then we fantasized about what it would be like once we had one – how we would be as parents, how it would look, walk, what it’s movements and mannerisms would be. How it would waddle and peer in at us from a doorway, how it would greet us coming home at the end of the day. How it would wake up from a nap, rosy cheeked and sweaty. It was a shared experience that we looked so forward to as we brought someone new into the world. And it is that loss that I mourn so. And the guilt I feel for witnessing this without Alan here to experience it washes over me in an endless torrent. Not only do I have my own life, but I have a bit of our lives in a new person to love and to cherish ~ I devour every moment, every move, every expression, every sound that Lily initiates - but it is a struggle to keep the darkness at bay, that nagging voice in the back of my mind that says over and over and over again, "He should be here".

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Forward, and back.

I now have someone to live for. Lily has turned the volume of life back up. She is music and color and unadulterated happiness to me. She has brought light back into my life and provided distraction from grief that once dominated my days and nights. But I'm not really sure what it means to heal. And we live in a culture where most cannot stand to see others endure sadness and pain. I get it, - it is tough to see the ones you love in distress and so they choose to shortcut seeing others mourn to protect their own emotional well being. OK. But then they should stop there. Because when they don't, you get the comments, the cliches many feel reluctant to offer yet they do anyway, and then that becomes yet another burden to the one who's suffering. I was told early on in my pregnancy – “come on, you had a choice, you made a choice, this should be the happiest time of your life!” – ugh – such ignorance it leaves me dumbfounded at times. People cannot stand to see grief so they gloss over it and dismiss it having never faced it before themselves. And my being pregnant was supposed to compensate for the loss. They say time heals – and I want to say – and? What? What does that mean to one who is heartbroken right now?! Time crept along for me in the months after Alan's passing, and they would still if it wasn't for Lily Alan, so that idea meant nothing to me. It was a test to get from morning to day to night and then day again. I looked forward to getting to tomorrow just so that I could say that I had lived another day. I couldn't read the paper, I cared nothing for the news. I still at ten months cannot read the front pages nor listen to news shows. I lived for our pregnancy and that was it. Days went by where I didn't go outside, or even get dressed. People are desperate to see you “heal” or “recover” and they are uncomfortable acknowledging profound loss. So they look for signs that “you’re better” “you seem perkier today… sometimes I find you just have to consciously change your mood/outlook” – You become the receptor of boundless unsolicited advice. They ask how you are and then tell you how you should be. They want to measure your “progress” rather than just letting you be where you are. You become self-conscious of your response when others ask how you are. You know they want to hear that you're doing "a bit better", so to look at them, being true to yourself and bluntly responding, "not so good" or "shitty" begins your journey of self-criticism where you are constantly evaluating where you are in the survival/healing process. It's taken me months to be OK with where I am. And that was because of my support group. I was surrounded by others who had also suffered profound loss and realized that "where I was" was the norm. It was a horrifying comfort to hear others had been out of work for a year, hadn't gotten out of bed for three days, had contemplated suicide, attempted suicide. It was the one place I felt normal. Because when you lose your other half everything around you is silenced. And life, as you knew it, really did end. You're in a bubble, watching a world of which you're no longer a part, float by. And no one notices. No one knows what you're enduring. No one gets it. Bank tellers, postal workers, store clerks - none of them know how hard it was for you just to step up to the counter. Getting out the door was one step forward, the spontaneous tears on the subway seems to move you back. And then you realize there is no where to get - forward means nothing because the distance is infinite, the loss will always be there, you just learn how to navigate and adjust to the loss. The best friends and family comfort the most when they acknowledge the shittiness - and let you be where you are. That is the truest form of respect and compassion. And I am grateful to have those people, so real and open to unchartered territory, that are comfortable seeing me through the days.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

I'm a widow.

I love that one of the ads that Google has temporarily placed in the sidebar of my blog is for Senior Dating. Their web crawler has clearly picked up the word widow on my blog title and it automatically associates "widow" with age. How I wish I was in my 80s or 90s or even 70s and had truly lived a long life with Alan. That is the misconception with widowhood... People are shocked to hear my story, as I would be had it been someone else - and that is one of my greatest challenges on a daily basis. I was two months pregnant when Alan passed away and all throughout the pregnancy, medical technicians referred to my brother-in-law as my husband, and even when he wasn't with me people still referred to my "husband". At prenatal yoga I was asked if "my husband was ready", in my birth class info packets were "one per couple", "here's an opportunity for you, dad, to massage mom". Trying on maternity bras the fitter tried to sell me "sexy" lingerie for the pregnant and breastfeeding woman - "he'll love this", she said. Even on the day of my daughter's birth when nurses couldn't be bothered to read the first THREE lines of my birth plan explaining my situation, they were asking me if I wanted them to get my husband. SURE. I'd love you to go get my husband. Jesus, if they can do that they're in the wrong profession. At the pediatrician, the nurse asked for "dad's occupation" and there's nothing more challenging than having to bring a death certificate to the hospital to verify your child's birth certificate information. I just celebrated Mother's Day and I took my daughter to a local place so we could have our picture taken together and it was at a scrap-booking store. The gentleman there said to me "Maybe now you'll do a scrapbook with all the photos". I smiled, not able to share the truth on a day where I was desperately trying to focus on the joy in my arms, and said "not so sure I'll have much time" to which he replied - "well that's when you hand her over to dad and say 'I'm going to work on this for awhile'". I nodded and lowered my eyes.
I'm actually surprised, - rather, disappointed that in this day-in-age with so many differently structured modern families where there are two moms, single moms who did it "by choice" (that's another entry...), two dads, etc... that people aren't more sensitive to those dynamics. "But you wear a ring" my friends protest - Yep, I still wear my ring. But who's to say what or who it represents. So many assumptions people make - we're a much more old-fashioned society than we care to admit. So when it comes to becoming a widow at age 39 you're an oddity. I was discussing with my other "widowed friends" the awkwardness of laying the news on the ignorant soul who put their foot in their mouth and it's uncomfortable all around. You feel bad for the person who's made the comment and yet it's never going to be as tough for them as it is for the person who must deliver the news. One of my friends said, "so what - let em feel awkward - it's the truth". And it is. The awful, horrifying truth. And you face it day in and day out, and every moment, around every corner, every encounter with someone on the street or on the phone feels unexpected and heightens your anxiety – because we are beyond vulnerable. I get sideswiped with memories, hormones, emotions, smells, someone’s gait from behind, a profile out of the corner of my eye. Alan is everywhere. My heart is swollen with longing and even now, the reality has to be digested over and over and over again. It is an exercise, and one that I am reluctant to practice, though I know I must for my own well being. And it's tougher to do when you get the ignorant comments. And yet, the flipside is that moving forward, away from the tragedy, threatens the loss of memory. And the memories are the ties that bind. There is not a single thing that I wish to forget about my life with Alan, even the horrors we endured and his final days. Those moments were our life together and they were filled with depth that is impossible to put into words. Thankfully, even for me married only ten months, I do feel like the eighty year old widow. Because when I met Alan I felt like I had known him forever.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Where are they?

So tonight I had dinner with widows and widowers I met at Gilda's Club. I am grateful I met them and have them to relate to, to laugh with, to cry with, and to share thoughts, dreams, experiences with. We are, as many sadly joke, 'the club no one wants to be a member of'. Despite the fact I have them in my life I still long to know more. More young spouses who lost their loved ones, or single widowed women with babies - I've seen online that women widowed while pregnant are out there, but they are states and countries apart. Having a child is the most instantly rewarding relationship I think one could have - and yet the beauty and happiness makes the loneliness and longing for your other half that much more excruciating. When you lose someone you love, every moment following is a "first". The seasons change and you're alone. A new President is sworn in and you're alone. holidays come, mail comes for them, phone calls come, unknowing emails float in and estate sale vultures send postcards. And those "firsts" are never-ending. And now with a child, those firsts are beautiful and heart-wrenching. They should be here to witness it. All of it. I do believe Alan is watching closely, always by my side, but I want to touch him. And him to touch our girl. Our creation. I am so truly happy that few are in my shoes, but just as AA, NA, OA or 9/11 groups exist, the new foundation you must build to survive is facilitated by the support from others who are also living through the tragedy. And yet in NYC, not much exists for YOUNG widowed spouses...

An excerpt from last Fall: I cannot believe in a city of this magnitude it is as hard as it is to find others, meet others who have endured similar losses. And by that I mean young spouses who have lost their partners to cancer. Surely I am not alone. I saw a few young people at MSK that were there with their partners. And I am sadly sure that some of them face a similar predicament – if not now, soon they will. Because that is what makes it different for those who battle a life threatening illness. You fear even when you deny it or defy it that sooner or later it’s going to get you. Maybe not. .. That’s the hope, the dream and source of strength. There is and always was hope. But when you’re in a cancer hospital surrounded by terminal illness you know the fight is worth it but you also are acutely aware of the odds. And you share corridors and rooms and elevators and doctors with others who are similarly affected. Teary family members, comforting each other in the halls, the pediatric patients you see so tired in such new lives, compassionate yet removed doctors, nurses who must feel it’s groundhog day, people who in passing say they’ll pray for you - everywhere you look it’s almost a mirror reflection. Either it’s you now, or will be soon. There are moments when you get lucky and things seem to be on the upswing. But the fear you keep at bay is haunting. That is the difference. Yes a heart attack or the flu or a fluky illness is no less unfair, cruel and devastating. But I believe that the suffering that one feels when enduring a serious illness or an illness of a loved one is a torturous journey – where because of your awareness, every day you celebrate what you have - and mourn what you have to lose. And it is the mourning, the inescapable end that looms in the immeasurable distance that makes this experience different. You are witnessing and enduring the end of a life that is yours and someone else’s. And you have no control. And your hopes diminish and fears turn to reality, and you are aware, somewhat, of what the outcome ultimately will be. It is unbearable.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Rewind (an excerpt). This was us.

Everyone says time will heal. But this week, three weeks past, feels more awful than the last two. Alan was my world. We were intricately woven together. Newlyweds still madly in love. I was so crazy about him that at times I would physically run to him when I saw him. When I met Alan it was such a relief. And I believe it was for him too – We had both found peace at last in each other. A deep, soulful connection – there was so much I grew to know and love about Alan – we shared so many thoughts and dreams and we were similarly dark and sad on certain levels too. Much of Alan’s sadness came from his illness – the threat – the everpresent looming of some force, ready to take away whatever happiness and goodness he embraced. He was all too aware of the harder lessons in life – mainly that all things good never lasted. And in Alan’s case, he suspected it would be sooner rather than later. And he was right.
We recently saw a young child lose her balloon to the sky above and she was devastated. “Gotta learn the lesson” Alan said… I was so resentful sometimes of Alan’s pessimistic moments and yet, deep down I knew he was right. Sure the balloon doesn’t leave everyone’s grasp but for many it does. It slips away and you’re left with nothing. I had found the love of my life – and deep down I shared his worries – now that we both had found “It” how would we, how could we ever endure the fear of what might happen, if Alan’s life were jeopardized, if it was to be threatened by the worst thought imaginable. Our inner temperament was not unlike the look on Dustin Hoffman and Kate Ross’ faces in the last shot of The Graduate when they’re in the back of the bus, escaping the wedding, looking fearful, shocked and contemplative of what they had just done, and of what might lie ahead. That was the two of us. Embracing the future and scared shitless of the underlying circumstances. What was to become of us.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Here I go...

Over the last year and a half I married the love of my life, lost him to a rare form of cancer and had our first child.  There is much to endure when you've lost someone you loved and continue to love with all your heart.  The purpose of writing this down, is mostly for me, yet I'm posting it with others in mind who may or may not find it helpful ~ I've been writing for several months, so I may back-track and start off where I was when I lost Alan.