Tuesday, June 23, 2009

How it is, how it was.

There is something about connecting with others who stand in similar shoes that is both comforting and heartbreaking. Over the last couple of weeks I've been loosely communicating with a few other young widowed parents in the NYC area and when I heard from the first one, it was as though the initial wound was reopened. Somehow, despite the relief of knowing that there are others out there that are living through the loss, hearing that others have suffered as I have is devastating. I was at once sobbing, overcome with relief that there were others nearby who understood, but yet it's heartbreak all over again - as though I've lost yet another dear friend. And when I was told yesterday about a site, Young Cancer Spouses, I flew to it as though my life depended on it. Sadly, its content is unfinished and minimal, but what is there brought me back to last Spring and I instantly found myself weeping inconsolably. The site is geared towards those enduring the struggle right now, and had I known about it or ever been able to find the time for it last year, I would have clung to it with all my might. What was so jarring was that it described every situation, scenario and relationship dynamic so accurately for couples affected at such a young age. Had I known it was there, I wouldn't have felt so alone. Because your world becomes so intensely complicated, it's just not possible to explain to others - you have neither the time, nor the energy. And it is then that you recognize how precious time truly is. You do not want phone calls, you cannot afford walks, and the breaks you're encouraged to take - do just that. They take. They take away the time you have with your other half. And you are consumed with the fight; the regimens you must adhere to, the emergencies you have to navigate, the risks you're forced to take when you have no professional medical advice right then and there, the precautions you adhere to diligently, the unexpected problems you plan for in advance. The desperation and love that goes into every single move, every recipe, every everything. Love is so wonderful that the thought of losing that beautiful, special person fuels you with a devotion so intense it's indescribable. So as I near my one year anniversary of Alan no longer holding my hand, I find myself in moments reliving and feeling as raw as I did last Winter and Spring. In a way it's a comfort, as it turns back the clock, but then the grief swells and I'm reminded of where I am, and what day it is.

It has been observed that when elephants grieve, the mourning is widespread. Friends and family and fellow elephants from other herds, with no connection to the one who has passed, come to comfort the dying and visit remains. They often stand over the sick and rub them with their feet, feed them, rock back and forth above them. When the sick one dies, they mourn, some so saddened they refuse food themselves and die shortly after. When they pass a carcass months or years later, they still stroke the bones with their trunks as though to comfort or perhaps to remember to whom those remnants belonged. That is what I feel when I hear of others who have experienced similar loss - even if I don't know them, I mourn for them as well. And I sense that they too, share a similar compassion.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

We Love You. (The Susie)

If Alan was here this Father's Day I'd say let's go for a sail. Let's bundle up Lily in ten life jackets and go out on the water. I'll make gourmet sandwiches (Alan always laughed at me because I called everything I made gourmet), we'll go to City Island and take out a boat. Lily would love the water...
Today we had lunch overlooking the Hudson and between smiles and standing with wobbly legs in my lap, she'd stare out over the river. Alan loved everything about sailing and I knew that on days when he'd go out he'd be crashed in bed sound asleep by 8pm that night. The fresh air and the peacefulness he experienced in the waves quieted all of his thoughts - I think he loved being able to look ahead of the boat and relished in the luxury of being able to see what was coming. Because being able to navigate amid all of the river's obstacles was nothing to him, and I'm sure he took comfort in being able to control something. That was what was so wonderful about watching him guide the boat; the elements, of all things, had no hold on him. I, on the other hand, was always perched at the bow - on the lookout for tankers that I was convinced would be our doom. They approached so quickly and it was a test for me to trust that Alan knew just what to do. And he handled the maneuvers with grace. Lily would have watched his every move with awe. She has his quiet, observant stare and when she sees something that interests her, she watches, glued, with a fixation that tunes out the rest of the world. Not even a blink from her paintbrush eyes. That is how she would have been with him. And she'd watch him and watch him and somehow his soft expressions would coax her into one of her beautiful grins.
I miss him so, so much.
Alan loved children and was great with them. It is painful not having him for so many reasons - we'd introduce him to Banana, Little Black and White Dog and Sophie the Giraffe, we'd show him how good Lily is at rolling over to the right, how she loves the photo over the changing table of us at Yankee Stadium, how she likes to kick and splash in the tub, and she'd show him how she can make an impressive B sound as she blows impressive bubbles.
And she could experience how good it felt to be held in his arms.
How good he smelled.
Feel his warmth.
And when I'd show off how she has embraced sleeping through the night, he would whisper in my ear with his usual playful, mischievous humor, "Let's wake her up". He could never get enough time with a cute baby.
Alan had always said that, one day, he'd get a sailboat and name it "The Susie". If he were here today, I'd get him one. It would be our second home. Alan could lead, I'd be on the lookout, and Lily would pitter patter back and forth between us, barefooted but bundled.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Shaky Ground. Still.

I called home the other day to hear Alan's voice on the answering machine. I could have played it from home but I needed to hear him on the other end. And I left a message for him. I had to. I knew I wasn't fooling myself but it felt good to feel for a split second that we were in close proximity, to suspend my disbelief and pretend for a fleeting moment that we still shared a life together. For months after Alan passed away I still came through the front door and said "Hi Babe" to him as though he were in the other room. There are some habits that you must ween yourself from and I'm not sure when I stopped that particular one. But I have many antics that linger: expressions, gestures, signals, jokes - and I'm not sure I'll ever let go of them. In fact, some I've passed on to Lily, and when she looks at me with Alan's eyes, I sense that she understands them.
Tonight a friend sent me pictures of us that I had never seen. It took my breath away to see him again, looking good, despite what he had been going through, and we both were so happy side by side. When I see new images of Alan, or hear a story about him that I had never known, I feel as though I've gotten him back for a moment - learning new things about him, or revisiting a moment that we shared. But these gifts, as well, catch me off guard. For that matter, pouring myself a glass of water this evening brought me to tears. It's not only specific memories that evoke such emotion, but the mundane moments as well that remind me of what has happened. Everything has become so very sobering. I broke down tonight after hearing from another widowed mom that when reading of my experiences she nodded all the way through. How tragic and comforting that someone else can relate to all of this... In all of this loneliness I'm not so alone. But that, too, for the very reasons I am writing, is a difficult reality to digest.
When I put Lily to bed tonight, she promptly rolled on to her stomach, her sleeping position of choice, but for fifteen minutes I heard her from the other room, babbling away. When I peered in quietly through the doorway, there she was, head looking up in full cobra position, at a photo of Alan placed over her crib, jabbering away. At times I'm convinced she knows him as well as I - I do believe that babies and the very elderly are connected to the spirits of those who have passed on - and I hope that with every image and anecdote she'll feel the bond that links us all together.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Night Moves and Early Hours.

Lily is rolling over. And sleeping through the night. And a chatterbox. She is a pro at getting four fingers into her mouth. And she loves her lower lip. Often even in her talkative moments the sounds are loud but muffled, mouth still closed as she doesn't want to let it go. It's her pacifier of choice, with two thumbs at once a close second. Now that she rolls over, preferring to sleep on her stomach, my nights of water ballet are over. I used to love it when her coos and noises woke me up at 2am to find that even though the lights were off and it was the middle of the night, Lily had an entire performance choreographed for me. With mesh bumpers now in place - all I could make out in moonlight shadows were her legs surfacing in the air. Kicking in fits and then subsiding... Next, a leg, pointed in the air floating quietly as though she were pondering it from below. Sometimes a pause and then a burst. Elegant, suspenseful and funny. Often I'd go over to the crib and there she'd be, looking up at me, bright eyed and smiling as though it were the middle of the day.
Sometimes when I used to stir at night, Alan would be up, and as I'd turn over he'd say "Hi Sus". I loved it. Just like that, as though I'd just entered the room, or picked up the phone. Every moment with him I savored and even at 2am foggy with sleep, he could make me smile like no one else. Until now. Now Lily Alan has inherited that role though I won't wake her up to do so. But sleeping always with one ear alert, I love to hear her funky breathing noises, and her sighs as she readjusts her positioning. In the morning when she's first awake, I listen to her talking and can see her looking around - contemplating the distance she has covered during the night. Usually her head is where the feet were the night before. Sometimes she drifts back to sleep, and despite my exhaustion, I look forward to her waking up again. The mornings are my favorite time of day with her as they were with Alan. The day is new, there are fresh kisses to give and receive, it's daylight again and the odds of it being a good day seem to be leaning in our favor.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Nearing twelve.

ELEVEN months for me today and it's as grey outside as I feel within. It scares me to think how I might be doing if I didn't have Lily. And then that thought makes me wonder how I am really doing. Because I read posts on a widows board that are loaded with anger and rage and while I get it, I don't generally feel it. Generally. The anger I've experienced is not directed toward Alan, or even my circumstances. My anger has always stemmed from the insensitivities that surround the circumstances. People who couldn't understand my need for distance shortly after Alan passed away, people to whom I'd explain my situation and they'd hardly bat an eye (perhaps they didn't hear correctly?), and most commonly, people that are just sour on life who are rude to you for no reason and don't realize how good they've got it. But perhaps they've been through something awful as well. Thankfully Lily has given me new love and smiles and a reason for living. She is a wondrous distraction for which I am eternally grateful.
But at night when she's down, the silence creeps in and my mind begins to spin. Memories of the darkest moments, when things were terrifying, replay in my mind - and they're difficult to shake. They are memories with a perpetual echo. Voices, faces, sounds - torturous. My heart aches for those who do not have a child or a pet to cling to because the trauma feels like it was yesterday and the loneliness is shattering. What I feel is profound, deep, sadness. But the anger at him "leaving"? Not at all. Alan didn't leave, he was carried away by something well beyond his control, and I still bask in the love that we shared for one-another. In fact, despite the tragedy, I feel incredibly fortunate to have found such love. A few of the notes I received when Alan passed away mentioned that some spend a lifetime never finding the love that we had. And I do feel lucky to have found Alan. A couple of times, when people heard of Alan's passing, they'd casually asked if I knew he was ill when we met. Ugh. Not sure what they were getting at- or actually, I do. It felt like an underhanded jab, maybe unintentional, but I think it was their way of saying "you knew this was a possibility" or "why would you ever?..."
I did know Alan had had a brush with tumors. They were under control, in a form of 'remission' - and they were not cancerous at the time. But regardless of knowing or not knowing, I fell in love with Alan, period. True love is unconditional. I have no regrets. Maybe that is why the anger isn't raging. I took a chance, embraced it and lived on the edge with a beautiful human being. We suffered immeasurable loss but it was worth every minute. Both of our lives were richer and truer because of each other. And to this day I think "Yes! I had it. Maybe for a heartbeat, but I had IT. And that IT, gave us Lily."
So now my life has a huge void and a new joy. A turbulent and blissful combination. But Lily smiles and laughs and raises her shoulders to her ears with glee - so I remain hopeful that the grey I experience within won't permeate her wonderful world. And when the torment sets in at night, I have only to peek at her sleeping peacefully, her little chest puffing up and down to remember that there is light and hope. She's already proven herself a risk taker; she insisted on enduring a pregnancy fraught with grief. So I think - like her dad, and her mom - she is resilient and one who embraces life.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Love is everywhere.

Years ago, I went with a friend to her cousin's estate sale. I was in the bedroom, looking at belongings. A little girl came in and went over to one of the women with whom she had come. She was holding up a beaded necklace, which she clearly had decided she wanted to take, but said as a question, "So and so says this is just junk". The woman took her onto her lap and said quietly, "It is not junk. It is a memory."

I'll never forget that, and it's always helped me rationalize my pack-rat inclinations. Because I am a sentimentalist. I find there is a story that accompanies just about everything. Alan was always anxious to clear stuff out, get rid of old items that were just accumulating dust, yet he too, held on to many trinkets and toys and photos - all memories. And I still find myself surrounded by many of his possessions and I'm not sure when they'll be relocated. On a widows website one woman was wondering what she should do with her husbands underwear. For many that sounds absurd, but I could relate all too well to her quandary. I found (and continue to find) that even the seemingly mundane articles from Alan's life (that he would have been so bothered to hear I had held on to), were beyond difficult to dispose of. In fact thus far, the only way I have been able to eliminate, store or pass on any of his belongings has been by doing the same with some of my things. Hence, anything of Alan's that has been packed away for safe-keeping, has been nested among items of my own. If clothes were set aside for Goodwill, I contributed to the pile as well. In essence I couldn't and cannot let go of his belongings without them being accompanied by something of mine. It's a way of continuing our journey together. If some of Alan goes, parts of me go with him. I don't want him ever to be alone. So much still rests where it has always been, unmoved by me. Not untouched, or unsmelled but still left in it's "place". Because with everything there is a memory. With the items of a coat pocket I can reconstruct a cold winter evening. A matchbook - a dinner at the bar of one of our favorite restaurants, a plastic figurine was an early dating memento, a candy wrapper was his breath, a pill - part of a regimen, a book - a love, a passion, a pursuit, something that had been held by his hands. A grocery store receipt - his special recipe with our favorite dessert, a leash, a connection for him to the dog he had cherished. And so on. The only way I am able to separate myself from anything is because I can hear Alan dismissing the item without a care or story attached. And if his spirit has given me permission, then I can physically and emotionally let that something go. And when I can, I have to do it quickly and efficiently, without lingering on how it was a part of Alan's life. The obsession can make you crazy.
I remember when the house that I grew up in was lost in a fire, we lost so many personal belongings. Yet it was such a freeing experience because my parents had escaped, alive - and that truly was all that mattered. Everything else paled in comparison. I just didn't care deeply about anything lost. Yet now that Alan's passed on, I cannot bear to part with his belongings. I know that I have everything I need in my heart and in my mind - but the belongings keep him close and fresh as though he was just here. And he was just here. On the widows website, the board I follow is the "6-12 Months. Reality sets in". section. Perhaps it's all just too soon for me.