the sound and the fury
May 30th, 2007 by

Today at work, I got asked The Question, the perennial favorite of those who have just met me or who have just learned of my history: How can you be so positive and relaxed about everything?

My canned response, the one that gets spit back at those who cannot even fathom the anger and sadness lurking beneath this sunny exterior (still, after more than a year to heal), boils down to learning to save my stress for the big stuff when Eric was sick and dying.

But it is really so much, much more than that.

The truth is that I’ve really sort of become a selfish and careless thing, spending my time only on those who care about me and actions to further my own position, and not really giving a damn about the rest. I really think that the only difference between myself and others is that I’m being brutally honest with myself. I don’t stress at work, because at the end of the day, the job will get done regardless of whether my blood pressure rises or not. And so I choose the path that accomplishes the task with the least amount of my time and energy: I get the job done. I solve the problem. No one’s dying or getting hurt, so no big deal.

I’ve also learned over the years to only share myself with those who have proven to care about me. I am an open book in some ways, but have been known to cut negative influences out of my life without much thought. The most recent example of this was an acquaintance who I met in F-ville. Although the only thing that we really had in common was that we both hated our jobs, we met outside of work regularly (albeit spending that time complaining about work). When I finally started to climb out of the deep hole of self-pity that I had buried myself in, when I finally started to be hopeful again, she had the nerve to confront me and tell me that I was “becoming a different person.” I told her that friends of mine support me both when I am happy and when I am complaining, and promptly erased her e-mail, phone number and other contacts.

And this whole crusade, this whole “Fuck Cancer, raise money to fight leukemia” business that I am hoping to make my life’s work? Although it appears altruistic at the surface, I want others to hear about Eric and me and what happened to us and how it should never have to happen to another nice young couple again. I want to beat this fucking, crippling, destroying thing for the most selfish of reasons: I never want to know that pain again. And yet, every time I connect with cancer patients online or offline, it is often the same tragedy. Many of the people whom I blogged with when I began “Cancer. It’s not just an astrological sign anymore” are gone or have relapsed. Sometimes it seems like everyone I know has cancer or is dying, and I guess in the big picture, those sentiments are true. Everyone is dying, but no one should have to live through the pain and have their life cut so short as Eric did. And so, I continue to raise my voice and speak out—not because of wanting to help others, but because I want to shield my own heart from the pain that it’s known before.

So when you see me being cheerful, not getting stressed over the day-to-day, don’t think that you should strive to be more like me.

I am not a role model.

I am simply trying to get by, the only way that I know how.

Mourning Clothes
May 16th, 2007 by

I started wearing black in my teens and I have grown through the black of many shades and stages. Black dresses with carefree frills, black slacks for sassy, practical black for warm gloves and hats, the black I wore was playful and nonchalant, naive to the darker fringes found in wardrobes after death swoops in and kills nonchalance.

I liked wearing black. Satin black dresses, tied at my back, ebony curls and polished grey pearls; his charcoaled hair against my white breast. Black was an accent, not a focus. I asked him to wear it, and then wrapped myself around him like a sash circles a neck. Twirling around the smoky clubs, holding onto the black-and-blue of his eyes, we danced the midnight streets and the wooden floors of our churchhouse, under the moons of a blackened sky.

Black changed when he died. That night, I discovered the black of a widow. A shiny black; sharp and crisp. For Mama Til, my great grandmama, a widow’s black was dull, highly buttoned and severely laced. At the turn of the century, when Til stepped out of her launder woman’s home, she wore a widow’s costume. It was observed and noted that she was in her mourning period, and she was sheltered from the bite of the invisible widow’s black that I wear, perhaps?

Newly widowed, I yearned for an intricately woven, black-lace veil to drape over my tear-streaked face. I wanted the world to know that I was mourning my beloved. I wanted motorists to slow down when I crossed the busy street. I didn’t want for them to mistaken me as a goth and be suspicious of me. I wanted to wear a sign on my back that said, “be gentle with me; I am learning to walk with a limb missing.” But my widow’s black was quiet. Because mourning clothes aren’t worn in my time or culture, I wore naked clothes of grieving. Without a costume, I was blurred in a land of out-dated words and invisible wardrobes.

I didn’t wail in public. I didn’t throw myself into the unforgiving ocean or the expectant funeral pyre. I pinched my face brave as I feared falling apart. Afraid that if I crumbled, so did my children, my family, the peaked roof above our heads. I won’t crumble, I repeated, biting my lip till it bled. But no one saw the blood either. In my culture, the images of death are tucked away, until one day death bleeds in front of us. And then we don’t have enough towels in our closet, to sop it all up.

The black of my once-preferred wardrobe, paled as I tried on my new black. I didn’t know what to wear to describe my grief. A black armband to mourn revolutionary style, elevating my love to martyr? A hooded cape with a widow’s peak at my forehead? I recoiled at the sight of black. I heard widow and I cringed, “Don’t call me that. It isn’t true. It isn’t my story. It’s Jacqueline Kennedy’s, Yoko Ono’s, Katie Couric’s. Go away. Be an interrupted nightmare. Be someone else’s costume and title.”

The man I loved did not die fighting for the illusion of freedom. He was not a sacrificial lamb, a statesman or a rock star. He did not die in a factory accident, a car accident, or from an environmental disease. I didn’t watch him suffer and dwindle away, and yet, I live in the shadow of crumbling towers, where daddies and fathers and lovers disappear. Where I became widow and single-mother in the same swoop.

Trying to fit into my pre-dated corset, I looked up “widow” in the dictionary. From dowager, it said, a legal term. A woman who could own property because her husband had died. I looked for a widow in literature that I could relate to. There had to be stories of widows walking over boggy heaths, weren’t there? Civil War widows tending to the farm, hungry babies at their skirts. Widows of the Depression waiting in a bread line, cold children at their skirts. Widows of WWII in factories, boosting the value of America, children working at their skirts. Widows of Vietnam, staying out of fire’s way, horrified families hiding at their skirts.

Where I live, women run corporations, same-sex couples adopt children, domestic partners are entitled to working benefits and single mothers keep rediscovering that it has always been a village of women and children, around the hearth, while the men disappeared in the hunt, or war. Maybe, I realized one day, it’s not how I dress myself, but how I write myself. I can wear my name and write widow in a way that becomes me. My widoe can evolve from dowager, by dropping the w and adding an e. I can write myself as widoe and create a new way of looking at myself, through my own lyrical fingertips.

My widoe wears an e, the way another widow wears high-necked black, another wears a white mourning veil, another, a heavy shroud, or a severe peak. I told my professor that the e is the proper way to make the o long and widow feminine. Spare me the grammar lesson, she says. Okay then, widow is written in an archaic language that doesn’t define me. The e loosens the patriarchal bindings of widow, with origins of being his property. I know I’m privileged to live in a fertile valley where women, at least overtly, are not regarded as property. The nagging hole in my belly is obesity alongside the widow of India who has been cast out to the streets to beg with her children. The widow who has been denied her home, her children’s, inheritance, which had been stolen by her husband’s family.

“Widoe” is somewhere in-between mammal and woman, I said to my professor, as I explained my thesis title. Birth unites women in a family of mothers welcoming life into hopeful arms. Death unites women in a family of widoes releasing life from helpless arms. My widoe has the freedom to walk to a Haitian dance class, down the street from my home, thirsting for rejuvenation, from the live drumming, the sweat, and the colorful skirts. I don’t live the Haitian widoe’s day-to-day hunger and poverty. But, in many ways, I live her pain, her dance of raising children on a dime. Rather than deny my widow’s hood, I cut my cloak from a cloth that belongs to all widows, tailoring it to me, grateful for the choice I have to be able to wear what I want.

Returned and rebuilding
May 15th, 2007 by

Sorry for the long, unannounced hiatus. There were quite a few big decisions in my personal life over the past several months that interfered with both my blogging time and my access to the internet. I am writing now from a new town, a new place of residence, a new vocation, and most importantly, a new lease on life. I finally feel that I am at a point where I might be able to build a fulfilling and healthy life for myself, alone. Also, there are quite a few poor decisions from the past year that need to be rectified. I had read studies and anecdotal evidence of widow(er)s making poor financial and life choices after the death of their partner, and I am afraid to tell you that possessing the knowledge alone does not protect you from succumbing to an increased rate of mistakes and missteps. Ah well, I have all of the time in the world to rebuild myself into a stronger and better version. And for that time I remain eternally grateful.

In addition to announcing a return to regular blog updates here, I wanted to inform the readers of this corner of the web of a new online service which I was invited to try. The service is a newly launched online memorial site, Respectance.com. The site allows one to create a lovely memorial for a loved one who has passed, creating a place where people all over the world can meet and remember their loved one. My page is here, and I encourage you to check it out and add your own! It’s really sort of a neat concept.

Thank you for your patience.

Tragic differences
April 22nd, 2007 by

Recently posted at Living Forward, this excerpt perfectly describes the doubts in my mind every time I think about the possibility of ever becoming emotionally invested in another’s life. Unfortunately, there’s more than one kind of heartbreak out there; so I’ve included her commentary on the doubts of the recently divorced as well.

divorced: she might cheat on me
widowed: he might die on me

divorced: when is it going to fail
widowed: when will he get sick

divorced: 6 out of 10 marriages will fail
widowed: everyone dies

divorced: im scared of screwing up
widowed: im scared of losing him

divorced: i need to protect my heart
widowed: i need to protect my heart

Mercury
March 13th, 2007 by

My person becomes fluid

For I’m about to head

to the fourth new town

in as many years.

It used to be so easy.

Roles I dutifully embraced:

Loving wife, tender caregiver, faithful girlfriend.

Now, all roles are gone.

I can be whomever, whatever I want.

A brand-new, clean slate.

Most people would kill for this chance.

In a way, I already have.

So why am I so damn unsatisfied?

identity
March 7th, 2007 by

More info, less whining:

I am in a good place right now. I have wonderful opportunities in front of me, and I think that I have finally come to terms with Eric’s passing. For both of those milestones, I am extremely grateful.

However, in moving from merely surviving to living, I am faced with a whole new quandary: how will I now identify myself? For the past year, my life has been a harrowing test of clinging onto sanity’s cliff by one finger…and now that I am safely off of the ledge, I find myself questioning which roles I should assume. I proudly wore the guise of doting girlfriend and supportive wife for almost ten years…and now I am in a strange new place where I’m not quite sure how to act, and I’m not even sure of how to define myself.

Thusly, I am trying on new roles like a five-year-old playing dress up in her mother’s closet. However, I can’t shake the nagging feeling that, at twenty-six years of age, I should have all of this figured out already.

As I try to move on with my life, I am chained to an invisible weight of guilt. I plan to start having a social life, and have started caring about my appearance again, and wanting to seem attractive to others…but even as I put on makeup where there was none for so many months, I can’t help but feel as if I am cheating on my lovely Eric. I know that the guilt is unfounded, and that he would want me to be happy, but those thoughts do little to assuage the feelings of infidelity.

I am so fortunate to finally have reached this plateau, but it seems as if I have traded one problem for another.

I can’t believe that it has been almost a year that he has been gone.

I need some direction. Widowhood is a long and arduous journey, and I have reached yet another crossroads…

avoidance
February 16th, 2007 by

I live in the realm of
my mother’s discomfort.

Speaking to her of
a husband’s death,
the emptiness of a home,
how slowly the bed warms up at night,
she withdraws.

Talk of empty refrigerators,
of dishwashers that are ran only half-full,
of trying to fill the time once spent
building the foundations of a new family,
ends abruptly at the emotional brick wall
that she has built.

Her silence regarding
all things widowhood
speaks volumes:
Surely, this won’t ever
happen to her.

Distressed Haiku
January 13th, 2007 by

You think that their
dying is the worst
thing that could happen.
Then they stay dead.

—”Distressed Haiku,” written by Donald Hall shortly after the death of his wife, poet Jane Kenyon.

Moving on in 2007
December 29th, 2006 by

Dear Eric:

I struggle to find a way to communicate with you in a way that comes close to the connection that we had when you were still living. Whereas we could once look into each other’s eyes and hold an entire conversation without uttering a sound, I now find myself speaking to you in the car, or walking in the park near my apartment, or at your grave. Oftentimes, those one-sided conversations gain me many odd, quizzical stares from the living who happen to be walking near me or idling beside me at a stoplight. And then I retreat, embarrassed that I have demonstrated to the world one more time that yes, the loss of you has made me crazy.

And so I return to the internet to send you a message. I have no idea if you still exist, or if you can read what I am typing on this page, but I know for certain that if there is a heaven you are there, and if heaven exists then it almost certainly has high-speed internet (for how could it be Paradise without a nice broadband connection?)

I should write that these past months have made me a stronger person. I remember telling you many, many times as I dressed your central line, gave you injections, or helped you take the dozens of pills that were a sad daily ritual for you that these trials made you tough-as-nails, and gave us a rock-solid marriage to boot.

I was wrong. I’m sorry.

It turns out that some things just plain suck, and there’s not a lot of personal gain to be achieved from having to endure them. Losing you has been the single biggest challenge that I think I might ever face in my life, and there has been more than one time this year that I’ve felt weaker and more vulnerable than I ever had before. I don’t deal well with stress right now; I take medicine every day to help keep me sane and to control the vague and irrational fears that have rooted into my brain since your early departure. I used to say that I was afraid of nothing, and now I fear my apartment getting broken into, my pets dying, someone jumping out of the bushes to kidnap me when I walk the dog at night…I know that none of this makes sense, but I just felt so much safer when you were with me.

But I’m really trying hard to hang in there, to create a life that you would be proud of. True, some days I am merely clinging to the cliff of sanity by my pinky finger, but I haven’t let go–not yet. I should be hearing any day now about which graduate schools have accepted my application for admission–it was always so important to you that I had the chance to pursue a career where I might find more fulfillment than I do at my present job. I’ve created a pretty little home with your artwork, and have started creating my own images and crafts because it was always something that brought you so much joy. There’s even the dog that we talked about owning–she is a mutt, not the beagle that we had talked about, but I’m sure that if you met her it would be love at first sight. In fact, there are some days that I think you must have sent her for me–how else could I explain the random nature in which she wandered into my life?

And so, Eric, I dedicate the upcoming year to you, and to living in your honor. This whole experience has not made me a more religious person, but it has made me a more spiritual person. I pray that we both heal and grow stronger in our own respective worlds.

But, 2006, I have this to say to you: you took my best friend and partner, the happy little home that we had created together, my health and even my sanity at times–but I *am* clawing my way back.

2006, you kicked me when I was down, but I’m not done yet.

Now, get the hell out of here.

The Perfect Gift
December 19th, 2006 by

A shopping center. On a bench
I sit in silence
A dark smudge on an otherwise brightly colored canvas.

Families bustle by,
Loudly arguing:
Stress over locating the “perfect” gift.

But little do they know
That perfection
Is the time spent with their loved ones.

My perfect gift is non-existent:
There is nothing
That I want more than to have my partner back.