Judgement

I have a new hobby.  Which is weird in that I’ve decided on at least 17 new hobbies I want to pursue, but never seem to get past the “buy the book” stage of the situation.  I have lots of books about new hobbies.

I  judge deaths.

I look through the obituaries of the local newspapers in Michigan and check them all.  Is it someone I know? (it never is).  How old is the decedent?  Younger than 75? (too young).  Is the word “suddenly” included in the obituary of a middle-aged person (today there was one).

For the Grand Rapids obituaries, I wonder if I’ll see new members at my sad parents group.  If not, I hope they shelter at one of the other sad parent’s groups around the city.  Everyone needs the support.

With the exception of infant deaths, everyone is smiling in their final pictures.  I like that, but it makes me even more sad.  Although, to be fair, the photo we chose for Z’s obituary didn’t inclulde a smile.  It was a prom picture.  She looked like a sprite engulfed in pink fluff in front of Lake Michigan.

Everyone gets an okay/not okay judgement from me.  Age is the only criteria.

How many parents survived?  How many people feel the loss?  Did a mother or father lose a partner in addition to a child?  Level II unacceptable.  Was there an entire family lost at one time?  Level III unacceptable.

I don’t judge the method of loss (an overdose is no more or less tragic than a long disease).  I don’t judge income (grief does not check in on bank account balances).  I don’t judge race or gender or family status (no life is unworthy of longevity).

I mine the papers for adjacent grief.  I mourn with those that don’t know I’m looking on from afar.  I’m not compelled to visit anyone or drop a note.  I just offer silent prayer and I get it.

Really, I want to make pants (I hate shopping for pants).  I want to make backpacks and tote bags (I even purchased the material for a cool tote bag).  I’d rather be a comedy writer (I’m looking for a hulu exec to option my half-scripts).  I’d rather be a professional back-yard whiskey maker.  I’d rather keep chickens and goats.  Or buffalo.  That’d be cool.

I could clean out my basement.  I could organize my pantry.  Instead I read obituaries and commune through the universe with those that don’t know I’m looking out for them.

I don’t welcome anyone to this stupid group.  I merely watch for them coming and hold the door open.

0 stars.  Would not recommend.

Jealousy

I get jealous pretty easily.  I dislike that about me.

When I was growing up,  I wanted to be a stay at home mom and raise a family.  I wanted to be crafty.  Maybe be a freelance writer for extra vacation money.  I wanted children that were wildly happy and successful.  I wanted to retire early and spend time on my lake in the UP.

Instead, I had two children in very rapid succession with a man that *was not a good guy* and shed that dead weight and started my life as a single mom.  I had amazing parent support, but I didn’t have a partner.  I didn’t have the partner support I needed to raise kids.  Having my parents help me was amazing and I’ll be forever grateful.  But it’s not the same.

My marriage to Joe seemed to be a course correction, but it ended up being all cancer, all the time.

Unemployment.  I lost a job that I loved.  But they at least felt bad and covered the cobra insurance I needed to keep my husband in treatment.  It was a mixed blessing.  I loved that job.  And everyone there.

Widow.

Single Parent. Again.

I worked hard, but it was hard.  I was by myself again, except this time I had the flowering mental illness in Alex to deal with.  My life wasn’t happy children, it was frequent self harm and destruction and anger and fear and misguided attempts at talk therapy.

Would my child be alive when I got home?  Would I find a suicide victim in her bed?  Would all of the glasses be shattered?  What mess will I have?  Will I find out today that a drug addiction found it’s way into her life as it does in so, so many of the others that struggle with mental illness?  Would she have cut so deeply that she needs stitches again?

The doctors at the walk in clinic stopped giving me literature on self-harm and depression and anxiety disorders.

Unemployment. Again.

I lost a job that I loved and thought I was going to stay at for the rest of my career.

I have only unemployment income and no prescription coverage.  Alex’s meds were half of the unemployment benefit I received.  The remaining $700 did not cover my brand new house payment.  Luckily, my new partner floated me through this.

Mental illness strengthens.

Z is gone.

I don’t talk about this because want anyone to feel like they need to cheer me up or be positive, but because it’s the root of my jealousy.

I don’t begrudge anyone that’s had a good life or has the things that I want.  It’s the further away from Z I get, the more deeply it sets in that life has given me more lemons than my bowl can handle.  They’re leaking all over the counter.  Spilled onto the floor.  I have stupid lemon juice all over the floor.

I want to be the pretty one, I want to be the athletic one, I want to have the put-together house and the firm schedule and the dog that behaves and the supportive husband that was the only husband with a sweet and whirl-wind love story.  I want to have lengthy summer breaks and academically accelerated children that have Saturday games and giddy sleep-overs.

There is so much to love about my life.  Alex is generally coping with her life in a much less destructive way.  She’s taking two classes at the college she paid for herself.   I have an excellent partner and an amazing family.

Nor do I think I’m all alone.  I mean, I have a group of other sad parents that I visit with every week.  I know other young widows.

But in the back of my mind, behind all of the positives I project into the world, is this glowing ember of jealousy.  I don’t want you not to have it, I just would like it too, please.

Maybe I didn’t make my vision board bright enough?

Maybe it’s because I feel summer closing out and soon I’ll have to leave Joe and Z behind for their first winter without me.  Maybe it’s because there is far too much cemetery and mental institution in the fabric of my life.

Maybe it’s because (for those that know me) it’s easy to forget that my projection of happiness and normalcy is mostly because I’m trying to fool myself.

Tomorrow will be another start.

0 stars.  Would not recommend.

Being Tough

I think I might have called back to this particular incident before, but I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately.

In the waning day’s of Joe’s life and we were getting lots of “goodbye” visits.  People he hadn’t seen for years were stopping in.  They feigned encouragement, but everyone knew what was really going on.  It was the parade of farewells and see you on the other side.

One of his ex-employers stopped by.  Joe was genuinely happy for the visit.  He stood up to shake hands, took a step forward and fell down hard.  He kind of caught himself, face down in a chair.  Before the visitor had a chance to act I stepped in.  I actually stepped between them and shielded the view of the fall from the guest with my body.  I leaned down and, in one swift movement, I was pulling Joe to his feet.

As I was pulling the situation back into focus, I whispered into his ear “Get up… Get up.”  He didn’t really have a choice.  I am strong and, at that time, had he weighed maybe 100 pounds. I got him up and back to the couch in a matter of two or three seconds.

The rest of the visit went well.  Neither of the men acknowledged the fall.  They were just two men talking in the living room.  Catching up on old times and drinking lemonade.

I often think of this moment (this literal second of our lives) and I remember it with raw intimacy and true connection between the two of us.  I gave him everything I had in that moment so he could save some dignity in the room with the visitor.  He had always been such a strong man.  he was such a strong man.  We were both so tough.  He was tough staring down the inevitable.  I was tough in my resolve to get him through everything that might be uncomfortable.

When I left the UP yesterday I expected to leave a fog behind the same way I left a fog behind when I lost Joe.  I’ve been waiting for it, anticipating some sort of relief, no matter how small.  A year is gone, I made it through all of the firsts.  My life is bigger than it was last year, there are new memories that don’t crowd my brain with all loss, all the time.

It didn’t happen.  I didn’t leave a fog in my wake.  I am still moving forward in a swell of bereavement.

I set myself up for this.

I whisper into my own life “Get up… Get up.”

I feel like I’ve been here before.

0 stars.  Would not recommend.

 

525,600

Tomorrow is the day.  August 16.

My husband’s birthday.  The 1st suckaversary of my child’s passing.

Right now, I’m waiting for my partner to meet me in route so we can finish the trip to the UP together.  We’ll have a quiet dinner w/ those that happen to be up north.  I have a significant amount of alcohol ticked away in my room for this weekend.  I have games and (most of) my people.

I’ll be okay.

Really, though, I’ve spent a lot of the day reflecting on the change in perspective a year brings to the bereaved.  I will no longer start thoughts with “A year ago I had no idea this would be the last time we…”  From now on it will be “A year ago I was mired in the unimaginable.”

Today I ran into a work colleague that, through a series of transfers, I haven’t seen in a couple of years.  We business ourselves over the phone or email, but that precludes personal chit-chat.  When we were catching up, I mentioned that tomorrow was suckaversary.  He shut the door and teared up.  “I’m so sorry I didn’t call you.  I just didn’t know what to say.  I just can’t imagine…”

The truth is that even though I have a year into the bereaved parent column and 8 years in the bereaved spouse column, I’m in the same boat.  I still sometimes forget the losses.  I’m very good at pretending I just haven’t talked with anyone in a while.

Tomorrow, had the universe shifted a different direction, Joe and I would be celebrating his 48th birthday.  I would have teased him relentlessly about nearing 50.  He didn’t even hit 40.  Tomorrow I would be sending a text message to all our collective girls, reminding them to call their dad.

In a different universe, my life is so wildly different.

Last week it crashed into me that in 18 years (when I will still be in the workforce) Izzy will have been gone longer than she was alive.  Already, he has been away from my life longer than we were together.

My life now is just so, so different than the plan.

0 stars.  Would not recommend.

 

(also, I’m not even going to proof-read this.  you get what you get)

(lies.  I just proofed it up a little)

 

The Last Party

It’s been a long (long) time since I’ve had an opportunity to write about the goings-on regarding this stupid, ridiculous situation I’ve found myself in.

Mostly it’s because I was busy with the last party. I prepped for two solid weeks, I cooked three kinds of dinner meat, I pickled 11 jars of red onions that got left at home, I cleaned out and organized her belongings to distribute among her friends and loved ones, my family cleaned and prepped.  Visitors from Alabama, Indiana, Washington, and all parts of Michigan made the trip to the UP to attend.

I had a catholic burial, which much like the funerals, I don’t actually remember much of.  Other than the priest can make holy water out of any water.  On the deck just before the ceremony began, he asked us to give him some water to bless which, in turn, he would use to bless the graves. We used lake water on my request.

Later, we all wondered about the volume of water that could be blessed at one time.  I mean, if he can bless a travel-sized shampoo bottle’s worth of water, why not the entire lake?  Give everyone a quick baptism by sun and warmth and taco dinner.

This part I do remember: I interrupted the ceremony because I forgot I’d brought the summit rum. Summit rum is what was left of a bottle of Captain Morgan that Z and Alex  found on a mountain climb in 2010.  I’d brought it with me and completely forgot that I wanted to do that.  I hurriedly cried out a little “WAIT!!” and then passed out shots just after we started filling in the grave.  As customary, we dropped some onto our departed, we toasted, and I finished off that business with the proclamation that the drink itself was really, really bad.  Comically bad.

We all went back to the house to eat and swim and commune in our tragedy and losses.

I hated it as much as I loved it.

I have so many thoughts and feels and moments from this past week.  And I’ll get to them.  But for now, it’s done.  Tomorrow I go back to work, nurse my sunburn and bug-bites, and re-start.

0 stars.  Would not recommend.

 

The Headstones

I was having a hard time with the headstones I need to purchase.  I’ve placed such a mental importance on these markers that I couldn’t place an order.  Nothing was right.

Do I have laser engraved pictures?  A fun saying?  A dumb poem about lights and birds?  Lynard Skynard lyrics?  Those options are endless.  Add in stone color, size, height and the options are overwhelming.

I can not deal with these decisions.  What can I put on a stupid rock that will sum up the incredible lives that were cut so short?  It’s too much.  I am not equipped to make this decision.

Plus (PLUS!) there is the matter of cost.  As it turns out, there isn’t a bulk discount on headstones.  No BOGO or coupon codes.   When I called the monuments companies in my area, the best I could do was have the transport and placement fees removed if I did the heavy lifting myself.

My brother suggested ETSY.

I found the perfect situation – and the perfect company.  A small outfit in New York state run by a husband and wife.  They lost their infant daughter in 2000 and then their 21-year-old son shortly after Z passed away last year. After their second loss, they started an economical marker company.  $45 plus $14 shipping (USPS: if it fits, it ships) and you get a small headstone with just the name of the decedent and the appropriate starting and ending dates.  Nothing else.  There is no choice in size, color, material, or flourish.

They did this because a tragically large number of families can’t come up with $2,000+ for a modest headstone from a monument company.  That’s a lot of money.  This is the reason so many families can’t mark the grave sites of their children.

In the company description they noted that for every marker they sell, they put $5 toward their donation fund.  They will find the unmarked graves of kids and install headstones for free.

I’m a sucker for a low-cost good deed.  I purchased a stone for Z, a stone for Joe, and then paid for a third stone and asked them to donate it.

That was last night.

This morning, I got an email back from their owner.  She had the details for a month-old infant in Pennsylvania that had suddenly died.  The economical marker company called the funeral home.  They reported there was no funeral or burial because the family couldn’t afford it.  She told the funeral home she had a marker to donate.  A few hours later, the funeral home called back.  The family really wanted a marker.

This entire transaction – from my surprise donation, to the identification and offer of a free headstone – took place in less than 12 hours.  She passed along the name of the baby to me.

Today I’ve got all these children on my heart.  Mine, the two that belong to the family that makes the markers, and the baby in Pennsylvania that never got a funeral.

It’s a lot to soak in, but I am happy I happened to make the decision yesterday to buy the headstones.  Maybe I’ll chalk this up to kismet.

Buying headstones is a terrible chore.  0 stars.  Would not recommend.

 

 

If you’d like to buy and donate a headstone, do it here.

https://www.etsy.com/shop/RyRy10Design

 

There is no crying in rock concerts

I’ve written before about the significance of Flogging Molly in my life.  And, as per my usual love, this past Tuesday I went to see them again.  Except this time, it was different.

After Joe passed, I’d relentlessly sit in my car and listen to “If I ever leave this world alive”, a conversation between a dead husband and his late wife.  Obviously it rang true to my soul and I’ve never looked back.

A couple of years ago, I took the girls to their very first rock concert.  Flogging Molly.  They, having never been to a rock concert before, met me in the kitchen ready to go in their best dresses.  I instructed them to go back and change into jeans and tshirts. I’d clearly not done my part as a parent and they had no idea what was coming.

Z was changed that night.  She was hooked.  She got her taste and was with me for the ride.

I have a blown-glass necklace with the cremains of both Joe and Z embedded in the glass.  I don’t wear it that often out of fear.  If it breaks or I lose it, it’s gone.  And once they are in the ground, that’s it.  I won’t have another shot at making another necklace.

I wore the necklace to the show so that I’d have them with me.

I rocked hard, my ears hurt, I saw a drunk girl looking up the kilts of random men, I walked through a very large puddle of what was probably 90% beer urine.  There was drunken impromptu renditions of “oh-yea-oh-yeah-oohhhh-yea-oooohhhh-yea” (does that song have a name?) it was rowdy and perfect.

And at the end of the set, they sang my song.

Really though, this song is everybody’s song. Everyone that’s lost someone.  Everyone that has their heart broken or been cheated in life by death.  It’s the anthem from one lost soul to another.  It doesn’t speak to only me, it speaks to everyone.   For that song, I am not alone in a crowd.  I am with everyone that needs to commune in personal tragedy.  We are all in this together.

I tried hard to sing along for everything I could.  But, in the end it was my worst performance ever; tagged with a lot of tears and once even an outright sob.  But that’s okay because when I see Flogging Molly live, I am with my people.

As an aside, and I can’t remember if I’ve mentioned this or not, but I used to sing The Pogues’ “I love you to the end” to Joe.  When he was really sick he told me that it was a great song and all, but considering the circumstances,  it didn’t really have a sentimental meaning anymore.

Joke’s on him – I still love him till the end.

 

(Personal note: Renetta – I know you’re new to this widow business.  It’s sucks.  I’m with you. Maybe Flogging Molly will help you, too)