Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The cracked and scattered mind of a new widow

It's late, and I'm very tired, but I want to get some thoughts down. The last few days have been crazy and hectic. There have moments of extreme frustration, sadness, anger and blessedly, wonderfully humor, generosity, kindness, love and grace.

On Saturday afternoon, I went to my job, a retail assistant manager who had closing responsibilities. The womanchild and boyfriend went to a fundraiser for the humane society. The husband stayed home to work on cleaning up the garage and yard. What we know is this. He mowed the backyard which is large, unlevel and well, a bit overgrown. He started on the front yard and came inside the house. Sometime that afternoon, he had fixed himself a small lunch and left the remnants in the living room where he apparently ate. He smoked half a cigar and had a dvd playing. Ironically, the movie was K-19 Widowmaker. The womanchild came home about 3:30. She found her father in his chair and briefly thought he was asleep, but he wasn't warm and wouldn't wake. I can't even begin to imagine what this was like for her.

She called 911. They tried to guide her through CPR, but she couldn't move him. They sent paramedics. She called her boyfriend who returned to our house. She called me at work. I had just left for my dinner. They called me,and since C. had the car, a co-worker lent me her car to drive home. When I got there, there was a fire truck, an ambulance, several neighbors, the boyfriend and his mother. We immediately left for the hospital. A neighbor agreed to return my co-worker's car, but I dropped the keys, and they were lost. I called my mother-in-law and asked her to meet us at the hospital. When we got there, we waited for them to call us back. When the doctor came in, he told us the EMTS had tried twice to revive my husband with electric shock as well as CPR. They repeated these efforts at the hospital, but they were to no avail. Because of his body temperature and the signs of blood settling in the body, the doctor thought he had died sometime earlier than the womanchild had arrived home.

Much of what followed that evening is a blur, but we decided to donate all usable organs and tissue, and every family member, including brother, aunt, and nieces had their time with him to say good-bye. Whether it was a trick of my failing eyes or my emotions, I thought I kept seeing motion. I logically knew it couldn't be happening, but that didn't stop it from seeming incredibly real. I had to run my fingers through his hair, that thick curly hair that was so beautiful strangers would come up and play with it. In his younger days, it was a shiny black, but now was beginning the transition to the distinguished silver shared by the men in his family. I can't forget the flat beige of his normally berry colored lips, nor (when the nurses started the standard procedure of packing the body with ice bags prior to organ donation) how his nipples had turned the same color. It was that absence of color that showed me more than anything his body was truly vacant.

I was flooded with regrets. The last few years have been so hard on him, and I've done my share to make them difficult. All I could think was how easy it would have been to be nicer, of thousands of moments of bitchery. The things he had done that had contributed to our separation and the difficulties in our marriage were miles away and hidden from view. I think the former inevitable, and the latter is how it should be.



I still don't get how the word spreads so quickly in a small town, but people were pouring into the ER waiting room. I called two of my closest friends. S #1 was about to go on stage at a singing gig, but sent her husband who is just as good a friend as she is. If I wasn't with R., my husband, T. was at my side, dealing with the people I just couldn't handle, talking to hospital and funeral home officials, asking the questions I couldn't think to ask, bringing me water and generally just taking care of me. Womanchild's boyfriend was doing the same thing for her, and his mother was tending to both of us. I am gratefully and gladly beholden. Friends like this are a rare and precious gift. S #2 said the words to me that I needed to hear, though for the life of me, I couldn't tell you what they were. She planned on us spending the night at her house, a place where she knew my daughter felt safe and had been happy.

Though donor services does everything to make this important gift as easy as possible to give, there are still uncomfortable details that have to be arranged, and that ended up going a bit late. Then the preliminary funeral arrangements had to be made. During this time, the boyfriend's family took the womanchild to their home, loved her and tucked her into bed. By the time this was over, with the help of a xanax, I was about to fall over. My friend took me home, and despite how tired I was, I could not sleep. Wrapped in a blanket, I sat up most of the night and stared into the darkness. After a brief nap, I left the house before Sunday's sunrise and just went driving. With gas prices where they are, this was a luxury, but it helped clear my head. I ended up at the boyfriend's house where the daughter and I loved and held each other while his mother prepared us breakfast. She wanted to stay with him for awhile, and I went to S#2's house where the healing began.

S #2 has known my husband and me for close to 20 years. She's seen us through a lot of good and bad times and has known in detail what has led to our separation. While not glossing over his part in that, she reminded me of the great and wonderful parts of him, and she did it through the filter of her faith. She said that in her Catholic beliefs, there are some people in this world who are obviously among the elect. It shows in a humility and a kindness that are so extreme that these blessed ones seem at odds with the world. I recognized both immediately. Womanchild and boyfriend joined us, and we spent the day with memories and making tentative plans for the funeral. She helped get my scattered mind moving in the right track again.

The rest of the day was spent at our home making phone calls and checking on the mother-in-law who is a basket case. I can't imagine a greater pain than losing a child, regardless of the age of the child. My brother-in-law and his wife have been my strength. I didn't see my brother-in-law cry for his grandmothers or his father when they died, but I saw him cry for his brother. They are such opposites. My R. was impulsive, emotional, expressive, scatterbrained by ADD and OCD, and sloppy. His brother is structured, organized, neat as a pin, calm and seemingly detached, almost aloof. They basically reversed the traditional birth order roles they were born with. He took over securing the pall bearers, calling R.'s workplace, discreetly making sure the funeral home paid more attention to C's and my wishes than his mother's, who they knew very well, but whose ideas didn't necessarily agree with ours. His wife came to our house with food, disposable dishes and flatware, and cleaning supplies. She then turned my household chaos into a place where people could visit. She worked her butt off and did so without judgment and with smiles, hugs and encouragement.

On Monday, the tears came. They came while we finalized the funeral arrangements. They came when our pastor came to talk with us about our needs and desires. They came in the dressing room where I was trying on dresses and in the office supply store where we purchased mounting boards for the photographs we were going to display at the funeral. Fortunately, laughter came too. So did sighs and calm. My faith was brought home to me. In my own pain, I had neglected my belief that my husband was now in a place of total love and forgiveness. There, his fears of inadequacy are gone, not even a memory. There, the pain I caused him is gone and understanding is in its place. In the presence of God, there is only good, and I too was brought into the divine presence. The old hymn that goes "I've got peace like a river" was so true. It flowed through me and cleansed me. S #1 was there with me through all of this. Like her husband Saturday night, she never left my side. Whether it was business arrangements, pastoral counseling or shopping for a decent dress for the funeral, she was there. She and I were both rather stunned that I no longer had a black dress that fit. After years of my husband teasing me that my closet looked like I was preparing for widowhood, now when it was time, I didn't have a black dress to wear. Somewhere in the middle of all of this, we arranged for a video montage that would rotate different pictures of R. in different phases of his life. This was done by the son of S #1. A professional photographer, he took the day off to prepare this for us free of charge. My day started at eight and by the time we finished, it was about midnight.

Sleep was still hard to come by last night, but not as hard as the night before. Exhaustion demands relief. I planned this day to be leisurely, because I knew the night would be hard. One more meeting with our pastor to review some biography facts and putting together our photographs. It's been a long time since I've been to church, and I felt a bit guilty about asking Bro. J. to do the funeral, but he actually knew my husband. That makes a real difference at a funeral.

R. has become even more isolated than I have over the last few years. His life journey turned the extroverted life of the party into a nearly mute introvert. This caused many people he'd known to simply drop away as sometimes happens. I'd forgotten that those that remained, like Bro. J., saw in R. the things that had drawn me to him. In going over memories and having my own thoughts and R.'s character reaffirmed by people outside me, I felt like I got my husband and best friend back, not just the one I lost through death, but the one I'd lost through the struggle and the changes of the years. As our frustrations mounted over the last few years, it was all too easy to forget what good stuff was still there, at least on the conscious level. I honestly think we both still knew it somewhere -- he knew it more consciously than I did -- or we would have proceeded on to divorce. Honestly, how many people separate for over a year and don't get divorced?

On a side note, but still a very important one, you just have to love a preacher who advises a teenager who openly admits to not really having faith and sometimes calling herself an atheist to read, not the Bible, but A Burned Out Case by Graham Greene (I think that was the title) and The Brothers Karamazov by Dostoyevsky. He compared her father to the character in The Brothers Karamazov who seemed naive and passive but by the end of the novel seemed the wisest of them all.

These events all led up to tonight -- the visitation. It's important to know that I hate funeral homes. I can't walk in one without immediately starting to cry. Honestly, if it hadn't been for the xanax, I don't think I could have gotten through it. It began at five, ended at nine, and was basically a non-stop reception line. There was no chance to walk around and mingle and visit longer with closer friends and relatives who we hadn't seen in a while. No chance for a cup of coffee, a bathroom break or a moment of privacy. I was told that the line went out the front door, down the walk way, into the parking lot and down the sidewalk. People he hadn't seen in decades came to pay their respects. I was hugged more times than I can count. Some friends drove for hours and only had the chance to whisper a few words and give a hug. C. and I both felt the curious strain of deeply appreciating the outpouring of love and of knowing this was our responsibility -- that people needed us to help them with their own grief. In receiving their love, we helped them obtain closure. It's definitely one of the stranger paradoxes I've ever experienced. It was absolutely wonderful, and there were moments when I wanted to run screaming out the back door.

All of this led us home again. Womanchild ate and crashed. I still can't sleep, but I want a record of the last few days. The moment will come when my body surrenders to sleep. I feel it rushing at me, and I want to get this down.

12 Comments:

Blogger Michelle said...

I have lived some of this...and my heart goes out again and again to you and womanchild

I am so glad you have all that support around you - it makes all the difference.

April 30, 2008 6:46 AM  
Blogger Gannet Girl said...

Still here with you, Cynthia.

I, too, am so glad that you have been enfolded by love and concern and real help.

I am also grateful that you have such gifts as a writer. Having experienced this repeatedly from Womanchild's vantage point, I know that every word and detail ring true. I hope that your ability to share some of this arduous journey so eloquently helps you in the making of it.

April 30, 2008 7:15 AM  
Blogger Lisa :-] said...

Incredible that you would share all this in this public place, and so soon...

The journey through grief and pain is such a personal, individual thing, and yet it is a journey we all must make. Your sharing yours with us is truly a gift, as it will make our journeys a little easier when the time comes.

Know that my heart is with you; and add my virtual hug to the thousands you are receiving.

April 30, 2008 9:56 AM  
Blogger gigi said...

You and your family are obviously much loved and respected in your community. I cannot begin to imagine how difficult this experience has been, Cynthia. I can only say that my heart goes out to you all.

April 30, 2008 4:48 PM  
Blogger Songbird said...

Bless you and womanchild, and all who are grieving. And thank heaven for that good pastor, too.

April 30, 2008 8:00 PM  
Blogger don't eat alone said...

Cynthia

All I know to say is I'm praying for you and your daughter.

Peace,
Milton

April 30, 2008 9:22 PM  
Blogger Gannet Girl said...

Cynthia, it's Wednesday night/Thursday morning. I know you must be exhausted and stunned tonight and I just want you to know you are in my thoughts and prayers.

That feeling where you think: OK, enough, let's go back to our regular lives now, the ones before this new one, the ones we were planning to keep living?

Yeah. That feeling.

April 30, 2008 11:15 PM  
Blogger IndigoSunMoon said...

Cynthia,
I am so very sorry for what happened. We never know what tomorrow brings, do we...
Know that you are loved, and that I am praying for you and yours. I am so glad that you have people around you who love you. That means a lot in times like these when you cant think clearly. I remember when my Dad died. If it hadn't been for my Mom's best friend I dont know how she could have made it through. This woman took care of everything that she could and cooked and cleaned. She was a God send.
Sending you much love, and a big hug from Alabama.
Connie

May 01, 2008 12:35 AM  
Anonymous Barbara said...

Cynthia I am ever so thankful that you have had so many good, loving and caring people around you the past days! You are in my prayers and your daughter too. I was a little younger than her when I lost my father, so my heart is with her.

Don't hesitate to call upon me or your sisters in Christ for anything we might possibly can do.

May 01, 2008 6:48 AM  
Blogger Judith HeartSong said...

Cynthia,

I am so sorry and moved by your clarity.... we are thinking of you two and want you to remember that you are loved by so very many people.

May 02, 2008 7:20 AM  
Blogger Wenda said...

Cynthia, I'm so sorry to hear the sad news of your loss. It comforts me to know that you are surrounded by love from so many. My thoughts are with you in your grief. Love, Wenda

May 09, 2008 1:19 AM  
Blogger Magdalene6127 said...

Oh God, Cynthia... I'm so sorry. But so grateful to read of the love and peace like a river. Hold on, friend.

June 03, 2008 7:40 PM  

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