Thursday, August 19, 2010

Four months

I couldn't fall asleep last night until 5am, which is late, even for little widow me. I stayed up going through all of the thousands of new emails (mostly junk) that have come to Ron's address over the last month, and reading some of his archived sent mail. I cried, missing the familiar tone of his writing. I tossed. I turned. I cried some more, for no apparent reason. I ate chocolate--long after I had brushed my teeth.

Because I've done my requisite widows' lit reading, I was not surprised that our journey in grieving and healing would be non-linear. We are coping well, and then we are not. We are feeling capable and hopeful, and then... so not. It's happened before on the anniversaries of Ron's passing that I've felt the sadness first, and then remembered the date.

This past month, the kids have delighted me with their resilience and strength--their ability to remember and celebrate their father, their compassion for others, and their instinct to live joyfully. On Ron's birthday, we toasted him with strawberry sprinkle donuts for breakfast, rode horses, and capped the day at the Pond. A good day.

I have been initiating efforts that seem to me like a measure of moving forward: sorting through Ron's drawers, giving away clothes, purging furniture, going to the office, and venturing out for fun without the kids. Most of the time it feels natural, but occasionally it feels like my own spin job.

What I miss most these days is emotional honesty. There was no need to edit with Ron. If something was on my mind, I could always share it with him. If I felt the desire to smooch him silly standing at the sink brushing his teeth, I would--shamelessly. If I was annoyed by something big or small, I'd get it off my chest. If I felt desperately needy, fearful, jealous, or sad, I could lay it bare to him and find comfort. There was no need to temper my emotions, good or bad, so emotional honesty was easy.

Living honestly as a widow is challenging. I'm constantly working to be the best version of myself around the kids, and--let's be clear--I'm not naturally that good. I'm stuffing emotions down my throat so I can pass for normal in public, and smiling when I check out at the grocery store. I temper my emotions for friends because they are so amazing and generous and the last time I sobbed about being lonely on the phone, one hopped in the car the next morning and drove four hours to visit, bless his heart. And when he left? I worked hard not to cry like a baby. Gestures of kindness and pleasure feel so deeply satisfying that I sometimes feel aware of suppressing my reaction because it just wouldn't be appropriate. Family friends took us on a wonderful boating adventure, and I was so moved to feel the wind on my face. If I had really let myself go, those few silent tears rolling down my cheek could have quickly evolved into the ugly cry. It's easier on a blog, but in real life, truly, you don't want honesty from me.

And I'm not on this roller coaster ride alone. I found dear little Mai hiding under the sheets this week, sobbing in the middle of the afternoon. Said she missed Ron. I did, too. We had a good cry and cuddle, and then moved on.

In case you think this post is all doom and despair, it is not: I've lost another 5 lbs. Unlike the caregivers' diet, the widows' diet is effective. It's like the heroin diet--no sleep and no food--but without the heroin, which makes it eminently more affordable on a widow's budget. I'm thinking of adding yoga once the kids start school.

Signing off with honesty made easy online: I love you. Thank you for reading. And caring.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Your gift

Ron died at home in bed on a Monday, just before midnight. I held him until morning. The funeral home took him away Tuesday. I have no memory of Wednesday. Thursday morning, we escorted Ron from the funeral home to the crematorium.

Against the advice of trusted friends and family, I decided to take the kids. I hardly felt sane those first few days, but I felt strongly that including Mai and Tal was the right thing for us. Plus, I gave them the choice, and they wanted to go.

Ron and I had matching Life is Good shirts with “Honey” printed on the front. Never a suit-and-tie man, I dressed him in his Honey shirt so everyone who handled him at the funeral home would know he was beloved. Mai tucked a little bear with hearts under his chin “so he [had] something to cuddle” on the next leg of his journey. The three of us pushed his coffin from the parlor to the hearse.

For years, Ron and I had a running joke about how I would one day wheel him around in his old age, pureeing all his favorite meals so he could enjoy them through a straw. But we simply weren’t imaginative enough to take the sketch any further, and never had I anticipated pushing the coffin that would eventually replace the wheelchair.

Our minivan followed the hearse for nearly an hour. I think we played “I’m thinking of an animal...” in the car. 

At the Linwood Crematorium, the kids and I helped move their father from the hearse to the retort. Mai and Tal pushed the button to start the flames. They understood that the process would take the water out of their father’s body and leave us with ashes and bone fragments called “cremains.” I knew there would be questions about how Daddy could fit into a smallish box, so I used the analogy of a grape becoming a raisin. 

In life, it was always an event when Dada came home. Ron would call as he was leaving his office, and during the warm summer months just before the cancer returned, the three of us would wait in front of the house, riding bikes, climbing trees, or doodling on the bluestone. When Ron’s car pulled into the driveway, the kids would jump up and down cheering, waving ferociously and throwing kisses. It was a rock star’s welcome. 

So when we returned to Linwood that afternoon to pick up Ron’s cremains, the kids were happy. We were excited to bring him home one final time. We instinctively hugged the box, and said that it felt warm, just like Daddy. Before we buckled back up in the car, Mai and Tal eagerly asked to open the box. My stomach hollowed, but I didn't want my hesitation to dampen their fearlessness, so I smiled and enthused, “Let’s do it!” There in the backseat, we pulled away all the layers and fingered the still-warm ash and bone fragments through the clear plastic bag. Daddy.

Mai insisted on holding him on her lap, and as much as I wanted to cradle him myself, I relented. After nearly 14 years together and 18 months of illness, bringing Ron home to rest was the last physical thing I could do for him. It was a great privilege.

A few days later, Mai told me she showed Ron's cremains to a friend. Alone in the bedroom, those fearless little girls removed the outer box--much heavier than one might expect--shook out the interior box, and opened it to reveal the clear plastic bag. Mai explained the cremation process, beginning with the removal of the water and ending with the raisin.

Tal is equally at ease with the cremains and the story line. He's never asked if Daddy is coming back, and if you ask him where his father is, he'll tell you in his halting toddler voice, "He is in our heart."

One of the challenges of parenting alone is trusting an inner voice. Ron and I had a history of choosing less popular paths, and together we always offered the nod of agreement and reassurance to whatever kooky idea the other proposed. Now, I have to listen for that voice on my own, and have faith in what I know to be our shared instinct.

Mai and Tal survived. I felt triumphant.

I couldn’t articulate why at the time, but I felt absolutely that the kids needed to be present and involved in all parts of their father's life and death. Then I found this, which said it beautifully:

"What you resist persists, but what you befriend, you transcend."

Tomorrow is Ron’s birthday. 

Sweetie, my gift to you is to raise our children fearlessly; to imbue them with enough love, resilience, and strength to embrace life’s highs and lows and feel equal to anything. Also, a baked stuffed lobster—but I’ll have to enjoy it for you.

Happy birthday, Love.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Will it end in tears?

I've always been drawn to text-driven art, and my friend had this wonderful piece hanging in his New York apartment. It reads: Will it end in tears?

Two years ago, I would have answered a resounding NO. I would have ignored the clich├ęs about all good things coming to an end and sung along to "only the good die young" without fear.

Ten years ago, I stood with Ron overlooking the water and recited--enthusiastically--"til death do us part." We said it smilingly then, and only understood it to mean that we'd be together forever. How could we comprehend that one of us would die and the other would grieve?

Beneath the Brooklyn Bridge, I saw a newly wedded couple posing for portraits, their shiny faces full of promise and bliss.

Will it end in tears? I sincerely hope so. I hope you've loved deeply and wildly and recklessly enough to howl at the moon.