She sees kaleidoscope fragmented twirling but without giddy explosion of color.
This is monochromatic undulation.
Pieces cling together and fly apart, a continuous dance devoid of joy.
There is beauty here, held in the eye of the broken.
How many times have I attempted this? How many hours, nights, weeks have I looked at the screen, typed a few inadequate words, and abandoned the effort?
I have engaged in a nightly cycle of near-creation as I tried to find the words to express what it is to be a supporting player in your own life when the main character dies.
Trey was the life in our life. A whirlwind of spontaneous action and wild emotion, he drove our existence while I supported his efforts. He was fascinating and exuberant, dangerous and fun. I am boring and plain, safe and disappointing. I was the steady line to his sine wave. I was the calming influence on his fire. I was the straight man in our routine.
He was everything. I was a passenger.
How to express that? I couldn’t get the words out. I couldn’t express the loss of me as a person when he went. I couldn’t demonstrate being a non-entity without him.
Because it’s bullshit. It’s all bullshit.
I believed it all, with my entire being, throughout my entire life. I believed it after he died.
I believed it until I heard others say it. Until I realized that is what everyone believed. Heard from the mouths of others, the lie made itself known.
“So I guess you’ll be moving back to Oklahoma now.”
“Are the kids going to miss those spur of the moment trips to Portland?”
“Is it crazy to be stuck with that neon green Jeep? Are you selling it?”
Question after question, offhand comment after comment, all indicating our friends’ and families’ beliefs that everything notable about us was really just Trey. That I would shake off the trappings of interest and fun, and would live as the bore we all know me to be.
Bitch, I picked out that Jeep! I insisted on that color; Trey wanted black. We fought intenseley as we paid extra money for a rental car while we waited for this color to be available. I refused to drive a boring color while ‘hypergreen’ existed in the world. It did become Trey’s car. I told Trey I didn’t like to drive it. I told him I loved my truck too much. I did this so he could drive the new car. He didn’t like to drive the truck, and he had always wanted a Jeep. So I pretended that I was not interested much in it. The truth was that it was me who selected the car and waited for it and named it Herman. I bought nail polish to match it. I love it and have since the moment I saw it.
Every member of Trey’s family believes that Jeep is just another example of crazy awesome Trey doing something outlandish, and of how I’m such a good and supporting wife for indulging him.
Those trips? Those spontaneous trips? Trey didn’t know there was a replica of Stonehenge in northern Oregon. He didn’t know about the pirate landing. Or the sandcastle competition. I pushed these trips through when neither of us felt like doing anything, and we were the better for it.
Why would I move back to Oklahoma? I have no family of my own there. It is true I moved us back to Oklahoma when I was pregnant and my parents lived there. I panicked and needed comfort. I also moved us out of there as soon as I was ready to work again. I moved us. I found a job on the west coast, packed us up and moved us. I never wanted to raise our kids there. I grew up yearning for bigger places with more opportunities and the possibility of greater experiences. I wasn’t going to live my adulthood and my kids’ childhood in the place I always wanted to leave.
I wasn’t indulging or silently supporting my powerhouse of a husband. We were partners. I commanded the driver’s seat as often as he did, and actively navigated as a passenger.
It is true that he managed our social life. At events, he took the spotlight while I watched cozy from the background. He ensured we knew our neighbors and the other kids’ parents. He was the life of the party, the gracious host, the fun one. And he was welcome to it. That shit exhausts me.
As the years went by, however, he grew more reluctant to fill that role. He was content to binge watch Netflix and order takeout. It took quite a bit of coaxing to get him out of the house to do anything. He talked about his big regret – that he did not take me dancing anymore when we were younger.
-You could take me dancing now.
-No, we’re old and I’m too fat. It’s embarrassing. Let me get into better shape and then we’ll go.
Well, I guess that day never came. It would have been nice to go dancing. I don’t get embarrassed anymore.
That isn’t entirely accurate.
I don’t let embarrassment stop me from doing something that could make me happy. I got over that shit years ago. With Trey by my side it was easier to be spontaneous, to do mildly embarrassing things. Even if I had to push him. Even if he didn’t join in but would laugh at/with me. He would smile at my dorkiness and reinforce my belief that it is okay to be embarrassing.
He was my world. But he wasn’t the whole world.
I still exist. I am not a phantom. I am not useless, or plain, or dull. I am broken without my partner, yet I remain a whole person. I will remain in Washington, and will perhaps move to Florida later. I drive Herman and I walk the dog and I take the kids on trips to book signings and to watch a movie with a bunch of cats. I dance. I dance in my living room, and I also dance at the supermarket. I skin my knee trying to ride a bike. I meet the neighbors for game night.
And I cry. I cry and scream and beat the steering wheel and throw my phone. I’m lonely and forlorn and desperate and furious.
But I am not nothing, and it’s time I stop thinking of myself as nothing.
This one time recently I came downstairs and Trey had paused the TV show. He started it up, and the characters were talking about vacation and said, “Aruba, Jamaica . . . ”
The show went on with some other conversations, but I didn’t hear any of it because obviously I was now singing Oooh I wanna take ya to Bermuda Bahama Come on Pretty Mama
. . . And right there, on cue, two completely different characters on the show holding a completely different conversation said, “Key Largo, Montego” The timing was perfect and I was ecstatic. I clapped and laughed and was absolutely delighted by the whole thing.
Because I’m a huge dork.
Trey had seen this part of the show while I was upstairs, had known that I would sing, had known that I would be delighted and would applaud when the song was continued on the show so he rewound it and paused it and waited for me just so he could watch me be a dork.
Because he thought it was adorable.
As I write this, the day changes and it is now Mother’s Day.
Fuck that. I do not want to deal with THAT.
This makes no sense. My mom is amazing, and she lives near me. She has been an astounding source of support for my whole life, and so much more now since Trey’s death. My own kids are alive and well and awesome. So why does Mother’s Day feel so painful?
It’s been suggested to me that it may just be a matter of it being a holiday, so soon after his death. We never did make a big deal out of the holiday, however, so I will not be missing him especially hard.
I thought it might have something to do with our infertility. For six years we struggled to have children. During those six years, Mother’s Day was salt in my heart. Then we got pregnant. For the following six years, Mother’s Day was a low-key but joyous event. I never got though the MD season without remembering those difficult six years, all of those Mother’s Days that I wondered if motherhood would happen for me. It feels wrong that our celebration for conquering infertility should happen without him by my side.
The real reason, however, I believe is due to me feeling less of. When Trey died, I lost my role as wife. This was a huge part of who I was, and it was gone. I am lessened. I am less of a person, much less of a woman, and less of a parent. We were a parenting team. Sure we were a team that constantly fought about the rules of the game, but we were a team nonetheless.
One of the well-meaning phrases I can live without is, “You’re both the mom and the dad now.”
What? Shut up. That’s not accurate at all. I was a parent, and I am still a parent. I used to be a part of a parenting team, a dynamic duo, a squad. I lost half my team, and am much less of a parent without him. Without his ‘dadness’ to contrast with and compliment my ‘momness’ I’m less of a mom.
I couldn’t protect my kids from seeing their father dead. I can’t protect them from that memory. I can’t give them enough comfort, and I do not know how best to support them through this.
I’m not 2x the parent. I’m less. Less of a mom, less of a person.
I have been hearing this from my boys for months now. May 5th. The opening of GOTG 2. It was big news in our house.
The movie is rated PG-13, and my kids are both seven. I realize it is a grown-up movie and my kids are kids. I therefore refused to bring them opening weekend. My kids and I are a hurricane blasting through wherever we go. I try to be respectful where I can, however, and one thing I can do is keep the littles out of the theater when it is filled with fans who went out of their way to see it opening weekend.
The movie has been open for a week now, today is Friday, and the kids have the day off school.
So we went.
And I wept.
If you have not seen this movie, I will not spoil anything but will say that some of the themes in the movie are a bit on-the-nose. (You will remember from the first movie that he grew up without a dad and that his mom died when he was young.) This, however, isn’t why the movie wrecked me. I have found that spouses/dads dying in movies does not evoke a huge emotional response from me. You would think that watching someone lose her husband or father would bring back my own memories and situation. It doesn’t. The truth is that losing him is so big — so fucking huge — it just has absolutely nothing to do with whatever is happening to a character in a movie. I could watch movies depicting parents and spouses dying all day long and it would not affect me.
THIS movie, though. This one. Guardians of the Galaxy vol.2. This movie wrecked me.
This movie — the one we had been planning to see as a family.
The one that is rated PG-13 but I can’t say no to the kids because Trey would have brought them.
The one for which Trey taught my kids to remember the opening date.
The one that has Kurt Russel. Kurt fucking Russell why did Kurt Motherfucking Russel make it into this movie? Trey had an unhealthy obsession with Mr. Russel. Do you have any idea how many times I’ve seen Overboard? We’re not talking about Escape from New York or Big Trouble in Little China. Every time Overboard comes on, we’re watching it. This is true of the other movies as well, but they don’t come on as much. Trey loved Kurt Russel. On his birthday this year I requested that friends and family post pictures of Kurt on Trey’s Facebook wall. Two months before he died.
Our family of four is now a family of three. Plans we made will never be fulfilled. We will not attend graduation together, or give girlfriends a hard time. We will never make the holiday Leavenworth trip a family tradition.
We will not see Guardians of the Galaxy 3.
My weeping began during the previews. Today previews were featured for the new Star Wars movie, Wonder Woman and Thor. All movies we knew were coming and we were planning to see.
The four of us.
Then the movie starts, and it is so amazing and he would have loved it. The kids are loving it and would have loved sharing it with him. And then Kurt Fucking Russel appears onscreen.
It was all over for me.
I laughed at the movie, and cheered and loved it. Through it all, though, I wept for all the dumb little plans we made that we will never fulfill.
Sometimes the reality of him being gone, it just smothers me. I fall into a routine and everything seems relatively normal.
Until the permanence hits me. Once again I remember is not out of town, at the dentist or at work. He is not coming home. This routine is forever. This alone routine. And I weep.
There are other times, however, when something random or minor will set me off. Over the past week, here are some of the specific instances that cut me deeply enough to scar.
“Runaway Train” sang through my radio, reducing me to a blubbery mess in my car. Why? Was it ‘our song?’ Certainly not. Was it a favorite of his? Nope. There is no reason this song should have pulled such a response from my heart.
A character on The Last Man on Earth gave birth.
I said that Chris Pratt was nice looking, and K instructed me to NOT MARRY Chris Pratt. I almost died laughing,, glowing with the K’s adoration that he would even see that as a possibility. He continued, “Don’t marry anyone else ever, OK mom? I don’t want another dad. I had a dad and he was the best dad in the world and I don’t want a replacement.”
Shadow on American Gods packed up his dead wife’s belongings.
I saw an ad for The Gunslinger. I loved those books, and waited for years to share them with my non-reading husband. This would have been amazing.
I realized we kept meaning to go to a Supernatural convention.
I found a stack of papers with his handwriting on them. One had his signature.
I revised my will.
I took my child to an Occupational Therapist. Alone.
I took my kids to a pro baseball game. With my parents. The other kids there all had dads with them.
I realized Mother’s Day was coming up.
I saw the Anne Hathaway episode of Lip Sync Battle. Again, no reason for this to spark pain. I have no idea why her lip syncing to “Wrecking Ball” would make me cry.
I saw someone smoking.
I watched the second episode of American Gods. I laughed and applauded at this stunning adaptation of one of the few books we both read and loved. I cannot say enough about this show. Trey would have loved it. We would have watched every episode together multiple times. I cried my way through the entire episode, through the laughter and applause, the tears and sobs.
I thought about getting rid of that horrible Scarface poster above our bed. I hated that thing from the moment he brought it home. This is the kind of thing that happens when your husband arrives at your new apartment a week before you get there with the rest of your stuff. He buys a ginormous Scarface poster and hangs it in the living room. Throughout the years I’ve managed to get it shuffled off into the bedroom. I could now get rid of it. But now I won’t do that. I’ve gotten rid of acres of his things, but not that thing.
The role of widow comes with certain responsibilities. This was news to me, but is something I have come to understand.
One of those responsibilities is to be a part of the healing process for the other people in your loved one’s life. If you stop to think about it, you automatically know this on some level. It is accepted that the widow is in charge of notifying the rest of the family as much as she can, that she will plan a memorial service so others can pay their respects, that she will write or arrange for obituaries. The widow may have help with these tasks, or she may be able to delegate them entirely. Ultimately, however, it generally falls to the widow to be the tour guide through the earliest days after the death.
Often during the planning of the service, preparing the house for company, etc. I thought how strange it felt to be in charge of event planning while my insides were dead. That is how it is done, however.
I am not the only person who lost Trey. I know this. I lost him the most, but he had many people who cared for him deeply and feel the loss.
This post is not meant to be about the early days, however, but about the continuing role of the widow in helping others grieve. Recent events have highlighted this for me in a way that I did not previously understand.
I am planning a trip with the kids to visit my in-laws this summer. I planned a slow week of family time with my husband’s parents. I thought I might meet a friend one day for lunch, and visit my husband’s sister one day. My MIL kept saying that she understood I probably had a lot of people to visit, since I used to live there, and I kept thinking that really I do not. I don’t do the ‘friend’ thing much. We are going to visit my in-laws and that is pretty much it.
Nope. That is not it.
Every member of my husband’s family in a three-state area are planning to make the trip to see me while I’m nearby. Family members who used to live within a two hour drive of us but did not visit us (or us them — it’s a two way street) suddenly want very much to see me when I come to town. We are now planning what is essentially a family reunion centered around my visit to the state.
This is because my kids and I are a part of the healing process for Trey’s family.
Some family members may feel regretful or even guilty about not seeing Trey more often. Many of them were making plans to see us at some point, but never made solid plans. Some of them were on bad terms with Trey when he died. Because he was young and it was unexpected, we all thought there was time. None of us thought that the last time we saw him would be the last time we would see him.
Meeting with me, seeing me and our kids — our kids who look so different from each other and yet somehow manage to both look so much like him — helps them find a sort of closure or peace. I stand in as a surrogate for the connection they still need with him.
It is a daunting task, and frankly a bit uncomfortable. I can barely hold myself together. I do not feel the strength to serve as a support for others. It is painful to see his family. Trey laughed exactly like his uncles, and when I hear them laugh it slices me open. I see his eyes in all of their eyes. I feel their pain and loss shoved toward me, thick pillows of emotion that smother. It is infinitely difficult to be what they need.
There are those who will say that I do not have to do this. I need to do what is best for me. If I need to sneak in to see my in-laws without notifying half the free world that I am coming, that I should do what I need. To those people I say you are absolutely right. I do not have to do this.
I am in so much pain.
I have seen the family in so much pain.
If I can do something to help them through it, I will. If I have to plan and host a reunion for their family, I will do it.
It is my responsibility as Trey’s widow to do what I can for his family.
You, often, hear people say, “Everything happens for a reason.” Do you ever wonder what the reason is? I find myself searching for the reasons, more and more. Initially, we were told my husband suffered a “black widow” heart attack. I found out today, that it was three blocked arteries. I am unsure, right now, […]
A couple of months before Trey died, I bought new toilet seats for all three bathrooms in our house. I placed a box containing a new seat in each of the bathrooms, where we were sure to trip on them and fight with them every time we opened the bathroom doors.
I asked my husband to take care of changing them out. Weeks went by with no action on the matter and company was coming, so I proceeded to change out the seat in the guest bath. I’m no helpless female — I can change a toilet seat, after all.
“Did you change the toilet seats?”
“Just the one.”
“Babe, I’m supposed to do that. I’ll do the others. You don’t have to fuck around with changing out toilet seats. Don’t change the other two, all right? Let me.”
Another couple of weeks passed with plenty of stubbed toes and curses from the well-placed boxes. No action on the matter was taken.
Then he died. Without ever changing out the toilet seats.
After Trey’s death, I continued to leave those two toilet seats in their boxes, instrusively located on the bathroom floors. Company came, and more company, and family and friends came for the funeral, stayed in my home and used the bathrooms. Still the boxes with the new seats remained sealed, stubbing toes and eliciting curses.
He had told me to wait for him. He told me he would do it. I was still waiting for him. I was waiting. To let him do it. Like he said.
This week, it became too much of a pain in the butt. Literally. The seat in the master bath was cracked, and it pinched my butt cheek every time I used it. So I changed out the seats. Now we have new seats on the toilets.
The world didn’t end. I didn’t even cry.
It’s just one of many items on his honey-do list that I will now be handling.
Just a couple of days before Trey passed away, it was my birthday and it was also President’s Day so it was a holiday. We were sleeping in late with the dog happily snoozing on the bed with us.
Trey woke up and said, “Well, El Debarge, I guess it’s time we get up.”
I said, “Did you call me El Debarge?”
“Nope. I called the dog El Debarge. You’re Johnny.”
“Who’s Johnny?” I asked.
“Aha! Maybe you are El Debarge!” he responded.
We laughed until we cried. I exclaimed that I knew the second the words were out of my mouth that I had walked into that, and he said he’d been waiting for a time to use that and that I had responded exactly perfectly. It was one of those perfect moments. We laughed about it all the next day.
It’s been two months, which seems crazy both because it somehow feels like I’ve aged a lifetime and also because I am still always surprised and saddened to not find him here when I get home. Two months feels like it can’t be right because it simultaneously feels much longer and much shorter than that.
I remember that the second house we bought together- our house in Tulsa – we bought without him ever seeing. I had fallen in love with the house, and that was all he needed to kno