Modern Viking Funeral

We drove to our favorite beach, at Ocean City. The drive is brutal. I’ve always been a passenger, in which situation it is a pleasantly long car ride with the family. As the driver, it is a grueling endless trip during which the GPS keeps extending your expected arrival time due to “slowdowns along your route.” I still enjoy a road trip, and it was fun, but it feels much longer when you are driving. That’s all I’m saying.

We arrived at our favorite beach and the place was packed! We drove along the sand, utilizing the four wheel drive Trey had insisted we would need, to reach a somewhat less crowded area. We got the raft out of the back and started decorating it.

Believe it or not, there is a company in England that makes actual flammable viking ship urns just for this purpose. We decided not to go that route. We wanted something we could build together, and also something large enough to not capsize immediately in the ocean. So we have spent the past couple of weeks dismantling and reassembling wood pallets, and attaching a series of boxes and boards together with twine. I got to use the saws-all, which impressed the boys very much and caused Korben to repeatedly tell me to be careful.

Once on the beach, we set to work decorating it with dried flowers and plants, plus some lovely flowers and ferns picked from the side of the road earlier that day.

The result was a haphazard explosion of dried plants and untreated wood, held together with twine and burlap. We made it together and I hope we achieved our goal of making it entirely non-toxic to the environment.

I pulled it out into the ocean. We arrived late, and it was dangerously close to low tide. My plan was to set it loose as the tide was rolling out. I pulled it to where it was floating, and went to work setting it on fire.

This is where the inevitable hiccough occurred. The kids and I had previously discussed that there was every likelihood that the Viking Funeral would be an epic failure and that is okay because Trey Wilson would love that too. The important thing is that we come to the beach, to the ocean that he loved, that we send his ashes out into that ocean, and that we take on this project together to give him this Viking Funeral.

It was therefore funny, and not devastating, when the lighter wouldn’t light. I had bought two lighters and some matches, and the ‘better’ lighter was not lighting. While I was trying to get it to work, the other lighter and the matches got wet in my pocket. I kept trying with the ‘good’ lighter, which would sometimes tease me by giving a puff of flame. It took roughly 45 minutes to get anything to light enough to set the raft ablaze.

But we did it. We got it to light, and for a few glorious minutes Trey’s raft floated, flaming, as we shouted our good-byes to the wind. By this time, the tide had turned so the raft did not sail out into the ocean. Instead, it would land on the beach where it would get picked up by an incoming wave and move farther down the beach. It didn’t capsize or suffer any catastrophic failure. It simply floated its way along the coastline.

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Once the fire burned out, I entered the water again to bring the raft farther out into the water and partially submerge it. I watched as Trey’s ashes swirled around, joining the ocean. As I walked back to the beach, a single white dried rose, charred from the fire and released from the raft, was floating on the water. I saved it.

We then left the edge of the water and spent the afternoon flying kites, blowing bubbles, and getting massive amounts of sand on our clothes.

I thought it would be a terribly emotional and sad experience, but it wasn’t. It was celebratory and it felt good.

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A rose, charred from the flames, found floating on the water
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Our Viking Raft
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The boys by the ocean as the raft floats at the edge of the water

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I Matter. (unless you multiply me by the square of the speed of light)

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.

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My fingernails match MY Jeep (I’m not skilled in the girly arts.)

I am a Part of Their Healing

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.

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Trey teaching the kids to bowl (image unrelated to post — just a fun memory.)

Game Night Revelations

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That time our family took down a gym together

I may have mentioned this, but Trey and I were more or less hermits.  We were those people who always say, “We should get together sometime” but never do.  We like people, but we liked the comfort of an evening in PJs on the sofa even more.

It felt acceptable when there were two of us — four of us.

Now that I am the sole adult here, I don’t want my kids to grow up with a mom who is a hermit.  I think it may be damaging to them to see me home alone every night, going places with just them on the weekends.  In order for them to build healthy relationships, they need to see me experiencing healthy friendships.

Or maybe I just need to keep busy in order to escape emotional quicksand.

In any case, I invited our neighbors over for a game night.  My neighbors are a couple that are my age – early 40s – and their 16 year old daughter.  They are delightful and fun, and Trey and I always meant to have them over.

They came and we ordered Chinese food and played card games they brought with them.  One involved throwing virtual poop at one another, which was a resounding success with my seven year old boys.

Then the unexpected happened.

The kids started talking about their dad.

It began with K, telling H to not mention what happened to their dad.  K doesn’t like people to know or to talk about it, because he doesn’t like the pity or how uncomfortable it makes people.  H responded by asking why K didn’t want people to know that dad is dead.

Bless her, the neighbor then told my sons that her father died, too.  K just opened up — asking her questions and telling her about his experience.  Meanwhile, H was talking to me and to the husband and daughter.

H was describing in detail what Trey looked like when he was dead.

I had been hoping that I had shielded their view of it.  I knew they had seen, but I was hoping their young eyes only saw someone passed out or sleeping, even though it was obvious to me that something was very wrong.

I tried to get them out of the room quickly, without alarming them.  I tried.  I thought I succeeded.  But I didn’t.  I didn’t succeed at all.  H saw, and knew it wasn’t right.

So he started saying what it was like to come home and find his dad dead.  He described the events of the evening.  I listened intently, giving him all of my focus.  The most important thing in my world was making sure that he could unburden, and that he knew I heard him.

I glanced at my neighbors, to find their eyes thick with tears.  They, too, were focusing on him, letting him talk, letting him get it off his chest.

I am grateful to them — more grateful than I can say.  I tried to apologize to them later.  It was meant to be an evening of fun, and I hadn’t intended to lay all of that on them.  They assured me that it was fine and not unexpected.  Of course, they knew my husband had died and were prepared for the potential of this conversation.

They are wonderful people.