He’s Even Gone From My Pantry

He’s not entirely gone, but he’s going.

Before being widowed, I had some idea of what it would be like if it were to happen.  Am I the only one who indulges in these morbid fantasies?  I don’t think I am, because it happens so often in movies.  Other people must sometimes also think, “what if the unthinkable happens?  What would that be like?”

You know that half of the bed will be empty.

You know his spot on the sofa will be taken over.

You know his chair at the dinner table will go unused.

You know your life will change so dramatically that you won’t be able to understand it.

You don’t know all of the tiny things that will change, reflecting his absence in tiny ways.

I have just today realized that you can see his absence by viewing the contents of our pantry.  Of my pantry.

(This isn’t a euphemism.)

Our pantry used to be full of canned chili.  He loved chili in all of its forms, but I rarely made it so our pantry was stocked with chunky chili, smooth chili, with and without beans, hot and mild.

We also owned an inordinate amount of hot sauce.  And different types of French and Russian salad dressings.  And chips.  There were always corn chips in our pantry.  And candy.  He had a sweet tooth.  We had white bread.

I made Frito Chili Pie last night, with the last of our canned chili.  I donated much of it to a food drive.  I was the only person who ate it.  The kids don’t like chili.  They don’t like chili dogs, or chili on spaghetti.  They just don’t like it.  So all those cans of chili are gone.  Likewise the cans upon cans of different types of beans — maple beans, ranch style beans, baked beans.

I tossed most of the hot sauces.  I’ve gotten old and prone to heartburn.

I made a conscious decision to only buy chips sometimes, to go with a specific meal or event.  I can’t say no to chips, so it’s best they not do the asking.

I did not make a conscious decision to stop buying sweets.  I just never think about it.  The kids have had to ask me to buy candy, or the makings of root beer floats.  Poor guys.

I switched us all to entirely whole wheat bread, and nobody complained.

All those maple beans have been replaced with plain pinto beans, vegetarian refried beans, and garbanzo beans.

The pantry is filling up with whole grains.  Trey and I always did high protein diets together.  He got the best results from them.  Now, however, I am returning to a more plant based diet, and the jars of various grains now replenished in the pantry reflect that.

The French and Russian dressings are gone.  Blech.

There is no Spam.  There is tuna.  There is no ramen.  There is penne.

The fridge is the same.  American cheese has been replaced with provolone.  Steak has been replaced with hamburger.  Heinz ketchup has been replaced with Hunts.  Spicy barbecue sauce has been replaced with the honey variety.

It sounds like small changes, but every time I open the pantry I see his absence.  It does not distress me much, but it serves as a reminder with every meal that the whole of our life is changed.

Birthday Party – I laughed, I cried. In front of the other moms.

My boys turned eight years old a couple of weeks ago.  This month has been a bit of a roller coaster, as I suppose you would expect.  Their first day of school also happened this month, and I haven’t yet had the stones to write about it.

Here it comes.  This post will most likely be too long to read, and will encompass the start of school as well as our Month Long Birthday EXTRAVAGANZA!  Are you in it with me?  Here we go.

At the end of school last year, I was so excited for summer to begin.  I thought that once I was freed from the daily grind of mornings and lunches and rides to and from school, I would be able to take control of my life and of my schedule.  I would be able to get more work done, take care of the house better, and of course spend more time with my kids.

I don’t have to tell you it does NOT work that way.  I must have been suffering from some sort of temporary insanity caused by wishful thinking.

It was a wonderful summer, full of late mornings watching Teen Titans Go in bed together, late nights playing XBox and two family trips.  It was much needed, but it was not particularly productive.  So as school approached, I was glad.  I was not glad in the traditional wine-drinking mom “yippee the kids will be out of my hair and occupied for part of the day” kind of way.  I was glad because once again, possibly delusional again, I believe this is when I will be able to take charge of our household schedule.

In the days leading up to the first day of school, I went on a special one-on-one outing with each of the kids.  I bought back to school clothes and shoes (I pre-ordered the supplies from the PTA last year.)  I bought Starbucks cards for the kids’ teachers, and wrote each one an introductory email explaining that my boys have therapy once a week and if the time does not work for their class schedule to let me know, and also to let me know if they notice any behavior in class that I should have the therapists address.  The teachers, of course, know that my husband died last February.  I set up schedules for homework and nighttime and morning routines.  I set up a new chore chart and star chart.  I stocked the fridge with school lunch items, bought new backpacks and lunches, and ordered new coats and jackets.  I did this all on my own.

Honestly, it’s not that different.  Trey  was not much of a ‘planner’ or ‘preparer’ (except for his disaster prepping – eyeroll.)  I would have taken care of most of this on my own even if he were still alive.  I felt good.  I felt optimistic for the school year and confident of my ability to make this work.  I took the kids to school the first day, using our schedule and star chart.  We did not have to rush or scramble, and we were not up against the tardy bell.  After school I picked them up.  They hung up their backpacks and helped unload the dishwasher to earn tablet time.  I started cooking dinner.

Then I was punched in the stomach.

This routine we are setting up — it doesn’t include Trey.  He’s not just gone now or for this first day of school.  He is going to be gone for all of the days of school.  There is no bargaining for who will be making dinner.  There is no talking each other into or out of ordering a pizza.  This is it.  This is my routine every night.  Helping the kids with homework, making dinner, washing dishes.  Alone.  This is it.

So then I’m crying by the sink again, which for a short while was no longer my favorite hobby.

Three days after the first day of school came the boys’ birthday.  For the first year ever, I managed to talk them into having their party a couple of weeks later.  I couldn’t figure how to get invitations out in time to have a party right after the start of school, and I didn’t think anyone would be up for attending a party at that time.  But I did want to mark their actual birthday.  At first we were going to meet the grandparents for some free Denny’s birthday goodness.  But naturally I am overcompensating for their dad being gone so instead we went on a Pirate Cruise.

Because what says, “I’m sorry we are having your birthday without your father being in the world” like a pirate cruise?

We went with my parents.  It was a lot of fun and I only cried a bit later that night.

The next weekend, we went to visit my uncle who lives about three hours away.  His town has a fair and rodeo, and we go every year to see him and attend the fair.  This year was weird without Trey.  It was weird largely because it was kind of nice.  Bless his heart, he really tried to be a good sport about it, and he never said this out loud, but I have been going to fairs with him for years and the truth is: he hates fairs.  Hated fairs, I mean.  In past years, the kids would go up with my folks, and then Trey and I would join the next day, close to the end of the day so we could spend an hour at the fair.  He hated the walking and the smells and how much everything costed.  I love the ridiculous food, the pig races, the world’s largest whatever.  So going to the fair without him was kind of nice in a way.  I went when my folks did, and spent the entire day with the kids getting their faces painted and spending too much money on bounce houses and unwinnable games.

And then K decided he wanted to go on a ride called the Storm Trooper.  I thought he would be too scared, and didn’t want to let him do it.  Something I always tell myself, however, is to not let fear keep you from doing things.  So I let him go.  I’m too fat to ride those rides so my mom rode with him.  He loved it.  I could see him scared at first, and then laughing and loving it the whole time.  I was so glad I let him go, and I was so horribly sad that Trey wasn’t there to see it.

I didn’t cry.

This weekend was their birthday party.  We did bubble soccer, something we did a couple of years ago and it was a big hit.  The kids wanted Minecraft themed cakes and decorations, and then had extremely specific requests for their cakes.

Now, I bake exactly once a year — on the birthday.  I still remember cakes that my mom made for me, so it is important to me that I make the cakes for my kids’ birthday.  I reserved the bubble soccer place a month ahead of time.  I started baking a week ahead of time.  I burned up the Pinterest boards making cakes and cupcakes and decorations.  This was going to be the best birthday ever.

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Today we arrived, and it went well at first.  But, see, K has been sick for a couple of days now.  He hasn’t had a fever, but he hasn’t felt well.  He’s had a runny nose and he fell asleep yesterday afternoon.  I thought about postponing, but for a multitude of reasons decided not to do that.  (I did warn the other parents, in case they wanted to stay away from the germs.)

So when he fell down early on and twisted his ankle, he was already feeling kind of cranky and this just ended it for him.  He tried to stay in the fun, but he was pretty much a little ball of screaming crying anger.  Normally when he gets like this, he just needs some time alone but I could not figure out how to give that to him in this case.  I took him to the room where the cakes were set up.  That’s when he unleashed on me:

“This is the worst birthday ever!”

“We’ve had seven birthdays and this is the only one that is terrible!”

“This is a waste of a whole birthday! I won’t have another for an entire year!”

I know he’s a kid and kids lash out, but I was already fragile and I just crumpled.  I kept my cool, told him I was going outside for a bit and asked if he needed me to get anything before I left.  He said he wanted to lay down in the car for a while, and I thought, well duh that’s a great idea.  I can’t believe that didn’t occur to me.

This is when my dad stepped in.  Seeing my barely controlled anguish, he offered to take K to his car to lay down and have some cooldown time.  I gratefully accepted his offer, and found a quiet corner of the building in which to have a complete breakdown.

I went outside and sobbed.  I wanted so much for this birthday to be amazing and wonderful and special, and somehow I had managed to ruin it for him.  He would always remember this first birthday as being terrible and I couldn’t do anything to fix it.  He was hurting and it made me hurt and I couldn’t handle it.  So I let myself cry for just a couple of minutes, then pulled myself together (I thought) and went back in.

One of the other moms — one who knows I’m recently widowed — was in the lobby on the phone.  She saw my face.

I guess I wasn’t as stealth as I thought I was.

She immediatly hung up, stood up, and hugged me.  “I can’t imagine how hard this is for you.”  I started crying again.  I couldn’t think of anything to say.  I just cried.

I pulled myself together again – or so I thought.

We went back inside, where my other boy was having a grand time.  One of the other moms there is also a widow — she’s just over two years out.  She saw me and immediately asked if I was okay.

I started to say yes, I’m fine.

We all do that.  We all say we are fine.

WE ARE NOT FINE.  WE ARE NOT OKAY.  NOTHING IS FINE.  “Fine” just means “I managed to generally function like a human being today, despite this pervasive wrongness that I carry.”

I didn’t say I was fine.  I looked at her, she had asked if I was okay, and I said, “No.”

She said, “Of course you’re not.”

More hugging.

More crying.

So now I’m just openly widow-crying in front of everyone.  All this work to make it seem like we are moving forward okay and that we are doing “as well as can be expected” is gone.  I’m a blubbering widow-y mess.

I did manage to pull myself together in time to call the kids to the party room for pizza and cake.  K came in, refreshed from his time alone, and was able to laugh and play and have fun for the rest of the party.  Everyone said it was a huge success, and I’m glad everyone had a good time.  I’m especially glad that K was able to reign it in and have fun for the second half.  I’m super proud of him.  That’s not easy to do.

I had fun, too.  I talked with the other moms about chore charts and allowances.  It was good.

Now I’m sitting at my computer bawling.  I had Amazon Now deliver a small bottle of bourbon and I’m quickly getting blotto and am about to watch Donnie Darko.

Thank you for listening.

Erasing the Evidence of Him

When Trey died, I almost immediately started going through and getting rid of things.  My mother was alarmed, and other people also would caution me to not be in a big hurry.  Those who love me thought I was going through some sort of emotional purge that I would regret — that having his things around was painful so I was trying to erase him.

They needn’t have been concerned.  That’s not what I was doing.  Trey and I have always had an over abundance of clutter.  I like to keep things for sentimental reasons, and he liked to keep things in case we need them again.  This resulted in boxes of items we promised each other we’d go through.  After he died, I needed space to breathe.  I needed some of the clutter to go away.  I no longer needed to confer with someone else.  I got rid of things.

The items I got rid of mainly consisted of clothes and work related papers and books.  I also got rid of his stash of outdated routers, that big box of tangled wires with which he refused to part, and one of the three sets of kitchen knives we had.  I didn’t get rid of anything sentimental and if I had any question about whether to keep something, I kept it.

Later I spoke with another widow, one who is farther along the path.  She said that she went through the same thing — an initial purge that worried other people.  She did not regret anything, and neither do I.  She wisely told me that I would hold on to some things that I know I will not keep forever, but that I am not ready to give up yet.

Last week, for example, I got rid of that hideous ginormous Scarface picture.  Trey bought it when we moved to LA, after he had relocated but before I had a chance to join him.  I always hated the picture.  Ugh.  After a couple of moves, I was able to get it located in our bedroom instead of in our living room.  Once Trey died, I looked at that ridiculous picture hanging above our bed and thought, “Nope. Not yet.  I’m keeping that awful thing.  He loved it, and he loved how much I hated it.  It stays for now.”  Then suddenly last week I was ready to get rid of it.  So I put it up for free on Letgo and now it is some other wife’s problem.

To put it more briefly, I am not conflicted about getting rid of Trey’s things.  I have confidence in my ability to determine what I am ready to let go and what needs to stay.

What I am conflicted about, apparently, is redecorating.

I need to do it.  I need to make my home my own.  I have a serious need to claim my space.

It started in the bedroom.  I replaced our burgundy sateen sheets and zebra print fuzzy comforter with some almond colored cotton sheets, a warm soft blanket, and earth toned striped bedspread.  I removed his clutter from the shelves and bedside table.  I planned to make the room my safe haven spot, just for me.

My plan was puny, as the kids have not slept in their own rooms more than ten times since Trey’s death.  Far from being a quiet haven, my bedroom is constantly full of kids and pets and noise.  It is still nice, however, to walk into my room decorated as I like it.  It feels open and freeing.  I can breathe in there.

Now I am looking at painting our living room.   As part of this, I will take down the Seattle skyline sofa picture that Trey got at Ikea.  Will I put it back up?  Probably not.  What about the Gladiator helmet and Buddha statues on the mantel?  I will replace them with something more my style.  I have already replaced the crystal decanter and glasses on the side table with books.

More and more this place feels like my home — not ours.  The transformation feels necessary and right to me.  This home was ours, and the furniture and decorations demonstrate the sometimes incongruous blend of our tastes.  Now, however, I need my home to be mine.

This does not mean erasing all evidence of Trey.  I’m not boxing up every single thing he purchased and pretending he never existed.  I am not trying to remove all the reminders of him, although I think people may view it as that.  I expect more concerned questions.   It would be impossible to remove the reminders of him even if I wanted to do so.  He is not in the mantel decorations or the red sofa.  He is in the yard he was teaching the kids to mow.  He is in the fruit trees we planted as a family.  I see the stairs, and I see him lumbering down them in the morning.  I sit at our dining table and I see his spot empty.  I see him when we play Monopoly with three instead of four.  I see him in the lightswitch he repaired, in the thermostat he installed, in the light bulbs we took half a day to decide upon.  He is here.  He will always be here.  He will not be removed, and I would not want to remove him.

It is true, however, that this will no longer look like his home.

How do I feel about that?  Guilty.

Like I said, I know this is necessary for me.  I need to claim this space as I am claiming my life.

But the other day I dreamed that someone forced me to get on an airplane and leave my wedding dress behind.  I think that’s a pretty clear message about how I am feeling about this.

This is so hard.

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 person in our life 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?  My parents don’t live there anymore.  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.