First After Miserable First

We survived our first holiday season without Trey.

As Halloween approached, we elected to not make the costumes we had all been talking about as a family.  Then we elected to not make costumes at all, but to buy.  Mr.K finally decided to just wear last year’s costume, which was the moment I realized that he was not as excited about the holiday as he wanted to be.  We had several parties plus trick-or-treating.  Each Halloween event began jovially, but ended with K feeling sad, removing his costume, and secluding himself.  He says he may not dress up next year.

Mr.H made a Thanksgiving project at school – a poster on which we all were to write what makes us feel thankful.  We all wrote something about family, but I felt dishonest because our family is missing a piece.

Tension built in the days leading up to Christmas, as Mr.K grew more and more insistent that Santa could bring his dad back.  He would not be disabused of it.  The whole thing terrorized me that he would wake on Christmas morning and fall to pieces because his wish had not come true.  Thankfully, on Christmas morning he accepted what I am sure he already knew — that this was not possible.  We had a lovely day, but partway through it Mr.H got really upset about a gift he though his dad would have gotten him.  I hurt for him so much.  After a snowball fight in the yard, Mr.K laid this one on me:  “It’s sad that dad couldn’t be here for this.  That’s what’s so bad about when people die.  They miss out on all these things.  I mean, Dad is never going to have another Christmas.  I don’t even have to get very old — just 41 — and I will have more Christmases than he did.”

Ouch, kiddo.

New Year’s Eve arrived, with nobody to kiss.

Close on the heels of New Year’s was Trey’s 42nd birthday.  It also would have been our 19th wedding anniversary.  Even though I was certain gravity had doubled due to the heaviness of my entire body, I managed to bulldoze us through that final day of the Wilson Family Holiday Season.  We enjoyed breakfast at the pancake place he used to take us.  We honored his memory by once again visiting the root beer store.  Mr.H and I cooked a birthday cake for Trey.  Mr.K, who originally suggested the cake, found himself unable to move forward with it.  We didn’t sing “Happy Birthday.”  We baked the cake, iced it and ate it.  K joined us for the eating part, and we didn’t talk about why we had cake.

Everybody is extremely sympathetic toward me right now.  I appreciate this. I am fortunate to have so many people in my life who care about me and who are thoughtful enough to realize how difficult the holidays are.

The first holidays, in particular.

For every first holiday, however, there are countless smaller firsts.  Innumerable times my heart protests that the last time we did this, he was with us.  At the beginning of widowhood, these firsts are a daily assault:

The first time I put the kids to bed and came downstairs to nobody.
The first time I made dinner for just the three of us, knowing he would not return.
The first time I went grocery shopping without buying his favorite staples.
I watched a TV show we always watched together.
I picked up listening to the rest of the audoibook we were sharing.
I went to bed.
I woke up.
I rented movies.
I cleaned the kitchen.
I hung up clothes in the closet.

Everything in my life was something I was doing for the first time since he died.

After a while, the basics of living had run through a couple of cycles.  No longer was each day a constant chorus of “this is the first time . . . ”  The firsts continued to batter me, however.

The first time I took them to a movie just the three of us, I couldn’t figure out what to do when I had to use the bathroom — make them both come with me, or leave them in the theater while I went?

The first time I took them to get the Slushies Trey always got them, I managed to get Slushie all over the place.  I could not get the hang of filling the cups the right amount before causing major overflows.  In some cases, the stuff keeps expanding after you stop pouring, turning your cup into a volcano science experiment smelling of blue raspberry.  I’d had no clue it was that complicated.

The first time we went to one of their school parties without Trey was the Neon Glow Party.  It was just a week after he died, but we’d been talking about it for weeks.  The neon party is always eighties themed, and I’d said we needed to all dress up like the eighties.  Trey had responded, “So you’ll just be wearing your regular clothes, then?”  He had a point.  Looking back, I can’t believe we made it to the party.  I was still in such a fog, and didn’t want to disappoint the kids who still wanted to go.  They were dancing their butts off, and I was glad to have brought them.  I just kept thinking it would be okay as long as we avoided the photo booth.  Of course then K really wanted to do the photo booth.  So we did it.  And we got the pictures.  The same pictures we get every year, but with Trey conspicuously missing.  K deflated and wanted to go home.  We went home.

The first time we played our favorite four-player video game with just the three of us, we realized one of us would have to log in as Trey in order to keep our game progress.  As uncomfortable as it was, I logged in as him.  It’s commonplace for me to do that now.

The first time the three of us went on a road trip together, I wondered if it was safe.  How can a woman and kids drive over the state border and get a hotel room and be safe?  I’d never traveled without a man.

We went to our first soccer game, and to our first hockey game.  Without their dad.

These small activities that we find ourselves in, that remind us that Trey was here last time, they are growing more and more infrequent.  Maybe there will come a point when there are no more.

The final kind of first I will address is the worst, as the frequency of it will keep growing at least for a few years.  Instead of protesting that we did this last time, my heart screams that Trey never had a chance to do this with us, to witness this event.  These milestones and first experiences will always be accompanied by my ghost of him, seeing his reactions inside my mind.

I joined the kids on their first airplane ride.  They had never heard the safety speech before, and K paid careful, solemn attention to the flight attendant.  They delightedly opened the tray tables, exclaiming, “Hey, look at this!  A little table!”  Trey never got to experience this with him.  I could almost feel his laughter.

Harry hit his first baseball.  Then stood at the plate, not knowing what came next.  At the urging of his coaches he ran toward first base.  Still carrying his bat.  The coaches yelled at him to drop the bat, so he ran back to home plate to put the bat down, and then back to third.  Trey would have told me that only my kid would be doing this sort of classic move.

Korben played goalie for the first time.  Trey never got a chance to see his son so enthusiastically cheering on his team mates even when they were not near his goal.  He never got to see Korben save a goal.

He won’t be there for their first girlfriends, their first school dances, their first day of every grade, their first kids, first auditions/tryouts for various activities, first play or first academic bowl or first recital or whatever we have in the future — these firsts will keep coming.

Riding the Depression Wave

It’s all happening again.

Not to the extent it happened before, when the pain was new and I lived in a fog.

It is, however, all happening.

I can’t.  I can’t DO.  I sit on the sofa and realized an hour has gone by.  An hour with no TV, no phone, no music – is just gone.  Gone to blank staring, to emptiness and nothing.  I’m not remembering.  I’m not lamenting.  I’m not thinking of the holidays.  I’m just physically too sad to move.

My whole body is sad.  My shoulders droop.  My knees ache. My back twinges.  My legs refuse to carry me out of the chair, much less up the stairs or out the door.  I am heavy.  Gravity has made me its bitch.  It pushes me and I don’t even resist.

I try to work, and stare at the screen.  I try to wash dishes and stare out the window.  I try to sleep, and stare at the ceiling.

I have turned off.

Except when I’m on.

Two days ago, I reorganized/rearranged one of my pantries.  A couple of days before that I sorted through the medications in our guest bathroom.  I ordered new pictures for the walls.  I hung a broom organizer.  Over the past couple of weeks I have filled three large trash bags and two boxes for the goodwill.

I am experiencing bursts of organizing and productivity in between lulls of depression and sadness.

I went through this in the early months.  I want to claim my life and my space, so nesting kicks in and I go, go, go.  A day turns, and I am almost unable to shower.

It is most likely the holidays that have brought this on.  This is not happening the way I expected.  I thought I would be sad when I looked back at all of our holidays together, or forward to the holidays without him.  The truth is, I’m not thinking about or dwelling on those things.  Not much.  Not VERY much.  This is a free floating sadness invading my bones during the most mundane times.  Still, I think we can assume it is a combination of the holidays, along with the feeling that I’m careening toward his death anniversary, and the winter doldrums.

I’ve gone to the doctor and have gotten a prescription for Zoloft.

I had been resisting this.  I don’t like the way I feel on SSRIs.  I feel less me.  It’s not a dramatic change, but it’s enough of one that I feel uncomfortable with it.  Also, I want to feel my feelings.  How am I supposed to heal from the pain if it is always shrouded?  Sometimes you have to run a fever to break the flu.  (I don’t know if that’s actually true.  Don’t come to me for medical advice, I’m clueless.)

I can’t keep going like this, though.  I need to keep a relatively clean house.  RELATIVELY clean.  I need to work.  I need to make lunches and walk the dog and sew patches on boy scout uniforms.  I would love to succumb to the sadness and stare into space until the kids come home from school, but I do have work to do and it won’t wait.

Now, I’m not trying to be alarming.  When I leave the house, I do put on shoes — flip flops at least.  I am getting us all fed and to school and back.  I’m even getting some work done — somewhat inefficiently.  I do wear PJ’s and a robe a lot of days — a perk of working at home.  The PJs are clean — unless I spilled coffee or egg on them that morning — and in fact I kind of have ‘daytime jammies’ and ‘nighttime jammies.’  I’m showering.  I’m taking out the trash.  You won’t come to my house to fight through a mountain of pizza boxes and cat litter to find me in dreadlocks with green teeth.

But it’s hard. So Z is for Zoloft.

I have been on it two days.  I had forgotten that while the effects take a couple of weeks to be noticeable, the side effects are immediate.  I’m not sleeping well and my stomach is in knots.  This will peter out, but is unpleasant currently.  But if it gets me through the holidays and a bit beyond it will be worth it.

I’m also grief-shopping again.  The kids were thrilled with the “epic fort” they were able to make from all the Amazon boxes.

I just want to curl up in my bed and stare at nothing.

But, this weekend I plan to take the kids to a potter class.  Next Tuesday I’m going to see the Justice League with my widow sponsor.  Next Thursday will be Thanksgiving at my mom’s house, and I’m looking forward to it so much.  After Thanksgiving, the Christmas boxes will come out of the garage and we will start decorating.  We will also get those cards in the mail.

We’re doing it.  We’re doing this life.  We’re riding the waves and we’re crashing sometimes but we’re getting back up.

Breathe.  Breathe.  Breathe.

The Husbandless Holidays, Halloween Edition 

So it begins . . . Our first holiday season as a threesome.

I cannot even tell you how not okay this is.

I bought three pumpkins.  Well, six. I bought three big pumpkins for carving, and three pie pumpkins for painting.  Not for pie.  Gross.  I’m not someone who gets all jazzed about pumpkin spice.  I don’t even understand why people thing this is delicious or smells good or anything.

But I digress.  I was about to tell you how I almost wept in the arms of a sweet elderly lady at the grocery store.  Perhaps I shouldn’t use the word ‘elderly.’  I’m no spring chicken, and I do not know how old she is.  She’s older than me, though.  She commented on my cart full of pumpkins, and reminisced about carving pumpkins with her kids when they were young, and again with her grandkids.  I talked about how my boys won’t go near the pumpkin guts so I have to clean the pumpkins out before they will even consider having anything to do with the whole thing.

It was on the tip of my tongue, what had been on my mind all day:

“This will be our first Halloween since my husband died.”

I didn’t say it.  I almost said it.  I wanted to say it.  I didn’t.

Why didn’t I?  Part of it was that voice inside my head telling me that she doesn’t want to hear about it.  She’s having a lovely memory and doesn’t need my sadness invading her space.  It’s what keeps me from mentioning it wherever I go, even though I feel like it’s branded on my forehead.

“This will be our first Halloween without my husband.”

I kept it in.  The other reason?  I knew that if I said the words out loud, I would cry.  I would cry, and I would not stop.  I would slobber big snotty drooly tears all over this poor unsuspecting stranger.  In the middle of Safeway.  On a Monday afternoon.

Instead, I continued the pleasantries, swapping stories of trick or treat and candy bellyaches.  I loaded up the six pumkins

six, not eight

and sat in my car and sobbed.

I thought of the missing pumpkins, about family costumes in years past, of the couple’s costume we had planned for the next time we had a grown up party to go to.  I remembered his idea to dress up the twins as Daft Punk this year and how he was going to help them build their helmets.  I tried to maintain that concept, but none of us had our hearts in it and it fizzled.  I remembered how much work he put into helping H with his costume last year.  I thought about how Halloween is not so far from February, and how last Halloween we absolutely had no idea the end was coming.  How we were still getting settled into our neighborhood and how we were using this as a reason to meet the neighbors.  How he insisted on getting full sized candy bars.

I looked to the future Halloweens, all of them with pumpkins in multiples of three.  The kids and I may do a family costume, but there are no couple’s costumes in my future.

I sobbed and sobbed until my eyes felt like they were bleeding.  I must have sat in that parking lot for 45 minutes trying to get a hold of myself enough to drive home.

I wish I had told that stranger.  Maybe if I had told her, I’d have wished I hadn’t.  But I think it would have felt better to say it to someone.  The holidays.  Wow.  It is going to be harder than I anticipated.  I knew they would be difficult; I’m not an idiot.  But Trey was a real grinch about the holidays.  I mean, once the boys were born he upgraded from Full-On-Grinch to Grudging-Good-Sport.  He recognized the importance of holidays for the kids.

It was always me, however, making the holidays happen, bulldozing them into our lives whether anybody else wanted them or not.  Trey liked Halloween, but even then his enthusiasm was limited to selecting a costume.  I put out the decorations, and shopped for more.  I made costumes.  I carved pumpkins.  I put together Halloween crafts for the kids.  I played Halloween music and watched scary movies.  He treated the holidays like they were any other day, as much as he could in the midst of my obsessions.  I therefore thought that his presence would not be missed much more than it is any other day.

That’s a nopefish.

This is horrifying — going through the holidays without him.

We went to the school carnival, where my mom accompanied us and watched the kids while I volunteered at a booth.  We went to the Boy Scouts Halloween party with my parents, but we didn’t know anyone else so we collectively posted up at a table.  We went trick or treating with my mom.  There was nobody at our house to hand out candy.  Finally, yesterday I went to a grown ups Halloween party where I only knew the host.

That’s me in the middle.

It was fun, but also lonely.

What is the rest of the holiday going to look like?

Thanksgiving is coming.  Thank goodness, my parents host T-day.  All I will have to do is get the kids dressed and show up for dinner.  Trey didn’t like turkey, or stuffing, or cranberries.  He didn’t care for going somewhere to eat.  He’d rather stay home.  He was always friendly about it, however, coming with me and eating too much and falling asleep in a chair like the other men.  He was also there to do the driving so I could have slightly too much wine.  It will be so odd not having him there.

Then, Christmas.  Holy shit.  Christmas we host at our house.

Once again, he was a grinch.  He didn’t participate in the decorating or the planning, or in much of the cooking.  But he indulged me.  He was there to help put the decorations near the top of the tree.  He was there to help lug boxes in and out of the garage, and to help me find extension cords, because they are never where you think you left them.  When he really shone was Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

He would spend the entire month of December specifically pretending it wasn’t Christmas.  I did the decorating and the shopping and the gift selecting and wrapping.  I would handle the cards and the lights and the menu and the guest list.  I would watch Christmas movies, above the loud protests of my family.  On Christmas Eve, however, he would bake cookies for Santa.  He would sit on the floor with me all night, as we assembled whatever nonsense I decided to get for the kids that was made of a million small pieces with a single sheet of instructions.  We’d each take one item and race to see who could get it assembled first.  He would help hang the stockings and we would share some scotch to congratulate ourselves on successfully preparing for Christmas, before falling into bed at three a.m.

On Christmas Day, he was glorious.  Excited to see the kids get excited, he would wake at about five — or perhaps he never slept — and would WAKE THE KIDS.  Who does that?  Then as guest after guest (mostly my family, but sometimes some of his) entered our home, he was the perfect host.  Hosting is not my strong suit.  Planning is.  Once people are in my home I come dangerously close to falling apart.  He always stepped up, offering drinks and cooking some sort of appetizer he had decided at the last minute that he needed to cook.

What will this year be like, without him?

Halloween was fun.  But it was also sad.  I have not cried as much this month as I did the first month after he died, but I have cried at least half that much, and that is a LOT.


I don’t know how the rest of the holidays are going to go.  I’ve ordered Christmas cards and will be sending those out.  They have lovely photos of, you know, the three of us.  I could write a whole post about that.  Maybe I will.

But not today.