The kids’ birthday is coming up so naturally I’m pushing forward as if everything is normal, you know, calling twelve different venues to find a place to have the party and Pinterest-ing like crazy for cake and decoration ideas.
Then I am punched in the stomach.
Last year we held the birthday at a robotics place called Robot Roundabout. It was awesome. They had a lot of different kinds of robots to play with, but the big attraction was the Battle Bot cage.
Inside the little arena are two bots. Each bot has a spike on the front and balloon on the back. I’m sure you can do the math on that one. Well, the second Trey and I saw that, we were like, “You and me, bud! As soon as these kids have all had a turn, you are going down!”
Sure enough once the kids had all had a turn and were happily eating pizza and cake, Trey and I raced to the Battle Arena. The guy running the place was thrilled. We battled and hollered and smack talked and the kids cheered and then my balloon got punctured. But it was a slow leak! The judge’s determination was that I was still in play until it fully deflated. I chased Trey around and popped his balloon before mine ran out of air and I whooped and did a victory dance and it was so awesome.
Afterward the guy who runs the place said that he always asks the parents to have a go at the battle bots because it’s fun for the birthday kids to see his parents battle. He said that he usually has to work to talk them into it, and we were the first couple he’d ever seen that ran over to it and wanted to play and had so much fun.
We were so confused. How could anybody not want immediately to kick their significant other’s ass at battle bots? We told him that if he would let us, we’d kick all those kids out of there and just play the two of us for the next hour. Who wouldn’t want to play robots with their best friend?
This is not the post about how I’m also holding together a life and kids and managing day-to-day existence. I’m doing all of that, too, but that is not what I mean.
Specifically with regards to my husband’s death, I am doing more than grieving. We all do, I assume. All widows and widowers.
We all have to find our place in the world.
Trey and I started dating in High School. We got married as I was graduating college. We have always been together. I have never been a single adult. And I don’t mean ‘single’ in the sense of being unattached or available. I have never been a single, as opposed to being half of a pair.
My relationship with my kids, and their relationship to each other, is different now. We are trying to redefine how we work together as a family. It is not easy. It is not simple. It is not that I am now “being both mother and father” the way people say. As a single mom, I’m not the same mom I was, with added responsibilities. It’s different. It’s completely different and I’m still trying to figure it out. I’m examining what is important to me as a parent, and what issues can be let go. I’m making determinations on our new schedule and new disciplinary recourses. (Just wait until your father gets home is no longer a valid response to their shenanigans.)
I am also redefining my relationship with myself. This is even harder. Who am I without him? I saw a movie by myself. I got a tattoo.
By the way, apparently all GenX widows get tattoos. I know two other women who have recently lost significant others, and we all have tattoos now. So there’s that.
I was the shy background player, the soccer mom wallflower. Now I’m the woman with the fish tattoo driving the neon jeep. I want to be more than I was. I want to be active and fun. I’m not sure what that looks like, though.
So if you see me on Facebook or in town, and it looks like I am unphased by my situation– if it looks like I’m going on outings and pretending that everything is okay — please understand there is more to it than that. I’m trying to stretch my wings and find my place in the world. There is less of me now that he is gone, but in a way there is more of me, too. I am the sole driver in my life and I’m trying to draw up a map.
Today is the six month anniversary of Trey’s death. Except it’s not an anniversary, because Anni- means Year. It drives me crazy when people talk about a one month or a two week anniversary. Is there a word for a month-versary? Honestly, I’m not in the mood to learn vocabulary today so I’m not going to look it up.
Six months ago today I left work, drove to my parents’ house to pick up the kids, arrived home and found my husband dead in the living room.
Six months ago today my life fractured.
I can still see the future we were going to have. I can still see us attending our kids’ graduation. I see us arguing over what Junior High they should attend. I see us at the third grade neon glow party. I see us watching the upcoming Justice League movie together. I can see it clearly in my mind.
It doesn’t matter how hard I look, however, I cannot make it real. That future is lost.
What did I do today?
Well, I went ahead and dropped the kids off with my folks like I usually do on Tuesdays. A client wanted to talk to me, and I was anticipating needing the time to work. I snuggled with them for too long and had to fight the urge to throw a conniption fit when they dawdled getting dressed. I let K wear his clothes from yesterday. I just couldn’t fight about it.
In other words, it was like every other Tuesday.
I dropped the kids off and rushed to my counseling appointment, for which I was 20 minutes late.
It was just a coincidence that I had an appointment today. But it was a happy coincidence. I only recently started seeing someone. I believe this was our third appointment. I still feel like I’m not sure how it helps to just talk to someone, but it does help so I’m doing it. I enjoy our sessions.
I felt . . . normal. I’ve felt normal for a while now. I get sad and I get lonely. I am sometimes shocked when the reality hits that this is permanent. Overall, however, I go about my daily routine and function as a human.
I am not a fan of the phrase “the new normal,” but I suppose it applies.
Today was no different. I felt normal, but that in itself felt odd.
I arrived home after my appointment to find a card in my mailbox. A real card, with a handwritten note. My best friend from high school, my maid of honor, knew this was coming up and she sent me a beautiful and supportive card. It was exactly what I needed, at exactly the right time. I sat on my kitchen floor and wept.
I don’t remember when I last cried about Trey. It feels like forever ago, but so does his death. It feels like forever ago and it also feels like it happened last week. Grief time is weird. If I had to guess, I’d say it’s been two or three weeks since I really cried. I needed it.
Then I realized I could not find my wallet and the next couple of hours were consumed with finding it. And with cleaning that gross sticky spot that I had not known was under my sofa until I accidentally stuck my hair in it while looking for my wallet.
I found my wallet and headed to the grocery store to buy supplies for our celebration of Trey’s life.
Yesterday I told the kids that today would be six months. K, who speaks like a small adult, said, “It doesn’t feel like that long. It feels almost like it was yesterday.”
I asked what they wanted to do to mark the day. We discussed going to the beach where we scattered his ashes, but that is a full day trip and none of us were up for it. None of us felt like making a big deal out of it. It’s already a big deal without us adding to the drama.
The kids’ idea? Buy a “mother lode” of candy.
Trey had quite the sweet tooth. I have always claimed to not have that much of a sweet tooth, but the truth is I drink my sweet in the form of sodas and in the form of coffee drinks that are essentially liquid cake. In any case, a couple of months ago it was brought to my attention that with Trey gone our house is devoid of candy. I did not intentionally cut candy out of our home. When I make a grocery list, I just don’t think about adding candy to it. Trey always did, though. “Pick up some Kit-Kats” he would say. Or, if he went to the store unsupervised, he’d come home with half a cart full of candy. So it makes sense to commemorate him with candy — although I suspect it was a bit of a ploy on the part of my kiddos.
No matter the true motivation, I obliged. Today I hit the store and filled a basket with candy. I also bought some flowers for the dining table, some tater tots for tomorrow’s casserole, and marshmallows because I have a huge box of rice krispies burning a hole in my pocket.
And I wept.
I cried in the car the whole way there.
Car crying was my favorite form of self expression in the first couple of months. I haven’t done that in a while. I sobbed the whole way to the store, sniffled my way through the aisles and hitched my breath during checkout. I’m sure I looked like some sort of sad housewife cliche. Here I am, an overweight white woman in sweat shorts and T-shirt, sticky stuff in my hair, purchasing candy and tater tots and flowers and Moscato. (I also bought a bottle of Moscato, of which I am currently partaking, as my own private six month tribute.)
I came home and proceeded to set up my new phone.
My phone broke a while back and my new one came in today. That feels particularly harsh of the universe. Trey worked in cellular/telecom since 2001. He handled all of this. I have never ever had to set up my own phone. It was more complicated than I expected. I had nobody to ask and nobody to help. Just me and a phone that somehow uses a different charger than every other device in my home and nobody to complain to about that. It was unreasonably heart breaking to handle this myself, but I did it. I got my new phone set up.
Then it was time to pick up the kids, and get back to the regular routine. I cooked dinner while they played tablets. They ate candy. We had dinner, watched 2 cartoons, brushed teeth, read a story and they went to bed. Now here I am, spilling my guts to the ether.
That is what happens in my life when I reach the six month anniversary of the day I stopped being a wife and became a widow.
You think you will be destroyed by the enormity of the situation.
By the knowledge that he will never see his kids graduate or marry.
That he will never be a grandfather.
That you will not grow old together.
This, however, you can survive.
It is the little things that crush you.
The little things rob you of your breath and sting your eyes.
Requesting a table for three.
Sorting laundry without his clothes.
The stockpile of hot sauce that only he liked.
Feeding his cat.
The unused passenger seat in the car.
Getting rid of things we kept out of habit.
Keeping that hideous Scarface poster he loved.
Moving the lamp to my side of the bed.
Helping the kids with their math.
Baking cookies using his recipe.
The empty half of the dining table.
Taking the kids on their first plane ride with my dad instead of with theirs.
Leaving his token in the box when we play board games.
Putting away the Cards Against Humanity we used to play in the evenings.
Watching our favorite shows in silence, alone.
Coming home from the store.
Fourth of July fireworks.
Watching previews for movies we were going to see together, movies that still have not come out because it was so recently that we were sitting together planning our summer.
It’s the daily details that get you, not the grand plans.
We miss you.
We arrived home late last night, after a week long vacation in South Dakota.
My mom’s family has a yearly get together. We haven’t gone for a few years. You were never that great at vacationing.
This year I went. My grandparents had been unable to come to your funeral, and were thrilled that I could come to see them. All of my mom’s brothers and sisters were there. Only one of my cousins attended, which you would have predicted.
It was the first time the kids rode a plane.
You weren’t here.
So many ‘firsts’ you will miss, and this is the first of them.
The kids did great. It’s funny the things you take for granted. H opened up the tray on the seat in front of him and said, “Hey! Look at this!” K attentively listened to the safety instructions, locating the nearest exits and reviewing the informational card when instructed. Mainly they played on their Nintendos. You would have been frustrated that they were so engrossed in their electronics. Then you would have fallen asleep.
At my grandmother’s house, I must admit it was incredibly normal for you to not be there. You and I were there together two or three times, but my entire life before we married I was there every summer and some Christmases. It was so natural to be there again without you. It was almost like going back in time, except the kids were there.
They had a blast at the lake. They rode my uncle’s tugboat and K helped drive, sitting on his lap the way he used to sit on yours to “drive” our boat. That was perhaps the most difficult moment of the trip for me.
On the flight home I watched the new Beauty and the Beast. You were going to take me to see that. I remember I had mentioned to you that I knew you would never go to that movie. You responded, “Are you kidding? The animated one was one of our first dates. Of course I plan to take you to the new one.”
But then you died, you asshole, so I watched it on a tiny screen in the headrest of the seat in front of me, earbuds digging into my popping ears and stopping every few minutes to get the kids something or listen to a pilot announcement.
It was good. I would have loved seeing it with you. I think you would have pretended to like it as well.
Last night the kids slept in their own beds (hallelujah!) until close to morning. I got some much-needed stretch out starfish sleep in the wake of a week on my grandparent’s pull out sofa bed. Our bed has new sheets — cotton. Not the sateen kind you liked. I also replaced that fuzzy zebra striped comforter with one more my style.
I am claiming the bedroom as my space. I am not erasing you from it, but it is not our room anymore. You don’t live there. It is my room and I am modifying it to be the way I need it to be. I need my own space now more than ever.
I picked up the dog from ‘camp.’ She is so excited to be home, but appears to be perplexed all over again that you are gone. It hurts me to see her confusion. It mirrors some part of me that refuses to understand.
Tonight I’m putting off going to bed. Last night I was so exhausted, but tonight I feel your absence so hard. I have been shot back into the present day, am no longer in the past, but you are not here.
How are you not here?
Earlier today I was mad at you again. I was mad that you left us to deal with crap alone. Now I am just lonely and sad.
Well, I have pretty much everything I’ve been wanting for the past couple of years, and all I had to do was lose my husband.
I swear I didn’t wish on a monkey’s paw to be able to be a stay at home mom again. I didn’t encounter any shady genie types and request to be able to work from home. I never bargained with a leprechaun to allow me to quit the job I hated and end the commute I hated even more.
Here I am.
We moved here two years ago, when the kids were five and starting kindergarten. I thought I was supposed to go back to the typical work force once the kids were in school so I got a job and we moved. I spent the next two years filled with regret, often crying and battling depression. I loved being a stay at home mom, and could never adjust to working full time with all that entails. Sometimes he would comfort me, reminding me of all the reasons we moved to a place where we could no longer be a single income household. Other times, he was exasperated with me, pointing out that I was crying because I had to have a job like most people do.
I wanted to be more involved with my kids’ lives.
But not like this.
Because of a combination of life insurance, etc. and the lessening of household expenses with one less person, I was able to quit my job. I re-opened my home business and am working for myself. I drive my kids to school every day. I help them with their homework. We eat supper together. I volunteer at their school and attend daytime events with them. I bring them to playdates at the park.
All of these were things I missed, about which I regularly cried and moped.
Now I have this all back, but I have nobody to share it with.
I am so lonely.
He is gone.
Most days, it’s strange — it feels normal. Even though every detail of my life has changed, something about the rhythm is the same. Wake, pack backpacks, work, get kids, dinner, dishes. I am in a routine and it feels simply like he is not here.
For much of our marriage, we worked dissimilar schedules. He worked evenings and weekends, while I worked a standard 9-5. It has only been the past couple of years that we have had the same hours off together. It therefore does not always feel odd to not have him around.
Then the anvil drops on my head. He is not coming back. I’m not going to tell him about the awesome thing his son said to the neighbor. He is not going to scold me for dyeing shirts in the kitchen sink. He will not listen to the new audiobook released by our favorite author, nor will he see any of the movies currently in theaters.
I will never hear his laugh.
I will never drink a beer with him on a hot afternoon.
I will never tell him again that our dog stands up just like Rory Calhoun.
But everything else in my life is falling into place, and the guilt is extreme. Like somehow that horrible thing happened so these good things could happen. It’s not a fiar trade though. It’s not and I can’t handle this. I can’t handle going to help at the kids’ school knowing that I can only do it because he is dead. I can’t deal with parking my car in the garage because now there is room for it. I can’t face my clients knowing that I would still be in my toxic job if he were still alive.
I can’t enjoy these things. I won’t enjoy them. Maybe if I reject all of this, somehow the universe will realize its error and reverse this.
I know that doesn’t make sense. I know it in my head, but my heart can’t bear the weight of happiness or even of contentedness.
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.
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.