Why I Want to Hate Fathers’ Day, But Can’t

Matt and boys 62007

Let me just state the obvious – as a widow and a mother, Fathers’ Day kinda sucks.

I know certain days are going to be difficult: funerals, weddings, our anniversary. As painful as they may be, I can usually find a way to endure. But while I am no longer a wife, I am and will always be a mother. Many life events can trigger some type of distress, but the third Sunday in June is an entirely different ballgame. Fathers’ Day takes my sons’ loss and ruthlessly thrusts it into the limelight. Worst of all, there is little, if anything, I can do about it.

Not that I haven’t tried. I have spent countless hours trying to fill the void. But my attempts are largely in vain. My persistence is futile. I’m trying to plug a deep, rectangular chasm with a small, round ball. Sure, it may seal it for a moment, but it’s not a perfect fit. It settles and slips, leaving gaps and exposing cavities.

I blame my late husband.
He didn’t make it easy on me. Not by a long shot.

Matt was not the perfect father, but he gave it one good try. From the get go, he was intricately involved in our boys’ upbringing, especially after he got sick. When they were infants, he requested to take the midnight feeding so he could have some bonding time (and I could get some extra sleep.) He coached every sport they participated in from the age of three. On Fathers’ Day, he bought them presents.

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A typical Fathers’ Day haul

Later, Matt initiated what he dubbed “Daddy Breakfasts.” Just the tree of them would go out about once a month. The date wasn’t announced ahead of time; it was spur of the moment. I was invited, but inevitably declined. (What mother of two young boys would pass up a quiet morning all to herself?) During their meal, they would talk about whatever was one their minds. It was a safe zone where nothing was off limits. Their father’s wisdom seasoned the conversation and his comfort was the dessert. What they discussed was never disclosed to me, but they always brought me back a treat.

Leukemia may have stripped away Matt’s vitality, but it never robbed him of his spirit. He spent every hour of his last seven years in some degree of pain, but each morning he would wake thankful to have “another day above ground.” Our sons were ages six and eight when he received his initial diagnosis. My greatest heartache is that they have few memories of him well. Doctors appointments, treatments, and fatigue governed everyday life. Our sons don’t remember life without these overbearing dictators. But even as cancer therapies and their side effects corroded his physique, his exuberance for life – for us – remained and flourished.

After Matt was gone, I daydreamed that some man or men would come alongside my sons to mentor them. Like a beloved tear-jerker, a gentleman – perhaps an uncle, neighbor, teacher, or coach – would recognize the “missing piece” in their life and do his best to compensate. Whatever crisis that might been looming would be adverted, their souls would be soothed and the credits would roll. In reality, a few men made attempts, but only for a short time. These were temporary positions. No one developed into a lifelong father-figure for either one of them. I never was a fan of Lifetime movies anyway.

And now we are back to Fathers’ Day and how to handle the occasion. We can’t ignore it if we tried, so we muddle through. I’ve thought about purchasing presents for my sons, but it feels off – like I’m adding fuel to their continual smolder of loss. I reject the common single mother’s mantra of being both a father and a mother. They had a father – a damn good one – I could never take his place.

This year, circumstances have made it so we will be celebrating with their grandfather a week later, leaving us alone on the ominous day. I’ve decided our usual tactic of avoidance is not doing us any good – I need to do something about it. Ignoring the day would be discounting the impact he had on our lives; erasing his place in our hearts. So, I’m going to seize the day to honor Matt. Perhaps we will go to a movie that he would have enjoyed or maybe head to the beach. Sure, we will ache for him, but it will be a good, sentimental workout for all three of us. We need to exercise our emotions before they atrophy. We need to enjoy Fathers’ Day again.

 

 

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The Seven-Year Itch

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It’s been seven years.

A week of revolutions around the sun.

Happy (?) deathiversary to me.


I’ve made (some) progress.

My days no longer commence with torrential tears.

I seldom sense the vacant weight of my wedding ring.

Still, my singularity seems abnormal.

A bunker of pillows occupies the empty promise that is his side of the bed.

The duo I once was has been replaced by a shadowed silhouette and what is left of me.


I obstinately strive to satisfy my sons’ paternal vacuum. The maternal exercise in futility I refuse to cease — the truth I’m reluctant to verify.

Even in the slightest dilemma, I wonder: What words of advice would he impart? Would this be happening if he was here?

The absence of a father’s wisdom torments a mother’s heart.


My widow’s shroud swaddles and suffocates. It’s my daily personal paradox: Do I let it lull me into a muffled serenity or should I cast off sorrow’s cocoon?

Grief is the wolf that threatens my sheep’s clothing.

When my children were in elementary school, they each witnessed the metamorphosis of larva to butterfly. As it neared the time for the insects to emerge from their chrysalis, the students were warned not to “assist.” Aiding or abetting in the butterflies’ escape could result in malformations. There would be no choice but to let flightless creatures succumb to their deformities. Successful transformation required solitary struggles.

I continue to curb such a transfiguration. I’m seeking adaptation, not evolution. Disowning all traces of my former self would be tantamount to annulling my marriage. I need to move forward, not break away.


My mourning attire is beginning to itch. At times it is sweltering. But will shedding it completely leave me basking in a cool breeze or shivering from my cold reality? Is such a prophecy feasible?

Do I really want to know?

The future whispers from just beyond the horizon. Uncertainty muffles the echo, but I must submit to its summons. Inertia will only spawn decomposition.

That’s not what he desired for me.

That is not what I aspire for myself.

Epilogue to: What About Meredith?

Once upon a time, she was me…

ICYMI: Here is the link to my previous post.

Well the two-part season finale has come and gone. IMHO, Grey’s conclusion was honest, and perceptive throughout both episodes. Not only regarding Meredith, but those surrounding her, including friends; his sister, Amelia; and even April Kepner. In fact, the episodes could have accurately been entitled “Portraits of Grief.” How one handles the loss of a loved one is not an A-to-B-to-C progression. It is multifaceted. It has twists, turns, and double backs. It rarely stays the same.

Of course, we were riveted by the young couple and their unborn child involved in a horrific accident: Can they be rescued? Who will be the hero? Will they survive? Romance in all its complexities was portrayed by the Richard-Catherine story line: How do two, strong-willed individuals compromise enough to commit to one another? But the underlying current was grief — in all its guts and glory.

We soon learn the Meredith packed up the kids and slipped away in the middle of the night. Gone for a year, we are shown snippets of how her friends deal with her absence. At first they are worried, then frantic. A little pissed off; most of them resign themselves to Meredith being Meredith. What she, the new widow, failed to understand is a concept that took me a while to realize: you are not alone in your loss and are now a role model for how to grieve. Your closest companions, family, in-laws, and colleagues have lost someone as well and are unsure of how to handle it. They need to see that you are OK, that you are coping, moving on — surviving — before they can as well. In a twisted way, their lack of composure is comforting; at least it was for me.

It demonstrated that my husband’s life resonated with others, that he mattered, that he wouldn’t be forgotten.

This is not to say I don’t admire Meredith for her selfishness. I am actually jealous. Her kids aren’t of school age. She had the financial resources to disappear. It was a luxury that few widows have, but secretly crave. All in all, it was a perfect metaphor for the sense of suspended animation you are in for a least a year. The world continues to rotate; life goes on, no matter how enveloped in grief you are. She was able to get off the infamous carousel for a while and just breathe.

Amelia’s grief demonstrated how loss is dealt with when it is initially denied. As the damaged sister, she had her walls in place. She’s been through this before. (father, lover, baby) She didn’t need any help. She was just fine, thank you. Only when she teetered on the edge of losing sobriety, did she finally cry out for support. As I hoped Grey’s would do, she angrily confronts Meredith about not having the chance to say goodbye to her brother. My husband had three sisters, just like Derek Shepherd. Only one was able to speak her farewell to him at the hospital. This was a moment in time that was of utmost importance to her and would have devastated her if it was prevented.

Meredith’s reaction was equally revealing. She breaks down in tears after Amelia leaves. Why such a response? Did she feel guilty? Unjustly accused? Probably a little bit of both. But in that scene, the audience is shown a key component of grief. 365 days— whether they are in reality or the television universe — are but a moment in the life of a widow. Emotions can well up and over at any time. They may or may not make “sense.” Every so often, they are uncontrollable.

Even April and Jackson were caught up in the cavalcade of grief. After losing their child, April runs off to a combat zone to channel her anguish, leaving Jackson behind to grieve alone. She comes back recharged, but different. “I like the new April,” Bailey tells a skeptical Catherine. Jackson later tells April that while he is happy for her new sense of purpose, he did and continues to feel abandoned in their supposedly shared heartache. Dealing with the loss of a loved one, especially a child, is partially a cooperative experience. When someone in the grief collective opts out and decides to go it alone, the rest are left feeling forsaken. The processing of their sorrow may be incomplete. Will their marriage survive this trial? We are left to ponder for the duration of the summer.

These story lines aptly portrayed the ripple effect of death. Losing someone close to you, whether it be a treasured friend or cherished loved one, affects everyone differently — but continually. Grief is both private and public, intimate and communal. It is ugly in its brutality and beautiful in its poignancy. Bravo Grey’s Anatomy. Thank you for getting it right.

Grief Lessons You Are Never Taught: The Prelude & Aftermath of Special Occasions

Lee Hayword

Few things in life are more personal than grief. The only one-size-fits-all premise is that everyone encounters, digests, and processes it uniquely. Since the progression of that process is in a perpetual flux, I find myself commonly exhibiting three different modes of grief. (Although I am sure there are others lurking.) The personalities in the trio take their turns coming and going, sometimes intertwining with one another and at other intervals completely overshadowing a counterpart. They are predictable in their unpredictability. My current triad includes:

  • The Neon Sign: This is time I want everyone to take notice of my widowhood. I yearn to have my grief heralded by the town crier with exclamations of “Sympathy for the suffering!” and “Alms for the widow!”
  • The Grace Kelly: Like a favorite pair of classically-styled earrings, my grief during these moments is subtle and demure, never ostentatious. It’s the pièce de résistance that you can’t quite put your finger on, but you know it’s there.
  • The Influenza: This is the ailment you try to ignore – attempt to maintain the stiff upper lip. The problem is, the more you try to stifle this type of grief, the harder it is to breathe and the increasingly nauseous you become.

All these types are prowling about, waiting to crash the party, when you are about to confront a significant occasion. Birthdays, holidays, and anniversaries will forever be altered once you have lost the person you primarily celebrated them with. My struggle dealing with the date of my 25th wedding anniversary was recently discussed in a post on Medium and subsequently featured in the Huffington Post.

What I didn’t disclose, and what nobody prepares you for, is the before and after of such monumental events. The prelude and the aftermath are the most grueling of days – and the ones when you feel the most isolated.  

The days, often weeks, before are a gradual crescendo. You become increasingly anxious, making sleep problematic. You’re apprehensive about facing the day. You fret about whether or not you should even get dressed or answer the phone. If it’s an event that you have to attend – want to attend – such as a child’s graduation, you are fearful that you might collapse into a puddle of tears at an inopportune moment.

When the date arrives, it is rarely as troubling or as uplifting as forecasted. You feel guilty and grateful simultaneously. The sorrow is a deep, throbbing ache. The loss is palatable. Yet, the compassionate comments of friends and family are consoling. The cards, flowers, and other reminders of their affection boost your disposition and fortify your resolve to make it through the day. Soon, you experience a delirium of grief that is both euphoric and melancholy.

But, the day after can be the cruelest for the uninitiated. Calls, emails, or presents don’t materialize to celebrate, soothe, or mourn this day. Beguiled with sentiment just 24 hours earlier, you feel forgotten – bereft of comfort and understanding. Like a burn victim, you need to debride the dead tissue: expose the uncontaminated and living flesh existing underneath the defunct scabs of yesterday. Most of the time, this is a solitary and nerve-wracking assignment. No one else recognizes the necessity.

For those who are grieving, give yourself the time you need to contend with a celebratory challenge. Allot at least 72 hours to endure and not be your customary, post-loss self. If you need more – take it! Don’t berate yourself if you can’t “get over it” in an arbitrary “timely” manner. Sorrow’s schedule is subjective. To the friends and family members of such individuals, please be wary; be conscious of your loved one’s struggles.  Grief never leaves. It is never concluded. It simply evolves.

Photo credit: Alone by Lee Hayword

What About Meredith?

Once upon a time, she was me…

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I’m not even going to bother with the spoiler alert. If you are interested in reading this, you know what happened. McDreamy was killed through a series of unfortunate events. 1. Foolishly stopped his car in the middle of road. 2. T-boned by a semi. 3. Transported to a level 2 hospital. 4. Suffered the ramifications of either the chauvinistic medical system or an egomaniac on-duty attending, depending on your viewpoint.

Many posts have been written about the way Derek’s departure was handled. Was the episode a 41-minute middle finger gesture by Shondra Rhimes to Patrick Dempsey? Was it a commentary on the unavailability of top-tier medical facilities? Or was it an accurate depiction that people can be careless, needless mistakes can happen, and people die for stupid reasons? I’ll leave that debate up to other blogs, the Twittersphere, and Change.org petitions.

No, my focus is going to be on Meredith, the unsuspecting wife, doctor, and ultimately, the woman who held Derek’s last breath in her hands. You see, years before, that character making that gut-wrenching decision to sign the ominous papers was me.

On August 23rd, 2008, my husband went into cardiac arrest while coaching our son’s football game. We waited over 18 minutes for emergency services to arrive, while two dear friends – an EMT and a paramedic, worked valiantly to keep him alive. A third, a NICU head nurse, dictated events to the 911 dispatcher. Terms like “agonal breathing” and “unresponsive” stabbed their way into my now muddled consciousness. We could hear the sirens circling, but they were having trouble locating an entrance. Each circumnavigation lulled me further into a hypnotic panic.

Finally, fresh, unexhausted paramedics arrived on the scene and joined in the resuscitation efforts. Our two sons (ages 13 and 15) and I watched hopelessly as he was hooked up to electrodes, shocked and jolted repeatedly. I lost count after three. At some point, he was deemed stable enough to transport and was loaded into the awaiting ambulance. I wasn’t allowed to accompany him. That was the first hint of permanent calamity.

I pride myself on being somewhat medically savvy. Back at home, I know that our local hospital is ill-equipped to handle major traumas and it’s best to travel to the one in the next valley. I knew the mega Children’s Hospital in the city had the elite doctors we desired to monitor our son’s diabetes. When my husband was first diagnosed with leukemia, we researched which cancer center had the finest treatment options. But we were out of town at the moment. I had no idea what hospital we were going to or its reputation. Just like the path of Derek, I simply had no choice in the matter.

As we arrived right behind the ambulance, I noticed my husband was having seizures. (The second clue) I was deftly whisked to an administration counter — not to the emergency room where he was being treated. (Third omen) Asked to fill out simple paperwork, I was dumbfounded by my inability to sign my own name. The signature I had practiced countless number of times across notebooks and napkins before legally scribing it for 18 years would not flow from my shaking fingers. My brain and my body were disengaged.

Soon, a priest emerged to speak with me. (Fourth indication) Our family and a few select friends were provided a small, private waiting room. (Fifth warning) Still, I held on tightly to hope. I need to be strong for our children, for my husband. There was not the time to break down. I do fairly well under pressure. Periods of extreme stress seem to short out my emotions. I’m left in what I have dubbed my robot mode: capable of handling traumatic situations without the encumbrance of sentiment. Much like the soon-to-be widowed Meredith who reaches her husband’s bedside and immediately demands his chart to assess the situation, I knew the moment I saw Matt what was to be the outcome. What the signs had be indicating. I understood I needed to stay in control.

As a devoted wife about to lose the love of my life, my personal sense of time seemed to slow down. Medical personnel frantically moved about, but I felt as if I was floating through a cloud of uncertainty and disconnection. I was informed there was very, very little chance of survival. Did I want to continue heroic efforts? “Yes,” I replied. I didn’t want our children to ever have any doubt that all chances were exhausted.

Soon, the discussion about the infamous papers transpired. Just like Mrs. McDreamy, I knew they were coming, I knew what they meant, and I realized they would take my (and my husband’s) breath away. This time, miraculously, I was able to script my autograph. Each of us was given the opportunity to say goodbye. When Meredith told Derek it was OK to leave, I heard my own voice emanating from the television.

Movies and TV never seem to depict what happens to family members after a loved one’s life support is discontinued. You’re at a loss as what to do next. What is expected? Another room is arranged for you to spend time with the deceased. To say I was uncomfortable with this was putting it mildly. It wasn’t him. It looked like a deflated and vacated body, not my Matt. He was gone. The next dilemma is when to leave. How long do you remain in the hospital where your spouse has just died? What is the proper waiting period before you have to leave him or her behind?

I was particularly struck by the scene where Meredith emphatically instructs the young ER doctor to make Derek’s death count. After which, she vomits in the bushes. I’ve displayed that facade of authority. Donned the same stoic pout. Being a new widow didn’t nullify her position as a doctor, a teacher. Much like losing my husband didn’t abolish my role as a mother or a wife for that matter. In fact, it increased its importance tenfold.

The next few episodes of Grey’s Anatomy (conveniently shown during the sweeps period) promise to depict the aftermath of Dr. Derek Shepherd’s departure. I am curious to see how accurately Ms. Rhimes crafted the scenes. Will Derek’s sister be pissed she wasn’t given the opportunity to say goodbye? (A glaring misstep I noticed on Meredith’s part.) Will the loss of his presence resonate in episodes and seasons to come or will his memory fade from future mention? Previous episodes did justice when the news of a prior misfortune made its way to fresh ears. Case in point: When the current batch of residents learn about the plane crash that took the lives of many characters and cost Arizona her leg. Hopefully, this honest portrayal of tragedy – one of life’s everyday occurrences — will continue.

My sister and I were texting while the now famous episode was airing. Numerous “OMG”s and “Can you believe this?!” were traveling the messaging airwaves. Finally, I had to cease all communication. Whether it was helpful to me or not, my eyes were transfixed on the screen. My ears were honed to detect any subtle dialog. I had to see if they got things right. I still do.

Today is Your Birthday

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One of my favorite stories is the one your family used to tell me about the day you were born. You were the third of four, the only boy, in a patriarchal, first-generation Italian family. Your father brought your mother roses; no such gift heralded your sisters’ arrivals. One would think this would create conflict, but it never arose. The family revolved around you as the sun-son of their universe.

You were proclaimed the golden child and that was that.

I wish I could have known you as a little boy. On all those previous birthdays when they would drape a blanket over your shoulders, place you in your highchair and pronounce you “king.” Your mother would make you chocolate cake for breakfast and your father would burst with pride. His son, named after his own father, was growing into a fine young man. Years later, we would continue the tradition and name our first-born after him.

It was the first time I saw your father cry.

I caught up to you when you were seventeen. I was your “Christmas present” from a mutual friend. As we stood under the mistletoe, you pointed out the cheesy stuck-on bow the friend had somehow convinced me to wear. We shared our first kiss—my first kiss. Three months later, when you turned eighteen, we almost broke up. Some friends had called me “jail bait” and it made you apprehensive. Even though no statutory offense had been committed, the thought that you could go to jail for falling in love with me sent you, the son of a detective, into a minor tailspin.

I told you to stop being ridiculous and that was that.

You never really liked your birthday. It wasn’t because most people could never get the date right. Even family members would ask, “Is it the 30th or 31st?” You objected to a day being devoted solely to you. Maybe all those years of being the center of your family’s cosmos had created the aversion, I don’t know. Christmas was more your character. You relished its reciprocity.

We were married by your twenty-eighth birthday; living in our one-story, blue-and-white house you had gallantly purchased. I wouldn’t dare to make you a chocolate cake. Your mother’s was sacred. I made you a special dinner—salmon, I think.

Our first son was born the year you turned thirty. Your father’s age was the same when you appeared. The three of you always delighted in the symmetry.

Our second son came into this world just barely into the month you turned thirty-two. He shares the date with his Auntie, but he shared the month with you. We were never able to grow our family more.

We were complete at four and that was that.

The year you turned thirty-four, you donated a kidney to your father. Some questioned how I could allow you to present this gift to him — your dad, my father-in-law, our boys’ Papa — as if I had any say in the matter. They had no idea that it was my turn to burst with pride at the mention of you. You were left with a fourteen-inch scar to mark the occasion.

We received the call when you were thirty-six, during a late-evening, family dinner. The doctor asked for both of us to be on the line when he related what the tests had decreed. We soon realized that after-hour phone calls would be forever ominous.

Your fortieth birthday was celebrated halfway through your treatment. The month before, your medical court had brought you to death’s precipice, and then cautiously, methodically, brought you back to our realm. Your sister had the honor of cup-bearer, offering her lifeblood for the rite. For weeks you had been in isolation, developing the strength needed to withstand our world’s contamination. The doctors conceded to the momentous occasion and allowed you to go into the garden and bask in the sun as we basked in you. We festooned your wheelchair with balloons and the boys took turns sitting on your lap. You overexerted yourself for our happiness.

Each of the five birthdays after that was precious. Resplendent gems that our hearts treasured. We coveted them, but the golden child was waning and that would soon be

THAT.

We held your service five months after your forty-fifth birthday. An elite few were chosen to proclaim their tributes and testimonies from the rose-adorned altar. Over a thousand people came to pay homage.

It was the second time I saw your father cry.


Originally published in @HumanParts @Medium.com