Sentimental Serenade

An opus to a bygone love

Image by Kate Cox from Pixabay
There is a chasm where the echoes of you resonate
Memories vibrate, resounding up through the depths
Humming, strumming my heart
Orchestrating haunting internal melodies
Sentimental serenades bereft of lyrics

Frequently, the songs are as tender as a lullaby
Tranquil, faint, soothing as a purr
Intimate whispers shadow my perceptions
A fleeting smile or tear offers a glimpse into the hymns

From time to time, the reverberations are flagrant, flamboyant
Visceral concertos of cacophony
The interludes intrude and occlude
Boisterous crescendos, their clamors are deafening
Outwardly silent, inwardly surging, I await their conclusion

Most often, the intrinsic music is my resident accompaniment
Instrumental ballads proclaiming, portraying a bygone life
An opus of a lover pining for an encore
The unfinished symphony plays on beyond the curtain call

Originally published on Medium.com

Perceptions

Do you see me?





Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay
I am a woman of many faces:
Mother, Daughter
Friend, Sister
Widow, Writer
Survivor

My roles define the façade you see
I conform to your reality
Never unveiling my complete identity

I parcel out my character
Offering tidbits to delight, entice
The designated consumer

Your view is obscured
Tainted, tinted, rendered incomplete
By your imagined image

Will you dare — Do you care
To shine a light on my persona

Shapeshifting like a kaleidoscope
A psychedelic palette freckled with crystal and coal
Charming and disturbing
My colors twist and turn

Once there was one who embraced my entirety
Who gazed pierced my mosaic individuality
And did not turn away

Iridescent, my soul shone for him
Enraptured, my soul captivated him
Unfiltered, I was known

What is the face you perceive
Will you — Can you — comprehend my totality
Or are you limited by necessity

Do you see
Me?


Originally published on Medium.com

I Let Depression Tarnish the Last Months I Had With My Husband

Confessions of a guilty widow

Photo by Karolina Grabowska from Pexels

If I confess my deepest darkest regret, will you think less of me? Will the colorful image you had of my character fade to gray?

I guess I really can’t be concerned with such matters. The need to be authentic compels me to admit:

During the last months of my husband’s life, I was a wretched wife.

When your spouse is diagnosed with cancer, a halo is promptly bestowed upon your head. People behold the aura of an angel, a selfless guardian.

The moment your beloved dies, you are bequeathed sainthood. No canonization investigation required — you’re decreed a living martyr.

I wasn’t worthy of either title.

For years, I was able to pull it off

From that fateful day in 2001 when his leukemia was detected and throughout the stem cell transplant in 2003, I was my husband’s fierce warrior — his faithful companion.

I eagerly attended every doctor’s appointment. During the transplant, I sat by his hospital bed with my notebook of lab results, daily stats, and Q&As for the attendings. I kept track of how many ounces he drank — and expelled. I’d help him shower if he had the energy to take one and especially when he didn’t.

For eight weeks, I monitored and worried. His steadfast sentry, nothing was going to be missed on my watch.

The 45-minute drive home each night was my time to cry — that is, if I could allow myself the release. Gasping sobs would have to wait. One can only shed so many tears when navigating a freeway.

Our two young sons, ages eight and ten, would greet me at the door, anxious for news about when their Daddy — their hero — might come home. I never had the heart to tell them the odds were he wouldn’t.

Once he was released from the hospital, the location had changed, but the vigil continued. He was in lockdown for 100 days while his immunities were rebuilding. Every morsel of food and drink was strictly controlled to prevent contamination. I flushed his Hickman twice daily so we wouldn’t need to hire a nurse.

My husband’s only excursions were visits to the doctor, where I diligently came prepared with my ever-expanding notebook. I reported on his progress and tattled on him when he “misbehaved.”

Part scolding, part admiration, the three of us would laugh and cry, smile and cringe about the pace of his recovery.

Throughout it all, he would hold my hand and thank me. Silently sing my praises with a sly smile. I would soak it all in — letting his pride in me briefly douse the dread simmering in my soul.

I was a triumphant wife.

Reality settles in

We soon learned the harsh reality of “surviving” a stem cell transplant. Remission does not equal well. It only means cancer-free.

When they bring you to the precipice of death, there are going to be consequences.

My husband was in a ceaseless war. His immune system had been overthrown by the transplant and it wasn’t going to give up without a fight. Every skirmish left a little more devastation in its wake. His body was the battered battleground.

As he bravely soldiered on, I slowly withdrew. I continued the day-to-day activities of being a wife and mother, but I retreated from us — from him.

I was a fraudulent wife.

I was repulsed not by him, but by the disease slowly taking him away from me.

Every ailment withered his physique, but strengthened his resolve. The more he suffered without complaint, the more I wanted to scream about the injustice of his illness. I seethed with selfish anger and writhed in empathetic pain.

The two of us continued on in a stoic hush, not wanting the world — or each other — to realize just how fragile we were.

Not comprehending that isolating our feelings would soon isolate us from each other.

I could handle much of it: the perpetual sores on his feet that he spent 30 minutes each morning dressing, the near loss of his vision requiring contacts only available across the country, and the limp that took stole his weekly game of basketball.

It was the rest that made me go AWOL

First, it was his drastic drop in weight. I used to joke I didn’t marry a man who was thinner than me, playing on his ego to try and get him to eat. But that was only the truth floating on the surface. From the center of my being, I ached for his strong, muscular arms that would make me feel safe and protected.

Each pound he lost tolled how precarious our life had become. He finally stopped telling me his weight. I would never ask again.

Doubly desolating was the siege of his mouth. Dry and full of sores, he couldn’t muster enough saliva to eat normal food nor tolerate any sort of spice. Nearly every meal I could make caused him pain. When he stopped joining us for dinner, I gave up on cooking.

No amount of breath mints could disguise the scent and flavor of sickness inhabiting his mouth. The mouth that gave me my first kiss. The one I used to spend hours savoring was now sour — a distasteful reminder of a life being vanquished. Our affection became relegated to pecks on the cheek.

He developed a form of scleroderma. The condition marched across his skin, laying the foundations for its eventual sarcophagus. Disfiguring and immobilizing everywhere it advanced, we knew it was only a matter of time before it hit below the belt.

I was a neglectful wife

Each night, my husband would retreat to our bedroom soon after dinner. A full day’s work for him was exhausting. After the kids were put to bed, he’d ask me to join him. Sometimes for intimacy, mostly for simple companionship.

To my profound regret, more and more often, I’d come up with a reason to decline his request.

From “I’ve got a headache,” to “There are bills to pay,” to “My favorite TV show is on,” I guiltily spouted them all. Dejected, he eventually stopped asking.

My love for him never wavered, but truth be told, I was resentful, morose, and a sad excuse for a wife. I fumed that every waking moment was dictated by his disease. Embittered that our children didn’t remember life with him well.

I was despondent over being robbed of our happily ever after, even as I was robbing him of the closeness he needed — and deserved.

I was in mourning before he was dead.

It never occurred to me I was suffering from depression.

The other shoe drops

For seven years, the WHEN? shadowed us during the day and loomed in our dreams at night. We tried to pretend it wasn’t there, but it haunted us all the same.

His death brought forth a cavalcade of emotions: Shock, sorrow, and deep-seated anguish that left me hollow. It also brought relief. Relief that he wouldn’t have to endure another minute of suffering. Relief that cancer no longer ruled our lives.

Relief that I didn’t have to take care of him anymore.

Then the guilt would wash over me like Bactine. I would sting mightily with shame and then go numb.

I was a grieving widow.

Clarity comes in the aftermath

It’s been 12 years since he’s been gone. A dozen years living with this secret disgrace.

I’ve chastised myself a thousand times for falling short. Remorse still prowls my cheerful memories, waiting to pounce and condemn.

Only recently have I acknowledged I was depressed. The years of “being strong” had left me weak. There were only so many hours in the day I could keep a smile on my face. I was also suffering from an autoimmune disorder that sucked dry any reserves I may have had.

Desperately working with my meager coping skills and failing miserably, I simply thought this was par for the course when confronted with cancer. Too dumbfounded to recognize that I needed — we both needed — help.

I was doing my best, but I know it must have hurt him deeply. If I could change one thing, I would have swallowed my pride and reached out to someone.

Maybe then, I could have settled into his embrace each and every night of those last months. Let him kiss me like he did our first time under the mistletoe.

Remind him — remind me — that our love could soothe all wounds.


Cancer caregivers experience depression at more than double the rate of patients

The American Society of Clinical Oncology reports that up to 59% of cancer patient caregivers experience some sort of depression, compared to up to 25% for patients. Continual, untreated caregiver burden can negatively impact the health of the caregiver as well as the patient.

If you are a cancer patient caregiver and feeling overwhelmed, please don’t keep it to yourself.

Most cancer centers will have an oncology social worker on staff that can direct you to nearby resources. Seek out support groups where you can express your anxiety in a safe space. Check out the National Cancer Institute’s Caring for the Caregiver.

Getting assistance will only help you — and your loved one.


This piece was originally published as an P.S. I Love You Editor’s pick on Medium.com

Sheriffs Swarmed My Street the Day Before My Husband’s Funeral

Image by Maximilian Weber from Pixabay

How I found laughter and love in my darkest of days

My friend was running a bit late, and my mother was agitated. “Where is Katie* (named changed to protect the terrified) with that cold cut platter?”

It was the day before my husband’s funeral. We were expecting another influx of people stopping by to pay their respects and were running low on food. Katie had graciously offered to bring up the traditional wake tray of deli meats and cheese.

She was always on time, so I realized it could only be one thing. “Knowing Katie,” I said, “she is taking the time to make it look perfect.”

An interior decorator by trade and fabulous cook, everything Katie created was impressive. She could make even the most mundane chips and dip look Insta-worthy — even before Instagram existed. “It’s all about the presentation,” she explained.

Suddenly Katie and another friend, Christine, frantically burst through the front door. “There are three sheriff cars and five officers with their guns drawn right in front of your house!” they breathlessly exclaimed.

Christine and I bolted upstairs to my son’s room to get a good view of the action, figuring we could duck behind the bed if bullets started flying. (Our lame safety plan made perfect sense at the time.) Too freaked out to join us, my mother and Katie huddled in the kitchen.

We peeked through the blinds like seasoned nosy neighbors. Sure enough, the three cars were stopped in front of the house directly across the street. The sheriffs were slowing converging on a pickup parked in the driveway, firearms at the ready.

Our hearts beating faster than any gunfire that might have erupted, we were captivated by this C.S.I. moment playing out on my suburban cul de sac.

The officers steadily approached the vehicle in question, but found no one inside. After a thorough check of the perimeter (yes, I watch a lot of crime dramas), they determined that there was no immediate threat. The squad soon dispersed, deflating our adrenaline rush as they drove away.

Turns out the house was in foreclosure. The neighbors, incensed at being evicted, had trashed the interior before they left. The word was out to call the sheriffs should one of them return. Apparently, I didn’t get the notification. Neither did my next-door neighbor’s gardener, who had innocently parked in the perpetrator’s driveway.

Condolences and Casseroles

The gardener had been forced to use said driveway because there was no space available on the street. Every inch of curb was occupied by someone visiting my house — the home of a grieving family.

Since my husband’s sudden death a little over a week before, it had been a steady procession of people stopping by to offer condolences, deliver food or flowers, or both. Casseroles and coffee cakes overran my kitchen. Bouquets of flowers took up every square inch of table space.

I walked around in a frenzied fog trying in vain to comprehend my current circumstances.

One insightful friend brought over copious amounts of paper goods, plastic utensils, and toilet paper. When you have a constant flood of guests, they are the things you need most, but the last things you think about. It’s now my go-to offering when I visit a family in mourning.

It Takes a Village, a Family, and a Community

My husband and are were raised in large and social families. Both of us — especially my husband — were active in our community. He died while he was coaching my younger son’s youth football game, calling plays as he went down. It had made the local paper. To say his funeral was going to be well-attended was an understatement.

It was like planning a wedding for 1,000 guests with only a week’s notice.

My sons — ages 13 and 15 — and I were dumbfounded by grief. We could barely get ourselves dressed, let alone plan such an event.

Fortunately, it was this extended family and community that picked up the slack and then some. Some kindnesses were elaborate, and others were simple, but all made a difference.

No gift of compassion is ever too small for a family that is grieving.

My parents’ main mission was to tend to my boys and me, as we were rolling on empty. One person created the funeral program, another had it printed. Matt’s closest coworker took charge of the video presentation and gave a soul-stirring eulogy. I can’t remember who oversaw the floral arrangements, but the altar was in glorious bloom.

The church bereavement committee handled the after-service reception. While I hazily muddled through the greetings and thank yous, they made sure every guest had enough appetizers to ward off grumbling stomachs.

A pair of Matt’s friends transformed our backyard into a splendid venue complete with lights in the trees for the at-home gathering. Still another generous couple picked up the tab for dinner and bartended the evening. When the sunset and the lights began to twinkle, it was truly heavenly.

My husband had always envisioned hosting just such a magical party. I only hope he was able to see his dream come true.

Absurdity at the Mortuary

A few days before the funeral, Katie had accompanied me to the mortuary to finalize the details of my husband’s cremation. She was a bit squeamish with the situation but determined I not do this alone.

Uneasiness radiated off of Katie as I filled out the forms. She was trying valiantly to hide it, which only made me appreciate her presence even more. Soon, the mortician came in to finalize the details:

Would you like an urn? No, we will be scattering his ashes.

Ok, that will be $50 dollars for the cardboard box. I could hear my cost-conscious husband bellowing from his yet-to-be-determined grave.

Would you like him sifted or unsifted? Wait? What?! We aren’t baking a cake with him! Katie turned ashen.

The mortician explained that if the deceased had false teeth or any pins and rods from surgeries, they wouldn’t turn to ash in the cremation process. Lumpy gobs of metal would be left in the cinders. Matt was a very good — but accident-prone — athlete. His body was practically cyborg.

I didn’t need any Cracker Jack surprises tumbling out when we spread his remains. I paid extra for the sifting.

Finding Laughter and Love Amidst Chaos

In the eight days between my husband’s death and his funeral, I was bewildered and broken. My entire world had been shattered and I had yet to learn how to pick up the pieces.

Without the benevolent support of family and friends, my sons and I wouldn’t have survived those first days and beyond. We were in a grief-laden stupor and many details remain hazy, but our hearts will always remember the outpouring of love we received.

As it is with everything, there were periods of laughter and even joy woven into the hours of sorrow. My spirit was delighted to see far-away loved ones who arrived to console us. Katie and I giggled over the “sifting inquiry” for days and years after.

Even the alarm of a police raid provided a much-needed diversion. In your darkest of days, life will provide moments of relief if you’re willing to recognize them.

Back at the Scene of the Crime

After the commotion from the impending shoot-out had died down, I was finally able to view Katie’s platter. It was a magnificent display. The cold cuts and cheeses were impeccably spiraled around what I knew to be one of her favorite dishes. She spent time considering the color palette when she transitioned from one deli item to another.

My dear friend needed perfection for an imperfect occasion. I knew each item was carefully placed with heartbreak as she worked to ease my burden. It was her sympathy card to me.

“So, this is why you were late,” I said to Katie as I admired the tray. She smiled through her tears and nodded.

“It’s all about the presentation,” we chimed together.


This piece was originally published on Medium.com

Looking for Love? Maybe You Need to Change Your Point of View

What you find is up to you

Photo by Samantha Gades on Unsplash

Tucked in the upper right corner of my garage rafters lies a box containing an enormous vase. It has earned that spot because it is simply too large for any indoor closet. Scarlet and urn-shaped (an omen, perhaps?) it was a gift from my late husband on a bygone Valentine’s Day. He promised to fill it with roses each year after that. He made it to three.

Guiding like a beacon, it is the first thing I notice when pulling into my home. Sometimes, all I observe is the tattered, dusty edges of the box — how empty that picture of the crimson glass vessel appears. Most of the time, however, I recognize it as it truly is: A loving cup brimming with memories. It all depends on my point of view.


Now here I am, a dozen Valentines since my husband’s passing, without a holiday mandated significant other. Lavish bouquets will not be exhibited on my Facebook feed. No one is sending me sweet love notes this year.

But here’s the kicker — I am teeming with loves just as significant, if not more so, than the adoration of a spouse or partner. And, I bet, my fellow non-plus-oners, you are, too. You just have to recognize them and, most importantly, resolve to take heed of their beauty.

Only in the eyes of love can you find infinity
-Sorin Cerin

The Greeks defined eight types of love. Why eight? I’d like to think it’s because eight is the number of infinity. Universal love can’t be comprehended in a single construct.

My favorite synopsis of this Grecian octet is a blog post on the FTD website. I know, cheesy, but good content is good content. Plus, this is a Valentine’s piece, so what the heck.

Here they are, with a little commentary thrown in:

  • Philia: Brotherly Love. Kindred Spirits. The kind of person who understands that pineapple has no business being anywhere near a pizza, but completely understands why ketchup on tacos is the bomb.
  • Pragma: Enduring, mature love. A cultivated, shared history that has withstood the tests of time.
  • Storge: Natural, instinctual love. The instant love a parent has for their child or the immediate affection felt between childhood friends. BFs forever and all that.
  • Eros: Romantic, physical love. Hot, sultry hormones pulsating. Bounding with lustful energy. Soft caresses leading to wild abandon. Whew! Ok, I digress… Get a grip woman!
  • Ludos: Playful, flirty love. Infatuation. Frisky behavior that makes everyone else in the room gag just a bit.
  • Mania: Obsessive love. Jealous and possessive. Sheer madness.
  • Philautia: Self-compassion. Revering, accepting, and honoring yourself. Choosing love that builds you up.
  • Agape: Selfless love. Putting others above yourself. Recognizing and respecting the humanity in all of us. Sadly, there hasn’t been much of this going around as of late.

“To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow.”
-Audrey Hepburn

The Greeks never intended for these loves to be mutually exclusive. Like features in a luxurious landscape, they are to be planted together; complementing and highlighting what is sown alongside.

Love is never monochromatic. It can be dappled with a few complementary hues or bursting with psychedelic shades. Your preferences, your environment, help to select the flora.

So Cupid be damned! This Valentine’s I am going to shift my focus to the loves that presently adorn my life, instead of longing for those of seasons past. Like any landscape artist, I am working with the abundance of botanicals presented to me. Hopefully, you find it as breathtaking as I do.

But first, the fertilizer

Ever since my husband’s original cancer diagnosis (on the eve of 9/11 — another omen), one could say my life has been a reoccurring shit show. An endless carnival of freak occurrences and rarities that would amaze even Ripley.

Contrary to the old adage, my shit does stink. Big chunks of putrid stank bobbing in a viscous cesspool. That aroma, believe it or not, is peculiarly intoxicating and addictive. The compulsion to anoint oneself with sorrow’s perfume overwhelming.

But, to my surprise, it is within these piles that my loves have sprouted. Instead of prompting repulsion, these predicaments have fertilized my blessings. They laid the groundwork for my bountiful garden.

Mia famiglia: Storge-Agape-Philia

I used to take for granted my strong, extended family. I’m sure it’s partly due to my Italian heritage, but, to me, it was a given that everyone had one. Only recently, have I recognized my privilege.

My family is voracious in their appetite to make it all better and I admit, I lap up every morsel of their compassion. There is my mother, who bursts in with a month’s worth of homemade ragu and biscotti; her arms laden with bags of herbals and vitamins. Whether the ailment is physical or emotional, she has a supplement for it.

Her maternal might set to 11, my mother will nestle in for days or sometimes weeks to tend to her firstborn. Three square meals a day (always organic) her manna from heaven.

My father, in turn, will drive to the ends of the earth — and Costco — to gather provisions. Tucked within his bags of supplies will invariably be a surprise luxury item (jumbo shrimp, baby lamb chops, juicy rib-eyes) that he and I both adore. It’s a wink and a silent, “I’ve got you covered, honey,” that rings loud and clear in my heart.

Each of my siblings is steadfast as a succulent. A variegated array of devotion, their loyalty never waivers.

Then there is my cousin, who has made it his mission to make me feel attractive even though lately I feel about as appealing as a corpse lily. I know he is at the ready to beat down any dude he feels has done me wrong.

Treasured old friends: Philia-Pragma-Storge

Fortune smiled upon me when it granted me a fellowship of life-long friends. Most budded in elementary school with one germinating in our infancy. Beloved companions for 50 years, they are my roots. We have grown, matured, and endured alongside each other like a redwood forest.

We have experienced the trials and joys of all that life has to offer from youthful shenanigans to the frolics of middle age. Boyfriends, careers, marriages, and births have been our summer solstice. The biting frost of illness and death’s devastation our frigid winters. We have a symbiotic history that grounds and nourishes us. They know and cherish me to my core.

The Posse: Philia-Philautia-Agape

My posse, along with their spouses and children, is my trellis — my backbone. Interwoven with strength and radiance, this sisterhood+ rallies like a fire brigade as soon as a distress call pings our group text. Ever ready for the rescue, they’ve arrived within minutes whenever I needed a lift to an appointment, a toilet unclogged, or gallons of libations to drown my sorrows.

These families have cheered on my children, coaching and stepping in as surrogate parents when my capacity was waning. Even more glorious, they have always included me in their social gatherings. I’m not weeded out as the solo attendee or tolerated as the pity invite. Within this lattice, I am welcomed.

The greenery

No landscape is complete without a bit of foliage providing an anchor or a touch of flourish. There is the former coworker who has become a dear companion and priceless dispenser of wisdom, the countless clients who unknowingly offered inspiration when I was desperate for validation, and, of course, my two sons who supply me with abounding purpose, pride, and hope.

“There are always flowers for those who want to see them.” –Henri Matisse

I’ll admit, I still pine for a season of roses. It’s easier to be content with discontent. When the next storm arrives, I have no doubt I’ll find myself, once again, slathering sadness like a warm blanket.

But when that happens, I am equally assured that one of my loves will sprout anew and tenderly wipe the tears from my eyes. My focus cleared, I’ll soon notice the grandeur blossoming around me.

So what is blooming in your garden? Which of the eight loves decorate your landscape? Are you dazzled by their brilliance? Or are you struggling to see splendor amidst some desolation? Are you basking in a verdant meadow or shriveling in a barren desert?

The view is up to you.


Orginally featured in P.S. I Love You @ Medium.com

Damming Love

Photo by Garon Piceli from Pexels

We shared a lifetime
a lifetime ago

Flawed, yet unbroken
Beautifully blemished
Burnished to a luster
reflecting devotion

Eager archaeologists
we examined tenderly
Ardently unearthing
our unique treasures

Intimately excavating
Discovering
Learning
until love was clairvoyant

We knew Us
by heart

Youthful — Innocent
We had commenced
only to be aged
beyond our years

Invaded — Tormented
Cancer corrupted
Our perfect union
prematurely extinct

Nearly a decade required
to cast aside mourning
Shed my shroud
Discard my armor

Unaware of my naiveté
I auctioned my affections
Inept as an ingenue
Headed for slaughter

At first, I sought
lightening in a bottle
but flashy liaisons
promptly implode

Still desperately seeking
I mistook
desire for romance
Fleeting attention
for adoration

I settled for inadequacy
Forged perfection
Alluring courtships
proved to be counterfeit

Am I greedy?
A relationship glutton
trying to echo
our marital harmony?

Or am I an addict?
Craving the fix
of holding someone dear?

Earnestly yearning
to be cherished once more

Now a wary skeptic
disquiet compels retreat
to lick my wounds
Safeguard my heart

But my soul pours out
The floodgates have opened
How does one dam (damn?)
the desire to love?


Originally published in P.S. I Love You @Medium.com

Dear Twenty-Something Self: Your Dreams Aren’t Going to Come True and I’m Good With That

book-4133988_1920

Image by Yuri_B from Pixabay

I can’t go back to yesterday — because I was a different person then — Lewis Carroll

Look at you my lovely, once-upon-a-time self. 25. Newly married to your high school sweetheart, your story is just beginning. Everything is on schedule to begin your modern fairy tale. The outline has been predetermined — by you. Exhilarated, you await the fleshing out of the finer details, certain they will meet your expectations.

What you don’t realize, is the best-laid dreams of starry-eyed ingenues don’t always come true.

Life’s journey will take you through inconceivable storms. At times, you will feel stripped and shattered, certain you will never be whole again. But, I’m here to tell you — three decades later — you will weather the tempests. Your memoir will be illustrated with the colors of a sweeping saga. You will recover, replenish, and rebuild time and time again. You will forge a heart of restoration and hope.

You will be your own heroine.

Prologue

Our life’s quest was a typical middle-class narration: Vivacious college-educated woman marries a smart handsome man who adores her. They start out in a modest home, eventually settling down in an upscale neighborhood with their four children — two boys, two girls. Money never being a concern, it is her choice whether she spends her days at an office or volunteering, or perhaps, a little of both. Summers would be filled with pool parties and family vacations. All her children would be athletic, smart, and popular. Soon, they would meet their own mates, have successful careers, and provide grandchildren. The blissed-filled grandparents eventually ease into a comfortable retirement and enjoy the fruits of a fairy tale legacy.

If you haven’t guessed already, younger me, that is not how our story turns out. You might think I’m seeking to dampen your naïveté, but that is not the case. To do so would douse the sparks of our history. I’m here to highlight some of the events that will steer you to roads less traveled. Annotate some of your preconceptions. Not to have you switch course, for that would result in a different destination, but to provide you with the faith you’ll need to continue your path.

To become the woman of character you aspire to be.

Being a zebra will be limiting

In our twenties, everything was black and white — politics, faith, parenting. We were crafting our cornerstones and needed a firm foundation to build upon. They served us well — provided strong roots, made us feel secure — until they became confining. They distracted us from soothing shades of grey and the charms of nuance. I shudder when I realize how dogmatic we were, failing to recognize another’s sense of right and wrong could be just as valid.

There will come a time when society feeds like vultures on such assumptions. When those who may think differently from each other are regarded as enemies. It will grieve our soul, but we will be mindful to have practiced perspective — preserved our humanity.

We won’t be the perfect parent

Infertility issues will limit our offspring to two. Blessed with a couple of fine young lads, we will throw ourselves completely into their nurturing. Education, nutrition, sports, discipline, recreation, family time all mapped out to promote optimal growth. We oversaw with a loving, not overbearing, hand — providing just enough oversight to assist direction and encourage independence. It would be practically perfect — or so we thought.

It will take a while to acknowledge some mistakes — an unnecessarily heavy hand, a few minor (and major) misjudgments. But we will eventually comprehend we did the best we had with the resources available. It will bring us a sense of peace and a newfound insight into the caring nature of our own parents.

Our hero will die, but we will survive

The ultimate breach to the fairy tale contract, our hero dies midway through the story. The dissolving of the partnership is a long, drawn-out process. We were a team and when the hero began to falter, we picked up the slack. Our role expanded to include caretaker, nurse, and, finally, widowed head of household.

We will be proud of ourselves for enduring. For maintaining some moment of normalcy each day, even if only in a robotic function. It will take decades to fully process this forced single ownership of our sanity — cultivate our acceptance of personal sovereignty.

We will need to go to the well repeatedly

Fiercely independent, it will crush us to ask for help. After all, we are the primary caregiver, not the recipient. We will be prideful, convinced that no one else is equipped to provide quality assistance. Adding insult, this will not be a single occurrence. We will find ourselves in numerous states of injury, dipping in the well of kindness again and again until we are sure it will run dry.

Like the miracle at Cana, our community wine never depletes and we are inebriated with gratitude. We develop empathy — foster humility. We acquire debts we have no chance to repay and are awestruck by their joy in giving.

Villains will serve a purpose

We will encounter more than our expected share of villainy. After all, every fairy tale needs a counterbalance of dastardly deeds to keep us engaged. Some will be overt and others will be wolves in sheep’s clothing, but all will catch us off guard and cause us to briefly doubt our judgment.

Much to the scoundrels’ dismay, however, each conflict will bestow a gift. These endowments will cause us to develop skills or discover hidden kernels of truth within ourselves. We will garner discernment — be wiser when the next challenge arises.

Our children will write their own stories

Regrettably, we were somewhat judgmental of others’ styles of parenting. If they didn’t align with ours, we surmised these offspring would be spoiled or — gasp! — unproductive members of society. Gradually, we began to appreciate the true nature of a child — of a human — will come to be no matter the influence. They will bloom in their own time and be beautiful.

As much as we tried, we could not prevent our sons from suffering, enduring hardship, or making mistakes and living with the consequences. We could only strive to provide a safe haven and a strong moral compass to chart their own paths. Like us, they have prevailed and grown sturdy, strong. Watching them navigate their courses will be our greatest accomplishment.

Epilogue

Picking up the pieces will be a never-ending process. Initially, our defenses will want to cover our wounds, camouflage our scars. But those shrouds are too difficult to maintain and we will never able to fully rest within our story if we continue to try.

And so, we will come to embrace our imperfections — honor our unique broken history. Like the Japanese art of Kintsugi, we will highlight our fractures with gold, delighting in our resilience. Our modern fairy tale may have an unforeseen conclusion, but it will end happily ever after all the same.


This post previously published on Illumination | @Medium

The Worst Gets Better: A 30th Anniversary Love Letter to My Dead Husband

610042680.409165

May 5, 1990

It’s Cinco de Mayo, 2020. Five years since I wrote my first letter to you. Thirty years since our wedding day. Eleven and a half years since I lost you.

 

So much has transpired since those monumental dates in 1990, 2008. I am no longer the girl you married, nor the same woman you left behind. I wonder if you would even recognize me. Half a generation has passed. Very little in the world appears the same.

 

Your parents have both made their pilgrimage back to you. I wish I could have witnessed those reunions. The void that shadowed them after you left spilling over with joy. The pride in seeing their only son bursting in celestial technicolor.

 

Our two teenage boys have become adults. Complete opposites in looks, personality, and temperament. Yet, each one is a perfect reflection of you. My DNA fills in gaps here and there. You coached them on how to be men. They are your living history.

 

No more talk of darkness
Forget these wide-eyed fears*

Although we knew your time with us would be abbreviated, we were still caught off guard. Ill-equipped for the abruptness and finality of it all. It took all three of us some time to regain our bearings, reset our compasses. Each of us veered off course, sometimes plunging to the depths of despair. Thankfully, our squalls and tempests didn’t occur simultaneously. The other two were able to shore up the one faltering   – holding the tethers tight until we could stand on our own feet again. Still, it took nearly a decade for our quartet minus one to complete the journey.

 

I’ve long since sold the house. Most people nodded in approval. “Too many memories,” is what I’m sure they supposed. But they would have been wrong in that assumption. It was our house, but our foundation was in us. You taught me that. Counseled me to view our abode as an asset, not a mausoleum. When it became too monumental to manage, we moved on  – the memoir of our life together tenderly stored in our hearts.

 

When seeking our next home, I set my heart on an area that common sense  –  and my realtor  –  told me was out of budget. I was determined not to compromise, somehow secure in the conviction that I had located my new neighborhood. Your years of faith in me had instilled a confidence just beginning to bloom. My perseverance was rewarded, the market took a dip, and I found a lovely townhome. I knew you would have commended my triumph.

 

You’d appreciate where we settled. Compact and cozy, yet not too confining. No cumbersome yard to tend to  –  that was always your domain, but a small patio shaded by magnolias and adorned by a few low-maintenance flowers. I do miss our rose garden  –  our quests to discover uncommon varietals that caught our fancy. “No humdrum track home shrubs for us,” was our landscaping motto.

 

It was more than a relocation. It was the beginning of a rebirth  –  a life conducted by a soloist, no longer a duet. Downsizing was cathartic. I took very few furnishings with me. Only those cherished deeply transplanted to the new home: The photo albums you meticulously curated. The bedroom furniture you said we couldn’t afford  –  until I negotiated a deal too good to let pass. (My refusal to pay retail for anything was one of the traits you found most endearing.) Almost everything else was sold to finance the move, except for a trio of toolboxes. Each filled with implements and gizmos carefully selected from your considerable collection – one crimson case for each of us  –  to help us tend to our domicile in your absence.

 

Promise me that all you say is true*

As much as I protested during our wee hour “what if” conversations, you were correct in asserting the benefits of companionship – of reopening my heart to love. I was in danger of becoming too comfortable in the inertia of loneliness. So, I started dating. My first few experiences were like the spits and spats of an old jalopy restarting after a decade in storage: cobwebs clogging the valves, a couple backfires, and the groanings of a “mature” engine resisting movement.

 

It took me more time than most to regain my momentum, but I did end up having my first real boyfriend since you at sixteen. He was a good man. He honored my parents, our boys, even you. He would light up at my smile, but it began to flicker. We were mismatched puzzle pieces trying desperately to force the connection – only able to bend so far before the relationship snapped apart.

 

All I want is freedom
A world with no more night*

Next year, the scales will tip. I will have more years of my life spent without you than with you by my side. I can feel them teetering. At times I feel quite precarious, unbalanced. More often, however, I feel the rush of anticipation. Looking ahead with hope instead of dread. I used to feel unprepared about what is to come. Perhaps, I am ready now.

 

Happy Anniversary!

Loving you always, 

Lisa

 


 

 

*All I Ask of You – Andrew Lloyd Webber
Sung at our wedding. May 5, 1990


This post previously published at Hello Love | The Good Men Project | @Medium