Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Killing Me With Kindness

Everyone wants to help the widow. On line at the supermarket if I happen to be wearing black and I happen to let it slip that my husband recently passed away it's a sure bet that I'll be ushered to the front of the line.

Perks of widowhood are a double edged sword like losing five pounds by way of an intestinal flu. A perfect example is from an episode of one of my favorite shows
"Curb Your Enthusiasm."

Larry's mom passes away and he discovers that he can get out of going places by just hanging his head and saying,

"My mom just died."

People genuinely want to help me in any way they can and it isn't an empty gesture like in real life (which will probably begin again when it is a full year) when your sister offers to pick you up at the airport and she's praying you'll say,

"Don't be silly, Barbara. I'll just hop in a taxi."

Women like me who have never dealt with finances (except for spending, of course) are
approached by our husband's financial friends, the ones he did business with and they patiently explain that a balance sheet does not have a thread count.

An extra car needs to be dealt with. Do I sell Jimmy's car? Should I sell it on eBay or Do I really want crazy people coming over to see the car and then killing me and putting me in my own trunk?

It's hard to be a woman alone. We're vunerable. I know if I had died 'broads' would be knocking each other over to bring Jimmy casseroles and lots and lots of cleavage. He would have been a great catch. I know. I broke him in.

My men are pure and they only want to help, though. No agenda. They loved my husband and they reach out to me with no funny business attached. They imagine themselves the deceased husband and would want their widows taken care of.

Fair enough, but, sometimes, I'm doing them a favor when I let them do me a favor. This is why I 'allowed' Pete to help me clean up Jimmy's 1964 Avanti Studebaker that had been sitting in our garage for years and years and had collected so much dust that I knew it was red only from memory.

I love Pete. He's known Jimmy since they were five and me since I was eighteen. His wife, Bonnie is my best friend. He was aching to do something for me because he was aching period. But, the Avanti wasn't really bothering anybody. It was just sitting there used to being not being touched or washed.

Pete arrived Sunday morning ready to tackle the job armed with his own special soap, sponges and some kind of three way attachment for a hose that made the water soft so that it would dry on it's own or something. I'm not sure. I wasn't really paying attention. I zoned out. It was kind of like when Jimmy would attempt to explain a football play to me.

Anyway, that car sparkled. That car smiled. That car was definitely red. Wow. Pete and my son Doug had pushed it out of the garage into the driveway and there it stood in the sun, shiny and proud.

Suddenly, the sun went away and it began to sprinkle. I sat in the drivers seat as instructed and Pete and Doug struggled to push the car back into the garage. They were a man short. Jimmy may have been watching and smiling, but he was useless.

Pete, who has a 1960ish Corvette and drives it a few times a year decided we should do what he does to get his car started - add a thimble full of gasoline. So, we went to the gas station - got the gas and I watched Pete put just enough gas in to drive it into the garage. Thrilled that it even started we closed the garage went inside to have lunch.

A little while later Pete left for home beaming with pride. I was happy and grateful and Doug went back to his apartment in the city. I was left alone with a shiny, red car in the garage. Good times.

About 11:30 that evening I had to go down to the basement (now I call it a playroom because I fixed it up for Skylar, my granddaughter, but that has nothing to do with this story) and I smelled something awful as soon as I opened the door. Then, I opened the door to the garage and it was stronger. Before I knew it the bathroom on the main floor that shares a wall with the garage was kind of stinky, too.

I imagined myself being affixiated in my sleep so I went on line and googled around until I found a 24 hour poison or odor control number in my area.

"We'll send the firemen over right away, Mame."

Ten minutes later I stood by my front door in my flowered pajamas and slippers as the fire truck with lights twirling around and siren blasting pulled up to my house.
Five giants in fireman costumes jumped out and before I knew it I was opening the playroom door and asking,

"Do you smell something funny?"

One whiff and the biggest guy said,

"Are kidding lady? It reeks."

I was sort of happy about that - I was afraid it might have been like going to the doctor, your symptoms disappear and you look like an idiot. I looked enough like an idiot in those pajamas.

I led them to the Avanti and they looked under the car before I knew it they were pushing it out of the garage and showing me a huge puddle of gasoline where the car had been. It was like looking at an outline of a body at a crime scene.

They explained that even though Pete had put only a teeny tiny bit of gas in the car since it hadn't been started in years there must have been old clumpy gas in there and that little turn of the key got the gas moving and there must be a break or hole in something to cause it to all leak out.

I asked them

"Is this like not eating in a long time and then having a tiny taste of something and getting sick?"

I think they nodded. Anyway, they put some white pads to soak up the gas and then all five of the firemen ran around the house opening windows. One came down to the playroom and told me how nice it was - I beamed.

"You wouldn't believe what we see, Lady. People call us and have no
time to straighten up. This is some basement."

I was a little disappointed that it wasn't clear to him that it was a playroom, but I let it slide. He got busy setting up and turning on a huge fan that they use in fires to get out the bad air and pull in the good so we just stood there together waiting for the bad air to leave.

And, soon they all left, too, but not before they asked if there was anything else they could do for me - is there a place I could stay overnight? I said I was fine.

And, I guess, I will be. After all, I have so many people around me to help out.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Business As Unusual

I was a spoiled brat of a wife. I was. Bills? What are they? I've heard about people who get the shakes when they open the mailbox. They anticipate the bills overflowing and swallowing them up. Not me, not then. I just handed them off to Jimmy and never looked back.

He used to joke that I assume there's money left in my checking account because I have checks left in my checkbook. That wasn't far from the truth. 'Daddy' was always there to refill so why worry?

These last months have been a shot of reality. I've actually sat down and written checks to pay for credit cards that I used to think of as magic plastic. Apparently they have this silly new system where you have to PAY the credit card people.

As I sit in the kitchen writing out check after check I know Jimmy is watching me and laughing his ass off. I guess, if I had died and I saw him doing the laundry I would be smirking, too.

I Hated Everyone In My Bereavement Group

I'm one of those people who can just look at a stranger and hate her like she stabbed my best friend. I've always been grateful for this ability to weed out the boring and annoying.

This is why I after two sessions I decided not to go back to my bereavement group. I hated them all. Even for me, a group hate is unusual. Most of the time I spare somebody. I even hated the new member, number eleven who claimed he was put in the 'over 70' group last week by mistake. Trust me, it was no mistake or else losing his wife has made him age a decade in three months.

I kept thinking, "Jimmy would hate them, too." I wanted so much to be able to come home and tell him about how stupid and ugly they were. I wanted to sit beside him on the couch and and giggle immaturely with him as I immitated Laura, who insisted on keeping her husband's voice on the answering machine, totally not caring that she was weirding out everyone and then wondering why no one was calling her anymore.

Jimmy would have loved to hear about Dave who threw out all his wife's clothes the day after her funeral. I nicknamed him 'Brave Dave' because this is an unpopular move among the bereaved. I watched them cover up their horror with phoney reassurance

"Whatever is good for you is the right thing."

You have to hate these people! I'm so relieved that my anger has now been redirected from Jimmy to eleven grieving strangers. I guess, the bereavement group did help me.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Hard To Bereave It

My friend Barbara told me I should join a beweavement group. I said, 'I'm not really into arts and crafts.'

'BeReavment!' she said louder, but not too loud because everyone is very very gentle around me lately. I appreciate this and at the same time I feel pathetic, like a poor pampered puppy. Some actually reach out to pet me.

I always think, 'Boy, if I was the one who died and Jimmy was left here being bereaved he would love being petted.' He was much more touchie feelie than I am. Just sitting on the couch watching TV he was content as long as I occasionally reached out and squeezed his foot. (and even more content if that led to squeezing other things)

Anyway, I should appreciate the kindness while it lasts, I suppose. I figure I have until it's a year next April and then people will go back to treating me like a normal person. I know I'll never be normal again, at least not what I recognize as normal me. It will be a new normal. Pretty wise, eh? Well, actually I read that in one of my 'How to Cope With Losing A Spouse' books. (not a real title...don't go looking it up on Amazon.

I decided to take Barbara's advise and join a group because according to grievers in the know I have a small window of time to do this. It seems from 3 months to 13 months is ideal. Before 3 months it is extremely hard to focus on what others are saying (and listening to others has never been my strong suit anyway) As Fran Liebowitz,the brilliant humorist said,

"The opposite of talking isn't listening - it's waiting."

I signed up quickly realizing I am five months in. Reading the newspapers and watching the news made me panic. So many tragedies every few seconds each day probably adds up to a long waiting list of grievers. I didn't want my window to close. Lucky me - They squeezed me in. I guess my check cleared.

On the way to my first group I was nervous, until I realized everyone else would be nervous, too and I have this ability to fake being comfortable when I just want to jump out the window. This made my nervous feeling fade and I started to feel superior. I tried to shake that off remembering the last time I was in a group this attitude did not endear me to the other group members. A snotty superior air does not win Miss Congeniality.

Wait. I'm not going to win friends and influence people. I'm going there to...hmmm, seems I couldn't finish that sentence. Why am I going?

My last group experience was as a member of the mothers' center. My almost 30 year old daughter Jackie, was 18 months old then so I suppose it's been awhile. I didn't expect the bereavement group to be the same. And, as it turned out it wasn't. Back then we introduced ourselves like this,

"Hi all! My name is Annie and I'm married to Brad and we have 2 wonderful children,
Jennifer and Jason. I used to work in the deli, but now I'm a stay at home Mom and
I love it! I no longer get a discount on the cold cuts, but I still get to make sandwiches! In my spare time, if I have any, that is ('snort-snort') I enjoy making placemats."

You have to hate Annie, right? I know I did.

As expected, the bereavement group had a way less perky atmosphere which normally I would prefer, but I wasn't prepared for the introductions like,

"I'm Eva. It's been six months. My husband, Charlie wasn't well for some time
and the doctors put him through all kinds of tests and when pancreatic cancer was discovered we knew he would have to have chemo. He lost so much weight and was really really weak, although he managed to come to our son's wedding, but wasn't strong enough to dance. His mother told me...wait, I'm sorry, am I talking too much?"

"YES, Eva - Just shut up already!" I said to myself. The group leader told her, "Of course not. Go on. That's why we're here."

Is that why we're here? I thought - to hear horrible stories? I sat there cringing realizing that soon it will be my turn and my story is pretty horrible, too.

Where are the young moms? Why aren't I hearing them confess that they laid awake the night before because they were guilty that they told their two year old,

"Your bottle ran away from home and now it's time to drink from a big girl sippy cup."

Actually, I always knew those concerns were stupid. Maybe, that's why I found it so difficult to listen.

Now, I'm listening. I'm sitting in a group of 10 people all between 50 and 60 all who lost a spouse and I'm listening to the other 6 women and 3 men. I'm getting more nauseous by the minute and I wonder what would happen if I dropped dead right there in the bereavement group. The person in the middle of talking might feel really guilty and she doesn't need that now. I'd better snap out of it.

I notice a phenomenon. Each of the three men had wives who were sick for YEARS and YEARS and I watch them tell their story with genuine love and compassion and selflessness - the endless doctor appointments, hospitalizations - "And, then my poor Judy was in a wheelchair - I was her sole caretaker."

To me, these men are from another planet. Jimmy was a wonderful, generous and loving man, but a nurturer he wasn't. Lucky for us both in 33 years I hardly ever got sick, but when I did it was,

"Come on. You can't still be sick."
And, this was after three days.

Several years ago I had liposucsion and I had to wear a tight long girdle.

"But how are we going to have sex with that thing on?"

I wondered about the sex. Did these men have a low sex drive or was Jimmy a maniac?
I wanted to stand up and scream, "What did you do all those years?"

I looked for any teeny sign of resentment - the helping her shower, getting her dressed, the not being able to go to the movies...nothing.

Maybe, I'm still in my angry stage because all I know is I went to the group feeling sad and alone hoping this would help and I left being mad at Jimmy. I know deep down he wouldn't have taken care of me so happily. And, now I can't even go home and start a fight with him. It's still so hard to bereave it.

Monday, September 04, 2006


Jimmy was plucked. That is the best way I can put it. Everyone else is still around but where's Jimmy? It just isn't fair. It isn't fair to him. It isn't fair to me. It isn't fair to our kids, our granddaughter and all of his other family and friends. I hope I'm clear. It isn't fair. Is this my angry stage? Who knows?

All summer I tried to keep busy visiting friends and relatives and I accepted most invitations. Typically, I stood around watching his cousin Frankie and Vito and Saul...Saul? (my cousin, the Jewish side)

These men are still predictably standing around the barbeque stuffing their faces with cheeseburgers, laughing over stupid fart jokes and making fun of their wives.

Not very facinating, true, but they're guys being guys and Jimmy was part of the mix. He was more than just a part. He was the loudest and the funniest and the biggest noise he made was making fun of me. I loved that.

I miss being the butt of his jokes because that was our dance. Those small, silly moments that were unique to us as a couple is gone. Forever. This is how every widow must feel. It must be how every person who has ever lost anyone must feel. We will never dance the same way with anyone else again.

"It takes some getting used to" some people say lightly. Ya think?

Twenty three years ago when my mother-in-law, Fanny was 'only' 65 she lost her husband (who she wasn't too crazy about to begin with) and decided that

"It's a couples world." "I feel like a fifth wheel." "I'm alone in a crowd."

Guess how many times in these two decades I've heard her speak these sentences? I lost count the first few years. It was like a public service announcement. I often felt like handing her a bullhorn.

I hate to commiserate with Fanny, but I've felt all these things in the last few months. Big difference, though...I know that what became a way of life for Fanny, a platform for her, is only a stage for me.

Thank you, Fanny.

Friday, September 01, 2006

I Don't Like Tomatoes

I realized today that I may never buy another tomato. I don't like tomatoes. My kids don't like tomatoes and whoever stops by for dinner can just live without them and be happy they got lettuce.

I spent a ridiculous amount of time this afternoon picking out ripe, but not too ripe tomatoes and then for another ridiculous amount of time I fought with the plastic bag to put them in.

I lay them in my cart next to the box of Raisin Bran and then I remembered...

"Wait, I don't like tomatoes. Jimmy liked tomatoes."

A beat later I removed the Raisin Bran, too.