There is still occasional ice on the walkway in the mornings, but it is often gone by mid-afternoon. The temperatures continue to bounce between below and above the freezing mark, so the winter jackets and spring sweaters compete for room in the small closet by the door. I wake up each morning slowly, hearing the world news on NPR coming in brief, headline spurts followed by some but not all full stories. It is enough, I find. I don’t need to hear (or worse, see) the gory details. I cannot fix them. I can only wish.
New Zealand had no reason to expect the violence that occurred this week. But to their credit, they have already banned automatic rifles in its wake. The USA has had multiple such tragedies over the past decades, but we have yet to ban those rifles nationwide.
The starvation in Yemen continues to take the lives of hundreds of children day by day, but we continue to supply arms to our ally, Saudi Arabia, who continues to wage war against that population. We wring our hands, send thoughts and prayers, but don’t retract our contracts for additional weaponry. Nor do we condemn their actions.
President #45 (or, AKA, Individual #1) has submit a budget so punitive to education and other essential agencies that enough Republicans joined with the Democrats to reject it, but enough Republicans continue to support their leader that overriding his VETO is unlikely, and so it may in fact take effect. He also plans to reduce Social Security Benefits, and allow fossil fuel drilling to take place on (formerly) federally protected lands.
The days begin to offer longer hours of light, due to the earth’s orbit around our sun, but the dark clouds of this administration make feeling optimistic a difficult challenge. There is truth in the belief that, when a person is feeling down, helping another lifts both spirits. I’m doing my best to continue doing for others. I’m trying to take comfort in the truth that I am able to help others in various ways … I guess that’s why I’m still here, separated from my beloved. My spirits, though, do not feel lifted. I continue to feel abandoned by my love … left without his supportive confidence in me … and without his strength and competence in facing and fixing so many needed repairs. I’m doing my best to remember all that he modeled for me … I fix what I can, and hire when I cannot. I do not leave things undone …
But there is no ‘Rick’ solution for the repairs needed by the world. Perhaps that is why Rick was taken from us … we were all so used to him being there to make things better. I miss him so very much, and know that I am not alone in that … he did so much for so many.
But the many still have their others to be with them and to do for them in Rick’s absence. I have only his absence. And the gap in my life is not one that lets light come in; rather, it is more like a deep, dark crevasse, filled with shadows of memories and echoes of longing. Each bright morning, I see clearly that he is still not here. I am still without him. I am still alone.
I’ve been listening to NPR late at night as I try to fall asleep … the soft murmur of indistinct voices is oddly soothing, as though discussion of the world’s issues is important but no longer requires my input or feedback.
But the teacher in me still has an immediate need to comment on the style of some of the commentary … I enjoy the snippets from Ted Talks frequently shared … and the varying segments of music that bridge the gap between topics and news and BBC reports. A less than focused me can listen in but has no responsibility to retain and/or respond.
But there is something about these episodes that has elicited the editorial edge of this retired teacher, and it occurs predictably at the end of each brief interview. The staff member of the local radio station thanks the participating interviewee, and the interviewee unfailingly responds to the thanks offered by saying “Thank you for having me.”
The first two or three times I heard this response, I wondered if cue cards were offered to provide nervous interviewees an acceptable, brief response. But if so, why not suggest the simple response “You’re welcome,” or perhaps “My pleasure.” As I listened night after night, I continued to hear “Thank you for having me.” And it began to discomfort me. Why, I asked myself. What is it about “Thank you for having me” that rings somehow wrong?
I talked with a few friends about this at lunch today, and while one agreed with my expectation to hear “You’re welcome,” another said the response was acceptable, as it is a polite way to return the thanks to the giver. I had to agree that it is polite. And yet…
To me, “Thank you for having me” alters the stage a bit. The journalist’s “Thank you” to the guest speaker establishes the speaker as having provided something to the radio audience, at the request of the radio host. That puts the guest in the position of the giver, and the audience and radio station as the receivers of the gift. The guest telling the radio host “You’re welcome” effectively, politely, closes the dialogue between the giver and the receiver.
When the guest instead says “Thank you for having me,” the dialogue is not yet closed, yet to the radio audience it is ended, unclosed. And the guest is no longer confidently standing in the position of giver; rather, the guest is now positioned as the receiver of a favor or gift. And while that may, in fact, be a true reflection of a program, it seems better to reflect on the guest as having provided the gift of expertise, information, entertainment or whatever, rather than having received the favor of air time, publicity, experience or whatever being a guest may provide.
I guess that change in position is what troubles me. If I’m listening to a radio program, I don’t want to think that I’m listening to someone who may not have truly earned the right to that spotlight.
I wonder what that says about me?
Christmas had always been my favorite holiday. When I was young enough to still believe in Santa as a child, I tried hard to stay awake and listen for the sleighbells on the roof, though we were on the first floor of a two and a half story home with Aunt Helen and Uncle Adam above us.
Rick said that he loved Christmas as a child, too. He was an only child, with Aunts and Uncles living only neighborhoods away, and I’m sure there were many presents under his tree, too.
As young parents ourselves, we enjoyed decorating our apartment with home made ornaments of wood and fabric … when our daughter was a toddler we began having an open house every Christmas Eve, inviting our friends to bring their children to us during the afternoon to play with Trish while they went out for last minute shopping or wrapping. We continued doing that after we bought our first home here in town, playing Christmas records and having sing alongs with the kids. We stopped doing that when our first child went to college and our second child was in daycare and we were both working full time to cover expenses of both college and daycare …
Our two children had two very different childhoods. Our daughter lived in the same town, from kindergarten age on, as our son who was born many years later. She grew up with four grandparents and many cousins who gathered almost every Sunday at my parents home for cookouts, weather permitting. And she spent many after school hours with my husband’s parents as he and I were both working full time in most of those years. She was a school and town athlete, a strong academic student, and a member of a group of similarly-skilled friends who enjoyed each other’s company.
Our son, born almost seventeen years later, grew up with three grandparents (Ricks dad died of Cancer when Rob was just a baby) who all had serious age related illnesses … cancers, blindness, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, COPD and related depression. Our time was often split between caring and being involved in Rob’s life while caring and being involved in the medical care of our parents. While our daughter had enjoyed camping trips with us each summer, our son’s vacations were very limited to day trips locally. We did our best to keep him as involved in town sports as we had our daughter, but when we needed teachers’ support in understanding his parents’ limited homework assistance time, we were let down and eventually pulled him out of our small town school system, enrolling him instead in the larger town where I worked, believing he would have wider exposure to technology there. But in the larger school, with affluent peers who regularly attended sports camps and had academic tutors, he faced larger challenges than we were able to help him meet. Still, he, like his sister, was accepted into each of the three colleges he’d applied, but eventually changed course and focused instead on training for a creer as a state certified fire fighter and paramedic.
Rick and I missed many of our grandchildren’s games, plays, recitals, etc., in Maine during those years of elder care and Rob’s youth. We did our best to stay connected and visited as often as possible for Christmas and birthdays and such. And our granddaughter and grandson are now adults themselves, with college years now ending and their own adult lives beginning.
Our newest grandchild is now nine months old, and will never get to sit in his Grampy Rick’s lap … but I have put away one of each of the trucks Rick had made, so that he will know the work of his Grampy’s hands, as our older grandchildren have. Our son and his new little family live not far away, and they are building their own family life together. I know if Rick were still here with me, he would help us work out a way to be lovingly connected without being physically demanding, as our parents had all been during Rob’s childhood. I reach out to them, invite them here, and send messages now and then to let them know that I love them. I hesitate to ask more of them, as I don’t want to be a cloud in their lives. But I do miss them … all of them, here and in Maine. I can visit Maine when I want, and see my daughter and sometimes my two grandchildren there. And I can wait, patiently, quietly, until my son and his wife and child want to visit me … not because they have to visit me … but because they want to, or because their little boy will want to. Meantime, I can give him one of his trucks for each holiday and special time … the wooden toys his Grampy made because he knew, one day, there would be another grandchild…
It is ironic that the CD player in the shop, where Rick and I had played Christmas Music all year long for his Wooden Toy and Gifts, is no longer working. The shop is quiet … the sounds of saws and sanders, Rick’s footsteps on the stairs, the clunk of heavy wood being placed upon the table … I miss those sounds. I have lit the candles in the windows to honor Rick’s and my love of Christmas … I believe he will be happy I did at least that for what was our favorite holiday … I still cannot comprehend why his life was taken from us on that special morning. The candles will help on these darkest of dark nights.
Yesterday, I went down to CVS to buy a few more bags of candy for the Trick or Treaters, just in case kids from other towns who’d already had their night of Halloween might come into the square, as sometimes happens. And though I don’t know whether others joined our town’s kids or not, I was glad I did that, for I gave out about a hundred bars, and guess that meant about fifty to sixty little ones in costume.
For many years Rick and I always sat together at the end of our driveway, knowing that kids wouldn’t find our back door (and no one ever comes to front doors, do they?) For the past twenty four years Halloween has been here on North Street, and for twenty-two of those years, he and I would take our two wooden lawn chairs (that he’d made) out by the lantern. Rick would bring a cassette player and tapes of Halloween songs such as the Purple People Eater, the Monster Mash, the Witch Doctor … silly songs that reminded us of our own childhood years. And yes, we’d each eat a few of the chocolate bars we were handing out. For the first seven or eight of those Halloweens we might sit alone, as one of us would be shadowing Rob on his own Trick or Treat journey around the neighborhood streets, and of course, driving him across town, first to the north end, and then to south, to see the grandparents and show them his costume. Once he was in his teens, Rick and I most often sat together, wrapped in our quilts, listening to those silly songs and greeting our young visitors.
This year and last were so different. I sat alone, and as the evening darkened I replaced the burned out lightbulb in the post lantern. I didn’t bring the music out (I don’t actually know where to find those tapes) but instead brought a book and a flashlight, and sat alone, wrapped in my quilt, reading between visitors. My neighbor across the street was not home, and the house next door to him is empty and dark. Our lantern didn’t throw much light, as I think I put just a 40 watt bulb in it … it was enough that they could see that I was there, and they all stopped by to wish me a happy halloween and collect their treats. But between each group’s visit the night returned to dark and quiet. I didn’t read more than a few pages in those two hours … I was oddly calm, sitting alone in the small puddle of light on the dark street. I had no sense of fear, or worry, or danger. I don’t fear danger anymore. I don’t worry about what might happen to me. I don’t worry about anything. What will be, will be.
I talked with a good friend yesterday, sharing a cup of tea with updates of how her grandchildren are doing … she asked about mine, and I confessed I don’t know. I remembered that my counselor and doctor had both asked me to share with close friends and families my honest thoughts … and so I did. She told me of a friend of hers who had just passed away from ALS … and I shared her sympathy for the friends’ family, saying it was nice to know that they realized her pain had ended with her death, and her peace could now begin and be appreciated by those left behind … I told my friend that I had wanted my family to have that same sense of my finding my peace, and Rick, when I tried last year … She immediately said that oh so familiar sentence … “But it wasn’t your time.” I told her I understood that those who called the police and had me taken to the hospital believed that … they believed that God had a plan still in place here for me. And I told her that I have tried to accept that, but still don’t know what His plan for me is … there are many people who could and do make those quilts that I make … and I don’t understand why my free will, my choice, was not honored by my friends, or by Him. I wanted to be with Rick … I miss him so much. But they wanted me to stay here, alone as I am.
I won’t try again. My emotional pain remains as all encompassing as it did the day Rick died… as it has every day since. My heart truly did die with his. I have resigned myself to having to wait until a sufficient amount of physical pain and illness will justify it being ‘my time.’ My friend acknowledged what i was telling her … that though my pain is invisible, it is as real as a physical pain. But still, she said, it’s ‘not my time, not yet. People here love me, and don’t want me to go yet.’ I asked if her friend’s family didn’t also love her, and not want her to go yet … I’m sure she was thinking to herself that the ALS symptoms and pains are worse than my depression and empty sense of loss without Rick. I can’t help her understand the parity between the two. I can’t help anyone understand that. But I can’t deny that I feel cheated of my free will, of my choice, of my planned exit. I cannot understand why they think life without him is better than death with him.
I cannot explain it, I cannot repeat it, I cannot appreciate their wish that I would remain here, without Rick. And they cannot explain it to me.
And so I will continue to do what Rick and I had done together for each annual event such as Halloween, and Veteran’s Day, and Election Day, and Thanksgiving, and Small Business Saturday, and Christmas – the hardest of all – Christmas… and all of the ordinary days between those annual events. I will endure each day one by one as they continue for me, and wait as patiently as I can for the malignant melanoma, the degenerative multiple sclerosis, the osteoporosis, the scoliosis, the optic neuritis … none of which anyone can see … I will wait as patiently as I can for one of those to take hold and grow and increase and eventually, finally, let it be ‘my time.’ And I will pray that when I get to go, not by free choice but by exhausting my life, that they will say ‘rest in peace’ for me.
Rick, I ask that you wait patiently for my body to give out as yours did … with this song:
I did sit through the Congressional Hearings this week … the three hours of Dr. Ford’s presentations of her high school experience with Supreme Court nominee Kavanaugh, and his five hours of response. The day before the hearings, I flipped back and forth between the two polarized networks, CNN and FOX news coverages.
Television is a powerful medium … it provides both visual via the occipital lobe, and auditory input via the temporal lobe of our brains and that doubles the impact of the input. When I listen to NPR’s WBUR fm radio broadcasts late at night, there is only the auditory input, though my own active mind’s eye provides imagined visual input via the occipital cortex of the temporal lobe, and that impression is nearly as powerful.
Sadly, the unforgettable events of this week will remain with me, and does have an effect on my overall mood. I am saddened by the loss of the apolitical third branch of government: our Supreme Court was designed to have the power to check the powers of both the executive and legislative branches of our government. For years I taught my students that the judges chosen for that highest of branches were chosen for their impartiality … their demonstrated ability to remain objective, to be non-partisan in their judgements, and to be above the political fray of the other two branches. The sole responsibility of the Supreme Court is to uphold Constitutional Law, and to hear only those cases involving constitutional issues that have proceeded through the lower courts.
Brett Kavanaugh feels he has earned this seat on the Supreme Court because he has spent more than two decades of his life in ‘high political positions’ under President Bush … as a Federal Justice … as a member of the impeachment hearings of President Clinton … prior to this week, he insisted on not answering some questions relative to the president’s culpability by saying he had to remain independent and politically impartial.
Certainly, he had to defend himself. Yet he defended himself in yesterday’s hearings with anger, with vitriole, with nearly ‘histrionic’ tears and sobs, claiming that having to hear and defend himself against Dr. Ford’s allegations has destroyed his name, his career and his family, and accusing the minority party, the democrats, as being on a ‘search and destroy’ mission, and further accused them of phrasing their questions as ‘revenge for the Clintons.’ He clearly aligned himself with the majority party … the republicans who, under direction of the republican President Trump, had already determined that Dr. Ford’s allegations against Kavanaugh were merely a ‘hiccup’ to be briefly heard before the nomination proceeded forward.
Only when a group of women confronted one of the ‘undecideds’ in an elevator, did the request for an investigation of the allegations by the FBI become an insistence tied to a critical 51st vote for confirmation. Dr. Ford had asked for such an investigation; the democratic senators had asked for such an investigation; Kavanaugh himself said he would welcome such an investigation IF the majority party also requested it, but they had not.
I have watched, and listened to, all of these dialogues. My anger flared as I learned that Dr. Ford, a respected psychologist who had requested confidentiality, and her family were the recipients of hate mail and death threats following the release of her name. My heart broke as Dr. Ford told her recollection of the ‘alleged’ sexual assault … her fear that she might have died as she could not breathe with Kavanaugh’s hand on her mouth … her vivid recall of his and his buddy’s ‘uproarious laughter’ at her expense while he was on top of her, trying to remove her clothing … And her explanation that these memories, though decades old, were firmly imbedded in her hippocampus brought back my own experience, long ago imbedded permanently in my own hippocampus. Those old memories suddenly, obtrusively, became vivid, tactile, and emotionally smothering.
No one had put a hand over my mouth during those long months of nightly, illicit visits to my childhood bedside in the boys bedroom (where I had been moved as there was overcrowding in the girls room.) I was under the age of ten, and would never have told anyone what was happening to me … for to tell would have brought physical punishment onto the one who was doing this, and I would feel guilty for having kept silent and ‘allowing’ it to happen as long as it did. It had been interrupted and stopped by my moving upstairs to sleep safely in my recently married female cousin’s room … and the result was that, once I was removed from the scene, another had begun to have the visits. But she was younger, and indignant and felt no protective guilt, and called him out and told our parents … and he was then sent away to be guided toward better behavior by priests. I later went to church and confessed that I had hid the truth from my parents, and the priest who had heard my confession gave me a penance of two Our Fathers and three Hail Marys, and my secret remained my secret and nothing more came of it.
The congressional vote on Kavanaugh is now postponed for a week, to allow the FBI to do whatever level of investigation President Trump will allow. I do not know why he has the power to set the parameters of the investigation … I do not remember that as being delineated as one of the president’s powers in the Constitution … I guess it is because this is a political rather than criminal investigation. That, I believe, is a mistake in itself. Perhaps the statute of limitations for a criminal accusation has expired after 36 years since Dr. Ford’s experience. More than half a century has elapsed since mine … and yet, it is today as fresh as though it were yesterday. It may always be so, when triggered by news of another’s similar, openly-admitted event.
I fear for our country, as I once feared for myself, and for my abuser.
I didn’t really want to retire when MS cognitive impairments forced me out of the classroom … but in retrospect, it did give me five years at home with Rick before his untimely death, and I appreciated that time allowed.
But there is now another reason to appreciate not standing in front of a classroom of 8th grade students learning about the Constitution’s origins and powers in our government … I doubt I could fulfill the expectation of all middle school social studies teachers … that unspoken but implied requirement that personal political preferences have no place in a classroom teacher’s syllabus.
I recently read the collective anthology of essays written by 27 psychiatrists … it is titled The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump. It offers practicing psychiatrists moral support from respected peers in opening the dialogue with troubled patients who need help in dealing with the stress of disagreeing with friends, family and co-workers over the status of the three branches of our government today. The book wrestles, writer by writer, with the conundrum of two mandates of the psychiatrist’s code: the Goldwater Rule and the Duty to Warn. The concensus within this group offering their perspective is that the Duty to Warn far outweighs the Goldwater Rule.
More recently, a number of former CIA officials decried the removal of security clearance of Former CIA Direcor John Brennan, and several other intelligence agents, by President Trump in a collective letter: “The move has united a who’s who of former top intelligence officials who served under both Democratic and Republican administrations… The group of former CIA directors, CIA deputy directors and Director of National Intelligence called the move “ill-considered” and said the threat of additional removals are not based on security concerns but have “everything to do with an attempt to stifle free speech.”
It may be time for educators to follow suit, forming a committee of professional teachers and school administrators who will write of the looming task of facing students when schools reopen in the coming days; social studies teachers will be the most likely to face contentious classroom debates among students, and on parent visiting nights among the adults as well, as regards the ongoing investigation of the current administration’s alleged criminal activity during the election of 2016. We can leave it to the psychiatrists to find a way to evaluate Donald Trump’s credibility as a national leader; we can leave it to the intelligence agents to file charges of irresponsible, unconstitutional activities of this administration; we can leave it to the members of Congress to seek the removal of Trump and his allies … but we must not leave it to individual classroom teachers to handle hot topic discussions regarding this president. The job of the teachers in middle school social studies classrooms is to present the Constitution … to explain the balance of power among POTUS, SCOTUS and Congress that is written into the documents’ lines … to explain why the first amendment is threatened by a president who wields power with a personal vengeance without modeling a disrespect of the office itself … to build an understanding why the second amendment writers never anticipated the possibility of a citizenry armed with weapons of mass destruction … to explain why the nineteenth amendment does not address equal rights (beyond the right to vote) for women and so seems to allow for the vulgar expressions of bravado regarding how “stars” like Trump can take advantage of women at will … and to explain the twenty-fifth amendment‘s potential to resolve the current debacle if only Congress were not so one-sided…
I am so relieved that I no longer hold the position of a highly qualified teacher of United States History in an 8th grade classroom filled with students who have conservative parents sitting next to students who have liberal parents … for how would I keep a straight face in defending their responsibility to respect the man in the office of POTUS?
But who among the educational community will take on the responsibility of soliciting and accumulating and editing such a guiding peer review of our current government for social studies teachers walking that tightrope?
Three more skin cancer sites this summer: malignant melanoma on my shin and chest, and squamous on my left thumb. So, three more surgeries, and after care left up to me. Apparently visiting nurses are not available for just skin cancer wounds care.
The weather for the month of July here in New England has been horrendous (to me) as we have had numerous heat waves, with temperatures staying in the nineties and humidity staying in the seventies for as long as ten days, and more often for at least two to three days. I have felt my mood affected by both the weather and the returning cancer and the absence of professional after care. I began wondering why I continue to halt the malignancy by agreeing to surgical removal. I’ve been lucky that I haven’t had to agree to chemo or radiation, as the surgeon keeps cutting until he reaches clear margins. I am told I am lucky. I don’t feel lucky. This makes ten different sites: four melanoma, three squamous, and three basal, all treated surgically, and dozens of early cancer sites treated with ‘cryo-surgery’ : freezing the site with a liquid nitrogen squirt that burns as much as the lidocaine injections for the surgery do.
I’m lethargic in the heat, and confused and depressed by my ongoing cancer attacks. I feel very alone, getting through these procedures, and handling the wound care twice a day for weeks after each surgery. I’ve just finished the third week of the third site, and it is almost time to go back to the dermatologist to allow him to look for and biopsy more sites. Do I want to do that? Or do I just want to take a passive response, stop looking for and treating these sites, and let mother nature take her course …
The psychiatrist has decided, with me, that this depression is deepening … that my grief is a complicated grief, and that my continuing wish to rejoin Rick in the hereafter is a clear indication that my current dose of medication is not sufficient. I failed last winter in my attempt to rejoin Rick, as first responders interrupted the process. My family and friends all told me it wasn’t my time … they didn’t want me to rejoin him. So I am here, but I’m not sure why, or what to do while I am. I won’t try that again, as I would no doubt be disappointing those who don’t want me to do that again. So I will begin a gradual increase in my meds, and I will see the doctor now every other week rather than monthly, while still seeing the counselor every week. They are both trying to help me see life as livable. I trust them. They are good people. I don’t want to disappoint.
I’ll also see another doctor this month: the endocrinologist who monitors the cyst on my thyroid and checks my blood levels for continuing osteoporosis treatments. I see him once a year, and usually have either a bone density test, or an infusion treatment, along with blood tests. The nurses who administer the infusion are very attentive, and I am not at all bothered by the procedure.
But I am exhausted. I am tired of medical visits. I am without any goals, and wish only to sleep in peace. But I toss and turn each night … I have vivid dreams in which time sequences and locations and personalities are all mixed up and make no sense. And Rick is not here to help me understand. I do not understand why I am still here, without him. It makes no sense. Why would God want me to have to live like this, without Rick? We belong together.
My life as planned stopped nearly a year and a half ago, when Rick died suddenly of an unexpected heart attack, in the wee hours of Christmas morning… at least, that is when I believe he died. He had just laid his head back on my shoulder, and closed his eyes for the last time, finally able to rest without pain. The doctors didn’t sign a death certificate until four hours later, in another state, after a valiant effort to bring him back. But I know, in truth: he left this earth in that moment, from our forever home. He left us all so suddenly.
He and I often joked about which of us would die first … we had both accumulated a lot of treasures – his were of wood and metal, primarily housed in the shop at the end of our driveway. Mine were of fabric and paper, some in the shop, some in the house. Both collections were so large they had become overwhelming, and he had added on to the tractor shed out back to hold even more. We knew there would be a day of reckoning for one of us, when the other had passed. We both believed quietly that it would be me who would go first … me, with all the diagnoses … I could recite them as a sing song litany … multiple sclerosis, mild scoliosis, osteoporosis, hyperhidrosis, malignant melanoma, squamous carcinoma, basal cell cancer … and for some reason, depression and anxiety…
His strength, compassion and love carried me through and over all of those maladies, through tests, and labels, and so called treatments … He was my partner, my love, my caretaker … my best friend. It wasn’t supposed to happen this way. But it did.
Some of the labels I’ve acquired have diminished in their importance; hyperhidrosis no longer reduces me to a dehydrated weakness. As a child, my aunt upstairs had suggested that, perhaps when I became a woman, my body would adjust and stop sweating profusely. She was almost right – rather than altering at menses, though, it was menopause decades later that finally brought relief from that syndrome. But by then MS and Melanoma had taken charge of my focus … damaging prescribed drugs and repeated surgeries took control of my schedule and my health. Rick, though, continued to be well, continued to encourage me to pursue my dreams, my teaching, my writing, my quilting. When I had to retire because of the MS cognitive symptoms, we made sure my pension was set up with a surviving spouse allotment. We didn’t do that with his pension, as, if for some unforseen reason I survived him, my pension would increase in his absence. And then the unforseen happened, decades before either of us had ever forseen.
The first season without him was winter … but we had prepared for that, as he would be laid up after the shoulder surgery. We knew Rob would come over to help with the new snowblower … we had enough firewood stockpiled close to the back door … we had a new refrigerator, a well maintained furnace in the house, and we closed the shop for the winter and planned to take it easy and do some day trip travels. I made it through that winter surrounded by friends and family.
Spring of 2017 was a depressing season rather than a respite from winter … the cold continued, the snow continued, and my inner debate about what to do with the shops continued until warmth finally returned in April and I opened the quilt shop. Again, friends and family were supportive and the shop occupied my time and attention. Summer came on, the quilt shop’s number of customers began to dwindle, and the long sunny days belabored the lack of business receipts. And then fall arrived. I had not yet been able to successfully have the shop furnace repaired or replaced, and know Rick could have done so by then … I felt badly about failing to do that, and to do other things that we had wanted to do together by then. But by then, I had begun seeking more sleep and fewer social events. I didn’t want to fail at anything else, and sleep seemed the safest way to spend the late fall…
I had survived all four seasons without Rick at my side. Rather than feeling accomplished, I began to realize that he was truly gone, and could not come back to me. And I began longing to be with him, and needing to be with him. And on December 21st, the first day of the fifth season without him, I did my best to join him, but I failed. I did not think I’d done anything wrong in trying to join him. I wanted to be with him at peace in our happily ever after eternity. I did not want to stay here for another round of seasons without him. But my effort failed, and instead of giving my friends and family the gift of happy, peaceful memories and reassuring thoughts of Rick and I reunited, I inadvertently gave them worries and concern.
And so I am still here … still unsure of who I am supposed to be, here without Rick. i am still the one with all the labels … the melanoma and squamous have reappeared … the familiar characters, dermatologist and skin surgeon, are again part of my schedule. There is a new therapist with whom I meet bi-weekly now, and she has set goals for me, for our sessions. One goal is that I will find new paths to joy, and one is that I will no longer have suicidal thoughts. Of course, trying not to think of something causes one to think of that very thing. So I try not to think at all …
My psychiatrist remains on my calendar each month. He knew me and Rick together, and is saddened by Rick’s death, and having known him, and having known us as a couple, understands the depth of my grief. His suggestion to help me find my way through this complicated grief is to open up and talk to my friends and family as I talk with him, sharing my longings and wishes to be with Rick, helping them understand why I did what I did. I told him I didn’t want to add to their worries. He told me they are already worried, and that they need to hear my honest thoughts. I trust his advice; that is why I am writing this, now. It is hard to vocalize my feelings and longings without tears, and I cannot hold an intelligible conversation through tears.
I continue to turn to music from the days when Rick and I were first together, trying to recapture the optimism and dreams that we shared. I try not to remember the music of the sad years, those in which we were most often stressed beyond our max, taking care of our elderly parents while continuing to be parents and grandparents ourselves. I continue to want to listen to Christmas music, as that was a constant in all the years of our lives together … but that holiday’s music is no longer a path to joy for me. He left me on Christmas morning. I cannot fathom that.
So I will go on, as an automaton … making quilts … offering fabrics and notions to those who join me in making quilts, or selling it reasonably to those who stop into the shop to share the love of fabrics and creativity. I will learn to do all of the medical self care that this century demands … all of the things Rick so capably did for me. And I will try not to ideate about death, though i will continue to long for his company, and wonder when I will be allowed to enjoy that again.
I’ll end this post with an appropriate song, sung by a young singer who, shortly after this was recorded, passed away of malignant melanoma. Wishing her a well earned happily ever after…
Karen Carpenter sings it perfectly … her voice so eloquently shares my wistful wondering … “tell me where do I go from here? You said you’d take me through the years, so where do I go from here?”
I have, on Facebook and more permanently here on a special blog page in his memory, posted a link to a song nearly each day since Rick’s death … for many weeks they were songs that echoed our courtship, marriage, life’s challenges and successes and our happily ever after years. More recently the songs I’ve been posting reflect the steady sadness that has become my ‘new normal.’
My purpose in posting those early songs was to share the rich happiness Rick and I found in each other’s company; Rick was a strong presence in my life, but a quiet, unrecognized kindness in others’. I wanted the whole world to realize what we and they had lost in losing Rick so suddenly. It was inconceivable that he should pass so suddenly and quietly from this earth. He was so much … and did so much, and gave so much … never expecting anything in return from others, and often receiving just that.
In perusing you tube for songs by our favorite artists from the fifties, sixties and seventies, I’ve come across a few that I don’t recall hearing back then. But perhaps I did hear them, but didn’t connect with them because my life at the time was in a different phase … today my life is very different than it has ever been. I am alone … never have I been alone before … I am never physically alone, as friends and family stay in touch with me, and visit me, or call or email me … but I am alone in my identity.
For the first portion of my life, I was one of many … when I was old enough to realize that my name, Theresa, spelled out “There’s a Crawford” I knew it fit my persona … I was just one of many Crawfords. When I moved from an all girl urban downtown parochial school that no one else in my family had ever attended to a small town public high school mid-way through, I had no identity … I was a true blank page, in a place where most had grown up together with friends as classmates, I could be anyone I wanted to be, and no one would be the wiser. I could be invisible, and no one would be worried or looking for me.
But when I met Rick, and we became friends and later a happily married couple, I knew who I was. He called me ‘his Lady.’ I was a singular identity … no one else filled that role. I knew what we planned, what we had and what we would need to achieve in order to meet our goals, and I set about becoming the person I became. It was hard work … physically, emotionally, academically and financially I worked hard to meet each challenge … sometimes walking home from high school and college … sometimes begging rides from neighbors and friends … Rick shared those plans and dreams with me, and worked as hard. We balanced each other well in strengths … what he could do I could not, and vice-versa. Together there wasn’t anything we could not do.
And when we retired we achieved our happily ever after. Our identities as son and daughter, and father and mother … each of those had taken strength and patience and strong faith, and each built confidence in ourselves and in each other. In retirement we were more simply husband and wife, and partners, and team mates, and still and always, friends deeply in love. And we knew what we had … we cherished those years each day one by one, unconsciously celebrating each one we had together, as though we knew an ending to that togetherness was just around a corner.
And now … I have to live into this new reality … no longer a wife … no longer a teacher, or a needed mother or grandmother … all others are grown and strong in their own lives. Each day still begins with an expectation that it will be lived, and something will be accomplished. There needs to be a plan, a dream, a goal to hold the focus on what it is waiting to be accomplished. I am without a plan. I rise and begin each day going through familiar motions … not because they are leading me toward a goal … but because each day must be lived in some way. The shop helps me fill some hours. Quilting with friends and young students helps fill some hours. Food shopping, laundry, bill-paying and Facebook fills many mundane, auto-pilot hours. There will still be family occasions … weddings, babies, showers … and more wakes and funerals will continue to compete with calendar days. But they will not be easily completed on auto-pilot. They will take their own measure of planning and attending, and holding a posture that will put others at ease and not invite commiseration or social coaching.
I will continue to walk this auto-path for as long as I need to … the new goal is to continue getting the beautiful fabrics into the hands of quilters who will make good use of them. The business plan is self-evident … running sales and discounts … advertising on Facebook’s many pages … encouraging others to take up or return to quilting by making it easier to get the fabrics and notions and lessons they desire… and when the bulk of the fabric and notions stock becomes depleted, it will be time to close that chapter … but not until the shop has little to nothing left to offer. And then … maybe then I’ll be able to rejoin Rick and continue that ‘ever after’ wherever he and I will be … together again.
“Dreams are for sleeping; love is for weeping; oh how I long to find a place to hideaway…” Karen Carpenter sings it so beautifully … https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EKs_fYrMMqk
It’s been a month since I’d lost Rick to the unexpected heart attack on Christmas morning. I ask myself every day, how did that happen? We had changed doctors when our primary care physician retired unannounced, and then changed again when the doctor to whom he had bequeathed us as patients ordered a plethora of tests and his office staff could not keep up with the coding, resulting in our being billed repeatedly for things that ought to have been covered by our health insurance.
The new doctor that we chose operated via a network of nurse practitioners, all of whom focused on comprehensive referrals to many specialists. Rick and I had, as i said in my previous posts, more referrals that we had ever had to deal with, and this in the face of feeling pretty well despite our existing conditions.
When Rick sought relief for the pains in his shoulder, he was diagnosed via a painful MRI attempt followed by a new generation ultrasound. The rotator cuff tear was substantial, and surgery was scheduled. He was advised that he needed to have a full pre-op eval before hand. Included in that pre-op was a referral to a cardiologist’s practice, for a stress test. The results of the testing was negative (which is good in medical terms.) No evidence of any heart issues.
A week later, he had the surgery. Two weeks later the surgeon examined the site and declared it well maintained and okayed the beginning of physical therapy. As the end of the year was just a few weeks away, and the surgeon wanted the PT to be conservative, he and we agreed that waiting until the new year was acceptable, as our insurance would be changing with new cards, numbers, and different co-pays, etc.
But Christmas morning happened, and Rick died despite the efforts of the paramedics that responded to our call. What could we have done differently? Why did this happen to someone who had taken all the medical advice and followed all of the prescriptions for after care? I don’t have answers to those questions, and perhaps never will.
But what do I do now? I wrote to all eight of his doctors and referred specialists who had pending appointments scheduled for Rick in the new year; I let them all know that he had passed away, of a heart attack, and that I was lost without him. It was simpler to put it all in a letter and send it, with his obituary online, to his doctors through the postal mail. Talking one by one with each office on the telephone was unthinkable to me at that time … it would be impossible to remain composed, heard and understood, and so I sent the letter to each medical office, with the doctor’s name on the envelope.
For weeks I heard nothing in return. Then one day, nearly a month after his death, one of the specialists’ secretaries called and asked for Rick. I said I was his wife and could I help her? She said no, she had to speak with him to find out why his name was no longer in her database. I told her that I had sent a letter to all of his doctors about his death, and asked her to confirm that her office had received such. She checked ‘under a different category’ on her computer and said yes, they had received a letter which had prompted the removal of his name from their database. She also expressed her condolences.
I could not continue the conversation as my emotions spilled tears and my voice was quelled by the heaving in my lungs as I tried to control the crying. I said goodbye, and hung up.
That was two weeks ago. I have yet to hear from any other of the eight doctors’ offices I notified. I have not and will not call them to ask if they received my letter, for if one did, then they all did. I cannot see myself returning to that practice for my own general medical care. I have a neurologist, a dermatologist, a skin surgeon and a psychiatrist all in the Boston area; they are a tricky commute away, but I have no faith left in the local medical community after this past year of changes, referrals, new faces, endless appointments, tests, and then Rick’s death.
Ironically, my new insurance no longer requires a primary care physician to write referrals for me to see those specialists in the city … and I have no desire to continue with routine assessments for other health issues. My life partner is gone; truly half of me is gone; I will continue to face the cognitive challenges of ‘benign RRMS’, of recurring skin cancers, of likely skin surgeries, and of depression and anxiety that requires ongoing medication and consultation. I’m not looking to add any more diagnoses to my chart.
Will I bother to find another GP? Will I continue to travel into the city for my current specialists whom I trust and with whom I am doing well? For what purpose would I want to seek a GP’s help? I can get a flu shot at CVS. I can call a pharmacist to ask for advice with over the counter medications. I can ask my neurologist for help with MS relapses. What would I want another doctor to do for me?
I don’t have answers to those questions yet, either. I’m not in the right place right now to be making such decisions. I will wait until I am, I guess.
I so miss Rick. I so miss our future together. What will be ahead now?