On Grief

She cared for her husband when he was sick and dying. He was a veteran with a pension and Medicare but he couldn’t secure a spot in a Nursing Home. For six long years she was Nurse and Caretaker until the day he left us. I never saw her cry. She claimed that she grieved his loss while he was alive.

A short six months after her beloved husband died she met another man. A man that adored her. It was a second chance for both of them and they were happy. They moved in together until they decided that their upbringings demanded that they get married. They did. 3 short months after he was diagnosed with Lung Cancer. He died 10 days from diagnosis. I never saw her cry.

She went on an online dating site 2 months after he died and began dating a man soon after.

She put her beloved dog down last Friday. I saw her cry for a brief moment. That’s it. She’s already talking about getting another dog.

She is my mother, and she does not Grieve.

I have grappled with and marveled at this for many years. I am no closer to understanding it now than before. If she was a closed-off person by nature it would make more sense. But she’s a warm, caring person. She is outgoing, friendly and kind. She had a caring, if not somewhat overbearing mother who showered her with love. Her father was, in my opinion one of the nicest men ever to walk the planet. But something or someone critical in her formative years taught her that women, not just men, don’t cry.

I tried talking to her about it the other day. I asked if she grieves in private or not at all. She revealed that she has her moments when she thinks about my dad and her second husband Frank. The memories are all over the house in the form of pictures and the fact that my Dad essentially built the house we live in. T0here are the triggers, the songs and smells and random nuggets that make us think of that one special person. They make her cry…a little. But not for long, no sense wasting time on what’s already happened.

This can only be the inherited toughness from her mother. Mom’s family cab be faithfully traced back to the ages of Plymouth Rock and the Mayflower and they were solid, steadfast people that frowned on weakness. Her mother was a stalwart example of that bloodline. I’m sure her mother taught her to “suck it up” and not dwell on that which is beyond our control. It worked for her when she was orphaned at a young age and was raised by her brow-beating Grandmother. I’m not sure she did her daughter right by passing this on to her.

I have no pretense of trying to change her. It simply cannot be done. I also inherited, or learned, toughness as one of our family traditions. It has served me well as my life’s buffet has been a seemingly endless supply of Shitburgers. But I do know how to let things go properly.

I wish my mother would just, for once, let it out. Grief is like a lungful of air after a deep inhale. If you let it out slowly it hurts. If you open up and let it go it leaves the body quickly and painlessly. I admire her toughness and her ability to trudge forward no matter how strong the wind is. But toughness at the risk of emotional health is the wrong way to go.

Yes, those of you that know me know that I admire and exemplify a high level of toughness and it is no exception with her. But before I tell something to Fuck Off from my life permanently I deal with it properly. I forgive once I decide that it’s good for me to do so. I cry occasionally because it’s too hard keeping it in. I admit when I’m wrong because it’s the right thing to do. I also know how to grieve, too well unfortunately. I’ve had lots of practice. My mother, on the other hand doesn’t deal with things, she just plays the waiting game in hopes that it will go away on its own. And she always wins. It’s not healthy.

Yes, let it go, but only after you have made proper peace with it.

talking to Granite

I never thought I would be the guy to sit in a cemetery and talk to a piece of granite. I have lost many, too many, friends and family and I always make my visits to their places of rest. But I don’t sit and talk. That changed when I lost my Dad.

Yesterday was the 5th anniversary of his death. I wasn’t in the mood to write yesterday, it’s a tough day for me. Living in a house that he built doesn’t help. I see his touch everywhere in the woodworking, design, and collectibles. As I write this I’m sitting in his favorite chair with his beloved dog sleeping at my feet.

5 years later I still tear up when I think of him and when I attempt to talk about him I invariably choke up. I have been fortunate to have been asked to speak at some events I am a part of and have foolishly attempted to speak of my father and consequently blubbered in front of packed rooms. Historically, I am not a crier. But when it comes to Dad I can’t control it.

As a guy with a long family tradition of “sucking it up and moving on” I am puzzled why it is not getting easier as the years pass. Time heals all wounds, but it doesn’t fill all voids. His loss occurred at a time in my life I probably needed him the most. I was finally coming around to understanding the things he said. Things that I rejected in my youth that I later learned he was dead on about. I had just started to appreciate his simplistic approach to life; be nice to people, tell the truth and work hard and the rest will come. I had just started to recognize that people with his value system and work ethic were slowly vanishing and his presence was a treasure. I was at a point when I needed his eternal optimism to fuel me as I entered the worst chapter of my life. He was minimalism at its finest…less is more. Less showboating, less ego, less drama, and aggravation.

I miss him. The world was a better place with him in it. He deserved better. He worked so hard for so many years to provide for his family and build a retirement. He retired early because his co-workers were all dying young. He enjoyed about 3 years before Parkinson’s reared its ugly head. It reduced a strong, proud man to a mere shell in a long 8 years. Those years took more than his mobility, they took his pride and his independence. Death was a relief for him, I saw his face when he took his last breath.

My life has been especially challenging lately. I am trying to maintain the family optimism and positivity. It’s getting harder. I wish I still had him telling me that everything is going to work out. I suppose while I’m wishing for things I wish that he could have enjoyed his retirement. I wish that he could have celebrated his 50th wedding anniversary. I wish I could tell him how many things he was right about.

I wish that I didn’t have to tell a granite slab things that I wanted to tell him to his face.

Tell the people in your life how you feel about them today, don’t wait. Tomorrow is not a guarantee. You may find yourself sitting in a cemetery talking to granite also. If you’re reading this it’s because I chose to share it with you. Because I care about you and I won’t wait until it’s too late to tell you. Regret is as eternal as granite.

Where’s the Grief?

Today I attended a memorial service for a man that I never met. I know his widow, she is a dear friend of my Mother’s. I know that he was a good friend of my father, that matters to me. I also know that he died of Parkinson’s, as did my father. What a terrible thing to have in common.

The church was packed when I arrived today. The bells of the 180-year-old church clanged, reverberating through our little town as I walked in.
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Just in time. On any given Sunday I could walk in and find a seat in the third row. For today’s memorial, with friends and family coming from all over in addition to the regulars, seating was limited and I ended up in the back row.

After the Reverend delivered his opening remarks and I suffered through 2 hymns and a responsive reading the first speaker, the oldest son, was invited to say some words about his deceased father. My first reaction was the admiration of his courage. He was attempting what I would not. I remember wanting badly to deliver my father’s eulogy but I was self-aware enough to know that I wouldn’t get through it, I would get too emotional. I wrote it, my Reverend read it on my behalf, and I sat there and cried. At words that I wrote. Pathetic. But I can only imagine the train wreck I would have been if I attempted to do it. So with great sympathy, a sense of kinship with a man I had never met for what we now had in common, and a curious ear, I listened to his remarks. It was a touching speech, he used a lot of big words, he referenced a lot of things that he admired about his Dad, what he learned from him and how they were different. Something just didn’t sit well with me, something was missing. May I be struck dead by lightning if I’m a shit for thinking this but, where was the emotion? Have I set the bar so high in my own mind about eulogizing fathers that I am actually grading his performance? Shaking my head and quietly dismissing that crazy notion I still don’t know why it bothers me that this guy didn’t cry or tear up a little.
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My mother cared for my father as Parkinson’s ravaged his body and reduced him to a withered shell. The last 3 years were awful. My mother didn’t cry that much at the funeral, but she’s not a crier. We are a family of “bottle-it-up-and-snap-someday” personalities. When she began dating a mere 6 months after his death I struggled with it. When I asked her how she could date so soon she said that she did her mourning while he was still alive. That his passing was expected and just the final step. I don’t get it but it’s her process. With this in mind, I waited patiently in line to pay my regards to the family and when I met him I congratulated him on his remarks. I mentioned that his dad and my dad were friends and both had the same disease. He gave me a big smiley thank you, which threw me off, and I asked him how he was able to deliver it without breaking down. I was clear that it wasn’t a criticism, only that I could never have done it without breaking down. He didn’t have an answer. Maybe Mom was right. He watched his father suffer for years so maybe he was just ready for it. But, here’s the kicker, so did I. And I was still an emotional, blubbering mess when my father died.

The first time I discovered my fear of speaking in public was at my Grandfather’s funeral in 2002. I offered to write his eulogy and I really made an effort to capture the man. He was 92 so I celebrated his life and spoke of some fond memories. As I spoke I was sad of course, he was a major influence on me, but as I said, he was 92. I focused on his best traits. His wicked sense of humor, his honesty, and integrity, his simple way of life were well known and celebrated. Still, I barely got through it, I broke down. The small crowd didn’t care, their takeaway was how much like him I was (an indisputable truth). It was a learning experience.

When my dad passed I knew that I would be the one to memorialize him. As I stated earlier, I wrote a long eulogy, perhaps too long, about his influence on me, his defining qualities of being a great friend, co-worker, dad, husband. I spared nothing, as I do in my blog, telling of my regrets at things left unsaid and how he simply deserved better. It brought the house down. As people filed past me, one even said, in tears, “I have to go and call my father now.” Moved and grateful as I was, I didn’t have a big smile on my face. I was a wreck. I didn’t want kudos on my speech, I wanted my father back.

Now I sit here and wonder if the son, the man who gave a beautiful but emotionless speech, had the same experiences I did? The ones that you would never talk about in a memorial because people don’t want to hear it.

I wonder if he ever heard his father cry because he knew, that no matter how hard he tried to hang on, he wouldn’t be around to celebrate his next wedding anniversary with his lifelong sweetheart? They were married 49 years.

I wonder if he ever saw his father on the toilet, unable to wipe himself and too weak to stand, trying (he could barely speak) to get me to get his caretaker to wipe his ass because he did not want me to see him like that?

I wonder if his father ever pulled him close and in a forced whisper say, “Gun…key” in his ear, imploring him to go downstairs, find the key to the cabinet, get a gun and let him fucking end it?

I wonder if he has loose ends, things he wanted to say but couldn’t, or didn’t. Apologies or thank you’s?

I wonder if he is haunted by feeding the man who taught him to use a spoon, his dinner through one?

I wonder if he wants to scream at the top of his lungs “Fuck YOU Parkinson’s” like I do. Every day.

I wonder if it’s just me. Maybe I’m just being a jerk. We all grieve differently and we all handle things differently. His father died a week ago, I lost mine 5 years ago. Why am I the emotional one?

People Watching

Hey there, I see you. Don’t think strangely of me if we make eye contact. Yes, I know it’s Saturday night and I am indeed in a booth alone. I’m not staring at you, I promise. I’m just people watching. It’s what I do. For a brief moment in time, you won’t even notice, I will simply absorb, perhaps steal a tiny portion of this moment from you. If you let me do my thing, I will move on to someone else in their room and I will steal moments from them.

It’s just one dinner, one cocktail or appetizer on one day of your life. It’s just one moment. But to me it’s more, I’m incredibly invested in it. You may not think of it as I do, but once this moment is gone all you will have is a memory. You may underestimate how precious that memory will be, but I don’t. See, I am not old enough to say that I will never be happy again, but I know that I am old enough that certain moments are forever past, others beyond my reach.  Vicariously is the only way I will experience them again.

I see you, sir. The young guy with the pretty wife and 2 young children. You are having dinner. Your daughter is trying to get your attention for approval on the puzzle she just completed on her placemat. You’re on your phone. I would trade a thousand tomorrows to have one like you are having. Moments when I was a giant to them and my approval was everything. What you don’t know is a lot of the time I also was too wrapped up in what I was doing to pay attention to them. I want them back, all of them. Please, put the phone down. The text can wait. That disappointed look on her face…you can change that. If you don’t appreciate this moment, may I?
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I turn my attention to the young couple in the corner booth, barely able to keep their hands off of each other. Don’t mind me for staring, I’m not a creep I swear. It’s just that I can’t get over the way you are looking at each other. As if one would simply melt if the other left the table. It must be wonderful to be in love…would you tell me about it? You see, I don’t think that I have ever looked into someone’s eyes as you two are now. I want to but I doubt it now. I think we skipped that part and went right to bitterness and resentment. If it pleases you, could you do better than we did? Regardless, can I just enjoy yours for a while?
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I catch the eye of Mr. Successful businessman at the bar. We nod and we then both look away. I see your $1000.00 suit, your Presidential Rolex and the drink that was poured from the top shelf. You clearly are doing great for yourself. Perhaps you are celebrating a promotion, a big close or merger. To your credit, you look like a guy with it all together. I’m happy for you. I struggled with money and success for my whole career. When I finally got close to wearing a smile like yours, I had to stop working. I hope you have something else in your life that makes you happy besides money. She’s a cruel mistress. But still, cheers. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t jealous.
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I take a sip of my drink and I zoom in on the happy couple at the other end of the bar. Older, smiling, looking at each other fondly as they speak. You are a couple that has been together for a long time. Your love has stood the test of time. Maybe you had it easy, but maybe you struggled with the marriage-crushing burdens of children, finances and work. If you did or didn’t you look like you made it through. I always wanted a love like yours. I hoped to someday say, in a crowded banquet hall, the words “I have been married to this beautiful woman, my best friend for 50 years” and soak in the applause.  It just didn’t work out that way. I am about to be, on Monday, the first member of my family ever to get divorced. It’s too late for me, but I’m really happy for you. If you look my way I’m not staring, I’m simply thinking about my three favorite things…

Could’ve
Should’ve
Would’ve

Who am I you ask? What am I doing here? I’m harmless I swear. You see, I am the petty thief of your moments. My satchel is full for now and I must go home.