Saturday, June 30, 2012

On What I Will (and Won't) Miss - A Reflection

When I began writing on this site, I decided that I wasn’t going to be one of those widowers that stopped writing when he entered a new, serious relationship. I also felt like I would know when it was time to quit writing here. Unfortunately, the two of those things are contradictory in my life, as I have found that the time to quit writing is directly tied to a serious relationship.

Tomorrow (or likely today once I post this) I will take Winn-D to be my wife. At the outset of this journey, I always assumed that I would continue to write if I ever remarried, because there would certainly be grief-fueled situations that would arise from time-to-time. But as the time to wed has approached, I have also realized that once the ceremony is over tomorrow, I will no longer be a widower by definition. And with my loss of widower status, I will lose the title of single father as well.
Those are items I would put on the “what I won’t miss” list.

But there are certainly things I will miss. I had a sweet evening with my daughter tonight. I’m a bit old for bachelor parties and was really never into that scene even when I wed my late wife almost eleven years ago. So in lieu of that, I spent the evening the only way that seemed appropriate: alone with my daughter. After the rehearsal and subsequent dinner, we drove the 30 minutes back to our hometown (where we will continue to reside) and stopped for ice cream before heading back to the house. My daughter, who is precocious and somewhat wise beyond her years, has spent a lot of time adjusting to all of the changes that will take place in our home. There have been some bumps in the road and some times when she wasn’t sure how to love Winn-D without diminishing what she had with her mommy. Tonight’s conversations showed me that she has come to terms with most of these things. She is nothing but genuinely happy about this marriage. She is excited to be getting a new stepmom (she has told me repeatedly in recent months that she was ready for this when she was five and that she was just waiting for me to meet someone like Winn-D), which most kids would not be. But tonight she told me that she is also happy for me to be getting a new wife. What eight year old thinks like that?!? It was one of those evenings that I hated to see end, but we spent the time celebrating our family as it has been for the last five and a half years and looking forward to what it will be like with Winn-D in the house.

One of the things I have enjoyed about being in a relationship is that I suddenly transitioned from outcast/social anomaly to someone who completely fits in. Now, I have always fit in to a proper level, but I have written here about the many times, especially early on when people clearly did not know how to make me fit. When you are a single father, you rarely get invited to couple’s houses and there is certainly no opportunity for a dinner out. Arranging child care is somewhat iffy because you are not a mom, but are suddenly forced into the traditional mom role as well and neither other moms or their husbands are quite comfortable with that. Now, those things being said, there were some couples along the way that invited me over for dinner and there were a few moms who did not have the least bit of trouble communicating with me about child care when I needed it (ironically, Winn-D and I are “couple friends” with one of them now), but overall, most people don’t know how to handle a man in my situation.

I won’t miss that either.

But what about the fact that I have been the sole decision-maker in my home for almost five and a half years? Oddly, that could go on both lists. On the one hand, I loved the freedom of being able to make whatever decision I wanted/needed to make without having to communicate with another adult about it. And though all of my decisions during this time may not have been perfect, the vast majority have worked out. But on the other hand, I actually like being able to communicate with Winn-D about decisions. Even if it is coordinating who will pick up my daughter on the evenings we are together or what our plans are for the upcoming weekend, it has been nice to have someone to bounce ideas off of and it feels good to work together in this way. I’m sure there are times that I will miss the simplicity of making the decision alone, but I think more often than not I will cherish the fact that I don’t have to do so any longer.
One of the things I think I will miss most is sharing on this site. I am not naïve enough to think that marrying Winn-D will cover over any moments of grief I may have in the future. But I have also realized that this site has been largely neglected over the last year and a half, and that maybe the natural progression of my grief process has dictated that I am at a point where my need to write here has run its course. I have tried, but have never quite connected with the other widowers out there, and many of them have since quit writing. Dan quit, but left his site up for others to read. So did Todd. Rick and Roads to London both quit writing and removed their sites (Roads actually just privatized his). When I started writing, I did so because there were only a couple of other blogs for widowers at the time. I had been widowed for two years, and yet could not find anyone who really understood or could help me feel more normal about the grieving process from the standpoint of someone who has actually lived it. Over the past three years, I have received e-mails from time to time from men who stated that my site has done just that for them. So for that reason, I plan to leave these writings up, even though I no longer plan to add to them.

One of the surprising things has been the support I have received from widows. I thought that I was doing this to help other men, but found myself helping and being helped by other women as well. One of these women has become a friend to me, though we have never actually spoken. WomanNShadows is someone I instantly felt a kinship to and she is someone I hope to remain in contact with over the coming years. She has been a blessing to my daughter and I and a great deal of support since I first came to know her a few years ago. For those of you who stop by here from now on, please take a moment to read her site as well.

So tomorrow I will take Winn-D to be my wife. We will begin a journey that will likely end in widowhood for one of us someday. But for now, we will rejoice in the beginning of the journey and the excitement of whatever lies before us.

Thank you for reading and for your support over the years.

God bless.


Thursday, September 15, 2011

On Random Updates

I have decided to do something out-of-character tonight.

Usually when I sit in front of this screen, it is after a post has been on my mind for anywhere from a few days to a few months. It is neatly framed in my mind with all of the talking points in order. I don’t compose the actual words until I sit down to type, but the framework is there.

But tonight is different. I have felt increasingly compelled to write here, but am not starting out with a specific topic in mind. Sure, there are things I’d like to write about, but one of the unforeseen elements of being in a committed relationship now is that so many of these situations involve private conversations which are not for public consumption. There may come a time down the road when, with Winn-D’s blessing, I might share some of those things here, but that time has not yet arrived. So instead, I’ll begin with a quick recap of our vacation (yes, it’s been that long since I’ve written here!) and see where things go from there.

The trip to the Midwest went amazingly well. It turned out to be an even better idea to take Winn-D to the places of my youth this summer than I thought it would be. That’s not to say that there weren’t stressful moments, but she handled them beautifully. The first part of our trip was spent with my late wife’s family. They have embraced Winn-D, but she had only met half of the family before the trip. Add to that all of my late wife’s friends (some of whom we had not seen in a few years) and she was bombarded with tons of new faces and old stories.

That was something I had not expected. I am not naïve enough to expect that we would not talk about my late wife at times, and I actually wanted to so Winn-D would get a more complete picture of who she was, but I did not expect it to happen across multiple settings and at such an intense level. I think people meant well, but I don’t think they realized that, while this trip was about letting Winn-D see where I came from, it was also about being a couple around the people I care about most. I think when we return to the Midwest after Christmas I will be better prepared to change the subject (or address it head-on, if needed) when these situations arise.

The second leg of the trip was actually to the great state of Minnesota. I know I don’t mention specific places here often, but Minnesota has made the list of places I’d like to visit again. We stayed mostly in the Twin Cities, but even then I felt like we barely scratched the surface of all there is to do there. It was a great chance for us to get away for a few days and spend time together making new memories (especially after being immersed in old ones for a week). My daughter loved the Mall of America even more than the wedding we were there to attend (and this girl loves some weddings!), so everyone heard more about that than anything else when she talked about the trip. It was a beautiful drive from where I grew up and we were all able to add some new states to our lists.

The final stop on our Midwestern tour was my hometown, which is also near the city where I went to college. There were more stories shared here than I expected too, but to a lesser degree at least. (Now, please don’t get me wrong. I want people to feel free to share stories about my late wife, especially with my daughter. I just thought they would spend some of that time getting to know Winn-D too.) She was able to meet my brother and sister and several friends that week as well. We spent time in big cities and small towns, attempted to drive through my old college campus (which was closed for construction), ate doughnuts from my favorite bakery, and spent lots of time in my childhood home. I knew I was excited to “bring her home”, but I don’t think I knew how much I would enjoy sharing that part of my life with her. It was a perfect way to cap off our adventure.

July has two significant potential grief-triggers for me. The first is my late wife’s birthday, which occurred while we were visiting my parents. Some years that one is harder than others. She would have been 33, so the age was not necessarily of significance, but the fact that it was the fifth birthday without her could have been.

Unfortunately, I don’t remember part of that day.

The day before her birthday, I woke up not feeling well. I was pretty sure I knew what was happening, but elected not to tell anyone at first. As the day wore on, the back pain intensified, and the first puff of my inhaler didn’t help. I tried to rest hoping that I could ward off the inevitable. By evening, I was starting to have mild trouble breathing and the back pain had not abated. My family was acting silly and dancing around and I couldn’t join in, even when my daughter asked me to, which broke her heart. I didn’t want her to worry, so I just said my back hurt and left it at that. By the time we went to bed, I knew I was going to need to go to the doctor, but I was 800 miles away and thought that at the very least I could make it till morning (and who knows what a good night’s sleep might have done, right?)

I tried my inhaler again shortly after eleven and laid awake waiting for something to change. It did, just not for the better. By midnight I knew I needed to get help. The only problem with that was that the help available to me at that time of night would come in the form of a hospital – more specifically, an emergency room.

She died the first time in an emergency room.

This was the only benefit to being 800 miles away from home. Instead of going to the ER where she died, I went to the one where I had stitches in my finger once and had my broken arm set and cast, in the same hospital where I was born over 33 years ago. I thought that would soften the blow, and maybe it did a little. But by the time my mom and Winn-D and I arrived (my stepdad had stayed home with my daughter, who didn’t know I was gone until we told her the next day), my blood pressure had sky-rocketed and my breathing had become labored. I didn’t have the foresight to tell them why my blood pressure might be so high (if you missed it, read the single line above), so I quickly ended up in the triage section of the ER. Thankfully, I didn’t know that until we left the hospital, but it added to the worries of the two ladies who were with me.

I have never had to stay in the hospital for myself. Sure, there were a few hospital stays with my late wife, but I could still come and go (from the room at least) with relative ease. Sitting in that bed, I gained a whole new respect for anyone who has ever been hospitalized. After I received a breathing treatment and could talk at a normal volume again, all I wanted was to get out of there. Knowing my body as I do, I knew that the breathing treatment would be enough to make me well again. But when you are in the hospital, even if it’s a triage bed in the ER, you are completely at their mercy (and they don’t show you any as far as your time is concerned!) To be fair though, they took great care of me and I am grateful for that.

Now, I know that some of you might be asthma sufferers yourself or might be concerned that I allowed the “attack” to progress for as long as I did. For some reason I don’t get a sudden attack. My symptoms are gradual, which gives me plenty of time to make a decision. Unfortunately, I still can’t get help until the symptoms reach a certain level (if I had gone to a med center earlier in the day, they would have likely sent me home without a treatment given my symptoms at that time). I was more than a little concerned that I had my first attack in over a year shortly after I started medication, but things have remained fine for me health-wise since that night.

The events of that night and the subsequent morning of sleep overshadowed the date on the calendar, and I managed to make it through okay. But the very next week, after we returned to the Southeast, was what would have been our tenth anniversary. I expected that one to be a tremendous kick-in-the-pants, complete with an outpouring of tears and anger about what could have been.

But in a lot of ways, it was just like any other summer day.

It would be easy to assume that this is because I’m in a relationship now and am therefore “happy” again (how many more times do I have to hear that?!?), but I really think it’s more a testament to where I am in the grief cycle. I don’t mean to sound callous because I will always care about my late wife in ways I cannot describe, but I don’t pine for her like I did the first few years after she died (which I suppose is good news for Winn-D). I can’t remember the last time I spent time crying in that painful, grief-stricken manner, but then, I couldn’t remember that before I met Winn-D either. Again, I’m not naïve enough to think that this might not ever happen again. But I am certainly glad that this day that should have turned out to be a major grief-trigger ended up being completely bearable.

There are plenty of other things rattling around in my head tonight, but this has become lengthy, so I will close with some good news. I received an e-mail the other day that this blog has been placed on a list of the 50 Best Memoir Blogs. This came at a time when I was feeling bad about not being able to post on here more often and is my first official honor as a blog author. That’s certainly not why I do this, but it does feel good to have my work here recognized in some way.

Guess that goes to show you never know who might be reading…