Thursday, July 9, 2009

On Grief's Latest Plan of Attack

A brief note before the post: For those of you going to the widow/ers conference in San Diego this month, have a great time and enjoy meeting one another face-to-face. I would love to be there, but had already signed up for a landlocked conference for work in the center of the continent that weekend (what are the chances?!?) when I found out about it. I look forward to reading your posts later this month.
Lately I have been bludgeoned with multiple random memories and I’m not exactly sure why. Little things that should be seemingly insignificant will set off a chain-reaction of memories, feelings, emotions or a combination of the afore-mentioned. It has been going on for a few weeks, but only in the last few days have I begun to recognize it for what it is:

Grief taking a new approach with me.

It seems that every time I figure out what tactic grief will use to attack me, it changes course. This random-memories-that-elicit-subtle-behavior-changes track is just the latest in the sequence.

Ironically, it wasn’t a memory or emotion that first clued me in to this. It was a minor behavioral change. Anyone who knows me outside of this blog could tell you that I love ice cream. To be fair, most people do. But I love it like no one I have ever met. I would eat it with every meal if I could do so without suffering any consequences. I enjoy many flavors, but I tend to stick with some favorites at each place of business that specializes in ice cream treats. So it came as a surprise when I noticed that, within the span of a week, I had ordered two tall sundaes with hot fudge and Spanish peanuts. It’s a treat I enjoy, but one I very seldom order.

But it was my wife’s favorite.

I have since consumed two more.

On the Fourth of July, my daughter and I spent the day doing things around home. I refuse to go to the beach as the crowds on this day can only be rivaled by those on Memorial Day and Labor Day. I enjoy crowds like I enjoy jerks in traffic. But that evening we made our mostly annual trek (unless we’re in the Midwest over the Fourth) to a nearby waterfront town to watch the fireworks. There are two things I love about the Fourth – watching the fireworks over the water and eating a funnel cake. I will fight the crowds to do both, especially since the opportunity only presents itself once a year.

We arrived later than I had anticipated, so parking was a nightmare. The funnel cake line was even worse. Luckily we ran into a new girl from church who invited us to sit with her group nearby. I say luckily because we got our funnel cake at five till nine and would still have been walking the four blocks to our regular spot when the fireworks started had we not run into her. We sat down, and the kids began playing while the girl and her friends took pictures of both the kids and the fireworks. My daughter ate half a bite of the funnel cake and I was left to consume the entire plateful alone. Now, I won’t lie and say that I don’t like the taste of a funnel cake, but it’s really not high on my list of bad-for-me treats.

I had a professor in college, a former smoker, who allowed himself one cigarette a year because he liked to remember what it was like to smoke. I stood in that line for an hour because I like to remember how much my wife enjoyed her Fourth of July funnel cake. It’s a strange connection, but the physical behavior seems to enhance the memory for me.

Everything seems to be conjuring up random and seemingly insignificant memories of her lately. It even happened the other night as I was watching a special one-hour episode of that show about the teenage pop-star with a secret identity with my daughter. It doesn’t help that her on-screen mother died of undisclosed causes sometime before the show aired. But in this particular episode, the girl was having boy trouble, and the mother had taped a video to be played in just such an instance. And I found myself tearing up, thinking about how that won’t be happening for my daughter. I know it was written to be poignant, but it struck a far deeper chord with me.

I can’t even escape grief when I’m watching kid-tv with my daughter.

The problem with these and the many recent instances like them is that I can’t figure out what’s triggering them. Sure, there have been some significant events lately, and there are more to come, but I don’t believe that it’s any one event that’s causing this reaction. I guess maybe it’s a combination of a lot of different factors.

Like the fact that my daughter graduated from preschool and I had the gall to think I made it through relatively unscathed.

Or that she had more major surgery than she’s had up to this point in her life and the surgery itself went very well (though grief found it’s way to me by another means that day).

Selling the car may have even deserved more grief-credit than I’ve given it.

Maybe it’s the song I happened upon the other day that took me back to the summer before we got engaged. We had just attended one of the ten weddings we took in that summer (Yep, I sat through all of them and still proposed!) As we were leaving to embark on the nearly four-hour drive home, that song came on the radio. It was one of the artists “crossover” songs and one that I found moderately appealing. But as the engine rolled over and the car came to life, we looked at each other and said almost simultaneously, “Wouldn’t that be a great song for a first dance at a wedding?” (We actually danced to a different song at ours, but it was, ironically, a duet by that artist and her husband).

Such an obscure memory, but it took on a whole different meaning for me the other day.

Perhaps it’s that, for the first time ever, I’ve been thinking about dating. Not in the “I’m interested right now “sense, but in the “it could actually be a possibility in my lifetime” sense. (Don’t get your hopes up Mom, but it’s a start). Up to this point, the idea of dating has seldom entered my mind, and when it has I have quickly thwarted its efforts. In fact, it has been so far from my mind that I am surprised when people ask me if I am or not. Someone once told me that they “could tell when a person doesn’t want to be hugged” which was presumably based on a facial expression of mine. I think that’s the look I give people when they ask if I’m dating (it’s comparable to the “mind your own business” look, but much stronger). When people go so far as to offer or attempt to set me up with someone, I tell them that I’m not ready to date yet, and when I am I will introduce them to her. (So far they’ve gotten the picture). Many of the other widowed bloggers have been writing about it recently (see here, here, here, and here for just a few), which is probably why I have entertained the thought when it has come to call as of late. But it seems to be adding to the muddy waters of my current grief status.

Maybe it has something to do with the post I read this afternoon, which I have been unable to escape. It was written by a man who lost his very young daughter fairly recently and it was a beautiful post. But it forced my mind to visit a place I have deemed off limits. I tend to spend my time fluctuating between “what was” and “what is” (i.e. looking back and moving forward), but this post drove me to think about the third dreaded possibility - “what if”. Partly because my wife died of medical complications and partly because I can’t find any benefit in dwelling there, I have cut off any mental notion of “what if”. But still I have spent the better part of the day thinking about it.

And it hasn’t been pretty.

As if all of this wasn’t enough (and I’ve barely scratched the surface here), both my wife’s birthday and our wedding anniversary are later this month. And for the first time ever, we’ll be spending her birthday with family. In her home town. I’m sure there will be a post about that when we return from vacation in a few weeks. (We’re supposed to be leaving in a few hours, but I wanted to get this off my chest before my computer access becomes limited). We’ll be back home by the time our anniversary rolls around, but my daughter has another follow-up with her ENT that day in that town I hate so much, so there will likely be a post about that as well.

And to top it all off, my daughter has been an absolute bear the last three days. Try as I might to chalk it up to too much time with Daddy this summer or the play dates she’s had this week, the real culprit (which I had begun to suspect) was revealed this evening. We were in the part of town where my wife taught and when she recognized this, she asked if we could “drive by Mommy’s school”. As we pulled into the empty circle drive, I asked what had made her ask to go there and she admitted that she’d been “missing Mommy a lot lately”. We talked some more about it, but since I can’t figure out what my own triggers are, I haven’t even begun to psychoanalyze hers.

But I do find it strange that many of our grief cycles coincide so readily.

I could sit here all night and ruminate on the possible causes and effects of these goings-on, but I’m supposed to be leaving for the Midwest in four to five hours and I still have packing to do (once the dryer stops). Plus, there’s a cup of banana pudding waiting for me in the fridge.

Again, it’s not one of my favorites.

But it was one of hers.


  1. i fee empathy for this latest go-round. i hope you can find your way out from this latest cycle of grief very soon.

  2. As you know, this is very similar to my experience. Grief is really tricky. And May/June/July is full of anniversaries for me, so it only gets cloudier. I'm still not out of it yet.

    One thing I found a little helpful is that this time of year is when the Chinese celebrate ghost month -- so perhaps there are spirits about, messing with us?

    It sounds like you're more conscious than most of us, and taking the right steps to take care of yourself and your dear girl.



  3. And you wonder WHY you're having a visit from the Grief Monster, with all you described? (Just gently teasing. =))

    It's always driven me nuts when I can't figure out a clearcut, obvious trigger for the bad lapses of grief--particularly as I gotten farther and farther out from my husband's death--and when they don't go away quickly or easily.

    My daughter's been doing similar things to yours lately, too. (She'll be five in early September.) It's tough to deal with sometimes, even at 4 years out for me and when she was an infant when he died (so can't really MISS her daddy in the same way as if she'd been older). I like to think I can handle my own grief--not always gracefully or well, but at least it's generally familiar at this point--but my daughter's grief and questions about her dad? They're much as anything because they're not predictable and because there aren't any simple answers.

    Hugs to you both! Hang in there this month.

  4. Maxine My Hero (Rick)July 20, 2009 at 8:28 AM

    My prayers are always with you and your beautiful daughter. I really enjoy reading your blog and can relate to what you are saying.

    God Bless you!!

  5. "Everything seems to be conjuring up random and seemingly insignficant memories of her lately."

    Welcome to the rest of real life, kid ... I think this is how it goes when you finally stop thinking about her in every moment of the day. Instead, the moments in between are suddenly interrupted by some unexpected and apparently random association that brings you back to think of her.

    The trick is, I think, to welcome these moments. They can intrude at times, and catch you out completely unawares. They can floor you, and knock you down when you're least able to resist them.

    But, on the whole, I'd much rather have them than be without them. They're part of the life and love you've lived till now -- so it's good to take them with you.

    Best wishes from London, and spirits up.

  6. womanNshadows - It's been three weeks since I wrote this and the cycle is on-going. I know it will run its course soon, but it's still hard to wait it out sometimes.

    Supa - Certain days will always be hard for us. I can accept that. It's the ones that catch me off-guard that are the worst for me still.

    Crash Course Widow - Gentle teasing is always welcome. I'm with you in that I can handle my own grief, but often feel ill-prepared to help my daughter through hers for many of the reasons you described.

    Rick - Thanks for your continued prayers. I wish none of us had to go through this, but since we do, it's nice that we can read each others posts and know that we aren't alone in it.

    Roads - Your advice is once again timely and wise. I will take it to heart and try to embrace these moments, however fleeting they may be.