Tuesday, November 24, 2009

On Giving Thanks

It is not very often one can say on this Widowed Road that they have been fortunate. Or maybe it is, but is just too hard for us to see when we are mired in our grief. But if I had to identify one area in which I had been fortunate regarding my wife’s death, it would be that she died in the late winter, which meant that I had a good nine months of active grieving before I had to face the dreaded holidays.

Thanksgiving has never been my favorite holiday. Don’t get me wrong, I love the food, the time with family (when possible), and everything it stands for. But for me it has always been overshadowed by holidays like Christmas and Easter, for reasons which I will likely delve into when those holidays come around again. One thing that I have always dreaded, at least when I lived at or near home, was the obligatory “what are you thankful for” session around the Thanksgiving table (sorry G). I dread it all the more now, though I have not spent Thanksgiving with my side of the family since the last one with my wife in November, 2006.

It can be hard as widow/ers to be mindful of the positive things in our “new” lives. How can we possibly be thankful for anything when everything we’ve ever lived for is suddenly gone? It’s a hard question, and one that is not easily answered. Nor is the answer the same for any of us. But I suspect that over the next week or so there will be many posts in the blogs listed at the right of the screen which deal with this topic on some level. And I suspect most, if not all, will contain some level of gratitude, even amidst our given circumstances.

The first Thanksgiving without my wife was spent as planned prior to her death, with her family in a state adjacent to my own. It has become an unspoken tradition that we meet there every other year when her sister has her children for the holiday. It’s a time I always look forward to, but one that was incredibly difficult that year, nonetheless. Thinking about it now, though, I cannot convey just how difficult it was. This is one of the many times I wish I had been able to write during the multitude of firsts. Sadly, unlike many of you who have or are about to experience them, I have no written record of those times and can only rely upon my memory, which is unreliable at best. But what I do remember is that we all cried a lot and laughed a bit, and ultimately made it through.

Last year was an off-year as far as that unwritten tradition is concerned, and as it is too far to travel to my original home state in the Midwest, we relied upon our surrogate family here to take us in. On Thanksgiving Day last year, we woke up in our own beds and watched the parade in our own living room. Late in the morning we drove to the home of our friend’s parents and spent a lovely fall afternoon. The weather is more temperate here this time of year, so the kids were able to play outside and even jump in great piles of leaves without much fear of illness settling in. We stayed through dinner time, then headed back to our house and watched specials on tv together. I was still not able to write then, but my recent memory serves me a bit better than my distant memory does.

And so arrives this Thanksgiving. In staying true to the pattern, we will again head to that adjacent state in the morning, fighting what I am sure will be all manner of angry drivers and impatient travelers along the way. My daughter, for what I believe to be the first time ever, told me this morning that she is not looking forward to the traveling part this time. Or maybe it’s just my frustration level during the journey that she’d rather avoid. But I digress.

I can’t really say that I’m much in the mood for the holidays yet this year. The time off work – absolutely. I’ve been looking forward to that for weeks. But so far I just haven’t been able to get excited about the actual celebrating of the holidays. However, in preparation for said holidays and the composing of this post, I have once again been reminded that I have plenty for which to be thankful.

Like my beautiful, precocious little girl, who still looks and acts a lot like me, but has those blue eyes and sweet disposition that drew me to her mother all those years ago. Despite her ear surgeries over the summer, she is a healthy child. And since health is something her mother battled with for most of her short adult life, I am certain that she too would be grateful that our daughter has been in such good health these past few years as well. She is doing well in school, both academically (like me) and socially (like her mommy). And she has handled life after her mother’s death with a grace and poise that is well beyond her five years. Though I always dreamed of having a large family, I have been given more in my one child than I would have ever thought possible.

Though we are physically isolated from our families much of the year, we make every effort to see each other when we can. Both families. And that is another thing for which I am thankful. I come from an average-sized, though anything-but-average family. Love was always a part of our home growing up, and though at times our differences have caused that love for one another to be much less evident as adults, I am confident it is still present. And I married into a family that was very similar to my own in that regard. My wife grew up in a loving home, which I was welcomed into with open arms. And as you can tell from the preceding paragraphs, that love was not cut off after she died. In reading blogs of other widow/ers, I am constantly made aware of how blessed I am not only to have my own family, but to have my wife’s as well.

There is also, of course, the laundry list of other things as well. I have a good job, which to this point has been safe from the spiraling economy. I am in relatively good health myself. I have good friends and acquaintances. I can afford to pay my bills and still have some left over to go out to eat and take trips to see family. I’m even starting to come out of that six-month state of lethargy I wrote about here (see photo above for the completed version of the photo at the top of that post). And now I have an ever-growing support network in a place I never thought I’d find it – the internet.

Lots of blessings.

Lots of things for which to give thanks.

But perhaps the thing for which I am the most grateful, is that over the past two years and nine months, I have not once had to worry about or question where my wife resides now. She had an unshakeable faith in Christ and I have no doubt that she is with Him now. This knowledge has done little in the way of taking the sting out of everyday life on earth without her, but over time I think it has helped me become more accepting of her death. Now I’d be lying if I said my own faith hasn’t wavered greatly since then, but at times, it has also been the only thing that has sustained me.

So yes, I have a lot to be thankful for. And as cliché as it may seem, I am putting it here for you to see as Thanksgiving approaches and ultimately passes us by. But I’d like to leave you with this: As you celebrate this holiday with family or friends, please be reminded of those of us who are celebrating it with one less chair around the table. Especially those like Dan and Woman N Shadows, who are doing so for the very first time. If you are a praying person, please say a prayer for us as well.

And if you are fortunate enough to be celebrating with your husband or wife, hug them a bit tighter for those of us who can no longer hug ours at all.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

On Interwoven Dreams

It is not uncommon for me to dream.

It is also not uncommon for me not to dream.

What is uncommon, however, is for me to dream about my wife. I am closing in on the three year mark and I believe I am up to six dreams of her in total. I’d say it’s an average of one every six months, which is true, but misleading as two dreams occurred on consecutive nights. In the first couple dreams she was back, but I knew that she was going to die and was powerless to stop it. In the other three dreams she was also “back”, but the moments of which I dreamed were normal moments we could have easily had when she was actually here (with the exception of certain details of the third dream of the five, which I wrote about here.) As you have by now guessed, I had the sixth dream quite recently, but you’ll have to read a bit further before we get to that.

Friday night I fell asleep at some late hour in the overstuffed leather recliner with both the tv and the lamp still burning up electricity. I do not usually sleep comfortably in the recliner, but there are still periods (though increasingly shorter in duration and further between), when I opt to remain there at night rather than face my empty bed. When coupled with the incessant noise created by the tv, it’s a wonder my mind was able to formulate dreams that night, let alone clearly enough that I would remember them.

My dreams throughout the night bordered on psychotic – the kind you have when you eat too much greasy food just before dozing off. But two were so lucid and so very different from all the others, that I could not help but recall them the next morning.

During the first of these dreams, I was dating someone. For those of you who are new to this blog, I have not dated anyone since my wife’s death, nor have I thought about it a great deal. I am not one who dwells on such things or seeks them out. I am as content as I can be alone, but am becoming increasingly accepting of the idea that I could possibly be happy with someone else someday, if and/or when that time comes.

And that was the beauty in this dream. I think for many of us widow/ers there is a tendency to want to replace what we had with our husband/wife/fiancé if and/or when we do meet someone else. During those times that I have pondered the general idea of dating, it has crossed my mind that it would be easy for me to do the same. But in my dream, at least, this was not the case. Sure, she had some of the same qualities as my wife, namely a similar hair color and a beautiful smile. But she mostly possessed qualities that made her unique unto herself. She was not a “replacement” for my wife, but was instead someone I could care about (and love?) for who she was alone.

This dream showed me that someday I could possibly love someone else. I don’t think I’ve entertained that idea up to this point, and might not have now, had I not had it forced upon me in my slumber. In fact, I think I’ve spent more energy the last few years resigning myself to the idea that I might just be single for a good many years.

I don’t remember many specific details of this dream, but I do remember being blissfully happy. And it felt really good.

Cue dream two. The initial details are a little fuzzy, but at the beginning of what I remember, I have just come off my first date with the dream girl when I somehow find out that my wife is still alive. She is in something of a comatose state and resides in an abandoned house in the town where I grew up. She is being kept alive by her own sheer willpower and the grace of God – no machines whatsoever. And no one has been privy to the fact that she’s been alive all this time until now.

So at the outset of the dream I am forging my way into this abandoned house, which has no useable entrances and has become quite treacherous to enter over the years. After climbing over, under, around, and through all manner of debris, I come to a room where she is lying on a bed, quite still, but also seemingly quite comfortable. At this point the dream takes on a fairy-tale-like state and I swoop in and save her, so to speak.

But some of the fairy-tale ending is missing. While I am incredibly happy to see her and know she is alive, I am as concerned about showing her what has happened during the last two and three-quarter years as I am about having her back again. I even remember specifically taking her to each of the rooms I’ve painted in our house, hoping she’ll be pleased with the colors I’ve chosen.

And in the back of my mind lurks the date from which I have just come. During the dream I remember being relieved that things had not gone further with the dream girl, but also wondering what might have happened had my wife not miraculously been found alive. It is enough to create chaos deep within a man.

While the details of these dreams did not match up completely, I can’t help but think they are related. And though I generally do not put much stock in dreams having meaning, it seems that in this instance they almost certainly must.

Like the fact that I must be inching closer to the prospect of dating, whether it happens tomorrow or in ten years. And the fact that I could someday embrace a relationship with someone who is very different from my wife. And the fact that I can choose to do this, knowing that I am as content as I can possibly be with my current circumstances.

I think what surprised me the most about these dreams is that there was a level of guilt evident in the mix. I don’t know if I have written about this here or not, but a few days before my wife died, we had a conversation during which she asked me to make her some promises. Her health had declined very quickly and though I don’t think either of us believed she was going to die at that point, it was necessary for us to say some things to each other. The one thing she asked me that I could not promise was that I would marry again. And here’s why. I told her that even (though hard as it was to imagine at the time) if I ever managed to fall for someone else, I could not guarantee that someone else would ever fall in love with me. I don’t believe in making promises I can’t keep. So instead I told her that I would keep myself open to the possibility.

I guess that’s what I’m trying to do now. I was just naïve enough to think it wouldn’t be hard.

And, for now, it was only a dream.