Tuesday, October 27, 2009

On a General Sense of Lethargy

I have been rolling the content of this post around in my head for about two months now. It was originally intended to be a summer wrap-up post, recounting many things that occurred, but were never committed to paper (or in this case, screen). But by taking so long to actually compose and post these thoughts, I have become a self-fulfilling prophecy of sorts. And I have lived up to the title.

What prompted me to actually post these words now was a recent post by Supa, who has apparently been experiencing many of the same thoughts, feelings, and (lack of) actions I have. Ironically, I read this post while in the midst of cleaning house, but that may come into play a bit later on.

When I started this blog, I had visions of grandeur. I thought that I would post twice a week, or once at the very least, and then only when things became extremely harried in my daily life. I never dreamed I’d see months with only two or three posts. But this blog is an account of how grief has/is/continues to affect my life and that of my daughter. And the truth is we’ve had a lot of two-post months as of late.

It seems to have begun sometime in April. After an excellent trip to visit family over Spring Break, we settled into what would become the end of our now familiar routine - my daughter’s last few months at day care before embracing the world of “big school” and my last few months of school at the job I have held for the past five years.

In May we managed to take our first family trip to Disney World, which I wrote about here. Despite the rain and being acutely aware that we were supposed to make this trip as a family of three (not two) we had a great time. And the end of my school year was, in some ways, one of the smoothest I’ve ever had.

But sometime in May, I noticed that I had put on a few pounds. And that it wasn’t coming back off readily. Not a big deal for most people, but for me, it was a sign of things to come.

About six months after my daughter was born, my wife and I decided to do something about our “baby weight”. Those of you who have children know why it was ours, and not solely hers. When I stepped on the scale, I was amazed to see that I had gained twenty pounds since we’d been married, which was at that time only three years. So we set out on a regimen of strict dietary change and increased exercise. And the pounds came off. In no time at all I had lost twenty-five pounds, and my wife was within ten pounds of her goal weight. I ended up losing thirty pounds in all (I had thought I needed to lose ten going into it) and kept it off for four and a half years.

Now, I typically put on a few pounds around the holidays and any time we visit family (here or there) because my eating habits change. But I am always able to get back to my normal weight within a reasonable amount of time. The distressing part about the May weight gain is that it didn’t really seem to coincide with the trip home or the trip to Florida. I had just gained some unexplained weight.

But it was not so much that I couldn’t bear it. And I had other things to attend to. Like my daughter’s graduation from preschool and the emotions I endured in having to go through that alone. We had a nice visit with all of the grandparents during and after…

But then I sold the car and had to deal with all sorts of new grief-driven feelings.

Then within three days’ time we not only found out that my daughter had to have ear surgery, but she also had it. You can imagine what that was like (or read about it here).

I wrote about those three things. But at the end of June, I completed my first week of teaching Vacation Bible School at our church. It was a rewarding experience and not nearly as mired in grief as the rest of the month had been. But I never managed to share that experience here.

Within a week of that, we were headed to the Midwest for our annual summer trip to see family. We arranged for five days with each side of the family, with a five day side-trip in the middle. You may recall that while some of you were at the Widow/ers Conference in San Diego, I was in the heart of the country at a work related conference. It was my first time in that city, and I managed to add my twenty-third state to the list, while my daughter added numbers thirteen through fifteen to hers (she’s catching up too quickly!) I had big plans to record the exciting moments here, much like I did with the Disney trip, but alas, this is the closest I’ve come to doing so.

And only two days before that trip, I was doubled-over by the worst physical pain I’ve ever endured, which turned out to be a kidney stone. I had actually composed an entire post about that in my head and yet, it never made it to this small screen. Suffice it to say, I can now boast that I have driven halfway across the country on (low, legal doses of) painkillers though.

And as I’m writing, I realize I forgot to mention the garden. That beautiful, sad little plot that held so much potential. Strong tomato plants, evenly-spaced rows of bean seeds, hills of pumpkins, yellow squash, and zucchini… But the bean seeds never took, even with two plantings. And we had almost a week of hundred degree heat in June, when that is usually reserved for late July/early August. Then we had our ten days of rain (which is customary for June, but does not usually follow extreme heat). We did manage to get one small, hard, inedible piece of yellow squash and several undersized tomatoes. But I don’t eat tomatoes. And I’m guessing neither did the people to whom we gave them.

July is also a month with some hard dates for me, as is evidenced by this post and this one here. But as you may recall, I posted them in reverse order and the latter was posted almost three weeks after the date.

And then came August. We had out-of-town guests who inspired my first trilogy of posts on this site (see here, here, and here). And we increased our time at the beach, even though we had managed to make it down there more often this summer than we did the last.

Then my daughter started kindergarten and had her second ear surgery within three days of one another, but I didn’t get either of those posts up until September.

In the midst of all of this, I left the school where I’d worked for the last five years for one closer to my home. With the job change and my daughter starting school, my commute was cut by forty minutes each day. Yes, I gained almost an entire feature-length film’s worth of free time every day. (Not that I know where it has gone!)

The job change was an amicable one, but it’s been over two months and this is the first real mention I’ve made of it here. There have been some occurrences there, mostly dealing with having to reveal my marital status, that I will save for another post (here’s hoping it makes it to this screen sometime in the near future).

But suddenly September was gone and within a week we’d make a weekend trip together to see family in a nearby state and a weekday trip apart (since she’s in school now), which I did manage to write about here a few weeks back.

I know what some of you are thinking by this point, but it’s not true.

Some of you are thinking that these all sound like classic symptoms of depression. And they do. But they are not. I have been depressed before (though ironically it was in college before my wife and I even began dating) and it was much worse than this. Precursors to depression? Possibly. I won’t rule that out at this point. But full-fledged depression? Not even close yet.

What I think this is instead, is simply grief manifesting itself in my life. Like other widow/ers I read, my grief has changed over time. Just when I figure out all the triggers, they shift and I have to learn the new ones. It’s a seemingly endless battle, but one I am destined to fight (or flee from at times) nonetheless.

And there is hope in all of this – namely that I recognize what is happening. So that’s where things like cleaning the house come into play. I usually keep a relatively neat house (especially for a single dad!), but over the last month I noticed that I was cleaning a few rooms here and there, but the entire house was never completely clean all at once. So this weekend I set out to do just that. And once I had accomplished that goal, I felt better.

And even though I’ve gained ten pounds in total since April and I keep eating junk food like someone is going to take it away from me at any moment, I’m starting to make healthier choices here and there again. Just last week while my daughter was at gymnastics, I spent some time walking at a nearby park. Baby steps in that department perhaps, but it is, at least, forward motion.

And in all of this I have managed to maintain the daily routine. My daughter’s homework is always completed, the laundry is never so far behind that we’re scrambling for things to wear, we’ve increased the number of meals we eat at home, my work hasn’t suffered… All important aspects of our lives that are being carried out in such a way that no one would know the relentless undertones of grief that are always there, just below the surface.

Day by day. One step at a time.

Forward motion.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

On Distance and Conflicting Obligations

It is often said that “absence makes the heart grow fonder”. And while I have seen that statement become reality in many situations in my life, none more immediately than in the years since my wife’s death, I did not expect it in my most recent encounter with absence.

But it happened, nonetheless.

At this time last week I was headed to bed in a larger city in a Northeastern state. Or rather, I was headed to my sleeping bag on the floor of my brother’s home office in said city/state. At that time, my daughter had been asleep, snug and cozy in bed, for about three hours. The only trouble was that her bed was in someone else’s house, several hundred miles away in our hometown.

It is also often said that “there’s a first time for everything”.

And such was the case last Wednesday night. My brother had asked me to come up for an overnight visit, the details of which I unfortunately cannot divulge at this time. But suffice it to say he asked me there for a specific purpose, and since he has not acted in such a way in the ten-plus years he’s lived there, I obliged his request.

I rather enjoy visiting my brother and exploring his city, which is so very different from my coastal corner of the map. I enjoy it so much that I am planning what will be our third annual winter visit in January (the details of which I will gladly divulge!) I do not, however, enjoy taking time off work. I do so when my daughter is sick or when we are out of town (though this is increasingly rare since she is in school now) or when she has a medical need (her surgery and follow-up appointments, for example). I even, begrudgingly, take the occasional day off when I am absolutely too ill to climb into the car and drag myself to school. So it was more than a big deal for me to take a day off at my brother’s behest, but I was also glad to do so.

The hard part was leaving my daughter. I was not so much worried about where she would stay, as our friends (who are getting an increasing amount of praise on this blog lately!) who always seem to be there for us gladly took her in for a few nights. As a single parent, it’s not only a relief to have people you can count on when something like this arises, but it’s an added bonus when you have people you can trust to the point that you truly don’t have to worry about your child while you’re away. But I was worried about telling her I was going alone, and then actually doing so.

So in a moment of genius, I made two bowls of ice cream and broke the news during a nice little father-daughter moment we were having. And she took it extremely well. She was, as I had hoped, very excited about getting to stay with her friend for two nights (two school nights, no less!) She was not thrilled about me going to see her uncles without her, but when I explained that I didn’t want to take her out of school to go, she seemed to understand. Plus, I gave her about a week to adjust to the news, so as to help decrease some of the shock a bit.

So last Wednesday, I put her on the bus at ten till seven like I do every morning, knowing I wouldn’t see her for two and a half days. And she hopped on just like she does every other day. No tears. No hysterics. No drama at all. Just my happy little girl hopping on the bus as if it were a normal day. It made leaving her a whole lot easier than I had thought it would be.

So after work that afternoon I flew to the airport a couple hours away (keeping the wheels to the pavement) only to find out that my flight had been delayed for almost an hour and a half. So my twenty hour jaunt turned into eighteen. And my big-city dinner in my brother’s neighborhood was replaced with an over-priced bagel sandwich alone at the airport. I had, at least, had the foresight to bring a book, so I was not completely bored while I waited for the clock hands to trudge forward. But the night had not begun as planned.

Thankfully the rest of the night did not follow suit. The plane took off and landed on its adjusted schedule without incident. I managed to direct the cab driver to my brother’s place without incurring an additional fare. And I enjoyed a nice quiet evening watching tv and waiting for my other brother and his wife to arrive.

The next day was a blur of events capped off with a nice lunch at a local southwestern eatery, complete with drinks, and dessert at a nearby bakery. Then it was off to the airport to catch my return ride. I had initially thought that by taking the earlier flight I’d be able to pick up my daughter before bedtime and thus have to endure only one night apart, but when the drive home from the airport was factored in, this was not a feasible plan. We knew this ahead of time, so she was expecting to stay with our friends two nights, but that did not make the pain of that night’s phone call any easier to bear.

When you have spent nearly half of your young life being raised by a single dad without any close family nearby, you have a tendency to grow exceptionally close to said father. When you couple this with the fact that the only nights we’ve spent apart in the past two and two-thirds years have been the occasional night in the Midwest when she has stayed overnight with her closest cousins (and was thereby the one “leaving”) you start to get an idea of just how hard a night or two apart might be.

So when I called her just before bedtime from the airport city last Thursday night to let her know I was safely back in our state and would see her the next day, it seemed only appropriate that the tears would flow. She wanted to know why I couldn’t pick her up that night and told me how much she missed me. I tried to reassure her that I would see her after school the next day, but I had to choke back my own tears while doing so.

After we hung up I finished my sandwich from a local fast food chain and decided to try to do some shopping. I am not big on shopping without a purpose, nor did I have a purpose that night, other than pure avoidance. You see, I had prepared myself as much as possible for the separation from my daughter, but I had not prepared myself for a night alone in our completely empty house. And now that I was faced with the prospect of such, I opted to go shopping instead. I didn’t find anything I couldn’t live without, but I did manage to stay gone long enough that when I arrived home I was tired enough to crawl into bed and ignore my solitude as much as possible.

When I was in fifth grade I went away to camp for the first, and only, time. When I arrived home my mom asked me if I had missed her and was taken aback when I said “no”. And I had not. But what I was quick to point out was that I certainly appreciated her more now that I was back home.

It was the same with my two nights away from my daughter. I did not spend my time actively missing her, though I did think about her quite often while I was gone. But I was certainly glad to see her when I picked her up from after school care the next day. She was a welcome sight, running across the playground with her arms stretched wide and a smile to match.

She wanted to hear all about my trip, so I told her on the way to rescue the dog from the kennel. She was clearly very glad to have me back home, but seemed at ease with the idea that we were apart for a few days. It happened to be the week of our local fair (it’s too hot for the fair here during the summer months), so we finished off a hectic week with some corndogs and a couple of “prize every time” games. Then she decided to use all of her ride tickets on the merry-go-round and of course wanted me to endure the dizzying rotation with her.

It turns out she may have been mad that I left her for two nights after all…