Fallout

One death follows another,
But without the fanfare,
The flowers,
The sympathy cards
Of the First.

A long-time friend is uncomfortable
with your grief
and departs in a murmured apology.
They really have become so busy,
But do call if you need anything.

The congregation looks askance,
Wondering what you did to deserve
Such misery;
An army of Job’s comforters
Twisting scripture into a
Cat ‘o Nine Tails.

The fatherless child taunted,
The inflated bill from the workman
The lazy man requests a loan.

Like a lover’s blows,
Only the first punch surprises.
The rest rain down
and are hardly felt.

For those who are meeting grief for the first time, it can come as a shock that life (at least for everyone else) returns to normal so soon. And that the widow radar comes out and creates a target on your back for every shyster in the tri-county area. Or that those around you can be so callous as to suggest that you – or worse, your child – need to develop a thicker skin.

I hope that you, if you find yourself in this unenviable position, are able to turn inward and recognize the traits of PTSD that you are probably experiencing. That you put everyone else outside the fence of your existence and focus only on what has a right to live in your space. You may not be able to stop the assault, but you can let it wash over you until you are stronger, knowing that it is their burden and not yours.

 

Somebody That I Used To Know

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“It’s no use going back, because I was a different person then.”

So says Alice in Wonderland. And after the nightmare fuel she went through, who can blame her?

Surviving a traumatic episode in life is a lot like falling down the rabbit hole, without the tea parties and funny drunken mice. Everything is upside-down. Nothing is in the place you expect it to be. One minute you are the frightened white rabbit, the next you’re the Queen of Hearts roaring, “Off with his head!”

Loss is a little word with endless meanings. You lose a loved one. (Not really. You know where they are, don’t you? It would be more accurate to say that they left you.) You might lose your mind. Or your keys. Sometimes it’s the same thing. But when you’ve lost a part of yourself it is a very strange feeling indeed.

When my marriage ended and my connection to the only person on the planet who shared my memories of our children, I hit a dead end. We had traveled this road together, however bumpy, and it suddenly ended in a brick wall. Or a cliff. I had to back track and pick up a part of the trail I was familiar with and go off in a new direction.

The problem is, there aren’t any road signs and I have no idea where the road leads.

But it comes with a surprise. The person that I thought I was is gone. And while I’m becoming a different person, I’m also more of the person I used to be, or should have been. It’s very Alice.

I’m picking up old hobbies. Revisiting books I haven’t thought about in years. Rearranging my iPod with playlists only I want to hear. I don’t go places I don’t want to go. I don’t listen to people I don’t like. I can always find the remote because it’s right where I left it…by my chair. And I watch whatever I want to on TV, whenever I want to. And no one can stop me.

Now I’m just somebody that I used to know.

Admittedly, not everyone cares for the new me. I’ve lost all my previous close friends, except one. And she’s had a close death, too, so we kind of get each other. But nobody else seems able to handle the new/old me. I’ve made all new friends. All damaged by life, or with an extraordinary capacity for empathy. They make no demands. We none of us have patience for frivolous people. It’s marvelous.

I may be traveling this new road alone, but I sure like the company.

 

The Unexpected Gift

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I like the story about Ringo Starr, drummer for the Beatles, that reveals his difficulty singing. He has no range, and so his band mates wrote a song that had about 5 notes in his vocal ability and they recorded it. “I Get By (With A Little Help From My Friends)”. The ultimate expression of how many can come together to create a whole.

When I found myself bereft of spouse, congregation, and friends, I thought I would just have to make myself stronger. More self-sufficient. Get used to the loneliness. But there was a surprise.

The loneliness doesn’t really go away, but it doesn’t have to be all-consuming. Out of nowhere (it seemed) people came in to my orbit that lent me their voices. Widows who had been through death before. Relatives of addicts who didn’t doubt my powerlessness to save another person because they had stood in it also. Wives who had received the knowledge that they would be widows in the near future. And women who simply paid attention, had a heart for empathy, and did not hesitate to reach out.

One dear lady messaged me every morning on my Facebook account, just to check in and say she was thinking of me and wishing me a good day. Every. Single. Morning. This went on for about 2 months, then tapered off to a few times a week, and now once a month or so. It was astonishing. And I was so grateful, because here was someone I barely knew who took a few moments to think of me and let me know I was still in the world, still breathing, and I could carry on a little while longer.

A writer friend sent periodic emails to encourage me, and one sent an actual card and handwritten letter on the Yahrzeit of my husband’s death. Her stories and indomitable sense of humor are still an inspiration to me. Ladies who volunteered to meet me and my kids for an afternoon of not thinking about life. The thoughtful present “just because”. The sister who lets me call her after 11pm for a pep talk.

These unexpected gifts have been scattered through my year like bread crumbs leading me back to a sense of normalcy. I treasure every one. None is forgotten. Where others have disappointed and abandoned me in my time of need, I have been provided with more precious options with a deeper quality.

Some days you barely get by. But Ringo and his friends knew a little something about that. And now, so do I.