Archive for Living

Two years

Seems longer than that. Seems like the months and years leading up to that last one were a blur, a speck in time. A fight that kept us swinging and one that never let us believe that we would lose. We knew the statistics and they kept us honest, but we never thought we’d end up anywhere but on the good side of those numbers.

Those last few weeks are still with me in surprising detail. The last few days and hours will never leave me. Not ever.

Last night I was reading through her Facebook account and some of the posts people made on their own sites about Dawn, and a common theme was the relative surprise with which she left us. People just didn’t realize how far along she was and how bad her health had gotten. She didn’t want people to feel bad for her. She wanted them to heed her words and remember her fight and she wanted her strength to be her legacy. She wanted her happiness and attitude about her life to be what she left with you when she passed.

The fact is, what she never said, what she never allowed to get her down, was that she felt cheated by life. Some days she would gather all her strength just to get down the stairs to the couch to be there with her boys. She’d push aside what ailed her in favor of sharing any happiness she could with anyone. She worried more about others’ bad days than she did about her own. She did whatever it took to keep her friends happy, her family optimistic, and her business open.

None of this was a burden on her. It was just her way.

~~~~~~~~

I don’t look with sadness at the pictures that still decorate our house that show her smiling face. I don’t see a hospice bed in my living room anymore. I often think about the conversations we were lucky enough to have time for that made my new life so much easier to walk through. That being said, I will never forget how she breathed in those last few days.

I remember her smile. I remember asking her if she wanted everyone to leave that last weekend when all the cousins came over and she told me “I’d rather have them here than not here, no matter how I feel.” That statement alone changed my life. She couldn’t stay awake for more than an hour at a time, but her life was growing short and she wanted that time to be spent with those who mattered most to her.

There were probably times in the months that followed that people thought that the old me was lost forever. I struggled a lot in everything I did. I was suddenly a single father, I was suddenly a business owner, and I wanted nothing more than for everyone to leave me alone to find my way and anyone to come hold my hand and guide me through. At some point the tide turned and I took back my life and steered it in a direction I wanted it to go. I met a wonderful woman who has wonderful kids and I almost feel guilty for having this feeling a second time in my life. I’ve grown as a person, a father, a man. I’m still worried every second about my boys but they are doing well. We’ve found our way.

And we still miss her like crazy.

 

Always there

Dawn’s been coming up a lot the last few days. I don’t know if she has something to say or if it’s just all coincidental, but it is nice to see. Not all of it is rosy, as those things that remind us of her inevitably make us sad and that’s really been no different this time. A few days ago I remarked online about how much the boys like dessert, which is something they got from their mom. She was always about dessert, probably because she was raised in a family who always made time for dessert, and it’s neat to see the boys ask almost every night if they can have dessert. I don’t let them have it every night, but I smile a bit every time they ask.

More than that, little things have come up that take a moment then go away. It’s a quick text with some mention of her or something she shared with a friend or a reminder of the scrapbooks she so meticulously created. I have none of her creativity and I miss the things she used to make, but it’s comforting to know that the memories she so beautifully recorded created memories just from the work she did.

I still find myself thinking how much she’d like some of the new things that show up every day. I think she’d be a fan of Sam Smith. I think she’d like the show House of Cards. I think she’d have been sad when Mrs. Wolowitz died on The Big Bang Theory. She’d be so sick of the snow right now and finding any way she could to get us away from it for a few days. She’d be nursing her dog along through the autoimmune disorder that the vet is powerless to cure.

She’d love the three new kids in my life at least as much as I do.

I even write this with sadness in my heart. I still miss her greatly but I’m such a better person because of the short time I spent with her. If there’s any silver lining from her passing for me specifically, it’s that it made me a better man and a better father. It made me more responsible and more tolerant of things I deal with every day. It made me realize that life is better than many people think it is.

I still have my hiccups and I put a lot of faith in the idea that her spirit follows us everywhere we go and in everything we do. I don’t write as much anymore but that’s probably because I started to get myself back. I’m grateful for what my life has become because it could’ve beaten me after that. It still hurts but I’m much better equipped to manage that pain and it comes much less frequently now. I want to live my life in a way that is respectful of her memory without being crippled by her loss.

I’m still learning.

And so we write

My fingertips were bleeding. It had been a while since I pulled the weeds that like to peek through my patio bricks, and my temper with the boys was short, so I spent a couple hours with that task. Earlier in the day I faced the relentless reminders that Sundays are falling out of sorts with me again, and that worries me a bit. For a long time Sundays were the worst, but they got better and more tolerable, until recently when they started to go downhill again. I don’t know why that is, but I do know that the boys and I haven’t seen eye to eye in a few weeks, and maybe by Sunday afternoon we’ve had just about enough of each other. I don’t know.

They really are wonderful kids. They don’t fight or argue with each other, and the closest they get to complaining is the pouty faces when I tell them we have to run to the grocery store. I’m bothered by the thought that they are reluctant to challenge me because I may be unpleasant to be with sometimes, and that’s all on me. I forget that they are probably too young to be able to adequately process the reasons for my frustrations with them, and I worry that I’m asking too much of them. I don’t imagine there’s a good age for your mom to die, but even if there is, I can pretty much guarantee that it isn’t when you’re 7 and 9. I don’t want to make them grow up any faster than they should, but I still have no idea where the line is between being a kid and helping me get through every day. I know there is more asked of them than any of their friends, and that has nothing to do with taking out the trash.

I was reminded a few days ago that they have their own life and challenges they struggle with every day. Learning new things at school and growing physically and socially, while still keeping one foot behind for fun things like playing with pillow pets and video games and reading Garfield comics. I never really thought how their everyday is probably, in its own way, just as stressful as my everyday. I forget that their everyday has that tinge of losing their mom, whether they realize it or not. I forget that they’re still just 9 and 11.

We sat down this evening and talked about taking a few steps back and regrouping. We discussed the things that were losing direction and tried to come up with ways to get the easy things back on track. We agreed to make some changes in hopes that we could make effective use of our time without leaving ourselves alone on an island, as it were.

Bear with me while I switch gears a bit to give some background to this.

I’ve recently found love and happiness with a wonderful woman who has three children of her own. She’s nearing the end of a rather difficult divorce, and she has absorbed a lot in hopes of protecting her children. “They never asked for this,” she’d say. “They don’t deserve this.” And no, they didn’t, and no, they don’t. She ran blocker all summer for her kids, and because of her nature, because she always looks and hopes for the best of everyone, she had to absorb a lot of abuse, for lack of a better word. Her optimism and joie de vivre are what attracted me to her initially, but it was her willingness to share her pain and weakness with me that made me fall in love with her and appreciate her that much more. She lives for her kids, but sometimes she needed to ball herself up in my arms and cry, and sometimes I think that’s what saved her and kept her at it. That and an occasional bout with brutal honesty I gave her. And now, I think, the sun is beginning to shine for her again.

I tell you this because I admire how much her life is about her children. She doesn’t get a lot of free time for herself, and when she gets some semblance of that, she’s wrestling the pile of laundry that buries her dining room table or building a pool in her back yard. She even became a runner, because even just sitting around for 40 minutes isn’t good enough. This is not a bad thing. I do not live my life like that with regard to my kids. If they are here and in the playroom, that’s always been good enough.

But it isn’t good enough. Sundays aren’t for laying on the couch and watching football all day. They visit their grandparents regularly but essentially, there is just me here for them. I’m running blocker for them every single day – not from a person recklessly finding their own way, but from me finding my own way, and life pushing them in all new directions. My time isn’t all mine, and the longer I ignore acceptance of that, the longer and more difficult my days will be with them.

And Sundays will never get better.

Dear Dawn

Dear Dawn,

Another Mother’s Day without you is upon us, and even though I talk to you almost every day, I wanted you to know that Preston brought home a Mother’s Day craft for you. You’ll find it on your stand, but no peeking until Sunday. His and Matt’s teachers and schools have done a wonderful job with our boys during those hours when they can’t be in my care, and they’re growing to be intelligent, caring, loving boys who brighten every room they walk into. I still can’t get them to clean their playroom for anything, and now they leave socks in there every day. It’s maddening, really.

Since you’ve been away I’m sure you’ve seen the many changes we’ve gone through. It was a difficult year for me but I’ve met some wonderful people who have helped me through. I think you’d like every one of them, especially Marcia, even though she’s the kind of over-the-top person you always seemed to struggle relating to. But I’d bet she’d charm you into letting her in your corner, anyway. There’s always that one person. She makes me laugh when I’m down and she doesn’t let me tell her everything is fine. She comes over without asking and she comforts me when I need it but won’t ask for it. We are kindred spirits, Marcia and I, and one day we’ll be 80 and making jokes about the opposite sex and quietly knowing that this good that is our friendship came of the devastating loss of you and her husband. We sometimes talk about you and Len looking down on us, probably shaking your heads, but smiling because we found in each other a friendship that knows no bounds. We know that you are both happy for us.

I’m sure you’ve also seen my struggles as I try to find my way in this new life. I sometimes find myself feeling jealous of divorced couples because they can still see their former spouse, and their kids still have two parents with them as they grow. But I don’t dwell on that or let it get me down. The mothers have been tremendous in their support of me finding my way and absolutely love being with the boys, who have taken to spending the night at their houses. This probably surprises you, because you know how difficult it was to get them to leave the house at all, let alone overnight. They really enjoy being at grandma’s house, either one, and have a sleepover there almost every weekend.

You’ve also noticed that this has allowed me the opportunity to work on my social life every weekend. I’m sure you’ve been witness to the ups and downs of that.

You’ve surely watched me try and fill a romantic void in my life. I spun my wheels a lot on that, and am still finding my way, but I feel your guidance in that regard. Before you left we spoke of me finding happiness in any way I can and how you trusted me in that regard. I’ve searched for companionship in both short-term and long-term respects, and I’ve learned a lot on my way. I feel you’ve guided me all along, directing me away from what wasn’t going to work for whatever reason, respecting my needs in the moment, and channeling me to who is right for me. You’ve given me more latitude than I expected, and I feel your influence in my search. I want you to know that I’m doing well right now, in whatever relationship status you may see me in at this moment. I’m content with myself and what comes to me, and I’m confident I won’t be taken advantage of. You’ve seen my heart harden, and you’ve seen people soften those new dark spots. Nobody has ever tried to replace you, nor have they tried to change me. I think you’re happy with where I am. I am finally happy where I am, too.

This is a small look into what I run through my mind every day. The business is going well, the parents haven’t driven me nuts just yet, and I think we are finally on the right path. We still miss you every day and still love you as much as ever, but we’re getting through. You’ll always be in our hearts and nothing or nobody will ever change that. I have good people around me, people who love and respect me and allow me to stay with you.  I will always be with you.

With all my love,

Mike

One year

Tomorrow is a year since Dawn lost her battle with melanoma, leaving behind me and two wonderful boys, a business, friends who miss her every day, and a family that would give anything to have her back. She was just 39 years old.

From the day of her diagnosis, she preached the use of sunscreen and checking your skin. She implored strangers to stay away from the tanning bed, but they rarely listened. It couldn’t happen to them, they’d tell you. It couldn’t happen to us, either, but it did. It didn’t faze them. She told so many people that I’d be willing to bet that at least one of them has since been diagnosed with some form of skin cancer, and maybe they’re remembering that woman who told them to stay away from tanning beds. Maybe they’re telling a stranger now. I sure hope so.

I’ve told Dawn’s story several times here, and I invite you to go back and find some of the posts about her struggle. She really was an amazing woman in the most difficult time of her life, never once giving up on her fight; never once thinking she was going to lose. She smiled every day and she took in visitors whenever they wanted to see her, and she never wanted them to leave. “Even if I fall asleep,” she’d say, “I’d rather have them here than anywhere else.”

The thing I miss most is her touch. The way she’d run her fingers through my hair as I laid on her lap after a tough day. She would almost always fall asleep if I asked this of her in bed, and that became a running joke. She also picked on me incessantly, with that shit-eating grin accompanying her ribbing of me. If I did something stupid, she’d give me that deadpan “really?” look. But it’s her touch I miss most. Her hugs. She’d hold me when things were rough, and for the last 18 months, things were rough for me, too. She didn’t let me hide behind being the strong one or the caregiver. She knew this disease was almost as much mine as it was hers. Thing is, she’s done with it now. I’m still suffering from what melanoma takes away.

I’ve cried oceans of tears in the past year, and in many ways I’m worse now than I was then. A year ago the future held that she wouldn’t be here, and I’d be responsible for everything with the kids, the house, and everything else. I was aware of probably 10% of what that meant, and besides the tangible things like keeping our lives going, there was a storm waiting for me in the form of social interaction. I was going to fall in love again, and I wasn’t going to be able to stop that from happening.

I’ve found comfort in the huge number of new friends I’ve made over the past year, who help me along my way when my best friends, the ones who have always been here, can’t be there. We all have lives, but I’ve rarely felt nobody was there. I’m incredibly lucky for that. I’ve gotten too close with a few in that time, but that’s been part of my growth as a widower as well. I have regrets and wish I’d done things differently, but who wouldn’t? This new life of mine has been full of mistakes, but I move on and try and go to sleep at night and hope I wake up the next day, and I do it all over again. I’m often lost and lonely and miserable, but the clock keeps ticking. Someday I won’t hear that ticking and I’ll be back in a good place. I’ll keep trying different paths until the right one comes along.

What gets me out of bed every morning is a promise I made to Dawn in her last days. I was keeping the house so we could stay close to friends, I was going to continue pushing the boys to be the best men they could be, I was going to take over the business and keep it on the path she wanted all along. But mostly, I was going to live with no regrets over her leaving. We left nothing unsaid. We were lucky enough to have time to make our peace with our lives and our marriage, and this disease. She blessed my future in any way that made me happy, and I don’t know that I would even be here without that gift.

I’m still feeling my way through the dark with almost every aspect of my life. I have a wonderful therapist who doesn’t speak ill of my mistakes, but rather, she takes me where I am and guides me along the way to peace and happiness. I have friends who let me hide in hotels with my tears, understanding that I just can’t be with them that night. I live in a town that knows my story, and while I’ve spoken ill of that curse, as it were, I’m touched by the closeness of the community as they come together for one of their own.

Mostly, though, it’s all of you who shepherd me through. There are too many to name, for I’d surely forget a few who deserve to be named as much as anyone else. But there’s always someone around the corner holding a light for me, and they do as Dawn did – pick me up when I need to be picked up, or sit down in the dumps with me until I’m ready to climb back up. My boys and I cannot even remotely express the amount of gratitude we have for all of you, but we send an unending supply of virtual hugs and kisses to each and every one of you, for you have kept us breathing.

As time goes on, I’m sure the pain will be replaced bit by bit with loving memories. There’s not enough room in my head or my heart for all of it yet, but I’m making room. I’ve still got a lot to tackle in this, but every day is a new opportunity. I’ll surely phone some of those days in, and maybe even stay in bed all day, but they keep coming and I keep trying to make them work for me. I can’t touch her, or feel her, or talk with her, or kiss her, but she’s here. She’s happy with my progress, I can just feel it. I’ve questioned my direction a couple times but I’ve made adjustments. Perhaps that was just her turning my shoulders in a different direction.

I love Dawn very much, even to this day, and I’ve yet to meet anyone who doesn’t appreciate and accept that of me. I look at her smile every day and marvel at how she was able to wear it in those times. She truly is my hero, and is easily the most courageous, strongest, bravest person I’ll ever know. I just wish she was here so I could tell her that.

I love you, baby.

 

Days like this

I woke up in a rough place this morning. Nothing in particular made this happen, but I still knew the moment I sat up in bed it was going to be a tough day.

I went through the motions getting the kids to school and stared at my messy house and piles of laundry. I watched my cat scratch itself, as it does regularly because I haven’t found it in myself to take her to the vet. The dog limps by for the same reason. It’s all backing up again.

The advice pours in from friends.

“Change it, make it a good day!”
“Play some loud music!”
“Come see me!”

But the fact is, I’ll find excuses to ignore this advice. I won’t say I find comfort in sadness, but I guess it’s something like that sometimes. I’m afraid if I don’t sit through it it’ll just come back at some point, or worse yet, collect together and drop on me all at once.

I’m jealous of those who are changing their lives and those who are tackling their struggles head-on. Some days I can do that and others I cannot, and today I cannot. I don’t want to put on my happy face today. I want to be that quiet guy in the corner you forget about when my seat’s empty. I don’t want to be anybody today.

Sunday

I was eating breakfast with a friend Friday morning when she asked me what my worst time of day was.  I hesitated for a bit before answering, because it has changed from time to time in the past few months. “Night time,” I said.  Night time is when I’m left alone with my thoughts.  It’s the time between turning off the light and actually falling asleep.

For the first couple of months after Dawn passed, this was easily the worst part of every day, and every day was bad.  Even when my days got better, bedtime was the time I dreaded most.  I’d lay there, exhausted, begging for sleep when my mind would just race and race and I couldn’t sleep.  I’d find myself awake for hours pondering a million things about my life, none of which stayed in focus for more than a few seconds at a time.  For a while that changed, and I grew to enjoy the solitude. It gave me a chance to focus on things I enjoyed doing by myself, but before long it came back and I now dread the nights alone.

Sunday has always been hard.  Sundays are quiet and relaxed, save for the cleaning of the house and washing the laundry.  We’ve always had easy Sundays in our house for as long as I can remember, and now they are no different.  What’s become of Sundays, however, is that they are essentially 24 hours of night.  I have no energy or motivation to move a muscle or do a thing.  I sit with my thoughts and I live with the loneliness that death has given me. I suppose a big part of my weekend drinking was to spend at least a portion of the next day nursing a hangover, so I could be distracted by alcoholic illness instead of dealing with my life.  Obviously not a healthy choice, but it did wonders for my mental state.

As expected, I was up early this morning despite all my best efforts at staying asleep for as long as I possibly could.  My morning was filled with thoughts of trying too hard to form relationships and if I was ever going to be able to just let things be.  I got nowhere with that.  I miss everybody, but does anybody miss me?  This is how my mind works on Sundays, and at bedtime.  I can’t escape it.

I crave companionship, like so many other single people.  I crave it and I think about what’s wrong with me that I can’t find it.  I can’t help it.  I know I try too hard.  I know it will happen organically, as Tanya always tells me.  I’m just lost and sad and lonely and impatient.  I haven’t given up on Hope, but it has tried my patience on many occasions.  I just want something to take my mind elsewhere, for just a little while, and that’s why I try so hard.  I hope I can quit trying, because it hurts too much to get so little in return.

2014

While waiting in an unending line at IKEA today, ultimately purchasing an item that is the wrong size, I had a chat with my good friend Jill.  She and I talk about quite a bit and despite not having a very long friendship, we have a closeness and a level of trust that would indicate that we’ve known each other forever.  One of the things we talked about was the new year and how we’d tackle it.  Jill’s got a pretty good attitude about the upcoming year and seems ready to take it by the balls, so to speak.  I admire her for that.  I’d like to think I can do the same.

I’ve been thinking about 2014 for a few days now and I don’t know what I want from it or how I’m going to approach it.  The last couple of years I’ve been happy to leave one year and start new on the next, but I’ve lost faith that a new year will bring better tidings.  So I’m not quick to push 2013 out the door, because I know next year could be worse, somehow.  There’s always something worse.  I have no control over most of what happens.

There are things I can control, though, and I plan to take more control of those things.  Things like my dedication to the office and my children.  I will work more and be at the office more in the coming year.  My desk there is a disaster right now and I usually spend maybe 10 hours there a week, sometimes less. I understand there isn’t much I can do on the sales floor but there’s no reason I can’t be there even if there’s little to do.  I will also spend more face time with my boys, because I’ll admit that I used most of 2013 to let them do what kept them occupied and happy.  Now I want to expand their lives and be a bigger part of them.  That may sound strange, but even now they are in the playroom playing computer games.  I never thought I’d let that be their sitter, but then again I never thought I’d go through what I went through these past 12 months.

I’m also going to be less visible on social media.  Less Twitter, less Facebook, less everything online.  That goes with what I said about spending more time at the office and with my kids.  But even beyond that, I won’t be there as much.  There are other ways to spend my time.

I haven’t talked about any emotional or physical changes.  I haven’t talked about the prospect of dating in the new year.  And I won’t be talking about it.  I put almost everything out there in some form these past few months, but I’m playing my cards closer to the vest now.  I’m going to listen more and talk less.  I’m going to save my vents and extremes for therapy and a few others.  My life isn’t for public consumption anymore.  You may also notice other changes in me, and if you do, it’s probably because what I am now isn’t making me happy.  But I’m not telling you about that, either.

I want my life to be so much better, and right now part of that is making it more my own.  It hurts too much to share so much because I inadvertently get stabbed in the heart at some point.  I’m not going to let my heart break every day anymore.  The pain is killing me.  It’s fucking killing me.

Happy New Year

The “Shit” list

This came up on Twitter tonight.  I bought myself an early Christmas present in the form of new speakers for my family room.  Almost all of my music listening came through various iPod docks or from the computer itself, and that just wasn’t cutting it anymore, so I spent real money to get good stuff and holy hell am I happy.  It’s loud, it’s crisp, it’s clean.  I even found music that makes shit rumble, good for… well… your imagination.

Anyway, there was a lot of thought in my music-playing tonight, and I ended up with my “Shit” playlist.  This playlist was created a couple months ago when everything seemed like it made me feel like shit.  I sat down, gathered 34 songs, and made this playlist.  These 34 songs, in any order, release all my emotion, and like I said on Twitter and Facebook, I fucking love it.  And hate it.

People wanted to know what is on it, so I shared a sampling.  I’ll give you the full list here, in somewhat of an alphabetic order, and with improper citation form:

1. Ride On – AC/DC
2. What It Takes – Aerosmith
3. Never Ever – All Saints
4. Alone – Blues Traveler (great song)
5. The Mountains Win Again – Blues Traveler
6. Canadian Rose – Blues Traveler
7. Never Say Goodbye – Bon Jovi
8. I Don’t Wanna Live Without Your Love – Chicago
9. Your Song – Elton John
10. Are You Lonesome Tonight? – Elvis Presley
11. Can’t Help Falling In Love – Elvis Presley
12. Landslide – Fleetwood Mac
13. Learning to Live Again – Garth Brooks
14. Waiting For A Girl Like You – Foreigner
15. The Dance – Garth Brooks
16. Shameless – Garth Brooks
17. The Jealous Kind – Joe Cocker
18. You Are So Beautiful – Joe Cocker
19. Young Love – The Judds
20. Through The Dark – KT Tunstall
21. Baby Come On Home – Led Zeppelin (maybe the best Zeppelin song of them all)
22. Can’t Get You Off My Mind – Lenny Kravitz (gets me every time)
23. I Try – Macy Gray
24. Love Takes Time – Mariah Carey
25. Without You – Mariah Carey
26. I Will Wait – Mumford & Sons
27. Don’t Speak – No Doubt
28. Every Rose Has Its Thorn – Poison
29. Purple Rain – Prince
30. Take Me With U – Prince
31. I Love You – Sarah McLachlan
32. It Hurt So Bad – Susan Tedeschi
33. All I Want Is You – U2
34. Love Rescue Me- U2

Sure, it may be kind of a pansy list, but it does its job.  It gets me through a lot of bad times, because bottling that emotion is terrible, and releasing it is… well… a little less terrible.  I’m sure the playlist will adapt as time goes on, but this works for now.  It keeps me sane, I think.  Tell me what songs you use for this purpose.

Patience

I’m not good at patience.  I think I can be, and I tell people I can be patient, but the fact is, I can’t.  It’s stupid. Like so much so that I get myself in trouble by convincing myself something else is more effective than patience.  Kinda sucks, really.

So sure, I can wait.  I can be good.  I can stand aside for however long you need.  Well, I can’t.  At least, past experience says I can’t.  I’m trying to do it but I’m not good at it.

There’s always a good reason why I should be patient but I always find a way to ignore it.  Sometimes things come along that reinforce my need to listen and be patient and that gets me by for a bit.  Today I got that.

Yesterday my patience ran out and things went bad.  Today I was more patient than yesterday.  Tomorrow I will be even better than today, and this weekend will be better than this week.  This time, despite there being no reason to believe me, will be different.  There’s too much depending on it.  As of right now, this moment, I’m doing all I can.  I hope tomorrow and every day after I can say the same thing.

There’s no happiness in acting otherwise.  None at all.

This post is purposely vague.