Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Day by day

My dear friend wrote me again today and she describes exactly how I feel.

"you don't know how numb you are at first until the numbness fades, the calling and writing subside, daily life resumes, but the person who filled your personal sky is gone. The immensity of it really strikes home then."

Yes, indeed.

I picked some green leaves and red berries in our yard today and took them to Arlington to leave a bit from home for Jim's grave for Thanksgiving. Some chide me for going out there every week - but they just don't understand. Its comforting to me to be there close to Jim's resting place.

Today as I sat in the car on Roosevelt Drive near Jim's grave I played the 50s on 5 station on Sirius radio. The familiar tunes of that decade brought back images of those days when Jim and I first met, fell in love and married. I felt warm tears run down my cheeks but they were glad as well as sad. I am grateful for memories of those days when we were two young people in love.
It was a sweet time.

The pain is in the daily missing of Jim. As my friend knows and says its the loss of the person who was the everything of your life.

For me it is in having to face the days and the whims of the days alone without Jim to share in the decisions, to talk with, and to love.

For example - yesterday I had to have an unexpected medical test. Things turned out all right, thank God, but the process was scary and I missed Jim's large, warm and comforting hand on mine and his encouragement in facing it.

It did not help that the attending nurse, when she heard my husband died of Bladder Cancer, described how she had hated watching her father die of Lung Cancer.  Sometimes people leave you breathless. Fortunately the Fentanyl kicked in about then and I went to sleep. Unfortunately is was before the Versid so I remember it.

Today I hit a curb when parking the car on busy Connecticut Avenue and when I came back the right front tire on my precious new-to-me car was flat. My first reaction was a kind of panic. Once I would have called Jim - if not to do anything - at least to laugh at the situation. With no one to call I had to suck it up and figure it out...which I can do.  I called the dealership for starters and then Toyota road service sent a flat bed tow truck.  Now I know why I paid for the warranty which included that service. The most aggravating thing about it is - - it was operator i.e. MY error .

This is the getting used to daily real world stuff being changed. Its all mine now. As I wake-up from the fog of grief I am more able to handle it   - - - -  even through the numbness.

But each incident brings home the reality of the truth. Jim is gone. 

And as my friend says, recognizing that "is immense."

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Firsts are Potholes in the Road

An old friend - a long-time widow - sent me a lovely "thinking of you and the holidays" letter. I decided to post my reply because it tells much of what it feels like right now. As well as some of  the things I am learning about what I can and cannot do with comfort and ease.

This is a new life. Nothing about it is like it  was before.

November 13, 2012

The timing on your note yesterday was truly amazing. And I deeply appreciate your thinking of me. It seems that as some of the "fog" lifts that the realization that Jim is gone - and for good - hits harder. That with time - its more not less difficult.  This grief thing is really a beast, isn't it?

And I know the holidays will be hard. I try to blind myself to the decorations and to the Hallmark TV movies but they seep through. I am flying to CA early December for the holidays. 3 months ago it seemed like a good idea - now I wonder. Just the prospect of the flight alone and into San Francisco makes me tear up. I am also going to Jim's hometown to see his family - how about that for walking on hot coals? All our kids and grandkids arrive a few days before Christmas so we will all be together. ( at a favorite time-share resort that Jim and I really enjoyed.) Did I say I was the one who thought this up? 

Some of the over-whelming emotion right now may be coming because I bought a car last week.  First MAJOR decision I have made in-my-life without Jim. It was not easy. I had to. The faithful red Toyota Van collapsed, poor dear - and the guy at the filling station refused to take any more money to keep it on the road. I was furious - and sobbing - but he was probably a real friend. After 12 years of dailies and great trips it is a powerful and real physical connection to Jim. I kept it - to sit in the driveway for awhile.

I love the new car by the way - found the perfect 2010 Toyota Van waiting for me on a dealer's lot. Had to go with the 2010 because Toyota has blown up the new ones so that they are school buses and I could not step up into them. The one I bought is a one-owner vehicle that is so pristine inside it looks like they never drove in it - well I can fix that quick enough. It has every electronic gimmick they made in 2010 - - including heated front seats which I have yearned for every winter. Jim would love it. In fact, from the serendipities that led me to the car, I think he sent me out there to buy it. Oh, damn - I guess I didn't do it by myself after all.

Thinking of you too and your clean sweeping to be ready to move. That's awesome. I hope I have the courage to follow suit come January. 

My cousin, Sandra told me ten years ago that the best thing to do was park a dumpster at the back door and pitch stuff out. I am thinking about it - but first, have to call the shredder truck to eat up 45 boxes of patient records that are stacked in the basement. Feels like I have one more funeral for Jim coming up. Is that how it is?

Are you ready for Thanksgiving? Did you decide to "order in". I am overwhelmed by the crowd you will have at your table - but - then - you are a couple of months younger  than me! 

Karen and I are going to my sister Lynda's in North Carolina for Thanksgiving. She is talking about cooking but I am I hoping we will eat at the nearest Cracker Barrel -  I tell you one thing I am really looking forward to - Lynda works at Southern Supreme during the holidays taking telephone order. She LOVES it, especially the owners and people who work there.  I want a tour of that place - to see everything and breathe it all in. The cake is fine but their PRALINES are out of this world.  Do you know about Southern Supreme - surely yes. 

Its great to hear from you.  Appreciate your sharing your understanding - not everyone does - but you have been there.

 A real hug. Thank you. I



Saturday, November 10, 2012

Gretchen's Birthday

I bought a new car yesterday.
And it was hard
   and a little exciting.
   but always I boomerang back to the loss of what was
   more than what is ahead.

I am glad it is a warm sunny day. 

It is Gretchen's birthday. 

Our daughter Gretchen was born November 10, 1961 in Chapel Hill, NC.

Today is our daughter Gretchen's bitrthday. She would be 51 years old today. Last year we went to Arlington on her 50th birthday - a sad little group - happy to be together.

Now I go once a week and there are two there.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

When It's More Than a Car

Leo speaking.

I am writing because this has been a really hard day for Ellouise.

Well, to start, Jim died eight months ago on the 6th of March so this is an anniversary - and what I have learned by watching Ellouise  is that anniversaries are very emotional. Even if you don't want them to be. The feelings just flood over you.

Well, if the anniversary wasn't enough - this afternoon she got some upsetting news.

Her car - a 2000 Toyota Sienna Minivan that has carried Ellouise and Jim on many great trips as well as kept them on the road for their dailies for 12 years - smells of leaking oil and she had been warned that it was seriously sick.  She took it to her local repair guy who has kept the van going for a dozen years. After four hours he called her at home and told her - "you have to get another car - this one is dangerous to drive and its going to take a lot of money to fix it - if they even can. Its like pouring good money down the drain. "

"You know I don't want to let that car go - for sentimental reasons I want to keep it."

" I understand, believe me, I understand. But I have to be honest and tell you the truth about this car. Its time for you to go car-shopping."

She was sobbing when she hung up the phone. In fact I have not heard her cry as long or openly since Jim died. Is that how this happens - people hold themselves together - and then something happens that taps into all the emotion that has been stored up?

I heard her telling her sister on the phone, "its not fair. I just went through getting his name taken off the title - which also cost $100  - like paying to stab yourself -
 and now I have to give up the car. It's like another death.
Isn't one death enough?"

She ended saying, "this is not fun" and I have to say I can understand why she feels that way.

For the moment things have quieted down and she is researching cars on the computer. She has narrowed down a few things that are important for her in another car . She wants a safe car - one that sits her up high like her present van and wraps her with lots of metal.  Oh, yes and she wants a car that doesn't cost a fortune.

Ellouise has never bought a car by herself and she admits that she doesn't know very much about the the mechanics of cars. When she looks at the cars she is drawn to the frills - like heated seats, hands-free telephone capability plus having USB ports and iPod connections as well as a built in screen for the GPS.  Not one of those has anything to do with how the car runs. The guy at the service station did tell her to "call" with any questions. She hopes he meant it.

What's the point of all this? Just to say that until I started watching Ellouise live "in-grief" I had no idea what it meant to be grieving.

Grief is not something a person "gets over".

Grief is sly and takes hold of the person who has lost someone they love - and hangs on like a snapping turtle - - 

Its not fun - it hurts.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Watch out for yourself

My sister Kathy recently came for a week which turned into 10 days because of the Frankenstorm Sandy. It was a warm and good visit.

Kathy stepped in and helped with the set up for the storm - but more than that - she stepped in to help me through a few things I hadn't expected to be so dificult.

It is now eight months since Jim died...and I appreciated her being here  - perhaps even more now than earlier -

Yes,  I have done many tough things during these months but there was one looming that really called for a sister's help.
Jim and I held everything ..we thought..jointly. But, it turned out that one thing had slipped through. The title on our car was only in Jim's name. The license tags were expiring October 31 and I had to take Jim's name off the title in order to get new ones.

Kathy went to the Department of Motor Vehicles with me to fix it. I had to take a packet of papers: Jim's death certificate, the original title, the Administration paper naming me Executor of the estate, insurance info, and my drivers license. Waiting my turn, holding those documents I began to tear up as it "hit" me emotionally. I was here to accomplish one more separation from Jim.

No, you don't get used to it...

My voice broke and I cried when the woman took the title. When I asked for a copy she refused  saying, "you don't need it". When I said "I know that" she realized the emotional impact, relented and copied it for me. And issued the new annual sticker for the tags.

So, here is what I am learning:
We are all going to die, that's certain. You can save your loved one a lot of pain if you take the time before something happens to side step emotional pot holes. Just do it together and forget it.

 I wish Jim and I had done more to prepare. In fairness I have to admit - Jim wanted to; I couldn't - because I could not admit - even to myself that he was leaving.

If you are married or hold assets together with anyone - check that everything is in both your names.  It will save one of you from tough experiences later in many areas, not just the DMV.

Gather the ownership titles, deeds, wills, insurance info and other financial paperwork into a central file where they are easily accessible - or leave a list of the documents and where they are located. Someone will have to file Estate Taxes and will need that paper work.

Yes,  I talked to the bank folks shortly after Jim died. All the accounts were in both our names. My son set me up on on-line banking. I like it and that seemed to be that. But don't under estimate the toll grief takes on your "thinking". You aren't aware of it yourself so why should strangers recognize that you aren't really following what they are telling you.

My sister is retired from a national bank where she was a branch manager. She went with me to talk to the banker guy about my accounts - what kind of accounts are they, are they the best type for me etc.  He had gone over this with me before but it was like I was hearing it for the first time. I had forgotten that a few years ago Jim had activated an "access" line of credit as a resource if I needed it. When and how would it be the most helpful if I ever decided to tap into it? Having my sister with me was wonderfully helpful. Whenever she saw that I was not fully getting it she asked questions to clarify and make sure I understood. It makes a big difference.

Another tip: Don't think that because months have passed that you have moved beyond asking someone to advise or help you. Take somebody you trust with you when you have to do something really hard - like change a car title, and watch out for surprises - sometimes things that seem to be small have a powerful punch.

When you are grieving - you look normal on the outside - but inside you aren't - so -  protect yourself.