Friday, August 01, 2014

Mysteries

For years I have puzzled over what the “universe” is trying to tell me, when every other year for the last six years, a family member (close or more distant) dies on Tisha b’Av.  It’s a day when we remember all the tragedies that have happened to the Jewish People.  Was losing Ronni and losing Allison that kind of tragedy? What is the significance of losing Allison’s brother-in-law, Jonathan, on Tisha b’Av two years ago? Is it superstitious of me to be apprehensive, since this is another even-numbered year?

I have no answers to these questions. 

There is still a deep sadness in me that wells up every summer as these anniversaries pass.  It lasts for weeks and weeks, and comes in waves.  I don’t try to suppress the sadness, perhaps out of love and respect for my first love and for my first child, or perhaps because it makes me feel closer to them for a little while.  I try to honor them in little ways, and take the time to think about them. Memories return, some of which make me laugh, and some make me weep.  I will go to synagogue services this year on Tisha b’Av because I feel I belong there.  All of this will temporarily overwhelm the happiness in the other parts of what has become my life.  It’s not that I cannot feel joy or love, it’s that the tears blur those feelings.  I remain deeply wounded and have not fully healed.  Perhaps I never will.


At Allison’s funeral four years ago, our friend Mair came up to me and said, essentially, that she hoped that the “universe” would now stop messing with us and leave us in peace.  From your mouth to G-d’s ear, Mair.  Amen.

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Hurt

I'm trying to grab out to bits of my life with Ronni now that a large break is imminent (the move to Queens) and an anniversary is nearby.  I looked up her name on my phone and browsed some of the things that came up, but it just makes me sad. I don't feel very much guilt except perhaps that I don't like the fact that I'm so self-absorbed about it.  It hurts, but imagine how she hurt.  I still have my life here, and look how much she missed.  Look how much pain she endured before she left, and how much pleasure she lost after she left.  I used to think she could see the world through my eyes, and that it was my responsibility to her in the afterlife to see the things she was missing, really see them and feel them, so that she would, too.  Now I don't know.  I don't know what I believe any more.  All I know is how sad I am, and how easy it would be to give in and start bawling like a baby right now.  

Now look at the pain others have suffered, and know that it's part of everyone's life.  Look at Deb's friend who discovered she had colon cancer 3/4 through her pregnancy.  Look at the two hundred families described in that article I read yesterday, who lost loved ones in a plane crash which was so violent that people's bodies were ripped from their bones.  Look at the one who might be about to lose his wife to God-knows-what, and who will be totally lost without her.  I was lost without Ronni for quite awhile.  What carried me through?  Maybe finding a sense of purpose, a mission to focus on - Allison.  And then when the mission ultimately failed, and I had to figure out how to go on, how did I do it?  Another mission, perhaps, in Zachary, as a responsibility handed to me by Allison.  And that mission failed as well, didn't it?  None of this was in my control, so there is no need for the guilt of failure.  But the sadness of loss is here, deep and persistent.  Don't try to shake it, it cannot be avoided.  As always, I have to go through it, not back away or go around it. The pain will subside, and it will come back later, a little softer.  But allow it to hurt if it must.  Because it must.

A tear is running down my left cheek.  I wiped it away but another will replace it.  Life will go on for all of us. The pain will remain.

Thursday, April 04, 2013

Loss


I suppose it was a sign: as I reached for a screwdriver from my desk drawer, out fell a small strip of ribbon with two hearts imprinted on it.  I had found this ribbon while I was finishing cleaning out the house so Allison and family could move in; now she and Ronni were signaling their presence and support.

I had been thinking to go to the cemetery.  After a happy, peaceful week in Atlanta with Deb, where we visited family on both sides and where I restarted walking for exercise and weight-loss, circumstance made me go back to 15 Wicks alone. There are many memories here, both good and bad, but when I am alone sometimes the bad ones overwhelm me.  I need to give in and have a good cry.

Last night I had too much to do, and by the time I might have gone to their graves it was too dark.  I went to sleep thinking I would rise early and visit them.  But this morning I had too much sleep to catch up on and got a late start.

Debra understands my periods of sadness more than anyone.  After talking with her I took her advice and went to the cemetery this evening instead of waiting till tomorrow morning.

For years I have been aware of what I call a "saw-tooth curve" in my emotions about Ronni and Allison.  After some time being able to function quite normally and comfortably, a deep sadness rises in me that I eventually cannot set aside.  The only cure I have found is to allow myself to grieve deeply, to cry long and deep.  Afterwards I can return to life in the present tense.  When Ronni died, and again when Allison died, the period of the curve was measured in hours or days. During 2009 and 2011 it lengthened, and having been laid off in 2011 I had time to go through my grieving as often and as long as necessary. In 2012 I started working again, and met Deb, and got married -- and the sadness returned only intermittently. But here I was, alone at 15 Wicks, nearing the peak of that saw-tooth curve.

So tonight after testing my bicycle (passed) and my legs (failed) with a ride to Sheila and Al, I drove to Mt. Golda Cemetery, placed a couple of stones on their monuments, and sat between the two markers.  And I cried.  I cried more deeply than I have cried for many months, in waves and in sobs.  And yet, I felt little relief, so I stayed and thought some more, and cried a little more.

And the third wave of sobbing brought new thoughts:  for years I have been crying for myself, for what I have lost.  This time I cried for what Allison had lost, and what Ronni had lost.  I have been privileged to attend the weddings of my two sons and my nephew, and my niece's Bat Mitzvah. I have seen two more grandchildren come into the world, and a third is on its way.  All of this (except Jason's wedding which Allison attended) and so much more was missed by both Ronni and Allison because their lives were cut short.  I wept bitterly for them, for the joy they did not get to experience.  And I wept thinking about how different Zachary might have been, how different we all might have been, had the Big C not taken them.

I recognized that my grief had changed character -- it was somehow less about my loss than about theirs and that of everyone around me.  The world is poorer for their absence.

As I pondered all of this I remembered when Allison and Ronni came with me to the hospital when my mother had just died, near the end of April in 2004.  We came back to 15 Wicks and I sat on the couch in the living room and completely lost it.  I had been holding it in, I suppose, for months while my mother was becoming weaker and approaching death, and now the finality of it hit me.  It was time to grieve, and I asked out loud, "I guess it's OK to cry now, right?" and burst into sobs.  What I remembered today was how Allison and Ronni sat alongside me on that couch and hugged me until I had finished crying.  As I sat between their two monuments, I felt those hugs again.  I wept once more and finally felt some relief.

This is not the last time I will cry over them.  But my sadness has that new element of recognition, that the loss was theirs and ours as much as mine, if not more so.

As I looked up from my tears I was facing north.  A storm is coming in from the south, and the sun was setting behind the clouds, but in front of me there was enough open sky that the sun lit the bottom of the clouds in a soft rose hue.  I took it as another sign, another hug.  And I drove home determined to capture these moments for myself and for everyone who loved Allison and Ronni as I did.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Blessings


Haven't posted in awhile.  I have deliberated about whether or not a chronology is appropriate here, and I have decided that so much has happened that I can organize my thoughts in no other meaningful way but time order.

I read somewhere recently that you never stop grieving from a serious loss; you only make space for it in your life.

Since that September walk along the beach at Robert Moses, my life has gradually and sometimes suddenly changed for the better. It remains true that I can burst into tears in a second, but other, more sanguine truths have filled my life so that those bitter moments are rarer, and softer.

Perhaps the rainbows and the sunset at the Robert Moses Beach marked a place and time where I turned a corner.  Not long afterwards I began thinking about "what to do after the money runs out" at the end of February, 2012, when my Dowling severance package would end.  I took some positive steps:  started writing my resume in hopes of getting a job; bought some "interview suits," shirts and ties; began spending more time learning about things that interested me, both in technology and elsewhere.  I joined a couple of hiking groups and biking groups, and went on hikes in groups as well as alone. (I stopped biking because it was cold and because my back was hurting from a fall.)  In retrospect, I think I was starting to come out of the fog that my grief had created. I even made a furtive, though ultimately unsuccessful, attempt at getting friendly with a woman I met at a traffic jam in Huntington.

I have talked about my belief that the Universe (or God) seems to provide what I need. I wanted to win the lottery, but instead He gave me a job:  I was asked by a former colleague, whom I consider a friend as well, to join his staff in a technology company named Vicom, in Farmingdale. The job utilizes my skills and enables me to enhance them, and is stocked with warm, intelligent people. I feel that it's a great fit, and since the first of January I have been enjoying work much more than I had been able to enjoy it at Dowling in the last few years.

So the "money runs out" problem went away, and in fact, there was some overlap with my Dowling "paychecks" such that I was able to pay most of my debt (except mortgage) down to zero.  Truly remarkable.

It's not that there haven't been bumps along the way.  In February I landed in Huntington Hospital for a few days with an irregular heartbeat.  I wore a heart monitor for a month so the doctors could figure out the right dosage of medicine to reduce the problem. I have joined the ranks of those taking medicinal maintenance doses for the foreseeable future.  But from all the tests I learned that I have very little blockage in any of my heart blood vessels, and a cholesterol level that's "close enough" to be regulated by diet and exercise.  Oatmeal, cheerios and long walks in the woods, those are my friends.

In March, having talked with me about the various scenarios with Raquel and Zachary, Mark decided to move back to Yorktown.  It took him only a few weeks to gather everything together and cram it into his family's house up there, though it has taken him months since then to gradually empty the house of unneeded stuff.

For me, this was a major negative.  Allison had frequently expressed a desire for me to remain close to Zach, but that's not possible when he is 100 miles away.  By May we had started to find a weekend routine where either Mark would bring Zach to me or I would go upstate.  But the house here in East Northport was cold and silent, and it amplified my grief.  Early and mid-May were unhappy times for me, as the reality of their leaving set in:  it was Spring again and life was blooming outside my window, but not in my house, nor in my heart.

Cue the dramatic music.

Around Memorial Day Bonnie (sister-in-law, Ronni's brother Mike's wife) posted a link to a Joe Biden speech to the families of deceased veterans. She urged that we read to the end, where I found this quote: "There will come a day – I promise you, and your parents as well – when the thought of your son or daughter, or your husband or wife, brings a smile to your lips before it brings a tear to your eye. It will happen." An old school friend of Bonnie's, Debra Davidson, had thanked her for posting, and I posted subsequently: "'It will happen.' It already has. Doesn't make it easier or better. I just keep putting one foot in front of the other... Thank you for posting this."

Curious, Debra found my blog and private-messaged me, and we started a conversation on Facebook that lasted through two days and many long paragraphs of deeply personal thoughts.  We agreed to chat by phone, which lasted three hours the first night and almost six hours the second.  The part of our conversations that I remember most clearly was when she choked up about how she felt things had gone wrong in her life and how she wasn't going to have a deep, strong, life-long relationship of the kind I had with Ronni.  I felt I already knew her well, and felt already that SOME kind of relationship with Deb would be a good and happy thing.  Later she told me that she felt that almost anyone else would have said a quick, embarrassed good-bye at the first sign of her tears, and that she felt very close to me as I stayed on the phone with her and tried to comfort her.

We met in person two nights later.  We have been nearly inseparable ever since. She spent most of July in East Northport while her son, Ethan, was away, then the two of them spent the rest of the summer at my house until Ethan went back to school.  Since then I have spent most weekends at her apartment and weekdays commuting from home to work.  It's a routine we will endure until I sell the house.  Once she gets a job we'll be able to decide on a good location, probably outside Manhattan, where the three of us can move together.

So we thought about when to get married.  Just a few weeks after we met we kinda knew it would happen, but there have been too many unknowns until now so we just kept talking and working out the kinks.  A couple of weeks ago we bought Deb an engagement ring.  Done!  We don't fool around.  Between her interviews and job prospecting Deb has been working on the wedding, which is scheduled for December 2 in the home of her best friend who lives near her in NYC.  It won't be a big, extravagant, elaborate wedding.  But we will do what it takes to make it special for both of us.  Why wait?  As Ethan said, "At your age you shouldn't wait."

Why did all of this happen? Because:

(1) I was ready.  A week or two earlier while I was in the doldrums, it wouldn't have happened.  Several months earlier and my priorities would have been elsewhere, on Zachary, or on getting settled at work.  It was just the right time.

(2) The Universe intervened. The odds of two people coming together like this on Facebook seem to me to be astronomical.  Deb connected with Bonnie through Facebook only last year, and they were not in frequent contact even after they friended each other. And how likely is it that someone sees my "thank you for posting this" and is both motivated AND capable to dig deeper? Deb has made her living doing research, and her knowledge and experience happened to lead her to me. What are the odds???

(3) We were made for each other.  Despite major differences in our paths through life, we seem to think alike, and we have so many things to talk about that, even if the romance wasn't there, we would have become great friends.  The romance is a wonderful surprise bonus to this "us" that has arisen.

I know that Ronni wanted me to find a way to be happy in the remainder of my life without her.  She told me so herself.  I have taken a four year journey through sadness and despair, to return to joy.  I know that Ronni is happy for me now. I feel so grateful for the wonderful things that have happened in-between the bad things: the weddings, the achievements, the grandchildren... I owe an immeasurable debt of gratitude to all of my family and friends who stood by me and held my hand.  I only hope I can give back a little of myself to them and to Debra so that they feel as loved as I do.

So many people live their whole lives without having found true love. Somehow, in my life, I have found it twice. I am so blessed.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Sunset at Robert Moses State Park







Sometimes I just need to get out of the house. I get wrapped up in myself, listening to music that makes me sad and surfing the net for nothing in particular. This afternoon I fought it off by making a salad with feta cheese and packing it to go.

As I left the neighborhood I asked myself, "Where am I going?" On a whim, or maybe under Ronni's influence, I decided I needed to see something different, so instead of turning left to go towards Sunken Meadow, I turned right towards Robert Moses. It's a 20-minute trip across two scary bridges - the lanes across the open water are pretty narrow. Once across, I circled the water tower and headed to the easternmost Parking Field 5. It was a little cooler than I expected but I had brought a hooded sweatshirt, which I had to double-back to fetch.

The sand felt soft under my shoes, and the ocean waves were loud but somehow soothing. I watched a few Piping Plovers, whose nests on the dunes are protected, scutter along the edge of the advancing and retreating water. There is actually a three foot cliff near the water, formed by what process I don't know. The birds felt safe from me, and didn't seem to mind as I passed them on the cliff above.

I walked along this little beach cliff towards the lighthouse, but didn't really plan to get there. A wooden jetty with a stairway to the beach jutted towards the cliff from behind the dunes, and I climbed the stairs, sat down with my legs dangling, and ate my salad. It's times like these, at the beautiful places, when I miss Ronni most intensely. Sometimes I can remember being in these places with her, and sometimes I must settle for wishing we had gone there together. If she were there with me, we would have said very little; we would have just listened to the sea and the seagulls, embracing side-by-side, with her head on my shoulder.

A couple had pitched a tent on the beach a few hundred feet west of the jetty, and they were wandering the beach looking for shells. I imagined Ronni and I would have talked about doing the same thing at another time; it would have been fun and romantic. This is the time of our lives when we would have been "empty-nesters", enjoying more time together and with friends and family, becoming a couple again after the child-raising years. I felt bitter that we were deprived of that life together.

Another couple approached from the dunes side of the jetty with two little white dogs and a baby stroller. For all I know, the stroller might have been empty - they behaved like the dogs were their kids. One of the doggies came to investigate me, not really interested in anything more than a quick sniff while he peered over the edge of the jetty. He let me scratch his head and neck for a minute or two, then retreated to his parents.

Soon it was time to go back to the car, since the sun would set and I didn't relish walking the beach in the dark. I took off my shoes and socks, rolled up my pants, and walked west at the very edge of the water towards the setting sun. The waves were cool but not uncomfortable, and I felt the sand and sea foam between my toes as I walked. Those plovers were still hunting for crabs and bits of food, but then I scared them off now that I was at their level on the beach. Finally, at some distance I passed a woman and her 5-ish child sitting high on the beach surrounded by toys and a kite; they were finished playing, and the boy was on her lap as they both looked towards the water. I wondered what their story might have been - a single mother, or dad's away this weekend? Happy, or is she longing for someone the way I am? I did not break their spell to ask.

I walked up the boardwalk toward my car, but stopped short and turned back to look east at a wonderful spectacle: two rainbows, one over the ocean, and the other alongside the lighthouse. The sun had sunk below the cloud deck, illuminating the clouds from below and reflecting the rainbow from the clouds and mist. I moved around on the boardwalk until I got a few good pictures of both rainbows. And then I turned around to look west at the most beautiful sunset I have seen in years. As I alternated between taking pictures and staring with my jaw slack, I had to fight back tears. I have long believed Ronni sees the world from whatever realm she inhabits, through my eyes. I felt her presence, and heard her ask me to stop crying because she couldn't see. I obliged, and I smiled that open-mouthed smile you get when you're so happy you're on the verge of laughter. She and I enjoyed the show together.

The drive home was anticlimactic. Here I am at home writing my thoughts and hoping the pictures came out.