Sunday, July 10, 2016

Ignoring Self-Pity

There is stuff I should be doing today, other than sitting here writing. And I have things planned: finalizing the Life Celebration party for Bunny, my wife who passed away not quite 2 months ago, party scheduled on the 16th; a phone “date” with a new friend with whom I have become quite fond in a short period of time; laundry, which always makes me wonder how a single guy can generate so much laundry over a seemingly brief period; helping one of my neighbors with some light chores (she recently broke her leg and isn’t very mobile); a phone call with my daughter at some point (she regularly checks in with me to be sure I’m okay.) If I wanted to, I could attend a concert tonight but I’m not really sure about that just yet.

You know what’s missing from this list? Sitting in a chair, feeling sorry for myself that my wife died and left me alone.

I’m not talking about grieving; I’m talking about having my own pity party for one. I grieve every single day, all day. One doesn’t live a wonderful 35 year existence with another person and not miss them deeply. But I realized that I don’t need to just sit here feeling sorry for myself and looking/acting pitiful. That foul mood is like a disease on its own, creeping into every pore of your body, crushing your spirit.

A friend/acquaintance lost her husband 5 years ago, somewhat unexpectedly but, truth be told, he was never in the greatest of health and did little to correct that. My friend, 5 years later, is an equal mess to how she was the day her husband died. Perhaps this is how she expresses her grief. We all have differing ways of going through the process, but my friend has chosen to ask for us to feed her pity, not mourn her husband with her.

It’s quite easy to settle into pity-party mode, I most definitely had a touch of that myself the first week or so. Those of us that have found this community understand the crushing loss of a life-love. Some of us may even be angry at our deceased partners for leaving us broke, homeless, stranded … and still grieving. But giving in to self-pity resolves nothing; it’s not motivating, it has no reward, it darkens our very soul, it drives friends and family away.

I’m lucky, I chose to ignore self-pity. I get enough pitiful looks from those who find out in hushed voices “his wife just died last month” … I don’t need to add to that. Grief is not a choice; it comes on its own whenever it feels like it and I have no magic words of wisdom to give to those dealing with it. But I can control being pitiful, and look at what has happened for me:        

  • I scheduled and planned a nice party in the memory of my wife and I have no doubt it will be successful.
  • I have allowed myself to be open to accepting the idea of a new woman in my life, something I never thought would happen just 2 months ago. And if it leads to nothing, I’m still grateful for the experience.
  • I can provide support and assistance to a friendly widowed neighbor when she needs it.
  • I have family who love me and grieve with me, but don’t feel sorry for me.
  • I function like a “normal” person, keeping a tidy home, cooking, paying bills, doing seemingly never-ending laundry.

And that is just today. Tomorrow will be a new list and I’ll do that, too. And through it all I continue to grieve the loss of the most wonderful person I have ever known, but because I don’t have to fight off self-loathing and pity, I can give 100% of my love to mourning her absence, just like I gave 100% of my love to her while she was here. It’s much better than simply feeling sorry for myself.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Clearing Out an Artist's Studio

Clearing out an artist’s studio is a challenge that only those in an identical situation can understand. We purchased a new home 6 months before my wife died, and the purchase/move was primarily to get her into a newer, better suited studio space. She had just completed a 6 month chemotherapy program and was really dragged out and weak, so I assumed the task of moving and resetting her studio.

Unfortunately, she really never got the chance to use it, as her cancer recurrence was quick and she became bed-ridden for three months prior to her passing. So, after she left us, I was immediately faced with the complexities of dismantling her studio and finding a new home for so much of her material and equipment. Many, many of her friends were aghast that we began to disassemble the studio so quickly, but as I explained to them, I had no desire to make a memorial space in the house. I wrote the following note and posted it on social media:

I’ve been a little surprised by the reaction of so many folks when they see that we’re in the beginning stages of breaking down Bunny’s studio. “Don’t do anything too quickly”, “take your time”, “don’t do something you’ll regret”… all good advice offered by kindly folks who, based on everything I know, only have our best interests at heart. That said, I thought a little background might help to clarify my position on the matter.
September 12, 1981 was the date of my very first “craft” show with Bunny. It was in Chester, NJ, an annual event that, to the best of my knowledge, is still running each year. I knew nothing … absolutely nothing … about craft shows, or exhibiting at craft shows, or for that matter, selling crafty stuff. But I did know that the pretty woman who I was (by then) living with wanted to do the show, so I said “sure, I’ll go with you” ….
For reference, Bunny officially moved in with me July 1, 1981, mostly because that was the end of her lease on her own apartment and by then she was pretty much staying with me all of the time anyhow. At that point we had known each other less than 1 month. I was living in a 2nd story apartment in Stanhope, NJ, directly next door to the Stanhope House, a big rock club at that time. The place was a big shit hole, but it was cheap and large, so when Bunny wanted to move in I said “sure, let’s do that” ….
I had no idea that, within 2-3 days, anything that resembled clear space in that apartment was going to be filled with an over-whelming assortment of “crafty” stuff. I kid you not, I think I’m still handling some of that crap as I go through her studio. Every inch of space was taken over by “stuff” … flowers, fabrics, glues, sewing machines, boxes, buttons, frames, hot glue guns … this list can go on forever. Now, even though we had been living together, more or less, for the past few weeks prior to what I now call “the Occupation”, I didn’t know about this stuff. Bunny said to me, “can we move this chair away from the window so I can put a work table here? The lighting is so much better” … I said, “sure, no problem” …
In the weeks prior to the Chester Craft show I got my first glimpse of Bunny’s work ethic … 3 am wake up because she just thought of an idea, or walking away from the table in the middle of a meal because she just realized how to solve some type of problem she had been having, sitting on the floor with a set of HUGE headphones listening to some type of disco-ish foolishness (Lipps, Inc was a big favorite of hers) instead of getting ready to go out somewhere & dancing/wiggling in the seated position while she created something great … I had never met anyone so fixated on their artwork before. Many, many times I had to remind her to “eat something, just stop working for a minute and eat something”
And magically, this beautiful thing would appear. “Whaddya think?” she would ask me as she showed me her newest idea. Did I tell you yet that I knew nothing about arts & crafts? I, of course, said it looked great … at first, because this really pretty woman had agreed to move in with me so I wasn’t taking any chances, but after just a short while I began to see that the “stuff” that had taken over my living space was being turned into actual art. And, sitting in the Chester Craft Show as a first-time-ever exhibitor, I began to see that folks would pay money for this artwork. Real, honest-to-goodness money.
Sitting in that hippy wonderland in Chester in 1981, with all sorts of trippy artists around us, I realized that I had stumbled onto a perfect combination for a life partner … creative, smart (waayyy smarter than me), personable, pretty AND making cash money! I really don’t remember exactly how much money she made that weekend in Chester, NJ (I want to say it was probably around $700), but I do remember it was surely a whole lot of money to me at the time! We were so broke that we could hardly pay the $250 a month rent on the next-to-the-Stanhope-House-shit-hole, so believe me, that $700 or so was big money! I was an instant supporter of the arts! Keep on selling honey, keep on selling …
Of course, not every show was a winner, in fact, many were not. But Bunny kept going and trying and creating for all of our years together. There were times, many times, that her income really pulled us out of a bad spot. But by then we were a team, and her “stuff” was now “our stuff”, and we worked side-by-side to make the best life possible for ourselves.
So, when I look at “our” stuff in Bunny’s studio and storage areas, I don’t need to memorialize it or turn it into some monument to her greatness … it’s just stuff, not unlike everyone else’s stuff that does this for a career or a hobby. Nothing magical to it at all, the magic lives in the artist, not in the stuff. The picture attached here is a simple piece of fabric turned inside out with a small doll body stitched on it, not yet cut out or turned. It sits on the arm of Bunny’s favorite chair, where she could cut and stuff and talk and watch TV with enough room for a dog to sit next to her (dog in pic included for context). That little piece of fabric contains the very being that is Bunny to me. A piece of her creative process, a piece of her soul being turned into something so wonderful that someone, somewhere would have paid good cash money for it.

You can have all of that “stuff” in the studio, I’ll keep the piece of fabric right where it is, thanks. And folks who get to sit in that chair will get to touch that piece of fabric, in turn touching a piece of Bunny’s soul. You all can have the stuff, I won’t miss it one bit. I’ll just sit here and think about my piece of fabric, “sure, I’ll keep this” …

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Starting a Blog

This was one of the very first posts I wrote when thinking about blogging. It was posted on a site call Widowed Village, and excellent resource and place for widowed people to share common bonds. This was originally posted on July 3, 2016:

My wife passed away on May 25, 2016 just a three days after our 34th anniversary and just a few days shy of our 35th anniversary of being together, surrendering at last to a nearly 25 year battle with cancer. She had beaten cervical, breast and colon cancer over those years, but the final recurrence of a metastatic Stage 4 colon cancer was too severe and too aggressive for her to fight it any further. Cancer might have beaten her in the end but she left that bastard with some pretty good scars and bruises … she didn’t go down easy, that’s for sure.

While waiting for your admin folks to accept me, I’ve been reading through so many stories and remembrances of others here, and I have to say I’m thankful that my situation might be not as dire as some I’ve read. As anyone who is unfortunate enough to have to seek out this site knows, the loss is just staggering, but in a weirdly small way I almost feel lucky with the way my wife’s passing progressed. She was bed-ridden the last three months, but we knew what was coming and were able to really talk openly about how we were going to handle things at the end.  And, at the very end, she was hospitalized for three weeks, essentially drugged out on heavy pain meds so the pain wasn’t horrible and she passed quietly with both my daughter and I holding her.

With one exception (the death of my son at the age of 30) the last 15 years of our marriage were really, really good. Honestly, the entire 35 years were good, but the last 15? They were great! We certainly had our share of spats, arguments and full-out fights during all of that time, but we never lost sight of the love we had for each other. No one ever moved out, or slept at a hotel for the night, or anything like that.  The spat/argument/fight would be grand, we’d make up and then move on.

My wife, Bunny (her real name is Bernadette, but no one calls her that) is an artist (I still frequently find myself saying is, present tense, not was, past tense … and I see that I’m not alone in doing so), an art doll designer and instructor that was a sort-of big deal in the art doll community. She was (see, trying to get better at past tense) well-liked by all, loved by many, just a generally nice person with no pretenses or attitude, and if anything she was downright shy about her accomplishments. I was quite surprised by the volume of contacts I received after she died, literally thousands of emails, texts, FB posts, Tweets, blog posts, letters and cards. It was overwhelming to me; I knew she was in regular communication with many, many folks and groups, but I guess I just didn’t realize the extent of her reach.

Now, a little over 1 month later, I find myself still here, still breathing, still functioning. I have at least 1 horrible moment each day (at least 1, usually more) but it doesn’t feel crushing like it did the first week. I’m focusing on the really great life we were so blessed to have, and I’m so grateful that her ending days were not stretched out over many years of grueling pain. Despite her lengthy history with cancer, Bunny was always active and outwardly healthy in her appearance. It was only the last three months when she was, essentially, bed-ridden and gaunt that the disease was evident. Even in the past when chemo took her hair, she always looked great.  But at the end this 6’ tall Irish/Hungarian descent woman was down to about 100 pounds, a nearly 45% weight loss.

I was blessed for 35 wonderful years to be partnered to the most extraordinary woman I have ever known. I was also blessed to have been able to work with her to make a comfortable life for ourselves by working hard and planning, together. And I was blessed that she was able to withstand the avalanche of cancer cells that flung themselves at her over those years, while she maintained a cheery, positive outlook.

I’m still in disarray without her and I doubt that will ever change. Right now I have no intention of seeking another partner and zero interest in beginning any new relationships, even though I’m a sort of young 65. That might change someday, but I kind of doubt it. You always hear about folks being “bigger than life” or a “huge beacon of light” … Bunny was indeed all of that, and has set the bar so high that I cannot imagine anyone even coming close to reaching her level. But, I could also be wrong about that and I don’t want to purposely close that door, just not interested in opening it at this moment.

You also hear that some folks unrealistically idolize their departed spouses/loved ones, and I don’t want to give the wrong impression that she was without faults … far from it. As an artist she was in a constant state of disarray and her studio was always a mess. Her attention span was, at times, non-existent. And as you might expect from someone with Irish/Hungarian roots, her temper could be quick. But none of that detracted from her appeal to me; quite the opposite, I think it added to the mix.

I am completely broken in spirit now that she is gone, but eternally grateful for the 35 fantastic years we had together. My goal is to celebrate her life and try really hard to keep on moving forward … I know that is what she wants me to do. I write a lot in general, and it seems like it’s more now as I use it as a coping mechanism. I’ve learned a lot just from reading many of your stories and I already feel the friendship. Thanks for giving me a platform to release my feelings.

Peace, Ed