Monday, July 31, 2006

Oh, for heaven's sake

Let's turn down the dial on the morbid-o-meter for a moment and talk about everyone's favorite topic: books. Here's what G has been reading lately.

The Celery Stalks at Midnight
Return to Howliday Inn
Captain Underpants and the Wrath of the Wicked Wedgie Woman
Captain Underpants and the Attack of the Talking Toilets
The Adventures of Super Diaper Baby
Time Warp Trio: The Not-So-Jolly Roger
Pirateology: The Pirate Hunter's Companion

Now, you'd think that since G loves reading so much herself, she'd be understanding when someone else wanted to read. But that's where you'd be wrong. Yesterday, after playing action figures with her for close to an hour, I said I'd like to read my book for a while, and we had the following conversation:

Me: What would you like to do while I read?
G: *pout*
Me: You could read too, or play with toys, or watch TV, or draw ...
G: *sulk*
Me: We played for a long time! I need a break!
G (with folded arms and heavy sarcasm): Go ahead and read as long as you want. I'll just be over here, bored.
Me: Okay, look. I'll read for ten minutes, and then we'll do something together. See, the clock says 5:33 now, so when it says 5:43, I'll stop.
G: All right.

So the reading commenced. For the first five minutes of it, G lay sprawled across my feet like a dog and asked, "How many minutes are left now? How many now? What about now?"

Me: Seven more minutes. Are you sure you don't want to read your own book?
G: No, I want to stay down here.
Me: Okay.

Silence fell. A moment later, I felt something hot and damp on my lower leg.

Me: Are you licking my ankle?
G: No.
Me: What are you doing?
G: I'm sucking it.
Me: Argh! Do not suck my ankle! That's disgusting!
G: *suck suck suck*
Me: Will you please go do something else?!
G: How many minutes left now?
Me: FIVE!

You can imagine how well I was able to concentrate with all this going on at my feet. When my time was up, I shut the book and said, "Okay, what do you want to do now?" And do you know what the child chose? She chose to sit at the table and make little figures out of clay BY HERSELF! Why could she not have done that for a measly ten minutes while I read a few pages? The world may never know. Anyway, the next time she's happily absorbed in a book, I'll make sure to lie down on her feet and slobber on her ankle. That'll learn her.

A thousand cuts

I always thought losing P would be like a tidal wave, something huge and elemental that would swamp me and suck me under. Instead, I'm learning that sorrow isn't always big. It's small, too. It comes in bursts throughout the day, in dozens of tiny moments that spring up and jab me when I least expect it. When I dump out my purse and see the bottle of Extra-Strength Tylenol, and I realize that I don't need to carry Tylenol for P's arthritis anymore. When I come home with grocery bags and realize we'll never put the groceries away together again. When I see an ad for a movie he'd like, and I think how excited he'll be, and then I realize that he won't get to see it. And I wonder -- did it really happen? Did I really find him dead, did I stand beside his coffin, did I hold his ashes in my arms?

I know I did those things. But at the same time they seem like something that happened in a dream, a long, strange dream from which I still might wake.

I've been dreaming of him almost every night, much more than I ever did when he was here. Each dream is different, but in all of them, he and I say something to each other like, "What a good thing it was all a mistake," or "I'm so glad you didn't die after all." There's never a moment when I find this out; it's always taken for granted that of course he's still alive. If there's a message for me in these dreams, I don't know what it is. Maybe that he does still exist somewhere, in some way. I had a hard time with that idea for a while, even though I've always believed in an afterlife, because of the way he looked when I found him. I've seen plenty of people who have died before, at funerals, but none of them ever had that sense of complete absence, like a vacant house with the front door hanging ajar. Whatever vital essence that made P who he was had gone without a trace, and there was no bringing it back. It shook my faith, hard, although I can't explain why. It might just as easily have reinforced it; after all, something has to provide that essence, and what is it if it isn't a soul?

I could try to explain for fifty years what it was like to find his body, and I'd never be able to convey the trauma of it. Well-meaning people keep telling me what a blessing it was, such a peaceful way to go, and I just nod and smile. It must have been peaceful for him, and I'm grateful for that, but it was pure shock and horror for me. It was like finding him murdered. For the first few days, I thought I would lose my mind every time the memory came back. It was the worst thing that's ever happened to me, and I say that as someone who has not had a particularly easy life to this point. And of course, the person best equipped to help me deal with it would have been P himself, except he wasn't there.

Irony hurts too. Just like those sharp little moments of sorrow. You bleed to death slowly, one drop at a time.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Murphy's curse

Things that have gone wrong today:

1. Woke up at 2:45 a.m. and didn't go back to sleep till after 4:30. AGAIN.

2. Fought with G when I told her it was time to turn off the TV and take a shower.

3. Lost my watch -- a gift from P -- at the county fair, and couldn't find it despite retracing my steps only 10-15 minutes later. (Insert many uncharitable thoughts about the person who took it.)

4. Went to view an apartment that, at $1,700 a month, I can barely afford, and found that it was too small even for one adult and one kid.

5. Out of curiosity, viewed the other 2-bedroom model at the same complex, and it was $2,200 a month. Agh!

6. Got sunburned AGAIN despite wearing no. 30 sunblock.

7. Was beastly hot all day, and am still hot at midnight. It's tolerable if I sit in the wind tunnel between the two electric fans, but only just.

Suck. Suck suck suck suck suck suck suck.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

And now for something completely different

In less depressing news, I'd like to direct your attention to MathRaps, a new CD designed to help kids learn about math through music.

The "Rappin' Mathematician" is the husband of a dear friend of mine, and when P and I visited the pair of them a year ago, they were just brainstorming ideas for sharing his teaching tools with a wider audience. I'm so glad to see this CD reaching the market, and I know P would be thrilled. (Heck he probably is thrilled.) Anyway, I've already ordered a copy for G -- she won't be covering these math topics in school for a long time, but if my childhood experiences with Schoolhouse Rock are any indication, the raps are likely to get into her head and stay there for life. I'm looking forward to playing it for her!

Here's some news coverage on the CD for anyone who's interested in learning more: Math Teacher Has Student Success 'Rapped' Up.

Life, or a reasonable facsimile

Everything takes on a sort of retroactive significance when someone dies. You look at pictures and automatically calculate how many days, months, weeks he had left when they were taken. The magazine on the table becomes not just a magazine, but The Last Thing He Read. When folding clothes, you think, He didn't know when he bought these that he was going to die. The universe is infinitely kind in not revealing the date of each person's demise in advance, because if everything we did was fraught with those sorts of thoughts when we did it, we would all be insane. Guaranteed.

Here's a good example: the day P died, he was wearing a T-shirt I got at my college graduation ceremony ten years ago. It was too big for me, so he immediately commandeered it as sleepwear, and every time he wore it, he'd joke about his "alma mater." Imagine if I had known that it was the shirt he was going to have on when he died. It doesn't bear thinking about. But then so many things don't these days.

I'm still not sure what G is thinking. She's mentioned P a few times, but very rarely. From the little she has said, I'm amazed at the depth of her understanding of what his absence means. Everything I've read about kids her age has said that they're just beginning to grasp death and may not really get it, but G appears to be totally grounded in reality. If I say something about P in the present tense, such as "Daddy likes this," she'll correct me: "You mean liked." Or she'll ask, "Was that when Daddy was still alive, or after?" She has no illusions about his coming back, which is a good thing, because it would be very hard to have to have that discussion over and over. On the other hand, it's a bit sad to see a little kid be so flatly realistic about death. I'm glad she understands, but I wish she didn't have to, at least not regarding her own father.

This weekend she went back to ballet class, and the night before, she asked me, "Did Miss Michelle tell the girls about July 2?" (This is how she refers to it, the way adults talk about Sept. 11. I suppose that makes sense, since to her it's the same sort of watershed date.)

"I told her about it," I said, "but I don't know if she told anyone else. Do you want her to?"

"Yes."

"If she didn't, do you want to tell them yourself?"

"Yes."

"What are you going to say?"

"I'll say that my dad died and we're all sad."

Luckily, it turned out that her dance teacher had told the class, so there wasn't any need for G to go into it. She wants people to know, but I don't think she's really comfortable about delivering the news herself. I think the parents of her non-school friends have already explained to them, and I've talked to her teacher from last year (he came to the funeral -- P was a room parent, and they knew each other well), but it'll be hard when school starts up again, especially since P and I both know a lot of the staff and kids through volunteering. G's teacher suggested that I notify the office and have them alert whichever teacher she's assigned to for next year, which sounds like a good plan. Poor G is going to have to explain forever that her dad died, but perhaps I can cut down on the amount of explaining she has to do right now.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Eulogy

A few people have asked for a copy of the eulogy I read at the funeral service. Before I forget, here it is.

~~~

Peter died four days before our tenth wedding anniversary.

For all of those ten years, people told me that I'd done something brave and noble by marrying him, and by staying with him. They told me that I'd made a great sacrifice because he was sick.

And on some level, Peter himself believed this to be true. He sometimes said that he thought I would have been better off married to someone else, someone healthier, someone who could support me financially and give me things he couldn't.

What I always told him when he said this, and what I am here to tell you today, is that my supposed sacrifice was no sacrifice at all. Anything I gave up by choosing to marry Peter was repaid to me ten thousand times over.

To understand why, you have to know what sort of man Peter was.

He was a man who would get down on the floor and play with children of all ages, whether they were his or not.

He was a man who could tell silly jokes and dance around and talk in funny voices without ever making himself look ridiculous.

He was a man who liked to have fun, and he brought fun and laughter into our home. When you think about our life as a family, don't imagine it as a somber existence that revolved around illness and disability. It wasn't about that at all. It was about singing along to loud music. It was about watching movies together on Friday nights. It was about hanging out in the area behind the couch that he'd designated as "the clubhouse." It was about going to Disneyland.

He really, really liked to have fun.

But at the same time, he was a man who went beyond the superficial and the everyday. He was a man of conviction, but his mind was never closed. He thought deeply and intelligently about difficult topics and wanted to discuss his thoughts with other people. If you ever talked with him about politics, religion, racism or social issues, you know those were conversations you would not soon forget.

Most of all, and most importantly, Peter was a man who was not afraid to love. I never had to wonder if he loved me. He told me so over and over. We almost never celebrated Valentine's Day, because in our house, every day was Valentine's Day. And the loving care he took with our daughter, with raising and teaching her, was something I'd never seen in a man before and never expect to see again.

So that was the man I married. A loving husband and father, a man full of intelligence and insight and wisdom and joy. Sickness, pain, and even death itself cannot stand against such a combination of qualities. And if I could travel back in time ten years, if I could stand at the altar with him knowing everything I knew then and everything I know now, knowing that all this would happen -- I would still marry him.

Every single moment was worth it.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

For services rendered

As if to add insult to injury, today's mail contained bills for the ambulance service and emergency-room treatment. They both have P's name on them, and I can hear him saying, outraged, "What? You didn't even save my sorry ass and now you want me to pay you for it?"

It's been making me feel marginally better to imagine what he would say in any given situation. I'm good at it. Not long before he died, we went through a phase during which I always said exactly what he was going to say just before he said it, and he wondered aloud whether his speech patterns had rubbed off on me or vice versa. I think after knowing him for thirteen years, I'd just learned to read his mind. I certainly hope that's true, since I've been speaking for him nonstop during the last two weeks.

Another thing that has helped is leaving the TV on in the living room after G goes to bed. I very rarely watch TV and never think to turn it on when home alone, but P watched quite a bit (although selectively; he didn't just sit there flipping channels), and the background noise gives me the feeling that he's still here. If nothing else, it made it possible for me to finally sleep most of the night in my own bed on Friday. I wasn't home yesterday because I took G to SeaWorld, so we'll see how it goes tonight.

Ah, yes, SeaWorld. P and I had been planning to take G there when she got out of school, but we had to postpone the trip the first weekend of her vacation, and then, well, things happened. G has had to put up with an awful lot lately -- scary funeral homes, long religious services, strangers hugging and kissing her, being babysat by a different relative every day, her dad not being here -- and she deserved a break. So, I found a hotel room in San Diego and took her. I had been thinking that it might get my mind off things, but I hadn't considered that the last time I went to SeaWorld (for that matter, every time I've ever been to SeaWorld), I was with P. As a result, I thought about him and missed him constantly. I also hadn't realized how much it would bother me to see families together now that we aren't a family anymore, and of course, since we were at an amusement park, there were families everywhere. With all that weighing on me, I don't think I was very good company, but G somehow managed to enjoy herself anyway.

After we left, we went to our skeevy hotel, which featured stuffy hot corridors, noisy guests, and a room that was basically located in the slow lane of I-8. I wasn't expecting that, especially since the hotel was part of a decent chain and had gotten good reviews on Expedia.com, but we were already there, it was clean, and the air conditioning worked, so we stayed. I let G get a movie (Kronk's New Groove) and she finally fell asleep around 11 p.m. At least I think she did. I woke up for a while at 4:30 in the morning and she was awake too, but she can't possibly have stayed up that long, so it must have been a coincidence.

On the way back the next morning, G wanted to visit the ocean, so we stopped off in Carlsbad, but couldn't find anyplace to park along the state beach. We ended up going to another beach much later in the day and closer to home, and she really had a wonderful time splashing around in the waves and picking up shells. The beach was one place we never went with P -- it was too hard for him to walk in the sand -- so I was able to escape the onslaught of memories for a while.

Honestly, the memories are almost the worst part of all this. It's so hard to carry on with life when nearly everyplace you go is someplace you went with the person you've lost. I knew a woman several years ago whose husband was suddenly killed in a car accident, and she and her daughter ended up taking the insurance money and moving out of state to start over completely. At the time I didn't understand why she would do that, but now I do. We can't leave this area, not least because P instructed me long ago to stay near his family if anything ever happened to him, so I hope eventually the memories will become happy instead of gut-wrenching. Until then, if you see someone looking wretched at the grocery store, that will be me.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Ten days later

It's been ten days since I turned around and saw P lying motionless on our bed.

They pronounced him dead at 12:28 p.m., at the hospital, but I know he was already dead when I found him. I know because of the way he looked, the way the air hissed uselessly down his throat when I tried to breathe life back into him, the way his arm fell limp from the backboard as the paramedics hoisted his thin body onto it. They coaxed his heart into a fluttering beat for a few seconds -- I heard them say so as they carried him out the door -- but he was gone.

Everyone says I'm doing wonderfully well. I still get up every morning, get dressed, feed G her breakfast. I've sat through all nine nights of the rosary. I've helped make the funeral arrangements. I've written an obituary and a eulogy, which I will deliver less than eight hours from now. I've even been to the mall. I suppose by all those measures, I'm doing fine.

But I'm not fine.

I can't sleep in my bed. I can't even bring myself to put objects there. It seems too disrespectful to casually toss my dirty clothes or the book I'm reading onto the spot where my husband died.

I can't move anything from the last place he put it. His amp is still plugged into the wall in our bedroom, near the chair where he'd been playing guitar the night before. His glasses are still sitting on top of the dresser. His rolled-up ball of socks is on the TV stand. I had to force myself to throw out food in the refrigerator that I'd bought for him.

It doesn't seem right that someone can be gone that suddenly. Of course P was sick and had been for years, but the day before this happened, he'd been no sicker than usual. It was a normal Saturday: I took G to ballet, we went to the movies, we did our weekly shopping at Target. How can you buy soap one day and be dead the next? It shouldn't be allowed.

I keep waiting to wake up, but I know I'm not going to. This isn't a dream. I will never see P again in this life. And there's so much I want to tell him. Not that I love him -- he knew that; we said it to each other all the time. I mean the little things that happen during the day, the ones that make you think "Oh, I've got to tell so-and-so about this!" Only I can't.

I've read lots of accounts of bereaved people collapsing and having to be sedated. I wish that would happen to me. It would be easier to deal with than the way I feel now. Everyone else is sad, but they haven't lost what I've lost -- not a friend or a brother or a son, but the only person on earth who really knew me. I can't imagine anyone else ever understanding me the way P did. It's a very lonely feeling.

Also, I'm worried about G. She won't talk about it, won't cry, won't admit she misses her father. She seems determined to carry on as if nothing happened at all. When pressed, she said "I'm fine with it already" and changed the subject. I wouldn't be so surprised at this reaction if she were a teenager, but you would think a seven-year-old would at least have some questions or concerns. I mean, she was here -- she was the one who let the paramedics in. How could it not have affected her? It's only been in the last couple of days that I've been relatively free of sudden, horrible flashbacks, and I'm five times her age. I don't understand it.

Anyway, it's three a.m. and I have to be up at seven to get us ready for the funeral Mass, so I'd better go to sleep. If I can.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Funeral Blues

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message He Is Dead,
Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.

He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last for ever; I was wrong.

The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood,
For nothing now can ever come to any good.

-- W. H. Auden


RIP, Peter. I love you.

Feb. 27, 1970-July 2, 2006