death of a spouse, Facebook, faith, grief, Jacob, loss of a spouse

On This Day…

According to Facebook statistics, every day more than 90 million people utilize their On This Day app to reminisce about moments they’ve shared on their Facebook page in previous years, and I’ve consistently been one of them. Sometimes the memory pops up in my Facebook feed. Other times I search for them, reminiscing.

But not today.

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Today, I made the decision not to look at the memory of six years ago, or at the very least, since I obviously got a glimpse, not to click on it and read the rest.

August has consistently been a difficult month for me since Jacob died in 2013. For my daughter Elizabeth, it is June, his birthday month. Which makes perfect sense, since she carried him underneath her heart and gave birth to him that day. We were aware Jacob’s cancer was terminal earlier in 2013, but he was doing fairly well until after his eighth birthday, when we saw his health steadily go downhill. No one saw it up closer than his parents, particularly his mother Elizabeth, who slept on the floor next to the couch where he spent the majority of his last days. The hospice nurse had told them in early July it would be just a matter of days. Days turned into weeks.

Certainly, painful memories have popped up in July, memories Facebook didn’t need to remind me of as they are so etched in my mind: My daughter’s posts on the Jacob’s Ladder page, posts that were filled with such faith and hope, she was touching the lives of thousands of others, just by sharing. My getting up repeatedly at 2:00 a.m. to drive past my daughter’s house to see if the lights were on and she needed me.

But today, when I saw that memory from six years ago pop up, I looked instead to the framed photos I can see from where I sit drinking my morning cup of coffee.

Jacob phonto

I made the conscious decision not to read the August Jacob’s Ladder memories, to not “go there,” revisiting my daughter’s pain, Jacob’s struggle to let go…hanging on, and on, and on, until the hospice nurse wondered why, before discovering one day the explanation; inexplicably the expanding lung that should have caused his death, had pushed the small heart to the other side of his chest.

And there I went, despite my good intentions. Do I imagine it, or is someone reading now thinking: There she goes, with the grief thing again. 

Secondary loss is real. While primary loss is the death of the person we loved, secondary is all the future losses as a result of that. I didn’t just lose a husband, for instance, I lost the primary breadwinner of our household. The father of my children. The partner who shared a wedding anniversary. The man who believed in me and my writing. Who held my hand and listened when I needed to talk. The person who took out the trash and changed lightbulbs. My experience of secondary loss is heightened at weddings, parties, even in church. I am so much more alone in a crowd.

So when I look at those framed photos on my cabinet, I see my beautiful grandchildren, yes, but I see something else. I see the child missing from future photos, the granddaughter, now nearly sixteen, growing up without her buddy, the boy whose big brother will never carry him on his back, like he does his little sister.

I also see my daughter, who cannot yet bear to pose her remaining children for a family photo because the absence of one is too painful. The daughter who once blogged regularly, becoming my spiritual mentor, who now finds it difficult to write anything at all.

Parents who have lost a child understand that, but would others? I know a woman who takes a photo of her empty porch every August because each year on the first day of school, she loses her son all over again. This year, it would have been second grade, this year third, this year fourth.

Is it true that there are those who cannot understand a loss until they have experienced it themselves? I firmly believe that. I acknowledged my parent’s wedding anniversary with a card to my mother that first year after my dad died. I may have even done so the following year, but only since experiencing the death of my own spouse, do I realize that she likely looked at the calendar every single June 25 for twenty-five years, remembering with a twinge of sadness.

Is it also true, as everyone says, that thoughtless comments to grievers are well-meant? “I don’t think I believe in Heaven,” someone said on my porch, sitting near me, within days of my husband’s death. Where did they think David was then, I wanted to shout, but didn’t.  Could the comment have come from their own doubt that needed reassurance? “If my husband died, I would never date or fall in love again,” I was informed when I expressed loneliness and an openness to loving again.  Was that judgement I heard in the tone, or my imagination? When Christmas is difficult for the mother of a little boy who loved the holiday, is it helpful, or hurtful, to tell her to “think of her other children and their enjoyment?” (Hint: It’s hurtful. She does think of them. It’s still hard.)

I’ve heard there is a way to turn off those Facebook “memory” notifications, but I don’t really want to. So many of them bring a smile to my face, a tender memory, a funny incident I shared ten years ago. A photo of me in 2009 pops up, and I think to myself “That was before. Before my mother, husband, and grandson died.” I feel sorry for the woman with the husband’s arm slung across her shoulders, her bright smile, clueless as to what was coming.

Then I reflect on who I am now, who I am because of those losses. The woman who wants to be a better person because of those good, loving people she lost. One who looks to Heaven for answers, who now knows what it is to have a personal relationship with Jesus, who glimpses small miracles everywhere, and believes we are here to walk each other HOME. The woman who facilitates grief groups  and grief retreats, who can authentically talk and write about grief because she “gets it.” Who talks and writes about creativity for the same reason; because of the creative mother she lost. I am the woman who writes these words in a poem, and believes them.

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So, while there is an option to turn off the Facebook notifications, I won’t. There’s too many good moments I want to revisit. For now, maybe for the rest of August, I’ll choose to look away from those “Jacob’s Ladder” memories.

Just like the person who doesn’t want to read about grief or secondary losses, or God and faith, can choose to look away from this blog post.

 

 

 

 

David, death, Facebook, grief

Ides of March

In the four years I have been blogging, I have never gone this long without posting; nearly a month. In the world of blogging, I have just committed professional suicide; anyone who was following me, has given up on me. There is no real excuse; I have begun several postings and then abruptly stopped. Here is one of them;

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Written in my journal, March 11, 2011, 16 days before I would unexpectedly lose my husband;
“This sadness we carry within ourselves, the gaping hole in our heart, is not ours alone, though it feels that way at times. The loss of a loved one is a universal truth we will all have to face at some point in our lives. Entire books have been written about this journey called grief. We can read a dozen of them and imagine how it will be for us. I thought to lose my father was bad enough; to lose my mother was a hundred times worse. I imagine to lose my husband would feel like searing the flesh off my bones.”

I imagine to lose my husband would feel like searing the flesh off my bones.”

I. Had. No. Idea.

February 27th did not slip past me unnoticed. Eleven months since David’s death; that much closer to one year. I began a blog posting that day, and then abandoned it. How many of my readers have tired of my grief, I wondered that day.

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What do you say after that? Because the truth is, even I am tired of my own grief. And it isn’t like the grieving is going to abruptly end on March 27th, the one-year anniversary of David’s death. The next day, March 28th would have been his 62nd birthday. I remember questioning him two years ago as that birthday ending in zero approached. “Does it bother you hitting the big 6-0?” I asked. “Because each of those birthdays ending in zero bother me.”

“Not at all, because think of the alternative.”

Smart man. He had survived cancer and was looking forward to growing old with the woman he loved. And now, he has missed two birthdays. Or more accurately, I have missed spending them with him because I don’t think he is missing anything at all. Not even me. It is those of us left behind who miss a wonderful man.

The month of March brings news about my grandson’s cancer, as well. In three days a CT scan will reveal whether the chemo drug he has taken twice daily for two months is actually doing anything in the way of shrinking the cancer.

I suppose I could explain away my lack of blog postings by saying that I have been dreading this month and the anticipatory dread paralyzed me, not allowing me to write.

On the contrary, I have been writing non-stop; working on my next book and the proposal for it. I’m also working with an editor, chapter by chapter, on Coupon Crazywhich will be released on August 1st.

So, what is it then?

I was too busy cleaning my desk?

desk 002

That was a major milestone, believe me, and one that unearthed only one forgotten reminder of what I am missing; these photo cards from a family trip to Chuck E. Cheese, when even David and I evidently climbed into a machine that makes plastic id cards.

chuck e cheese cards

“Do you have plans on the 27th?”  “Are you going to be okay?”  “Are you dreading the anniversary?”  “You haven’t posted in a while. Are you doing okay?”  These are the kinds of questions well-meaning friends and family have asked in the past couple of weeks, and I appreciate them. It means they care about me, and yes, someone even noticed my lack of blog postings.  And then there was “Why haven’t you gotten rid of David’s Facebook page yet?” Now, that one made me cry, though I know that wasn’t the intention.

No, I haven’t made plans for the 27th. I’m kind of counting on my new grand baby to make an appearance on that day. Elizabeth’s due date is the 28th, David’s birth date. I don’t mind if she waits until then, either. I don’t ask for much. I’d like the 27th to arrive with some sort of fanfare; a vivid dream involving David the night before, a dark butterfly with a blue pattern on its wings fluttering in front of the window, a backyard full of beautiful birds at the feeder, a kitchen light that has shone brightly for 24 hours a day, 365 days, abruptly going dark.

“You are going to be so disappointed if that light doesn’t suddenly go out on March 27th, aren’t you?” my son Daniel correctly surmised one day. (and don’t get any ideas about sneaking in my house during the night and dismantling it, Daniel) 

God usually surprises me in the method he chooses to reach me. I’m waiting to be surprised.

I don’t really have an answer as to why I haven’t removed David’s Facebook page. The family of a friend of mine who died a few months before David kept her page, and occasionally her children post on it, “talking to their mom.” Maybe I wanted my children to have that option, though only my son-in-law, Ben, and I have done so. David never wanted a Facebook page, though he did relish a couple of chats with an old classmate and his sister on it the few times we logged in for him. I set up that page for him. I guess it feels like if I delete it, I am removing all traces (one the Internet) of a man I loved so dearly. So, yes, on March 28th, David’s birthday is going to pop up on the pages of his “friends.”  I suppose I could ask the same question of the person who innocuously asked me why I hadn’t deleted his page.

“Why haven’t you deleted David yet as your friend on Facebook?”

Exactly.

Now go clean your desk.

Facebook

100 Friends

Recently I hit the 100 “friends” milestone on Facebook.

ONE HUNDRED.

Not the 400 I’ve seen on others Facebook pages or the 1000+ I am sure celebrities or authors have on their pages, but still an impressive number if you take into account I either actually know these people or have some kind of connection with them.

According to research, we are only able to keep up with 150 friends, to be able to maintain an actual relationship with that many people.

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I like having nieces and nephews on my Facebook page. I enjoy seeing what they are up to and keeping in touch with them when I otherwise might not.  Ditto for the long-lost classmates, fellow writers and couponers, a few fans of my writing, and of course, family and friends who are also on Facebook.

The dilemma, of course, comes when someone requests my friendship when they are actually the anti-thesis of the word friend.

For the purpose of this post, let’s call her Barb.

In grade school she was my biggest tormentor; calling me names, spitting at me, pushing me against the wall. It was her face I saw in my nightmares. I will never know why she chose to partake in the torture that was my daily life in school. Her older sister was nice to me and there were plenty of girls in my class who just ignored me rather than add to my anguish. Her own foothold in the popular crowd was tenuous at best; she was overweight and wore glasses.  She was one big pimple away from being the brunt of jokes herself. Maybe she thought she could pre-empt any possible teasing by doing the merciless teasing herself. Whatever it was, she didn’t stop teasing me until everything changed in Junior High.

On my first day of Junior High I fully expected to be greeted by an increased assault, since I was leaving Catholic grade school behind and entering a much bigger building with many more students.

Nothing had changed.  I was still Mary Potter, poor girl.

But everything had changed.

I had a friend.

She was a girl who took me under her wing that first day in Junior High and, through her friendship, allowed me access to the inner sanctum of popularity.

Annette was friendly, cute, and popular.  I’m not sure what prompted her to approach me in the hallway, where I stood alone and afraid, readying myself for what would surely be a continuation of the hell that grade school had become. Maybe it was as simple as the fact that we were both, um, “well-developed” for our age. Maybe she was just a very kind person and she saw the deer-caught-in-headlights look in my eyes.  But that day, when she slung her arm across the back of my shoulder, it was as if she’d slung protective armor around me as well.

During seventh grade I became a part of a world that had been out of my reach until then; a world of “friends.”   I will never forget the first time I ran into “Barb”that year.  Her eyes narrowed, her lip curled back, and she started to snarl, “Ewww…Pott…,” but then her voice trailed off and her eyes darted back and forth in the hallway.  She was looking for something.

She was looking for her friends, for support and accolades of her negative treatment of me.

But she was the one that was alone in the hallway.

I was surrounded by friends.  Annette was by my side, her friends alongside of us.  Her friends that by extension, had become my friends.

Revenge was bittersweet.  I didn’t have it in me to be mean to her, or to enjoy her obvious discomfort. Barb hurried on by and I don’t think we spoke another word in the next six years. We graduated together, but we had nothing in common except those first six years of grade school. No shared memories except those of her bullying me. And I wouldn’t be surprised to find out she has no memories of that at all, while my memories are as vivid as if they happened yesterday.

So when she requested me as her friend on Facebook, it was like a slap in the face. All those memories came rushing back, and I was actually shocked. Why would I want to be her friend? Despite the fact that Facebook friends aren’t always actual “friends” I thought of her as more of an enemy, than a friend.

That wasn’t fair of me, I finally decided.  She was an adult now.  I am an adult.  I am no longer that little girl holding back tears at the taunts, wishing she could meld into the walls and disappear. I am a married woman with children, a writer and a homeschooler.  This person was married, had a family.  She was not the mean girl from the past. Maybe she wanted to say “I’m sorry.”  I should at least give her that chance.

I clicked “Accept.”

Then I waited.  There was no apology. No contact.  This person was collecting friends for her Facebook status. That is all.

And every day when I checked my Facebook status I saw her face.  That face from my childhood nightmares, all grown up.

One day I quietly, and without fanfare, deleted her from my friends. No explanation.She may not have even noticed.

The same has been done to me. I once requested friendship from a high-school classmate I had always admired and liked, despite the fact that I knew the admiration was not mutual.  She accepted, then deleted me a few days later.  I can’t blame her.  I’d kissed her boyfriend for an hour one day, then swore up and down the next day that nothing had happened.  Maybe he’d told her, or maybe she’d figured it out on her own.  He had wanted to be the guy dating a cheerleader, not the guy dating me, but he had no qualms about kissing one while dating the other.  He promised me one thing and told her another. If she dropped him, I was supposed to be waiting on the sidelines, and for some reason I didn’t find that offensive at the time. I wouldn’t like me much, either, knowing my part in his deceit.

I’ve heard that class reunions are great, especially after 25 years have passed, because all of this kind of stuff doesn’t matter.  By age 50, most of us have figured out that the past is past, and only we can make the future better. A lot of us have been through a fire of some sort and have learned that life is too short to hold grudges.

Maybe someday my old classmate will realize the guy was a creep and we both got burned by him.

Maybe someday I’ll be able to forgive the girl who was so mean to me.

For now, though, neither one is going to be among my Facebook friends.