Newtown, Their Faces and Their Names

Now that we have the faces and the names of those killed in Newtown, I am stilled, stirred to the memory of my experience at the Holocaust Museum in Israel. There also, my heart and my mind could not contain it’s entirety. I couldn’t take on the depth and magnitude of the travesty. My mind could not bear the burden or absorb the whole of what I was exposed to there.

Time has eroded clarity of all that my senses took in, but what does remain too close to the surface is the gripping anguish that engulfed me as I moved through the children’s memorial; a narrow corridor of darkness.

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The only light; the images of their faces.

The only sound; the recitation of their names and age of death and where they were from.

I thought that maybe the reason that memory is strongest is because I was thousands of miles away from my own children and the thought of outliving them unconscionable. But Friday morning I realized why.

Life was stilled. Lives were eradicated from existence and generations lost.

Now from so close to home, Newtown, we have their names and their faces and the bits and pieces of their lives.

The children.

The teachers and other administrators. The nurturers who led by example. They were protectors of their children. I have an adult daughter. She is a music teacher. Her students are also her children. She is equally devoted and protective of them as she is her own son. I think many of us can attest to a great teacher who has impacted our life or that of our children.

The adults killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School, their valient sacrifice and dedication to their students also reminds me of another exhibit at the Holocaust Museum. The statue of Janus Korczak.  The statue sits surrounded by pebbles. Visitors can place pebbles on the statue in memory of the children.

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The Korczak Square recalls the bravery of Jewish/Polish educator Janusz Korczak. During the Holocaust, Korczak refused to abandon the children of his Warsaw orphanage, perishing alongside them in the Treblinka death camp. Located in the square is the statue “Janusz Korczak and the Children” by sculptor Boris Saktsier.”

 

In Sandy Hook, visitors are leaving flowers, candles, balloons, teddy bears, Christmas trees and toys these children should be receiving in life, not death.

I have not lost anyone to homicide. I do not understand the pain of the survivors of these 27 souls. But I do know the grief of suicide.

When researching the difference between suicide bereavement and other forms, suicide was often lumped into a category of traumatic death which included homicide and that of parents who have lost children via trauma. This is when I learned that our language doesn’t have a word for such a tragedy. I resisted the label of widow and technically don’t qualify by the letter of the law. Yet in my heart I do. I needed a word to cling to. I suspect these parents who have lost their children unnaturally do as well. Friday, I researched again and found a mom who lost her son, who found the word ~vilomah~ which means an unnatural order of loss. I sat with that word for a while. It may suffice for those searching for a label. The more I thought about it, I came to think that maybe the reason we don’t have a distinct word for such, is because there shouldn’t be one, because as parents we can’t even compose a word to give death to the life we create.

I have learned that sometimes grief is like water. Constant, capable of changing shape and taking on many forms. In my experience grief doesn’t leave. It is like an ocean. Sometimes, I can stand at the edge on the shore and while I appear to be rooted firmly in place, the pull of the tide is taking grains of sand underfoot from my stance. I’m forced to move. Sometimes depending where I am on shore, the water barely reaches me, making its subtle presence known only as the salt water foams around my feet. Other times, the waves knock me down like a relentless tidal wave, pulling me under, disorienting me. I resurface and want no more of it. But traumatic grief becomes engrafted into your DNA. One is forever changed and you learn to live together coinciding with grief and the love we have for those we lost to horrific death.

Tomorrow, we won’t have the luxury of a weekend to grieve with the media and all the other trappings of tragedy. In time, the candles will be extinguished, the teddy bears gathered up and people will have to go back to their lives.

The families, parents and siblings have to buy coffins and cemetery plots. They will have empty beds in their homes and unfillable holes in their hearts and lives. They will gradually learn to live without their loved ones. Their need to grieve will live on as will the spirits of those who died this Friday. Remember their need to grieve.

I pray that Newtown will find a way to memorialize their love of these precious souls taken before their time.

Please also find room in your heart to remember The Lanza family who lost their mother and son. Adam was also a brother and a son. I believe his father and Ryan have lost their son/brother twice, first to mental illness and then to a senseless death.

A Jar of Mayonnaise, Laughter and Tears

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How can a jar of mayonnaise move me to tears? Let me try to explain. I am two finals from my Bachelor’s degree. Thirty years in the making while having six children, ending a bad marriage after 26 years only to find the love of my life and having to relinquish him in death. Finishing…anything…well…has eluded me for decades. It used to be so important to me. Now, the closer I am to completing my degree, the more of a non-event it becomes. Filtering life through death will do that. I’m also 51 years old and I still feel love for a dead man. The kicker is I’m a Psychology major and aspire to be a counselor. I confess I’ve not had the emotional reserve to contribute much to my on-line support groups lately. I’ve been functioning more as a voyeur. I easily become lost in cyber-world connections because I am immeasurably grateful and needy of the instant family of support that unites us all.

So back to the story.

I finally have time to make tuna-fish and I grab a jar of mayo out of the pantry. I bought it from the warehouse store so it’s a big one. I decide I should check the expiration date and I feel the tears come. That is one of the many love things Dennis always did for me.

As a full-time student and a single Mom consumed by life and other no need to mentionables, time is a resource I never have enough of. Dennis went through my pantry once and found things 3 years old (gasp) and made it a mission of his to keep me healthy by keeping my pantry current. So, I start to open the jar, but it’s too big for my hands. I can’t do it. I blubber as I curse him for checking out on me. And as I’m sobbing, aching from the anguish I’ve been stifling as I go through the motions of life, missing the arms and warmth and protection of my guy, I’m also laughing and irate at how grief is just so relentless in every nuance of my life.

Part of me wants to be angry at the menace of grief, but another part of me treasures the thoughts that are both painful and the most loving at the same time. This is what grief does. Sometimes I think the pain lingers because I don’t want to lose all the memories. I just don’t want to lose any more. The mayonnaise jar moves me to tears of happiness because he loved me so. So tenderly, so-just-right-for-me. The mayonnaise jar moves me to tears because I don’t have him anymore ~just the memories~ of the love he gave me.
I was able to open the jar, remember to check the date and continue on amidst laughter and tears.

Expectation

Expectation

I should have been ready for it. After all, I listened to Michele; her talk on “What the Grinch Taught Me About Love.”  I left the Camp Widow West conference with confidence in my position. I’d been feeling like I’m not doing grief right. Like I am falling short in measure. I still grieve inconsistently with highs and lows, sporadically with varying intensity, daily. Powerful intense emotion is just under the surface still dominating from time to time and I can’t hold it back.

It’s not that I want to hold it back. No. I feel that if it’s there I need to be with it, sit with it, and muddle through it no matter how unwelcoming inconvenient or depressing it is. We are close companions, Grief and me. There is no point in pretending or denying we inhabit the same being. Grief came when Dennis left and hasn’t let go of me and I’ve learned never will.

The depth and magnitude of Dennis, his love, is in my DNA. He is part of who I am. That comforts me. I don’t have to defend it, explain it, share it, or squelch it. He fills part of my heart. His place within the chambers of my heart belongs to him alone. That doesn’t void my capacity to love again. In fact it enables me to do so. I hold that place for him. Grief is the expression manifested because of the loss, be it in the gamut of emotions from anger, laughter, tears or quiet reflection and introspection.

I made these resolves as a result of the conference. We widows talked of the expectations of others. When someone is leading with the question, “So how are you?” Or remarking, “I’m so glad you’re better now,” I don’t need to have the assumption that I’m failing grief 101 because I’m not feeling “better.”  Life continues and I immerse myself in it, but that doesn’t negate the shadow of grief ever present. Better is not a word I could ever apply to my life without Dennis.

So when I mustered the courage to post hundreds of pictures of him and us and even make personal commentary on some, I was stunned when one of his friends asked, “So how are you?” His question was pleading for the expected answer: better.

I couldn’t appease him. I told him so, that he’d like me to say better but I couldn’t. I don’t have a word for how I am now. The English language isn’t equipped with many words that hold several meanings at once. The only one that comes to mind is bittersweet. The words in this quote circulating among widows on fb comes close to giving voice to what some widows bear.

“To love life, to love it even when you have no stomach for it and everything you’ve held dear crumbles like burnt paper in your hands, your throat filled with the silt of it. When grief sits with you, its tropical heat thickening the air, heavy as water more fit for gills than lungs; when grief weights you like your own flesh only more of it, an obesity of grief, you think, How can a body withstand this? Then you hold life like a face between your palms, a plain face, no charming smile, no violet eyes, and you say, yes, I will take you, I will love you, again.” ~ Ellen Bass ♥

People who have loved and lost by no choice of their own have a heightened sensitivity. We purpose to live and love.

So though well meaning family and friends want to eliminate our suffering, what we need most is time, space and assurance that they’ll let grief have it’s place alongside each of us. Expect it to be there with us.

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Infinite Tears

Infinite Tears

My Tears

My Tears

I’ve been reading a lot of posts in different forums on Suddenly Widowed a group from Widowed Village and also on facebook. I know I’m drawn to them because it affirms things for me and also exposes me to things I haven’t thought of. I gain new perspective. I just had a new take on my tears. I have felt almost apologetic and guarded because I have cried every day since losing my fiancé to suicide 12/31/10.  When admitting that, I sense people step back emotionally as well as physically and assume I’m nuts or at the least severely depressed. The tears have ranged from consuming, wrenching anguish that frightened me, to warm, fond, sentimental longing and gratitude and everything possible a tear can represent.

Why was I thinking or measuring “progress” by an absence of tears? I know I’ve gotten stronger. I am quite tired of that word being attributed to me. I would gladly forfeit what others perceive to be my strength. I know my “strength” is the result of having endured. What they don’t see is the refining process: the ugliness, the consuming anguish, the doing the next thing through numb repetition, the somber, the solemn, the fear, essentially the release of unspoken liquid composition via my tears.That unsightly part is as unwelcome as speaking about death. Suicide doesn’t get talked about.

The clichés of being “over it” and going through it are meaningless to me. Dennis is part of who I am, eternally. His absence in the flesh should be evident in my life. How it plays out is where I need to put myself in check. Am I functioning? Am I looking forward as well as to the past? Am I taking care of myself? Am I stifling the grief or letting it have it’s time and space? Am I realistic (have I accepted he’s not coming back?) When the tidal waves topple me, do I get back up? Am I finding that I’m grateful for all that we did have together? Do I consider myself blessed and fortunate for his life and the impact he had on it, on me, and my children? Can I see the good in spite of the suffering? These are the ways I want to “measure” my grief. It will never be “over” as long as I am breathing. My life without Dennis is like stained glass. His essence colors my being clear through to my soul. He and I, our love, took on one form, now it is reassembled and still equally as beautiful. I was broken, and I’m putting myself back together. I’d like to believe I’m more beautiful on the inside because I was loved by my best friend. What he brought to my life is part of who I am. That makes him live on. We didn’t have children together, yet I love his daughters out of the love he had for them and I see evidence of his character in my children who are all richer for having known and loved him.

Change brings loss, yet I want to fill the void with the warmth that radiated from the best man I’ve ever known. In fact, I’m going to stop counting the days of my tears.That would make my love finite. It’s not. Loved doesn’t divide in life and death, it multiplies.

Blonde or Brunette – It’s Still Judgement.

I was blonde with Dennis. I’m a brunette now, for a few reasons. I don’t like looking backward being reminded of who I was with him. Also, my daughter who was in cosmetology school did my hair for a nominal fee but now lives in Boston, so to save money I do it. I can’t stand any measure of roots showing so that means every 3-4 weeks I commit chemical malpractice on my hair. I had gone to the salon asking to be a shade darker. (I had a gift certificate) I came out with darker and red hair. I don’t like the color and have been trying to improve on it, but over the last few months the roots were lighter than the rest. It’s comical really. Every time I look in a mirror I’m startled. Same thing when I look at myself and see who I am – post Dennis.

My point. Yesterday I was at my son’s soccer game. It was a cup game. The lead ref had a larger girth than my 48″ waist when I was about to give birth. I thought, “Come on, it’s a cup game, can’t they send someone who can do the job.” I judged him, on the spot, by his appearance. I assumed he couldn’t do his job. Me, who claims to be an advocate for the underdog. Me, who knows what it’s like to be judged. Me, who can relate to being on the fringes, on the outside looking in, never part of the “in” crowd. Especially after becoming widowed. My excuse – I was feeling the shunning. I reacted in kind. You see, I’ve never been the mom who was at every soccer game. My ex, my son’s father, had my son’s activities and I had the girl’s. I wanted them to have the father/son thing. With six kids we had to divide and conquer. He’s never been to my youngest daughter’s cello lessons or dance class in another state every Monday or choir practice. Get it? So I never made the relationships with the other parents. They probably assumed I didn’t care. Even at after parties etc. I couldn’t connect. My ex and I are very opposite. He holds the crowd and the attention. I was in a bad marriage and held back. Once we were divorced, there were only one or two moms who would even speak to me, yet it was because they had to.

I was devastated when my friends, mainly from church, dropped me like yesterday’s news. One woman told me the women would let me around their children, but not their husbands. I was crushed because I was now looked at as a threat when I had been esteemed as a role model. I’d been a pillar of example, part of what everyone thought was the perfect couple and family every Sunday as we paraded our family of eight. Life changes in an instant. I went from one extreme of abuse to being treasured by a good man. Dennis and I went to my church, but we lived together and for that I was chastised as well. We had more truth, love and commitment in three years than my legal and God-endorsed marriage of 26 years ever had. I married that man every day. Dennis and I managed to get to a few of my son’s games, so the parents were aware of my relationship with him, but we kept to ourselves. After, when he died and because of the way he died, the deliberate isolation and avoidance was palpable. I have never felt more like a leper, like I was contagious, than at church and these other family institutions.

I showed up at the game yesterday as the divorcee in the convertible with another new hair color. So the looks, the oh-my-goodness-what-has-she-done-now glances, and the deliberate exclusion hurts. I’m sure their imaginations are much more vivid than the reality of what my life actually is. They don’t see a mom who regrets not having been there for so many games. They don’t see a woman broken, on the edge of despair who was sobbing moments prior, trying to put on the public face of I’m tough and I deserve to be here. Nor do they know what it takes to get there. They don’t know that I have been in survival mode for the last 7 years  getting divorced, moving 3 times, having a child with a potentially life threatening illness, dealing with a combative ex daily and in court, all while being a full-time student. I thought life was finally turning around for me. I had a good man who loved and respected me. I was anticipating, looking forward to building a new life with him and my children, only to have all that shattered. They don’t know how hard it’s been just to get out of bed every day, let alone be thankful for each breath. They don’t know how consuming grief is for me and my children. They lost Dennis too and I grieve for them, for all that should have been. They don’t know that I’ve sold everything I can to pay for tuition, including my motorcycle because my desire for the open road died with Dennis. I didn’t inherit his name, or any insurance. I just helped pay to bury my best friend. They sleep next to their spouses. They have support. They have takeitforgrantedness. I don’t. I like to think I have gained wisdom. I like to think I’ve become a more sensitive person in spite of my hardships, but after yesterday I have to admit I acted like a person I don’t want to become. I’m ashamed.

The stigma of suicide is suffocating. The disenfranchisement of unwed widows is relentless and death changes the way you live your life. That’s why I bought a convertible; with all wheel drive, with trunk space for groceries and a back seat deep enough to feel confident my grandson will be safe in while in his car seat. Because I’m that radical divorcee whose fiance commit suicide and I change my hair color like underwear and I must be wild and crazy, living the carefree single life. Yeah right. So Mr. Referee, I offer my apology. I saw what I was looking for until I chose to see a man who invested in kids. A man who made conversation with everyone. A man who seemed to have a sense of justice. Please forgive me for my shallow perception. I was wrong.