Counting

I was married to Mike 13 years ago yesterday…

This exhilarating event occurred one year and three months after I met Mike in May of 1998. Which, in turn, occurred one year after I’d graduated from Hiram College.

I was widowed over 11 years ago April 14th…

My world was rocked and I was alone on September 11th, almost 11 years ago.

I moved to Colorado 9 years ago last January…

I returned to Ohio 8 years ago this August…

I bought a house in Stow in May 7 years ago.

I bought my first road bike in July 6 years ago and used cycling to drown the last visages of grief-induced depression for the next several years.

I met Crow 3 years ago at the Lock 29 trailhead on a chilly autumn night when I went there to hike with my fellow bike club members. We somehow got onto the topic of Dr. Who.

One year ago…

I was still coming down from my epic adventure as a U2 tour groupie.

I sat in Uncorked in Roscoe Village (Coshocton, OH) drinking a couple beers with Crow. Sparks flew.

Five months ago, Crow proposed to me the day after my birthday in front of several friends at our beer tasting party.

Two months ago, we bought a house together in the Cuyahoga Valley.

One year from now, I’ll be married a second time for over a month.

13 years from now, Crow and I will be two years from paying off our mortgage (barring no unexpected issues). What will life be like then? I can’t even wager to guess. I’m hoping for the best while gripping the sides of this roller coaster car as tight as I can…. I don’t know what hills lie ahead, what stomach-dropping descents follow, but I sure as hell hope it’s the kind of ride where when I get to the end, I can say, “Wow. That was sometimes terrifying and sometimes fun. But thoroughly worth the ride.”

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43

Just taking a moment to remember my husband, Michael, on his birthday… He would have been 43 today. I hope where ever he is now (if there is some place to be), he’s happy and no longer worried about the problems of the world he untimely left behind. I hope he’s proud of how I’ve overcome… and I hope he sees my happiness now and elates in the fact that I’m no longer miserable in his absence. Time marches on. I will always have a place for him in my heart. And he knows.

Every day I let go a little bit more of the anger, grief, anxiety about the past. I’ve changed a lot in the last year and I think I’m finally able to give people a chance without the memory of my bad experiences tainting my faith in people. My heart is open. Wide open. It’s a scary place to be. But it’s the right place to be.

That’s my birthday present to you, Misha. Happy birthday, where ever you are (or aren’t).

10 Years

Just a few pictures of my favorite memories with Mike…

I mentioned the setting sun on the Alabama state highpoint in a recent entry. Check out the background in the picture below. That wasn’t even the most beautiful part of it.

Mike at Alabama state highpoint, Nov. 1999

Mike and me at Alabama state highpoint, Nov. 1999

I love how he used to wear that (purple) bandanna to protect his (balding) head from the sun! I still have that bandanna; I keep it in a drawer in my nightstand.

Mike and me on a booze cruise in Cabo San Lucas, our honeymoon, Aug. 1999

I had this picture in my wallet until recently. Well, it’s still in my wallet, just not in one of the picture holders. I keep it in one of the pockets along with the prayer card from my Grandma H’s funeral. I haven’t had the heart to move either. I’d like to think they are my good luck charms…

Engagement photo, circa Jan 1999.

And, lastly, in lieu of an overly dramatic love song or poetry, I leave this video of “One Night In Bangkok” by Murray Head from the musical Chess because we heard it on our first date and it always reminds me of him. In memory of our happiest times.

And then there was one…

Last night I returned home from a day trip skiing at Seven Springs to find my cat, Cleo, dead. She was curled up in one of the cat beds in my bedroom, as though she were just sleeping. I knew something was wrong when I walked into my bedroom, calling her name, and she did not respond with her customary “Ew” nor did I hear the purring that always began the moment anyone said her name.

I guess I’d been prepared for this for the last year, since she was first diagnosed with diabetes (last March?).  At first, I didn’t think much about how it would decrease her life span, only that it caused a major inconvenience in my life to have to give her twice daily shots, and find someone to do it whenever I went out-of-town. I thought I would have trouble learning to give her shots, but it turned out to be quite easy.  I was annoyed at how much the diabetic food cost. Still, I was up for the challenge of taking care of her. For the most part.

The medicine never really seemed to work. She still was urinating a lot more than normal (always in the litter box, good kitty!).  Whenever I did manage to give her a glucose reading, it was usually too low.  I took her to the vet once and we adjusted her medication down from 3 units to 2. But she still didn’t seem to improve much. Taking her to the vet was a hassle, and I probably should have kept trying, but I didn’t. I didn’t take readings from her either because I couldn’t consistently get a good reading. The only place you have to prick a cat to get a blood sample is the ear and it’s EXTREMELY HARD to get enough blood to get a reading.

So my laziness, in the end, probably killed her. I feel horrible. Like a negligent parent. Someone more responsible might have made her live longer. Someone less selfish with less of a social life.

Cleo’s health had been deteriorating for the last month or so. She stopped grooming herself and I couldn’t brush out all the snarls in her hair. I had to move the litter box upstairs into my office because she twice pooped on the floor of the office while I was in there. I hate having to bring litter boxes into human living space in fear of being that crazy cat lady with a smelly house. So that annoyed me too.

Over the last several days, she seemed even worse than normal. She was even more listless and she seemed like she had a cold. I heard lots of sneezing and her eyes were a little runny. She didn’t seem well. I think I felt it coming to some degree.

It wasn’t very surprising that she didn’t greet me when I came into the house. She didn’t always do that any more. But she usually ambled over to the kitchen by the time I’d taken off my coat. When she hadn’t done that, I immediately started looking around for her. This wasn’t the first time I’d done this in panic. Usually, though, it turned out she just hadn’t felt like walking out to greet me. The bedroom was the first place I always looked. At first, I thought she was just cuddled there as usual. But then, I knew, when she didn’t look up when I turned on the light.

I touched her, she was still a little warm. But her eyes were half-open and, admittedly, there was some oozing of some kind around them. I touched her back several times to feel for the rise and fall of breathing just to be sure she wasn’t just sick. But I knew.

Still, there is a disbelief when a person encounters something dead. You have to be sure. You have to keep checking, just to make sure you didn’t make the wrong determination. So I went back about three or four times to touch her body, half afraid of “death coodies”–things I didn’t want to see about a body that might be beginning to decompose.

After 15 minutes of trying to figure out if I should call an emergency vet to take her in right away for cremation–because the thought of having a dead body around my house creeped me out even more–I got an empty cardboard box from my closet. I lifted her out of her cat bed. Her body was stiff and stuck into the O-shape of a curled cat. Of course she was dead.  She hated being picked up and if she were alive, she’d surely have struggled. I set her into the box, assuring myself that because she didn’t move to get out of the box, she really, really was dead. I then left her in the box for 20 minutes more, just to be sure, as I furiously corresponded with my friend Mindy on Facebook to figure out what I was supposed to do now. Thankfully, Mindy talked me out of going immediately to the emergency vet and convinced me to wrap Cleo in two garbage bags and put her somewhere safe outside. I set Cleo on the work bench in the garage, worrying that it wasn’t cold enough in the garage to prevent her from decomposing… and smelling up the place… (God, why am I so selfish about everything?)

Once I did all that, I teared up a bit. I didn’t full-on cry. I don’t know yet if I’m going to do that.I felt bad because when Tanya died in 2006, I bawled my eyes out in a private examination room in the vet’s office where they left me alone with her recently dead body (she stopped breathing after having some sort of breathing problem that caused me to rush her to an emergency vet at midnight). Tanya was not even an affectionate cat. Cleo and Nicki had always been my favorites because they were affectionate and liked to be around people. Tanya was like a stereotypical cat–aloof and temperamental. Yet I cried buckets of tears for her.

Maybe it was because Tanya was Mike’s cat. They’d always had a special relationship with each other. Mike was the only one Tanya would let approach her on his terms. Mike loved her fierce independence and stand-offishness… Maybe those were  just a quality he enjoyed in the female gender (for he picked me as a mate).

I guess when Tanya died, I felt like yet another piece of Mike was gone from me. I loved that cat more for what she represented to me than what she was. I was taking care of something of Mike’s that he loved. It made me feel closer to Mike. I didn’t realize it at the time, but when I called my mom at 2am to tell her that Tanya had died, my mom pointed out that it was Mike’s birthday that day. Tanya died on Mike’s birthday. Serendipity, I suppose.

All of the cats were our children, though. Nicki and Tanya came with Mike–they were a set before I even knew Mike. Cleo, however, was our adopted cat–the one we got together shortly after we were married–after days and days of searching through kennels and shelters for “the perfect kitty.”  We always referred to our cats the way one would their children. We even gave them their own mailboxes on our voice mail. So the loss of each and every cat should punch me the same way.

We found Cleo at the Humane Society of Greater Akron. We loved her because she had spunk. They had kept her in the room with cats who can socialize with other cats but she was in a cage by herself that had a hammock. She was always a butterball. She sat on that hammock with a look of nonchalance on her face. She seemed calm and wise. I pet her for a little bit, then moved on to look at other cages, but she let out a quick meow that sounded to me very spiteful, like “Fine! Go over there! I don’t care.”

I turned back to see her sitting in the hammock, the same look of nonchalance. I fell in love with her at that moment.

Mike told me I could name her (since he had named his own cats already) and then he urged me, with a wicked grin, the name her Aurora because he hated that name and didn’t want me to use it for a future daughter. I refused to fall into that trap and called her Cleo because the little white spot on her black chin reminded me of an Egyptian empress like I saw in pictures of tombs. Okay, that was a little stereotypical, but it’s true. We ended up nicknaming her “Boogie” because we thought she had a “Boog face” which was something of an inside reference from my family… (My dad used to call a face I made the “boog” face.)

My dad called Cleo Jabba (after Jabba the Hutt). My friend Gwenn called her Pillow Kitty. My cousin Angy’s husband called her Roley-Poley Kitty. She reminded me of Miss Cleo from those late-night astrology commercials and I used to say that if Cleo was human, she’d look exactly like Miss Cleo. She was the favorite of at least two of my ex-boyfriends and possibly a third. Everyone loved her spunk. When I tried to tease my cats with a mini remote control car that my ex-boyfriend T gave me for Christmas, Tanya and Nicki ran away. But Cleo, she walked right up to it and knocked it over with a paw. She wasn’t going to take no crap from a little remote control car!

I did love her. I’m sorry that she possible died from low blood sugar or something awful. Preventable with a more diligent parent? Probably. I should have done a better job of taking care of her. I should have struggled to help her lose weight way back when she started to get fatter. I should have leash trained her and made her walk around. It would certainly have helped get her used to the outside world so that I could take her to the vet without her crapping in the carrier every time.

I got the impression, though, that Cleo was a little agoraphobic. She never tried to leave the house and when I did set her outside every once in a while, she would moan like an overwhelmed person until I put her back in the house. She hated every move I made–both across country and across towns. She was probably happy when I finally settled down in one place in Ohio in 2005.

I don’t know if I will cry. I will say that the house seemed kind of different this morning. Like some part of it was missing. I hugged Nicki fiercely to me last night in bed, even though she inevitably drove me nuts in the morning as she always has. Nicki wouldn’t stop pestering me this morning as I got ready for work. So I stopped and hugged her a few more times before I left. It’s just me and her now. I’ve come a long way from a small condo that once contained a husband and wife and their three cats to a new house where only a sometimes lonely widow and a single, waving cat remain. Nothing ever stays the same, does it?

I admit that the night was a little rough. I kept thinking about the box in the garage. What if I’d made a mistake? That always comes to haunt you when you face to death, the acceptance of the reality of it. I imagined that I was wrong, that she was merely in a deep sleep, and that I’d come to the garage in the morning to find claw marks from where she’d tried to get out but couldn’t and suffocated in the plastic of the bags. There was such a spell of relief that washed over me when I walked out into the garage this morning to find bagged box exactly as I’d left it.

I put the package containing Cleo in my car. In the trunk. Because, again, I was worried about smell, but it was an open hatch back so it’s not like we were separated. I drove to the vet before work. I paid to have her cremated and the ashes returned to me. I’m going to put some of them in my current backyard and then save the remaining for a future trip up Mt. Elbert. She was still Mike’s cat, after all, and he’d like to have what remains of her physical form with what remained of his. I put all of Tanya’s ashes there in 2008. Call me sentimental. Even an agnostic feels the need to complete an unfinished circle.

42nd

Today you would have been 42.
10 years of life you should have lived
Children we should have had,
Trips we should have taken.
I’m plagued by thoughts of our lost adventures,
Saddened by all that stolen time.
I think of you every day,
I wonder what you would have thought
Of Bush, Palin, Obama;
Of 9/11, Katrina, the Gulf oil spill;
Tea parties, birthers, flat-earthers;
Reality television,
(Remember when Survivor was new?)
Of iPhones and Blackberries
(Which would you have preferred?)
Of Unitarian Universalism–my chosen faith;
Of people I’ve met, the men I’ve dated
(Which among them would have you liked?)
Of the places I’ve seen, miles I’ve cycled, mountains I’ve climbed.
You’re in the blood in my veins;
You’re in my heart, my soul, my every frustrated sigh.
You’re in my eyes through which I hope you can still view
The world you taught me to see.
Like the rings we wore to seal our promises,
Our love has “no clear beginning and definitely no end,”
The infinite loop that binds me to life
And fuels my boundless hope that I will find a love
As epic and meaningful as that  which I shared with you.
Happy Birthday, sweetie.

Public v. Private Tragedies

I posted this on my blog’s FB page, but since I only have 17 friends on there, and I know more people must read my blog, I’m reposting with more details to the blog. I always struggle a little bit with the anniversary of 9-11 because it happened in the same year–just five months after–that my husband died. Having dealt with my own grieving issues throughout the years, and having been brushed off a number of times by would-be listeners, I can’t help but feel a little jealousy when I see “Never Forget” banners on people’s FB profile pictures, memorial statuses on FB, and I hear radio programs discussing various feelings about that day. It strikes me most because while people seem to think nine years is a long time for me to be missing Mike, they seem to have no problem with the length of nine years when discussing the grieving of a nation caught off guard by a terrorist attack. Now, I don’t mean to suggest in any way that losing my husband was as tragic as the loss of lives or the fact that America was attacked by terrorists; however, my loss was felt very strongly by me personally and, in a way, it hurt me more than 9-11 ever could.

I guess I just think that people need to consider some of the ways in which they deal with people in their own lives. If you’re still affected–as you should be–by what happened on 9-11-01, then why is it so strange to find me–a young widow–still affected by her own loss of 4-14-01? I bet you still remember every second of what happened to you on 9-11-01–where you were when you found out and what you thought, how you dealt with the rest of your day. I still remember every second of 4-14-01 as well. I remember waking up a few times throughout the early morning hours of 4-14-01, getting up to go to the bathroom, Mike waking up as I slipped back into bed. I remember around 7am, the last time I got up to use the bathroom, that Mike grumbled about the early morning sunlight–“Gets too damned bright too early,” he muttered  as the sunlight through the blinds fell into his half-opened eyes. I remember our moments of intimacy, our rings clinking together, our last words. I remember Mike crumbling down next to me, the color of blue that washed over his body making him look very alien, the frantic call to 911.

I remember the long drive in the ambulance to the hospital, the twenty questions the skeptical EMTs threw at me trying to suggest Mike took drugs, the mishap at the hospital intake where one of the nurses mistook me for the parent of a kid who’d come in, how she misinformed me that “he” was okay, only to find out that “he” was not my husband.

I remember the cold, austere room I was ushered into without explanation. It was decorated in bleak yellow tones–like the popular color of the 1970s–and the couches were worn and uncomfortable. I remember the social worker and the chaplain. I remember the doctor who came in and told me my husband was dead. I remember pain, confusion, a weird brightness that fell over my eyes and took over everything. I remember shouting angrily at Mike’s cold, dead body in the silent room into which they’d put him when they could do no more. I remember my heart breaking, the dimensions of my future shifting, my stomach convulsing every time I smelled food.

I remember attempted phone calls to Mike’s mom, but I had the wrong number so I kept getting some lady in an apartment his mom used to live in. I remember calling his father. My son is dead, cried Ed in my ear. A mournful noise a daughter-in-law should never have to hear from her spouse’s parent. It echoes in my nightmares still.

I remember the long drive home in the passenger seat of my dad’s car as I wordlessly tried to piece together what had just happened. He was just here, I kept thinking. And now he not. How does that happen? I remember wanting a “do-over” for the day. If I could do it over, I’d change one thing and that would fix everything. The butterfly effect.

I remember people sitting in my living room–Mom, Jonathon, Wendi, Dad.  I remember people trying to get me to eat the sandwiches they brought from Subway, but I dry-heaved as soon as the smell of the sandwiches filled up the living room. I remember Jonathon placing phone calls to all our friends, family, associates. I couldn’t do it. I hid upstairs.

I remember waking up the next morning and crying because it wasn’t a dream. It was real. Mike’s side of the bed was a cold, empty space where a tiny spot of blood from the IV the EMTs inserted lingered on the sheets. I remember Mike’s cat, Tanya, sitting in his place, looking lost, seeming to understand that her master was never coming back, mourning with the rest of us.

I remember 9-11-01 too because I relived the nightmare of Mike’s death in the eyes of imagined men and women who were now also, like me, experiencing crushing lost. I wondered where Mike might have been if he’d been alive. Would he have been on any of those planes, or merely trapped in another state over night because no more flights were leaving? I imagined what it must have been like to be on United 93. What if Mike had been on United 93? Would I have received some cryptic phone call from his cell phone before the plane went down?

I know I personalize 9-11 quite a bit and I do feel bad for it. It’s not really my day to remember my own pain, but one to reflect on the fragility of our existence in a world filled with potential dangers both foreign and domestic.  I don’t think I would have really empathized with the families of the victims of 9-11, though, had I not experienced my own loss prior. Because of my experience, I saw 9-11 in maybe a different way than other people did. Yes, it was an attack on our country and it represents a larger struggle with a small but fanatical group of people in another part of the world. However, to me, 9-11 is about unexpected loss. And that’s all I can see in it. Whenever I remember this day, I remember loneliness–absolute and frightening. I remember grief and my feeling of disconnect with the rest of the world–which I’d been feeling since Mike’s funeral–just got wider. That day to me, always, represents the lowest point in my widowhood. I was never more alone in my entire life as I was on that day. The one person’s arms who could have saved me in that moment was the one person who was the reason I felt so alone.

So when people get on their patriotic high horses for 9-11, I can’t help but feel a little miffed. What makes it okay to remember a public tragedy after nine years, but not a private one after the same amount of time? Why is my remembrance seen as dysfunctional while the remembrance of a public tragedy seen as patriotic? And why are public displays of the stages of grief (ie, the anger I see in so many of my fellow Americans) acceptable while my own occasional dealings with a stage of grief been viewed as inappropriate?

Personally, from what I’ve seen over the last few weeks, particularly with the ongoing debates over constructing a mosque at the WTC site and the Qur’an burning demonstration by that little aberrant Christian group, I’m starting to think that most Americans are still in the anger stage of grief. I experienced the anger phase in 2005. I picked up cycling heavy–even buying my first road bike–and have since left that stage behind. You may not have guessed it, but I’ve been in acceptance stage for over two years now. It’s from the acceptance stage that I’m finally able to start writing about my life with Mike as I’ve wanted to for years. I don’t think I could have done it any other stage… well, I could have, but I don’t think I would have done it any justice.

Do I still experience depression about the loss from time to time? Sure. Do I still miss him? Yes. Is it dysfunctional? I don’t think so. People we’ve loved and lost all become a part of our personal consciousness; we can’t erase all memory of these people nor should we be expected to pretend they never existed. That’s why I always bring up Mike when a thought about him occurs to me and I no longer care at all if it brings discomfort to those around me. A person’s discomfort when I bring up a memory is a reflection of that person’s dysfunctional response to death, not my supposed inability to let go of Mike. I let go of Mike a long time ago–I know he’s not coming back. But I did not–and will not–let go of his memory because I don’t have to. No one would expect me to let go of the wonderful memories of my grandparents.

I think that American society in general has not yet reached the acceptance stage of grief after all this time. We (yeah, maybe even me sometimes) are still looking to the heavens and bemoaning, “Why us?” We want to find the person who caused the pain and cause them double pain, even if we take out collateral damage and marginalize a whole group of people based on their association with the radical group that brought about 9-11-01. A spare few seem to not even realize that putting the blame squarely on one group of people is just as ridiculous as if I blamed all emergency room doctors for Mike’s death (since the doctors who he came to about his chest problems before he died never found the actual issue that would have saved his life).

Anger is a bad stage to live in. When I was in it, it ate me alive. I was smoking cigarettes regularly, drinking far too much alcohol, and pushing away all the people in my life who cared about me by telling them they didn’t understand me. I had this very teenager attitude of “it’s me against the world.” Or, even, it’s me against the Universe (or God, the Divine, etc). I see this same attitude in many of my fellow Americans and it’s sad. We need to collectively move beyond this anger stage and reach an acceptance of what happened. It’s only from the acceptance phase can any of us truly heal. We can work together to make a better world by using our love instead of our anger to lead us.

So even though the world doesn’t see it in my actions, I’m actually in a better place with my own grief than many Americans are in their own grief over 9-11. I guess I can feel comforted knowing that. I just wish there wasn’t such a huge gap in what is considered socially acceptable for expressing one’s feelings between a public versus a private tragedy. Maybe we can become better human beings by accepting the fact that death is a part of life and, like it or not, you have to deal with it. So when a young widow mentions her loved one when you’re having a good time at a party, remember that just like the events of 9-11, her loss is also never forgotten. And it’s okay for her to never forget.

Wedding E-nnouncement, Jan 1999

I know this is out of order with the story I was telling, but in looking through Mike’s email folder, I came across the original message he sent to his coworkers announcing our engagement. Anyone who knew Mike’s voice would hear him loud and clear in this message. Also, I remember how proud he was, always, to tell everyone who would listen that he was getting married. He was actually worse than me, a female. We were not the traditional couple.

Subject: Announcement
Author:  Michael F
Date:    1/18/99 4:14 PM
Greetings All,

This e-mail is just to let you in on a little secret.  I am getting
married.  If you are interested in some details, check out this URL.

http://www.concentric.net/~Misha922/

We are trying to improve this sites format as I learn HTML. :)  I think it will be in frames some, and more interesting links should be added as we make plans.

Please copy me in if you can think of other e-mail address that I could include this announcement.

Thanks,

Mike F.

And he forwarded the replies from his coworker to me. First, his boss:

Subject: Announcement
Author:  Michael F
Date:    1/19/99 10:25 AM
Greetings Fritzy,

God, now it starts.

Mike F.
____________ Forward Header______________________
Subject: Re: Announcement
Author:  Sally K
Date:    1/18/99 4:48 P

Mike:

Will this end up satisfying the MJO that relates to learning HTML???????

Congratulations!  Make sure your china and silver patterns are on the site.  I have no intention of giving you and Heidi matching parachutes!!!

Best regards,

Sally

The website no longer exists, by the way. That was a long, long time ago. Regardless, I’d like to point out that we were the ground-breakers for creating wedding websites. If only we’d known there was a market for online wedding sites, we could have made our millions back when the iron was hot! Oh well, another great opportunity missed.

Next, one of his coworkers:

Subject: Announcement
Author:  Michael F
Date:    1/19/99 10:26 AM

Greetings Fritzy,

And why do you think they would think this will be on the news?

Misha

____________ Forward Header ___________________
Subject: Re: Announcement
Author:  Jim D
Date:    1/18/99 4:17 PM

Good lord, man, haven’t you paid any attention to what we told you???

Seriously, we wish you the very best. Let us know where and when, or should we just watch the news for the unusual setting?

All the best,

Jim

A Requiem for 9 Years in Haiku

Memories fade like
Morning fog warmed by sunlight
Elusive specters.

I try to hold you
But fragments of you escape
Into time’s ether.

We are intertwined–
A part of me died with you,
As you live through me.

My heart still pounds hard
When I have some news to share
And you’re not here.

4-14-01
The day I lost my best friend
And everything changed.

Memories

So… maybe it’s the date to blame for all my Mike thoughts of the late… April 14th looms near. The date. That everything. Changed. Forever.

Last night I talked about the event in my life with Mike that clinched his position as my Champion. The walk down memory lane inspired a look through our old highpointing photolog. And here’s what I found. My heart bleeds looking at these pictures. I haven’t looked at them in awhile and hadn’t realized they would jerk my heart strings like this.

Mike at Pennsylvania Highpoint - 01/09/2000

Mars Girl at top of fire tower at PA highpoint - 01/09/2000

I just lost my job a few days prior… Does it look like it?

Mike at the Indiana highpoint - 01/15/2000

Ten years ago… ten… So hard to imagine…

Mars Girl - Indiana Highpoint - 01/15/2000

Who was this girl? She’s 10 years younger! (And, yes, I used to dye my hair red.)

Mars Girl - Campbill Hill, Ohio (Highest Point) - 01/15/2000

I still wear that jacket… If you’ve seen some of my skiing pictures. Mike’s father and step-mother gave it to me for Christmas. I think it was Christmas 1999. When this picture was taken, we were only married five months.

Mike - Ohio Highpoint - 01/15/2000 - My champion!

Not related to my last post, but later in 2000, this picture is one of my favorite of all of our highpointing photos. Mike and me at the Kansas highpoint–Mt. Sunflower–on December 22, 2000. Four months before he died.

Mars Girl and Mike - Happily Ever After -Dec. 2000

I’m not bitter. Just melancholic.

Mike & Mars Girl - Nebraska Highpoint, 12/22/2000 - The last days, the last highpoints together.

Same date… tri-state marker… I thought I was being cute, all Twister’ed between states.

Mars Girl - In three states at once - Wyoming, Colorado, Nebraska

Alas… one happy memory… Mike, his step-mom, and myself–each on our own state. We were quite amused by the whole concept of being at the corner where three state lines met. Mike and I planned to go to Four Corners–where Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, and Colorado meet–one day. Someday, I’ll go there. (It’s surprising I never went when I lived in Colorado…)

I was also majorly obsessed (and spooked out) by the numerous nuclear silos scattered throughout the back country roads. I think most of them were disarmed but it was the first time I really became aware that the weapons exist (had existed) somewhere physical. And they were still obviously maintained by the military. Spooky. There was one within eyesight of the tri-state marker…

Some family... some time...

Swear, I’m not bitter. Just a little sad. Why does April 14th always attack me with the crazies?

Easter

I don’t really celebrate Easter. It’s not a holiday that really has a secular value when you’re too old to get excited about the Easter Bunny bringing you an Easter basket. I try to get excited about Easter, but it just doesn’t mean much to me anymore. I want to say it’s because Mike died the day before Easter–which, in 2001, was on April 15th–but I’m sure it has more to do with the fact that my grandma E died that same year–in February–and she was the only person left on the planet with which I had any emotional connection about Easter. Maybe it’s the combination of losing both people that year. Easter festivities pretty much fizzled out for my family after that and we’ve really never picked up another Easter routine.

My grandma E was  a devout–but non-judgmental and not pushy–Lutheran. More to the point, she really loved the holidays. She had a tender, giving heart and no matter what her financial situation was, she gave us a million presents for Christmas and a fully stocked Easter basket.  Most of her gifts were ceramics that she had painted, little knickknacks purchased at bargain stores, and t-shirts or sweaters she thought we’d like. The ceramics she made tended to have particular significance to what she knew about you. The ceramics she made for me were little girls with blonde hair (the color of my hair when I was a kid)  in purple (my favorite color) dresses or cats or little blonde girls in purple dresses holding cats. You knew that everything she made for you was especially made thinking of you; even if I and my female cousins got the same ceramic, each one looked different based on the receiver’s preferences. Grandma E remembered everything–the books you liked, your favorite colors, your birthday, your favorite sports teams.

She always made homemade chocolate. Especially on Easter. Our personalized Easter baskets (which were macromaed in yarn of our favorite colors) contained one chocolate bunny, little filled chocolate eggs, and chocolate-covered nuts of every variety.  I never ate my chocolate bunny. I tried and tried, but I just have always felt bad about eating something that looked just like the animal. I’m no vegetarian, but if a cow were plopped on my plate in full form, I’d probably be unable to eat it. Even though I know a chocolate bunny is not a real bunny, I just could never get past the sad feeling I had whenever I munched on the ears… and moved down to the head and face… To this day, I still can’t eat a chocolate bunny. It makes me feel bad.

We didn’t celebrate Easter in 2001. We had fully intended to. Mike was supposed to fly out-of-town for work that day, but I’d made plans to go to my parents’ house to meet up with the family. I remember talking to my mom on the phone about it, as I remember everything about that last weekend. I was on the way to an indoor soccer game with my friends. It must have been Good Friday, I realize now; Mike and I lived a secular life and didn’t really recognize the holiday or the days leading up to it. I still remember, sitting in the passenger seat of Mike’s car. We were on the turnpike, headed east, for my game. My last moments with him. Every second of that last weekend is etched in my head.

My mom had called to ask me to come to dinner at their place for Easter. It was still going on, despite Grandma E’s death, and maybe one of my cousins would be there too. My mom, an ardent atheist, kept calling it an “equinox celebration” or a “celebration of spring.” I remember feeling blue that Mike wouldn’t be able to attend.

Mike’s death the following day kind of threw all thoughts of Easter out of my head. The day that actually was Easter was filled with confusion and family bunked in my house. Unanswered questions about what had happened. We wouldn’t learn those answers for months until the autopsy report came back. I always wondered why it takes so long to analyze that data. Why I had to spend Easter 2001 in utter confusion and despair, not even knowing why my energetic 32-year old husband had died. Some days, I still wonder if the explanation I was giving two months later was the real truth. Cardiomyopathy. Was it really conclusive? Maybe he just died. Maybe I’ll never really know why.

I don’t know who celebrated Easter that year. I’m thinking that not even my most Christian friends did. Or if they did, maybe they sat in church with the thoughts of other untimely death on their mind. Unlike Jesus, my husband was not resurrected. He didn’t rise from his tomb to affirm to us that there is a greater power out there somewhere that loves us all. The doubting Thomases stayed doubting Thomas. Mike’s heart was his Judas.

Maybe I still have issues with Easter that make me unable to celebrate it. I didn’t think the holiday itself bothered me because it moves to a different date every year. 2006 (April 16) and 2009 (April 12) came closest to the day he died–. Ironically, Easter was on April 14th (the day he died) in 1968, the year he was born. (I just looked it up, I didn’t know this off-hand.) Ironic? The next time Easter is on April 15th will be 2063… I’ll be 88. Will I live to see return of the tragic Easter in which I lost my husband? It’s possible. I wonder if that anniversary will run chills down my spine. Or maybe I’ll have forgotten.

I am celebrating Easter in a small way by going to my parents’ house for a barbeque tomorrow. It’s not much and I kind of hope no one brings up the fact that it’s Easter. This year, I chose to attempt to make my own traditions by attending a Passover Seder at my church last night. It was nice to think about a different religious tradition than the one I grew up in because I previously have had no association to Passover. But I learned something. And I think in the reflection of enslavement–and remembering those in the world who are currently enslaved–I was able to think outside of my own experience for an evening. Despite the sorrows that I often let weigh me down, I’m free. I’m living a relatively good life. There are people in the world who have more to worry about than a diabetic cat, a dead husband, and a long-loved grandma. I can eat every night. I have shelter over my head. I can make my own decisions. I need to remember that that is enough to be blessed.

I need to remember, even in my darkest moments, that what I had with Mike was something that some people never get to experience in their lifetime. Though brief, I should wonder at the blessing of having had it. I also need to remember that I’m loved by a great many people. My grandparents on both sides of the family shaped the person I am today. I was blessed to have experienced the love from both sets of grandparents all the way into my legal adulthood. I’m blessed to have parents who have always taken care of me and continue to take care of me, when I need it, as an adult. In the darkest moments of life, family, and a good community like the people in my church, may be all that I have. And that’s enough to live a good life. A blessed life.

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