Monday, November 25, 2013

In the Mail.

“As an employee, the health benefits available to you represent a significant component of your compensation package. As administrator of your Post Employment Health Plan …”

When someone departs without warning and approval, the personal and the perfunctory collide. You are immediately faced with advice of all sorts, forms of all shapes and sizes, clauses and legal jargon. Your body revolts in a melting pot of nausea-sleep-deprived mode of survival and it’s a coin toss – did those 20 pounds vanish from starvation or the newly acquired irritable bowel syndrome that’s on par with a nuclear holocaust?

And suddenly the Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood aren’t so crazy after all.

But you get through it. In your own way and on your own terms.

You reclaim your rebellious body, you put the bottles back on the shelf, and you fill out all those damn forms. But unless you move to Belize and leave no forwarding address, the U.S. postal service and mass marketers everywhere do their best to draw out the Grinch in all of us.

And there’s nothing like daily mail addressed to someone long dead to make you want to push the postal truck off the edge of Mount Crumpet.

Because in between the circulars, newsprint and avalanche of bills is a paper trail I no longer care to follow. Tiffany & Co. Coach. Alumni wishes for the holiday season. Frequent Flyer programs. DirecTV offers to come back home for the holidays. Year-end reminders. White House Black Market. Ann Taylor. Ann Taylor Loft. Nordstrom. Bicycling magazine. MBAA. Life Insurance pitches. Pre-made address labels from St. Jude’s. Year-end summaries from health insurance companies that whose end-of-life/coverage databases are, quite apparently, not synchronized with those “review your health and healthcare benefits” databases. Investment firms, hospice and AARP. Bills. Junk. Special discounts because “We’ve missed you, James!”

And an annual review of healthcare benefits for someone who hasn’t had a pulse in years.

I have expended a considerable amount of time and energy over the years waging war on my mail box. It’s not that I blame them for anything, but delivering the medical examiner’s report on Valentine’s Day? Not cool. The financial mail to those who have never lived at this address but who were connected on some document, somewhere, to my husband festers anew with each trip to the box.

I’ve called the post office. I’ve shown up in person. I’ve unsubscribed. I’ve blocked unwanted recipients. I’ve called the source demanding to know where their list came from. I’ve visited stores in person. I’ve even waited for the mail carrier to arrive. More than once.

“How can I help you?”

“I’m hoping you can help me correct some information on an account.”

“I’d be happy to. How can I help?”

“I’d like to remove my husband’s name from the account profile.”

“To remove him from the account profile, I would need his permission.”

“I’m afraid that won’t be possible. The fact of the matter is that unless he plans on sending me a little blue box from beyond the pearly gates, he hasn’t been checking the mail for quite some time.”

“Oh, I’m very sorry.”

“I would really appreciate your help with this. And I hope you’ll appreciate that after a hundred of these calls, I am no longer screaming like a banshee.”

“Yes, ma’am, I most certainly do.”

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Boob and the Boobette.

“Mom … why is that part of your boobs pointy?”

Naked and shivering, this is not the conversation I intended to have before 6 a.m. this morning. Every year, for about a week surrounding the anniversary of my husband’s death, my brain is foggy, my innards rebel, and I cannot get out of bed. And that leaves me unorganized, irritable and definitely late for work. And my daughter, like my late husband did, has an uncanny ability to make a hard morning … harder.

The only way my mornings work is if I have 60 uninterrupted minutes to wake up, shower and put on my costume for the day. But my daughter has never been one to let things … work. She refused to sleep through the night until she was closing in on a year and once she graduated to a big girl bed she left it every night at 1:30 a.m. to worm her way into ours. And as remarkable as my husband might have been, he wasn’t going to win any awards for shouldering the midnight load and putting her back to bed.

“It doesn’t make any sense for me to take care of her in the middle of the night. You’re her food!”

“If you’re tired at work you just don’t write as well. If I’m tired, it’s a matter of life or death.”

“You’re the mom. Moms are better at night.”

The last memory I have of my husband breathing – the last moment I remember him alive – I owe to her. When I fell back into bed – exhausted because my company decided to fire Santa that week and Santa found himself a lawyer and publicist and somehow my cell phone number had made its way onto one of the country’s leading media websites and people with nothing better to do had been calling 24/7 to let me know what they thought of Santa getting canned (never mind that Santa was demanding more for six weeks of lap time than most teachers make in an entire year) – he was the last sound I heard before everything went dark. 

A sound now less nice and more nightmare.

And ever since then my daughter’s bedtime comfort has ebbed and flowed. For the most part, she stay put, comfortably snoring away under her pillow-y blankets cheek to cheek with her beloved bunny until I coax her from her warm cocoon the next morning.

And then there are mornings like this.

“Why do they get pointy?”

“Well, different reasons. They stick out when babies need to eat. They stick out when it’s cold. And sometimes they stick out when you are excited.”


“Good God. I am not having a baby.”

“Then why are your’s sticking out?”

“Because …. I’m naked and wet and cold?”

“Why do they stick out when you get excited?”

“They just do.”

“What makes them excited?”

“Sweetie, they get excited when they feel good.”

“What makes them feel good?”

“Being with a boy you really like.”

“I hope yours stick out a lot very soon.”

With that, I cannot argue.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Understanding the Divine Secrets.

“There is the truth of history, and there is the truth of what a person remembers.” – Rebecca Wells

There was never any doubt in my mind that I would be a mother. It was simply something that would come at the appropriate time as plotted out on the master schedule, and I had no intention of staying at home. My mother had done it and I turned out just fine. And, in all frankness, I didn’t see any evidence to point to staying at home as the appropriate course of action for me to take. That isn’t to imply that staying at home isn’t the wrong path.  

It just wasn’t mine.

I chased down two degrees and a new life in a new country, when I wasn’t looking, a man chased down me. Together we raced toward future dreams and the little boy and the little girl, in that order, that completed our orderly plan we had set out for ourselves.

When Sandra Bullock pried open Pandora’s Box and let her mother’s secret frailties loose, I couldn’t fathom anything less unfathomable than a mother driven to madness. She had a husband, beautiful children and a comfortable home. And love. Yet somehow it all unraveled.

When death rudely interrupted life I understood.

Women hold within them divine secrets, like secret lovers never to be spoken of we struggle to hide our failures and fears. We build walls around ourselves and walls around the ones we love until there are walls within walls within walls within walls. Centuries of struggle for equality have taught us that weakness is not a virtue and yet it is the very softness that we fight to contain that makes us the nurturers we are desired and desire to be.

Single motherhood, and single fatherhood for that matter, are difficult paths to walk. But widowed-with-young-children is something altogether different. Something I was entirely unprepared for and which has tested every resolve, every strength, every weakness.

There are moments that will never be erased, either for them or for me.

That morning plays back like a black and white reel, silent and disjointed. Days later my children would tell a friend that the sounds that left me were unlike anything they had heard before. To this day, there is no sound in my memory, but there is a lingering fear amongst us all when my voice rises in anger and frustration and fear.

The truth of history may show that I demonstrated a certain amount of strength and resilience. But what if the history they remember will be the moments when everything inside me unravels?