25 September 2009

Easier, but Not Easy

Last Sunday, I took Maddie and Riley to a birthday party for the four-year-old daughter of some friends. It was a totally low-key affair: kids running around at a park, snacks spread out on a picnic table, candles stuck in a donut, a book exchange in lieu of presents.

We had fun. Maddie and Riley worked the snack table, conquered the slide, showed off their big-kid swing skills, and generally made merry. We overstayed our welcome by about 15 minutes, thus descending into TFE (Total Fucking Exhaustion) and making for a tantrummy exit, but otherwise, it was a lovely morning.

And yet. When I got home, I felt awful. I had a headache. I wanted to cry. I did cry. I was angry and bitter and generally glum. It was not pretty.

For about two years after John died—so until fairly recently, in fact—I avoided events like kids' birthday parties and other weekend outings with couples + kids. Playdates with a mom or dad friend and their kid or kids? Great. But events with couples out in full force, balancing the load that is childcare + socializing: no thanks. Inevitably, at those events, I would spend all my time chasing after Maddie and Riley, none of my time relaxing, and a lot of my time feeling jealous and resentful of the couples who took turns visiting and being on kid duty. It just wasn't worth it, so mostly I found reasons not to go.

At some point, the tide turned. I felt more settled in my role as a single mom, I was more at peace with John's death, and Maddie and Riley were more independent. The kids enjoyed parties more, thus I enjoyed parties more. Spending time with couples was no longer a searing reminder of what I didn't have, but a fun time to connect with friends and have more hands on deck.

I was thus blindsided by the feelings that were stirred up by last weekend's party. I'd been excited about going and we all had fun. But as has happened to me many times over the past two and a half years, grief got the best of me. I should know by now that I don't "get over" certain grief-related feelings. They ebb and flow. They fade into the background for a time. They abate, then resurface.

I think what brought the feelings of jealousy and inadequacy to the forefront for me last weekend was a set of emotions that I've struggled with since moving back to Portland. I'm in this place, with these people, doing things that John and I planned to do together. I feel a sense of calm and fulfillment leading the life I have been wanting to live and had planned on living, but man-oh-man do I wish I were doing it with John. As I build my new life here, I am surrounded more and more often by people who didn't know John at all or knew him only incidentally, and this is another twist of the knife. The pain deepens when such people are friends I know John would have so enjoyed, couples or individuals who would have understood and appreciated John's humor. The parents of last weekend's birthday girl are just those type of folks, and as much as I am enjoying getting to spend more time with them and build a social life that includes their company, it pains me that they were deprived of knowing John.

Throughout the party, the birthday girl's father was achingly kind to me, introducing me to other guests, helping me coax Riley back to happy after he tripped over a tree root, carrying around jackets and coffees and assorted other kid stuff for me. Gary is a genuinely caring person, so this was not out of the norm for him, but every time he helped me, every bit of his kindness reminded me of John's kindness and John's caring nature. The whole event made made me miss John all the more.

I'm headed to the beach this weekend with my family: my mom, my stepdad, my dad, the kids (of course). This, too, will be one of those bittersweet times, so wonderful to have my family around, so hard not to have John there. Thanks to the passage of time, I'm almost certain the joy will outweigh the sorrow. But wow, I'm surprised by how much the welcome act of being happy can make me miss him.


Anonymous said...

Grief ends up doing very strange things to your soul. My grief, even a year and a half later, has forced me to end up on an island, trashing out and trying to do self assessment. There are still a few hundred songs I can't go near, and know I will never listen to them again. If I smell Chanel #5, tears well up in my eyes, even in public. I'm beyond even caring if strangers in a store or mall or on the street see a 53 year old guy weep.

Colleen said...

I am so sorry for your loss and your pain. While I haven't had a death of a spouse, I am starting over after 24 years of marriage due to a online relationship and then affair. Grief is hard and it springs up sudden and powerful. I am starting over at the beach you will probably be visiting this weekend, Seaside. My child just left for college and it is now just me and two dogs, definitely not the path I planned for or even hoped for. I am finding peace slowly and I hope the same for you. If you need a place by the beach to rejuvenate, let me know and I will head to Portland for a weekend while you and the kids hang out here.

Cheryl Lage said...

I'm so, so sorry, Snick. Your words are such a tribute to your relationship with John, and your incredible poise as a woman and mother. Peace, Sister.

Jennifer said...

It's funny how grief ebbs and flows. I have similar feelings when dealing with the loss of my mother in law and best friend--she never knew my daughter and it breaks my heart. Grief sucks. I've learned it's just best to let it in when it comes in rather than fight it.

cs white said...

"I'm almost certain the joy will outweigh the sorrow."

Wow. The self-awareness it takes to say this astounds me and the fact that you feel it overwhelms me. I hope things keep (generally) moving in a good direction for you!

Roads said...

Well, there you are in Oregon, and it's great. Lots of change, and life is good, except from time to time comes this nagging realisation that Oregon can't change this one important thing.

In fact, you could probably take 'Oregon' out of that sentence, and just replace it with 'Year 4' or 'Year 5'. What you describe is pretty typical of later bereavement all round I think -- there's a kind of restlessness which you feel you ought to be able to cope with but just can't quite.

I don't think that's surprising, or that you should expect to be always able to cope with it. Unfortunately, grief isn't a linear process. It strings itself out erratically and uncomfortably.

There's no alternative sometimes except to ride the bumpy blacktop to reach the smooth. You'll get there, and of that I have no doubt.

Spirits up!

Anonymous said...

Your courage and your grace continue to astound me, Stacey -- not to mention your ability to express it.

I can sure see how the fact you have twins would make that balancing of child minding/socializing at parties like this even harder as a single parent. I pray I have eyes to see when someone is struggling around me in this way, so I can do something about it. (That won't, of course, fix the REAL problem, but it's all I got.)

Regardless, I'm so very glad you went. Your eloquent post has made me understand how much it can suck, but on the balance it sounds like it's worth it.


Lizard said...

grief is so odd and so personal. it never ever seems to make sense. A lot of what you are talking about reminds me of my infertility, how I couldn't cope with kids' parties or baby showers or anything like that. It would always end in tears and misery.

I am so sorry that this can still blindside you like this. I do hope that it will get easier for you, and I know it will, but what a dreadful journey to have to take. and parenting twins always looks hard to me, always, so you have my endless admiration for how well you do it, and how thoughtful you are about it. your kids are sure to be lovely.

Crash Course Widow said...

Right there with you, sister. Even at 4 years out, it still happens with me. Not all the time and not consistently, but man oh man, sometimes those "family" playdates and kids' birthday parties and family trips to places really suck widow ass. I keep thinking these moments should go away eventually...but I just don't know if they will. Yippy freakin' skippy. (But hopefully I'm just wallowing in a crummy kidless, lonely weekend...but it's been a sucky weekend for me too.)

Hope you had a nice trip...or as nice as it could be, given all you said. I understand completely.


carosgram said...

Thinking of you and wishing you the best

Vodka Mom said...

wow. that was amazing.

I, too, have worn that cloak of grief. However, the loss of a spouse? I have no words.

Except this- you are remarkable. I send you good thoughts.......and virtual hugs.

django's mommy said...

Yep. Been there, done that, expect to do it again. Once again, Snick, you verbalize my experiences to the letter.

Sabrina said...

Oh Snick. My heart hurt for you reading this. I too can relate like Colleen - my parting through divorce - and just after 6 years tired of going it alone - with all my friend couples - and school functions now with all the hot young tennis moms (LOL) - I had taken off the scarlet letter but sometimes I put it back on.

Sending you a hug and warm thoughts for this to ease for you.

Jane said...

Beautiful (bittersweet) post. Parties with two small kids really are particularly stressful. I've done a few on my own with the girls, and it always leaves me feeling downright ragged afterward -- and that's without the single mom-ness or grief to contend with.

I hope the upcoming beach trip is relaxing and restorative.

Mama Mama Quite Contrary said...

My wish is for many more days of joy for you. I so much admire your ability to keep moving forward. I'm not sure I could be that strong.

Thinking of you.

Natika said...

Time is not always the perfect band aid.

Jen said...

We miss you! *hug*

(one of the "other twins" at LF brought some head lice into the mix.. off to pick up some fancy shampoo.. :)

I've always been bummed about not getting to meet John.. and the timing of meeting you and the twins at LF just before his death. It sucked wind.. and we didn't even "know" you then.

We were driving around this weekend and as usual, when heading to Burlington.. we passed the funky intersection by your old place and it got me thinking again. we lived in the same town.. just down the street from one another.. for quite a while.. well before the kids were born. it sucks that we didn't meet sooner..

btw.. i'm serious about shipping ben to you for binky boot camp.. :)

OTRgirl said...

You're so right about grief's ebb and flow and it's sneak attacks.


It does feel frustrating that the happy moments are also often tinged by the sadness of 'if only'. The reality of missing someone who is irreplaceable.

As usual, you're really good at articulating your emotions.

Clover said...

This post speaks to me on so many thousands of levels. I'm glad its "easier" and hope it will continue to get that way over time.