I wasn’t sure I should write a post about grieving, this close to Thanksgiving, but then I thought I should, but I will post this early, not just a day or two before the holiday. I don’t want my sadness to impinge on other people’s joy and thanks-giving.
As the months have gone by, my grieving has changed, as it is wont to do. If there’s nothing else you learn from this post, it is that everyone – and I mean every person – grieves differently, at different levels and for different lengths of time. Some grieve openly. Others do not. Some are so stoic and I’m amazed. I’ve always worn my emotions on my sleeve, as the saying goes. I still get teary-eyed sometimes at church, particularly over a very resonant hymn or hearing the choir sing a poignant piece of music (I’ve not been singing for awhile because of my cataract surgery, but am returning to it this week). I can shed a tear when someone comes up to me and tells me a story about Dave, or tell me they thought about him because of something or somebody else. Often it’s because they’d seen someone with artificial legs. Just the other day friends remarked on Dave’s “I-can-do-this” attitude because of being a double amputee. In grief, some people experience anger, which can be a stage of grief. I’ve not had that at all, not once. It’s been 8 months now and I’ve never had a moment of anger at him for leaving me. I know he wouldn’t have left if he could have made the decision. It was in God’s hands, I know it.
Some people whose loved one had a long, dreadful, lingering illness, grieve as a part of the process of the illness, and when the loved one goes, it’s a relief and a joy that they’re not in pain. That survivor’s grieving cycle can be more rapid. Note the word can. My circumstances were different, as Dave was fine until the moment he had his stroke. We spoke very few words between then and when he died 9 days later. And he was in a coma during 6+ of those days. As I’ve said it here many times, he knew I loved him and I know he loved me. I wish I knew what it was he was trying to tell us (Sara, my daughter, and me) as they wheeled him into surgery on day 3. He had brain swelling, and the effects of the stroke were much more pronounced. He had very slurred speech and we just couldn’t figure out what he was trying to tell us. We both hugged him as best we could on the gurney. They were in a hurry to get in there and relieve the pressure in the brain, so we had no time to try to talk to him. They had called me at about 6am to tell me they were going to have to do emergency surgery, that I needed to get to the hospital immediately, the surgeon was on his way. Sara and I got there just a couple of minutes before the surgeon came to talk to us. Anyway, we don’t know if Dave would have been able to converse – and we knew we couldn’t understand him. He seemed a bit agitated, but he might have been telling us to check his blood sugar or something very simple. We don’t know. So many unknowns. When my mother died in 1997, her heart just stopped. She was fine the evening before, had even driven to our house the day before. I’ve been selfish all these years in thinking that I never got to say goodbye to her. How silly is that? She knew I loved her, though.
The 13-week grief class helped me some. But I also found that each week, as we gathered together, we’d watch a video, talk about it, then go around the room and each person shared an update about their week (grief process) and provide their score (1-10, how are you feeling today?). In those conversations we’d hear the sad stories of the other widows and widowers, which left me even more sad than I already was. I’d go home and just be sad all the rest of the evening. That’s not enough reason to not take a grief class – I think it offered me insight (the class part). Some of the ladies and men in the group may not have had many friends and were very glad to have met a kindred spirit. But it’s not enough motivation, for me anyway, to take the class again, which often is recommended. I’m finding that even reading some of the books about grieving (I have many) now make me sad – sadder. More and more, I don’t want to read them because I always end up in tears. When I have a crying time, the effects of it last for awhile – sometimes a few hours, sometimes the rest of the day. So for now, that stack of books in the photo up top are tucked onto a shelf. I know where they are if I need them.
Gratitude figures significantly in my life right now – not only for my loving God, in whom I trust – but in my many Christian friends who have come along side me week by week, month by month. My friend Cherrie is the one I turn to first – I call her any time of day or night when I’m having a sad spell. She listens, comforts and sometimes even cries along with me. And gratitude for my family as well. I don’t see them very often, but they lead very busy lives and I understand that.
I’m in negotiations, as I write this, to sell Dave’s sailboat. My heart breaks at selling it, but gosh, the boat has sat at the dock for all these 8 months without ever leaving the yacht club. She’s cared for superficially, but nobody has taken her out. Dave was an excellent sailor. He began sailing when he was 8, and there was no turning back. He used to race in his younger years (20s and 30s). He owned a 27-foot Catalina that he raced for years and years. Then when I came into his life, we bought this boat together (a new 38-foot boat with a wide berth which makes for a very nice salon down below, a bigger cockpit for sitting, but isn’t sleek for racing) – not only for Dave to pleasure-sail her, but also for us to entertain on, which we did a lot, for about 15 years. Dave’s two best sailing buddies (Gary and Tony) died some years ago, so he had to teach some other people how to sail with him – Joe (my/our good friend who comes to stay with me every couple of weeks) was Dave’s most frequent helpmate on the boat. Joe’s wife Yvette went along sometimes. And Lindy, a sweet gal who was Gary’s girlfriend. She lives near the boat and Dave would call her once in awhile to go check on the boat – to make sure the lines were holding, the sail covers were all attached and not flapping – particularly after a windy or wet storm. She isn’t an adept sailor, but she learned how to help Dave.
You’re hearing a lot more about boating than you might have wanted, but I’m feeling good writing about this. I’m needing to give Dave a lot of credit for his boating skills. Yacht clubs docks, or any docks and slips for that matter, are often very tightly packed and maneuvering a big boat in and out of slips can be challenging, especially if there is wind. A cross breeze is the most difficult. Dave was a wizard at it, and hardly anyone wanted to back her out or pull her in. Dave took over always. I think there was only one time in my recollection that he didn’t quite aim right and the wind was gusting and he bumped the next-door boat. But that’s why boats have protection (bumpers) for that. No harm done, except to Dave’s ego. If there was excessive wind, Dave would cell phone call one or two of his friends on other boats – or he’d hail them as he was motoring in – and ask them to come help tie her up. Boaters are a fiercely loyal lot – and with Dave being a double amputee, everyone was willing to help. God bless them!
There’s a very funny story – I don’t think I’ve ever told this one here on my blog – Gary, who didn’t own a boat – was a happy 60-ish bachelor who loved to sail but never wanted to own a boat himself. He was perfectly content to sail on other people’s boats. He loved Dave’s boat and he liked to help keep the boat maintained. He was a wizard with electronics and mechanical stuff, so Dave relied on him often to fix things. After his sudden death a few years ago, we finally learned that he worked for Naval Intelligence. We always wondered – we thought he might have been FBI or CIA. He worked for the Navy as a civilian (we thought that was his “cover”) but because Gary couldn’t ever tell us about the reason for any of his assignments, we figured it was top secret stuff. Sure enough it was. He was sent all over the world – he’d be gone for a few months with no communications at all – then he’d tell us he’d been in Panama, or Spain. Anyway, I can’t tell you how many girlfriends Gary had over the years. We met oodles of them, and most were not suitable as mates. Lindy would have been a wonderful mate for him. He always said he didn’t think he could be faithful to just one person, that he’d wander, hence he never married.
Anyway, because Gary worked near the yacht club, and because Dave had given him permission to use the boat when he wanted, he’d often take dates to the boat for a picnic dinner or a tryst. Occasionally he’d take the boat out for a motor around the harbor. Once he had a “fender bender” with another boat inside the dock area which caused some damage to both boats. From there on out Gary never took the boat out, but just stayed on-board at the dock. In the boat file in Dave’s desk I found a letter Gary wrote Dave where Gary promised to give Dave an endless number of hours of hard labor because of the accident he had. Dave paid for the repairs to both boats, even though it wasn’t his doing, but that’s kind of a rule of sailing/boating. Well, anyway, the story to tell is that one day Gary took a gal to the boat. Gary didn’t tell Dave, and it just happened that Dave decided at mid-afternoon he was going to go to the boat, stay overnight and come back the next day. He didn’t call Gary either. It was summertime – nice weather. Dave parked and walked out the docks to the boat, and there was Gary, with a girl aboard, as he was just about to back out of the slip. Gary saw Dave and said “oh, hi Dave.” Obviously he was embarrassed. He said something to his date like “that’s Dave, who helps me with the boat.” Dave realized that this girl thought Gary owned the boat. Dave said, “you’re going out for a sail?” Obviously, Gary didn’t want Dave to go along in any case. So, Dave sucked it up, and said “okay, captain, have a good sail.” Gary grinned from ear to ear and said “yea, thanks Dave.” So, Dave went into the yacht club and had dinner and waited for them to return, which they did several hours later. They didn’t encounter each other (Dave thought it best not to). The next morning Gary showed up and profusely apologized and knew he was in the wrong to try to imply he owned the boat. Gary often did that, he said, to impress the girls. But, I don’t think he ever did that again!
The boat is so “Dave.” The plan is, whenever I do sell the boat, that the family and a few friends are going to go out for a one-last-sail in memory of Dave. I’ll be an absolute emotional wreck. We won’t go out in the ocean (which is what Dave most loved to do, to actually sail, not just motor – that’s why I rarely went with him) because I get seasick, but just motor around San Diego harbor, which is huge. I’m fine in the harbor. We’ll likely tell stories about Dave. There are lots of them to share. We will have wine – I’ll take several bottles from the wine cellar. We’ll all shed a tear, I know. We’ll take John and Renee along too. They live aboard their boat at the yacht club, and they knew Dave long before I met him. John is a great sailor – he’ll be an excellent captain. In a way I’m dreading doing this because it will be the last piece of Dave – a physical piece – that I’ll have to say goodbye to. It’s going to be heart-wrenching. I’m sure every widow or widower has similar stories. I’ve decided that I’m going to write a letter to the new owners to tell them some of these stories. I don’t want to sell her to someone who won’t take care of her – she’s a beautiful boat. He loved that boat so much. Sailing was really his only hobby and he took great care of her. He was fiercely proud of her, too.
Sidetracked. That’s what I am . . . back to grieving. Holidays are a very rough time for grieving spouses. I managed to get through Dave’s birthday in July only because I wasn’t home (I was in Washington, D.C. with my granddaughter). I’m glad, in one way, that Dave died in March because it’s given me months to get used to his absence (as much as that is possible). Thanksgiving was Dave’s favorite holiday. For the last many years, we’ve had the big turkey dinner at our house or our house in the desert (we sold our desert house last year, thank goodness, or I’d be having that on my mind too). I cooked like crazy for days ahead of time, and Dave did lots of work too. But with me and my foot problem (my foot is better, by the way, but I still have a long way to healing completely) I knew I couldn’t do the big dinner as usual. Sara and her family are taking a vacation to the San Francisco area for most of the week. So my daughter-in-law’s sister Janice and her husband Julian are having Thanksgiving at their house and I’m invited. I hope I’ll be okay.
Christmas will be even harder for me. Christmas is my favorite holiday. My cousin Gary will be here with me for a week or so (thank goodness, and thank you, Gary – he reads my blog). We’ll be at our son Powell’s home locally on Christmas Eve. They have a big family gathering (mostly Karen’s side of the family) for prime rib and a gift-giving game, the one where you can steal a gift up to 3 times. On Christmas morning Gary and I will do what little gift giving there will be between us, then we’ll drive to San Diego to spend the rest of the day with daughter Sara and her family. We’re going to do something on the 26th – maybe visit Seaport Village, or . .. I don’t know what. Maybe nothing. Don’t know. Gary usually flies home before New Year’s. Maybe I should plan a get-together with some widow friends on that evening. Good idea – I’ll think about that. Dave and I never did celebrate NYEve – it was a crazy time to drive anywhere, so we usually had a nice dinner at home and went to bed early. Probably Powell will have a New Year’s Day dinner. Or maybe Janice will. Don’t know. Can’t think that far ahead. They probably haven’t, either.
All of that being said, my mental wanderings, just know that people in grief need extra care – extra love, extra hugs, extra kindness, and especially understanding and patience. Don’t ever say to someone in grief – even if it’s been way too long, you think – “hey, get out of your depression/grief” or “get past it.” It doesn’t help. It only hurts. The emotional loss is deep, and it’s only brought more to the surface at holiday time. Doesn’t matter what holiday, or a birthday or a wedding anniversary. Be encouraging. Call a friend who is a widow and take him/her out to lunch, invite them to your home over the holidays, even if they weren’t regularly part of your family. This is especially important for grievers who have no local family. Just food for thought. If you do have a fully intact family, be thankful. Praise God. Say grace every time, but especially before your Thanksgiving feast. Tell your loved ones you love them. Please. Don’t do it for me, but do it for yourself or for that friend in need. You just never know what could happen tomorrow. Thank you for listening . . . . if you feel so inclined, you can say a prayer for me that for Thanksgiving and Christmas I will be able to celebrate the joy of life with my family, and not dwell on my significant loss of my dear husband Dave. I wish for all of you that you have a very special Thanksgiving with someone you love or care about.