Yesterday, I was having what I had thought was an innocuous FaceTime with my father. There was our usual current discussion of the weather in his northeast Pennsylvania, and any snow – including what is up at our house in the Catskills. There was also the required exchange about what the new U.S. president is up to. And there was other chitchat.
As I thought we were about to sign off, abruptly he veered without warning into again reviewing my mother’s cancer and death in October 2015. Through hard personal experience, I’ve learned a lot about widowers since then. “The widower” is a particularly difficult area in our culture.
We take photographs now so throwaway casually. We may forget how even amongst all of those uncounted thousands – so many of which we simply delete – that there are those that may be extra-special. Some few may eventually develop a deeper resonance and longer-term poignancy for us.
Probably you have something similar in your family and amongst your friends. I was doing some tidying up around the house yesterday, and while doing so I once again noticed this photograph on the wall in our lounge. It is one of my all time favorite family photos because of all it represents:
As you probably know, I write fiction set in the late 20th century and – soon to come, hopefully – the late 18th century. I think I can do so in part because I feel I’ve gleaned a few basic insights over the years about people and relationships. We all do learn more as we mature further simply because we have usually come to experience more over time.
Social media also allows us, of course, to share our own unpleasant life moments – such as this one I saw on Instagram last night:
And social media also makes it possible for us to offer a little advice and even some (hopefully) reassuring words. Which is what I am about to try to do. Here is some insider information from an “old” married guy, which may prove useful for you as a woman.
Father-in-law [on the phone yesterday, speaking to an old friend (also in his 80s) who’d just lost a brother, and now moving on subject wise]: “….You have our condolences. How’s your son? My youngest is doing much better, and his three are marvelous….”
Mrs. Nello [in the next room with me, overhearing, observes like a BBC sports presenter]: “The opening serve from Dad. It’s in. No return. Dad’s up, 15-Love.”
Mrs. N: “The bragging about grandchildren is like a tennis match. Back and forth trying to top each other. Haven’t you ever noticed?”
F-in-L [to the man on the phone]: “Well, and my eldest grandson is at Oxford.”
Yesterday’s post opened revolving around my younger nephew. His brother is now age 21 and at St. Hugh’s College, Oxford, doing Classics. He was around for the weekend due to his Dad’s “half century” birthday, and we volunteered to drive him back to his Oxford flat – he doesn’t live at St. Hugh’s itself – late Sunday afternoon.
He being with us for a couple of nights gave us a chance to chat in person. His thesis topic compares Descartes and Plato. I won’t go into more detail; indeed I’m not sure if I even can at this time on a Monday morning. 😉
After he explained, he surprised me when he asked me if I had a copy of my latest novel. (Although we’ve discussed my writing several times before.) Fortunately, I had a paperback “proof” of Distances within easy digging out reach. After I’d found it, as he inspected it, we talked.
My brother-in-law had a “big” birthday yesterday – the same as I’d had back in September.
At the party yesterday, which was held in a restaurant, we sat at a table with my youngest nephew, who’s now 14. He held court, dominating the table talk. Also at our table were my wife, my mother-in-law and my father-in-law.
At first, he offered insights into video games and PlayStation vs. X-Box, about which his grandparents looked totally confused, and bordered on too much even for us at times. Unsurprisingly, he began drifting into talking about his friends, then his teachers, his grades and his school generally. Then he came to school life – the “unsocial” side of it in particular.
He’s an excellent student, but we all know school can also be, well, school. We’ve all been through it in one form or another. Bullying came up, followed by his sharing some ugly examples of what happens occasionally in classes and in hallways.
Horrified, suddenly my 85 year old father-in-law spoke up: “Why, they [kids these days] are barbarians. In my day, the headmaster would take care of matters, and you didn’t misbehave again.”
“Teachers can’t hit students nowadays,” I reminded him.
I wanted to share some U.S. Mother’s Day personal thoughts here – two days early. I choose to do that because, well, this is the first year my mother will not be here for one. Also, I don’t feel this post is quite appropriate for Sunday itself.
I don’t mind others celebrating, but I wish I could’ve “blocked” Mother’s Day just for myself this year. The barrage of ads that have been landing in my inbox seemingly hourly reminding me of the day and how I need to remember Mom with flowers or something, get deleted unread by me the moment I see them. They have led me only to remember one year ago: Mother’s Day 2015.
That day, from Britain, I had FaceTimed Mom over in Pennsylvania. I had expected an innocuous “Mother’s Day chat.” After thanking me for our card and flowers, she said she felt a bit under the weather. My father had booked dinner out, but she didn’t feel up to going to a restaurant.
Of my 8 great-grandparents, 5 were Italians, including several Sicilians. My wife likes to joke when we’ve been in Italy that Italians don’t seem to know what to make of me. “You look like you belong,” she says, “and they talk to you like you do.”
I’ve run into something similar here in Tenerife. Some Spaniards seem to think I fit in, too. Until I open my mouth, at least. 😉
There is also something of an Italian community here. The other night, we wandered into an Italian ice cream and sweets shop. The twenties-something Italian guy behind the counter looked at me initially and wasn’t sure which language to try on me first; he opened with a mishmash of Spanish and Italian until I made it plain I was neither Spanish or Italian.
His English was not great. But the ice creams were excellent. We also noticed the place sold….
It’s not always by any means, but there are times lately that I feel like the loneliest person in the world. True, I’m sure in reality I’m not. But how disturbing and ugly the feeling is.
I know it’s got to be rooted in my mother’s and my uncle’s deaths. The feeling can hit me at the most unexpected and routine of times. Last night, it caught me as I was briefly alone, washing up some dishes.
I can only describe it as feeling like walls closing in, trapped with nowhere to run. I felt like I wanted to smash the dish I was holding…. and then smash the next I could grab, and the next…. My outlook and feelings are made worse, I’m sure, by certain years-long “living” family frustrations (on both sides of the Atlantic) that I have been unable much to influence (forget about resolving them), or even to get away from, idiocies which show no signs of abating, and, indeed, seem worsening.
I accept that the deaths of close loved ones will bring you down for a while. However, I’d heard from a bereavement counselor that it’s not uncommon to feel the loss even harder some 3-6 months after the loved one has died and the rest of the world has “moved on” – but you haven’t yet. Obviously I’m about there now chronologically.