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 don’t think a lot about it. But we have to remind ourselves how potentially dangerous spending too much time in front of screens may be. By midday Friday, I found myself developing a terrible headache.
Too much time writing and staring at my Microsoft Surface in recent days had probably been the main culprit. I do try to take breaks when I’m at the screen for a long time. “Ten minutes” every hour at least.
When I read it yesterday, I almost fell out of my chair. I won’t share any of it here because I don’t have permission, but this is my pathetic impersonation of what I saw opening one chapter. In no way does it do her writing full credit:
Well, that’s that for the time being. My brief visit to New York and Pennsylvania is winding down. I’m heading back to England today.
It has been good seeing Dad. He’s doing okay now, eight months after Mom’s death, so I’m not leaving feeling lousy about leaving him. He told me, “I’m adjusting to the new reality. That’s what the hospice newsletter said anyway.”
We take public safety essentially for granted nowadays. We all think nothing of driving alone at night, walking well-lit sidewalks, or cycling for carefree miles, as if it were all somehow the perpetual norm of the human existence. Yesterday, I was annoyed, writing here on how some seem determined to forget how we have evolved to this previously unparalleled and happy civilizational situation, and appear not to consider how fundamentally fragile it truly is.
Relatedly, we also tend to forget how long-lived and healthy we are and why we are. A large part of the reason for that isn’t down to “good genes” as it would have been for most of human history. We are assisted in great measure by the medical care we now also appear to take for granted.
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.
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.
Yesterday we visited with my wife’s octogenarian aunt (and godmother). She has lived in Chesham (in the Chilterns) nearly forty years. The town is the last stop on the London Underground’s Metropolitan line – with a tiny above ground station.
She lives just outside of the town. While we’ve been to her home numerous times, we’d never been into the town center itself, so we drove in and she took us on a short, late-afternoon stroll around. It’s very pleasant. I played “tourist” briefly and took a few photos:
Over dinner last night here in London, without warning my mother-in-law observed that she believes the week over in France helped me a lot. She remarked that she felt all I’d gone through with my mother’s and my uncle’s deaths in October and the weeks after in the U.S. trying to cope with the aftermath, particularly with my dad’s grief over Mom, had naturally tired me out. She believed that stress had been showing on my face (in a weariness), but felt I now looked better than I’d had in months.
Naturally only others really know what I “look like,” but, yes, I said, I’d loved last week; that I like France goes without saying, but that visit had been a true distraction. It had been fun, restful, and taken my mind largely off the sadness on the other side of the Atlantic. Relaxing lunches like this certainly played a part:
We’ve had a great deal of sympathy since my mother’s October 26 death (and my novelist uncle’s two weeks before – who I especially miss as a friend and a mentor). It has all been much appreciated. But there’s always others out there lurking, aren’t there?
You may unfortunately know the type yourself too: relations who are easily insulted, who are always stirring the pot, and are also always demanding – like overgrown children – to be the center of everyone’s attention, and if not given their way seek to create still more trouble, and often do their “stuff” in a deviously and underhanded manner so as never to get the entire family offsides. Divide and (try to) conquer, so to speak. (Please excuse the coarse language that appears in the following.)