There’s a line that I seem to be getting more and more lately . . . more a type of comment than a direct quote. I may write about my wife and my kids and our harrowing adventures here on this blog every night, but I don’t walk around all day wearing my heart on my sleeve and asking people to look at the poor guy who lost his wife like he’s the latest panda imported from China. In fact, there are a number of people inside the building where I work who have no idea what I’ve been through and I’m perfectly OK with that.
You have to understand, there’s an unintentional stigma that seems to attach itself to me that I just don’t get, but can empathize with. When I first returned to work nobody knew what to say. There’s nothing that comes close to expressing your concern or sorrow for someone like me. You can’t ignore it, either, though. So you end up either re-living the events that led up to where you are or you end up the leper an island unto himself. “Don’t mind him, he’s just the guy who lost his wife!”
Now, though, it’s been nearly 11 months and I’m in a new position, new station, new part of my life. I’m not over things, you never get over this. In fact, people who think you can are obviously people who’ve never suffered a big loss. I see it all the time: romantic comedies, television dramas, movies, all the people have the same pattern. You lose the one you love, you dwell on it, you enter the “stages of grief” and then come out on the other side saying that “time heals all wounds” and you fall in love all over again like the person you lost is relegated to a box in your mind and you’ve found another person with the same magical, electric connection to your life that your spouse did. Sorry, the wound doesn’t heal. That’s the part people don’t seem to get. I’m not saying I’m the same, depressed, crying, wreck of a person I was 11 months ago. That’s not true. But the wound isn’t healing. It’s still there. The difference – and this isn’t semantics folks, it’s a big difference – is that you learn to live with it. You see a person that resembles your wife and you forget that she’s gone and embarrassingly start looking in the dollar section when you realize you’re approaching a stranger who doesn’t know you from Adam because your body moves in spite of your mind.
There’s another phenomenon, though, that seems to pop up that I hadn’t thought about. People who see you raising your children, alone, and reacting to that. Without knowing Andrea or who she was they know me or have met me and then hear that I’m raising four kids as a widower. You can tell when the information hits them, you really can. There’s a pause when they start to comprehend the number of children, the gears inside their skull starting to loosen and turn and then the look of cognition hits and you see one of two things: fear or concern. (sometimes it’s substituted with being impressed, but that’s not often)
Often, it’s followed by “Oh, my God, this must just be so HARD!” Another favorite, “oh, you poor thing!” Better still, “I am so amazed, you’re caring for them all by yourself . . . ” usually followed by some sort of look or statement of amazement that I, a solitary, poor example of the male of the species have to re-wire my brain in order to be able to cook, clean, care and have any kind of empathy for small clone-like pieces of myself.
If I sound annoyed, I don’t mean to. It’s just that I find it very humorous that there’s any amazement or fear at all. I love my children. I loved them before this all happened, I love them all the more after. They are amazing human beings, full of the best pieces (and some of the worst) of their parents, grandparents, and some other relatives I obviously haven’t met because for the life of me I can’t figure out where the habits came from.
Understand, when the kids were born I wasn’t rolling over, nudging Andrea to get up and feed them, and rolling back to sleep. When Abbi was born, I held her all the time. I changed her first diaper. I fed her every other feeding. I took pictures, I played ball, I took care of her on Mondays alone and had “Abbi/Daddy Day.” When Hannah was born she caught RSV and Andrea had a post-op infection that nearly killed her. I woke up every 2 hours, gave her albuterol treatments, fed her, changed her, then put her to bed and helped Andrea get up, use the restroom, clean her stitches, get back to bed and then started the RSV treatments all over again.
The only episode I am ashamed of is when Andrea got pregnant with the twins. We had gone through so many tests because we didn’t think it possible for her to get pregnant again. Initially they thought she had a form of illness in her uterus that might lead to cancer if not treated. I went through weeks of worrying that I was going to lose my wife only to be told “good news! She’s just pregnant . . . oh, and it’s twins!” I wasn’t happy, I was freaked out and instead of hiding that I told my wife, my best friend, how freaked out I was. I never, ever, said anything about NOT keeping the babies, nor would I have. I just had to come to terms with not only the fact that Andrea wasn’t sick, she was pregnant and we have to have two of them! She hated me, and I don’t use that term loosely, truly hated me for awhile for my reaction. I couldn’t help it, but I could have hid it, been more supportive.
But when the boys were born I wasn’t that way. I changed diapers, helped start the routine, helped care for them, fed them, gave Andrea a break when she needed one from breast feeding.
So when people look at me in amazement like I’ve just reached Everest’s summit, I cannot understand their amazement. Yes, for the love of God, I am raising four kids. Yes, dammit, they’re doing OK and I haven’t killed them. And yes, please, God, don’t look so surprised that I’m doing it. I mean, what else was there to be done? It’s not like I fell into a corner, lost it, put all four in a bag and dropped them into the river. I loved them all, dearly. Andrea melted with every single one of them whenever she looked at them. I see her in them. How could I ever do anything else?
But what do you say when they give you that amazement? I have to admit . . . there’s a part of me that likes it. I play into it. After all, I know that it’s not easy, if it was, it wouldn’t be worth it. But it’s not work to me.
But let’s just keep that our little secret!