Not long ago my daughter told me something that made me smile. One of her friends said they wanted to meet her Dad because, well, they thought I looked “jolly.”
Now, I could take that the wrong way. I could think Saint Nick – white hair, beard, big bowl full of jelly belly. That kind of thing. But instead, I take it for what it is. This is someone looking at us, without putting too much of grief or loss into the equation, and thinking “they look happy.” Or maybe they think that we’re nice – which means we’ve really got them snowed. I’ve been asked this before. How do I smile, how do I keep going, how can so many things go wrong and you still find enjoyment in things?
I realize that losing your wife or husband is simply unthinkable to most people. Hell, I didn’t think about it, I was looking at what we’d do once the kids left the house…we wouldn’t have an empty nest, we’d see the world. We’d make the kids meet us in London for Christmas one day or something. None of these things will come to fruition now.
If you’d looked at pictures from those first few months the smiles are forced. The visage is more jelly-like in my mid-section. I was heavier, we all were. We didn’t do much.
And I felt guilty…a lot. Some of it was warranted. Much of it wasn’t. I felt like now that she was gone there were so many things, simple things really, that I should have done or paid attention to and I just didn’t. There was a void there. I don’t know about most marriages, but even in the worst of times when there were decisions to be made or choices to be had my first inkling was to call or sit down with Andrea and talk about those. When she was gone I not only felt the weight of the grief but the weight of responsibility on my shoulders. From March 2011 to March 2012 you can see my hair turn greyer. My face is a bit more weathered.
But by March of last year my shoulders had grown a bit broader. The stomach grew a little smaller. The guilt began to slough off. I came to terms with the fact that the past was over. I could dwell there – and it would be so easy to do it – but that’s not healthy, nor is it worthwhile. I did worry about what I didn’t do for Andrea when she was here, the kinds of things that she desperately wanted.
Yet I got some the best words from her sister last year . . . on Andrea’s birthday. She reminded me that Andrea . . . and her to a degree . . . had the most unrealistic expectations on the people who loved them. I still feel bad that every birthday – due to my choice of profession – Andrea had to wait for her birthday celebration due to the fact that November Ratings started the last week of October. But she also knew that I worked in this industry and it was every . . . single . . . year . . . that I had to do this. I could buy the entire jewelry store for her but if she’d wanted that one Tiffany necklace, all the diamonds in the world wouldn’t have helped stop a miserable day for all of us.
I guess what I’m telling you is that understanding and guilt go both ways. Where I felt horribly guilty about what I saw as screwing up things for Andrea the same wasn’t always true from her end. That’s not my observation but the observation of others. “You always hurt the ones you love” is the old line. Andrea lived that. We all do, I suppose, to a degree. Yet Andrea admitted and felt guilty about that. Still, it didn’t stop the sting when she did it. So to put her on too high a pedestal, or to remember her as a saint makes me and the kids feel worse. It makes us live in the past.
We love the people we do because of the faults. If those glimpses of selfishness had been so terrible I wouldn’t have remained married for 18 years. I must have given her some happiness or she wouldn’t have stayed either. That gives me comfort about how our marriage ended. I can smile now, not frown.
One of my best friends asked me a few weeks ago – when everything on a freelance gig went haywire – why I wasn’t just screaming at the top of my lungs.
“You laugh so you don’t cry” was my line. It’s true. So jolly . . . I’ll take that description. I’m not perfect. I’m not always right. I’m not always the nicest person either, I know that. But that’s the difference: I know that. I could have walked around in agony every day after last year. I could still complain about the bosses who treated me badly, but I have a new job, a better job. I could have complained about losing our home but we have a nice house we’re renting now. I could wail about losing the woman I loved. I could take my grief out on my kids and those around me.
What would that accomplish, though? Would it make me happier? No. When things in Dallas went haywire, while I got angry during a fiasco with the rental cars I could have taken that throughout the day. Truth was, though, I was happy not long after because I was with a close friend. I was truly happy . . . jolly. Dwelling on what went wrong doesn’t help what will happen next.
Maybe that’s the wrong way of doing things, or maybe . . . just maybe . . . I’m like a jolly old elf.