Baby, don’t you pity me . . .

It’s not a literal line, that title, it’s a line from a Freddie King song, one of my favorites: Someday After a While (Live) by Clapton from the LP From the Cradle

It’s an appropriate title because it’s something that seems to weigh on myself and those around me an awful lot.  I talked a bit yesterday about Joel Sartore’s segment on CBS’ Sunday Morning program on Sunday.  The part I didn’t really say as succinctly as I should of is how I totally understood the “looks” that he got from people who had just heard what his family was going through.  To recap for him: his wife came down with breast cancer a number of years ago.  At the beginning of this year she had a recurrence.  Not long after treatments her mother passed away.  Then in the summer, their son was diagnosed with Hotchkins Lymphoma and has to have chemotherapy for the rest of the year.

One of the things people don’t get is how you can have a sense of humor about these things.  Joel’s line in the middle of the piece was “I thought the only way things could get much worse would be if she backed over the dog in the driveway.”  How true that is.

My own situation, though not like Joel’s, is not too dissimilar.  My wife passed away on the day of our 18th wedding anniversary.  Then we lost our house.  My work decided to “make a change” just a couple weeks after I returned.  I couldn’t afford the school my oldest, Abbi, was attending so I had to move her to the public school.  If you wrote all this down, as the events unfolded, in detail, nobody would believe that it was true.

My oldest, Abbi

Abbi and I had a discussion just about an hour ago and I think it’s what was keeping her from falling asleep.  Abbi is not like her mother, she’s more like me.  I may write about how things happen here, but I don’t share them person-t0-person often.  Nor do I talk about them here, not most of them.  This is a snippet of our day, not the whole day.  But she was affected by someone asking her if she helped her Mom make Thanksgiving dinner.  It’s a simple enough question, but for her, or any of us, the reaction to her answer is much more weighty.  Like Joel’s line in his segment, he mentioned that people walked up to him, tears in their eyes, acting like their son had already passed away.  We get that . . . a lot.  She gets the glassy-eyed sympathy.  I get the “how do you do it alone?” thing.

What people don’t get is that we’re okay.  Could we be better?  Well . . . yeah, what the hell do you think?  But couldn’t everybody?  I mean, short of Richard Branson, who can say their lives are perfect?  Even before losing Andrea our lives were far from perfect.  They were hard.  Now they’re hard in another way.

What worries all of us, though, is meeting that person the first time and wondering if they’re sincere or nice . . . or if they’re just pitying us.

Don’t you pity me.

Please, don’t.  If you don’t like me, then fine.  Don’t.  I can honestly tell you that I could really give a sh*t.  My kids love me.  I have a close cadre of friends who are amazing.  I have people around me who care and help, even if I’ve been neglectful and failed to talk to them for a long time.  Don’t pity me, Abbi, Hannah, Noah or Sam.  It’s easy to look at us and say “oh . . . if she’d just lived on. . . ”

My four munchkins…
Yeah.  If.  You can’t buy happiness with a fistful of “if’s”.

The discussion I had with Abbi centered around the fact that other people can’t accept that we could be happy.  They can’t accept that, maybe, we’re okay.  We are.  I’m not saying it to convince myself!  It took a really, really long time to come to terms with the fact that we could be okay without Andrea.  It took even longer to come to terms with the fact that, in some ways, some things are better.  You never want to admit that.

But I told Abbi the same thing I’ve said here before: we have to keep going, not necessarily by choice.  Andrea gets to be pretty and perfect and sweet in the memories in our minds and we have to keep trudging along.  It’s harsh and difficult sometimes, yes, but it’s just the way it is.  I could sit and wallow in misery or grief but then there are four kids who suffer because of it.  People assume, my daughter said, that she’s picked up all the slack and is doing tons more.  They don’t believe her when she says she simply ferries the kids and watches them for a couple hours until I get home.  They look at her and wonder how Hannah, Noah, Sam and I will cope when she’s gone and won’t accept it when she says: “they’ll figure something out.  My Dad will do it.”

When you face what others see as unimaginable they can’t fathom that you come out on the other side unscathed.  The reality is, we’re not unscathed.  We’re strong, though.  We’re bonded.  Holidays aren’t as hard as you might think, it’s the buildup to them and the questioning after that are harder.

In the end, when asked if she helped her Mom with the dinner, Abbi said she simply said “no…I didn’t” and left it at that.  It’s easier, sometimes, not to have to tell the story all…over…again.

Beside, Abbi told me, “Mom wouldn’t have cooked any of it anyway . . . and I know for a fact I probably wouldn’t have helped.”

That’s my girl.

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