Tag Archives: pity

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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Isn’t It a Pity

I started writing this blog for a couple reasons.  The first, of course, was selfish.  It’s helping me, giving me an outlet to sort through everything that’s going on in my household and my head.  I talked with Andrea about everything, so when you go from having that adult who shares all of your thoughts, feelings and helps you decompress from the day.  You have no idea how important that is and how much you miss it when the most intelligent conversation you have is with four children and not with another adult of similar ilk.

Another reason is to try and touch, if just a little, the memories and history of the first half of my family’s journey.  I have to do this now because I can see the small pieces of her falling away, disintegrating an atom at a time, the memories flying away like pieces of pollen in the wind.  I hope only to retain some of those particles so that they don’t disappear altogether.

The last reason, and the one that pushes me to connect with others via this blog, is to remove the lid from this box that some people (emphasis on SOME people) want to throw you into.

There’s a tendency to ask someone like me how you’re doing, which is fine.  But the next step is always to say “it will get better,” or “you’ll heal, you will meet someone, you will find another person . . ” insert your own cliche’d moment here.  The reality is, it won’t get better, nor should it, and I don’t want it to.  This is what people just don’t seem to understand.  We have such a need in society to want everyone to be OK, but not actually face the things they are going through.  I don’t want to think you will be sad, depressed, stressed out, or even hurting.  I don’t want to face that you might be alone, so damn the consequences, I’m telling you that it will pass and you will get better and you will fall in love again and the world will be bright, full of rainbows, sunshine and unicorns.

Isn’t it a pity.

If I touch even one person to face reality . . . I feel like this has been worthwhile.  Here’s what I want everyone to face, and this isn’t easy for me to write, but if I can face this, I think you can, too.

After Andrea took a turn in the ICU I went into a frenzy of panicked activity.

I spent the next two days talking until I was hoarse.  I took so many phone calls I couldn’t handle it.  I eventually forced people to look at my Twitter feed because my phone kept dying.  I started reading “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” out loud hoping that I was just so annoying that she’d wake up and tell me to shut the hell up.  I hid in the corner of the room, behind the curtain, hoping they’d miss me and I would stay for longer, maybe the entire night, in the hospital.  I asked her what she thought we should do for our anniversary, what I should bring to her here in the hospital.  I needed her to stay around for our anniversary, it was 18 years after all.

We got married young, and we were stupid.  We were still kids at the time, and I was just so insanely paralyzed by shyness, brought on by a paralyzing lack of self-confidence, and it translated to most people that I was awkward, even uncomfortably silent.  But she never saw that, she saw the person I was at home, the guy that could be normal and boisterous and emotional when he was behind a microphone with a guitar.  She saw that, even when I wasn’t hiding behind the Stratocaster and tweed amplifier.

She made it to 18 years.  Barely.

This is a long setup, I get that, but it tells you what I was going through when the world started trying to shove me into a box.

Saturday morning, March 26th, 18 years to the day that I wiped the emotional tears from Andrea’s eyes as we told each other “’til death do us part”, the hospital called me and said Andrea was “in some distress”.  No big deal, right?  That sounds pretty basic.  I was already on the way and they didn’t sound like it was a big deal.

Until I got to the hospital.  When I buzzed the doors, they got strangely quiet and I heard the nurses scrambling, saying “it’s her husband” in the background, unsure what to do.  The doors opened and I walked into the most chaotic, insane situation I’ve ever experienced.  3 nurses were taking turns pumping up and down on Andrea’s chest, injecting medications to the Y-shaped connector where the IV tubing that snaked its way to Andrea’s arm.  They were doing that CPR count as they pushed, her chest caving in with each compression.

Everything around me started to swirl.  You know how people say they actually see everything turn red when they’re really angry?  Mine went white.  Don’t ask me why, it just got covered in a milky white haze.  The doctor was calmly shouting commands to the nurses.

If all you have seen of this type of scene is what’s on TV, it’s just so inaccurate.  The room had a flurry of activity, but it was oddly quiet, which was even worse.  As they worked on Andrea I could hear one of her ribs break.  I was a mess, begging her to stay with me.  I was in a mad-dash panic and all I could think was “stay with me, please!”  As each piece of medical equipment ticked away, I was thinking how I can’t do this.  I can’t break my kids’ hearts.

Then the doctor came over and told me they’d been doing this for more than half an hour, maybe longer, and that even if they kept going they didn’t know how much oxygen her brain had been deprived of.  He’d keep going, but it was really up to me.  I reached up, held her foot, and saw every horrible thing that was happening to her.  I just couldn’t take it anymore.

Here’s where the lid of the box opened.

The hospital chaplain too me into another room, as I nearly hyperventilated in emotion.  I haven’t cried in years, but I was a mess.  Here I thought they were going to help me, try to give me tools to move forward.  Instead, they literally overwhelmed me with crap.  I had to start looking at decisions.  I had to pick out a mortuary.  I had to look at a string of things that needed to be taken care of.  It wasn’t an hour since she was gone and the hospital told me I had to start making arrangements.  The kids didn’t even know their mother was gone yet.

Then came the string of phone calls.  Lots of them were really sincere, helpful, and seriously emotional as I was.  Others gave me awful platitudes and talked to me only so I could make them feel better.  This is what I’ve dealt with, a metaphorical version of the hospital.  Get the person out of this room, make the room look empty, make this go away.

Where I’m comforting my kids and trying so hard to keep daily life just daily life, many people just don’t know how to handle that.  Why doesn’t he just stay in the box?  It makes them feel better to think that I will get over things, that the wound will heal, I will move on, the world will get better, and everything is perfect.

Sorry, it doesn’t work that way.  God help me, sometimes I wish it did.  The kids just don’t have a Mom.  No other woman will be their Mom.  No other person understands me the way Andrea did.  This isn’t life the way it had been, it’s a new life and a new story.  People cannot seem to accept that for right now we have to do this without her and have a hole in our lives.  It’s easier to try and tell us that “all wounds heal” and “everything will get better”.  I’m sorry folks, it won’t.

That doesn’t mean we can’t do it.  We don’t lose the pain, folks.  We learn to live with it.  I don’t crave the day that I don’t think about Andrea all the time, I dread it.  This woman was one of the greatest part of our lives, so why would we want to make it disappear?  Yes, right now it hurts like hell.  But we also have amazing memories and wonderful fondness for her.  It bothers people that we can have both.  People want you to fit the mold.  A mom and a dad.  Parenting the kids.  This isn’t a diatribe about single parenting.  Divorce still leaves two parents.  If you have a problem you can still call that other parent, whether you are friendly or not, because the greater good of your children is there.

But people just can’t seem to handle that life is so complicated.  We just don’t fit in the box.

I know this is the second post in as many days to use music, but to use a former Beatle’s line: “Isn’t it a pity.  Isn’t it a shame.  How we break each other’s hearts.  We cause each other pain.”