Showing posts with label widowhood. Show all posts
Showing posts with label widowhood. Show all posts

Monday, February 11, 2019

color, revisited

Five years ago, in the winter of 2014, I was dipping my toes back into the world of color after having spent six months wearing only black.

I still wear a lot of black.
Photo credit me.
It's easy and convenient and camouflages flaws. (Also, in those six months, I invested in some really nice clothes, and it only makes sense to keep wearing them. )

This winter, though, I've been noticing just how much color has found its way into my wardrobe.
Photo credit me.
Those are the shiny blue inner lining of my dress coat, the green leather of my purse, the rainbow of my mittens, the blues of my hat, the red paisley of my skirt, and the purples of my scarf on the most frigid teaching day of the semester to date. 

All my warmest things are colorful things, so the chilliest, and often grayest, days are also, for me, the most colorful.

Even in moderate weather, though, the colors remain.
Photo credit Taylor.
Here are the same mittens and scarf with a raspberry jacket and many-flowered hat

Photo credit Jim.
And the same scarf and jacket plus a deep teal skirt. (I also had the mittens, the flowered hat, and the green bag this day, you just can't see them in this photo.)

Unlike five years ago, I don't have anything deep to say about my relationship with color these days, but I am enjoying color in all its forms--soft colors in the sunrise, 

Photo credit me.
the sharp colors in the landscape,
Photo credit me.
 and the riot of color in my closet.

Friday, January 25, 2019

forty

Four days from now is my fortieth birthday, and I feel.....several ways about that.

This birthday looms larger on the horizon than past birthdays. I suppose that's true for many people, but I have not generally been fazed by the numbers on the calendar, so it feels weird to be fretting about it.

Part of the weird is that Adam was forty when he died. Forty feels dangerous. Like standing close to the cliff edge. Like my past proximity to catastrophe makes me a likelier target. Like unexpected tragedy could strike my forty because it struck his. I know it's not rational, but some friends have said they felt a similar disorientation when they reached the age at which a parent had died in the prime of life, so I also know it's normal.

Part of the weird is that forty seems like a Decidedly Adult Age, and I still don't have a Real Job. It is a known fact that a year from now I will not have the job I currently have because my non-renewable contract will have ended. Given the job market in my chosen field I may not even have the same career a year from now. So I feel definitely Not Yet Adult. I crave the stability rejected by the stereo-typical mid-life crisis.

I crave stability because I've done that reinvention already. My mid-life crisis came with widowhood at thirty-four, when circumstances forced me to make all the choices again.

I wish to be done radically reinventing my life.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

lovely weather, for a duck

It was a cosmic irony of my marriage that I had all the wanderlust and Adam had the job that sent him all over the world, that I have a passion for studying languages and he had so much opportunity for immersion.

Because I love presents, he learned to bring me things back. Often they were consumable things like Swiss dark chocolate that we couldn't get in rural Michigan in the oughts, Côtes du Rhone from France, Grey Goose from duty free.

Sometimes they were tangible things like the wooden cat from Troyes that now sits on the bookcase in my office or my French copies of Jacques Prevert's poetry and Saint-Exupéry's Le Petit Prince. Or useful things like my Russian-French, French-Russian dictionary.

Sometimes he brought me back bits of language--

"Wo ist mein Gepäck?" from the time his luggage got lost on the way to Germany.

"Ichi biru," which is not actually the best way to order a beer in Japan.

"Una cerveza por favor," which is the way to order a beer in Mexico.

"Mit senf" to get mustard on your sandwich in Germany and gross out your Czech colleague at the same time.

I don't have cause to use most of these bits of language often.

But there's one that popped into my head today. As I was was schlepping from my office to my car bundled up against the cold, it started to rain. Again. And I thought, "Schönes Wetter, für eine Ente."

"Lovely weather," Adam would say, "for a duck."

This bit of language came out of a conversation with the same Czech colleague who thought mustard was gross on sandwiches. They were working together in Germany during a prolonged spell of cold and rain, and they had very little language in common. "Schönes Wetter, für eine Ente" came out of a very human moment of solidarity across barriers of language and culture. It is both a comment on the weather and a triumph of communication, a joke in their shared foreign language.

I decided early in my widowhood that I did not want my home to be a shrine, with my dead husband's possessions on display like relics, but that I wanted to keep using the things of his that were useful to us. Like the Leatherman in my kitchen drawer and the cast iron skillet on the stove. Like the benches and the plant boxes that he built.

And like these bits of language.


Tuesday, June 26, 2018

justice and mercy

When I picked up Bryan Stevenson's Just Mercy last week, it was because my friend Kate's congregation had chosen it as the first book for their summer book club. I was quickly caught up in the fluidity of Stevenson's voice on the page. He offers just the right details in just the right order to maintain my curiosity.

Stevenson's focus is on the US criminal justice system, particularly our practice of capital punishment, at times including the execution of people with mental illness or disability and of minors, and our practice of treating children--sometimes as young as 13--as adults in charging, adjudication, and sentencing. He illustrates these unjust places in the criminal justice system with individual, personal stories of the clients his non-profit practice has served, many of whom they are unable to save.

Alongside the overt message that we should abolish the death penalty and treat accused minors and those with mental illness or disability differently than we have for too long is a more subtle message--that the sort of retributive justice our system is built on just doesn't work. In the introduction, Stevenson writes:
[This book] is about how easily we condemn and the injustice we create when we allow fear, anger, and distance to shape the way we treat the most vulnerable among us.
Fear, anger, and distance. Most crime can be traced back to a breakdown in community, a moment or a part of systemic conditions that fails to uphold the promises made to every member of the community. (Don't argue that people just do things because they're cruel or evil or bad. If that's what you think, read this book and others like it.) When other members of the community respond with fear or anger (or both), the bonds of the community are further broken.

Our current system is not the only possibility. We could have a different system. We can look to other parts of the world, or we can look to our own juvenile justice system, which, in many parts of the country, puts much greater emphasis on restorative justice. We can do something different.

Just Mercy is heavy reading, but worthwhile. It was particularly heavy for me least week with today looming ahead of me on the calendar, today marking five years since my husband's death at the hands of an unlicensed teenage driver. Heavy reading, but definitely worthwhile. As I read, I remembered those early days of shock and numbness and confusion, and I looked again at the decisions I made in my role as victim--my choice not to insist the teenager be tried as an adult, my choice not to sue the family in civil court, my choice not to continue attending the regular probation hearings after the disposition hearing--and I don't regret any of those choices.  I also recognize the privilege of working with a prosecutor listened to me and supported my decisions. As Stevenson's stories attest, such is not the case everywhere.

The lifetimes of work by Stevenson and others has been effective. Executions by the state are rare in the US these days, and we've changed our position on executing or sentencing to life without parole for minors and those with mental illness and disabilities.

We still have questions to ask ourselves, though--about forgiveness, about the possibility of rehabilitation, about the differences between adolescent brains and adult ones, about the nature of mercy and what justice looks like.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

death has a body

I love Kate Braestrup. She writes brilliantly about life and death and faith. Her memoirs about marriage and grief are the only ones that have not made me want to throw them across the room in frustration. (Sorry, C. S. Lewis and Joan Didion.)

I want to grow up to be more like Braestrup.

Her story "The House of Mourning," told at The Moth, reminded me of the one regret I have about the choices I made after Adam's death--not viewing the body.

Braestrup's overall message is that "you can trust a human being with grief," a message that we all too often doubt. We try to insulate ourselves, and especially our children, from grief when in reality it is an integral part of life.

She supports this message with her own story of insisting on seeing and caring for the body of her late husband, a state trooper who died in a car accident while on duty, and also with the story of a five-year-old girl who insisted on visiting the body of her four-year-old cousin.

Braestrup says that in her experience as a chaplain to the Maine Game Wardens, "People are far, far more likely to regret not having seen the body than they are to wish they hadn't done it" (6:55). And I wish that every funeral director and law enforcement chaplain and county sheriff's deputy would hear this story.

The men in my kitchen that day--the chaplain and the chaplain-in-training and the deputy and the several officers--presented a united front in their "recommendation not to view." The haunted looks on the officers' faces added weight to this recommendation. As did their refusal to take me to retrieve things from the car, offering instead to get whatever I wanted and bring it to me.

Knowing what I do now about the physics of Adam's accident and the coroner's findings of cause of death--cranio-cerebral trauma--I understand the recommendation not to view. But I wish that I had thought to ask for a middle ground between full viewing and none at all. Could the children and I have held the hands of his draped body? Could the mortician have wrapped his head in gauze to cover the worst but allow us to see and touch the rest?

Ultimately, my acquiescence on this score allowed other people--medical examiner, tissue donation organization, crematorium--to do their work more efficiently, and the funeral director was able to have the ashes present at the funeral service a mere four days later, which was very important to me.

Death has a body, and when the decision is happening in your kitchen or your loved one's hospital room or wherever, Kate Braestrup and I recommend that you choose to view.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

guessing wrong

Turning thirty-five felt like a major milestone. I had only just been widowed, and it felt like I had lived the events of an entire lifetime in but half of my threescore and ten. I felt like I had done everything, and I wasn't sure what was left.

And then I realized that I had the opportunity to make all the choices of adulthood anew. To begin again.

In some ways this has been incredibly frightening. When I made these decisions the first time, I had only myself to think about. Now, I am responsible for children and pets and debt and an estate. Now, I have lost my sense of invincibility.

The privilege of being the spouse who lived carries with it a burden to get things right, an irrational sense that choosing wrong dishonors the dead. (Reader, I can hear the platitude you're thinking. Just stop. Do not type it in the comments.) The irrationality does not make the burden any less real.

In a post in January Mike at Internet Monk meditated on a brief passage from Thomas Merton that has been rolling around in my head since then:
Our vocation is not a sphinx’s riddle, which we must solve in one guess or else perish. Some people find, in the end, that they have made many wrong guesses and that their paradoxical vocation is to go through life guessing wrong. It takes them a long time to find out that they are happier that way.
As I make decisions for my second life, the roads not taken in my first life have loomed large. Should I have chosen them then? Are they still available to me? Should I choose them now? What if I choose wrong again?

And yet, the vaporizing of my old life that came with widowhood, the instantaneous disappearance of my marriage, the release of the moorings that held me at Rambling Farmhouse showed me that any decision I make can be unmade by circumstance. Even decisions that felt permanent when I made them have been undone, and that undoing did not ruin me.

As I make decisions now, I might guess wrong.

I might choose wrong, and that's okay.

Even decisions that are wrong, even decisions that are right and then are undone, are worthwhile.

I can go through life guessing wrong, and knowing that even permanent decisions are not actually, and still be happy.



Wednesday, April 5, 2017

loneliness

I realized this past winter, that I am chronically lonely. Even when I am with friends, I am lonely. Even when I am joyful, I am lonely. It's like having a mild chronic illness along the lines of well-controlled asthma or surgically-corrected strabismus. For some periods of time, it's latent, and then it makes itself known again.

I get tired of being the odd numbered wheel.

My friends are wonderful and welcoming, but the vast majority of them are coupled, and being the third, the fifth, or the seventh at the table gets old. Excellent, wide ranging, adult conversation does not change the fact that when we all stand up, they are going home in pairs, and I am going home alone.

Because I have recently moved, I've been meeting lots of new people, and I have become fascinated by third fingers on left hands. Even in places where I tend to meet people separately from their partners, as at church and at work, the majority of my peers are similarly coupled.

There is a particular kind of loneliness in being a widow surrounded by couples.

There is also a particular kind of loneliness in being the adult in a household with teenagers.

My teenagers are good kids, and they have learned to bear greater responsibility for themselves than many of their peers are asked to, but their inherent adolescent selfishness means that the emotional labor of noticing that the animals need care and that the sinks need scrubbing is my burden. No amount of reasoned conversation followed by pleading followed by screaming followed by profanity has changed this.

This is the loneliness that comes of not being heard.

I get tired of being a broken record.

I don't dislike my own company, and I don't feel that I am an incomplete person as a single person. In fact, there are times that I quite enjoy making decisions without having to consult another person. Nonetheless, loneliness is part of my life. And I imagine in this I am not alone.


Sunday, January 29, 2017

birthdays

I love birthdays. I love my birthday. I love everyone else's birthdays. I especially love birthdays in the era of social media.

Facebook is the best thing to happen to birthdays since cake.

I know that not everyone agrees with me. At least one friend probably wishes that I would stop remembering the birthday he chooses not to mark publicly.

I just can't let go of the idea that birthdays are an amazing thing, though, so I selfishly celebrate everyone else's birthdays as well as my own.

A birthday is the day that commemorates the fact that someone wasn't, until suddenly they were.  Birthdays commemorate magic! (while I concede that technically birth is biology, I maintain that it actually is magic)

A birthday is also the day that celebrates successfully having completed one more trip around the sun, three hundred and sixty five more days above the soil. This is also a feat worth noticing.

Over twelve years I had gotten used to receiving a dozen roses on my birthday. I'd missed them these last three.

This year, I decided to treat myself.


Almost, I cried in the flower shop. Instead, I cried in the car in the parking lot of my building. Buying flowers for my own birthday did not used to be my job.

It is now.

It is magic that I am here. Today is the day I remember that once upon a time I wasn't, until suddenly I was. Today is the day I thank God for the privilege of waking up to put my feet on the ground.

Happy Birthday to Me!

Friday, August 26, 2016

finding the joy

I've been having a bit of a freakout this summer.

On paper, my career is moving in a good direction: I submitted an article to an academic journal and am now revising in response to reviewer comments. That same journal asked me to review someone else's submission. I accepted a postdoctoral teaching fellowship at a denominational liberal arts college. All positive signs of my professional development.

Although I've been celebrating my new full-time teaching fellowship with cheers and champagne and flaily muppet arms, I couldn't find the joy. I felt relief as this job lifts the burden of worry about finances, I felt gratitude for the recognition of my skills, but not joy for the work itself.

And then I felt guilty for not feeling joy. I love teaching. This job should have put me over the moon. Where was the joy?!?!?!?

Then, I had a disturbing epiphany. The last time I started to feel like a professional who was being taken seriously, the last time I had made my career a priority, tragedy exploded my life. The last time I allowed myself to believe these things were real and that I deserved them, I had to give them up. The circumstances--signing contracts, planning research, settling in to my own space--feel familiar.  I'm having trouble trusting this reality again. My lack of joy is like a Pavlovian conditioned response: professional security will be followed by darkness and turmoil, so prepare thyself.

Since I've been able to see the dynamics at play, they've had less power. My full-on freakout has subsided to the normal stage fright I have at the beginning of every semester.

And today, there was even some joy. At this university, the faculty dress for convocation. Since I didn't march in my doctoral commencement, today was the first day I got to wear a hood and tam.



It felt pretty amazing.


Saturday, July 30, 2016

audacity

A little over three years ago, people started telling me I was brave. For a long time, this label made me deeply uncomfortable. But people just. kept. saying it, and I got tired of debating my (lack of) bravery.

First I practiced not arguing with the people who told me I was brave. When I had mastered that, I practiced not physically recoiling from the word. And when I had finally mastered that, I started thinking about what they might see that I did not.

Because, really, from my perspective, I have not done anything brave or, for that matter, anything strong. First I did the next necessary things. Then I did the next logical things. Then I did the next possible things.

In a fit of nostalgia this evening, I was watching the 2001 romantic comedy Kate and Leopold, and Hugh Jackman's character told Meg Ryan's character that
The brave are simply those with the clearest vision of what is before them--glory and danger alike--and notwithstanding go out to meet it.
It's a beautiful definition, but it certainly doesn't apply to me. While I have continued to act despite fear, I wouldn't say that I've ever had a clear vision.

Recently accepting a postdoctoral teaching fellowship, a full-time contract position with salary and benefits, was such a joy. I was walking down the sidewalk that afternoon, grinning like a fool, and feeling validated, not only by the job offer but also by recent progress in academic publication.

A little over a year ago I was an unemployed graduate student whose life was in boxes, and now I'm a post-doctoral teaching fellow with one article forthcoming and another under review.

A little over a year ago I was an unemployed graduate student whose life was in boxes...and I moved my family halfway across the country? Without a job? What the fuck was I thinking?

This last year could have gone much, much differently. All along, I had had a vague sense that things might not work out, and I made sure that there was enough cash in my emergency fund to drag my life back to Kalamazoo if necessary, but I did not have a clear vision of the dangers until this moment in which I finally feel safe.

I only ever see my own audacity in hindsight.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

three

In general, I don't think that deathdays should be marked. I would rather celebrate my dearly departeds on their birthdays. Today, though, is demanding my attention.

There's something different about three. One felt light. I had a sense of relief at having gotten through an entire cycle of holidays and birthdays and seasons. Three feels heavy.

Maybe three feels heavy because my life is so different now. I've made a different set of choices for myself and the children than we had made as a married couple. To live in an apartment. To live in this city. To build a career.

I've been thinking about the final poem in Lorca's Lament this month "Alma Ausente."

4. Absent Soul

The bull does not know you, nor the fig tree, 
nor the horses, nor the ants in your own house.
The child and the afternoon do not know you
because you have died forever.

The back of the stone does not know you,
nor the black satin in which you crumble.
Your silent memory does not know you
because you have died forever. 

I could add a verse:

The cat does not know you, nor the rabbit
nor the plants bearing fruit on the balcony. 
The walls of this home do not know you
because you have died forever. 

The heaviest thing right now is the tension between my sadness and my happiness. I am profoundly sad. I am sad that Adam died in the prime of life. I am sad that the life we had planned is gone. I am sad that I am lonely without a partner. I carry these sadnesses in my bones. Yet, at the same time, I am  joyfully happy. I am happy to be wresting with my research and building a career. I am happy to be here, in the city, on the coast. I am happy with my sit-com life

Happy and sad at the same time is a jarring dissonance. I am not alone, though. In church this morning, Psalm 77 gave equal weight to lamentation and praise, and I was reminded of the early days three years ago when my prayer life contracted to the words: Help, Thanks, Wow. There were many nights when my cries for help were accompanied by exclamations of thanks and wonder.

Maybe three feels heavy because I don't know what comes next. The next three years could hold as much change as the last. I only know that I am happy, and I am sad.


Monday, December 7, 2015

promise



Once upon a time, we made each other promises: to love, to honor, to cherish until death would us part.

We kept those promises in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, joyfully and grudgingly, even when it was phenomenally difficult.

And then, one day, death did us part. And the terms of our promises were fulfilled.

My choices have reshaped my life into one unlike the one we chose together, but I make you new promises:

I promise to have your picture in the house where your children can see it.

I promise to use the things you created until they weather with age.

I promise to tell your stories, but I promise to tell all of them because I promise not to turn you into a saint.

I promise to learn from our mistakes.

I promise to remember.

I promise not to wallow.

I promise to honor your contribution to my happily ever after.

Friday, November 27, 2015

begin again

Over the course of the last two-and-half years, I've talked a lot about inhabiting the liminal space between end and beginning, and recently a beautiful drawing captured this so well:

I can hardly believe I'm putting a Mitch Albom quote on this blog,
but I couldn't resist the artwork by Mike Medaglia at http://mikemedaglia.com

The King James translation of Psalm 90 tells us that the alotted time of a human life is threescore years and ten. I feel like in half that time, I have lived an entire life.

My thirty-six years have arguably checked all the major boxes: childhood, youth, college, marriage, homeownership, babies, graduate school, widowhood. I have loved and birthed and buried and mourned.

The vision that I had for what my threescore and ten would look like died with Adam. That was a frightening, almost paralyzing, realization.

But as I learned to make my way through the dark wilderness, I realized that it was also liberating.

I get to choose a new life.

I get to make all the decisions of early adulthood over again: Where do I want to live? City or country? What kind of partner do I want? Do I even want a partner?  Do I want more children? Do I want to stay in academia? Is it the right place for me? Is it the best way to support my family? What other job would feed my soul?

I can choose differently than the last time I answered those questions. I get to reimagine the second half of my threescore and ten.

Some of those decisions are still under consideration; others have been made; some of the latter may yet change.

Selling Rambling Farmhouse and Rustic Lakehouse and moving several hundred miles to Lovely Apartment felt like the beginning of beginning. Having said good-bye to our cat Jack feels like the end of ending, the end of the season of leave-taking that began with #1 Cat's death just a month before Adam's. Although I know that there will always be periods of loss and grief in my life as long as there is love, at the moment, the light of hope is gaining on the darkness.

This is a good place to be at the beginning of Advent.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

free at last

Over the last two years, I've written a lot about inhabiting the wilderness between end and beginning. Moving halfway across the country a month ago was a huge step toward exiting that liminal space.

The more momentous occurrence of the last thirty days, however, was the official closure of my late husband's estate.

This most recent letter from the probate court is the matched pair of the first letter designating me as the personal representative of the estate. It puts a seal on all of the official actions I have taken to dissolve his corporation, sell his real estate and his vehicles, and distribute his investments among his heirs.

That unchosen responsibility was a too-large yoke on my shoulders, and I resented it.

This most recent letter marks the end of my legal responsibility for my late husband's affairs and effects. Now, my only obligation to Adam is to maintain his presence in the lives of his children, a yoke which I will gladly bear.

I feel so free.

Happy Independence Day!

Monday, March 30, 2015

uncertainty and the purple

Lou says that uncertainty is a good thing, that it challenges you and teaches you things about life. I can grudgingly agree that Lou is right, but I would add that a little bit of uncertainty goes a long way.

Lately, uncertainty has dominated all areas of my life: sale of Rustic Lakehouse, finalization of Adam's estate, transfer of our wordily possession to our next home, a place to live while the girls finish the school year, when my dissertation will be ready for defense, when my committee will be able to convene, job(s).

In some cases, the events are certain, but the timeline is not. The current buyer definitely wants Rustic Lakehouse, and I want to sell it to him, but he and I don't get to agree on a day ourselves. We have to wait for his bank to work their underwriting magic and assign us a date. My moving company has agreed on a day to come load the truck, but only offered a delivery window for unloading at our destination.

This storm of uncertainly feels a lot like the dark wilderness of instant widowhood with one major difference: this time, I put myself here. Each of these uncertainties is the result of a choice that I made. I did this to myself.

Sometimes I wonder what I could have been thinking.

But the one thing that I was certain about when I started making these decisions is that I can not stay here. Staying put feels like stagnating.

A little over a year ago I wrote about the importance of dwelling in the purple times of the Christian year. Always for me embracing the purple has been about an increased commitment to overtly spiritual practices: more time praying, more attending terce and mass at the abbey, more reading scripture, more doing church.  

This past Advent, I was frustrated that tasks related to the sale of Rambling Farmhouse consumed my mental and physical energy and kept me from being present in the purple. Then, Julie pointed out that sorting through the contents of a house collected over fifteen years of life was a very Advent thing to be occupied with. And she was right.

And here I am again in the purple time of Lent not doing more church, but instead doing more sorting, more introspection, more decision making. More discernment.

More preparation for the moment when my life begins again.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

a glimpse of freedom

Rambling Farmhouse has new owners.



One down, one to go.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

walls

Seventeen years ago, I took the train to Indiana to ring in the New Year with my boyfriend.

He said, "I want a house. If I buy a house, will you come for the summer?"

I said yes.

Over spring break I helped him move in to Rambling Farmhouse.

I can still see it as it was then with the avocado refrigerator and the goldenrod stove, the drop ceiling and the shag carpeting.

"The Brady Bunch threw up in this house," the realtor said.

We set up a Danish modern couch, leather swivel chairs, a pole lamp, and string art. And we owned it.

After that first summer we still loved each other, so the summer after that I moved all my worldly possessions to Rambling Farmhouse, and the summer after that we got married.

He carried me across the threshold. The next year, we carried Anna into this house, and the year after that, Sofia.

And then I carried him over the threshold.

Within these walls I became a wife, a mother, a professional, a widow. These walls have contained my adulthood.

Today begins my life beyond these walls.

The movers are coming to take the heavy furniture to our (temporary) new digs at Rustic Lakehouse. Over the course of the next couple of weeks, the girls and I will sort our worldly possessions. Some things we will carry over a new threshold, some things we will part with forever.

Then, I will hand over the keys to a new family, who will claim these walls as we once did.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

donate

For hours after my husband died, the phone just kept ringing. People were returning my, "Hi, this is Kate. Please call me as soon as you can," messages. Each call meant I had to darken someone else's day with my terrible news, and each of these conversations made the horror more real.

In the quiet of the evening, a different kind of call came. Mark had heard the news already and, having processed his shock, called to sit with me. In addition to the tragedy of the day, we talked about normal everyday things, and this was a conversation that reminded me I was still alive.

Then came the best call of the day. When the voice on the phone said she was calling from Gift of Life Michigan's organ and tissue donation program, I said, "I'm so happy you called!" I think she was a little surprised to hear the word 'happy.'

I had known that Adam wanted to be an organ donor. However, that paperwork usually happens in the hospital. I never went to the hospital, and I didn't think to mention it to the police officers who came to the house. By the time Gift of Life called, organ donation was no longer a possibility, but I gave permission to harvest whatever tissues they could. This conversation was a reminder that even death contributes to life.

The woman who called me was the epitome of compassion, but it was still a difficult conversation. It was not easy to give permission for the body of my husband to be cut apart when a part of me wanted to jealously guard all that was left. It was not easy to talk through a medical history that carried with it so many memories.

I did it anyway because I know that donation saves and enriches lives. My uncle lived more than ten years with a second heart. A friend lives today thanks to a live donor's bone marrow. Somewhere there are people whose lives are better for Adam's donation. One young woman wrote me a letter to say that her new knee means that she can ride again.

I'm telling you about this now because Adam was included in Gift of Life Michigan's donor honors ceremony this year. We could not attend, but they sent this:


So many donors. 

So many young donors.

So much new life. 

It's gut wrenching and beautiful.

I hope you'll consider being a donor, too. 

Mark your driver's license, tell your family, swab your cheek. Save a life.

Friday, September 26, 2014

breadwinner

Two Mays ago Old Cat's death was hard on all of us. It was especially hard for me to watch our younger cat Jack wonder where she had gone.  When Jack came into our lives as a strapping young boy, Old Cat was already old, and, although smaller than he was, she boxed his ears and told him in no uncertain terms that she was #1 Cat. She had first claim to my lap, to my bed, to any open doors, and to the food. For weeks after she died, when I set the food down Jack looked around to see if she was coming before he started to eat. He looked at me with disbelief that it could be just for him. This past January when Buttercup came into our lives, Jack went into a tailspin again. He knew he didn't want to be #2 Cat to this young brat, but he didn't know how to be #1 Cat.

As I've been working on job applications these past couple of weeks, it occurs to me that I'm a little bit like Jack. While I wouldn't say that I was subordinate to my late husband, I had settled into my role as the trailing spouse, the one whose career would always happen in the space around the breadwinner's career. There were a lot of practical reasons that Adam would always be the breadwinner: Because his age and his co-op experience put him ten years ahead of me in career development, because he was an engineer, and I am a language teacher, because he was a man, and I am a woman, his salary would always have outstripped mine. For most of our marriage, in fact, my contribution to the family's income was ten percent of his.

When I started my PhD, the desired plan was that I would find work within daily or weekly commuting distance from Rambling Farmhouse, working as an adjunct until something full-time or tenure track came up. As things got worse for Adam at his workplace here, we started talking about my doing a national search for full-time work and moving the whole family to whatever I found, but it still had to be a geographic area within a daily or weekly commute to something for Adam.

My trailing spouse status was not only a result of our relative earning potentials, though. It was also about the difference in how driven we were. Adam always wanted to reach higher; he wanted to manage a group of engineers, to run a multi-million dollar project, to move the company from good to great, to start his own business, to work at the cutting edge. Me? I don't crave leadership. I don't burn to see my name on a publication. I don't aspire to eminent scholar status. I don't settle for shoddy, but I'll never be a rock star researcher. My elbows aren't sharp enough, and I don't own brass knuckles. I want to do what I love and do it well, and really, that's the perfect attitude for a trailing spouse.

I don't get to have that attitude anymore.

Insurance settlements and Social Security payments buy me some time retool the plan, but they will not last forever. As they cease to fill the coffers each month, I have to take this career that was intended to be secondary and find a way to support myself, my children, and our critters in the present while also preparing for college and retirement in the future. All of a sudden, I'm the #1 Cat, but no one is offering me first choice of the food each night.

I have to be the breadwinner, and it frightens me.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

chalk

I have a classroom again, and the happiness I derive from this is perhaps bordering on the ridiculous.

The job of a professor is generally described as having three parts: the teaching part, the research and publication part, and the service to the university and to the profession part. While most professors do each part, rare is the person who excels at all three.

Me? I excel at the teaching part, and that's the part I love.

It's also the part that I was forced to give up when I became a widow, and I have resented that. A lot.

Having a classroom, I feel like a professional again. Feeling like a professional, I feel like a whole person.

It's only two classes and only for this semester, but I don't think I've ever been this excited about chalk.