Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Tender Grace - Chapter 1

Tender Grace

Bethany House (February 1, 2009)

Chapter One

July 10

He died the way he'd always wanted to. As anyone would want to, I'd think—sitting in his recliner with something wonderful to read. The bad part, of course, was the juxtaposition of the numbers. He had hoped to leave the confines of the earth at age 85, not 58.

I had hoped for the same thing, hadn't thought yet to worry that he might not. His annual physical had been encouraging, as usual. No hint of heart trouble, or any other kind of trouble. He took a half tablet of Zocor and a baby aspirin only as a sensible precaution. We'd had colonoscopies on the same morning two months before he died, and we'd left the hospital congratulating ourselves on colons fit beyond our expectations.

This evening I decided to see if I could formulate words. Except for thank-you notes, labels for Christmas presents wrapped by mall elves, and birthday cards for Mom, the kids, and grandkids, I haven't written anything since I kissed him good-night and told him to come to bed soon.

I've been sitting here in front of this new document for what seems like an hour watching the cursor of my laptop blink on and off, rhythmic as a heartbeat. The cursor seems more alive than I. Don't they say the first year is supposed to be the hardest? I'm three months into year two. Like a daffodil, the nub of it breaking through the soil in the flower beds each spring, I should be awakening.

I'm so disgusted with myself that I am not.

And I'm afraid. Afraid that this is who I am now. I read many years ago that when someone dies, there is a sense in which the loved ones die too. The optimistic twist on it was that rebirth occurs and the new person, affected by the suffering, may become better than the old. The rub lies in the auxiliary verb may. How I wish the "new me" were better than the old, a tribute to everything we had and were.

I assumed when the time came, that's how it would be.

I was wrong.

The truth is I know of no one who has coped worse with losing a mate than I have.

There is the small consolation that most people think I'm fine.

My children know I'm not, but they are kind and understanding and patient. But even they don't know that I feel as dead to this world as their father is. You don't tell your children that. They have suffered enough.

July 11
I record Oprah, Law and Order, American Idol, Dancing With the Stars, Heroes, What Not to Wear, Divine Design, The Closer, and an eclectic selection of movies, lots of movies. Next season I might add Ugly Betty to my schedule, despite its unfortunate title. Several people have recommended it.

No matter what my son says, I do not and will not record American Chopper. Is this refusal a sign of life?

My DVR holds one hundred hours of programming. I panic if the allotted time for recording reaches fifty.

Mark and Molly, caring children that they are, have encouraged me to continue substitute teaching. It's true—I did enjoy it the two years after I packed up my classroom and retired, but I have not been able to find enough interest and energy, even courage, to enter a classroom since Tom died. This strikes me as odd since I taught for thirty years, and a classroom was as much my natural habitat as water is to fish. But that was then.

Tom and I retired early, even though we still enjoyed our jobs, so that we could "run around"—that's what our friends called it. We only dabbled in running around, however. We didn't buy a travel trailer and slap a "We're spending our children's inheritance" sticker on it, but we spent a lot of time with the grandkids, and we saw a lot of the country. A cruise to Alaska was on our calendar for last July. It was our last Christmas present to each other and made us look forward even more to the new year.

We missed viewing the inner passage of Alaska by three months.

Fortunately we had insured the trip. Mother wasn't feeling well when we booked it.

July 12
I prepared for retirement by getting serious about exercise. I am not disciplined, though Molly, great defender of her mother, says I didn't get a master's degree while caring for a two-year-old and expecting another baby without discipline. Nor, she continues, did I teach for thirty years without a significant amount of discipline. I call these examples anomalies. The rule is this: little discipline.

The treadmill upstairs in the bonus room is one of my proof texts. I have exercised off and on all my life. I gain ten pounds, start dragging around, begin thinking about cutting calories and walking three miles a day, mull it over a few months, finally commit myself to it, and then lose the ten pounds and gain a level of energy that will suffice.

I always think I'll keep at it the rest of my life. Then with no warning, I quit. Eventually I gain ten pounds and the cycle begins again. When I turned fifty-two and retirement was only four months away, I told myself exercise was no longer just a good idea; it was a necessity if we were to have quality of life in what Jane Fonda calls Act Three.

The last time I was on the treadmill was the morning before Tom died, having barely finished Act Two.

July 17
Somehow I managed.

The whole crew came for a weekend visit: Mark and Katy with Kelsie and Austin; Molly and Brad with Jada and Hank—our beloveds. Could there be sweeter children and grandchildren? I remember how happy, no, thrilled, Tom and I were that the kids settled only an hour or so away. Branson is a little closer than Joplin, but both kids have made us feel they live just on the other side of Springfield.

We built this house on the golf course eleven years ago. I'm glad we didn't wait until we retired to do it. I had thought we might spend forty years together here. If gratitude were still a blip on my screen, I'd have to say ten years beats two.

Tom enjoyed golfing immensely, but he especially loved playing with Mark and Brad. He did not live long enough for the boys to beat him, though there was whooping and hollering the day Mark tied him. Friday evening the men took the golf cart out for the first time without Tom.

The little girls, age six now, slept with me. The little boys cried because they couldn't, but they finally settled down when Molly let them both sleep on a pallet in her room. Molly and Mark sense my weariness. Their visits have been short since Tom died, usually only overnight. So far I've been able to feign being a decent nana for twenty-four hours.

The girls will start first grade next month; I remember marveling with Tom that soon they'd be in kindergarten. How was it possible that our grandchildren were old enough for that? Nothing prepared us for the joy of our children's children. Though we adored our son and daughter and have enjoyed kids by occupation, this bliss caught us by surprise.

The "babies," as we call them, have finally quit looking for Papa when they come.

I cannot believe what they have lost. I cannot believe I'll ever be enough.

July 18
Molly and Katy had breakfast ready before the girls and I made it into the kitchen. Tom, an early riser, had been the breakfast maker when the kids came home. I got out maybe three words of apology before Molly stopped me. My new routine doesn't include breakfast, but I managed to eat part of a waffle and a piece of bacon. Sitting across from me at the round breakfast table, Molly said the flowers at the front of the house and in the beds around the patio looked gorgeous. She and Brad had come the first of May to help me put out the annuals. This was something Tom and I always did together. Molly knew I wouldn't get it done by myself.

What she doesn't know is that annuals have ceased to thrill me.

July 19
Writing the date is the answer to my blinking cursor. I can write a paragraph or two once the date gets me started. I caught sight of the last line of yesterday's entry and can't believe I said that annuals have ceased to thrill me. It seems sacrilegious and probably is. But, if I'm honest (and what a drag that is), I'd have to say many good things have ceased to thrill me.

I've quit reading, even best sellers, even Pulitzers, even the newspaper (I canceled it), even my Bible. I'm surprised I read even the last line of Tuesday's entry.

I also quit listening to music. I have chosen silence for over a year now. Molly begs for "tunes" when we're together. It's rare that I relent.

This lack of appreciation for things I once loved is beginning to define me. More mornings than I can count, I say to myself before I open my eyes, "I don't want to do this." In the days shortly following Tom's death that made sense, but what does it mean now? I asked myself that yesterday. What is "this" exactly? What does that mean?

I don't know.

That I'm in trouble?

One of the best qualities of the former me was thankfulness. In fact, on my fiftieth birthday I awoke with a doxology on my lips, aware of so many good gifts I'd received from God in fifty years, including two new grandbabies. I've even given thanks for my penchant for giving thanks. As I was trying to sleep last night, needing Tom to be curled up behind me, his left arm slung across me, nightly comfort, I realized to my horror that I couldn't remember the last time I was thankful. Really thankful. Not an intellectual gratitude, which has remained, but an emotional and spiritual gratitude that wells up from a trusting, peaceful heart. I thought of a line from an old hymn: "Awake, my soul, and sing."

I miss Tom.

I also miss me.

1 comment:

Susan J. Reinhardt said...

This book is going on my Wish List. Thank you for posting the chapter.