Saturday, April 23, 2016

Phone Calls

     After my Nana died, my mom told me that one of the worst parts was not being able to call her mother on the phone and share the day's events.  Even years after, mom would reach for the phone, hold it for a moment and then hang it up with a sigh.  She would say that it would hit her ... oh right, she's dead.  It made me so sad for her, and for myself, because I knew I'd be in the same boat one day.
     When my personal ship to Valhalla sailed, it was much the same.  Mom and I have the same dark sense of humor.  I'd encounter something that amused me during the day, and she would be the one to share it with.  Or we'd make fun of it together.  With her gone, I'd keep it to myself.  It's like trying to explain a joke after the fact, it loses its luster.  In private, Mom could also curse like a sailor, probably because my father was a sailor.  I didn't swear in front of her, because ... d'uh, she was my mother, but all bets have been off for some time now.  On a side note, I remind the children that these are just words, some in use for thousands of years, and that there will be people who will think less of them for using these words, so be mindful of the right time and place.  But in a hypocritical fashion, I tell them not to swear in front of me.  Fuck should come out of my mouth and not theirs, if I'm in the room.
     But I digress from my original thought.
     My husband is now encountering the same void of communication that I have, something I tried to prepare him for.  He had a thought about something yesterday and was going to call dad to pick his brain, but dad's gone.  No call.  The sadness grows.  It didn't upset me that he didn't think to pick my brain; he wanted to ask his father.  I completely understand.  We don't fill the holes in our life created by the loss of those we love or have loved.  We just learn to walk carefully around the edges.  We do a disservice to ourselves and those we've lost, whether through death or distance, when we expect others in our lives to fill those empty spaces.  I've learned that grief is not a one size fits all shroud.  Some people learn how to change outfits, some learn how to accessorize and some convert it to an undershirt.
     Mom used to send me cards for every special occasion, little care packages for the kids - hand painted Halloween shirts, a handmade bracelet for a birthday with an explanation for each chosen bead, envelopes with clippings from magazines that I should be aware of, a painted wall hanging with the words from my childhood bedtime prayer that still hangs over my daughter's bed, the list goes on.  After she moved in, she'd continue to make them things - intricate wands for them to use to pretend to be wizards like Harry Potter, a decorated worry book for child #1 to write her worries down in, more hand painted shirts, and always the cards. When she died, all this ended.  I still make things for the kids, and we all enjoy a rollicking art project, but it's not the same.  And I know that it will never be the same again.  Whenever we paint, I always make sure to wear a smock over my undershirt.  I don't want to get it dirty.      

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

For Him Again

     He's gone. my beloved father-in-law.

     My brain said that I should sit and eulogize, try to express my grief.  I don't have the words to adequately voice what this loss, his loss, means to my family and to me.  Obviously, my husband has lost his father, a man that he has spent his life trying to make proud - something that many children find to be a moving target.  His role model, his most earliest mentor, the person who taught him how to shoot, how to appreciate the woods, how to chart your family history, and how to hunger for a relationship with God - to question, to observe.  My children have lost their grandfather, a man very different than the one who raised my husband, but that is the nature of age and time.  The first two children are very sad, as they had formed a strong relationship with him and an appreciation for him.  The third child is sad at the concept of the loss of him.  With less time spent with him, her understanding will grow with the stuff of created memory and mythos.
     I've lost a friend, a debate partner, co-philosopher and theologian, a father.  Estranged from my own father when I was 15, I've already told the story of what the introduction and acceptance of my father-in-law meant to me.  I didn't need him to be proud of me.  The only person I have ever needed to be proud of me, died seven years ago.  She showed me early on how she believed in me and how wonderful I was.  Her fierce love challenged me to be as good at everything as she already knew I was.  I needed him to love me, to accept me.  We didn't always agree.  We didn't have to, and in fact, we didn't discuss the topics that we each knew we were on opposite sides of the fence on.  He knew he wasn't going to change my mind, and I knew I didn't want to piss him off.
     Aside from my sister-in-law, Kim, who is more sister than in-law, he was my biggest supporter in a very large and beautiful family.  His loss is palpable to many, not just me.  And I will not even begin to imagine understanding that of my dear mother-in-law's loss.  To have been his, and he yours, for a lifetime ... that's a love that most people will never be fortunate enough to know.  If I think about it too long, I can't catch my breath.  Truly, her loss is the greatest.
     I don't normally like to mix my poetry with this blog, but I will share the poem I wrote for him the day he died, if only that it would bring comfort to anyone in this family that I love.

For You

There are no words today.
You’re gone from us, from me.
No more beloved nicknames,
deep conversations prefaced
with “now, let me ask you this,”
no more salted peanuts in your Pepsi,
the skins floating to the top of the
long necked bottle, no throat clearing
cough followed by that deep sigh
through your front teeth, the way
you rested your left arm over your
right when seated at the kitchen table,
thumb absently rubbing the skin, the  
smile that made your eyes disappear.
No more growled “take that” when you
would play the low card, hoping that
I would toss down the higher trump. 
Get up on both cheeks, Heddo.

Your heart can break again and again.   

Wednesday, April 6, 2016


     I've been ruminating over many ideas, but there's one that seems stuck in my head over the last several weeks.  I have talked in the past about the harsh comments and dare I say abuse, that many in the retail and customer service related fields receive daily.  What I've become more keenly attuned to since I've changed professions, and now have an office, is the heightened level of sexual innuendo and outright inappropriate forwardness that many men, and in particular older white American/European men exhibit.
     I'm not talking about casual flirtation, or even comments about my firm handshake - those more often seem to come from men around my age or younger.  And I certainly have no problem with being told that I look nice or my hair looks pretty.  Those statements always seem weird though, like would they say that to a man they're working with ... "Thanks, for getting those tires rotated so quickly, Bob, and I love what you're doing with your hair."
     No, the closed office door seems to bring out the crazy comments from the older men.  I've been asked if I was married and then told that if they were just 20, 30, 40 years younger they would give my husband a run for his money.  There are several assumptions wrapped up in that concept that I don't have the energy to address, but I will tell you that the comments come from single and married men.  I've had men get up from their seats across from my desk and either sit on the desk to my right or come stand behind me and lean on my shoulder.  That's led to either me quickly standing up or a "coughing fit" and excusing myself.
     There is a part of me that would very much love to tell these guys off and kick them the hell out of my office and my store, followed by calling their wives - but we get customer service surveys like everybody else in the world now.  It's my word against theirs, and if I want to hope for a smooth interaction, I have to find ways to make it seem like they're joking with me.  I say this knowing full well that I'm in charge and have been in various work places for a long time, which gives me certain latitudes that others don't have.  I've also had the luxury of having female bosses for most of the last 15 years, so I haven't had to worry about sexual harassment from the top down.
     My most recent example is more over the top than most.  A well known client in his mid 70's came in to add his son to his account. He's always pleasant, but often very flirtatious and will do so in front of his long term girlfriend.  The last time they were in together, he said something outrageous, along the lines of clearing off my desk (i.e. implying in order to have room for sex on said desk), which caused me to gasp and look at her.  She laughed, said he was harmless, and that if she thought otherwise, she'd set him straight.  Somehow this was supposed to excuse his comment.  When he came with his son, I thought he'd be more reserved, but alas, this seemed to free him more.  He called me his girl, his sweetie, etc, to which his son said, "great, another person I have to send a Christmas present to this year."  I had to leave the room at one point to get some paperwork, and I said I'd be right back.  He said before he departed he wanted a kiss goodbye, but "this time, use less tongue."  He called that part out with my door open for all the world to hear.
     I've never had a younger man talk to me in such a disrespectful manner behind closed doors.  I've had my intelligence and leadership skills questioned, but that knows no age or sexual identity boundaries.  I've also had people beg me for help, cry, laugh and invite me to listen to the most amazing stories about their lives.  It's those stories that do more for me than a 70 year old man's sweaty ass on my desk.