Friday, February 17, 2012

The Wounds of Cupid's Arrow

Well, Valentine's Day had it's ups and downs, and was probably the most emotionally intense Valentine's Day of my life, but was a great day overall. 

I blogged in the morning, then I had a couple house showings in the afternoon (oh, yeah, blog world -- I've just started a new career as a realtor -- more on that later!), and some other work that I was able to do from home (property searches, e-mails, phone calls, etc.).  Late in the afternoon, two dozen red roses were delivered to the house to me from my boyfriend.  Even more beautiful than the flowers was the personal message included - I was in tears when I read what my "Antonio" had written.  It was the sweetest message.

That night, we went out for dinner at a steakhouse here in town.  It was a very nice place and the food was fantastic.  We had a generous gift certificate, but Antonio sprung for a bottle of our favorite cabernet, Silver Oak, which alone would exceed its value.  It's our "special dinner out" wine, which we've enjoyed at fancy steakhouses twice so far.  Better than the wine, though, was the love and connection I felt to this man during dinner.  We talked about our dreams and goals for live, marriage, kids, family, and more.  I left feeling so very lucky and happy.

When we got home and went to bed, we started to kiss one another when I suddenly stopped.  I had some emotions hit me suddenly and strongly that I had to share.  "I'm so unbelievably happy to be with you," I said, "and that makes me feel so guilty, because I wouldn't be if Brian hadn't died."  Boom.  Widowhood reared its ugly head and messed up what was a perfect-so-far Valentine's Day romantic date night.  Antonio held me in his arms while I sobbed for several minutes.  I hadn't put on a red, silky little number so we could get in bed and do this, but here we were.  He held me through all the sobbing and wailing, and I felt so safe, so free to feel what I needed to feel, to say what I felt, and to let it all out.  We had an intense conversation after that, in which Antonio reassured me that my current happiness has nothing to do with Brian's death; and that my happiness with my life and relationship now does not in any way mean I'm happy about Brian's death (and that it's obvious I'm not, since I still struggle to accept it and still shed tears when the pain of missing him is too strong).  He reminded me that Brian would want me to be happy and we discussed our belief that Brian played a part in bringing Antonio and me together.  It's something we both believe, and I think I've seen plenty of signs that tell me that's true.  Eventually, I calmed down and we were able to go on with our evening, but it was a very intense roller coaster of emotions in one evening.

My Valentine's Day reminded me of how complicated grief for the loss of a spouse is, how lucky I was to have Brian, and how lucky I am to have Antonio now.  Life as a widow in love again is messy and imperfect, but also can be wonderful.  All I have to do is learn how to enjoy it fully, unapologetically, and unabashedly.  It's the way Brian enjoyed his life and the way he'd want me to live mine.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Valentine's Day

I can't decide what to think about Valentine's Day.  I've only ever celebrated with one man before (sorry, but junior high and before doesn't count, though I do miss those school parties where everyone makes a "mailbox" out of paper plates to hang on their desk for the purpose of collecting little V-Day cards from your classmates).  So I've always celebrated (or not) the day along the lines of what worked for me and Brian.  He hated Valentine's Day, though we always did observe it in some way. 

Brian wasn 't a very romantic person.  While his proposal to me was a grand, sweet, romantic gesture, he wasn't that way in general.  He didn't like being "mushy" or declaring his undying love -- it was enough that we were together, and that we knew we were in it for live with one another.  He would ask why he should have to spend two or three times' market value to send me flowers on a commercially-dictated date to prove that to me or anyone else?  Hard to argue with that logic, though a part of me always certainly hoped he'd give in to what he knew to be my desires and just send a massive bouquet to surprise me, just once, on Valentine's Day.  We had love, absolutely, but not a ton of romance.  There didn't seem to be a point to going out to dinner, either -- facing a crowd of people who are getting their obligatory date night on....why?  We went out to nice dinners all the time.  There wasn't any place in town we saved for a "special occasion" -- if we wanted a night out, we'd just pick a place, pick a night, and do it.  Still, we'd always do a little something.  We'd exchange cards, small gifts, and share some chocolates and wine.  One year -- I think it was our last Valentine's Day together, though I'm not certain -- I cooked a filet mignon dinner and set up a candlelit dinner in front of the fireplace in our living room.  It was more for me than for him, and he knew it.  He called me on it, too, and I eventually had to cop to the fact that I was making my own Valentine's dream come true, knowing he didn't see the point.  I asked him to just indulge me, and he did, begrudgingly.  Then I got frustrated that he didn't appreciate my efforts -- Valentine's Day or not, I'd love to come home to a candlelit steak dinner to enjoy with the one I love.  One year, we had a couple single friends over and shared wine, heart-shaped pizzas, and candy while we played board games.  That was a great year.

I've gone through two Valentine's Days since Brian died.  The first year, I spent with my parents and in-laws, writing thank you cards to people for funeral assistance, flowers, donations made in Brian's name, and the like.  It was awful.  Then we all went out for dinner and I was a sore thumb on the end of the table.  Some old teachers of mine saw us, and surrepticiously bought my meal for me.  It was a sad, hard day, though that would have been true no matter what the calendar said.  I was just then realizing how much life without Brian hurt, how much I would ache for him, and how hard my path was going to be.  Last year, I spent the evening with three other single ladies in Austin and treated myself to steak and red wine.  It was a fine evening, and I think it really helped that the weather didn't feel like Valentine's Day, and I didn't have to go into an office where everyone else was getting flowers and I was left reminded of how Brian never would be able to send them to me, even if he changed his mind about his "no-flowers-on-Valentine's-Day" policy (he would say, "Why don't you just let me wait a week and send them when they cost half the price?"  I don't think I ever told him he couldn't send flowers a week later, but I also don't recall that he ever did that.)

Now, I'm in a relationship again, but I don't really care about this holiday.  I feel like Antonio and I have plenty of romance in our lives anyway -- we declare our love sincerely every day, we dance in the kitchen when there is no music playing, we snuggle on the couch, we light candles at dinner when the urge randomly strikes, we get lost in each others' eyes.  That happens in our everyday lives; not because of some holiday requiring some special effort or front.  I don't want to have to exchange gifts -- we just had Christmas and my birthday, and his is coming up soon anyway.  We are going to go out for a nice dinner, in part because we have a gift certificate to a steak house that we intended to use on my birthday (until I got sick).  We look at the day as an excuse to go have a good dinner.  That's fine with me; I love food. 

Let me add - I don't think there's anything wrong with Valentine's Day -- it's a nice excuse to eat and drink some tasty, indulgent things, and to spend special time with the one you love.  I don't need presents, flowers, or jewelry though -- just my man and a tender piece of meat,cooked medium rare and accompanied by a glass of strong red.  That sounds good any day of the year.

I wish you all a happy Valentine's Day, whether single, widowed, married, dating, or something in-between, however you choose to celebrate (or ignore) it.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Weekend Warrior

Widowhood was a battle this weekend.  Life has it's challenges for everyone, and my biggest challenge is living as a widow, acclimating to the curveballs that come with the territory.  There were a couple of tough situations this weekend, but I survived and even came out feeling good about some things.

Friday night, I dreamed about Brian.  It was very vivid, and I awoke remembering a lot of details of the dream on Saturday.  In my dream, I was back in college, but it wasn't any part of the Simpson College campus that Brian and I knew.  I just know I was lost, trying to get back to my dorm room, and I kept finding myself on the wrong floor, maybe in the wrong building.  There seemed to be hundreds of doors, and I could see buildings beyond that which I was in.  I kept looking for the right door, and sometimes was trying my key at the lock when I thought I'd found it, but I just couldn't get it.  I had no idea how I would ever find my way, knowing how many doors there were in each building, and with so many buildings in front of me.  At one point, walking between buildings, I feel down a hill and into a dirty pool.  I also befriended a stray cat along the way, one that looked an awful lot like Mittons (the stray I rescued 8 months after Brian died).  Eventually, I found a couple guys I knew (though I can't remember who they were, I remember thinking they didn't "belong together" -- i.e., they are people I know from different parts of my life and probably haven't ever met).  I was so relieved to have someone who might help me navigate the sea of strangers, doors, and buildings.  I told them I was lost, and we talked for a few minutes, but they said they couldn't come with me and help.  They had to go to the cafeteria.  One of them advised me, though, to not bother trying my key until I found the right door. 

Then, I turned, and there was Brian.  "Brian!" I yelled with joy, and jumped into his arms.  Oddly enough, when I was up in his arms, I realized the person next to him was also a version of Brian.  It was two of him, each looking the way he did at some point in his life.  It was like one was Brian circa 2007 and one was him circa 2002 (more or less).  I know we talked some, but that is the part I don't remember at all, unfortunately.  I think even in the dream, I couldn't hear the words because I couldn't stop staring at his face; I was so happy to see him again.  Whenever he's in my dreams, I know even in my dream that he's dead, so that never confuses me.  I somehow know I'm dreaming or something; I'm not sure how to explain it.  This time was different, though, because I was not apprehensive or overly aware of how he couldn't or shouldn't be there -- I was just happy to see him.  This is the first time since he's died that I had a dream where I embraced him so gladly, without sorrow, without fear, without hesitation, without that moment's pause where I think, "What...?"  It felt more natural and less supernatural this time.  I just wish I knew what he said, but I couldn't stop staring at him.  I know he was going to take care of me and help me though.  I hope he comes back to my dreams again soon -- I'm so ready for it now.  I'm not sure if I was before.

So that was Friday night.  On Saturday night, "Antonio" and I went over to a friend's house for dinner.  Our friend Brian cooked for us.  This Brian, like mine, happens to be a 6'6" redhead who loves animals and is proud of his Irish roots.  (By the way, I think it's no coincidence that our paths have led us to befriend one another.)  While Brian was cooking the most delicious french onion soup I've ever eaten, he showed us a book his grandmother (who recently passed away) had made for him.  The book is a typed out account of his grandpa's life story, from being born into hard times on a farm in Ireland, to coming to America and finding love and making a family in Rhode Island.  Every page was adorned with green shamrock stickers.  The stories in this treasured memento were amazing -- I laughed, I cried, I was truly touched.

Then my widowhood struck.  I told Antonio how amazing I thought this was, and he said, "Yeah, it's pretty special.  It's pretty cool that she did that, shared her husband's life story and recorded it for future generations."  I immediately thought about Brian -- my Brian -- and how he will have no future generations, how short his life story is (was), and how no one will create a book like that for his grandchildren.  I started crying pretty hard at that point.  I told him what I was thinking, and said, "If you die young, without kids, you kind of get lost in history."  Antonio was quick to correct me.  He said, "That's not true.  Brian touched a lot of people's lives.  I can see that.  He touched my life, and I never even met him.  He made a difference to a lot of people."  Of course, I knew all that, but I just needed to hear it.  It helped me quite a bit.

Later that night, when we were all in the kitchen, a victory in the battle against widowhood really took place.  The three of us were talking about Wine Club -- a tradition Brian and I started in our dining room years ago, that continues now in San Antonio with a new group of friends.  We were discussing things we could do for future meetings, etc., when I remembered something.  "Babe, did I tell you that the Bokas are starting up their own Wine Club?"  While I was drinking wine with my boyfriend and our friend Brian, my in-laws were popping corks with my parents and some other friends.  I know they were inspired by our group and the fun we had, and I'm honored and overjoyed at the idea that they are living out the ideals of friendship, conversation, and good times (not to meantion good food and wine!) that Brian and I cherished so much.  In addition, the Des Moines chapter of Wine Club that Brian and I started has recently reunited and started meeting up again.  This is really cool because Brian and I were the common threads -- most of the people in that group are people whose paths crossed at our table.  I love that they are continuing the tradition that we started. 

It's funny -- it was a bittersweet weekend for this widowed warrior.  Some good memories and warm, fuzzy feelings, but also some hard-to-swallow realities and tears shed.  I think I'm going to have a glass of wine now, and think about the good things that my life (even as a widow) brings, and the great things Brian helped create.  Antonio was right -- he made his mark in the world, and in so many lives.  I'm so glad I was a part of that, and feel blessed to see the continued impact he has in this world.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Feeling Winey

This week I had a couple of disappointing "widow moments."  I had two times when I hoped for things to turn out one way, and instead they went the other.

On Saturday night, we had our first ever Wine Club in San Antonio.  Friends and readers from long ago might remember that Brian and I started such a club in Des Moines years ago.  I brought it to Austin, along with members Erin & Chad.  Only now has it come into my San Antonio home.  For the first time in this home and this city, with a new group of people, I chose "favorite wine" as the theme.  I had set aside a special bottle to share with the group -- a bottle of merlot from 2002 that was the last of a case Brian and I had bought together.  We had fallen in love with this wine, which stopped being produced, and had tracked down the last of the supply to a restaurant in southeast Iowa.  We made a point to eat dinner there so we could purchase a case.  Unfortunately, we were kicking off a weeklong road trip at the end of May.  The case of wine did not fare so well in the car (wine is not supposed to be exposed to prolonged periods of extreme heat), and about half the bottles were ruined, spoiled by the sun.  Every time we would open a bottle, we had the anticipation of finding out whether it would be one of the best bottles of wine we'd ever had, or whether it would be utterly undrinkable.  Sadly, the last bottle -- one I had been saving for a special occasion, to drink with the right people -- was the latter.

Then, there was some film I developed today.  Yes, film.  I had one disposable camera, and a mostly-taken roll of film in my old 35 mm camera.  I had no idea what was on either roll, but I hoped desperately there would be a picture or two of Brian.  I wanted some memory to be recalled that was in danger of slipping away, or one more look at his big smile and beautiful green eyes.  I wondered if there would be a photo from a great trip, or maybe just a random snapshot taken at home for no reason.  Again, I was disappointed.  Not a single picture of Brian on either roll. 

I want more memories of him.  I don't have enough.  I want something new, something I've forgotten about or misplaced, to pop up.  Even tasting a good bottle of that wine would have taken me back to that wonderful vacation together, to evenings spent conversing and laughing around our dining room table with friends.  I wanted desperately for something to take me back to those happy times this week, and I just didn't get it.

But, I also know I'll be okay.  I was fine without the non-existent photos, and I was fine every day that I didn't pop open that bottle of wine.  I don't need more photos or a certain merlot to make me okay.  That doesn't change the fact that I wanted those things though, and I'm sad that neither one came through. I still miss him. And I hate feeling like the reminders -- and especially the chances of finding some new piece of him -- are slipping away.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

New Month, New Start

I'm feeling great today -- like, one of those days where you see goodness and blessings everywhere you look.  I haven't had anything fantastic happen today by any means - it's just an ordinary, but good, day in my life. 

I just wanted to share that, even after devastation, life goes on and can be rebuilt.  It is possible to rise from the ashes and feel happy, lucky, and blessed again.  Even days when you look around and go, "This is my life, huh?  I am pretty lucky!"

Widows, there is hope.