I have had a hard time coming up with a topic these past few days. I struggle, I know that so many people read blogs and follow other widows for guidance and help. That is all I have wanted to do since I came out of shock – How can I help someone else struggling?
I do want to write about raising teenagers and young adults who are going through the grief process of losing their dad. I had started on that topic, but working on dinner tonight, I felt the need to sit down and tell you a story. (Of course, though, if you are reading this and you have a teenager, especially a son, or a young adult, say daughter, and you have questions and need help please feel free to send me a note. I will do my best to at the very least give you support and then maybe tell you how we are dealing with issues as they come up; i.e. junior high, first girlfriend, sports without your awesome dad, college far away from your family, you get my drift. There is clearly a lot of material there. While I am no expert, I am an expert on my children and the loss of their dad.)
Anyway, I feel that since I started writing for the Hope for Widows Foundation the rhythm of my writing has changed, and not necessarily for the better. It feels choppy, it doesn’t adequately relay our life together and my personality. I want so badly to give guidance and have the words that hit your heart in a way that makes you feel uplifted, to reassure you can do it. It hit me today, I am not really sure I am qualified to do that. What made everyone love my writing so much was that I wrote about Steve, and how I feel about him. And THAT I am qualified to relay. And somewhere in those stories about him, I think, maybe, a person can feel how much I loved him. You see, he was pretty amazing – fantastic really. It is easy for me to get caught up in talking about our story. So today I am going to see how it flows and listen to my feedback. I will test out this style of writing about how I am coping and see if it helps you.
Ok, here is a secret I am not super proud to be keeping. I haven’t been the best cook for my children since Steve passed away. Now part of the reason could be because my big, former football player husband absolutely loved food. Most of our life revolved around me feeding him and making sure he wasn’t hungry. And he was always appreciative of my skills; until I tried to cook healthier for him after his first heart attack in 2015. In fact, the week before he passed away I made him a healthier version of beef stroganoff. I was so excited for him to try it, I knew he was frustrated with salads and vegetables and probably cheating a little bit at business lunches. I called him and told him about our super delicious healthy meal and then I told him how I was making him cauliflower rice to accompany it. I remember a long pause on the phone and then he said, “Ang, I love you. Quit fucking with my noodles. Why can’t I just have the damn noodles?” He was lighthearted when he said it, he knew I was trying to help him be healthy.
Now another reason I might be having a hard time is that he was actually a very good cook and we cooked together often, it was part of who we were. Whether he was here or gone, he was a part of my meal prep. When he would call us while he was travelling his first question was always “What did you have for dinner?” Whether he was talking to me or one of the kids, whether they were home, at a friend’s house, or our daughter in college, he always wanted to make sure we were all fed well and had a good meal. And by that I mean soup and a sandwich never passed as dinner unless one of us was sick or the soup was homemade. He would ask me which store I went to, he liked to visualize our dinner. I always thought it was silly, but I knew he did it because it made him feel good that he worked hard and because of that I could feed our kids good food and we always had full meals. It was one of his favorite ways to show us love, by taking care of us.
He loved to feed people. If you were with him and eating a meal, you were going to be happy when you were done. He enjoyed eating at home best, but if we went out to dinner with someone, he was paying whether you liked it or not and he was treating you. He loved to make everyone happy, and for him food was the easiest way, and the way that also happened to benefit him (wink, wink).
Now I wouldn’t be telling my stories about our marriage accurately if I left out this detail – I hate handling uncooked meat. Yuck. It gives me germ filled anxiety; I worry I didn’t see the chicken drip and properly wipe it up. That somehow I have contaminated the entire kitchen with my unsanitary prep methods of missing the one chicken drip. I would follow him and wipe down everything he touched, all he could do was roll his eyes. He always cooked the meat or walked me through anything on the phone which wasn’t ground beef, ground sausage, ground chicken, or ground turkey. (Which is the only kind of meat I would cook with if I wasn’t feeding a large man and two growing children.) It is so stupid, I have no idea how this quirk became so freaking magnified, but it did. And all I have to say is thank God for Pinterest and Google because at least the poor guy didn’t have to know I needed to check the temperature and duration for meat cooking over and over during the entire process every night.
When we got married I didn’t know how to make fried chicken. He thought I was joking when I told him this. I remember his face so clearly when I said, “No, I really haven’t ever made it. In fact, I don’t really even like it because I don’t like to eat meat off a bone.” Seriously, his jaw dropped, and he looked like I had just told him I like to put puppies in a pillow case and leave them in the closet. He was just as stunned when I told him I had never had ribs. We spent way too long discussing my affliction and ended with him realizing it was going to be a long marriage.
Ok, back to my issues with meat. (I should just be a vegetarian for the love of Pete, but I need the protein. I don’t feel well if I don’t eat meat.) My poor sweet husband spent our marriage entertaining my aversion to touching and dealing with meat. Every steak dinner we had, he would quietly watch me fuss and poke at each piece I cut up; analyzing my bite before putting it in my mouth. The poor guy watched his wife pick at anything she cut up by herself. But when it came to fried chicken, he always, always, grabbed my piece and removed all the chicken off the bone for me. It was the single most loving thing he did for me. He knew I wouldn’t eat it if I had to pick at it, so he always took care of it. Before you judge, yes, I am a grown woman with a decent education and ability to handle an incredible amount of stress, workload, and pressure. I can multi-task with the best of them, but nothing meant more to me than the fact that he knew how much picking at my food grossed me out and that he took care of it for me.
We once had a business dinner at someone’s home. The wife made fried chicken, much to my horror. I can still so vividly see the look on his face across the table from me. (Of course, it was the kind of dinner where we had assigned seats and his was far, far, away from me.) By the look on his face I knew he was saying, “If you embarrass me by not acting like a grown-up this one time, it is going to be a long ride home.” I remember picking a breast because I knew I could easily get a large chunk off and pretend to be full quickly. All the way home he laughed at me. He said my face was contorted in anguish and I looked miserable trying to manage it. He grabbed my hand and kissed it and said “Next time I will just take care of it Baby”, with his big smile and a wink. That is how he made everything seem so easy, that big smile and a wink at me. That combination was like an injection of whatever I needed. Whether we were talking about something as silly as my eating habits, or serious as losing our house – that combination of gestures moved me into a strength I never really knew I was capable of possessing.
I definitely miss that moment of simultaneous comfort and instant confidence he could give me. I struggle to find my own version of that. But it would not serve me or do him justice for me to fumble through and not find my own inner version of that. I feel like I am a mess many days, but one of my very best friends said to me today, “You are too hard on yourself, you are doing so much by yourself. You are doing an excellent job. You have a lot of strength.” And then I was able to step back and own that I have gotten this far. I can warrior on.
I have made my kids easy things, but not big meals. But this Sunday, I made a big meal. Our son was ecstatic, to say the least. He said, “Mom, it only took you 16 months to get it right!” “15 months and 12 days,” I said. He laughed. He was happy. Watching him enjoy some normalcy that I hadn’t been able to create for him – a simple meal (well complicated – like I said dinners in our house are a main course, two sides, salad and dessert). I know it wasn’t a coincidence that he worked on the yard for me the next day. There is no timeline, you do what you can as soon as you can. I try not to be hard on myself. I have gotten many other things right earlier than most. Maybe its poetic that this has come into focus last.
Now, I have done a great deal for our kids since he passed away – I kept us in our home, made sure none of the things they were planning on were altered or impossible, travelled all over the country for our son’s lacrosse tournaments, got a very large puppy. I have handled quite a few issues that under “normal” circumstances would be considered life altering, a huge pressure, complicated. But getting back into a groove of really cooking without my interaction with him has been incredibly painful. I did make Thanksgiving Dinner by myself for the kids. They were very appreciative, it took a lot out of me emotionally.
I have a million happy memories with him eating meals. It breaks my heart to have those moments without him. I have found myself stifled trying to restart my life. Especially in those areas he was such a fixture in, which is everywhere when your married isn’t it? But that’s the thing, we as widows have to learn to do those things anyway don’t we? I mean, what am I supposed to do, never eat again? (Although I will tell you the first few months after he died I think I did try to do that, I only snacked. I made sure the kids had dinner, but I didn’t really eat.) Are we never supposed to go to a football game again? Never supposed to sit down to a real home-cooked meal again? Never supposed to let those things that cut deep occur? For me, I just can’t live that way anymore. I miss him. I am heartbroken. But you know, doing these things may cut like a knife but they also bring him right back to me. These memories I so vividly have of that handsome face and wonderful laugh, they become clearer for me when I do the things he loved to watch me do. Does it hurt? Yeah, but it also makes me smile. And in case you may have picked up my foreshadowing – tonight through my tears and with a big smile, I managed to get through my piece of chicken. I think he would laugh, I think he would say it’s silly it has taken me this long, I think he would see the deeper meaning – that I am ready to take some new steps in my healing. I think he would say, “Just get boneless meat Ang.”
So, tonight I will leave you with a song I know my light-hearted, sweet husband sent to me. It came to me one day, randomly, when I was struggling. One of those days when I kept saying to myself through the big, roll down your cheek tears, “How am I going to do this without you?” It was like he answered my question. The song started right after I asked, I had never heard it before and it made me smile and it almost seemed like I felt one of his hugs. I do think he sends me signs he is still with me, my favorite way he does this is through song.
Keep going! You are amazing.
Brett Eldredge “Go On Without Me”