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Widow, Choose Life. Widow Repair

~Written on July 25, 2006~

Today I hooked up a Belgian draft horse to a carriage and practiced driving at the company farm on Cane Island.  Clouds of dust billowed from the gelding’s giant hooves on the dirt road.  M was puffing away on a cigarette, and of course it reminded me of Jason.

“How long do you want to live?” I asked.

“I don’t know. I never thought about it before.”

“Most people haven’t until something bad happens,” I sighed, wiping the sweat off my forehead.

Later I interrupted the clomping beat of the horse’s steps by asking him what it was like growing up without a mom. She died when M was three years old, and his uncle died recently.

He exhaled a cloud of smoke, eyes half-closed with his usual look of boredom. “It was hard. Kids even made fun of me on Mother’s Day because she wasn’t around.” My heart tightened, worrying about Caleb. 

“Jason promised to play baseball with Caleb, but he died the next day.”

This statement prompted M to ask the inevitable question: “How did he die?”

I didn’t want to answer that question again.

“I’m not here to judge,” he said gruffly, pulling his Carolina baseball cap lower over his eyes and sitting back on the bench seat.

After describing what happened, I told him it was the best thing in the world to be married. He asked why. I said it’s because you always have your best friend with you every day, and they want to listen to everything you have to say, even if it’s stupid. Our coworker Frank told him the same thing. I guess it was good to talk about it, even to someone I really don’t know.

Instinctively, I lecture someone else about his unhealthy habits, and I describe marriage with memories and stars in my eyes. It’s something he should not miss! But the sugarcoating wore off too quickly…

I talked about how harsh the world is, and how I want to be in heaven because there is only more pain to come on earth.

…My parents and the rest of my family will die too.

With the first sign of interest, M said I can’t think of it that way. He said that they will die and go to heaven, and then I will too. Then I’ll be there together with my family and my husband.

That’s really a good way to put it.

We were coming from two different perspectives. I was trying to convince him to look forward to the future. My marriage is over, but he countered that life is still worth living without it. With everything in front of me, why do I debate against life?

 

By this time eight years ago, I had been a widow for a little over six months. I read books and watched movies in which loved ones died, and there were only two ways: either it was unexpected like a car crash, or it was looming in the future because of illness. Philosophizing on what was better turned out to be counterproductive. I refused to be angry at Jason. Instead, I focused on how much he loved us. There was a physical problem that led him to hopelessness. It wasn’t enough of an explanation, but hope for myself and my son saved me from spiraling so deep into depression that I wouldn’t recover.

The idea of taking anxiety medication never crossed my mind. My doctor never suggested it because I never told her that I lost my husband. I knew the words wouldn’t leave my mouth before I would break down. It was best to avoid the subject if possible. Too many times I was asked, “I’m so sorry. How did he die?” The answer was too much to process, and there was no reply that could gracefully close the subject. To avoid this, I began answering that he died in a car wreck. It was the only way to save myself from going through the same awkward exchange time and again.

Over those six months, close friends took me out to play pool, go to the movies or the beach. My aunt lost her husband when she was young, and she encouraged me to travel. She said it would seem like a new life when I returned. Two times I left town to visit friends because I had to escape the memories of everything familiar. In Waynesville, I hiked in the Blue Ridge Mountains, feeling my spirits lift with every step. In Greenwood, I spent time with my best friend and lived a weekend like a college student, complete with a trip to the laundromat. I saw Josh Turner in concert at the Waterfestival and admired how he cracked a joke when he introduced his wife: “That’s my beautiful wife at the keyboard. She’s not fat, she’s just pregnant.” Every distraction was welcomed. It was my way of being strong and coping.

As you can imagine, my bank account took a hit from this quest of self-discovery. I started training to become a tour guide in downtown Beaufort, SC during the summer. Being outside and doing physical work was so therapeutic that I grew to love the humidity and blazing sun which left me with a constant reddish tan. Customers were so delighted with my historical narrative that I was able to shed my reserve and began engaging others more naturally. Many days started at the barn where I fed 1500 lb. draft horses, trailered them to town, entertained my guests and then brought the big guys home for more hay and horse feed. The economy was great, and the tourists were generous with tips.

Some nights I went horse back riding on Cane Island with friends from work. The horses were so monstrous that we had no saddles to fit and probably wouldn’t have used them if we did. Lead ropes and halters became make-shift bridles, and we had to climb on the trailer to mount up. Rocky, my beautiful dapple gray Percheron wasn’t the best trail horse. Every snapping twig in the woods made him jump or leap forward, but we cantered across the island, eating up the ground in long strides. At work, he was the most endearing and annoying horse- always knocked over my diet cokes at the end of the day and walked so slowly on the tour that I was forced to learn more history to fill up the time. Let him out in the pasture though, and he galloped and kicked like he hadn’t worked at all.

Six Months a Widow Widow Repair

I felt more confident with every debt that I paid off. Planning for an independent future became so important because I had to believe there would be no more surprises. I had to be in control. When my uncle and aunt offered to pay for classes to finish college, I imagined holding the degree in my hand. I wanted to have something that no one could take from me, something that I could not lose.

By October of 2006, I was enrolled at USCB to finish up my bachelor’s degree in English. In an effort to avoid romantic literature, I took a war/anti war class where I was assigned to read House Made of Dawn, The Killer Angels and All’s Quiet on the Western Front. My brother was going to Afghanistan with the National Guard, and I wanted to pretend that war was literature, not reality. I won tickets one weekend to see the Gamecocks play against Florida, and this was yet another opportunity to do something new. In no way was I healed, and I didn’t have a concrete future plan, but I felt like I was moving in the right direction. When I went running, I repeated the word Strength. When I felt like crying, I repeated Resilience. When I was in church, I thought Peace. 

 


 

Cold Hands

Everyday I travel farther away.

Someday I might wake up and forget.

Or think it was only young love

But I’m still here now.

I still know that I had undisputed love.

It was never a mistake.

I have to fight the complacency.

The pain washes over my senses.

I cross the bridge as the sun rises over the river

I remember I was here last year, crossing the bridge

I was going to college

I was peaceful

I was spending my day in Beaufort

Then I was crossing the bridge at sunset

I was going back

I was driving on 170, then Snake Road, then 462, then 336, then turning into Ridgeland

I was smiling, I was singing to the radio

My heart was beating, and I was anticipating

I turned right and I turned left and I turned left again

And a brown house was smiling at me, the light shining in the window

I was walking through the door

And he was standing in front of me

And he was opening his arms

And he was smiling

And his eyes had that glint of recognition

And he said he loves to see me driving up

I felt his hug, and he squeezed my hands

He rubbed my hands and said they were cold,

And he kissed my hands, and he smiled

But now I’m still on the bridge

My heart is beating slowly

And I notice that my hands are cold

And he isn’t going to be at the brown house when I get back

And I have so much to tell him

And he’s so far away, and he’s been gone for far too long

So God, please tell him everything for me

Tell him it hurts

Tell him I’m trying to be what I need to be

And I’m trying to do what I have to do

But there’s a life I loved and lost

And nothing is the same

I can’t hold him at night

But when I get to heaven, I hope he is waiting by the gate

I hope he will hug me and smile and warm my hands