I just spent the last four days with my high school friends. Funny – I always call them that but I think “childhood friends” is more accurate. Most of us have known each other since elementary school. We don’t all live near each other so we get together every summer for a few days (whoever is able). We also try to see each other here and there throughout the year if we can, but the summer has become kind of a ritual.
I look forward to this every year. There is something about friends who have known you most of your life that is so comfortable. I have had summers with them when all is good in my life, and I have had summers when life has been at it’s worse. But no matter what, I always smile and laugh when we are together. It has been good for me.
When I got home last night, one of them texted me and said that she thinks I should be a therapist. She is going through a hard time (different from mine) and we talked a lot over the last few days. I took this as SUCH a compliment. But the truth is, whatever I said to her has been learned through my own experience. Some of the words I said to her had been said to me either by my therapist, or by someone who has gone through a difficult time before I did. You learn a lot when you go through such a hard experience. If you can pay it forward and help someone else, I believe it helps you as well.
One of our other childhood friends had been through a horrible experience (also different from mine) before I did. I admired her before Howie had died. She always handled herself with such grace, and somehow managed to keep her positive attitude after living through such a tragedy. When Howie died, she became one of my inspirations (I have a couple of them). We talked back then about how she handled her experience, and it was so helpful to learn how she got through it. I know it is something that is always with her and I know that of course it took her a while, but she truly lives life to it’s fullest and amazes me every day. Just watching her made me see that there was light at the end of the tunnel.
It made me so happy that my friend thinks I should be a therapist. I am happy that I am able to help her in any way I can. I would be honored if my story or my words can encourage her, or anyone else.
These women I have known for over forty years. We know each other so well. They remember things about me that I don’t remember myself. They were the ones that I spotted through a sea of people at Howie’s funeral and immediately ran to. They are not always in my daily life but they are always in my heart. I’ve been away from them for 24 hours and I miss them already (and the ones that couldn’t make this year).
Like I keep saying, where friends and family are concerned I am very lucky…
Since I started writing this blog, I have been thinking about so many things that I would have liked to have heard when this happened to me. Just wanted to share some thoughts:
This is where I am now which is why I am able to write about this when I couldn’t have done so in the past…
I was never a “dog person”. I didn’t dislike dogs, I just didn’t have any interest. Howie had less interest than I did. I might go so far as to say he did dislike dogs. Amanda and Lily were both scared of dogs when they were little. As they got older they were no longer scared, but also didn’t have much interest.
During the blackout that I wrote about, there were two dogs living with us. Two of the families had dogs so they came with them. I noticed that my girls actually seemed to like the dogs. I think I even saw them playing with them a few times. It crossed my mind that getting a dog might be a good idea for them, but I quickly dismissed it. At that time I felt like I was barely surviving. I certainly didn’t need to give myself something else to take care of.
A couple of months later, Lily spent the day at a friend’s house. The family had a beautiful golden retriever. When I picked her up that afternoon she kept talking about the dog. How cute he was, how they played with him, how they walked him. All of a sudden, before I could stop myself, the words “Lily, would you like a dog?” came out of my mouth. When she screamed “Yes!!”, I thought “Oh no, what did I just get myself into?”.
The first thing we had to do was talk to Amanda. She was as excited about the idea as Lily was. So I guess we were getting a dog! Our first problem was that Amanda and I are both allergic to dogs. We needed to get something hypo-allergenic. I also insisted that we get a small dog. I am not a big person and my girls were young so I didn’t think we could handle a big dog. I know that so many people have very strong feelings about getting a rescue dog. I actually agree with them. But because of our allergies and really knowing nothing about dogs at the time, I decided to go to a breeder.
A friend suggested a Shi-Poo. They are half shitzu and half poodle. Someone else recommended a breeder (in Missouri!). The girls and I looked at the website a bunch of times to pick it out. Finally, Amanda saw a brownish 3 month old male puppy that she thought looked adorable. Now, my girls tend to disagree just for the sake of disagreeing (as most siblings do) so when Lily said she also thought this puppy was cute I said – that’s the dog for us! We got in touch with the breeder and made arrangements to have the puppy sent to us.
Regarding his name – my girls had agreed very easily about picking the dog. Naming him was a different story. Every suggestion Amanda made, Lily disagreed with. So then every suggestion Lily made, Amanda would disagree with. I couldn’t stand the arguing. So I came up with an idea – I suggested giving him a name that would remind us of Howie. We thought about it and decided on “Bruce” because Howie was a huge Bruce Springsteen fan. It is definitely a strange little name but we all thought it was a great idea.
A few weeks later Bruce was put in a van with a few other puppies that drove from Missouri to New Jersey. We had to meet the van in a Starbucks parking lot (sounds a little shady but it wasn’t). When we saw the van Bruce was sitting on the driver’s lap and he was the cutest little thing I had ever seen (besides my girls of course). He gave us the dog and we took him into our car. This poor little thing was terrified – he was shaking beyond belief. We got him home and tried to make him comfortable and happy. Then a bunch of our friends came over to meet him (some with their own dogs). It was fun and adorable but I think he was very overwhelmed.
We tried keeping him in a crate at night but he literally cried all night long – it was like having a newborn. So we stopped that pretty quickly. He was a very nervous little puppy. But eventually Bruce got used to us and became a very happy little dog.
I have heard people say that a dog can bring happiness into a home. I never believed it until we got Bruce. This little dog greets us when we come in the door and when we wake up in the morning so that is impossible not to have a smile on our faces. He truly lights up our house. He has helped us all recover in a way I would never have believed. He loves the girls, but I am without a doubt his favorite (probably because I am the only one that takes care of him!). He follows me around the house and he sleeps in my room. He still seems to have a nervous personality and is a little quirky but I absolutely love him. We all do. So to anyone in any kind of situation like we were, my first piece of advice would be to get a dog. Best decision I ever made.
And Lily is now begging for another one. I’m not ready quite yet…
When I was 17 I had my first “serious” boyfriend. I met Tommy during our senior year of high school. He was my first love, prom date, and we stayed together for four years – all through college even though we were at different schools. Strangely we broke up about a month after my college graduation.
We both happily married other people and had children. I ended up in N.J. and he was in Westchester. Tommy is the kind of person who likes to keep in touch. Not just with me, with everyone! So I would hear from him once every year or so and we would catch up.
I remember standing in Target sometime in the summer of 2011 (a few months before Howie died). I was looking for a certain color bedskirt for Lily’s bed and I couldn’t find it anywhere. I had gone to a bunch of stores and I was getting very frustrated. Back then this seemed like a huge problem to me (I would like to go back in time and smack that Stacy in the head!). While standing in the bedding section, my phone rang. It was Tommy. I answered the phone and we chatted while I walked through the store. During that conversation he told me that his wife had a rare kind of cancer. I stopped dead in my tracks in the middle of Target. I was shocked. He told me how they found it and what they were doing about it. He tried to sound very positive because he’s always like that, but it did not sound good to me at all. We hung up and I remember thinking how bad I felt and how lucky I was. And also how stupid I was getting upset over a bedskirt.
Fast forward to October when Howie passed away. My family and Wendy were calling extended family and my old friends to tell them what happened. My sister asked me if she should call Tommy and I said yes. She walked out of the room to call him and they spoke for a while. She came back and handed me the phone and said he really wanted to talk to me. I got on the phone with him and just hearing his voice made me feel a little better. It was like talking to my past when life was simple (if that makes any sense). We spoke for a while and I told him the story of what had happened to Howie. He told me how his wife was doing, and again it did not sound good.
Later that day he texted me to see how I was doing and that started our constant contact. And I mean constant. We texted all day long and spoke sometimes also. His wife seemed to be getting worse. We talked about how crazy it was to be in such similar situations. We talked about everything. It was nice to have someone who understood how I was feeling. We also made each other laugh and cheered each other up. He told me that he let his wife know we were speaking, and she thought it was nice – she said we probably needed each other.
At the end of December 2011 his wife passed away. I remember it being right before Christmas. I believe I was one of the first people he called. It was expected but he was of course devastated. I tried to be there for him and help him through it. I was still in it myself so I understood what he was feeling.
When I think about it I still cannot believe that this was happening to both of us at the same time. We had known each other since we were 17 years old. Who could have possibly predicted that these two terrible tragedies would renew our connection after so many years?
I remember telling a friend about this while it was going on and she said it would make a great Hallmark movie (this is where my title came from). So, I would love to give you a fairy tale ending. That this story gets tied up in a neat little bow – that Tommy and I fell back in love and lived happily ever after. But no that did not happen…
Tommy and I had grown into two very different people since we were 17. I believe that we were meant to find each other again to help each other through two very devastating losses. I honestly don’t know how I would have gotten through that time without having him there, and I’m sure he feels the same about me. But we were not meant to be together any more. What we are meant to be is the best of friends. And we remain that way to this day. No, we no longer text all day long or speak constantly. We don’t need to any more. But we do speak or text once every week or so. We talk about our kids, dating, and everything else in our lives. I actually texted him yesterday to ask if it was ok for me to post about this and he gave me full permission.
As bad as things were, this was one of the bright spots in my darkness…
My best friend Wendy told me that right after Howie died my mother confided in her that she was worried about me (completely understandable!) and that she didn’t think I would be able to handle all of this. Wendy told her that I was a lot stronger than she knew and that I would be ok. I told Wendy that she had a lot more confidence in me than I did!
I lived on my own in Manhattan for four years when I was in my 20’s. I had two roommates, but nobody took care of me except me. I held down a job, I took the subway, and I was pretty good at hailing a taxi :). I paid my own bills, balanced my checkbook, and did most things for myself. I had become a pretty independent person.
After Howie and I got married and the girls were born, we both took on separate roles. Howie worked and supported us and took care of all of the finances. I took care of the girls and the house. This was never really discussed, it just happened. Little by little I started to not even ask what was going on concerning finances. I knew that he was taking care of things. It became sort of a joke between us that I had forgotten how to pay a bill. Believe it or not we used to say that I was going to be an 80 year old widow that didn’t even know how to write a check! Well that obviously came a little earlier than expected – and I did still remember how to sign a check when it did. But there was so much I was very clueless about. That independent person I used to be seemed to have disappeared. I had let Howie take control of things because it was easy. And it never would have crossed my mind that he might not be there one day to do it. But all of a sudden he wasn’t there and I had to figure out a lot on my own. Once again I was lucky enough to have help. Friends and family helped show me how to handle a lot of the financial things that Howie used to handle. Eventually I was pretty much able to handle my finances – still sometimes with a little help :). I guess the moral of the story is to be aware of things even if it’s not your “job”. (If I was gone and Howie was here, I am sure he would not be able to do the girls’ hair or juggle all the carpools!)
And maybe Wendy was partially correct – I handled a problem without falling apart…
When I sat down on that hospital floor I felt like I wasn’t really there, that this wasn’t really happening. Logically I knew it was but it felt almost as if I was watching a movie that I was in. This feeling stayed with me for a while, although never as bad as that night. My therapist later told me that this is a common feeling during a traumatic experience because your body is almost in shock. Your brain is trying to protect itself by not letting you believe what is happening all at once because it is too painful. It lets a little in at a time. I found this so interesting. (I will probably write all about therapy at some point – I’ve become quite the expert! If anyone needs a therapist for almost anything – I have one for you!)
In the Jewish religion we sit shiva when someone dies. I am not a religious person at all but I wanted to do this for a full week. Sometimes people will only sit for a few days. I wanted a whole week because I didn’t want to be alone. I wanted to be surrounded by friends and family so I wouldn’t have to face what was going to come next. I wanted my kids to have friends surrounding them so that they would feel happier, even if it was temporary.
And I certainly had friends and family! There were so many people coming and going that week that I couldn’t keep track of who was there and who wasn’t. My girls and I now joke how after the funeral our kitchen was so crowded that it took an hour just to get through it! People came from all over. People that didn’t know me but knew Howie. People that didn’t know Howie but knew me. People he worked with. My in law’s friends, my parent’s friends. People I hadn’t seen or spoken to in years. It was so touching and I was so grateful. I loved to see how many people loved us, and all of the lives that Howie had touched.
Someone said to me during those days that while it is so nice that people surround you in the first few weeks, after a while they all get back to their own lives and that’s when you’re really alone. I am sure that is the case a lot of the time. But this is where I was lucky – that did not happen to me. I said it then and I still say it now – I have the best friends and family in the world. They stood by me then and still do to this day. I have so many stories of how they have helped me and the amazing things they do for me. I will definitely tell these stories in future posts.
As much as I didn’t want to – it was time to start to figure out my new life….
I am writing this blog to share my experience of becoming a widow with two young daughters at age 45. Of how I handled my world crashing in around me unexpectedly. And I am going to attempt to do that in the most upbeat way possible :).
I am sitting here trying to come up with a way to begin. Since I am the biggest fan of “The Sound of Music”, Julie Andrews is in my head singing “let’s start at the very beginning…” so that’s what I will do (my kids will be so embarrassed by that line). Although I guess this could be considered both a beginning and an end…
Sunday October 9, 2011 was a typical day except that is was HOT. High 80’s – way too hot for October in N.J. Howie and I went to watch our 10 year old daughter Lily’s soccer game (we also had a 12 year old daughter Amanda who chose not to come). We chatted with the other parents and Howie was on the sidelines cheering the team on. When the game was over (they won if I remember correctly), Howie said he wanted exercise and was going to walk home. I told him absolutely not – it was too hot and our house was too far from the field. So we all drove home together. When we got home I started to make dinner while talking on the phone (I’m always talking on the phone). He came downstairs in running shorts with his headphones in and said he was going for a run. I rolled my eyes because I felt like it was still too hot but he ran out the door.
When he returned about an hour later he was all sweaty and said he didn’t feel well. He laid down on the couch and I brought him a bottle of water. He still wasn’t feeling well and he didn’t look good. I asked him if I should call 911 and he said no – he wanted to go upstairs and get in bed. I was uneasy but watched him go up the steps figuring if he couldn’t make it up I would call 911. I should not have fought that uneasy feeling – always go with your gut.
The girls and I started eating dinner when we heard a crash. Something told me this was going to be very bad so I told the girls NOT to come upstairs. I ran up to find Howie on the floor unconscious. I called 911 and the operator walked me through CPR until the ambulance arrived.
I am not going to go through all details of what happened that night. But I will tell you a few moments that stand out in my mind –
Our next door neighbors Caryn and Steve are our very close friends. When they heard the ambulance, Steve ran over to see what was going on. I had him take my girls to their house. He stayed with the kids while Caryn stood in my house with me listening to the paramedics. I don’t know what I would have done without them.
I remember getting into the passenger seat of the ambulance and the driver (a woman) grabbed my hand.
I remember noticing the police blocking off the road so we could get through (knew this was a bad sign).
I remember getting out of the ambulance and seeing Caryn and Steve there. They had left all the kids with other neighbors and followed us to the hospital.
I remember walking into the emergency room and when a nurse saw me she started to cry (obviously a very bad sign).
I remember the doctor telling me that they couldn’t save him and he was gone. I screamed and yelled that it was my fault – I should have called 911 earlier. She sat me down and looked me in the eye and told me it would not have mattered (still not sure I 100% believe that).
I remember calling both my parents and Howie’s parents while Steve called friends.
Then I remember sitting down on the hospital floor and not being able to believe what was going on around me. What was I going to do? How was I ever going to get through this?
That is what this blog will be about coming up….