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Wednesday, October 21, 2015

That Time Joe Biden Said the Right Thing

I don’t usually get into politics here because I don’t want the two or three people who actually read this blog to get all yelly in the comments section. I’m not a political wonk and don’t really enjoy the debate. But every once in a while something catches my attention to the point I can’t ignore it.

Today I’m bending my own rules because of Joe Biden’s announcement that he will not enter the 2016 presidential race. Why do I care so much about this announcement when I haven’t even stepped into the steaming heap of, um, news, that’s been generated by the Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton coverage? Because Biden’s primary reason for not running for president is the same reason my own world is upside down: grief.

As part of Biden’s reasons for not running, he said this:
I know from previous experience that there's no timetable for [the grieving] process. The process doesn't respect or much care about things like filing deadlines or debates and primaries and caucuses.
For most of Biden’s vice presidency, I only took notice when he’d say something stupid make a gaffe that got a lot of news coverage. My opinion of him was pretty much formed by those gaffes. I didn’t bother researching Biden’s career. In my mind he was just another politician who existed in my periphery.

My opinion changed in May when Beau Biden died from brain cancer. Beau was Joe’s son. In the coverage of Beau’s death and funeral, I learned that he was not even the first child that Joe had buried. Suddenly this political caricature with a chronic case of foot-in-mouth came into sharp focus as a living, breathing, grieving human being. He had buried a wife and two children. You don’t just shake that off, I don’t care who you are.  

But it's never just gone. 
I can’t say that I know how Biden feels. Nobody really knows how Biden feels, except for Biden himself. But I do know what it’s like to be in more emotional and spiritual pain than you ever would have believed possible. I know what it’s like to feel like your heart has been shattered – no, pulverized – and set on fire. I know what it’s like to feel lost and alone even when surrounded by people who love and support you, because the ONE person in the world you want to wrap your arms around more than anyone else in the history of ever is gone from this world. And he is never, ever coming back.  

As I learned about all of Joe Biden’s losses, I stopped thinking of him as a politician and started thinking of him as a person. (I know, I know. It would be great if all politicians were people.) He was still out there in the public eye, doing his public servant gig, in front of cameras and everything, putting on his brave face for the world. Talking, smiling, legislating. All that crap. One would think that he had moved on. And many thought he had. But that’s not how grief works. You don’t just get over it and move on.

Like I said, I can’t know how he feels, but there are common traits among the bereaved. Like the fa├žade. The brave face that makes people think you are so very strong. What the brave face hides is that you feel like you’re dying on the inside a little bit every single day. We put on the brave face because we live in a society that doesn’t deal with grief very well. In generations past there would be a period of public mourning. The bereaved would wear dark clothes to signify their grief and people would respond accordingly. Now we have an unspoken agreement with each other to keep things light and cordial. Once you get a couple of weeks past the funeral, there’s an understanding that the only proper response to “How are you,” is “Fine, and you?” Small talk is not an invitation to pour out your soul.
Hmm. Good compromise. 
As Biden said in his press conference this afternoon, there is no time limit on grief. But you will reach a point where you can put your brave face on, suck it up, and go through the motions of normal everyday life. I’m now 9 long months into my own journey and I'm more functional than I was at first. I still have to fight against the grief every single day. I first have to fight my way out of sleep. Then I have to fight my way out of bed. Then I have to fight my way out of my pajamas. Then I have to fight against the urge to say, “Fuck it” and go back to bed after I’m dressed.

Do you see the pattern here? Fight, fight, fight, just to function as a normal person. Then all day at work I have to fight against the urge to crawl under my desk with a blankie and box of chocolates.

It’s exhausting, really. Living a normal life through the fog of grief is absolutely exhausting. It’s like running a marathon through a wall of Jell-O while trying to do all your other daily tasks. It’s hard and it’s messy. And it makes you weary right down to your bones.  

As a member of the grief community (yes, there’s a community – you’ll find it when you need it) I sincerely appreciate Biden’s candor during his announcement. Time and time again, our society fails to respect the fact that grief does not end when the funeral is over. For those closest to the deceased, the hard times have only just begun. Even someone who seems ok – walking, talking, smiling, laughing – still staggers when nobody’s looking.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Chasing Normal: My Dichotomous Life

When I wake up in the morning, I hear her. Screaming, howling, wailing, “NO!! NO!! NOOOO!!!!!” She continues her protest through all my waking hours. This barrage comes from a pitiful figure who lays prostrate on the ground by my husband’s grave, her face pressed into the soil made damp by her tears. She is utterly defeated by an all-consuming grief. Locked in a state of disbelief and unmitigated devastation, she beats her chest as if to mold the fragments of her shattered heart back into a functioning organ. She is my Inner Widow, and she lives in the space somewhere between my head and heart.   

Friday, February 13, 2015

Valentine's Day: The 25th Year

Picture It: Valentine's Day, 1990. At the beginning of the school day, a very sweet boy gave me three roses as a token of friendship. We were in 11th grade that year, and we had been friends since 3rd. He gave roses to other girls in our little circle of friends that day, so my roses weren’t fraught with any romantic notions, no awkward “Will you be my Valentine” stuff. 
Whew! Amirite?
Little did he know that I’d been interested in him as more than a friend for a long time. I was simply too scared to say anything about it. I was afraid of ruining our friendship or making things weird with our circle of friends. I was especially afraid that he didn’t feel the same way. I was even more afraid that he did.

Fast-forward to the end of the school day. After carrying the roses with me all day and answering like a bajillion questions about them, I could not ignore my feelings any more.
REO Speedwagon Would Understand
When I got home from school I did what any self-respecting 16-year-old girl would do: I ran to the wall-mounted kitchen phone (next to my pet dinosaur's cage) and immediately called my BFF.

Me: Eau-mi-gawd, I like totally have to tell you something!

BFF: Eaukeh, tell me!

Me: I like, totally like Mike.

BFF: You mean you like, like-like him?

Me: Totally.

In unison: SQUEEEE!

But there was still the little problem that I was too scared to say anything to him about it. Luckily, my BFF was easily recruited to the task of nudging him in my direction. The next afternoon, he called me to say, “What is with BFF today? She keeps telling me I should ask you out.” The conversation blossomed from there, and we shyly confessed having “feelings” for each other. Like, totally.
Seriously, how could these two kids NOT end up together?
A few days later, we had our first official date. What we did not know then is that a movie at Laurel Lakes 9 and dinner at Pizza Villa would be the last first date either of us would have. Our shy confessions of “feelings” (like, totally) grew over the years into a deep and enduring love. From a foundation of nervous giggles and sweaty-palmed hand holding, we would go on to get married, build a life together in a sleepy little town by the Chesapeake Bay, and bring two amazing new people into the world.

That’s not to say it was all lollipops and rainbows. God knows we had our battles over the years, both petty and epic. But through it all, we always managed to hash it out, come to a mutual understanding, and confirm that we still loved each other – even in moments when we didn’t particularly like each other.
Storybook romances can be messy sometimes.
On a side note, it turns out my early fears about making things weird in our little circle of friends were unfounded. To this day, they are my closest friends in the world. They celebrated with us at our wedding. They happily welcomed our babies to the world. And more recently, they stood with me as we watched the funeral director close his casket. They held me as I wept for my Sweet Boy, and they took care of me while I crumbled under the weight of my grief even though they had just lost one of their best friends.

This is the first Valentine’s Day in 25 years that Mike won’t give me roses. It’s not the flowers I’ll miss. It’s his presence. His vitality. His devotion. His dedication to just being the best version of himself he could be. Hopefully some memories will bubble to the surface that make me smile. After 25 years, I have so very many to cherish.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

In Loving Memory: Michael Anthony Salek

It's been one week since I buried my soul mate. The father of my children. The one I was supposed to grow old with. My very own Miracle Man. I'm still waiting to wake up from this nightmare.

When I last posted in this space, it was to flip the big ol' double bird to Arnold Chiari Malformation.  Mike was getting ready to go in for decompression surgery. He was supposed to heal up and come home to resume his normal life. Unbeknownst to us, "normal" would go on permanent hiatus.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

An Open Letter to Arnold Chiari Malformation

Hello, Arnold.

Didn’t think I’d see you back again so soon. It doesn’t seem very much time has passed since you last turned my world upside down. In fact, I didn’t think you’d dare show your face around here for another ten years or more.

It’s not the first time I’ve been wrong.