On October 1, 2006, my husband passed away. As I was approaching the first anniversary of Jeff’s death, I began to get more and more stressed. I felt like I was speeding toward a brick wall at 200 mph and knew darn well that nothing was going to keep me from slamming in to it.
Standing in the coffee hour line after church one Sunday, a friend of mine asked what I had planned to help myself cope during that anniversary. I told her I was taking that week off from work. I knew I was already having trouble keeping it together, and I pretty sure I wouldn’t want to be anywhere near work.
She then asked me which week it was I was taking. “The 1st through the 6th of October,” I answered. “Oh!” she exclaimed, “You have the wrong week off!” I was pretty sure I had those dates right. Jeff passed away on the 1st and his funeral was held on the 6th. October 6th would have also been our 5th wedding anniversary.
She went on to explain how she and her son were planning to travel to New Orleans on a recovery/rebuilding trip from October 6th through October 14th. She suggested I travel with them. I did not hesitate to quickly, and emphatically, decline. I couldn’t take two weeks off from work. I didn’t want to be away from home. It just wasn’t going to happen. I wiped it from my mind.
Monday’s work day came and went normally.
I had been reading Stephen Baldwin’s “The Unusual Suspect,” in my normal fashion; just a few pages at a time. So, when Monday evening came around, I grabbed my book and my tea, and prepared to pick up where I had left off the night before.
The sub-chapter title was “Alive”. It recounted how Hurricane Katrina had coincided with his reading of Mark 13, and how the author knew he was exactly where he was supposed to be in his journey of reading the bible.
Interesting, I thought. Maybe I am supposed to be reading this chapter in his book right now.
Tuesday was just a frustrating day at work.
When lunch time came around, I grabbed my lunch bag and locked my office door. Over the weekend, I had finally gotten around to sorting out the many magazines that had piled up, and had thrown one into my bag, just in case I needed some inspiration. I definitely felt I was in need of some grounding, so I pulled out the August 2007 issue of Guideposts, and opened it to a random page.
Page 49 revealed a story about a couple who had participated in a recovery/rebuilding trip to New Orleans, and the effect the trip had on their lives. The story was based on events that had occurred an entire year earlier; one year after Hurricane Katrina hit.
Interesting, I thought. It’s now been two years, and there is still work to do.
Wednesday, I decided not to get on the treadmill.
I had ambitiously bumped up both the speed and the incline on Tuesday night, and had spent most of Wednesday waddling around like a penguin. So, I grabbed the TV remotes and decided it was a good time to go through the DVR programming my husband had created. I began deleting many recorded episodes of programs I would probably never watch. Jeff was a knowledge sponge. He recorded programs like Forensic Files, How It’s Made, and pretty much the entire History, Discovery and National Geographic channel line ups.
Towards the end of my deleting frenzy, I came across about 10 episodes of a show called Trick My Truck. As I scrolled through the information blurbs, I came across a show description about a pair of grandparents who wanted to include their grandchildren in their trucking life. That sounded rather harmless and happy, so I hit the play button.
After the intro and a few commercials, the theme of the episode was revealed.
I immediately hit the stop button, went back to the description and read again about the grandparents. However, when I hit play once more, the same story came up about a trucker from New Orleans who helped many Katrina victims in his neighborhood and city.
Interesting…. Ok, I thought, what is going on? I sent a late night email to my friend asking her to send me the information for the mission trip.
On Thursday, the information I received back was well planned, included…. insurance? Interesting.
Uh, oh, I thought. How am I going to work this out? They’ll never let me take two weeks off from work.
Am I even stable enough to consider doing this?
What will Jeff’s family think if I’m not here to go through the one-year mark with them?
What will my family think?
I printed the forms. I even filled them out, and then put them aside.
During my 45 minutes on the treadmill, I managed to reason myself out of it again.
Friday “Early Morning”
I woke up about 2:30 am Friday morning, wide-eyed, just sitting upright in bed.
I made a cup of tea, plodded to the den, flipped the tv on again, and this time I landed on Food Network. Just in time to catch the last part of a show called Road Tasted.
This show features brothers Jamie and Bobby Deen traveling throughout the US, visiting locally owned restaurants and shops. This episode…? They were in New Orleans.
Ok, I thought, now this is getting too weird.
I grabbed my note pad, and jotted down all the events that had occurred since I’d been told me about the trip.
I looked over this list, and thought, interesting.
Friday, I asked my coworker how it would affect her if I were to take two weeks off.
Shocked and close to tears, she said that she had made plans for that second week in October to visit with her sisters in Iowa. They hadn’t been together in nearly eight years, since their father passed away.
I quickly said it was ok. Feeling it was crazy idea, anyway, and probably for the best that I wouldn’t go.
Later on in the day, she came back and said that I should go if I wanted to. I wasn’t sure I wanted to.
But, I felt the wheels really starting to roll now.
I copied my filled-out forms and placed them in an envelope to mail on Saturday.
Saturday, my older brother arrived from Massachusetts, visiting with me for the weekend.
We hadn’t spent any time together since Jeff passed away. I thought I’d try to explain the trip and my experiences to him before I mailed out those forms. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to be talked out of going or not.
He’d arrived with a National Geographic, finished on his trip. He immediately began to explain to me the importance of restructuring the wetlands around the Gulf Coast and New Orleans to act as a natural buffer between water storms and inland areas.
Interesting. It was at this point, I had to finally consider myself thoroughly God-smacked. I finally got the message. I was going to New Orleans in October.
Change of Plans “Alone”
I took my brother to church with me, Sunday. That’s when I learned something bad happened.
My friend’s son, a roofer, fell off a roof he was working on. He was to be laid up for a few weeks, which was a real blessing, considering what could have been. However, that meant they were no longer making the trip to New Orleans.
If I was going to keep my commitment to the mission trip, I would be completely on my own. At that point, I figured why not? I’d already been doing everything alone for a year, anyway.
So, I actually went ahead and made that trip, along with 48 other volunteers from all over Michigan. I didn’t know anyone else, and I was looking forward to being with a group of people who knew nothing about me. I was running away from the past year, hoping to help heal New Orleans, and perhaps heal a little part of me, as well.
Is it just me or do Wednesdays seem to come around faster now?
I’m off again at the end of the week for Louisiana. We’ll be returning to Slidell, where there is still work to be done. Can you believe it is three years after Hurricane Katrina and there are still roofs that need repair? Homes that need drywall? People who need help and healing?
Can you believe that tomorrow will be two years since Jeff has been gone? As many of you know, I am not happy about the situation. But I am peaceful now, in ways that cannot readily be described in a few words or a million words. I know how he suffered, I know how he loved, and I know that he did not want any of us to see him weaken. He wanted us all to have the brilliant memory of his laugh, his quick and frequent smile, and the knowledge that his heart was big enough to hold everyone, and still does.
PS. You might get a newsletter next week from Louisiana, but then again…. you might not.
Guess we’ll both be surprised to see how that turns out.
Scholarly times, significant times, self discovery and soul expansion; whether we realized it or not.
First year scared, uncertain, going through the motions and just trying to keep up. We don’t think about seniors because it’s unimaginable that we will ever be them.
Second year more comfortable, finding routines to follow, not so much worried about being lost, we know our place, for now.
Third year holding our own, established, feet planted firmly in ownership of our roles, noticing a new class of freshmen.
Fourth year – accomplishment, realized a pinnacle, and confidently measured our success and scholarship. Some of us went on to college and some of us decided not to take another quarter ride.
Widowhood is a lot like that.
First year scared, uncertain, go through the motions and just try and keep up. We don’t think about happy because it’s unimaginable that we will ever be that again.
Second year not so uncomfortable, not so much worried about being trampled by anniversary dates, holidays and every days since we’ve already been through a round of those.
Third year it seems we’re holding our own, sort of established, feet planted firmly because we’re tired of change, noticing more freshman faces and wondering if they’ll survive.
Fourth year – taking careful measure of each minor success in our educational journey, we don’t really need to decide to go on pursue a higher education. It just comes with this particular type of scholarship; not exactly a free ride – this one comes with a moral obligation to guide, if we can. Some of us will decide we’ve learned enough. Some of us will seize the opportunity to further our education.
So here I am, four years later having completed a reluctantly personal four year scholarship to widowhood. Not a freshman, or a sophomore, not even a junior anymore: I’m a senior.
I’m sure I haven’t learned all the “alone” there is to know in the universe, but I’ve established a pretty firm, well-rounded foundation. I’m sure additional unanticipated lessons will come my way. Circumstances seem to dictate further education is in store. Never content standing still, I guess I’m headed into the college years now.
Maybe, after another 4, I might qualify for some sort of teaching certificate. Although after another 4, I will no longer be a “young” widow, so I’m not sure how much help I’ll be to the younger accidental scholars. On the other hand, I anticipate, not with happiness, that there will be more peer aged victims of the inevitable.
I keep coming back to the conclusion that timing is everything. So how we count it is important.
Whether it’s a four-year program, a five or eight year program or an accelerated path, time doesn’t change the way you hurt, it merely adjusts your tolerance for the pain and moves it towards a strange and previously unimaginable acceptance.