I Don’t Know How To Do This

Four years ago, I wrote a post that began with the words “I don’t know how to do this.” My husband and I had just split up, and I was agonizing over my new reality of being a single mom. I was mourning the loss of a marriage that we had both hoped would last forever, and I was terrified.

As it turned out, I had nothing to worry about. My ex, whom I’ve often referred to here as The Big Guy, never truly allowed me to struggle as a single mom.  He was always a great dad; I don’t think I ever realized that until weren’t together any more. As strange as it may seem, we became better co-parents when we stopped being spouses.

We also became better friends. Over the past four years, we’ve had more conversations and shared more “inside jokes” than we ever did during our eighteen years under the same roof.

Today, I have to repeat myself, because Heaven has gained an angel in Carhartts and faded flannel.

I don’t know how  to do this.

Last week, we lost The Big Guy to complications of the flu. The Flu! How can anything so ridiculous possibly be real? He used to drive a race car, for God’s sake. He was a volunteer firefighter for more than a decade. This was a man who used to take chances and risks that would make my blood run cold, but would just laugh at me when I told him to be careful.

I don’t know how to do this.

My children have had to grow up over the past two weeks in a way that no parent wants to witness. Because The Big Guy and I were no longer together, responsibilities and decisions fell upon the shoulders of his oldest child, our twenty year-old daughter. I’ve said for years that she is more of an adult than I am, and she has stepped up and proved me right by displaying a level of maturity that makes me ache for her.

The nineteen year-old has also grown in so many ways. He is mourning,  of course,  but he is doing so with his father’s trademark sense of humor. My quiet, sarcastic little boy has become a warm and nurturing man who looks out for all of us and always finds a way to make us smile with some funny memory of his dad.

And our baby. Rooster turned ten just a few days after losing his father. He has cried so much that I’ve worried he might get sick. But each time, he finishes crying and then moves on to laughter or a quick  game of basketball while sharing stories about his daddy. He’s hurting, but  he’s adapting.

They are grieving, but they are grieving as a unit. The three of them are so close that I know, deep down, that I have nothing to fear for them. They’re going to be okay because they have each other. Well, each other and their father’s strength,  humor, and courage.

But I don’t know how to do this

I’m not talking about being a single mom. I can figure that part out, especially since the older two are here to help me. If I’m going to be completely honest, I know my daughter will probably continue to run the show with more maturity than I will ever have. Things are going to be rocky for a while, and there will be a tremendous learning curve, but we’ll get through.

No, I don’t know how I’m going to move on without The Big Guy. He was my ex; we hadn’t been a couple for more than four years. But he was my friend. We still talked almost every day. We had inside jokes and a shared history that spanned more than twenty years. We created three people together– three amazing, beautiful, incredible people who made us both so much better than either one of  us ever were on our own.

He had a girlfriend who never left his side during those final days in the hospital. His family referred to her as “the love of his life,” and I believe they were right. He was so very happy with her, happy in a way he never was with me, that I couldn’t hold that against her. During the time they were together, she was good to our kids and always treated me with respect, so I truly, genuinely like her.

Crazy, huh?

My heart is breaking for her. So few people in life actually find real love, but I believe she and The Big Guy truly did. As much as I am hurting right now,  I know her pain is even deeper.

And I am hurting. I’ve lost my friend. I’ve lost the father of my children. I’ve lost a person who was a significant part of my life for more than half my time here on Earth.

I’ve lost my Big Guy.  My crooked-toothed, flannel-wearing, warm-hearted Big Guy. And somehow, incredibly, life is going to have to go on as though the world hasn’t just lost a truly good  human being.

I just don’t know how to do this.

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Shamrocks, Blarney, and Mom

When it comes to St. Patrick’s Day, I always think of my mother.

She was part Irish, although I have to be honest and say she was sort of part-everything. Her maiden name was Kirk, and she always told us that she had once traced the family tree back to the first Kirk to come to America from Scotland; he married an Irish girl, and their son married a Cherokee, and so on down the line. She insisted that we had our own Tartan and family crest, and swore that our family history also included Welsh, Swedish, Dutch, French and German ancestors.

She also insisted that she was 5’5” but barely reached my chin, and I am 5’4”, so I think it’s safe to say that many of my mother’s “truths” should be taken with a grain of salt. Irish or not, she definitely had the Gift of Blarney.

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She loved St. Patrick’s Day. She was an incredibly irritating Morning Person who was hard enough to deal with on a normal day, but on St. Patrick’s Day, she amped it up by blasting “Irish Washerwoman”  on the radio and clog-dancing around our beds to wake us up. She insisted on speaking in a thick Irish brogue all day, and the real tragedy here is that she thought she was good at it.

She was not.

She had a song that she liked to sing on that day, in the same terrible brogue, that involved a drunken fool coming home late at night and doubting his wife’s explanations about a hat on the hatrack or a head on the pillow. I’ll admit that I thought the song was really funny as a child, especially the part that went, “A football with a mustache on I never saw before!

Of course, now that I’m a parent and have access to Google, I looked up the song and was promptly horrified to discover that my mother’s favorite song was a delightfully filthy little ditty called “The Traveler.”  I honestly don’t remember if she left out the following verses or not:

“Oh, you’re drunk, you fool, you silly old fool,
You’re as drunk as a fool can be;
That’s not a cock a-standing there,
But a carrot that you see.”
Well, I’ve traveled this wide world over,
Ten thousand miles or more;
But a carrot with balls on,
I never saw before. 

And I’m sure she omitted the following:

“Oh, you’re drunk, you fool, you silly old fool,
You’re as drunk as a fool can be;
I ain’t your wife, this ain’t your house,
You have never lived with me.”
Well, I’ve traveled this wide world over,
Ten thousand miles or more;
It’s the fifth time that I’ve stuffed this bird,
She ain’t never complained before. 

 

 I also remember the year she was supremely offended when I met her brogue-to-brogue with some alternate lyrics I had learned for “Irish Washerwoman:”

Oh, McTavish is dead and McTivish don’t know it
McTivish is dead and McTavish don’t know it
They’re both of ‘em dead and they’re in the same bed
And neither one knows that the other is dead.

She was not amused.

Neither were my sisters, as I recall.  It was pretty early in the morning for a brogue-off.

But the real reason I think of my mother on Saint Patrick’s Day is McDonald’s Shamrock Shakes.  Dear Lord, those things are pure evil.  Nothing should taste so good! Cold and sweet, just minty enough, creamy and smooth. I am not usually a big fan of milkshakes other than plain old vanilla, but Shamrock Shakes are so much more than just a milkshake.  They are an experience.

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In the final days of Mom’s battle with breast cancer, she developed a craving for a Shamrock Shake.  She had lost her appetite and her weight had dropped to well below 100 pounds, so we were happy that she had a craving for anything. The cancer had invaded her brain; she was childlike in size and behavior by that point.

One of us stopped and bought her a Shamrock Shake on the way to the hospital that morning.  I don’t remember now which one of us it was, and it really didn’t matter. All that mattered was Mom getting something that made her happy at the moment. Before she could even take her first sip, however, one of the nurses who was drawing her blood at the time somehow managed to bump the tray and spill the shake all over the floor.

The nurse was even more devastated than Mom.  Mom wept like a child over her lost treat, and Debbie, the nurse, couldn’t stop apologizing. I remember that she cried a few tears as well. For the next several days, she stopped on her way in and brought my mom a new Shamrock Shake every day until my sister gently told her it wasn’t necessary any more.   By that point, Mom didn’t remember any of it.

I’ve never forgotten Debbie’s kindness, or the horrified expression on her face when she realized what had happened. It was just a shake, just a stupid mixture of frozen milk and too much sugar, but it meant the world to a dying woman with seven brain tumors and three grieving daughters. Debbie could have dismissed it as just a stupid shake and shrugged off my mother’s tears, but she cared enough for her patient to worry about more than just who was going to mop up the mess. She let my mom into her heart and I knew, even then, how much that cost her.

Now, more than thirty years later, I still buy myself one Shamrock Shake to drink alone every St. Patrick’s Day in honor of my Mom, but also in honor of Debbie and nurses like her everywhere, who care enough to let their patients into their hearts, no matter how much it hurts.

It’s just a shake, just a stupid mixture of frozen milk and too much sugar, but it’s so much more than that.

***

This is a Finish The Sentence Friday post: “When it comes to St. Patrick’s Day. . . ” hosted by Kristi from Finding Ninee, Kelly from Just Typikel, and Lisa from The Meaning of Me. Please take a few minutes to check out what some of the other bloggers did with this sentence!

Heaven

For your sake

I hope it’s always six a.m. in heaven

So you can walk the marina at dawn

When the only sound is the clink-clank of ropes against the masts

As boats shudder with each teasing touch of an easy current.

Or maybe it’s sunset

So you can sit on the porch with your iced tea

And drink in the crimson sparkle of a million diamonds

Glistening, disappearing with the sun

Drowning for you night after night

So darkness can urge the old foghorn to moan its ecstasy

Across the waves.

No, I hope it’s sunny and autumn in your heaven

When crisp leaves crunch underfoot

And you hug yourself against nature’s exhalations

While whistling through acorn caps

Just the way you taught us.

I hope angels have a sense of humor

Laughing in snorts and gasps

Wheezing and swiping at tears

Clutching their bellies and gasping, no more!

If I can believe you are laughing with them

Full of joy even now

Perhaps I won’t miss you as much.

***

This is a re-do of an older poem of mine.  It’s something I’ve been tinkering with, trying to say the same thing in a more mature and stronger way.  I think I like it better this way but I’ll welcome any input.  All comments are always welcome on my blog.  

A Mouse Tale

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Is there a painting or sculpture you’re drawn to?  What does it say to you?  Describe the experience.

There is a Lladro figurine named “Tuesday’s Child” that has spoken to me for years.  Since eleventh grade, in fact.

My aunts always collected figurines.  Hummels, Precious Moments, Royal Doultons, Andreas, and Norman Rockwells.  Especially Norman Rockwells. I couldn’t help but learn to recognize an artist’s work at a glance, although none of their figurines really struck me as being anything special.

Then I discovered Lladros.  Tall, with long flowing lines and graceful shapes, always in pastels and with a gentle simplicity that exudes a feeling a peace.  They are beautiful and delicate and they touch my soul in a way that no other piece of art has ever done.

The first one I saw, the one that drew me to the collection, was called “Tuesday’s Child”, and I saw it in the display case at a jewelry store at the mall.

As usual with me, there is a story.

I had a friend back then whose nickname was Mouse.  Mouse was a ballet dancer.  She was also what my aunts referred to as “a Toughie” because of a very rough start in life.  She looked so tiny and innocent, but she could swear like a sailor and she was certainly no stranger to drugs and alcohol at a young age.  She wore her hair spiked and multi-colored, totally embracing the fashion trends of the eighties.

We drifted apart in high school.  I’m ashamed to admit that I got wrapped up in the almost-almost-popular crowd, and Mouse had just gotten a little too offbeat for me.  She and her best friend talked tough and looked rougher, and she made out with her boyfriend in the hallways with so much gusto that some of us dubbed them “Kinko and Slinko.”

I heard that she gave up dancing, which was a shame, because I remember being moved to tears when she danced to her own choreography to “Anatevka” from Fiddler on the Roof.  She moved on the stage like some kind of mythical creature, something beyond human, something that defied gravity.  She took my breath away.

The last time I saw her, she was with her best friend at a festival in South Haven.  They were dressed like biker chicks, and Mouse regaled me with a tale of a recent fight that had left her with a fat lip.  I couldn’t get away from her fast enough.

She was only fifteen when she died a few weeks later in a fall at a party.  Rumors flew about drugs and alcohol and stupidity of the other partygoers who were too fried to call for help.  I never knew which parts of the stories were true or false, but I knew that Mouse was gone and that I had not been a good friend to her.

It was the first time we had lost a peer, and the reminder of our own mortality hit us all hard.  People who had snubbed her and mocked her suddenly portrayed themselves as her best friend, weeping dramatically in the halls.  Parents and teachers pounced on her death as a cautionary tale against drinking, and some of us were just quietly lost.

Then I saw “Tuesday’s Child” at the mall.  She was a delicate little ballerina, bent gracefully over to lace her pointe shoes.  There was something about the pose, and in the part-serious, part-amused expression on her face that just spoke to me of Mouse.  Looking at the beauty of that tiny figurine, I was reminded of Mouse’s grace and beauty in life, and I stopped focusing on the ugliness of her death; I could finally start forgiving myself for failing our friendship.

“Tuesday’s Child” helped me say goodbye to Mouse.

Of course, I have never been able to afford that specific figurine since it has long since been “retired”.   But I have managed to collect three genuine Lladros and a small handful of knockoffs made by NAO.  Someday . . . someday, I hope to own “Tuesday’s Child” but until then, I have my memories of a girl named Mouse.

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