Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

Archive for the ‘Widowhood’ Category

Remembering Del Eisch, My First Band Director

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Folks, last week, my first truly good band director died. (In all senses.)

Delbert A. Eisch — or Del, as he urged everyone to call him — was eighty-five, and had lived a good, long life. In that life, he’d done many things as a conductor, a trombone player, as an activist for live music, and much, much more. He taught in Racine for thirty-six years, and also conducted over 640 concerts while the conductor of the Racine Concert Band (previously named the Racine Municipal Band).

Much of this information can be gleaned from his obituary, which you can find here, but I wanted to summarize it before I got into what Mr. Eisch meant to me.

As I said, he was the first good band director I’d ever known. When I joined the Racine Municipal Band (not yet called the RCB), I was only fourteen. I played the oboe, then; I hadn’t picked up either the sax or the clarinet as of yet. I’d played in the Kiwanis Youth Symphony as an oboist and had played in my junior high school band and orchestra at Gifford (it’s now a K-8 school, but back then it was solely a junior high — our term for middle school at the time). But the junior high band was limited to what most of the performers were able to play, meaning I didn’t get a chance to play high-level pieces, nor did I get much sense at that time of what good band literature was all about.

Mr. Eisch knew how to program for his band, though. I figured that out immediately. We played marches — John Philip Sousa, Henry Fillmore, etc. — as nearly all bands do, but we also played more. We played show tunes. We played overtures. We played incidental pieces composed to be heard behind ballerinas, or with movies (as we certainly played selections from movie soundtracks). And we played the big pieces for concert band, including the two Gustav Holst Suites for Band, as well.

Mr. Eisch was extremely encouraging to me when I was a young musician. This was essential, as at the time I felt completely lost in my life. I loved music, loved to play, but otherwise I was a misfit. I read too much. I enjoyed talking with people much older than myself. I studied history and geography and some mathematics along with reading everything I could get my hands on, because I’d started to write stories and poems and wanted to be knowledgeable about my chosen subjects.

I loved science fiction and fantasy, of course, even back then. I was fortunate that my local TV station regularly played episodes of Star Trek (now called “The Original Series”), and I was even more fortunate that my junior high’s library had an excellent selection of SF&F books along with copies of Downbeat Magazine and other musically oriented magazines such as Rolling Stone. (That dealt with commercial music, sure. But things were applicable across all disciplines, and I tried to learn whatever I could, wherever I could.)

Anyway, I think Mr. Eisch knew, from all his years teaching at Gilmore School, that I was a bit of an odd duck. (Or at least that I felt like one.) He was gentle, kind, and patient with me as I learned the music — which wasn’t too hard for me, as even then I was quick on the uptake and an excellent sight-reader — and how to get along with the people in the band.

He encouraged my talents, to the point that I played oboe solos in front of the band, then later a clarinet duet, a saxophone solo, and finally a clarinet solo before I was off to my first undergraduate school. (Me being me, and more importantly being married to a guy who was then an Army Reservist and later in the active-duty Army, I needed to go to three different colleges/universities to finish my degree.) He also added in twelve bars for an improvised solo when I played “Harlem Nocturne” with the band, so it sounded a little jazzier and helped to give me a better experience as a musician.

My tale picks back up approximately ten years later, when my then-husband and I were back in Racine after his military service ended. Our marriage was breaking up, which I didn’t know then (but can clearly see now), and I needed music as an outlet. (I always had, so why not then?)

Mr. Eisch warmly welcomed me back to the band. (My soon-to-be-ex-husband also joined the band as a percussionist.) He had a need for an additional clarinetist, so would I mind playing clarinet?

I did not mind.

It was interesting, as I got to hear many of the same pieces in a different way than before. I learned how the various parts interrelated and asked Mr. Eisch many questions about music and conducting that he patiently answered. (At the time, I was hoping to eventually be a conductor myself. This is a dream that didn’t come to fruition, but the knowledge I gained was still invaluable.)

When I finished my Bachelor’s degree at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside, I started looking for graduate schools. (I wanted to teach in college, and that was the way forward. Plus, I wanted to learn even more about music, harmony, melody, music theory, music history, etc., as I loved everything about music.) I discussed the merits of them with Mr. Eisch, along with several other wonderful musicians in the band; eventually, I decided on the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Once I finished my degree there (it took me a few additional years due to family health concerns), Michael and I married. We knew we’d go back to his home in San Francisco sooner or later, so I didn’t rejoin the band at that time.

A few years passed. Michael and I had moved to Iowa. I’d looked into perhaps going to the University of Iowa as a doctoral student, once I qualified for in-state tuition…then Michael died, suddenly and without warning.

I have to include this, to explain the rest.

I didn’t feel like playing my instruments for years. I rarely composed any music, either. It was hard to write. Hard to do anything. I barely even recognized myself in the mirror, I was so upset.

So, because of that, I didn’t attempt to rejoin the band, or even find out if they might have a use for me.

I did, however, rejoin the Parkside Community Band in October of 2011 (not too long before my good friend Jeff Wilson passed away). And doing that led me back to the Racine Concert Band, where Mr. Eisch was now the band’s business manager (and conductor emeritus).

Mr. Eisch and I had several conversations along the way, once I rejoined the band. Some were to do with the band and its need for funding and fund-raising. Others were about life, and about loss, and about faith, as well as music.

Mr. Eisch then retired as business manager, and completely stepped away from the RCB. We did see him at concerts for a few years after that…then COVID hit.

Anyway, the last time I saw Mr. Eisch was earlier this year. I was going into Ascension All-Saints Hospital for an appointment; he was coming out of there, being medically discharged. He was happy to see me, and I was happy to see him; he asked how I was doing, how my family was doing, and asked me to tell my parents that he’d said hi (as he knew them both well, too, especially my Dad as he played in the RCB for ten years, himself, as a drummer).

I didn’t know that would be the last time I ever saw him, or I would’ve told him just how much his kindness and dignity and example had meant to me, along with all of the musical knowledge he’d imparted along the way.

Mr. Eisch was a very kind man. He was also a gentle man, in the best of senses. He loved music, of course he did, but even more so, he loved his family and friends.

Good men, good people, are sometimes hard to find. But when we get a chance to be around them, we hopefully reflect the light they can’t help but give out a little brighter. Then that light goes on, and on, and still on, for as long as people last…or at least as long as our memories do.

I truly hope that his widow, Anne, will be comforted by his memory. Always.

*****

An Addendum: I wrote this today, on the eighteenth anniversary of my beloved husband Michael’s death, because I wanted everyone to know just how much Mr. Eisch meant to me.

Michael only met Mr. Eisch once, I think. We were at the grocery store, or maybe at the mall…anyway, he did meet Mr. Eisch, and told him it was a pleasure to meet one of my formative influences.

I’d like to think that Michael again met with Mr. Eisch in Heaven, Eternity, or whatever The Good Place (TM) truly is, and that Michael has passed on what I’ve just said — as he knew I felt this way, because he knew me extremely well — just in case Mr. Eisch still did not know it.

Milwaukee Bridge Opens Unexpectedly, Kills Tourist

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Folks, last week in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, there was a shocking accident.

A man, Richard Dujardin — a retired writer and religious reporter who’d covered the Dalai Lama, Pope John Paul II, Billy Graham and Jerry Falwell — was visiting Milwaukee along with his wife, Rose-Marie. They were walking over the Kilbourn Avenue bridge over Milwaukee River. Rose-Marie had safely crossed, but her husband was behind her, slowly navigating the bridge, and looking at his iPad. The bridge unexpectedly opened, Mr. Dujardin grabbed for a railing and held on for a few minutes, but then plunged over seventy feet to his death.

This is hard to fathom for many reasons.

First, when bridges open and close in Wisconsin, there are lights, sirens, and alarms. These all functioned properly and should’ve warned Mr. Dujardin. But he was 77, hard of hearing, and focused on his iPad.

In other words, he didn’t hear or see anything until it was too late.

Second, the bridge was operated remotely. More of Milwaukee’s bridges appear to be operated this way, rather than having someone directly on site who would’ve been able to see that Mr. Dujardin was still on the bridge before opening it up. No one has any idea how the poor man was missed, as far as I can tell.

(This is one reason I waited almost a week to discuss this.)

Third, the remote operator apparently didn’t see that Mr. Dujardin was still holding on to the railing for a few minutes before he fell!

This seems to be an egregious lapse, to put it mildly.

Anyway, I have felt terrible ever since I heard about this accidental death. I know how it feels to wake up a wife and suddenly, without warning, end up as a widow.

More importantly to me than that, though, was the detail that his wife had already crossed the bridge. That meant she was in front of him. She could not help him when this happened.

Longtime readers of my blog probably know this, but that’s exactly the situation I was in when Michael collapsed on the lawn at our rented duplex years ago. Normally he’d have been in front of me, or we’d maybe be side-by-side holding hands. But this one day, he was behind me…and then he fell backward.

(Yes, I rushed forward, but I couldn’t do anything to break his fall. That I would’ve dislocated both arms had I somehow been in position to catch him makes no nevermind.)

I’m now nearing the eighteenth year of my widowhood. I still see Michael falling, me unable to catch him, in blinding technicolor.

I would imagine that Mrs. Dujardin may end up having similar flashbacks.

Anyway, I’m well aware that life is short, that we have no idea whether today is our last or if we have eighteen more years of widowhood in our future. (Or whatever.) We can only do the best with every day and honor the memories and the love we shared as we continue to go forward in whatever halting way we can.

I feel bad for Mrs. Dujardin. I wish I could help her.

(I couldn’t help Eric Flint’s widow, Lucille, either, though I hope someone is. And someday, maybe I’ll get to meet her again and attempt to show kindness as well as respect, ’cause she deserves it. But I digress.)

All I can ask you, right now, are two things:

Number one: Be kind.

Why do I say that? Well, many people are on edge due to the ongoing Covid pandemic, politics seems even more brutal than usual, and folks have forgotten they have more in common with each other than not.

Some have decided as the world is bleak, they have permission to be their worst selves. They spread misery.

Don’t do it. Refuse the impulse.

Be kind, instead.

Number two: Help the widows and widowers in your life, no matter how long — or short — it’s been since their spouses died.

See, I can tell you for a fact that I still want to talk about the most important person in my life, who’s ever been in my life. That’s my husband, Michael.

Other widows and widowers have said the same.

Too often, we who are grieving are told to just “move on” and in that spirit, we’re supposed to look toward the future and either forget the past entirely or suppress it.

I’m sorry. I refuse to do either. And most widows and widowers that I’ve spoken to over the years feel the same way.

We want to speak about our favorite people. Our formative influences. Our various experiences.

We need to do that. It’s part of who we are.

Hell, even those who’ve ended up finding a second great spouse to marry have said the same things. They can love their second husband (or wife) even better because of the experiences they had with their first spouse.

Otherwise, I hope that Mrs. Dujardin finds out why the remote bridge operator screwed up. She needs to know why that was the final day of her husband’s life.

But I also hope that the people around her will be kind and support her in her hours of grief. She will need that kindness and support for the rest of her life (whether it be short or long).

Sunday Musings: Why should you help a widow? (Or widower?)

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Folks, my last blog asked you to please help Eric Flint’s wife, Lucille, in her time of need. (I was one of many people asking for people to help.) She received an outpouring of financial support, and the GoFundMe for Eric’s final expenses has been closed.

Thank you all.

That said, there are still other things to be done to help her, or other widows/widowers suffering from the loss of their spouse.

First, though, I wanted to answer this (somewhat obvious) question: Why should you help a widow or widower?

I’ve thought a lot about this question in the intervening years since Michael’s passing. And I’ve come up with a few reasons as to why you should always help a grieving widow or widower — any grieving widow or widower, whether you like them personally or not.

When you’ve been newly widowed, you are exceptionally vulnerable. All of your support, all of the love you had that you had freely shared with your spouse, is suddenly gone. That love has no place to go. And worst of all, you are often misunderstood when you try to express your grief in any way, shape, or form.

It’s incredibly difficult to deal with the world when you’re in deep shock, suffering with the worst wound you’ve ever had. That’s just a fact.

Everything seems unreal. Nothing feels the same. It’s very hard to go on, alone except for memories (and, if you’re like me, the knowledge that the spirit is eternal and that you will eventually be reunited in joy somewhere/somewhen again).

We all grieve differently, but what I just said tends to be in common for nearly any grieving widow/widower if they deeply loved their spouse.

Anyway, I wanted to talk more about Eric’s wife and widow, Lucille, at this point. I do not know Lucille except for that one meeting in 2002 I’ve previously discussed (and there, I asked Eric a question; I should’ve asked her one, too, in retrospect, but I didn’t think of it). But I do know that if I were within a hundred miles of where she is (I’m not), I would try to bring her a cooked meal or two. Or volunteer to run errands.

And if I knew her better, I’d offer to listen to her talk at any time of the day or night.

Lucille is a valuable person in her own right. Yet if she’s anything like me, or the other widows and widowers I’ve known, she’s not going to be able to feel that for quite some time.

She deserves to be helped in as many ways as possible in whatever way she’ll allow on any given day. She should be given all available love, stamina, support, and whatever other good things she can possibly be helped with for as long of a time as she needs.

Her loss should be respected.

People should talk with her about Eric, as soon as she’s able to do that (or wishes to do that). He was her favorite person in this world. It’s unlikely she’ll want to stop talking about him, merely because his Earthly presence is gone.

Give her time, space, if she needs that. (I know this seems contradictory, but much about grief seems contradictory, too.) But help her as much as you possibly can, those of you who know her best. (I will help, too, if I ever get a chance to meet her again, and if she allows.)

In other words, while monetary help is great, it’s not the only way to help a grieving widow or widower.

Now to a bit more personal stuff, about my own feelings regarding being a widow.

Those of you who have met me, in person, or even have known me through my blog or my books, should know how much I value — and will always value — my marriage to the most wonderful man in the world, Michael B. Caffrey. I had some monetary support at the time of his passing, enough to help me buy an obituary for him, and help to pay for his funeral expenses. I appreciated that, too, at the time.

But no one knew how to help me with my grief. (My grief was so bad, a grief-support group sent me away.)

My family understood that Michael’s death was a huge loss. They didn’t have any idea how to help me process that.

I suffered, mostly on my own, with how to come to terms with it. How to see myself as valuable in my own right. How to go on alone (except for memories and the belief, as I said before, that the spirit is eternal). How to keep writing on my own, with little to no support or understanding of why I felt I must write (whether it be poetry, SF/F, or nonfiction/essays).

I had to figure it out one step at a time, stumbling and fumbling in the dark.

I don’t want anyone to have as much trouble as I did, not even the person who believed Michael was better off dead than with me. (I will never forgive that person. Never. But I still don’t wish ill on them. No point.) If and when they lose their spouses, I want them to have help and support.

That, most of all, is why I dearly hope that Lucille will be aided in as many ways and for as long of a time as she needs. And I pray very much that this will be so.

Eric Flint dies at 75, and his wife Lucille needs help

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Folks, Eric Flint passed away yesterday due to a long illness. He was a brilliant writer, an interesting soul, and a kind-hearted man — the last needs to be pointed out at great length, as most people focus on the other two.

I only met Eric Flint and his wife Lucille once. It was in 2002, not long after I married Michael. At that point, Michael and I were both trying to figure out how to write together, as our writing styles were about as opposite as can be imagined.

Anyway, it was a Barfly gathering, in Chicago. Many others were there. Some knew we’d just gotten married. (I don’t know if Eric did, but at least a few of ’em did.) We weren’t saying much (observers R us, or at least we both were), but were taking in as much information as we could.

I somehow got enough energy and gumption to ask Eric how he wrote so well with disparate people. (At that time, he’d worked with David Weber, Dave Freer, Mercedes Lackey, K.D. Wentworth, and I think he was in the process of working with Ryk Spoor. This was not long after his landmark novel 1632 was published.) I told him that my writing process was far different from my husband’s, yet we wanted to write together. How could we do that?

I figured Eric had the answer, and he did.

Eric said that the way to collaborate with someone is to play to their strengths. If someone writes fast — such as Dave Freer — work with that and add what you can. If someone needs more time and thought — as did Michael — let him add what he could. Otherwise, try not to step on each other’s toes, and remember to have fun…I’m pretty sure he said all that, and if not, he probably meant to say all that (so I’ll attribute it to him anyway).

This made a huge difference to us. We knew we could do it, you see, but we needed the right words from an expert to let us know it was OK to fail. (This may seem counterproductive, but bear with me.) If one of us could write faster than the other (believe it or not, that person was me), the other could take his time and add what he wanted. If the other needed to write things in longhand before transcribing them to the computer, that was fine…if he wanted my help, I could slow down just a little, and help him out.

This was very, very important to know. And it grew more important after Michael died, because I now was looking at a bunch of stories that Michael left in progress, wondering how I could possibly finish them and do justice by them. (I’m still working on that part.)

Anyway, I mention all of this because Lucille, Eric’s wife, needs help now. Eric was ill the last year or so, and while he plateaued out for a while, he wasn’t able to do much writing. (He did encourage people right up until the end, though. That counts more than anyone can possibly know.) Without being able to write, the income stream narrows…without being able to write, the writer is in danger of people forgetting all about them (though I find it hard to believe anyone could forget about Eric Flint, maybe he worried about that as he was human and it’s a justifiable worry). And without being able to write, the writer gets frustrated, stymied, wondering what in the Hell has gone wrong — just because health has intruded, why does that mean we can’t write?

(That’s how I see it, anyway. I can’t ask Eric anymore to know if that’s how he did.)

At any rate, Eric Flint was a very generous soul who cared about others and nurtured many fine writers along the way. He also was a very good husband to Lucille, and as I understand how it feels to be suddenly widowed and in need of help, I wanted to make damned sure I passed along this link so you could go help her out.

This is the link: https://gofund.me/6b66d7f6

If you can’t donate now, share the link as far and wide as you can.

And please, please, stand with the widows and widowers in your life, most especially right after they’ve been widowed. They need much care and love and concern, most particularly because they are unable to care or love or take any concern about themselves due to their bereavement.

Written by Barb Caffrey

July 18, 2022 at 4:13 pm

Sitting, Resting, Loving

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Folks, the above title is kind of odd, but I hope you will bear with me.

Over the past several months, I’ve been battling with some long-running illnesses. They don’t stop me from editing. They do get in the way of writing, whether this blog or any fiction. And I’ve been frustrated by a lot of things because of this.

I’ve had to rest a lot. And that got me to thinking. Did I want to keep living the life I’d been living, where I was lonely all the time, and just frustrated overall? Or did I want to try to see if I could find someone I liked to spend time with, online or off? (As Covid-19 is still around, and is still prevalent most especially in the U.S., online time is more important than ever. And long-distance doesn’t matter if you can’t do any short-distance dating anyway.)

Michael would never have wanted me to feel like he was the be-all, end-all, of my existence. He knew how important he was. He knew how much I loved him (and will continue to love him, come what may). But  he’d have not wanted me to be alone for sixteen long years.

That wasn’t what Michael was about.

Michael was about joy. Shared sacrifice. Enjoyment of each other’s quirks and follies. Appreciation of who we were, good and bad. And so many other things, I can’t possibly list them all.

In short, Michael cast a very, very long shadow. And for years, I didn’t think I had enough room in my heart to share it with anyone else, knowing I would love Michael until the end of time (and then some).

Then came Jeff Wilson, my very good friend. I cared about him a lot, and talked about everything with him. But he died suddenly in 2011, just three short days after he said, plaintively, “Can we please proceed to the dating phase now?”

And I was devastated.

Jeff was a good man, someone I believed Michael would’ve liked. We laughed together, sometimes cried together (or at least I cried; him being a Confucian, he’d not admit to such frailties), enjoyed each other’s online company, and I was making plans to go see him in Colorado when he suddenly died.

I miss him to this day.

Fast forward to 2015.

A few years ago, I met someone I thought might be the guy. (I have talked a little about this, elliptically, over the years.) I was wrong. He wasn’t the right guy. But he did remind me that life is short, and that feeling something good for someone else was not wrong.

It didn’t work out. But it did get me to thinking.

Now, we’re up to 2020. And throughout all this time, one man stood beside me. He was the first person I called after Jeff died. He was the first person I called when I had to go into the hospital for heart issues. (Fortunately, they weren’t serious.) He was the first person I contacted when I was ready to talk about anything, and he was always there. It might take him a day or two to figure out what he was going to say, if I contacted him by e-mail…but he always, always answered.

And he was also there when Michael died. He was worried about me, and despite disliking the phone, called quite often in 2004 and 2005. (I also called him.)

He liked Michael. Respected Michael. And understood why I felt so terribly. He didn’t want to rush me. (He certainly knew about Jeff, too.) And until the past few months, had thought I was too far away on the one hand and not attainable on the other.

But Covid-19 changed everything.

We’ve been friends for twenty years, this man and I. But it still surprised me when, about a month and a half ago now, he said to me, “Can we try a virtual date?” (That is, listen to the same music, talk online, relax, play board games, etc.) And I said, “Sure!”

Our virtual date was a rousing success, so we didn’t stop there. We’ve continued to chat. We’ve even exchanged short video messages, and are trying to figure out what comes next. Because of him, I smile a lot more. I laugh a great deal. And while I am still tired, and still recovering from whatever Ye Olde Mystery Illness is, I feel much more optimistic despite all the vagaries of the outside world, and all the political messes, too.

Because of Covid-19, I can’t go see him anytime soon. But I do plan on finding a way to do just that, now.

What I’ve learned, over time, is this: Love matters. It may take time. It may not show up the same way every time. But when someone declares himself, and you have an honest connection together, it changes your life for the better.

The main difference between the last two people is this: the gentleman from 2015/2016 was more interested in helping himself than helping me. He didn’t see me as a priority and despite knowing me for quite a number of years never tried to visit me. He never told anyone about me, and he never admitted that I was anything other than a good friend if asked. Whereas this man, my 20-year friendship-turned-romance man, is as interested in helping me as he is helping himself. He does see me as a priority. He does want to visit, but Covid-19 won’t allow it. And his health right now is such that I’d be the one who must visit him in any event, though he still would rather come to me if he had his druthers because he knows this is going to be hard on me, finding a way to go to him.

Despite how it sounds, I’m grateful, in a weird way, for the gentleman from 2015/2016. He showed me that I was wrong about whether my heart could handle yet another love-interest. And that prepared me when, all unlooked for (at least by me), my very good friend stepped up and said, “I’m here. I care. Will you try with me?”

So yes. I am going to try. And I believe Michael would be very happy that I’m willing to do just that.

 

 

To The Grieving…Some Thoughts

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Folks, I have written about this subject before, most notably here, here, and here. And I’ve also pointed out the many difficult problems when it comes to grief in a few essays, most notably this one on Lois McMaster Bujold’s GENTLEMAN JOLE AND THE RED QUEEN and this one on Debbie Macomber’s HANNAH’S LIST. But I have even more thoughts on the subject of grief, so…here we go again.

Grief is incredibly hard to deal with. I know I’m not telling you anything new. But it’s because I want to give some sort of comfort that I’m writing again about grief, loss, and the frustrations at expressing all of it in words, in the hopes that someone out there will understand that he or she is not alone.

I have a number of friends who are grieving. Some are recent widows and widowers. Some have been widows and widowers for quite some time. But all are hurting, because their spouses and the loves of their lives are not here on this Earth anymore. Yet they are left behind, powerless to do anything except remember what was, and what never will be again. And none of them, not one, knows what to do except putting one foot in front of the other, because it hurts so badly to go on when you’ve sustained such a deep loss.

I don’t believe in platitudes or weasel-words. So I refuse to say that eventually it’ll get easier to handle the loss of your spouse to anyone. Especially as I haven’t found it to be such at all.

But I can give at least a little comfort to those of you who are suffering, because I’ve been through it. (Sometimes, still going through it. One slow step at a time.) I do understand where you are, why you hurt so badly, and why you’re angry that you’re in this place at all.

Death comes for us all, yes. But sometimes it comes so early, it’s impossible to process. As advice columnist Carolyn Hax of the Washington Post put it recently, “Here we were, thinking we were X. And now the universe says, ‘nope, now you’re going to be Y.'” (My elaboration on that theme is, “And too bad that you enjoyed being X, ’cause you’re not going to get to be X again.” So no wonder why we hate it, no? But I digress.)

What I have found is that over time, I can handle the pain a little better.

But I’m not going to lie. I still hate it. The man who understood me, loved me, and appreciated me the most in all the worlds and time is on the Other Side, and I am still here. I defy anyone to tell me why this is a good thing.

Yet I have also figured out — slowly, painfully, and painstakingly — that as long as I live, at least a part of my husband lives on in me. (In the “two shall become one” sense, if nothing else.) And that gives me great comfort.

But I want to say one more thing to those of you grieving right now. (Ready?)

Your life matters. Not just because you were the spouse of someone wonderful who’s passed on to eternity. But because you, yourself, are an incredible person with much to offer the world. And unique gifts of your own that your spouse, were they here to tell you, would want you to continue using to the best of your ability.

I know it doesn’t feel like that now. It can’t. You are hurting, you wonder what in the Hell the point is, and you wonder why on Earth you’re still here when your spouse isn’t.

But it’s still the truth.

You matter. And as long as you live, you can still affect the outcome at least a little bit, while keeping the memory of your beloved spouse alive.

So walk on, with your memories and your love intact. And never listen to the fools and idiots out there who may say “get over it” and “move on,” as those are both impossible and irrelevant to the grieving process.

Written by Barb Caffrey

December 10, 2019 at 5:26 am

Posted in Widowhood

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“Writing After Widowhood” Essay Is Up…

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Folks, author and editor Deborah J. Ross asked me, a while back, if I’d be willing to write an essay for her about the differences between writing before my husband Michael died, and after. I called this essay “Writing After Widowhood,” and it is up now at her blog. Here are a few excerpts, though I do hope you’ll go over there and read it…then let people know, far and wide, about it.

(In particular, if you can leave a comment at her blog, do. I am all thumbs today, and can’t seem to get Blogger to accept my profile for love or money, meaning I can’t even comment over there. This is very frustrating. So if you can do it instead, that would be great.)

Here’s a bit of what I remember about writing before widowhood, mind:

Anyway, when Michael was alive, we wrote some short stories together despite having very different writing styles. We could do this because we’d heard Eric Flint, in 2002, discuss how he collaborated with other authors. It was all about communication, Flint said, “Also, if you could check your ego at the door, that would help immensely.”

That wasn’t all Michael did, mind you. He edited for me, as I edited for him. He and I talked about our stories for many hours a day, every day of the week, a great gift…and he made sure to do all the things a good husband does for his wife without prompting—and without fanfare.

My quote there is my best remembrance from 2002. That comment from Eric Flint was made at a gathering of Baen Barflies (or Barfly gathering) in July of 2002 in Chicago to the best of my recollection. It was only a few, short weeks after our marriage, and it made a huge impression on me.

I discuss Michael’s passing (which you should go over there and read about), its effects on me, why I decided to keep going with his stories as best I could and get at least a few of them out there, and a bit about how frustrating it was to write for a few years after Michael died.

Then I got into the nitty gritty about what it’s like to write now:

But as I started writing again, I realized something. I am a verbal processor. I need to talk my stories out with someone who wants to hear about it. And since Michael died, I really haven’t had that. Though I do have some very good friends who will let me bend their ears on occasion, they are working writers. They are doing more in the field than I am currently, and I don’t want to be a millstone around their necks.

(And yes, I listen to them. Of course I do. But that’s not the point.)

With Michael, I knew if I made mistakes, he’d fix them. Or he’d show me where I’d made mistakes, and I’d fix them myself. I had more confidence in going to write on a day I had little energy (as I have battled lifelong health issues), because if I screwed up on a name or made an unnecessary tense-shift, he’d catch it. So I could relax and create.

Those were the good old days.

And I discuss what I try to do now to get around what I call “Life, Interrupted.” I write prose notes on days I can’t do anything else. I think a lot about my stories (I didn’t say this at Deborah’s blog, but I hope it’s implied in subtext). And I do my best to keep my husband Michael uppermost in my mind on the worst of days, because he believed in me — and dammit, if he could believe in me, so can I.

I do hope you will read the rest of the essay. It’s about 1400 words long, so I only excerpted a little bit of it here to whet your whistle.

For other widows and widowers out there, or those touched by tragedy in other ways who are struggling, know that your life can continue. It is frustrating, difficult, sometimes exasperating, but you can keep creating if you make the effort. It won’t be the same — it can’t be the same — but you don’t have to lose all of yourself when your spouse dies.

It took me a while to learn this. But now that I have, my hope is that I can help others along the way.

Written by Barb Caffrey

June 17, 2019 at 1:24 pm

Sunday Anniversary Thoughts

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Today is my wedding anniversary. And it’s Sunday. So I thought I’d combine the two things by discussing things Michael found very important — and that I do, too.

Mostly, when I think about my husband, I think about his sense of fair play along with his sense of intellectual curiosity. He was principled, honest, fair-minded, funny, witty, extremely creative, very smart, loved to learn, loved to laugh, and did not suffer fools lightly. He believed in public service, had no truck with materialism, and was a Zen Buddhist, yet we also had the Koran and seven Bibles in the house as Michael believed most holy texts had something good to say, if we only had the wit to decipher it for ourselves.

And while I don’t think Michael would’ve put it quite this way in 2004, I definitely will put it this way in 2018: He believed then, as I believed then and now, in the freedom of the press. Stories need to be told, even in hard and bad times; even when journalists seem to go too far in their pursuit in the truth, we need to respect their need for truth and the ability to tell the story in such a way that we, too, can see what they see — and decide for ourselves if it makes any sense or not.

In this day of so-called “alternative facts,” we need the free press more than ever.

See, there is no such thing as alternative facts. There are only facts. And opinion.

Mind, Michael would’ve been appalled at the idea of “alternative facts.” That anyone could think they could, by the means of Orwellian doublespeak and much repetition, make people think anything they wanted, merely by calling it “alternative facts” would’ve upset him greatly.

Again: facts are facts. Opinion is opinion. And you cannot create your own facts; you can only learn what the facts are, and then make the best decisions you can, accordingly.

In addition, Michael would not be happy with the thought of such intense, partisan tribalism in our politics. We need both the left and the right, along with the centrists, to state their opinions while finding the facts. And then, everyone needs to make the best deals they can with those facts in mind.

Michael would not have been happy with the direction of the U.S. government, either. Between the utter paralysis of the Senate and House, and the authoritarian leanings of the current POTUS Donald Trump, he’d have wondered, “Has everyone in Washington, DC, lost their minds? And if they have, what can we do to lead the best lives possible without giving in to authoritarian and/or dictatorial influences?”

(Some of my friends will not agree with me, mind, as they read this. But Michael and I talked about these things more than once. I am convinced this is how he’d have seen this time in history, and I think he’d be extremely concerned by it. Now, moving on…)

He and I used to talk about all sorts of things, including the end of World War II. When the English and American and French forces (among others) liberated the concentration camps, for example…we talked about how horrible it was that no one did anything beforehand, or that few understood the coming dangers.

And Michael had on our wall in our San Francisco apartment a poster of Father Martin Niemoller’s poem, “First They Came For…” We talked about that, too. About how it was important to speak up for what is right, and about how that’s not always easy. And about how good people were either hoodwinked or willfully blinded themselves in the run-up to World War II, including English PM Neville Chamberlain, who honestly thought he’d secured “peace in our time” because he thought he could bargain with Hitler and trust Hitler to keep Hitler’s word.

I wonder, sometimes, if Michael would’ve liked 2018. I kind of think he wouldn’t. That reasonable people with disparate political beliefs can’t seem to talk openly or try to find any consensus at all would vex him sorely. And while computers have gotten smarter, faster, and have better graphics, I think he’d lament the loss of privacy — the whole scandal with Cambridge Analytica wouldn’t have come as a surprise to him, that’s for sure, because he’d probably have seen it coming as he had a gift for putting a few pieces of information together to get the whole faster than anyone else I’ve ever known.

I miss my husband fiercely. But on this day, my sixteenth wedding anniversary, I remember my husband as the strong, smart, funny, determined, principled, ethical, and intelligent man he was. I honor his memory. I’m glad he was with me.

And for all the days of my life, I will remember what he said. And do my best to live up to the promise he saw in me.

 

 

Wedding Month, Thinking Month

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Folks, as I was married in June, and as June has been known as a very popular month for weddings in the United States for a long time, I’m sure you can figure out why I put “wedding month” in the title.

But “thinking month?” What’s that all about, huh?

It’s simple. When I get close to my anniversary, I start thinking. I try to count my blessings; I was able to find the right person for me (after a few failed attempts), we married, we were very happy…and that’s all true.

But what’s also true is that I miss my husband very much. That feeling isn’t likely to go away. Even if, someday, I find someone else to spend time with, I’m never going to forget my husband Michael. Especially as he was by far the most encouraging person I’ve ever been around, and believed in me no matter what.

I think a lot about Michael.

My biggest advocate. My best friend. My editor — yes, he was that, too. My co-writer, from time to time.

And the most romantic person I’ve ever known, too…something that would’ve surprised most people who knew him before he met me, no doubt.

But then, Michael surprised me, too. With his generosity, his optimism, his faith…and, of course, his immense creativity.

As I said, I’m trying to see the positive side of things. (It’s easier by far for me to see the negative, because I miss him so much.) And as such, I know that me being here, doing the best I can — even though it doesn’t seem like anywhere close to enough — is all he’d want me to do.

Along with doing whatever I could to find meaning, beauty, and maybe a modicum of peace, too…still working on all of those, of course.

Anyway, that’s what I’m pondering right now. The run-up to my anniversary, later this month — the sixteenth, for those of you keeping track, and the fourteenth I’ve spent alone.

So I might blog a bit less, this month. Or maybe I’ll surprise myself, and blog all the more…it’s hard to say.

I just know that right now, I’m thinking hard, and hoping like fire that in the end, everything I’ve done will matter.

 

Written by Barb Caffrey

June 4, 2018 at 4:39 am

Sunday Thoughts: Working Through Pain

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Folks, as it’s Sunday, it’s time for me to reflect on something bigger, something more profound…or at least something I usually don’t.

This week, I wanted to talk about pain, whether it’s physical, emotional, mental, or spiritual. We all deal with pain from time to time in our lives, and it can seem overwhelming. And dealing with the pain is damned hard, because it takes so much of our energy just to keep functioning while we hurt.

I wish I could tell you that the pain will go away tomorrow. Unfortunately, I can’t. (Refer back to the apocryphal Buddha story of how everyone suffers in life for further details. I wrote a blog on this a while back.)

What I can tell you is that you’re the same person you were before, with a few more life experiences under your belt. And that none of us — not one, single, solitary, blessed person — gets through life unscathed.

But while you’re in pain, it’s very hard to function. Especially when the pain is new and raw.

All you can do at such times is take it day by day, moment by moment, sometimes even minute by minute. And remember that who you are at your worst is not who you are any more than who you are at your best; it’s all the places in the middle that matter more to you, as a person, than that. (Though of course most of us try to be our best selves as often as we can, that isn’t always possible. And we have to forgive ourselves when we can’t do it — while vowing to do better later, natch.)

My late husband Michael had a trick that I always attributed to his adherence to Zen Buddhism, in that he told me at times like this to feel the pain, no matter how bad it is, for ten minutes. Then, after ten minutes, tell yourself, “OK, self, I’ve heard you. I’ve felt this pain. Now I need to get on and do what I need to do anyway.” Most of the time, doing that will allow you to carry out the rest of your day unscathed; some of the time, though, you may have to repeat this exercise two, three, even four times a day, just so you can do whatever you can the rest of the time, and tell yourself that you have, indeed, heard and felt what your inner self is insisting you must hear and feel right now, thanks.

I know these tricks do help. They aren’t a cure-all, no. They aren’t going to make the pain go away. They aren’t going to make you feel that much better, either…because that’s not the purpose of the exercise.

Instead, the purpose is to help you remember that you can still do things.

You aren’t stuck forever, in short, unless you want to be. (And most of us don’t, though sometimes it does take a while to get through the pain. It took me nearly twelve years, after my husband died, to deal with the worst of it, for example. I still have moments where it seems overwhelming, even now.)

You do have options, even in times of great pain. There may not be many, and they may be just the best of all the available horrible options. But you do have a few, and you have to be able to look coldly and rationally at what they are, so you can make the best decisions possible for yourself.

As I’ve said before, you do matter. Who you are, who you want to be, who you’ve always been…that all matters. And what you do for yourself to create beauty, joy, and purpose is also incredibly meaningful.

These are the things that make life worth it, in spite of the pain. (Or maybe because of it. But that’s a separate, future blog post.)

So, do your best to look past the pain, if you can. (Can you tell I’ve dealt a lot with pain in my life?) But if you can’t, feel it as long as you need, and then go forth and do whatever it was you were going to do anyway.

That’s the best way to go, and eventually you will realize that you still have more to offer…even if it wasn’t quite in the exact, same way you’d hoped.

Written by Barb Caffrey

March 4, 2018 at 3:13 am