Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Despair Of Anger

Two years before Jim's unexpected passing, he looked at me and said he'd like to get a dog, in particular a Golden Lab. I was thrilled. I love animals and we'd always had either cats or dogs or both since we'd been married. But in the eight years since our last animals had gone one by one on to animal heaven, Jim had said, "No more." When I inquired as to why, his answer was that I treated them like children rather than pets. "It's too hard on you when they get sick or die," he said. "I can't stand to see you in such misery." 

He had me pegged pretty good. So how was it that he'd changed his mind? I asked. His answer stunned me. "I don't feel like I can be your protector much longer," he said. "And I don't feel like I can guard the house."  I had noticed his evening routine was becoming more hit and miss than it had ever been in our entire married life. For all of those years he had made his nightly rounds, making sure the garage doors were closed and locked, same with the front and back doors to the house. He turned on the security lights, closed any open windows, and shut the drapes or blinds. He'd done it ever since we'd said our "I Do's."

Even as the Parkinson's disease progressed to the point where Jim needed a walker on good days and a wheelchair on bad ones, he continued his evening check to make sure the house was secure. Sometimes he'd already have gone to bed only to get up when he remembered he'd not checked things out. When I told him I'd do it, he commented that it was his job. Besides, I was too short to be any sort of threat to a intruder. 

I always laughed when he said that. I am a little over five feet tall; Jim stood six feet and even stooped with the Parkinson's, he was still a formidable presence and his upper body was strong, even if his legs weren't as steady as they used to be. I figured it was all that exercise he did everyday plus the three-mile walks he prescribed to so religiously. It was so like him to keep going forward. I have always believed that his determined spirit and faith in Christ is what kept him functioning with an incurable disease that took him long before he actually became bedridden.

We wished to adopt a shelter dog, but Golden Labs just didn't show up. Then one day I checked the Humane Society website just for the heck of it and discovered there were two Golden Labs. One was a purebred; the other a mix of Golden Lab and German Shepherd. Both were only two years old. We hopped in the car, hoping they'd she'd still be there. The purebred was already spoken for; the mixed breed wasn't. And while she was definitely shy with Jim, much preferring me or the attendant, Jim didn't care. So it was that we brought Bonnie home.

She destroyed our newspapers, a couple of paperbacks, the shearling on Jim's and my Ugg slippers, three throw rugs, my bed of Japanese iris already in bud, and on her down time, dug a hole under the fence nearly big enough for her to get through. The gardener found it and blocked it just in time. She barked at anyone who dared come to the door, walk on the sidewalk, or ride a bike on the other side of the road.

She slept by the front door and wouldn't budge, even though we wished her to sleep in our room. Jim had gotten the guard dog he'd wanted. Well, not exactly a guard dog. Just a noisy barker, alerting us to anything that moved anywhere outside. We were alright with that because she was sweet and gentle and quiet as a mouse the rest of the time. And she was smart. Little did we know how intelligent she was. It took many months for us to discover the real reason God had sent her to us.

Author's note:

In my mind, I'd lost not only my husband, but my protector, my confidante, my lover, and my best friend. Perhaps I was the only one besides the Lord who understood why so much anger built inside me. I tried telling those closest to me about the volcano I was becoming, but  even those who listened didn't hear what I was saying. And rather than trying to understand, they offered gentle lectures on how a Christian should be thinking and acting in the face of loss and it finally dawned on me that since none of them had ever walked in my shoes, they could not begin to comprehend what I was trying to tell them.

The few who heard my rants and raves tried to give advice rather than just sitting and hearing me out--which is what my heart wanted them to do. I didn't want to be told the  typical condolence messages: "He's in a better place now," or "You should be happy he is no longer diseased and debilitated," or "You should be grateful he went fast," or "It may take some time, but you'll be fine." In my book, all those were fighting words. And the more I heard them, the angrier I got. I didn't want words. I wanted someone who would sit on the couch and cry with me. 

One young man Jim and I had known for several years, and whom we thought a lot of, called two days after Jim's graveside service to remind me that I had missed my birthday and we should have a party. I was aghast and barely knew how to answer. Still in tears most of each day, I thanked him for thinking about my birthday but that I didn't wish to celebrate. A week later he phoned again. "Are you better now?" he questioned. Doing my best not to let loose a diatribe of rage, I said I didn't think I'd ever be better. He reminded me again that I'd missed my birthday and a party was due. I told him there would be no birthday that year and to please forget about it.

Acquaintances phoned, asking "How are you doing today?" What I wanted to do was scream at them: "How do you think I'm doing today, you idiot?" Instead, I pursed my mouth tight, asked the Lord to give me grace, and told them I was doing alright but that I was still crying most of the time and that I thought it would take years to work through the grief I was feeling. The usual comment was, "Really? Years? I got over my mom's, dad's, cousin's, aunts, uncle's death in a few months." 

You know what I wanted to shout at them? "You didn't sleep with them or snuggle up to them or create children with them or sit on their lap and cry when someone told a huge lie about you at church and then passed it around as truth. You didn't hold their hand when you were scared or passionately kiss under a star-filled sky or zip your sleeping bags together on camp outs. You didn't flirt with them or tease them with your eyes or fight with them, knowing that when it was time to make up, it would be good." I wanted to add, "I've buried my parents, four aunts, three uncles, a sister-in-law and a child. Trust me, we are talking about two different worlds as far as grief is concerned."  But that isn't what I said. Instead, I blamed myself as being a slow learner, unable to process hard things in a quick manner and that it would probably be a long time before I was ever "fine" again. 

In my heart, I could hear molten rocks beginning to bubble, adding to the smoke plume already visible to my inner self. Six months after Jim's death, it was time to do something about my hair, for I'd pretty much ignored it for a long time. When I sat down in my hairdresser's chair, she commented that I certainly was due for a cut and color. "No color," I said. "Let it stay gray. I've no one to look pretty for anymore, so who cares?" She asked how long it has been and when I said, "Six months," her comment was, "Oh yeah, I thought it had been a long time."  I bit my lip to hold back tears. A long time? It felt like yesterday.

Nine months after Jim's demise, I received a long email from someone I'd been close friends with since we were both in our early twenties. It was the most devastating email I'd ever gotten. The woman whom I'd always considered to be my best friend announced that I had behaved badly toward her for the few days she'd stayed with me before Jim's graveside service. She remarked that I'd treated her as though she were a maid rather than a house guest. She went on to say that in the six years since she'd moved to another state, I'd called only four times, and never just to see how she was but for a prayer request. I was a bad friend and had always been moody and she just couldn't handle it anymore. She concluded by saying I was self-absorbed, thinking of no one but myself and while she'd said nothing for years, it was time now to speak her piece.

The volcano blew. My mind reeled with emotions. "Why now, God, I sobbed. "Why now when I'm already so far down I am having trouble just seeing the top of the pit?" What felt to me like her betrayal of our long-time friendship was the final straw. During those six years she'd mentioned, I'd devoted every minute to my husband, wanting to spend as much time with him as possible because I knew Parkinson's was progressive and I could see with my own eyes that the disease was taking a toll on his body.

In all honesty, I'd phoned no one to see how they were doing or just to chat. Not even my two sisters whom I love dearly. I waited a few days to calm myself, then emailed her an apology, explaining that I had almost no remembrance of the three months following Jim's death and that I was truly sorry for anything I'd done or said that was unkind. Would she please forgive me? What I received as an answer was that she needed time off from being in touch with me, at least a year, and would I please not contact her anymore.

That evening, I threw myself across my bed and sobbed. Not with grief, but with anger so encompassing I felt as though it would choke every breath out of my being. I could not think to pray. Words eluded me. I laid myself upon God's mercy, able to say nothing more than "please help me." I eventually cried myself to sleep and when I woke in the wee hours of the morning, I felt completely spent. Yet inside was this tiny glimmer that an answer was coming. Exhausted as I was, I changed into bed clothes and crawled under the covers. The last thought before falling asleep was that tomorrow would be the Lord's time to set me free from all encompassing anger. Little did I know that God was after some things in me that needed to be resolved before the release would be effected. But right now I needed to sleep, so like Scarlett O'Hara, I determined not to think about it until tomorrow.

"Call upon Me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify Me." Psalm 50:15


  1. As sad as that was I read it to the end and I do hope now you are much better and do you still have Bonnie

  2. Thank you, Lucky Lady, for your kind words. I am doing much better as the months go by. I could not have written this blog a year ago. I had to wait until my mind was thinking like a writer again rather than a new widow. While I still grieve to some degree, those times are getting fewer and father between. I still miss my husband terribly. I doubt that will ever change. And yes, I still have Bonnie. In my next blog "chapter" I will write much more about what a gift she was to my husband and in the long run, to me. Blessings, Sandy

  3. Once again you have had me in tears. I honestly cannot believe I would ever say "I got over my dad's death in 6 months." I feel as though I'll never be the same again. How could I ever be the same now that my link to half my family is gone? I still have questions I should have asked... Memories I now cannot share... Perhaps when people say "I got over..." they really mean "I don't cry everyday now but still think of him everyday"?

    I am a surprised that your lifelong friend has no concept of what you went through. Clearly she is lucky enough not to watch someone she loves be taken from her, inch by inch. How lucky is she? I hope for her sake she never has to walk in your shoes. But then, I expect you're getting support now from people who, in a sense, have been where you've been. Those friendships will be lifelong as well.

    When my sister's father died (she was a mere slip of a girl - only 7 at the time) Mom got a dog. I think it was good for both of them for a number of reasons. I'm looking forward to reading about Bonnie.

  4. The very idea of this type of loss seems to turn the room cold. I'm pulling, for you, Sandy.

  5. Life's journey is always a mystery. Keep strong!